So objectively bubble life is not great. Because Kevin is stuck away from his family and the Dunkin Donuts near his apartment and can’t order takeout. But it’s also kind of the vibe because he’s stuck with his boys for who knows how long, gets catered meals, and rooms with Carter Hart.
So he’s in a pretty fucking good mood throughout the exhibition games, which they win all of, and he racks up some assists, you know, doing his thing. Carter plays great, obviously, as he does, the most perfect goalie of all time. Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration, because he’s still young. Soon to be most perfect goalie of all time. He and Carter and the boys dick around all day, pretty much, playing ‘Chel or walking around the entirety of the hotel because TK insists there’s a ‘secret staircase’ somewhere or just sitting on the bed and talking about missing home. And then the Habs beat the Penguins in the play in round.
Which is another one of those times where objectively the situation is something completely different from reality. Because objectively, the penguins losing is awesome because they fucking suck ass and they lost on CrosBitch’s birthday, so double whammy, but now Carter’s getting all flustered because he has to play against his childhood idol or whatever, Carey Price. Which is bad, because it’s all he fucking talks about and Kevin’s kind of sick of it.
Carter gets asked about it in every interview, of course, and gives kind of the same answer every time, the “yeah it’s cool and surreal but I just have to do my job and stop pucks,” which should tell everyone that Carter’s pretty chill about it. He is most definitely not, because he asks Kevin if it would be weird to talk to Carey before their first game in warmups and about the first time he saw Carey play and Jesus Christ Kevin wishes they were playing the Penguins.
The first game comes around, and Carter is nervous. Obviously it’s nerve city for everyone, because playoffs, and they haven’t won a series in eight years, but Carter’s looking especially flushed in the hallway down to the ice.
“Ay, here’s a hot fresh Cahtah Haht!” Kevin booms, extra loud, hoping the Habs hear him. Especially Price. Fuck that guy.
Carter gives him the tiniest smile of all time, which is par for the course because he basically shuts off his emotions once warmups start. Kevin gives him an extra big smile back, because he would like Carter to be confident and help them sweep the Habs so they can move the fuck on.
In warmups, Kevin sees Carter skate over to Carey, wave a little with a nod and skate away. Kevin hopes Carey was nice, but also kind of hopes that he wasn’t so Carter can knock him off his pillar a little bit. And, okay, Carey is a stupid good goalie. Like, really fucking good and Kevin figures it’s good that Carter’s idol is such a good goalie, for his development or whatever, but maybe he could have picked someone worse. Because even though they’re winning, the blocked Laughton shot was fucking insane. And maybe Carey could take a page out of Carter’s book and maybe chill out a bit and stop trying to beat the shit out of Grant in his net. They win though, which is a really good start to a series that’s looking a little more stressful than the team would like.
And Carter gets the same million questions about Carey, blah blah blah, what did you say, whatever. Boring. Carter’s still kind of giddy in the hotel room later that night, which normally Kevin would love because he’s almost never easily happy and not on edge like this, but he kind of doesn’t love it either because it’s so rare that Kevin gets Carter like this and fucking Carey did this? Absolutely not. But he enjoys it anyways, and lets Carter win at ‘Chel.
The next day is Carter’s birthday, so Kevin posts an obnoxious happy birthday thing on his story, which gets a pursed lip smile from Carter, but Kevin can tell he doesn’t hate it. The team’s version of a birthday celebration after practice is a little bit lame, but Carter seems happy with everyone packed into his and Kevin’s hotel room with his favorite coconut dairy-free ice cream which actually tastes pretty good. He’s smiling, cheeks flushed from the eyes all on him, and maybe also because of the birthday shots that may not have been the right choice for ten am but whatever.
Later that night, Kevin gives Carter his actual gift, wrapped in a t-shirt of his because he forgot wrapping paper for the box. He puts it in the middle of Carter’s bed with his card that was written on the back of one of the Covid procedure sheets and waits for Carter to get out of the shower.
Carter finally walks out of the shower, hair dripping on his bare chest and wearing the nice black team joggers. He reaches down to grab his shirt on the edge of his bed, but stops, seeing the present.
“Is this for me,” Carter asks with a quizzical brow.
“Yeah, bud, it’s your birthday,” Kevin responds with a grin. Carter blinks at him and sits down on the bed to read the card. He’s looking at it for longer than really necessary and his cheeks kind of blush up a bit, even though all the card says is happy birthday to the elitest and awesomest goalie of all time cahtah haht!!!!! Love you bud :).
