Despite Carl's prattling, Kent almost feels at peace. This was how it was always supposed to happen. Jack was going to win the cup his first year in the league, and then he was going to win the Calder. Of course he was. It was never going to be any other way. Kent is well aware that the only reason he won it his first year in the league is because Jack wasn't in the running.
He takes a sip of his drink and actually finds himself smiling slightly. The image of Jack grinning ear to ear, surrounded by his teammates didn't hurt him, at least not like it used to. It still stings a bit, sure. He never imagined they'd win the Cup separately, but a year after Kent's last desperate appearance at Samwell's kegster, Kent has begun to accept that Jack really did cut him out of his life, and Kent would likely never get closure on whatever they shared in juniors. And watching Jack holding the cup over his head, smiling, Kent is surprised to find himself genuinely happy for him. No one had ever worked harder for it, of that Kent is sure.
His phone buzzes with a text from Davy. How's the game going? Did the team we really hate win??
He smiles and is about to reply when Scraps taps him on the shoulder.
"Uh, hey Parser?" Scraps says, pointing to his phone. "You seen this?"
"It's on the screens, Scraps." he says, because, newfound zen aside, he's seen all he needs and wants to of Jack for tonight.
"No, look. It's all over social media." Scraps says, passing him the phone, and Kent stops breathing. Because there, on the screen is an image of Jack Zimmermann, on center ice, his arms wrapped around some blonde twink, kissing.
Eric Bittle. His brain supplies. Forward at Samwell, number 15, weak on hits but very fast.
Carl's saying something, but Kent doesn't even hear him because somehow, despite completely cutting him off, Jack has still managed to find a way to punch him in the face from 3000 miles away.
He catches the end of Carl's comment as he starts to process sound again, something about a parade, getting plenty of laughs out of the team, and Kent gets the gist. It's not the first time he's heard something like that from his teammates, especially Carl, but it hurts in a different way this time. Because now it's not a hypothetical, or about someone's gay cousin, it's about another player. It's about Jack. And it's about him too. There was a part of him that kind of hoped his team would rise to the occasion, if some player somewhere came out, but clearly that was just a fantasy. He expected it so much he's barely even disappointed.
"Go back to your glory days talk, Carly." he hears Swoops say.
Kent is still staring, knows it's been too long and tries to hand the phone back, but he can't. His hand won't move. His voice won't work. Even if his body was obeying him, he wouldn't know what to do. He'd never prepared for this. He never thought Jack would be this stupid. They'd agreed when they were young: no matter what happened between them, no matter what they felt, their careers came first. Hockey came first.
But it looks like Jack has found someone he's willing to take the risk for.
Finally his vocal cords unlock and he finds himself laughing, actually laughing. "What the fuck?" he chokes out, and and he's distantly relieved because it sounds like legitimate shock, which, of course, it is.
"Surprise to you too, huh?" Tads asks.
"This? Yea." Kent manages, which is both the truth and so close to a lie that it hardly counts.
"I wonder if he's gonna get in trouble." says Juice, a young rookie who's always seemed less prejudiced than the rest, probably due to his age, only nineteen.
"Nah, I don't think so." Tads says. "The league wants to seem progressive. The way the country is now, it would be bad press for the league and the Falcs if a player was openly punished for being gay. Plus, what are they gonna do? Fire their best player, son of bad bob? I don't think so."
"Plus, look in the background." Scraps says, pointing at his screen again. "His teammates don't seem that surprised. They probably knew already. And there's the manager, Georgia Martin. She doesn't look shocked either."
Of course not. Jack had to go and play for a team in fucking progressive New England where no ones cares about anyone's sexuality and everyone gets a ribbon for being different while Kent lives in the American Southwest and works for a team where management is run by two of the oldest most racist, homophobic fucks in the world, who went as far as to protest his recommendation for recruiting Dano, a young black kid from Oakland whose been the best new D-man they've had in years, because they thought he'd bring the team "trouble".
Even if word got out about Kent, and he's thought about every scenario that could lead to that many times, he's relatively sure he wouldn't be fired directly. Maybe at the beginning of his career, but now? They can't fire the captain, the guy that brought them to the cup. And yet. It's been an off year. The Aces reputation has improved, but it's still not great, and besides that, it's all down to the team. If the team doesn't accept him, won't work with him, they'll have no choice but to get rid of him. A captain's no use if his team won't listen to him. And yea sure, there's some guys he knows wouldn't make a fuss, would at least be willing to work with him, but there's plenty of others that Kent is willing to bet wouldn't.
