“I got hoes,” Swoops sings, collapsing by Kent on the plane, “I got hoes in different area codes.”
“Shut the fuck up, Jeff,” Kent snaps, even as someone up front whoops and shouts, “Get it, Cap!”
“Did you or did you not visit one of your little… ahem… friends last night? And the answer is that you did, because I saw you come in late when I went out to get ice and because I know you were texting ‘Dallas’ all day yesterday.”
“I would prefer if you didn’t use the word ‘ho,’” Kent says delicately, because there’s no hiding it now, not after Jeff has already flicked the bruise on his neck and cackled.
“Smooth operator, Parse,” Swoops says, and settles into sleep.
Kent does not have hoes in different area codes.
What he does have are the numbers of several professional hockey players discreetly saved into his phone—Dallas, Chicago, Los Angeles, Toronto.
It works for them, because they all have the same thing to lose as he does and they all understand his schedule and none of them expect to talk at all between visits.
It works for Kent because he doesn’t believe in getting attached.
Thnx for the good time last night, Dallas has sent by the time they land. See u in April.
(Alyosha is different, because he’s saved into Kent’s phone as Alyosha, and not Alexei or Tater or Providence.
He’s different because they used to play together, and because they actually text between hookups, and because Kent has allowed a picture of them to be taken together.
“You will not stay night?” Alyosha says, and Kent can’t look in his eyes because they’re big and brown and if he does then he’ll lay back down. He pulls his boxers on.
“I can’t stay.”
“No, Alyosha, I can’t. It’s my rule.”
Alyosha falls backwards and rolls his eyes. “You have too many rule, Kent Parson. Sex is not like hockey game.”
“Rules are there to protect people,” Kent says fishing around for his jeans. He pulls them on; sits to pull his socks on, as well. “Mine protect me from getting too attached to people.”
“Is stupid,” Alyosha says, but without fire. They’ve had this discussion before.
“If I’m not connected to people, then they can’t hurt me,” Kent says stubbornly.
“We feel connected a minute ago,” Alyosha says, thumbing at the bruise on Kent’s neck. “And I like to snuggle.”
Kent bites his lip. They don’t even have a game tomorrow, and Alyosha’s bed is big and warm and so is he.
“I gotta go,” he says.
(Alyosha is different because he plays hockey with Jack Zimmermann, and because Jack Zimmermann has had dinner at the same table that Alyosha once fucked Kent over.
They don’t talk about it.)
“Where do you find these girls?” Swoops asks him, coming up behind him as they cross the tarmac, “And how hot are they that you let them do crazy shit to you?”
“Fuck off, Jeff,” Kent says. Last night, he’d been spread out over Chicago’s couch, big hands on his waist, and now he has to deal with this bullshit at 7:30 in the morning. He really wishes he could go back to a few hours ago, when Chicago was sucking his cock and looking up through his lashes at Kent, big eyes wet, because when Kent spends the night with someone, sleeping is against the rules. Too personal.
“Just saying,” Swoops says, as he jogs up the plane steps behind Kent. “I have never once had a hickey on the back of my neck, even after a wild night.”
“I’ll give your wife some tips,” Kent says drily, and pulls up the hood on his sweatshirt so nobody else will see.
“Are you seeing anyone?” Jess asks him the next time they talk. His sister always asks him this question, and Kent always says the same thing.
“I don’t date, Jess.”
“Yeah, well, I thought maybe you changed your mind since the last time we talked.”
Kent sighs. “We talked last week. I haven’t changed my mind.”
“Well, you will someday, so I’m going to keep asking.”
“I’m happy like this, Jessie. I like not being involved. It’s freeing.”
Jess laughs, but not like anything’s funny. “Really? I might believe you, except the last time that we talked wasn’t last week. It was three days ago, because you got drunk and sad because another guy on your team just got engaged and called me to cry about it.”
Kent feels his cheeks flush. “We’re not talking about that.”
“Look. Kenny,” Jess says, suddenly gentle. “I get that you got burned before. With, you know, Jack. I know it hurt when he stopped talking to you and I know it made you think that nobody’s going to care enough to stick around, but it’s not true and I hate that you think it is because you’re a great guy, Kent. I know he hurt you. But not everyone will.”
“Nope,” Kent says, because they’ve also had this conversation before, all too often. “It didn’t hurt because of Jack. It was because of me. It hurt because I was too invested. I got wrapped up in thinking that we could have a future together and forgot that everyone leaves, eventually.”
