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If anyone needs someone to pretend to be their boyfriend for Thanksgiving, I’m willing and able. I don’t require payment in cash, but I do need to have access to a kitchen with the following amenities (...) as I will cook you a wonderful holiday dinner. I am also an excellent baker and can make the pumpkin pie or any other baked goods that may be needed/wanted. Please call (....)

 

Kent blinks at the screen of his Macbook pro, Kit cuddling up under his arm.

 

This is a stupid idea. This is a monumentally, extremely stupid idea. (But he’s an expert at those so really what did he expect from himself?) Kent still can’t believe he’s doing this as he composes a totally normal, non-serial killer type reply to this totally normal, not weird at all posting in the personals on craigslist.

 

It’s not like he’ll be with his family for Thanksgiving. He’s got a game the following Saturday, and, honestly as much as he’d love to see his mom and sister again, he still hasn’t accepted Vincent back into the family. His mother and his biological father had reconnected and made up some years ago, but Kent can never forget the way she cried when he had left. If there’s one thing Kent knows how to do besides hockey, it’s hold a grudge.

 

So promising his family that he’ll at least try to make a token appearance for Christmas, Kent stays behind in Las Vegas with no one but Kit for company, which leaves him perusing through craigslist because he didn’t feel like going through his already watched Netflix queue. He had reached peak boredom when he saw the innocuous posting.

 

Thinking what the hell does he have to lose, Kent answers the post.

 

-

 

It’s been an hour, but Kent already paced a hole in living room floor, gone through five circuits of full-body workouts, and made a tuna pasta dish that he ended up giving to Kit because honestly he cannot stomach even the thought of food at this moment. He’s being stupid. This is stupid. He thinks it’s a joke, something some bored kid decided to do for shits and giggles. Then a quirky bell noise pings from his open computer and he all but leaps to look at it.

 

Thanks for your reply, K.P.! I’d be delighted to be your guest for the evening. If you can get the following ingredients, I can whip up a Thanksgiving feast like you’ve never had !”

 

What follows is an ingredients list for a familiar Thanksgiving dinner and some not so familiar things (Whole vanilla beans? Confectioner’s sugar? What in the hell…) Kent responds that he can get all of those things no problem, and also where and when should they meet?

 

Richard (Is this for real? Will he be meeting some middle-aged, ax-wielding murderer or what?) names an intersection that’s busy and public enough, conveniently in the middle of a cluster of stores. Kent makes a mental note that some of those would probably have the more elusive ingredients.

 

He messages back, “Can’t wait! :)”

 

And he receives “:D” in return. Okay, so maybe this Richard isn’t so bad after all. This seems like it’ll be a lot of fun.

 

-

 

He tells himself this as he buys every single thing on grocery list and then some (because he didn’t realize that there were different kinds of flour so the only logical maneuver here was to buy all of them).

 

He tells himself this as he spends way too long in front of the mirror trying on different outfits like he’s going on a date. Which he’s not. It’s only dinner. With a stranger. Acting as his boyfriend.

 

He tells himself this as he exchanges number with Richard.

 

He tells himself this as he composes twenty-seven text messages apologizing but cancelling their dinner.

 

He tells himself this as he deletes all of them. (Mama Parson didn’t raise no quitter.)

 

-

 

“Hi! ^o^ I’ll be the blond guy wearing a light blue sweater! :)”

 

Great, awesome, can’t wait. Kent runs through possible responses before settling on the extremely lame “See you soon! :)” He has never met anyone who used smileys as much as him. A guy who uses this many emojis can’t possibly be a murderer, right?

 

He keeps that thought running through his head as he goes about on a last-minute shopping trip. ‘The last trip!’ he tells himself. ‘Last!’ Probably.

 

-

 

Kent is about three-fourths of the way down the list when he realized he has absolutely no supplies. He has maybe a medium sized sauce pan and a couple plates with accompanying cutlery, but he doesn’t even have serving dishes or baking supplies.

 

Thankfully all the stores are within a block from each other so he parks somewhere and scurries around, thanking Craigslist guy for picking a meet up spot that’s nearby. Within a blurry, fast-paced 2 hours, he’s running down to the corner where they’d meet, balancing six different bags of various kitchen appliances. His heart beats faster. Okay, deep breaths, Parson. This is it. He turns the corner.

 

Whomever he expected to see, this guy isn’t him.

