They've been waiting at the stop for ten minutes when Elli climbs out of the yellow bus and collides against Eric, squeezing his legs, before doing the same to Jack.
"How was school?" Eric asks, picking him up.
Elli looks happy, right? He's smiling. It couldn't have been that bad.
"Daddy, it was great! I'm sitting on the cat in the carpet 'cause I like cats and we sang ABCs and I did very well and then we had recess so I played outside with Max and we sang Lion King."
He lets Elli down as they get to the stairs of their building.
"Max?" Jack asks as he links his hand with Eric's.
"Oh yeah Max's my best friend."
Jack's eyebrows fly up. "That didn't take long," he whispers to Eric's ear, who huffs.
Okay, so, he might have been a bit stressed out at the prospect of letting Elli take the bus alone this morning, for his first-ever day of school. He's growing up so fast, lord. At least Jack had been there, after practice, through Eric's manic baking and crying. There might be five pies waiting for Elli at home.
He pulls the door open and Elli lets his bag slide from his shoulders, along with his raincoat and boots, and rockets towards the sofa. "Max is my best friend forever and I love him very much and his face is funny all the time."
That child! "Elliot, you can't say that!"
"Nah he says it's okay 'cause it's true. He pulled his tongue at me and I told him that's mean and he says he ain't meaning it to be mean 'cause sometimes his face does funny things without asking his brain permission, so now we're best friends."
Eric frowns. He's not exactly sure what Elli means, but he'll learn sooner than later about that best friend of his. "Well, I'm glad that you've made a friend, sweetheart. On your first day of school at that!"
He's sitting in his LA-based hotel room, Jack on the other end of the line.
"I'm no good at this, Bitty."
"That's not true, honey. You were doing your best and from the sound of it you managed quite well."
"He cried all evening. I got frustrated. I'm not sure he'll even want to talk to me tomorrow."
"You know that boy," Eric sighs. "He's emotional and he didn't get his nap earlier today. How much do you want to bet he'll jump in your arms in the morning, after a good night of sleep?"
"I don't know. I really don't know. It feels like I fucked up."
Eric bites on his lower lip. "Oh, Jack, you don't even know how many times I thought that about myself. It's a learning curve, okay? I'm not perfect, not even after four years of it."
"You're his dad, though."
There we go. What he was afraid of. "Did he say something hurtful?"
"No," Jack says. "Just that he wanted you to be back."
"Okay." He can breathe now. "I know it sounds scary but tantrums happen all the time. I'm sorry I couldn't be here to help you out, honey, but that kid loves you. He's going to forget all about it."
"Okay." Jack doesn't sound convinced, more like too tired to argue.
"Goodness, you sound exhausted. Get some sleep for me, okay? I promise it's all gonna be good. It's part of the job. And you're doing amazing."
Eric smiles. "Yes. Then if you're really unsure, you can do what I always do."
"What?" Jack asks, curious.
"Call your ma, and ask for advice or reassurance."
"I might do that, actually," Jack chuckles. "We'll call you tomorrow morning, before school, okay?"
"Of course. Goodnight, honey. Je t'aime. And I miss you."
"Night, Bits. Love you too."
Jack is there, waiting for him at the airport, Elli in his arms, and Eric runs towards them. "I got it! I got the job!"
Eric Bittle ✓
[Picture of a fancy birthday cake on top of which sits a plastic lighthouse and a toy dragon. Elli is behind it, his face aglow from the candles.]
Happy birthday, sweetheart! Five is a big number! 🎉🎉🎉
"Daddy," Elli says from the backseat of the Tesla, as they're coming home from hockey practice.
Home being Jack's apartment now, as they finished moving last month. It was becoming a bit hectic to manage their schedules, between school, work, and hockey. That way, Elli can be there to see Jack in the mornings after a roadie, since he started getting teary every time Jack had to leave. They have a compromise, now, and Elli always chooses Jack's ties before he leaves for a game. Eric has to admit, the kid's got good taste, something he inherited from him, hopefully. And Jack never misses a goodnight call, even if it's only five minutes before a game, to tell Elli a new part of his story.
It's been working out pretty well.
"Yes, sweetie?" Eric asks, hands on the wheel.
On the passenger seat, Jack's typing on his phone, most likely some strategy stuff to go over with the guys. They had a rocky season start, with a few of them still injured, but they've been winning more and more, lately.
"I have a problem."
"Do you want to tell us about it?"
"Yeah, okay," Elli says. "Lying's no good, right?"
"Right." Lying is also not something that would occur to Elli, ever.
"And like I have to tell you everything 'cause you're my daddy and lying is bad. But what if… someone told me a secret and I promised not to say? That's lying? But keeping a promise is also important."
Jack looks up from his phone.
Eric hums. "Well, I wouldn't say that keeping a secret is the same as lying. If you made someone a promise, and it’s not something bad for you or others, then I think you should keep it."
"Okay, thank you, Daddy."
Jack turns his head towards the window, and lets out a breath — it's only much, much later that Eric will realize what it meant, and that it hadn't been about the group chat.
Heating seats be blessed; Eric doesn't think he's been this cold ever before, not even during that whole nordic spa business.
