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Here We Are, Two Strangers

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It starts with the Aces losing in the conference finals. It ends with Alexei in his hotel room.

“You okay,” Alexei coaxes. Kent’s eyes are wide and his lips are forming an ‘O’ as Alexei pushes his cock into him. “You good. You can take it.”

Kent fights the urge to clam up when Alexei pushes forward with a hard thrust, knocking the air out of him. Alexei holds still, lets him adjust to the size, and Kent feels full, full, full, Alexei is big, and all the noises he can make are little, pathetic “Ngh—ah, ah—” sounds as Alexei drives himself deeper. He’s usually more articulate during sex, but in Kent’s defense, he’s always had a thing for tall, dark-haired hockey players with accents. He hooks his legs behind Alexei’s back and clings to him like he’s drowning.

When Alexei comes inside him, Kent shudders as Alexei drapes himself briefly over his back before pulling out deliberately. He feels utterly wrecked, and he hears Alexei suck in a breath as he feels what must be come or lube dripping out of him and onto the sheets.

“God,” Alexei groans. “So beautiful. Kenny.”

He nudges a finger along Kent’s sensitive rim and Kent bucks weakly with a start, though Alexei shushes him by placing a soothing hand on his hips. He feels a kiss on the back of his neck, hand covering his own hand, and words muttered along his skin, “Let me play with you. Make you feel good.”

Alexei pushes his fingers in, rubbing against his prostate first in gentle circles, then three digits nudging insistently and without pause. Kent’s dry sobbing from overstimulation, and with every finger Alexei adds, come flows out of his hole in dirty squelches. When Alexei fucks him again for round two, flipping him over so Kent’s back is against Alexei, he presses Kent’s own hand to where he is stretched out, speared on Alexei’s dick.

“Want to hold you open all day,” Alexei whispers, with Kent unable to do much else but bounce and whimper. “Look good. Look like mine.”

Kent barely registers this orgasm. He’s just grateful that the hotel is nice enough to have these nice, ridiculously soft pillows when he faceplants on them, even though Alexei is still inside him and holding him up by the hips. When he turns Kent over slowly, Kent notices that the earlier ferocity and determination is now melting away to reveal worry.

“Kenny,” Alexei says, furrowing his brow in concern, “are you—that was—okay?”

“Okay,” Kent mutters, and reaches up so he can tangle his fingers in Alexei’s hair. “Fuck, Tater—you—you don’t make a man come three times in one night and then act like I killed your puppy.” Kent squints at his thighs, where there are clearly bruises blooming in a row. He gingerly pokes at them and feels Alexei’s eyes follow the motion anxiously. “Stop it. I don’t mind. Just thinking about the team’s shitty chirps tomorrow when they see this. If they see it.”

“Was good?” Alexei says, now gleefully. “Was the best you had?”

“Okay, haha, rub it in, I’m the NHL hoe,” Kent says. “I’ve only slept with three people anyways. Not like anyone would believe me. And you’re the only one I’ve had without a condom.” Kent wiggles a bit and shivers in displeasure when his ass touches a wet spot on the bed. “Ugh, gross. Maybe we should’ve used one anyways for mess control.”

“But you lazy. Not want to run to store to buy more.”

(Alexei is absolutely right. Even in his post-orgasm haze, Kent remembers how he’d been so desperate, grinding against Alexei in the hotel hallway where anyone could’ve walked in on them. Finding him at the bar after losing had been just a stroke of good luck. It had been a coincidence, Alexei in town to see some friends.

Kent had been purely looking for someone to get drunk with, someone who wasn’t a teammate—he doesn’t think they want to be around him right now, not after this loss, not when they’d been so close—and Kent honestly hadn’t recognized Alexei from his backside. He hadn’t expected to have such a good time. It had been nice to commiserate over the end of their playoff runs, what with the Falconers losing in Round 2 to the Habs.

He also hadn’t expected to end the night with Alexei shoving his tongue in his mouth in the men’s room and kissing him dirtier and harder than he thought Alexei—a man nicknamed Tater, for crying out loud—was capable of. When he’d put his hand over Alexei’s crotch, he’d nearly choked on his words when he had felt how hard he’d already been. And fuck, if Kent didn’t like them big.

“Fuck,” Kent had said, in a moment of sobriety. “I didn’t—condoms. I forgot—”

“I’m clean,” Alexei had said, sucking on Kent’s collarbone. “But if you—”

“Okay.” Kent had taken three deep breathes, because he was the king of bad ideas and Alexei and his dick had seemed like the most appealing bad idea in the entire planet at the moment. “Okay. Me too.”

They had left the bar and headed for Kent’s apartment in probably one of the most awkward and frustrating Uber rides of his entire life. They had barely talked, but Kent had seen Alexei sneaking appreciative glances at him and wetting his lips, which must be a good sign. He had left out the fact that the only orgasm he’s achieved in the last seven months was with his hand and a bunch of very contrived porn where the guys and girls all wail too dramatically when they give blowjobs—he hasn’t ever come from sucking dick, at least, but who knows if that’ll happen in the future somehow. Didn’t seem very important or relevant, especially when Alexei had been  lifting him up by his hips as he’d kicked the front door closed, carrying him to the bed like Kent weighed nothing more than feathers.)

“I believe. You not NHL hoe,” Alexei says, nuzzling Kent’s neck. “Not what I meaning, Kenny.”

“Okay,” Kent says, wincing as Alexei pulls out at a glacial pace. “Say it again.”

“Say what?” Alexei rolls over to his side, still curving towards Kent and rubbing his thumb over Kent’s knuckles. He grins, “You mean say ‘NHL hoe’?”

“I was going to say, ‘my name,’ but that’s pretty funny coming from you. Say that again.”

“NHL hoe.”

“No, like say it the way you did before. With the Russian accent.”

Alexei rolls his eyes. “I always having this accent.”

“Not that,” Kent half-whines, secretly glad that Alexei knows he’s only playing at this point. “You know what I mean.”

“No, not really.” Alexei only gathers the blankets around them and tucks Kent’s head under his chin. “I not going to do the dance. You work me too hard. Only when very drunk I do that.”  

“I didn’t actually want you to dance,” Kent complains softly. “Just like to hear you talk.”

Go to sleep. It’s 3 AM,” Alexei says, making sure to sound out the syllables deeply and heavily, just like Kent had wanted. “I’ve already fucked you twice. At least give me an hour if you’re not going to sleep.

“I didn’t get a word of that. Russian sounds like something from Lord of the Rings,” Kent says flippantly. “Or maybe it’s just you.”

“I’m take as compliment.”

“Mhm,” Kent agrees sleepily. “I like Lord of the Rings.”

“I will remember that,” Alexei responds thoughtfully. “For next time.”

Kent sort of remembers thinking, Oh, cool, there’s a next time? Sweet, as he nods off, instead of panicking like the unattached, drifting asshole he is. He should’ve known then that that was the first sign.






















Ten weeks later, give or take a day, Kent is riding Alexei to the goddamn grave in Providence and Alexei’s mother calls from Russia. The fortunate part is that Alexei comes at the first ring, pushing into Kent with one savage motion and holding himself still in a way that Kent’s come to recognize as an indication that Alexei’s thoroughly wrecked.

The unfortunate part is that Alexei makes his mother out as an impatient woman who does not take kindly to being ignored, and she’s calling from Skype, which has a working webcam and everything. The other sad part is that this isn’t even the first time it’s happened.

They scramble to right themselves, with Kent pulling himself off of Alexei probably a bit faster than they both would have liked. Alexei’s crawling on the ground looking for their underwear bare-ass naked, and it would’ve been hilarious if the Skype incoming call noise isn’t orchestrating itself ominously in the background.

“Here,” Kent says as he tosses a pair of jeans over, after he accidentally tries them on and finds them way too long.

Alexei catches them in one hand and pulls it on hurriedly as Kent comes over to help button up his shirt. He brushes Alexei’s hair back and tries to make it like he hadn’t just been running his fingers through it about fifteen seconds ago, muttering things like “There, you look fine. Have you seen my pants? No, that’s not my shirt. Okay, I’m done, go, go.”

Kent feels kind of like a teenager caught trading experimental handjobs at home after school by their parents (not that that’s ever happened to Kent), only Kent is 28 and has his own big boy job, and Alexei’s apartment, even just the living room, is a lot nicer than his childhood bedroom.

Alexei pecks him on the cheek and finally answers his phone, going down the hallway away from Kent as he cheerily waves at the screen and talks in rapid-fire Russian. Kent’s pretty impressed that they dressed themselves faster this time and that they didn’t have the near-disaster of last week, when the phone rang post-blowjob. Kent dimly remembers Alexei jumping up immediately to answer the call, and Kent pulling him back down and exclaiming, “Wait, wait, holy crap, you’re not actually going to answer, are you? There’s literally come on your face right now, come back, let me wipe it off—”

He knows his way around Alexei’s kitchen at this point, and he’s confident enough to make something that doesn’t come out of a box ever since he’d discovered that Costco sells huge slices of pre-seasoned salmon with the baking instructions included.

After he washes up and pulls on a clean shirt that he has to steal from Alexei’s cabinet (his last remaining shirt had gone flying to who knows where), he goes to pop both pieces of salmon in the oven, not bothering to wait for it to finish preheating. By the time Alexei returns, about thirty minutes later, Kent’s already digging in straight from the aluminum tin that the fish had come in.

“Is that my shirt?” Alexei asks, pausing momentarily in his tracks.

“Oh. Yeah. My clothes grew legs and walked away or something. I’ll find it eventually. Sorry.” Kent replies. “I made food.”

“No, it’s good. Blue look good on you.” Alexei pulls out a chair as Kent offers a bite on his fork, which he accepts. “Not bad. Costco outdo itself,” he adds drily.

“I’ve finally upgraded myself from microwavable meals,” Kent agrees. “How’s your mom?”

“She’s fine.”

“You sure?”

Alexei deliberates, then says, “My shirt is button wrong.”

Kent blinks. Sure enough, the collar is crooked. “Oh. Oh. Did she—”

“No, no.” Alexei looks a little lost. “She didn’t say anything. I’m notice.”

“Okay.” He doesn’t really know what to do at this point, not with Alexei scrunching his brows like he doesn’t quite know what to do with himself. “It’s fine, right? Maybe she just thinks you have a puck bunny over, or you’re just bad at buttoning up shirts—”

“She want to meet girlfriend,” Alexei says flatly. “She not say shirt button bad, but she see, and she ask.”

“Oh.” Kent chews, then swallows. “What did you say?”

“I tell her, ‘no girlfriend.’”

“Okay. Okay, that’s a good answer—”

“Then she say, ‘I want to meet boyfriend,’” Alexei finishes tonelessly.

