It's not that his sandwich isn't tasty, but given that he's had the same thing for lunch for four days straight, Jack is glad it's the last of the leftover turkey.
He's sitting at the kitchen table with the rest of the Haus residents, eating quietly while Bitty rolls out some dough and recounts his Thanksgiving trip to Georgia. They had Hausgiving on Wednesday, and then Bitty flew down Thursday morning. He made the trip specifically so he could come out to his parents, so he should have a lot to tell them. Not that Bitty's ever been good at getting to the point, but Jack has gotten very good at half-listening and just enjoying the sound of his voice until he says something important.
"Not that we don't enjoy hearing about the many, many pies you baked as soon as you touched down in Atlanta," Holster finally cuts into Bittle's monologue, "but how'd it go with your parents, Bits?"
"Oh, um." From the look on Bitty's face, it doesn't seem like it went horribly, but it doesn't seem like it went great, either. "Well, mama was fine with it. I mean, I didn't think she'd be mad or anything, but I was honestly surprised how easy it was with her. Apparently when I was in figure skating I wasn't as subtle about watching the other boys as I thought I was." He blushes, and Jack smiles at the thought of Suzanne shaking her head behind a preteen Bitty's back while he stares. "But Coach, um… I guess he hadn't caught on like she did."
Now Bittle looks nervous, and everyone at the table tenses.
"Bits," Shitty says slowly, "do we need to go down to Georgia and knock some sense into someone?"
"No, no!" Bitty says quickly, shaking his head. "It's not like that. I mean, not really. Not in a really bad way like you're probably thinking. I mean, he's not gonna disown me or anything. And he wasn't like, violent or angry or anything. I mean, it really coulda gone so much worse, you know, I shouldn't even be upset when it's really not that bad in the grand scheme of things—"
"Bittle," Jack says, as gently as he knows how. "What did he say?"
"Well, he, uh." Bitty twists a dish towel between his hands. "He didn't believe me?"
Everyone at the table just sits there, stunned. How could a person not believe their son when he says he's gay? Their adult son, who has clearly had plenty of time to think about this, who is taking a huge risk just by telling them?
"He, uh, first he asked how many girls I've dated," Bitty continues, "and I told him none, of course, and he asked how many boys I've dated, and I said well I went to a dance with a boy but it didn't go so well, and he said well then how do you know you like boys better? And I said well, did you know you liked girls before you kissed one? And he said that's different and blah blah blah. Finally mama made him drop it, but of course we came back to it over and over again all weekend."
"That's bullshit, bro," Ransom said, and everyone chimed in their agreement.
"Maybe I shoulda lied and said I have a boyfriend," Bitty said, looking defeated. "I mean, I know he shouldn't need that to believe me, but I bet it woulda helped." He gave a sad laugh. "Of course, if I could get a real boyfriend I wouldn't have to lie about it, but that's not happening anytime soon."
Jack shoves the rest of his sandwich into his mouth and pretends really, really hard that that statement doesn't affect him.
"And now if I suddenly claim to have one," Bitty continues, "he probably wouldn't believe me without, like, airtight proof."
"Proof like your boyfriend coming to visit over winter break?" Ransom says, squinting thoughtfully.
"Probably?" Bitty's brow furrows in confusion.
Holster, of course, knows telepathically exactly what Ransom is thinking, and perks up immediately.
"Yeah, perfect!" he says, then turns to Bitty. "Let us help you out, bro!"
"Well, you need to show off a boyfriend to make your dad believe you, right?" Ransom replies. "And you're not above lying about it, right?"
Realization dawns on Bitty's face—followed quickly by skepticism. "Oh, I don't know if that's a good idea, Rans. I mean, you really think he'd believe one of y'all would wanna date me ?"
The sandwich sits heavy in Jack's stomach as there's a general kerfuffle while Shitty, Ransom, and Holster try to convince Bittle that they'd hit that in a second if they swung that way.
"Are you kidding me, bro?"
"Bitty, I know we're a pretty fuckin' hot team, but that includes you, bro."
"I wish I liked guys so I could try and tap that ass."
Bitty is blushing harder by the second. "Okay, okay, fine. I guess the question is, who would Coach find most convincing?"
Here is what should happen next, if Jack were smart:
Jack ignores the jealousy flaring in his stomach as his hausmates argue over who would be a better fake boyfriend for Bittle. He sits quietly and finishes the serving of sweet potato casserole he grabbed to go with his sandwich. He only speaks up when asked a question directly, and does his best to act amused and encouraging when they finally decide who will go to Georgia with Bittle over break. He reminds himself of all the reasons he should be glad it's not him.
But Jack Zimmermann is a Masochistic Fuckwit, so here's what really happens:
"It should be me," he blurts out. Everyone turns to him, startled. "I mean," he stammers, trying to recover as he ignores the heating in his cheeks, "I should go. If your dad would be convinced by the idea of you dating a hockey player, he'd be even more impressed by someone who's about to sign with the NHL, eh? And no offense, guys, but I'm in a better position to afford an extra plane ticket than the rest of you."
"I can afford it," Shitty argues, but Jack gives him a look.
"Not without getting extra money from your dad, and I know that's the last thing you want to do, even for Bittle. I, on the other hand, have no ethical problem with accepting money from my parents." Shitty wrinkles his nose in grudging acceptance.
And the thing is, it's all true, every word of it. Jack really is the best choice for the job, so he can't let a stupid thing like the fact that watching Bitty pretend to have feelings for him will be a slow death keep him from helping out one of his best friends.
Bittle looks… kind of terrified. Jack isn't sure why he'd be fine with the other guys doing this but afraid of Jack. Maybe he's still thinking of how Jack treated him last year. Maybe Jack hasn't made up for that as much as he'd hoped. He's about to say it's fine, maybe it shouldn't be him, when Bitty speaks up.
"Jack, you can't do that. I mean—you don't want people starting rumors about you when all these scouts are after you, right?"
Oh. Is that why he looked scared? He was scared on Jack's behalf? The thing is, Jack's thought about this. He's thought about this a little more than he really should, probably.
"Do you think your parents would start rumors about me?"
"Well, no, of course not!" Bitty says, almost indignant. "I didn't mean them!"
"Didn't you say you're not coming out to the rest of your family just yet?" Jack shrugs. "So it would only be in front of your parents. And I'm sure they'd understand if we don't act couple-y in public much for that exact reason, right?"
Bitty doesn't look terrified anymore, but he definitely still looks more nervous than he had when the other guys were talking.
"He's right, bro," Holster says. "Jack is definitely the right choice here. I mean, the rest of us are here for you if you want us, but I'd go with the guy who's about to sign a seven-digit contract somewhere."
"Are you sure you wanna do this?" Bitty is cringing like he expects Jack to lash out at him. Like Jack would have a year ago if someone would have suggested this.
