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Jack overdoses on a Friday morning, and the world doesn't end but it's a damn close thing.

 


 

 Kent’s childhood home consists of a two bedroom apartment in a shitty building in Syracuse. He shared a room with his sister. They had bunk beds, and their mom worked long hours. Kent has never been great at anything other than hockey, but he learned how to make a box of mac and cheese by the time he was seven.

 

Needs must.

 


 

When he signs his contract, he cries. The GM of the Aces looks a bit thrown off, but he’s had a crazy few weeks too. He probably wasn’t expecting Kent to be here, either. They give him a few minutes to compose himself, and an intern pulls a little case of make-up from her purse and runs the powder under his eyes.

 

“Right as rain,” she says, and Kent doesn’t know how to thank her, so he doesn’t. He nods, and some person with a new iPhone takes a few photos.

 

There are more zeros to his name than he ever could have imagined, before. He has thirty-seven cents in his back account right now. He’s not sure about his mom’s, but it’s probably less.

 

He calls her with shaking hands when he gets back into his rental car. He cries when she answers.

 

“I’m so proud of you, baby,” she says, and he can hear the tears in her voice.

 

“I love you, Mom.”

 

“I love you too, Kenny.” She sniffles and says, “I’d be proud of you anyway.”

 

“I know,” he says. He hiccups. “I’m gonna come home, now.”

 

He sends her his flight information as soon as he books his ticket.

 


 

 August third comes and goes, and he thinks about calling Jack a million times, but every time he gets as far as scrolling to Jack’s name in his contact book, he chickens out, decides against it.

 

He’s not sure what he would say.

 

Happy birthday doesn’t quite sum it up.

 


 

“You’re kinda quiet, huh?”

 

“Leave the kid alone,” Roman says. “Just ‘cause no one likes you doesn’t mean you gotta give ‘im a hard time.”

 

“Yeah, Grover, fuck off,” Kent says, smirking. Roman knocks their shoulders together, and turns to skate backwards while flipping Grover his middle finger.

 

“Told you,” Roman says. “Kid’s fuckin’ cool.”

 


 

Kent is kind of quiet, is the thing.

 

His little one bedroom is nice, nicer than he would’ve picked for himself, probably. But front office had wanted him rooming with a vet, and Kent had said no, had insisted on living alone, but Mack lives a floor above him, and that seemed like an okay compromise.

 

He’s not sure if anyone is actually worried about him, but he wouldn’t blame them if he were.

 

He’s worried about himself. He can admit that much, even when he doesn’t know how. He doesn’t know how to put his finger on it, doesn’t know what he’s feeling, really. Not much, he thinks, but that feels wrong too, because sometimes he’s fine, sometimes everything feels normal, like how it used to. Before.

 

Like being alive is really just as easy as breathing.

 

Other times, it feels heavier than that. Kent just doesn’t know what that means. Doesn’t know how to say it out loud.

 


 

The first time he sees one of his teammates doing coke, he nearly throws up. He doesn’t say anything, but Richie catches his eye as he’s squeezing his way out of Tucker’s kitchen.

 

He punches the wall once he gets into the hallway. He shakes his hand out and presses the heels of his hands into his eyes until he sees spots. He wants to scream, but doesn’t.

 


 

Kent scores and scores and scores. He’s one of the smallest guys in the league, but he puts points up faster than anyone could have expected. Kent knows that he’s good; he wouldn’t have gone first if he wasn’t. Second would have been fine, too. Second might have been better, considering how the rest of everything turned out. Still, he thinks people are surprised.

 

He’s a small guy. But he’s fast and he has great hands. He sees the ice out in front of him, and he knows how to make all the other guys on the ice work in his favour, same team or not. He’s a fucking smart player, smarter than Jack ever was. He throws all his effort into hockey because millions or not, it’s all he really has.

 


 

After two periods of being thrown into the boards, Kent’s starting to get kind of tired of it.

 

Chara gives him a look, and Kent says, “I’m not scared of you, you fucking caveman piece of shit.”

 

“We’ll see about that, Pansey Parson,” he says, all teeth, and Kent might actually be a little scared. Kent’s never fought in his life. Never had a father like Bad Bob Zimmermann to teach him how to throw a punch.

 

Chara slams him into the glass hard the next time he gets the chance, and then Johnny drops his gloves and beats the shit out of him on Kent’s behalf. His mouth is bleeding when he skates to the box for his five minutes, but he smiles across at Kent and salutes him.

