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The good, the bad, and... the hungry?

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So far, it was a surprisingly pleasant day. Not that most days in retirement weren’t pleasant, but Bob had gotten used to waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Alicia claimed that it was anxiety.

Bob just thought that his fear was reasonable. His son was the first out NHL player! And he might be doing great, but he was still aware of exactly how horrible players could be, never mind the officials within the league itself.

Still. It was a beautiful day, perfect for a somewhat leisurely game of golf with his friends.

(He needed to beat Cubes, okay? 10 years of playing golf with the same people and he never managed to beat this one former teammate. It was going to be his time at some point. It had to be.)

The sky was a clear, cloudless blue, and despite being the middle of summer, it wasn’t yet stiflingly hot. Bob felt himself fully relax for the first time that day. Since the Falcs entered the playoffs, he’d been incredibly stressed. He didn’t want anything to happen to Jack, especially since a lot of players wanted to target a star forward on a very competitive team.

Cubes called over to him. “Hey! Old man! We’re moving to the next hole!”

Bob could hear the rest of his friends chuckling from the golf cart. When golfing with former NHL players, all it took was several weeks difference to be dubbed an old man.

After their early morning tee time, Bob always went out to brunch with his old friends. It was a tradition, a way to just spend some time with each other. It was a combo of chirping, talking about what was happening in the NHL, and gossiping like a bunch of old ladies. Bob always had the best gossip; he found out about everything through Alicia.

The conversation had started off as normal, trash-talking Derzy, Bob swearing revenge on Cubes, and getting side-eyed by the little old ladies at the table next to them for being too loud.

(When the six of them got together, someone always disapproved, so Bob just flashed his most disarming smile and told their waiter that he would pay for their food. Being a former pro hockey player solved a lot of problems, including not getting the staff to hate them. They were loud, but they were polite. And they tipped well.)

By the time their omelettes and crepes arrived, the conversation had shifted. Bob had just spent the last ten minutes bragging about the Falcs’ chances at the Cup, with Walter backing him up. Charlie had just shifted awkwardly in his seat; unfortunately, he was a Sabres fan. He couldn’t say shit about the Cup stakes. His team hadn’t won in ages.

Chazzy, being the one who was most involved in the league, started talking about NHL gossip, most of which seemed to revolve around Jack Zimmermann. At larger, more public events, Chazzy always shot Bob a sympathetic glance whenever he came up. The gossip around him was never good, even if some of it was so wrong that it was entertaining. Bob had a group chat with Chazzy, his husband, and Bitty for the worst takes.

Chazzy stared down at the menu before starting to talk again.

“So, I don’t know how, but Jamie heard about this random fucking story from a guy who knows the nutritionists and a lot of the players.”

Chazzy paused, looking at everyone’s face, trying to judge their reactions. He was amazing at telling stories, feeding off of his audience. Everyone was staring at him, ready to hear more.

He sipped his coffee, trying to build suspense.

“Somehow, all of these random players are getting a fuck ton of baked goods. And I mean really fucking good stuff! He lowered his voice. “Apparently, this guy I know tried it, and he said that he would sell his soul for another slice. Almost like it’s addictive.”

 

Bob felt that familiar fear start to resurface. He knew only one person who’s pies were described as that good. But it couldn’t be him, right?

He forced himself to take a few deep breaths, spinning his glass of water around and around. It wasn’t good to jump to conclusions too quickly. At the same exact time, Bob’s phone buzzed. He had a text from Cubes, telling him not to trust gossip. His friends were probably right. It’s just some pie, and these kinds of stories were usually blown out of proportion.

Chazzy had kept talking, too wrapped up in the tale to notice. “Like, if it was just baked goods, that would be one thing. But the weirdest thing is that everyone seems to get one of these heavenly pies right after a loss. And most of the time, the next few games, they do amazing, right?”

He shrugged. “Kinda makes you wonder if it’s really just a normal pie, I mean, who knows if a pie can actually be that good.”

Bob felt his breathing speed up, and he started to move the water around faster and faster, trying to hide how nervous he was. Chazzy looked back at him. “Hey, Bob.”

He sounded concerned. “You do know it’s just a story, right? I mean, you of all people should know how wrong the gossip can be.”

