Ransom and Holster
"Bitty, settle this for us," Ransom says.
Bitty finishes drying his hands before shoving them in his pockets and trotting over obediently. The kitchen smells like peaches and cinnamon and Ransom's stomach is trying its best not to growl, because the timer clearly says their next slice of deliciousness is at least forty minutes away.
"Is this another body versus cockroaches debate?" Bitty asks. "Because I still want to know if either are gonna get into my kitchen."
"That argument is so 2015," Holster says, waving his hand in dismissal.
Bitty tilts his head. "It is 2015."
"Oh," Holster says, while Ransom smirks a little. "Well, anyway, I've found you, like, the perfect guy—"
Ransom narrows his eyes. "No, I have—"
Holster turns to Bitty, palms out, and starts enthusing. "He's an athlete, not lacrosse—"
"Brian's a music student and plays guitar."
"Harry is a mathlete too but he's one of the cool ones, you know, the ones with a car."
"Brian's got a 4.0 GPA."
"Harry owns a villa out in Spain."
"Wait, wait," Bitty says, snapping his fingers to stop the two glaring at each other. "Slow down and rewind. Why are you finding me perfect guys?"
"Apart from the fact that Chowder keeps freaking out that your new second-fave hobby after baking is staring out of the Haus kitchen window and sighing," Ransom explains, slapping Holster's hand away when he tries to sneak up a little scrawled banner that's he's written on the back of one of Ransom's stats problem sets. It reads DATE HARRY FTW! "It's nearly Winter screw, dude. We gotta find you a dude!"
Holster nods fervently. "It's our last year, we can't screw you with the screw. Gotta find you a good one to say thank you for all the pies."
Bitty huffs. "Just saying thank you is enough. I like seeing you all enjoy my pies. You don't gotta find me a date, it's fine."
"It's our duty as our housemate," Ransom says, wagging a finger at Bitty.
Bitty pushes his lips together, winces, and then says, "Um, I'd rather you not?"
Ransom, having opened his mouth to opine about how perfect Brian is for Bitty, slams his mouth shut again. "Bits, is Chowder right? Are you, like, secretly dying?"
Bitty looks alarmed at that. "Lord, no. Oh, poor sweet summer child, I gotta find him, maybe beat some common sense into his poor little head—" Bitty turns as if he's going to go then and there.
"Domestic abuse can wait," Ransom hisses. "We're gonna hook you up, Bittle. We got your back."
Holster nods almost violently.
Bitty's cheeks burn an interesting shade of pink. "You don't need to. I already have a boyfriend."
Ransom can see Holster's mouth go slack in the corner of his vision. It's matching his own expression of surprise.
"Your left hand doesn’t count as your boyfriend," Holster offers.
"Gross," Ransom says. "Proud of you, bro." He fistbumps Holster, temporarily forgetting they're rowing over who can pick the best bro for their bro. Oh, well, being mad at Holster is as fun as liking Holster, which is pretty much the best part of life at Samwell.
Bitty pulls a face, but he looks— he actually looks a little nervous, which, what the fuck? "He's real," Bitty defends. "I just can't talk about --" He sighs, loudly. "It's new, okay? It's really new. And I'm happy, I'm so happy, I just— It's so new that I don't wanna talk about it and ruin it. And I know it's mostly phone and the internet, but it's at the point where— Yeah, I can't date someone else, even if it's just for Winter Screw and he'd never find out. Okay? So. Just— No dates."
"We should meet him," Holster says. "Y'know. Just in case he's not as hot as Harry because I can totally still fix you up."
"He might not be as creative as Brian, either," Ransom says, glaring at Holster.
"That's not— Oh, lord." Bitty shuffles. "He lives a long way away, okay? It's kind of a long distance thing. And I know— Everyone says it's tough, but I really— He's worth a try, okay? So no dates. Promise me."
Holster edges a look at Ransom. Ransom hesitantly looks back. He really wants to know who chose the best bro for Bitty, but he also doesn't want to anger the pie gods and upset Bitty, so.
"I promise," Ransom and Holster say at the same time.
Bitty looks a little on edge, but nods, and smiles warmly at them both. "Thanks," he says. "I'm just— shy, I guess? I've never even— Lord, I've never felt like this about anyone. He means a lot to me."
"He sounds great," Ransom says, putting a hand on Bitty's shoulder and beaming at him. Bitty smiles back.
"Thanks, guys," Bitty says, and turns back to the kitchen, padding over to the window and sighing. Something in Random's gut clenches. It's hard enough for him that his family is in Canada, and that's his family, not someone he's in love with. It's going to be a tough time for Bitty.
