This is the only appearance that Jack hasn’t been dreading. It’s only one day, will get his agent off his back about his summer PR presence, and he gets to play with dogs. Bitty still isn’t convinced that they should get a dog, so this will be nice. Jack’s been looking forward to it. Even if it is a charity calendar that Shitty calls “female gaze softcore porn.” Jack isn’t sure that athletes holding dogs can count as porn.
Shit. Strike all that. Jack was looking forward to this until he steps out of wardrobe only to see Kent Parson lurking by the snack table, pretending that he’s not keeping a wary eye on the roomful of puppies. Jack stifles a laugh-- God, some things don’t change, do they? --and makes his way over there. He wants breakfast.
“Parse,” Jack says. Parse glances away from the dogs, nods at Jack, and then his eyes snap back to the threat. Jack takes his time selecting a bagel. Blueberry looks good. “You know that they’ve all still got milk teeth.”
Parse glares at Jack. He’s always been sensitive about his puppy phobia.
“I’m not doing anything,” Parse denies hotly, already ready to go at nine in the morning. “I love animals.”
“You love cats,” Jack points out. He smears cream cheese onto his bagel. “You don’t like dogs.”
“Say it again, Zimmermann, a little louder why don’tcha?” Parse hisses. He looks around, crazy-eyed, like a reporter is going to pop out with a microphone and take away his status as America’s Sweetheart after hearing his shameful dog-hating secret.
Jack frowns. Parse looks a little pale and his hands are balled up into fists. The wardrobe people must have taken his hat and shirt because he’s not wearing either, just jeans. Jack knows they cover up the nasty scar on his calf from a childhood dog bite.
“Hey, Kent,” Jack says. He reaches out to grab Kent’s bare shoulder and asks gravely, “Do you think that Pomeranian has a body count? Looks mean, eh?”
Parse glares at Jack, and then at the little ball of fluff that Jack pointed out. “Yeah, it’s funny, asshole. Why the hell are you here anyway? Aren’t you usually in Canada by now?”
“We’re staying in town this summer, mostly. Bits got a job at the youth center.” But hey. That reminds Jack. “What are you doing in Boston?”
Parse immediately shoves his hands into his pockets. It’s a struggle because the wardrobe people stuck him in skinny jeans. Jack enjoys watching Parse try it for a minute, and then he notices that Parse won’t meet his eyes. Why does he look shifty?
“Visiting a friend,” Parse says. It doesn’t clear things up too much.
Jack scans the room. There aren’t any other Aces here. It’s mostly guys who live on the East coast, actually. A couple of Bruins, a Ranger, and from the Falconers--
“Hey, Zimmboni,” Tater says, tromping out of wardrobe to lay one big arm across Jack’s shoulders. Jack braces himself. Tater isn’t exactly part of the Parson Fan Club. But Tater just smirks a little and looks at Parse’s bare chest. “Parse. They take your shirt or you volunteer? Want to be prettiest?”
“They said someone had to do it and I didn’t want to have anyone blind themselves on your pasty ass,” Parse sniffs, but he’s grinning. And Tater is grinning back, edging away from Jack just a few inches, into Parse’s space--
“No fucking way,” Jack says. He’s not really aware that he said it aloud until Tater and Parse both look at him, quizzical. “Nothing. There is--nothing. I have to go.”
He wanders away, dazed, clutching his bagel.
Parse and Tater. No. No way.
It eats at Jack, the idea of it. Parse and Tater. Tater and Kent--Parse. Tater and Parse. Together. Totes boning , Shitty would say.
“Alright honey. You’ve been acting off since you got home,” Bitty eventually says, when they’re getting ready to go to sleep and Jack still hasn’t managed to shake the mental picture of Tater and Parse. Fuck. “What happened at that photoshoot?”
“Parse was there,” Jack says. He shifts a little. It’s easier in the dark, in their bed, with Bitty warm and close.
“What’d he say to you?” Bitty might be growling, jeez.
