"You never guess what Zimmboni just told me," Tater says as soon as Kent opens up his Skype request. It's funny: for years any mention of Jack would've stolen his attention, but right now all he can think about is his boyfriend, and how he fills up any space he's in so attractively with his boundless energy. He's bouncing on his bed right now, making the camera of his laptop jump, and Kent aches to be there, to feel that enthusiasm. He curses the length of almost two months that are marked out on both of their calendars until they'll be able to see each other again.
"Good to see you, too," he says dryly.
"Guess!" Tater replies with a grin.
Kent loves the way that he plays, both on and off the ice. But even the joking guesses that come to his mind in this case aren't safe. He shakes his head. "No idea. You tell me."
"If you say." Tater's stretching this out like a self-satisfied cat with a mouse. "Remember mystery pie-baking girlfriend?" Kent nods. He's never been sure what to do with that piece of maybe-information. Is Jack bi, even though he'd never seemed interested in girls back in Rimouski, or is the girlfriend some sort of lie? Not that it's relevant to him, either way. "Zimmboni tell me, girlfriend is boyfriend!" Tater's grinning like this is the best news he's heard all year, like he's just been told that he's been named captain of the Russian Olympics team. And Kent doesn't know what to do with the wave of feelings he can see coming as if from a distance as they start crashing over him.
"Good for him," he says, eventually.
"What wrong," Tater demands. "I think you would be excited, knowing he also like us. Like boys."
Kent looks away from the screen. "I already knew that," he says, soft.
"Kotyonok?" Tater asks. "You okay?"
Kent swallows: the inexplicable lump in his throat, and the irrational urge to yell at Tater for even asking that question. He's getting better, at swallowing things. "No," he admits. Tater waits patiently, not prodding him: he's learning too, applying what Kent's learning about the ways he reacts and doesn't, and he's better at it than Kent, which, well, whatever. "I always forget," he says, "that you were still playing in Russia when I was drafted. Everybody knew the rumors then, but - yeah. What have you heard, about 'Parse and Zimms'?"
"You rivals?" Tater says, doubtfully. "Media ask Zimmboni. He never bring it up, in room."
Kent laughs, but there's no humor in it. "Rivals, yeah," he says. "We were - lovers." That much is undoubtedly true. And there's nothing more to say there, because there's too much. Poison he's never been able to talk about, to drain… maybe he can, here, now. Maybe he's free to, finally. But it's clotted, and nothing's coming out.
Tater gets it anyway, miraculously. "He the one that fucked you up," he guesses. It's catching a pass Kent hadn't even consciously made, and running with it.
"I'm the one that fucked me up," Kent says, because it's true. And because he's trying to be better about bitterness, and blaming people.
Tater waves his attempt at self-deprecation aside. "You know what I mean. The one who make you feel you not deserve love. The one who make you think everybody leave." Tater's face is thunderous, and it's amazing. To have someone choose him over Jack, knowing who both of them are -
Well, he would've said five minutes ago, joking, that of course Tater'd be obligated to choose him, to take his side. They're boyfriends. He's only realizing, watching it, just now, that he hadn't actually believed it would go down like that until it did.
"I punch his face in," Tater says fiercely, and Kent laughs for real this time.
"Don't," he says, "you need him at center," but he's not-so-secretly delighted that Tater feels like that, anyway. He hugs his laptop to himself, and wishes he could put his arms around Tater's thick chest, his soft stomach, could bury his head in Tater's shoulder.
"I know," Tater says. "But I would, for you."
Kent doesn't come close to believing him. Tater's such a softie off the ice. He never hurts anyone, if he can help it, not even when bugs get into his house. But the idea that he might bend that, if Kent wanted him to…? Kent doesn't, of course, he loves Tater because he is Tater, but there's no denying the idea is nice. "I miss you so much," Kent says. He's used to it: it's built into his bones, and he's not sure he'd know how to do loving without missing, in some way or other. Still, the feeling of it ebbs and flows, and right now it's at high watermark tide.
"Miss you too." Tater leans forward and then his arm blocks the camera for a second, which Kent knows means he's reaching out to touch the image of Kent on his screen. He leans back with a sigh, then brightens again, saying, "Zimmboni and baker seem very happy."
"That's good," Kent says, tiredly. It is good. He's glad for Jack that he's happy. He's just not sure he can handle having feelings about it. It pulls on all sorts of buried things, strings that he doesn't want to pull.
"And," Tater says, "I was thinking…." He looks nervous, now, which Kent's seen on him maybe a handful of times ever. Also, although he doesn't exactly like seeing it, it's super adorable every time. But mostly Kent had thought they were done with difficult conversation material now, but apparently there's something else Tater's still trying to say. "I was thinking," he starts again, "Zimmboni telling everyone. Telling team. About boyfriend."