“Oh.” That’s a different situation entirely. “What…what did you say?”

“I didn’t. She hang up before I answer. Someone ring her doorbell.” Alexei looks devastated, and Kent feels terrible for him. “She will call again. I’m sorry, Kenny.”

“Don’t wo—why are you sorry? It’s not your fault,” Kent says, baffled.

“Know you are not boyfriend,” Alexei says reluctantly. “Not tell her no, and I make more trouble for you and me.”

“Aw, Tater, it’s about that?” Kent scoots his chair closer to Alexei and starts to unbutton the collar, waving the protesting hand away. “No, I’m not taking it off. I’m redoing it. It’s kind of my fault she noticed, huh? But shit, is your mom Sherlock Holmes or something? She just straight-up assumed you were in a relationship from your shirt? Can’t you just deny it?”

“She’s not believe. She’s sharp about things,” Alexei replies. “And she see your bag and clothes on my bed last week, too.”

“Oh, God. So it’s completely my fault.” Kent finishes up the last button, straightening the collar. He cups Alexei’s cheek so he can graze his thumb over the man’s frown that clearly told Kent that Alexei is thinking the opposite. “Hey, no, it’s okay, I’ll talk with her if she calls again, okay? I fucked us over, I’ll un-fuck us. No big deal.”

Alexei takes his hand gratefully and grips it hard, once. “Thank you, Kenny. I’m so sorry.”

“No sweat. And stop apologizing. I can handle your mom.”

Alexei’s mom, indeed, calls again in exactly one hour. Kent is trying to picture what kind of fire-breathing dragon Mama Mashkov is, with how disheveled and confused Alexei looks each time after he talks to her. Kent had been running scenarios over his head while he washed the dishes, in case he pulled a stupid and blurted out something horrendous like, ‘Hi, I’m Kent, your son’s fuckbuddy. We met after I found him in a bar when we both didn’t make it to the finals, and you keep calling us during intercourse. I’d appreciate it if you stopped doing that.’

The thing is, Kent’s not sure whether he and Alexei are fuckbuddies. Contrary to popular belief, he doesn’t have the most experience with this. He’s got that one disaster labeled Zimms that he’s keeping in a mental box for his therapist to try and unwrap, and the second hookup he’s ever had in his life isn’t so much a hookup at all but a fumbled, drunken handjob courtesy of their rookie, Todd, after they won the Cup. Kent doesn’t even remember if he’d come, and Todd probably remembers about 0.1% of the incident, so he shouldn’t even count that as a Thing that occurred.

And of course, the third and most recent is Alexei, who kisses him like he’s made of glass some nights and pounds him into pieces on other nights. Sometimes, Kent has Alexei’s head in his lap when they watch HBO, and they usually end up making out mid-show with no sex at all, so Kent has no idea where to categorize Alexei. They haven’t talked about being exclusive or anything, but while Kent’s not having sex with anyone else, he doesn’t think there’s anything stopping Alexei from sleeping with other people. And after that first night, they’ve always used a condom.  It’s not like he has a rubric for what qualifies as a fuckbuddy, though that would be infinitely useful.

“It’ll be okay,” Kent says, when the phone rings and the Skype notification pops up. “I’ll handle this.”

And he’s so sure of himself, too, which is why he’s so confused when Alexei answers the call with “Mama—” and Kent hears himself interrupt with, “Hello, ma’am. It’s nice to meet you. I’m Kent Parson. I’m dating your son.”

Alexei’s face contorts itself into a blend of bewilderment and astonishment and, for a good, awkward three seconds, no one says anything. Kent’s actually hoping either Alexei’s mother doesn’t know enough English to understand what he’d just word vomited or that the ground opens up and swallows him whole. Luckily, Alexei quickly rolls with it when he notices that Kent has lost the ability of regular speech. He rattles off something in Russian and his mother, a worn, kindly-looking woman who looks like she spend their days knitting for grandchildren, nods. She’s nowhere as scary as Alexei had acts like she is.

You boyfriend?” she says, her English heavily accented, like the pages of a well-loved storybook, worn edges and all. Kent nods dumbly, but she seems satisfied. “You have cat?”

“Cat?” Kent gets out.

You Kent Parson,” she says haltingly. “Have cat?”

“Cat—oh, you mean Kit? Yeah, yeah I do have a cat. She’s at home though, in Vegas, so—”

Good,” she says, sounding scarily like Alexei. “You wait.”

“How does she know I have a cat?” he hisses to Alexei, who’s doing a very excellent impression of a deer in headlights. “Do I have cat hair on me?”

Before Alexei can stammer out a response, his mother returns to the screen, holding a long, fat carpet of a cat. She lifts it up and says proudly, “Is Sasha.”

The cat’s face is kind of pinched and it’s both the ugliest and cutest animal Kent’s ever seen in his life. “Tater, you didn’t tell me you have a cat!”

“Sasha is old and mean,” Alexei says. His own face is looking less uncertain, and his grip on Kent’s hand has long relaxed. “I don’t like him.”

The rest of the conversation progresses startlingly well after that, with Kent siding against Alexei like they’re actual real-life boyfriends. Kent butchers each and every phrase Alexei tries to teach him, but his mother looks somewhat pleased that Kent’s putting in the effort, so she doesn’t say too much. When they finally hang up, after promises to Alexei’s mom to not work too hard and to take care, Kent looks to Alexei sheepishly.

“Okay, so it didn’t work out like we planned. But it went better than expected, right? You can just tell her we broke up or something when you want to start dating for real.”

The grin slips off of Alexei’s face then. He studies Kent with a strange expression, then leans in to press a kiss to Kent’s temple.

“Went great,” he teases. “She love you. Thank you, Kenny. Best boyfriend.”

The last comment shouldn’t hurt like that, but Kent powers through it with a smile.






















The next day is strange. They don’t talk about the phone call, and Alexei’s mother doesn’t attempt to Skype again during Kent’s stay. He doesn’t want to let it ruin the three days he has left on his stay before he has to fly back, so he doesn’t bring it up, just goes along with Alexei on his plan to show Kent the sights of Providence. He’s a little worried that he might run into Jack, though he doesn’t mention it to Alexei.

He’d told his therapist, Caroline, of that possibility, to which she’d just responded with, “Do you think you’re ready to see him, Kent?”

He’d wanted to say, “Fuck yeah, I want to see the man who broke my heart and who I called a coward for not doing what I wanted that one time. He loves it when I come over unannounced,” but frankly, he’s a little sick of talking in defiant circles during his sessions. It had been kind of funny the first time, but Caroline’s patient to an ungodly extent, and eventually Kent had worn himself out. It has been a while since the incident at the dirty Samwell frat house, and it’s crazy how the memory had festered to something so unspeakable in the back of Kent’s head.

“No,” he’d said. Caroline had nodded and written something down on her notepad. He wonders if she ever just doodles in there, when Kent’s pouring his heart out. A star for every okay memory Kent pours out to her, and a rain cloud for all the times Kent recounts how he screwed himself and Jack over. The thought is depressing as hell. “Not right now.”

He’s never liked to talk things out. He likes to win, and he likes to be right. Just agreeing to go to the therapist thing after Jeff encouraged him to after that one breakdown had taken a lot out of him. He’s not really sure if it’s working, but Caroline’s a professional and she doesn’t make judgmental faces when Kent tells her some of the dumb things he’s said or done, so that’s something at least. 

He knows he’s doing it on purpose, not talking to Alexei about the little screw party they have whenever they meet up. They’ve done it in Vegas, in random events they both happen to be at. This time in Providence though, it’s different.

Alexei likes to kiss him without warning like he’s been kissing Kent for his whole life, sneaking up behind him in the kitchen or the bedroom when Kent is stripping out of his sweaty gym shirts. Kent likes to hog Alexei’s California King-sized bed and pretend he’s in a normal, stable relationship where he gets taken out on dates to the Roger Williams Park and not the club all the time.

So the routine seems to work for both of them. Kent’s enjoying his time in Providence, with all the parks and historical buildings and whatnot, and he’s getting regular orgasms as a bonus, so it should be great. At the end of the day, after they’ve visited yet another tourist trap, Alexei has a habit of asking Kent if he’s happy. Kent thinks he’s watched one too many romantic comedies in his attempts to learn English, and it’s probably a phrase lost in translation as Alexei attempts to ask if he’s having a nice time.  

“Yeah sure, I’m happy, whatever,” Kent usually replies. “Hey, take a picture of me here. I want it for my Instagram.”

It shouldn’t have been that much of a non sequitur when they’re fucking that night when Alexei makes a comment about his bedroom walls.

“H-huh?” Both of Kent’s legs are hoisted on Alexei’s shoulders, and the angle is doing it for him. He’s so fucking close. “What about your walls? Why’d you stop moving?”

“I think I want to repaint bedroom,” he says, looking pointedly at his grey walls. “Don’t like the color.”

“Could we maybe talk about this later?” Kent grits out and shimmies his hips as best he can with Alexei still inside him. “I want to—oh—

Alexei shoves both hands under Kent’s back and lifts him up, so that Kent’s more or less upright on Alexei’s lap. He starts thrusting in and out of Kent at a brutal pace, and the combination of Kent’s dick trapped between their stomachs and Alexei nipping at his throat is enough to bring him over the edge. He collapses like a rag doll on Alexei, who falls back onto the pillows with a thump after he comes inside, still buried in Kent.

“Alright,” Kent pants out, as Alexei’s cock slips out of him. “You were talking about walls and painting?”  

“Yes.” He has to do some slight maneuvering to roll the condom off, tie it, and toss in vaguely in the direction of the trash, all while Kent is still half on top of him. Kent readjusts himself with a tired grunt and scoots back on top while Alexei squeezes his ass absently. “Looks old and boring. What you think?”

“Does look a little bit dark, I guess,” Kent allows. He plays with a stray strand of hair stuck on Alexei’s forehead before pushing it back. “We can go to Home Depot tomorrow. Look at paint chips.”

“What color you like?”

“I like blue,” Kent says, and he’ll never admit to anyone, not even Caroline, that the reason has anything at all to do with Jack Zimmermann. Because it doesn’t, at all. It’s not like Jack has the color patented or something.  

“Falconer blue,” Alexei says appreciatively, and Kent just goes with it, laying his head down on Alexei’s chest and listening to the deep thumps of his heart.

At the Home Depot, Kent picks a faded, clean pastel named ‘Brisk Blue’ in the end, though Alexei bickers with him when he sees a metallic silver that he’s suddenly very fond of.

“You just said you don’t like your grey walls, Alexei,” Kent argues. “‘Iced Slate’ is going to look the same as what you have right now.”

“No, it’s different,” Alexei insists. “This one shiny. Like your—”

They stand there long enough for an employee to walk up to them, his voice customer-service peppy as he introduces himself. “Hi, there! I’m Ed, can I help you two with anything?”

