1. Tarte Tatin
Jack’s heart leaps in his chest when Bitty tells him he’ll be coming down to Dallas for Christmas break. Jack wants to see him so bad. But it only takes five seconds once they hang up the phone for the panic to set in. Jack grabs a protein shake from the fridge and doesn’t think about what it’ll be like, introducing the team to his boyfriend. About the reactions of his teammates, the coaches, the equipment guys, the media. Oh God, the media. It’s been nothing but “Bad Bob’s prodigal son returns” when they mention Jack at all. Some days he’s happy he’s just a third-liner, for now.
He wants to see Bitty more than he wants anything - Bitty at the game, Bitty cheering for him, Bitty seeing this crappy apartment Jack picked out last minute because they signed him five seconds before the cut-off. Bitty in his bed - his real, big bed instead of the twin ones they got used to at Samwell.
But this isn’t college. It’s the NHL. It’s Dallas. He’s worked so fucking hard to get this second chance.
Probably it would be mostly fine. Maybe. He wouldn’t get kicked off the team. Probably. Jack rests his head against the cold tile in the shower, the sound of his teammates ribbing each other the soundtrack to the images in his head. How would it impact his game, if everyone in the league started thinking of him as the first out player? How much shit would he have to deal with? What happens when it gets to be too much again? He’s not taking anxiety pills again, no fucking way. He can’t go back to that stuff, he just can’t.
He doesn’t have any answers by the time Bitty comes down. It’s everything Jack ever wanted - his apartment if suddenly filled with baking supplies, Bitty brought a Stars scarf and hat and mittens and he wears Jack’s team sweater to the game. They win in OT, after a brutal showdown with Chicago, and later, in the locker room, once the cameras leave, Bitty unveils a box that smells better than anything Jack’s smelled in his life.
It’s tarte Tatin, filling the room with cinnamon and apples and caramel and hints of whiskey, making Jack think of his parents’ house, Christmas lights, being five and getting up in the middle of the night to sneak a look at his presents.
Everyone loves Bitty. They always do - it’s impossible not to. Jack should tell them that he’s not just a friend coming down for a visit, that he’s the guy Jack’s in love with, that Jack wants to kiss him every time he’s near enough.
But he can’t.
The next time Bitty comes down, the team plays like Shit. Jack burns with it - they’ve been on a winning streak but tonight of all nights they just can’t get their shit together. The Bruins slaughter them 5-1.
The loss is still stinging everyone’s eyes in the locker room, after, but then of course there’s Bitty, and Jack’s a little surprised at how openly enthusiastic about his presence most of the guys are. The team is always polite to family and friends who drop by, but he’s never seen guys practically shove each other aside to say hello.
Of course, Bitty comes armed with a tray of some kind of creamy cake, with nuts on top, that has Nichushkin practically collapsing from happiness once he gets it in his mouth.
“This… this…” he keeps trying to say through chewing, though eventually he gives up and grabs another piece before he’s even done with the first.
Bitty beams at him. It makes something in Jack’s chest clench. "I wasn't sure about the recipe," Bitty says. "First try. Glad you like it!"
When the guys are done getting a piece each Bitty goes to offer what’s left to the equipment guys. God, Jack doesn’t deserve him. The staff is going to love Jack after this. His fellow teammates are already giving him appreciative glances, like maybe they’re reevaluating their general opinion of Jack as a quiet weirdo with a chip on his shoulder.
After Jack is done putting his suit back on he drives Bitty back to the apartment. He doesn’t grab his hand, doesn’t push him up against the car and kiss him in the parking lot, doesn’t even put his arm around Bitty once they’re out of sight of the other guys. He wants to, and he hates himself more with every passing minute.
“Hey,” Bitty says, hand sliding to Jack’s knee, fingers barely touching the fabric of Jack’s pants, as they they pull out of the parking lot. “It’s okay.” He’s quiet for a moment. “I get it. I mean, it’s not forever, right? I get... I get why now’s not a good time.”
Jack grinds his teeth. Bitty doesn't deserve this. Jack doesn't deserve someone who cares about him enough to put themselves through this.
Jack doesn't know what to say.
He keeps his eyes on the road.
Jack is unlacing his skates, bent over on the bench in the locker room, trying to get the pass he missed at the start of the third out of his head when he feels someone sit down next to him. He looks up to see his captain, and then feels someone else sit down on his other side. An arm drapes itself around Jack's shoulders and he doesn’t even have to turn his head to know it's Tyler Seguin.
He’s had post-game chats with Jamie and Seguin separately, but never cornered by both of them like this. It’s a little weird. If it’s going to be some pep talk Jack already wishes they’d leave him alone - Bitty’s waiting for him out in the hallway.
"Kid," Tyler begins to say, but Jamie interrupts.
"I'm not sure you can call him that," Jamie says.
Tyler glares at him and then looks back at Jack, "Kid. We have to talk about your boyfriend."
Jack suddenly feels like he’s been punched in the stomach. "What?"
"I think he's confused," Tyler says to Jamie over Jack's head. "Maybe you should explain."
"Zimmerman," Jamie says, giving Jack a fortifying glance. "Your boyfriend is a genius. We want to hire him to work for the team."
Shit. "He’s..." a thousand words swirl around in Jack’s head, none of them coalescing into sentences. “What?"
"The guy you’re sleeping with? We want to hire him,” Tyler says. “As the official baker. Or caterer, whatever. He can cater breakfast, lunch and dinner with cakes. I don't care. As long as his pies are always available."
"It's an important issue," Jamie agrees.
"He's... he's still in college," Jack says, feeling a little hysterical.
"I hope it's cooking school," Tyler says.
Jack stares at him, trying to figure out if he’s in some kind of alien dimension, or if this is another elaborate team prank. "It's... no." Jack says. “It’s not cooking school.”
"Well," Tyler says, "Some of the guys have come up with requests. Like, Jordie's been asking for cherry pie, and I personally want to know if he can do those little chocolate tarts I remember from Switzerland, and Lindy and Klingberg want him to do that weird Swedish cheesecake again."
Jack takes a deep breath. He wants to say something but his mouth won’t open.
Tyler squeezes Jack's shoulder. “Relax,” he says, a little quieter, giving Jamie a weird look.
“No one’s running to tell the media,” Jamie says, looking at Jack. “We just wanted to discuss the important stuff that can’t be put off anymore.”
Tyler nods, serious expression turning into a grin. "Like how your boyfriend should really start taking requests. He’s got a whole team to please now, not just you."
"That’s…” Jack still doesn’t know what to say. Thank you? No, that’s ridiculous. They’re looking at him all worried, like he might start crying or something.
“It’s... he’s used to it,” Jack says, finally. “We were on the same team, in college. He... he used to bake for everyone back there too."
Tyler and Jamie exchange glances.
"Kid," Jamie says, grabbing Jack’s shoulder. "You’ve got great taste in men."