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Daquiris and Celtic Knots

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Kent’s soulmark is Jack, of course.

It’s a beautiful piece of black Celtic knot on his left thigh, and Kent loves it. It’s stark and simple and intricately woven and so Jack. It starts showing up partway through major juniors, the day Kent outskates Jack and Jack decides that they’re friends, and slowly develops over time. At first, Kent isn’t sure who it is—he’s friends with all his teammates, they’re a close-knit group. He and Jack push each other to do better, but so do he and Superman, who spends hours practicing shootouts with Kent. And there’s Laker, who plays video games with Kent and hangs around his house on a regular basis. Kent’s a social guy, he has a lot of friends, even if he is hoping it’s one of them in particular. But then he realizes he’s in love with Jack Laurent Zimmermann, not just crushing on him, and it all makes sense.

He doesn’t bring it up to Jack. People don’t develop soulmarks at the same speed, and Jack mentioned once that late marks ran in his family. Kent wants it to be a surprise. He’s sure he’ll know when Jack gets his, and then Kent will be able to reveal his own and everything will be perfect.

Around six months before the Memorial Cup, it stops expanding.

That means he and Jack are solid, right? The mark is complete.

So it comes as a complete shock that not only are he and Jack not solid, but Jack has been massively downplaying his anxiety, faking his way through every aspect of his life, and Kent even wonders a time or two if he’d ever known Jack at all.

He checks the mark that night--and finds to his horror that it’s started to fade. Where it had started small but clear and then expanded, now it simply fades like a temporary tattoo wearing off.

It never disappears completely, despite Kent’s fears. Sometimes he thinks it seems to be getting clearer again, but then a day or two later, he can’t see any difference and he figures he was imagining things.

He checks it after visiting Jack at college, both times, and there’s no change, but that makes sense, right? They’d fought, not developed their relationship. If anything, that second time, Kent had torpedoed it.

Then Jack joins the NHL, and the Aces go to Providence.

 

It’s a rough, choppy game of hard checks and lots of penalties. Kent goes to the box for elbowing (which he totally did not do, thank you very much) but the game remains scoreless through the first period. Eight minutes into the second, Goldie, the fourth-line left winger, pulls off an absolutely beautiful one-timer. Kent roars from the bench. They hold it at 1-0 until minutes before the end of the third. Jack wins the faceoff and takes the puck back into the Aces’ zone. Kent is on his tail, but Jack fakes him out and shoots on net. The horn sounds.

There’s a minute and thirty-six seconds left on the clock.

Fuck.

Kent positions himself at center ice for the faceoff. Laker wins it against Jack and shoots the puck to Kent, who passes it to Kirk, already headed toward the Falconers’ zone, who passes it back to Kent. Is there even time to get to the net before the buzzer? Kent puts on a burst of speed and takes the shot.

Unable to slow down in time, he hits the side of the net and dislodges it, making him lose his balance and topple into Snopek, who lands on top of him, knocking Kent’s bucket off. The next few seconds are a confused crush of bodies and net until a hand grabs the back of Kent’s jersey and bodily hauls him to his feet. Kent looks over his shoulder in shock to find Mashkov, who is now yelling at him in Russian.

“You liking hit like that so much?” he asks. “Huh? I can hit too!” Kent just blinks at him in stupefaction until Robinson comes over and Mashkov lets go. Finally, he tunes back into the announcer. The goal stands. They’ve won.

When he gets to Snopek in the handshake line, he ruffles Kent’s hair. “Dick,” he says fondly. “I liked you better in juniors.”

“Like you wouldn’t have done the same to me, Snopek,” says Kent, laughing and attempting to dodge.

“We’ll never know.”

“Come out with us, I’ll buy you a drink,” Kent finds himself saying. “We can reminisce about the good old days.”

“Yeah, back when we were on a first-name basis? What’s this ‘Snopek’ crap?”

Jakub, then, if you insist.” Kent is grinning.

“You’re on, Kent.”

“Wait, you are friends?” Mashkov overheard them. Kent elects not to hang about and explain, and skates off instead.

 

In the locker room, he strips out of his pads and is headed into the shower when Juicy says, “Hey Parse, how long has your mark been clear?”