And that is how Jack Zimmermann, Masochistic Fuckwit, finds himself rearranging his winter break plane tickets so that he'll be on Bittle's flight from Boston to Atlanta barely two weeks from now, and then fly up to Montreal a few days before Christmas.
Two days later, Bittle appears in Jack's doorway, frantic.
"Jack Jack Jack! I screwed up!"
Jack turns around from the paper he's been writing. "What? What happened?"
Bitty is wringing his hands and kind of bouncing on his toes in a way that makes Jack want to put his hands on his shoulders and steady him.
"I forgot my mother knows your parents!"
"Okay…" Jack doesn't see why this is a problem… until he does. "Oh no, she wants to talk to them about us. Dating. Because you told her we're dating."
Bitty nods. Jack stops for a second to think.
"That's fine, I'll tell them what's going on. If they're not willing to lie, maybe my mom can be too busy to answer your mom's emails until after the holidays."
Bitty stops bouncing. "You will?"
Jack shrugs. "I mean, they know I'm going to visit you already, since I'm going to Montreal a few days later. Now it'll just make more sense why."
Bitty looks unconvinced. "You don't think they'll tell my parents?"
"Bittle, no. They will not tell your parents. Especially if I explain what's going on with your dad. Trust me."
"Okay…" Bittle shifts uncomfortably. "Thanks again for doing this, Jack. I'm sure it's not your first choice of ways to spend your break."
Jack's pulse races a little at how wrong Bittle is.
"I think you're vastly overestimating how exciting my time in Montreal is. Obviously I enjoy seeing my family, and it's great city, but I don't really have any friends there or anything." He smiles, and Bittle has now idea how genuine it is. "It'll be fun getting to hang out with you instead of my grandparents for a few days."
Bittle grins back. "I'll show you all the sights in town. Both of 'em. But don't expect snow."
"Maybe next year you could come visit Montreal," Jack hears himself say, helpless to stop it. "We can show you what a real white Christmas looks like."
For some reason, that makes Bittle's smile falter, but it quickly recovers. Maybe not as bright as before, though.
"You'll be off to bigger and better things by then, Mr Zimmermann. You won't need your ol' college buddies to come visit then, you'll have fancy NHL friends."
"Whoever I meet next year won't replace you guys," Jack says sincerely. "I mean, life goes on, but that doesn't mean we won't still be friends."
"Yeah," Bitty says with a shrug as he heads back to his room. "Won't be quite the same as having you right across the hall, though."
Jack watches him until his bedroom door closes behind him. It won't be the same. But maybe it'll be better. Maybe it'll be easier to get over this ache in his chest if he doesn't have to see Bittle every day. Easier to keep him square in that "friend" box Jack has no trouble keeping the rest of SMH wrangled into.
Jack picks up his phone and calls his mom, since she's the one who's exchanged recipes with Suzanne Bittle over email, then his dad when she doesn't answer.
After they've exchanged the requisite small talk (yes, they're ready for that game this weekend; yes, Jack is prepared for his finals), he brings up his trip to Georgia.
"I didn't tell you why I'm going, did I?" He knows he didn't.
"No," his father says slowly. "We thought you'd tell us when you were comfortable with it."
What does that even mean? Jack ignores it.
"Bittle came out to his family over Thanksgiving. I mean, their Thanksgiving. Last weekend. And his mom was fine, but his dad was… less than fine about it. Nothing too bad, but not great, you know? Kind of in denial. And Bittle thought his dad might take it better if he had a boyfriend, like, that makes it more of an undeniable fact instead of this abstract idea. So, um. Don't laugh, I know this sounds weird, but, um. I'm going to pretend to be his boyfriend for a few days. Since he doesn't actually have one and probably can't get one in the next couple of weeks."
"What do you mean, pretend?" his father asks, using that same strange, slow intonation that Jack doesn't understand.
"Like, tell his parents we're together and hold hands and stuff when we're around them. He's not out to the rest of his family," he rushes to add, knowing his father is probably worried about word of his sexuality getting out, "and neither of us thinks his parents would go telling the world if I were dating a man. Anyhow, I'm telling you now in case his mom contacts you guys anytime soon. If you don't want to lie, maybe you could just avoid her until after the holidays?"
"Jack, there's just one thing I don't understand."
Only one? There are a lot of things to not understand here. "What's that?"
"You realize that you don't have to tell us you're pretending if you're not, right?"
Jack's heart freezes in his chest. "What?"
"If you and Eric are really dating, your mother and I would be nothing but happy for you, you know that, don't you?"
"But we're… we're not," Jack answers dumbly.
"Well, pardon my directness, but why the hell not? Why pretend?"
Jack opens his mouth, then closes it again.
Here's what should happen next, if Jack were smart:
"I'm dating this girl from the tennis team, Camilla." He went to Winter Screw with Camilla last year, and is planning to again this year, so it's almost sort of not a lie. Ish. The rest of what he says, though, definitely is. "And I'm honestly not interested in Bittle like that. Besides, I know for a fact he's not interested in me—he's been pining after some guy from the gymnastics team."
But Jack Zimmermann is a Masochistic Fuckwit, so here's what really happens:
"Why would you think we shouldn't pretend?" Jack's pretty sure this is a bad question to ask, but his mouth is on autopilot.
"Jack." His father sounds affectionately exasperated, just like he did when Jack was little and asked a question like Why is a dog called a dog in English when that sounds nothing like chien? "Your mother and I saw the two of you together at Parents' Weekend. I haven't seen you look at someone like that since you were eighteen. We wondered if you were already dating, but we thought if you were you'd tell us when you were ready. And do you even realize how much you talk about him?"
Jack has a sudden memory of Georgia Martin saying—oh god, how obvious has he been? But the Falconers haven't changed their offer, so either not too obvious or… they're not worried about that. Huh.
"Okay, look, maybe I…" am head-over-heels in love with him "like him on a maybe-more-than-friends level. But even if he were interested in me, which I honestly don't think he is, he deserves a lot more than I could ever give him."
"Jack, he looks at you like you invented ice skates. And what exactly do you think you can't give him?"
"A real relationship?" Jack replies incredulously. "We'd have to hide it from the whole world. That's not fair to him. And I'm leaving next year, I mean, I could end up in Providence—"
"Or Boston," his father cuts in, and yes papa, of course Jack is considering the Bruins, even if they just don't… feel like the right fit.
"Or Boston," he allows, "but I could end up on the west coast, or in Canada. I can't ask him to put up with a secret long-distance relationship!"
"Jack," his father say gently, "that's all months from now, and you've got a lot of factors to weigh in your decision. Where you want to be, physically, is one of those factors. It's okay if wanting to stay near a certain person is a part of that. All I'm saying is, think hard about what limitations are real and which ones you're creating for yourself. Just because there aren't any out gay players doesn't mean there aren't any players with same-sex partners at home. I've known a few, and it's usually an open secret among their friends. You deserve to be happy, Jack, and I'm not sure I've ever seen a person who makes you light up the way he does."
