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Secondhand Lovers

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Fall 2023

Jack and Bitty were laughing at the kitchen table when Kent finally woke up. They had a pile of eggs and pancakes between them and a laptop open to Deadspin in front of them.

Kent kissed the top of Jack’s head and leaned down to take a bite of pancake off his fork. “Functional exes again?”

Bitty smiled. “We’re just a regular couple of bros bein’ bros, you know.”

“Obviously.” He laughed and gestured to the pancake. “This is great, man.”

“Thank you, honey. I left some in the oven to keep warm. Ricky’s already gone to work, so it’s all yours.”

Kent grabbed the plate of food and joined them at the table. “Anybody else coming for dinner tonight?”

“I’m sure Dex’ll be by at some point today.” Bitty took a bite of pancake and spoke around the mouthful. “You know how lonely he gets during the season with the boys gone.”

There was a knock at the door just as Kent sat down.

“Speak of the devil and he shall appear.” Bitty shook his head, a fond smile on his face, and went to answer the door.

“So are they official yet?” Kent asked quietly.

Jack snorted. “They’re never gonna figure their shit out, Parse. Come on.”

“Of course not.” Kent speared a chunk of eggs on his fork and shoveled it into his mouth. “Boys are so dumb.”

“You’re a boy, Kenny.”

“Yeah, no shit. And I’m dumb as fuck.”

Jack smiled at him. “You feeling better today?”

“Yeah.” He smiled back. “Thanks for making me go to bed last night. I’m glad I didn’t sleep all night on the couch.”

“Of course, bud. I’m just glad Bits had the guest bed already made--you refused to walk all the way down the hall to our own apartment.”

Kent sighed dramatically. “It’s so faaaar when you’re half asleep!”

“Whatever you say, Kenny.”

They both turned their heads sharply when they heard a sob coming from the door. Something was happening. Bitty was talking rapidly and shushing a crying person who was definitely not Dex. A moment later he ushered her into the living room and sat her down on the couch.

Kent and Jack exchanged a look.

“Ellie, honey, it’s okay.” Bitty pushed her hair back from her face and wiped some of her tears. “We’re going to take care of you, Okay? It’s gonna to be okay. Do you want me to call your brother?”

The girl--Ellie, apparently--sniffed and shrugged her shoulders. “I guess so.”

“Okay, you just sit tight. I’ll have Jack get you some water.” Bitty looked up and raised an eyebrow at Jack, who sprang from his seat and hurried to grab a water bottle from the refrigerator.

Ellie looked surprised to see other people in the house. “Oh. Hi.” She took the water from Jack with a sad smile. “Thanks, Jack.”

“Of course, kiddo.” Jack ruffled her hair and she laughed a little.

“Uh, who’s the cute guy with the pancake?” Ellie whispered, gesturing toward Kent.

Jack leaned down and whispered back. “That’s Kenny. He’s my boyfriend.”

“Well done, Zimmermann.”

Kent rolled his eyes and took the bite that had been hanging in front of his mouth for too long.

“Kent Parson,” he said, waving.

“Ellie Brady.”

Ah. Ricky’s little sister. “Nice to meet you.” He gestured at the table. “We’ve got lots of pancakes if you want some.”

Ellie touched her stomach. “Ah, no thanks. I ate on the plane.”

Bitty finished his phone call and sat on the coffee table in front of Ellie. “Okay, Ricky’s gonna find somebody to cover for him and he’ll be home soon.” He reached out and took Ellie’s hand. “Do you wanna talk about it, sweetpea? Or I can set up the guest bed if you wanna lie down.”

“The couch is fine. Thanks, Eric.” She sighed and closed her eyes. “I just want to put something on and not think about it for a while.”

“We can definitely do that, honey. Here.” He grabbed the remotes and handed them to her. “You put on whatever you want and I’ll just be in the kitchen if you need anything.”

“Okay. Thank you.”

She switched on the TV, flicked through a few channels, and then the sounds of Joanna Gaines rhapsodizing over shiplap filled the room.

“Were you guys expecting her?” Jack asked Bitty.

Bitty sat. “No. Ricky was worried--she doesn’t usually do things spontaneously like this.”

“How old is she?” Kent asked, frowning over at her. She looked like a teenager.

“She just turned eighteen last month.”

“Shit.”

Jack’s brows furrowed. “What about school?”

“I don’t know. She must have excused herself.”

“Is that a thing?”

“It was at my school.” Bitty shrugged. “She’s a legal adult, she can do whatever she wants.”

They finished eating their breakfast quietly. Bitty scarfed his down and then got to work on what looked like a blueberry crumble. Jack nudged Kent’s foot under the table and Kent smiled back at him.

“You need a shower, Kenny.”

“Fuck you, Zimms. Your face needs a shower.”

Ellie snorted from the couch. “Nice one.”

“Thanks, kid.” Kent grinned at her.

“Come on.” Jack nudged him again. “Let’s go clean up at home and get out of their hair for a little bit.”

“You just wanna shower with me.”

Jack looked him up and down, his smile growing. “You caught me.”

Ricky’s sister laughed again. “You guys are ridiculous.”

“Can’t argue with that.” Jack put his empty plate in the sink and kissed Bitty goodbye. “We’ll be back later. Let me know if you guys need anything, eh?”

Bitty squeezed his arm. “Thanks, sweetpea. I’ll let you know.”

“You should check the DVR,” Kent said, nodding at Ellie. “We’ve got a ton of good episodes saved on there.”

“Oh thank god. It looks like Beachfront Bargain Hunt is coming on after this and I was not looking forward to it.”

Kent laughed. “I completely understand. We also have the HGTV app on there if the DVR doesn’t have anything you want.”

“Also good to know. Nothing like watching home renovations to take your mind off...things.” She grimaced. “Anyway, have fun with all the shower sex you’re about to have with Jack.”

Jack coughed. “Oh my god. You are not old enough to be talking about sex, Eleanor Brady.”

“Oh, Jack.” Her smile was wry. “You have no idea.”

 

Epikegster 2014

“Hey Zimms.” Kent smirked a little. “Didja miss me?”

Jack looked...completely shocked. Not angry, which was good. Not happy either, which was pretty much expected.

Kent turned his smile onto the guy who was standing next to Jack, frantically typing away on his phone. “You want a selfie, man?”

The kid looked at him with wide eyes and a bright smile. “Oh! I mean--only if you don’t mind?”

“Not at all!” Kent slid in between him and Jack and threw an arm around his shoulder. “What’s your name, kid?”

“Eric! Uh, but the boys all call me Bitty.”

“Bitty. That’s cute.” Kent squeezed his shoulder. “I like it.” He took the phone from Bitty and held it up, snapping a quick selfie of the three of them.

Of course, the other guys on the team wanted selfies, too. And then random partygoers. He was caught up in a whirl of pictures and autographs and by the time he got away he couldn’t find Jack anywhere.

“Parse!” The bro with the long hair and mustache clapped him on the back. “How the hell are you, man?”

“Hey there! Shitty, right? I’m good, man, I’m good. How’s senior year going?”

“Just keeping it real, brah. You looking for Jack?”

“Yeah. Did you see where he went?”

“Pretty sure he’s hiding out in his room again. Second door on the left when you get upstairs.”

Kent clapped him on the shoulder. “Thanks, man. I’ll go find him.”

“Make sure he comes back down!” Shitty called after him. “That beautiful bastard promised me he’d dance for at least one song!”

Kent laughed. “You got it, bro!”

Jack’s door was closed, but he called “come in!” when Kent knocked.

“Hey.” Kent stepped into the room and closed the door behind him. “You disappeared.”

“Wasn’t much going on. I needed to work on my thesis.”

Kent stuck his hands in his pockets. “So, uh. Hi?”

“Kent.” Jack turned around in his desk chair, letting out a sigh. “What are you doing here?”

Kent swallowed down the words he wanted to say and instead rolled his eyes. “I’m here to talk to you, Zimms. Obviously.”

“I don’t want to talk, Parse.”

“Yeah, well. I kind of figured that out last time, but I think we still need to.”

Jack folded his arms across his chest. “Fine. What do you want to talk about?”

“Seriously?” Kent ran a hand through his hair, his hat gripped tight in the other. “What do you think I want to talk about? The ballet?”

Jack stared at him for a minute, his eyes boring into Kent’s and then traveling over his face. He dropped his arms and sighed again. “Parse, you can’t just show up like this. It--it’s not fair.”

Kent scoffed. “It’s not fair? You won’t answer my calls, Jack! How the hell was I supposed to let you know I’d be here?”

“You’re not supposed to be here at all!” Jack was standing now, his lips pressed together in a thin line. “I don’t. Want. To talk.”

“Dammit, Jack!” Kent threw his arms up. “Why the hell not?”

“Because!” Jack was pulling on his hair. “I can’t, okay? I can’t--there’s too much pressure. And I’m about this close to going down there and chugging three cups of tub juice but I can’t--I can’t let myself do that.” He was pulling harder, the hair stretching the skin of his scalp.

Kent took a tentative step forward. “Jack.”

Jack shook his head.

“Zimms.” Kent reached out and laid a hand on Jack’s fist. “Zimms, babe, you’re going to hurt yourself.”

Jack swallowed.

“Come on.” Kent stroked Jack’s hand, gently prying his fingers loose. “Squeeze my hand instead.”

Jack squeezed.

“There you go.” He rubbed Jack’s arm with his free hand. “I’m sorry I ambushed you.” Kent shook his head at himself. “I just fuck everything up. I should go.”

Jack swallowed and licked his lips. “No.” He let out a slow breath. “You’re right. We’ve got things we should talk about.”

Kent tightened his grip on Jack’s hand and Jack responded with his own squeeze.

“Do you want to sit?” he asked, nodding toward his bed.

“Yeah.”

They sat.

“It’s, uh, a good party. Looked like people were having fun down there.”

“I’m sorry, Parse. I shouldn’t have ignored you for so long.”

Kent laughed. “It’s...I don’t know.” He shook his head. “I probably deserved it. I just never understood...why? Why did you ignore me?”

Jack sighed and stared at his intertwined fingers. “It’s stupid. It doesn’t really make sense, and it wasn’t really your fault.”

