It starts with an apple pie.
“Huh,” Kent says, because that’s about all you can say when your doorman insists that no, really, this white baker’s box is for you. And when the return address indicates that it came from your ex’s new guy, and you’re a little bit expecting the worst. Maybe not a severed head, but something along those lines. Depending on which of their escapades Jack’s decided to share to prompt this.
But instead of something out of Scream IV (Kent’s gotta lay off with the late-night Netflix), it’s an apple pie. Which still manages to smell fantastic, even after winging its way cross-country. And a note, which seems to show that the only thing Jack might have shared is something that’s actually pretty common knowledge:
“I can’t believe your birthday is the 4th of July. You suck, Kent Parson.”
That’s it, that’s literally the entire note. It’s the weirdest maybe-hate mail that Kent’s ever seen. The pie doesn’t appear to be poisoned. But it is also chock full of jalapeño.
It’s like, really really delicious anyway. Somehow.
Bitty puts his head in his hands.
“I never would have told you if I knew it would make you this upset,” Jack says. But he’s smiling, the utter traitor.
“He’s just so darn American,” Bitty says to the mixing bowl in front of him between clenched teeth. “It’s unfair how American he is. Blonde, smug, smiling, all-American jerk born on July fourth. It’s not right.”
“You’re blonde and American,” Jack points out. “And smile sometimes, even.”
Bitty turns and scowls at him. “It’s not even remotely the same thing. All blonde American boys are not created equal, Jack Zimmermann.”
Jack makes a humming noise, and steps in close to Bitty, pulling him close against his chest and wrapping his arms around him.
“You saw that photoshoot he did for the Olympics, with the flag, right?” Jack says even as he’s pressing a kiss to Bitty’s temple, because he’s awful.
“Ugh,” Bitty says. “Yes, obviously, I had that on my bedroom wall for months.”
“Really?” Jack asks, pausing and probably conjuring up an embarrassing mental image of teenaged Eric Bittle staring longingly at that terrible, awful Sports Illustrated spread. Embarrassing, and also very accurate.
“You know,” Jack says thoughtfully. “I have some horseradish in a cupboard somewhere. You could fix him up something special with that?”
Well, he has to be thoroughly kissed for good ideas of that caliber. And then Bittle’s going to try and fix up something really vile.
The filling tastes amazing when he samples it though. And it comes out smelling amazing. Bitty keeps up a steady stream of almost-curses as he packs it up and sends it off anyway.
<lol seriously bbq sauce in pie u serious B) B) B)>
<excuse you, who is this, I don’t know anyone who would text like this>
<Jack gave me ur ### ur busted>
<it was really good tho>
<check ur insta>
<the guys really dug it>
<Good Lord, did they just smash it directly into their faces?>
<fyi our team nutritionist is out for ur blood>
<I’ll manage. They can’t be any worse than the one at the Falconer’s. She’s tried to have my baking barred from the Arena four separate times.>
<ill tell him u said bring it on>
<say it politer than that, please.>
<ill use my best Scarlet O’Hara voice>
<You can’t type out “you” but you’ll even put in the apostrophe?>
<fiddle dee dee mr bittle thanks 4 th pie>
When Jack shows up for dinner at Picasso, he has a now-familiar white bakery box under one arm.
“Does he buy them in bulk, what the fuck?” Kent asks, as Jack carefully settles the box on the table before pulling Kent into a hug.
“I’ve never asked,” Jack says. “Just to warn you, this is because of that skit you did with Cabbie last week.”
“Awwww, what, what made him mad about that?”
Jack smiles. “Nothing, he thought it was great. That’s why it made him mad.”
Kent snorts. And runs a hand through his hair, looking casually around the room to see if there’s anyone at a nearby table eavesdropping too obviously. “So he liked it, huh?”
“Liked how you wouldn’t play along with some of Klepper’s jokes,” Jack says.
Klepper’s an Ace so Kent won’t say that he’s an asshole, but he does roll his eyes. “It was whatever. Not a big deal.”
“Kind of a big deal,” Jack says mildly. “You’re a good Captain, Parse.”
