Jack’s just framed the shot when a blue M&M bounces off the trunk of the tree, and lands in the grass at his feet.
He blinks down at it. And turns just in time to catch something smack right into the middle of his chest – a red M&M, this time – another candy whizzing past his ear a second later.
Jack ducks, raising a protective hand to shield his camera, and frowns up at the Haus.
“Bull’s eye,” Shitty crows from the porch roof, two fists in the air.
“Two points to the man with the ‘stache,” Lardo says, cross-legged in Shitty’s deck chair and actually writing that down, apparently.
“Five if I get it in your mouth, Jack,” Shitty calls. “Help me out with the assist, man!”
Jack snorts. “I don’t think so, Shits.”
“Too busy creating art,” Lardo says knowledgably. She looks up at Shitty. “He’s too busy creating art.”
“Far be it from me to argue with you two masters about what’s art and what’s not,” Shitty says, pausing to toss an M&M into the air and totally failing to catch it in his mouth. “—Ah, fuck— But I’m pretty sure that’s a tree.”
“It’s also my homework, probably,” Jack calls up to them.
“Seniors,” Lardo shakes her head. “You assholes and your second-semester freebie courses, not a care in the world, just having a good—“
“Forty thousand words of steaming shit, Lardo, does that sound like a good time to—“
It’s been a whole two days since Shitty has had a meltdown over his thesis, so he is about due for another one.
Jack’s about to lower the camera and head in, when Bittle’s window slides open. It’s kind of weird, that their rooms are across the hall from each other but both have windows overlooking the porch roof. Jack doesn’t think about it too much, except for when he’s coming back home and it’s dark enough to see the light on in Bittle’s room.
“If y’all are done raiding my chocolate stash, I was sort of hoping to get those into some energy cookies,” Bittle says, resting his forearms on his sill and half-leaning out onto the porch. He looks out into the yard, and waves at Jack. “Hey, Jack. You’ll like them, they’re healthy. What’re you doing out there?”
“He’s creeping on the tree,” Shitty says, thesis temporarily forgotten as he whips a hand into the bag and wings a handful of candy at Bittle. Jack wants to ask what energy cookies are, and how they could possibly be healthy, and also to defend his intentions towards the tree, but as Bittle squawks and ducks, the moment’s a little lost.
He just raises the camera again, snapping a shot as Bittle scoops up some of the fallen M&Ms and throws them back at Shitty, leaning almost entirely out of his window for a better angle.
The picture: the late-afternoon sun’s coming in strong right at the three of them, reflecting bright off Shitty’s sunglasses, catching every stud in the shoulders of Lardo’s jacket, lighting up Bittle’s hair.
He doesn’t believe in empty credits. He’s an athlete, but he’s a student too, and if he’s here then he’s going to be here. ‘Be present,’ Dr Foss kept saying throughout his freshman year, and he’s held on to that.
Jack’s life is pretty busy, though. Trying to be present doesn’t always mean he takes much away from some of his courses, with everything else going on. He tries not to feel bad about it, since he also thinks that might just be college, maybe.
Photography stuck with him, though. He’s glad he thought to go back to it this semester.
“What is it about it, do you think?” Bittle asks, doing that thing he does where he appears utterly absorbed in whatever he’s mixing or blending or measuring, but is still somehow able to pay perfect attention to what you’re saying.
Jack shrugs, even though Bittle isn’t looking at him, and turns his own attention to flipping through the various settings on his DSLR and absently twisting the zoom in and out, focused somewhere around Bittle’s ankle. “I like the process. I like learning to see things in a different way.”
Ransom leans back against the counter next to Bittle, and snags a fingerful of the tofu scramble. Which is, apparently, still pretty hot from the stove. “Jack you – shit, shit – you took one class sophomore year, right? With Lardo?” he blows on his fingers, and looks sadly at the bit of scramble now steaming on the linoleum (which is definitely not safe to eat off of).
“Yeah,” Jack says. He raises the camera, catches Ransom gamely going back in for more scramble. “I didn’t think I’d like it so much then. But I do.”
The picture: Ransom and Bitty leaning towards each other, Ransom’s hand out for the pan and Bittle trying for an intercept with his wooden spoon.
Jack’s flushed, happy, and really, really cold. He also can’t stop smiling. Or at least he assumes he’s smiling, since his cheeks have gone a little numb.
