As Bitty’s comforting weight draped over his back like a warm blanket, pushing him into the mattress, Jack could hardly breathe. Yet, he wouldn’t have it any other way with Bitty’s soft, strong hands on him, one wrapped around his hip the other gripping the back of his neck hard enough to leave marks, delicious pinpricks of pain that reminded him that this wasn’t a dream.
A full-body shiver shook him to the core when hot breath washed over him, enticing goose bumps to the surface. Jack was too far gone to understand any of the sweet, yet utterly filthy nothings Bitty’s lips pressed into the skin just below his ear, though he was fairly certain he heard an ‘I love you’ gasped out between curses. He had a few of his own, a ‘crisse du câlisse’ escaping his lips at least once.
Bitty shifted, moving off where he’d plastered himself to Jack’s back, to kneel on the bed. He rolled his hips in a manner reminiscent of the way Jack had seen him dance so many times in the Haus kitchen. It had been maddening to watch him move back then, but now...
To be honest, he hadn’t expected Bitty to be waiting in his condo when he arrived home from the airport this evening, a welcome surprise, don’t get him wrong. And he certainly hadn’t expected to walk into his bedroom to see his boyfriend wearing one of his button-downs...and only that, a wanton smirk playing at the corner of Bitty’s mouth. For all their combined awkwardness in the beginning, when they’d first started doing well, this, they sure learned each other’s preferences, mapped the planes of their bodies, and became addicted to the salty taste of sweat-damp skin quickly.
Behind him, Bitty’s breaths now came in short punches as he picked up the pace, his slim hips snapping forward in time with his panting. Jack arched his back when one thrust sent Bitty’s cock over his prostate, damn near drawing his orgasm out of him. He hadn’t come untouched in so long, he almost forgot it was possible. Even still, he was on fire. He wanted to come. No- he needed it. He ground his erection into the mattress in a desperate attempt to gain much needed friction.
It didn’t work, and when he started to reach beneath himself to wrap his hand around his aching cock, Bitty grabbed his wrist to stop him. “Ah, ah, ah, sweetheart. Not tonight. Not like that.”
Once more Jack found himself beneath the weight of Bitty’s body along his back. A breath ghosted over the shell of his ear.
“I want to see you come just like...this,” he practically purred in Jack’s ears, as he rolled his hips, pushing into him deeper than he’d gone all night.
“Taber-,” and Jack couldn’t even finish speaking before those sinful thrusts returned, slower, smoother than before, each one ripping every ragged breath out of him.
Bitty’s hands gripped at Jack’s wrists, pinning his hands to the mattress, not that Jack couldn’t move him off if he’d wanted...if he’d wanted.
But he didn’t. God, how he didn’t want to move from that spot. In that moment, he felt so damn overwhelmed by everything where for once, it didn’t scare the shit out of him.
Bitty came with a gasp. Jack threw his head back when frantic fingers tugged on his hair, and he felt the sharp nip of Bitty’s teeth on the back of his neck, right where it met his shoulder. And that’s all it took to tip him over the edge. He came between one breath and the next, the heavenly sting of pain sending waves of pleasure crashing through his body.
His body was still quaking when Bitty pulled out of him, not that he was aware of much. He couldn’t stop shaking.
“Shh, shh. I’ve got you,” Bitty said, one gentle hand carding through at Jack’s hair as the other cleaned him up. The mattress dipped down as Bitty lay down beside him and pressed a kiss to his shoulder. “Mmm. Sleep. You’ve had a long day.”
“I doubt I could move anyway,” he grumbled into his pillow. “Think you broke me, Bits.”
Bitty gave him a soft smile as he pulled the covers over them both. “Good thing?”
“Yeah. Very good thing.”
Jack held the door open for Tater to walk through as they made their way into the arena. He’d run into Jack in the parking lot, and he just had to tell him about the program he’d watched on the History channel the night before
“So anyway, Zimmboni. It drive me crazy when I watch program, and they talking about Russia like it one gomogennyy country.”