 

“Kent Parson?” gasps the familiar blonde boy, wearing a light blue sweater and form-fitting (very form-fitting, whispers a leering voice in Kent’s head) khakis.

 

“You!” Fuck.

 

“You’re K.P.?” He all but screeches. He looks to the side, muttering to himself, “How did I never connect that…”

 

“And you’re Richard? I thought your name was Eric! Are you tricking me?” Kent wants to go for indignance but he’s mostly wrapped up and confusion and a little hurt. Last he checked, this guy hated his guts. Kent can’t help but pout. He was really looking forward to a Thanksgiving meal with some company.

 

“You’re the one who answered my post! And I described myself in the email!”

 

“But you didn’t put in your name! (“It’s my middle name!”) Besides, what the fuck are you doing posting something like that? Shouldn’t you be down in Georgia or wherever with Jack and your family?”

 

That brings Bitty up short. With the chill of winter in his voice, he says, “No. And that’s none of your business, Kent Parson.”

 

Kent steps back, holding his items up like a shield. “All right, all right! Don’t bite my head off.”

 

They stand like that, three feet apart and looking to all the world like very uncomfortable men unable to leave a conversation. Kent kicks at a pebble, awkwardly keeping his balance and chewing the inside of his cheek. He never had anything personal against Bitty. Sure, he felt jealous as all fuck when he and Jack got together, but apparently that didn’t last long. Kent’s willing to bet it has something to do with Jack because he can’t imagine this cute but ferocious guy in front of him willingly letting go of him.

 

“You’re holding a lot of things there, Parson.”

 

“Uh yeah. Didn’t have anything at home ‘cept a pan and a pot… which holds maybe one serving of ramen.”  

 

“Lord preserve me,” Bitty tilts his head up and takes a deep breath like he’s willing the gods to either smite him or give him strength. “Did you get all the ingredients I sent you?”

 

He perks up like a dog, eager to listen and eager to please. Bitty looks like he’s trying not to be endeared. “Yeah! Yeah, I did! Does that mean…?”

 

Bitty takes hold of one of the bags and hefts it against his hip. “Where’d you park? This Thanksgiving dinner ain’t gonna cook itself, ya know?”

 

-

 

The awkwardness between them melts as soon as Bitty starts chirping in the car (“What in the world would you need a Himalayan salt block for?” “Leave me alone, it sounded cool!”) but doesn’t vanish away completely until Bitty gets a good look at Kent’s kitchen.

 

He gasps and Kent ponders with some amusement that he should get the smelling salts lest he faints dead away, but Bitty composes himself enough to make himself right at home. He spreads out and organizes all of Kent’s newly purchased pots, pans, and other accoutrements.

 

“Goodness,” he says, walking a small lap around the area and tying on an apron Kent didn’t know he owned. “I haven’t been in a kitchen this nice for so long. It feels like a reunion. Speaking of which-” he lobs another apron at Kent’s face. Kent puts it on without complaint because it’s kind of hot to be treated like this. (Not that he’d ever confess to it out loud, but Kent likes being honest with himself every once in awhile.)

 

“-how many people are coming to this thing?”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

Bitty levels him a very indulgent and condescending look. Kent finds it stupidly hot. “Thanksgiving dinner. People. How many will be here?”

 

“Two? Three if you count Kit, I guess.”

 

“Two in addition to the both of us or…?

 

“Two as in you and me.” Bitty opens his mouth to retort. Closes it. Opens it again and then thinks better of it. “What?” Kent’s shoulders square up like preparing for a fight and he clenches his jaw defensively. Disdain he can take. Loathing? Hatred? No problem. But pity is the one that he refuses to tolerate.

 

To his surprise, Bitty’s expression softens, a little melancholy. “Guess we were both gonna have a lonely Thanksgiving, huh?” He turns back to his stuffing, and Kent gapes at his back with an old, familiar warmth in his chest. Fuck.

 

-

 

Kent likes to think he’s a passable cook, living by yourself did that to a person, but watching Bitty whip through his kitchen like he’d been there his whole life is nothing short of amazing. He gets roped into helping because “dammit Parson, your lack of skills makes me sad” and even though the craigslist ad said that Bitty would be the one doing the cooking, Kent lets himself be bossed around because there’s something to be said at the warm feeling in his chest (that he will never admit to) whenever Bitty orders him to do something.

