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Samwell Elementary School

Chapter Text

Jack is seated across from his daughter’s room, absentmindedly humming the Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood theme song. Maisie’s door is closed, but he can hear her banging around in her room as she picks out her outfit for the day. Jack tries to ignore that anxious feeling he has, tries to squash it down deep. It will be her first day of Kindergarten, and that is a big change for her. But Jack reminds himself that she went to preschool for three days a week last year, and did fine and then the year before that when she was only just three years old, she went to preschool twice a week and did fine. Kindergarten just feels an awful lot bigger, and he knows it is. But, he also knows, that worrying too much about it won’t do either one of them any favors.

“Maisie…” Jack calls through the closed door once he finishes his humming. He glances down at his watch, wondering how long it will take his daughter to pick out her outfit. She insisted that she do it herself today because she’s a big girl now. Hearing that felt something like a gut punch to him, but he had managed to school his facial expression—forced a smile though it hurt—and agreed.

“Almost done, Papa!” Maisie sounds almost winded and that causes Jack some concern.

His phone vibrates in his pocket and he fishes it out. His lips curl into a smile as he reads the text.

Uncle Crappy:
Jack-attack! How is your beautiful ass today? Oh, and you?

Jack:
Both of us are fine. I’m waiting for Maisie to finish getting dressed. She is picking out her own outfit today, and I’m not allowed to help. Then Camilla will be coming over, and we’ll both be dropping her off at Samwell together.

Uncle Crappy:
Excellent, I will see you there, brah! Also, Bitty is the best kindergarten teacher we’ve got. And Maisie is going to kick ass as a kindergartner.

Jack:
Thanks, Shitty. See you then.

Jack pockets his phone once more, and as he does, Maisie’s door opens. She steps out of her bedroom, looking almost shy. She is dressed in a Falconers’ jersey, bright pink leggings, and one of her poofy purple skirts. She’s wearing rain-boots that do not match, one is blue with pink unicorns all over it and the other is black and shiny. Jack hopes she remembered to put socks on with those boots. Her dark hair is a mess and needs to be brushed. Her big, brown eyes that look just like her mother’s, are gazing up at him.

“I love the look, kiddo,” Jack says, and Maisie’s face lights up. She jumps up and down excitedly before hugging him tight around the legs. Jack laughs, “we need to brush your hair before your Mom gets here,” Jack explains as he ushers her to the bathroom.


 

The conversation on the way to Maisie’s new school is light and easy-going. It was a couple of years after their daughter was born (about a month before her second birthday) that Jack and Camilla realized they no longer worked well as a married couple. They struggled a little while longer, trying to rekindle what they had had back in college and at the start of Jack’s professional career. But the sparks weren’t there, and they realized, it would be better to call it quits. The divorce had been painful even if it was something they both felt was right for them, and their daughter. There have been ups and downs, but Jack is confident and he knows Camilla is too, that they made the right decision for their family. Co-parenting can be difficult at times, but they work hard at it and have fallen into a routine.

He is grateful to have a partner like Camilla in parenting.

“Did Papa do your hair?” Camilla asks lightly, craning her head to look in the back seat at their daughter.

Maisie nods her head up and down, making her slightly uneven pigtails bounce up and then down. “Yep!”

“You are getting better at it, Jack,” Camilla says just loud enough for him to hear, before speaking up louder for Maisie. “It looks great, just like your outfit.”

Jack can’t help the way he feels proud about getting better at doing Maisie’s hair. He is best at pulling it back into a simple ponytail. Braiding hair is still beyond his skill level, even after watching numerous videos on youtube. He has even tried to practice braiding on Shitty’s hair, but it always ends up a mess. Probably because Shitty seems incapable of sitting still long enough, and he is always exaggerating how much Jack pulls on his hair when braiding. Pigtails, he likes, even if they are somewhat lopsided, but he would like to be able to do more for his daughter.

They pull into the school parking lot and Jack climbs out of his car. He moves around to the back, opening the door. Maisie has unbuckled herself and jumped down from her seat. She looks at him with bright eyes, absolutely happy and thrilled with the upcoming adventure of a new school year. Jack feels a mixture of emotions as he looks at her: happy, excited, terrified, and anxious to name a few. His daughter does not seem to have an ounce of fear or anxiety. She has jumped down from the car, holding onto his hand for minimal support. Camilla hands her herDaniel Tiger backpack, and it looks impossibly big on her small frame. Jack is aware of other families with kids walking into the school, and some look just as small as Maisie while others look too big. Way too big to be going into the same school as his daughter. It is a little jarring to know that she’ll be that big too one day. Maisie reaches her left hand out towards him, her mother already holding her right. Jack forces a smile as he takes his daughter’s small hand in his. He tries to forget how scary this is to him, and instead, tries to feel only happy about it like Maisie is.

“Uncle Crappy!” Maisie squeals as she spies Shitty standing near the school entrance. Jack has to hand it to his friend, he cleans up nicely for work. Maisie wriggles out of her parents’ hands and runs towards Shitty, who scoops her up into a hug and spins her around. Seeing and knowing that one of his oldest friends will be teaching at the same school, will be in the same building as Maisie, settles Jack’s nerves. Shitty is hugging Camilla now and looking expectantly at Jack who moves in for a hug of his own.

“Okay, Sir Maisie, your favorite uncle needs to get to his own class. Killer outfit, by the way.” Shits says, setting down Maisie who pouts.

“I wish you were teaching me, Uncle Crappy!” Maisie says, crossing her arms over her chest. There’s a stubborn look in her eyes, and Jack knows she is rearing up to argue her case.

Shitty squats down to Maisie’s level, resting a hand on her shoulder. “I know, kid. Me too, but you know what? Mr. Bitty is a great teacher. You told me you liked him when you met him the other day.” Shitty pauses for a second or two, before stage whispering, “I have it on good authority he bakes little pies for all his students on the first day. You wanna get your pie, don’t you?” He straightens up, winking at both Jack and Camilla. Maisie now looks absolutely thrilled, once more, to be going to school.

They say their goodbyes to Shitty, and his daughter takes the lead. She walks a little ahead of her parents, not wanting to hold either one of their hands. Jack at least knows he can grab her quickly if he needs to. They weave between parents and kids saying their goodbyes to each other. He plays professional hockey, and this won’t be the first time he has left Maisie. But it feels different because when he is on the road, he knows she is with her mother. But today, they will be dropping her off with a virtual stranger, and not just for a couple of hours, but all day long. He feels Camilla nudge him gently in the shoulder with her own. Jack looks over at her quickly.

“It is going to be okay, Jack,” Camilla says, loud enough for him to hear.

“I know. I just… I can’t help but worry,” He admits, and Camilla nods her own head.

“Yeah, me too.”

They have reached Maisie’s new classroom. The teacher, a short blond man with brown eyes and a ridiculously cute nose, is standing by the door. He smiles to the three of them, before crouching down towards Maisie’s level. He has the promised mini pie in his hand, and he hands it to her.

“Hello Miss Maisie, I really like your boots.” He says, and Maisie takes the pie. She frowns for a second, looking at her teacher.

“Uncle Crappy calls me Sir Maisie because I’m a knight.” Jack watches as the teacher’s lips twitch into an amused expression before he schools it and manages to look serious.

“I am so sorry, Sir Maisie. I had no idea you were a knight,” he explains, looking sufficiently shamed.

Maisie watches him for a few seconds before her face lights up into a smile. Then she sing-songs, “It’s okay to make mistakes! Try to fix them, and learn from them too.” Good ol’ Daniel Tiger, Jack thinks. Maisie then turns to her parents.

“Bye Mom! Bye Papa!” She gives them hugs and then bounds into the classroom. Camilla had slipped into the classroom with her and is showing Maisie where her cubby is to put her backpack. Jack watches the two of them, oddly frozen on the threshold of the door.

“She will be okay, Mr. Zimmermann,” Eric Bittle says, and Jack looks over at the smaller man. He has an encouraging smile on his face that reaches his dark brown eyes. They seem to twinkle and Jack feels momentarily breathless. This isn’t the first time he has met Maisie’s teacher—there had been a parent’s night the week before and then just last night, an open house for the students to see their classroom and meet their teacher—but a smile from Mr. Bittle being directed solely at Jack, does things to him, that he really needs to not focus on. Jack manages what he hopes is a natural smile of his own.

“Uncle Crappy?” Bittle teeters, “I may have to start calling Shi-… Mr. Knight that myself,” and then he laughs and Jack finds himself laughing too.

“It seemed better than Uncle Poopy,” Jack admits, his cheeks turning a little red. Mr. Bittle laughs even harder and Jack likes it.

“Well, I won’t keep you from getting your goodbye hugs, Mr. Zimmermann,” Bittle says gently, and Jack nods his head before stepping into the classroom. Maisie calls him over excited to show him her cubby and the table she will be sitting at during class.


 

“Jack, I have something I want to tell you,” Camilla says. They are almost back to Jack’s house for her to pick up her car. Then he has to go to practice. Jack glances at Camilla out of the corner of his eyes. He still feels a little tense from dropping their daughter off, and he is looking forward to skating with his team.

“What is it?” He asks, his gaze now focused on the road ahead of him.

“Steve and I… well, I’m pregnant Jack. We are going to tell Maisie about it soon, but I wanted you to hear it from me first.” Camilla says, somewhat breathless like she had been holding those words in for way too long. Once the meaning of the words sink in, Jack finds himself smiling. He knew that Camilla and Steve were serious. They lived together and Steve was just great with Maisie. His Maisie was going to be a big sister… and then Jack realized he had stayed quiet for too long. He could feel Camilla staring at him.

“Camilla, that is great news! I am happy for you both. Really,” he adds.

When they pull into his driveway, he gets out of the car to give Camilla a tight hug. “Congratulations again,” he says.

He watches as she gets into her car and drives off. Jack stares at his own car, knowing things are definitely going to be different now. Mostly, though, he does feel happy for his ex and he holds onto those feelings. Tries not to let the worry about how Maisie will feel get to him. He gives his parents a call before he heads to practice.

Chapter Text

Lord is Bitty tired.

He is seated cross-legged on Shitty’s couch, somewhat regretting the decision to come out tonight. He is always overly tired the first week of a new school year, often staying up later than usual, fretting about making his kids feel comfortable. Kindergarten is a big transition for a lot of the kids, the first time many of them are away from their parents for eight hours a day, five days a week. Not all of them had gone to preschool, either. Some can read and write, others cannot. It is an adjustment period for everyone. It is the first Friday of the school year, and it is a tradition for Shitty to host a party, to celebrate everyone making it through their first week of school. It never matters that the week is usually a short one.

Bitty yawns, not even attempting to fight it or hide it. Lardo plops down next to him on the couch and lounges, bringing her legs up to rest on Bitty’s.

