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We Can Burn and Be Forgiven

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(This story has three separate scenes broken up into out of order chunks. In chrono order they are: Lardo breaking up with Shitty at their apartment in Boston, Shitty showing up at Jack and Bitty's place in Providence and Jack texting Bitty about it, and the morning after with Shitty, Jack and Bitty.)

 

Fall 2018

 

The ride home is quiet, the way it has come to be over the past year. Outside the window, gold and scarlet Boston leaves dance in the wake of the car.

Every year until this one, autumn would be laying out its tapestry just for her: new school year, new classes, new projects, new mentors. New loves. New experiences and a chance to reinvent herself always began with the roads being cloaked in garnet and gold, acrid and invigorating, in air so clear that Larissa felt as if the whole world had been washed clean.

Her eyes glaze over the suburban stone and brick gates as they pass, settling on Shitty’s hand on the steering wheel where the hem of his shirt and jacket meet the ruddy hair creeping over his pale wrist.

She studies Shitty closely, in a detached sort of way.

He looks more beautiful than ever. Getting older suits him, settles well over his old money profile and his strong, wiry body.

Larissa compares him to the last time they saw all of their friends: Ransom and Holster both look like like boys caught by adulthood, too big and too silly to fit into their work clothes yet. Jack is racing headlong into gray hair and his parents’ crows feet. Dex has that old/young look, with his wide shoulders and tidy beard and moustache. Chowder finally got his grown-man jaw, cut his hair, and grew two more inches to fit his hands and feet. Nursey looks the same as he did sophomore year.

Bitty looks the same as he did junior year. Just like Larissa, who hasn’t aged since she was twenty-one. She still feels absurd in anything other than jean shorts and thrift store tops. She still shops the sparkly accessories sections of the same stores, and still carries a patched-up backpack.

To her, aging feels like an act she keeps having to put on for the sake of a random group of boring white people she’d somehow inherited by dating Shitty.

Shitty, her “long-term boyfriend,” who is driving them down that familiar two-way route between his grandparents’ absurd mansion that they all still called a house, and their own cramped, sweet little city flat.

Suddenly the scene in front of her eyes looks old. Set in the future, but yet old. The two of them moving, upgrading, aging… all while they make this same journey between one world and another. The distance growing shorter from familiarity and a creeping closeness.

Larissa sinks back into her seat, feeling the life deflate out of her. She can’t resist forever.

So she plans her last battle, between the silence that stretches from the car journey up to their living room door. Every last blow has been written in secret over the past three years. All she has to do is deliver them.

“How long do you think we’re going to stick this out, huh?”

Her tone immediately draws Shitty’s eyes to her in alarm. Her voice seems to make the entire apartment vibrate.

She is the one who is shaking, thrilling with the destruction and havoc she’s about to wreak in their little home. Their attempt at domesticity has kept her from hopping on a plane/bus/bicycle and beginning her next adventure.

Ten minutes is all she reckons she’ll need. Ten minutes of non-stop yelling will thoroughly (albeit metaphorically) reduce the kitchen, the sofa, the linen closet, the daily routine--not to mention the peaceable relationship with their neighbors to absolute dust. She will do that, with no permission and no ‘please’ or ‘may I.’

Shitty waits in silence. His green eyes looking bigger and bigger, while his skin turns ashen.

---

“Shits? What’s wrong? Hey, man, talk to me! What’s happened?”

Jack had tried the verbal approach immediately but to no effect. That was the first warning sign.

The second had been that Shitty walked all the way into the apartment without giving him so much as a hug. That was actually the final warning sign.

Without attempting any more words, Jack slid his arms around Shitty’s waist and guided him to the couch.

The sobbing turned hysterical after just a few moments. Soon Shitty was shifting fretfully all over the couch, rubbing the sides of his face till the skin looked raw. The tears stopped and the fretting turned to writhing.

Jack knew this agony. Most people he had met did not. War wounds of that sort had at least one good function: recognize and rescue.

Winter of freshman year, Shitty had returned from break to their dorm, seemingly fine. But over the following hours at a party he had receded into a wraith-like gaunt, crushing himself into a wall of the frat house and smiling frantically in an effort to hide the terror. What followed had been the bond between Shitty and Jack that everyone could see but that they only revealed to a few.

