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lately you've been feeling so good, i forget my future

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Jack assesses himself in the bathroom mirror. His tie's a little crooked. Jack fiddles with it hopelessly, lining it up straight. If Kent was here he'd say something about how Jack's nitpicky, maybe fix it for him, even though he's never tied a straight Windsor knot in his life. Jack lets it go. It's probably fine. His mom picked it out for him a couple of years ago—icy blue like his eyes. It matches the dress his date will be wearing.

"Oh my god, this was meant to be," she'd said when Stoltzy set them up, like Jack was born with his mother's eyes specifically to one day ask her to prom and match the dress she'd had picked out since February.

She's nice, Jack reminds himself. According to Stoltzy, she's sort seeing this guy in college, but nothing's official so Jack can still get a little something if he bothers smiling at her once or twice. He'd said this to Jack with a jokey grin and it made Kent laugh meanly from across the changing room where he'd been listening to their conversation with purposeful detachment.

Jack opens the mirror door. Props out four pills from the bright orange prescription bottle. Blue like his eyes, and his tie, and Olivia's dress. He takes two. Shoves the other two in his pocket. Just in case.

Grace, his billet mom, asks if he wants to take a picture for Alicia as he's on his way out. Jack can imagine his mom looking at it with that little line between her brows she gets when she can tell Jack's not having the appropriate amount of fun for her comfort. She used to bring him to set as a "break from hockey", when he was younger, and undiagnosed, and every time, that little line would appear, reminding Jack that whatever he was supposed to be doing there, he was doing it wrong.

"We'll probably get some there," Jack says. Posing on his own would feel weird anyway.

Grace lets him go with an, "Okay. Be safe!"

He doesn't bother telling her it's only the prom, but he thinks it.

 

-

 

Faye—Stoltzy's girlfriend—smiles sweetly when she answers the door for him.

"Well hello, handsome."

"Hi," Jack says awkwardly as he steps inside.

"Olivia's still getting ready," She tells him, squeezing his bicep, like maybe that should mean something more to Jack than just Olivia is getting ready.

Jack still can't tell if Faye considers him her friend or if she just acts friendly because he's Stoltzy's teammate. He doesn't know if he'd call her his friend either, but he likes her when she's not trying to set him up with one of her girls so she and Stoltzy can double date. So—not really, in this particular moment.

"The other boys are pregaming in the basement," She says, pointing the way, though Jack's been here a million times for a million parties.

He smiles politely at her, and heads downstairs without asking which boys. Most of the guys should be there anyway. Jack's running late.

Jack passes through a cluster of D-Men, hanging out on the edge of the stairs, and breaks through to the middle of the room, where his friends are.

"Ey! El Capitan!" Stoltzy greets jovially when he notices him. He's on a stool with a half full bottle of Gatorade in one hand and a half empty bottle of vodka in the other. Across from him, on the couch, Davy, Slugger, and Kent turn to look at him. Kent turns back to Stoltzy almost immediately. Slugger and Davy nod at him in greeting.

"Hey," Jack says.

Slugger pulls an errant stool up between his end of the couch and Stoltzy and says, "Take a seat, Zimmermann. We will be here a while."

"Girls are taking fuckin' forever," Davy supplies, voice kind of whiny.

"Hey, come on. Gives us some male bonding time, eh?" Stoltzy grins at them. He's a good boyfriend, and generally a nice person. Jack finds him non-threatening as far as teammates go.

"That's what we're here for—male bonding," Kent says, sardonic. He has his elbow propped up on the arm of the couch, temple resting against his fist. Giving off the impression that he's bored out of his skull, just as he intends to, probably.

Jack holds his breath, until Stoltzy says, "Chill. You'll get your dick wet, eventually," which is uncharacteristically sharp for Stoltzy. He's annoyed at Kent, Jack realises, and then doesn't stop to analyse why, nodding instead to the drinks Stoltzy is still pouring meticulously.

"You think you'll get in with that?"

"Well, they probably won't blink at a little vodka when they realise Burny's holding," Davy notes drily, letting his voice carry so Burny knows they're talking about him. Burny glances over at them from the gang of D-men and grins. He sidles up to their conversation, next to Jack's shoulder, as Jack asks, "Holding what?"

Slugger, Davy, and Stoltzy laugh at him, like they think he doesn't know what holding means. Kent's eyes slide from the bottles Stoltzy has in his hands to Burny, unimpressed.

With a proud smirk, Burny says, "Whatever you need, Captain." He pats a hand against Jack's shoulder. Being the night's plug has given him a bit more respect than he'd usually get from them. He's clearly getting a kick out of it. Normally, the guys wouldn't entertain him this long without teasing him about something.

Kent says, accusatory, "You're not seriously gonna do that shit tonight?" He directs this at Burny with a little more impatience than normal, but only—Jack suspects—because he's not currently speaking to Jack. If he was, he would've just given Jack a look that told Jack exactly how lame he thinks Burny is and then Jack would've had to hide his smile somehow.

"Yeah?" Burny says, with a shrug. "It's prom. Who cares?"

Stoltzy clears his throat loudly—a shut the fuck up sound—and then nods to the stairs where the girls are finally filing in—a collection of bright colours. Glittery eyeshadow, shiny dresses, and the faint, sweet scent of perfume.