Kent has the urge to retreat into his hoodie and push the cap down further on Alexei’s head for him, but the fool just spins around with a big, disarming smile, and shakes Ed’s hand. “Yes, hello! Me and Kenny just looking to paint bedroom. He doesn’t want silver, but I think he has bad taste.”

“A lot of couples lean towards a more neutral color in the end, but do you have any—holy shit¸ Alexei Mashkov?” Ed’s gaping now, and he hasn’t let go of Alexei’s hand, either. “Oh my God, I’m so sorry. I’m just—I’m a huge Falconers fan—I can’t believe—” He glances behind Alexei, and his jaw drops even more. “Kent Parson?”

Alexei is obviously used to meeting fans. He laughs good-naturedly at Ed, introduces a reluctant Kent, and they both take a few selfies with him before Ed actually starts helping them on what he’d come over to do in the first place. He’s still stammering a little, clearly starstruck, and Kent thinks it’s probably going to be a losing battle since Ed is going to kiss Alexei’s ass about ‘Iced Slate’ and whatever the fuck other grey chips that Alexei’s chosen.  

“Hey, it’s your bedroom,” Kent says. “Just don’t come crying to me when you find out it’s the exact same color as the one you have now.”

Ed eyes Kent’s stubborn frown and Alexei, but he doesn’t say anything other than, “Um. Well, what you can do is take the samples home and compare it before you decide?”

Alexei takes an entire row of grey, plus some other hideous colors for the purpose of their equally silly names, like ‘Mayonnaise,’ ‘Divine Pleasure,’ and ‘Nacho Cheese.’ Kent takes his blue and rolls his eyes when Alexei passes him another sky blue piece labeled ‘Grandma’s Sweater,’ which is admittedly not a terrible shade.  

Kent asks if they can go to IKEA, because why not complete the interior redecorating trip by actually going to a furniture store (also, he’s kind of craving Swedish meatballs, sue him). Alexei agrees and drives them there, neglecting to tell Kent that the nearest IKEA store is not only 45 minutes away, but also not even in the state of Rhode Island. Kent falls asleep mid-journey and wakes up in Massachusetts, which is slightly alarming, but watching Alexei fail to pronounce furniture names correctly and get lost in the complex nearly makes up for the fact that he didn’t think it important to tell Kent that he crossed state borders because Kent wanted meatballs.

They don’t buy any furniture, but Kent gets his meatballs and he manages to convince Alexei to go back to Providence with a toy stuffed dog the size of two Kents (“I want to name it Sasha,” Kent says, and bursts out laughing at Alexei’s disgusted expression), so Kent counts it a successful day trip.






















Kent likes to be involved with the Little Aces program occasionally. He loves checking out the kiddies decked out in hockey gear and their bright faces crowding around Kent like he’s their hero, which is not at all egotistical. Most of them are sweet and polite (there’s one kid, Avery, who looks like his parents made him join and he’d rather punch Kent’s teeth in, but whatever) and the boys and girls spend more time doing impressions of sea lions on the ice than actually skating, which is fine.

He’s usually joined by their rookie D-men, Dom and Todd, who like to take kids by the hand and swing them around like hooligans, which is definitely a crowd pleaser with both the parents and the children. Jeff pretends he’s a bear and chases them around when they’re on break, but for most of the time, he has two squealing kids hanging to both of his biceps as he skates in circles. Kent’s always quieter than the parents expect, and he wonders if they’re disappointed that he doesn’t meet their expectations.

He knows he shouldn’t have favorites, but he’s always been fond of Maddie. She always attaches herself to Kent, ever since he offered to hold her hand as she hobbled her way on the ice that first day. She’s the one that hugs him after class and says, “Thanks Mr. Kent. See you next week,” and gives small awed gasps when Kent shows her photos of Kit. She’s soft-spoken and shier than the other kids in her group, and Kent’s only loud when he wants to be (he usually lets his deadass, unimpressed glare do the talking when the Aces are on the ice), so they’re similar in that respect. Kent’s not amazing with children, not with his short patience and tendency to spit fire at any indication of a threat, and he knows that if he were a kid in the Little Aces program, he’d ultimately chose to hang out with the rookies or Jeff.  

Alexei is the opposite with children. They’re walking back to Alexei’s place from the nearby grocery store when Alexei’s eyes light up in recognition at a child’s voice calling his name from behind him.

“Mr. Tater!” the kid cries, hopping up and down and trying to pull free from his dad’s hand. “Hi! It’s me!”

“Ryan!” Alexei replies, with a little ‘oof’ when the kid crashes into his legs once his dad sets him loose with an apologetic smile. “How is ankle?”

“Better,” Ryan says. “Dad said I might be able to play again next week. Will you be there?”

“Yes,” he says, ruffling the kid’s hair. “Can’t miss it if you coming back.”

He jokes with Ryan before chatting with Ryan’s dad. Kent hangs in the back, pretending to be engrossed in the shop’s display of potpourri and old-timey teddy bears behind the glass. Alexei’s so good with children, and if Kent had been a stranger passing by, he’d have thought Alexei was a father.

Later, back in the apartment, Alexei tells him that Ryan is from the Falconers Junior Summer Program, and he’s raving about the kids and Ryan’s slapshot. “He has talent, very dedicated. Someday maybe he join Falconers? Haha.”

Kent’s trying do a sexy striptease by taking his shirt off slowly, but it just feels ridiculous when he gets stuck at the neck. He wrenches it off and tosses it aside, pecking at Alexei’s lips and taking his time to let his hands wander from Alexei’s back down to his waistband. “Sounds like a natural.”

“Maybe I play with him when I am 40, be the old guy.”

“Like you’re not an old guy right now,” Kent chirps, but hesitates after that. “You ever think about retirement?”

“Sometimes.” Alexei looks thoughtful. “But right now, just want to focus on hockey. And you.”

“I’m flattered,” Kent mutters casually, but his heart is racing and he hopes Alexei can’t feel it, even though they’re pressed chest-to-chest. “I—um.”

“What is it?” he asks. “Not feel well?”

“No, I’m okay,” Kent says slowly. “This might be weird, but have you ever thought about having kids?”

“Of course.”  

He says it so matter-of-factly that Kent is taken aback for a moment. “You sound so sure.”

“Want family someday, want to stop traveling around eventually. Hockey is contact sport. Maybe I don’t have anything broken this season, or the next, but will fall apart with time,” he says, sighing, like he’s done a lot of pondering on this particular subject. Alexei stretches, rubbing his hand on the back of his neck as he tries to fix a knotted spot. “Want to come home to something…sure, you know? Like you said. Is that make sense?”

“No, I get it.” Alexei will marry a leggy blonde someday, most likely, Kent thinks. Or maybe a hippie interior decorator-wannabe who wears tweed and knows Russian.  

“What about you?” Alexei asks. His hands are tender and his tone the low, gentle rumble that Kent loves. Kent can’t remember a time when someone had spoken to him that way. “What do you want?”


“Kids. Want to have one day? Little Parson running around.”

Kent exhales, and closes his eyes before he answers Alexei with a kiss. “Maybe one day.”

Maybe with someone like you, his brain supplies. Or maybe even— but Kent pushes that thought out quick. He's daydreamed about a family of his own, a long time ago. A daughter with curls and a toothy smile that can light up a room, maybe, and a son babbling on his shoulder and drooling out nonsense. His imaginary spouse had been a blur, but they'd always have dark hair, blue eyes, and a soft, French-Canadian accent when they kissed him awake and murmured to him, "Good morning, Kenny." 

He spends the rest of the trip not bringing up anything even remotely kid-related.

It's not worth it. 






















It’s December, and Kent call Alexei to harass him about the Falcs’ power play. At least that’s what he tells himself. They start to talk about Christmas plans and Kent jokes that he’s going to be a hermit this Christmas since he’d sent his mom and sister cruise tickets as a present, but that seems to elicit a stronger reaction from Alexei than the mild chuckles he’d anticipated.  

“Laugh it up,” Kent says. “I turned into an old fart while you’re partying it up in Providence. Is this my mid-life crisis?”

No team dinner?” Alexei says, sounding concerned. Christ.

“No,” Kent lies easily. He really doesn’t want to talk about the Aces’ disappointing season. The last thing he wants to do is spend more time with his teammates, who probably don’t want see his face off the ice, either. Yes he’s their captain, and his team supposedly supports him, but there’s always that dirty, dark fear inside his heart that once he stops scoring, he’ll be worthless and thrown out. And God, if that isn’t a concept just as terrifying and tangible as that night in the bathroom, littered with pills and finding Ja—

You come over and I show you real holidays,” Alexei says firmly. Kent flinches as he is jarred out of the memory, even though he knows Alexei can’t see him. “Or—no. Is my turn come over, no?

“I—wait, sorry?”

We have five days break, from 22rd to 26th. I’m book tickets now.

“What’s happening,” Kent says, but Alexei ignores him, sending him his flight details before hanging up.

Kent expects it to be weirder than it is. Alexei gets in late, coming straight from a home game in Providence. Kit meows at the two of them straggling in with rumpled shirts and a hastily packed luggage. Neither of them have much energy for much more than sloppy handjobs before passing out on the couch, as the television screen shows reruns of The Fellowship of the Ring in the background.

Alexei knows one or two Russian Aces and, because he apparently can make friends with everyone he meets, he knows their families by name, too. He visits them sometimes, so he’s not hanging around with Kit in Kent’s apartment like a hobo the entire day. Which is just as well, because Kent meets with his therapist on Thursdays and it’s something only his parents, manager, and Jeff knows about. The next morning, Alexei cheerfully informs Kent that he has plans for the day.

“I’m meet Sergei for lunch.”

“And how the hell do you know Sergei?” Kent asks. He’s pretty sure their goalie played in Dallas before coming to Vegas.

“Secret,” Alexei says with a goofy smile that does things to Kent’s insides. “Have to be Russian, then I tell you.”

“Just say you’re in the mafia, Alexei, I already know,” Kent says drily.

Alexei rolls his eyes. “We play together in Chelyabinsk, for KHL.”

“Okay, whatever you say, boss.” He dodges the Alexei’s finger trying to jab him in the ribs.

“You’re not mind?”

“No,” Kent says. To be honest, he’s relieved. He has an appointment with his therapist that afternoon, and he hadn’t known how he was going to get out of the house without lying and saying that Kit needed more food or something.

Alexei leaves for lunch, pecking Kent on the cheek before he goes like they're married and Alexei is popping out to pick their non-existent child up from the daycare or something. Kent pretends he doesn't try to lean in and ignores how his head feels like a mess. But by the time Kent’s about to head out for his appointment, Alexei comes back, his arms laden with bags from what looks like Trader Joe’s and Target. He doesn’t seem to realize Kent’s startled frame, or the fact that he’s standing there frozen.

