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You Never Said You Wouldn’t So Here I Am

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Eric is composing a tweet under the table when the text pops up:

yo bitty

Eric looks up to see Holster grinning at him. “I’m literally three feet away from you right now.”

Holster leans across his notebook and lowers his voice. “That dude two tables over has been checking you out for like twenty minutes.”

Eric feels a flush creep over his face. It’s a moment before he can work up the nerve to look, but when he does, he feels a wave of relief. “Oh, that’s Hayden. He’s in my art appreciation class.”

“Art appreciation?” Lardo groans. “The fuck, Bits? I thought we were bros.”

“We can’t all be you,” Holster says, elbowing her. “But seriously, Bitty, he is hella into you.”

Eric looks again, but Hayden is now looking down at his phone. “How do you even — I mean, okay: we spent last week working on a presentation and ended up hanging out some. That’s it.”

Holster’s grin is positively feral. “Dude hasn’t turned a page in ten minutes. Just sits there and stares at you.”

“He’s never seen me with y’all before. It’s probably weird.”

“Brah. That boy is DTF.”

Eric’s face burns and he presses his forehead into the book in front of him. “Oh my god.”

Ransom snorts. “Damn, Bitty, you must have it bad.”

“Shut up, I don’t. I hardly know him.” Eric glances down to the other end of the table, where Jack is sitting. He doesn’t seem to be listening to this conversation, though; he’s steeping himself in his homework with the same single-minded intensity he brings to games. Eric looks down at his phone again.

“Do it, Bitty. Go talk to him.” Ransom is flipping through a set of note cards now. “Or Holster will never shut the fuck up.”

“You’re the only one in the Haus who hasn’t gotten laid this semester.” Holster raises his eyebrows.

“I’ve never—” Eric starts, and then realizes his mistake. Four heads look up at once, and he can almost feel the force of the chirp tsunami that’s coming. “Goodness, y’all are scary. Never in the Haus, I meant.”

Everyone deflates a little. It’s almost comical.

Holster sighs melodramatically. “Bout time to rectify that sitch, Bits.”

“And I’m not the only one.” Eric tilts his head very slightly in Jack’s direction.

Holster smirks. “Yeah, but Jack is hockey-sexual, so he doesn’t count.”

Jack rolls his eyes and looks back at his book again.

Eric sighs. “Would you believe I’m baking-sexual?”

Holster laughs a “Fuck, no,” and Ransom says, “Shit, son,” and Lardo just grins. (Jack: no reaction.)

Eric considers. Hayden really is nice. He’s cute in that boyish way that isn’t usually Eric’s type, but he’s tall and has amazing green eyes, and he was fun to work with. They don’t have much in common other than the class, and so Eric hadn’t thought much about it. He glances at Jack again, but Jack is busy writing something in the margin of his book. There is a small wrinkle between his eyebrows, like he’s concentrating hard, and all Eric wants to do is smooth it away with his fingertips.

Eric forces himself to look away, back towards where Hayden is sitting. His Samwell love life to date has centered around having a crush on a straight boy, which is beyond pathetic. And if Hayden really is interested, well… Eric could do a lot worse. He could at least give it a shot, right?

“You’re gonna chirp me either way, aren’t you?”

“Yep.” Spoken in perfect unison.

Eric pushes to his feet with a resigned sigh. Ransom raises a fist and Holster bumps it lightly. Lardo shakes her head and goes back to her reading.

Hayden’s eyes widen when he sees Eric coming. He grins and looks back down at the book in front of him, clearly waiting. Eric can’t help glancing back at his friends, who are watching with expressions of unbridled glee. All except for Jack, of course, who is glaring at his notes as if they’ve offended him.

Eric definitely isn’t doing this in full view of the guys from the Haus. Instead, he ruffles Hayden’s hair with his fingers as he passes, and winks at him as coyly as he can manage. He continues on towards the research computers around the corner and sits in front of a monitor, tapping at the screen in an attempt to appear as if he’s actually got a reason to be there.

Thirty seconds later: “Hey.”

Eric looks up to see Hayden standing next to him, smiling shyly. His cheeks are pink and his eyes seem to glitter, and Eric can’t help but smile back. This boy really does have a crush.

“Hey,” Eric replies. “You were great last week, by the way. That slide explaining pointillism — I still don’t know how you animated everything.”

Hayden ducks his head a little. “Thanks. It’s not really hard. I’m taking a film-making class right now and it’s pretty sweet. I mean, I could show you how to do it, if you want?”

“Yeah, that’d be great.” He could probably use some of that on his vlog, actually. A few ideas flit through his mind, but he files them away. Hayden is just standing there now, his hands shoved awkwardly in his pockets. He seems not to know where to look.

Eric turns his body sideways in the chair and bumps his knee against Hayden’s. Hayden doesn’t move, but he leans into the touch. Eric watches his face, fascinated. He’d missed it before, all those nights they’d worked together in the library and in Hayden’s dorm room. He hadn’t even been looking for it, really.

Is that the way he looks around Jack?

Hayden finally makes eye contact. “Or we could, you know, get coffee or something?” He’s actually kind of adorable. Eric remembers he’s a freshman and suddenly wants to hug him.

He bites his lip through a smile instead. “Great.”

“Are you, um… busy now? I mean, we’d get decaf, obviously. Unless you’re one of those people that caffeine doesn’t affect and all. My grandma is like that. She can drink coffee at midnight and fall asleep in her recliner. It’s crazy.” Hayden seems to realize he’s rambling, and winces.

Eric hesitates. He doesn’t have homework due tomorrow, but he was hoping to get ahead tonight. They have a roadie this weekend, after all, and he knows he won’t have much time to study. But if he waits, he’ll think about this too much, and then he might not do it at all.

“Sure. Let me get my stuff.”

Hayden’s face lights up, and it makes something in Eric’s chest twist. It hurts a little and he’s not sure if it should.

Hayden follows him back to the table, to the obvious delight of Ransom and Holster. They both affect innocent faces as Eric introduces them.

“Oooh, you two got plans tonight?” Holster asks.

“Bitty boy, stayin’ up late,” Ransom says.

“Make sure you’ve got a sock handy.”

“And keep it the fuck down. I got an exam at eight a.m.”

Eric shoots them death glares and packs his things up as quickly as he can — the longer Ransom and Holster have, the worse it could get.

“I didn’t even know Samwell had a hockey team until Eric told me about it,” Hayden says, and the entire table goes silent. All of them look up at him, and Eric can actually see the momentum shift. Hayden blushes, realizing he’s made some sort of faux pas. “Well, I mean… I’m not really into sports. I’m a theatre major and… well.”

Jack makes a sound of exhaustion and slams his book shut. “Checking practice at five, Bittle.”