Kent scratches his nose, thumbs the corner of the menu, and looks anywhere but at Jack. “Thanks,” he says. “Not that I do much with the C they throw on the sweater, but I figure they gave it to me for a reason, so.”
“They did, and you do,” Jack says.
“Ugh, stop,” Kent laughs. “Just order your quail or whatever, and give me that box.”
Kent and Jack sneak cookies throughout the meal, like bratty teenagers passing a flask back and forth during a movie (which they have actually done at least twice, a long time ago). Fortunately, Kent eats here often enough that the wait staff pretend not to notice. Plus, he is Kent Parson.
The cookies have so much candied ginger in them that they make Kent’s tongue tingle. Bittle barely even tried to make these awful.
Jack and Kent pause outside the Bellagio after dinner, stuffed and comfortable. They’ll probably be feeling it on the ice tomorrow, but whatever. Game doesn’t start until 7. Kent watches the fountain with his hands in the pockets of his slacks.
“So it’s not weird for you, that Bittle like, rage-bakes at me all the time?” Kent asks, as Sarah Brightman warbles over the loudspeakers and jets of water arch through the air over his head.
“Oh, it’s definitely weird,” Jack laughs. “But it’s fine. It’s good. I’m glad you guys are getting to be friends.”
“Okay,” Kent says. A kid double-takes at him and his mouth falls open, Kent winks at him and raises a hand in a wave before the little guy’s mom tugs him on through the crowd and towards a waiting cab. “Okay, good.”
<hey b u up>
<yes! Just working on captain stuff. What’s up?>
Bitty’s phone vibrates on the desk next to him just a few seconds later. His eyebrows shoot up, but he closes his much-annotated play book and answers.
“Hey,” Bitty says. “Everything okay?”
“Yeah, yeah,” but Kent sighs, and there’s a brief warble of background sound before it’s quiet on the other end. “Out with the team, just needed some air.”
“Ah, got it. I bet that can get a little wild.”
“It can get a little something, that’s for sure. What captain stuff are you doing at—“ Kent pauses, probably checking his gaudy and ridiculously expensive watch “—one in the morning?”
It’s Bitty’s turn to sigh. “Just looking over some roster things, practice schedules, the whole thing. Studying up, you know.”
“Oh, I know,” Kent laughs. “It’s a lot, huh?”
“Yeah. Plus, you know—“ Bitty trails off, but Kent huffs a noise of agreement.
“Zimms casts a long shadow, I get that.”
“Exactly. It’s just, I know first-hand what a great Captain looks like, so—”
“First-hand, yeah I bet.”
Bitty can feel himself going bright red. “Kent Parson, you just shut your mouth. I will throw this phone right out my window and then who’ll give you an excuse to escape from parties you don’t want to be at?”
“I’d come up with something,” Kent says, but he’s laughing. “It’s a pretty shitty party though. There’s this guy—“ he stops.
“A guy?” Bitty prompts, once the silence has gone on for a bit. He doesn’t know Kent quite well enough yet to know how he responds to questioning, if Bitty should press the point or just change the subject and let it go. But then, Kent did phone him.
“Just, I’ve been talking to him at the bar,” Kent says in an undertone, and Bitty relaxes because yes, he made the right call. “Nothing major, just talking. He’s with Cirque du Soleil, if you can fucking believe it. I don’t know which show, maybe the Beatles one, I forget.”
“But you think he might be interested?”
“I don’t know—yeah, maybe.”
“And are you interested?”
“It doesn’t matter if I am or not.”
“Oh Kent,” Bitty says. “Of course it matters. You’re allowed to want someone, you know.”
“Hmm,” Kent says. “I’m kind of not.”
Bitty picks up a pen, doodles a few looping circles into the back of his play book. “I don’t know about that,” he says carefully. “It’s a tightrope act, don’t get me wrong. But we’ve been doing alright. About half the team already knows, or at least have some idea that’s something’s going on.”
“Hoo boy,” Kent says. “How’s Zimms doing with that?”
“He’s alright, really. He’s happy. And I’ve seen y’all together, you know – you and your boys, they’d do just about anything for you, wouldn’t they?”
Kent clears his throat. “I don’t know, I guess.”
“Well, they’d better. Or I’m cutting off their cookie supply.”