“Bought your favorite yogurt,” Alexei says, in lieu of a greeting. “Well, maybe second favorite. I not find Go-Gurt, but this one has real cherries at bottom.” He pauses, then takes in Kent’s nervous posture. “You are heading out?”


“Oh. Okay.” He unloads the groceries on the kitchen counter casually, and Kent tries to not act like he’s been caught stealing in his own house, until Alexei adds a, “Where to?”

“Um. Doctor’s appointment.”

“Oh.” Now Alexei looks worried. Great. He goes over to Kent and feels his forehead. “You feel sick? Why you not say? I pick up Dayquil and soup for you.”

There’s honestly no point in hiding. It’s not like Alexei has anyone to tell. “I’m not sick,” he admits. “Not that kind of sick. I’m meeting my therapist. To talk.” Alexei doesn’t do anything but blink, so Kent continues, “I go every Thursday.”

Alexei tilts his head. “Okay,” he says simply. “You come back for dinner, or I not make your portion?”

Kent doesn’t know what he’d been expecting, because he feels a rush of relief at Alexei’s reaction. “Oh. Um, depends on what you’re making.”

Alexei beams. “Don’t know yet. Maybe curry. Teammate, you know, Thirdy? His wife give me recipe the other day.”

“Don’t burn down my apartment.”

“I won’t,” Alexei shrugs. “If food burn then I get takeout.”

Kent stifles a chuckle then. “Okay. Okay, I’ll be home for dinner then.”

“Wait,” Alexei says, then puckers his lips in an overly exaggerated manner. “Kiss.”

“Are you 6?” Kent says, leaning in and obliging him, ignoring the thrill that runs up his spine as Alexei holds him close and gives him a proper, knee-wobbling kiss. “Ugh, you’re gross. Happy?”

“Mean,” Alexei grumbles. “Even though I buy you yogurt, buy you dog from IKEA—”

“You wanted that dog, too, Tater,” Kent says wryly as he grabs his keys. “I’ll text you.”

Therapy is therapy. Caroline tells him that he looks happier this week. He doesn’t comment on that, just nods, and she gets the hint and starts talking about coping mechanisms. She doesn’t bring it up again, for which he’s grateful.

When he comes home, he finds out that Alexei has only burned the chicken and sauce blend a little, but the wine is good and the blowjob he gets that night is even more spectacular. Alexei takes care of him, touches him where he knows Kent reacts the best, and it doesn’t take very long until he’s coming without warning on Alexei’s lips, streaking his face with white.

“Oh, fuck,” he hisses, then hurries to clean off the mess with a tissue. “Fuck, I’m sorry. Let me get that—”

His thumb lands on a spot near Alexei’s mouth, and Alexei just takes the tip of his fingers in, holding it between his lips and giving it a short lick before wiping off his face with his own thumb. “It’s okay,” he says hoarsely, like that wasn’t the hottest thing Kent’s seen. “I like it.”

“Holy fuck, you’re going to kill me. Get up here.” He pulls Alexei up, enveloping him between his legs and kissing him again, deeply and probably sloppily. He doesn’t care. He takes Alexei’s cock in one hand and tears open a condom and rolls it down, watching Alexei’s eyes dilate and darken as he lines the head of Alexei’s dick to his hole. “Please, please—”

It’s always so good when all of Alexei is finally seated inside to the hilt, prodding at the spot deeper than where Kent’s fingers can reach. He’s choking on air as Alexei gives in and starts to fuck him in earnest, timing his thrusts with Kent’s hips pushing back to work himself to the point of overwhelming. His legs go slack, and a part of his groggy mind registers how much he loves it when Alexei grabs his ankles with a careless, animalistic fervor and rehooks it over his shoulder.

“Alexei,” Kent hears himself say, helplessly, his fingers itching against the expanse of Alexei’s back. “‘Lexei—there—right there—ohh—oh God—no—”

“No?” Alexei says, low and dangerous. He’s played Kent’s little games before, and by now he knows what Kent wants. “Not want?” He dips his fingers to Kent’s dick, leaking pre-come and jerking helplessly between their bodies. “I can stop.”

“No, God, don’t stop,” Kent moans out. His neighbors, two ancient, rich grannies, are going to murder him. “Don’t—”

“Then what do you want?” Alexei says lowly. “Tell me, and I let you have.”

“I want—oh, God—” Kent gives a shrill yelp as Alexei readjusts his angle and swipes at his prostate. He’s probably drooling right now, it’s so unsexy, but Alexei’s watching him with a territorial eye as he takes him apart. “Talk to me,” he rasps out. “Say something, tell me something in—”

Why didn’t you just say so? I give you everything,” Alexei growls, English melting into Russian as he speeds up his thrusts. “Look at you. So pretty, taking my cock. Wish you could be open and ready for me, all the time. You’re so good, Kenny. So good. Love you like this. Love you—

Kent doesn’t sob out his orgasm, but it’s a close thing. Alexei mutters a short curse as he follows Kent’s example, nearly bending Kent in half as he pushes the back of Kent’s knee to the mattress as he comes with a strangled roar. He falls next to Kent, making sure not to crush him but also staying as close to Kent as he can.

“You are—” Kent’s struggling to catch his breath. “You’re getting really good at this.”

“Russian best,” Alexei mutters. “I tell you always. Not believe me.”

“Oh, I fucking believe it now,” Kent says. “I don’t even know what you said at the end there, but God…” Kent huffs a small laugh. “Were you insulting me?”

“Never,” Alexei says. “Only say your face a little bit funny when you come.”

Kent wipes his mouth, feeling his face heat up. “Screw you, Tater.”

“I think it’s cute. Like this,” Alexei says, and does the face. He laughs when Kent rolls away to grab a pillow to smack his face with, then quiets down as he props his head up with his hand. “So how it go?”

“You were there,” Kent answers drily, pulling the blankets up around them. “I don’t even think anything came out of me that second time.”

“Not that,” Alexei says, casually drumming his finger against Kent’s thigh. “I mean therapy.”

The color drains from Kent’s face. “Oh.”  

“We don’t have to talk about it,” he quickly amends. “I know is private—”

“No. No, it’s fine. It’s okay.” Kent avoids eye contact, but he doesn’t look upset. “It…I think it went really well today.”

“Yeah?” Alexei grins at him, and Kent just thinks how it’s so nuts Alexei can turn from sex maniac to overgrown puppy in two seconds. “That’s good news.”

“Yeah.” He fiddles with a piece of loose thread from his sheets. “She said I look happier.”

Alexei’s expression softens, but he still can’t resists on commenting, “Tell her it’s because orgasms. From handsome Russian man.”

“Fuck you, I’m not talking to you anymore.”

He gives a startled cry as Alexei suddenly climbs forward, resting his arm and Kent’s arm and diving in to blow kisses on his neck and stomach. “No, I’m only kidding,” Alexei coaxes. “I will pillow talk better.”

“Ugh, don’t say ‘pillow talk.’ It reminds me of that one novel I got for my birthday.”

Alexei frowns. “What novel?”

In ten minutes and three bouts of explosive guffaws later, Alexei ends up reading a good chunk of Sandra Hill’s Rough and Ready to Kent for the rest of the night, and Kent regrets ever showing Tater the book. He doesn’t think he ever wants to hear Alexei try to pronounce “dick aneurysm” ever again, but he also doesn’t think he’s ever laughed so hard.






















Unlike Alexei, the Ace’s last game before Christmas is the 24th, against the Wild. They both get sloppy in the second, letting in one each. Kent gets chewed out by their coach before going into the third, but between his frustration and anger, the Aces finish the game at 4-1.

The boys are ecstatic, fired up by the win, as they start aking plans to go out. Kent declines.

“Come on, Parser, you never go out anymore,” Jeff whines.

“I go out plenty,” Kent grouses back, shucking off his Under Armour. “I just don’t go out with you.”

“Ouch,” Jeff mutters, patting his heart and feigning distress. “I’m a delicate soul, Kenny Doll.”

“Don’t call me that.”

“But seriously, not that I miss dragging your ass back home at 2 AM, but you sure you don’t want to go to XS?” he wheedles, “I’ll even buy you the first round, and I promise I won’t even try to wingman for you if you find a girl you like, come on—”

“I’ll pass.”

“Kent,” he says, sobering up, “Are you dying?”

“What the f—”

Matty, their goalie, shouts over to Jeff, “Man, give it up, J. It’s like trying to drag James out on a weeknight.”

Another teammate scoffs, “Yeah, but Parser’s not married. Which makes it lamer, I guess.”

“Unless he does have someone.” Jeff narrows his eyes. “Do you, Parser?”

Kent thinks of Alexei and his messy bedhead, probably still at home and reading that awful possibly bodice ripper gag gift novel. The team had joked that they were debating between that or a dildo, and Kent secretly thinks that he would’ve preferred the dildo, which is more practical than shitty writing. But Alexei’s taking a strange liking to the book, and he’s starting to use weird key phrases like “engorged member” and “heaving bosoms” in his daily conversations. Kent still can’t figure out if he’s fucking with him or if Alexei is actually serious on using Rough and Ready as a guide for dirty talk. Both notions are equally horrifying and hilarious.

“No. I don’t,” Kent says, keeping his voice light as he adds, “Besides, even if I did, I wouldn’t fucking go around telling everyone about their shitty blowjobs, J.”

This starts off another round of chirps about the last puck bunny Jeff had reeled in two weeks ago at a nightclub, giving Kent enough time to pull on a clean shirt and stuff the rest of his equipment in his bag. His phone flashes momentarily then, buzzing to inform of a text from Alexei.

A. Mashkov [10:43 PM]
Made stroganoff. Didn’t burn!!!)))))))
Very good.
Come back soon?)))

Kent just stifles both his smile and an ache in his chest as he shoots a text back, “Yes. 15 min.” He doesn’t miss the questioning look that Jeff gives him.






















Mama Mashkov calls again just when Alexei is coming back from his morning jog, apparently having stopped by the grocery store beforehand seeing as he’s mid-way chugging down a greenish energy drink that he discovered the other day, as he walks through the door. Kent thinks it’s appalling.

“Hello?” Kent hears Alexei say. Actually, it sounds more like ‘Allo,’ but it might’ve just been the accent. He hears Alexei mumble a string of Russian, then, “Oh—um—”

“Who is that?” Kent mouths.

Alexei just looks very bewildered, almost in wonder. “My mother,” he mouths back, as he lifts the phone from his ear. “She wants to talk to you.”

