Eric had a boyfriend.
And Jack? Jack was okay with that. He was even happy for his friend. Because that was what he and Bittle were, friends. And next to Shitty, Bittle was probably Jack’s best friend. Their relati—err… friendship might have started off a little rocky and Jack knew now with the aid of hindsight that it had all been on him, that rockiness, but they had grown past that. He wished, sometimes, that he could pinpoint the exact moment they became something like friends and not just teammates who barely spoke. He wished sometimes, that he could mark that day on a calendar, and just celebrate it by remembering. But, it had been a thing that had grown gradually, and that itself was special, Jack knew.
Their friendship was special, special enough that Jack could and would ignore that strange feeling he felt in his stomach at the fact Bittle had a boyfriend. He could also handle Bittle and that boyfriend (Doug. The boyfriend’s name was Doug (but honestly, what kind of name was Doug?)) staying the night at his place. Because that was precisely what he and Bittle were discussing right now.
“Lardo can’t make it to the game,” Jack was saying, as he attempted to get comfortable on his couch, only to give up and stand up to begin pacing around his apartment. Talking about Bittle and Doug, gave Jack a nervous kind of energy. “You and Doug can stay in my guest room and Shitty will likely end up in my bed.” Because without a warm body to cuddle, he knew where Shitty would end up.
“Or he might end up in bed with me and Doug,” Bittle said, with his honeyed laughter.
“Euh, I’ll make sure he ends up in my bed, just for you, Bud,” Jack said, even while a mental image of Shitty spooning the mysterious Doug and ruining whatever private moments could be shared between Bitty and Doug danced in his head. He did feel guilty about that thought, honest and he knew he would be dragging Shitty to his own room in order to prevent what he had just pictured from happening. Because Bittle was his friend and that was what friends do.
“Ain’t you just a sweetie pie, Jack. Thank you,” Bitty said, all soft and sweet and why did his voice make Jack just melt?
A friend’s voice probably should not do that.
“JACKABELLE, BRING THAT BEAUTEOUS ASS OVER HERE!” Shitty exclaimed loudly, his arms wide and expectant.
Jack, laughter bubbling out of lips, closed the gap between him and Shitty. He all but melted into the embrace, hugging him back tighter than was probably warranted. He missed this, hugs and being held. Living on his own, Jack was sometimes acutely aware of how touch starved he could be. He missed waking up in the middle of the night to an armful of Shitty. He missed the constant noises of the Haus. It had been two years, and he thought that he might have begun to miss it the place and the people a little less—but, no. With an armful of Shitty, he realized, how much he desperately missed it all.
“Jack,” and there behind Shitty was Bitty. Jack let his gaze linger on his friend.
“Bits,” Jack said as he disentangled himself from Shitty’s grasp. Then Bitty was launching at him, and Jack scooped him up in a hug.
“That was a great game you played,” Bitty said, his voice slightly muffled. Jack smiled, bigger than he had in days, before letting Bitty down. Suddenly, all too aware of another guy standing back, hovering awkwardly near Shitty. It dawned on Jack that that man was probably Doug.
Objectively, Doug was attractive. Tall with dark hair and light eyes. He looked like he worked out but not as much as say, a professional athlete or collegiate athlete might. He was wearing a Falconers’ shirt and Jack supposed he should appreciate the support. He also supposed that he should let go of Bittle, eh? So he did, and Bitty, laughing a little breathlessly, moved away from Jack to grab a hold of one of Doug’s arms, and tug him gently forward.
“Jack, this is Doug. Doug, this is Jack.”
Jack reached out his hand and shook Doug’s. Doug had a decent grip, Jack supposed.
“Nice to meet you, Doug.” Jack said, and then, “want to meet the rest of the guys?”
Doug looked absolutely terrified of the prospect and Jack maybe felt a little too happy about that.
“How are you feeling, brah?” Shitty asked as he rolled onto his side to look at Jack. Jack, he was laying on his back and staring up at his ceiling, willing his ears not to pick up any stray noises from the guest bedroom next door. Shitty was speaking at a low volume, and Jack raised an eyebrow before turning his head to look more fully at his friend. Concern was etched on Shits’ face and Jack frowned.
“I am feeling great, Shits. I played a good game of hockey and I have my best friends here to celebrate.” Jack said, deflecting even if he was not quite certain just what he was deflecting.
“Even if one of your best friends is totally spooning another dude in the room next door?” Shitty asked, and Jack rolled his eyes. He appreciated Shitty’s concern, he did. He just did not want it right now. He was not ready to talk about… that. And what that did with his heart.
“Plenty of my friends spoon other dudes, Shits. Some even fork them.” Jack deadpanned.
