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“Hi, I’m Matt Lauer, and I’m lucky enough to have with me here two of the alternate captains of Team USA and Team Canada - Kent Parson and Jack Zimmermann. It’s good to have you two here.”

“Great to be here,” Kent said, smiling.

“Thanks for having us,” Jack said.

“Now, Kent - you, obviously, captain the Las Vegas Aces in Nevada. The climate adjustment has to be something of a shock to you. Do you consider that to be a disadvantage, compared to the colder weather teams?”

Kent shrugged easily. Somehow Jack knew even before he spoke what his next words would be. “Nah, not really. I mean, everyone plays indoors, right? It’s all the same ice.”

“I suppose that’s true,” Matt said, chuckling. “And Jack, you’re here from Providence. How are you finding Pyeongchang?”

“It’s great,” Jack said. “The, uh, food is phenomenal.”

“Makes me even more glad I’m in hockey rather than figure skating,” Kent said, grinning. “Life without carbs is not worth living.”

Jack, thinking of Bitty, smiled. “Definitely,” he agreed.

“Now, I don’t have much time with you, so if you’ll pardon me, I think we’ll have to get right to the good stuff,” Matt said.

“Right for the jugular,” Kent said, sprawling out a little in his seat. “Hey, they told me you’ve got Gus Kenworthy in next. You know if he’s got any of his dogs with him? He bait and switched me in Sochi and I’m not letting him off the hook this time.”

Jack frowned a little, sitting up straighter in his seat, feeling a bit bad for Matt. It wasn’t like Kent was the one who was going to be hit with the tough questions. He wasn’t Bob Zimmermann’s son.

But Matt was laughing, clearly taken by Kent’s charm. “I’ve still got you for a few minutes yet, Parson,” he said. “So, the storyline…”

“Oh, the storyline,” Kent said, grinning and loose. “About whether Jack and I feel any personal investment in the game.”

“You can’t make this stuff up,” Matt agreed. “Rimouski, the Memorial Cup, the draft -” His eyes flicked to Jack, “-the Cup Finals, the Ted Lindsay Award…”

“Competition is the name of the game,” Kent said. “If we felt personally, uh, invested in everyone in the league who we played with in juniors, or everyone who beat us - I mean, it’s just not worth thinking about.” He looked to Jack. “For me, at least, I don’t want to speak for you.”

“No, Kent’s right,” Jack agreed. “Having opponents as talented as Kent definitely motivates me to be better, but is it personal? No.” He smiled at Kent. “Although I’m still bitter about Game 4 last year, man.”

“And I owe you back for Game 5,” Kent countered, wrinkling his nose.

“So you’re saying that you don’t feel any extra motivation because of your history?” Matt said, clearly fishing for a juicier answer. “Everyone talks about how close you were…”

“Hyperbole,” Kent said breezily. “I mean, I can’t overstate how amazing it was to play alongside someone of Jack’s talent, and obviously we had line chemistry, but… Jack’s just another guy I once played hockey with and now he’s just another guy on Team Canada. Nothing personal about it.”

Matt looked to Jack. “Jack, do you agree?”

Jack looked at Kent. “Absolutely,” he said, nodding easily. “Every word.”

 

 

This is the story of the friendship between Jack Zimmermann and Kent Parson.

 

 

“Nice pass, Zimmermann,” Jack heard from behind him, and he turned and saw Parson, #90, looking up at him from the bench as he untied his skates.

“Thanks,” Jack said, and smiled a little to himself as he undressed.

 

Jack swiped into the hotel room and found Kent leaning so far over the balcony railing he looked in danger of tipping over. “Please tell me you’re not throwing water balloons at pedestrians,” Jack said, pained.

“What? No,” Kent said, making a face at him. “What kind of asshole do you think I am? Don’t answer that. Eddy left his shoes on his balcony so he wouldn’t stink up the room, I’m trying to land peanuts in them. How’s your aim?”

“Pretty good, I think,” Jack said, joining him on the balcony. Their bodies pressed together, Kent’s arm a hot line of contact against Jack’s side, as Kent pointed out their target.

“God damn, Zimmerface!” Kent whooped when Jack made his fifth shot in a row. “Get it, son!” He punched Jack’s arm companionably.