"We'll keep an eye on him," Holster whispers. "Long distance things don't really work. We'll probably get an answer to the Brian and Harry debate at some point before we graduate."
"Totally," Ransom whispers back. "And the answer will be Brian."
"In your dreeeams."
"And I'm dreaming about Bitty's love life because—?"
"We're interfering busybodies with no social life?"
"Oh yeah," Ransom sighs. "That."
Nursey and Dex
"Uh, why are we sneaking?" Nursey asks.
"Because the captains told me we had to be sneaky," Dex hisses.
"That probably meant to just, y'know, take it chill," Nursey says.
"Oh my god, I should have left you downstairs," Dex says, rubbing at his temples. "Shush."
"You've said more than I have," Nursey points out.
Dex tries to remember that he's not allowed to kill Nursey, at least, not during the hockey season. He tries not to resent the fact that Nursey doesn't have to remind himself not to kill his teammates. If Nursey ever kills a teammate it'll be an accident of some sort. Dex eyeballs him again as they creep up along the hall.
"What are we listening for in particular?" Nursey asks.
"Weren't you listening?"
"As a rule, if we're not on the ice, no."
"You're the most infuriating person in the world."
"So you say," Nursey says, humming a little under his breath. "Yeah, I can hear Bitty's voice from here."
"You can?" Dex says. He stares at Nursey's face for a moment, at the thick five o' clock shadow that stands out prominently even though it's like, 11am and Nursey definitely shaved a couple of hours ago. He shakes his head. "I need to get a little closer."
"Whatever you need, dude," Nursey says, beaming.
Dex glowers up at him, and then shuffles along the hallway. It's nearly a couple of meters until Dex can hear Bitty's voice more clearly.
"I miss you too, darling," Bitty says, and Dex nearly chokes. What the hell? "You know I wish I could tell them. But that's only because I'm so happy I wish I could just, share it with the world. You're more important to me. Than anything."
"So we're eavesdropping on Bitty calling his sweetheart?" Nursey asks. Dex startles. When did Nursey get so close to him? Nursey's breath is warm on his ear. Warm and— irritating, Dex thinks, viciously. He shudders, but he doesn't move away, because Nursey will just do that limpet thing and stay that close to him. Just because it bugs him, probably.
"Ransom and Holster said Bitty's dating someone long distance, that he probably met online, and they're worried he's being abused."
"If he's long distance, then how the hell is Bitty — Eric 'if you come near my pie while it's cooling you're going to lose a finger' Bittle? — getting abused? Long distance smacks through Skype?"
"Not all abuse is physical, dickwad," Dex hisses, illustrating it with some verbal abuse. "And people— people in relationships don't always act the same as they do to their friends. Or on the ice."
"Yeah, okay," Nursey says. "Explanation to our unsubtle and shameless eavesdropping understood."
"Oh my gosh," Bitty says loudly, and then laughs — and it's bright, it's so bright, that Dex almost finds himself smiling automatically at the sound of it. "Jay-Zee. Not Jay-Zed. You— Oh my gosh, you're chirping me deliberately, I swear, you're going to be the end of me. I'm gonna laugh so hard that I'll fall through the floor. Yeah, yeah, I know— I'm easy."
"He sounds happy," Nursey says, still irritatingly close to Dex's ear, his breath ghosting over Dex's skin in a way that shouldn't make Dex's stomach flip uneasily.
"I love you too," Bittle says, and Dex's stomach flips again. Oh god. Oh god no. Feelings like— feelings shouldn't have names. Not names like that.
"I think that's our cue to awkwardly shuffle away from here," Nursey says, his voice low and annoyingly fond sounding. "We shouldn't be listening to this."
Dex — for just a moment — imagines Nursey saying Bitty's words in his ears. I love you. Darling. He shudders and pushes away from Nursey, swallowing. "Yeah," he mutters, and starts to move. Bitty apparently doesn't have a problem with his long-distance boyfriend, and that's good - because it looks like Dex has a problem all of his own. He'd suspected for a long time that if he was to have a problem this year, it probably would be a problem called Derek Nurse, he just— he just never imagined it would be a problem like this.
"You can tell Ransom and Holster that everything's fine," Dex says when they reach the bottom of the stairs. Nursey frowns at him, obviously confused, but Dex smiles weakly at him before stumbling out of the Haus blindly, squatting down and resting against the outside wall and taking a few deep breaths, running his hands over his face.