Bittle just shakes his head at him when he falls into one of the kitchen chairs. But he’s got cocoa all ready and waiting. With marshmallows.
“What?” Jack eases off his boots. “It’s not that bad out there.”
“Oh sure, just like mid-summer back home, eh?”
Jack snorts, and carefully nudges his camera well out of spill range before he wraps his hands around the mug. “Feel like I’m out and about in the middle of July,” he says, pushing those “ou”s hard.
“Drink your cocoa, Mr Zimmermann,” Bittle says, stacking the last cookie sheet in the dishrack and settling into the chair across from Jack. He pauses, that little half-hitch before he speaks. Something he never did last semester when they were in class together. Something he never did before that party. “Get any good shots?”
“Not everyone’s so scared of the weather,” Jack says. Be present, and that includes curbing the urge to obsess, especially about anything related to Kent. “Saw a whole line of guys Nordic skiing through River Quad.”
“Uh, cross-country skiing, basically. You ever done it?”
“Now I know you’re chirping me,” Bittle says. He’s leaning in a little. He won’t take the camera, and doesn’t ask to see Jack’s pictures directly. Jack doesn’t think it’s Bittle being shy, it’s more like he’s trying to respect some sort of boundaries that he thinks Jack might have about this. Jack doesn’t, really. But he’s a little touched by the thought.
Still, this time he hesitates. And presses a few buttons before he leans over, scrolling back through the shots to show Bittle most of what he took when he was out there.
“It was really nice,” Jack says quietly. “They didn’t even notice me. I don’t think they even saw I was there.”
“I don’t see how they could miss you,” Bittle says distractedly, tilting his head for a look at a vertical shot.
He doesn’t mind, Jack wants to say. He’s fine with it. More than fine. Being the observer instead of the observed, being the one to watch without worrying about who’s watching him and what they’re seeing, it – he doesn’t know how to explain it. He doesn’t think he can.
“Wow,” Bittle breathes. “It really does look gorgeous out there.”
“Winter’s not all bad,” Jack says.
“I still say your nose is going to fall off from hypothermia.”
“I don’t think that’s how that works.”
“Just drink your cocoa.”
The picture: wide frame of the Haus, near-dark but still bright with all the snow banked up around it. Every window is dark except for the kitchen, Bittle silhouetted against the light.
“Oh man, this is so sweet. Like, the broadening of the universe is totally great for me, right? Like who knows when I’ll show up in canon again? I had sort of ruled that out since the mantle’s been passed, I filled the pre-Chow space, etcetera etcetera. But given the blatant reference to fanworks within the main plotline, plus the depths of involvement on online platforms, it’s like I’ve got a whole ‘nother thing going on off-screen. Well, on a screen, I guess. Like, there’s a main screen, and then hundreds of smaller screens all doing their own thing, which may or may not incorporate me at any given time. It’s a rush, dude, I gotta say,” Johnson says.
“Right,” Jack says slowly.
“So, wait, what was the question again?”
“Uh,” Jack had three years of exposure to Johnson, but he never entirely got used to him off the ice. “You were a photography minor?”
“Ooooh,” Johnson says. “Sure. I mean, okay. Because why not, right? This is exactly what I mean. I’ve got a whole post-grad life I never even saw coming. Who knows what I’ll be up to next, or what other backstory I might get? Shit, I’m so stoked. So how can I help? With, uh, photography stuff. That I know so much about, for the purposes of this phone call.”
“I’ve got a midterm assignment due, and it’s supposed to be a series. Would you look over it for me? I showed it to Lardo and Bittle, but you’ve probably taken Evtuhov before so you know what she’s looking for.”
“Send away,” Johnson says. “So you showed it to Lardo and Bitty? They give you any pearls of wisdom?”
Jack presses his phone to his shoulder while he emails the compressed file to Johnson. “Lardo’s great. Even though photography isn’t really her thing, she still gave me some really good tips about selecting for the assignment since, uh, I take a lot of pictures.”
“And Bitty? He have any baking-related wisdom? Not to reduce him to a single character trait, of course. Little dude’s as dimensional as they come.”
That’s… probably a compliment. “He was just curious.” Bittle hadn’t said much about it, but then Jack had probably showed him most of the pictures before. And it had been while they were cooling down from an early-early-morning checking session. So Bittle could get a little quiet after those anyway.
“Okay, I got the email. Looking through the stuff now.”
