When Jack was born, his dad laughed at the line written in tiny, neat letters across the back of his newborn son’s left shoulder.
“What are you laughing at?” Alicia mumbled, looking exhausted.
“Read our son’s words.” Bob laughed.
“Give him here then.” Alicia sighed, reaching for her son.
Bob placed their boy in his mother’s arms. “Back of the left shoulder.” He told her. “You know what they say about that?”
“Our boy will be just fine.” Alicia said firmly, refusing to believe the old wives’ tale that said if the soulmate mark is on the back, the person will have a hard fought life and face many challenges before they meet their soulmate. She smiled down at her son, not pretty like her but just as adorable as Bob after he’s just woken up on a Sunday. “Aren’t you a keeper?” She asked. “I’m your Mama, baby Jack, and I will always have your back, no matter what happens.”
“Shush.” Alicia snapped at her husband. “It’s a mother’s job to take care of her children and I do not intend to fail in this job.”
“You won’t.” Bob assured her. “You’re going to be perfect.”
Alicia smiled, finally moving her son’s swaddling to read the words across his shoulder. “Well apparently our son got your height.”
“And he’s taller than Josh Newman.” Bob laughed.
“Well you’re taller than most so that’s not surprising at all.”
“He’s going to be great.”
“Of course he is. We’re going to raise him right.” Alicia declared. “And tall, apparently.”
Oh my lord he is taller than Josh Newman.
Suzanne Bittle was never prouder than when her husband handed her their tiny, adorable, baby boy and told her that her son’s soul mark was right across his chest, following the line of his sternum right over his heart. It was a blessed spot, a lucky spot, a rare spot. Even better, her son’s words were in French, the language of love and romance. He was going to be one lucky boy when he found the girl who was just right for him.
“What language is it Suzie?”
She looked up at her husband and smiled. “Can’t you recognize French when you see it, Richard?”
“Our boy’s soulmate is French?” Richard’s eye brows rose. “There goes my mother’s hopes of him getting tied to the daughter of those two rich folks down the road from her.”
Suzanne scowled. “Your mother had best keep her nose out of my son’s love life. His mark is over his heart, that’s the purest one there is and I will not have her meddling with fate’s design. He will meet her when he meets her and I will hear nothing more about it.”
Richard just grinned. “I’ll let you tell her all that.”
“I love your mother but bless her heart she has soe backwards ways of thinking about the universe.” Suzanne sighed. “Trying to seek out your soulmate only results in failure to ever find them or finding them too soon and breaking the relationship wide open before either of the members aare ready for it. Your mother needs to understand that.”
“She does, sugar, but she doesn’t understand why you still want to keep Dicky’s words a secret from even the closest members of the family.”
“By closest members of the family she means her the greedy old woman.” Suzanne made a face. “I will keep my son’s words a secret from anyone I please and she cannot say a thing about it Mrs. I-Don’t-Want-To-Let-My-Son-Marry-His-Soulmate-Because-She’s-Not-Rich.”
Richard just laughed. “I love you, Suzie, and all your spit fire ways.”
“You better Mr. Bittle.” She grinned. “You’re stuck with me and our son’s French soulmate.”
“I wouldn’t change it or him for the world.”
‘Baise-moi dans le cul, il est magnifique’
The day Jack started in the Q was the day he swore to himself that no one would ever see his mark again. His parents and Kenny knew about it, what it said and where it was, but he was going to keep it at that. He didn’t want the word getting out about his mark’s placement. He didn’t want the word getting out about any of it. So he bought a cover for it, picked out by his mother and her fashion sense, that he slid up his arm and bound around his torso every day when he got up to protect the mark on his shoulder from the eyes of the world. He’d even stopped showering in the locker room after practice in order to protect it.
Jack didn’t know what to expect going into the Q, but he’d made this decision after a lot of thinking. He refused to hope for the chance to meet his soulmate, he refused to hope for the chance to do anything except play hockey well enough to get him drafted in the first round, hopefully to the same team that later takes Parce, because Jack didn’t want to lose his only friend. Jack also refused to think of Parse as anything more than a friend, especially after Kent admitted that he didn’t know anyone by the name of Josh Newman and therefore couldn’t be ‘The One’ for Jack. Jack also refused to believe that anyone could be ‘The One’ for him. He wasn’t good enough for that. He wasn’t as good as his father, he wasn’t as good as his Uncle Wayne, he wasn’t even as good as Parse, who made hockey look effortless. He wasn’t worth his soulmate. So he covered his mark and hid it from the world.
Eric always kept his mark hidden from the boys at school. He didn’t want them to know where it was or what language it was in. He didn’t want them to have more fuel for their teasing, their laughter, their hatred. He was the best figure skater in the area, one of the only figure skaters in the area, but that didn’t mean they liked him for it. In fact, they hated him for it. They called him a girl, a priss, a faggot. They called him every name in the English language and some he’s pretty sure they just made up. If they knew that his mark was over his heart, the luckiest and rarest of all the placements, they’d only hate him more. Especially Josh Newman. He was one of the biggest boys in school and one of Eric’s worst bullies. His mark was on his thigh, a placement that was looked down upon, even if he’d already met his soulmate.