He nearly startles audibly when Nursey crouches down next to him. Nursey makes a weird, half-huffing sound before asking, "Do you, like, get invested in everything in life like this? Like, one hundred percent passion, twenty four seven?"
"How else are you supposed to live," Dex mutters. If he lingers on how irritating Nursey he is, he doesn't have to think about the other things. Like how broad Nursey's shoulders are. Like how casually he fits into his own skin, gracefully accepting his own flaws and not fixating on them until they're fixed.
"By rolling with the flow, dude," Nursey says, and Dex rolls his eyes, opening his mouth to say something disparaging, but Nursey leans over and takes Dex's hand in his, curling his long fingers around Dex's smaller hand, and the insult becomes a soft, "Oh," instead, because it feels— it feels amazing.
"I guess I can see a little of the appeal in living like that," Dex slowly admits, and Nursey's smile is slow, like the sun waking up into a new morning sky.
"Bits, you're the expert, fix this," Lardo says, and shoves her laptop over the kitchen table.
Bitty looks at her judgmentally when she shoves it on top of a floured surface ready for rolling biscuits out. "It might work better if you don't shove it in situations where it can get flour inside it."
"That actually sounds impressively dirty," Lardo says, "but also, impressively painful. That is not a kink I want."
"I don't think flour is a kink anyone really wants," Bitty says. "What am I fixing?"
"Skype," Lardo says. "You're a long distance relationship guy, Skype is a long distance relationship thing, I want it. Fix me up with it."
Bitty's mouth moves like a dying fish for a few moments. He blinks a few times. Then he says, "Shitty?"
Lardo's eyes narrow. "Look, you're being shifty about who you're dating, and we get that, Bits. We're a close-knit group and secrets can be healthy sometimes. But if you utter that name again, I swear to the hockey gods that I'll gut you with my good X-Acto and I won't even sob at the loss of what's probably the only functioningly sharp blade on campus."
"He hasn't called anyone at all, if that helps," Bitty offers, booting up Lardo's laptop and staring intently at the loading screen. Lardo makes a muted noise and her hand inches towards one of Bitty's favorite palette knives. Bitty shoves it out of her way and it makes a loud musical noise as it scrapes across the table. "I said he," Bitty says.
Lardo accepts the technical avoidance of the do not say Shitty's name rule. "And you'd know this how?"
"Jack said Shitty was dodging his calls," Bitty says, wiping his hands on his pants before swiping at her trackpad. "He said it's happened before. Moments of dire stress, he'll keep his cell off, but he has to keep Skype on to pacify his parents and reassure them he's still alive."
"Exactly why I need Skype," Lardo sighs.
"He's probably got it set so he appears busy or offline," Bitty says, because he has to warn her not to expect an instant response.
Lardo growls, and honestly for a moment Bitty thinks she's almost going to try and check him, right here in the kitchen, except after a long pause, she sags, and puts her head in her hands, and Bitty makes this soft choked-off noise which most people seem to get around crying.
"How do you do this, Bittle?" Lardo's voice is muffled by her hands. "How can you just— how can you let them get away with shit because you're not there every day to remind them of their absolute skill in making terrible life decisions?"
Bitty sighs and pushes the laptop aside; he stands and moves around the table to sit next to her, and he opens his arms. She settles into the circle of them and rests her head on his shoulder. "You don't let them get away with shit," he says, keeping his voice level. "Sometimes there are times when you don't get to call them on it immediately, but you don't let them get away with it."
"This is such a stupid thing to be doing," Lardo sighs. "Long distance relationships are the worst."
"Alas, they seem to be with the best people," Bitty says.
Lardo shoves her face into the soft material of Bitty's shirt and trembles for a handful of seconds which feel like an hour, because Lardo's made of fucking granite, so for her foundations to be shaking like this is a little scary. If Bitty clings back just as tightly, Lardo doesn't comment on it.
"Wait, Jack said Shitty was dodging his calls?" Lardo pulls back from Bitty and eyeballs him for a long moment.
Bitty tries his best not to freeze, because guilt is probably not the expression he needs to be rocking right now.
"I'm glad you're talking to other people, not just the long-distance BF," Lardo says, and Bitty then has to fight not to look relieved. "It's good for you. Tell Jack to call me, though, I miss his stupid voice."
"I'll tell him that next time we talk," Bitty promises. "Maybe, uh, maybe not in those exact words?"
Lardo shrugs. "Either way, dude. Either way."