Jack gets to his feet, feeling restless. He crosses his room, rests a shoulder against the window to look out at the porch, over the yard and to the tree outside. He can hear music playing somewhere in the Haus. He doesn’t recognize the low thrum of the bass, but it’s still safe to assume it’s coming from across the hall. Not that he’ll even attempt to guess who the band is, or anything.
“Fuck, this makes me miss you guys so much,” Johnson says. “Talk about a straight shot of Haus love. And I like it too, it’s kind of like a mystery unfolding, like how the number of physical bodies in the images are always growing and shrinking and moving around, so when you realize what the constant is, it hits you extra strong. Since the assignment is to put together a series, I think this aces it.”
“Dude, yeah. I’m not going to spell it out for you, don’t want to get too heavy on the dialogue here. Plus, I gotta go. Got an adult life to lead out here, in theory anyway. See you around, Zimmermann. Nice work.”
Jack pulls up the files again. Clicks through the whole set, and then goes through them again backwards. The only constant is the team, but that’s not really a surprise. It’s them eating, them talking, them studying, them (Chowder) napping on the couch, at a party, drinking coffee at Annie’s – well, that last one’s just Bittle. The only solo almost-portrait, though Jack had taken it while he was still in line and Bittle was at their table, surrounded by other people and already sucking down whatever sugary latte he’d ordered.
Which – Jack clicks back the first image. And goes through it all again.
Wow. Jack closes his laptop slowly, something like panic snaking its way through his gut.
He’s pretty dumb sometimes.
The pictures: Bittle. Bittle. Bittle. In the background, in the foreground, the back of his head, his face turned away to something beyond the edge of the picture, never quite looking into the camera. Never directly. But always there. Working his way from the fringes at the edge of shots (with Lardo and Shitty on the porch roof) to the middle (a dance circle at one of the more tame post-game kegsters, both arms up over his head), to a table in Annie’s (a second away from making eye contact with Jack). The last shot, right in the center of the frame, every line in it drawing the eye right to him.
Jack’s not an idiot. He knows he likes Bittle. He likes him a lot, something that’s been the biggest and best surprise about this year. They’re friends now, good friends even.
And he knows Bittle’s attractive. As much as he lets himself think that anyone’s attractive.
Which is pretty much never.
He wants to figure this out, though. He needs to. Be present. So Jack keeps his camera on him.
When they’re walking over to the science lecture that practically the whole team is in, Bittle wrapped up in the biggest scarf Jack’s ever seen. When Bittle’s sitting at the bench, helmet resting in his lap and his face intent on what Coach Murray is saying. When Bittle’s stirring some kind of chili which he swears will singe Jack’s eyebrows right off. Bittle listening to his pre-game playlist through his headphones, the easy motion of his hips at odds with his slight frown. At the next kegster, when Bittle’s laughing with Farmer and Chowder, his expression turning fond when Chowder works up the nerve to put his arm around Farmer’s waist.
Bittle notices. He doesn’t always look around when Jack takes his picture, but he notices what he’s doing.
He doesn’t say anything.
Why doesn’t he say anything? Jack tightens the focus. What is he thinking? He meditates on angles, crops out everything (everyone) else around the center subject. Is he okay? Is this okay? He centers the composition, and centers it again. He pulls in tighter.
Jack doesn’t let himself think that anyone’s attractive. He’s too busy, too focused, has too much going on. Is too close, at every single moment, to losing all the ground he’s gained. He’s not going to get distracted. He can’t.
Except for when he’s behind a camera. Because when he goes there with a lens it’s not the same as going there with his eyes.
The back of Bittle’s neck, the muscles of his shoulders. His eyes, sharp and focused on the ice, soft and gentle sitting at the kitchen table, closed as he throws his head back and laughs. His hands, wrapped around a mug, one finger following a line on a printed-out recipe, thumbs flicking over his phone, fingers spread wide to hold a book flat on his lap.
All the shots. The one of his shoulders. The one of the small of his back. The one of his jawline, the arch of his throat.
Bittle notices, because of course he does. He’s probably known something was happening since Jack showed him his midterm, and Bittle realized he was in every single picture.
But Jack can’t interpret it. Bittle doesn’t chirp him for taking pictures, though pretty much everyone else does (he still takes pictures of all of them, all the time; the unintended subject of one series doesn’t mean he only ever takes picture of Bittle). Bittle doesn’t even look around when the shutter clicks anymore, almost like he doesn’t realize Jack is there.
