"Hey man," Fieldsy says to him. They're in Minnesota, and there's an hour to go to puck drop. "You were pals with Zimmerman, right?"
Kent looks up from where he's tying his laces. "Yeah, we were in the Q together." An understatement if there ever was one. "Why?"
Fieldsy shrugs and tugs on his shinguards. "Heard the Falconers are negotiating with him. Time of the expansion teams, eh?"
Kent doesn't know what his reply was, remembers only the white noise in his head.
It's still there when the game starts, in his ears and the back of his head, but he gets the job done because Kent Parson is a fucking professional. And so on the back of a win over the Wild, he files with his team out to Boston with the ragged beginnings of a plan.
He's got a game the next day against the Bruins, and there's a curfew, but that doesn't stop him from driving down to Samwell, fingers tapping compulsively against the wheel of his rented Porsche. He doesn't stop when he realises that he's echoing the lub-dub of his heartbeat. Adrenaline's always carried him through, anyway. It's just the buzzing in the base of his skull's swarming up to fill his head.
He tries to work out what his play is going to be, but all that's coming into his head are flashes of that glorious, drunken summer.
Dog days; dog-gone.
The party's in full swing by the time he pulls up against the kerb a few cars down from the house. It's a sketchy neighbourhood, but he can't be fucked to care. Jack's frat house is heaving with people, brilliant light spilling out from the ground floor windows onto the street. There're people falling half in, half out of the place, and he can feel the bass thumping away even in the relative insulation of his car.
Kent wonders how Jack's taking it; wonders if Jack's locked up in his room, hiding. Or if he's doing his fading wallflower thing.
He gets out of the car, pulls his cap on. It's a bracing cold out. Crazy that Jack would want to stay here, even if he was Canadian, even if the rumours were true.
He looks up at the sound of his name; the guys looks kinda familiar. Long brown hair, shirtless with a denim vest on, jeans, and a moustache to rival Quenneville's. Jesus, was this where Jack had spent the last few years? Kent raises a hand in return anyway and saunters up to the guy.
"Hey man," Kent says. Up close he recognises the dude. "Knight, right? Like the 'stache."
He gets beamed at in return. "Thanks bro. You drive all the way down here for Jack?"
Kent shrugs, turning on the smile. "Was in the neighbourhood anyway. You know."
"Cool," says Knight, looking, for some reason, faintly worried. "Cool. Hey, bro, you want some of this? Tub juice."
At his feet lies a cooler containing ice and a bucket of what looks like toxic waste.
"Thanks," Kent says, ducking his head. "But I got a game tomorrow, so..."
Knight nods understandingly. "I got you."
"Nice seeing you," Kent says, and slides away into the house, tossing Knight a two-fingered salute.
The heat immediately strikes him, humid and enveloping. All these people, stinking of alcohol and making enough noise to drown in — good thing he knows Jack.
It's a surprise when he gets close enough to the wall where he last saw Jack hunched over into himself. Kent hadn't seen the small blond guy next to Jack over the heads of the crowd while making his way over — hadn't known that Jack wasn't so much hunching over as bending towards the kid. The kid was cute as a button, phone seemingly surgically attached to his hand, and getting Jack to joke about selfies, of all things.
Kent felt breathless for all of a second, his mind going cold and sharp, something in his chest twisting sour and low. Everything he'd thought of saying on the way down collapses into a pile of ashes at that moment, then he opens his mouth to make himself known.
So that's how it's going to be, Kent thinks to himself, when he hears the words that have emerged from the knot under his ribs, bypassed his brain altogether, and come out of his mouth. He tucks a hand into a pocket and smirks. Let Jack make of that what he will. Blondie behind him is looking mollifyingly starstruck, and Jack — the change from relaxed and teasing to scared and shocked would give Kent whiplash, if not for what happened the last time he came to Samwell.
"Kent," Jack says, frozen, and it's weighted with a thousand meanings.
He loses Jack pretty much right after that, because Blondie - Bittle - says, "Kent. Parson?", and then everyone in the fucking place wants a selfie. Because he just had his media training refresher, Kent takes the selfies, plays the beer pong, and poses obligingly all the way through what feels like half the population of Boston. It's a good thing Seguin got traded back in the day, or he'd probably be here too and then Deadspin would have a field day.
It's fun, though: he likes it, he loves it, but he also really wants to get to Jack. There's this buzzing in his veins that's definitely not alcohol, and he broke curfew for a reason.
