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Price of admission

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Pittsburgh, 1995.

 

Bob has a pretty good handle on the new kid by the third time he flushes scarlet when someone casually tells him to suck his dick. It's easy enough to turn it into a chirp about prudishness, about inexperience.

Bob's done it more than a few times over the years.

Later, when Troy looks up at him with big brown eyes, Bob cards a hand through his hair, his voice quiet when he speaks. "It's not the price of admission to the show, kid. It's up to you."  

Troy shudders and makes a noise that goes straight into Bob's dick and leans forward, his hands shaking when he works at the fly of Bob's jeans. His eyes shine with eagerness and he looks wrecked already, like he can't believe what's happening, that he's getting his hands and more on Bad Bob Zimmermann's cock.

Bob knows that look, he's seen it on enough eager young things over the years; it doesn't matter if they're a rookie or a puck bunny; the way their face lights up, the I get to have this is unmistakable. And he’s always careful to make sure that the light stays in their eyes; he’s not the kind of a man who would take what isn’t gladly given, no matter his reputation on the ice.

They both groan when Troy takes him in his mouth, hot and wet and sloppy, but so eager he nearly chokes himself with his enthusiasm.

"Easy, mon canard," Bob cautions him, tightening his hold on Troy's hair, using his grip to guide. "We've got time. I'll show you how to make it good."

He wouldn't go so far as to call Troy a natural but the kid takes instruction well, looking up at Bob with stars in his eyes, face wet with spit and tears.  

Bob wants to wreck him more and says so, tells Troy he'd look good with come covering his pretty face. He doesn't expect the reaction he gets, doesn't expect Troy to tense and flush scarlet, shuddering almost violently.

He doesn't get to mess up Troy's face; the knowledge that just the idea of Bob coming on him, marking him up, made the rookie come in his pants is enough to push Bob where that sloppy tongue hadn't yet and he groans, dick pulsing between Troy's lips. There’s no cascade of white on his lips and chin, just the hurried bob of his throat as he swallows.

Later that night, after Jack has been put to bed, Alicia laughs at him when he tells her all about it. “You would complain when one of your boys swallows.”

Bob takes hold of her hand and kisses her knuckles. He is one lucky son of a bitch, to have a wife like her.  


*********

Las vegas 2009

 

Swoops isn't expecting a phone call this hour, especially not from a number he doesn’t recognize. He almost lets it go to voicemail, but he's maybe a little drunk and a little curious.

"Jeffrey, I hope you don't mind, I got your number from your agent."

It takes a moment for him to place the voice, the soft French-Canadian accent familiar. "Who—Bob?"

Why is Bob Zimmermann calling him at—fuck, it's 5 am in Vegas, he doesn't want to know what time it is in Montreal right now. Shouldn't he be at the hospital with his kid?

"Yes. I have a... favor to ask of you."

There is something about Bob's voice that sends a shiver down Jeff's spine. "Tell me."

"It's - Kenny, Kent Parson, he's flying to Vegas today. He needs looking after, you hear me?"

Looking after, yeah, Jeff is pretty sure what that means, but why would Bob bring that up now—doesn't he have more important things to worry about?

"Yeah, I hear you," Jeff says. He hasn't had his coffee yet so his tone might be more acrid that it would otherwise be. "He's your boy, eh?"

"He is," Bob's voice is quiet. "I can't be there for Kenny, not with Jack—not with everything.”

And yeah, Jeff gets it. “Don’t worry, Bob,” he says quietly. “I’ll make sure to look after him.”  

“Merci, Jeffree, I…”

Jeff shakes his head even though he knows Bob can’t see it over the phone. “It’s fine, Bob. Go to your kid. Go to bed, for fuck’s sake. I’ll look after the rookie”  

**

When he sees Kent Parson in the flesh for the first time, Jeff isn’t sure what to think. The backwards snapback, the cocky attitude—they don’t hide the red-rimmed eyes or the fact that the kid’s hands are shaking.


Jeff doesn’t blame him, getting whisked to the other side of the country right after his liney got hospitalized. It’s hard on grown-ass men, let alone on rookies like Kenny—like Parse; the first and only time Jeff calls him Kenny gets a bad reaction. 

He can tell now why Bob asked him to mind Parson—the kid’s a wreck, no matter how well he’s hiding it, and there’s a lot of trouble a pretty guy like that can get into when suddenly dumped in the middle of Sin City with too much money and not enough fucks to give.

When he offers to host Parson in his spare room, which while not the first time he’s done it, is  also not something he usually volunteers for, his Captain agrees readily.

“It will bring the narrative along nicely,” Johnson says with that weird-ass look in his eyes that makes Jeff think he oughta have been a goalie instead, but there’s no looking a gift horse in the mouth.  

 It’s almost pathetically easy to move all of Parse’s stuff from his hotel room to the guest suite Jeff has at his house; it’s meant for visiting in-laws, but since Jeff hasn’t been able to keep a girlfriend for longer than six months in the past six years, it’s more for wishful thinking. Zlata's parents never visited while they were still together, unhappy with their baby girl running off with an American.  

 Parson elects to sleep in the smaller guest room anyway; the one that’s right next to Jeff’s bedroom, and he’s not sure what that says about himself or the kid neither one of them objects when it’s not just the first night, or the second, or the third.

 Jeff’s not the kind of a dickhole who’d take Bob’s words to look after Parse as some sort of an invitation; he just keeps his eyes open and yeah, it’s easy to see how Bob got clued in on the fact that kid’s into dick. It’s a little flattering, even, to have someone with those face-of-the-franchise good looks hide a blush when Jeff comes in from a run and pulls his shirt off to wipe the sweat off his face.

A brand new draft pick, a number one draft pick, is different from a regular rookie in a lot of ways; poor kid is running ragged on too little sleep and too many feelings and Jeff doesn’t begrudge him if he wants a little something to make it easier to pass out in the evenings. If Parse had gone second, to Montreal, he’d be old enough to buy his own damn booze.

 He’s not stupid, though; with Jack Zimmermann in rehab, Jeff doesn’t say anything to Kent but keeps an eye on the number of beers in his fridge and the level of bottles in the liquor cabinet. He keeps the good shit from his last surgery under lock and key anyway, so he’s not really worried.

 Jeff’s not someone who’d say he’s a light sleeper, but he still wakes up more than once because of Kent’s inability to sleep. Sometimes it’s a loud crash from the kitchen when he’s trying to make himself something to eat at 2 am because Hello, teenage hockey player, other times it’s Kent crying out in his sleep and not in a good way. The muffled sobbing that follows isn’t a homesickness, isn’t something that’ll pass with a few awkward back pats and an offer to have his mom come stay over for a weekend.

 The thing is, Jeff can’t help but like Kent. The kid is a hot mess under the sharp laughter and snapbacks, the toothy grins and the on-brand charm, but Jeff’s catching glimpses of who Kent can be when he’s not struggling to stay afloat.

 He realizes he might be in a little bit of trouble the first time Kent laughs, really laughs, at some stupid cat picture on his phone. It’s too brief to last, the haunted look descending far too fast, but it’s a glimpse of something that has Jeff go, Oh, on the inside.

Fuck it, he’s too old for this shit. He goes out alone that evening, gets drunk, gets his dick sucked by a French guy who speaks no English and barely understands Jeff’s horribly accented Quebecois, and comes home intending to sleep it off.

 Instead, he comes home to Kent watching Die Hard on the couch, eyes red-rimmed from tears and his phone on the table with the screen cracked. Jeff doesn’t say anything, just gets them both a beer from the fridge and settles down next to the kid, arm thrown on the back of the couch in invitation.

 Kent takes it, curling up to him in a way that should be pathetic; Jeff says nothing, just pulls him close, pulls the throw from the back of the sofa over the both of them.

 In the morning, he calls up Bob.

 “What the fuck did you do to this kid?” And yeah, okay Jeff is more than a little hungover and pissed off. He didn’t sign up for—this, whatever this is. He expected to babysit a rookie who’d be looking to get his dick sucked in all the wrong places, not whatever it is that he’s got still asleep on his sofa.

 There’s a silence at the other end of the line; Jeff’s stomach sours with more than just alcohol. He’s always thought Bob was one of the good ones, never regretted getting on his knees and more in that first heady year in Pittsburgh when he was brand new to the show and Bob on his way out.

 “I never...” Bob’s voice is raw with an emotion Jeff can’t name. “Crisse. He was a child when I met him. When Jack brought him home the first time.”  

 Aw, fuck. Jack.  “How’s is he?” Jeff asks, because, fuck, he hasn’t asked until now and he remembers the kid fondly from Pittsburgh.

Bob’s answers aren’t much more than what he could glean from the papers, but it’s good to know the kid is doing better; he’s out of contact with everyone but immediate family, something Bob asks him to pass on to Kent.

Tell him yourself, Jeff almost snaps, but he is starting to get the idea here, he doesn’t voice any of it.

After he ends the call, he goes back to the den where a bleary-eyed Kent is looking around, alarmed.

“Shit, Swoops, did I pass out on you last night? I’m sorry I swear I didn’t mean to, I won’t do it again, I—”

Jeff is sorely tempted to shut him up with a kiss; instead he just shakes his head. “Don’t worry about it, kid. You need a hug, fuck, you need a cuddle, I’m here for you.”  

Kent looks like he is about to say something, but decides against it when his stomach growls and he asks if they can get burgers before they go to the rink.

 Jeff laughs and agrees.

 Much, much later, once pre-season has started and when the words tumble out from Kent between hiccupping sobs: saw him lying on the floor —wouldn't let me see him—told me to leave him alone... Jeff thinks back to that phone call and seriously considers booking a flight to Montreal to punch Bad Bob in the face.

 He doesn’t kiss Kent then, just gathers him close and tells him it’ll be okay.