“You’re invested, Kent you’re always invested. You do invested. And you got hurt, and that sucks, but it wasn’t because you were too invested. It was because… I don’t know, fate sucks and Jack was sick and hockey has an entry draft. But none of that was your fault. You don’t control this stuff. And you can’t control who falls in love with you now. So I’m saying that someone’s still going to fall in love with you someday Kent, despite all your rules, and then you’re going to call me freaking out again and I’m going to remind you of this conversation.”
“Whatever,” Kent says, and hangs up the phone.
(Jess always tells him that he has daddy issues.
This is probably true, in the strictest sense, but Kent would prefer to bundle up all of his problems and shove them into a box more accurately labeled “abandonment issues” for another day.
He can worry about having healthy relationships when he’s not worried about winning a Stanley Cup. One thing at a time.)
“Dude, you okay?” Swoops asks him. “You didn’t even yell at the ref for that shitty call. I know there’s something wrong with you when you aren’t paying attention to hockey.
Kent’s not paying attention because the camera keeps focusing on Alyosha, and because the last time he saw him, it was in the shower and Alyosha was wearing a lot less.
“I’m fine,” Kent says.
“I, um,” Swoops says, and then mutes the TV which means it’s time for a serious talk.
“Seriously, I’m fine,” Kent says hoping to move this along.
“See, I don’t think you are. And neither do some of the other guys.”
“Yeah, well, you’re all a bunch of fucking gossips and you need to stop talking about me.”
“Kent. We’re worried about you, because you don’t seem happy. And because we never see you with anybody but the team, except when you mysteriously come back to the hotel with hickeys all over you in hard to reach areas. But only when we’re on the road. Which seems like a pretty weird pattern to me. So I’m going to ask you something, and before I do, um, none of the other guys know about this part. I mean, the part about what I’m going to ask you. They just think you’re kind of a slut, but not, like, in a bad way. And also, you can’t get offended at this question because it’s not an insult and I’ll punch you if you think it is, and—”
Swoops breathes out, hard. He’s picking frantically at the label on his beer bottle. Christ, Kent really hopes he doesn’t think that Kent is sleeping with his wife, or something.
“Okay. Um. Are you, um, gay?”
And Kent’s world pretty much stops.
“Look, dude, there’s nothing wrong with that and you can’t get offended that I asked, and I know it’s not the sort of thing that you ask somebody but I just feel like you might think that you don’t have anyone to talk to and I just wanted you to know that you could, you know, talk to me if you wanted, if it’s true, I mean, or if it’s not, you could talk to me about something else, and—”
“Yeah,” Kent finally croaks out. “I’m. Yeah. I’m gay.”
“Shit,” Swoops says, and then hurriedly adds, “Not, like, shit because it’s bad, just…”
“Yeah,” Kent says again. “Believe me, I know. It’s shit. And I don’t tell people, because… I know that most of the guys would be cool with it. But if there’s even one that’s not, it fucks up the team, and that’s all I’ve got.”
“That’s not all you’ve got, Kent,” Swoops says.
“I can’t date, partly because I’m kinda fucked up and partly because people can’t know. And I can’t come out, because I’m not dating, and so what’s the use? And I can’t pick up because people sometimes recognize me and the ones that don’t just want to sell me out to a tabloid after they do find out. So. There are only a few guys I trust, and none of them live in Vegas. That’s why I hook up on the road, but only sometimes. ‘Shit’ pretty well sums it up.”
“Shit,” Jeff says again. They sit in silence for so long that Kent reaches over him for the remote, and unmutes the TV because he can’t stand it any longer. The sight of Alyosha out there makes Kent feel…
Well. It’s just because he appreciates good hockey.
“Hey,” Swoops says, during the second intermission, “For what it’s worth, I don’t give a shit who you sleep with. You’re still my best friend, dude. But I’m glad we can talk about it now.”
“Thanks, man,” Kent says, and pulls him into a sideways embrace. “But if you tell anybody else I will break your fingers and tell them all it was a hockey accident.”
“Hey,” Kent says warningly, when Alyosha leans down towards him. “No kissing. Remember?”
They’re in Providence, this time, and Alyosha doesn’t have rules so they’re in his kitchen. Kent likes his apartment—it’s almost aggressively cozy, full of blankets his mother knits and stacks of books in Russian and English.
Plus, the freezer always has a bottle of vodka in it.
“I so mad I’m let you watch Pretty Woman,” Alyosha grunts, but he moves his lips to Kent’s neck anyway. They used to watch a lot of American movies together when they were rookies, because Alyosha needed to work on his English and Kent was always too busy playing hockey to have movie night growing up, so he hadn’t seen them either. He’ll never admit that Alyosha is right about the idea for his no kissing rule, though. “You think I’m need kissing to prove I like you? I’m not need kissing. I show you.”