“Sure it wasn’t.”

Jack flared up at him. “Don’t be such a martyr, Kenny. Not everything is about you.”

Kent sighed. “Fine. Explain it to me?”

Jack‘s eyes roamed over Kent’s face, clearly searching for something. Kent did his best to look apologetic and trustworthy.

“Okay.”

Jack explained his anxiety, which wasn’t really a surprise to Kent. What did surprise him was how badly the pressure of going first had overwhelmed him, how he hadn’t been ready to face the draft either way, how he just wanted to just have some peace.

“And then seeing you out there, doing it all, being exactly what the Aces needed...I couldn’t deal. I thought it would be better to just cut off all exposure to you.”

“I mean...you still could’ve told me what was going on.” Kent picked at a piece of fluff on Jack’s comforter. “I thought we were best friends.”

“We were!”

Kent looked up at him.

“We are. I mean, you are. My best friend.”

Kent frowned. “You’re my best friend, too, Zimms. And I know I don’t deserve you, but I never thought you would leave me. And then you just...cut me out.”

“Don’t be stupid, of course you deserve me.” Jack grunted in frustration. “Or whatever, you deserve a friend. You know what I mean.” He took Kent’s hand and met his gaze. “Kenny. I should have told you. I should have explained.”

Kent nodded. “Thanks, Zimms. I should have said something to someone. I knew you were having a hard time and I’m sure I enabled you and it was stupid of me, especially with my--well. I should have known.”

“It wasn’t your fault, Kenny. Anxiety and--and addiction aren’t something you can change for somebody.”

“I guess.”

Jack squeezed his hand tight. “Kent. I’m serious. It wasn’t your fault.” He swallowed. “I’m...really sorry that I blamed you.”

“Don’t be.”

“I am, Kenny. There’s nothing you could have done to change the way I was coping. And I’m sorry I didn’t tell you what was going on after the draft. You deserve better.”

Kent laughed. “Doubtful.”

Jack looked him in the eyes, his gaze intense. “Kent. You deserve to be happy.”

“Thanks.” He didn’t know what to say to that. He coughed and looked down at their hands. “Anyway. Sorry I crashed your party, Zimms. You probably wanna get back to that, huh?”

“I should probably go back down there, yeah.” Jack didn’t let go.

Kent smiled tightly. “It was good talking to you, Zimms.”

“Kenny.” Jack searched his face again. “You could...come with me. If you want.” He smiled. “I’m sure Lardo would love to beat you at some flip cup.”

“Yeah?” A weight on his shoulders seemed to lift. “I think I can take ‘em on.”

Jack laughed and ruffled Kent’s hair. “We’ll see, Parse.”

 

Fall 2023

They did have a lot of shower sex, but Kent wasn’t going to brag about it. They spent some time rubbing lotion into each other’s skin and lazing around in the bedroom afterwards, trying to give Bitty and Ricky some privacy with Ellie. The lazing turned into kissing and then into an epic half-naked Mario Kart battle in which Kent did his best to distract Jack from beating him.

All in all it was a good Wednesday afternoon.

“Do you have to go on the road tomorrow?” Kent asked Jack, a pouty frown on his face.

Jack leaned in and kissed him softly. “I’ll only be gone for a few days, Kenny.” He kissed Kent’s forehead. “And I’ll Skype you every night.”

Kent nodded. “Okay. I’ll miss you.”

“I know.” Jack kissed him again. “I’ll miss you, too.”

Their phones went off at the same time with a text to the group chat.

PROVIDENCE POLYCULE

Bitty
Dinner’s ready! First one at the table gets dibs on the center rolls.

Kent glanced at Jack, who was only just opening his phone, and grinned. He grabbed Jack’s phone, threw it onto the armchair in the corner, and ran.

“Kenny! What the fuck!” Jack shouted after him. A couple seconds later he heard Jack shout, “Hey!” but he was already out the door and sprinting down the hall.

“You little shit!” Jack called after him.

Kent laughed and burst into Bitty and Ricky’s apartment.

Dex was already at the table.

“Aw shit, no fair! You live next door.”

Jack skidded into Kent from behind and steadied himself with his hands on Kent’s hips. “You’ll pay for that, Parson,” Jack hissed into his ear.

Kent laughed and leaned back, humming. “I hope so.”

“Stop being gross and sit down,” Dex said, already biting into one of the center rolls.

Bitty pulled a pan full of lasagna out of the oven as Ricky and Ellie sat down at the table.

“Oh my god that looks good,” Ellie said.

“Old family recipe,” Bitty said, winking.

“It’s the one on the pasta box,” Kent whispered.

Bitty set the pasta on the table and flicked Kent’s shoulder. “It is not, Mr. Parson.”

“It looks delicious, bud,” Jack said, squeezing Bitty’s hand as he walked by.

“Thank you, sweetpea.” Bitty kissed his head.

“So.” Dex smiled at Ricky’s sister across the table. “You’re Ellie, right?”

“Oh, yeah!” She smiled at him. “I’m Ricky’s little sister.”

“Just flew in from Vegas this morning,” Ricky added.

“Oh cool. My boyfriend just played in Vegas last night.”

“Let me guess. Hockey?”

Ricky laughed. “You’re the only person here that really gets me, Ells.” He glanced around the table. “You guys know there are other sports, don’t you?”

Kent raised an eyebrow. “Not any other good ones. Except maybe college basketball.”

Ellie hummed. “I respectfully disagree.”

“Here we go,” Bitty said fondly.

Ricky nudged his shoulder. “Excuse me, you know baseball is objectively the best sport.”

The table erupted into chatter.

“Last year the Mets—”

“The Mets suck—

“The Padres killed it in—”

“—don’t understand how anyone could—”

“Okay!” Ellie shouted. “Look, I can admit that hockey is...entertaining. But you guys have to concede that baseball is the American pastime and a classic national sport.”

This, of course, started another round of arguing that lasted a solid five minutes before devolving into basic name-calling and then finally a discussion on the Falcs’ prospects this season.

“So Ellie,” Dex said, taking the emptied plates from the table. “What brings you to Providence?”

Kent noticed Ricky and Bitty exchange a look. Ricky put an arm around his sister and squeezed her shoulder. “What, a girl can’t visit her big brother?”

Dex set the pile of plates by the sink and turned on the hot water. “I wish my sisters visited me.” He smiled. “Are you in school?”

Ellie sighed and elbowed her brother. “It’s fine, Ricky. I don’t mind if they know.” She took in a breath, looked down at her hands on the table, and then said, “I...just found out that I’m pregnant. Yesterday.”

Kent’s jaw dropped. “Oh shit.”

Bitty shot him a look and hissed, “Kenny!”

“It’s okay, Eric.” Ellie laughed. “I was just as surprised.”

“Sorry,” Kent said. “I just was not expecting that.”

Jack put his arm casually behind Kent and squeezed his neck gently. He felt his muscles un-tense under Jack’s touch.

“How far along are you?” Jack asked.

“Uh. I’m not sure, but...at least three months.”

“Oh shit.”

“Kenny!”

Kent threw his hand over his mouth, eyes wide. “Sorry! I’m sorry.”

Jack’s thumb rubbed a circle in Kent’s skin and he reminded himself to breathe. Bitty was the only one shooting him a reproachful look--he wasn’t in trouble, nobody was actually mad at him.

“It’s okay,” Ellie said, her mouth in a tight smile. “I was really surprised, too.”

“We called and got her set up with an OB/GYN in town. She’s still on her step-dad’s insurance--”

“He’s your step-dad, too,” Ellie muttered.

Ricky shot her a look. “Barely. Anyway, we’re all set.” He was looking at Kent now, smiling gently. “Don’t worry.”

Kent nodded. “That’s good. If you want to talk about anything...I was a surrogate a couple years ago, so I know what the whole pregnancy thing is like.”

“Oh, wow. That’s cool. Yeah, I’m sure I’ll have like, a shit-ton of questions.” She smiled at him. “Thanks, Kent.”

“No problem, kid.”

As the rest of the table jumped back into discussing hockey, Kent turned to Ellie and lowered his voice. “Sorry about that. Are you doing okay, though? Three months is pretty far along to just be finding out.”

She smiled and nudged him with her elbow. “Don’t worry about it. And yeah, everything’s fine. I just have some other shit that messes with my cycle. And, you know, irritable bowels. So yeah. I just didn’t notice.”

“Shit.” Kent laughed. “Well, I’ve still got a bunch of pregnancy books and stuff if you want them. And I might be persuaded to loan you my ultra-comfy maternity pajamas that I couldn’t part with after the baby was born.”

She grinned. “That sounds awesome. Thanks, man.”

 

Epikegster 2014

Kent could see Jack laughing as he and Bitty danced to Toxic. They were both doing dramatic drops to the floor, and Kent could feel Jack’s gaze traveling over his body. When the song was over and they returned to the couch, Jack caught Kent’s waist easily and pulled him onto his lap.

“Having fun out there?” Jack asked. His fingers were skimming against the patch of skin under Kent’s riding-up shirt.

“This boy is a menace!” Bitty exclaimed, shoving Kent’s shoulder playfully.

“You’re one to talk.” Kent pointed an accusatory finger in Bitty’s direction. “No way can I pull off those drops like you do.”

“Please, Mr. Parson! You got that whole hip thing down to a T.”

“Maybe you should do a rematch,” Jack said, scratching Kent’s skin lightly.

Kent shivered. This was definitely going somewhere good tonight.

“Maybe we should.” Bitty smirked at them. “Think we can get another good song on here?”

“I think I know a guy.” Jack waved Ransom over. “Can we get something for another dance-off? Maybe some Beyoncé to even the playing field?”

Bitty jumped up and Kent followed slowly, trailing his fingers down Jack’s arm as he stood. Jack’s hand grazed over his ass and rested on his thigh while they shared an intimate look. Then Single Ladies started up and he was whisked away by an already-dancing Bitty.

Twenty minutes later Kent and Jack were pressed together in Jack’s bedroom.

“Missed you so much,” Kent murmured against Jack’s lips.

“Kenny,” Jack whined.

Kent dug his fingers into Jack’s shirt and pulled him closer, falling back onto the bed. “Zimms. Fuck.”

