The thing about looking human--no one ever asks you what you are. If you can pass for human, to most people, you’re just human. There are exceptions to this. Vampires can’t hide once they smile, and that goes for werewolves too, though they’re a little more obvious with the hair and the constant need to talk about their pack. (Kent feels justified in saying that. He may not be pack himself, but his stepdad and half-sister are. There was a reason he was allowed to play in the Q, especially when pack sticks together like that.) But for the most part, if you can pass as human, you let people think you’re human.
Kent likes this because it means no one wants to know his business. It’s a conundrum, being extroverted and intensely private. But playing a hypermasculine, homophobic sport and being gay is also a problem, one that requires intense privacy. Kent’s not sure which came first, but he knows that even if he were out now, he’d still want his private life to be private.
For now, he takes advantage of the cover his life provides him. Kent wouldn’t describe himself as hypermasculine, but he’s not overly effeminate, not enough to make anyone in his life skeptical except perhaps those he’d be willing to allow in(to his bed). If he dresses like he wants, he looks stereotypically straight, and this keeps anyone from asking about what he really is. To them, there’s nothing besides his outer layer.
It’s the same with looking human. Kent lives in a desert now, where it rarely rains. In some ways, he misses the water on his skin all the time. Rain is like a home away from home. (Because in spite of what rumors say, the rain is not enough.) The closest he gets is the shower in the Aces locker room, but he keeps it scalding hot because he knows when he gets home, the real thing is coming.
His teammates joke that his indoor saltwater pool is wasteful in the desert. “It’s almost as bad as a lawn,” Bloomer always says. He has a perfectly cultivated landscape at his place, suited exactly for environment. If he had a normal lawn, no one would say anything because it’s good for him.
His teammates are probably salty that Kent doesn’t let them use the pool. If Kent told them why he had his pool, he knew they wouldn’t say anything. But Kent likes the privacy his pool gives him. When the day ends, he dives into the pool and lets the water take over. The water is Kent’s and Kent’s alone.
This is what privacy affords him.
The truth is Kent has always been this private. It comes from his family. Born in Rochester, he had Lake Ontario as his home. His dad had always hated it. Pollution was the enemy of the Parson family, and Kent had never been allowed to swim too long, just in case. Whenever they left, they’d return to their apartment building, and Kent would be dunked in the swimming pool. It almost washed off all of the effects of the natural water, chlorine scrubbing away anything that actually rejuvenated him. Of course, it also removed the pollutants, so he couldn’t actually complain.
Kent loved Lake Ontario. He still loves it, honestly, in the way that he wants to go home and fix the whole fucking lake by himself. His dad still loves it, partially out of stubbornness, a refusal to let go. The lake is probably one of the biggest reasons his mom left. The Rimouski is better than Lake Ontario. Of course, that’s not hard to do anymore. Freshwater isn’t so fresh anymore. Lake Ontario is bad, but the Rimouski isn’t great either.
Heading to Quebec at sixteen almost felt like a betrayal--of the lake, of his father. Kent hadn’t lived with his mother since he was six years old, but Quebec afforded him with some great opportunities. Fresher water, a better chance at a life with hockey.
His dad didn’t argue much. “I’m proud of you, Kenny,” he said. A lot. Kent couldn’t count how many times he heard that in the weeks leading up to his departure. It only made him feel guiltier. His dad was proud he was good at hockey, proud he had an opportunity to go somewhere in life. But he wasn’t happy that led Kent back to his mother in Quebec, or that he was going to be gone for the rest of high school--and after that, to wherever he was drafted. Kent wanted to say something. He wasn’t going for his mom. He was going for hockey. He wouldn’t even see her much. He’d be playing. But Kent and his dad didn’t talk about these things. Kent stayed quiet.
The day Kent was due to drive up to his mother’s house, his dad took him out to the lake. They swam for hours, longer than Kent had ever been allowed to swim before. They were quiet, like they usually were in the water, and Kent let the water wash away every worry. He and his dad had the lake, just like every week he’d lived before.
The walk home wasn’t so quiet. Kent’s dad went over all of his usual worries, the things he needed to remember being in an unfamiliar place. “You need to make sure you have enough water time. Being on the ice isn’t the same thing.”
“Yes, Dad,” Kent drawled.
“And don’t forget to make sure you wash off pollution. I know it’s not the same, but--”
“I know,” Kent groaned. His hair was still damp and hung across his forehead in dark clumps. He watched himself in a passing window, like a stranger with golden brown hair and lake-colored eyes.
His dad gave him a look. His dad still looked familiar, with his lake-colored eyes and smile lines. His hair was darker than Kent’s, always. Kent could only see the resemblance after a swim, when they were both as close to who they wanted to be. “Kenny, I won’t be around to remind you. You’re growing up. You have to remember to do these things yourself.”
Kent almost said that his mom would be there. Mom knew just as well what he needed to do. But his dad was talking about more than these next two years in the Q. They both had a lot of things to say, but Parsons weren’t really good with speaking. “Okay, Dad.”
When they returned home, his dad pushed him into the pool, just like always. Kent didn’t laugh, like he usually did. The chlorine pulled apart every piece the lake had left in him, and he would take nothing of Rochester with him but his hockey bag and a suitcase full of clothes. When he arrived in Rimouski, he would be greeted by a woman with golden blonde hair and river blue eyes. The first thought he’d have was this: I look just like my mom.
“Krysa, why you think so hard? Is bedtime,” Alexei says. He rolls on top of Kent and weighs him down into the bed. Alexei is heavy, like any 6’4” hockey player. He kisses the back of Kent’s neck in sultry pecks and draws of his lips first, but when he realizes Kent is still staring at the shapes made by late afternoon sunlight peeking through the curtains, he turns the kisses into sloppy licks. “Krysa, krysa, ignore me. Hurt feelings. So hurt.”
Kent scoffed and shoves his elbow into Alexei’s side. When they’re together, it’s always a mixture of rough and soft. Kent never thinks of him as anything but Alexei inside the bedroom, because Tater plays for the Falconers, a primarily pack team. Tater doesn’t like Parse. But Alexei and Kent--they can get along well enough to have decent sex. That’s good enough for Kent. He likes to keep the lines in his life drawn clearly.
