Kent slams back his shot and squints at the dude sitting next to him at the bar. “So you’re telling me you’re a god?”
Johnson--John? Kent is a little hazy--sighs. “I’m not a god. I am Beyond. I am metaphysical. None of this is really happening, even outside the canon of the work. Think of me as a McGuffin.”
Kent squints a little harder. “So you’ve got like--” he waves his hands around, trying to remember. What was it? Fuck Disney movies. “Infinite cosmic powers?”
“Itty bitty living space,” Johnson agrees. He checks his watch. When Kent glances at it, his head hurts. He’s pretty sure those aren’t numbers. And that’s not just the tequila talking. “Listen, you’ve got like two more minutes before I’m due to go make Nursey and Dex make out on a bet, so get to the point.”
“You’re weird,” Kent decides. He likes weird. It’s fun. “So if you’re the genie from Aladdin, can you grant wishes?”
“In a sense,” John says. He sounds longsuffering. This dude would get along with Jeff, who is also usually exasperated with Kent’s shit by this point in the evening. “What’s your wish, Kent Parson?”
A million Stanley Cups. Infinite cats. The possibilities are endless.
“What if I had been better when Jack tried to kill himself,” Kent blurts out, and immediately turns bright red. “Or like, what if Firefly lasted for seven seasons.”
Johnson considers. Kent can see him considering. It’s sort of the worst.
“Yeah, you know, I can do that,” Johnson says. “You’re about to learn a lesson, Kent Parson.”
“As long as it’s about space cowboys.” Kent signals the bartender for another round of shots. “Then everything’s awesome, bro.”
“You’ll see me again,” Johnson says, ominously, and does his shot.
Kent wakes up with the mother of all hangovers.
“Ugh,” he says, hoping against hope that Kit will grow opposable thumbs and open the Advil bottle for him. “Help.”
There is a soft chuckle above Kent. “Your head?”
Kent becomes aware in stages. He is laying in full sunshine. There is a soft spring breeze washing over him. Jack Zimmermann is in his bed, a warm weight to his left.
He’s still dreaming.
Kent peels his eyes open the rest of the way. Jack is sitting up in bed, reading. He’s naked, at least from the waist up.
“How drunk did I get last night?” Kent stopped having masochistic dreams like this when he was nineteen. Maybe twenty, twenty-one. Last month. Fuck you.
Jack laughs again. It’s warm, knowing. Not the way Kent last heard Jack laugh, at Samwell when they were twenty, Kent fresh off a Cup win and aching, Jack refusing to listen.
Shit, at least it’s a good dream.
“You tried to keep up with Guy,” Zimms says, and--bends down and kisses Kent’s forehead. “You should know better by now. I know you say being someone’s rookie means listening, but you don’t have to match him shot for shot. Plus it’s been a few years, I think you’re exempt by now.”
That is a lot of words Kent understands independently. He laughs weakly and pinches himself. It hurts, but he doesn’t wake up.
“Breakfast?” Jack asks, either not seeing or not caring about Kent’s obvious mental breakdown. He hops out of bed--yep, naked. That’s a naked Zimms, except he’s got the body Kent has felt in an enemy uniform, not the svelte muscles of the teenager Kent remembers. He’s built like a brick house. Kent prays to either wake up or get to the sex part of the dream right away.
“Uh, sure,” Kent manages, when Zimms raises a questioning eyebrow. “Breakfast. Sounds good.”
Jack laughs again, easy and open. “You’re lucky we don’t have practice until this afternoon. I’ll make something greasy, babe.” He snags a pair of boxers off the floor and is gone. Kent flops back onto the bed and pointedly does not hyperventilate.
Kent gropes on the nightstand for his phone. He’ll just--call Jeff. That’s what he’ll do. He thumbs his way to his favorites--
Zimms. Guy. Dad Bob. Alicia. A couple of names he doesn’t recognize: George, Lardo, Thirdy.
