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Become Who You Really Are

Chapter Text

It would surprise anyone who didn’t know Kent Parson before he was a professional hockey player that he was a quiet child, always observing. As captain of the Aces, he was commanding on the ice, polished with the media, and boisterous with his teammates. Some of what you would notice was due to the confidence that comes with being one of the best in the NHL, but not most of it. Most of it is because, at his core, Kent was still the same as when he was a child—constantly trying to be what people expected, to be unobtrusive, to fit in.

-+-

The trouble with always trying to fit in is that you can lose yourself along the way. Maybe you won’t ever notice and just continue life as a blind chameleon, blending in without even seeing your shifting background. But maybe one day you will wake up and realize that you don’t know who you are anymore. Suddenly there are more facets to your identity than you know what to do with. If Kent Parson had to say when he started waking up, it would be when he clicked on a link that Swoops sent to chirp him about how the internet thought he was a character in a young adult novel.  The game wasn’t anything special, a 4-2 win over the Schooners early in the season. Kent had a goal and an assist, and like usual when he was on the bench, he spent his time squishing a giant koosh ball. He started doing it because it did keep him calm between shifts but also because it was a nice, safe quirk that his teammates could chirp him about. But this game was also shortly after the second book in a young adult series came out, and the main character happened to have the same koosh ball fixation. Kent suffered through a few days of being called Jonah before Scraps did something ridiculous, and everyone moved on. Or, everyone else moved on.

-+-

The team spent a lot of time traveling, and Kent was always open to something new to read. Hey, he wasn’t too old to read YA books at 23, and the first book looked good. Besides, Kent thought, he would be reading on his kindle, so it’s not like anyone would know. It turned out the first book was marvelous, all about identity and feeling like you don’t fit in no matter where you are. Kent hadn’t related so strongly to anything in years, so he read the second book. Looking back, it was obvious what the first book was building towards. Because it turns out that Kent Parson and Jonah Calloway had more in common than just a koosh ball habit. They also had the experience of coming to terms with being gay and the worry of being closeted while surrounded by homophobia. Kent couldn’t possibly wait a whole year for the next book, so he did what any self-respecting gay millennial would do: he turned to fandom and fanfic. And before he knew it, he was down the rabbit hole of self-discovery.

It’s not as if Kent never realized there were things about himself that he didn’t want to share with his team or his fans. But none of his secrets felt like burdens before. If he wasn’t interested in picking up while out at a club, then being gay wasn’t a secret much harder to keep than the fact that he really liked math. And heavy emotional conversations weren’t exactly common in the locker room, so he didn’t have to talk about how his dad left when he was three or when his 8th grade English teacher committed suicide. But now, every conversation felt like he was constantly on the brink. How could he possibly strike a balance between sharing too much and being too distant? If he couldn’t even say it all out loud to himself why did it feel like such a weight to keep anyone else from knowing? How did a pair of books and month and a half on the internet turn his life upside down?

-+-

Kent could tell people were starting to notice that something was off. Not all of them, coach had no idea because nothing had affected his game, and he never really spent much time with Carl or Ricker or Fuzy. But the trainers could tell he was more tense, Swoops kept giving him weird looks, Corner kept asking questions he already knew the answer to, and even Scraps—the least observant guy on the team—was starting to pick up on something. The need to talk was starting to feel suffocating. Kent just needed somebody who could know without having to talk about everything. He didn’t have a lot of option in Vegas, but he did have an East coast roadie in a week.

 

He had Jack. Or well, he supposed he didn’t have Jack anymore. And if he couldn’t get Jack back, maybe he could at least get Zimms. They could make the cap space for him. It couldn’t hurt to ask.

Chapter Text

Kent wasn’t sure of many things.  But he knew he was the fastest in the NHL, that Kit Purson was the most famous cat on Instagram, and kale protein smoothies were an awful necessity.  But he also knew that Jack Zimmermann had loved him once. He just wasn’t sure what made Jack stop.

-+-

Kent had a plan.  They had an afternoon game against the Bruins on Friday and an evening game against the Falcs on Sunday.  He would have plenty of time to head to Samwell and back on Saturday.  It would show how serious he was about getting Jack to play for the Aces, and maybe it would give them a chance to have an actual conversation.  It’s not as if Jack was known for his presence at parties anymore.

He arrived at Samwell to find a major event underway.  He could keep his media smile on for the hour or so it would take him to make his way around the party—he was a Stanley Cup winner dropping by a hockey party after all. He took what felt like a million selfies, lost a game of flip cup, heard someone talking about Zimms/Parse fanfiction, and then—

Then he saw Jack.  At a party.  Flirting with some blond kid.  And he watched Jack’s face shutter when he saw Kent.  But that wasn’t the worst part.  The worst part was what his face looked like when he was watching that kid—enthralled, besotted, adoring.  A look Kent was sure he had never seen Jack direct at him.  He had seen joy at game-winning goals and laughs at shared jokes and hunger behind closed doors, but never that look of pure love.  It was if the floor was no longer steady or gravity was no longer down.  Kent knew he didn’t understand why Jack shut him out after their relationship ended. So how did he miss the fact that it had never really started? 

-+-

“Leave, Parse.”  The words kept repeating in his head on the drive back to the hotel.  Kent had a tendency to get mean when he was pushed, and he had been pushed to the edge before Jack said a word to him.  He wasn’t surprised that their exchange didn’t end well, but it wasn’t so much the words, it was the tone.  The flat, emotionless voice so unlike the Jack he thought he had known.  The voice that said you don’t matter, I don’t need you, I never did.

The drive was a blur and Kent found himself back in his hotel room, lying on the bed, and reliving his conversation with Jack in reverse.  Years of a front row seat to Jack’s anxiety made it simple to push at his buttons, but staring at the ceiling in the dark room Kent realized they weren’t just Jack’s fears.  

You’re scared everyone else is going to find out you’re worthless, right?  Oh, don’t worry, just give it a few seasons, Jack.  Trust me.”  

He had been yelling all of his own worst fears at Jack.  His dad left, his mom had no problem sending him off to the Q, Jack cut him out.  His friends could tell something was wrong, and it was only a matter of time before it started affecting his game.  And then where would he be.  Top of the NHL for a few years before a slow slide into obscurity? 

A poor night’s sleep didn’t make for compelling hockey.  Fortunately for Kent, his below average night was still a great night for a lot of other players.  He managed to get an assist to extend his points streak and then escape press so no one had to know that his life was starting to feel like a slow motion disaster.

-+-

Kent crashed on the flight back to Vegas, and he went home to cuddle with Kit, but he could still feel himself sinking into depression.  (And thanks internet for that self-awareness, the knowledge really didn’t make it any easier. Just one more thing not going his way.) He alternated between sleepless nights and falling asleep at any hint of down time.  Card games on airplanes and movie nights with Swoops were replaced with a quick temper and reanalyzing everything he thought he know about his relationship with Jack.

How did he miss that Jack just thought they were…friends with benefits?  Was that why it was so easy for him to just cut Kent out of his life. Was everything Kent loved about being with Jack just nothing?  Movie marathons and holding hands under the blanket.  Sneaking out after curfew and kisses under the stars.  Getting to the rink early to skate together in silence and falling asleep on each other during long bus trips. 

And it’s not that Kent thought everything was perfect, but he somehow didn’t realize what was really going on.  Jack never wanted him to help with his anxiety.  Kent always figured it was because he was embarrassed, not because he just didn’t want Kent to help.  And sure, the sex was just ok, but Kent had thought that was because they were 17 and sneaking around.  He was already dealing with the fact that maybe it was just because he didn’t actually care about sex.  Now he was also wondering if it was also maybe because Jack didn’t actually care about him.

It was a home game against the Aeros in late January that brought everything to a head.  Kent was on fire, with two goals in the first and an assist in the second.  They stormed into the third period and Kent has his third goal of the night, bringing their lead to 5-2.  He skated around the rink as the hats rained down and then headed to the bench to catch his breath for a couple of shifts.  His next time out on the ice he took a vicious check that caught him off guard. 

His breath was forced from his chest and couldn’t suck in a new one.  He knew rationally that it wouldn’t take long to get back under control, but amidst the panic of not being able to breathe there was another thought that forced its way to the forefront.  Wouldn’t it be easier to go out like this, at the top of his game?  Never needing to figure out his shit, never needing to start being honest to anyone else—to himself—about who he really is and what he really felt.

Once his breath was under control, he skated off under his own power.  The medical team made sure there was nothing wrong with his ribs and he headed towards the locker room since there were only a few minutes left in the game.  Kent was mid-shower when he realized what he was thinking on the ice.  There was fear making his hands shake and his stomach feel like lead.  And underneath that, the thought I didn’t know it was possible to scare yourself, and where is the line between suicidal and morbid curiosity with death anyway? 

-+-

Kent had been staring at the text for nearly 10 minutes.  Why was it so hard to hit send, it’s not like he had to talk tonight if he changed his mind. Kit began to paw at his knee for breakfast, and he made himself hit the button before putting his phone down. When he was back, he already had a response and he typed out a quick answer. 

Swoops

Movie night?

Yeah

Usual time?

Yup

See you at 7

Whoever initiated movie night was also responsible for providing dinner.  Kent went with one of his staples that looks like he put in a lot of effort when really it took about 5 minutes.  He didn’t want Swoops to realize that he was barely holding his life together at this point.  Save that revelation for after the movie.  Swoops was always 5 minutes late, so Kent had dinner timed to be done just a few minutes after that.  That way they could bring their food to the couch and get the movie started right away. 

They were barely 45 minutes into the movie when Swoops reached over to press pause.

“Kent…” he started, but didn’t continue until Kent actually looked over.  “I’m not sure what’s going on, but you’re sitting over there like you’re frozen, you’ve barely said a word all night, and we are watching a Disney movie the day after you had an amazing game.  You’ve been on edge for weeks.  You know you can talk to me, right?”

Kent knew he must look like a deer caught in the headlights.  He wanted to talk; that was the whole point of tonight.  And yet he still had to hold back the I’m fine that was on the tip of his tongue.  “Um…I—”

“Look, I’m not trying to make you talk now, or maybe you don’t want to talk to me” Swoops cut in guiltily.

“No…I mean…I do.  I just—I don’t know where to start.”

“I don’t know man, I guess with whatever comes out first.  It doesn’t need to be some perfect narrative.”  There is a reason Kent thought Swoops was the right person for this.  He had some goalie weirdness about him despite playing on Kent’s wing.  He was patient and observant and somehow always had the right vague but helpful responses.  Swoops was also Kent’s closest friend on the team, at least partly because he never said anything homophobic.

His heart was pounding in his chest and he was starting to sweat.  He took a deep breath, and then another, and whispered “I loved him…and it turns out he never really loved me.”  And as the tears started to fall, he choked out “and there’s all this shit in my head, and I don’t know how to deal with any of it.”

“Kent,” Jeff began as he shuffled closer on the couch, “can I give you a hug?”  He had barely finished talking when Kent collapsed onto him. “I don’t know what you’re going through, but I do know you.  And you’re going to be ok.”

After a few deep breaths, Kent sat up and dried his tears.  Eyes focused on the lights out his living room window he heaved a frustrated sigh and countered, “but you don’t though, that’s the problem.  I’ve known I was gay since I was 14, and I’ve been deliberately making sure nobody found out.  You don’t know that I love math and you don’t know that— The point is that I’ve been hiding for so long, even sometimes from myself, that I don’t know how to stop.”

Swoops was clearly gathering his thoughts, trying to figure out the right was to respond. “I might not know everything about you,” he replied carefully.  “But I don’t need to.  You look after your friends, and you joke with the rookies.  You take more pictures of your cat than most people take of their kids.  You make it look effortless, but you fight for everything you’ve achieved on the ice. And if you bring even some of that compassion, and grace and determination, you are going to be ok.” After a few minutes of silence, Swoops continued in a more upbeat voice “But this conversation needs ice cream, so I’m declaring a cheat day.”

Settled at the kitchen table Kent was stirring his hot fudge and whipped cream into the ice cream.  “Hey thanks for not…freaking out or whatever.”

“Of course, man.  This might not have been the conversation I thought we’d be having tonight, but I kinda knew that something was coming.  But, uh…”  He interrupted himself with an embarrassed cough, “I am a little confused about something—”

“Well, you see Swoops. When a man loves another man—” Kent interrupted with laughing eyes.

“No, you jerk.  At first this sounded like new feelings for you, but then you said you’ve been hiding stuff for a while.  So, is this like a culmination of years of shit, or did something happen?”

“Oh, um…both I guess.” Kent paused to consider how to explain. “I mean, it’s not like being in the closet is always the easiest thing, but I was doing ok.  But then I had to go be a total millennial and spend too much time on the internet and realize just how fucking queer I am.  And then I went to see my ex, just to talk to him.  But he was clearly so in love with this other guy, and I realized he had never really loved me like that.  And it was just, I thought I had this one person I could talk to without having to explain it all, and it turned out I really didn’t.” Swoops looked like he was about to say something, but Kent was on a roll now that he had gotten started.  “And seriously, why the hell is the hardest thing to accept but the easiest to say out loud that I’m a Slytherin.  I always thought I was a Gryffindor, you know courageous and just a bit reckless on the ice.  It’s like the universe is trying to kick me while I’m down.  Let’s throw all this heavy shit at Kent and then make him deal with how he would fit in a fictional world.” After a few deep breaths he added, “by the way you have to wait like a week before you can chirp me for being a total Harry Potter nerd.”

“Ok, well for starters, takes one to know one.  I’m totally a Hufflepuff—”

“Of course, I come out to a Hufflepuff,” Kent muttered under his breath

“Yeah, definitely a Slytherin.”

“Hey, I said no chirping,” Kent said as he tossed his napkin at Swoops’ face.

“Alright, alright…a one-week moratorium,” he replied somehow both laughing and shamefaced.  “Seriously though, you can always talk to me.  But I get the sense that there is still shit you don’t want to talk about, and this has got to be hard to deal with if we are having a night with crying and ice cream.  Have you thought about talking to a therapist about all this?”

“Yeah…I think I just needed to hear someone else say it. Umm—Can you check in a week to make sure I actually called someone?”

“No problem.”  Then reaching for his phone, “Siri, set a reminder for next week to tell Parse he’s a Harry Potter nerd.”

Kent was rolling his eyes as he said “Ok, that’s enough emotional drama for one night.  Let’s finish watching Mulan defeat the Huns.”

“Yeah yeah, but I’m crashing in your guest room tonight.  I’m not going to let you freak out alone.”

-+-

It turned out internet therapy was an option.  He wouldn’t get spotted going to a therapist, he could fit it in a lot easier with all their travel, and he didn’t have to use his insurance.  (That last one maybe wasn’t a positive for anyone not making obscene amounts of money.)  And when a few days later Swoops asked if he’d done something, he replied with a smirk “Jeeze, who asked you to badger me about it?”

Chapter Text

Therapy was exhausting. And it didn’t get easier, it just got harder.  Every time Kent felt like he started to get a handle on something, they just dug even deeper into his issues.  And then add in strategy sessions and late-night games and so much travel Kent rarely knew what time zone he was in.  The point is, Kent was exhausted, and his latest homework from Clare wasn’t going to make it any better.

-+-

“I mean, it’s hard enough to make any queer friends, let alone someone I want to date, as a closeted professional athlete.  But seriously, throw in the whole ‘no interest in sex thing’ and it doesn’t really make me a catch.  ‘Hi, would you like to date me? We can’t be seen together in public too often, and all we will do is cuddle on the couch.’  It’s like being a needy, complicated friend.”  He could tell Clare was going to call him out on this self-deprecating analysis of his love life.  Using realistic examples was one of his goals to make things seem less hopeless.

“Kent, when is the last time you made a real friend outside of hockey? 

“What would a not-real friend even be?”

“I mean, someone you spent time with.  Not just a barista who remembered your order and you had a recurring joke with.” Were therapists even allowed to be this sarcastic?

“I don’t know, definitely before I left for the Q. After that everyone was related to hockey.  And I went to school with basically the same people for years.  So, if you want actively making a non-hockey friend…probably like 3rdgrade.”  Great, now he felt like some sort of social outcast.  Did he even know anyone not related to hockey?

“Well, I think maybe this is something to work on for the future. I would like you to think about engaging with people who don’t have anything to do with hockey and what it would be like to make a plan to do something together.”

“Does this mean I can stop worrying about my self-deprecating humor? I can’t believe you let that slide before”

“Kent—you noticed it yourself.  I’ll keep redirecting when you don’t recognize it, but that is a big step. We can focus more of our attention now on other methods to help you move towards your goals.”

-+-

Kent had had plenty of emotional conversations with Swoops over the past couple of months.  But asking for help making friends felt like a new low. They were headed into the playoffs soon though, and Kent actually had a good track record of working on his homework from therapy.  And so he would shove his pride to the side and ask how to make a new friend.

“You should ask Corner. He’s looking for people for a trivia team now that he’s finally 21.” 

“Non-hockey friend, dude. That’s the point.”  Having this conversation in the locker room after practice really emphasized the necessity of that.

“Yeah, I know.  He’s been roping people in from all over.  I think he has a neighbor and someone he met at the gym, and maybe someone else.  You’re a total nerd with your math and Harry Potter—that’s got to fill some gap in their trivia knowledge.  Plus, your Slytherin tendencies must bring a competitive edge.”

“Yeah, well I thought your Hufflepuff ass would be better at finding me a friend.” He glanced over at Swoops and continued, “Oh don’t give me that look.  I’ll ask him if he’s still looking for people.”

-+-

The silence was starting to feel awkward as Kent drove Corner back to his apartment after trivia night. He had insisted on first names for a Certified Non-Hockey Experience, which had earned Kent a weird look from everyone at the table when he announced it.  And then he proceeded to still call him Corner instead of Mark half the time. But hey, they still came in second place.

“You can tell me to shove it, but when you asked about trivia, I thought you were going to tell me I should be focusing on the playoffs, not asking to be on the team.  And you and Swoops have been having all these weird short intense conversations.  So, do you have some crazy plan to retire on the top of your game or something?  Because you can definitely play for like another decade if you want to.” 

“What? No…I am definitely not done with hockey.”  Kent glanced over to see the large hockey player in his passenger seat looking a little sheepish.

“Ok.  Well, not that I’m not glad for your weird knowledge about Euclid or whoever, but is there some reason you are looking for a new hobby at the end of March?”

“I’m just working through some personal shit, and it was pointed out to me that everything in my life revolves around hockey.  So, you know, I’m working on that.”

“Oh yeah, I get that. I’m a total extrovert and I can still barely manage like 5 friends who aren’t related to hockey.  And half of them are hockey-adjacent anyway.  I met Greg at the gym and Kristin while I was comparing protein powder at the store.” 

“Hey, that’s still way better than I’m doing.”  Kent chuckled in response. 

“As much as the NHL takes over your life—which I’m still surprised by even after two seasons in the AHL—I don’t think this work-life balance issue is exclusive to professional sports though.  My big brother Will, he’s a photojournalist and travels all over the world.  And he has some friends from college he still keeps in touch with and other people he works with.  But a lot of the time he is just traveling by himself or with one or two other guys as translators.  So, he meets all these people but then he moves on.”

“Oh, yeah.  That moving on part really sucks.  I know I have more stability than most guys with my no-trade, but you still never know who is going to get injured or traded and so there is this constant tension between trying to make a team like family but knowing people can just disappear overnight.”

“Yeah, it’s all really starting to get to Will.  I think he wants to switch from an international focus to working more in the US. Which would definitely make our mom happy.  Less time spent in disaster zones and places where it can be pretty unsafe to be gay. She wants him to be safe, but I think he just wants to be able to date.”

“Oh, man…” Kent started to laugh

“Hey.  You’re cool right?  You never say shitty stuff and I know you’re my captain and whatever, but I will fight you—” He cut off as Kent’s laughter tipped into manic.  “Ok now I’m kinda worried Kent.”

Kent got himself together as he pulled up to a red light.  “Sorry, sorry,” he started, and then rushed on. “It’s just…it might not actually be thatunsafe a place to be gay, but the NHL is pretty awful, and I’ve still spent like a decade a little worried about getting destroyed on the ice and my career ending if anyone found out.  But mostly, yeah, it just makes it really hard to date.” He glanced over as the light turned green, “and I was just not expecting to hear basically the same story about someone else tonight.”

“Thanks for trusting me…especially after I threatened to fight you.  And hey, you know I won’t tell anyone, right?”

“You were threatening to fight me because you thought I was a homophobe, I figured you’d be safe.  And Swoops knows, but no one else.”  Kent let out an internal sign of relief.  He had not planned on coming out to anyone else anytime soon, but he didn’t think he would ever get such a natural opening again—manic laughter aside.

“Oh, make a left here”

“What, isn’t like 3 more blocks?”

“Yeah, but there is this amazing all-night cupcake place.  The different flavors all have cool names, and there is one called Inner Truth that has this amazing filling.  And it is perfect for tonight.”

“Why does everyone think me coming out calls for dessert?”  Although that did sound really good.  And the adrenaline from coming out was starting to fade a bit and he could probably use the sugar.

“What do you want to go back to your place and make a kale smoothie instead?”

“No those are gross. Why do healthy smoothies have to be so disgusting?”

“Oh my god, Parser.  You are such a disaster.  We all thought you actually like those monstrosities.  There are actually healthy smoothies that don’t taste like dirt.  I’ll text them to you when I get home.”

“Just get me a damn cupcake dude.”

-+-

Therapy was exhausting, but as Kent finished his latest appointment, he was starting to believe that it was actually going to be worth the effort.  The first two months of therapy had all been focusing on Kent’s thought processes and his own feelings about asexuality and the closet. Starting to bring his focus around to other people and how he interacted with them seemed like they were finally dealing with his tendency to hide and isolate himself.  And not feeling so alone was the first hint of light at the end of the tunnel.

Chapter Text

The end of a season was always an emotional rollercoaster.  If you were lucky enough to win it all there was fierce pride and celebration and camaraderie.  But it was tempered with the knowledge that you had needed to work your body harder than ever before and wouldn’t get as long to rebuild, that success wouldn’t save you from trades, and that there was nowhere to go but down.

Kent had won the cup, and he wouldn’t trade the experience for anything, but sometimes being out early wasn’t the worst thing.  They held on until Game 5 of the division finals and Kent was exhausted.  He was exhausted from four of their last six games going to OT.  He was exhausted from a long season.  But mostly, he was exhausted from therapy, and emotional conversations, and figuring himself out.  A few extra weeks of off-season training after some time to relax was just what he needed.

-+-

 Just because Kent was ready for a break didn’t mean that locker cleanout was ever any fun.  The disappointment of losing was still fresh, and everyone was getting a talk about areas where they needed to improve.  There were awkward goodbyes as everyone prepared to scatter for the summer and some might not be back for the next season. Kent was shoving the handful of mismatched socks that always accumulated in his locker into his bag when Corner walked over.

“Hey Parser, you have any plans to take a break before summer training?”

“Swoops and I are going to Badlands National Park.  We’ve already done Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and Yellowstone.  It’s a nice way to put losing some hockey games into perspective. But then we spend a few days actually relaxing by gambling and doing stupid expensive spa stuff on the strip.  Then I’ll make a trip home around my birthday. You doing anything crazy?”

“Nah, nothing too exciting. Heading to San Diego for a week of hanging out, then visiting my parents in Chicago for another week.  Then I have a trainer set up in Boston—there is no way I could deal with Vegas all summer.”

“It’s an acquired taste for sure.  My first summer staying here was pretty miserable, but Kit is the worst traveler and I hate to make her move for a few months if I don’t really have to.”

Corner glanced around, just seeing Swoops a few stalls down and Riker heading out the door with a nod, before saying.  “Uh…I also wanted to pass along my brother Will’s number.  I’m not trying to set you up because I have no idea what either or your types actually is.  But he is moving back to the US, and I figure you guys have a lot in common.  No pressure or anything.  He knows I’m giving his number to someone but not who.” Passing over a slip of paper, he continued “So, here you go.  Have a great summer.  Hopefully they won’t trade my ass and I’ll see you in a few months.”

“You were great this season; I don’t think you need to worry too much about trades.  And…thanks.”  Kent gave him a pat on the back as Corner picked up his bag and headed out of the room.

“What was that about?” Swoops asked as he slid down the bench. 

“Mostly just our plans for the summer.  But then he gave me his brother’s number.  Just as a friends thing…but first time I’ve gotten anybody’s number for something not related to hockey.”

“Do we need to have a moment of silence to commemorate the occasion?”

“No, we need to get out of this disgusting locker room so they can start the summer deep clean.” 

-+-

 “Hey, Kent?”

 “Yeah, Jeff,” he responded after a moment.  He and Swoops were on the third night of their camping trip and had been sitting outside the tent, silently watching the stars for a while.

 “You ever think about coming out?  Publicly?”

