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Hide your love away

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Bitty wakes up from a pretty hazy dream about hockey and blue eyes, on his barely thread countable sheets (so soft now from over washing that he wouldn’t trade them) and wonders what might be in the fridge that he can scrounge up for breakfast.

 

Turns out there’s not much there.

 

He’s been spending so much time at work lately, after five frantic minutes at the closing grocery store on Tuesday night, chai tea powder and bruised bananas are all he managed to leave with. Which might be enough for an interesting smoothie, except that his blender’s on the fritz and he has no milk.

 

So Bitty pulls on his runners and compression tights and hits the pavement. Six quick miles later and he’s sweaty but awake, ready for coffee and a danish and maybe, if he’s feeling cheeky, a wink for the cute barista who always gives him an extra shot in his dirty chai. Said barista happens to put his name on the side of the cup with a sweet little heart and Bitty thinks maybe today will be a good day.

 

It turns out to be true enough, one of the senior staffers decides a year at Boston’s Google office is long enough for Bitty to be trusted to be part of her project team and that his PhD will be a nice bonus to the team’s credentials (and Bitty can’t argue with that) so he gets to finally be part of something that might positively impact a change in diversity and gender equality (hush now, a boy can dream). He calls Lardo to catch up on her and Shitty’s relationship drama and gets a serve of ‘why didn’t you go home with the gorgeous artist I hooked you up with at the gallery last weekend?’, a, ‘why do you let Shitty drag you to stupid bro-ey bars where he ends up getting into a fight and you, 5 foot 6 and 120 pounds at your best, end up carrying a 6 foot 180 pound man to his bedroom, where I have to throw him into the bath to sleep it off?’ and lastly, the ever fabulous, ‘Bitty, you need to really start putting yourself out there. That perfect man your looking for just doesn’t exist.’

    He loves Lardo, he does. And she and Shitty have been there for him for more than a decade, giving him a place to crash in Boston between trips overseas, suffering through his lack of direction career wise. Cheering him on when he decided to go back to University and do his doctorate. But sometimes, sometimes, she cuts a little too close to the bone.

    He hangs up with a series of kisses into the phone and then texts Shitty to warn him that Lards might be on the warpath (‘I told you no good would come from a bar named “The Lower Depths”, Shits…) and by six he’s met the rest of the team and they’re all smiling like sugared up five year olds in a bouncy castle at the prospect of this exciting new project.

 

To celebrate their success, and kick off some super important team bonding, Bitty is dragged out to Cathedral Station for cheap mojitos and sweaty guys in tight tee-shirts. Tash and Liam, Bitty has worked with before, Ramya has been on Bitty’s floor for the last six months and no one can equal his expertease in bad puns (they have a weekly competition) and Aliza is one of the nicest, most genuine people that Bitty has ever met, so even though today was their first introduction, they are inseparable as they make their way into the dimly lit, slightly neon, friendly, gay sports bar.

    ‘It’s not normally this dark in here,’ Liam yells over the sound of too many people watching too many different games and cheering wildly (and quite inappropriately) when their teams win/ lose/ get fucked over by the ref, ‘I think they’re doing like, special “Black Pride Week” festivities.’

‘Ooh, good timing! I wonder if we missed happy hour?’ Tash asks and they all take a minute to find the specials board and figure out just how cheaply they can get ridiculously inebriated tonight.

Which is how it gets just a little bit messy, just a little bit too early to be respectable.

And when Ramya points out that he sees a few of the Providence Falconers Ice Hockey team - in town for a game against Boston - things get even messier.

    ‘The who, what now?’ Aliza asks. And Bitty doesn’t judge her too harshly, she’s a dixie girl at heart, football is her drug of choice.

‘Is it weird that they’re in a gar bar though?’ Liam asks as Ramya goes into detail about the NHL for Aliza’s benefit, probably a little too enthusiastically, if her look of total  incomprehension is anything to by.

‘Nah, they do a lot more of those “You can Play” campaigns than any other team, they’re probably here for some good PR.’ Tash pipes in, swooning a little over their goalie, who’s sipping very daintily on a fishbowl of radioactive green slushie. And the conversation dives into something like:

‘Ooh, we should ask if we can get a photo or a sound bite for the boss.’

‘I’m not asking, you ask!’

‘Bitty, you should ask… didn’t you know some of those guys?’

And Bitty can’t really argue, because he does. Well. He did. Once upon a time. Ten years ago almost, the Falconer’s captain, probably the most highly decorated player currently playing in the league, was Bitty’s captain at Samwell University. Bitty had ridden through his undergrad degree on a full scholarship and his Captain, Jack Laurent Zimmermann, despite the fact he felt Bitty was a total team liability, had coached him through his debilitating fear of confrontation on the ice. Without Jack, Bitty would never have kept his scholarship (he knows that) so he tried awfully hard to not let Jack’s dislike and disdain get the better of him.

    It helped that Jack seemed to lighten up a little in Bitty’s second year. That they found a little more time to bond, just the two of them. That they could work through school projects together. But then Jack had graduated and went to play for the Falconers, and Bitty had practically never heard from him again.

 

Bitty spots Alexei Mashkov at the bar and thinks he might be able to strike up a conversation with him. Tater had once come to the house with Jack, probably the last time Bitty had even seen Jack to be honest, and he thought he could squeeze some news out of him, even if completely off the record and only about how Jack might be doing (he always looked so sad and serious in his post game interviews)

But before he gets very far Bitty can feel eyes on him. He turns to find Jack watching him and takes a sharp turn in his direction. Bitty had always felt a strangely gravitational pull to Jack, something he was too embarrassed to speak of, but was sure everybody could see. A pull that kept him awake at night, long after Jack had graduated. A pull that got easier to ignore the further Jack ran from any of his simple Samwell friends and towards a life of money and fame and scantily clad women. A life that the idea of Bitty most assuredly didn't have a place in. Jack is, of course, looking just as good as ever… if not a little older, a little bulkier maybe, sharper features. It was hard to tell in the crappy bar lighting, but Bitty had (and you can’t quote him on this, please) studied a few of the racier ESPN spreads for any change in those ice blue eyes and the anger that always seemed to be waiting there. It’s present now, burning into Bitty as he takes steps towards Jack’s orbital field, afraid and not at all ready, to get sucked into it once again.

