It’s still weird, walking into the Falcs’ home arena as a spectator instead of a player.
The walk up to the box is familiar by now, after almost a whole season, but Kent doesn’t think he’ll ever get fully used to it. Then again, stepping into the visitors’ locker room to cheers and butt slaps from his former team and knowing he wouldn’t be leading them onto the ice later had been equally strange, albeit in a different way.
Kent’s knee is twinging insistently once he reaches the box—a deep, dull ache that tells him he’s been overdoing it again and definitely should have used the elevator—and he takes a moment to stretch and rub it before joining Alexei’s family.
Nastya spots him first, waving from where she’s standing by the buffet table, so Kent crosses the room to go say hi to her first. She pulls him into a hug, then immediately thrusts a plate filled to the brim at him with a chiding, “Still too thin, Kent.”
Kent takes the plate, holding back a smile. “Your sons are just huge.”
It’s true that he’s lost a significant amount of weight since retiring, but he’s convinced Nastya would still try to feed him up even if he was 200 pounds again. He’s also sure that pretty much everyone looks small to a family of giants who’re all over 6 feet tall.
“Yes,” Nastya agrees, sounding pleased, then adds slyly, “is because they eat food when I tell them to.”
“Okay, okay, I get it,” Kent laughs, and demonstratively shovels a forkful of rice salad into his mouth.
Nastya nods approvingly, and gives Kent a nudge towards where the other Mashkovs are sitting before turning back to the buffet. Sitting down for a few minutes sounds perfect, and Alexei’s dad quickly moves to let Kent plop down in his seat when he sees Kent limping over.
“Okay?” Sergei asks, but doesn’t seem convinced when Kent says he’s fine. He says something worried-sounding in Russian, patting Kent on the shoulder, and then gets up to talk to Nastya.
“You in trouble,” Max singsongs from next to Kent, followed by a breathless, “Ooomph,” when Ilya elbows him in the side.
“They’re going to pamper the shit out of him,” Ilya insists, trying to pull Max into a headlock, because no matter how old, brothers will always be brothers, Kent has learned. “You’re the one who’ll be in trouble if they find out you’ve been teasing their favourite son.”
They start tussling, arms flying everywhere, and Kent just tries his best to not get accidentally slapped in the face, feeling all soft and warm at the casual reminder that he’s being considered part of the family.
It had taken some getting used to, at first, the closeness and the hugging and the declarations of love, all of which Kent as a former foster kid hadn’t been used to. It’s been close to five years now, though, and Kent isn’t sure how he’d deal without his monthly Skype calls with Nastya and Sergei, the calls from Ilya that mostly consist of him bitching about his courses and the L.A. weather, or Max’s frequent texts which, more often than not, are confusing Russian memes that Kent doesn’t understand.
“Kent!” Max whines, red-faced, more under Ilya than not. “Help!”
Raising an eyebrow, Kent pops a piece of chicken into his mouth. Max gasps his betrayal while Illya starts cackling madly, and then they’re off again, swearing violently at each other. Kent’s Russian still leaves a lot to be desired, but he’s played in the NHL long enough to understand the dirty stuff.
Luckily, before anyone gets a black eye, the lights dim for the anthem and the first period.
The Falcs dominate the game from the start, and it’s much harder than it would’ve been less than a year ago to not cheer too loudly when Jack scores late in the second. The Aces manage to even things out in the third, but then Alexei scores with only a little over two minutes left in the game, and the entire box erupts into shouts and whistles.
It’s the last game of the season for both teams, though, and they’ve both clinched their spots in the playoffs already, so Kent feels a little less bad about his former teammates going out on a bad note.
The players are still on the ice when someone from the Falcs staff turns up, asking Kent and the Mashkovs to please follow him down to the ice. Nastya’s face doesn’t give anything away, but Sergei, Max and Ilya all look incredibly excited, so they definitely know what’s going on. None of them spill, though.
There’s a carpet laid out, leading to center ice, and both Falcs and Aces players are lined up alongside it, beaming wildly. Kent hesitates, heart suddenly up in his throat, but then Sergei is suddenly there, linking their arms and tugging gently. Music starts playing as they take the first step out onto the ice, making Kent whirl around because—yes, there, instead of the regular intermission band, a string quartet is playing something nice and slow.
Sergei murmurs something quiet that Kent doesn’t catch, but it makes him look forward again, his breath catching at the sight of Alexei. He’s still all sweaty and gross from the game, face a blotchy red and chest heaving, but the smile on his face is full of love and promise.
“Kent,” Alexei breathes once they reach him, nodding at his father before taking both of Kent’s hands in his. “Have something I’m want to ask.”
Someone in the audience ooooooohs, a few others whistle, and Kent’s heart nearly stops.
“Need to borrow your necklace for one minute,” Alexei continues, making Kent frown and reach for the pendant.
They’d been screwing around all summer after meeting at the NHL awards, and very carefully not talking about what exactly they were expecting out of it. Kent had assumed Alexei would go back to Providence eventually, consider what they’d had a fun summer fling, and he’d refused to acknowledge the little ball of regret in his chest that thought caused.
But then, after coming home from the gym one day, he’d been greeted by Kit as usual, only she’d been wearing a necklace with a pendant instead of her collar. Alexei had stood not far behind her, smiling nervously, and asked Kent if he wanted to go out on a proper date.
The smile Alexei’s wearing now looks almost the same, and his hands tremble ever so slightly as he reaches around Kent’s neck to undo the clasp of the necklace. Once he’s got it, he takes a deep breath, licks his lips, and drops down to one knee.
Kent’s hands fly up to cover his mouth before Alexei even starts talking, and he has to blink rapidly against the tears he can already feel in the corners of his eyes.
“When we first meet on ice, I think you’re annoying little shit,” Alexei begins, making Kent bark out a wet, hiccuping laugh. “Still think you are, but now I also know you’re kind, sweet. Caring. Kent, solnyshka,” Alexei’s voice wobbles, and Kent doesn’t even try to hold back his tears anymore, “you are love of my life, best thing that ever happen to me. I’m know right from beginning, but also know it too soon to ask. So, I’m ask now.”
With deft fingers, Alexei pressed down somewhere on the pendant, which opens up to reveal a ring.
“Kent Parson, will you make me happiest man on whole Earth and marry me?”
“What would you have done if I hadn’t worn the necklace today?” is what Kent blurts out, which makes the audience groan and chuckle.
Alexei seems unperturbed, though. “You always wear,” he points out, but then admits, “Also, Ilya has backup ring.”
“You’re ridiculous,” Kent says, sniffling and wiping at his eyes. “You asked me out with an engagement ring. That is the cheesiest fucking thing ever, Alexei, you know that, right?”
“You love,” Alexei says, grinning confidently.
“I do,” Kent agrees. Then, looking into Alexei’s eyes and holding out his hand, he repeats, “Yes. Yes, I do.”
There are cheers and shouts, but all Kent can focus on is Alexei’s blinding smile as he slides the ring onto Kent’s finger. Alexei’s arms go around him, their lips meet, they’re both crying, and then friends and teammates crush into them, yelling congratulations, and it’s—
(Four months later, they elope on Alexei’s cup day, with the keeper as their witness.)