Jack parks the car in the driveway, the beautiful Zimmermann holiday cabin in front of them. It's the 24th and Jack doesn't have a game before the 29th, so they decided to make the drive and fly Coach and Suzanne in, for a first Christmas with the whole family.
It's -4 outside and Eric would make a run for it, but they need to get Elli and their bags first.
Burying his head between his shoulders, Eric picks Elli up from the backseat.
Elli doesn't seem too happy to leave the warmth of the car as he drops a loud, "Esti qui fait frette." ["It's fuckin' cold."]
“Elliot!” Eric gasps, and the moment his gaze meets Jack's they both lose it.
"Well, he didn't learn that from me," Eric says, and Jack looks just a bit sheepish as they make their way inside.
Good lord. Apart from… whatever that was, Christmas is lovely.
Elli receives a mountain of presents from everyone involved, and Eric is starting to believe that there might be some unspoken competition going on between the two sets of grandparents (notably, Alicia gets the three of them a set of matching sweaters, and Suzanne a set of matching pajamas). They get along like a house on fire, though, and lord knows, Eric wouldn't be surprised if his parents decided to stay longer, just to spend more time with the Zimmermanns. They're already planning a snowshoeing expedition.
Like all holidays, this one turns out to be a lot of cooking and playing with Elli, with the added bonus of exploring the outsides and the ice rink Bob built years ago at the back of the cabin.
On the evening of the 26th, Suzanne suggests they should bake together. It's not very late but it's already dark outside, and God knows why but Suzanne ain't helping him at all, chatting with Alicia at the island behind a glass of wine.
It's a quiet night in, the crackling of the fireplace mixing with the soft Christmas music playing back in the living room. He has no idea where Jack and Elli went, but he suspects they're all in the garage with Coach and Bob, tinkering around Bob's latest woodworking project.
He's putting the pie in the oven when the backdoor opens, and Elli peeks in, fully dressed in his winter attire and skates laced to his feet. So, not the garage, then, but that's not surprising either.
"Daddy!" Elli squeals. "You gotta see this!"
Elli holds up his hands and shows Eric his own pair of skates.
"Okay," Eric says, "what's going on, sweetie?"
Alicia and Suzanne share a look, but no one seems to want to elaborate.
"Nothin'," Elli says, as unconvincingly as possible as Eric comes to sit down in the entryway to tie his skates on. "We wanna play a game! Quick!"
"Okay, okay, I'm coming."
He's got his coat half-slipped on when Elli takes his free hand, tugging him towards the entrance.
He gets dizzy for a second or two the moment he steps outside: there's a trail of candles going down the path to the outside rink, and it feels like he's flipped upside down, walking on the starry sky itself.
Goodness. His heart picks up in his chest, faster.
"C'mon, Daddy," Elli says, tugging him again.
They walk down the path to the rink, small candles perched all around the boards. Jack's standing there, alone, on the middle of the ice, bathed under the soft glow of the lights around them. Silly romantic boy.
Still led by Elli, Eric skates right up to Jack until Elli drops his hand. Eric grins at Jack, who smiles back, a bit tightly.
"Okay. Bye now," Elli says, with a side-glance at Jack.
"Merci, coco," Jack chuckles, a hand on the top of Elli's toque, "you did great."
Elli skates back to the rink's entrance, and Eric watches over his shoulder until Coach picks Elli up, and carries him to the rest of the grandparental unit, watching in the back.
Eric looks back at Jack and smiles. They're alone now. "Hi."
"Hey," Jack says.
He looks very soft for a second there, and Eric reaches to brush a brown strand of hair back under his toque.
"Bits. I— uh."
His cheeks are hurting now, but Eric can't stop smiling. "Yes?"
Jack clears his throat. "Bits," he starts over, resolute, captain face on, as he takes Eric’s hands in his own. "I wanted to talk to you. When I graduated from Samwell I wasn't exactly in the best place. Losing you back then was one of the hardest things, because I knew I wouldn't find someone as incredible as you again. It's just not something that happens twice in a lifetime. But then I saw you, that night at the rink with Elli… I thought I was hallucinating, because somehow— somehow you were placed on my path again. I felt like the luckiest man alive just to be able to see you again, to know that you're happy, to meet Elli, too. And then you went on and you let me in, in your life, in your family, even when you didn't have to. Bitty… You're the kindest person I have ever met. You gave me a second chance and this time I promise I'm not letting you go. If you want that too."
Eric swallows, as Jack slowly gets on one knee, and reaches for something in his pocket. Is it too soon to say yes? It's probably too soon to say yes.
"Eric Bittle, will you marry me?"
"Yes!" Oh my god. Oh my god. "Oh my god, Jack," he laughs, tears welling in his eyes as Jack stands back up. "Of course I'll marry you! I love you!"
"I love you too."
"Do you have one for you, too?" Eric asks, chin pointing at the ring.
(That's why Lardo kept avoiding him every time he would mention the jewelry store.)
"Yeah, yeah, just—"
It takes them a second to be able to slip the rings on, through shaking hands and trembling laughter. The moment it's done, Eric slips both arms around Jack's neck. Jack hugs back, hard, until Eric eases his hold and kisses him.
They're doing this. They're getting married . He gets to have his happily ever after, except it really feels like the beginning of a new adventure instead.
