Kent wakes up the day after losing the conference finals to find Kit nuzzling under his chin and tapping her paw on his cheek. Alexei is still passed out behind him. Either he doesn’t move in his sleep in general, or he’s like Kent and stays in one place when he’s completely worn out. Either way, Kent is happy to wake up in his arms. He’d be happy to stay there all morning if Kit would let him. He could just send Jack a text that said, Sorry, eat without me. Trapped under the arms of a giant, jolly Russian.
Instead, he tries to slip out of Alexei’s arms without waking him. Alexei tries to pull him back as he wakes. It’s adorable. Kent is so screwed.
“Just need to feed Kit so she leaves me alone,” Kent explains as he gets up. He checks his phone and it’s only eight. They can loiter in bed a bit longer.
It’s a show of his laziness that Kent keeps everything to mix Kit’s food in the second closet in the bedroom. When he did a tour of his house, fans zeroed in on how much his cat was spoiled by having a cat door cut out of the door of the closet and the whole second closet to herself, but it’s really Kent spoiling himself. The house is too big for him and this way he can feed her quickly and climb back in bed. Of course, she’s still spoiled, but no one except Jeff knows that sometimes he lets her eat at the table with him so he doesn’t have to eat alone.
Kent detours to the bathroom to brush his teeth before he rejoins Alexei on the bed. Alexei wraps him up as soon as Kent is close enough. He nuzzles against the back of Kent’s neck, pressing small kisses into his skin.
“You’re going to make me cancel brunch with Jack and Bob so I can stay here,” Kent says.
“Can’t cancel,” Alexei says even though he makes no move to let Kent go. “Zimmboni think wrong thing and get mad at me.”
“Jack should learn to mind his own business.”
Alexei hugs Kent tighter for a second before backing away and pulling gently on Kent’s shoulder to prompt him to turn over. When they’re both on their sides facing each other, he reaches down to take one of Kent’s hands in both of his. He lifts Kent’s hand to his lips, kissing his knuckles before lowering their hands against his chest.
“Kотенок,” Alexei says so Kent will look up at him. “When you come to hotel before game, you let me think is not important for you. So, I do what you ask. I think okay. Could have been just fun for me. But then I see is not nothing to you.”
Kent looks away. He can’t help it. He’s sure that both Jeff and Caitlyn would tell him that he needs to talk to Alexei about these kinds of things, but it wasn’t just Jack’s fault that they never talked about anything.
“Kотенок, you ask Jeff what he say when he call me?”
Kent shakes his head. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know. He didn’t want to fight with Jeff about it.
“He say he not mad with me yet. That sometimes, you decide things too fast. That you don’t think first. You know things hurt you, but sometimes you do anyway. That also maybe you think easier to get sex than get this when this what you need. And he know I not know any better. But he tell me that now I know. I know just sex hurt you. I know too much too fast upset you. Now, if I not careful and hurt you, it my fault too. And he can’t be mad at you, so he be mad at me.”
“I’m sorry.” Kent wants to be mad at Swoops, but it sounds like Jeff’s shovel talk was actually a lot less threatening than he guessed. Plus, it’s true. Everything turned out fine because Alexei wanted to see him again, but it wouldn’t have been fair to blame him if he hadn’t. Kent never gave him any indication that he wanted anything more than a hook-up before they’d had sex, but Kent still would’ve ended up curled up on the couch hating himself if Alexei hadn’t called.
“No, Kотенок, no be sorry. Is okay. But maybe Zimmboni help me, not so bad thing.”
“Why do you even want him to?” Kent doesn’t look up. He’s already fighting tears, but he still needs to ask. He really wishes he could figure out how to just hook up like the other guys do, but then, if he could, he’d probably be outed by now.
“What? You not want? I don’t understand.”
“I’m such a mess that my friends have to try to help you deal with me. You asked me a while ago if I was just dating you because you were my only option. Is that why you’re doing this? Because I’m your only option? You can probably find an option that’s a lot less work. You can find someone who doesn’t have problems you have to watch out for.”
“What? No, no. Don’t want other option.”
Alexei lets go of his hand and tries to get Kent to look at him but Kent shakes him off. He hates this. He shouldn’t care so much. And he shouldn’t be this upset out of nowhere. He’s proving his own point about how over-dramatic and high maintenance he is without even trying. Maybe he should tell Alexei he needs space to calm down and figure out why he’s so upset for no good reason. But that might freak Alexei out more.