 

 

~~•••~~

 

 

 

Jack has been watching the beautiful blond since he glided through the door with friends in tow. Confident, stunning, graceful, the embodiment of all the reasons Jack should never have come into a bar like this. He shouldn’t be watching him. The guys will notice. He wishes he’d talked them into going to a regular sports bar - where the women were approachable and the men weren’t tempting. Jack could always find and use a stranger there to pretend that he wasn’t lonely - if only for a night, at least an hour (he had meant to completely ignore the fact that Poots had slipped a packet of lube and four condoms in his pocket {Jack had raised an eyebrow at four, and Poots had just winked at him in reply}). But here, here, everyone available is off limits to Jack.

When the blond starts walking towards him, smile on his face like the warmth of the sun and says, ‘Well, Jack Zimmermann, as I live and breathe.’ Jack knows he is done for. ‘Gracious, if you aren’t just the handsomest thing.’

‘Hi, you… you too, I mean, you…’

‘Are you okay, honey?’ The man says, all sweetened concern (and there’s a hint of something in that voice, something smooth and safe and genuine) and Jack is flustered enough that he’s blushing, but not so much that he’s speechless.

‘Sorry, I’m terrible at this,’ He says, and hopes that the festive UV lighting in the bar will hide his embarrassment.

‘What’s that?’ the man asks, laughing, ‘human interaction? Non robotic speech patterns?’ and Jack would take offense except that it’s said with such a pleasant teasing tone, and that smile, that he doesn’t. He can’t.

‘Pretty much, yes.’ Jack agrees and that smile becomes even softer, even warmer, and Jack is lost to it. ‘Both, I would say.’

‘Did you want to go somewhere a bit quieter to catch up? You could buy me a drink mister big-shot-hockey-star.’ Jack’s mind spins for a second, probably because all the blood has rushed to his pants, and he closes his eyes to the vertigo.

 

Does he want to buy him a drink? Does he want to go somewhere ‘quiet’. The answer is fuck yes he does. But he shouldn’t. Crisse, he shouldn’t.

‘Or not, Jack, we don’t have to,’ the guy says with concern, hand on Jack’s forearm ‘I didn't mean to put you on the spot.’ His eyes are gentle but bright, with a centre like liquid fire and Jack is losing his grasp on rationality. ‘Mostly I just wanted to come and say hello.’ The touch sears into Jack’s skin like a brand and he allows that sensation to answer for him, to be his compass.

‘Let’s go,’ he says, grabbing his prize by the wrist and all but dragging him out of the main room.

‘Jack, Jack! Where are we going?’

‘Somewhere quiet,’ he says, clipped, barely managing to focus with the enormity of what he’s doing.

‘Okay… you don’t need to say goodbye to anyone?’

‘Nope.’

‘Still usually the first to bail, huh?’ he says with a chuckle and Jack smiles back because it’s true, even if it’s not his favourite Jack Zimmermann trivia fact. The impression that the guy seems to find it endearing and not boring is new though, it calms Jack enough that he smiles a little wider and gets a gorgeously blushing smile in return.

He pushes through the crowds towards the back of the club where the lights are slightly less demonising, looking over his shoulder at the wide brown eyes staring back at him, framed by dark lashes and a tanned, faintly freckled face. A strong jawline, full lips, and a sharp, delicate nose complete such striking features, Jack wonders if he looks so familiar because he’s a model. It makes sense, certainly it would be a crime not to immortalise that face. He wishes the lighting in the club wasn’t still so poor, wishes the fluorescents in the bathroom hadn’t been tagged over so prolifically, wishes he hadn’t had so many shots that really, it’s just his vision (brain) that’s failing him now.

 

Jack drags the stranger through and into the stall at the end of the bathroom. At least this club is nice enough that the bathrooms are clean. Honestly, these stalls are probably used for sex way more often than for actual legitimate reasons. Hes not sure if that makes him less or more of a shithead for what he’s doing. He’s not even sure what he’s thinking, taking this poor guy into the back of the club for what? A quick hand job? Just to bite into him and leave a mark he can get off to for another lonely year of faceless puck bunnies? Good plan, Jack. Way to think ahead...

 

But Jack is ready to throw that little voice of reason to the wolves. He’s sick of expectations, and not living up to them. He’s sick of feeling less than what he was meant for. Tonight he’s being as true to himself as he has in as long as he can even remember. This man, this stranger, is someone he wants, and he’s going to have him. Jack needs to remember what it feels like, what it means, to give in to that want and bask in it. Even if just for a moment.

 

‘Jack?’ his companion breathes carefully, looking around within the stall, seemingly confused, ‘what are we…?’ his question fades before it's asked and Jack doesn’t answer, just reaches out a hand. It’s taken, without hesitation, and he closes around that hand, pulls it’s owner towards him and settles his own hands around a small waist. Small, but strong, he can feel the muscle beneath the surface, feel the hardness of the body beneath the sweater and tight jeans. Those eyes, so full of light, are staring up at him now with something like astonishment. Jack feels a need to clarify his intentions.

‘I think you’re beautiful,’ Jack whispers, and the man swallows, but remains silent. ‘I thought you were the most beautiful person in that room tonight.’

‘You did?’ he whispers back and Jack nods.

