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the heart is a risky fuel to burn

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Montreal in summer is hot as hell, the heat sticky and clinging to the skin.

They’re still coming off the high of winning the Memorial Cup, overwhelmed and ecstatic, and dizzy with it, and Kent can still hear the roar of the audience as he scored the game-winner, just less than a minute before the end of the third. When he closes his eyes, he can still see the way Jack looked at him right before he crushed Kent into a hug.

They have the Montreal house to themselves until they fly out to Toronto for the Combine, Jack’s parents away at their summer house in Nova Scotia, and if the bed in the guest bedroom Kent usually stays in remains untouched, well, that’s no one’s fucking business.

It’s the offseason, but, in a way, not much has changed, and they just traded one routine for another: Luc, the personal trainer Bob hired for both of them, comes by every morning and they work on their off-ice conditioning until lunch, followed by forty-five minutes to an hour of ice time at Bob’s private rink.

There’s still a week left until the Combine, and then it’s back to Montreal for training, but they have a hotel room booked in Quebec City for a few days right before the draft, and plane tickets already waiting for them. It was Kent’s idea, mostly, because he knows Jack, and he knows that Jack would slowly go out of his fucking mind with worry if they stayed in Montreal. It’s enough that the draft itself is taking place in Montreal, and it’s a hockey town through and through, so all the sports news vultures are going to be all up in Jack’s business anyway. No need to add to that.

The downside to sleeping in one bed is that Kent knows Jack hasn’t been doing a lot of actual sleeping recently. Kent knows how Jack gets sometimes, knows about the shrink, and the pills Jack has been diligently taking for a while now, even if Kent isn’t exactly sure that Jack should be mixing them with alcohol, but it’s not like he’s read the label or anything, and he doesn’t want to go snooping through Jack’s stuff like some invasive asshole. It’s gonna be over soon, anyway. One of them to Vegas, the other one to Houston—both to shitty teams that pinned all their hopes on the two of them, like it takes only one person to make a team, but here they are anyway: the future saviors of hockey, each bearing the weight of an entire franchise on their shoulders like they aren’t still stupid teenagers, half-terrified of everything that’s to come.

For now, though, there’s a heat wave rolling through Montreal, leaving them sluggish and lethargic, and the Zimmermanns have a swimming pool in the backyard, but what Kent really wants is a lake, with trees shading them from the sun and grass under his bare feet.

Jack is reading when Kent finds him, lounging on the beach chair by the pool and drinking a watermelon smoothie, sunglasses perched the bridge of his slightly peeling nose. Kent is already bronze all over from the sun, the freckles on his face and shoulders even more pronounced.

The beach chair is huge and can easily fit both of them, so Kent sits down next to Jack, nudging him with his calf, and steals his smoothie.

“Make your own,” Jack says, reaching for the cup without lifting his head to look at Kent, but Kent holds it out of his reach.

“Nah, I think I’m good,” he says, grinning, and takes a long drink, making sure to slurp obnoxiously.

Jack puts the book away, and Kent can see that he’s fighting a smile.

Kent licks his lips, and when he kisses Jack, it tastes cold and faintly like watermelon smoothie. Jack kisses back, and they part for a moment, just long enough for Jack to take off his shades, but then Jack’s hand sneaks into Kent’s hair, which is messy enough on its own, but he likes the way Jack’s fingers drag against his scalp, tugging just hard enough to send a thrill down Kent’s spine.

He remembers how clumsy Jack used to be, awkward and inexperienced, and half-convinced Kent was just making fun of him, but now he kisses with a confidence that makes Kent’s head spin.

Slowly, he climbs into Jack’s lap, thankful that this part of the backyard is impossible to see from the outside, shielded from the eyes of overeager fans with grainy cell phone cameras.

“Hey,” he says, breathless, then leans down to kiss Jack again. This time it’s brief, and when Kent moves away, Jack instinctively tries to follow for a fraction of a second, his eyes still closed.

“Hey,” Jack says back eventually, his voice hoarse.

“Take me to a lake,” Kent says, half-joking, nudging Jack into the abs with his finger and watching him squirm. Out of the two of them, it’s Kent who’s more ticklish, but he knows that Jack has his tells, too.

Jack’s hands go to rest on Kent’s bare thighs, and it seems like they’re both ignoring the fact that they’re both half-hard.

“Okay,” Jack says then, and this—this catches Kent off-guard. He was just fucking around, he never expected Jack to actually say yes, but maybe the heat has been getting to him, too. “We could take the truck, pack some food. There’s a small lake twenty minutes away. No one really goes there because it doesn’t have a sandy beach, so we’d probably have it all to ourselves.”

Kent knows what Jack is really saying: there will be no people to gawk at him.

“Yeah, sure,” he says and kisses Jack one last time before shifting his weight up and off him. “Let’s fucking go.”

.