“I hold you?” Alexei asks. “Is okay?”
Kent nods even though he knows it’s a bad idea. This is going to make it hurt more later if Alexei decides he’s too difficult to deal with. He just wants to be normal for once so he doesn’t fuck up every relationship he has. Still, he lets Alexei gather him into his arms and pull him in.
“Want this with you. Only you, yes?” Alexei says. Kent nods a little to show he heard even if he doesn’t know if he believes it.
“I want you. I want you because you good man. You decide to love cat no one else wants. You friend with Jack after he hurt you. You say not his fault he have to take care of self first. You friend with Bitty. You see he good person even if he with Jack. You leave locker room last because you make sure team okay first. You notice when Jack have problems before me and tell me so I help. You see I’m sad and have Itty Bitty make me something special.”
He pauses but Kent can’t think of anything to say before he starts talking again.
“Dating never easy. No one easy. I not easy either,” Alexei says. “I not ask before we have sex. I need learn not judge you before I know. I scared to be gay and not even tell Jack before you make it okay.”
“You’re easier than me,” Kent says through his tears. He lets himself snuggle closer though. Even if he doesn’t agree with Alexei, he believes Alexei means what he’s saying.
“Is not a contest, but I don’t think you that difficult. Is easy for me. Skype with you best part of my day. Make me smile so much whole team ask why.”
Alexei eases him back and this time Kent wipes his eyes and looks up. Alexei smiles at him and Kent can’t help smiling back.
“Most beautiful man I ever see. Am very lucky,” Alexei says.
“You’re ridiculous.” Kent laughs into Alexei’s kiss.
“Cannot argue. ESPN not ask me to pose naked.”
Kent wants to get out of bed even less after his freak-out. Crying always makes him tired. But Jack texts him to verify that he wants to meet at the diner he took Jack and Bitty to the last time they were in town, and Alexei is right that they shouldn’t cancel.
Jack and Bob pull into the parking lot before them and wait before going in.
Zimms scans his face for a second before he looks at Bob and nods toward the door.
“You guys get a table. I want to talk to Kenny for a minute.”
Kent can see Alexei reach out to him for a second and then remember they’re in public and pull back. Kent just shrugs and nods to the door.
“Order me coffee?”
“Don’t take too long or we’re eating without you,” Bob says.
Jack leads him back to the rental car he came in and gestures for Kent to get in the passenger seat.
“What happened?” Jack asks as soon as the doors are closed.
“Zimms, what are you talking about?” If it was Bitty or even Jeff, he’d think they wanted to know about his night with Tater, but he and Zimms tend to avoid details. They’re not at that point yet, and Kent’s not sure they ever will be. He’s not sure he wants to be.
“I can tell when you’ve been crying Kenny. What did he do?” Jack’s voice is like steel. The illogical part of Kent that is still feeling raw from the morning kind of enjoys it.
“He didn’t do anything.”
“Kenny, come on.”
“Seriously Zimms. We were talking and I got upset for no good reason, but it’s fine.” Kent would be annoyed or embarrassed, but he’s sat through Jack’s panic attacks so he figures they’re past that.
“Why would you get upset for no reason?”
“Because sometimes I hate myself and it makes me think everyone else will too?” Kent says. “And I think I probably got more upset than I should’ve because I’m still worn out from playoffs.”
“Zimms, seriously, it’s fine. I freaked out. Alexei made it very clear that even if I hate myself, he doesn’t. I don’t get why he likes me, but he made it clear that he does, so you have nothing to be mad at him about.”
“Kenny, there’s a lot of reasons he should like you.”
“Normally, I’d be happy to hear those reasons, but we talked about how easy it is for me to get worked up again once it’s happened, so can you please not?” Kent says. “I’d like to actually get coffee and eat. If you make me cry, then I’m just going to be back here explaining to him why you made me cry and we’ll keep repeating the process until I starve to death. And your dad has probably already told him three embarrassing stories about us while we were out here.”
“Okay, okay.” Zimms smiles a little and reaches for the door, but turns back before he opens it. “But I’m going to say something if it happens again.”
He gets out of the car before Kent can argue, so Kent decides to let it go. He knows when he can’t win an argument with Zimms and this isn’t one worth trying to win anyway.