The other guys start standing up around him, so Jack stands too, and they all go through the motions of awkwardly greeting each other like they haven't all been in the same house in different rooms this entire time.

"You look nice," Jack tells Olivia. She smiles. The light reflects off the powdery sheen on her cheeks.

"Thanks. So do you." Jack doesn't think he looks any different than he regularly does when he wears a suit. No one's ever really said he looks nice in one except for his mom. And Kent once, in a kind of jokey, insincere way. Before Jack knew Kent was attracted to him.

Over Olivia's shoulder, he sees Kent hand his date—Emily—a corsage. Green like her dress. Kent, evidently, also knows how to match.

Jack glances back at Olivia. "Sorry. I didn't get you a corsage."

"That's okay. It was a last minute thing anyway," She says with a wave of her hand, and smiles at him, cool, like she genuinely means it. She's nice, Jack thinks for the second time that night. She's nice and she looks nice.

"Okay, picture time!" Faye announces to the group, clapping her hands together like a teacher guiding a field trip. Jack thinks of his mother again as he lines up between Olivia, and Slugger's date—squished in the middle of the group. Olivia throws him an amused smile, like typical Faye. She knows Faye better than Jack does, so Jack just smiles back to the best of his ability, and then directs it at the phone Faye has pointed at the group.

The shutter goes off a few times, and Jack feels a strain in his cheek from forcing a smile too long, to the point where it starts to feel disingenuous. When Faye finally stops, he moves his mouth around like the fake smile lines are still there. He feels like they are.

"Okay, someone switch out," Faye says, waving her hand at them, so she can step in.

"I got it," Kent says, striding out of the other end of the group and taking the phone.

"Thank you," She says, squeaking up the you, and slipping easily into Stoltzy's arms. Kent waits till she's set before holding the phone up. He doesn't look at the group, eyes stuck to the view on the screen. It's the first time Jack's gotten a good look at him. His suit is grey, like his eyes. His tie is black. He looks bland—for him, at least. Jack's so used to Kent pulling attention towards himself, because sometimes Kent can make himself feel like the literal sun. It's strange to know he's able to switch it off. Kent's face is slightly bored in that default way of his that means he has his guard up. But he looks good too, Jack thinks, and then before he can tell himself to stop, Kent says, "smile," and glances at him as the shutter goes off.

 

-

 

Kent and Emily end up next to Jack and Olivia in the limo, mostly because Kent pushes Emily in right after Jack with a hand to the small of her back. Jack has a moment of internal exasperation. Thinking sharply: don't do this now. He can't say something like that out loud. Kent will take it the wrong way and be even bitchier. Or worse, someone else might hear Jack say it. Kent's cold shoulder is nothing if not methodical, though, so he holds eye contact with Emily—as she makes her best attempts at cracking through his impenetrable walls—and very pointedly does not look at Jack.

"We were at the game actually," Emily says of the cup final. It's not entirely surprising because Emily and Olivia are Faye's friends—the only reason Kent and Jack managed to find dates on such quick notice—but it's surprising that she talks about it like she genuinely likes hockey.

"That one timer in third was amazing," She says to Jack because Kent's giving her nothing.

"Thanks," Jack says.

Kent says, "He had a good set up."

Jack digs his nails into the palm of his hands. He's not used to being the one losing his patience between them.

"True." Emily nods at Kent, diplomatic. She takes a sip of a plastic bottle of orange mixed drink she had in her purse. "You guys have been killing it all season though. My brother's, like, obsessed with you." This she directs to Jack again.

"Thanks," Jack says again.

"Yeah, he's keeping up with the whole thing. He wants to play, obviously." This comes with a fond eye roll. "I think he has, like, actual google alerts for your name."

Something drops in Jack's stomach at that. Without meaning to, he meets Kent's eyes. Kent blinks. Softens. It twists in Jack's stomach. He wants to say don't do that here, but Kent doing that still soothes something in him. His logic losing out to something else.

"Aw, that's so cute! You guys should take a picture. Make him jealous," Olivia says, bumping Jack's shoulder with her own, pushing him into Emily and Kent's space a little.

In a moment of grace that Jack knows Kent doesn’t think he deserves, Kent shifts from his casually indifferent posture and leans forward into Emily's space, snaking the bottle of alcohol from her hand, brushing his entire side against her. The sun, pulling everything into his orbit.

"So what's this concoction?" He asks, smiling at Emily. The picture of ease and charm. The Kent Parson she was probably expecting to spend her night with, before she was faced with the reality of Kent in bad humour.

Emily's taken aback by the switch up, and smiles back at him, disarmed. It gives Jack the room to breath, unscrutinised, just as Kent intended.

"Uh." Emily giggles nervously. "It's not mixed well at all."

Kent takes a sip of the drink, and screws his face up dramatically as he swallows. "Oof."

"Yeah," she says, giggling again.

Kent glances back at Jack. His lips have a glisten to them, now that they're a little wet from the drink. "Zimms?" He says, holding the bottle in Jack's direction.

