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Many Hands Make Light Work

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He just wanted to do some late-night baking.

Ever since his concussion had been diagnosed, along with the promise that he would probably be fine to play next year as long as he didn't so much as look at a pair of skates or otherwise overexert himself for the next five months, Bitty had been having the teensiest bit of trouble sleeping. The fact that finals were looming and studying was more of a literal than figurative headache didn't help; neither did the fact that bright artificial lights and his laptop screen tended to make those literal headaches worse.

Headaches were normal during concussion recovery. There was no need to fuss about it. It just meant that when Bitty was having trouble sleeping, he couldn't do much of anything else--except bake. Baking still had never let him down, and a cheery little oven light was just the right amount of light at night to keep his head from hurting.

So on a Tuesday in April, a little after midnight, Bitty let himself into the Haus with no intention but to do some overnight baking, only to be stopped in his tracks as soon as he got inside.

He couldn't hear anything, really, but the fact that the Haus was so perfectly quiet--except for the sound of a really unreasonable number of fans running on a cool Yankee spring night--rang a pretty loud alarm bell. And then...

He'd thought he caught a whiff, walking up to the Haus, but that could happen anywhere, any time. Hyperozics made up less than ten percent of the population; even at Samwell, which made a point of being both alpha- and omega-friendly, they were a small minority. And even at Samwell, everyone did their best to use their blockers and suppressants and not shove their pheromones up everyone else's noses, or overreact at the slightest scent.

But, Lord knew, nobody was perfect. Heat couldn't always be controlled no matter what suppressants an omega took. So that whiff of scent was no particular surprise, but... it wasn't coming from just anywhere. It was coming from upstairs. From inside the Haus.

Someone inside the Haus was an omega, in heat, and trying to hide it.

Bitty had spent enough time hiding the fact that he was hyperozic at all; being treated like an omega wouldn't be any better than being judged for not being the kind of alpha people expected. For an actual omega playing hockey...

Bitty shut that train of thought off sharply. He wasn't going to speculate on who it was; whoever it was hadn't entrusted him with that information, and he had no right to it. Any stupid alpha instincts telling him that he needed to find out who it was and do something were just that. Omegas had a right to make their own heat plans and have them respected, and Bitty wasn't a part of anybody's plans tonight.

He was still standing just inside, trying to convince himself to turn around and march right back out the door--though he didn't know where he was going to go when he certainly wasn't going to sleep a wink tonight knowing that--that someone--someone on his team--

A door opened upstairs. Bitty flinched and froze, as if he were doing something wrong just being in the Haus.

Shitty came a few steps down, stopping and relaxing a little when he saw Bitty. "Oh, hey. Uh. I don't know if..."

Shitty was the first member of the team Bitty had come out to about being hyperozic. He hadn't told Shitty any more than that; what exactly Bitty had in his pants wasn't anybody's business but his own. It was enough to explain that he'd really rather not be fixed up with any baseline folks, female or male, for Winter Screw or any other purpose.

Bitty knew that that meant the whole team thought he was an omega. They hadn't been horrible about it, and honestly it was easier than trying to explain to them that it was possible to be a male alpha under five foot seven inches tall who liked Beyoncé and baking.

"I can tell," Bitty said quietly. "I'll go."

"No, hey, actually," Shitty said. "I mean--I mean obviously go if you need to, but you're on blockers and everything, right? Because, brah, the scent situation is not going to get any better. We could use some camouflage, if you were here to use the kitchen."

Bitty should have said no. He should have said, I'm an alpha; it's inappropriate for me to be here. He should have turned on his heel and marched out.

He should not have been adding up the evidence that every other occupant of the Haus--except maybe Johnson?--was definitely baseline, except...

"Would he," Bitty said, his voice coming out small. "Would he hate me being here right now?"

Shitty sighed and came down a few more stairs, still keeping his distance. "He's... you know him, Bits. He's private. He meant to get back home before this hit, but it snuck up on him. And he's got a lot of toxic alpha-patriarchal programming to battle against, huh? But I think he's definitely going to want pie for breakfast."

Shitty flexed his hand and wrist and added, "The rest of us will definitely have earned it by then, brah."

Bitty smiled his best, brightest I-know-it-won't-be-my-best-score-but-I-won't-show-it-now smile and nodded. "Okay. Pie, then. Coming right up."

Shitty nodded firmly. "Thanks, man."

He was gone back upstairs before Bitty even turned the oven on to preheat.

If they needed scent camouflage, Bitty wasn't going to leave that until he'd gotten something baking. He pulled out a stockpot and filled it with water, peeling an orange and lemon directly into it, then adding two cinnamon sticks and a healthy pinch of nutmeg. He set that to boil, then considered his options for baking.

Hand pies would be best, easy to carry away or eat in a hurry. Apple, that was good and substantial and wouldn't stain everything it touched--with walnuts? He had a bag of walnuts in the cupboard.

For protein.

Bitty spent the next while inhaling the smell of cinnamon and carefully not hearing any of the thumps or the occasional raised voice that got past the sound of the fans. He was alone in a dark kitchen making hand pies--well, and a batch of muffins--for no reason at all. What was going on upstairs was still none of his business.

It did occur to him, as he stood there watching the hand pies cool, that never mind breakfast, whoever was upstairs was probably getting hungry now. Unlike any of the baselines in the house, Bitty had at least taken high school heat prep classes; he knew all about the danger of dehydration and the rapid calorie burn. It would be worst for... the omega in question... but still pronounced for everyone else involved.

The rest of us, Shitty had said, after all. He hadn't hesitated to leave--his teammate--which meant he wasn't leaving him alone. Bitty had been trying not to listen to the footsteps and the occasional voice, but he knew there were at least a handful of people upstairs. Lardo would be there, of course, and Ransom and Holster. Johnson? Who knew?

Well. He could take a dozen hand pies up, that was a good round number anyhow, and one of the eight-packs of Gatorade stacked to the ceiling in the pantry. Just in case.