“Where is Trevor?” She asks, and Bitty focuses on the noises in the other areas of the house. Ransom, Holster, and Shitty are setting up a table for some beer pong that Bitty has no intention in joining in. He can hear Dex and Nursey arguing in the kitchen over goodness knows what. Ford, Tango, and Chowder have yet to arrive with the pizza for the night. Bitty had brought with him some pies. It is the brief quiet before the party really gets going. Bitty wonders if they are all too old for this yet or not. He also realizes that Lardo is watching him closely and that maybe, he should answer her question. His mama had not raised him to be rude.

“He is out of town for business,” Bitty replies, and he busies himself with tracing designs with his finger on one of Lardo’s legs so that he does not have to see the look she gives him, so that he does not have to see her roll his eyes even though he can practically feel it.

“He has been out of town a lot lately,” Lardo says, simply. Bitty finally looks at her, and she has an innocently blank expression on her face.

“Work is just busy for him, things are really picking up. He’s trying for a promotion,” Bitty replies, doing his best to keep his voice even. It is part of adulthood, isn’t it? Getting busy with careers. He misses Trevor, sure but Bitty sometimes wonders if maybe he ought to be missing his boyfriend more than he really does with all these business trips he has been taking these past few months. “Where is Milly?” Bitty is not trying to change the subject.

“We broke up,” Lardo explains and Bitty feels guilty about trying to change the topic and guilty about not knowing.

“Lardo! When?” Last he had heard things were going really well with Milly and Lardo. There had even been talks about moving in together. He is staring at his friend now, waiting for her to answer. She chews on her lower lip, a grimace of sorts on her face before she shrugs.

“We wanted different things, Bits. She wants to settle down and have kids of her own. And… look, I love the little shits that I teach art to, but I don’t want my own, you know? She wants to get married and the thought of marriage honestly makes me feel a little sick.” Lardo explains, and Bitty can hear the sadness in her voice but she also seems… less sad than he would have expected. “We decided to end things now, hoping we can stay friends still, before… before things got too far and complicated. Being an adult fucking sucks sometimes,” Lardo finishes with a sigh.

Before Bitty can say anything else though, Shitty has run into the room. “Table is all set for some beer pong, brahs! Let’s get wasted enough that we wake up tomorrow morning, regretting being alive!”

“Lord, I don’t think my liver can handle that anymore,” Bitty explains, but he gently shoves Lardo’s legs off his lap. She gives him a weak smile, before climbing to her feet. Shitty scoops her up and carries her to the other room.


 

It is late when Bitty feels his phone vibrating in his pocket. The party is in full swing. Shitty has stripped down to just boxers and for some reason, a headband with penises all over it. Lardo has successfully kicked everyone’s asses at beer pong, save for Bitty who kept his private promise of not participating in it. He is nursing his third beer of the evening, not wanting to drink much more than that. Not wanting to deal with a hangover. Chowder and Caitlin are dancing in living room. He knows Lardo and Shitty are out on the roof, smoking. Ransom and Holster… he has no idea where they vanished. Dex and Nursey drunkenly coming up with lesson plans that he doubts they will follow through with in the morning. He honestly would not be surprised of Ransom and Holster were doing the same, wherever they had vanished to.

He’s alone again, this time in the kitchen. He reaches for his phone and notices a message from Trevor.

Trevor:
Hey babe. How is the party going? I’ll be back Sunday afternoon. I miss you.

Bitty:
The party is still kicking but I think I am going to go home soon. Or maybe crawl into Shitty’s guest room before anyone else can. I hope your trip is going well. I miss you too.

He waits a few minutes for a reply and when it does not come, he pockets his phone. He finishes off his beer and then slinks into the living room with Chowder and Caitlin.


 

Bitty wakes up, sandwiched between two bodies. He is big spoon to Lardo, and he realizes that Shitty is playing big spoon for him. He vaguely remembers making the decision to crash at Shitty’s place. He could have called a cab or gotten an Uber or something, but it was late and he was tired. He wonders in a vague sort of fashion as Shitty suddenly hugs him tighter in his sleep if they are all getting too old for this. Too old to be passing out in a bed together. Shitty is already in his thirties, with Bitty and Lardo hot on his trail. But, Bitty can’t bring himself to care too much even if he knows his mama would silently judge him if she could see him. He feels safe and comfortable enveloped by his friends, grateful that they took him under his wing that first year he began teaching. He cannot imagine a life without them, without mornings like this.

He feels Lardo shifting against him, shifting so that she can lay on her back. Bitty watches her, and she turns her head towards him, a sleepy expression on her face.

“Mornin’” she drawls, yawning immediately after.

“Mornin’.” Bitty replies and he elbows Shitty none too gently, to get him to let go of him. Shitty lets out a groan, but rolls away from him and completely off the bed with a dull thud. Bitty and Lardo stare at each other for a second, before they start to laugh. After a muffled protest of some sort, Shitty joins in the laughter.



He makes it home just before dinner time. His apartment feeling emptier than usual. He has not heard from Trevor all day, and he feels strange about it, so he shoots off another text. Sure, he could call, but somehow it feels a little less… something if a text goes unanswered over a phone call. He kicks off his shoes near the door as he pads into his kitchen. He finds the ingredients to make a decent dinner for himself. He’s lost in the zone when he feels his phone buzz in his pocket.

He tugs it out and reads the message.

Shitty:
Bitty! I forgot to tell you that we have time on the rink next week for our first practice. We are going to kick ass this season! Shitty out!

Eric rolls his eyes, though he is smiling. He loves being on the ice, and he is grateful he gets to play with his fellow teachers. The rec league is a lot of fun. He did not think he would be able to continue to play hockey once he graduated from college and got a big boy job. He’s poised to respond to Shitty’s message when he remembers what little Maisie Zimmermann called him. Uncle Crappy, and how her father, Stanley Cup Winner Jack Zimmermann said that that was better than Uncle Poopy. He remembers how the other man turned a little red, and he remembers the laughter from earlier.

He’s always had a bit of a crush on the seemingly stoic hockey player. He had not been quite prepared to face that faraway crush in his classroom. The man is far more attractive in person, though. And his smile, it is a nice one. Bitty shakes his head, finally replying to Shitty.

Bitty:
I can’t wait to kick ass with you this season, Uncle Crappy!

It is not the funniest or cleverest thing that he has ever sent over a text but it amuses Eric enough to actually laugh out loud in his empty apartment. He hums as he finishes up dinner.

Chapter Text

It is late September and Jack is making Maisie some frozen chicken tenders for breakfast. She asked for chicken tenders and a picnic in her bedroom for breakfast before she fell asleep last night. Normally, Jack would have been insistent on a healthier breakfast—but the hockey season is set to start soon, it is going to get to the point where he won’t be able to get her ready for school as much as he would prefer(and to be fair, with preseason practices and matches, it is difficult for him to get these mornings even now). He figures, one or two mornings of chicken tender breakfasts is fine. And, hey, he can steal a few for himself. A perk of parenthood, if he does say so himself. So, Jack plates the tenders in what he feels is fancy matter, and he pours some juice for Maisie in her mug because she likes to pretend she is drinking coffee with him in the mornings. He sets it all on a tray, and off to his daughter’s bedroom he goes.

He pushes the door open, awkwardly balancing the tray of food and drinks. Maisie is seated on her bed, her hair a mess that needs to be brushed. She looks sleepy still, a yawn escaping her lips. She perks up as soon as she notices Jack. “Papa!” She says, her voice still thick with sleep.

Jack smiles gently, “I got your breakfast,” and he sets it down on her bed, sitting down next to her.

“Thanks, Papa!” Maisie says, and she helps herself to a chicken tender. Dipping it in the ketchup(more like drowning it in the ketchup). Jack chuckles, grabbing his mug of coffee and taking a sip. They sit in silence for a few minutes, each sipping their drinks and occasionally eating. They have plenty of time to eat slowly before they need to get out the door to get Maisie to school on time. It is nice, just being with his daughter in comfortable silence.

“Papa?” Maisie asks after awhile, and Jack looks at her expectantly.

“What is it?” He asks, and Maisie eats another tender before replying.

“Rhiannon says that I don’t get to pick if I get a baby brother or a sister,” Maisie explains, frowning. “That doesn’t seem very fair. Rhiannon has a little brother and a little sister. Her Mom had twins. Do you think Mom is going to have twins too? Maybe I can have one of each too. Except, Rhiannon says that babies are annoying and all they do is cry. She says they get more fun once they can walk and play. How long does that take?”

Jack sips his coffee, doing his best to hide the amused look that he knows has danced across his face at his daughter’s questions. Camilla and Steve had told Maisie that she is going to be a big sister a week ago. This is the first time she had any questions for him about it, though. He also wonders if she has any other concerns floating around in her head. He was worried that she might be upset about having a little sibling, but she seems okay with it, based on her questions. He is grateful she has a friend at school who has siblings. Oh, to be a fly on the wall with those conversations.

“Rhiannon is right, you won’t be able to pick if you have a baby brother or a sister. I don’t think your Mom is having twins, though. She would have told you that by now,” Jack says, and Maisie frowns.

“Oh. But are they annoying and not fun?” She asks, looking concerned.

Jack wonders how best to answer that. “They do cry a lot when they are little,” he concedes, before adding, “but that is because they can’t talk like you can. Crying is how they let their parents know that they need something. It might get a little annoying, but they are also really cute. And, they can be fun.” Jack feels like he probably could have said all of this better. Maisie looks thoughtful, chewing on a chicken tender, and then she shrugs and changes the topic. Then it is time to get ready.

Maisie is skipping down the halls, leading the way to her classroom. Jack watches her backpack as it bounces up and down on her back. She’s wearing rain boots that match today. Jack is pretty certain she would sleep and bathe in boots if given the chance. When they reach the classroom, Maisie rushes over to a small redheaded girl, shouting her name and nearly tackling her to the ground with an exuberant hug. Jack watches the two from the doorway. He feels funny, uncertain if he should interrupt their moment to get a goodbye hug from his daughter.

“Rhiannon and Maisie are quite inseparable the past few weeks,” Jack turns his gaze to Mr. Bittle.

Eric Bittle, like always, is just sunshine standing in front of him. Jack smiles because it is easy to smile around Mr. Bittle.

“I am glad she has a friend,” he says. Jack doesn’t remember if he had friends at this age or not. He has a feeling that maybe he did not, but he is not sure how much of that feeling is true. Maybe he could ask his parents. He was only a couple years older than his daughter when hockey became all he really thought about.

“She is very outgoing,” Mr. Bittle says.

“She definitely gets that from her mother and grandparents,” Jack replies, “that pie you baked for Camilla was delicious. I had a slice.” He knows the pie was baked to congratulate Camilla on the pregnancy, but she had insisted that Jack try a piece. It was the best slice of pie he had ever had in his life. He’s finally got the time to tell Mr. Bittle that, and he wants to.

“Good, I am glad you had a slice. I made it for all of y’all. You deserve congratulations too,” Mr. Bittle says, beaming up at Jack.

