Actions

Work Header

the road leads back to you

Work Text:

It’s 5 AM.

And not only that. It’s 5 AM, and it’s Sunday, and it’s dark, and it’s cold and windy, and Bitty is standing outside his dorm building because some extremely intelligent person fell asleep while making grilled cheese after what must have been quite the night out. Bitty has been back at Samwell for less than forty-eight hours and he’s already missing his Mama’s kitchen and he’s stressed out about picking classes and he really doesn’t need this on top of everything else.

The good news is that the fire is out and that there’s apparently not too much damage. The bad news is that the lovely people of the Samwell Fire Department won’t let them back inside the building yet, which means that Bitty is left to freeze his butt off outside his dorm building at 5 frickin’ AM.

Okay, maybe he’s exaggerating a teensy little bit. It’s not like it’s the middle of winter. It’s August, so it could definitely be worse. Bitty is wearing his tiny blue shorts and a Samwell shirt, and, sure, technically it’s still summer, but this isn’t Georgia, and it’s chilly at night, and he’d pretty much sell his firstborn for a sweater right now.

Bitty doesn’t know anyone who’s standing out on the lawn with him. Well, there’s a bunch of familiar faces, but there’s no one he’s actually friends with, so he’s standing at the very edge of the crowd and listens to the excited chatter, the grumbling, the loud complaining. Some people are texting, tweeting, calling their friends. Some are cuddling, some have obviously just returned from parties somewhere on campus, and there’s a guy sleeping with his head in another guy’s lap not too far away from Bitty.

Honestly, Bitty is about a minute away from curling up on the lawn as well. 5 AM just isn’t a great time for him to be awake, no matter if he was asleep beforehand or not.

He sits down at the side of the street, phone in hand. Twitter keeps him company for a little while and he sends off a couple of texts, but it’s not like anyone’s going to reply any time soon. If this takes much longer, he’ll probably get to watch the sun come up this morning. He’d rather be in his bed. Fast asleep. Cuddling Señor Bunny.

Poor Señor Bunny. Bitty forgot all about him when he stumbled out of his room, still half asleep. He should have taken him. His room isn’t even anywhere close to where that fire broke out, but he could have lost his bun and it’s only now starting to dawn on him.

He suddenly feels like crying, but before he can get all worked up about it, someone clears their throat next to him.

The first thing Bitty sees is yellow running shoes.

When he looks up, he finds Jack Zimmermann staring down at him. “Are you okay?” Jack asks.

Bitty only blinks at him. Because. Jack Zimmermann.

He’s on the hockey team. Bitty knows because he went to a couple of games during his freshman year. He knows because he might have googled the team after the first game he went to. And those hockey boys are everywhere, all the time. They’re big and loud and generally hard to miss. Bitty usually avoids them if he can.

The thing is, Jack Zimmermann glares at people a lot. He’s glared at Bitty several times when they ran into each other at Faber. Bitty hasn’t been skating professionally since before he came to Samwell, but he teaches the occasional figure skating lesson and he’s also bribed his way into getting some extra ice time just for fun. Turns out that the people who work at the rink really like his pies.

Anyway, whenever Bitty runs into Jack, he never seems to be too happy to see him. They’ve never even talked, but Bitty always had a distinct feeling that Jack doesn’t like him.

Maybe he was wrong. Or he’s somehow entered an alternate universe where glowering at Bitty isn’t Jack Zimmermann’s favorite pastime.

Jack frowns and kneels down next to Bitty. Is this boy seriously out on a run at 5 AM on a Sunday morning? No, he’s carrying an equipment bag. Probably headed to the rink, then. (But at 5 AM, seriously?) Jack looks Bitty up and down. “You, uh… You looked upset,” Jack says lowly. “What happened?”

“They’re sayin’ that someone set their grilled cheese on fire,” Bitty says once he’s remembered how to speak. “Everyone’s fine, though.”

“Oh, good. That’s good.”

Bitty nods and draws his knees up to his chest. He’s not so sure what to think about the worried look on Jack’s face.

“You’re sure you’re okay?” Jack asks.

Bitty nods. “It’s just a little cold, ’s all.”

Jack Zimmermann, who spends half his life at Faber, clearly doesn’t understand what cold means. Actually, Bitty spends a lot of time at Faber, too – he teaches figure skating lessons after all, but he spent the summer in Georgia, so Massachusetts feels like Antarctica to him now. After a moment, Jack’s frown is gone and he looks around. “They should have blankets, you know?”

“I’ll be fine,” Bitty says and tries to wave it off.

“Well, at least take this,” Jack says. He opens his bag and pulls out a red hoodie. “I’m pretty sure I won’t need it.”

Bitty chokes out some strange mixture of, “Thank you,” and, “I can’t possibly take this.”

Jack waves it off and says, “Don’t worry about it.” Then he disappears between the people before Bitty can even say goodbye.

He looks down at the hoodie. It has the Samwell Men’s Hockey logo printed on the front and a big white 1 on the back. Zimmermann, it says. Bitty has spent a lot of time thinking about what it would be like if he got to wear another boy’s clothes. He just didn’t think it’d happen like this.

Bitty pulls it on anyway, because it’s still chilly. The hoodie’s too big on him, but it’s soft and warm, and he’s actually starting to wonder if the hockey team gets extra soft hoodies. He pulls the sleeves over his hands and sighs. Maybe Jack won’t notice if he keeps it.

No, he can’t keep it. He’ll wash it and then he’ll give it back to Jack.

Really, this isn’t what he had in mind when he wished that he could steal some nice boy’s clothes. Anyway, Bitty didn’t really have Jack marked down as a nice boy, with all the dark looks and glares.

Although Jack does have his moments, it seems.

*

Bitty knows where the hockey boys live. Or at least some of them. His friends dragged him to one of their parties last year, but Bitty doesn’t remember seeing Jack Zimmermann there. Maybe he just doesn’t like parties. He doesn’t look like he likes parties. Quite frankly, most of the time Jack looks like he’s never had fun in his entire life.

