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Finding Our Way

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Eric stumbles backward, collapsing onto the wooden folding chair that was, thankfully, directly behind him. It’s just—he’s not entirely sure the last five minutes truly happened.

 

As he tries to breathe, slow and steady, the words I’ll text you rings in his ears. Maybe he’s reading into it, but I’ll text you felt like a lot more than just three words. It felt like a promise; a promise that Jack didn’t want to leave, a promise that those kisses wouldn’t be the end of it. A promise that, unbelievably, Jack felt the same way Eric did. The cumulative effect of it all is that he’s so shocked that his thoughts are the equivalent of a blaring siren.

 

It’s been a matter of seconds since Jack’s disappeared from view when his phone buzzes with a new text. However, it’s a matter of minutes until Eric has the wherewithal to actually read it.

 

Jack: Don’t forget to eat more protein.

 

Eric reads the text and then begins to laugh; full, hearty guffaws because Jack Zimmermann is the most ridiculous human being on the planet. It’s a while until Eric calms down enough to reply.

 

Bitty: :P

Bitty: Only you would have the nerve to kiss the living daylights out of a boy and then tell him to ‘eat more protein’

Bitty: You are ridiculous Mr. Zimmermann

 

There’s a brief moment of panic once he sends the messages, because is it too soon to already be talking about the kiss(es)? What if he misread what Jack meant by I’ll text you? Relief floods him when Jack texts him back, quicker than Eric would’ve expected he would.

 

Jack: You should be used to it by now, eh?

 

Eric responds, deciding to be as equally facetious as Jack.

 

Bitty: What am I supposed to be used to? Your ridiculous chirping or you kissing me?

 

He nearly drops his phone when Jack answers.

 

Jack: I was talking about my chirping. But hopefully you’ll get a chance to get used to the kissing too ;)

 

At this point, Eric’s pretty sure he’s having some kind of fever dream or vivid hallucination. Or maybe he’s dying, and he’s being given some kind of last fantasy. Because Jack kissed him—and apparently wants to kiss him again. What?!? It’s honestly more than his little gay heart has ever dared to hope for.

 

Bitty: Good Lord! Are you trying to drive me to an early grave?

 

Jack: No. I’d like to keep you around for a while longer, eh?

Jack: So I want to talk about what happened. Not just joke about it.

 

Despite everything said so far, there’s small knot that forms in his chest when that message comes through.

 

Bitty: Okay…

 

Jack: In case what I did wasn’t clear enough…I like you.

 

Eric is glad he’s still sitting down, because reading that would’ve been enough to make his knees give out. As it is, it’s enough to make his face feel like its burning and his heart is fluttering in his chest.

 

Jack: God, it sounds stupid when you put it that way. Like we’re still in middle school or something.

 

It’s honestly not that surprising that Jack seems insecure about this. Jack isn’t very sure of himself anywhere not on the ice, and after the kiss, Eric didn’t give Jack the most enthusiastic reaction. Plus it’s been at least five minutes since Jack’s last text, considering he’s been, once again, too shocked to reply. He quickly taps out a text before he lets Jack possibly freak out any more.

 

Bitty: You’re fine sweetheart. I like you too.

Bitty: Like a lot.

 

Jack: :)

 

Bitty can practically hear the sigh of relief through Jack’s text.

 

Jack: I don’t want to talk about details by text or phone. Will you be able to visit Providence soon?

 

Bitty frowns. His summer is pretty jam packed, something he did by design, so he wouldn’t have much time to miss Samwell…or Jack; though that’s completely a moot point by now.

 

Bitty: I have the camp that I’m a counselor at keeping me busy most of June and then there’s 4th of July :(

Bitty: Earliest I could come would be mid-July.

 

Jack: What if I come to Georgia for 4th of July?

 

Bitty: Goodness! Mama keeps asking me if you could visit over the summer. She’d be tickled pink if you came for 4th of July.

 

Jack: Okay. I’ll be there :) 3>

 

Bitty: It’s <3 Jack :’)

Bitty: You really should just use the emojis I showed you. Remember?

Bitty: But anyway I can’t wait to see you :D

Bitty: <3


 

“Are you going to pull your nose out of that phone anytime soon?” Alicia asks. Jack is stretched out in the backseat by himself, while his parents are in the front; his dad is driving. Jack only half hears what she says, giving a distracted hum in reply as he sends his text.

 

Jack: Okay. I’ll be there :) 3>

 

“Give him a break darling,” Bob chuckles.

 

“Oh, I’m sorry, is he busy working—what did you call it? The ‘Zimmermann charm’?” Alicia rolls her eyes.

 

“Yes dear, that’s what I called it. Don’t act like you don’t know what it is,” Bob shakes his head.

 

“Is this that same old story about how you supposedly ‘charmed’ your way into a date with me?” Alicia quips, fondly exasperated.

 

“What’s with the air quotes?” Bob questions.

 

“The only way you charmed me was by being a giant, awkward dork.”

 

“Ah, but you do admit I charmed you!” Bob says, a little too loudly and perhaps, a little too smugly.

 

“Yes dear, just not in the way you seem to think,” Alicia replies with a somewhat fondly patronizing tone.

 

By now, Jack has finished up his conversation with Bitty and has tuned back into his parent’s playful argument.

 

“So tell me Jack, how did it go?” Bob asks, having noticed (somehow by looking in the rearview mirror) that Jack has pocketed his phone.

 

“Robert! Give him a minute, for heaven’s sake!” Alicia exclaims.

 

“Oh please dear, you must be dying to know too,” Bob replies.

 

“So what if I am? It’s up to Jack to tell us when he’s ready!” Alicia counters.

 

Jack ducks his head and blushes, a small—okay it’s not small— huge grin spreading across his face.

 

“It went—it’s good,” Jack mumbles, even though that’s probably an understatement.

 

“Way to go son,” Bob smiles. He can’t reach, but Jack knows that he’d be patting him on the shoulder if he could.

 

“Yes, we’re both very happy for you,” Alicia agrees.

 

“I won’t lie, it’s probably going to be very hard,” Bob sighs, making eye contact with Jack through the rearview mirror. “But don’t think for a second you don’t deserve this.”

 

Jack nods his head, even though he’s not sure he agrees with Bob. He’s not sure that he deserves this, and he sure as hell doesn’t deserve someone like Bitty. But this—it isn’t about what he deserves. He’s not going to make it about that. This is about what he wants, and God, does he want Bitty. So much that it scares him.

 

He wants Bitty, and Bitty wants him. This, Jack is almost positive of. To hell with what he thinks he deserves. Jack is taking this shot.

 

His parents have gone back to their good-natured arguing, and so Jack pulls his phone back out. There are four texts he missed from Bitty while he was talking to his parents.

 

Bitty: It’s <3 Jack :’)

Bitty: You really should just use the emojis I showed you. Remember?

Bitty: But anyway I can’t wait to see you :D

Bitty: <3

 

Jack hears the fondly exasperated tone coming through Bitty’s texts, and he smiles. He honestly doesn’t remember anything about how to use emojis, but he can get Bitty to show him later. For now, he just corrects his mistake.

 

Jack: Can’t wait to see you either <3

 

Then he proceeds to use his phone to look for (and then immediately purchase) the earliest plane tickets he can find for July 2nd. The day can’t come soon enough.

Chapter Text

Summer is—for as loaded as his schedule was supposed to be, for how busy he was supposed to be keeping—it’s dragging. And it simply sucks. Eric feels terrible, because the kids at camp are adorable and Lord, they’re such sweethearts, but he’s not giving them his full attention. His mind is somewhere else, and that is entirely a certain French-Canadian professional hockey player’s fault. He just can’t help the way he’s anxiously looking forward to July 2nd. And for once, he doesn’t have to feel ashamed of missing Jack. And boy, does he miss Jack (and Jack misses him too, even if he hasn’t exactly said it).

 

In spite of how much he misses Jack, Eric still grumbles when his alarm goes off at 4:30 AM on July 2nd. Jack, for some reason only known to God, booked the earliest flight he could find, meaning Eric has to be at the airport by 6:00 to be in time to pick him up.

 

“Jack’s so lucky I’m so excited to see him,” Eric mumbles to himself as he climbs behind the wheel of his dad’s bright red pickup truck. He’s willing to do it today, but that being said, if Jack ever tries to pull this stunt again, Eric is going to give him a stern talking to (and then still show up at the airport to pick him up).

 

At least the excitement is enough to keep him awake on the hour drive to Atlanta. He blasts Beyoncé as he speeds across the Georgia countryside in the early morning light (and maybe he plays Halo five times, but he’ll deny it if asked). Nervous energy thrums through his veins as he taps his fingers on the steering wheel to the beat of the music. They’ve talked through text, phone and Skype, but this will be the first time they’ve seen each other since Jack’s graduation. Since Jack ran across campus. Since Jack kissed him.

 

He’s had the whole summer to replay the moment they shared in Jack’s old room over and over again in his head. Sometimes, when he does, he still feels the ghost of Jack’s hands in the small of his back and tenderly cupping his face, and of course, he always feels the ghost of Jack’s lips on his own. Eric traces his fingers over the lines of his mouth. Kissing Jack is a feeling Eric will never forget.

 

But the long summer has made him question whether he’ll get the chance to feel it again. They haven’t discussed that yet, because Jack’s been insisting that it has to be done face-to-face. They’ve kept their conversations on the right side of friendly, haven’t even mentioned the kiss since that day. Eric worries that maybe he imagined it, or that, now that Jack’s had time to think, he’s changed his mind. Because he’s Eric, and Jack is Jack and—well, even though Jack has turned out not to be the straight guy Eric thought he was, he’s not sure what someone like Jack would see in someone like him. Jack’s going to be a star and he could have any guy he wants. With that in mind, why would he want him?

 

He can’t help his anxious feelings, and it makes it a little harder for him to breathe as he stands in the passenger terminal of Hartsfield-Jackson airport. They announce that Jack’s plane has landed, and he stands nervously by Jack’s gate.

 

When he sees Jack, and Jack sees him and smiles, Eric forgets all about his nerves and instead runs to Jack, launching himself at him. Jack drops his bag and catches Eric with ease (NHL training camp is doing wonders for Jack’s already spectacular body), his strong arms wrapping around Eric’s middle.

 

“Hey Bitty,” Jack says softly as Eric nuzzles his head into Jack’s neck.

 

“Hi Jack. I really missed you,” Eric murmurs, and whoops, he’s making much more of a scene than he meant to, but Jack doesn’t seem fazed one bit by it; he’s hugging back just as tightly as Eric is hugging him.

 

“I missed you too,” Jack whispers, so softly and fondly and goodness, just like that, Eric is already in danger of melting into a puddle in the middle of the airport. They end up hugging for longer than is probably appropriate in an airport, and Jack has to bend over so that Eric’s feet are on the ground, but he doesn’t let go, and Eric is certainly not going to be the one to make him.

 

They do disentangle eventually, and Eric dives for Jack’s bag before he can attempt to pick it back up. Jack already has a hand on the strap, but Eric tosses it over his shoulder anyway. Jack cocks his eyebrows in amusement, and Eric shrugs. “Mama would kill me if I didn’t show you some good ol’ Southern hospitality while you’re here.”

 

“Okay,” Jack chuckles, putting a hand on the small of Eric’s back as they start to walk out to the parking lot. Eric leads Jack out to the truck, which sets off another round of chortles from Jack.

 

“Oh hush you,” Eric pouts, because yes, he knows it looks odd, all five foot, six and a half inches of him behind the wheel of a giant pickup truck, but his family only owns trucks (because in some ways, his parents are just so damn Southern).

 

He drops Jack’s duffel bag on the asphalt while he reaches over to open the passenger door. He’s stretching his hand out towards the handle when he’s gently spun around and pressed up against the door by Jack. Jack leans over and kisses him, softly, and Eric is, again stunned for a second or two at first, before he melts into it, snaking his arms around Jack’s neck. Jack’s lips slide slowly against his, giving off the taste of peppermint, and Eric revels in the feeling.

 

Jack pulls away after a few seconds that feel like hours, but Eric keeps his arms around Jack, looking up at him through eyes half-lidded. “Hi,” he says, sounding as dazed as he feels.

 

“Hey,” Jack huffs against his mouth, his thumb absentmindedly dragging across Eric’s collarbone. Eric gazes into Jack’s icy blue eyes. Somehow, despite their color, there’s so much warmth in them; there’s so much warmth in Jack’s face, so much fondness in his smile and eyes. Eric knows he’s seen this face before and he just—he’s not sure how he didn’t realize what he was seeing before.

 

Lord, I missed you,” Eric says again, overwhelmed by the affection writ all over Jack’s face. He does the only thing he can think to do, and he surges up onto his tiptoes and kisses Jack. It’s close-mouthed, short, and chaste, but it’s so much more than Eric ever thought he’d get from Jack. Maybe that’s why, he thinks in this moment, even if they never go any farther than this, Eric will still be the happiest man on Earth.

