Chapter 1: The Hotel Room Only Has One Bed
They had a roadie the second weekend after Eric got put on Jack's line: Friday night at Colgate, Saturday at Cornell. They drove out to Colgate Thursday after classes; on Friday before the game they practiced and watched tape and did homework, or at least had study time. They beat Colgate by two goals from Jack (two assists from Eric!!) and then piled back into the bus to make the seventy-mile drive to Ithaca before they slept so they could do pretty much the same thing all over again on Saturday.
Only it started snowing. And it did not stop snowing. Ransom and Holster did a whole Great Lakes Shit PowerPoint presentation with sound effects and theme music that explained about Lake Effect snow. It seemed to boil down to: it will probably never stop snowing and we may just live on this bus now forever.
Four hours after leaving Colgate they finally got to Ithaca, and Eric wanted nothing but to be warm and horizontal and finally, finally sleep. For once, Shitty's hotel room nudism wasn't even going to bother him.
Only Lardo came away from the hotel check-in desk with an expression that combined fury and exhaustion and said, "So due to the storm and our late arrival, they gave away some of our rooms. I can go try to fight it out with them or you guys can just double up some more in the rooms we've got and everybody can go to sleep sooner."
There was an immediate wave of agreeing mutters--everyone knew better than to ask anything more of Lardo right now--and Lardo started combining room assignments. Eric was still shivering even though the lobby felt like it was a hundred degrees after the chill of the bus; he wasn't sure his toes or fingertips would ever be warm again. When Lardo said, "Jack, with Shitty and Bits," Eric was half-dreaming, thinking that would be a real fun line combination but he didn't know if he had another shift in him.
He let himself be steered by a big hand on his shoulder to the elevator. Jack's hand, he realized, when they got in and he saw their reflections in the polished doors. Jack was with him and Shitty--in their hotel room. Jack usually got his own--captain's privilege, he thought, but also one of those Jack-things that mostly no one talked about.
"Lord," Eric said, belatedly considering who else didn't usually share a room on the road, "did she double up the goalies, too?"
"Johnson was saying something about whether or not he even exists in this scenario," Shitty said, rubbing his eyes. "I think maybe his girlfriend was coming to this game and already had a room? I don't know, it's too late and I'm too sober to try to understand Johnson."
"Fair enough," Eric agreed.
Jack's hand was still on his shoulder. Jack steered him out of the elevator and to their door, and unlocked it with his free hand. He only let go of Eric when he took a step inside, and then he stopped short. Eric collided with him, and Shitty plastered up against Eric's back, and--
Oh. Oh no.
There was only one bed. It was king-sized, but it was still only one bed, and there were still three of them.
And Eric was the frog, here, and Shitty and Jack both knew he was gay; they might not have a problem with it most of the time, but he could see how this was going to go. He felt like crying at the thought of sleeping on the floor or in the bathtub with whatever thin, awful extra blanket was left in the closet. There was an armchair, but it was right under the window, and he just knew the cold would radiate off the glass.
"I'll call for a cot," Jack said firmly.
Shitty made a scoffing noise and pushed, and Jack and Eric both stumbled forward, so they were all fully inside the room. "No fuckin' chance there's gonna be cots left, man. It's obviously lucky we even got a room. Come on, roadie snuggle time in the king bed."
He was stripping as he walked over to the bed, leaving a trail of clothes before he climbed in naked.
Eric squeezed his eyes shut. "I'll just..."
"Go get changed," Jack said, captainly and stern. "I'll take middle, you sleep on the other side. Shitty's right, we're not going to get anything better."
Eric stared for a moment, trying to process what Jack had said, until Jack gave him a push and went to pull the curtains on the window. Eric stumbled into the bathroom and put on his pajamas, and was abruptly warm enough to have to pee and did that, too.
When he came back out the lights were all off except the lamp on the far side of the bed, and the covers were flipped down on that side. He could see the shadowed shapes of Jack and Shitty taking up only, exactly, two-thirds of the bed, leaving a space for him. His eyes prickled with tears again, and he hurried over like someone else might take his spot if he didn't.
He gasped a little at the warmth when he got under the covers, and hurried to turn off the light and snuggle down.
He'd thought he wouldn't be able to stay awake if he wanted to, once he was lying down and warm, but with the lights out he was intensely aware of the weight--the sheer closeness--of Jack and Shitty taking up the rest of the bed. Jack had his back turned to Eric; his big broad shoulders raised up the comforter like a tent that Eric was lying under, and his weight indented the mattress so Eric was tilted toward him.
Eric pulled his pillow down. It was one of those enormous ones, where he could rest his head on one end and curl around the rest, holding it to his chest so he didn't miss the presence of Señor Bun so much. Now it was a little bit of a shield, too, blocking him from rolling into Jack, cuddling closer to that warmth. They might not mind sharing the bed with him, but... well. He knew better than to risk it.
He closed his eyes and tucked his face into the pillow, wriggling his toes to appreciate that they were finally warm, and then he was asleep.
Eric woke up to the sight of Shitty's naked limbs a little closer than they usually were on roadie mornings. After a few blinks, he remembered that they were sharing a king-sized bed, and then he remembered that they were also sharing it with Jack.