Eric gapes at him. “I thought you said this morning you didn’t have time for—”

Jack looks up at him then, his jaw set. “I watched the tape from Quinnipiac’s last game today, and they’ve got some big guys on D who like it rough. So I’m making time.” Jack turns a stony face to Hayden now, who seems to have shrunk several inches.

Eric glances around the table. Holster and Ransom shift their attention back to their studying, their expressions uneasy.

“Right. Thanks, Jack. I’ll be ready to go at five.” He turns to look at Hayden, but can’t think of anything to say.

“It sounds like you’re busy right now, so.” Hayden takes a step back, warily. “How about tomorrow afternoon? I’m finished with classes at two.”

“Everyone needs to be on the bus at noon.” Jack’s voice has a matter-of-fact tone to it, but Eric sees the look Holster and Ransom exchange.

Eric turns to Hayden. “Sorry. Maybe another time?”

“Yeah, sure.” Hayden shoves his hands in his pockets and backs away, disappointment clear on his face. “See ya around, Eric.”

Eric watches him walk back to his table before turning back to look at Jack, but Jack’s nose is firmly buried in his book again. Eric shoulders his backpack and clenches the strap so tightly it hurts.

“I guess I’m going to bed early. Night, y’all.”

“Wait up,” Lardo says. She shoves her book into her bag and stands. “I’m heading out too.”

Eric can hear Holster and Ransom whispering furiously behind him. Lardo squeezes his shoulder as she joins him, and Eric gives her a tight smile. His gaze sweeps behind her to where Jack is sitting. He has a strange expression on his face, almost like sadness, and Eric feels his heart clench. Jack looks down again and Eric sighs.

He tries to catch Hayden’s eye as they leave, but Hayden has earbuds in now and is staring down at his homework sort of forlornly.

“Nice try, bro,” Lardo says once they’re out in the crisp night air.

“It was bad timing. I’ll talk to him next week.” He’s already not sure, though. Hayden doesn’t seem like the kind of boy who’d want to hang out at the Haus with Shitty and the Frogs while Eric bakes in the kitchen. Eric feels a sudden, desperate jolt at the realization: the odds of him finding someone who would fit into his life like that are pretty remote.

And of course, the real problem with every boy he meets is that they’re not Jack.

“You okay?”

He loops his arm through Lardo’s and forces a smile. “Yeah.”

He sees her assessing glance out of the corner of his eye, but she doesn’t say anything. He’s grateful.

***

Eric opens the door to the Math Tutoring Center and groans: the room is completely packed. He put off studying for this test for too long, as usual.

He manages to find a seat and spends the next half hour re-reading the relevant sections of his textbook and working through the examples. It doesn’t seem to help, but it feels better than doing nothing. Something shifts then, and the noise level in the room peaks: a big group of students is packing up and leaving. Eric breathes a sigh of relief.

One of the tutors sits next to him, and Eric scrambles to dig through his notes for the questions he’d planned to ask. When he finally looks up, he nearly squeaks. The guy sitting next to him is hot. Like, seriously hot, with dark hair and cute hipster glasses and big brown eyes that are definitely looking back at Eric with interest. Eric’s gaze slides down the line of his throat before he can stop himself. His name tag reads Justin.

Eric bites his lip and looks down at his notes. “Ummm… okay, so I’m really confused about the Mean Value Theorem.” He flips to the right page.

“Calc one, right?”

“Right.”

Justin’s lips twitch into a smile. “I can definitely help with that.”

An hour later, they’re alone in the room, and Eric looks around, surprised. “Where did everyone go?”

Justin pulls his phone from his pocket and glances at the screen. “Shit, tutoring hours ended twenty minutes ago. I totally lost track of time. Guess I was having fun.”

Eric grins, feeling a little thrill at the idea that Justin might be that into him. Or maybe he’s just that into math, whatever. He closes his book and stacks up the papers they’ve been scribbling on. “I hope I didn’t make you late for anything.”

“No, it’s cool. I don’t have class again until this evening.”

Eric gives him an appraising look. “So you’re really a math major?”

“You sound surprised.”

“No! I mean, I guess I wasn’t expecting…” A total hottie to help me with my homework, is what he wants to say. He laughs and zips his backpack closed. “Ignore me. I have no idea what I’m saying.”

“No, I get it. We don’t get a lot of hockey players in here, so you’re not what I expected either.”

Eric gapes at him. “How do you know I play hockey?”

Justin’s cheeks turn a little pink. “I go to games every now and then. And I… may have seen your vlog.”

“Are you serious? No one around here watches that!” Eric grins at him. “Wait, do you like to bake?”

Justin’s blush is on now. “No, I… Well, my mom follows you. She sent me a link a while back and asked me if I knew you, since we go to the same school and all.”

“Oh my god.” Eric feels his face heating now. The idea that he’d randomly meet someone whose mom watches his vlog is just… wow. “Want me to autograph something for her?” He’d meant it as a joke, but Justin’s eyes light up.

“Actually, would you? She’d love that.” He scrounges for a clean piece of paper and Eric signs it, making it out to “Kelly.”

“Goodness, that’s the first non-hockey autograph I’ve ever signed.” Eric presses his palms to his cheeks, still grinning.

Justin tucks the paper carefully into his bag and turns to look at Eric. “So are you… are you busy now?”

“I… no.” Eric blinks at him, realizing exactly what Justin is asking. “I guess not. I mean, I’ve still got this test in two days, but I’m probably as prepared for it as I’m going to be.”

“Thanks to me?” Justin’s smile is sweet, flirtatious.

“Definitely thanks to you.” Eric stands and slings his bag over his shoulder, then leans back against the table. It feels good to be on the receiving end of this kind of attention. It’s been rare until now, but maybe his luck is finally changing. Maybe he needs to get out of the Haus (and the kitchen) more often.

“Want to get coffee or something?”

Eric has to press his lips together to stop himself from grinning like an idiot. He looks up at Justin through his eyelashes. “That’d be nice.”

***

They sit at a table with their knees bumping together. Justin is a junior, Eric learns, and he grew up in Chicago. He came to Samwell to major in English lit, but he changed his major halfway through sophomore year. He listens to Eric’s stories about growing up in small town Georgia and figure skating. He asks Eric about hockey and the team, and about baking.

They finish their coffee and walk, bumping shoulders and casting shy glances at each other. Justin is nice and attentive, and he’s hot in that wiry sort of way Eric wouldn’t have expected to be his type. He’d be great to get to know better, Eric decides.

He looks up and realizes they’re standing in front of the Haus. He hadn’t planned on leading Justin here, but his feet know the way so well he does it on autopilot. They stop on the front walk under the tree, and Eric hesitates. Should he invite Justin in? Show him the kitchen? Show him his room?