 

When he gets back on the bench, Kent says, “You didn’t need to do that for me.”

 

Johnny says, “I wanted to, Parser, c’mon.” He knocks their shoulders together. “No one gets to hit our Kent Parson.”

 


 

Kent wakes up sweating more often than not. He wakes up fast and scared with his heart pounding in his ears. His apartment is quiet, but he always knows where he is. It’s worse when the Aces are on the road, when Roman is snoring softly in the bed next to him.

 

His breathing feels too loud. His fingers feel cold. They were warm when he found Jack, when he pressed them into his freezing skin. He cracks his knuckles and stares up at the ceiling.

 


 

Kent has always been sensitive. He’s got thin skin and a soft middle. He can’t help it, doesn’t know how to change. He doesn’t know how to turn it off.

 

He sometimes hears Jack’s voice in his ear, and he knows that it’s wrong. He doesn’t know where Jack is, but he’s not with Kent.

 

He can’t forget the way that Jack’s eyes looked, how blue they were, when Kent was under him. He wonders, now, if he’d been making it up, if he’d imagined it the way he imagines Jack’s still body crumpled beside a bottle of pills in his Las Vegas apartment’s bathroom. Jack’s never been here. Probably never will be. But maybe it was never real, maybe Jack never looked at Kent the way Kent had thought. Maybe his eyes were always as empty and cold as they were when he got hoisted into that ambulance.

 

Maybe he never loved Kent back.

 


 

The Aces lose six games in a row.

 

They’re down 3-1 to Calgary, and Kent can’t get any of his shots to connect. Everytime he passes the puck off, the play dies, and he’s fucking pissed. He sits in his stall while Carter yells at them all, and then he steps into the hall, leaving the entire locker room in an awkward silence.

 

Grover says something stupid that Kent doesn’t hear, and Johnny laughs, and Kent spits, “Fucking be better or shut the fuck up.”

 

The room falls silent again, and then Carter comes back in and says, “Let’s go boys.” Kent stands and looks at his feet while he walks out of the room on his skates. When they hit the ice, Roman comes up to him, wraps his arms around Kent’s shoulders and says, “We’re gonna do it, Parser, you and me,” and Kent smiles even though he doesn’t think it meets his eyes.”

 

He says, “Okay, Romo.”

 


 

They win against Calgary 4-3. Kent scores the winning goal in the last minute of the game off Roman’s sweet saucer pass, and Kent jumps into him when they crash into the boards.

 

“Told you,” Roman says, and Kent laughs as Mack slams into him, screaming into Kent’s ear.

 


 

Kent has a beer in his hand. He’s minding his own business, looking at Johnny’s bookshelf when a round of cheers booms from the kitchen. He peeks around the corner, and Grover is pushing coke around with the edge of his credit card, making thin, neat lines. Roman is sitting on the counter across from him, and Kent sees him roll his eyes at them. Kent’s grip tightens on his bottle of beer, and his stomach drops.

 

Something must show on his face, because Roman meets his eyes and then hops off the counter and crosses the room quickly. Tucker looks up and says “Oh my God, not this shit again. Kid, you gotta relax.”

 

“Don’t fucking call me that,” Kent says. It comes out sounding less sharp than he intended, more shaky. Roman pushes him back towards the living room easily.

 

“Asshole’s gotta get laid,” Grover says, and Roman shouts, “Fuck off, Matt.”

 

Johnny, Richie, and Mack are playing foosball in the corner, but Roman just waves at them before leading Kent out onto the patio.

 

Kent exhales as soon as they’re outside, and he hadn’t known he was holding his breath at all until he’s breathing again. Roman takes the beer from his hand, and Kent grips the patio railing so tightly his knuckles turn white.

 

Roman touches his hand to the middle of Kent’s back, and Kent startles. He says, softly, “Parser, you’re hyperventilating. You gotta slow your breathing down or you’re gonna pass out.”

 

Kent shuts his eyes and nods, but it’s easier said than done. He concentrates on the way Roman’s hand feels pressed between his shoulder blades, how it moves when he inhales, exhales. It takes a few minutes but he can feel his heart rate slow. “Good,” Roman says. “That’s really good, Parser.”

 

Kent says, “Sorry.” His voice, scratchy.

