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Make Me Anew

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Eric isn’t driving, because there was a unanimous vote that he never be allowed to drive while filming ever again, especially since he cusses like a sailor and that doesn’t fit with his clean cut image. They let Ransom drive on this one, and Eric secretly thinks it’s because the lighting picks up his cheekbones better than when he’s in the back - and Shitty - who (good lord knows how) still managed to be called Shitty on a daytime TV show - was reading from the folder that they’d been handed.

Eric knew the deal - they’d all be briefed on the ‘case’ before they’d even got in the car - this had been planned for weeks in advance, but this was the layout of the show and parts had to be played.

“We’ve got the most brah of brahs today!” Shitty said, flipping open the folder with a flourish. “Recently out and proud,” A few snaps of fingers, Dex not quite as quick off the beat as everyone else but he was trying his best, bless him, “hockey legend Jack Zimmerman!”

Bitty let out a long “oooooh!” while Holster did a fun little dance beside him, and Ransom made a pout that made him look even more like a model than normal. “He was nominated by three separate people, so we just knew we had to like, get on this one, pronto.”

“How bad is this guy?” Eric asked, and everyone in the car gasped. They’d done the same thing at the actual first meeting about this episode, although this one was only *slightly* hammed up for the camera.

“Bits!” Holster said, sounding horrified. “We’re talking hockey royalty! He’s the captain of the Providence Falconers, he’s won - count em! - four Stanley cups, he’s the son of Canadian King - Bad Bob,” And Ransom gave a respectful little nod to that,  “and he’s just come out as Bisexual.”

“Representing!” Shitty said, with a fist-pump in the air. “He was nominated by his mother - Alicia Zimmerman,”

“Oh, I know her!” Bitty cut in, bouncing in his seat a little. He was allowed to be excited, he did know her - he even had a poster of her up on his wall as a (slightly confused) teenager.

“His boss, the one and only Olympic Gold medalist for ladies Hockey, Georgia Martin and his best friend and teammate, Alexi Mashkov.”

“Hellooooo,” Ransom crooned, getting a kick against the back of his chair from Holster, who stuck out his tongue at his husband.

“We’ve got a week to get this boy revamped for the ‘You Can Play’ annual gala, which is being hosted this year in Providence. He’s going to be hosting a small pre-gala meet up with some friends, before hitting the red carpet.”

Everyone nodded, as the car expertly moved between lanes. “I’ll be working on the dudes flow - seriously, I think he’s getting a little too much hair-spiration from 90’s boy bands, and getting his personal grooming touched up.”

“I’ll need to see his apartment and see what kind of bachelor pad hell he’s living in,” Dex said, with a nod. “From what his mother said, we’re talking black leather couches and a pool table…”

“Ransy-poo will be hauling this poor boy out of his workout gear and into something more suited to a man who earns millions a year in endorsements, Bit’s knows how to make anyone a kitchen goddess, and Holster - you need to prep what his boss called ‘a walking rock’ into a man who is going to deliver the keynote speech at this Gala.” Shitty snapped the folder shut with a flourish.

“Are we ready?” He yelled, as they cheered.


 

Although a lot of prep work had been done before the show, meeting Jack's mother, boss and friend to try and work out just what they were hoping to get and to make sure that Jack was going to feel comfortable enough to actually go through with the show - the team hadn’t actually talked to Jack.

Because of his anxiety, he had been told in advance of their arrival, and what to expect, but they were still going to play it like normal - that they just show up out of the blue and rip into his life. It was Jack's mother who asked that although Jack seemed happy to let them go through the house like the mad-men they were, that his medication wasn’t mentioned (which Ransom totally supported with his own stress induced anxiety) and that Jack could tap out if he felt that things were getting a little rough for him.

Everyone through that made perfect sense - Jack was the most famous person that they’d ever had on the show and the last thing they wanted was to make him (or them) look bad.

They wanted to build him up, showcase his good points and hopefully make him a little more at ease at these types of events where he was notoriously closed off.

The other good thing about this show, Bitty thought as they pulled up to the apartment block, was that the budget was non-existent. Jack had the money to buy whatever he wanted, twice, and his parents were loaded. Bitty knew that might be an issue for Dex, who was notoriously thrifty when doing his home-makeovers, but even he seemed a little excited about this job.

The building itself was lovely, with green trees in the street and large glass windows that looked like they would get a lot of light - and a doorman too, who laughed when they all piled out of the car like over-sized (except in the case of Eric) Labrador puppies.

The Camera crew were following, being as unobtrusive as they could, so much so that it was sometimes difficult to remember that they were even there.

The ride up in the elevator would be cut - bad tv to just have them standing around - so Eric leaned back against the wall.

“Do you really think he’s going to be a nightmare?” He asked. Both Ransom and Shitty had been worried about taking the job - they’d been hockey fans their whole lives apparently and knew exactly how Jack Zimmerman presented himself.

“I dunno, Brah.” Shitty shrugged. “I think it could go two ways - he’s either gonna be the best we’ve had, or he’d gonna be a fuckin nightmare.”

“It’s Holster who’ll have the hardest part.” Ransom admitted, nudging the giant blond a little. “I honestly don’t remember a single interview the man’s given that was over three sentences long.”

“And those three were basically ‘we can do better, we played good and we fought hard.’” Dex added, with a frown.

“Well, my dudes, we’re gonna fucking nail this to the wall one way or another.” Shitty grinned, as the doors of the elevator opened.


 

Jack knew what to expect - he’d sat down and watched the show with Tater when his best friend had told him that he was going to nominate him. It was a typical makeover show, with the hook being that they weren’t straight guys. It wasn’t much of a hook, but it was on it’s fourth season and had excellent ratings, so it obviously worked. Jack had sat through the whole thing with Tater, eating diet appropriate takeout food and sometimes even non-dietitian approved greasy junk. Jack had to “Ooh” and “Ahh” over all the appropriate parts (when Tater would look at him to make sure he was paying attention) and Jack had to fight back the urge to comment on what episodes were his favorites, or what make-over he liked best because Jack had seen the show before.

Jack had seen each of the episodes multiple times. That’s why he made Tater use his and Parses’ Netflix log in, because he wasn’t sure if it showed just how many times Jack had watched the show.  

He’d been given enough notice that he’d managed to get his blind panic into a background hum, and knowing the show like the back of his hand had helped a lot too - even when the people they’d ‘made over’ had been really difficult cases it always seemed to make the people look less like assholes than other shows might have done, just to up the drama factor. Jack thought it was a lot like the Bake Off show in England the way it seemed to be so drama free.

The show wasn’t just about gay guys though - Jack had found out through his own researched years ago, that Shitty was bi, like him - and married to an artist, one was asexual and there had been hints online that he was dating someone but Jack hadn’t really been able to find out anything for sure - just gossip and rumor. Roundabout season 2 - Holster and Ransom got married. It had been great for ratings and Jack might have cried. And then of course, Eric Bittle was gay. Dated exclusively men, although no one had ever even heard of him going on a date with anyone - and that was information Jack would have certainly managed to find out.

So he knew that when his doorbell started ringing - right on time - that he was about to be bombarded with very bouncy, excited and enthusiastic men who wanted to make him look good.

Taking a deep breath, he walked to the door and opened it - only half knowing what to expect now that it was happening to him and not some random person on the TV.

It was Shitty first (How he managed to keep that nickname on a daytime tv show, Jack was at a loss, but okay) who was taller than Jack had expected - with his long brown hair and a very impressive mustache. He practically jumped into Jacks arms as the door opened. Jack had already been asked if he was okay with casual touching, so he wasn’t quite as taken aback as he might have been otherwise. “Oh my god you absolute beaut!” Shitty half yelled, “Look at this glorious motherfucker!” Jack tried to smile, but he knew it would look more like a grimace. The swearing would be cut. A lot of the scenes with Shitty ended up sounding a lot like a heart monitor. After him, Dex and Holster walked in - the redhead almost instantly walking into the apartment and looking around curiously. When Jack had watched the shows, he noticed that Dex was often the most quiet of all the guys, but when he did have something to say it was normally important.

Jack was most taken aback by Holster though - the man was taller than Jack, almost the same height as Tater, which definitely didn’t seem to show up on the tv when Jack had been watching. He smiled at Jack as Shitty clung to him like an octopus and Jack smiled back - or at least tried to.

Ransom come in next - Tater often called Ransom the ’good looking one’ of the five, and Jack had to agree that the man was probably one of the most handsome men in the world. He could easily pass as a model, and when he was showing other nominees what to wear and how to dress to flatter then, he looked like one as well. Jack would know - his mother was a model after all.

However, it wasn’t Shitty, or Holster or Dex or even Ransom that had finally convinced Jack to take part in the show.

Eric Bittle walked in, flanked by the TV crew that were more than likely getting his strained face as Shitty carried on throwing compliments at his ass, his face, his eyes…

Eric Bittle, who had - at one time - been an Olympic figure skater. Who had got as far as the ice for Team USA when he’d fallen and broken his tibia in a routine he’d done probably a hundred times. Jack remembered it well - he’d been there, in his own Team Canada pullover. He’d wanted to see every event he could between training and ended up watching as the Russians took to the ice, followed by Eric Bittle. Eric had been… well…. Jack had always known that he wasn’t exactly straight, what with that whole thing with Parse that they pretended never happened now that he was married to Tater - but seeing Eric Bittle on the ice had been a bit of an awakening for a younger Jack.

When he’d fallen, it hadn’t seemed like such a big deal - but then rather than get up and carry on, he’d gracefully got onto his good leg and glided over to the gate. His Olympic dream was over just like that - and it scared Jack Zimmerman shitless.

But he was here, now, in Jack's apartment, looking around and being just as small as Jack remembered - with those large brown eyes and honey blond hair. Still lean, and still built like he could take to the ice at any moment.

Then he looked at Jack, and in that moment, Jack knew that Eric Bittle had never watched Jack play hockey. He looked happy, but not excited to see him, like fans sometimes did, with eyes sparkling. It had been a really dumb daydream anyway, Jack realized. That Eric had watched Jacks career with the interest that Jack had in his.

But that was okay.

Because he had a week where he was going to show Eric Bittle that Jack Zimmerman was ready to be the best boyfriend that ever walked on the face of the earth.

Chapter Text

Good lord, but Jack Zimmerman was as handsome as get out. Luckily, in this ‘episode’ Eric wasn’t really needed to do a lot - no romantic meals to help lay out for a ignored wife, or a proposal picnic. Some finger foods for a bunch of people in suits - easy as anything. The apartment was also in good shape, if bland. Dex would be pleased - as much as he loved adding little personal touches to homes, he also worked best with a clean slate. By the looks of Jacks great room, a blank slate really was what it could be called. There were picture lights but no pictures under them, two oversized large black leather couches that were pointed at one of the biggest TV screens Eric had seen outside of a sports bar, and a pool table which had a small pile of paperwork on it - like Jack had been using the pool table to write on.

Eric could already see that Shitty had wrapped himself around Jack like the over enthusiastic octopus that he was, running his fingers through Jacks hair, making it stick up all over. Hardly sexy, but it did make for good TV - and Eric could also hear the crooning over Jack's beard. Eric wasn’t sure about beards. Jacks looked like he’d taken some advice from Duck Dynasty though, and Eric was pro anything-but-that. Southern he might be, but Lord Almighty, he understood personal grooming.

Holster was trying to find something - anything - that showed a spark of individuality that he could latch on to, but if Eric’s quick look around had been right, he was going to find exactly nothing unless Jack had a closet full of sex toys or something worse hidden away. Ransom was looking at Holster, the neon yellow running shoes that Jack was wearing, and back at Holster (enough times that the Cameras could pick up on it) in horror. Save me from this tragic man, his eyes were pleading.

The audience loved their relationship.

Bitty had been a little worried when they had announced that they were getting married not long after Season 2 got picked up. The ratings were good, and viewership was keeping steady, but Bitty knew from experience that two gay guys were alright on TV, but two gay guys kissing on TV was completely different. His mamma had watched the ‘special’ that the show put on, a half an hour show on the lead up and day of, the wedding - but Coach hadn’t. Didn’t want it shoved in his face. He didn’t watch the show at all. Eric followed Ransom to the bedroom, while Jack was pulled - unresisting - in to the kitchen by Shitty and Holster.

Jack might have been a hockey player, but when Holster pulled you: you went.


 

Jack didn’t spend a lot of time in the kitchen and it showed. His appliances were clean - because he certainly wasn’t going to go on his favorite TV show of all time and look like a damn slob - but mostly because half the stuff had never been used. That and he had a cleaner who came in once a month.

“This is the most beautifully depressing kitchen I’ve ever seen in my life.” Holster said, opening the fridge (milk, eggs, chicken breasts) and letting the camera look inside. He opened one of the cupboards (protein powder) and another (protein shake bottles that the company that sponsored him kept sending) and yet another (empty) and was too busy focusing on Holster that he forgot that he wasn’t the only person in the kitchen.

He heard a drawer opening and turned in horror.

Jack tried to get to that drawer before Shitty pulled out the cook book at the top of the pile but as much as he was fast on the ice, he wasn’t quite as fast in his own kitchen. “You’ve got Bitty’s cookbook!” Shitty said, looking up and grinning.

He must have seen the look on Jacks face though, because he didn’t say anything else, just looked at the camera and nodded.

Suddenly, there were only three people in Jacks kitchen - the camera crew disappearing through to wherever Bitty and Ransom were no doubt having a whale of a time destroying his closet. Shitty was pulling out more of the books. “You’ve got all of Bitty’s books.” He pointed out, turning to Jack. “I’ve not even seen this one before.”

“It was only a short run, back in 2010,” Jack found himself muttering. “He self-published.” It was almost impossible to get a hold of now, of course - although maybe Shitty didn’t know that. Jack had bought it when Bitty had mentioned it on his Twitter, which he’d been following for years. They could sell for at least $90 on ebay now, not that Jack would ever part with it. Over the years, the cookbooks had gotten better as Eric became more famous. The pictures became less grainy, hardcovers with dust sheets instead of just thick cardstock. Notably, none of the pictures in the later books were shot in Georgia, and none included pictures of his parents.

“You obviously don’t bake, dude.” Holster said, looking around. He wasn’t wrong - Jack knew the kind of equipment he’d need to buy in order to make half of the recipes in Eric’s books, and he had exactly none of it. He may have had an online account with a well known store that sold said equipment, but he’d never actually bought any of it.

“It’s not on my diet plan.”

Shitty rolled his eyes. “Bullshit, Jackie-boy. Nobody here but us ladies. What’s going on?”

Jack felt his face heat up. “I don’t want this on the show,” he said, “please.”

Shitty and Holster nodded as Shitty put the books back. Not in order. Jack felt his palms itch. “I saw him perform, in 2010.” He said. “I thought… I dunno. I knew I wasn’t, um, straight after that.” He could feel his ears burning, knew that Shitty was looking at him with an expression that he just couldn’t read at all, so he dropped his eyes to the floor. “I just thought he looked… nice? And he could skate!” Jack had only just left his teenage years behind at that point but he knew that skating was a plus in anyone worth knowing. “I kept meaning to talk to him, but everyone was always so busy, and then he fell. I was there, I saw it happen - I didn’t really know why he didn’t carry on until later.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “He’d already been sent home.”

He fell in to silence - it wasn’t quiet, he could still hear Ransom laughing and Eric giggling, the Camera crew moving around outside of the quiet kitchen. “Are you telling me that our Bitty Bits was your big gay awakening?” Holster said, voice pitched just a bit lower than normal.

Jack managed to shrug. He was pretty sure that he was redder than he’d ever been in his life and he’d been in some pretty mortifying situations over the years.

“Hoooooooly shit.” Shitty said, “No wonder you didn’t put up much of a fight when you got nominated. Does anyone know?”

“No!” Jack said, quickly. “Well, my dad might know, but he never mentioned it to maman.”

“How do you know?” Holster cut in, “She did nominate you.”

“Because she’s the actual worst?” Jack said, “She wouldn’t have bothered with the show, she’d just have emailed him or something. I love her, but she’s…”

“Yeah, we talked to her.” Shitty said, nodding. “She’s a fuckin’ powerhouse in pantyhose man.”

“So, wait,” Holster said, leaning against the counter top. “You’ve been long term thirsting over Bits, who legit has no clue who you are - sorry bro, it’s true - and agreed to do this show because… what? You wanted him to like, fall head-over-heels in love with you?”

Jack blinked. “Well it sounds dumb when you say it like that.” He pointed out.


Eric knew that the kitchen couldn’t have held a lot of interest because the camera crew came almost instantly into the bedroom. If they were expecting to find Jack Zimmermans secret porno stash, it wasn’t in the bland-to-the-point-of-motel-room-chic that was his bedroom. The walls were white, the bed looked like it had been bought out of Ikea (and goodness knows, Eric loves the place, but please, not when you make millions a year)  and the only splash of colour was the navy comforter on the bed. When Eric ran his hands over it, he could feel it shift a little. Weighted, then, probably with glass beads. Ransom had one too - in a dark red. It was smaller, mostly just for putting over his shoulders when he was having a bad day, but this one looked as big as the queen bed it was folded on. He nodded to it when Dex came in. This would need to stay.

Ransom though, was already in the closet and he was hamming it up already. “Bitty, don’t come in here. Save yourself! It’s like the Under Armour factory just spewed its guts all over the floor.” He screamed. “Jockstraps!” As he threw one directly at Erics head. Now, Eric might not be a trained Olympian any more, but he certainly wasn’t slow, and he dove out of the way only to watch it hit Dex on the back of the head.

“Man down!” Eric giggled, as Dex turned, looking significantly horrified for the cameras. The elastic of the strap had caught on one of his ears, making the whole thing even more hilarious. It was obviously clean, but that didn’t make it any less hilarious.

From his new place on the floor, Eric could see under the bed. There was a box. He paused for a second, thinking. If it was a porno stash, then they’d just cut it out of the show. If was something else, it might show the audience - and them! - something about Jack that his apartment certainly wasn’t telling. He waited until Dex lept at Ransom into the large closet - a walk in too, nice , Eric noted, before pulling out the box.

It wasn’t a keepsake chest, like the one Eric had tucked away in his own small apartment. He’d been asked to take it when he moved out. This was just a plain cardboard box like you’d buy at Staples.

When he opened it, he felt a rush of misplaced nostalgia, and a bone deep hurt that time would eventually numb.