No Jeff. No Toad. None of the Aces at all.
“I’m going to count to three and then wake up,” Kent announces to the empty room.
“Babe? Do you want sausage?” Jack calls from outside of the bedroom. A bedroom, that, upon further examination, Kent has never seen before.
Well, fuck. Johnson really is a god.
“Yeah,” Kent yells back, and gets his ass out of bed.
Kent eats his pancakes. His eats his sausage. He accepts Jack’s distracted, perfunctory kiss on the cheek. He pretends to have hangover diarrhea and locks himself in the bathroom to look up shit about this bizarro world on the internet.
Top prospects drop out of draft amidst rumors of drug use. Kent Parson takes the Frozen Four with Yale. Jack Zimmermann takes the Frozen Four with Samwell University. Kent Parson and Jack Zimmermann sign with the Providence Falconers as free agents.
According to Google, they signed matching contracts. Kent isn’t sure he’s ever seen anything so gay.
There’s nothing on the internet about them being gay, except that the third result when he searched their names was a fanfiction archive. So that’s basically the same as before. Judging by the way Zimms kissed him this morning--taking it for granted the way they never did, like it’s a habit, like they get to just be together--they made it work.
Maybe that’s the lesson that Johnson the Human God wanted Kent to learn. Kent glares at the toilet, since there’s nothing else to glare at. “So if I had dropped out of the draft with Zimms, we’d be living happily ever after?”
The toilet, obviously, doesn’t reply. Kent splashes water on his face in an effort to feel less crazy.
It does not work.
“Christ alive, Parser, leave something in the tank,” someone that everyone’s calling Thirdy yells at him. Kent is dripping sweat, panting, ecstatic. He hasn’t played hockey with Zimms since he was seventeen years old, and now they’re on the same line, everyone can suck his dick.
Mashkov skates up, sprays Kent with some ice like the asshole that he is, and stage-whispers, “Parse feeling insecure because you know who coming tomorrow.”
“Oh shit,” Thirdy moans. “Pie. I call dibs on anything cherry, it’s Izzie’s favorite.”
“Can’t call dibs unless Zimmboni can hear, you know the rules,” Mashkov says. He sticks his tongue out and adds, “Besides, texted B a month ago and asked.”
“You dirty fucker,” Thirdy says, with feeling. Kent has no fucking clue what’s going on.
“I’m gonna--” he gestures vaguely to the other side of the rink, and eases his way out of that conversation.
A guy with a huge beard and crazy eyes skates up next to him. Kent is alarmed by the instant feeling of kinship, the way it hits him in his bones. Crazy eyes are his thing, so sue him. This is the closest thing to Toad the Falconers have got. He dares a glance at the back of the dude’s jersey, and--yep.
“You’re looking spry,” Guy says. He’s got a thick Canadian accent, not French like Jack’s but definitely there. “Excited about reuniting with your true love?”
“You know it,” Kent says, heart beating faster. Does somebody actually know that he and Zimms are a thing? There have been a significant lack of chirps about Kent taking it up the ass, so he’s been assuming they aren’t out to the team.
But wait a second. Even if Guy knows, that’s still a weird fucking thing to say.
“Is she going to destroy you at beer pong and put it on the internet again?” Guy smiles, going a little misty-eyed. “I tell ya, I love when Lardo comes to town.”
Lardo. Lardo. Beer pong? A memory bubbles up to the surface of Kent’s brain, slow. Some short girl who kicked his ass at any and all drinking games at Zimms’ party. He saw her name on his phone this morning. That makes sense, that he’s friends with Zimms’ friends in this universe.
“Probably,” Kent admits. “I’ll try not to cry this time.”
Guy frowns at him from behind the giant beard. “Are you okay? You seem weird.”
“I’m a traveler from another dimension,” Kent blurts out, which makes Guy laugh and slap him on the back.
“Jesus, Parser, you’re such a fucking weirdo.”
See? Kent has totally got this.
