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They hit a roadbump one day into the trip that would hopefully save Sebastien’s soul. Or at least his liver.

No,” Sebastien said.

Quynh was unmoved. “You must.”

“Listen,” Sebastien said desperately. “I can’t pretend to be your husband.”

Quynh looked at him sceptically. “I know you’re no actor,” she said, only the slightest bit pointed. “But I do know you can lie.”

Sebastien winced. “Alright, let me rephrase. I won’t pretend to be your husband.”

Quynh snorted. “Am I not beautiful enough to be your beloved?”

“No, you’re Andy’s beloved, and Andy also happens to have a very sharp axe which she likes to stab people with.”

“So you’re scared,” Quynh surmised.

Yes, I’m scared,” Sebastien said. “I like to keep my guts where they are, thank you very much.”

“Do you have a better idea?”

“Siblings?” Sebastien tried. “Cousins?”

Quynh rolled her eyes. “If you say we’re related, we’ll be that ‘sweet interracial family’ that stays in people’s memories.”

“Friends on a road trip?”

“That sweet couple who claimed to be ‘just friends’.”

“Hey, a man and a woman can be friends,” Sebastien said.

Quynh sighed. “That is true, but still no. We want to be as unremarkable as possible.”

“But-”

“Now hurry up, I want to sleep,” Quynh said, and promptly shoved him into the hotel foyer.

***

“If Andy hunts us down and kills me,” Sebastien said, when they finally got into their room, “I want you to know that it’s one hundred per cent your fault.”

“Am I meant to feel guilty?” Quynh asked, from where she was already starfished on the one bed she had already called dibs on. “You’ll just come back and continue drinking like a fish.”

“Shut up, no I won’t,” Sebastien grumbled. He fished around the linen cabinet and took out two blankets. “Also, how come you get the bed?”

“Because I’m older and wiser.”

“Does that usually work for you?” Sebastien mused. “Did Joe and Nicky always go ‘Quynh’s like a billion years old, better respect my elders’?”

“Yusuf and Nicolo have manners,” Quynh sniffed. “The same for which can’t be said for you.”

“Hey, I’m French!”

Quynh just looked at him. “Are you attempting to prove my case?”

“Forget I said anything,” Sebastien sighed. He was surrounded by a bunch of smartasses.

“I try to,” Quynh informed him smartly, turning on her side and apparently falling asleep immediately.

“‘Go on a trip’, they said, ‘It’ll be fun’. Yeah, right.” Sebastien gathered up a change of clothes, and he was self-aware enough to admit that the way he thumped down the suitcase was a touch sulky. “Sorry,” he said quietly, a little bit contritely, in Quynh’s direction; it was only half because he didn’t want another knife in his gut.

He went into the bathroom, and when he came out, the shadows had lengthened and the last vestiges of late-evening daylight had fled before the night. Quynh was a dark lump atop the bed covers. Sebastien considered waking her up for her turn in the bathroom, then dismissed it.

He wasn’t a heavy sleeper; quicker to rouse than Joe (but that wasn’t hard), but slower than Andy and Nicky, both of whom went from sleeping to fully alert in the space of a breath, maybe two at most. Even so, when he startled awake barely two hours after falling asleep, it took him a moment to register what had caused it.

“Quynh,” he whispered. The quiet, choked-off cries didn’t stop. “Quynh?”

He rolled off the couch. “Quynh,” Sebastien repeated, a little louder. Nightmares didn’t tend to afflict the others - usually, it was him who had to be roused from dreams of Quynh drowning. He gently reached out and laid a hand on her forearm. “Hey, wake up - it’s -” okay, he wanted to say, but suddenly couldn’t because of the knife in his throat. 

Oh man, we’re gonna lose the deposit on this room, he thought, and then died.

***

When his eyes opened, the lights had been turned to full brightness. He was stretched out on the bed. Quynh, nearby, sat with her head in her hands.

“Um -” Sebastien started, then had to clear his throat because throat wounds always left him with phlegm. “Sorry - I think I startled you.”

Quynh sighed. “I - apologise as well.”

“Well, you know, it’s not like it stuck.”

“It was unnecessary.”

Sebastien reached out a hand, then dropped it. “It’s okay. I’m okay now.” He hesitated. “Did - do you know, what caused it?”

The line of Quynh’s shoulders were a bow string, drawn taught. “The room was too dark,” she said finally.

“Too -” Oh. Oh no. “I - do you - would talking about -” he swallowed, taking in the way her shoulder drew impossibly tighter. “Will it help if we keep the lights at least slightly on?” he said instead. Quynh nodded. “Okay. Then we’ll just make sure we always sleep somewhere with light.”

“Very well.”

“And maybe a shower-” he stopped dead, suddenly impossibly frustrated with his own foolishness. “No.”

Quynh half-smiled; it was a brittle, exhausted thing. “No,” she agreed.

His eyes prickled, and he promptly felt like a heel for crying when he hadn’t even been the one to spend five hundred years at the bottom of the ocean. “I’m sorry,” he said, foolishly, helplessly; he was a coward who had never found the courage to face his own feelings, let alone others’. “I’m sorry. I don’t think there’s anything I can do to be helpful.”

Quynh’s sigh was unfathomably exhausted. She flopped backwards, onto the other pillow. “Sometimes things can’t be solved by trying hard enough. Sometimes, they just are.”

They lay there in silence, until a thought occurred to him.

“Hey,” Sebastien said. “You been to a supermarket yet?”