And Jack’s brain short-circuits for a minute. He is not quite certain why he deserves congratulations on, but that still does not stop his cheeks from warming up and maybe going a little pink.

“Euh, thanks,” Jack says, aware of how awkward he is probably being. Aware that the way his stomach seemed to flip over itself at the way Mr. Bittle smiled at him, was probably inappropriate. His daughter’s teacher is attractive and he feels like it is borderline inappropriate for him to think that or for his body to react so strongly to it. He’s aware that Mr. Bittle is watching him.

“Papa!” Maisie calls, waving him over.

“I better go say bye to her,” Jack says. “Have a great day, Mr. Bittle,” he adds, for some reason, his face warms up again and he has a difficult time maintaining eye contact as he retreats into the classroom to say goodbye to his daughter and her friend. When he leaves the classroom a few minutes later, Mr. Bittle is talking animatedly to another parent. Jack keeps his gaze on him for a few seconds, nearly bumping into someone else. It is a near miss and he hurries out to his car after that.

He sits in his car, waiting for the parking lot to clear some before he bothers to leave. He needs to get to the rink. He also needs to stop remembering Eric Bittle’s smile. A smile should not have that strong of an effect on him, but it does, and that worries Jack some. It feels more than a little inappropriate to have the hots for his daughter’s teacher.

Chapter Text

In the past few weeks, Eric Bittle has learned a few things about NHL star Jack Zimmermann. He has always been aware of how attractive the other man is, because, Eric ain’t blind. But, experiencing that in person is an awful lot different than just noticing it on television or in a magazine spread. Eric has always had a bit of a crush on the Canadian. Hell, he and Trevor had first bonded over how much they both liked Mr. Zimmermann’s ass. Eric knows that looking is okay, but he does feel a little guilty about it now that he is sort of getting to know the other man. The guilt comes from the fact Eric himself has a boyfriend, that Jack is clearly married or has a partner in Camilla, and that she is pregnant. Oh, and why not toss in the fact that Jack is also the father of one of Bitty’s students. But, he can’t help that his little crush seems to be growing with each minor interaction they have. He can’t help, though he tries, that he files away new little tidbits about the man. Like the fact, Eric can make him blush by just congratulating him on having another kid. That Mr. Zimmermann liked Eric’s pie. That Mr. Zimmermann is really good with his daughter and getting better at styling her as the weeks progress. He is kind and friendly. Maybe not as outgoing as some of the other parents he speaks with, but he tries, and it is adorable.

And Eric really needs to stop thinking about all of that. He is a married man. And Eric has a boyfriend that he loves.

Class is done for the day and Eric is hoping to get home and sneak in a nap before he has to get to the rink. He hates when they have practice in the evening after a full day worth of teaching—but that was the only slot they could get this week. He knows Lardo tries her best to secure better time slots, and he does appreciate all the work she does on that front. He is humming along to the music playing in his car as he pulls into a parking spot. He notices Trevor’s car and smiles, happy that he will be able to see his boyfriend after all today. Maybe he can entice Trevor to snuggle during his nap. Or maybe do a little more than just snuggle. He feels a bit like he and his boyfriend have been ships lately, passing each other, but not able to do much more, not able to actually visit. He feels happy as he opens the door to their apartment.

“Honey, I’m home,” Eric calls, laughter in his voice as he is easily amused by his own antics.

“Babe!” Trevor says, stepping out from the bedroom. He is dressed in a suit and looks to be finishing up tying his tie. He looks a little flustered, but there is the hint of a smile on his face. Eric raises a brow at him, wondering if he has yet another work meeting tonight. He knows he has no real right to be annoyed by that because he is busy himself with hockey practice, but he is annoyed. All it seems that Trevor does these days is work. But… he looks good in that suit and maybe Eric can still have a bit of fun before he has to leave.

“Getting ready for a hot date?” He asks, a grin on his face. He watches as Trevor’s face contorts—a flash of outright panic for just a second or two—with a few emotions before he schools it. Eric feels his stomach drop.

“Eric… we should probably talk,” Trevor says, haltingly. Like this is the last thing he wants to do, but that he realizes, he has no choice in the matter.

“Should I be sitting down?” Eric asks dully. He has a feeling, suddenly, that he knows what Trevor is going to tell him. That… all those extra hours for work probably was not for work. He finds himself feeling more than a little stupid at ignoring all the signs. And then, he finds himself feeling guilty over making such an assumption. Maybe what Trevor has to tell him is solely just related to work? Maybe something happened to his parents? To his sister? There is a lot of things he could want to talk about.

“Sitting down might be a good idea,” Trevor says, not looking at Eric and Eric… he tries to hold onto the idea that whatever his boyfriend has to say has nothing to do with his cheating on him.

Except that is exactly what Trevor has to tell him. It is a couple of hours later, and Eric is seated in Shitty’s kitchen. He knows the two of them should get going, that they need to get to the rink. He is nursing a cocktail of some sorts that Shitty had waiting for him when he appeared at the house.

“Brah, you can stay here as long as you want. I even put clean sheets on the guest bed for you,” Shitty explains, looking unabashedly proud of himself.

“Thanks, Shitty,” Eric says, finishing up his drink. It probably is not the smartest to have a drink before they go to the rink—but their first game isn’t for another month, and they will have other practices at odd times for him to put his all in.

“You up to actually coming, Bits? I can make up an excuse for you…” Shitty offers, an expression of gentle concern on his face.

Eric thinks about it for a minute or two. He is unsure if he is really up to telling everyone how much of an idiot he has been for not seeing the obvious. He is not sure he can hide the fact something happened, either. But, he wants to skate and play hockey. He knows that will distract him from things, for the hour that they have the rink for. He sighs, and it sounds defeated even to his ears so he tries to muster up a smile that he thinks looks brave.

“I am. Honestly, I think it will be better for me to get out and be with friends. I will skate so hard that hopefully, I forget all of this for an hour or so.” Shitty reaches across the table to squeeze Eric’s shoulder and Lord does Eric appreciate his friend. It was no real questions asked when he called him, sobbing and asking if he could stay in the guest room for a little while. Eric lucked out when Shitty decided to take him under his wing when he first started teaching at Samwell.


 

It is late and Eric has finally finished putting his clothing away in the guest room of Shitty’s house. He is unsure of how long he will actually stay here, he just knows, that he is done with the apartment he had shared with Trevor. An apartment they had rented mostly for the kitchen and he is trying so hard to not dwell on the loss of that kitchen. He has plans to stop by the place tomorrow afternoon to get the rest of his stuff and leave his set of keys behind. He can only hope that Trevor keeps his promise and does not end up being there.

He had found a worn looking Falconers t-shirt shoved in the back of one of the dresser drawers. It will be a bit big on him, but it had looked soft and comfortable. He doubts Shitty will mind if he wears it, and he tugs it on once he is done brushing his teeth and getting ready for bed. He tugs the shirt on, and it basically hides the shorts he likes to sleep in. The shirt is comfortable and does not smell like Shitty at all (not that Bitty really minds how his friend smells). He settles into the bed and tugs the comforter up to his chest.

He fishes his phone out, and mindlessly scrolls through facebook. He tries not to think too hard on the looks of concern and worry from his friends earlier. He had seen Shitty having whispered conversations with everyone throughout their hour on the ice. Each time, he would receive looks that held what he read as pity and tried to tell himself it was probably just concern. No one said anything to him during practice, but he received tight hugs from everyone and reminders that he can call or text them whenever he needs to. It made Eric’s heart feel warm. He is lucky to have his friends.

He stops his mindless scrolling, heaves a sigh that is probably overly dramatic, and then with a determined expression on his face he changes his Facebook status to single. He wonders if maybe he should have waited a few days to do that. He hopes his Mom does not notice or really anyone for a few days. He sets his phone down on the nightstand and flops back into the bed. His gaze locked on the ceiling.

His heart hurts but not in the way he would have assumed it would, after finding out that his boyfriend had been cheating on him. He wonders if maybe he was not as in love with Trevor as he thought he was before or if maybe it is just bitterness at being lied to that is making him think he hurts less than he does. Mostly, he feels angry and embarrassed.

“Hey Bitty,” Eric looks up to see Shitty standing in the doorway. He has on some rather nondescript boxers for him.

“Please get in here and cuddle,” Eric says, realizing that even if he does not necessarily want to talk about everything—that he really does not want to be alone tonight. He is lucky to have a friend like Shitty, who happily obliges by crawling into bed with him.

“Nice shirt,” his friend mumbles, turning into the big spoon for the night.

Eric’s thoughts whirl around his head for a while and eventually, he falls asleep.

 

Chapter Text

Jack opens the door to Shitty’s house, entering through the garage after jogging up the driveway. He and Shitty try to run together once or twice a week, depending on their schedules. Mostly, depending on Jack’s. They do not live too far from each other and Jack always jogs to Shitty’s house as his warm-up. As soon as he opens the door, he finds himself surprised by the scent of something being cooked in the kitchen. He is even more shocked when he sees a familiar blond, dressed in an oversized Falconers’ shirt.

His shirt.

Jack is certain of it because Shitty tends to crop any Falconers’ shirt that he gets, and Jack vaguely recalls leaving a shirt or two behind after he moved out (he had stayed with Shitty for a month after he and Camilla officially split up. It had been easier leaving the house to her and Jack finding a new one). Mr. Bittle turns around, a look of shock on his face that is quickly replaced by a smile. Jack knows he should say something but his mouth feels suddenly too dry for words. It does something to him, seeing Bittle in one of his shirts. He tries to stop his mind from wondering if Bittle is wearing any pants under the shirt as his bottom half is obscured by the island in Shitty’s kitchen. And Jack knows his thoughts are horribly inappropriate. He can feel his face warming up, and hopefully, Bittle just thinks it is from running or something. Also, how long has Jack been standing in the threshold of the kitchen just staring at his daughter’s teacher? The answer is probably way too long.

“Mr. Zimmermann! So you are the friend that Shitty is going jogging with? He should be down any minute.” Bittle says, and he still has a smile on his face. Jack notices that the smile is not quite as radiant as they usually are and he wonders if his creepy ogling has made the other man uncomfortable. Probably.

“Euh, yeah. Shitty and I try to jog together a couple of times a week,” Jack explains, stopping his explanation short. He had had a sudden urge to explain how he and Shitty had started this routine after his divorce from Camilla. Even with the divorce having been finalized a few years ago, and Jack being fine with it… he never quite knows how to respond to the condolences that people usually say when they find out. Not all relationships are meant to last forever. He lucked out that Maisie came from it and a lifelong partnership with Camilla even if it is vastly different than what they had imagined years ago.

“Y’all went to school together, right?” Mr. Bittle says, stepping around the island. He is holding a steaming cup of coffee, and Jack is both relieved and disappointed to see that he is wearing a pair of worn looking sweat pants. “Oh! How rude of me, can I get you anything?”

