The first time Alexei tells Kent he loves him, he is very drunk.
They are two of the three guests of honor (four if you count Jack’s YouTube celebrity fiancé) at an NHL Inclusivity Benefit, celebrating the Brave Athletes who have publically come out in the past four months.
Jack was the first one, although he called Kent before he came out, which was a gesture that didn’t go unnoticed. When Kent followed suit a month later, Jack personally went to bat for him after the press started asking grossly invasive questions about their personal lives. Kent wished he hadn’t been so surprised by Jack’s consideration, but it went a long way towards mending the hurt between them.
The real surprise, however, came when Alexei Mashkov quietly came out through a short op-ed piece in The Players’ Tribune. Kent had tweeted him Congratulations and offered his support, which had led to some playful direct messages between the two of them, which had led to an exchange of phone numbers, which had led to… well. Kent’s not sure what to call their current arrangement. The older he gets the less he likes the term ‘fuckbuddies’, but he’s not remotely prepared to use the term ‘boyfriend’. Boyfriends are for emotionally healthy people who don’t refuse to sleep in the same bed, who don’t insist upon hiding their relationship from the world. Boyfriends are for people like Jack Zimmermann, not for people like Kent Parson.
There’s an irony to that, he knows, considering Jack Zimmermann was the one that ruined him.
So here they all are, in their best tuxedos, glasses of champagne in hand, toasting each other for being so Incredibly Brave (©NHL, 2016) and all of them trying not to outwardly cringe every time a congratulatory handshake comes with a mildly offensive ‘no homo’ joke.
“Damn impressed you still play such good hockey, Parson. What with all the distractions you have now.”
This most recent comment comes from a thin-haired gentleman with yellowing teeth. His ingratiating smile comes nowhere near his eyes.
“Distractions?” Kent asks with excruciating politeness. Behind him, Jack snorts.
“You know,” the not-really-a-gentleman leans in, “all those men changing and… bending over.”
Alexei, standing to his right, makes a noise that sounds like it should come from a feral animal. Kent drains his glass in one smooth swallow and hands it wordlessly to Alexei.
“Yes,” Kent says with his Media Smile, “it’s been terribly distracting. All those dicks flopping in my face, I can barely tie up my skates. It’s a wonder I can hold a hockey stick without trying to fellate it.”
The asshole blanches, his eyes wide. Kent just claps him on the arm and maintains hard eye contact.
“Thank you so much for your support. Fags like us really appreciate it.”
Jack’s fiancé straight-up gigglesnorts into Jack’s shoulder. Jack’s face is stoic but his eyes are dancing. Alexei still looks like he’s one light breeze away from murder.
Their guest leaves them, mouth flapping wordlessly, and Jack pats Kent on the back.
“Never tell George I said this, but that was fucking brilliant.”
Kent drops his head and sighs. Alexei’s hand finds the small of his back and he feels the tension immediately drain out of him.
“I will go punch him,” Alexei says into his ear, “I do not care.”
“As hot as you make that sound,” Kent replies, “I really just want to get wasted. Who’s with me?”
“Not me,” Jack’s fiancé pipes up. “They already think I’m a trophy twink - if you get me liquored up I’ll start twerking in their faces out of spite.” The fiancé leans in conspiratorially. “And I’ve already bestowed all twerking privileges to Jack.”
“Gross,” Kent tells him, though he’s a little impressed by the balls on this tiny spitfire. He clearly isn’t threatened by Kent, and that makes Kent begrudgingly like him, even if the spitfire does like Beyoncé more than Britney.
Jack slips an arm around his fiance’s waist and chastely kisses his cheek. It doesn’t sting anymore the way Kent imagined it would.
“I’m with Bits,” Jack says. “Besides, you know my rule. One and done.” He holds up his empty glass by way of example.
“So what, you fuckers are leaving me so you can go be boring marrieds?”
“No,” ‘Bits’ leans in, “we boring marrieds are leaving you so we can go fuck.”
Kent barks out a laugh, Alexei delivering a booming one in compliment.