Everything about him is just so intense. On the ice, off the ice, Jack Zimmermann is always one hundred percent focused. On hockey, Bitty assumes. Jack probably dreams of pucks and hockey sticks and Zambonis.

Rumor has it that Jack will sign with an NHL team after he graduates. In all honesty, there are plenty of rumors that somehow involve Jack Zimmermann floating around on campus, but that one’s by far the most believable one. Bitty really isn’t an expert when it comes to hockey and he’s only seen a handful of games, but he can tell that Jack is good. Better than a lot of the other guys who are on the ice with him.

Bitty’s steps slow considerably as he approaches what he likes to call Frat House Lane, Jack’s hoodie bundled up in his arms. It’s been a week since Jack let him borrow that hoodie and he should have given it back days ago, but he wasn’t exactly dying to knock on the door of a frat house.

He doesn’t even know if Jack will be around. Bitty is actually a little scared of what might happen if he isn’t and one of his loud hockey bros answers the door. Obviously Bitty also has to consider that Jack might not be too happy to see him. Either because Bitty has been holding his hoodie hostage or because it’s just one of those days where Jack Zimmermann feels like glaring at him, like he always does when he sees Bitty at Faber.

Bitty hovers in front of the door for a moment before he convinces himself to ring the doorbell. 

There’s muffled voices, then someone shouts, “Someone just open the fucking door.”

“You open the door,” someone else shouts, a lot louder.

“No you–”

Someone does open the fucking door a moment later. It’s a guy with a mustache. He’s wearing nothing but boxers. And he’s looking at Bitty like he’s wondering if he’s lost. Bitty can hardly blame him. “Sup,” the guy says.

“Uh, hi,” Bitty says. “Is Jack around?” He wonders if he should have used Jack’s whole name. There’s only one Jack on the hockey team as far as he knows, so the guy probably knows which Jack he’s talking about, but it sounds awfully familiar. Like they’re friends. Which they’re definitely not.

“Sure bro, come on in,” the guy says and leads Bitty into the house. “Jack!” Nobody answers. “He’s right in there.” He nods at what appears to be the kitchen and then disappears in a room on the other side of the hallway. Bitty glimpses a green couch that looks like it’s the home of every germ in the world.

He turns around and slowly shuffles into the kitchen. Jack is sitting at the table with his laptop. The first thing Bitty notices, though, is the mountain of dishes in the sink. And the crumbs on the countertop. And the brown splotches on the floor by the oven.

They have an oven.

“Hello,” Jack says.

Bitty’s eyes snap back to him. “Hi.” Jack isn’t glaring at him. That’s something. “I just wanted to bring this back.” Bitty drops Jack’s hoodie on the table. “I washed it and everythin’. Thanks for lending it to me.”

“Oh,” Jack says and frowns at his hoodie like he’s never seen it before.

“Sorry it took me so long to give it back.”

“Don’t worry about it. It’s only been a couple of days.” Jack’s eyes settle on Bitty, gaze piercing as ever, but he’s still not glaring. “Thanks for bringing it back.”

“Sure, of course,” Bitty says. He takes a step back. “Well, then… I’ll, uh…”

“Everything okay at your dorm now?”

“Yeah, they had to close off the kitchen upstairs and now it’s absolute mayhem. Haven’t been able to bake in days. Everyone’s in the kitchen on my floor all the time, it’s a mess and…” Bitty trails off when he realizes that he’s starting to ramble. “Anyway. They’ll hopefully fix it soon.”

“You bake?” Jack asks, somewhat perplexed.

“I do,” Bitty says. “If no one’s hogging the oven.” He glances at the oven to his left. He highly doubts that the hockey team uses it for anything other than the occasional frozen pizza, which is honestly such a waste.

“Brah, your friend bakes?” The guy with the moustache comes wandering into the kitchen and slings an arm around Bitty. “What do you bake?”

Bitty only barely keeps himself from flinching.

“Shits,” Jack says and gives the guy a look.

“Sorry, little brah, didn’t mean to overstep any boundaries. Should have asked,” the guy – Shits? – says and lets go of Bitty. He holds out his hand instead. “Shitty Knight, pleased to meet you.”

Bitty shakes his hand, more than a little confused. “Eric Bittle.”

Jack looks up at that, surprise flickering over his face. He probably didn’t know Bitty’s name until just now. Of course he didn’t. Bitty is… well, to Jack Zimmermann he’s a complete nobody. Just the kid he glares at sometimes when he sees him at Faber.

“Y’all can call me Bitty.”

“Right on, Bitty. What do you bake, then?”

“I know a thing or two about pie.”

“Pie,” Shitty whispers. “Well, there’s an oven right there.”

Jack opens his mouth like he wants to object. Bitty is quicker than him, though. “Oh, I couldn’t.”

“Seriously, no one would mind. Especially if you’re willing to share that pie.”

“We have pie?” Another guy has wandered into the kitchen. He’s even taller than the rest of them. Bitty is almost certain that his name is Birkholtz.

“No, Holster, but we will have pie.”

Look, Bitty is weak, at least when he’s being offered an oven that’s easily accessible all the time because frat boys are lazy and never use it. “Are you sure it’s okay if I use your oven? I wouldn’t want to impose.”

“You’ll make us pie?” Holster says. “You can have sole custody of the oven.”

Shitty nods eagerly. “We’ll give you a key.”

“I’ll give you my key.”

“I think I’ll just go with ringing the doorbell,” Bitty says.

He doesn’t even know if he’ll ever come back here. Jack certainly doesn’t look too excited about the prospect of having Bitty in his kitchen.

But they have an oven. An oven that most likely works and isn’t constantly blocked by other people. He’d pretty much have an entire kitchen at his disposal here. But this is still a frat house and Bitty still isn’t a frat house kinda guy.