“Yeah. We played hockey together. Shitty introduced me to Camilla,” Jack says, not knowing why he shared that piece of information. Probably because Bittle knows Camilla. He is not the greatest with small talk. “And no thanks, I am fine. Thanks, though.” Has Jack said thank you way too much? Crisse where is Shitty?

Bittle smiles at him sweetly and climbs onto one of the stools by the island. He sips his coffee and silence settles between the two of them. Jack finds himself wondering why Mr. Bittle is at Shitty’s house so early in the morning. He knows they are friends and he wonders if they had a late night last night. Maybe that explains why Shitty is taking so long to come down the stairs? He wonders if he will have a hungover Shitty to deal with on the run—Bittle looks fine though. Better than fine.

“Well, make sure you find your way back into this kitchen after your run, and I’ll make you something then,” Bittle says, breaking the silence.

Is this man for real? He seems too nice and sweet to be.

“Okay, I will keep that in mind, Mr. Bittle,” and Jack wonders if the ground could please open up now and swallow him whole.

Bittle lets out a laugh, and it sounds like music to Jake’s ears. “You can just call me Eric or Bitty, please.”

Eric or… or Bitty… Jack does like that better than Mr. Bittle.

“Call me Jack,” and Eric is smiling at him again.

“Jack! Let me see that beautiful ass of yours!” A wild!Shitty appears suddenly from the hallway leading to the stairs. He bounds into the kitchen with far too much energy to have been drinking all night. Jack finds himself relaxing as Shitty throws his arms around him in a hug. He also gets a rather wet and sloppy kiss on the cheek from his friend. He laughs and tries to get Shitty into a headlock, but Shitty evades him deftly. Moving to Bittle—no Eric—to muss up his hair.

“See you in a little bit, Bitty!” Shitty all but shouts.

“You boys behave now,” Eric chirps and Shitty pretends to look wounded. Jack, he just stands where he is at, feeling a bit like he is intruding on something. But also, oddly, included too. He gives Eric a wave before heading outside. Shitty bounds after him.



Silence prevailed in the jog.

It was not until they were heading back to Shitty’s house that Jack finally speaks up. The question about why Mr. Bi—Eric—was in the kitchen this morning keeps playing itself over and over in Jack’s mind. It is needlessly distracting. He usually is not all that nosy about things, because he hates it when people start getting too nosy about his life. The realization that he is being a bit of a hypocrite is strong but he manages to ignore that and plows on with his question.

“Eh, what was Mr. Bittle doing at your house this morning? Is everything okay?” Jack asks, genuine concern in his voice. He knows that Shitty is straight (much to Shitty’s own chagrin it seems). He also knows that Shitty has a tendency to take people in when they need it. He hopes that things are fine for Eric. That maybe they had simply stayed up too late chatting and Eric simply spent the night.

Shitty lets out a frustrated noise before speaking up, “Bitty found out that his boyfriend of two-fucking-years was cheating on him, brah.”

What? Someone would cheat on Eric Bittle? It is not like Jack knows his daughter’s teacher all that well, their interactions together tend to be brief during pick-ups or drop-offs. Yet, now that Jack knows Eric, no matter how little, he has started to really pay attention when others in his orbit bring him up. He has started to connect some dots to stories that Shitty or Lardo have shared with him that involve their co-worker, Bitty. Everything he has heard about the man and everything he has experienced—he just cannot understand why someone would cheat on him. Not that Jack ever understands when people cheat on their partners.

“What a fucking asshole,” Jack says, probably sounding more angry and bitter than he should, all things considered.

He can feel Shitty’s eyes on him, and a beat later, he says “I know, man. That is what I said.”

Silence falls between the two friends. Jack is still trying to wrap his mind around the fact that someone would cheat on Eric. He is also trying to calm down the anger he is feeling. They are getting closer and closer to Shitty’s place, though and Jack has one more question he feels like he needs to ask. Again, that realization that he is being nosy, is strong.

“Is he going to be okay?” Jack thinks that maybe he could have worded that question differently. He also does not know why he needs Shitty to tell him that Eric will be okay after all of this. He knows it really is not his place to be or feel this concerned, but he is.

Shitty slows to a stop, panting some. He jogs in place and watches Jack, before shrugging his shoulders. “He is hurting right now, but I know he will be fine.”

Jack nods his head, and Shitty continues “Lardo and I are going with him to his old apartment to bring his stuff over to the Haus this afternoon. Trevor promised that he would not be there. Then we plan on getting schwasted at the Haus, and regretting that decision like the old assholes we are these days.”

And Jack suddenly wishes he did not have to do anything today. He knows that helping Bittle move out will not be fun, and he also knows that Shitty and Lardo will probably be all the help he needs. He just feels a strange sense of regret that he won’t be able to help. He has a strong desire to be there with the three of them and help. He wants to make sure Eric is okay and see it for himself. He wants to make sure that Eric doesn’t have too bad of a hangover tomorrow. He wants to be there for him to cry to and rant to. He also wants to wipe any tears from his face and kiss him. All of these desires he knows are not quite appropriate. He barely knows the man and Eric has friends to do most of those things for him. Jack is just Maisie’s Papa. Another parent that Eric is friendly to because it makes his job easier.

Jack squashes down those urges and then he and Shitty finish their jog. Eric invites him in for an after-run snack, but Jack declines and heads home. As much as he wants to be there for Eric, he is afraid that he will come on too strong and besides, he does need to get to work himself.

Chapter Text

It is Monday morning after the breakup, and Eric is doing his best to keep a cheerful smile plastered on his face as he greets his students. He feels that it is important to stand by his door and say a little hello to each student who enters as well as to their parents. Eric needs to make people feel welcomed and at home. His heart is not really in it today, though and he might be dealing with a little bit of a hangover. After they collected his stuff from his old apartment, Shitty insisted on a weekend long party. Bitty had thrown himself into it, cooking and baking way too many things. Lardo had stayed the entire weekend with them, and everyone else had stopped by at various points to join in. Shitty had said it was a celebration of Eric cutting loose someone who was clearly an asshole. Eric appreciated the sentiment when it was said, and maybe, he still does. He is confused though because while it hurt that Trevor would do that to him, would sneak behind his back and sleep with another man, he finds that… he is not as hurt as he feels he should be at the end of a two-year relationship. Eric has no idea what that says about him or Trevor and their relationship. He supposes it does not really matter now.

He tries to shake those thoughts from his head because they make it difficult to smile and greet. To be the warm and welcoming person everyone expects him to be and that he wants to be. He likes being that person and he knows he does not always have to be that person, but for the kids, he is going to try his hardest. Who knows if his smiles and his kindness are the only ones his students get in a day? The smile might not reach his brown eyes, but he keeps it plastered on his face, and greets.

“Mr. Bitty!” Eric smiles as he sees little Maisie Zimmermann bounding down the hallway towards him. He sees that today it is Jack dropping her off and that he is holding two coffee cups in his hands.

“Hello Sir Maisie, how are you doing today?” He asks, still smiling.

“Good! Papa got you a coffee! He asked Uncle Crappy what your favorite flavor was and everything. He bought me a cookie too, and it was good. Not as good as your cookies, though.” Maisie says all of this quickly, bouncing slightly on her feet. Eric now notices some cookie crumbs on her plain black sweater. She has on bright pink leggings and purple cowboy boots. “Oh! I see Rhiannon!” And into the classroom, she darts. Eric laughs and tries to ignore the funny little flip his stomach does at the thought of Jack buying him a coffee.

Eric notes that Jack’s cheeks seem a little pink now that he is close to him. He hands one cup towards Eric and Eric takes it. Jack had asked Shitty what his favorite flavor of coffee was and Jack had told Maisie that. Or maybe Maisie had overheard the conversation.

“I—I know you had a rough weekend,” Jack states before Eric has a chance to say thank you for the coffee. Lord, Jack has such pretty blue eyes. “Sh—..errr Crappy mentioned that… I mean… “ Jack brings his free hand up to rub the back of his neck. His face is red and Eric finds that cute. Jack Zimmermann is probably the most attractive man that Eric has ever seen. Adding cute to the equation suddenly seems unfair to the rest of the men out there. “I just… hoped that this might.. I wanted to do something nice?” Jack seems to question at the end.

Bitty feels like maybe he ought to put Jack out of his misery here. He’s happy that Jack thought to buy him a coffee and he finds it sweet that Jack had asked Shitty what his favorite flavor kind was. It makes his crush on the other man intensify and he feels like maybe he should do his best to ignore those feelings. He also wonders if maybe having this harmless crush on an obviously taken man, might do him good. Might ease the pain of Trevor some even if it gives him another kind of pain.

“Jack… thank you,” Eric says, smiling. Even he can feel his smile reaching his eyes. “You really did not have to do this,” Bitty adds just before taking a sip of his drink. It is sweet and sugary just how he likes them. Somehow, he knows, the warmth he feels in his belly now is not just from the drink but also from that smile that seems to light up Jack’s face in response to Eric’s own smile. Or maybe just in response to Eric being polite and saying thanks.

“I wanted to,” Jack says again, almost shyly.

“Well, thank you.” Eric finds himself repeating. He is also finding himself getting lost in Jack’s eyes, not quite remembering when they both began to make such intense eye contact. His heart is thudding hard in his chest and okay, so maybe having a crush on Jack won’t be so good for him. There seems to be a tension between the two of them now, so thick that Eric could cut it with a knife, and he wonders how much of it is just him. Because Jack has Camilla and a happy little family with her and Bitty really needs to break off this eye contact.

Jack breaks it first with what sounds to Eric like an awkward laugh.

“I am going to go say goodbye to Maisie,” Jack says, his voice maybe a little thicker than Eric has ever heard it.

“Right, see ya around,” Eric says numbly and he watches as Jack heads into the classroom to give his daughter a hug.

Lord… why are all the good men taken?


 

Eric moves between the five tables in his classroom. Each table has five kids at it, with their heads bent over sheets of paper as they practice writing. Denice Ford, the paraprofessional for his classroom moves between the tables too. He and Ford work well together. She had to tell him to stop baking her so many thank you pies for her simply doing her job. Bitty, personally thinks that he could never bake enough pies to truly thank her.

He stops at the table that Maisie and Rhiannon are seated at. Both are working diligently. There had been a minilesson before this independent time where Eric had gone over writing certain letters. Right now, the students are supposed to be writing stories with those letters. They are still learning to read, some more advanced than others, so these little stories that get written never make much sense, and the letters on the paper, rarely make any actual words. It is all just about getting the kids used to the concept of stringing letters together to make words and then words to make sentences. Maisie has her tongue jutted out of her mouth, as she concentrates on writing.

“How are y’all doing?” Eric asks the table.

“Good!” Maisie, as tends to be the usual, answers first. She stops her writing, that intense look of concentration suddenly wiped from her face. “I am writing about hockey robot knights!”

“What is that?” Rhiannon asks with a look of confusion on her face. The other kids at the table stop their own writing to look over at Maisie.