 

“You have nothing to be sorry for,” Roman says. He steps back from Kent, and Kent wishes he wouldn’t. Kent watches him take a sip from Kent’s beer. “They’re fucking assholes.”

 

“It’s not their fault,” Kent says, shrugging. “They can do what they want.”

 

“Yeah, but they shouldn’t. And they should know better than to give you a hard time about it. The two of them don’t have two braincells to rub together.”

 

Kent’s mouth twitches into the smallest of smiles, and Roman turns away. They both look out over the stretch of Vegas in front of them, and Kent says, “Jack didn’t OD on coke.”

 

“That’s what everyone said. The media,” Roman says, slow, like a suggestion.

 

“Jack never did drugs,” Kent says. Kent hesitates, because this story isn’t his to tell. But he doesn’t think he can swallow it, anymore. Doesn’t think he can do anything with the weight of it on his chest. “He had some meds. He--I don’t know if it was on purpose.”

 

Roman says, “Shit.”

 

Kent says, “Yeah.”

 

Roman passes his beer back to Kent, and Kent takes a sip to be polite before passing it back. Roman takes his own sip, and then says, “Y’know, I think you’re gonna get the Calder.”

 

Kent knocks their arms together, and Roman stays pressed into Kent from elbow to shoulder. “Maybe,” Kent says.

 


 

They play Buffalo, and Kent gets three goals. His mom and sister come to the game, and Kent puts them up in the same hotel as the team. He introduces them to the guys, and Carter shakes his mom’s hand and smiles at her sweetly, and Kent rolls his eyes.

 

“Stop flirting with my mom, oh my God,” Kent says, laughing.

 

“Don’t talk to your coach that way,” his mom says, laughing the same way Kent does.

 

Sammy rolls her eyes and says, “Are we going for dinner or what?”

 


 

They’re waiting for their food when Sammy says, “Wanna know the only thing I know about Buffalo?”

 

“Hit me,” Kent says, smiling.

 

“You’re about to hear the best sentence of your whole life,” she says, and Kent raises his eyebrow, and their mom rolls her eyes. “Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.”

 

Kent snorts and says, “What?”

 

“It’s grammatically correct and everything,” she says, smug.

 

“Explain,” their mother says. Kent looks at her across the table, and she seems happy. He tosses his arm over the back of Sammy’s chair.

 

“New York bison New york bison bully bully New York bison,” she says.

 

“That’s not English,” Kent says, laughing again.

 

“It is,” she says. “The buffalo from Buffalo, New York bully the buffalo from New York who also bully buffalo from New york.”

 

Kent gives her a skeptical look, and their mom says, “This sounds an awful lot like the that that argument.”

 

Both Kent and Sammy say, “That that is right,” at the same time.

 


 

Vegas isn’t a hockey town, but girls still come up to him all the time. They smile, and they touch his arm like they don’t care that they’re in his space. He smiles back, because he was raised by women and he doesn’t like to be rude, but he always shakes his head, says, “You’re very pretty but--” and they always assume he means to say that there’s someone else, someone at home.

 

And there isn’t, there’s no one waiting for Kent to come home, but Kent lets them assume because it’s easier.

 


 

Kent wins the Calder. His hands shake when he accepts it. His hands shake after. He’s sure Jack will know, and he can’t help but fear that it’ll make it even harder to talk to him, once Kent finds the courage to call.

 


 

 

Kent flinches when people laugh too loudly, doesn’t like when anyone in bars gets too close to him. He’s underage, and he can blame his behaviour on that. Johnny tries to chirp him, and Kent says, “Just ‘cause it’s the offseason doesn’t mean that your sorry asses don’t need me to keep it together for y’all.”

 

Johnny smirks and says, “The ego. Remember when Parser didn’t talk at all? What happened to that? The good ol’ days.”

 

“Fuck off, John” Roman says, laughing, and he smirks at Kent, and Kent smiles back.

 


 

 

Kent’s birthday is a small affair. He spends most of July at home. His mom’s new place is nice, a small townhouse with a garden and hardwood floors and big windows. Sammy has her own room, and there’s a basement with a gym.

 

They barbecue steaks and Kent helps make potato salad. They eat outside. When the sun goes down, they drive to the river and watch the fireworks. Sammy curls into his side on their shared blanket, and he squeezes her hand as she settles. His mom runs her fingers through his hair.