The lake is tiny, tucked away into a corner of the woods, far off the highway. There’s no one there when Jack parks the truck at the end of a dirt road, and Kent slowly climbs out of the car and stretches until he can feel his joints pop.

“How did you even know it was here?” he asks, looking around.

“Dad used to take us here when I was younger,” Jack says. “None of us are exactly fans of public beaches.”

The lake is small enough that Kent could do a few lengths from one shore to the other and not even break a sweat—it looks more like a backyard pond than a proper lake, really—and there are trees casting shade on the grassy, mild slopes leading down to the water that gradually transform into a narrow stretch of pebbly beach. The water looks calm and undisturbed, the surface of it almost completely flat. There’s no breeze to disturb it, just the heat, and Kent can feel himself sweating through his white tank-top.

“Hey, Zimms, race ya to the water!” Kent says, already bare from the waist up as he tries to chuck his shorts off before Jack catches up to him.

Out of the corner of his eye, he can see the way Jack’s head snaps in his direction, his expression confused and surprised, and then they’re both running.

Kent makes it there first and jumps straight into the water, which turns out to be surprisingly chilly despite the weather, dunking below the surface for a moment before he emerges, spluttering, just in time for Jack to push him back under.

When Kent breaks the surface for the second time, Jack is right there next to him, and the fucker is laughing. Kent splashes him with water, right in the face.

“Asshole,” he mutters, and Jack chuckles. “Fuck off. At least I didn’t lose. All that ass must be really slowing you down.”

He flicks some more water straight into Jack’s eyes. Jack splashes him right back.

“Parse, don’t be a wet blanket,” he says.

“Jesus, Zimms, what are you, fifty? Wet blanket, really?” He slowly kicks off and starts to float on his back. “That’s what my grandma used to say.”

Jack flips him off before wading deeper into the water.

They swim lazily for a while, slowly getting used to the water temperature, and by the time they get back to the beach, Kent is not cold but rather pleasantly refreshed. The downside to racing straight for the lake almost as soon as they arrived is that they have to unpack their towels and blankets dripping wet.

“Jack, I swear to god, you’re not packing anything ever again,” Kent says, fishing around the duffel bag in search of their towels.

“I didn’t expect you to just make a break for it as soon as we got here, okay?” Jack says in return and Kent rolls his eyes just as he finally finds the towels. “There, you got them, now wipe that look off your face.”

Kent gives him the finger, then starts toweling off his hair that’s still dripping water into his eyes.

They spread the blankets on the grass in the shade of a big tree, and that’s when they realize they forgot to pack sunscreen. Kent doesn’t really care either way, because he’s already tanned and he always tans brown anyway, so he will live, but Jack is going to burn, and then he’s going to be fucking insufferable when his skin starts to itch and peel, and Kent is gonna have to deal with this. So, less than ideal, really.

They have a six-pack of beer and some snacks, and they lie down on the blankets next to each other, their shoulders just barely touching, the only point of contact apart from Kent’s fingers brushing against Jack’s hand, the line of his wrist, the arch between his thumb and forefinger.

They both doze off for a while, but Kent spends that time in the weird state between being asleep and still being completely aware of his surroundings, so he doesn’t miss the moment Jack rolls to the side and puts his hand on Kent’s chest, right next to his frantically beating heart.

Kent wakes up for good a few minutes later, feeling overheated and languid, his limbs and eyelids heavy from the heat.

“Zimms,” he says and clears his throat when it comes out sleep-rough. “Zimms, wake up. I wanna make out.”

Jack opens one eye with a groan and looks up at Kent.

“You woke me up just to tell me you want to make out?” he asks, incredulous, which, honestly, is more than a bit hurtful, because Kent is fucking amazing at kissing and even better at giving head, and they could be doing either—or both—right now instead of sleeping.

He says as much to Jack.

“What, you want to blow me? Here?” Jack asks.

Kent shrugs.

“If you want to.” He grins down at Jack. “I mean, there’s literally no one else here.”

Jack barks out a short, startled laugh, and Kent thinks that sometimes he just can’t, for the life of him, figure out what’s going on in Jack’s head.

Instead of answering, Jack rolls over on the blanket and reaches for the cooler, then tosses one of the beer cans to Kent, who cracks it open and downs half of it in one big gulp. By the time he’s done with it, Jack’s can is already empty and discarded off to the side.

“Another one?” Jack asks, and Kent catches him by the hand before he can move away again.

“Nah,” Kent says and throws the can to the side as well and moves to straddle Jack. “Lemme just—”

Jack surges up to kiss him. Their lips and tongues are cold, and there’s the lingering aftertaste of beer, but the sun is shining down on them, and there’s now a faint breeze coming from over the water, and they’re the only people here—in that moment, they could be anyone, just a couple of teenagers being in love for the first time and silly with it, giddy in a way nothing else could make them feel.

