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Eric wakes to a dark room and the creeping sensation of being watched. He clutches Señor Bunny a little tighter and peers over the comforter to his doorway, where Jack is poking his head in from the hall, looking startled.

“Jack Zimmermann,” he says, when his heart has stopped trying to beat its way out of his chest, “what on earth are you doing, creeping around in the middle of the night!”

“Bittle,” Jack says, and his voice sounds so small. Eric sits up and fumbles for his lamp.

“Oh, Jack. Are you alright?”

Jack shuffles a little further into the room, and Eric can see that he’s got a bedroll clutched under one arm. His hair is sticking straight up on one half of his head and flattened to his skull on the other, and he looks helplessly wrung out, like he’s given up trying to hide how tired he is. Eric scoots to one side of the bed and pats the comforter next to him.

“C’mere.”

“Oh,” says Jack, frowning, “I don’t--”

“Just to sit. Now,” he brings his knees up to his chin as Jack perches awkwardly on the bed, “want to sleep in here?”

Jack stares at the floor, looking utterly miserable, and oh, Eric’s heart just aches for him. He nods slowly.

“Well,” Eric says, matter of fact, “you just get your bedroll all set wherever you want it. Do you need a blanket?”

“No, I have one here. I’ll just… on the floor here?”

“That’s just fine. And listen here, I won’t have you making any comments about Señor Bunny or you’ll be out on your butt quicker than a hot knife through butter.”

Jack’s miserable expression softens a little, and he mimes pulling a zipper over his mouth. “I would never.”

Eric waits for him to get settled and switches off the lamp, and he’s asleep almost before his head touches the pillow.

In the morning, he wakes to Jack gathering up his bedroll, but he can’t stop a yawn that cracks his jaw and makes Jack look down.

“Thanks, Bittle,” Jack says, reaching out to give his hair a ruffle that’s so soft it’s just a whisper of a touch.

Eric bites his lip and burrows deeper into the comforter. “Anytime.”

-

‘Anytime’ really does mean any time, and after a few visits Jack stops looking so nervous. After a few more, he stops asking, just turns up when Eric’s already tucked into bed and snuggling with Señor Bunny, rolls his mat out onto the floor and sleeps silently until morning.

The one or two times Eric wakes in the night he hasn’t moved at all, just the silent rise and fall of his chest to indicate he’s still breathing.

-

“Bittle,” Jack says over eggs before checking practice; it’s early enough that the Haus still has that peculiar early-morning silence. “This is… this is okay?”

“Jack,” Eric says seriously, “did you ever know a boy who wasn’t pleased as punch at a sleepover?”

Jack frowns. “I didn’t really enjoy sleepovers.”

Eric’s chest aches a little. This boy. “Well I do. And so long as you want to stay on my lumpy old floor you’re welcome to. If you snored, well, we might be having words.” He applies himself to his eggs again, carefully not looking at Jack, and he’s rewarded when Jack nudges a toe against his. Eric hides his smile in his coffee cup.

-

It’s dark again, when Eric wakes. It isn’t actually unusual these days, to find himself waking up just to look down over the side of his bed at the unmoving shape of Jack on the floor, but this time Jack’s looking back at him, eyes gleaming in the orangey light that sneaks through Eric’s curtains. His fingers are on Eric’s wrist, which has fallen down over the side of the bed.

“Oh,” says Eric, and makes to draw back, but Jack’s fingers tighten.

“This is going to sound strange,” he says, voice steady. Eric breathes slowly, feeling each of Jack’s fingers around his wrist so clearly, the only place they are touching.

“Can I just… ?” he trails off, hesitates. Eric doesn’t breathe. Jack’s big hand moves slowly, grip loosened now so that Eric could pull away if he so liked. His thumb makes a slow path up the centre of Eric’s palm, hooks softly behind his wrist, the rest of his fingers curling around.

Eric, still half asleep and bold with it, gives him a squeeze and Jack lets out a shaky breath, thumb rubbing once against Eric’s wristbone before going still.

And that’s that. Every night Eric lets one hand drop over the side of the bed, and every night as they’re drifting off he feels the soft grip of Jack’s hand taking his. They’ve always dropped apart by the morning.

-

The Habs are playing, and Jack’s absence from the couch is almost as noticeable as the sound of clipped French that’s audible even through two walls. The atmosphere is so tense that Eric would laugh if he weren’t so anxious; Jack’s voice has been getting steadily more flat, and although Eric doesn’t know a word of French more than bonjour it’s pretty clear that the conversation isn’t going well.

Papa... Jack says, voice getting closer to the lounge. Everyone’s eyes are studiously turned towards the television, although Eric would bet on his mama’s pralines that nobody even saw that pretty little wrister from Galchenyuk that has the crowd on their feet. Everyone is silent, waiting.

Ouais, Papa, je sais, je sais, comes Jack’s voice again, and Eric’s hand clenches on his knee. Jack stomps in moments later, stuffing his phone into the pocket of his hoodie, face blank where Eric half expected thunder. He sits heavily in the space next to Eric and stares at the television for a long moment as everyone carefully says nothing.

“Who scored?” he says, finally.

“Galchenyuk.”

“Good, good.”

And his hand, the one that isn’t still inside his hoodie, is in the space between his thigh and Eric’s. It’s shaking, just a little; Eric can feel the tiny movements against his leg, and the urge to reach down and clasp it between his is so hard to resist. He shifts closer instead, trapping it between them. They watch the game, the silence becoming a gradual sussuration of murmurs and shifting, of passing chips and beer until Eric feels Jack lean against his side, breath sighing out.

“Oh, baby,” Shitty finally groans as Brière nets another for the Habs, and the last thread of tension seems to drain from Jack’s body as he leans forward to subject Shitty to his terrible chirping.