He does, though. And Jack knows it, when he’s flicking through the pictures he took that afternoon.
Jack stares at the image. He can’t stop looking at it, a flush climbing up his cheeks and his hands curling around fistfuls of comforter.
The picture: Actually two shots: the one Jack took when Bittle truly didn’t realize he was there (watching Peaky Blinders on a laptop with Holster), and then the one immediately after. Accidentally catching the moment when Bittle didn’t check himself in time and looked at Jack, looked right into the lens. A half-smile. There’s some shyness there, maybe a bit of embarrassment. But mostly Bittle looks warmly out at him with very evident, very knowing satisfaction.
When he hears Bittle get home, he feels like he’s been looking at the picture for hours. He knows he hasn’t, knows he even made a few calls to George and his parents, sent emails, did some homework. But he doesn’t remember much of any of that. He just remembers coming back to this shot again and again.
And then he hears Bittle get home, coming up the stairs and humming something as he heads into his room. There’s no reason Bittle should sense the seismic shift that’s happened in Jack’s head, but he still holds his breath as Bittle hits the creaky floorboard in front of Jack’s closed door.
Bittle doesn’t knock. But he also doesn’t close his own door behind him.
Jack gets up. He breathes, centering himself. He picks up the camera.
Bittle’s unwinding his scarf from around his neck when Jack’s bare feet hit the creaky floorboard. He’s turning back towards the doorway to say hello just as Jack raises the camera and takes the first shot.
The shutter snaps, and Bitty freezes.
It’s not panic, Jack realizes. It’s not fear. What’s burning through him is warmer, richer, brighter than both. It sinks around him as the shutter snaps again, and Bitty still doesn’t look at him.
Does he know? Jack thinks, vaguely. Does he just know somehow?
Apparently. Because he still hasn’t looked at him, still holding his scarf in both hands, head turned just enough for Jack to catch how the muscle in Bittle’s jaw jumps when he clenches his teeth. How his eyelashes flutter closed, then open again.
Jack didn’t realize what he was doing, when all this started. He was just taking pictures whenever he saw something worth photographing. Something that seemed to fit what he was being told in class, about line and shape and color and beauty. It had just happened that what had fit most often, what had been most picture-worthy to him, was Bittle. It was like the camera knew, before Jack did.
Bittle moves. Jack isn’t sure if either of them are even breathing, but Bittle pivots slowly to the right and opens his closet door. He loops the scarf over a hook, toes off his boots, and shrugs out of his jacket and hoodie, hanging them both up carefully.
Click, Bittle’s hands against the red knit of his scarf. Click, the uneven neck of Bittle’s button-down, twisted to expose his collarbone. Click, Bittle staring into his closet as though he can’t believe he’s seeing it, or that any of the contents are real.
At this moment, Jack’s sort of beyond getting pop culture points with a Narnia reference.
Bittle’s lips twitch into a quick smile, and he cocks his head a little, raising a hand to rub at the back of his neck.
Jack’s mouth goes dry.
“I’m—“ Bitty speaks so quietly – the same way he mutters to himself over a recipe or when he’s working on a video – that it takes a moment for Jack to register that he’s spoken at all. “—I’m going to close the door.”
Jack considers leaving. Nothing’s really happened. No line has been crossed here. He can just take a few sharp steps back, turn around, and it’ll all get chalked up as another weird thing he’s done.
All thoughts along those lines burn into nothing, when Bittle turns and Jack can see the splotchy blush rising up his neck, the rapid rise and fall of his chest. And when Jack bites his bottom lip, Bittle’s eyes leap to the movement before he remembers that he’s pretending that Jack is invisible, and looks away.
Jack lowers the camera and steps back, to give Bittle room. Bittle steps in front of him, closes the door, and turns around before Jack can start to panic. He steps into the middle of the room, pausing for a moment as though he isn’t sure what to do now either.
It’s a Thursday morning, a little after noon. The Haus is quiet, since Jack’s pretty sure everyone else has class or an impending thesis or some other work that they’re burying themselves in. The sun’s sharp and winter-bright, and Bittle’s room is the effortlessly soothing haven that it has been ever since Bittle moved in.
“There’s good,” Jack says. And he knows how his voice sounds, because Bittle – shivers, and nods.