“Huh?” Kent looks down at his thigh. Then rubs at his eyes and bends over to stare at it harder. “This fucker has been faded for years.” But it’s impossible to mistake for an optical illusion. The mark is as starkly black against his skin as it’s ever been.

Jack.

He rushes through his shower, pulls on his clothes, and practically runs out of the visitors’ locker room, looking for Jack.

And there he is, coming out of his own locker room.

“Zimms,” says Kent, coming to a halt. Jack glares at him. “Zimms, did you get it?” He must have, it had to be tonight. Kent has been ready for the bond for a long time, but this, this is it, Jack is finally in the league again and the mark is growing, this will be the night that the mark appears on Jack. They’ll finally get their happily ever after.

But Jack pushes past him and stalks for the door.

Kent is about to follow when he hears his name.

“You said you’d buy me a drink?” says Jakub, shutting the locker room door behind himself and coming to lean against the wall by Kent.

“Oh! Oh, yeah, sure,” says Kent. Goddamn, he forgot just how pretty the man was. His eyelashes are insane. “It’s your town, where’s the best bar?” He spares a glance over his shoulder, but Jack is gone.

He probably hasn’t noticed it yet, and he’s too mad to listen to Kent. When he finds the mark, he’ll call.

In the meantime, Kent has a hottie to catch up with.

“Snowy!” Mashkov again. “Explain why you friendly with Parson.”

“We played in Juniors together,” says Jakub.

“Seriously?” Now Robinson. This hall’s turning into Grand Central. Kent likes Robinson well enough, so he answers.

“We had a way cooler name for him, though. We called him Superman, for his insane saves.”

“Same team as Zimmboni? He never mention,” says Tater, frowning. Jakub shrugs.

“We weren’t close. He might not remember, or he might just have wanted a fresh start. Parse was just friends with everyone.”

“Well, not everyone.

“Anyway, he’s buying me a drink so I’ll forgive him for running my net over.” Jakub smirks at Kent, who feels his stomach swoop.

 

They end up at a small, cheerful bar in downtown Providence.

“What’s your poison?” asks Kent.

“Heineken,” says Jakub to the bartender. “On him.”

“Strawberry daiquiri,” says Kent.

Jakub laughs, tilting his head back. “Man, if I didn’t already know you were gay…”

Kent startles, pulling in on himself. “What?”

Jakub sobers instantly.

“Was I not supposed to know that? You and J-Z, back in the day—were you trying to be subtle? And that isn’t even really a chirp,” he adds as Kent bristles. “I kind of assumed we were doing a don’t ask don’t tell kind of thing? You didn’t bring it up, and we pretended you were just really close buddies who sat in each other’s laps and occasionally showed up with matching hickeys?”

“So why bring it up now?” Kent snaps. The thought of his entire Juniors team having known the whole time is making something cold form in the pit of his stomach.

As if he’s reading Kent’s mind, Jakub says, “In retrospect, I might have been the only one who noticed. My gaydar’s always been good, and we were pretty close. It’s not like we gossiped about you, dude. Sorry to freak you out.”

Kent relaxes at that. “It’s okay, man. You’re right that we weren’t exactly keeping it on the DL.”

“As for why I bring it up, I kind of thought we were flirting? So I assumed you knew I knew?”

And. He’s not wrong.

The bartender hands them their drinks, and Kent stares down into his.

“I know who my soulmate is,” he says to the daiquiri. And it’s not you, he doesn’t have to add.

“Oh,” says Jakub softly, like he’s actually disappointed, and Kent looks up. Jakub is picking at a callus, and he is gorgeous, and Kent’s only human, so yeah, he’d been flirting a little. Even yesterday he’d probably have gone with it, but the tattoo started changing again, and maybe Jack’s finally ready to be together, and Kent can’t fuck it up this time.

“Sorry,” adds Kent.

“No, dude, it’s okay, you don’t owe me anything,” says Jakub.

Kent casts around for a different topic. Reminisce about the good old days, he’d said.

“Remember when Matts cheated on his girlfriend and she hid a live toad in his gear bag?”