A howl of laughter comes from the open window — Shitty and Holster, playing Mario Kart again from the sound of it. He winces, thinking of the ridiculous amount of chirping he’d get if he took a boy up to his room in full view of those two.

He turns to Justin. “This is me.”

Justin stares back at him, his dark hair framed by fading sunlight. He looks like he has a halo. “This is you.”

Eric swallows and makes a decision. He takes a step forward, putting himself right into Justin’s personal space. He looks up at him with a soft smile, and watches Justin’s gaze flit over his face for a full second. Justin smiles back, sweet and warm, then leans forward to close the distance between them. It’s a nice kiss, gentle at first. Justin’s tongue sweeps across Eric’s lower lip and he opens his mouth, and oh. It’s warm and wet, and Eric feels a twinge of arousal in his belly. He presses closer and Justin makes a small sound, something almost like a whimper.

Someone coughs and they both jump apart, startled. Eric turns to see Jack sitting on the front steps, putting on his running shoes.

“Jack. Um.” Eric feels like he needs to explain, for some reason.

Jack doesn’t look up. “I’m going for a run. Want to come with?”

“I…” Eric turns to look at Justin, who is staring at Jack with wide eyes.

Jack looks up then, and his gaze slides right past Eric to Justin. It’s his game face, Eric realizes, the same expression he wears to intimidate opponents on the ice. Eric saw it a hell of a lot last year, but it occurs to him now that he hasn’t seen it directed at himself in a long time.

Eric can’t help looking at Justin to see the effect. Not surprisingly, Justin looks flustered.

“I’ve got class in a bit anyway. I should… yeah.” He takes a step backwards and his foot slips off the sidewalk, and he stumbles.

Eric has to press his lips together to stop himself from laughing. He knows Jack can be as intimidating as hell, but seeing someone react to it like this is actually kind of bizarre.

“Bye,” Eric says.

“See ya later,” Justin replies, and walks away faster than is probably necessary. He glances back over his shoulder once and disappears around the corner.

Eric looks back to see that Jack has a small smile on his lips. He finishes tying his shoes.

“You coming?”

“Yeah, sure. Give me a minute to change.”

There is a bit of a scramble when he opens the door: Holster and Shitty hit the couch in a hurry, picking up game controllers and trying to appear as casual as possible. Eric sighs and shakes his head. He can hear them whispering as he goes up the stairs.

It’s not until he’s two miles into his run with Jack that he realizes he never got Justin’s number, or even his last name. He knows where to find him, but… Eric decides to let himself think on that a bit.

***

“You boys were fuckin’ on fire tonight!” Shitty says, clapping Holster on the shoulder. “And Jack, you sick motherfucker, going five-hole on that goalie! I hope somebody sucks your dick tonight, bro, cause you deserve it.”

Eric laughs with the rest of them, but presses his face into his towel before anyone sees the fierce blush on his face. Everyone is grinning, already celebrating as they pull off their gear. Four to one is pretty fantastic, made even sweeter because of the hostile shit they’d had to take from the crowd. And Jack had played amazingly well. It was a joy to watch him on nights like this, to be on the line with him. Eric felt nearly giddy.

“And Bitty getting hit by that goon and shaking it off!” Shitty’s arm is around Eric’s neck now, squeezing him enough that Eric can barely breathe. “You deserve to get your dick sucked too, bro.”

“Oh my god,” Eric squeaks. He can’t hide his blush now, but it’s fine. He’s happy, and Jack is grinning at him, and it was a hell of a last period.

Potsdam is far enough from Samwell that they’re staying in a hotel tonight. They’ll head back on the bus in the morning, but they have the rest of the night free. Eric was planning to spend it hanging out in his room doing homework, but as soon as they’re all off the bus, Holster waves everyone over.

“So I went to high school with Morkins, you know, the left winger? Anyway, he said we’d be welcome to come to the post-game party they’re having tonight. Who’s in?”

“Bro,” Shitty says, slinging an arm around Lardo. “Do not wuss out on me.”

She laughs and leans into him. “You think I’m not gonna take care of my boys when they go into hostile territory?”

Most of the guys aren’t going, it turns out. Dex and Nursey make their excuses, and though Chowder hesitates for a moment, he ends up following them into the hotel. Ransom chirps them as they go, but Eric is relieved: he’d just be worried about the Frogs if they went.

“What about you, Bitty?” Holster asks.

“Um… sure.” Eric shrugs. Holster grins and looks over at Jack, who sighs and shoves his hands in his pockets.

“Fine, but we have a curfew.”

“It’s barely ten,” Ransom says with a grin. “Plenty of time to get bitch-ass shitfaced.”

They get an Uber that turns out to be a minivan, and Eric is surprised when Jack climbs into the very back seat with him and Lardo. Shitty and Holster relive the last few minutes of the game in the row ahead of them in lurid detail, describing Jack’s slapshot in terms that would’ve shocked Eric a year ago. But now he just grins up at Jack, and Jack throws one arm around the back of the seat.

On the long bus ride to Potsdam, they’d sat across the aisle from each other. Jack had read and Eric had listened to music on his phone while most of the other guys slept. He’d looked over once to see Jack watching him with an expression he could only describe as fond.

“What?” he’d said, pulling out one earbud.

“What are you listening to?” Jack had asked, and Eric had offered him an earbud. They’d stayed like that for half an hour, Eric’s earbuds stretched across the aisle, listening to Nicki, and Jack had blushed and laughed when Eric mouthed the raunchier lyrics at him. It had been amazing fun, and Eric had ridden on the high of it for hours.

If Eric were brave, he’d slide closer now, tuck himself under Jack’s arm and press up against his side. He’d look up at Jack and smile invitingly at him, and Jack would look back and maybe…

Eric’s not brave, though, and Jack isn’t gay, and he really can’t let himself think things like this. Eric chats with Lardo instead, because he doesn’t think he can look at Jack without stars in his eyes.

They get out of the car and gape up at the house in front of them. It’s huge compared to the Haus, and the noise rolling out onto the front lawn indicates the party is already in full swing. Eric feels a little awkward walking in wearing a Samwell shirt, but it quickly becomes clear that there are no hard feelings. Everyone claps them on the shoulders and congratulates them on the game, and people hand them cups of beer, and it’s ’swawesome.

Someone gives them an impromptu tour of the first floor, and they all stare around, wide-eyed. The Haus is undeniably a shithole, but this place looks like a palace in comparison. There is a game room, for goodness’ sake, with a widescreen TV and multiple consoles, a pool table and an air hockey table, and what looks like a vintage Pac-Man machine over in one corner. Ransom and Holster look like they might cry.