 “I know on paper that I would be a better position than most other guys in the league.  Captain, my name on the cup, still racking up the points? Things would have to get really bad for it to actually affect my career.  But, no.  I don’t want to deal with the pressure and all the media speculation.  And I don’t have a reason to do it if I’m not dating someone, and I don’t see that happening any time soon.  Even after that…I don’t know.  It’s complicated.”  Kent paused, considering if he wanted to leave it at that.  Deciding that under the open sky, looking at the stars was as good a place as any to have this conversation, he continued.  “Labels are a tricky thing.  They can provide this sense of belonging, but when they don’t fit quite right, they still box you in.  It’s hard enough to patch multiple identities together for myself.  I don’t know how I would manage a big public coming out, or even just to the whole team, and have it feel honest without oversharing.”

 “I think I’ve done enough googling to know that what I’m about to say is kinda uncool.  But I don’t really get it.  Not the part about not wanting to come out—that makes sense, I was just wondering if you had thought about it.  But the labels boxing you in part.  Have I been calling you gay when that’s not right?  Because I at least know that’s a shitty thing to do.”

 “I’m definitely only into dudes.  But do you remember when we had that crying and ice cream coming out breakdown, and I said I spent too much time on the internet?”

 “Yeah.”

 “Well…making sure no one found out I was gay during Juniors sucked because teenagers are just awful. And then I was working on getting over a relationship that ended bad and I didn’t want to talk about it and I was in no place to date anyone else.  And then I got the C and was even more busy with hockey.  Plus, the idea of going to a club to hookup was never my thing.  And I still didn’t want anyone to know, so the closet never felt all that confining.  I didn’t owe it to anyone and I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything.”  Kent paused and took a few deep breaths.  “But…um…then I went a read those books with the character who does the koosh ball thing. And it turned out that he was a closeted gay kid dealing with all these identity issues.  Thank god none of you idiots were dedicated enough to the chirps to actually read the books because I don’t know how I would have laughed that off. Anyway, I got sucked into fandom…and long story short…turns out I’m not interested in sex, like at all. Apparently that’s a thing people can be—they don’t really teach that one in Sex Ed.  And then I realized that all the reasons I thought I was ok with being in the closet were actually just examples of this other thing that I didn’t know how to talk about.  I went from having one secret that wasn’t a big deal to two secrets that seemed overwhelming.  And I tried to talk to my ex about some of it, but that was when I realized that he had never really loved me.  I spiraled and got freaked out about my own mental state and dumped everything on you. So…yeah…I’m gay but its more than that, and it’s important but it’s a lot harder to talk about.” 

 Kent was silent for few minutes as his pulse slowed.  “Dude, don’t let me monologue like that.  Therapy makes me think it’s an appropriate way to have a conversation, but it’s really not.”

 “Kent, you were baring your soul to the night sky or whatever.  I figured I should let you keep going.  But Clare is going to be so proud of you…talking about your feelings and stuff.”  He continued more seriously, “you know I don’t care who you want to cuddle on the couch with, right?”

 “Yeah, thanks.  I know you are adding to your list of stuff to google when we get back to civilization—so it’s called asexuality.  But that’s enough of my non-existent love life.  Let’s talk about yours.  Bare your soul to the night sky.”

“Oh yeah, like mine is much more interesting,” he replied sarcastically.  “I don’t even know why I bother to try and date during the season. With all the traveling and weird hours, scheduling a date is nearly impossible.  And then I head back to Winnipeg for the summer.  It’s not like I’m going to find something that lasts with that kind of long-distance.”

“Hey, at least you’re not the one blaming your cat for the reason you don’t go home over the summer.”

“Please don’t be a depressed lump all summer.  If Kit isn’t posting on insta for more than a few days in a row, I will come and check on you.”

“I’ll be fine.  Just a bit melodramatic after all this talk about feelings and the perils of being a professional athlete.”

“Paid millions of dollars to play a game we love…it barely seems worth it.”

“When do we get to the part where we spend all that money on creature comforts instead of sleeping on the cold, hard ground.”

“Two more nights. What do you want to bare your soul about tomorrow?”

-+-

Kent was a week into off-season training when he finally decided to text Corner’s brother, Will.  He had been putting it off, afraid that he had so many hopes for queer friends that it would ultimately be disappointing. It was barely June, and he was already getting a bit lonely.  Somehow, he always managed to forget how long the summer was once a new season started.

Will

Hey, Will.  Your brother gave me your number.  I think he mentioned I might get in touch?

Oh yeah.  He asked if he could pass it along to someone but he only said that he thought we had things in common

Well I guess that was an elegant solution to not outing me

I’m Kent by the way.  I play with Mark.

I’m guessing Mark thinks we have more in common than not being straight

Any idea what?

We were talking about how hard it is to have a life outside of hockey.  And he was saying it’s not just a hockey thing and he mentioned you.  Then he said that your Mom wanted you to be in safer places but you just wanted to move around less to make it easier to date.

And that’s when I came out to him because dating as a closeted NHL player is nearly impossible

I think he figured we could vent to someone who gets it

Haha ok

I do also have professional reasons for wanting to be back in the US.  But the personal reasons don’t hurt.

So are you back in the US?  Or still somewhere on the other side of the world?  I don’t want to be texting while you are trying to sleep or whatever.

I’m in Turkey for another week.  Then headed home.

Using my parents’ house as home base for a few months. I’m not sure if my mom is going to try and baby me or apply a curfew.  And I’m not sure which would be worse

There is no way I could move back home.  I basically moved out when I was 15.  I go home for my birthday and that’s about as much as I can handle.

Their conversation wrapped up a little after that since it was getting late in Europe and Kent needed to make his lunch.  It was nice—they didn’t really talk about much of anything.  But it actually did make Kent feel better.  He found himself hoping that they would keep talking.

Kent and Will texted sporadically over the following weeks.  Usually just something funny or annoying.  Links to articles with captions like “The straights are at it again” or things like “my mom made me oatmeal for breakfast” or “I’m never walking again.  I think we did a billion squats today.”  Sometimes they were more serious.  They discussed Kent’s frustration with the press wondering why he never had a date at the NHL awards and Will’s struggles trying to pitch his social justice story ideas. 

-+-

 Kent let out a sigh of relief as the plane landed back in Vegas.  He had been visiting home for his birthday, and it was always a stressful experience.  His mom had been really young when she had his older sister Katie.  Their dad left when Kent was only three, and once Kent was old enough to realize it, he knew that his mom was resentful about how her life had turned out.  She was never neglectful or mean, but when Katie was getting ready to go off to college at the same time Kent was ready to go play in the Q, she was ready for the distance.  Kent could never shake the feeling that she didn’t really want him around despite asking for him to visit.  He probably should put that on the list of things to talk about with Clare now that the rest of his life was starting to seem a bit less overwhelming.

Kent took his phone off of airplane mode, and it started to vibrate as the notifications came in. They were mostly chirping in the team group chat and a few belated birthday wishes.  The text from Will was a surprise though.  He was going to be in Vegas for a few days working on a story and was asking if Kent wanted to meet up.  He texted back a quick response asking about the dates and tried not to get too excited about having a real-life gay friend, not just one on the internet.

Will

I’ll be there next Wednesday through Sunday.  I’ll probably be working one of those nights, but this one is mostly a daytime project.

Cool

Are you thinking classic-Vegas experience or something more chill?

I’m not really a big nightlife person, so definitely more chill

Two ideas then

There is a nice bar near my place that isn’t packed with tourists.  Good drinks, relaxed vibe.  We can do that whatever night works for you.

Or, if you are free on Thursday night there is a queer board game group I’ve been wanting to try but I’ve been nervous to go by myself. So I would be using you as plausible deniability if it comes to that

Haha.  I’m a total nerd and I’ve missed playing games with other people

Board games it is!

They had decided to meet for dinner first at a brick oven pizza place.  The food was delicious, and it was a short walk from the coffee shop with a community room where the board game group met.  Kent didn’t usually get anywhere early to avoid a people looking for autographs when he didn’t have a reason to move along.  The first few were always fine, but it got awkward after that when he was standing around waiting for someone to show up.  He didn’t want to come across as some self-important celebrity who couldn’t be bothered to show up on time though.  Waiting for five minutes would be fine, he just had to hope that Will was the kind of person who was on time.

He had only been waiting for a few minutes (and two autographs) when he heard someone come up behind him.

“Kent?” 

He turned and looked up, expecting Will to be an only slightly smaller version of his brother. Instead he ended up angling his head down.  “Will? Nice to meet you in person. Sorry,” he continued, “I’m not used to hanging out with guys who aren’t freakishly tall.”  He actually looked almost exactly like Mark, with the same brown hair and straight nose.  It was just all scaled down.  He did have more freckles though, probably from not spending all his time at an ice rink.

“Hey, I’m perfectly average sized.  But you should see some of our family photos from when we were kids.  There are a few years after Mark had a growth spurt where we look like twins.”

Their conversation flowed smoothly while they ordered and ate.  Kent convinced Will that he had to try to the pizza because it was nothing like a Chicago deep dish, and he also had a salad with salmon because hockey diet plans didn’t really take a summer break.  Will already had a good idea of what summer training was like from Mark, but Kent talked about how he spent more time working on speed and all the PR stuff he did.  As one of the only guys left in Vegas for the summer, and the only one who wasn’t old and married, he did a lot of appearances with the charities the teams supported. That led to Will talking about his latest project on how some communities were being left behind by the economic recovery.  Vegas wasn’t faring the worst, but it wasn’t doing well either, and the contrast between the glitz and glamour of the strip made for a compelling story.

Kent leaned back in his chair as he finished eating.  “Ok, we still have some time, and if you aren’t full, there is a dessert here we have to have.  It’s too big for one person so almost never get it.  Mini donuts with cinnamon sugar and a Kahlua dipping sauce.  It might be my favorite food in the world.”

“Be careful, you don’t want to oversell it.”

“So that’s a yes, right” he asked as the server came over to ask about desserts.  Before the question could even be asked, Kent jumped right in. “We’ll have the coffee and donuts. Thanks. 

Will was still raving about the donuts 20 minutes later.  Kent was about ready to interject with a third ‘I told you so’ when they walked into the coffee shop community room and were interrupted. 

“Are you here for game night?  I’m Dan, he/him.  There are name tags over there, and we’ll get started in a few minutes.”  He was a little shorter than Will, apparently it was Kent’s night to feel tall instead of his usual sense of being surrounded by giants.

They put on their name tags and went to talk with the handful or other people who were already there. They were discussing their least favorite foods, and Kent was eager to decry the gritty kale smoothies he finally stopped drinking.  Will was complaining about some fruit from Vietnam that apparently has an intense smell. Two others were arguing about Kraft mac and cheese when it was time to get the games started.

They passed a few hours arguing about the appropriate ratio for trading sheep for wood and then building train routes across the country.  Kent hadn’t had so much fun in a long time.  He was pretty sure no one recognized who he was, and he was free to be his completely nerdy self.  Things were wrapping up when Dan came over with someone else to say goodbye.

“Hey, it was nice to have you.  This is Grey by the way.  They are the unofficial group president, I was just filling in today.” 

“I’m sorry I didn’t get the chance to talk with you more.  Work was crazy, and I barely managed to escape.  We’re here every other Thursday, so hopefully we will see you again.”

“Will is just visiting from out of town, but I had a lot of fun.  I’ll definitely try to make it next time.”

“Glad to hear it. Have a nice night!”

As they walked out into the night air, finally cooled to a comfortable temperature, Kent turned to Will. “Thanks for coming with me.  I had a lot of fun with you, and I really needed to get out of my hockey world for a bit.”

“No problem.  I had a good time.  I’m actually pretty jealous you get to go back.  It’s been a long time since I’ve had any stable friend group since I’m always travelling.”

-+-

Kent hobbled his way into game night.  He had been back a couple of times, and the group was more that he had hoped for.  He assumed that a group labeling themselves as queer would be cool with the ace stuff if he ever wanted to talk about it, but he wasn’t expecting a group where nearly half the regulars were trans and they all seemed comfortable discussing complicated identify issues.

He wasn’t ready to share that much yet, but he was especially glad for the group tonight. He had sprained his ankle at training a few days ago and needed to take a week off.  It wasn’t bad enough to need crutches, but there was no need to push through an injury during the offseason.  He had spent some time texting with Will, and his sister Katie sent some cookies, but he was glad for a reason to get off his couch and out with people. 

“Kent!  What happened?”  Grey called out as he made his way inside. 

“Sprained the ankle at the gym.  Stupid box jumps.  But, hey—I like the hair!”  They had gotten a new haircut and died it purple.

“Thanks!  I had been thinking about it for a while.  I’m glad I finally went for it.”  Kent was the last one there tonight since he was moving slower than usual, so they made their way over to the rest of the group together.  “OK, the icebreaker for tonight: What is something you don’t like about your favorite game?”

Dan jumped in immediately. Kent had the sense that he came up with the question to talk about whatever game this was going to be.  “It’s called Puerto Rico, and the strategy elements are really great.  There is still a little bit of luck in the game, but you still need a good plan to win.  But the whole point is that you have these workers who come over ships to work your plantation for you, and the workers are represented by these little brown pegs.” 

Four other people groaned that they were going to say that.  Apparently, it was a well-known, fun-but-awful game.

Grey kept the conversation moving with, “Killer Bunnies.  Not because it is terrible or anything but because my mom kept saying that it should be played high.  And that was very problematic for me.”  That earned a good laugh from the group.

Kent glanced around when it was his turn.  There wasn’t anyone new this week, and he had never intended it to be a secret who he was. Plus, it’s not like anyone had any real information to sell to the press.  “I’m going to go in a different direction with this—hockey.  I love the speed and strategy, and the feel of the ice under your skates.  But it is also pretty bigoted.  From the NHL all the way down to peewees.”

“Team sports in school were always the worst.  Do you still play?” Dan asked

Kent chuckled before answering.  “Yeah, I mean…it’s my dream job.  I don’t know what I’ll do when I can’t play anymore, despite the shitty atmosphere sometimes.”

“Wait, I thought you looked familiar.  Your face is on half the buses in this city.  You’re famous?”  Hannah looked like she couldn’t believe she didn’t figure it out before, while Taylor was still trying to figure out what everyone was talking about.

“Well, hockey famous, not famous famous.  My cat has more followers on Instagram than I do.  Besides, I’m still just a queer nerd trying to get by in a homophobic world.” Kent replied. 

“Ok, let’s get our game started.  We can pelt Kent with questions in between arguing about the game.”

They were most of the way through the game when Kent felt his phone vibrate in his pocket.  It was too late to be his mom or his sister, so he let it go to voicemail.  But it started to ring again, so he pulled it out to answer with an apology to the group.

Glancing at the caller Id, he saw it was Swoops. “What’s up man?”

“Answer your door, I’ve been knocking for like 5 minutes.  Where are you?”

“I think ‘Why aren’t you in Canada’ is the better question.”

“Because you sprained your ankle and you haven’t posted any pictures of Kit in almost a week and I know you are usually lonely by this point in the offseason, so I’m worried about you.”

“You remember that goal about making friends outside the cesspool of toxic masculinity that is hockey?" 

“Yeah”

“I’m doing that.  But I’ll probably be home in an hour or so.  The spare key is the usual spot.  Kit will be happy to see you.  I guess I will be too.”

Kent hung up and put his phone back in his pocket.  “Sorry, is it my turn?”

“Do you seriously have a friend who came from Canada to check-in on you.”  Luke asked

“Yeah.  That’s a lot easier to explain when you already know I play hockey.  In his defense, I did have a pretty shitty mental health year.”

-+-

 “How has your week been, Kent?” 

“It’s been good.  I mean I’m still bummed about my ankle, but things have been good.  I told the game night folks that I play hockey and they were all really cool about it.  And Swoops came back from Canada a bit early, so I have someone else to do things with now,” Kent replied easily.  “I felt a bit bad at first, because he came because he was a little worried about me when we didn’t talk for a few days and he knew I was hurt.  And I know he actually was a little worried and he would come just to check on me, but I could tell he was also really bored.  Most of his friends from when he was growing up there have all moved away, so he is basically hanging out with his parents all summer.”

“I’m glad that things went well for you this week.  Do you want to talk about your feelings when Swoops came back?”

“Umm…actually…I’ve noticed I do this thing with people’s names. Where if I’m talking with my teammates but it is a non-hockey context I use their real names instead of their hockey names.  And I don’t think I noticed it before because I didn’t do that much non-hockey stuff. But now it seems really weird. Like it’s two different people or something.”

“Like you are two different people, or like your teammates are different people?”

“Like I’m trying to keep my hockey life separate from the rest of my life and I do that by making my teammates into different people.  Or maybe more like I’m trying to keep most of the ‘real-me’ distinct from who I pretend to be for hockey.”

"You mentioned that you have been using people’s names this way for a while.  Do you remember when you started doing it?”

“I think it was back in the Q with Jack.  We were always Zimms and Parse on the ice and with the team, but when it was just us, we were Jack and Kenny.  I guess it was part of how we made sure we didn’t get caught.  Sort of a guide for what was ok when.”  

“Looking back, how do you feel about that?”

“I don’t think it bothered me at the time.  We both had so much to lose that it made sense, but it was also our special thing.  But now…I think it set me up to get rejected twice.  It was one thing, when I thought our relationship was over but maybe we could still play together again.  And then I went to visit him…and I guess it sort of ruined ‘Kenny’ like maybe it was just some thing he came up with to make sure we didn’t get caught.  And then he shut me down as ‘Parse’ too.  Just, leave—we’re never playing together again.”

“It must have been really hard to feel that way.  We have talked some before about that night, but I want to return to the idea of what you know versus what you think.”

“Can’t this be one of those ‘perception is reality’ things?”

“I’m not saying that anything you felt that night isn’t valid, or even that you can’t be 100% correct about what Jack was thinking. But part of healing and being able to move on is acknowledging that we can’t always understand someone else’s motivation.  And part of your fear of people leaving or deciding you aren’t worth the effort is based on what you think they were thinking, not necessarily what they were actually thinking, right?”

“I guess,” Kent agreed begrudgingly.  “But Jack was still pretty clear that he didn’t want me around.”

“That’s true.  That is what he said.  But, just for the sake of discussion, do you think you could come up with just one reason that has to do with him and not you?”

“I guess…maybe he just associates me with overdosing and having to pull out of the draft?”

“The point is, that we can’t know what Jack was thinking.  That doesn’t mean that you can’t be upset about what happened and that you can’t feel like you were rejected.  You just want to be careful about how you interpret it.” She paused to let Kent consider that for a few moments, and then continued. “I’ve noticed that you say ‘Swoops’ if you are talking about hockey or about other things like camping.  Do you think there is something different about your relationship that lets you do that?”

“I think when I came out and he was totally fine, it…was the real me.  So maybe I didn’t need that stark divide with him anymore.  I still call him Jeff sometimes, but not with some rule book.”

“What about Will or your new friends from game night?  They don’t have hockey names, but how do you feel around them?”

“With the game night folks, they knew me as nerdy, queer Kent first. It felt good to tell them about hockey, but even though hockey dominates a lot of my life…it felt like a smaller detail. Like I was just telling about my job. I don’t know where some of them work, and I know I’m not the only one closeted at work.  So, I guess it just felt like a small detail.”

“And what about Will?”

“I think he’s the only person I’ve ever met who knew basically right away that I’m not straight and I play professional hockey.  It’s sort of a bridge between worlds?  He fits right in to the nerdy, queer Kent world, but I don’t know how he would fit in to hockey Kent world.  It seems weird that I would be friends with a teammate’s brother who doesn’t even live in the same city.”

“You don’t ever have to share more of yourself with your team or your fans than you want to.  But have you considered sharing nerdy Kent?  It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.  It sounded from our first meetings and some of what you have shared about your conversations with Swoops that hiding that part of yourself has also been a struggle.”

“I don’t know…wouldn’t they wonder what else I have been hiding?”

“I think that is a question to ponder over the next week.”

 

-+-

Kent walked out of his office with Kit in his arms and found Swoops sitting on his couch.  He had his headphones in – probably to make sure Kent knew he wasn’t listening to his discussion with Clare – and was staring at the screen of his phone.  He walked over quietly and flopped over the back of his couch to startle Swoops.

“When did you get here?”

“Like 5 minutes ago. Sorry I forgot you had therapy today or I wouldn’t have shown up so early.”

“Nah, it’s fine.  But I do need to sit here for a few minutes in silence to process stuff.  And since I’m letting you meet my cool new friends tonight you can be in charge of ordering pizza.  Enough for two hockey players and four normal people.”

Swoops went to order pizza, and Kent pulled out his phone for some mindless scrolling.  He was smirking to himself and typing out a message when Swoops came back over a few minutes later.  “Posting more pictures of Kit?”

“Texting Will.  He’s in Florida so I’m reminding him not to get eaten by an alligator.”

Swoops was glancing at his phone with a curious look on his face.  “Wow you guys text a lot.  Are you catching feelings Kent?” 

“What?  No,” he responded immediately and then continued, “I mean he’s cute which is weird because he looks just like Corner and Corner is no.  It’s just a friends thing.” 

“You didn’t see your face, but if you say so, man.”

Kent was about to throw a pillow in response, but he was interrupted by a knock at the door.

“Hey, come on in,” he said opening the door.  “Oh wow, everyone at once.”

“Uber—we all live on the same block,” Hannah replied.

“This is Swoops. Non-hockey people usually call him Jeff.” Then pointing at everyone in turn, “Dan, Grey, Hannah, and Taylor. Pizza should be here in a few.  Swoops ordered, so blame him if it’s all Hawaiian or something.”

“Where is Kit?  We all just really wanted to meet your famous cat. She has a nice place by the way,” Dan joked.

“She wanted a big mansion out in the suburbs, but I convinced her it was a bit big for just the two of us.  She’ll emerge from hiding once we all settle down.”

It turned out that Kit was a lot more interested in them when they were talking and eating pizza. She ran off to hide though once they started playing games and she kept getting her petting disturbed by loud shouts and laughter.  Grey had brought games that were more party than strategy and they had a wicked smile when they pulled the next one out of their bag.  “Now that we are all warmed up…Cards Against Humanity?”  They were greeted by a chorus of yesses, and a slightly terrified looking Swoops.

A few rounds in Swoops was wondering why they didn’t have a set for roadies.  “Because I could not play this game with a bunch of hockey bros. I would end up crying to Clare…or punching someone—probably Carl or Ricker, maybe both.” A few rounds later Swoops realized why the combination of closeted Kent, hockey bros, and the game would not end well.

Hannah seemed to have a sixth sense for when Swoops had relaxed about the game again and she would play something just to make him squirm.  Kent couldn’t resist taking a picture of his face after the latest time and sending it to Will. 

Will

Swoops playing CAH with the queers.  He’s trying so hard to be a good ally he hasn’t won a single round

That poor boy

Say hi to everyone for me

They took pity on him and wrapped up the game a little after that.  They spent a little time explaining hockey, and eventually Swoops realized that Kent had told his friends that he played professional hockey, but they had no idea that he was Kent Parson.

“Ok, wait.  What did Kent tell you about how good he is at hockey?”

“Well he plays for his actual job, so we figured pretty good.  He also said Kit is more famous, so.”  Dan chimed in.  “And I googled him a bit, so I know he’s the captain.”

“Parser, dude…You have four Art Ross trophies.  You’re literally the best player in the league.”

“Yeah, but I’m not trying to use that to make friends.  God, you’re so embarrassing.”

“Aww…you guys are cute!”

“Thanks, Hannah,” Kent replied sarcastically.  “I’m glad you all could come though.  This was fun even if Swoops did need to embarrass me to get back for the way we tortured him all night.” 

-+-

Swoops was working out with Kent for the last couple weeks of summer training since he came back to Vegas early.  They had just finished up a speed workout on the ice and were making their way back to Kent’s for lunch.  They stopped to pick up his mail, and Kent was surprised to find a package for him. 

He opened it as soon as he was inside and found a short note and a wrapped present.

Kent-

I hope you don’t mind, but I asked Mark for your address.  I saw this and thought it would help the next time you find yourself in a jam.

-Will

Kent unwrapped the present and found a Slytherin spatula and a stuffed house elf toy.  He picked up his phone and called Will.

“I tell you about the one time I didn’t do the dishes and realized I didn’t have anything to make my scrambled eggs with, and this is what I get?”

Will just laughed for a minute before he managed to get out a greeting.  “Hi, Kent!  You know you can’t fly through Orlando and escape all the merchandise.  I thought you would get a laugh out of it.”

“I did, thanks!  Hey, I just got back from my workout and I need to eat.  But I’ll talk to you later.”

“Ok, sounds good!” 

Kent could tell Will had a smile as he said goodbye.  And then he was just left staring at his new spatula with a smile on his own face and a warm feeling in his chest.

“Crap!”

“What’s wrong? You seemed fine.” Swoops asked

“I definitely caught feelings for him.”

-+-

Kent had had a good summer.  Relaxing and giving him plenty of time to work through his issues and make friends. And now he had this—a crush he didn’t know what to do with, just in time for a new season.  Welcome back to hockey.