Kent does not got this.
“Kenny?” Jack is staring at him like he’s a Martian, which makes sense. Kent is the one who’s lying in their bed like a robot, stiff and uncomfortable, wearing sweats and a shirt even though Zimms is just in boxers. “Are you okay?”
“Headache,” Kent lies, frantic. Zimms is in bed with him, their bed, after they were just together all day. They drove to the rink together, they drove home together, they ate dinner and watched TV together. Jack even spotted him during his workout, which made Kent about a hundred times more likely to drop a barbell onto his chest and suffocate himself.
Now seems like the kind of time when they would normally, like, do it.
And okay, Kent is not a prince among men. But he is also not a total skeezebucket, as his little sister used to say. This Jack Zimmermann has a boyfriend, who looks like Kent and talks like Kent, but is definitely not, you know, Kent. Having sex with him is therefore a skeezebucket move.
“Okay.” Zimms frowns at him, a little line appearing between his eyebrows. Kent can’t remember if that used to happen. He wants to smooth it out with his finger, brush Jack’s hair out of his face.
“Okay, goodnight!” he yelps, and tucks the blankets tightly around himself.
They are playing the Aces.
Kent, somehow, neglected to look up the Falconers’ game schedule until this morning. Half because he was expecting to wake up back in his own reality, and half because he forgot like an idiot.
And now he is suiting up in an enemy locker room, about to play against his own team, wearing a jersey that doesn’t even have a letter on it, much less a C. And what is up with that, anyway? Kent got here two years before Zimms, according to Wikipedia. Why the hell is Zimms the one with the A?
And more importantly--if Kent wins against the Aces in this reality, does that in some way translate to his universe’s standings? He’s got priorities, here.
Jack, in the next stall over, is too busy smiling at his phone to realize that his supposed boyfriend is having an existential crisis, which is just super. Mashkov, on Kent’s over side, is apparently not.
“Parser.” Mashkov nudges Kent with one enormous hand. This universe’s Kent, Kent realizes with a sense of impending doom, probably never had ill-advised sex with Mashkov at the All Star Game and then had to deal with Mashkov pretending that Kent had the wrong number when he tried to text. This Kent is friends with Mashkov.
“What’s up?” Kent asks. He fiddles with his stick, retaping it. This universe’s Kent is a dumbass, he doesn’t use the right system of lucky stripes with his tape and it’s a miracle that he’s ever scored a goal.
Oh, wait a second, that only became Kent’s lucky pattern after his first goal with the Aces. What if Kent throws off this universe’s good juju? He frowns at the stick, pissed off.
“Not pissed off about yesterday? Joke about B?” Mashkov asks in an undertone. “Know I was just kidding.”
“It’s cool, man,” Kent answers, easy. It’s hard to be pissed off when he’s still not sure what the hell is going on around him. Confused, bewildered, appalled about the fact that this Kent does not have a cat, etc. But not pissed off.
“Good. Same plan after game, then?”
“Yep,” Kent agrees. Hopefully Zimms knows what fucking plan Mashkov is talking about, because Kent sure as hell does not.
Speaking of Zimms. Kent turns to him, whistles to get his attention. Jack looks up from his phone, game face on. Then Zimms meets Kent’s eyes and just--smiles.
It’s super dumb, the way Kent’s heart thumps like that. He isn’t still hung up on Jack Zimmermann. That would be sad. It’s just nice to have somebody look at him like that, okay, get off his jock.
“We’re gonna crush it, Parse,” Jack murmurs, and offers his fist. Kent bumps it, swallows around the sudden lump in his throat.
“Absolutely. Are we still on for after?”
“Yeah, the guys are all gonna come over,” Jack says, so that’s a relief. “They had to take Dex’s van to fit all the pies. I think Bitty’s gonna start charging soon, probably make a mint.”
“Cool, cool,” Kent says, like any of that means anything to him. “Right after we crush the Aces.”