The kitchen is the last stop, and Eric nearly goes apoplectic when they walk in. It’s huge, for one thing, and so much nicer than the Haus kitchen, with tons of counter space, double wall-mounted ovens, and two refrigerators. Sure, they’re both full of beer and jello shots at the moment, but Eric can’t help but imagine the possibilities.

“You coming, Bitty?” Lardo asks when they start to file out.

“I think Bits is having a moment,” Ransom says, and Eric can only nod and wave a hand at them.

It’s not his dream kitchen, but it’s so much nicer than any place he’s ever had the chance to cook. He wonders if they’d mind if he actually baked something in here tonight. Surely they had some basic ingredients somewhere in that walk-in pantry, enough for cookies at least? Brownies, maybe — sans pot though, because dear lord, he is never going to do that again, no matter how much Shitty begs him.

He runs his hand over the sleek stainless steel front of the oven and sighs wistfully. It would give him something to do besides wonder if Shitty was going to make good on his promise to find a puck bunny who’d suck Jack’s dick in the bathroom. Eric imagines the look on Jack’s face if he offered to do it himself, and has to clap a hand over his mouth. It’s just too ridiculous to contemplate.

“Bittle, right?”

Eric looks up and nearly does a double-take. The man standing in the doorway is tall with dark hair and pale blue eyes and broad shoulders. He could be Jack’s brother, or at least a first cousin, and good lord, that is not what Eric needs to be thinking about right now.

“Hi,” he manages.

“Wagner.”

The goalie. “Oh, right. Didn’t recognize you without all your…” Eric gestures at him. “Uh… Good game.”

Wagner snorts and shakes his head. “For you, maybe. That last period sucked balls from where I was standing. Nice assist, by the way.”

“Thanks.”

“Whoa, you’re even smaller than you look on the ice. But damn, bro, you’re fast.”

Eric laughs. “I think there was a compliment in there somewhere.”

“Definitely a compliment.” Wagner’s gaze slides down Eric’s body — he’s not even subtle. Eric grins and leans back against the counter behind him. He definitely wasn’t expecting anything like this, but after the game they played and everything else that’s been storming in his head these last few weeks, if someone who looks that much like Jack wants to mentally undress him, he’s all for it.

“I was just checking out your kitchen.”

“You like kitchens?”

“I like to cook.”

“Why am I not surprised?” Wagner stares back at him with an expression that’s almost predatory, and Eric shivers. “So did you come here tonight to cook or…?”

Eric bites his lip. He desperately needs a distraction, and Wagner seems willing to provide one. And hey, Eric can cook when he gets home.

“Not really.”

Wagner’s smile widens. “Want a drink?”

Eric follows Wagner out of the kitchen and back to the main living room, where the party has somehow become even more raucous. The Samwell gang is scattered around: Ransom and Holster are talking to someone who is likely Holster’s high school teammate; Shitty is gesticulating wildly in the middle of a group of people; Lardo is pwning some unsuspecting bros at flip cup; and Jack… Jack is listening intently while a girl with long blonde hair and a ridiculously short skirt talks to him. He leans down to better hear her, then laughs. She puts her hand on his arm and gives him the most obvious fuck me smile Eric has ever seen. Eric sighs and looks away.

Wagner is standing there with two red solo cups, looking past Eric at Jack and the girl. He hands a cup to Eric with a sympathetic look.

“I think I need some fresh air,” Eric says, and Wagner nods.

“Follow me.”

Wagner winds through the crowd toward the back of the house, where the door to the backyard is open. Eric stops on the back porch and stares out into the darkness until his eyes adjust. It’s a huge yard, with a tall wooden fence all the way around it. There is a basketball hoop in one corner, and field hockey nets on either side. In the middle of the yard, people sit in folding chairs around a fire pit, drinks in hand. On the far side, an oak tree supports a rickety-looking treehouse; smoke wafts out of it along with peals of laughter. There are half a dozen old sofas scattered across the wide porch, most of which are currently occupied by couples making out.

Wagner leads him down to the end of the porch and sits on a tattered loveseat. Eric settles next to him, staring out at the scene of debauchery all around.

“This is huge compared to where we live,” Eric says, and takes a long drink from his beer. He swallows and gestures toward the fire pit. “Though I think it’s probably best that we don’t have open flame anywhere near the Haus.”

Wagner laughs and throws an arm around Eric’s shoulders. “Yeah, I can imagine.”

They sit in silence for a moment, and Eric just breathes and drinks his beer. It’s starting to go to his head now, and that’s a relief. The buzz of alcohol dulls everything else, makes it easier to push the image of Jack with that girl out of his head.

“Do they know you’re gay?” he asks after a moment.

“Yeah. Came out to them freshman year.” Wagner takes a long sip from his cup. “It’s been fine. I mean, I know some of the guys don’t like it when I bring boys back to my room, but no one says a word. Not to my face, anyway. What about you?”

Eric settles back against his arm and sighs. “They’ve been great, even more supportive than I hoped. I haven’t really dated anyone while I’ve been at Samwell, though.”

“Seriously?” Wagner turns to look at him. “I mean, Samwell is like, one in four, right?”

Eric snorts. “None of whom are interested in me.” Well, that wasn’t quite true, but it felt like it most days.

Wagner laughs. “You cannot be serious, Bittle. You are fucking adorable. And your ass in those jeans alone, shit.” He shakes his head.

“Yeah, well, you don’t live with Jack Zimmermann.”

Wagner’s expression changes. He lifts his cup to his lips and takes a long drink. For a moment, Eric wonders if he’s read this situation all wrong and now Wagner is going to pump him for information about Jack. But he just shakes his head and says, “Straight dudes, man.”

“Yeah. It sucks.”

“Actually, it doesn’t. That’s the problem.”

Eric almost chokes on his beer laughing. “Oh lord, isn’t that the truth?”

Wagner’s arm pulls Eric closer, and Eric smiles. He’s warm and solid, and it feels good. Wagner looks down at him, watching his face.

Eric’s not sure how he feels about the idea of a random hookup with a guy he probably won’t see again. But hell, Jack could be in a toilet right now getting a blow job from a short blonde sorority girl, so what the hell? Eric has earned the right by now, hasn’t he?

He turns so that he’s facing Wagner and leans in, presses his mouth against Wagner’s lips. Wagner responds immediately with a ridiculous amount of tongue, but Eric doesn’t care. It’s shaping up to be the most action he’s gotten in more than a year, and he’s going to enjoy it.

Wagner pulls back and says, “Hang on a sec.” He sets his cup down on the porch next to them, and then takes Eric’s too. He leans back against the sofa cushions and curls a finger at Eric in a clear gesture of “come here.” Eric smiles and swings one leg over him to straddle his lap, then dives in again.

