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Inevitability

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Jack’s parents had explained Switch Days to him when he was around five-years-old. They’d patiently told him that every person had a soulmate, and at some point in his life after he met his own soulmate, he would wake up one day as them. It took a bit of time before Jack understood exactly what they meant--that he would be himself, but be inhabiting his soulmate’s body for the day.

 

His parents answered all of his questions the best that they could. Yes, you’ll wake up back to normal the next day. Yes, that also means your soulmate will be in your body for the day. No, it’ll only happen after you meet them. No, sweetie, nobody knows exactly when. It’s a surprise. And so on.

 

They told him about their own Switch Day. Papa had been in the off season, thankfully, but he still had a charity golf tournament. Maman had an incredibly important audition. Jack remembered laughing through the entire reenactment of Papa trying to fake her lines when her agent burst in, having just gotten off the phone with Maman. Thankfully, everyone understood and let go his horrible attempt at acting. Unfortunately, he had admitted who he was. The next day all the tabloids were talking about them being soulmates and about how Bad Bob Zimmermann had better just stick to hockey.

 

After hearing his parent’s story and seeing various other fictional Switch Days on television, Jack had been dreaming about his own. When he was younger he imagined all of the places that he might see. He wondered what his soulmate would be like. Would they like hockey? Would they be pretty? What if they were handsome? Cue the sudden panic about his sexuality.

 

When his anxiety started getting worse, he stopped looking forward to his Switch Day, and instead he began to dread it. It would be a day away from his team--a day he couldn’t push himself forward to become better. He woke up in cold sweats on multiple occasions from nightmares where his soulmate turned out to be another guy who ended up outing him to his parents, his teammates, the media.

 

Then Kent came into Jack’s life. Yeah, they were best friends and, yeah, they fooled around, but that didn’t have to mean anything. He kept telling himself that it was only physical. They were horny teenagers. It made sense.

 

Jack tried to remind himself of that when they were on a roadie falling asleep in a hotel bed snuggled up together and he could feel the whisper of Kent’s “I love you” against the nape of his neck. Jack didn’t think about how each time that happened, he threaded his fingers together with Kent’s and held him a little closer. He certainly didn’t think about how the prospect of his eventual Switch Day stopped seeming so awful. Jack definitely didn’t let himself start to look forward to it.

 

But that was all years ago. History long since passed. Jack was now at Samwell for his senior year. He rarely ever thought back to those nights anymore. That was, until Kent showed up to the Haus unannounced, cornered him in his room, clung to him saying how he missed him (yet again), and then insulted Jack and his team. Not to mention, him insinuating that Jack’s choice of NHL team would make his father disappointed--which they both knew wasn’t true.

 

After Kent had finally left with that stupid hat on backwards, Jack had collapsed against his door shaking with the worst panic attack he’d had in months. He had no idea how long it took him to calm down and become coherent enough to get himself cleaned up and into his bed. He curled into his blankets and buried his face in his pillow, hoping he’d wake up feeling a little less raw.

 

Jack hadn’t been expecting to feel all that great in the morning, but he also hadn’t been expecting to feel like low tide smelled: grimy and stale. He rubbed the crust out of his eyes a little rougher than he should have and buried his face back into his pillow. His alarm hadn’t gone off yet, and, for once, Jack was not getting up earlier than he had to. His muscles were stiff as wood and his head was pounding. He knew he didn’t drink that much last night, so why the hell did he feel hungover?

 

Muffled from the pillow and the blanket he’d pulled up over his head, Jack heard a door open. He sighed, figuring it was just Shitty finally getting done with the party and wanting to cuddle. That was until someone jumped on the bed and started bouncing. Jack groaned. He didn’t want to deal with a hyper Shitty. He just wanted his head to stop.

 

“Wakey-wakey, sunshine!” The man sang at him as he bounced. “Time for team breakfast, and I, personally, cannot wait until the whole team starts ragging on you for being hungover.”

 

Jack scrambled out of the blankets, ending up on his ass on the floor tangled in the sheet. He tugged it off his head and backed up until his back was against the end table. The man who had been bouncing and had just sounded so cheery now knelt on the bed with the worry lines between his brows out in full force as he looked at Jack with genuine concern. Jack felt his eyes flare wider when he recognized the man.

 

“Kenny, you okay?” Jeff Swanson--also known as the left winger and alternate captain for the Las Vegas Aces, who his teammates referred to as Swoops--asked. “You’re safe, dude.”

 

Jack squeezed his eyes shut and, regrettably, thumped his head back against the edge of the end table. He held to aching spot in his hand and tried to think through the thick fog of his mind.

 

“I’m…” Jack stopped to take in a deep breath. “I’m not Kent.”

 

He waited for the ice cold panic to jolt through his veins. He was expecting his throat to tighten and his chest to feel like it was on fire. He thought the room would feel like it was slipping away, like the floor would disappear beneath him. Jack opened his eyes when the panic never came.

 

Everything was fuzzy around the edges like someone had taken an eraser to them, but Jack could make out sitting Jeff on the bed with his feet on the floor, staring at it. Jack could see his jaw clenching and unclenching over and over again. Before Jack could say anything else, Jeff stood up quickly and walked into the bathroom. He heard the rush of water in the sink.

 

“So, what’s your name?” Jeff asked when he came back, holding a glass out to Jack with a bottle of Tylenol.

 

Jack took them from him. Jeff sat back on the bed and waited for him to unscrew the cap and take a few of the painkillers. Jack drained the glass, hoping it would do something to kill this headache.

 

“Thanks,” he said. “And I, uh, don’t know if I should say who I am.”

 

Jeff gave him a genuine smile. “I appreciate you not wanting to out him.”

 

Only, Jack hadn’t meant it to protect Kent; he’d meant it to protect himself. He swallowed and stood to go refill the glass, or anything really to get Jeff to stop looking at him so knowingly. He didn’t know him.

 

“Well, here’s my phone. I suggest giving your phone a call, see if Parse’ll pick up. I’ll go let the coaches know what’s going on. Be back in a bit,” Jeff said as he stood as well. He walked over to the door and turned the handle. “Oh, and you might wanna put some clothes on. I mean, Kent’s proud about his body and all, but some modesty would be beneficial. Don’t need everyone knowing how hard he takes checks.” With that, Jack was alone again.

 

He looked down to see Kent had gone to sleep just wearing obnoxious, yellow boxer briefs. Jack also noticed what Jeff had been talking about. Kent’s entire left side was one large bruise like he’d been checked into the boards. He pressed into the purple area over his hipbone and winced. It looked sickly in contrast with the color of his underwear.

 

The phone was already unlocked and opened to the dialpad. Jack sat on the edge of the bed, thumbs hovering over the numbers for a good minute. If he called his own phone, he’d have to talk to Kent. Jack would have to talk to him , talk about being soulmates. He felt his stomach gurgle at the thought. He quickly punched in Shitty’s number and held the phone to his ear.

 

“Please tell me this is a certain MIA Canadian Adonis with poor taste in music, but the best taste in friends,” Shitty whined into the phone when he picked up. Jack laughed.

 

“Shits,” Jack sighed out. “What if it wasn’t me? That would have been a pretty weird way to answer the phone.”

 

“Thank fuck, it’s you! Where are you?” Shitty asked. Jack ran a hand over his face.