It wasn't Jack that Shitty was sprawled over, though. It was Jack's duffel bag. Eric realized the shower was running, and slowly, sleepily put together the sequence of events: Jack had woken up first, and put his duffel bag in the middle of the bed, where he had slept. Probably to keep Shitty from snuggling up to Eric exactly the way he was currently spooning the duffel bag.
Eric ducked his head down, hiding his smile in the pillow, and resolved to bake something special for Jack when they finally got home.
Chapter 2: After the Kegster
Jack was fuzzily aware of his door opening, but he didn't wake up all the way until someone actually tried to climb into his bed. He pushed back automatically, sitting upright with a sharp, "Hey!"
There was a Kegster going on downstairs, after all, and if some stranger was trying to--
But it wasn't a stranger at all. A slurred and more-than-usually-Georgia-drawled voice said, "Jack? What're you doing in Shitty's bed? He said I could sleep in his bed."
Jack slumped a little, pinching the bridge of his nose. "I'm not in Shitty's bed, Bittle. This is my bed."
"Is it?" Bitty moved closer, his outstretched hands patting at the edge of Jack's mattress. "Why's your bed in Shitty's room? Shitty told me to sleep in his room, he says I can't go home like this an' no one's fit to take me."
At close range, Jack could smell the tub juice fumes pouring off Bitty, and he agreed with Shitty's assessment. He could also tell that he wasn't going to be able to get Bitty to understand that he was in the wrong room without a lot of frustration for both of them. He could physically walk Bitty into the other room, but...
Somehow he didn't like the idea of Bitty in Shitty's bed. He knew Shitty wouldn't do anything inappropriate, or even seemingly-inappropriate--it felt sick and disloyal even to think of the possibility--but something about the idea still didn't sit right. And Bitty was already right here, leaning more heavily into Jack's mattress every second.
"Just lie down, Bittle," Jack said, scooting toward the wall. "We can share, okay?"
"Promise t' be a gentleman," Bitty slurred, flopping onto Jack's bed. It seemed like it was intended as a reassurance, not a demand, but it was irrelevant either way; Bitty was snoring almost before he was fully horizontal.
Jack sighed and then turned him carefully onto his side, propping a pillow in front of Bittle the same way he'd slept back in that hotel room in Ithaca, so he couldn't roll onto his stomach. Then--just like in Ithaca--Jack turned his back. But his double bed in the Haus didn't have nearly as much maneuvering room, so he could feel the heat of Bitty's closeness, and he wound up lying there in the dark, listening to his snuffling breaths and the sounds of a Kegster being wrapped up downstairs.
The sounds of the parties he didn't attend made him feel lonely sometimes, or left him spiraling through his fractured memories of partying back in the Q. But with Bitty sharing his bed, he was reminded that none of that mattered as much as this: he had friends and a team to take care of. Even if he didn't attend the parties, he had his own role. Giving Bitty a safe place to sleep was surely more important than the rest, even if Bitty was less likely to remember this than the earlier parts of the night.
The connecting door from the bathroom opened after a while, and Jack turned to face it, raising one hand to wave at Shitty.
"He okay there?" Shitty whispered. "I told him to sleep in mine."
"He's fine," Jack promised. "Go to sleep."
Shitty lingered in the doorway for another minute, then muttered, "Right. My work here is done."
Jack nodded and turned over again, and this time when he lay down his back was right up against Bitty's. He meant to scoot away, but the warmth dragged him down into sleep before he actually did it.
He woke up a handful of times in the night, when he twisted or turned and discovered all over again the unaccustomed presence of someone else in his bed. Once or twice he repositioned Bitty to make sure he stayed on his side, touched his shoulder or back to reassure himself that Bitty was still breathing steadily. Bitty never gave the least sign of noticing anything, deeply asleep.
And each time Jack turned away from him and settled back down to sleep, he found himself dropping off nearly as easily; for once the middle of the night anxiety-spirals left him alone. He wasn't even awake long enough to wonder why.
Eventually he woke up and it was light, and he didn't have to check whether Bitty was breathing because he was sitting up, both hands pressed to his head.
Jack smiled a little, but before he could inquire about Bittle's hangover, Bitty said, "Jack, I am so sorry, I shouldn't've--I swear I thought I was in Shitty's room, I don't even know how--Lord, you should've just kicked me out, I--"
He remembered his middle-of-the-night thought process, such as it had been, and knew that I wanted you here instead of in Shitty's bed was not the correct response to Bitty 's mortification, or in fact something he ought to admit, ever.
Instead, Jack shrugged, settling back into his own pillow. "It's not like you take up much space. I hardly noticed you were there."
It worked, more or less; the chirp snapped Bitty out of being mortified and made him glare at Jack instead. "Just for that I'm making nothing but pancakes for breakfast."
Jack smiled crookedly at him. "Fine with me, I could use a carb load before I go for a run."
Bitty made a frustrated noise and stomped out, and Jack got up too, thinking of what homework he needed to do and where he would run and anything but what it had felt like to wake in the dark and know that he wasn't alone.
Chapter 3: 2014 NCAA Division I Men's Hockey East Regional Playoff in Bridgeport, CT
Let's never speak of what time it was when I finally finished googling how the NCAA hockey playoffs work and went to sleep, okay? Okay.
Eric didn't even manage to wonder until he saw Jack come into the trainer's room, whether there had been any point to it at all. "Did we... Jack? Did it go in?"