“Told you to stop calling me that,” Jack grumbled, but Kent didn’t pay him any attention, and Jack didn’t really want him to.

 

Kent fit in seamlessly at the Zimmermann Christmas dinner, seated between Jack and Bob like a physical buffer. He absorbed the questions and chatter about the Rimouski five-game win streak with enviable ease, and when the inevitable talk of the draft came up, he palmed Jack extra meds and distracted the table with banter and kept the conversation so light that even Jack didn’t have any trouble breathing through it.

It sucked that he couldn’t afford to fly home for the holidays, but Jack couldn’t help but be grateful to have him there.

 

“Boom!” Kent said, slapping Yoshi’s cup off the table and forcing him to chug the rest of his drink. “Champion!”

“Slap cup is a dumb game,” Yoshi said, beer spattered down his front from the speed of his chugging.

“So’s your face,” Kent said. “All hail the king!” He threw both hands up in the air.

“You are just… so incomprehensibly lame,” Jack said, when Kent wandered over. “It pains me.”

“My shining visage is rather blinding,” Kent said, stealing his drink. He sniffed it, made a face, and handed it back. “Only you, dude.”

“Says Mr. Drinks-Fireball-with-Lemonade,” Jack said.

“Hey, I can’t help being the product of society’s newfound fixation for unfortunate name hyphenation,” Kent said. “You’ve met my mom, Catherine Drinks-Fireball, and my dad, Douchebag von WithLemonade.”

Jack smiled. “You are such a dork.”

“You love it,” Kent said, hip-checking him.

Jack snorted.

 

“Told you to reapply,” Jack said, rubbing aloe over Kent’s back, tinged just a little red.

“Shut up,” Kent said. “It’s Montreal. People are not supposed to burn in Montreal.” He pouted, shifting under Jack’s hand.

“I think you might be mistaking us with Norway,” Jack said.

“Fuck off,” Kent said, but he was laughing. He grabbed for a handful of baby carrots. “Can’t believe we have to go back tomorrow. Are you sure we can’t just become hermits and live here forever?”

“In my parents’ lake house? Probably not,” Jack said. “I think they’d cut off my credit cards at a certain point, and you’re the wuss who refuses to eat fresh fish, so our food options would be limited.”

Kent chucked a carrot at him, giving an indistinct grumble when he dodged it. “There is something fucked up about eating a thing that was alive less than an hour ago. I support the circle of life in a more… abstract way.”

“Hakuna matata,” Jack said, stretching out on the floor next to the couch and closing his eyes.

He totally got what Kent was saying, though. He would happily have lived like that forever, suspended in an endless, golden summer.

As far as company went, Kent wasn’t bad.

“Dude,” Kent said after a long, comfortable silence. “We might have to go pick up The Lion King at the video place, unless your dad happens to have a copy along with every Bond flick.”

Jack heaved a sigh and rolled to his feet, offering Kent a hand up. He grabbed his keys off the hook on the way out. “You’re paying for our Slurpees this time,” he said.

“Sure sure,” Kent said, letting the screen door shut with a bang behind him as he followed Jack out, feet hurriedly shoved into flip flops, pulling on a t-shirt that stuck against his aloe-slick skin.

 

Kent was the one who found Jack in the bathroom.

 

In rehab, Jack’s mom told him that Kent had tried to call him. And Kent didn’t stop trying to call him, all the way from sunny Vegas.

Jack did not blame Kent for getting the first pick.

Jack would never forgive Kent for getting the first pick.

These facts were not mutually exclusive.

 

Jack saw Kent a few times over the years, each time more awkward than the last. Whatever easy friendship they once had dissolved with Jack’s stomach lining, and neither of them knew how to start over.

Jack was never quite sure if he missed Kent, or the boys they used to be.

 

As opening lines go, “Didja miss me?” was a bit unnecessarily dramatic, but it was cool for Parse to drop by a Samwell party just because he’d been in Boston for a Bs game. Too bad he had to duck out so early, Jack remembered that he’d been pretty good at beer pong and he would have loved a chance to show that off.

Another time.

Probably better that he didn’t hang around, anyway. Random panic attacks weren’t fun for anyone to witness.

 

His first game in Vegas, Jack waited around and lingered by the exit until he ran into Kent after.