Jeff hopes he’s not lying.

 

**********

 

Las Vegas, 2011

Kent feels sick. He can’t be hearing what he is hearing, this can’t be happening—

Through the half-open door he can see Swoops with his hand on Tommy’s shoulder. The kid is looking up at him, eyes wide and his face flushed.

 “It’s not the price of admission to the show,” Swoops is saying and the words echo inside Kent’s head. He sounds like he’s quoting someone, his lips quirking into the same little smirk he has when he’s wheeling girls. “But it's an option.”

And Tommy—a rookie,  a—fuck, a call-up from Reno, licks his lips and lowers his eyes. He looks two seconds from folding, from getting on his knees and—

“Troy.” Kent knows his voice is cracking, knows he doesn’t sound like a captain when he speaks up, when he shoves the door open with unnecessary force.  “The fuck is this?” 

Tommy is—fuck, the kid, he’s still a kid even if he’s older than Kent by two years is staring at Kent, eyes wide and face drained of blood. He’s pulling away from Swoops, taking a step back and fuck, Kent knows what he must be thinking, that he’s been caught out, that this is on his head.

“Tommy, go home.” Kent manages to keep his voice even. “You’re good, you’re not in trouble. We’ll talk later.”  

He looks back at Swoops, who has an unreadable expression on his face. The silence between them stretches on as Tommy rushes out of the room, slamming the door behind him and leaving Kent face to face with his best friend.  Except Kent feels suddenly like he doesn’t know Swoops, doesn’t know Jeff Troy at all.

“The fuck was that, Troy?” he asks again, the anger pushing past the cold lump in his chest.

Swoops—Jeff—Troy is giving him another  indecipherable look and Kent hates it, hates that he can’t tell what the hell it is supposed to mean. “What do you think it was, Parse?”

“It looked a whole lot like you were coming on to the rookie, Troy.”  Kent can’t keep the anger out of his voice, not when the anger is the only thing keeping him from choking up, from letting the why not me come out instead.  

Troy gives him a measured look. “And what if I was?”

“He’s a rookie. I heard what you said, about the price of admission.”

And Kent remembers, remembers Bad Bob talking about a lot of things that were part of the price you paid to make it to the show, remembers Jack—keep it secret, keep it safe

“Then you heard me tell him it was not what this was.” Swoops’s voice is measured, and he is looking Kent straight in the eye, like he can see through him, like he can see through the anger Kent is trying to hold onto.  “I saw him at the club with a guy after the last game. I told him I’ve got his back, but that he gotta be more careful.

Kent closes his eyes. This can’t be happening. “Swoops…”

Be more careful… got his back... It’s up to you…

The anger drains away as Swoops steps forward, arms coming up to wrap around Kent and fuck it, he lets go, slumps up against Swoops’ chest, hands coming up to clutch Swoops’ soft flannel.

“I got you, kid,” Swoops says quietly. “I got your back, too.”  

Got your back.

The terror is back, flooding through his veins in a fresh rush. He’s been so careful, he hasn’t hooked up with anyone since he came to Vegas, he hasn’t—he isn’t—Swoops can’t, can’t know. He tries to push away but his arms have no strength and Swoops has no give.  “I’m not—”

“Kent, I know. I’ve known all this time.”  Swoops murmurs, his voice soft, soothing, nothing like it was with Tommy and everything like he is when he’s trying to calm Kent the fuck down when he’s having a bad night. Bad night, week, month, year, life—  

“Why didn’t you say anything?” The words come out on their own volition, before Kent can bite his lip; it’s almost worse than why not me, that petulant whisper that is rising inside him telling him that Swoops is gonna push him away any minute now, that Kent isn’t worth his time, his protection, his—things Kent won’t let himself think about, can’t let himself think about.

“Parser, Kent… you were a fucking mess, even for a rookie. You wouldn't have taken it the right way if I’d said anything.”

You didn't want me throwing myself at you, Kent translates mentally. He gets it, he is so fucking lucky Swoops is his friend. He doesn’t deserve this, doesn’t deserve Jeff Troy looking after him, never has.  

“How did you know?” Kent doesn’t mean to ask it. It comes out from the same place that is thinking about his rookie year, about going to clubs and not leaving with girls, about all the times Swoops got into his space and held him up through nightmares and worse, about how fucking close he’d come to throwing himself at Jeff that last night he’d spent at his place before he officially moved into his new condo.

“Bob told me.”

Kent’s brain goes record scratch. “What.”

He pushes off and fuck, he shouldn’t be missing the warmth of Swoops’ body already, shouldn't be feeling lost and bereft just because he’s taking a step back. It’s pretty pathetic.

He watches Swoops take a deep breath before he speaks up. “He wanted to make sure you had someone in your corner.”

“And he what, told you I was gay?” Kent can’t keep the panic swelling inside him out of his voice.

“He told me to look after his boy. I took it the wrong way, at first.”  Swoops looks a little abashed despite his frank tone, and it takes Kent a moment to figure out what he means.  

“Why?” he hates how small his voice sounds. “Why would you think that?”  

“Bob was still playing during my rookie year in Pittsburgh.”  

That can’t mean—“Swoops?”

“I thought he was asking me to pay it forward.” And there’s something vulnerable in Jeff’s eyes, something soft that Kent hasn’t seen—he has, but not like this, not under the fluorescent lights of the locker room, that's something he sees when he’s at home and Swoops is there and—

“When I realized how messed up you were, I had half a mind to go up and break a hand on his face. But when I called him, when he talked about you—”

“You realized it was a different vintage that fucked me up?” And Kent can’t help it, can’t help the laughter bubbling up in his chest. “Jesus Christ, Swoops, you thought Bob—”

He’s not thinking about it, not thinking about the ill-timed glimpses of Bad Bob that had made him blush and squirm, doesn't think about the poster he had on his wall in New York, the one that was filched from his sister’s magazine, the one with the unbuttoned shirt.

But Bob had never. Not once had he been anything to Kent but—

"You're like a son to him," Swoops says. "That's what he meant and that's what I didn't get, not until I talked to him.”

Kent is grateful that Swoops doesn't say his name. The Zimmermann who left Kent raw and aching.

He's got this. They'll be okay. He can—he can push this all down, down, down and freak out later, let the enormity of it all crush him while he cries all over Kit. He can do this.

"I should—I should go make sure Tommy is okay," he says, instead of anything else that might come up, that might fuck this up.

“You go do that, Cap,”  Swoops says and Kent does not think about that tone of voice or the softness in Swoops’ dark eyes. “You look after the rookie.”

****

His captain knows he’s queer.

Despite the fact that Parson had said he wasn’t in trouble, Thomas cannot forget the clipped bite of them, the barely contained anger and disgust in Parson’s voice when he’d zeroed in on Troy.

 Thomas has no illusions; if Parson is that pissed at his A, what hope does a call-up like him have? At best, he'll get sent down, for unspecified reasons. At worst...

 His hands are shaking so hard already, he doesn't want to think about it. He's sitting in his car, clutching the steering wheel with white-knuckled grip when his phone pings with an incoming message notification.  

Thomas closes his eyes against the tears and doesn't pick up his phone. 

He's back at the hotel, pacing on the minimal stretch of floor and wondering if he should be throwing all his shit in his bags for the inevitability of being sent down when there's a knock on his door.

"Tommy?" Parson's voice is unmistakable. "You in there?"

And Thomas is tempted, so fucking tempted to pretend he isn't, just sit there and be silent and let Parson leave, prolong the inevitable, but Mama Holzknecht didn't raise a quitter.

Slowly, every step feeling like he's moving underwater he turns and goes to the door.  

Parson is leaning against the wall, an unusual look of concern on his face. "Hey, Tommy. Can I come in?"  

"What would you say if I told you no?" And shit, Thomas wishes there was a mini bar in his room so he could blame tiny bottles of stupidly overpriced alcohol on just blurting out.

"Then I'd tell you it's cool, I'll go and give you space, but this conversation needs to happen."  Parson's using his Captain Voice, the one that comes out when the stakes are high. 

Like a band aid, right?

Thomas takes a step back, lets Parson in.

As soon as the door closes, Parson turns around. "Look, Thomas—I'm sorry I freaked you out at the rink. I meant it, you're not in trouble. I am not here to chew you out or tell you to pack your bags."

Thomas releases the breath he hadn't realized he'd held. There's a part of him that's been tense ever since he opened the door, half-expecting a punch, a dirty hit. Who would take his word over Kent Parson's?  

"Take a seat," Parson says and collapses into the only chair in the room. "I—fuck, I don't really know how to have this conversation."

Sitting on the edge of the bed, Thomas has to fight to not to twist his hands into the sheets as he levels a look at Parson. It's somehow both easier like this, when Parson isn't looking up at him because he's so fucking short for a hockey player at 5'10, a good six inches shorter than Thomas.

"Then why did you come here?"

"Because I misread the situation."  Parson's voice is flat when he speaks; it's the flat of a face-off circle, and Thomas can see those pale eyes darken with something.

A sudden, unexpected spark of hope rises in his chest, threatening to turn into a fierce elation. "Misread the situation?" he asks carefully. Maybe he freaked out for nothing, maybe Parson was just pissed off at Troy over something else and Thomas is home free.

Parson sighs and rubs a hand over his eyes, like his head is hurting. "Look, Thomas—I got pissed cause I thought Troy was doing something I didn't think he ever would."

The elation starts to ebb rapidly and Thomas swallows hard, his mouth too dry to form words properly, bitter and hollow. “Like hit on a dude?”

Parson looks up. “That, too. Shit, I’m saying this all wrong. I’m pretty new to this Captain shit, it’s not something I knew. But that’s not why I got angry.”