“Kenny,” Jack repeated, nuzzling into Kent’s neck.

His teeth grazed the skin and Kent shivered.

“Mark me up, Zimms,” Kent whispered, holding Jack’s head and letting out a happy groan.

“Yes.” Jack sucked on a patch of skin just below Kent’s neck. “Mine.”

“Jack--”

“JACK LAURENT ZIMMERMANN!” A voice from the hallway startled them apart. “YOU OWE ME A DANCE, YOU SNEAKY MOTHERFUCKER!”

“Shitty,” Jack groaned.

Kent leaned back in to give Jack a fiery kiss. “Tell him to go away.”

Shitty banged on the door. “You promised!”

“He’s not gonna let up, Kenny.”

Kent glared up at him. “Your friends suck.”

Jack was smiling. “Come on. I’ll dance one song and then we can come straight back up here, okay?”

“Jackabelle! I’m serious!”

“Coming, Shits! Jesus, calm down!”

Kent could feel a stinging ache in his gut. Jack wanted to go downstairs and dance with his friends. Of course he wanted to be with his friends. Kent wasn’t his friend anymore, not really. They hadn’t talked in ages, the last time they saw each other was a big fight--he wasn’t interested in spending time with Kent.

“I should go.” He kept his face as blank as possible so Jack wouldn’t see the self-loathing. He didn’t want Jack’s pity.

“What?”

“Yeah.” Kent cleared his throat. “I should go, we have a flight at noon tomorrow and I don’t want to miss it.”

“At noon?” Jack’s face was scrunched up. “That’s not exactly early, Kenny.”

“Don’t!” Kent swallowed. “Don’t call me that. Not when you don’t mean it.”

“What?” Jack touched Kent’s arm. “What just happened, Ke--Parse?”

Kent was shaking. He pinched a piece of skin on his arm as hard as he could. “I shouldn’t be here, you don’t want me here. I’m wasting your time with your friends.”

Something changed in Jack’s face, but Kent wasn’t sure what. “Parse. Let’s sit down for a minute.”

Shitty banged on the door again. “Jack! I’m about to break this door down!”

“Jesus,” Jack muttered to himself. “Okay, I’m going to tell Shits to fuck off. I’m not going anywhere, okay?”

Kent nodded numbly. He squeezed his skin harder while Jack crossed to the door and opened it just enough to stick his head out. Kent couldn’t hear what he was saying, but he did hear “Parse” and “later,” so Jack was probably telling him about Kent having a pathetic little breakdown.

He didn’t even care.

“Kent.” Jack was squatting in front of him now, his hands on Kent’s shoulders. “What is going on?”

Kent swallowed. “You don’t want me here.”

“I never said that.”

He stared down at his fingers pinching the back of his hand. “You didn’t have to. It’s obvious.”

“Kent.” Jack squeezed his shoulder. “I do want you here.”

“Don’t lie to me, Zimms, it doesn’t help.” Kent shrugged his hands off and scooted back on the bed. “You already told me you didn’t want me to come here. I should’ve just stayed in Boston.”

Jack frowned. “I’m sorry I said that, Ke--Kent. I didn’t want to face things from the Q, but...it was never about you. I’m really glad you came here tonight.”

“Last time you didn’t want to see me and you were--” Kent swallowed. “It wasn’t good last time.”

“You’re right.” He leaned forward, keeping his hands on the bed. “It wasn’t good. I was mean to you.” He let out a breath. “You didn’t deserve that, Parse. That wasn’t your fault and I’m sorry that I did it.”

“It was all my fault.”

Jack sighed. “It really wasn’t. How can I show you that I’m sorry for it, Kenny?”

“I told you not to call me that.”

“You told me not to call you that if I didn’t mean it.” He held his hand out, palm up, and raised an eyebrow. “I mean it. I swear I mean it, Kenny.”

Kent’s eyes were spilling over. “But why?”

“Why what?”

“Why do you...mean it? Did you ever? Did you always--?”

“I always meant it, Kenny. I always did, and I still do. And I lost sight of things for a while there, but I want to prove it to you. I want to show you how much I...care about you.”

Kent searched his face for any signs of deceit. He looked hard into Jack’s eyes and waited for everything to fall apart.

Miraculously, it didn’t.

Kent leaned forward and grabbed Jack’s hands, pulling him up into a hug while he cried into his shirt.

“Kenny.” Jack held him close, like he did when they were kids, before the draft and the heartache. He held him like he cared.

They ended up lying in Jack’s bed, heads pressed together while Kent calmed down. He focused on the way Jack was breathing, trying to match the pace, and he felt more at peace than he had in years.

“I missed you, Zimms,” he whispered, voice cracking with disuse.

Jack’s arms tightened around him. “I missed you too, Kenny.”

Some time later (Kent had no idea how much), he realized that Jack’s friends were probably wondering where he was.

“Zimms?”

“Yeah?”

“What did you tell Shitty?”

“Oh.” Jack snorted. “I had to promise to play Truth or Dare with him once the party died down.”

Kent let out a surprised laugh. “You’re kidding.”

“Not even a little.” Jack grinned. “You wanna play, too?”

He felt his heartbeat pick up at Jack’s smile. He laughed again. “Oh my god, yes. Definitely. When is this happening?”

Jack kissed his forehead. “Whenever you want.”

Kent smiled and tucked himself into Jack’s warmth. “As long as I can sit with you I’m good.”

“No way am I letting you go, Kenny.” Jack kissed him again. “Not until I have to.”

Kent hummed and looked up at him. “Good.”

They stayed like that for a few more minutes, soaking in each other’s presence, until a quiet knock on the door interrupted them.

“I’ll see who it is,” Jack whispered.

“Okay.”

Jack’s body blocked Kent’s view, but he recognized the voice immediately.

“Y’all doing okay in here? Shitty said we were gonna play Truth or Dare, but I told him to let me check.”

“Thanks, Bits.” Jack’s voice was fond. “We’re ready. I think my room is the cleanest if everybody wants to play here.”

“Excuse me, Mr. Zimmermann! My room is perfectly clean.”

Jack snorted. “Your chairs are all filled with clothes.”

“They are not!”

“Your computer chair has the clean ones and the window seat is where you put all your dirty clothes because you use your hamper upside-down as a tripod for your camera.”

“You...can just shut your mouth, sir. My room is just fine, thank you very much. As it happens, though, I do have a bunch of video equipment set up right now, so your room might be better.”

Jack laughed. “Whatever you say, Bittle. You can tell people we’re ready.”

Bitty left to shout down the stairs and Jack turned back to Kent.

“We should make the bed more presentable,” Kent said, rolling off the comforter. He smoothed the blankets out and fluffed up the pillows. “People can sit on here if they want.”

“Good idea.” Jack pulled his chair out from the desk and spun it around, moved a stack of books off of his ottoman, and tucked the lap blanket above his giant stuffed bean bag.

“Parse!” Shitty clapped his back. “You joining us?”

“Hell yeah.” Kent grinned. “You think I’m gonna miss an opportunity to see Zimms do something stupid?”

“That’s my boy!” Shitty laughed and fell into the computer chair. “Have you met everyone else?”

“Probably?” Kent looked around at the people finding various seats around the room. “I know Lardo, obviously.”

Lardo nodded at him, face impassive.

“And Bitty.”

Bitty winked and settled onto the bed next to Lardo.

“I know I met you guys, but you’ll have to remind me your names. Sorry.”

The three remaining boys introduced themselves as Chowder, Nursey, and Dex.

“Where’s Ransom and Holster?” Jack asked.

“They ditched us for some girls. April and March?”

“I know them!” Chowder jumped onto the ottoman. “They’re on Farmer’s team. Super nice girls. Did you know they’ve been dating for three years?”

“C, that might be private information,” Nursey said, nudging him from the floor.

“I knew that,” Jack said. He was lounging back on the big bean bag. “They’re pretty open about it.”

Kent grinned and settled into his lap. “Not much seating room in here, Zimms.”

Jack pinched his side and grinned back at him. “I don’t usually host Truth or Dare sessions in here.”

Shitty clapped his hands together. “So! Shall we begin?” He wiggled his eyebrows at everybody before landing on Kent. “Parse! Truth or Dare?”

“What! I’m a guest, you can’t pick me first!”

“You have been chosen, Kent Parson. Now decide your fate!”

Kent raised a defiant eyebrow. “Truth.”

Shitty grinned. “Excellent. Now, how come every time I see your glorious ass, it’s perched on the equally glorious lap of Mr. Jack Zimmermann?”

Everyone laughed and Kent’s face moved smoothly into a smirk. He twisted around to point at his own ass. “Do you know how much this thing is worth? Like hell am I letting it anywhere near any questionable surfaces in a hockey frat house.”

They all laughed again and Jack buried his nose in the back of Kent’s shoulder.

Kent could feel his grin.

“All right! Lardo, Truth or Dare?”

 

Fall 2023

Jack left early the next morning. Kent woke up long enough to give him a kiss goodbye and promptly went back to sleep--when he retired he vowed to never again get up before 8:00 am unless he absolutely had to.

A few hours later he woke up for good and found a recently-sent text from Bitty.

Bitty
We’re taking Ellie shopping. You in?

Kent
can we stop at starbucks?

Bitty
Sure, hon.

Kent
then i’m in

Kent leaned his head on Dex’s shoulder while Bitty drove toward Starbucks.

“Did you not get any sleep last night?” Dex asked, his fingers scratching Kent’s head rhythmically.

Kent shrugged. “Dunno. I slept the whole night, I just still feel tired.”

Dex hummed and kissed kissed the top of Kent’s head. “That sucks.”

“It’s whatever.” Kent closed his eyes. “This is nice, though.”

“I can come over tonight if you want. So you’re not lonely.”

“Aw.” Kent tilted his head up to kiss Dex’s jaw. “That’s sweet, baby. I’d like that.”

Ellie turned around from the front seat. “So. Are any of you not dating each other?”

Bitty sputtered and Dex laughed. Kent just shrugged. “We’re a close-knit group. I can draw you a diagram if you want.”

Dex pinched his side and Kent jumped.

“I’m not dating Jack or Ricky,” Dex said.

“Oh, is that all? Is there some new information I’m not aware of?”