“Hey,” he said, hands in his pockets. “Good game.”

“You too,” Kent said, a little wary. “How’ve you been?”

Jack shifted. He never knew how to act around Kent - the boy he should have been closer friends with, if life hadn’t gotten in the way. “Good. Just thought I’d say hi, I guess.”

“Cool,” Kent said. “You want to, uh, come over?”

“Yeah,” Jack said, surprised at how much he did.

For reasons utterly beyond his comprehension, he found himself confessing to Kent about Bitty, opening up in ways he hadn’t even opened up to his parents, to Shitty. Kent listened the whole time without interruption, and afterwards, clinked his beer against Jack’s and promised that he wouldn’t tell a soul. Jack believed him.

It was… nice.

It became a tradition, for them, to catch up with each other after games, chatting easily about their lives. The friendship that was, and might have been, if only -

If only.

 

Bitty hated Parse, although he tried to hide it in front of the guys. He had since the EpiKegster, for reasons Jack didn’t entirely understand. Jack knew he could ask, but he found himself waiting for Bitty to bring it up, and he was shamefully pleased when he didn’t.

Parse was a lot to take in at once, Jack knew. The swagger and the smirk, the shiny watch, the effortless cool that radiated off of him. The thing was, Jack knew how much of that was an act, practiced and polished over years of being better and smaller and poorer than everyone else on the ice.

He couldn’t explain it to Bitty, or Bitty didn’t want to listen, or - something, Jack didn’t know exactly what the problem was, or whether he himself was the root cause of it.

So when Bitty texted him Call me? while he was hanging out in Kent’s hotel room in Boston when the Aces were in town to play the Bruins, he hesitated before replying Can’t, not alone. Later?

It wasn’t a lie. It just felt like one.

 

At the airport in Pyeongchang, Bergy nudged Jack. “Looks like Team USA’s touching down also.”

Jack glanced up and caught sight of Kent. He waved, and Kent waved back.

“Nice guy,” Bergy commented.

“Yeah, he is,” Jack said, smiling, already looking forward to catching up with him later.

“You two close?” Bergy said.

Jack shrugged. “Not really,” he said, but… maybe someday, he hoped.

 

 

And this is the story from the other side.

 

 

Kent finished pulling off his skates and took a moment to look around at the locker room full of unruly boys, pondering who to ask for a ride to practice tomorrow. Eeny, meeny, miny, moe.

The guys were nice, largely, only they were all enough older than him that this year’s upcoming draft was a wedge between them, a divide that couldn’t be breached. There were a few of them who might have gone in the sixth round, but that might have been even worse for camaraderie.

No, there was only one person who got it. One person in Kent’s draft class with the talent, the pressure, the expectation.

The car.

“Hey, Zimmermann,” he said. “Any way I could catch a ride with you tomorrow?”

Jack looked up. “Sure, I guess,” he said, and Kent grinned.

“Solid,” Kent said.

 

When Eddy came to dinner grumbling about the peanut shells in his shoes, Jack’s whole body shook with suppressed laughter, face going bright red, eyes crinkling at the corners.

You are in so much trouble, KP, Kent told himself, trying not to stare.

 

Kent padded down the dark hallway in the middle of the night, mindful not to step too loudly. Jack’s door creaked as he pushed it open, making Kent wince.

By the time he reached Jack’s bed, Jack had pushed off his blankets and was grasping in the dark for him.

“Bro,” Kent said. “You’ve got something on the ceiling.”

“Shut up, Papa and I put them up when I was five,” Jack mumbled, dragging Kent into bed with him. “I didn’t like the dark.”

“Mostly I like how you’ve laid them out in a grid,” Kent said, grinning. “What kind of neurotic five year old -”

“Dude, you are not getting a Christmas blowjob if you keep this shit up,” Jack said, his pout audible in his voice.

Kent went silent immediately.

“That’s what I thought,” Jack said smugly, and turned Kent’s face towards him for a kiss.

 

“Dude, you are so easy,” Kent snickered, wiping his hand off on a scrap of toilet paper.

Jack was boneless and sated, still half-slumped over the counter, against which Kent had just brought him to shuddering completion. “You’re easy,” Jack mumbled.

