Jack is nervous.
The Sabres are really hyping up getting Hall, and yeah, totally, he gets that. But that’s not the new, one-year acquirement he’s worried about.
No, it’s not a first over all pick on his mind, it’s another second over all.
It’s not that he’s “afraid” of Eric per se, more warry, sort of hesitant really.
And it’s not because Eric’s a member of the Triple Gold club, a multiple All Star, well respected, etc etc.
It’s not about how well he’ll fit in or how long he’ll stay here.
It’s about Jeff.
Jeff, who is so open with his heart and his mind.
Now, Jack considers himself to be a good friend and he takes his best friend duties seriously. So, when Jeff called him about the trade, his usual sunny disposition dialed up to a thousand, going on and on about Staal and their pending reunion, he practiced cautious optimism.
While Jeff seemed to be ready to jump back into Staal’s arms, its Jack’s job to hold him back.
He knows Jeff is older than him. He knows no one understands the heartbreak Jeff went through better than himself. But Jack also knows that the human heart is tricky. It toys with you. It will try to convince you that maybe this time things will be different, maybe this time it’ll work out, maybe this time he won’t leave.
Jack doesn’t like maybe. He doesn’t like those odds. He doesn’t like that uncertainty. He doesn’t like even the faintest possibility of Jeff getting hurt again.
So, as a friend, as Jeff’s captain, he’s going to do whatever he needs to do to protect that big, bleeding heart.
Then, he gets injured and is day to day for training camp.
He tries to get updates from Sam, who agreed to let Staal know they mean business when it comes to Jeff, but already by Day One, it seems all of Buffalo has fallen for the Staal-Skinner reunion story.
From the GM, to the coach, to the reporters, everyone seems to be entranced with the fairytale of their Grand Second Chance.
He gets it. (He does.) But fairytales are fairytales for a reason.
He stares at the picture of them smiling together on Twitter and worries, pit in his stomach.
He watches their old highlight reels just to heighten his own anxiety.
He calls Jeff, jokingly telling him to not get too comfortable, his real Captain will be there soon.
(But they both know he’s not really joking.)
(They both know exactly what he’s warning him against.)
(Don’t jump back in too soon.)
(Don’t let him in so easily.)
(Don’t let your heart trick you.)
He trains at home, trying to will his body into somehow healing faster, so he can be the knight in shining armor Jeff actually needs.
Jeff asks him to try to understand.
Jeff asks him for a little trust, some faith.
So, Jack tries.
He doesn’t say anything when he gets the snap of them making dinner together.
He doesn’t say anything when he sees the close friends’ story of them walking along Lake Erie.
And when he finally gets to camp, he smiles, and shakes Staal’s hand as if he trusts him.
Watching them interact is not what Jack expected at all. It’s actually almost the opposite of what he pictured.
Of course Jeff is his usual smiley self, cracking jokes and goofing off, but Jack thought that around Eric the giggles and the heart eyes would skyrocket. Constant chatter and too many stolen glances. He was expecting their old rookie – captain dynamic.
Instead, Jeff’s about the same as he is with Eric as he is with everyone else but somehow also more reserved and focused than before. Then, where Jack was expecting a quiet, sturdy, and mature Eric, he got a loud, funny, and care-free guy.
It took him longer than he cares to admit to figure out what was going on.
They balance each other.
Pushing and pulling on each other’s strengths and skills.
Jeff’s quiet, increased dedication and focus stemming from the solid presence of Eric, who instead of being uncomfortable around a new team, fell easily back into the rhythm of Jeff’s laugh.
Both a little older and wiser, while still having that intense spark.
They don’t need to constantly joke around and stare into each other’s eyes like he imagined because there’s already so much history there, already a hoard of decade old inside jokes and countless long nights. Their nicknames and light touches probably meaning more than he will ever know. All they need is a quick look and they know what the other is thinking. Only a look and it all clicks.
He thought that it would take longer, them reconnecting on the ice, but there’s something to be said about muscle memory.
He thought they’d be glued to each other, but why would they need to be? They already know they have the other.
He thought a lot of things.
He was so focused on what they could be, what they once were, to realize what they already are: a story already set in motion long before him and one that will continue its course no matter what he does or doesn’t do.
He was looking at them in stages, fooling himself to believe that he could somehow predict or untangle their storyline when human hearts are never that simple.
(He should have remembered that. After all, isn’t that what he was worried about in the first place? The fickleness and forgiveness of the human heart?)
He can’t be the hero in Jeff’s story. The only person who can save Jeff is himself, he determines his own path, and Jack doesn’t want to be the villain either. So, he’ll settle for being a supporting character, the best friend, maybe some comic relief.
He’ll be whoever he needs to be, he’ll do whatever he has to do, and hopefully that’ll be enough for a happy ending, for those fairytale words, “and they lived happily ever after”.
(After all, who doesn’t deserve a second chance at something special more than your best friend?)