“Nothing. He was fine. It was just--” Jack thinks about how to say it, can’t come up with anything but, “I think he’s hooking up with Tater.”
“Oh!” The blankets rustle as Bitty scoots closer. “But why--I thought that Tater hated Parse. He’s not exactly--the nicest guy, right? Is that what’s got you worried?”
It takes a second for Jack to figure out what Bitty’s even asking: is Jack worried because Parse is going to hurt Tater, somehow? No. No, that’s not--
“Parse isn’t a bad guy,” Jack protests. “I just don’t like it. They’ve gotten into it on the ice more than once, eh?”
“That’s the game, though. You know Tater’s not like that for real.” Bitty’s quiet for a second, then offers, “Why don’t I text him and see if all of us can get together sometime? Maybe it’s getting to you because you don’t know what they’re like when they’re together.”
“That would be…” Great. Obviously. Because Jack’s just not sure how to react, clearly, and once he knows what’s going on he’ll feel settled about the whole thing. Yeah. “Are you sure? I know you don’t exactly want to hang out with Parse.”
“For you, anything.” Bitty kisses Jack’s jaw. “I’ll even be polite to the little weasel.”
Yeah, that’ll fix things up. Jack will stop wanting to charge over to Tater’s house and cockblock them personally, and to drag Parse out by the scruff of his neck. He just has to see for himself what’s going on.
Then it will be better. Jack knows this.
Two days after the Photoshoot Incident, Jack finds himself in Tater’s backyard, watching Bitty and Tater bicker over the grill and sipping a beer with Parse, who is clearly bewildered and maybe a little pissed about the whole thing.
“You guys must do this a lot,” Parse says flatly. His shirt dips down to expose his collarbone. It’s way too big. It’s got to be Tater’s shirt.
Parse did that on purpose, Jack knows, wore Tater’s shirt just to mess with Jack. To assert some kind of claim. That’s why Jack’s grinding his teeth, because Parse is invading his space again, just like he always has.
“Yeah,” Jack says, which is about half of a lie. Tater eats with Jack and Bitty pretty often, but it’s usually at their house. Bitty said that Tater insisted on them coming over to his place today.
Parse laughs a bit, an edge to it. “Wow, Zimms, a scintillating conversationalist as always.”
“Lots of syllables in that one,” Jack says, taking another sip of his beer. “Did you get a word of the day calendar?”
Now Parse laughs louder, freer, throwing his head back a little. He’s very tan, hair bleached lighter by the sun. “God, why does no one ever remind me about what a shit you are?”
“It’s my stunning good looks,” Jack says, feeling himself start to grin. Parse flips him off. And just like that, something between them eases, clicks back into place with a suddenness that almost knocks the breath out of Jack. It’s like stepping out onto fresh ice. It was always easy , being with Parse, until it wasn’t at all. He asks, “How do you know Tater anyway?”
Parse makes a dumb face. “Uh, I dunno, does a decade in the same hockey league ring any bells for you? Nah, we started hanging out when we were both coaches at this hockey camp for kids with disabilities. Last offseason.”
Last summer. That’s--
“And now you’re--” Jack nods at the yard, Parse’s shirt. A whole year.
“Hanging out,” Parse says again. He glances over at the grill, where Tater is holding the spatula above his head and making Bitty jump for it, and just. Softens. Jack’s not sure if that’s the right word, exactly, but he knows the expression on Parse’s face, has seen it across packed hockey rinks and crowded parties and rumpled hotel beds. He’s just never seen it aimed at anyone else before.
There’s something ugly swirling in Jack’s gut that he presses down, squashes. “You think we should go stop them?”
“I was promised burgers with no work, man,” Parse says. He looks back at Jack, but he doesn’t look the same--he’s not looking at Jack the way he was looking at Tater. Which is good. Which makes sense. Jack’s glad that Parse has finally moved on. He feels very normal about this. Obviously.
“Besides--” Parse grins, a flash that Jack remembers intimately. “Alexei’s got air hockey in the basement.”