Jack needs to end this conversation. He has finals, and a game this weekend that Chowder is probably going to be scratched from because he's down with the flu; he can't think about this right now.
"Look, I'll think about it, but for now—for now it's just pretend, okay? Can you go along with it if his mother emails mom?"
"Okay, son, but give it some thought, eh? You know what your uncle says. You miss 100% of the shots you don't take."
They win the game, but it's a lot closer than it should have been, and the D-men have to work overtime to make up for their backup goalie's deficiencies. He's not bad, but he's not Chowder.
Jack takes Camilla to Winter Screw the next night. She's great, they're friends. Last year they hooked up after the dance, and a couple other times. She's hinted occasionally this year that she'd be down for that, and Jack has tried valiantly to tell himself he's not turning her down because of Bittle. He never quite manages to be convincing, but he lets himself pretend anyhow. He's almost relieved when she gets drunk enough at Screw that he wouldn't be comfortable sleeping with her anyhow.
Ransom and Holster hook Bittle up with a guy from the rugby team. He's British. So he's handsome, athletic, polite, nice, and has a better accent than Jack's. When Jack finds out Bittle is going to get coffee with him a couple days after the dance, he pretends to be happy.
That night finds Bittle back in Jack's doorway, frantic. It's becoming a pattern.
"Jack, I don't know if I can go through with this pretending thing!"
Jack's heart drops into his stomach, but he puts on a friendly face.
"Look, if things are going well with that guy you went to Screw with, yeah, it would be silly to risk messing that up—"
"That's not what I mean!" Bittle exclaims, and Jack's heart returns to its usual place. "That's the problem, things were going well, but I couldn't handle them going well, and I'm not sure I can handle this in the same way I couldn't handle that—"
"I don't follow," Jack says. "What can't you handle?"
Bittle puts his face in his hands. "This is so embarrassing."
Jack gets up and closes the door behind Bitty. "Hey, I'm not going to laugh, okay? Whatever it is, no judgment."
Bitty flops down into Jack's armchair and curls up defensively, but at least he drops his hands from his face.
"Okay, well, John—that's the guy I went to Screw with—he's great, y'know? He's cute, and funny, and like, I probably wouldn't mind dating him?"
Jack holds back a chuckle only because he promised not to laugh. "Strong praise."
"You hush, Mr Zimmermann." Bitty shoots him a halfhearted glare. "Anyhow, so we went out again, right? To get coffee at Annie's. And like… God, this is so embarrassing." He sighs and closes his eyes for a second before continuing. "He tried to kiss me. Tried being the key word there, because I panicked and ducked away at the last second." He buries his face in his hands again.
Jack sort of hates himself for being so relieved, because clearly this is not a good thing for Bitty. That relief is entirely selfish, when he can't even have what John missed out on anyhow. But he is honestly confused.
"So… why does that mean you don't want me to pretend to be your boyfriend?"
"Well…" Bitty stops hiding his face, but looks down at the fingers he's twisting together. "If I can't handle someone kissing me on an actual date, how am I supposed to pretend to be a normal person being a normal boyfriend in front of my parents? If you tried to kiss me and I freaked out, they'd know something was up."
Jack sits down on his bed. "Okay, there are a lot of things wrong with what you just said," he says, as gently as he can. "First off, you are a normal person and you would be a normal boyfriend. Just because you're nervous about being kissed doesn't change that. Have you kissed anyone else?"
"No," Bitty replies miserably. "That's why I freaked out."
Jack pushes down his shock because how? How could someone so attractive and warm and talented not have men beating down his door?
"Well then it's totally normal to be nervous about that! And second, we don't have to kiss in front of your parents. Or—or anywhere else, I mean. Obviously." Smooth, Zimmermann. "But lots of people aren't comfortable with a lot of PDA anyhow, especially in front of their own parents."
"But, like… I don't know how to act like a boyfriend at all. I mean, there's gotta be some kind of signs of affection there, we gotta act a little different from how we act as friends, 'cause the whole problem is that Coach already doesn't believe me! Can you imagine if he decides I'm just confused about the difference between a friend and a boyfriend or girlfriend?"
Here's what should happen next, if Jack were smart:
"I don't know, maybe you're right then, maybe I shouldn't come."
"All we have to do is hold hands, friends obviously don't do that. It'll be fine."
But Jack Zimmermann is a Masochistic Fuckwit, so here's what really happens:
Jack sighs and stands up, glad he already closed the door. He holds out a hand to Bittle. "Come here."
Bittle looks at him a little suspiciously, but stands up and goes to him. He doesn't take Jack's hand, though, so Jack reaches down and threads their fingers together. Bittle stares at their hands, and Jack tries to calm the beating of his heart.
"You're right, if we just show up in Georgia and try to act like we're together we'll probably be really awkward. We just have to get used to it before we go. And there's a lot of ways to do that without actual kissing, okay? Look."
He steps around Bitty and wraps his arms around him from behind, keeping one of Bitty's hands in his. Just like he's imagined doing so many times. Bitty goes stiff as a board, and Jack is pretty sure he knows why.
"Shh." Jack pushes his nose into Bitty's hair. "I'm not going to get mad at you, no matter what you do, okay? If you cross a line I'll let you know, and if I do then let me know. But the point here is to act like we're dating, not for me to get offended because you dared to pretend to enjoy it when I cuddled you." He snorts. "And besides, whatever you might do, believe me, Shitty's done worse."
Bitty laughs, and finally relaxes into Jack's arms. Jack is a horrible, horrible person for enjoying this when Bitty is having such a hard time even pretending to, but there's not much he can do about that.
Bitty's head falls back against Jack's shoulder, and Jack can see that his eyes are closed. Jack wishes it were because he was enjoying this, but he's probably just imagining that Jack is John, or whoever Bittle would rather had their arms around him.
Jack kisses Bitty's temple gently, because it's what he would do if they were dating. Bitty smiles and turns his head into it a little, and Jack's heart squeezes in his chest. He pushes down the memory of what his father had said (he looks at you like you invented ice skates).
"See? This isn't so hard," he murmurs into Bitty's skin. "Your parents see us doing something like this once or twice a day, they wouldn't believe us if we said we weren't dating."
Bitty turns in Jack's arms and presses his face into Jack's shoulder, wrapping his arms around Jack's waist with a sigh.
"Right. We have to do that in front of my parents. And not look like I'm panicking while we do it. Ugghhhhh."
"We've got time. We'll practice." Jack tightens his grip on Bitty. God, he just wants him to be happy and not have to worry about what his parents think. Yeah, it's nice that Jack gets to touch him as a side effect, but he'd give that up in a second if it meant Coach Bittle would accept his son completely and without question. "Like I said, Shitty's gotten me pretty used to having friends pawing at me. I'm honestly fine with whatever."