“At least it’ll be an easy game,” one of the other guys--Marty?--says.
Excuse the fuck out of him. Kent’s boys had better bring it.
The Aces are goons.
Where the hell is the grace? The skill? The precision, for fuck’s sake? The hockey team that Kent birthed from his own lions, the fruit of his goddamn womb, is acting like the Schooners. It is a bitter pill to swallow.
“Hey, Toad, you’d better act like you know which way the fucking puck goes or I’m gonna ram that stick down your throat,” Kent snaps after the second time that Toad tries to fucking take him out at the knees. Toad blinks at him, startled, probably because he is not used to Kent Parson giving him advice on the ice. Gotta watch that.
And then Jeff fucking boards him, what the fuck. There’s a penalty called, which gives Kent a second to recover from the fucking shock of it all. At least he hasn’t accidentally passed the puck to anyone wearing black, for Christ’s sake.
“Hey,” Jeff says, frowning down at him. Kent is still on the ground, oh yeah. “Parson, you didn’t hit your head or something, did you?”
Kent knows he’s beaming up at Jeff like a psycho, not just because of the way Jeff recoils.
“Jesus, what’s the matter with you?”
“Just really glad to see your ugly mug, dude,” Kent says, as the refs come and take Jeff to the box. It’s probably the only honest thing he’s said in the last two days.
Kent wants to go yell at the Aces in the locker room after the game for the bullshit way they played, has to stop himself from following the line of dejected black jerseys into the visitor’s side. Instead he trains his eyes on the blue of Jack’s shoulders, tracks his way into the locker room and finds--
“What a fucking beaut in the second period, you gorgeous fucker--”
“Jack, that was wonderful--”
“God, Parse, you think you scored enough goals?”
--an entire cheering section that’s apparently allowed into the locker room.
“B!” Mashkov shouts, elbowing his way in front of Kent and making a beeline towards a short blond guy. “You see my assist?”
Jack has some guy with a mustache in a headlock, is laughing, while a girl who looks familiar edges her way over to Kent. And then it clicks--that’s Lardo, who once definitely burped in his face, which Kent is never admitting to having a very confused boner about--and that would make this the Samwell hockey team.
“Sick wrister in the second, my favorite part was the way you missed the net,” Lardo says. Kent grins down at her--okay, so it’s not just Guy who sets off some kind of muscle memory in Kent’s brain, that’s good to know. Acting on instinct, he scoops her up and throws her over his shoulder--
“I’m gonna take my future wife and see all you fuckers later,” he yells and heads towards the door, amidst boos and cheerful heckling.
“She’s got better taste!” Guy bellows, and Kent can’t help laughing, maybe for the first time since he got to this weird alternate dimension--
“All right, all right,” Coach calls, finally showing up. “Samwell, clear out, you’re moving up on my hit list. Knight, what have I told you about barging into team spaces?”
Jack’s old team leaves, which means Kent has to put Lardo down. She punches him on the shoulder on her way out, which is almost homey. Zimms reaches out and rubs at the spot, unthinking, which is-- a lot of things.
“Good work, boys,” Coach says, “nicely done. Rest up, I don’t want to see any of you until we have to get on the bus. Petyr, see a trainer about that wrist before you head out.”
So now Kent just has to get through some kind of party with all of Jack’s friends from college. Swell.
Kent sticks to beer, because he’s not an idiot. He’s gotta keep on his toes. Lardo is a fucking shark who definitely knows something is up.
Case in point--
“What the hell is up with you?” Lardo frowns up at him. Kent scans the last few minutes frantically in his mind--has he said anything weird? He’s been kind of busy.
Zimms is standing over in the corner with a couple of the Falcs and the little blond guy--Bitty. B. The you know who that Mashkov tried to chirp him about yesterday.