 

“We…we should probably get going,” Jack says after Eric falls back on his heels, breaking the kiss.

 

“Y-yeah,” Eric replies, voice unsteady. “Mama will…she’ll wonder what’s taking so long.”

 

They pull apart, and Jack picks up his bag, settling into the passenger seat as Eric walks around and climbs in. He turns the key, the engine rumbling to life as Halo starts playing again. Jack grins, and Eric turns the volume up. They both sing along, Eric kinda badly, but Jack doesn’t sound too bad. They exchange glances the whole time. It’s those glances that remind Eric of what they still have to talk about, and when the song is over, Eric turns the music off.

 

“Hey Jack.”

 

“Hmm?”

 

“I just—if you’re fixin’ to talk privately, I’d reckon now is the time to do it,” Eric sighs, resting his hand on the center console. “Between all the Bittles on the 4th and Mama all the other days, we ain’t gonna get much time to ourselves.”

 

Jack nods, laying his hand on top of Eric’s. “Your accent has gotten stronger.”

 

“Good Lord, here I am, tryin’ to have a serious conversation, and you’re chirpin’ me! The nerve on you, Mr. Zimmermann!” Eric exclaims exasperatedly, though he’s giving himself away by grinning.

 

“Sorry,” Jack says, smirking slightly, and Eric can barely suppress his eye roll, because Jack already has a comeback chirp. “But really? You’re still calling me ‘Mr. Zimmermann’?”

 

“I will call you whatever name I please, Mr. Zimmermann,” Eric giggles, smacking Jack’s arm.

 

“I’m just saying…someday it might not be Zimmermann,” Jack says, and Eric’s heart trips, because did Jack just imply what he thinks he’s implying?

 

“O-okay sweetheart,” Eric stutters, because wow. “How ‘bout we slow down and back up a bit?”

 

“I’m sorry,” Jack mumbles, the tips of his ears flushing. “I didn’t mean to say that.”

 

“I ain’t—I ain’t gonna lie and say I don’t like the sound of that,” Eric says, slow and measured, keeping his eyes firmly trained on the road, because he knows that if he looks at Jack, he won’t be able to tear his eyes away. “But we ain’t even talked about what we are yet.”

 

“Yeah…we will…I just…give me a minute,” Jack responds.

 

“Sure honey, take whatever time you need,” Eric replies. Their hands are still together on the center console, so Eric twines his fingers with Jack’s in what he hopes comes across as reassurance. The corners of Jack’s mouth turn up for a few brief seconds and he squeezes. There’s a long silence, about ten minutes long that follows. Eric waits patiently; he knows how hard it is for Jack to find words in most situations, he can only imagine how difficult it is now.

 

“I—I need you to know what you’re getting yourself into Bitty,” Jack says quietly.

 

“And what am I gettin’ into, exactly?” Eric asks, somewhat accusatorily, because he knows a lot more about the circumstances he’s agreeing to than Jack seems to think he does. But stops himself, because he knows that it’ll make Jack more comfortable with his answer if Eric hears it from him.

 

“I don’t…I’m not going to come out…not before I’ve ever even played a NHL game. I’m…I’m not going to wait long but…I’ll probably wait a year, at least?” Jack says, sounding uncertain. He understands; Eric is terrified of the idea of coming out to just his parents—well, Coach anyway, so he can’t quite picture how the prospect of coming out to the whole world must feel. But if it’s half of what he feels about telling his dad, then he can understand how it would make Jack unsure.

 

“Only our friends and family could know,” Jack continues on. “And then…you’ll be in Samwell while I’m in Providence and I don’t know how…how that will work. Long distance is…Papa keeps telling me it’s not easy, even if it’s worth it and then…you know…there’s me and I’m…well…so I just…that’s what you’re agreeing to if you decide you want this to be…you know…whatever you want it to be.”

 

“Jack, sweetheart, I know what I’m gettin’ myself into,” Eric answers quickly. “I know how the entire world is waitin’ to jump you. If you didn’t want to tell anyone, I’d be okay with that. I—I’ve been wantin’ this for a long time, so I’m willin’ to do whatever you want me to.”

 

“You…are you really okay with hiding again?” Jack questions, studying Eric’s face intently.

 

“I promise I’m okay with that,” Eric says, clutching Jack’s hand tighter. “I mean, I ain’t out to my parents yet so…”

 

“Oh.”

 

Eric softly blows out a breath. “Yeah.”

 

“So…so do you…do you want…to be my boyfriend?” Jack inquires.

 

Eric honest-to-God squeals at the question. Jack looks so startled by his reaction, so Eric makes himself take a few breaths to calm down.

 

“Yeah Jack, I do,” Eric finally says, nodding furiously.

 

“Okay,” Jack grins, his shoulders dropping from level with his jawline. “So a long time, eh?”

 

“Dear Lord,” Eric groans. “Doesn’t bein’ your boyfriend get me some kind of special chirpin’ exemption?”

 

Jack laughs, catching Eric off-guard, because he can count on one hand the number of times he’s heard Jack really laugh. “No Bitty, it doesn’t.”

 

“Aw, rats!” Eric giggles, and Jack giggles along with him. He’s holding Jack’s hand, Jack is his boyfriend, the sun is climbing in a cloudless sky, and things couldn’t be better.


 

His mama takes to mobbing Jack the second they exit the truck, much to Eric’s dismay, but at least Jack doesn’t seem to mind. The spend most of the day in the kitchen, Eric and his mama working to get as much prep work done for the 4th. Jack sits at the kitchen table and watches with a goofy little grin plastered on his face. And Coach is…somewhere. Eric’s not really sure that he cares where Coach is. He’s fine with just his mama and Jack being around.

 

Coach ends up making his appearance late in the evening, after they’ve already had dinner, and it’s short-lived. He disappears to his and mama’s room almost as quickly as he appeared. Mama decides to join him, and so he and Jack decide to go to bed as well.

 

“Um so…I guess I should probably get you a sleepin’ bag,” Eric says, standing awkwardly in the middle of the room. He never took the time to set up his room for a guest, so it’s a little messy and, as of right now, there is no space on the floor to even roll out a sleeping bag.

 

“I uh…sure,” Jack says, wringing his hands anxiously, looking like maybe that’s not how he wanted to answer.

 

“You really want to sleep on the floor?” Eric asks, giving Jack a chance to say what he really wants to do. Eric knows that he really wants Jack to sleep in his bed with him, but he’s not sure if that’s too much right now, or if Jack is even comfortable with that.

 

“It’s fine,” Jack answers robotically, and nope, that’s not going to fly.

 

“You really don’t have to,” Eric says pointedly, subtly quirking his head toward his bed.

 

“It’s fine,” Jack repeats, and Lord, they’re just going to go back and forth on this if Eric doesn’t say something to get Jack to tell him what he really wants, because what he’s saying is not that.

 

Eric walks over to his bedroom door, shuts it, and then strides back over to Jack and pulls him down into a short kiss. “Jack, honey, how do you want us to sleep in here?”

 

“I don’t c—”

 

Eric cuts him off, speaking sweetly but firmly. “Sweetheart, tell me what you want to do.”

 

“I don’t want to,” Jack mumbles, looking down at their feet.

 

“Jack, look at me,” Eric says, gently grabbing Jack’s chin. “Jack, if you want this to work, you can’t be afraid to tell me what you want, no matter the situation.”

 

“I don’t want to make you uncomfortable,” Jack replies in a whisper.

 

“I know you don’t, and that’s so very sweet of you,” Eric says, and he’s trying to maintain a firm tone here, though it’s proving difficult when he’s looking into Jack’s eyes. “But you don’t know what makes me uncomfortable, and I don’t want you to be decidin’ for me. I want you to talk to me about it, okay?”

 

“Okay. Are you…okay with…sharing the bed?” Jack asks, blushing because he’s embarrassed about having to ask, but that’s what Eric wants him to do.

 

“Yeah,” Eric smiles, pushing up to kiss Jack again. “I really want to.”

 

Jack grins shyly, and they break apart to get ready for bed. Jack’s already finished and in bed by the time Eric gets back to his room.

 

“Go ahead and arrange us however you want to,” Eric says as he climbs in.

 

Jack, to Eric’s surprise, moves them around so that he’s curled up into Eric, with his head on Eric’s chest. It’s—well, it’s a little unusual, mostly just because of their size difference, but he likes it. For Jack to already trust him enough to show that vulnerability, that he’s the one who wants to be held and feel protected makes Eric’s whole body feel warm with affection.

 

“Night Jack,” Eric says, kissing the top of his head.

 

“Goodnight Bitty,” Jack yawns, and it’s not long after that he begins to snore softly.

 

Eric stays up a little bit longer, because he needs time to process. This is a real thing that’s happening to him. Jack kissed him. Jack came to Georgia just to see him. Jack is his boyfriend. Jack is sleeping in his bed, curled up into his side.

 

Something that Eric was sure he’d only get in his wildest imaginations is something that is the exact opposite. It’s real, and Eric can’t explain how giddy that makes him feel. And sure, he takes Jack’s words seriously; he knows it won’t be easy. But Eric is willing to throw his all into making it work, because there’s nothing more he’s ever wanted in his life than this—than Jack.

 

That’s the last thing on his mind as he falls asleep to the steady rhythm of Jack’s breathing.


 

Eric rubs his eyes as he wakes up, alone. He glances over at his nightstand, and sees a folded piece of paper. He feebly paws at it, eventually snatching it up.

 

Went for a run. Be back soon.

                  - Jack

 

Eric sits up, fighting the urge to laugh at Jack, his poor, misguided Canadian boyfriend, for going for a run in the middle of a Georgian summer. It has to be at least 80°F already, and by the time Jack gets back, he’ll probably be melting like a snowman. Eric shakes his head as he rolls out of bed.

 

Mama is already up when Eric blearily stumbles into the kitchen.

 

“Mornin’ Dicky!” she says brightly. “The coffee is fresh if you’re wantin’ some.”

 

Eric grunts as he takes the mugs she’s holding out for him.

 

“Goodness, what is it with the men in this house bein’ non-verbal in the mornin’?” she mutters.

 

Eric shrugs as he takes a sip of his coffee. “Jack’s usually not too bad in the morning,” he says after a moment.

 

“He didn’t say anythin’ either,” she replies, shaking her head.

 

“Well, he was probably just focused. He’s out for a run,” Eric explains.

 

While Eric had the restraint to not laugh, his mama does not, and begins laughing hysterically. “He’s gonna walk in the house and collapse in a puddle on our floor,” she giggles, wiping tears from her eyes.

 

“I woulda told him not to go, but he didn’t wake me up,” Eric replies, smiling into his mug, partially because of how ridiculous Jack is, and partly at the memory of falling asleep in the same bed as Jack.

 

“Hmm, that’s odd…you ain’t usually that heavy a sleeper,” she muses, poking at something on the stove—looks like eggs to Eric. There’s a few seconds pause before she adds “Especially considerin’ how you were sleepin’.”

 

“Whaddya mean?” Eric asks cautiously. He’s not going to admit to anything until he knows what he’s admitting to.

 

“Oh nothin’,” she says dismissively, like she knows something but won’t push Eric to actually tell her anything. She’ll just lay out what she knows, which is usually enough to compel Eric to explain. “I just happened to be peakin’ into your room earlier. Thought what I saw was pretty interestin’.”

 

It’s about all Eric can manage to stay standing at that moment. That means, however, that the coffee mug he’s holding becomes an unfortunate casualty, as it slips out of his hand and smashes into pieces on the floor.

 

“Eric!” Jack says, having suddenly appeared in the doorway to the kitchen. Jack rapidly moves to his side. “Eric, are you okay?”

 

“I dropped and broke one of our mugs, my feet are swimming in scaldin’ hot coffee and I think I accidentally outed myself to mama, but yeah, otherwise, I’m fantastic,” Eric answers without thinking.

 

Jack blinks, glancing between Eric and his mama, looking unsure of what to do. Which, to be fair, Eric doesn’t really know what to do either.

 

“Jack, dear, would you take Dicky into the bathroom and checkin’ his feet for any cuts. Maybe put some burn cream or somethin’ on them?” Mama says, breaking the stalemate. “I’ll clean up here and then we can all talk.”

 

Jack nods, and then scoops him up and starts carrying him out.

 

“Hey!” Eric protests. “I can walk just fine, thank you!”

 

“There’s broken ceramic,” Jack says, slipping into his captain’s voice. “It’ll be just as bad as broken glass if you step on it. I’m wearing shoes.”