"Oh god," Jack says, and moans, and Bitty is super glad that he got to Providence a few hours before Shitty and the gang, because if he hadn't had a few hours with Jack alone to take the edge off, Bitty would definitely be outing their relationship right this instant in a very embarrassing manner. "I forgot how good this was," Jack sighs, digging out another forkful of maple-sugar-crusted apple pie and making another long moan.
"I know, right?" Shitty says. "You gotta dump your boyfriend and marry one of us, Bits. I can't have this recipe being shared outside the family."
Bitty laughs, and avoids Jack's gaze, because, oh, if he starts thinking about marrying Jack, then the embarrassing relationship-outing would definitely be on the cards again, no matter how much Jack had valiantly tried to wear him out before the others got here.
It's going to be such a lovely week. It was Shitty's idea, really - celebrate Ransom and Holster's graduation by hiring a minibus and hauling as many hockey-playing Wellies from the "good old days" to Providence as possible to crash at Jack's pad and have a few great nights out on the town. Bitty had already booked a greyhound to Providence for that same week, but thankfully he had a plausible excuse for doing that - a baking convention in town that Jack bought him tickets to immediately. Bitty would still get Jack all to himself for a few days, and it's been really nice having everyone together again under one roof.
It kind of sucks having Jack so close and yet still so far, but their relationship is secret for a reason. Besides, sneaking around is kind of fun, Bitty thinks, his cheeks coloring a little.
Also, it might be great if Chowder could stop squealing we're in Jack Zimmermann's apartment! every five minutes, but, still, it feels good. It feels right for them to be together again, even if only the few of them could make it. It's nice to know the Samwell Men's Hockey Team promise to have each others' backs didn't expire on graduation.
"Alas, I think Bitty's still spoken for," Lardo sighs, "otherwise I would totally be making a bid to try and turn him, just for the slim chance of pies like this for life."
"He is right here," Bitty says, sparing Lardo a glare which just makes her smile toothily. "But only Queen Bey has a chance of turning me at this point, I think. And even then—" He trails off, his cheeks coloring, as Ransom and Holster start making kissing sounds like they're not actual adults about to head off into a real grown-up college-free future.
"Oh, right, you have a boyfriend," Jack says, faux-casually, and Bitty turns his glare momentarily to said-boyfriend; Jack's smirking a little, but not too noticeably. "I wouldn't really remember, you don't talk about him much," Jack says, waggling his eyebrows.
Bitty narrows his eyes. "I talk about him plenty," he sniffs.
"To be fair, he does," Lardo says. "About how handsome he is."
"And funny," Ransom says, clasping his hands together.
"And dashing," Holster joins in.
"And how he makes Bitty so happy," Shitty says, pretending to swoon into Lardo's side.
"And he's kind of a massive jerk," Bitty mutters, crossing his arms and trying to glare at all of them at once, and failing. "And he's absolutely ridiculous."
Jack ducks his head to hide his widening smirk, pretending to be very interested in the remnants of his slice of pie.
"Oh no," Chowder says, looking genuinely distressed, "trouble in paradise?"
"Wait, Chowder knows how to say something that isn't 'holy cow Jack Zimmermann NHL player washes his hands in this sink'?" Shitty says, raising both eyebrows and comically widening his eyes.
"I drank four red bulls on the ride here," Chowder mutters, his ears going pink. "My brain's working in circles."
"Bro," Ransom says, reaching out to fist bump him in solidarity, "that is the devil's drink."
"We're fine, Chow," Bitty reassures Chowder, who still looks somewhat upset. "I promise. My boyfriend is— "
"Practically perfect in every way," Ransom and Holster chirp together. "We know!"
Bitty scowls and slumps down onto Jack's sitting room rug, his bare feet curling into the thick wool. He and Jack have had some good times on this rug over the last year, he thinks fondly. He eyeballs Chowder who's lying on the other half of the rug. Yeah, keeping his relationship top secret definitely has some great benefits. Such as, not inspiring Chowder to projectile vomit all over Jack's apartment.
"Perfect, huh?" Jack says.
Bitty glowers. "I suppose he has his moments," he allows.
As nice as it was to have Ransom, Holster, Shitty, Lardo and Chowder in his apartment, it's nice that the only thing they've left behind is a biography of Henrietta Lacks (Shitty), an autographed picture of Ransom (probably Holster), a dead cockroach in a plastic box with a post-it note reading "better roommate than 1/1000th of a body" (probably Ransom), four dubious stains (regrettably mostly from Chowder), and a purple stain on the shower wall that will probably never wash off because Lardo tried to dye Shitty's mustache and Shitty didn't react well to accidentally getting a little dye in his eyes (at least, that's the official story, and Jack is hoping it's true.)
