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Trying Hard (Not to Fall)

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It’s not like Kent could get out of playing against Jack. If he could, he might’ve considered it. But there Jack goes making that fucking goal, tying the score with minutes left in the third period. Maybe if Kent wasn’t so single-minded when it came to hockey, he could deal with going into overtime. But something about Zimms giving him a run for his money is unacceptable.  He pushes for another goal, it works. Unfortunately, that means accidentally running into Snowy and the net after the fact.

It’s funny how the Aces have a rep for being cheaters when the only time shit like this happens is on accident. Not that anyone would believe him. Kent’s caught under a haze of players when someone lifts him like he weighs nothing. He should guess it’s Alexei, but hearing him curse at Kent confirms it.

“You liking hit that so much?” Tater shouts. “I can hit too!”

Tater’s giving him the stink eye and honestly, it takes all of Kent’s energy to look guilty and not turned on. The goal stands, and he knows he’s gonna have some shit to answer for later. But right now, he can’t get over how good it feels to win. He’s earned this; he doesn’t have to answer to live up to Jack’s shadow anymore.

Of course, the post-game interview is going to have at least one question about that goal and three to ten about Jack.

“We played our best out there,” he tells the journalists. “This time it was enough, but obviously, we’ll prepare for the next one just as well.”

He showers, gets an Uber, and leaves without much ado. He thinks about whether he’s petty enough to say good game to Jack. Kent doesn’t know when he became so angry with him. It needs to stop—he knows that much. However, that’s an issue for another day.

There’s a brownstone townhouse a few blocks from the arena. Kent could’ve walked here, but he figures he needs to work on an apology dinner while he still has time. He pulls his key ring out of his back pocket, bracing himself. He slips in the front door, flicking on the entrance light just before getting tackled by fifty pounds of fluff.

“Vera, stop,” he laughs wincing as the black and white Siberian husky licks all over his face. He’s able to sit up after a minute of wet kisses, “yea I missed you too, baby.” He ruffles her fur, kissing her cold nose. “C’mon, you can help me grovel to Papa.”

Kent’s not the world’s greatest chef, but a few years out in the dessert has taught him how to make passible southwestern cuisine. He goes back and forth between fajitas and taquitos from scratch, ultimately decided that the potential for oil-related mishaps is worth it. The fridge is stocked to the brim, which he should expect no less. There’s a pie which is new.

He shrugs, deciding to ask later. Kent flips on the TV to the Food Network, connects his phone to the Bluetooth speakers in the house and blasts his post-game jams. Vera’s sitting dutifully next to the kitchen island, waiting for the scraps of chicken he’ll inevitably give her.

“You’re luck I’m here,” he teases her. “Papa doesn’t spoil you enough, princess. But don’t tell that to your sister. She’ll probably throw a hissy fit when I get home.”

Twenty minutes later, he’s just about done cooking. There’s a plate with tooth picked taquitos stacked a foot high. The house smells like fried tortillas, and the volume on everything is loud enough to make the place feel lived in. Having a home is a luxury he can barely afford, but it’s nice on theses rare roadies to be able to come home to something.

He hears the front door unlocking, and briefly contemplates hiding. Kent can barely suppress the grin sweeping across his face.

“Lousy burglar not know how to sneak away,” a familiar voice calls out.

“If someone broke in, I’m sure your dog would’ve stopped them,” Kent yells.

“Net,” Tater comes through the kitchen. His shoes and bag already discarded, “she worst guard dog. Like little puppy wanting play.”

“Well come here,” Kent opens his arms as an invitation.

“Oh no,” Tater shakes his head. “I not thinking so. Still in lousy mood from little rat hitting Snowy.”

Kent sighs, running a hand through his messy hair. “I didn’t mean to.”

“I know,” Tater sighs. “Still dumb how you win, Zimmboni mean so much?”

“No, it’s not like that…anymore.”

“I know that too,” Alexei closes the distance between them, wrapping his arms around Kent’s waist. “Not mean you should give him pain like he give you.”

“No, and I shouldn’t think that way anymore. We’re not kids, and it just makes me miserable,” Kent rationalizes.

Tater nods approvingly.

“Do I get a kiss now?” Kent suggests hesitantly.

“Da,” Alexei pulls him in for a slow burning kiss. “Miss you, kotyonok. And you cooking for me.”

Kent chuckles, “I missed you too.”

“What time you leaving?”

“Six am tomorrow,” Kent grumbles.

“Make most of tonight, then, starting with bedroom.” Tater unceremoniously lifts Kent over his shoulder.