It's annoying that he can go from pissed at Jack to mitigating Jack's anxiety so deftly that the girls don't even notice the way Jack's entire being shifts at the attention. They probably don't even realise it's attention. Kent can be sly when the moment calls for it.

Jack takes the bottle from him, fingers brushing Kent's quickly. It's a stupid thing to be so aware of. He takes a hefty gulp to dislodge the discomfort in his throat. It stings. Makes him cough a little. Jack hears Olivia chuckle next to him at the face he makes. He can barely taste whatever the mixer was supposed to be behind the burn of liquor. When he pulls the bottle away Kent's still looking at him—attentive, which is just a roundabout way of being concerned.

"This is disgusting," Jack says, and makes a face at Emily he hopes comes across as funny.

The girls laugh. Kent, still pressed to Emily's side, looks away from Jack, and down at his hands. He runs the pad of his thumb over the edge of the fingertips that just brushed Jack's, with absolutely nothing on his face.

 

-

 

All the girls leave for the bathroom as soon as they arrive.

"What was the point of waiting for them for so long?" Slugger asks, behind Jack, watching them walk away.

Kent mutters, "God forbid we show up without girls."

Jack's pretty sure he meant that comment just for him, but Stoltzy hears him and snaps, "Can you pull out whatever crawled up your ass and died there?"

Kent raises an eyebrow at Stoltzy. Jack's never seen Kent argue with anyone that wasn't him or someone facing them on the ice. He feels a quiet  sort of dread. He's not sure Stoltzy realises how deep Kent can cut when he wants to. He's not sure Kent knows how to reign it in when he feels cornered. Jack knows all his hurts. Stoltzy doesn't. Or he might, but he doesn't know for sure. It's important that Kent never let him know for sure.

But all Kent says is, "What?"

"She's cute!" Stoltzy gestures vaguely in the direction of the girl's toilets. "She likes hockey."

"I think she likes Jack," Kent says, for some fucking reason.

"Well, you two have that in common then."

Jack can feel his entire body tense up—fight or flight—but Kent laughs, sarcastic, like Stoltzy made a shitty pun, and that's all Kent thinks of it. Jack has no idea if that's an appropriate reaction to have if you want people to think you're not secretly sleeping with your best friend.

"We should get them some drinks," Jack blurts out to get them the hell away from Stoltzy.

"Fuck yeah. Let's get them drinks," Kent says, sharply, and walks off without looking back to see if Jack's following. Stoltzy rolls his eyes at Jack, like don't entertain him, but Jack trails after him anyway.

 

-

 

The prom committee apparently got a deal on a free shot for everyone when they booked the hotel venue. Jack pulls two from a half empty tray on the bar top and then Kent takes one from him, even though it's supposed to be for when Olivia comes back. The shots are green. Jack remembers he hates events and also most of his peers.

Kent shoots it back in one go. Jack watches the line of his neck as he swallows. He makes a face at the shot glass, like it didn't taste good. Looks at Jack. Remembers he's pissed at Jack. Puts the shot glass back on the bar and takes another one.

Jack hasn't see Kent drunk in a while. Or if he has, he was too shitfaced himself to remember it. Kent's a fun drunk, usually. He talks and talks with dorky enthusiasm. He gets tactile and warm. Uninhibited in a way Jack couldn't ever picture him being sober. Kent sober is barely a person. Just a reflection of the person everyone wants him to be. Except for Jack. Kent actively fights against what Jack wants him to be. Jack supposes that makes whatever version of Kent he gets some kind of true presentation of Kent's personality. It's made him unprepared, however, for this night, because Kent has suddenly decided he will not play the part. Now everyone can see him as he is. Jack's Kent. Someone with feelings to be hurt.

Kent downs the second shot and says at the glass, "Having fun?"

That's what Jack said when he told Kent he'd asked Stoltzy to set him up with somebody for prom. He'd texted this to Kent the morning after Stoltzy had already done it, and Kent had texted back, what the fuck, and Jack had naively replied, it might be fun, so he wouldn't have to engage with what Kent meant by what the fuck.

"Trying to," Jack says.

"You're not my keeper," Kent notes, mildly. "Go crazy." He sort of shrugs at Jack—as much as he can while also pretending Jack isn't there.

You're not my keeper either, Jack thinks, petulant.

Jack says, "I'm going to find Olivia."

"Find Olivia," Kent tells the floor and turns around to get another drink.

 

-

 

Jack entertains Olivia for a while. Makes an attempt at dancing, and an attempt at small talk at the table. Olivia's cool. She doesn't seem keen on pushing Jack into any sort of flirting or displays of romance. When Jack awkwardly peters out in conversation, she turns to whatever hockey player/girl combo is sitting near them and pulls them in before it can get uncomfortable. She's a good date—no pressure. Jack sees why Stoltzy thought they might get along.

Kent and Emily sit at another table. Emily seems giggly. Jack doesn't know if it's the lethal amount of alcohol she's probably drinking, or if it's Kent occasionally saying something to make her laugh. He even pulls out a smile now and then. Not a Kent Parson one. A smaller one—an honest one. She's getting one of the sweeter versions of Kent. Jack's desperately curious to know what they're talking about.

"You wanna go over?" Olivia asks.