But the oven.

Bitty eventually makes up some excuse for why he has to leave because Shitty and Holster are excitedly chattering about pie and Holster even shouts up the stairs to whoever else is living up there. Bitty definitely has to get them some pie, no matter where he ends up making it, because these boys are just too damn excited. Well, Jack isn’t, or at least he’s hiding it extremely well, but still. Can’t hurt to make some hockey boys happy.

They’re the kind of guys his dad would want him to be friends with. Because Bitty has a feeling that they will be friends as soon as there’s pie involved.

The last thing Bitty hears before he walks away from the house is Shitty shouting, “Jack, you fuckin’ beaut, where’d you find this kid?”

*

When Bitty wanders into the class he bribed his way into with a pie, he doesn’t really expect to find Jack Zimmermann sitting in the classroom. And, okay, maybe he doesn’t know Jack very well – actually he doesn’t know Jack at all – but Bitty didn’t take him for the kind of person who’d be interested in a class called ‘Women, Food, & American Culture’.

He also doesn’t really expect Jack Zimmermann to nod at the empty seat next to him when he spots Bitty.

Bitty sits down next to Jack with the greatest reluctance, but it seems that Jack is actually being nice to him, although maybe it’s too early to tell. They don’t have time to do anything other than exchange quick hellos before class starts. Bitty didn’t get out of bed when he was supposed to, so he was running late. He was nervous enough already; he was sure he wouldn’t know anyone in this class because it’s a senior history seminar. And Bitty didn’t know that Jack was majoring in history and was, consequently, totally unprepared for this.

This day is already a hundred percent more ridiculous than Bitty was expecting it to be.

Jack doodles on the margins of his notes. Bitty is pretty sure that it’s hockey stuff. The girl next to Bitty is looking at Jack with literal hearts in her eyes. Admittedly, Jack is good-looking, especially when he’s not glaring.

Jack also has really nice hands.

And Jack drops his pen when Professor Atley says, “It’ll be part of your final grade to create a dish from a historically accurate recipe.”

“It’s okay,” Bitty whispers and pats Jack’s arm. “I got your back.”

Bitty is pretty sure that he isn’t imagining the quiet sigh of relief that Jack lets out at that. It’s only fair, honestly. Jack helped Bitty out when he let him borrow his hoodie and now Bitty is helping out Jack.

Anyway, it’s also a convenient excuse for him to actually show up at Jack’s place and use that oven. It’s only been two days since Bitty gave back the hoodie and he nearly went back yesterday to make some apple pie, but he talked himself out of it quickly. Showing up again after less than twenty-four hours might have been a bit too much.

“Thanks, Bittle,” Jack says.

Bitty shoots him a quick glance. Maybe calling people by their last name is a hockey thing. Or it’s a Jack Zimmermann thing. Bitty may never know. It looks like he’ll get to spend some time with Jack, though, so he might get a chance to figure it out.

Bitty isn’t so sure if he’s actually looking forward to it.

*

Bitty makes it through two more days of the dorm kitchen madness until he gets the biggest box he can find and piles his baking ingredients into it. His pie dishes as well. His rolling pin. His measuring cups. All of it.

And then he takes his box and walks to Frat House Lane with it. Shitty opens the door for him when he rings the doorbell and he’s wearing nothing but a towel.  When Bitty asks if he can use the oven, Shitty basically shoves him into the kitchen. And, well, it’s not his Mama’s kitchen – these boys could really use some curtains or something to spruce this place up a bit – but it’ll do just fine.

He already has the first pie in the oven and is working on the second one when he meets Ransom. When the first pie is done, he meets Chowder. When the second pie is done, there’s half a hockey team in the kitchen and the things those boys are doing to his pies will give him nightmares for weeks.

Jack isn’t around. Bitty doesn’t ask where he is. He does insist that the boys save a slice of pie for him, though.

“If you don’t come back, I’ll fucking cry,” Shitty says when Bitty gets up to leave. “The whole team will cry. That’s a lot of tears, brah.”

“I’ll definitely come back,” Bitty promises. He takes his box, his ingredients, his pie dishes, his rolling pin, and walks back across campus to his room, the broadest smile on his face. There’s a chance that those boys only want him around because of the pie, but he only went there for the oven as well, right?

Still. Bitty can’t shake the feeling that he might actually get along with those boys if he tries.

He comes back a couple of days later. Ransom and Holster both wait in the kitchen while he bakes his pies and tell him about their upcoming games. Every now and then one will interrupt the other to explain some of the hockey talk to Bitty. Baking in that kitchen, it seems, comes with a free hockey crash course.

The next time Bitty drops by, Shitty is around, once again not exactly dressed for the weather. That’s apparently a thing.

During his next visit, he makes mini pies, with two of the frogs, Dex and Nursey, bickering across the hall.

After his fifth visit – this time Jack keeps him company, quietly reading at the kitchen table – Bitty leaves his box and his ingredients and his pie dishes and his rolling pin at the hockey guys’ house. He makes Jack promise that he’ll make sure that no one else will touch them.

Bitty christens the oven Betsy.

He doesn’t ring the doorbell anymore when he comes around; he just walks inside and gets to work.

The boys hand him a jar full of cash – “Because you always bake for us and we’d feel bad if we didn’t at least pay for the ingredients every now and then.” They won’t listen when Bitty tells them that he can’t possibly take it, because they’re already letting him use their oven.

Bitty learns several things about the hockey boys while he uses their kitchen. The hockey guys’ house is called the Haus. Bitty still doesn’t know why. Jack Zimmermann works constantly. If it’s not homework, it’s hockey plays. Chowder takes naps on the couch in the living room before every game. Bitty wouldn’t touch that couch with a ten foot pole. Whenever he sees Nursey and Dex, they are either arguing or cuddled up on an arm chair together. As far as Bitty knows they aren’t dating, but he’s pretty sure that they’re something. Bitty’s also starting to say ‘swawesome a lot. Ransom and Holster are so proud.

