Jack was six years old the first time a grown-up called him "special".
Somehow it had never mattered when his classmates teased him about his habits. They still liked playing games with him, and they let him cover his ears against loud noises and run inside from the playground whenever there was a fight. When his classmates called him names, however cruel those names sometimes were, they didn't mean for them to stick.
When his Uncle Vincent teased him, it didn't feel the same. When his mother took him outside and told him not to listen to Vincent, Jack knew why. It was meant to stick this time. It was meant to hurt.
No one had cared much about Jack being different from his peers before he started school. Being a picky eater, hating unexpected noise, lashing out when he was angry or upset: they were all habits that were considered acceptable for a child. If Jack still struggled with dressing himself, fumbling with buttons and knotting laces hopelessly, it was all down to being a "slow developer". He was talkative and bright, clumsy at socialising but eager to try, and those were good signs - his mother hadn't said a word until she was four, after all.
Jack knew people were losing patience with him though. He was supposed to have started "behaving" by now. Vincent's words were meant to remind him of that - as if Jack had only pretended he couldn't grasp how to use the DVD remote.
Jack watched his mother go back inside, heard her start shouting at his uncle, and decided to walk to the park. He wasn't meant to go on his own, but even if there was sometimes screaming at the park, there was always laughter and plenty of room to run away from fighting.
Jack didn't remember the part after the park well - just being dragged home, yelled at, sobbed at, and being put to bed early.
He did know it was the reason his mother decided there was something "different" about him because years later, whenever she told new friends and family about Jack, she always referred to that day as "the day we knew he needed help".
Aster was Jack's first carer. Jack hated him.
It wasn't particularly Aster's fault that Jack hated him - it was the timing more than anything else. Aster was the first visible sign for Jack that he was not a "normal" kid.
When Jack was diagnosed as autistic, grown-ups suddenly became invested in helping him. He needed to try this diet, take these tablets, visit this therapist. Jack hadn't particularly minded being considered slow, clumsy, and bad-tempered when they were just quirks of his personality rather than symptoms.
Jack had liked playing with peers who teased him a lot more than playing with peers who were watching what they said to him.
As time passed, Jack's peers started turning into grown-ups too. They stopped accepting his fits of anger, and they stopped letting him cover his ears to hide from shouting. They meant for their insults to stick.
Jack moved school twice by the time he was ten. The first one didn't do enough to prevent bullying, as far as Jack's mother was concerned, and Jack knew she meant well when taking him away from the friends who had abandoned him. He still screamed at her for making him move. He'd liked his routine, even if he'd stopped liking his friends.
He hadn't grown up yet, and they had.
Aster promised Jack he would get used to the second school eventually, giving Jack a reassuring pat on the shoulder after helping him put on the school uniform. Jack had almost got the hang of zips, but buttons just slipped through his fingers and refused to slot into the holes they were meant for.
The second school turned out to be no better than the first, if for entirely different reasons. It was too big, too loud, and Jack could never escape the shouting.
Jack spent a month having to lock himself in the school toilets during breaks and lunches, curling up on top of the seat with his hands over his ears and humming to block out the noise outside.
It almost destroyed his nerves. Jack needed quiet, needed somewhere he could count on to be peaceful. His nerves were so raw from shouting inside school he had to beg his mother to use headphones when watching television just so he could have some silence each day.
After the month, and Jack's mother angrily showing Aster the red, friction-burnt skin on Jack's wrists from a newly formed stress habit of rubbing them, they arranged for him to change schools again.
Jack's third and final school was a dream come true compared to the last two. The corridors were dark and uncluttered, and there were designated quiet rooms.
It was also where he made his first real friend.
Jack liked to climb. The cherry blossom trees in the schoolyard weren't exactly designed for climbing, but Jack's picky eating habits had left him skinny enough for the branches to support his weight. The trees were ideal for observing the courtyard without attracting too much attention, and when he finally did get noticed, it was by someone he didn't mind being noticed by.
Jamie was younger than him, and spent most of his time reading. He knew the name mostly because of how often he'd literally run into Jamie in the school corridors, or heard teachers scolding Jamie for not looking where he was going. Jamie buried his head in books when reading them, lost track of his surroundings, and Jack admired that ability.
Jamie looked up at Jack from his reading spot under the tree one day and asked, "What are you doing?"
Jack shrugged, asked in return, "What are you reading?", and quickly learned that the one thing Jamie loved more than reading books was talking about them.
Jack had mostly stopped hating Aster by the time Aster announced he was moving back to Australia. Jack's grin in response to the announcement might even have had some genuine affection in it.