The moment Eric lets go of Jack, he hears a whooping noise in his back, and he whips his head around because what on Earth is Shitty Knight doing here—
Before he can understand what's happening, Lardo is jumping on the ice as well, along with Rans and Holster, Dex and Nursey, and Chowder.
"Oh my god," Eric breathes out, "when did y'all—" How? He turns towards Jack. "Was everyone in on this?"
"C'mon, Bits," Lardo laughs, "we wouldn't miss this for the world!"
"We kept the secret!" Elli says. "For soooo long!"
"Oh my god," he repeats, and Jack wraps an arm around him, chuckling as well. "You did great, sweetie!" He turns towards Chowder. "And where is my niece?"
They had Audrey a few months back, but the trip for the weekend would haven been too tiring for Chowder’s kids, who stayed behind with Farmer. Eric’s going to see all of them at the All-Star next month anyway, and he just can’t wait.
It's just a bit overwhelming, but he couldn't be happier as the little group disperses on the ice, the youngest going to sit with Bob and Alicia, Suzanne and Coach, who settle on the bench as an impromptu game starts between the rest of them.
Later on, there will be hot chocolate and a warm fire to congregate around, friends and family alike. Eric will sit beside Jack on the couch, eyes on Elli doting on Jaime, with the feeling that every single piece of his life has finally settled into place.
Eric sits back down in his seat, placing his coffee between his feet for a second as he smooths out Elli's jersey, hands passing over the few dozens of signatures Elli has collected during the day, before folding it carefully into his bag.
He takes a sip of his coffee and watches as the players kneel on the ice, waiting for the breakaway challenge to start. San José is lovely and it's nice to have a respite from the cold in the middle of the winter and see Farmer and Chowder again, even if it is only for the weekend. Elli will be talking about the All-Star game for a long time, and Eric doubts he will ever stop rambling about having taken the plane or having interviewed a bunch of players about their favorite line on the red carpet when he gets back to school.
Eric smiles to himself, and watches Jack's turn on the breakaway, picking up the puck and batting it from midair directly into the net, to general applause. He gets back to the other guys, kneels back down and Elli comes to sit back on his thigh, without ever stopping his casual chat with O'Reilly. If he was shy at first from the lights and the crowd, he seems to have forgotten everything about that, now that he gets to charm the other players.
A few minutes later, as all players are done with the challenge, they get a bunch of kids on the ice. A smile on his face, Eric watches as Jack — his fiancé — skates slowly towards the goal, carrying the puck, Elli behind him. He's so much better at this now, he can skate with both legs, and his hand-eye coordination isn't top-notch but he's making tremendous progress.
Carter Hart gets way out of the goals trying to "stop" Jack, who leaves the puck behind for Elli, who takes it and scores. The horn goes off and the crowd cheers, Eric with them.
Not even minding Jack, Elli skates back to the rest of the guys and fist-bumps them one by one, to general hilarity.
Yeah, yeah, he wants to say. I get it, he's stinkin' cute.
He watches as Jack takes an official picture with Elli, the two of them grinning hard. Jack has never liked events like these, Eric knows, but now that Elli has clearly upstaged him, Jack's only left with pure excitement at showing him the ropes of his work. And not only Jack seems to be proud of Elli, as he gets him back on his knee again, but he seems proud of himself. Proud of three decades of hard work that he gets to show to his son, proud of a legacy that now exceeds his person.
Elli most likely won’t become an NHL star, but he and Jack will have today to remember by.
Sweat is cooling off his skin as Eric turns on his front, content. Jack is beside him, stretched out on the wide bed, the back of his head on his crossed arm. His eyes are closed, but he's not sleeping.
They've been doing more of the same for the past three days, and have a few more before they have to fly back to Madison to fetch Elli, and bring him back to Providence. There had been multiple ideas for honeymoon destinations on their list, but Eric's glad they went with the easier option. They had debated about wanting to go see European museums or hike somewhere in New Zealand for a few days, but in the end, the appeal of a short flight and a quiet beach won. And Eric's quite glad they get a few days of rest between the wedding and going back to their routine with Elli. Not that he doesn't miss him — he does, so much. But this is nice, too, just the two of them.
Eyes on Jack, he can't stop a smile from growing on his face. He's a married man, now. To Jack Zimmermann. Who knew this would happen? Who could have predicted, the day he showed up to that game with Elli, that he would meet his future husband? Who could have predicted, that morning at Samwell, that Mr Eat More Protein would one day slip a band on his finger and kiss him at the altar? It was worth the heartbreak in the end. It was worth becoming this Eric Bittle if he gets to marry this Jack Zimmermann.
The ceremony went smoothly. Jack's initial uneasiness faded away as soon as they walked down the aisle, Elli in front, throwing fistfuls of petals at the floor. He'd been the cutest in his little suit, and from what Alicia told them, he watched the whole ceremony raptly, without getting bored. Not that Eric would have expected otherwise, knowing him. That child might become an officiant one day. Or maybe a hippie. Who knows.
Jack lost it first, as they were saying their vows, which surprised Eric just a bit, though his own tears followed a few seconds later. The kiss ended up being just a bit snotty, but perfect — it meant that Jack was his, now, forever.