That makes Jakub laugh. “Oh my god. I’d forgotten. Didn’t she say it was to match his maturity level or something?”

“Something like that,” Kent agrees. “That she was just getting on his level.”

“At the time I was on his side, cause, y’know, bro code,” says Jakub, “but now I just really want to know what happened to that girl and if she’s still that awesome.”

“Same.”

“Remember when Ducky hid inside your gear bag and you screamed like a little girl?”

“Fuck you, I did not! And it was freaky! Have you ever watched your gear bag scoot across the floor like it’s possessed?”

Jakub howls with laughter.

“Or how about that time we had you distract J-Z while we balanced a bucket of water on top of the door to the locker room?”

It’s Kent’s turn to lose it. “He wouldn’t touch me for a week after that!” he croaks, slapping the countertop and wheezing hysterically. “I swear to god, for months after that, every time we hooked up he checked the top of the next door we walked through.”

“Wait, that’s how you distracted him?” Kent nods furiously, unable to form words.

After maybe a minute, their giggles taper off.

“How’s he doing?” Kent says quietly, staring at his daiquiri again.

“He’s good,” says Jakub gently, like he knows how sharp Kent’s history with Jack is, like a broken mirror he keeps trying to pick up anyway—

but it’s not going to be like that anymore.

“He’s awkward, and you can tell he’s used to being the odd one out, and he doesn’t really know what to do with Tater’s brand of friendly yet. But he seems happy most of the time, and centered, and he doesn’t throw his helmet at the wall after a loss anymore. There’s something softer about him now. Or, not softer, exactly? Less…brittle.”

Kent takes a long drink to ease the lump in his throat that has no business being there.

“You’re exactly the same as I remember you, though.”

Kent’s head snaps up. He stares at Jakub, eyes narrowed. “I am?”

A nod.

“Like how?”

He shrugs. “Cocky asshole extrovert always performing, like you need to be the center of attention to breathe.” Stung, Kent opens his mouth to protest, but Jakub continues. “And completely and utterly belonging to Jack Zimmermann, no matter how much he doesn’t deserve you.”

Kent starts and discards half a dozen sentences. He can’t decide where to start—defend Jack, defend himself, deny everything, point out that Jakub just said he was an asshole and therefore can’t really complain that Jack’s not good enough for him. He doesn’t say any of them, necks half his daiquiri instead, and finally comes out with, “We’re assholes to each other. It works.”

“There’s different kinds of assholery,” says Jakub cryptically.

They talk for a while longer, and when Jakub starts making noises about curfew, Kent says, “Can I give you my number?”

“Yeah, all right,” says Jakub, looking taken aback. He pulls out his phone and passes it over.

“And, uh…” Kent covers his fluster with a cocky smile that he knows doesn’t match his words. “Zimms blocked my number, so he probably also deleted me from his phone, so could you let him know? That he can get my number from you if he wants it?”

Something pained flashes across Jakub’s face. “Don’t get your hopes up,” is all he says.

“Yeah, just…just tell him for me? Please? Before you leave?”

“Fine, I’ll tell him. But that’s it, Parson, I’m not playing your go-between. If he wants to talk to you, he’ll talk to you.”

“Yeah, yeah,” says Kent. Jack will want to talk. As soon as he calms down and notices the mark, he’ll call. Probably tonight. Maybe tomorrow or the next day, if it’s in an inconspicuous place.

Jakub texts him about an hour later, while Kent’s still at the bar.

I told him

What did he say?

Nope, that’s all you get, told you I’m not playing go between

Kent stays well past his bedtime, but his phone doesn’t ring again.

 

When he undresses for bed, he checks the mark again and chokes on his own spit.

Red, blue, and yellow suffuse the inmost part of the design, like watercolors.

Kent sits on the bed, pulls his foot up to get a better view of his thigh, and stares for a good five minutes.

How long has he gone thinking the mark was complete? And it hasn’t been, all this time.

Jack will definitely call.

 

Jack doesn’t call.

Not the next day or the day after.

 

Kent decides to blatantly ignore the three-day difference and pretend that Jakub just texted him.

You can’t say no to this face, can you?