“You’re just jelly I’m not sweet-talking you, brah,” Shitty says, scrambling up onto the couch to grab his head and noogie him mercilessly.

“I don’t even know what that means,” Jack gets out, beginning to giggle, and Eric has to clamber over the back of the couch to avoid getting squished in the ensuing tickle fight. By the time they all settle back down for the third period Jack’s colour is high and he presses close to Eric, yelling as loud as the rest of them when Galchenyuk gets his hatty in OT for the game winner.

“Clutch motherfucker!”

“Shitty, don’t swear in front of the frogs.”

“Aw, but daaad--ow, ow, okay stop!”

-

Later, Eric’s barely closed his eyes when there’s a shifting from down on the floor and Jack says, “Bittle?”

Eric sits up on his elbow and looks down at him, his expression impossible to make out in the dark.

“I have. Uh. This might be too weird.”

“Well,” says Eric, “if it’s too weird, we can just go back to sleep and pretend it was a dream I had from eating all those spicy cheetos. Ugh.” He can still taste them, even though he brushed his teeth twice.

“I wouldn’t ask if we didn’t have a game tomorrow,” says Jack, “but the, uh…”

He trails off, and Eric reaches for his hand and gives it a squeeze.

“I spoke to my dad earlier. I suppose you guys heard, eh?” He sounds rueful, which is better than how he’d sounded earlier when Chowder had asked if he was okay, Jack, and oh wow was that Bad Bob, that’s so exciting, is it really exciting to have the Bad Bob as your dad, oh gosh!

Nursey and Dex had mercifully smothered him with a blanket.

“We did, a little,” Eric says.

There’s a pause in which Jack seems to give himself a brief talking to, then, “Could I sleep with you?”

Eric’s hand jerks before he can help himself, and he knows Jack doesn’t mean, but hearing him say it is just--

Not-- I mean, oh Christ, I’m so sorry. Fuck. That came out all wrong, um. I’ll just.” He tries to tug his hand out of Eric’s but Eric holds onto him.

“C’mere,” he says, gives the space beside him a pat with his free hand. It’s not even a decision he has to think about. “C’mon. Up.”

“Are you sure--?”

Eric flips back the blankets, glad there’s a chill in the air so he’s wearing long pyjamas.

“Lord above, Jack Laurent Zimmermann,” he whispers as firmly as he can, “get your butt in here before you let all the cold air in.”

Jack hops to, and scrambles under the covers, scooting as close to the edge of the bed as he can without falling right off it again. He doesn’t take Eric’s hand again, or move any closer, but Eric doesn’t push, just nudges their knees together as he begins to fall asleep.

“Thanks, Bittle,” Jack says, so quietly it’s almost just a sigh.

-

They wake up cuddling.

Eric can’t help it. He’s a natural cuddler, or so his mama always said, and here he is with his nose pressed against the back of Jack’s neck, arm hooked over his waist. He smells heavenly, and Eric’s not above snuggling a little closer to him while he’s still warm and asleep.

There’s sun beginning to creep through the curtains, sounds of a few people shuffling awake downstairs, and Eric indulges a tiny nuzzle against the soft hair at Jack’s nape. Feels just a little twinge when Jack freezes as he wakes up and immediately tries to move, and Eric instinctively tightens his arm, ready to stutter out an apology before Jack just… relaxes back into him.

Eric bites his lip. Cautiously, he tries pulling Jack a little closer, tucking his whole arm around Jack’s waist. Jack’s head sinks back into the pillow, his body going so limp Eric might think he’d fallen asleep again if it weren’t for the way he murmurs “Morning, Bittle,” into the comforter.

It’s so--

Jack’s morning voice isn’t like this at all, isn’t sleep-thick and tender. It’s sharp and businesslike; Eat your eggs, Bittle! and Practice at six, Bittle, up and at ‘em!.

“Couple more minutes,” Jack says, muffled, burrowing deeper into the nest of blankets.

Lord, he is in so much trouble. He breathes, slow, and holds Jack firm until it’s time for them to get up.

-

Jack doesn’t ask to sleep in his bed again, but he doesn’t stop the handholding, and he gets. Well. Handsy is the only way that Eric can describe it, though for Jack handsy is a little different than for a regular person. He doesn’t touch any differently than before, still the same back pats, hair ruffles, shoulder taps. Except the back pats last just a little too long, leaving the warm imprint of Jack’s big hand on his back, and when he ruffles Eric’s hair, his fingertips sometimes slide over the back of Eric’s skull in a way that is frankly maddening and delightful, exciting all at the same time.

When they hold hands over the side of Eric’s bed, Jack has started to rub at the centre of his palm, up over the ball of his thumb, hand inching up towards Eric’s wrist like he wants as much skin contact as possible.

Eric lies on the edge of his bed, eyes open in the dimness of his room as he watches their clasped hands, the familiar way Jack’s fingers are moving up over his wrist. There’s a tension about Jack’s shoulders that says he isn’t asleep, and Eric gives him a squeeze.

“Jack?”

Jack’s breath comes out slow, measured like he’s having to think about keeping it steady. “Yeah, Bittle?”

“Come up here.”

Eric’s heart is beating hard. That wasn’t a question, and he feels Jack’s hand tremble in his. Knows that it means something, but he isn’t quite sure what that is. Jack gets up on his knees, eyes on his, and climbs into the bed. Their hands are still clasped.

Without thinking too hard about anything, Eric gathers Jack’s other hand, places his wrists together, and, slowly, giving Jack time to pull away, pulls them up and over his head to pin them on the pillow.

“Bitty,” says Jack, and oh Lord Eric has never heard that voice from him before; sweetly low and breathless. Eric looks down at him; his eyes are closed, mouth a little slack. He blinks after a while and immediately looks away, embarrassed.

