It was late, Bitty was tired. He blinked hard at the stop light glaring red in the dark. He was almost home. It wasn’t really that far of a commute, but he had stayed extra late at the bakery making sure that all the prep was done for the morning and everything was carefully put away. He was so happy to be able to own his own business and make whatever he wanted. Unfortunately, it came with the overwhelming pressure that whether he succeeded or failed, it was all down to him in the end. So, he stayed late. Which meant he was almost always tired when he headed home.
The light turned green. The two cars ahead of him went through the intersection. He kept his distance, knowing his reaction time was a bit slower when he was tired. He didn’t see the car that came screeching from the cross street and through the red light. He felt the impact as the other car t-boned him. He looked up and saw the ground far below him. His seat belt snapped tight and kept him locked into the driver side. The airbags deployed. Everything went dark and muffled. He had a moment to think to himself. Well, this isn’t good. I hope the boys made dinner for themselves.
Jack thanked his lucky stars for Tater. Sure, he came off as a goofball most of the time, and always so happy-go-lucky. But when a crisis happened, he was always the calmest in the room. Maybe it was his optimistic disposition, or maybe he just refused to give in to panic. Whatever it was, Jack was thankful for his steadying hands and words as Jack tried to stop from mentally spiraling when they got the call from the ER saying that Bitty was in a car accident and unconscious.
Tater was the one that drove. Jack’s hands were shaking too much to be of much use. Tater kept the radio on in the background, playing some mix from his phone that seemed to jump from Quebecois Country to Russian Pop and was that Mongolian Metal? Whatever it was, it was eclectic enough to be background noise at such a low volume.
Tater kept up his usual chatter, but this time focused on preventing Jack from going into a full-blown panic attack. “We are going to ER, but doctors most likely won’t let us see little Bits right away. You know this. Will be long time until we go in. Does not mean bad things. Just means doctors are busy. We call your Papa and Mama when we get there. You talk to them on phone while I talk to Bitty’s Coach and Mama, yes?”
Jack nodded along. He knew what Tater was saying was right. It would do no good to keep thinking the worst when being in an ER was one of those liminal spaces where time ceased all meaning anyway. Talking to his parents would be good for him. And he could do it in French, which always calmed him.
“Good. After, I will call my Mama and Papa. Mama will want to know how her favorite son-in-law is doing.” Tater said this with a smirk and a sharp jab of his elbow into Jack’s side.
Jack managed a soft snort. It was an age-old inside joke. Tater’s mom had spent a month with them. She and Bitty had gotten on like a house on fire. Bitty knew exactly who she was and peppered her with questions about her figure skating days. She had exclaimed how disappointed she was when she realized he dropped out of Juniors and swore he would have made an impact on the National stage. “Would have given Americans’ ability to compete with Russia. Maybe is best you chose hockey instead, huh?”
Then, she tasted his cooking. And that was that. By the end of the month, she had shared several family recipes and learned several Phelps recipes in return. From then on, Bitty was her favorite.
The lights in the ER were glaringly white. The receptionist noted their names and indicated they should sit and wait for someone to get them. Tater placed one large hand on Jack’s shoulder and patted it encouragingly. “Is like said. Come, we make phone calls now.”
Jack loved Tater more in that moment than ever before. The calm, the self-assuredness, the gentle reminders to not panic. He knew Tater was scared himself. He twitched every time a doctor or a nurse came out from behind the thick automatic doors. He tapped his foot against the tile floor. Every once in a while, he would chew on his thumbnail before catching himself and pulling his hand away from his mouth. It was the little ticks that gave him away. But, Tater held it together and stayed outwardly calm.
Jack couldn’t relax enough to let himself cuddle into Tater’s larger body in public. He was too tense and felt like everyone was watching the two hockey stars sit next to each other. He definitely caught a kid taking their picture and typing rapidly on their phone. Their mom seemed too distracted to notice and interfere. Or maybe she didn’t care. Either way, Jack could feel his back stay stiff and muscles lock, preventing him from taking the comfort he needed from Tater’s presence.
