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You Got the Keys

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It's raining. For the third day in a row.

That's why Jack is finishing up his cardio on the treadmill in his weight room at the back of his condo instead of going for a run—it's colder today than the last two days, and for some reason his shoulder is fine with rain and fine with cold but you put them together for more than a few minutes at a time and it starts complaining.

At least it's supposed to clear up tomorrow. It hasn't been a particularly wet May, really, and headed into summer the weather should just keep getting nicer. Sometimes Seattle is as rainy as he'd always heard, but the summer is usually quite nice. Not overly hot, only a few summer storms here and there.

When Georgia Martin came scouting him at Samwell a little over five years ago, he'd been hesitant. He wasn't going to choose a team based solely on where his friends were, but Seattle was so far away. From everyone he knew. In the end, though, he couldn't say no—the Schooners, in large part thanks to George, have what is possibly the most supportive, inclusive, least toxic team culture in the NHL. While other teams, teams closer to Samwell like the Falconers or Rangers, had offered him more money, they'd also come with warnings and contract stipulations. They didn't care that he'd been so well-behaved for four years at Samwell. They didn't care when he assured them that his overdose had been on Xanax, not cocaine or anything else illegal. Well, they cared, but not in a good way—they let him know subtly, in ways that skirted around anything that could get them sued under ADA, that it was his responsibility to make sure his anxiety disorder didn't become their problem. That if a player couldn't keep something like that under control it would be bad for the whole team, and they had to look out for the whole team.

The Schooners were different. George never shied away from talking about his mental health, and she wasn't trying to skirt any laws. She was upfront about the fact that they would expect him to stay in therapy as much as they'd expect him to treat any other health problem, but that they had a top sports psychologist on staff and if she wasn't a good fit she'd help him find someone who was. She framed it as figuring out how the team could help him take care of himself, not how he needed to make sure the team never had to think about his problems. Both their roster and staff were diverse, and pride night didn't seem to just be something they did one day a year for PR's sake. Jack talked to Marty, official Team Dad(tm) several times while he was deciding, so he knew that Marty's brother is gay and is friends with a lot of the team.

There's only one reason he's ever regretted signing with the Schooners, and it's not the weather.

When he's done on the treadmill, Jack chugs some Gatorade and takes a shower. He's not sure what he's going to do with his day; they didn't make it very far in the playoffs (no surprise there, with as many injuries as they had in the last half of the season) and he hasn't quite figured out a plan to keep himself busy this summer. Tater insists he needs to make a list of 30 things he wants to do before he turns 30 in August, but Jack's been dragging his feet on it.

He's just settling into his armchair to read a book on the history of segregation in the US when his phone buzzes in his pocket. He pulls it out and grins when he sees who it is.

"Hey, Bittle, how's it going?"

He's surprised, since they just talked on the phone on Bittle's birthday a couple weeks ago. They text regularly, at least one or two real conversations a week plus other random bits, but rarely talk on the phone other than things like birthdays—or if one of them (usually Jack, for obvious reasons) is going to be passing through the other's city. Jack definitely hopes this call is that sort, as he hasn't seen Bittle in person in over a year, not since Shitty and Lardo's wedding. The handful of times Jack has been in Boston long enough to see any of the Samwell crew, Bittle's been out of town or already busy.

"Hey, Jack! I was just calling 'cause, uh. Well, I've got some news."

Bittle sounds happy, maybe even excited, but nervous. Jack's stomach sinks as his brain immediately jumps to the only piece of news Jack can imagine Bittle calling him about—getting married. Bittle and Chris have never seemed that serious, but Jack has really only seen them together a couple of times, and it's not like their few text conversations a week are usually about deep topics like how Bittle's relationship is doing. And they've been dating for at least, what, a year and a half? They'd been together for a few months already by the time Jack saw them at the wedding.

"Oh yeah?" Jack refuses to let his dismay show in his voice. There's no reason for him to be anything other than happy for his friend—if that even is Bittle's news.

"Yeah, uh, well. Y'know how my firm has an office in Seattle?"

Jack pauses. The first reason that comes to mind for Bittle to have "news" involving his firm's Seattle office has got to be too good to be true. "Yeah?"

"Well, um… guess who they're transferring there?"

Jack is speechless for a moment.

"Are you serious?" he finally asks, and he absolutely lets his excitement show.

"Yeah! Looks like I'm moving to Seattle! Can you believe that?" Bittle says with a slightly hysterical giggle.

"Oh my God, Bits, that's amazing!"

"I mean, I know you're busy and all, so it's not like I'm expecting you to hang out with me every weekend or anything, but maybe you can at least show me around town?"

"Are you kidding me?" Anyone else, and Jack might think they were trying to hint that they didn't want to hang out with him that much, but he knows Bittle's self-deprecating tone when he hears it. "Bits, I don't know if you follow hockey, but we kinda got kicked out of the playoffs last week." Bitty knows this, of course; he texted Jack after the game. "My season is over. I have nothing but time." He hesitates. "I mean, I'm obviously not saying we have to hang out constantly or anything, but, y'know, don't worry about me being busy."

Bitty giggles again. "In case you didn't realize this, you are literally the only person I know in the state of Washington, so if I don't hang out constantly with you, who will I hang out with?"