Bob had been around long enough to know that there was a grain of truth in every story. And he knew of one person who made pies that amazing. The gossip had to be right; it couldn’t just be pies. And this could spell disaster for the people he cared about most.

He pushed his chair back, and the wood screeched, prompting yet another stink eye from the next table over. Bob tried to smile as everyone stared at him. He couldn’t let them know anything about what he suspected.

“Nice brunch, eh?”

Looking around the table, he knew that all of his friends were concerned. Shit. It was time to try another tactic: relying on Alicia’s busy schedule.

He pulled his phone out of his pocket, pretending to look at his notifications. “Shit, sorry, sorry!”

Bob grabbed his coat off of the chair. “Forgot about a lunch that Alicia wanted to take me to, so I need to leave now. Next time, eh boys?”

He dashed out of the restaurant and into the car. He didn’t care what his friends thought, and he didn’t care if they knew it was fake. He just needed to see if there was any way that Eric Richard Bittle, his son’s fiance, was responsible for a doping scandal in the NHL.

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Miles away, Bitty was running through everything he needed to do. Ever since college, he’d basically done two jobs: one keeping up with his channel, another providing pies to professional hockey players. It was a tricky business, but he couldn’t imagine doing anything else with his life. He loved it too much to give it up.

He sipped his coffee, checking to see if he had any orders while scrolling through Pinterest. His Momma sometimes posted amazing recipes that he had to use for his channel, and he was dealing with a creative block lately. Bitty was pretty sure that Jack preferred no baked goods to a kitchen full of jam and pies, but it really wasn’t helping his confidence.

There had been no new messages, so Bitty switched to scrolling through Twitter. He saw a lot of notifications from Bob Zimmermann, mainly on his older videos. He figured that Bob just wanted to see what he’d done all through college, so he switched to googling recipes for tarte au sucre. He’d give Jack’s dad one of his favorite treats, as a thank you for his support. And traditional Québécois recipes might be the new content his channel needed anyway.

Bitty switched on one of his favorite playlists and got to work.

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Miles away, Bob was pacing, walking around and around and around the coffee table in the living room, just barely avoiding the delicate keepsakes perched on the edge.

He had to do something. He just needed to. He trusted Bitty, but something about the pies just didn’t sit right. Pie couldn’t be that good. Pie was never just that good.

He stopped suddenly, barely managing to catch the small vase he dislodged. This was Bitty he was talking about. If anything was going on, there should be something on his Twitter. Right? There had to be a hint there.

Four hours later he hadn’t found anything. It was all just… so Bitty. It was peppy, occasionally snarky, and he was now firmly on his son-in-law’s side in the Phelps-Bittle jam war! Scrolling through Bitty’s social media was turning out to be an amazing way to waste a day. But everything was so… innocent.

(Not that Bitty was innocent in any way. He’d heard Bitty film before. The outtakes were filled with cursing and a lot of cutting comments that didn’t fit his online persona. Hell, there were a lot of times where you could hear Bob’s laughter in the background. Jack had given him a blooper reel from the time that Bob was a guest star for Hanukkah.)

He kept searching. Going back through years of tweets, seeing everything about Bitty’s life, seeing Bitty fall in love with his son. Seeing all the ways in which both of their lives had gotten better. He wasn’t too proud to admit that he shed a few tears, seeing their progress.

By midnight, Alicia made him quit staring at Twitter and dragged him to bed. And Bob still couldn’t sleep. He tossed and turned until early in the morning, at which point he grabbed his phone again, doing research on Bitty.

Alicia woke up again, squinting at her husband, silhouetted by the glow of a phone on max brightness. She sighed. It had been a long night, and she knew that Bob was in his head about something. She’d tried to get him to go to sleep, but she should’ve known that he was too stressed for that to happen.

“Bob? Honey?”

Bob turned towards her, panicking slightly. She could tell that he felt bad for waking her up. “Euh. Sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you up.”

She sat up, sheets shifting off of her body. “Bob. I don’t feel bad that you woke me up. I just thought that we were going to try to talk about it more when you were worrying.”

She smiled up at him. “I’m always here for you.”

The room was quiet for a second. Bob sighed, seeming to deflate. “I was at golf with the boys, and they were talking about Bitty. About these pies that were so good, players would sell their soul for a bite.”