 

Eric huffs, but he lets Jack carry him out of the kitchen and into the bathroom, because Jack made a fair point. He waits until they’re out of sight of his mama before he buries his head into Jack’s chest. “I’m an idiot,” he mumbles into the sweaty fabric of Jack’s shirt. “I didn’t know if she knew anythin’, and I just said that and made sure that she knows.”

 

“It’s going to be fine,” Jack says as he puts Eric down.

 

“You don’t know that,” Eric retorts sharply, and then immediately regrets it. “I’m sorry Jack, I didn’t mean to snap at you I just—”

 

“You don’t have to apologize,” Jack interrupts, kneeling on the ground, but nixing examining his feet for looking up at him and drawing him into a hug.

 

“I just didn’t picture it goin’ like this,” Eric sighs. They’re both on the floor, and he’s sitting on Jack’s lap, face in Jack’s neck, feeling like he’s about to cry.

 

“I know you didn’t,” Jack replies, rocking him slightly. “But I’m here, and I’ve got your back, okay?”

 

“Thanks Jack,” Eric whispers.

 

“Okay, now let me check your feet,” Jack says, and good Lord he sounds concerned, and Eric’s heart is pooling at the bottom of his stomach, and that makes him feel a little bit better.

 

After Jack looks at them, and declares him to be fine, they both stand up, and Eric takes his hand. He really needs Jack’s support to get through this.

 

His mama is sitting in the living room, waiting for them, and she’s teary-eyed, but she’s smiling, so Eric considers that to be a good sign.

 

“Come here baby,” she says, holding out her arms, and Eric falls into them, and she holds him tightly. “I love you, so much. It don’t matter to me, y’hear? I love you no matter what.”

 

That turns Eric into a blubbering, crying mess. Jack sits down on the couch next to them, rubbing Eric’s back gently. Eric and his mama cry for a long time, until they’re both cried out.

 

“W-what about Coach?” Eric sniffles, because he’s always been more worried about his dad finding out than his mama.

 

“Don’t you worry about him,” his mama says, ruffling his hair. “I’ll make sure he’s come around by the time you’re ready to tell him.”

 

“I love you Mama,” Eric says.

 

“I love you too Dicky,” she says, and then Eric turns towards Jack.

 

“I’m sorry you had to sit through this,” he apologizes, and Jack shakes his head.

 

“I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else,” he replies, and gosh, Jack saying ridiculously sweet things like that is just not going to be tolerated, and Eric, forgetting that mama is right there, scolds him by kissing him.

 

“Well, you certainly aren’t wastin’ any time,” she chuckles, and Eric quickly pulls away and flushes.

 

“Sorry mama.”

 

“It’s quite alright. I’ll just leave you two alone,” she says. “Though I’m expectin’ you to keep it appropriate for public places,” she tosses over her shoulder.

 

“Mamaaaaaaaaa!” Eric whines while Jack blushes (and boy does Jack blush pretty, Eric thinks).


 

The rest of the time Jack is there is a whirlwind of stolen moments behind closed doors and in dark corners of Eric’s house (plus one memorable make out session in the few precious minutes of almost total darkness before the 4th of July fireworks started). Before they both know it, they’re standing outside of Jack’s gate at the airport, saying goodbye.

 

Jack leans over and kisses him, quickly, his lips barely there touching his own, but Eric will take it. “I’m gonna miss you,” Eric says, pulling Jack into a hug as he starts to pull away.

 

“I’ll miss you too,” Jack whispers. “When can you visit?”

 

“I—I think I might be able to come to Samwell early,” Eric says, because he’d put up with any hassle to steal a few shared days with Jack. “I can come to Providence for those couple of days.”

 

“I’d like it if you could,” Jack replies.

 

7:30 AM flight to Providence, now boarding

 

“Then I’ll make it happen,” Eric answers. “Can I—can I give you an actual kiss before you go?”

 

Jack glances over his shoulder, and then nods. Eric pushes up on his tiptoes and kisses Jack, slowly, sweetly, working to memorize it, to have a memory to last him until August, when he’ll see Jack again.

 

“I’ll text you,” Jack says when Eric pulls away, grinning.

 

“Okay,” Eric responds as Jack takes a few steps backward toward his gate. Eric watches until Jack is out of sight. He wipes a few unsanctioned tears that have fallen from his eyes away, and then turns and begins to walk out to his car. His phone buzzes, and Eric pulls it out right away.

 

Jack: I miss you already. I’ll call you when I land <3

 

Eric’s about to type out his reply when Jack texts him again.

 

Jack: Also don’t forget to eat more protein :)

 

Eric laughs and taps out an answer as he walks out to the truck.

 

Bitty: Don’t you think it’s time to give up that song and dance?

Bitty: I miss you too though <3

Bitty: Have a safe flight. Can’t wait to talk to you again…already :)

 

Chapter Text

Bitty: So when I come back up north…

Bitty: Do you want to meet me at the Haus or do you want me to come to Providence?

 

Jack: I’m okay either way, as long as I’m spending time with you <3

Jack: Though I thought you might want to see my kitchen ;)

 

Bitty: If you keep talking like that, one day I’m going to just up and die…I can barely stand it :)

 

Jack: Okay, I’ll keep the kitchen talk to a minimum ;P

 

Bitty: You’re a riot, Mr. Zimmermann -_-

 

Jack: You love it, eh?

 

Bitty: I admit to nothing

Bitty: And you know me too well

Bitty: Of course I want to see the kitchen

Bitty: That was settled the second you mentioned it

Bitty: o.O

 

Jack: Make sure you change your ticket then, eh?  You can just fly right into Providence.  I’ll pick you up.

 

Bitty: Why do you say “eh” even in your texts?

Bitty: And done

 

Jack: I’m just that Canadian

Jack: Eh? ;)

Jack: I’ve got practice, I have to go

Jack: Talk to you later and see you in a few days

Jack: I miss you, can’t wait to see you <3

 

Bitty: I can’t wait to see you either Jack <333

 

Jack: Wait, what does <333 mean?

 

Bitty: Oh it’s just three hearts

Bitty: It’s a shortcut

Bitty: Rather than typing out <3 <3 <3

 

Jack: Oh

Jack: <333

 

Bitty: <333

 

“Dicky, dear, isn’t that the oven timer?” Mama asks.

 

Eric yelps and scrambles for the oven, pulling out his pie just in time to hopefully keep it from burning.  And of course, his immediate reaction is to tell Jack, even though he knows Jack can’t respond.

 

Bitty: I almost burned pie because of you

Bitty: I hope you’re happy

 

To his surprise, Jack does reply.

 

Jack: Am I happy that I’m important enough to distract you from baking?

Jack: Absolutely <333

 

Bitty: Jack Zimmermann, this is serious

Bitty: You do not get to turn this into a sappy romantic moment

Bitty: At least not when I can’t kiss you

 

Jack: Soon

Jack: But I really have to go now and I should let you get back to baking

Jack: Can’t have you burning anymore pies on my account, eh?

 

Bitty: How dare you

Bitty: I’ll have you know that I did NOT burn that pie

Bitty: I just almost burned it

Bitty: I will not have you soiling my good name with your slanderous lies

 

Jack: :’)

 

“I never thought I’d live to see the day when my little Dicky found someone he’d burn a pie for,” Mama coos as she walks into the kitchen.

 

“First Jack, now you,” Eric groans.  “Good Lord, I did not burn the pie!”

 

“Sweetheart,” Mama says sympathetically, grabbing an oven mitt and rotating the pie tin.  Now that he can see the back edge, it’s clear that he did indeed burn the pie.

 

“Oh my goodness,” Eric sighs, staggering back into the counter.  “I haven’t burned a pie since…I can’t even remember.  Oh Lord, you’re going to have to bury me mother, ‘cause I think I’m going to die of embarrassment.”

 

“There ain’t nothin’ to be embarrassed about Dickey,” Mama laughs, placing a hand on his shoulder.  “Back in the early days, when your daddy and I had just gotten married, I used to burn pies all the time—”

 

“Alright mama,” Eric interjects quickly, flushing bright red because he knows where this is going and he does not want to hear this.  “I’m thinkin’ that I don’t need to be hearin’ any more of this.”

 

“Okay honey, I’ll spare you the details,” she chortles.  “But I’m thinkin’ that you know what I’m gettin’ at here.”

 

“Oh God Mama, please stop,” Eric says, lightly covering his ears with his hands.

 

“I’m just sayin’, I ain’t got any illusions of what you and Jack are wantin’ to get up to, and if you aren’t wantin’ to burn any more pies, I wouldn’t be startin’ any with Jack around,” she smirks, and then quickly exits the kitchen.  Even if that’s solid advice, the fact that it came from his mama makes Eric so mortified that he desperately wants the earth to swallow him up whole.

 

Bitty: Okay so I did burn the pie :’(

Bitty: Also I had the most embarrassing conversation with mama ever

Bitty: She’s expecting us to be doing…well, you know…things ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

Bitty: She also started talking about her and Coach

Bitty: I might be scarred for life

 

Eric sends Jack those texts and then gets to work throwing out his burnt pie and cleaning up so he can start a new one.  He was trying to make a maple-crusted apple pie to send to Jack (it’s also why he started texting Jack in the first place).  If he ships it out today, Jack should get it by the time he arrives in Providence.  At least Jack’s in practice now and can’t distract him.

 

Though that doesn’t stop Jack from distracting him later, when he texts back:

 

Jack: I don’t know how to make that face

Jack: But I understand what you’re getting at

Jack: And we can while you’re here

Jack: If you want ;)

 

Eric blushes furiously and has to excuse himself to his room when he gets them.  After he comes embarrassingly quick at the thought of doing…sexy things with Jack Zimmermann, he responds:

 

Bitty: You have no idea how much I would LOVE to

 

To which he receives:

 

Jack: Looking forward to it :)

 

Which makes Eric just about die.


 

The next few days are spent packing up and shipping off everything he’ll need back at Samwell, and trying to keep distracted from the prospect of what he might do with Jack this week in Providence.  He also spends a lot of time avoiding Mama, because the look she gives him every time Jack comes up makes him more fearful that when she calls during the week, she might ask for honest-to-God deets.  He didn’t think it existed, but apparently there is such a thing as being too supportive.  But at least it’s good preparation for how the Haus will react.

 

Eric promises himself on the plane ride to Providence that he won’t be that guy, the one who makes a scene in an airport.  Coincidentally, he’s a liar, because the second he spots Jack when he gets off the plane, he’s taking off at a dead sprint.  I haven’t seen Jack in a month and I really miss him, Eric reasons.  I'm allowed.

 

Jack grins when he sees him and squats down with his arms open, and Eric doesn’t hesitate, flinging himself into them.  Jack stumbles backward from the sheer force of Eric slamming into him, but quickly recovers and hugs him back tightly.  They’re kind of making a scene, but at least Eric has enough self-restraint to keep himself from giving Jack a filthy kiss in the middle of the passenger terminal.  Frankly, it’s a good thing, because once he starts, Eric isn’t sure he’ll be able to stop.

 

After a long while, Eric pulls back and lets Jack straighten up.  “I missed you,” he says, looking up into Jack’s brilliant blue eyes.

 

Jack’s hand goes to cup his cheek as he replies, “I missed you too.”

 

It’s not a subtle gesture, and it stirs something in Eric, something he knows he won’t be able to contain for long.  Jack seems to pick up on this, as he takes Eric’s bag right off his shoulder.  Eric squawks indignantly, but Jack just shrugs.  “Just returning the favor, eh?”

 

Any other time, Eric would definitely argue, but considering the urge to jump Jack and kiss him senseless is growing by the second, Eric doesn’t think about it.  “Let’s go,” he says instead, somewhat urgently.

 

Jack nods and turns toward the exit, but not before flashing Eric a smirk that, honestly, should be registered as a deadly weapon.  If he’d had to see it for any longer, he’d be dead on the ground of the airport.  As it is, it takes him a moment to force his legs to cooperate and follow Jack out.

 

They walk out to Jack’s car, slowly at first, but by the time they get there, it feels like they’re racing, practically sprinting up to the black SUV Jack bought with part of his signing bonus.  Jack barely has the driver’s side door closed and Eric’s bag in the backseat when Eric crawls over the center console, depositing himself perpendicular to Jack in his lap.

 

He kisses Jack fiercely, like it’s been years since they’ve seen each other, rather than a month.  But to them, it felt like years.  Jack responds enthusiastically, running his hands gently through Eric’s hair as his lips move in time with Eric’s.  Jack bites at his lower lip, and he moans softly as Jack’s tongue slips into his mouth, the fire inside of Eric growing with every breath that they’re sharing.

 

Jack breaks the kiss suddenly, without warning, and Eric whimpers.

 

“The apartment…probably better,” Jack pants in a voice Eric would only describe as completely wrecked.  It might be the most beautiful thing he’s ever heard.  As Eric struggles to get up out of Jack’s lap, he feels something hard pressing into his hip, something that sends a raging jolt of desire through him.