Are you trying to bribe me with cat pictures Parson

…maybe

He gets back a picture of a slice of pie and the message JZ bribes me with homemade baked goods, up your ante

Kent blinks.

Since when can he cook??

That would be *baking*

Shut up you know what I meant

Jakub doesn’t respond to that. Kent, feeling increasingly like he’s grasping at straws but having no better ideas, chooses a different cat picture.

Bet I could catch her in my glove.

Kent stares.

She’s massive dude she’s a coon

Nah she’d fit

If she curled up maybe!

Oh my god I forgot to pat the posts after practice today should I go back rn and do it

Kent lets out an undignified snort.

I'm sure they know you love them and won't hold it against you

A pause, then the typing bubble reappears.

No I gotta go back, not fucking with the post magic

OK w/e man

 

And, somehow, they don’t stop.

Kent keeps sending cat pictures and Jakub keeps sending weird goalie shit, but there’s also Ugh, one of my teammates called another one a fag and everyone just laughed it off and I let in SEVEN goals tonight do you think Coach will bench me and then it’s Everyone was talking about their dads and whose dad was into hockey and whose dad was more about football but still really supportive and whose dad didn’t get it at all but wanted his son to be happy, and all I could think of was I’ve never met my father.

Jakub sends back sad emojis and, after a minute, My dad thought it was dumb to pursue hockey as a goalie, said I didn’t have a chance of playing in the NHL and was fucking up my chances to be good at anything else.

Shit, says Kent.

*shrug* it’s okay. I showed him. And they’re really happy for me now.

Still.

 

Jack never texts, and even though Kent stops bothering Jakub about it, because he is actually enjoying their friendship, he still checks the mark every night. The color is still spreading, albeit slowly. Jack must be coming around to the idea.

And before he knows it, it’s January and it’s time for the All-Star game. Which is in Providence. Kent gets invited, because of course he does, and so does Jack, because of course he does. Jakub doesn’t, so Kent texts him instead and asks if he wants to hang out before the skills competition.

 

“Hey, Kent!” Jakub opens the door to his apartment and ushers Kent inside. Kent’s heart does flips. He’d somehow managed to forget, again, how astoundingly pretty his friend is. Jakub opens his arms, and Kent steps in readily for a bro-hug. They slap each other on the backs a few times, and part.

“You want something to drink?”

“Please.”

“Did you find parking okay?”

“Oh, I didn’t bother getting a rental. Took an Uber.”

Jakub makes a face at him. “Take a taxi next time.”

“What have you got against Uber?” Kent pulls up a barstool and accepts a glass of wine.

“I’m union,” says Jakub flatly. “So are you. Take a taxi.”

Kent…has no strong feelings about workers’ rights or unions, but decides not to argue.

He’d worried that they wouldn’t have anything to talk about, that it would be awkward to see each other in public again, but it’s almost scarily easy to fall into conversation. He only notices how late it’s gotten when his stomach growls and Jakub laughs at him and offers to make dinner. Kent insists on helping and is set to chopping vegetables while Jakub gets out the rest of the ingredients for stir-fry. They move around each other, not quite as though they’ve always cooked in the same kitchen, but as though they don’t need to learn how to do it.

“Next time I’ll make you my sausage and peppers,” he says as they’re finishing up. Jakub gives him kind of a funny look and Kent realizes what he just said. Next time.

 

He’s at the hotel bar, chatting with Chara, when he happens to glance over to his right. And—there. Jack.

Kent jumps off his stool and darts away with a “Sorry, gotta go,” tossed over his shoulder and weaves through the crowd to grab Jack’s shoulder. Jack jumps and turns to face him.

“Parse? What do you want?”

“Your mark,” says Kent. “Your mark’s shown up, hasn’t it? It must have.”

Jack looks over his own shoulder hastily and says, “We’re not having this conversation in public.”

“Fine, then. Your room. Or mine. I don’t care. Just please stop blowing me off.”

Jack has the nerve to look confused, but he walks out and Kent follows him up to the second floor. Jack keys a door open and holds it for Kent, who lets it shut behind him.

“So,” says Jack, who has the nerve to just stand there in the entryway and not move far enough into the room to sit down, “what was that about my mark?”