Jack's request that Aster keep in touch was somewhat less genuine, but when he received his first postcard from Australia and pinned it to his bedroom wall alongside the cards he'd been given by Jamie and other school friends, he was glad he'd asked. Aster was a lot funnier when writing from a distance than he had been in person.
For several months afterwards, Jack went without a carer, his mother dressing and feeding him while the school kept him organised, and although there was no one around who could help him in the aftermath of an angry or sobbing fit, it was barely a fortnightly occurrence.
In April Jack turned thirteen, and two events demanded he be assigned a new carer. The first was the school's exam season dramatically increasing how often he was snapping. The second was his mother getting a job with an earlier start and inflexible hours.
Jack was fully prepared to hate his new carer as irrationally as he had hated Aster, but had the decision taken out of his hands by his hormones. Kozmotis Pitchiner was slim, pale, very, very tall, and the hottest person Jack had ever seen.
All of which was a surprising discovery when less than five minutes ago Jack had thought himself in love with his shorter and curvier physics tutor, Ms. Toothiana.
Having Kozmotis as a carer was very different to having Aster as a carer, and not just because Jack's crush on him decided to grow rather than fade over time. Kozmotis was professional in a different way to Aster, ensuring Jack knew the rules he was expected to follow and making certain he and the people he was around were always safe, but willing to joke with him on occasion and chat between classes.
He was also more willing to accept his nickname than Aster had been. Aster had objected to being nicknamed "Bunny", despite his surname begging to be shortened. Kozmotis was a mouthful, and Ko or Koz just sounded silly. Pitch suited him, with the black hair and all, and given other children nicknaming him "Lurch" or "Voldemort", it was a more flattering option.
The biggest difference of all, however, was simply the fact that Pitch was the first person who could calm Jack during one of his breakdowns. He was the first person to understand it was never that Jack wanted to be alone, it was that he wanted to exist on his own terms for a little bit - without other people's noise, without their touch, without anything he hadn't asked for specifically.
Pitch would clear out the room, ensure Jack wasn't holding anything he could hurt himself with, and then sit down quietly and wait for Jack to settle. Sometimes Jack would need to run around the room for a while or jump up and down, burning off unwanted excess energy. Sometimes he would collapse and sob.
Pitch was always there if he needed the company, but he didn't insist on being Jack's company. The distinction mattered.
Jack never understood why there weren't many people who openly liked Pitch. He could be blunt, but he was rarely mean about it; he was just honest, and unafraid of pointing out if someone was lying. No one else had ever called Jack out when he exaggerated how angry or upset he was about a situation, and no one else save for his mother had ever stood up for Jack when he was upset or angry over something small enough to be seen as "ridiculous".
Pitch always seemed to have answers, even if the answer was "No", or "I don't know". He never pretended to know better, never drifted off on tangents while trying to remember something he'd forgotten. When Jack had growing pains, Pitch identified them for what they were before Jack realised himself that the constant aching and straining in his limbs wasn't just from exercise.
Pitch also didn't make a habit of feeding Jack lies about how the world at large saw people with autism, and he was the first person to tell Jack to his face that he didn't need fixing. Not that he couldn't be fixed, not that there was nothing to fix, just that he didn't need fixing.
Jack knew the difference.
On a lighter note, Pitch's height also made him more fun to hide from than other kids or teachers.
"I won't ask how you got up there again," Pitch said, reaching up and bending forward slightly so Jack could grab Pitch's hands and hop down onto his shoulders safely. "But this has to stop."
"No," Jack replied, scrambling down Pitch's back before hopping up onto a chair so he could perch comfortably.
He wasn't meant to perch - health and safety precautions, etcetera etcetera - but Pitch never told him off unless he was knowingly perched somewhere unsafe. Like he had been a few seconds ago on top of the art cupboard.
"Yes," Pitch said, poking Jack in the shoulder with one long, bony finger.
It had been three years since Pitch became Jack's carer, and Jack had yet to hear him shout or swear. It was rare he even raised his voice, which was one of the many reasons Jack couldn't help trusting Pitch. Jack was used to hearing others shout and curse at the smallest things, forcing Jack to cover his ears and tense up to the point of being in pain, but he'd never had to worry about that around Pitch.
Pitch put his anger into words and gestures instead of inflicting it on others through noise. "If you break that cupboard, the school will make you pay for it."
"I can fix it," Jack said.
"They won't let you," Pitch replied, and there was a weariness in his voice Jack couldn't help liking - it was frustration at the world around Jack, not at Jack himself. "More's the pity. Now get moving, you're late for maths."