His mama was trying so hard to make him feel normal, feel accepted, but he wasn’t. He refused to go to birthday parties or sleepovers because he was scared of what the other boys would do if they were alone with him. At least at school it wasn’t too difficult to keep near a teacher, stay under their protection, but when there weren’t any adults around he didn’t feel safe at all.
His feelings were justified when one day after he stayed late to help his history teacher with a project, a group of the boys, Josh Newman at the front, grabbed him and threw him into the middle of their circle out back behind the building. Anyone who wanted a go at the ‘prissy faggot’ was allowed to. By the time they got bored he was barely conscious, curled up in a ball and just trying to keep his face and organs safe. They threw him in the sports equipment closet and left him. It wasn’t until the next morning that someone, the assistant football coach, found him. His Mama and Coach had been out looking for him all night long. Coach cancelled practice that morning to take his son to the hospital. His mama doesn’t know, but he overheard her crying onto Coach’s shoulder, lamenting the fact that her son had a blessed soulmark and yet his life seemed destined to be full of tragedy, just like anyone else. Eric just pretended to be asleep as silent tears dripped down his face. He hated this town and he hated figure skating. He was done. He’d decided.
Jack was staring at the bottle in his hands, the noises of the party still echoing through his brain. Kenny had decided that they needed to celebrate their win, their entering the draft, their destiny to be picked in the first round. Jack was slotted to go first to the Las Vegas Aces, with Kenny right behind him to the Schooners. They’d made a pact that two years from then, when the standard signing contract would be up, they’d find a way to get on the same team. To be Parse and Zimms, the unstoppable duo. Jack had popped some pills at the thought of being around so many people, but he couldn’t remember how long ago that was. He couldn’t even remember getting the pill bottle back out, just found it in his hand, cap off while his other hand held a glass of water. He didn’t know when his last dose was but the writhing mass of anxiety was rising back up inside of him at the thought of playing in the NHL, and proving he is just as good as his father, so obviously it had been a long time.
The decision made, Jack dumped a few pills into his mouth, not many but also not just a couple because he needed the help with the beast inside him, and chased them all down with the glass of water. There. Now the beast will go away, even if it’s only a temporary solution. He was so tired. He was tired of trying to prove to everyone that he didn’t get this far because of the name on his back. He was tired of trying to pull himself out of his father’s shadow. He was tired of trying to be as good as Kenny, as confident as Kenny, as proud as Kenny. He was tired of trying to convince the world that he wasn’t falling apart at the seams every second of the day, the dark beast inside him tearing him apart. He was tired. Maybe he’d just take a nap. Maybe that would help. Maybe that would make it better-
The last thing Jack registered was the sound of glass shattering on tile and the sound of Kenny shouting his name, banging on the door before he let sleep pull him under, a small frown on his face. He wanted to be done, but he still wished that he’d been able to meet his soulmate. At least once. Just to know who they were.
Eric’s mama cried when he told her he was done with figure skating. He was done with dressing up and acting like a girl. He was done with dancing classes and gymnastics and blisters on his feet and being teased. He was done with it all. Coach just watched the exchange with a stony face before asking what he wanted to do. They’d moved to a new city, away from the boys that hurt Eric and all the memories of pain. Eric could start over, make a new personality. Make a new life.
Suzanne told her husband to be quiet, that it was not the time for that kind of talk. But Eric just stared at his dad and said very firmly that he was going to be joining the co-ed hockey team he saw a flier for at the store when he went with Mama. There was no checking involved so it wouldn’t hurt him and he’s definitely faster than anyone else on that team. Coach agreed immediately. Mama took longer to convince. She didn’t want her boy to get hurt. But eventually she agreed and soon Eric was back on the ice, this time to play hockey instead of figure skating. This he could deal with. This he could handle. This he could make a life with. This is something that wouldn’t embarrass his soulmate when he found them.
Jack woke up in a white room to the sounds of his mother crying and his dad’s soft voice, telling her that their son was going to be just fine. Jack wasn’t so sure. He didn’t feel alright. He didn’t feel anything really. Just tired. He managed to keep his eyes open for only a few seconds before he slipped back into the darkness of sleep.
When he woke again, it was just his mother in the room. When he tried to speak to her, she startled to see him awake and then hugged him tightly, telling him not to try to speak. They’d had to pump his stomach and his throat was still healing from that and his own vomit. She fed him a few ice chips before sitting back at his side and telling him, in no uncertain terms, that if he ever felt like that again, he should call her or Papa immediately and they would help him. They loved him. They cared about him. They weren’t disappointed in him. They were always there for him. They would always support him.
