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“What’s wrong? Did I mess up the recipe? My hand kinda slipped when I was seasoning the chicken and I dropped a lot of paprika in the bowl. I thought I fixed it?”

Jack had been staring at his plate for what was most likely an awkward amount of time after he had taken a bite of chicken breast. But Jack was just stuck in his head. He had a thought earlier during breakfast. Bitty cooks for him all the time. He makes dinner for them whenever they’re together and if Bitty isn’t around Jack can always just heat up one of the premade meals stocked up in his freezer. Bits is just amazing like that, and he insists that it’s no trouble at all.

The thing that’s getting to Jack is the fact that he’s never cooked dinner for Bitty. It’s been bothering him all day, during his run, all through practice, at the gym and when he came home and took his nap up until he hit the ice.

It’s not that Jack can’t cook, he can cook just fine .

He’s never actually followed a recipe before. His mother taught him how to cook chicken at one point, and he can follow packing instructions perfectly. His food may lack seasoning most of the time —he became aware of that fact at some point his sophomore year, Shitty broke it to him gently after a few bites of whatever he made for dinner that night— salt was pretty much the only thing he had in his cupboards before he met Eric. A spice rack was one the first items Bitty added to his kitchen when he visited for the first time over the summer of his second year. His kitchen has never been the same.

Despite the lack of seasoning in his food, it gets him fed and full. His meal plan didn’t allow for much variety. Jack had never minded it. Yet for a while it was eat to bulk up, and eat to keep him going. Then Bitty came in and ruined it all for him with his pies. Jack will be reluctant to admit he’s snuck away with a few extra slices of pie in the middle of the night while he was living in the Haus.

At least he’s not living off of takeout like some people he knows. So yes Jack can cook, but he honestly doesn’t know how he survived without Eric’s cooking for the years that he did. His baking is next level, that's a known fact of life, but his cooking is just as good. Meanwhile Jack's cooking looked like lukewarm high school cafeteria food compared to Bittys carefully thought out dishes.

The fact is Eric is always cooking for Jack and Jack feels kind of bad about it. It’s not like Bitty isn’t busy with his (second!) book and the Youtube channel and then he goes and insists on cooking for Jack or prepping meals for when he’s off doing bookdeal stuff. So Jack is going to take it upon himself and make a meal for his husband. It’s really the least he could do for him.  

Looking back down at his plate of perfectly seasoned chicken breast —Eric’s mistake not noticeable at all— surrounded by flavorful green beans and cauliflower. It was all so good and exceeded anything Jack could have made for himself without a recipe.

“Bits, there's honestly nothing wrong with the chicken. It’s perfect actually.”

Eric squints at him from across their plates.

“Ok then why do I feel a but coming?” 

“But,” Jack chuckled. “You’re always cooking for me. Us.” Jack stabs a bit of green bean and chicken onto his fork, stuffing it into his mouth, chewing for a bit and swallowing “You’ve been so busy Bits and you’re still cooking dinner for us and baking and going all over the place and I don’t know.” Jack paused and took a sip of water gathering himself.

“I feel bad.”

An outraged look crosses Bitty’s face for a second. He scoffed and says, “You made breakfast for me the other morning! You grill all the time during offseason!”

“Scrambled eggs and a toasted bagel can hardly count compared to what you end up cooking, and that takes minimum effort.” Jack gives Bitty a long stare, “Also you season and marinate the meat whenever we barbeque. Here I thought you of all people would understand that premade chicken tenders and a homemade lasagna aren’t the same thing.” Jack goes to eat another bite from his plate but then says, “Also I meant dinner . You’re always cooking dinner. When was the last time I actually cooked dinner?”

Bitty takes the time to honestly think about it but looks up at Jack sheepishly a moment later.

“That’s what I thought. If you don’t want to cook we just end up ordering take out or we go out somewhere.”

Bitty rolls his eyes at Jack, “Well, you’ve got a point there hun I’ll give you that.”

They go back to eating, Bitty’s dinner playlist playing softly in the background. Then Jack has a thought.

“I’m going to cook dinner for you.” he looks Eric in the eyes, “As soon as possible.”

Bitty looks like he’s trying really hard not to laugh, Jack pouts.

“Oh honey, that's real sweet of you, and I would love that! Don’t get me wrong.” he picks up his glass of water and tries to take a sip to hide his suppressed laughter but fails. “I’m not laughing at you ok, so please stop with that face. It was just you were so serious about it.” Bitty giggles and grabs Jack's hand next to his and smiles brightly at him, “I really would love to have whatever you cook up!”

“Ok so what do you want?”

“Oh you know I’ll have whatever!”

When Jack doesn’t respond to that, Bitty rolls his eyes again and pulls out his phone and starts tapping away.

“Oh ok, ok. I’ll send  you one of my Pinterest boards and you can choose something from there, how about that?”

“I would really appreciate that. Thank you Bits.”

Jack's own phone pings and he smiles down at it. He saves the link to the board to look at later and goes back to polishing off his plate.

