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the only way to hold on to this love is with an open hand

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They play the Kings on the fourteenth, a matinee game that ends with a shutout for Laakkonen, two goals for Kent and Nate each, and Kent grinning broadly into the camera during the presser. Next to him, Nate is leaning lightly against his shoulder, his hair wet from the shower. He’s still dressed only in a towel and doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to put any clothes on. Kent can already see the hashtags trending on Twitter.

“You have some free time ahead of you today, don’t you, Parson? You must be pretty happy with that, considering the date,” one of the beat reporters says in a conversational tone, the actual scrum mostly over now.

And the thing is, the journalists usually know better than to bring this stuff into the locker room, because as soon as the two of them made a statement, Kent told the beats in no uncertain terms that his relationship with Nate is a private matter, and he’s there to talk about hockey, not his sex life.

He can let it slide just this once, though, so when Mark asks, “Any plans for the evening?” Kent doesn’t grit his teeth. Instead, he opens his mouth to answer, but Nate beats him to the punch.

“Yeah, as a matter of fact, we do,” he says, and it’s easy and comfortable, and when he looks at Kent, he smiles, leaning even more into his side.

Mark laughs. “Have fun, you two,” he says, and it makes Kent grin.

“Oh, yeah,” he says, slinging his arm across Nate’s shoulders, nice and easy. “You can count on it.”

.

“You’re trending on Twitter, you asshole,” Nate says back in the car as they drive back to their apartment. He opens the glove compartment and fishes out a pack of chewing gum, then offers some to Kent.

“Hey, it wasn’t my guns and abs show back there in the locker room,” Kent teases, then puts the car in drive as soon as the light changes to green. “I’m sure that contributed, too.”

Nate hums noncommittally, then tilts his head to look out the passenger window at the streets of Vegas passing them by in a blur.

It’s almost funny, come to think of it, because it’s not that different from last year, when they played an early game on the fourteenth and then Kent spent the rest of the evening with Nate. He remembers they ordered pizza and had a few beers, and then they fucked around on Kent’s PS4 just to switch to Gamecenter somewhere around eleven to watch the highlights. It was comfortable and domestic, easy in a way things have always been with Nate.

And sure, maybe he wanted to kiss Nate instead of sitting next to him, their thighs brushing, Kent’s arm slung over Nate’s neck in a way that still gave him plausible deniability, but it was still good, to just be around Nate.

Maybe that should’ve given him a clue, in retrospect, that it was more than just Kent’s lust and Nate’s good looks, and the fact that Kent hadn’t gotten laid in fucking ages, too chicken to pick up on the slight off-chance that someone would recognize his face while he had a dick halfway down his throat. Maybe that should’ve been his first clue that he was in love, but then again, the first time it happened, it was all jagged edges and his heart in his throat, beating frantically. With Nate, it was only the warmth at the center of his chest that gave him away.

So it’s not that different, really, this time around, except for the fact that as soon as they’re behind closed doors, he’s definitely kissing Nate.

He does kiss him, later, once they’re back at the apartment, when Kent presses Nate against the door, then leans in and tilts his head up to kiss him, since Nate is infuriatingly tall and frankly ridiculously good-looking, his beard trimmed short and his hair curling slightly after the shower behind his ears and at the nape of his neck, still a bit damp when Kent runs his fingers through the strands.

“Are we celebrating something?” Nate teases as soon as Kent moves away a step, his hand still flat against Nate’s chest, feeling the way his heartbeat picks up at a steady pace.

“Maybe,” Kent says, then closes his palm into a fist around a handful of Nate’s shirt and pulls him forward.

Nate goes along easily.

.

Neither of them really wants to go out, so they order Thai and settle in the living room. Kent brings each of them a glass of wine, because he can be fucking refined when he wants to, and he knows that Nate actually enjoys wine a lot more than Kent does. It’s good, light and fresh, something the sommelier recommended him when Kent stopped by the fancy wine store on Saturday to pick up a bottle or two, and the label doesn’t tell him anything, but he likes it. Nate seems to like it, too.

“You comfortable all the way over there, Parse?” Nate asks with a smile as he puts the glass away, then bites into his lower lip, looking straight at Kent. He has a fucking dimple on the left side when he smiles like that, and it’s, frankly, pretty unfair to Kent’s mind.

But if there’s one thing Kent knows, it’s that he can give as good as he gets, so if that’s how Nate wants to play it, Kent definitely can play along.

“What,” he says, and he raises his eyebrows as he moves to put his glass away as well, “you got a better place for me to be?”

He shifts on the couch and extends his foot to nudge his toes against Nate’s thigh, but Nate catches him by the ankle before he can move away.

“Maybe,” Nate says, and his smile just grows wider.

Kent doesn’t give him the time to react—he shifts again and straddles Nate’s lap in one fluid move, hovering over Nate, their lips almost touching.

“Better?” he asks, and he can feel the way his heart is beating against his ribs when Nate’s hands move down Kent’s sides and settle on his hips, warm and sure, the pretence of playfulness forgotten for the moment.

Sometimes it still overwhelms him, the way Nate makes him feel. There was a time when Kent thought he would never be able to feel that way again, after everything, after Jack, but here he is, several years down the road, slowly settling down, but not settling.

It’s exactly where he wants to be at this moment in time. Where he wants to be even when this moment in time is over.

“Much better,” Nate says and leans in to kiss Kent.