“Is the shirt part of the gift?” Carter asks, untying the sleeves from themselves to get to the box.
“If ya want, bud,” Kevin responds lightly, which makes Carter flush more, also weird but also very Carter.
Carter opens the box as carefully as possible. Inside, there are two packs of his favorite granola bars, a gritty stuffed animal, and a bunch of NatGeo magazines because he saw them at Carter’s apartment one time. Carter sifts through the contents quietly, like he ever does anything loudly.
“Thanks, Kevin,” Carter mumbles softly, smiling (for once) and looking up at Kevin.
“Anything for you, bud,” Kevin says, maybe a little more sincere than he was intending, but it’s Carter, so it’s probably appropriately sincere.
Carter pauses for a beat, then pulls on Kevin’s shirt. It almost fits, hanging lightly on his shoulders, 13 sitting right above his heart. Kevin doesn’t stare. Carter’s his bud, his dude, his wearing his shirt. Could happen to anyone, laundry could get mixed up. But his stomach, like, does a little thing. Maybe it was the weird ice cream. Kevin chooses not to dwell on it.
The next game is a fucking disaster, to put it lightly. 5-0.
Carter does not play incredible. His team plays even worse. Kevin sees him slam the walkway door as he exits the ice when he first gets pulled. Kevin winces. He doesn’t talk to Carter after the game until they get back to the hotel. Carter generally recovers pretty well after losses, just holes up for about an hour in his own head and pops back out a little sad, but pretty okay. Kevin figures it might hurt more, especially after his birthday and especially to his idol fucking Carey Price. Carter sighs as he walks back into their room. He looks a little more beat than usual, and Kevin pulls him in by his shoulder for a side hug.
“’S okay bud, we bounce back,” Kevin says, giving Carter’s shoulder a squeeze.
“Thanks, Kev,” Carter says, leaning into Kevin and reaching around to pat him on the back. Carter changes into Kevin’s shirt again to go to sleep and Kevin’s stomach does this little flip flop thing again, especially because he can see, in the dim light of the room, that Carter is sleeping with his Gritty stuffed animal.
The next day, AV makes the wonderful decision to give them a pool workout day. Which devolves into chaos pretty much immediately, TK being forcibly almost-drowned by Raffl and Provy winning the swimming race because he’s fucking inhuman. G wins the breath holding contest by kicking Coots in the stomach so he has to come up to breathe. Kevin, with Carter on his shoulders, demolishes Joel and Laughts in a game of chicken, probably because he’s more intent on holding on to Carter’s thighs on his shoulders than is really normal. Carter looks like he’s chilled out a little bit, chilling out and floating around. Like he says in an interview later that day, it’s a fun day just to kick back with the boys.
The next day Carter has a shutout, on Carey Price’s birthday, so especially fuck you to Carey. Carter does look pretty hyped, and comes back to the hotel happy, and Kevin lets him win at ‘Chel again. Okay, maybe he doesn’t let him win, maybe he just plain lost because Carter demolishes Kevin’s Canucks but it’s fine. Carter’s smiling and laughing, not because of Price for once so who fucking cares.
And then he follows it up with yet another shutout. Elite motherfucking goalie right here, who also sleeps in his teammates shirt and with a Gritty stuffed animal.
The next game is frustrating as hell. THREE powerplay goals (unheard of) and they still lose. Carter almost gets pulled, but then doesn’t, and it kind of fucking sucks to not end the series. They didn’t play well, but they didn’t play that bad. And poor Joel scored, looking so excited, just to have it shot down by fucking Suzuki.
Kevin is not one to hate players, really, besides the required rivalries, fuck the Pens, fuck the Bruins, etc. But Suzuki. Kevin doesn’t think he’s ever hated someone more. After Suzuki scores, he taps Carter on the head on the way off to his stupid fucking celly. Kevin considers murder. He doesn’t, because there’s not enough time left and their shifts don’t line up, but it’s a close thing. Kevin thinks Carter probably deserves to beat the shit out of Suzuki. He probably wouldn’t do it, because of the Canada in him, but maybe this would be a good way to release his stress. Kevin’s still fuming in the interviews, fuming back to the hotel. Carter can tell something’s up, and nicely asks Kevin how he’s doing even though Carter probably feels worse.