Alicia had tasted Bitty’s pie before. Bob hadn’t. The one time he could have grabbed a bite was during Pesach, so he abstained, along with Jack. Bitty’s pies really were that good. And with the number of connections that Bitty had, he could easily get it to a lot of people in the NHL.

Thinking logically, there was nothing suspicious about any of it. Not if you knew Bitty.

Bob wasn’t thinking logically.

He looked back down at her, eyes wide. “I - just… It can’t just be pie. It’s too good, right? And any form of scandal could bring down both of their careers.”

Alicia got the subtext. Doping was always a big deal in the NHL, as with all professional sports. She put the puzzle together almost immediately. If Bitty was distributing pie all over… she could see how he would think that. Especially if he delivered pie right after big losses. There would be enough coincidences that Bob would worry.

“Honey. Just. Just look at me, okay?”

Alicia grabbed Bob’s hands, turning around so that they were sitting facing each other. She looked him right in the eyes, rubbing her thumb on the back of his hand. A small, calming motion. “You know Bitty. With everything that he’s doing, do you think he would endanger players like this? His own fiance like this?”

Bob broke eye contact, his leg starting to shake. Alicia pulled in so that she was sitting an inch or two closer.

“You’re right. None of it makes sense. Not like this.” Bob sighed. “I guess… you’re probably right.”

Bob and Alicia sat there for a few moments, still staring into each other's eyes. Alicia was tired, half asleep. She didn’t really notice that Bob’s leg had started to shake, that his fingers were twitching, as if he was trying to escape her hold. She only finally noticed when he broke eye contact all at once, eyes flitting around the room. He pulled his hands away and started twisting his fingers together, as if that one little motion could expend all of the nervous energy.

“It can’t be just pie, Alicia.” His voice was low, but incredibly insistent. “None of it adds up, I mean - just - none of it makes sense!”

She could see the panic in his eyes, and she knew that any attempt to help him would fail. It was too late to be dealing with this, not right now, not when it had been years since she’d done the same thing with Jack. The one thing left was to be firm, but reassuring.

She missed that tone by a mile.

“Bob. It is just fucking pie, okay? Have a piece and it’ll explain everything.”

Alicia wasn’t trying to be cruel, but she saw the hurt in his eyes. It was early in the morning, she was tired, and she wanted to go back to sleep. “Sorry, that sounded a bit harsh. I was trying to reassure you.”

Bob sighed again, turning so that he could put on his slippers. “It’s fine, Allie. I’m just going to sit in the living room for a bit.”

She smiled at him. “It’s all going to be okay, you know that, dear?”

“I know. Good night, Alicia.”

Alicia laid down and turned off the light.

Bob still didn’t trust his wife’s insight. He just couldn’t see how there couldn’t be some sort of conspiracy. Everything just seemed a bit too big and too organized, but he didn’t know who he could trust to provide an accurate picture of what Bitty was up to. He grabbed his phone, opening Twitter and going into his DM’s. He needed to get the full story.

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Later that morning, he called Tater. He liked Tater. He’d always been there for Jack and Bitty, and he thought it was better to get both sides of the situation: a perspective from someone who liked Bitty, and from someone who really didn’t know him at all.

Tater’s face popped up onscreen almost immediately.

“Hey! Bad Zimmboni! What’s up!”

Bob felt his face curl into a smile, even as his leg kept bouncing. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he was still afraid that he would uncover something that would ruin everything for his family.

“Hey! Tater! How are the Falcs doing?”

Tater shrugged. “Eh, could be better, but Zimmboni’s good captain, eh? Making sure we don’t work too hard before playoffs.”

Bob watched Tater as he talked for about 15 minutes about the Falcs’ season, especially about the random pranks and jokes that he’d played on the team in the last few weeks. Tater was one of the people who took his job seriously, but he also tried to lift the mood in the locker room as much as possible. He could see the influence that Tater had on the team; it worked to help Jack out when he was going full ‘French-Canadian hockey robot’, as some of his college teammates had called it.

Tater left the frame, coming back with a jar of thick, black-red jam. Bob recognized the handwriting on the label immediately. This was Bitty’s jam, and he had an opening.