It's also nice that they bought the excuse for Bitty staying behind, too. They've got four nights together until Bitty has to leave to go teach at summer camp, and Jack's planning to enjoy every second of it.
It seems like Bitty's got similar intentions; he has Jack naked in minutes, and then turns Jack's head by flipping his speed switch and going achingly slow once they hit the mattress. Jack's a sweaty, heated mess and he loves every second of it.
Bitty runs a finger down Jack's chest, slow, slower, and carefully positions himself so his knees pinion Jack's thighs at the meatiest part. Jack smiles, reaches for him, and then frowns when Bitty's hands close on his upper arms, pushing him down into the bed.
"Nu-uh, Mr. Zimmermann," Bitty says, "you wanted to hear me talk about my boyfriend the other day. I didn't get the chance to say everything I wanted to."
Jack stares. "It was just a chirp."
"Which means I get to pay you back for it," Bitty says fondly, and his knees tighten around the outside of Jack's thighs. Jack muffles a soft shout with his forearm. It's too good, like everything with Bitty is. His skin is hot everywhere they touch. "No, you wanted to hear about my boyfriend, so you're gonna."
Jack makes a noise instead of responding.
"Look at me, darling," Bitty says, and Jack slowly moves his arms. Even looking at Bitty is too much, sometimes. Everything about their relationship is intense, sharply dizzying, always just on the edge of completely overwhelming, and yet Jack's never quite so calm when Bitty's back at Samwell. For those times, the forty minutes drive might as well be a million miles.
"I'm looking," Jack says, and his voice is already hoarse; Bitty picks up at that and smiles, predatory in the dim light of their bedroom. And see, that's how Jack sees it, he can't help it - this isn't just Jack's bedroom. It's in Jack's apartment, and Jack sleeps in it alone more often than not, but there's a Bitty-shaped space in it for all the days Bitty's not there.
"Are you going to behave?" Bitty asks, slightly loosening his grip on Jack's arms.
Jack opens his mouth, but there's something in Bitty's face that's persuasive, because he stills instead of moving to flip Bitty over.
"I do talk about my long-distance boyfriend a lot at the Haus," Bitty says, slowly smoothing both thumbs in unison up the curves of Jack's arms. Jack shudders and part of him warms violently. Bitty's hips snap forward a little at the feel of it, and Jack has to bite back a smile when Bitty has to take a deep breath to steady himself. "No details in particular. Just usually about how he makes me feel."
Jack hisses, because Bitty punctuates feel with a touch that makes all his core muscles contract at once. Bitty's expression washes with obvious delight.
"Sometimes I have to explain to the Haus mates why I'm smiling into nowhere," Bitty says, moving his fingers across the expanse of Jack's chest in slow sweeping curves like he's tracing a recipe across his skin. "My boyfriend's a massive dork, really."
"Massive, huh?" Jack manages.
Bitty shoots him a wicked smirk. "Mmhmm," he says, and slowly wriggles like he's finding it difficult to be comfortable. Jack keens, a thick sound that makes his cheeks burn. "I'll tell you a secret," Bitty whispers.
"Go on," Jack says, captivated by Bitty's expression, because Bitty just looks so happy, and Jack wants to see that every day of his entire life. One day. One day he'll get to do that, and not via Skype or a tiny phone screen, but in person, like now. Every single day. Once upon a time Jack had worried about the future, about what would happen to him when he was too old to play hockey, about what a person who lived for hockey even did when they weren't allowed to take to the ice any more. Now he thinks he knows, and for him, the answer is Bitty. The answer was always Bitty, even before Jack knew what the question was.
"I'm actually much physically weaker than my boyfriend," Bitty says, "but you actually wouldn't know if you saw us together."
"Mmhmm," Bitty nods. "See, he'd let me take him apart if I wanted to." Bitty says it casually, but oh, it's like he's hit Jack a sledgehammer, because it's true. If Bitty wanted Jack in pieces, he'd let him. He'd hand Bitty the knife to do it and he'd do it smiling. "My boyfriend, he's actually the strongest person I know. But what blows my mind is that he lets himself be vulnerable with me." Bitty's smile is blinding. "Sometimes I'm overwhelmed by how much he trusts me."
Jack swallows, wanting to look away, but also wanting to stare, to mentally photograph how Bitty looks kneeling over him. It's kind of glorious.