Jack's stomach clenched tight and he bowed his head, knowing he had an exam to take and convinced he was doomed to fail it. Pitch held out a hand, waited for Jack to lean into it before ruffling his hair. "I'll just be outside," Pitch reassured him. "I have to finish my book, after all."
Jack reached up to the hand in his hair, squeezed it tight before sliding off the chair and onto his feet, heading reluctantly towards the classroom.
He passed by 0.7%, found out shortly after that Jamie had also scraped by, and his mother bought them both ice cream to celebrate.
At sixteen years old he knew he should have felt a little embarrassed to be celebrating a barely passed exam with his mother, best friend, and ice cream. On the other hand he'd recently started to realise, courtesy of Pitch, that maybe growing up didn't have to mean growing boring.
He still teased Jamie for getting rainbow sprinkles, even if his mother cuffed him lightly on the shoulder for it.
Jack's seventeenth year sucked, to put it mildly. Jamie's dad lost his job, and that meant Jamie having to switch schools. They could still see each other on weekends, but it wasn't the same as having someone close to his age he could chat to between lessons.
Then there was how his crush on Pitch had taken a turn for the worse. Previously he'd been able to push it down and out of the way, forget it whenever he needed to, but lately the thoughts he'd tried to save for when he was in the shower or in bed had started turning up at really inappropriate times.
Jack hated that he had to close his eyes and try desperately to think of painful or hideous things when Pitch helped him dress in the morning, hated that if he didn't his mind would start wondering how Pitch would look kneeling between his legs, how it would feel to have Pitch's mouth on his cock.
He was old enough to know how much trouble Pitch would be in if anything did happen, tried to swap his fantasies at night to images he'd seen in porn, the skin of strangers, clumsy blurs of flesh against flesh. He tried to use guilt to kill what images of Pitch did pop into his head from time to time.
It didn't change that when he was close to the edge and losing control, he kept thinking of Pitch around him or inside him, what Pitch would look like when coming, and the only thing he could be thankful for was that he never felt compelled to speak during orgasm. He'd moan, or grunt, but he never said Pitch's name, no matter how many times he thought it.
That Jack's grades started slipping was of no surprise to him, and he suspected it was of little surprise to his mother or Pitch, though they put it down mostly to his missing Jamie. They were sympathetic, in their own way, if keen to put him back on the right path. Pitch would sit with him in the library while he studied, quietly reading through his own books or helping other students with their work; Pitch was Jack's carer, but that did not mean his time in school was entirely devoted to Jack. There were other students who needed assistance. Jack just needed more.
Occasionally Pitch would stop to check his phone, reading and sending texts. Jack tried not to think about who Pitch might be texting, but even if Pitch was distracting in some ways, it did help him to make progress in his studies instead of just staring blankly at the pages. Jack wanted to at least try to impress Pitch, to recover his grades to some degree.
It would have been easier if it weren't for how fighting his crush on Pitch and lacking Jamie to vent to between lessons was making it harder and harder to cope with his other classmates. Some of them were bearable, their habits and tics ones that Jack could handle, and some he outright liked, playing games with them whenever he had the energy.
There were some he couldn't stand, though, and one afternoon near the end of a week of poor marks on assignments and poorer marks on tests, Jack couldn't hide it any more.
"You do not punch people!" Mr North scolded, accent thickened by his anger as he cleaned up the mess Jack and Peter had made in the cafeteria while fighting. Jack's neck and shoulders were still tense, still preparing for attack, even though Peter had been taken out of the room to the nurse's office; Jack didn't see why, he hadn't been bleeding anywhere.
"I, I, I know, I know," Jack said through gritted teeth, rubbing at his left wrist angrily to distract himself from crying. He hated that his eyes watered whenever he felt threatened - how many times had he read that men, "real" men, weren't supposed to cry?
"Good. Then you will tell Peter you're sorry."
"I won't, I'm not," Jack said, rubbing his wrist harder. "I told him, I said stop, I said stop and he didn't listen and I told him." The skin of his wrist felt hot and sore, and though sometimes it helped distract him from anxiety, it wasn't doing him any favours on this occasion.
"You know better than this, Jack," Mr North said, his tone shifting, turning placating. "You hurt Peter. It was naughty for him to keep chewing with his mouth open, and I know you don't like it when -"
"You don't know!" Jack screamed, staring at Mr North, his chest tight with anger until he couldn't hold it in any more and screamed again, picking up the nearest chair and slamming it down on the table over and over and over, mind blanking except for pain and rage and how these people, these "normal" people didn't understand.
He felt the cafeteria empty more than he saw it, curled up in a ball under a table once he exhausted himself, and pressed his face against the metal leg, feeling anger turn to misery and back to anger again, looping over and over.