Eric had been warned but the reception still turned out to be hectic, and he barely got the time to sit down until Jack dragged him to their table to eat in peace for a few minutes. Suzanne complimented Shitty's haircut, Eleanor went on to have an elaborate discussion with Rosaline (Eric crosses his fingers for an eventual book deal there), and Aunt Connie had the same expression upon meeting Bob that Elli later had as he danced with Kent. No scandals. The cake was perfect. The photos were too. It had been lovely, and once it ended, Eric had been ready to sleep for the next hundred years.
Gently, he pushes a strand of Jack's hair away from his forehead. "Jack," he whispers.
Jack hums, eyes still closed.
"I was thinking." He had been thinking about it for a while, in fact. "Elli's, uh— Elli's getting older. And I was thinking that… if we want him to have, you know, a sibling—" (Jack's eyes spring open.) "—I wouldn't want for him to be too old?"
Jack gets on his elbows, face blank. "You want another kid?"
"Do you?" Eric asks.
"I think…" Jack blinks. "I think I'd like that? If you want it, too?"
Eric beams. "I do."
He sure as hell wouldn't have considered having another child being single, but now that he has Jack around to help, he's been slowly getting baby fever again.
"There are logistics to consider, though," Jack says, with a frown.
"We'd have to talk about it, of course. With work and everything."
That might prove more problematic — Jack's away a lot during his season, and Elli's grandparents are the ones that will mostly take care of him in September when Eric will be down in LA filming the new series. Adding another child to the mix could be difficult.
"I mean." Jack cocks his head to the side. "You know I've got only one year left."
Yes, Eric knows. It's something they've discussed for long hours during the spring, as Jack decided not to renew his contract with the Falcs. His knee had gotten worse this year, and watching his team from afar without being able to help is not a feeling Jack enjoys. Even though Jack says he's ready for the change — he's been talking about going back to school, or maybe coaching college-level — Eric knows it still saddens him. Of course it does.
"I guess it wouldn't happen right away? Depending on how… we decide to go about it?" Jack adds. "But I could do it. Stay home and take care of them, while you work."
Eric's eyebrows fly up. "Are you serious?"
"Yeah, of course. You took care of Elli while I was working. It's my turn, now."
"It's not the same," Eric says, through a grin.
Jack leans in and kisses him. "I still want to do it."
"Let's have a baby," Jack says.
Eric wraps his arms around him, and they topple back onto the bed, laughing. "Oh yes, let's try very hard."
"Daddy, je veux la chambre downstairs, elle est bigger pi Pucks can sleep avec moi." ["I want the room downstairs, it's bigger and Pucks can sleep with me."]
Eric sighs. This is not the first time he hears that sentiment. "You'll get the room downstairs when you’re older, Elliot. And Pucks isn't supposed to be sleeping in your bed in the first place."
Elli whips his head towards Jack, who smiles. "Dad a raison, coco. La chambre en bas c'est pour les grands. Et Pucks y'a son lit dans le salon." ["Dad's right, coco. The room downstairs is for big boys. And Pucks has his bed in the living room."]
"Maiiiis," Elli sighs, and the dalmatian comes to put his head on top of Elli’s, for a double set of puppy eyes. "He's so cute et y'est sad quand y'est tout seul at night." ["Buuuut he's so cute and he's sad when he's alone at night."]
Elli turns towards Jack, looking at him expectantly, who shakes his head. "You have to listen to Daddy, Elli."
"You don’t have to say like Daddy! You have the ‘fficial papers now!"
Eric rolls his eyes, laughing. Elli has been trying to convince Jack to become his own man since they got the adoption papers, following the wedding, officializing Jack’s parental role.
"But I agree with him," Jack says, amused but unwavering. "Pucks doit apprendre à être tout seul, c'est correct aussi." ["Pucks needs to learn to be alone, that's okay, too."]
"C'est unfair," Elli sniffs, crossing his arms. ["It's unfair."]
It's been his favorite sentence for a while, now.
"English or French," Eric sighs. "You gotta choose, mon grand. One sentence, one language."
He didn't mind it initially — after all, Elli's fully bilingual by now, but they've got reports from school about Elli speaking gibberish no one but Jack can fully understand.
Elli huffs again and doesn't even grant Eric a response.
"Do you want to watch Daddy on TV?" Jack asks. They're on episode four, now, though Jack has seen them all already.
"Fine," Elli replies. "Because I love you," he says, towards Eric.
Thank God Eric still has a roof to sleep under tonight, he thinks with a chuckle.
"It's here," Jack says, throat tight, showing the beige package to them.
So, that's why the bell went off in the middle of dinner.
Elli gasps, in the middle of his bite. "It's here!"
"Honey!" He smiles, leaving his plate alone. "Well, come on, show us!"
"Yeah, I, uh—"
Elli slips off his chair, and Eric shakes his head. "Elli, you're not done yet."
"Who cares about dinner?"
Eric laughs, when his gaze meets Jack's. Frankly, he doesn't want to wait either. "Right. Who cares about dinner?"
They leave everything downstairs and settle in bed, Elli between them, Pucks at their feet. With a slightly trembling hand, Jack opens the package, and reveals the glossy cover of the square book, showing a lighthouse at the front.
"There it is," Eric says, fingers on the letters at the bottom of the book, beside Lardo's name.