Part 1, Part 2

98 notes

Something more from this premise, where Quynh and Booker go on a roadtrip to rediscover the world, or at least save Booker’s liver. cw: mentions of wanting to vomit.

“I want to try new food,” Quynh had declared. “There must be something in this wretched new world to redeem itself,” which was how they ended up in the deep south of the USA, silently daring each other over plates of turducken to, well, chicken out.

Sebastien gave in first, pushing his plate away. Quynh doggedly ate two more mouthfuls, before putting her own fork down. She looked a little green.

“The Zomato deemed this dish ‘wonderful’.” She frowned. “This is worse than carrion.”

Sebastien stared at her. “And you would know…how?” He backtracked quickly when he saw the gleam in her eyes. “Actually, no. I don’t want to know.”

Too late.

“Well, you see,” Quynh said, because she was Joe and Nicky at their most mischievous, except ten times worse. “Once upon a time, I collapsed in a desert. Then, I died a few times, as alas, there was no food to be found. Because I was in a desert.”

“Yes, okay -”

“And then,” Quynh continued over the top of him, more animated then he had seen her yet, “one day, I had stumbled, fallen to my knees. Above, scavengers circled. And just as I had resigned myself to dying once again, I came across the carcass of an animal that had perished. It had half-rotted, half-spoiled, but the gnawing in my belly made it a gift from the heavens.”

Sebastien rested his forehead on the table, resisting the urge to cry, or perhaps puke up the three regretful mouthfuls of turducken he had choked down. “And then you ate it.”

“And then I ate it,” she agreed. He didn’t need to be looking at her to know she was smiling widely.

“I kind of hate you right now,” he said, swallowing deeply.

Quynh peered at him, cataloguing what was probably his deeply unattractive pallor. “Will you survive?”

“Maybe not.”

“Unfortunate.”

“Yeah, I know, try to hold back your tears.”

“That will not be difficult, as there will not be any,” Quynh said, but she pushed over her barely touched glass of water, which he took gratefully and downed. Without a word, Quynh raised a hand and called a waiter with a water jug over.

“Drink more,” she said, not looking at him. “I can’t have you dying on me.”

Sebastien paused. “You don’t want some?”

“I do not require it.”

When had been the last time he had seen her drink water? With a start, he realised it had been in his kitchen, but even then it had been one sip at the most before the glass had been abandoned. “Okay,” Sebastien said. “Okay.”

I do apologise if I offended anyone who likes turducken. There’s nothing wrong with liking turducken? The concept of it just amuses me a lot (and also horrifies me a lot in equal parts), but that’s neither here nor there.

33 notes

Joe had barely started to feel just this side of faint when a warm arm wound its way around his back, a hand settling home on his hip. He found himself leaning in but caught himself just in time.

“My love,” Nicolo said, looking for all the world a doting partner. “How are you enjoying the night?”

“Much better now that you’re here,” Joe said, meaning every word, even as his head throbbed unpleasantly and his eyes prickled. A polite cough to his right almost caused him to groan reflexively, but he swallowed it and instead added, “Nicolo, this is Mr Wetherington.”

“A pleasure,” Wetherington said. The smile on his face was all politeness, but the look he gave Nicolo was assessing. Nicolo smiled guilelessly back.

Harold Wetherington was the kind of old money that would’ve made Joe’s skin crawl even without knowing the kinds of pies he had fingers in, even without having helped bankrupt the cosmetics arm of Wetherington Industries by exposing the underbelly of unethical animal testing practices - and, well could treating animals as testing subjects ever be ethical?

Harold Wetherington was the kind of man who would put out a hit on Joe in a heartbeat, if he knew just who had been behind the social media campaign that shut down his labs. People like Wetherington was why Nicolo was here, ostensibly as Joe’s partner, rather than hovering behind Joe and raising the question of why a mild-mannered artist like Joe would even need a bodyguard at a charity ball. 

Joe tensed as the pressure behind his eyes spiked painfully. The arm around him tightened slightly, and then, apropos of nothing, lips were pressed to Joe’s forehead. When Nicolo pulled back, he met Joe’s bemusement with a smile that looked a touch strained.

“Shall we go home?” Nicolo asked. “It’s quite late. Would that be alright, my love?”

“Um,” Joe said, articulately. His head was too sore to keep up with this dizzying turn of events. “Yes? Yes, let’s go. Harold, see you at the next one of these?” He made himself wait for a reply and the polite exchange of goodbyes before letting Nicolo gently guide him through coat-check and into their car. The arm around him only left his shoulders when he slid into the car, and he told himself that he didn’t miss it.

Nicolo pulled them into the flow of traffic. “How long have you been unwell for?” he asked.

“What?” Joe was caught off guard. “I’m not unwell?”

Without ever taking his eyes off the road, Nicolo reached over and placed the back of his hand against Joe’s forehead. “You are quite warm,” he said, almost to himself. He sounded unhappy.

“Not hot?” Joe tried for a suggestive smile, but the hand on his forehead was large and steady, and it was hard not to just sink into the soft leather seat. “I guess…my head’s been hurting a little lately.”

Nicolo took his hand away, and Joe tried and failed to not mourn its loss. “Why didn’t you say anything?”

“Because you wouldn’t have let me go to the charity ball.”

“You hate these events,” Nicolo pointed out. “And also, name one time I’ve been able to successfully stop you from doing anything.”

Joe sighed, and let his head fall backwards. “You need only ever ask, my love,” he murmured absently.

“What?” Nicolo asked, voice a little strangled.