Kent gets why someone would chirp this Kent about that guy. Jack’s leaning into Bitty like he’s not even aware that he’s doing it, the way he used to get wasted and drape himself over Kent when they were kids, the kind of closeness that doesn’t require thought. The kind of close that Jack only does when he--
This universe’s Kent is some kind of poor bastard, Kent decides, taking another swig of beer. His boyfriend is into someone else. Seriously into someone else.
“Parse.” Lardo kicks him in the ankle. “What the hell.”
“Nothing’s wrong, why do you ask?” Kent tears his eyes away from the way Jack has one arm thrown over Bitty’s shoulders, companionable, easy.
“Uh, because Jack is telling the story about kicking the football team out of the Haus and you’re not making fun of him?” Lardo narrows her eyes and Kent starts to sweat a little. “What’s going on?”
And, you know, what the hell. Kent drains his IPA for courage and says, “Okay, so, hypothetically, do you believe in alternate universes?”
Lardo just stares at him. “Yeah, I’m gonna go get Shits.” She ducks away, returns a second later with the mustache bro in tow. “You boys have fun.”
“‘Sup, Parse?” the guy--Shitty, Kent remembers, Women’s Studies major or something like that, Zimms’ best friend and therefore the source of the most blinding jealousy that Kent has ever felt--asks.
“If I met some kind of wizard and made a wish and then ended up in this universe, how do I get back to mine?” Kent asks. He doesn’t have anything to lose at this point. His team is a goon squad, he isn’t even an alternate captain. And Jack still isn’t in love with him, even if he did everything right, which is a kick right in the balls.
Shitty hums thoughtfully. “What did you wish?”
“What if I hadn’t fucked up when Jack--” Kent waves his hand awkwardly. It seems gross, to air Zimms’ dirty laundry in public, even if this isn’t really his Zimms. “You know. At the draft.”
Shitty gives Kent this very concerned look, which is unnerving. “What did you do to fuck up?”
Kent shrugs. “Not whatever this universe’s Kent did, man. I don’t know. I went first, you know? I didn’t go to Yale, that’s for sure.”
“So you met a wizard and asked about that? Was it the anniversary or something?” Shitty asks. “And then you what? Woke up here?”
“You’re taking this really well,” Kent says. “But yeah, basically. It wasn’t the anniversary, I just--you know. You don’t regret anything?”
“Yeah, but I mean, you guys worked it out anyway, right?” Shitty shrugs. “Were you just curious?”
“I haven’t talked to Zimms in like two years,” Kent says. Shitty’s jaw literally drops, which is kind of funny.
“Wait a second, bro, I need to rearrange my worldview. Fuck, that’s honestly more like my parents getting divorced than my actual parents’ divorce was. You two aren’t--” Shitty waves his hands around, which is pretty rich considering half of the supposed alpha couple was just across the room flirting with someone else, even if now he’s talking to Lardo. Even if now Jack looks up like he can feel Kent looking at him, flashes that smile in Kent’s direction.
“Whatever, man, he’s obviously into that Bittle guy,” Kent says, and he does not sound bitter, thank you very much. That’s not his smile, not really. He didn’t do anything to deserve it.
“You have got it so wrong, bro, Jack is over the moon about you. Kent. His Kent. Fuck, what kind of wizard was this?” Shitty rubs his temples. “I’m getting a headache.”
“His name was John Johnson,” Kent says, feeling like a moron. “We did a bunch of shots together?”
“Ah,” Shitty says, nodding. “Yeah, that makes sense. That makes a lot of sense. Did he mention the fourth wall? He was always doing that.”
“No, I don’t know? Listen, do you know him? Do you have his number?” Can Kent call this guy and ask to go home?
“He always said he would know we needed him if the story demanded, brah,” Shitty says. “I don’t think he owns a phone. But like, what if it’s like a Freaky Friday situation? Have you learned a vital lesson about understanding yourself?”
“Not fucking yet,” Kent snaps. He’s just--done. So fucking done. He needs a second, a breath. He pushes his way past Shitty, storms to not-his and not-Zimms’ room, throws the door open.