What?” Kent nearly chokes on his cereal. “How the fuck does she know I’m here? Did you—”

“I tell her I go to Vegas,” Alexei answers helplessly, and thrusts the phone closer. “She say—”

Wait—Alexei—no, I don’t know how to speak Russian, I don’t—hello? Hi, Mrs. Mashkov!”

Busy?” Alexei’s mom asks, her voice tinny. “Is morning there?”

“Oh—” He throws Alexei a dirty look, but Alexei’s already shuffling towards the bathroom. “Yeah, yep. Just having breakfast.”

I show you make blini,” Mama Mashkov says.


That’s how it starts. The rest of the phone call consists of Kent trying to translate Mama Mashkov’s choppy English until he gets the ingredients of what he believes to be the Mashkov’s Prized Blini recipe. A few people may have died during the process, but Kent thinks he may have just interpreted the choking noise wrong.

He’s not quite sure why he has it, but he makes it for breakfast on Alexei’s last day in Vegas as a post-Christmas thing (he has a couple of prototypes from when Alexei’s mother insisted he do during her call, and even with their ugly, lopsided shape, they tastes pretty damn good, especially when Kent’s personal specialties usually come out of boxes labeled Kraft and Hamburger Helper). When Alexei sees the blini, topped with cottage cheese and strawberries, he literally sweeps Kent off of his feet and kisses him breathless before inhaling them.

The blinis have led to very good mornings, and nothing really burned past saving, which is excellent.

Alexei’s mother, on the other hand, has taken to calling Kent every Sunday whether or not Alexei is present. Kent spends a good hour or so making ridiculous hand gestures at her and adjusting his camera so she can give vague directions as Kent cooks yet another Mashkov recipe, for some reason neither she can explain in a way he understands, nor can Kent find a way to ask her “why am I doing this” in a manner that she understands. He does tell her the blinis were delicious (a fact), and shows her a photo of the finished product. She nods her approval, which honestly makes the whole endeavor pretty fucking worth it.

He leaves out the part where Alexei tries to fuck him into the mattress after Kent’s cooking attempts, and opts instead to tell her that her son had just “loved it. He just stuffed everything in his mouth. Didn’t even leave me any,” which is not an exaggeration. He gesticulates until he gets the point across, and her laugh is clear and delighted even if she is an ocean away, even if the video quality is not amazing, to say the least. It becomes a thing they do, Alexei’s mom calling him and teaching him how to cook. He likes it more than he should.

She sighs one day, a few weeks into their cross-Atlantic cooking lessons, “My Alyosha, love you much. He tell you this?

“Oh,” Kent says, after almost slicing his finger off with the knife he’d been using to dice the potatoes. “No, not really.”

“He is stupid boy. Always like this with people he love,” Alexei’s mother says in exasperation. “He say to me this, but no say to you. What use?”

“I don’t know about that,” Kent says, because he doesn’t know what else to do.

He not—” Alexei’s mother bites her lip, looking uncertain. “He love you, this I know. I know my Alyosha. But he cannot come home. Kent, you understand?”


Safe for Alyosha in Providence, in Vegas. He have family in America one day, love whoever, and stay there. Maybe I visit.” She suddenly looks very, very sad. “He cannot come home.”

“Oh,” Kent says, for the second time that day, his heart heavy. “I understand. I know. He has friends here. He has me. He’ll be okay.”

Good,” she says. “You take care of Alyosha, yes?”

“Of course,” he says, his stomach churning. “Always.”

Okay,” she says, closing her eyes for a moment and relaxing a fraction of a percent. “Thank you, Kent.”

He comes to understand that Alyosha is Alexei to her, just as Kenny is Kent to Alexei and, once upon a time, to Jack. Cooking is how she takes care of her babies, and now she’s teaching Kent how to take care of Alexei. It’s weirdly domestic and Kent thinks there has to be a stereotype in Mama Mashkov passing the role down to him like he’s the new bride, along with the disappointing fact that they’re not really dating (and Alexei may or may not be fucking people on the side; Kent is too afraid to ask), but when Alexei looks at him like that, so adoring and kind and patient, when Kent messes up the borscht or complains about beets turning his hands purple, Kent finds that he barely gives a shit.

That’s usually how he gets into trouble, anyways.

Alexei tries to visit as many times as he can, sending texts with eyeless smilies and chirps when he’s busy with the season, with the Falconers Jr. program, with photoshoots for magazines. Kent and Alexei’s mother now phone each other frequently enough that once Alexei walks in on Kent performing some weird shadow puppetry routine to get Mama Mashkov to understand that yes, he’s rolled the dumplings, but everything falls apart when he tries to boil them. Alexei had waited an entire five minutes in silence before coming over to translate, trying to contain his snickering before Kent noticed him mid-arm waving like a lunatic.

(Kent makes sure to be extra uncooperative when Alexei tries to initiate sex that night, and only acquiesces when Alexei pulls him into his lap, working in little “Sorry. So sorry,” into Kent’s nape along with massages, even though Kent knows Alexei is not at all that sorry.)

Alexei has to go home after that day. He lets Kent straddle him and ride him in slow, rolling motions that jerks strangled groans out of Alexei, who has one hand on Kent’s thigh and the other on his back, crushing their bodies together.

"I'm let you move," Alexei says, breathing deeply, his fingers digging into Kent's hip. "You pick speed, tell me what feel good."

Alexei always feels huge beneath him, large and sturdy and built like a wall. There's always a burn that dulls into something so good when they fuck, when Alexei's cock brushes against Kent's prostate, when Alexei flips him on his stomach and fingers him until Kent nearly cries. His thighs are slick with lube and his own pre-come; Kent loves it, and Alexei knows it, because he's whispering in Kent's ear the whole time how well Kent takes him in, how soft and hot and tight he is, how pretty, how much Kent is aching to be filled up so he can feel wet the whole day.

"You let me, Kenny?" Alexei coaxes. Kent's bouncing on his lap, and he's sure if he tries to say anything at this point, he'd just end up whimpering, which is beyond embarrassing. "Fuck you good tonight, and then in morning again. Still wet and loose from last night, so easy to be inside again."

"Fuck," Kent says through his teeth. "Oh, God, ohoh, oh my God."

"You come with me fucking you," Alexei insists, pushing the both of them down and hoisting Kent's knees nearly to his ears. He hadn't even known he could do that. "Come on my cock only. You do for me, Kenny, I know you can."

Kent doesn't remember blanking out, but he must have, because the next time he opens his eyes, Alexei has pulled out and is on his side, his fingers playing with Kent's hole gently, dipping inside and rubbing a particularly fantastic spot when Kent moans and cants his hips, letting his legs fall open. When he opens his eyes a second time, Alexei already has his sweatpants on and is cleaning him off with a warm towel. And the third time, like missing scenes from a movie, Alexei's already tucked them both in under the blankets, holding Kent close and kissing his forehead like he's someone important. Someone loved. 

Kent drops him off at the airport the next morning, and he waits until Alexei makes it all the way past the security gate before driving back to his apartment.























The post-season that year is a mess.

The Aces barely even make playoffs, landing a wildcard slot with the last game of the regular season, only to get swept out of Round One. There’d been too many unexpected factors: almost half their roster being out on injury, or even the piss poor reffing that has Kent in the box more than once for arguing. But in the end they’re just not good enough, and it burns. The Falcs don’t do much better, though for a while it looks like they’ll make it to Round 2. Game seven goes to OT, only to have the Bruins pull through.

The only silver lining Kent can find is that Alexei comes to Vegas for a few weeks, like he does the prior year, after both the Falconers and the Aces are tragically knocked out before they even get to the finals yet again. The only real sting this year is probably that they were both out of the running quicker than last year, but Kent isn’t too upset over it; he’d suspected it would happen again, what with Jeff being out on account of a broken collarbone and Toddy and Dom basically bulldozed down by this brute of a player. While it sucked for everyone involved, he has his cat and Alexei himself, who drinks wine with him and takes him out to dinners and laughs at all his dumb jokes.

The days fly by, usually consisting of the following: Kent comes home, and if Alexei happens to be home, they argue about what to get for takeout, if they don’t feel like cooking, then maybe they watch a movie after dinner, and Kent sucks a dick at the end of the day. More specifically, Alexei’s dick. Sometimes it ends with Kent getting fucked into the wall, because Alexei and Kent have both discovered that Alexei has the upper-body arm strength to hold Kent up until he comes, which is an extraordinary feat in itself given that the angle didn’t ever feel really ideal to Kent when Alexei first brought it up.

“Maybe it’s the dirty talk, not the muscles,” Kent says on afternoon, when Alexei is getting a towel to clean both of them up. Kent feels kind of like a porn star on the bed, dipping a finger in his own come pooling on his belly. “Although the muscles help a lot.”

“I think need to stop taking you eating out so much,” Alexei says when he returns, wiping Kent off with a damp towel. “Arms hurt.”

“I like it when you eat me out,” Kent says absentmindedly, then backtracks as his face flushes. “Wait, that’s not what you said. Shit, sorry—”

“Maybe next time,” Alexei says smoothly. “Jaw sore. You take so long to come.”

“I’m enjoying the moment, okay? And I’m helping you work out! Sex burns calories!” Kent exclaims in mock annoyance, then grabs the rag to chuck it at Alexei’s face. Alexei dodges it and pins Kent down in one motion, and if Kent hadn’t just come barely one minute ago, he would’ve shown some sort of reaction. Now, he just feels sated and happy. “You’re welcome.”

“Yes, yes, thank you. Didn’t have abs until Aces captain bless me with ass.” He bends down to steal a kiss that Kent was going to give to him anyways.

“Oh, God,” Kent says, remembering the erotic novel that Alexei keeps reading aloud to him. The man is a menace, because he just refuses to stop even when Kent begs him. “‘Galloping abs.’ You’re gonna get galloping abs from this.”

Alexei squints like he doesn’t quite get the joke, but then he makes an appreciative ‘Ah’ noise. “Don’t think so,” he counters. “You not ‘shimmering with orgasm.’ Just sweat.”

Kent dissolves into giggles and unattractive snorts, but Alexei is still looking at him like Kent gave him the world right on this mattress, with a comfortable half-smile that Kent doesn’t think he’d ever get tired of. He strikes a dumb pose for effect, gripping the bedsheets and contorting himself in what he thinks is a show of overly-excessive pleasure.

Ohh, baby,” he moans out, like he’s reading lines from a particularly shitty play. Alexei gives an unimpressed sound. “Daddy, you’re so bad. Just take me on the ground right now, you brute.”

“I feel like you combine bad Game of Thrones novel with bad modern porn dialogue.”

“It gets you going though, right?” Kent continues in this sickly, syrupy-sweet voice, “You may have my body, but you’ll never have my heart, Mashkov.” He’s vaguely aware he sounds like he’s whining, but he doesn’t really care when Alexei grins at him like that.