There was muffled talking outside not long after, Pitch's voice raised a little over Mr North's, though Jack could only make out "... came as soon as I... hurt? … you have to watch... wrists," before the door opened.
The cafeteria lights turned off in quick succession and what light came in through the room's windows was soon blocked out by shutters, leaving the room as black as the time of day allowed. Jack watched Pitch settle down next to him in his peripheral vision, arms loose at his sides and legs stretched out.
Jack turned around and let himself fall onto Pitch, tucking his head into Pitch's lap and keeping himself curled up tight.
Pitch didn't say much, kept his voice quiet and low when he did speak. "You're okay," Pitch said, stroking Jack's hair. "I'm here. I won't leave you."
Jack allowed himself to sob. It was different crying with Pitch than crying on his own. It was safer.
Pitch moved his hand to rub Jack's shoulders, and when Jack told him the whole story in broken, wet bursts between sobs, Pitch didn't interrupt or offer unwanted advice.
When Jack finished the story, uncurled a little bit more, and quietly admitted, "I love you. I really, really love you," Pitch didn't offer unwanted advice then either.
Pitch mopped Jack's damp face with his sleeve and said, "I know. It's fine." Jack nodded and closed his eyes, exhausted. It didn't matter much whether Pitch loved him back, or even if he could. It just mattered that he knew.
Jack knew Pitch could keep a secret.
"I think it's hometime for you," Pitch said after Jack settled, and Jack nodded, getting up reluctantly and leaning against Pitch heavily for balance. "And a good, long sleep. It's almost the weekend."
"Almost," Jack repeated back, trying to take comfort in the idea. Weekends meant a chance to see Jamie; they also meant being away from Pitch.
Jack had never been the biggest fan of school, but the idea of finishing it and losing Pitch was upsetting in a way he hadn't seen coming. He'd always known leaving school would mean leaving the people he'd met through it behind, but it was only recently the reality of it had sank in.
Throughout the last few months of school, Jack kept expecting the worst. He predicted sobbing, screaming, fits of anger - he expected to break down completely as his schedule collapsed and the bonds he'd made during school were broken.
He hadn't expected to enjoy it. Once the exams were over and the remaining days were little more than tying up loose ends for the students who planned to go into higher education, there was a relaxed atmosphere in school that Jack found himself liking. People he hadn't previously spoken to much would come up to him, have conversations they'd always meant to have but never found time for, and no one felt the need to stick to school rules rigidly anymore.
Jack had always wanted to dye his hair, and the last week of school felt like a perfect time to do it.
The bleaching kit had been tucked away in the corner of his socks' drawer for months, a gift from Jamie at Christmas that Jack had been desperate to use, but he hadn't wanted to make a mess of everything and knew better than to ask an adult for help while school rules still applied. Pitch was still reluctant to help when Jack asked, but Jack could be persuasive when he wanted to be and wasn't above using guilt when he needed to.
Pitch's fingers were pleasingly firm as they combed through Jack's hair, and Jack closed his eyes, allowed himself to enjoy the sensation. The scent of bleach stung his nostrils, but the excitement of doing something rebellious of his own free will overcame Jack's initial instinct to get rid of the smell. Time seemed to drag by, and Jack caught himself humming, relaxing into Pitch's touch, and when Pitch's thumbs traced around his ears, Jack let out a quiet moan without thinking.
Pitch didn't jerk back, but he did pause for a moment before keeping his fingers away from Jack's ears once he started moving again. Jack didn't particularly mind.
Rinsing the bleach out was easier, and something of a relief - not just to be rid of the smell, but to see that he wasn't losing more hair than usual down the drain. He had been worried by horror stories about bleach, but having a helping hand to put it in and to time everything had apparently prevented him becoming one of those horror stories.
Jack dragged his t-shirt back on roughly, hopped out of the shower, and ran over to the bathroom mirror before ruffling his hair, watching it settle into pale spikes.
"Awesome," Jack said, laughing, before turning to Pitch and finding his breath caught in his chest.
No one had ever looked at him like that. Like there was nothing else in the room.
"What do you think?" Jack asked, grinning despite his nerves.
Pitch composed himself, looked down at the floor and folded his arms. "You look great," he said, and Jack returned to towel-drying his hair, watching the bleached strands brighten as they dried. He couldn't wipe the smile from his face; he thought he looked good, and Pitch obviously agreed.
Jack didn't see Pitch at home after that, although he managed a stunted and awkward goodbye on the last day of school. He knew Pitch only worked with high school students, that he would bump into him outside school on occasion and would still have Pitch's phone number if he ever needed to talk, but it was no real comfort.