‘Can I kiss you?’ Jack asks, looking down into those eyes and holding their gaze. Lifting a hand to run a thumb across that full, pink, bottom lip. He gets an enthusiastic nod in reply as his partner's eyes widen even further and then close delicately as Jack reaches down to press against his mouth. Just a light pressure, inviting pressure in return, and he gets it, lips opening to let him in, tongue sweeping gently against the tip of his own, toes stretching up so the body can reach for Jack, cling to him as hands roam across his chest and then up to circle around his neck.

Jack, for his part, pushes further into the wet heat of that mouth, biting at the bottom lip as his hands travel down to cup the man’s tight ass and hoist it up, spinning them both around and crowding his partner into the door. They kiss and kiss for a minute longer before Jack pulls back and asks for more.

‘Can I suck you?’ he whispers into an open mouth and is once again given the nod, though a little more reluctantly this time, with something of dazed wonder to accompany it. Jack wastes no time letting go of his hold and dropping to his knees (he’ll be sorry for that tomorrow. Sorry for a lot of things, he’s sure). He lifts his partner’s sweater to kiss and bite softly at the toned, tanned stomach beneath it. His nose nuzzling slightly at the trail of fine blond hair that leads down into the waistband of those tight, black jeans (and jesus, he even smells like sunshine). He undoes the button and zip of the fly and pulls the jeans down to the man’s mid thigh, gripping the waistband of his grey briefs with his fingertips and drawing them slowly down to free the smooth, velvety, fully erect penis, uncut and perfect, waiting for him there.

He doesn’t dare look back into a face that might hold more than Jack is willing to reciprocate, so he focuses instead on stroking his tongue and his hand along the length, running his finger across the sensitive skin behind and beneath and then back along the length, to a shiver of delight, before wrapping his mouth around and swallowing as much as he can. Hands tighten in his hair and the pleasure pulses down through his own erection. Soft cries of ‘Jack, oh god, Jack,’ ring through him as the pain of that grip is just enough to shoot down Jack's spine like delicious lightning. He savors the taste, the smell of this beautiful man, holding on with enough effort that Jack can feel the thick thighs against him trembling. Until Jack is barely able to control the push and pull of his mouth, his hand, his tongue, it all becomes erratic and he wrestles himself away to stand back up and cup the man’s face.

‘Can I…’ he whispers, struggling to enunciate himself in English, ‘Can I fuck you?’

He leans back and watches for any hesitation, careful that in his inebriated state he doesn’t mistake silence for consent, and worries, when no answer is forthcoming, that maybe he has pushed too far. Just as he begins to pull away, he’s clung to by sure hands. They grip at his hips and pull him back in.

‘Yes, Jack,’ the man says, peering up at him.

‘Are you sure?’ he asks, though he can hear conviction both in his words and his actions.

‘Please…’ and that plea thrusts Jack into activity.

 

Jack, with some force, turns the man around and fumbles the packet of Sylk from his jacket pocket, ripping it open with his teeth and coating his fingers before stroking them along the ring of muscle that he’s been aching to touch. He wraps one hand around his partner’s chest and holds him close, leaning over to bite along that strong jaw, down to the soft skin of his throat, hard enough to leave a mark. Hard enough and long enough to distract from the stretch of his fingers until he has three inside. Jack wants to make sure he isn’t too rough. He really only ever does this to himself. It’s been so long, so, so long since he’s done this with anyone else (anyone who could properly appreciate it anyway, anyone who had a prostate to stimulate with slicked up hands and a delicately crooked finger).

‘You don’t have to be so gentle, Jack,’ comes the slightly teasing rebuff over a muscled shoulder, ‘I promise, I won’t break.’ And Jack loses control at the glint in those warm, brown eyes, ripping at his fly, at the condom, rolling it on and sliding himself into the tightness against him. With his free hand he strokes his partners still rock hard cock, fingers slick and slippery. He clutches tighter with his other hand, biting down again on the sensitive skin beneath his lips, licking at it with his tongue to make up for the sharp pain.

‘Kiss me again, Jack, please.’

And Jack knows he shouldn’t but, crisse, how he wants to. Finding that mouth open for him, reaching for him, he presses into it, breathing his pleasure into it before letting go of everything inside him that is kept so rigidly locked away. He rocks with the body beneath him, lifting the man off the ground to pound harder and harder into his softness as he pushes back against Jack, that force welcomed and celebrated. He feels the orgasm build inside him, heating him up and breaking over him, finally crashing and pulsating his release into the condom, over and over as he similarly senses his partner’s come run over his fingers. He holds on even tighter as they gasp through the aftershocks and kiss again, coming down.

 

They seperate after a minute, as they must, and lean back off the door, the man reluctant to release Jack as he pulls away (there’s not far to go).

‘Fuck, Jack. I think I’ve been dreaming about that for ten years.’ He says with a self-conscious laugh, and god, Jack can hear something of an accent there. Like syrup, drawn out, lazy vowels. It niggles at him, but he’s too high to think. Too overwhelmed to do much but smile at the contentment he hears there.

‘Long time fan, eh?’ He says in reply, aiming for light but perhaps failing, if the returned confused expression is anything to go by. ‘Sorry, I wasn’t…’ he lets that thought go unfinished as he ties off the condom and hitches his pants. The other man scrambles to pull up his own clothes and set them to rights, as Jack wipes his hands with a piece of tissue.

 

And suddenly it's awkward. Should he ask for a number and pretend he’s going to call? Maybe it wouldn’t be a lie in this case. If he lives locally, perhaps they could catch up again? In secret of course. Crisse, he doesn’t even know the guy’s name.

‘I um, can I get your number?’ He asks, annoyed at the timidity in his voice. He pulls his phone out and unlocks it, swiping to his contacts and pressing ‘add new’. He looks up into the now curious, slightly worried eyes of the complete stranger he’s just fucked and feels foolish at his own carelessness, ‘I’m sorry I didn’t even, um... I never actually got your name?’