“Hmm?” Joe said, his eyes sliding closed. The pressure in his head dulled a little, but not by much. “Oh - sorry, and I mean…I do hate these things, but it’s for charity and some money does go to people who need it…not all of it goes back into rich peoples’ pockets, and um…”

“That’s not-” Nicolo broke off, then sighed, a small, quiet thing. “You should get some sleep. I’ll call for a doctor.”

Joe wanted to ask him what was wrong, but the soft plushness beneath his head called him, and his head did hurt so very much. He could ask him about it later, Joe resolved. Later, when the throbbing at his temples and the rawness of his eyes receded. “’kay,” Joe mumbled. “Thank you, Nicky.”

***

It could have been seconds later, or minutes, or hours. A hand was on his arm. “Joe?”

Sleep was reluctant to let him go, and the pain in his head was blinding. “I’m here,” he whispered.

Fingers gently touched his forehead, and he turned towards them absently. “He - he’s burning!” someone gasped. It sounded like Booker. “Nicolo, can you get him up into bed? I’m going to call the doctor right now.”

Two hands gently cupped his face. “Joe, can you open your eyes for me?”

There was so much Joe would do for that voice. He opened his eyes with great effort, to see Nicolo crouched beside the open car door.

“There you are,” Nicolo said, his voice softer than Joe had ever heard it. It did funny things to his insides. “Do you think you can get to your room?”

His room was so far away. But the thought of a bed, his bed, with its warm blankets and the smell of sleep, called. “I think so,” Joe mumbled.

“Lean on me?” Nicolo said, taking his arms and helping him out of the car. “Here we go, you’re doing great. We’ll be there soon.”

There were around two hundred steps between the garage and his room, but later, all Joe would remember of them would be the smell of the shampoo Nicolo liked to use, the press of a firm, broad shoulder beneath his arm. He wouldn’t remember the way he was lowered onto the bed, gently, carefully. Nor would he remember the way he said, “Nicky - will you stay with me, please? I- if you want to,” and the way something raw had passed over Nicolo’s face. That night, amidst the murmurs of the doctor and Booker and Nicolo, he would dream of a man sitting beside his bed, of cool, soft hands smoothing hair away from his burning forehead and feeding him water.

And in the morning, when he woke up, there would be the slightest of impressions in the blankets beside him, still warm, as if someone had stayed the entire night by his side.

A continuation of this and that. Here is the original post by @veryoldmuchguard. Yes, this is 100% just softness, but sometimes it’s okay to not polish a piece up to a brilliant shine. I do have some ideas for plot, and you might be able to see some inklings beginning in this piece.

59 notes

“You know,” Booker said thoughtfully, at their weekly progress review. “When I said ‘try to get along with your bodyguard’, I didn’t mean ‘draw him in twenty different ways’.”

“What?”

Booker turned the sketchbook around. Nicolo, lovingly rendered in strokes of charcoal, stared back at him.

“It’s just a sketch,” Joe defended.

Booker flipped to the next page. 

“Some warmup sketches,” Joe tried weakly, but he was sweating now. Just how many had he drawn? It was difficult to keep track when the lines of Nicolo’s small smile, his hands, begged to be committed to paper.

Booker looked at him sceptically.

“It’s…he’s just very sketchable,” Joe admitted.

“You’ve got your Brandhorst showing in less than a year now,” Booker said. “Unless you want to explain to them how a study on the human condition turned into the study of one hot dude, we need to be looking at something other than twenty pictures of your bodyguard this time next week.”

“You just don’t appreciate art,” Joe grumbled. “Fine. There’ll be at least something workable.”

“That’s all I ask for,” Booker said. He handed back the sketchbook, which Joe definitely didn’t hug to his chest. “I didn’t expect you to get along so well with Nicolo,” he added, assessingly.

“He’s very charming,” Joe said defensively. “He’s a wonderful person.”

“Alright, let me rephrase,” Booker said. “I didn’t expect you to fall for your bodyguard in less than a month. Especially when you spent the first week of it hating his guts.”

Joe winced. “I haven’t - totally fallen,” he mumbled. “It’s. Just. Falling. At most.”

“How is that better?” Booker demanded.

“Well, there’s still time to un-fall!”

“That’s not how it works!”

“Sure it is,” Joe said. “You just wait and see.”

A continuation of this AU because things are just coming to me. Also, again, the original idea wasn’t mine, but I’m having difficulty finding the original post. If it was yours, please let me know and I will make sure everything is credited.

Here is the original post by @veryoldmuchguard, and thank you @you-dropped-your-forgiveness for linking me!

83 notes

Joe was in the middle of mixing up some new colours when a hand extended into his view, holding a plate of pasta. 

“Pasta?” he said stupidly. He followed the hand and up the (very nicely-muscled) arm to Nicolo’s face, which was, as usual, impassive.

“You should eat,” said Nicolo. “It’s been five hours.”

“I’m not hungry,” Joe said automatically, just as his stomach growled. He flushed. “Right. Maybe a bit hungry.”

Nicolo raised an eyebrow expectantly.

“But I can make something for myself,” Joe added hastily.

Nicolo eyed him. “Do you not like pasta?”

“I love pasta,” Joe said honestly. “And this smells amazing.”

So eat the pasta then, said Nicolo’s expression, which was impressive considering it was the same expression he always had.

“You don’t have to cook for me,” Joe explained. “It’s not in your job description.”

“If you fall over and break your head on an easel because you forgot to eat, that’s a hazard.”