He runs a hand through his hair, agitated. "I got angry because, shit, fuck, why is this so hard to say? Look, I thought he was trying to take advantage, okay? You're a rookie, you've got a whole lot to prove, and Swoops, is like, the polar opposite. He's my A, he's got the experience—there's people out there who would, you know, would take that and think it's okay to push. And I didn't want to think Swoops would do that, you know?"

It’s hard to parse—ha!—what’s being said, but Thomas is getting the gist of it. He swallows again, his mouth still dry before he says anything. “Yeah, I know.”

“Good,” Parson looks relieved and slumps forward, elbows on his knees. “He’s a good guy, Tommy. He told you he’s got your back, right?”

Thomas nods stiffly. “Yes.”

It hits him, then, that Kent Parson, the Captain of the Las Vegas Aces is barely old enough to drink; Thomas has a good three years on him, and yet, Parson’s first thought had been to protect him, willing to put himself between his A, his best friend, and a rookie.

Parson exhales loudly. “Good. I—I don’t care who you want to be with, but you gotta be careful. Swoops told you that, right? I mean, more than I tell you guys to be on the regular."

Thomas remembers that talk, remembers Parson's casual-seeming attitude when he'd given the speech, about how no lay was worth ruining your career or worse, someone's life. He remembered that some folks had expected him to make a joke about that, about how he had that backwards but he hadn't. Parson had meant it, every word.  

"Look, I don't want to drag this on," Parson says and stands up abruptly. "Just—be careful, whoever you're with, okay? And anyone gives you shit, you come to Swoops, or you come to me. He's got your back and I'm your captain."

Thomas stands, too. "Got it, Captain."

Parson smiles, then, a genuine, small smile nothing like the flashy PR smiles he's so good at giving. "Good, Tommy. I'm glad we had this talk."

It takes a while for everything to sink in after Parson leaves. It doesn't feel like it's real by the time he's sent back to Reno two weeks later, but when they call him back up in late November and it doesn't look like he'll be going back down again until June, Thomas feels a hell of a lot more confident in himself and his place in the team beyond hockey.

He feels confident enough that when they slaughter the Yotes on home ice and he puts three points on the board, he says yes when Troy offers to blow him.  

 

****

Las Vegas 2012   

 

Kent shows up at his apartment with a bottle of vodka—the good kind, Russian, but not the brand Zlata preferred—and a pint of mint chocolate chip ice cream.

"What's the occasion?" Jeff asks as Kent breezes past him to dump his bounty on the table in the den.

"I'm here for a ‘sorry your boyfriend got traded’ pity party," Kent says and brandishes a DVD box set he pulled from somewhere.

“Is that the original Adam West Batman?”

“Yup. Ready to get your kapow on while you drunk-cry into your ice cream?”

Jeff considers saying something about how Thomas wasn't his boyfriend or how this wasn't a break-up or how he's got no intention to cry, fuck you very much, but he can't help the soft smile that breaks out on his face.

"Yeah," he says, because Thomas being traded away sucks ‘cause he's a good kid; even if LA is less than five hours away, he knows what they had is not something that will suffer the distance. It's not the first time Jeff's gotten comfortable with someone who's been traded, or been the one on the block himself.  

Before Thomas left, Jeff had made sure to give him Taps' number; Taps may not be the nicest guy around on or off the ice, but he'd have Thomas's back in the room.  

Jeff is resolutely not thinking about it as maybe setting two of his exes up when he lets himself collapse on the couch and gestures to Kent to distribute the goods. "Gimme."  

It's the really good, our-nutritionist-will-have-kittens kind of ice cream, and Kent doesn't bother setting out bowls. They pass the carton with the spoons back and forth while Batman corrects Robin's grammar on screen, with the ice cold vodka—because of course Parse had chilled it properly beforehand—going down smooth as anything.

Eventually, Jeff starts talking about Thomas, about how he feels about the kid leaving for the Kings.  

"It sucks," that's what it boils down to. "It was good while it lasted."  

"It's only five hours to LA," Kent says and his voice is achingly soft. "You could have—"

Jeff shakes his head and the room spins a little. "It's not just that, though." but he doesn't elaborate further.

He looks at Kent, looks at how soft Kent's face looks, unbearably so. There's ice cream stuck on the corner of his mouth and Jeff's hit again by how pretty Kent is.  

Kent's eyes are never the same color for too long; right now they look a vulnerable pale blue, like they could shatter any moment. That fierce protective urge in his chest that Jeff has tried to keep buried for so long roars back to life and wakes the feelings he's been trying to bury all anew.

Another reason he and Thomas weren't meant for long term, Jeff thinks, Thomas wasn't the kind of a guy who'd have room in his heart and his life for more than one lover, who'd be able to deal with sharing someone's affections once his heart was as involved as his dick.  

Jeff, on the other hand? Zlata always laughed and told him he couldn't keep his heart in his pants, which is a surprisingly accurate assessment.  He's a fucking sap. I may be Love’s bitch but at least I’m man enough to admit it.  

He thinks about calling her because it seems like it would be less of a really fucking stupid idea than leaning forward to lick the chocolate and mint from Kent's lips, to see if they are as soft as they look.  

"Swoops?" Kent's voice wavers and fuck, he licks his lips. "Why are you looking at me like that, man?"

Christ, it is a horrible idea.  

He does it anyway.

****

He does end up calling Zlata after all, once Kent is gone and Jeff is kicking himself for how much of a stupid fucking cockstain he is.

It’s either that or shove a hand in his jeans and get himself off to the memory of Kent moaning into his mouth and what it felt like to push him down against the cushions and just take what Kent was offering.   

Thank fuck he’d come to his senses before they went any further than kisses, any further than Jeff biting into Kent’s neck hard enough to leave a mark, for Kent to cry out and arch against him.

Jeff doesn’t know what he would have done, how far he would have gone if Kent’s phone hadn’t gone off, an obnoxious pop tune breaking through the haze of sweetness and heat. He can still taste the ice cream when he licks his lips, mixed with the memory of Kent’s skin, Kent’s mouth under his.

He stuck his head under the cold tap in the sink when splashing is face wasn’t enough, when he’d been dreading—hoping—that instead of leaving, Kent would follow him upstairs despite his protests that they shouldn’t do this, that Kent should go.

She picks up on the third ring. “Jeff,” she greets him. “What’s wrong?”

His Russian is a little rusty, the words sticking in his throat when he tells her. “I fucked up.

She makes a humming noise and he realizes belatedly that it’s getting on to midnight in Providence. “What did you do?”

I’m sorry, I shouldn’t call you this late.”

Damn right you shouldn't, tiger, I have an early class. But tell me anyway." 

And he does.

By the end of the call, he’s sobered up a little and they’ve agreed to make plans to meet up when Aces play Providence in the preseason Expansion Derby.  He bids her good night and swallows the I love you that nearly spills out once again, even though he no longer has any right to tell her that.

Jeff made his choice even though she never asked him to, and he chose hockey.  

Sometimes it’s really hard to remember why.   

 

****************

Samwell, 2012

 

Everything around him is picture perfect, like straight outta those brochures that were never for him—not when he was a poor kid, and not when he was in the Q with the knowledge he had a future in the pros.  

Samwell and its ilk have always been a glossy photograph in someone else’s book for him.

The state of the frat house he’s been told most of the hockey team—Jack—live, is a surprise. It looks a lot more run down than it ought to, to fit with the rest of the houses on the row and he wonders if there’s a story to it when he walks up to the door.

Maybe it’s haunted.  

He raises a hand to knock when the door swings open.  Kent blinks behind his sunglasses because wow, the guy who opens the door is the spitting image of the Aces’ old captain, except young and hot. Which is really disturbing to think about.

“Right on time!” the guy says cheerfully. “Come on in, we need to move this scene along.”

Kent doesn't really have a good answer to that and finds himself hustled inside the house—the Haus, as he is informed. He’s not sure just how he ends up casually lounging on a couch that’s seen better days—possibly better decades—with a can of cheap cold beer, chatting to Jack’s teammates, who are appropriately awed to have a two-time Stanley Cup champion in their midst.

It makes Kent want to squirm because he doesn't want that, doesn’t want these guys to look at him and see—that. They’re Jack’s friends now, and he—he wants them to like him, dammit. He wants to show Jack he can—that they don’t have to be like this anymore, they don’t have to have all this fucking distance, all this fucking silence between them.

Kent traces the condensation on the beer can with his thumb when he listens to Adam—Holster to his team—talk about his studies. This is different than when Jack had been coaching pee-wee hockey, this is something else. Jack has a team now, too; he has these guys, Holster and Random, wait, no; Ransom, he’s not going to be that asshole who forgets a guy’s name like that, and of course the dude who opened the door was a weirdo, he’s their goalie. Zimms has them, Kent has Swoops and Scraps and Ilya and even fucking Carl.

The fact that the guy with the epic flow proclaims himself Jack’s best friend fucking hurts, but Kent can deal with that.

He was Zimms’ best friend, once. But he doesn’t think that was the right word for them in the end, not at the very end until everything burned down.   

Zimms wasn’t his best friend, Zimms has been his—

The sound of a door slamming jolts him out of his thoughts,  he straightens up form his slouch and sets the beer aside, really fucking glad that he didn’t spill any on himself. Covered in Natty Light is not how he wants to meet Zimms again for the first time after all these years.

“Jackalope! Just in time!”  the guy with the flow, Shitty, calls out. “Come here, we have a surprise for you!”

Kent stands up, swallowing hard when Jack comes into the field of his vision. “Hey, Zimms.”

*******

Providence, 2012

 

Zlata had been telling him about the brand new bakery with amazing vareniki so they skip dessert.

Despite the fact that it's only September, there's a chill in the air; she fits under his arm like she never left and it's as good as it is bittersweet, to walk with her like this to a small storefront he would never have noticed on his own. His grasp of Cyrillic has always been shakier than his spoken Russian.