“Your lines make no sense,” Alexei complains, but he repositions himself between Kent’s legs anyway and sucks a bruise on his inner left thigh. “First you say you want me, then you say I not have you.”

“Whatever,” Kent gasps, breaking character and tossing his head back gently this time for real when Alexei reaches a sensitive spot. “You know you have me, even if you are a time-traveling Viking. With galloping abs. God, I can’t believe I actually read it with you.”

“Me too,” he replies. “I finish it. I give it three stars. Out of five.”

“That’s a lot of fucking stars for a descriptor like ‘galloping abs.’”

Kent feels the upward curve of Alexei’s lips mouthing along his skin, but Alexei doesn’t seem interested in actually fucking Kent again. He nibbles on Kent’s thigh for couple seconds before kissing his way up to Kent’s neck: a kiss on the stomach, a kiss in the middle of Kent’s chest, until he’s back on top, draping his body over Kent’s with a heavy sigh. The mood shifts, and Kent suddenly finds himself hit with the reality that he and Alexei didn’t really talk about the Falconer’s loss after Alexei brusquely brushed it off in favor of sex. And he feels really, really bad for forgetting.  

“Hey,” Kent says quietly. He runs his knuckles over Alexei’s back as Alexei buries his face in the pillow neck to Kent’s collar. He's so different off the ice; he's seen Alexei's celly hugs, so full of life and almost brutish as Alexei crashes into his teammates in joy. He's only ever held Kent like this: slow and carefully, like Kent is an injured bird, like Alexei himself is the missing piece, and Kent's always let himself melt like butter. Today is no exception. “You did good, you know? On the ice. It wasn’t your fault. It happens.” God, of all the times to be shit at pep talks, it had to be today. Kent’s just happy Alexei didn’t come out a limb missing (and that Alexei shaved off his awful playoff beard—he’d looked like a killer lumberjack, but Kent never brought it up because he’s nice about some things) but he can’t find the words to put it delicately. “I—I’m glad you’re here with me. Again. You’re important.”

They’re silent for another couple of moments, and Kent’s afraid that he’s ruined everything when Alexei lifts his head, looking decidedly cheerier. “You important too. Very important to me.”

And if that doesn’t stop Kent’s heart before sending it to overdrive.

“I know what’ll cheer you up. Probably,” Kent says into Alexei’s hairline, after a minute of pondering. “Don’t quote me on that though.”






















Kent’s nothing if not over the top, so he books out the local roller skating rink for an hour. The girl at counter doesn’t recognize either Kent or Alexei, which Kent counts as a plus, even if the kid asks derisively, while popping her gum, “You guys on a date here? Wow. You must really like roller skates.”

It’s not like Kent can’t afford to go elsewhere, but that wasn’t the point. He pays the kid and says, gritting his teeth, “Yup. That guy loves roller skates.”

He ignores how Alexei’s voice echoes in the background when he asks, “Kenny, why are we here?”

“Okay, whatever,” the kid says, shrugging. “You have the rink for one hour.”

Kent is just awful at rollerblading, moving with more difficulty than he’d expected, and Alexei ultimately has to hold his hand the entire time.

“Why roller skate?” Alexei asks, for what must be the fiftieth time.

“I thought it’d be like ice skating,” Kent says, fuming at himself. “I don’t want to see ice for at least another week.”

“We could have go bowling.”

Kent actually pulls a double take at that, because he’s that horrified. “Nah, I—wait, what the fuck? Bowling? No. Do I look twelve or sixty?”

Alexei’s expression is no less unimpressed. “How is this different? Place has light and carpet from the 70s.”

“I don’t know, I thought it’d be easier—” Kent slips, arms windmilling at his sides. Alexei rights him with a strong backwards tug. “—Jesus, thanks.”

Alexei doesn’t let go of him, and Kent leans in instead because it’s safer than doing the splits again and ripping his jeans. “Okay. I thought this was gonna be more fun. It’s like hockey, right? But no ice. And more disco music. Floor hockey. That’s a thing, right?”

“Sure,” Alexei shrugs. “If you like disco.”

“It’s kind of like Russian pop. Right?”


“I’m trying to cheer you up,” Kent admits, because he’s humiliated himself today enough, what with the clunky shoes and strobe lights. He feels like if he sees an Elvis impersonator skating by, even if he booked out the rink, he wouldn’t even be surprised. “My teammates took me here one time, and I could’ve sworn I had a fucking blast. But I think it was after we bar hopped, so I might’ve remembered it wrong. Sorry. We can go home if you want.”

Alexei is silent as he stares at Kent, still holding on to both of his hands. Kent jerks up a little in shock when Alexei kisses him, slow and sweet. Kent forgets about the girl at the counter momentarily as he leans in, kissing Alexei back and wrapping his arms around the man’s neck, which turns out to be a little easier than usual, since  the ugly plastic skates give him another helpful inch, height-wise. They trade kisses in the nearly empty rink, under the neon lights as the speakers play Earth, Wind & Fire’s ‘September.’ It’s probably the least sexy thing Kent’s done in a long time, especially since Alexei’s been determined to fuck him in every room since the whole having-sex-with-Mashkov became a possibility, and he has a ridiculous affinity for calling Kent every pet name in the book during coitus. But it’s good. He’s having fun, and Alexei is understanding, warm, and talks to Kent like he’s not just a traumatized fuck up.

“What’s wrong? Why laugh?” Alexei kisses the corner of Kent’s lips again, but Kent’s giggling and it’s hard to stop.

“Sorry,” Kent gasps out. “Sorry. I’m just happy. I’m really fucking happy.”

“That’s good,” Alexei says, but he’s shooting Kent a smile like he knows there’s something else.

Kent obliges him and says, “And I also remembered the music video to this song. I’ll show you when we leave. God, is there no way to be sexy in rollerblades? Shit—” Kent slips again, and this time, he brings Alexei down with him.

“Hey, could you not fuck over there?” the girl hollers, her voice faint from the distance. “I hate clean ups. And you do not want to know what’s been on that floor.”

“Jesus,” Alexei mutters. He whispers to Kent suggestively, “How many people you think have sex in this rink, Kenny?”

“It’s not going to include us, if that’s what you mean. Not in these abominations,” Kent says, gesturing towards their feet. “But I will make out with you if we leave now and go see a scary movie.”

They pick some dreadful, two-star flick where the girl screams too loudly and long at a poltergeist who apparently lives in her kitchen. There’s two other couples scattered in the theater but, in the very back row, Kent can crawl over on Alexei’s lap, cup his face with both hands, and forget about the playoffs. He likes how Alexei’s hand on his back feel stable and constant, and that even when Kent’s reaching out blindly in the dark, Alexei feels like a sure thing.

He shows Alexei the ‘September’ music video when they get back, and Alexei does laugh. A lot.






















Alexei manages to find an injured dog lying between an alleyway when he’s doing his morning jog in Vegas, because if Kent has enough extra to spare for the both of them, then Alexei is the enormous walking cliché. The vet patches it up, and Alexei describes it excitedly on the phone as a stubby-legged mutt, with mangy patches that may shine a sleek chocolate with the proper love and care.

Is boy,” Alexei says happily. “So small, leg is sprained but will be okay soon, doctor say. He bark so much when I try to pick him up, then he just quiet when I pet him.”

“Very cute,” Kent says with a smile of his own.

But—” Alexei’s voice wavers, and Kent imagines that he must be sitting alone at the vet, conflicted. “He not have collar, no owner. Nobody want him. Maybe send to shelter after he heal. I—I travel too much, Kenny. Can’t do this. Have to send to shelter.

Maybe Kent’s gone soft. Maybe he had always been this soft, and after everything that’s happened, he’s the one that shut himself out from everyone. But he can just feel Alexei’s devastated frown like a solid weight through the line, and he makes up his mind on the spot.

“I have a cat sitter,” Kent says, determined. “Let me finish. I’m in the NHL, too, okay? I get that our schedules are fucked. So I have this girl who comes by to feed Kit and play with her—don’t laugh, you fucking jerk, I’m trying to—”

Not laugh, Kenny, promise. Just—just surprise.

“Yeah, well, I’m full of surprises these days,” Kent huffs, feeling his cheek redden. “Anyways, if it’s not a huge monster dog, and if Kit likes him, maybe, maybe I can—”

“Kenny…you…” Alexei’s tone is soft, both in wonder and adoration, perhaps. Kent can never be sure. “I—you should come in. See the dog. You will love him.

Kent’s a cat person, but he does love the dog, partly because Alexei is so smitten with the mutt that it’s ridiculous. He names it Sasha the Third, following after the prestigious line of old, mean cats and IKEA stuffed animals, and Alexei looks like he can’t even find it in himself to be pissed as he hugs the puppy to his chest and gingerly cradles his bandaged leg.

The good thing is that Kit loves Sasha, too, or at least isn’t completely offended by the idea that a new furry friend is joining her lonesome Purrson empire. Alexei takes a selfie of the four of them for his Instagram—Kent sitting maybe a bit too close to Alexei with Sasha in his lap, and Kit hanging on Alexei’s shoulders—and captions it, “Family))))).”

“Thank you, Kent,” Alexei says, nuzzling Kent’s throat like he isn’t Kent’s entire world in a Falconer’s t-shirt, like Kent would ever pass up a chance to make someone so important to him this happy without everything blowing up in his face. “Thank you, thank you.”

It doesn’t really blow up in his face. Until the next week, of course.






















“What the fuck is this?”

Kent looks up at Jeff from his stall, where Jeff is brandishing his iPhone like a weapon.

Kent squints, but Jeff is moving the phone around too quickly for Kent to make out anything on it. “The fuck is what?”

“Are you getting married to Mashkov now? Is that why you haven’t been able to hang out?”

Kent’s blood runs cold. The screen clearly displayed the photo of Alexei and him with their pets, the photo with the one-worded caption that spoke multitudes. He must’ve looked a wreck because Jeff’s narrowed eyes relax into something more akin to confusion.

“I—” Kent stammering. Jeff knows. His teammates know. He doesn’t have the energy to talk himself out of this one. He doesn’t know how they’ll respond, and the not knowing is enough to stun him into terror. “I—”

Kent’s reaction seems to raise red flags, because Jeff kneels down immediately to Kent’s eye level and places a hand on the blond’s knee. “Hey…hey, Parser, that was a joke. I was just joking, man. I didn’t mean anything by it.”

There are no chirps or noise around them. The rookies seem to have all filed out. Whether Jeff had discreetly made them, or if they sensed the atmosphere, Kent doesn’t know.

And in his absolute shock, as the world seem to hang by a string, Kent hears himself mumble, “I would.”

“What?” Jeff says.

“If he wanted to,” Kent whispers, because everything’s just rolling out at this point. He doesn’t know what’s happening. “I’d do it.”