Jack blinked at him, looking as if he didn't even understand the question, and then some shadow seemed to fall over his eyes, and he said, in exactly the same low tone that he would have admitted that they'd lost, "Yeah, Bittle. We won. We're going to the Frozen Four."
He raised an object in one hand--Eric's phone. "Your folks have been calling, do you want me to call them back for you?"
"Oh," he said, and looked toward the trainer and Coach Murray. "Am I... can I...?"
"You're not going to the hospital," Coach Murray said definitely. "We'll have you rechecked by the specialists once you get home to make a final diagnosis. Whether you want to talk to your folks or have me or Jack do it is up to you."
"I," Eric said, trying to think around the pounding of his head and the shivers that didn't seem to want to let up. "I'll--my ma--"
He couldn't even get the second syllable out without his throat going tight, and he ducked his head to hide the tears leaking from his eyes. His mama had seen that hit, watching on the internet, and she'd been calling and calling so much Jack had noticed and brought his phone from the locker room.
A second later there was a big, warm hand on his shoulder, and his phone appeared before his blurring vision.
"Just unlock it," Jack said quietly. "I'll tell your parents you're all right but your head's hurting you and you need to get to bed, eh? It won't do anyone any good for you to hear them upset, or them to hear you upset."
Eric's grip tightened on his phone, but the thought of sending a text, or a tweet, or hearing any voice less low and steady than Jack or Coach Murray or Manny's just made his head hurt worse and the tears flow faster. He nodded and tapped out the unlock code before passing it back to Jack.
He heard a couple of dull taps on the screen, and Jack's hand squeezed more firmly on his shoulder a second before Jack spoke in his deepest, most captainly voice.
"He's fine, ma'am, he's just got an awful headache, so I told him I would call for him. Yes, I'm with him--probably a mild concussion, he'll be checked again when we get back to Samwell. No, his neck's fine. I know it looked bad, but he just needs to get some rest, the doctors have checked him over and he's good to go. I will--yes, I will. I will. Yes ma'am."
Jack handed back Eric's phone and squeezed his shoulder. "I promised your mom I would look after you tonight, so we should probably head back to the hotel, eh?"
"Oh," Eric said, looking around vaguely, "I--I'm all--"
He was wearing just his shorts and undershirt, stripped out of the rest of his gear. The sweaty clothes had gone clammy but hadn't really dried, and he probably smelled awful. He couldn't really tell at this point in the night, nose-blind to the ever-present funk. Jack was in clean sweat pants and a looser t-shirt than he ever wore under his gear; he must have showered already. If he hugged Eric, Eric would probably be able to smell his shampoo.
Jack didn't hug him, just squeezed his shoulder again. "The rest of the team's gone back to the hotel already. You can shower here if you want, but I thought you might rather at the hotel, where it won't be so bright or loud. The drive's not too far. You can dirty up your hoodie and sweatpants, we're going home tomorrow anyway."
Eric raised one hand to his forehead, trying to decide, and then Jack said, "Here, Bittle, come on."
Eric opened his eyes and found that Jack was shaking out Eric's post-game hoodie with the hand that wasn't resting firmly on Eric's shoulder. That seemed to mean the decision was made, so Eric nodded vaguely and grabbed the hoodie, pulling it on while trying not to move his pounding head at all. Jack held up his sweatpants next, and Eric wriggled into them and slid down off the trainer's table just as Jack pulled Eric's sneakers out of his rink bag.
"I can tie those myself," Eric said, although his voice wavered as he said it, and he wound up sitting down on the rubber matting to do it. His skates were still there, abandoned next to the trainer's table. Eric shut his eyes and didn't think about when he would lace them up again. They would recheck him when they got home; maybe he'd be all right for the next round, maybe...
His head throbbed, and Jack's hands closed around his, tugging him up. "Come on, Bittle," he said softly, one arm around Bitty's shoulders already steering him out of the room.
"You said they--the bus already...?"
"Yeah, the other guys needed to head back and get to bed. Coach Murray waited for us, he got a car to take us back." Jack's grip tightened, guiding him around a corner. "Here, not much further--it'll just be cold for a minute, Coach pulled up right outside, okay?"
Eric nodded--it wasn't as if there was any alternative--and then he was huddling down under Jack's arm as the chilly March night rushed down on him. His eyes watered all over again and the throbbing in his head seemed a hundred times worse all of a sudden. And then he felt warmth again and Jack was all but lifting him up into... whatever vehicle this was.
Eric managed to fumble his own seatbelt on, and curled down to hide his aching head in his hands. The ride back to the hotel seemed to last a long time, but then he could only judge by the throbbing in his head and the rising waves of nausea in his stomach. Eventually the car stopped and Jack was coaxing him back out and into the hotel through another burst of startling cold. It wasn't long, after that, before Jack was ushering him into a dimly lit hotel bathroom, handing him his own shampoo and body wash from his rink bag.
"I'll find your pajamas. Are you going to be okay to shower? Do you feel dizzy at all?"
Eric shook his head. "Still a little sick from the car. It just. Hurts. And I'm tired, is all."
"Okay," Jack said. Eric was vaguely aware of a shadowy movement in the mirror, a feeling in the air around him--Jack's hands rising and falling, not quite making contact. "Okay. I'll get your pajamas. I'll be right back."
