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The start of all things that are left to do

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“We can’t bring the box to Georgia.”

“Why not?” Jack hefts the sex box in his hands and looks down at his suitcase, forlorn. “It’d fit.”

“Because my mama is nosy, Jack, you know this.”

“She’s not nosy enough to go through our luggage—we’ll just keep it out of sight, she’ll never know.”

“Jack.” Bitty rolls his eyes and plucks the box from where Jack settles it in the suitcase. “If you’re really that dependent, you can pull a note from it and bring that with us, but I refuse to lug around a box in our suitcase. Lord knows our bag would get picked for a random airport security search. I do not need the airline workers of the greater Boston area knowing what our sexual preferences are.”

Jack laughs and tries to snag the box out of Bitty’s grip, but he spins around and sticks it back in the side table drawer.

“At least pick a note first,” Jack says. “I’ll even let you choose.”

Bitty rolls his eyes but slides a folded note from the drawer and hands it to Jack without reading it. “I don’t want to know how we’ll be defiling my childhood home until we get there.”

Jack laughs and tucks the note in one of the jeans he’s already folded into the suitcase. “It’ll be a surprise for both of us then. Let’s hope there are no props required, or we’ll have to find out if Madison has a sex shop.”

“It most certainly does not,” Bitty says, blushing like he hadn’t been the one to find the Providence sex shop. “You have to go all the way to Atlanta.”

“Road trip. Maybe Coach will let us borrow the truck.”

“Only for fireworks, Jack, you know the rule.” Bitty pauses and squints at Jack. “I really hope going into this you know I will not be having sex with you in my father’s truck. The mosquitos would eat us in all the wrong places and I’d really like to look Coach in the eye when we get home afterward. No funny business, Jack Zimmermann.”

Jack grins and taps the side of his suitcase, thinking about the ring hidden inside, the proposal he’s rewritten in his head a dozen times.

“No promises, Bits.”

***

Madison, Georgia is sticky on the best days and made of more humidity than anything else on the worst. It makes Jack lament the time he’s not at the rink, for no other reason than to have a chance to cool down.

Bitty slips right back into the weather and his accent within moments of getting off the plane, greeting his parents with hugs and endearments while Jack sweats his way across the parking lot, lugging their suitcase behind him. It’s always like this, every time they go back, and Jack swears that one day he’ll get used to it. Not this day, though. Unfortunate.

Coach drives them back to the house and gives Jack a friendly clap on the shoulder almost a dozen times, which is really doing wonders for Jack’s self-esteem. Bitty’s parents approve of him, that much is clear, but they’re being more than a little obvious about it right now, which makes him think they must know he’s up to Something.

Or maybe Bitty’s up to Something.

Regardless, Jack isn’t going to rush his plan, not when he’s this close to executing it. He’ll propose during the fireworks and not a moment before, even if he sees Bitty dropping down to one knee.

Especially if he sees Bitty dropping down to one knee.

“We’re popping over to the Murphy’s, so you boys take some time to settle in,” Suzanne says, not long after their return to the Bittle household, arms already full of jam and Other Jarred Items. “Unpack and rest up, all the littles are coming over tomorrow, so I’ll expect you both to be in tip-top shape.”

“Yes ma’am,” Jack says, which earns him another pat on the shoulder and a grin from Mrs. Bittle. Oh yeah, he’s crushing this future fiancé thing.

They’ve been alone for approximately six minutes—long enough to hear Suzanne’s much more practical car back out of the driveway—before Jack Remembers the note.

They have an empty house for what will probably be the only time during their visit, and Jack does not intend to let it Go To Waste.

Bitty isn’t quite on the same page, but he does look at Jack with interest when he goes bounding up the stairs to Bitty’s room.

Bitty’s childhood room is something Jack doesn’t think he’ll ever get over. His own was various shades of blue, hockey memorabilia, and an air of impersonal feeling. Bitty’s is gingham curtains and old posters and sunshine streaming through the window. It’s figure skating trophies and a Samwell pennant and pictures of baby Bitty. It’s everything a home could want, everything Jack could want, made into a place he can physically visit.

He’s traced the posters a dozen times, stared at the pictures until he feels as though he could conjure them in his sleep, but right now he doesn’t give this beautiful space the respect it deserves and instead dives head first into his suitcase.

He emerges triumphant and flourishes the note towards Bitty, who’s still smirking in the doorway.

“It’s daylight, Jack.”