“I am,” Kent said, grinding his hard cock lazily into Jack’s thigh. “Speaking of which…” In his defense, they kind of had to move things along in there. Not that anyone in the party would notice their absence, but someone was going to have to use the bathroom eventually.

“Ugh,” Jack said, and sank to the ground. “C’mere.” He drew Kent’s cock out from his pants, lapping at the head a few times with his tongue before sucking it into his mouth.

Kent always went quiet when he got close, which he knew worried Jack, like he wasn’t sure Kent was enjoying himself. Patently ridiculous, but that was Jack. So Kent grabbed for his hair to demonstrate his need through touch, his hips giving abortive little stutters forward like he couldn’t hold back.

Jack pulled off, smiling too much to suck cock effectively.

“Hey, don’t stop,” Kent said, voice a little whiny. “C’mon, bro, your mouth, my dick, beautiful friendship…” He waggled his eyebrows.

“Crisse, you’re a dork,” Jack said.

“You love it,” Kent said.

Jack shook his head, smiling. He took Kent’s cock back in his mouth and sucked it all the way down, sheathing it fully in his throat.

Kent spasmed, banging his leg on the counter. This was a new move that Jack had recently perfected, and Kent had no defense against it yet.

Jack pulled off again to smirk. “Boom,” he said. “Champion.”

Naturally, Kent came immediately, all over his face.

Jack didn’t stop laughing at him for hours.

 

Kent rested his head against the car window, watching the greenery flash by, gradually transitioning from the thick lush green of the lakeside to the browns and greys of Montreal’s city limits. Ten days and counting, and as much as he was looking forward to it…

“I know,” Jack said, and reached across the center console, twining their fingers together. “Me too.”

 

Kent was the one who found Jack in the bathroom.

 

Kent stared at his phone, still flashing the length of his recently finished call to Alicia Zimmermann (1:31, 1:31, 1:31…). He’d promised his therapist - not that he would stop calling, but that he would put a little more thought into what he was hoping to get out of it.

Next time. Next time he’d psychoanalyze himself more, put words to the gaping hole inside him. Once the ache became a little more bearable, he would examine it, poke and prod at its jagged edges. See if there was any hope of patching it up.

For now, he pulled on his sneakers and headed downstairs to the gym.

On the plus side, with all these extra workouts, his conditioning had never been so good.

 

Kent won the Calder.

Kent won the Cup.

Kent never stopped feeling that he lost something vital along the way.

 

On the way back to Boston, Kent called his sister.

“This better be good,” Maggie grumbled when she picked up the phone.

Kent told her about the fight.

“Christ,” Maggie said. “I should hang up on you right now.”

“I fucked up,” Kent said, shifting into fifth and revving the engine, making it roar. “You don’t need to tell me.”

“If you didn’t want me to tell you, you wouldn’t have called,” Maggie said. “This, my dude, is textbook self-flagellation.”

Kent would have banged his head on the steering wheel, but he was driving. “I just - where does he get off? How am I the bad guy here? I got fucked over almost as much as he did.”

More, said some petty part of his brain. Jack wasn’t the one sitting next to an empty chair in Montreal, the media scrum salivating over his undeserved, now guaranteed, status as first overall.

No, Jack was sitting in a hospital bed, flanked by his parents, listening to the media scrum salivate over Kent going first overall. Kent could clearly picture the way he would have been picking at his cuticles.

He swallowed.

“That what you went there to ask him?” Maggie said.

“No,” Kent said. “I mean, like - you think I’m gonna ask Jack to open up to me? He shuts down when I ask him about the fucking weather.” He scowled. “And that’s the problem, right? I never - why am I the villain here? All I want - all I’ve ever wanted…”

“Who says you’re the bad guy?” Maggie said. “You think Jack thinks you’re the bad guy?”

Kent faltered.

“You think Jack Zimmermann blames you for anything that went down?” Maggie snorted. “You know there’s only one person in the world Jack blames for anything, and it ain’t you, bro.”

Oh, Kent knew.

“Way I see it, you’re the only one who thinks you’re the bad guy here,” Maggie said. “So, like, you gotta be asking yourself that question, don’t you? Why do you blame yourself for what happened?”