When the muffins were safely out of the oven he arranged the pies nicely, on a tray, a paper towel folded beside each, and padded softly up the stairs with the tray in one hand and the Gatorade in the other.

The sounds were louder here, and the scent...

Bitty breathed through his mouth and recited recipes to himself. He'd need to make more pies for sure now--there were some blueberries in the freezer, and he thought the jar of lemon curd would still be safe where he'd stashed it...

He set down the Gatorade, balancing the tray on top of the bottles in the middle of the hall, where the light would fall on it the next time anyone opened the door. He turned away, put his hand on the banister, and--

Jack's voice struck him like a lightning bolt. There were no words, just a rhythmic, ah, ah, ah.

Bitty's whole body was sizzling, his hair standing on end. He dug his fingers into the railing, his toes into the deeply dubious carpeting, and thought very firm thoughts about going straight back downstairs where he belonged, where he wouldn't hear--

The door opened, and Ransom said, "Oh, thank God, pie!"

Bitty squeezed his eyes shut, picked his foot up to start walking down the stairs, and then Jack said, "Bitty? Bits?"

He sounded hoarse and ragged, and... hopeful. Bitty couldn't help turning to look toward the doorway, though Ransom was blocking his actual view of anything inside.

He didn't think he'd ever heard Jack sound like that. It wasn't the bark of his name when Jack wanted the puck, or the joy of a celly, or the grim concern of the last few days, or the exasperation Bitty had learned a thousand shades of in the last eight months. That was... Jack wanting him, needing him, not for hockey, not for the team, just... for himself. For Jack--a part of Jack that Bitty hadn't even guessed existed until tonight.

Ransom was looking over his shoulder, and then at Bitty, and then down at the pies. Inside the room Lardo was saying, "He just brought some snacks, Zimmermann, he's not--"


Bitty took a step toward the door, and Ransom was shoved aside so Lardo could stick her head out. "You good to come in? He... may not calm down without you, but that's not really your problem unless you're okay with making it yours."

Bitty nodded jerkily, not speaking. The others might not know what he was yet, but... Jack was going to. There wasn't a blocker made that would keep him from reacting at least somewhat to an omega in heat in the same room, and... well. That was going to be fairly obvious to everyone before long. But at least that meant there would be people there to stop him if he was in danger of getting carried away, people who knew what Jack wanted and wouldn't get all caught up in anything.

In the meantime, Jack was asking for him; Bitty couldn't say no. He stooped to pick up the pies and went into Jack's room, letting Ransom follow with the Gatorade.

Jack was--Bitty did not allow himself to stare, but the image burned itself instantly on his retinas--naked, of course. He was in the classic position on his bed, and Holster was kneeling behind him and--

"Are those dishwashing gloves?" Bitty demanded. "What are you--you should be using nitrile, that's not--"

Holster gave him a long-suffering look. "My hand is staying clean and his ass is staying stuffed. It's working."

Jack made a noise that might have been agreement or complaint; it was hard to tell, as he had his face stuffed into a pillow. Shitty was sitting on the desk chair, near the side of the bed, icing his right wrist.

Bitty looked around the tiny room for somewhere to set down the pies, or... himself. The only light was the desk lamp; every other available outlet was devoted to fans aimed away from the door and toward the open window, and it was a wonder they hadn't blown a fuse yet. Bitty shouldn't be in here; it was obvious that the others had this under control, and Jack wasn't even looking at him now.

Lardo--who had a shining smear of lubricant glistening on the top inch of her forearm, nearly to her elbow--brandished a Gatorade and said, "See if you can make him drink this, he won't for anyone else."

Bitty looked over at the bed again and yelped, "Jack!" without thinking, only scolding the way he would anyone who wasn't eating properly, but...

Jack's head popped up instantly. The ice-blue of his eyes was almost all lost in heat-dazed black, his face flushed and wet, his parted lips cherry-red, and...

Well. Bitty had known he was going to get hard when he walked in, he just hadn't thought it would happen in the first minute and quite so instantaneously. His vision actually seemed to tunnel in, but that didn't matter when all he needed to see was Jack. Something cold was shoved into his hand, something warm in the other, and Bitty walked over to the bed to sit next to Jack's pillow.

"Here, sugar," Bitty said, soft and low and firm. "Eat up, now."

Jack's eyes were locked on his, the eyelashes spiky-wet around them, and Bitty thought he could never look away until Jack's mouth opened, his tongue tipping out, glistening pink and begging wordlessly. Bitty brought the corner of the hand-pie to his mouth, and Jack's eyes closed even before his lips did, his face tensing as--

The bright bleachy smell was unmistakable, and. Well. Bitty would have to say that that was an accolade his hand-pies had never, to his knowledge, received before.

Bitty drew the pie back a fraction of an inch, wanting to make sure Jack could breathe, and a whine fell out of Jack's mouth that went straight to Bitty's cock. Bitty pressed his own lips tightly together, not letting himself make a sound. He set down the Gatorade behind Jack's pillow so he could put his hand on Jack's fever-hot cheek, rubbing along his damp cheekbone with his thumb.

"You're all right, you're fine," Bitty murmured. He was dimly aware that his teammates, his closest friends, who were also Jack's closest friends, were watching this, but that was nothing compared to making sure Jack got what he needed and never, ever made that desolate little sound again for any reason.

"Get your breath back, then you can have some," Bitty went on, and he breathed along with Jack as that rough panting evened out. Bitty raised his eyes enough to look down the line of Jack's bare back to where Holster's yellow-gloved wrist disappeared inside him.

"Almost all the way out," Bitty directed. "Make a real fist, just inside, and flex it like you're squeezing a ball if you can. That's where he needs to feel it right now."

Holster raised his eyebrows but drew his arm back without Bitty having to explain knotting anatomy. Jack's breathing steadied out further, his head tilting heavily into Bitty's hand. Bitty put the pie to his lips again, and Jack actually took a bite this time. That made something hot and furiously satisfied rush through Bitty: the knowledge that he was providing for his--

Teammate. Jack was his teammate. His captain, maybe hopefully his friend. Not anything else, no matter what his hormones might think.