Bitty was turning redder by the minute and Dex quickly joined him. “Well, I mean--Nursey and Chowder are my only official boyfriends.”

“What about me?” Kent batted his eyelashes.

“Other than you, doofus.”

Ellie caught Kent’s eye and grinned. “So there’s nobody else? Just those three?” She glanced at Bitty meaningfully.

“Oh my god, y’all can just stop it now, okay?”

Dex had his face buried in Kent’s shoulder.

“Aw, we were just teasing.” Kent kissed Dex’s hair. “We know you two are denser than...uh, whatever material is super dense.”

Ellie laughed. “Smooth.”

When they got to the mall their first stop was a baby clothes store.

“Oh my god.” The first thing Kent saw was a teeny tiny pair of shoes. “How adorable are these?”

Dex laughed. “Very adorable. It’s a little early to start buying baby clothes, though.”

“I know, but look how cute! I want them!” He pouted. “The baby’s gonna need shoes, Dex.”

Dex smiled and rolled his eyes. “I’m not gonna stop you, babe. But we have plenty of time to buy cute baby shit.”

“Yeah, yeah. I guess you’re right. I could find even cuter shoes somewhere else.”

“True.”

Kent sighed and put the little booties back on the rack. “I want one, Dex.”

“So get them! I’m not saying you can’t.”

“No. I want one.” He stared meaningfully at the picture of a baby on the sign.

“Ah.” Dex put an arm around his shoulders. “You do, huh?”

“I do.” Kent sighed. “I know it’s complicated and maybe I’m not ready, but...yeah. I want one.”

“I don’t think anybody is ever really ready.” Dex squeezed him tight. “And it will always be complicated, babe.”

“Yeah. It’s probably not realistic.”

“That’s not what I’m saying.” Dex turned so they were facing each other and put a hand on each of Kent’s shoulders. “It’s always going to be hard, babe, but if you want one? You should start looking into it.”

Kent’s eyes went a little wide and he smiled. “Really? You think so?”

“I think you’d be an amazing Dad, Kent Parson.”

Kent swallowed. “Thank you.”

“Okay!” Bitty clapped his hands. “Next up, maternity clothes.”

 

 

 

“Kenny?” There was a soft knock before the bedroom door cracked open, Jack standing on the other side. “Can I come in?”

Kent stared at the wall for a moment and then nodded.

Noise from the TV filtered in as Jack opened the door wide enough to get through. Kent pushed his face into his pillow and squeezed his eyes shut.

Then Jack was lying in front of him, one hand splayed across his back while the other wiped a few stray tears from his cheek.

“I’m here,” he whispered. “I’ve got you, Kenny.”

Kent nodded and leaned into him, pressing his forehead to Jack’s chest and letting the tears leak out quietly.

Ah mon cheri.” Jack held him close. “What’s going on?”

Kent shook his head. “I don’t know.”

“Okay.” Jack smoothed his fingers through Kent’s hair. “That’s okay, Kenny, you can still let it out. Just let it out, baby.”

Kent let the tears spill over while he took stock of his thoughts. Was he feeling something specific? Or...maybe it was more of a general feeling. His chest felt tight and heavy and with the crying he could tell that he was having a minor panic attack. So, clearly he was feeling anxious.

Okay. Anxious. He was anxious.

“I’m anxious,” he muttered. He pulled back a little to wipe his eyes and shrug his shoulders. “I dunno why.”

“Ah. That sucks, doesn’t it?”

Kent snorted. “Yeah. Pretty much.”

Jack kissed his head again. “We can put on a movie, if you want. Maybe Harry Potter? Or Hocus Pocus?”

That did sound nice. Something to focus on without having to pay too much attention to a new story. He sniffed and nodded. “Yes please.”

“Do you wanna watch it in here or do you wanna curl up with me on the couch?”

Kent glanced at the clock--it was barely 7:30. “Maybe the couch, yeah. You don’t think they’ll mind?”

Jack’s hand ran through his hair again. “I’m sure they’ll be fine with watching a movie.”

“Okay.” Kent rubbed the fabric of Jack’s shirt between his fingers. “I’m sorry about this.”

“Sorry about what, cheri?”

“You know.” He shrugged. “All this. I know it’s supposed to be your time with Bits tonight.”

“Kenny--”

“I swear I’m not doing this on purpose, okay? I’m just being stupid, it doesn’t have anything to do with you and Bitty.”

“No, hey.” Jack cupped his cheek, using his thumb to wipe at some of the new tears. “Kenny. I know you’re not doing this on purpose. It’s a panic attack, babe, you can’t--you don’t get to choose when they do or don’t happen.” He held Kent’s face with both hands and pressed their foreheads together. “It’s okay, Kenny. Bits will understand. And you’re like his best friend, he’ll definitely want to do whatever he can to help you feel better.” Jack kissed him softly. “Y’know, he’s probably already got your favorite pie in the oven.”

Kent laughed at that. “Yeah, okay. You’re right.” He sniffed and wiped at his eyes. “I wanna watch Hocus Pocus.”

Jack laughed, pressed another gentle kiss to his lips, and then pulled him out of bed and back to the living room with an arm around his shoulders.

“Oh sweetie.” Bitty hurried over to them and pulled Kent into a hug. “Y’all just go get comfy on the couch, okay? I already started Hocus Pocus, because I figured you’d want something Halloween-ish, but we can put on anything you want.”

Kent smiled and squeezed him tight. “Thanks, Bits. You’re the best.”

“Oh hush.”

Ricky and Ellie were sitting on the loveseat, the long couch left open. Jack draped the comforter from the bed around Kent’s shoulders and kissed his forehead. “You want me to play with your hair?”

Kent nodded and gave the others a watery smile while Jack took the spot at the end of the couch. Once he was situated Kent stretched out with his head in Jack’s lap, the fluffy comforter cocooning him tightly.

Bitty grabbed the remote from the coffee table and left a plate of toast with raspberry jam in its place. Kent smiled his thanks.

As the opening scene began, Kent closed his eyes and hummed along, Jack’s fingers pulling through his hair.

He already felt lighter.

 

Epikegster 2014

As the game devolved into late-night giggles, Kent found himself getting drowsy. He had played an intense game of hockey earlier that day and he was definitely feeling the fatigue.

“I’m gonna rest my eyes,” he murmured, tucking his face into Jack’s neck.

Jack squeezed his hip. “Go ahead, Kenny. You can sleep.”

“‘M not gonna sleep, Zimms. Just rest.”

There were a few quiet chuckles in the room, but he didn’t know who they were from--his eyes were already closed.

Jack pressed his face into Kent’s hair and he felt a subtle kiss. “Okay, Kenny. Enjoy your rest.”

Kent didn’t really remember anything after that.

The next morning he woke to the sound of Shitty shouting for people to get out. Kent turned over and realized he was still in Jack’s lap, but they were covered with a blanket. He reached out to grab his phone and set his alarm for 9:00, hopefully giving him time to get back to Boston before their flight home.

When he woke again he was snuggled in bed next to Jack, who was leaving gentle kisses all over his head and face.

“Morning,” Jack whispered.

Kent groaned. “--time ’sit?”

“Almost nine. I saw that you set your alarm and I thought you might like to wake up to something nicer.”

Kent smiled and nuzzled Jack’s neck. “You snooped on my phone?”

“Your passcode is way too easy to guess, Kenny.”

Kent laughed and reached out for his phone, opening the touch identification settings. He labeled a new fingerprint with a heart and a hockey stick and then held Jack’s thumb to the sensor.

“Now you don’t have to guess.”

Jack wrapped him in a tight hug and kissed the top of his head. “I wish you didn’t have to go.”

Kent licked his lips. “Maybe...you could come visit me? When you have time.”

“Yeah? You’d want me there?”

Kent nodded. “Definitely. You might have to look out for Swoops, though. He...is not a fan of yours.”

“What? Why?”

“He’s, uh. He’s my best friend on the team and he saw how fucked up I was at first. So, yeah, he tends to blame you for that.”

“Oh.”

“But I don’t!” Kent squeezed Jack’s shirt in his fist. “I know it wasn’t your fault, Zimms.”

“It was, though.” Jack frowned. “I know it was. I’m sorry, Kenny.”

Kent smoothed his palm over Jack’s cheek. “It doesn’t matter anymore. Just promise you’ll come see me?”

“Of course. I’ll book my flight today.”

Kent smiled and kissed him. “Good.”

Chapter Text

Fall 2023

Twinsies

Ricky

Guess who just showed up at my house?

Becca

somebody famous? probably a hockey player?

Ricky

Not even close. Ellie.

Becca

what???

Ricky

Yeah.

Becca

what is she doing there? she just flew all the way out to Providence?

Ricky

Yup. Guess whose fault it is?

Becca

i’ll kill him. what did he do?

Ricky

Nothing yet. It was a preemptive move.

Becca

what the fuck happened?

Ricky

You busy? This might be a phone call thing.

His phone rang seconds later.

“Hey,” Ricky leaned his head back and rubbed his face.

“Ricky? What’s going on? Is Ellie okay?”

“She’s okay, yeah.”

“So she flew across the country to hide from Brett just for funsies?”

“Becs, she’s pregnant.”

“Oh god.”

“Yeah.”

His sister let out a breath on the other end of the line. “Okay. Shit. She’s okay, though?”

“She’s okay.”

“Why didn’t she call me?”

“She didn’t call me either, Becs. She just got on a plane and showed up at my door. I’m not even home yet--Eric just called to let me know.”

“Jesus Christ. Okay. Should I come down?”

“Probably. I’ll cover your ticket if you want.”

“That would actually help a lot, yeah.”

“This weekend?”

“Yeah.” She sighed again. “Poor kid. I feel so bad for leaving her.”

“You had to get out, Becca. She gets that.”

“I hope so.” There was silence for a minute. “You don’t think she’s mad at me? I mean, I know it’s harder to book an international flight, but still...she could’ve called.”

“I think she’s just scared. I’ll let you know more when I talk to her, though, yeah? I’m almost home.”

“Yeah, okay. Tell her to call me? Or let me know when to call her?”

“I will. Go get your flight set up and let me know how much it is, okay? Don’t worry about the cost, just get a direct flight as soon as you can.”