Chapter Text

Kent was surprised to find that having a few friends outside of hockey made it a lot easier to stop pretending so much with his team.  He was mentally in a much better place, and he could handle a few chirps about reading biographies of mathematicians or having his office really be a place to store his Harry Potter collection and a pile of board games.  He kept working through his feelings with Clare, and he talked with Will. He joked with Swoops, and he kept going to game night.  He felt like after nearly a year of turmoil, he was settling into his own skin. 

-+-

Kent threw himself into training camp.  By the end of the summer he was glad to be back around his teammates with their noise and roughhousing that he associated with the start of a new season.  He was busy with practices every day and checking in with the new trades and rookies.  Swoops would keep playing on his left wing, but the coaches kept changing around the right wing and he was working to adapt to different playing styles. 

As the preseason games wrapped up and they finalized the roster Kent was feeling really good about the season. They were meshing really well, and he felt more connected to them than he had in a long time.  He even adopted a rookie.  Yams had just graduated college.  He was an engineering major and pretty quiet around the rest of the team.  He was a lot like Kent thought he would have been if he didn’t have the pressure of being the #1 draft pick and trying to get over his best friend/boyfriend nearly dying.

After their last pre-season practice Kent went out with Swoops, Corner, and Yams and declared that they were the Coolest Nerds in the World.  Seeing their confusion, he continued “Come, on guys.  Swoops you are a total Harry Potter nerd, Corner you have a trivia team, and Yams you have a degree in engineering…you can’t tell me you aren’t a nerd too.  And I am an all-around nerd, and I need to share that with my hockey bros.”

“Is this like…hazing? I know I’m kinda quiet and will happily talk about the importance of coordinate system definition, so I don’t think I need any help being cast as the team nerd.”

“No Yams, this is me being shit at being the real me and trying to get better at it.  Benefits of being my friend include random facts about math, puns and dad jokes, and Disney movies when I’m in a mood.  But it also comes with a place to be a non-stereotypical hockey player while cuddling with the best cat in the world.  If you are really cool you might even get to meet my game night friends.”

-+-

Kent’s plan to be more himself with his teammates was going well, but his plan to get over his crush on Will was not working at all.  In fact, he was pretty sure it was getting worse.  He had thought that spending more time together instead of just texts and some phone calls would help.  Somehow Will ended up in the same cities for work where the Aces had games.  They had been bowling in Seattle, at a bar in Houston, and roller skating – which Kent was embarrassingly bad at – in Nashville. And now they found themselves in Kent’s hotel room in Denver.  Kent wasn’t in the mood to go out between a bad loss during an afternoon game and an early flight the next morning, so instead they were watching the first season of Brooklyn 99. 

“Ok, Swoops was right. I do need this show in my life. He couldn’t believe that neither of us had seen it.”

“Hey, at least I had the excuse of being out of the country.  Do you have any idea how hard it is to watch anything with all the copyright restrictions? You are just surprisingly unaware of pop culture,” Will replied with a nudge at Kent’s shoulder.

“Just one more casualty of trying not to stand out, I guess.  I am however quite good at swearing in five languages.”

“Put that on your resume. I’m sure it is a skill highly valued outside of hockey.”

They settled in to watch the rest of the episode, and when it ended Will asked if they should do one more.

“I think I’ve got one more before I crash.”  It turned out that Kent was too tired to make it through another.  He caught maybe five minutes of the plot before he felt himself slipping, and he was pretty sure his eyes closed while listening to Will tell a story about his day during a commercial.  He woke up to a soft hand on his shoulder, a whispered ‘Kent,’ and a crick in his neck from his head resting on Will’s shoulder.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to fall asleep on you,” he said slowly—a bit embarrassed.

“Don’t worry about it. I know you had a long day.  I’m not sure when you crashed.  I only noticed with a few minutes left in the episode.”

Standing up to stretch, Kent replied “I think I missed most of it…guess I’ll need to catch it again. But thanks for coming over to watch, it was fun.  Next episode the next time we both have a free night?”

“Yeah, I’ll let you know. And I’ll get out of here so you can actually go to bed.”  And then with a soft smile while leaning in for a hug, “Bye, Kent.”

Kent flopped back on his bed after Will left.  Waking up, feeling warm and safe, after falling asleep on him was really not helping Kent get over this crush. 

-+-

“Because I’m scared,” Kent replied angrily

“Can you tell me more about that?”

“That he’ll leave.  That’s what people do, they leave.  My dad, my favorite teacher, my mom—although I guess that one is more like she didn’t care when I left.”  He was silent for a minute before adding “Jack.”

“We have talked some in the past about how events in childhood can leave wounds that take a long time to heal, and we can talk more about that now if you would like.  But I get the sense that you are most worried about how your relationship with Jack ended.”

“I guess,” Kent admitted eventually.  Clare seemed intent on letting him sit with it until he had something else to say.  “Or…I don’t know.  It’s more like how it got started?  I thought we were on the same page about what we were doing.  I thought it was this slow escalation but then all of a sudden it was sex and then all of a sudden it was over.  That sounded awful…it’s not like Jack pushed me into anything.  It’s like my brain missed a step.  And I can’t do that again.

“I fell asleep on Will! And I have no idea what he thinks that means.  And I feel stuck because I can’t ask him.  Because I don’t want to ruin our friendship if he doesn’t feel anything more for me.  And if he does then I don’t know what to do next.  Intellectually, I know I don’t owe him my identity and I don’t owe him sex. But it’s so hard to find practical advice about what that means.  Because it seems like there needs to be a conversation at some point.”

Eventually Kent ran out of words and stopped to take a few breaths.

“I can tell you have a lot of emotions about this and that can make any situation feel overwhelming.  But it sounds to me, and tell me if you think this is off-base, that there are two questions here.  The first one is how you feel comfortable defining the bounds of friendship for yourself, particularly when you are concerned about either getting hurt or in a situation that makes you uncomfortable.  The second one is more of a process questions about when and how to have a conversation about the emotional and physical boundaries of a relationship.”

“I don’t think that is wrong…but it doesn’t feel that simple either.”

“Well there is still work for us to do to be able to answer those questions, and some of that probably won’t feel easy.  But do you feel as if we are missing part of what is bothering you or that we should break one of those questions down further?”

“I don’t know.  I guess they are at least better than where I was before.”

“Why don’t you think about them for a few days, and we can start with that when we meet next time."

-+-

Kent was not looking forward to this roadie.  Bruins then Falcs—just like last season.  His team was ready for the hockey, but he wasn’t ready to be back there.  As happy he as was forJack for finally making it to the NHL, he didn’t feel ready to see him or play against him.  Swoops seemed to sense that he was nervous about the game and kept giving him worried looks when he was quieter than usual on the flight.  Kent had never said that Jack was his ex, but it wouldn’t surprise him if Swoops had figured it out.

Naturally the press wanted to play up the significance of them playing against each other, and he thought he was prepared.  But he had been spending so much time thinking about their relationship lately that he found himself stuck on Jack’s name.

“Jack…Zimmermann obviously has made an impact but, you know, we prepare for teams…but we’re just going to watch our tape and play our game…treat it like any other one in the 82.”

He managed to pull it together to a typical answer that didn’t give anything away, but he was annoyed with himself and how he was letting it mess with his head.  It got worse when he made the mistake of turning on the TV before his pre-game nap and caught the end of an interview with Jack about the upcoming game.

“But you and Kent Parson—this is your first encounter in a rink since you won the memorial cup together…there’s a lot of history, isn’t there?”

“Yeah. But it’s all in the past.”

They won, but Kent felt like the game was still a disaster.  He was distracted and let Jack get away from him to tie up the game.  He managed to get another goal, but he was out of control and he nearly got a lot of people hurt between crashing into the goal and the resulting fight.

He let the guys drag him out for a drink to celebrate his goal, but he escaped as soon as he could to head back to the hotel.  He changed into some sweats, collapsed onto the bed, and grabbed his phone to call Will.

“Hey! I caught the highlights of your game.  That was an amazing goal!”

“Oh, thanks.”

“Well, that wasn’t very convincing.  Are you ok?”

“Yeah, just in a weird headspace.  Press about the game kinda got in my head.  The whole Parson/Zimmerman angle.  Just sort of pulled up a lot of stuff from the past.”

“Do you want to talk about it or be distracted?”

“Definitely be distracted. Where are you?  I lost track with the lead up to this game.”

“New Orleans.  I’m working on a piece about the lasting environmental impacts of Hurricane Katrina.  There was a lot of soil and ground water contamination from chemical spills due to all the flooding, and there hasn’t been much done about it yet. I’m trying to get some shots on the personal impact…”

Kent let Will’s voice wash over him, and he felt himself starting to relax.  As much as he would have liked to watch Will’s face as he talked about his work, he found himself glad that he wasn’t here.  He was free to leave what was probably a sappy smile on his face, and he didn’t have to worry about doing something stupid like leaning over and kissing him.

After a few more minutes of conversation, Will cut himself off with a yawn, then continued, “I have a really early morning, so I have to get to bed.  But thanks for letting me ramble on about the story it helps me sort things out in my head.”

“No problem.  I’m always happy to help.  Besides, I needed the distraction just as much.  I’m feeling a lot better now.”

“I’m glad.  I’ll talk to you later.  G’night.”

“OK, you to.”

-+-

Will

Are you passing through Vegas any time soon?

The game night crew wants to go to a game, but I thought they might appreciate having someone who knows the rules

Plus you haven’t met Kit yet

I could be there for the Schooners game in 2 weeks

My knowledge of the rules might be a little rusty thought…I actually haven’t watched a game in person in years

Don’t tell Mark I’m coming.  It will be fun to surprise him.

And I can’t wait to meet Kit

I’ll make sure that game works for everyone else

Do you want my guest room to make it easier to surprise Mark?

That would be great if I won’t be in the way of your game day routine

As long as you don’t mind me disappearing to take a nap it’s not a problem

Ok.  I’m looking forward to meeting Kit

And seeing you again :)

Kent didn’t see Will for long before the game.  His flight got in while they were at morning skate, so he was at Kent’s place when he got back.  They had lunch together before Kent went to take his nap and then head to the arena long before fans could get in.

Kent had let PR know that Will was going to be at the game, so they could get him on the big screen during warmups and catch Corner by surprise.  He had planned to stick close to make sure he could nudge Corner at the right time, but unfortunately for Kent he was still the captain and tended to get distracted making sure everyone was ready for the game.  Which is why he found himself surprised when Corner skated over, pulled him into a joking headlock, and asked why his big brother was at the game in a Kent Parson jersey.

“What,” Kent responded with a confused look and then glanced up at the screen where Will, Dan, Grey, Hannah, and Taylor were still waving.  The game night crew was just wearing some black and red clothes, but Will was wearing an official Kent Parson jersey and now laughing at them.  Kent felt his face heating and smile tugging at his lips.  “Oh, well he’s here to explain hockey to the rest of the bunch.  And we thought it would be funny to surprise you.  But the jersey is all him.”

“I would just brush that off as Will being an ass…but I’m pretty sure you’re blushing.”

“Go warmup,” he replied, giving Corner’s helmet a shove.

“We’re talking about this later Parser,” he retorted while skating off.

The game was rough, hard-fought win.  By the end he had the beginnings of a few large bruises to go along with his two assists. He made a joke about siblings always trying to get under each other’s skin to explain Will’s Parson jersey and packed up his gear quickly to head home with Corner, Swoops, and Yams.  Will and the others had headed there instead of hanging around the arena to wait for them.   

“Sooooo,” Corner started as soon as they had all piled into Kent’s car.  “Spill.  How long has this been going on?”

“There’s nothing to tell. We are just friends—besides you gave me his number.  It’s not like you would have room to talk if there was anything to tell.”

“As emotional support in your respective times of need!  And you haven’t actually denied the blushing.  How did you get to the point of blushing over him?”

“Did you seriously not notice?”  Swoops chimed in.

“Yeah, they’ve been going on cheesy not-dates all over whenever our roadies line up with his travel. Which frankly has been happening with suspicious frequency.”  Kent had come out to Yams about a month ago.  He had responded ‘Oh, ok, cool’ and then preceded to lightly chirp him about how much time he was spending with Will whenever he got the chance.

“They have not been ‘cheesy not-dates.’  We’ve just been hanging out.”  Kent could feel himself start to get a little defensive.

“Dude, you went bowling. You went roller skating!”  Yams was practically gleeful.

“And there was that one time—”

“Swoops!”  Thankfully he didn’t live far from the arena and was able to escape the conversation as he pulled into his parking space.

Kent slowed down to walk beside Swoops as they headed out of the parking garage.  “Hey…I know that was all in good fun, and I know Corner wouldn’t actually care if Will and I were dating.  But you’re the only one who knows why this is so hard for me…and I kinda need you to keep this at mild chirping and not speculation of when we’re going to get together.”

“I’m sorry Kent.  I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable, and I’ll keep the rest of them in line.”

“The part where none of you cares that it’s with a guy is nice.  And it’s not that I’m not interested.  I’m just still working through my shit and trying to figure out what I want and what I’m ready for.”  Then, wanting to drop it, he sped up to catch Yams and Corner.

Once Kent had his door open, Corner pounced on Will to give him a noogie and call him out for not wearing his jersey.  Kent was pretty sure he heard a whispered ‘I’m on to you’ before he commented that somehow, he hadn’t realized that he had never seen the brothers together. “Which one of you is supposed to be the younger on again?  Because Will, that was a classic little brother move.”

“Things get confusing when you are more than a half foot shorter than your little brother.  If I was going to lose our wrestling matches, I needed to find another way to get ahead.”

“Ok, enough with the family reunion stuff.  Kent Parson! Why is hockey so violent?”  Dan seemed aghast at the entire idea of professional sports.

“Yeah, this was not the best game to convince you that it isn’t really that bad.  It’s been a couple of seasons since I’ve taken that many rough checks in one game.  I’m going to have some spectacular bruises.”

“Oh, yeah.  It made me miss the NCAA where fighting wasn’t allowed,” Yams added.

It was late, and everyone was tired, so everyone only stayed for about half an hour.  Kent promised to get people to an afternoon game next time, so they could go out afterwards.  As Kent was walking everyone towards the door, Corner finished making breakfast plans with Will and then turned to him.  “I don’t care if you are fucking, but please make sure he is on time to breakfast so I don’t have to think about it.”

“Oh my god, I promise there will be no fucking.  Now get out of my house.”

It looked like Corner was about to make a retort, when Swoops came to his rescue and dragged Yams and Corner out the door.

Left alone with Will, Kent was feeling a little awkward.  “So, normally after a rough game I watch Disney movies before I’m ready to go to bed.  But I know it’s really late if you aren’t up for that.”

“I don’t know that I can make it to the end, but I’m up for at least the beginning.”

“Ok.  I’m feeling some Tarzan.  Two Worlds, One Family and all that.”

“Sentimental nerd,” was the laughing response.

They settled in on the couch, sitting closer than really necessary.  Kent had watched the movie more times than he could count, so it took him a while to realize he wasn’t really paying attention.  Instead, he was mostly thinking about Will.  About the way he had felt when he saw Will wearing his jersey at the game.  About how passionate Will was whenever he talked about his work.  About the way Will had laughed when Kent kept failing at roller skating.  About how safe he felt when he fell asleep on Will.  About how much he wanted to ‘accidentally’ fall asleep watching the movie and wake up with him on the couch.

And Kent was pretty sure that Will was thinking about those kinds of things too.  He noticed him glancing over at Kent and scooting a little closer on the couch.  He thought about the way Yams implied Will was syncing up their travel, so they would have excuses to hang out.  He thought about how his friends all thought there was something going on.  So Kent was pretty sure that Will was interested. He just wasn’t sure what he was interested in.

Kent knew how people thought this story was supposed to go.  How they would fall asleep on the couch together and wake up in each other’s arms.  How they would dance around each other and flirt over text.  How some night they would end up back at one of their hotel rooms without talking about it. 

But Kent couldn’t do that again.  It was bad enough with Jack, when he didn’t realize where things were headed or what he wanted.  But now—now Kent knew that he needed to have a conversation, maybe even several conversations, about what they each wanted.  And even if he knew what he wanted to say, tired after a rough game was not the right time to start.

Kent worked up a tired smile and paused the movie.  “I’m about to crash.  And after that game, I will regret it if I end up sleeping on the couch.”

Will headed towards the guest room after agreeing with a yawn about how late it was.  Kent knew Clare would say he should be proud of himself for making sure he didn’t end up in a situation that made him uncomfortable, but that didn’t mean he wished he wasn’t alone as he fell asleep.

-+-

Kent was finishing a late lunch when Will got back from breakfast and whatever else he and Corner had been up to. He had spent his morning trying to figure out what he wanted from a relationship and then playing with Kit before they left for a four game roadie later that day.

“Hey, what were you guys up to?”

“You know how my parents have been driving me crazy since I’ve been living with them between projects?”

“Yeah?”

“I can’t keep doing that much longer.  So, we were checking out a few different apartments.  I have a couple other cities on my list, but Vegas checks a lot of boxes. It’s not a hub, but there are still a lot of flights.  Cost of living is pretty decent, and it’s not too cold.  I’ve spent too much time near the equator to enjoy Chicago in the winter. Plus, I already know people here. But…ah, I did want to check with you about something.”

“Oh, ok.”  Will looked like he was nervous but trying to seem like he was fine, which was definitely making Kent nervous.

“I mean, obviously there is Mark.  But everyone else here, I know through you.  And I don’t want you to think I’m trying to force myself in or anything.  Because you seemed a little uncomfortable last night. And Mark gave me a bit of a hard time about whatever is going on with us while we were out today—and knowing him he did the same to you yesterday.  And then I realized you also seemed a little upset when you got back last night.  So, I’m guessing you figured out I’m interested in being more than just your friend, and I can back off if you don’t feel the same way.”  He paused for a moment, but when Kent didn’t say anything right away, he continued.  “I’m not trying to make this more than it is either. I just didn’t want to move here if Vegas ends up being the best choice and then have it be weird.”

Kent knew he had to say something, but despite all the time he had spent thinking about it over the last couple of months, he still didn’t know to start.  “Ok.  I’m going to start with the easy part because I don’t want any of this to come out wrong. I don’t feel like you would be forcing your way into my life if you lived here, so don’t worry about that when you’re deciding.  And I do like you—kind of a lot.  But I’ve been working through some stuff left over from my last relationship and some stuff about me.  And about what I want in general.  I wish I could give you some sort of timetable, but I really can’t.  So, yeah—I like you, but I don’t know when or if I’ll be in a place to do anything about it.”

“Ok.  Like I said, I’m not trying to push you or make this more than it is.  But I appreciate your honesty about it.  You don’t have to answer this if you don’t want to, but I noticed you didn’t say anything about the being uncomfortable part.  And I really don’t want to be making you uncomfortable.”

“Um, I was a bit.  And I want to say that you weren’t doing anything wrong, but I know my therapist would call me out for that.  But it really is stuff in my head, and I think you knowing that I need a real conversation about being anything more than friends should take care of it.  And Swoops has a handle on the teammate side of things.”

“Well, let me know if I step over any lines.  Or if you need some space.”

“That at least, I can do.”

-+-

Kent tried to get his thoughts back on hockey after Will left, but he was still pretty subdued when he got on the plane for their flight to Houston late that afternoon.  Kent had started sitting with Yams on most of their flights and they would do math puzzles together.  Swoops could tell that something had Kent in a mood though, so he pushed him towards the back of the plane and made sure they had some empty seats around them.

He waited for everyone else to be absorbed in their own activities before breaking the silence. “What’s going on?  Did something happen with Will?  I don’t think Yams has really picked up on it, but Corner is also giving you some worried looks?”

“It’s not like something happened,” Kent whispered back.  “But he told me he liked me, and he was worried he had made me uncomfortable.  And I was a little bit because I have issues.  So I told him I like him too, but I’m not in a place to do anything about it. Also, he’s maybe moving to Vegas.  Basically, I had a grownup conversation about things and it wore me out because I wasn’t planning on doing that today.  Be proud of me, and let me sleep on you for the rest of the flight.”

“I am proud of you,” Swoops replied while pulling him in for a side hug.  “What do you want to watch for the three minutes it’s going to take you to fall asleep?”

-+-

Kent’s life wasn’t in turmoil like it was a year ago.  He had a whole group of good friends that he could be himself with and knew how to ask for the things he needed.  He had a great cat and a team that was probably going to make a deep run in the playoffs.  His present was better than he could have hoped for a few months ago.  Now he just needed to figure out what he wanted for his future.

Chapter Text

Kent never really got used to the homophobia in hockey.  As much as he tried to ignore the comments from his teammates, from opponents, from the fans, it never stopped grating at him.  Even as captain, he had never felt like it was safe to call anyone out.  He didn’t want to be out to most of his teammates, and he certainly didn’t want to be out to the world.

The comments had hurt the worst when he was a teenager, trying to figure himself out and hiding his relationship with Jack.  But as he spent more time thinking about the future, he found the comments harder to ignore.  He had a real support system and people he knew would back him up.  He might not be able to do something about the whole NHL, but maybe he could start doing something about his own team.  Small steps were better than nothing.

-+-

Comments in the locker room were usually the worst after a loss, but Carl was on a roll tonight despite their win.  Apparently the fans weren’t enthusiastic enough, the Aeros were being reckless, and the refs-

“Were they blind?  Barely called anything—bunch of fags.”

“Hey Carl?”  Kent waited for him to look over.  “I don’t want to hear that word out of your mouth again.  We don’t use slurs in my locker room or on my ice.”

“What got your panties in a twist all of a sudden?”

“It’s never been ok.  I’m just finally being a grownup and saying something about it.”

“What is this, some sort of PR political correctness crusade?” Ricker asked combatively.

“No, I think it’s just about being a decent person,” Swoops replied calmly. 

Kent let out a sigh of relief.  He’s not surprised Swoops stepped up, but he hadn’t talked about how much Carl and his group had been getting on Kent’s nerves, so he didn’t know to expect anything about it tonight.

“Yeah, I’m sure you can come up with a more creative way to be an asshole if you put your mind to it.”  Corner seemed pretty happy to pile on, and his comment led to some laughs and helped defuse the tension in the room.

Kent finished putting his things away and headed over towards Carl and Ricker.  “Think what you want on your own time, but when you are with the team, my rules go.  Ok?”

“Yeah, whatever Parser.”

Kent knew that was the best he was going to get, so he gave them each a pat on the shoulder and headed out the door.  Swoops and Yams caught up with him quickly.

“You ok man?”

“I’m just glad I got out of there without any outright speculation on why I was making it a point.  Thanks for jumping in by the way.”

“Corner is going to stick around until everyone leaves.  Make sure Carl doesn’t start anything.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t—” Yams started.

“Don’t worry about it.  I know remember what it’s like to be a rookie and not know when to step into something.  Besides, it’s not like I gave you any warning.”

“Yeah, I mean I’ve never been good at coming up with a quick response.  But I meant…I’m sorry none of us ever said anything to him before now.”

“I’m not going to pretend that I wish none of us ever had to say something.  I just wasn’t in a place where I felt comfortable with anyone commenting on it until now.  But feel free to call people out now that I’ve said something.  I’m sure that only one conversation isn’t going to be enough with Carl or Ricker.”

-+-

“The last couple of weeks have been a lot.  None of it was really bad, just a lot of stuff.”  He was surprised to find himself on the verge of tears, and he tried to wipe at them discretely to keep them from spilling over.

“Even positive news or change can be very stressful.  It is natural to feel overwhelmed, especially when you let yourself pause to reflect on it.  Is there something you would like to start with?”

“I called out a couple of my teammates for using slurs the other day.  And that was stressful even though it went ok.  I guess heteronormativity worked for me on that occasion because none of them have been speculating that I’m gay.

“But I also had to reassure Yams and Swoops and Corner that I wasn’t ready to call anyone out on it before then so I didn’t mind that they hadn’t said anything.  And that is true, but I still felt like they should have said something or that I shouldn’t have had to reassure them.”

“There is no reason that all of those things can’t be true at once.  It can be frustrating when you wish your allies were supporting you in a different way, or that they could understand something without you having to explain it.  Would you like to discuss some strategies to discuss this with them?”

“No.  It was frustrating, but I think I can deal with that one if I decide to.  Mostly it was just part of what made things seem a bit overwhelming.”

“I’m glad you are able to recognize that.  It makes it easier to identify what events or thoughts are causing most of your stress.”  

“We also lost a few games in a row, and even though we were able to turn it around it still makes for a depressing environment for a while. But mostly it is still the Will thing that is stressing me out.  He’s moving to Vegas.  In just a couple of weeks.  And I don’t want to create a timeline, but I also don’t want to leave things in limbo for too long.”

“I’m sure of regardless of what you ultimately decide, there will be some relief in having come to a conclusion.  And by your personality and career you are driven by schedules and deadlines, but is there something else that is pushing you to not leave things in limbo?”

“I guess it feels almost dishonest to leave things how they are?  And maybe not fair to either of us?”

“What makes you say that?”

“The status quo is pretty close to what I would consider ideal in relationship.  And I don’t want Will to feel like I was experimenting about what our relationship would be like or something without telling him.  But I also don’t want that for me.  I don’t want to fall harder than I already have just to find out he isn’t interested in being with me.  Or that he isn’t ok with a relationship that doesn’t include sex.”