 

“I’m in Boston, I think? I’m not sure,” Jack said. “Wait, you mean he didn’t tell you?”

 

“Your soulmate hasn’t said a damn word about himself. If you’re that close, you better get up here. He’s freakin’. I only figured you were on the Switch since the poor guy freaked out cuddled up with me.”

 

“Oh...I didn’t expect that,” Jack admitted.

 

“Yeah. I’m guessing he’s not used to an anxiety disorder. Would it be okay if I gave him one of your pills? I’d make sure it was the right amount and wouldn’t let him know where they are or exactly what they are,” Shitty asked.

 

“He knows about my anxiety, but uh...” He thought back to when Kent had watched him take a pill too many and call him on it. He thought back to the sullen look Kent gave him each time he realized Jack was high. “Wait till I’m there.”

 

“Jack,” Shitty started, “can I ask who it is?”

 

“I guess you’ll find out soon enough since I’m coming up there,” Jack sighed. I don’t know if I can say it out loud.

 

“Fair enough, big guy. How do you wanna handle the guys?”

 

“I-I can’t have them knowing,” Jack stuttered out quickly.

 

He thought back to flirting with Bitty last night tucked on the outskirts of the party. He kept looking up at Jack like he was something special, someone special. Jack didn’t want to think about how

Bitty’s face would fall when he found out they weren’t soulmates.

 

“You know they’ll find out pretty quick once you get up here,” Shitty said with a sigh. “You can’t hide from this, brah.”

 

The keycard reader whirred and Jeff stepped into the room. Jack sat up on the bed.

 

“Hey, I gotta go. I’ll see you in a bit,” Jack whispered into the receiver before hanging up.

 

“You get ahold of him?” Jeff asked.

 

Jack stood up and walked over to Kent’s duffle bag to find some clothes. Thanks to years of locker rooms and getting into great shape, Jack usually didn’t feel self conscious about his body around other guys as much anymore. Even though this wasn’t his body, he still somehow felt the urge to cover up.

 

In the bag, Jack found an Aces hoodie and some joggers along with the glasses with similar frames to the ones Jack had seen Kent wear in the mornings before he wanted to deal with putting in his contacts. He always complained that they burned and poking his eyes daily sucked, but he didn’t want to deal with the chirps about his glasses or the special ones he’d need to wear on the ice. Besides, his mom’s insurance covered contacts--not special athletic frames.

 

Jack unfolded them and slipped the plastic frames on his nose. The world was back to its sharp, detailed self except his depth perception felt slightly off kilter.

 

“Not really. Talked to my roommate. Kent’s not doing well,” Jack explained as he got dressed with his back to Jeff. “So, I need to get going. Go...figure things out.”

 

“You mean we,” Jeff said.

 

Jack turned around with his brows furrowed.

 

“Look, Kent is my best friend. If he’s having a tough time, I’m going to be there for him,” Jeff elaborated with his arms crossed, leaning against the wall. “And you have no means to go anywhere without me. So, where are we headed?”

 

Jack handed Jeff back his phone. “Samwell.”

 

The phone slipped from Jeff’s hand and onto the carpeted floor. Jeff’s eyes were wide and his mouth in a firm line. He bent down quick to get his phone and took in a deep breath.

 

“Alright,” Jeff said after clearing his throat. “I’ll pack up Kent’s shit and we’ll be off.”

 

Thankfully, Jeff had better taste in rental cars than Kent, picking out a simple SUV instead of something ostentatious like Jack remembered seeing outside of the Haus last night. He didn’t want any extra attention being brought on the place today. It probably wasn’t even cleaned up from last night yet.

 

Last night...Jack didn’t want to deal with the ramifications of the kegster--sorry, Epikegster. The night had been going so well chatting with Bitty, flirting with him a little. He had been having a good time until Kent showed up. He wanted just forget the yelling match he’d had with him. He wished he could just put everything from the Q behind him, but now...

 

“So,” Jeff started as he pulled onto the highway.

 

Jack shook himself out of his thoughts and turned his gaze out the windshield instead of staring out the window, turned away from Jeff and curled in on himself a bit.

 

“Since we’ll be playing in the same league soon I might as well properly introduce myself. Jeff Swanson, but all the guys call me Swoops,” he said with a glance to Jack.

 

“I, uh, I know who you are,” Jack said. “I’m...Jack Zimmermann.”

 

“Figured. Not many people Kent knows go to Samwell.”

 

Jack looked over to see Jeff had a small smile. He appreciated that Jeff was trying to keep things easy and casual--surface level. He’d expected this car ride to be hellish. He’d expected it to be uncomfortable and to be trapped in his thoughts. Instead, Jeff was asking him about his major, his classes. It felt like Jeff actually wanted to get to know him.

 

Jeff didn’t give any indication that Jack’s long pauses and all-around nervousness (and normal inability to be actively social) bothered him. He just waited for Jack to collect his thoughts. When Jack was trying to think of a word for something, Jeff even offered an option en français . Turns out, Jeff grew up around Trois-Rivières.

 

By the time Jack was guiding Jeff through the streets of Samwell, they’d completely abandoned English. Jack had managed to relax during the ride, but he stiffened back up when they parked in front of the Haus.

 

Jeff turned off the car and turned to Jack. He cleared his throat.

 

“I get that this isn’t easy on you two, but…” Jeff stopped. He rubbed at his eye and sighed. “Just don’t make it any worse on him, okay?”

 

Jeff opened his door and hopped out to grab Kent’s bag from the backseat before Jack could form a response.


Kent had gotten away from that conversation, that party, that damn town, from Jack. He made it all the way back to Boston and up to his room in the hotel. He was sure to tread quietly past Swoops and Missie’s room, not wanting to deal with any of the guys right then. When he finally got into his room and closed the door behind him, he broke down.

 

He fell down to his knees and ripped his Aces’ cap off of his head and threw it towards the window. When he fell back on his ass against the door he held his head in his hands and cried. Kent choked back the screams he wanted to yell out. He rocked himself as he crumpled and curled into himself further.

 

Kent had meant to go and just talk with Jack. He wanted to get him to play with the Aces--to play with him again. Hell, he just wanted Jack to acknowledge that Kent was, in fact, real and that he knew the damn guy. But then Kent had gone and fucked it all up, again . Why didn’t he just know when to quit?

 

He knew he should have just respected Jack’s choice. Kent knew he shouldn’t have clung onto him. He knew he shouldn’t have yelled and insulted his team. And he fucking knew he shouldn’t have thrown in that comment about Bad Dad, but Kent still went ahead and did it. He just went ahead hurting them both...again.

 

After he’d pulled himself back together, Kent made his way to his bag and found his flask. He threw it on his bed. Then Kent stripped down to his underwear and stalked off to the bathroom to take out his contacts and brush his teeth. Once he was finished, he burrowed himself under the blankets before taking a long swig from his flask.

 

Tomorrow would just be team breakfast, the flight back, and then cuddling with Kit and maybe Swoops. He just needed to sleep and keep moving. Just like he always did.

 

"Jackintosh, turn off that heathen of an alarm, bro. It's the goddamn weekend after the most Epikegester of all time," a voice mumbled near Kent's ear.

 

The faint beeping on the other side of the bed hadn't even registered. The man beside rolled over, and after a second of fumbling, it stopped.

 

Kent's eyes shot open, but were met with darkness. He'd gone to bed alone. He knew he had. He almost fell off the bed reaching for the lamp.