“Okay. Tell her I love her.”

“Will do. Talk to you soon.”

“Bye.”

Eric and Ellie were on the couch watching Fixer Upper when he got home.

“That’s a nice backsplash,” Ricky said, nodding at the TV.

They both turned to look at him, Eric reaching an arm out over the back of the couch. “Hey, baby.”

Ricky took his hand and squeezed. “Hey. You guys doing okay?”

They nodded.

“Eric made me blueberry crumble.”

Ricky smiled. “He tends to do that.” He let go of Eric’s hand and moved to the front of the couch, tugging Ellie up and into a hug. “Becca’s flying out this weekend.”

Ellie sniffed. “Okay.”

“It’s all right, kiddo. We’ve got you.”

She broke into tears, clinging to Ricky’s shirt. Ricky met Eric’s eyes over her head and they shared a sad look.

“Come on, Ells, let’s sit down.” He rubbed her back and guided her back to the couch. “I’m proud of you, you know?”

Ellie snort-sobbed into his shoulder.

“I am.” He squeezed her tighter. “You got on a flight and got out here where you’d be safe and you did it all by yourself.”

“‘M not a kid,” she muttered between sobs.

It was Ricky’s turn to snort. “Maybe not technically, but you’re kind of a kid. And I’m proud of you either way.”

Eric smoothed her hair back from her face. “I’m proud of you too, sweetie. And we’re gonna help you with everything, okay? We’ll figure out doctor appointments and get you all settled and you can stay here as long as you want.”

She sniffed and blinked, getting control of her voice. “Thanks, guys.”

“Of course, kiddo.” Ricky kissed her head. “Now come on, let’s get you cleaned up.”

 

YouTube Con 2017

“Oh my god.” Another rando came up from the crowd. “You’re Eric Bittle!”

Ricky raised an eyebrow at the guy sitting next to him. He was cheerfully signing the person’s name badge and talking about...hockey?

“That’s like the third person in the last ten minutes.” Ricky said once the kid was gone. “You must be pretty big, huh?”

“Oh! No, not really. I just—well, I’m kind of known in the hockey world, that’s all. My channel is still pretty small.”

“You do sports stuff?”

“Mostly baking and recipes, but I played in college and my best friend plays professionally.”

Ricky nodded. “That’s cool. I’m more of a baseball guy, but I’ve been to a few games here and there. Couldn’t tell you any of the teams or players, though, so I probably wouldn’t know him.”

Eric laughed. (He had kind of an infectious laugh, didn’t he?) “Well probably not, no.” He turned a bit in his seat so they were facing each other. “What about you, --? Oh Lord, I’m so sorry, I didn’t even catch your name!”
“Ricky.” He grinned and held out his hand. “And apparently you’re Eric Bittle.”

“That I am! And we have something in common!” He leaned forward and whispered, “My middle name is Richard. Mama still calls me Dicky.”

“Ricky and Dicky! Excellent.” Ricky smiled. “So are you here for the whole con?”

“Oh yeah! This is my first time on the Business Track, though. That pro athlete friend upgraded my ticket for me as a birthday present.”

“That’s nice of him! This is my second year—it’s been really good so far. I’m mostly interested in behind-the-scenes stuff, anyway.”

“Like editing? Or more like writing scripts?”

“Oh, both actually. I’ve done some work with some of the bigger channels and a few one-time gigs here and there. What I really want is to settle in with one channel and really get to focus my efforts, you know? But that’ll probably take a few more years of experience.”

“I’ve actually got a friend that I’ve collabed with who’s looking for some part-time help with editing. I can send her your info if you’d like?”

“That would be cool, yeah. Here, let me give you one of my business cards.” He slid one from his shirt pocket and handed it over. “I live here in LA, but I mostly do distance work so hopefully that would work for her.”

“I think so! I’ll definitely pass your info along.”

The panelists were all finally there and the moderator called the room to attention.

Ricky smiled at Eric and then pulled out his notebook and settled in.

 

Somehow Ricky plucked up enough courage to invite Eric out to lunch during the break. There was a food court in the strip mall next to the conference center, and it looked like all the attendees were heading there for lunch. Ricky grabbed Eric’s hand and pulled him ahead of the crowd, hitting the crosswalk just before the red hand popped up. Eric was laughing and following along, running easily even though Ricky was definitely winded when they made it to the pizza-by-the-slice place.

“Fuckin’ athlete,” Ricky muttered, hands on his hips while he tried to catch his breath. He was not in any kind of shape for running, but sometimes pizza took priority over those kinds of minor details.

Eric just laughed and gestured for him to go first, surprising him at the end of the line by buying both of their meals.

“You didn’t have to do that,” Ricky said, and he could feel himself blushing.

“Don’t worry, honey!” He slid into the first available table and held up a fancy-looking black card. “It’s all on my friend Jack.”

“Well.” Ricky sat down across from him. “Thank you to Jack!”

“Oh! C’mere, we’ll send him a little thank-you selfie.” Eric threw his arm over Ricky’s shoulder across the small table and held the camera out. “Smile!”

He tapped a quick message that said, “Thanks for lunch, hon!” and had a kissy face emoji blowing a little heart.

Ricky raised his eyebrows. “So. Jack’s just your best friend, huh?”

Eric was blushing now. “Oh, shoot. Well.” He glanced around. “You hadn’t heard of us, and it was nice getting to know you a little bit before--well, Jack and I are polyamorous. So yeah, he’s my boyfriend, but I didn’t want that to turn you off or anything because--” he scratched the back of his neck, a nervous little smile on his face “--well I think you’re pretty cute.”

“Oh.” The sinking feeling in his stomach suddenly swooped right back up. He smiled shyly. “Well that’s cool.”

Eric laughed and nudged his food under the table. “Definitely cute.”

“Shut up!” Ricky kicked back, smiling wider. “You’re pretty cute too, okay?”

“Well that’s cool.”

Ricky glared playfully, stabbing his fork into his salad. “You better watch it, mister.”

“Or?” Eric sipped his coke. “What’re you gonna do?”

He lifted his lettuce-covered fork and pointed it at Eric. “I will...think of something. Later.”

They both laughed and dug into their food, their feet still gently touching under the table.

 

Fall 2023

Ricky was in way over his head.

“What if they cut her off?” he whispered.

Eric ran his fingers through Ricky’s hair. “What do you mean, baby?”

“I mean, what if they cut her off and she’s just, like...emotionally scarred for the rest of her life?”

“Oh, honey.” He pulled Ricky’s head to his chest and kissed his hair. “We can’t control that.”

“I know. But it seems like the kind of thing they would do, and I just--” he felt an angry lump rising in his throat “--it pisses me off.”

“I don’t think there’s any use being mad about something that hasn’t happened yet, honey.”

Ricky huffed. “Doesn’t mean I’m not mad about it, though.”

“I know.” Eric squeezed him tight. “And that’s okay. Try to remember that we don’t actually know how they’ll react, though, okay?”

“Yeah. I’ll try.”

“And remember that she has us and your sister and we’re all going to take care of her no matter what.”

Ricky sniffed and looked up into his husband’s eyes. “I love you so much.”

“I know.” Eric smiled gently. “I love you, too. And tomorrow I’ll take Ellie to the mall for some fun baby stuff and maybe do a spa day or something to help get her mind off things. And then Becca will be here on Saturday and we’ll come up with a plan. For everything.”

“Okay.” Ricky nodded. “Okay, yeah, that’s a good plan. We can do that.”

“Everything’s gonna be fine, honey. We can handle this.”

“Thanks, babe. You’re a great husband.”

Eric laughed. “I try, honey.”

The next day at work passed slowly. He thought about taking another personal day, but there was so much to do and he couldn’t afford to fall behind, so he went to his meetings and worked on the new training for the junior editors and barely remembered to eat, let alone check in with his little sister. Eric was taking care of her, though, and he let out a slow breath at the thought. She would be just fine with his husband.

When he finally wrapped things up at the end of his long, long day, he found six missed calls and two voicemails from his mother.

“Oh god,” he muttered.

Before he could do anything, Becca was calling him.

“Hey Becs,” he said, activating the bluetooth in his car.

Her voice filled the cabin. “Mom just called me.”

He rolled his eyes. “Yeah, looks like she called me, too. Did you answer?”

She laughed. “No. I’m not interested in talking to her.”

“Yeah, I figured.” He sighed. “I’ll call her back before I go home. I don’t want Ellie to have to hear it.”

“Good idea. You think she knows what’s going on?”

“Doubtful. She probably has ideas, but I’m sure she doesn’t actually know. Ellie didn’t even know until a couple days ago.”

“God. What if she tries to come out there?”

Oh god. Ricky hadn’t even thought of that. “I don’t know, dude. She doesn’t have our address, so it’s not like she could just show up.”

“That’s good.”

“God, this is so stupid. I’m gonna call her back before she pulls something like that.”

“Yeah, good call.”

“You all good for your flight tomorrow?”

“All good. I should be landing around noon.”

“Great. Text me when you take off?”

“Yep. Go call mom.”

Ricky sighed. “Fine. Bye.”

“Bye.”

He pulled into a parking lot and stared at his phone for a full minute before dialing.

“Ricky. So kind of you to call.” Her voice was still and low.

“I just got off work, Mom. I didn’t have my phone on my most of the day.”

“Hmm.” She didn’t say anything else.

Ricky sighed loudly. “What were you calling about?”

“I have a feeling you already know.”

He stared at the ceiling of his car and waited her out.

“Ricky. Were you going to tell me that your sister was visiting you?”

“She’s an adult, Mom. If she wanted you to know, she would tell you herself.”

She was losing her patience--he could tell from the deliberate moment it took her to respond. “She is technically an adult, yes. But she’s still so young. I’m just worried about her.”

Ricky did his best not to laugh out loud, but a snort still escaped. “She’s fine, Mom. You don’t need to worry.”

“So she is with you.”

“Is that what I said?”

“Ricky--” her voice was sharp now, commanding, and Ricky wasn’t having it.

“I’ll let her know that you called. I’m sure she already blocked your number on her phone.”

“Her phone has been deactivated. Let her know she can send it back to us by overnight post or send us the money for it by Monday.”