“I can’t believe he fucking did that,” Kevin seethes, kicking off his shoes angrily.
“Did what?” Carter asks, sitting back on his bed.
“Suzuki! With the fucking helmet tap!” Kevin exclaims. “That’s so fucking out of pocket, man, I’m going to break him in half,” Kevin finishes.
“Yeah, I guess,” Carter shrugs, forever immune to the bullshit the game throws at him. Stop pucks, play the game. “Don’t get thrown like Nisky, though,” Carter says, booting up the Xbox. “Can’t have our star stick-handler out.”
“Aw, thanks bud,” Kevin says, not missing Carter’s flushed cheeks as he bops him in the elbow when he sits next to Kevin on the bed to start up ‘Chel. “Still gonna rock his shit, though. Can’t let him disrespect my man.”
Carter looks back at him, with a startled smile. “Score a goal for me, why don’t ya,” Carter says, leaning in to hit Kevin back on the shoulder. He stays there for a second, and Kevin realizes that if the flip flop stomach feeling comes back this hard all the time he might have to do something about it because he cannot have a series distraction. Cup run, you know? Gotta stay focused, gotta get sleep which is becoming problematic because Kevin keeps not sleeping because he’s watching Carter across the hotel room, sleeping in his fucking shirt with the little Gritty thing, hair all messy and fluffy, and okay, maybe there is an underlying reason for the stomach things and maybe that reason is Carter.
Because Carter’s face is getting a little scratchier in the playoffs, dutifully participating in the playoff beard tradition, and he’s objectively perfect, which actually does align with reality pretty well, because even though Carter’s not a bouncy giddy team player like the rest, stone cold and focused goalie weirdo, he smiles and his eyes crinkle and he’s jacked as hell and gets to do interviews with Kevin all the time and bumps into Kevin’s shoulder and fucking wears his shirt.
Kevin’s pretty fucking stupid, but he’s not that stupid. At three forty-five on the morning of game six, Kevin comes to the realization that he probably has a crush on the elitest most perfectest goalie, Carter Hart, who probably has a crush on the second most elitest most perfectest goalie, Carey price. Which kind of fucking sucks, now that Kevin thinks about it, because that means Carter does not have a crush on him, even though he fucking sleeps in his shirt? Whatever. Kevin chalks that second part about Carter’s crush up to delirious, sleepless, confusion, and goes the fuck to sleep because Carter told him to score a goal for him, so that’s what he’s going to do.
Kevin scores a goal, because what wouldn’t he do for Carter. Get him a birthday present in the bubble, let him sleep in his shirt, eat his weird dairy-free ice cream. Then he puts Suzuki in a headlock because he’s a little bitch. And thank fucking GOD they win game six, Ghost swinging his dumptruck ass at Suzuki and knocking him down at center ice, Grant doing God’s work by patting Suzuki on the head in the end of game scrum. Which means Carey can get the hell out of the bubble with his stupid fucking face, the face that Carter is currently smiling at, like the fucking angel he is, giving Price a little hug before he moves down the line. God fucking dammit.
But in the locker room, when Carter comes back after the whole team is in there, he’s pulled into the loudest most obnoxious sweaty group hug, screaming and yelling, laughing with the team, meeting Kevin’s eyes. He smiles, wide, like the fucking sun, yells something like thank you and then is dragged back away to his locker, three spots down from Kevin. Kevin can’t stop smiling, not until Carter inevitably gets asked in their postgame interview together about what Price said. Something about watching Carter’s game and how he’s proud of him or something, and Kevin’s face turns more into a scowl. Kevin wonders if there’s a way to block NBC from someone’s house so they can’t watch hockey.
Until Carter curls his foot under the table to link with Kevin’s, so.
The team has some mandatory celebration dinner, which is obviously fucking bomb because they’re finally done with this ass of a series and get to eat good food and, apparently, knock knees with Carter sitting next to him. And Oskar’s at the table, having a great time with the boys and everyone’s smiling, wider than possible, even Carter, even when he loses decisively to Oskar at ping pong, even as it’s getting late, lighting up the dark hallways as they walk back to their room together.
But then Carter’s not smiling, just fidgeting with his hands and looking nervous as he stops abruptly in the doorway, barely two steps into the room.
“Uh, what’s up, bud?” Kevin asks.