“Okay, fine, I like you,” Kent says, giving the fiancé a playful tussle to his artfully styled hair. He doesn’t miss the way Jack’s eyes go dewy at their interaction, and he flips Jack off as the fiancé tries to fix his coiffure. Jack leaves him with a handshake and the briefest of hugs, twines fingers with Bits and makes a stealth exit.
“I will drink with you,” Alexei says, far too close to his ear than is necessary. “We will see who can be drinking over the table.”
“Under the table,” Kent corrects him.
“No,” Alexei whispers to him, “under is for later.”
A full-body shiver sneaks its way down Kent’s spine.
“Okay, Lexy. You’re on.”
As it turns out, Alexei can definitely hold his liquor. The trouble is that Kent has been teaching himself to hold his liquor since he was fourteen, and he’s delighted to earn the blackmail material that his tolerance outlasts a six-foot-four hockey player built like two brick shithouses put together.
It’s when Alexei starts singing ABBA at the top of his lungs that Kent decides it’s probably time to shut the party down. He maneuvers Alexei out of the ballroom down to the elevator bank and hits the button for the eighth floor.
“Okay Dancing Queen,” Kent says as they step out, “I think it’s time we put you to bed.”
“Bed!” Alexei booms, “I am liking this!”
Kent hoists Alexei further onto his shoulder. “No, you’re going to your own bed, buddy. No shenanigans for SexyLexy tonight.”
“HA! SexyLexy. Is funny.”
“Yeah, I’m hilarious. And charming. And devastating handsome, but you can tell me all of this later when I’m not bench-pressing you. Come on, ya big potato.”
Kent digs his shoulder into Alexei’s armpit, bolstering the massive bulk draped over him, and begins to drag him down the hallway.
“Which one’s your room, Tates?”
Alexei swings blearily toward him.
“Whichever is being yours.”
Kent shakes his head. “Nope. No overnights. We talked about this.”
Alexei makes a disgruntled sound and digs his heels into the carpet. “Why not? Am best cuddler, you know this.”
“I don’t cuddle,” Kent says, and tries to move Alexei forward.
Instead, Alexei pushes him away, but the loss of a counter-balance sends him toppling against the nearest wall. He makes a muted ‘oomph’ sound and slides down until he's sitting dejectedly with his hands on his knees. He looks up, and even though his vision is blurred with drink, his eyes are suspiciously moist.
“Why you are making these stupid rules?” Alexei says softly. “Am good man. Would be good boyfriend. Best.”
Kent squats beside him and sighs.
“You know I don’t do boyfriends.”
“I’m know. You not do dates, not do boyfriends, not do anything except fucking – which am also best at – but I’m,“ Alexei sniffles loudly and mashes one big palm against his cheek. “I love you, Kent. Why you are not letting me?”
Kent, who had been crouched on his ankles, falls back onto his ass.
“You what? Jesus, Alexei, you’re… you’re really fucking drunk.”
Alexei slides further to the floor, pulling his knees to his chest. “I know am drunk. But meaning it still.” He looks at Kent sadly then pushes up onto his feet. “And am not that drunk. Am fucking Russian.”
He pulls his keycard from his back pocket and turns down the hallway.
“I’m Room 817. If you are wanting to talk in morning. Or maybe kiss goodbye.” For a giant of a man he suddenly looks very small. “I would be liking that.”
Kent just stares at him, still on his ass in the middle of the hotel hallway.
“Good night, Kent Parson.”
Kent takes a red-eye home that night.
He doesn’t say goodbye.
The second time Alexei tells Kent he loves him, Kent is drunk.
Really fucking drunk.
It’s his annual Birthday/America Fuck Yeah! Party and he’s currently in his penthouse in Vegas, wearing nothing but glitter and a pair of teal hot pants. In one hand he has a mostly empty bottle of Veuve, the other a stuffed snake, and his arms are wide open to the newly-arrived Alexei, who just tilts his head.
“You are drunk.”
“Yyyyuuuuuup!” Kent says, aggressively popping the p. He throws his arms over Alexei’s shoulders, rubbing glitter all over him. “Gonna kiss me hello?”
