Jack is tired by the time he gets home, tired enough to jump a little when his apartment door swings shut behind him, a bang in the middle of the night that he has just enough presence of mind to hope didn't wake any of his neighbors up.
There's a pair of shoes on the floor in the hall, and a jacket much thicker than the crisp fall air really requires hanging from one of the hooks in the wall. (There are two, one hung teasingly low. This one is hung on the taller, and it makes Jack smile, helpless.)
There isn't any light, and only the faint smell of baking dissipating into the apartment, so he must be asleep.
Or he was asleep. The door must have woken him, and now Bitty is in the door to Jack's bedroom, looking mussed and tired and all Jack wants to do is sweep him up and put him back to bed, let him sleep himself out. He's running himself thin, being around for Jack so much on top of everything else he does. He deserves rest. “Sorry. I didn't want to wake you.”
“Don't be silly.” A familiar note of exasperation, one that appeared almost as soon as they really became friends, as soon as Bitty was comfortable with him. In Madison over the summer, Jack heard Mrs. Bittle talk to her husband just like that, with barely disguised affection, and it made it hard to breathe for a second, imagining that. “I didn't mean to fall asleep, but we had early practice this morning.”
“You didn't have to come down.”
“Of course I did. Are you going to come over here and say hello?”
Jack drops his bag on the floor where he'll trip on it in the morning and crosses the living room to Bitty. He's just as warm as he looks, wearing one of Jack's t-shirts, and as soon as Jack is close enough he wraps his arms around him and holds on. Jack kisses him and pulls back just far enough to say “Hi.”
“Hi.” Bitty interrupts the next kiss before it starts with a yawn, and then he lets go of Jack to cover his mouth, embarrassed. “I'm sorry, I wanted to ask about the flight. The game went so well, but then all those delays—”
“It was fine. Come on, let's go to bed.”
Bitty's suitcase is open on the chair in the corner of Jack's bedroom, full of textbooks and papers, the compromise Jack needs to feel like he isn't stealing Bitty's college experience from him. He doesn't need to pack much else these days. “I was studying earlier, promise,” says Bitty, maybe seeing him look at it, and his voice is a little blurred with exhaustion, the drawl drawing his words out.
“That wasn't what I was thinking.”
“What were you thinking?” Bitty asks, honestly curious. He always wants to know what Jack is thinking. Somehow, with him, it doesn't rub Jack the wrong way.
He was thinking that Bitty doesn't need to bring clothes to visit anymore, or a toothbrush, and that he's stealing Bitty away but can't help being selfish, and that he wishes he'd come home and hadn't woken Bitty, that he could have found him asleep in their bed. “That I love you,” he says, the short version.
Bitty's breath catches. “I don't think I'll ever be used to hearing that.”
“I want you to be used to it,” Jack says, the kind of thing he can only ever say when it's dark and quiet and just the two of them.
Bitty sits on the bed. His side of the bed, where he fishes Senor Bun out from under the covers and puts him on the nightstand, and where the covers are rumpled from where he was sleeping before. His phone is on the nightstand, and he doesn't bother checking it, just watches Jack. Jack lets him have the quiet, the time to think, and turns away to change for bed. He can smell the airplane on himself, and all he wants is a shower, but it can wait. Bitty in the bed can't. “I'm getting there,” Bitty finally says, when Jack is almost dressed.
“How was your day?”
“Good. It was good. It's—things are easier. If that's what you're asking.”
He's so awkward with his own feelings, as awkward as he is good with Jack's. That's okay. Jack will help him with them, the same way Bitty helps. “Lardo sent me a picture of you earlier, when we were talking on the phone. You looked happy.”
When Jack turns back to the bed, Bitty is under the covers, leaning back against the pillows, probably trying to look like he's flirting but ruining it with a yawn. Jack grins. “Let's get to sleep. We'll catch up in the morning.”
“Fine.” Bitty frowns a little, reaches his arms out for Jack and makes beckoning motions until Jack climbs into the bed and under the covers, lets Bitty wrap him up in a hug until their noses are almost touching.
“I haven't brushed my teeth,” Jack whispers. “That can't smell good.”
Bitty snorts, backing off a little, settling into his pillow. “You sure can ruin a moment, Mr. Zimmermann.”
“Just sleep. You're tired.”
And he is, because he doesn't argue. He doesn't let Jack go, but he settles into the mattress a little more firmly, and he watches Jack with a little smile on his face before his eyes droop shut.
The first few nights he spent at Jack's apartment, he barely slept. Every time Jack moved or they touched in the night, he jumped, and the noises and the light of a new place seemed to make it hard to rest. Jack spent weeks worried that Bitty wasn't ready, that the touching was too much, that Bitty would never really be able to sleep in Providence, and then they fell asleep over Bitty's flashcards one afternoon and slept until midnight and haven't had trouble since.
Tonight, it doesn't take Bitty long to fall asleep, his breath evening out, smile slipping off his face. Jack isn't very tired. He napped before the game and again on the plane, and he's awake enough now to indulge in watching Bitty for a while. He's careful about taking pictures, which could always be found, but he makes up for it by trying to commit him to memory in the thin light leaking through the curtains.
Bitty is always warm, even now that it's fall verging into winter and he's chilly all the time, trailing scarves and gloves after him wherever he goes. He's warm, and safe, and sometimes Jack wants to find a way to climb inside him, wrap himself completely in Bitty and take shelter, stay there and just be a quiet part of him.
Tonight, though, he would miss looking at Bitty too much, would miss being just able to see the last of his summer freckles in the dim light and hear his deep breathing (he never quite snores, but he gets close enough that Jack doesn't feel bad chirping him about it sometimes). He wonders if his mother ever does this, when his father inevitably falls asleep on the couch, and if there's a way to ask her that wouldn't make her either tear up or laugh at him.
Bitty shifts a little in his sleep, leans into Jack, and Jack puts an arm around him to keep him there. He's still learning all the best ways of sleeping with someone, all the little practical details, but he knows he likes sleeping with his arm around Bitty, making sure they'll wake up touching.
Tomorrow, he'll wake up before Bitty, always does even after a long roadie, and he'll go get them coffee and maybe come back to find Bitty cooking in the kitchen, trying one of the recipes he's been figuring out for the sake of Jack's diet plan. They'll have the whole day together before Bitty has to leave early the next morning to get back for practice and classes and the life he keeps interrupting for Jack's sake.
Jack's eyes slip shut, but he can still feel Bitty's ribcage expand and contract against his arm, still feel him radiating warmth and hear him breathing over all the sounds of the city around them.
“It's good to be home,” he whispers, and lets himself drift off to sleep to make the morning come sooner.