Bittle's lurking near the kitchen door when Kent manages to get free of a pair of girls he's pretty sure know nothing about him or hockey. With a little misdirection, he sends the kid off into the crowd and sneaks up the stairs to where Jack is.
Kent finds Jack's room because it's the only door with light spilling out from the edges, and also by the aura of intense brooding emanating from within it. He draws to a stop in front of it, feeling unaccountably nervous, and then knocks. It opens after what feels like three shootouts in a row, and Jack is doing his best impression of a robot. He steps back to let Kent in anyway, and closes the door behind him while Kent ventures deeper into the room.
It’s neat, Jack’s laptop on his bed, lid half-shut like he’s been doing something on it. Homework, maybe, judging from half-opened book lying on the desk, and isn’t that just a joke. Kent takes off his cap, spins the desk chair around, and sits down, leaning his forearms on its back. Jack’s still at the door, like he might run away any moment.
“You look better,” is what Kent opens with. “You look good.”
And Jack – Jack’s face relaxes slightly. There’s a wry tilt to his mouth if you know what to look out for.
“Thanks,” he says, and takes a few steps closer. Close enough for Kent to reach out and reel him in by the belt-loops, maybe. He doesn’t.
“Hey,” Kent says instead. “Some party, huh?”
Jack huffs at that, arms uncrossing, and comes even closer to sit on the edge of his bed. Something inside Kent crows at that.
“Yeah,” Jack says, and he sounds fond. “EpiKegster two thousand and fourteen.”
That same something, tucked up under Kent’s ribs, howls at the way Jack’s eyes droop, soft and indulgent. Jack probably doesn’t know he’s doing it.
“Wild as Vegas,” Kent agrees. He doesn’t say: short on the hookers and blow, of course.
He’s good – it’s the right thing to say, because Jack huffs out another laugh at that, and actually meets Kent’s eyes this time.
“God,” Jack says, and he still looks all soft and fond, and it’s aimed vaguely in Kent’s direction, even the sentiment isn’t for him. He curls his fingers into the soft fabric backing of the chair. Jack’s still talking. “—tell them that. They’d just escalate.”
“And we wouldn’t want that,” Kent says, deadpan. “Would we.”
Jack blinks, then his gaze sharpens and focuses properly on Kent. He smiles, and Christ, Kent isn’t strong enough for this.
He leans in, rolling the chair closer, asks, “Are you going to push me away this time?”
“Um,” says Jack, eyes going wide. The tops of his cheeks are already flushing a pale pink, and all Kent wants to do is take.
“Because,” Kent continues, lowering his voice. “I didn’t really enjoy that the last time I came down here.”
Jack winces at that; it’s a cheap shot, yeah, but it’s not like Kent’s lying or anything. Now, Kent reaches slowly out and slides his hand round to cup the back of Jack’s neck. He aches, his blood is pounding in his ears, and the moment hangs in the air between them, like a puck mid-saucer.
The physics of the perfect saucer pass has always escaped Kent. Not that it matters when he can do it; not that it matters when a puck smacks sweet and true into a teammate’s stick anyway. The feeling of triumph, vindication, the vicious satisfaction that rises in his chest every single time — that, Kent gets, is intimate with, and it rushes up his belly and down his spine when Jack closes the gap between them and presses their mouths together for the first time in five years.
He says as much to Jack a while later, stupid with it, when the chair’s out of the way and he’s got a hand tracing over the sharp cut of Jack’s hipbone. Jack’s skin is fever-hot against his fingers.
“What?” Jack mumbles against his neck. Kent sinks his blunt nails into the thin skin stretched over bone, and Jack’s hips predictably jerk.
“I said,” says Kent, "It’s been a long fucking time, Zimms.”
“Oh,” Jack says, and sighs, rolling onto his back.
“Hey,” Kent follows so that he can see Jack’s face. And keep their point of contact. He likes stroking his thumb against the soft skin at the join of Jack’s hip and his cotton briefs. It makes Jack all lazy-lidded, and the habitual motion is soothing to Kent. “It’s just an observation.”
Jack’s eyes are ridiculously blue as he looks back up at Kent. He recognises this look, combined with the silence; Jack’s waiting for him to fill in the words.
So he shrugs and smiles. “Not gonna make me wait another five years, right, Zimms? I mean, it’s nice around here, I guess, but it’s also really fucking frigid.”
Jack’s eyebrows furrow and he struggles up to his elbows.
“I like it here,” he mutters, eyes skipping to the side.