Kent took in a deep breath. He let it out in a ten count.

“Thought you were majoring in chemistry, not psych,” he said, finally.

“I’m going back to bed,” Maggie said. “Think about it.”

Kent thought about it.

 

The first time Jack played the Aces, he came over after the game. Kent will never be sure who moved first, but suddenly they were kissing, as hungry and desperate as that night back in December, before Jack had pushed Kent away.

If Jack hadn’t spent the first half hour of his visit stumblingly confiding in Kent about his relationship with that little doe-eyed blond boy, Kent might have been dumb enough to be happy about this.

 

The Aces and the Falcs didn't play each other often. Kent saw Jack maybe every three, four months, including over the summer off-season.

One would think it would have been possible, if not easy, for him to stop thinking about Jack for one goddamn minute.

One would be wrong.

 

On the morning he was playing the Bruins, Kent opened his eyes and rolled over. Jack was sitting on the edge of the bed, staring at his hands.

If Jack hadn’t come to his hotel room the night before, Kent wouldn’t have said anything. If Jack hadn’t been wearing that expression, that exact expression, Kent wouldn’t have said anything. If Jack hadn’t…

“I’ve got something for you,” Kent said, and Jack gave a start.

Kent reached over to rifle through the contents of his bag. He tossed a pamphlet across the bed at Jack, though it fell short, landing halfway between them.

Jack picked it up and flipped through it. His face went strange - somehow both pale and red, blank and terrible, all at once.

Kent turned his face away, yawning and burying it in the pillow. “You wake up hella early, man,” he said. “So uncool.”

“How does it work?” Jack said.

Kent sat up with a sigh. “You take a pill, get knocked out, overnight they do some sort of -” He waved his hand vaguely. “And take out the bad memories. They’ve really fine-tuned it over the years, used to be they could only carve out huge chunks, but now… Surgical precision, I think they say.”

“So we’ll…” Jack said.

“Still be friends,” Kent said. “Just not more.” His stomach hurt, and he walked to the mini-fridge for some Gatorade. He was starting to hate Boston.

Jack stared at the pamphlet for so long Kent couldn’t avoid looking at him any longer, trying to read his expression, but Jack was totally blank by then, all the creases smoothed out.

“Do you want me to do this?” Jack finally said, somehow very quiet without being at all soft.

Kent didn’t hesitate. “I think you should,” he said, which was and wasn’t an answer.

Jack did hesitate. “Are you going to?”

“Yes,” Kent said.

“Okay,” Jack said. He turned the pamphlet over in his hands. “I’ll think about it.”

 

“I’m gonna do it,” Jack said over the phone.

“Good,” Kent said, not missing a beat even as his throat tightened. “When?”

Jack hesitated. “Next month, maybe?” he said.

“Huh, thought they would have an appointment sooner than that,” Kent said.

“There’s scheduling conflicts,” Jack said. “Minny on Monday, and then a California triple-header roadie. I was hoping for a few days break between…”

“It’s not gonna affect your play,” Kent said, picking up a glass of water and considering drinking some to ease the tightness of his throat. He tried first just to swallow, experimentally. Nope. “That’s what they say - you go to sleep that night, wake up the next morning fresh as a daisy.”

He didn’t think the pamphlet actually said ‘fresh as a daisy,’ but it might have.

“Yeah,” Jack said. “I guess.”

“What, you having second thoughts?” Kent said, both hoping and dreading for -

“No,” Jack said. “Just…”

Kent rolled his eyes. Jack ‘Non-Confrontational’ Zimmermann, back at it again with the white Vans. “Just… what? Just - oh.” He put it together, finally, with some help from the calendar tacked up on his corkboard. Minny on Monday and then a Cali triple-header.

That wasn’t the Falc’s schedule. It was the Aces.

“You want me to come?” Kent said. Jack didn’t say anything. “Jack, the whole point of this is that there’s no long drawn-out goodbyes. Boom, slate cleaned. Over and done with. No drama.”

“Is that a no?” Jack said.

Kent pressed his fingers into his eyes until his vision swam for reasons other than the salty tears welling up in them. “Are you seriously asking me to fly across the goddamn country to hold your hand while you cut me out of your life?”

“You asked me to do this,” Jack said, and his voice didn’t raise so much as carry. “This was your idea.”