 

It’s a quiet day, and Jack doesn’t text, doesn’t call. But Johnny does, and Roman. A bunch of guys from Rimouski send him a video, and he plays it over and over again, the resounding chorus of Happy birthday, Kenny, making his heart feel full to bursting.

 


 

Kent gets a call in late July, and the next week he’s back in Vegas. He parks outside head office, says hi to Jess at the front desk, and makes his way up to Whitman’s office. He waits outside, and then his assistant says, “They’re ready for you, Mister Parson.”

 

He nods, stands. He knocks at the office door before opening it, and Carter is sitting in one of the armchairs opposite Whitman’s desk, and Kent thinks, for sure, that something’s happened. They’re going to trade him, they know he’s gay, they’ll--

 

He bites his lip and says, “Gentlemen.”

 

“Take a seat, Parson,” Carter says.

 

Kent sits, his back straight as a board. He sits on his hands to avoid fidgeting, digs his fingernails into the underside of his thighs.

 

“Where are you sending me?” He asks.

 

“Sending you? Oh Christ,” he laughs. “Son, we’re not trading you.”

 

“Oh,” Kent says, cheeks heating.

 

Carter smiles and says, “We want to offer you the captaincy.”

 


 

 

A photo of Kent wearing a jersey with a C on his chest gets put up on Twitter. His mom calls him, crying, and Kent laughs and gets teary eyed.

 

The next day, Roman gets traded to fucking Providence.

 


 

 

“I’m so sorry,” Kent says.

 

“Why’re you sorry?” Roman asks. His knee is bouncing under the table, and he keeps knocking into Kent’s knees. Roman’s tall, his legs don’t fit under any table comfortably on a normal day.

 

“I just am,” Kent says. He takes a sip of his coffee and says, “I wish it weren’t happening.”

 

Roman nods, looks out the window. “Me too,” he says, quiet. Nearly a whisper. “Woulda been great to have you lead our team. Might have a chance, that way.”

 

Kent shrugs. “I don’t know how much I’m gonna get done without you out there with me,” he says. It’s too honest and it sticks heavily in the air, but it’s true, and Kent refuses to lie to the people he cares about. It costs too much, in the long run.

 


 

 

He calls Jack in early March, and it rings and rings and rings. He calls back the next day, and it goes straight to voicemail. Three days later, he tries again, and he leaves a message.

 

“I--Jack. It’s me. Kent. I--” He swallows, and he says, “I just wanted to say hi. I miss you. I hope--I hope you’re okay.”

 


 

Jack never calls back.

 


 

Kent wakes up sweating. His eyes are stinging with tears. He breathes heavily and stares at the ceiling. “You’re in Chicago,” he says aloud. “You’re nineteen. You’re fine,” he says.

 

He rolls over and looks at the clock on the bedside table. It reads 3:47. “Jack’s fine,” he says to himself, even though he’s not sure if it’s true.

 


 

They beat Boston in game seven, and Kent hoists the Cup above his head to a sold out MGM Grand crowd. Tears spring to his eyes, but he’s happy, and he doesn’t care about anything else.

 


 

He breaks three bones in his hand in November, and he’s out for six weeks. The Falconers come to Vegas: Roman scores twice, and Kent can’t even be mad about the loss. The Aces don’t have much depth, and neither do the Falconers, really, but Roman has an A on his chest and a smile on his face, and Kent watches from the management box.

 


 

“Missed you out there,” Roman says, pulling Kent into a hug.

 

“Miss you everywhere,” Kent says, and it’s too sincere, but Roman just hugs him tighter. “You played well.”

 

“Thank you,” Roman says. “Where’re we eating? I gotta be back at the hotel by 11.”

 

“Wanna just grab take-out? I got a new place. Bigger. Lease allows pets and everything.”

 

“You’re growing up good, Parser.”

 

“I’m two years younger than you,” Kent says, indignant.

 

“Okay, stringbean, you win. Thai?”

 

“Sure,” Kent says.

 


 

 

“So,” Roman says. “Zimmermann’s playing college hockey, huh?”

 

Kent nods. He pushes at the empty take out container back on the coffee table with his foot, and it falls over. Roman pushes his toes into the side of Kent’s thigh and says, “Spit it out.”

 

“I tried calling him, like, a bunch? And he never called me back.”

 

Roman is quiet for a long moment before he says, “That’s kinda shitty.”