“Say, Tater...” Bob shifted his shoulders a bit, leaning in, trying to sound as calm as possible. He didn’t trust Tater not to see through his performance.

“Does Bitty give you jam like that a lot? One of the boys told me about how a lot of the nutritionists are finding pies everywhere.”

Tater smiled, wagging a spoon of jam at the camera. “What they don’t know is not their problem, so I get to have pie from little B!”

Bob started to scratch at his hairline, needing some way to get rid of his nervous energy. If even players like Tater were so nonchalant about the pies… this couldn’t mean anything good. The words started spilling from his mouth before he could stop himself.

“Tater, do you know if there’s anything in that other than pie? I’m just saying this because I care for Bitty, not anything else. If you tell me anything, I can keep it a secret, I just… I need to know.”

Tater’s face shifted and he looked concerned. “Bob, you okay? You look like Zimmboni when he has bad day.”

Bob started scratching at his neck again, harder this time, to the point where it was a bit uncomfortable. “I need to know, Tater.”

Tater stared at Bob, looking him straight in the eyes. “Look. I promise. B may give us hockey players pie, but that’s all it is. Just pie. Okay?”

Bob didn’t buy it. This was the exact same line that everyone had said, and he didn’t trust it. Tater could tell that Bob didn’t trust him, so he sighed, and offered him something that nobody else had.

“Look. I’ll tell B what you ask, and he will say exact same thing. I promise. You could even ask Parson, that rat bastard. He will say same thing too. And he still doesn’t like Bitty.”

Bob sighed. Apparently today was a day where he sighed a lot. He put it down to the stress and the lack of sleep. “I’ll talk to him. Goodbye, Tater. Good luck in the playoffs, eh? Hope you beat the Cards.”

“Thanks, Big Z. Don’t worry, we will.”

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Bitty woke up to the sound of his phone buzzing. The other side of the bed was cold - Jack had gone on his morning run about an hour ago. Bitty had stopped running with his fiance as much since he graduated. 5 AM was too damn early to get up and exercise.

He rolled over and checked his phone. An edited photo of Tater’s smiling face stared up at him, but the texts seemed anything but happy. All of them were about Bob.

He skimmed the texts, seeing a few more that he’d missed from Alicia, from about 4 hours earlier. All the texts said the same thing: Bob had found out. And he’d assumed the worst, despite reassurance from multiple people.

Bitty wanted to scoff at the thought of putting anything but the normal ingredients in his pies; heaven knows that he’d told off Shitty and Lardo every time they tried to convince him to make pot brownies. But the more he heard about what Bob was doing, the more it reminded him of Jack when his anxiety got the better of him. He guessed that the anxiety was a family thing, even if one of them wouldn’t admit it.

Bitty dragged himself out of bed. He wanted to feel vaguely more human and alert before he sent Bob a message, inviting him to try one of his own pies. He figured that the only way to get Bob to calm down was to tell him the truth.

But he’d send that DM in a few hours. By all accounts, Bob had been told to talk to Kent Parson. Bitty knew that meeting would take at least an hour. Bob still hadn’t quite forgiven Kent for what he did to Jack, even if it wasn’t intentional. There was time to experiment with his homemade PSL recipe.

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Bob was glaring at his laptop screen.

He knew there was no reason for it. There really wasn’t a reason for him to resent Kent so much. Everything that happened was in the past, but still.

He couldn’t let go of the fact that Kent contributed to all of his son’s problems. Sure, they were both young. Sure, they were both under a lot of pressure, and Kent was just trying his best, and neither of them were in a good place.

But Kent had caused everything.

(It had led to some of the good things in Jack’s life. It had led to Bitty. It had led to Samwell and Jack was better for it. But he didn’t appreciate that it took Jack at his worst for this to happen.)

Bob made a conscious effort to unclench his jaw. There was no reason to be this tense. He was just here to learn more. That’s it. He didn’t need to make it more complicated. This situation was already complicated enough.

He checked the time, eyes flicking up to the top of the screen. Kent had agreed to meet with him in 5 minutes. He wasn’t sure when he was going to show up. Back in Juniors, Kent had been polite. A bit reserved, but more extroverted once you got to know him.

