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Listen and Learn

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Bitty texted George as he exited his rideshare behind the Falcs stadium. He tucked the Tupperware full of his banana peanut butter protein muffins under his arm. Earlier, George had given him instructions to arrive by the loading docks where security was supposed to let him in through the staff entrance. She would meet him there and lead him to the rink.

George had been conspiring with him all week to help surprise Jack at the end of Friday practice. Jack was expecting Bitty later that night, but when Bitty’s last class of the day had been cancelled because his professor was attending a conference, Bitty jumped on the chance to spend more time with Jack. Senior year was seriously cutting into their time together and Bitty was itching to get Jack’s hands on him again.

Bitty pressed a buzzer outside the door and was let inside by a security guard who was at least as tall as Holster but twice as wide. Bitty stood there awkwardly as he stared at George’s, “On my way!” text.

“You’re Eric, right?” The guard asked, sitting back behind his desk. “Zimmermann’s guy?”

“That’s me,” Bitty said. He had never had any problems with the Falconers staff, but his first reaction to conversations beginning with his association to Jack was always to get nervous.

“You catch his pass from the game on Wednesday? I haven’t seen a play like that in the almost ten years I’ve worked here.”

“Oh!” Bitty’s shoulders relaxed. “Yes, I sure did. It ain’t the same having to watch his games from home, though.”

“You still in school?”

“Yes, sir. Last year, almost done.”

“Good for you.”

“Bitty!” George poked her head in through a large swinging door. She nodded him over, hair from her messy bun falling in her eyes. “Let’s go, kiddo.”

Bitty waved to the guard as he followed George through the door. The stadium was significantly larger than Samwell’s own Faber, and Bitty had absolutely no knowledge of how to navigate its multiple levels and labyrinth of hallways. George brought him to an elevator around the corner and Bitty used the opportunity to fetch a muffin out of the Tupperware for her.

“As promised,” he said, placing it in her hand.

“Bribery will get you everywhere,” she laughed. “I’m gonna have to sneak you past Nate’s office. He’ll give me hell for letting you bring these to the guys.”

“Excuse me, Georgia Martin, these are healthy muffins. Even the chocolate chips are vegan dark chocolate and sweetened with stevia instead of sugar.” The elevator started its smooth ascent. “Besides, Nate has already declared me his sworn enemy. Can’t blame a nutritionist for doing his job.”

“Well, Nate is not my nutritionist,” George said, her mouth already full of muffin. “You can bring me these anytime.”

“Duly noted.”

“The guys should be just about done when we get there,” she said, brushing crumbs off her chest as they exited the elevator. “Maybe ten minutes of ice time left. You can be there as they finish up and then you’ll just have to wait for Jack to change and shower.”

“That’s not a problem! Thank you for helping me surprise him.”

“Trust me, it’s my pleasure. Jack’s been a grump all week, he probably needs this weekend more than you know.”

“That does sound like Jack,” Bitty laughed. “Well, it’s nice to be needed.”

George showed him through the double doors that took him into the rink. Bitty shivered as he entered, goosebumps erupting down his arms as he was exposed to the frigid air. He was standing behind the bench, where a couple players were seated, while the rest of the team raced back and forth across the rink. Bitty smiled, feeling at home immediately, the sound of metal scraping over ice his personal brand of ASMR.

As Bitty walked closer, staying low as to not be seen by anyone, he noticed the numbers on the back of the jerseys for the guys on the bench. It was Tater, Thirdy, Marty, and his very own number one, Jack Zimmermann. Bitty hovered nearby so he would be the first thing Jack would see when he got off the ice. He was hidden by a wall, but close enough that he could overhear their conversation.

“—don’t know what I’m going to do when Gabby’s out of town next week,” Marty was complaining. “That woman keeps me sane. She’s the only reason I can make it through a week of dealing with you hambones.”

“You might have to tell Gabby to postpone,” Thirdy said, nudging Marty in the side. “I don’t know if the team can handle two cranky French Canadians right now.”

“Hey, I know you’re not talking about me when I’m right in front of you,” Jack said.