“You got it, right?”

“Yeah. How do you know that?”

“Cause mine started changing again!” Kent wants to roll up his pant leg, but he’s wearing a suit and it’ll never roll that far, and he thinks Jack might get the wrong idea if he undoes his zipper. “That first game we played against each other. It started getting color. It’s been getting more ever since.”

Jack’s face is doing something weird. It doesn’t look shifty or anxious or hopeful or anything Kent might have expected. It almost looks like pity.

“Parse…” he starts. “My mark came in my senior year of college.”

For a second, Kent wants to cheer at the confirmation, and then the timing catches up to his brain and his chest goes tight.

“But…I didn’t talk to you at all that year. I came by in your junior year. And then we weren’t in contact until that game.”

“Exactly.”

Kent stares at him. It doesn’t make sense. He couldn’t possibly have been improving his bond with Jack that year.

“It’s not you, Parse,” says Jack quietly, and he looks like he feels sorry for Kent.

“But,” says Kent, and stops. He starts again. “But it has to be.”

Jack shakes his head. “It’s one of my Samwell teammates,” he says, and slips his suit jacket off and unbuttons his shirt. Kent waits in tense silence as Jack gets through all the buttons, slides the shirt off, and turns his back so Kent can see the orange stylized tulip design forming a circle on his right shoulder blade.

And that’s what convinces him, because it is so not Kent, that mark, so much lighter than Kent can ever be. Kent looks away, focuses on a detail of the wall. It’s a bumper, meant to keep the closet door handle from slamming a hole into the wall.

In his peripheral vision, Jack pulls his shirt back on and turns around again.

“You said yours started changing, not that it appeared. And you thought it was me, so…have you had yours since Juniors?”

Kent nods without looking away from the bumper. Jack sighs.

“All this time, you’ve thought we were…well, a lot of things make more sense now.”

“I must have looked like an insane person to you.” The words tumble out of Kent’s mouth without permission from his brain. Jack snorts.

“A little.” He walks the rest of the way into the room and sits down on the bed. “Can I see yours?”

“My mark?” Jack nods. “It’s here,” Kent warns him, gesturing to his thigh. “I gotta take my pants off.” Jack doesn’t protest, so Kent unzips and tugs them down, turning to bare his left thigh to Jack. The color has reached the border now.

Jack blinks, and leans in for a closer look. “If it makes you feel better, Kent, it actually does look a lot like the one Bits has for me,” he says after a moment.

“You don’t have to do that, Jack, it’s okay.”

“No, really.” Jack pulls out his phone and taps at it for a minute before handing it to Kent.

He can see what Jack means. It’s another Celtic knot, in a deep green this time, with the same sort of underlying four-box structure to the knot. The lines are curved, though, the main four boxes and the little boxes at the corners of Kent’s mark softened into leaf shapes that echo the tulip leaves in the mysterious boyfriend’s mark on Jack.

“Yeah, it kind of does,” he says softly.

“I just thought you’d like to know, you know? That your instinct wasn’t too far off the mark.”

Kent hands the phone back without saying anything. Jack sighs. “Look, this is pretty clearly a shock, so. If you want, I’ll give you my phone number and we can, euh, we can talk.”

Kent actually has to laugh. Finally, Jack Zimmermann is willing to exchange numbers again, and all Kent had to do was lose all hope of ever being with him.

He’s not enough of an idiot not to take him up on it, though.

 

Kent’s tempted to beg off the skills competition, because he’s just had his entire world turned upside down, but he doesn’t seriously consider doing it, because he’s Kent Parson, and he’s quite literally made a career on continuing to play hockey even when his world’s askew.

He wins the fastest skater competition by two tenths of a second to McDavid, and by the time almost twenty-four hours have gone by since he talked to Jack, he feels re-centered enough to start wondering who his soulmate is if it isn’t Jack.

Probably someone on his Juniors team, though he supposes he might have met other people around then. And it’s always possible it was someone a while before that, and the mark didn’t form until later.

Probably someone he didn’t see for a long time after that, when the mark stopped changing, and reconnected with after the Falconers game.

And it hits him like a bolt of lightning.