Baby pictures, showing a shockingly unattractive Jack (seriously, how did a baby that looked like that grow up to look like the man who’d opened the door?) and then a few more as the years went on. Pictures with friends - teams Jack had played on as a kid, different shirts and colours, a timeline of Jack growing up (and up) until he saw it.

The flag.

The rings.

Jack Zimmerman wearing the Canadian colours.

Holding a gold medal.

Eric couldn’t help the pained little whine that escaped his lips, or the way his eyes teared up, because really, it had been so long ago. He’d never even really been in the running for gold anyway. He’d have been lucky if he’d eked out a top 10, really - he’d been up against Plushenko for crying out loud - but still.

He didn’t really feel the arm around his shoulder at first until Dex was carefully pulling the photograph out of Erics fingers, no resistance at all. He knew - he knew if there was a gold medal in this box, under a bed… he’d lose what little composure he had left.

“Did you meet him in Vancouver?” Dex was asking, and Eric knew that the cameras were rolling because this was their job and Eric never, ever, lost his cool. The picture was handed off to someone, probably to get a better shot of it later.

Eric shook his head, wiping at his eyes. Really, he should have been over this already. It had been 8 damn years. “I was so busy training I hardly had time for anything.” He said, with a wry smile. “No time to be partying in the Village for me.”

He didn’t add that although he’d been very underage at the time, everyone seemed to be looking the other way. “I just, wasn’t expecting to see…” his voice faded away. “I was so lucky. To be there.” He smiled. “And if I’d never have broken my leg,” He added, “I’d never have met you, Darlin.” His smile might have been a little watery, but Dex grinned back.

“I dunno, Bitty, you did let Ransom throw a jockstrap at my head. You might not be my favorite person right now.”


 

Once the required find-and-seek of anything that Jack Zimmerman had that could possibly make for good TV had been found and shown - Ransom had brought out no less than five pairs of neon yellow running shoes in various states of use, which Dex was now wearing, along with the jock pulled over his jeans, Shitty had found a pair of lime green basketball shorts that he was wearing like a bolero jacket and Holster had a black towel wrapped around his head like a turban, because who in their right mind had black towels? Bitty was so confused - It was time for the sit down and have a serious chat.

This was the bit that Eric loved the most, because half of it never aired and it was the best time to find out the most information about their nominee and what they hoped to get out of the time they had.

Although they changed it around a lot, normally Eric would sit by Dex and Shitty and Holster would sit on either side of the latest ‘host’ but this time, Eric found himself on the couch with the three of them all pushed up together - Eric was small but not paper thin, he was almost in Jacks lap before he elbowed Holster to scoot over a lil.

“So, Darlin,” He said, giving his best I’m here to help you help you smile. “What are you hopin’ that to get out of this whole thing?”

Jack, who looked like a deer caught in the headlights for a moment, seemed to actually think about his answer before talking, which Eric liked. A couple of the guests had been cocksure and almost aggressive about the job they wanted or the girl they hoped to impress. Not Jack.

“Well, I guess I just want to be a good role model for new players.” He said, after taking his pause. “It would have meant a lot to me when I was younger, to know that you can be gay, or bi, or even trans and still play hockey without anyone making it a big deal.” He looked over at Shitty, who nodded. For some reason, the louder man always seemed to get on the best with the more reserved characters. “I knew I was into guys for a while, but there was no one out at all in competitive sports, and I just thought it was a part I needed to hide. It caused me a lot of extra stress that I didn’t need to be carrying. Then I met Tater,” He smiled. Gosh, he did have a real nice smile, Eric noted, “And he was so loud and so openly gay in a locker-room full of big burly guys and no one said anything. When he came out, it was like… a dam burst - Kent,”

“Kent Parson, who plays for the Vegas Aces,” Holster added, for the cameras. Bitty had known the taller man had a love for hockey after playing when he was a kid.

Jack nodded. “Kent and then like, 5 other guys that year and I just… I thought I was alone, for years, and I wasn’t.”

“What made you come out this year?” Dex asked, and Eric was glad because he wanted to know too.

“I thought it was time.” He shrugged. “I wanted people to know it was okay to love someone no matter what their gender was. I wanted to be the player that I needed when I was 17 and confused as hell.”

Good lord, this boy. He was gonna make Eric cry twice in one day for completely different reasons.

Jack gave a little shrug and dry as a bone said: “I didn’t think they were going to make me give a big speech though - that might have made me rethink the whole thing.”

Everyone laughed, it seemed that Jack might have a wicked sense of humour under all those muscles. Which Eric was almost plastered against yet again. He discretely elbowed Holster once more, who shifted back about an inch.

“Any colours you just, hate more than life?” Dex said, pulling out a notepad from god knows where. The boy always managed to pull off a look that said “I’ve got a pencil behind my ear” even when he didn’t. Eric would never understand.

“Um, really bright colours make me…” He paused for a second, and Eric saw that this was maybe his way of getting his words in the right order. It would be easy for reporters and interviewers to write off the pauses as robotic or to think Jack was stalling. “Feel unsettled. I don’t mind it in little bits, but I like things to be softer, or darker.”

“Please tell me why you have a million pairs of these hideous shoes?” Ransom blurted out, holding up Dex’s leg.

“Oh,” Jack smiled, and Eric loved the way it changed his whole face, even under that god-awful scraggly beard. “The company sent me loads when they sponsored me like, 5 years ago and I figured why buy more when those fit fine?”

Eric couldn’t help it - he put a hand on Jacks leg.

“Sweetpea, no.” He said, trying not to notice that the thigh his hand was resting lightly on was apparently carved out of solid marble, because oh lord, that was one firm thigh. “Let Ransom take you shopping.”

Eric tried not to notice the way that little butterflies started to take wing in his stomach when Jack looked down at him and nodded.

“Okay, bud.”

Chapter Text

Jack wasn’t sure what to expect when Ransom took him out shopping. The cameras were there, which he kinda stopped being hyper aware of after a few hours, and honestly - most of the fans that came over wanted pictures of Ransom and not Jack, which made a nice change.

Jack had been told to pick out his typical ‘day look’ before getting picked up in the black SUV the day after meeting the team, and had opted for a pair of jeans and a dark red t-shirt. He wore a pair of black sneakers because he remembered how badly his yellow running shoes had gone down (he’d found three pairs in the trash that night) and thought he looked pretty okay.

“So, Jack,” Ransom said as they walked in downtown Providence. “When you go shopping, where do you find yourself ending up most of the time?”

“Well, mostly I get my jeans online from the same place Sid gets his.” Jack admitted, because like, Sid was cool, yeah? “And then anything else I need, I’ll just go into any where and see what they have that fits.”  He paused, thinking about it a little more seriously. “I mean, most places it’s hard to get anything that fits right, so when I find something that does, I just buy a few of everything.”

Ransom nodded. “Ch-yeah,” He agreed, “That was why we found like, 30 t-shirts in black, dark red and navy from the same store in your dresser. Normally we’d take our guest to a slightly fancier store than an outlet mall, but I know with you, things are going to be a little different.” He said, and paused outside of a shop that Jack hadn’t ever looked at twice. It hardly even looked like a clothing store, because there were no mannequins in the windows, or anything even resembling clothing at all. “Jack, your proportions aren’t the same as your typical guy - we’ve all seen your body issue,” a wink at the camera, “and we know that getting a pair of jeans - even casual day to day clothes - isn’t going to be possible without getting them tailored.” He stopped, and smiled. “This is where we’ll put in a little segment where I explain that the reason stars look amazing in a plain white t-shirt isn’t because they are all skinny and buff, it’s because everything they wear has been tailored to fit.. You’ll know that with your mom.”

Jack nodded. “I get my jeans taken in at a local place.” He admitted.

Ransom nodded like he already knew, which, to be fair, he probably did. “Yeah, and it’s doing nothing for you, dude. Dad jeans aren’t making a come-back any time soon.” He changed his posture slightly, and Jack was starting to realise that this was his ‘on camera’ stance. “So we’re here at “Hart & Eggs”, a local tailor right here in Providence - if you’ve watched the show, you might know that Holster got his suit made here for our wedding.”

Inside was… nice. Jack had expected it to feel a little stuffy and old fashioned - like most of the tailors he’d been in - but the feel was way more laid back. There were a few racks of clothes and a couple of folded items, making the inside of the store feel a lot more like a regular clothing store than the outside had suggested.

“Hart & Eggs focus on much more modern tailoring, but still keeping the traditional methods that have been around for as long as bespoke clothing was a thing.” He looked at Jack, but kept his ‘on camera’ pose. “You can pick things that you like the look of and they’ll suggest options on cuts and colours that might suit you best - or you can bring in existing items that you already own and want updated.”

Jack nodded and looked around. There was no one else in the store, and Jack had seen enough episodes to know that this wasn’t just because it wasn’t busy, but because it made things easier to film without all the background noises.

“I know you’re a laid back bro,” Holster said, “and like, I’m not gonna make you wear wild colours or anything outlandish, because I know you’ll never wear em.”

Jack looked down at his feet to hide his smile but he was pretty sure that the camera might have caught it.

“So I’ve asked Eggsy to pay out a couple of things that I think you’ll like and we’ll go from there.”

When Jack watched the show, this was normally when Ransom would pull out a rack of clothes, but nothing seemed to be happening. In fact, the camera guys were putting down their stuff, and Ransom had moved into his more relaxed posture. “So like, this is when we do the rough cuts, I’m gonna pull out a few things that you can veto right away, and a couple that I’ll ask you to consider, then we’ll make up a couple of on screen outfits. We’ll be here for a good couple of hours doing this, and have to come back in a couple days, and it’s gonna get like, super annoying after about 30 minutes, but this is where I’ll build up your wardrobe. I need to know what you’ll actually wear and what you’ll let rot in the back of the closet. Normally, I’d not be too fussy - cause like, be real, it’s not exactly like I’m picking out Gucci half the time - but this shit’s expensive , even on your budget, so let's get it right, first time.”


 

“Jack had a couple of ideas about what he wanted the apartment to be like.” Dex told Eric as they walked through the paint aisles. Eric liked this part, and often helped Dex when he could - after-all, his part was pretty easy and near the end of the week, while Dex had a huge makeover to complete. Eric was no slouch when it came to colour matching either, which Dex sometimes appreciated. “But Shits also said that he’d got like, a basket of stuff from online for the kitchen that he thought you might want to look at and add to if needed?”

Bitty felt the flicker of surprise over his face for a moment before he managed to settle on a nice neutral, “Jack was already shopping for the place?”

“Yeah.” Dex nodded, looking pleased. Eric understood that a lot of the time, Dex had very little to go on and a extremely difficult job to please everyone. “Shitty said when they were talking in the kitchen on the first day that Jack has been wanting to learn how to cook for ages, and had all his shit picked out, he just never got around to ordering it.” He pulled out his phone from his back pocket and flicked through a couple of messages. “He’d also done the same for like, a few furniture places,” He showed the screen to Eric, deep blue couch with extra stuffing filling the page. “Like, nothing concrete, but the guy obviously is trying to get his shit in order. I really like this one.”

“Yeah, he seems real nice.” Eric agreed, nodding enthusiastically. “And built like a tank too. Did you see his thighs?”

Dex stopped pushing the cart for a moment and grinned at Eric like a Cheshire cat. “ I was talking about the couch , Mr Bittle, but do carry on.”

Eric felt his face burn faster than a bottle rocket on the 4th of July and groaned. “Oh, hush you.” He tried, but Dex was grinning so wide that Eric was starting to worry that the top of his head might just split in half. Served him right if it did too. “I was just observing.”

“Yeah, I noticed you observing him the other day.” Dex pointed out, still grinning but also keeping the cart moving. They had a lot of paint to buy. “I don’t think he noticed though, he was too busy trying not to freak out.”

Eric nodded, grateful that Dex wasn’t planning on mocking him completely. This was why he was Eric’s favorite. “Good lord, I know. I don’t know what Shitty was thinking jumping all over him like that - we were all told he could be a bit stressed out.”

Dex nodded as Bitty held up the notepad as he scanned the shelves, looking for the colour he’d painstaking written down. “I think that’s why the camera crew left the kitchen.” Dex said, as Eric pointed out the tin labeled as Breton Blue. “They stayed through there way to long afterwards, and you know Holster is always trying to get the first day reactions on screen.”

Eric nodded. He hadn't actually thought of that, but it made sense. “I think that’s why he’s already warming up to Shitty. Cause like, the man is a social sponge.”

“Oh, you noticed that too?” Eric said, thankful that he wasn’t just seeing things. He ticked the ‘bedroom’ box and moved on.

“Yup.” Dex nodded. “But seriously, Bits,” He said, looking over at Eric as they walked. “It’s not like you to get all, I dunno. You’ve never mentioned being attracted to anyone in forever. I thought you might be coming to the grey side.” He added with a sly smile.

“Don’t you start.” Eric blushed, nudging at Dexs’ arm with his shoulder - he’d have loved to be tall enough to check him into the wall of paint tins but he hardly reached the man's adam's apple on his tiptoes. “I’m very happy being single.” He lied. “You know what it’s like, with the schedule we keep. And I like plenty of guys.” He doubled down on his lie: “I just think Jack is cute.” He looked down at the notepad and tried not to look at the knowing expression on the face of the man beside him. “It’s not like I get butterflies or anything around him.” He smiled, aware that Jesus and the Angels in heaven were clutching at their hearts over that whopper.

“Do you think Rans will get him in skinny jeans?” Dex asked.

Eric dropped the notebook as Dex laughed at him, loud and echoing around the store. He was definitely no longer Eric’s favorite.


 

Obviously, with the large scale makeover of the apartment that Dex had to do, like with all the other guests, Jack was staying at a local hotel. He hadn’t really ever thought of that when he was watching the show - just assumed that the one day when you see the people walk into the newly redecorated homes that it took… a day. Looking back, he felt pretty dumb. He also wasn’t expecting things to take so long .

Jack had been at Hart & Eggs for nearly 6 hours. He tried on more clothes than he ever worn in his life, and when he’d narrowed it down to what he liked for sure and what he liked but felt a bit nervous about, Ransom took notes. Then after all that, a younger man than he expected came out and started measuring him up. What took Jack back was that ‘Eggsy’ was wearing incredibly casual clothes and still managed to look like he knew what he was doing, in a black polo shirt with black jeans and the whitest trainers Jack had ever seen. They had wings on the sides. He talked to Jack as he worked, a thick London accent. quickly and methodically, sometimes joking with Ransom about Holsters fitting, sometimes just taking notes.

After that, they had lunch with Shitty, who talked to him about what he was looking to do with his hair - no cameras at all.

Jack always just assumed that Shitty rocked up to the scene and put people in a chair and told them what he was going to do, but it looked like everyone expected Jack to have a lot more input than he expect. “Like, brah, I can cut your hair like a damn pro - but if you don’t like it, then what’s the fuckin point? Anything I do is gonna need like, some maintenance by you, like getting some product and regular trims - you’ve gotta commit to a style here.”

“People seem to forget,” Ransom added in, as they ate, “That looking good takes effort. No one - not Brad Pitt, not Taylor Swift - just gets up and goes. Take the extra time and check yourself before you leave the house.”

“What kinds of things are you expecting me to do?” Jack asked, because… he knew his mom like, put makeup on and picked some clothes, but his dad never seemed to do much else.

“Well, like, if you keep the beard - you need to make sure it’s trimmed every 2nd day.” Shitty pointed out. “And you’ll need oils, a bore brush - there are like - websites out there that are dedicated to the love and care of your facial hair.” He stroked his own mustache with reverence. “It takes like 5 minutes, I won’t lie, but some guys just don’t wanna take those 5 minutes.”

Jack nodded. That made sense. “I think I’ll be okay with, um, taking some time? I don’t really have a busy morning. I go for a run and then shower though - like I won’t need to do it before and after?”

“Nah, that's okay.” Shitty said, waving a hand. “Like, even Eric won’t do his hair before a workout, and that boy loves his coif.”

Ransom laughed. “Cheyeah - he’ll work out, then like, do his hair a lil, then do a gym selfie.”

Jack nodded. That was something to know, at least.Obviously Eric was no longer Olympic level fitness but he definitely was working out. “I think I can do that. I mean, l like my beard in playoffs, but thats done now, so I shave.” He thought about it a bit. He liked that Shitty and the others seemed okay with him taking the time to try to articulate what he wanted to say. “Can you show me how to look after it when I have it, but maybe shave it for the show?”

“Oooh, like a wax on, wax off?” Shitty grinned, “I can do that! You can have a play off routine and a downtime routine. That’ll mean that no matter what, you look tight.”

Now that Jack was in his hotel room though, after lunch and then picking up extra things like shoes, belts and even underwear with Ransom, he was feeling a little overwhelmed. Everyone seemed so nice, but a full day gone and Jack hadn’t even seen Eric, never mind had an opportunity to show the younger man that Jack was, you know, a great guy with good boyfriend potential.

He sighed, and lay down on the bed, pulling his laptop over. Shitty and Ransom had given him some homework - sites he needed to look at for clothing styles, a website about the proper way to like, have a shower and wash his hair (his 2-in-1 routine had to go, it seemed) and a site designed to help even the most fashion-stunted piece together an outfit.

But first, he opened up Twitter.

Jack had an account - it had taken Georgia a long time to get him online, and although he had an account, he very rarely used it to post anything.

He did, however, use it to… uh… he wondered if there was a nice way to say ‘stalk’ Eric Bittle, who lived his life tweeting the day-to-day goings on. Sometimes he’d go a few hours or even a day or two, but mostly, Jack could work out where he was, and what he was doing, by looking at what the man posted.

@EricBittle - You will not believe how much paint @Dexwilldo have to buy today!

@EricBittle - @Dexwilldo is no longer my favorite guy.

@BSKnight - @EricBittle @Dexwilldo was never your fave, bro. Don’t lie - it’s always been me

@EricBittle - @BSKnight . Ha. Not likely - you know why #sittingnakedonmykitchencounter

@BSKnight - @EricBittle - that was like, 4 years ago!

@EricBittle - @BSKnight #blocked

@EricBittle - You guys are going to love our latest makeover I can’t wait to show you!