And Jack watches in confusion as the stranger’s expression morphs from curiosity to understanding to horror, falling apart right in front of him before taking a deep breath and turning to stone.

‘I have to go,’ he says stiffly, moving towards the door.

‘Wait-’ Jack reaches out, ‘-at least tell me your name?’

‘This was an awful mistake, I’m sorry, I can’t… I have to go.’  And like that, he’s gone. Just slams through the doors and never looks back. Jack slinks back into the club, doesn’t say goodbye to anyone, catches a cab and retreats to his hotel room. He cards himself in and slides to the floor against the back of the door, probably making a mess of his jacket. He briefly wonders if he needs to contact PR, if he needs to give the assistant manager a heads up about a potential scandal, but decides, no. This whole night is best forgotten. Buried away where he won’t find it again. So, as with everything else that doesn’t fit into the neat little picture of Jack’s life, he ignores it and hopes that, with time, the longing, the worry, will all go away.

 

Eventually it almost, sort of does.

 

Until months later, at Chowder’s wedding, Chowder who played on his team in college (a team he left behind a long time ago) and whom he catches up with whenever the Falconers play the Sharks (Chris Chow is, in Jack’s opinion, the best goalie in the league) he sees the face he had tried so desperately to forget, attached to a suit, clinging to that beautiful body, waistcoat accentuating every muscle that Jack had gripped so tightly. He watches as the man is dragged reluctantly towards him by Shitty (Shitty, who, also on his college hockey team, he hasn’t seen in years) who holds him towards Jack like a gift.

‘Jack!’ Shitty cries.

‘Shitty,’ he nods distractedly, eyes only for the man at his side.

‘Well?’ Shitty asks, spinning the man around as if on display (and Jack thinks he looks like he’s about to bolt, like a terrified animal, at any second) ‘doesn’t our Bitty look absolutely stunning all grown up?’ And Jack looks again at the man, at his sharp cheekbones and strong jaw, at his delicate nose and scattered freckles, at his blond hair, short but styled somewhat extravagantly, and the tight, slight build of his waist and shoulders. Familiar but different. Older, sharper, almost unrecognisable. But it’s the eyes, brown and honeyed and usually so full of warmth, now cold and accusing, that really shock him into remembrance.

‘Oh fuck,’

‘Hello to you too, Jack.’ Bitty says. And Jack barely makes it to the bathroom before losing it completely.



 




Chapter Text

 

 

           How was it possible he hadn't recognised him? How could that possibly have been Bitty? The beautiful stranger that had been haunting Jack for months was Eric Bittle. His Bittle.

           No.

           Not his.

           Jack had so steadfastly never allowed himself to want him… to believe there was a future where he and Bittle could be something...

 

           But he sees it all now, everything that had drawn him in so completely that night. The greeting, the honeyed voice, the warmth, that smile. How could he not have recognised him? He should have known it, the second Bitty had slid into the club, the second he'd felt that ache in his lungs, like there wasn’t enough air… If he was honest, the real reason Jack had run so fast from Bitty (and the rest of the team, by extension) all those years ago, was that he couldn’t become the Jack Zimmermann he needed to be if he couldn’t even breathe.

 

           If only he’d known then, that Jack Zimmermann, star hockey Captain, NHL legacy, was just a lonely, angry, sorry excuse for a human being. A shell. A robot. And so sad, just, all the time. He wished, so often, he could have grabbed that stupid, selfish, somehow less fucked-up version of himself and said ‘kiss him, you idiot! Run back to that ridiculous house, grab him by the shirtfront and tell him the truth!’

 

           But he hadn’t. Instead, he’d suffocated the thought until it didn’t exist anymore.

 

           So, no. He hadn’t recognised Bitty. Bitty had said he’d been dreaming about Jack for ten years. Since before graduation. And then he'd fallen to pieces, while Jack stood there, confused, like a fucking, wall of stupidity, and let him get away.

 

           How was he going to get up and leave this room. And Crisse, how was he stuck in a fucking bathroom of all places? Why had every significantly life ruining moment happened to him on a cold tiled floor? (Too many pills taken with too much booze and Jack’s burning head had relished that cold tile. And afterwards knowing, he could never let go like that again). How could he go out there and face any of them, after what Bitty must have told them? After what Jack had done to him?

 

           How?

 

 

~~•••~~

 

 

           Bitty has spent the last four months trying to get over whatever that was. The effort was a little half assed, he’d be the first to admit. There is something infinitely pleasing about allowing yourself to wallow. And consume calories like it’s a contest. But alas, Bitty had work, a brand new project to sink his teeth into (and try to ignore the teeth marks in his shoulder), a boss to impress (and not worry about what he could have or should have done to impress anyone else), a team to wrangle (and thank god for them, honestly, they were so hopelessly wonderful, they kept him busy enough to drown out the heartache). And surely, Jack Zimmermann, he of the fancy pro hockey team and no contact with the plebs from Samwell, he whom his friends barely spoke of but to wonder, he who had ground them all to dust in his memories, wouldn’t be going to Chowder’s wedding. Right?

 

           And at the rehearsal dinner, in the gorgeous Mountain Winery outside San Jose, Bitty had managed not to choke on his pear and goats cheese tart when Chris had casually thrown it into the conversation, three nights (three freakin’ nights, Christopher Franklin Chow!) before the wedding.

            ‘Chowder! When have you even… why would you...I didn’t even realise the two of you were still in contact?’

            ‘Oh, well me and Jack. We catch up sometimes after our games.’ Chowder tried to look innocent, but Bitty just raised a perfectly sculpted brow and stared him down. ‘And I never.. Well I didn’t think… I figured it would be better not to say anything?’

            ‘Until I was already on the wrong side of the country and it would be too late for me to back out.’

            ‘Well it doesn’t sound good when you say it like that’

            Bitty just shook his head at his poor sweet boy. And took a breath. And used his epic reserves of southern charm to pat Chowder on his sports coat clad shoulder with a little, ‘bless your heart honey,’ and a rueful smile.