“I know what krysa means,” Kent says. He squirms his way out from under Alexei, who crawls back on top of him and peppers more “kisses” along his bare shoulders. He gives real kisses when he reaches the line of playing cards along Kent’s arm, from the Ace to the 7 of Spades. “Socks told me. In the bed-- Would you stop?”
“Freckle kisses,” Alexei murmurs against his skin. Kent knows he’s covered in freckles. If Alexei is trying to kiss each one, it’s going to take way too long. It’s also going to drive Kent crazy, between Alexei’s tongue and his stubble.
“You shouldn’t call me a rat in bed,” Kent protests, ready to change the subject.
Alexei just laughs and rolls Kent over, settling on top of his stomach. He has no care for how much bigger he is, but Kent doesn’t mind. He’s been under more than one big ass hockey player before. Being under one like Alexei is no real bother, especially when he’s spread out on soft sheets. “Ah, but you are my rat, moya krysa.” He rattles off more Russian Kent doesn’t care about and leans in for more of those tongue-heavy kisses, this time on Kent’s lips.
“You kiss like a dog,” Kent murmurs when they pull apart. His hands are trailing down Alexei’s back, tracing the firm muscles before they settle down on Alexei’s ass. (Thank fuck for hockey butts.)
Alexei merely winks. “You kiss like fish,” he says, and Kent laughs back before making a fish face. Alexei kisses it off of him again.
Sex with Alexei is always good. They roll around the bed until the sun has disappeared beyond the horizon. They’re still laying side by side when Kent realizes this.
“You said it was bedtime earlier. Wasn’t even dark yet,” he scoffs.
Alexei’s laugh booms and reverberates through Kent’s back when he pulls Kent against his chest. Alexei is a mixture of hard and soft, his chest firm under Kent’s cheek, a bit of softness on his stomach under his hand. Kent knows that comes from Alexei’s shit ass diet. The Falcs’ nutritionist has got to hate him. It doesn’t seem to impact his hockey at all. Kent is kind of jealous, but mostly really hot for Alexei. He hooks one leg over Alexei’s.
“Sweet litso ryby,” he purrs, petting Kent’s hair in a way that’s too soft for the insults he throws out. He uses only Russian insults with Kent, mostly because he thinks it’s funny that Kent always asks Socks. He has no shame. “Is bedtime. Not sleeptime. Bedtime. You in bed, with me--when you here, always bedtime.”
Kent wants to laugh, but he doesn’t. He closes his eyes and thinks about getting up to brush his teeth.
“You should probably wash your sheets when I leave,” he says.
Alexei’s huff shakes Kent from his position. “Of course. Do not want rat fur in bed.”
Kent shoves at his side and rolls off. “I’m gonna catch a shower before I go back to the hotel.”
“Don’t use all hot water,” Alexei calls. He knows Kent will. He’s never stopped him. When the door to the bathroom clicks shut, Kent puts Alexei out of his mind. Things are back to normal, Parse and Tater. Parse will go back to the hotel, and Tater will badmouth Parse to his teammates. This is how Kent wants his life.
The water burns his skin. Kent wishes he was back in Rochester, ten feet below the surface.
Jack Zimmermann was the first teammate Kent met. Kent arrived at the rink early, wanting to get some ice time. His dad had warned that ice wasn’t water, and Kent knew that, of course he did. But being on the ice was almost as good as being in the water. He laced up his skates, hopped onto the ice, and got maybe one lap in before he noticed someone else was there.
“You’re not pack,” Jack said. He narrowed his ice blue eyes to gauge who Kent thought it was. He spoke in smooth Quebecois that made Kent want to shiver.
“I’m Lena’s son,” he said. His own French was rough with only two years of high school experience before he was tossed up to Canada. The few weeks he spent before the season were nowhere near enough to iron out the details.
Jack stared even harder. “Lena and Robert only have a daughter,” he said.
“I’m not Robert’s son,” Kent replied. He started skating again and let his voice carry across the rink. “I’m Lena’s son. My dad lives in New York.”
In the short time Kent had been in Rimouski, he had a feeling it wasn’t talked about that Lena Fortin had a family before she met Robert. Kent’s presence was an intrusion. He could see that in the hesitation in his stepfather’s eyes, the guilt in his mom’s, and the wonder in eight-year-old Sophie’s. But Kent never cared if he made waves. He was there to play hockey. Fuck anyone who got in his way.
“Oh,” Jack said. He stared for a moment, eyes sharp, lips pressed together. “I’m . . . Jack Zimmermann.”
Kent knew that. Everyone who would play for Rimouski knew that. You don’t start playing with Bad Bob Zimmermann’s son not knowing his name. “I know,” he said. “You look like him.”
Something flashed over Jack’s face, like that was the last thing he expected anyone to say. Years later, Jack would look like a carbon copy of his father, save for the cheekbones and eyes. At this moment, Jack was all baby fat and insecurity. His features were too soft to mirror Bob Zimmermann’s, but Kent could see beyond to the frame. Jack was made out of the same stuff of his father. “Um… You are?”
“I’m Kent. Parson,” he said. He skated over and offered his hand. The way Jack accepted the handshake told Kent everything he’d ever need to know. Jack Zimmermann was shy. Jack Zimmermann was determined. (And though Kent didn’t understand the admiration blooming in his gut, there was a third: Jack Zimmermann was gorgeous.)
“Do you want to practice together?” Jack asked, gesturing at the ice. No matter how he acted about pack stuff, a little skittish, a little nervous, like Kent was breaking the rules by existing, his eyes lit up at the thought of getting on the ice and actually doing something, even with a guy he didn’t know for shit. Kent was cool with it. It would be good to warm up with another guy on the team, get used to playing. And it was Jack Zimmermann.
“Sure. You’re a forward, right?” Kent asked, skating back to the bench to grab his shit.
“Yeah. Center,” said Jack. He’d already grabbed everything, as if he’d planned on spending the next hour and a half practicing all by himself.
Kent grinned back at him and took one long swig from his water bottle. “I’m a winger. Right. Maybe we’ll be on the same line.”
Jack’s eyes sharpened, and he bared his teeth in an awkward sort of grimace that Kent found a little too endearing. “You need to be good.”