Before he knew it, Jack was crying, tears rolling down his cheeks. Alicia wiped them away carefully and smiled at her son. She smiled as she told him what she and his dad had decided the day he was born, when they saw where his soulmark was. She told him how they promised that no matter what happened, they’d always be there for him. No matter what. And Jack knew that he’d be fine. Everything was going to be okay. His family was here. They were going to help him. He was going to get better, be better, and he’ll make his family, and the soulmate he was now determined to find and meet, proud.
Eric was never happier then when he was on the ice. It didn’t matter if it was for hockey practice, a free skate with his friends, all of whom were from his hockey team, or alone after practice when he’d slip his figure skates back on and let all the energy pent up inside him pour out as he flung himself around the rink, feeling as though he was flying. The ice had become his home. His safe place. His haven.
He'd finally made friends that weren’t girls through his love for the ice. Little Jimmy, the only one on the team who was smaller than Eric, was a sun, constantly shining with all his happiness. Amelia was one of the toughest girls he’d ever met, willing to take on anyone who even thought about hurting Eric like Josh Newman and his crew had. And Eric was the mothering hen to both of them. He didn’t want them to get hurt, especially little Jimmy. Amelia insisted she could take care of herself, but that didn’t stop Eric from mothering her. Not that she complained about the pies. Eric was happy, at least for a little while.
The downward spiral of his life started again when Little Jimmy was killed in a car accident. His mama’s car got hit by a drunk driver. The driver’s side was entirely destroyed, Jimmy and his mama included. The driver was fine but he did a special on the news saying how sorry he was and how he regretted getting behind the wheel and how he wished he could go back and save them. But Eric didn’t bother listening to it. Jimmy was gone. His best friend was gone. He listened to his father and his sister cry, he watched his body lowered into the ground, and he watched as time moved on. Without Jimmy. That’s when Eric decided he needed to leave this town. He needed to leave Georgia. He needed to get away from all that has happened here. Eric threw himself into three things, his schoolwork, his hockey, and his baking. He was going to earn his way out of the south if it was the last thing he ever did. And whoever is soulmate is, wherever they are, better be okay with never living down here. Because Eric didn’t think he could handle it anymore.
Jack decided to go to college. He had decided to go to Samwell specifically for college. He didn’t know what he was going to major in, he didn’t know what he was going to focus on, he didn’t know anything beyond the fact that they’d offered him a spot on their hockey team after he’d sent in his application for the school. At first he thought that was the only reason they’d accepted him, after all he’d never really been a good student as hockey took up most of his life, but it wasn’t. It turned out that his mom was an alum of Samwell and between her and many of her old classmates recommending him as someone willing and desiring to learn, they’d decided to accept him. The hockey offer was just to entice him into accepting enrollment.
Jack was going to go to college. He was going to graduate. He was going to have a degree to his name, not something everyone in the NHL has. Especially an NHL player that he has spent the last year avoiding. At first he didn’t know why he refused to see Kenny, he didn’t know why he didn’t want to return his calls, he didn’t know why he didn’t want to let him into this new life that he’d been building with the help of his mom and dad. But after a few months, he figured it out. This was his new life. His life without being controlled by the pills that rolled out of the orange bottle and made everything numb for a while but then brought back the hurt just as much. And Kenny belonged to his old life. His life when he was controlled by his anxiety and his fear. He can’t go back to that. He can’t become that again. So he shut him out. It wasn’t just Kenny though. It was everyone from the Q. It was everyone from the parties and the drinking and the drugs and the life he never wanted to lead but did anyways because Kenny always said it would be fun. He hated it. But he was going to be better now. He was going to make himself worthy of the soulmate he was determined to find.
Eric was ecstatic when he found out he had not only been accepted at Samwell, he’d been given a full tuition hockey scholarship so he could actually afford to go there. His mama was disappointed that he’d decided to go so far away, but after everything that had happened in Georgia, she couldn’t say she was surprised. Her son had gone through a lot, most of it not all that good, living down in Georgia and she knew his promise to call home and keep the Pinterest board updated was the best she was going to get, better than some other mother’s get. Coach didn’t say anything when Eric told them what he’d decided. Eric knew he was disappointed that it wasn’t football like he’d always dreamed his son would be good at, but Eric also knew Coach was happy it was for hockey at least. Over the years Eric had learned that hockey is acceptable. Figure skating was never acceptable, but hockey was. Eric could play hockey. He could at least do that to make his parents proud.
He didn’t know how it was going to work at Samwell, with the addition of checking in the rulebook, but he was determined to do it. He was determined to keep his scholarship and stay at Samwell. Samwell was proud of its 1 in 4 statistic. They were a safe space, a space where people like him could be themselves and not have to worry about their family disowning them. A place where he could like whoever he likes and not have to deal with the consequences of being gay. It had only been recently, shortly after little Jimmy was killed, that he was able to admit to himself that he dreaded the thought of his soulmate being a girl. He dreaded the thought of it being a girl because he wanted it to be a guy.. He wanted to spend the rest of his life in the arms and the bed and the life of a man. And he was never going to tell his mother or Coach these thoughts because Mama’s greatest wish for him at Samwell is to find ‘that nice French girl’ whose words were on his chest. Eric still didn’t know what those words say. He doesn’t want to know. He’ll ask his soulmate when he finds them. Because he will find them. He’s determined to find them.