The little bell over the door makes a surprisingly loud noise when they step into the bakery. It's not too crowded, only a few people in and free tables by the windows. There is something familiar about the guy looking at the displays that bugs him, but it's not until he turns around and a delighted grin breaks out on his face that Jeff recognizes him.

"Alexei," Zlata greets him warmly.

"Zlata!" Alexei Mashkov steps forward. "Doesn't Troy know you don't date hockey players?"

Which, fuck you very much. "I'm the reason she doesn't date hockey players."

Okay, that was not the best-ever rebuttal, but Mashkov's eyebrows rise comically when he realizes that yeah, Jeff actually does speak Russian.  

Zlata, the saint that she is, laughs easily at the both of them. "I see you boys need a proper introduction. Alexei, this is my former husband, Jeff. Jeff, this is Alexei, I tutor him in English."  

It's as if Mashkov—Alexei?—takes her words as a challenge because he switches to English as he holds out a hand. "It's pleasure to meet."  

Jeff doesn't hesitate much before he takes Mashkov's hand. "Likewise."  

Off the ice, Mashkov still looks imposing; he’s a little taller than Jeff, and the leather jacket he’s wearing does nothing to hide the width of his shoulders, the muscle he’s packed on in the offseason. And he doesn’t try any crushing macho bullshit even though his grip is on the firmer side.

Zlata smiles at them both with the kind of fond indulgence Jeff knows she usually reserves for when Blini does something especially stupid-cute.

Jeff thinks back to the All-Star game a couple of years ago, back to when he’d spent an evening catching up with an old friend. He remembers Sebastien saying he was keeping an eye out for some of his new rookies, for reasons which didn’t need elaborating, not when they were tangled together in cheap hotel sheets.  

They’d exchanged no names, but now, Jeff is wondering just a little, with the way Mashkov’s eyes appear appraising in turn. Jeff's no slouch himself; he knows he's broad from the offseason, too, and unlike most of the league he knows how to buy jeans that actually fit, even if he usually doesn't need to get his tailored, hockey ass or not. He wonders if Mashkov's have been; they sure seem to skim his tree-trunk thighs that way.

He schools his face into a neutral expression rather than one of appreciation; there's a time and place for these things and an unplanned run-in at a bakery brought about by his ex-wife is not one of those. Especially not with a pre-season game on tomorrow. He's pretty sure they will square off on ice, Mashkov there for the Falcs' prospects to measure against and Jeff riding herd on the Aces.  

Before the moment has a chance to go from awkward to truly uncomfortable, Jeff's phone goes off.  

"Shit, sorry," he apologizes as he paws for the phone, "I gotta take this." 

Only one person on his phone has Britney as their ringtone, and Parse knows where he is. He wouldn't call if this wasn't important.  

Zlata pats his shoulder in understanding and turns to Mashkov, saying something too fast for Jeff to catch as he steps back outside into the chill,

His hand is shaking when he answers. “Parse?”

“Swoops?”  Kent’s voice sounds hollow, the kind of hollow Jeff thought they’d left behind, left into that long summer after their first cup.

“Kent? What’s going on?”

“I—” Kent can barely get the word, if it is a word, out between hurried breaths. “I went to Samwell, Swoops.”

For a moment Samwell barely rings a bell—D1 school, struggling hockey team—before it hits him. Jack fucking Zimmermann is at Samwell.

"Are you okay?" he asks. "Shit, Parse, do you—are you safe?"

There's a pause and Jeff thinks maybe Kent is shaking his head or something, there's a noise across the line. "I’m—I'm in the car."

Shit. "Are you driving?"

"Can't—can't, my hands are shaking, Swoops, they won't stop shaking."

"I'm coming to get you, just—stay right there, Kent. Just breathe, okay, keep breathing.”

And Kent does, his breath hitching and wet on the phone as Jeff looks around for a cab but of course there isn’t one; this is a quiet side street in Providence, not Vegas. Panic starts to spike in his chest but he needs to stay calm. He needs to get to Kent, and he needs to get to him fast.

Later, if you asked him what happened between that realization and Mashkov putting a set of car keys in his hand, Jeff couldn’t tell you; Zlata hugs him fiercely and tells him to keep her updated.

He has Kent on the speakerphone at the start of the drive, Kent's hitching sobs audible over the GPS telling him which turn to take.

"Just hold on, Kenny," Jeff says, the diminutive slipping out—fucking Russians, too much time with them—but for once Kent doesn't react, doesn’t blow up on his face.

The GPS tells him it's forty minutes to Samwell; he makes the drive in twenty-five, fear and guilt pounding in his gut all the while. If only he hadn't been so fucking stupid as to kiss Kent, if only it hadn't been so fucking awkward after, he might’ve known Kent was planning this, was planning to go see Jack fucking Zimmermann.

But he'd had no fucking idea, had been so focused on seeing Zlata and getting his own head straight he'd failed his captain. Every hitched sob in Kent's breath, every aborted word, every Hold on Jeff bites out, another reminder of his failure.

Kent is waiting on him in the middle of the campus, sitting on the ground with his back leaning against the iconic well. He is surprisingly alone, but in a place like this a young man in a snapback and a hoodie doesn't attract that much attention, not when his face is buried in his knees. Jeff has no idea where his car is now and doesn't give a fuck. 

"Kenny?" the nickname slips out and Jeff kicks himself for it, he shouldn't have used that. 

The snapback jerks but Kent doesn't look at him.

"It's just me," Jeff says quietly. "Come on, let's get you out of here."  

He crouches down and helps Kent up, glancing around, hoping to see no cameras. No one seems to be paying any attention to them; just a couple of bros being bros. He thinks they might just get away with it; Samwell's well-to-do enough that not even Mashkov's brand new Ford F150 in custom Falcs' blue attracts much attention.

They can sort out Kent's rental later.

Kent is quiet when they leave the Samwell campus behind, staring through the tinted windows with unseeing eyes. It's been a long time since Jeff's seen him like this, like he's cracked open and left empty.

Jeff doesn't turn the radio on; with his fucking luck it would be one of those Britney songs that makes Kent cry like a baby. He does turn on the heater, makes sure the seat Kent is slumped up against is warm as he drives towards Providence. Once they hit traffic and a long red light, Jeff takes the opportunity to peel off his hoodie and reaches over to wrap it around Kent.

There's a crate of Gatorade in the back; he pulls one out and hands it to Kent who takes it but doesn't drink, fingers ripping into the label in frantic little motions.

Jeff considers pulling up to somewhere, to some random parking lot and trying to see if Kent was okay, but the last thing he wants to risk is grainy cell phone footage—or worse.

The decision is taken from him.

Jeff swears under his breath when he pulls over.

"License and registration, please." The cop drawls as soon as Jeff lowers the window.

Jeff wants to facepalm because this—this does not look good.

"I have my license, officer, but I might have to look for the registration. It's not my car, it belongs to—a friend."  

"Is that so? And here I thought you had lost a few inches and the accent, Mr. Mashkov."  

Jeff really wants to swear right now; beside him, Kent is curling into his seat under the hoodie. It's bad enough for a hockey player to get pulled over, but two, in a car belonging to a third? While he'd left Mashkov in the company of his ex-wife?

Deadspin is going to make so many country song jokes. Or maybe ones about wheeling.

He produces his driver's license. "Right sport, different team I'm afraid."

The officer squints at his license, then at him. "And why would one of the esteemed Las Vegas Aces be driving around our boy's car?"  

"Two, actually," Kent speaks up from under the hoodie.

Shit, is Kent on something? It's not his usual style, but—

The officer blinks slowly. "Mister Parson, too."

Kent is giving his good media smile, the little aw shucks who me I'm just your all-American boy next door one. "You've got us, officer."

It's unbelievable how fast Kent shifts from an absolute mess to this, but Jeff thinks he shouldn't be surprised. He saw the same thing so many times when Kent was still a rookie. Except Kent's eyes are really red right now from crying and he looks a little spaced out.

Fuck.

 

*******

Providence, 2012

 

There probably would have been more humiliating off-ice meetings than having Mashkov bail them out by assuring the cops that yes, Swoops definitely had his car with permission and of course he'd be happy to take photos and sign shit for Providence's finest, but Kent can't really think of any.

Mashkov had the good grace to not ask questions, just loudly exclaim about Kent's car trouble, didn't he know he should stick with good American cars like the Russian blessing in disguise he'd been. He'd even dropped them off at the hotel, the solicitous bastard.

Kent is too numb to be even angry about it, or to even think about the potential Deadspin articles.

He's too numb to do much anything until they're alone, in Swoops' room, and Swoops is right there wrapping his arms around Kent and asking him if he's okay.

Kent is, in fact, not okay.

He lets it all out, sobbing grossly into Swoops' shirt, how he'd gone to see Zimms, to talk to him-

"The way he looked at me, Swoops- "

Like he wanted nothing more than for Kent to drop dead.

Like Kent was a -

Like he was seeing a stranger.

"He doesn't want me, Swoops. He's replaced me, he's got a new team, a new best friend."

The words keep tumbling out and he hates it, hates himself for being so weak, so despicable, for letting Swoops see it all. He should be better than this, had been better than this but...

"I'm no good for anyone, Swoops," he admits, choking on the tears, the fact that Swoops is tightening his grip of him barely registering. "No one wants me."

"That's not true, Kent," Swoops' voice is achingly soft. "That's not true at all."

But it is.

"You don't want me," the words spill out. "You - you made me leave."

Because Swoops kissed him and made him feel so good, so wanted, more than anyone had since-

And Swoops told him to go, because it was a mistake, because Swoops was drunk and missing his boyfriend. He hadn't said it all out loud but Kent didn't have to be told.  