“Oh, you’re on.” Jack’s going to crush this.
Fuck, Parse got better at air hockey.
Jack laughs loudly, one triumphant ha, when he gets a goal. Parse flips him off amiably.
“You’re still six points behind, loser,” Parse says, knocking the puck across the table towards Jack.
“I’m a late closer,” Jack says. He’s totally going to win.
“Late bloomer.” Parse smirks at him. “Not the same.”
Jack’s brain sputters, which must be why he says, “But you liked me before I--”
“Got an ass?” Parse shrugs. “What can I say, man, your face was never the thing I liked most about you.”
Jack stares. The puck goes sailing past his goal again, but he can’t stop staring. “What was?”
Parse tries to smirk again, but it’s wobbly. He’s trying too hard. That’s the way he looked on the bench when he would get checked, knocked off a puck, and the other team scored. He did that when they came off shift until Jack would bump Parse’s shoulder with his own. And then he’d look like himself again.
“Your passes, duh,” Parse says now, playing it off. Jack feels himself ditch his side of the table, walk around to be closer to Parse, until Parse has to look up at him, tilt his neck to make eye contact.
“What are you doing with Tater, Kenny?” Jack asks. It’s quiet in the basement. Was it this quiet a minute ago? His heart is pumping so hard, his blood fast and hot. It’s like being on a breakaway, or running across campus to tell--
“I told you, we’re hanging out.” Parse’s tongue darts out. He licks his lips, tries to look past Jack’s shoulder instead of at his face. Jack feels himself swaying nearer. “Zimms, what are you--”
There’s the sound of a throat being cleared. Jack looks up. Bitty is at the foot of the stairs.
“The food’s done,” Bitty says. Parse takes a sharp breath and a step back, and Jack’s hands twitch as he stops himself from reaching after him. That’s--Jack shakes his head, trying to clear it of its haze. What is he doing?
“Great, cool. Let’s go--I’m gonna go find Alexei,” Kent says, and bolts.
Jack looks at Bitty. Bitty looks back at him, face unreadable. The moment stretches between them like a rubber band, ready to snap.
“Okay, honey,” Bitty says at last. “I think we should probably have a discussion.”
They go to the guest bedroom for some privacy.
“We’ve got to talk about this,” Bitty says. He’s not looking at Jack. He’s looking at his hands, his shoulders slumped, and Jack’s entire heart is aching. No, no, he’ll do better. Anything to make Bitty stop looking like that.
“I love you,” Jack says. It’s the only thing he can say. How else can he put it? Bitty is light, and a stick ready for a pass, and a house full of things that make Jack want to come home. Jack would do anything--
“You want him,” Bitty says. Jack opens his mouth to deny it, and--
Jesus. He doesn’t lie to Bitty.
“I love you ,” Jack says. It’s not a lie. It’s just--priorities. Jack is in this with Bitty. Parse is-- “If you want me to never talk to him again, I will.” Jack’s done it before. He’s starting to remember the way it hurt, that first year, but he did it once and he can do it again.
Bitty’s chin comes up, his shoulders square. “I don’t want that. You’ve spent enough time denying things to yourself, sweetheart. And I--” he swallows, throat bobbing. “You know that Tater means a lot to me.”
What. Jack takes a minute to process.
“Are you saying--”
“I’m saying,” Bitty, who has always been braver than Jack, says, “that I think I understand.”
“So you want to--what, ask Tater out?” Jack waits to be hit by a rush of jealousy, of anger, and all he can think of is: Tater. Tater across the ice, Tater’s big laugh and welcoming arms around Jack in a celly, Tater being careful around Bitty, but not delicate. If there’s anyone in the world that Jack would trust with Bits, it’s Tater.
“Only if it’s something you’re okay with,” Bitty says, all in a rush. He’s blushing bright red, the color of strawberries.
“And you think that Parse and me should--” Jack can’t say it. Bitty takes his hand and smiles warmly up at him.