With his stick in hand and one puck on the ice, Kent lined up beside Jack, his grin cockier now. “I am.”
“Kent, do you think Jack Zimmermann’s time in the NCAA will give him an edge?”
Kent curls his lips and bites back the reply he wants to give. How the fuck is a college team comparable to experience in professional fucking hockey? He isn’t blind. He can see that Jack’s hockey has changed. Kent is captain for a reason, and it’s not because he avoids watching tape of his ex. But change isn’t always good, and change happens in context. Jack’s hockey has changed to fit a college team. Now he has to adapt to the NHL. Kent has years of experience in the league already. They both will do their best, and whoever wins, wins.
Interviews are too easy. The media wants something specific from Kent, and he never denies them. It’s part of keeping the lines in his life. People who care know that Kent isn’t all parties, charity functions, and cat pics. People who know Kent know he’s also trips to the beach and planning things down to the details and budgeting for fun. (And people who know Kent intimately--in only the sexual sense--know he’s also cuddling and introspection.) Sometimes, it’s very hard to keep these lines.
With Jack, it’s very hard to keep these lines.
Jack Zimmermann is back in the sports world, and he wrecks everything Kent works for in one swoop. He chooses the Falconers, which is--okay. So they’re a pack team. But they’re not the only pack team, and that’s what gets Kent. The Aces are a strange bunch, a mixture of all sorts of species, more humans than most teams. What they don’t have in abundance is werewolves. It’s just a thing. Kent had asked (begged) Jack to come to him, but Kent had never really been pack. He chose pack.
Kent isn’t upset about that. It’s just--
“Out of way, grebanyy ublyudok Parson.” Mashkov shoves him to the side, and Kent spins for a moment before he regains his balance. He’s off his game, and he knows it. His team knows it. Hell, the world knows it.
It’s Jack fucking Zimmermann.
So Kent plays the way he always does. He focuses on the ice beneath his skates and how familiar it is. He’s played in the league for seven years, and Kent knows how to win. He also knows people won’t like it.
He only feels a little guilty about Snow. Snow isn’t a bad guy, and okay, sure, he’s the goalie. Kent made a bad move. But he’s so fucking furious about Zimmermann--
He only gets more pissed when Alexei--Tater--tugs him out from the bottom of the dog pile and shakes him by the neck. This is another line. Alexei is one side of his life, and Jack is another, buried way back in the part of Kent’s mind he doesn’t want to deal with ever again. Now they’re on the same team, and Kent was stupid enough to watch PR shit. They’re friends. It’s too much.
“Parson little rat rushing Snowy!” That’s Alexei, of course. Alexei . Not Tater. Because when it comes down to it, during fights, the Falcs are a pack. They fight like a pack. They don’t take kindly to behavior like Kent’s.
“Little ‘brat,’” Robinson corrects. Kent’s stomach twists a little tighter. His team is crowding around him, as protective as a pack. He doesn’t think this often, but he’s . . . . He really likes his team. He likes Vegas. He likes being captain. He doesn’t need the sides of his life tumbling down and crushing what he’s built.
“No! Rat! Right word!”
It’s not the first time Tater’s called him that on the ice. Usually it comes after goals or checks. Never after anything this bad. Kent thinks of the day after their game in Providence last season, when Alexei kissed over his freckles and called him “krysa” like it was something sweet. Rat feels worse than anything else Tater has ever thrown at him.
The refs are done debating. Kent hadn’t even known they were debating. But he scored, and his team is happy. Kent is happy too. He has to be.
Normally, when they’re in the same town, they got to the home team’s house to fuck. Kent goes back to the hotel, and he doesn’t slip out. He sits in the bathtub for hours and soaks up the water. Alexei doesn’t text him.
The first hockey player Kent had ever admired was Alex Kovalev. His dad always said Kent fell in love with hockey early, jumping up and down everytime Kovalev was onscreen. When the New York rangers won the Stanley Cup in 1994, tiny toddler Kent had stood perfectly still six inches in front of the television and gawked at all of his favorite players. Since then, Kent admired more players than he could count, but his dad still counted Kovalev as the beginning of his hockey career--and his reason for being a right winger.
Jack Zimmermann made Kent question everything.
Most of the team was good with Kent. Sure, he wasn’t a werewolf, but his mom was Lena Fortin. He was her family, and she was pack, so he was pack. Kent kind of liked being pack. When he called his dad, he’d never mention it. He had to keep a firm divide between his life in New York and his new life in Canada, and the only overlap was hockey. But it was nice, the way Kent was swept into cellies without any protest, or the way he was invited to parties even before he had a firm grasp on the language. Now that they were two years into juniors, Kent had earned his place the A to Jack’s C. Kent was pretty solid in his conviction that he’d earned the title of Jack’s best friend as well.
It was a special position. For more than just being the best friend to Bad Bob Zimmermann’s son. Being Jack’s best friend made it special. Kent knew there were some guys on the team who only cared about Jack for his last name, but anyone who watched him play had to know there was so much more there. Jack was special. Jack was going somewhere. And Kent was being swept along.
So maybe he admired his friend almost as much as the old hockey guys whose posters plastered the walls of his childhood room. Jack was only 17, and he was already just as good as them.
Kent tried to keep it cool. He was Jack’s friend first, and as much as he loved playing together, not everything was about hockey. They hung out like normal friends. At least, they used to. The longer the season went on, the less Jack was available for anything but extra practice. Between that and keeping his fucking perfect grades--
(“You need to study your French,” Jack said every time they studied together.
“It’s cool. I’m graded lightly,” Kent shrugged.
Jack frowned and made that line between his eyes. Kent cracked a smile and reached up to smooth it out. Normally, he would reach and mess with the cowlick curling away from Kent’s forehead. Lately, he only looked back to his book and shoved Kent’s work towards him. “You need to keep your grades up. So you can play,” he said.
“I manage,” Kent said. He scraped by in every subject but math, but he was passing. It was good enough.
But nothing seemed good enough for Jack anymore.)
They were halfway through the season, sitting in the middle of January with a more than decent season. And Jack didn’t seem to understand that. Since their loss the last Thursday, he hadn’t answered any of Kent’s texts, and Kent . . .