He feels Swoops stiffen and braces himself for it, for being pushed away and -

"Oh, kiddo."

Kent chokes back another sob when Swoops' hand comes to cup his face, a broad, warm, gigantic hockey hand that makes him feel small and fragile as Swoops tilts his face up.

"I didn't ask you to leave because I didn't want, Kent," his voice is soft and low. "I wanted to, too much. It wouldn't - it wouldn't have been right.

"Why not?" Kent asks, his voice raw. he's raw all over, his eyes ache, his heart aches, his soul feels as raw as it did that night he -

"You were so pissed off at me when you thought I was taking advantage of Tommy,"  Swoops' voice stays soft, so gentle it hurts.  "Why'd you think I'd take advantage of you?"  

“Oh.”

“Yeah, oh.”

“But you wouldn’t have been,” Kent says. “I’m - I’m your Captain, I’m not a rookie any more.”  

Swoops shakes his head gently. “You were drunk and I was - “

“You were wishing I was Tommy,” the words hurt coming out. “I know. I - I wouldn’t have minded.”  

He would have, but it would have been worth it, being able to pretend just for a little while that someone like Swoops could want him.

“I know you went upstairs to call him when I left.”

Swoops stiffens. “That’s - okay, I went upstairs to call my ex when you left, but it wasn’t Tommy, kiddo. I called Zlata so she could tell me off.”  

Kent wants to say something, anything to that because, what, but his words are cut off by a yawn. He doesn’t resist when Swoops tells him they can continue in the morning and guides him to the bed, the exhaustion hitting him like a ton of bricks, or a check from Chara.   

“Swoops, will you stay with me?” Kent hates how small and broken he sounds.

“Of course,” Swoops says because he’s fucking Swoops, he’s perfect, isn’t he?

Kent closes his eyes and tries to breathe, tries to not to lean into Swoops’ touch too much.

After what feels like an eternity, when Kent thinks he’s just about to drift off -

“Love you, kiddo.”

Kent sits up quick enough to get dizzy and nearly nail Swoops in the face. “What.”

Swoops looks like a deer in the headlights. “Oh, fuck, I thought you were asleep.”

“Did you mean it?” Kent thinks this must be a dream.

“Yeah, I did,” Swoops says, his voice not soft, but…  “that doesn’t mean, though- “

Kent wants to tell him to shut up but grabbing Swoops and kissing him works, too.

“We gonna make this work, Swoops?” he hates how soft his voice is, how fragile. 

“If you’re going to keep kissing me like this, you ought to call me Jeff.”

And then Swoops - Jeff kisses him again.  

Yeah, they’re going to make this work.

 

*****

 Las Vegas 2016

 

Kent takes a deep breath, wishing he was somewhere else, anywhere else where coming outside for a breath of fresh air meant the air was cool and not desert warm.

Zimms has it all, now. The Cup, the Conn Smythe, probably the Calder too and the Masterson, maybe -

And the blonde guy he'd kissed on center ice.

Kent closes his eyes and takes another deep breath. Inside, Carly is probably ranting still; the guy has a problem with Zimms and Kent has never asked, never wanted to know, because fucking Carl and his fucking - performative bullshit, like Kent doesn't know he's going home to call his friend Bonnaire-

Being angry at Carl is easier than thinking about Zimms, about how facing against him on the ice has been - how he tried to - how that kid from the corridor who looked barely old enough to shave

Kent needs to get the hell away from here.

Thank god for Jeff; he knows by now how long Kent needs to breathe, to have a moment on his own before he comes out, the tab settled and his phone out ready to get them a car.  

"Let’s go home," he says quietly.

***

Kit knows something is going on; she headbutts Kent and meows, head tilted with what in a human would be concern.  

God, Kent loves his cat. 

Jeff gets them both something to drink and comes back to join him on the couch.

"So, do you want to talk about it?"

Kent considers.

"No."

He's said everything he has to say about Zimms to Jeff by now, hasn't he? There will be fall-out, they both know that. There would have been a fall-out no matter who it was who was first to come out in the NHL, first to break the silence.  

But it's -

Kent always thought they'd come out together. Even if - even if they'd never be "Jarse" again, he'd still have Zimms in his corner. And now, this.

"Your phone is lighting up, want me to look after it?"

Kent nods, grateful. Swoops doesn't have the same stakes as Kent does, doesn't have the same connection to Jack, won't have the same scrutiny. But Kent knows with certainty that if they drag him out in the open, Jeff won't be spared.

They've been too comfortable.

"Bob wants you to call him when you feel up to it." Jeff puts a hand on his shoulder and Kent leans his face on it, enjoying the warmth and the familiarity.

"Yeah."

"Okay, I am gonna go call him in the next room, this might get a little loud."

Kent thinks about what Jeff might have to say to Bob, considering. If he wasn't feeling so out of it, he'd want popcorn to go with it.  

Instead, he buries his face in Kit's soft fur and doesn't cry, just lets himself breathe just like his therapist told him while he tries to not to listen to the sounds of Jeff talking to Bob in the kitchen.

" - had no plan - "

"- Putting us all under a microscope "

" - Has no idea? How the fuck - "  

"- I'll make sure he's okay, I promise. - "

Kent lets it all flow over him, paying no attention.

Until something makes his eyes perk up, makes Kit let out a little mrrrp of alarm

" - retiring now - "

" Twenty's not bad - "

" - Jagr?"

When Jeff comes back, Kit is sitting on the arm of the couch, her tail swishing furiously; Kent knows the look on Jeff's face, the guilty one, the one where he knows the cat is judging him.

"Parser? How much of that did you hear?"

Kent swallows, his mouth dry despite having downed the Gatorade Jeff brought him. "I heard you say something about... retirement."

Jeff signs when he sits down. "Yeah. I've been thinking about it, and I think this might have been it. I could sign up for one more year with the Aces, maybe shop around, but I'm thinking I got this far in one piece, I - I don't know if I want to push it anymore. I got twenty seasons in the show and three cups to show for it."

It sounds a little rehearsed, and Kent gets that. But -

"Would you leave?"

Jeff closes his eyes. "Can we talk about this later, Kent? It's been a long day. Night. Season."

Kent won't press, but he knows the answer. Jeff doesn't love Vegas, not the way Kent does. When Jeff is done, Jeff will leave Vegas and -

"I promise you, no matter what it's not going to be me leaving you." Jeff says quietly.

And the thing is, Kent believes him.

He really, really does.

***

Jeff had not wanted to spring it on Kent like this, that he'd been getting more and more certain that he wanted to retire. It's so easy to forget, sometimes, that Kent is a good thirteen years younger than he is. Hockey is the great equalizer in a lot of ways, even if hockey seasons are a lot like dog years.

He feels a lot like an old dog, these days, and like he told Bob he's no Jagr.

All considered, Jeff's been really lucky; he's had his share of injuries over the years, but none of them kept him off the ice for more than a few weeks, a few months at the time. He hasn't had a concussion since '02, and he knows how fucking lucky he is in that regard.  He has won the Cup; he's won it more than once. He's been to Worlds a few times, got a gold from 2007 to show for it. Never made the cut for the Olympics, but he's made his peace with that.

It's no secret that he's been talking to Zlata, this year. She's been following the Falcs' success keenly, still a friend and tutor to Mashkov. He knows she would not date another hockey player but -

She might be willing to try again with a retired one.  

It would mean Jeff going to her. She spent too long being dragged around the States when he was getting traded to and fro to make it even remotely fair that he'd ask her to come to him. She's up to her eyebrows in PhD research, loves Providence and New England in a way she never enjoyed anywhere else they lived.

Jeff has never enjoyed the heat, not the way Kent does. He thinks he'd be happy in Providence, if things worked out, but he's not sure if he can ask Kent to deal with the distance and everything else.

Kent had told him when they first got together that he was still in love with Jack Zimmermann and that he probably always would be. Jeff told him that it was okay, because love isn't a finite resource.

Kent had taken to the idea well, seemed to thrive under it. He'd always had too many feelings for his own good.

But this would be the first time it was something - something more than just an old friend or a fling.

It could be worse - Zlata could hate Kent, or vice versa. Instead, the two of them send cat pictures back and forth and the few times they've met they've hit it off like a house on fire.

Jeff may or may not have had a few thoughts about both of them, but although Kent isn't strictly gay, he's also not going to leave Vegas any time soon and Jeff knows Zlata has absolutely no interest in anything long distance. So sue him, he's a red-blooded adult with a lot of attractive people in his life, he has a lot of thoughts he keeps to himself.  

His agent is telling him he could shop around still; he hasn't made any announcements yet and in the mess that followed the Falcs' historic cup win, no one would pay any attention to him anyway. Not unless he decided to suddenly out himself - and risk so many others - to join the You Can Play club.

Except, Jack Zimmermann hasn't even done a single You Can Play yet; what the hell is up with that anyway?

Jeff knows he could ask Bob, find out what's going on, but it doesn't feel quite right. Jeff is on his way out, this is for the new generation of queer hockey players, for the kids coming up in juniors and colleges, in midgets even, who think they might not be able to hack it in the show.

He got a text from Tommy yesterday; depending on how his contract negotiations go, he and Taps are considering coming out, too. Jeff wasn't at the wedding - they'd gone back to Europe for it - but he'd seen photos. If this keeps up, Tommy and Taps might end up on Ellen before Jack and Bittle do.

Jeff is trying very hard to not to think about the fact that if he goes, if he gets back together with Zlata, it will make things look a lot better for Kent. Suddenly the too-close bro-ship of a mentor and a mentee will look a lot less suspect when one of them does something not gay.  

He doesn't want to choose, and he hopes he doesn't have to.

****

Kent slurps at his straw noisily. It's offseason, he's allowed to get his protein in the form of a peanut butter milkshake.

Jeff looks unimpressed, which, kind of part of the appeal.