Wagner’s hands slide down his back and grip his ass, and he pulls Eric closer. They’re both hard now, and Eric draws in a sharp breath at the sensation of an erection against his own. It’s been a long time since he touched someone else like that, and suddenly it’s all he can think about. He shifts his hips against Wagner, grinding against his cock, and Wagner groans.

“You are so fucking hot,” he says into Eric’s open mouth. “I’m gonna come in my pants, swear to god.”

“Do you want to?” Eric whispers. He feels powerful, sexy, hot, like he could reduce this guy to a puddle beneath him if he wanted.

“Fuck, yeah.” Wagner slides a hand around the back of Eric’s head and pulls him down again. It’s still way too much tongue, but Eric manages to pull the kiss back under his control. He hasn’t kissed anyone like this in a long time, not since dark corners after skating competitions, but the muscle memory is still there. It’s heady, this slow slide of lips, and pressure against his dick, and oh god. He wishes they were alone, that this could be skin on skin instead of through layers of cotton and denim, but it still feels good. It feels fucking incredible.

“Bittle.”

Eric freezes against Wagner, not believing his own ears. He doesn’t want to look, so he presses his forehead into Wagner’s neck and groans, somewhere between frustrated and mortified. “Jack. What the fuck?”

“We have to go. Curfew.”

Eric clenches his jaw and steels himself before finally looking up. Jack’s cheeks are flushed and he’s staring at the floor in front of him. “Fine, just… Can I have a couple of minutes, please?”

Jack shifts uncomfortably. “We have to be back at the hotel by midnight.”

“Jesus, fuck, Zimmermann,” Wagner says, sounding exasperated. “Five more minutes, all right?”

Eric can’t help himself; he sputters a laugh at this. It’s just bizarrely hilarious, the idea that Wagner expects Jack to go back in the house and wait while they dry hump until they both come in their pants.

Jack swears softly in French and looks up at them. His eyes settle on Eric for half a second, then move to Wagner. The look on his face is utterly unreadable.

Wagner draws in a breath, almost laughs. “Yeah, all right. I see how it is.”

“What does that mean?” Jack asks.

“You know damn well what it means.”

The tension in the air is suddenly thick. Jack takes a step forward and Wagner tenses beneath Eric. Eric leaps to his feet.

“Fine, Jack, fine. Just… go back inside, okay? I’ll be right there.”

Jack glares at Wagner a moment longer, but he nods his head and turns away. He stops right by the door and pointedly does not go back inside.

“Shit.” Eric presses his hands to his face. “I’m sorry about that.”

“Me too.” Wagner makes a frustrated sound. “Do me a favor, will you?”

“What?”

Wagner pulls Eric back down and whispers, “Jerk off tonight and think about me.”

Eric can’t help but grin. “Okay.”

Wagner’s lips are warm and soft against his ear, and Eric forgets for a moment that Jack is still watching. “Cause I’m sure as hell gonna jerk off thinking about that ass of yours.”

Eric kisses him once more before he dredges up the willpower to stand. Wagner squeezes his shoulder and steps down off the porch. He walks towards the fire pit, taking his red cup with him. Eric takes a long, soothing breath, then reaches into his jeans to adjust himself. He turns back to see Jack quickly look away, and feels a wave of hot anger.

Were another few minutes really too much to ask for? Would it hurt Jack to think about something other than hockey, for once — especially on a night when Eric is fairly sure Jack got some action himself?

He stalks past Jack and can barely look at him. “Get your dick sucked tonight?”

Jack makes a strangled sound, but doesn’t reply.

The others are waiting on the front porch, and none of them look happy. The sight of Eric scowling as he walks through the front door stuns them all into momentary silence.

“Jesus fuck, Jack,” Shitty says at last. “What the fuck crawled up your ass tonight?”

“Back off,” Jack growls, and of course, Shitty doesn’t.

“What is your fucking problem, bro?”

“Part of my job as captain is to make sure you all get back to the hotel before curfew.”

“It’s not even eleven thirty!” Ransom says.

“The hotel is five minutes away,” Holster adds. “We could stay another fifteen minutes and walk back, and still make it by midnight.”

Lardo opens her mouth to say something too, but Jack says, “Drop it,” and they all fall silent.

Eric snorts and shakes his head. He shoves his hands in his pockets and looks away, off to where the cars are appearing at the end of the street. The tension between them all is unlike anything Eric has felt in a long time. He fumbles for his phone, snarky tweet already forming in his head. He taps it out, but can’t bring himself to post it. He deletes and stares at the screen instead.

His phone buzzes with a text notification from Shitty:

You okay?

He has no idea how to respond to that. He keeps staring at his phone and doesn’t look up.

“Uber’s here,” Jack says at last. It’s the same car as before -- the driver had said to call when they were ready to go — and they all pile in again. Jack sits in the front passenger seat this time, for which Eric is grateful. Shitty sits in the back next to Lardo, and Eric ignores his attempts to make eye contact.

They get out of the car and Eric heads straight for his hotel room. He hears footsteps behind him and Jack saying, “Bitty, wait,” but Eric just can’t with Jack right now. He ignores him and walks faster, arms wrapped around himself. He just wants to get in the room and get in bed and pull the covers over his head before he breaks down and cries. He slides the key into the door and pushes it open.

The room is dark, but there is a scramble on the far bed.

“Shit,” Chowder says, voice slightly strangled. His panicked expression is lit by the screen of his laptop, which is currently emitting gasping sounds that are distinctly female. He pulls the sheets up high over his lap and slams the laptop shut. The room goes silent for a long second, and then Chowder seems to explode: “Bitty-you’re-back-early-I-thought-you-were-well-anyway-how-was-the-party-I’ll-bet-it-was-’swawesome and—”

“Yeah, no, it was fine.” Eric sighs and gestures toward the bathroom. “I’m gonna take a shower. A really long shower, okay? Just… do what you gotta do.”

“Right,” Chowder says. “Okay.”

Eric closes the bathroom door behind him and turns on the water before he can hear anything else. He really didn’t need to know what sort of porn Chowder jerked off to, but oh well. He strips off his clothes and steps under the spray, turns his face up into it. The water pressure is good and it beats down into his skin, sluicing across his shoulders, streaming down his back and over his ass.

He still feels tightly wound, angry, frustrated. He thinks about Wagner beneath him, the way it felt to have someone just want him like that. He wraps his fingers around his dick and pulls. He thinks about how much Wagner wanted him, how hot it was to be there on the porch, where anyone could see them going at it.