“Is no problem,” Tater said, wrapping an arm around Jack’s shoulders and shaking him. “Zimmboni see B this weekend!”

“How did you know that?”

“I see you smile at phone this morning.” Tater shrugged. “Also, I read texts over shoulder.”

“Tater…”

Bitty can hear the eye roll in Jack’s voice and has to stifle a laugh.

“How’s Bitty doing?” Marty asked.

“Yeah, he’s good,” Jack said. “Been working 24/7 on his thesis. On top of being captain this year, having to balance both responsibilities at once. I’m real proud of him. He’s always had a hard time with school, eh? I mean, he’s smart, no question, just has a bad habit of procrastinating. But he told me he started turning stuff in early this week, and they won their game on Monday. Made a great play in the third period. Remind me, I’ll pull it up for you on my phone after this.”

Bitty placed a hand over his heart, unexpectedly touched. He almost felt bad, overhearing a conversation about him that he wasn’t a part of, but he couldn’t help but listen.

“Hell yeah,” Thirdy said. “But the real question is, when is he bringing us more pies?”

“Sometimes I think you guys are only my friends because my boyfriend bakes you things,” Jack chirped.

“Jack! You wound me! That is only…partially true.”

All the guys on the bench laugh, shoving each other, smacking Jack on the back.

“I keep telling him to try out for those Food Network competitions,” Jack said. “My mom even forwarded me a casting call once, and I sent it to him, but he said he ‘wasn’t ready.’ Like, he can make an apple pie with his eyes closed. I’ve practically seen him do it. He talks in his sleep sometimes and I’ve heard him mutter so many recipes during the night I could probably bake them myself at this point.”

“Wow. That’s actually extremely cute.”

“Point is, I don’t know what he’s waiting for. He’s the most talented guy I know. He’d kill it if he put himself out there. Maybe once he graduates.”

“Until then I volunteer for official B baking taste tester,” Tater said. “I invite myself over this weekend, he always bake something for me.”

“Please just text ahead this time, Tater.”

“No worry, Zimmboni, we not have repeat. I make sure you have plenty time to…what is phrase? Have lay?”

“Get laid?” Thirdy offered with a snicker.

“Guys,” Jack sighed.

“Yes! Tater said. “That first. You desperate need, Zimmboni. Then I come for pie.”

The buzzer signaled the end of practice and the players started skating towards the exit. Jack was the first one out, though Tater still had his attention. He didn’t notice Bitty standing there until he had almost walked past him. The double take he did was almost comedic.

“Bits!” A smile spread across his face, eyes lighting up. “What are you doing here?”

“Hey, honey. Had to bring some treats to my favorite team in the league, that’s all.”

Tater was already going for the Tupperware, taking it from him as Jack stooped down to embrace Bitty. Jack was 6’ 3” in skates, but that didn’t stop him from pulling Bitty straight in for a kiss.

“Sorry,” Jack said, as his teammates that weren’t already helping themselves to muffins hooted and hollered in the background. “I missed you. And I wasn’t expecting you.”

“Oh, I don’t mind.” Bitty pressed another kiss to Jack’s cheek before wrapping his arms around his middle. “I’ll be honest with you. I’ve been standing here a few minutes.”

“Yeah?”

“I could hear a bit of your conversation just now.”

“Oh.” Jack blushed, a soft, shy thing. He brushed Bitty’s hair off his forehead, grazing his fingertips behind his ear as he looked down at him. “Hopefully I didn’t say anything too embarrassing.”

“On the contrary, Mr. Zimmermann, it was very sweet.”

“Then there’s more where that came from later,” Jack said, kissing him again, his lips a little cold from a day on the ice, but still full and soft. “I’ve gotta shower, I stink. But I’ll come grab you when I’m done?”

“Sure, sweetheart.”

“Love you.” Jack squeezed Bitty’s hand as he walked away, ignoring the chirps and razzing from his teammates.

“You also hear what I say, B?’ Tater asked, holding two muffins per hand, one of them already half eaten.

“Yes, Tater, I did.”

Tater nodded. “Good. I stand by it. I see you this weekend, B.”