"There's so much about him that's amazing. He's strong, so strong, like you wouldn't believe. And not just his muscles—" Bitty illustrates that point with a few illustrative kisses, "—his personal strength is incredible. It's like every single day, there's a mountain he has to climb, and he wills himself over it, each and every day."
"Bitty," Jack whispers, because it's too much, not the maddening pressure building between his legs, nor the frisson of feeling across every part of his body that Bitty touches, but the words, and how much Bitty sounds like he means them, like he really believes everything he's saying. Jack's eyes sting a little, and he forces himself to breathe deeply.
"The trouble is, my boyfriend doesn't think he deserves good things," Bitty says, and Jack flinches a little, eyes moving doubtfully to Bitty's gaze, but Bitty doesn't look away. He stares at Jack with a determined tilt to his chin. "He thinks he's worthless sometimes, which absolutely breaks my heart, and it makes me wanna scream, but I know those moments will pass and I just— I hope one day he can see himself how I can see him, because if he saw what I see— He'd never doubt himself again."
Jack's voice is raw when he manages, "Why, what do you see when you look at him?"
Bitty leans closer, his eyes scraping across Jack's face, and he breathes, "Everything" before kissing him deeply and stealing Jack's breath away, like he does every time their lips touch. It took one taste of Eric Bittle's lips for Jack Zimmermann to be hooked. Once an addict, always an addict. There are worse things to be addicted to, Jack thinks, finally reaching up to cup Bitty's face in his hands.
He can't quite see through Bitty's eyes, but the way Bitty sinks into him, and the noises he makes when Jack finally gets them both in hand… It's enough to make Jack believe in the possibility that Bitty is right. That maybe he's not worthless. Bitty wouldn't waste time on anything worthless.
Afterwards, Bitty attaches himself to Jack like he's some form of human limpet, and Jack laughs breathlessly into Bitty's hair.
"You were right the other day," Jack says.
Bitty makes a noise of confusion.
"About that boyfriend of yours," Jack says. "He does sound pretty ridiculous."
Bitty wriggles in his grasp a little and flickers him a dirty look before closing his eyes and burrowing more deeply into Jack's chest. "That's because he is ridiculous," Bitty huffs, as Jack quietly thrills at the feeling of Bitty's breaths against his skin, of Bitty's head lying so close to his heart. "I love him anyway, though," Bitty adds.
Despite himself, Jack freezes. It's barely for a second, and it wouldn't be perceptible, except Bitty is lying on him, and like this, neither of them can hide anything from each other. The thing is— the thing is that somehow, they haven't said that yet. Love has been implied, but not said out loud, not in person, only on the phone, and now it's here, in the still air of their bedroom, and Jack is— Jack is so glad the others aren't around.
"Are you crying?" Bitty asks, and Jack looks at him sharply; Bitty's eyes are open again.
"No," Jack lies, and Bitty half-smiles, but it has a half stretch of a worried twinge, like he's worried he's said the wrong thing, and oh, it's so far from the wrong thing. "Yes," he relents. "But only because I'm pretty sure your daft, ridiculous, usually long-distance boyfriend loves you back."
Bitty makes a noise of surprise, turning his head upwards. "I didn't— I didn't want to pressure you into—"
"I love you, Bittle," Jack says, firmly. Then: "And now who's crying?"
"Shut up," Bitty snuffles, "I love you too," he adds, in a rush, and then he leans up to kiss him. Jack laughs into the kiss and tugs him closer. The long-distance parts of their relationship suck, but the short-distance parts, well. They're kind of amazing.
They're kind of everything.
Chowder is kind of brimming with excitement and it's not because of too many energy drinks because energy drinks got banned in the Spring-C-incident-which-must-not-be-named-seriously-Dex-why-did-you-name-it-with-so-many-hyphens-oh-my-gosh-chill-already.
It's just, Chowder's had a great three years at Samwell already, and it's amazing, and he's so ready to follow their new captain (Dex - he'd won by one vote, mostly because Nursey was so chill he forgot to vote, and thus didn't vote for himself, thus securing Dex the win), and he's even stopped crying at the thought of Patsy being his across-the-hallmate instead of Bitty. So it's not that he's worried about next year, he's just sad it's not going to be the same. No daily Bitty pies. No hearing Bitty laugh as he talks to his long-distance boyfriend. No 6am practices because giving Bitty the C had been a terrible idea, he'd been worse than Jack when it came to how early he could insist on team skating drills.