“I’m not going to forget to eat,” Joe said indignantly. “I’m an adult, I even do my own banking!”

“Mr. Le Livre looks after your finances,” Nicolo said. “Also, yesterday you didn’t eat for seven hours.”

Had he? Joe couldn’t remember. “That was an anomaly?” he tried.

Nicolo’s brow furrowed, an expression Joe’s fingers itched to sketch. “You did the same thing the day before that.”

“Oh.”

Nicolo held out the plate and fork.

“Okay, okay.” Joe caved, reaching over. The plate almost fell from suddenly nerveless fingers as they brushed Nicolo’s. “Thank you. But please, don’t feel like you have to do this.”

“I can’t have you withering away from hunger while I’m on the job, your manager would probably have me shot.” Nicolo crossed his arms. “Or sued. My contract states that all parts of your body are to be looked after.”

“Booker wouldn’t do that,” Joe said automatically, before the rest of the statement caught up with him, and he choked as his mind helpfully came up with all the other places that Nicolo could look after because nope, nope, he wouldn’t be the sleazebag that hit on people who were technically his employees.

“You’re not eating,” Nicolo said pointedly, apparently oblivious to Joe’s inner turmoil.

“I’m eating,” Joe said, quickly shoving a forkful into his mouth. “I’m - oh my God.” He broke off on a long moan. “Oh my God.”

He looked up to thank Nicolo, only to stop short at the sight of those pale cheeks flushed, for the first time in the whole two weeks he’d known the other man.

“Glad you like it,” Nicolo said quickly, voice a little thin. “I’m going to let you get back to your work. Please finish the whole plate, and drink this glass of water, too,” he added, sounding like himself again. And then he was gone, leaving Joe to stare after him baffled.

“What’s up with him?” he asked the plate of pasta, which, predictably, stayed silent. “Oh well, I’ll have to thank him later.”

I saw this post on Tumblr yesterday about Joe being an artist with Nicky as his bodyguard, but couldn’t find it to reblog with this snippet? (Please if someone could link me so I can give credit to whoever came up with the idea, I would be very grateful. I am, to my great shame, not great with this site).

Here is the original post by @veryoldmuchguard, and thank you @you-dropped-your-forgiveness for linking me!

127 notes

After she had stabbed him a few times, Quynh became almost - almost - friendly.

“You live in a hovel,” she sniffed.

“You’re welcome to leave?” Sebastien tried. “The door is that way.”

The look he got in return warned of knives in soft places, so he wisely shut up as Quynh continued to survey the room. “I don’t understand how you live in this place. Are those cockroaches?”

Sebastien followed her gaze. “Um, yep, I’d say so.” It was probably time to clear out the fridge again.

“Disgusting.”

“I’m sure there’s a decent hotel nearby,” Sebastien offered. “Or you could, you know, go find your family.” Not our. It hurt more than he realised, another unpleasant reminder of all he had lost, of all he once had but never appreciated until too late. 

Quynh inspected the garish green splashback of his kitchen. “I can’t see them right now.”

“You…can?” Sebastien squinted. “I have their number.”

“I won’t see them right now, then.”

“Right.” Sebastien hesitated. “Um, please don’t stab me, but why? You don’t have to answer.”

“I drowned,” Quynh said. “For centuries.”

“They tried to find you,” Sebastien said. “I came with them a few times.” When he had been sober enough, that was. “They never gave up.”

Quynh’s lips thinned. “I know they tried.”

“Then why…?”

"For centuries they lived and breathed air while I died and only knew water in my lungs,” Quynh said evenly. “Resentment isn’t always logical. I loved them. I still love them. But you can love someone and be angry with them at the same time.”

Sebastien thought of the look in Joe’s eyes, the warmth of Andy’s hug, the tight-lipped, barely perceptible nod that Nicky had given him, six months ago in England. “Alright,” he said. “I’ll warn you, though. Nile’ll still be dreaming of you, and if she sees you with me they’ll all know where you are.”

“I know.”

“So if you don’t want to see them, you probably need to go,” Sebastien added, because Quynh did not seem at all bothered.

Quynh turned to face him. “I‘ll be leaving soon enough. But I thought I’d give you a choice. Stay in this hovel and continue drinking yourself into oblivion.”

“Or?” Sebastien asked, only a little warily.

“Come with me,” she said simply. “I don’t want to see them now. You can’t see them yet. Misery loves company, or haven’t you heard?”

The look in her eyes said she knew exactly when and to whom he had said this. Sebastien heart clenched. “I shouldn’t have said that, then.”

“Your decisions are yours, and yours alone,” Quynh said. “Perhaps in the future, you’ll decide to think differently and act accordingly.”

Sebastien stared at her.

Quynh shrugged. “I think you and I are two people out of time. So. You can either come with me and relearn the world around us, or…”

“Yes, yes, yes, drink myself into oblivion,” Sebastien muttered. “Okay.”

“Okay?”

“Okay, yes, I want to come with you.”

And for the first time since he’d stumbled into his apartment, something like a smile tilted her lips. “Then let’s go.”

183 notes

{I am a lying liar who lies, 2-3 days my ass. You can read Part 1 here.}

The second time Alexei meets Kent Parson is at the All Star weekend that season.

When Mama and Papa had flown back to Russia, Alexei had rapidly realised that he was effectively a thousand miles away from everything he had ever known, and that:

1) Nobody around him spoke Russian; and
2) He couldn’t speak English.