“I don’t. Uh--”

“I can stop,” Eric says. “Jack, if you don’t like… If you don’t want this I can stop right away, but you seemed like. Like you needed something. And I don’t know if this is right, or if it’s what you want, or--”

“Bittle,” says Jack, and he looks slightly less like he wants to run away in the face of Eric’s babbling, amusement twitching on his mouth. Eric tightens his hands a little and watches as Jack’s eyes widen.

“Bittle,” he says again, voice soft and low. “I--yeah. This is good.”

They stay like that for a little while, not talking, Jack focussed on the ceiling, eyes drooping a little with tiredness. Eventually Eric’s arm gets sore from being so tense and he gives Jack a squeeze before letting go to snuggle in beside him, hooks a tentative arm around him.

“If this isn’t okay--” he starts, but Jack is taking hold of his hand and tucking it more firmly around himself. Eric presses his smile into the pillow beside him.

He feels warm, flushed with something like triumph at having Jack so trusting, so willing to let Eric do this for him. Jack’s body is relaxed, all the tension around his shoulders gone, and he’s already slipping into the steady, quiet breathing of sleep. Eric closes his eyes and lets himself follow.

-

And so, that’s how it goes. Mostly, Eric works blind. Putting feelers out. Jack might touch him a little more during the day, or he might fidget a little more at night, and Eric might squeeze at his hand and say “Jack.”

Sometimes Jack just squeezes back. I’m okay. Sometimes it takes something more.

-

Jack’s head in his lap, Eric stroking his hair. Jack’s mobile wrists, his soft hands pressed together and pinned to Eric’s bed.

-

“Bitty.”

Jack’s stopped saying Bittle when they’re like this. Something about it, about the intimacy of Jack saying his name like that makes Eric feel like he's about to fizz out of his skin, makes his fingers itch to... well, he doesn't quite know.

He bites his lip, considering. Jack’s stretched out beside him, a little fidgety, and that makes up his mind. He shifts, swings one leg over to straddle Jack’s torso and uses the leverage he’s gained to push his arms up and pin him harder.

Jack’s eyes go wide and shocked. Eric is a little shocked himself, at his own daring, and he lets his grip relax a little because Lord, what if Jack isn’t okay with this?

He looks okay with it. His head tips back, and as Eric watches he slowly pulls his lower lip through his teeth. His pulse is racing; Eric can feel it clearly where his hands are pressed to Jack’s wrists, but he looks more relaxed than ever, eyes glassy, his whole body slack against the bed. Eric has a sudden flash of what they must look like. It makes him wants to pin Jack harder, press him into the mattress but he can’t, he can’t, Jack is twisting under him and he looks drugged. His wrists slip apart and Eric yanks them back together instinctively.

“Oh,” Jack says, thickly. Then he turns red so quickly Eric can’t do more than blink, flush going all the way down his neck. He squirms more in Eric’s grip which just serves to make the reason for his embarrassment obvious as it’s pressed up against Eric’s thigh.

Eric lifts himself up carefully, keeping the weight through his arms, and kneels to one side of him, trying valiantly to keep his eyes above Jack’s waistline.

“Bittle, I didn’t mean--I’m sorry.”

He sounds miserable. Eric doesn’t lean down and kiss him right on the nose, but it’s a close thing.

“Shh,” he says, “you got nothing to be sorry for, honey. That was all me, and we’ll talk about it later.”

Jack nods slowly, still looking spaced out, and Eric curses himself, arranging them so Jack’s slumped against his side, arms so tight around him that he can feel the steady slowing of Jack’s heartbeat. He risks a glance downwards, and Lord, there is no mistaking that. He almost can’t look away again, it’s right there, then he scolds himself for taking advantage.

“Jack,” he murmurs, and Jack looks up at him, expression so trusting Eric’s heart just about breaks. “Listen, now. I wasn’t thinking at all when I just did that, and I’m sorry. You can stay here, but I ain’t gonna do anything more than hold you like this.” Jack shivers against him. “Or,” says Eric, trying to keep his voice steady, “you can go across the hall and… and come, if you want to. And come back after. Or not.”

He shuts his mouth to avoid the babbling that’s sure to happen if he keeps going, stares straight ahead and wills his face to look less like a fresh tomato. Jack’s pulse has picked up again, so Eric strokes his wrist and waits, takes a glance down at Jack’s face, which looks as red as Eric’s feels.

His eyes are closed, and it takes a while before Eric realises that he’s not going to say anything, that the answer’s fairly obvious from the way he’s still tucked up against Eric. It’s also kind of obvious that he’s still turned on as hell, from the way he’s breathing and from the… well. Eric looks up at the ceiling and bites his lip, willing away the slow heat that’s curling through him.

Soon, all he can hear is the gentle whuff of breath that Jack makes when he sleeps.

-

They wake up tangled together in a seemingly endless mass of blankets, bedding and clothes, sun shining in through the drapes.

“Lord,” Eric gasps, pushing the comforter off the side of the bed and letting his arms flop over his head. “It’s hotter than a billy goat in a pepper patch.”

There’s a snort from Jack, and Eric realises he’s giggling into his pillow.

“What?”

“Sometimes you’re just so Southern, says Jack. He rolls over to face Eric, but the smile drops off his face almost straight off as, apparently, he remembers the previous night.

“Bitty--”

“Shush, now,” Eric says firmly, “that’s a conversation for after breakfast. You go right on and shower and I’ll fix us some pancakes. Whole wheat,” he adds, to sweeten the deal.

Jack looks like he wants to argue, but Eric fixes him with his best no-nonsense look and watches, satisfied, as Jack gathers his things mutely and retreats across the hall.