@EricBittle - Dexy is trying bribe me with PSL because I’m still not talking to him

@EricBittle - It’s working. I can’t help it, I’m #addicted

Jack smiled. Eric’s love for overpriced sugary coffees was a long running theme of his page, and although the rest of them didn’t tweet quite as often, it was always nice to see the interactions. He knew they all had a group chat, because sometimes Eric would post a screenshot with something embarrassing that someone had said with a hashtag: exposed! Which never failed to make Jack smile. They all seemed to really get on well, it wasn’t just a front for the show. He’d loved the way that Shitty and Ransom had included him in their conversation, even about things that he wasn't involved in. It was like being part of a team.

Eric seemed to be shopping for the items that Dex would be using to makeover his apartment, which Jack had done very little on. He had told Dex that he had a few ideas, given him access to the store accounts where he’d saved a few items he’d liked a lot, and then told the man that whatever he did would be fine with him.

Jack had seen enough of the shows to know that the end result would be stunning, and not over the top or cluttered. He also knew that Dex liked what little he had saved because he’d actually nodded and smiled when he was flicking through the images, so Jack figured that he was okay to leave him to it.

@EricBittle - is it possible to fall in love with a person via their shopping habits? #askingforafriend #thisboy

Jack frowned at the screen. That wasn’t…

He refreshed the screen, but that had been the last post, about 2 hours ago. If Eric was out shopping with Dex and was posting messages about falling in love with his shopping habits, that certainly didn’t bode well for Jacks plan on trying to impress him at all .

He glared at the screen for a few more minutes, waiting for the ‘see more tweets’ bar to pop up, and when it didn’t, he closed the tap with a huff. He’d been given work to do anyway. Part of the ‘flirt with Eric’ plan included being a good makeover candidate...


Eric was laying on his hotel bed and going through Jacks online account at Williams-Sonoma whilst trying not to cry. This boy. Eric had been told that he’d been given blanket permission to add things if he needed.

Add things.

To a list made by a man who had apparently never cooked a damn thing that wasn’t chicken in his whole life but had looked into the very heart and soul of one (1) Eric Bittle and put it in a basket. Sure, he hadn’t gone so far as to colour match the items, which Eric could fix in a hot second, but if Eric had unlimited funds and was told to build his dream kitchen, this basket would be the result. He’d already spent a few hours just looking .

The basket was well over the several hundred dollar mark and happily sitting in the several thousand stage. He had a mixer in here that Eric hadn’t even seen in store. That's how expensive it was. He had Jack’s contact information.

He felt around the covers for his phone and finally found it tucked under one of the pillows he had his feet on. He might not skate anymore but his feet still hurt at the end of the day.

He opened his twitter and wondered if Jack had one. A few seconds of searching found that, yes, he did - but his last tweet was 3 years old and blander than wonderbread. He followed exactly 5 people. His mama, his daddy, his best friend and his boss. Oh, and his hockey teams mascot. Not even the team account - the mascot .

Who was currently in a good natured flame war with another mascot account called Gritty. The internet was the best.

God, he was going to have to resort to old fashioned texting.

Hi Jack, it’s Eric Bittle! He started, because obviously wouldn’t have his number. I’ve been going through your kitchen wishlist you gave the team and I was wondering if you wanted to trim this down at all?

He hit send and tried to avoid biting his nails when he waited. Shitty had mentioned that Jack had wanted to learn to cook, had for a while, but starting out didn’t mean dropping a grand on a copper toned KitchenAid that made Eric want to cry because he hadn’t ever seen it before and now his life would never be complete. His 5 year old cherry red one seemed to pale in comparison. About five minutes later, his phone gave a muted little chime. Eric scrambled to open the app.

Hi Eric, it’s Jack. Those are the things I liked. If you think they aren’t the best or think something needs changed, then of course you can do what you want. I know the colours don’t match.

Sweetpea, this isn’t a beginners kitchen set . Eric managed. The copper mixer was taunting him. This is gonna set you back a good couple thousand bucks and it’s not even including tableware.

Well, I bought the apartment for the kitchen. Did you not see it?

Eric had. He was trying not to think of it, to be honest. He was pretty sure the professional grade oven still had the blue plastic coating on the grates. Eric had gone a little weak kneed at the layout, the built in appliances that, at first look, all seemed seemed to be the best of the best. Eric would have gladly have never left.

I surely did, honey! Are you sure that you want to drop this kind of cash on something you might not even enjoy?

There is a pause in the flow of a texts - so he does it even when he’s typing, Eric notes. It makes him smile at his phone.

Yes. I know it’s a lot of money, but my papa still has the same set of knives maman bought him when he started to cook because they were well made and looked after. I could buy cheaper, but replace it twice in 10 years. Do I sound like a spoilt rich kid?

Eric laughed, because he had to, didn’t he? He was either going to laugh or cry.

No, sweatpea, you don’t. It’s like the mixing bowls my momaw handed down from her mamma. The ones he’d never hold again. If you can afford the best, then do it. It’s just a lot to take in all at once. I’m gonna order it all now. Have you thought at all about tableware?

This reply took longer to come through, which Eric was expecting now. Jack took his time and thought about what he was going to say. It was a strange thrill to click on the ‘proceed to checkout’ button without having to worry about how many zeros were on the total. Once expedited shipping had been added, it was obscene. Eric made good money, he had his own line of cookbooks, was one of the hosts of a very successful tv show - but he wondered if he could become a sugar baby. The thrill was real. That copper mixer was going to be under his fingertips in one to two working days.

I don’t really. I thought that was something that either you or Dex would help me with. I know the schedule is pretty packed, but I don’t mind taking the time to go and see what you think would be best.

Oh honey , Eric typed, fingers flying over the touchscreen. There is a whole side of me America isn’t ready to see, and that's me in a Pottery Barn. I have OPINIONS.

He clicked on the web page though, because he’d take any excuse to browse. He was looking at a nice deep blue set that he could probably mix-and-match with a copper highlight to bring in the color scheme he’d just spent several thousand dollars on when the reply come through.

Well I think Shitty is taking me for hair in the morning, and after that I have to go back to Hart & Eggs with Ransom. Eric felt the sigh that left his body without his permission. Shoulders relaxing slightly. Good lord, He’d been worried about a mixer and Ransom had taken the boy to the most expensive place in the state? Good lord though, was Eric prepared for a well tailored Jack? So if you have time, I think after that we could go?   Eric was just about to type out his reply when another came through. If you want to.

Lord, this boy. Well, I don’t really have a lot to do at the start of the week, mostly I just help out Dex. Tomorrow morning I’ll be filming the first impressions and then I’ll be free for the rest of the day. The camera crew won’t be there - they’ll be workin with the boys on their first impressions.

Ha Ha. That’s fine with me. The reply came through after hardly a beat. Eric smiled at the screen. From what he’d seen of Jack before meeting him he seemed so robotic and awkward. He really hoped that Holster would manage to get this other side of Jack out.

Chapter Text

Jack normally used the gym at work sparingly. He had a great home gym that wasn’t being touched by the makeover, but obviously he couldn’t use that right now. He knew that Shitty and the crew had only wanted to come to the gym so that they could get some sweaty workout Jack on camera, which he understood, even if he wasn’t completely comfortable with the idea of it. He’d done the body issue though, so he guessed it was par for the course. Making the most of it, he’d picked his horrible yellow training shoes, and a pair of compression shorts and shorter pair he normally wore when out running. He’d started off with a shirt but the feel of the sweaty material on his skin was making him even more uncomfortable than the idea of being half naked on TV so that was currently thrown in a ball in the corner.

He really didn’t care though. Not really, because even though he was aware that the silver lines over his hips would be visible on camera, he also knew that after this was over, after Shitty had cut his hair and shaved his beard, and Ransom took him into even more clothing stores, he was going to meet up with Eric Bittle. Alone. Without cameras. In a place Jack figured he’d love - with unlimited credit. Jack didn’t think that Eric would be the kind of person swayed by flashing some cash around, but it couldn’t hurt - and then if Jack timed it right, it might just be late enough to casually mention dinner.

With Eric.

And Jack.

Alone.

His heart rate spiked on the treadmill and he shook his head a little, trying to focus. He still had a full workout to get through before Shitty arrived and he liked Eric a lot, but he also liked his job - and this was the part that kept him in good enough shape to be the best.

And maybe Eric might see some sweaty workout Jack and be okay with that too.

He was running through the last of his set when Shitty walked in, took a look around and wolf whistled. Jack wasn’t the only person in the gym, of course, they were professional hockey players, so when that happened - and the rest of the team knowing what was going on because a happy Tater was a very vocal Tater, they were more than happy to get some screen time as Shitty squeezed delts and swooned loudly over each of them.

It gave enough time for Jack to wind down and get used to the cameras again, who were obviously switching between Jack and Shitty, but that was to be expected.

“Ladies, you’re all magnificent specimens of government testing on genetic super soldiers, but I’m here for this man right here.” Shitty said, after about half an hour. “Hit the showers, Captain Canada.”

It didn’t take Jack long to shower and dress in the same thing he wore the day before. Because of the way it was filmed, today would be shown as an ongoing shot from his shopping trip with Ransom, in which Shitty would arrive and whisk him away for a hair re-vamp. Then, later, it would be pieced together to look seamless. He figured.

The barber shop Jack usually went to was obviously not going to be used, he already worked that one out on his own, and he was fully expecting the very modern salon that Jack would automatically assume was for ladies.

“Can I ask a dumb question off camera?” Jack asked as they walked in.

“Hit me, bro.”

“Are salons gendered?”

Shitty paused and blinked. “Well, bro. Like thats a really fuckin’ not dumb question that just made my brain stall. Fuckin A.” He said, pushing Jack towards the back of the shop that had obviously been set up for them, with the lights and enough space for the cameras. “Like, no - but also yeah, in a big way.”

They’d already talked over lunch the day before about how Jack was going to get his hair styled, and that he’d be going without the beard, so Shitty started with the hair.

“So, like - mostly anyone who is qualified to cut hair can and will cut for all genders, yeah? But like, there is a rich history behind the barber shop, which is catered almost exclusively toward male presenting people. These places? Def unisex. You can walk in and get you a touch up and treatments no matter what. But like, race plays a big part in it too - Rans won’t get his haircut by a white dude, which I was like - whoa at first - but then he started talking about the texture of his hair, the history, the whole societal thing. It’s fuckin legit interesting as hell, man. Better people than me would need to answer that.” Shitty said, grinning. “But that’s not a dumb question, my man. Not at all.” He paused. “I wanna keep that in the show, it’s a good question and a lot of guys don’t know they can walk into a place like this, if that okay?”

Jack nodded. “I just didn’t want to look like an idiot, it’s hard enough to check if I’m being accidentally sexist and stuff.”

“Well shit, man, it’s an ongoing thing. Like you know… Holster is married to a black guy, and even he fucks up with his privilege sometimes. Dex has a weird thing about money, which causes hell with his relationship all the time. And Bitty is the most repressed motherfucker on the planet.”

Jack tried not to look too interested, and failed quite spectacularly. Shitty have a little shake of his head and shifted into talking about hair, which Jack tried to take in carefully. He hadn’t known this about the show, but he was also going to be given a list of specific instructions on how to use the items that Shitty was talking about, so he felt a lot more confident. Jack liked lists, and a schedule. He wasn’t sure if this was something that they had done just for him, or something they did for everyone, but he was grateful for it.

Once his hair was done - and Jack had to admit, it looked a lot better than it ever had before. The front had a little quiff thing that he saw on a lot of models on billboards, and Shitty had talked him through how to do it on his own, even messing it up so that Jack could try it under supervision.

“Okay, now, we gotta deal with the beard.” Shitty said, looking at Jack, but talking only for the benefit of the cameras. “As much I as I hate to say this - she’s gotta go.”

Jack nodded, then watched as the cameras went away.

“Okay,” Shitty said, pulling out a soft brown leather case. “In here we’ve got everything you need to keep her looking hella pretty in the playoffs, okay?” He said, opening the bag. Jack liked it - it looked old fashioned and worn, and reminded him of a western. “Did you go to the websites I gave you?” He said, as he set everything out on the table.

“Yeah.” Jack said. “Um, I wasn’t really paying a lot of attention but I can watch them again, right?”

Shitty nodded. “We did kinda overload you yesterday.”

Jack tried not to look too pleased. “I was texting Eric.” He said. “Um, he text me about the kitchen.”

Shitty paused in laying out the items and looked at Jack. He looked a little more serious than Jack had ever seen him before. “Look, Jack, I think your a great guy - I do - but you gotta understand that Eric Bittle is one of my best friends and I will fuckin kill you if you are dicking him around.” He laid out the last item and looked back. “If you are being serious then I fully support you, buy if this is like… some kind of ‘teenage crush’ thing you can scratch off your to-do list, I’m not there.”

Jack shook his head vigorously. “No! It’s not like that. I swear.” He paused, trying to think of a way to explain, but his mind was swirling too fast for him to get anything order. He could feel his palms start to sweat, and his jaw tighten up. After a few seconds though, a hand came to rest on his arm.

“Breathe slowly, my dude.” Shitty was saying. “You don’t need to say anything. I want you to listen to me go through these products and concentrate on that, okay?”

Shitty’s voice was soothing and calming, as he listed exactly what each product was for, when and how to use it. Once he’d done that, he went back and explained why he’d picked the smells, and where Jack could buy alternatives if he didn’t like the ones that Shitty had arranged. He was half way through talking about the way he brushed his own mustache when Jack felt his jaw relax enough for him to lick his lips. “Hey, welcome back, my main guy.” Shitty said, pulling back and putting all the items back into the leather bag. “That was a dick move of me, and I’m sorry.”

“S’okay.” Jack managed. He felt like an idiot. Someone handed him a glass and he drank reflexively. Orange juice. He blinked.

“Your mom is like, 100% a woman who must be obeyed.” Shitty said. “I swear that if she ever meets my Lardo then the fuckin world better watch out.”

Of course, his maman would have told them what to do if Jack had a panic attack. He flushed with embarrassment. He was a grown man, this shouldn’t be happening to him. “I’m sorry.” He said, after taking another drink. The orange juice wasn’t something any doctor or psychiatrist had ever recommended, but his mother would always just bring him a glass after he’d have an attack as a kid, and sit with him as she drank it. Now it was a weirdly comforting routine.

“So like sometimes, before an episode airs, Rans shuts down. Like, freaks out - full blown attack. He’ll hide under the kitchen table with his hands over his ears for a couple hours. He’s gone to so many people about it, doctors, shrinks, fucking mystics. We’ve tried everything. And nothing works. You know what we do now?”

Jack shook his head.

“We leave him. We sit around in the kitchen - on the floor - on the counters or chairs or whatever, and we just let him get through it. It sucks, you feel useless as hell, but after a couple hours he crawls out, gets his blanket and whatever Bits stress bakes while we wait, and we watch the show.”

Jack blinked. He hadn’t known that.

“Do you need to take the rest of the day? We can push the shave back for another day if you don’t want to be touched. We’re actually ahead of schedule right now, because Dex has like brought in people to paint and shit.”

Jack managed to shake his head. He was always just a little too slow after an attack, but this hadn’t been a bad one, and Shitty had done all the right things, right down to the orange juice. “I’ll be okay. It’ll help.”

Shitty nodded, but definitely took his time getting things set up. “So I get a lil overprotective of my boy.” He said, as he moved. “And it wasn’t cool of me to like, make out like you were a dick trying to get some dick.”

Jack actually laughed a little at that, some of the tension in his shoulders leaving. “If I can’t work out my words I get weird.” He admitted. “I don’t know how to say how I feel. About Eric.”

“So here is something that you need to know, okay? Bits, perfect lil gay angel of out and proudness. Queer as all hell. It’s stereotypical and shit, but you look at him and his fuckin cute as shit bow ties and his perfect hair and you can just tell the boy likes boys, yeah?” Shitty said, running a comb through Jacks scraggly beard, and starting to trim it down enough for the razor. “He also got kicked out of home when he left the closet. As far as I know, he talks to his mom on the phone, but he’s not exactly welcome back.”

“I knew that.” Jack said, trying not to move much “Um.”

Shitty paused, making a go-on motion with the scissors.

“So the first cookbook? The paper one?” Jack managed, still trying to get his words to come out in the right order as Shitty nodded. “His mother was in that. His dad too - like in some of the pictures? He came out that year.” Jack remembered it clearly. It hadn’t been big news because Eric Bittle wasn’t really anyone after he crashed out of the Olympics, but there were still blogs that Jack found, and read. “Um, I read about how quick he moved out. His tweets were, um, strained. Then not about his parents or anything about home. It wasn’t that difficult to work out.” He swallowed. “And then after that, his mother wasn’t in the books, or mentioned in the recipes. It became ‘a family recipe’ rather than ‘mammas recipe’.”

Shitty carried on cutting as Jack talked. “Well you’re a observant fucker, eh?” he said after a while. “Well, thats how it went down. We don’t talk much about it cause he gets all sad, and Sad Bits is not something that anyone wants in their lives. But this is the important part.” Shitty said, reaching for the trimmers. “Eric grew up hiding. Then he got kicked out when he quit hiding. Not that it matters at all because like, what you do with your body is your own thing, but Jack - as far as we know, Eric hasn’t so much as kissed someone. If you’re looking to head to bone town, he isn’t there. He might not ever be there.”

Jack thought about it as Shitty trimmed back the hairs on his beard. It gave him a while to think. He liked Eric a lot, in a gut churning - personal time in the shower kind of way. But he also liked Eric, and the thought of walking into the kitchen in the morning to see the small blond already there, holding a cup of too sweet coffee, made Jack’s gut churn in a totally different way.

Finally, when his face was smooth and Shitty was looking at him like he maybe wanted to cry a little, Jack looked up at the man.

“I think I’m okay with that. With knowing that. About Eric.”

“Jack Zimmerman, I fucking believe you.”

Chapter Text

Jack had text Eric to let him know that he was running on time as Eric checked his hair in the mirror one more time. There wasn’t any reason for him to be nervous, because Jack was simply being a good guy who wanted a little say in what the end result of his apartment would look like. It certainly wasn’t a date, and Jack certainly wouldn’t be dressed like it was a date, because he would be wearing the same clothes as he had in his closet - which were not date appropriate clothes. And Pottery Barn wasn’t a date location. So it wasn’t a date, and Eric was working himself into a tizzy for nothing.

So when he stepped out of his uber and saw Ransom and Jack chatting outside of Hart & Eggs, he wasn’t disappointed in the ill fitting jeans or the dark shirt. Those jeans did absolutely nothing for Jacks butt.

“Hey ya’ll!” He said, waving at Rans who grinned wide when he saw Eric.