Kent tries to protest, he really does. It’s just… the way Alyosha slips his fingers between Kent’s and strokes his hand, even as he bites down gently on Kent’s collarbone…
It’s a lot. He can be forgiven for deciding the argument can wait for next time.
(“You never let me buy you dinner,” Alyosha said mournfully, after the fourth time.
“I let you fuck me,” Kent said, “Can’t that be enough?”
“Why you say like is one or other? I could buy you dinner and fuck you after. Or before. Why you make me choose?”
“Rule,” Alyosha said, a little sadly. “You have too many rules.”)
Some kid keeps eyeing him across the ice when the Sabres are filing on for their morning practice. He’s not super subtle about it, because even Swoops notices, and he didn’t know Kent was gay until five years after they met, even though Kent once took a bartender’s number literally right in front of him.
“Hotshot over there is staring,” Swoops says.
“Yup,” Kent sighs, and takes off his helmet. Mashed down sweaty hair is not his best look, but the kid is still staring.
“Oh,” Swoops says, after a very long moment. “Oh.”
“Yup,” Kent says again.
The kid actually does approach him after the Sabres finish practice, because Kent had to stay in the medical room to get his knee looked at. He maybe stayed a little longer than necessary. Maybe.
“Um, hey,” the kid says. He looks nervous, which Kent gets. If this part goes wrong, it can go really badly wrong.
“Hey, man,” Kent says, trying to put him at ease. He’s a little on the young side, but he’s built. Good at hockey. Won’t blab. Pretty much exactly Kent’s type.
“So the last time I played in Los Angeles I got your number from someone,” the kid says. “Just… wanted to know if it was okay to use it.” His eyes linger on Kent’s mouth.
“Sure thing,” Kent says. “Maybe to text me the name of a hotel where we can meet, half an hour after the game tonight.”
“Right,” the kid says. “Well, good luck tonight.”
“You’re gonna need the luck, kid,” Kent says, and slaps him on the shoulder.
He texts Kent an hour later, and Kent saves his number, just as Buffalo.
Buffalo is already shirtless on the bed when Kent finally makes it up after having to hold off the media, which would normally be pretty bold, except that Kent has spent way too long around perpetually naked hockey players to think anything of it.
“Hey,” he says absently. He’s already got the TV playing highlights, and Kent watches himself score on the screen. The Aces only point of the night, but it was pretty. “Good game.”
“Not for us,” Kent says, and kicks off his shoes. “I’ve got some rules, and if you’re not cool with them then that’s fine, but I’m out. Just like to warn people beforehand.”
“Okay,” Buffalo says, and shuts the TV off to listen.
“This is no strings,” Kent says, already stripping down. “That’s the big rule. Everything else is for the big rule. No kissing. No sleeping in the same bed afterwards. No texting, unless we’re arranging this again. We pretend like we don’t know each other after this. And if you ever tell anyone—”
“Hey,” Buffalo snaps, “You think I’m gonna tell? Fuck off. This could destroy me.”
“Good,” Kent says, and smiles at him. “We’re on the same page, then.”
By the time Kent comes out of the bathroom afterwards, the kid’s already turned hockey back on. One track mind, this one. Kent likes it.
He puts his clothes on slowly, distracted by the game. Falconers @ Oilers, third period, tied game, and Alyosha’s got the puck on his stick.
It’s turned over, and Kent swears.
“Mashkov, huh?” Buffalo says. Shit. Kent’s face must have been doing something stupid watching Alyosha play for a total stranger to figure it out. “I’m not gonna tell, I promise. Believe me. I get it.” There’s a cluster of players in orange and blue celebrating, and the kid sighs heavily, his eyes lingering on one of them. “I really, really do.”
“Let’s make no talking another rule,” Kent says, and puts his hat on. “Hey, I had a good time. Let’s do this again.”
Kent goes back to a different hotel across Buffalo, and he takes his clothes back off, and he calls Alyosha.
Just because they both had tough losses tonight.
They talk for a long time, Kent curled up alone in his bed, feeling cold.
“Why you call, Kenny?” Alyosha says before he hangs up, and Kent inhales, holds the breath.
“I missed you,” he says finally. It doesn’t feel like he’s giving a piece of himself away, like he thought it might. Not like the last time he said it, to the last person. “I miss you, Alyosha.”
Alyosha hums. “You are only person in America who calls me that,” he says softly. “Is nice. I miss you, also.”
Kent falls asleep on the phone, and in the morning, the call log says they talked for five hours.