“It sounds as if you are fairly close to understanding what you want from a relationship.  And while you are considering how this affects Will, I am glad that you are considering how this process might affect you.  Are there other factors that you would like to discuss?”

“Just the fear.  I feel like it keeps coming back to that.  Either that my attempt at asexual dating will crash and burn or that things will just end at some point.”  

“There are some fears that you can work to minimize, and we have spent time talking about how communication can help you.  But it is also important to recognize when you won’t be able to get total certainty, and that it is still alright to act in those situations.”

-+-

Kent couldn’t wait for bye week.  He had to get through the All Star weekend first, but after that he planned to get in as much relaxing as possible.  They were all tired with little aches and pains that could use the rest.  But Kent was also working to figure out his personal life, and they had a new trade he was worried about.  They had gotten rid of Ricker, who had been solid but nothing special as part of their 3rd d-pairing, and Kent couldn’t say that he missed his presence in the locker room.  Finny was better on the ice, and he wasn’t running his mouth.  The trouble was that he wasn’t saying much at all.  Kent didn’t know what led to the trade, but he was guessing it wasn’t anything good, and he didn’t want it to mess up the team dynamic.

After the last practice before the break, Kent stopped by Finny’s stall.  “Hey, man.  Those were some nice connections on the ice today.”  He seemed uncomfortable, but Kent couldn’t place what was worrying him.

“Thanks.  The adjustment to new people is always weird.  It’s nice when it starts to settle in.”

“You want to grab some lunch?”

“I can’t today.  I’m getting all my stuff delivered this afternoon.”

“Ok.  Tell you what—you going anywhere for bye week?”  Kent waited for a shake of the head and then continued, “How about lunch Tuesday?  You can come over to my place and meet Kit and I’ll tell you about all the good restaurants that aren’t full of tourists.”

“Yeah, sure.  Thanks.”

Kent nodded and then went to grab his bag and head home, still convinced that he didn’t understand what was going on.  

-+-

Kent kept lunch simple, just chicken and rice, since he didn’t know what Finny liked.  They chatted easily through lunch, and Kent passed along his favorite Vegas spots.  Finny seemed to have his life in order and was saying all the right things, but Kent was still worried.  He finally decided he was going to need to be more forward if he wanted to figure out what was going on.

“I’ve seen a lot of guys come and go to trades.  Some of them were excited for the new opportunity.  Some of them were caught completely by surprise and others had the leave behind friends that they had for years.  But none of that seems to fit here.  You don’t have to tell me your life story, but if there is something you want to talk about or something you need, I’m here.”

“Is this the ‘make sure the new guy isn’t going to mess up the team’ thing?”  He seemed resigned.

“It’s a little bit that, but it’s mostly just about you.  And making sure you’re ok.  I haven’t always had my life together, and I know how much it sucks to try and work through things alone.”

“Ok, well I guess it was obvious that I didn’t leave on the best of terms, and maybe I’ve been overcompensating to make sure I don’t get off on the wrong foot.”  He paused for a deep breath.  “But can I use your bathroom before we get into the whole thing?”

“Sure, it’s on the right down that hall.”

Kent took care of their dishes and put away the leftovers.  He was trying not to get too worried, but whatever was going on wasn’t good if Finny got traded for it.  His thoughts were starting to get away from him when he heard his phone ringing with a FaceTime call from Dan.  He was pretty sure that Dan, Grey, and Hannah had some sort of bet about who could catch him in the most ridiculous professional athlete situation, but Kent didn’t want to know the details.  Dan would probably be disappointed that he was at home.

“Hey, Dan!  What’s up?”

“Hey.  So feel free to say no to this, but there was some kind of scheduling mixup with the community room for this week.  And Grey has been trying to find something else, but they haven’t had any success so far.  I said we should just ask you since you have space for a pretty big group.”

“Yeah, I can do that.  But maybe no newbies or people who don’t normally come.  It’s my bye week—I don’t really want to end up trending on twitter.”

“Thanks!  I’ll tell Grey they should update the event details.”

“Oh, and I don’t have any rules against food and drink if people want to bring stuff.  Grey has been bragging about some brownie recipe they perfected and I want to see if they live up to the hype if they are up for it.  I’ll have drinks and stuff for everyone”

“Their brownies are amazing!  You haven’t lived until you try them.  I’ll make sure they make a bunch.”

“Haha.  Ok.  I’ll see everyone in a couple of days.”

Kent heard Finny coming back as he hung up, and he ran back through his conversation with Dan to make sure he hadn’t said anything he didn’t want overheard.  And he realized that was what seemed off about Finny.  He was being careful about what he said, like he didn’t want to tell the whole truth.

“Couch?” Kent asked as he grabbed Kit.  He still didn’t know how this conversation would go, and Kit’s warm weight would be a welcome comfort.

“Can we just keep this between us?”  He waited until Kent answered and then took a deep breath.  “So what it really came down to is that I didn’t fit in with the Blues, well I don’t really fit in with hockey in general.  And so things broke down in the locker room and then they broke down on the ice.  Management didn’t know the whole story, but they knew I was at the center of whatever was going on.    And I really didn’t want the same thing to happen all over again.  I figured being quiet and not being too me was safer, but maybe I went a little overboard.”

“Well, speaking as someone who doesn’t really fit in with the stereotypical hockey player either, I know it sucks to hide who you are.  I mean, I’m a math nerd who likes boardgames, and that’s not even the half of it.”  Kent paused, and decided to trust his instincts that Finny really needed someone he could open up to before continuing.  “It’s certainly not the half that has had me in therapy for the last year.”

Kent let them sit in silence for a while.  He didn’t want to keep pushing since he had the sense that Finny had already said more than he had planned to.  But he also kept taking a breath like he wanted to say something and then changing his mind.

“You can tell me to fuck off because you don’t really know me.  But my therapist keeps trying to convince me that sometimes you have to do something when you don’t know if it’s going to be ok.  And I’m pretty shit at it myself, which is why we keep talking about it.  But you really look like you want to say something, and unless you don’t understand why your teammates couldn’t support your axe-murdering or whatever, I think it’s going to be ok.”  Then he took a deep breath to prepare himself.  If he got traded because his team couldn’t deal with who he is, then he probably wouldn’t feel safe saying anything out loud without knowing it was safe either.  “So, I’ll go first.  I’m queer.”

“Takes one to know one I guess, huh?”  Kent had been pretty sure that it was something like that.  But he hadn’t realized how tense he was until he felt himself relax.  “I figured you would be ok, because I caught the end of your phone call.  But I still couldn’t make myself say it until you did.  So, thanks.”

“If the situation were reversed, I can’t imagine myself feeling any different.  Do you want to talk about it or be distracted?”

“I think I need to talk about.  I couldn’t even tell my mom what happened—just ‘that’s hockey’.  It started a few years ago when my sister and her family were visiting.  My niece wanted to paint my nails, and then she didn’t want me to take it off for the game.  And I figured my team wouldn’t care if I was doing it for a 5 year old kid.  They mostly didn’t, so it became a thing.  Whenever Amelia visited I had painted nails.  I think they thought she would grow out of it or I would get tired of it, but that didn’t happen.  And I liked having my nails done, so I would do them myself too.  And the few times I forgot to take it off before going to the rink, I said Amelia was there.  But eventually they figured that out, and they stopped thinking it was so cute anyway once Amelia was 9.  And then they started trying to figure out if I was gay, but it didn’t seem like there was anything safe to say.  I can barely put my own sexuality in a box when it is overshadowed by gender shit, and that made it hard to just brush it off as ‘men can wear nail polish’. So, yeah…that’s what happened.”

“I’m so sorry Finny, that’s awful.  Oh, wait, shit.  Do you actually like Finny?”

“I do, better than my first name actually.  It’s mostly the ‘mans’ and ‘dudes’ and ‘bros’ that get to me.”

“That’s easy to stop saying.  He/him ok?”

“Yeah, pronouns are fine.  I keep thinking about trying something else, but I don’t know.”

“Well let me know.  Obviously this all stays between us, and I’m not going to say anything unless you want me to.  But Swoops, Corner, and Yams know about me.  And for non-hockey people, that phone call was about queer game night.”

“I don’t think I’m ready for any of that yet.  But if you have a recommendation for a therapist that probably wouldn’t hurt.”

“Yeah, I’ll ask Clare and let you know.  And seriously, any time you want to come over and paint our nails or talk about cute humans, or whatever, just let me know.”

“Thanks, Kent.  Really.”

“I was about a week away from a total mental breakdown a year ago because I didn’t think I had anyone to talk to.  We have to look out for each other, right?”

-+-

Kent had previously had some of his game night friends over to his place, but he had never hosted game night before.  He wasn’t willing to open his house to people he hadn’t met before, and he didn’t want to make the group some sort of exclusive event.  But for one night, when the alternative was to cancel he thought it would be ok.

Most of the time they played strategy games, but sometimes they changed it up, and that night was Games from Childhood.  They played some very raucous rounds of Mouse Trap, Candy Land, and Chutes and Ladders.  Dan contributed Pretty Pretty Princess and Kent couldn’t resist a picture of all of them in the child-sized plastic jewelry.

Grey was thanking him again for hosting as everyone else was putting the games away.  He was about to give a quick ‘no problem’ is response when he thought about how much the group meant to him.  He had spent the evening laughing with good friends.  And he had spent previous evenings complaining about stupid things Carl or Ricker had said in the locker room, or listening as Dan complained about his transphobic boss or Grey talked about their overbearing parents or Hannah updated them on her struggles to get health insurance to pay for anything.  And he knew that he was glad to have these friends in his life, but after listening to Finny’s story the other day he was reminded just how important it was.

“I was happy to have everyone.  Something reminded me the other day just important you all are to me, and how lost I was before I found the group.  So, seriously.  Thank you.”

“I think we’ve all felt that way a few times.”  And then, “bring it in,” as they opened their arms for a hug.”

Hannah noticed and called out for a group hug, so the event wrapped up with a group hug that was way better than the ones hockey bros managed.

Kent bumped Will’s shoulder as everyone was grabbing their coats.  “Hey, you want to stick around?”

He looked over and searched Kent’s face before letting out a soft “Yeah, I’d like that.”

Once everyone else was gone, Kent settled on the couch with Kit in his lap.  “You still want to have that ‘I like you, what should we do about it discussion,’ right?”

“‘Yeah, if you are ready to have it.  I don’t want you to feel like you have to just because I live here now.”

“I don’t think I’ll even be 100% ready, but I’m around 95%.  And I think you’re a good guy, so even if this doesn’t go great, I don’t think it will go horribly.  And don’t feel like you need to reciprocate with as much information, I just need to provide some context for things.”

“Ok…do you want me to just listen to start?”

“Yeah, that would be—yeah.”  Kent took a few breaths and cuddled Kit a bit closer before starting.  “So I guess there are two things that fall under my need for communication.  The first is a cross between a fear of people leaving and my last, well only, relationship sort of imploding.  It ended after the draft, and we didn’t talk for a couple years after that.  And the few times we have talked have been a bit of a disaster, but we also never really talked enough about what our relationship was when it was still happening.  I was in love with him, and I eventually realized that it was just a ‘friends with benefits’ thing for him.  And it really messed me up.  

“Trying to figure out being closeted while under a lot of media scrutiny is part of why I haven’t dated or anything since then.  Most of it though is that fear of someone leaving and not seeing it coming.  I’m not saying if we started something I would have a breakdown if you ever broke up with me.  Just that I would need you to communicate about where you are.  There is also the second thing I have to talk about, but I don’t really want to get into that if the first thing is a dealbreaker.”

“Well, first off—with all the travel I have been doing, I haven’t been doing much dating or hooking up either.  So I don’t think we would be coming from drastically different places.  I’m not just looking for some casual thing, and I agree that communication is important no matter what.  But does communication mean we would be checking in with each other and being honest, or more like regular reassurances that we are on the same page.  Because I’m definitely ok with the first one, but I would worry about feeling like an emotional crutch with the second one.  Especially considering how much time we both spend traveling.”

“I can’t promise I would never freak out about something, but I meant checking in and being honest.  And the second thing will probably make the communication part make more sense, and less like maybe I need more therapy before I should be dating anyone.”

“Ok,” Will replied with a brief laugh.  “I think you can go ahead with the second thing then.”

“Alright,” Kent started and then paused.  “Sorry, this one is harder and I’m not really sure how to start.”  Will seemed content to wait for Kent to figure out what he wanted to say.  Eventually, Kent started again.  “So I know the internet would tell me that I don’t have to talk about this now, or ever really, but for me—I really do need to.

“I’m ace…like super ace.  So the physical side of a relationship with me would be pretty PG-13.  And this is my first relationship since realizing that, so I don’t have a definitive list about what I’m ok with.  And obviously you don’t have to be ok with that, and it’s ok to change your mind later.  I just need you to be honest about it.”

“Ok, that does provide some more context for the communication part.  I haven’t dated someone who is ace before, but one of my relationships in college was with a trans guy, so I understand having some pretty hard lines on what is ok physically.  That relationship only lasted for a couple of months because we realized we didn’t have that much in common, but I don’t think that the physical side of things was really a factor in that.  And I know it’s not really the same, but with all my travel I missed dating a lot more than the ability to find safe sex.

“So…you haven’t said anything that makes me think this wouldn’t work.  And I’m definitely interested in trying something.”

“Yeah?”  Kent felt a huge smile spreading across his face.

“Yeah,” Will replied softly with a fond look in his eyes.  “Is there anything else you wanted to talk about, or any questions you have?”

“Being ok with talking and not doing something casual covered it for me.  So not unless you have any specifics you want to talk about.”

“The ‘mostly PG-13’ description gives me a pretty good idea to start with, so I don’t think we need to get too detailed tonight as long as we talk about it more soon.”

“Ok.  In that case can we just put on some tv and cuddle for a bit?  All the serious talking has me kinda worn out.”

Will just answered with a smile and open arms, and wrapped Kent up as the little spoon.  After a few minutes of silence he pressed a kiss to the back of Kent’s head and said “Hey, that was brave.  It shouldn’t need to be, but it was.”

“See, I knew you were a good guy,” Kent answered with a smile.

“Do you still want to watch tv?”

“Nah, this is good.”

They lay there together for a few minutes, and Kent felt himself starting to drift off.  Will must have noticed too because he gave Kent a squeeze and started to sit up.  “Some of us need to get some work done tomorrow, so I should head home.  Besides, as nice as this is, I’m guessing there are some more conversations to be had first.”

“Yeah,” he replied while extending a hand to pull Will up.  They headed towards the door, and Kent gave Will a kiss on the cheek with his goodnight.

-+-

Kent took advantage of the fact that he still had a few days off to spend some time with Will and have a few more relationship discussions.  Some of the conversations were short and easy: hand holding, cuddling, and making out as long as it didn’t get too heated were all ok.  Anything that required fewer clothes was a conversation for later.  

They were over at Will’s place when they ended up talking about Kent being closeted with most of his team and the public and what that meant.

“Well, I’d tell the teammates I’m out to, and Dan, Grey, and Hannah.  The rest of the game night crew would probably be fine, but I don’t want to tell everyone at once.  But I don’t have to tell Mark right away, or you can whenever.  He’s your brother.  And not to get too ahead of ourselves, but I guess your parents whenever you want.”

“Yeah, I should probably tell Mark so he doesn’t do anything indiscrete out of excitement.  And obviously, Katie and your Mom whenever you are ready.”

“They don’t actually know I’m queer, so that’s a little more complicated.”

“They don’t?  Why did I think that they did?”

“I’m pretty sure Swoops thinks they do too.  Probably because it hasn’t been much of an issue.  There’s so much other stuff with my mom, and she isn’t hunting for grandkids.  Plus there hasn’t really been anything to tell for years.  And the Aces made me go to therapy after the draft to make sure I didn’t freak out about my best friend almost dying, so I had someone to talk to about my relationship without having to talk to my mom.  And I love Katie, but we aren’t really close.  So kind of a larger issue to work through.”

“Well let me know if you want to talk about it.  And as far as people I work with…as a freelancer I don’t tend to get into too many personal discussions.  If my dating life comes up, I’ll just say I’m seeing someone I met in Vegas.

“Ok, well that covers the gay thing,” Kent said with fake enthusiasm.  “For the ace thing, Swoops is the only one who knows other than you and Clare, and I don’t intend to broaden that circle any time soon.  But I also don’t want you to feel like you can’t talk to anyone about our relationship.”

“I guess I don’t know what I might want in that area.  I’ve never been a ‘deets’ guy but this isn’t really the same thing.  So I guess I’ll let you know if I need to talk to someone who actually knows us.”

“Sounds good.”  Then changing subjects, “Remind me again why this couch is so uncomfortable?”

“Because I don’t have any stuff and needed a furnished apartment to get me started,” Will replied laughing.

-+-

Kent was in such a good mood at the first practice after bye week that he was getting chirped from nearly everyone.  He kept his response simple with a “bye week was good to me,” and left them to their assumptions.  It didn’t take long for Swoops to catch up with him after he left the locker room, and Yams and Corner weren’t far behind.

“You’re taking us to lunch, right?” Swoops asked.

“I can take you back to my place for whatever is in the fridge.  But Corner is so close to losing his chill that he’s basically vibrating, so we aren’t going anywhere in public.”

“Ok, but we do actually need food.  I’ll pick something up on the way,” Yams offered.  “No spilling until I get there.”  

“Thanks, Yams.  I can only hold them off for so long though.”

They separated as they got to the parking garage, and then Swoops ran off to make sure Yams had his order after making sure he could ride with Kent.  Finny came over as Kent was leaning against the side of his car calling after Swoops to hurry up.  “Hey, congratulations on whatever has you in a good mood.”

“I got myself a boyfriend,” Kent said with a grin.  “Do you want to do lunch with us?  You can get the whole story.”

“Do they know I know about you?”

“I didn’t tell them since I wasn’t going to tell them why it came up a week after you got here.  But they are so excited for me, I think they’ll forget to wonder about it.  Seriously, Swoops is going to be proud of me for having a real grownup discussion about my feelings, Corner is weirdly excited that I’m dating his brother, and Yams is just happy for his hockey dad.  Besides, they all know that neither one of us owes them an explanation.”

“Ok, yeah.  Lunch would be fun.”

-+-

They had a couple of games at home, a loss and a win, before a 4 game roadie.  It was a rough trip, losing the first two in overtime before turning it around to win the second two.  Kent was glad he had Will to talk to.  It wasn’t that different from before they were dating, but there was an intent behind it now that helped Kent feel settled.  Then once they were back, Will was gone for a week in Alberta working on photos for an environmental conservation project.  Kent liked listening to him complain about the cold and describe the wildlife he saw that day.  Apparently he almost got trampled by a moose one day, which Kent was pretty sure was an exaggeration, but it still made for a good story.

They were both glad to have time together again by the time Will got back, and after dinner at Kent’s they found themselves making out on the couch.  Kent was about to pull them back, when Will broke off with an apology.

“Sorry, I was pushing a little.  Wasn’t I?”

“A little.  I was about to say something.  But mostly because that was the edge of what we had discussed, and it’s all a bit of a void after that.”

“Do you want to talk about it?  We don’t have to just because we bumped against the edge.”

“It’ll just happen again.  I’d rather stay ahead of things.  Grey brought over some of their brownies even thought I keep telling them I have a diet plan.  Do you want to help me eat them?”

“Or I could just take them all with me, whatever works.”

Once they were back on the couch with their brownies, Kent picked the conversation back up.  “I don’t really know how to explain things—It’s like trying to describe air.  And I’m ok with kissing or making out that are for their own sake, but if it starts to feel like there is intent to take it somewhere else it’s not ok anymore.  I guess…intimate but not sexual?  Like a hand on the thigh with no pants on.  It’s warm and comforting, but I don’t want it going anywhere—literally or metaphorically.

“And for things that definitely count as sex, it’s mostly a hard no.  There might be some things that are on the table a ways down the road.  But I don’t really know what they might be.  Or how far down the road that is.”  Kent was picking at the crumbs from his brownie plate by the time he was done talking, and didn’t seem inclined to look up.  As much as he needed the honesty of these conversations, it didn’t make them any fun.

“Kent,” Will waited for him to look over before continuing.  “Nothing you said really surprises me.  From our other conversations and some of the reading I’ve done, I figured this is how you felt.  You absolutely don’t have to answer this question.  And I don’t at all mean it in a ‘you don’t know until you’ve tried’ kind of way.  More so I understand a little better where you are coming from.  Would you be comfortable talking a little about what you have done physically?”

“I don’t really want to provide a blow by bl—wait…bad phrasing.  There was no blowing.  It was mostly your standard teenage making out.  A few hand jobs, some rubbing off.  I know you don’t know him, but it definitely says something that between the two of us, I was the one using hockey as a reason to not take things further.

“I know you said none of this is all that surprising, but can you maybe let me know how you are doing with all of this?”

“I think for me, sex is about more than the physical aspect—it’s also the emotional connection.  And you are telling me about plenty of ways to have we can have that connection.  So even though it’s different from past relationships, that doesn’t mean it’s bad or lesser than.  And on the physical side, I always knew with how much travel I have there would be a lot of alone time and taking care of things myself.  So this doesn’t feel any different?  I feel like I’m not describing it that well, but I really don’t feel like I’m missing out.”

Kent knew he was giving off a ‘please reassure me’ vibe, when Will went and found Kit for Kent to cuddle with and had him pick a movie for the night.  He chose Frozen since he was in a Disney mood and it was one of Will’s favorites.  

-+-

Kent hated it when they had a lot of long roadies towards the end of the regular season.  It wore everyone out and they started the playoffs tired.  But Kent could tell the long stretches were really wearing on Finny.  Too much time where there was no break from the rest of the team.  And while he was comfortable hanging out with Kent’s Cool Nerds group, he wasn’t ready to talk much about himself with them yet.

Kent still needed to time to decompress himself.  Even though his personal life was going pretty well, he still got tired from being ‘on’ all the time.  As captain, he tried hard to make sure the bad plays or petty annoyances of the road didn’t get to him.  So Kent has Finny over so that they could decompress together.  They were doing their nails and watching Top Gear—because fuck gendered expectations—while their dinner was cooking.  Fortunately it would take long enough that their nails would be dry before the food was ready.

They weren’t talking about much of anything when Finny said, “I don’t know why it’s so hard, feeling like nobody knows the real me when I haven’t even figured it out myself.”

“I don’t know, but it is.  I think for me, when I was working on stuff recently, I felt like I was re-contextualizing a lot of my past.  And there was only so much processing I could do on my own before it felt like my thoughts wouldn’t stop spinning.  It also started to feel like I had secrets that I couldn’t tell, not just ones I didn’t want to.  And I felt trapped by that.

“I’m doing a lot better with that, mostly due to therapy.  But that feeling of being trapped hasn’t totally gone away.  I use queer in the sense that my identity is complicated, and I don’t owe people the details.  And even though I have figured myself out for now, it still sucks that if I ever come out people still won’t understand the whole me.”

“Yeah…I think it’s that feeling trapped part,” Finney replied after a minute.  “Like I’m this hulking hockey player who gets payed to check people into the boards, and it makes it so hard to see anything else.  Hockey overshadows everything, it even makes it hard for me to see it.”

“This might sound a bit nuts, but I found that being out in the wilderness and talking to the stars to be really helpful.  Swoops and I go camping at the end of every season, and last year in the middle of our trip, it was the first time I ever said it all out loud.  I knew it, but I hadn’t said it.  Even in therapy it was always euphemisms.  But after saying it, and then having the summer to really process it, I was in a much better place.”

“Sounds nice.  I used to go camping with my Dad when I was a kid, but that seems like forever ago.”

“And seriously, if you ever want to come over or crash in guest room you’re always welcome.  It helps to be around people who know there is more there, even if they don’t know what.”

“Thanks, really.  Now is that lasagna ready, because I’m starving.”

-+-

“I told my agent and a trainer and someone in PR that I’m dating Will.  It was kinda anticlimactic.”

“I know you’ve been thinking about that, but weren’t sure.  Is there something that helped you decide?”

“It started to seem like maybe we had been seen around too much together to expect that there wouldn’t be any rumors.  And he comes to some games when he’s home.  And he keeps wearing a Parson jersey since we can explain it as a sibling thing or a good luck thing.  But it’s not like Corner is coming along if we go out for dinner or something.  So yeah, it just seemed better to be ahead of it.

“I’m still not planning coming out.  And my first choice would be to not respond to anything or just say we are friends.  But I don’t really want to outright lie.”

“Well, I’m glad that you were able to communicate with the people you felt you wanted to.  Have you also been thinking more about your mom and sister?”

“I still don’t know what I want to do there.  It seems messed up that I was glad my mom was never asking about my dating life when I didn’t have anything to tell, and I’m a little annoyed she doesn’t now.  Like maybe she doesn’t care?”

“You can give yourself permission to be upset about something that didn’t bother you before.  It is always ok to realize that something bothers you, and the situation has also changed.”

“I just don’t really want to deal with having the conversation with her, but I also feel like it would mess up whatever relationship we do have if I didn’t say anything and then I was outed, or came out publicly.”