 

            So now Bitty stands, watching his old captain flee the scene, torn between petty victory and bitter disappointment.

            ‘What the hell!’ Shitty cries into the empty space of a hockey legend. ‘What the actual fucking, fuck?’

            ‘Ahh…’

            ‘Fuck, I better go after him,’

            ‘No, Shitty, let me.’

           Shitty gives him a strange look but gestures for him to go ahead. Bitty can see contemplation there, but no questions are asked, and Bitty adds another tick to the ‘I love Shitty’ column he keeps filed away for introspective purposes. Even after 10 years, there’s very few marks in the ‘Shitty is an asshole’ column. A testament to his friend’s greatness.

 

           Bitty tries not to fidget as he follows Jack’s path to the bathrooms. Chris and Caitlin really had picked a beautiful venue for the day. And so far Bitty has squirmed and shallow breathed his way through it, no appreciation for Caitlin’s magnificent dress, or the B-list press hounding them for photos, or Chris’s look of abject terror at somehow not being as perfect a husband as he was sure Caitlin was going to be a wife. Bitty had sat through it all and clutched at his own hands, torn between desperately wanting Jack to disappear or to notice and recognise Bitty and be overwhelmed.

 

           And so he opens the door to the men’s toilets slowly and carefully.

 

            Jack is sitting on the floor with his knees up and his head resting on the wall he’s pressed against.

            ‘Jack.’ Bitty isn’t loud, but neither is he gentle. Jack doesn’t deserve that from him. Jack looks down slowly from the ceiling to Bitty’s face and his expression is pained. He lets out a ragged breath and Bitty’s heart hurts for him, just a little.

            ‘Bittle.’ It’s low and raspy and it's everything Bitty wished Jack had said on that crazy night four months ago. The night that Bitty had lost all sense of self preservation and given in to fantasy. And been crushed by the reality waiting for him. Laughing at him.

            ‘You can’t hide in here forever.’

            ‘I can’t go out there.’

            ‘It’s an open bar, Jack, I imagine it’s gonna get pretty messy in here before long.’ Jack huff's a laugh at that. ‘And you don’t want some asshole pap coming in here and getting a scoop on Hockey’s favourite Captain.’ Which flips a switch in Jack as his body snaps upright and his eyes clear to focus.

 

           Ah, still the same old Jack, nothing motivates better that the threat of a scandal. But he doesn’t quite make it up off the floor.

           ‘I have to... I owe you...’ Jack awkwardly stutters around what he’s trying to say.

           ‘You owe me a lot of things Jack Zimmermann, not falling apart on me, in the bathroom of one of my best friends weddings, is the least of them.’ Jack gives him a pitifully attempted glare.            ‘Come on, up you get.’

 

           They sneak out of the bathrooms and Bitty leads the way to his car (Jack had taken a taxi, having flown to San Jose).

           ‘Is this, is this still Shitty’s car?’

           ‘It is.’

           ‘And you. You and He…’

           ‘We drove here. Together.’

           ‘But youre not?’

           ‘What? Fucking?’ Jack grimaces at the word. ‘Not that it’s any of your business Jack, but no. Shitty and I are friends. He’s one of my best friends. He’s the right winger on my line-’

           ‘-You still play?’ and that seems to pique Jack’s interest.

           ‘Yeah, we play for the New England Senior league.’

           ‘You’re not seniors…’ he frowns.

           ‘It’s just a beer league, Jack.’

           ‘You guys any good?’ And of course that would matter to Jack Zimmermann.

           ‘Yes, Jack, we won the trophy this year. Get in the darn car.’ Jack raises an eyebrow but otherwise does as he’s told. Bitty shoots a quick text to Shitty and Chowder to let them know he’s leaving with Jack, and the car (neither of them seem surprised, and Bitty isn’t sure how to take that) and sets the GPS on his phone to take Jack back to the hotel.

 

           It’s a thirty minute drive.

 

           It’s dusk, and Bitty would appreciate the salmon hugh of the clouds over California with more enthusiasm if they weren’t making it so hard to see the road. Lights on? Off? He hates driving at dusk.

           ‘Why are you doing this?’

           ‘Hmm?’ Bitty glances at Jack, keeping one eye on the road, and finds him staring at Bitty, looking completely lost.

           ‘Why are you helping me… after what… what happened?’

           ‘Because you’re my friend, Jack.’ To which Jack just shakes his head. But Bitty nods to correct him. ‘You were my captain once, and you dragged me up out of the hole I had dug myself into.’ He can see Jack pinching the bridge of his nose in his periphery, and it still manages to grate, that Jack doesn’t give him the credit to believe him.

 

           He pulls the car over to the shoulder of the road; crashing Shitty’s car and killing them both, would be a slightly overly dramatic end to the evening. He switches off the ignition and turns in his seat to face Jack.

            ‘I can give you a pretty definitive list of all the things that make you an asshole if you like.’ Bitty offers and when Jack stares back at him hopelessly, Bitty lists them off on his fingers. ‘You’re selfish. Prone to jealousy. Emotionally stunted,’ he raises an eyebrow in Jack’s direction to highlight that one, ‘you disappeared on us when you moved to Providence and forgot about us so wholeheartedly that you didn’t even recognise me when we met in that club.’ Jack’s face is a picture of pain now and Bitty gets a small thrill from it. ‘And then you fucked me in that bathroom, bringing every dream I’d ever had about you to life, only to smash it into the ground and spit on it when i realised you had no idea who I was.’

            ‘Tabarnak.’ Jack curses, burrowing into his seat.

            ‘You know I’d never done anything like that before, Jack?’

            ‘Please don’t’

            ‘Had you, Jack?’