“They are knights who are also robots and they play hockey for the Queen,” Maisie explains, and Eric can hear the disdain in her voice. He ducks his head to hide his amused smile.

“Well, I can’t wait to read the story,” Eric says, and Maisie beams at him. The other kids ask her a few more questions about these hockey-playing robot knights, and then Eric gently encourages them to focus back on their own writing before he moves to another table. Their recess break is coming up soon, and he is excited to get outside with his students to enjoy the sunshine before the weather starts to turn cold.


 

School is out for the day and Eric is seated cross-legged on one of the tables in Lardo’s classroom. She is putting away masks that her fifth-grade students had made earlier in the way, that had needed to sit out and dry for a while. Eric offered to help, but she had shooed him away, insisting she had her own system.

“Jack… er, Mr. Zimmermann, brought me a coffee today, because of Trevor I think,” Eric says breaking the comfortable silence that had been floating between the two of them as Lardo worked. He notices her stop what she is doing for a few seconds before she goes back to putting masks away. “It was the sweetest thing,” Eric finishes. He wonders if he should say more, but honestly, he is not sure what else to say. Even after he finished the coffee and tossed the cup away, his eyes kept drifting towards the trashcan all day long. He kept seeing that shy smile on Jack’s face and the blush because it had to be a blush.

He kept remembering the intense eye contact.

“Was it good coffee?” Lardo asks, jarring him once more from remembering Jack’s blue eyes.

“Yeah, he had asked Shitty what my favorite flavor was. It was really good,” Bitty explains, and he can feel his own cheeks turning red for some reason. All he is doing is talking about coffee that a parent of one of his students had bought him. He and Lardo have given each other far more explicit details about their sex lives before, and he rarely blushes anymore during those talks! Maybe his cheeks are warm and red because he is getting sick.

“And he has a really nice ass too,” Lardo says.

“Lardo! That… might be true but we are not talking about that right now. It is not appropriate and it has no bearing to this conversation!” Because as much as he likes to take a peek at Jack Zimmermann’s ass, Eric knows that it is highly inappropriate. The man is married and also a father to one of his students, but really, it is the married thing. He knows looking is not the same as touching, and technically, not really wrong. But Eric thinks that maybe he needs to look less, especially if Jack is going to be so damn sweet and nice to him.

He bought him coffee to cheer him up. Eric does not know what to do with that information and he hates that it makes him so happy. He had thought for a brief moment or two that maybe latching onto this crush would help ease the pain from Trevor cheating on him. Now Eric worries that he might fall too hard if he encourages himself. Lardo is not helping the situation. He is also pointedly ignoring the look she is giving him.

“Where did you want to go for dinner tonight?” He asks, doing his best to change the topic even if he was the one to bring it up. Lardo does not fight the topic change, and part of him is grateful for that. Part of him still wants to talk about Jack.

 

Chapter Text

Shitty is seated cross-legged on the floor in Maisie’s room. She is in the process of figuring out how to braid his epic flow. She pulls his hair a lot less than Jack does, Shitty notices and files that information away for later. It is always good to stock up on chirping material for the future. Except, just as Shitty is musing over that, Maisie tugs his hair back rather painfully, and Shitty bites back a wince that his badass hockey niece does not even notice.

“Uncle Crappy?” Maisie asks.

“What is it, Corndog?”

“Do you think Mom is going to love me less after the baby is born?” It is not very often that Shitty hears the fear in Maisie’s voice. Her whole life she seems to face any situation head-on. She is always grabbing life by the horns. He finds himself frowning, not liking the question, and not liking that this is a worry that Maisie has floating around in her adorable little head. He tilts his head back so that he can look at her. He wonders if she has asked Jack or Camilla this question yet, or if he is the first one. He forces himself to flash her a smile and then he is sticking his tongue out her. Maisie lets out a giggle, though it sounds forced to his ears.

“Maisie, your Mom is going to love you the same as she does now, brah.” He says, putting as much conviction into his voice as possible, and hoping that Maisie hears it and understands it. Maisie is the first kid that he has spent any real amount of time with, she’s the first one he proudly calls a niece. The first one he gets to be some form of Uncle to. This feels a bit like a test to him, a test he is really just putting on his own shoulders. He does not want to fuck this up. He wants and needs Maisie to know that she can always come to him, no matter what the problem or concern is. He loves this little girl. She is a perfect mix of Jack and Camilla. And completely her own person too. Shitty remembers clearly her as a baby, and the first time he babysat her, and how she got mad. She was somewhere between six and nine months, no longer that scary kind of blob that newborns are, something a bit more sturdy and something that could move. He remembers she was screaming at the top of her lungs, and nothing he did could cheer her up. He was on the verge of panic calling Jack and Camilla when she reached up to grab his sunglasses and chew on them. She began to laugh. And Shitty, his heart still racing, had started to laugh too. Jack and Camilla had come home to Shitty and Maisie just shouting and laughing at each other. They had really connected after that, even though Shitty had been smitten with her the first time he saw her.

“Are you sure?” Maisie asks, her voice quiet. Shitty reaches behind him, tugging Maisie onto his lap and giving her a tight hug. She melts into it and her arms wrap around his neck.

“I am positive, Maisie-Daze,” Shitty says, before adding. “Every time I meet a new friend, I don’t love my other friends any less. Love has a way of growing, brah. Your Mom and Steve will love you and your brother or sister. And you are going to love them too, and be the best big sister in the fucking universe,” Shitty knows better than to swear in front of Maisie like that. He has had practice with it, after all. But he does it on purpose because something tells him, Maisie will like it.

And she does, she lets out a giggle as soon as he lets the f-bomb drop. “Uncle Crappy!” She admonishes him through giggles. When they subside, she pulls her head back to look at him. “But are you sure?” She asks, and he hears a hint of a quiver in her voice.

“I am abso-fucking-lutely certain, Corndog. Neither one of your parents will ever love you any less than they love you now. And if you don’t believe your Uncle Crappy, you should ask your Mom.” Shitty finishes, vaguely wondering if he said the correct things or not. Hoping that he did. He watches Maisie and she looks like she is really mulling over what he said. He watches her nod her head.

“Okay, Uncle Crappy. You swore again!” She adds, laughing.

“Please don’t tell your Papa,” Shitty jokes, before adding. “And, remember, you can always come talk to me if you need to, Corndog. Thank you for talking to me about this,” he finishes. He has always spoken to Maisie like she was a little adult. Not so much in the content of his words, that he usually keeps as kid-friendly as possible, but just in the way he talks to her. Shitty isn’t one for higher-pitched voices and dumbing down his speech for kids. He thinks Maisie appreciates it.

“Okay,” Maisie says, and he feels like he is losing her a bit now, that she is shifting from serious mode and wanting to get back into fun mode. She hops off of his lap. “Wanna play hide and seek?” She asks, and Shitty grins.

“Heck yes, I do!”

It is a few hours later. and Jack is finally home. Maisie is sleeping, Shitty had had to do bedtime. He had fun with it though, he read her three books for bedtime even though her parents usually just read one. He and Jack are seated on the couch in the living room. Shitty had already filled Jack in about Maisie’s frankly heartbreaking question. They had talked about it some and he knows Jack will talk to her about it tomorrow. He had sent Camilla a text message too about it. He feels like that was the right course of action. Silence has fallen between the two friends. Shitty is only half paying attention to the documentary that Jack put on. He’s nursing a beer, knowing that it is getting that time when he should leave. Jack’s bedtime is quickly approaching, after all.

“So, you coming to the Halloween party this year?” Shitty broaches, affecting as much nonchalance as he can. Shitty knows Jack does not have a game that night. He also knows that Maisie will be staying the night over at Camilla’s.

“I don’t know, Shits,” Jack says after a beat and Shitty wonders if Jack’s mind had immediately gone to Bitty or not. He decides it is time to go for broke.

“You’ll miss the costume that Bitty is wearing. It is going to be a beaut,” Out of the corner of his eye, because Shitty can be smooth and not outright stare at his best friend, he sees Jack tense for a moment and then relax.

“Really? Eh, that is nice.” Shitty notes that Jack’s attempt at nonchalance pales compared to his. Shitty shifts his position on the couch so that he can stare his friend down.

“Jackie-Jack,” Shitty says, adopting as firm a voice as he can. “You like him. You should come and hang out with him outside of school and outside of those five-minute chats you bros have before you and I go jogging.” He sees Jack opening his mouth, likely to denydenydeny. Shitty interrupts. “Brah, I have seen how you look at him and those coffees you bring him?” Shitty decides not to mention the looks he has seen Jack give Bitty when Bitty is wearing that Falconer's shirt. Jack is not subtle. Jack is also frowning now and Shitty only feels a teeny bit guilty about that.

“Shitty, even if I do find him attractive and even if I do enjoy talking with him… he’s Maisie’s teacher. That seems inappropriate, plus he just got out of a relationship with someone,” Jack is hedging. Shitty supposes his concerns are somewhat valid but they get in the way of Shitty’s dream. The dream that two of his best bros might actually be able to find happiness together. Jack is not subtle in his looks and neither is Bitty. Shitty can fucking taste the pine between the two of them.

“Jack, Trevor was a fucking douche,” Shitty starts with because that is easy. “Their relationship… it was not… well, it was not awful but also not the best. And Bitty is the one who gets to judge whether or not it is too soon, but you gotta’ give him a chance to do that. The teacher thing… maybe it is a little inappropriate. But, brah, you like him. I haven’t seen you like this with anyone in a long time. You deserve to be happy. And, also, it is just a party.” Shitty finishes.

Jack stays quiet for a while, likely mulling it all over. “I will think about it, Shits.”

“Sweet!” Shitty exclaims and he clumsily closes the gap between the two of them on the couch and smacks a wet kiss on Jack’s cheek.


 

Shitty and Bitty are seated at the kitchen island. Shitty has bravely volunteered as taste-tester. Bittle wants all the treats he is making for the Halloween party to be perfect. He claims half of what Shitty has eaten today is just not good enough, but Shitty, oh Shitty he begs to differ. And has countless times but Bitty just lets out a huff and reworks the recipes. Shitty is certain he will gain fifty pounds tonight alone, and he does not mind one iota.

“I invited Jack to the Halloween party. Brah, I invite him every year but I think this year he might actually come,” Shitty says, hopefully as smoothly as he wants it to be. He might be just a little high but nothing that he can’t function with. Nothing that impairs his taste buds any, a point he has argued over and over with Bitty over the course of the night.

“Jack? He won’t be busy with Maisie and Camilla?” Bitty asks, and there seems to be a strange tone to Eric’s voice and fuck maybe Shitty is higher than he realized because he is having a difficult time deciphering what that tone means.