 

Click. The room flooded with the yellow light and Kent did fall out of the bed when he saw the room. This was not where he had fallen asleep. He had made sure to get this room far behind him last night. Had he dreamt that? He should have realized what was happening by how clear everything looked.

 

The guy sprawled out on the mattress covered his face with a pillow. "Dude, what the fuck! Turn the light out and come cuddle," he said into the pillow.

 

Kent righted himself quickly and stood up. He felt too high up. The angle of the room was off. Everything looked just a little farther away than it had last night. Wait, it did look that way. He rubbed his eyes, but they didn't feel like he'd fallen asleep with his contacts in and he wasn't wearing his glasses. Yet, the room was perfectly clear. No fuzzy edges or muddled lines.

 

His heart was thumping in his throat by the time he finally looked down at himself. Kent felt like he was going to pass out or vomit or something . He knew those hands. He knew what they felt like running through his hair, playfully punching him in the shoulder, trailing over his hipbone, shoving him away.

 

This can't be happening. No, no, no, no. Not today. Not ever! Not with Jack...

 

"Jack? You okay?"

 

Kent stumbled through the door to his right, just needing to get away from the guy in Jack's bed--from all of this. He found himself slamming the bathroom door behind himself and locked it. He turned around and there were Jack's ice-blues staring back at him.

 

He swallowed thickly and stepped closer to the mirror. He pushed the bangs off of his forehead to watch them just fall back in place. Kent let out a dry sob of a laugh. He twisted to look behind himself. There's no mistaking that ass.

 

It started getting harder to breathe.

 

Fuck... Kent knew this feeling of his chest constricting. He felt like no matter what he did, he couldn't get enough air. He sunk down to the floor slowly and tried to stay calm. He really did, but he couldn't stop the panic from flooding through him like he usually could.

 

Kent felt helpless. He remembered the only thing that helped Jack was time and his medication. And Kent didn't have either of those at his disposal.

 

He felt the banging on the door against his back. Out of the fog of everything around him, Kent knew that that guy was knocking and asking him something, but Kent couldn't focus long enough to figure out what it was. It felt like each time he stopped focusing on his hands and his breathing he was drowning.

 

Kent couldn't help but blame himself for all of this. Since he first met Jack, Kent had wished he was his soulmate. That first day just watching him on the ice--seeing the intensity in his stare and the focus he had on the game followed by that bright, open smile when he scored. It was like a star was bursting into life right in front of him.

 

He'd wished Jack was his soulmate even before Kent knew he was even interested in boys. Back when Jack was just his linemate, not even his friend yet. And that wish only got worse over time: when he really got to know Jack, when Jack got to know Kent on the ice and in his billet family's basement playing video games and at parties and in stolen kisses when they were alone for a second or two.

 

Hell, Kent had even screamed as loud as he could that Jack had to be his soulmate because he hadn't had his Switch yet, so he couldn't die when Kent had found him on the bathroom floor. He whispered that into Jack's hair as they waited for the ambulance. He wished it into Jack when he held his hand in the hospital and kissed his knuckles when the Zimmermanns had left the room for a moment to get some air as they waited for Jack to wake up.

 

And now here he was with exactly what he had wanted. Jack was his soulmate. There was no getting around that, but instead of the absolute joy Kent thought he would feel, he felt twisted, guilty, and shameful.

 

The panic passed after what felt like hours. Slowly, Kent was able to breathe properly again. He wiped at his face. Kent hadn't felt the tears falling, but he'd seen Jack during a panic attack enough times to know it was inevitable.

 

He got his bearings and stood. In the mirror was the face Kent had seen countless times: Jack's face puffy and red and wrecked. He couldn't meet his eye in the mirror this time.

 

After he splashed his face with cold water, he opened the door to Jack's bedroom. He knew there was no avoiding all this, so he might as well get it over with.

 

The bedroom was empty this time. He rummaged around in Jack drawers for something to wear other than the flannel pj bottoms he was currently rocking. There was a small pang in his gut when he realized Jack's taste in clothes hadn't really changed. Function over fashion every time.

 

Kent quickly got changed into sweatpants and a worn Samwell hoodie, making sure that his eyes didn't linger. He already felt awful about the situation. He didn't want to add anything to his guilt. At this point, he didn't know if he could take it.

 

The aftermath of the party was still everywhere . Kent made his way down the stairs without spilling any of the cups littering them. He was thankful he thought to find Jack's slippers before making his way down from the sound they made each time his lifted his foot. Kent had no idea how anyone could live in a frat house.

 

In the living room, two guys on the hockey team that Kent had talked to last night were cleaning up--each with a trash bag in hand. The goalie, if Kent remembered right, was still in his Sharks hoodie whereas the other guy seemed to have the poor sense to change before cleaning up. Kent could already see a spot, probably thanks to some mystery cup, on his shirt.

 

They didn't notice him come down the stairs because they were too busy trying to bite back laughter as Sharks guy took out his phone and snapped a few pictures. Kent had to bite back his own laugh when he noticed what they were focused on: a guy sleeping with a pizza box as a blanket. It really had been some party, huh?

 

Kent slipped past them and looked into the kitchen. At the table there were the two guys that had been going on about Jack and Kent's past whatever last night and at the stove was the blond kid that had been tucked under Jack's arm--the one that was eavesdropping on him and Jack.

 

"Morning," Kent announced with a pokerface.

 

"He rises!" The guy in glasses at the table says in response.

 

"It's so unlike you to sleep in so long, bro," the other one said. "Of course, we don't often see you drink."

 

"True. You need some water? That one beer must have hit you like a tank," Glasses Guy chirped.

 

Kent raised an eyebrow at them, but before he could retort, the kid at the stove turned around brandishing his spatula.

 

"Be nice or no morning-after pancakes,” he warned. “There’s coffee, unless you’re going for a run.”

 

Kent smirked and went over to the coffee pot. Jack would take a morning run after a rager. Damn hockey robot.

 

He felt the blond guy’s eyes on him as he made his coffee. Kent wondered if he knew how Jack took his coffee. If so, that would explain his puzzles expression when Kent put in enough sugar to tide over a candy store for a week. Kent took a long sip and he turned back to the pancakes on the stove.

 

They all looked up when they heard the front door open.

 

“Last I knew, he was up in our bathroom,” they heard the guy from Jack’s bed.

 

Kent rubbed at the back of his neck. There was only one person he could think he’d be talking to like that, and he shouldn’t be here. He should be back in Boston with Kent’s team. He should be on his way to Las Vegas in, what, two hours? Kent took in a deep breath. He let his media smile creep onto his face.

 

“Shouldn’t you be on your way to Vegas soon?” Kent called out over the edge of his coffee mug.

 

Everyone in the kitchen gave him confused looks before the guy from earlier, himself , and Swoops were at the doorway.

 

“And what the fuck are you doing here?” Kent asked a little taken aback. Jeff was one of the last people he had expected to see on his Switch, especially considering…

Chapter Text

For the majority of Kent’s life, he didn’t care about this whole soulmates business. Hollywood and whatever always made soulmates out to be the most important part of your life, like everything would be fixed once you had the Switch. People always talked about how everything was worth it as long as you had your soulmate by your side--that the bond would make you feel safe and supported and loved.