It’s a clichéd simile, but for a reason—Kent honestly feels electrocuted, as though his hair must be standing on end and his heart momentarily stopped.

It isn’t a blur. He’s aware of every second that it takes him to pull out his phone and call a taxi, memorizes every inch of the inside of the cab on the way over, and has one foot literally out the door by the time the machine is done processing his credit card.

He buzzes Jakub’s apartment. He bounces on his toes for maybe twenty seconds, waiting for an answer and wondering if he should have texted first, if Jakub isn’t home. Then—

“Hello?”

“It’s me. Kent.”

“Kent? What are you doing here?”

“Can I come up?”

“Yeah, sure, hold on.”

The door buzzes, and he opens it.

Somebody should really see about the speed of the elevator. There’s probably something wrong with it.

He jogs the length of the hallway and knocks on the right door. Jakub opens it.

“Kent, what?”

“You’re my soulmate.”

They’re standing close enough together that he can hear the slight intake of breath.

“But—you said…”

“Yeah, and I thought I did, I really did, you’ve gotta understand—but it’s not, and if it’s not, there’s only one other person it could be.”

Jakub just stands there and stares at him, dumbstruck. So Kent keeps talking.

“Juniors. We were friends. It started appearing. It stopped before the Memorial Cup, around the time I stopped paying attention to anyone but Zimms. It faded that summer, and stayed faded—except—” Another piece of the puzzle fits into place. “Except it cleared up a little when we played each other. Until this last time, when I ran over your net and you fell on top of me and we touched skin-to-skin for the first time in forever. And it cleared up all the way. And then we went out for drinks and it started filling in. We started texting each other, and it kept filling in, and now—” He makes to step forward, and Jakub backs up to let him in and close the door behind him. “Can I show you?” says Kent, voice a little faint. Jakub nods, and Kent unzips his trousers and pushes them down to his knees. Together they look at the mark on his thigh.

It’s completely in color now, and more, red and blue and yellow color spreading out beyond the borders of the black lines.

Jakub pulls off his shirt.

His mark is in the center of his chest, and Kent knows immediately that it’s for him.

It’s a stylized cloud, with a flourish beneath it that might be wind or just decoration but also somehow reminds Kent of wings.

And, spilling out from it like a rainbow, is the same blue, red, and yellow watercolor Kent has.

Jakub runs his fingers over this last part. “That’s new,” he says quietly, wonderingly.

Kent’s feet carry him forward without permission, and his shaking fingers come up and hover, not touching, waiting, until Jakub takes his hand and presses it to the mark.

It’s a well-known myth that soulmarks heat up when your soulmate touches them, but there are always people who swear they can tell the difference.

Fireworks shoot through Kent’s fingers as surely as if he’d just been kissed. Jakub inhales sharply, shakily, and reaches down with his spare hand to ghost his fingers lightly over the mark on Kent’s thigh.

He stops breathing altogether for a moment. Kent is close enough to hear it. He reaches down with his left hand to press the questing fingers to his mark.

If sufficiently distracted, Kent will admit that he’s short, for a hockey player, and Jakub has to lean over just a little, which puts them undeniably in each other’s space, breathing each other’s air, and it’s torture in the best kind of way, feeling Jakub’s breath on his face. He’s shaking, they both are, when Jakub says, “Can I kiss you?”

and Kent says, “Please.”

Jakub’s lips find his, and that single kiss is better than some of the sex Kent’s had.

One of them moans, deep in his throat, or maybe both of them, and hands wrap around waists and grope asses and find their way into hair, pulling them flush against each other as they kiss, and Kent has the unshakeable sensation that if he pulls away it will hurt like ice on his skin and like anguished grief. Jakub tries to pull off Kent’s shirt without breaking the kiss, which works about as well as you’d expect, and they have to separate long enough to pull it off, laughing at the ridiculousness of it all the while, but they’re still touching, every second, and when the shirt is gone they’re bare chest to bare chest. Jakub’s hands roam the skin of Kent’s back, and Kent’s hips snap forward.

“Oh,” says Jakub, like a revelation.

“Can I?” says Kent, hands at the button of Jakub’s jeans.

“Yeah.”