Kent was starting to get a little antsy. That was why he was standing in front of Jack’s billet house on a Wednesday afternoon. There's snow on the ground, and Kent had to walk up the icy pavement to the door, so Jack better fucking answer. He didn't come all this way for nothing.
There was only Jack’s car in the driveway and Kent’s truck on the street. Kent knocked. Jack should have answered. He had to be home. Kent knew he wouldn’t go anywhere with his billet family on a school night. He knocked again. The doorbell was broken, had been for months, but Kent pressed the button anyway.
Finally, after five minutes of waiting and knocking, the door cracked open. “What do you want?” Jack asked.
“This is an intervention,” Kent said as seriously as he could manage. His eyes lit up. He could see his reflection in the small window on the door. In the icy glass, his eyes were a dull gray, like dirty water. He wanted to go swimming, but river was practically frozen over. His mom had ruled out any trips until it warmed up. That was almost fine with Kent. Rimouski wasn’t that far north, but the water felt so much colder.
“Go away, Parse,” Jack said. He started to shut the door, but Kent shoved his foot into the crack.
“Nope. I’m here.” Kent shoved himself forward, pushing the door open. He was only 5’8”, and though he swore he was still growing, it was apparent that whatever inch or two he had left wasn’t going to do much. Jack was over four inches taller, and he’d outgrown almost all of his baby fat. He was stronger than he looked. If he’d wanted to keep Kent out, he could have, so Kent considered that permission to enter. “Look, man, it’s-- Are you doing okay?”
There was some sort of look in his eyes that made Kent worry. It was a little wild, a little frantic. Probably a pack thing.
“Alright, I get it. It’s your time of the month,” he said.
Jack hated that joke, and he responded just like Kent anticipated, wrestling Kent onto the ground as roughly as he would a werewolf. Kent laughed, rolling around to fight back. They tugged and pulled until there was no clear winner, both lying on their sides and catching their breath. Kent stared at Jack in front of him, his ice blue eyes foggy like the rink, and the beginnings of his mom’s cheekbones. He was looking more like his parents everyday, and Kent could see that even better since he’d spent a couple weeks in Montreal with Jack’s family. Jack combined the best of both his parents. He was really something special.
That familiar feeling of admiration fluttered up Kent’s chest. A smile tugged across his lips, smaller and softer than most of his grins. His cheeks flushed pink to obscure his freckles. Jack reached over to smooth out his cowlick.
“Kenny,” Jack sighed. He’d taken to calling Kent that ever since he’d learned that’s what his family called him. It was something just between them, something that would never catch on, like Kent’s attempts at making a nickname for Jack never had.
“Zimms,” he responded with a sharp smile that wasn’t as sharp as he intended. Kent didn’t know why he was so . . . . Everything was so tight, his chest, his muscles. Neither of them had pulled their hands back, and Kent felt like--
At the time, Kent would have sworn that Jack moved first. But truthfully, they would never know who initiated that first kiss. Their lips locked together like their skates clicked onto the ice, and they kisses as easily as skating. If they’d pulled back, they would have had to think about what they were doing, so they didn’t. They kissed and kissed until the moment was over, and they fell over the ledge Kent hadn’t even realized they were standing on.
“Zimms,” Kent said when they finally stopped. He was lying on top of Jack. Jack’s hands stabilized his hips, and Kent’s hands braced himself on the floor. “I--”
Jack pressed his lips together and shook his head. Kent understood. They didn’t need to talk about it. They’d never needed to talk about anything. They weren’t-- gay . This was just something special. It was just Jack, just Zimms, and Kent had managed to claw his way into the pack like he belonged. Now he’d stumbled into this.
“The pack can’t know. They’ll-- they’ll smell--”
“Didn’t you say we all smell like each other anyway?”
Jack relaxed. Kent may not have understood pack matters, but he understood Jack. He leaned down and kissed him again.
Kent called his dad later that night and told him about his day playing video games with Jack. He didn’t mention his time with his mom, and he didn’t mention the new secret bubbling under his tongue. He sunk into the bathtub and stayed there until his mom forced him to get out.
“Do you ever want to run to the ocean and live there forever?” Kent asked through the door as he stared at his all too human legs.
“All the time,” Lena Fortin answered. “But there’s something that keeps me here, Kenny. The people keep me here. It’s why people like us stay on land.”
Kent felt six all over again, confused about why his mom didn’t want to live with him anymore. He remembered crying and promising his dad he’d keep his room clean forever and ever. He didn’t think about that. He thought about staying on land for one person alone--Jack Zimmermann.
Most werewolves, in Kent’s experience, don’t like cats. Alexei is a strange one. Then again, he may be playing with Kit and Purrs specifically to ignore Kent. He cooes in Russian and calls them sweet names, not “krysa,” and he lets Purrs climb over his broad shoulders while Kit settles in his lap.
The last time they spoke face to face was in Providence. When the Falconers had come to Vegas, Alexei didn’t show at Kent’s place, leaving Kent to wonder if it was his fault for not going in Providence. He decided it wasn’t, but when the Falcs won the cup (and Jack fucking Zimmermann kissed some fucking blond Fae on the fucking TV), he’d bit the bullet and shot a text.
Yes, yes, win big! So jealous, krysa?
Eat my ass and kiss my two rings, fuckface.
Will eat ass, yes, litso ryby. If you win cup again.
Don’t pretend you don’t want to eat my ass.
Want many thing. But celebrate now. Many people!! Much pie!!
Time for drunk and party. At Zimmboni place. We celebrate soon.
Maybe that soothed over whatever had come between them. Maybe Alexei was still pissed, but he wanted to argue face to face. Maybe Alexei is as good at Kent at dividing between Parse and Tater to Kent and Alexei. Or maybe Kent is out of his depth.
Now it’s the off-season, and Alexei’s come for a visit which isn’t new, but it’s new. It’s different. Kent doesn’t understand what’s changed, but from his seat on the ugly gray recliner in his living room, he can see that something has.
“You’re going to have cat fur all over your shirt,” he says. Alexei’s shirt is plain white, and Kit’s long gray hairs have already settled on his stomach. Purrs’ black fur stands stark around his shoulders. Kent tries and fails not to smile.