“Fuck you, Mom.” Ricky punched the end button and threw his phone at the passenger seat. He heaved a few breaths, his hands clenched into fists in his lap, and he punched the steering wheel.

“Fuck!” he shouted, punching it again.

He let the tears fall, angry and hot, and he was grateful for his decision to park before calling her. It was probably ten minutes before he felt together enough to drive again.

“Siri, call my husband.”

“Calling Eric, Man In Tuxedo: Medium-Light Skin Tone, Video Camera, Tuxedo.”

Ricky laughed wetly and shifted the car into Drive.

“Hi honey!” Eric’s voice was cheerful.

Ricky cleared his throat. “Hey, baby.”

“Ricky?” He sounded concerned--he could always tell when Ricky was upset. “What’s wrong, honey?”

“Oh, you know. Talked to my mom.”

He could practically hear the stormy frown on Eric’s face. “What did she want?”

“Looking for Ellie. I didn’t confirm it, but I think she knows she’s with us.”

“Well that’s not her business anymore, is it?”

“Yeah. Doesn’t mean she’s not gonna try something.”

Eric was silent for moment, clearly fuming, and then he huffed. “Well. Are you okay, honey?”

“I’m...fine.”

“Richard Michael, don’t you dare lie to me.”

Ricky laughed. “Okay. I’m not fine. She just...really gets to me, you know?”

“I know, baby.” Eric hummed. “Well, you just get your cute little butt home and we’ll figure everything out, okay?”

“Okay.” God, he loved his husband. “I love you.”

“Oh baby. I love you, too. We’ll see you soon?”

“Yeah. I’m on my way.”

 

YouTube Con 2017

“Hey, sweetpea!” Eric was lounging in a chair on the patio, talking on the phone to his boyfriend. “How’s training camp?”

Ricky leaned back in his own chair and watched him subtly. He was reading up on polyamory, finding all kinds of resources to peruse later. One of the things he’d stumbled upon was Eric’s own channel--he seemed to be something of a YouTube polyamory expert. Ricky played the pinned video.

“Hey, y’all! I wanted to talk a bit about metamours today. That’s the partner of your partner. I’ve just got one metamour right now, and he was dating my boy long before I ever was. They have a real cute story, actually, but anyway--metamours! I’ve been spending some time with mine over the last couple weeks and can I just say? It is so nice to be able to gush over our shared love of Jack. We talk about other things too, but sometimes it’s just real sweet to talk about how cute your boy’s snore is with his other boyfriend.”

The video went on to talk about the various things he did with his metamour, ranging from baking pies to actually kissing once. (Apparently it was great but also really weird and they decided they were much better off as friends.)

“Now what do you think you’re doing here, mister?” Eric was standing above him, hands on his hips and a teasing smile on his face. “Is that my channel?”

“Um.” Ricky looked up at him. “Guilty?”

Bitty nudged his shoulder. “Come on. Let’s order room service and you can talk to the real deal instead of just watching my videos.”

Ricky laughed. “I suppose I could do that.”

After they ordered dinner, once again courtesy of Bitty’s hockey-player boyfriend, they sat against the pillows on one of the beds and found The Food Network on the TV.

“I am so excited I found a friend here,” Eric said, smiling over at him. “I always love meeting my fans at these things, but I’ve never really had somebody to hang out with. It’s a lot more fun.”

Ricky laughed. “Me too. It’s definitely better with other people. I came with my sister last year and it was great, but she’s taking a summer class this year and couldn’t make it.”

“You have a sister?”

“Two sisters, actually. But I was talking about my twin, Becca.”

“A twin! That’s kind of neat. I don’t have any siblings at all, but I always thought it would be fun. I mean, I had cousins, but they were all either much older or much younger. It woulda been nice to have somebody to hang out with all the time.”

“Yeah, it was pretty cool. We always got along pretty well, and when our parents got divorced it was kinda like us against the world. She’s working on her Master’s right now, though, so we don’t get to see each other a lot.”

“I bet that’s tough.” Eric tilted his head. “What’s she studying?”

“Oh, she’s doing Clinical Psychology. She wants to be a counselor.”

“Lord. That sounds like a lot of work.”

“Right? I mean, I know it’s what she wants to do, so I’m proud of her, but I’ll just stick with editing videos and working at Target, thanks.”

Eric raised an eyebrow at him. “Target, huh? You’re not doing editing full time?”

“Nah.” Ricky shrugged. “I’d like to take it full time at some point, but working freelance doesn’t really bring in enough money so...retail it is.”

“Hmm.” Eric looked at him thoughtfully. “You know, I’ve been thinking about getting some help with editing. It’s fun but it’s so time-consuming, and I’d really like to have more time to spend on creating recipes.”

Ricky laughed. “Your videos seem great, Eric, but I don’t think you produce enough content to warrant a full-time editor.”

“Well not at first, no. But with a second man to edit maybe I’ll have time to expand my channel a bit. The Falconers PR team keeps talking to me about collaborating with the boys a bit, but I’ve been holding off. Maybe I can start with that.”

“That…sounds like a good move for you, yeah. And I think I’d enjoy working with you.” Ricky scratched his cheek. “The only thing is, I kind of have a personal rule. About pursuing things with clients.”

Bitty looked him over. “Well.” He grinned. “I’m not your client yet, am I?”

“You know what, Eric?” Ricky smiled back. “I think I really like you.”

(They decided to stay in for the rest of the night.)

 

“Becs. Dude. He’s so cute? I don’t know what to do.”

“About what? I see literally no downside here, bro.”

“I like him and we made out a lot but I also really need the job and I don’t know if I can date somebody I’m working for.”

“You’re a freelance editor, Ricky, not his actual employee. It’s not like he would be your boss.”

“Yeah, that’s true. But he also has a boyfriend already, and he’s like famous--”

“I’m hearing a lot of excuses here.”

Ricky sighed. “Yeah, yeah. I know.”

“You do this all the time, Ricky. Just let yourself have some fun with the guy. If it doesn’t work out, no big deal.”

Ricky spotted Eric in the lounge, typing away on his phone. He smiled. “He’s so cute, dude.”

“Oh my god. As your twin I hereby decree that you must ask him on a date. You’re already totally into him.”

“Shut up.” He caught Eric’s eye and nodded.

Eric’s face lit up and he waved for Ricky to join him.

“Is he there now? Talk to him, you doofus!”

“Gotta go. I’ll call you later.”

“Yeah, you better!”

“Bye!”

As he made his way over to Eric, his phone lit up with a text from Becca.

TALK TO HIM!!!!!

 

Fall 2023

“Becca!” Ellie ran ahead and launched into Becca’s arms.

“Hey, Becs,” Ricky joined in on their hug, grinning. He missed having his sisters around.

“God, I missed you guys,” Becca echoed his thought, holding on to them tightly.

Eric lifted Becca’s luggage from the ground and swung it over his shoulder. “All right, Bradys, let’s get out of here.”

They drove through Starbucks on the way home (Becca raised an eyebrow when Ellie started to order a latte, so she changed it to a hot chocolate) and then convened at the apartment.

“Okay, team.” Becca had an arm around Ellie, who was curled against her on the couch. “What’s the plan?”

Ellie buried her face in Becca’s shoulder. “I don’t know. Mom is pissed at me.”

Ricky squeezed her hand. “Mom’s not in charge of you, Ells. You get to make your own decisions and we’re gonna back you up on them.”

She frowned. “I still wish she would...I dunno. Be cool about this?”

“Well.” Ricky made eye contact with Becca before focusing back on Ellie. “Do you want to tell her?”

“I mean. I have to tell her eventually, right?”

“You don’t have to do anything.”

“Yeah, but she’s my mom. It can’t be that bad, can it?”

Becca kissed her head. “I don’t know, sweetie. Maybe?” She laughed to herself. “Being pregnant is probably normal after the shock of her first two kids.”

Ricky snorted. “Yeah, at least you didn’t come out as transgender or have sex with a boy--or, well, I guess you did have sex with a boy--”

“Shut up, Ricky.” Ellie rolled her eyes. “Guess I won’t tell her about the whole lesbian thing, then.”

“The what--?”

“Ellie! Really?” Becca’s eyes were wide.

“Come on, you guys didn’t actually think I was straight, did you?”

Ricky laughed and pulled them both into a hug.

“Look at us.” Ellie piped up. “Just a bunch of queers on a couch.”

“Okay but seriously.” Becca pulled back from the sibling embrace. “What do you want to do, Ells?”

She sighed, her hand going to her stomach. “I don’t know. I can’t go back to living there, not with a--” her eyes widened “--a baby. God. I’m going to be a mom.”

“Oh, sweetheart.” Becca rubbed her back. “You have time to figure things out, okay?”

“Here’s what I think we should do.” Ricky clapped his hands together. “We’ll get you set up here, Ells. Get the room decorated however you want and get all the stuff you need and just...you can stay here as long as you want.”

“What about Eric?”

Ricky raised an eyebrow. “What about him?”

“You can’t just offer up your house without talking to your husband, Ricky.”

“Oh, we already talked about it, Ells.” Ricky pulled her into a side-hug. “Eric would love to have you stay here.”

“I’d offer too, but it’s probably easier to stay in the country.” Becca winked and squeezed Ellie’s shoulder. “I’ll visit all the time, though, and I can be here whenever you need me.”

Ellie nodded slowly. “Okay.”

“We’ve got your back, kiddo.” Ricky kissed her head. “We’ll be here the whole way.”

 

Fall 2017

The thing was, Eric lived way across the country and Ricky wasn’t particularly interested in doing the long-distance thing, so...there was no issue. Right? Their romantic interaction had started and ended with making out at a con.

It was really great having a YouTube friend, though. He texted Eric pretty regularly to talk about videos and editing, to gossip about the latest scandal, and to swoon over Shane Dawson. (Okay, a lot of their texting was swooning over Shane Dawson, but who could blame them?)

When Eric mentioned how stressful things were getting with his growing channel, Ricky offered his editing services for a very reasonable price and ended up working regularly on Eric’s videos.