Shitty guffawed and punched him lightly in the arm. Jack retaliated by thwacking him across the face with his pillow. A wrestling match ensued, and soon both men were out of breath and laughing. Jack, smiling so big that his face hurt. He was happy, really. Even if there was the slightest of pangs in his heart when he did hear some muffled noises from the room next door.
“Jacko, I’ll be big spoon tonight,” Shitty said, opening his arms and Jack rolled into them. “And if you decide you are ready to talk, I’m here for you.” Shits added, barely above a whisper.
“Thanks, Shitty,” Jack said replied, just as quiet, like if they both spoke quiet enough everything could just stay unsaid even longer. Jack knew that eventually, he would have to talk to someone but for tonight, he was prepared to ignore whatever feelings were trying to wriggle their way to the forefront.
The voice on the other end of the line was unfamiliar. Just as unfamiliar as the number. Jack had regretted answering the phone as soon as he had, his mind not really focused on what was going on. He was exhausted from a roadie and just wanted to sleep in his bed, but he had to shower still and eat something before then.
“Yes, who is this?” Jack grunted, knowing that maybe he ought to be friendlier.
“Oh! Um, Doug. Bitty’s boyfriend?” He said the last bit like a question like he was not sure he actually he was Bittle’s boyfriend. Jack rolled his eyes and then felt distinctly unkind for that action even though Doug could not see it.
“Hi, Doug,” Jack said, trying to keep his impatience out of his voice. “Did you need anything?”
“Yeah! So, Bitty and I are coming up on our six month anniversary…” and Jack knew all about that. He and Bittle had just had a conversation about that. Bitty all lovesick and Jack too, he had realized. It had hit him hard and he had finally given names to the emotions swirling within him as he heard Bittle talk, on and on, about his relationship. Jealousy and hurt and disappointment. Dash of happiness too, because even if Jack was hurting, Bittle was not. Bittle was happy and that made Jack happy—which made him realize that he probably loved Eric. And… well, at least Shitty had been able to answer his phone call right away.
Jack tried to focus on what Doug was prattling on and on about.
“So, do you think you can help me out, Jack? I know it is a lot to ask.”
What? Help out with what? Jack stared at his wall like a deer caught in headlights. “Euh… sure, but let’s go over that plan one more time, eh?” Jack stammered, and Doug was silent for a moment before he let out a breath of relief and once again began to prattle—Jack for his part, forced himself to listen and did his best to ignore the crumbling of his heart. Shitty would definitely be getting another phone call tonight.
It was a couple of weeks later and Jack was lounging on his bed, a rare Friday night off with no travel or games. He had had the sudden urge to hop into his truck and drive to Samwell, but he had fought that urge. The boys did not have a game going on either, and nothing going on for Saturday morning, that it was really good a kegster was being thrown at the Haus. Jack was not sure he had it in him to deal with the crowds at the party without Shitty, and Shitty was drowning in school work at Harvard. He was reaching for a book when his phone rang, and he knew it was Bitty.
Jack answered immediately, feeling concerned.
“Bits?” He asked as he answered.
“Jack,” Bitty breathed, and Jack heard rustling on the other end. He pictured Bitty laying in his own bed, and he willed his imagination to not supply Bitty in those short shorts he tended to sleep in.
“What’s up? I’m surprised you aren’t having a party tonight,” Jack said, surprised but happy he added to himself.
“Oh, the boys are throwing one. I’m just not in a partying mood, and I can’t bake in the kitchen because the Haus is full,” Bitty explained.
“Bits, what’s wrong?” Jack asked, definitely concerned now.
“I think I need to break up with Doug,” Bitty said, after a moment or two of silence. Jack was not certain he had heard Bittle correctly.
“What? Last week you were telling me that you thought you might-…” Jack did not want to say those next words out loud, so he changed track. “What happened? What did Doug do?” Because if Doug hurt Bittle… well, Jack was not entirely certain what he would do. He would be there to pick up the pieces, that much he knew, but he felt anger boiling in him that he tried to tamper down. He had to get the story first.
“Oh, honey. Doug did nothing. He’s as sweet as ever. I think he’s planning something really special for our six months… and, oh Lord I’m a monster.” Bitty said, and Jack could hear the quiver in his voice like he was fighting back tears. Jack also knew all about Doug’s plans for the six month anniversary. He was supposed to be helping Doug pull off the surprise. Jack latched, instead, on the monster part.
“Bitty, you aren’t a monster…” Jack protested.
Bitty laughed and it was bitter. A sound that Jack was not used to coming from Bitty, and it struck something in him. It made his heartache, hearing that. “Bits…”
“Jack, I lied. I lied about how much I like Doug. He’s a sweet boy, but... I’m lying. I don’t—I can’t—…” Bittle trailed off, and Jack felt like his heart was going to beat out of his chest. It felt like they were on the edge of something. He needed to know why Bitty would lie about that to himself, to Jack, and he supposed even to Doug, though that was more of an afterthought than anything.