 

Kent knew differently. He’d known it his whole life. He saw first hand with his parents how it could go sour. He watched his father become a horrible person, always yelling and demeaning those around him, and he watched what that did to his mother. She watched her soulmate morph into a monster and couldn’t bring herself to leave until Kent’s father started in on him too.

 

When Kent was in the Q with Jack, he thought he understood what people meant about how good it could be, although he didn’t know for sure that his soulmate was Jack. He hadn’t had his Switch yet, but the ease that fell over them when they were alone, when they touched...Kent knew it had to be Jack.

 

Then Kent found Jack on the floor of his bathroom with his pill bottle spilled. Kent screamed about how this couldn’t happen--that he couldn’t die because they hadn’t had their Switch. (Though, Jack had never mentioned to Kent whether or not he’d had the Switch yet.) Everyone gets their Switch, everyone --at least as far as science could prove so far.

 

Reaching your Switch was supposed to be a balance. On one side, you got your soulmate--which would hopefully turn into a soulbond and make your life that much better. On the other side, now you knew you could die. Parents that watched their children Switch were terrified. Did that mean their child would die young? Would their soulmate? The timing didn’t mean you would , but the fear was always there.

 

After the draft and Jack cutting himself off, Kent began to dread his Switch day, especially after he got to know Jeff “Swoops” Swanson better--both on the ice and off. He’d become a regular fixture around Kent’s apartment over the past few years or so since he was traded to the Aces. Swoops even referred to the guest room as his room. He had some clothes stored away in the closet and a toothbrush in the main bathroom.

 

It wasn’t odd for the guys to leave stuff around Kent’s place with how much everyone came over. From the parties to movies to post-game celebrations, the Aces spent a good amount of time at their captain’s, but Swoops was the only one that came over when there wasn’t team bonding involved.

 

Swoops went to Kent’s place after a late practice because he didn’t feel like driving all the way to his place and then back the rink in the morning for the optional skate. They made dinner together and ate in front of the television rewatching Lost. After he finished his plate and set it on the coffee table, Swoops settled his arms over Kent’s legs that had been using him as a footrest since they first sat down.

 

Kent focused his attention on the show, but couldn’t stop from flicking his eyes to Swoops’ hands. They usually sat like this on the couch: Swoops sitting like a proper human being and Kent sprawled all over the place like Kit when she’s lying in a bit of sunlight. Between cellies and falling asleep on each other during roadies, they were used to touching each other. He was used to this, except for the way Swoops was gently stroking the strip on skin exposed above his sock and his other hand curled around his knee with his elbow rested on Kent’s thigh.

 

When the episode ended, Kent couldn’t remember what had happened in it. He’d been too busy thinking about Swoops. He knew he had a tendency to overthink and overanalyze situations, but he knew something felt a little different.

 

“We should probably go to bed instead of starting another episode. We have to be up kinda early,” Swoops said in an easy tone. His fingers were now just under the pant leg of Kent’s sweatpants, tracing the muscle there.

 

“What if we just don’t go to the skate in the morning?” Kent asked. He propped his head up under his arm to look at Swoops, though he could only partially see him in the dim room. Swoops laughed.

 

Swoops picked up the remote and closed the app before turning off the television. With the light from the screen gone, the room was only lit by the glow from the city outside the windows and the light they’d left on in the kitchen behind them.  

 

“Kenny, you’ve seen this before. It can wait. Besides, you were all gung ho earlier about me getting in some footwork drills,” he said as he rested his head against the cushion and turned to look at Kent.

 

“Only the people fucking me call me Kenny, dude,” Kent said out of habit. It was his usual retort when someone tried out the nickname on him. He was used to quickly shutting them down--the name always brought back the ache in his chest when he heard it. He hadn’t expected the lack of repulsion when Jeff was using it.

 

Swoops looked down at his lap with the corner of his mouth turned up into a barely-there smile. He ran his hand up the side of Kent’s thigh, following it with his eyes, and then flicked his gaze up to meet Kent’s.

 

“Only if they’re fucking you, huh?” Swoops whispered. He picked Kent’s legs up just to reposition himself facing Kent between them. Kent watched with his eyebrows raised and his mouth open and sporting a smirk. Swoops leaned forward, slowly covering Kent’s body with his own. “Stop me if I read this wrong.”

 

Instead of stopping him or pushing him away, Kent pulled his arm out from behind his head and reached up. He pulled Swoops down until their breaths were mingling and ghosted over each other's’ faces.The brim of Swoops hat bumped into the clasp of his snapback. Kent waited, looking him in the eye all the while.

 

Swoops swallowed. “I can’t do anything serious, so if that’s--”

 

“Keep it casual. Fine by me,” Kent cut him off. He knew he was lying to himself. Kent was never able to keep it casual. He fell too hard, too fast. Everything with Jack was just supposed to be a one time thing, and then…

 

He trailed his fingers up Swoops’ neck until he reached his baseball cap. He lifted it off his head and gently set it on the floor.

 

Kent lifted his head slightly for Swoops to take off Kent’s hat. He set it down on his own before running a hand softly through Kent’s hair. With his other hand, Swoops cupped Kent’s jaw and guided their lips together.

 

Since that night back in October, Swoops always called Kent Kenny and spent even more time over at his apartment. They made a pact to keep things casual and not let any of whatever-it-is they had get in the way on the ice. Apparently, they had both experienced what happened when a relationship went sour on and off the ice. The Aces had to come first.

 

After a few weeks and a few sleepovers, Kent curled up in Swoops’ arms ready to get some sleep after the night’s game and the post-game activities. Swoops buried his face in Kent’s hair and sighed.

 

“Oh no,” Kent groaned. “I know that sigh. What’s up?” He turned in his arms to face him.

 

“It’s not a big deal. I know you just wanna sleep.”

 

“Jeff, I know when something’s up with you. You’ve been off all day. What’s going on?” Kent said as he fluffed up his pillow and settled himself in for a talk.

 

“Today’s just always hard on me,” he whispered. Swoops wasn’t looking Kent in the face. Instead he was fixated on the splattering of freckles along Kent’s collarbone.

 

“What’s different about today?” Kent asked, mimicking his hushed tone. “We’ve known each other for years. You’ve never said…”

 

“I--” he swallowed hard. “It’s not really something I like talking about.”

 

“Oh,” Kent said. He put a hand on Jeff’s hip and brushed his thumb over it. “You don’t have to if you don’t--”

 

“No, no…” Jeff sighed. “You should know.” He scooted closer to Kent and took his hand in his own. “Six years ago today, my soulmate died.”

 

Kent took in a sharp breath and squeezed Swoops’ hand. “I’m so sorry,” he whispered.

 

“We had our Switch back when we were nine. It really freaked my parents out. You know what people say: an early match is an early heartbreak.” Jeff let out a wet laugh. Kent pressed their foreheads together and reached up to wipe the tears off of his cheek. “Things were great between he and I until--until he died. With him gone it’s just…”

 

Kent held him close as Swoops’ sobs shook them both. He ran his fingers through Jeff’s hair, kissed his forehead, and let him cry just like Kent had with Jack all those years ago back in the Q tucked away in his bedroom when the stress and anxiety overwhelmed Jack--one of the few moments he turned to someone else for help instead of too many pills.

 

When Swoops managed to catch his breath again, he whispered out snippets of what happened for Kent to piece together. He shakily told Kent’s collarbone and chest about why he couldn’t bear to have anything more than casual.