The day Shitty’s father had shoved his only son with such ferocity that Shitty’s foothold slipped and he suddenly found himself at the foot of two flights of stairs, gasping up at his father’s receding, horrified face. Shitty had barely thought to grab his phone and wallet before he rushed right back to Samwell; had tried to party away the trauma, only to find himself losing it and falling right into Jack’s arms. They’d both fallen onto a stranger’s bed for two hours.

Later on, when he’d thanked Jack for the twentieth time for being there for him in a way no one else would have, he said that it felt like a night where two of his nine lives had slipped away. And now, in Jack’s living room, Shitty was counting lives again.

“One more life down,” was all Shitty had managed to say this time before he became incoherent, and Jack knew.

He manages to hold Shitty with one arm and text Bitty one-handed, sagging with relief when he hadn’t needed to explain himself further.

They’d had crises as a couple and been proven a strong unit before this, but tonight feels potently grown up and scary. The fact that Bitty is right there with him without even physically being around means more than he could ever articulate to another person.

“Hey, Shits. Shh, c’mere.”

Jack turns him over where Shitty was lying half-upright and groaning weakly. He pulls Shitty’s arm and leg open and hovers his body over his friend’s.

“Shh, look at me,” Jack chases Shitty’s mouth as he tosses his head back and forth.

Eventually, Shitty begins to respond to the insistent nuzzling with curiosity. Once Jack has green eyes fixed on his own, he smiles a little shyly in a way that has gotten him laid every single time, and dips down to kiss Shitty deep.

Shitty swoons just like everyone does when Jack first kisses them right before sex. He releases one pained cry into Jack’s mouth, and fists the back of his shirt so tight that it rips a few seams. His fingers palm at the muscles in Jack’s shoulders, then down to grip where Jack’s biceps bracket his neck. His breathing is still labored but now every inhale is full of Jack.

Jack’s thickly muscled hips are making his body writhe; his powerful torso is crushing the air out of him. Jack’s beautiful face is all Shitty can see when he opens his eyes briefly as Jack kisses him.

Jack goes into high gear startlingly fast. It’s all Shitty can do to let his soul turn effervescent and leave his body momentarily as he comes so hard his entire body turns into a single, thrilling nerve.

“I think… I think you’re scared that if you let me go, then you might possibly end up with a guy. It’s like a part of you deep down knows that it would be so perfect if I was the love of your life because I’m a girl and even if I’m not white, it’s like I’m still considered acceptable to your dad’s family. And that… God, that disgusts me every time I think about it, you know?”

Shitty can’t bring himself to move, because he does know. He knows he’s going to carry his father’s sins with him so long as he continues to associate with him. He thought love would wash him clean, that nothing could tarnish what he felt for Lards, that they could play nice with his father’s side and laugh it all off afterward. It sounds so stupid and childish now.

Shitty once tries to barter with her by saying that he doesn’t need kids and surely they can avoid the typical male/female bullshit if they don’t have kids? They can move far, far away… make their own rules...

Lardo pleads with him to stop, telling him that it’s already killing her having to do this. Even though she knows damn well it’ll all hurt more after years of inevitability wearing her down until she’s nothing but a faint memory of a woman whose only stance in life was to not get into a marriage she didn’t believe in, and not have children she has never wanted. She doesn’t want to be proud only for the few things she refused to do.

She holds him tight and he holds her back, but is so silent. His body feels so cold and dead against her that she can’t stand it and flees.

“You’re still hard.”

Shitty’s voice is raspy and sharp to his own ears, but Jack doesn’t seem to mind.

“Don’t know how much you’ll need tonight. Figured I should pace myself, haha.”

Jack’s face hovers above him then, heartbreakingly handsome and smiling with that wonderfully awkward laugh.

“You’re a fucking stallion, dude,” Shitty half laughs and half cries. “Bits… fuck, is he… I just assumed he’d be fine with, oh Christ…”

Jack reassures him and shuts down his worries, even though Shitty can’t stop the flow of emotions once they’ve started. He feels them passing through him, rolling like waves.

Jack simply holds him through the next bout.

“God,” Shitty breathes at last into Jack’s hair, picking up the torn thread of an unspoken thought. “I know that… I know that if it’s what she wants. Then it’s gotta be right. But I. Fuck.”

He starts to shake again.

Jack rises up and removes his shirt. He stands from the sofa wearing only his jeans, looking down at Shitty, who is still wearing his suit and dress shoes.

“Christ, you’re a goddamn vision, Zimmermann.”

Jack smirks at his best friend’s prone form.

“You really want me to carry you to the bedroom?”

“Yes, please. I want the full bodice-ripping romance novel cover experience.”