"Yeah!" Elli nods along. "J-A-C-K-Z-I-M-M-E-R-M-A-N-N." He looks up at Jack. "C'est toi!" [It's you!]
"It is me. Let's look inside, eh?"
He turns the book open, to reveal a first page Eric hasn't seen before, small black letters on white paper.
For Elli and Bitty
A good story can be about the big things, and the small things, too
A good story can always be picked up where you left it
And most importantly,
A good story is told every night, complete and never-ending
"Oh, honey," Eric breathes out.
He leans in, to kiss his cheek, and Jack hums. He's so incredibly proud of that boy, and he tells Jack so.
"Let's see the rest before you start praising me," Jack says, as if the whole book is not going to be a raging success.
Elli wiggles a bit, settling against them as Jack passes over an arm around Eric's shoulder, his other hand turning the pages as he reads.
Eric's seen Lardo's drawings before, and god knows they spent a long time analyzing Jack's writing, but it's the first time he sees the two together — Jack kept it as a surprise until the very end. And the result is just so pretty. Elli listens raptly as Jack reads, the story he's been told over and over again, about a boy, his animal friends, and a lighthouse. A frankly incongruous trio, but it works. It's going to be in stores just before the fall.
When Jack closes the book, he clears his throat, eyes on Elli and Eric. "So?"
"It's amazing. I love it," Eric says, with a grin.
Elli sighs, content. "When I grow up, I wanna write a book, too! And I wanna be bakin' on TV!"
"Maybe you'll write a kid's cookbook, then," Eric chuckles.
Jack frowns. "That's… an idea, though."
He gets the call when Jack is in practice and proceeds to call Jack approximately thirty times before he picks up.
"Everything okay, Bits?" Jack asks, breathless.
"Yes. Yes." Lord, he needs to sit down. "I got a call, honey."
A beat. "Is it… For real, this time?"
"Yes, yes. She's— she's four months old. Chinese-American. Oh, lord, I gotta send you the pictures. Cutest thing in the world. I know it's early, I know you're not done yet, but they want us to meet her, Jack."
"Holy shit, Bits."
"Shit— fuck— I'm getting in the car, okay? I'll be there right away."
She arrives in their lives earlier than planned and younger than they expected. Because the universe keeps on blessing Eric Bittle with unanticipated babies, apparently. He doesn't mind it at all — it's the happiest bit of luck since Elli and the moment Eric sees her, he knows she's the one.
A hand on the small of Jack’s back, Eric watches, vision blurred, as Jack picks her up, carefully, and as she stares back at him, eyes round and surprised, before she wiggles her tiny hand in the air between them.
"Sophie," Jack whispers, through a sniff.
Oh my god. Oh my god. This is actually it. They’re taking her home. Their daughter.
Jack looks at Eric, then back at her. At Eric, and at her again.
Jack knows she's the one, too. He's got that special look on his face.
"Careful, Elli, be very careful," Eric says.
Jack, in front of them, is filming the whole scene.
"Yeah, yeah, I promise, lemme see, now!" Elli squeals, as Eric finishes placing the bundle on Elli's lap.
He gently pushes down the blanket, for Elli to better see her face.
"Oh!" Elli gasps. "She's so tiny."
"I know, right?" Jack says.
He moves around to zoom in on them and shares a grin with Eric.
Elli, inexplicably, leans in until he softly presses his face against her, and she wiggles a bit.
"Gently, Elliot," Eric reminds him.
Elli straightens back, beaming, Sophie still staring at him with her huge dark eyes. "I love her!" he says, breathless. "She's like Jaime, Daddy! But she's only level one right now."
Eric laughs. "Yeah, she is."
It's one of the sweetest pictures Eric has ever taken, snapped in the middle of nap time, on the Sunday before the Falcs' first round. They were lying in bed together and Eric woke first, to the soft afternoon light streaming in. Rolling on his side, he took his phone, and angled it at Jack, sleeping on his back, Sophie sprawled out on his chest. Her head is turned away, the right amount of privacy Eric wants for the announcement, but her tiny hand is the centerpiece of the picture.
He shows it to Jack, later on, adding a black-and-white filter on top of it, and they agree it's the right one. There will be time later for a more official shoot that will include Eric and Elli, but he really likes this one for now.
"There," Eric says, tapping at his phone. "Posted."
Welcome, sweetie. Our little family just got bigger, it reads.
Everyone important already knows, and now, the whole world will too.
The moment Jack enters the locker room, twenty men erupt in high-pitched squeals and coos.
"Yeah, yeah," Jack says, shaking his head, but he's never looked prouder as he does now, Sophie in his arms.
"Holy crap, man," Gbesy says, as he claps a hand down on Jack's shoulder. "You disappear for a weekend and you come back with another kiddo. Congrats," he adds, with a wink directed at Eric.
He's about to reply when Tater swoops in, with the gracefulness of a baby rhino in a room full of blown glass. "I'm godfather, I'm get to hold her first!"
"Just—" Jack says, angling Sophie towards him, "be careful."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, no worries, Uncle Tater knows."