***


The next day after practice Jack is sitting in the nook scrolling through the Pinterest board Bitty sent him titled Quick ‘n Easy: Beginner Friendly Recipes . When Jack first saw the board he looked at it a bit suspiciously. He couldn’t think of a reason as to why Bitty would have a board of recipes for beginners. It would make more sense if it was for his Youtube but the board itself has no baking recipes in it. Bitty must have had it already made because he had sent it when Jack had asked, and there were a lot of recipes already in it.

He’d have to ask Bitty about it later. Now, Jack was struggling with what to choose. Did he want to with the easier option of a pasta dish, or did he want to do something like a steak with a couple of sides to go with it? He really wanted to cook Bitty the best dinner he possibly could.

Apparently Jack was stressing about choosing a recipe harder than he thought because the first thing Tater said when he sat down next to him was, “What is matter Zimmboni? You look as if you are making big life decision. You talk to Bitty yet?”

Snowy who sat down across from them chimed in, “Yeah man I don’t think you can stick your phone any closer to your face without it becoming a part of you.”

Jack suppressed a sigh. Might as well come out with it, these two sure as hell won’t leave him alone without Jack saying something.

“I’m going to cook dinner for Bitty.”

“Ah, you cook for little B! What are you cooking?” Tater wiggled in glee, peaking over Jack's shoulder to glance at his phone.

Handing his phone straight over to Tater, Jack poked at his packed lunch —prepared by none other than Bitty.

“That’s the problem.” Jacked sighed, “I don’t know.”

“What is it, an anniversary or something?” Snowy asked.

“No it’s just Eric is always making dinner for us and I just want to cook dinner for him for a change.” Jack explained.

“Ahh gotcha.”

It was silent for a second but Jack felt the brunt of Snowy’s piercing stare. He didn’t say anything but Jack could see it in his eyes when he looked straight back at him: what the hell Jack, you don’t cook for your husband ? When he’s not only been cooking for you, but he brings in plates and plates of amazing baked goods for the team? Really Jack? For shame. He could hear it clearly in his head in Snowy’s smooth drawl. When Snowy looked down at his own food, breaking the eye contact that went on only for a second or two, Jack chastised himself. Snowy would never seriously say something like that. Chirp him to hell and back? Oh for sure.

Jack snapped out of it when Tater exclaimed, “Oh Zimmboni! Cook this, is perfect!” Tater wiggled the phone in Jack’s face. Taking it back he looked down at the screen, it looked like it was no longer on Pinterest but rather on a blog post.

Snowy snorted, “Oh yeah? Or is it just something you want to eat?”

“Of course I want to eat, if I want to eat it is going to be good for little B!”

The two chirped back and forth while Jack scrolled through the blog. It was a blog post with several other recipes in it. There’s a lot of text, the post going on and on about the bloggers family —something about a family reunion?— with so many pictures of people and food. By a photographers standpoint it wasn’t actually that bad. The composition was actually quite nice, and the lighting in all the shots was beautiful. Jack mentally noted to go back to the blog again later but for now he went back to looking for the recipe that he still hadn’t gotten to despite scrolling for a good bit.

“So?” Tater looks over to Jack with an eager look. 

“Euh, what was it you wanted me to cook?”

“What! Zimmboni please.” Jack gives his phone back to Tater, feeling a bit like he just was scolded.

Tater quickly scrolled through the blog straight to the recipe and showed it to Jack.

“This one! It sounds good and looks very easy.”

The recipe read, One-pot lemon shrimp pasta . The dish was only five ingredients and the instructions themselves fit into one small paragraph. That seemed simple enough but it also sounded really good. Jack made sure to bookmark the page when Tater handed his phone back to him.

“Send updates. I want to know how it comes out.”

“Sure Tater, I’ll send you updates.”

Snowy snorted between a bite of sandwich, “Can you even cook Zimmerman?”

Jack quirked an eyebrow, “Can you?”

Snowy said nothing but gave Jack a slight nod of his head as if to say touché .

It was a fact that all the Falconers knew, something that Tater brought up constantly, is that Snowy can’t cook to save his life. At least Jack can fend for himself tasteless as his food may be.

He really hoped the shrimp pasta was as easy as it seemed.

***


The next day Jack facetimed his mother after practice.

“Maman, I need your help.”

“Oh?” Alicia raised a perfectly plucked brow.

Jack explained the situation and Alicia nodded and hummed appropriately. In the end she smiled that superstar smile, all genuine and glimmering white. A twinkle of mirth in her eyes.

“I think that’s wonderful. If anyone deserves a home cooked meal it’s Eric.”

Jacked nodded in agreement, because that was a very obvious statement. Bitty deserved everything .

“But what is it exactly that you need help with? Want me to talk you through the steps?” Alicia ginned.

“No maman.” Jack rolled his eyes playfully. “Just. Do you think it sounds good? And Should I add anything else to the food, or on the side? What about drinks that go with it? Should I even bother making a desert or should I just buy it?”