“I not know word in English. It mean all same type people.”
Jack rubbed his chin. “I think you mean homogeneous.”
“Huh. That sound kind of same. Anyway. It big country. Much room for many group of people. So I had turn that show off. It bum me out, as Snowy say.” He paused, remembering what he had originally wanted to say when he first saw him step out of his car. “Oh! You never guess! Irishka get papers! She come in three weeks. Finish high school in America.”
Jack clapped him on the back. “That’s fantastic. How does she feel about staying all alone at your place when you’re on a roadie?”
“No, no. This best part. I talk to Estelle Perrineau...you know? Guy’s wif-”
“I know who Estelle is, Tater.”
“Right. I talk to Mrs. P, and she say Irishka can stay with them when I go to away trip. They live not two kilometers from me. So she go to school easy. Not far. I am...very happy man now.”
Jack looked over at him and grinned. “You’re a good guy, Tater. You know that?”
“I hear once or twice,” he said with a shrug.
When they made it to the locker room, he excused himself and let Jack get dressed. He, however, was a man on a mission, and strode to Coach Campbell’s office. He rapped on the doorframe. “Hey, Coach. Busy? I have important thing talk about.”
Coach Campbell waved him in. “Come on in, Mashkov. What can I do for you?”
Tater sat down in the chair across from Coach Campbell. “So, Coach, I thinking. Why we not having ‘You Can Play’ video like all other teams? We should. It...it right thing to do. Make fans and players…” Then, remembering that he had confidential information, he backtracked a bit. “You know young players. Kids in Providence. We need to make all feel welcome. This a thing we do, yeah? Make video?”
Coach nodded, considering his words. “You raise a good point. We should have one. I’ll talk to PR and have them work up script.”
Tater stood up, his face alight with pride. “No need, Coach. I have perfect thing.” From the pocket of his hoodie, he pulled several sheets of folded paper and placed them on the desk. “After I getting mad at TV last night, I have brilliant idea. I write script.” He pointed to the color coding on the script. “Direction notes in red. What to say in black. Well, the guys say correct words. I not speak all the languages. So, you arrange camera. Leave rest to me.” He turned and walked out before the coach could get a word in edgewise.
Tater looked out at the team where they sat in the main conference room, all of them dressed in their Falconers windbreakers and athletic pants. except Rantsy who showed up in a tailored three-piece. “Fancy Rantsy, why you show up looking like GQ model? We make sport video not walk runway! Go change. You make rest of team look bad.”
“You said we were making a promotional video. What the else was I supposed to wear?”
“You too much. Too much,” he said as Rantsy grumbled and walked out.
“So. I know you all wonder why we coming here on day off to make video, and why not whole team. It my idea. Here you go,” he handed a stack of papers to Guy. “You take one, learn lines. I saying most of stuff, because people like me. I have, what you say, Snowy, friendly face?”
He pointed to Snowy. “That’s it. Yeah that the one. Is easy.”
“We’re filming a spot for You Can Play?” Poots asked. “Why now? I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s a great cause. Just all the other teams made theirs over a year ago.”
“I know. We not have one. We should. So we make one. I pick you guys because, you all not native English speakers...well except Thirdy, but you bilingual, and Spanish important.”
Thirdy groaned. “If you were going to have us come in today, you should have at least badgered Zimmboni into having his girlfriend bake some pies.”
At the mention of Jack’s nonexistent girlfriend, Snowy laughed, “Does he even have a girlfriend anymore? Like the first couple months of the season Tater talked about how she was a great cook all the time. I don’t think he’s said a word about her in over a month.”
Thirdy rubbed his chin while he pondered Snowy’s words. “You’re right. He hasn’t.”
Tater scrubbed a frustrated hand down his face. “Come on guys. Can we not talking about Zimmboni’s sweetheart?”