 

Boil the water. Scrub the potatoes. Mix the seasonings.

 

Bitty may be a master chef to his own ‘can preheat an oven and put in a frozen lasagna’ level of cooking repertoire, but he’s nothing but kind as he supervises Kent’s duties. It’s grounding and meditative to do the repetitive motions and seeing the outcome of his work at the end.

 

He peels potatoes and apples with a single-minded resolve. He almost nicks his thumb a couple times, but Bitty tuts at him and shows the proper form of peeling. Kent wonders how he survived without this before.

 

They move as a synchronized team. Kent manning the burners and Bitty flitting between ingredients and the oven. It’s like a symphony, Bitty the composer and Kent filling whatever part Bitty asks of him. It’s so nice like this. A private, very private and hidden, part of Kent whispers that he should keep the other man forever but he brushes the thought away as a silly, greedy whim.

 

He turns his attentions to slicing the green beans.

 

-

 

It’s about five hours in, all the sides are cooked, the desserts prepared, and the turkey with an hour or so to go in the oven.

 

The apartment is filled with warmth and the smells of home-cooked food. Kent can’t remember the last time his place had ever felt like this.

 

He blinks blearily. He really hadn’t done anything too physically demanding, but Kent finds himself a dozing on his feet anyway.

 

Bitty ushers him to the living room couch where he flops over. The last thing he remembers is Kit perching on his back before he succumbs to a nap.

 

-

 

Kent wakes himself up two seconds before the oven timer dings. His body’s inability to nap for more than an hour is something he really hates but can be useful sometimes. He makes his way to his dining room and almost doesn’t recognize it.

 

Bittle yells from the kitchen. “Sorry, I went snooping around to see if you had a tablecloth and some candles. But at least it looks good?”

 

Kent stands at the head of the table with wide eyes and a gaping mouth. “Holy fuck this is amazing.”

 

Bitty shuffles into the room holding the roasting pan full of turkey, the breeze of thyme and rosemary wafting into Kent’s nose. His mouth waters.

 

Bittle places the dish down in the only empty spot on the table, fitting it in like a missing puzzle piece. “Well, uh, dig in, I guess?”

 

There’s something off about his voice and Kent looks over to see Bitty nervously stand next to him, hands fidgeting and clasping together in a familiar way. He reaches out to hold his hand without really thinking about it. He knows the feeling. He wants to help.

 

“Did you, uh, want to say prayers?”

 

“Oh Lord, I hadn’t even been to church in so long and I’m not a very good-” Kent recognizes the guilt. He encounters it often enough in himself to see it in other people.

 

“You can still pray, Bittle. You don’t need to go to church all the time to be able to pray.”

 

“Well, I-You’re right. Of course.”

 

He holds his tongue ready with a quip of ‘I’m always right’ and instead tightens his grip on Bitty’s and raises his other hand up to the ceiling. A smile quirks on the side of Bitty’s mouth. Soft and private, something Kent isn’t sure is meant for him to see.

 

Bitty clears his throat and starts, “Our Lord Father in heaven, thank you for this meal…”

 

Kent lets the words wash over him. They’re different from what his family used to recite but the message and cadence is the same. His stomach aches, wishing uselessly that his mom and sister were here.

 

With prayers finished, Kent hustles to the kitchen just as Bitty starts to carve the turkey. “Where you going? I brought the plates and utensils out already.”

 

Kent can be magnanimous enough to spare Eric some leftovers. After all he did pretty much all of the cooking, and so what if Kent bought all the ingredients? It’s just good manners as a host. He scrambles through his cabinets for a stack of tupperware he knew he bought earlier then fills an appropriate amount of everything.

 

“We haven’t even started yet and you’re already putting away leftovers?”

 

Kent stops, looks Bitty right in the eyes, and says gravely, “You do know I can finish, like, all of these right? Thanksgiving leftovers? Not gonna happen. So I thought I’d get ahead of myself and get you some before my fat ass inhales them all.”

 

Bitty opens his mouth to protest but what comes out is “Ha ha!”, a surprised laugh that sounds more shout than chuckle. He turns back to the turkey and says nothing more on the matter. Kent counts that as a win.

 

-

 

They eat with Christmas music playing softly from Kent’s bluetooth speaker. Bitty insisted and Kent didn’t care, though the happy glow Bitty got in his eyes spark another feeling in his chest. Kit deposits herself on Bitty’s lap for a cuddle, not even pawing at him for scraps, which Kent thinks is sincerely unfair.