“Jack, sweetheart. The recipe sounds delicious. You’re going to have to make it for your father and I next time we visit. And you can’t go wrong with a dry rosé.” Alicia hummed a bit, thinking about Jack’s other questions. “You could add some bread for the side. Perfect for soaking up the pasta sauce. I think you should go to that bakery Eric is always going on about, and maybe get some dessert while you’re there. But I wouldn’t stress about all that, Eric knows you’re not a baker.”

Jack thanks his mother for the advice and after the call ends he heads out straight to the store to pick up all the ingredients. Before heading into the grocery he stops by Bitty’s favorite bakery and asks about pre orders and says that he’ll keep in touch. At the grocery store Jack texts his mother a picture of the bottle of wine he picks out  just in case; he gets back a string of thumb up emojis and a longer string of various hearts.

The recipe called for linguine but he knew Bitty didn’t really prefer it so he stood in the aisle looking at a box of bowtie pasta and a box of penne. Why in the world are there so many types of pasta? In the end he chucked in the penne into his basket because a mother was giving him a mean side eye for taking so long. Thankfully he didn’t have any other issues with getting the other ingredients, so the rest of the trip went a lot quicker.

At home Jack put what he could of his supplies in a box and stuffed it in the pantry, the rest went in the freezer and the fridge wrapped up so Bitty couldn’t tell what it was. It wasn’t long after that Jack found Bitty poking around in the pantry.

“I’m only looking for flour Jack. Why would I snoop when you told me not to? How could you accuse me so.” he said, thickening up his accent and looking playfully aghast.

Jack jokingly shoved him away from the pantry, “Move along Bittle we both know you keep all of the flour in the cupboard.”

“Hmm really? I guess I do, don’t I Mr. Bittle-Zimmerman. My apologies I’ll be making my way along to the cupboards then.”

***


After all that Jack was sucked into the world of hockey. The playoffs were right around the corner and the Falconers were doubling down in preparation for it. They had a good chance of making it through. So Jack promptly forgot about cooking dinner for his husband and was in full hockey robot mode. Bitty was just as busy with his second book, and he knew how Jack got during the playoffs so he didn’t mention anything. After all, if he really wanted Jack would have all the time in the world to cook when the offseason came around.

***


It was an earlier night than usual for Jack. He had to be up extra early for a flight to Pittsburgh and wanted to get enough sleep so that he wasn’t wound up for the whole plane ride. Bitty was getting ready for bed, brushing his teeth in the bathroom.

When he hopped into bed and kissed Jack goodnight it was minty and sweet.

Before he drifted off into sleep he had a feeling that he was forgetting something.

***


They’re a second game into the playoffs, and It’s a home game.

It’s warm ups, the national anthem, and then the puck drops.

A Penguin wins the face-off and Jack is right behind them. It’s give and take the whole first period, Thirdy gets a pretty goal from the blue line hitting the net right behind the goalie's shoulder. But a Penguin scored one right after, keeping them 1-1 for the rest of the first period and well into the second. Each team took shot after shot on the goal but none were going in after those first two goals from each team.

It’s when they come back onto the ice for the third period that it all goes to shit.

Jack has the puck and is on his way into the offensive zone, he’s got a huge Penguin on his heels (number 85) and he’s trying hard to push Jack toward the boards. Jack clenches his mouth guard and takes a quick look around to see if anyone is near to pass the puck to. He gives the puck away at the last moment, but Jack was too close to the boards when 85 slashes him with his stick on the outside of his right leg, taking his skates right out from under him and with the speed they were both skating at there was no way to stop 85 from crushing Jack right into the boards.

Jack wasn’t sure if he heard a whistle or not, but he was already falling. His shoulder hit the glass first and on the way down his head hit the edge of the dasher board, helmet catching and flying off. His temple hits the ice and it all goes black for a second. When he opens his eye the lights from the rink are blinding and for a very long second Jack panics and then he’s aware of pain and everything blows up around him. He can hear Tater cursing in russin, he already knows he probably has 85’s jersey in his large fists. Thirdy is asking how Jack feels, and he can only blink at him slowly and then he’s cursing as well. Jack isn’t exactly sure how long it takes, but at some point the team doctor is out on the ice blocking his view of the rafters asking him too many questions. What hurts? Everything. Can he move? Sure, but he doesn’t want to. Finally, he asks if Jack needs a stretcher and Jack says no so the trainer and Thirdy help him up and help him across the ice, players around them tapping their sticks on the ice and against the boards.

He’s nauseous the whole way across the ice and it takes everything in him not to spue across it. His head is pounding, his ears are buzzing, and the world is spinning. It’s nothing like the smaller concussion he got while in the Q. He’s been lucky so far, but he guessed it was bound to run out at some point.

After Jack is off the ice things get a little hazy, the last thing Jack wants to be at the moment is awake. Bitty is looking frantic and now Jack feels guilty and he has a pounding headache. The trip to the hospital is pretty unmemorable to him, and while at the hospital the haze isn’t as bad he’s still having a pretty terrible time. Jack goes through all the necessary procedures, takes too long to answer a few of the doctor's simple questions and promptly gets shoved into an MRI machine and then he’s waking up in a hospital bed, the lights are off. Bitty is sleeping on the most uncomfortable looking couch in existence next to his bed, and he’s really hating 85 right about now.