“What’s this about Zimmbo’s lady friend?” Rantsy, looking more like part of the team than an Armani model, grabbed a copy of the script when he reentered the conference room. “She bake us cookies this time? Hey, you think you could get her to make kardemummapikkuleivät? They’re these great cardamom sugar cookies.”
“No. We’re trying to figure out whether Zimmboni is still with her.”
“Well, Snowy, I mean, he must still be dating her, because those pies just keep coming.” Rantsy sat down in the empty chair next to Marty. “So. Why no treats today? She busy?”
Tater sighed. “Sorry. I foolish. I making mistake. Zimmboni have no girlfriend.”
Snapped out of his thoughts and his own little world, Poots looked up at him, tearing his eyes from the script. “Wait...they broke up?” he squawked. “Does this mean no more goodies? Cause I will kill for a piece of blueberry pie right now.”
The guys chattered back and forth, lamenting what they believed to be an end to the delicious treats.
“Well, we can’t let the poor guy stew with a broken heart. We gotta take him out for drinks after this. It’s the unwritten rule of the locker room,” Snowy said.
“No, I mean. Zimmboni not have girlfriend before. He have friend at university who liking to bake. I hear wrong.”
Just as Tater sat back down, Jack’s phone buzzed on the table. When he read the text, the room erupted in chatter again.
“Bullshit he doesn’t have a girlfriend. Look at his heart eyes. You just want to keep all the pies yourself, Tater.”
“No. I promise it truth.” Tater looked over at Jack. They shared a moment of silent communication that went a little something like this:
“Zimmboni, you will saying something?”
“What should I do?'
“Can do whatever you want.. I right behind you.'
Jack cleared his throat a few times, trying to quiet the cacophonous murmur of voices in the room. “Um, hello?” When the team kept talking, he tried again.
After two more failed attempts to get their attention, Tater stood up. “Will you all being quiet? Zimmboni try talk to you. Now you speak, Jack.”
“There will be treats afterwards. Can we just go shoot the video now?” He looked down at his script. “My line here...you mind if I make a slight change?”
Tater looked over his shoulder. “What? You not like that one? It not how you call politically correct?”
Jack cocked his head to the side. “It’s not the best option. It leaves some people out.”
When Jack levelled him with a pleading look, Tater nodded his head. Though they hadn’t discussed it in depth, where Jack fell on that spectrum, Tater had just assumed that by being in a relationship with a man- “It fine. You say what feels best.”
Tater watched him visibly relax at his reassurance, and they all walked out to the ice.
Jack shifted his weight slightly from skate to skate as he stood there on his mark. His nerves growing by the minute, he watched as Marty butchered a line once more.
“Tater, this line is ridiculous. Why in the hell would I say it?”
Tater looked over at Marty who stood beside him. “Because it coming after my line about skate. It make sense.”
The director called action on the take.
Tater smiled into the camera. "Kissing girls is not what makes me hockey player!” He patted his chest. "This is hockey pads,” then, he tapped his stick against his skate, “and this is skate!”
Marty deadpanned, staring at the camera like he was plotting its demise. Jack had seen that face many times so far this season. It was usually followed with him dropping his gloves and going toe-to-toe with an opposing player. “This is ice! This is a bad place for kissing, too cold!"
“Who you kiss,” Guy said, skating into the shot, “doesn’t matter to the ice.”
Tater dropped the smile off his face, his expression turning serious. “Some places not agree, but in hockey, is okay.”
The director signaled to the second camera, the one focused on Thirdy and Snowy. “Offensive language, hateful actions, and discrimination have no place in hockey, professional sports, or everyday life.”
Jack swallowed hard. After Poots’ line, his line, the one he’d changed came next. “Hockey is a place for everyone, no matter your race, socioeconomic status.”
Jack took a deep breath, trying to put actual feeling into this. The last time they’d filmed something, a commercial, his lines had been cut. He was just too wooden. “Sports are not just for those who are straight. Whether you are gay, lesbian, bi, pan, ace, trans, or simply consider yourself part of the LGBTA+ Community in any form, the Falconers Family believes in creating a safe space for all fans, all players, for everyone.” There, not so bad, even though he’d put a slight pause before saying bi.