“What about the food?”

“Still be there when done,” Tater shrugs. “Need to make up for lifting you like doll on ice.”

“That’s what you’re doing right now,” Kent gripes.

“Yes but now will do something about cute look on face. Couldn’t before in front of everyone.”

“Please, you’re such a voyeur,” Kent chirps. “You probably want to do it in front of the entire world at the Cup finals or the Olympics or some shit like that.”

And that’s how they operated for years. Living out of each other’s homes a few nights and weeks a year. It wasn’t easy to balance their lives. But if there was one advantage to dating another professional hockey player, Kent thinks it’s the level of empathy they have for each other’s schedules.

_/.\_

Kent went first in the 2009 draft. Alexei Mashkov went 31st, and Kent to this day believes that was the dumbest mistake ever. Tater was a much better player than the league initially gave him credit for. Fortunately for him, that meant meeting Tater who was this ball of sunshine as much as he was a brick wall not to be messed with.

He was a good guy who didn’t speak a lot of English at the time, but that was fine. Rookie year was the start of Kent’s post-Jack life, for lack of a better term. He played his game, went to practice and got out. He roomed with Tater on roadies because he didn’t have to worry about probing questions. He could play, interview, shower up, and just shut down.

Tater was there, obviously. Sometimes he got roped into going out with the single guys on the team, but Kent didn’t mind one way or another. Kent could feel like he achieved something by playing and then not care about anything else. If Alexei was around to hear Kent complain about one contestant or the other on TV, it didn’t matter. Kent could flip on Say Yes to the Dress or Project Runway without constant chirps about liking girly shows. Theirs is a comfortable silence they can exist in, and it relieves Kent more than he’s willing to admit. It’s mid-October of that year the first time he and Tater have a real conversation off ice.

“Who that?” Tater interrupts during an episode of Project Runway.

“The blonde?”

“Da,” Tater nods.

“Christina Aguilera, she was big in the late 90s,” Kent explains, eyes trained on the screen. “She’s a singer.”

“She good?”

Kent shrugs, “she’s no Britney but she’s alright.”

“But Britney better?”

“The best,” Kent tells him excitedly, “have you ever listened to her shit?”

Alexei shakes his head, “net.”

Kent pats a space next to him on the bed, signaling Tater to join him. He pulls out his new smart phone, scrolling through his music. He picks Toxic, not bothering to grab headphones. Alexei scrunches his nose at the hook. His face is baffled, but it doesn’t stop him from tilting his head slightly to the music. Kent chuckles, causing Tater to blush.

“No don’t worry,” Kent assures him. “It’s catchy. I’m glad you like it.”

“Is good,” Tater admits. “Sounds like Russian songs.”

“Seriously?” Kent gapes at the words coming out of his mouth. “Shit I’m a dick. I just…figured trashy pop music was an American thing.”

“Is ok, never been to Europe,” Tater smirks.

“Was that a chirp?” Kent is equal parts impressed and stunned. “Ok Mr. Cultured, enlighten me.”

“En-ligh-ten?” He stares at Kent incredulously.

“Oh,” he holds out a finger, digging through his bag for the English to Russian dictionary he’d bought last week. “Pros-ve…pros-vi-tet?”

“Oy da, prosvetit,” Alexei says mercifully. He gets this curious gleam in his eye that makes Kent’s stomach drop, “you learn Russian?”

“Well someone’s gotta,” Kent holds back a blush. “You should be able to talk to more than Petrov you know?”

Tater nods appreciatively, and they fall into a lull. “You listen to Russian song now?”

“Chyeah, you got me all stoked or excited, whatever,” he fumbles.  

Tater puts on some song called Beregi. “Damn, that’s some late 90’s aesthetic.” He comments softly, “what’s she saying?”

“Without you I angel without wings, soul lonely without you.” Kent can see the effort Tater’s putting into translating. It’s touching and impressive, “silent long time, but have not forgotten exactly. Not forget how you kiss me.”

Which is how Kent ends up crying in front of his Russian teammate who he barely knows. Alexei panics slightly, asking what he did wrong.

“Nothing,” he lies. “D-do you ever miss home?” It’s a deflection, and at the same time it’s the most Kent’s revealed about himself in a while.

“All time,” Tater admits. “Miss family and weather. You?”

“I miss a lot of things,” or people he doesn’t dare say out loud.

“Be there when done with hockey,” Alexei points out.

Kent snorts, “it’s not that easy.”

“Why?”