Thanks for last night, Buffalo has sent. Nice to know someone understands. See you next time.
(They never actually hooked up, their rookie year. After Alyosha got traded, All-Star weekend, that was the first time.
“I’m want this for so long,” Alyosha pants up at him, kisses his hip gently.
It’s the first time that Kent feels it, that warmth, the knowledge that he’s wanted, since Jack.
He chases that feeling for the rest of the season, with other guys in the league, and every time he doesn’t find it, he makes another rule.
He feels it again in the fall, kneeling at Alyosha’s feet, but it’s already too late.)
“You totally have a hockey boner for Mashkov,” Swoops chuckles into his beer.
“I don’t!” Kent protests, but he can feel his cheeks pinking up and he knows it’s too late.
“Wait.” Swoops says, and slides in closer so nobody can overhear them. The sports bar they’re at is lowkey, but Kent appreciates it anyway.“You… and Mashkov? You have a boner boner for him!”
“Jeff!” Kent whispers furiously.
“What? I’m just saying. It makes sense, dude. You were super close as rookies, you always hook up in Providence, and he texts you all the time. I should have figured this out, like, months ago.”
“It’s not… okay, we’ve had sex, yes. But it’s like with the other guys, totally unattached.”
Swoops shoots him an unimpressed look. “He’s like your best friend, dude. I mean, besides me, obviously. Your best non-Aces friend.”
“So, we’re friends who have sex.”
“Except that one of the friends—that would be Mashkov, by the way—has a total crush on the other friend—who is you, just so you know—and the other friend likes the first friend back, but can’t admit it because he has serious issues. I saw you together at the last All-Star weekend, bro. He’s got it bad for you.”
“You’re wrong,” Kent says firmly. It’s nice to occasionally fantasize about a world where Alyosha likes him. But it’s not real, and Kent doesn’t do relationships, anyway.
“So you’re telling me that if Alexei Mashkov calls you up and tells you he got a girlfriend, or a boyfriend, you’re going to be totally fine with that.”
“Yes,” Kent lies. He might mind, but only because Alyosha is definitely the best lay he gets all season, and if he started to date someone, he wouldn’t want to hook up with Kent anymore. “Because it was never anything real.”
“Dude,” Swoops says, and sighs heavily into his drink.
The Aces take them in the shootout, finally, and Kent has honestly never been so glad to have a game over with.
I’m come over, Alyosha texts him, and Kent should probably protest a little harder that they need to find a hotel.
But Alyosha’s already at his door, basically, so what’s the point? It doesn’t count, because Kent didn’t have to send his address. Alyosha already knew because he helped Kent move in, when he still played for Vegas.
“Hello, Kit,” Alyosha says when Kent lets him in, kneeling and cooing something else in Russian.
He doesn’t say hello to Kent, because Kent starts in on his shirt before he gets the chance.
Alyosha tries to duck in and kiss him—“Don’t,” Kent says softly.
Alyosha backs off; he always does, when Kent asks him. He pulls the belt from Kent’s jeans, kneels, and kisses him on the soft skin above his waistline instead, in what Kent knows is defiance, looking up through his eyelashes daringly.
Kent sighs, and tips his head against the wall.
“I can call you a cab,” Kent tells him.
“Am already in bed,” Alyosha mumbles, and Kent briefly takes pride in the fact that Alyosha doesn’t seem much like he wants to move now that Kent’s finished with him.
He looks so exhausted that Kent almost relents, feeling guilty that Alyosha had come to him straight from the rink. But…
“No, sorry,” Kent says, and Alyosha sighs heavily but rolls out of bed to try to find his clothes anyway.
“Why you think you have to kiss person to like them?” He asks, and Kent startles at the non sequitur.
“Why is it always about the kissing with you?” Kent says, instead of answering.
“Is not about kissing,” Alyosha says, “Is about you and your dumb rules. They won’t stop people from liking you.”
“Yes, they will,” Kent says stubbornly.
“How long I have to wait for you to figure this out?” Alyosha sighs.
Kent rolls his eyes. “The best part is sex anyway,” He protests, “And you get that anyway. I don’t understand the problem.”
Alyosha’s finished dressing, ready to leave. It’s what Kent wants, really. Nobody spends the night. It’s in the rules. They already broke one, because they’re in Kent’s apartment. He’s never had another person in his bed before.
“You will understand,” Alyosha says. “One night you understand and I’m laugh and laugh.”
He leans down to pet Kit before he leaves. Kent swallows hard.
Usual place? Toronto texts him. Five minutes later, Alyosha sends him three messages in a row.