I’m doing this for you! Kent did not say. I’m doing this for us, he did not say either. “I’m tired,” he did say. “I’m so goddamn tired, Zimms.”

Jack didn’t speak.

“I’ll come,” Kent said.

“Okay,” Jack said.

 

Jack was wearing a Rimouski t-shirt and Samwell sweatpants when he welcomed Kent into his apartment. Kent didn’t know how to interpret that, so he didn’t try.

“They said you have to be out by midnight,” Jack said, as a greeting.

“That’s what she said,” Kent said, nonsensically. “Nice pad.” He examined the pictures on Jack’s refrigerator.

Jack watched him, looking uncertain. “If I ask you something, will you tell me the truth?” he said.

Kent shrugged. “No reason not to,” he said. He opened Jack’s fridge and searched through it, pulling out a container of the Greek yogurt he liked. “Nothing we say tonight counts, right?”

That was the point. Nothing fucking counted.

“Why did you want to do this?” Jack said. “Is it really so bad for you?”

Kent almost laughed as he thought about this. Getting Jack for scant, stolen hours every few months when their paths crossed? Hating Jack for not having the willpower to stay away from Kent, and himself for not having the willpower to say no?

Jack’s addiction was self-sabotage. Kent’s addiction was Jack.

“Something has to break the cycle,” he said, eating his yogurt.

“You could have turned me down,” Jack said.

“This is me turning you down,” Kent said.

Jack winced. “Point taken,” he said after a minute. “And you really think it’s better this way?”

Kent didn’t have to think this time. “Yes,” he said. “I do.”

“Okay,” Jack said.

 

“I like your sheets,” Kent said, as he was getting fucked into them. “Your twink pick them out for you?”

“Kent,” Jack said disapprovingly, stopping.

“What?” Kent said, grateful for the chance to center himself. He was never getting this again. He needed to savor this moment. “You’re not gonna remember in the morning. I can say whatever I want and you don’t have to feel guilty for laughing.”

Jack sighed, but obligingly started moving again, cockhead just grinding into Kent’s prostate with unbearable accuracy. Jack never used to be able to do that, so maybe Bittle was good for something after all.

Jack chuckled.

“What?” Kent said, a bit worried he’d said that last bit out loud.

“Bit rich of you to be calling someone else a twink,” Jack said. “You, of all people.”

“Fuck off,” Kent said, and he would have smacked at Jack behind him if Jack hadn’t twisted his hips so perfectly right then, blanking his entire freaking brain. His jaw dropped, dumb and stuttering.

“What’s that phrase?” Jack said, still laughing. “Young, dumb, and full of -”

Kent clenched down purposefully, making Jack break off with a groan and a curse. “Fucking dirty mouth, Zimmermann,” Kent said breathlessly. “That’s new.”

“Doesn’t count,” Jack said, voice hitching gratifyingly. “Not gonna remember in the morning. Can’t chirp me for it.”

“God dammit,” Kent said, unable to hold back a broad smile. He loved Jack like this - light and easy in a way he so rarely was. “Damn Canuck.”

Jack leaned in, pressing his forehead into the curve of Kent’s spine, even while his hips worked mechanically, effortlessly, taking Kent to pieces. “God, fuck, Kent - Jesus, I love you.”

Kent’s whole body went fuzzy, out of touch. “Really?” he said, because - really?

“Yes,” Jack groaned. “Love you, I love you - Wish I could keep you, wish we could have this. I still have dreams about that summer, shit.” He gripped Kent’s hips, bruisingly hard. “I think about you all the time.”

Kent was panting by this point, fingers twisting in the sheets, strung out and lost just from Jack’s words. He whimpered. “Shit, Jack, you can’t tell me these things,” he said. Tears pricked at his eyes. “Want it too much.”

“I can tell you - anything,” Jack said. “Everything.” He went quiet, then, “God, I love your mouth.” He pulled out - Kent cried out aloud at the loss - and flipped Kent over, immediately sliding back in place between his legs, cock filling him like it had never left.