“So you’re gonna want to--oh, shoot.” Eric-in-the-video frowned at the spoon that he dropped on the floor. “Well that’s gonna have to go. Ricky, honey, I’m gonna start this one over. It’s all off, anyway.” He tossed the spoon in the sink, cleaned the cherry filling off the floor, and put the bowl in the fridge. “Okay.” Eric breathed in and out a few times and shook out his arms. Then he transformed into video-Eric, his face bright and cheerful as he walked through the steps for making filling again.

“Okay, that was a lot better.” He smiled at the camera. “Hope you don’t mind having to watch that twice, now, Mr. Brady.” Eric winked at him. “Time to do assembly.”

Ricky wouldn’t dare say it out loud, but watching Eric’s raw footage was one of his favorite parts of the job. He was just...so funny? And cheerful? And he got this cute little frown on his face when something didn’t go the way he wanted it to go, and Ricky was...definitely in trouble.

His ringing phone startled him out of his thoughts. He smiled to himself when he saw who was calling--speak of the devil.

“Hey, Eric!” He paused the video and leaned back in his chair.

“Hey honey! You get that footage that I sent?”

“Yep. Going over it right now, actually.”

“Oh Lord, please just work your magic and get it over with. That was a rough one.”

Ricky chuckled. “It’s not that bad.”

“How far along are you?”

“You’re about to start assembly.”

“Oh, you just wait. It gets so much worse.”

Ricky laughed again. “Are you calling me to whine about your footage, Eric?”

“No!” Eric huffed on the other end of the line. “I’m calling because I have some exciting news. I’m gonna be in town in a couple weeks!”

“Really?” Ricky sat up straight in his chair. “That’s awesome! What are you coming for?”

“Well…” Eric sounded like he was leading up to something. “I’m doing a collab, actually.”

“Oh my god. With who?”

“Somebody exciting.”

“Is it Shane? Oh my god, please let it be Shane. I’m gonna die.” Eric was laughing at him. “Shut up! Just tell me!”

“You are ridiculous, sir. Yes, it’s Shane.”

Ricky let out a shout-squeak that was completely embarrassing and also completely necessary.

“Oh my god, Ricky, you’re going to burst my eardrum!”

“Eric. This is gonna be so huge.” Ricky rubbed a hand excitedly over his face. “I mean, god, I know we were trying to get something set up with him, but I can’t believe--is this real life?”

“This is real life, honey. And it’s definitely gonna be huge.” He sounded a little hesitant. “I actually wanted to ask you something about that.”

“Ask away.”

“Well. I think we can expect that this will create another boom in my subscription numbers, and I’d really like to have a more steady stream of content to keep new subscribers engaged.”

“Uh huh.” Ricky smiled to himself--he had an idea where this was going.

“And I know you’ve had a bit of a lull in your one-off jobs lately, so I was wondering...would you maybe wanna go full time with me?”

Ricky grinned. “Really? You want me to?”

“Of course, honey.” Eric’s voice was soft now, like he was right there holding Ricky’s hand. “I love working with you, and if you’re available...well, I’d rather work with you full time than hire a second editor.”

“I would love to, Eric.”

“Oh good.” He let out a breath. “I’m so glad.”

“We’re gonna take YouTube by storm, Eric Richard Bittle.”

Eric laughed. “You bet we are, Richard Michael Brady.”

 

The airport was a nightmare, of course, but Ricky didn’t care. He waited anxiously by baggage claim, his eyes peeled for a glimpse of--

“Eric!” He jumped up and waved, catching Eric’s eye with a grin.

Eric sprinted forward to meet him and jumped into his outstretched arms. “Ricky! Oh Lord, it’s so good to see you!”

Ricky blushed and pulled back, scratching at the back of his neck. He was still grinning. “It’s good to see you too, man.” He nodded at the rotating carriages. “Should we find your bag?”

They only had to wait a few minutes for his bags to appear and then they were hiking back to Ricky’s car, each of them carrying a bag of equipment.

“You wanna get some food or something?” Ricky asked once they got off the freeway and closer to his place.

“Can we order something?” Eric dropped his head dramatically against the back of his seat. “I’m pooped.”

Ricky laughed. “Yeah. Pizza okay?”

“Pizza sounds fabulous.”

Ricky ordered the food while Eric got his stuff set up in the guest room and changed into comfier clothes. They ended up sitting close together on Ricky’s IKEA loveseat, munching on breadsticks while Eric looked for a hockey game.

“I thought Jack was off tonight?”

“He is. I’m looking for Kent’s game--they’re playing the Kings today.”

“That’s our team, right?”

Eric shot him a baleful look. “Yes, Mr. Brady. The LA Kings.”

“Are they playing here?”

“No, they’re at home.”

“Well this is home for the Kings!”

Eric rolled his eyes and elbowed him in the side. “I meant the Aces are at home.”

“Right.” Ricky raised an eyebrow. “Which is where, exactly?”

Now Eric’s gaze was incredulous. “Seriously? Kent Parson? The Las Vegas Aces?”

Ricky shrugged. “I’m a baseball guy, Eric. The only things I know about hockey are that it’s played on ice and that one guy is called The Great One.”

“That one guy.”

“Yeah.”

“Ricky. Honey.” Eric shook his head, looking pained. “You are completely hopeless, aren’t you?”

Ricky laughed and punched Eric’s shoulder. “Shut up! I’m not dating a famous hockey dude, I don’t know all the players personally like you do!”

“Yeah, yeah. That does have its advantages.” He dipped a breadstick into marinara and took another bite. “Don’t worry, young man. I’ll teach you everything you need to know.”

Ricky grinned. “Everything, huh?”

“Everything.”

 

Spending the day with Shane Dawson was probably one of the best things Ricky ever got to do. He and Eric were so starkly different and yet they got along famously, and Ricky honestly didn’t know which one he was more into.

“Well! What a day!” Eric dropped his bag by the door and leaned against the back of the couch. “You’ve got a lot of work ahead of you, Mr. Brady.”

Ricky sidled up to him and grinned. “That was seriously awesome.”

Eric licked his lips, his eyes darting across Ricky’s face. “Seriously.”

Ricky took a step closer and rested a hand on Eric’s waist. “I’m really glad you’re here.”

Eric hummed and put a hand on Ricky’s chest, his thumb rubbing gently across his shirt. “Me too, honey.”

They came together in a rush, Eric cupping Ricky’s face while he pulled him closer. Eric hopped up on the back of the couch and wrapped a leg around Ricky’s waist, deepening the kiss, and all Ricky could think about was how much his missed Eric’s touch.

“You wanna...fool around?” Eric asked against his lips.

Ricky took a moment to assess. He wasn’t really aroused yet, but he could feel himself getting there and he really wanted to feel Eric’s skin and maybe get his tongue all over it.

“Yeah. Yeah, okay.” Ricky pushed him over the back of the sofa and onto the cushions, hovering over him with a grin.

“You sure?” Eric raised his eyebrows expectantly. “It’s okay if you don’t wanna, honey--”

“I do, though.” Ricky leaned down and nipped at Eric’s earlobe. “Just had to think about it for a minute.” He grinned as Eric shivered under him. “I’ll let you know if anything changes.”

“Okay,” Eric said breathlessly. “Come here, you.” He tugged Ricky down and pressed their mouths together again.

It was a very good night.


Fall 2023

They spent the rest of the weekend helping Ellie set up her new bedroom. Eric called Dex over to look at installing a closet system while Ricky and Becca took Ellie out to get a new set of sheets and some dorm-style decorations to make it feel homey.

“What about--” Ellie frowned “--don’t we need, like a crib and stuff?”

“Let’s get it set up for you right now, sweetpea.” Eric ruffled her hair. “We have plenty of time to get all the baby’s stuff before it comes.”

The doorbell rang and Eric perked up. “That’s the armchair! I’ll let them in.” He hurried out of the room, leaving Ricky behind with Ellie and Dex.

“So! Anything special you want in this closet, Ellie? I can design it however you want.”

“I dunno. Can you put in some--”

“I said no!” Eric’s raised voice carried back to them.

“What the fuck?” Dex and Ricky exchanged a glance and hurried out to the living room.

“--every right to see my own daughter--”

“Oh shit.” Ricky frowned at the scene in front of him.

“Mom!” Ellie pushed past him and Dex and ran into their mother’s waiting arms.

“Eleanor!” Their mom pulled her into a hug, stroking her hair. “Oh, my baby. Thank god you’re okay.”

Ricky sighed.

This wasn’t going to go well.

Chapter Text

Fall 2023

“Hey, Jack?” Kenny poked him with his toe. “You remember...when I had that baby for Jenny and Swoops?”

Jack laughed and squeezed Kent’s foot. “Yeah, Kenny. I remember.”

“Do you think...would you ever want to do that for us?”

“Be a surrogate?” Jack scrunched his forehead. “I don’t have a uterus, Kenny.”

“No. I mean...a baby. Would you want to have a baby some day?”

Jack’s eyebrows shot up. “Oh.” He paused for a minute, considering. “I don’t know.” Being a parent came with a lot of responsibilities, and it wasn’t that he didn’t want to have kids...he just wanted to actually be a presence in their lives. “I think I’d like to be a dad, but it seems like it would be hard being on the road all the time.”

Kent nodded. “Yeah. Lots of guys do it, though.”

“That’s true.” Jack set his book down and scooted closer. “Do you want to have kids, Kenny?”

Kent fidgeted with a throw pillow. “Yeah. I think I really do. All this baby stuff is bringing it all up, you know? And I...really, really want to be a dad.”

Jack looked down at Kent’s restless hands and caught one in his own. “Do you think you can wait?”

“Maybe. I’m not getting any younger, though.”

“Would you want to carry the baby yourself?”

Kent shrugged. “It’s an option. But it’s not the only option.”

“How long have you been thinking about this?” Jack squeezed Kent’s hand.

“I mean, the last few days have brought it up again, but...I’ve wanted kids for a long time.”

“Okay.” Jack frowned in thought. “I...don’t think I’m ready right now, Kenny. I can’t--I want to be there. I don’t want to be on the road all the time. I don’t want my kid to think…”

“...that hockey is more important than anything else?” Kent finished for him.

Jack looked down at their hands and then up to meet Kent’s gaze. “Yeah. Exactly.”

Kent pulled him into a soft kiss. “Okay. I can wait.”