A few weeks later, Bitty still isn’t entirely sure who actually lives at the Haus. He knows that Jack and Shitty have rooms upstairs, but other than that he’s pretty much clueless. There are just… so many of those hockey boys. Really, whenever Bitty drops by, one of them is always around.

And the more Bitty shows up at the Haus, the more he finds Jack sitting in the kitchen, quietly keeping him company.

*

Biiiits,” Shitty says as he comes wandering into the kitchen. Much to Bitty’s surprise, he’s fully clothed.

Jack looks up from his reading. He’s being extra quiet today. Bitty quickly got used to having Jack in the kitchen with him. He takes his books downstairs, his notes and his laptop, and he pores over them over at the kitchen table while Bitty bakes. Sometimes they talk about the class they take together, sometimes Bitty mumbles about their final project and throws a few ideas out there and Jack jots them down.

It’s not the same as baking in Mama Bittle’s kitchen, but the Haus still feels strangely familiar.

“Hey, Shitty. Pie’s done in five minutes.”

“You’re so good to us,” Shitty says and ruffles Bitty’s hair. “You’re still coming to our game tomorrow, right?”

“Wouldn’t miss it,” Bitty says. He’s been going to a lot of games. It might have actually been every single game the team has played at Samwell this semester. And the more games he watches, the more he likes it. He’s starting to think that maybe he’d even enjoy playing.

He knows that his knee would be acting up in no time, it’s why he had to stop skating as much as he used to in the first place, but if he did it in moderation… Teaching lessons works just fine for him, taking the occasional spin around the rink does, too, so maybe he’ll ask the boys to teach him some tricks. Just for fun. And none of that slamming-people-into-the-boards stuff.

“Good,” Shitty only says and wanders off.

“Uh…” Bitty raises his eyebrows at Jack. “What was that all about?”

“I wouldn’t know,” Jack says, but there’s a hint of a smile tugging at his lips.

Bitty narrows his eyes at him. “Jack Zimmermann, if you–”

“I really don’t know anything.”

He doesn’t sound too convincing, but Bitty lets it go.

He’s forgotten all about Jack and his secretive smiles when he sits down next to Lardo at Faber the next day. She says hello and unceremoniously dumps a bag in his lap. “From the boys,” she says.

“What…?” Bitty reaches into the bag and pulls out a jersey, red and white, just like the ones the guys on the hockey team are wearing.

“They thought you should have one.”

Bitty only stares at her. Because… those silly boys gave him a jersey.

Lardo shrugs. “For the pie and all that.”

“But…” But it’s just pie. Sure, those boys have basically adopted him. They invite him to movie nights, they take him to Jerry’s, and Holster even added him to a group chat which they then named Bitty & the Hockey Bros. Still, Bitty wasn’t expecting anything like this. And he might be getting a little misty-eyed. “Thank you. Really. This is…”

It’s one of the best gifts anyone has ever given Bitty in his entire life.

And it’s not like Bitty didn’t have friends before, but he definitely didn’t have friends like those guys. These are the friends he thought he’d make when he first came to Samwell. He finally feels like he belongs somewhere.

“Turn it over,” Lardo says.

Bitty’s name is on the back and– “Why fifteen?”

“They wanted to give you a number no one else had. Like you’re actually part of the team. Johnson said fifteen was your number and Shitty just rolled with it.”

“Who’s Johnson?” Bitty asks. The name sounds familiar, but he can’t put a face to it.

“Oh, you wouldn’t know him.” Lardo shrugs. “Graduated last summer.”

Bitty slowly runs his fingers over his name on the back of the jersey. Bittle. Yeah, it really feels like he’s part of the team.

When Lardo pulls him into the locker room after the game, Bitty is greeted by a bunch of sweaty and euphoric hockey players who talk him into coming back to the Haus with them for the kegster they’re throwing later.

Bitty just nods along. He’s a little distracted, you see?

Because Jack Zimmermann, still in his pads, sitting at the back of the locker room, tying off his skates, is smiling at Bitty at Faber for the first time ever. It’s a small smile, but it’s enough to make Jack’s eyes crinkle a little. No glares in sight.

It takes Bitty a moment to tear his eyes away.

*

“What are you doing here?”

Bitty nearly knocks over the sugar. Jack is standing in the doorway to the kitchen, bag slung over his shoulder, snowflakes melting on his hat and his coat. His cheeks are flushed from the cold. It’s quite the sight. Bitty clears his throat. “I’m baking.”

“Yes, I can see that,” Jack says and frowns. “It’s just… You usually don’t come by until later on Thursdays.”

Maybe it shouldn’t surprise Bitty that Jack knows his schedule. He does come to the Haus every Thursday after his last class of the day and every week Jack joins him in the kitchen with his homework. “Class got cancelled,” Bitty says.

“Oh,” Jack says and sidles up to the counter.

Bitty doesn’t miss that Jack is eyeing one of his apple pies with interest. “Those are not for you, mister.”

Jack’s eyes dart from the two pies that are already done to the oven where another one is baking, to the one Bitty is currently finishing. “What’s all that pie for, then? Bribing your way into another class, eh?”

“I will have you know…” Bitty points his spoon at Jack and some cherry filling goes flying in Jack’s general direction. Jack ducks out of the way, laughing as Bitty scrambles to wipe the filling off the counter.

“You were saying?” Jack asks.

“The pies are for a good cause,” Bitty says indignantly. He casts a sidelong glance at Jack. “The LGBT Society is having a bake sale tomorrow afternoon.”

Jack doesn’t say anything for a moment. Bitty should have expected as much. Sure, this is Samwell, but these guys are hockey players. Bitty did tell Shitty that he’s gay no two weeks ago, and Shitty was great about it, but he’s Shitty. And Jack is, well… Jack is a decent guy, even though he glowers a lot, but maybe Bitty shouldn’t have said anything.