He picks her up with surprising confidence as if he has handled babies all his life. (Actually, now Eric remembers Tater had asked Jack about baby classes, at some point in the fall, when they told their friends and family they were going through the adoption process. "I think we'll be fine," Jack had told him, "Bitty already knows how to handle a baby." — "No, no, no, I'm not know how to handle a baby." Eric though he’d been joking but… did Tater follow through with that?)
Jack rolls his eyes and Eric takes his hand, squeezing a bit. He gets it. He was hesitant to let others hold Elli when he got him, too, but Tater expertly sets Sophie against one of his arms and curls up around her.
"Yes," he coos. "Little girl. Little B-Z. Oh! Little Bees. Bzzt bzzt." If she'd been her stoic self at first, the sound makes her giggle, and Tater roars. "You like that, Little Bees! Bzzt bzzt. Bzzzzzz."
Lucky, in turn, has directed his attention on Elli — bless him, Eric's worried Elli might think no one cares about him since Sophie has been receiving a lot of attention lately, even though he took his role as a big brother in stride.
"Pi," Lucky says, offering Elli a fist-bump. "C'est une grosse responsabilité ça, grand frère." ["It's a big responsability, being an older brother."]
"Ouais c'est vrai," Elli shrugs as if he's mastered the skill already. "Mais tsé… Tout est sous contrôle." ["Yeah, that's true. But, y'know… Everything's under control."]
Lucky laughs. "Ha, good job, bud."
Working from his phone, Eric's eyes set on Jack, on TV. He's standing in the corridor behind the locker room, leaning on his stick, a reporter at his side.
Jack closes his eyes and opens them again, forcefully. "Uhh… sorry, could you repeat that again?" he says — he's been far away as the reporter was asking her question.
She laughs in turn. "I was just congratulating you on the recent news. Is she sleeping through her nights, yet?"
"Ah— no, not yet." The bags under his eyes tell the same story.
"How are you holding up? You skated pretty well, tonight."
Pretty well is a euphemism. Jack got a seven-points game. He skated like nothing on Earth could stop him.
"Yeah, well, euh," he says, with a dopey smile. "I guess it's the adrenaline."
"Thank you, Jack, that's all for tonight," she chuckles. "And best of luck for the rest of the series."
"Sophie, no!" Elli squeals, as he runs around, Sophie after him, Pucks bouncing between them.
She's only five months old and already crawling around at an alarming speed.
"Daddy, she's following me!"
"She just wants to play with you, Elliot," Eric tells him.
One hand on his whisk, one hand on the bowl, and phone tucked between his ear and his shoulder, this is really not a situation he wants to see degenerate.
"Please remain on the line," the generic voice on the phone tells him.
He could place it down on the counter, but when he did, an hour ago, he didn't hear as the technician got on the line, and had to start everything over again. Good lord. Can he be done with today, already?
"Elliot! Don't shout, Papa is taking a nap!"
"BUT SHE'S FOLLOWING ME."
"Please remain on the line."
"Yeah, sweetie, she's following you because she looks up to you. She wants to do like you. Be kind."
Elli is usually very proud of that — he’s been teaching her to roll over for the past few days — but not today, it seems.
"MAKE HER STOP," Elli bellows.
Bless his heart, that boy loves his sister but he didn't get enough sleep last night. "Elliot, stop. Now."
"Please remain on the line."
Footsteps down the stairs. Great. Too fucking great.
Jack peeks over the banister, hair messed up. "What's going on?" he asks, haggard.
Elli's still yelling, and Pucks has started to yap along.
"Elliot," Eric snaps. "Time out!"
"Please remain on the line."
"Nooo-oooh." Elli stomps his foot, once more, and through sobs, runs upstairs before slamming the door to his room shut.
Sophie, still, crawls at the bottom of the stairs, and sniffs, just in time for Jack to pick her up.
"Elli?" he calls upstairs, his voice gentle, and gets only a horror movie-worthy scream in return.
Elli's going to tire himself out in two minutes, and when he'll wake up from his nap, everything will be forgotten, as always.
"Eh, c'pas grave, Bees, ça va," Jack tells an increasingly upset Sophie, cradling her in one arm. ["Eh, it's not serious, Bees, it's okay."]
Eric stares at his bowl. He's just added the boiling water to the cocoa, and mixes in the rest of the batter, his phone still reminding him to stay on the line. He meant to film this for the vlog but got interrupted midway through, and now he has to follow through with the recipe, or else it'll go to waste even though he has to start all over again tomorrow, for the vlog. He just… didn't need any of this.
Jack senses his tension, as he approaches his side of the island. "Still on the phone for the wifi?"
"I can help," Jack offers.
Jack motions towards his phone. "Bits, let me help."
"It's fine," Eric insists. "You don't even know what to ask."
Jack has barely been home these days, playing against the Kings on the other side of the country.
"C'mon, don't be ridiculous, I can help—"
He reaches for Eric's phone and the moment he dislodges it from Eric's neck, it slips down his shoulder and directly into the batter, sinking in just as a voice goes, "Hello, how can I help—", followed by a deep silence and Sophie’s soft coos.
Jack takes a step back, and Eric glares.
Eric's still editing the last of his footage when Jack gets back home that night after his win. He slips into the living room, quietly, and offers Eric a white carton box.
"Sorry about your phone," he says, sheepish.
Eric closes his laptop and pushes it on the coffee table. "When did you get the time to buy that?" he asks, opening the box.