“I’m not following—”

He feels like he’s in a trance, because he can’t believe how far he’s fallen. He’s been unhappy for too long. “If Alexei—if Mashkov…if he asked me, I’d say yes.”

Jeff’s mouth falls open in realization, then closes as he reconsiders. “Speak English.”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake, I mean, if Mashkov wanted me and him to adopt babies and live in the suburbs together until we’re old and saggy, I’d do it. That’s what I mean.”

And there it is, everything he’s been bottling up now flying around in the open like a confused, frightened bird. Kent scrunches his eyes shut and buries his face in his hands, refusing to look up.

“Oh, shit,” he hears Jeff whisper. “Parse. You? With Mashkov? How?” He sounds surprised, but not disgusted, which Kent takes as a good sign.

“I took him home after the playoffs ended, and he hasn’t left.”

“What, the playoffs from two months ago?”

“No, the one from a year ago.”

“Holy hell.”

“I’m so fucked, J.”

“Dude, no. Why?” Now he sounds confused. When Kent dares to finally look up, Jeff just appears concerned. His hand still hasn’t left Kent’s knee. “I mean, I don’t know the guy personally, except that he almost gave me a concussion that last time we played the Falcs, but he doesn’t sound like a douchebag…” He stops and his eyes widen in realization. “…Unless…he is one, then I’ll take Dom and Todd and beat him up.”


“I’m not kidding. I know he’s built like an Ent but Dom can probably stack on top of Todd, and then—”

“Jeff, Mashkov has given me an average of twenty orgasms for every week I see him. I don’t want you to beat him up.”

“Oh Jesus, what the fuck, I didn’t want to know that,” Jeff moans.

“Fuck,” Kent says again. “Is this a terrible idea? J, am I just fucking myself over?”

Jeff seems lost for words as he says, “I don’t know? I mean, I don’t know shit about Mashkov other than that you and him have been having wild jungle sex for like over a year, but uh, that doesn’t…sound like a negative? Wait, unless you don’t want the jungle sex, then—”

“I want it. God, no, that’s the problem. I want the sex. I want the household pets. I want the suburbs. And it’s been over a year and I already want these things and I don’t know shit if he wants the same.” He’s on a rant now, his sentences coming out faster than his mind can catch up. “And then there’s that whole deal about coming out which I don’t give a fuck about, but Alexei’s from some country that’s basically the gay version of 1984-political hell and I talk to, oh Christ, I talk to his mom on Skype every Sunday for fun. She gave me her blini recipe—”

“Okay!” Jeff cuts in, alarmed. “It’s okay! Don’t freak out!”

“I’m not freaking out,” Kent snarls.

“Well, you’re yelling at me and I don’t appreciate it,” Jeff shouts back.

“I—ugh. Sorry. Sorry. You’re right. It’s just…I think I’m dating him.” Kent blinks and exhales. “I’m dating Alexei Mashkov.”

“You think?” Kent throws him a look, and Jeff sobers. “Okay, well, I just want you to know the team will have your back, no matter what. I’ll have your back. Okay? Don’t ever doubt that.”

“Oh. Thanks.” Kent furrows his brows. “Really?”

“Shit, of course. We’re your team. Is that why you don’t hang out with us after we lose?”

“I didn’t think you wanted me if I wasn’t scoring,” Kent mumbles reluctantly.

“Parser…shit.” Jeff sighs. “You fucking dumbass.”


“We’ll talk about this later. Finish what you wanted to say about Mashkov. So you’re dating him?”

“I don’t know. I think. It’s just…I haven’t really dated since juniors.”


“Didn’t end well. My fault. I told Caroline about it.”


“Am I gonna fuck this up?” Kent says, feeling considerably less terrible and more stable but still like an old rubber band stretched too far. “I feel like there’s an expiration date for these kinds of things when I’m doing it.”

“Probably not,” Jeff answers truthfully. “You guys have co-ownership of a dog.”


“I mean, the dog’s still alive, so that has to count for something, I guess.”

“His mom thinks we’re together. She showed me how to make dumplings.”


“We also went looking for paint chips,” Kent adds mournfully. “For his bedroom. We argued about paint colors.”

Jeff makes a noncommittal sound, “Hm.”

“He’s letting me paint it Brisk Blue.”

“Huh. Well. Congratulations. You’re in a relationship. With a real human and everything.” He pats Kent’s knee and gets up with a grunt. “Good job. Invite me to the wedding, you hear?”

“Oh my God.”  






















Kent keeps going over his conversation with Jeff in his mind. It feels like there’s a weight off his chest, now that he’s finally admitted to himself that he does want it all with Alexei, he wants a relationship. And well, once he starts thinking about it, he can’t stop. So at the end of August, a couple weeks before training camp starts, he calls Alexei and invites himself to Providence.

Alexei picks him up, kissing him enthusiastically once they get to the car. Of course all of Kent’s plans are thrown for a loop when Alexei goes straight to Costco.

“I’m forget to get groceries, so we need food,” he admits sheepishly.

They wander around, loading their cart up with the kind of pre-seasoned foods he knows Kent prefers. Alexei insists on stopping at every sample station, because he’s a child and Kent doesn’t have it in his heart to stop him.

“Try this one,” Alexei says, after offering Kent yet another sample from God knows where he picked it up. “Tuna salad. We should make. Give leftovers to Kit and Sasha if not turn out good.”

Kent’s only half-listening even as he takes the sample cup. “Hey, Alexei…”

“Hm?” Alexei reappears with another sample, even though Kent’s pretty sure Costco has a one item limit per customer. “Don’t like?”

“Is this—are you taking me out on a date?”

“Not right now,” Alexei says, dipping a very tiny chip into his cup of guacamole. “We are in supermarket?”

“Are we dating?” Kent says brusquely, like ripping off a Band-Aid.

Alexei looks stricken, like he’s been caught red-handed for some reason. “Ke—”


They both turn their heads at the new voice, and Kent blanches at the sight of Jack Zimmermann, pushing a cart with a list in his hands. The last time Kent had seen him, it’d been on the ice during a not very memorable game, and Jack had hardly made any eye contact.

“Zimms?” he says, almost noiselessly.

“Zimmboni?” Alexei goes in for a half-hug/pat, with one arm slung briefly around Jack’s shoulders. “What you doing here? Thought you go visit your girl yesterday?”

Jack’s face pinches. “I…I have a friend visiting for dinner.” He turns to Kent with the same, unreadable tone. “What are you doing in Providence, Kent?”


“He visit me,” Alexei says firmly, wrapping an arm around Kent after returning to his side. Jack’s jaw drops a little, but Alexei’s voice leaves no room for discussion while still maintaining an air of pleasantry. “He live so far away, I only get to see boyfriend occasionally. Too bad.”

Kent sucks in a breath as he looks up at Alexei, but Alexei’s staring straight at Jack, as if daring him to say something. Jack, for his part, looks thunderstruck.

“Oh—you’re—well.” Kent feels Alexei tighten his grip, his only sign that Alexei’s not at all comfortable with the situation, despite his lack of outward reaction. “I…I know how you feel.”

“I know, Zimmboni and your girl—”

“I mean about…about the boyfriend.” Jack clears his throat. “Yeah. Um.”

Kent thinks he and Alexei simultaneously widen their eyes. “Oh,” Kent says. “Oh.”

Jack just gives them both a wry smile. “Yeah,” he says. “I should get back soon. I’ll see you at practice soon, Tater. And Kent.” Kent winces, but Jack’s voice is kind. “It’s good seeing you. You look well.”

The trip back to Alexei’s house is quiet. Kent only closes his eyes and let everything crash in once they’re inside, as he slides down the front door until he’s crouched on the doormat. Alexei sets down the eggs he’d been holding on the counter, rushing to Kent’s side hurriedly.

“Kent,” he says, holding on to Kent’s shaking hands. “Kenny. You okay?”

“Huh?” Kent refocuses on Alexei’s agitated expression. “Oh. Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine. I’m totally…I’m fine.”


“He doesn’t hate me. You saw it,” Kent murmurs. “He doesn’t, not anymore. We’re okay.”

Alexei sits with him, sounding so, so sad. “Oh, Kent…”

Kent curls up into a ball and rehashes almost everything, from Jack becoming Zimms and the hospital, about everything that’s happened, and Alexei listens wordlessly. He tucks Kent under his chin, rubbing Kent’s arm up and down as he hums out soothing noises.

“I’ve been talking with a therapist. That’s what I talk about. About Zimms and some other things, but mostly that. And um. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve seen him, really seen him. But uh. It’s better now. I think.”

Alexei kisses him on the forehead, then on the nose, then one more on his lips. He’s always done things in order. “I’m proud of you. Very happy.”

“Thanks, Alyosha,” Kent whispers.

Alexei just holds him closer.

“You didn’t answer my question, back at Costco.”


“I asked if we’re dating.” Kent fiddles with a loose string on his sweatshirt. “Or if…if you want to date, if we’re not already…I guess that’s what I meant.”

Alexei’s sigh sounds like the rustle of old, autumn leaves. “You so stupid for someone so clever. Learn all that Russian from Mama and not understand a word in the end.”

“I mostly do interpretive sign language at her, but okay.” He cocks his head as he remembers yet another question. “Hey, I’ve been meaning to ask you. How did your mom know I have a cat? Remember, that time when we first talked to her together?”

“Oh.” Alexei has the gall to sound embarrassed. “I show her your Instagram. Once.”

“Oh my God, Tater!” He’s mortified. “I have dumb photos of me dancing at clubs on there! Do you want to traumatize her?”

“No, she like you,” Alexei insists. “Like you a lot that she give you family recipes. Top secret.”

“You’re gonna ruin my rep. Or what’s left of it.”

Alexei shrugs. “She see before giving recipe. She not care.” He runs his thumb under Kent’s chin, trying to smooth away the distress. “Kent. She love you. I love you. Should have tell earlier, but I was afraid. But now…” His eyes crinkle as he smiles. “We adopt dog together, going to paint bedroom together, maybe one day get house together. Then who knows? Mama already give you blini recipe. You have me long, long time ago already.”

“You—” Kent shakes his head in disbelief. “You should write a novel. You’re a thousand times better than Sandra Hill.”

“I try,” Alexei grins. “All for you.”

The kiss comes naturally, and even though it’s their hundredth kiss, it’s one of their most important ones. Kent takes Alexei’s face in his hands, and when he falls he’s hurtling and throwing his raw and open heart forwards. Alexei kisses back, tipping Kent’s chin ever so slightly back as he sucks on Kent’s tongue, peppering the corner of Kent’s mouth with smaller pecks. His hands drop to Alexei’s buckle, where he tries to clumsily undo the zippers and slip his hand to cup Alexei through his boxers.