But then Jack catches himself and says, “That’s nice of you. To help out. I’ll try to drop by before the game.”

“You’ll drop by?”

“It’s for a good cause,” Jack says with a shrug and goes to sit down at the kitchen table.

“Right,” Bitty says, “it is.”

And maybe Bitty shouldn’t be surprised when Jack and Shitty show up the next day to buy an entire pie for the team – “For after the game,” Jack says with a pointed glance at Shitty.

*

Finding a date where they can get together for their final project proves difficult. Bitty has been procrastinating on about twice as many assignments as he should have, and Jack, even at the Haus, is constantly on the phone or looking at contracts and going to the rink and to the gym and to his classes.

Bitty runs into him at Faber more than once, although Jack usually doesn’t stop to talk to him. He’ll nod at Bitty as he passes or he’ll say, “Hey, Bittle,” but that’s about it for their interactions at the rink. At least until Bitty finds Jack waiting for him on the bench as he takes a few laps around the rink one evening after he taught his last figure skating lesson of the semester. “Jack,” Bitty says as he skates up to him, “what’re you doing here?”

“I just wanted to squeeze in some extra practice, because the rink’s usually empty this time of day.”

“Yeah, I stuck around a little longer than usual.”

“You’re a good skater,” Jack says. “You’re fast.”

Bitty raises his eyebrows at him. Just for how long has Jack been sitting here?

“What?” Jack asks. “You are.”

“I guess I am.” Bitty’s eyes fall on the bag next to Jack. His skates, probably. There’s a stick leaning against the bench as well, a handful of pucks stacked up next to it. “Wanna race me?”

Now, Bitty knows that Jack is competitive. He knows that Jack always give one hundred percent. More often than not even more than that. But he doesn’t stand a chance against Bitty. Jack is breathing hard when they come to a halt back at the bench, but he’s smiling.

“Well then,” Bitty says and nods at Jack’s hockey stick. “Are you gonna teach me some of your moves?”

Bitty thinks he can actually see something in Jack’s eyes light up. “I’ll get you a spare stick,” he says.

Honestly, Bitty isn’t sure if he’s ever seen Jack Zimmermann as excited as he is when he teaches Bitty about hockey. He’s not sure if he’s ever had this much fun with Jack either. Bitty wouldn’t have expected Jack to be this patient. Even when Bitty misses the puck, Jack just says, “Let’s try that again, eh?”

“So, when did you start playing?” Bitty asks as they’re collecting all of their pucks. Some of them have ended up all the way across the ice.

“I pretty much grew up around hockey.”

“Right, because your dad used to play, too.”

Jack only nods.

Bitty can’t shake the feeling that he just said something wrong. And he’s probably not making it better when he adds, “I didn’t even know who your dad was for the longest time.”

“You didn’t?”

“Ransom and Holster told me,” Bitty whispers. “I just… Well, hockey isn’t that big of a thing in Georgia, y’know?” Although Bitty did mention Jack’s dad when he talked to his Mama and she definitely knew who he was. Still. Bitty had no idea. Football was, and still is, what really matters in the Bittle household.

“Huh,” Jack says. He’s looking at Bitty like he’s waiting for something, but Bitty has no idea what that might be.

“All right, then…” Bitty smiles at Jack. “I’ll see you the day after tomorrow for our project, yeah?”

“Of course,” Jack says. He hesitates for a second, then he adds, “We should do this again. Skate together. If you have time.”

“We should?”

“Definitely. You make me want to be faster.”

Bitty grins. “Well, you make me want to be able to play.”

“I guess I can teach you some more stuff.”

“Yeah? I mean, you are really good at this.” Really good doesn’t even remotely cut it, Bitty knows that. Jack is outstanding. That’s why he’s going to sign with an NHL team after he graduates. Not that Bitty is an expert, but Jack will probably be one of the best. Or at least he sincerely hopes so. Jack deserves it.

The thing is, Jack doesn’t just know how to play. He also knows how to explain plays and rules in ways that make them remarkably easy to understand.

Jack is quiet for a moment. “I used to coach a peewee team, actually,” he says and looks down at his skates. “Before I came to Samwell.”

“Oh, wow.”

“Yeah, it was a bit of a detour, but…”

“You didn’t want to go to college at first?”

“I…” Jack shakes his head. He won’t look at Bitty. “No, college wasn’t part of the plan.” He gives Bitty a nudge and puts down the pucks they’ve been picking up. “Hey, I’ll race you one more time before we leave.”

Bitty nods, and smiles, and doesn’t ask any questions, because it seems that there’s a lot more to Jack Zimmermann than he previously knew and now is probably not the best time to ask. Maybe he should do some googling when he gets home.

Bitty skates a few feet back. “I’ll give you a head start.”

*

Baking with Jack, actually talking to Jack, is different. Jack tells him about the teams he’s been thinking about signing with – on the West Coast, but also Boston and Providence. Bitty is pretty sure that he won’t actually manage to stay in touch with Jack after he graduates even though they’re, well… they’re friends. Even if Jack stays close to Samwell, if he signs with the Bruins or the Falconers, Jack will be ridiculously busy.

So Bitty is going to enjoy this while it lasts.

Jack seems to be under the impression that he’s completely hopeless when it comes to baking, but he’s doing just fine. Really, there probably isn’t much that boy can’t do.

And maybe it’s the chirping, or maybe it’s the light, or maybe it’s that Bitty feels completely at ease around Jack – something that he wouldn’t have thought possible a couple of months ago – but when Bitty looks at Jack as he talks about his uncle Mario and the Stanley Cup and expansion teams, he realizes that he’s not really listening. He’s just looking.

People sometimes comment on his vlog videos and ask him for advice. And Bitty’s never had much of a love life to speak of, but he knows that feeling he gets when he looks at Jack, who’s frowning at his pie lattice. He knows the feeling he gets when he looks at Jack, his cheeks dusted with flour, his eyes bright in the late afternoon light, his smile broad and genuine as he talks about his future.