“We’ve had sex during the day before. A lot, actually.”

“But not when we were in my parent’s house! With the very real possibility that they’ll come home while we’re going at it!”

“Your parents went out, we saw them leave.”

“That doesn’t matter! This ol’ house creaks so much all the neighbors’ll know what we’ve been up to. And Margie’s the biggest gossip, especially at holiday potlucks.”

Jack smiles as he unfolds the note, and it feels devious, even to him. “I guess we’ll just have to be very quiet then.”

“Sex in a place you aren’t supposed to. Secret sex, if you will.”

Jack shows the note to Bits, who’s stepped closer, despite his apparent reluctance.

“Don’t look so self-satisfied, Mr. Zimmermann. Sex in Georgia is not all it’s cracked up to be.”

“I’m the only one you’ve had sex with in Georgia.”

“And?” Bitty raises his eyebrows, then winks at Jack. “That was winter and at a hotel, sweetpea. We both know we’re gonna be just swimming in sweat.”

“Great, everything’ll be even slicker.” Jack sidles closer to Bitty, sliding his hands down until they settle on his hips. “Besides, you can’t tell me you’ve never wanted to fuck a pretty boy in your bedroom.”

Bitty’s expression does nothing to hide his interest, even though he’s trying to pretend. “You’re tapping into some very old fantasies,” Bitty says, but kisses Jack back when he leans down. “I’m not sure they’re even valid anymore.”

Jack squeezes Bitty’s hips and his eyes flutter. “Sure, Bits, of course not.”

Bitty hums and presses up on his toes to kiss Jack again.

“Am I not a pretty enough boy?” Jack teases.

Bitty rolls his eyes and drops his hands to Jack’s ass. “The prettiest boy. Too pretty for my poor little closeted heart to handle. High school me wouldn’t have even made it to first base, let alone tried to talk to you.”

“To be fair, neither would high school me. You’re exactly the kind of boy who made me nervous,” Jack replies, grinning when Bitty squeezes.

“Fast and blonde?”

“I have a type.”

They strip, making out like teenagers between each removed article of clothing. Jack actually trips trying to take his shorts off, so the mood is Convincingly High School-Esque, especially when they tumble onto Bitty’s bed and it creaks.

“Oh, Lord,” Bitty says, laughing and rocking a bit. The mattress creaks below them. “I told you the neighbors would hear us.”

“Yeah, the eighty-year-old couple several meters away will definitely hear us.” Jack grins toward the open window. “I think I can almost see their house from here.”

“Do not joke about sweet old Mr. and Mrs. O’Connell.” Bitty pokes Jack’s abdomen and rolls over, trying to keep a straight face as the mattress lets out an angry squeak. “They’ve seen this town rise from the dust and they’ll see it fall.”

“How biblical,” Jack says, wiggling his eyebrows. “You going to get biblical with me?”

“You’re lucky we aren’t here on a Sunday, otherwise I would take you to church, Jack Zimmermann.” Bitty rolls back and kisses him, the two of them smiling so much it’s hardly more than a press of lips and smiles.

“You should take me anyway,” Jack mumbles, thinking about the ring in his bag and the lube packet in his pocket at the same time. Priorities.

“You’ve somehow convinced me to have sex with you in my childhood home,” Bitty says, fishing Jack’s shorts off the floor and tugging the lube packet from the pocket. “We might as well go to church afterward.”

Jack laughs and folds his legs up, giving Bitty room to settle between them. The room is small and the bed is even smaller, the two of them pressed close. The air is sweltering, but Jack doesn’t mind the sweat starting to form along his body. Bitty’s always been warmth and sunlight, and it’s not like Jack’s never been burned. He doesn’t mind a little heat when it comes from Bitty.

Bitty keeps kissing him, slow and deep, as he presses a finger into Jack. It’s been a while since they’ve had time to do this slow, and while Jack would love nothing more than to make it last the whole afternoon, they do only have a little bit of time before Bitty’s parents return. In fact, the idea that they could come home any time has Jack rolling his hips down, urging Bitty to press in a little faster. His skin is practically humming, a cacophonous harmony to the squeaky springs beneath them.

“I don’t want to alarm you, bud,” Jack says, breath hitching when Bitty crooks his finger. “But we don’t have all day.”

