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You Got the Keys

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August 3, 2020

Jack wakes up the morning of his thirtieth birthday to the feel of his boyfriend's mouth on his bare skin, working its way down his body. He rubs his eyes blearily and looks down at Bitty, who is nudging his legs apart so he can situate himself between them.

"Good morning," Jack mumbles.

Bitty grins like a cat with a canary. "Happy birthday, sweetpea," he says. After that, he doesn't say anything for quite a while.

It's still a little disorienting, waking up in their new house. When they go to shower, Jack keeps trying to use the controls like the ones on his old shower until Bitty steps in to remind him that they actually work like the controls on the showers back at the Haus did.

They'd jumped right into househunting as soon as they got back to Seattle. Bittle had to go back to work, of course, but Jack had plenty of time to talk to realtors during the day, then show Bitty everything they'd gone over in the evening. It didn't take long for them to narrow down the neighborhoods and price range they wanted—at first Jack had suggested looking near where Thirdy lives, but Bitty balked at sending his future kids to a school where basically everyone has a five million dollar house.

"I know they're gonna grow up rich like you did," he said, "but I don't want them to, I don't know, get the idea that that's normal or something."

Jack was pretty sure they could make sure their kids understand that most people don't have as much money as they do, but it didn't seem worth fighting over, so they found a couple of school districts that were a bit more economically diverse.

It was surprisingly easy to agree on what they wanted in a house. They didn't necessarily have the same priorities, but most of the things that one of them was adamant about—among other things: kitchen details for Bitty, a fenced yard and wood floors for Jack—were things the other didn't have strong opinions on. Within a month of Bitty arriving in Seattle, they had a house they wanted to make an offer on. Since they were paying with cash, it only took a couple of weeks to get the inspection done and a few minor issues fixed and close on it—and suddenly they had a house that wasn't Jack's or Bitty's, but instead had both of their names on the deed.

They've been fully moved in for a week now, though they're definitely not done unpacking. The kitchen, of course, is done, and they've made the living room and back yard a priority to accommodate the birthday/housewarming party they're having this evening. Their hockey memorabilia, on the other hand, is still in boxes in the spare room, and the second living room that Bitty has taken to calling the "family room" is just a mess of things they don't yet have a place for.

Jack isn't exactly shocked that Bitty got up early to make a special breakfast for him, but expecting it doesn't make him appreciate it any less. He eats a high-protein breakfast with eggs and meat most mornings, but today Bitty has whipped up some very fancy omelets, along with baked French toast and Jack's favorite cranberry-orange muffins.

Bitty has taken the day off work, partially to prepare for the party later and partially so they can go pick out Jack's present. It's important that he be there, not so much because they've decided this is his "present" to Jack despite the fact that it's really something they're getting together, but because this is a decision he needs to have as much input into as Jack does.

They pull up to the animal shelter around 11am.

"Remember, it's okay if we don't meet anyone we want to take home today," Jack says. "Don't feel like if we go home empty-handed you've somehow failed me on my birthday. It's way more important we find the right pet."

"I know, sweetpea," Bitty says, as though he hadn't fretted about that very thing when Jack suggested this. "Although I don't really know how we're gonna know if a cat or dog is the 'right pet' for us."

"At the very least, I think we'll know if they're the wrong pet," Jack says. "And we can always think about it and come back another day."

The entire conversation turns out to be moot. They look at the cats first. They're all very cute and happy to have someone pet them, but none of them really sticks out from the others. Then they walk through the dog side of the shelter, noting a few likely candidates.

The third dog they take out to the play yard is the last dog Jack would ever have expected to own. She's a pug/chihuahua mix, and possibly the ugliest little thing Jack has ever seen. All black, with bulging eyes and crooked teeth sticking up out of her mouth. A stocky little body on incongruently skinny little legs. She'd been found as a stray, nursing two puppies who have already been adopted.

"Look at her," Bitty says when Jack isn't sure they should bother with her. "I bet nobody ever picks her to take out, ugly little girl."

She's incredibly friendly, though, so happy to cuddle with either or both of them. When Bitty sits down in the play yard, she trots over from where she was sniffing at a toy and just climbs right into his lap and flops down like it's her personal bed.

And then, when they do convince her to play instead of cuddle, it turns out she loves to play tug. And when she does, the sounds that come out of her tiny little body make Bitty drop the toy at first.