Alexei puts careful hands over Kent’s wrists and detaches himself.
“Am not kisssing you hello when you did not kiss me goodbye.”
Kent pouts extravagantly. “You’re not still mad about that?” He bats his eyes. “You can’t be mad at me on my birthday.”
Alexei sighs and cups Kent’s shoulder, rubbing a thumb into his collarbone. Kent makes a pleased sound.
“Not mad. Cannot be mad at you today or any day.”
Kent’s eyes soften and he smiles. A genuine smile that crinkles around his eyes, the one he never uses for the press because he thinks it makes him look old and squinty.
“You’re just a big softie aren’t you Lexy?”
“Not for all people. But for you, yes.”
Kent leans into Alexei’s hand and tips his face up for a kiss.
“Please?” He pouts his lips and he can physically feel the weight of Alexei’s want pour over him like molten chocolate.
Before Alexei can close the distance between them, a random party guest – Kaylie? Callie? Keeley? – throws an arm around Kent’s waist and pushes her face into his.
“Parson! Fuck yeah!” Her breath is sour but her hair smells like gummi bears. “You. Throw. Thebest. Parties. Happy fucking birthday, Brent.”
“Is Kent,” Alexei says from behind her.
KaylieCallieKeeley looks up with unfocused eyes. “Whatever, man.” Then she drops a sloppy kiss to half of Kent’s mouth and stumbles away. “Taylor! Taylor! I just made out with Brent Parson!”
“KENT! His name is Kent!” Alexei yells after her, but she’s already faded into the nameless crowd. “Who are these people?”
Kent shrugs. “Dunno.”
“Nah.” He takes another swig of Veuve. “Don’t care either.”
Alexei looks crestfallen. “Then why I am come?”
Kent crowds him unsteadily. “You know why, baby.” He tips his face up. “Birthday kiss now?”
Alexei just gently shakes his head. He lifts his hand and strokes one thumb over Kent’s cheek. “I think I will be going now. Come back in morning to make you breakfast. You will need.”
“You’re leaving?” Kent bats Alexei’s hand away. “Well fuck you, then.”
“Love you too,” Alexei smirks.
The light in Kent’s eyes flickers out instantly.
“Don’t fucking say that.”
Alexei puts both hands up placatingly.
“Sorry,” he says. Kent scoffs and sneers at him. Alexei narrows his eyes and puts his hands down.
“Actually am not sorry,” he says. He puts one warm palm on Kent’s waist and pulls him close. Kent’s hands instinctively raise up in balled fists against Alexei’s chest.
“Am not sorry,” Alexei says again, the words hot in Kent’s ear. He smells delicious and Kent shivers down to his toes. “Drunk, I love you. Not drunk, I love you. Being little shit, I love you.”
He tilts his head, noses Kent’s cheek. Kent feels his fingers uncurl.
“In your bed, I love you.” Alexei’s voice has sunk to a dirty rumble.
“Stop,” Kent whispers breathlessly. “Lex, stop.”
Alexei immediately lets him go, taking one uncurled palm and kissing it. “Okay. But one day I will say and you will not ask me to stop. You will see.”
“Never gonna happen,” Kent replies tartly. Or at least, he tries to, but his voice catches in his throat and what comes out is a raspy-sounding “Nahh”.
Someone screams an approximation of Kent’s name from across the room and the quiet intimacy between them snaps. Kent turns over his shoulder at the sound, and when he looks back, the front door clicks shut.
He can still feel Alexei’s warmth under his hands.
The third time Alexei tells Kent he loves him, he doesn’t say it.
He shows up at Kent’s door the morning after the party with a bottle of aspirin and a suspiciously overflowing canvas bag. Kent, too achy with hangover to protest, allows him in.
Alexei unloads bacon, eggs, milk, flour, juice, a bag of Ghirardelli chips… Items keep appearing as though the bag is bottomless, and Kent stops tracking them, floored by the realization that he’s been fucking a giant Russian Mary Poppins. He hangs back and watches as Alexei silently cooks him breakfast, trying to ignore the sudden, odd fullness in his chest. Alexei loads up a plate with fluffy scrambled eggs, crispy bacon, and chocolate chip pancakes. Then he pours Kent a mug of coffee and a glass of grapefruit juice and orders him to dig in.
