1. One of the things Jack has gotten really, really good at is not lying to himself.
He's had to, more as a defense mechanism than anything else. He's an addict and he knows it, and one of the worst things addicts do is lie to themselves well enough that they don't know they're doing it. Jack is done with that part of himself, doesn't need it or want it anymore, so he's gotten better at telling himself the truth.
Which is why he's leaning against the kitchen wall, watching Bittle stir something and sway along to whatever it is that's coming out of his speaker. Jack's not completely hopeless, not by this point; he could probably identify it, if he could pay attention to the lyrics instead of thinking about how what he'd really like to be doing with Bittle.
Which is - the images get a little hazy, which is probably for the best, since they're in a common area. And Bittle's got no idea that Jack has all of these feelings about him - for him, Jack corrects in his head. He has feelings for Bittle. And he's been noticing, since he had this revelation a few weeks ago, the little things that tell him Bittle might have those feelings too.
Get a grip and do something about it, Jack tells himself for at least the tenth time today.
Jack takes a breath and knocks his fingers lightly against the wall. Bittle stops his dancing and glances over his shoulder, smiling at Jack. He's got flour on the very tip of his nose, and Jack wishes he had his camera, because this is-
Distraction, he thinks. Jack smiles back. "Can I help?" he offers. He likes helping Bittle, likes the constant attention and affection that Bittle shares almost effortlessly, likes messing things up just a little so Bittle will roll his eyes and reach over and fix it.
"Are you offering to bake?" Bittle asks, eyes going dramatically wide. "And not for an assignment? Heavens, who are you, and what have you done with Jack Zimmermann?"
"I can help," Jack protests, feeling his smile widen. "At least I don't have flour on my face."
Bittle immediately reaches up to wipe at his face, apparently forgetting that he'd been stirring the sticky-looking pie filling, and smudges a line of pale orange goop across his cheek.
He grimaces and points to the bowl. "Stir," he orders. "I'm going to go clean this off."
Jack sighs as he walks over and picks up the wooden spoon, watching the reflection in the window as Bittle walks out of the kitchen.
That could have gone better.
2. Bittle is almost out of tape for his hockey stick.
They all use the same stick tape for games, but the coaches don't really mind if they switch it out for practices. Holster has a roll of Batman tape and a roll of Superman tape he switches between regularly, and Jack doesn't even want to know where Shitty found the satin-looking pink tape he uses. Jack has a pile of rolls of tape with the Canadian flag on it stacked in his locker, because his teammates are ridiculous people. He'd swear the tape was actually multiplying, if that wouldn't sound completely off the wall.
Bittle, though, has a fondness for glaringly yellow tape. Jack has no idea why, but when he notices that Bittle is running low on his tape, Jack makes an excuse to hang around the locker room until everyone else is gone, just so he can peek at the label.
Three days later, when they get to the locker room, Bittle stops. "Why is there a box near my locker?" he asks suspiciously. "And why does it have my name on it?"
That's fair, Jack concedes, because the last time someone had left a box in front of a locker it had been for Nursey, and it had been full of day-old pickles from the dining hall, courtesy of Dex. It had taken days to get the weird smell out of the locker room, and Jack never honestly thought he'd prefer the way the locker room normally smells, but there you have it.
"It's addressed to you," Shitty says, inspecting the box. "Like, shipping label addressed. This was mailed here for you. It's probably legit."
Bittle still approaches it cautiously. "Are you sure?"
"Brah, no, of course not," Shitty replies cheerily. Jack walks over to his own locker, glad that everyone else is watching this unfold, too. It makes his own staring a little less obvious. "But I'll open it for you if you don't want to see what's in there."
Bittle seems to consider it before shaking his head firmly. "I'll do it," he says, but he can't quite shake all of the dread in his voice. Everyone watches as Bittle takes a deep breath and slides his fingers under the flap, pulling the box open.
"Stick tape," Bittle says, obviously surprised. He reaches in and pulls out the twelve-pack of yellow tape that Jack had ordered. "I'm almost out." His face breaks into a pleased grin. "This is great. I was going to just use the supply room stuff when I ran out, but this is…"
"Who sent it?" Holster prompts, and Bittle shrugs, pulling out the packing slip.
"It doesn't say," he says after a minute. "It just has my name."
"Maybe your parents sent it," Ransom suggests. "Mine keep sending me Canada tape."
Jack's eyes slide to the top of Ransom's locker, where there's a definite lack of Canada tape, and then to his own. Maybe it hasn't been his imagination after all.
"It could be my mom," Bittle agrees, and Jack… well. He's not going to admit to it in front of the whole team, not now that it's become this whole big thing.
"Could be," Jack makes himself agree. "You should probably break it open and get taping, Bittle. Skates on ice in half an hour."
"Right," Bittle says, dropping to the bench and getting started.
3. "I want to get some coffee," Jack says, maybe a little bit out of nowhere, because Bittle stops talking and looks at him funny.
"Coffee," Bittle repeats. "We just finished supper, Jack."
Jack shrugs. "Coffee would be good."
"We have a coffee machine at the Haus," Bittle says. "I even got the French roast you like when I was at the store last week. I'll put a pot on when we get back."