Jack wanted Pitch to look at him the way he had after the bleaching incident. He wanted Pitch to drop his guard again, to feel safe doing so.
Even if Jack didn't understand some social norms, he knew enough to understand why Pitch had kept away from him as much as possible in that last week of school. Pitch thought of him as too young - always would, if he had only ever known Jack through high school - unless Jack had something to point to as proof he was an adult.
Jack wanted to prove himself an adult, and he wanted to offer more than his personality to Pitch, because even if Pitch loved him as he was, Jack wanted more. He wanted appreciation, to be more than someone who needed looking after, and even if he would never be self-sufficient, he wanted to feel as if he was worth taking care of.
Jack would never grow up in some ways - he would always struggle with simple tasks, always hate loud noises, always run the risk of under or overreacting in other people's eyes - but he was bright, and he was determined he would prove himself capable of responsibility.
Jack wanted a job, and even if age wasn't really any proof of maturity, he didn't want to be a teenager any more.
Jack's attempts at office work were disastrous. Even though employers were always on their best behaviour around him, desperately trying to make it clear they didn't discriminate against applicants with disabilities, they would always unsubtly pry into whether his would be a nuisance to them or not. The three times Jack passed the interview stage and was shown around the offices he would be working in if his application was successful, he felt a sense of panic at the constant noise, the small and closed-off rooms, the bright lighting.
The one time his application succeeded, Jack lasted a full morning before walking out, shaking with fear he'd never be able to work, shaking worse with the fear that if he did, it would be in a place like that again.
Jack could not hold timed conversations. Even if he'd been told in advance he would get better with practice, that he'd pick up speed as he went along, just looking at the timer during each and every call had him panicking.
It was an aunt who suggested software testing. Even if it didn't pay well, even if it was repetitive, it was something he could do from home in peace and quiet.
Better still, the nature of the work meant that after completing a contract for one company, he could rest before moving onto the next if he wanted to. He rarely took a break for more than a few days, but knowing he had the freedom to do so was probably a major part of why he didn't need to take breaks.
The best part of being busy, however, was the fact it meant he didn't spend all his time missing Jamie or wishing he could see Pitch. Even if Jack still caught himself counting the days down to his twentieth birthday, the urgency to grow up he'd felt when leaving school had been replaced by nervous excitement, the thought that he'd done the right thing for himself.
After keeping in contact with Pitch with texts and occasional calls, he'd finally dared ask for Pitch's address, and he'd received it. Jack didn't know for certain what permission to visit meant, but he had high hopes.
If Jack had more common sense, he would probably have waited until the morning after his twentieth birthday before deciding he had to visit Pitch's house, instead of climbing out of bed at half past ten after failing to fall asleep.
Jack didn't put much value in common sense. He'd done well enough in his life without it so far.
The house was quiet as Jack dressed, pulling on leggings, a sweater, and slip-on shoes, and completely giving up on his coat after fumbling with the buttons for as long as his patience allowed. Jack threw on two scarves as compensation for his failure with the coat, threw his phone and keys into a plastic bag, and ran downstairs, clutching the bag tight.
Even if he was allowed to go out on his own, Jack left a quick scrawl of a note just to ensure no one thought he'd gone missing in the middle of the night for the wrong reasons. He wasn't a likely target for kidnapping and had never been a sleepwalker, but that didn't mean his mother was immune to assuming the worst.
Besides, his phone's battery was low, and stopping to charge it didn't quite fit the Hollywood imagery running through Jack's head.
The wintery weather quickly showed why a coat would have been a wiser investment than his two scarves, but Jack was less than five minutes walk from Pitch's house when his shivering was worsened by snow and he was determined not to go back.
It did make standing on Pitch's doorstep much more daunting than he'd expected it to be, and Jack hesitated before ringing the doorbell, took a moment to gather himself. He could do this. He'd waited long enough for it.
"Happy birthday," Jack said when Pitch opened the door, and immediately felt like an idiot. "I mean, it's my birthday. I'm twenty."
Pitch opened the door wide, letting Jack step in out of the snow to ditch the scarves and plastic bag; Jack wished he could read expressions better because although he could tell Pitch was surprised, he couldn't tell if it was a good or bad sort of surprised. Jack straightened his shoulders. He'd turned up with one purpose; might as well get it over with.
"I love you," Jack said, before they were interrupted by a young girl barging into the corridor.
"Who are you?" She asked, keeping her distance. She couldn't have been older than ten.
"This is Jack," Pitch said, and the little girl's face lit up as she ran up to them before stopping suddenly, just shy of Jack's feet.
"Can I hug you?"
Jack frowned in confusion before dropping to his knees and nodding, staring up at Pitch as the girl wrapped her arms around him. She smelled like Pitch's soap.