Jack chewed and swallowed and then opened his eyes again, and this time--now that he'd come, now that he was feeling knotted, maybe now that he was breathing in the scent of an alpha close by, dim as it would be with the blockers--his eyes really focused. He saw Bitty, really saw him, and after a blink he looked... horrified.

Bitty immediately looked away, searching for someone to hand off the pie to so he could get out of here. Holster was obviously occupied. Shitty and Lardo were both in the far corner of the room, drinking Gatorades and talking quietly. Ransom shot him a slightly terrified look but held out his hand.

Bitty felt a firm grip on his shirt, and looked at Jack again as Jack said, "Bits, what--you're supposed to be resting, you're--you can't be cleared for--for--"

Bitty's doctor had indeed glanced down at the M.A in the gender box on his file and said, "No... strenuous sexual activity for the next few months," so Bitty was definitely not cleared to be going into rut.

"It's okay," Bitty said firmly. "Look, I'm just sitting here, I'm resting. I'm--the blockers won't let me get too riled up, Jack, and Lardo'll stick me in a cold shower if I try anything. But if you don't want me--"

"You should have a pillow," Jack said, his hand flexing on Bitty's shirt but not doing anything like letting go. "You--you can't hurt your head again, Bits, not because of me. Not again."

Bitty shook his head. "Jack, it wasn't--"

Jack just frowned and let go of Bitty to grab the pillow, pushing it at him. "You can't get hurt. You have to rest. You have to be ready for next season."

Bitty huffed and took the pillow, stuffing it behind himself, which freed the Gatorade to roll down the mattress toward Jack. "Well you have to hydrate right now, Jack Laurent Zimmermann, so stop arguing."

Jack's lips parted, his gaze going a little fuzzy and his whole posture slackening. It could have been something Holster was doing, or just his heat getting to him again, but Bitty's cock jumped like it was all his own doing. He felt his own face getting just as hot as Jack's.

He set the hand-pie on Jack's desk and opened the Gatorade, biting the tip of his own tongue. He did not think about what it meant that Jack had only not wanted him here because he should be resting, because it might not be safe for him, and not...

But, no, he couldn't put any weight on that, not when Jack was in heat and had his nose full of Bitty's alpha scent. The whole point of heat plans was that omegas weren't clear-headed enough to make real choices during a heat, even when they thought they were, even when they managed to sound like they were.

So Bitty just fed Jack a sip of Gatorade, and tried not to watch him swallow, and tried not to think anything at all.

He managed to get the entire bottle of Gatorade down Jack, and fed him most of the hand-pie, before Holster said abruptly, "Fuck, gotta switch out. Ow, fuck, fuck."

Bitty looked up worriedly--Holster was gripping his gloved wrist and grimacing and Bitty could almost feel the cramp he must have. He felt a curl of shame, realizing that he'd never told Holster that he could stop simulating a knot--no actual alpha would have stayed knotted that long--and then returned his attention to Jack, whose head was hanging.

"Hey, you," Bitty said softly, running a hand through Jack's hair. "Keep breathing, nice and steady."

Jack nodded, still not picking his head up. The wet sound of Holster sliding his hand free of Jack's body made Bitty's cock twitch, but quick as an echo came a despairing little sound from Jack. His whole body wriggled, begging without words, his hips tilting up more steeply.

Ransom was right there. He had another dishwashing glove on his right hand, and Bitty wasn't even going to object to that if it meant Jack got what he needed.

"Shh, shh, Rans is right here, just be still for him," Bitty said, and Jack immediately went silent and rigidly still.

Bitty cupped the nape of Jack's neck, kneading a little at the taut columns of muscle. He couldn't help watching as Ransom slicked up his glove and started pushing in. Bitty hadn't really seen before, but he couldn't help hearing the slick sound, and staring at Ransom's gloved hand disappearing. That was Jack's body, Jack's hole opening up and letting him in, needing to be filled.

"What, uh," Ransom was barely moving his arm. "Bitty? Like you had Holster doing, or?"

Bitty looked down at Jack and realized that he had suddenly become the heat fuck choreographer in this room. It was clear that none of the others had any idea what to do for Jack beyond keep him full, and Jack was clearly in no condition to say.

It was pretty obvious, though, that Jack wasn't getting what he needed right now; he was still too tense, barely even breathing.

"Move, Jack," Bitty said. "Show Ransom how to help you. Show him what you need right now."

Jack groaned but started moving, his muscles seeming to melt as he found a rhythm, rocking back onto Ransom's fist and forward toward Bitty.

"Can I," Jack gasped. "Bits--scent? Can--can you--"

"Yes," Bitty said, because whatever Jack needed from him he could definitely do. His scent wasn't much compared to the blast of Jack's heat, but he would give it to Jack if it would help. "Do you need more skin contact? More...?"

"Scent," Jack repeated, the word grating out low and desperate. Bitty rearranged himself hurriedly, curling around the head of the bed and tucking one arm behind his head. "Here, how's--"

Jack moaned and pressed his face against Bitty's exposed side, nearly into his armpit.

Bitty's toes curled with the effort of not rocking his own hips. But he couldn't smell anything over the scent of Jack, and now Jack was touching him, his breath hot and damp through Bitty's t-shirt. His heart was pounding so hard it was liable to give Jack a black eye if he stayed that close, and his cock was throbbing desperately in his pants. He didn't think he'd been this close to popping a knot since he got on proper adult blockers in high school.

Jack's shoulders sagged, his weight settling a little more easily onto his elbows as he kept on working his hips. Bitty still had his hand on the back of Jack's neck. When some stupid impulse made Bitty scratch lightly at his sweat-glistening skin, Jack made a low, throaty noise and rubbed his face against Bitty's side and down onto his chest.

Jack's nose brushed Bitty's nipple through the barely-there barrier of his t-shirt; Bitty's hand tightened without thought and his breath caught. That zing of pleasure--from the touch and the fact of Jack doing it, an omega's eager affection--went straight to his balls.