Alexei turns and gives Kent a solid look, placing a protesting Purrs on the leather couch. He tugged his shirt off, which is just enough to disturb Kit amidst her nap. She settles back against Alexei’s stomach without even a scratch, which is so unfair. Purrs immediately climbed back up Alexei. It’s both adorable and hot. Kent keeps his gaze centered on Alexei’s chest hair.
“Are all werewolves so hairy?”
Alexei laughs his deep belly laugh, and Kent’s chest tightens. “I know you like,” he says, stretching out in a way that’s-- Fuck, he can’t look hot when he’s covered with Kent’s cats.
Kent knows most werewolves are kind of hairy. Sophie used to complain about how hard it was to shave her legs, until she gave up last year. “Fuck beauty standards, I don’t need more razor burn,” she said. Kent also remembers laying on Jack’s chest and marveling at how grown up it made him look. It had embarrassed him, especially when Kent was so smooth, but he’d liked it.
Kent does not like Alexei Mashkov because he’s a werewolf. It’s not like a thing. Kent just happens to like chest hair on men, and werewolves tend to have a lot. Not all of his life decisions revolve around his past relationship with Jack Zimmermann. The other things Kent likes about Alexei aren’t really the same either. He’s a little soft around the middle, and his face isn’t near as objectively handsome. He laughs too deeply, and he grabs on too tight. The sex is legitimately good, not just two kids fumbling around.
Kent wants to ask where they stand at the moment. If Alexei is still pissed about the last game. If he’s really that close with Jack Zimmermann. If he knows about Kent and all that history.
He doesn’t say anything. He grabs his beer from coffee table and pulls one bare foot onto the seat, ruffling the soft gray fabric.
“Cats celebrate more than you,” Alexei says after he’s spent long enough petting both Kit and Purrs. Kit has decided that Alexei squirms too much to be a comfortable seat, and she’s taken over the other end of the couch, curled up neatly. Purrs has trotted off to do whatever he does. Kent hopes it’s not eating something he’s not supposed to. “Think you invite me to eat ass.” He says this so calmly, so casually, like he’s not planning on laying Kent out and doing freaky things to him.
Kent can’t help it. He barks out his stupid ass laugh, snorting and bending over in his seat. He curls a little further and presses his eye into his knee, hoping he can maybe go blind and never have to look at Alexei again.
Alexei doesn’t wait for Kent to say anything. He’s already continued talking. “First, we eat food. I bring pie. Zimmboni’s boy make pie. Very good. Nate hate. But is off-season now, so we eat.”
Jack’s boy. His boyfriend. The Fae he kissed. Kent lifts his head. He has a mirror on the other side of the living room, so he can watch the halls when he’s reading, just in case the kitties are getting into trouble. He’s not as red as he figured. When he opens his mouth to protest, Alexei has already held up his hand as he rises from the couch.
“Know you don’t like sweet, but this is good pie. You see,” he says. He offers his hand to Kent and tugs him up like he weighs nothing. Kent shivers as he imagines everything Alexei plans to do during his stay.
“How do you--?”
Alexei cuts him off before he can even voice his thought. “Know more about you than you think, Kent.” He gives Kent a look that makes him think he’s still missing something. Alexei clearly came for sex, but--
“I’ll try it,” he agrees reluctantly. He doesn’t like sweet things, and he’s stricter on his diet than most people. One of the remnants of training with Jack. But Alexei isn’t so strict, and Kent kind of wants to just be with him for a little while. Even if he’s eating pie made by Jack’s new lover.
Alexei slices two neat pieces, both an obnoxious purple. Alexei’s is noticeably bigger. When Kent points that out, he argues that he’s a Stanley Cup Champ, so he deserves a big piece of pie. Also, he’s bigger than Kent, so he has a bigger stomach. Kent rolls his eyes, but he doesn’t want much pie anyway.
“Is sweet potato!” Alexei brags. Sweet potatoes are one of the only sweet things Kent likes, but he knows sweet potatoes aren’t purple.
“This is a purple yam,” Kent says.
Alexei stares blankly. “Yam, sweet potato. Same thing.”
Kent stretches a brow. “No. They’re not. People just call them that. They’re similar, but--”
“Ah, still good,” Alexei shrugs. He’s made himself at home in Kent’s kitchen, grabbing two forks from the drawer. He devours the pie quickly while Kent eats neatly, one slow bite at a time. Kent has only eaten half when Alexei slides over and starts to steal a bite.
“You literally gave yourself a bigger piece. And you already ate it,” Kent argues. He squirms around to hide the plate.
“Krysa don’t like sweet thing. Sweet potato bad for rat!”
Alexei practically scoops Kent up, and the plate falls to the floor. It’s plastic, so it doesn’t break, but the pie falls onto the white kitchen mat and leaves a mauve stain.
“I don’t need any more pie anyway,” Kent says. His feet are dangling off the ground from the way Alexei is holding him. He understands how his cats feel now.
“I do,” Alexei says mournfully. He releases Kent and moves to start cleaning.
Kent hums and watches as Alexei takes care of the stain. “I only need one sweet potato,” he says once Alexei is washing his hands in the sink. He turns around and gawks. For one awful moment, Kent thinks he kind of looks like a potato, which his slightly lopsided face, crooked nose, drooping eyes. That thought isn’t the sort of chirp he wants to spit out. He feels--
“Sweet potato very good for rat,” Alexei says. He steps closer and cups Kent’s cheek with his giant hands.
“I meant I want to suck your dick,” Kent defends.
Alexei smiles and leans in for a kiss. “After eat ass, yes?” He slides his hand down Kent’s arm until their palms meet. Alexei’s palms is bigger by like an inch, and Kent presses closer so he doesn’t fall.
Kent invited Jack home to meet his father. It wasn’t a real meeting. Not like a, “This is Jack, he’s my boyfriend.” They never put a label on it, and Kent didn’t think he could say it even if he tried. But he wanted his dad to meet Jack, and he wanted Jack to see his home.
Jack didn’t seem at home in New York the way he was in Quebec. All the nerves that had risen to the surface the closer they grew to the draft were amplified where Kent felt most like himself. But it was going to be fine. The draft would come and go, and they’d figure it out. They’d already won the Memorial Cup. What more could anyone ask of them?