“Sweetheart, I think that if we weren’t supposed to try, we wouldn’t feel this way in the first place.”
This is--a lot. “How would we even do this?”
“Well.” Bitty’s chin comes up, his shoulders square. “We’d have to talk to them. I’d have to talk to Tater. Maybe both of us would. And you’d have to talk to Parse. There’s no guarantee that they’d both want to even try.”
The idea that he could ask Kent and Kent would just say no had not even occurred to Jack. Kent might not want to try. He might not want Jack.
Kent’s always wanted Jack. Kent wanted Jack when he was chubby and had acne, he wanted Jack in a hospital room in Montreal when Jack was saying horrible things to him. There's no way that he could have just turned all that off.
It makes Jack feel like he’s watching game tape of a loss. Like he’s got to go out and fix it, work harder. But there are bigger problems.
“And what about us?” Jack isn’t just going to let Bitty go. He’d rather give up hockey.
“We’ll have rules,” Bitty says. His mouth is going firm, the way it does when he’s trying out a new recipe, testing things until it’s just right. “We should probably ask Holster and Ransom for advice.”
What. “Do they know somebody who’s tried this?”
Bitty laughs, and the tension that Jack’s been holding onto releases all at once. Bitty’s laughing. Jack hasn’t ruined his own life.
“Oh, honey. What would you do without me?”
Jack intends to never find out.
Bitty handles the logistics. That’s good, because Jack is trying to figure out what he’s going to say to Parse. He’s got a list. So far it’s just got “good hockey means something,” and then a doodle of Kent’s cowlick.
Bitty and Tater go to their usual weekly ballet class and brunch on Sunday, and Bitty comes back smiling, almost glowing.
“Tater said he’s got to talk about it with Parson. And that he might want to have a conversation with you. But he’s--interested.”
Of course he is. Jack doesn’t understand how anybody meets Bitty without falling in love with him. It’s lucky for Jack that people are idiots and don’t seem to realize how great Bits is, or else he’d be in trouble.
And that just leaves Jack with a lot of nothing to do. If Parse doesn’t go for it, Jack’s stuck. Bitty is good about his jitters, makes him tea and bakes a loaf of tomato bread for Monday morning.
Jack goes for a run, works out, tries not to think about Parse and Tater. Mondays suck in the summer. Jack’s just knocking around alone after two whole days of being with Bitty.
He’s just getting out of the shower when the doorbell starts ringing nonstop, like somebody’s leaning on it. Jack drags on some shorts and races to answer the door. Parse storms into the house past him.
“Hey, asshole, you guys couldn’t have waited a month until I left? This is bullshit, Zimms, fuck you.” Parse’s eyes are almost clear, the way they only ever got--
Well, Jack saw Parse’s eyes like that at the end of sad movies. Or when Canada beat Team USA at World Juniors.
“Were you crying?” Jack closes the door. “What happened?”
“I wasn’t crying, buttwipe,” Parse snaps, clearly lying. “What happened? You and your boyfriend got Alexei to break up with me is what happened. You’ve got him all fucking year, you guys couldn’t have waited a couple weeks?”
“He broke up with you?” That’s not what was supposed to happen. Bitty wouldn’t have told Tater to dump Parse. “What are you talking about?”
“Apparently Bittle told Alexei that the two of you are in some kind of open relationship now, and the two of you are into him. The next thing I know he’s telling me that he wants everyone to be happy, and he’s into Bittle.” Kent’s hands go into his hair, tugging, making his cowlick stick up even further.
His hands are shaking, Jack notices. Shit. Shit, shit, shit. This wasn’t the plan. It wasn’t supposed to make Kent cry.
“And he told you to go?”
Parse glares at him. “He didn’t have to, I got the message. I want to try with B and Jack kind of speaks for itself.”
“That’s not--it was supposed to be plus, not instead of,” Jack tries.
“I don’t know what that means,” Kent snaps. “I just came over to tell you that you suck before I go to the airport. So. You suck. Have a nice fucking life.”