Where Jack could see — did see. He wonders how long Jack stood there, watching. Did he like what he saw, or was he disgusted by it? Did it get him a little hard too? Was that why he stopped them, butted in right when they were really getting going? He strokes himself faster and imagines it, imagines Jack sliding a hand over the front of his jeans, rubbing his own dick while watching Eric like that. The fantasy spins out of his control then, and fantasy Jack sits on the couch next to them, pulls Eric into his lap, and takes Eric’s dick in his hand. It’s Jack’s hand he imagines on him now, pulling faster, harder. He tucks his chin down against his chest and the water runs across the back of his neck, down his chest, into his open mouth. He’s close, so close, and then fantasy!Jack kisses him, and it’s perfect.

Eric comes, shooting against the generic hotel tile, one hand braced on the wall. He gasps and keeps his eyes squeezed shut, and then the tears come. He can’t stop them; he doesn’t even want to try. He sinks to his knees and the water pours down over him.

It’s unfair. It’s so fucking unfair that the one person he wants doesn’t want him back, but still somehow manages to fuck up every attempt Eric makes to move on. Eric doesn’t want to be in love with Jack Zimmermann, he really doesn’t. He wants to love someone who will love him back, someone who will kiss him like he’s the only person in the world and make him come so hard he sees stars. He wants that, so fucking bad.

He wants Jack.

He can’t have Jack.

It fucking sucks.

***

He sits as far away from Jack as he can manage during the bus ride home, and ignores the worried looks he gets from Shitty, Ransom, and Holster. After the first bathroom stop, Lardo moves to sit next to him. She loops her arm through his and leans her head on his shoulder, and he lets her. He puts on his sunglasses and listens to Bey, and he doesn’t think about Jack fucking Zimmermann at all.

***

Eric plans to give Jack the cold shoulder for days, but he doesn’t even make it twenty-four hours. He has to give in because a) they live across the hall from each other, and b) Shitty managed to corner him first thing the next morning when Eric was up to his elbows in flour and ask him what the hell happened at the party.

Half an hour later, Shitty steers a pale-faced Jack into the kitchen and shuts the door behind him. Jack wrings his hands and seems to want to look anywhere but at Eric. Eric turns back to his mixing bowl and waits.

“I’m an asshole,” Jack says at last, and Eric makes a small sound of agreement. “I shouldn’t have… the other night… I’m sorry, Bittle.”

Eric turns to face him. He looks utterly miserable, so much so that Eric can’t help but take pity on him. “It’s fine, Jack.”

“It’s not, but thanks.” Jack’s face relaxes, just a little, and Eric feels something melt inside his chest.

He loves this boy, so much, and he can’t stay mad at him. He considers inviting Jack to stay, to help put this pie together, but then his mind spins the fantasy forward: Jack brushing against him while they work, Jack pressing him back into the counter, Jack’s lips on his neck…

Eric sighs and looks away. “I’ve got a pie to bake.”

“Yeah, of course.” Jack takes a deep breath, as if there’s something else he wants to say, but all that comes out is, “So we’re good?”

Eric forces himself to smile. “Yeah, we’re good.”

Jack closes the door behind him and Eric has to press his forehead against the counter for a full minute. If he could just stop thinking about Jack and adoring Jack and being so pathetically in love with Jack, it would all be fine. He can’t turn it off though. He isn’t sure if that makes him weak or if it just makes him human.

***

A week passes, and things are almost back to normal. Which is to say, it’s all still tense and confusing and stressful in unexpected ways. Jack stays holed up in his room more than usual, and only talks to Eric about hockey-related things. He’s even quiet in the class they have together, which Eric probably ought to consider a good thing, but somehow can’t.

They lose their next game, and Jack retreats even further into himself. Eric bakes like a fiend, and everyone seems scattered, like they’re not sure what to do.

On Tuesday afternoon Eric bakes six batches of cookies. He reads his bio text between batches, but his mind isn’t really up to working out the details of transcription and translation. The Haus is quiet: too quiet, really. Ransom and Holster are off somewhere, and Shitty and Jack vanished upstairs the moment they came in from their run. Eric’s eyes finally start to cross and he closes the bio text with a groan. He can ask Ransom later; for now he ought to work on something else.

He slides the next batch of cookies into the oven. It has ten minutes to bake, so he goes upstairs to dig up The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Calculus. He’d bought it on Holster’s recommendation, but he isn’t sure it’s actually helped. He can smell the cookies now, despite the breeze coming in through the open window. It’s an unusually warm fall day, one he probably ought to have spent outside, soaking up sunshine. He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath.

“…not fucking fair to him, man,” he hears, and it’s a moment before he realizes Shitty is out on the roof. He takes a step closer to the window, then freezes: Jack is out there with him, saying, “So it’s all my fault, as usual.”

“You know I love you, bro, but you’re being a dick.”

Jack makes a sound of protest and says something Eric can’t quite hear.

“Dude, you cockblock him every chance you get. That party was a special case, but it wasn’t the first time and you know it.”

“Oh, for—”

“Don’t you fucking dare deny it.”

“Just… lay off, Shits.”

There is a long pause. “Alls I’m saying, man, is shit or get off the pot.”

“What the fuck does that even mean?” There is a note of exasperation in Jack’s voice.

“You know what it means.”

There is some indistinct mumbling, and then, “…know this stuff is hard for me.”

“I know, bro.”

“I’d only fuck it up. You know I would.”

“No, stop that shit right now. You deserve some fucking happiness.”

Jack sighs and they fall silent.

Eric takes one step backward, and then another, and flees down the stairs to the safety of the kitchen. His heart is pounding in his ears and he feels weirdly lightheaded. That wasn’t… Did that just happen?

He closes his eyes and takes a calming breath, and replays the events of the last few weeks in his mind. He’d assumed Jack interrupting his dates had just been Jack being Jack-the-one-mode-hockey-robot — but what if it wasn’t? What if it was Jack being jealous, Jack wanting Eric all for himself? They’d spent a lot of time hanging out in the last couple of months, just the two of them. It had been amazing, some of Eric’s best moments off the ice in recent memory, but he’d assumed they were just becoming friends. He hadn’t let himself think it could be more than that.

And Jack — well, he’s always assumed Jack is straight, but maybe he shouldn’t have been so hasty. Jack doesn’t seem interested in anything other than hockey, barely looks at anyone other than…

Other than Eric.

Shit.

The oven timer goes off and Eric jumps six inches into the air. He stops the whirlpool of his thoughts, pushes them all aside. Priorities: cookies out of the oven, let the pan cool, prepare the next batch. Peanut butter is up next; those are Jack’s favorite (protein), and maybe then, just… what?

Eric puts a hand over his mouth, but the near-manic giggle escapes all the same. Jack is terrified, awkward, and perhaps not as much of a robot as Eric has always thought. Eric doesn’t feel very brave, but Jack sure as hell isn’t, not about this. Eric is going to have to be brave enough for both of them.