Kent touches the side of Jack’s face, the curve of his jaw, slowly getting sharper as he gets older, then brushes his abs, grazing the sparse trail of hair leading from the navel down the waistband of Jack’s trunks. Jack touches Kent’s dick through his shorts.

“Thought you didn’t want to do that here,” he teases, then gently tugs at Jack’s lower lip with his teeth.

“Maybe I changed my mind,” Jack says and presses his the palm of his hand more insistently against the outline of Kent’s cock. “I’m allowed to do that.”

Kent laughs.

“Sure you are.”

Then he reaches into Jack’s trunks and wraps his hand around his dick. Jack hisses straight into Kent’s mouth, a sound that turns into a moan a second later. They end up getting off just like that—their hands on each other’s cocks and their mouths slack against each other, the pressure of their lips almost crushing as they come—Jack first, with a muffled, choked-off sound that makes Kent almost lose it, and Kent a few seconds later, feeling the way his bare toes curl against the grass, Jack’s big, calloused hand stroking him through it until he slowly winds down.

When he opens his eyes, Jack is looking at him, soft and tender, and he reaches up to ruffle Kent’s hair.

“Jesus, Kenny, look at you,” he says.

Kent can feel the heat high up on his cheeks, and he knows that he must look like a complete fucking mess right now: his hair sticking up every which way, his own come splattered across his abs, his lips red and slick with spit from kissing.

“You’re not so bad yourself, Zimmermann,” he says, sounding a little hoarse and out of breath.

They wade back into the lake for a moment to wash up, the cold water a shock against Kent’s overheated skin. They eat, after; they have the sandwiches Kent made before they left and a few protein bars, because there are always some of those around the house, and a couple of bananas that are just this side of too ripe but still good to eat.

They wash it all down with another couple of beers and this time, Kent falls asleep for real, full and warm, and sated. When he wakes up some time later, the sun is beginning to slowly go down and Jack is sitting next to him on the blanket, chucking small pebbles into the water.

Kent pushes himself up on his elbows to peer up at Jack, who seems distant and sullen. Kent is no stranger to these mood swings, but they always catch him off-guard, like he missed a step somewhere.

“Hey, Jack, you okay?” he asks.

Jack throws another stone into the lake.

“I’m fine, Kenny.”

“You sure? You’re being awfully quiet, even for you.”

“I told you I’m fine,” Jack cuts him off sharply and looks like he regrets it almost immediately. “Can we just drop it, please?”

There’s a moment of silence that stretches between them until it’s almost ready to snap. Surprisingly, it’s Jack who breaks it.

“Do you ever think how—” he starts, and Kent knows exactly where this is heading.

The truth is, it’s all he can think about—it’s always there, somewhere at the back of his mind as he counts down the days until the draft, until everything they’ve worked so hard for resolves itself once and for all, and they will know. The entire hockey world will.

And the thing is, Kent knows that he wants it, but Jack needs it, the way Kent doesn’t, not really, even though he’s the poor kid who grew up to stick it to everyone who ever said he wouldn’t amount to anything, and going first in the draft would be his crowning achievement, the ultimate fuck you to everyone who’s ever doubted him.

But hockey is just what Kent does, not who he is, and it doesn’t define him the way it does Jack.

He’s never said it to anyone, and never when they ask directly, but he wouldn’t mind going second. All he needs to do is prove to everyone that, in fact, there were two number one draft picks in the class of 2009, regardless of the actual draft order. It shouldn’t be difficult, no matter where he ends up.

“Not today, Jack, okay?” he interrupts before Jack can finish his question. “Today it’s just you, me, and the lake.”

Jack is silent for a long, long while.

“Sorry,” he says then.

Kent sits up and knocks their shoulders together before he reaches over to tangle their fingers together in Jack’s lap. He can see the way Jack’s eyes dart down to where their hands are joined.

“Don’t be sorry,” Kent says. “Just…we got this far, okay? We’re gonna make it. There’s nothing stopping us now.”

.

The drive back is mostly quiet, save for the CD mix Kent made for Jack (You can’t just listen to dad music, Zimms, he said, but it was more than that) playing on the radio speakers. Kent has his shades on and his feet up, even though he knows that it usually annoys the living shit out of Jack, but just this once, he doesn’t seem to mind, and he looks out the window at the outside world passing them by.

For a moment, he thinks that maybe if they just stopped right there, the world would still move right past them, leaving them behind in this one moment, frozen in time.

They haven’t been children for a long, long time, not really, but it still feels like the last summer of their childhood, one of those summers that feels like it lasts forever, only to pass in the blink of an eye as soon as you’re not paying attention; full of lazy, sunny days that seem to stretch into infinity, deceptively idle when, in reality, there’s nothing that can stop the clock.

It doesn’t mean Kent wouldn’t want to try.

But if he knows anything at all, it’s this: the only way forward is through. And, when all is said and done, they will see each other on the other side.