What if since meeting your soulmate is the best thing to happen to you, they get teleported to the site of the worst thing that’s happened to you?
Jack skates through the crowd of his teammates who are currently mobbing the small blonde freshman who brought pie of all things into his practice. He’s kind of intending to ask the kid what the hell he thinks he’s doing feeding these guys before they have to go run drills, anyway. Like seriously, does he want a rink full of projectile-vomiting jocks? Cuz that’s an ugly scene that he does not want to explain to the ice crew. But he’s the captain, and so when guys on his team act like morons, Jack is always the one who has to go apologize on behalf of the Samwell Men’s Hockey Team.
He’s more than ready to lay into the new guy, but when the crowd parts, and new guy looks up, he smiles this nervous little smile and says,
“Hi! I’m Eric -” and then everything goes black.
Coach Bittle got into the habit of always checking the janitor’s closet on his way out of the building every night. After what happened to Junior, he ended up just sort of gravitating there. The first time he’d had the urge to check inside, he’d ignored it and spent the rest of the night tossing and turning, imagining a tiny freshman, plopped on a bucket and crying their eyes out. When the custodian showed up at 5, Coach was already waiting in his truck with a cup of coffee. Now he just gives in. Figures that as far as compulsive, guilty urges go, it’s not that bad. Only takes him another minute out of his way, and now he goes home and sleeps like a baby.
Luckily, depite making it part of his nightly routine for the past few years, nobody’s actually been locked in there. Well. Locked in. There were certainly a few encounters he interrupted. Those times he was delayed more than a minute having to make uncomfortable phone calls to parents.
The first and only time that Coach Bittle rescues someone from the janitor’s closet is actually not even during the school year, and he isn’t actually checking for anyone. He’d just come in to do some paperwork for preseason and spilled coffee on his desk, and when he goes to get the actually absorbent paper towels from the closet, he finds a very large, very confused man in full hockey gear.
“AHHHH!” They both scream and jolt back, Coach stumbling and catching himself on the drinking foundtain, the large hockey man, being not so lucky and still wearing skates, sits in a mop bucket. His only solace seems to be that it’s currently empty.
“What in the sam hell!?” Coach yells, regaining his footing. Hockey man flinches and his eyes dart around like a cornered racoon.
“Where am I?” he chokes out. “What’s - what’s going on?” He looks up and meets Coach’s eyes. Coach looks down at hockey man’s jersey. Samwell Men’s Hockey. And he is not a stupid man by any stretch of the imagination, so it takes only a few stunned seconds to realize that this must me Junior’s soulmate. Why else would one of his teammates have been catapulted down to Georgia?
“You’re in Madison, Georgia, son. Looks like you just met your soulmate.”
“My - but I - I was at practice?” Hockey man looks up at him, and from way down there, looking so goddamn confused, he finally looks young enough to be playing with Dicky’s team.
“And now you’re here. So what does that tell you?” Coach raises an eyebrow.
“That…I…met my soulmate?”
“Sounds about right. Also sounds like you probably need to be getting on your way back, don’t it?”
“Um, yes. That would be. I should. Um. Go.”
“Might want to start with taking off the skates first.”
“Oh, I. Yes.” Hockey man awkwardly lifts his legs one by one and scrunches up to untie his laces. Coach helps him pull the skates off, and then offers a hand up out of the bucket.
“Thank you, sir.”
“Jack Zimmermann,” he introduces himself and holds his hand out to shake. “Nice to meet you.”
“Eric Bittle Senior,” Coach tells him, trying not to feel a little pleased when the boy’s face goes pale in recognition. “Come on, I’ll give you a ride back where y’all belong.”
“But I - That’s Massachusetts.”
“I know what I said. Hussle, you’ve got another practice tomorrow mornin’ I bet.”
“Then we oughtta hope traffic’s on our side.”
Meanwhile, Bob Zimmermann nearly cuts his ear off shaving when he hears a loud thump followed by a sqeuak behind him. He turns to find a strange young man in a Samwell Men’s Hockey jersey sprawled across his bathroom floor, clutching a pecan pie to his chest.
“Chrisse!” He yells, razor clattering to the sink. He manages to catch his towel before it falls, luckily, but his yelling seems to have startled the poor kid even more. He’s shaking a little as he sets the pie down gently and sits up. The blades of his skates clink against the tile.