-

Eric slices strawberries as the pancakes cook, so ripe they cut like butter and bleed red all over the plate. He’s seen the way that Jack leaves strawberries ‘til last in his fruit salads at breakfast then eats them carefully, one by one. Eric wants to feed them to him, press his fingers to Jack’s mouth and inside. He stacks up the pancakes and spoons strawberries on top, sliding a plate over the table.

“We’ll go for a walk over to the Quad, after,” he says, before Jack can speak. Jack just nods, already applying himself to his pancakes (after he’s liberally drizzled them in maple syrup that is decidedly not in his self-imposed meal plan, Eric knows) and Eric feels a little fizz of satisfaction.

“Bro, Bitty made pancakes!”

“Bro!”

“Y’all just hold your horses, there’s more coming,” Eric says, tearing his eyes from Jack’s mouth and back to the griddle. Ransom plops down into the seat next to Jack and elbows him in the side. “If you give me one now, you can have one of mine,” he says, hopeful.

“No,” says Jack, curving a protective arm around them. “Bittle made these for me. Wait for your own.”

Eric clutches his spatula, biting down on a grin.

“Bro,” Ransom says, sadly. “Ugh, Bits, they smell so good. Are those strawberries?

“I heard there were pancakes.” Lardo’s head appears around the door.

Eric puts a plate in front of Ransom and waves his spatula. “Sit your butt down there, Lardo.”

Lardo comes in, looking a little shy, and oh Lord, that’s certainly Shitty’s sweatshirt she’s wearing over her leggings. There’s a dark pink mark peeking up over the collar of it. Eric glances over at Jack, whose eyebrows are steadily rising.

“Dude,” Ransom says slowly. “Dude!” He puts his hand up for a high five and Lardo gives it to him up high and down low, then leans over to fist bump Jack.

“Why are we fist bumping?” says Holster, shuffling in from the hall. “Pancakes?”

“Dude,” Ransom says again, pointing at Lardo, who now has the most enormous shit-eating grin Eric has ever seen. Holster takes her in, then raises his hands for a double high five.

“Get it, Lards!”

Lardo sits, and Eric puts a plate of pancakes in front of her, gives her a kiss on the top of her head. “I’m so happy for you,” he says.

“Thanks, Bits,” she says softly, then flicks her eyes over to Jack. Eric lets his mouth twitch a little. Getting there. She squeezes his arm and then pushes him back towards the stove. “I smell burning!”

“Lardo! On my Moo Maw’s apple pie, I have not burned a pancake since I was five years old. You hush your mouth.”

The pancakes are perfect, of course. Burning. Honestly.

-

“It’s really nice,” Jack says, “about Lardo and Shitty.”

It’s warm out, and they walk slowly over towards River Quad, taking a wide berth around the geese. Eric finds a bench in the shade and pats the spot next to him.

Jack’s biting his lip, and his hands are stuffed in the pocket of his hoodie.

“Sit,” says Eric. Jack sits, elbows on his knees, and scrubs a hand through his hair.

“I’m sorry,” he says, before Eric can speak. “I’m sorry if I made things awkward, and I’ll understand if you don’t want to, um. Anymore.”

“Oh, Jack.” Eric scoots a little closer, not touching him. “You got nothing to be sorry for, honey. Nothing at all.”

“I knew,” says Jack, staring straight ahead now. “I knew that I… like that. I still asked you to do it; I took advantage of you, Bittle.”

“Well, I knew you liked it. I liked it!”

“Bittle-”

“I know apologising is in your bones, you big Canadian lunk, but you get your knickers outta that knot and listen to me.”

Jack’s eyebrows scrunch together. ”Knickers?” he mouths carefully.

“I want to do it again,” says Eric. “If you’d like to, with me.” He shifts a little, takes Jack’s hand in the shaded space between them. “You looked good. You look so good in my bed. I want you there.”

“Jesus.”

“Sorry, sorry--”

“No, I--” Jack turns to look at him, eyes flicking down to his mouth and back up. His eyes are bright. “I want that.”

Eric leans forward, then catches himself; the air seems to tighten between them.

“I’d like to kiss you right now,” he says, with a boldness he wasn’t quite aware was there. He’s rewarded when Jack flushes right to the tips of his ears. “I’d let you,” Jack murmurs finally, like it’s the biggest secret he’s ever told, and maybe it is.

“Lord.” Eric resists the urge to fan himself, glances around. “Maybe this wasn’t quite the place for our talk, huh?”

Some brave freshmen are feeding the geese nearby, couples strolling alongside the river. His fingers flex against Jack’s wrist.

“Let’s--the Haus,” says Jack, jerking to his feet awkwardly and pulling Eric with him. Eric suddenly can’t take his eyes off the shape of Jack’s thighs, the thick curves of his biceps. Knowing that Jack wants Eric’s hands on them, is going to let him.

Jack stares at him for a second, eyes hot and intent and Eric feels a little as though he may swoon. “Yes,” he says breathlessly. “Right,” and oh gosh, oh hell, Jack’s striding away with not a little urgency. Eric scurries after him.

-

“Hi Jack, hi Bitty! You’re back early, oh, bye Jack!”

“Chowder, honey,” says Eric, “would you mind maybe not letting the others know we’re home just yet? Jack and I have some things to talk about, and I just know they’ll be knocking if they catch that we’re back.”

He wonders how red his face is going with such a baldfaced lie, but Chowder just beams at him.

“Oh, sure, Bitty! I hope it’s nothing bad.” His sweet face crumples a little. Eric pets him on the arm.

“Nothing bad, cross my heart.”

“I won’t tell.”

“Thanks, sugar.”

He climbs the stairs slowly, heart feeling like it’s about to leap right out of his chest. They didn’t ever decide which room to use, but on a hunch Eric pushes his own door open and finds Jack sitting on his bed, comforter scrunched in his hands. He locks it behind him, walks slowly over and knocks Jack’s knees gently apart to stand between them.