Eric nodded and turned away. Jack left, leaving the bathroom door half open. So he could come back in with Eric's pajamas, or hear if he fell down? Or both. Probably both.
Eric peeled out of his sweaty clothes at last, and stepped into a long-overdue hot shower. As soon as he did, he was aware that his entire body ached--it wasn't only his head that had hit the ice, or gotten tensed up with pain and adrenaline after playing a long, high-pressure game. He stood under the hot spray for what felt like a long time, letting it loosen him up; even the pounding pain in his head finally started to ebb, now that he was alone in the dim quiet, holding still and properly warm.
He remembered to wash, eventually, enough that he wouldn't be able to smell himself when he went to bed. By the time he was done with that the exhaustion was piling up on him; he still wasn't exactly dizzy, but the floor of the shower was starting to look awfully appealing.
Eric shut the water off and pushed the curtain back, to find that his pajamas and clean underwear were neatly stacked on the closed lid of the toilet, right under the towel rack.
"This boy," Eric muttered, eyes prickling all over again.
He pulled down a towel and dried himself off as quickly as he could bear to before getting himself dressed. His toiletries kit was there on the sink, so he gave his teeth a quick brush, and it was only then that he noticed that Shitty's things weren't scattered across the counter; he looked around the half-lit bathroom again and realized he wasn't at all sure he recognized it from this morning or last night.
"Hey," Jack said quietly. Eric looked up to see him in the doorway, still in his sweatpants and t-shirt.
Still with that dark something in his eyes, that downturn to his mouth, that bend in his neck.
Eric looked around the bathroom again and accepted the obvious: he was in Jack's room.
He looked back at Jack. "Promised my mama you'd look after me, huh?"
Jack nodded, one corner of his mouth tucking up into something Eric could almost interpret as a smile. "I don't--you don't have to--"
Eric shook his head. "If you wake me up every two hours to ask me if I know where I am..."
Eric couldn't actually come up with a proper threat; if Jack woke him up every two hours it would be because he was worried, because he needed to be sure Eric hadn't slipped into a coma.
"No," Jack stepped back, ushering him out into the bedroom. "Concussion protocol doesn't require that much checking anymore."
Eric stopped again at the edge of the king-sized bed--of course there was only one bed, because Jack didn't normally share his hotel room. He looked over his shoulder at Jack, who was checking the chain on the door and not looking at him, and then he climbed on in. Jack had gone out of his way to invite Eric here, to take this on himself. Even with a lingering nasty headache and an adrenaline hangover to rival anything that had ever followed a Kegster, Eric could see that Jack needed to have him here tonight, to know that he was all right.
Eric got himself settled. All nine ridiculous assorted pillows were still arrayed across the head of the bed, so he selected one to hug to his chest and another to rest his aching head on. He was halfway to sleep already when Jack said, "Okay if I turn out the lights?"
Eric made a vague assenting noise, and saw the darkness fall on the other side of his eyelids. He barely noticed the sensation of someone else settling on the mattress before he slept.
He was falling and falling and falling, lingering in the air and looking down at the ice and thinking it was going to hurt and also it already hurt, but he couldn't move. He couldn't even finish falling, let alone catch himself. He was trying, but he couldn't make a sound, either, couldn't scream, and then--
Someone caught him. Someone with big hands, one cradling the back of his neck, one gripping his shoulder, someone--
Eric opened his eyes and Jack was looking down at him, and he could feel tears on his face. His head hurt worse again.
"Time for your ibuprofen anyway." Jack let go and half turned away to retrieve a bottle of pills and a bottle of water from the night stand.
Eric hastily wiped his face--not that Jack hadn't seen him crying enough in the trainer's room--and pushed himself up enough to take the pills, and then the bottle of water. He handed it back to Jack, who set it down within reach and turned the light off.
It was only a few seconds before Jack was climbing in again on the other side of the bed. Eric was still squirming around, trying to organize his pillows properly, but he couldn't find the right configuration this time, and then--
"Here," Jack said softly, tugging the pillow he'd been curled around and pushing another into its place. When Eric had accepted it, Jack said, "Pick your head up," and when he did that pillow was pulled away, replaced with a fresh one.
Eric sighed in relief and gratitude, and he felt Jack settling down again, closer than before. Eyes closed, he reached out with his pillow-snuggling arm, and his fingers brushed skin.
Jack's hand closed firmly around his. "Right here, Bittle. Go to sleep."
"I'm okay," Eric mumbled. "Jack, you--you're--"
"Go to sleep," Jack repeated, squeezing his hand, and Eric gave up and did as he was told.
Chapter 4: Furnace Fail
Jack woke up to the buzz of his phone, loud in the night silence. When he reached for the phone he realized what exactly made the sound of it seem so loud: the air outside his blankets was icy. The furnace wasn't running.
Holster: Furnace is out, check that Bittle isn't frozen solid?
Jack tapped out: Will do. You and Rans okay?
Holster: Unnatural chill protocol in effect. Took us a little while to realize it wasn't the ghosts.
Jack nodded to himself. Shitty was up in Boston for some ghastly family thing he'd been dreading, so he was at least safe from the cold. Jack got up and pulled on a hoodie before touring the rest of the Haus to be sure none of the frogs had slept over. He also checked that all the readily stoppable drafts were stopped up, and that the furnace problem wasn't anything as easy to fix as a blown fuse.