He’s turning to leave, and Jack’s hand shoots out and grabs Parse by the wrist without Jack telling it to. His body knows shit sometimes, stuff that Jack’s brain doesn’t.
“It was supposed to be Tater and Bitty, plus you and Tater, plus you and me,” Jack says. Kent stops trying to pull away, at least. He’s staring up at Jack with wide eyes. Completely shocked. Not exactly the reaction Jack was hoping for.
“What the hell are you talking about? You and me? Me and Alexei, but he’s with Bittle too? You want your guy to ditch you for your friend?”
“Bitty and I aren’t breaking up. We have rules, it wouldn’t just be--” Jack wants his list. It wasn’t done yet, but at least it was something. “We were supposed to talk about it. I was going to call you after Tater ran it past you.”
Kent opens his mouth. Closes it without saying anything. A minute later, he asks, “So Alexei wasn’t telling me to get out?”
“You might want to call him before he tries to buy up every ticket to Vegas,” Jack says. Kent nods, jerkily. Jack sweeps his thumb over the thin, delicate skin of Parse’s wrist, feels Kent shiver.
“I’m just gonna--” Kent gestures past Jack, to the hall. Jack lets him go.
He waits until he hears Kent’s voice, low and urgent on the phone, before he texts Bitty.
Talking to Parse.
The response is immediate, of course. Good luck, sweetie! I love you.
And then Jack gets to stand there like an idiot until Parse reappears.
“I, uh. I guess Alexei wasn’t telling me to leave.” A small smile steals across Parse’s face. Jack watches, transfixed, but it’s gone before he can blink. “But I don’t really get what’s going on. I mean, Alexei can do what he wants, it’s not like I can stop him, but. Ya know.”
Jack wants to hug him. Parse has his arms crossed over his chest. He’s looking down at the floor. Jack itches to fix it, make him laugh again.
“I kinda thought he liked me, I guess,” Parse says, and his smile is horrible this time, not like a smile at all. Jack can’t help it. He’s got to--
“What are you doing,” Kent says into Jack’s chest. His arms are at his sides, his body stiff.
“It’s called a hug, Parse, ever heard of one?” Jack tucks Kent’s face into his shoulder with one hand. How is Parse’s hair so soft?
“You don’t get to hug me, asshole, you and your boyfriend just torpedoed my long game,” Kent says, but his body is softening. “I just got put on the permanent fuckbuddy shelf.”
“Did Tater actually say that?” Jack doesn’t love the sound of that. A long game. Is Kent really that serious about Tater? He’s been making it sound like it’s casual. Did Jack actually wreck something here?
Does Tater not get what it’s like to have Kent Parson in love with you? It’s like clinching a playoff spot, but in your heart. What kind of moron lets something like that go?
Okay, Jack did, but he’s fixing it.
Kent shrugs. “No. But it’s not like you and Bittle bringing him in to spice it up or whatever, I’m just the guy he bangs twice a year and then for a month in the summer. I don’t have a ton of foundation, and you two just called and raised my bet.”
Jack sighs. “Parser. You might want to try talking to him about it.”
Kent pulls away, and Jack lets him go reluctantly. He’s definitely not feeling colder than a second ago. That’s not how temperatures work.
“Don’t go giving me advice, you’re the one who’s got to bring in a ringer, dude. And what were you talking about, me and you? The fuck did that mean?”
“Well, you see, Parse,” Jack starts, “when two men play beautiful hockey together, and at least one of them’s pretty good-looking even if his hair does that thing--”
Kent laughs and shoves at him. When he takes another full step away Jack wants to pull him back in. Looks like Jack’s got to watch his impulses around someone other than Bitty. At least he’s got practice with that now.
“Knock it off, Zimms.” Parse shakes his head at Jack and chuckles. “Jesus, I thought you were serious for a second, don’t do that shit.”
Wait a second. “I am serious.”
“What? You want to hook up or something?” The look that Kent gives him is so disbelieving that Jack feels himself start to blush. He went wrong somewhere. That hockey thing was his big move. Now he’s off balance, wrongfooted. He feels like the puck just glanced right off his stick.