And then Jack turned around.

And Eric Richard Bittle tripped on air, stumbling a few steps before regaining his composure.

Oh dear Lord and all the angels in heaven. Jack Zimmerman was hot. Like, so hot. Like top 5 hot - what even were those cheekbones?

“We’re all done here,” Ransom was saying, trying not to laugh at Eric's completely unsubtle misstep at looking at a freshly shaved Jack Zimmerman. “Holster’s doing his first impressions now, and I’m up next, so you think you can take it from here?”

“Um.” Eric managed, but luckily Jack seemed more than happy to take control of the conversation.

“I think so.” He said, and smiled. Lord, without that travesty of a beard in place, his smile was even more devastating. “I brought my car, if that's okay, rather than waiting on a taxi.”

“Sure thing.” He said, cringing at how strong his accent suddenly seemed to be, making the last word sound like ‘thang’ instead. Lord, he was not a hick.

Jack said his goodbyes to Ransom, who winked over his shoulder, and walked over to Eric. “I parked just down here,” He said starting to move in the direction he’d indicated. Eric tried not to fall over his feet when he followed. “It’s really weird not having a beard anymore.” Jack said, looking down at Eric, because he was so tall. Eric, used to being around men significantly taller than he was, had never found it much of an attraction before. It seemed that had changed. A lot. “I normally shave once we’re out of playoffs but this time it just feels a little more intense.”

“Probably because Shitty cried.” Eric smiled, looking up. “He did cry, right?”

“I think it was a close thing.” Jack laughed. “But he showed me how to look after my beard for next year so I’ll look less like, uh.”

“You’re auditioning for a spot in ZZ Top?” Eric suggested, and was rewarded with another laugh from Jack. That was a real nice sound he could get used to. Jack took out a key fob out of his pocket and a black car on the street flashed its lights.

“Is there anywhere in particular that you want to start?” Jack asked, as he held open the door for Eric, which no one had ever done for him before.

“Oh, I have a couple ideas.” He grinned as he slid into the butter soft leather seat.


 

Jack didn’t think that he could have as much fun in a store that sold cutlery as he was currently having. Eric was laughing so hard he was doubled over, at something Jack had said, and Jack was trying to keep his face as deadpan as he could. The cart that he was pushing only had a few items in it, because Eric deliberated everything at least twice. One of the items was a bright green ladle that looked like a dinosaur because Eric had giggled over it and Jack just added it to the cart the moment his back was turned. If nothing happened and Jack didn’t end up dating the man at his side, he would be able to look at the ladle and remember the way Eric’s nose had scrunched up as he giggled at it.

Jack was fully aware that he was displaying one of the worst parts of his 100% or nothing personality in his feelings for Eric, but he was struggling to care as Eric looked up at him.

“You did not just refer to Taylor Swift as ‘the girl that sings the song about umbrellas.”

“She’s not?” Jack said, dry as he could, just so he could watch Eric laugh again.

“Oh, sweetpea, no.” He laughed, knocking into Jack a little. His attention was taken by something on a shelf though, and he pointed to it. “This is what I saw online. What do you think, darlin?”

Jack nodded. It was blue, and a plate, and he didn’t hate it. Should hold food. “I like it.” He smiled, and Eric smiled back.

“I was thinkin if we got this, then maybe like a couple of highlights in copper? Don’t want to overdo it, because the appliances are brushed steel.”

“I was just thinking that.” Jack said, and smirked when Eric looked over his shoulder in surprise. He was still trying to get his heart to stop doing that thing it did whenever Eric said ‘we’ instead of ‘you’.

“You are a menace, Mr Zimmerman.” He scolded, but he was smiling and the tops of his ears were a little pink when he added the set to the cart. “How do do you feel about table settings?”

Jack pretended to think about it, watching as Eric saw through his charade but just rolled his eyes. “I’m pretty pro-table settings.” He said after a beat longer.

Eric used both hands to push him as hard as he could, but Jack was expecting it, and didn’t budge an inch.

“Good lord, are you made of marble?” Eric asked, just a little breathless.

“Yup.” Jack grinned.


 

Eric was in so much trouble. So much.

He hadn’t expected this. His job was to help a client make finger foods for a bunch of men in suits and not look bad doing it. He certainly wasn’t supposed to be talking to said client over dinner as they talked about being expected to reach certain goals as teenagers.

“I never really thought too much about it,” Jack was saying, as he carefully cut his steak. He had perfect table manners, Eric noticed, probably better than Erics, if he was being honest. “It was just something I wanted to do, and then with Papa already being so entrenched in hockey I just fell into it.”

“Lord, I’ll admit being a figure skater in the middle of a small town in Georgia it wasn’t quite as easy.” Eric smiled. “I had to fight a lot for it - but I was good, so that made it easier, in the long run.”

“I saw you in Vancouver.” Jack said, after a while - like he’d been holding back, and Eric felt something unclench in his gut. He’d figured that it would come up eventually. But lord, that had been a lifetime ago - there was no way that Jack would remember Eric, surely? “I saw your short program.”

Eric sighed. “And the freestyle?”

Jack nodded, but didn’t lower his eyes, like most people did when talking about Eric’s spectacular crash out of the Olympics. His eyes were so very blue. “I  always just assumed that I’d be play hockey forever.” Jack said after a while. “And I saw you fall, and I knew then. That was all it took. I remember, it changed my whole play style. I was a little more defensive, a little less keen to throw myself around. Probably why I can still play now.”  He paused. “But I saw you in the short program. You were really good.”

“I was never going to win a medal.” Eric admitted. “I knew it before I even got there. When I left everyone was talking about how I could have done it. Wasn’t true.”

Jack shrugged. “We were expected to win it. Home turf. Canadian. Had to.” He paused. “I can’t think what it would have been like if we’d lost .”

Eric nodded. He remembered how stressed the Canadian teams had been. They were at home but they all looked like they’d rather be anywhere else. The whole country had turned out to see them, and failure was crushing. “I don’t think you would have won.” Jack said, after one of his pauses, and Eric was taken aback. No one ever said that. Not to his face. “I don’t mean that you weren’t good, because you were, but you were too young. Maybe 2014 you’d have had a better chance.”

Eric found himself nodding. Jack was honest, which was refreshing. “I didn’t have the stamina.”

“Comes with age,” Jack winked, then blushed a little, going back to his meal. Eric was in so much trouble over this boy.

“So they tell me,” He said back, because hell be damned, Jack Zimmerman had taken him to dinner and might actually be flirting with him a little, and Eric was… Eric was so okay with that. “How old are you again?” He asked, just as Jack took a drink.

It was lucky it was just sparkling water, because it shot out of Jacks nose and over what was left of his steak.


 

Jack dropped Eric off at his hotel - not the same one Jack was in - a little later than planned. They’d been politely asked to leave the restaurant after apparently lingering for so long over the dessert menu that the place was waiting for them to leave so it could close. Jack had flirted. Eric had flirted back.

He got out of the car to open the door for Eric, but hadn’t lingered around to wait for a kiss, because he didn’t want Eric to feel uncomfortable, and had gone to sleep with the weirdest, almost giddy feeling in his gut.

Eric had flirted with him. Maybe not like, outright flirting that Jack had done before, but little things, smiles, a touch on the hand when passing something over. He’d made playful jokes. He’d blushed. He’d smiled, soft, gentle. Jack had to be careful, knew how thin the ice he was skating over. Getting the Vancouver thing out of the way was good. Eric knew now, that Jack had known who he was. That Jack remembered. Maybe he didn’t quite catch the longing behind the ‘I wanted to talk to you’ but that was okay. Better to appear a little casual at first. That's what his Papa did. Don’t tell them you have every magazine they’ve ever done a photo-shoot for until after they agree to date you. Maman had been charmed, if a little overwhelmed. Jack got his 100% attitude about romance from somewhere, it seemed.

He had sent a text to Eric when he got back to his own hotel.

Just back. I had a great night. I’ve never been asked to leave a restaurant before though.

Eric had replied almost instantly, like maybe he had been waiting for Jack to send a message, hadn’t wanted to be the first one to hit send.

I had a great night too. Lord, I’ll never be able to show my face again.

Thats okay. There are a lot of good places to eat around here, for next time.

Goodnight, Mr Zimmerman

Goodnight, Mr Bittle.

He’d re-read the text in the morning, when he wasn’t quite so high on what to all intents and purposes had been a really good date, and wondered if the Goodnight Mr Zimmerman had been a gentle let down. It hadn’t felt like it at the time, but Jack had always been bad at noticing things like that, and reading situations wrong.

He pulled over his laptop and opened Twitter.

Eric had been silent for the entirety of their date, which Jack would have expected. Unless Eric was some kind of stealth tweeter, he’d never taken his phone out of his pocket.

But there had been updates when he got back to the hotel.

@EricBittle - Good lord

@EricBittle - This boy, I swear. Just casually throwing out a ‘next time’

@EricBittle - if you think that it’s a sure thing, mister... it absolutely is #hedoesntusetwitterthankgod

Jack grinned, heading for the shower. He had a long day ahead. He’d be spending time with Holster who was going to try to get him to feel comfortable enough to give a speech he didn’t want to give, in a room full of people who would be dissecting his every word.

But even that wasn’t enough to keep the stupid grin off his face as the warm water washed over him. Because Eric Bittle had totally thought it was a date, and that meant that Jack Zimmerman had a chance.

And he didn’t intend to let it pass him.

 

Chapter Text

Holster picked him up at the hotel in the Black SUV, and they talked in the car about how much he was worried about the Gala, about saying the wrong thing, and what kinds of things he’d be expected to say.

“There are like, zero people in the world who are like, totes brah, lemmie just jump up here and belt out a keynote speech.” Holster said, as he drove. “Like, that's why speech writers have a job, it’s not easy.”

Jack nodded. He’d carefully followed Shitty’s hair-care routine and used the products on his newly shaven face in the order he’d been told, and he did feel a little more confident about how he looked. Although that might have just been about his date with Eric. “You’ve been to events like this before, right? I think I’ve seen you there.”

“I go every year.” Jack agreed. “Although I wasn’t publicly out, I wanted to show support to those who were, I’ve known Parse for most of my life - I was Taters best man. My father was one of the first players, even after he retired, to talk about homophobia in sport on a public platform, and my maman is on the board of a few LGTB plus  charities and foundations.”

“Did they always know you were bi?”

“No.” Jack said. “I know a lot of people have now said that they did this because they were trying to make it easier for me - which I can’t honestly have any issue with? - but no. I only dated girls when I was younger, I had a could of ‘two guys just helping each other out’ things, but I wasn't really interested in exploring that until my late teens, years after my parents were being vocal.”

“I assume they took you coming out with care, then?”

Jack laughed. “I didn’t come out, not really. I just kinda went home one day and was like, I saw the boy I’m going to marry - and my papa put down his newspaper and asked if they were going to meet him before or after the wedding.” He grinned. “I don’t even think maman stopped eating her breakfast, just rolled her eyes and muttered something about me being just like my father.”

Holster laughed - loud and genuine. “So what happened with the boy?”

Jack grinned. “Still working on it.”

Holster blinked, and then laughed even louder. “Okay, yeah, I’m okay with that. The long game.” He looked back at the road. “Your parents got married hella quick, right?”

“Uh, my dad proposed three days after he met her.” Jack recalled. “I think she said no like four times, then she proposed to him three weeks later. They’d known each other less than a month.”

“Shit man, thats fast.”

“Oh yeah, I mean, now it just seems really fine because they’ve been married for like 30 years, but I think a lot of people expected it to end in a rather messy divorce.”

“So def we’re going to say you’ve got a strong romantic side?”

“I don’t think some of my exes would say that?” Jack hedged. “I um, I like to think so. I’ve casually dated a few people through the years but I think it was pretty clear I wasn’t as invested in them as I could have been.” He thought about it more seriously for a moment. “But yeah, I’d like to think I was. I mean, I want to do the roses on Valentines and the big romantic gestures, but I also want to be the person who has lazy sunday mornings and bicker about who forgot to unload the dishwasher.”

“I can totally divorce Rans.” Holster said, mock seriously. “Like I can call him right now.”

Jack laughed shook his head, as they pulled into a theater parking lot.

“Alright! We’re here!”


 

Eric was stepping around people in Jacks kitchen as they painted and updated the splash back. The whole apartment was painted in various shades of blue, all of them soft. The bedroom was the darkest, as per Jacks request, and the kitchen was a light grey blue that would make the built in larger appliances blend in well whilst also giving a nice contrast to the copper highlights that Eric was going to be adding.

So far he’d received two texts from Jack, both simple updates - waiting on Holster. This is the part I’m worried about - and - I’m going to be talking to an empty room for a hour. Can I do this at the actual gala? - which had Eric grinning at his phone like an idiot for a few minutes and had his mood just bouncing along the ceiling as he worked on keeping out of the way of the decorating crew as he restocked the pantry.

“You seem chipper, itty Bitty.” Shitty said, appearing from nowhere, face a mask. Eric had known the man for a long time know and knew when he was holding back. “See ya tweeting. Hot date last night?”

Eric paused as he put the knives and forks he’d picked out with Jack into the drawer with the neat little divider built in. “It won’t be an issue with the show.” Eric pointed out. He didn’t think so, anyway.

Shitty walked up to him and bumped his shoulder a little. Not enough to push him, but enough to make his presence known. “I think this guy might be a bit all or nothing.” Shitty cautioned. “Like, maybe more than you might want?”

Eric bristled. He knew that Shitty was probably being protective, but Eric was a grown man, and he didn’t want anyone, not even well meaning friends stepping on his glow. “Why does everyone seem to think that I don’t know what I’m doing? Dex already had this chat with me.”

Shitty paused. “Dex?” He seemed a little confused. “When did Dex talk to you?”

“When we were getting the paint.” Eric said, perhaps putting the cutlery into the drawer with more force than required. “Just because I don’t go on a million dates doesn’t mean I don’t want to.” He managed. “It’s just, we work a lot and… and.” He finished. Not his best ending to any argument he had, he knew.

“Dude, I’m not gonna lie - I came in here to be like, Jackie seems super into you and I thought you might be like, not into him like that.”

Eric paused. “Why? Why is everyone so surprised that I might want to date him?”

Shitty started to look a little uncomfortable. Serves him right too, Eric thought a little mean spiritedly. “Well, like… you never. Like what you do with your body is like legit your right.” He said, quickly. “But like, have you ever even kissed anyone? I mean, is like, that something that you even want to do?”

Eric felt like his whole brain was doing a weird start/stop motion with his thoughts. “Shitty, do you think I’m a virgin?” He asked, keeping his voice low. There weren’t any cameras around but Bitty had grown up in a house where sex wasn’t something talked about in the kitchen , for crying out loud.

“Well, yeah brah.” Shitty shrugged. “Like you don’t date, you spend all your time working?”

Eric blinked. “Well I’m not.” He managed. “Um. Technically.”

Shitty paused. Eric could see the questions that the man wanted to ask, brimming just under the surface. Eric waited. Shitty was a great guy, but he was also still just a guy, and no matter how badly he wanted to be supportive he also…

“What do you mean, technically ?” He burst out as Eric started to laugh.

“Never change, Shitty.” Eric grinned, and got a great deal of satisfaction as he walked away.

“Yeah, but what do you mean?!” Shitty called out.


 

Jack was never going to be the kind of person that was going to enjoy giving speeches. All his life he’d tried to get over that crippling self doubt that caused his throat to close up and his palms to itch - he’d been the captain of a hockey team for most of his playing career and he still wasn’t the one that the press wanted to talk to because they knew that his stilted answers were virtually impossible to get anything good out of.

“What kind of things do you want to say?” Holster said, leaning back. They were sitting on the stage of a small theater that Jack thought he might have been to once or twice when his mother was in town. It was actually quite nice, just sitting cross legged while the cameras tried to stay out of the way.

“I don’t know.” Jack admitted. “I’ve been to so many of these things and everyone always seems really funny. Tater makes it look really easy - English isn’t even his first language and he still manages to make people laugh.”

“Well, lets not be too hard on yourself,” Holster said, looking relaxed and comfortable. “English isn’t your first language either. Don’t forget that.”

Jack nodded. He’d forgotten about that, honestly.

“I don’t think that anyone is going to expect you to walk up on the stage and give a stand-up routine.” Holster pointed out. “These people know you. I think they’ll be happy with a few words of support, as long as they come from the heart.”

Jack nodded. “I just don’t know what to say.” He admitted. “I want to be able to give a great speech, I do, but even thinking about it makes me hands feel too big for the rest of me.”

Holster grinned. “Well, that's why we’re here today.” He waved a hand around, and the cameras did a little spinny move to encompass the stage and the seating plan. “But first, we’re going to think about all the things that you want to say.” He pulled out some flashcards and a thick sharpie out of his back pocket. “Let's go back to basics. Buzzwords! Give me a word you think is important to what you want to say.” He paused. “It can be as cheesy or stereotypical as you like. I’ll start with: Community.” He wrote it out - large thick letters. “We’re all part of the LGTB plus community.”

Jack nodded. Okay, this was something he could do - one word answers were actually something he was well known for. “Um, Teamwork.” He said, and watched as Holster wrote that down too.

“What does that mean for you?”

“Working together to achieve goals.”

“Perfect.” Holster grinned. He handed the two cards to Jack. “Put these in order of what you think is the most important. Gimmie another word.”

Jack paused. He placed community first. “Family.” He said, after a second. “Support, love.” When Holster handed that card to him, he placed it above Community. “I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for my parents.”

Holster nodded.

“Belonging.” Jack managed. “Feeling like you’re where you are supposed to be.”

The pen made little squeaks as Holster wrote out what Jack was saying, and in no time at all, the space in front of Jack was full of cards, the strong scent of marker in the air.

“Looks like you have a lot to say, actually.” Holster said, as he capped the pen. There could have been about 20 cards laid out on the ground. “Breaking what you want to say down into one word replies is a great way of getting those words out there - creating a visual of what you want to say so you don’t get overwhelmed all at once when they start pouring in.” He cracked his knuckles. “Do you think that this’ll help you?”

Jack looked at the words. There were more than he was expecting, but it was better to see them all written down, easy to see. He knew why he’d picked each one, and why. He nodded. “Yeah, I think so.”

“Great!” Holster said. “So all we need to do now, is get them into a little more order, add some filler words and you’ve got a speech.”