Jack steps closer, raising the camera again. Bittle stands still, arms loose at his sides. He doesn’t look directly at Jack, but he can’t seem to stop himself from tracing his movement as Jack steps around him, Bittle’s eyes somewhere just to the left of Jack’s shoulder wherever he goes.
He has no idea what he’s doing. But there’s no question of running away anymore.
Click. Bittle’s eyes look huge, pupils blown so wide that Jack has to pull focus tightly in on them, click. Bittle huffs a laugh, raises an arm to rub over the top of his head, where the hair is longer and curls around his fingers. Click.
With the door closed, with the Haus empty around them, the camera cracks like a whip. His own breath sounds loud and harsh, and he thinks he can hear Bittle’s breathing too, can definitely hear when Bittle clears his throat. A soft sound; Jack wishes he could capture it on film. He settles for coming in close on Bittle’s mouth, just as Bittle purses his lips to let out a breath.
Jack doesn’t know if he should talk again, or if he can, or what it’ll do. But he needs – this is happening, this is really happening, and he hates to shatter that. Bittle’s with him, Jack’s pretty sure, but he needs – he needs to know.
“Would you—” he says, stops, gathers his nerve. “You can look at me.”
Bittle’s eyes snap to his face at once, and there, that’s the shot. The warmth, the happiness just to be looking at Jack, to have Jack looking at him. Jack’s never seen that before. Especially like this, where fond affection is edged with pure hunger.
A hunger that sharpens, as Bittle’s eyes track down from Jack’s face, over his chest and stomach, and down to his jeans.
Jack should be embarrassed, probably. If only because he’s been hard since Bittle shut his door. He would be embarrassed, maybe, if it wasn’t for how big Bittle’s eyes get.
“Oh,” Bittle breathes, mouth falling open. “Oh, Jack.”
His name, the way Bittle says it – has it ever sounded like this before? Has anyone ever said his name like this before?
Bittle looks back up at him, eyes bright and almost disbelieving. Jack thinks he might understand the feeling. He’s not sure he can believe that they’re here either. Click.
Bittle’s hand drops out of his hair, fingertips sliding down his cheek to rest against his mouth, a gesture that would almost be a caricature of prudish shock if it wasn’t for the eagerness in how he looks at Jack. Bittle drags at his bottom lip, the tip of his tongue flicking out to wet it, a shocking, shining pink.
Jack doesn’t even hear the shutter anymore, his ears full of a rhythmic, beating roar.
He pulls out wide for the first time in what feels like hours, taking in Bittle, the middle of his relatively-tidy bedroom, the afternoon light coming in through the window a counterpoint to how wrecked Bittle already looks. That, and the clearly visible hardness through his jeans, all incongruous in the full light of day.
Jack likes it, though. He wouldn’t mask any of Bittle in darkness. He wants to see every detail, every inch of him, every blonde hair and eyelash catching the sun as Bittle’s eyes drift shut and he ducks his head.
Shy for a moment or just collecting himself, either way he looks back up at Jack with a new determination, both like and unlike his game face on the ice.
His hand trails down, tracing over his own neck, resting with spread fingers and a flat palm over his sternum, just below the dip of his collarbone.
Soft hands, Jack thinks, adjusting the focus and coming back in on the sight, Bittle’s hand resting in between the strong V of the muscles in his neck and the softer V of his pale blue button-down. Jack knows what it means in hockey terms, has talked about Bittle that way before. Different meanings are suggesting themselves now, and he wants to know how soft Bittle’s hands really are. To touch them, to taste them, to feel them –
Jack can’t tell if he needs to run, or needs to drop the camera right now and drag Bittle in. He settles for taking the shot. Click.
Now that Jack’s said he could, Bittle hasn’t looked away from him once. His head tilts a little, considering. Slowly, as though he can tell how close Jack is to bolting (how does he know? How does Bittle just know?), he raises his other hand to his collar, fingers poised over his top button, palms arched and thumbs brushing over fabric.
Whatever Bittle sees in Jack’s face, it isn’t discouraging.
The first button slides free, an economical flick of Bittle’s fingers enough to part the fabric, moving quickly down to the next one. Like he can’t make himself slow down for this either. Click, click, click, Jack scrambles a little to keep up. He needs to catch every single inch of skin as it appears, sweeping down Bittle’s torso.