Jack takes stock of himself. His head is unsurprisingly still pounding, he lifts a hand to graze at his temple and it’s tender as hell. Probably already bruised up. His shoulder is stiff, twinging with the slightest movement. And most of all he wants to sleep for a good solid month. Jack tries moving a bit but after his body screams at him he decides he’ll just wither away in the position he’s in at the moment.

A gasp to his left shocks him and he winches when he jumps a bit at it.

“You’re awake!” Bitty was off of the couch in a blink and next to Jack holding onto his hand in moments.

“How’re you feelin’ hun? I know it's probably terrible.”

Frowning, Jack thinks back to when Bitty was sprawled on the ice helmet feet away from him. The terror he felt. It’s unfortunately a part of the game and can happen to anyone but Jack still feels bad about the undoubtable stress Bitty probably went through having to watch what happened to Jack from behind the glass unable to get to him.

“Sorry Bits.”

Confused Bitty responds, “What for? If anyone has to be sorry it’s that 85.”

“It’s ju-” Jack was cut off by the doctor entering his room. She explained the situation to both Jack and Bitty but Jack wasn’t really paying much attention. The pain behind his eyes was making it hard to concentrate. Apparently he has a grade 3 concussion and at some point during the hit he popped his shoulder in and out.

They want to keep him overnight for observation. Jack was going to protest but thought better of it when he saw Bitty’s glare. Jack would have rolled his eyes if it didn’t cause him pain, so he closed them instead raising the cheap hospital blanket to his chin.

Bitty continued to talk to the doctor, their voices a low whisper. Tabarnak , Jack thought. He was out for at least a month, maybe two. Meaning he was done, he was officially out for the rest of playoffs. 

At least he had more than enough time to heal.

He must have dozed off for a few because when he came to again the doctor was gone and Marty was handing a bag off to Bitty. Marty had retired the year prior but hangs out with everyone whenever he’s not busy with his family, and gives Tater pointers from time to time since he handed off his A to him.

“Whenever you’re ready to leave you guys just give me a call and I’ll pick you up.”

Jack wanted to thank Marty but one second he was blinking and when he opened his eyes again —with great reluctance— he was gone and a nurse was checking out the machines next to his bed, a soft light making its way through the shut blinds. Bitty wasn’t on the couch next to him but the nurse saw him looking around and said that he had only left a few minutes ago, so that left Jack to deal with the nurses poking and prodding him after what felt like zero hours of sleep despite knocking out for a while.

He hated hospitals and he hated being incapacitated. Jack knew he was a horrible patient, but he’d always been like that. Though he thought he was polite enough to the poor nurse who had to deal with him.

For breakfast they gave him some bland soup and crackers that Jack didn’t really want to eat, but Bitty came back just as they were rolling in the cart, a cup of steaming cafeteria coffee in his hand. He gave Jack a look and it was enough that he begrudgingly slurped at his watery soup.

A quick visit from the doctor and some tests later and Jack was free to go home. Not without explicit warning from the doctor and nurses to not strain himself and to listen to their instructions. To get the frown off his face Bitty read the texts from the Falcs and the old SMH hockey team telling him to get well soon, as they escaped by way of a back door straight into Marty’s car to make a clean getaway.

“You know the drill.” Bitty said as soon as they made it home, the door locked behind them.

Jack sighed, he did in fact know the drill. It was drilled into him by several people in the hospital and as well as Marty on the way home.

“Bits. Bud. I stink. I still have to shower.”
Jack felt grimmy. He never got to shower after the game and on top of that he has hospital all over him.

Bitty scrunched up his nose, “Yeah. You reek.”

A quick shower later with Bitty keeping watch on the toilet who gave him a play by play of the rest of the game after Jack’s exit. He was honest with him back at the hospital when Jack asked how the team fared after his exit. Short answer was that Falcs lost in regulation, 1-3 (in the end the Falconers advanced to game six without Jack, they fought hard but it wasn't enough and they lost it all in the next round. It’s hard to lose when you’re so close, but Jack found it especially difficult not being there for his team when they needed him the most).  

Jack went straight to bed after his quick shower, his mattress felt amazing after laying in the lump of a thing the hospital made it’s patience lay in. He was staring at the ceiling thinking about all the things he wasn’t able to do when Bitty came in a few minutes later, a bowl of steaming something in his hands.

“Chicken soup! You definitely need to get something in you, I have no idea what they tried feeding you back at the hospital but it definitely shouldn’t have the right to be called soup, let alone chicken soup.” Bitty was handing it off to Jack his fingertips barely grazed the bowl when it hit him. It was so sudden that Jack physically recoiled, shocking both Bitty and himself.

“Bits!” Jack gasped, pulling his hands back.

Bitty pulled the bowl back towards himself, almost flingling the contents of it all over the both of them. “What oh my god I didn’t think the bowl was that hot!”

Shoving his face into his hands he groaned, “I was supposed to cook dinner for you!”

Setting down the bowl of soup on the nightstand on Jack's side he let out a long d’awww , “I wondered how long it would be until you remembered.”