Alexei hates English. With a passion. He’s not stupid enough to tell anyone this particular fact, but he thinks it every time he sits down for his English classes and wrestles with prepositions and adverbs, or heaven forbid, attempts to conjugate a verb. Every rule had a million exceptions, so what was even the point of the rule? English as a language was just unfair, he had decided, and he tells Mama this over the phone one month in.

She is sympathetic, in her typical Spartan manner. “You’ll learn,” she tells him. “Practise for at least three hours every day.”

Alexei is appalled. “Mama, when am I meant to get three hours of practice each day?”

“There is always time.”

He honestly doesn’t know what else he expected. “Okay Mama,” he says, and then turns the conversation to how stupidly big portion sizes were in America. Criticising the diets of North Americans was always guaranteed to catch her attention.

To his dismay, his father just laughs at him.

“Papa.” Alexei may or may not be whining.

“Your Mama told you to just find time, didn’t she,” he says, when he’s finally stopped cackling for long enough to take a breath.

Alexei hangs up on him.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Papa says, when he calls back a minute later. The wheezing laughs have stopped, which is a relief.

“Okay,” Alexei says warily.

“I mean it.” His father is abruptly serious. “I’m sorry for laughing, you’re in a tough situation right now. English is not an easy language to learn.” They both know that his father never truly gained fluency in it - never had the chance to need it.

“It’s really hard, Papa.” He doesn’t think he’s just talking about English anymore.

“Things worth doing usually are, Alyosha,” his father says gently.

Alexei chews his lip. “I don’t know if I’m doing anything right.”

“Are you playing good hockey?” Papa asks.

“Yes, Papa.”

“You aren’t bullying anyone on the ice?”

“No -”

“Working hard? Doing your English lessons? Going to all your practices on time, practising anything your coach says you need to work on?”

“Yes -”

“Then you are doing it right. And I am proud of you.”

His father’s voice is warm, and it curls around Alexei. He suddenly, desperately, wishes he could hug his father tightly. “Okay Papa.”

“Now go and practice your English,” Papa says, and Alexei does.

So hockey is the only thing he has besides torturous English lessons, and he devotes himself to it. He racks up goals and assists every game, plays a clean defensive game, and keeps his stats glowing. English smalltalk remains his nemesis but he’s getting there, one pleasantry at a time. Before he knows it, he’s being invited to the All Stars Weekend. He dithers over the invite for a few days, until the head of Capitals PR eventually corners him on his way out of the locker rooms.

“You should go,” LaRue tells him. “It’s good for building up your fanbase.” He continues to go on at depth about social media presences and ticket sales. Alexei dutifully nods his way through the lecture, and ends up promising to go just to escape.

For some unknown sin in this life or a past one, he is roomed with a D-man from the Aeros who talks loudly and snores louder than a chainsaw. Alexei realises this on the first night when he lays in bed, staring at the ceiling as the red digits on the bedside clock tick over from 11 to 12, then 1. There’s a snore once every three seconds, accompanied by whistling through some gap between teeth. Alexei kills half an hour searching up English sayings to describe snoring and deciding that his roommate “snores like a foghorn” before he finally gives up and rolls out of bed.

The hotel they’ve been put up in has an indoor gym and swimming pool. Alexei slings on a towel, sneaking out of the room before taking the lift down. On first glance, the gym is deserted, because any sane person is currently asleep. Alexei, running on no sleep, does not qualify.

Except, when he’s halfway through his reps on the elliptical, a quiet voice behind him says: “Um. Hi, Alexei?”

Alexei turns around and comes face to face with Kent Parson.

What they are is nebulous at best. More than acquaintances - Kent Parson had talked to his Mama and Papa and his Mama had said Kent was a Very Nice Person. But less than friends, certainly. After the draft, Kent had gone west to the Aces and Alexei had gone east to the Capitals. He hasn’t really kept track of Kent’s career, but he would have to be under an actual rock to not know Kent is the only other rookie at the All Stars weekend and the NHL’s current leading scorer.

“Hello,” Alexei replies. There’s a drop of sweat slowly rolling down his face and he’s painfully aware that he probably stinks a little.  Meanwhile Kent Parson looks fresh as a daisy at one in the morning. The limits of his smalltalking abilities in English remain breathtakingly small despite the benefit of six months of English tutoring, so he kind of hopes Kent takes pity on his poor, sweaty form.

Kent does not. “It’s been a while. Good to see you.”

Goddamnit, they’re smalltalking. “Good to see you, too.”

Kent looks unbothered at the lack of scintillating conversation. He rolls onto the balls of his feet, fiddling with the strap of the duffel slung over his shoulder. “So uh. How’s your mum?” he says, then immediately blanches. “Shit. I didn’t mean - I just -”

“Good,” Alexei says, mostly to put him out of his misery. “She good.”

Kent looks earnest. “Oh, that’s really good to hear.” And then he seems to waver a bit.

“How is family?” Alexei says, when the silence stretches on. “They come visit after draft?”

“Ah yeah.” Kent visibly brightens up. “They did! It was great, we had dinner and hung out a bit, and I gave my sister your mum’s autograph - she’s so cool by the way, but I bet you already knew that - I’d love to thank her again.”

There are just - so many words. Alexei takes a few seconds to work through the sentence. “Glad to hear sister like. Maybe you see Mama again at game with Aces?”

“Definitely,” Kent says, and Alexei’s heard so many people say that over the past six months, but he thinks this time he could believe it. “So, uh. What’s keeping you up?”