 

“Yeah,” Eric agrees grudgingly as he settles into the passenger seat.

 

The drive itself is only five minutes, but it feels like they’re not there soon enough.  They take the stairs up to Jack’s apartment calmly, but the second the door to Jack’s apartment is closed, they’re anything but.

 

Eric forcefully pushes Jack back into the door, grabbing a fistful of Jack’s shirt as he pulls him down into an open-mouthed kiss, and Jack’s hands come to rest on his hips, his thumbs settling on the skin exposed by Eric’s rucked-up shirt.

 

It sets his whole body on fire in a way he’s never felt before, in a way that leaves him wanting—no, needing more.  He releases Jack’s shirt from his fist and slides his hands up underneath it.  Jack helps him take it off, and then his hands snake down Jack’s side and around to his backside, and Eric squeezes two handfuls of Jack’s marvelous, wonderful, glorious ass (and in a way, his life is now complete).  Jack responds by moaning into his mouth, making a throaty, desperate sound, and dear Lord, does Eric want nothing more than to hear him make that noise again.

 

Eric starts walking backward because they need to get further into the apartment.  They have way too many clothes on and they need to start coming off, immediately.  Jack pulls away momentarily, and Eric latches onto his collarbone, biting and sucking while Jack leads them over to the couch.

 

Jack spins them around and sinks down onto it, pulling Eric so they’re lying horizontally with Eric on top of him.  Eric looks satisfactorily at the hickey he’s left on Jack’s collarbone, and dives in to kiss his mouth again, his hands exploring the expanse of exposed skin underneath him, relishing in the firm but pliant feeling under his fingertips, the way Jack’s stomach tenses up as Eric brushes his hands over Jack’s abs.

 

Jack breaks away, letting his head fall back on the arm rest.  Eric chases his, but Jack puts a hand on his chest to stop him.  “Eric,” he says, breathing heavily.

 

Eric rests back on his haunches, letting Jack sit up.  Jack’s hands come up to gently cradle his face as he says again “Eric.”

 

“Y-yeah Jack?” Eric stutters, trying his best to pay attention to Jack and not to his raging hard-on.

 

“Eric, you have to tell me if I do something you’re not comfortable with.”

 

God, this is why he lov—likes Jack so much (he’s not ready to say the other “L” word yet).  He’s so thoughtful and he cares so, so much.  But Eric wants to do this with Jack, and he doesn’t want Jack being afraid to do this; he trusts Jack to take care of him wholeheartedly.

 

“I trust you,” Eric answers.

 

“Eric, please,” Jack says, and gosh, is it endearing just how concerned Jack is about doing this right.

 

“I—would you be more comfortable if I set the pace?” Eric asks without thinking, because the last thing he wants is for Jack to be so timid that he doesn’t enjoy their first time being physically intimate.

 

Jack nods.

 

“Okay honey, but you gotta do the same,” Eric replies.  “You have to tell me if it’s too much for you.”

 

“I will,” Jack agrees quickly.

 

Eric starts with pulling his own shirt off.  Eric kisses him again, and it occurs to him that he’s feeling faintly terrified being in the lead here, because this is something he’s never done himself, just seen when he’s perused some of the darker corners of the internet.

 

He briefly thinks about faking it, but he remembers what he said to Jack in Georgia, about having to communicate, and tosses the idea.

 

“Jack.”

 

“Eric?”

 

“I—I want to do this but—” Eric flushes.

 

“You’ve never done this before?” Jack finishes.

 

“Yeah…I—I’m sorry,” Eric mumbles.

 

“Don’t be,” Jack replies, his thumb rubbing absentminded circles at the base of Eric’s neck.  “We’ll just—go slow and keep it simple, okay?”

 

Eric nods and Jack seals their mouths together.  It’s slow, languid, and lacks much of the impatient energy of before; that is, until Jack cants his hips up slightly.  His erection brushes up against Eric’s and a flash of heat rushes through his body.  Eric gasps, clinging to Jack’s shoulders tightly.

 

“That okay?” Jack asks very gently and well—he thought intimacy was supposed to make him feel good, not feel like he was melting inside.  But Jack Zimmermann is a giant teddy bear at all other times, and Eric really shouldn’t have expected anything different now.  “Eric,” Jack prods.

 

F-fuck, yeah,” Eric splutters breathlessly.

 

Jack jerks his hips up again, and Eric moans.  “Shit Jack, that feels so good,” he says, and goodness, he’s going to prattle his way through this, isn’t he?

 

“C-can you keep doing that?” Jack pauses and questions timidly.

 

“You want me to keep talkin’?”

 

“Yeah it…it makes me feel better…you’re telling me how you’re feeling,” Jack murmurs, blushing scarlet.  He’s so awkward in spite of what it is they’re doing and it’s unbearably endearing to Eric.

 

“Of course sweetheart,” Eric replies, feeling a giant swell of affection in his chest, and the only thing he can think to do in the face of it is to kiss his giant Canadian teddy bear of a boyfriend.  Jack grinds up into him as he kisses him back and—well, it’s a lot for him to handle both at the same time.

 

As he pulls his head back, Eric realizes that they’re both still wearing pants and that is ridiculous.

 

“Jack.  Do you think—” Eric has to pause as Jack rocks into him forcefully.  “Pants,” is all he can get out after.

 

“Yeah,” Jack pants in reply, reaching a hand down in between them, fumbling with the button of Eric’s jeans.  After a full minute and a half of clumsy grappling with it, Eric rolls off and stands up, doing it himself because at this rate, they’ll get nowhere.  Out of the corner of his eye, he can see Jack lick his lips at the sight of him only in his underwear, and Eric flushes darkly, overwhelmed by desire.

 

He climbs back onto Jack, his legs on either side of Jack’s thighs as he undoes Jack’s pants.  He slides them off, accidentally taking Jack’s boxers with them.

 

“S-sor—” he starts to say, but he’s silenced quickly by the sight of Jack completely naked underneath him.  Now that he’s truly looking for the first time, he understands why Shitty calls him an Adonis because wow, is his body hot.  Eric’s cock twitches, and he’s somehow more aroused as he stares, open-mouthed.

 

“I’m not sorry,” he says after a few long seconds, crawling up to kiss Jack, feeling his dick drag against Eric’s body as he moves.

 

“Shouldn’t be,” Jack says.  “It’s yours and only yours to look at like this any time you want to.”

 

“Good Lord, he’s romantic even during sex,” Eric mutters to himself.  “Just what am I going to do with you Jack Zimmermann?”

 

“Whatever you want,” Jack smirks, and god that’s sexy as fuck.

 

He quickly shucks off his briefs and starts grinding their bare cocks together.

 

“Fuck, this feels amazin’ Jack,” Eric groans.  Jack reaches up and grabs his hips, stilling him.

 

“You want to try something else?” Jack questions.

 

Eric could come just from doing this, it feels so incredible, but he’s honestly up for a lot of what Jack might suggest, so he nods.

 

“Here,” Jack says, sitting up.  He guides Eric’s legs to go around his hips and pulls him forward until their lengths are brushing up against each other.  He gives Jack a questioning look, and Jack reaches down between them, grabbing both their cocks in one hand, slowly pumping his fist up and down.

 

“Oh my God, Jack,” Eric gasps, burying his head into the crook of Jack’s neck.  His mouth disconnects from his brain and he starts babbling nonsense about how fucking amazing this feels.  The heat of Jack’s hand around him, the underside of his dick rubbing against Jack’s, the way Jack’s other hand traces up and down the plane of his back; it’s all overwhelming him in the best way possible.  He’s so caught up in it all that his orgasm hits him without much more than a second’s warning.

 

“Jack,” he tries to say in warning, but it gets lost in a long moan as he comes, spurting all over their stomachs and chests and Jack’s hand.  Jack lets out a few curses in Québécois, and then he follows with a strangled cry.  He strokes through it, and Eric starts coming down as he removes his hand and collapses back onto the couch, pulling Eric down with him.

 

For a long few minutes, the only sound to be heard in the apartment is their own breathing and the occasional rumbles of cars on the street a few floors below.

 

“Uh…so I guess…welcome to Providence?” Jack says.

 

Eric barks out a laugh in surprise, because that was a very Jack thing to say as a follow up to their first time having sex.  “That was one heckuva welcome, honey.”

 

“Well, you know…after teasing you a few days ago it’s…it’s all I’ve been able to think about,” Jack mumbles shyly, blushing bright red.  Eric loves it when he gets shy and blushy, because it’s a side of himself that Jack doesn’t ever let anyone else see.

 

“What’s this, the hockey robot can think about something other than hockey?” Eric chirps, brushing his thumb over the mark he left on Jack’s shoulder.

 

“Must’ve been in the new software update,” Jack replies good-naturedly.

 

Eric crawls up so that he can kiss Jack.  “I thought about this a lot too,” he says softly.  “That—it was incredible Jack, thank you.”

 

“Did—did you just thank me for having sex with you?” Jack chuckles heartily.

 

“Yes, and if you keep laughin’ at me, you can count on it not happenin’ again!” Eric grumbles, moving to stand up.

 

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Jack says, wrapping his arms around Eric and gently pinning him to his chest.  “I’m glad it was good for you.”

 

Eric hums, and he’s now becoming distinctly aware of the stickiness between them and how he smells like airplane, and he groans.  “Can I use your shower,” he asks with a sigh.

 

“Sure,” Jack answers, releasing Eric from his arms.  “Bathroom is at the end of the hall.”

 

Eric quickly pecks Jack’s lips again and then gathers up his clothes, blushing because he’s very aware that Jack is check him out as he does.  He’s two steps down the hallway (and he might be throwing a little extra motion in his hips when he steps because, hey, he’s little bit of a showoff, and his booty has gotten to be looking pretty good) when he hears Jack call out “You want me to join you?”

 

“As much as I’d love that honey,” Eric calls back, “if you join me, I ain’t gonna be gettin’ clean.  But don’t you fret, we’ll get to that later.”

 

“Okay,” he hears Jack laugh.  “Still keeping up with those squats I see.”

 

“You bet I have been,” Eric says, feeling smug at how Jack seems to be enjoying the view of his ass.  He takes the last few strides to the bathroom extra slowly, giving Jack chance to look for as long as possible.

 

Eric takes a pretty long shower, mostly because he needs a few minutes to gather his wits about him.  When he’s done, he walks back out to the living room, where Jack has already cleaned himself up and gotten dressed again.

 

He stands up, giving him a lopsided grin as he walks over and grabs his hand, leading him to what Eric thinks is the kitchen; Eric’s jaw drops to the floor when it comes into full view.  Wide expanses of granite countertops, a multitude of beautifully stained wood cabinets, a state-of-the-art microwave, a top-of-the-line oven, a stove top with six—six!—burners, and a Kitchen-Aid stand mixer to top it all off.

 

Not only was it the best kitchen Eric’s ever had the privilege of setting foot in, as he walks around and opens the various drawers and cabinets, he finds the most extensive array of cooking utensils he’s ever seen, all from the top (and not to mention expensive) brands in cooking and baking.  Quite simply put, it has everything Eric might ever possibly want or need.

 

“You like it?” Jack inquires after Eric’s had a few moments to (frankly) drool over the space, scratching the back of his neck anxiously.

 

“Oh my word, Jack, this is—it’s incredible,” Eric whispers, looking up at Jack and, good Lord, he’s tearing up over a kitchen.

 

“I…well most of the stuff…I don’t even know what it does,” Jack mumbles, flushing darkly.  “But uh…the person who was helping me said you’d probably need most of it so…”

 

Eric glides his hand over the smooth, glittering surface of the island in the middle of the kitchen, feeling completely overwhelmed.  He wants to kiss Jack senseless, smack him for spending so much money on him, and also cry over the fact that Jack has basically given him his dream kitchen, all at the same time.

 

He opts for options one and three, striding over to Jack and pushing up on his tiptoes to press his lips softly to Jack’s, crying as he does.  After a few minutes of passionate kissing, he pulls away, and still manages to say, “You didn’t have to spend all this money on me.”

 

Jack smiles sheepishly, hearts almost literally in his eyes as he replies, “What else was I going to do with it?”

 

“Oh Lord, I have to bake somethin’ right this second!” Eric exclaims, because honestly, he doesn’t have an answer to Jack’s question, and emotionally, it’s too much for him right now to dwell on the fact that Jack’s first thought of what to do with his extra money was to spend it on him.

 

“There’s uh…I went out and got everything I remembered you needing to make maple-crusted apple,” Jack says shyly, his index finger tracing aimless patterns in the granite countertop.

 

“What happened to the one I sent?” Eric asks, because according to the tracking information, it arrived two days ago, and he’s going to be really pissed if it didn’t.