            ‘Jesus, Bittle,’ he says, morose, closing his eyes and tipping his head against the headrest. The massive physical presence of him in the rather small car is not enough to distract Bitty from his anger.

            ‘How many times have you taken some poor boy into that bathroom and fucked him up against the flimsy cubicle door?’

            Jack’s eyes snap to Bitty’s, ‘Never.’

            ‘Never?’ Bitty scoffs.

           ‘Never, Bittle. None before you.’ And something in his voice, in his expression, convinces Bitty that that’s a truth.

           ‘No boys, huh?’

           ‘No.’

           ‘But plenty of poor girls.’ Bitty states, and drives that knife home. Jack just sighs his answer and turns away.

 

            Bitty takes a moment to gather himself, then unfastens his seatbelt and turns his whole body towards Jack. ‘Why me?’

            Jack watches Bitty a little warily before he answers. ‘I didn’t lie to you that night, Bittle.’

            Bitty frowns his confusion.

            ‘You were the most beautiful person in that club.’ He’s looking at Bitty again, something fierce in his expression. It’s too dark in the car for Bitty to see his eyes, but he knows what they look like, can imagine the cold hardness of that ice blue stare. ‘You were the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.’ The intensity of him is a tangible thing. ‘You still are, Bits. You always have been.’

            ‘That’s so unfair, Jack.’

            ‘I’m sorry,’ Bitty can feel him shift back, giving Bitty space. And he doesn’t like it. He knows what that intensity feels like now and he craves it.

            ‘I hate…’ Bitty swallows, and tries to find his point, ‘I hate that you can do this to me, Jack.’

            ‘I never meant to, Bits, I never meant to hurt you.’

            ‘You didn’t care enough not to, though,’ Bitty says, and it’s not a question.

            ‘I guess not.’ Jack whispers and slumps back into his seat.

            ‘You forgot.’ Bitty says it softly and Jack doesn’t bother to respond. ‘After you left us, you forgot how to be a person.’ Jack sort of nods, his head still resting against the seat. ‘You forgot how to be happy.’ Jack snorts, but its derisive and not at all a disagreement.

            ‘Yeah,’ is all he says.

            ‘Why?’

            ‘I thought it’s what I’d have to do,’ he murmurs, ‘To be good.’

Bitty waits a beat before he speaks again.

            ‘I want to hate you, but I feel too sad for you, Jack.’

            ‘Don’t worry, Bittle.’ Jack says, with an awful laugh, ‘I hate me enough for both of us.’

            ‘Don’t you do that, Jack Zimmermann.’ Bitty says, leaning towards Jack over the stick shift. ‘Don’t.’

            ‘What?’ Jack asks, pulling back.

            ‘Don’t you hate yourself.’

            ‘Bittle,’ Jack starts, surprised and confused by the outburst.

            ‘That’s what got you in this mess in the first place.’ He places a warm hand against Jack’s cold cheek and feels the stubble there. ‘You could be a good man, Jack, You have so much potential.’ he strokes his thumb, just a little, across Jack’s cheek. Jack is watching him, captivated. ‘Don’t be this guy.’

            ‘I’m not sure how not to be.’

 

           Bitty makes a dangerous decision. A split second, insane decision. He slides over the centre console of Shitty’s crappy old Chevy Spark and eases into Jack’s lap. Jack watches with concern, but no obvious consternation.

            ‘You think I’m beautiful.’

            ‘Yes.’ He nods.

            ‘You enjoyed… it felt… good. To be inside me?’

            ‘Fuck,’ Jack breathes, ‘yes.’ And nods again

            ‘But you don’t want anybody to know that, about you.’ Bitty guesses, and Jack sighs again and bumps his forehead against Bitty’s shoulder.

            ‘No. I don’t.’

            ‘Why?’

            ‘Because it would… make it hard. To play hockey.’

            ‘And hockey is more important than you being happy?’

            ‘I don’t know how to be happy without hockey.’

            ‘Are you happy now, Jack? With hockey?’

            Jack sighs again, this time, with total resignation. ‘No.’

            Bitty pushes Jack’s shoulders back gently so that he’s facing him.

            ‘Would it be so bad, Jack, to try something crazy, and just see what happens?’ Bitty is close enough to see the sadness in those eyes. ‘Would you really lose something worth keeping, if you have to feel like this to have it?’

            Jack is staring at him, seeing him, properly, for the first time in a long while. Bitty can read it, in his expression, even as the sun sets behind them.

            ‘I don’t know.’

 

           Bitty leans into Jack, this time it’s his turn to take control, this time it’s his turn to surprise Jack, and he tilts his lips up into Jack’s, pressing into the softness of his mouth. He uses his lips to fit against Jack and chase the warmth and moisture there, to pull gently at Jack’s bottom lip and use his teeth to claim him. He reaches up, just a little with his tongue, and then deeper as he feels Jack’s hands around his hips, feels the size of them coast behind his back and then cross each other as Jack grips Bitty tighter and tugs him closer.

 

           He pulls away from the kiss though, a little shell shocked, gripping even tighter with his arms, as if his mind is fighting against his body.

            ‘Is this a good idea, Bits?’

            ‘I don’t know,’ Bitty echoes Jack’s earlier sentiment with a smile. ‘Do you want this?’

            ‘Oui. Oui, je fais.’ And sweet baby Jesus, that voice. Bitty’s fantasies had never quite gotten that accent right. He chases Jack’s mouth to kiss into it fiercely, and Jack doesn’t hesitate to respond, arching up into Bitty with his hips, enough that Bitty can feel how hard he is already.

           ‘Don’t think this means you don’t still owe me, Mister.’ Bitty says between the gasping, sucking, biting, licking of their mouths together. Jack shakes his head without interrupting the work of their lips and Bitty follows him. ‘I fully intend to take that out of you.’

           ‘I think I’m okay with that Bittle,’ Jack says and adds a, ‘crisse,’ as Bitty rolls his hips down into Jack’s lap this time.