Only the loudest snorer on the entire American continent. “Roomie.” Alexei searches for the words. “Snoring like foghorn.”

Kent winces. “Jeez, I know what you mean. Did you try poking him to get him to roll over?”

“To scared to poke,” Alexei admits. “Big guy.”

“Who are you rooming with?”

“Winkler?”

“Fuck, yeah, he’s a big dude. Better not poke him.”

Alexei sighs. “Snore so loud - and whistle too. Like train.” At Kent’s blank look, he tries: “Choo choo?”

“Choo - oh god, you mean like a steam engine?”

Alexei pulls out his phone in answer. “How spell that? Steam engine?” He dutifully plugs in the letters Kent rattles off, and hits translate. “Oh. Yes. He steam engine.”

“Heh,” Kent says. “I double dog dare you to say that to him.” He must catch the look of utter incomprehension on Alexei’s face, because he quickly backtracks. “Not up with the slang yet? Sorry. I meant, you should tell him that.”

“But why?” Alexei doesn’t want to get punched.

“As a joke,” Kent adds hastily. “It’s funny, because we know it’s stupid so we wouldn’t do it.”

English was just ridiculous. “Okay,” Alexei tries. “Double dog dare you cycle on elliptical, see who faster.”

“That’s not…” Kent trails off. He smiles, then shakes his head. “That’s not how it works. But we’ll work on it,” he assures Alexei, with a firm pat on his shoulder.

It’s worlds away from the way the Caps’ coach tends to roll his eyes heavenward when Alexei goes left when he should go right, or his English tutor, who is nice enough but is prone to banging her head against the table a little when Alexei fumbles the conjugation on a verb. “Not now,” Alexei says. “Later?”

Kent checks his watch and he actually looks surprised, like the complete lack of other people didn’t clue him in. “Wow, it’s pretty late, isn’t it?”

Unbelievable. “Why you up?”

“Got caught up practising.”

Alexei sideeyes him. “Practising?”

Kent flushes a little. “Practising my stick handling. Shooting accuracy.”

Alexei can’t help but boggle at him. “You practising? At 1AM?”

“I couldn’t sleep,” Kent says, a little defensively.

“You crazy,” Alexei decides, but there’s a lot of fondness that must be apparent to even Kent, who looks less offended than he does a mildly grumpy, like the family cat when he accidentally stepped on her tail as a child. “But you wipe ice with everyone, so you champion crazy.”

“Damn straight I’m the champion crazy,” Kent says, planting his hands on his hips like a dork. “Yeah, laugh it up, I’ll definitely be wiping the ice with you.”

Alexei pretends to cower. “Okay, Kent Parson, I try best not cry on ice then.”

“You will be bawling your eyes out,” Kent says with promise, and then looks so affronted when Alexei just doubles over, breathless with laughter.

“I believe you,” Alexei says to the ground, from where he’s still bent over trying to catch his breath. “Cry many tears.”

“You better,” Kent says, but then he’s laughing helplessly too, dropping his duffel. “Oh god, I really am champion crazy.”

Alexei reaches over to pat him on the back. “Is okay, still like, even if Kent Parson practice hockey at one in morning.”

“You don’t think I’m too crazy?” Perhaps it’s meant to be joking, but Alexei can’t help but look up sharply.

“Never. You think Crosby best because he slack off?”

“I don’t think he’s ever stayed up until 1 because he was nervous about All Stars,” Kent says, then bites his lip.

“You nervous?” Alexei asks. Kent hesitates. “Why you nervous?”

“I just - it’s been a lot,” Kent finally says. He’s looking to the side, staring at the elliptical. Alexei waits, and Kent says in a rush: “I feel like I have to be the best, or - or else -”

“Not have to say what,” Alexei says gently. “Not make you say.”

Kent scowls. “It’s stupid. Everyone’s thinking it, they just don’t say it. That I’m the second choice.”

At the Draft, Alexei had known vaguely that Kent Parson and another boy called Jack Zimmermann had widely been slated to go first and second - in either order. It was true that every analyst had put the latter in first place, and that when Aces called Kent Parson’s name there had been a slight pause in the audience’s murmuring. Kent’s smile had been strained as he left their table.

Alexei’s stood across from Kent on the ice before. He’s watched countless hours of tape of the Aces’ play and by proxy, of Kent. Kent Parson on the ice is a force of nature, skating circles around defence and sinking pucks into the net as easy as breathing. And in his heart of hearts, he thinks the margin between first and second had been far smaller than most people thought.

But now, under the harsh gym lights that highlight the remaining softness of his jaw and the dark patches beneath his eyes, Alexei realises that Kent’s still just a kid. Alexei’s just a kid. They’re both just teenagers. And there’s very little of the player who had breezed past Alexei at the last Caps game with the Aces, or of the player who had mercilessly crushed their four game winning streak without batting an eye. Under the padding and past all the hype, Kent was far from the figure he cut on ice and as vulnerable as any other human.

“Even if people say second choice, what matter?” Alexei says. “You first. You here now. Play well. Maybe bit annoy on ice but not bully. And seem nice, polite to Mama. Thinking of sister even at draft. Get autograph for her. That matter. Not other people.”

He hopes he hasn’t overdone it - perhaps Kent wasn’t looking for a heart-to-heart in the hotel gym at 1AM. But instead of taken aback Kent looks - a little watery.

“Why you cry?” Alexei is horrified.

“I’m not crying,” Kent sniffs. “I’m not.”