He unbuttons them and pushes them down, and they’re still touching. Kent kicks his sweatpants the rest of the way off, and they’re still touching. Jakub frames Kent’s face in both hands and kisses him like he’s dying for it, then lets him go and pulls down both of their briefs at once, and they’re still touching.

Jakub backs them up slowly until they find the couch and pulls Kent down on top of him without letting go. Gravity lines up their dicks, and they’re sweating and leaking enough that it doesn’t chafe when Jakub grabs two handfuls of Kent’s ass and starts them moving against each other in an undulation that varies in pace from frantic to slow to frantic again. Kent’s never had sex this intimate, and he’s had a dick in his ass before.

They have to break the kiss eventually for lack of air, and they’re panting into each other’s necks when Jakub comes, and it’s the thought that he made that happen, he made this gorgeous man come just from a little naked frotting, that sends Kent over too.

He collapses onto Jakub’s chest and thinks of absolutely nothing at all.

Eventually they have to move. Reluctant to stop touching, they maneuver into the shower again, and then into two pairs of Jakub’s pajama pants. Neither of them point out that Kent has a hotel room to go back to and hockey practice in the morning.

Kent wakes up to find Jakub sitting on the edge of the bed, not looking at him, not touching for what seems like the first time since Kent saw Jakub’s mark.

“Hey, what’s up?” he asks, voice coming out creaky and disused.

“You’re still in love with Jack Zimmermann,” says Jakub without turning around, and ice floods down Kent’s spine.

What is he supposed to say to that? He can’t deny it. It’s clear that Jakub was hoping against reason that he would, though, because after a few seconds of silence, his shoulders slump.

“I thought he was my soulmate,” says Kent eventually. “For like. The last twelve years.”

“Just because now you know it’s me doesn’t mean you’re going to suddenly have been in love with me for the last twelve years,” points out Jakub dully.

Kent leaves eventually. He has a hockey game, and he doesn’t know what to say to make Jakub feel better. He finishes taping his stick for the first game and, mostly to have something to do while he waits for the game to start, texts Jack.

Found my actual soulmate, for reals

Surprisingly, he gets a quick response. Jack must be doing the same thing.

I’m happy for you.

Kent bites his lip.

What’s yours like?

He’s amazing, Jack answers at once. He’s not even 5’7” and he loves to bake and mother his friends, and you’d never know what a core of strength he has in him unless you got between him and someone he loves.

Kent blinks at the screen.

Have you been replaced by an alien bodysnatcher

He gets a picture and a ‘haha’ in response. The picture is a selfie of a blond kid with enormous brown eyes cuddled up to Jack. The kid is smiling for the camera, but Jack clearly isn’t even paying attention to it, he’s just gazing at the kid, love obvious in his eyes and the softest smile on his face.

I don’t even know you anymore, thinks Kent. Then stops. Runs the thought through again.

Ducks outside where no one can hear him and calls Jack.

“What’s up?” Jack sounds concerned.

“He’s pissed at me because he thinks I’m still in love with you,” Kent says quickly. “But I don’t even know you, do I? Not anymore. And I don’t have the words to explain that.”

He only gets to talk to Jack for a minute or two before people come looking for him to get him on the ice, but it’s enough. And ordinarily he would put the whole thing out of his head for the next hour, because he’s very, very good at his job. But it’s his soulmate, and it’s the All-Star Game, and if either one of those things weren’t true, he’d probably be able to focus. Instead, he has to yank his attention back to the game constantly. Thank god these games are so short.

Twenty minutes of game time and a little over an hour of real time later, the Pacific division has lost, though Kent refuses to take the blame, distracted or not. Winnipeg’s goalie let in ten goals. But he’s relieved for once, because it means he doesn’t have to play in the final, and though he knows he’ll get in trouble from PR for it, he showers and changes and calls a cab, giving a fake name. And then he calls Jakub.

It rings and rings, and Kent imagines Jakub staring at the phone and debating answering. Just as he thinks it’s going to go to voicemail, it picks up.

“Hey.” He sounds...flat.

“Hey,” says Kent, and his voice is rushed, breathy, nervous. “Listen, I’m not in love with…” He notices belatedly that he’s still in public and finishes with “...J-Z.”