Jack blinks. He hadn't realised he'd been staring. He looks around at the people sitting with them, but Winston and his date are back in their own conversation and it's just Olivia looking at him. Curious.

"Uh, I need to go to the bathroom," He says. He wants to leave, actually. He feels the unpleasant weight of shame settling in his chest.

"Cool. I'll be here," Olivia says, easy.

Jack resolutely does not glance at Kent and Emily as he leaves.

 

-

 

There's a circle of hockey players in the bathroom. Their heads all snap up when Jack walks in, and Jack can tell, though he can't see it, that there are illicit substances somewhere in the middle of that circle.

"Don't be so sloppy," Jack snaps, locking the door behind himself. Jesus, just because they won a cup doesn't mean they're untouchable. Burny—predictably among the crowd—gives him a shit-eating grin.

"You want in on this Zimmermann?"

Next to him, Slugger adds with a derisive snort, "Before Mama Parse shows up again."

Jack wants to shove him into a wall, but all he does is walk over and wedge himself in the circle between Burny and Gilly. Burny's holding a baggy of neon green pills. Howzer, across the circle from them, is holding a baggy of white powder. Jack remembers he has pills in his pocket. He wonders if they'd be impressed by that. If they'd assume he's reckless like them, instead of drawing the natural conclusion between Jack's neuroses and the fact that they're prescription.

"Has he been in here?" Jack asks.

"Yeah. Called us all degenerates. Like he's any better just cause he sticks to the hard stuff," Slugger says. Jack doesn't think liquor counts as the hard stuff when compared to class B drugs.

"And we thought you'd be the nag captain," Gilly says with a smirk.

Kent's not a captain, he's an alternate. And Gilly's kind of a load on the team. Jack says, "Maybe if you could keep up he wouldn't have to nag you."

No one responds to this except Burny who snorts. He takes the hierarchy of popularity more seriously than the rest of them, so he respects Kent a lot more than he respects Gilly.

"How's Olivia?" Howzer asks, extending every syllable of her name, suggestively.

"She's fine," Jack says.

Slugger shrugs at the rest of the circle, nodding in Jack's direction.

"Like talking to a brick wall." He says it like a continuation of a past discussion. Like they might have been talking about Jack before Jack showed up.

"He's always like that about girls," Howzer says with his own dismissive shrug.

Slugger was a trade in this year. He's a good enforcer. Jack doesn't know him very well apart from that. He has no idea what Slugger might think of him, or what Slugger might want to say about him when he's not around.

"Not a bragger?" Slugger asks Jack.

"No," Jack says, evenly.

"Assuming he's getting any," Burny snickers.

"More than you," Jack says. It's a very Kent response, he thinks. He doesn't know if they buy it from him. If Kent said it, Howzer would've jeered at Burny, but then, Jack usually doesn't care enough to throw out potshots like that. They might not be used to it.

He feels like he's having two conversations. Like they're teasing him about something else. They might be.

There was an article last week. Under the headline, there was a stupid picture of Kent in Jack's lap that he's pretty sure Davy took and posted to Facebook with a bunch of other pictures of the team. But that's the one the press found, and that's the one they singled out when they wrote up 500 words on the very real possibility that Kent and Jack are so good at hockey because they're secretly in gay love with each other.

Jack's read a lot of horrible bullshit about himself but that one sent a cold kind of fear in him he hasn't felt since he was unmedicated. He doesn't remember his immediate reaction to reading it. Only the tidal wave of terror and shame, and his heart trying to break through his ribcage with stress. Kent had texted him about it at some point, and Jack had ignored him completely for three days. And then he asked Stoltzy to set him up for prom, and told Kent about it, and then Kent ignored him for three days. And now they're here.

No one on the team has said anything to Jack about it, but that doesn't mean they're not saying things about it.

There was a quote. A source close to the Oceanic team, the article had said. 'There's totally something weird going on there, the way they act around each other. You can tell it's not just your regular team camaraderie thing.'

Jack had thought that oddly insightful for one of their teammates. He wonders if it's real or if it was made up. He wonders if someone in this circle said it.

"So, what's your poison, captain?" Burny asks, shaking the baggy of pills like an invitation as Howzer sniffs powder off a key.

Jack knows the difference between shit he can justify finding in a urine sample and shit he can't, because there are things more important to him in his future than having a good time. Once, when he'd woken up after a blackout, with Kent passed out in the bed next to him, he'd googled what happens when you mix alcohol with benzodiazepine, but the sentence, dependency on benzodiazepines is a real possibility when not taken in accordance with a doctor’s instructions, had made him click away before he actually got to the side effects. He figured it would take a lot for it to matter. It hadn't mattered yet. People blackout without benzos all the time—why should it be significant if he did it with them?

But he thinks of this quote now, and of the pills in his pocket that he came in here to think about and maybe take.

"I'm good," Jack says. "Lock the door."

And then he leaves.

 

-

 

Jack dances with Olivia a bit more. The team song gets played at some point, gathering all of them into a big, loud circle in the middle of the dancefloor—sending the girls disappearing into their own little gangs. But it's fun—jumping up and down, Stoltzy with an arm over his shoulder. It reminds Jack of the celly immediately after the timer ran out at the cup final. It's almost relaxing. This part Jack can do without second guessing himself.