Jack survived the first two years of college almost entirely due to the intervention of an almost always at least partially undressed man who insisted that everyone just call him Shitty. Jack met Shitty at the first pre-year practice for the hockey team and from that moment on, Shitty had declared himself Jack’s official best friend. And Jack honestly wouldn’t change it. At first, he was just happy that he had a friend, someone to care about him. But after only a few months, Shitty really had become Jack’s best friend. And it wasn’t because of his father’s reputation, like a lot of other people that tried to become his friend in those first few months. Shitty’s family was the Knights, one of the richest lineages in New York, and he hated it. He didn’t care about money or fame, he just saw that Jack needed a friend and he decided to become that. Jack only survived freshman year because of Shitty having his back when he needed him.
Sophomore year Jack’s anxiety ramped up again, not only having the deadline to officially declare his major at the end of the year hanging over his head all the time but also the responsibility of being Captain. But Shitty was still there, along with two new friends that Shitty dragged by the ear into Jack’s heart and dropped them there, declaring that they were his friends now too. Ransom and Holster, the new D-Man pair and soulmate’s, basically lived in each other’s pockets and now in Jack’s as well. And Jack couldn’t find it in him to mind. Shitty was right, maybe it was time he opened his mind up a little bit to those around him because he knew they cared but he was still so scared of his past that he didn’t want to for the longest time. But he was ready now. He asked Shitty if they could talk in Jack’s room, the pair of them getting dibs of the two graduating seniors the year before, and he confided him the thoughts he’d never shared with anyone else before: he really hoped his soulmate was a guy. He’d expected Shitty to react to the confession, but he just grinned up at Jack from his spot lying naked on his bed, and told him that he was glad Jack entrusted that to him and that it didn’t change his perception of Jack at all. Jack had never felt so relieved. It was good to have someone in his life who knew. Now he had someone to help him find his soulmate. He couldn’t wait to meet them.
Eric was dubbed ‘Bitty’ about two seconds in to his very first skate by a man who only called himself ‘Shitty’ and the name was immediately grabbed up by the rest of the team. Shitty demanded to know a lot about Eric immediately, asking question after question without letting him get a word in to answer the ones before. By the time Shitty nodded and skated away, Eric was extremely confused and slightly dazed from the experience. Eric had gotten there slightly late, not having been able to get into the rink as he couldn’t find the open door, so as soon as Shitty was done with him, their captain was calling for practice to begin, giving the frogs over to two D-men called Ransom and Holster to start running some drills. Eric was confident he could do the speed and agility drills, but he wasn’t so confident about the checking drills. He was terrified for the checking drills.
Lucky for him, they didn’t do any checking drills that day, just speed, agility, and stick handling drills to get a good idea of how the frogs were going to fit into the team so Eric got to show off a bit of his speed and agility that he’s managed to hold onto from his figure skating days. Ransom and Holster seemed excited by what they were seeing, declaring that they needed to make a play to use his speed to their advantage but Eric just smiled at the praise. Plays mean him being a target and that means checking and he still didn’t know how he was going to handle that. And he hadn’t even met the captain yet, the man who would decide if he even got to be in a play because the coaches may have the final decision, but it was already clear that their captain knew what he was doing and would not hesitate to do what needed to be done for the team.
Before Eric could leave the ice at the end of the practice, Shitty was shouting out to him, telling him to wait a minute. He wanted Eric to meet Jack and show him what he could do on the cone weave they’d been working on earlier with Ransom and Holster. Eric really didn’t want to meet the scowling man, but he nodded and waited, slowly skating back over to where Shitty was standing. Jack was picking up the pucks they’d used at the other end with returning players to practice shooting. By the time Jack came over, Eric was a nervous wreck.
“Bitty, this is Jack.” Shitty declared happily as Jack skated over finally. “Jack this is Eric Bittle, but we’ve all decided he is now Bitty.”
Eric stared at Jack as he approached, scowl loud on his face, chasing all of Eric’s Southern bred manners right out of his head. ‘Oh my lord he is taller than Josh Newman.’
Jack avoided the frogs for the entirety of practice. He didn’t even bother introducing himself to them before sending them off with Ransom and Holster, it would be better for everyone if they realized here and now that just because he is the son of ‘Bad Bob’ Zimmermann does not mean he will be everyone’s friends. He could hear Ransom and Holster throughout the class, exclaiming as they watched one of the frogs who was apparently very quick on his blades. They’d already decided that he’d have to make a play for it, despite the fact that he didn’t want any frogs on his line. He needed to prove himself. He needed to get them a championship to prove to the world that his fall from grace didn’t ruin him forever.