"I thought dad was telling stories," she said.
Jack's heart started pounding. "Is this your daughter?"
"My name is Sera," the girl grumbled, letting him go and straightening her pyjamas. "You're really pretty," she said before running off again.
Jack felt like he might fall over if he tried standing up. "You have a kid," Jack said, scratching lightly at his wrist, still trying to process the news. "I didn't know."
Pitch sat down next to him, their limbs cramped together in the narrow space of the hallway. "I wasn't sure when to tell you."
"I guessed that," Jack said, wondering how many of the times when Pitch had seemed distracted or distant were courtesy of the fact he happened to be a father. "Where's her mom?" Jack asked, and Pitch hesitated a second too long to be comfortable.
"She left, when Sera turned one." Pitch pressed his lips together tight for a moment before he looked down at the floor, and Jack knew that expression better even if he'd never seen it on Pitch before. It was shame. "I should have told you, Jack."
Jack shook his head fiercely, reached over to stroke Pitch's hair, knowing the gesture had always been one he found comforting himself. "I don't mind," Jack said, and realising after a moment's thought that he meant it. "Pitch?"
Pitch looked up and Jack swallowed hard, knowing the moment between them was a delicate one and he'd never been anything but clumsy.
"I love you," Jack repeated, waiting for a response. He'd thought about what Pitch might say, all the arguments they might have, all the answers he could give.
"You deserve better."
Jack wanted to smack him for coming up with the one answer he couldn't have predicted. "Bullshit," Jack said, hating the word, but hating more than anything else that Pitch could ever, ever think that he was the one who didn't deserve Jack. "If you don't love me, fine, but don't lie to me. Not you."
Pitch looked almost offended at that, and Jack had a strange urge to smirk, though he fought it down. Pitch taking offence meant he wanted to defend himself, and that proved Jack's point about him talking bullshit. "I'm going to Hell for this," Pitch said, and before Jack could protest, Pitch leant over and kissed him.
It was brief, Pitch only catching the side of his mouth, and in many ways it barely counted as a kiss, but it didn't matter. Jack could feel a faint damp trace on his lips, something he wouldn't have had if Pitch hadn't kissed him.
Pitch pulled back and Jack took a quick, nervous breath before deciding that no, they weren't done yet, wrapping an arm around Pitch's shoulders to pull him close and kiss him back.
Jack wanted to know how on Earth people had learned to cope with kissing. He felt fit to burst with excitement, his fingers curling in Pitch's hair, his knees so weak he was glad to be kneeling else he might have fallen over. He'd had kisses before - the unwanted, affectionate sort, mostly on the cheek from aunties and cousins - but kissing someone you wanted to kiss, someone you wanted, it was indescribable.
"You're just a boy," Pitch said, his breath warm against Jack's lips, and Jack grinned, shook his head.
"I'm twenty," Jack replied, "And I've thought about this for years."
Pitch flushed red, his hips giving a quick little jerk against Jack's, before he climbed awkwardly to his feet and straightened his clothes as best as he could. "I need five minutes," Pitch said, helping Jack stand before calling out, "Sera? Time for bed."
Pitch grit his teeth, whispered, "Ten minutes," before leaving Jack in the hallway.
It wasn't quite the Hollywood ending Jack had been hoping for, but the fluttering excitement in his stomach suggested it was going to be worth the wait.
Pitch's bedroom was sparse compared to the rest of the household, and Jack wondered how long some of the shelves had been empty. He hadn't asked why or how Sera's mother had left, and he didn't intend to.
"I didn't want her to walk in," Pitch said, as if it had needed explaining, and Jack sat down on the bed, kicking off his shoes and flexing his bare feet. "Are you sure you want this?"
"Yes," Jack replied, rolling his eyes. "Can you stop double-checking?"
"No," Pitch said, eyes flashing bright with a tease, and Jack grinned as Pitch approached the bed, laughed out loud when he was manhandled further back onto the sheets, far enough that when Pitch hooked fingers in the waistband of his leggings he could pull them off in one go. "Do you want this?" Pitch asked, and it was blatantly a game this time.
"Yes," Jack said, waiting for Pitch to straddle him before fisting his hands in Pitch's shirt, tugging it up while Pitch unbuttoned the cuffs of his sleeves and his collar just on time to allow Jack to finish pulling the shirt off over his head. Jack bit his lip, running his hands over Pitch's bared skin, shutting his eyes when Pitch leant over and kissed him again.
When Jack reopened his eyes, Pitch had discarded his belt and undone the fastenings on his pants, a wicked grin on his face as he asked, "Do you still want this?"