Jack’s eyes are dark and intent and fixed on Eric’s, his mouth slightly open, and Eric can hear the shudder in his deep, slow breaths.

“Can I kiss you?” Eric asks, and Jack is surging up towards him before he’s even finished talking, mouth warm and mobile against his, and Eric opens up some, letting his tongue touch at Jack’s, making him shiver and gasp and kiss Eric harder.

It’s his first kiss. It’s his first kiss and it’s with Jack, here in his bed and it’s soft and desperate all at once, clumsy and perfect as they work out the way they fit together.

Jack’s fingers move up over Eric’s hips, his waist, as if he doesn’t know what to do with them but wants everything, anything. Eric grabs at them, uses his weight to push them both backwards and catch his wrists together above his head. Jack’s mouth opens, and Eric uses his surprise to take control of the frantic kissing, gentle it, press at Jack’s wrists to hold him still.

“God,” says Jack. “I don’t know, I--”

Eric relaxes his hold, ready to babble out apologies for taking this too fast, too much at once - he’s supposed to be the inexperienced one here - when Jack twists against his grip, pushing himself up against Eric’s stomach, jerky pushes of his hips.

“I might--think I might come,” he gasps, and Eric feels the words like a searing dart to the abdomen, clenching and curling up inside him.

“Do you want to?” he manages, “It’s not--not too much?”

“Kiss me, can you--” Jack says, and Eric falls into him, lets his thighs push Jack’s further apart, holds his wrists together and kisses him and it’s barely any time at all before Jack goes rigid, gasping oh, oh, oh into Eric’s hair.

“You’re so pretty,” Eric murmurs to him as he shivers through a few aftershocks, surprised when he gets a short intake of breath instead of denial. He pulls back to rub his thumb over Jack’s mouth, feeling so satisfied it’s almost like he’s already come. It’s barely ten minutes since they got back to the Haus, and the sound of talking and laughing drifts upstairs. It makes everything feel slightly surreal.

“How do you feel?” he says, moving his hand to pet gently at Jack’s jaw.

“Good,” says Jack. His eyes are wide and very blue, expression relaxed. “Can I--will you let me--?” He wiggles one hand out of Eric’s grip and slides it against the waist of Eric’s shorts, biting his lip.

“Lord,” Eric says, releasing his hands and leaning back, “like i’m gonna say no.” Jack’s fingers come down to rest almost reverently on his hips, his thumbs edging into the waistband.

“Take them off me.”

“Fuck,” Jack groans, wriggling to sit up and get Eric arranged over his lap. Eric pulls his tank over his head, then bites his lip as Jack’s hands slide up his chest, smooth down over his shoulders. His hands look huge, and they’re so gentle as he pets curiously at the soft skin on the insides of Eric’s elbows. Eric squirms and smacks him away. “Tickles!”

“Sorry,” Jack says, not sounding sorry at all. He pulls Eric up to his knees and eases his shorts down, then there’s a short spell of giggling and cursing as he tries to get them off without letting Eric off his lap. Then Eric is as naked as a jaybird, spread out over Jack Zimmermann’s fully clothed thighs.

“You can touch,” he says. Oh, please please touch. He’s so worked up that the slide of Jack’s fingers on his belly is making his cock leap like it’s going for a quadruple. Jack cups a hand around him tentatively and Eric arches into it. “That’s, oh,” he gasps, “yes.”

“Bitty, you look--” Jack swallows hard, eyes darting between his hand and Eric’s face. He’s moving too slowly but Eric can’t bring himself to ask for anything else, not with that look on Jack’s face, not with the way his free hand is sliding so tenderly over Eric’s hip.

Eric squirms a little in his lap, chasing the pressure of his hand and Jack shudders when he grinds down, still sensitive. A wave of shameful heat flushes through him even as he backs off; the image of doing that until Jack’s sobbing and overstimulated. Holding him down. Tying him up. Jack looking up at him, lashes thick with tears. He takes a half-gasping breath and fits himself against Jack’s fingers, pushes the slick head of his cock against the heel of Jack’s hand and comes gasping into his neck.

“Bitty.”

Eric keeps his face hidden. He’s a terrible, no good person who doesn’t deserve this, but he selfishly wants a few more moments before he has to reveal himself to Jack.

“Bitty, are you okay? Do you want me to leave?”

Eric clutches him closer.

“Okay. Um. Are you crying? I’m sorry if it was terrible, please don’t cry.”

He chokes out a laugh into Jack’s neck and lifts his head, meeting Jack’s lovely, worried eyes.

“It was the absolute opposite of terrible. You were wonderful.”

Jack flushes at the praise even as his eyebrows draw together and that terrible part of Eric wants to smooth him all out so he can’t frown at all, until he always looks as pink and pleased as if he’s just gotten an OT goal. Eric rolls onto his back and talks to the ceiling.

“I think,” he starts, then pauses, considering. “There might still be a few things I didn’t know about myself, previous to this.”

The bed dips a little, then Jack is looming over him, expression still tight and concerned. Eric leans up and pecks him on the mouth.

“I never thought about that, about… about you not knowing,” Jack says. “I’m--God, I’m fucking this all up.”

Eric drags him down before he can protest. “You hush your mouth, Jack Zimmermann. I get to decide how my first time was and I decide that it was the most perfect thing that ever happened to me. You were so good.”

Jack makes a small noise into his hair. Eric strokes the back of his neck.

“Can we call an intermission?”

“An intermission, eh?” says Jack, and Eric can hear the smile creeping into his voice.

“An intermission. I gotta figure a few things out, and, well. We did move kinda fast. Maybe it’d be good to get a little distance?”

“You call that fast? I’ve been sleeping in your bed for weeks, Bittle.”

“I’m callin’ you easy, Zimmermann.”