So for the next few days, every night Bitty hangs out in Jack's room for a while and they do their usual studying or talking about whatever they might talk about, but they do it while cuddling.
Jack knows he can't really let himself get used to it. He reminds himself of that when he walks into the kitchen and sees Bitty kneading something, and has to resist the urge to go over, put his hands on Bitty's hips, kiss the back of Bitty's neck. He doesn't actually have permission to do that whenever he wants. This is a thing they only do in Jack's room, at night, when they're both just tired enough to relax into it.
By Friday night, their finals over, Bitty just comes right in and snuggles down next to Jack where he's sitting on the bed with his back against the wall, his head on Jack's shoulder. Jack slides an arm around his waist, which is already becoming second nature. Jack really shouldn't let it.
"Oh my lord, I can't believe the term's over already! Did you see Rans and Holster are having a kegster tomorrow?"
"Don't remind me," Jack mutters as he leans his cheek against Bitty's head.
"I realize that you are a literal eighty-year-old, Mr. Zimmermann, but some of us actually have fun at kegsters. You should come down for a bit, at least!" As Bitty chatters, his arms find their way around Jack. Jack closes his eyes and just lets himself enjoy the closeness and Bittle's soft accent.
"Oh my goodness!"
Jack picks up his head and looks down at Bitty. "What?"
"I just… I didn't really even notice how we're sittin'." Bitty laughs. "I guess I am getting used to this. Too bad it won't actually help me when I'm on a date."
Jack swallows down the fact that he doesn't want to help Bittle go on a date with anyone else.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, I mean, first off, just because I'm okay doing this with you, a close friend I've known for a year and a half, doesn't mean I'd be okay doing it with some guy I've only gone out with once or twice. And second, I'll still probably freeze up at actual kissing."
Hoo boy. Here's what should happen next, if Jack were smart:
"I think you're thinking about it too much, Bittle. If you really like a guy, you'll want him to touch you like this, so it'll be easier than you think. And it's still okay to be nervous about kissing. Hell, you could probably just tell him you're nervous about it; if he likes you he'll just think it's endearing."
But Jack Zimmermann is a Masochistic Fuckwit, so for some godforsaken reason he thinks it's a good idea to say:
"We could practice that, too, if you wanted. Maybe we'd even get to the point where you could do it in front of your parents, but either way, at least you'd know what it feels like so the next time a guy you actually like tries to kiss you maybe you won't be as scared." He dies a little inside saying a guy you actually like.
Bitty sighs deeply and sits up, shaking his head. "Jack Zimmermann, you are the sweetest thing ever, but you do not need to do that for me. I am sure Shitty did not get you used to—wait, actually…"
Jack snorts. "If you think Shitty Knight has not kissed me on the lips—have you met Shitty? Seriously. He once kissed me on the lips while naked, which was extremely uncomfortable and earned him a lecture from himself on consent once he was sober."
Bittle laughs, but then he looks down. "Well, I certainly don't want to make you uncomfortable—"
"I wouldn't offer if it would."
"Jack, why are you being so nice to me?" He looks up at Jack, bewildered. "And don't you dare say because you're my friend, because you know you have already gone so above and beyond normal friendship…"
It's Jack's turn to look away. He's lucky he has plenty to say that's both true and not incriminating. The question isn't even hard.
"Okay—let me preface this by saying I am not doing this to try and atone for being mean to you last year. That said, I was awful to you for a while. I refused to give you a chance, and then once I did, you were—you are —amazing. You take care of all of us, you put everyone else before yourself. It breaks my heart that you're having a hard time because your dad is an ass. You deserve so much better than that. You deserve nothing but good things. And you deserve to have someone take care of you sometimes. You're the best person on the team, and I've certainly done my share of making your life harder, so I want to make it easier for once. Plus, you deserve to find someone and fall in love, and I don't know, maybe I can help with that, too."
Bittle is quiet for a minute.
"You… really think it would help? Practice kissing?"
Jack shrugs. "I honestly have no idea," he answers, "but I can't see how it could hurt. But if you don't want to, it's fine, Bittle. It was just an idea."
Bitty settles back in next to him. "I just don't know if I want my first kiss to be… y'know. Pretend."
"It wouldn't count as your first kiss, obviously. Your first kiss is one where you actually want to be kissing the person. But again, if you're uncomfortable with it, forget I suggested it."
Bitty's quiet again.
"… And where they'd actually want to be kissing me," he eventually murmurs.
Jack can't breathe for a second, because if he lets a breath out, he might let the truth out.
"… Yeah. Of course."
Bitty looks up at him thoughtfully, biting his lip. Finally, he shrugs and give Jack a sly grin.
"Oh, what the hell. You give good cuddle, Mr. Zimmermann, let's see what else you got."
Jack laughs, and okay, if Bittle can chirp him through it maybe he can deal with this situation he's gotten himself into.
He tugs Bitty back in close to him, and Bitty's giggling, which makes Jack giggle.
"I can't kiss you if we're both laughing," Jack says. Okay, technically he could, but that kind of kiss… he can't pretend with that kind of kiss.
Bittle clears his throat and composes his face. "Of course. This is a very serious kiss."
Jack puts on his best Captain Face and Captain Voice. "All kisses are serious, Bittle, you can't afford to take this kind of thing lightly—"
"Oh my goodness, Jack Laurent Zimmermann, you better shut up and kiss me before I change my mind."
There's a part of Jack's brain that, out of this entire conversation, has only heard the words "shut up and kiss me." That part has no idea that this is supposed to be pretend, that he's not supposed to be in love with Bittle, and that part jumps up at those words and takes control. That part has Jack sliding his fingers into the short hairs at the nape of Bittle's neck, pulling him in, meeting him halfway. It turns the kiss into something it wasn't supposed to be at all, and it's a miracle that the rest of Jack's brain manages to keep him from involving his tongue. It's a close thing, because the way Bittle melts into the kiss is… really a problem for his self-control.
Bitty is clinging to Jack's shirt like his life depends on it, and the little sound he makes at the back of his throat almost kills Jack dead.
Jack finally pulls back after way too long for a "practice kiss," and for a second they just stare at each other, breathing a little too hard.
And, okay. Maybe there actually were signs before now, and Jack's just been ignoring them, but… He's pretty sure that if Bitty wasn't at all attracted to him before, he is now. Because there is something in his eyes, something raw that almost destroys Jack's self-control and has him pressing Bitty down onto his bed.
Then Bittle blinks, and it's gone, replaced by a light blush and a shy glance away.
"My goodness," Bittle says, flustered, standing up from the bed. "I gotta admit, I'm not sure any future boy I date is gonna thank you for setting the bar that high."