The excitement is because not only is the full team still on campus (all twenty-three of them, with no one begging off with an excuse to be home), but nearly half of the original team are back on campus too. Everyone who remembers Bitty fondly has come back to celebrate his graduation and it's marvelous.
But that's not the most exciting bit. The most exciting bit is that Bitty promised his long-distance boyfriend was coming to the last celebratory dinner too.
It's not like Chowder's actually that concerned with most people's love lives. It's just Chowder's been living across from Bitty for so long, and overhearing so many half-conversations, that it sort of feels like Chowder's been living with Bitty's long-distance boyfriend too. There's a boyfriend-sized space that seems to hover around Bitty, and a disjointed voice that Chowder's heard muffled through Bitty's phone so much that the Haus is going to be weird without it. The Haus won't be the Haus without Bitty singing Beyoncé, and flirting a lot with what's essentially to Chowder a disembodied, muffled voice. Chowder's excited for the big goodbye, but he's also excited to meet the person the voice belongs to. Whoever it is has to be impressive; it's been two years since Bitty shyly asked them all to stop finding him dates to the Winter Screw. Chowder's had shorter relationships with knee pads, and those things are relatively sturdy.
Chowder's mostly staying away from the kitchen, though. Although Bitty's managed to arrange to snag the main kitchens to cook the night's meal (of course Bitty's cooking his own finale dinner; he has exacting standards and wants the best cook in the state to make his food, and it's just unfortunate that Bitty is the best cook any of them know), he's still using the Haus kitchen to bake about a thousand pies, and anyone who gets close enough gets roped in. Patsy's down there dutifully washing dishes and rubbing butter into flour, but that's because he's working for his dibs.
He trots down the stairs at a carefully gaged time, and after sliding his jacket on over his Sharks jersey, he gets given a small pile of pies to carry on over to the dining room. Patsy, Dex and Nursey all go ahead, because Bitty has a last couple of things in the oven, and they troop over to where they need to be together, and Chowder goes first into the building, because he's the only one that can manage his pies and the door.
He nearly drops all the pies in excitement when he does get the door open.
"Jack!" Chowder yells, and, oh, it's probably a little too loud, but when Jack turns to look at the source of the noise, he doesn't seem to look too upset. It's been about a year since Chowder last saw him in the flesh, back in Providence on the mini roadtrip Shitty had organized, and whoops, Chowder should probably apologize to Jack for the incident with the bag of burritos, but hopefully Jack's forgotten about that? "Jack Zimmermann, wow," Chowder adds, because Jack's heading over, and, well, yes, technically Chowder knows him, but he's seen him on TV so many times over the last couple of years, and some magazine covers too, that it's hard for him to reconcile Jack Zimmermann, that guy who gave you his old bedroom with Jack Zimmermann, NHL superstar.
"Hey, Chowder," Jack says, coming over and effortlessly taking Chowder's pile of pies, gracefully lowering them onto the table and starting to lay them out. He looks practiced. Then again, Bitty's been baking pies his whole Samwell career like they're going out of fashion; Jack's two years that overlapped with Bitty's college career probably gave him lots of pie carrying practice. "How are things?"
"Great! I didn't know you'd even been invited!" Chowder beams at him, and then remembers Dex, Nursey and Patsy are still struggling with their pies; he turns to them and flushes a little, starting to help pull pies from their arms.
"Yeah," Jack says. "Well, I had time."
"Your last goal was amazing," Chowder blurts. "I can't believe you won the cup. I mean," he adds quickly, as Jack looks a little startled, "not that you didn't deserve it because you totally did, the Falconers were amazing, and— Oh, my god, I meant I can't believe someone who touched the Stanley Cup is standing right in front of me watching me ramble like a crazy person."
Jack laughs, his cheeks a little pink. "I have a weird fondness for hockey players who ramble when they're nervous, it's okay," he reassures Chowder. "And, uh, it's nice that I'm being remembered for touching the Stanley Cup now, and not, uh— other things with it."
Chowder frowns, and then his eyes widen automatically, because, yeah, Jack's other record with the Stanley Cup is, oh no, not something he wants to think about when there are so many delicious fruit pies in the vicinity.
Bitty turns up then, and Jack wanders off to help him with his pies, and Chowder sighs happily, because Jack's an NHL superstar, and he's helping with the set-up, and that's just so inspiring. He wonders how many of the Sharks would do something similar. All of them, he thinks loyally, and he looks around at all the happy faces. He's going to miss so many people, but then… Samwell's Men Hockey Team still hasn't had a major hockey win for over a decade now, and Chowder's pretty sure his final year is going to be the year for it to happen, so at least there's that to look forward to.