Jack barks out a surprised sounding laugh. The tension in his shoulders has eased again, and he tucks himself a little closer. “I’ve only ever been difficult, before.”

Eric kisses him again. “I think you’re so easy I forgot to be careful.”

-

“Wait,” says Jack, towel clutched in one hand, the door handle in the other, “can we still kiss?”

He sounds so dejected that Eric has to laugh. “Kissing is a-okay with me,” he says, going on his tippy toes to prove it. “Kissing doesn’t require research.”

“You… research?”

“I’m a thorough person. Now get your butt in the shower.”

He swats Jack on the ass, just because he can, then truly enjoys watching him leave. Damn.

-

At first, his tentative amazon.com searches (thank you, Lord, for incognito mode) mostly produce ebooks with titles like Bound to the Alpha, and Backdoor Redemption, the covers featuring the scantily clad torsos of various genders and lots of leather. He taps through a few pages with wide eyes, then quickly turns to Google.

Twitter would give him all the answers he needs, of course, but there are some things a boy just doesn’t want to share with the whole wide world.

The problem is, Eric realises, is that there’s so much. So much information, so much he doesn’t know. So much porn, oh my goodness. He learns a lot of acronyms, a lot of words that definitely don’t apply to him and a few that maybe do. Some of it leaves him recoiling away from his screen (the idea of Jack calling him Master makes him shudder down to the very tips of his toes) and some of it? Well, some of it is very interesting indeed.

-

“Do you have a safeword?”

Jack freezes. They’re in Eric’s bedroom, tucked under the comforter with Eric’s laptop balanced on his shins. The Preds are playing the Lightning at home, and the game is so dull that even Jack has been fidgety, head slumping onto Eric’s shoulder during intermission, arm sneaking around his back for a cuddle.

“Uh,” he says now, “no.”

“Okay,” says Eric.

Then the Bolts are on a power play and both of them lean forward towards the screen, Jack’s arm drops from Eric’s waist. Hockey now, Eric can practically hear Jack thinking. Talking later.

-

He makes a list. It goes something like:

YES
Restraint
Petting/praise

Overstimulation

MAYBE
Bondage
Spanking if Jack likes it, and only in a fun way
Overstimulation

NOPE NOPE NOPE
Enforced chastity
Pain
Whipping
Corporal punishment
Latex
Puppy play
Humiliation
Servitude
Human furniture (??????)
Caning

 

None of the pain stuff appeals to him. He doesn’t want to make Jack hurt. He wants to make him feel safe, to hold him and hold him down and make him come as many times as he can until, until--

And okay, well. Eric crosses out ‘Overstimulation’ again and puts it firmly in the ‘YES’ column. There’s no point in lying to your own self anyhow.

-

“How do you feel about being tied up?”

Jack trips over a paving stone and nearly goes face-first onto the sidewalk.

“Bittle,” he hisses, “you can’t just… We’re in public!

“Well, I’m not very well going to bring it up over breakfast, am I? This seemed like a good time. We’re alone.”

Jack glances shiftily around, as if expecting Shitty to leap out of the bushes at any moment.

“I’ve never,” he admits, then pinks up. “I think I’d like it.”

He’s staring at Eric’s mouth again, eyes a little unfocused, and Eric gives himself a shake to avoid doing the same thing.

They’ve been getting distracted a lot lately, and kissing in bed has become an activity laden with tension, Eric always aware of his hands, of his body, making sure he isn’t pushing like he wants to so badly. And Jack wants to be pushed; he reacts so sweetly to every incidental touch it makes Eric’s teeth ache.

“Do you think,” says Jack, staring at a fascinating crack in one of the paving stones, “do you think you’re ready to try it?”

“I don’t want to hurt you,” Eric says. Jack doesn’t even laugh, despite the fact that one of his thighs is probably thicker than Eric’s entire torso.

“You won’t,” says Jack. “You won’t. I trust you.”

“I want--” Eric takes a deep breath. “Okay. Would you like to see my list?”

-

“I don’t… Puppy play? Why would anyone play with a puppy during--? Isn’t that animal cruelty?” Jack’s face is a picture of horrified confusion and Eric avoids cackling out loud only by reminding himself that at some point in the near future Jack might let him tie him up.

“It’s, um. You’d be the puppy. Pretending to be the puppy.”

“Like, barking?” Jack says doubtfully.

“More like licking, is what it seems.”

“Oh. Oh.”

His face is bright red again. Eric tries terribly hard not to be charmed.

“Well, you’ve put that in your no section.”

“We can try it, if you want.”

“Uh, no. I think I agree with all the ones on your no list.”

He picks up the list again and looks at the other two sections as Eric tries hard not to blush out of his own skin.

“Restraint,” says Jack, “I like that.”

“Yes,” says Eric faintly.

“The next one,” he says, “I like that too.”

“Okay, good.”

“And, uh. Overstimulation. What, exactly, um--”

Oh, Lord. They’re both adults, Eric tells himself. They can talk about this.

“When I made you come,” he says, “I wanted to… I wanted to keep going, after. Keep touching you.”

“Oh.”

“You don’t ever have to. I just. I wanted to be honest with myself. Honest with you.”

Jack kisses him. Eric flails a little, surprised, but his mouth opens and Jack takes a shaking breath through his nose, hand sliding up his back. Kisses him, then lets himself be kissed, sinking backwards so that Eric has to fall on top of him to keep their mouths together. Eric opens up his mouth and brings a hand up to slide through the prickly fuzz at the nape of Jack’s neck and pull him closer.

“Supposed to be talking,” Eric gasps.

“Sorry,” says Jack like a reflex against Eric’s mouth. He bites, pants a little. It’s getting a little more intense already than it has been over the last few weeks, and Eric knows he should stop it and wait, just wait a little longer, but goodness if he’s forgotten what for. Jack is melting against him, big and warm and pliant and Eric can’t believe he gets to have him like this.