He gave Jack's upper arm a little squeeze.

“I think you get a pass from cooking. You were all busy getting ready for playoffs and then actually making it to the playoffs! And well...” And he waved a hand over Jack. “Considering your bedridden figure ‘n all. Plus that terrible looking bruise on your head.”

“But Bitty it was supposed to be a thing . I even bought everything ahead of time. I was even going to pre order bread from your favorite bakery. I talked to them and everything. Why didn’t you say anything?” Jack only felt slightly betrayed.

“Don’t you worry about cooking for me mister!” Bitty scolded, “You had this idea come into your head when playoffs were creeping up right around the corner, you know how you get during this part of the season. And well you just worry about getting better and then you can make me dinner whenever you want.”

Picking the bowl of soup back up Bitty hands it off to Jack or he tires to and is unsuccessful because Jack is crossing his arms and pouting in bed like an overgrown toddler.

“Oh my god!”

Jack harrumphs. 

“You infant!” Bitty is trying really hard not to smile. “You giant manchild! Are you seriously refusing my soup? Do you think I won’t tweet about this?” Bitty wipes his smile away, putting on his most serious expression. “Eat the damn soup Jack.” he says, making it sound like a warning.

“What are you going to do if I don’t eat the soup?” Jack smirks back.

Bitty mutters under his breath, “ Geez for someone with a serious concussion… ” and then he trails off and says louder.

“Jack you don’t wanna play these games with me. Not only will I call you mother, who I was assured will come down with the drop of a hat, your father in tow. But I will call Shitty as well.”

How quickly Jack uncrossed his arms and grabbed the bowl of soup had Bitty stuffing his laughter behind both of his hands.

“My own husband on the cusp of betrayal.”

It was Bitty’s turn to smirk.

***


The first week Jack caught up on a lot of sleep and listened to one full audiobook read outloud to him from his laptop that he carried from room to room when he felt restless and was sick of lying in bed. That was all he could really do. Listen to his audiobook for a few minutes a time, rest, get up, walk around the house, get a terrible headache, nap, repeat. And worst of all he wasn’t allowed in the kitchen when Bitty was around. Which at the moment was all the time.

Jack has never wanted to cook a meal so badly, he was so excited to be able to do something for his husband who works so hard. But Bitty refused to let him cross the threshold between the dining room and kitchen, even if Jack claimed it was just for a glass of water. To which Bitty would then say, “You have a glass and a water bottle and a gatorade next to the bed.” and then Jack would turn tail and lay under the covers because the bright natural lighting from the kitchen was stabbing his eyes like knives.

Without hockey, or TV, or physical books Jack was bored out of his mind by the second week. The bruising around his temple had turned a sickly shade of pale greens and brights yellows and browns. The headaches were still there but definitely not as bad as the week prior. But he still wasn’t allowed to do much of anything, especially with Bitty keeping like a sentinel; Guardian of the Kitchen. Jack could admit himself he was getting restless and he was definitely being a grump at times. Bitty thankfully didn’t take his shit moods and would sweetly tell Jack to take a nap if he was going to be ill-tempered, or to take up knitting or something to keep him occupied.

After a few days into the second week of The Concussion, Jack was waking up from a mid afternoon nap and was on his way to the kitchen to be a bother when he overheard Bitty talking to someone in the living room. Jack peaked his head in and waved to Bitty who was talking on the phone, pacing back and forth barefoot on their extremely soft white (fake) fur rug. Bitty waved back absent mindley and then did a double take, glaring at Jack he did the I’m watching you hand motion and then pointed sternly at the couch.

Jack shrugged and plopped right down in the middle of their couch wrapping a plush throw blanket around himself, catching the rest of Bitty’s conversation.

“You know I would love to and I would hate to cancel but Betty, I don’t think I can go.”

And nope. Jack had a hunch on what this was about and Jack was definitely not letting Bitty cancel.

Getting up from the couch Jack stood in front of Bitty who gave him a curious look. Jack looked right at him and whispered, “Go!”.

With a furrowed brow he shook his head, while Jack nodded his.

“Yes! Go! I can take care of myself just fine. Bits, go to your convention.” Jack whispered.

Bitty bit at his bottom lip, thought about it for a second and then told his agent. “On second thought Betty I think I will be able to make it. You can go ahead and confirm!”

The yay! That came from the other end of the phone was loud enough for Jack to hear as he fell back onto the couch.

When Bitty hung up with the date and hour of his flight to California written on a notepad, he put his hands on his waist and gave Jack a very squinty glare.

“Want me outta your hair don’t ya?”

Chuckling Jack pulled Bitty down onto the couch hugging him but then unwrapped the blanket from himself, rewrapped it around the both of them and then slinked his arms back around Bitty.

“No Bits. But you have stuff to do and just because I’m not working at the moment means you stop working too. I don’t want you to miss out on all of these opportunities you’re getting!”

Bitty went to protest but Jack cut in before he could say anything.

“I know you rescheduled a meeting with that publishing company in New York the other day.”