“He has plans to go with them for trick or treating and then no plans. No game or anything,” Shitty explains and he notices the way Bitty tenses up, pausing in whatever it is he is doing to the baked goods. Probably something to make them epically delicious. Shitty can feel his mouth start to salivate at the thought of what those baked goods will taste like. He wants them in his mouth and down his belly stat! Wait, he is supposed to be focusing on Bitty and Jack and trying to encourage one of them to make maybe think about making the move on the other. In their own time, of course, but hopefully, that own time will be sooner rather than later.

“Seems kind of strange that he won’t be spending the night with them, doesn’t it?” Bitty asks and there is that tone again. Annoyance? Maybe even anger. Bitty’s Georgian twang has gotten thicker. Shitty frowns.

“Not really? I mean Maisie has a bedtime and they might let her stay up a little later because it is Halloween but, she’ll go to bed with plenty of time for Jack to come out and play. And Camilla is probably going to want to spend the evening with Steve, brah.” Shitty explains, hoping that settles whatever concern is in Bitty’s mind. He wonders if Bitty has the same concerns as Jack, the whole appropriateness thing with being Maisie’s teacher. This whole plan of his, half-baked though it is, suddenly seems more complicated if that is the case.

“Shitty. If Jack decides to come to a party and not spend his free evening with his pregnant wife then he is not the sweet man he acts like,” and Shitty wonders if the weed he smoked broke his brain some.

“Pregnant wife? Bro, no. Camilla and Jack are divorced. She’s with Steve and the kid is Steve’s, not Jack’s and…” and suddenly Shitty is laughing, harder than is probably warranted given the situation. Bitty spins on his heels to stare at him and Shitty notices how red his face is. He feels guilty about laughing and tries to stop. He manages to finally stop the laughter and sort of curses the weed gods for making him so giggly. It isn’t right laughing at Bitty right now even if it is kind of funny. Suddenly, the vague comments he has made in the past two months are starting to add up in Shitty’s head.

“Brah, did you think Jack was some kind of like… nice asshole? He’s single as fuck,” and Bitty is definitely Jack’s type but Shitty stops himself from saying that. Bitty is worrying his lower lip something fierce. He looks on the verge of saying something when the timer on the oven dings. He busies himself with getting the baked goods out of it and Shitty watches him, only pausing in his watching, to spin on the barstool for a moment, before he returns to just staring at his friend. Probably creeper level of staring.

“I was a little confused. Lord, Shitty. The man keeps bringing me coffees whenever he drops Maisie off. He always seems so interested in what I have to say, and I could not tell at first if he was just being polite or if it was something more. And then if it was something more that was just wrong because I thought he was with Camilla,” and Bitty lets out a groan. “I probably embarrassed myself around him so many times.” He watches as Bitty hides his face in his hands.

“Bitty, Bits… don’t worry. Jack probably never noticed you saying or doing anything embarrassing,” and if he did, Shitty thinks silently, he probably did not mind. Bitty is silent for a few minutes.

“I hope he comes,” he says, quietly and Shitty breaks out into a grin.

Chapter Text

Jack decides the day of the party that he is going to attend. More accurately, the night of the party. It is actually on Halloween, a seemingly rare occurrence of it landing on a Saturday. He spends the day helping Maisie get ready for trick or treating, it only runs from six to eight in the evening. Her costume this year is fairly elaborate, she wanted to be a hockey-playing knight. It had taken Jack, Camilla, Steve, and Maisie awhile to figure out how best to make the costume. They had found foam to make a lightweight shield out of it. Camilla had done the brunt of that work, researching how cosplayers create realistic shields out of the material. They had gone with store-bought armor for kids but had painted over it, designs and colors that Maisie had wanted. It looked sort of realistic, and was again, lighter in weight so that hopefully, Maisie would not get too tired. She was using her hockey stick as her sword, and they tied a rope around it so that she could strap it across her back along with her shield. Her helm was her hockey helmet and to finish the look she had on rollerblades.

Jack is impressed with the final outcome, and happy as always when the three adults who take on parenting roles in Maisie’s life work together so well. It had taken longer than Jack likes to admit for him to really warm up to the idea of Steve having such an active role in Maisie’s life. He was never rude to the man but there had been a distance, a lack of warmth on Jack’s end. He had been so worried about Steve trying to take over in the father role, that Maisie might end up loving Steve more as her father than Jack. He knew at the time (and definitely knows now) that his thoughts were ridiculous, but even knowing that, did not stop the anxiety. He is happy that he got over it because he knows that being able to work together only benefits his daughter and Steve is a cool guy. Jack can see how much he cares about Maisie, and now he realizes, that Steve never tries to overstep his role. A role that is constantly changing and evolving, a role they are all learning how to work with, and Jack knows how lucky he and Maisie and Camilla all are that this works out.

It makes him wonder, sometimes, if and how someone else could slot into their lives and their family. Before when he had imagined it, the person was always sort of blank. Not even a real person just the idea of a person. Lately, that idea has shifted more into focus, and Jack tries hard not to focus too much on the fact the person is an awful lot like Eric Bittle. He ignores the fact completely (or tries to but his brain usually won’t let him) that the person he imagines is Bittle these days.

Maisie is done trick or treating by 7:30, her pillowcase swelling with candy. Jack has taken over carrying it, it is slung over his shoulder. Maisie had picked out each of the costumes the three adults are wearing. Jack is a cat photographer. He has cat ears on and a cat tail, with his camera worn around his neck. Camilla is a witch with a long, flowing gown on and her hair unkempt underneath a witches hat. Steve is a dog and Maisie made Steve promise not to chase the cat photographer, Steve kept his promise.

It is when they make it back to Camilla’s house that Jack decides he will go to the party, after all. Camilla and Steve had been shooting him look all night, and he almost regrets telling them about it. Shitty has been sending texts throughout the night with updates on how the party is going as well as demanding pictures of his hockey niece. Shitty’s last text had pointed out that Jack had a costume and why let it go to waste by only wearing it for a couple of hours. And so, Jack kisses Maisie goodbye and feels a little guilty when he could be spending more time wither her. His guilt is slightly assuaged when he gets a god look at her and notices the rather sleepy look in her eyes. Odds of her passing out before 8:30 are good.


 

Jack arrives at Shitty’s house and the party is in full swing. He manages to snag a parking spot close to the house and he glances at his reflection in the mirror for a few minutes. He tugs off his cat ears and pulls a Falconers’ baseball cap down low on his head, then he places the cat ears over that. His camera he slips around his neck once more, and he steps out of the car before attaching his cat tail back on. He does not know how many strangers will be at the party and he hopes to slip in unnoticed and unrecognized. Maybe he should have put on a different hat, he muses as he walks towards the house. He feels nervous and he knows precisely why he does.

It all has to do with seeing Eric outside of school and outside of their morning conversations in Shitty’s kitchen before jogs. This feels like a big step in their friendship. If what they even have is a friendship. Jack wonders, vaguely, if this is even appropriate for the two of them to be at a party together. He decides to ignore that concern as best as his brain will let him. Shitty had invited him and Eric had mentioned just a couple of days ago in an offhand fashion that he hoped Jack would come to the party. Jack remembered how happy those words had made him and he decides to latch onto those feelings.

He makes a calculated decision to enter through the garage because that door leads straight into the kitchen. He hears music even before he opens the door and as he steps into the kitchen he finds himself feeling a little disappointed. There is no Bittle in the kitchen. In fact, the kitchen is empty and he can hear voices in the other rooms. He finds himself stalling, lingering by the island as he looks over the food options. Treats of all sizes are displayed on the island and Jack’s mouth waters. He knows Eric made all of this. He wonders which one he ought to eat first. Jack figures it is Halloween and that it is okay to cheat a little on his diet. Maybe, he might just talk himself out of it, but he thinks about the fact Eric made all of this and-…

“Jack, you made it!”

Jack looks away from the food and his eyes land on Eric Bittle. His eyes land on exactly what the man is wearing and his brain short circuits. His mouth goes dry. He forgets that he is staring. Eric is dressed up as a bunny, a full-body suit that is small and tight on him. Jack wonders wildly what the fluffy tail must look like behind him and that leads Jack to image how the costume must be hugging, clinging even, to Eric’s ass, and is Jack drooling? He is dimly aware that Eric’s mouth is moving, that words must be coming out of it. Jack glues his eyes to that mouth, thinking maybe that might be a better place to look, but it really is not.

“Jack? Jack are you okay?” Eric asks, concern in his voice, and that is what snaps Jack out of his head, out of the space that costume put his head into. A wildly wonderful but horribly inappropriate place to be

“Huh? Oh, I am fine.” Jack stammers out. “Eh, you look great, Eric. I love your costume. We are both animals, eh? I’m a cat. You are a bunny,” and fuck Jack is rambling. He wonders how rude it would be to pile a bunch of food in his mouth so that he has an excuse to shut up. Maybe he should just run away? He notices that Eric had blushed at his compliment, and Eric starts to open his mouth to say something when Shitty comes bounding into the room.

“Jackabelle!” And soon the vision of Eric, of gorgeous Eric in a skimpy bunny outfit, is obscured from view as Jack gets an arm full of Shitty. Shitty who is dressed in a near-identical costume as Bittle’s. It does not have the same effect on Jack. It breaks the spell, somewhat, and Jack laughs as he hugs Shitty back. Because he has an arm full of Shitty, because Shitty’s hair is all in his face, those ridiculous bunny ears too, he finds it easier to say what he says next.

“Bitty definitely pulls the look off better, Shits.” Shitty lets out a wounded noise, stepping back and attempting a hurt expression but his eyes ruin it by twinkling with amusement.

“Ya hear that, brah?” Shitty asks Bittle and Jack feels his cheeks turn red. He notices Bitty’s are a vibrant red too.



Jack stays glued to Eric’s side throughout the party. It is easy to stay close to Eric, he knows him. Sure, he knows Lardo and Shitty too. He knows a lot of the people at the house, having met them throughout the years that Shitty has worked at Samwell Elementary. There are a handful of people he does not know, and Eric informs him they are other teachers and hockey players in that rec hockey league they all play in. He has no idea if anyone recognizes him, but no one has outright said anything or asked for any pictures. That, and sticking close to Eric, has made Jack relax into the party.

“A photographer cat?” Bitty asks as he and Jack make their way to the back porch. Bitty had said that he was getting a little warm and maybe fresh air would do him good. Jack, ever the gentleman, had obliged. Bitty walks ahead of him, just slightly, and Jack’s eyes finally fall to where the bunny tail is. He stares and realizes how obvious he probably is staring. He jerks his gaze back up, up to the cowlick in Bitty’s hair. He focuses on that as they step outside, and he also realizes he probably needs to verbally respond to Bitty’s question, his southern drawl seeming thicker with the more drinks Bitty drinks.

“Yeah, it was Maisie’s idea. She knows I always bring my camera with me, so she incorporated into the costume.” Jack pauses, watching as Bitty sinks down onto an old looking porch swing. Jack worries, briefly, that it might not support both of their weight, but he sits down beside Bitty and though the swing creaks mightily, it holds them both. Jack realizes, he must have been holding his breath. “She said that all knights should have someone taking pictures of them on their adventures,” he adds, smiling.