"She sounds like somebody dropped a spoon down a garbage disposal," Bitty says in an awed voice while she tugs on the toy that's now in Jack's hand. "Jack, we've found the perfect dog."

"I think you mean we've found the weirdest dog," Jack says, but he's grinning as he slowly pulls the toy up until he's almost lifted the little dog off the ground with it. He doesn't quite, though, because he's not sure that would be safe if she did let go. Not that there's much chance of her letting go—even up on her tiptoes, she's thrashing around with a tight grip on the toy, making terrible, terrible noises. "You really think she's the one? I guess I kind of pictured getting something bigger, more along the lines of a husky or a lab or whatever."

"Jack!" Bitty grabs the dog, who lets go of the toy to happily jump back into his lap. "How dare you judge her on her size! Don't ever speak to me or my tiny, ugly, garbage disposal daughter again!"

Jack can only laugh and sit down next to him to scratch the little mutt behind her half-floppy, half-pointed ears. "I guess I always thought little dogs were just hyper and yappy all the time. She doesn't seem to be either. I do like her."

And so, a couple of hours later, they're following this ugly, weird little dog around their backyard as she checks everything out.

"What should we name her?" Bitty asks. The shelter had been calling her Missy, which doesn't seem to fit her at all.

"She's tiny and black like a puck…" Jack says, but Bitty cuts him off with a look.

"We're not naming our dog Puck," Bitty says. "We can have one thing in our life that's not about hockey. Or baking, for that matter."

"Can we name one of our kids Puck then?" Jack asks, and Bitty throws the tennis ball he'd been carrying at him. The dog notices the motion and looks over, but makes no move to get the ball. She's too engrossed in sniffing at one particular corner of the yard.

"Moche?" Jack suggests. "It means ugly."

Bitty wrinkles his nose. "I'm not opposed to naming her something that means ugly, but I'm not calling our dog mush."

"Not mush, moche," Jack says, knowing full well Bitty can hardly hear the difference, if at all.

They throw a few more names back and forth as they catch the dog's interest with a game of tug, but nothing seems right.

Finally, Bitty sits down and when she jumps into his lap exclaims, "You are just a little gremlin, is what you are! Look at you!" He looks up at Jack. "Ooh! She's a gremlin, we could name her Gizmo!"

Jack squints at him. They'd watched the Gremlins movies at the Haus around Halloween once, but he hadn't been paying much attention. "Isn't the whole point of those movies that Gizmo is the only one who doesn't turn into a gremlin?"

"Close enough," Bitty says with an eyeroll. "She's still furry, right? So she hasn't quite gone full gremlin yet."

Jack sits down next to him and laughs when she immediately climbs over into his lap to flop down. "Okay. Gizmo sounds cute. I guess we shouldn't feed her after midnight."

Gizmo seems to be worn out from exploring and playing, so they take her inside and introduce her to the very plush doggie bed they bought on the way home from the shelter. She immediately falls asleep. On her back. With her legs splayed out and gravity dragging her upper lip down, which in this position means up in relationship to the rest of her face.

"She's so, so ugly," Bitty whispers reverently, before heading to the kitchen to start his baking marathon for the party. Jack snaps a quick picture to put on his Instagram.

At first Bitty insists that Jack shouldn't help, it's his birthday party after all, but Jack points out that it's also their housewarming party. When he throws in a little bit of pouting about how he spent five years not getting to bake with Bitty, Bitty relents.

"We're both gonna be using that one on each other for a long time, aren't we?" he says as he directs Jack to a pile of apples to peel.

"At least the next five years," Jack agrees with a grin.

Peeling apples is a familiar chore by now, something he can do on autopilot while he listens to Bitty bop around to his music and lets his mind wander.

Most of the people coming over tonight have met Bitty, though not all. They all know about him, though. Jack started talking to teammates as soon as they got back to Seattle, and he and Bittle sat down with George and Nina from PR to talk about how to handle various issues that might come up. Jack has no problem with telling the public the truth, if anyone asks—Bitty was one of his best friends in college, they fell in love, but Jack moving to Seattle meant they couldn't be together. So no, they haven't been in a secret relationship for the past five years, and no, none of the women he's dated have been beards.