Stragglers from the night before begin to stir, crawling out of the woodwork from where they had lain draped over pool furniture and bathroom floors, awakened by the smell of grease and syrup. Before Kent can move, Alexei sets a firm palm on his shoulder and sternly ushers the guests out the door. They make petulant whines of protest, but Alexei just stands there like a bouncer, arms crossed and face stern as a boulder. When the last of them is gone, Alexei locks the door and begins to tidy up. Kent starts to slide off his kitchen stool, but Alexei just shoots him a look, holding up a finger.
“No. You eat. Is birthday.”
He works almost silently, humming an unfamiliar tune under his breath as he picks up bottles and wipes down sticky surfaces with a wet dish towel. He only speaks to Kent once, asking where to take the trash out. Kent mumbles out the directions to the chute around a mouthful of pancake. Alexei nods and leaves, two stuffed trash bags under each arm.
“Why are you doing this?” Kent asks when Alexei comes back in.
Alexei just smiles and saunters back to the kitchen. He tops up Kent’s coffee and sneaks a bite of eggs.
“You know answer,” he says, and kisses Kent’s forehead.
Kent feels a stinging behind his eyelids and rubs at his temples. Alexei looks at him carefully.
“You are having headache,” he observes, then snorts. “Is not surprise. Here, take aspirin now you have eaten.”
He twists off the childproof cap with an obscenely easy flick of the wrist, shakes out two pills and puts them in Kent’s palm. Kent meekly swallows them down with his juice.
“Thanks,” he says, and means so many other things.
When he’s done eating, Kent lets Alexei lead him to the master bathroom, where he draws Kent a bath and scrubs the glitter from his body. He kisses him then, properly, and Kent kisses him back long and languorous. Pliant under all this unsolicited care, Kent lets himself be wrapped in a thick towel and carried to bed. He lays back and moans softly as Alexei nestles between his thighs and begins to take him apart. He comes in Alexei’s mouth, around Alexei’s fingers, then Alexei rolls him up in a blanket (burrito-style, just the way Kent likes). He looks up at Alexei, drowsy and boneless.
“Sorry I’m an asshole,” he whispers.
Alexei’s face falls, and he gently runs his fingertips over Kent’s jawline, up across his cheekbone, feather-soft over the ends of his eyelashes.
“You are not asshole.”
Kent grabs at Alexei’s hand and folds their fingers together.
“Stay with me, Lexy.”
Alexei’s forehead crinkles in surprise. “No overnights. Is what you always say.”
Kent shrugs from within his cocoon. “It’s daytime. Just take a nap with me. Please?”
He hasn’t even finished the question before Alexei has toed off his shoes and pulled the covers aside. He unbuttons his shirt collar and tucks himself in next to Kent, one hand hovering over his hip.
“I can touch you?” Alexei asks.
Kent grabs at Alexei’s hand and secures it around his waist.
“You just blew me, of course you can touch me.”
Alexei noses at the back of his neck. “You know is different,” he murmurs.
Kent just closes his eyes and traces figure-eights over the back of Alexei’s hand.
“It’s my birthday,” he replies, “special occasion.”
As though that’s a good enough reason for opening a door he’s held firmly shut since he was nineteen.
“Special occasion, hm? I am thinking this means you will not let me do this again.”
“Probably not,” Kent says. He owes Alexei this much honesty after being so undeservedly spoiled today. Alexei just sighs and kisses his nape.
“Sleep now, Kenny. Happy Birthday.”
Kent lets himself fall asleep to the sound of Alexei’s breathing, one hand circled loosely around his wide wrist.
When he wakes up, Alexei is gone.
He does not see the note that Alexei left him until the maid finds it under the bed several days later, having fallen from the bedside table.
“я люблю тебя,” it says.
Kent does not look up what that means.
The fourth time Alexei tells Kent he loves him, they fight.
“Stop fucking saying that!”