Everything he’d seen in the last few years made him out to be self-absorbed. Too invested in partying, but still an amazing player. Bob knew it had been true, at least a little bit, back when him and Jack were together.

Bob knew that he couldn’t trust the paparazzi, but he still didn’t know how much had changed in the years since he’d seen Kent.

A small black rectangle appeared on the screen. Two buttons. One red, one green. An obvious message: should he do it? Should he talk to Kent?

The cursor moved slowly, so slowly towards the green button. Ready to accept the call. In the two seconds before Kent showed up on screen, Bob grimaced. There was no turning back here. Not anymore. Not ever.

In some strange way, it felt like it had all led up to this. Not finding out more about Bitty and what he was doing. But finally talking to Kent after years.

Bob had a great view of the strip through the camera. A small white cat. A plate, stained purple-red from some form of berry filling. And finally Kent, barely awake, wearing an old hockey shirt. Not one from Juniors. The shirt proudly advertised one of the pro women’s teams in the US. The one closest to where Kent lived now.

Bob felt a brief pang, a memory he’d forced himself not to think about for the last 6 years. Kent and Jack sitting there, Kent adding on to the discussion. One about the importance of making hockey better for women. Minorities and people of color. About why You Can Play is so important. Bob hadn’t realized how much it mattered then, but he should’ve known by the apprehensive look on Jack’s face. How fiercely Kent agreed.

But it was all about hockey, even then. All about their careers. Even now, it was about that. He’d fight to help them. Fight even when all it does is make life harder. Fight to protect his son, even against these invisible threats.

Bob didn’t realize that his fingers had curled into fists until he looked down and saw red half moons in his palms.

Crisse. Maybe everyone was right. Maybe it was anxiety. He should probably do something about it. But also, maybe it wasn’t that bad. It was just that he cared.

“Hi.”

Bob stared back at the screen. Kent was sitting there, and he hadn’t said a word until then. He could see the concern in his face, something that he’d seen from everyone in the past few days.

“Hi, Kent. Euh, how’s the team?”

Hockey was always a good thing to talk about. It was common ground. It was a pattern he had with both of them, both Kent and Jack in Juniors. Even when they couldn’t talk about anything else, they could always talk about hockey.

The white cat rubbed up against Kent’s shoulder. He moved, trying to keep the plate out of reach. “Kit. You know that you can’t eat pie, right?”

Kent turned back to the camera. “It’s going pretty well. But it’s the offseason, so I’m not really seeing them much anymore. It’s no big deal.”

Bob realized how empty Kent’s apartment looked. It was just him. A cat. A massive TV and a view of the strip. But even now it felt impersonal. Was this what awaited Jack if he’d made it through the draft? A life where he couldn’t be himself. A life where he was stifled by the sport he cared so much about. He’d cared so much about Jack that he’d never thought about how much Kent went through as well.

“I heard that you wanted to know about Bitty’s pies.”

Kent’s voice startled Bob, pulling him from his thoughts. He smiled reassuringly.

“This pie,” he said, tilting the camera to show a half eaten slice- “is what’s left of Bitty’s ‘you got beaten by the Sabres’ gift. Mixed berry. One of my favorites.”

“I watched that game.”

Bob’s voice sounded strange. Gravelly. He coughed, but it didn’t fix it. “It was embarrassing. I didn’t know what was up with your team then.”

Kent leaned back against the couch, long and lean and fake casual. Bob could see how much the loss was bugging him, especially as the captain of a team.

“It was just some fucking shitty luck. And it was a long roadie. We were giving our best players a break. But even then… ” Kent grimaced. “It should’ve been an easy win.”

Bob realized, for the first time, that it was just all about pie. All about Bitty supporting people. And he laughed for the first time in ages. “It really is just pie, eh?”

“Just pie. Nothing else.”

Kent smiled. “I think it’s also Bitty’s way of forcing the NHL to do better. The pies are amazing, and he doesn’t give anything to the bigoted assholes. I think he’s working his way up to sharing this with management - with conditions, of course.”

“Anyone else on your team who has access?”

Bob couldn’t stop the words as they spewed out of his mouth.

Kent’s smile was twisted. He could see the pain. The hurt that he kept behind his mask. “Only two other people. And at least one of them is trying to get traded.”