"I mean, maybe he won't get in trouble directly but jeesh. Imagine sharing a locker room with that guy." says Lex, a respected player with almost ten years on the team. "Back in my day, we would have just kicked his ass and been done with it. No one wants to deal with that shit."
"Jesus, Lex." Swoops says. "If he plays a good game, who gives a shit?"
"C'mon Troy, you can't tell me you'd be cool with a guy who goes around staring at your dick all the time." Carl says.
"God, Carly, have you ever met a gay guy in real life?" Dano asks. "You think Jack Zimmermann walks into the locker room like 'whip em out, boys, can't wait to get an eyeful of that dick?'"
That gets a few laughs, and Kent legitimately snorts. A mistake on his part, because Carl turns his way and says "Well, there's only one man we can ask." The smile drops off Kent's face. "You ever catch Jacky boy eyeing the goods?"
"Did I ever catch Jack Zimmermann staring at my dick?" Kent repeats mechanically.
He can hardly tell the truth, which is: Yea, but only because he caught me staring first.
It occurs to him that if he says yes, he can turn this all away from him, make Jack the villain. He wouldn't put it past himself, but the words don't come out. "No. Can't say I did."
Carl shrugs. "Well, at least he's discreet about it."
For some reason that sets Kent's blood fucking boiling. "Well, you'd have nothing to worry about any way, Carly." he says with a smile that feels like it could cut someone. "Nothing there to stare at anyway."
Swoops bursts out laughing, and Lex hits the deck like that's the funniest thing he's ever heard. Carl laughs too, he's always been able to take a joke. Kent doesn't laugh though. He wishes more than anything that barbs wrapped in jokes weren't the most he could do to Carl. He knows exactly how thin the ice he's skating on is, no pun intended. The only thing keeping him from being found out is the pure unadulterated heteronormativity of it all. Now that Jack's thrown this door open, his plausible deniability is out the window.
He never goes home with girls, He hasn't had a girlfriend since he started with the Aces (or ever) and he knows some guys are starting to notice. And anyone with two fucking eyes can look at any picture of him with Jack Zimmermann in juniors and know immediately from his dumbstruck expression that Kent was ass over ankles.
There were rumors before sure, back in juniors, but all those kind of fell to the wayside after Jack overdosed and it became clear that hockey's golden duo was over with. But now that Jack's done this? There's going to be new scrutiny, new questions that Kent doesn't' know how to answer. They weren't exactly as subtle as they should have been at 17.
One kiss and Jack's ruined him. And Kent wasn't even the one he was kissing.
Kent downs his drink in one gulp, orders a shot.
The group discussion has collapsed into several side conversations, creating a buzz of noise around him. "You good, Parser?" Scraps asks him.
"Me?" Kent grins. "Never better, Scraps."
"You sure, man? You look kinda--"
"Hot, but effortless about it? I know."
He takes the shot, gets up to go to the bathroom and finds Swoops standing behind him, expression tight. "Hey Parse?" he asks. "Can I uh- Can we talk?"
Kent thinks he might vomit. He forces his smile to stay in place. "Not now Swoops, my mom's calling me." A lie, and a stupid one at that. Swoops knows his mom's rehab doesn't allow calls to be made this late.
He walks outside, paces the front of the bar once, twice, before walking into the side alley.
He dials before he can even think about it. For a second Kent considers what he'd say if Jack answers before remembering what a stupid thought that is. Jack hasn't answered his calls in years and tonight is no different.
"What the fuck were you thinking?" he hisses as soon as the phone directs him to leave a message after the beep. "Are you out of your goddamn mind? I know every day is a fucking pride parade over there in Providence but the league doesn't fucking think so. Especially out here. Did you even think about what this would mean for other people, for me? Of course not, that would require you to think about someone other than yourself for once. I mean, I know you hate me, but shit Jack, not even a heads up? They're gonna have questions for the both of us that I'm not-- that I can't-- fuck! Fuck. What am I even doing?" he wonders. "It's not like you care. Fuck." he says again and breaths once, shallowly, steadying himself as best he can before saying. "I'm done embarrassing myself. Congrats on the cup, Zimms."