 

           Bitty makes sure to spend time easing Jack’s suit jacket off his shoulders. This time he wants to see Jack, to feel him. There’s no tie, so Bitty dives right into undoing each of Jack’s shirt buttons with his deft fingers, sliding his hands into the opening that creates and pushing back the fabric to expose Jack’s glorious chest. Silently thanking Jack’s Canadian constitution for the absence of an undershirt, Bitty traces the definition of Jack’s enhanced muscles (oh, hockey, you are good for something) while Jack watches him, pupils dilated, eyes heavy, breathing ragged, still allowing Bitty to keep all the control. He leans back in to press against Jack, unbuttoning his own waistcoat and throwing it to the drivers side. Bitty reaches down to lift the latch on the chair and push it back as far and reclined as it will go.

           ‘Touch me, Jack.’ he whispers into Jack’s mouth and Jack wastes no time obeying. Not bothering to undo Bitty’s buttons but ripping his shirt open (that’s okay he has his emergency sewing kit in the trunk) and wrapping his hands around Bitty’s obliques.

           ‘How are you this perfect?’ Jack asks, eyes wide at Bitty’s bare chest and Bitty can feel the blush creep into his cheeks, shaking his head. Jack tears the shirt off Bitty’s arms and tosses it away, unbuckling first the belt at Bitty’s waist and then the fly of his pants. Bitty gets his hands under Jack’s arms and uses every ounce of strength he has to lift Jack and switch their positions in a graceful sort of spin (Bitty had lifted many a man in his figure skating days) and Jack is staring at him with a sort of wonderment as Bitty skates as far back into the seat as he can, pushes at Jack’s shoulders and directs Jack to his lap.

           ‘Suck me.’ Bitty says with a conviction he hopes is convincing (Jack’s expression seems to suggest it is). And as Jack drags his underwear down and licks up the length of Bitty’s cock, slides it into his hot mouth, hollows his cheeks to pull at Bitty tightly, Bitty humms into the pleasure of it. Even greater still is the knowledge that Jack is not just playing with him. It’s not a game this time. Even before he’d realised Jack could hurt him so terribly, last time, he’d known it wasn’t genuine. Nobody hauls you off to the bathroom of a club if they really like you, if it’s going to mean something.

But this. This means something. They’re both aware of the consequences this time. And Jack is watching Bitty. Bitty looks down at the sight of Jack, on his knees, half in and out of the too small footwell, lips pulled tight around Bitty, his hand stroking the length that wont fit in his mouth, his eyes full of a light that had been missing there for so long, since before Jack had left them for Providence. Since they had sat and drank coffee together and kicked each others feet under the table. And Bitty slides his hands into Jack’s hair and tugs at it, watches Jack’s eyes close at the sensation, feels him groan with want, and smiles.

           This will change everything.

 

 

~~•••~~

 

 

           Bitty’s fingers digging into Jack’s hair and pulling, just hard enough to hurt, grounds Jack into the moment. It exacerbates the sensation of Bitty, the taste of him, his beauty. And the look on Bitty’s face, the absolute bliss there, the ownership, it drives Jack into a frenzy. He pushes himself up into Bitty until he can feel Bitty against the back of his throat and then pulls back, sucking and stroking with his tongue as he does, captivated by the sounds escaping Bitty with every effort Jack makes.

 

           This is different. This is so different from anything Jack has ever felt before, a connection Jack can almost feel, pulling tight between them, strengthening with every thrust of Bitty’s hips into Jack’s mouth, with every stroke of Jack’s tongue and cheeks, with the look in Bitty’s eyes as he watches Jack watch him. They both have an idea what this means. And it’s so much more than Jack has ever let himself believe he could have, could deserve. But if Bitty wants it, Jack will give it to him. Because if this is what it feels like to make Bitty happy, then Jack is pretty willing to spend the rest of his life chasing this feeling.

 

            ‘Jack, honey, I’m… I’m so close,’ Bitty breathes, and the tightening of Bitty’s fingers in Jack’s hair urges Jack up to bury Bitty in his mouth, and Bitty comes with a moan and a heat that slides down Jack’s throat and tastes so sweet and right, he licks what he can’t swallow right off Bitty’s skin. ‘Come here, you.’ Bitty drawls with a smile, and the honeyed laziness in his voice is so Bitty, so familiar it settles into his chest like a low flame, comforting and precious. He pulls Jack up to lay against him and kisses into his mouth, no doubt tasting himself there. He slides his soft warm hands down Jack’s bare chest leaving a static charge on Jack’s skin, and slips his hand under the waistband of Jack’s suit pants and underwear to stroke down the length of Jack’s cock. Jack is so hard, the precome is enough for Bitty to get some slickness, and the return of his hand to his mouth, a long, languid lick across his palm, gets him the rest of the way there, so that Jack feels nothing but pleasure as Bitty’s hands runs along him, his thumb brushes against Jack’s head and he gasps into Bitty’s open mouth. Bitty smiles wickedly and leans down to sink his teeth into Jack’s shoulder, sucking at the skin to leave a mark and licking at the bruise. Jack understands this is just Bitty getting him back, but fuck, it feels so good.

 

           It’s scary how much he loves this.

 

           But it’s just as Bitty had said. He’d been the Captain of the Falconers for four years now. He’d led them to two Stanley cups. And none of it had made him properly happy. None of it had felt the way he’d expected victory to feel. But this. This was like a happiness Jack had never experienced. The idea that Bitty could know him, really know him, everything awful and wrong in him, all his neurosis and jealousies and selfishness, and still want him to be happy, want to make him happy, it felt how winning should feel.

 

           And if he could have this, could feel this, could feel it with Bitty, could have Bitty with him, would it really matter if he couldn’t have hockey?

 

           And could he just say fuck you to anyone who would try to tell him he couldn’t have both?