 

Jeff’s soulmate, Carson, had a condition (or something) that had gotten worse throughout his life, as far as Kent could discern. They’d known his death was coming, but that hadn’t made it any easier. Breaking the bond is said to be the worst pain someone can experience, and still live through.

 

They held each other close and slowly drifted off to sleep as Jeff’s breath evened out. The next morning, neither of them brought it up. They just got ready and made breakfast like nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

 

It’s Swoops who first speaks up when they’re loading the dishwasher.

 

“Have you had the Switch yet?”

 

Kent bent down to get the dishwasher detergent out from cabinet under the sink. He threw the little pod in, closed the door, and started the wash cycle. He leaned back against the counter and crossed his arms.

 

“No, I haven’t and I don’t think I ever want to,” Kent sighed out in a solemn tone. He rubbed his eye with the back of his hand and walked over to the coffee pot, putting his back to Jeff.

 

“Well, Kenny,” Jeff said as he walked up behind him and wormed his arms around Kent’s middle. “I’m here when you do. You’re my best friend. The Switch isn’t going to change that.”

 

Kent let his head thump back against Jeff’s shoulder and closed his eyes.

 

“Good,” he whispered.

 

Leaning back against Swoops felt solid and safe. Kent knew he’d always be there for him. He was his closest friend. He knew the warmth he felt in his chest when Jeff pressed a quick kiss to his temple wasn’t something that should exist if they were keeping things casual.

 

He gently worked his way out of Swoops arms and gave him a quick kiss before picking up his mug and walking back to the bedroom. Kent made sure on the outside everything looked normal, but internally he was running for the hills. The last time he’d felt that radiating warmth within himself he’d ended up at the draft alone. He couldn’t lose someone like that again.

 

Kent had told himself he had never wanted to feel that again. Instead of it being comforting, it built in his chest until it burned. His lungs and his throat grew tight. The affection that should soften him a little just wound up him tense up and curl into himself.

 

If he couldn’t have that easy, loving affection with Jack, he didn’t feel right having it at all. He felt guilty and broken--like he’d broken some vow he had never even made. Kent knew Jack wanted nothing to do with him, but he couldn’t get him out of his head.

 

Jeff knew something was off about Kent in the next few days, but he didn’t say anything. In the years he’d known Kent, Jeff figured out Kent that the closer they got to playing the Bruins, the worse Kent’s moods became. He knew to give him some space until the game was done and over with.

 


Jack glanced up and met his own wide, ice-blue eyes looking at him with a raised eyebrow. The expression looked off like a painting that was a tilted a millimeter off center. He’d seen his expression; he knew how he should look at this was not it. Jack could see little speckled of Kent shining through to the surface like the freckles dotted along Kent’s body. Little blotches of his personality breaking through the façade.

 

“And what the fuck are you doing here?” Kent asked. His brows were halfway caught in between shooting up into his hairline and scrunching together.

 

Jeff rolled his eyes in a big show and adjusted Kent’s bag on his shoulder.

 

Everyone in the kitchen looked between Kent, Jack, and Jeff with puzzled expressions. Jack knew there were going to be questions--so many questions. He looked to Shitty.

 

“Let’s take this upstairs, huh?” Shitty suggested. He motioned for Jack and Jeff to lead the way and let his gaze linger on Kent until he pushed himself away from the counter and, with coffee in hand, followed them up the stairs.

 

Jack trudged up to his room as if it were his death march. He didn’t want to deal with this. He would have been fine never addressing Kent again after everything that had happened--after last night, let alone deal with him being Jack’s goddamn soulmate! He reached his door and pushed it open, letting it bounce a little off the wall.

 

Would it be better for Shitty to be here? What if he and Kent just did this alone? Could they even say anything if they did it alone? What would Shitty think of him if they brought up what they said to each other--what went down last night and all those years ago?

 

“Shits, wanna gave us a bit?” Jack asked when he turned on his heel in the center on his bedroom.

 

“Sure, no problem, dude,” Shitty said with a quick smile and a nod.

 

Kent lingered looking at Swoops with tightness around his eyes, but the rest of his face blank. Swoops stepped forward and pressed something into Kent’s hand which he quickly pocketed. He leaned in close and whispered into Kent’s ear before leaning back again and giving Kent’s hand a quick squeeze.

 

Shitty let Kent step into the room before he closed the door, leaving he and Jeff out in the hall.

 

“I’m Jeff, by the way, or Swoops. Whatever you prefer,” Jeff said with a casually extended hand to Shitty.

 

“I know who you are,” Shitty said with a small smile as he shook his hand. “You can call me Shitty. Everybody does.”

 

Swoops nodded and kept his gaze on the closed door in front of them. “This gunna be as awful as I think it’s gunna be?”

 

Shitty titled his head, pondering for a moment. “I think it’s gunna be awful in some way no one would have even thought of. The little I’ve seen them together, I’ve seen how...creative they can be. Come on. Want some breakfast? Coffee?”

 

He shrugged. “Might as well, right? It’s not like I’m going anywhere any time soon.”

 

When the door closed behind Kent, his throat grew tight again. He tried to swallow through it. He watched Jack sit on the edge of his bed and lean forward with his elbows rested on his knees. The set of his jaw, those hunched shoulders--Kent could see how uncomfortable he was. Hey, at least I’m not alone.

 

He held his coffee mug close to his chest and just stared into the small swirling wisps of steam coming off it. Kent had no idea how to start this conversation, nor did he want to. What could he say? Sorry you’re stuck with me?

 

Kent shifted his weight to his other foot and waited. He already felt like an intruder on so many levels, some residual from the conversation they’d had last night in this very room. He didn’t know what to do with himself physically. Kent wasn’t used to taking up so much space.

 

His thoughts swirled around his head like the steam in his mug. They whirled around and fed into each other. How badly Kent had messed things up for the people he cared about simply by existing--and yes, of course he cared about Jack, but that didn’t mean Jack cared about him anymore (if he ever cared in the first place). He’d made that perfectly clear by cutting Kent out of his life, and after last night…

 

Plus, poor Swoops. Kent didn’t regret them getting close and whatever it is they have, or had . He just regrets that he ended up fucking it up like he fucks up everything in his life besides hockey. Jeff deserved so much better from him as his friend, his lover, his captain . Okay, maybe Kent did fuck up in hockey. Maybe he--

 

“Cut it out.”

 

Kent startled. He looked up from the coffee mug to see that Jack had gotten up and was standing not a foot away from him. He was seeing himself from Jack perspective for the first time in his life and all he could think was please, don’t fucking cry . His throat was tighter and his eyes were starting to burn.

 

From this angle, Kent couldn’t quite make out the faint stress lines he knew littered his face. The bags under his eyes didn’t look dark enough. His freckles didn’t look so out of place. And his glasses didn’t make his face look so round.

 

“Working yourself up is only going to make this hard,” Jack sighed out as he stepped past him to rummage through his desk drawer for a second. He uncapped a pill bottle and handed him one. “It’ll help.”

 

Kent held out his hand and Jack dropped the pill in it. He tossed it in his mouth, took a swig of coffee, and swallowed past the lump that had taken up permanent residence in his throat.

 

“Why are you…” Kent trailed off with a wide motion between them. He let the bothering fizzle out on his tongue.