Kent sighs internally. “So the rumours were true, then?”
Jack’s eyes snap right back to him. Kent kind of wants them on him all the fucking time.
“The Falconers,” Kent clarifies. “Really?”
“I don’t know,” Jack says, mumble back in full force. “ I don’t know, okay?”
Kent looks at him sceptically, sitting back on his haunches. Jack sits up all the way too.
“Really, Zimms?” he asks archly. “You have no clue?”
Jack’s eyes drop down to his lap, and Kent wants to scream. Grab Jack by the shoulders, make Jack look at him, and tell Jack to tell him the truth, to tell him what’s really going on this time.
“I mean,” Jack trails off, and his fingers lock together. Kent frowns: that one’s new. He reaches out and pries Jack’s hands apart, holds them in his own. Casually lays his thumb along a pulse point. “It could be Montreal, it could be LA, okay?” Jack continues. His eyes flick up from where their hands are joined to meet Kent’s and back down again. “I don’t know,” he sighs shakily.
They sit, Jack doing his breathing and Kent feeling like control is slipping away from him. Again. The white noise is flaring back up again in his head; it makes him take the plunge and he says, “What about Las Vegas?”, wills Jack to look up and say, “Yeah, actually,” at the very least.
He doesn’t expect Jack to breathe in sharply. He doesn’t expect Jack to pull his hands away, doesn’t expect Jack’s hesitant “I don’t know” to hit him like a blow to the chest.
He doesn’t know what his face looks like now, can’t, only that Jack’s suddenly looking stricken, looking right at him and saying, “Pars —” before Kent’s body is moving and he’s in Jack’s lap, fingers tangled tight in Jack’s hair and the cloth at the nape of Jack’s neck, kissing Jack desperate and furious, hot and immeasurably hurt. The beast in Kent's chest doesn’t ever want to let go and Jack’s kissing him back, is the important thing here, Jack’s hands pressing into his hips like they'd like to keep him too.
Then, impossibly, Jack’s hands pushing him off and away.
It’s only a foot of space between them, but it feels like the breadth of the entire fucking country.
They’re both breathing heavily, but when Kent reaches tentatively to – he doesn’t even know what – Jack recoils and that. Well, that, Kent will conclude later, is when it all really started going downhill.
Jack’s using his nickname, telling him that he can’t do this, and something in Kent that’s been at straining point for the past five years breaks, and he gets the closest to begging that he’s ever got. But Jack’s telling him no, that he — and whatever it is, Kent doesn’t want to hear, leans in to cut him off, hand on Jack’s forearm.
It’s broken all too quickly, Jack raising his voice, saying, “Kenny,” like he’s the one who’s begging here, like he doesn’t want to —
His eyes are wide and pale and Kent recognises this, recognises all the signs, so he leans in and deepens his voice and says, “Zimms,” because maybe that’ll remind Jack, who’s an idiot, and he spills everything he’s been sitting on trying to be so careful, until he mentions the team and then he’s being shoved off the bed, and then they’re both standing.
“Get out,” Jack tells him, face tight and voice tense.
Kent knows, distantly, where he stepped wrong, but it just doesn’t seem as important as —
“Jack,” he tries, but Jack isn’t listening, and it’s happening again; the world is slipping out from under his feet.
They’re shouting at each other, half-crazed with whatever this is between them. Losing Jack twice isn’t something Kent’s built for, so he tries one last desperate gambit, flays himself to the bone.
It’s too late, though:
“You always say that,” Jack tells him quietly.
Because he does, he does miss him, he misses him so much it’s settled into his bones like rheumatism, Kent thinks hysterically. And apparently saying it once too often dilutes the value of even that.
The growling, howling beast in his chest is now a monster, clawing its way out of his throat, and Kent lets it have full rein. The thing is — the thing is: this is what he is, and when he listens to the venom he’s spitting, he feels a sick, vicious satisfaction at drawing blood bubbling up. Jack’s got his shitty team to paper his wounds over, anyway, and Kent will deal, can deal, has always dealt. So he lashes out like a scorpion’s sting when Jack tells him stay away from his precious team.
One of whom has been eavesdropping, apparently. Little blonde Bittle, looking scared as a rabbit. The shock on his face cools Kent down like a splash of cold water, and he clears his throat, turning away.
There’s a fucking Canadian flag hanging on the wall over the staircase. It’s as good a reminder as any.
Because Kent’s a professional, he brings it back to business. But because Kent’s hurting, he makes his parting shot one that will really count.