“I miss you,” Jack grits out, which is not exactly what he wanted to say but it’s true enough. “Don’t you miss me?”
Parse raises his eyebrows. “Uh, Zimms, that’s not exactly a change for me. I’m used to missing you. I’m not used to you acting like--”
Jack finds himself stepping closer, back into Kent’s space. “Like what?”
Kent’s eyes dart around the living room before he spits out, “Jealous, okay? You’re acting jealous, and it sucks. What, you only remembered how much you liked fucking me when I started letting your buddy do it?”
No. That’s not how this is going to go. Jack brings one hand to Kent’s face, cups his cheek. He’s got a little scar at the corner of his eyebrow that Jack doesn’t recognize.
“I missed you because I let myself actually think about you,” Jack admits. “It’s not about fucking, it’s not even about Tater. It’s just about you.”
Kent takes a ragged breath like Jack socked him in the gut. “C’mon. Zimms, this isn’t fair.”
“Tell me that you don’t want this.” Jack tips Kent’s chin up a little so he can catch Kent’s eye. Parse doesn’t exactly cooperate. That’s okay. Jack can wait him out. He’s got some patience stored up for this. “I’ll walk away and leave you alone. I swear.”
“You don’t even like me, Jack.” Kent’s voice is small. “I get that you might want to fuck me, but--”
“No.” Jack isn’t going to let it go like that. “Let me take you out on a date. I’ll prove it. You’ll--” Remember. “You’ll see.”
“Sure,” Parse says, rolling his eyes. “A date, yeah, that makes sense. Why not.”
Tater texts Jack when he’s finishing up his morning run, and Jack loops around to Tater’s house instead of going to his usual cafe on the cooldown. It’s an extra mile or so, but that’s fine.
Tater opens the front door before Jack can even knock, like he’s been waiting at the window or something. “Zimmboni! Come in, want to talk. Breakfast?”
“Uh, sure.” Jack keeps a lookout on the way to the kitchen, but Parse is nowhere to be seen. Unless he’s hiding. “Is Parse--”
“Out,” Tater says. “B left some danishes, want one?”
They settle at the table with tea and pastries. Jack is about to dig in when Tater clears his throat and gives him the hairy eyeball. It doesn’t sit well on his face.
“So,” Tater says. “Need to talk.”
“Bitty was supposed to tell you all the rules.” Jack knows them, but he’s not great at sounding reasonable when it’s stuff like Bitty can only wear my jersey.
“He did,” Tater says. “Just wanted to check--we’re okay?”
Oh. This, Jack can do. He smiles and offers his fist for Tater to bump. “We’re great, Tater Tot. I trust you with him.”
“And you don’t want--” Tater gestures between himself and Jack with an air of deep embarrassment. It takes a second for Jack to figure out what he’s even talking about.
“No way,” Jack says. “It would be like fucking Shitty, eh?”
Tater, clearly relieved, bumps Jack’s outstretched fist. At least that’s settled.
“Heard you only like blondes,” Tater says, smirking. “Taking Parse on date?”
“He mentioned it?” Jack wants to ask. He wants to ask if Tater really likes Parse, if the two of them are on the same page. If Parse has been talking about Jack.
“He thinks it’s joke,” Tater says. “Or--just a way to--”
“Right.” Jack should have expected that. Shit. “I should probably think of something better than taking him out to dinner.”
“Might be good idea.” Tater shrugs. “Don’t know if he’ll go for it. But he loves you.”
What? They’re not talking about--they're not there yet.
“He doesn’t love me again.”
Tater raises his eyebrows at Jack and grins. “Who said anything about again? Still, I’m think.”
And that--is not a welcome thought, on one level. Jack doesn’t want to think about it, all the times that Parse tried to make Jack come to Vegas, call him back, or, especially, the radio silence of the last three years or so. Loving him, steady and alone.