He and Bitty have been to Thirdy's house, and Marty's (even though Marty retired this year), and have hung out with Snowy and Tater in various settings. Bitty met a lot of the rest of the team at Snowy's birthday party last month. Reactions have ranged from mild surprise but immediate acceptance, to confusion but eventual acceptance. Everyone, of course, loves Bitty.

They have continued to not be particularly careful about anything. They bought a house together, after all—the realtor and any owners of houses they looked at have seen them together, and their new neighbors all seem to know by now that Jack Zimmermann has moved onto the block and brought with him with a very nice man who gives everyone baked goods. None of these people has posted anything on social media or gone to any tabloids about it, as far as Jack knows. Some are probably just adults capable of discretion, but some probably because they haven't actually gone up to any of them and said "yes, we are romantically involved," and so instead of jumping to conclusions, heteronormativity is telling them that it can't be what it looks like.

They've even both posted photos of their new house on social media—but they're not the same photos, and neither of them are in the photos, and they have little overlap in followers, so nobody's noticed that they're both posting photos of the same house.

They managed to eke out enough time for a short trip down to Madison, where the Bittles were thrilled to greet Jack as their future son-in-law. They haven't made it to Montreal yet, but Jack's parents are coming to visit in a few days. Bitty is nervous about it, of course, but Jack knows his parents are thrilled. When he told his mother their story, she cried and immediately ordered expensive baking pans as a gift for Bitty.

By the time people start arriving, there are two pies, a small but gorgeous cake, several types of appetizers spread around the living room and back patio on trays, and a pile of hamburger patties, bratwurst, and vegetables on skewers to put on the grill.

When the doorbell rings to announce the Robinsons' arrival, Jack and Bitty realize that having a dog is going to mean making a few changes.

Such as paying closer attention to where the tray of mini-quiches gets set down, and not setting it on the low coffee table that Gizmo can reach on her hind legs.

Because just as Thirdy, Carrie, and their oldest daughter Hannah come in (Carrie's mother is staying with the younger kids so they don't have to be home by 8pm), there's a crash from the living room. They all rush in to find a very happy, ugly little doggie scarfing up mini-quiches as quick as her little mouth can go.

After that, they make sure to keep the people food elevated.

Within twenty minutes, a dozen or so of Jack's friends are scattered around, drinking beers or sodas, munching on appetizers, and playing with the dog. A few of them brought housewarming gifts despite being told not to—simple things, thankfully, like a bottle of wine or a potted plant. Tater, having seen Gizmo on Jack's instagram, arrives with a bag full of dog toys and treats, insisting that it's her housewarming, too, after all.

Jack starts up the grill, but he's chased away from it by teammates who insist that he doesn't have to make his own food on his birthday. So instead he has a seat on the patio bench and relaxes. Within a few minutes, Bitty joins him, and Jack just looks around. A few short months ago, he hadn't thought much of the idea turning thirty. He wasn't dating anyone, didn't particularly want to date anyone, and so it wasn't like it was "time to settle down" or anything. He'd been pretty settled as it was, if partnerless. He'd expected his thirtieth birthday to come and go much like his twenty-ninth; in the same condo, with the same friends, talking to Bitty and his other Samwell friends on the phone as usual.

Instead, he has the love of his life in his arms, sitting in their back yard of their house. The friends are the same, but the kids in attendance are running around the back yard with their dog. Nobody probably would have bothered to bring their kids to an evening get-together in Jack's condo; there wouldn't be much for them to do. Now he and Bitty have a house that was chosen specifically with children in mind—their children, someday. That's still a few years off, for them at least. They talked to Lardo and Shitty earlier, and her pregnancy is going well. She's over the morning sickness and is now into the weird cravings. Bitty promised to experiment a little and see what he can do about dill pickle flavored cookies.

Jack is thirty, and he isn't any different, but his life has changed completely in the past two and a half months. He's never been this happy, this content. Having Bitty there every day, just there, to talk to and do dishes with and buy groceries with, fills a gaping hole that's been in his life for five years. A hole that he tried to fill with other people, but none of them quite fit, because it's Eric Bittle-shaped. He hasn't been unhappy—far from it, aside from a few bumps in the road like his shoulder and Tori. He knows he doesn't need Bitty in order to be happy. But he's pretty sure that the happiness he has with Bitty is a specific flavor that he would never find anywhere else.

Jack is thirty, and his life is just beginning.