 

Kent takes a long pull from his beer and says, “He’s kinda shitty.”

 

Roman asks, “How so?”

 

Kent shrugs.

 

Roman tucks his toes under Kent’s thigh, and Kent wraps the fingers of his left hand around the knob of Roman’s ankle. “He sure did a number on you, huh?”

 

Kent doesn’t want to cry, doesn’t want to say anything. He blinks heavily, swallows past the lump in his throat.

 

There are only so many rotten things one person can carry around inside them before they break. His mom used to always talk about bananas like that--that one bad banana can turn a whole bundle bad. And maybe the nastiness that Jack has left under Kent’s skin is like that. Maybe Kent loved him, and maybe he never loved Kent back. Maybe Kent found him, saved his life, and maybe Jack blames Kent for that. Maybe not, but it’s not like Kent has any way to know.

 

All Kent knows is he had to watch Jack’s heart stop, had to hear the monitor in the ambulance stop beeping. And then he had to watch an EMT restart Jack’s heart, had to watch as they wheeled Jack away from him. The last time Kent saw him, he was unconscious and pale and half dead. Jack is sick, and his brain hurts him in a way that Kent will never really understand. But now there’s something like that that lives in Kent, that wakes him up in the middle of the night, that puts Jack’s voice in places it doesn’t belong.

 

“Yeah,” Kent says.

 

He squeezes Roman’s ankle, and Roman says, “I don’t know how to help you,” quiet and unsure.

 

“You’re here,” Kent says. “That’s more than anyone could say about him.”

 


 

Kent clears the coffee table of the takeout containers and empty beer bottles, and he says, “Let me call you a cab.”

 

“I’ll do it,” he says. “Your hands are full.”

 

Kent takes their garbage into the kitchen and he can hear Roman giving his address into the phone.

 

He pours the dregs of their beer into the sink, and Roman says, “Car’s on it’s way. Ten to fifteen minutes, apparently.”

 

“Cool,” Kent says.

 

Roman says, “Hey, Parser?” Kent hums, and Roman says, “Tell me if I’m wrong.”

 

Kent turns to face him, about to say, “You’re always wrong,” when Roman steps into his space, and Kent’s breath catches.

 

Roman ducks, and Kent steps up onto his tiptoes, and when Roman presses their lips together, Kent keens. His eyes fall shut, and he grabs at Roman’s dress shirt, and Roman’s hands go to Kent’s face. Kent pulls him closer, and Roman licks into Kent’s mouth.

 

When Kent has to choose between breathing or kissing, he pulls back. He ducks his head, rests his forehead against Roman’s sternum.

 

Roman says, “I fucking miss you.”

 

Kent says, “I never thought--”

 

“Could say the same about you.”

 

“I guess,” Kent says. “I’ve seen you pick up girls, so.” Roman runs his hands down Kent’s spine.

 

“I know you don’t love me,” he says. Kent makes a sound deep in his throat, and Roman says, “No, no, it’s okay. I--It’s--You need to take care of yourself.”

 

“I’m sorry,” Kent says. He lifts his head and tucks his face into Roman’s neck.

 

“Don’t be sorry,” Roman says. “I worry about you a lot.”

 

“I’m okay,” Kent says into Roman’s skin.

 

“You don’t have to do everything alone,” Roman says.

 

Kent sighs. “I don’t have a choice.”

 


 

Kent’s first game back is against Dallas, and he scores twice.

 

They fly out of Fort Worth, and then he drives home to his empty apartment.

 


 

 

He’s with Jaime, one of the trainers, and he says, “D’you think I could duck out early to talk to a doc?”

 

“Are you hurt?” She asks, suddenly alarmed.

 

Kent doesn’t slow his pace on the bike when he says, “No. It’s fine. It’s--It’s personal.”

 

She tilts her head, her lips a tight line, but she says, “Sure. Stop when you get to 10 miles.”

 


 

 

“I think I need a referral to a psychologist,” he says, looking at his hands.

 

Connors looks at him, and his voice is soft when he says, “Can I ask what you’re worried about?”

 

“I don’t know,” Kent says. “Depression maybe? It’s not all the time, just sometimes, but--I don’t know. Is it possible to be in shock two and half years after the fact?”

 

Connors reaches for Kent’s wrist, and Kent flinches. Connors takes his pulse, and Kent doesn’t meet his eye. “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder,” Connors says. “You get nightmares?”

