Running his hands over his wet hair, Jeff stares at himself in the mirror. He can totally do this. He’s known Kent for like, seven years, now. Kent won’t freak out.
Okay, so there’s like, an 85% chance he won’t freak out. Jeff lets out a sigh, shuts his eyes for a moment. The bathroom is still steamy from his shower, the clean smell of soap and the mint shampoo Kent kept in there for him lingering in the air. Everything is familiar and warm, the day like any other day -- he met Kent early in the morning for a run, they came back to the house to clean up before starting the rest of the day. They had a routine. And spending a ton of time with your hockey buddy was, like, totally normal.
Or it had been, anyway. Jeff’s not sure, now.
Jack Zimmermann kissing what was presumably his boyfriend in the middle of the ice after winning the Stanley Cup in the summer had really ignited something in the league. The Hockey Is For Everyone initiatives had been around for a while, but now that an NHL player was out, everything felt just a little different. It’s hard to tell what the dressing room will be like, what might change. It was all anyone could talk about for a little while after, players included.
Kent hasn’t really talked about it, though, not even with Jeff. And usually, Kent and Jeff talk about everything -- that’s what Jeff thought. They’d all been in the bar together, a bunch of the Aces, watching Providence win the Stanley Cup that year. Everybody had something to say about that kiss.
Everybody except Kent.
Jeff yanks the bathroom door open, heads for the kitchen. He’s going to go for it, he’d promised his mother he would. She loves Kent.
“Good shower?” Kent’s pouring coffee into a mug, same as he always does in the morning. He has extra freckles from summer, his hair streaked with lighter blond from the sun. There’s a mug for Jeff, too, next to him on the counter. The coffee inside releases little tendrils of steam into the air.
“Yeah,” says Jeff, because it was. And he’s going to go for it, just -- maybe not right this second. “You?”
“Can’t complain.” Kent shrugs one shoulder, steps past Jeff with his plate of egg whites and peppers and toast.
It takes Jeff a moment to get his own plate, already filled with the same breakfast, and join Kent at the table.
The thing about it is that Jeff’s been doing this, being in love with Kent Parson, for years. He’s not sure when it happened, exactly, but he knows that at some point during their rookie year, his heart decided he couldn’t live without Kent and he hadn’t ever bothered to try and convince it otherwise. He hasn’t done it before, being in love, and it’s weird. It’s intense and irritating and kind of terrifying.
But he could, like, really be happy. They could really be happy, maybe, if given the chance. They practically live together, anyway, have shared a bed often enough. And Jeff knows what it looks like when people are attracted to him, he’s not batting zero with Kent’s dick.
Jeff thinks he has a chance. Kent doesn’t really date -- actually, Jeff doesn’t think he’s ever seen Kent date -- but Jeff overheard him one time, admitting that he liked guys. He’s not sure who Kent was talking to, but he is pretty sure there’s substance to the rumors about him and Jack Zimmermann in Juniors. Zimmermann certainly confirmed his own half of those, likely not thinking about how it would reflect on Kent, what it’d make him look like. Kent’s gotten questions since then, some outright and some underhanded, trying to catch him in some kind of statement about Zimmermann that’d confirm what people said back then. He never says it, though, never admits to anything, even though Jeff knows -- he knows that Kent is gay.
Not that Jeff is gay. He has no idea what he is, not really, except that Kent Parson ticks all the boxes for him, catches Jeff’s eye in the dressing room in ways that he probably shouldn’t, makes his stomach feel warm. Looking at him shoveling his breakfast into his mouth, getting ready for development camp, Jeff sighs a little. Fuck Kent. He’s stupid and hot and dedicated and -- maybe breakfast before a team thing isn’t the best time to be confessing one’s undying love. Which means...
“Um,” says Jeff, and Kent looks up at him. “You wanna have dinner tonight?”
Kent looks up from his toast. “You mean like we do every other night?” he asks. “Yeah, Swoops. I’m gonna eat dinner.”
Jeff rolls his eyes. “Fuck off,” he says, and Kent waves a hand.
“My house,” he says. “You fuck off.”
Jeff steals a pepper off Kent’s plate, chomping into it and grinning at the dismayed look on Kent’s pretty little face. “Don’t be a dick,” he says. “I just wanna spend time with you.”
The look Kent gives him is weird and hard to place, but he doesn’t say no.
Dinner needs to be special. Jeff can do special, he’s pretty sure -- his mom taught him how to cook, and he’s not so stupid that he can’t follow a recipe from a book.
He picks something from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child. He’s never made French food before, but Jeff can follow instructions! Beef bourguignon is not exactly a ‘whipped this up after practice’ kind of dish, but Kent has a pressure cooker thing that should be able to do the job. And Kent’s mom is French, so it’s, like, nice of him. He hopes.
It is, unfortunately, not nice of him.
“What,” Kent asks, from the doorway between the garage and kitchen, “the actual fuck did you do?” He’s back later than Jeff, having stayed to help one of the rookies with a few things.
“Uh,” says Jeff, rubbing the heel of his hand across his cheek. The kitchen is covered in brown stuff, and he’s pretty sure there’s some in his hair. A bit of carrot on the counter catches his eye, and he guiltily flicks it into the sink. “It was supposed to be beef bourguignon.”