The fuses were all intact, unfortunately, which was pretty much the end of Jack's ability to troubleshoot a furnace. They would have to call Dex, but he wasn't going to roust a frog out of bed at 2AM on a Tuesday, so Jack headed upstairs and gathered up the covers from his bed before he slipped into Bittle's room.
There was a little stir from the bed. "Wh--Jack? Were my teeth chatterin' that loud?"
Jack winced and shook his head. "Furnace is out, I just finished checking but I can't get it back on. Ransom and Holster are keeping each other warm, so I thought..."
"Lord, yes, get in," Bittle said, scooting toward the wall--and the window over the bed, though it looked like he'd hung a blanket over it at least. Jack hesitated only long enough to spread his own comforter over the bed before he got under the covers, breathing a sigh of relief at the warmth.
"Oh, you're like ice!" One of Bitty's hands closed hot around Jack's, and his foot quested over onto Jack's... knee, because Bitty was still curled up for his own warmth, but Jack appreciated the gesture.
"Didn't put gloves on to check the basement," Jack said with a shrug, flexing his cold toes and curling closer to Bitty's warmth. "I'll warm up quick eno--"
He did not choke, but his breath stopped as Bitty drew Jack's hand up under the bottom of the hoodie he was sleeping in.
"Come on, no point sharing body heat if we're not actually sharing," Bitty insisted, wriggling closer. Jack obeyed, flattening his hand against Bitty's thin, soft t-shirt and the heat of his body. He brought his other arm around as well, and... he had his arms around Bitty now, and Bitty was snuggling close to him.
Jack allowed himself to be profoundly distracted by the feeling of something lumpy and soft pressed against his chest. He scooted one hand up without thinking as he said, "What...?"
"Oh!" Bitty startled a little, tensing, and then giggled softly, as if Jack had tickled him. "You can't tell anyone, all right? Sworn to secrecy or else I'm kicking you out of the bed."
Jack was pretty sure he'd do better on his own than Bitty would, but it wasn't as if he objected to keeping a secret, either, especially not one that made Bitty giggle like that. He had already halfway figured it out as he nodded.
Bitty's hand closed around Jack's, guiding it up higher under his hoodie until Jack was touching the velvet-soft shape of a worn stuffed animal tucked into the front of Bitty's hoodie. "Meet Señor Bun, Mr. Zimmermann. He just looked too cold anywhere else."
Señor Bun: a stuffed rabbit, cuddled close under Bitty's sweatshirt. Because Bitty thought he looked too cold if he wasn't held close.
"Do you know what they call hoodies in Saskatchewan?" Jack asked, struggling to keep a straight face, though he doubted Bitty would be able to tell in this low light.
Bitty frowned a little and shook his head.
"A bunnyhug. So I guess you're wearing yours Saskatoon-style tonight."
Bitty blinked at him for a second and then said, "You're making that up."
Jack shook his head. "You can google it if you want."
Bitty narrowed his eyes. "You wouldn't make that up," he said, and then, his voice shaking a little, "You didn't make that up? Bunnyhug?"
"Bunnyhug," Jack repeated, in his flattest robot voice.
"Saska--" Bitty didn't get out any more of the word before he collapsed into giggles, curling closer to hide his face against Jack's chest and shaking in his grip.
Jack tucked his own head down over Bitty's, hiding his smile from no one and feeling, suddenly, warm from head to toe. "Shh, we have morning skate in five hours."
Bitty groaned against his chest, giggles disappearing in an instant. "Probably be warm, at least."
Jack's mind supplied him with a sudden barrage of images he had had no idea he remembered from dozens of practices: Bitty's pink cheeks, and sweat darkening the hair at the nape of his neck, beads of it rolling across that narrow line of exposed skin between the bottom of his helmet and the top of his jersey.
"Yeah," he mumbled into Bitty's sweatshirt hood. "Something to look forward to."
Bitty yawned. "Pretty warm now, too. G'night, Jack."
"Good night," Jack murmured back. "Bonne nuit, Monsieur Bunny."
Bitty giggled a little, maybe at the almost-pun, maybe just at Jack talking to his stuffed animal. "Señor Bun only speaks English, hon. His name's just for show."
"Mm-hm," Jack murmured back. He felt almost too warm to sleep, but he didn't move an inch away from Bitty before the night closed over him.
He woke up warm, and beside him Bitty turned over and jammed his face into the pillow, hiding from the beeping of Jack's phone in his hoodie pocket. Jack reached down and silenced the alarm and then just lay still for a moment, looking at Bitty sleeping. It was time to get up for morning skate, but...
He hadn't woken up once since he fell asleep curled around Bittle. It wasn't like that time last year when Bittle had slept in his bed--or that night after the Regional game when Bittle had been concussed. Jack had just... slept, with Bittle beside him. In his arms. And even now, awake beside him, it felt... normal. Comfortable.
So that was weird.
Jack knew he should shove back the covers, shake Bitty awake. He got as far as sitting up and saw that the slightly threadbare brown bunny--Señor Bun--was lying alone on the mattress. He must have been pressed between them until Bitty rolled away from Jack's phone.