“I do know where we are, Jack.” Bitty crooks his finger again and then adds another. He speeds up a bit, and while Jack does mourn the slow stretch, he certainly doesn’t mind the burn that comes with the speed. The bed creaks below them, and Jack stills, trying not to move too much.

Jack hums with the stretch, arching his back a bit to try and take Bitty deeper. He closes his eyes briefly, and the room is still well-lit and warm, the slick sounds of them together filling the small space.

When Bitty’s satisfied that he’s fingered Jack enough he slips out. Jack opens his eyes to watch Bitty wrap a hand around himself, and honestly, the image of Bitty, his own cock in his hand, is something Jack thinks he’ll never get tired of. He’d frame the image if he could, and hang it above their bed, but they have nosy friends and Bitty would never forgive him.

Bitty leans over Jack and guides himself in, just as slow and deliberate as he’d started with his fingers. He balances himself on his palms on either side of Jack’s head, a hovering feast of tan skin and soft smiles, all for Jack.

Jack slides his hands down Bitty’s sides as Bitty presses in, and it’s slow, aching, filling Jack so beautifully.

“That’s it, sweetpea,” Bitty murmurs, nose bumping against Jack’s temple. “You take me so well.”

Jack groans and the mattress lets out a high-pitched squeak as Bitty starts to move. The sounds of their skin, slick with sweat and pressed together, fills the room, every stroke matched by a persistent creak.

Jack can’t help but laugh, trying to keep quiet, and grips Bitty’s hips, not to guide, just to anchor him.

“The whole county will know what we’ve been up to,” Bitty gasps. Jack slides up to thumb at his nipples just for a second, before his hands wander back down. They’ve built a good rhythm, the mattress squeaking in time with their thrusts, and Jack feels so in love, so alive. Bitty’s filling him and surrounding him, in this room that’s a past and a future all in one.

Jack leans his head back and kisses Bitty again, the two of them a rocking island on a bed trying to tell their story.

A floor beneath them, the front door squeaks open and slams shut.

Bitty squeaks and slaps his palm over his mouth, eyes wide.

Jack looks up at him, and they’ve both gone completely still. Jack thinks even the sweat forming all over his body is frozen, waiting to see if they’ll get caught.

Bitty squeezes his eyes shut and presses his forehead to Jack’s. “Oh my God,” he whispers, voice made of mortification.

“We’d hear them if they were here,” Jack whispers back, tightening his grip on Bitty’s hips. “They’d be talking and moving things. The screen door was unlocked, maybe the wind opened it?”

“Or there are burglars about to catch me ass deep in a Stanley cup champion,” Bitty hisses. “Why did we do this? In my mother’s home?”

“We’re technically still doing it,” Jack says, a little bit louder, and laughs at the way Bitty glares at him. “Bud, your mom would shout that they’re home, I think we’re okay.”

“If a possum wandered into the kitchen while we’re having teenage fantasy sex, I will never forgive you.”

Jack laughs again, and starts rocking against Bitty once more. Bitty doesn’t really react, but he’s also still hard inside Jack, so Jack’s going to do his best to make this Great. He rubs his palms over Bitty’s forearms, thumbs brushing against his wrist. He can feel Bitty’s pulse racing under his fingertips.

“You okay, bud?” Jack asks.

Bitty takes a deep breath, and then yells, “Anybody down there?”

Jack forgets sometimes how loud Bitty can be, and not even while they’re having sex.

No one responds from downstairs: not parents, burglars, or possum, so Jack figures they’re safe.

“Had to check,” Bitty says, shrugs and then Absolutely Rails Jack.

Jack’s breath catches in his throat, and he can only gasp wordlessly at the way Bitty pounds into him.

He’s either more turned on by the idea of getting caught than Jack realized, or is determined to make them finish before anyone comes back. But it’s working for Jack, who kind of feels like all he can do is hang on for dear life while pleasure is shaken from his body.

“Bits,” Jack manages, voice returning just in time to produce a high-pitched whining sound. Half of him wants to deny the sound came from him, but the other is too self-aware to justify it. Bitty’s turning him into some kind of high-frequency machine with his dick. Sex made me a robot.

Jack laughs, because apparently his brain has been fucked into absurdity, and then groans when Bitty directs one of Jack’s hands to wrap around himself.

“I gotta hold myself up, hon,” Bitty says, and he’s panting, hips moving at an alarming pace, hitting all the places inside Jack that make him feel as though Bitty must certainly know his body better than him. “You’re gonna have to be the wraparound.”