Inspired by Jack's behavior, Chowder looks for something else to do to help, and then he realizes something. There aren't enough chairs. He'd helped Patsy get the chairs out that morning, and there'd been enough for all the Wellies who RSVPd, and Chowder had picked out two chairs carefully, for Bitty and his long-distance boyfriend. And now there aren't enough chairs.
Well, Chowder reflects, maybe the boyfriend will just have to sit in Bitty's lap.
Chowder's cheeks burn.
Bitty, somehow picking up that Chowder has something wrong in mind, manages to kidnap him for some help in the kitchens, and Chowder forgets about the seat problem, and ends up forgetting for a long time, because the dinner is incredible and the company is amazing and Chowder sits one chair down from Jack Zimmermann, so it's just a completely amazing night. Plus, Lardo and Shitty are there, and Shitty's started his own practice and Lardo has a painting hanging in the MFA and Holster's just been traded to the Stars, which, though it's no Sharks or Falconers, is still pretty decent, so there are basically celebrities everywhere. Celebrities that Chowder knows. Celebrities that Chowder has unfortunately seen at one time or another in various disheveled states of undress.
And then he remembers and blurts it out, because social filters, what are they, "Bitty! You promised your boyfriend was coming!"
There's a lull in the conversation, and a lot of interested faces turn Bitty's way.
"Yeah, come on, Captain Bits, explain yourself," Dex says. "We've had years of sappy one-sided convos, we wanna know who they're with."
"We don't want to be pushy, but you did say," Chowder says, feeling incredibly self-conscious all of a sudden.
Bitty's apparently feeling self-conscious too, because he flushes, his ears even going pink. "Uh," Bitty says.
"I wanted to meet him," Chowder sighs. "I was going to shake his hand and thank him for making my captain so happy this year."
"Uh," Bitty manages, and he looks uncomfortable and turns to the nearest person for help, which happens to be Jack Zimmermann. NHL star Jack Zimmermann. Yeah, Chowder's brain is permanently going to be stuck on that point. NHL Stanley-Cup-winning players are supposed to stay on TV, or behind the glass, if you're lucky enough to get tickets. Not sitting in nice suits and smiling oddly at you from a short distance away.
"Hi," Jack says. His smile is somewhat lopsided.
"Hi, Jack," Chowder says, scrunching his nose up at Jack distracting him. "Help me convince Bitty."
"Convince him to do what?" Jack asks, tilting his head.
"Oh, lord," Bitty says softly under his breath.
"Oh," Ransom says, and then bumps Holster's shoulder, "well, that makes more sense than what we thought."
"What we thought was cool," Holster says. "Alas, reality. This is just, like, seeing your mom and dad hook up."
"True that," Shitty agrees.
"True what," Lardo says, and then Shitty nods his head in Bitty's direction and Lardo's eyes widen, and she loudly says, "Seriously?"
Bitty turns to her and shrugs. "Forty miles is a long distance when you don't have a car."
"Yeah, but—" Lardo's eyes narrow this time. "Oh, my god. You're a dweeb. I love you both, but, dorks. You're both dorks."
Jack ducks his head for a moment, the cheekbones that GQ magazine once spent four paragraphs opining about (Chowder may or may not own two copies of that issue — but he likes to keep one copy unopened, okay? It's worth more that way) looking a little redder in the dim light of the dining hall.
No one is making any sense, though. Chowder needs them to get to the heart of the matter, stat.
"We need to convince him to introduce us to his boyfriend," Chowder tells Jack, slowly.
"Or convince his boyfriend to introduce himself to you," Jack offers.
Chowder doesn't know why rearranging the sentence helps, but, "Sure."
"Hi," Jack says, and Shitty bursts out laughing.
Chowder shoots Shitty a namesake of a side-glance, and then turns seriously back to Jack. "I already said hi to you, Jack."
"I'm Jack," Jack says.
Chowder stares. "I know?" he says, and wonders why everyone seems to be laughing. Even Bitty is, burying his head in Jack's shoulder and crying a little in between some high-pitched laughs. "I know your name," he clarifies, but that just seems to make everyone laugh more.
"I play hockey professionally," Jack says.
Chowder continues to stare. He wonders how many pucks to the head professional NHL players suffer. After a moment longer of everyone laughing, Chowder asks Jack that question, because at least he can get satisfaction on one question tonight.
Jack thinks about it. "Apparently less pucks to the head than college goalies," he says.