At the end of practice, Jack started picking up the pucks they’d been using at the end for shooting practice, putting them all back in the bucket when he heard Shitty shout. He was telling one of the frogs to hang back so Jack could watch him skate. Jack didn’t want to watch the frog skate, and Shitty knew this, but he also knew that Jack would do it anyways just to shut him up about it. Even so, Jack took his time gathering up the pucks, putting each one individually into the bucket, giving the frog time to sweat. Eventually though, all the pucks were gathered and Jack skated slowly over to Shitty and the frog.
“Bitty, this is Jack.” Shitty declared as Jack reached them. “Jack this is Eric Bittle, but we’ve all decided he is now Bitty.”
Jack finally looked, actually looked, at the frog at Shitty’s side and his entire brain shut down instantly. The boy was attractive, very attractive, with blonde hair and bright eyes and a smile wide enough to make the sun shine. Jack was fucked. ‘Baise-moi dans le cul, il est magnifique’
Freshmen year for Eric went pretty much as well as he could have expected. He didn’t meet any cute guys in any of his classes, he didn’t get to go on any dates, and he didn’t even get to meet his soulmate. He did find out what it meant though, blushing hard when, on a very hot day late in the spring semester, sitting in the Reading Room with Shitty and Lardo (two people he didn’t expect to be as close to as he was but he loved it) he wiped his forehead with the hem of his shirt, displaying a glimpse of his tattoo for the pair of them to see. And as soon as they caught the glimpse they demanded to see the whole thing, both of them immediately devolving into tears of laughter as they read it. It took five minutes for them to calm down enough for Eric to demand to know what was so funny.
“Bitty.” Shitty gasped. “Bitty, Bits, my man Bits.”
“Shitty Knight, you tell me what’s so funny right now or you will get none of the pie I make with the crust chilling in our fridge right now.” Eric demanded.
“Have you ever had that translated?” Lardo asked, wiping tears out of her eyes.
“No.” Eric frowned. “I always figured I’d ask my soulmate when I finally got to meet him.”
“Bits, you should know that your soulmate is definitely not the clean, precious French boy you seem to think he is.” Lardo said seriously, smacking Shitty to get him to shut up. He just continued to gasp like a dying fish.
“Lardo, you tell me what you know right now or I fucking swear you are dead to me.” Bitty threatened.
“Well, your soulmate is definitely attracted to you…” Lardo hummed. “Quite attracted to you actually.”
“Lardo.” Bitty said firmly.
“It translates as ‘Fuck me in the ass, he’s gorgeous’.” Lardo said quickly.
Shitty’s cackles grew even louder as he rolled around on the roof, only staying on by the fact he was too out of breath to roll far.
“Honestly the best thing I’ve ever seen.” Shitty managed to say. “Your mark is in French and over the heart but it means that.”
Eric frowned, rubbing at his chest through his shirt. He didn’t need to look down to see it, he’d stared at it plenty to know exactly what it looked like.
“Enough.” Lardo told Shitty, smacking his head as she noticed Eric’s sadness. “Bits?”
“I’m gonna go.” Eric whispered, getting to his feet. “I’ll see you guys later.”
Before either of them could think about what to say, Eric had climbed back through the window and was gone.
“I can’t believe his soulmate thought he was hot on sight.” Shitty giggled, falling back to his laughter.
Lardo smacked him. “Shits, you really upset him.”
“What’d I do?” Shitty demanded.
“How would you feel if he saw your mark and laughed?” Lardo demanded. “My thought about your pornstache would be plenty funny.”
“I-I’d be upset.” Shitty sighed, realizing Lardo’s point. “I’ll apologize.”
“You fucking better.” Lardo told him. “Or this team will kill you for losing their pies.”
Senior year Jack was going nuts. Bitty, the kid he’d tried his best not to like because of how much he was physically attracted to him, had fully integrated into the team and was now living in the Haus, making it impossible for Jack to ignore him. Jack was also trying to pick a team to sign with after graduation, a process made so much harder by all of the team’s wanting to ask him about what happened years ago to make him drop out of the draft. And outside of all of that, Jack was a college senior trying to graduate with honors from one of the best colleges around while playing hockey whenever he could. His life was stressful and if it wasn’t for Bitty, he’d probably not be as sane as he is.
Jack knew that he shouldn’t get close to Bitty, that it would only hurt him in the end when he finally graduated and left and went who knows where and who knows how far from Samwell and left all his friends behind. But, in the end, Jack had tried so hard the year before to like Bitty and it still hadn’t worked so he didn’t see how he could keep trying now. He didn’t have the emotional energy not to be friends with Bitty anymore, but he did have the emotional stubbornness to hide his affection for Bitty even from himself. He’d made it through his fall semester and he only had one more to go but it was the most stressful time of his life as well.
“Jack!” Shitty called from his room.
Jack sighed, pulling himself up from his desk chair to go see what Shitty wanted. He knew from experience that if he didn’t go right away, Shitty would come be naked in his bed.
“What’s up Shitty?” Jack asked, going through the bathroom. It was an unusual sight, seeing Shitty sitting at his desk chair in full clothes with work spread all over the desk and the foot of the bed nearby.