Kent laughs, full-throated and relieved. “That is a threat, Bittle. Did you switch from putting the weird shit into stuff to just putting in hard drugs? Because I kind of think that might be what’s going on. They’re obsessed.”
“A magician never shares his secrets,” Bitty says primly. “Or his triple-chocolate cookie recipe. But I’ll do it, anyway. I never make empty threats when it comes to my baking.”
“Duly noted,” Kent snickers. “Thanks.”
“But Cirque du Soleil now, I’m just gonna go ahead and guess that this gentleman is also in fine shape. You need to get back in there and ask him if he’s one of the bendy ones.”
“Oh my god. I can’t unhear that, not ever.”
“Good,” Bitty says smugly.
“Okay, fine, well now I have to go back in, or I’ll be wondering about it too. And Bittle, listen, don’t worry about Captain stuff. You’re doing a great job.”
Bitty blinks. “Thanks, Kent.”
“I mean it,” Kent says. “You’re a leader, but the coaches are the ones who deal with the nuts and bolts of what that means, the technical stuff. Your job is to be the heart of the team and look after your guys. And I know you’re great at that.”
“Now, Kent Parson, you are just trying to get me to cry,” Bitty says.
“I know a Southern deflection when I hear one, but it’s true. Talk to you later, Bittle. Get some sleep.”
“Alright, I will. Have fun, Kent.”
<I ASKED HE IS 1 OF THE BENDY 1S FUCK>
<please tell me you literally asked him “are you one of the bendy ones?”>
<no gonna make u wonder>
The Falconers make another West Coast sweep before playoffs start, and Bittle comes along with them. Which Kent figures means it’s true, what Bittle said, about the team being more or less clued in. He’s been turning that over in his mind a lot lately. Not making any decision about it, just. Turning that information over.
Anyway, Bittle refuses to enter the state of Arizona and so instead comes to Vegas a few days before Jack does. It dovetails pretty nicely with a four-day break in between games for Kent too, so he and Kit Purrson can give Bitty the proper Aces welcome.
Which, frustratingly, means that the whole freaking team invites themselves along to hang out with the two of them. Bittle’s cooking means that they’re all basically in love with him, it’s kind of terrifying to see.
Jack hugs Kent when they meet again at Picasso, and hugs Bitty too. Longer, of course, his hand sliding slowly down and then up Bittle’s back again.
“So,” Jack says, when they sit down. “Who’s going to tell me why I have seven voicemails of the two of you singing Beyoncé, drunk and at top volume?”
Kent has the grace to be a little embarrassed. Bittle is just visibly touched that Jack recognized that it was Beyoncé they were singing.
They go to a Cirque do Soleil show (not the Beatles one). Bitty keeps elbowing Kent in the ribs, and Kent has his head in his hands for most of it. Jack won’t stop laughing, because he’s awful.
Bitty combs a hand through Jack’s hair, where his head is resting on Bitty’s lap. Jack smiles but doesn’t open his eyes, turning his head a little to catch more of the glorious later-afternoon sunlight.
He’s a sight, that’s for sure. They’ve spent almost the entire summer out on Jack’s rooftop balcony, and it’s days like this that makes Bitty forget there’s even an indoors at all.
Not that they don’t keep themselves occupied on the rainy and grey days as well. Because they certainly do.
“Fourth of July’s coming up,” Jack says, voice how it gets after a nap, low and rough, his accent a little thicker. “You going to make something special for Kent?”
“Oh, you know it’ll be an apple pie,” Bitty says.
“With what?” Jack’s eyes drift open, blinking against the light and just about taking Bitty’s breath away. “Soy sauce? Meatloaf? Cilantro?”
Bitty snorts. “Maybe I’ll just make him a plain ol’ apple pie, keep him guessing.”
Jack’s eyes close again, one hand coming up to take Bitty’s out of his hair, and bring it down to his lips.
“He definitely won’t see that coming,” he says against Bitty’s palm, and kisses it.
<is ther cheese in this fuckin pie>
<im tasting cheese why am I tasting cheese>
<HEY BITTLE I KNO UR SEEING THIS YOU JERK>
<fiddle dee dee Mr Parson. Happy Birthday.>