They didn’t hold hands in New York. Kent took Jack to his dad’s music store. He showed Jack the guitar he played. Kent had never been good with real instruments, but he could sing, so he sang and strummed a few songs at Jack, enough to make him actually smile again. Kent had missed that smile. He didn’t see it enough anymore. The next day, they went to the carnival. The day after that, Kent dragged him to the park.
These last days were precious, but the pressure still weighed on them both. So the last day, before Jack had to go back to Montreal, Kent took him to the lake.
“I’ve been to Lake Ontario before,” Jack muttered. He was grumpier than ever, distant, and Kent didn’t know what to do. It had to be the distance from the pack. Or Kent not understanding pack stuff again.
“This is the American side,” Kent replied.
Normally, Kent would have taken that as a joke. His fingers tightened around the steering wheel. Jack glanced over at him anxiously. He didn’t like when Kent drove, but there was no reason to have both of their cars in Rochester. Jack would just have to suck it up.
He complained all the way to the edge, and as Kent unpacked the bag, he squinted and pulled his sunglasses down over his eyes. “Where’s your swimsuit?” he asked. Kent ignored all of the negative emotions that had been bubbling since they’d started their quasi-fight. Jack wasn’t going to goad him into a real fight. This was their last day together. It was going to be a good one. He focused on how cute Jack’s accent sounded on English.
“I don’t need one,” Kent said. He wondered, a little belatedly, if Jack was aware that he was a merman. He’d never felt the need to announce it. It wasn’t a secret, exactly, but he’d never had to tell anyone who mattered. And with his mom, the mermaid--it had to be obvious. She’d been part of the pack longer than Kent had. He dove into the water and let the old, polluted water rush through him. When his head surfaced, Jack was staring blankly. “You okay, man?”
Jack snapped out of it. Kent was glad. That blank look felt too familiar. “Yeah. Let me--” He pulled off his shirt and waded out to join Kent. “. . . So this is why you’re so good at singing.”
Kent bristled. “No. It’s not like that.”
“You’re a merman,” Jack said.
“Siren,” Kent corrected. “Well, my dad is.”
“Oh.” Jack had left his sunglasses on, and a kid swam by, splashing the lenses with little drops. “There’s a difference.”
Kent stretched out into the sun, his tail fin rising to splash the other side of Jack’s face. “All sirens are merpeople. Not all merpeople are sirens.”
Jack nodded. In the water, he kind of smelled like wet dog. Kent told him so. He tried to wrestle Kent down in the water, but in the water, Kent had the advantage. He pulled Jack under, and Jack’s sunglasses floated up to the surface. Under the murky green of the lake, Jack’s eyes were still a stark blue. He stared at the the scales of Kent’s tail, glimmering green and blue and gray all at once. Kent beamed under the attention and tugged Jack back to the surface so he could breathe.
“Your tail is really--” He stopped and swallowed, cheeks red. If Kent didn’t know better, he would have brushed it off as lack of oxygen. But Kent knew better.
He’d never wanted to kiss Jack so badly. He couldn’t. He’d never had to hide any part of himself in the lake before.
“My glasses,” Jack released, reaching up to his face. “Fuck, Kenny, where are my glasses?” He turned and started to paddle around to look for them.
“Calm down, Zimms,” Kent said. He swam up to his side and scanned the horizon. “They can’t have gotten far.”
He shot him a glare. “How long we were underwater? How fast do things float?” he asked. “Someone could have taken them! You should have waited for me to take them off.”
Jack blamed him. Of course. “I’ll help you find them,” he said.
Jack grumbled in that kind of adorable old man way of his, but Kent couldn’t properly appreciate it. It wasn’t his fault. Jack should have taken them off before getting in the water. Or gotten some proper sunglasses for swimming.
“. . . I’ll buy you a new pair,” Kent said after they scoured as much of the lake as they could reach without straying too far from the shore.
“They were expensive,” Jack said. You can’t afford them.
“I’ll buy them with my first NHL check. Number 2 has to get a decent salary, right?” Kent joked. He flashed his grin and waited for Jack to smile back. He didn’t.
They never found the sunglasses.
Maybe Jack Zimmermann is the first openly queer NHL player. (Not the first hockey player, of course. Kent lives for the women who keep marrying each other and reminding the world that they did it first. Hockey is truly the gayest sport, and he’s kind of pissed men’s’ hockey hasn’t done the same thing.) Maybe he’s got a boyfriend he’s really freaking in love with. Maybe he’s setting a real precedent. But hockey hasn’t changed that much.
Kent has considered coming out. The rumors resurfaced, but while there are too many people who take Jack as “proof” that there was something in the Q, there’s just as many people who argue the opposite. The homophobes who insist that Kent isn’t gay and that’s what the real fallout was. The fangirls who take this in the opposite direction and argue that Kent is a homophobe who abandoned Jack. The neutral crowd, who says that it’s not confirmation in either direction since Kent hasn’t said shit. It’s been over a year, and it doesn’t really matter anymore. There’s still hockey, and the focus has mostly returned.
Kent keeps living his life. Alexei still comes over for their twice a year hookups, so things are alright. They’ve been texting more, as he’s developed an affection for Kent’s cats, which. Fair. He demands pics all the time, and Kent can’t really deny him. When the off-season comes again, with neither making another cup run, he packs up Kit and Purrs and lands on Alexei’s doorstep.
It’s the morning after that Kent starts to think about it. He doesn’t stay at other people’s houses if he can help it. He likes being home, with his pool, and a lot of room to swim. He only plans to spend a couple weeks in Providence before heading up to Rochester to spend his birthday with his dad. (His stomach turns at the thought. The lake doesn’t feel so much like home anymore. His dad still doesn’t know, and it’s one more side of Kent he has to hold together.)
Kent could go the Providence River for a swim, if he really wanted to stretch his tail. But lying in bed, with a giant teddy bear of a man wrapped around, Kent really only wants to get wet. He squirms his way out, ignoring Alexei’s sleepy kisses and pleas to stay and cuddle. He isn’t really awake. Kent has learned that after all this time. Still, he stops and strokes Alexei’s dark hair, kisses his temple. Alexei smiles and mumbles something unintelligible, ending in, “litso ryby.”