Jack rubbed the back of his neck. “I get the feeling it’s going to be a little more complicated than that.” He admitted, but Holster just laughed.

“Well, yeah, but we’re going to break it down into smaller and smaller steps so that when it comes to standing up on the stage, you’ll feel like it’s as easy as breathing.”

Jack didn’t think it would be quite that easy, but he tried a smile.

Holster grinned, and nodded at the Camera Crew. “So for the rest of the afternoon we’ll get the speech done.” He said as the crew took off. “We’ll do it here, and we won’t be filming it, because we want it to be more impactful on the night - if we show you practicing, it’ll make for more boring TV.” He paused. “It’s why you never see the kids on Glee singing the songs in practice as they do at Regionals - no one would watch 16 hours of the same song.”

Jack blinked. He was pretty sure he was supposed to know what that meant, going on the face that Holster was making. “God, you really are a rock lord.” The taller man laughed, but it was good natured, and Jack ended up shrugging.

“Not got a lot of time to catch up on TV shows.” He admitted. “Pop culture isn’t really my thing.”

Holster grinned. “Well, it’s 100% Bitty’s thing, so you might want to start putting aside some hours - even if it’s just on music.”

Jack grinned. “I know all about Beyonce.” He pointed out. “And I have seen this show.”

Holster gave a loud laugh, filling up the stage and the empty seats. “Rans said you picked up Bitty after clothes shopping yesterday.” He said, once the echoes had died down. “Bits apparently tripped over air when he saw your clean shave.”

Jack nodded, grinning wider. “We went to a couple of different stores and then dinner.” He admitted. “Um. I think it went really well.”

“You use twitter?”

“Nope.” Jack lied, probably too fast going on the quick look that Holster gave him. “I mean, I have an account, but I don’t use it.” Bit of truth in the lie.

“Well Bits does.” Holster said, looking a little bit suspicious. “A lot.” He paused. “I’m pretty sure that anyone would know that, if they were into him.”

“I know he has a twitter.” Jack hedged.

“Which you would have checked out at some point.”

“Which I may have checked out at some point.” Jack agreed. He could feel his cheeks starting to burn as Holster smirked.

“In the last 24 hours?”

Jack shrugged. It was written all over his face. Holster laughed again.

“Normally I wouldn’t be so cool with a guy macking on Bits so hard.” He admitted, looking at Jack, “But I also know that he’s into you in a way that he’s not normally into people so I’ll let it slide. Just remember, there’s a real fine line between invested interest and stalking.”

Jack nodded quickly. “I’m not, I wouldn’t,” He paused. “If he felt uncomfortable, I’d back off.” Jack said, feeling the tightness in his chest again, the tips of his fingers going a little numb.

“Brah, I actually believe you,” Holster said, looking at Jack for a long moment. “And like, Shitty probably already gave you like, the shovel talk for sure.”

Jack nodded.

“So I’m gonna be on your side here.” Holster said, looking seriously at Jack. “Bits’ is great, he’s a fucking aces dude with all this heart he’s just waiting to hand out - and I think you guys’ll be great. But like, right now it’s pretty much all one sided, and you could end up hurt.” Holster paused. “I just want you to be aware that it might not work out. Not everyone gets that happy ever after that your parents have.”

Jack nodded. He knew that - knew the risks. “I think he’s worth taking the shot.” He said, looking at the cards at his feet. Love, Honesty - Belonging.

Holster looked at the cards too and gave Jack a warm grin. “That he fucking is, my good man. That he is.”

Chapter Text

Do you think that standing in an empty room giving the same speech 10 times is going to make me feel less like a dork on the night?

The text message came through as Eric was opening boxes in the kitchen. He couldn’t help the smile that formed on his lips, and he ignored the way that Dex rolled his eyes. Like the boy didn’t get all gooey over the notes that would occasionally find themselves slotted in between pages of his folders.

I think it probably won’t hurt . Eric shot back as he carefully lifted the mixer out of the packaging.

“Oh lord.” He breathed, looking at the stunning brushed copper. “I mean, really.”

“Are you getting all hot and bothered over the texts or the mixer?” Dex said, grinning. “Because I get the feeling it could be 50/50 right now.”

“Oh hush you.” Eric shot back. “It’s just a real nice mixer, okay?”

Dex grinned, shaking his head. “I think this is going to be the hardest for you.” He pointed out.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, after we’re all done here, and we leave him to stand on his own two feet, you’re going to have to leave this dream kitchen you just built.”

Eric paused, and looked around. The kitchen was stunning - Dex had kept the colours muted but strong so that the whole place felt more relaxing than the other more vibrant kitchens they’d done in the past, and Jack had selected the very best appliances. Everything, right down to the copper and navy plates and cups that they’d picked out together screamed style and taste, and… yeah, probably Eric would struggle not to think of this as the most perfect kitchen he’d ever seen. Even without the mixer. Dex was watching him carefully, and Eric wasn’t quite sure what his face was doing. He felt a little sad. He felt a little hopeful. It was confusing.

“Probably.” He managed, after a second. “It’s a nice kitchen.”

“It is.” Dex agreed. “One of the better ones we’ve done.” He added. “It’s nice to have a blank slate and no budget,” He added. “But really, it wasn’t really a blank slate, was it? I mean, he’d already picked out most of the stuff before we even arrived.” Dex looked around. “The couches, the bed - he’d already added all the kitchen stuff before we even arrived. Makes you think, huh?”

Eric blinked. “Think what?”

“Why he was waiting. Kinda feels like he was putting everything on hold for some reason.”


 

Jack had a speech all done - he had to practice it in the mirror, had to practice it pretty much every hour on the hour in order to make it flow easy and relaxed, which was the exact opposite of how he was feeling about giving a speech in front of hundreds of people, but he was aware that Holster had given him a great foundation to start on, and he’d given him as much help as he could without actually getting up on stage and giving the damn speech for Jack on the night.

Are you going to be busy all day? Or do you think you can stop for dinner?

Texting Eric might have been too much, but Jack wasn’t too worried. From what Holster had hinted, Eric was pretty okay with Jack being attentive, and his quick responses seemed to highlight that too.

I could probably eat. The reply came back. Although lets try not to get kicked out of anywhere this time.

I can’t really go anywhere fancy. Jack pointed out. Because all my clothes are in a bonfire somewhere, according to Rans.

LOL yes they are. I got paint in my hair anyway.

Jack thought about it for a second. There is a little place not too far from your hotel - we could walk there and back? Along the river?

Sounds lovely. What time are you thinking?

Jack looked at his watch. He actually had a few things he needed to do - although he was officially ‘off work’ he still had meetings with Georgia and check-ups with the team. He could get those out of the way first, and then spend the rest of the evening with Eric - which sounded perfect as far as Jack was concerned. I can pick you up at 6?

It’s a date.

Jack looked down at his phone and grinned. It’s a date.


 

Eric made sure he didn’t have paint in his hair as he waited on Jack arriving. It was a mild evening and he was actually looking forward to the walk to the ‘little place’ that Jack had suggested. He could see people walking along the river and it looked, well… very cozy and romantic. Exactly the kind of thing that screamed ‘date’ which this most certainly was. Jack had even confirmed it, with his reiteration of Erics text.

It’s a date.

Just looking down at his phone gave him a burst of bubbles in his gut that made him feel too warm under his lightweight jacket,and he knew that he was probably blushing hard as he leaned against the reception desk in the hotel lobby.

@EricBittle Been working hard all day with one of our best makeovers ever! @Dexwilldo has knocked it out of the park

@EricBittle I’m totally not just tweeting out to stall my nerves for date pt2.

@EricBittle Nor am I seriously considering dropping a grand on a mixer #kitchenaidenvy

“Eric?”

Right on time, Eric noted as he looked at his phone before locking the screen, Jack walking over. He didn’t have any of his fitted clothes yet, Eric knew, but he’d obviously at least tried to put together a suitable date outfit with what he had - a pair of dark jeans that didn’t quite sit right and a dark blue button down that he’d rolled the sleeves on. The shirt was a little too baggy on the waist and tight on the shoulders, but Eric wasn’t going to complain at the way it tugged over those well defined muscles.

“Mister Zimmerman.” He found himself smiling up at the taller man, who was smiling softly down at him.

“I was expecting you to look a little paint splattered.” Jack teased. “A little less put together.”

Eric rolled his eyes and gave Jack a little shove. “Oh hush you.” He said, grinning. “I know you know me well enough to know I’m not showing up on a date with paint in my hair.”

Jack grinned and nodded, moving out of the way so that Eric could walk past, out onto the street - Jack holding the door open for him.

“How did the workshop with Holster go?” Eric asked as they walked. Jack was staying close enough that their arms were brushing together with each step, but Jack had made to move to hold his hand or anything, and Eric didn’t want to be the first to make that move - and he was pretty sure that Jack didn’t either.

Jack thought about it for a moment. “I don’t think I’m ever going to be the guy that gets picked for all the interviews.” He said, after a while. “But I think it helped?” He looked down at Eric and smiled. “Holster pretty much wrote it all out for me, to be honest, but did it in a way that I can at least take some of the credit, which was nice.”

Eric nodded. It was a good sign that Jack was aware enough to see how much help he was being given with the speech. They’d had a couple of guests who thought that they had done it all on their own, which Bitty thought was a bit self centered. Jack obviously wasn’t the type of man who took the credit for everything. Probably why he made such a good captain.

“How many times have you gone over it today?” He asked, trying not to blush when Jacks hand brushed against his, because this wasn’t a regency romance movie and he wasn’t an Austin character.

“Only about 10 times so far.” Jack grinned, looking out over the top of Erics head and out to the river. “I’ll probably end up spending most of tomorrow reading my cards and trying not to sweat through all the new clothes.”

“Not tomorrow, sweetpea.” Eric reminded him. “Tomorrow I’ve got you in the kitchen all day.”

Jack blinked. “I thought that was later? Um, after the clothes and the seeing the place.”

Eric shook his head. “Tomorrow we do the walk through the house, then you get dressed up - we do the food - and then the next day we go back and do the wardrobe shots. It’s not really the same order as it is on the tv.” He paused. “It means that we can do the prepwork for the food the night before and you have more time to get ready on the day.”

Jack didn’t look very happy about that, and Eric was worried that he’d said something wrong, before he finally spoke up. “I thought I had a little more time.” He said, voice a little softer than it had been. “Um, you know, to hang out.”

Eric did blush then, as Jack looked at him. “Well, I live here too.” He pointed out. “I probably live nearer the rink than you do, actually.”

Jack smiled, a small smile, but full of warmth. “I’m terrible in the kitchen.” He said, after a moment. “I’ll probably end up inviting you over a lot just to help me work out how to use half the stuff you bought.”

He was smiling as he spoke, and just before Eric could work out a way to say that 100% yes, he would be there, with bells on - the baby jesus himself could not stop him from showing up if Jack invited him, Jacks fingers brushed his hand, snagging around Erics pinkie.

Jack blushed, and looked away, but his fingers laced around Erics with a little more firmness, slotting their hands together as they walked.

Lord.

They walked in silence the rest of the way, Jack looking ahead, with a slight smile on his face, Eric blushing, looking out over the river.

Hands twisted up together like they belonged.

Chapter Text

The cameras were a little harder to ignore as Ransom showed him how to match his new trousers to shirts and what was considered day appropriate wear and how to mix it up for dates (and he winked at Jack over that). He showed him how to roll up his sleeves and how to tie his shoes.

“I thought I knew how to tie laces up.” Jack pointed out as Ransom went through everything in detail.

“You aren’t in Pre-k anymore.” Holster said - he was sitting just out of the camera shot because he technically wasn’t there for this part, but he’d arrived with his hand tucked into the back pocket of Ransoms jeans with a grin. “No bunny loops.” He added when Jack looked confused. “How did your date go?”

Jack grinned, before ducking his head down to pay attention to what Ransom was saying. The other man stopped though, and looked at Jack expectantly. “Answer him bro, we wanna know.”

“It was, um, it was good.” Jack said, aware he was blushing a little. A lot. “We walked to this place I know and then just talked.”

“And walked Bits home…” Ransom said, rolling his finger in a ‘carry on’ sign.

“And I walked Eric home.” Jack agreed.

“And?” Holster pushed.

“And I walked to my car and went back to my hotel because it’s just our second date?” Jack said, looking up. He knew his ears were burning red, and he could see the camera guy grinning. It felt more like friendly teasing rather than laughing ‘at’ him, which Jack appreciated.

“Bits was def chipper this morning.” Holster noted. “He’s been at wholefoods all morning doing the cupboards and stocking up the fridge so it looks less like chicken is the only foodstuff you own.”

“Yeah,” Jack agreed. “He said as much last night. We’re going to prepare as much as we can today and then tomorrow it’ll just be mostly me heating things up.”

Jack didn’t add that they had talked more about what was going to happen after the show - they were filmed in pretty tight blocks, and Jack knew that although his show would be the season finale, they still had two more makeovers to do before they were sent to editing and then ready to send to the Netflix team. Jack probably wouldn’t get to see his episode for another couple of months. Eric wasn’t exactly nervous about the next makeover - but Jack made it clear that he understood why he was… reticent… to start.

The next makeover was in Georgia, about 30 miles from where Eric’s parents were living.

“Do you know what you’ll be making?”

“Um, finger food, mostly.” Jack said, looking at himself in the full length mirror. It was clear that whatever had been done to the clothes to make them sit just right had been done by a professional. He wasn’t quite sure what made this t-shirt sit better than the one he’d just taken off, but he looked slimmer in the waist and broader on the shoulders than he had about 15 seconds before. The sleeves stopped at the widest part of his bicep, making them look larger and more defined. He felt good. Looked good. And, yeah, his ass in these jeans was actually, uh… more present.

“Damn son.” Holster said, before he wolf whistled. “You look gooood .”

Jack smiled as Holster high fived Ransom - obvious in the movement that they’d been friends for a long time before the romance part started.

“Okay, so for filming today with Eric, this is what you wear.” Ransom said, after walking around Jack to make sure he was happy with the cut. “It’s super casual, but you look shit hot - then tomorrow when you are getting ready with the food for everyone, I want you to put this blazer on over the t-shirt.” He pointed to the navy blazer that Jack really liked. “That means I can do the whole ‘oh no what is he doing’ thing before admitting you look good.”

“I like that bit.” Jack agreed.

“It’s the best. It’s about as high drama as we can get really. Then once everyone is done and heading out to the Gala, that’s when you bust out the big guns.” He pointed to the suit that Jack had already tried on (not in front of the cameras because this was his ‘big reveal’ moment) hanging in a garment bag. “You can’t really go wrong with that, to be perfectly honest, it’s a suit. I want you to walk about a bit once it’s on without the jacket, show off the vest first, cause it makes you look super fine.”

“Supes fine.” Holster agreed, nodding.

“Get that waist looking tight and them shoulders need some showing off. Then you ‘forget’ the jacket and go back for it.”

“Gotta have that ‘oh no!’ moment.” Holster cut in. “Best bit.”

“And then it’s done. I’ve put together like, a list of items that go best together, which I’ll put in the closet, but after that its up to you, you’ll be free to go back to your dad jeans if you want.”

“Please don't.” Holster begged. “An ass like that needs tailoring.”

Jack laughed. Although he was sure he’d probably make a few more fashion disasters in his time, he did actually like the way that he looked in the new clothes, and he was pretty sure that he’d be back to this place again. Hopefully with Eric, who could help him pick. He nodded. He really liked the idea of doing this all again, but just with Eric.

“Shitty’s gonna cry.” Ransom said, walking around Jack again. He had his ‘on camera’ voice, which Jack was starting to pick up on with more ease. “He’s gonna bawl.”

Jack looked back at the mirror and grinned. He really was only thinking about one person's reaction, and it wasn’t Shitty.


 

Eric knew that Jack would be wearing his new wardrobe, so he took the time to prepare himself mentally. He’d seen the good that Ransom could do with a tailor and a couple of days, but when Jack walked through the doors to his updated apartment, Eric may have let out a whimper. “Oh dear lord.” He whispered to no one but himself, as Shitty pretended to faint on the navy couch, clutching at his chest. Jack looked amazing. He looked like a model, the way his t shirt skimmed his hips and hugged his arms - Eric had trouble not noticing the Jack was built like a tank but in that tee it was hard to notice anything else. His arms looked massive, muscular and toned. Eric had a sudden very real feeling of what it would be like to get wrapped up in a hug, feeling small and very secure. Jack, who should, by all rights, be looking around the room that Dex had completely made over, was simply standing there, looking at Eric, smiling a little.

“Hey bud.” He grinned.

Eric knew that everyone was fully aware that he’d been on a couple of dates with Jack now - neither of them were keeping it a secret - so he didn’t feel too awkward when he gave the taller man a slow once over and winked.

“Oh my god, brah, you legit made me swoon!” Shitty shouted, launching himself at Jack from where he’d recovered himself from the couch. Jack caught him with ease (probably those amazing arms, Bitty thought, swooning a little on the inside as well) and smiled softly over the top of Shittys head at Eric.

“Okay, we need to put these clothes in the closet and then you need to come back out with all of his so we can film the first impressions.” Dex said, shoving at Ransom who was holding most of the clothing bags. Eric noticed that there were a lot of clothing bags, all from Hart & Eggs. He started feeling a lot less guilty over the amount of money that had been dropped in the kitchen, especially when he saw Holster behind Jack, carrying boxes and even more bags, arms laden.

Jack let himself be taken back outside after that, and Eric joined him - leaving only Dex in the house. This was one of the only times that Dex got his own ‘bit’ which hardly seemed fair - he always had the most work to do, and he always managed to finish it in record time. This was ahead of schedule only because he’d been able to spend a lot more money on contractors. He certainly deserved the whole team and Jack to be gushing over the newly refurbished apartment.

“Try not to make it look too fake.” Holster said, as the Camera crew got set up, leaving them chilling in the hallway.

“I don’t think I’m a good enough actor to fake it, honestly.” Jack admitted, as he shuffled his feet in (Bitty noticed) his new very nice and not neon yellow, sneakers. He was standing closer to Eric than he had been when they walked out of the apartment, so that Eric could lean back a little and let Jack take some of his weight. Not that he was going to do that, but he could. It was very clear from those arms that Jack would be more than able to support Eric leaning on him. He could probably pick him up without even breaking a sweat.