Jack can't help but smile at that, because he's a horrible person who, deep down, wants Bitty to compare every guy he ever goes on a date with to him.
"Well, first time or no, I wasn't about to go easy on you," he chirps. Bitty just shakes his head, smiling at him.
"I need to get to bed. Thanks for your help, Jack."
The Epikegster happens. Jack hangs out with Bitty the whole time, and is stupid enough to flirt with him. Acts like an absolute fool, telling him about chasing away football players and relishing the way Bitty looks at him, impressed and maybe—maybe—a little infatuated. Jack's thought of nothing but kissing him since last night, and the way Bitty's eyes keep wandering to Jack's mouth he thinks he might not be alone. And maybe it would be okay. Maybe he could drag Bittle upstairs, kiss him again, tell him he doesn't want to pretend, that he just wants to keep kissing him and holding him and make sure he knows that Jack means it.
Then Kent shows up. Bittle overhears… something. Jack doesn't know how much. Jack is left shaking and crying in his room, and he can't bear to open the door and find out what Bittle thinks of him now.
He's a little ashamed of the way he avoids Bittle the next day. To be fair, he avoids everyone the next day, other than Shitty. He only had one beer, but he has what he thinks of as an "anxiety hangover"—he feels foggy and sluggish.
Half of him wants to know exactly what Bittle overheard, and half of him doesn't ever want to find out. Because Bittle might know that Jack's not straight now. He might know what's really happened between Jack and Kent. Does that mean he knows Jack isn't pretending? That Jack is taking advantage of his shitty home situation just to be close to him and touch him? Is he disgusted? Does he hate Jack?
Jack knows he can't avoid the answers to these questions forever. When he comes out of the bathroom that evening to find a plate of cookies snuck onto his desk, he breathes a sigh of relief and goes across the hall.
"Hey," he says, sticking his head into Bittle's room. "Are we still on for tomorrow?"
"…Yes?" Bitty says, seeming a little confused. "Unless you're not up for it anymore."
"No, no, it's fine, I just… wasn't sure…" He trails off, not quite sure how to ask if Bitty knows Jack is really in love with him without… well.
"Are you okay, Jack?" All he sees in Bitty's face is concern. "After, well. Last night?"
Jack mentally adds another check to the list of reasons I wouldn't deserve Eric Bittle even if he'd have me.
He shrugs. "Yeah. Uh, how much did you hear?"
"Not that much!" Bitty says in a rush. "I wasn't trying to eavesdrop, I swear. Just, y'know, I kinda can't not stand outside your door when I'm going to my room, and then you yelled at him and of course that got my attention, and then when I tried to get in so I wouldn't hear any more I was just drunk enough to drop my darn keys, and—"
"Bittle, it's all right, I know it wasn't on purpose. We weren't exactly being quiet." Jack sighs and runs a hand through his hair. He's pretty sure that if Bittle wasn't paying attention until after Jack had yelled at Parse for kissing him, he probably didn't hear anything too incriminating. "Look, Kent and I owe each other a lot of apologies. I'm not proud of—he and I, we've had our differences. He said things last night that weren't okay, but I've said and done things to him, too. It's in the past."
Bitty doesn't look convinced, and Jack loves him a little more for it. He knows he doesn't deserve what Kent said last night. Kent didn't deserve to have Jack drop him with no warning after the overdose, but that doesn't make it okay. Not surprising, but also not okay.
"Anyhow," Bitty says, shaking his head as if to clear it, "we gotta be on the 8am shuttle to Logan, so we better get to bed soon." He looks at Jack almost hesitantly. "One more practice cuddle? Just to be sure we've got the hang of it?"
Jack laughs. "Sure, why not."
He doesn't ask about any more practice kisses, because even Jack Zimmermann is not that masochistic.
In the security line at the airport, Jack is seized with a sudden fear about this plan that is totally unrelated to all the reasons this is actually a bad idea.
"What if your parents hate me?"
Bittle raises an eyebrow and laughs. "You're joking, right? My mother adores you. She'd want to date you if she weren't already married."
"But she's not the one we're trying to convince," Jack points out. "What if your dad hates me?"
This time when Bittle laughs, it's less of a "you're crazy" laugh and more like he's actually amused. "That would be amazing, wouldn't it? All that fuss over me not actually being gay and then he goes and hates my pretend boyfriend so much he forgets to not buy it. I'd be tempted to tell you to try and make him hate you, but I don't actually want my mother to hate you for no reason. Especially since she'll probably hate you enough when we 'break up'." He uses air quotes around the last two words.
"Wait, wait," Jack says, "why would she hate me? You're the one who's going to break my heart."
Bitty's eyebrows shoot up. "Am I? Why, I had no idea. I guess I just assumed you'd be the one dumping me—I mean, isn't that a little more believable?"
Jack frowns. "Please don't tell me you still don't think you're good enough, somehow, for me to actually date."
Bitty blushes and looks away. His mouth twists in a way that makes Jack want to kiss it smooth again. "Jack, I know this is all pretend and we're gonna be doing nothing but lying for the next few days, but you don't have to lie about that, okay?"
"What?" Jack is fine with being in pain because he can't have Bittle, but he's not okay with being in pain because of this. "I told you, I'm only doing this because you're amazing, and you deserve all the good things anyone can ever give you. Of course you'd be the one to dump me; I could never deserve you."
Bittle's head snaps back up, startled, but then his face shifts and he looks… curious. But Jack doesn't even care if Bittle can hear how he really feels in his voice, as long as he can hear that he means every damn word he says.
Luckily, they get to the TSA checkpoint just then, so the conversation is cut short as they go through security.
The flight feels utterly familiar, for it being the first flight they've ever taken together. But it's no different from any of the dozens of roadies they've been on, right down to Jack sharing one of Bittle's earbuds when he gets curious about his music, then having it taken away when he chirps him for it. The only new addition is BIttle's head on Jack's shoulder as he dozes off.
Jack holds Bitty's hand when they get off the plane.
"You're sure that's okay in public?"
Jack shrugs. "I guess in a year there's a chance someone would recognize me, but not right now. Especially not in Atlanta. We shouldn't make out in public, but I think holding hands is low-key enough for now."
Mr. and Mrs. Bittle meet them outside of security. Suzanne hugs them both, Coach shakes both their hands. Jack is sure not to call them by their first names (or…. whatever "Coach" is) until Suzanne laughs and insists on it.
Coach looks vaguely uncomfortable and keeps glancing down at their joined hands. It makes Jack drop Bitty's hand and put his arm around Bitty's waist out of spite.
Between Bitty and Suzanne, there is more than enough chatter to allow Jack and Coach to stay silent. Jack takes the opportunity to enjoy the fact that he doesn't have to hide the affection in his gaze as he listens. It occurs to him that for once, he actually won't have to pretend around Bittle for the next few days. He has full permission to act like he feels exactly the way he actually feels.