The director called ‘cut’ and everyone except Tater moved to their new mark for the closing group shot. After a countdown from three, Tater began his last lines.
“In locker room, there big culture of certain type talking. Often it...well, it not nice things to say. People sometimes forgetting when you say thing, even joking, you not knowing who those words hurt. So join me, join Falconers saying 'no more’. No more racism, sexism, homophobia or discrimination. No more. Bol'she nikogda.”
Snowy crossed his arms over his chest, looking as stern as he could. “Inte längre.”
“Nicht mehr,” Poots said, sounding more confident than Jack had ever heard him.
Guy bumped into his shoulder, a signal for them to say their line of “Plus jemais,” in unison.
“Už ne,” said Marty.
Rantsy smirked at the camera. “Ei enää.”
“No más.” Thirdy’s line was the last before the closing statement that they all said in unison
“If you can play, you can play!”
“And cut!” The director called. “That’s good guys.”
Snowy stared at Rantsy’s face quite intently.
“Dude, Rantsy. Are you wearing eyeliner and mascara?”
Rantsy scoffed, “Oh haista vittu, Snowy. I’m a platinum blonde. I wear eyeliner and mascara everyday. My eyes look bald otherwise.” He rolled his eyes and skated off.
Guy clapped Snowy on the shoulder. “Can’t believe you didn’t know he wore make-up.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah.”
Jack’s heartbeat had only just leveled off and returned to its baseline when he walked out of the tunnel to see Bitty standing outside the locker room. A lump rose in his throat. One he quickly tamped down. Why? Because if there ever was a perfect time for coming out to the rest of the team, it surely was right after filming a video declaring the gender you’re attracted didn’t matter so long as you could play. Happenstance, his mother would say. “Bits?”
Bitty shrugged, looking more than a little embarrassed. “Yep. I was just gonna drop off the mini pies and wait for you finish up in the car, but…my keys fell out of my pocket. I didn’t notice them sittin' on the front seat until I shut the door. And it’s snowing. I guess I could have waited outside.”
Jack sighed in exasperation, “Bitty, why would I want you wait outside in the co-”
Before he could finish, Tater made a beeline for Bitty, wrapping him up in a hug that lifted him off the ground. “Hi, hello, Beetle! How are doing?”
“Ugh,” he groaned, “wanna loosen up there, Tater? Can’t breathe.”
“Oh sorry. My mamochka always telling me I like excited puppy.”
The rest of the team had made it to the locker room at this point. Snowy hadn’t even noticed Bitty standing there in his parka, bypassing him entirely once he saw the bakery boxes. “Härligt! It’s those little pies again!"
“So you’re the pastry fairy,” Poots said, clearly not realize the double entendre of his words, or the the slashing motion Tater was doing across his throat to signal Poots to just stop talking. “Not what I expected, honestly.”
“For crying out loud, Poots.” Guy scrubbed a hand down his face.
Jack took a deep breath, running both hands through his hair before closing the distance and taking Bitty’s hand. “I’d like you all to meet, Eric, or Bitty as the team all called him. So… um… as you can see I don’t have a girlfriend’. Bits, I’ve told you all about these guys, but here they are.”
He could feel Bitty’s hand shaking in his, and he gave it a firm squeeze. To his relief, the trembling subsided.
Tater draped his arm around Jack’s shoulders. “And if you having problem with Zimmboni and Beetle, Zimmboni’s small, blonde boyfriend, you having problem with Tater.”
Guy was the first to come over, where he began to chatter away in French. “Gotta hand it to you, Zimmboni. If I were the one who needed to come out, this would be the perfect time for it. We’d all be a bunch of hypocritical jackasses to say anything bad now. I mean, not that we would.” He turned his attention to Bitty who stood there looking mostly lost. Well, he probably only caught three or four words out of Guy’s explanation. “Look, Eric,” he continued in English, “or would you prefer we call you Bitty as well?”