“Beef bourguignon?” Kent looks around the kitchen. “You -- you know that takes, like, hours to make, right?”
“Well, yeah,” Jeff says, “I’m not that stupid, fuck. I just thought I’d use the instant pot because it, like, pressure cooks things. And then you can do it in way less time.”
In Jeff’s defense, he hadn’t used the instant pot before. He didn’t know about the latching the lid part. The entire time he was cooking he’d been so focused on getting the ingredients right, on the actual food , not the apparatus he was cooking it in.
Kent’s mouth dropped open a little, starting with the words ‘Instant Pot’, and he snaps it shut when Jeff finishes his sentence. “Jeffrey Roland Troy,” he says, speaking slowly, “did you explode my Instant Pot in this kitchen?”
“Um,” Jeff says, “yes. But!” He holds up a hand. “It was just, like, user error. The pot is totally not broken.”
“How would you know?” A loud pop from the oven causes Kent to stop talking. His perfect eyebrows are headed for his hairline, and Jeff winces a little as he grabs a towel.
“What was that ?” Kent beats him to the oven, just barely, flinging it open, and -- “ Ow! Fuck!”
The baking dish Jeff had put a flourless chocolate cake in had, somehow, also exploded. Bits of glass flew out when Kent yanked the door open, and Jeff reached around him, turning the dial to shut it off. “Holy shit,” he says, “are you okay?”
“W --” Kent presses a hand to his cheek, and it comes away bloody. “I’m okay.”
“You’re bleeding,” Jeff says. A shard must’ve cut him when it came out. Grabbing for a towel, Jeff gently places it against Kent’s cheek.
“I’ll clean it up,” he says. “All of it. Just -- go wash your face and play Call of Duty or something. It’s fine.”
“But --” Kent’s staring at the oven.
Jeff shakes his head. “I got this,” he says, and when Kent frowns and opens his mouth again, Jeff cuts him off before he can say anything. “Please.”
After a moment, Kent’s shoulders drop a little. “I’ll order something,” he says, slinking out of the kitchen with his phone in hand, presumably opening PostMates.
It takes a while to clean up the kitchen. There’s glass all in the oven and the pressure cooker explosion had managed to get beef up on the ceiling lights as well as across the room on the wall. Jeff scrubs quietly, trying not to make too much noise.
What a colossal fuck up of a date night.
Kent is not playing Call of Duty when Jeff shuffles into the living room, face washed and clothes changed. Their takeout is on the table, naan bread and a couple kinds of curry. Kent has Buffy the Vampire Slayer on the television, and he hasn’t opened anything.
Jeff flops down next to Kent, leans his head back against the sofa. “Sorry,” he says. “You could’ve eaten.”
“It’s okay.” Kent pauses the show. He rubs his forehead for a minute, eyes closed. “Just -- what were you doing ?”
“Cooking.” Jeff rolls his eyes. “Obviously.”
“Okay, but like --” Kent pauses, reaches a hand out to brush his fingers over Jeff’s hair. “What’s the occasion? I know you didn’t just suddenly decide you wanted to Julie and Julia me tonight.”
Right. Jeff swallows. Everything else about the night’s shot to hell; why not this, too? “I’m in love with you,” he says, and he’s not proud of the way his voice scratches when he says it, like he’s scared. He turns his head a little, enough so he can see Kent’s face.
Kent blinks at him. “What?”
“The occasion,” says Jeff. He leans forward, runs both his hands through his hair. “I’m -- I’m in love with you, and I just, uh. Wanted you to know. And I thought, like. It’d be nicer over dinner.”
“Oh.” Kent’s voice is very soft, hard to hear.
“I wasn’t planning on exploding your pressure cooker to do it,” says Jeff. “It was, uh. Y’know. Supposed to be, like, better than this?”
There’s a moment of silence, Kent just staring at him with wide blue eyes before he tilts his head, pressing his lips to Jeff’s in what is probably the most chaste kiss Jeff ever received from anyone in his life. It doesn’t last long.
“Nothing’s better than this,” Kent says, and Jeff sucks in a quick breath before grabbing him by the neck, tugging him closer to crush their mouths together.
Kent’s in Jeff’s lap before they pull apart again. He jerks back, suddenly, plants a hand in the middle Jeff’s chest. “Oh my God,” Kent breathes, pupils blown wide. “I’m in love with you, too. I’m so sorry. I totally just --”
Jeff clenches a hand into Kent’s hair and kisses him again.
They’re in bed, Kent’s thighs on either side of Jeff’s hips before he leans back, groans a little.
“What?” Jeff slides his hands up Kent’s bare skin, grips at the muscle of his legs.
“We’re so fucked,” Kent says.
“Not yet, we’re not,” Jeff argues.
“I’m -- oh my god, shut up, you’re the A, for fuck’s sake,” Kent says. “What are people gonna say?”
Jeff shrugs one shoulder. “Who cares?”
“The team, for one,” Kent says, and Jeff rubs at his thigh for a moment.
“Kent,” he says. “I don’t care. We can deal with it together.”
Something in Kent’s face softens a little, and he leans down, catching Jeff’s mouth with his. “I like together,” he murmurs.
Jeff slides his hands around to grip Kent’s ass, tug him closer. The small catch in Kent’s breath makes him smile. “Me, too.”