For a few seconds Eric had some very intense daydreams about all the things Jack could probably do with a flexible ex-figure skater who still made sure that he could hold a Biellmann Spin for 7 full rotations…

Jacks arm pushed slightly against his back, knocking him out of some very inappropriate fantasies for a hallway. “You okay there, bud?” Jack asked, looking down at him.

Eric was pretty sure his face burst into flames as he nodded, and Jack didn’t move away, letting Eric lean a little on him as they waited for the crew to get into place. “I was feeling bad about my wholefoods run.” He managed - anything to stop his wayward thoughts. “But I think Rans has blown my budget out of the water with your clothes shopping.”

“It was needed.” Ransom said, rolling his eyes dramatically. “He was wearing free shoes . In public. Where there could be people.”

“Those were the most tragic things I’d ever seen.” Shitty agreed, leaning over to stroke at Jacks face. “Oooh, soft.” He nodded. “Finding the routine okay?”

Jack nodded, and started talking to Shitty about the products that he was using, and Eric would normally have given him a little more space, but Jack lifted his arm a little, tucking Eric closer into his side, hand on his shoulder.

Eric stopped breathing for a second. The feeling of being held, even so casually, wasn’t one he was used to - and Jack didn’t seem to mind that Rans and Holster were looking over at them, eyes like they were watching a tennis match. On Eric, on Jack, back to Eric. Jack just carried on talking about the cream that Shitty had told him to use, and how much he liked the smell.

Eric found himself relaxing a little, as the warmth from Jacks body soaked into his own. It was nice. Comforting.

“Okay.” Dex called out from the inside of the apartment. “Let's get this show on the road.”


 

Jack didn’t have to fake being impressed. The apartment looked amazing - he’d seen what Dex could do with some time, but this was… perfect.

He’d been a little worried when he’d first walked in, because it didn’t look anything like his place, but the more he walked around, he could see a hundred little touches that made everywhere he looked more and more comfortable. There were framed pictures that he’d taken hanging up on the walls, three of them blown up and placed under the lights that had come with the apartment, but with new shades to tie in. The pool table had been moved into a less conspicuous place, with a desk where it used to be. That would be actually pretty useful, he realised. The cameras were following him around, but he’d kind of gotten used to them at this point, especially when there was so much to see.

There were pictures on a shelving unit that he took a little while to look at - it housed his tv now, so he could close the doors and have everything look less like the couch was pointed at the TV, which he knew his mom would like when she came to see the place, but he knew he’d probably never close it day-to-day. Inside though, there were pictures and little things that he forgot he even owned, his lego figure was there, a picture of his and his parents when he bought the apartment - photos of him at a barbecue that he’d never actually seen but it was a great shot of him and Tater, arms around one another. He knew that Parse had taken the picture, so they probably supplied a copy.

His bedroom was probably the room he liked the most. It was dark, with blackout blinds and heavy drapes that felt rich when he ran his fingers over them. The bed was bigger than his other one, and when he looked over at the pillows and throw over it, he thought a little about having someone to share that space with, and yeah, as much as this was a perfect room for him, he could see a certain blond fitting in just perfectly. His weighted blanket was where it should be, on the foot of the bed, and there was a cool wireless charging station for his phone - and a really nice little half shelf where Dex has put some of his books. He liked to read in bed, and it was a testament to how much attention that Dex took to notice the books Jack had piled down the side of the bed to take time and add a feature that he would find useful. He told the redheaded man that, and was rewarded with a big smile, as Dex pointed out the reading light that could be adjusted so that it wouldn’t disturb anyone else. In fact, the other side of the bed was also kitted out with a little nook for a laptop and a charging station, and when he frowned a little at it - because Jack never had his laptop in the bedroom - Dex just shrugged. “Some people, you know, the type of people who are on their phones a lot, or who spend their free time editing cookbooks or running blogs… they use laptops in bed. And they also might keep an extra firm pillow at the foot of the bed for their feet.” He said, and gave Jack a pointed look.

“That's a good thing to know.” He managed, his throat a little tight.

“And the lighting is good for that too.” Dex added. “You have no idea how annoying it can be to have a wide beam light over the bed when you are trying to sleep and someone just has to finish taking notes.” He rolled his eyes. “And then they get all pissy when you hit them with a pillow. I’m saving arguments in the future.” He said, shrugging. “However far in the future that may be.”

“Thank you.” Jack said, looking around the room. “I think this is one of the most relaxing places I’ve been. It feels like home.” He hoped that the honesty in his voice was something that Dex could pick up - he’d never be good at expressing himself, he knew that.

It looked like Dex understood though, as he blushed a little and nodded. “You’d better get over to the kitchen though.” He said after showing Jack the new layout in the bathroom and closet. “It’s time for Bitty to do his thing.”


 

Jack was laughing. Eric thought he might be a little awkward, with the cameras so close, getting shots of his hands (nice hands, doesn’t bite his nails) and asking him to move around so they can get the better lighting. But no, his attention is fixed on Eric as they work, standing closer than he needed to, sometimes even bumping Eric a little as they joked around.

“You aren’t as hopeless in the kitchen as I thought you would be.” Eric found himself saying, looking up at where Jack had a little flour over his chin. Take a cute boy and sprinkle baking supplies over him, Eric Bittle has a type.

“Well,” Jack shrugged, moving a little to reach over Eric and pick up the towel he was using to dry his hands. “My dad loves to cook, and I, um, I watch a couple of cooking vlogs.”

Why he was blushing when he said that, Eric wasn’t sure.

“Well that will certainly mean that this beautiful kitchen won’t go to waste.” Eric smiled, and looked over his shoulder at the copper mixer. Kitchen Aid had sent him a tweet asking which mixer he was talking about from the previous night and he’d been trying not to pimp himself out for appliances so far but… if they wanted to talk about mixers…

“I think we’ve got what we need here.” Bully said, putting the camera down. “I think we want to get some more b roll shots of the rest of the apartment so we can do the before and after.”

Eric nodded. “We can finish up here, and I can show you a few things for tomorrow that’ll make everything look a little more put together rather than just cutting up an avocado on a plate.”

Jack nodded, looking pleased that Eric wasn’t just going to get up and leave. “Um, now that I’ve got my place back though, would you like to stay for dinner?”

Eric blushed. He could feel the heat on his cheeks as Jack smiled at him, that smudge of flour still there, on his chin. It made Eric want to reach up and kiss him, and third date, right? Surely at some point Jack would get with the kissing. Eric was going insane waiting for him to lean down. He’d thought that Jack would have tried the previous night when he’d walked him to his hotel room door. Eric wasn’t about to let him in, of course. He was pretty sure he wouldn’t have. At least 70% sure that he wouldn’t have, anyway, but he was sure that Jack was going to kiss him goodnight.

And he hadn’t.

He’d looked at Eric with those big blue eyes and smiled so soft that Eric felt his heart beat skip, and then said goodnight in a low, warm tone that made Eric want to melt into the floor - and then he’d taken a step back and left, looking over his shoulder before he turned down towards the elevator to make sure that Eric was going into his room.

“Sure thing, sweetpea.” He managed. “But only if you let me cook.” He pointed over at the mixer. “If I don’t use that within the next hour or so I might actually cry.”

“Jack!” Shitty called out, “Come here and look impressed over the bathroom. Crew needs to see you learning how not to fuck up your glorious face.”

Both Eric and Jack laughed at that, and Jack gave Eric’s arm a slight squeeze. “You can use anything you want,” He said. “If it makes you happy.”

Lord, this boy was going to kill him, Eric was sure.

Cleaning up the mess that they’d made in preparing the finger foods, Eric noticed that Dex had even put a little bookshelf in the kitchen for recipes, which was so… he looked harder at the books, and blushed. It was great that Dex had bought Jack some of Erics recipe books, but he hoped that they didn’t show them in the final cut - people might think that he was pimping his own line of books when he had no idea…

Eric felt his heart stop, hand halfway to the shelf.

No one had one of those recipe books in stock. There was no way Dex would have been able to get a copy of… Eric carefully pulled out the paper book.

There he was, on the cover - holding a pie that had actually tasted terrible, but it was the best picture they had, and the lattice looked great. Carefully, he opened the cover and… yup.

It had been a small run, self publishing was great but having a Publishing House made everything so much easier. In order to ‘reward’ his backers, Eric had signed each book, and if they were one of the higher backers, he’d also added a little note.

Jack, thank you for making this dream a reality, Eric Bittle.

Chapter Text

Eric looked at the cookbook, and then at the mixer.

And then he thought about the things that Jack had said, how he remembered Eric at the Olympics even though Eric knew that they’d never spoken.

The kitchen appliances that had been in the basket, just waiting to be bought, the kitchen that Jack never used - there had still been blue wrap on the oven - but he’d bought the apartment for the kitchen, hadn’t he said that?

He thought about the way that Jack had almost immediately text him back, that first date when it just seemed so natural to go to dinner after shopping.

He followed some cooking blogs, did he?

Eric would bet his entire savings account that Jack knew about Bitty’s vlog. And his…

His twitter.

Oh lord.

Eric grabbed at his phone - surely he would have noticed if Jack Zimmerman followed him? He’d been on his page for crying out loud, he’d looked at the accounts he’d followed and Eric’s name certainly wasn’t on there.

He double checked.

Jack followed 5 people - his parents, his best friend, his boss and the falconers mascot. His last tweet was years ago.

Eric looked at his phone, snapped a pic and carefully wrote out a tweet.

@EricBittle #hemightusetwiter

As it loaded, he saw the picture of his very first cookbook pop up beside the hashtag and sighed, leaning against the counter.

Hadn’t Shitty said that Jack was perhaps more into Eric than Eric might like?

Was that why Dex had given him a talk?

Was this why Holster had been so pro-Jack in the group chat?

Eric blinked.

Good Lord.


 

Jack laughed as Shitty rubbed up on his face, crooning over his cheekbones and coping a feel of his butt in full view of the cameras. Eric was in the kitchen, making dinner.

In Jacks kitchen. Where he belonged.

He paused. That felt like it should be sexist, but Eric was a guy so was it? He was smaller than Jack though, so maybe? He’d ask Shitty but the cameras were still running, and he wasn’t sure if talking about dating Eric on camera was something that he should be doing, even though he knew that the crew all knew.

The bathroom was certainly big enough for everyone, despite the fact that it only had the one sink. When he’d moved in the realtor seemed to think that the one sink might stop Jack from buying the place. He wasn’t sure about the logistics, but he didn’t think he would mind standing elbow to elbow with someone as he brushed his teeth. However, despite the size of the room, Shitty was still hugging close, and Jack didn’t mind too much. He’d spent a lot of time in smaller places with more guys, because sometimes the guest lockers at rinks really fucking sucked.

“We got what we need.” The camera man said after a few more minutes of Shitty talking about hair care products.

“Fuckin A.” Shitty said, removing his hand from Jacks ass and winking. “What do you think then?” he asked as the crew left them in the bathroom. “Pretty sweet, yeah?”

Jack nodded. “I think I like the bedroom best.” He said, after a moment. “But I like the desk and everything too. It just seems a bit more, um, grown up.”

Shitty nodded, looking around. “I mean, it’s a real fuckin nice place you have here.” He said, patting the sink. “But I don’t get why you never just got some regular interior decorator when you moved in. Not gonna like, Brah, money like yours would have made it super easy.”

Jack shrugged. “Maman was going to get one, but then…” He thought about it. How do you say that the idea of letting a stranger in and touching his things made his skin crawl when his place was currently full of people touching his things? “I was hardly ever here at first, and then there was the risk of being traded again.” He’d spent his first two years playing for the Bruins and then was traded to the Pens, before settling down with the Falcs. “And then when it was made clear I wasn’t getting moved again, I just… had gotten used to the place like it was.”

Shitty nodded. “We have this room, yeah? Lards and me - it’s a junk room. We bought the place because it was big enough to like… you know… expand the family and shit like that, and now it’s a junk room. I’m pretty sure there are boxes in there from when we moved in.” He looked around. “We’re kinda waiting for a reason to go in and clean it up.”

Jack nodded. He understood that.

“You ready for tomorrow?”

Jack blinked. Sometimes Shitty seemed to change conversational tracks too fast for him to keep up. He tried to think of what to say. “Yes,” He hedged. “I mean, I feel like I know what to wear and what to do, but…” He waved a hand. “I’m also not sure what to expect, or if I’ll freeze up on the stage. And I feel like I’ve got more important things to think about.” Like Eric, in the kitchen. When everyone else left at the end of the day, Eric would stay, and that was so close to how Jack wanted it to be every night that his mind was simply using all his focus on that, rather than a speech. How could he be nervous about walking on stage when he had Eric talking over dinner about future dates?

“I think you’ll nail it to the wall.” Shitty said, after a moment, and Jack wasn’t sure what he was specifically referring to, but he certainly hoped so.


 

Eric was trying to get a filter on his phone that showed the copper mixer to it’s best advantage. It was spinning slowly away as he flipped through his favorite filters and finally found one that didn’t make it look orange or silver, and grinned. In the oven he had some chicken breasts, coated and liberally seasoned, and a pot of pasta on the burner. He’d quickly pan fry some of the spinach a couple of minutes before the pasta was ready. The pie would cook nicely as they ate, and should be cooled enough once they’d cleaned up after dinner.

“Hey brah.” Holster said, wandering through - they were packing up now, getting ready to head back to the hotel. Aside from watching Jacks preparation and speech - which they probably wouldn’t see for a few days - they were done.

Eric glanced over to see that Holster was holding his phone, and despite how much everyone teased him over his social media, he knew that they were just as bad. “Um, about the twitter thing?”

Eric nodded as his thumbs quickly typed up more hashtags than was probably required for a mixer, but still. It was a really nice mixer. He’d never look at his red one the same way again. He’d been spoilt. “Um, so like, we might have known that he was like, kinda stalking you?”

“I figured that.”

Holster ran a hand through his hair. “Are you mad?” He sounded unsure, and Eric was reminded that although the man was a year or two older than he was, he also hadn’t lived quite as much as Eric - no stress over competing professionally, no Olympic dream shattered. No homelessness. His parents still expected him over for holidays.

“I’m not mad.” Eric said, although he wasn’t quite sure what he was feeling.

“Shitty gave him like, a proper shovel talk, and me too - but like… He seems cool? And he’s so into you, bro, like… so much.” He paused and took a deep breath. “And I know it’s like not any of my business, okay? But you fuckin deserve someone to think the sun shines outta your ass, okay? You really do. And I think this guy looks at you like that.”

Eric looked over at where Holster was standing and noticed that Ransom was hovering just behind him, looking nervous. When he noticed Eric looking at him he gave a hopeless little shrug like ‘what can you do?’ and Eric found himself smiling a little.

He wasn’t sure how he felt about Jack right at that moment, but he did know that his friends would not have put him in a situation that they felt wasn’t going to work out in his best interest. They were his friends, not Jacks, and the fact that they thought Jack was a good guy gave Eric a warm feeling in his gut.

Holster looked a little more relaxed at Eric’s smile though, and nodded. “We won’t do it again.” He added.

“We’re actually heading out now.” Ransom said, holding up his bag. “Um, are you good?”

Eric looked around the kitchen and realised that he actually hadn’t even thought of leaving. Jack hadn’t lied, not really - and Eric wasn’t mad. “I am, actually.” He said, reaching for the mixer to check on the pastry. Perfect. “Quit worrying about me.” He grinned. “I’m fine.”

The boys nodded and headed off. Eric could hear Jack saying his goodbyes. They’d already filmed the ‘big’ goodbye scene, where Jack managed to give a little heartfelt “I wasn’t expecting this to change my life so much” speech that felt - to Eric at least - more impactful than any of the others because when he looked over at Eric, he knew that Jack wasn’t just saying it for the cameras. They’d all given the hockey prodigy hugs, said their goodbyes and then went out into the hallway, letting the cameras get a good look at Jack standing in his apartment.

Then they’d all piled back into the living room and had a coffee and chilled out on the couch, chatting for a while. Eric had been drifting between the arm of the couch and the kitchen as he made dinner. Jack had tried to offer his help a couple of times, but Eric was actually enjoying himself more than he wanted to admit. It was comforting to sit and chat while the smells of good food wafted around. It felt like… normal. Like he’d done this a million times before.

He heard Jack say goodbye, waved Shitty off from the door of the kitchen, and went back to working on the pastry. A few moments later, Jack walked in, hands full of navy and copper cups. “Smells amazing.” He smiled, as he bumped Erics hip moving towards the sink. The size of his kitchen meant that there was zero chance of that being an accident. Eric was starting to notice the small ways that Jack was always trying to get some contact. He’d noticed previously, of course, but now it just seemed more obvious - with more history and intent.

“It’ll be ready in a couple of minutes.” Eric smiled, before adding the finishing touches on his lattice. “You’ll have time to wash those.”

“I still think I should have helped.” Jack pointed out, as the water started to run.

Eric rolled his eyes. “Sweetpea, I like to cook. And it gave you time to talk to everyone.”

“I’d rather have talked to you.”

Lord, this hopelessly earnest boy was going to be the death of Eric Bittle, he was sure. “Well you can talk to me over dinner, which is diet approved, I might add.”

Jack laughed softly, making the moment feel even more intimate. Eric had cooked in a lot of kitchens, with a lot of different people around, but as he moved around Jack to put the pie in the oven and pull the chicken out, he felt a surge of belonging that didn’t feel strange or out of place. “You know if you spoil me now, I might start expecting it all the time.” Jack pointed out.

“I’m sure you’ll live.” Eric grinned, carefully wrapping the chicken in foil before grabbing the spinach. “After all, you have all those recipe books.”

“Ha ha. Yeah.” Jack said, as he reached down for the cloth to dry the cups, looking over at Eric with a wry smile as Eric cooked off the green veg with butter. Eric could see the moment that Jacks eyes flicked up to the little shelf that Dex had installed, and very nearly dropped the cup he was holding on the counter. Eric was impressed with the speed of Jacks reflexes - it was a granite top and the mug would certainly have shattered had the larger man not grabbed it before it hit.

“I can explain.” He said, looking cornered - looking concerned. “I - uh,”

“You told me that you wanted to talk to me in Vancouver.” Bitty pointed out. “And you understood why I might be nervous about going to Georgia. And you didn’t seem to think I would turn you down for a second date.”

“I…”

Eric glanced over at Jack, who looked worryingly pale. “Jack, honey, I’m standing in your kitchen making a dinner for two people. I wouldn’t be here if those things were a problem.” He paused as Jack still looked nervous. “I mean, of course I’m a little taken aback, but honestly, I’m actually quite flattered.”