Except, when the team disperses, and Jack and Stoltzy are lining up at the bar for another drink, Davy walks up to them and says, "Parson's in a mood."

"Still?" Stoltzy asks, annoyed.

"Well, his date is with Jeremy right now," Davy says, defensive of Kent, because Davy likes Kent a lot. People know this about Davy, and think Davy and Parse are pretty good friends. 

Stoltzy's patience for Kent's bullshit has long run out, so he just shrugs, careless to Parse's perceived hurt.

Jack asks, "Where is he?" in a way he hopes sounds appropriately detached. Casually concerned, like Davy is.

"Oh, I wouldn't," Davy warns.

Jack frowns. His brain says, acidly, the fuck does he know about anything. But Jack tamps down whatever impulse that was, and schools his face again.

"He's being rude to Emily." He says, by way of explanation.

"Fucking let him. Least Jeremy's not a dick," Stoltzy mutters next to him.

Davy looks at Jack considering. Looks at him for what feels like a second too long. But he ends up shrugging.

"Whatever, man. He's out for a smoke."

 

-

 

There's a couple making out against a wall next to the hotel entrance. A bit aways from them, Kent sits on the stoop of a flowerbed, in shadows, arms resting against his bent knees, watching the smoke float away from the end of his cigarette.

"Where's Emily?" Jack greets him.

"Dunno," Kent says, taking a languid drag of smoke. Staring out into the darkness of the hotel driveway, so he doesn't have to look at Jack.

"The guys said Jeremy's trying to hook up with her," Jack tells him, pointedly.

"Well," Kent mutters. And then, voice casual, "She tried to kiss me about ten minutes ago, so good luck to him."

Jack feels it like a punch to the throat. Like it winded him. "Oh."

Kent laughs, coldly. "Oh," he says, lowering his voice to imitate Jack's.

Jack looks at Kent—really looks at him. His tie's crooked but his ties are always crooked. He looks basically as put together as he did at the start of the night. He doesn't look like someone who just let a girl kiss him.

The weak glow of the cigarette, and the distant orange reflections of the lights at the hotel entrance, are the only light on them, so Kent's mostly shadows. A desaturated image of himself. The ambiguity of the darkness encourages the constant, reckless impulse within Jack to kiss Kent's unhappiness away. Some stupid part of him wants to indulge Kent's futile fantasies. It's terrifying, even thinking about it. Jack's petrified of Kent's wants.

He used to be able to make Kent smile with just his mere presence. It used to be enough for Kent, that Jack was there and Jack liked him and he got to have something like that at all. Jack doesn't know when he stopped being able to give Kent what he wants—when Kent became another person for Jack to be afraid of disappointing. Kent's barely looked at him tonight. Jack never considered that as something he should be wary of losing. He's never even entertained the idea that Kent might be lose-able.

He wishes Kent would look at him now, but Kent watches the lovestruck couple in the corner, smiling at each other between kisses. Lost in their own little world. Kent's face is guarded as he watches them, but that in itself says something about his feelings.

Jack wants to say you're being too obvious, but he's worried that's something Kent might be able to throw back in his face.

He says, instead, "The team thinks you're in a bad mood." It means the same thing, really. It's supposed to be a softer touch, but Kent's learned how to decipher Jack's thought process better than most, and he understands perfectly, snapping his head up to frown at Jack—indignant.

"I can be in a bad mood, Zimms. That doesn't make me a—"

Jack flinches before he says it, but Kent can't even make himself say it, so it hangs there. The ghost of a word they're both afraid of. The reason they're here tonight, Jack supposes.

Kent gives up on the argument. Shaking his head away from Jack to take another angry drag of his smoke. Jack looks at the couple, now getting harangued back inside by a chaperone.

Jack freezes, sensitive to how he and Kent might look out here alone together, next to their peers who are sharing secret moments of affection. Like there's something suspicious about them, though Jack's just standing here while Kent sits and smokes. Kent must notice something in Jack's demeanour. In one swift movement, he drops the cigarette, stamping it out as he stands, and gripping Jack's elbow to pull him towards the hotel entrance.

Kent nods at the teacher as they pass by, throwing him a bland smile, then drops Jack's arm once they're in the door. He starts to walk away, going ahead without Jack, easy as nothing.

"Hey," Jack says, without really meaning to. His voice comes out weak.

"I'll cheer up, Zimms," Kent throws over his shoulder. "Relax."

 

-

 

Jack's pretty fucking done with this whole ordeal by the time the night's coming to a close, but this isn't the kind of event Jack can just flee with a polite explanation about feeling tired, so he ends up getting shoved in a limo back to Faye's for the afterparty, with several guys and dates, none of which are Olivia or Kent.

The crowd streams mostly straight through to Faye's basement, but Jack parks himself at the kitchen island and starts half-heartedly mixing himself a drink from crap everybody left behind earlier. Some people are scattered about in the hallway, voices mingling together into one social blur in the background of Jack's impatience.