But, Tater wasn’t emotionally constipated like he was and let his body sag against his, providing a full line of pressure along his side. Tater splayed his legs and made a show of reclining. “You be good pillow, Zimmboni. Am taking nap until doctor comes, yes?”
Jack sighed in relief and felt his muscles untighten little bit by little bit. “Sure, Tater. I’ll wake you up when we know something.”
By the time the receptionist called them, Jack couldn’t tell how much time had passed. He thought he might have actually dozed off leaning against Tater at some point, but it was intermittent and broken up with the intermittent sounds of children crying and occasional bursts of activity when someone came in that should not have driven themselves there. He nudged Tater awake, who mumbled something in Russian before switching back to English.
“Is time to see little Bits?”
“Yeah, the receptionist said he’s been transferred to ICU. We can go up and check on him.”
Jack didn’t want to share how scared he was at the mention of the ICU. He knew it would be rough to see Bitty laying there with whatever devices he was hooked up to. He held on to the fact that they were allowed to see him at all and walked shoulder to shoulder with Tater down the winding hallways that eventually led to the visitor elevators.
Seeing Bitty unconscious and hooked up to a bunch of different machines that whirred and beeped at various intervals was jarring at best. The nurses all warned them that it would be scary, but seeing Bitty in such a state was terrifying. Even Tater, as unflappable as he had been all night, stumbled when they entered the room. Tater gripped Jack’s hand hard. Jack could feel the bones in his fingers shift, but didn’t complain. He knew exactly what Tater was feeling. His heart was in his throat, pounding so loudly he couldn’t hear over it.
The doctor was talking and it sounded like she was speaking underwater. Jack stared at her, trying to make sense of what she was saying. Something about surgeries, multiple injuries, a concussion. Jack winced at that one. Any concussion was bad, but a third one? And one clearly this severe? He tried to make a mental note to contact the Falconers for the team’s neuro specialist and a referral.
Tater folded himself carefully into the only chair in the room and scooted it closer to the bed. He mumbled something in Russian into Bitty’s ear. Jack watched them for a moment then excused himself out into the hallway. He leaned against the wall and breathed deeply. He wasn’t sure how long he stood there practicing his calming exercises. But, eventually, a nurse stopped in her rounds and asked if he was okay. He nodded and tried to force a smile on.
“I know it’s a lot. But, I promise, he’ll be moved to a regular floor for monitoring sooner rather than later. He just needs to be monitored since he went through so much. And they want to make sure that he isn’t going to suffer from unknown negative effects from his surgery. Once they know he’s more stable, he’ll go up to a floor. He’ll be home before you know it.” She gave him a small smile and a pat on the arm before heading down the hallway and turning left around the nurse’s station.
Jack tried to take it to heart. But, he knew that he wouldn’t be sure everything was okay until Bitty was home, safe and secure.
Tater was at the hospital without Jack this time. Since Bitty had been moved to a regular floor, Jack wasn’t able to say no to all of the requests for his time like he had when Bitty was in the ICU. But, that was okay. And Bitty understood.
Tater couldn’t help but shake his head at how Bitty tried to push them both out the door, insisting that he was fine and that they had more important things to do than hang around his room and watching daytime TV. He and Jack both knew that it was Bitty trying not to be a bother. Tater refused to give in. Jack didn’t want to give in either, but he had contracts and endorsement deals that didn’t care what was going on in his personal life.
It was after practice and Tater had showered and made sure to be presentable when coming to the hospital. He knew that Bitty worried about fans and the media thinking poorly of their public image. And he wasn’t wrong. They had a less-typical relationship and were very open about how much they all loved each other. That was enough fodder for the press to have all the ammunition they needed. So, Tater made sure to not look harried or unkempt when he showed up at the hospital.
He smiled and nodded at the nurses as he walked by. He stopped for a couple of pictures with families who approached him. The nurses were kind enough to make his excuses for him. He didn’t like telling fans no. Bitty was really good at handling that for both Jack and him. He knew just what to say to politely excuse them from situations and how to not offend anyone while he did it. Bitty said it was a byproduct of growing up in the South. Tater just knew that it was a gift.
Finally, he made it to Bitty’s room. He looked so much better than that first time they saw him in the ICU. That was a horrible night. But, he had confidence in Bitty. He was so strong. Stronger than he gave himself credit for.