“Remember that you don’t owe anybody a conversation about it.  But remember that it doesn’t have to be a large production if you don’t want.  An off-hand mention might be more comfortable.  It’s something to think about.”

-+-

Kent was home from morning practice and was cleaning up from his lunch.  They had one of their last off days the next day, and Will would be back from a trip late that afternoon.  He was just finishing up when he heard the key in the door.  Exchanging keys lost a little of the emotional significant when they swapped early on the manage the logistics of how much travel they each had.  Will would come play with Kit sometimes, and Kent would water Will’s plants.  Kent still loved how comfortable they were in each other’s spaces and the way he always smiled when he heard Will letting himself in.

“I didn’t think you were going to be here until later,” Kent said, greeting Will with a hug and a quick kiss.

“I got an earlier flight—I wanted to surprise you.  And I do need to do a first run though on importing and getting rid of the awful shots, but I can do that on your much more comfortable couch.”

“Oh, I see how it is,” Kent laughed.  “But I still have some tape I need to watch, so I guess I’ll let you keep me company.”

They had been working side by side for about an hour when Kent finished up and looked over to check how Will was coming along.  It was interesting to watch how Will picked which photos to use and the editing process, but this time Kent found himself watching Will’s face as he scanned through the photos to mark the ones with high potential and to reject the ones with major technical problems.  His eyes were scanning them quickly, but whenever he came across one that caught someone mid blink or out of focus, and he would make a face and stab at the keyboard.  He wrapped up a a few moments later, and looked over to find Kent watching him.

“You know, sometimes I don’t realize how much time I spend inside buildings with barely any windows.  And then I look at your photos and remember that there are people who get real daylight.”

“They should probably make you all take Vitamin D.  But you don’t want too much sun or you end up with ridiculous freckles.”

“I love your freckles!”

“Yeah?” Will laughed in response.

“I love the rest of you too,” Kent replied softly.  And then, “Especially that blush.”

“Kent,” Will said with a big smile and still a hint of his blush before leaning in for a kiss.  “I love you too.”

“Did you like that?  I had an ace up my sleeve.”  Kent was too happy to force his smile all the way into a smirk, but he was clearly proud of himself.

“Wait, I changed my mind…that was terrible!”

“The best part is I could make those jokes whenever I want and people would just assume I’m a total dork about my hockey team.”

“I love you, you dork!  Now come back over here and cuddle with me.”

-+-

Kent had just finished a practice and strategy session for their afternoon game the next day when he got a text from Will saying he was grumpy.  Kent shot back a frowny face, and then decided he should just go over to Will’s to talk about it.  

“I wondered why you didn’t follow up,” Will said as Kent let himself into his apartment.

Kent pulled Will into a hug.  “Hugs make everything better.  What has you all grumpy?”

“That project I really wanted fell through.  And I dropped my card reader and it only fell like two feet, but it cracked and now I need a new one.  And I stubbed my toe and it really hurt.  And then I felt stupid because my day seemed terrible because I stubbed my toe.”

“I know, I hate it too when those stupid little things happen when I’m already upset.  And I’m sorry about the project.  I know how excited you were about it.  But I have an idea.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah,” Kent replied grabbing his hand and tugging him over to the couch.  He settled Will with a soft blanket and went to grab one of his favorite books off the shelf.  “Now, you can relax with your book while I make dinner.”

“You’re pretty great, you know that?”

“You are too, Sunshine.  You’re allowed to have bad days.”

“Sunshine, huh?”

“Yeah, ‘cause you’re the sun of my metaphorical life.  I’ve spent too much time behind walls.  But I don’t have t—”

“No, I like it!”

“Ok.  Now read your book!”  Kent pressed a kiss to the top of his head before going back to the kitchen to work on dinner.

Sometimes Kent felt like they spent a lot of time taking care of his needs in the relationship.  Between the closet, and his boundaries, and the way hockey took over his life heading into the playoffs, there was a lot to work around.  He didn’t want Will to have a bad day, but he still liked being able to take care of him.  Liked knowing that he could turn around a bad mood and get one of his favorite smiles, the one that is mostly in the eyes.

They had a quiet dinner, and then played a few rounds of Mario Kart.  Will was trying to get Kent to like it, but he was terrible at it.  It tended to end with Will laughing at Kent while he scowled at the tv after driving off a cliff.  

“Why am I so bad at this?  I hate losing.”

“Well, it’s a good thing you chose a line of work where you never have to worry about that.”

“Stop laughing at me,” Kent objected while tossing a pillow at Will.

“Stop throwing things at me, and I’ll thing about it.”

“You drive a hard bargain, but I think I can manage it.”

Will looked like he was going to say something else snarky but changed his mind.  “Can you stay tonight?”

“Yeah, and I don’t have to be at the rink until 11, so we can have a slow morning too unless you need to get right to work.”

“A slow morning sounds nice.”

Later as they were brushing their teeth and getting ready for bed, Kent glanced over at Will and smiled.  “I like this.”

“What?”

“Just being here together.  It’s nice.”

“It is.  Thanks for taking care of me today,” Will said softly while getting in to bed.

“I like taking care of you.  I love you, sunshine.”  Kent pulled him into a snuggle and a goodnight kiss.

“Love you too.”

Kent woke up in his favorite way, with Will pressed against his back.  He enjoyed the warmth and sleepy comfort of it for a few minutes before rolling over.  “You want eggs?  I’m cooking.”

“Mmm, yeah.  And toast?” he answered sleepily.

“Don’t take forever,” Kent said he headed out the door.  “Cold eggs are the worst.”

The eggs were nearly done, and Kent was about to go check and make sure Will hadn’t fallen back asleep when he heard him come up behind him to pull him into a hug.  Kent was about to step away to give his scramble a stir, when they head the door open.

“Yo, Will.  Where are you?”

“In the kitchen.  By the way, you ever hear of knocking, Mark?” Will called back.

“Have you ever heard of answering your texts?  You know Mom still worries if you don’t check in on Fridays.  So now she just bugs me to check on you.  And you know its easier to just—”  He cut off as he walked into the kitchen and saw Kent putting breakfast on plates.  “Oh, Kent.  I didn’t know you were here.”  Then he continued while trying to wiggle his eyebrows, “Guess that explains not answering texts though.”

“You’re just jealous you don’t have someone to have sleepy morning cuddles with, but yes,” Will answered.

“Why would you tell me that?  Is that a euphemism?”

“No…not unless he meant cuddles and then getting to be lazy while I made breakfast,” Kent replied.

“God, that’s worse!  Why are torturing me?”

“Knock next time,” Kent and Will answered at the same time. 

“Ok, ok!  You coming to the game today?  I’m sure Mom would like to see your face and you always end up on camera when you wear Kent’s jersey.

Will said he had planning on it, and they sat down to eat their breakfast.  When they were done, Kent started getting ready to go since he needed to play with Kit for a bit before heading to the rink for the rest of the day.

Will walked Kent over to the door to say goodby.  “I’ll see you later.  Try not to make the media think you are too much of an obnoxious brother tonight.”

“Just the right amount of obnoxious?”

“Exactly.  Love you, sunshine.”

“Love you too, moonbeam.”

“You’re going to have to explain that later.”

“Some day,” Will replied with a small smile.

The game wasn’t anything special.  The Aces had already clinched their playoff spot and the Canucks had no shot at a wildcard spot.  They were up 4-1 when Kent took an illegal check.  He was about to shake it off when he realized he was having a had time getting a deep breath.  Swoops, realizing something was wrong, waved over the medical team and they got him off the ice.  Kent was starting to panic that he had fractured his ribs or something worse, but once they got his pads off he suddenly felt much better—or as good as he could when he knew there would be major bruising and the pain was waiting for when his adrenaline wore off.

“You’re ok Kent.  It looks like your pads got shifted from the hit and an edge was pressing into your ribs.  The pain is probably going to be pretty bad though.  We’ll get you on some good stuff after you eat something.”

“Thanks, Beth.”

She looked around to make sure the room was empty, then asked if she should have someone grab Will.

“Too obvious, but thanks.  Can you just have someone get my bag so I can let him know I’m ok.”

Will met Corner in the locker room, and they both ended up driving Kent home.  He muscles were getting incredibly sore despite the painkillers, and he ended up leaning on Corner while Will carried his bag in from the car.  They got him settled on the couch with more ice, and Will started making some dinner.  Corner let to take care of his own post-game routine and Will got Kent through dinner, a hot bath to soak, and then into bed.

“I wish I could stay, but I have a 7am flight tomorrow.  I called Jeff though, and he’s going to stay in the guest room.  Because I don’t think you could get up on your own right now and I don’t want to worry about you any more today.”

“Thanks.  I’ll call you tomorrow to let you know how I’m doing.”

He pressed a gentle kiss to Kent’s head and murmured an I love you.  Kent was already drifting off to sleep.

-+-

Kent missed the last two regular season games, but he was still sore going into the playoffs.  They still managed to go on a pretty good run, ultimately loosing to the Schooners in the conference finals in six games.  The last loss was hard on everyone, they were so close to the finals.  But once the Falconers won their conference, Kent was a little relieved that he didn’t have to play against Jack for at least four more games.  The two regular season ones had been enough.

Overall, it had still been a great season.  Kent was finally being more himself with his team.  Carl might still be a homophobic asshole, but at least he wasn’t using slurs anymore.  He didn’t have to deal with Ricker anymore, and he got a good friend (and better teammate) in Finny.  Most of the team was still in town, so they had all gathered at a bar to watch the final game.  However it turned out, Kent was looking forward to going home to Will.

He was still trying to deal with his feeling about the Falcs win when Scraps leaned over and asked him if he had seen something.

“It’s on the screen Scraps.”

“Naw look, it’s all over social,” he said while handing his phone over.

He could hear Carl being his usual self and Swoops shutting him down, but Kent wasn’t really processing any of it.  Because there was Jack kissing that kid on center ice.  Jack who had always been so adamant about not coming out.  Jack who still wouldn’t talk to him.  Jack who might have just forced him out of the closet.  Jack who…

He had to get out of there.  He gave Scraps his phone back and made some excuse about needing to leave to feed Kit.  He was probably getting some weird looks, but that was better than the alternative.  He tried to walk normally towards the door, and he thought he heard Swoops calling his name, but he just kept going.

-+-

Kent had contingency plans just in case, but he didn’t have any real plans to come out.  He was happy with his queer friends, and the teammates that supported him, and with Will.  He didn’t need his whole team or the whole world to know.  He was content with the locker room not being openly homophobic and working for progress.

But it might not be his choice anymore.  He might need those contingency plans after all.

Chapter Text

It’s funny how you can be cruising along, thinking you know where you’re going, when suddenly it’s like you drove off a cliff.  It had happened to Kent before, and he knew he eventually got back on track.  But somehow over the last few years, he forgot how he made that happen.  And now he needed to figure it out all over again.

-+-

Kent barely knew how he got home his thoughts were in such a spiral.  He couldn’t decide if it was a better idea to call Jack and yell at him or hide in room for days and not talk to anyone.  He was so absorbed in it, that he had forgotten that Will would be there.  And so when he saw him there, asleep on the couch with some cooking show on in the background, Kent felt himself freeze.  And then collapsed on the couch along side Will once his brain caught up with him.

Will must have been only dosing, because he threw an arm over Kent and said sleepily, “Sorry I fell asleep.  Jetlag.  How was your night?”

Kent didn’t answer right away, because he still didn’t know what he was feeling or where to start.  He must have worried Will though, because he startled when he felt Will’s fingers brushing tears off his cheeks.  Somehow the easy familiarity of it made everything worse, or maybe it just made him feel safe enough to let go, and Kent started crying in earnest.  He knew Will was murmuring soft things in ear and he felt a hand rubbing his back, but it took a while to calm down enough to talk.

“Sorry,” he rasped out.

“I’m always happy to be here for you.  Do you want to talk about it?  It’s ok if you don’t want to.”

Kent wasn’t sure if he wanted to get it off his chest or just go to bed and deal with things the next day.  Before he decided, he heard his door open and Swoops call out

“Hey Kent?  Are you here?  You booked it out of there and then you weren’t answering your texts.  I just want to make sure you’re ok.”

Kent sat up and turned to see Swoops with a worried look on his face.

Swoops looked relieved to see him, but then switched back to worry once he actually looked at Kent.  “So, here but not ok, huh?”

“That about sums it up.”

“You want to talk about it?  Based on how fast you left I figured you were a bit upset, but I didn’t really expect this level of not ok.”

“You mean you really haven’t figured it out?  Will has all the context except for what happened tonight, and Yams, Corner, and Finny don’t really have enough information to leap to the conclusion, but I thought you would have figured it out Jeff.”

“Figured what out?”

“That my ex-whatever who swore he would never come out just kissed the younger, blonder Kent Parson on center ice.  Possibly kicking me out of the closet in the process.”

Neither of them seemed to know what to say to that right away, although he did feel Will give him a squeeze.  “I can’t believe I didn’t think about this possibility.  It was so obvious he was gone on that kid.”

Finally, Swoops sat down next to him.  “Kent, I don’t really know what you’re feeling right now.  And I don’t know everything that happened the last time you talked to Zimmerman, but I watched you fall apart afterwards.  It was brave to ask for help then, and I’m still here now.  And you have so many more people who are here for you.  I don’t know how everything is going to turn out, but I know you’re going to be ok.”

Kent was wiping at his eyes again, and then pulled Swoops in a for a quick hug.  “Thanks for checking on me.  I appreciate it.”

“Ok, I’ll let you guys get to bed.  Try not to stress out too much tonight—we can over analyze the situation tomorrow.”  After getting a weak chuckle in response, Swoops got up and headed towards the door.

“Oh, Swoops.  Don’t tell the others about me and Jack.  There’s a lot of baggage there and I don’t want to explain it more than I have to.”

“Of course.  Can I let them know you’re upset but with Will?  They were worried too, but I didn’t think you needed a crowd.”

“Yeah, that’s ok.  Thanks again, man.”

Kent started to flop back onto the couch once Swoops was out the door, but instead Will pulled him up.

“Come on Moonbeam.  You need a nice hot shower and then bed.”

“Yeah, ok,” Kent let himself be pulled towards the bathroom.  “Can you wash my hair?  I like that,” he asked quietly.

“Anytime, you know I like it too.”

Once Kent was warm under the covers with Will tucked in behind him he let himself take a few deep breaths.  He still had a lot of processing to do, but he was starting to feel like maybe he had overreacted a little.  

“Sorry I cried all over you about another guy,” he whispered, a bit embarrassed.

“Kent.  This isn’t like I have some unrequited crush on you while you’re pining away for someone else.  I love you, and I’m here for you.  For the good stuff and the hard stuff.  I know you are probably mad, and scared, and hurt, and a thousand other things right now.  And it’s really ok to not know how to process any of that.”

“Mmmm, ok.  I guess I’ll work on that later,” Kent replied sleepily

A small chuckle was followed by a kiss to the side of his head and then, “Go to sleep Moonbeam.  I love you.”

“Love you too Sunshine,” Kent mumbled back.

-+-

Kent was surprised when he woke up alone, but as he threw on some clothes and headed out of the bedroom he smelled coffee and heard quiet voices.  He wasn’t surprised that his friends had come over to check on him and see how they could help.  He wasn’t surprised to see Swoops pouring coffee or Yams making pancakes or Finny getting the plates down.  And he wasn’t surprised to see Corner, just to see that he was sitting next to Will with his arm around his big brother.

Kit jumped off of Will’s lap when she noticed Kent.  He waited for her to run over, then picked her up and walked over to sit on the other side of Will.  Kent reached for Will’s hand and laced their fingers together.

“Was all of this you or Swoops?”

“Mostly Swoops, but I said you probably wouldn’t mind.  How are you this morning?”

“I’m ok…still a bit overwhelmed but feeling better.  What about you though?  You guys normally do an obnoxious sibling thing not an ‘I’m here for you’ thing.” Kent asked nodding his head towards Corner.

“Being obnoxious is how we show each other our love.  But I’m ok.  Just sad that you were so upset last night and there isn’t really anything I can do to make it go away.”

“Just because you can’t make it go away doesn’t mean you don’t make it better.  Seriously, my brain wouldn’t slow down, but when I got home and saw you asleep on the couch it was like I could finally take a breath,” Kent said warmly.  Then he added, with a bit of self-deprecation, “and then cry all over you.”

Yams called out that pancakes were ready, and they all got up and headed towards the table.  Kent wasn’t sure if Yams was a good cook since he normally relied on a meal service and eating out, but he had definitely making the pancakes from scratch.  He was still expecting some misshapen, slightly overdone pancakes.  So when he looked down and say perfectly golden pancakes in the shape of numbers and math symbols he laughed.

“Yams, where did you learn to make pancakes like this?  And how did you do the shapes?”

“They’re one of the only things I can cook well.  I used to make them for my little sisters all the time.  They got me the moulds as a graduation present.  This is actually the first time I’ve used them—I’m surprised how well they worked.”

While everyone started eating and talking over each other, Kent took the opportunity to check in with Finny.

“How are you doing?  I’m sorry I didn’t think to check in with you last night.”

“I’m alright.  I was surprised, and I’m definitely paying attention to how this all goes for him.  But it’s still kinda abstract for me.  I know it’s not the same for you—you guys were best friends and there’s a lot of history there.”

“Yeah, you could say that.  Anyway, if you start freaking out let me know.  I already got mine out of the way, so I’m here for you.”

With that, Kent turned back to his pancakes and quickly devoured them.  He was mostly quiet while he ate, enjoying the noise as everyone else argued about pirates vs ninjas.  He was pretty sure none of them really cared, and that they were trying to keep things casual.  Once everyone wad done, and the dishes were taken care of, Swoops asked what they could do to help.

“I appreciate everyone coming over, but I think I just need some more time to process before anything else.  I’ll probably want to share some stuff and get your advice, but I’m not quite ready yet.”

“Alright, man.  We’ll get out of your way.  Let us know if you need anything—you too Will.”

After they were gone, Will turned to Kent with concern.  “Are you sure you want to tell them?  You don’t have to.”

“I know, and just the cliff notes version.  But I already have a text from Alex in PR saying we should talk, so I’m pretty sure this isn’t going to go away.”

“Ok.  But why don’t you talk to Alex before you jump to any conclusions.”

“He literally said ‘In light of recent events, we should talk.’  I don’t think that is going to be good news.”

“Well you won’t know until you talk to him.  Do you want to get that over with, or put it off until tomorrow?”

“I think I need to get it over with.  And then I think the gym and a nap.”

With that plan figured out, Will left to pickup his laptop from his apartment and get a little work done—as much as would have liked to, he couldn’t move his deadlines and had to get at least a little accomplished.

Kent didn’t have serious workout to get done since they weren’t into full offseason training yet, but he knew that sitting on the couch all day wouldn’t make him feel better.  Besides, he needed to work off some frustration after his conversation with Alex.  It was about what Kent had expected.  There were already plenty of rumors and click-bait articles out there about if he and Jack were more than friends.  Between Jack coming out and the press from them in juniors together, Alex was already asking if there was something that they ‘needed to get ahead of’ or if he had a timeline for coming out now that he wouldn’t be the first.  Like it was some sort of disaster than needed to be handled as soon as possible.  And Kent knew Alex wasn’t a bad guy, but his job was to protect the franchise, not Kent.  So Kent said that, no, he hadn’t come up with a whole new strategy in the last 12 hours.  It wasn’t exactly a contingency he had planned for, thank you very much.

Alex didn’t seem particularly pleased with him, and he knew that he would need to have another conversation about all of it.  Kent texted Will that ‘sometime straight people just really don’t get it,’ and then started his run on the treadmill.  He tried to keep his mind off of everything else while he was running, and he was surprised to find his phone flooded with notifications when he was done.  He was afraid something had exploded on twitter, but instead it was just a lot of texts.

Game Night

Will
Kent is having a lot of feelings today
I know it’s a weeknight but anyone up for dinner and movies?
I’m thinking Harry Potter marathon
Grey
I can make it
Are these feelings in relation to that other hockey player who came out last night?
Or are we dealing with something else?
Dan
I can make it too
But I think the better question is are we dealing with happy feelings or sad feelings?
Taylor
I’m out of town for work so I can’t make it
Luke
I can’t make it either
But virtual ::hug::
I’ll probably have food around 7
But you can come over whenever
For feelings: annoyed, overwhelmed, and frustrated with straight people
Hannah
I’ll be there too
With wine
:)

Kent smiled to himself as he did his stretching and then headed home.  He wasn’t sure when exactly Will started feeling comfortable inviting people over to Kent’s place, but it had been going on for a little while, and always made him happy to think about how their lives were linking together.  

Kent made himself some lunch when he got home, and then had a nice nap with Kit.  He emerged to find Will working at the table.  Kent knew that Will couldn’t get much serious editing work done on his laptop, and he had been thinking about buying a fancy desktop to put in his office that Will could use.  But he didn’t know what to get without asking, and then he realized it would be even better to just ask Will to move in when his lease was up in a few months.  But if he asked now, it would seem like an emotional decision and not something he had been thinking about for a while, so it would have to wait.

“Hey sleepyhead,” Will greeted him

“Naps are a hard habit to break—and I’m emotionally overwhelmed right now.  I’m allowed to take a long nap.”

“Discussion with Alex didn’t go so well, huh?”

“Why does the media think they are entitled to my relationship history?  Why do they even care about something for when I was a teenager?”

“Because they work for clicks.  Whereas I am driven to inform the public through my role in long-form investigative journalism.”

“Why does coming out even need to be a thing?”

“This is why I thought you needed movie night.  Because it shouldn’t have to be but people make it out to be.”

“Yeah, my lovable hockey idiots only get me so far.”

“I let them know the plan since they’re all worried about you and I didn’t want them thinking you were moping though.  Finney asked me separately if he could come though, so I said yes.  Oh, and I got stuff for tacos.”

“Nice.  You want me to start prepping anything?”

“Chop stuff?  That way I can finish this up before we need to start cooking.”

“I’m with Harry on this one.  I get the symbolism or whatever, but how was he supposed to know that talking to snakes wasn’t an acceptable form of magic.  Seems pretty arbitrary.”  They were part way through Chamber of Secrets and Kent thought it was about time to start talking.  “Maybe I take it extra personal because I’m a Slytherin.  Why can’t they let us have any nuance?”

“Do you want me to pretend we aren’t talking about you?” Hannah asked.

“You don’t want to see how far we can take the metaphor?  Come on, we are both trying to be ourselves and figure out how to deal with fame while the world keeps throwing crap at us.”  Kent joked.  Well, he was mostly joking.

“Finny they all think I’m just being dramatic,” Kent whined.  Kent had been unsurprised when Finny arrived earlier than anyone else, but he had been when Finny asked Kent to switch to they/them pronouns when they weren’t around any other hockey people.

“Well you are being dramatic.  But you also probably need to fill people in on why another hockey player coming out would be anything but a good thing.”

“Because we were best friends and I was totally in love with him.  And then he overdosed and I got drafted first and we didn’t talk for years.  And there were already rumors that we were more than friends and PR is already trying to ‘get ahead of the story.’  And I still don’t know if I want to come out at all, but I definitely don’t want to do it because of this mess.”

“Wow, ok.  Drama officially warranted,” Dan responded.

“Yeah, I always figured a professional PR team would have helped with explaining shit.  But apparently it all still sucks,” Grey added.

  “My agent would probably be more helpful since that’s her job, but I haven’t talked to her about it yet.  How do you deal with it though—people having their own ideas about who you are?  Not like society assumes everyone is straight.  Like when someone knows you aren’t but they still don’t have the full picture.”

Grey thought about it for a minute before responding.  “You just have to make some rules about what battles you’re going to fight.  Even other queer people rarely default to they/them, let alone straight cis people.  So I make sure my family gets it right, and most of my coworkers since I work somewhere good at it.  But I just don’t bother with strangers since most of them read me as queer anyway.”

“Yeah, and sometimes those lines are just about safety,” Dan added.  “I get read as a butch lesbian instead of a short trans guy all the time, and I usually go with whatever seems safer and then spend time with all of you who actually get it.”

“Ugg, and don’t get me started about how sometimes being stealth just seems like another closet.  Most of the time it doesn’t bother me that much, but sometimes I just want people to recognize how much being trans touches everything about me.”  Hannah seemed to realize they hadn’t painted a picture that would help make Kent feel better.  So she added, “it just comes down to what you’re comfortable with and it’s not like you need one set of rules for everything.”

“And we’ve talked about it a bit Kent,” Finney added.  “But it is so much easier to deal with now that I’ve mostly figured myself out.  So I would guess that whatever you decide, as long as its your choice and you’re comfortable with it, it won’t be too bad.”

“Yeah, ok.  Sorry I’m being so needy.”

“Hey its ok to need to get out of your own head.  We’ve all been there.  Why do you think I started the game night group?” Grey asked.

Will had been content to sit pressed against Kent on the couch and let everyone contribute.  Now that they seemed to be done with the heavy stuff though, he whispered to Kent, “I’ve been there before too.  Sometimes you just need the reminder you aren’t alone.”  