He hangs up and immediately pitches over, resting his hands on his knees and breathing hard. He can't draw a full breath, every time he tries his lungs collapse on him. His heart is pounding in his ears.
Distantly, he recognizes he's having a panic attack. He knows intimately what they look like, thanks to Jack.
He leans back against the wall and waits for it to pass. It does, slowly. He doesn't know how long it actually was, but it feels like forever when his lungs start to obey him again, his heart slows to run instead of a gallop. He's almost disappointed. He remembers Jack telling him that during a panic attack it really feels like you're going to die, and even though you know you won't, your brain doesn't believe you. He gets that now. With every vital sign in his body betraying him, he had really wondered whether his heart was really about to quit, right here in a dirty alleyway outside a dive bar. It would have been nice, he thinks morbidly, if it had. He would have died a sports hero. He slides down the wall, exhausted. It's not raining now, but it clearly was earlier, the rare Vegas shower, and the wall is wet agaisnt his back. When he stands his shirt comes off damp and dirty.
He wants a cigarette. He hasn't smoked in years, not since he knew that hockey was going to be a serious thing, at fourteen. But when he was a kid in rural Wisconsin, half his middle school smoked, it was the cool things to do, and Kent had always wanted to be liked. Plus, it was one of the only things he and his mom could do together, though in her infinite motherly wisdom she restricted him to one a day (not that he listened). It's been a full decade since he quit, but sometimes, in his most stressful moments, the habit still tugs at him.
He thinks about walking to the corner store and buying himself his first cigarette in a decade. He thinks about going back into the bar, facing his team again, and Swoops, who 'wants to talk'. He calls an uber instead.
- - - - - -
"Ken?" Davy says when he answers the door. He's in sweats and a t-shirt, the black shirt contrasting with the gold star of david charm around his neck that he never takes off. He has his reading glasses on, hair a mess and day old stubble on his face, clearly not expecting company. The sight of him calms the clawing in Kent's stomach and throat, but it also feels like something in his chest is ripped open "I didn't know you were coming over today?"
"Sorry." Kent says. "I just- I really wanted to see you."
Davy blinks, takes in Kent's damp and dirty flannel, the look on his face, before asking. "Did something happen?"
"No." Kent says and pulls him in for a kiss.
Davy makes a surprised sound in the back of his throat, but doesn't pull away, and in fact, pulls Kent into his apartment by his shirt collar.
"Good to see you, too." Davy says incredulously.
"Mm." Is the only response Kent can give before leaning in to kiss him again.
"Ugh, what the fuck were you doing tonight? Your shirt is filthy." Davy says, wiping dirt back onto Kent's flannel.
"I can fix that." Kent says and strips his shirt off, throwing it across the room and leaning back in for a kiss. Davy indulges him, but only for a moment.
"Ken, are you drunk?" Davy demands.
"Because you taste like whiskey and rubbing alcohol."
"I had a few drinks." Kent says, which is a bit of an understatement, but whatever.
"Right." Says Davy. "Ok, well as happy as I am to see you, I really need to work on my thesis tonight."
"Ok, but consider this. You could work on your boring thesis or... you could fuck me instead."
That's what Kent needs. He needs Davys strong arms around him, he needs to be kissed, be consumed, until he can't think about Jack or the Aces, or the three missed calls he has from Swoops.
Davy blinks and then laughs, but Kent can tell he's affected by the flush on his cheeks, barely visible against his tan skin. He seems to fight a brief internal battle before responding. "Ok for real, what's going on?"
"Babe, nothing is going on."
And now Davy is super suspicious. Kent never uses pet names, not unless they're in bed or he's trying to get Davy to stop talking. He knows it irks Davy too, because it reminds them both that, despite the fact that they spend just as much time at each other's apartment as their own, despite everything they've gone through in the past year, despite the fact that Kent is pretty sure he's in love for the second time in his life, they aren't officially dating. Because of hockey, and because of Kent.
Davy doesn't hold it against him, he knows how important Kent's career is to him, knows how devastating an outing could be to him. But he's also told Kent point blank that he can't be expected to stay forever in a pseudo-relationship with someone that he can't go out in public with, can't introduce to his big and increasingly nosy Argentinean family.
It's unsustainable and they both know it. Kent is sure both of them think about breaking it off every day, but neither of them ever do. It's awful stalemate that is unsatisfying for the both of them.
"Ok, so you coming to my place unannounced, dirty, drunk, clearly upset, and asking to be fucked is normal? For real, Kenny, what's going on?"