 

“I sort of already…ate it?”

 

“Oh…oh my goodness, Jack!  Your nutritionist is goin’ to have a fit!” Eric says, clutching his heart.  He doesn’t need to be making enemies on the Falconers already.

 

“It’s…this is going to sound stupid but…” Jack pauses, ducking his head and nervously wringing his hands.  “I don’t know…it kinda felt like you were here in some way…so when I started eating I…couldn’t stop?”

 

“Bless your heart,” Eric giggles.  “I’m thinkin’ that might be just about the sweetest thing anyone’s ever said ‘bout one of my pies.”

 

Jack smiles and leans over to kiss him, and for a brief second, Eric wonders if they’re on the verge of breaking some kind of domestic cuteness limit with the way they're acting, but then they’re kissing again and he doesn’t actually care.

 

It takes a long while, but eventually they break apart, and Eric gets to work making the pie for Jack, listening intently as Jack talks about the plan for the week.

 

“…I have practice tomorrow and Thursday.  And I was thinking maybe tomorrow…you might want to come along?  Meet the guys maybe?” Jack asks from his vantage point of stool on the other side of the island from Eric.  “I…apparently I talk about you a lot and they…they really want to meet you.”

 

“Aww Jack, you talk to your new friends about me,” Eric coos teasingly.

 

“Shut up,” Jack murmurs, his face reddening.

 

“Jack Zimmermann,” Eric says, putting a hand on his hip and shaking his wooden spoon threateningly for effect.  “You do not get to come into my kitchen and tell me to shut up.”

 

Your kitchen?”

 

“Yes, my kitchen Jack,” Eric responds, blushing slightly at the slip of his tongue, but it’s not like what he said was really untrue.  “This may be your apartment, but this is my kitchen!  And until you can name at least two-thirds of the things here, it’ll stay that way!”

 

“Yes sir,” Jack says, the corners of his lips curving up in amusement.

 

“Sir?” Eric rolls his eyes.  “What am I, my father?  I swear, Mr. Zimmermann, do you want this pie, or not?”

 

Jack makes a show of clamping his jaw shut noisily, and there’s silence for a while.

 

“But, do you want to?” Jack eventually asks.

 

“I’m imaginin’ they’ll be seein’ a lot of me, so I don’t why I wouldn’t,” Eric shrugs.  “They might as well start gettin’ to know me.”

 

“I was also thinking that maybe on Wednesday we’d go down to Boston and visit Shitty and Lardo,” Jack adds after another long lull.

 

“Yeah, that would be lovely,” Eric muses.  He hasn’t heard much from either of them since graduation, and it’d be nice to catch up.  “Might also be a good time to break the news, though they’ll probably be wantin’ to hurt us for waitin’ so long to tell 'em.”

 

“Yeah,” Jack murmurs in agreement.  “But anyway…that’s all I was thinking we would do.”

 

“Sound like enough,” Eric says, rolling out his dough to start forming the crust for the pie.  “I don’t want to add much more, ‘cause while I'm sure there are interestin' things to do, no offense to the city of Providence, but that ain’t what I’m here for.”

 

“That’s not why I asked you to come here either,” Jack replies, flashing him that lethal smirk again.

 

Eric grabs a dish towel and swats at him.  “You stop that right now, Jack Zimmermann, or else this pie’ll never get done!”

 

“I guess I’ll just go,” Jack says, and there’s a mischievous gleam in his eye as he opens his mouth again.  “Can’t have you burning any more pies, can we?”

 

“The mouth on you, I swear!” Eric exclaims, grabbing handful of flour and throwing it at Jack.  Most of it ends up on the floor and countertop.

 

“You have terrible aim,” Jack chuckles.

 

“Well flour ain’t that good for throwin’!” Eric argues.  “I would kick that big ass of yours if we were throwin’ anythin’ else!”

 

“We don’t have anything else to throw,” Jack grins, stepping forward toward the open flour container.

 

“Oh no you don’t,” Eric says, grabbing another handful and tossing it.  It hits Jack square in the chest, but it doesn’t slow his advance, and Eric starts giggling as he grabs the container and retreats.  Jack scoops up some of the flour that landed on the counter and playfully chases after him.

 

By the time their done, half the flour has ended up on the floor, on them, and in their hair, but it comes to halt when Jack finally catches up with him.  Jack drops some flour down his shirt, and then hefts him up onto the counter.  Eric finds that it’s hard to kiss when he can’t stop smiling, but somehow, he manages.  As a result of Jack’s antics though, it’s a long time before the pie actually gets done.


 

The next day, Eric goes in with Jack to the rink, and spends most of practice sitting on the away bench, watching through fanned fingers covering his eyes.  NHL practices are rougher than most college games, and he can’t help cringing every time someone slams into Jack.  The hits in NHL games have never bothered him before, but it will now that he knows that Jack will be on the receiving end of them.  It’s going to be hard for Eric to watch games this season, he can tell.

 

When it’s over, Eric finally lowers his hand and catches up with Jack as he trudges off the ice, following him into the locker room with all the other Falconers.  Everyone is eyeing him suspiciously, and Eric is unnerved, because he can’t tell what they’re thinking about him.  He doesn’t know why, until the first teammate approaches him.  He’s a tall—well, everyone here is tall to Eric—dark-skinned man (Eric thinks he was #67).

 

“I’m sorry for being weird bro, but—you wouldn’t happen to be Bitty, would you?” he asks.

 

Eric swallows and glances over at Jack for support.  He gives Eric an encouraging look, so Eric nods.

 

“GUYS!” the man bellows.  “GUYS, WE FINALLY HAVE EYES ON BITTY!”

 

Half the locker room perks up, and Eric is a little frightened by how fast they respond to his name.

 

“Come on Jordy,” Jack sighs, putting his hand on the small of Eric’s back.  “Tone it down man, you’re going to scare him.”

 

“Oh man, I’m sorry,” Jordy says, holding out his hand.  “I'm Jordan Lee, right wing.”

 

“Eric B-Bittle,” Eric stutters, shaking his hand hesitantly.  He doesn’t like how many eyes are on him, and the only reason he isn’t freaking out is because Jack is right there, his hand on Eric’s back a calming show of support.

 

“Dude, it’s nice to finally meet you,” Jordy grins.  “I’m sorry about scaring you but like—Jack never shuts up about you, and everyone has been so anxious to meet his mysterious ‘Bitty’.”

 

“Shut the fuck up Jordy,” Jack quips quietly.  “I talk about things other than Eric.”

 

“Brah,” a blond haired guy cuts in.  “If you’re not talking about hockey, you’re literally talking about Bitty.”

 

Eric blinks at the new addition to the conversation, at the same time he’s feeling a surge of affection for Jack.  He takes a second to catch Jack’s eye, and Jack’s cheeks redden as Eric grins at him.

 

“Oh by the way, I’m Sam Phillips, third line center, but you can call me Philly,” the blond haired man adds.

 

“Is that Philly as in Phillips?” Eric questions, because that’s not the first nickname he would’ve come up with for Sam Phillips.

 

“Sort of,” Philly laughs.  “My last team called me Sammy, but these guys like Philly cause I’m from Philly, and plus they think it’s hysterical that my last name is also Phillips.”

 

As he’s talking, two other guys, one a towering man (at least as tall as Holster, if not taller) with auburn hair and the other shorter, but still very tall man, with dark brown hair and a chipped front tooth come over to join the crowd.

 

“Is hysterical,” the one with the chipped tooth says in a distinct, very thick Russian accent.

 

“Hey, you can’t give him flak for complaining about his nickname, Micky,” the other snorts, looking at Micky with a fondly exasperated expression.

 

“I tell you, Hailer is better nickname!” Micky argues, punching the other man in the shoulder.  “Hailer like storm.  Micky like mouse.  Storm more scary than mouse!”

 

“Isn’t it time you give that up man?  It’s literally been years, and you’re still fighting this,” auburn hair chortles, tossing an arm around Micky, leaning into him heavily.  “Besides, how many times have we had to tell you that you can’t pick your nickname?”

 

“Yeah dude, you’re stuck with it, whether you like it or not!” Jordy pipes up.

 

“And why don’t you want a nickname that fits with mine?” the guy whines.  “I think Marky and Micky has a nice ring to it,” he adds, winking at Micky.

 

“Yo, can you save the defensemen bickering for later?” Jordy groans, making Eric giggle.  Marky and Micky are, personality-wise, almost carbon copies of Ransom and Holster, and it makes sense that they’re d-men.  Of course, while R&H are inseparable, Marky and Micky seem to be sticking much closer to each other than R&H do, and plus there was that wink when Marky mentioned something about their names having a “ring to it” and…oh.  Eric wonders if anyone else knows, or if he’s just picking up on it because he’s an outsider.

 

“Wait, wait, Bitty,” Philly interjects, interrupting Eric’s sudden realization.  “This one,” he continues, jerking his thumb in the direction of Jack, “won’t tell us what he college nickname was, and no one can come up with any good ones.  So brah, you gotta clue us in!”

 

Eric laughs.  “Sorry to disappoint y’all,” he says, turning to Jack.  “But Jack didn’t have one.”

 

“Seriously?!” Philly exclaims, clearly crestfallen that Eric doesn’t have a nickname for him.

 

“I swear he didn’t!” Eric replies, already feeling at ease with this group of guys.  “And anyway, what makes you think I’d sell out a fellow wellie like that?”

 

“Wait, what the fuck is a wellie?” Marky inquires, brow furrowing in confusion.

 

“Shut up Marky, we gotta focus!” Philly retorts, smacking Marky on the shoulder.

 

“Everyone here crazy,” Micky says, sitting down on the other side of Eric as Philly, Jordy and Marky all start bickering over…something.  Eric glances over at Micky, watching his eyes as he follows—yeah, he’s definitely watching Marky only—and his expression—oh boy, Eric is definitely spot-on with them.

 

“Oh, this ain’t no worse than a normal day at the Haus,” Eric laughs, leaning back and watching the chaos unfolding before him with amusement.  Jack is staring down into his equipment bag, and Eric can’t see his face, but he can see Jack’s ears are as red as tomatoes, and it’s funny how embarrassed Jack is by his teammates.

 

“Come on guys, give the kid some space,” another voice, this one bearing a heavy French-Canadian accent like Jack’s, chimes in, pushing through the throng of people.  “You’ll all have plenty of time to talk to him at lunch.”

 

There’s some murmuring about “oh right, lunch,” and they all disperse back to their lockers.

 

“Terry Faucher.  It’s nice to meet you Eric,” he says.

 

“Did you say somethin’ about lunch?” Eric inquires, and next to him, Jack starts laughing.  “You can hush, Mr. Zimmermann!”

 

“It’s just…you were going to invite them all over, weren’t you?” Jack asks.

 

“I was gonna ask you first, but yes.”

 

“Well good,” Terry chuckles.  “I think they were all going to invite themselves over anyway.  Your pies have already become something of a—I don’t know, a holy grail, or some shit like that to these guys.”

 

“Never should’ve shared mine with them,” Jack mumbles.

 

“You could’ve just asked sweetheart,” Eric shakes his head fondly.  “I could’ve sent more just for them.”

 

“Could you though?” Terry questions.  “I can’t come around, the wife won’t be too happy if I leave her alone with Zachary for too long.”

 

“Of course,” Eric grins.  “How old is he?”

 

“Just turned three,” Terry says, beaming.

 

“Must be a real handful.”

 

“You have no idea.”

 

“Well then you best get out of here,” Eric suggests.  Terry nods, and Eric turns to the other four guys left in the locker room.  “Now for the rest of y’all come by in about an hour and we’ll be ready for ya!”

 

“An hour?!” Jordy grumbles, patting his stomach.

 

“We ain’t stocked up to host,” Eric shrugs.  “Jack and I’ll have to stop by the store on the way home.”

 

Fine,” Marky sighs as they all start to file out.

 

“We be there in hour exactly,” Micky says as he walks off with Marky.

 

“We’ll be ready then,” Eric assures him.

 

“I’m really sorry about that,” Jack says quietly when they get in the car.

 

“Oh hush, it ain’t like I ain’t used to it,” Eric giggles, grabbing Jack’s hand when he offers it up.

 

“I didn’t think I’d ever meet a team crazier than Samwell...and I haven’t but…these guys push it,” Jack explains.

 

“Oh yeah, they’re close, for sure!  But I think they’ll all be good for you,” Eric says.

 

“It’s—it’s not Samwell,” Jack shrugs.  “But it feels pretty close.”

 

Eric smiles and squeezes Jack’s hand.  “I’m glad sweetheart.”