 

Kent pauses, bites at the inside of his cheek. He nods.

 

“Okay,” Connors says. He steps back, scribbles onto a notepad. “Make an appointment through this office. I’ll give them your information.”

 

“They’ll be discreet, right?” Kent asks.

 

Connors says, “All doctors have to act under confidentiality, Parson.”

 

“Okay,” Kent says. “Okay, good.”

 


 

 

Kent drives away from Doctor Burke’s office with a prescription and a follow-up appointment for next week.

The Aces fall out of the playoffs to L.A. in the second round, and Kent is fine with it. He spends the summer with Sammy, takes her shopping for back to school clothes. Teaches her to drive. He trains and trains and gains back all the weight he lost. He calls Jack, and Jack doesn’t call back.

 


 

Doctor Burke suggests that he get a dog, but Sammy’s always been kinda skittish around them, and Kent says, “What about a cat? Would that work?”

 

“Yes, Kent,” she says. “A cat would be good.”

 


 

 

She’s small, and she fits in the palm of Kent’s hand. He calls Jack, and the voice at the other end says that the number isn’t in service.

 

Kent throws his phone across the room, and it hits the wall. The cat looks up from where it’s lapping from the small dish of water he set on the floor, and meows softly.

 

It’s a quiet sound, and Kent bends at the knees to scoop up the kitten. He presses his nose into her fur, and he says, “Sorry, baby. I’m sorry.”

 

She mewls, and he tucks her into his chest.

 


 

 

The Aces win the Cup again, and Kent gets a call two weeks later from Alicia Zimmermann. Jack is staying in Massachusetts for the summer. She was planning to visit him on campus in a few weeks. Would he be out east yet? They could drive together.

 

Kent’s drunk when she calls, which is why he’s brave enough to say yes. When he sobers up, there’s a pit in his stomach that doesn’t let up.

 

Two weeks later, he’s waiting for Alicia Zimmermann at Logan, and she hugs him when she sees him. He kisses her cheek, and she says, “Oh, honey, it’s so good to see you,” like she means it.

 


 

Jack’s eyes go wide when he sees Kent, but he says, “Hi,” anyway. He sounds like a robot, but none of his friends seem to react to the monotone.

 

“I’m Shitty,” some guy with floppy hair says, and Kent laughs.

 

“Your nickname is Shitty? That’s uh, the best dad joke of all time.”

 

Shitty salutes him, and Jack ducks away sometime in the interim.

 

He finds Jack standing in the kitchen, and he starts to say, “I really mis--” when one of Jack’s teammates comes into the room and ropes Kent into a conversation about the Aces’ stats, and Jack slips away.

 

Kent spends the whole day trying to get Jack alone, but it doesn’t work, not once, and Kent might wish it were different, but he can take a fucking hint, so he leaves before dinner. Alicia hugs him goodbye, and says, “Robert and I are both very proud of you, honey.”

 

Kent says, “Thank you,” and it comes out tight. He wipes the back of his hands over his eyes as he’s walking down the front steps of Jack’s shit hole of a frat house, and he doesn’t look back.

 


 

Roman bends at the knees when they get to Kent’s apartment, and he says, “I didn’t know you got a cat.”

 

“Her name’s Kit,” he says, which isn’t true. Her name’s Jackie, but he hasn’t been able to say that part out loud to anyone but her.

 

“Kit Purrson,” Roman says, and Kent laughs.

 

“Would you shut the fuck up and make out with me already?”

 

“You think I’m funny,” Roman says, but he rights himself, stands up straight. He kisses Kent, and Kent smiles into it. “Fuck, I wish I never got traded.”

 

“Yeah,” Kent says. “Me too.”

 


 

Kent wakes up with Jack’s voice in his head and Roman’s arm over his waist. He’s drooling on Kent a bit, but Kent doesn’t really mind. It’s kind of sweet.

 

Kent looks at the clock on his bedside table, and it reads 2:39. He twines his fingers with Roman’s over his stomach. He steadies his breathing by syncing the movements of his chest with Roman’s, and it helps him relax.

 


 

His left hand is still on the soft skin of Jack’s neck, and Jack’s hands are tight fists in his shirt, and Kent says, “Fuck, Jack. What do you want me to say? That I miss you? I miss you, okay? I miss you.”