All Kent had wanted was a nice, slow fuck before his game tomorrow, and Alexei had to ruin it with his dumb fucking words. Again.
“Why you have me stop? Am not asking you to say back!”
Kent angrily pulls his shirt back over his head. “I’m not asking you to say it at all! Besides, you don’t even mean it!”
Alexei’s eyes flash. “No? How you are knowing this?”
He steps into Kent’s space, his whole body vibrating with anger. “Do you see in my brain? In my heart? Do you know,” he jabs a finger towards his breast, “what is inside here?”
Kent stands his ground. “I know who I am.”
Alexei throws his hands up. “Give me fucking break.”
“Oh, fuck you, Alexei. You have no idea--”
“You think I do not know who you are? You think I do not know you are asshole sometimes? Everyone is asshole sometimes! I am asshole sometimes!”
“Yeah, like right now!”
Alexei just purses his lips, chewing back the words he obviously wants to say. He swallows them down instead and squares his shoulders.
“I know who you are, Kent. You are angry, yes, but not mean.”
“I am, though, you don’t know the things I’ve said.”
“Like when you tell Jack he is worthless?”
The silence that follows is painful. Kent feels like a bucket of ice water has been thrown over him.
“Don’t fucking bring Jack into this.”
“He told me the things you say. Do you know what else he say to me?”
“I don’t want to—“
“That he deserved them. That he had hurt you, once.”
“He didn’t deserve them.” Kent says quietly.
“No. I do not think so. But still, he forgive.”
Kent opens his mouth, but he’s too drowned in shock for words. Alexei just keeps pressing on, an impenetrable wall of compassion.
“You are not words you said in anger, Kenny. That is not who you are. I know this.”
“I know this and I love you.”
“No. Will not stop. I love you, Kent Parson. Because you are kind, and silly, and knowing how to make me laugh. Because you are good to Kit. Because you take care of me when I am drinking too much. Because you let me take care of you. I love you because you do not treat me like I am stupid when sometimes I forget English. Because of way you look at me. I--,” Alexei rubs a hand at the back of his neck, suddenly shy. “I very much love that.”
Kent takes a hitching breath, absorbing the onslaught. “How do I look at you?”
Alexei smiles. “Like precious thing. Like something you want to keep. Is how you are looking at me now. How you look at me when you think I do not see. I see your heart. Maybe not everyone can see it, but I do. This is why I love. Is not all reasons, but is some.”
“That too. Because you call me Lexy, is also reason. Is stupid nickname, but I’m liking it because you make it.”
Kent has closed up the distance between them now, his heart racing. Alexei reaches forward and takes Kent’s hands, folds them up safely in his larger ones.
“Am not asking you to say, Kenny. Do not want you to unless you feel it. But I am feel it very much. And I like to say. I love you, Kent Parson. Let me. Okay?”
Kent looks down at his feet, his throat constricting. He squeezes Alexei’s fingers. “Yeah,” he says very quietly, “Yeah, okay.”
Alexei takes him into his arms then, enfolding him and kissing the top of his head.
“Good,” Alexei murmurs into Kent’s hair, “good.”
The fifth time Alexei tells Kent he loves him, Kent cries.
Alexei holds him through it.
When Kent finishes sobbing, eyes red and swollen, he says only one thing.
They make love for the first time that night.
The first time Kent tells Alexei he loves him, he does it in the most Kent fucking Parson way possible.
They’re participating in a charity game for You Can Play, and everyone is freaking out because the Aces captain, aka their star fucking player, is nowhere to be found.
“Tater, you know where he is?”
Alexei shrugs at Jack. “Have not seen him since breakfast.”
Jack cocks an eyebrow at him. “Breakfast?”
Heat rises to Alexei’s cheeks embarrassingly fast. “Everyone eat breakfast.”
“Yeah,” Jack agrees, “but you two were the only ones not at team breakfast.”
Alexei just elbows Jack in the ribs. “You be quiet, Zimmboni. You make goo-goo eyes at Itty Bitty every game.”