Kent wipes the stray tear off his cheek, “because sometimes people only want you when they can get something out of you.”

He shouldn’t say shit like that, but he’s in a strange town with a man he barely knows. They’re acquaintances at best. He doesn’t have to pretend to be anyone but the sorry mess he’s become.  And if Alexei gives him a side hug that is too kind and too understanding, Kent tries his best not to choke on his own sobs.

_/.\_

They talk a lot after that. They’re as close as they could be Kent thinks. He knows the dangerous line he’s towing, however. He knows he can’t catch feelings for Tater. He can’t fall in love with someone who could never love him back, not again. So Kent treats every side hug, every high five and smile like they’re coming from a teddy bear (because Tater is just as cuddly and never in a million years would he want a stuffed animal to fuck him).

Before he can blink, they’ve won the Stanley Cup. Alexei’s slamming him into a bone crushing hug and Kent gasps. Not because he’s been hurt, but because he’s here. He made it an entire season without Jack. And more importantly, he doesn’t think about how lonely or what a piece of shit he is when Tater’s there. He has this gift for pulling Kent out of his mind. Kent grips him a little tighter before letting go all together. It Alexei’s turn to take a lap with the Cup. Kent can’t get over the blinding smile on the man’s face. Kent thinks he could get lost in that face forever.

That’s the moment he realizes he’s fallen completely in love with Alexei Mashkov. He never even had a chance.

He spends the summer hanging out with Tater acting like nothing’s changed. He doesn’t want it to. He really can’t deal with another rejection, especially after he tries to visit Jack in a weak attempt at reconciliation. He should’ve known better than to try mending broken fences. He’d never noticed how broken they were until he’s drinking himself under a table after their explosive argument at the Haus (or whatever Jack’s friend called it).

Obviously, he calls Tater while drunk in a Boston hotel room. He vents and rants and probably says a lot of shit he should regret but doesn’t remember. Kent’s talked in passing about an ex, about missing someone he could never have back. Now Tater knows his secret. Only he doesn’t make a hoopla out of it, so he assumes that there’s no danger in him spilling to everyone and their mother that the Aces golden boy is bisexual.  

He adopts Kit who is the love of his life and keeps him sane when no human (not even Alexei) can. The start of the season is so good because they’re playing well. And Kent knows he wouldn’t be half the player he is this year if it weren’t for the reassurance that Alexei’s got his back. However, Tater gets traded halfway through the season. Kent gives the GM’s hell for it. In the end, all his kicking and screaming does nothing but piss off a lot of people he relies on. He helps Tater pack up his meager belongings, shipping them to Georgia Martin’s house. Kent drives him to the airport the next morning, trying not to think about how everyone leaves him one way or another.

“Take care, Kenny,” Tater hugs him fiercely in front of the security line.

“You too, asshole,” Kent mumbles. “I better see you in the playoffs this year.”

“Would be pleasure to beat you,” Tater chirps. “I miss you, kotyonok.”

“I’ll miss you too,” he rasps. Looking up at Tater, he tries to keep a brave face. “I’ll see you in a few weeks?”

“Da,” Tater promises, “we watch America’s Next Top Model then.”

Kent laughs, “I’ll hold you to that.”

He doesn’t cry when he waves Tater off. He doesn’t cry in his car, or even when he gets home. He cries three days later when he checks into a hotel in Calgary and realizes he doesn’t have to share his hotel room anymore. He had Zimms to lean on in Juniors, and Tater for his rookie year. But now…nothing. For the first time since he left home, Kent Parson was truly alone.

_/.\_

It’s six weeks before the Aces play the Falconers. The game is nearly a shutout until Kent scores a goal in the last ten minutes of the third period. The results are disappointing, but it could be worse. Tater texts him while he’s in the showers about meeting up after. Kent agrees, and waits around the Falc’s locker room for Alexei to emerge. His breath is shaky; he feels nervous yet ecstatic. He doesn’t know what he should feel, or how Tater will react after not seeing him in person for so long. He knows it’s dumb and they aren’t dating. They aren’t anything, he reminds himself, just as he’s had to every time Tater’s texted him since the trade.  

But there’s Alexei emerging from the locker room like a goddam Adonis. And he’s smiling at Kent like he forgot what joy felt like. Kent thinks that’s probably him projecting what his own grin feels like. Regardless, Alexei is hugging him, and Kent feels his heart settle for the first time in over a month. He just feels right.  