 

Jack shoves Kent away and says, “You always say that,” like it’s a conversation they’ve ever had. Like it wasn’t Kent saying it into Jack’s voicemail over and over again for four years.

 

Kent sees red, and he says, “Huh, well, shit. Okay,” and it’s all downhill from there.

 


 

He calls Roman from his car, and it rings out. Kent hits his forehead on his steering wheel, and then his phone buzzes in his hand.

 

When he answers, Roman says, “Sorry I missed your call, I was just walking in the door. What’s shakin’?”

 

“I--” Kent stops. “Are you busy?”

 

Roman is quiet for a second, and then he’s all urgency when he says, “Are you okay?”

 

Kent shakes his head, no. “Parser, are you--”

 

“I don’t know,” Kent says. He squeezes his free hand around his knee so hard it hurts. He recites his mom’s address in his head like Doctor Burke taught him. “I’m in Boston,” he says. He’s twenty-three. “I’m fine,” he says. Jack’s fine, he thinks.

 

“What--why?”

 

“We play the Bruins day after tomorrow.”

 

“And you decided to come up early because…” Kent can hear Roman breathing through the phone. “Did you see him?” He asks, eventually.

 

Kent says, “Yeah. Shouldn’t have.”

 

Roman sighs. “Need me to come get you?”

 

Kent shakes his head again and says, “I don’t know how to get to your place. How long of a drive is it?”

 

“About an hour,” Roman says. “I’ll text you the address, ‘kay?”

 

Kent nods. “Thanks.”

 

“Yeah,” he says. “Anything.”

 


 

Kent knocks on the front door softly, and it takes a few seconds, but then Roman swings it open. He’s in his pyjamas and a Falconers t-shirt. He steps aside for Kent, and Kent squeezes past him.

 

“You want something to drink?” Roman asks.

 

Kent shakes his head. He walks through to the living room, glazes around quickly. “This’s a nice place.”

 

“Thank you,” he says, and his voice sounds oddly formal. Kent knows he doesn’t deserve Roman’s kindness. Not when Roman probably loves Kent and Kent--

 

Kent is too fucked up to deserve anyone like Roman caring about him.

 

“I went to a doctor,” he says, fast. “Got a diagnosis and everything. Bottle ‘f pills to help me sleep and keep me from bein’ more nuts than I already am.”

 

Roman crosses his arms over his chest and tilts his head. “You’re not nuts,” he says, like he’s sure, like he can testify to how the inside of Kent’s head works.

 

“I am,” he says. “It’s okay. Would rather know. Work through it.” He shrugs.

 

Roman pushes his hands into his eyes and he says, “I don’t know how to help you. I want to, but I--”

 

“It’s not your fault,” Kent says. It’s not really anyone’s fault. “Chips fall how they may and all that.”

 

“I fucking hate him,” Roman says. “I hate that he fucked you up so bad.”

 

Kent shakes his head. “I fucked him up too.” Roman scoffs, and Kent presses. “He’s never going to forgive me. I get it. I--” He shakes his head. “I wish it were different, but I think I get it, now.”

 

“Get what?” Roman asks.

 

Kent steps toward him and says, “One bad banana makes all the bananas bad.”

 

“That doesn’t make any sense,” he says, but he’s smiling down at Kent softly, and Kent steps towards him. “You’re not a bad banana. Not bananas, period.”

 

Kent thinks that he and Jack are bad bananas both. Break them off at the stem and salvage the rest of the bundle. “Okay,” Kent says. “No bananas.”

 


 

Kent wakes up in Roman’s bed, and the clock reads 7:45. He runs his fingers up and down Roman’s forearms, and he says, “Make me breakfast,” when Roman presses his nose into Kent’s neck.

 

“No,” Roman says, voice rough.

 

“I’m your guest,” Kent whines.

 

Roman kisses at Kent’s shoulder and he says, “You’re not special, Parser.”

 

Kent rolls over and presses his lips to Roman’s. “I’m special as shit,” he mumbles, and Roman laughs before rolling Kent onto his back. He smiles down at Kent, his big green eyes crinkling with his smile, and Kent smiles back up at him.

 

Kent props himself up on his elbow to kiss him, and Roman says, “Your breath is sour,” but then he kisses Kent back, and it’s nice. Sour-breathed kisses in the morning and the shape of Roman’s smile pressed into Kent’s skin.

 

Kent will take it.