Bitty knows that feeling.

And he should be smarter than this. He should have learned this a long time ago. Falling in love with a straight boy just won’t end well for him. Especially when that boy is headed to the NHL. Especially when there’s a good chance that Bitty will never see that boy again after he graduates. Other than on TV.

“Bittle?” Jack says, head tilted. “What’s wrong? If there’s anything on my face, you put it there…”

“Nothing,” Bitty says quickly and only barely keeps himself from brushing all that flour off Jack’s cheeks. “It’s nothing.”

*

When Bitty comes back to Samwell after winter break, he’s not exactly sure where he and Jack stand.

Bitty went to that huge party at the Haus before they all went home and Jack was there and they talked and then one of Jack’s old teammates showed up. Bitty recognized him, he knows some things about hockey, especially now that he’s spent so much time with all these hockey players, so he knows who Kent Parson is.

And Bitty isn’t sure what the deal is between those two, but when Bitty went upstairs to find Jack later on, he overheard them arguing and it was just a mess, really. Because they found him outside Jack’s door when Parson left and now Jack probably thinks that he was eavesdropping. Which he wasn’t. He really just wanted to find Jack, because his tipsy self thought it was a great idea. Which it wasn’t.

He’s been back at Samwell for two days and he’s still not sure if he’s brave enough to go back to the Haus when he spots Jack across the Quad. Bitty, completely exhausted after his first class of spring semester, doesn’t manage anything more than a wave.

Jack waves back at him, comes walking across the Quad and honest to God jumps over a snowbank to get to Bitty. “Bittle,” he says. “Do you want to get coffee?”

“Uh, sure, yeah, absolutely,” Bitty says. They’ve walked about five steps when he blurts out, “I’m sorry. At the kegster… I didn’t mean to pry, I just wanted to come find you, honestly.”

“It’s okay, Bittle,” Jack says. “Kent and I… we’ve had our differences. It’s… Don’t worry about it.”

Jack doesn’t say much about Kent Parson after that. It’s obviously not his favorite topic to talk about and Bitty is just glad that Jack still wants to hang out with him. Instead, Jack’s talking about the photography class he’s taking this semester and when they’re at Annie’s Jack even pulls out his camera to show Bitty some pictures.

Which Bitty would find sweet, really, if Jack didn’t manage to also knock over Bitty’s latte as he reaches across the table. It’s a good thing that Bitty was so busy talking to Jack that his latte isn’t too hot anymore, but it still soaks through the front of his sweater.

Jack swears under his breath and practically throws his napkin at Bitty as he apologizes. “Here, you can borrow this,” he says and pulls his Samwell hoodie out of his bag.

Bitty takes it, tentatively, trying to ignore that people are glancing at them over their shoulders. He pulls off his sweater, stuffs it into his own bag and then tugs Jack’s hoodie over his head. It’s the same one Jack let him borrow at the beginning of fall semester. And it smells like Jack. And Bitty is never taking it off again.

No, he has to give it back. Of course he has to give it back.

But if he doesn’t take it off right away when he gets home, well… no one ever needs to know that.

*

Bitty still goes to the Haus several times a week. He sort of adopts Chowder a little bit. Often enough, when Bitty is done baking, Jack takes a break from his thesis to go to Annie’s with him.

When Bitty teaches figure skating classes, Jack sometimes shows up afterwards and they skate together, but as playoffs draw nearer, Jack starts to get agitated and Bitty leaves him alone on the ice.

As winter melts into spring, Bitty starts to realize that all of this is really going to end. He finally has friends and now they’re leaving, and even though he’ll still be welcome at the Haus even after Shitty and Jack graduate, it won’t be the same. These days, he spends so much time at the Haus that he’s starting to feel like he actually lives there.

The boys make it to the Frozen Four, but they lose in the last round. When Bitty sees Jack afterwards he doesn’t think twice before pulling him into a hug. He can tell that Jack is surprised at first, but when he hugs Bitty back, Bitty is sure that he’s about two seconds away from dropping dead.

He feels like that a lot when he’s around Jack. Bitty’s doing his best to ignore it.

Spring C rolls around and Bitty cooks breakfast for the boys, which is really the last sensible thing he does that day. Several bad decisions later – most of them involve copious amounts of alcohol – Bitty is being carried to the Haus by no other than Jack Zimmermann.

“Jack, I think I lost my shoe.”

“I know, Bittle. That’s why I’m carrying you home.”

“To the Haus? Jack, I don’t live at the Haus. You live at the Haus. Why’s it even called the Haus? Anyway, you gotta take me home Jack, I don’t–”

“It’s fine, Bittle,” Jack interrupts. “You can stay the night, don’t worry.”

“I’m not sleeping on that couch,” Bitty shrieks. “I am not. Let me sleep next to Betsy, she hasn’t been doing well, you know? Betsy, she’s…” He lowers his voice. “I think she’s dying, Jack.”

“Betsy,” Jack echoes, clearly confused.

Bitty nods, his cheek resting against the back of Jack’s head. Jack’s hair is really soft and Bitty sort of wants to nuzzle into it. He sighs. “My oven.” It’s not his oven, obviously. Nah, whatever, it sort of is.

“We’ll ask Dex to take a look at, uh, Betsy,” Jack says. His voice is full of quiet amusement and Bitty is pretty sure that Jack is chirping him. He’s going to miss that.

Bitty hums, his fingers curling into Jack’s shirt. It’s soft, too, like Jack’s hair. A lot of things about Jack are a lot softer than you’d expect at first glance. Jack is a big guy. He can look pretty scary, too. But he’s soft, deep down.

“Hmm… s’soft.”

“What was that, Bittle?”

“Hm.”

“Right,” Jack says.