Alexei bites his tongue. “Uh okay.” He politely looks away as Kent wipes his eyes.

“I’m not saying I can’t cry,” Kent begins, which Alexei takes as his cue that it’s safe to look back at him. His eyes are just slightest bit red, and even that’s only if you know what to look for.  “I just try not to cry in front of others.”

“Okay,” Alexei says cautiously.

Kent takes a deep breath. “Thank you.”

“Welcome,” Alexei replies automatically, then says: “But. For what?”

Kent stares at him. “For - listening? For not being an asshole about the fact I’m still some nervy rookie?”

Christ. People thanked each other for things like that in America? “No need thank,” Alexei says. Then, desperate to change the subject, he adds: “So we agree! No need for nervous! You real KVP.”

“The what?”

“KVP.” Alexei gestures. “I see on Twitter - they calling you ‘the Real KVP’”.

“That’s not - ” Kent splutters. “That’s my name, Alexei.”

Alexei tries not wince. “Oh. Oops, sorry.”

“Why are you sorry?” Kent brings out his phone, thumbing at something on the screen. He eventually holds out his phone, open to a websearch. “See? It’s a joke on MVP. That’s 'Most Valuable Player’.”

Oh,” Alexei says again. “Make sense. Sometimes miss reference - thank you for explaining.”

Kent stows away his phone, corners of his mouth twitching upwards again. “You’ve only been in the US for what, six months? Your English is great. If you put me in Russia I would probably just turn around and go back to the US.”

“You miss good food then,” Alexei tuts. “Russian food is best food.”

“Hell no, I’ve seen what you guys count as soup. I’m not touching borscht with a ten-foot pole.”

“Borscht is best soup!” Alexei tries to sound outraged.

“Look man, all I’m saying is that anything that pink should not be eaten.”

Blasphemy. “You try pirozhki then? Small, baked -” He gropes around for the word, then gives up and calls up the translator app on his phone. “Dumpling.”

“I’ve never had that,” Kent says, but he at least looks intrigued. “What did you call it? Pay-roz-kay?”

His accent is actually appalling. “Pirozhki,” Alexei corrects.

Kent frowns. “Poe-roz-ki?”

Pirozhki”

“Poh-rosh-ki?”

Alexei nods in approval. “Good, sounds good.”

“I like the sound of baked dumplings,” Kent says. “Mm. Pirozkhi. I might go see if there’s any places that do it in Vegas.”

“Let me know if yes.” Alexei nudges him. “I come try when Caps play Aces.”

“You got it.”

Alexei cuts off any further conversation with the embarrassingly loud yawn that escapes him then.

“Shit, it’s like 1:30AM.” Kent winces. “We have to get up at like 7 tomorrow - today? Holy crap we better go to sleep.”

Alexei levers himself up, gathering his towel and bottle. “Hope not fall asleep on skates tomorrow.”

“How about I check you if I see you dropping off,” Kent suggests, then snickers at Alexei’s raised eyebrow. “Bad idea?”

“Sure can check me?” Alexei makes a show of looking Kent up and down. He holds his index finger and thumb about ten centimetres apart. “So small.”

“You asshole,” Kent says, but he’s laughing. “I’m not short, you’re just a giant.”

“If say so,” Alexei shrugs. They start towards the elevator banks. “If help sleep at night.”

“Fuck you, I sleep really well at night,” Kent says petulantly. Alexei eyes the shadows beneath his eyes.

“I believe, I believe,” he says instead with his best shit-eating grin. They get in the lift. “Okay, floor?”

Kent reaches over and pushes the button for 15. “You?”

“Twelve. Thank you.” Kent nods, and they start moving up.

“So see you tomorrow, yes?”

“Yeah.” Kent shoulders his duffel a little more firmly. “Be prepared to cry like a baby.”

Alexei flaps his hands, just as the lift doors open on his floor. “Yeah, yeah, I cry so much.”

The smile Kent gives him is small, but very real. “Good night Alexei.”

“Good night,” Alexei says, stepping out and turning to wave goodbye. The doors shut on Kent’s smile, and Alexei stands there for a second, the airconditioning cool against his slightly sweaty neck.

“Hopefully not cry too much,” he says to himself, before heading back to his room.

44 notes

I have been doggedly writing away at an Alexei Mashkov/Kent Parson story for the past few weeks, but it’s slow going and I just know this is going to end up being another 20K fic I have stashed away that never got finished and thus never saw the light of the day. So to keep me accountable and to boot this firmly out the door, I’m going to try post one segment every 2-3 days on tumblr until it’s complete, and then I’ll post it on AO3 after I go back and edit it. This is Part 1.

They’re tied at halftime against the Aces. Seconds are ticking down on the clock and the game’s almost certainly going to overtime, when Kent Parson flicks the puck towards Snowy and promptly follows it into the net. A dogpile ensues, and Tater, incandescent with rage, drags Parson out by the scruff of his neck and reams him out a little (okay, a lot).

I know you’re better than this,” he sighs, as he’s turning away. He says it in Russian, just to be safe, because it’d certainly earn him a chirping of a lifetime and some very confused questions if he said it in English.  

He doesn’t see Parson’s face as he skates off.

“Dude,” Poots says as they go back to the bench. “What the hell did you say to Parson? He looks like you kicked his cat.”

“What? I just say he an asshole.” But when he turns around, Parson is still standing on the ice, a lost look on his face.

“You’d think he’s used to that,” Poots jokes. “I don’t know how anyone could know him and not want to at least check him everytime he opens his mouth.”