It takes a little too long to walk away. Kent walks into Alexei’s bathroom already naked. He turns the water on cold and relishes the icy water running onto his hand. Alexei’s bathtub is big for a tub because the man himself is fucking huge. It’s just enough that Kent can stretch his tail out. His scales shimmer a cool teal in the dull morning light.
The tub fills slowly. It’s only reached the bottom of Kent’s when he finally decides to turn it off. Unfortunately, he doesn’t think Alexei would like it if he flooded his bathroom. It’s enough for now. Kent closes his eyes and slumps back into the water.
“Ah, litso ryby.” Alexei’s voice, deep with sleep, echoes in the bathroom. He’s stumbled in naked as well, and he squints at Kent’s tail before giving that same sleepy smile.
Kent tenses and waits for a reaction. “I thought I locked the door,” he says when Alexei doesn’t speak.
“Lock broken,” Alexei grunts. He steps closer. “Gotta piss.”
Kent rolls his eyes. “You have another bathroom.”
He still doesn’t leave. Kent crosses his arms and dunks his head underneath the water. It’s not out in the open, but he feels rejuvenated enough. He could get out now. He starts to push himself out when Alexei grabs his hand and swings his legs over the edge of the tub.
“I know you bought a big ass tub, but it is not big enough for both of us,” Kent says sharply.
Alexei laughs. “No, I just sit,” he assures, passing the side where he’s perched himself. His ass half-hangs off, and he can’t be comfortable. He doesn’t move except to brush the top of his calf against the bottom of Kent’s tail. “So pretty.”
“. . . Yeah?” Kent asks.
Alexei smiles. “Knew would be. Krysa so pretty already. Not fair.” He splashes Kent in the face, now a little more awake, enough to be goofy like he normally is.
“You knew?” Kent repeats. He’s a little stuck on that. No one knows he’s a merman, except for the people who know. No one actually cares to ask because he looks human. He doesn’t act anything except human whenever he’s not home.
Alexei frowns, the lines on his face a little deeper. Neither of them are old, but Kent’s starting to feel it, sometimes. When he thinks of everything he has to keep separate. When he thinks of this. “Yes. Tell you. I know you better than you think, Kent.” He scoots down the side of the tub to sit closer to Kent, still butt naked.
Kent looks away and stares at the ceiling. “You never said anything.”
“Why say? Is obvious. No one but litso ryby so protective of pool.” It’s an easy chirp, but Kent is reeling. Alexei knew.
Alexei knows. Knows him better than Kent ever intended.
“Litso ryby,” he says in lieu of continuing the discussion. “Is that Russian for merman?”
Alexei laughs, and it shakes the tub. “No. Is triton. Litso ryby mean fish face.”
“But it’s not my face that’s a fish,” Kent protests. He splashes a little in the water, the ripples casting light around his scales.
Alexei grins. “You sure?” He purses his lips and mocks Kent’s O-face.
Kent raises his tail, using his fan to splash Alexei in the chest. “Oh, fuck off.” He grows quiet. It’s strange to think that Alexei knows him so well, and he’s more than a little unsettled. He wants to leave now, but he has a feeling there’s nowhere left to go. He can’t divide his life up into any more pieces, especially when he has no place to put them all together again.
Alexei grabs his hand again. “Think so loudly, krysa,” he sighs. “What is problem?”
Kent lifts his head and stares Alexei in the eyes. He doesn’t know how to say what he wants to ask. Alexei seems to understand him anyway.
“Not stupid, Kent,” he says. “Know you for long time.”
“There’s a lot you don’t know about me.” Kent curls up as best he can inside the tub. With only a little water as cover, he feels far too bare, more than he ever has naked. He’s fine with Alexei seeing him naked. He’s not sure he’s fine with this.
“Know you don’t like sweet food. Like hot water for shower, cold for bath. Like pop music by pretty girl singer. Like to sing along, but your voice much softer,” Alexei lists.
“You’ve never heard me sing,” Kent counters.
Alexei gives a look that pricks at Kent’s skin. “Hear you sing all the time,” he replies. “You love to sing. When cook, or get dressed. You sing.”
Kent isn’t willing to give up yet. “These are just . . . things you pick up from sleeping with me. Because we’re home together a lot.”
“Yes, true. Is why I know so much about you,” Alexei agrees. “But is not just simple thing.” He pauses, glances at the window to consider his next thought. Kent stares at his dark eyes from below. “Know about you and Zimmboni.”
Kent tries to push himself up again. Getting out of the tub is never easy because he has to think of the switch from tail to legs. It’s harder right now. “Shut up. You don’t know shit.”
“Not stupid,” Alexei starts to argue.
Kent shoots him a look. His eyes are a soft, gray blue like tap water. “I never said you were. But this isn’t-- This isn’t your business.”
Kent’s on his feet now, but Alexei grabs his hand anyway. He doesn’t pull him forward into his lap, or even stop him from moving. He helps Kent climb out of the tub. “You are my business,” Alexei says.
“I don’t know what to talk about this.”
“Never want to talk,” Alexei sighs. He rises as well, and they stand at an impasse in the bathroom for a moment longer. Alexei is the first to break. His eyes are soft, more serious. “Don't need you to talk most time. But talk is good sometimes.”
“What’s there to talk about?” Kent asks. He’s due to spend two more weeks with Alexei, but he wants to run away now. There’s nowhere he can run to.
Alexei reaches and strokes his cheek with one big thumb. Alexei’s thumbs a little awkward looking, bending at almost a ninety-degree angle. Kent wants to pull his hand to his chest. “So much,” he says. He grabs Kent’s hands in between both of his and steps closer. It feels like they’re holding something together.
Kent could back off and try to rebuild his walls. Instead, he starts to talk.
Even though they went in the same draft, Kent didn’t meet Alexei Mashkov until that first off-season. Nikolai Sokorov, two years older than Kent but the same age as Mashkov, invited both to his beach house, along with a few other Aces and Russians. The Russians mostly complained about the heat, which Kent thought was dumb as fuck. It was a west coast beach in summer. What did they expect?