Jack slipped out of the covers without disturbing them--his own comforter was still layered over Bitty's--and tucked Señor Bun close against Bitty's shoulder before he slipped out of the room. He didn't make a sound until he was safely in the hall with the door shut behind him, and then, feeling only a little foolish and not quite knowing why, he knocked like he normally did. "Bittle! Morning skate, let's go!"
That afternoon Jack walked back into his room and then hesitated, aware of something Not Quite Right but not sure what it was. Then he realized that the bed he'd left rumpled and mostly-stripped that morning was now neatly made: Bitty hadn't only returned his comforter, he'd smoothed it perfectly over the sheets and fluffed Jack's pillows above it.
Tucked between his pillows and just peeking out over the covers was a miniature bakery box, and Jack knew that if he looked in Bitty's room right now he would see Señor Bun in that exact position on Bitty's bed. He knew before he picked up the box that he would smell Bitty's maple-crusted apple pie, tart-sized, a wordless thank you.
So that meant they didn't need to talk about it. Perfect.
Chapter 5: The Third Bedroom at the Cottage Has Two Beds. Technically.
Inspiration for this chapter and thus the entire story: a cottage bedroom that definitely totally has two beds.
Eric woke up to the sound of Shitty and Jack horsing around across the hall. From the sound of it Jack was trying to evict Shity from his bed while Shitty was crowing, "Road trip! Road trip! Come on, pack your bags!"
Eric tucked his face into his pillow and felt around for Señor Bun, bracing himself for an awfully quiet weekend in the Haus, a preview of--
"HEY!" Shitty yelled from across the hall. "BITS! MY ONE PRETTY OKAY COUSIN SAYS THE OVEN AT THE COTTAGE WORKS FINE, YOU IN?"
Eric was out of bed and packing so fast his feet barely touched the floor.
An hour and a half crammed into an SUV that wasn't quite big enough to hold Holster, Ransom, Jack, Shitty, Lardo, and himself had been almost stiflingly warm, and Eric had dozed where he was squished between Jack and Lardo. Then it was an hour and a half on the ferry--inside, where it was warm--and half an hour perched on top of all their luggage in a golf cart with Lardo while the long-legged ones jogged along behind them, and...
"Oh," Eric whispered, standing on the deck and staring out at the blue sweep of the ocean, limitless under the spring sun.
"Bittle, did you pack a hat, or only cooking supplies?"
Eric tore his gaze away from the ocean view to look up at Jack, who as smiling crookedly at him. Eric had been aware of being chilly on the golf cart, but now...
He forced himself to look away, down at his suitcase and then out at the water again. "It's a beach house. Who brings a warm hat to a beach house?"
Jack huffed and tugged the hood of Eric's sweatshirt up, or tried to; Eric knew when he had to fight back, so they wound up tussling until they hit the railing of the deck.
"Come on," Jack said, "I think everyone else has claimed bedrooms already. We're together in whichever one is left."
"Oh," Eric said, with an entirely different feeling this time. He should have thought about that, about sharing a room with Jack, when... well, he would manage. He wouldn't crawl into Jack's arms like he had on that winter night when Jack showed up like something he'd dreamed to save him from the cold in the Haus. He wouldn't embarrass himself.
Eric followed Jack inside, lugging his suitcase, and left it in the kitchen because honestly, there was half a change of clothes and a toothbrush in there aside from the baking supplies.
"Our room's right over here, closest to the kitchen," Jack said, turning down a short hallway. "Shitty said this one has two..." He stepped inside and Eric followed on his heels as he said uncertainly, "...beds."
There were two beds, technically.
They were both twins--not even extra-long--and there were about three inches of space between them, and maybe a foot between the outside of each and the wall. Night stands had been crammed in on either side.
Eric stared at them, wondering if he should offer to sleep on the couch--or in the kitchen--instead, wondering if they ought to push them together so Jack could sleep diagonally, if...
"Dibs on the one by the door," Jack said after a moment, tossing his duffle on the foot of the nearest bed. He unzipped it, dug around for a minute, and then pulled out a hat with a pom-pom on top which he offered to Eric with a grin. "Here, now you won't freeze sight-seeing."
"The only sight I want to see is a working oven, I've been in withdrawal for weeks," Eric said.
But he took the hat and put it on.
He took one last pie out of the oven and had the brioche dough rising for the morning a little after midnight. The others had already gone to bed after only a little light drinking, casual and quiet. There were occasional giggles and thumps from upstairs, but silence from the bedroom by the kitchen, so he assumed that Jack was already asleep, and it was safe to go in and go to bed.
But Eric opened the door on a warm spill of golden light; Jack was sitting up in the nearer bed, reading in the light of the lamp on the nightstand. It was so stunningly, painfully domestic that Eric couldn't breathe for a moment, and then Jack looked up at him with a soft smile and he thought he might actually die.
And then he looked over to the other bed and saw Señor Bun tucked in on the near side, beside the pillow, facing toward Jack's bed, and he felt like his heart was going to physically crack apart from how much he loved this sweet, oblivious, straight boy.
He darted fully inside to try to hide his own face from Jack, fiddling pointlessly with the gauzy curtains on the little window. He'd already put on his pajamas and washed his face, so he just had to stand there and peek out at the moonlight and try to breathe and not cry.
It wasn't even a chirp. He could have managed it if it was a chirp, but it was perfectly obvious that Jack had just...
