Jack groans as the morning light penetrates through his eyelids, all the way to what feels like the center of his brain. It's like having spikes jammed through his skull. This is not normal.
“Shut up,” says a voice from the vicinity of Jack's knee. “Jesus H. Christ, do not make any noises.”
Jack freezes. He knows that voice.
And just like that, the entire night comes flooding back.
“Parse,” Jack says, and then, “Kent,” when there is no response. He pries his eyes open and blinks in the dazzling sunlight of early-morning Las Vegas. He registers facts in stages: he is in his hotel room, said hotel room is totally trashed, and Kent Parson is passed out at the foot of the bed, his torso slowly crushing Jack's calves.
“I hate you,” Parse says, with feeling. “Hush. No words until Gatorade.”
Jack's head is pounding, and his stomach is churning, and he wants coffee the way he usually only wants hat tricks and playoffs sweeps. But Parse has resumed snoring into Jack's leg, so clearly it falls to Jack to be the responsible one.
“Kenny,” Jack says, and watches Kent slowly open one eye, clearly resentful of the continued noise. “Wake the fuck up. I think we got married.”
The thing is, Jack doesn't even really drink. Not like last night. But the NHL Awards are, according to Parse, a special circumstance. So last night went a little something like:
“You just won the Calder, Zimms,” Parse crowed, seemingly undeterred by the fact that he came away from the awards empty-handed. “If there's ever a time to remove that stick from your ass, this is it.”
Jack eyed the neon-bright shots in Parse's hands warily. “I don't really drink that much.”
“Is it because of, like,” Parse waved one hand around vaguely, slopping alcohol onto the already sticky floor of the bar, “rehab?”
“No.” Jack did not sigh. Leave it to Parse to be a total asshole even when he was trying to be considerate. Some things don't change. “I just don't do it too often, okay? It's not good for you.”
Parse got a familiar gleam in his eyes, one that made Jack look around for the nearest exit. Right there, behind that table. If he ran he could probably make it before Kent--
“I fucking dare you,” Kent said, echoing himself through years and miles. How many times did shit go terribly, terribly wrong in Juniors because of Kent Parson looking at Jack that way and saying those words?
“No way,” Jack said. “Aren't we a little mature for that now, Parse?”
“I double dog dare you,” Parse said.
“It's legal?” Kent has progressed from prone and moaning about his head, to hysterical laughter, and finally this. Interrogation over the continental breakfast. He's wearing enormous sunglasses even though they're inside, and the disheveled remnants of his awards suit.
His wedding suit, Jack thinks, oh dear Lord.
There is also a garish ring on his left hand. Jack has the sinking suspicion it came out of a vending machine at Denny's. Jack has one too. It's ostensibly silver, or at least some kind of shiny metal, with a pink flower on it.
“I think so,” Jack says. “It's legal as far as same sex marriage, at least. But we were drunk, so I don't know if we applied for a marriage license and did all of that properly.”
Parse shrugs, like, what can you do. He's pouring ketchup onto an abomination of a breakfast, the same hangover cure he used in the Q. One third scrambled eggs, one third bacon, one third gravy, all mashed together in a bowl. Just like when they were teenagers, the smell of it is evocative of nothing but poor choices.
“Well, Zimms,” Parse says when he's devoured half of his awful meal. Jack sips his coffee and tries not to feel quite so green around the gills. Kent smirks from behind his sunglasses, and Jack feels a very familiar urge, one he's felt a hundred times, sitting across from Parse and nursing a hangover. “At least you got yourself a pretty bride. I mean, your mom is a supermodel, but I'd say you at least tied Bad Bob in terms of hot spouses.”
Jack gives in to the urge, and reaches across the table to punch Parse.
Overall, it's still an improvement on the last time they saw each other.
“We need a lawyer,” Jack says. He's in the passenger seat of Kent's ridiculous sports car, bumblebee yellow and ostentatious. After they got kicked out of breakfast, Jack wanted to go upstairs and pack, but Kent insisted that he needed to go feed his cat.
“We gotta wait at least seventy two hours. You really want to be quicker than Britney? Besides, we didn't get to consummate the marriage last night.” It's hard to tell, with the sunglasses, but Jack is pretty sure that Kent is waggling his eyebrows in Jack's direction. There's something about the set of his jaw when he does it. Something that screams asshole.
“We are never consummating the marriage. I have a boyfriend, you dick.” Jack is still praying that the press doesn't get a hold of this. At least none of the other guys from the awards were at the chapel. He hopes. God, Jack hopes.
“I always wanted to have an Elvis impersonator at my wedding,” Kent says, a little disgruntled. “And I finally get a quickie wedding in Vegas, but it's by frickin' Cher? That just sucks.”
“Finally? What the hell do you mean, finally?” Jack is considering just opening the car door and jumping out the next time they slow down, anything to get away from this conversation, when his phone rings. He looks down at the caller ID and feels all the blood rush away from his face.
Bitty thinks it's hilarious.
“Oh my Lord,” he says through his laughter, a solid two minutes after Jack stuttered his way through what happened last night. “Of course. Of course this happened to you. The one time you try to cut loose.”
“I promise that nothing happened,” Jack says. The nausea takes a turn for the worse as he considers what would happen if Bitty thinks—if this has messed up--
“Jack,” Bitty says, unbearably tender. His voice makes Jack blush, even three thousand miles away. Bitty is probably in the kitchen of Jack's apartment right now, maybe baking, warm and safe and smiling. “Of course nothing happened, you nincompoop. I trust you.”