Jack's laugh caught in his throat this time; he couldn't help thinking about how few layers still remained between them as he again said "Yes," before helping Pitch strip off his pants.
Pitch's boxer shorts, Jack's briefs, and Jack's sweater remained.
Jack wrapped his legs and arms around Pitch tight, wanting to be as close to him as possible for a moment, needing the chance to breathe, and Pitch allowed it, kissing Jack lightly on the jaw, on the neck, pushing one hand up under Jack's sweater and resting it on his chest. The warmth helped, somehow.
Jack felt like sand - like he'd been desperate for water and now he was drowning in it, being swept away by it. Pitch's lips, Pitch's chest, Pitch's thighs - he'd spent so long thinking about them, so long trying not to think about them, and now he had permission to see them and touch them. It was overwhelming.
Pitch's fingers caught one of Jack's nipples, pinching lightly at first, then harder, and Jack hissed before realising it gave him something to focus on. Pitch had stopped asking questions, but Jack nodded anyway, reaching down to grab Pitch's thighs, feeling the strength in them as they held Pitch above him. "Always loved your legs."
Pitch bit Jack's neck lightly before pulling away, bracing himself on his elbows. "You could fuck them," Pitch said. Jack attempted a reply, though it definitely didn't come out in words, just a sort of garbled squawk and a whine.
Pitch took one of Jack's hands, tucked it between his thighs, and Jack got the idea pretty quickly. "Yeah, I, we can do that," Jack stuttered out before wrestling off his sweater, feeling far, far too hot to be wearing any layers whatsoever anymore.
Pitch climbed back off the bed for a moment, opening and shutting drawers on the bedside table until he found what he'd been searching for.
Pitch stripped off his boxer shorts, ripped open the packet of lube, and spread it thickly between his thighs; Jack fell back against the bed and shut his eyes, wanting to hold the sight in his mind as long as possible, to keep it in his memory forever.
It was easy to let Pitch manoeuvre him again, stripping Jack of his briefs and finding a way for their bodies to fit together, and when he reopened his eyes it was to the sight of Pitch's shoulders, pale and strong and defined as the rest of him.
Jack pressed his lips to the nape of Pitch's neck before pushing his cock between Pitch's thighs, the heat of them more than he had expected even after feeling it with his hand only moments earlier. The friction was more than enough to satisfy his cravings, let him set his own pace without worrying about hurting Pitch, and the freedom the position lent to his arms made it easy to slip one around Pitch's waist, grabbing his cock to squeeze it tight and stroke roughly.
Pitch waited only a moment before starting to guide him, one of his hands closing over Jack's and helping Jack learn how hard was too hard, how light was too light, quiet grunts and moans punctuating his instructions. Jack had always loved Pitch's voice, and hearing it turn deeper and rougher as he neared orgasm was enough to have Jack burying his face in Pitch's neck and whining, unable to cope. It was too much, but a good kind of too much, the feel of Pitch's cock in his hand proof that he was trusted and wanted.
Words died out altogether near the end, Jack unable to call out Pitch's name, scarcely able to remember his own, and when he came wet over and between Pitch's thighs, it was with a sob muffled by biting Pitch's shoulder.
Jack would have apologised afterwards, if Pitch hadn't cried out and come almost the instant Jack bit down.
Pitch was the first to move afterwards, and only a little, enough to grab a box of tissues off the bedside table and wipe away the worst of the mess.
Jack didn't like the silence much, not when he couldn't see Pitch's face, and as soon as Pitch started to settle again Jack tugged at his waist until he turned over.
Pitch looked content, and seeing it meant Jack could feel content too. "Good night," Jack said, tucking his head into Pitch's shoulder.
He felt Pitch's laugh as much as he heard it. "Good night."
Jack woke to an empty bed, his keys and phone set on the bedside table, and immediately rolled over before falling asleep again, deciding that if anyone wanted his attention, they would have to earn it.
He woke a second time to a warm, if somewhat unfamiliar smell, and the bed dipping from another person's weight on it.
Pitch waited for Jack to sit up before handing over a cup of tea, and Jack took a small, careful sip, taking a few moments to decide what was different about it.
"Earl Grey," said Pitch, taking an indulgent gulp of his own. Jack watched the movement of Pitch's throat as he swallowed, relieved he no longer had to pretend he didn't want to.
It really was good tea, if not quite as life-changing as Pitch had claimed in earlier conversations. "Morning," Jack said, deciding he could get quite used to this breakfast in bed idea, taking a few more sips before he set his cup down on the bedside table and pressed his face into Pitch's back. It was slightly damp, and smelled amazing. "You've showered," Jack said, sliding his arms around Pitch's waist and holding him tight. "Mmmph."