“Thanks, Sunshine,” Kent said, resting his head on Will’s shoulder.  They didn’t really have enough hight difference to make it comfortable, but they made it work.  “But seriously, are we not going to talk about the parsletongue thing?”

“Oh, yeah.  Wizards are just as bigoted as anyone else.  It’s total crap.”

-+-

Kent didn’t do much over the next few days.  He talked to his agent, Madeline, but she didn’t have much advice beyond wait and see.  She knew Kent didn’t want to come out in response to Jack, and the only reason to come out over the summer would be for talk to die down before the season.  But that wasn’t likely to happen this year anyway.  

Alex called again, with a ‘no news is good news’ message.  And he talked with Clare about everything.  But despite the support and advice from his friends, he really didn’t know what to do.  Kent started his summer training in earnest and said goodby to Yams, Corner, and Finny who weren’t training in Vegas.  He spent a little bit of time with Swoops, but mostly he spent too much time in his own head.  Especially since Will had another project, and he was out of town for a week.  

Somehow, with all the time spent thinking, Kent forgot that his birthday was coming up and he needed to go home.  Katie couldn’t make it that year, so Kent was going to be stuck with three days alone with his mom.  And before everything else had happened, he had all but decided to come out to her.  All in all, it wasn’t a week Kent was looking forward to.

He found himself laying on his childhood bed calling Will the night before his birthday.  “She didn’t even care,” he said once Will answered.  “And not the good kind of not caring.  More like ‘why are you telling me this?’  And it’s not like I’m surprised, but I still hoped for something better.”

“I’m sorry.  I wish I could give you a hug right now.”

“Just talking helps.  Tell me about your day?”

-+-

When Kent got home he was too worn out to do anything but feed Kit and go to bed.  Some of it was the frustration of repeated flight delays due to weather on the way, but mostly is was the street of visiting his mom on top of the month he had.  Will was getting back after midnight, so Kent wouldn’t get to talk to him until the next day anyways.

He didn’t have a workout scheduled until that afternoon so he could sleep in, but he was still surprised to see Will already there, reading on the couch, when he came out of the bedroom.

“Rough visit, huh?”

“They are always rough…this one was just extra rough,” Kent replied, walking over to sit next to him.

Will put his book down, and turned on the couch to face Kent before starting again.  “So I have something I want to say.  And it isn’t bad, but you might not like it much either.”

“Ok.  I’m not really sure what else to say to that.”

“I know there is a lot going on, and I know you have every right to be upset and overwhelmed by it.  But it seems like it’s getting worse, not better.  Even with the appointments you’ve had with Clare and the discussions we’ve had about everything.  And I swear I’m not trying to ‘check up on you,’ but Mark called because he was worried he hadn’t heard much from you, and he said Swoops hadn’t either outside of training.  

“And we’ve been talking, but there has been a lot of talking about me and my day, and not really a lot about you.  So I’m worried you aren’t doing ok.  I just want to make sure you know, I’m here.  Whatever you need.”

Kent felt himself tearing up while Will was talking.  Especially after spending a few days with his mom, who never really seemed to see him, it was a lot to be reminded of the support he did have.  That he hadn’t realized he hadn’t been taking advantage of.

“I feel like I’m stuck.  Like I’m just going through the motions because I don’t know the way out.”

“Do you think you might need some help other than Clare?”

“I don’t know…probably.  I feel stupid, for getting through all that other stuff and this is what I can’t seem to find my way out of.”

“Well they are all different things, and even if they weren’t…I don’t think there needs to be that much logic to it.  It’s still brave to ask for help.”

“People keep saying that.”

“It’s because it’s true,” Will answered, opening his arms so Kent could get a hug.

-+-

“I’m mad at him.”

“We’ve talked about this a few times, and you haven’t used the word ‘mad’ before.  Has something changed?”

“I think I’ve been mad the whole time, I just couldn’t boil it down to that.  I’m still mad that he ditched me.  I’m still mad that he never loved me and he couldn’t talk about whatever he did feel.  But I’m mad that—after everything—he could come out like that and not think it would affect me too.  He hasn’t called or emailed or anything.  It’s been almost two months.  He has to be getting questions about whatever was between us as kids too, and we should probably be on the same page.  And I’m mad that he made me think my slow and steady approach to at least changing my locker room isn’t good enough.”

“But I’m also mad at myself for letting it get to me.  Once the shock of it wore off, I’m not sure why I expected anything else.”

“I’d like to come back to how you feel about Jack and how it impacts your public lives in a few minutes, but let’s talk some more about why you are mad at yourself.”

“I think it’s partly that I thought I had put a lot of it behind me, and now I’m stuck having to explain it all over again.  And it still hurts, even though I have so much more good stuff in my life than I used to.

“But I’m also mad that this is what tipped me over the edge from getting by with therapy to needing meds.  Because it seems so stupid, and they aren’t really doing anything yet to help.  So it just feels like one more thing to deal with.”

“If you have some specific concerns, your doctor can help with those.  But it is normal to have mixed emotions about choosing to start medication.  It is a big step for a lot of people, and it can feel like an unknown.”

“Yeah—I just wish I could skip the part where it feels like it’s making things harder instead of easier.”

“I think it is also worth acknowledging that you have made a lot of progress.  Do you think that a year ago you would have let yourself recognize if your support system wasn’t enough, even if it was still very helpful?”

“I don’t know.  I think I was still so grateful to have people that I could talk to I might not have been able to appreciate it.” 

“Well, let’s not lose sight of that progress and self-awareness.  I’d like to come back to your feelings about Jack and the current situation though.  I would typically ask someone to consider writing a letter to the other person, not even one that would need to send.  But you are both public figures, and this might impact both of your careers.  Do you think this is something that you should initiate a discussion about with him?”

“Yeah, I think we should talk.  I’m annoyed that he hasn’t reached out.  Because he made it pretty clear he doesn’t want to talk to me in general, and he’s the one who created the situation.”

“Maybe an email would be a good way to start?  That way you could be sure you have communicated clearly.”

“Don’t I need to know what I want first?  How am I supposed to have a good discussion if I don’t know if I want to come out.”

“I think you have been very clear that if you do come out, you don’t want it to be interpreted as a direct response to his actions.  Perhaps you could discuss a few options for if you choose to come out in the near term or the longer term.  And perhaps you could also discuss what made him feel comfortable coming out to his teammates, if not publicly.  You are on different teams, with different people.  And what could work for him might not work for you.”

“It just didn’t go so well the last time I tried to talk to him.  And I don’t think I could deal with it again if he just blew me off, and didn’t realize how much we can help each other even if we aren’t friends or teammates again.”

“Well you don’t have to try and do everything at once.”

-+-

Kent and Swoops had finished a workout on the ice, and now were goofing off playing a quick game of one-on-one.  They were both worn out, but Swoops’ endurance was better than Kent’s, and he always wanted to challenge Kent when he thought he had an advantage.

“Hey,” Kent said after Swoops scored on him, “I’m sorry I worried you guys for a bit there.”

“You don’t have to apologize, man.  I’m just glad you’re feeling better now.”

“Clare thinks I should make sure you know I appreciate you being there for me, especially when none of us had any answers for anything.  So…thanks.  And you know I’m always here for you too.”

“I know…I can’t even keep track of the number of times you’ve listened to me complain about another potential relationship going nowhere.  How’s the whole ‘figuring out what to do’ thing going?”

“Clare also thinks I need to talk to Jack.  Which I agree with—I just don’t really want to since the last few times I’ve initiated contact it has gone horribly.”

“Well, maybe.  But maybe that’s because you were in a pretty shit place?”

“Yeah…but not exactly confidence inspiring.  Let’s play for one more goal.  Then you have to buy me lunch because I’m a sore loser.”

-+-

Subj: Clearing the Air

Jack,

You probably don’t want to hear from me, but there are a few things we I think we should talk about.  I want to start by saying sorry—I know I was a total asshole the last time we talked.  I wasn’t in a good place and I lashed out at you, and that wasn’t ok.  I’m doing better now, and it seems like you are too.  I know there’s a lot of complicated history between us, but I am happy for you.

Coming out on center ice—Bold move!  I hope things are going ok for you both.  I don’t know about you, but I’m getting some questions from my PR guy who knows about me.  I know you would never out me, but I still think it would be good to talk about answers.  I’ve been thinking about if/when to come out, and I don’t want to say something that would be hard to take back later.

I hope you would be willing to talk about it.  You can email or call or whatever, but I’m also going to be in Boston next week to hang with a couple teammates doing their summer training there if you would rather talk in person.

Let me know, even if it’s just to say you aren’t ready to talk to me.

Kent

Uggg!  Now I have to wait and hope he answers.”  Kent dramatically flopped over on Will’s couch.  “This couch is the worst.”

“Yes, Kent.  I know your opinion of my couch, and I don’t disagree with you.  Do you want to sit there being all uncomfortable, or do you want to help me make dinner?”

“I know that by “help you make,” you really mean “do all the work,” but I’m getting up because I love you.”

“Also because as you so kindly pointed out—the risotto I make is shit,” Will laughed in response.

“Well, that too.”

 

Subj: Re: Clearing the Air

Kent,

I appreciate your apology, and we probably should talk.  I’m sorry I haven’t already been in touch.  

As awkward as it might be, we should probably talk in person.  I think we could misinterpret each other over email or phone, and that wouldn’t make anything better.  Do you want anyone else to be there as a buffer?

Let me know what days work for you.

Jack

-+-

Kent and Swoops spent two days training with Corner and Finny in Boston.  They did plenty of touristy things and generally were seen in public enough that no one would think he flew across the country to talk to Jack.  He really did have a plan to come to reassure Corner and Finny that he was doing alright, but it wouldn’t hurt to make it clear he was spending time with his teammates.  It was maybe unnecessary when they would be back in Vegas in a few weeks, but he wanted them to know he appreciated them.

Kent and Jack had decided to talk at Jack’s condo since it was the only choice that offered real privacy, so Kent was extra glad that he had asked for Swoops to come along.  As much as he had wanted to bring Will, it didn’t seem fair when he had asked that Eric Bittle not be there.  He didn’t care if Jack told him about the conversation, he just wasn’t comfortable having it in front of him.

They had decided on a late afternoon meeting so Kent and Swoops wouldn’t have to worry about getting back to Boston too late since they had a flight back to Vegas in the morning.  Kent took a deep breath and knocked on the door.  He could hear footsteps right away and the door opened quickly.

“Hey Kenny.  Thanks for coming.”  Kent could feel himself flinch at the old nickname, and Swoops shot him a worried look.

“Thanks for agreeing to talk.  This is Swoops.  And, uh…can we stick to Kent or Parse?”

Jack had barely agreed before his large, mustachioed friend jumped in.  “Sup, bro.  I’m Shitty.  Played with Jack at Samwell and now I’m off learning how to lawyer.”

“Nice.  I thought you looked familiar,” Kent replied.  Then turning to Jack, “So, how do you want to do this?”

“Haha.  I thought we would sit on the couch and talk?  And Shitty and Swoops can sit over there or shoot some pool or something.  Just keep us from being assholes to each other.”

Once they were settled on the couch, Kent started talking.  “I know it would be socially polite or whatever to do pleasantries first, but I’m going to die of stress if we don’t just jump into the heavy stuff.”

“Um ok.  I can start?”  Jack waited for a nod from Kent before continuing.  “There were a lot of questions right after the cup, but they were mostly about me and about Bittle.  I’m sure Falcs PR has a whole list of possible scenarios, and I bet they’ve looked back at rumors about us, but they don’t know anything.  And obviously I’m not going to out you if I get asked about it, I figured I would say we were just friends.”

“Ok.  My PR guy ‘politely’ inquired if there was anything that we ‘needed to get ahead of’—I not so politely told him no because I really don’t want anything else to be public.”  Kent could feel his chest getting heavy and thoughts sinking into a spiral.  Jack’s casual use of ‘just friends’ had thrown him for a loop.  It was just an expression, but it was more than that.  Because he couldn’t help but hear that Jack was really saying that’s all it was.  He must have been quiet for a while, because Jack was starting to look concerned and he didn’t hear the clinking a pool balls behind him anymore.

“Kenny?  Are you ok?”

“You don’t get to call me that anymore,” Kent said in a resigned whisper.

“I’m sorry Kent.  But really, are you ok?”

He took a minutes for a few deep breaths before answering.  He was on the edge of tears, and refused to cry about this in front of Jack.  “I know we never talked about it at the time, and we certainly didn’t afterward.  But I was in love with you.  And it took me a long time to realize that’s not what it was to you.  I was your best friend, and we got off a couple times, and that’s all it was to you, wasn’t it?”  

“I’m sorry Kent.  I knew it wasn’t fair to shut you out after everything.  But I needed to to get better, and I told myself you would understand, and you’d make new friends.  I’m sorry I didn’t see how you felt.  Maybe it would have made me slam the door shut harder, but I hope I would have at least been able to tell you why I needed that space.”

“Thanks.  It still sucks, but thanks.  And I know it wasn’t ok to keep reaching out when you needed space, so I’m sorry too.”

“I appreciate it.  I know we can’t change the past, but I think it helps to understand where we were each coming from.  But are you ok saying we were just friends, or did you want to say something else if anyone really pushes at it?”

“I definitely do not want to say anything else.  I really don’t want to get in to all of this stuff with the media.”

“I generally won’t talk about the Q or the draft, so I don’t think it will be that hard to keep from talking about it all.  But you said in your email that you are thinking about coming out?”

“For a long time I was sure I wouldn’t publicly.  But there are a few guys on the team who know, and I have a great group of queer friends.  And I’ve been dating someone for about six months.  And its starting to seem like not the end of the world to be out.  But…I don’t know.  Still a giant leap and I’m not sure I want to deal with all of it.  

“It’s not like I wasn’t a bit terrified when I started telling people.  But kissing Bitty after the cup wasn’t something I planned, so I’m not sure if I really have advice there.  On the other hand, I didn’t have to sit through stupid meetings planning press conferences or instagram posts or whatever.  So maybe just tweet you’re gay some day and be done with it.”

“It’s not that easy for me.  I mean, that wouldn’t even be a wholly correct statement.”

“What do you mean?”

“There are more than two options, and people can be more than one thing.  I’m sure people are plenty stupid about what bisexuality is, but even if I wanted to get in to all my stuff, it’s not like I want to educate the hockey media about the nuances of sexuality and attraction.”

“Preach, brah!” Shitty called back.  Then apologetically, “Sorry, bro—totally not eavesdropping on your convo.”

“Sorry about Shitty,” Jack said.

“Nah, it’s ok.  He’s clearly on board.”

“Ok.  Anything else you wanted to talk about?”

“Do you think we could text or whatever?  I don’t know that we will ever be close friends again, but it would be nice if it wasn’t so stressful when we played each other.”

“We can do that.  I even know how to use emojis now.  I don’t use them, but I know how.”

“Wow—just, ok.  You clearly haven’t changed that much,” Kent replied laughing.

They didn’t stay much longer after that.  Jack didn’t seem to be in the mood for polite catching up, and Kent wasn’t either.  He wanted to get some dinner, and watch crappy tv with Swoops until he fell asleep, and go home.  He really wanted to talk to Will, but was working in LA and then catching a late flight back to Vegas, so he had to wait.

-+-

Cross country flights were always awful, and Kent could never decide which direction was worse.  But early morning westbound flights were a special version of awful.  Because somehow you’ve been awake for 6 hours and you want lunch and a nap but its only 8 am.  Kent couldn’t remember what food he had at home, but working with whatever he had was a better option than grocery shopping on the way home from the airport.  It turned out he didn’t have any food, but fortunately Will showed up about a few minutes after he got home with donuts and stuff to make breakfast sandwiches.

“I wanted to be here when you got back, but you didn’t have any food.”

“I think I was too lazy to do shopping before I left…I wouldn’t normally empty the fridge for a three day trip.  Thanks for getting food.”  Kent waited to pull Will into a hug until he had set down the eggs.  “Thanks for being here—thanks for wanting to be here,” he said quietly.  He felt Will’s response in the way he tightened his hug, the way he pressed a kiss to the side of his head, and the whisper of ‘always’ on his neck.

“Do you want to talk about it?”  Will asked as he let go and started working on their breakfast.  “You texted that it wasn’t a disaster, but I’m guessing it didn’t go all that well.”

“We kept from being assholes to each other.  We were even civil, and I don’t think there will be too much speculation about us, so that was good.  But the whole reason for the discussion brought up all those old issues.  And I started to spiral a bit, so I told him I had been in love with him.  And I know he didn’t feel that way, but it still sucks to have it really confirmed.  And it hurts because I fundamentally don’t understand it.  I don’t understand how...I never understood sitcom plots where people accidentally sleep with their friends.  I don’t understand how apparently that’s what happened to me.”  There was that sinking feeling again, like he couldn’t escape this.  “Why does knowing it for sure make it worse?”

“Kent,” Will said as he turned off the burner and then reached for his hand.  “Breakfast can wait for a little—come on.”  Once they were cuddled on the couch with Kent as a the little spoon, Will started talking softly.  “It’s ok to look back and not be ok with anything that happened—even if you were at the time.  It’s not your fault that neither of you knew how to talk about it or that you assumed you were on the same page.  And it sounded like there was some stuff in there that maybe you want to talk about with Clare.

“But I also need you to know, because I think this stuff makes you doubt it, that you are enough just the way you are.  I don’t feel like our relationship is lesser than just because we don’t have sex.  Because I get to kiss you good night and wake up with you in my arms.  Because you kept that little stuffed house elf I sent you as a joke, and I get to make you laugh when I move them around the kitchen to clean up after you.  Because you are terrible at Mario Kart but you play with me anyways.  Because you come over to make me dinner when I’m grumpy from a bad day.  Because I didn’t even realize how lonely I was before I met you.  Because traveling the world doesn’t compare to coming back to you.  Because I love you, and I know you love me.  Ok?”

Kent couldn’t do more than nod at first, but eventually he rolled over and gave Will a gentle kiss.  “Thank you,” he said deliberately.  “Sometimes I need to hear that.”  He enjoyed the embrace for a few more quiet minutes, until his rumbling stomach reminded them about breakfast.

They ate and talked about all the touristy things that Kent made everyone do in Boston.  He might have pushed it a little far in his quest to make sure they got noticed by fans—Finny had declared that they could never go on a trip with him if that was how he was all the time.

Once Kent had unpacked and they were sitting on the floor rolling a ball back and forth for Kit to chase, he returned to something Will had said earlier.  “You know that thing you said?  About coming back to me being better than traveling the world?”

“Oh, god!  Are you going to be unbearably smug about that?”

“Only a little.  Because when Swoops asked me what I wanted to do last night, I said I just wanted to go home.  And what I was really thinking about was cooking with you, and playing Go Fish when we aren’t in the mood for TV but are too tired for anything else, and falling asleep next to you.  So when I think of home, I think of you.  And we’ve talked about it some.  So, move in with me?”

“I would love to,” Will said with a big smile.  “Did you have timing in mind—because I don’t really have much stuff.  Give me a few boxes and an afternoon and I’m here.”

“Well I wasn’t necessarily thinking today,” Kent said laughing.  “But there is no need to wait until the end of your lease.  How about before your next trip?  I miss you when you’re gone.  That way you can really come home to me.”

-+-

Kent went and sat next to Will after finishing a therapy session with Clare.  “So I think I realized something.”

“Yeah?  What’s that?”

“Hockey is too much of my life.”

“What?”

“Hockey will always be a huge part of my life, even once I’m not playing anymore.  But I think part of why the idea of coming out publicly was so scary is because I don’t have any real plans about what to do with my life once I retire.  And I think that has been scaring me for a while I just couldn’t see it.”

“That makes sense,” Will reflected.  “I loved working on international projects but it made it hard to have a life outside of work.  Everywhere was work.  And I loved seeing new places and meeting all kinds of people, so it took me a while to realize what all that time away from family and friends was taking from me.”

“Yeah, exactly”

“So, what are you going to do about it?” Will asked.

“Maybe go to college for something.  I still need to figure that out.  I don’t need a plan right away—I still have at least a few years of hockey left in me.”

“True, and it’s probably not the best time to try and figure it out two weeks before training camp.”

“Do you have the office all set up now?”

“It took me a while, but I finally got the color calibration done on the monitor.  Adjusting to new lighting is always the worst.  Now that I have it set up it’s easy to keep it there.  And why are desk chairs so hard to adjust?  That took almost as long as the monitor.”

“But on the plus side, neither one of us ever has to sit on that awful couch again.”

“I knew that was the real reason you asked me to move in.”

“Well I’m allowed to have more than one reason—and just wanting you around all the time was definitely in the top five.”

-+-

“So how is it to be back in Vegas?  Adjusting to the heat yet?”  Kent asked Finny as they played a few rounds of cards at Finny’s place.

“At least it isn’t humid here, but after spending the summer in Boston it’s still a shock.  And I missed game night—my summer was not queer enough.”

“Sorry we couldn’t hang more just the two of us when I was out there a few weeks ago.  It would definitely have been more fun.”

“How did that conversation go?  I couldn’t really ask with Corner around since he doesn’t know there was more to your relationship.”

“It was fine.  I don’t think press is going to be awful and we know where we stand on things.  But it brought up a bunch of stuff from the past that I’m still working on getting over.  So—not really a great time.  

“Well, then I guess I’m glad it wasn’t horrible.”

“He texted me a few days later though.  Said he didn’t realize how much he had hurt me.  Also, apparently his friend gave him a bit of a talking to about how being bi or gay aren’t the only identities that don’t fit in so well with hockey.  I might have called him out for assuming that gay is the only thing I am.”

“Nicely done!”

“It was pretty nice.  With everything else, I almost forgot to be proud of myself for it.”

“I know you were doing it for you too, but thanks.  I might not be anywhere near ready to come out to anyone else on the team, but it’s still nice to know the idea of being queer, and not just not-straight, is getting out there in the hockey world.”

-+-

“Yams…Yams!”  Kent had been trying to get him to stop talking for a while.  Apparently, spending the summer with his parents and his younger sisters who had just finished their junior and freshman years of high school had been a lot.  “Take a breath and eat.  You have months to share all of your horror stories from the summer—you don’t need to get them all in tonight.”

“Seriously man, do we need to save you?” Corner asked.  “Come to Boston with me and Finny next summer.  Or be insane and stay in Vegas with Parser and Swoops.”

“And it is insane to train in Vegas,” Swoops confirmed.  “Staying here after doing the last few summers in Canada was intense.  If I didn’t love Parser so much I wouldn’t do it again.”

“Oh please, you were so bored there last year you came back early,” Kent retorted.  He had Swoops, Corner, Finny, and Yams over to celebrate the end of summer, and he was enjoying the easy familiarity of their joking around.

“Fine.  I’ll stop talking about how I will never spend another whole summer at my parents again.   So maybe I was out of the loop, but after the whole Zimmermann coming out thing you said you had some stuff to share and then it was just kinda radio silence.  Did I miss something?”

“Not really?  I realized I don’t actually want to share what I was going to.  I think I do want to come out though.”  It had been a few days since he had talked with Finny, and the more he thought about it, the more he wanted some unabashedly queer visibility in sports.  Queer as in ‘It’s complicated.’  Queer as in ‘I don’t owe you my whole identity.’  Queer as in ’My identity is greater than the sum of it’s parts.’  “I just haven’t figured out how to do it without making it seem like it’s about Jack.”

 “Well then I don’t think you Come Out,” Yams said.  Noticing the confused glances he was getting, he continued on.  “It’s a framing issue, right?  It doesn’t need to be a press conference or doing something on twitter that will just result in a press conference.  Just don’t pretend.  Act the way any of the rest of us would if we had been dating someone for months.  Eventually someone will ask a question you want to answer.”

“Ok.  But how do I make it seem like I’m not just doing it because Jack did?” Kent asked.

“I think you already did that,” Swoops answered.  “Not the following part, the how to make it clear you aren’t.  Will has been wearing your jersey to games for months.  Just point to that.”

“Obnoxious sibling behavior for the win?”  Finny questioned.

With some perfectly comedic timing, Will came in the door, noticed them laughing, and asked what they were all talking about.

“How your obnoxious sibling behavior of wearing a Parson jersey gives Kent a perfect way to say he isn’t coming out because of Jack,” Corner replied.

“Hey, that was at most 10% trying to annoy you.  The rest was definitely flirting.”

“Worked out pretty well too!” Kent added happily.

“I don’t know why your cuteness continues to surprise me.  And not to be rude, but I didn’t know you were coming over tonight, Will.”

“Wow,” Kent said, looking over at Will, “taking obnoxious sibling behavior to a new level, huh?”

“I thought it would be more fun—you said I could tell him,” Will replied with a smile.  “Mark, I’m not so much ‘over’ as ‘home.’  I moved in like a week ago.”

“Wait,” Mark asked, looking around.  “Did the rest of you already know this?  Do Mom and Dad know?”

“Yeah, because I told all of them…well Will told your parents.  Sorry your brother likes showing his affection by being annoying,” Kent replied.