Titanic on TV tonight!
Is favorite movie and we watch together )))
Kent doesn’t answer either of them. He plays a game, and ignores the way that Toronto keeps checking him just a little too hard. He should probably just go meet up with Toronto at their usual Vegas hotel, because he hasn’t been laid in, like, months and Alyosha isn’t coming to town until the week after next. But.
Rain check, he sends Toronto after. Not up for it tonight.
Alyosha calls him just as Rose is boarding the ship. “Is best movie,” he says firmly, and they stay on the phone through the whole thing.
“Why you don’t have boyfriend?” Alyosha asks him. He looks comfortable in Kent’s bed, and has for the past two weeks. What was Kent supposed to do when he flew to Vegas after the Falconers fell out of the playoffs, send him to a hotel? Kent’s his friend. He had to take care of him. And the sex is much easier to access when Alyosha isn’t sleeping in the guest room, so sue Kent for letting him stay.
“One, because I don’t want one,” Kent answers, ducking into the bathroom for a washcloth that he generously throws at Alyosha, “Two, because no one wants to date me.”
“I want to date you,” Alyosha says earnestly, “I been telling you for months, I want to date you, Kent.”
“You don’t mean that,” Kent says, flopping back down next to him, heart pounding. He doesn’t mean it. He can’t.
Kent is not a person that other people date. Kent is a person that people sleep with when they’re trying to get some and also avoid inconvenient feelings for their teammates or rivals.
And that’s fine.
Alyosha flings an arm over him and pulls him in too close.
“I mean!” He says. “You don’t want to date? Fine. But I mean it when I say I do want to date.”
He lets Kent go as abruptly as he’d pulled him in, pulls on his boxers and starts to leave the room; thinks better of it, and turns back to Kent. “You don’t have to date me, Kent Parson. But you cannot say ‘no one wants to date me’ like you sad about it, because I am someone and I am here.”
He pads away. Kent hears the tap in the kitchen turn on.
Alyosha’s been here for two weeks, and Kent let him break almost all his rules. He’s slept in Kent’s bed and fed his cat and paid for their takeout.
He called Kent something in Russian the other day that sounded too fond to be anything but a pet name.
He fucking kissed Kent last night and Kent didn’t even make him stop until after he came.
“Fuck!” Kent says out loud, and Alyosha appears around the corner with a glass of water for him, still looking disgruntled.
“You broke all my rules,” Kent says accusingly, pointing a finger at Alyosha.
Alyosha just shrugs. “And sky did not fall, so what is problem? I say to hell with your rules.”
“You are dating me, aren’t you,” Kent says, “You’ve been sneak dating me and you didn’t even tell me!”
“I did not ‘sneak date’ you. You knew.”
“I did not know!”
“What you think dating is, Kent? You think is like flowers and going to see movie and dancing? Okay, maybe is like this for some people. But is not like this for everyone. Is not like this for us! Dating can be… talking every day and getting airplane to see each other and having sex. There are not rules. This is what I am telling you. We don’t need rules.”
“If you think that this is dating,” Kent says, finger trembling where it’s still pointing in Alyosha’s direction, “That means we’ve been dating for years.”
Alyosha steps up until Kent’s finger is pressed against his naked chest. “Okay, maybe we have been. I been telling you this already. I want to date you for more years, too.”
Kent flattens his hand against Alyosha’s bare skin, still trembling. He likes Alyosha. He likes being with him and sleeping with him and he likes what they’ve had the past few years. It works for them, somehow. Kent didn’t think anyone wanted to date him or ever would, but apparently he’s been being dated.
Except… if they’ve been dating, Kent is totally lost. He’s been fucked by a dozen professional athletes but he’s never been taken on a date in his life. Not a real one. “I didn’t… I don’t know what to do.”
“Is easy,” Alyosha says. “We keep doing what we already do, but now you only have sex with me.”
“I haven’t had sex with anyone else in months,” Kent admits, and it makes Alyosha smile.
“Okay, like I said, is easy.” He kneels on the bed, leans down to bracket Kent in with his arms. “I’m kiss you now.”
Kent exhales sharply, presses a little with his hand until Alyosha pauses. “I haven’t kissed anyone since I was eighteen,” he says.
“You kiss me, last night,” Alyosha points out, and Kent smiles in spite of himself. “Don’t worry,” Alyosha says, and covers Kent’s body with his own, uses one big hand to push Kent’s hair back from his face. Their noses brush, and Kent shivers in anticipation.
“I’m teach you,” Alyosha tells him, and ducks in to kiss him chastely. “Is easy.”