Pitch didn't say anything, just continued drinking his tea, only setting his own cup down once he'd emptied it. "How long will you be staying?" Pitch asked, voice a little stiff, and Jack rubbed a hand over Pitch's stomach lazily for a moment as he gave the matter the few seconds of thought it deserved.
"I'm good with forever," Jack replied, teasing, before saying, "How long will you have me?"
"Forever sounds fine to me," Pitch said.
Jack had never really grasped time the way other people did, so when he started leaving his clothes and books around Pitch's home, it didn't occur to him that maybe he was taking things too fast. Empty shelves started filling with DVDs and videogames, and his phone charger found a permanent home in one of the bedside table's drawers.
It wasn't as jarring to move out of his old bedroom as he might have expected. Pitch's home looked very different to Jack's mother's, but it was still stable, and still relatively quiet. Sera tended to burn off a lot of her energy with her friends before getting home, and although she was excitable, she was more inclined towards laughing and jumping than towards screaming and stomping.
Pitch claimed she'd been a terror when she was younger, that she wore through all her tantrums by the time she was five. Jack believed him - Sera might have the soft curls and plump cheeks of a cherub, but her eyes were always bright with mischief.
Jack knew his moving out of home would be noticed eventually, but it was only when Jack packed up his computer that his mother cornered him, asked where he was going.
After a long moment's silence, she said, "As long as he makes you happy."
After an awkward hug and another moment's silence, she added, "If he ever doesn't, I have a shovel."
They weren't a cookie-cutter family by any standards, but it didn't make them any less of one. Jack loved Pitch and adored Sera, and even if his software testing career didn't rake in a fortune, it helped fill in gaps where Pitch's finances would have been stretched. When the washing machine broke down, Jack could help. When Sera wanted to go on the school trip abroad, Jack could help.
They in turn helped him, making sure he didn't forget to eat or sleep at sensible hours, making sure he was properly dressed before leaving the house, and letting him know which movies on the TiVo box he could safely enjoy.
He learned that Sera was as fond of climbing and perching as he was, the two of them scaring Pitch half to death every time they went to a park or forest by scrambling up the trees. Sometimes there were bumps, bruises and scratches. One time there was a broken ankle. The risk didn't distract from the entertainment value.
He learned that Pitch had a deep love for horror movies, from black and white Hammer or Hitchcock classics through to modern shaky-cam flicks, to the point where it bordered on being a fetish. Jack liked the scares, as long as the gore was minor or extremely fake. Sometimes, if they were being silly, he let Pitch re-enact certain scenes with him, and the bathroom tiles bore cosmetic damage from the results.
Psycho's shower scene wouldn't have been improved by sex up against a wall, but Jack secretly preferred his and Pitch's version.
Jack was twenty-five when he first introduced Pitch to the rest of his family at his mother's sixtieth birthday party, and the results were predictable. Everyone lavished attention on Sera, a bubbly and unusually self-confident teenager, and tiptoed on glass around Pitch and Jack, desperately careful to be politically correct.
Uncle Vincent aside, of course, who toasted Jack for being a "lucky retard" before being quickly carted outside and strongly encouraged to get in a taxi.
The fact the insult had been expected didn't stop it from stinging, but Jack felt Pitch's arm slip around his waist, squeezing gently, and it was a more effective balm than any words. "He got one word right," Jack said, relaxing when he heard some quiet giggling as a result.
Somehow, one person saying completely the wrong thing made everyone else less anxious about the possibility of making a mistake, and people got over their nerves to talk to him and Pitch. Several of them were quite keen to point out how they supported gay marriage, and Jack opted against pointing out he had no intentions of marrying Pitch even if it did become legal purely because the stress of a wedding would probably kill them both. Several were also curious about Pitch's family background. "Kozmotis? Is that Polish?"
Pitch coped with the interrogation admirably, although Jack suspected he was relieved when it was time to head home; Sera clearly was, curling up in the back of the car to fall asleep.
Jack waited until they were both belted in before leaning across and kissing Pitch hard. "You did great," he said, grinning wide.
Pitch breathed out shakily before catching Jack's hand in his, squeezing tight. Jack squeezed back, letting Pitch take what support he needed, and allowing himself to relax. Pitch and Sera were the family he had made, and even if he loved them whether or not he had the approval of his blood family, seeing them fit together was a relief.
"Yes," Pitch agreed, finally letting go so he could start the car, but the warmth of his touch lingered on Jack's skin.
"Home sweet home," Jack ordered, knowing that it would be.
They weren't a cookie-cutter family, but they were his, and Jack loved them.