“I’m used to it by now.  It won’t take me that long to get him back—sorry you are more likely to be caught in the collateral damage now that he lives here.”

“Ok, but what were you actually talking about when I got home, because I feel like we got a little off track.”

“A plan for Kent to come out without having to come out,” Finny answered.

“Yeah, Yams thinks I should just not hide anything and wait for a non-stupid question to talk about it.  And then say I haven’t been hiding all along since you’ve been wearing my jersey at games for months.”

“Oh, ok.  Thats not a bad idea actually.  But what about the rest of the team?”

“I think I might do the same thing.  And just act surprised that they didn’t already know.  To some extent, they should already know—I haven’t been that subtle.”

“That’s true.  If they don’t at least that know you are dating someone they really aren’t paying attention,” Swoops confirmed.

-+-

A few days later, Kent and Will were getting back from dinner at an Indian place down the street.  It was one of those local places with great food that the tourists never went to because it was so small.  That meant that Kent and Will could go and not get bothered by anyone since the other regulars didn’t care.

“So are you really going to do it?  Come out?” Will asked once they had put away their leftovers and settled on the couch.

“Yeah, as long as it’s still ok with you.”  Will nodded, so Kent continued on.  “The more I thought about it, and got comfortable with it, the more it seemed like a good idea.  Because I would like to hold your hand when we walk to dinner and not worry about being in the background of my friends photos and just generally go about life without worrying about who knows I love you.  

“But there is also the bigger picture.  As great as it is there are other athletes who are out, I still don’t really feel all that represented by them.  And I think about what it would have meant to me as a kid to see someone who was different—different from the usual ways to be different.  I can be that to those kids, or at least start working towards it.

-+-

Kent had always thought that he needed to be able to get through things on his own, that even if you had help it was worth knowing you didn’t really need it.  He had learned long ago that the only way to succeed at hockey was to play as a team, no matter how strong he was by himself.  And he was starting to really believe that the same thing applied to life.

Because three months ago he thought he knew how things would go, and then in an instant he didn’t anymore.  And he had finally learned that it was truly worth it to ask for help.  He might have needed a lot of help—the pill he took every morning, and his therapist, and his friends, and his boyfriend—but he knew where he was going.  He knew what he stood for, not just with hockey, but as himself.

Chapter Text

 

The hard thing about making a plan is actually following through.  And that is even harder when the plan requires not hiding anymore, and opening up to people who might be more inclined to yell, or stop respecting you, or slam you into the boards.  So what Kent had to keep reminding himself was that those people already don’t respect him, but some of them might surprise him.  But in any case, he had people to support him.

-+-

Kent had told Alex in PR and his agent Madeline that he planned to come out this season.  They both would have preferred he make a statement of some sort instead of waiting for people to notice, but mostly just because it would have made their jobs easier.  Madeline didn’t think it would affect any of this endorsement deals, and Kent suspected Alex didn’t have a problem because most season tickets and major games were already selling well.  Kent tried not to be too cynical about it though.  He was just happy to have people who weren’t trying to stop him.

Unfortunately, the first few days of training camp had gone by with no nice opening to start being more himself.  It was tough as the captain with new prospects and trades that he wanted to welcome to the team and checking up on with everyone about their summer training.  But it was also simply easier to not change his behavior.  He had to say something soon or they would be into the preseason, which always seemed to go faster than he expected.  And once the season started for real, he felt like it would be too late—like he lost the convenient timing.

-+-

“Hey Parser, what were you up to this summer?” Scraps asked in the locker room at the end of the first week of camp.  “You’ve been being such a captain I don’t think I’ve seen you relax yet.”

“Mostly the usual,” Kent replied and then took a mental deep breath.  “Training, went home for my birthday, hung out with Kit.  Will moved in a few weeks ago though.”

“Will?”  Scraps looked like he was trying to figure out which of their teammates first names was Will, and why Kent would be calling him that.

“Yeah, my boyfriend,” Kent answered like that should have been obvious.  Scraps had a reputation for being pretty unobservant off the ice, so there was a good chance he would assume he should have already known that.  

“Yeah, he’s been wearing Parser’s jersey to games for months.  You didn’t notice?” Swoops asked.

“Wait, I thought that was Corner’s brother.  I’m so confused right now.”

“Why are you talking about me?” Corner yelled over.

“Wasn’t that your brother last season wearing Parser’s jersey to annoy you?” Scraps called back.  At this point, the conversation had attracted the attention for a handful of others, mostly new guys to the team.  Kent actually had a chance to pull off the ‘you should have known’ plan in just one conversation.  Thank god for Scraps being clueless and setting him up.

“Oh yeah, Will is my brother.”  Seeing a nod from Kent, he kept going, “and he was trying to be annoying.  But its really not the most annoying thing about him and Kent, it’s just the one that gets the most media attention.  Seriously, they can be so sappy it makes my teeth hurt.”

“You bring it upon yourself,” Kent retorted.  “And just for that I don’t think I’ll share any of Grey’s brownies the next time I have any.”

“Low blow, Parser,” Finny replied.  “Those brownies are amazing, and he talked about them all summer.  Now he’ll have to wait even longer to get his fix.”

“Oh, ok cool,” Scraps finally replied.  Since Swoops, Corner, and Finny all appeared to know about it, he had clearly concluded it was just one more thing he was out of the loop on last season.

Kent noticed a few of the new trades looking at him.  “Y’all good?” he called over, and got a few nods in response.  Nobody seemed outraged, mostly just surprised, so he finished gathering up his things and heading out the door.  He needed a few deep breaths when he got to his car, but he was surprised at how calm he felt.  He probably couldn’t have planned something that perfect if he had tried.

-+-

The rest of the team seemed to pick up on it relatively quickly since he noticed they were a little quieter around him and he got a few looks sometimes.  He was surprised that nobody, particularly Carl, confronted him all.  Maybe they were all too worried about looking like they couldn’t work with their Captain during training camp and then not making the roster.

There were a few guys that either didn’t care at all or hadn’t heard the gossip.  Once the preseason came to end and he was getting tired of being in limbo with his team, Kent thought it was time to make sure everyone was on the same page.

“Listen up,” he called standing on the bench in front of his stall.  “I want to say a few things up.  First, and I hope this doesn’t change your opinion of me, I’m a total nerd.  I love math, and I’m not ashamed of it.  Second, apparently some of you have never read or watched Harry Potter, and I won’t stand for that on my team.  Team flights longer than four hours will now include one of the movies.”  He moved to get down to a chorus of groans, then stopped.  “Oh, and yeah—I’m hella queer and my boyfriend’s name is Will.  I imagine press will catch on eventually.  See Swoops if you want in on the pool for how long it will take them to figure it out?”  With that he hopped down and started chatting with Finny in the stall next to him.

“Epic, Parser.  They were so confused when they thought you were done the first time.”

“And bonus, none of them will remember to complain about to forced movie marathons for a while,” Kent replied.

“Of course that is what you are most worried about.”

“Well, they would have been really annoying about it.  The rest of it is mostly a sigh of relief.”

-+-

“Can you help me with something?” Kent asked Will after getting back from practice in late October.

“Yeah, what do you need”

“How would you like to put your fancy visual story telling tools to use?”

“Why do I feel like I’m about to get roped into making some fancy powerpoint for you about something ridiculous?”

“No, this is a real thing.  Have you ever watched any of the You Can Play videos?”

“I don’t think so?”

“They’re awful—well, no they are way better than having nothing.  But they are all so serious and I know hockey players aren’t the best in front of a camera but most of them look like they are reading off a script they don’t really believe in.”

“So you want to make a good one?”

“Yeah, something that is more fun and shows my teammates really don’t care.  And that I’m more than just a hockey player.”

“That sounds like a great idea, and I would love to help you Moonbeam!  Do I get to follow you around with my camera?”

“I suppose,” Kent replied, pretending to be put out by the idea.  “But I can also put you in touch with Alex if you want to get any official NHL footage to use too.”

“Yeah, I’ll probably want some of that, plus I imagine they will want to sign of on the final product.”

“Thanks Sunshine!”

-+-

Kent was almost done making dinner when Will got home from his latest trip and dropped—well gently placed—his stuff on the floor by the door.

“Remind me why I picked a profession where I have to lug so much heavy stuff around.  Your gear might weigh more, but you have people that carry stuff for you half the time.”

“Didn’t you used to travel the world with all this stuff?”

“No, that’s the most ridiculous part.  I know I can get good shots without all this stuff.  Now that I have the option to leave stuff at home I have more things, but I still take them all with me most of the time.”

Kent chuckled in response and went to pull Will into a hug.  “Rough trip?”

“No the work was good.  But the hotel always had Fox News on, and it got me in a mood.”

“Ugh, that is the worst.  I’m glad most of the places we go that isn’t too much of a concern,” Kent replied.  “I need to stir stuff in a minute, but dinner is still about 15 minutes away if you want a nice hot shower before we eat.”

“Thanks, Moonbeam.  It smells good.”

-+-

“Wait you mean to tell me that we have been friends for over a year and you have somehow never mentioned that you don’t know how to ice skate?”

“Well I grew up in a desert, Kent.  It isn’t a common activity here,” Hannah replied.

“I grew up in New Mexico, and I still learned to play hockey,”  Finny replied.

“Yeah, because your parents both played going up in Wisconsin, they just somehow ended up there.  And then you had to go to Canada to play as a teenager.  I don’t think that counts,” Grey retorted.

“The point is, I am taking you all skating next weekend.  You’ll have a pro to teach you to skate.” Kent declared

“I’m pretty sure it won’t be that helpful to learn from someone who doesn’t remember not knowing how to skate,” Hannah answered skeptically.

“Hey, I also help coach the peewee teams the Aces sponsor, and some of those kids haven’t spent much time on the ice at all.”

It turned out to be a bit of a disaster.  Kent hadn’t realized how much he relied on the fact that most kids were were pretty fearless and were used to not knowing how to do things.  Adults were not as happy about the idea of falling on the ice.  

Grey refused to let go of the boards unless Kent, Jeff, or Finny was holding one of their hands.  Hannah was surprisingly steady on her feet, but she got going and then realized she didn’t know how to stop.  Will couldn’t avoid learning to skate growing up with a little brother who spent all his time at hockey rinks, but he was pretty rusty and was happy to stick close to Kent.  Dan was perhaps the most chaotic, crashing into people when he got going too fast.  At the end of the afternoon, there had been a lot of laughter, surprisingly little falling but not much more skating, and Kent thought he hadn’t been that sore after an hour on the ice in years.

They had a game the next day—they won 2-1 against the Coyotes—and during press after the game Kent got asked about his skating the day before.

“Kent we noticed you and a couple teammates teaching some people to skate yesterday.  How did that go?”

“Oh, yeah.  One of them was pretty skeptical that I would be any good at teaching people how to skate, but we all had a good time.”

“It looked like Mark Corning’s brother Will was there too.  You two are seen together a lot, how did you get to be such good friends?” another reporter asked.

“Oh, Corner thought we have a lot in common, and we started talking.  And we live together, so that’s probably why you see us together a lot,” Kent answered.

“You’re roommates?  How does that impact the team dynamic?”

“That’s not what I said.  But that’s all for me tonight,” Kent said with a knowing smile and walked off.

-+-

He knew that statement about living together but not being roommates would lead to questions, but there were still fewer than he expected.  Apparently heteronormative blinders let people ignore a lot that they didn’t think was convenient.  His tweets and instagram posts started to have a lot more of Will in them.  Dan, Hannah, and Grey made occasional cameos petting Kit or out for dinners as a group.  But Swoops, Corner, and Yams are in the pictures sometimes too, and somehow people think that simply means that Kent must be a nice guy with a diverse group of friends.

“I don’t understand how they can be so dense,” Kent complained to Will one night.  “Apparently hockey media is going so out of its way to seem accepting after Jack came out that they can’t even conceive of the idea that I might not be straight?  Or maybe the league has them scared about getting their press passes pulled if they try to out anyone?”

“I have to admit I’m pretty surprised too.  Is the team still being cool?”

“Yeah, mostly.  Carl is still a bit of an ass.  And I had to call him out for speculating if Jack and I were a thing since I didn’t offer a vehement denial to the press, but everyone else who was a little weird is coming around, so I think he’ll get there.”  Kent paused for a moment and then went on.  “It’s other teams that I’m not so sure about.  They’ve picked up on the media weirdness, and are starting to come to their own conclusions.  But it’s odd—like they don’t know exactly how to react without a label to put on me.”

“Well the You Can Play video is coming along and should be done pretty soon if you get tired of waiting for someone to ask a real question.”

“I just might do that.  How are your project proposals coming along?”

“They’re good.  I finished up two more today, but I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself since I have a good feeling about some of the ones that are already submitted.”

“I know you love the variety that you get to work on, but freelancing doesn’t seem to get any less stressful the more you talk about it.”

“Well, at least I don’t have to worry about making rent anymore…”

“Ah yes—the real reason you wanted to move in with me.”

“You aren’t ever going to get tired of those jokes are you?”

“Oh, I don’t know…some day we will get married and I’ll joke about that instead.”

Will just laughed and then asked if Kent had any more tape he needed to watch that night.

“No, I’m free all the way until 9am skate.  What did you have in mind?”

“I was thinking of cuddling on the couch and playing with your hair while we watch a movie.”

“I think I can fit that in my schedule.”

-+-

“I feel weird about it.  The guys on other teams trying to get under my skin.”

“Can you tell me more about that?”

“There is less of it than I had expected, but…It’s not like any of what they are saying is ok, but I’m also annoyed that they are using all these uncreative homophobic insults that don’t even apply to me.  Like they think they know me and my life because I’m dating Will.  And so I don’t know how to respond other than just ignoring them.  Because there isn’t anything I can say that is true without just giving them something else to jump on.  And there are some fans too, but it’s not like I can really respond to them anyway.”

“We talked before about how you might set some boundaries about what you want to respond to.  How does that seem to be working for you?”

“I still don’t think it is effective to reply to every idiot, but that doesn’t mean I like it in the moment or that it doesn’t still suck later.  I guess I thought it wouldn’t take so long to get a good question from the press that I feel like I want to answer.  But they are all still trying to define who I am and put me into some nice box that they can understand.”

“You seem particularly upset about it today.  Did something happen?”

“Nothing unusual with press…but, I don’t know.”  Kent paused and Clare let him sit in silence for a minute before he finally continued.  “I think I want to have sex with Will.”

“Of course you can chose to have sex and still be ace, but what is contributing to your thoughts about it?”

“It still bothers me that if I had known what our relationship was to Jack, I don’t think I would have done most of it.  And I kinda want to have an experience where we both know exactly what it is.  But I’m nervous to talk about it.  That maybe Will would think it’s really about Jack and not about me, or that he wouldn’t be ok with going back to not having sex.  Maybe a little bit that I’ll really like it and feel stupid for having made a big deal about all of this.”

“It’s always ok to change labels if you think you find something that fits better, and it is also fairly common for people to worry that they might have gotten something wrong about their identify after coming out to people.  But is it possible that some of what you are feeling is some internalized acephobia--the idea that the ‘right person’ is out there?”

“I guess maybe some of it.  Which is annoying because I thought I was doing really well with not falling into that.”

“It can be very hard to completely unlearn those things we hear from the world.  And I agree that you have made a lot of progress in that area, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be harder to remember, especially as you think about shifting the boundaries of your physical relationship with Will.”

“Yeah—but there is still all the rest of it.  Because I don’t know how to explain that I still don’t actually want to have sex.  Obviously, I’m not against it, but that isn’t the point…it’s about other things.”

“We can certainly practice how you want to say things, but remember that how Will responds doesn’t say anything about you.  And we can also make sure that you feel prepared with how to react to any responses you might be worried about.”

-+-

The Falcs came to Vegas in early December.  Kent wasn’t looking forward to the game, but he wasn’t dreading it like he had when they played last season.  He knew that he would never truly put his relationship with Jack behind him, but it had been good to talk about it over the summer.  No, mostly he was worried about the fans and the press.  Speculation had him and Jack had been pretty mild, and in general the press seem willing to pretend that he was straight until he forced them to acknowledge that he wasn’t, but he didn’t think they would be able to resist the opportunity to pair their questions with the usual Parson/Zimmermann story.  And then there were the fans.  Kent knew that Jack had gotten a lot of negative fan reaction at a few games already that season, and it would probably only be worse that night, since the fans didn’t seem to have any problems speculating about their relationship.

About the only thing good about the game was that he didn’t hear anything on the ice from either the Aces or the Falcs.  The team had been playing extremely well all season, but they had an off night and lost 4-2.  There were a lot of fans yelling at Jack, and some at Kent too.  And the press seemed to think that if they kept asking, eventually he would say that he and Jack had been more than friends.  It was like a small pinprick every time he denied that there was anything but friendship between them.  He might not want to talk about their complicated relationship, but that didn’t mean it was easy to keep saying there wasn’t anything else to it.  Eventually Alex pulled him, just in time too, since he was close to snapping and asking if they were seriously inquiring about the dating lives of two minors from nearly a decade ago as if it was somehow news.

Will had come to the game even though Kent had said he might not want to be in the stands for this one.  Kent was glad he decided to come, and when he left the locker room Will was waiting for him, and he collapsed into a hug.

“That was exhausting—I think I need to nap for the next week.”

“I think you might get hungry if you tried that, and you would probably be grumpy if you missed three games for a nap.”

“You’re probably right.  I guess I’ll settle for a hot shower and cuddling before falling asleep.”

“Are people still coming over, or can we get right on that?”

“I told them I needed the night off.  So we have plenty of time for cuddling.”

-+-

The Aces were in the middle of a roadie—2-0 so far—and had just finished up their morning practice before their game against the Schooners that night.  Press was filing in for their pre-game quotes, and Kent was hoping to avoid them since he knew he wouldn’t be able to after the game.  He was pretending to be busy on his phone when a text came in from Will.

It was a screenshot of an email without a whole stream of exclamation marks as the caption.  Kent called Will right back.  “I am so proud of you—I knew you could do it!  We are going out to celebrate when I get back.”  Unfortunately, Kent was maybe too enthusiastic for his goal of avoiding attention from the press.  In fact, he had attracted the attention of most of the locker room.

“One of the grants? Which one?” Corner yelled across the locker room.

“Yeah—the Alexia Foundation one!” Kent shouted back proudly.

“Congratulations, Will!” Swoops shouted towards the phone from next to Kent.

Finny and Yams talked over each other to congratulate Will too.

“I think I need to call you back once everything has settled down here.  I love you Sunshine!”

Kent wasn’t surprised when press made their way over to him, but to his frustration he only got questions about their prep for the game that night.

-+-

“Seriously, I am not trying to hide anything.  Do they really still think they would be outing me?  Why are the only questions I get about whether I dated Jack?”  This week’s game night had developed to complaining about life and half-hearted attention to a mediocre strategy game that the coffee shop had in their community room.

“I know.  It’s bordering on homophobic at this point, that they think you couldn’t possibly want anyone to know you aren’t straight.” Dan sympathized.

“Kent could you imagine yourself having this conversation last year?  You and Will were still dancing around each other and now he’s producing a video as your boyfriend where you tell everyone you don’t have to be straight to play hockey,” Hannah chuckled.

“Definitely not.  The character growth has been rough though,” Kent answered.  “And you are all still ok with being in my video right?  I know Will is almost done, but I haven’t seen it yet, so I don’t know what footage he ended up keeping.”

“Oh, yeah.  We’re all good.  Will showed us the parts that we are in a few days ago,” Grey answered for the group.

“Alright.  Well unless I get a good question before then, I’m thinking of releasing the video right before our last game before Christmas—give PR a chance for things to settle down before we have a couple days off.”

-+-

The flood of questions finally came after Kent’s You Can Play released the video right before a game.  He managed to keep his head in the game despite his nerves, knowing that his play that night would be scrutinized perhaps more than any other game he had played outside the Stanley Cup finals.  Swoops, Yams, Finney, and Corner had seen bits of the video, but they hadn’t seen the whole thing before it was released—Kent had cried when he saw it for the first time, and he hoped it wasn’t too much.

Kent got one question about the game—he did have the game winning goal after all—before press jumped into questions about him.

“I haven’t been hiding anything,” Kent said after a few minutes of questions.  “My dating life hadn’t been anything to write home about for a few years, and no one was asking any questions, so I didn’t feel the need to bring it up.  And I haven’t made any big announcements, but everyone just assumed I was hanging out with a teammates brother instead of going on dates.”

No one asked about labels, so Kent wasn’t surprised when most of the articles said he came out as gay.  Eventually he would get a good question about it, and he was sort of looking forward to being self righteous about everyone assumed he was straight and then assumed he was gay instead of considering other options.  He was surprised that the picture that most often accompanied the articles, other than the ones PR had of Kent and Will from the video, was of Swoops pulling him in for a hug after watching the video on his phone in the locker room.

“Kent,” a reported asked following their first game after Christmas, “can you tell me about the picture of you and Jeff Troy from after your You Can Play video was released?”

“Yeah, he was saying he was proud of me,” Kent answered.  “I’ve known I wasn’t straight since I was a teenager, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been hard at times.  I was really struggling a few years ago, and Swoops was a great friend through all of it.  He was actually the first person on the team I came out to, so he really knew how much it meant to me to release a video that was so honest about who I am.  Not just about hockey or my sexuality, but really me as a whole person.  And I really hope that I can pay that forward, because his support and friendship has meant so much to me.”

 From there, the conversation moved on to the locker room environment and if he thought coming out had affected his play, and eventually he was rescued when Finny came over to for his turn at the press to discuss some of the major stops he had that night.

It took two more games before Kent finally got a clear question about labels that didn’t make assumptions.  Alex must have arranged the press pass, knowing that Kent was getting a little frustrated, because LA’s LGBTQ newspaper wasn’t normally doing post-game press for a hockey game.

“Kent I am working on story about you being in town for a game since you are one of only two out professional hockey players.  But I was going through all the media, and I haven’t seen you label yourself at all.  I’d really like to get the details right, so is there a label you are comfortable with?”

“Thanks for asking Michael.  I’ve been waiting for someone to realize that, and not just assume I must be gay if I’m not straight.  I’m comfortable with ‘queer’ to describe me.  And I know Will won’t mind if I confirm that he is gay.  And you should totally write about him too—I am so proud of him for winning a grant to call attention to homeless LGBTQ youth through his photography.”

“Oh, wow.  That’s amazing.  What is the grant called?”

Kent was about to answer when Corner called out, “Kent, quit bragging about your boyfriend and go take a shower.”

“Please, you just want the chance to brag about your brother.”

“Yes, now go shower.  You smell.”

Kent heard Corner start to explain the grant and all the other work that Will does as he went off to take a shower with a smile on his face.

-+-

Kent and Will had both had a lot of travel, with very little overlap, so it was a relief when they finally had three days together before Kent’s next roadie in mid January.  They had spent plenty of time talking on FaceTime about all the questions from press, and how some teams were more obnoxious now that Kent was officially out but some were actually better.  They were just happy to have a slow couple of days—still with practice and photo editing—but where they would both be home at the end of the day and they could wake up next to each other.

“Hey, can we talk about something?” Kent asked Will one night after dinner in mid January.  He was pretty nervous about this conversation.  He had talked about it plenty with Clare, and he felt as prepared as he could be, that didn’t mean there wasn’t still that niggling doubt that it would be awful.

“Sure.  Is everything ok?  This sounds serious.”

“Both—I mean it is serious but it’s not like I have a problem with anything,” Kent answered then took Will’s hand to head over to the couch.  “Ok…so you know how I had a lot of feelings about my relationship with Jack after talking with him over the summer?  Well, I’ve spent a lot of time talking about it with Clare, and I’ve mostly processed the issues about miscommunication—or not communicating really.  But I’m still having a hard time dealing with how that means there wasn’t really any informed consent to any of it.”

“Have I been doing anything to make you uncomfortable, because I know moving in blurred some boundaries a little and maybe we didn’t talk enough—”

“No, no.  You have never been anything but great,” Kent reassured him, “and I wouldn’t sit on it for months if there was something.  It just bothers me that I don’t have any sexual experience that I feel like I really consented to—where we were both on the same page.  And it’s not like I’m against the concept of sex…but I just don’t get it—I feel like I’m missing something that other people seem to feel.  So it’s been easier to just draw a line because I don’t know what to do with that mismatch.  But now I don’t know how to separate out how much of that is just me, and how much was that Jack and I didn’t communicate.”  Kent sighed in frustration. “Is this making any sense?  Because I practiced it with Clare but I feel like it is getting all jumbled.”

“I think that there are some parts that I probably won’t ever fully understand.  But it sounds like you aren’t sure if you are comfortable with the boundaries you’ve set because all of this processing has made you question your reasoning for the boundaries.  Is that it?”

“Yeah, pretty much.”

“Ok.  So are you just updating me on how you are feeling, or do you want to talk about changing the boundaries?  Because it would make sense if you need a little more space to process everything.” 

“I was actually thinking of taking things in the other direction.  I wanted to talk about having sex, and that it might be a one time only thing,” Kent answered and then rushed on “And I don’t want you to think that this is all about me and not about us, because I love you and I know you love me, and I trust you not to push about anything or I wouldn’t be having this conversation let alone contemplating doing anything about it.”