It's something so small, but Kent still feels like he's been slapped. "Do not." Kent says through clenched teeth. "Call me that."
Davy raises his eyebrows. It's hardly the first time Davy has called him that, and though Kent's never liked it, he's never snapped at him for it either. "Woah. Ok. Noted. Is this because of that big game you guys were supposed to watch today? I know it was the cup. Did the wrong team win or something?"
For once, Kent is grateful for Davy's utter ignorance of all things sports. "No. Nothing like that. Jesus, I don't care about hockey that fucking much that I'd show up here and freak out about it."
"First of all, don't lie to me, you live and breath hockey. Second of all, it sounds like you just admitted that you're freaking out."
"The only reason I'm freaking out is I'm too horny to function and my boy- you're psychoanalyzing me instead of fucking me."
Davy laughs, but Kent doesn't miss the subtle flinch when Kent stumbles over his words. "Oh my god, you're such a drama queen. Ken, I have to work on my paper. And I'm not gonna have sex with you when you're drunk anyway."
"I'm not drunk, I promise. Please." He whispers, close as he can get to Davy without kissing him.
"No, Ken." he says, unmoved.
"Fine." Kent snaps and goes to collect his shirt, stung by the rejection. "I'm going."
"Jesus- Are you seriously mad at me because I won't drop everything and have sex with you?" Davy demands.
"No! No. That's not why- I'm sorry. That's not it. I didn't mean it that way."
"Well explain, cuz you're being super fucking weird right now."
"My ex came out on live TV." he finally blurts.
"What?" Davy asks, clearly not expecting that answer. "Your ex? The one you told me about, who plays hockey too?"
"The one and only. He fucking won the stanley cup tonight and kissed his boyfriend on center ice."
Davy looks around the room slowly, as if hoping one of his pieces of eclectic furniture will provide him with understanding. "I don't understand. Did he- did he out you?"
"No. He didn't. But he might as well have."
"We were really close in juniors, weirdly close. Anyone with eyes can figure it out."
"Ok. Well, admittedly I don't know all the details, but if he didn't out you directly, I'm sure it's gonna be fine." Davy says in an infuriatingly gentle voice, as if Kent is one of his pre-pubescent students being delusional. "You said it's been like, a year since you last talked, right? And you dated what, as teenagers? It's gonna be fine. This is good, Ken. This is a step forward, for everyone."
Kent snorts. "I fucking doubt it. It doesn't matter. I don't want to talk about it, I just needed a distraction."
"Hm. Well here I am, I guess. A distraction from your ex." Davy says, nonplussed.
"God, that's not what I mean. There's just so much- a lot happened with him and it's really complicated. You don't get it."
"No, I don't. Mostly because you never tell me anything about it. I don't know anything about this guy other than that he exists and he gets your really riled up. If you explain it to me maybe I can understand why this has you so worked up."
"Yea, I'm not gonna do that."
"Because it's none of your fucking business!" Kent explodes. Because if he talks about Jack out loud for even one second he's pretty sure he'll lose his fucking mind.
Davy's irritated expression goes cold. "None of my business? How is it none of my business? You came here and made it my business. You're my--"
"I'm your what?"
He scowls. "I don't know, Kent. You tell me."
"I'm your nothing, Davy. We're nothing." He doesn't mean to say it, knows he should be working on deescalating this, but he can't. Because it's the truth and he hates that it is.
"Nothing." Davy repeats in a soft, deadly voice. "So I'm just, what? Someone to distract you, entertain you? A quick fuck and a shoulder to cry on?"
"Pretty much, yea."
Davy's expression shuts like a door. "Get out."
"Get out of my apartment, Kent Parson."
"Davy, I didn't mean--"
"I don't care if you meant it. You don't get to come into my apartment and be cruel to me. I've dealt with a lot since we met, but this is too fucking much. I'm not your dancing monkey, I won't let you use me however you like and insult me while you do it. I'm done."
"Davy. Baby please--"
"Don't you fucking 'baby' me." He says and for one awful moment it sounds like he's going to cry. But when he looks back at Kent his eyes are dry and furious. "I could not be more serious. Get the fuck out of my apartment. Now. I'm sure there's a million men on grindr who would be more than happy to give you what you want. Go crying to them."
"Maybe I will."
"Fine--" Is all he can manage before the door is being slammed in his face.