 

For all their differences, they have a lot in common. Their love for Beyonce for example, but also deeper things too. Like the importance of found family. Bittle’s phone had been blowing up since the moment they sat down. Occasionally, Bitty would peek at what’s happening and laugh or he would roll his eyes and spend the next minute furiously typing into his phone. He shares every message with Kent, and by the near end of the meal, Kent thinks he can identify every member of the Samwell Men’s Hockey Team.

 

It makes him share his stories of the Aces, his own team, his own found family.

 

“Okay never tell Swoops this but, if God forbid anything happened to him, I’d take in his kids in a heartbeat.”

 

“Are you telling me that Jeff Swafford made you his kids’ godfather?”

 

“Uh no, he’s too smart for that. What I’m saying is that I never saw myself with kids but if like, no one in his family could take care of them, I totally would.”

 

Bitty rolls his eyes and gives Kit a little head scratch before going back to his plate. “Kent Parson, that is the stupidest but sweetest thing I have ever heard.”

 

“Thanks. I think.” The half compliment, half insult fills him with a familiar giddiness and Kent stuffs his mouth with more mashed potato to keep from mentioning it.

 

-

 

“I’m so full, I think I’m gonna die,” Kent groans out as they pile all their dirty dishes in the sink.

 

Bitty swats at him weakly. “No, you can’t. You have to take care of Kit.” He yawns widely.

 

“Go on, go take a nap.”

 

“Mmkay.” Bitty sleepily shuffles towards the couch.

 

Kent takes him by the arm and steers him to the master bedroom, Bitty giving his token protests. “Come on, the bed’s comfier.”

 

“Aren’t you gonna nap?”

 

“I napped earlier.”

 

“You ate a lot. Take another.”

 

“Then I’ll take the couch.”

 

“No, no come on.”

 

“You’re a guest, Bitty.”

 

“Let’s both share it. You have a big enough bed, don’cha?”

 

Kent nods and they’re both sleepy enough that they both settle in Kent’s California king without further discussion. Neither of them seemed to remember the existence of a guest room down the hall. Kit sits on top of the covers between them, and all three nod off into a post-dinner nap.

 

-

 

Kent wakes first, spooning Bitty who’s still sleeping. The red glare of the digital clock on his nightstand tells him it’s almost midnight. He tries to subtly move his arm and relieve the crick in his neck, but Bitty’s quickened breathing tells him he’s awoken.

 

“Sorry,” he muttered.

 

A warm, sleep-rough voice. “Hon, you’re fine.”

 

Bitty scoots backwards closer into him and, seeing it as permission, Kent holds him tighter. He lets out a sigh of contentment. His breath evens like he’s about to fall asleep again, meaning Kent has to ruin it by asking a question that had been burning in his heart for the entire day.

 

“Why the hell are you here and not at home with your own family?”

 

Eric sucks in a breath so sharp, Kent knows it hurts. The body in his arms goes stiff and silent for so long that Kent starts to regret ever asking at all.

 

“I’m sor-”

 

“I came out.”

 

Kent swallows the rest of his words, waiting with bated breath for him to continue. “I came out and they told me not to come home.” He swallows and Kent could hear the lump in his throat. “I didn’t know what to do. It was my last year. I couldn’t… This is the first Thanksgiving I’ve had without them. What will Christmas be like? Where will I go after this? I don’t know. I don’t know. I can’t see my future anymore.”

 

He sounds so broken and defeated. Kent grabs him close and curls his body around Bitty’s smaller one. If he could protect Bitty from the world’s hurts like this, he would do it without hesitation. He murmurs comforts into the back of his neck, one arm wrapped around him and another rubbing at Bitty’s back.

 

They’re quiet with the exception of Bitty’s little sniffles, his hushed whimpering that cracks at Kent’s own defenses. Finally, Bitty whispers, “I thought I’d have him.”

 

He says it so quietly that Kent almost thinks that he imagined him speak. “What?” he whispers back, equally as hushed as to not break the fragility of this moment.