“I - Um - Oh dear, I am so sorry! I don’t - I don’t know what happened! I was at practice and then - I mean - I’ll just be going.”
“Non!” Bob rushes to assure the boy it’s fine, but when he steps forward, it startles him all over again. Clearing his throat, Bob steps back and switches to English. “I mean, there’s no need to apologize. I know why you’re here, I just - wasn’t expecting you at this particular moment.”
“You…were expecting me?”
“Well…not you exactly, but…the…concept? of you? Jack’s soulmate. We - His mother and I, we knew when he met them, they would show up here.”
“Oh…I…guess that makes sense?”
“I’m sorry we had to meet like this. I feel terribly underdressed.” The boy stares at him blankly until Bob cracks a smile. Then, he breaks out into loud pleals of laughter. His eyes are a warm brown and crinkle at the corners, his nose scrunches. He looks like such a happy person. Maybe happy enough that some of it will rub off on Jack.
Hockey boy stands up and shakes the hand that isn’t holding Bob’s towel up. “Eric Bittle, pleasure to meet you.”
“Bob Zimmermann, nice to meet you too.” Another good (although strange, very strange) sign: there isn’t a trace of recognition in the boy’s face at hearing the name “Bob Zimmermann”. Of course Jack’s soulmate would be the only hockey player alive who had no clue who the fuck his father is.
Eric hobbles out of the bathroom and sits against the wall in the hallway to take his skates off before making his way downstairs to the kitchen where Bob had said his wife Alicia was probably hanging out. Sure enough, when he found the (gorgeous. stunning. drool-worthy.) kitchen, there was a tall, blonde woman sitting cross-legged on one of the barstools, a cup of coffee in one hand and the other propping open a book.
“Hello,” he announces himself quietly. She’s still startled, though not nearly as much as her husband had been. When she turns and gets a look at him, she puts the coffee down and lets the pages of the book flop freely, unfolding herself from the seat.
“Hello. You must be…”
“Eric. Eric Bittle.”
“Right. And -”
“Jack’s soulmate. Yes ma’am, it would seem so.” He smiles timidly, and is most definitely not expecting to be enveloped in a hug.
“It’s so nice to meet you.”
“The pleasure’s all mine, Mrs. Zimmermann.”
“Well,” Alicia steps back and puts her hands on her hips, regarding Eric with a motherly smile. “Can I get you a cup of coffee while we wait for Bob?”
Jack and Coach switch drivers every state. Coach insists that each time, they take a photo in front of the Welcome sign. Jack snaps a few pictures on his phone when he’s in the passenger seat. When it’s his turn to drive, he tries to educate Coach on the finer points of hockey and the top NCAA teams, and Coach in turn tries to explain how the hell football works.
The Zimmermanns put Eric on a plane back to Massachusetts that night with his hockey gear stuffed in a duffel and wearing the least obviously early 2000s clothes they could find in Jack’s old dresser.
“We wish we could go with you,” Alicia tells him, seeming genuinely sad to be sending him off alone.
“But Jack probably wouldn’t appreciate…intruding. He likes to keep his life at school seperate from his life back home, you know?”
“Of course, don’t worry a bit. It was so nice meeting y’all.”
When the airport shuttle leaves Eric in front of his dorm, he’s exhausted from the trip and starting to stress out about seeing Jack. His soulmate. Who he’d barely seen in the first place, only a quick impression of tall and eyes before he’d been wormholed to Montreal. He thinks he has to be seeing things when he first catches sight of his father’s old blue truck pulled up against the curb.
He shakes himself and starts for the building, but from behind him, Coach’s voice calls,
“Dicky! Er- Eric!” Eric’s head spins a little with how fast he turns around. Because there’s no way. His dad hadn’t been able to get away from preseason long enough to drive Eric up to school in the first place. There’s no way he’s - But the there’s Jack, sliding out of the passenger seat. Because Coach had driven him. All the way from Georgia. Because he’s Eric’s soulmate. Coach is hand-delivering the love of Eric’s life and he just…cannot with this day anymore.
So he focuses on the one tiny part that he can wrap his travel-weary brain around. He walks up to Jack, who’s watching him raptly, eyes darting everywhere like he’s trying to make sure he memorizes everything before he disappears again, and says,
“I don’t think we managed to introduce ourselves properly last time.”