“Yeah?” Jack felt his throat tighten a little.

“Yeah, Zimms. Of course. Plus, we should probably get married first, eh?” Kent was grinning at him.

“Married?” Oh. Why hadn’t Jack thought of that? There they were, talking about kids, and they hadn’t even mentioned marriage to each other yet.

“Yup. It’s this thing where people sign a document that legally binds them--”

Jack tackled him to the couch and kissed him again to shut him up.

Marriage. Now that was something he could definitely do soon.

 

Summer 2018

“Hey, sweetpea.” Bitty looked up from his phone and gave him a smile. “Good game!”

“Thanks, bud.” Jack leaned down to kiss the side of his head and smiled down at Bitty’s phone screen. “Hey, Ricky. You guys working?”

“Nah, just chatting. Congrats on the win, man.”

“Thanks.”

“Jack, honey.” Bitty bit his lip and glanced down at the screen. Ricky nodded at him.

“What’s up, Bits?”

“We, uh--have some news.”

Jack slid onto the bed next to Bitty and raised an eyebrow. “Yeah?”

“Well, now that Parse is all retired and moving in here, Ricky was thinking it might be time for him to move out this way. So...we’re thinking of getting that apartment down the hall that just opened up.”

“Oh.” Jack blinked. “You know you don’t have to move out just because Parse is here, right?”

“I know, honey.” Bitty smiled and touched his cheek. “But it might be nice for y’all to have your own space.”

It would be kind of nice. He had spent the last year living with Bitty, and he loved Bitty, but he had missed Kenny desperately during the season and he was ready to soak up every minute of living with him now that he was out of the show.

“I love you,” Jack said, squeezing Bitty’s hand.

“I love you, too, baby.” Bitty kissed him gently.

“And we’ll just be down the hall,” Ricky said from the screen.

Jack laughed. “That’s true. We should just rent out the whole floor, get everybody to move in.”

“Now you’re talkin!” Bitty grinned. “We should see if Dex and the boys want to get a place here, too.”

“We’ll call it the polycule wing of the building.” Ricky said.

“I love it.” Jack ruffled Bitty’s hair. “When’re you thinking of moving, then?”

Ricky laughed. “My lease is up in two weeks, so...pretty soon.”

“Nice. I’m glad you’ll be up here, Ricky.” He nudged Bitty. “This guy whines about missing you all the time.”

“Hey!” Bitty punched his shoulder while Ricky laughed.

“Aww, babe, you missed me?”

“Oh hush, you!”

Jack smiled and left them to talk.

“Zimms!” Kent was drying off from a shower when Jack made it into their room. “I didn’t hear you come in.”

Jack leaned down and kissed him soundly. “It was just a few minutes ago.”

“Mmm. You played a good game tonight.” Kent touched his cheek. “That was a sexy goal in the second.”

“I got it just for you, Kenny,” Jack murmured, kissing him again.

Kent laughed. “I’m sure you say that to all the boys.”

“Nah. Just the ones I’ve been in love with since Juniors.”

Kent blushed nicely when he was half-naked and still dripping from the shower.

 

Fall 2023

“Oh shit.”

Jack looked up from his laptop. “What?”

“Bits just texted.” Kent held Jack’s phone out to him with a frown.

Bittle
Ricky’s mom is here.
Backup, please.

Jack looked up at Kent. “Shit.”

Dex answered the door and let them in without a word. Ricky and his mom were talking in quiet, angry voices in the middle of the living room, Bitty standing stoically next to his husband.

Ellie and Becca were nowhere to be seen.

“I’ll go see if the girls are okay,” Kent said quietly.

Jack squeezed his hand in thanks and stood with Dex, watching the argument.

“--don’t know what the hell you’re doing, Ricky.” Diana was radiating disapproval, her arms crossed and her shoulders held high. “You have no idea how to take care of a pregnant teenager.”

“I know just about as much as you do, Mom. And she’s a legal adult, she can go wherever she wants.”

“She wants to go home! With her mother!”

“Mrs. Tremaine, she does not want to go with you.”

“This does not concern you, Eric!”

“Mom--”

“She doesn’t need to be here under your influence, with your--”

“No.” Ricky seemed to grow a whole foot taller in his anger, his fists clenched at his side. “I don’t even want to know the end of that sentence. Just--get out of my house. Now.”

Jack exchanged an impressed look with Dex.

Diana looked around, taking note of the odds, and nodded sharply. “Fine. But mark my words, Ricky: you are not prepared to handle this.”

She left in a huff, brushing past Jack and Kent with a glare.

As soon as she was gone, Jack could hear the crying from the other room. Bitty gave them a pleading look, and Kent immediately headed for Ellie’s room, patting Ricky on the shoulder as he passed.

“You did good, honey,” Bitty said quietly.

Ricky deflated, his face crumbling, and he collapsed into Bitty’s arms with a sob.

Dex nudged Jack and led him to the kitchen, giving Bitty and Ricky a little privacy.

“Thanks for coming.”

Jack sighed. “How bad was it?”

“So bad.” Dex pulled a plastic container from the fridge and took out a mini pie. “Ellie was so happy to see her, and then--” He shook his head and took a bite.

“Shit. Poor Ellie.”

“Yeah.” Dex held out the container and Jack took a pie, too. “She just wants her mom to support her, you know?” Dex frowned. “It’s bullshit.”

“I know.” Jack nudged Dex with his shoulder. “You okay? That probably wasn’t easy for you, either.”

“I’m fine.”

Jack raised an eyebrow at him.

“Okay, it sucked. I’ll be okay, though--I’ve worked through a lot of that shit.”

“Good for you.” Jack patted his back. “Think we should take some of these pies to Ellie?”

“I think that’s a great idea.”

 

Fall 2019

Jack kissed Kenny’s cheek. “I’m so proud of you,” he murmured.

Kent smiled. “I feel good, Zimms. This is gonna be so great for them.”

“I know.” He laid his hand over Kent’s. “You’re doing a good thing here, Kenny.”

They gazed at the monitor, the steady heartbeat of Jeff and Jenny’s baby thumping quietly. Then the nurse came back with the parents, both too overjoyed to say anything, and Jack squeezed Kent’s hand.

How did Jack get so lucky?

“I’m so proud of you, Kenny.” Jack said again later that night.

Kent blushed under him. “Yeah?”

“So proud.” Jack kissed his neck. “You’re so good.”

Kent keened quietly and pulled Jack in for a kiss.

“So amazing,” Jack whispered, pulling back just enough to see the look in Kent’s eye.

“Zimms--”

“I’ve got you, Kenny.”

They made love gently that night, Jack focusing all his energy on letting Kent know how proud he was.

 

Fall 2023

“I miss you,” Jack said to Kent’s face on his phone screen.

Kent smiled. “I miss you too, Zimms.”

Tater threw a balled up sock at him. “No more! Am done with sappy, Zimmboni!”

Kent laughed and shouted, “Sorry, Tates!”

Tater grumbled to himself and put a pair of headphones in. “You are getting off phone soon! I’m not wanting to be up all night.”

“Soon, Tater, I promise.” Jack turned back to Kent. “Everything going okay there?”

Kent shrugged. “They’re fine. The Evil Mother left town this morning, so everybody’s calming down a bit. Ellie’s pretty bummed, though.”

“I’m sure she is.” Jack frowned. “I always forget how awful Diana is, and then I see her again and--well, I’m glad Ellie got out of there.”

“Me, too.” Kent sighed. “Family is hard.”

Jack rolled his eyes. “Tell me about it.”

“Thank god we can pick our own families once we’re grown up.” Kent was looking at him meaningfully.

Jack swallowed. “I always want you to be my family, Kenny.” He smiled gently. “Officially.”

“Yeah?” Kent was smiling, too, his eyes bright. “Me too, Zimms. Always.”

“Good.” Jack nodded. “Glad that’s settled then.”

“Sleep, Zimmboni!” Tater threw another balled-up sock at Jack’s bed.

“Guess I have to go.”

Kent blew him a kiss. “Call me before your nap tomorrow, yeah?”

“Of course.” Jack soaked in the image of his boyfriend, the love of his life, all happy and warm in their bed at home. “I love you, Kenny.”

“Love you too, Zimms. Good night.”

“Good night.”

 

 

July 2024

Bitty loaded the last box of supplies into the back of the car and closed it with a sigh.

“That went really well,” Ricky said, wrapping his arms around Bitty’s waist and resting his chin on his shoulder.

“Yeah. It really did.” Bitty smiled and kissed his husband’s forehead. “They seemed really happy, didn’t they?”

“Definitely.” Ricky sighed. “I’m just glad we were able to get the cans tied to their bumper.”

Bitty laughed. “I’m pretty sure that’s not actually legal, Mr. Brady.”

“Eh. They’re rich hockey stars who just got married--they’ll be fine.”

The event coordinator came out then, locking up the stadium for the night. “Looks like everything’s in order.” She shook Bitty’s hand one last time. “We’d love to put some of the pictures on our events site when they’re ready.”

Bitty nodded. “I’ll have their agent contact you.”

“Thank you, Mr. Bittle.” She shook Ricky’s hand, too. “Mr. Brady.”

“You did great, Sherrie. We’ll be leaving a glowing review, don’t you worry.”

She smiled and thanked them again before leaving for her own car.

“Well, Mr. Brady. Should we head home to the kiddos?”

Ricky squeezed his hand. “I think that’s an excellent plan, Mr. Bittle.”

“You think Miss Victoria is sleeping?” Bitty asked as they got into the car.

Ricky laughed. “Doubtful. She napped through the whole wedding--she’s going to be wide awake.”

“Poor Ellie.” Bitty sighed. “Looks like we’re gonna be on baby duty tonight.”

“We can handle it.”

Bitty reached across the console and took Ricky’s hand. They drove home in quiet, just existing together in the latest hours of the night. When they got home Bitty took the baby from Ellie and sent her to bed with a, “Don’t you worry, honey. We’ll take care of her while you rest.”

It was nearly 2:00 am when baby Vicky fell asleep in her uncle Ricky’s arms on the couch. Bitty snapped a quiet picture, smiling down at this part of his sweet little family, before waking his husband and getting everyone to bed.