“You should check on Bits.” Shitty told him, glancing up from the pile of paper in his lap. “He was crying while he was making pie earlier and after it was done he just went up to his room and no one has seen him since.”
Jack’s brow furrowed into his patented Thinking FaceTM. “What happened?”
“I don’t know.” Shitty sighed. “I-I haven’t been around as much as I need to be for the young ones this semester.”
“Neither of us has been.” Jack agreed. “I’ll talk to him. I’m still the Captain.”
“Let me know if he needs anything.” Shitty told him. “And the same goes for you.”
“Thanks Shits.” Jack laughed. “Get your paper done.”
Shitty saluted him with a handful of papers and Jack rolled his eyes, heading back through the bathroom to his room to go see Bitty.
“Bits?” Jack called outside his door. “Bitty it’s Jack, can I come in?”
“Yea.” Bitty’s voice was small as it came through the door and that worried Jack more than anything. Bitty was usually so happy and boisterous hearing him so sad hurt Jack.
Jack pushed open the door slowly, seeing Bitty sitting at the head of the bed with his knees against his chest and his chin on his knees. “Hey Bits.”
“Hey Jack.” Bitty whispered back. “You can come sit.”
Jack kept his movements slow, not wanting to do anything wrong. He crept forward and sat on the edge of Bitty’s bed. “What’s wrong?”
“I just got news from Mama this morning.” Bitty whispered. “Josh, one of my old classmates killed himself last night.”
“Oh Bits.” Jack gasped slightly. “Are you okay?”
“I wasn’t friends with him.” Bitty continued. “He was one of the worst people I’d ever met. He was one of the boys who beat me up for figure skating in high school.”
“Okay.” Jack nodded, now confused about why Bitty was crying.
“I used to pray that he’d die.” Bitty confessed. “That he’d suffer endlessly and die.”
“It’s okay to have thoughts like that sometimes.” Jack tried to assure him.
Bitty shook his head. “Mama said his note said he was doing it because he couldn’t hide being gay anymore. Said he couldn’t keep pretending to be a perfect son. And then-and then she said how happy she was that she didn’t have to worry about me because I was going to meet a nice girl and live happily ever after because I have a ‘blessed soulmark’ and she’d never have to hear about me.”
“It’s an old southern tradition.” Bitty sighed. “If your mark is over your heart, you’re destined for a life of happiness and peace with your mark.”
Jack snorted. “I can relate to that. Mine’s on my back.”
Bitty chuckled. “A life of suffering before you find the One.”
“I can’t make this better or fix anything, but I’m here for you.” Jack told him. “You don’t have to be alone here.”
“Thanks Jack.” Bitty smiled.
Jack opened his arms, letting Bitty crawl into them for a hug. “It’s going to be okay. Don’t you worry.”
After Shitty found out why Eric was crying, he decided that there was only one course of action. A burning effigy of his former classmate to rid Eric of all his guilt and sadness. Eric tried to argue at first but Shitty wore him down pretty quickly and got him to agree with it. Eric showed him Josh’s facebook profile photo so Shitty could build the effigy to be at least close to the originals look. Shitty ordered all members of the Haus to be present that night for the burning of Eric’s past demons and Ransom and Holster jumped right into helping as soon as they heard what was happening. Eric just let them do as they would and made a maple-apple pie.
“Are you actually okay with this?” Jack asked, coming in while Eric was baking.
“Honestly? Yea, I am.” Eric smiled, nodding eventually. “Josh made my life a living hell for years and I hate myself for some of the things I thought towards him, but I think Shitty is right. I need to accept my past and stop letting the memory of him kill me inside.”
Jack smiled, sitting on the edge of the table. “So you’re baking a pie to celebrate burning your past?”
“I’m baking a pie to thank you.” Eric corrected.
“You.” Eric confirmed.
“You came in to check on me and didn’t tell me I was being stupid about crying over the death of my bully.” Eric explained. “You let me cry on you and you didn’t ask questions.” Eric shrugged. “It was…nice.”
Jack smiled. “Got your back. You know that.”
Eric opened his mouth to respond but Shitty came screaming into the room.
“What?” Eric laughed, taking in Shitty’s paint and glitter covered body.
“We need the sacrifice’s full name.” Shitty told him.
“Not a sacrifice.” Jack corrected immediately.
“Right.” Shitty nodded. “We need the form’s full name.”
“Josh.” Eric told him. “Josh Newman.”
Shitty nodded frantically, running back out of the room.
By the time Eric watched Shitty go and turned his attention back to Jack, the other athlete was on his feet and heading for the door in a hurry.
“Jack?” Eric asked. “You alright.”
“Yea I-I remembered a call I need to make.” Jack said hurriedly, fleeing from the kitchen.
Eric just sighed. That boy would forget his head one day if it wasn’t attached.