Kent nods. "So, and?"
"Team take it well." Tater takes a big breath; it's a huge breath, because he's a big guy. "Was thinking. What if we tell team, too?"
Kent shouldn't feel like he's got the breath knocked out of him. He could've seen this coming three steps ahead, if he'd been reading the play. "I don't know," he says honestly. Licks his lips. First things first. "You can tell the guys you play with, if you want. If you trust them, if they're good about Jack - you can tell about you and me." Even there, even that feels like falling. Like letting go of a grip that he's held onto for so long that the beam he's holding on to has become a part of his arm, and the cramped aching in his muscles has become a part of himself. He's falling like that, but he trusts that Tater's there to catch him.
As for the other, though. His teammates. He'd trust Troy with his life… he says that a lot, when they're talking strategy. And there's always a twist of pain behind it, because he doesn't, he clearly doesn't, trust Troy with his actual secrets.
"Your team love you," Tater says. He can't know that, and he can't know what Kent was thinking, but maybe it's true anyway. "You not have to tell them, you do what you want," but Tater knows, they both know, about trades and how everyone has friends everywhere. If a whole team knows something, it'll be through the whole league in a season or three.
Of course that's a fair bit of time, and Kent could tell his own team before then anyway. Or take it back and say Tater can't tell his either.
There's a relief, though, in letting go.
"You not want to let them down," Tater says. "I know this. You tell me. But they not want to let you down, either. Even if they not be good, otherwise. They be better than they could, for you."
"I don't know," Kent says. It's a lot to think about. But - why not say that out loud? Tater won't judge him, and Tater might help him, though it's still hard to believe both those things. "It's a lot to think about," he repeats. "I know I'm in a good position, career-wise. I'm producing; no one can say I can't. I'm just…" he trails off. "It's dumb, maybe, but I'm just scared. I want them all to like me, and if I tell them, maybe they won't."
"I love you," Tater says, and yeah, he knows. "And if they not like you for this, they not really like you anyway."
It's true. That's the beauty of the argument, it's perfectly, definitionally true. But still…. "They don't know they don't like me. And I don't have to know that about them." Cause the other truth is: Kent's been sure, for a very long time, that no one would like him if they knew him well enough. If his being gay wasn't something that would drive them away, then it'd be the way he lashes out at people, or the paradoxical black hole full of self-loathing, or, hell. He still has no idea what made Jack need to get away from him so badly. He tries to explain this to Tater, somehow, cause he knows he's been silent a while. "But the thing about me is - you don't get this, people like who you are. But nobody really likes me. It's just a question of which things they don't know."
"That not true," Tater says, and Kent snorts. Leave it to Tater to be nice to him. "I know you," Tater says, stubbornly. "And I love you."
Kent wants to beat at him, tear at him, with the cruelest words he knows, make him see that he's wrong. But it's Tater. And he doesn't do that anymore. He bites his tongue, and over the metallic tang of blood seeping out, says instead, more reasonably, "There's so much you don't know about me. You didn't even know anything about me and Jack till just now."
"Then I learn," Tater says. "And I have secrets, too. Not open book. Did you know, I afraid of flying?"
"Airplanes?" Kent laughs. "Really? How does that work with all the travel?"
"I do things I scared of," Tater says, and then he pouts. "Be nice."
"For you? You know I try my hardest." Tater hums acceptance, and Kent tries to regather his previous train of thought. It's a struggle; he feels like it was all jumbled up even before it was derailed.
"I know," Tater says. "And I tell you, so many times as it takes. I love you, I not leaving you. Team love you, team not leaving you either."
"Maybe," Kent says, quietly. It's scary to entertain the possibility. If it's possible for his team to not leave him…. then maybe he's been doing everything wrong. Hiding from them, when he didn't have to. And maybe he can screw it up for real: if screwing things up isn't inevitable, he'll be all the more to blame when he does.
"Stop thinking," Tater scolds him. "I can see. You sad, you worry, you have lines, you get ugly, and even I not want you anymore." Tater's joking. Kent knows Tater's joking, and doing it specifically to cheer him up, at that, and still he has to tell himself that Tater doesn't mean it. He hates that this is a conversation he has to have with himself. "Come on," Tater says, interrupting his spiral of self-pity. "Enough thinking for now. You want have Skype sex? Watch movie?"
"Movie," Kent agrees. He loves Skype sex most of the time, but right now he's not in the mood.
Tater picks out some subtitled animated thing featuring talking woodland creatures, and about ten minutes into his commentary Kent's already falling asleep. He yawns, and Tater says, "Good night, kotyonok," and he drifts off with Tater's voice in his ear.