 

           Probably not yet. But maybe he could learn to.

 

           He looks into the warm amber of Bitty’s wide, brown eyes, sees the flush in his cheeks and the freckles across his nose and kisses him, because he can. He feels Bitty smile against him and smiles back, before Bitty twists his wrist and slips his other hand down to stroke the skin behind Jack’s balls and Jack cries out as he comes in Bitty’s hand. Bitty kisses and kisses Jack again before reaching over to find something in the glove compartment to clean his hands. He helps Jack pull himself together, right his pants, buckle his belt, and lets Jack return the favour.

 

            He plucks the shirt from the seat beside him and looks it over. ‘This shirt has looked better.’ He holds it up for closer inspection and then shrugs, pulling it and tucking it into his pants before rescuing his vest and buttoning it over the top. ‘Now I just look like a fashion hoar,’ he says, rolling his eyes at the deep V of his shirt now that it can’t be fastened above the waistcoat. Jack pulls Bitty into his lap and nuzzles at the skin behind his ear. He smells like fall spices and salted caramel.

            ‘Crisse, how do you smell so good?’ Jack whispers into his hair and Bitty laughs.

            ‘I don’t know what your smelling, this whole car stinks like sex now.’ His face displays a cute little frown, ‘Lardo is gonna be so mad.’

            ‘I thought this was Shitty’s car?’ Jack says, confused.

            ‘Well, yeah, I mean, I guess it’s both of theirs now. They’re like common-law married after living together so long.’

            It makes Jack feel like such a dick to realise how much of his friends lives he’s missed. Because he’s an idiot. A useless, selfish, idiot. Bitty brings him back to himself with the grip of his thumb and forefinger around Jack’s chin.

            ‘Don’t go there, Jack.’ he says, quiet but serious, ‘you can’t change it now, but you can be better.’

            ‘I’ve been such an asshole.’

            ‘Yeah, but you don’t have to keep being an asshole.’ Bitty says and smiles, ‘be there for us now Jack Zimmermann.’ And it sounds like it should be easy.

            ‘I don’t even know where to start.’ Which is true. How the fuck can he ever make it up to any of them.

            ‘How bout you start by coming back to the wedding with me.’ He watches Jack and sidles so gracefully over to the driver's seat it's effortless. ‘Talk to Shitty about his job, give Caitlin a hug and congratulate her, clap Chowder on the shoulder and say something nice that isn’t about hockey.’ Jack’s nodding along. He feels like he should take notes.

            ‘I can do that, I guess.’

            ‘And maybe, you know, pick up the phone and call us every once in a while.’ he says it with a smile, but his eyes aren’t happy. Bitty is under the impression that what just happened was a one time thing. Well. Two times now.

            ‘How often?’ Jack asks, and at Bitty’s questioning expression adds, ‘should I call you?’

            ‘Just me?’

            ‘Yeah, like, once a day?’ Jack says, reaching over to take Bitty’s hand, ‘would once a day be too much?’

            ‘You could, you could call me once a day. If you like.’

            ‘And can I visit?’ Bitty’s eyes widen just a little, and his smile is reaching up into them.

            ‘Yeah, you can visit.’

            ‘Alot?’

            ‘Okay, be specific!’ Bitty cries, tugging at the hand that Jack has twisted through his fingers.

            ‘Like two, maybe three times a week?’ Jack says, trying to keep a straight face (straight? really?) as Bitty practically squirms in his seat.

            ‘Jack!’

            ‘Bittle,’

            ‘Be serious, what are you saying!’

            ‘I’m saying, I would like to date you, Eric Bittle.’

            ‘Good gravy,’ Bitty mutters under his breath and it startles a laugh out of Jack.

            ‘Would you be amenable to that?’

           Bitty shakes his head and looks up to the roof of the car. ‘Jack Zimmermann, you best not be playing with me.’

           ‘This is no game, Bittle,’ Jack says, losing the laughter and finding his Captain’s voice. ‘I want to try this Bits, I want to be better.’

           ‘Okay, Jack.’ Bitty whispers.

           ‘And I want to be better with you.’

           Bitty nods and there’s a tear in his eye. ‘Okay, Jack.’ And Jack pulls Bitty in to kiss him again. ‘Alright, get off me,’ he says, laughing, pushing Jack away, ‘before we get all carried away and I lose any more of my buttons.’

 

           They get back to the wedding with the reception in full swing. Fairy lights around the vineyard terrace cry out for Jack’s camera. He hopes his phone will do. He decides on a whim to reach out for Bitty’s hand as they arrive, and Bitty looks so surprised, Jack snaps the expression with his phone, and gets a sharp slap to the bicep in return.

           ‘Well well well,’ Shitty says, strolling up to them as they make their way through the dance floor. ‘You missed dinner.’

           ‘Oh dear,’ Bitty says, believably distressed. ‘Is Chowder mad? Did we miss their first dance?’

           ‘Nah, he’s all heart eyes for Farmer, he hasn’t noticed a thing.’ Shitty looks down at their joined hands and back up into Jack’s face. The scowl is evident. ‘So,’ he says shortly, ‘Do I wanna know what’s been going on?’

           ‘I’ve been an asshole?’ Jack suggests.

           ‘Yeah and? Apart from that, I mean’

           ‘Umm, Bitty and I are dating now?’

           ‘I’m sorry, what, as of less than two hours ago?’

           ‘Yep,’ Bitty says, his tone a warning. Shitty takes a few seconds to look them both over.

           ‘I better not be driving back to Boston with the stench of Zimmer-spunk in my nostrils.’ Shitty says with a glint in his eye.

           ‘I’ll get you a peg, honey.’ Bitty says with a pat to his arm. And Shitty’s grimace is comical. Jack just laughs as he follows Bitty to the bar. The wink Bitty throws at Jack over his shoulder is everything he never knew he always wanted. It’s perfect.