 

The hoard of hockey players descends upon Jack’s apartment right when they said they would, not a second later, and Eric is just barely ready for them.  The whole place reverberates with loud conversations as Eric serves up sandwiches (hey, it was the best he could do on short notice) and works to get a few more pies made, while the guys eat and enjoy a few beers (which, thankfully, Eric had insisted on Jack getting).

 

The scene when they all finally get to try the pie is one Eric is quite familiar with.  There’s a lot of pornographic groaning, at least to begin with.  He watches with curiosity as Marky takes the first bite, groans, and Micky glances over at him at the sound and blushes before quickly looking away and digging into his own slice.  Every person at the table attempts to inhale the pie as quickly as possible, the purpose being to get seconds before they’re all gone.  They demolish three pies at what used to be a frightening pace to Eric, and he’s thankful that he left Jack’s maple-crusted apple in fridge.

 

“Oh my fuck Jack, man you cannot break up with him, like ever,” Philly groans.  “I’m going to die if I don’t get a steady supply of this pie.”

 

Eric and Jack freeze in place at his words, and the other three players turn to glare at Philly.

 

“Samuel Phillips, you fucking idiot,” Jordy barks, smacking Philly upside the head.  “We talked about this on the way over!”

 

“Yeah man, I thought we were going to let them tell us when they wanted to!” Marky adds sharply.

 

“Oh please,” Philly rolls his eyes.  “If we did that, they’d be like you and Micky and we’d still be waiting after three fucking years!”

 

“Dude, shut the fuck up!” Jordy shouts, pulling Philly out of his chair and dragging him out of the kitchen.

 

Eric stands there, awkwardly looking between Jack, Marky and Micky while there’s the sound of muffled arguing (and maybe a minor scuffle) coming from the living room.

 

Jack is the one to speak over the din first.  “Is…is what Philly said about you guys true?”

 

Eric starts laughing so hard he can barely breathe.  He picked up on them after five minutes, and Jack’s been training with them for months and has no clue.  “Jack, honey, you wonderfully oblivious hockey robot,” he says, gasping for air in between guffaws.

 

“What?” Jack says, his brow furrowing.

 

“This boy…” Eric wipes tears from his eyes and then drapes himself over Jack’s back.  “It took me all of five minutes to figure it out and…you’ve had months, sweetheart, months, and you have no idea.”

 

“So you are couple too, no?” Micky questions, the two men seated across the island from Jack finally starting to relax.

 

“Yeah,” Jack says, leaning back into Eric slightly.

 

“Told you they were making heart eyes at each other,” Marky says gleefully.

 

“Is…pot calling kettle black?” Micky says uncertainly, looking towards Marky for confirmation.

 

“Yeah, that’s the phrase,” Marky grins, laying a hand over Micky's.  “And you’re right, I’m not much better.”

 

“I do not make heart eyes—” Jack starts to protest.

 

“Yes you do dear,” Eric shakes his head fondly.  “You have been since before you kissed me.”

 

“How would you know?”

 

“Hindsight,” Eric shrugs.  “And Micky’s pretty bad too, in case you were wondering.”

 

Someone clears their throat, and they all turn to the entryway of the kitchen, where Jordy is pushing a very guilty looking Philly towards them.

 

“I…I’ve been informed that outing you guys like that was very uncool and could’ve been dangerous so…I’m very sorry,” Philly mumbles.

 

“Oh, come here Philly,” Marky says, waving him over.  “I accept your apology man,” he continues, tackling Philly in a bone-crushing hug that looks so fierce it makes Eric recoil slightly.

 

“I accept apology too,” Micky adds, piling on top of the two men.

 

“Don’t you dare drag me into that scrum,” Eric says lowly in warning.

 

“Wasn’t going to,” Jack answers.  “But you might want to let go.”

 

Eric rapidly removes his arms from around Jack’s torso, and Jack joins in, wrestling around roughly with the guys like he used to do with Shitty.

 

“I accept your apology as well,” Eric says when they’ve all finally stopped rolling around on the floor.

 

“I’m sorry, it’s just—you guys are all supes adorable with each other and like—half the locker room has a betting pool on whether Bitty was your significant other, and the entire locker room has a pool on Marky and Micky and it’s like—no one on the Falconers actually gives a shit,” Jordy says, sitting back down.  “And if they did, George would totally kick their ass.”

 

“Good Lord, where is Shitty when you need him,” Eric mutters.  Betting?  On people’s relationships?  Shitty would have a fit!

 

“I know, right?” Jack whispers back.

 

“But I suppose now that the secret’s out,” Marky shrugs.  “Micky and I aren’t just dating.  We got married a year and a half ago.”

 

“Brah, you mean I missed my chance at being your best man?” Jordy says, wounded.

 

“We planned to have ceremony once team knows,” Micky says.

 

“I guess we should probably start planning that, huh?” Marky laughs.

 

“Yeah.  We come out with you if you want,” Micky says, turning to Jack.

 

“What do you think honey?” Eric asks, having retaken his position hanging over Jack’s back.

 

“I…yeah, sure,” Jack shrugs, jostling Eric.

 

“You sure you want to?” Eric questions.

 

“Now’s as good a time as any,” Jack concedes.  “How about after practice on Thursday?”

 

“Sounds like a plan,” Marky grins.  Something tells Eric that he’s been waiting for this moment for a while.

 

“I’ll come along too,” Eric says, even though he figured that was a given.

 

“Please,” Jack replies.

 

“It’s gonna be a whirlwind couple of days.  The Samwell guys tomorrow, the Falconers the day after,” Eric sighs.  “You ready for this?”

 

“As ready as I’ll ever be,” Jack says, pecking Eric on the cheek.

Chapter Text

The next morning arrives with soft light streaming through the windows of Jack’s bedroom, and the sounds of quiet Québécois muttering coming from Jack. Eric opens his eyes, finding that Jack has shifted them so that Jack was sitting up, his back against the bed’s headboard, and had somehow managed to move Eric into hugging Jack's waist with Eric's head on Jack's stomach without waking him up.

 

Eric quickly closes his eyes, not wanting to alert Jack that he’s awake.  He listens to Jack’s voice, not understanding a word being said, but enjoying the soothing vibrations Jack’s low, quiet speech transfers to Eric’s head, the steady rise and fall of Jack’s chest and stomach.  Eric drinks it in, still partially in disbelief that this is something he gets to have.

 

Jack’s hand gently runs through Eric’s hair as Jack continues to talk, but the pacing and timbre of his tone changes, his breathing quickening.  Jack is getting more agitated, unsettled, and Eric is worried.

 

He frowns, rolling onto his back with an arm still around Jack’s waist, looking up at Jack’s face.  There’s a ghost of a smile that flickers across his face as he looks down at Eric, but it’s gone in a flash, replaced by a frown, which when paired with the paleness of his face, and the panic in his icy blue eyes, is concerning and frightening at the same time.

 

“Yé réveillé, faut que j'racroche,” Jack mutters, then pauses as whoever it is replies.  “Yeah, merci.  Bye.”

 

It’s no wonder that Jack seems upset; conversations with his dad rarely ever go well, at least in Eric’s experience.

 

“Mornin’ Jack,” Eric murmurs, his voice still low and rough from sleepiness.  His brow is knitted tightly in concern, as he moves so that he’s sitting up with Jack.

 

Jack bends over and places a gentle kiss onto the top of Eric’s head.  “Hey,” he whispers, an arm wrapping around Eric’s shoulders.  Eric reaches over to grab Jack’s other hand, squeezing it gently while Jack keeps his nose buried in his hair.

 

Eric checks Jack’s alarm clock, sitting on his nightstand (and yes, Jack still has an actual alarm clock, instead of using his phone as his alarm like normal people do).  It’s 7:34 AM, much earlier than they had talked about getting up.

 

“I thought we were sleepin’ in today, sweetheart,” Eric remarks, chuckling softly because by sleeping in, that meant they’d be getting up at 8:30 as opposed to Jack’s usual wake up time of 7:00.  They might have stayed in bed even later, depending on how the morning went.  Eric was hoping that they’d stay in bed longer, but if Jack’s mood was any indicator, that wasn’t likely to happen.

 

“It’s um…well there was some…some pretty big news that just uh…my papa just told me about,” Jack says quietly, and Eric straightens up, fearing the worst.  Jack just got off the phone with his dad, and now he’s telling Eric that there’s big news.  Eric isn’t sure what that means, but the worst-case scenarios are that they were outed, or that someone in Jack’s family died.

 

“Honey, what’s goin’ on?” Eric asks, trying to stay calm as he gives Jack’s hand another soft squeeze.

 

“Kent uh…” Jack starts to say, and then stops.

 

Eric’s blood runs cold at the name.  In the over two years Eric’s known Jack, nothing good has ever come as a result of Kent Parson.  From the simple mention of his name, to the time that Kent showed up to Samwell unannounced, Jack has never reacted well to anything Kent Parson.  Eric wonders how Kent managed to screw things up for Jack, again.

 

“Kent was traded to the Falcs,” Jack finishes, and Eric’s stomach drops.

 

“What?” he says blankly, pawing around for his phone.

 

“Kent was traded to the Falconers,” Jack repeats, sighing into Eric’s hair and sending a shiver down Eric’s spine.

 

“That—no, that can’t be right,” Eric mumbles as he pulls up the ESPN app on his phone.  Kent is the Ace’s captain, a Stanley Cup winner, and Eric distinctly remembers that Kent had signed a new seven year, $54 million extension with the Aces just this off-season.  There’s no way—

 

That train of thought stops dead in its tracks as Eric sees the bright red banner at the top of the app, the words Parson Traded to Providence in white block lettering.  Reluctantly, Eric clicks the article and begins to read.

 


 

BREAKING: Kent Parson to Providence

AP, August 5th, 2015

In a move that has shocked and astonished the world of professional hockey, Kent Parson, captain of the Las Vegas Aces and Stanley Cup winner, has been traded to the Providence Falconers.

 

Details of the trade are still being confirmed at the time this article was written, but it is reported that in exchange for Parson, the Falconers have traded 34 year old captain Terry Faucher, their first and second round picks in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, their first round pick in the 2017 draft, and a rumored $10 million in cash.

 

It’s a hefty price to pay for Parson, but given his star caliber, it’s unlikely that any less would’ve facilitated Parson’s departure from Las Vegas.  When asked this morning in the press conference that announced the trade, Falconers GM Brian Jackson was unconcerned by the price tag accompanying Parson:

 

“I think it’s a move that makes sense for the franchise.  We’ve already worked very hard to create a great core of players for our team, and those players are locked up for the next few years at a relatively low cost.  With the extra cap space available, it seemed like a sensible move to use that cap space to bring a proven winner onto the roster.  With (Jack) Zimmermann already on our roster, we believe that this move to bring Parson in is the last piece needed to elevate Providence to a championship level.”

 

The loss of draft picks seems the more concerning loss for the future of the franchise, but Jackson doesn’t appear to be concerned:

 

“We’ll cross the bridge regarding draft picks when we get there.  Right now, the focus is on this season, and I really love the chances of the Falconers playing for the cup, come the end of the season.”

 

Parson is a star player, and the history Parson and Zimmermann have together will certainly be invaluable to the Falconers franchise, but the “great core of players” that Jackson refers to is largely the roster that finished 27-40-15 last season, meaning that the Falconers roster is still pocked with holes beyond the now star-packed first line.  Without solid second and third lines, it seems highly unlikely that this season will be much different from the last, even with the addition of Parson.


 

 

Kent Parson is on the Falconers.  Jack’s team.  Eric’s knowledge of Kent Parson and his relationship to Jack is still quite limited, but the words Kent had said to Jack at Epikegster are still burned into Eric’s brain.

 

Fucked up.  Not good enough.  Worthless.

 

All Kent had done was try to tear Jack down.  Sure, Eric doesn’t know anything about Kent’s past with Jack, but what he said was enough to convince Eric that Kent had no right to have anything to do with Jack.  And now Kent was on Jack’s team.  Now Jack had to see Kent every day.

 

“I—did you know this was comin’?” Eric questions, his voice strong as rage starts to bubble up inside him.

 

“No,” Jack shakes his head, squeezing his eyes shut.  “I…I didn’t hear anything.”

 

Eric is furious.  Players usually have some insider knowledge about trades, but it seems like no one did in this case.  This was such a huge move that the Falconers made, and no one—no one—thought to talk to the players—to talk to Jack about it.

 

“That’s—how come no one had any idea this was goin’ to happen?” Eric asks, his tone sharp and harsh.

 

Jack shrugs.  “I don’t know.”

 

“It…well, it’s not that important to know right now,” Eric replies, stopping to take a deep breath before he launches off into an angry rant.  It would definitely make him feel better, but this isn’t about him.  It’s about Jack, and Eric getting angrier than he already is will do nothing to help Jack.

 

“Are you alright honey?” he inquires after he’s had a moment to calm down.