Bitty keeps mumbling as they make their way to the Haus and when he wakes up on an air mattress in Shitty’s room the next morning, Bitty thankfully can’t remember half of the embarrassing things he’s said and done. Still, he’s almost convinced that he said something like, “I’m really gonna miss you,” to Jack as he carefully put Bitty down on the air mattress.

Jack chirps Bitty about losing one of his shoes when he shuffles into the kitchen a little while later, but other than that no one comments on anything Bitty might have said last night.

Maybe it was just a really vivid dream.

*

Bitty doesn’t even notice that Jack is standing in the doorway until he hears him let out a quiet sigh. He’s holding his camera and he smiles when Bitty looks up. “Almost done?”

“Yeah, almost,” Bitty says. He’s grinning so broadly that his cheeks are starting to hurt. He’s been grinning for hours. The boys fixed Betsy for his birthday – Bitty might have cried a little – and obviously Bitty had to make a pie to celebrate immediately. Ransom and Holster are already setting up the Haus for a kegster in Bitty’s honor.

Bitty frowns at Jack’s camera. “Did you just take a picture of me?”

Jack nods. “I just…” He shrugs. “I want to remember this.”

This? The kitchen? Bitty? Bitty in the kitchen? The thought that Jack is taking a picture of him so he’ll remember this does something funny to Bitty’s heart. Who would have thought that Jack Zimmermann who always glared at him at Faber during his freshman year would somehow become one of the best friends Bitty has ever had? “I can’t believe you’re leaving,” Bitty says lowly.

“Spring semester went by quickly,” Jack says.

“Seemed like it was about a week long.” Bitty’s going to be a junior soon. Shitty is headed to Harvard. Jack’s going to play in the NHL. “I can’t believe I’ll only see you on TV from now on.”

“Hey, I’ll still drive up every now and then. Providence isn’t that far away.” Jack puts his camera down on the counter. “You should visit me sometime. Come down for a game maybe?”

“Sure, yeah,” Bitty says.

“Well, finish up that pie, Bittle. I have to show you something.”

“Show me something?”

Jack doesn’t reply, only nods at Bitty’s pie and patiently waits for Bitty to put it in the oven. Then Jack leads him down the hall to the basement door, his hand on the small of Bitty’s back, pushing him along.

“Where are we going?” Bitty asks.

“You’ll see.”

“Jack, seriously, what–”

“Trust me,” Jack says, and there’s something sheepish about his smile.

Bitty has never been in the Haus’ basement. There’s a washing machine and a dryer and a whole lot of boxes down there. Jack leads him over to the water heater, where the wall is covered in scribbles.

“Jack?”

“Those are the Samwell Hockey Bylaws,” Jack says. “Shitty wrote them on the wall during our freshman year.”

Bitty tilts his head like that’s going to help him decipher Shitty’s scrawl. Number thirteen seems to say, Ffffuck the LAX team!!!

Jack points at number fifteen. “Shitty and I added a new one last night.”

It takes Bitty a moment to figure out what it says. When he manages to make sense of it, he nearly cries for the fifth time today. It says, Eric R. Bittle, honorary member of the Samwell Men’s Hockey team, may bake in the Haus kitchen whenever he fucking wants to.

“Jack…”

“We just wanted to make sure,” Jack says. “Happy birthday, Bittle.”

Bitty hugs him because he has no idea what to say and because here’s nothing he can say that’ll come close to what he’s feeling right now. He doesn’t let go for a couple of minutes and he’s not even sorry, he doesn’t even regret it, even though it’s just going to make this whole mess even worse than it already is.

It’ll be weird to come back here in the fall, knowing that Jack won’t be sitting in the kitchen with him and do his homework while Bitty bakes.

“You know,” Bitty says as he pulls away. “I used to think you didn’t like me.”

“You bribed people into giving you ice time.”

Bitty looks up at him, eyes wide. “That’s why you were always glaring at me?”

“I needed to practice,” Jack says. “Bittle, I–”

The basement door flies open and Shitty’s head appears. “Get your asses up here, kids, we’re getting this kegster started.”

“We’ll be right up,” Jack says and Shitty salutes him and is gone a second later. “Bittle…”

Bitty’s still staring at that last bylaw. He can’t believe they did that. For him, Eric R. Bittle, honorary member of the Samwell Men’s Hockey team. “Hm?”

“I’m sorry if I made you think that I…” Jack trails off. “I take things too seriously sometimes. But we’re cool now, right?” He holds up his fist.

“Yeah, Jack.” Bitty bumps his fist against Jack’s. “We are.”

Bitty’s going to miss this boy like a limb.

*

Bitty’s room is a mess. His suitcase is a mess. His life is a mess.

He owns way too much stuff. Bitty’s roommate is already gone, which means he has a lot of space to spread out all of his clothes and all the little bits and bobs he collected over the year. Señor Bunny is sitting on his bed, silently judging him. Bitty is honestly playing with the thought of asking the boys if he can stash some of it at the Haus, but he’s already left all of his baking supplies in the kitchen and he isn’t even part of the team.

Bitty pulls the jersey the boys gave him last winter out of a pile of clothes. They gave him so much during the last couple of months. He’s definitely taking that jersey home. And his Samwell sweater, and– Wait a second. Since when does he have two Samwell sweaters? He picks up one of them. Samwell University. That’s the one he bought during his freshman year.

The other one doesn’t belong to him.

It’s a Samwell Men’s Hockey hoodie with the name Zimmermann on the back. It’s the hoodie that made him walk all the way to the Haus in the first place.

Jack let him borrow it again when he spilled that latte all over Bitty’s sweater at Annie’s and Bitty was going to give it back a long, long time ago. He should probably do that now, because Jack is graduating tomorrow and then he’s going to Providence and Bitty’s going back to Georgia for the summer. As much as he wants to, this hoodie isn’t his to keep.

Anyway, Bitty’s been looking for a reason to put off packing, so he might as well take that hoodie to the Haus.