“You’re just lovely,” he says, as Jack pants and pants under him. “Look at you.”

“Bitty, can we--”

“Yes, oh my gosh, yes. Jack, you have to promise me.”

“Anything.”

“If we’re gonna do this, you always have to tell me if there’s something you don’t like, okay? Always.”

“Bitty,” says Jack, pulling back for a moment. His eyes are clear and serious. “Always. I promise.”

“Do you want, um. A word?”

“Not just yet,” Jack says. Then he smiles, stretches his arms out over his head. “Bitty. Do you trust me?”

Yes.”

“Then tie me up,” Jack says, and Eric feels heat sliding through him suddenly, “and have your way with me.”

-

“Gosh darnit all to hell!”

“What? What’s wrong?”

“I forgot to buy rope.”

-

Both of the ties he uses are silvery gray, and they glimmer slightly as they catch the light whenever Jack moves. He’s naked, and good Lord, Eric doesn’t think he’ll ever get tired of the sight; the cuts of his hips are even more obscene in the low light, and Eric wants to get his tongue all over those thighs.

He starts on the inside of Jack’s right knee, tongue fuzzing over baby soft hairs which are as blonde as Eric’s own. Jack squirms and makes a startled noise which cuts off immediately - Eric wants him to make it over and over again. He licks Jack’s thighs until his tongue starts to tingle and Jack is moaning almost constantly, cock leaping off his belly as Eric gets closer and closer. Eric leans up. Breathes, and watches as Jack’s head goes back, as his hips come up, slick head of his cock sliding over Eric’s mouth.

“I haven’t ever, um,” he says, licking his mouth to wet it, tasting salt-bitter precome. “I might be hopeless.”

“If you touch me, I’ll probably come,” gasps Jack.

“Oh, good,” Eric says, and well, he never did get where he is by being a coward. He slides his mouth down over as much of Jack’s cock as he can fit in, all at once.

“Oh, fuck,” says Jack, trying to arch off the bed as Eric does his best not to choke. “Bitty, Bitty.”

Eric can feel Jack’s heartbeat under his tongue. It’s so intimate he could cry, heat through thin, soft skin, the beat of blood, the earthy-salt smell of him. He fits his fingers against Jack’s hips, digs in and slides him against his tongue, feeling every muscle under his hands tremble as Jack tries to keep still, or stop himself from coming. Jack’s foot slides along Eric’s waist.

He swallows, moves his tongue around, tries his best to suck and not cough. He likes it; the thick slide over his tongue, the feeling of Jack shaking and shaking under him. The beat comes rhythmic under Eric’s tongue, and he knows even before Jack says it, feels floored by how much he likes that too.

“You’re making me, I’m, oh,” Jack says, tugs against the ties so hard that the headboard creaks. He makes a noise that isn’t even a moan, more like a sob that’s been ripped from him.

“Jack,” Eric breathes, sliding up so that Jack starts to come against his mouth, then over Eric’s hand and his stomach. He pets at Jack’s wrist, then licks him, tongue gone tingly and overused and Jack is still shaking, feet sliding against the sheets next to Eric’s shoulder.

“You can keep going,” is what he says, finally, when Eric is nuzzling at the soft skin of his inner thigh.

“What?”

“You said you liked… I want you to. Your mouth on me.”

Eric closes his eyes, gone lightheaded. He drags the tip of his nose up and over the cut of Jack’s hip. “You’re so good,” he murmurs against the skin there. “So good, sweetheart.”

Jack shivers, swallows audibly.

“You’re sure?”

“The idea of it, um. I liked it.”

Eric looks up to meet his eyes, finds them pale and sincere and watching him as he opens his mouth against a tendon that’s tight with the spread of Jack’s legs. Jack sucks in a breath through his teeth. He’s still a little hard, thick and wet with come and it’s obscene, it’s so filthy for Eric to take him in again, for Jack to tense up and yank at the ties around his wrists and it’s more obscene that Eric almost comes in his pants.

“It’s so much,” Jack says, voice tight and strange. Eric breathes through his nose. He can still feel Jack’s heartbeat against his tongue, fainter now he’s mostly soft but unmistakable and he, oh, he sucks gently, rubbing his tongue to make Jack pant and whine, little hurt sounds at the back of his throat.

Jack doesn’t tell him to stop, but he pulls off anyway, kissing at any bits of skin he can reach, crawling up his body until he’s bracketed over Jack’s chest, kissing his neck, his chin, his mouth.

“Gonna come on me?” Jack says, voice as dark and thick as sweet molasses.

Eric wants to. He wants to press down on Jack and rub all over him.

“It’ll be too much,” he says into Jack’s neck, but his are legs already spreading wide over Jack’s hips, “it’ll be too much for you.”

“Yeah,” Jack says, dreamy.

”Jack.”

“Bitty,” he says, swallows. “Make me.”

And Eric shudders, drops down and actually feels himself tip almost--almost over the edge as Jack hisses, desire surging through him. Jack twists, but he can’t get away because he’s tied down, because Eric tied him down to make him come and Lord in heaven Eric can’t get his cock pressed against Jack’s beautiful abs fast enough before he’s spilling come all over them both. It feels like being checked into the boards, the reality of being here with Jack underneath him, it leaves him gasping for breath.

“Well,” he says into Jack’s neck after a few seconds. “You’d think I’d be on less of a hair trigger this time, wouldn’t you?”

“We can work on that, Bittle,” Jack says, dry as hell in his best Captain voice. Eric swats at him.

“Careful, now. That could get uncomfortably Pavlovian.”

There’s some shuffling as Eric gets him untied, rubbing at his hands and his arms, then Jack is like an octopus, hands everywhere as if to make up for lost time.