Bitty's hips jerked in helpless reflex, and he was suddenly aware that he was a breath away from coming.

Jack picked his head up, and Bitty made himself relax his grip, but Jack didn't go far. Just far enough to meet Bitty's eyes, and Jack's eyes were wide and dark and knowing, utterly aware of Bitty's reaction to him. Bitty didn't know how to tell him it was okay, it was Bitty's problem, because he couldn't think with his omega staring at him, the scent of Jack's heat and his pleasure and his eagerness all so thick in the air that Bitty could taste it.

Jack just looked, and Bitty looked back, and then Jack moved--shifted his weight on the bed, accompanied by the slick fleshy sound of Ransom's fist inside him. Jack's eyelids sank, and his mouth dropped open so Bitty could see the dark wet inside, the sweet pink softness of his tongue.

Bitty let out an altogether un-alpha-like squeak and came in his pants.

He didn't knot, at least, but the orgasm still felt like it went on forever. Pulse after pulse racked him while he couldn't do anything but feel, reveling in Jack's scent and closeness and the crashing, impossible pleasure.

When Bitty could think and see straight again, Jack had his forehead against Bitty's chest. Bitty squeezed the back of his neck in--apology, probably--though the rhythmic motion at the other end of the bed indicated that Bitty hadn't interrupted the proceedings at all.

Jack, a little muffled by the mattress, said, "Hydrate, Bittle."

That... wasn't a bad idea, actually. Bitty's mouth was awfully dry. He dragged his gaze away from Jack to look for the Gatorade, and abruptly realized that he had just come in his pants, untouched, with Lardo and Shitty and Holster and Ransom all looking on. He accidentally met Lardo's eyes and then Shitty's and then squeezed his own eyes shut.

"Could I, um--" his voice was coming out high and strained, and he couldn't even begin to get it under control. "Gatorade?"

"Here." The cool weight of the plastic bottle settled on his knee, and Bitty's fingers brushed Lardo's as he took it. He turned his face away, his cheeks blazing red.

"Brah, you weren't here for the oath-taking, but this is a strict what-happens-in-Jack's-room-stays-in-Jack's-room zone," Shitty said. "Nobody can help their autonomic responses. Don't worry about it."

Bitty should have said something gracious--they were all being kind, and this wasn't about him anyway, it was about making sure Jack got through his heat okay--but the best he could do was drink his Gatorade with his eyes shut.

At least until Jack made a little forlorn sound, and Bitty opened his eyes to see that Jack was eyeing the bottle hopefully.

"Oh, who's supposed to be hydrating now?" Bitty said, words coming easily again as soon as he was focused on Jack. "That angle's not gonna work, sweetheart, at least pick your head up for me."

Things settled into a rhythm, steady and almost dreamlike in the dim room filled with the rushing sound of the fans. Bitty petted Jack's hair and talked to him when he got too tense, when Ransom had to tap out for Shitty, and Shitty for Lardo. Jack didn't answer him in words, and no one else spoke to him except the most necessary exchanges. Bitty's eyelids were going heavy, and he wondered if Jack would notice if he dozed off.

His heat prep classes had said that omegas might get sleepy sometimes, late in a heat, if they felt safe and comfortable.

Bitty looked up when Lardo's rhythm changed--he could see a twisting motion in her elbow and shoulder, and she was frowning in intense concentration.

Jack let out a shuddery sigh and picked his head up for the first time in a while. He made that sound again, the one that had kept Bitty from making it back down the stairs after dropping off the pies in the hallway, but he didn't stop. "Ah, ah, ah--oh--oh!"

There was some stuff after that, broken French that Bitty couldn't understand, though he didn't know if English would have been any better. There were tears leaking from Jack's closed eyes and his words were slurred and half-gasped, but it was obvious that this was nothing like pain. He wasn't touching Bitty at all now. Bitty curled his hands into fists, tucking the right one behind his back so he wouldn't grab. He just watched, feeling himself harden again.

Just an autonomic response. Nothing to worry about.

Except that he might as well have said that out loud, because Jack opened his shiny-wet eyes and looked right at Bitty. After a deliberate second he dropped his gaze to the front of Bitty's pants, where a damp spot showed from last time and his cock was swelling again.

Jack's nostrils flared, and he licked his lips.

When he shifted on his elbows and his head tipped down, Bitty finally pulled himself together enough to say, "Oh no you don't, mister."

Jack's gaze snapped up from his cock to meet Bitty's eyes.

Secretly pleased to know that he hadn't hesitated, that he hadn't even been tempted to see how far that might go, Bitty said firmly, "No, Jack. Not that. This is for you tonight."

Jack licked his lips again and opened his mouth, his tongue pushed right to the edge of his lower lip in a silent plea.

Bitty set his fingers flat across Jack's mouth, doing his best to look stern, and Jack did a little head-fake. Before Bitty could pull back, his middle and ring fingers were in the wet heat of Jack's mouth, and Jack was sucking on them for all he was worth. Jack's eyes fluttered shut, another fat tear sliding down his cheek.

"Oh--" Bitty couldn't quite seem to get a full breath, and his cock was achingly hard. This--this felt different from anything else so far. He felt much more... involved, all of a sudden. Jack's mouth was so wet and hot and strong around his fingers. "Oh--dear. Guys, is--is this--should I--"

Am I having sex with Jack right now while he's in heat and doesn't know what he's doing? Should I stop? Can I stop?

Bitty made himself look around the room as the tip of Jack's tongue made tiny circles on the undersides of his fingers, which he'd never suspected were quite so sensitive. He was pretty sure his cock was leaking, but with the mess already in his pants it was hard to tell.

He'd never had his fingers in anyone's mouth before. He'd never had his anything in anyone's mouth before, hardly even his tongue, and Jack... Jack was... He was going to...

Bitty hadn't meant to get involved. He was just supposed to be helping. Choreographing. Staying on the sidelines. Not interfering with Jack's plan. But this... this was... so unspeakably intimate. Maybe everything else had been too, but nothing else had made him feel like the top of his head was going to come off quite like this.