The other half of their party shows up not too long after. Jack hears them before he sees them—the raucous noise of drunk high schoolers. Olivia comes in, arms linked with one of her friends, stumbling unsteadily towards the basement stairs. Too engrossed in conversation to notice Jack. Kent walks in after, trailed by Davy, indulging in whatever Davy's saying with an amused smirk. He's playing the part then. Kent Parson: Hockey prodigy. Arrogant teenage boy. Untouchable.

"Hey," Jack says.

Kent makes like he's gonna ignore him, but Davy doesn't. "Zimmermann! Guess what?"

"You sound like a virgin when you keep bragging about it," Kent tells Davy before Jack can guess what.

"Fuck off," Davy shoves him on the shoulder, good natured, his earlier trepidation with Kent's mood all but forgotten. "Guess who got head in the science block?"

Jack looks between them. Assesses, after a split second of unease, that the answer is not Kent. "How many guesses do I get?" Jack asks Davy, flatly. As he says this, Kent loops around to his side of the island, and steals the drink sitting in front of him.

Davy, unsatisfied with Jack's unamused reaction to his sexual exploits, shrugs at them both.

"Whatever. It was hot," and then he latches on to the nearest teammate passing by. "Hey, guess what?"

Kent's eyes follow him as he heads downstairs.

"Kenny," Jack starts.

Kent turns to him, expression locked away beneath the unbothered Kent Parson veneer. But his eyes are hard.

Before Jack can think of the right thing to say, another gang of people starts crowding in through the hallway door. Pushing Kent closer into Jack's space. Kent plants his hand on the kitchen island to steady himself, inches from Jack's. Jack notices this as someone says, "Picture!"

It's the group in front of them. Jack and Kent are probably hidden in the view, if they're in it at all, but Kent's still standing too close, and Jack moves away from him. Kent scoffs, rolling his eyes at Jack. He takes gulp of Jack's stolen drink—something to do that's deliberate enough for Jack to know he's still mad at him.

"Do you wanna leave?" Jack tries, though his voice comes out quiet against the boisterous conversations of everyone around them.

"Nah, I wanna hear more about Davy's blowjob," he says, sarcastic, but then he walks off in Davy's direction anyway. He takes the drink with him.

The kitchen's too crowded. Everyone congregating here to recap the chaos of their night at prom. Most of the team must be downstairs now.

Jack's surrounded by stragglers. Friends of friends he doesn't really know. He doesn't bother to pour himself another cup. Heads instead for the bathroom.

His reflection looks tired, even under the warm light of the bathroom mirror. It's not that late, but Jack's exhausted. It takes energy, attempting to be normal. Pretending to be just another reckless kid. Jack doesn't know why he thought this would be a good idea. It seemed like good damage control. Not that the damage control was all that necessary, but one rumour already felt like one too many. No one said anything about it, so Jack can't tell just who exactly he needs to convince. Just that convincing is needed.

It had excited Jack a little to see the picture linked and labelled on a website. Zimmermann and Parson at a house party, the caption underneath read. It's almost affirming to have photographic evidence. Something he can point to and prove, at least to himself, someone cares despite everything wrong with me. The picture made Kent's affection feel undeniable, in a way. Jack hadn't realised that was something he'd been longing for. Jack doesn't even remember what they were laughing about when the picture was taken—probably halfway to wasted—but it lit something inside him to see Kent smile at him like that. It always does.

He hasn't seen Kent's smile since he saw that picture.

Jack grips the sink. Blinks back at his own tired face. Thinks distantly, fuck this.

 

-

 

Jack inserts himself into conversation next to Kent. Brushing into his arm as much as he can without it being conspicuous. He feels Kent tense a little at the touch, but he doesn't move away. Jack gets a wild sense of relief from that. He looks at Kent's eyes, glued to Davy. Kent's nodding along to whatever Davy's saying, seemingly ignorant to Jack's existence. Jack leans into him.

Kent blinks slowly at Davy. The guys start laughing at something Davy says. Kent presses his foot to Jack's. Jack takes a breath. Thinks, no look one-timer.

He walks away. Wanders through Faye's house until he finds an empty bedroom—too indistinct to belong to anyone. A guest room, probably.

He sits on the edge of the bed and stares at his hands.

Kent slips in like a shadow. So silent Jack might not have noticed if he hadn't been waiting for it. He leans back against the wall next to the doorway, hands in his pocket. Carefully casual. He doesn't close the door beside him, and the hallway light frames him, like a big, square spotlight against the shadowed wall.

Kent finally, finally, gives Jack his full attention. Staring him down, expectant.

"You've proved your point," Jack tells him quietly, because Kent already came up here, so it's on Jack to give a little now.

"I'm not making a point," Kent says, equally quiet. "Just following your lead."

Jack frowns. This isn’t his fucking fault. It made sense to leave some distance between them. He was being pragmatic. He didn't think Kent was going to take it so personally.

"You want me to go out there and tell them?" Jack shoots at him.

Something in Kent unravels. He swallows, casting his eyes down to the carpeted floor in defeat. Jack doesn't feel like he's winning anything.

"Yeah?" Kent says, so soft it could be a whisper. Jack doesn't think he's ever seen Kent look this unsure about anything. "What's there to tell?"

Jack has no answers to offer him. They're not—they're hardly going to put a name to it now.