Jack sighs in a long-suffering way but bends over to grab Shitty under the knees and shoulders.

“Aw c’mon man, I weigh nothing! Bitty’s probably got more poundage on me now I’m a pathetic academic scholar.”

Shitty’s making a show of being alright and Jack knows it only lasts until he gets him into the quiet and dark of the bedroom.

He makes quick work of Shitty’s clothes, having to mostly hold him upright.

“I’m going to go get us some water and you’re going to go wash up. Then we’ll both get into bed together. Okay?”

Jack opens the bathroom door and switches on the light, guiding Shitty in. He’s taken aback by how pale and thin Shitty has become since they were last able to see each other. His dark red hair falls across his drawn face and his eyes are dull. His body hunches over in a way it never used to.

Jack stays long enough to ensure Shitty won’t collapse, and doesn’t close the bathroom door all the way when he leaves him to bathe.

By the time Shitty emerges, absent-mindedly toweling his hair, Jack has undressed and stretched out on the bed expectantly. One arm is curled behind his own head and one leg sits at an angle to the other.

It’s as if he can see Shitty’s brain shut down and his body come online as he crawls onto the bed.

They lose themselves in sensation for a while, both of them hard but content to kiss and grasp each other close. Shitty whispers into Jack’s ear, though there’s no one else to hear, and moans when Jack shifts between his legs. They hadn’t done this in that unknown frat boy’s bed.

For all that Shitty rails against virginity and first-times as constructs and fantasies, Jack is also aware that Shitty is entering uncharted territory. Jack doesn’t need to take anything like the caution he’d used with Bitty, but he knows all the things Shitty won’t be aware of yet.

Perhaps the heightened emotion of the evening helps, but Jack really needn’t have worried. Shitty isn’t as enthusiastic or active as Bitty but he takes to Jack just as quickly. Sex with Shitty feels just like when they kiss: unembarrassed and free.

They laugh softly and talk through it right from when Jack is pressing into him with his fingers, to when Shitty is laughing in disbelief at how “fucking amazing, christingly blindingly huge, Jesus and Mary and the Holy Ghost that’s… fuck, that’s like, banging right on my fucking… Jesus pissing Christ, Jack. You’re good. Oh yeah, you big mighty fuck. Lemme get my ankles over that ass chriiiiiiiist…”

Jack has to clamp a hand on his mouth just to be able to keep going. Shitty keeps mumbling on anyway.

He can tell when it’s getting really good when Shitty goes quiet, closes his eyes and clings to him. Jack’s thighs are beginning to shake and he’s pouring sweat, and he has to let go. Instinct takes over and his hips snap to a rhythm of their own. Shitty presses both palms into the headboard and looks as if he’s about to pass out. Jack comes not long after him, slumping over with exhaustion and riding it out.

They spend the next half hour lying flat out next to each other, dozing in and out of consciousness. Shitty occasionally blurts out, “Fuck, that was a goddamn fuck,” or something similar. At one point he cries out, “Thank you, Eric Bittle!” which Jack makes laugh and mentally note to tell Bitty about tomorrow.

Once they’ve chugged water and been to the bathroom, Shitty spoons around Jack’s side and immediately falls sound asleep. Jack reaches over the bed to extricate his phone from his jeans and sees a text from Bitty at the top that reads, Don’t bother about checking these until he’s asleep, I just wanted to keep you updated on the Lardo front and a string of heart emojis.

Jack fends off exhaustion long enough to read them all: how Ransom and Holster had taken Lardo out immediately to get drunk and yell at undergrads until she wore herself out. How she’d power napped for an hour and awoken to spill out the entire story while they played Holster’s breakup playlist on the TV, and cuddled her from either side on the floor.

Jack smiles to himself and immediately feels inexplicably guilty, because Lardo was acting the way she always did after exam results went up. No matter what they were, she revelled in the fact that the waiting was over and she could just stop thinking about them.

Except the thing she was free of in this case was Jack’s best friend, lying exhausted and a total wreck beside him.

He feels guilty not because he thinks Lardo should feel guilty, but because he had trained himself to feel guilty when he’d experienced the same kind of relief at eighteen years-old over Kenny and the draft.

After refusing to let them go for so long and wallowing in the hurt and regret, Jack could never have imagined the soaring lightness when he finally allowed those possibilities out of his grasp. For so long he couldn’t even bring himself to feel bad about shutting Kenny out. The new high just felt too good.