Bitty tsked, but then he hugged Jack tightly back.

So they came to an agreement and Bitty was on his way to LA by the end of the week.

And Jack thought he was bored before. But at least got to practice the dish he was supposed to have cooked for Bitty. Instead he invited Tater over who had a lot of input with how Jack prepared the food and cut vegetables. But he was always good company even when he was nagging over Jack's shoulder the whole time he was cooking.

“‘S very good!” Tater hummed as he chowed down on Jack's creation. “Have to facetime Snowy, show that Zimmboni can cook.”

“Were you guys seriously doubting me?”

“Yes.” Came from Taters phone that he was pointing at his own half eaten plate of pasta. Jack took his own to wash having finished while Tater chattered, shaking his head on the way to the sink.

By the third week Jack is still bored out of his mind, but at least Bitty is back, the downside is that he’s really doubling up on his youtube content in anticipation of his second book release. He’s doing several collaborations. He actually already did a few while he was in LA and he’s been editing every day hunched over his laptop at odd hours because he still refuses to hire someone else to do it for him.

Jack had forgotten that one of the collabs was with the Falcs social media team, filming something for his own channel and a second video for FalcsTV. So when he walked into the kitchen one Saturday morning and saw the kitchen in full Bitty-Is-Recoriging mode with the addition of Poots, Tater, and Snowy. Jack was actually surprised and thankful he had actually put on pants because his teammates would never let him live it down for walking around half naked in his own home . Unfortunately Jack was having a major headache that day so he only stayed for some hellos and a snack before he retreated back into the bedroom for the rest of the day. He was feeling a little better by the time Bitty came in ready for bed, cuddling up to him and falling asleep in seconds, breath ticking the back of his neck.

The fourth week was an improvement from the previous ones. Bitty was away again finalizing book deal stuff so Jack was home alone. But Jack was finally able to do some reading and light trainer approved workouts with the approval of his doctor after a follow up. Now that he had something to occupy his time with he was not only feeling better physically but also mentally.

Best of all was the fact that Jack was able to get onto the ice, with the stipulation of not overworking himself. But the sooner he was on the ice the sooner he could get with his personal trainer, and get his ass kicked into shape again. He has to get his stamina back up though, a few circles around the ice and he was definitely feeling it. It would only be another few weeks until Jack was able to officially get to work on putting his body back into shape.

By the time Jack was good to go he was hopping on a plane to Quebec for a quick trip to see his parents. He was getting call after call from his father complaining about not knowing what his face looked like anymore— despite several facetime calls. Jack told him he could come down himself and his father said, “I’m getting old Jack, I’m tired of traveling. I've done it my whole life you’ll understand when you get to my age.”

“Ok old man I’ll fly up.”

“Hey!” Bob protested at being called old by his son, when two seconds ago he was just complaining about getting old. Jack had to shake his head at that.

In all honesty the second his father mentioned a visit to his old home Jack was already pulling up listings of flights and had bought a ticket while his dad was blustering on about how good he looked for his age or something like that. Jack had tuned him out a bit.

A month and some weeks out of commission, stuck at home with not much to keep him entertained and Jack was itching to get out. Jack would be back home in Providence in time for his birthday —so would Bitty who was still out… doing something Jack wasn’t too sure but he knew it invloed the new book and a possible show? Bitty was being very hush hush about it. He said he didn’t want to jinx anything. Jack wasn’t supposed to have heard that particular conversation but he was in the room first when Bitty answered the phone, so that was all on his husband.

It only hit him while he was out having dinner with his parents and they asked him what he was planning for his birthday that he was like huh .

Jack is turning thirty.

The big three-oh.

In reality Jack wasn’t bothered by turning thirty, he was still plenty young. In the hockey world though, it made him sweat a little. He learned not to pay attention to the media long ago, but he still has bad days and when several outlets ragged on about how he’s past his prime years he can’t help but let it bother him a little.

He was on the phone with Bitty when his birthday came up again.

“So did you want to do anything special for your birthday? We both get back on the 1st right? We can plan something out if you want. We haven’t really had time to talk about it huh?” Bitty’s voice crackled through Jack’s phone. On the screen Jack was getting a spectacular view of his nose and all the hair inside it.

Jack laid back onto the overstuffed pillow his mother kept in his old bedroom, having changed it long ago to a guest bedroom changing out his old twin to a full.

“I don’t know, I haven’t really thought about it. It’s just another birthday you know? I think I’ve done all there is to do. Or at least all I’ve ever really wanted to do birthday wise.”

Bitty shifted, propping his phone up against a pillow or something because now Jack was able to see him from his head to his chest. He was fluffing up pillows and getting comfortable for bed, laying down to face Jack fully.

He looked at Jack sideways from his current position laying down.

“What about tigers?”

“Tigers?”

“Oh yeah tigers.” he said with a serious tone "Thirty is kind of a big deal, you’re no longer twenty. I think that deserves a wild party with some tigers.”

“Nah, I think that’s more of a fiftieth birthday type of thing.”

Bitty paused but then went, “Hmmm Ok then!”