Or maybe it's not that. Maybe Kent thinks with the article, and Jack's silence, that this is it. This is the end of their indefinite thing. Jack feels sick. Christ, it's lonely enough when it's just the two of them. Jack doesn't know if he can keep being if he's by himself.

It wasn't about Kent. It never is. It's the rest of the world Jack's afraid of, but he'd never give Kent up for them. Jack knew the choice he was making when he first kissed Kent.

Jack stands, and Kent's eyes flit up to meet his, like a scared animal deciding if it would benefit him more to play dead or run. Jack walks to him, slow. He's unused to being the one doing the comforting here. He doesn't want Kent to spook.

He pushes the door closed, watches as the golden light shrinks across Kent's face, to a sliver, to nothing. Jack locks the door. And then they're facing each other, alone in the dark.

Kent holds his gaze. Jack presses a hand to his side. Watches the incremental rise of Kent's chest as he takes a breath—and Jack realises he's been holding it since Jack stood up.

He doesn't touch Jack back, holding himself stiff, like it's taking an effort just to stay together at all. Jack's never really prepared for the effect he can have on Kent, because he finds it hard to believe it until it's happening right in front of him. It's an odd sort of power. Delicate in his hands.

Jack steps closer, letting his hand slide down with his movement, groping Kent over his trousers. Kent's eyes flutter closed, and he rests his head back against the wall, neck stretching out in front of Jack—an invitation. Jack kisses him right under his jaw. He can feel Kent sigh from it. And Kent finally touches him, gripping tightly at Jack's shoulder, like he needs the purchase to keep himself from drowning.

It unlocks some feeling in Jack. Suddenly, he's desperate for Kent's touch. Desperate to make him feel good. He trails wet kisses down his neck, reveling in every jerk of Kent's muscles under his touch. He fumbles gracelessly with Kent's belt. Kent's fingers press into his bicep in response. Jack savours the pressure of it, for a moment, and then he sinks to his knees.

He feels Kent's eyes on him, tracking his movement, as he takes him in his mouth. Kent sighs out like it's a relief.

Jack's good at this—good at knowing what makes Kent react the best. What mollifies Kent's body into something easy. All his. He licks a stripe up Kent's cock, and hears the stutter in Kent's breath.

Kent's fingers slip into Jack's hair, tugging gently. Jack lets out a quiet, helpless grunt. He closes his eyes for a second because this touch is the first thing all night that's made him feel like he exists. He feels Kent's hand slide down to cup his jaw, thumb sliding against Jack's stretched out lips. Jack opens his eyes to see Kent gaze at him, wide-eyed and longing.

Jack gets to work. Takes him in until he feels it straining in the back of his throat. Hollows out his cheeks as he pulls back again. Kent's grip tightens, pulling faintly at the hair on the nape of Jack's neck. Jack keeps his eyes on Kent's face. He wants to see every tiny reaction. He wants to mark every detail of Kent's face until Kent's too unraveled to look back anymore. He's been craving Kent's attention all night. It's been a shitty week without him. Kent's breaths trip out of him, erratically. Jack missed him so much.

Kent tugs at Jack's hair again when he gets close, whispering Jack's name into the dark. Jack pulls off, and jerks him through it, until Kent tenses. He curls into himself a little. A quiet, breathless grunt escaping him, hand still gripping Jack's hair.

He stays like that for a second, waiting for his breath to slow down. Then he sighs back against the wall, blinking at the empty bedroom in front of him. Jack stays where he is. He puts Kent away, engrossed in the way Kent shivers at his touch. He leaves a light kiss on the patch of skin above Kent's waistband, before tucking Kent's shirt back in. Hears a tiny gasp from above him.

He looks up to meet Kent's eyes again. Kent stares down at him—something sensitive and unreadable on his face. Now that Jack's eyes have adjusted to the light, he can make out faint highlights reflecting on Kent's skin from the errant light peaking in the through the blinds. Kent looks intangible. Nothing but a hazy shadow. Jack thinks of how he'd take Kent's picture right now if he could. Underexposed so all that came out would be the perfect lines of Kent's face, silhouetted in darkness.

"Come here," Kent says, softly.

Jack's barely on his feet before Kent's lips are on his. Kent's hand caressing his jaw, pulling him in even though there isn't any closer for Jack to go. Kent directs him slowly back towards the bed, pulling at Jack's belt as he does it. Jack lets himself be pliable. He likes when Kent takes care of him. It makes him feel like there's some value to him, to earn that kind of devotion. It's the first thing he liked about Kent.

Kent pushes Jack down on the bed, easy, as the back of Jack's legs hit the edge of the mattress. He pulls Jack's pants down to his knees clumsily, kissing Jack's thigh lightly as he goes. Jack's a little overwhelmed by the tenderness of it. He wants to taste Kent's mouth, to distract himself from the deliberate way Kent touches him.

"Kenny," Jack whispers, frantic.

Kent understands, always, always. Kent leans over him, slipping his tongue into Jack's mouth, placidly. Almost gentle. Jack focuses on the taste of it—the bitter tang of liquor and nicotine—as he feels the warmth of Kent's hand sliding up the inside of his thigh. He figures what Kent might be aiming for. Hums to slow him down for a second.