“Yeah,” Alexei says, trying to push the flicker of doubt in his gut away. “Of course.”

***

Because here’s the thing: Alexei does know Kent Parson but does not want to check him every time he opens his mouth.

***

The first time Alexei meets Kent Parson is at the draft.

His parents are there, both perfectly poised even as spotlights shine down on all of them and the chatter of foreign tongues swells around them. Mama sits stoically beside him, while further down Papa looks completely unfazed.

The napkin in his hands is steadily being shredded to pieces. He finishes one, and reaches for another.

“Alyosha,” Mama says.

Alexei puts his hands back in his lap. “Sorry Mama.”

The hand she puts on his shoulder is warm. “No ‘sorry’. Just be calm. You will be fine.”

He resists the urge to clutch at her hand. “Okay.”

An assistant comes by, then, harried. “Mr Mashkov?”

“Yes?” he says, because he does know his own name.

What they say next is completely lost on Alexei. He looks helplessly at his mother, who had become workably fluent at English after her time in international competition. “He says, can Kent Parson sit with you? His family could not attend.”

Oh. “Is that okay?” he asks Mama and Papa.

“Of course.”

His mother nods at the assistant, who looks relieved and immediately waves someone over. Seconds later, another assistant arrives, followed by a skinny-looking boy. They’re deftly ushered into the empty seat beside Alexei. The first assistant says something to the boy, who nods and says something back. Both assistants hurry off.

The boy turns to Alexei. “Hi,” he says. “I’m, uh, Kent Parson,” he adds, which is a bit unnecessary.

I know, Alexei thinks. Was that a weird thing to say? Probably. “Alexei Mashkov,” he says instead. He gestures to his parents. “Mama. Papa.”

Kent Parson looks behind him and his eyes widen. “Irina Tunicova?”

Alexei stares at him, then turns around to gauge his mother’s response. His mother raises an eyebrow. “Hello, Kent Parson.”

Kent gapes a little. He says, rapid-fire. Alexei’s mother says something in response, then signs a napkin which she slides across to Kent. All Alexei can catch is “Thank you” and “You’re welcome.” Then, to Alexei’s horror, he hears his name, followed by Kent’s eyes flicking towards Alexei.

“Mama,” Alexei says.

She waves him off. “Kent Parson says, his sister knows of me. He asked for an autograph for her.”

This is not the part Alexei is interested in. He already knows his mother is amazing. “What did he say about me?”

Mama looks at him quellingly. “That you are a good player, and he has seen your stats, and that he had heard you would go early in the draft.”

Oh. That was a nice thing to say. Alexei looks back at Kent, who looks like he was trying and failing to follow the conversation. “Thank you,” he says. His English was atrocious, but this was one of the first things he had learnt to say.

“You’re welcome,” says Kent. He says something else, but Alexei just tilts his head.

“He is asking, have you been in the US for long?” his mother translates for him. She says something back to Kent, which Alexei assumes to be about how they only landed a few days ago.

The back and forth continues, Alexei volunteering information when Kent asks something Mama doesn’t know the answer to already. In turn, he learns that Kent is only a few months older than him, that he grew up in a state called Minnesota, that his mother and sister couldn’t make it because of sudden work and school commitments, but that they’re watching the livestream and will be flying in to celebrate with Kent tomorrow, and that Kent isn’t sure if he’ll go first in the draft, which is ridiculous.

Alexei tells Mama this, who crinkles her nose and says something to Kent. Kent blushes a little and shrugs.

Before he can overthink it, Alexei reaches forward to take Kent’s hand in his. “You good,” he says. This is hopelessly inadequate, but he doesn’t want to have to get Mama to say this. “Best? Team lucky to have.”

Kent meets his eyes. In the dim lighting, they’re a strange shade of colour - grey? Blue? - and they look almost a little liquid. Alexei blinks.

“Thank you,” Kent Parson says. “Alexei.”

“You’re welcome.” Alexei hesitates, but then the announcers are speaking overhead and the draft is starting, and the moment is gone.

66 notes

BB-8 is waiting for them by a ship that is a far cry from the DB-100x. When Poe voices his (very valid) opinion, BB-8 just whistles a deeply disappointed sigh and rolls up the ramp to continue its pre-flight sequences.

Poe rolls his eyes at BB-8’s theatrics and turns to Maz. “Droids these days,” he says. “You wouldn’t believe the sass in that one. Couldn’t you just -” he wiggles his fingers beside his head.

One of Maz’s brows ascends. “I beg your pardon?” she asks, expression fearsome.

“Nothing,” Poe says hastily. “So. I was thinking Kessel Run. It’d be the fastest by far.”

“Are you kidding?” Finn interjects. “The Kessel Run is riddled with black holes and solar flare hotspots!”

“Yeah, so only a madman would want to take it, right?” Poe doesn’t wait for an answer, mostly because he has a pretty good idea it’ll contain the words “are” and “you” and “insane”, most likely in that order. “Means the chances of an ambush are pretty damn slim, because only a crazy being wants a dogfight in the middle of a zone where you could get yourself sucked into a black hole or melted in a solar flare.”

Finn eyes him. “Have you had a dogfight on the Kessel Run?”

Poe grins. “Yep.”

Finn turns to Maz. “I’ve changed my mind, I’m not desperate enough to get on this ship.”

Poe watches with glee in the beat of silence during which Finn presumably takes in Maz’s expression, and swallows. “Ah,” Finn says. “On second thought, this ship will be fine.”

5 notes