Bitty smiled brightly up at Tater from his bed. “Tater! Goodness, it’s good to see you.”
Tater plopped down on the recliner next to the bed. “Is good to see you awake! Last time you were very tired from PT. Nurses being nice to you today?”
Bitty laughed. “Zhenya is a perfectly lovely nurse. Reminds me of my old figure skating coach.”
Tater chuckled and roughly patted Bitty on the shoulder. “Is why I love you so much. Appreciate good Russian work ethic.”
Bitty winked, conspiratorially, “And here I thought it was the blueberry pie.”
“Is best pie. Even Mama says so. She is asking after you again. Wants to know if she should come and make sure we take good care of favorite son-in-law.”
“I don’t want to put her through all that just to come and babysit me. It’s taken everything to get my parents not to come rushing up here and making themselves at home as it is.”
“Still think is good idea. At least when you come home. Don’t want you all alone in house with no one to help. Could fall and be stuck for hours.” Tater’s somber expression made it clear just how worried about it he was.
Bitty threaded his fingers through Tater’s. “Okay. How about we put a time limit on it, though? As much as I love my parents, my mom will be sitting on the floor and scrubbing it by hand if she’s left to her own devices. And Coach is great. But, he’s not really a conversationalist.”
“Maybe a week? Make sure we have routine down and you are making progress with recovery.” Tater gave Bitty a long, exaggerated look. “Making sure you are not getting ambitious and scrubbing floors by hand yourself. I am knowing where you get traits.”
Bitty blushed. “Hush you. Fine. One week.”
Tater’s expression immediately brightened, grin spreading across his face. “Good. Now I am not having to call and tell them to cancel their flight.”
Tater leaned back and laughed, his whole body shaking. “You think am leaving to chance? Nope. Is how you and Jack say: better ask forgiveness than permission.”
“Lord, what am I going to do with you.”
Tater leaned in close and set his head firmly on Bitty’s shoulder, looking up at him through his eyelashes. “Love me.”
Bitty sighed and carded his fingers through Tater’s long, brown hair. “Yes. I suppose that’s exactly what I’m going to do with you.”
Bitty hated this. His parents had come and gone. He had been on his best behavior the whole week. It helped that he knew his mama would take care of everything. Perhaps a little too well sometimes. Everyone would be well fed, the house would be clean, no appointments would be missed. She had arranged with Jack to hire a maid to come in and clean every few days.
It grated on Bitty. Usually he was the one taking care of an injured Tater or Jack. Tater was the better patient between the two, even if he ate them out of blueberries. Jack was constantly trying to rush his recovery. Bitty had been so thankful that Tater caught Jack attempting to sneak out on a morning “jog” when he was supposed to be elevating his knee. Tater had grabbed Jack and tossed him over his shoulder like a sack of Idaho potatoes and carried him back to bed. Bitty would happily admit that he melted at the sight and rewarded Tater with both pastries and sex for escorting their convalescing husband back to his approved zone.
But this was not one of the many times he was in charge of the house and tending to an injured husband. No, this was an entirely ridiculous overreaction by his husbands. Sure, he had been injured. Yes, he had been taken to the hospital. And, okay, it was a few days until he regained consciousness. But, these two overly large professional hockey players had made it their personal missions in their lives to ensure he didn’t so much as lift a finger. Not even to bake. It was outrageous. He didn’t see the problem of using his crutches to get from the bedroom or couch to sit in the kitchen. He could use the stand mixer and sit in a chair in the kitchen. Maybe it would be a little difficult to wrangle the chair from the breakfast nook to the kitchen, but it wasn’t impossible. And if they would just help him, then he wouldn’t have to worry about twisting wrong and sending spasms of pain up and down his leg and into the weird numb spots where they had to put in pins.
Bitty could hear Jack and Tater rummaging around in his kitchen. The cupboards banged shut when they were looking for something and had no idea where it was. If they would just ask him, he could tell them, or even better, just get it himself. He heard something fall and cursing in both Russian and French. Lord have mercy on his kitchen . Bitty couldn’t take it any longer. “Boys, if you want something you know I’m right here . Or you could just let me in the kitchen.”