And this—this is different from what happened last year, and it’s everything Kent wanted last year but didn’t think he could have, but Nate is still the same, warm and solid under Kent’s touch, only this time, there’s a purpose to the way Kent trails his fingers down the side of Nate’s neck, the way he cups his jaw, feeling the scratch of Nate’s stubble, the way he kisses Nate, deep and slick with spit.

“You okay there, cowboy?” Nate asks when Kent moves back a little in his lap and almost topples over, slightly lightheaded for just a fraction of a second.

“What, you’d rather ride me?” Kent asks, because hey, if there ever was a time for bad sexual innuendo, it is now, with Kent leaning over Nate and Nate already half-hard against Kent’s thigh.

Nate tips his head back and laughs. “Fucking Christ, Parse. That was so bad.”

In response, Kent grinds slowly against Nate and says, “Well, your boner says otherwise.”

.

The Thai arrives half an hour later, and Kent goes to open the door, barefoot, disheveled and with a hickey on the underside of his jaw. He tips extra for the delivery and the mental image.

When he comes back to the living room with the takeout containers and two pairs of chopsticks, Nate is sitting on the couch with Gamecenter on, watching the Caps pulverize the Leafs.

“Jesus,” Kent says as he sets the containers on the table and passes Nate the chopsticks. “It’s fucking painful to watch. What is it now, six-nil?”

Nate nods around a mouthful of noodles. “They’re getting slaughtered over there,” he says. “Wanna watch something else?”

“Nah,” Kent says as he digs in. “It’s fine.”

They watch the game while they eat, running commentary as the Leafs allow two more goals in, and the game ends 8-0, which is something Kent wouldn’t wish even on the Schooners.

“You don’t mind we didn’t go anywhere?” he asks once they’re done eating. There’s some soreness in his muscles that speaks to a game well-played, and Kent rolls his head lazily back and forth to ease the tension. Nate looks up at him from where he’s splayed next to Kent, leaning against his chest with his back. “It’s, y’know.”

Nate shifts on the couch and arranges them so Kent is now sitting with his back to Nate, Nate’s hands slowly easing the tension from Kent’s shoulders. He groans, his head falling forward, his eyes half-shut.

“Good?” Nate asks and Kent can feel his body relax, his muscles give way to the pressure of Nate’s palms.

“Yeah,” Kent says. “So? You haven’t answered my question.”

Nate kisses the nape of Kent’s neck.

“Nah, I’m good,” he says.

After a longer moment, Kent turns around, warm and relaxed, and he wraps his arms around Nate’s neck, leaning in to kiss him.

“Thanks,” he says, and he can see the confusion in Nate’s face when he moves away.

“What for?” Nate asks.

Kent shrugs.

“Just…this. Y’know. It’s…” He takes a deep breath. “All I wanna say is that I’m good, too.”

Nate smiles with his lips against Kent’s cheek, then whispers into his ear, “You can be even better in a moment.”

Kent laughs silently and falls back onto the couch, an arm slung over his eyes.

“Oh, really?” he says.

Nate tugs at Kent’s belt, then slowly pulls down the zipper on his jeans.

“Fucking watch me.”

Kent puts an arm under his head and looks down at Nate. “Oh, I’m gonna,” he says.

Nate tugs Kent’s jeans down but leaves the underwear on, and then he presses his lips to Kent’s dick through the soft cotton stretched over it, leaves a trail of kisses down its length, teasing just enough to make Kent impatient but not desperate. Nate’s fingers drag gently along Kent’s abdomen and through the thin trail of sparse hair just above the waistband. Kent bites his lip and arches slightly off the cushions.

“It fucking tickles and you know it, asshole,” he says, but Nate just looks up at Kent and pulls his underwear down to his thighs, then wraps his hand around Kent’s dick.

“How about that?” Nate asks, tightening his grip, his hand moving at a torturous pace.

Kent pretends to consider this. “Better,” he says after a moment, but his own voice betrays him, the fucker. He sounds half-hoarse, half-breathless, and nowhere near as nonchalant as he’d like to.

Then Nate leans in and closes his lips around Kent’s dick, and Kent bites down on his lower lip, hard.

There’s something about watching Nate blow him that always makes Kent lose it a lot faster than he’d prefer; maybe it’s the sight of Nate’s dark hair between Kent’s legs, maybe it’s Nate’s lips wrapped around Kent’s dick, red and shiny with spit, maybe it’s the sounds Nate makes, low in his throat, that make Kent fight for purchase, for something to ground him as he slowly falls apart under Nate.

He comes with Nate’s mouth around his cock and Nate’s hand on his hip, pressing him into the cushions as Kent fights the urge to arch deeper into Nate’s throat, lost in the rush of endorphins.

“Come here,” he says as soon as Nate finally pulls off, then crushes their mouths together, his fingers quickly unzipping Nate’s jeans and pushing them down along with his underwear, his hands grasping Nate’s ass as he grinds into the crease of Kent’s thigh, chasing his own orgasm.

When Kent kisses Nate, he can taste himself on Nate’s tongue.

In the end, Nate comes all over Kent’s abdomen, with his face tucked into the curve of Kent’s neck, his lips sucking another bruise to the underside of Kent’s jaw.

It’s the most exhilarating feeling in the world, better than scoring the game-winning goal in the Stanley Cup Final.

.

Kent doesn’t say it often, but he always, always means it when he does.

So when they stumble into bed some time later, tired and boneless and laughing into each other’s mouths, and when Kent presses a kiss to Nate’s cheek and whispers, “I love you,” into his ear, it actually means everything.