Jack pauses, because there's an obvious answer to that question. "Is… Chris coming with you?"

"Oh," Bittle says. Jack can almost hear the smile drop form his face. "No. I mean, it was never the follow-someone-across-the-country type of relationship, y'know? And it wasn't the kind that's gonna survive that kind of distance, either. We broke it off last night, actually. We figured it was better to go out on a high note, all that jazz."

"I'm sorry," Jack says. And he is, because Bittle doesn't exactly sound happy they broke up.

"Oh, it was for the best," Bittle says on a sigh. "Honestly, I think for months now it's just been easier to stay together than to break up, you know what I mean? We've been together—or, well, we were together—for over a year and a half, and neither of us was thinking about moving in together or anything like that, so that's gotta say something. There was nothing wrong with it, we weren't fighting or anything; I'm not even sure I'd say I was bored in the relationship. It was just… there, and it was easier to leave it there than not to. Which isn't a great place to be in the long run, obviously."

"Sure," Jack says. "But it still kinda sucks."

"Yeah," Bittle says with another sigh. "It does, a little. But it feels right, too. Like, I'm about to move across the whole entire country and start a new life, y'know? And Chris was never the guy that I'd choose to take with me from one life into another. So it feels cleaner this way, like he'd just be baggage holding me down otherwise. I'm just glad he agreed so it's not like anyone was breaking anybody's heart or anything. We both knew it was time to move on."

"That's good, at least," Jack says, then changes the subject. "Otherwise, though, you seem pretty okay with this? That's a big move."

"Oh, don't get me wrong, I'm terrified," Bitty says, perking back up. "But yeah, it's good, too. I've been in Massachusetts for seven years, and don't get me wrong, I love it here, but I guess I'm kinda curious to try someplace new. And you like Seattle, right?"

"Mostly," Jack says, and doesn't say that he'll like it better with Bittle here. "The weather can be kinda dreary sometimes, but overall it's a nice place to live. Close to Canada." Bittle snorts. "I don't have any plans to leave unless I get traded, and that's out of my control. So when do you need to be here by?"

"I have two weeks," Bittle says. "One more week of work here, then a week to move before I have to start there."

"Wow. Not as fast as a trade, but that's pretty fast."

"Yeah. They're paying my moving costs, of course, and setting me up with an apartment for the first few months, until I can find a place for myself."

"Let me know when your flight is," Jack says, trying to sound helpful without spilling over into overly-eager. "I can pick you up at the airport."

"Oh, I'm actually gonna be driving—work'll pay for mileage that way, but they won't pay for me to ship my truck. And a few nights of motels is a lot cheaper."

"I'll come with you," Jack blurts out before he can stop himself.

"What?" Bitty sounds more amused than anything, so Jack doesn't completely backtrack.

"I mean—if you want," he stammers. "I could fly out and come with you. So you don't have to drive that whole way alone."

"Oh, Jack, that's so sweet of you, and honestly I'd love that, but I don't want to take up all your time like that. It's a five day drive, at least, maybe six! You don't have to do that."

The truth is, he wants Bittle to take up all his time.

"Like I said, it's the off-season, Bits. Trust me, it'd be way more fun than anything else I was gonna do." There's a slight pause, and suddenly Jack worries that maybe he really has overstepped. "I mean—sorry. This is too much, isn't it? I'm being too much."

Bittle laughs. "Jack Zimmermann, you are physically incapable of being too much."

Jack snorts. "Not everyone would agree with that," he mutters. "I'm sorry, Bittle, don't feel like you have to humor me here."

"I'm not humoring anything, and who says you're too much?"

"Tori," he says without thinking. "I mean—sometimes. She thought I was… a little over the top."

Now it's Bitty's turn to snort. "Well, we already knew she didn't know how to properly appreciate what she had. Jack, I would love it if you came with me, but that's an awful lot to ask of you, so only if you really want to."

"I really want to," Jack insists.

"Well, okay, then. I guess we're gonna have ourselves a little road trip!" Bittle sounds genuinely happy about it, and Jack finally relaxes a bit.

They talk about a few of the details, and by the time they're off the phone Jack has bought a plane ticket to Boston for the following Saturday. "So you're stuck with me now," he tells Bitty.

"Gosh, when was the last time I got to see you every day for a week?" Bitty asks. "I guess not since you graduated."

"I think so," Jack says."It'll be just like in the Haus… except, y'know, in a car…"

"I'm sure sitting in seats next to each other will be just like living across the hall," Bittle says fondly. Then he says, "I can't wait," and it's earnest and warm and Jack doesn't think he's imagining that he hears his own longing reflected in it.

"Me neither," he says. "I've missed you."

"I've missed you, too," Bitty says quietly. There's a slight pause, then he takes a breath. "Gosh, I have so much to do! And only a week to do it in! I should probably go schedule my electricity getting turned off or submit a change of address form or one of the other dozens of things I need to do on top of packing!"

"You do that," Jack says. "I'll take a look at our route, start booking hotels maybe. I'll talk to you later."

Once they're off the phone, Jack looks around his condo. It's slowly grown a bit of a personality over the past five years, but it's always been a little bland. He's never really been sure what to do with it, how to make it more of a home.

No. That's a lie. He's always known what's really missing.