He waves over his shoulder at Bitty, who waves back excitedly and gives them both a thumbs up. When he looks back, Jack has a horribly soppy smile on his face.
“Ha! See? Much worse than me.”
Jack’s lovesick smile turns into something much more cheeky. “So you make goo-goo eyes too?”
Alexei huffs and crosses his arms. “Am not talking about this.”
“Okay, okay,” Jack says, and elbows him back. “I’ll lay off.” His teasing tone turns gentle. “You know I just want you guys to be happy, right?”
“I know this.” Alexei unfolds himself to give Jack an affectionate thump on the shoulder. “You are good friend, Jack. Thank you.”
Jack smiles and opens his mouth to reply. That’s when the commotion starts. From the other side of the rink, voices begin to ring out.
“The fuck is he doing?”
“Is that Parson?”
“Is he… on top of it?”
“What is he holding?”
“Parson, you fucking idiot, get the fuck down!”
Alexei looks in the direction of the hubbub, and sees... well, either his mind is playing terrible tricks on him or Kent Parson is standing on top of a Zamboni holding up a handmade sign.
The Zamboni operator has the distinct shit-eating grin of a man who has been bribed an obscene amount of money to do something unspeakably stupid.
The sign is still too far away for Alexei to make out the words, but the characters look Cyrillic, and… oh.
It says 'я люблю тебя'.
“YETABIA LOOBLUE!” Kent screams from across the ice.
He waves the sign and Alexei’s face splits into a blinding grin as the carefully hand-written letters come into focus.
“YETABIA LOOBLUE!” Kent yells again.
The pronunciation is completely butchered, but his expression is so earnest that Alexei can do nothing but grin and shake his head.
“You are telling me this now?” He calls.
“WHAT?!” Kent cups a hand to his ear.
Alexei laughs. “NOW!” He yells loudly. “YOU ARE TELLING ME RIGHT NOW?!”
Kent just shrugs. “Is this a bad time?”
Beside him, Jack’s shoulders are shaking with laughter. He nudges Alexei in the side.
“Guess you’re stuck with him,” Jack says, his voice fond. Alexei turns to look at him and sees how soft Jack's eyes have gone.
“Thank you,” Jack says, “he deserves this.”
Alexei squeezes Jack’s shoulder and nods towards the stands. “So do you.”
Jack turns to follow Alexei’s gaze, smiling wide at the small blond man wearing Jack’s jersey. He’s currently doubled over in hysterics.
“You tell Itty Bitty you love him?” Alexei asks.
Jack nods forcefully. “Every day.”
“WELL?” Kent is still standing and waving the sign on top of the Zamboni, which is halfway across the ice now. Laughter bubbles from Alexei’s chest and he skates out towards him.
“Hold onto horses, I am coming!”
He reaches the Zamboni and holds up a hand to help Kent down.
“Well?” Kent asks again.
“Ya tebya lyublyu,” Alexei says, his eyes bright.
Kent starts laughing. “That’s how you say it? Oh man, I fucked that up good.”
“No,” Alexei replies, “no, you say perfect. Say again.”
Kent’s smile melts into something small and precious.
“I love you, Lexy.” He winds his arms around Alexei’s neck and brushes their noses together. “My Alyosha, I love you.”
Alexei is too overcome to speak, so he gathers Kent up in his arm and kisses him instead. People start whooping and hollering from the stands, but he ignores it all in favor of kissing Kent deeper, hotter, intent on declaring his love with every brush of his mouth. Kent makes a little whimpering sound and threads his fingers through Alexei’s hair.
Eventually Kent tears his mouth away to pull in a shuddering breath, but he keeps himself close.
“They’re gonna fine me so fucking much for this.”
Alexei just nods. “Yes. They should. Is very silly thing you do.”
Kent raises his eyebrows. “Silly? Try romantic.”
“Romantic too, yes. But also silly. Is why I love you.”
The smile that blossoms over Kent’s face might be the most beautiful thing Alexei has ever seen.
“I love you too,” he says, and kisses Alexei once more. Then his smile transforms into a devilish grin.
“Okay, SexyLexy. Let’s play some fucking hockey.”