***

Jack and Shitty are on the couch with the History Channel on, arguing about privilege and the noticeable lack of non-European perspectives in whatever-it-is they’re watching. The room is dark but for the glow of the television, and that bolsters Eric’s courage. He’s already showered, he’s wearing his favorite pajama pants and a soft t-shirt that’s a little too small, and he’s bearing a plate of cookies. He takes a deep breath and crosses to the couch as casually as he can manage, as if his heart isn’t trying to pound its way out of his chest.

“Scootch, Zimmermann,” he says, and Jack looks up at him. Eric doesn’t wait; he sits between Shitty and Jack and places the plate of cookies on the coffee table. Jack slides over to give him space, and Shitty leans forward to look at the cookies.

“Are these peanut butter?” He takes a bite and flops back on the couch with a moan. “Goddamn, Bitty, these are good. If I thought you’d say yes, I’d ask you to marry me, just so’s I could eat this shit daily.”

Eric grins. “I could give you the recipe, you know.”

“Not the same. Dude, I’m serious. Marry me. I could learn to suck dicks. How hard can it be?”

Eric laughs, and Jack snickers as he leans forward. “Are we gonna start calling these blow job cookies now?”

“Yes.” Shitty reaches for another one. “Cookies so good you’ll want to suck Bitty’s dick.”

“Oh my god, stop,” Eric says, burying his face in his hands.

“Actually, they are that good,” Jack says around his mouthful of cookie. Eric shores up his courage, laughs, and turns to bury his face in Jack’s shoulder. Jack slings an arm around him and just like that, they’re all snuggling on the awful toxic couch together. Eric shifts so that he’s tucked against Jack’s chest with his bare feet pressed against Shitty’s thigh, and lets his racing pulse calm down. He usually avoids all the snuggling that goes on around the Haus, for reasons he can’t quite explain — but right now, it feels good.

It feels even better when Shitty takes one of his feet in hand and starts massaging it.

Eric closes his eyes and presses back against Jack. “Shitty, that’s fantastic.”

“Better than a blow job?” Shitty asks, and Eric can hear the grin in the question.

“It’s been so long since I’ve had a blow job that I’m honestly not sure.”

“Bro, that’s tragic.”

Shitty starts working on his other foot, fingers kneading into the muscles with an expertise Eric probably shouldn’t find surprising. He lets himself groan at the sensation. Jack’s arm slides a little further down his chest around to his hip. His fingertips brush the stretch of skin where Eric’s shirt rides up, and Eric starts to feel overwhelmed by touch and warmth. He takes slow, deep breaths and nestles his face against Jack’s arm. Jack’s really firm, muscled arm, fuck.

Shitty releases his foot and the sound of the television show seems to fill the room once again. Eric keeps his eyes closed and begins to drift in and out of sleep, floating between fantasy and even-better reality. Shitty whispers “good night” at some point and vanishes from the sofa; Ransom and Holster come in later and make kissy noises until Jack shoos them away with whispered threats of physical violence that Eric has to struggle not to laugh at.

He drifts again, warm and comfortable against Jack’s body.

“Bitty,” he hears, and he mumbles in response, not wanting to open his eyes. He doesn’t want this to be over, and as soon as he stands up, it will be. “Bitty, wake up,” Jack says again. Eric feels fingertips brush hair off his his forehead, and then Jack’s nose presses into his hair. Jack inhales, exhales, and just as Eric is about to open his eyes, he pulls Eric into his arms and stands.

Eric is wide awake now because Jack is carrying him up the stairs, like he’s three years old or possibly a bride, with his face tucked against Jack’s shoulder. Eric stays completely still, because if Jack realizes he’s awake, he’ll probably just drop him on the floor and chirp him for years to come.

Jack pushes open Eric’s door and sets him on the bed. Eric stretches then and looks up at him with a sleepy smile.

Jack shakes his head. “Faker.”

“Wasn’t faking.” Eric reaches out and catches Jack’s hand. He watches Jack’s face, watches the play of emotions that flit across it, from fear to disbelief to curiosity. It feels like the right moment, and Eric feels braver than he’s ever felt in his life. “Stay,” he whispers.

“Bitty,” Jack says, so softly Eric might have missed it if he wasn’t staring at Jack’s lips. Jack takes a shaky breath and closes his eyes, opens them again. “Okay.”

Eric drags his teeth across his lower lip. “Close the door.”

Jack hesitates a moment longer and then nods, shuts the door and locks it too. He stands awkwardly next to the bed until Eric takes his hand again and tugs him closer. Jack slides onto the bed and Eric turns onto his side. Jack spoons up behind him, plastering his front against Eric’s back. He presses his nose into the back of Eric’s neck, his breath hot and moist. He’s trembling and it’s charming, almost ridiculous that Jack should be so nervous about this. Eric is the one who should be freaking out right now, but he isn’t.

He raises Jack’s hand to his mouth and kisses the palm. “Is this okay?”

“Yes.”

Eric trails the tip of his tongue up the length of Jack’s index finger. Jack’s breath catches, and when Eric takes that fingertip into his mouth, he groans. Eric takes his time, swirls his tongue slowly around that fingertip, sucks lightly against the sensitive skin.

“Jesus,” Jack whispers, and presses his lips against the back of Eric’s neck in soft, fluttery kisses that leave Eric shivering. Jack presses his hips up against Eric’s ass, and oh — he’s so hard. Eric makes a small sound and pushes Jack’s hand down his chest, down, down to where Jack can feel his erection through the thin cotton of his pajamas.

Jack’s fingers trace the line of his dick for a long, excruciating minute before he finally dips his hand under the waistband. Just the feeling of Jack’s hand on him is almost too much, and Eric whines into his pillow. Jack tugs at his pajama pants and Eric lifts his hips enough to let them be wriggled down. Jack moves away for a few seconds to pull off the sweat pants he was wearing, and when he rolls against Eric again, they’re both naked from the waist down. Jack’s cock presses into the cleft of Eric’s ass and Eric’s mouth falls open. It feels huge, and suddenly all he can think about is getting his mouth on it. He’s afraid to move, though; the connection between them feels so delicate and taut that it might break if Eric changes the rhythm.

Jack’s fingers are back around Eric’s dick now, moving slowly, and Eric reaches back to try to touch him somewhere, anywhere. He gets a handful of Jack’s glorious ass for his efforts. Jack hums against his skin, sucking at the juncture of neck and shoulder in a way Eric is sure will leave a mark.

“Jack,” he whispers, pushing back, needing more.

“Here,” Jack says, and slides one hand down between them. Eric feels the head of Jack’s cock pressing up under his balls, but before he has time to think about what Jack might be doing, Jack says, “Squeeze.”