"I have my methods," Jack says, with a slight smile, as he sits down on the couch and Pucks moves away to his bed. "Someone's coming for the wifi tomorrow. And I'm sorry about your brownies, too."
Eric turns towards him, a sigh on his lips. "Thank you, honey. And you don't need to apologize. I'm not mad at you, I was just tired."
It's not Jack's fault it's been a pretty sucky day all around. They planned and planned and didn't expect Eric to end up with two kids during the playoffs while trying to manage a part-time job at the same time. And he sure as hell isn't responsible for Elli's earlier outburst, or their wifi outage.
"Sorry," Jack says, "I know it's been a lot."
"It’s fine. Just a rough day." Let’s not rehash it. Eric leans in and kisses him, and for the first time, Jack relaxes against him. "Congrats on the win," Eric whispers. "I’m proud of you."
Jack hums, and Eric smirks against his lips.
"Do you want to do something… sexy?"
Jack quirks an eyebrow at him. "What do you have in mind?"
"How about seven hours of uninterrupted sleep?"
"God, thought you'd never ask."
It feels like the longest playoffs since playoffs were a thing, but with every won game, the Falcs are getting closer to their goal. Eric is ready to sacrifice his social life, his sleep, and just a tiny bit of his sanity to support Jack through it, taking care of everyone at home. Lord, he's so proud of him, and he watches every game with his heart pounding in his chest.
If Eric thought his life had been going faster and faster, it's nothing compared to the last two years since he met Jack, since they started their family together. It's been one thing after the other and now, between the playoffs and the kids, the dog, the house, the garden, and one very successful Netflix season, Eric's barely been able to be with Jack. It's not like he's unsatisfied — he knew this was coming, and well, Eric chose his man to share his life with. To have kids with. To be exhausted with. To solve that problem about the backyard stairs and finally decide on a color for the guest room. Jack's his husband, his rock, the love of his life, but two years ago he was his crush, his boyfriend, and goddamnit, that magic ain't gone, okay?
He's been kind of missing him, with the playoffs. Missing him a lot. Last time they tried to have some alone time, Elli rocketed against their door, done with his nap. ("Are you hurt, Daddy?" — "I’m fine, sweetheart. We’ve been… stretching. Before the game tonight.")
He's half-asleep by the time Jack slips in under the duvet, after yet another win, and Eric curls up around him, smiling against his neck. He angles his chin and they make out for long minutes, before Eric drops a hand at the front of Jack's briefs. It will have to be one-way, tonight.
Jack groans and trails his lips down Eric's jaw, his neck, lower and lower, until Eric pulls at his hair, bringing him back up.
"Nope. Not happening."
"What?" Jack looks up, confused.
"I'm, uh, indisposed." Because of course, the night they'd be both awake, and Jack would feel up for it too.
Eric gives him a look. "Elli wanted to eat beans for dinner."
"Okay." Jack chuckles. "Is it that bad?"
He lowers himself again, but Eric pulls him back. "Come back up here, you. We're not doing this."
"But." Jack comes up on all fours, over Eric. "I thought that was in the deal."
"Yeah, that whole marriage thing. I, Jack Laurent Zimmermann, promise to love you, Eric Richard Bittle, for better or for worse—"
Eric rolls his eyes at him.
"—farty and non-farty—"
"Ugh," Eric laughs, trying to shove him off. "You're horrible."
"—until death do us part," Jack finishes, leaning in to kiss the tip of his nose.
"You don't want death to be you, asphyxiated by me, though."
"Ghostly beans do not scare me." Jack pouts. He actually pouts. "Bits."
"Oh my god, fine." It’s not like it’ll ever take much to convince him. "Just hands, though," he says, a safe compromise.
The face Jack makes is the same one he has as he scores a goal. Eric saw it earlier on TV, tonight.
They're done by the time Sophie starts crying — she had the decency to let them have this, this time, and Jack rockets out of bed the moment he hears her.
"I can go," Eric says, rolling over.
"It's fine. I'll take care of it."
"Honey, you're supposed to rest."
Jack smiles at him. "I want to, though."
Eric lets him have it, and his head hits the back of the pillow once more. Jack slips outside their room, and Eric closes his eyes, hearing as Jack starts chatting with Sophie, an apparently very serious one-way conversation.
He smiles. That moose of a man still insists on waking up at night to take care of Sophie, even though he's the one with the full-time job. They weren't thinking about adopting a baby this young, and Eric knows it was kind of a fluke in the end because children that age usually don’t stay long in the system. He couldn't be happier with their decision, in the end, and their chance: that way, Jack gets to go through these early stages that he couldn't experience with Elli. And Jack clearly wants to enjoy every second of it, as the soft singing coming from the other room indicates.
Eric's face is smashed against his pillow, as Elli is sitting across his lower back, Sophie crawling up between his shoulders.
"Daddy, do the horse!"
Eric groans. This isn't what he expected when he tried to subdue his children into taking a nap by letting them in his and Jack's bedroom.
"Daddy!" Elli asks once more, bouncing a bit and ouch— Eric's going to feel that tomorrow.
Sophie seems to agree because she giggles and taps both her hands on Eric's shoulders as she rocks herself, like trying to convince a dying horse to move again.