When they're about halfway through the hourlong drive to Madison, Suzanne turns around in her seat.
"So, Jack, Dicky never did tell us—obviously we know how y'all met, but how did you two start dating?"
That seems like the kind of detail they really should have worked out before coming here.
"Uh, well, we had a class together this semester," he fumbles, "and, y'know, now that Bitty's living in the Haus we see each other every day. I just… couldn't really help how I felt, eh?"
He glances at Bitty and wonders if he can tell that it's the truth.
Bitty holds Jack's gaze as he adds, "Yeah, basically. I told you I was helping Jack with a pie for class, and I just looked up at him at one point and I realized… I was in love."
He gives Jack a little, shy smile, then looks down, blushing. Jack, on the other hand, can't look away.
"Well, I hope you don't mind me sayin' it," Suzanne says, oblivious to whatever it is that's really happening in the back seat, if anything's really happening at all, because Jack isn't entirely sure himself, "but it was more'n a little bit obvious when we visited that you had a crush on Jack, honey. I guess I should have noticed that it wasn't one-sided, but, well. I guess I just wasn't looking for it."
"Oh my lord, mother." Bitty's face turns bright red and he slumps down in his seat while Jack laughs.
"Oh come on now, Dicky, I can't imagine Jack hasn't figured out you had a crush then. Heck, for all I know you might have been dating already!"
"No, not just yet," Jack says, pulling out his phone. His heart is racing like he just got off the ice after a rough period, but Bitty is clearly embarrassed. Jack sends him a string of chirping chick emojis in a text.
Bitty's phone buzzes in his pocket. He pulls it out and looks at Jack's text. From the glare he directs at Jack, Jack is pretty sure he's managed to break up the awkwardness of the embarrassment.
Then Bitty throws his phone at Jack. "I hate you," he grumbles.
Jack laughs as he recovers the phone from where it's bounced off him and fallen to the floor.
"No, you don't," he says fondly, then pockets the phone. Bitty's eyes widen.
"Hey! Give that back!"
"Why? You handed it to me."
"I didn't hand it to you, I threw it at you—"
"Oh, and that really makes me want to give it back to you—"
"Jack Laurent Zimmermann, I have had enough of you confiscating my phone—" Bitty reaches toward Jack's pocket, but Jack smacks his hand away.
"Eric Richard Bittle, you should be talking to your family, not looking at your phone—"
"I only looked at it because you texted me!"
"You didn't know it was me when you picked it up!"
"Oh, come on, I did so, I saw you sending a dang text over there, and then five seconds later my phone goes off, and unlike some people I understand how technology works!"
"Do I have to pull this car over?" Coach grumbles. Jack and Bitty both look at him, startled.
Suzanne swats him on the arm, laughing. "Richard, stop. Their flirting is adorable."
Now it's Jack's turn to blush, because he's just chirping Bittle exactly like he has been almost constantly for the past few months… but he's pretty sure Bittle hadn't considered it flirting until this moment.
But he's not sure Bitty notices him blushing, because Bitty's got a hand over his face as he shakes his head.
"Why?" He says, ostensibly to himself but clearly for the whole car to hear. "Why would I ever voluntarily agree to date a boy who would put me through this? Why would I sign up for this?"
Jack smirks at him. "Because you love me," he says, and throws Bitty's phone back at him. Bitty glares at him and pockets the phone.
When they get home, the first thing Suzanne says is "Dicky, go on and show him where your room is, let him put his stuff away."
Bitty freezes. "I, um. I figured you'd have Jack sleeping in the guest room?"
Suzanne sighs. "I had half a mind to, but you are both adults. And you live in the same house, I can't pretend you probably sleep apart much up at school. And anyhow, at least it's not like either of you can wind up like Carmen."
"Who's Carmen?" Jack asks Bittle, just as Bittle asks, "What happened to Carmen?" Then as an aside to Jack, he adds, "She's my cousin, a year younger'n me."
Suzanne's eyes widen. "Oh my goodness, did I not tell you about Carmen? Well, let's just say she's not headed back to UGA after the break, and we're getting her a crib for Christmas."
Bitty's jaw drops as Jack looks at the floor awkwardly. "No, mother, you did not tell me that!"
"Well anyhow, point being, it can't happen to you all, so go ahead and have Jack put his stuff in your room. Hurry up before I change my mind."
Bitty tugs him upstairs without another word. When they get to his room, he shuts the door behind them with a sigh.
"I'm sorry, Jack, I really figured she's insist you slept down the hall, if you're not comfortable—"
"Bittle," Jack says sternly, getting his attention. "Will you be naked?"
Bittle's eyes go wide as saucers. "What? No! No, of course not!"
"Then once again, this is nothing compared to what Shitty puts me through on a weekly basis. You should thank him, he's gotten me used to a lot."
Bitty laughs, and they unpack without further embarrassment.
As soon as they're back downstairs, Bitty bustles into the kitchen to help his mother prepare lunch. Jack is pretty sure he'd just be in the way, so he doesn't follow, but before he has to worry about what to do with himself Coach pulls him into a conversation about sports. By the time they're called in for lunch, Jack thinks Coach maybe doesn't hate him.
He and Bittle spend all of lunch and the rest of the afternoon chirping/flirting like they did in the car. Like they normally do, really, but Jack doesn't have to monitor how much he stares or how fondly he smiles. Bittle seems subtly different, too—blushing more, smiling a little more shyly, and occasionally looking up at Jack from under his eyelashes in a way that makes Jack hope very hard that it's not an act.
Because the thing he realizes, as the day wears on—as they go take care of some last-minute shopping Bittle needs to do for his extended family and come back and watch a movie on Netflix and eat dinner and then watch a hockey game—is that he really is happy this way. Being able to just be in love with Bitty and be loved back makes him deliriously happy in a way he'd forgotten people could be. It's not that he was unhappy the past couple of years at Samwell. But this is so much more intense, something incandescent that makes everything his father was saying make sense. He still thinks that Bittle deserves more than Jack can give him, but maybe Jack can give him more than he'd thought he could. Maybe having this would be worth the effort of figuring out exactly how far he can stretch what he thought were his limits in order to keep it.
After Suzanne goes up to bed, Bitty says he wants to get a pie crust rolled out to chill overnight, and tells Jack he should feel free to head on up whenever.
Jack looks up from the book of WWII-era photography he's picked up from the coffee table. "Sure, I'm just gonna finish flipping through this and then I'll get to bed," he says.
A few minutes later, he puts the book down and heads toward the stairs. As he passes by the kitchen, he hears Coach's voice.
"…it just took me a while to get used to the idea, but that shoulda been my problem, not yours, so I'm sorry. Any idiot can see the way you two look at each other. That boy's so in love with you, I almost feel like I should be giving you the 'don't hurt him' speech." Jack hears Bitty laugh quietly. "You two look at each other like your mama and I did when we started dating. You got somethin' real special there, Junior."