“Forgive Poots, he was born with his foot in his mouth. I’m not a hundred percent certain, but I think he was making a comparison to the Tooth Fairy, not the, you know, pejorative. He means well; he’s just...well, he’s eighteen. What can you do? I’m Guy Perrineau.”
One by one, the team introduced themselves to Bitty, and none of them had anything but praise for him. Jack admitted, than when Tater had said he could tell the team and they’d be okay with Jack’s sexual orientation, he didn’t quite believe him.. Yet, here he was, watching the evidence off exactly that: The team having his back.
“So, just because I’m curious,” Thirdy’s voice brought Jack out of his thoughts, “what did your line in the video actually say?”
“Oh that? It just said ‘whether you or straight or gay.’ I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t attach my name to something that failed to acknowledge so many people, including me.”
“So, you’re…” he trailed off, neglecting to finish his question.
“Why does it matter?”
Thirdy nodded. “Because it matters to you.”
Thirdy clapped him on the back. “Well, Zimmermann, I’m glad you told us, that you trusted us. As Captain, I second Tater’s words. The whole team is behind you. If anyone has a problem with you, then they have a problem with all of us. Give your fellow Marisol’s phone number. She’ll throw a brunch with the rest of the ladies for Bitty. Huh, I guess we’ll need to rename our Wives and Girlfriends club.”
Jack chuckled. “Yeah, I guess we will.” He walked back to where Bitty stood looking entirely overwhelmed by the team’s exuberant support. “Hey, you know your car comes with OnStar, right?”
Bitty stared at him for a second, his brows furrowed in confusion. “What does that have to do with- Oh my God,” he groaned and pulled out his phone and dialed. “I’ll be right back, sweetheart.”
As Bitty walked away towards the parking lot, Jack heard him say, “Hello, I locked my keys in the car.”
“How does it feel, your team knowing about us?” Bitty asked him as they lay in bed that night, his fingers tracing lazy patterns across the bare skin of Jack’s chest.
“Good, great, actually.” He took a deep breath, not out of worry, but relief, and let the oxygen fill his lungs before he exhaled and it took his lingering anxiety with it. The warmth of Bitty’s breath against his chest grounded him, and he took the moment of silence to appreciate how far he’d come from the stress case teenager terrified of so many things: failure, mediocrity, day to day life as the great Bob Zimmermann’s son, of opening that closet door.
Hell, he was still afraid of most of those things, but at least the last one seemed a little less daunting.
“I know it went well, but I’m sorry. You wanted to tell them on your own terms, and I screwe-”
Jack pressed a finger to Bitty’s lips. “Don’t do that. You didn’t screw up anything.” When Bitty kissed his finger, somehow managing to smirk as he did so, Jack chuckled. “Did you finish up your project for Irina?”
Of course Bitty would have gone a bit overboard--a bit being an overstatement--in making a care package for Tater’s sister. That much, he’d expected when he walked into the living room to find him hard at work in the kitchen, baking supplies and necessities strewn all over. He hadn’t expected to be roped into helping.
He was never going to get all the glitter off his hands. Still, his artistic talents, which he’d protested only included coloring, had been commandeered into making a welcome sign.
“Yeah. What time does she get in tomorrow?”
Jack scratched his forehead, trying to recall the information. See, in all his excitement, Tater had rambled it off and then immediately switched into how he’d got sucked into a documentary the night before about the history of the Freemasons. Somewhere in that whole conversation, Jack had agreed to go with him to Boston to pick her up. When he’d asked why she couldn’t just have flown into Providence, he was pretty sure he caught something about first class not being an option. “Ten thirty.”
“I wish I was able to come. Stupid midterm.”
He pressed a kiss to Bitty’s temple. “Yeah, but you’re going to ace it.”
“Yeah, I just don’t want to get up that early in order to drive back to school.”