 

“I thought he’d be here when this happened.” There’s no mistaking who he means by ‘he’. “That anything bad could happen when I come out and it’ll be okay cause he’d be there,” Eric’s voice catches and breaks with each spoken word. And with every gasped breath he takes, Kent feels like his soul is crumbling, “But he’s not and I’m alone. The bad things happened and I’m alone. He said he’d be there but he’s not and I don’t blame him but I’m so-”

 

Kent either turns him forcefully or Bitty does of his own accord, but Kent pushes his face into his chest, clutches him so close that he’s sure that he’s crushing Bitty’s bones. “No, you’re not. You’re wrong. I’m here. I’m here now. The bad things happened and Zimms isn’t here, but I’m so, so very glad that I am. I’m glad you made that craigslist post. I’m glad I answered it. I’m here now, if you want me to be.”

 

Bitty takes this as permission to break down in his arms, and Kent whispers love into his hair, rubbing warm hands up and down Bitty’s body, a reminder that with when all's said and done, Bitty is here and alive.

 

Everything that Bitty’s sobbing about- he gets it. It’s not easy being the strong one of a group, of being the upbeat, high-energy sunshine of a circle of friends. It’s even worse when you’re alone in a foreign city with nothing but sheer grit to keep you moving. He doesn’t know Bitty all that well. What little he knows was from jealous, hate-following on social media after the epikegster and then the serendipitous Thanksgiving dinner of today.

 

Kent gets flashbacks of his first year here after the Overdose and he shakes them away. It’s done, in the past, just like Bitty’s. They can only move forward from here.

 

Moments pass and Bitty seems to have calmed down. They shift so they sit up against his headboard, pillows propped behind them. Kent leaves for a quick moment to whip them up some hot chocolate. They sit. They absorb the intensity of their moment and the resulting silence is one of comfort instead of tension.

 

“Oh Lord, I can’t believe I broke down in front of you like that. This is not like me.”

 

“It’s okay, you know. I’m not one of your Samwell friends or anything. You don’t have to be strong with me.” He tries to exude as much earnestness in his expression, and he thinks he’s succeeded when Bitty smiles bashfully down at his lap.

 

“Why’d you end up here of all places?”

 

“A craigslist ad?”

 

“No, you asshole. Vegas.” Bitty is quiet for a moment but not like his sad silences from before. An embarrassed flush graces his cheeks. “Oh no, no you don’t! Now you have to tell me. What’s that face for!”

 

A determined glint flashes in Bitty’s eyes and he juts his chin out with defiance. “I will only say this once, Kent Parson, and you better not tell.”

 

Kent mimes zipping his mouth shut and crossing his heart.

 

“I came here because you were here.”

 

“What?”

 

“After Jack and I…. well. I just couldn’t be in that area anymore. I’d see him everywhere. In the shops we used to go. In the colors of the trees when they turned. Snow. So where else in America would it be the complete opposite of where I was and be the least likely that Jack would visit me?”

 

“So… you came to Vegas… because I was here?”

 

A charming red makes its way on Bitty’s cheeks. “Are you deaf? I said that wasn’t the only reason.”

 

He brushes the attempted insult aside as Kent’s shit-eating grin can’t be contained. He tackles Bitty down on the mattress and holds him close, shaking him in his arms while Bitty squawks with indignation. “Don’t lie! Oh my god, Bits you are petty as fuck. I can’t believe this!”

 

“Now don’t go looking so damn pleased with yourself.”

 

“Nope, can’t. You can’t take it back now.”

 

He ends up on top of him, lengthwise on the bed. His arms prop him up by either side of Bitty’s head. He does a simple push up he can get his face as close as possible to Bitty’s. But he won’t. Kent’s done pushing his will onto other people.

 

But to his great surprise, Bitty lifts a hand to cup Kent’s face, his eyes soft and brown like the chocolate they were sipping.

 

“I’m glad,” Bitty whispers.

 

“About what?”

 

“That it was you.”

 

“Me too, Bits.”

 

Bitty bridges the distance between them. Soft lips against his. Kent lowers himself slowly, aligning their bodies the way their lips align. They kiss slow as molasses, Bitty’s arms coming up and wrap around his neck and Kent pushing his hips into his.

 

A handful of breaths later, they part, the huffs and puffs of their breaths mingling between them.

 

“We spilled the hot chocolate.”

 

“Those mugs were empty and you know it. We’ll deal with it tomorrow.” Kent pauses. “If you’re staying?”

 

Bitty nods shyly and Kent lights up like a Christmas tree.