“I’da never guessed you were so cuddly,” Eric says as he gets Jack all tucked up against him.

“Cuddly and easy,” Jack murmurs, muzzy and half-asleep even though it’s still mid-afternoon. “Just for you, Bitty.”

There’s noise drifting up from downstairs, just the murmurs and muffled footsteps of regular Saturday activity at the Haus. Eric tugs gently on Jack’s hair, gets a sleepy whuff into his neck in response. Maybe he’ll get up and make a strawberry pie, coax Jack into eating a few slices. Jack clutches at him as if he can read Eric’s thoughts, and okay, maybe pie can come later.

-

“Bits.”

Shitty finds him when he’s up to his elbows in flour and butter for pastry. There’s a bowl of sweet strawberries in the refrigerator waiting to be sliced, and fresh whipped cream, and Eric’s been idly daydreaming about licking strawberry juice from Jack’s mouth.

Shitty’s frowning, and Eric feels his stomach drop with sudden, leaden worry.

“Can I talk to you? In private?”

“Well, sure. Let me just wash my hands.”

Shitty takes him outside and sits him down on the rusty old porch swing. Eric wrings his damp hands together.

“I’m worried about Jack,” says Shitty.

“You’re… what?”

“Worried about him,” says Shitty. “He’s been acting real strange. Cagey, y’know? He gets this, like, hunted look in his eyes if I ask him ‘sup. And he looks kinda wound up, too. And… are you okay, Bits?”

“Um,” Eric gets out. “Well, I think I might know why he’s been acting a lil’ strange, is all.”

“I--are you blushing? Oh man. Oh man, Bits,” Shitty’s eyes go wide, a gleeful expression beginning to spread over his face, “are you and Jack boning?

Eric doesn’t even need to say anything, and Shitty just starts cackling.

“You are! Hell, bro,” he sits down heavily beside Eric and drags him into what could be a hug or a headlock, “I thought he was--I mean, you know what happened. I kinda thought it might be getting like that for him again, with leaving Samwell and all.”

“Er, no,” says Eric. “He seems pretty content.”

Shitty stares at him. Eric slaps a hand over his mouth, horrified. “I didn’t mean--!”

“Bro,” says Shitty, holding his fist out. “Brooo.”

“Oh, hell,” says Eric, and bumps it. “Now let me get back to my pie, why don’t you?”

“Let me guess: strawberry?”

Eric sighs.

“Oh, Bits. You got it so bad.”

“I know.

-

“Shitty knows,” says Eric, when it’s gone dark and the Haus is quiet. They’re in the kitchen, sharing pie straight from the tin, and Jack’s foot shifts against Eric’s. Eric reaches across to squeeze his free hand.

“Okay,” Jack says eventually. “Okay.”

“He asked if we were boning,” says Eric, just to watch Jack choke on his pie.

-

“Do you want to--” Jack murmurs, soft into the pillow.

He’s on his stomach, thighs wide open and Lord, that booty is a thing of beauty. Eric sends a quick prayer heavenwards before tripping forwards with both hands outstretched, dignity be damned. Jack yelps, then squirms and laughs. Eric bites him.

“Yes,” he says, “yes.”

It’s both of them uncertain, eager, slippery fingers fumbling and coming too quickly and kissing and kissing.

They wake up some time past midnight and Jack spreads his legs again, gets Eric back inside him with a strange, frantic intensity. He’s hot inside, soft and slick and overwhelming and Eric can’t stop touching him, the line of his jaw, his ribs, the tender head of his cock. He likes it when Jack tells him he’s going to come, when he can feel the pulse of it starting inside him. He likes everything.

-

“Now we’re boning,” Jack says, deadpan. Eric shoves the pillow into his face.

-

In August, Jack has an exhibition of his photography at Koetter.

It’s nothing like Lardo’s, which was big and expansive and full of people wearing crop tops and red lipstick. It’s in one of the old dark rooms in the basement which is low-ceilinged and still smells faintly like chemicals. Jack’s photographs aren’t framed, but hung with pegs on criss-crossing lines, laid out on the benches like they’re still waiting to be picked and sorted. Some are blurred, some out of focus. Some catch a person’s elbow in the den, a stray pad left on the kitchen table. Bitty recognises himself in a few of them; a hand here, a socked foot there. There’s one of the back of his head haloed by sunlight through the kitchen window. They’re strangely beautiful, like all the little pieces of their life at the Haus collected together, of Jack’s life. Jack comes to stand beside him as he peers at one that appears to show Ransom’s ear. There’s an odd little trick of the light that makes it look like there’s a blurry person wearing a hooped earring in the mirror behind him.

“Yeah, that one’s weird, eh?”

“Spooky!” Eric gets his phone out and tweets it.

“Starting a ghosthunter blog, eh Bittle?”

“Hm, I’m not so sure. There’s been clamouring for that pie vs. crumble episode, you know.”

They’re tucked away around the corner from the main space, and Jack leans a little closer. He smells like spicy cologne, warm and good.

“Bitty. I think, um. I think I’m going to buy somewhere, in Providence.”

Eric freezes, then hopes his face is doing something normal. “Um, oh! Wonderful!” His lungs feel smaller than they need to be. He knew Jack was going, he knew, and--

“I want you to come and… I don’t know anything about kitchens. And you should. You should choose the second bedroom.”

Jack’s hands twist in his slacks. Eric catches them with his, looks up at him.

“You’re--oh, really Jack?”

There’s a little crease between his brows, and Eric tightens his grip until it smooths away, presses him lightly against the wall. Jack goes easily. A few people are glancing at them, but Jack’s eyes are fixed on his.

“And if you didn’t want a second bedroom,” Jack says, “I would like that a lot.”

“I don’t,” says Eric. “I really, really don’t.”

Jack kisses him, soft, with the smell of chemicals all around them.