Jack wasn’t ready. He’s not sure if he is, really, yet. All he knows is that he couldn’t stand it when Parse wasn’t looking at him.
“I’ll think of something good,” Jack says. “Something right.”
“Maybe try cats,” Tater suggests.
“I’ll keep it in mind.”
“Where the hell are you taking me?” Kent asks, when they’re ten minutes into the suburbs.
“To murder you and dump your body in the woods.” Jack glances at his phone’s GPS. Almost there.
“Bittle would have wanted to come and help,” Parse grumbles, but he settles back into the passenger seat. “If we are going to the motherfucking Cheesecake Factory--”
“It’s a good solid choice.” Jack will win this argument someday. He’s so clearly right.
“We were in New York City,” Parse says. Jack turns up the music but Parse just shouts to be heard. “Home of America’s culinary scene! Full of restaurants! Holding your dad’s credit card! And you make me get in a taxi to go to the motherfucking--”
“It is a good solid choice,” Jack says louder.
“Cheesecake Factory,” Parse finishes triumphantly. “The Cheesecake Factory.”
“Was that supposed to be a surprise ending? I was there, bud.” Jack pulls into the parking lot. “We’re here.”
Kent looks out the window, turns his dubious eyes on Jack. “We’re at a middle school.”
“It’s a high school.” Jack turns off the engine and hops out. He ignores Parse and gets the picnic basket out of the trunk.
Kent trails after Jack across the athletic fields. “Are we having a picnic at night? Did you get this off a list of date ideas in Cosmo or something? Is it a sex picnic?”
Jack keeps ignoring Parse. That’s the key. This is a great plan. He leads the way to the baseball diamond, hears Parse getting conspicuously quieter as he realizes what they’re doing.
“All right,” Jack says, once he’s hopped down into the dugout. He opens the picnic basket. Bitty made him get one with thermal pockets. It’s a step up from the styrofoam takeout containers that Jack and Parse used to use.
“Don’t tell me you’ve got--” Parse asks, from right over Jack’s shoulder. He’s been so quiet Jack hadn’t noticed him get that close. Now Kent laughs, breathlessly. “Oh my god, it is.”
“Chicken tenders,” Jack says, refusing to be embarrassed. “Fries. Coke. In the dugout. And we’re technically trespassing, so I think that covers all the bases.”
“You are such a freak,” Parse says, but he’s grinning, and he grabs a chicken tender as he plops onto the bench. “Are you seriously recreating the first time I stuck my hand down your pants?”
“Our first date,” Jack corrects him. He settles down on the bench next to Parse. “It was great.”
“In what universe?” Parse snorts. “You got honey mustard on my dick.”
They used to sneak into the dugout of the local high school--well, there wasn’t any security, so sneak might be a strong word for it. But they did it after practice or on off days. It was halfway between their billet houses. Sometimes they’d go to the diner first, and that night, Jack brought his leftovers, and Kent stole them, and then--
Well. Jack ended up getting honey mustard down everyone’s pants, but it was still good. Still the start of something.
“Hey.” Jack grabs Kent’s hand. The one that’s not holding a piece of chicken. Grabbing the chicken would ruin the moment. “Kenny. I’m serious. I miss you. I want to try this.”
Parse gapes at him unattractively. It is tragic, Jack thinks, that he spent so long missing all the stupid faces that Kent makes. He doesn’t want to miss a single one again, which is impossible, because Parse spends practically every second of the day making stupid faces. But the point stands.
“What the hell sparked this, Jack? Me and Alexei? Shit, was I just supposed to wait for you?”
“No.” Jack feels Kent try to tug his hand away, but he holds on a little tighter, and Kent relaxes. “I’m finally in a place where I can look at you and not be jealous. I haven’t been jealous. But then I saw you two together, and I was again, and that meant that I didn’t want your life, or anything. I just wanted--”
“Me.” Kent’s blushing. Jack wants to take off his baseball hat. He wants to smooth down Kent’s cowlick and kiss his freckles. “Holy shit, Zimms. That was a good speech.”