“Wrong room,” Kent says, which is dumb considering this is supposedly his house. Mashkov and Bittle spring apart, guilty, like Kent didn’t just catch them, what, making out in his guest room? “I’ll let you--”
“Kent,” Bittle says. He’s bright red, but he’s--holding Mashkov’s hand, not letting go, like they’re a united front. Is everyone in this universe better at dating than Kent? “Sorry--we weren’t--”
“Change the sheets after!” Kent chirps, and grins when Mashkov and Bitty both flip him off. He closes the door and tries the next bedroom, which, yep. There’s the bed he woke up in yesterday, with Zimms’ dorky biography on one nightstand.
It’s a little easier to breathe once he’s on his own for a second. Kent wanders around the room--it’s the first time he’s really been alone in here. There’s framed pictures on the walls, artistic shots of geese and trees and shit, and then normal pictures. There’s one of Kent and Jack at Jack’s graduation, Bob and Alicia on either side of them.
Next to it is Kent’s diploma from Yale. He majored in psychology, which even this dumbass Kent can understand. Jesus, is alternate Kent completely buried in Zimms? Does he even have any hobbies, any friends of his own? Why doesn’t he have a cat, for fuck’s sake? Purrs is the best.
The door to the bedroom opens, shuts softly. Kent turns around--Zimms.
“Hey, babe,” Jack says, soft and, okay, unfamiliar. Kent’s Zimms didn’t talk like that. They weren’t, you know, grown ups. “Shitty said you might need me.”
Kent wants to laugh. Kent doesn’t need this other Jack. He needs, fuck. Jeff. Toad. Something.
“Yeah, I’m just--did you know that Bittle and Mashkov are fucking?”
“Really? Huh.” Jack frowns a little, then grins. “Good for Tater.”
“You’re not--” Kent grapples for something diplomatic, lands on, “jealous?” instead.
“Jealous?” And now Zimms is frowning for real. “Of--Kenny. Don’t be ridiculous.” He crosses the bedroom, tugs Kent in close. One of his hands goes into Kent’s hair, fingers threading through gently. The other goes to his waist.
“You’ve gotta know. You’re the only person I could ever love. After everything we’ve been through, everything we’re going to do--” Jack leans down and kisses Kent, gentle, sweet. “You’re the only one for me.”
Kent looks up into Jack’s blue eyes, breath caught in his throat. This is it, everything Kent always secretly wished for. Everything he wanted.
Kent doesn’t want it.
He’s got to find a way out of this.
Kent wakes up in sunshine again. He keeps his eyes closed for a minute--he kept Zimms at bay without completely fucking up alterna-Kent’s life, he thinks. They made out for a minute and then Lardo saved the day by charging in and challenging Kent to some kind of beer pong rematch.
He lost, terribly. And then he and Jack spooned tenderly all night. Except now the bed is empty, which Kent hopes doesn’t mean Zimms is making him a romantic breakfast in bed or something. This is too much responsibility.
Cautiously, Kent opens his eyes. And then sits bolt upright in bed.
“I have never been so happy to see you,” Kent tells his cat, who is curled up on the other side of the bed. Kit Purrson meows at him, irritable, and Kent buries his face in her fur. “Kit. Kitty. Purrs. My baby. How are you?”
She swats at him with a paw. Kent is back.
“Jesus Christ, you will never believe what happened to me,” Kent starts. He rolls over to tell her all about it, and feels something crinkle under his hand. It’s a piece of paper.
Hey, asshole, someone with Kent’s handwriting has written. You really did have a wrong number for Tater, no wonder he thinks you’re a douchebag. Call him and tell him you’re back to the right universe. Your team is full of insane people. Your cat is a demon. I hope you learned some kind of lesson, all I learned is that I should get a dog and that THE ACES SUCK. Jk, I knew that already.
"I think we've got this, Purrs," Kent tells his cat. He's definitely feeling like he's home.