Nothing else had been something Jack did for him, on purpose, because he knew Bitty was getting off on this.

"Manual-oral's nothing," Lardo said, easy and dismissive. "Don't sweat it as long as nobody's choking."

Bitty looked at the others, didn't feel like nothing, it felt like--like someday somebody was going to ask him how he lost his virginity, and he was going to think of this moment, with Jack's tongue driving him out of his mind even while he still had his pants on.

Ransom and Holster put their thumbs up with their fingers shoved into each other's mouths in... weirdness solidarity? Assurance that it wasn't weird at all?

Shitty just shrugged and looked back down at his phone, squinting at something. "Totally in bounds, brah. Don't sweat it. Whatever's working, right? If Jack's good we're all good."

"Right," Bitty agreed, and twisted his hand so he could thumb away the tears from Jack's cheek. Jack groaned around his fingers, and his hips jerked sharply, demandingly. Bitty closed his teeth on his lips and stared, trying desperately to hold back, but then Jack met his eyes again, sucking harder, and Bitty knew this was only a shadow of what it would feel like to have his aching cock in Jack's mouth, in Jack's slick, hungry hole, and that was the end of knowing anything at all.

He and Jack came at the same time; afterward he found the marks of Jack's teeth on his fingers, but he hadn't felt the slightest bit of pain while it happened.

Jack rested his cheek against Bitty's side and licked the marks apologetically, and Bitty brushed the sweaty hair back from Jack's forehead and murmured, "It's all right, sugar. Whatever you need."

It was just for tonight. For Jack. Tomorrow... Well, the evil of tomorrow was sufficient unto itself, and Bitty would get to that soon enough. For now he just had to look after Jack.

But he moved his hand well away from Jack's mouth.

It was getting on toward morning. Bitty kept dozing off, sleeping in dazed, drifting moments and then waking up in the same impossible dream. He was lying curled up at the head of Jack's bed, his head on Jack's pillow right under the open window, his feet against Jack's desk.

Jack was curled up on his side too, lying perpendicular to Bitty with his top foot braced against the wall and his head resting in the dip of Bitty's waist, his face turned toward Bitty's. Bitty kept a hand on his cheek or his hair, and sometimes when he opened his eyes Jack was blinking at him, looking just as sleepy and dazed as Bitty felt. Sometimes his eyes were still closed; Bitty hoped that he was dreaming of a better heat than this one.

At some point Bitty opened his eyes and there were tears running down Jack's nose; his eyes were squeezed tight shut, his whole face tensed. For a second Bitty thought, No, no, bad dream, wake up, and then he realized that he was awake.

This was happening. He was asleep at the damn wheel, letting this get bad for Jack.

He looked down the bed. Holster was there, earbuds in and his arm moving mechanically.

"Jack," Bitty said, pushing up on one elbow. "Jack, honey, what--"

Jack shook his head, gritting out, "It's fine." He twisted, trying to hide his face against Bitty's side again.

The movement caught Holster's attention, and he sat up sharply, and Jack let out a keening sound only half-muffled against Bitty's body, his shoulders shaking a little. Bitty twisted around, pushing off from the wall and curling his legs behind Jack until he was only forty-five degrees off from spooning him properly, Jack's head tucked under his chin so Bitty could whisper low and soft to him.

"Hey, hey, sweetheart, tell me what you need. You need something different?"

Jack shook his head. "Just--gotta finish. No--" Jack's breath shook, not quite a sob. "No stopping early, just--"

Bitty pressed his fingers across Jack's lips, and Jack took three into his mouth. There was nothing sensual in it this time; he could feel that Jack was sucking ferociously to keep himself from biting down. Or screaming.

Bitty looked over his shoulder. Ransom was hovering in the doorway; Lardo was slicking up a gloved hand. Bitty nodded firmly to her and focused on Jack again.

"I've got you, honey." Bitty ran his fingers through Jack's hair. "I know you wish it was over already, but I'm right here with you for every last minute, okay? Your team's with you. You're not alone. You don't have to do this alone, Jack, not one single second, not ever. I've got you."

Jack relaxed into him a little, and then Bitty heard the particular slick noise of Holster easing his hand out. Jack tensed and twisted, his voice rising in cracked desperation. "No, no, don't--please--I'm sorry, please, don't go, don't--"

Bitty's leg shot out, his foot hooking around Jack's thigh to keep him in position.

"Just switching, honey, just switching, Lardo's right there, baby, just give her a second to--"

Jack twisted so he was nearly face-down, wrapping both arms hard around Bitty's chest, his hands closing in fists at Bitty's spine. He keened as Lardo's hand pushed in, and Bitty looked up just long enough to confirm that Ransom and Holster had cleared the room and Shitty was sitting next to Lardo at the end of the bed now.

"We've got you," Bitty whispered. "We've got you, Jack, it's all right now, you're safe with us. It's okay, we know it hurts, we know, but you're being so brave, you're so strong, and we're right here to help you. We won't leave you, honey, you won't be alone."

Jack's shoulders shook; he was almost silent, but Bitty could feel the force of Jack's sobs against his chest. Jack's knuckles dug into his back and Bitty's spine might well lock up permanently in this awkward curve, but it didn't matter. Every word he was saying was true. Bitty kept repeating them until he could barely speak at all, until Jack's scent tipped over from fading heat to no, stop.

Bitty picked his head up and shook his head sharply as Jack went limp against him. "Stop--stop. He's done."

"Thank fuck," Lardo sighed out, easing her hand free and flopping down flat at the foot of the bed.

Bitty relaxed his hold on Jack's leg only to realize that his own foot had gone numb at some point. He hissed, and Shitty reached for him. Bitty jerked away from the warm, strong touch on his ankle. It was all wrong, not--not--

Shitty was already easing back, standing to help Bitty disentangle himself from Jack. Bitty couldn't look away from Jack lying there limp and naked and sweaty, vulnerable. Needing protection. "He shouldn't--someone's gotta--"

"I'm on cleanup and totally non-sexual spooning duty, no problem," Shitty assured him, walking Bitty to the door. "Hey! Rans, Holster!"