In the background, Kent is baby-talking to his cat, his voice at least an octave higher than it usually is. Jack closes his eyes and prays for sanity. And a quick divorce.
“I promise I'll be home soon,” Jack says. Bitty just hums, waiting for him to finish. He's been so good about that, making room for Jack to talk. “I'll probably have to bring Parse. We've got to go see my lawyer.”
“We could go see my lawyer, Zimmermann!” Kent shouts from the other room. His cat meows loudly, as if in agreement. “She's fucking amazing, for all you know she's already handled two of my divorces!”
“I'll put fresh sheets in the spare room,” Bitty says. “Does he have a favorite flavor of pie? I should treat my boyfriend's husband right, after all.”
“He can stay in a hotel.” Jack's head hurts. Doesn't Parse have Advil or something?
“You're a shitty husband, Zimms,” Parse bellows. “Whatever happened to for better or worse?”
Bitty picks them up at the airport with a sign that says “The Zimmermanns” because he's secretly a little shit. People are fooled by the blond hair and the big eyes, but Jack knows. It's one of his favorite things about Bitty.
Parse, of course, loves it, and immediately attempts to appropriate Bitty. Jack rides in the back seat with the bags while Kent and Bitty talk about Beyoncé's new tour and something about natural highlights. They're both sunshiny bright, and so easy with new people, that it makes Jack's head spin.
“You've got a type, son,” Jack's dad said to him, once, the summer he and Bitty started dating. “Big hearts and blond hair. Maybe short guys? I don't know.”
Maybe, Jack thinks, a little dazed. But Kent is still an asshole, so there's that.
“I think I'm going to keep the name,” Parse is saying to Bitty when Jack tunes back in. “Kent V. Zimmermann. That way when people are like 'another Stanley Cup for Zimmermann!' it means me. And people can actually, you know, say that.”
Case in point.
Jack's lawyer turns white, then red, and then proceeds to yell at them for thirty minutes.
“You two,” Sandra breathes, fists clenched, “are going to sit here. You will not move. You will not speak to anyone else.”
“Yes, ma'am,” Kent says, meekly, earning himself a pat on the shoulder. Sandra just glares harder at Jack.
This is what Jack means, about Parse being an asshole. Carefully, so Sandra won't see from behind the desk, Jack kicks Parse in the ankle. Parse jams his thumb hard into Jack's thigh in retaliation.
“Not a word,” Sandra hisses at them, and sweeps out of her office, door banging shut in her wake.
Once they're alone in Sandra's office, Parse says, “But it was fun, right? Up until the wedding part.”
Jack considers. He hasn't spent time with Parse without it turning into a disaster in some way, not since the summer before the draft. Even playing games against each other this year hasn't gone well. The second game the Falcs played against the Aces marks the only fight in Jack's career so far.
It was—nice. To drink with Parse, and laugh with him, and see who could eat the most pancakes in five minutes. It was familiar, and easy in a way Jack never thought he'd get again, not with Kent.
And even the wedding was fun, sort of. Parse's vows were good, anyway, the stuff about Jack's ass and how it had to be off the market the sake of humanity aside.
“Think of the weeping,” Parse said, listing drunkenly against Jack's side at the altar, while a drag queen dressed as Cher smiled benevolently down on them. “The, the weeping that will be saved when young girls and boys the world over no longer think they have a chance with this ass. The frustrated hopes we will redirect to better goals. It's a sacrifice I am willing to make.”
The other parts, though.
“You're my best friend, Zimms, other than Kit Purrson, so let's just like, be best friends forever again, okay? But Kit is like, totally better than you, did I show you the picture I took yesterday?”
“Yeah, Kenny. It was fun.”
Jack's phone buzzes. Bitty.
Are you bringing the hubby home for dinner?
Big hearts, blond hair, little shits. Jack has a type.
Sandra returns to the office ninety minutes later.
“You signed your names as 'Zimms Zimmermann' and 'Kent Victory Parser.' Luckily for you, this is not a valid marriage.”
Jack isn't sure exactly what else he was expecting.
Kent stays for dinner and Bitty's apple pie.
“Can't say I was surprised,” Kent says cheerfully enough, helping himself to a third slice. “That sounds like exactly how Zimms and I would get married.”
“There was less of a brawl at the reception than I always figured there would be.” Jack actually figured, back when he was sixteen, that he and Parse would get married a few years after they retired. He also thought that Kent would be balding by then, judging on his dad's hairline.
“Well, I'm just glad that it all got sorted out,” Bitty says. He squeezes Jack's hand and smiles at him. Parse makes obnoxious kissy faces at them, then smiles innocently through a mouthful of pie when Bitty looks his way.
“Flight's leaving soon, eh?” Jack is mostly kidding. Kent gets that, judging by the way he rolls his eyes.
“Not till tomorrow, Zimms. Cut me some slack, I got divorced today.”
Jack drives Kent to the airport. Even though Parse is a professional athlete and can afford a cab. But Bitty said a lot of things about hospitality and proper goodbyes, and Jack finally just grabbed his keys in surrender.
“I like your boy,” Kent says, while Jack is idling in departures. He's moved his wedding ring to his right hand, but hasn't throw it out, because apparently mood rings are cool. Jack's ring is in the pocket of yesterday's jeans. Maybe he'll burn it. It was already starting to turn his finger green. “I want to be the best man at your next wedding, cool?”
And then Kent's jumping out of the car before Jack can say anything, heading off into the terminal without a backwards glance.
Thirty seconds later Jack gets a text.
Dinner next time you're in town?
Then, two seconds after that: I promise not to marry you this time.
Jack snorts: only Parse. He pulls over to type out his response.