“Not even sure I’ll need it,” Jack says. He gets a hand around his cock and starts a haphazard rhythm, more focused on the way Bitty’s cock is gliding in and out of him with an intensity that rivals Jack’s own focus.

It’s breathtaking, literally. Bitty’s drenched in sweat and actually dripping down onto Jack, and it’s the Hottest Thing Jack Has Ever Seen.

The room is lit up with Georgia sun and heat and Bitty is bent over him in his childhood bed, giving Jack what he can only imagine is the closest thing to a teenage post-prom fuck either of them would get. It’s exhilarating and sweaty and everything Jack had dreamed it would be.

He spills between them, still high on the adrenaline of a door slammed shut, of a beautiful blonde man taking him home, of a fast and frenzied fuck that has left Jack literally breathless.

Bitty takes only a moment longer, face red and eyebrows pulled together. His arms are shaking when he finally collapses down onto Jack, and it seems like neither of them can catch their breath.

“Holy shit,” Jack gasps.

“Holy shit,” Bitty agrees.

“We’re home!” Suzanne calls through the screen door, the sound of it opening once more echoing through the whole house.

Jack laughs so hard he still can’t breathe. Bitty is permanently red.

***

Jack’s the one who drives the familiar pickup truck, and his hands settle in the grooves on the steering wheel just like they had the first time. It’s smaller than Jack remembers, or maybe he and Bitty are bigger now, grown into themselves and this life that they share.

Bitty’s looking out the window, fingers tapping out a rhythm on the wooden picnic basket in his lap, nodding along with whatever southern twang is coming from the sad truck radio. It didn’t work very well last time either, but it’s part of the charm. Jack never pictured himself enjoying certain aspects of life in the deep south, but on nights like this, with the windows rolled down and the sticky heat hiding behind cicada calls and fireflies, Jack thinks this is something he could get used to.

“They’ll be startin’ soon, do you remember the turnoff?” Bitty asks, looking over at Jack, face sun-flushed, smile soft.

“There will never be anything about this particular piece of road that I will ever forget,” Jack replies, before nearly missing the turnoff.

Bitty laughs as Jack careens onto it but doesn’t say anything, just hugs the picnic basket to his chest and laughs fully, deeply, lovely.

Jack turns down the static twang until it’s almost nothing, a suggestion of sound in an already fully orchestrated night. He pulls the truck over against the edge of the field and puts it in park. The bugs are nearly an orchestra when Jack turns off the engine, trying to fill the space that was previously roaring. The mosquitos are already in full effect, so Jack’s glad they liberally applied bug spray before heading out.

The sun’s barely set, so they start unfolding blankets in the dying light. At least the bed of the truck is about the same size Jack remembers. Once they get the blankets flattened and spread across the bed, Jack crawls in until he can lean against the back windows, leaving space between his legs for Bitty to settle.

It’s sticky, stupid hot, almost too warm to be pressed together like this, but Jack would rather sweat a little than put space between them. Not tonight.

Bitty tucks his head just under Jack’s chin, knees bent, and tugs Jack’s arms until they’re wrapped around his middle.

“Do we eat before or after the fireworks?” Bitty asks, tilting his head back just enough that Jack can tilt his head and look down at him.

“We ate too much at the house, bud. I’m going to need at least the first round of fireworks before we can bust out the pie.”

“I told you not to eat all those sloppy joes.”

“I’m trying to impress your father by eating everything he tries to feed me,” Jack replies. “He’s one of many Bittles who feel the need to feed people incessantly.”

“Hush, you.” Bitty elbows him. “It’s called southern hospitality.”

“It’s called angering my nutritionist.”

Bitty grins and settles closer to Jack, ignoring the way both of their shirts are sticking to their skin.

The first of the fireworks is a little red burst, and the noise from this close is louder than Jack remembers. They have to crane their necks to look up at the lights, but it’s just as awe-inspiring, just as heart-in-his-throat as the first time. It makes Jack feel like a child, feel new and bright, like he could reach up and pluck an ember from the fireworks and find himself inside them.

Fireworks are illegal in Montreal, so Jack never had a childhood filled with lights like this, but it makes getting to see them with Bitty so much better. This is his fireworks experience: an old rusty pickup truck and a field that might be beans or might be corn (but is undeniably something green), a young man tucked in his arms. There is nowhere Jack would rather be, and no one he’d rather be with.