“Just tell me why you did it,” Jack said, quietly. Maybe too quiet because he was unsure if Bitty had actually heard the question or not. Finally, though, he heard an intake of breath from the other line.
“Because I’m in love with you, okay! And… and I know you’ll never—… fuck. Doug, did you hear all of that?”
On the other line, Jack can hear another voice now. Then suddenly, the line was dead. Jack stared at the phone in his hand for a moment. Bitty’s words replaying, over and over in his head. They had been said with such sadness and certainty. Especially the never part that Bittle did not get to finish before being interrupted. Jack was on his feet and off the bed before he gave much thought to it
It had begun to rain about halfway to the Haus, but Jack continued to drive. It hardly registered when he parked the car a few blocks away. He had the foresight to grab a hat to pull low over his eyes, and a light jacket that he always left in his car was pulled on before he stepped out of the car and headed to the Haus at a jog. The kegster was still going on when he approached it, music thrumming loudly. He entered the Haus and was grateful when no one paid him any mind. He kept his head low, and went towards the kitchen first—but there was no Bittle.
He reached in his pocket for his phone, only to realize he must have left it back at home. Jack’s gaze went up towards the ceiling, and he left the kitchen, careful not to bump into anyone. He did not have a plan, really. He just knew that he had needed to see Bitty after that confession. That… Bitty… he loved… and Jack. Jack needed to see Bitty, and so he had driven all the way from Providence to do that. And.. then what? Jack tried to shut his thoughts off as he went up the stairs and approached Bitty’s closed door.
He stared at the door for a full minute. Then he knocked.
“M’not in the mood for company,” came Btty’s muffled voice and Jack felt his heart crumble. Instinctively, he went to open the door but found it locked. He wondered if Bitty had heard that or not, so he knocked once more on the door.
“Lord, leave me alone, please.” Bitty pleaded.
“Bits… It’s me…” Jack called, a little louder than he would have liked but he wanted to make sure Bittle heard him. He heard movement on the other side of the door and suddenly, there was Bitty, just standing there. His eyes were red-rimmed from crying, his cheeks puffy and wet. Jack was dimly aware of the rumpled Samwell Men’s Hockey shirt he was wearing and the pajama pants. His gaze mostly focused on Bittle’s face. Absolutely beautiful and broken looking with the tears.
“Because I’m in love with you, okay?” Jack said, repeating what Bittle had said over the phone less than an hour before. Bitty opened his mouth to say something, his face etched with confusion. Jack, not much for words but getting better all the time with them thanks to Shitty, his psychiatrist, and Bittle himself, decided to let his body do the talking. He stepped into Bittle’s room and reached out to gently cup his face, before leaning down to kiss him.
He felt Bitty tense and Jack tensed himself until suddenly, Bittle was kissing him back.
Jack was mindlessly tracing shapes with his finger, up and down Bitty’s back. Bitty’s head was on Jack’s chest, and there was a comfort to the weight of Bitty on him. Jack sighed, content and Bitty craned his head up, tilting until he could press a chaste kiss to Jack’s chin. Jack smiled.
“I feel so bad about Doug,” Bitty spoke up, quiet. Jack instinctively tightened his grip on Bitty.
“He is going to be okay, Bud,” Jack said, and he wondered if he ought to feel more guilty than he did, with how everything seemed to be playing out. Except, he was far too content holding Bitty right now. He mostly disliked the fact that Bitty felt bad and guilty.
“I should not have dated him as long as I did,” Bitty continued. “I just kept hoping that eventually… those feelings I was faking for him, would turn true, you know? That eventually I would be able to get over you. But lord was I wrong and foolish. The longer I was with him… well, nothing worked. I kept wishing harder he was you.” Bitty finished, and he hid his face against Jack’s neck and Jack shivered at feeling Bitty’s breath there.
“I kept wishing I was him too,” Jack said, quietly.
And he had wished that he were in Doug’s position hundreds of times over the past few months. Bitty looked up at him, an eyebrow raised.
“Doug said you were helping with his plans for our anniversary,” Bitty said, his voice neutral to Jack’s ears.
“I was going to help,” Jack began, bringing his hand up to play with Bitty’s hair. “I figured… if I couldn’t be with you then… euh I wanted to—..” Jack paused, trying to collect his thoughts. “If Doug made you happy then I wanted to help him make you happy.”
“Oh Jack,” Bitty said, quiet and sweet. Then they were kissing again, and well… Jack could get used to that. He knew they had a lot more to discuss but for now, he would enjoy their pockets of conversation and kisses between those.