When Bittle steps back, Jack step forward without thinking. He just wants to preserve the framing, the focus, the composition of blue over winter-pale skin (not like when Bittle comes back from summer break, golden and warm and with four times the “y’all”s for a few days).
So it’s not until the shirt falls open entirely and Bittle’s hands drop to his sides that Jack realizes they’ve moved across the room, and Bittle’s legs are pressed back up against his bed.
Jack’s finger freezes over the button. He’s utterly caught by how Bittle looks, lit from behind by the window, the porch roof, the Haus yard, the tree behind him. He imagines he can feel the warmth coming off of Bittle’s skin. Or maybe that’s just how Bittle’s looking at him, directly into the lens as though he can see right through it, right at Jack.
He expects to find that frightening. He doesn’t.
“Bittle,” he says, voice rough, practically just a groan. How does he communicate this? That Bittle doesn’t have to indulge him, that he could turn Jack out of his room right now and Jack would go, and it probably wouldn’t even hurt. Not when he’s been given so much already. Not when he’s been given so much more than he knew he needed.
But Jack isn’t a very good person, really. Impulse control, greed, a predisposition for addiction that means need is no casual concept for him.
His mind and body betray him all the time, telling him he needs things that he can’t or shouldn’t let himself have. Bittle in front of him, like this, is definitely one of those things. There’s an elaborately-built web of reasons why he should just shut it all down, and he can’t remember a single one of them.
And if Bittle keeps looking at him like that, eyes slipping almost closed and fingertips brushing against his hipbones, Jack isn’t going to be the one to walk away.
“Jack,” is all Bittle says.
He babbles when he’s nervous, so what does it mean that he sits down on the bed in silence, sliding back and looking right into the lens with a smile? What does it mean that he only chuckles a little, breathy and soft, when Jack moves forward too, clambering up to kneel on the bed?
Bittle settles back on his elbows, head bumping up against the windowsill. Which can’t be comfortable; if Jack wasn’t holding the camera he’d have to slide his fingers around to cradle the back of Bittle’s head to offer some kind of cushion, but – but Jack can’t put it down, not when Bittle’s hands are sliding over his ribs, not shrugging out of the shirt entirely but exposing more of his chest, his stomach, letting the sides of his shirt fan out over the bed around him.
Jack’s seen Bittle’s body before. In the locker room, in the shower, passing in the hallway. But this is not remotely the same.
“Jack,” Bittle says again, drawing out the sound of his name as he hooks his thumbs in the waistband of his jeans.
Jack has one knee on either side of Bittle’s’ thigh; there’s only so far he can pull back when he’s kneeling right over him, but he wants to catch all of it at once – Bittle sprawled back on his neatly-made bed, head against the glass windowpane, the way their legs almost fit together, almost touch. He settles for what he can capture from here: the blush spotting Bittle’s cheeks, the dusting of blonde hair over his chest and stomach, his hands over the line between jeans and skin, the unmistakable and probably uncomfortable line of his dick under his jeans.
He has as little time to catch the motion in action as he did when it was Bittle’s shirt buttons: the button of Bittle’s jeans is fastened, and then his deft hands pass over it and it’s undone.
Jack’s focus is drawn away from the soft rasp of Bittle drawing down his zipper, and slides the lens back up Bittle’s body to his face. Apparently unconcerned with what his hands are doing, Bittle’s eyes are on Jack, wide open and dark, before his shoulders tense, his eyes flutter shut, and Bittle pushes his jeans and underwear down off his hips.
Jack doesn’t look, at first. He needs this more, to catch the twitch of Bittle’s eyelashes against his cheeks, the straining in his shoulders. Bittle’s mouth falls open slightly, he’s panting, eyebrows coming down in a slight frown. Jack needs to capture that. He needs one more shot of Bittle shifting against the bed. One more shot of his head twisting a little to the side, tension standing out in his clenched jaw. One more of Bittle’s eyes drifting open, finding Jack’s lens again with hazy, hungry wonder.
Jack leans back on his heels, and slides the frame down, lingering over the jump of muscles in Bittle’s arm before he gets there. To Bittle’s hands, one fisted in the blankets next to Jack’s knee and the other wrapped around his own dick. A bead of precome stands at the flushed red head, and without breaking his rhythm Bittle catches it, swirling his palm over the tip before sweeping back down.