 

Jack grips Eric tighter.  “I…I’m not sure.”

 

Jack’s phone rings suddenly, and Jack tenses up.  He untangles his hand from Eric’s, reaching down to grab the device.  He looks at the screen.  “It’s just Shitty,” Jack sighs in relief as he answers it, putting it on speaker before dropping back into the blanket wrapped around them.

 

“Brah.  Brah,” Eric hears Shitty’s enraged voice, muffled slightly by the soft fleece.

 

“Hey Shits,” Jack says unevenly, weaving his fingers back between Eric’s.

 

Fuck I can’t—did you know this was going to happen?” Shitty asks, sounding nearly as outraged as Eric feels.

 

“I…no Shitty, I didn’t,” Jack answers, his voice shaky and barely above a whisper.

 

“I—shit, I cannot believe they would do this to you!” Shitty exclaims, and it’s a good thing the phone is on speaker, or else that exclamation likely would’ve burst one of Jack’s eardrums.

 

“I can’t believe it either,” Eric laments in agreement.  Everything about the Falconers seemed so great when they were helping Jack through his decision-making process.  But it’s like Eric’s mama used to say: Dicky, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

 

Fuck, Bits?  Is that you?”

 

“Yeah Shitty, it’s me,” Eric answers, and he briefly wonders how Shitty could think anyone else would be staying with Jack, until Eric remembers that they haven’t told him they’re dating yet.

 

“Oh my fucking God, thank fuck there’s someone there with him,” Shitty says, sounding somewhat mollified.  “Listen Jack, I’ll be right there as soon as I fuck can—”

 

“You have class,” Jack replies flatly (why Harvard’s classes start so early, Eric has no idea…).

 

“Fuck class,” Shitty retorts breathlessly.  It sounds like Shitty has been rushing around his apartment to find clothes (and he probably was, Eric thinks).  “You’re way more fucking important.”

 

“It’s the first week,” Jack argues.

 

Shitty groans.  “Jack, brah, I don’t actually give a fuck.”

 

“Bitty is here,” Jack responds.

 

“Oh,” Shitty says, and then is quiet for a few seconds.  If he were in the room with them, he’d be blinking rapidly as his eyes flit back and forth between them.  Shitty starts chuckling, a low rumble that his phone barely catches.  “Bitty, huh?  Finally figured it out, I see.”

 

“It—but I never told you anything,” Jack mutters, blushing all the way from the base of his neck up to the tips of his ears.

 

“You didn’t have to,” Shitty says, and Eric can hear his eye roll through the phone.  “You two may have been oblivious to each other, but it was hard for me to miss.  Brah, you would like, light up like a Christmas tree any time Bitty walked into a room.”

 

Eric giggles.  “Jack ‘Heart-Eyes’ Zimmermann.”

 

“Bits, brah, that’s exactly it!  I know you man, and maybe everyone else did, but I didn’t miss it.”

 

“I was not making heart eyes,” Jack mumbles, grinning slightly as he nuzzles his head softly into Eric’s.

 

“Sweetheart, didn’t we have this conversation yesterday?” Eric says, still giggling.

 

“Whatever,” Jack murmurs.  Jack is embarrassed, and it’s absolutely adorable and endearing.

 

“You seriously were brah,” Shitty answers.  “But anyway, we’re off-topic.  You sure you don’t need me to come there?”

 

Jack nods, and after a moment, realizes Shitty can’t see him, and says, “Yeah.”

 

“Well alright brah,” Shitty sighs.  “But you’ll call me if you need me, right?”

 

“Yeah Shits, of course I will,” Jack answers.

 

“That goes for you too Bits,” Shitty adds.

 

“I promise I will Shitty,” Eric replies.  He hopes he won’t have to, but sometimes it takes more than one person to—handle isn’t the right word, but that’s basically it—it takes more than one person to handle Jack when he’s at his worst.

 

“Okay.  Hang in there guys,” Shitty says, and then ends the call.

 

“So…what do we do now?” Eric says, blowing out a breath.  He knows that what he wants to do is to go into the kitchen and bake, but this is Jack’s ordeal, and Eric is going to let him take the lead on how he’s going to deal with it.

 

“I—I don’t have practice but…”

 

“Yeah, let’s go,” Eric says, smiling softly.  Hockey is Jack’s sanctuary, so of course that’s what he’s going to want to do in order to process this.  Eric feels at home on the ice too, albeit in a different way, but it’ll be at least as calming to him as he hopes it will be to Jack.


 

The ice is empty when they get there, and Eric skates out with Jack (he brought his skates to Providence just in case, and now he’s super glad he has them), sticks in hand as Jack carries a bucket of pucks.  They work on skating drills, practice their shooting on an empty net, and then they do some more skating drills.  Just as their finishing doing some suicides taking a few more shots on goal, Georgia steps out of the tunnel, standing up against the boards at the edge of the ice.

 

“Jack,” she calls.  Jack quickly slaps another puck towards the net before he turns and skates over to her.  Eric trails closely behind, even though George didn’t call for him.  He figures that if he’s not supposed to hear this, one of them can shoo him away.

 

“I’m sorry,” she says quietly when Jack skitters to halt in front of her.

 

The line of Jack’s shoulders, which had been steadily falling the longer they practiced, shoots back up, the muscles in Jack’s neck tensely bulging up.  “Did you know?” Jack asks in his even, measured tone that he only ever uses when he’s trying not to explode and snap at someone.

 

George shakes her head vigorously.  “I swear to God I didn’t know.  No one in the entire organization knew, except for Brian.  He totally went rogue, and Marco is beyond pissed.”

 

Eric covers his mouth to suppress a gasp.  Marco Hernandez, the goddamn owner of the Falconers, didn’t know that the GM was going to trade for Kent?  That’s…oh Lord, that’s bad.

 

Jack’s eyebrows arch.  “You’re kidding,” he replies.

 

“I wish I was,” George sighs, pinching the bridge of her nose.  “But no, Marco had no idea and he—Brian stepped away from the press conference and was immediately fired.  Marco has told him repeatedly that he doesn’t wish to make personnel decisions, but he wants to be kept in the loop.  And Brian just—he wants to do everything on his own.”

 

Eric frowns; that would’ve been useful information to have back when Jack was in the process of choosing the team he was going to sign with.

 

“He’s gone rogue before,” George continues.  “So this was simply the last straw.  The deal for Kent is done and finalized.  We can’t go back on it, but the good news is it won’t happen again.”

 

“Merde,” Jack swears.  “How can you guarantee that?”

 

“Because you’re looking at the new GM for the Providence Falconers,” George answers nonchalantly.

 

A corner of Jack’s mouth twitches up slightly, and Eric grins.  Eric doesn’t know much about George, but Jack trusts her whole-heartedly.  So the news that she’s now the one totally in charge is definitely good news.  Jack having someone he trusts at the top is going to be a huge positive.

 

“Congratulations,” Eric says, stepping forward and extending his hand to George.

 

“Thank you Eric,” George says, beaming.  She looks so happy that she’s practically glowing.

 

“Making history, eh?” Jack adds, shaking George’s hand as well.  Eric suddenly realizes just how huge of a deal this is, because it makes Georgia Martin the first female GM in NHL history.  “It’s great, congratulations.”

 

“Thank you Jack.”

 

“Oh goodness, I wish I had a pie to give you!” Eric exclaims, because this is certainly a pie-worthy moment.

 

“Some other time maybe,” she says, as Jack chuckles at him. 

 

“Oh hush,” Eric says, smacking his arm lightly in response.

 

“Anyway, I have to get going.  First day on the job and I’m already doing damage control,” she adds, shaking her head.  “Firing the GM right after he executes a blockbuster trade isn’t exactly the best reflection on the organization.”

 

Both Eric and Jack nod in agreement.

 

“I just happened to see that you were here and I wanted to stop by and see how you were doing,” George says, clapping Jack on the arm.

 

“It’s…rough,” Jack shrugs.  “But I’ll…”

 

Jack pauses and then put an arm around Eric.  “We’ll figure it out.”

 

“I’m glad Eric’s here then,” George smiles knowingly.  “And be sure to call if you need anything, if there’s any—issues—with Kent.  I may be the head honcho here now, but my main focus is still on the players, especially you, so never be afraid to contact me.”

 

“Thanks George,” Jack says with a small smile as George turns and exits the ice.

 

“Don’t mention it,” George says, waving over her shoulder.

 

She’s barely disappeared from view when they hear another voice call out, on the opposite side of the ice from where George departed.  The voice, though Eric’s only heard it in person once before, is unmistakable, and it grates on his ears.  Jack winces, the smile disappearing from his face and the color quickly draining away.

 

“I had a feeling you’d be here, Zimms,” he says.

 

Kent.

 

“Parse,” Jack says, clenching his jaw as he turns around.

 

Kent skates across the smooth ice, easy and almost graceful, sliding to a stop in front of Jack with a flourish.

 

“I can’t believe I’m actually here,” he says, smirking as he glances around at the empty arena.

 

“I can’t believe you’re here either,” Jack mutters bitterly under his breath, subtly moving so that he’s slightly ahead of Eric, not exactly shielding him from Kent, but still putting himself in between Kent and Eric.

 

“Zimms and Parse, together again,” Kent sighs, and he seems…happy, which he has no right to be.  He doesn’t get to waltz back into Jack’s life after what he said and be happy about it.  Just the smile on Kent’s face makes Eric’s blood boil.  “Just like old times,” Kent continues.

 

“No,” Jack snaps instantly.  “We’re nothing like we were back then.”

 

“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” Kent concedes coolly, his thumbs slipping into the pockets of his jeans.  “I’m better than I was back then.”

 

“So am I, no thanks to you,” Jack retorts sharply.

 

“Yeah, those four years of college hockey really did you good Zimms,” Kent says…sincerely, which is strange, especially coming from Kent.  Every reporter, every player—almost everyone around hockey talks about Jack’s college days like they were a joke, or just some intermediate step between the Q and the NHL.  For Kent to act like he respects Jack’s college hockey, when, for all Eric knows, he may very well be part of the reason that Jack was playing there in the first place, makes no sense.

 

“Thanks,” Jack replies grudgingly, apparently seeing it the way Eric is seeing it; as a compliment, rather than a dig at Jack.

 

“Hey, it’s uh…Eric, right?” Kent asks immediately after, leaning over to look at Eric around Jack.

 

“Uh…yes,” Eric says hesitantly, because they’ve only ever met once, during Epikegster.  There’s no way Kent remembers him from that, because if he did, he can’t imagine he would even bother being this nice to him.

 

“Yeah…yeah, I remember you from that party,” Kent chuckles which…okay, Kent does remember Epikegster…so why is he being so nice?

 

“I’m kind of surprised to see you here,” Kent adds.

 

“I’m just visitin’ Jack while I have the chance, before school starts,” Eric drawls, eyeing Kent suspiciously, because something about Kent isn’t adding up.  “Jack is my friend.”

 

“Uh-huh, sure, ‘friend’,” Kent replies, rolling his eyes.  “Neither of you are exactly subtle, I’m just saying.  You know I won’t blab to the press or anything, you can tell me.”

 

“I know you wouldn’t Parse,” Jack responds brusquely, like he doesn’t actually believe Kent.  “But it’s none of your business.”

 

“Aha!” Kent shouts.  “That’s as good as a confession!”

 

Parse—” Jack growls warningly.

 

“What does it matter if he knows?” Eric interjects calmly, putting a hand on Jack’s shoulder.  He’s just as untrusting of Kent as Jack, but they’re planning on telling the Falconers tomorrow anyw—

 

“I’m not sure that it’s a good time anymore,” Jack answers, looking apologetically at Eric over his shoulder.

 

“Jack, I thought we—”

 

“Whoa, I didn’t mean to start anything!” Kent shouts over them, throwing his hands up.

 

“Congratulations Parse, you did any—”

 

“Well, if it isn’t Kent Parson, in the flesh!”

 

They all immediately turn to see who spoke and interrupted the brewing argument between Jack and Kent.  Bitty probably owes him pie, because the last thing he wanted to see today was Jack and Kent getting into a fight already.

 

It’s one of Jack’s teammates that Eric really hasn’t had the chance to talk with yet; he doesn’t even remember the guy’s name (his mama would be so disappointed in him).  But he’s about 6’3”, with curly brown hair that falls just past his ears, and wide, bright green eyes.

 

“I must say, photos are quite literally not capable of capturing just how truly easy on the eyes you are, Mr. Parson,” he says when he skates over, and Kent—Eric’s jaw almost drops to the ice when Kent blushes in response.

 

“I uh—well um—thanks?” Kent says, scratching the back of his neck as he looks down at his skates.  “But uh I…I don’t know what you’re t-talking about…cause I just got off the plane like…a half hour ago…so…”

 

The other man grins crookedly.  “Jeez, you look like this straight off a plane?  C’mon Parser, you gotta give the rest of us mortals a chance.”