It had taken him most of the meal prep to work out what he was feeling. He knew he wasn’t mad, but he was surprised - a little overwhelmed. But…

Eric wasn’t stupid, or as naive as everyone seemed to think. He was on TV, he had people who thought he was attractive. But no one, not one person, had ever made him feel like Jack did.

Jack who thought he was cute enough to warrant a google search after the disaster that was Vancouver, who backed his first cookbook. The man who had very obviously thought about things that a baker would need when putting things into a shopping basket online. A man who held his hand in public without looking around to see who was there first.

“You aren’t mad?” Jack asked, carefully putting the mug on the counter. Eric could see that his hands were shaking a little, so he shook his head, and pointed to the colander.

“Nope. Now drain the pasta so I can add this in. I skipped lunch today because I needed to stock this place, so I’m starving.”

Giving Jack something to do with his hands seemed to bring him back from whatever place he was going in his mind, and Eric was thankful for it.


 

Jack couldn’t believe that Eric was sitting beside him at the table. His foot was hooked around Jacks as they talked, and the warmth of Erics body was a comforting presence. “I mean,” Eric was saying, “I’m not going to lie, I had a moment of ‘good lord’ there, but um…” He shrugged. “It’s all very flattering.” He was blushing a little, the tops of his ears going pink.

Jack didn’t know what to say. He’d been hoping for a little more time to convince Eric that he wasn’t a whackjob before admitting to being a long term fan. His dad had managed to keep his obsession with his maman quiet for a whole two weeks, and by that time he’d already proposed twice. It was probably time to put all his cards on the table.

“I saw you in Vancouver and…” Jack paused as he tried to think of what he wanted to say. How to say it. Eric didn’t look worried, just sat and waiting for Jack to work it out. It was nice not to feel like he needed to rush. That Eric would give him the time to order his thoughts. “I hadn’t really thought of dating guys, honestly. And then I saw you on the ice and you looked so free.” He looked at Eric, older now than he was back then, with a little more weight and a little more lines around his eyes, but still perfect. “You made everything look so easy, like any moment you were just going to float away.”

Eric did laugh at that, but that was okay, Jack knew. It wasn’t like he was laughing at Jack. “Lord, I’m glad to hear it looked so effortless.” He said. “I spent a long time trying to stop myself from scowling on the jumps.”

Jack smiled and took another bite of the pasta. It was so simple - deceptively so. But the chicken was delicious and the pasta cooked to perfection. He swallowed. “I saw you and I thought… Tabernak...I just wanted to talk to you. Then by the time I worked up to it, you were already on your way home. I thought I’d have more time.” He paused. “I kept up with your career but it was obvious that you’d stopped skating after a while.”

“Lord yes.” Eric laughed. “I had the option of trying again but honestly… I was tired. I’d been working most of my life towards this goal and when I broke my leg it just felt like a sign.”

Jack nodded. “I kept an eye though. That's how I found out about the cookbook. I wanted to say something then but… I felt like an idiot. ‘I saw you skate in the village?’ me and a million other people. So I did what I could.” He paused. “After that it was pretty easy to just… keep an eye out for what you were doing.” Jack stopped, and wiped his mouth on a napkin. “I didn’t want you to feel uncomfortable. That was the last thing I wanted. I just… I needed an opportunity.” He swallowed past the lump in his throat. “I really like you Eric. I have for a while. And I wanted to show you how much.”

Jack watched as Eric blushed harder. “I did some research of my own, you know, before we met. For the job, of course.”

Jack nodded, he understood that, and obviously wasn’t going to complain about that.

“But Jack, honey, if you think you are about to follow in your fathers footsteps and pull out a ring at this table we are going to have some words.”

Chapter Text

The cameras were there, but Jack was trying to tune them out as much as he could as he stood in front of his wardrobe. He’d already put on the pants that Ransom has told him to wear and was pulling on the blazer. He remembered that in a couple of days, when this was shown to the boys, that Ransom was going to get all worried that Jack was going off script, but that he’d finally admit that he looked good. It was a comfort to know that they’d pretty much held his hand as much as they could, even when they weren’t actually there.

He’d taken his time in the shower, made sure that he’d washed his hair right and used the correct products, standing at the basin as he carefully shaved and worked through the face routine that Shitty had carefully gone over in so much detail.

He quietly mumbled his speech under his breath as he looked at himself in the mirror. It was… strange. He still looked like himself, still the same eyes, still the same scar on his chin from that flyaway puck that could’ve knocked out his teeth or broken his jaw if it had a little more force behind it. At the same time though, he looked… different. He looked larger, without the extra fabric of his normal shirts hanging off him, oddly cleaner - despite the fact that he wasn’t ever dirty. Maybe it was the smile that kept threatening to burst out on his face.

Eric had left late - after insisting that he stay to help clean up and get the kitchen ready for the cameras the next day. Jack had fallen into the easy comfort of Eric just… being there, bumping Jack out of the way as he navigated the kitchen with ease. Jack had a moment of vindication at just how perfect the smaller man fit there, just as he’d always imagined.

When Eric had made to leave, Jack had wanted to stop him. It had only been the voice of Shitty in his head telling him that Eric may not be ready for a more… intense… relationship that had him standing awkwardly as Eric hovered by the door. It didn’t matter anyway - Jack had been going for the door when Eric had put a hand on his arm and smiled up at him, giving a little tug so that Jack was closer. There was absolutely no denying the way that the smaller man had flicked his eyes to Jacks lips.

When Jack had imagined kissing Eric, he’d always thought it would be some dramatic moment - he’d have declared his love in some over the top display (he did like to imagine himself running after Eric after almost letting the other man slip from his grasp) with music in the background. But standing in his apartment, with Eric warm and perfect in his arms was just as good, if not better - because it was real .

“Lord, I thought you were never going to make a move.” Eric whispered, hardly even pulling back from Jack at all, his breath hot on Jacks swollen lips. Before Jack could reply, Eric was pulling him closer, hands running through the short hairs on the back of Jacks head - chasing any thought of a reply out of his mind.

Too fast, Jack knew, it had become more than a gentle exploration, Erics back had hit the door and Jacks hands seemed to have a life of their own as he lifted Eric up like he weighed next to nothing.

A much better angle to kiss, with Eric wrapped up around him, Jack was happy to stay in that moment forever. Eric seemed to be in agreement, his legs gripping into Jacks sides, hands messing up Jacks hair like it was his job. Jack shifted his feet, trying to get a better stance, when the movement caused Eric’s breath to hitch deliciously, his head banging against the door as his spine arched, opening the line of his neck for Jack to trail his lips down. Jack couldn’t help his smile - Eric was going to get some serious beard burn through the play offs, if this was how he reacted to Jacks lips on the hinge of his jaw.

“Are you laughing at me right now, Mr Zimmerman?” Eric said, voice strained but definitely not unhappy. Jack just grinned harder, not wanting to take his lips from the smooth column of Erics neck. “Good lord.” Eric breathed, pulling at Jacks hair a little, which flipped something low in his stomach that he certainly would be spending more time exploring, and detaching him from Erics neck.

Eric looked divine. Jack couldn’t think of another word that would describe how his hair was slightly mussed, causing a halo around his head - his big brown eyes almost overtaken by the blackness of his blown pupils - lips swollen and parted, glossy where his pink tongue pushed out to wet them as he tried to regulate his breathing. Jack grinned. “Oh hush you.” Eric said, still a little breathless. Breathless because of Jack. “I actually do have to go.” He pointed out, but still leaned forward to kiss Jack again.

“You can stay.” Jack managed, blushing at the way Eric arched a brow. “I promise to be a gentleman.”

Eric had smirked. “If I stay, I won’t be able to say the same for myself.”

“That’s okay too.” Jack managed, after taking a steadying breath. “I’m okay with that. If you are.”

Eric had kissed him again, hands tightening in Jacks hair. “Goodnight, Mr Zimmerman.”

The buzzer for the apartment went off, jarring Jack out of the incredibly pleasant memory of Erics goodbye kisses. The guests were arriving.


 

“He’ll be fine.” Shitty was saying, sitting on the floor of Eric's kitchen. His apartment was much smaller than Jacks, on the other side of Providence - he’d already worked out the cost of a taxi versus an uber between the two places. Maybe it was time to finally cave and buy a car. “We’ve done like, the very best job we could have.” Shitty carried on. “He looks great, Holster did a fucking grade A job, he’ll be fine.”

Eric nodded as he worked on the snacks for later. They’d be watching the livestream that the NHL would be showing for the red carpet to the You Can Play Gala and it would be the first time that Jack’s new look would be made public. Eric was nervous.

Under the table, Ransom didn’t say anything. That was normal. He wished that there was something he could do, anything, that would make it easier for Ransom at times like this. What made it worse this time, was that the stakes were so much higher - Jack wouldn’t just be hosting a little house party or asking someone that loved him already to marry him - he’d be walking down a red carpet with cameras flashing, giving a speech for well over a thousand people who would later pick over everything he said, wore and did on the night. Eric just hoped that Jack was taking things better than Ransom, who was so worried he’d retreated to the safe zone under Eric's kitchen table. Normally they would be able to get him to reply if the topic of conversation was enough to jolt him out of his panic, but sometimes they had to just wait it out. Eric took a breath.

“So, I think he’ll be fine.” He managed. “I mean, he seemed pretty confident last night.”

“See? Eric would know.” Holster said. He was under the table too, arm around his husband, chin resting on his shoulder.

“And,” Eric said, “He can support my whole weight with one hand while walking backwards.”

Dex laughed hard enough that soda came out of his nose, causing his boyfriend to lean over and hand him a towel.

There was a moment of silence and then…

“How do you know that?” from under the table.

“Well…” Eric grinned, as Shitty spluttered from his spot on the floor.


 

“Holy shit.” Parse said, pushing past Tater as the giant Russian stood rooted to the floor. “You look like a real boy.” He looked around the room. “Oh, this is… actually really nice?” He walked around as Tater grabbed at Jacks arms and gave him a bearhug that threatened to bench Jack for the rest of the year. “I dunno what I was expecting but this is like, very you.”

“Thanks,” Jack managed to gasp out, trying to tap on Taters arm.

“You should get a pet.” Parse said, looking at everything like he was planning on setting up camp for a while. “A cat would get some of the newness out of the couch. Claw marks give stuff character.”

“Don’t listen.” Tater said, finally putting Jack down and looking him over again. “You look good.” He said, smoothing out the Blazer that he’d just crushed along with most of Jacks ribs. “Was best idea to do this. Look at all the nice things.” He carefully touched Jacks hair, obviously making an effort not to mess it up. He was married to Parse so he understood the importance of not messing up hair.

Jack had a flashback to how much Eric hadn’t given two shits about getting his hands all up in Jacks hair and he grinned. “Thanks, Tates.”

“Your parents are parking up.” Parse called out from the bedroom. “We were gonna come up with them but I wanted to see first.” a pause. “Holy shit, where did you get these clothes ?”

“You look… happy.” Tater said after giving Jack a long once over. “Happier than clothes and a shave.”

“I’ll tell you later.” Jack managed, before his parents walked through the door.

“Oh my god, Bobby, look at our baby!” His mother said, not to subtly elbowing Tater out of the way so she could get a better look at Jack.

“Maman, you look lovely.”

“Oh, look at this!” She said, holding him at arm's length and grinning, before kissing him all over his face like he was 5 years old again.

“Maman!” He protested, but didn’t pull away. It might be embarrassing but if his mom wanted to shower him with love he was okay with that.

“Bob, come see this freaking shoe collection!” Parse yelled out, as his dad gave him a low whistle and a wink.

“Glad to see you took after me.” He said, grinning. “Oozing that Zimmerman charm.”

“That’s a myth.” His mother said, rolling her eyes and letting him go. “I never saw it.”

“Bob!” Parse yelled.

“Do you think someone should tell him that I’m not actually his father and he needs to stop yelling at me?” Bab said, rolling his eyes. “I’m coming kiddo.” he called back.


 

“He should be greeting the guests now.” Ransom said, from the couch. He had a plate of cherry pie balanced on his lap, and Eric was just waiting for the pear and clove to cool down before he brought it through. It was an experiment he’d been testing for his new book and Ransom had quickly pounced on it as his new favorite.

“Bro, don’t derail the convo!” Holster said, mouth full. “Bits was gonna give us deets.”

“There are no deets!” Eric blushed. “I went home.”

“Before or after you got…” Holster wriggled his hips suggestively on the couch. “Bizzay!”

“No one got busy.” Eric pointed out.


 

Jack had welcomed everyone as they arrived and was now in the kitchen as his dad regaled everyone in the living room with something that happened to his uncle Wayne and him back in the day. His mother was looking around the kitchen still, smiling and holding a glass of wine.

“You seem happier.” She said, after a while. The cameras were gone, having got a couple of shots of Jack working on the food. The crew were hanging out in the spare room playing cards and eating the food that Eric had kept in the fridge for them the night before. When it was time for Jack to leave, they’d pop back out and film him getting ready before leaving for good. Parse had already tried to get them to join the small party, but they’d declined politely. “It’s a good look on you.” She smiled. “You look more like your papa when you smile.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” Jack said, mock scowling - fully prepared for the towel she threw at his head.

“Were they nice?”

“Yeah.” Jack nodded. “Actually really nice.” He paused. “Probably you’ll meet them, I think we’ll keep in touch.”

His mother smiled widely. “I really liked them when I met them for the interview. Shitty is a delight, but you can see how much care and effort Dex made in the apartment. He was a little easy to overlook when the rest of them are such big personalities.”

Jack agreed. Out of everyone, Dex was the one that he’d spent the least amount of time with, aside from showing him the things he’d picked out. He hoped that later, when they weren’t so strapped for time - and without a camera crew - they’d get a chance to talk more.

He could hear everyone laughing along with his dad in the living room and tried to relax. Luckily his guests knew that sometimes he couldn’t deal with those types of situations and were more than okay with him disappearing for a few while he got his head in the right place. “I felt a little weird saying goodbye to them.” Jack admitted, “Because you want to say all good things, but also… I’ll see them tomorrow and that can be a bit embarrassing after you tell someone they changed your life.”

His mother laughed. “You look… so much happier. If I’d have known that all you needed was a make-over and a decorator I’d have been over in a hot second.”


 

“He should be getting dressed now.”

“You’re starting to stress me out now,” Dex muttered from his seat on the floor. His partner was in the chair behind him, a hand playing in the red curls on his head.


 

“Bobby?”

“Yeah?”

“Did you think he looked happy?”

“I did.”

“Bobby?”

“Yeah?”

“What aren’t you telling me?”

Chapter Text

Jack blinked as he stepped out of the car. It felt like a million flashes went off all at once, but he knew that it wasn’t as bad as it seemed. He’d done this before - walked the same path he was doing now - although admittedly with a lot less eyes on him.

He walked down the carpet - the press were nearer the door, with the photo screens plastered with all the event sponsors. Here it was fans, and he took the time to sign the photographs that were handed to him, trying to smile and not look stressed to hell when asked for a selfie. Luckily his issues with crowds were well known and no one really kept him too long, especially when Tater and Parse rolled up a couple of minutes behind him. Parse was much more internet famous than any other hockey player because he practically lived his life on instagram and his cat had it’s own fanclub. She was tiny and fluffy and Jack wondered how Parse always managed to make her look so calm and serene in photos when in real life she was a hissing spitfire that regularly shredded Kents calves as he walked through his house.

His parents too, had their own fans here - Bob was still a hockey hall of famer and his maman was a model, even though now she complained that all she was ever asked to do was Actimel adverts.

He smiled and walked. That's all he had to do here.


 

“Oh god he looks good!” Holster was saying, almost vibrating with excitement out of his seat and onto the floor. “He’s taking selfies with fans - I might cry.”

“He looks smart.” Dex said, nodding. “I like the suit, it’s sharp.”

“You don’t think it’s too plain?” Ransom said. His hands were shaking but he was holding together pretty well.

“He’s a hockey player, not a football player.” Dex pointed out. “He’s the coolest looking guy on the carpet.”

“Lord, I don’t think he could pull of some of the NFL Draft looks.” Bitty pointed out. “I don’t think Rans could.”

“I’d make that shit look good.” Ransom cut in, looking mock offended. “I’d make Jaire Alexander look like he raided a goodwill.”


 

“Don’t think I’ve forgotten our conversation.”

“I wouldn’t even dream of it, my darling.”

“Bobby!”

“What?”

“I will divorce you right now and marry someone younger and better looking.”

“You might get someone younger, dear, but better looking? Than me? I’m oozing good looks.”

“You’re oozing something, alright. Tell me.”

“Fine. You remember… oh, way back. When the kid was at Vancouver for the gold?”

“Mhm?”

“And he came home that day, and was like… I met-”

“The boy he was going to marry? That's what this is about?”

“Well, I paid attention because I know Jack - the kid was a figure skater. Petit gars blond.

“Jack doesn’t know any figure skaters.”

“Well, he does, doesn’t he? He met one this week.”

“He… oh my god, Bobby.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Oh my god! I knew he gave in too easy!”


 

“When I was asked to give his speech, the first thing I said was no.” Jack said, trying not to look too much at his cards. “It was also the second and third thing I said too.” a little smattering of laughter across the hall. That was good. “But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this was something I had to do.” Jack took a breath. He could do this.

It turned out to be a lot easier than he expected. He’d already memorized parts of his speech, so he didn’t have to look too much at the cards in his hand, and although there were a few moments where he stumbled a little over words, he was aware that no one was expecting him to be anything more than what he was.

“I feel like saying ‘it doesn’t matter, you can play’ is doing a disservice to our community.” He finished. “Because it does matter. You matter. And you can play.”



 

Eric was finishing up, putting away the cleaned plates and glasses. The boys had cleared out not too long after the livestream had ended, and Eric had a couple of text from Jack just to let him know that people had clapped once his speech was over, and that his mamma was giving him a knowing look he wasn’t quite sure how to take.

Are you still awake?

Yup sweetpea. I’m just straightening the place up.

I’m outside.

Eric practically flew to the window, just in time to see the car pull away, leaving Jack standing on the sidewalk, looking up at the building. “Oh dear lord, this boy is going to be the death of me.” Eric sighed, knowing that the smile on his face was soft and fond. Jack obviously saw him, and gave a little half wave, looking sheepish.