"You know what is going to suck, if you don't sign?" Kent says, faux-casually. He'll never be as good at sincere as Jeff is. Blame it on Jeff being a good Canadian boy and Kent being, well, Kent.  

"I am sure you'll tell me, Parser," Jeff says with a note of fond resignation.

"You know who'll be my new A? Carl. Fucking Carl, Swoops."  Kent signs theatrically and takes another long slurp of his milkshake.  

It's not really fair to Carl, even taking into account how much of a douchenozzle the guy is when he's feeling threatened, and this summer has been full of it, but what else is Kent going to say? Because there's a lot more to what will be missing in the room without Swoops there.  

It's too hot to be out on the balcony but here they are anyway. Kent is trying to come up with the words to tell Swoops that it's okay, that he's not going to self-destruct if Swoops leaves Vegas - if he goes to fucking Providence, even, because he gets it. There's still a part of Kent that would go to Jack in a heartbeat, but there's not a snowball's chance in hell that Kent will ever let that part resurface again.

(Besides, Zlata's ass is better than Jack's, if you ask Kent. Hockey asses get repetitive, after a while.)

"You know once her PhD is finished, she's thinking of moving. Maybe somewhere in the west coast." Jeff's voice is low as he stirs his sundae around the cup, mixing the hot caramel into the vanilla and turning the whole thing into something that looks horribly unappealing.  

"We can make this work."  

Kent believes him.

 

*** 

Las Vegas, 2016

 

Chris wants to pinch himself but he already had a bruise on the inside of his wrist from how many times he's done it. He's here, he's at the Las Vegas Aces prospect camp for the next 48 hours.

So, okay, it's not the Sharks but he'd feel that way about every single team that's not the Sharks, and that's just normal, right? Everyone wants to be drafted to their team, wants to be a hometown hero.

He'd been hoping to go in the second round, maybe high third; not higher than Carter flipping' Hart, for sure. His name being called on the first round, as the twenty-fourth selection, was completely unexpected and it still feels unreal to be here.

Unlike the guys who play major juniors or ECHL or in Europe, as an NCAA athlete Chowder can only stay those 48 hours. But he is going to make them count, going to do his best.

Maybe he's a little conceited to think so but he hopes that some of the Aces vets show up so he can try against actual NHL players. Jack in practice the year before didn't count; Jack was Jack, but he'd still had to level up for the show, everyone did.  Without the spate of injuries plaguing the Falcs at the beginning of the season, even Jack would have had to spend some time in the AHL. Chris is kind of selfishly glad that goalie development being what it is, he can expect to spend the next two years in Samwell before he gets put to the test and they'll see if he can really hack it in the show.

Chris did not expect the Aces Captain to be at the camp, but holy mother of cows, Kent Parson is there in a floral snapback and a too-big Aces hoodie, smiling and joking like he's not the franchise's record book come to life.

He also sure as hell doesn't expect Parson to remember him. Chris has been kicking himself since the Epikegster for how that photo came out, because it had been so cool to have Kent "Viva Las Vegas" Parson show up.  Everyone had been talking about it for ages.

When Parson grins at him and greets him with a "Chowder! 'sup, my man? Samwell still treating you well?" Chris finds his mouth dry and remembers just what some of that talk was.

Kent Parson is hot, okay? Not just on the ice with a stick in hand, he's actually really good looking. Chris likes hot dudes as much as Caitlin does, and they'd - talked about it, about what if whichever girl Parson ended up taking upstairs had been Cait, if Chris had been there too.  

He’d never expected Parson to remember him from the party.  

Whatever he says can’t be too dumb; no one looks at him funny and Parson moves on, to talk to the next group of guys.

He doesn’t get asked about it  which is nice, because Chris still feels a little like he’s swallowed his tongue and whatever is gonna come out of his mouth next is going to be far too enthusiastic and also chirping material for ever and ever.

Until now, Chris has had this weird amalgamation of who Kent Parson is inside his head; there’s the guy he met at the Epikegster who had been, to quote Nursey, chill. He’d gotten his ass kicked in flip cup by Lardo, been in so many selfies the Swallow was still posting them two months later, disappeared upstairs at one point with someone  - Chris is pretty sure, like, four different girls came forward saying he was with them - and then disappeared mysteriously.  There’s the public image of Kent Parson, puck personality interviews, post-games, twitter and Instagram and so many cat pictures.  

And then there’s - well, Chris doesn’t want to think ill of anyone, but the way Bitty sometimes gets when Parse is mentioned, the way he does that Southern thing, like Parson is beneath his notice, it’s impossible to miss. He’s heard Bitty’s opinions about Parson’s hockey and he doesn’t really agree; Parson is no Marchand, let alone the Wilson Bitty makes him sound like. PIM is pretty much the only thing he’s not the leader of in the Aces’ history - that honor goes to Carl Lapierre, who is nowhere near as chill as Parse; he’s about as wound up as Dex is, which makes sense because they’re both gingers and have no souls.  

Chris kind of wonders if the reason Bitty doesn’t like Parse is because of Bitty and Jack, if Parser had like, a problem with it. He’s never said shit in public, unlike Lapierre, but Chris is pretty sure that no one who uses social media like Parse does would lack the media savvy to keep that sort of an opinion out of the public eye.

By the end of the day, he has another layer to add to this; Captain Kent Parson is different from the chill bro and the media darling and everything else. He’s a lot like Jack, actually - Chris can’t help but draw the parallels that throw the differences into stark relief, even if he doesn’t get to work with Parse directly a lot. He’s got the mostly undivided attention of the Aces’ goalie coaches because, again, 48 hours; the other two guys already here are in Juniors so they don’t have to worry about eligibility. They work him hard and he’s glad for it.

He makes the mistake of making the comparison to Jack later, in the locker room; Parse is already gone but it comes up and suddenly, he’s surrounded by guys who want to hear about what Jack’s like to play with, to play against.  

It’s easy enough to talk about Jack, about Jack’s hockey; Chris knows he’s talking too much, probably blabbing and being annoying but no one is telling him to shut up so that’s good -

“So what was it like, playing in a team with, you know,” one of the guys starts to ask, shrugging in a really elaborate manner. “You know. With Zimmermann and Bittle.”  

Oh.

“Yeah, what’s it like with guys like that in the locker room?” another guy, a lanky D-man, asks.

Before Chris can say anything - and wow, that is saying something because he has a fucking deluge of things he wants to say in response because who the fuck asks that - someone speaks up.

It’s Lapierre, of all the people, barking at them to stop gossiping, that they had a schedule to stick to and do they really want to waste time dawdling? He singles out Chris and another guy, reminds them they’ve got even less time than the rest of the prospects.

“Forty-eight hours to remain NCAA eligible, boys,” he says, sounding serious. “You don’t want to go messing around with that. You need to stay sharp, take every moment seriously. Don’t let yourselves get distracted by petty fucking gossip that’s got no place in the room.”

Chris nods eagerly because what else  can he do? He doesn't want to talk about Jack-and-Bitty, not like that. He’s happy to talk about Jack, about Bitty,  but it’s just - it’s so uncool for people to ask that sort of shit.

He tells the same to Caitlin over Skype in the evening, sore all over but too excited still to just fall asleep.  

“He sounded pretty sincere,”  she says to him, her voice tinny through the speakers.

Chris shrugs. “I think he was. Like, he’s right, it’s just petty gossip, has no place in the room Or maybe I should have said something anyway, about how it’s not a big deal, how no one really cares because it’s the locker room and no matter what porn says it’s gross and it smells and there’s nothing hot about getting hard in your jock?”

Caitlin laughs, and Chris blushes. They’ve been together for two years now but he still feels like a bumbling virgin sometimes, because she’s just so great, so hot and smart and, just, great. He tries to tell her that as often as he can.

“Anyway, tell me more about Kent Parson. Is his ass as fantastic as I remember?”

Chris grins. “Better. He’s all buff from offseason training..:”

**

Okay, so maybe that was not the smartest conversation to have with Caitlin; they got a little carried away. Not too carried away; he was sharing the room with a Swedish guy, but Joakim had chosen to call his gf back home from the lobby, narrating the whole Vegas experience. 

It’s not that Chris is tired; he’s so excited he feels like he drank, like, five espressos at one go but he only had tea at breakfast. It’s the same enthusiasm he felt yesterday, that he knows he would feel all week if today wasn’t his last day here.

He gets his wish, getting to put himself to test against not just Parson but Lapierre and Scarpia, too.

Afterwards he can’t breathe with the sheer joy of it. He held off both Lapierre and Scarpia, and blocked almost all of Parson’s shots. The last one, he still can't figure out what Parson did with his stick to make the puck dance like that, to fucking graze his shoulder when it went in.

He’s fully aware he’s being a starstruck idiot but he can’t wipe the grin off his face, can’t make himself shut up. He can see Lapierre shaking his head, mouthing goalies at Parson as he waves, slinking off to wherever -

Chris realizes belatedly that it’s just him and Parson in the locker room. He thinks he should be - somewhere else, either with the other NCAA guys or the other goalies, not lingering behind to talk the ear off Kent “V is for Victory” Parson.

Parson is smiling; the look is a lot more genuine than the smiles Chris remembers for interviews or the selfies. “You’re a good kid, Chow. I’m glad we’ve got you.”

“T- thanks,” Chris stammers, not sure what else to say. “You’re good, too. Not that you’re a kid! I mean, you’re Kent Parson.” And oh god, he is blushing so hard right now, you can see it from orbit.

Parson laughs; the sound makes Chris feel warm all over even as Parse claps him on the shoulder.

“Gimme your phone.”

“What?” Chris gapes like a non-Shark fish, because sharks don’t gape.

“Your phone. I’ll put my number in, we’ll keep in touch.”