Jack rushes up the stairs. He's eavesdropped enough, he shouldn't wait to hear anything else. He's heard enough, anyhow.
The idea that they look at each other the way Bittle's parents once did cuts straight through his heart. When he gets to Bittle's room, he closes the door behind himself and sits on the bed, gasping for air. Not out of anxiety, but with the enormity of what he's feeling.
He wants that. It's ridiculous, he doesn't even know for sure if Bittle wants to date him, but he wants that so badly he doesn't know what to do. He has visions of himself and Bitty settling down in a house like this one, with a yard and a dog and… and kids, dear god, he's too young to think about kids. Not that he'd want them soon, but… someday. He wants to get there. He wants to do whatever he has to to get there.
He finally stands up and goes to change into his pajamas, mind still reeling. He's facing away from the door, pulling his shirt over his head, when Bittle comes in.
"Well," Bitty says with a small chuckle, "I guess if the NHL doesn't work out, you could follow in your mother's footsteps."
"Huh?" Jack casts a confused glance over his shoulder.
"I just mean, y'know. You're a great actor."
And if Jack Zimmermann wanted to act like a masochistic fuckwit, this is where he'd laugh about how they've really got Bitty's parents fooled. He'd say it's a good thing they've practiced cuddling so they can be so convincing now. He'd lie down as far from Bitty as possible on the double bed and pray he doesn't seek out the heat of another body in his sleep.
But Jack Zimmermann is starting to think that maybe he doesn't deserve so much self-inflicted pain, so here's what really happens:
Jack stares down at the t-shirt he's just picked up. "I'm really not," he says.
"Well," Bitty replies, forcing another laugh, "you've got my father flat-out convinced you're in love with me. So."
"I know," Jack says, and pulls the shirt over his head.
"You know what?" Bitty asks. He sounds a little wary.
"I heard. What your father said." He turns around, but can't make himself keep eye contact. "I'm a terrible actor," he finally says, scratching the back of his neck and staring at his feet.
Bittle freezes at his open dresser drawer and goes quiet for a minute.
"Jack," he finally says, and it sounds like he's holding back tears, "Jack, you know I don't have a lot of experience with this sort of thing, and this is all so confusing with the pretending and everything, so… so if you're tryin' to tell me something, you're gonna have to spell it out really clearly, okay?"
Jack nods at his feet, having no idea if Bitty is even looking at him to see it or not. He swallows, not sure if he can actually do this—but then a scene goes through his head, from one of his mother's favorite movies. A quote. When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.
He makes himself look up, and Bitty is standing there, biting his lip, staring at Jack with tear-rimmed eyes.
"I was never pretending," Jack says quietly. "None of it was ever pretend, not once. Anything your father saw today, it's real, because for once I've been able to stop pretending I'm not in love with you."
And there it is. He's not sure he meant to say it so plainly, but he has, and he can hear his heart beating as he waits to find out what Bitty's response to that is.
Bitty is still chewing on his lip, and he still looks like he's about to cry any second when he finally replies, "Me neither. I mean, I'm not pretending either. I never was. But…" He shakes his head and looks down at the pajamas he's pulled out of the drawer. When he continues, it's so softly Jack can hardly hear it. "I have no idea what to do with that. With any of this."
"Well, um," Jack hesitates, but plows on. "Maybe first we could, y'know… be happy? I mean, that we both feel the same way?" He tries to smile, but he knows it comes out lopsided, because Bittle is still holding back tears. "That's good, right?"
Bittle does smile at that, but it crumbles quickly. "I mean, on the one hand it's amazing, but… what good does it do us if we can't act on it?"
Jack's smile drops. "We can't?"
"Jack, come on. I know you can't risk anyone knowing you like men. I can't possibly ask you to put your entire career at risk for my sake."
"Your sake?" Jack asks. "I don't know if you noticed, but I'd be getting something out of the deal too, here."
That finally pulls a laugh out of Bitty, which Jack counts as a win. "Oh my lord, you ridiculous boy. You know what I mean. If we were—if we were t-together, absolutely nobody could know about it."
"Well," Jack points out, starting to inch toward Bitty slowly, so as not to spook him, "technically your parents already know." Bitty's eyes fly wide in horror, and Jack rushes to add, "Which is fine, Bits! That's fine. I'm okay with your parents knowing. And you're not even coming out to the rest of your family, so that's a bridge we can cross when we get to it, eh?"
"Well, nobody could know at school! We'd really only be together when we're completely alone, and we can't spend too much time alone without the other guys getting suspicious."
Jack bites his lip. This is one of the things he's been thinking about today. "Look, I'm not saying I want the entire team to know, let alone the rest of campus. But… I don't really think we could hide it from the guys in the Haus if we tried, honestly? Maybe if we didn't both live there, but we do. And that's only three other people, plus maybe Lardo, and I'd trust any of them with my life. I'm fine with them knowing. Maybe no more than them and your parents for now, and we'd have to be careful with the frogs who've been hanging out at the Haus a lot, I mean I like them but maybe hold off until we know them a little better, eh? And I know we still couldn't be affectionate in public or anything, and if that's still not enough for you then I totally understand, because Bitty I know you deserve better than that. But for now, I can give you that much, and maybe we can tell more people as we go?"
He's standing right in front of Bitty by now, and Bitty looks up at him with a shaky smile. "You're sure, Jack? You'd really be okay with telling the guys in the Haus."
"Yeah," he says softly. "Yeah, I really would."
Bitty squeezes his eyes shut and sounds like he's forcing himself to speak when he says "Okay, but what happens after you graduate? I know that's months away and all, but you don't even know where you'll be living. I don't know if I can deal with you bein' in, I don't know, Los Angeles or Vancouver or wherever."
"Honestly?" Bitty opens his eyes. "I'm… I'm pretty sure I'm going to wind up in Providence. It's not definite yet, and even if it were I wouldn't sign yet because I want to see all the offers I get and, well, play them off each other to get as much as I can. But I've been talking to Georgia Martin a lot—you remember meeting her?—and I just really feel like it's gonna be the best fit for me. And look." He lets himself cup Bitty's face in one hand, even if that hand is shaking a little. "If we're together, that's going to be a factor in my decision. Not," he adds, cutting off Bitty's protest before it can form fully, "that I would make it the only thing I consider. But you're important to me. A relationship with you would be important to me. It would be worth taking into consideration. It might not be enough to make me sign somewhere with a team culture I can't stand or a really lowball offer with no ice time, but that's not what we're talking about. I think it would be more than enough to tip me from 'probably' to 'definitely' with a team I really like, even if other teams would be more prestigious or offer me more money."
"I just don't want you to resent me," Bitty says quietly, nuzzling into Jack's palm.