 

“I’ll um…I’ll try?” Kent mumbles shyly.  Eric has to stifle a giggle at how fast Kent has gone from self-assured to bumbling idiot.

 

“That’s the spirit man,” he replies, smacking Kent on the shoulder.  “I’m Mathew Cole, by the way, but you can call me Coleslaw—”

 

Eric can’t suppress a gag at the mention of the dish.

 

“I know, right?” Coleslaw chortles.  “I hate it too, but I can’t convince anyone to change my nickname.”

 

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Eric replies, shaking his head.

 

“Nah man, it’s cool,” Coleslaw shrugs before turning back to Kent.  “Anyway, it’s nice to meet you Parse,” he says, shooting the other man the toothiest (and goofiest) smile Eric’s ever seen.  “I look forward to playing with you.”

 

“I uh…yeah…you too,” Kent says as Coleslaw skates off to the other end of the ice, and Eric doesn’t miss the way Kent’s eyes follow Coleslaw as he skates slow warm-up circles.

 

Eric can’t help himself, the chirp out of his mouth before he can stop it.  “You have it bad Kent,” he says, still trying to get a handle on his giggles.

 

“I d-do not!  H-how could I!  I just m-met him!” Kent protests ardently, but the fact that he’s blushing and badly stumbling over his words contradicts him.

 

Jack wordless raises an eyebrow at Kent, an amused look on his face for the first time since Kent showed up.

 

“You know, I don’t have to take this from you two,” Kent groans, but he doesn’t skate off.

 

There’s a long awkward pause between the three of them, Kent’s eyes flitting back and forth between him and Jack.  Eric studies Kent, trying to get a beat on him, because he’s confused.  The image he had of Kent from Epikegster just doesn’t match up with the person standing in front of him.

 

“Hey so uh…” Kent speaks up, breaking the silence.  “How are the Falconers with…y’know…you guys?  I mean, I’m guess they’re probably okay because you two were going to tell them but…I was…y’know…out with the Aces and I don’t—I don’t want to go back in.”

 

Jack frowns, his brow furrowing.  “You told the Aces?”

 

“Well, yeah,” Kent shrugs.  “There’s only so many times you can get away with being caught feeling up another guy at a bar.”

 

“So you…you outed yourself?” Jack asks.

 

“I guess that’s one way to look at it,” Kent admits.  “And at first I was scared, but it ended up being fine.  The guys there were cool with it.”

 

“Oh,” Jack utters, staring at Kent in disbelief.  “And…and are you…seeing anyone?”

 

“Nah, I’m not seeing anyone,” Kent answers, before he winks and adds, “What, are you interested?”

 

“Fuck off Parse,” Jack says, and there’s a lot more heat behind the words Jack says than is necessary for a response to a simple joke—a chirp, really, not any worse than Jack hears on a daily basis.

 

Wanting to diffuse the situation before it can nearly come to blows again, Eric frantically cuts in with a fairly safe question.

 

“So Kent, where are you staying?”

 

At least, it was a safe question, until Eric hears Kent’s response.

 

“Oh, just a hotel a couple of blocks away from here,” Kent answers casually.  “The room isn’t much, but at least it’s a place to sleep until I can find a house or apartment.  It’s not like I need a kitchen or anything, I mostly live off of takeout anyway.”

 

Eric is not going to let a comment like that stand.  Eating takeout for every meal is no way to live!  “You should stop by for dinner or somethin’,” Eric replies without thinking.  He cringes, because the way things have been between Kent and Jack suggests that Kent shouldn’t be over to Jack’s apartment, but he couldn’t help the words that came out of his mouth; his southern hospitality is that deeply ingrained in him.

 

“Really?” Kent asks, eyes wide in surprise.

 

Eric looks over at Jack, who simply shrugs, his face neutral and not betraying any other information about Jack’s feelings on the matter to Eric.

 

“Yeah, of course!” Eric says, overly cheery.  “Takeout ain’t no way to live, Kent Parson.”

 

Kent laughs.  “Alright man, then give me your phone.”

 

“Good luck separating Eric from his phone,” Jack snorts.

 

“Oh hush you,” Eric playfully reprimands Jack for the chirp as he hands Kent his phone.

 

Kent fiddles with it for a long moment before handing it back.  “I put my number in there.  Just text me the details.”

 

Eric nods and then looks down at his phone…which is now completely in Chinese.  “Har har Kent!  You’re hysterical!” he shouts.

 

“I know, right?” Kent calls back, already halfway across the ice from Eric.

 

“Come here right this instant and change my phone back!” Eric yells as Jack snickers beside him.

 

“Ha!  Good luck with getting me to do that!” Kent says, disappearing behind the glass into the stands.

 

Eric can’t see him anymore, but he responds by flipping Kent off.

 

They clean up from their practice and chat with Coleslaw for a moment before they head back to Jack’s apartment.  Jack is quiet, but he seems to be fine, which is a relief.  Things with Kent were slightly explosive, like the way things always are with Dex and Nursey, but Jack seemed to handle it fine.

 

Eric busies himself in the silence on the ride back by fixing his phone and composing a text to Kent.  He types and deletes several variations of the message before he finally sends one.  He’s not sure why he’s nervous about texting Kent about coming over for dinner, but it’s probably because he’s nervous, not because of Jack, but for Jack.

 

Bitty: Kent, you can come by tonight for dinner around 7:00.  I can’t promise much in terms of the main meal with such short notice, but there will at least be a lot of pie.  You’ll have to deal with maple-crusted apple though, because it’s Jack’s favorite.

 

He adds Jack’s address to the message and hits send.  Kent replies almost instantly.

 

Kent: cool. c u then :)

 

They walk inside, and Eric heads straight for the kitchen, and his first clue that something isn’t quite right with Jack is when he doesn’t follow.  Instead of trailing in and sitting down at the island, quietly watching and chirping him, Jack immediately turns off to the living room.  Eric has a pie to bake though, so he shrugs it off and gets to work.  Jack doesn’t always have to watch him bake.

 

Once he finishes and places the pie in the oven, Eric wanders out into the living room to check on Jack.  Jack is lying down on the couch, a history documentary on World War I playing the background.  The light from the kitchen and the TV are the only sources of light, as all the lights are turned off, and the blinds are pulled down low over the windows, which is clue #2.

 

“Jack, darling, are you alright?” Eric asks, hesitantly approaching the black leather sofa.

 

Jack shrugs, but doesn’t speak to elaborate.

 

Eric doesn’t have much to go on, doesn’t even know if he should be apologizing, but he did get pretty friendly with Kent towards the end of their conversation, and that might have upset Jack.  Kent is disarming, and Eric is southern and polite, and it just happened.  So he takes a stab at apologizing anyway.  “I’m sorry if I was…if I went too far with inviting Kent over.  I just—”

 

“You’re…it’s fine Eric,” Jack says quietly.  “I know that you…you can’t just turn off your southern hospitality, eh?”

 

“But your my boyfriend, and I shouldn’t have offered if it was going to upset you,” Eric replies.  “I’ve already texted him, but I can text him back and cancel if you’re no comfortable with havin’ him over.”

 

“He’s on my team, Eric,” Jack sighs.  “It doesn’t matter.”

 

“Sweetheart, of course it matters,” Eric coos, sitting down on the edge of the couch.  “He don’t get to make you feel uncomfortable in your own home.”

 

“It’s…I’m not…uncomfortable,” Jack frowns.  “I…it’s just hard to look at him…without hearing…”

 

“Everythin’ he said to you at Epikegster,” Eric finishes as Jack trails off.  He grabs Jack’s hand and starts dragging his thumb soothingly across the back.

 

“You…I know you were outside but…you actually heard all of that?” Jack mumbles, his eyes sliding from Eric’s face down towards his chest.

 

“Yeah,” Eric answers, biting his lip.  “And I—I didn’t forget what he said, I just—I got carried away when we were talkin’ to him.”

 

“I understand,” Jack replies.  “He was…he was being really nice and it’s hard…not to do the same.

 

“Yeah.”

 

“But it’s…it’s confusing…seeing him like that.  I just…don’t know what to think of him anymore,” Jack says, exhaling softly.

 

“Talk to me sweetheart,” Eric says, smoothing back some hair from Jack’s forehead.  “Tell me what’s goin’ on with him.”

 

“He and I…we were…together, I guess?  I…I don’t really…remember much.  It happened sometime when we were in the Q but…there’s like maybe…two weeks where we’re together that I remember?  And then…there’s nothing.  It’s…I started getting really bad right around then…with the pills and alcohol…and I…I don’t think it was because of Parse?  But I…I’m not sure…I haven’t been for a while.  And then when I overd-dosed…he just…abandoned me.  He didn’t…he didn’t call me until weeks later…and he was at a party with his team and I just…it felt like he was rubbing it in.  How he succeeded…how he got drafted and I got a…a hospital room.  So I just…I didn’t talk to him, and he didn’t talk to me and I…I thought it was all over.  But then he…he came to Samwell after his first cup and I just…I couldn’t handle it.  I felt like a failure and a disappointment when Kent…he got it all.  He abandoned me and then got…everything I ever wanted.  And Shitty…he told Kent to leave when I broke down but Kent…he didn’t visit again, but he started calling more?  And he would like…send cards and letters that I never opened…and then he showed up at epic kegster and…he tried to convince me to come play for the Aces…made it seem like I’d…I’d never succeed in the NHL without him…and I just…I couldn’t do it.  I told him I wouldn’t…told him I didn’t need him…and then he said…all that and…I think that’s the way he was treating me all along…and I was just too…too fucked up to notice.”

 

Eric can’t help the fact that he’s crying by the end.  It took Jack almost 20 minutes to string the whole thing together, but Eric comes out of it hating Kent more than he ever did before.  The two times that Eric has interacted with Kent, Kent has been one of the nicest people Eric’s ever met.  It’s incongruous, and Jack even said that he doesn’t remember much, but Eric has no reason to believe that Jack is wrong; he heard what Kent said to Jack at Epikegster.

 

“I’m so sorry Jack,” Eric sniffles, falling on top of Jack and wrapping his arms around his torso, squeezing tightly, trying to force all of Jack’s pain and sadness out of him with a bone-crushing hug.

 

“It’s…it’s not fine but…it’s something I have to deal with now, I guess,” Jack says, and his voice is cold, resigned, and Eric hates it.

 

“You ain’t gonna have to deal with it here though,” Eric says resolutely, keeping an arm around Jack as he digs around in his pocket for his phone.

 

Jack shakes his head and gently puts his hand on Eric’s arm.  “I…we have to try…mending the fences with him...try and to get on past what's already happened...if he and I have to play together.”

 

“I don’t want it to be just us, cause what happens when I have to step out for a minute?  There ain’t no reason you and Kent should be alone together,” Eric argues.  Eric never wants Jack alone with Kent again.  He refuses to give Kent the chance to say any more horrible things about Jack.

 

“So we should…maybe we should invite…Micky and Marky over,” Jack suggests.  “We should…you know, be trying to make friends with them as like…you know, couples friends.  And we can tell them that it’s just so they can meet Kent.”

 

Eric is reluctant to agree with Jack, but he doesn’t have much of a choice, considering Jack is giving him that look that says he’s going to stay firm on the issue.  “I—alright, but one misstep and Kent is outta here.”

 

“I…thanks for listening Eric,” Jack murmurs into Eric’s hair.  “And uh…thanks for staying…this whole time…even after…”

 

“I love you Jack,” Eric says, cutting Jack off.  “Nothin’ Kent has said, and nothin’ anyone else has said, or will say about you is gonna make me love you less.  You understand me?”

 

“Yeah,” Jack replies, sitting up.  Eric pulls his head out of Jack’s chest to see Jack grinning down at him, and so Eric surges up and kisses him.  Words don’t seem like enough to tell Jack just how much he loves him, and maybe not even a kiss is enough, but it’s a good place to start.

 

Eric isn’t sure how long they’ve been kissing, but it’s long enough that eventually they’re interrupted by the oven timer.

 

“I uh…I need to…” Eric says breathlessly.

 

“Go.  Can’t have you burning it, eh?”

 

“That’s it, you ain’t gettin’ a single piece, Mr. Zimmermann, you hear me?” Eric replies as he stands up and walks to the kitchen, pulling the pie out of the oven.

 

Jack comes up behind him, putting his hands on his hips as he starts sucking on Eric’s neck.

 

“You sure about that?” Jack asks.

 

“Y-yes.”

 

“Hmm,” Jack hums, and Eric gasps.

 

“J-just let me text—and then—you and I—bedroom,” Eric pants, fumbling with his phone.  He sends a quick text off to Micky and Marky, and then he and Jack quickly stumbling to the bedroom.