Jack reaches over to plug in his phone before rolling over and tugging the covers over himself and Shitty.

Lardo and Shitty were never two emotionally-stunted male teammates. They never criss-crossed an unhealthy hunger for glory with testosterone and closeted homosexuality.

Lardo and Shits could never treat someone as badly as Kenny and I treated each other, Jack thinks to himself with relief and only a tiny amount of self-loathing.

Lardo is trying to keep Shitty in her life, not kick him out of it, was Jack’s barely coherent final thought before slipping into a deep sleep.

----

Bitty is finally coming out of his post-hangover rehydration enough to let Jack hold him without risk of being covered in puke.

He’d spent what was left of the previous night half-draped over Shitty and Jack’s legs, head lolling, one shoe still on and completely dressed. It was a testament to his curiosity that he’d woken up and followed Jack into the shower to catch up on the night’s events, voices hushed beneath the spray so as not to wake Shitty.

In the kitchen, Jack leans Bitty back against him. He watches with a sappy smile on his face as the color returns to Bitty’s lips and cheeks.

“Godda do bekfush.”

“Bits, you don’t have to do that.”

“Ah wannuh! Shiddy got his butt cherry popped! Issa celebrashun. Cherry pop. Haha, funny.”

He closes his eyes again and immediately falls asleep standing up. Jack tightens his arms around Bitty’s chest and smiles down on him.

How can someone who says ‘butt cherry’ look so angelic?

After a sixty-second power nap, Bitty is wide awake and bustling around the kitchen. Jack intentionally gets in his way just to kiss him on the head repeatedly and wind him up.

“Will you sit down, mister! Pancakes ain’t rocket science but they do require focus!”

Pancakes, coffee, and the newspaper are ready by the time they hear their bedroom door open.

Jack’s concerns that it’ll all be super weird the morning after are dispelled the moment Shitty emerges from the guest room and immediately kisses Jack on the neck.

At least he’d thought to put on Jack’s blue jeans.

“Thanks for the loan of your man, Bits,” are the first words out of Shitty’s mouth. He pulls Bitty against his naked chest and kisses the side of his head.

“By the by,” he whispers loudly, “mad amounts of extra respect for you after experiencing that for myself.”

He gestures directly to Jack’s crotch, making Bitty giggle.

“Well, I would say ‘any time’ Mr. Knight, but I’m normally pretty possessive of that,” Bitty waves a spatula at Jack’s crotch. “I would only approve administering it to you on a strictly emergency basis.”

Jack raises his hands helplessly at no one and places the New York Times protectively over his lap.

“Is it too soon to ask how you are?” Bitty coos gently as he ushers Shitty to sit at the kitchen island next to Jack, placing a stack of pancakes and a side of chopped fruit in front of him.

Shitty immediately grabs the littlest top pancake, rolls it up, and inserts it directly into his mouth. He chews pensively and relaxes back into his chair.

“I think… I think it’s gonna be okay. Lards, she uh--” he looks down momentarily at saying her name. “She said a lot of things that I couldn’t really process because of the um, mental breakdown I immediately started to have. But she’s right about all of it. She’s not someone to own. She doesn’t belong to me. She shouldn’t have to deal with my family. She doesn’t have to do anything she doesn’t want to.”

Shitty picks up the fruit bowl and begins to cram most of it into his mouth.

“Even if she does want to like, compromise for someone eventually, it wasn’t right with me. I was pulling all kinds of bullshit right under both our noses and I didn’t even know.”

He shudders a little before swallowing. “Now I know how much it was wrong, I gotta let it go. It doesn’t matter how much it hurts right now. It was all wrong. She would have been so unhappy.”

He looks up into Jack and Bitty’s kind supportive faces and manages a small smile.

“So I decided this morning I’m gonna head back to Harvard and just like, focus my sorry ass on classes and--”

“Nope, you’re staying here for next week,” Bitty immediately interrupts. “You can do all your work here. Jack’s on the road day after tomorrow and we might as well both miss that together.”

Shitty smiles watery and genuine up at him, taking one of Bitty’s hands and turning the smile to Jack as he kisses it.

Jack thinks it should be a little weird that they’re all having a moment after Bitty had gestured to Jack’s dick again, but nods along. He even winks at Shitty over his coffee cup as if to say Bits goes into Jam Mode when he doesn’t have anyone in the house with him to talk to and feed for more than three days, trust me this isn’t a pity invite.