“I practiced in the mirror,” Jack admits.
“Of course you did.” Kent laughs, and leans forward. “Well, if we’re being nostalgic here, I think I remember some of this from our first date.”
Kissing Parse again, Jack reflects, is a lot like coming home.
Jack wins at rock paper scissors, so he gets Parse on the last night before he has to go back to Vegas. Tater doesn’t pout too much, since that means he gets to sleep in the master bedroom with Bitty.
Unfortunately, that means that they get woken up by Tater’s entire body flopping down on top of them.
“Why,” Kent says, without opening his eyes. He tucks his head more aggressively against Jack’s shoulder, hair golden and messy in the morning sun. Jack kisses the freckles on his cheekbone, about the only part of Parse’s face that he can reach without disturbing him. Then he reaches down the bed to sock Tater in the arm.
“Up, Parse,” Tater says, unrepentant. “Want to leave Providence, go back to sad desert, have to to wake up early.”
“Gimme--” Parse yawns hugely, and sits up, blinking sleepily, “‘nother year. Free agent. Desert until then.”
They’ve talked about it some, but it still sends a little shock through Jack’s system every time. Parse could be here. Year round. Probably live at Tater’s house, or get his own, but--
They will win so many games. Jack hides his grin against Kent’s hair. He smells like Jack’s shampoo.
“All right, boys,” Bits says from the doorway. He’s terrible at looking stern. The smile gives it away even if he’s got his hands on his hips. “If you want breakfast before your flight, get a move on.”
“I’m not leaving until noon,” Kent tells the ceiling. “Off, Alexei, I need those kneecaps for another couple of seasons.”
Tater ducks up to kiss Kent’s cheek, and clambers off. Jack’s pretty sure that Parse doesn’t get kneed in the stomach on the way out, either.
“Are you still pissed that you can’t come to the Samwell reunion or something?” Jack calls after him. “You didn’t actually go there, you know!”
“Going as Randy’s date,” Tater yells back. “Try to stop me!”
“Who’s Randy? No, never mind, I don’t want to know.” Kent groans and stretches. The sheet slips down a couple of inches, and Jack watches, appreciative.
“Shitty’s going to flip his lid if Tater’s at the reunion.” Jack can’t wait.
“Shitty just tried to play dicksmack in Words With Friends and still won’t come hang out with me in Vegas. He’s dead to me.” Parse closes his eyes again. “Can we sleep more?”
“Not if you want breakfast.” Also. “Are you flirting with Shitty? Ha ha. Are you?”
“Shitty isn’t making me move to Rhode Island, he’s a god in my book. Plus he’s actually read The Bluest Eye, unlike any of you assholes. I’d marry him if he’d let me. No pre-nup, nothing. Let him take all my money. Okay, I’m up. I’m up this time.” Parse props himself onto his elbows, grabs at the nightstand for his watch.
Jack tugs him back down onto the mattress. “Hey, stay for a second.”
“You have morning breath,” Parse complains, but kisses him anyway, nestles into Jack’s neck for a second. “I hate that you still sleep with a shirt on, it’s bullshit.”
“You’re pretty when you’re tired,” Jack says so he can watch Kent blush.
Sure enough Parse’s cheeks go red. It’s awesome. “Shut up. You too. Get naked already.”
“Pancakes!” Bitty hollers from the kitchen.
“Oh shit, never mind.” Parse springs out of bed and fumbles for his boxers. Actually, wait, those are Jack’s boxers. “Pancakes, Zimms, shake a leg.”
Jack stays where he is, just for a second. Pancakes. And then Tater will drive Kent to the airport. And then later Kent will call, and Jack will talk to him, and in a year--
“Zimmboni! Eating all your pancakes!” Tater yells.
“It’s getting cold, honey,” Bits adds. “You might want to hurry!”
“I’m sending Shitty a dick pic as we speak!” Parse shouts in agreement.
In a year, who knows. But Jack bets it’s going to be good.