“Good. I mean… not good, good,” he backtracked. “But good for them. For getting out.”

Bob could read Kent’s expression. He couldn’t leave. Not now. Not ever. His escape would be retirement, and even then, he couldn’t truly escape. He was Kent Fucking Parson. The legend.

“Kent...” Bob sighed. “I’m sorry I didn’t support you more after… after the draft. I’m sorry I couldn’t see how much you were dealing with. You were a kid. My kid, in a way. I could have helped you.”

“Don’t worry about it.”

Kent’s voice was quiet. Pinched. But he was being sincere. “We were all dealing with our own shit. And I don’t think either of us was ready for it.”

He laughed, but it was tinged with some darker emotion. “Hell. I don’t think you would’ve liked me right after the draft. Or even a few years ago.”

They were both quiet for a minute. Longer, even.

“You should go and talk to Bitty.”

Bob looked straight at Kent’s face. “What?”

“I said you should go and talk to Bitty… old man.”

Bob saw that old, sarcastic smile spread across Kent’s face.

“You can help him. And he can help you,” Kent continued. “I spent enough time with Zimms to know what it looks like when someone has the weight of the entire world on their shoulders. And if you’ll listen to me about one thing… therapy can help. A lot.”

Bob just nodded. He wasn’t sure how much else he could add. But he could definitely tell Kent one thing. “I know some of the older guys who get what you’re dealing with. If you want… I can send them your number. Make some introductions. You shouldn’t have to live like this.”

“Thanks.”

Bob waved his hand around awkwardly. “It’s nothing. And it’s the least I can do for you.”

“Same to you, old man.” Kent sighed. “I should probably get going. I usually end up doing some training right around now.”

He smiled. “See ya around, Bob.”

The call ended.

Bob just sat there for a minute, not realizing the call was over. He’d realized a lot. He’d revisited a lot. He needed a minute to think about what just happened. He needed to figure out what to do next, how to do better.

But more than that, more than anything else, he needed to talk to Bitty.

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Within a few hours, after Bitty DMed Bob, arrangements were made. Bob was going to go down to visit Bitty in Providence. He would get all the necessary details on whatever
Bitty was doing, and he would strategize from there. Once it was all over, Bob and Bitty would have a few days before the finals and they would watch together, cheering Jack on, and ready to celebrate when he came home.

This plan was running through Bob’s head the entire trip down, through plane delays, a missed connection, and the annoyance of customs. By the time he managed to pick up a rental car, he was on edge, tired, and soaked from the pouring rain that heralded his arrival.

All he could think about was the running timer in his head: 30 minutes and I’ll know the truth. 15 minutes. 10 minutes. Just a few seconds.

Bitty opened the door the minute he called, Bob still squinting up at the house. He’d seen photos of it plastered across social media, but he still wasn’t sure what to expect. All he could see of the interior was a faint peachy glow leaking through the curtains.

The first thing that hit Bob about the house was the warmth. It was a comforting warmth, despite the humidity outside. The next thing he realized was that the warmth was accompanied by a magical smell. The smell of butter and sugar, of pastry and cooked fruit. Spicy and sweet, rich and syrupy.

The entire house smelled like heaven.

Bob was suddenly aware that he was standing in the doorway, rain dripping off his coat and luggage. Bitty was standing in front of him, ready to grab his bags. He smiled up at Bob.

“Nice to see you, Bob! How was your trip down?”

Bob dropped his bags on the floor and started to remove his coat, hanging it on the rack right next to him. “The less I have to think about that flight, the better. Word to the wise, Bitty, first class doesn’t mean that you don’t have delays.”

Bob just stared at his luggage on the ground, not sure what to do next. “Where am I sleeping?”

He started looking down the hall, trying to see if there were any promising doors. There weren’t any. All he could see of the first floor seemed to be taken up by a large study, a staircase, and an open kitchen and dining room. Bitty darted in front of him, picking up his suitcase and throwing it over his shoulder.

“You can just follow me. The nicest guest room is the one upstairs. The ones downstairs and in the basement are for when I’m hosting an entire hockey team.” Bitty laughed. This was Bitty in his element, Bob realized. He was doing what he wanted with his life, even if it wasn’t always tied to his career. Bitty helped people. Protected people.