Nope. Not happening.
That's about when Jack enters the room, freshly showered from practice, an eyebrow quirked at them. "I thought you were trying to take a nap," he says.
Eric turns his head to the side. "We are," he says, just as Elli answers, "We're playing horse with Daddy."
Jack laughs, picks Elli off Eric's back and Sophie rolls away as well, on the mattress between them, before she comes back to nest herself against Eric. He kisses the top of her head, and she rolls over to smile at him, a trick she has perfected. He winks at her, and her smile grows.
"I'm not sure that was the plan, coco," Jack says. "Taking a nap's a great idea, though."
"Est-ce qu'on peut regarder la game ce soir if we nap maintenant?" ["Can we watch the game tonight if we nap right now?"]
Jack's gaze meets Eric. "Sure, sweetie," Eric agrees. As if Elli isn't going to fall asleep between the second and third anyway. "Only if you two get some sleep now, though."
Two minutes later, the kids are dead asleep, Jack and Eric exchanging victorious grins.
He's on the ice bare minutes after the buzzer goes off, the crowd going absolutely wild as the Falcs form a human mountain at the center, Jack somewhere in the middle of that.
Screaming his head off, Elli makes a run towards him and Jack swings him around, before collecting him in his arms, the two of them laughing. Eric's only a few meters behind, and when he gets to them, Jack plants a kiss on his lips, before he squeezes Sophie's cheek.
"Oh my god, Jack!"
"Tabar— I know!"
Family and friends somewhere behind, it starts to settle in Eric's mind. The Falcs won the Stanley cup. Jack won his fourth Stanley cup. His Jack. Lord.
He’s worked so hard to get here, at the very end of his career, and the crowd is on its feet, already chanting, "One more year! One more year!"
He stays by Jack's side the whole evening, and well into the night, as Alicia and Bob take care of the kids as the party rages on.
On the ice, he takes pictures with Jack, Elli, and Sophie, who, as always, seems wholly unperturbed by everything that's going on around her. She focuses on the sewn C on Jack's jersey for a while, before she hooks a finger in the ring of her pacifier and flings it with surprising force directly into the Cup, to general laughter.
There's only a small five minutes that Eric misses, that he watches on the very next day, on Youtube:
Jack's holding Elli in one arm, as the reporter gets closer.
"Jack! Congratulations! Can I have a moment, please?" she asks.
"Yeah, sure, just a sec," Jack says, still beaming, sweat pearly on his nose. He looks around. "Where's Daddy, eh?" he asks Elli.
"À’ salle de bain. Soph did a poo." ["At the bathroom."]
Jack chuckles, looking down for a moment. "All right", he tells Elli, "we'll do it together, then."
"Fantastic," the reporter says. "Congratulations again. It's quite the feat, getting a fourth Stanley cup in ten years of playing, especially these days."
"Yeah, euh, for sure. I'm really proud of the team. The guys did an amazing job, and obviously, our efforts paid off."
"How are you feeling, right now?"
"Pretty great, yeah," Jack says, as he passes a hand through his hair. "It's been an honor playing with this team. And it's great to finish things this way."
"Are you still planning on retiring? I think the fans made it clear earlier that they'd like to have you for another year."
"Ah, you know, it's a decision I made a while ago and I'm sticking by it. I’m happy to leave on a high, even if I know I’m probably going to miss it in a few months. It's time to move on."
The reporter smiles at him, kindly. "Any plans for the future?"
"Ha, there are a few things, yeah. We’ve been thinking, my husband and I, about a project to work on together, but… yeah, I can’t say much yet. Apart from that, not much. My husband's been taking care of the kids, and I couldn't be more grateful. He's been amazing, really, his support means everything to me. And now that he's got some pretty important stuff coming up in his career, it's my turn to stay at home for a while. I'm really looking forward to that."
"So, stay-at-home dad for now?"
"Yeah! Catch up on some sleep, too."
"Will you, though?" she laughs.
"Nah, probably not."
"And this is Elliot, of course," she says, redirecting her attention towards him. Jack hikes him up higher on his hip. "Tell me, Elliot, do you want to become a hockey player, too? In the NHL?"
Elli nods. "Yeah! I'm a goalie and I'm gonna play for the Aces, or the Falcs, or the Sharks, or the Penguins, or the Coyotes."
"He likes animals," Jack explains, with a chuckle.
"And what number will you take?"
"Oh," Elli says, "I'm gonna be number 90."
The reporter quirks an eyebrow. "Not number 1?"
"Yeah," Jack chirps, eyes on Elli, "why not number 1?"
Elli jerks his chin back and stares at Jack as if he's particularly slow. "I’ll be number 90 ‘cause I can be number 90. I can’t take number 1 'cause they'll retire number 1."
Jack barks out a laugh. Another second passes, as he exchanges a glance with Elli, a silent conversation that doesn’t change Elli’s resolute stare.
"Well," Jack says, turning towards the camera. His eyes are a bit red, once more, as he clears his throat. "You heard the kid."
"We sure did," the reporter says, with a smile. "So, Elliot, I imagine you're very proud of Jack, right now?"
"Yeah," Elli says, as he leans closer to the microphone, eyes on the camera. "He's not Jack, though. He's Papa."