“Hey, it’s ok.  I do love you, and I know you love me too.  But give me a minute because this isn’t where I thought this conversation would go.”  Will rested his hand on Kent’s leg while he gathered his thoughts, and then started again.  “I don’t think it is a surprise that I am sexually attracted to you and that I would very much enjoy having sex with you if you were also enjoying yourself.  I also want to be very clear that I haven’t been waiting for you to feel ready or anything like that.  So if you think that you want to do this for the ‘right’ reasons, and not to prove something to me or you or anyone else, then I’m happy to talk about it.  But I think it would be good for both of us if we had some clear expectations before doing anything.  Did you have anything in mind?”

“I’ve spent a lot of time talking with Clare to make sure I’m not just acting on some internalized stuff.  But as far as expectations…not exactly?” Kent responded.  “I mean…my definition of sex is basically an orgasm in the presence of another person.  And I was definitely thinking something at that end of the scale, and not anything penetrative.  I also think it makes sense to wait a few days before we do anything in case I freak out about it or you change your mind about being ok with it as a one time thing.  Because I really don’t want to mess up what we have.”

“I think we are talking enough that I’m not too worried about that.  If we had just been taking things slow, I would say let’s just let things flow naturally now that we have talked about it.  But maybe the opposite would be better?  Like making it a plan instead of moving on from lazy morning makeouts or something?”

“I hadn’t really thought about that part of it, but that seems like a good idea.  So after my next roadie?”

“Sure, and if you change your mind—at any point—that is completely ok.”

“Ok, but that goes for you too.”

They sat their quietly for a moment before Will pulled Kent into a side hug and pressed a kiss to his hairline.

“Thanks for listening,” Kent said softly.

“Thank you for talking.  I know it isn’t always easy.”  They continued to sit their quietly together for awhile before moving to get ready for bed.

-+-

Kent and Finny were watching a movie in Kent’s hotel room.  The rest of the team had gone out to celebrate their win over the Preds during an afternoon game, but Kent had decided to stay in.  Finny—noticing that Kent had something on his mind—had made their own excuse not to go out and then knocked on Kent’s door once everyone had left.

“So how is all this coming out stuff going for you, really?  Not just the happy face you put on for most of the team,” Finny asked.

“I mean parts of it are annoying.  I’m pretty tired of getting asked about how everything effects my game when it clearly hasn’t been some major hindrance for me.  But it hasn’t been as bad as I expected.  The league is clearly taking slurs and stuff on the ice seriously.  And the fans can be a lot, but I don’t have to talk to the ones that are jerks and I know it means a lot to others.”  Kent paused then asked, “What about you?  I know it’s not exactly the same but how are you dealing with all of it?”

“It has pretty much confirmed that I won’t ever come out to the team or publicly while I’m still playing.  If people can’t figure out that you are queer and not gay I’m sure they couldn’t handle the idea of nonbinary genders and why I am still playing men’s professional hockey.”

“Yeah, I can see making that decision.  How to be out and honest without over-sharing took me a while to figure out.  It is part of what I really like about queer.”

“Yeah,” Finny said and then waited to see if Kent had anything else to add.  “So I thought that you might have been a bit overwhelmed by all the press stuff.  But it seems like something is on your mind if you want to talk about it.”  Finny could tell that Kent was thinking about it, so they decided to wait and see if he said anything—one of those things they picked up in therapy.

“You know when you’ve made a decision about something, and your comfortable with it, but you still have to wait to do anything about it?  And it’s just like nervous anticipation?”

“Yeah, I guess deciding to go to the Draft was like that.”

“So, yeah, I’ve got that going on.  But I’m also trying to figure out how much of it is because it’s actually a big deal to me compared to a big deal to society.”

“Ok.  I have no idea what you are talking about but—wait!  Are you proposing?” Finny asked with excitement.

“No, it’s not that,” Kent answered with a smile.  “I mean, that’s probably not all that far off.  But no, its something else.”

Sensing that Kent didn’t want to get in to the details, Finny moved the conversation along.  “Well keep me in the loop on the proposing thing, because I will definitely help shop for rings.”

“Haha ok.  What about your love life?  Is there anything to the flirting you and Hannah have been doing?”

“I really like her.  She’s funny, and she’s so smart but I never feel like a stupid hockey player.  And she really gets all the gender stuff.  But it’s a lot to date a professional athlete, so we’re just taking things slow.”

“You know, I don’t think Will and I ever actually had that conversation—it was just part of why we even ended up being friends.  Corner thought we could commiserate about how our professional lives made dating challenging and things went from there.  But we have had plenty of other adult relationship conversations, and I would definitely recommend them.”

“Yeah, Hannah is all about the clear communication too.  So hopefully things keep going well.”

Their conversation trailed off as their attention returned to the movie.  Once it was over, Kent interrupted as Finny was getting ready to head back to their room. “Hey, thanks for not leaving me alone tonight.  I know I didn’t actually say much, but I needed to get some of that out of my head.”

“Any time Kent.  You’ve helped me get stuff out of my head plenty of times before.”

-+-

“You’re being really quiet.  Are you sure you’re ok with everything?” Will asked as he was cooking breakfast the morning after The Sex Experiment, as he had jokingly called it the other day.

“Yeah—I’m still processing some stuff, but I’m really ok.  I didn’t mean to make you worried.  Are you ok?  Because you seem a little nervous.”

“Just worried that you weren’t actually ok.  Because if you were freaking out about something, I would probably be freaking out about that.  So thanks for reassuring me.  And take your time processing…I didn’t mean to rush you.”

“Ok we really need to stop tiptoeing around this.  I’m really ok and you’re really ok, and we can talk after practice.”

“Deal,” Will answered with a laugh.

Morning skate and then a weight workout went smoothly.  The team had played well on the roadie coming back with three more wins, and their next game was against the Schooners who seemed to be falling apart this year after losing the Cup last season.  Kent knew what he wanted to say when he talked with Will, but he went out for lunch to make sure he had all of his thoughts in order.

“Do you want me to start?” Kent asked once he was home and settled on the couch with Will.

“Sure, if you want to,” Will answered.

“Ok, so to start, The Sex Experiment did help.  I’ll probably keep on processing for a while, but I think it confirmed that the boundaries that I had are about right.  Which maybe makes sense since I came up with them before getting complicated feelings about consent.”  Kent paused before continuing, “It’s not that I don’t enjoy the physical sensations, I just…it does seem like it meant more to you than to me.  Which doesn’t surprise me since that is a major part of being ace for me, but I guess I am a little unsure how you feel about that.”

“I think for me, I didn’t really know what exactly to expect since I am sexually attracted to you but I know that isn’t something that you feel generally, not just about me.  And if I didn’t know that, I probably would be wondering why I was more into it than you, and what that meant.  So I really enjoyed it, but I think that was partly because I could tell that even if it was different for you, it was still good.”

“Ok.  That sounds like something I might not ever totally get, but it sounds like we are both ok with it.”  Kent paused and then asked quietly, “are you still ok if we never do it again?”

“Kent,” Will said softly while taking his hand, “I’m really still ok with it.  I can understand why society makes it hard to really believe that, but I promise it isn’t some sort of burden that I’m dealing with.  I love what we have, and it doesn’t need to change for me to keep being in this relationship.”

“Thanks, Sunshine.  I do know that most of the time, but when we start talking about all the details somehow it slips away.”

“It’s ok.  You reassure me about not paying rent every time we end up talking about money.”

“Yeah, because it would be stupid for you to pay rent when I make ridiculous amounts of money and you aren’t always sure what your next paycheck will be.”

“And I do get that.  My point was just we all have our insecurities about things, and its ok to want reassurances about them.”

“Yeah, I just…I want to stop feeling like I need reassurance about this.  I was talking with Finny the other day, because they could tell something was on my mind.  They thought it was just all the media stuff getting to me, and it really isn’t that bad, so I told them that.  But then I was just really vague about what I was thinking about.  Because I couldn’t actually say I’m ace.  And I—” Kent trailed off, not really sure what he wanted say next.

After Kent was quite for a minute, Will broke the silence softly.  “We can talk about it more right now if you want, but why don’t we go take a nap?  I think we would both find it comforting after everything.  What do you say, Moonbeam?”

“Yeah, that sounds nice,” Kent answered and got up then pulled Will to his feet too.

-+-

Kent was out with Corner, Finny, Swoops, and Yams after practice a few days before the All Star Weekend.  He hadn’t spent nearly enough time with all of them this season.  He worked hard to make time with Will with all the travel they both have, and he tried to make game night whenever he was in town, which didn’t leave that much time for the rest of his friends.  

They aren’t up to anything crazy, just being a little too loud in the back corner of a deli near the arena.  They had already devoured their sandwiches, and now they were waiting to see who would cave and order a dessert first.  Swoops was giving Yams a hard time about how he kept striking out when they went out to a club the other night.

“Dude, no.  I wasn’t striking out; I was being respectful.  And I got someone’s number.  She’s really cool, working on her masters at UNLV.  Besides, who are you to talk?  You weren’t even trying the other night.”

“Wait, Swoops!  How could you not tell me that your whatever with Kristen was going that well?” Kent demanded.

“Hey, it’s new.  I don’t want to jinx anything.”

“I don’t understand why hockey players are so superstitious off the rink—you’d think we get it all out of system with the rituals about sock tape and whatnot,” Corner remarked.  “Dude you’ve got to tell us about this stuff so we make sure your relationship doesn’t crash and burn.”

“Wow, what a vote of confidence,” Finny deadpanned and everyone else started laughing.

Swoops was about to defend himself once the laughter died down, but his phone started ringing, and he grabbed it and headed out the door.

“What about you Parser?  How’s everything going with the first anniversary coming up?” Yams asked.

“We don’t really have anything planned.  A nice dinner at one of our favorite places, and just taking the time to enjoy that we both have some in the same place.”

“You have the forethought to have your anniversary fall right around bye week and the All Star weekend, which is basically just a sex holiday as far as I can tell, and all you are going to do is sit at home?”  Finny asked.

“Oh my god, please don’t make me think about my brother’s sex life and whatever crazy shit happens that weekend,” Corner complained.

“How is that actually any worse than thinking about your friend-slash-Captain’s sex life?” Yams retorted.

“Well you can all chill out because we don’t have a sex life,” Kent blurted out.  And then, “Shit, I did not mean to say that so bluntly.”

The rest of the table got quiet, and they all had expressions like they weren’t quite sure what to say next.  “You can all stop internally freaking out and trying to figure out if you need to be worried.  I’m ace and sex isn’t my thing, so we don’t have a sex life.”

“Is this a new thing?” Finny asked.  “Because we had that conversation the other day where you obviously didn’t want to go into all the details, and now I’m going to be a little worried about you.”

“No it’s not new—it’s just hard to talk about.  Swoops got the total breakdown about it a couple years ago, and it still took me almost six months to tell him the details.  I didn’t really plan to say anything today, but none of us wanted to be thinking about my sex life, and I figured that was the most natural opportunity I would ever get.”

“And Will’s ok with everything?” Corner asked, clearly worried about his brother.

“Yeah—he’s known since before we started dating.  There are definitely times that he is more ok with everything than I am. But I’ll let him know to expect an awkward conversation with you about it,” Kent finished with a laugh.  After a pause he continued, “It’s definitely tradition at this point that I come out about something and then someone gets me dessert.  And those walnut chocolate chip cookies look really good.”

“What did Parser do to earn a cookie?” Swoops asked as he got back to their table at the same time Yams was getting back with Kent’s dessert.

“Told them I’m ace.”

“What?!  I’m so proud of you!”

“I know, that’s why I get a cookie,” Kent replied with a smirk.  “But hey, this isn’t something I want the whole team or the press knowing about, so keep it to this group.”

“Yeah, of course man,” Yams answered before turning too Swoops.  “So, how was that phone call?”

“We made plans for a real date since we are in town and don’t have a game next Saturday.”

I’m so proud of you” Kent exclaimed.

Jerk!

-+-

Kent and Will did have a nice, quiet anniversary.  Kent got Will some new noise cancelling headphones—he wanted to get stuff to make the office nicer, but Will said it would make his taxes too complicated.  Will got Kent an autograph from a gay mathematician who advocates for more accessibility in education, because what are you supposed to get for someone who can buy whatever he wants.

Will was proud of Kent for telling his friends that he is ace, although he was a bit grumpy about having to reassure his brother that he was totally fine with their relationship.  Kent was a bit worried about that until he realized that Will was annoyed on Kent’s behalf for the implication that it was some major problem that had to be worked around.  Based on the awkward apology Kent got from Corner after practice one day for “sticking my nose into your relationship,” Kent assumed that Will finally vented his frustration at his brother.

-+-

“It’s still not a bad reaction, I don’t know why it has started to bother me so much.”

“Can you tell me a little more about what would have felt like a bad reaction?” Clare asked.

“Well anything along the lines of ‘that’s not a real thing’ or ‘maybe if you tried it’ would definitely count as bad.”

“That sort of reaction would understandably be upsetting.  But do you think that it is the only sort of reaction that it would be ok to be upset about?”

“I don’t know.  I mean, it seems a lot easier to be upset when someone says something objectively bad.”  Kent paused before continuing, “and I don’t know.  Maybe it’s worse because he is a teammate and a friend, but Corner is also probably my future brother-in-law.  And so its family.”

“You’ve mentioned before that you don’t plan to tell your mom or your sister that you are ace.  Do you think that might impact how you feel about Corner’s reaction?”

“Maybe?  I hadn’t really thought about it that way—that it is probably the only time I would come out as ace to someone who is family.”

“We had also talked about how you weren’t planning on coming out to your teammates that day.  How do you think that might influence how you feel about everything?”

“I guess I wonder if I would have anticipated everyone’s reactions better or if they would have reacted differently if I had planned what to say.  But I also think the spontaneity of it helped because I wasn’t worried about what, or when, or where, or any of that.  And I think it helped Yams in general, because he looked really curious and then got really quiet, and it seems like he’s doing some processing.”

“So it seems like there was some good, and maybe some not-the-best.  Does that sound about right?”

“Yeah.  Are you saying I need to let go of my frustration about it not being perfect?”

“I think it is up to you to decide if it is helpful for you to express your frustration or to let it go.”

-+-

The Aces continued to have a great season.  They were winning much more often than they lost, and weren’t going to have any problem making it to the playoffs.  Finny had moved up to the first line D-pairing, and Kent was proud of how they were playing, but also about the team was connecting on and off the ice, making it a place where Finny could focus on their game and not about being safe.

Kent still got some comments on the ice from other teams, and from fans.  But with two of the biggest names in hockey having come out of the closet it was hard to make an argument that they didn’t belong.  Kent also decided to move on from his frustration with Corner.  As more time went along he realized that Corner hadn’t changed the way that he treated Kent and didn’t seem to still be worrying about Will.  Besides, Kent himself probably didn’t say exactly the right things when Yams asked him about demisexuality.  As much as Kent wished no one had anything but the perfect reaction, that wasn’t a realistic expectation when everyone’s definition of perfect was different.

There was plenty of lightheartedness mixed in with all the late-season hockey and introspection.  Kent, Will, Finny, Yams, Dan, Grey, and Hannah went to play putt-putt and Kent, Finny, and Yams lost spectacularly.  Stick handling and getting the puck past a goalie did not carry over to trying to get the golf ball past the stupid windmill at hole 5 or the clown at hole 11.  The laughter of a fun night out was worth it, even though someone got video of their ineptitude and it ended up on twitter.  Frankly, Kent was glad people could see him having fun with his friends, and boyfriend, and teammates.

-+-

Late-season hockey turned into playoff hockey, and Kent found himself surprised again that it could be so invigorating and exhausting at the same time.  They cruised easily through the first couple of rounds and then slogged through the Conference finals, taking 6 games to make it through.

They split the first two games at home against the Aeros and then won the third game.  They were up 4-2 in the third period of game 4 when it happened.  Kent was fighting for control of the puck along the boards when he got his stick tangled up with one of the Aeros’ hulking Defensemen. It wouldn’t have been a big deal, but before he could get it sorted out one of them—Kent wasn’t even sure who—managed to get the puck behind them and they both turned, got tangled up, and crashed to the ice.  He was halfway to standing when he realized the sharp pain in his left ankle.  Fortunately, it didn’t take long for the whistle to stop play and to get him off the ice.

He limped down the tunnel with one of the trainers keeping him from putting any weight on his ankle.  They were able to get his skate off without cutting it—not that is was fun—so he breathed a sigh of relief knowing it probably wasn’t broken.

“We should get an x-ray to make sure, but I think this is just a bad sprain,” Kent heard as he was focused watching the game on the TV.  The clock was ticking down and they were going to win this to make the series 3-1.

“How bad of a sprain are we talking about?” Kent asked after the last seconds of the game.  “Like take it easy and we need a lot of tape before the next game?  Or more like there isn’t any chance I’m getting on the ice the rest of the season?”

“Let’s see how you are doing tomorrow, but I don’t think you should be on the ice in two days—which will hopefully be the end of the season.  If the series go longer than that, we can reevaluate.”

-+-

“I can’t believe I’m not going to get to play in the biggest game of my career.”  Kent said, breaking the silence in the car.  Swoops was driving him home—Kent had thought about protesting that is was left ankle, but he was tired and his ankle was throbbing after their flight home.

“Your first Stanley Cup wasn’t the biggest game of your career?”

“Well it was when it happened.  But this is the first time I can win it when everyone knows I’m queer.  And I won’t get to be on the ice to prove it doesn’t matter.”

“I mean this in a nice way—but it absolutely matters.  Not just in all the self-actualized ways.  But it matters to this team and it matters to hockey.  I know last summer was hard, and I know your decision to be out wasn’t easy.  But Kent, you put your faith in us to have your back and it really did help bring the team together.  Even Carl isn’t a total homophobe anymore.  And you did it with just the right amount of shade and f-you to make the point to the world that you were never ashamed but that hockey had a problem.   And fans and kids playing saw that your team was behind you and that the league stepped up—You did that.  Just because you won’t be on the ice to score a game winning goal doesn’t mean you won’t have made this Cup possible.  And it doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to prove you can be queer and play hockey.”

“Have I mentioned lately that I don’t think I could have done this without you?  Because seriously, there is no way I would have been ready for all of this without your support over the last couple years.”

“Ok, enough sentimentality for now or you are going to make me cry.  And if we crash and we both can’t play in the next game the Cup gets a lot harder.”

“Fine!  So is Kristen coming to the game?”

“I haven’t asked yet,” Swoops admitted.

“Dude, get on that.  Seriously, as soon as its a reasonable hour call…wait, why are you parking?”

“Well first, because you need help carrying your stuff.  And second, because its 2am and you have a guest room I’m taking advantage of.”

“Why am I friends with you?  Inviting yourself over in the middle of the night.” Kent replied laughing.  

-+-

Kent convinced the trainers and coaches that they should tape his ankle like crazy and let him dress for the game—he only got away with it because they weren’t going to put him on IR in case the series kept going and Kent could skate in a few days.  He wouldn’t be getting on the ice, but at least he would be able to Captain his team from the bench instead of being stuck in the press box.

The first period was scoreless as the Aces adjusted to their new lines with Kent out.  Fortunately, the Aeros were having an off night and didn’t manage to take advantage of the missteps.  The second period was electric, with the Aces racking up three goals—first on a power play, then a battle for rebounds at the net, and last on a breakaway.  Yams scored a shorthanded goal early in the third period and the fight went out of the Aeros.  They still pulled their goalie with three minutes left, hoping to avoid the shutout.  Swoops got the puck and skated around a couple of defenders to get the empty net goal.  After that, it was just slowing down the game until the clock ran out.

It was a blur after that.  Finny helping him skate to the rest of the team for a massive celly.  Laying on the ice to give his ankle a break, trying not to get trampled.  Will.  The cold weight of the Cup.  Camera flashes.  His team—his family.

-+-

Once Kent realized he was actually going to make it the NHL, he got pretty comfortable with the idea of media and needing to balance seeming genuine for his fans with having a private life.  He never would have thought he would be a special guest on a youtube channel to talk all about being queer in sports and as a public figure.  But Grey kew someone who knew someone else who knew a youtube celebrity, so here he was.

“Kent, let’s talk about your Stanley Cup victory last month.  A lot of people have drawn parallels to Jack Zimmermann coming out after his Stanley Cup win last year and your experience.”

“Yeah, I think it’s hard to avoid the comparisons.  But something that I think is really important is that both of our teams supported us, and knowing that we aren’t straight wasn’t a big deal.”

“Absolutely, I know you have both talked about how your teammates have been so supportive.  But I want to focus on something in particular.  Folx, take a look a this:

Kent looks at the TV behind the couch they are sitting at.  It’s showing the celebration following their win, and Will giving Kent a hand up from where he is laying on the ice, and Swoops and Finny coming over to help him up and then have a giant group hug.

“I think a lot of us are worried about the reception we will get when we come out, to our friends and family, or the world.  And what I love about this, is that it really shows that your teammates don’t just tolerate or begrudgingly accept.  But they will pick you up when you can’t do it on your own so you can give your boyfriend a hug.”

“Yeah, they really have been amazing.  The day before that, I was talking with Swoops actually about how I was upset I wouldn’t be able to play in that game to prove that I could do it.  And he just came back and said that when I decided I wasn’t going to make an announcement about being queer but I was going to completely openly live my life that it did bring the team together and make the team a safe place for everyone to be themselves.  So even if I couldn’t play in that game, it was still my team.

“Let’s talk a little bit more about how you came out, because it took months for press to print anything and even longer for them to ask about labels.  How was that experience?”

“Yeah, it was weird.  It was almost like people had a hard time believing that I wasn’t trying to hide anything.  Almost like they would be outing me if they printed something despite all of the interviews I had done where it was obvious I have a boyfriend.  And then after that, there was so much confusion about what I meant by queer.  Plus people who clearly wanted to use it as a slur and it doesn’t work that well when you identify that way.”

“Oh definitely.  Can you talk a bit about what queer means to you?”

“For me, it is mostly about an umbrella that can encompasses a lot of things.  About recognizing the diversity of humanity and honoring how we can signal to each other what we are all about.  Its also about rejecting cisnormativity and heteronormativity, and interacting with the world in a different way.  And then it is a little bit a way for me to be honest about who I am without providing a list of different terms that I identify with.”

“For sure, I think a lot of people assume that we fit into nice, neat boxes within LGBT identities.  And for so many of us, it isn’t that simple.”

“Yeah, and it took me a little while to get comfortable with how people would perceive me.  But I know that for the other queer people that see me as an example of being queer in sports, or just queer in society they understand there is more to it.  And so now I’m just living my life.  I’m Kent Parson and I’m queer.  I’m Captain of the Aces and I don’t give any fucks,” Kent finished with a wink. 

“Well I don’t think we will find a better way to wrap up than that.”

“Yeah, my agent will probably kill me for that,” Kent laughed  “But I told her I was going to make her mad at me and there wasn’t anything she could say to change my mind.”

“All right.  I guess I won’t cut it then.  Kent Parson, thanks for talking with me today.”

“My pleasure!”

-+-

A year ago, Kent was terrified about being outed.  He took that leap of faith into the unknown, and now he couldn’t imagine still living in the closet.  It was almost like starting all over again.  How to be Kent Parson as an adult, comfortable with his place in the world.

Chapter Text

For the longest time, Kent couldn’t picture his life after hockey.  As a kid, being a professional athlete was a dream—the same one that so many other kids had that it seemed almost impossible.  And then as a teenager he left home to billet and the dream started to be a real possibility.  He spent so much energy working to make it the NHL, and hopefully being good enough to stay there, that he couldn’t even begin to think about after.

Once Kent had his name on the Stanley Cup and the C on his jersey he didn’t even want to think about life after hockey.  Not because he didn’t want to stop playing but because he didn’t know what he would do without hockey to fill his time.  But it was also bigger than hockey.  He had spent so long trying to fit the mold, be the person everyone expected, that sometime Kent didn’t know who he was at all.  

Looking back at it, Kent couldn’t decide if it was inevitable that he would figure it out for himself and slowly work from telling his best friend to the world.  Or maybe he would have just kept going, trying to please everyone else if he hadn’t read that book or had the courage to say something.

-+-

In the end, he played for 15 years before retiring, earning a third Stanley Cup and more trophies than he could count.  He still ended up TV sometimes and was still involved with You Can Play and Hockey Is For Everyone events.  He knew he had made an impact on hockey, but it wasn’t what he was most proud of.

He was more proud of the work he had found outside of hockey.  He was proud that he was able to take the work ethic and determination he developed to go to college and dual major in education and policy analysis.  He was able to use his money and his experience and his fame to make a difference in kids’ lives by advocating for inclusive policies in public schools.

He was most proud through of his life.  He was proud that he kept working to understand himself better, and that he kept leaning on his friends and family for help.  He was proud of his husband and of how they supported each other. 

Kent still might not know what comes next, but he knows who he is, and he knows he won’t be facing anything alone.