“Jesus,” Kent said, clutching at Jack’s shoulders, conscious not to leave any marks, though Jack didn’t seem to share his concern - sucking at his neck, bruising his hips, biting his shoulder, branding him, claiming him. “Jack, fuck -”

“Love you,” Jack said, and kissed him until he was dizzy, “love you.” He buried his face in Kent’s neck, fucking him rough and brutal and devastatingly deep. “Tell me -”

“I love you,” Kent gasped out immediately. “I - love - you -”

He came so hard he whited out from it, and returned to awareness to find Jack panting into his neck, loose and boneless against him.

“What are you thinking?” Kent asked eventually, toying with Jack’s sweat-damp hair.

Jack stirred. He rubbed his jaw, thinking. “Just… this feels familiar.” He paused. “Feels like an overdose,” he said.

“I hate you sometimes,” Kent said.

“Yeah,” Jack said.

 

Kent came out of the bathroom, freshly showered and fully dressed, and found Jack toying with the white pill, rolling it between his fingers.

“Are you scared?” Kent said.

“No,” Jack said. “Not about the process.”

Kent waited.

Jack’s lips twisted. “I guess I’ve gotten used to feeling guilty about you. S’weird to think I’m not going to, after this.”

Kent wasn’t sure if he meant feeling guilty about cheating on Bittle with Kent, or about the damage he’d done to Kent himself. Both, probably. “I mean, uh, don’t take this the wrong way, but I think you define yourself by your guilt. I bet you can’t imagine who you’d be without it.” Why else would he be fucking Kent in the first place?

Jack looked up at him, eyes wide. After a moment, he swallowed. “Not sure there’s a right way to take that,” he said.

Kent shrugged. He came and sat down on the bed next to Jack. “You’re losing time,” he said.

“Yeah,” Jack said, and took a deep breath before popping the pill into his mouth, swallowing it dry. He looked at Kent. “Can I…?” he said before tugging Kent into his lap without waiting for an answer.

“I have to leave soon,” Kent reminded Jack, and himself. “Out by midnight, remember?”

“Just a little longer,” Jack said. “Until I fall asleep?”

“Okay,” Kent said. He nuzzled Jack’s temple. “This is going to be so good for you, baby. Losing the guilt and the baggage and the regret… Your life is better without me in it.”

“I know,” Jack said. He tightened his arms around Kent. “I mean… You’re right, I know. Just weird to think of who I am without you. Zimmermann sans Parson.” He bit his lip, gaze shadowed. He traced aimless shapes on Kent’s back through his shirt, then cleared his throat and said,  “You’re my biggest regret, you know that?”

Once upon a time, that would have wrecked Kent. But some part of him was selfishly pleased. “More than the draft?”

Jack nodded.

“Shit,” Kent said. “That’s a gut-punch, man.”

Jack bit his lip. “Yeah, well…” He shook his head, clearly shifting tracks. He looked up at Kent. “What about you, are you scared?”

Kent took a deep breath. One last lie, he thought, but Jack beat him to it.

“You - you are doing it, aren’t you?” Jack said.

“Jack,” Kent said.

Jack’s expression was sheer agony. “Kenny -”

“Someone had to break the cycle,” Kent said, and he kissed Jack’s open mouth, bottling his words. “Just because I can’t break my addiction doesn’t mean I can’t help you break yours.”

“I thought this was what…” Jack said, and those beautiful blue eyes swam with tears. “I thought you wanted to forget.”

“Nah,” Kent said, and he managed to smile, somehow. “Forget you, Zimms? Never.”

Jack clung to him desperately, but Kent could already feel his grip going clumsy as the pill dragged him towards a deep sleep.

“See you on the ice,” Kent said, and kissed his boy, one last time.

 

He let himself out when Jack fell asleep, taking care to bury the empty yogurt cup in the garbage and return the washed spoon to the drawer. Like he was never there.

 

At the airport in Pyeongchang, Jules nudged him. “Zimmermann sighting. Gonna go say hi?”

Kent turned, catching sight of Jack, his red jacket, his easy smile. Jack happened to glance up and catch his eye; he lifted a hand in a lazy salute, and Kent waved back.  “Eh,” Kent said. “I’m sure I’ll see him around.”

“Huh,” Jules said thoughtfully. “Thought you two were close.”

“What, Jack and me?” Kent said. He quirked his lips, shrugging. “Nah.”