“Wait,” Alexei says, panting in small puffs. “Is there anything else on your mind?”

Kent loves the man to bits, with all his sincerity and quirks, but he can’t resist messing with him, in the end. “Yeah,” he says. “Can we not paint the room Brisk Blue? I found another color I liked.”

Alexei groans. “Kent, I buy the paint already. It better not be ‘Mayonnaise.’”

“I’m just joking,” Kent says, and dives back in to cover Alexei’s mouth with his.

It’s a good night. He goes to sleep with Alexei’s body curved around his, and wakes up with Alexei pressing gentle kisses to his ear as sunlight streams in through the half-closed curtains. It’s a scene stripped almost directly from Rough and Ready, Kent thinks, or some other equally horrible Harlequin novel, but he feels unshackled and light enough to not mind. The ice could crack beneath his skates and he wouldn't mind at all. He tells Caroline this, and she says that he’s getting poetic with a smile.

“Yeah, I am,” he says. He feels like soaring. “No more sad Britney songs for a while, so that’s been fun.”






















Kent makes another disgruntled noise as he helps Alexei prop his mattress against the wall in the hallway. “Why can’t you hire people to do this? If I sprain my back moving your bed, I’m going to tell my GM that we’re suing the Falconers.”

“Haha, okay,” Alexei says as he sets the frame down. “Whiny.”

They cover the floor with tarp and tape the trimmings just like the YouTube videos had taught them. Kent cheers victoriously when they paint it ‘Iced Slate’ first and discover that there is no significant difference between that and the original color.

“Ha! I told you so!” he crows at Alexei’s dismay, but yelps when Alexei flicks a speck of grey that lands on his face. “Hey! Does this even come off?”

“No idea,” Alexei says, sticking a screwdriver under the Brisk Blue paint lid and jiggling it around. “Is okay, is Aces colors. Will look okay at work.”

Kent dips his brush in blue and writes “Kiss my ass, #7” on the wall in his ugliest handwriting when Alexei’s not looking, and the scandalized expression that Alexei makes is more than worth it. The blue that Kent had picked is vibrant yet homey, though the stark contrast between the two is jarring. He wonders if falling in love had been like this for Alexei, if Kent had seeped into his life just as Alexei had in Kent’s, and it’s only when they stand back to assess the damage did everything seem that much different. Maybe better, too. Kent’s hoping for better.

“Will you stop flicking paint on me?” Kent says, as another drop hits his shirt. “I can just let you paint by yourself, you know.”

“Stop graffiti in my home. I call police on you,” Alexei says, and actually leans forward with his stupid long arms to stick the wet paintbrush right on Kent’s knee. “Send you to juvie.”

I’m 28, you ass.

Alexei swipes his paint brush upwards, intending to hit Kent on the torso, but Kent swivels around violently, practically throwing his brush at Alexei, where it hits the man on his right shoulder in a mess of colors. Kent can’t help but burst out in laughter at Alexei’s mock outrage. He’s already crawling backwards in a sad attempt to avoid Alexei, but Alexei gets a glint in his eyes as he charges forwards, checking Kent to the ground and running his fingers up and down Kent’s side.

Stop—fuck—I’m—not ticklish—”

“Then why you keep moving?”

“You’re—” Kent squirms as he suppresses his own giggles. “You have paint on your hands!”

“Now you have paint on your stomach. Big deal.”

Kent places his now-paint sticky palms on Alexei’s chest, and Alexei’s still somehow flinging paint on him as he holds Kent down with his own blue-drenched gloves, leaving streaks of grey and blue on his face, his shirt, his ass. Kent can feel Alexei’s breath near his ear, and he only has to turn his head slightly to kiss Alexei on the mouth, full and hot. Alexei snakes his arms under Kent, lifting him up and scooting his weight up on his lap, where Kent feel Alexei’s slowly hardening length through his sweatpants.

“You ruin my shirt,” Alexei says into Kent’s mouth. “Was nice shirt.”

“Who wears nice shirts to paint a room?” Kent retorts, grinding down and enjoying the thrill that runs down his spine as Alexei groans quietly.

“HGTV,” Alexei grits out.

“I bet HGTV doesn’t show this part,” Kent says, and helps pull Alexei’s rag of a shirt over his head.

Alexei shakes off his soiled gloves and turns his head wildly, as if searching for something. “Wait,” he says. “Condom—”

“We could—we don’t have to…I mean, your house is already trashed, and…um…” Kent really wants his pants off like, yesterday. “I haven’t, not with anyone else.”

Someday, Kent swears, Alexei will kill him with that adoring stare. “Me, too,” he says. “But what about ‘mess control’?”

Kent glances at the wall, with splatters of grey and blue and the graffiti tag on it. Leftover tarp litters the hallway, along with furniture and spare brushes. “I think it’s too late for that.” He pauses. “Wait, what if we get paint on our dicks? It’ll wash off, right?”

“I’ll be careful,” Alexei mumbles, and surges forward to kiss Kent with renewed energy.

He lifts Kent up too quickly and nearly loses his balance in the process. Kent crosses his arms behind Alexei’s neck and hangs on tight, laughing as Alexei pretends to dip forward and trip. He maneuvers the two of them to the side cabinet that’s been pushed out in the hallway and hurriedly rummages for the lube and pop the cap open at the same time.

“Where are you even going?” Kent asks.

“Living room,” Alexei says. “Couch.”

“Fuck, no—hang on—” Kent hops off of Alexei and sits his ass on the floor, right in the hallway on the tarp, and pulls Alexei down with him. “Too far.”

“Your back will hurt,” Alexei warns.

“We could just not fuck,” Kent says, rolling his eyes, but Alexei just chuckles and starts to pull Kent’s shirt off, kissing a trail from his neck down to his waistband.

“No,” Alexei says tightly. “I want to hear you scream.”

“Okay, Ozzy—” The rest of that sentence is lost in a moan as Alexei pulls his pants down, mouthing along the outline of Kent’s dick against his underwear.

“Hurry the fuck up,” Kent growls in frustration, arching as Alexei’s thumb brushes over his nipple.

Kent hisses when Alexei’s fingers, cold and wet with a generous amount of lube, prod at his entrance. Alexei’s saying things like “Shhh, sorry, so good for me” as he smooths Kent’s flank like he’s soothing a skittish animal. He stretches Kent thoroughly and slowly, taking his time and scissoring his fingers and brushing against the spot where he knew Kent liked best.

When the crown of Alexei’s cock catches on Kent’s rim, Kent actually forgoes suppressing his voice and cries out, a choked wail that sort of echoes in the hallway. It feels different, and it’s not just that the rhythm is off, as Alexei steadily loses his own self-control, surely leaving marks where his fingers are digging into the soft part of Kent’s thigh and ass.

“Alyosha,” Kent slurs, his eyes half-lidded in pleasure. “Come on—mm—ah—I wanna feel you—”

“Come inside you,” Alexei finishes for him, grinding his teeth. “Give you what you want, Kenny. Always give.”

It takes one good improvised grip from Alexei on Kent’s dick, his thumb rubbing at the tip, for Kent to come. His thighs feel shaky, and Alexei is still obscenely big inside him and the pressure is so, so good when Alexei follows him with a hoarse shout.

“Have I ever told you that I love how you can hold me up?” Kent asks after a while, giddy as they both try to regain their breathing. “Gets me so hot.”

Alexei’s slipping a finger to Kent’s hole, gently rubbing the rim and feeling how slick he is. He kisses behind Kent’s ears and mumbles something in Russian, as if to himself. He responds, “Good? We shower now?”

“Carry me,” Kent says, and Alexei does exactly that.

“Work me so hard always,” Alexei grumbles, as Kent snuggles his head against Alexei’s shoulder. “‘Alyosha do this, do that. No, not like that, do better’—”

“Mhm,” he murmurs, in no mood to argue. “It’s because you’re so good at it.”

Alexei is quiet for a moment, as he sets Kent into the tub and turns the faucet on to fill it. “I decide I hire someone else to paint the bedroom.”

“Good idea,” Kent says drowsily, placing his arm on the rim of the tub and resting his chin there. His entire bottom half feels like jelly, but the warm water feels amazing as it laps at his legs. Alexei is still on the outside, kneeling and gazing at Kent with a fond expression. “I love you a lot, but I don’t want to paint anymore.”

Alexei doesn’t hesitate to kiss Kent. But then again, he’s never hesitated.

“No more painting,” he agrees.






















Three years later, Mama Mashkov comes to visit in the summer, and Alexei takes a picture as she hobbles to Kent and gives him a hug and a pat on both cheeks. Kent’s homemade dumplings still fall apart when he boils them, but Alexei’s mom fixes up the dough in a manner of minutes. Her English is better, at least, way better than Kent’s Russian— Kent knows small phrases like ‘hello,’ ‘good afternoon,’ ‘how are you,’ ‘cat,’ ‘good job,’ ‘I love you,’ and ‘suck my dick, baby’ (that one is from Alexei)—but she still likes to talk to Kent in a string of fast-paced Russian that Kent pretends to understand. She might as well have been telling him that cows are purple and grow wings in Siberia, but she’s smiling and laughing in consolation every time Kent moans at another pitiful attempt at dumpling dough ripping apart once submerged. She also wields Alexei’s kitchen knife like a machete, and it’s both terrifying and fascinating watching her execute cabbages and carrots at the counter. Kent loves her to death.    

Four years later, Kent and Alexei buy a house in the suburbs of Los Angeles, where they go to after the end of every hockey season. Kit and Sasha the Third lie around on the back patio, sunning themselves as Alexei pulls out Kent’s battered copy of Rough and Ready and tries to dodge the pillow that Kent launches at him. The Aces win the Cup that year again, and the next year, the Falconers will win. Alexei will kiss him on center ice, under a rain of blue and white confetti, with their teammates crowding around in jubilation.

Five years later, the day after Kent’s birthday, he will find a velvet ring box in the sock drawer while looking for his watch, because Alexei has no imagination. (He won’t tell Kent that the box has been sitting there for half a year already.)  

Twelve years later, Kent will be leading his son by the arms across the mall ice rink. He will make little toddler steps as Alexei skates backwards, videoing the two of them.

Daddy,” his son will say, looking up, his pudgy cheeks red with cold. “I want Papa to stop taking pictures an’ skate with us

“Alyosha,” Kent will say to Alexei. “You heard him.”

“Are you happy, Kenny?” Alexei will ask him, like he always does, as they watch their son slide around on the ice like a baby deer.

Most happy,” Kent will reply, in heavily accented Russian. “Maybe more happy if you stop reading Rough and Ready to me for anniversaries, but I take what I can get.

(Alexei doesn’t stop reading Rough and Ready to him.)