Tater was the one that poked his head into the bedroom. “Нет. That will not be happening. Last time you were in kitchen, would not sit still and let us make food. Best if you stay here and out of trouble.”
“Tater, Sweetheart. I love you very much, but if you destroy my cookware, I will beat you to death with your own hockey stick!” Bitty brandished his crutch in as threatening a manner as he could from lying prone on the massive bed with his leg propped up on a stack of pillows.
Tater at least had the decency to look like he took the threat seriously. “You are best not knowing. But, promise Zimmboni and me are making best dinner for all three of us. Lots of protein for hockey players and recovering husbands.”
At that moment, Jack sauntered in with a tray. His apron was covered in various drippings and splatters. “Dinner is served!”
Bitty couldn’t help himself. He was charmed. There was still a speck of something on Jack’s cheek, his hair was disheveled, and he clearly lost the battle with the oil. Yet, there he was, proudly serving him dinner in bed. Bitty sat up and Tater grabbed more pillows and positioned them so that he wouldn’t slide down while he ate. It was chicken with broccoli. “Well, I’m not going to eat alone. I may be exiled from my kitchen, but I refuse to be exiled from family dinner time.”
Jack placed a kiss on his forehead. “Of course, mon lapin.” Once Jack situated the tray over Bitty’s lap, he left and returned with two more plates. It was clear Jack tried to pay attention to some sort of plating technique for his dinner, even going so far as to put a sprig of cherry blossoms in a tiny vase. It was adorable. Jack took considerably less care with his and Tater’s dinner presentation, but they were eating together. Alone. Without his nosy parents or nurses or doctors or that phlebotomist that kept interrupting his sleep for one more blood test .
“Well, I suppose such fine service should be appreciated. Thank you Sweetheart and Sweetpea for making dinner. Just promise me that you won’t leave a mess for that poor housekeeper my mother insisted we hire.”
Jack looked vaguely offended at the suggestion. “Of course not. It’ll all be cleaned up after we’re done eating dessert.”
Bitty perked up at that. “Dessert? Really? Was that what all the banging was about?”
Jack blushed and wouldn’t make eye contact with him. “Eh, no. That was something else -”
“We are forgetting about hot oil and splatter. It was very hot and burned. But, was okay after we put on shirts. And then had to put on aprons to keep shirts clean.”
Bitty glanced between his two husbands, brow furrowed and lips pursed. “What on earth were you doing cooking without your shirts on?”
Jack coughed and plowed ahead. “I ordered dessert from Scialo’s. They refused to let me pay for it and insisted I bring you a sampling of their plum pudding.”
“Jack, did you desecrate my kitchen while the chicken was cooking?”
Tater took a large bite of his broccoli and hummed enthusiastically. “Is not desecration when married.”
Bitty’s jaw dropped. Jack covered his face with both of his hands. Tater kept eating his broccoli.
“I - you -”
“You are needing to eat. Can’t get strong again without protein.”
Bitty idly took a bite of his chicken and shook his head. “You know, I think I’m just going to ignore that and ask that you deep clean the kitchen before the housekeeper gets here.”
Jack and Tater nodded in agreement.
“Merciful Heavens, you two are ridiculous. It’s a good thing I love you.”
Tater put his empty plate on the dresser and carefully crawled into bed next to him. “Yes, is very good thing. We are loving you very much, too.”
Jack smiled at them both. “I’m just happy you are finally home and in one piece. I feel a lot better knowing you’re going to be fine after a bit of physical therapy and lots of TLC.”
“Come on you sentimental mush, get these plates out of the way and join us for a cuddle.”
“I thought you wanted me to clean the kitchen.”
“Lord, yes. But, you can do that after you get over here and let me soak in your presence.”
“Of course, bud.” Jack gently slid into bed so that Bitty was between him and Tater. It was nice being together again without any distractions. Tater had already started snoring and Bitty was barely able to keep his eyes open. Jack smiled and pecked them both on their cheeks. The kitchen could wait for the morning. He took off his soiled apron and shirt and tossed them at the laundry bin and settled in next to his husbands before drifting off to sleep.