Ransom stepped into view at the bottom of the stairs. "All clear?"

"Yeah. Bitty, you want to clean up here, or...?"

Bitty was abruptly aware that he was sweaty and sticky and clammy all over, bone-tired and aching everywhere from his head to the prickling sole of his right foot. He felt raw somehow, naked even in his clothes, his whole self exposed like skin he'd just peeled a bandage away from. All he wanted was a shower and to be alone in a dark room so he could sleep, so whatever this had been--weird and beautiful and horrible and impossible and intense--would finally be over.

"No," Bitty said. "I'll--I'll just--"

"We'll walk you home," Ransom said, beckoning him down. "Your sweatshirt's down here with your keys."

Bitty held the railing as he walked down the stairs, and did not seriously consider telling anyone that he could get home on his own; he hadn't felt this wobbly after his first kegster.

When he got downstairs, the scent of citrus and cinnamon and nutmeg hit his nose, and Bitty frowned toward the kitchen. "Lord, how did that keep from boiling dry overnight?"

"Johnson slept on the couch," Holster said, emerging from the kitchen with Bitty's sweatshirt and keys. "He said he topped it up every hour or so. Turned off the oven, too."

Bitty blinked for a moment, wondering how he'd known to do that and then gave up wondering and pulled his sweatshirt on. The clean-ish kitchen smell of it made Bitty aware of how he smelled under it.

He was definitely going to need a shower. He probably shouldn't even stop in his room. There was a private shower on the first floor for--emergencies--and it was stocked with medical-grade scent-neutralizing soap--but then he'd...

His train of thought stopped sharply when they stepped outside into the chilly spring morning. It was checking practice early, everything smelling sharply fresh and clean, the sky just beginning to lighten in the east.

"Come on, Bittle, one foot in front of the other," Ransom coaxed, and Bitty nodded and walked down the steps, the D-men bracketing him like bodyguards.

He'd have to be someone awfully special, to have his own bodyguards in real life. Did celebrity chefs ever have bodyguards? Maybe if he got into a nasty chef-feud with Anthony Bourdain, or...

Bitty was half-asleep on his feet, dreaming of his Michelin-starred bakery, when a hand closed on his shoulder. He stopped and looked up at Holster and Ransom, and then at the door in front of them. He glanced over his shoulder to see if the Haus had somehow suddenly relocated to the edge of the dorm quad, but... no, he'd walked half the width of campus without noticing, and Holster and Ransom had brought him around to the back door into his dorm.

The door closest to the emergency shower.

"Okay, if you're awake now," Holster said. "Give me your keys, I can go get your shower stuff and towel and everything. Do you want to wait out here or go sit down in the shower?"

The shower would be a dark little box--there was no way he was turning on the lights in there--and he would be alone. He took the lanyard with his keys from around his neck and held it out to Holster, remembering to say, "Thanks, Holster. Y'all didn't have to--"

"Uh, yeah, I don't know how many different people would kill us if you wandered into the pond or something, but it would be more than enough," Ransom said. "Also you might start a riot if you go up to your room yourself right now. I'm baseline and I can still tell you smell like eight hours of hyperoz dry humping."

Bitty wrinkled his nose as Holster waved the keys and headed inside. "Not... that dry."

Ransom snorted and patted his shoulder. "That's between you and your laundry, man."

They lapsed into quiet then, and Bitty was aware of swaying slightly. It was chilly out here; he could feel a shiver starting up under his skin.

He hoped Jack was warm enough. He'd been covered in sweat, and with all those fans on he could get chilled. Jack was even more tired than he was, Jack...

Bitty's eyes prickled and he forced them wide, with a big, mechanical smile like he was getting up from a fall with the judges and Katya and a thousand spectators watching. He wasn't going to cry. He wasn't. He had nothing to cry about at all, he was just tired, and Holster had been so nice to go and get his things, and--

"Oh, no," Bitty said, as he saw the vague shape of Holster coming closer through the tiny security window in the door. "Oh, I forgot to tell him where--"

"I think he found it," Ransom said, but Bitty's mind was suddenly racing with all the things he should have said, should have done. He hadn't washed the dishes back in the kitchen, he'd just left everything, he'd walked away and left him--

Ransom hustled him inside, and Bitty was blinking rapidly, face turned away to keep from showing how close his control was to breaking. He flinched a little at the bright lights of the dorm hallway and kept his head down, making a beeline toward the private shower room, and then there was a sudden, horrid flare of light.

He made some kind of noise, covering his eyes with his hands, and he vaguely heard Ransom and Holster nearby saying things way too loudly as the tide of pain smashed through his head. Eventually he felt hands shielding his face, and a hand gently tugging on his wrist.

"Sorry, bro," Ransom was saying, his voice pitched low and soft. "Sorry about the light, but you still gotta wash off. Holster brought your robe and towel and shower shoes and a bag for your stuff when you take it off, and he got your shower basket and the mesh bag that was next to it, looks like that's got all your heavy-duty scent-neutralizers in it and everything? You need help getting your clothes off, or, like... I will come and wash you if I have to, Bittle. Please, talk to us."

"I--I got it now," Bitty said, realizing that he and Ransom and Holster were crowded into the pitch-dark private shower room together. There was probably a mirror, and that plus the standard bright lights... "Just... headache. Bright lights sometimes. Since that hit."

"Yeah, we kinda guessed that. You got any painkillers you can take?"

Bitty shrugged and shook his head. "I just need to sleep it off probably? I'll be fine, guys, I can take my own shower. Honest. Uh, where's my stuff?"

A hand closed around his and guided him to touch a trash bag and then his towel, robe, shower shoes, and toiletries in turn. They all seemed to be piled up in and on the sink under the mirror.

"If you're not out in twenty minutes we're coming back in," Holster said. "Turn around and put your hood up before we open the door."

Bitty didn't even argue, pulling his hood up and covering his face with a sweatshirt-padded arm until he heard the door close behind Ransom and Holster.