He keeps walking, moving from coffee to the cookies he's got stashed in the pantry, to the new recipe he's been wanting to try, and before Jack can figure out how to actually ask Bittle to get coffee with him outside of the Haus, they're already back there.
Jack sighs, but he accepts his coffee with a smile when Bittle pours it for him.
4. "What are you doing," Shitty says. It's definitely not a question, Jack thinks as he turns the chicken breast over in their pan. "Jack. Jack, why are you cooking. In Bitty's kitchen."
"Bittle's stressed out about an exam," Jack says. He considers poking the chicken, but it's probably best if he just lets it do its own thing. "I'm making food so he doesn't have to drag himself to the dining hall."
Shitty blinks and nods slowly. "But if you burn down the Haus, he's going to have to leave it anyway."
"Hey, screw you," Jack shoots back. "I'm not that bad."
"When's the last time you cooked anything?" Shitty counters. He's got his thinking about this whole situation face on. Jack is really not a fan of that face when it's directed at him.
"Over break," he replies after a moment. "I can cook without burning things down, Shitty. It might be a skill you should look into, actually."
"Fuck off," Shitty says easily. "I can order takeout with the best of them. No, the question here isn't the cooking itself, it's the why of the cooking."
"Shitty," Jack says, suddenly really interested in the chicken. It seems to be doing fine, so he opens the pot with the beans in it, making sure they're bubbling away but not too mushy. "I'm just making supper for a friend."
"You never make me food," Shitty says, but it's observant, a little quiet, not accusatory. Jack grips his spatula a little harder and wonders why he doesn't just say something, doesn't tell Shitty to drop it or tell him why he's doing this or-
"Okay, Jack," Shitty says, and he's suddenly right there, clapping Jack on the shoulder. "You know where I am, bro. Let me know how this whole thing goes."
Jack nods as Shitty leaves. He's got no idea what Shitty's thinking, but he knows he won't be able to avoid the discussion forever. Better it should wait until after the food's done, though.
When the chicken is no longer pink in the middle and the beans are just the right side of soft, Jack scoops everything onto two plates and walks upstairs. He's got forks and knives sticking out of his back pocket, which probably isn't the safest thing ever, but he's only got two hands. He manages to make it upstairs and down the hall without spilling a single bean, and he kicks gently at the bottom of Bittle's door. "Hey, Bittle."
There's no answer.
"Bittle," Jack says a little louder. Maybe he's got his headphones in or something. After a moment, Jack sets one of the plates on the floor and opens the door.
Bittle is asleep, face pressed into his textbook, one arm falling off the side of the bed.
"Well," Jack says after a moment. He looks at the supper he'd made, looks back at Bittle, and makes a snap decision. He'll just leave it on Bittle's desk with a note. And maybe he'll grab the spare blanket from the end of Bittle's bed and pull it up over him. And he won't admit to tucking the ragged-looking little bunny that drops to the floor in against Bittle's arm, but, well. Nobody really has to know.
+1. "Coffee," Jack says, and Bittle blinks, reaches up into the cabinet where the coffee is kept, but Jack reaches out and grabs his wrist. "No. Let's go to Annie's."
"Okay," Bittle says slowly. He tugs on his wrist until Jack lets go, and it's a little awkward while he gets his shoes and his jacket, but Jack - he's not being clear and he knows it. He's trying, but he's fully aware that trying has more than one meaning, and he thinks he might be more trying his own patience than trying to get his point across at this point.
They walk for a few minutes before Bittle speaks up. "Is everything okay, Jack?"
"I'm the one who got you the stick tape," Jack replies, which isn't what he was going to lead with, but it's out there now.
Bittle blinks. "I," he says, then pauses. "Thank you. Can I ask why?"
Jack sticks his hands in his pockets, fumbling for the little worry stone he's glad he keeps there. It's cool and solid and grounding, and he pinches it between his fingers to muster up his courage. "Because you were almost out, and I wanted to do something nice for you."
"Oh," Bittle says. They walk in silence for a minute before he adds, "Well, thank you."
"Because I like you," Jack adds. "I mean, of course I - but not like friends."
"You're terrible at words, Jack," Bittle says, but he's laughing a little, reaching out to touch Jack's elbow. "Want to try that again?"
He really is bad at words, though, that's the thing. Jack feels like he's out of words, sometimes, especially when it comes to Bittle. He pinches the worry stone extra hard for a second before dropping it in his pocket and reaching out to take Bittle's hand.
Bittle stops walking. He's staring at their hands, Jack's fingers wrapped around his own, and Jack thinks he might not be breathing. That's confirmed a few seconds later when he coughs and inhales deeply, still not looking up. "Jack?"
"Not just like friends," Jack amends. "Bittle, I - Eric."
"Jack,' Eric says, still looking at their hands. "Are you - really?"
"Really," Jack confirms, feeling something in his chest settle, because Eric's not pulling away, he's not running, he's not making an excuse and fleeing back to the Haus.
"Oh, good," Eric says, and it feels like there should be a sound when everything snaps into place, when Eric squeezes Jack's hand and smiles up at him and finds his words again. "The same goes for me. I mean, obviously, since I'm still here, and still holding hands, and-"
"Eric," Jack cuts in, not because he doesn't want to hear it but because he doesn't need to, not this time, not now. "Coffee."
"Coffee," Eric agrees, and he squeezes Jack's hand again, and they keep walking.