Eric squeezes his thighs together and Jack pushes his hips forward. It’d be better with lube, probably, but for now Jack fucks his thighs with small movements, letting the shift of his foreskin absorb the friction. He starts to jerk Eric’s dick in earnest then, breathing heavily against Eric’s shoulder. It’s hot and dirty, and Eric can’t get enough. He squeezes his thighs together more and imagines Jack is pushing into his body instead. He feels strung out now, wanting to push forward into Jack’s hand and back against his cock, and he can only make small sounds of frustration at not being able to get close enough.

“Fuck, Bitty.” Jack is breathing hard into Eric’s hair now. “God, you…” He says something Eric doesn’t understand then, and it’s a moment before Eric realizes he’s switched to French. And goddamn, if that isn’t the hottest thing Eric has ever heard.

“Faster,” he whines and Jack complies, his rhythm erratic now, like he’s getting close. Eric is close too, close enough that he digs his fingers into Jack’s hip and says things like, “fuck me,” and “so fucking hot,” and other things he’ll be mortified about later, but all he feels right now is Jack’s hand and Jack’s heat and Jack’s cock, and then white prickles the edges of his vision as he squeezes his eyes shut. Jack groans behind him and Eric feels the stuttering movements of his hips as he follows, mouth open against Eric’s shoulder. It’s too much. It’s perfect.

Eric’s sure he’s never come this hard in his life. He realizes too late that he forgot to be quiet, but he kind of doesn’t care. He catches his breath and smears a hand through the mess of come on his belly and between his thighs. It’s filthy and shameless and he loves it.

A moment later, he realizes he’s going to have to sleep in it. Ew. He leans forward enough to tug his shirt over his head, and uses it to clean himself off before tossing it to the floor.

“Good idea,” Jack says with a sigh, and tugs his shirt off too. He presses against Eric from behind, all warm soft skin and hard muscle.

Jack Zimmermann is naked in my bed, Eric thinks, and Jack laughs.

“I said that out loud, didn’t I?”

“Yes.” Jack kisses his shoulder. “But nice as this is, your bed is really small.”

Eric makes a small huff of protest and pulls Jack’s arm more tightly around him.

“Mine is bigger, you know.”

Eric turns onto his back and smiles. “All right.”

They pull bottoms back on and quietly open the door. The hall seems clear, so Jack goes to brush his teeth. Eric decides to do the same, and a few minutes later he steps back into Jack’s room and closes the door behind him. Jack is sitting on the bed, staring down at his hands with a frown on his face. Eric’s stomach drops.

Brave, he reminds himself. He crosses the room to stand in front of Jack. “Are you all right?”

Jack looks up. “Yeah. I just…” He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. “What are we doing?”

Here it comes, Eric thinks. He swallows, hard. “Starting something, I hope.”

Jack looks up again. “Really?”

“What else would we be doing?”

“Well, I mean.” Jack takes Eric’s hands in his. “I thought it might just be a hookup.”

“Not with you.” Eric squeezes his hands. “Goodness, if you don’t know by now how crazy I am about you…” He shakes his head and laughs.

Jack pulls him closer, between his knees, and presses his forehead into Eric’s shoulder. “Good. That’s good.”

Eric runs fingers through Jack’s hair, marveling that he can just do that now. “You silly boy. What am I going to do with you?”

Jack laughs softly and looks up at him.

“What?” Eric says, tracing his fingers across Jack’s jaw now. He’s wanted to do that forever.

“I just realized we skipped a step.” Jack tilts up and kisses him, and Eric says, “oh” against his lips. The kiss is soft and sweet at first, a gentle pull of lips. The sweep of Jack’s tongue against his lower lip makes Eric shiver, and then it’s suddenly not enough. Jack kisses like he skates: strong and precise and perfect, and Eric can’t help pressing up against him, pushing him back onto the bed. Jack’s arms go around him and Eric climbs up to straddle his thighs.

“Are we really going to sleep?” Eric wants to lick him everywhere, and now seems like a great time to start.

“Yes, actually.” Jack shifts out from under him and pulls the covers aside enough to slide under. He leaves a Eric-sized space next to him and holds the covers up in invitation. “Practice at five-thirty, remember?”

“All right.” Eric sighs and settles under the covers. Jack’s bed is indeed bigger, and the sheets are cool and clean. He tucks a leg between Jack’s calves and yawns.

He hasn’t slept curled up with another person since he was a child and crawled into his parents’ bed to snuggle against his mother. Snuggling with Jack, though, is even better.

***

“Bitty.”

Eric blinks awake and looks up to see Lardo smiling down at him.

“Sleep well?”

Eric looks past her and sits straight up. He’s in Jack’s bed, and Jack is nowhere to be seen. He’s also shirtless, and he’s pretty sure there’s a fairly impressive hickey on his neck, from the way Lardo is staring. “Ummm.”

“Rise and shine, Bits. You’re about to be late for practice.” Her smirk is epic.

“Goodness, I forgot to set an alarm.” Eric is sure he’s bright red by now. “Uh… thanks.”

Lardo ruffles his hair. “Better hurry. They’re waiting for you downstairs.”

“What?” he asks, but she just grins and closes the door behind her.

Eric comes down the stairs ten minutes later to find Ransom, Holster, Shitty, and Lardo waiting for him. They’re grinning like fools and each of them is holding a cheap plastic lei.

Eric stops on the bottom stair. “Oh, no.”

“Oh, yes,” Holster says. “This, Bitty, is one of the greatest Samwell Hockey Haus traditions. The first time a bro gets laid in the Haus, he gets…”

“LEI’D!” they all shout, and come at him. Eric ducks and tries to run, but they tackle him to the floor and pile on him, laughing. When they let him go, he has four leis around his neck.

“Bout time, dude,” Ransom says, extending a hand to pull Eric to his feet.

Shitty claps him on the shoulder and pretends to wipe away a tear. “Always knew you’d be a screamer, Bits. So proud.”

Lardo kisses him on the cheek. “You have to wear them all day. Fair warning.”

Eric sputters. “But we have practice! And I have three classes today!”

“Haus rules, bro.” Holster grins. “We all had to do it.”

Eric presses his hands over his face and groans.

***

The entire team breaks into applause when Eric skates onto the ice wearing four leis. Even the coaches smile and shake their heads at him. The Frogs whisper and stare, and Eric sees Shitty taking them aside to explain. Chowder claps a hand over his mouth and Eric stifles a laugh. That poor sweet child.

Jack flushes bright red and can’t even look at Eric for a solid fifteen minutes. From the looks they’re both getting, Eric figures it’s pretty damn obvious to the entire team what happened.

Jack says a variation of “Sorry, Bitty, I should’ve warned you,” every time he comes within speaking range, but Eric just smiles. For once, he doesn’t have anything to be embarrassed about.

FIN