 

Jack streamed out a sigh through his nose and put a hand on his hip. He watched Jack clench his jaw and his fist before he rubbed at his eyes.

 

Oh. Kent knew that look. “You, uh, hungover?” Kent asked sheepishly. He knew he should have just gotten in and gone straight to bed last night instead of emptying his flask.

 

Jack looked at him with a tired, burning glare. “Yeah, thanks. How did you even drive last night?” Jack asked more to himself than to Kent as he walked back over to the bed and rubbed his temples.

 

Kent thinks this is the longest they’ve talked in years without a yelling match. Maybe drinking so much last night wasn’t that bad of an idea... Then, Kent remembered one of the reasons why things always turned to yelling and biting comments followed by guilt and regret.

 

He dug into his own pocket and tossed his own bottle of pills that Swoops had handed him at Jack once he put his own away. Jack raised an eyebrow at him.

 

“Wait until you eat something.”

 

Jack turned the bottle over in his hand and examined it. Kent kept his breath steady and waited. Very few people knew about Kent’s medication, and those that did know weren’t exactly sure what it was for besides those from the Aces that had to know aka Jeff, the coaches, and the medical staff. He’d never responded to the questioning looks people shot him and his pill bottle with actual answers.

 

After Kent had been drafted, the Aces made sure he found a therapist he got along with and kept regular meetings with her for his transition period. They knew a kid watching his friend burnout and almost die wasn’t the best on his mental state. The Aces protected their investment and Kent got the help he needed. Win-win all around.

 

“Mood stabilizers?” Jack whispered. He looked back up at Kent with his brows pulled together. Kent could now see the minute stress lines on his face.

 

“Do--” Kent tried to say, but his the tightness in throat caught his words. He cleared his throat. “Don’t sound so surprised.”

 

Once Kent’s therapist explained borderline personality disorder to him, everything clicked. Sure, it took a bit before she was comfortable diagnosing him and going through the long process of finding medication and techniques that helped him, but Kent accepted it in that first moment. He laughed to himself once he’d gotten home after that session, wondering just how he never saw it before. Then came the understanding, and the guilt.

 

He’d often wondered what Jack’s reaction would be. Would he shrug, say “that sucks” and nothing changes for the better or worse? Or, one that Kent woke up in a cold sweat about more times than he’d like to admit, what if Jack called Kent out on his manipulative behavior, his anger, his narcissism...what if Jack realized everything that happened in the Q, the Draft, was all Kent’s fault?

Chapter Text

Jack set the bottle of pills down next to him and looked up at Kent, but a second later shifted his gaze to look at his door.

 

“Do you...uh, what do you…” Jack trailed off. He didn’t know how to ask. He didn’t know if Kent would even want to talk to him about this. “You don’t have to tell me.”

 

“Don’t worry. I’m fully aware I don’t have to tell you anything,” Kent bit out, but once the words left his mouth he deflated. He shook his head. He took a tentative step forward with the grip on his mug growing tighter. “You mind if I…” Kent trailed off with a nod to the bed. Jack shook his head.

 

Kent settled himself about a foot away from Jack. He tucked one leg under himself and turned towards Jack who was waiting in silence--not pressing him to say something, but also not offering anything. Kent felt like he’d already fucked up somehow.

 

“I’m, yeah, I have bpd, borderline personality disorder,” Kent said just above a whisper. He cleared his throat with a long sip from his mug. “Nobody knows besides those that have to. I’d rather not get into the whole shitstorm right now, but you’re kinda gonna have to deal with it for the day so…”

 

Jack took Kent’s mug out of his hand and leaned down to set it on the floor next to the bed. Kent’s leg had started bouncing when he started talking and Jack didn’t want both them and his bed getting covered in coffee. The clunk of the mug against the wood felt too loud like it would crack this moment of rare openness from Kent.

 

“Sorry,” Kent muttered. He looked down at his hands in his lap.

 

Jack blinked at him. He couldn’t pinpoint the last time he’d heard Kent say sorry. He knew he’d heard it...right? Maybe it just didn’t sound right knowing it was Kent, but with Jack’s voice.

 

“What symptoms can I expect?” Jack asked, looking down at those hands-- his hands.

 

“You mean my personality?” Kent laughed tightly. Jack flitted his eyes up to met Kent’s with a leveling glare.

 

That was until Jack noticed the accumulation on his waterline. He knew what his face looked like when he was about to cry. He’d had enough last nights staring at himself in the mirror while he silently cried for what he couldn’t become to haunt him for a lifetime. But just like downstairs in the kitchen, there was a little sliver of Kent behind those swimming blue eyes. For once, they didn’t seem as cold as Jack always saw them. Jack tried to soften his expression.

 

“I can look it up if you aren’t comfortable--”

 

“No, no. It’s,” Kent paused for a second to take a deep breath. “It’s fine. I’m just not used to talking about it. Especially…”

 

Jack nodded. He understood what Kent couldn’t quite say.   Especially with you. Years ago, back in the Q, when this kind of thing came up it was always about Jack. It was about his anxiety and his medication. They never talked about Kent’s mental state. Thinking back on it now, Jack wished he’d thought to.

 

“I’m on mood stabilizers, but there’s still some…” Kent paused again. He had no clue how to talk about this--how to talk about it with Jack. “There can be mood swings like with getting angry or needy or just getting upset over something that should be nothing, and, uh, impulsive behavior, intrusive thoughts...It can feel like…”

 

Jack sat and listened to Kent go on about some of the things he deals with on a regular basis, things to look out for. He noticed how Kent went from his familiar, causal language to sounding like he was quoting whatever his therapist had told him. It reminded him of when, after Kent found Jack during a panic attack for the first time, Jack told Kent about his anxiety.

 

Kent had been so patient with him as he tried to find the right words and failing. He’d held his hand while Jack choked on some of the words, as if admitting his mental illness would end him and whatever it was they had, but instead it had helped. On the ice, they were the same dream team together. Off the ice Jack didn’t have to pretend (as much). Kent covered for him when Jack just had to get out of wherever they were. Kent even tried to talk to Jack about how bad things seemed to be getting for him--about how many pills he’d been taking.

 

“You ever dissociate?” Kent asked him in the same fragile whisper he’d been going on in for the past few minutes. Jack clenched his jaw for a second before nodding. “Well, that’s a thing,” Kent finished lamely. He broke eye contact and looked at his mug on the floor instead.

 

“Thank you,” Jack said in a similarly soft voice. “Thanks for telling me.”

 

“Well, it only makes it even, right?” Kent replied with a little scoff, trying to lift the weight in the air, “Besides you might not even have to deal with ‘em today. Ya never know when things are and aren’t gunna crop up.”




 

 

“So,” Bitty said as he settled himself at the table with his own plate of pancakes. “You never said what y’all were doing up here today.”

 

Swoops swallowed his mouthful and shrugged. “I don’t ask questions, just go where I’m told,” he answers easily enough. “It helps that where I’m told to go has great pancakes and even better maple syrup.”

 

Shitty and Ransom both laugh. Holster shook his head with a smile.

 

It had always been easy for Swoops to make conversation from the years of team bonding and media training. The guys here warmed up to him rather quickly. Of course, it helped that they all played hockey and knew who he was. At first they didn’t say much of anything. Then, Swoops asked how their season was going. Queue the friendly, hockey-guy banter.