Not long after that they said their goodnights and when Jack’s screen went black he squinted at his reflection with an inkling of suspicion.

“He’s definitely trying to plan something.”

***


It was late but he was back home, suitcase in hand Jack was dead on his feet. Never more glad to be home. He was greeted by the smell of freshly baked pie and if Jack listened closely he could hear his bed calling to him.

But first. Bitty.

He was sitting at the dining room table typing away at his laptop with a plate left only with pie crumbs next to him. He must have heard Jack walk in because he immediately closes his laptop and turns around with a blinding smile and holds his arms out for a hug that Jack was already going to give.

“Welcome back handsome.” Bitty said into Jack’s chest. “Feels like I haven’t seen you in forever.”

Jack smiled, “You’ve been busy.” he passed a hand through Bitty’s freshly shaved undercut.

Sighing, Bitty losend up in Jack arms, “Yeah it’s all been a bit hectic but I’ve got some exciting stuff coming along.”

“Anything you want to share with your loving husband?”

“I don’t want to say anything just yet!”

“Ok, ok! Well if you’re done here want to get to bed?”

“I would love nothing more.”

***


Jack sleeps in the next day, he decides that morning the first time he wakes up to take the day off from his morning run. The second time he wakes up it’s because Bitty is getting out of bed, he kisses Jack’s forehead and then Jack out again. The third and final time Jack wakes up it’s because he’s being crushed.

“HAPPY BIRTHDAY BRAH!”

Jack shoves Shitty off from him and gives him an icy glare.

“What the fuck Shits? And my birthday is tomorrow!”

“I know.”

Jack exhales loudly and gets out of bed. No use in trying to get anymore sleep with Shitty around.

In the kitchen he finds Lardo and Bitty quietly conversing, pie dough rolled out between them and Jack is so sure that a pie is already baking away in the oven, even if the smell wasn’t a dead give away.

The day is filled with a lot of pie and catching up.

The only time they’ve had recently to talk is the odd facetime call and whenever Lardo and Shitty had time for a game or two in Boston. Shitty is busy with his firm and Lardo has been getting huge commissions from a few major companies so they’ve all been fairly busy with life and being adults. So it’s nice to take a day to talk, have a couple of beers and eat a few pies while screaming at each other over Mario Kart and Smash.

It’s later at night when they’ve just finished watching 1917 —Jack’s been wanting to watch it but kept on forgetting about it until Lardo mentioned it when they were all throwing suggestions for movies— that Shitty says.

“Hey we’re going out tomorrow for a little bit, just you and me. Two bros out in the town.” 

Jack laughs out loud and replies, “Sure Shitty.”

And the following day at nine in the morning Jack wakes up with Bitty in his arms, his steady breath hitting the side of his neck and he's officially thirty years old.

Bitty makes him special birthday pancakes for breakfast —they’re really just maple blueberry pancakes, and everyone else is having them too— and Shitty insists that they pop a single candle in his stack and sing him happy birthday.

When that’s all done and they’re all full, Shitty slaps Jack on the back and tells him to get ready. On their way out Bitty gives him a tight hug, Lardo gives him one too that’s less constricting and then Jack is in Shitty’s hands.

Shitty’s first stop is at the historic downtown area in Providence where a cluster of vintage stores crowd both sides of the street. They both take their time visiting each store, looking through them and all they have to hold.

In one of the stores dedicated to mostly just vintage clothing Shitty finds a horrendously patterned disco shirt, it’s made of a material that squeaks.

“Lardo’s going to kill me if I let you bring that home.”

“Brah, if I have to wear clothing it might as well be clothes that speak to my soul.”

Jack walks out of the store as Shitty is forking the cash over to an all too pleased cashier, and walks into the next one over. And it’s much more what Jack is into. The smell of old books permeates the air, it’s very dusty and books line shelves are stuffed into bins, and there are even towers of books stacked up on the floor all over. He’s already across the room looking through the titles on the shelves in the back when Shitty comes rustling in with his bag that holds the ugliest shirt Jack has ever seen is being carried in.

He may not be the most fashion forward, and he may have committed some fashion crimes in his time but come on.

Looking down at his watch Jack can’t help but be shocked at the amount of time that’s flown by while they were walking around. It’s well into the afternoon and Jack was getting kind of hungry.  So he goes to pay for the little pile of books he’s gathered (one is a personal journal dated from 1946, another was an old mystery novel and cute little vintage cookbook for Bitty.) and asks Shitty if he wants to go get some food.

He hums a bit glancing at his phone before answering Jack, “I think…” he types out a text, “We should eat something light. I'm sure Bitty is planning some sort of feast or something for when we get back.”

“Ha, you’re not wrong.”

So they find a cart selling hot dogs and walk to a park nearby to eat their food at a pickin table by a lake. Jack finished his two dogs in a few bites but Shitty is still on just one. He’s doing a lot more talking than eating, telling a ridiculous story about an intern and a major coffee mishap that invloed a few sick and one injured.

By the time Shitty was done with both of his hotdogs and the story it was already half past three. Shitty was furiously texting on his phone, while Jack sares off towards a cluster of trees where two squirrels were chasing each other around the base, upwards, and then back down again.