"I never would," Jack promises. "You're not making me do anything I don't want to do, Bits. But I don't want you to resent me , either. If not being together more publicly would hurt you, then we shouldn't do it."
Bitty actually laughs a little at that. When he looks up, there is so much love in his eyes, and Jack has to hold himself back from kissing him just yet. "What you're saying right now is so much more than I ever imagined I could have with you, Jack. I'm sure I'll be a little bit sad that I can't hold your hand in public, but, goodness, I can't imagine being all that sad if I get to wake up with you every morning. And I'll hate it when you move out of the Haus, but Providence… I can handle Providence. That's hardly anything at all. I can take the commuter rail to Providence, for crying out loud."
"So… does that mean you want to try?" Jack asks softly.
"Yeah." Bitty nods into Jack's hand. "I don't think I've ever wanted anything more."
Jack runs his thumb over Bitty's lower lip. "So can I kiss you now?"
Bitty smiles playfully. "Does this count as my real first kiss, Mr. Zimmermann?"
"If you want it to," Jack murmurs, closing the distance between them, "but I think the other one was pretty damn real."
"Me, too," Bitty says, barely more than a whisper, before Jack's mouth is on his.
This time, Jack doesn't have to keep himself in check, and he only lets the kiss stay chaste for a few seconds before he's touching Bitty's lips lightly with his tongue, humming in pleasure as Bitty's mouth opens under his. Unsurprisingly, as he's never done this before, Bitty seems a little unsure what to do with his tongue at first, but he mirrors what Jack does and is a very quick learner. In just a few minutes, Jack definitely feels like he's the one being kissed within an inch of his life, rather than the other way around. Just like before, Bitty's hands are fisted in his shirt, but then one of them slides up his chest and hangs onto his neck as the other wraps around his waist. When they finally pull back a little, panting into each other's mouths, foreheads still touching, they're wrapped around each other.
"We should, um." Jack licks his lips. "We should get to bed."
Bitty nods, then freezes. "Um."
Jack nuzzles him. "What's up?"
"Well, um. I know what my mom apparently assumes we'll be doing in here together, but, um… I'm not sure I'm really comfortable with my first time being right down the hall from where my parents are asleep?" He cringes. "I'm sorry."
Jack smiles. "Bits, that's fine. I totally understand. Look, I'm not going to say that I don't want that, that I don't want you , because that would be a flat-out lie, but I can wait as long as you want. A couple of weeks, definitely, but if you want to take it slow after that it's fine. I've got what's most important, the rest can happen when it's time for it to happen."
"I, wow, I honestly don't know how fast or slow I'd wanna take anything, because this was just so not even on my radar two days ago. But… I do want… that. Just… not here, y'know?"
Jack nods, then kisses Bitty again gently. "Like you said, getting to wake up with you will be so amazing, I won't even miss the rest."
When they finally do get into bed, and Jack wraps himself around Bitty from the back, nuzzling into the back of his neck, he knows that it's true.
They manage to rearrange themselves in the night, so that when Jack wakes up Bitty is splayed over his chest. He was right, it's the best way he could imagine to wake up.
Unfortunately, he needs to pee, and of course he manages to wake Bitty up while trying to quietly slide out from underneath him. Bitty grunts and frowns and tries to pull Jack back into bed.
Jack laughs. "Bits, I've just gotta use the bathroom. I'll be right back." He kisses his morning-grumpy new boyfriend on the forehead, and Bitty lets him go with a sigh.
When he slides back into bed, Bitty wraps himself back around him, and they doze off again. It's probably an hour later when he wakes up to Bitty getting out of the bed, and Jack gets back at him by being just as clingy.
"Sweetheart, it's nearly ten o'clock, and we weren't up all that late last night."
"I know," Jack grumbles, "I probably won't fall back to sleep but that doesn't mean I don't want you in here."
Bitty laughs and kisses his cheek. "I'm gonna get breakfast started, okay? Why don't you shower?"
Jack sighs, but when Bitty leaves he does get up to shower.
When he gets downstairs, the first thing he sees in the kitchen is Bitty at the stove, swaying his hips a little to a tune he's humming as he monitors a pan of bacon and a pot of scrambled eggs.
Jack walks up behind him and puts his hands on Bitty's hips, just like he's always wanted to, and kisses the back of his neck, just like he's always wanted to.
"Hey, you," Bitty says, and Jack can hear the smile in his voice. He smiles against Bitty's skin at the thought that he's the one making Bitty so happy.
"Good morning," he murmurs, then kisses his way around to the corner of Bitty's jaw, to behind his ear. "I love you," he says, and wraps his arms firmly around Bitty's waist.
Bitty turns his head just enough to catch Jack's mouth in a kiss.
"I love you, too, baby," he says, barely breaking the kiss. "Lord, I don't think I'll ever get used to this. I'll never get used to you saying that."
He turns back to the eggs, and Jack goes back to kissing along his jaw.
"Then clearly," Jack says between kisses, "it's my job to get you used to it. I want you to be so used to it, you barely blink an eye when I tell you how much I love you. I want that to be the most normal thing in the world to you."
Bitty shuts off the burners, then turns around in Jack's arms. He links his hands behind Jack's neck, and Jack takes the opportunity to kiss him more thoroughly.
"I don't want to get used to it," Bitty says in almost a whisper once the kiss breaks off, "I want it to feel just as amazing every single time as it does right now."
Jack kisses his forehead, then his nose. He's not sure he's going to be able to let go long enough to eat breakfast. "I'm so in love with you," he says, nuzzling against Bitty's face, "I can't believe I almost let this slip through my fingers."
"Well now you're never gettin' rid of me, mister, so I sure hope you're not havin' any buyer's remorse." Bitty's smile is radiant and soft and feels like it's made just for Jack.
"No, never," he says, stealing another kiss. "And I hope I can never get rid of you."
Bitty is the one who reaches up for another kiss that time.
Jack pulls back a little from the kiss. "So do you believe me now?"
"About what?" Bitty asks, giving Jack a look that clearly says you ridiculous boy.
"About you coming to Montreal next year." Jack bumps their noses together, and Bittle just laughs.
They stand there for another minute, smiling at each other goofily and nuzzling against each other, until Suzanne clears her throat from the kitchen door. They both startle, then look up guiltily.
"Oh don't look at me like that," she says, waving their guilt away as Coach follows her into the room. "It's not like I mind, that's the most adorable thing I've ever seen. I just need my coffee, and I thought you'd appreciate the warning before I suddenly appeared next to you."
All the same, Jack steps back a little to put a few inches of space between them.
Bitty smacks him on the arm before turning back to the stove. "Food's about ready, anyhow. Jack, honey, could you get the plates out of that cabinet up there? And then the silverware is in that drawer there…"
Jack follows Bitty's directions, trying to memorize the location of everything. He plans on visiting this kitchen for years to come, after all.