He remembered that night when the furnace went out, and the morning after when he'd woken up with Señor Bun tucked against the back of his shoulder, where Eric couldn't have moved him himself. He remembered telling Jack that he looked cold by himself and Jack not laughing, and now--
"I just thought he shouldn't miss the trip because you were busy packing six kinds of flour without bruising the peaches," Jack said softly. "Look, I brought mine, too."
Eric turned without thinking, then, to see that Jack was gesturing toward... a hockey puck, with a chipped and faded 1 in silver paint marker on its black surface. It was exactly across from Señor Bun, beside Jack's pillow, where Eric hadn't been able to see it from the door.
Eric laughed a little wildly, then clapped a hand over his mouth. It wasn't fair to laugh. Jack hadn't laughed.
Jack smiled. "I know, I know. Puck was my first word, it's actually true."
Eric climbed into his own bed, tugging Señor Bun against his chest and looking down at the puck. It looked only slightly battered. "Have you really had that since you were that young? Is that...?"
"It's from my dad's first NHL goal," Jack said, turning away and turning off the lamp. "He, uh... he gave it to me when..."
Jack shuffled around, and Eric saw his hand settle over the puck as he lay down. Eric lay down on his own side, curled toward Jack, less than a foot between them, including the dark deep gap between their two beds.
"When I was a baby, I... you've seen that Stanley Cup picture?"
Eric nodded; there was no point in denying it.
Jack grimaced a little, barely visible in the moonlight leaking into the room. "All I see when I look at that picture is my eyes. They were... they didn't work right, when I was little, and it looked pretty weird. Strabismus, convergence insufficiency--" he added a few words of French that presumably meant the same sorts of things. Those words settled like stones in the pit of Eric's stomach when he thought of them attached to that little baby screaming in his father's hands in a famously funny picture.
"It was worse in bright light--I was basically blind on the big ice under the lights, or in camera flashes, though they didn't realize that for a while. When I was two I had surgery on both my eyes, and... hospitals are bright, too, and big and strange and scary. Maman told me it would be fine, that I just had to go to sleep so the doctors could make my eyes better, but I knew she was worried, so I was too. But my papa gave me a very special puck to hold on to so I wouldn't be scared. It was what they used after, to make me follow with my eyes for focus exercises. And I knew it was special, so I always--this was the one I never chewed on or threw or played with. I just held it. And I still... I always know where it is."
"And you wear number one," Bitty said softly, thinking of a Jack so tiny that he had to hold that puck with both hands and trying to be brave in a hospital bed, two-year-old Jack struggling to focus his eyes on that shining number one on the black puck.
Jack snorted softly. "Yeah. So. There you go. Señor Bun and #1 Puck both came with us to the beach, eh? No need to be embarrassed."
"Hush, you," Eric said, his throat gone too tight for any more words.
Jack smiled, and Eric could see the white glint of it in the moonlight, and then he closed his eyes firmly and waited for sleep to come.
He woke up to a tiny, muffled whimper, a choked sound that took him a moment to understand. He reached out and discovered someone--Jack--surprisingly close, body oddly twisted, and Jack let out a little cry and then a bunch of words in French that sounded... not all right. He ought to turn on a light, but Eric couldn't let go of him.
"Jack," he said, tightening his grip on Jack's--arm? Arm, he was pretty sure. "Jack, honey, wake up, you're having a bad dream."
"I can't," Jack said. "My leg is gone, I can't--"
Nightmare, Eric thought, and, Don't read about damn trench warfare before bed, young man, but also, he realized as he sat up, Jack had twisted over and got his leg caught in the tight little gap between the beds.
"Puck," Jack whispered, sounding lost.
Eric winced and grabbed Señor Bun, reaching across to press him to Jack's chest. "Here, honey, hold on to Señor Bun a minute, I'll get your puck. And fix your leg. Just hold still, Jack."
He felt Jack freeze--waking up, maybe--but he was already scooting down his bed, feeling for Jack's leg in the gap. His foot was wedged awkwardly under Eric's bed, but Eric managed to get hold of his ankle and draw it up and out, guiding Jack's leg as he turned onto his side.
"Sorry," Jack whispered, when Eric turned right-way-up in the bed again. "Bittle, I'm sorry, I--"
"Hush," Eric said. "These beds are just askin' for an accident. Let me--"
Eric leaned in to fish in the gap, trying not to notice how close it put his face to Jack--trying even harder not to notice both of Jack's big hands on Señor Bun. He found #1 Puck and pulled it up, pushing it at Jack before he got out of bed on his own side and shoved it over, closing the gap.
"There, now it's safe. Stretch your legs if you need to, I'm all right."
"You don't--Bittle, I--"
"Shh." Eric settled down in his bed again, resting his hand over Jack's where he hadn't managed to loosen his grip on Señor Bun, though he was clutching #1 Puck now too. He couldn't be really awake. He probably wouldn't remember this in the morning at all. "Shh, I'm here. You're safe. Go back to sleep."
Jack had been looking forward to having Bitty in his--their, even if he knew better than to say that out loud just yet--very own king-sized bed in his--their--apartment in Providence. And he was still looking forward to it, but by the time they got around to going to bed on the night of Bitty's first visit, they'd already had sex on the couch, in the kitchen, and in the master bath, so it seemed pretty likely that all they were going to do in bed, at least for the next several hours, was sleep.