Jack fled quickly up the stairs, needing to get away from Eric as soon as possible. He tore through his room and into the bathroom, locking both doors before whipping off his shirt and twisting to see the back of his shoulder in the mirror. He couldn’t count the hours he’d spent in this same pose, the best angle coming as a fast muscle memory. When he was growing up he loved to look at it and dream of meeting his soulmate and after rehab he used to stare at it and wish he didn’t have a soulmate. But he did. He had a soulmate. He didn’t know for sure, not having confirmed it at all, but he knew deep in his soul like an aching tremble that the man in the kitchen downstairs was his.
Oh my lord he is taller than Josh Newman
He didn’t know how he had never noticed it before, the familiar twist and curve of the letters gracing his shoulders. He saw it all the time, on labels in the fridge, on forms for hockey, on the notes he’d borrowed from Bitty about recipes in their class together last semester. It was Bitty’s handwriting across his shoulder. Bitty was his soulmate. Eric Bittle was his soulmate.
As the realization finally set in, Jack twisted back around and sunk to the floor. When they met, Bitty compared him to Josh Newman. He saw Jack and he thought of someone who had made years of Bitty’s life hell in Georgia. Jack didn’t know how to make up for that. He had absolutely no idea. He also had no idea what to do now that he’d realized this all. Bitty was his soulmate and now that Jack knew he realized how much he didn’t want it to be anyone else. Jack hadn’t realized how much Bitty actually meant to him until just now and Jack didn’t want to let that go…but Jack was leaving soon. Jack was going into the NHL. Jack was being scouted by teams all across the country and he had no idea where he wanted to end up when all was said and done but Jack didn’t want to leave Bitty. He didn’t want to choose between his soulmate and his life.
Jack thumped his head back against the vanity and looked up at the ceiling. He knew what he was going to do. His fate was decided the moment he fell in love with Bitty, however long ago that may have been. Jack hadn’t known until he realized everything, but he knew what his life was going to be next year. He took a deep breath and pulled out his phone, finding the correct contact easily.
“Hi, Georgia? It’s Jack Zimmermann.” Jack answered the confused hello on the other side of the phone. “I think we should talk.”
Eric never had more fun with fire than watching a hay stuffed effigy of Josh Newman burn in the backyard of the Haus. Shitty, Ransom, and Holster all gave toasts to the boy they’d never met and got Bitty properly wasted so he couldn’t overthink anything. Everyone had fun, both during the burning and during the pie and drunk video games session they had afterwards. They all paid for it the next day during practice, but even still, Eric was happier than he had been in a while. None of the boys were treating him different for crying over the death of his bully, in fact most of them were keeping topics only to Shitty’s impressive skill with a bottle of lighter fluid. The only team member who knew about what had happened that seemed off at all was Jack, and he’d been distant from everyone so Eric was trying not to take it personally. According to Shitty, he was closing in on a deal with the team he’d chosen to play with and it was stressing Jack out. Eric wondered why Jack wouldn’t come talk to him about it, they’d started talking about things like that only recently though so again Eric was trying not to be offended. He was just sad that this all made it real. Jack and Shitty were graduating and they were leaving. Shitty was going to Harvard and Jack was going to the NHL and they weren’t going to be there anymore. They’d always been a presence in the Haus for Eric and he got sad every time he tried to imagine living there without them. Like now apparently.
“Hey Bits, you got any quick snacks Ransom’s a coral reef again?”
Eric quickly wiped away the tears from his eyes before turning around to face Holster with a smile. “There’s some mini pies and cookies in the tuperware on the top shelf of the fridge with Ransom’s name on it.”
Holster grinned. “You are literally the best.”
“I do my best.” Eric smiled, waiting for Holster to go before turning back to his mix. It was supposed to be mini brownie cakes but all of a sudden all his energy was gone and he just wanted to lay down. Normal brownies would have to do.
Eric turned around again at the sound of Jack’s voice to see him standing in the doorway. “You’re allowed to come in Mr. Zimmermann.” Eric tried to chrip but he could tell it sort of fell flat by the way Jack only moved to sit at the table instead of coming over to see what he was making.
“What’s on the docket for today?” Jack asked, trying to keep a normal conversation.
“Brownies.” Eric told him. “I was going to make the mini brownie cakes Ransom liked so much during last semester’s mid terms but I think I’m just going to make normal ones for now and they’ll have to be good enough.”
“Everything you make is good.” Jack smiled. “Are they going in soon?”
“They are.” Eric nodded, gesturing to the pan set out by the stove. “Why?”
“Well…” Jack bit his lip. “I have something I want to give you. It’s up in my room.”
“Well then you just give me five minutes and I’ll follow you up, sound good?”
Jack nodded, not saying anything else.
Eric turned back to his brownies, throwing the last of the chocolate chips into the batter. Jack was acting quite strange and Eric had no idea how to process it. And Jack had never given him a gift before, not even for a birthday or the holidays (outside of the team gift of Betsy), so Eric was confused, excited, and nervous all at once.