Chris is pretty sure he is going to explode. Kent Parson wants to give him his number.

He very nearly blurts out the thing he says every time someone asks his number or offers him theirs; I have a girlfriend but we’re cool with other people so if you’re cool with that we can totally exchange numbers except that would be absurd because Parson doesn’t want his number like that and he will stop gaping like a fish any moment now please and thank you.

“You don’t have to, if you don’t want to,” Parson says seriously. “If you’d rather just concentrate on college and your girl for now, that’s cool. But I just want you to know, I’ve got your back.”

Chris shakes his head. “No! I mean, yes, please, here - “ he shoves his phone at Parson - “Please can I have your number? I have a girlfriend though, shit, no, I wasn’t supposed to say that, it’s just every time someone asks my number, I want to make sure they know about Caitlin because she is so amazing and perfect and likes to share and - “

Parse grins. “I’m happy to hear you’ve lucked out, Chow. She sounds like a keeper.”

Chris could was poetic about Caitlin Farmer for hours given the chance. Unfortunately, there isn’t a chance, because as soon as Parson has put his number into Chris’s phone, someone comes looking for him, looking none too happy about it.

“All my fault,” Parson is quick to say, to take it upon himself that Chris had just kept -vomiting words all over the place and making an ass out of himself in addition to making himself late.

“Already listening to your captain, eh?”

“I’m sure he’ll eventually get over it.”

Chris fights down another blush as he follows the trainer out of the room, all the while feeling like his phone was burning a hole in his pocket.  

Kent Parson gave me his number.

 

******

Providence, 2016

 

It’s not every day you go on another first date with the man you married, but look at her doing just that.

Zlata checks her hair in the hallway mirror one last time before she heads to the door. Jeff is picking her up; they have reservations to a restaurant they’ve never been to before, never been to as friends.

He’s no longer a young, brash professional athlete and she is no longer a naive young girl. They have never been bad for each other, with their divorce a mutual regret and not a mutual decision. She couldn’t deal with it, couldn’t deal with seeing him on the TV and on the ice, knowing he might be hurt so badly at any given time, couldn’t deal with being away from him, the expectations -  

There are very few expectations for an academic. Of course, she hasn’t escaped them entirely; she still sees her name on Deadspin at alarming regularity, simply because no one thinks a beautiful woman can simply tutor her countrymen in English without there being some sort of a salacious undercurrent to it.  They even have a portmanteau for her and Alexei, ever since that time when Kent-

Her phone chimes twice in quick succession, jolting her out of her thoughts; a glance shows her two separate messages. Speak of the devil - there’s one from Alexei and one from Kent.

Alexei’s is filled with emojis and a wish for neither fur nor feather; she laughs, because Kent’s message is in essence the same, telling her to break a leg.  

From someone else, she might have taken it as passive aggression, to wish her luck in such a manner when she is about to go out with the man Kent is in love with. But Jeff had been right all those years ago; Kent Parson might not be as easy with his feelings as Jeff, but he has the same capacity to wish happiness on those he loves.  Even when it is at his own expense.

Zlata responds to Alexei with a smile and to Kent with a picture of Blini. The response is an immediate set of heart-eyes, which of course is the only appropriate response to a cat picture, so she sends him a few more. 

It’s just the distraction she needs; she’s smiling freely when she sees Jeff, looking as handsome as ever. His jaw drops a little when he sees her and for a moment she wants to just grab him, yank him by his silk tie and drag him inside. It would be oh so stupid but oh so satisfying, to peel the tailored jacket that shows off just how broad his shoulders are, nipping in at the waist to bring attention to the fact that despite his retirement, Jeffrey Troy still has a hockey ass.

It’s been so long since she’s allowed herself to look, and she thinks, it might be the same for him, with the way his eyes darken as he takes in her dress, the way it skims down her legs. She’s no longer the waifish girl he married, but it was never about that for him.

Their first date was in a little cafe, back home. His Russian was non-existent and her English ill-used, but they made it work. It was nothing like this, nothing like the easy familiarity they have now, the warmth of him at her side so familiar despite the distance.

He makes her laugh and she makes him blush and he kisses her for the first time in nearly ten years when he takes her home and bends down to pet Blini when the cat comes to investigate who is at the door.  

She doesn’t want to rush this; there is too much at stake, but she has a good feeling about this.

***

When Las Vegas Aces come to town for hockey, she stays home. She’s curled up on the couch under a heated blanket with a good book and a cup of tea, Blini purring at her feet listening to the rain pattering against the roof tiles.

Jeff is spending the day - and night - with Kent; she doesn’t want to intrude, wants to give them the time and space to reacquaint themselves. They have tentative plans for lunch tomorrow, all three of them, before the Aces head back west.

Her phone vibrates and she almost doesn’t check it, but there’s only two more chapters left in the book and she wants to savor it.

To her surprise, it’s Alexei.  You weren't at the game tonight, everything okay?

Zlata frowns, before tapping out a reply. Yes, just chilling out at home. Why?

Alexei responds almost immediately. I thought you might have been here with Jeff. He’s hanging out with the losers.  

She can see that, can see the notification on the top of her screen when she swipes down; Falcs won, two-nil; Snowy’s third shutout of the season. She smiles a little and taps out a request to pass on her congratulations.  

Will do, Alexei replies, but she can see the three dot for a long while.

Did Jeff not want you to meet his friends in the Aces?

 Her first reaction is anger. What right does Alexei have, to pry into her relationship? They’re friends, that doesn’t give him the right to ask such an invasive question.

She puts the phone down and takes a sip of her tea; it’s lukewarm, and it lets her anger cool down a little, too. Alexei is young and brash and well-intentioned. He is asking her as a friend, not as a man; in the five years she’s known him, he’s always respected her, first as a tutor, then as a friend, respected the fact that she did not want to date a hockey player. And yes, Snowy, goalies count as hockey players; that line might have worked for Fleury but certainly didn't work for Snow.

She picks up her phone and replies. I’ve met most of them already. Tonight is for Jeff. We have plans for tomorrow and before you ask, yes I will be at the game on Sunday.

Alexei’s response is simple. ))))))))))))))))))

*****

Facing off against Jack is never easy, but the knowledge that he has done it before and got through it makes it not as jarring. 

It’s different, without Swoops there - sure, he’s watching the game,  but he’s not in the room, not a steady presence by Kent’s side, a reminder that there is more to Kent than the way he aches for what he’s lost.

Like they just lost this game. Fucking Snow, standing on his head to shut them out and fucking Mashkov getting damned close to a Gordie Howe with the way he’d tried on Carly, after Carl’s dumbass distraction in the room comment form the pre-game.

Kent gets that, gets the don’t ask, don’t tell mentality, the same one that’s kept Carl surly and running his mouth in a lot of shitty ways for a long time. Kent knows it's what’s kept the guy safe all these years, despite how fucking obviously he’s been pining for Bonnaire as long as Kent's known him. If Bonnaire really is as straight as the e-wife and the three kids Carly is as proud of as if they were his own would have it, Kent really fucking pities the poor fucker.  

He knows Jack won’t be the only out player for much longer; Tommy and Taps’ plans to come out in the offseason got derailed by Taps’ grandmother getting ill, but he knows their appearance on Ellen is already booked.  

Kent keeps his mouth shut, goes through the postgame with practiced ease - they sportsed hard, the Falcs sportsed harder, fucking Snow, Aces’ goalies are doing just fine thank you. (Spoiler: they are not.) Must sports harder when they get home and face against the Astros.

“Before the game, Lapierre made a comment about how he thinks Zimmermann is a distraction in the room; could you elaborate on that?”

Kent is going to tear Carl a new one. “I’d say any situation where a player’s personal life makes the headlines is a potential distraction in the room, no matter the circumstances. Just ask Mike Fisher.”  

It elicits the laugh he was looking for, and Kent is grateful for that, grateful for the next reporter for lobbing a hard-hitting question about the Aces’ goalie situation that he can sink his teeth into. He owes Mike a drink next time they’re in Nashville, for taking advantage of his marriage to someone way more famous and way more fabulous than any of them will ever be.

(Persistent rumours of Kent and TSwift, or TSarson, notwithstanding)

It’s all worth it later, when Kent is pinned up against the door, being kissed within an inch of his life.

***

Jeff had plans for tonight, plans for how to spend the night with Kent for the first time in weeks. It’s impossible to remember any of them as he kisses Kent against the door, letting all his pent-up frustration at the distance show.

Kent moans into the kiss, his lips parting easy, letting the kiss deepen until Jeff thinks he can’t breathe, has to tear himself away.

He’s breathing like he just came off a double shift, suddenly feeling like his post-retirement regimen is entirely insufficient; Kent’s eyes are wide and dark, his mouth already red and Jeff wants to see him wrecked.  He kisses Kent again and again, drawing more noises from his lips, the moans turning into a sharp keen when Jeff bites at the junction of neck and shoulder, hard enough to mark.

The hotel carpet does nothing to cushion the blow when Jeff gets on his knees, pins Kent’s hips against the door with practiced ease. He doesn’t bother pulling Kent’s belt off, just works the buckle open and leaves it hanging as he pulls Kent’s cock out of his game day suit pants.

Kent’s knees buckle when Jeff gets his mouth around the wet head of his cock but Jeff’s expecting it, lets Kent brace himself on his shoulders as Jeff works him over. Jeff’s never learned to deepthroat, despite excellent tutelage over the years, but he knows Kent doesn’t care, not with a broad hand wrapped around the base of his dick as Jeff pulls more noises form him with his mouth.

It’s fast and sloppy, his face wet with spit and precome by the time Kent keens, his fingers digging into Jeff’s shoulders hard enough to bruise when he comes. Jeff swallows it all, working his hand over Kent’s cock to tease another weak pulse of salt from him until the noise Kent makes is more discomfort than pleasure.