He likes talking about his daughter. She’s a nice middle-ground for him and Eric—not that he ever really feels a loss for words around the blond man. Even when silence lapses between the two of them, it usually feels comfortable. The only time it does not feel exactly comfortable is when Jack’s thoughts dance down the line of appropriate.

“Why a cat?” Bitty asks a faint shiver to his voice.

“Are you cold?” Jack asks quietly, “we can head back inside?” Jack really wants to stay outside though. It is quieter and easier talking to Bitty without the noises of the party, without the music so loud. He can hear the music still, but it is faint behind the closed door.

“No, no. I’m fine, I want to stay out here a little longer.” Bitty says, and Jack feels the swing move as Bitty shifts his body closer to Jack’s. On instinct, Jack slips an arm around his shoulder. Bitty nuzzles into his side and Jack wonders if he can hear how hard his heart his thudding. He is also aware that he can just faintly make out the smell of whatever shampoo Bitty uses, and maybe some sweat too.

“So, why a cat?” Bitty asks again.

It takes Jack a few seconds to find his voice. He’s happy, really happy, just having Bitty so close to him. Having his arm around his shoulder. He wants more of this. He wants more than this too but Bitty has been drinking all night and is Maisie’s teacher. He has also asked Jack a question, and Jack knows he really needs to stop dazing out tonight.

“Maisie wants a pet cat and a dog,” Jack explains, grinning. “She said she wanted to prove to all of us that she can take care of one. So, I was the cat and Steve the dog, and she took us for a walk. She even fed us some candy-like a good pet parent.” Jack laughs as he finishes explaining and his heart soars as he hears Bitty laughing too.

“Lord, I can just picture her explaining that. All her little arguments,” Bitty says, and Jack notices again just how nice his smile is. Even in the dark. He is so grateful how close they are so that he can see the smile. His brain feels like mush but in a good way. He is hyper-aware of how close they really are, and how easy it would be to close the gap and kiss Eric. Tilt his head down, nudge Eric’s head up a bit and connect.

He really wants to.

“Can I see the pictures of Maisie’s costume?” Bitty asks, his voice sounding thick. Jack swallows.

“Eh, yeah.” He does not want to remove his arm from Bitty’s shoulder, and so does his best to position the camera with both hands and tries not to jostle Bitty’s head too much. He begins scrolling through the camera, showing the pictures he had taken of Maisie, Camilla, and Steve. Smiling as he recounts some of the events from trick or treating. He loves how genuinely interested Bitty is with it all.

“I’ll need to get a picture of you and Shitty tonight,” Jack announces when they are done looking at the photos.

“Then we should head back inside and find that boy,” Bitty says, and it takes a full minute before either of them move to get up. Jack, sad about it, but happy that he has the perfect excuse to get a picture of Bitty in that costume without being too much of a creep about it. His side feels a little colder without Bitty pressed up against it and he hopes they can find their way outside again. He follows Bitty back inside to find Shitty.

Chapter Text

Eric has lost Jack Zimmermann.

He regrets the decision they had made earlier, to come back inside, and get a picture of him and Shitty in their matching costumes. The picture itself was a success, Bitty remembers being tugged tightly against Shitty’s body, his nose at one point pressed uncomfortably into Shits’ armpit, but once he got his face out of there, laughing despite the smell and vague discomfort of it all, Jack snapped a handful of pictures and they were nice. Bitty had demanded, playfully of course, that they see the pictures straight away. The picture taking itself had been fun but it was after looking at them that Bitty and Jack got separated. Ransom and Holster had roped Bitty into playing beer pong.

Part of Eric had wanted to say no, but a large part of him felt a little guilty that he had been spending most of the party glued to Jack’s side, and so, he let his friends rope him into a game, and Eric lost, and then he also lost Jack Zimmermann in it all.

Bitty is aware that maybe he is not exactly sober. Not like he was sober before the beer pong, but he is definitely a lot less sober now. He weaves between friends and acquaintances alike, stopping to have conversations when people seem like they want to. All the while, he keeps part of his attention on the lookout for Jack and he is aware as he does that, that maybe he is being a little clingy and a little desperate. Also more than a little rude to those he talks to as his attention is not fully in what they are saying. His mama would be appalled, but Bitty is too not-sober to care. He does not really want to call himself drunk even though he is well aware that he is.

His phone vibrates and Bitty leans back against the wall, near the stairs that lead up to his bedroom. He mindlessly looks at his phone and then frowns. It is a text message from Trevor. A strange sense of guilt overcomes Bitty as he looks at the message, but does not really read it. He had been upset and hurt when he found out that Trevor had been cheating on him, but he realizes he had gotten over that hurt quick. He has not really given too much thought to Trevor in the last few weeks. He wonders why he feels guilty about that, even drunk, he knows that is a stupid thing to feel but he feels it all the same.

The text from his ex is innocent enough, simply wishing him a Happy Halloween and he wonders, finally pushing that weird guilt he was feeling if Trevor’s boyfriend knows that he is texting Bitty or not. He wonders if he should reply or not. Most of Eric wants to ignore the text even if some part of him will feel rude for it.

“What did your phone do to you?” Jack asks and Eric startles, looking up to see Jack Zimmermann leaning against the same all that Eric is. He fights back the sudden giggle that wants to pop out of his mouth.

“What d’ya mean?” Bitty asks, trying to keep his words from slurring too much. His head is swimming with more than just alcohol. It is swimming now with his proximity to Jack. Ever since Eric found out that Jack was single, no longer with Camilla, well… he has let himself hope and wonder. It makes him giddy sometimes just being close to Jack.

“You were just glaring down at your phone,” Jack points out, and Bitty thinks he detects concern in his voice.

He bites down on his lower lip, looking down at his phone instead of at Jack. A few seconds pass before he looks up. “Trevor, my ex, sent me a text. Just wishing me a Happy Halloween,” Bitty explains, fidgeting with his phone in the process.

“Oh,” Jack says, and that Oh seems to linger in the air. Awkwardness seems to be hanging between the two of them before Jack clears his throat. “Do you want to talk about it?” He asks and it feels gentle even if he is talking more on the louder side because of the music.

Eric shakes his head, “No. I was going to head up to my room to charge my phone. I think I have enough photos for the night anyway. Um.. want to come with me?” His face is red and he can feel it. His face was red from the drinks anyway, but it feels redder and warmer.

“Sure,” Jack says, and Eric’s stomach flips.

Somehow Bitty makes it up the stairs without tripping over his feet. He is all too aware of how close behind him Jack. He also intensely regrets not picking his room up some before inviting Jack in. He is worrying his lips with his teeth as he reaches the landing. It is only a few steps and then his door is on the left. He glances over his shoulder, and Jack is right there. The hallway light is off and Jack’s face is all in shadow. It seems a little dramatic to Bitty’s drunk mind, and he fights down a giggle.

“I should warn you that my room is a little messy,” he explains, before pushing the door open and stepping in. He flicks the light switch on and heads over towards the nightstand to plug in his phone. He notices Jack is standing in the threshold of the door, having not quite entered yet. He is looking all around the room, his expression difficult for Bitty to read. Finally, Jack seems to shake himself out of whatever it was and he steps into the room, closing the door behind him. Bitty is all too aware of how quite his room seems, with the music and party from downstairs dulled by the door.

“Did Shitty ever tell you that I lived in this room for a little while?” Jack asks, looking around once more. “When Camilla and I decided we were really going to divorce. I like what you have done with the place.” Jack says, and he turns to Bitty with a smile.

Bitty feels like he could fly because of that smile.

He really has not done too much to the room. He supposes, he has added his own personal touches. The bedding is all his, soft and comfortable and a light blue in color. He has pictures on the small desk that sits beneath the window, and a few cookbooks on the bookshelves that also house a lot of Shitty’s old books. The dresser is filled with Bitty’s own clothing, and there is a pile of dirty clothes next to the hamper that is actually full of clean clothing that needs to be put away. Bitty has a system with his clothes, they usually end up clean and in the hamper until he needs it to carry the dirty laundry downstairs. He suddenly feels more than a little embarrassed about that. He hung his own curtains over the window. And of course, Senor Bun is plopped on his bed, and Bitty hopes Jack has not noticed that yet. Trevor always made fun of him for Senor Bun.

“No, Shitty never told me.” And now Bitty wonders if that shirt that he found shoved in the dresser was Jack’s. He still likes to sleep in it most nights and he ducks his head to hide his blush. Jack moves even further into the room and takes a seat on the bed. Bitty hesitates a moment before sitting down next to him, close but not too close. He remembers how close they had gotten earlier in the evening, on that swing. He remembers the feel of Jack’s arm around his shoulder, of how pressed into his side Bitty had been. He remembers how Jack smelled and how he had hoped and hoped for a kiss of some sort but nothing ever came and Bitty had not been brave enough to initiate it. He can feel his heart racing again.

“Maisie wanted me to stay living with Shitty forever,” Jack says, and Bitty can feel Jack’s eyes on him. He chances a look and he all he can see is softness in Jack’s eyes and that smile he always seems to get on his face whenever he talks about his daughter. It makes Bitty melt. “She was very disappointed when I got my new place, at least for the first few days. She said that Uncle Crappy would be sad without me around, and without her around. But, now she really likes the house I picked and her room.”

“Shitty is a great friend,” Bitty says because it is true. He does not quite know what he would have done if Shitty had not offered him a place to stay.

“He is,” Jack agrees, and then Bitty feels the mattress in the bed dip as Jack shifts his weight and turns his body some to look at him. Bitty wonders if Jack can hear how hard his heart is thudding all of a sudden against his chest. “Did you want to talk at all… about Trevor? You looked upset?” Jack questions, as if he is not quite sure that Bitty looked upset.

Bitty slumps his shoulder some, and shifts on the bed himself. He leans his back against the headboard, he can see Jack easier this way. Jack’s hands are close to Eric’s legs, and he could probably easily touch them if he wanted. He leans his head back, sighing in what he realizes is probably in an overly dramatic kind of way.

“I was hurt and angry when I found out that Trevor had cheated on me,” Eric starts, he has spoken some about this with Lardo and Shitty. He is surprised to find that he does want to talk about this with Jack too. It is strange, they are not exactly friends, but he feels comfortable around Jack. And Jack with his kind blue eyes, the way his whole body is facing Eric’s, the way he seems to be really listening. The concern he had, and the fact he even asked Bitty to talk about it—it makes it all easier to just tell him. “But, I was not as upset as I probably should have been at the end of a two-year relationship? Don’t get me wrong, I cared about him. I probably still do, but… when everything was officially over when I was all moved out… I was not as sad about it as I would have thought. It makes me feel guilty that I am not as upset as I feel people assume I should be.”