Kent had never taken a dip in the ocean until that summer. He didn’t swim when the other guys went out, instead lingering on the beach to get a tan. His shoulders grew more freckled each day, and on his left, he had a fresh tattoo of a single playing card. The Ace of Spades, matching the Aces jerseys. The captain had warned him it was a bad idea to immortalize his first time on his skin when he didn’t know if he’d be traded. Bitterness could make him regret it. Kent knew he wouldn’t. The tattoo was a sign that he’d made it, and this was his life. One Ace. One year.
It was a rough year, being thrown onto a team without the pack. Except Kent realized he wasn’t pack. He’d never really been pack. His mom was pack because she was married to Robert, and his sister was pack because she’d been born into it. No matter how much Kent tried, he’d never be pack.
He hadn’t spoken to Jack in months. They’d exchanged texts, but neither wanted to risk saying anything incriminating through text. Lying on the beach, Kent read through their texts. Most of his read, “I miss you.” Most of Jack’s were some variation on an update, like he’d feed to the media. Something had settled between them, and Kent knew they’d never find that same sort of intimacy again. Staring at the ocean each day, he considered what there was left for him on land.
He woke early one day with the knowledge that he needed to swim. The rest of the guys were asleep, so Kent slipped out. He dove into the water and let the ocean hold him. It was rougher than swimming in lakes and rivers, almost like a workout. The beach was cleaner than Lake Ontario, but it wasn’t home. It still did its job. When Kent washed up on the shore, he’d settled back into who he had to be.
Alexei Mashkov had taken a seat next to Kent’s towel. Scratch that, on Kent’s towel. Kent furrowed his brow as he walked up.
“Sand is hot,” Mashkov said slowly and deliberately. If Kent remembered correctly, he’d played in the KHL for a couple years before he’d come to America.
“Don’t you have your own towel?” Kent asked.
Mashkov laughed. “Team call me Tater,” he said and held out a hand. Kent wondered if he didn’t understand what he’d said or if he was just playing dumb.
“Parse,” he replied. He gave the hand a good shake. Tater hadn’t taken a swim that day, but he remembered seeing him before. Werewolf. Wet dog smell. Kent didn’t want to deal with anymore pack shit.
Tater smiled brightly at Kent. “You don’t swim,” he said with a nod towards the ocean.
Kent pushed his hair, still damp and dark, from his forehead. “I don’t like to swim with others. Besides, I’m here to tan,” he shrugged. His towel was big, so he plopped down beside Tater and tried to push him away. If anyone thought they were sitting too close, he’d argue that it was his towel. Refuge in audacity.
“Ah, I see,” Tater agreed. He nodded very seriously, as if he really understood what was going through Kent’s mind.
“No, you don’t,” he sighed. He leaned back and grabbed his sunglasses, just like the pair Jack had worn the last summer. In the sunshine, Kent wondered what he looked like to others.
Tater didn’t speak, but he placed a hand on Kent’s knee and waited for him to look. He gave a smile that Kent couldn’t understand.
“You gotta get off my towel, dude, or we’re going to cuddle,” Kent threatened.
Tater laughed and laid back as well. He turned onto his side and grinned a little too brightly. “I like cuddle. After,” he adds with a purposeful twitch of his mouth. That, at least, Kent thinks he understands.
Seventeen-year-old Kent Parson, waiting for the draft, would have called Rochester his home. If he had to name a second home, it would have been Quebec, Rimouski, Montreal, with Jack and his mom. Twenty-seven-year-old Kent Parson thinks Vegas is his home. The distance between Kent and Rochester (Lake Ontario, his dad) grows every year. There's one way to solve that, but there's also a chance that letting that divide fall would only fully sever the relationship. Quebec is no longer home either, with only a few people Kent bothers to care about. But Vegas has enough for him, and he's alright with it for now. He thinks he might be able to find a new home one day, maybe on a west coast beach, or if Alexei pleads enough, way back east.
The only people Kent has swum with include his parents and Jack, as well as anyone incidentally in the same place. Now, this list includes Alexei Mashkov.
Socks invited them back to his beach house, with some Aces and the Russians who complain about the heat. Alexei complains less this year, but he does complain about waking up so early to go with Kent into the ocean.
“I like freshwater better than saltwater,” Kent says. He keeps his head above the surface, watching Alexei tread water.
“Freshwater fish face,” Alexei agrees solemnly. Kent splashes him and dives under the water. Saltwater isn’t his favorite, but it’s clean and he enjoys swimming. He circles around Alexei’s legs a couple times before tugging at his waistband. Alexei kicks him in the stomach to make him resurface.
Kent clicks his tongue. “You’re no fun,” he sighs languidly.
“Come and kiss me, solnyshko,” Alexei calls. Kent hasn’t asked Socks about that name. That’s a line he isn’t willing to cross yet. He is willing to swim closer and let Alexei kiss him, even if Alexei smells like wet dog in the water. He’s pack, but Kent is starting to understand that pack is more complicated than he surmised from two years in the Q. Maybe he’ll never feel as attached as werewolves do, but he’s willing to learn for Alexei. Alexei wants him to be pack, after all.
“Summer is almost over,” Kent says a little later. The sun has fully risen, and the other guys will come out of the beach house soon. Kent isn’t sure if he’ll lay on the beach or if he’ll swim around them. He is sure that he wants to go back to Vegas and spend some more time with Alexei alone.
Alexei understands that. “You must text me,” he says seriously.
“I will,” Kent agrees softly.
They paddle around each other a little longer, not saying much, but Kent has never needed to say much in the water or around Alexei. Alexei watches him curiously, and Kent stays as close to the surface as he can. Alexei likes to see him, and the ocean water isn’t clear enough to give a real picture of what Kent looks like under the water.
“Your eyes,” Alexei says when Kent surfaces again, “so pretty. Like ocean, blue and green and foamy.”
“You can’t see my eyes in the water,” Kent scoffs.
“Can see now,” Alexei says. He looks at Kent like he really wants to see him, and Kent is starting to get that. He kind of wants to see Alexei. He reaches to grab his hand, and he pulls himself a little closer. If there’s one person Kent wants to know all of him, he’s pretty sure that’s Alexei. After all, he’s what makes staying on land worth it.