Jack can’t catch his breath, he can’t help his mouth falling open, he can’t suppress the moan that twists out of him, as the motion of Bittle’s hand and the restless jumping of his hips almost brings him into contact with Jack’s stomach.
Bittle’s sharp, indrawn breath is what makes him realize he’s lowered the camera. He’s just staring now, caught by the sight of Bittle pumping his cock. Bittle’s eyes are on his face again, but Jack can’t quite look up yet from Bittle’s quickened pace, the rolling motion of the muscles in his stomach, the blush over his chest.
“Jack,” Bittle hisses between clenched teeth, “Please.”
Nerves clench in his chest, and Jack breathes through the wave of panic. He grounds himself, raising the camera with one hand and pressing the other to Bittle’s bare hip.
His skin is blazing hot, the bone fitting perfectly into the curve of Jack’s palm, his hand big enough to fold over Bittle’s side and just brush the curve of his ass. His thumb sweeps over Bittle’s skin, over the patch of dark hair, Bittle’s hand bumping against Jack’s at the bottom of a downward stroke.
Click, as Bittle arches up, as he comes on a long, soft “ah,” as come streaks up his stomach, as his other hand unknots itself from the blankets to wrap around the back of Jack’s thigh.
Contact. Bittle’s hip, Jack’s thigh. The camera falls to the bed, and Jack tips forward, mouth open, his cock sliding – finally — against Bittle’s thigh. One thrust and he comes hard, still fully clothed, with Bittle watching, working his dick and twitching lazily through the aftershocks.
When the wave of tingling perfection passes, Jack is afraid to open his eyes again. Or to move at all. He breathes, arms trembling beneath him, and can’t bring himself to look down at Bittle.
He’s surprised then, by the gentle – and slightly sticky – touch over his cheek.
“Jack,” Bittle whispers. “Jack, look at me.”
He does. And almost has to shut his eyes and turn away again, because Bittle is glowing up at him. His whole body is slumped back in boneless relaxation, still limned in golden sunlight. And familiar to Jack. Even in this moment which is pretty damn unfamiliar for them, it feels as natural as sitting down at the kitchen table.
The look on Bittle’s face is almost the same, even. And Jack had thought he had been paying attention – paying close attention – but he realizes now that Bittle has looked at him like this before. When he taps gloves with him after a game. When Jack produces something passably edible from one of Bittle’s recipes. When Jack leaps snowbanks across the quad to talk to him. When Bittle settles next to him in silence as he tucks into a PB&J.
Bittle looks at him like Jack is too much. Like he’s everything all at once, and too much to look at, and too much to ever look away from.
He wants to reach for the camera again. But instead he reaches for Bittle, leaning in and sliding his hand between Bittle’s head and the chilly glass of the windowpane, kissing Bittle before he can think himself out of it.
Bittle wraps his arms around him, Bittle draws Jack further in with a soft sound of utter happiness, Bittle’s mouth is open and eager under his. Jack presses down, presses into him, and forgets to think anything at all.
“Oh, Lord,” Bittle says, when Jack pulls back just far enough to look at him again. “Tell me that wasn’t all for homework.”
Jack laughs, sliding a hand up Bittle’s waist. “It wasn’t.”
“Good,” Bittle says, “Have I mentioned how glad I am that you picked this for your blow-off second semester class?”
“It isn’t—” Jack starts to say, but Bittle leans up and licks slowly over Jack’s lips, and Jack forgets what they were even talking about.
In a moment, he’s going to get truly uncomfortable, both with this angle and the mess in his jeans. But that moment feels like ages from now.
Jack has never been more present for anything in his entire life.
“I guess that’s why photography never reached me in the same way,” Lardo concludes, absently doodling in the margins of her history notes at the kitchen table. “Sculpture gives me everything. It is the moment— it’s every angle, every sense engaged, all dependent on being physically in the presence of the work. Pictures of a sculpture never do it justice, and it’s because it’s the most in-the-moment experience of art. At least for me. I got a little frustrated with photography, like I was only ever capturing little parts of the whole.”
“I can see that,” Jack says, looking across the room to where Bittle is tucked into the least objectionable of their armchairs, resting his chin in one hand and flipping through a book with the other. “But I think for me, it’s the little parts of the whole that I like best. Together, they make something bigger.”
Bittle looks up at Jack. He smiles.
Jack raises his camera. He takes the shot.