 

Though the food and conversation were nice, his head was still upstairs--a little worried about Kent. He knew the man could take care of himself (most of the time), but he also knew snippets of his history with Jack. He knew how Kent felt about soulmates . Okay, maybe he was more than a little worried.

 

He took it as a good sign that he hadn’t heard any yelling, throwing things, or fighting yet. Of course, Kent knew how to avoid the crux of an issue like a seasoned politician. It was possible they hadn’t even touched on the topic of the day.

 


 

Kent bent down to pick up his coffee and took a long sip as he scanned Jack’s room. Nothing kept his eye for long since he’d seen the room last night, but he tried to not look at Jack for as long as possible. After so many years of missing Jack in his life, he was a little surprised at his awkwardness now. He was usually the one to break their silences.

 

Jack fidgeted with the seam on the sweatpants he was wearing. After Kent opened up about his mental illness and how it affects him, Jack isn’t sure what to say or do or where to go from there. He wondered if this was always how people felt when he told them about his anxiety: unsure and worried to say the wrong thing.

 

“Euh...so this,” Jack said while he motioned awkwardly between them, “ soulmates thing?”

 

Kent held his mug in his lap with a tighter grip. “Is that supposed to be a question?” Kent asked back, only slightly condescending. Jack sighed and waited for Kent to look at him.

 

“We might as well be serious about this from the start,” Jack deadpanned at him.

 

He clearly wasn’t going to join Kent in avoiding the subject. It was Kent’s turn to sigh. He looked up at the ceiling for a second before he looked back at Jack. He didn’t know if he’d ever get used to seeing his face like this. Kent nodded more to himself than anything.

 

“So, soulmates. Yup, that one thing I’ve wanted to avoid my entire damn life yet here I am outside of my body like every other goddamn person has to deal with. Why should I be any different? It’s not like fate cares about what I want,” Kent scoffs. “I mean, why should I think it would care after my years and years of pining for someone that most certainly doesn’t want me in his life? And it’s not like this really even changes anything.”

 

When he stopped to let out a huff, Kent couldn’t read the expression Jack was sporting. So, instead of stopping to let Jack speak his piece, Kent marched on. “My life was actually coming together. For the first fucking time, I had things under control...Okay, we both know that’s a lie. I’m terrified of commitment and a lot of other interpersonal things that I’m, like, extra avoiding each time I talk to my therapist, but still. I’m doing pretty damn well compared to where I was--not like you’d know where I was anyway.”

 

Jack leaned over to take the mug away from Kent against before he spilled it. Kent stopped him and downed its contents before he turned to fully face him and continued his rant. Kent was too caught up in what he was venting to notice the tiny smile at the corner of Jack’s mouth when he took to mug back.

 

“And fuck dude! I can only imagine how this is going for you. Like I know you don’t want a damn thing to do with me for a lot of valid reasons like me being a total asshole: see last night . Then I’m here in your place, in your room again against your will and I’m just always invading. It’s like I’m the fucking British!”

 

Jack pressed his lips together as his laugh shook his shoulders. The sound of him stifling a laugh brought Kent out of his rant-mode. His shoulders relaxed and a slow, easy smile crept up on him as he watched Jack try and fight the laugh until it bubbled out of him, causing Kent to start laughing too.

 


 

 

“Should I text Jack? You know how he gets when he’s not fed,” Bitty asked the room over his glass.

 

“I wouldn’t want to disturb them just yet,” Shitty said. “They’ll--”

 

He cut off when they could all hear the laughter growing louder and louder upstairs. Shitty raised an eyebrow at the ceiling. He looked at Swoops, as if asking what that could mean. He shrugged. Swoops wiped his mouth with his napkin before he leaned back in his chair and angled his face towards the doorway.

 

“Yo, Parse! Pancakes!” He yelled. He waited where he was, balanced on two legs of his chair, for a beat.

 

There was a small thump upstairs after the laughter stopped. Swoops leaned back to the table gently and picked up his juice. They all listened to the door upstairs swing open slowly with some faint murmurs. When the top stair creaked, Holster went back into explaining why musical nights are pivotal in team bonding.

 

“Stop trying to make musical nights happen,” Ransom said with an eye roll. “I mean, is there even anything left you haven’t made us all watch yet?” From how Holster’s eyes widened, Ransom realized that was the wrong argument to bring up.

 

“You know there are more musicals than I’ve shared with the team! It just so happens, I only show the ones I think everyone will enjoy like Repo! and Mamma Mia!”

 

Bitty groaned. “If I wanted to see Colin Firth in sparkly spandex, I would have done so on my own time.”

 

“Hey, you did sing Dancin’ Queen with all of us,” Shitty pointed out.

 

“Don’t get Parse started on musicals, please,” Swoops fake-begged. “One of the rookies made the mistake of quoting Phantom this one time and I never thought we’d get him to stop singing again. It’s even worse when he’s with his sister since she acts in ‘em.”

 

“Did someone say musicals?” Jack asked.

 

“Did someone say pancakes?” Kent asked.

 

Swoops turned around while Bitty ushered Jack and Kent into the kitchen--pointing out where the pancakes were and the syrup. Jack still held himself stiffly, but he seemed a lot more comfortable than Swoops had remembered seeing him in the car on the way up. Kent also seemed a bit subdued, but he couldn’t tell if that was from the situation or him pretending to be Jack for the time being.

Chapter Text

Jack was trying to emulate Kent...it was a good thing so few people there knew anything of Kent’s behavior, mannerisms, or really anything besides his hockey and looks. Nothing about how Jack held himself said Kent Parson. 

 

“There’s plenty of bacon and pancakes to go ‘round,” Bitty said without his focus moving from his own plate. 

 

Kent made his way over to the coffee pot for a refill. From the look of his shoulders, Jack could tell how uncomfortable he was and he didn’t blame him any. Nothing about today was what he would call comfortable. Well...Troy looked comfortable with an empty plate sticky with excess maple syrup, but Bitty’s food would do that to anyone. Except for Holster, that is. Bacon-grease pancakes were pretty far from kosher. Shit--

 

Jack wanted the floor to eat him whole. Bitty already didn’t seem that warm towards Kent and he’s already seen how he takes it when someone turns down his food. While he never said anything outright to Holster, everyone could tell he wanted to. Jack and Lardo have had a few talks about Bitty’s food and his way-too-protective relationship with it. Just because someone doesn’t want a piece of pie doesn’t mean they can’t stand you, bud. 

 

“Uh, Eric,” Jack started, so unsure how to go about this. He doesn’t want to upset Kent or Bitty. “Did you use separate pans?” he asked knowing full well he didn’t.

 

“I’m a one-pan meal sorta guy. Why?” Bitty said with a short look over his shoulder. 

 

“I try to eat kosher. Thanks for the offer, though.”

 

Before he could get a read on Kent’s response to Jack telling everyone about one of the biggest things he’s always kept to himself, Holster jolted up out of his chair looking for a high five. 

 

“Hell yeah, brah!” Jack raised his hand and met Holster’s palm with a resounding smack . “My pan’s by the sink if you wanna make your own. No one touches it, but me so don’t fuck it up,” Holster joked and settled back into his spot. 

 

“Zimms, you want some?” Jack offered. He had no idea how kosher really worked when it comes to body versus person, but he figured this isn’t the place for a theological discussion. 