A blue firework bursts above them, and Jack unwraps an arm from Bitty to reach into his pocket.

Bitty tears his eyes away from the lights to glance at Jack, concerned, but his eyes immediately lock onto the box in Jack’s hands.

“Eric Richard Bittle,” Jack says slowly, feeling the weight of each word, of this name that Bitty has long since abandoned. “When we first met, I had already decided you weren’t worth my time. I was scared and arrogant and focused, and you were this tiny skater, completely and utterly distracting.”

Jack presses his lips to Bitty’s temple and, arms wrapped back around in front of both of them, opens the box to reveal the ring his grandfather wore for years. It's gold, just a simple band, something that won’t get caught in the food Bitty makes or be too conspicuous when he vlogs. But it’s something, Jack knows, that will mean the world to both of them.

Above them, another firework cracks into a spray of color, but neither of them are watching anymore.

He’s practiced this speech a dozen times, written it out on notecards and napkins and in between notes in his playbook. He could probably propose to Bitty in his sleep, slip into his robotic press voice and list off the reasons he loves Eric Richard Bittle.

It’s different, though, actually saying the words to Bitty. And, yeah, Jack’s had them memorized for days, prepping for this moment with 110%, but he can Feel the words this time, just like he can feel the way Bitty’s breath hitches, feel the way he stills in Jack’s arms. He can feel and breathe and be in this moment with Bitty, shaking and sure all at once. Because this is Everything, and Jack wants to feel it forever.

“But you surprised me,” Jack says. “Still distracting, yes, but more than that. Something unbelievable. I had never, in my entire life, met someone who so encompassed the idea of love and care. You are a lighthouse in my darkest days, my safe place to land. My butter and my sugar, reminding me that the world is something sweet. You are my sunny day, and I never, ever want to spend another day in the rain.

“I was lost in myself when I first met you, and it took a distraction, a photography class, an afternoon in your kitchen covered in flour, to realize I’d been missing you all along. I was lost and then you found me. And I found you. And I would really, really love if we could keep on finding each other for the rest of our lives.”

Jack can’t look at Bitty, eyes only on the ring in his shaking hands.

“Eric Richard Bittle,” Jack says again, and it’s lighter this time, because he knows Bitty, he knows Eric, and he knows that no matter what name he wears he’ll be someone Jack will love forever. “Will you marry me?”

Then Bitty turns around and looks at him, palms framing Jack’s face. He’s crying, which Jack would think is a bad thing, except he’s smiling too, and the sun has already set, but Bitty is beaming.

“Jack Zimmermann, you ridiculous man,” Bitty says, voice thick. “You couldn’t have waited just another minute?”

And then Bitty reaches into the picnic basket and pulls out his own ring box.

Kneeling between Jack’s legs, Bitty opens it, revealing a simple silver band, one that Jack has seen in old photographs in Bitty’s house, an elderly man with his arms wrapped around Bitty’s Moomaw.

“You’re determined and competitive and ridiculous and I love you more than baking, more than new rolling pins, more than anything else in the world. You’re my heart, Jack Zimmermann, plucked outta my chest and put on this Earth for me to love. So I wanna spend the rest of my life doing just that.”

Jack folds a shaking hand over Bitty’s shoulder and feels his heart nearly come crashing through his chest, trying to sit with the man in front of him, the physical representation of what Jack loves most in the world.

“I’ll marry you,” Bitty says, taking the ring out of the box and holding it out to Jack, “but only if you marry me.”

“Yeah,” Jack says, and his throat feels tight, and then he can’t say anything eloquent because Bitty’s pressed against him, lips chasing his, in a kiss that means more than any other kiss they’ve shared. It’s bigger than their first kiss in the Haus, more than their coming out kiss on the ice. This is something different, something deeper. A recognition that they are, and always will be, loved by one another.

They break apart long enough to reverently slide rings onto each other’s fingers, looking down at their respective left hands and admiring how, even with only the fading glow from the fireworks and the smoky moon, they can still see a new shine.

“Mama’s gonna kill me for getting engaged on a backroad,” Bitty says, and Jack just wraps his arms around him and laughs.

And maybe he’s crying a bit and sweating a lot, but it doesn’t matter. They’re both going to be bitten by mosquitos and smell like firework smoke and maybe even get the cops called on them for making out in a cornfield like a couple of teenagers. But none of it matters because Bitty said yes and Jack said yes and the stars won’t ever shine as brightly as the two of them.