And he tells himself it means nothing how fondly Alexei is chirping him; the his sidelong glances mean nothing. But then they’re in Tater’s apartment and he’s being pushed against the front door. Kent doesn’t have time to blink before there are lips on his. It feels like everything he imagined it would be—warm, passionate, and fierce. And if life were so simple, Kent would let himself have this. But there’s this niggling sensation in the back of his head reminding him not to rush into anything.

“Wait,” so he ruins what a year’s worth of pinning had hoped for. “Can we stop, for a second?”

Tater blushes timidly, “sorry. Thought…you…” He’s gesturing between the two of them, looking guiltier by the second.

“I am,” he says hurriedly. “I do. It’s just…complicated.”

“Why?”

“Because I fucked up my last relationship and I can’t do that again,” Kent scrubs his face harshly.

“You date teammate, it not go well,” Alexei deduces.

“How did you—”

“You talk lot when drunk,” he smiles sadly.

“I told you about Zimms,” Kent groans.

“And…how you want me,” Tater blushes.

“What?”

“You say you want me, but too nervous,” he explains. “I thought…could show initiative.”

Kent grins mournfully, “I’m really glad you did. You have no idea how much I want this…well I guess you do.”

“I am hearing but,” Tater supplies.

“I need time,” Kent confesses, playing with Tater’s shirt collar. “I feel like I’m gonna ruin you if you stick around for long enough.”

“Not true,” he swears earnestly. “But I wait for you Kenny.”

Kent reaches up to peck Alexei’s cheek. “Thank you,” he whispers.  

They watch ANTM, not bothering to keep some semblance of personal space between them.

_/.\_

The thing is, Kent knows he’s a masochist. He knows he fucks shit up for himself all the time. He understands that creates half-baked schemes so he’ll have a concrete reason to hate himself. It’s easier than dealing with the truth. 

He’s been dating Alexei for two years. He’s in Boston to play the Bruins, the next morning they’ll be in Providence. He could spend the night with his boyfriend, or he could get some goddamn closure. It’s dumb and probably one of the worst decisions he’s made in a while. But after years of Jack giving him the finger, Kent feels like he’s earned being told in person that they won’t be playing together.

The fight they have goes about as good as he could expect. He probably could’ve dealt with it a million times better. Jack’s clearly in love with this blond kid he was talking to when Kent walked in. That makes his blood boil more than he cares to admit. It’s not even that he’s jealous, or doesn’t want Jack to be happy (because a part of him is genuinely happy for Jack). It’s the fact that Kent gave some of the best years of his life to this guy. He invested so much into this one person’s happiness, and now he doesn’t even know him. Every inch of this frat house screams Jack is better off without you. Maybe he is, maybe they both are, but that doesn’t stop the anguish Kent’s been suppressing for years bubbling up.

He says some stupid shit he’ll regret in the morning. He already made himself social before talking to Jack, so he takes his leave. He picks up his shit from the hotel, and takes his flashy rental down to Providence. He’s at Tater’s door at half past midnight. He’s sure he looks wild and roused.

Tater takes him in, expecting every inch of him for damage control. Kent confesses what he’s done. He knows it would be easier to lie. It’s not like Jack would ever admit to being pan, but he owes Tater more. He needs to be held accountable for his bullshit. He’s never seen Alexei look so resigned and disappointed. It hurts more than any insult Zimms ever spewed at him.

“You still love him,” he declares.

“I don’t,” Kent snaps.

“Then why?” Tater demands angrily.  “Why you hurt me? Why go behind back to see ex? Why force him to play on your team? Why insult mine? Thought you liked Falconers.”

“I do! I fucking swear I do!”

“I love you, Kent Parson,” Alexei inhales deeply. He hesitates, “you love me? Not too sure now.”

Tater doesn’t kick him out, rather he leaves Kent to stew in the living room. He plops himself down on the couch, feeling hurt and confused. Vera, Alexei’s dog that Kent had helped him adopt walks over tiredly, plopping herself on the cushion next to his. He pets her gently. He looks up at the TV stand, noticing the Cup ring from their rookie year proudly on display next to a picture from their first trip to Disney World together.

And it hits Kent like a ton of bricks.

He’s been in love with Tater for years; they’ve been together, happily, for years. There was hardly a time after Jack that he’s had to face alone because Alexei was there every step of the way. And maybe he rushed too quickly into feelings for a new guy. But that man, the one who sat through him obsessing over his ex for so long loves him. He’s never demanded more of Kent than he could give. Tater’s never asked him to be something he’s not.