“Ok time to go!” Shitty shouted, slamming his phone down the table.

“Euh, ok?” It was getting kind of late so Jack picked up his books and followed Shitty back to his car.

When they were on the way home Jack realized what was happening.

Bitty had planned a party.

A few minutes later his suspicions were confirmed when all along his driveway and lawn were a cluster of cars. Loud music was coming from inside and out of the house.

Jack gave Shitty a sidelong glance; his smile was wide underneath his mustache.

The front door was already open and when he walked in the party was already underway. He dropped off his books at a table full of gifts before making his way through his own birthday party.

Most of the Falconers and the old Samwell hockey team were gathered throughout the house and the backyard. He even spots his mother and father mingling with George by the couches.

Ransom and Holster screamed at him and jostled him around when they spotted him. Nursery, Dex, and Chowder were more subdued but still loud enough to draw the attention of Tater and Snowy who greeted him like Ransom and Holster did which was much more obnoxious because he sees them regularly. And so it went, much the same as he made his way throughout the house and into the backyard, meeting old teammates and saying hello to his current teammates' families.

When he finally made it to the backyard with a plate full of food in one hand and a cup of water in the other he was greeted by Marty, Thirdy and their respective wives. They chattered for a little while, Jack mostly listening while he ate, when a shrill scream drew his attention away.

It was Bitty running around the grass playing with a pack of children and preteens, they all seemed to be playing a fierce game of tag.

Jack knew the second he laid eyes on his husband his eyes went soft. Something bloomed in his chest at the thought of Bitty running around with a child of their own in this very backyard.

Marty lightly punched his arm, nodding to the group of children currently chasing Bitty.

“You talk to him about it yet?”

Nodding Jack replied, “It’ll come up from time to time, we’ve talked about adopting.” and they have talked about it. It’s always out of the blue when they’re both silent, in bed or watching TV, or out for a walk. Bitty will say, “We should adopt.” and Jack will agree, and then they both say, “In the future.”

But Jack right then in that moment, with Bitty laughing under a dogpile of giggling children, thinks why not now?

It’s not long after that Bitty comes jogging up to him, grass stains on his knees, a smile stretched across his face making his cheek so very pink. He stands on his toes and gives a sloppy kiss on his cheek.

“Time for cake?”

Jack grins and nods and they go hand in hand into the kitchen and the windows can barely stand it when everyone sings happy birthday.

***


“There's only one thing I really wanted for my Birthday that I didn’t get yesterday.” Jack is making the both of them smoothies. His mother and father helped them clean up the morning after Jack’s party. They left a while ago telling them to enjoy themselves, so now it’s just Bitty and Jack back in the kitchen where they always tend to gravitate to.

“And what’s that?”

“I never got to make you that dinner I promised.”

Pearls of laughter spill out from deep within Bitty’s chest.

“Alright I think it’s about time I get this dinner.”

Neither of them wanted to go out so Jack orders the ingredients through a delivery app and in the meantime they bake a pie. Jack has baked plenty of pies with Bitty over the years at this point, he’s become quite the expert at draping the crust just right and his lattice is always laced perfectly. The one they make is more for the fun of it, since they both have had their fair share of sweets during the last few days. The pie is probably going to a grateful neighbor later on.

“Yesterday was really nice Bits, thank you for that.”

Bitty who’s washing his hands free of flour smiles warmly at him, “Anything for you hun, I just wanted you to have a special day. You only turn thirty once.” Bitty takes a handtowl and wipes his hands dry. “And I’ll have you know it was Shitty’s idea to take out and “distract you”.”

“Of course it was” Jack grins, “He did a decent job of it but I had my suspicions by the end.”

“Well I wasn’t really trying to hide the fact, but you know how that man gets.”

Later on when the ingredients are delivered and Bitty is watching Jack try and fail to neatly devein the shrimp does Jack pop the question.

“Did you want to adopt a kid?”

Bitty splutters into his cup of wine, “Now?”

Shrugging Jack replies, “Yeah now. Well not right this moment obviously it’s a process but, yeah. Now.”

Nearly out of seat Bitty gushes, “Yes let's have a kid now! We’ve waited long enough haven't we?”

The food is done in fifteen minutes, and they're both on the couch forgoing the dining room for the night. Bitty is profuse with the compliments towards Jack’s cooking, moaning with every bite.  

“If I had known we had a secret chef in the house I would have let you cook dinner more often!”

“Are you actually admitting that you weren’t letting me cook on purpose this whole time?”

Instead of replying Bitty shoves a mouthful of pasta in his mouth. Jack fakes being wounded in the chest but they’re both giggling.

After the dishes are done they both hunch over Bitty’s laptop looking up the process on how to adopt a child in Rhode Island. At this moment he’s warm and happy, he finally cooked his husband an actual dinner served with fancy wine and all. He'd never thought back when he was teen that he would be here now. Out in the NHL married to another man looking up forms for adoption.

It was a thorny path he followed to get here but he wouldn’t change it for the world.