Bitty lets himself in when he gets there. He’s stopped feeling weird about it a long time ago. No one’s in the kitchen and no one’s in the den, so Bitty goes upstairs to Jack’s room.

The door’s open a few inches and Jack seems to be busy packing as well.

“Hey, Jack,” Bitty says. He still can’t wrap his head around it. All of Bitty’s attempts at recording one last vlog video before he goes home have been derailed because Bitty started to think about Jack leaving Samwell. This is it. After graduation they’re going separate ways and there’s nothing he can do about it.

“Bittle, hey.”

Jack is completely disheveled. His hair is sticking up and he’s barefoot and his shirt is wrinkled and it’s too much. Honestly, the only good thing about Jack leaving is that those damn butterflies will die eventually.

Of course, Bitty could say something. But what would be the point of that? There’s no way in hell that Jack feels the same way.  

“What’s up?” Jack asks.

“Oh, I just found this,” Bitty says and holds up the hoodie. “I figured I should give it back.”

Jack is staring at Bitty like he’s forgotten that he ever owned that hoodie. “Right. Thanks.”

“Sure, no problem.” Bitty takes a step back. He wants to stay, wants to sit on Jack’s bed and talk to him while he packs, wants to climb through the window and sit in the reading room like they did a few days ago, wants to say yet another goodbye, even though he’s said so many already. “Well, I’ll leave you to it. See you tomorrow.”

“Are you done packing already?” Jack asks.

“Not yet.” Bitty’s done with a lot of things, but packing isn’t one of them.

Jack nods. “There’s still time.”

“Yeah,” Bitty says.

Jack almost looks a little lost standing in his half-empty room. Somehow, Bitty can’t bring himself to leave after all. “It’s been a strange day,” Jack says, his voice quiet.

“I bet.” Two years from now, Bitty will be leaving to. He gets nervous just thinking about it. “Who’s moving in next?”

“Chowder,” Jack says.

They’re both silent for a moment. Jack stares at the hoodie Bitty put down on his empty desk. Bitty stares at Jack.

“It’s been great skating with you, Bittle.”

“You… Really?”

“Really,” Jack says. “You taught me some things. Made me a better player.”

Well, Jack taught him some things, too. When Bitty asked Jack not to push him into the boards when they skated together for the second time, Jack took it upon himself to help Bitty feel less scared. Bitty probably couldn’t take a real check, but he can take a nudge and a chirp. It’s something. And it means everything to Bitty that Jack tried to help.

Bitty’s face is probably the color of that hoodie right about now.

“We should–” Bitty never gets to hear what Jack was about to say because Jack’s phone starts ringing. “It’s my dad,” Jack says. “I should answer that, it’s probably about tomorrow.

“Right, I’ll…” Bitty points at the door, waves, and sneaks out of the Haus before anyone else notices that he’s there.

As he walks back to his dorm, the sun now starting to set, Bitty untangles his headphones and puts on Beyoncé. He might be crying a bit, too. It shouldn’t feel like everything’s ending – Bitty still has two years at Samwell ahead of him, and next year he’ll hang out with Holster and Ransom and the frogs, and he’ll visit Shitty in Boston with Lardo. This isn’t the end of the world.

It’s just that Jack has become such an unwavering constant in Bitty’s life, especially during the last couple of months.

Ever since Bitty came to Samwell, the road always led him back to Jack. First their paths kept crossing at Faber, then Jack ran into him after that fire at Bitty’s dorm, then Bitty ended up at the Haus, again and again and again. And whatever happens in the fall, Bitty has a feeling that the road will still lead him back to Jack.

Back at his dorm room, Bitty stares at his heaps of clothes and slowly starts to fold them. He just hopes that this ridiculous crush will fizzle out during the summer. Honestly, he never stood a chance with Jack. They could never–

There’s a knock on his door.

Bitty briefly considers pretending that he’s not here. He looks like an absolute mess, red eyes and tear streaks on his face and all. Then there’s another knock.

“Bittle.”

“Jack?”

Bitty scrambles to his feet to open the door. Jack is out in the hallway, even more disheveled than before. He’s wearing his yellow running shoes and the laces are coming undone on one of them. “Oh my goodness, Jack. What are you doing here? Why are you– Did you run here?”

“Bitty,” Jack only says. He still hasn’t managed to catch his breath.

Bitty ushers Jack into his room.

Jack follows his lead, his eyes never straying from Bitty. As soon as Bitty has pushed the door shut, Jack’s fingers curl around Bitty’s wrist. “I was just talking to my dad, and I…He said…”

Jack’s fingers are warm on his skin and Bitty’s entire world shrinks down to that feeling. He barely even hears what Jack is saying to him. He barely even thinks when he takes a step forward. Jack lets go of Bitty’s wrist and pulls him closer. And then there’s just Jack, and his lips, soft against Bitty’s, and his fingers, splayed on Bitty’s cheek, and the fabric of his shirt bunched in Bitty’s hands, and it’s all of the things Bitty only rarely allowed himself to dream about.

It’s a kiss that leaves Bitty breathless and dizzy. His lips are still tingling when Jack pulls away, only to draw Bitty closer again a moment later.

Bitty never wants it to end. He never wants reality to creep in.

When Jack pulls away, after minutes, long, long minutes that Bitty will spend the rest of his life thinking about, Jack says, “You could have kept the hoodie.”

“Well,” Bitty says and stands on his tiptoes to give Jack another kiss, “you can always give it back to me.”

*

He does give it back to Bitty the next day after graduation, right before he goes to Providence, and right before Bitty’s airport shuttle leaves.

“I told them that I forgot about something important,” Jack says as he hands Bitty the hoodie. “Dad told me to go. I’m pretty sure that they’re still at my mom’s alum event anyway.”

Jack leaves Bitty with the hoodie, and a few more kisses, and a promise that he’ll text him.