Somehow it was complicated, actually going to bed together on purpose, in a way that it had never been all of the times they'd just wound up in the same bed for some reason in the last two years.
Bitty was debating with himself out loud about who should have which side of the bed, as if that mattered particularly. Jack let him talk himself to whatever conclusion he was going to arrive at on his own; he was looking around for just the right spot for... ah, the east windowsill. Perfect.
He went to Bitty's duffle, still mostly packed, and fished out Señor Bun, then collected #1 Puck from the night stand and set them up together in the corner of the windowsill, looking out over the city and away from the bed. So they wouldn't see anything they shouldn't.
Bitty made a soft little noise. Jack looked up and found him pressing his fingers to his lips. Jack smiled cautiously.
"This boy," Bitty breathed, the way he did sometimes. Jack had mostly stopped looking for the invisible audience Bitty was speaking to about him; it seemed more in the nature of a vestigial prayer.
"Come on," Jack said softly, moving over to the bed and flipping the covers back. "Come to bed, eh?"
Bitty nodded and climbed in from the bottom to meet Jack, and his hands came up to cradle Jack's cheeks as Bitty kissed him. Jack smiled and settled his hands on Bitty's hips, kissing back lazy and sweet--he really didn't think he had a fourth round in him, especially not when he had practice tomorrow.
Finally Bitty sighed and pulled back, looking around the expanse of the mattress like there was some question of how they'd fit in it together. "You didn't say where you..."
Jack pushed Bitty back a little and lay down facing the edge of the bed, Bitty behind him.
"Oh," Bitty said, but it sounded all wrong.
Jack twisted to look over his shoulder, reaching back with one hand to beckon Bitty closer.
Bitty immediately smiled, putting his hands on his hips. "Jack Laurent Zimmermann, I know you know how to say spoon me perfectly well in at least two languages."
"я люблю тебя," Jack replied solemnly, because it was his favorite of the handful of sentences he had scored 100% on pronouncing for Rosetta Stone and yet he wasn't going to have any occasion to say it to Mashkov. It absolutely did not mean spoon me.
Not directly, anyway.
Bitty's eyes narrowed. "That was not even French."
Jack waggled his fingers again.
"Someday I am gonna make you use your words," Bitty groused, but he lay down and curled himself around Jack, and Jack reached out to tap the app on his phone that turned down the lights. With that done he turned his phone facedown next to Bittle's, companionably charging on the same nightstand and making the whole question of whose side was whose irrelevant.
"You already understand me so well, though," Jack murmured. "So why bother?"
When Bitty shook his head his hair tickled the nape of Jack's neck, just in the spot where it would be exposed above his jersey and below his helmet when he was on the ice. He shivered, imagining Bitty leaving a mark there, and nestled into the pillow with Bittle's hand pressed to his belly.
He wanted to stay awake, to savor the feeling of being here at long last, in bed with Bitty--his boyfriend, all official now.
"Bonne nuit," he murmured.
"Bunny, honey," Bitty mumbled back, sounding half asleep, and Jack laughed softly on his way down to sleep himself.
He slept soundly, though his dreams were full of strange, impossible intimacies--Bitty crawling into his clothes to share them, grinding hips and elbows and shoulder blades into Jack's skin; Bitty shaping him into a cake tin, promising him he was gonna win a blue ribbon at the county fair when Bitty was done with him. Jack woke up half-hard and very confused about where his subconscious was going with all this, and then he looked down and laughed.
"Hmm?" Bitty was still draped over his back, one arm still resting heavy over Jack's waist. "Lord, I'm sore, what'd I..." Bitty stretched his fingers wide, flexing his wrist, making it easier to see the reddened patches all over Jack's abs.
"Sleep-kneading," Jack informed him.
"No, 'm awake," Bitty mumbled, "Don't need--"
"Not needing, kneading," Jack corrected, pressing his knuckles illustratively into the no-doubt aching muscle of Bitty's forearm. "You've been treating me like bread dough all night."
"I--what?" Bitty sat up, abruptly wide awake, and looked stricken. "Jack! Why didn't you stop me?"
"It didn't wake me up," Jack said, rolling onto his back to let Bitty trace gently over the kneaded places. The little ache and rawness was mostly pleasant, like a well-earned bruise or a well-used muscle. "It didn't even hurt, really."
"I do it when I'm nervous sometimes, or when I'm in a new place," Bitty fretted. "Señor Bun--well. This is different, Jack. I can't be squishing you like that."
"Well, then we'll just have to make sure you start feeling at home here as soon as possible," Jack said, stretching helpfully under Bitty's gentle hand. "You probably just need to get really, really used to the bed."
Bitty tried to look stern while also moving to straddle his hips, pressing one hand flat to the reddest spot on Jack's belly. "And how do you propose I do that, Mr. Zimmermann?"
Jack literally had to bite his tongue, pushing back the thoughts the word propose stirred up. Luckily, Bitty got tired of waiting for an answer and kissed him before he had to say anything at all.
So there, they were getting the bed properly broken in within the first twenty-four hours after all. That was close enough to count, Jack decided.
Jack's Russian phrase is "ya lyublyu tebya" which of course means "I love you."