He stripped out of his clothes, putting everything, even his shoes, into the garbage bag. He left the lanyard with his keys around his neck as he dug out the strongest scent-neutralizing body wash and shampoo he had, and took them and the slightly abrasive exfoliating sponge into the shower with him.

Tears leaked from his eyes while he scrubbed off every trace of Jack's scent, every last trace of evidence of what had happened tonight. He told himself it was because he was tired, because his head hurt. When his breath started coming all uneven, like he'd just been checked, he started over, scrubbing from head to toe until his skin felt thin and pink and new and there was nothing to smell but the faintly metallic whiff of the hot water.

When he'd dried off and gathered everything up, he draped his towel over his head--it wouldn't even register as strange at this hour in the dorm, and he didn't need this headache to get any worse before he could get to his bed.

He nearly tripped over Ransom and Holster when he tried to step out of the shower room: they were leaning on each other, dozing as they blocked the door from the hallway.

"Oh," Bitty said, his eyes prickling all over again, his head throbbing. "Oh, you didn't have to--"

"Told you we'd check on you." Ransom yawned, showing him the timer on his phone with two minutes and seventeen seconds left. "We gotta be able to tell--"

"Shitty," Holster put in sharply.

"That you got all the way back to your room," Ransom finished, not missing a beat. "Come on, time's wasting."

Bitty didn't argue any more, and let them walk him not only to his room but right to his bed, only tugging the towel off his head before he fell into it. He was vaguely aware of someone tugging his shower shoes off his feet, and the door closing, and then just darkness and quiet and sleep.

He slept straight through all his classes and most of the hours of natural light when he would otherwise be mostly able to study. He sent some apologetic emails, blaming a post-concussion migraine, and then sat staring at his computer, his fingers itching to email... someone. Or text. He could text, or go over to the Haus and see--just make sure--

No. Bitty checked his phone. Shitty had texted him: Alive? Head still attached?

He replied with a few emojis that seemed relevant. He did not let himself ask any questions and he definitely did not get dressed enough to leave the dorm, though he did visit the nearest bathroom briefly. Then he turned his phone off and crawled right back into bed to sleep and not think about anything.

He didn't set his alarm, but still woke up early the following morning--early enough to be right on time for team breakfast. He lay in bed staring at the clock and realized that he felt nervous about going for the first time since he and Jack started playing on a line together.

But he couldn't avoid the rest of the team--he couldn't avoid Jack--forever. If Jack hated him for what he'd done, if Jack felt betrayed, violated...

Bitty felt a little sick at the thought of his own behavior. The whole thing was a late-night dreamy blur in his memory now, and he had no idea where the line might be drawn between "I wanted to even though I knew I shouldn't" and "I was under the influence of omega pheromones." He didn't think he'd done anything terrible, but he didn't think he'd feel this roiling guilt if he'd done what was certainly right.

And knowing that Jack was an omega--knowing that Jack had called for him, clung to him, responded to him, cried in his arms--that was like the earth turning ninety degrees under his feet. He'd admired Jack's ass and his ice-blue eyes like any red-blooded human being would, but Jack was... Jack Zimmermann. Captain. Older man with a mysterious dark past. Infinitely capable. Destined for hockey greatness.


It didn't make any of the rest not true, it didn't change anything, it just... changed everything.

Bitty forced himself to get up and dressed, and was halfway to Commons when he was blindsided by the memory of looking into Jack's eyes, his fingers in Jack's mouth, while he came in his pants. He plastered his hands over his face and turned around with a groan.

"Bitty! There you are!"

He sighed, shoulders slumping, and stood still until he felt a hand on his shoulder.

"Come on," Ransom said gently. "Breakfast. Let's go."

Bitty raised his head. Ransom didn't look angry, or worried. Surely if Jack was angry, if he hated Bitty for what he'd done, Ransom would be showing some sign of it.

Oh God, what if Jack wasn't angry? What if...?

Bitty's brain shorted out, and he followed the tug of Ransom's hand into Commons, into the cafeteria line, and over to his usual seat at the team table, one seat down from Jack on the opposite side.

Jack was... Jack. He smelled well-scrubbed and perfectly normal, not a hint of anything else breaking through, nothing changed at all.

Well, of course nothing was changed. And of course they weren't going to discuss it at team breakfast.

Bitty dug into his food, and nearly choked when Jack said casually, "Head okay, Bittle?"

For a second all he could think of was Jack saying, You can't hurt your head again, not because of me. He felt his face heat, and when he dared a glance up at Jack, he got a blank, slightly quizzical look. "Heard you had a pretty bad headache yesterday, missed some classes. You have the trainers check you out?"

Bitty blinked at him and then looked back down at his breakfast so he could say lightly, "It was my own fault. Bright lights at night, that's all. I'm fine today."

He saw Jack's nod in his peripheral vision, and after a few seconds he couldn't resist asking, "What about you? Are you all right?"

Jack went still.

"I came by the Haus the other night," Bitty went on. "Shitty said you weren't feeling well."

Jack relaxed a little. "Yeah, it was just a bug. I'm fine now." After another second he added, "You must've left those muffins, then? They were good."

"Oh, I'm so glad you liked them," Bitty said automatically, staring down at his plate and seeing nothing.

What if Jack didn't even remember what had happened?

That was possible, Bitty knew. Omegas usually couldn't remember a heat completely clearly, and sometimes they couldn't remember it at all. But...

Bitty glanced down the table and then turned his eyes down to his plate again.

Even if Jack didn't remember, Shitty would have told him. Shitty and Lardo would never let Jack not know that he'd been outed to Bitty, let alone the rest. Even if he forgot and didn't want to know details, he would have to know that Bitty had been there. The others wouldn't let him go around not knowing at least that much.

And even if Jack did remember, what else was he going to say, here, now?

For a second Bitty was nearly choking on the impulse to look Jack in the eye and command him to admit that he knew Bitty had been there that night. Then he forced down a gulp of orange juice and shoved that aside.