Jeff’s retired, not dead, but he’s long past the days when sucking dick alone got him off; once they stumble onto the bed he’s more than happy for Kent to return the favor, to clutch his hands in Kent’s hair and tell him how fucking good he is with his mouth, how much he missed this, missed Kent.

Afterwards, he feels like he’s ran a marathon, like his post-retirement workout regimen is sorely lacking. It takes him a long time to catch his breath, with Kent curled up against his chest, just as much of a sweaty mess as he is, still wearing too many irrevocably ruined clothes.

It’s not until much later, after round two in the shower that they’re curled up together under the covers that they talk, in quiet, soft voices.

“I think this is working, Swoops,” Kent says sleepily. “I missed you but it’s okay.”

And that’s- 

“I’m glad to hear that, kiddo. I missed you too.”

That’s all Jeff could have asked for.

 

****

Samwell, 2017

 

It still feels a little unreal that he has Kent Parson’s number. Kent “V is for Vendetta is overrated” Parson, the current number one scorer in the NHL, the Captain of the Las Vegas Aces, is in his phone as Parse ;)

Chris knows he can be as effusive via texts as he can be face to face, and he’s tried to curtail his long-ass texts to Kent. But then he ends up sending like, three follow-ups so he kind of stopped trying at one point. Kent hasn’t told him to leave him alone or that he’s bugging him, so that’s good, right?

Kent is less likely to send a lot of texts, but wow, there are so many cat pictures. Of course Chris follows it Purrson’s Instagram, but he’d never realized how many regular cat photos and not the super fancy filtered insta hit photos of the giant goober of a cat Kent took.

He’d kept sharing them with Caitlin - with Kent’s permission! - until Kent had just sent him a row of sigh emojis and gotten him to start a group chat for the three of them, mostly full of cat photos and memes.  He knows Cait and Kent text outside it, too, Kent had told him, not that Cait hadn’t, but Kent had made a much bigger of a deal about it, about respecting any boundaries they might have, both of them.

Part of the reason it still feels unreal is the fact that other than Caitlin, he doesn’t really tell anyone about it. He bites his tongue to keep from  blurting out “Parse says - “  because he doesn’t want to get into an argument about Why Kent Parson Is The Worst with his current Captain.

By now, Chris is pretty sure that whatever problem Bitty has with Kent, it’s not because Kent is a homophobe. In fact, after Holzknecht and Tapaninen come out, Chris is kind of maybe thinking it could be the exact opposite, because it all fits. Because if Kent is not straight, for real and not just because there’s some really great *cries in bisexual* gifs out there, then maybe Kent and Jack liked each other, as more than just friends. As more than teammates or lineys, by which Chris means he would actually not be surprised to find out that Kent and Jack used to kiss. Like, for real kiss, not spin the bottle kiss or Nursey Patrol kiss.

Chris is not going to ask, because it’s none of his business if two of his friends have history. 

**

Kent Parson is still unfairly hot and just sent him a photo of himself with Brent Burns (!), several cocktail umbrellas sticking out of Burnsie’s beard. Chris is distracted enough by the sheer number of glittering little paper decorations you can fit in an awesome beard and under the influence of copious amounts of alcohol to tell him so.

You look really hot in that suit

Kent’s response comes only a little late. Cait got your phone, Chow?

Chris recognizes the out for what it is but he’s drunk and reckless and high on his shutout against Harvard, his second in a row.

Nop but bet she’d agree with me.

That so?  

Sure txt her and ask

His phone chimes again soon after and this time it’s Cait.

Why did Kent Parson just send me a selfie from the All-Star game and ask me if I think he’s hot?

Chris types out his reply, hitting send too fast and making it a series of replies.

That’s not fair he only sent me a photo of him and burnsie  

I mean I asked him to

To ask you I mean

I told him he looks hot and he asked if you had my phone and i said no but that you’d totally agree with me 

He doesn’t need the emoji to tell him Cait is laughing, trying to stifle her giggles as to not to wake up anyone else on the bus. You’re right, I do.

Chris replies with a string of heart eyes because he does know; they haven’t really talked about how hot Kent is, not like that, since Chris got Kent’s number, but it’s easy enough to remember, all those whispered words and what came after. (Usually, both of them. Sometimes more than once)

He’s blushing when he heads upstairs, grabbing another cold-ish beer on the way up. The party is still at full swing and no one pays him any attention as he dodges various students in various states of drunkenness, most of them distracted by the beer pong showdown between Bully and Tango which under normal circumstances would totally be awesome to watch because the two of them are so evenly matched and a step above the rest; there hasn’t been a real heir to Lardo’s unquestionable dominance, and there’s a lot of bets going on; Chris has money down on Tango, even though a lot of people think it will be Foxtrot just because she is a badass team manager following in Lardo’s footsteps even though she doesn't even like beer -

The door to his room remained locked and the room free of intruders; he flops down on his bed and looks at his phone, trying to not to jiggle his leg.

Caitlin sent him a heart; Kent hasn’t sent him anything yet so he asks Cait if Burnsie was in the photo Kent sent her; when she responds in the negative, he taps a quick message to Kent.

Why does Cait get a selfie and I don’t?

I mean a selfie with just you and not with Burnsie, she said she got a different one from you?

Kent starts to respond almost immediately, taking a pause and then apparently hitting send.

She’s not the one who likes the Sharks, Chow

Which, fair.

Didn’t she show it to you?

She’s not here :(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(

 Another pause, then he gets a picture and oh.

It’s just Kent, this time; Chris isn’t really paying attention to his suit any more, it’s the way he’s smiling in the picture that has Chris’s mouth go dry. If you asked him what color Kent’s eyes were he wouldn't have been able to tell you, too mesmerized by how happy Kent looks, a little shy and a lot sexy, leaning back in his seat with one arm thrown behind his head.

 His jaw is hanging a little open when he sends back, wow

You two just had to wait until after our East coast road trip to tell me you both think I’m hot, didn’t you?

And that - wow. Chris takes a long pull of his beer, tries to calm the fuck down because that implies - wow, that’s a lot. He texts Cait a string of exclamation marks.

Almost there, she texts back. We can talk soon. In the meantime, since he showed us what he’s wearing we should return the favor.

Chris nods and then realizes of course she can’t see that, duh. So he sends her a thumbs up and opens their group chat with Kent and leans back against the pillows to take a selfie.

Traitor, comes Kent’s reply and oh right Chris is, in fact, wearing a Sharks t-shirt.

Without any further thought he whips it off, swearing when he hits his elbow on the wall in his haste before he takes another one and hits send. Better?

Kent’s response is a heart-eyes emoji, and so is Cait’s; she’d dropped a selfie of her own while he stripped, sitting in the backseat of a car, bundled up in one of his hoodies.  His Aces hoodie, from the dev camp, that she’d stolen off him the day after he came back home.  

Your girl has good taste.

This girl is almost home, hotshot

Chris can hear Kent’s laughter in his response. Okay babes, I gotta go and save Seguin from himself, but we should revisit this topic later ;)

That’s how Caitlin finds him not too much later, staring at his phone, shirtless and blushing furiously, his cock half-hard in his jeans. 

It’s the best shut-out celebration ever.

 

***

Boston, 2017

 

Later, it turns out, is not that much later; the Aces’ bye week is after the All Star weekend, and although Kent already has plans with - his partner, he’d said quietly over the phone - those plans did not mean he couldn’t take the time to talk to Chris and Cait face to face, or at least, to Chris because Cait isn’t the one whose future captain, hockey gods willing, is Kent “Ve haf vays of making you talk” Parson.

Nevertheless, it’s still a thrill if not a complete surprise to get a text before their game against the BU Terriers saying Kent would be watching.

You’re here?????

Can’t a bro come see his best goalie prospect play?  It’s followed by multiple angel emojis which is a little excessive but totally a Parse thing to do.

I thought we’d meet after

Don’t worry, I’m here incognito

The text is accompanied by a selfie; Kent’s wearing a nondescript hoodie and a floral snapback, for once not backwards, and -

Are those captain america glasses?????

Born on the fourth of July, babes ;)

They beat the Terriers Four-nil. 

“Took you long enough.” Kent is grinning when they meet up after, still wearing the snapback and the glasses.

It makes sense that the look works for him because Kent is short for a hockey player so no one is looking under the brim, right? Just like that kid in Winter Soldier, the only one who recognized Steve at the exhibit by being short enough to see what was going on.

Chris knows he’s blushing. “Everyone wanted to congratulate me on the shut out.”

“Three in a row, Chow, if we hadn’t drafted you already I’d be on the phone to the GM already.”

Chris grins, once again keenly grateful of the fact that he no longer has his braces. “You think so? It was  a bit touch and go on the second-”  

Hockey is easy to talk about; they dissect the game and wait for their food. Chris is starving, he only chowed down - ha! - a couple of protein bars after the game to tide him over on his way here. He’s not sure what the rest of the team thinks he’s up to, but right now he doesn’t care.  

They both shut up for a while when the food is brought out; it’s probably some of the best steak Chris has ever had and he tells Kent so between mouthfuls.

“Welcome to the NHL,” Kent says with a grin. “You’ll get used to this shit.”

Chris is pretty sure he would never have come to this restaurant on his own, but Kent had picked it and arranged for a private room; worst case if they get caught out, it’s just Kent Parson, captain of the Las Vegas Aces, treating his top goalie prospect. Right?

Because that’s the thing, Chris knows that if anything happens - between him and Kent, between Caitlin and Kent, between all three of them - the fact that Kent is Chris’s future captain needs to be considered.

“It’s not the price of the admission,” Kent says quietly between bites of chocolate cheesecake.  “Whatever happens here, it's up to you and Cait."  

His smile matches Chris's wide grin.