 

“Oh, uh, sure, dude,” Kent drawled out. He finally turned away from his coffee to give Jack a small smile. “Been a long time since I’ve had your cooking.” 

 

When their eyes met, they couldn’t help laughing. The last time Jack had tried to make something for Kent it had been s’mores, which ended in a very sticky, hot mess. Whoever manages to light the stick on fire and not the marshmallow is working on a different plane of cooking hazards. They put it out, but in the process knocked over the bag too close to the fire pit, ending up with a fluff-like soup on Jack’s hoodie. He let Kent take over after that. 

 

Kent waved Jack on past him to the stove, hiding a smirk behind his mug. He didn’t feel bad about giving him a little hip check on the way past that caused his coffee to slip over the edge and drip onto his shirt. Kent just flipped him off, smiling a little wider. 

 

He settled against the counter in front of the sink and watched Jack try to pour decently shaped circles. One of the blobs managed to look more like a triangle, though. Jack went to reach for the spatula in the other pan, but Kent nudged him with his foot. He leaned past Jack to the utensil jar and pulled out a clean one. He took it from Kent with a sheepish smile and mouthed out sorry

 

Behind them, the conversation picked back up. Swoops said something to Holster, but Kent didn’t pay any attention to it. He let himself fully focus on Jack. Although he’s looking at his own body, Kent could see him underneath in the microexpression and the way he held himself: the little brow furrow as he flipped the pancakes, the not-quite-there smile at something one of his teammates said, how he looked at Kent as he held out his plate. He tried to soak in getting to be this close to Jack after years of being pushed away. 

 

The food was a good distraction from the pit that grew in Kent’s stomach. They still hadn’t talked about all this. They’re soulmates and Jack hadn’t said a word about it. Well, neither had Kent so he couldn’t put too much weight on the fact. 

 

Jack’s phone started ringing from his pocket. He pulled it out and froze at the name on the screen. Kent leaned over to check who it was and froze just the same. 

 

Maman is calling…

 

Kent snagged the phone out of his hand and tried to ask Jack what he wanted by just looking at him. He hoped it came across. Jack shook his head a little and Kent got what he meant. I don’t want her to know.

 

He excused himself from the table, leaving his pancakes half-eaten and headed to the living room. He swiped the screen and dove head first into what could have turned out to be a shit storm. Kent hadn’t spoken to Alicia in years. After everything that happened after the draft, she was focused on Jack and Kent was focused on his career. It wasn’t the greatest reasons, but he understood it. They were nice enough when they saw each other at events, but all their late night conversations and Mom Advice™️ sessions were long in the past. 

 

“Salut, Maman,” Kent spoke into the phone as he paced along the back of the sickly green couch in the living room. As he moved, he could catch glimpses of Eric out on the front porch. He turned his eyes to the mess around the room instead so he didn’t seem rude for staring. 

 

“Jack, honey...,” Her pause gave Kent enough time to consider the repercussions if he just hung up now before he fucked this up. “I guess I’ll just get straight to why I’m calling...you’re alone, right?”

 

“Uh, yeah. Why?”

 

“Well, your party last night is all over social media. Your agent called.”

 

Kent tapped his fist against his scrunched face, cursing himself. 

 

“I live with the team. I’m not going to stop them from enjoying themselves,” Kent said. To him, it sounded Jack enough--kept it about the team instead of him ...Jack.

 

Alicia sighed. “Honey, you know I don’t care about that.”

 

“And I don’t really drink,” he offered, hoping she didn’t want to talk about Jack’s past and addiction and other very personal things Kent knew he shouldn’t hear. 

 

“I know Kent was there.”

 

He fell back to sit on the armrest of the couch. All those photos must have been in at least three Deadspin articles by then.

 

“He showed up after his game…,” Kent started, completely lost on how Jack talked about him with his mom. Yet again, he realized how little he knew about Zimms anymore. Back when things were good between them (way back), he could have done this three sheets to the wind. Now? So many years later, he was lost with his heart in his stomach. 

 

“Are you okay?” she asked. Kent closed his eyes and gulped down the tightness in his throat. She used that tone with Kent back when he felt like her adopted son. “Please, just talk to me.”

 

“Sorry, I gotta, uh...I just can’t talk about this right now, okay? I’ll call you tomorrow.”

 


 

“Kent, would you mind helping me clean off the porch?” Bitty asked over his shoulder as he set the plates into the sink. He took Kent’s plate and set it in the microwave to keep it warm. 

 

“Uh, sure,” Jack said as he tore his eyes away from the doorway and his thoughts wondering what the hell that phone call was about. 

 

“Oh, and could someone get some of the dishes washed? Today’s got enough cleaning to worry about without drying syrup everywhere,” Bitty asked the room. Ransom to clean some of the dishes stood up and wandered over to the sink, rolling up the sleeves of his pullover. Swoops jumped up to help dry after Jack made it to the doorway.

 

Bitty walked out onto the porch and waited for him to shut the door. Jack leaned down against the half wall and picked up one of the trash bags the Frogs had placed strategically around the Haus for clean up. He stayed silent instead of opening his mouth, risking Bitty figuring out what was going on; that was the one thing Jack couldn’t handle. After the past few months playing together, living together and becoming real friends...and maybe on the road to something more if Jack could have gotten out of his own way, Bitty learning about Kent and him after what he witnessed last night--well, Jack doesn’t even want to finish his thought on the matter. 

 

“Parson,” Bitty started while he started out into the street with an eerie calm in his tone, “I don’t know what you’re doing showing up here after your actions last night. I understand that you’re a Northern boy so I’ll step around the rules of hospitality so you don’t get the wrong idea about what’s happening: you are not welcome.”

 

Jack clenched his jaw and stretched out his fingers in an effort to dissipate the initial flood of anger over Bitty’s presumptions. He kept his mouth firmly shut and stewed at how Kent would respond to that and if that really even matters. 

 

“Now, I can’t stop Jack from having you. I can however make sure you realize that crocodile smile won’t get you far ‘round here.” 

 

“What makes you think you know what’s best for Jack ?” Jack asked, still unbelieving that Bitty could have said something so biting. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. Jack knew Bitty could hold his own and cut deep when he needed to, but he never expected to experience it first hand...even if Bitty thought he was dealing with Kent and not him. 

 

“Anyone with working eyes can see you’re far from what Jack deserves in his life,” Bitty said quickly. He immediately pushed past Jack and walked into the Haus with his head held high, like he’d just done the world some good. 

 

Jack slammed his open palms against the railing and held onto it. He couldn’t help the surge of anger that boiled through him when the door swung shut. Who does Bitty think he is? Was that really how he saw Kent? As some asshole interloper hellbent on hurting him? He had no right. That’s his goddamn soulmate!

 

He leaned back and let out a puff of air. He’d been avoiding that thought. Today wasn’t just some cosmic mishap; it’s his-- their --Switch Day. Jack now knew who his soulmate was and he’s in the other room talking to his mother because Jack didn’t have the balls to say this all out loud yet. Once he does...well, he wasn’t sure. He waited for that voice deep within him to supply all the horrible things it could mean and cause, but it doesn’t come because he’s not in his own brain; he’s in Kent’s. 

 

Jack felt against the pocket of his sweatpants and pulled out the bottle of pills. He turned them over in his hand a couple of times before he popped open the cap and took one dry.