He had no right to demand anything, and he honestly didn't know if he could look Jack in the eye--as he was now, in control of himself, captainly and calm--and give him anything resembling a command. And if he somehow did... he didn't know if it would be more shattering if Jack shrugged it off or if Jack obeyed Bitty against his will, but absolutely nothing good could come of even trying anything like that.

So they weren't going to speak of it. That made sense. Whatever Jack remembered, or had been told, that was Jack's business.

What Bitty remembered... definitely was not anyone's problem but his own. He could be an adult about this. He could.

It was a couple of days later that he ventured back to the Haus, half-expecting to find his mixing bowls and muffin tins and everything still in the sink, growing mold or covered in flies or who knew what.

Instead, everything was not only clean but put away correctly. His stocks of flour and butter had been replenished, and there was a new bag of walnuts, plus a big bag of the really expensive pecans and a fresh jug of Canadian maple syrup.

He blinked hard, telling himself that it didn't necessarily mean anything, but... it did. He knew it did. Whether he was being forgiven or thanked or just treated the same as ever, someone had made an effort to let him know that this was still his kitchen. In a little way, if just as the most persistent of frog visitors, it was still his Haus.

"Hey, Bittle." Bitty turned as Johnson walked in. He walked right up to Bitty, offering his hand to shake, and Bitty caught a sudden faint whiff of him, not quite blocked. Alpha.

Bitty frowned a little. If Johnson was offering him a handshake as some kind of congratulations on the other night--

"Nah, my intentions are pure," Johnson said, "Lardo'll explain it to you, but you have to shake my hand first."

Bitty put his hand cautiously in Johnson's, and Johnson nodded and said firmly, "You got my dibs, bro."

Then he turned and walked out of the kitchen, leaving Bitty blinking after him. "I... what?"

He walked out to the yard, where he'd seen Lardo sitting when he came in--only now it wasn't just Lardo. Shitty was beside her, and Holster was at the grill, with Ransom lounging beside him. And beside Ransom, sitting on a blanket on the ground, was Jack.

Bitty offered a cautious smile; Jack met his gaze with a... not unfriendly expression. Well. Good enough to be going on with.

"Lardo," Bitty said, remembering why he was here. "Johnson told me to come talk to you."

A couple of days after that came the official vote for captain. Bitty honestly didn't think about it at all, just typed in the obvious name and sent it back.

He didn't see Jack much between the end-of-season banquet and the end of finals. Things seemed more or less normal, as much as they could seem anything at all when he and Jack just passed each other in the Haus or participated in the same half-awake conversations at breakfast.

Then Bitty was actually moving into the Haus, and the door of the room across the hall was closed. He knew Jack was leaving today for the prospect camp in Chicago, so he told himself it was for the best; they would see each other again in August, for pre-season training, and by then everything that had happened this spring would be far away. Bitty would be recovered from his concussion, and he'd have forgotten everything else that had happened. It would be fine.

And then he opened the door of his new bedroom at a knock and Jack was standing there, duffel slung over his shoulder.

Bitty didn't think he'd ever ended a phone call with his mother that quickly in his life.

"Jack!" Bitty was aware that he was babbling, but it was just such a relief to know that Jack had sought him out, wanted to speak to him, just him, privately, or at least one-on-one, for the first time since--


Bitty stopped short, like he always did when Jack used that captainly tone of command. His eyes met Jack's, and he knew that Jack remembered, too, the first time Bitty had snapped out Jack's name during his heat, and Jack had instantly focused on him.

Bitty laid his fingers over his lips and knew that color was rising on his cheeks to match the pink over Jack's cheekbones and the tops of his ears.

Jack dropped his gaze. "Listen, before I left, I..." He looked at Bitty through his eyelashes, his head ducked a little. "I just wanted to make sure that we're cool."

Bitty's teeth clamped down on his lower lip, and he pressed his hand harder over his mouth--he was listening--as he nodded, trying to convey I am so glad you feel that way and That's all I wanted too all at once.

Jack nodded a tiny fraction and his eyes went down again as he added, "And that you knew... I'm sorry about that hit. And after everything that happened this year--" Jack's lips quirked up into a crooked smile, and he tipped his head toward the door of his own bedroom, as if Bitty might not be clear on the scope of everything.

"You still voted for me. I really appreciate it."

Bitty dropped his hand, his mouth falling open in surprise. All the time he'd spent worried about whether Jack was angry with him for invading his privacy, taking over his heat, and Jack had been worried about whether Bitty was going to go all alpha-stupid about having an omega captain?

It made an awful kind of sense, when Bitty thought about it like that, and he just hoped Jack could see on his face how far that was from anything he'd been thinking, since they clearly were still not really talking about this in so many words.

Well, Bitty hadn't grown up in Georgia for nothing. He could make himself understood without saying it directly as well as anyone.

Bitty made sure to slouch against the wall, hips out and shoulders curled while Jack, standing straight in the middle of the hallway, towered over him. No alpha posturing here, not the least whiff of it. "Jack, of course! I mean, it's been amazing playing with you."

He held Jack's gaze for a beat, letting him see nothing but sincerity, and that Bitty understood that it was the hockey that mattered to Jack, to the team, and between them. Biology was just biology; the hit had just been a part of the game. None of it was Jack's fault, and none of it canceled out their months of playing together and everything Jack had taught him.

Bitty let his own gaze drop, focusing somewhere around Jack's hands, as he added, "I can't think of anyone else who I'd want to be captain."

He saw the shift of Jack's weight as he took a half-step forward, his hand leading, and met Jack's eyes as Jack set a hand on his shoulder. Jack's pinky and thumb both rested warmly on bare skin, and a whole new kind of relief and certainty rushed through him at that touch, that connection. Something he'd been wanting, needing, ever since he'd left Jack asleep on his bed in the darkness before dawn.

It's all right. He's all right, and we're all right. I didn't ruin anything, and we're gonna be fine.

Jack smiled a little wider and said, with a whole world of meaning in the warmth of the words, "Thanks, Bittle."

Bitty just smiled up at him. The summer day seemed brighter all of a sudden, and he already couldn't wait to see what next year would bring.