He feels Jack drop a heavy hand on his ankle, and give it a squeeze. Bitty does his best to ignore how much he likes that simple touch of comfort. Jack says nothing and so Bitty continues to talk, “And his text just reminded me of that. It really was an innocent text, I think. I did wonder if his boyfriend knew he sent it. And even if I am not as upset as I feel like I should be, I don’t think I am quite ready to exchange pleasant texts with him.”

Again he feels Jack squeeze his ankle, and he notices that Jack does not move his hand any. Just that he leaves it there on his ankle, a comforting weight. Oh Lord.

“Don’t reply, then. And don’t feel guilty about not being upset enough over the relationship ending,” Jack says, his eyes glued to Bitty’s. And Bitty even though part of him wants to break the eye contact because it makes his heart race, it makes his throat feel dry, he does not. Lord Jack has such pretty blue eyes and Bitty wants to drown in them. “There is no right or wrong way to feel at the end of a relationship, no matter how it ends.”

What Jack says is basically what Lardo and Shitty have told him, but it seems to sink in a little better with Jack saying it. Bitty smiles and watches as Jack’s own face breaks into a smile too.

“Thanks, Jack.”

Jack nods and then sighs and stands up. Bitty surprises himself with how cold his ankle feels once Jack lets go of it and with the level of disappointment at seeing Jack stand.

“I really should get going,” Jack says, unable to fight a yawn.

“Oh, you have to travel tomorrow, don’t you?”

“Yeah, I actually had been looking for you to say goodbye,” Jack says, and he looks hesitant. Like he wants to say something else like he is weighing his options. Eric wonders wildly if Jack is thinking about kissing him. God, he hopes so. Jack instead, reaches into his pocket and removes his phone. “I was wondering if I could have your number. I could then send you the pictures I took tonight.”

“Oh.. Uh sure!” Bitty says, his voice sounding falsely bright to his ears. He reaches out for Jack’s phone, and types in his information before handing it back. Their fingertips touch and it feels almost electric.

“Okay, I’ll make sure to message you soon, Eric. It was great seeing you tonight. I really like your costume,” and Jack turns and leaves.

Bitty watches him go, certain that he had seen a blush on Jack’s face. Certain his own face had turned red at the compliment. Bitty bangs his head lightly against his headboard, groaning quietly. He is an idiot, he was certain of that. Then, he hears his phone vibrating on the nightstand and he looks over it. There’s a new text alert from an unknown number. His reaches for it and grins.

Unknown Number:
Hey, this is Jack. Just wanted to give you my number. Goodnight and Happy Halloween.

Bitty saves Jack’s number and shoots off his own reply. He still feels like an idiot, like maybe he missed some kind of opportunity, but having Jack’s number in his phone makes him feel a lot better.

 

Chapter Text

Jack
I found a swan in my hotel room. See incoming picture below.

An Itty Bitty Eric
OMG Jack! That is so cute. Do y’all usually get towel art in your rooms?

Jack
This is a first for me. We’ve stayed at this hotel before.

An Itty Bitty Erc
PLEASE PLEASE send me more pictures of your towels!

Jack
Okay. Talk to you later, Eric.

An Itty Bitty Eric
Good luck tonight! Shitty and I will be cheering y’all on.

Jack
-Hours later sends a lot of pictures of towels in various states, absolutely none of them artistically done like the swan-

An Itty Bitty Eric
OMG JACK THAT IS NOT WHAT I MEANT!

It is a couple weeks before American Thanksgiving. Jack and Maisie are on a clandestine mission. Their goal: sneaking in and watching Shitty and Mr. Bitty’s hockey game. Jack is wearing a flannel and jeans he knows he looks good in (for no particular reason). He has a plain hat pulled low over his face. Maisie is dressed in a near-identical outfit as him. Her flannel matches his—she calls it her Papa Shirt—and she too has a hat slung low on her head. No one is really paying them any mind, but Jack is still a little concerned about being recognized. He has wanted to see Shitty playing hockey with his friends for a while now, but usually, the games never seemed to line up for when Jack could go. Bittle will be playing too, and Jack feels maybe a little guilty that he might be more excited about seeing Eric on ice than Shitty.

Jack has seen Shitty play hockey before. He has played with him before. They had been on the same team in college. He has never seen Bitty play before. He has also learned, through their increasing number of texts they have shared since Halloween, from their brief talks when he drops or picks Maisie up from school, or when he stops by to pick Shitty up for a jog (with the weather turning colder their jogging routine will change, Jack will move to his treadmill until things warm up) that Bitty used to be a figure skater, that he loves being on the ice, and that he is apparently very speedy. Neither Shitty or Eric know that Jack and Maisie have come to watch their game, a fact that keeps making Maisie burst out into giggles when she seems to remember it.

He buys Maisie some snacks at the concession stand before they head to the seats. They manage to get right up against the glass, there is not too big of a crowd in the rink. The rink itself is not big, either. It looks a little rundown to Jack’s eyes, and he finds himself hoping that neither he nor Maisie will have to use the restroom during the game. Maisie takes a seat and immediately begins to eat her snacks, while Jack sits next to her. They both have cameras around their necks. Maisie’s camera is a bulky, and overly padded thing for kids. The picture quality is atrocious, but she insisted on bringing her camera too if Papa was bringing his. He makes a mental note to maybe buy her a better camera for her next birthday. He fiddles with his camera as he waits for the game to start.

Jack likes photography. Likes it so much that maybe like is not a strong enough word for it. It is not quite at the level of hockey for him, passion wise, but he could see it getting there. He is also pretty good at it, with the minimal training he has had from the couple of classes he took back in college. His instagram account is really the only social media account he enjoys updating. He sometimes thinks that maybe when he retires he would like to learn even more about photography, and have his own business. He also, sometimes, thinks about teaching. He majored in History, and he enjoys learning about history and talking to people about it. It might be nice having a captive audience of students. He knows he will not be able to play hockey forever. At thirty-three, he is quite aware of the tool the sport has already taken on his body. He wants to retire on his own terms, and not because of an injury or his body giving out. He likes to have plans, and he knows he should start really thinking about what he would like to do when he retires. He knows he will have to do something even if he does not exactly need a job for the money, he knows he will need something to occupy his time. But, he pushes those thoughts aside, lets them stew and linger in the back of his mind, always there but not quite needing to be focused on.

The game is starting, and Jack stops playing with his camera to focus on the players coming onto the ice. He fishes his phone out of his pocket and snaps a few pictures with it so that he will be able to send some to Bitty and Shitty right away. Then he puts his phone away, he will text during the break. He glances at Maisie and sees that her eyes are huge, round, and glued to the ice in front of her. His daughter loves hockey, she comes by it naturally. She loves being on the ice too but sometimes he gets the feeling that she prefers watching other people play than actually playing the game herself. He will always let her decide what she wants to do. He’s just glad that, at the very least, she enjoys watching it. He smiles, his heart feeling warm at the sight, and then he brings his camera up to snap a picture of Maisie totally enraptured with what is going on before her. He knows the game has started, he can hear the sounds of it. It feels different on this side of the glass, it sounds duller. He turns away from his daughter and trains his camera onto the game in front of him.

It does not take long for him to find Bitty—and oh is he fast. He handles the puck well, and always seems to be wherever his line-mates need him to be. Jack snaps more pictures of Bitty on the ice than he can remember. He gets some of Shitty too, of course. His focus wants to just stay on Bitty but he forces it to take in the other players. The game is fun, the intensity dialed down so far from what he is used to playing and watching. It is nice, actually. He relaxes into it, enjoying the feeling of just being a spectator. It is nice just watching a game and not having to think about how he will play against either team later on.

The game is fun and the ‘Swawesome Samwellies end up winning the game. Jack took way too many pictures, part of him wonders if he ought to be embarrassed by the number he took or not. All he knows is that he had a lot of fun. Maisie asked a lot of questions, jarring him some from his picture taking, but he had fun answering them. She has an eye for the game and understands it well. She is also very excited to congratulate Uncle Crappy and Mr. Bitty. Jack had sent them a couple of pictures he had taken with his phone, but he knows that Bitty noticed them during the game. He had waved to Maisie (and Jack, he supposes) during the game.

Jack takes Maisie’s hand and leads her towards where the lockers should be. They wait outside, Maisie jumping up and down in her impatience. Jack grins, playfully pulling her baseball cap even further down on her face.

“Papa!” She huffs and then she tries to jump and reach is. Jack laughs and squats down, his knees protesting a little until she can return the favor. He ends up toppling onto his ass and Maisie giggles, going in to attempt to tickle him. Jack is laughing when the doors open, still on the floor. He cranes his head up to see Eric and Shitty standing over him and Maisie, both looking amused.

“Mr. Bitty! Uncle Crappy!” Maisie shouts and stops her tickle attack. She bounds to her feet with an ease that Jack envies and launches herself at Shitty, who catches her in a hug and spins her. “That was a great game, Uncle Crappy!”

Bitty is looking down at Jack, and Jack is for once looking up at him. His hair is damp from what must have been a quick shower. Bitty is all smiles, his face so warm. Jack feels like he is smiling like an idiot.

“Here,” Bitty says, offering a hand to Jack. Jack takes it and Bitty helps to hoist him up. Jack is very impressed by how strong Bitty is. Maybe he holds onto Eric’s hand a little longer than is actually necessary, once he is up and on his feet. He gives it a little squeeze, smiling at Bitty and Bitty is smiling back. Jack realizes that he might have just forgotten how to speak. That maybe he ought to say something instead of just staring.

“Great game,” he says, and before he can say anything else, Maisie is standing next to him and Bitty, bouncing from foot to foot.

“Mr. Bitty! You are so fast! I wonder if you are faster than Papa on the ice,” she asks all innocence and happiness. Jack laughs and drops Bitty’s hand. Bitty then crouches down to be closer to Maisie’s level.

“I think maybe me and your Papa might have to have a race one day,” he says, with a quick look and a wink towards Jack that makes Jack’s belly squirm in a pleasant fashion. Again, Jack finds himself forgetting how to talk. He listens to Maisie and Bitty talk for a few minutes.

Shitty slips his arm around Jack’s shoulder at one point, pulling him close and yanking the cap off his head.

“Brah thanks for coming to the game.” Jack smiles, wrapping an arm around Shitty and giving him a one-armed hug.

“It really was a great game. What are your dinner plans?” Jack asks, his gaze darting back and forth between Shitty and Bitty.

“Zero plans, bro.” Shitty replies, grinning.

“Then you must let Maisie and I treat you, both of you. And anyone else from the team, we can get pizza.” Jack says, he would prefer just Shitty and Bitty, but he knows he would feel guilty not extending the invite to the rest of the team. Shitty lets out a shout, and then bounds into the locker room to invite the others. And Bitty? He flashes Jack a smile that warms his heart. Maisie is excited too by the prospect of meeting the rest of the team, especially when she learns they are all teachers.

And Jack hopes that no one minds if he makes it a point to sit next to Bitty once they get to the pizza place, squeezed in a booth between him and his daughter. And it is nice, better than nice, even.