Jack reached over and turned off the lamp on his nightstand. “Bonne nuit, mon cher.”
“Bonne nuit, sweetheart.”
Tater was practically vibrating out of his skin with a mix of excitement and emotion. He hadn’t seen his little sister in almost two years, what with the long seasons, and summer youth camps the team held each year. He was pretty sure he would cry when he saw her.
“Take a deep breath, Tater,” Jack said.
He let out a nervous chuckle. “Your sign is um...Beetle making you do that?”
“What gave it away?” Jack smirked. “Was it the glitter?”
“You making mistake on your d and your ʐ, here. But...is okay. She understanding.”
“Alyosha!” Irina cried out as she slammed into him, wrapping him up in a tight hug.
Before he could even register it happening, he was crying into her shoulder, muttering in Russian, just how much he’d missed her. Finally, after several minutes and many shed tears, he pulled back and wiped the tears from her face. “You are so much bigger than I remember.”
“Two years will do that.”
“Yeah, but when I left you were a little girl, and now...you’re like a giant.”
Though she was only an inch or two shorter than Jack, Irina still had to rise up on her tiptoes to kiss Tater on the cheek. “I missed you, Alyosha. Thank you for bringing me here.”
“What did you tell Mama and Papa?”
Her smile turned a bit sad; he could see it in her eyes and the way they crinkled at the corners, the quiver in her lip. “They think I came for the educational opportunities and to play hockey.”
He brushed the wavy-brown hair from her forehead. “Well, they don’t need to know the real reason.”
“Yeah. I know it could be so much worse. You know? They could be the kind of parents who would disown me. I just wish they understood.”
He kissed the top of her head. “Oh where my manners? Irishka, this being Jack Zimmermann. We call him Zimmboni. He play forward for team. Zimmboni, this being Irina Mashkova, my small sister. You not call her Irishka unless she say.”
Jack extended his hand. “Nice to meet you, Irina.”
“And you. Alexei says you’re his small American brother.”
“Canadian, but yeah.”
“No, Irishka, I know I telling you Zimmboni come from Canada. He French speaking.”
“Wow, Alyosha, your English needs work.”
Tater shrugged. “I try. That has counting for something.”
“Yeah it does.”
Jack picked up the gift box from the ground beside him. “Um, well, this is for you. It’s a care package.”
She covered her heart with her hand and cooed, “Aww. You made me a gift basket. That’s so cute.”
He blushed. “No, it wasn’t me. I...um, made the sign.”
She took a look at it. “Ah, you made your d and ʐ,wrong, but thank you.”
“So there are cookies, and banana bread. I mean I think he made you banana bread. Honestly, I couldn’t keep up. There are some toiletries too. Bitty was worried you might not have had room for them in your suitcase. He picked a nice shampoo and conditioner. There’s a body wash that smells like brown sugar, and some feminine care items too. To be honest, he wasn’t sure if that was inappropriate or not, but didn’t want you to not have any.”
“Bitty? Your little br-”
“Oh,” she said, the corners of her lips pulling into a bright smile. “Well, it’s a very sweet gesture. Can you tell him thank you for thinking of me?”
Jack nodded. “He wanted to come, too, but he had an exam back at school.”
Tater clapped him on the back and grabbed the handle to Irina’s suitcase. “Come, Irishka. I want show you Providence. I hope you like bedroom. I paint myself. And you need meet Mrs. P. That where you stay on roadies.”
“You know, I don’t need a babysitter.”
He rolled his eyes and sighed. “I know, but I think maybe you getting lonely when I’m away. Guy’s family can be like second family. They have boy, JP, he twelve, and girl, Corinne, is seven. They nice family. We Falconers, one big family. We take care of each other.” He bumped into Jack’s shoulder. “This is right, huh, Zimmboni?”
“Yeah, they have your back,” he said with a smile.
Moving to stand between them both, Tater draped an arm around each of them. “I being very happy Tater today. I have sister and Canadian brother. Today. Today is good day."