It seemed like far less than five minutes had passed when Eric closed the oven door, set the timer, and turned to Jack. “All done.”
Jack nodded, looking determined as he immediately got up and left the kitchen, leaving Eric to follow his footsteps up the stairs and into his room.
“Jack?” Eric finally asked after Jack closed both doors to the room. “What’s going on?”
“I-I want to give you something.” Jack stumbled out. “And I want to tell you something.”
“Okay. Do I need to be concerned?”
“No. Definitely not. Everything is absolutely fine.” Jack said quickly, holding up his hands to placate Eric.
“Okay. Then what’s up?” Eric tried to be gentle but he was a little concerned by what was happening. He’d never seen Jack’s anxiety display itself as openly as it was right now, hands shaking and entire body seeming to be attempting to vibrate out of his skin.
Instead of answering, Jack swung around to pick up a small box off of his bed and hold it out to Eric. “I wanted you to have the first.”
Eric took the box, still confused, but willing to go along with it. It wasn’t a heavy box, but it had some weight to it. “Do I open it?”
“Yes.” Jack said, taking deep breaths like he was trying to calm himself.
Eric nodded slowly, propping the box against his hip to open it up and had to stop and stare for a moment. “Jack?”
“It was official yesterday.” Jack whispered. “They overnighted it to me. For you.”
“For me?” Eric repeated, slowly reaching in to pick up a Falconer’s blue jersey with Jack’s name sewn across the back as the box fell to the floor.
“They-They agreed to my request for my-my soulmate to have the first one of my jerseys.” Jack whispered, anxiety gone s fear replaced it and he looked down at his floor. “If you don’t want it I can always send it back but-”
“Don’t you dare even think of that.” Eric warned, fist tightening in the fabric. “This is mine and we are going to talk about that word you just used.”
Jack blushed, smiling slightly as he finally looked up at Eric. “You are. It’s not a lie and it’s not a joke. I realized it two weeks ago when Shitty threw you that effigy party thing. For Josh Newman.”
Eric stared at him. “You’re-you’re my-?”
“I’d hope so.” Jack shrugged. “I mean I can’t be sure because it’s not confirmed but-but I can feel it. In my soul. I belong to you.”
“What-what- how did Josh-?”
Without hesitation, Jack whipped his shirt off and turned around, letting Eric see the words scrawled across Jack’s shoulder blade. “Oh my lord he is taller than Josh Newman.” Jack whispered, looking at the floor as he turned around but glancing at Eric. “I never thought I’d be thankful to find a background for my words but…well here I am.”
“I-You’re my soulmate.” Eric gasped. “You’re-you’re mine.”
Jack smiled shyly, nodding slightly, twisting his shirt in his hand to distract himself. “Yea, I am.”
Eric stared at Jack for a long moment before realizing what he meant. “You! You thought my mark! You put that in my skin!”
Jack held up his arms, trying to hide from Eric’s barely there blows. “What? What did I do?”
Eric didn’t hesitate in his frustration as he dropped one hand’s hold on the jersey in his hand and pulled up his shirt to show Jack the words over his heart. “You!”
Jack blushed bright red as he read the words. “I’m sorry.” He muttered. “You’re-you’re basically the epitome of my type. Shitty got a laugh out of teasing me about it for weeks afterwards.”
“I cannot believe you thought I was hot when you saw me.” Eric sighed, dropping his shirt.
Jack shrugged. “You still are honestly.”
It was Eric’s turn to grow bright red. “So-so what does all this mean?”
“I took the Falconer’s offer for you.” Jack told him, glancing down at the blue jersey still in Eric’s grip. “I realized that I didn’t want to move so far away from you that I’d never see you. It’s only a forty minute drive from here and I’ll be able to come back whenever possible.”
“And-and us?” Eric managed to ask, terrified to hear the answer.
“I want anything and everything you’re willing to give me.” Jack answered honestly. “The day I realized we were soulmates I called Georgia and told her that I’m not hiding you for more than a year, regardless of what happens with the season. I know how happy being out of the closet here at Samwell makes you and I don’t want you to deal with going back in just for me. I want to tell my parents because I swore I wouldn’t keep life secrets from them anymore after I got out of rehab but we can tell yours whenever you’re ready. Honestly, Bits, I just want you to be happy.”
Eric stared at his soulmate, his soulmate, for a long moment before diving forward to hug Jack. “God bless you.” Eric muttered. “You’re going to be the death of me.”
Jack was surprised at first but quickly melted into the hug.
Eric pulled away after a short time, staying close and looking up into Jack’s eyes. “Yes. Yes to it all.”
Jack grinned, all his fear and anxiety melting away as he looked down at his soulmate. “Can I kiss you?”
Jack obviously surprised himself with the words but he surprised Eric more.
Eric startled but then smiled. “Absolutely.” He grinned.
Jack coulnd’t keep the smile off his face as he leaned in, taking the first kiss of many in what he knew was going to be a great life. There might be troubles but he had Eric, he had Bitty, and they were going to be just fine together.