And Kent’s taken that for granted too fucking often. He’s made Alexei feel like his love isn’t good enough or special enough in the wake of Jack Zimmermann. He’s been insatiable and insensitive, and there were so many times when he should’ve stopped but didn’t. Kent doesn’t hate himself for being an asshole, but he’s so ashamed of how he could’ve done better.

He wipes his eyes on his sleeve, pushing himself off the couch. He slips his shoes off, rapping against the master bedroom softly. He opens the door a crack, Tater’s lying on the bed, facing away from him. There’s enough room for Kent to slide in, so he does. He wraps an arm around Alexei’s waist, pressing his forehead to the man’s back.

“I don’t know how to be loved,” Kent mutters loud enough for him to hear. “I don’t get someone being happy with having me around. I have friends because I make myself likeable. I set the terms and hold people at arm’s length. Because that way, if they push me away I know why.

“And I think there was a time when I didn’t hate myself. But it’s been so long y’know? I’m not used to people caring about me just because. I don’t see why someone would care about me unless I’m being useful to them. And it’s so much easier to like someone you know could never want you back than it is to love someone who loves you. Because then you can say ‘fuck you’ and move on whenever.”

Tater grunts. Kent takes it as a cue to keep going.

“You deserve more than my shit. You see something in me that…I still don’t believe exists. But I trust you…I can’t stop thinking about the number of times I was a dick to you because you were getting too close. Or I couldn’t handle being upset so I lashed out at you. I need you to know how much you mean to me, and how much I want to work on being better. Maybe for you, or me, or us but that started with you. Even when I’m at my worst, you see me. Not some rival or cock to suck or source of potential income. I think you see the parts of me I remember liking and there’s no way for me to describe how much that matters. How much I don’t feel like I deserve you. I…I can’t say I wouldn’t still be here without you. But I know I would be a miserable fucker if you weren’t in my life.”

Alexei turns around, pulling Kent into his chest. Kent breaks down, sobbing “I’m sorry” into his collar. He apologizes until he loses his voice. Tater squeezes him every now and then reassuringly; it’s acceptance, love, and sorrow rolled into one.

“I’ll be better,” Kent swears hoarsely.

“Ok,” Tater kisses his head, “we work on it together.”

_/.\_

“So what’s the deal with that pie?” Kent asks after they’ve gotten reacquainted and decimated the late dinner he made for them. “You get it just for me?”

“You wish,” Tater laughs good-naturedly. “Zimmboni have secret girlfriend, make lots of pie. Very good.”

“What?” Kent’s slack jawed. “Jack Zimmermann, illustrious hockey robot?”

Tater levels him a quizzical glare. “Jealous?”

“No, just confused,” he grabs the pie from the fridge. “I thought he was gonna date that guy from his hockey team. Short, blond, southern accent? Does any of that ring a bell?”

Kent can see the gears turning in Tater head, “you saying girlfriend is boyfriend?”

“Chyeah,” Kent snarks, grabbing forks before heading into the dining room. “Well come on then. Let me have some of this fabulous pie.”

“Only if you promise to make right with Zimmboni,” Tater counters.

“Ok.”

“Ok? Just like that?”

Kent shrugs, “he’s not that terrible and you seem to care about him.” He swipes a fork full of pie from Alexei. He moans, “and I gotta make nice with this kid. This is fucking heavenly.”

“Maybe he give you consolation pie when we take Cup,” Alexei chirps.

“Who says you’re winning this year?”

“Me,” he waggles his eyebrows.

“You willing to put your money where your mouth is?”

“We have lots of money Kent,” Tater rolls his eyes. “I’m thinking more interesting bet in order.”

“I’m all ears,” Kent leans in with bated breath.

“Winner decide celebration,” he proposes.

“That’s it?” Kent snorts. “I hope you’re ready to hate whipped cream, pal.”

“We will see,” Tater smirks.

_/.\_

Neither team makes it past the second round of playoffs that year. It’s frustrating, but at least Kent and Alexei have a long summer to enjoy each other. They watch the Habs destroy the Kings from the comfort of Kent’s place in Vegas.

Kent’s head is pillowed in Alexei’s lap, facing the television. “You know what would be funny?”

Tater chuckles indulgently. “What?”

“We both get to the finals next year, winner kisses loser under the Cup,” he turns to look up at his boyfriend.

“You say we come out?”

“Sure, it’d be the greatest kiss in NHL history,” Kent smirks deviously.

“And what of management? George not like being blind sighted,” Tater reminds him.

“We could tell both of our GM’s in advanced,” Kent argues. “Besides, it’s not like they could get too upset.”