“You scored a goal,” Carter says, to his toes.
“Sure did, bud.”
“Why?” Carter asks, finally looking up at Kevin. Kevin normally would not really understand this question or know how to answer it, because normally there isn’t a reasoning behind scoring goals that isn’t because it’s the point of the fucking game, but it’s a valid question, this time.
“Scored it for you,” Kevin says, meeting Carter’s eyes. And like, oh, shit, Carter’s eyes are so green but also so blue and also so pretty and also so looking at him and Carter licks his lips and Kevin takes a step closer and nudges the door closed and they’re frozen, for a second. Mere inches apart and looking at each other, the only thing audible being breaths passed between them. What the fuck is Kevin supposed to do here, though, because Carter’s got his goalie crush on Carey and as much as Kevin would like Carter to have a big fat crush on him, he’s not going to fuck with this kid. It’s just not nice. Even though he wants to, so bad, he shouldn’t.
And then the moment fizzles out. Carter looks back down at his feet, mumbles something like sorry and shuffles into the bathroom with his pajama pants. Kevin just stands there dumbly and puts his head in his hands. Kevin’s shirt, the one Carter has been sleeping in, is still sat folded on Carter’s bed, missed when Carter picked up his pants. Kevin picks it up. He walks towards the bathroom door. Reconsiders it. Sits down on the bed. Waits.
Carter finally comes out of the bathroom, looking way too sad for someone who just won the team their first series in forever. Kevin tosses Carter his (Kevin’s, but his) shirt.
“Forgot this,” he says, with what he hopes is a kind grin and not the smile of someone who’s kind of fucking bummed that the guy who sleeps in his shirt has a crush on the opposing goalie. Carter catches the shirt and turns it over in his hands, contemplating.
“You sure you’re okay with me wearing it?”
“Been wearing it the last couple’a nights, bud,” Kevin responds, smiling at the image. “‘M not gonna just take back your birthday gift.”
Carter doesn’t say anything, just pulls on the shirt.
“Maybe you can get a Price shirt to sleep in now, yeah?” Kevin adds, trying to poke fun while not also wanting to bash his head against a wall at the thought.
“Why would I do that?” Carter asks. Kevin’s not sure if the universe is just particularly cruel to him or if Carter’s just real fucking dumb, but he thinks it’s the universe’s fault, because when has Carter done anything wrong in his entire life.
“So you can wear your goalie crush shirt in bed, bud,” Kevin says, “Y’know, cute boyfriendy shit.”
“But I’m wearing your shirt,” Carter says, and Kevin thinks that maybe Carter is fucking dumb. How is he not getting the point, here. Wear the boy’s shirt you like to bed. Because Carter likes Price. Jesus.
“Yeah, but, like, it’s not like that,” Kevin says. Unfortunately. Carter looks a little sad at this.
“Bud,” Kevin says, exasperated. “You can wear my shirt as much as you want. I’m just saying that it’s a cutesy crush thing to do, and with your stupid crush on Price, you could wear his shirt.” It comes out a little cruel, and Kevin feels bad when Carter looks a sadder than he did before.
“I don’t have a crush on Price.” Okay, small victories for Kevin. Fuck Price. “And,” Carter says, slowly, “I’m wearing your shirt. To bed.” Carter already said this. Is Carter fucking stupid?
Kevin blinks at him, and then his brain clicks, finally, finally, into place. Kevin, in fact, is the one who’s fucking stupid. Carter must see this realization in his face, because Carter gives him a tentative smile, steps closer into Kevin’s space.
“Okay?” Carter says, looking up at Kevin.
“Yeah, okay, buddy,” Kevin says with a grin, letting Carter pull them together by the collar of Kevin’s shirt, kissing him, soft, sweet, and kind of scratchy, and also perfect.
“I’m so fucking stupid,” Kevin says into Carter.
“I know,” is all Carter says, kissing Kevin again, lips parting for Kevin’s, wrapping his arms around Kevin’s neck and pulling himself in a little closer, steadied by his hands on Carter’s hips.
Kevin considers life pretty perfect in the bubble, all things considered. The team is off to round two, Carter got two shutouts in a row, Kevin scored a goal, and Joel hasn’t gotten lost in the hotel yet. And, the elitest most perfectest goalie is sleeping in his bed, in his shirt, tucked close to Kevin’s chest.