An hour and a passed-out Shitty later, Jack is slumped over his crossed arms on the kitchen island watching Bitty putter around and tidy up. He’s exhausted but curious.

“So how long were you expecting this? Because everyone else had those two down for marriage and kids but you haven’t seem fazed at all.”

Bitty looks down and shrugs a little ruefully.

“You and she aren’t all that different when it comes to the signs that you’re not happy. And honey, she’s never been happy with him since he graduated. Neither of them were. Some things just don’t stay alive when you take ‘em out of their old habitat. What those two had was a couple a best friends doin’ a college romance and nothin’ more. That’s just a fact. They couldn’t stay pretending they were in that Haus forever.”

Jack is gazing up at him in that way he has, when Bitty is teaching him The Brand New Information. By now it just makes Bitty smile and trace a finger over the gray patch in Jack’s two-day beard.

“I would never tell Shitty this, hon, but when I called her last night she sounded lighter than she has in months.”

Bitty moves round the island to slot himself into Jack’s arm nook.

“Still sad and choked up every time she tried to mention him, but she sounded like that girl who’d just come back from Kenya. All brave and full of swagger. She woulda ended up hating Shitty, and Shitty woulda ended up hating himself if he’d taken that out of her. It was time they both started livin’ again and stopped tryin’ to go backwards.”

Jack nuzzles the side of Bitty’s head for a moment, so thoroughly content with Bitty like a small pillar of strength against him.

“I belong to you, you know,” he murmurs into Bitty’s hairline. “If you’d seemed even a little bit uncomfortable about last night I wouldn’t have done it. I know it sounds bad but you do kind of own me. I don’t just do whatever I want anymore as if it only affects me. I really like that. It’s… nice.”

Jack feels like he says it terribly but hopes the meaning comes through.

Bitty stares him full in the face, all dreamy eyes.

“Gosh. Sometimes I think what Me from ten years ago… heck, even three years ago, woulda felt if you said that and I’m all… Gosh.” He nuzzles himself around Jack’s side and sighs. “Same with me, sweetheart. I’m all yours.”

-----

Larissa knows she sounds utterly hysterical, but what is worth getting into hysterics about if not her own goddamn life?

“Compromise and compromise and more fucking compromise! Christ, Shits, when did it get like this?”

Larissa stalks around the sitting room like a cornered creature. She’s tugging off her stiff formal clothes as she talks and her nudity adds to the wild look of her.

“I shouldn’t have to spend even one goddamn second with people I hate! Not one, single, goddamn second. This isn’t my fucking job.”

Her voice screeches the word as she hurles each of her shoes at the wall, barely noticing Shitty quaking just beyond her red vision.

She stills for a moment, chest heaving and wild-eyed.

“I love you so, so much, Shits. I just…”

It breaks her heart that those words are the ones that break the string that’s been keeping Shitty alive. His entire body slumps as if he’s been wounded, despite remaining upright.

“It’s not supposed to be like this. I don’t deserve to be unhappy. Neither of us should be unhappy just because we’re getting older.”

Her voice is full of emotion but powerful as a weapon. Shitty has so much height and size on her, yet she stands in the middle of the room like a grim-faced general on a battlefield.

“I have to go. I’m so sorry. But I have to.”

-----

Jack: No panic Shitty’s just shown up and he’s in really a bad way. Lardo just broke it off. I would call you but I’m holding him.

Bitty excuses himself from the table momentarily.

Bitty: Oh darling, I am so so sorry do you want me to come home?

Jack: No I think. Bits I’m really scared bc I’ve seen him like this before. I know what to do but it’s going to sound so weird and I don’t want to put you in that--

Bitty starts typing before Jack can even finish.

Bitty: Sweetheart, I understand and I promise you with my whole heart I am okay with it. You give him whatever he needs. You two go so far back. Please don’t worry. It’s Shitty. I totally understand, I promise.

He follows it up with emojis to prove his sincerity.

Jack: Thank you Bits. I love you so much. Lards is with Ransom and Holster. Please stay out and have fun. Will fill you in later tonight. I love you so much.

Bitty gets chirped for the sentimental smile he has on his face when he returns to the table. It’s only Marty’s wife who leans close later and asks if everything is okay at home. Mom’s really do just know.

“I’m just really proud of us, is all. It’s kinda weird to say about what he texted me for but I really am so proud of us.”

He unconsciously holds his phone to his chest and ponders how essentially hiring out his boyfriend to his best friend during a crisis in less than a minute of discussion can make him feel more secure of their relationship.

But it does.