“Sure, like no one upset over player kissing random opponent,” Tater says sarcastically.

“Not if we’re married,” part of Kent can’t believe he just suggested it. But the other part, the impulsive idiot with a penchant for dramatize, loves the idea.

“Married? This is how you propose?”

“Why not?” He sits up so he can debate more seriously. But he notices the disappointed look on Tater’s face. Why would he be disappointed about getting married? Unless— “no,” he gasps. “No Alexei, you didn’t.”

Tater blushes sheepishly, pulling something out of his back pocket, offering a velvet box to Kent. “Was going to be my end of bet.”

“You asshole,” Kent murmurs, opening a box with two white gold wedding bands.

“So yes?” Tater asks wearily.

Kent gapes, “I asked you first!”

“Then yes,” he smirks confidently.

Kent hoists himself off the couch. “C’mon, let’s go.”

Alexei stares at him incredulously. “What? Now?”

“It’s Vegas!” He gestures grandly around the room. “Where else can you have a classy shotgun wedding?”

“What about big, fancy wedding?”

“We’ll do a vowel renewal,” he compromises. But acknowledging how rash it all seemed, Kent offers, “if that’s ok with you?”

“I’m thinking it’s perfect.”

_/.\_

Almost a year later, Kent’s in Providence for the fifth game of the finals. However, he’s there as a spectator. The fucking Blackhawks knocked them out in the Western Conference finals. It’s alright, though, because he can just sit back and watch the Falcs avenge him. Things are better this year. He’s on speaking terms with Jack and total buds with Eric (go figure). Everything’s coming up roses, and if Tater could kindly win the Cup they’ll have their big dramatic coming out scene.

“I can’t wait for this to be over,” Bitty wrings his hands nervously.

“You and me both,” Kent bumps their shoulders together. “Sick of seeing Zimms getting checked?”

“That too,” Bitty huffs.

“Penny for your thoughts?”

“Well if they win, I was gonna kiss Jack under the Cup,” Bitty confesses quietly.

Kent blanches at him, “no you’re not.”

“Why?”

“Because that’s been our plan for over a year,” Kent insists.

Bitty gives him a look.

“I’m serious!”

“And we can’t both come out at the same time because what? You’re an attention whore?”

“See? You get me,” Kent chirps.

“No dice, Mr. Parson,” he glares.

“Very well, Mr. Bittle,” Kent lets out an exasperated breath. “You can go first.”

“After all of that hemming and hawing? What’s the catch?”

“Well I have a wedding band so while you get credit for the idea—I’m gonna piss ESPN and Deadspin off for not knowing that two of the best players in the league got married right under their noses,” he grins triumphantly.

Bitty rolls his eyes. “Only you would get married so you could make a dramatic reveal a year later.”

“You love it and you know it,” Kent pokes him teasingly.

“So is your harebrained plan why I didn’t get a drunken Britney tribute after the Conference finals?”

“As if I would do that twice in one year,” Kent snorts. “But it’s fine, as crazy as that sounds. Some teams have never gotten close to the Cup. I should be happy I’ve got two under my belt and I’ve got fifteen or so years to get more.”

“I’m glad,” Bitty nudges him meaningfully. “The Britney tribute would’ve been funny, though.”

“Please, your ‘I’ll I Want for Christmas is You’ video is by far the best thing that happened this season,” Kent chirpes.

The Falconers win 3 to 1. The arena erupts in cheers.

“Well come on then,” Kent gestures to the ice. “I believe you have some jaws you need to drop.”

Bitty nods, following Kent to where management has opened the gate for the friends and family section. Jack’s taking the cup from a trainer when Bitty reaches him. Kent thinks it’s adorable and hilarious how it takes them a second to get their barring. It’s even funnier when half the team starts chirping them like it’s no big deal. The fans noticed, judging by the whooping coming from the stands.

Alexei puts a hand on his shoulder. “They stole our thunder.”

Kent snorts, “I think we can out do them.”

“Zimmboni,” Tater yells, “hand over Cup.”

Jack frowns, “you got your turn.”

“You stole our thunder, time to take back.”

Jack rolls his eyes, handing it over.

Tater hoists it back up with pride. “Ready when you are, kotyonok.”

Kent grins from ear to ear, wrapping his arms around Alexei’s neck. This, he realizes, is what he’s been waiting his entire career to do, victoriously kiss someone he loves in front of the entire world. They’ve earned this. They’ve been through hell and back for this sport. Now they have the summer, and their entire lives to figure out the rest.