Bob wondered why he’d ever expected that Bitty would be responsible for a doping scandal. All of it seemed entirely out of character, in retrospect. He had other, subtler, ways of helping people, especially people he cared about.

Bitty paused in front of a large wooden door and pushed it open, revealing a small room with a nice view of the backyard. Even with the dim, gray light filtering in, it looked warm and welcoming. He paused to flick on the light.

Bitty gently lowered the luggage to the floor. “So, do you want me to open the bag? I’m guessing that you don’t want to find any wet clothes tomorrow. Musty luggage can rival even hockey bag stink.”

Bob shrugged off the backpack he’d been carrying, placing it on the chair in a corner of the room. He knew how he wanted to respond, but right now there was something more important for him to say. “Euh. Eric.”

Bitty turned towards him, staring at his face, trying to judge his reaction.

“I’m sorry. I should have realized that you would never do anything like what I accused you of. I just wanted the best for you, and my son, and the league as a whole, and I hope you can forgive me for whatever stress I put you through.”

The room was silent for a moment. Bitty stared at Bob, rocking back and forth on his toes, considering what to do next. When he finally smiled, it was wide and warm. “So! How about I get you some fresh pie? I started a cherry earlier, and it should be ready to eat in just a few minutes.”

Bob followed Bitty down the stairs, standing awkwardly at the edge of the kitchen, more aware than ever that this was Bitty’s domain. Bitty poked at the pie, carefully, before cutting a slice. It was beautiful, red syrupy filling spilling from the insides. Even from 5 feet away, Bob could see the steam still rising from it.

Bitty pushed the plate and a fork into his hand. Bob got the message. Eat first, then we’ll talk.

Bob carefully broke off a small bite, marveling at the way the pastry seemed to fall apart, revealing flaky layers. He watched as the fork skimmed through the red syrup, coming away dripping and smelling of cherry and vanilla and some sort of liquor and even more flavors that he couldn’t place.

He raised the fork up to his lips and ate the first bite, his first bite, of a pie baked by Eric Bittle-Zimmerman himself.

“Holy shit.”

He stared down at the plate and took another bite. “Tabarnak... c'est vraiment bon!”

Before he knew it, Bob had eaten the entire slice and was staring at Bitty.

“I finally understand what the boys were talking about.” He laughed. “Your pies really are heavenly! If I wasn’t totally in love with my wife, I’d marry this pie.”

Bitty started laughing as well. “Well, honey, you don’t need to marry me. You’re part of the family now!”

Bob stopped laughing, thinking about something that Parse had said. Bitty didn’t give pies to bigoted assholes. “Euh. I have to ask you one last thing.”

He had spent so long trying to figure out what Bitty was doing. What his motivation was. And he was finally here. He might as well ask it. “Is this really your way of getting the NHL to do better?”

Bitty’s smile sharpened. It had started to look predatory, something Bob had never associated with the other man before. Bob wasn’t sure why he was surprised: Bitty held his own against both hockey players and gossiping nosy mothers. He knew what power he had and how best to leverage it.

“Nobody expects anything from little old me.” Bitty looked down, gesturing at his height. His clothes. He looked small. No visible muscle. Relatively feminine, but in a stereotypically gay way. For a second, he looked sad. And then he bounced back up.

“I just decided to use it. It didn’t take much: I already had a reputation with the Falcs, so I just told Tater and a few other players to talk up the pies publicly, where other people could hear. And bless their hearts, all the other teams caught onto it!”Bitty laughed to himself, quietly.

“And I’m more than happy to give pies to any hockey player who wants them, but I’m also going to use it to try and get everyone to do better.” He shrugged. “It’s not much, but it’s better than nothing.”

“I get what you’re trying to do.” Bob coughed. “I’ve done a lot of work with You Can Play since - well - you know. For a while. And either we have to try and change the culture entirely, from the ground up, or we try and get the people to change, both the players and the leadership. Honestly, Bitty? I want to help you.”

Bitty smiled again, holding out his hand. Bob waited a second. He knew that once he agreed to help, there was no going back. In the end, though, he knew that agreeing would be worth it.

Bob reached out and shook Bitty’s hand.

“Welcome” - Bitty did a little spin, pulling out a chalkboard- “to my little pie mafia.”