Because he has the worst timing ever, Zimms waits for him to come around to the front of the car and pulls him into hug. Kent sinks into it because he’s never going to be able to resist Jack’s hugs, but he groans as he does it.
“Seriously. You need to let me eat.”
Jack laughs and lets him go.
After brunch, Kent takes Alexei around the strip because he’s only been to Vegas with the team and he’s never even been in the casinos. Kent hates that he’s not allowed to take pictures of how delighted Alexei gets when he wins five dollars playing slots. He’s so cute the whole afternoon that the difficult morning seems far away by the time they get back to Kent’s house.
Tater insists on planning their first date even though they’re in Kent’s city. It doesn’t make any sense, but it’s adorable, so Kent decides if it’s awful, he’ll just let it go. It doesn’t matter anyway. The point isn’t what they do. They’ve spent enough time on Skype that Kent knows he likes Alexei, but he couldn’t help worrying that Alexei would find him annoying in person.
They both end up with nicer jeans and shirts than normal without being too dressed up. It’s not Kent’s favorite option, but if they get caught, Kent has to be able to say he was just showing his friend a fun time in Vegas. Alexei stops him at the door where they’re waiting for a car to pick them up so they don’t have to worry about drinking.
“Should be proper and wait until after date, but is already too hard pretending to be just friend all day.”
Alexei threads his fingers though Kent’s with one hand and slides the other behind his head to pull him into a kiss. Kent groans when Alexei’s phone beeps, and he pulls away. Alexei just laughs.
“No more. First, we have best first date. Maybe more after date.”
“We see what feels right.” Alexei’s hand squeezes his before he lets go and opens the door.
The downside of having to pretend they aren’t on a date is that Kent can’t drive Alexei crazy trying to guess where they’re going. Instead he ends up fidgeting and trying to pay attention to where they’re going. Alexei just smiles and glances at the driver to make sure he isn’t looking before putting his hand on top of Kent’s between them for a few seconds. Kent hates that they can’t just hold hands like normal people. He knows that’s why Bitty and Zimms stay home instead of going out a lot of the time.
He’s surprised when they pull up in front of the Treasure Island Hotel and Casino and Alexei motions for him to get out. He knew Alexei liked the slots, but he wasn’t expecting to be back at a casino so soon.
“Are you going to tell me yet?” Kent asks after the car is gone.
“You tell me you like Vegas shows and never get to go. Too busy with hockey. I get tickets to Cirque,” Alexei says. His smile is nervous even though he’s right. Kent did say that.
“Xei, that’s awesome. I haven’t seen Cirque de Soleil since prospect camp,” Kent smiles and rests his hand on Alexei’s shoulder for a few seconds. It could be friendly, but it’s still a bit of the contact that he wants. Alexei’s smile grows, and he leads them inside and to the theatre.
The show’s amazing. Kent thinks it’s unfair that he’s probably making more money as an athlete than the performers. He can’t imagine doing half of what they’re doing. He probably looks like a kid while watching the whole thing, but when he glances at Alexei, Alexei smiles back. He snaps a couple pictures to send Bitty so Jack has to take him next time. Alexei insists on buying a program and souvenirs. For once Kent wants the tacky mask to remember the night and not just because it’s awesome.
“Good date?” Alexei asks after the car drops them off at home.
“Almost the best date,” Kent says as he pulls Alexei inside.
“Could be made a bit better.” Kent smirks as he leans against the door.
“Oh? I can still make best date?” Alexei smiles as he crowds Kent against the door with his body.
“It’s getting better.”
“You like when I have you against door?”
“Or wall. Or bed. Couch would probably work too.”
Alexei laughs and leans down to kiss him, pressing against Kent with his whole body. Kent runs his hands up Alexei’s back. It’s not long before he loses control and his hips jerk forward. Alexei lets him push forward for a minute before backing away. He pulls back from the kiss, drops four kisses down Kent’s neck to his shoulder before stepping back.
“Is just first date.”
“Okay, yes, officially. But we’ve had a ton of Skype dates and those count as something.”
“Wait a bit longer okay?” Alexei says. “Just want to be sure.”
Kent nods because even if he knows this is about him, he still grew up with Bob telling him a million times that both people had to be sure about sex to do it. It doesn’t matter why Alexei isn’t sure.
“Still come to bed with me if I promise to be good?”
“Yes. I don’t like sleeping alone either.”