Jakub scoffs.

“No, really. I haven’t loved…” Once more, Kent just stops himself from saying ‘him’ in front of curious fans taking pictures they think are subtle. The taxi pulls up. Thank god.

“Mr. Daniels?”

“Yeah, that’s me.” He climbs into the cab and returns his attention to Jakub. He can’t think of a way to rephrase the sentence, so he throws out a prayer to anyone listening that the cab driver either doesn’t know who he is or doesn’t care. At least she probably won’t be believed if she does go blabbing. “I haven’t loved him in a long time.”

“Where to?” says the cab driver, and Kent gives her Jakub’s address.

“I heard that,” says Jakub, and he sounds like he can’t decide whether to be irritated.

“Yeah, well, surprise, I’m coming over,” says Kent. The cab driver fails to suppress a snort. “I’m not going to say I’m in love with you, or anything, this is way too new and all, but we’re soulmates, man. That’s gotta mean we have a chance at this. That we could have something. And I wanna have that something.”

A sigh. “Yeah, Kent, I want that too. But can we return to you trying to convince me that you haven’t been in love with Zimmermann for over a decade?”

“I’ve been in love with the idea of him.” Kent lets out the rest of his breath in a rush. It feels like being naked in a way taking off his clothes never does. Like he’s trying to remove his very skin. Something that he thought was fundamental to him is gone. “I probably still am, that might take time to get over, you gotta be patient with me, or, I guess you don’t gotta, you can kick me to the curb if you really want, but--”

“Kent.” Jakub’s voice is gentle. Kent takes a deep breath.

“So, yeah. I have this idea of him built up in my head, and that’s the thing I’ve been chasing for over a decade, and it doesn’t exist. I’ve been talking to him, and he’s like, a totally different person.” Jack used to be harder than this, all sharp angles, like the mark, except when he wasn’t, when he was relaxed--when he was high, Kent realized years later. “So please, man. Give this a chance.”

“Okay.” The word is said on an exhale, and Kent blinks and replays it, sure it can’t be that easy.

“Okay?”

“I want to believe you. So, okay. I’ll buzz you up when you get here.”

Kent ends the call feeling a little like he’s just been bag skated.

When they pull up in front of Jakub’s place, the driver says, “Go get ‘im, Mr. Parson.” When he looks up at her, she just smiles. And for some reason, Kent trusts her.

Minutes later, he’s knocking on Jakub’s door.

It whips open, and there’s Jakub, and he’s looking at Kent like he’s never seen him before, startling blue eyes cutting right to Kent’s core. Kent’s hand reaches up without his input and, shaking unbelievably hard, cups Jakub’s face. Jakub leans down and kisses him. Not a peck, and not the start of something more, just sure and deliberate. He’s shaking, too.

When he pulls away, his hands come down on Kent’s back, and then they’re clinging to each other. Kent burrows into Jakub’s chest.

“I’ve liked you since we were kids,” Jakub confesses into his hair.

Kent turns his face enough to say, “I thought I was an asshole?” without completely muffling his words, and Jakub laughs at him.

“You are,” he says, smiling audibly. “And you’re so beautiful I can hardly stand it. And having your attention feels like a shutout.”

He loves me, Kent realizes suddenly. Exactly as I am.

He doesn’t love Jakub back yet, but he thinks he could. The more he thinks about it, the surer he is.

“Jakub?” he says quietly. “I really want this to work.”

“Kuba.”

“Huh?”

A chuckle. “Call me Kuba.”

“...Why?”

The chuckle becomes a belly laugh. “It’s my nickname, you fucker. People I care about call me that. You’re being let into a very exclusive club here, show some respect.”

“Oh, okay. Kuba.” Kent tries out the word.

“And, me too.”

“You too?”

“I want this to work.”

Kent holds him tighter as the words seep into his bones, a benediction, an absolution.

“I--” begins Kuba, and shuts his mouth on the words. Kent hears the unspoken, and he surges up to press their lips together again, joy rising in his chest. Wait for me, he thinks. Just until I can say it back.

Kent’s soulmate isn’t Jack. But he thinks maybe it’s better.