They've fucked before a few times. But Jack doesn't want to do that here, in some strange bed, in his teammate's girlfriend's house.

"Fingers," Kent mumbles into his skin, his hand pausing at Jack's cock, giving it a light, quick stroke for good measure.

"Okay," Jack sighs, and pulls Kent's mouth to his again.

Kent's fingers circle his hole, setting off all of Jack's nerves. Kent can't get very far with it. They weren't exactly prepared for this. They don't have any lube, and neither of them are about to stop and check if there's any in this random room, but it feels good either way. Jack's just turned on to have Kent touching him.

Jack takes himself in his own hand, lets the feeling of it mix with Kent's fingers, moving in feather-light patterns against his ass. Kent's other hand slides back behind Jack's neck, his thumb, drifting towards Jack's pulse.

It starts to get too much for Jack to concentrate on making out along with everything else. He pulls away, helpless, trying to catch his breath. Kent goes for his jaw again, but Jack wants him close. Jack wants his undivided attention.

"Stay here," Jack breathes. Doesn't even consider how desperate his voice might sound. Kent comes back though, leaning his forehead against Jack's, pushing at Jack's hole a little.

They breathe together, in the silence of the room. The bare sounds they make melt away between the muffled pulse of a bass line coming from somewhere else in the house.

There's something Jack could say here, in this space. The things outside of them don't count when they're like this. But Jack can't make his voice do more than moan unsteadily, and Kent doesn't say anything, using his mouth to periodically kiss Jack. On the corner of his mouth. On the chin. On the cheek. On the forehead. Jack can't think straight at all.

He can feel the pressure building up. He lets himself go, moving his hand to grip Kent's elbow, pushing Kent's arm further, leaning into Kent's fingers. Kent gets the message, presses in until Jack's breath stutters. Until Jack's spilling out over himself. Some of it landing on his shirt, and on the edge of Kent's sleeve.

He looks at Kent, trying to catch his breath. There's so much warmth in Kent's eyes. For the first time since he saw that stupid article, Jack sees Kent smile. Nothing like the one in the picture. This one's small, and lovely, and private. Something only Jack will ever get to see. Sometimes, Kent looks at Jack like he thinks he's the luckiest guy in the world. But if any one of them is lucky, it's Jack. It's absurd that Kent hasn't figured that out yet. Jack leans up to kiss him, so he can feel the curve of Kent's smiling lips on his.

They make out for a while, slow and aimless. Jack's worn out, and Kent's fully clothed, still. They're not about to take anything further in Faye's guest room. But it's nice, just to have the wet, heat of Kent's mouth on him for a moment. The comforting warmth of something Jack knows better than himself. A relief after spending an entire night pretending not to want it like he does.

Jack gets lost, lets his mind slow down with it.

The sound of the doorknob snapping down roughly cuts through like a gunshot. Jack feels it fire straight through his nerves.

Above him, Kent half turns to stare at the door, shoulders rigid like when he's about to get checked. Outside the door, Jack can hear muffled laughter. It sounds like a guy. The handle moves again, still not budging, and then the sound drifts down the hallway to some other room. But Kent doesn't move—frozen in place—watching the door like he's waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Jack's struck suddenly by how small Kent is. Kent never feels small—his personality so big, Jack can hide himself in its shadow if he needs to. But Kent's smaller than him, and he's smaller than almost everyone else on the team. Kent doesn't take hits, that often. He just skates fast enough that no one can touch him.

"Kenny," Jack says.

It reaches Kent slowly. Jack can see Kent's shoulders slack gradually. A decision he has to consciously make, like how Jack has to tell himself to unclench his jaw, sometimes.

Kent twists back to lean over Jack, but he doesn't meet Jack's eyes again. He presses his hand to Jack's skewed tie, gliding his fingers down the length of it. He seems almost embarrassed. Shy, like he's trying to push it away without Jack noticing.

"Let's go," Jack says, because he doesn't think he can stand to go through another second of Kent not looking at him again. "Fuck 'em."

Kent snorts a little, but it doesn't get anywhere near his eyes. He kisses Jack, less sensual than before. Just a faint press of lips. Jack feels Kent's hands at his knees, pulling his pants back up. Kent pulls away to focus his attention on buttoning him up again, carefully. As if Jack is something precious.

He looks back up at Jack when he's done, with a lost expression, like he's not sure what he's supposed to do now. Jack didn't know, before tonight, that Kent looking unsure is perhaps one of his biggest fears.

Jack pushes back at Kent's cowlick, for something to do—an excuse to touch him. Kent closes his eyes, leaning into the touch. His face eases, slightly, but he doesn't settle, mouth curving down a little. And then:

"I'll go first," he says, louder than anything else they've said since entering this room. Some part of him shutters away as he says it, and Jack's hand drops.

Jack doesn't know what to do with that. He can't form any words, and Kent doesn't wait for him to. He opens his eyes, and kisses Jack, so fleeting Jack could almost pretend he didn't. And then Kent gets up and leaves Jack lying on the bed in the darkness, legs still dangling off the edge of the mattress. Kent disappears into the yellow light of the hallway, closing the door behind him.

Jack stares up at the ceiling, and breathes. Jack goes for the pills in his pocket.