It’s number 15

OK

Eric wasn’t sure what to do. Did he open the door and wait for Jack to climb the stairs, or should he keep his door closed till Jack knocked? Should he open the door or call out “it’s open!” like he did when it was Shitty or Dex showing up? Should he get changed real quick into something that wasn’t his old running shorts and a well worn tank top?

In the end, he didn’t have time to do anything, before two knocks - not loud enough to disturb his neighbors, but loud enough that he wouldn’t miss it - jolted him out of his thoughts.

When he opened the door, Jack was there. He looked amazing, even better than he had on the TV, his hair just a little more mussed, like he’d run his fingers thought it a couple of times, tie loosened and the top button of his shirt undone. Eric only had a moment to take it all in before Jack was taking the two steps between them and kissing him.

Lord, Eric was never going to get bored of being kissed by Jack Zimmerman, that was the truth. Jack had both hands cupping Erics face as he gently pressed their lips together. It was almost chaste, delicate.

“I wasn’t sure if you were serious when you said you’d like to see me today.” Jack said, pulling back a little. The pads of his thumbs were ghosting over Erics cheekbones, holding him like he was something precious and delicate. “I just… I wanted to kiss you goodnight.” Jack said, “I want to kiss you goodnight every night.”

Chapter Text

“I don’t want to complain.” Jack said, looking up at the ceiling. He was grinning though, barely holding it together as Eric tried not to move.

“Oh hush.” Eric mumbled - he was sure he’d never been so mortified in his whole life, and Jacks laughter wasn’t helping.

“I mean, I’m sure this happens all the time.”

“I will never talk to you again if you don’t be quiet.” Eric warned, although he knew from Jacks expression that his empty threat wasn’t being taken seriously at all.

Jack smirked, turning his head to look at Eric. His blue eyes were sparkling in the half light coming from the little lamp on Eric’s bedside table. He looked so happy, half dressed and hair all mussed up. Eric knew he wasn't in a much better state. His tank was somewhere in the small sitting room and his shorts were riding dangerously low on his hips. Jack certainly didn’t seem to mind the view, at least.

“I mean, I feel terrible.”

“You do not.” Eric pouted.

Jack tried to school his expression into one that wasn’t about three seconds away from splitting his head in half with laughter, and he started to lean towards Eric a little.

The bed gave another treacherous groan, and Eric was sure this time he heard something crack a little, under the weight of the mattress. Jack started to laugh again, eyes crinkling at the sides, looking so good it almost hurt Eric to look at him. What on earth did he ever do to make this boy want him?

“I think,” Jack said, after he’d managed to get himself under control a little. “That we’re just going to have to get up and assess the damage.”

“If you move it’ll get worse,” Eric pointed out. “I’m going to have to buy a new bed!”

He watched as Jack rolled his eyes. “Don’t be ridiculous.” He said, pushing himself up in one easy movement - the bed groaned even louder as the wooden slats gave out, sounding like brittle sticks only slightly muffled by the mattress. “You can use mine.”

“Not all the time!” Eric groaned, climbing off the bed. It didn’t seem to cause any further damage, which made it worse. How was he supposed to know that the bed wasn’t going to support the weight of one (1) Jack Zimmerman falling backwards while holding onto Eric? It wasn’t like he kept the instructions - total weight cannot exceed one large beefcake?

“I don’t see why not?” Jack said, looking over the very broken bed at Eric. “I mean… if you want?” He ran his hands through his hair while Eric tried to find the words. He looked sheepish, rather than worried - like he wasn’t nervous about asking Eric to move in with him , perhaps just a little embarrassed for doing it so soon .

Eric was starting to understand the madness that obviously ran in the Zimmerman blood - he’d only been joking when he’d warned Jack against proposing… now he was pretty sure that this hopelessly earnest boy would have actually done it.

And then the bed did the least dramatic collapse known to man. Eric watched as it wobbled a little, before simply sliding to one side, the legs twisting as it went, and three more - very loud - cracks split the silence before it hit the ground.

“Well I certainly can’t sleep here tonight.” Eric sighed.

Jack grinned. “I’ll call a car.” He smiled, “You want to pack some clothes?” He paused, took a breath and smiled. “I mean… you don’t have to, if you don’t want to. Clothes can be optional.”

Eric threw a pillow at him.


 

Jack honestly felt like leaving a sleeping Eric Bittle in his bed was one of the hardest things he’d ever done. The whole time he was pulling on his running gear and getting ready he was hoping that the lump in the middle of the bed was going to move and mumble something about Jack going back to sleep and he would have. He’d happily have broken the habit of a lifetime and crawled back under the covers.

Eric now had a bag of clothes in Jacks closet. When Jack had gone in for his gear, he’d taken the time to carefully hang everything up. It wasn’t a lot, but the feeling in his gut when he looked at them neatly all lined up, right by Jacks new clothes was… like something had settled in his heart, warm and comforting.

He took his usual route, not pushing himself too much. He’d probably use the gym later, if Eric had work to do. If not, he planned to spend most of the day doing whatever Eric wanted. He was pretty sure that the smaller man wasn’t 100% on the idea of moving in to Jacks apartment just yet, which was expected, he guessed. Jack knew that he’d been in love with Eric from the moment he’d seen him on the ice, but it wasn’t the same for Eric. It was all new - and Eric had been hurt in the past, by people he trusted and loved. Although everything in him was pushing to make Eric see how much Jack was serious - he knew that he needed to take things slow.

Maybe asking him to move in after knowing him for 5 days wasn’t the best move, actually.

Jack was just hitting the park when he heard the familiar steps of Tater behind him. Not long after Jack signed with the Falcs, Tater started meeting up with him on his morning runs. It was the first time that Jack felt like he was settling into a team, and quickly became a routine that he enjoyed.

“You are looking like cat in cream.” Tater pointed out, pulling out his headphones so he could talk to Jack. The music was 90’s pop, which meant that he’d grabbed the wrong ipod on his way out of the door. “Is later. Time for you to tell me why you are so cheerful.”

“Good morning, Tater.” Jack said, shaking his head. “How are you? I’m fine, thanks for asking.”

“I know you are fine.” Tater said, shoving at Jacks shoulder and causing him to stumble a little. Jack was by no means small, but Tater was a giant of a man and if he pushed you, you stayed pushed. “Is something to do with show? Makeover doesn’t change a person like this.”

Jack took a breath. “So, you know when you nominated me for the show?” He said. “And I said that I didn’t know what you were talking about?”

Tater nodded. “Yes, when you lie.”

“Well I - wait, what?”

“You lied.” Tater shrugged. “You knew show. Have little Bits books in your kitchen. I see them when I am looking for shot glasses for Poots birthday party you host.”

Jack’s running had slowed so much that he had to stop. “Tates… that was two years ago!”

“And? I also know netflix login from sharing room on roadies, remember?” Tater paused. “Am your best friend. Is my job to be wingman. And am married now so can’t do bars and things without making Kent give me this look.” He shot Jack a look that was a scarily perfect mirror of Parses’ pissy face.

Jack blinked. “Why didn’t you say?” he asked, feeling like he’d totally lost control of the conversation.

Tater shrugged, taking a swig of his water. “Why didn’t you say? Am best friend.”

He paused. Thought about all the reasons that he hadn’t just… sent Eric a message over the years. Why he’d bought the books but never went to the many signings that the smaller man had hosted. He was famous, it wouldn’t have been difficult for him to arrange a meeting. “I didn’t want you to think I was weird.” He admitted after a few seconds. “Like… um… being too invested.”

The larger man snorted derisively. “I meet both your parents same day I meet you.” He pointed out. “All everyone is saying, oh Bad Bob, he is crazy, he marry Alicia after three weeks! And I am thinking… why is Bob crazy one? Is your mother for saying yes! And then I know you for long time and I think… you have both crazy mad parents when it is coming to loving people.”

Jack laughed. “I never thought about it like that.”

Tater grinned. “So when I see old books, new books… I am at Vancouver too, you know. I am watching the ice. Plushenko robbed for gold, my mother is one of his coaches. I remember little Bittle and I am very smart.” He paused. “Not in English, in English I am slow and funny, but in Russian am very smart.” He gave Jack another little push. “Can count very well. Can add one and one.”

“So,” Jack said, after taking all that in. “Um, I’m dating Eric.”

He couldn’t help but laugh at the way that Tater gave him a super exaggerated mine of being shocked by this news. “Honestly was not expecting you this morning,” he said after Jack shoved him, hard, still laughing. “Was thinking you’d already be trying to move him into your place.”

“Um, well…”


 

Eric was honestly a little surprised to wake up alone. He’d gotten the impression that 110% Jack Zimmerman hadn’t planned to let him out of his sight for the foreseeable future, but he’d been wrong. He’d loved to have done that thing everyone does in movies, when they ran their hand out over the bed to find it empty - but he had burritoed himself into the very center and it had taken him a few minutes just to untangle himself from the blankets. He obviously wasn’t cut out to be a Hollywood romantic type.

He couldn’t believe that he’d let Jack convince him to pack a bag. In the morning light that seemed a little foolish. He knew they were moving too fast. He’d only met the man 5 days ago and now he was packing a bag to stay in his house? Eric sat up and ran a hand over his face. This wasn’t him.

It felt nice though, he had to admit. Jack was obviously very into him, as he’d demonstrated the night before, and it felt so good to just let himself be swept along in the easy flow of being wanted. He like Jack. He liked him a lot - more than was probably wise considering that he hardly knew the man - but everything he did know made liking him so much easier .

The way he let Shitty climb all over him, how he took the time to talk to Dex and point out all the little things that he liked in the apartment. How he took those long pauses before he spoke so that he got his words right. How he held Eric so gentle when they kissed.

Eric couldn't help the smile that was creeping over his face just thinking about the look on Jacks face when they’d settled down to sleep. He’d been smiling, but much softer. The laughter was gone in the darkness, but Jack had still been smiling - looking at Eric like he’d never seen anything so wonderful in his life.

Eric was pretty sure that he was half gone on Jack at that point.

“Get a hold of yourself.” He mumbled, as he kicked the piles of blankets off his legs and managed to get out of bed. He might not be moving in with Jack right away, but the bed was definitely a stellar selling point for the whole idea. It was sinfully comfortable. And Jack had put a pillow at the foot of the bed so that Eric could rest his feet a little higher than the rest of him.

God, he wasn’t even sure his heart could take that little show of domestic life.

Eric grabbed his phone - and Dex was right, those little charging discs were worth their weight in gold - as he padded barefoot through to the bathroom.

Hey Bud. didn’t want to wake you, you looked pretty peaceful under all those covers. Have gone for a run. Might be back before you wake up.

He felt a little stupid when he caught himself hugging his phone close to his chest, and gave a little chuckle at how such a silly little message made him feel like he was lighting up from the inside.

A quick shower later - in which he tried not to look at the bruise on his hip bone that Jack had sucked there because he was pretty sure he’d burst into flames despite the obscene water pressure in the shower - and he was walking into the closet, looking for his bag.

He found it after a few moments, folded neatly away on a shelf. His clothes had been added to their own little space beside Jacks, and his stomach swooped delightfully at the sight. He really needed to get a grip of his heart right now.

Quickly getting dressed - and stealing one of Jacks shirts because he could - Eric made his way to the kitchen. If Jack was going for a run, he’d probably need something good to eat when he got back, because Eric would rather die than have him make one of those horrible shakes when he’d just had the whole kitchen fully stocked with the best that wholefoods had to offer.

He was half way through prep work when he heard the door open.

“I’m in the kitchen!” He called out, looking over his shoulder as Jack walked through. He looked gorgeous, a little sweaty from his run. Eric hadn’t really thought he’d be into that, but he was. In a big way.

“Morning.” Jack said, taking four big steps just so he could lean into Eric and give him the lightest kiss in the world. “I don’t want to get you all sweaty,” He explained, as he took a step back.

“Am not caring.” A large booming voice said, and a man walked into the kitchen. Eric didn’t know anything about hockey, and he was sure that at some point Jack was going to want to change that, but he certainly knew who the Russian was.

“Oh my god!” He said, pushing at Jack, trying to get past him. “You’re Stanislava Mashkov’s son!”

Chapter Text

Tater loved Eric. In fact, if Jack wasn’t quite sure that the Russian was madly in love with Parse he’d have been a little worried about how much Tater seemed to love Eric. There was a lot of rapid fire Russian going on that Jack had no idea Eric could speak, and Tater looked like he was going to cry at one point as Eric nodded excitedly, waving his arms around animatedly.

He smiled and left them to it as he headed off to shower. Knowing that Bitty seemed more than comfortable with Tater - his best friend - was weirdly… nice. Jack had only ever thought about Eric in his life as the two of them. He hadn’t thought what it would be like to introduce Eric to his parents, or his team. Now he was thinking about it - and he had a warm feeling in his chest that it was going to be a lot smoother than he’d ever have imagined. Real Eric was a million times more amazing than anything Jack could have dreamed up.

He took his time in the shower - carefully stood in front of the mirror (which had a panel that heated up so that it wasn’t affected by the steam) and worked through the shaving process that Shitty had laid out for him. It felt nice, actually, to take a little bit of time for himself. Afterword, he felt fresher - a little pampered, even - and wandered into the closet. He hadn’t shut the bedroom door, and as he got dressed he listened to Tater and Eric talk and laugh, could hear Eric using the mixer, the movement of pans. Although he hadn’t a clue what they were saying, he liked hearing how much Tater was talking. He certainly wasn’t a shy guy, but it seemed in Russian he was downright hyper.

The clothes were easier to pick out due to the amount of time Jack had spent with Ransom, going over what matched and when it was okay not to match. He wasn’t sure what they would be doing that day, so he figured jeans and a tshirt would be okay.

When he wandered back into the kitchen, Tater was talking with his mouth full - Eric nodding enthusiastically.

“Jack! Did you kn-” Eric paused, looking at Jack. “Oh, you look very nice.” He said, blushing a little.

“So weird.” Tater agreed, swallowing. “But good. Is nice.” He pointed to the plate beside him, and grinned. “Bitty is making us breakfast. Am texting Parse now, am divorcing.” He leaned back and knocked his head gently against Eric. “Is never making me breakfast. Marrying Bits.”

Jack rolled his eyes and sat down, loving how Eric was blushing a little, looking pleased at the praise. “Tater, the only person marrying Eric Bittle is me.” He grinned, and pretended not to notice how Eric blushed harder and went back to whatever he was doing with the mixer.

Jack noticed he didn’t say anything though.

Didn’t say “Oh, hush, you!” or “Now you stop that.”

Just…

Smiled and went back to his recipe.

Jack started eating his eggs, grinning hugely, as Tater rolled his eyes so hard he’d probably be out of the next game with an upper body injury.


 

Eric wasn’t sure what he expected. Jack helped clean up the kitchen, loading up the dishwasher and never moving too far out of Erics orbit, a hand on his elbow, a kiss as he leaned over to put the clean plates back in the cupboard.

It felt so normal - like he’d spent a hundred mornings like this, easy and relaxed. Tater left them with a Tupperware for Parse full of the leftovers that he couldn’t manage to eat himself - giving Eric a bearhug that left him gasping for breath.

Good lord - his mamma was Eric’s idol. Three time gold winner, one of the top coaches in the world after her retirement. It was all a bit much, honestly.

And then Jack… Lord.

This boy was going to be the death of him. No one had the right to be so heartbreakingly sincere all the time. He kept sneaking glances over at Eric as they moved around the kitchen, like he expected him to vanish at any moment.

He was pretty sure he should be worried. He should be freaking out.

But he wasn’t.

He kept trying to remind himself it was all too good to be true. That the humble, honest, hot-as-hell hockey player would be acting like this over a failed figure skater. But…

He could still hear the voice in the back of his head. The one that got him through the worst times of his life.

His moomaw. Pressing an envelope into his shaking hands. He hadn’t known it at the time but it had contained just over a thousand dollars inside.

“Don’t you listen, don’t look back. One day, someone is gonna love you like you deserve. Don’t let anyone tell you different. Not even yourself.”

He wondered what she might think of Jack.

The man in question saw him looking at him, and blushed a little, the tips of his ears going a bit pink as Eric gave him a smile. Something light and fluttering settled in Erics chest as he looked at Jack. It felt solid, real. He felt sure, for the first time in a long time, so sure of where he was and what he was doing.

“Do you have any plans for today?” He found himself asking.

Jack blushed a little more and gave a half shrug. “I was just going to follow you around a bit, honestly.”

Eric nodded. “Go put on your good suit.” He said. “We can stop over at my apartment so I can grab something decent to wear.”

Jack didn’t even ask why Eric would want him to wear a suit, just nodded and smiled, giving him a little peck on the lips as he brushed past. It wasn’t a small kitchen, Eric thought with a hopelessly fond shake of his head. There was no need for Jack to be so close.

He knew he was never going to complain though.

As he waited for Jack, he did a couple of quick searches on his phone. Saved the link. Opened Twitter.

@EricBittle Have you ever decided to just change your whole life over breakfast?

@EricBittle I think it’s time to live a little crazy

He was still typing when Jack came back into the kitchen, carefully doing up the buttons on his shirt. He’d picked a slate gray tie, hanging off his arm, and matching shoes. How was this the same person that Eric had met only six days ago? It didn’t make a lick of sense.

“Is this okay?” Jack asked, holding out his arms for Eric to get a good look.

Eric nodded, walking forward and pulling Jack down so that he could loop the tie over his head. “You look perfect.” He said, giving Jack a little kiss before he devoted himself to the knot. “I have a suit almost this exact same colour,” He added, running a hand over the tie to smooth it out. “Can I ask you a serious question?”

“Of course.”

“Do you have a copy of your birth certificate?”

He could tell the weird question threw Jack for a loop. His brow wrinkled a little, and for a couple of seconds he looked utterly confused, which Eric expected. Then, all at once, he looked… shy. And happy.

“I do.” He said, before leaning down and kissing Eric so soft that it was hardly even a kiss. A promise of a kiss. He pulled back a little, reaching into the inside of his jacket pocket, and pulling out a white envelope.

Eric blinked, completely confused as Jack pressed it into his hands. “Open it.” The taller man said, grinning down at him as though Eric was the source of all of his happiness.

It wasn’t stuck down, simply folded over, and Eric couldn’t help the laugh that escaped his lips as he saw what was inside.

Looking like they’d just been minted, four brand new one dollar notes. And a crisp $20 bill.

Chapter Text

“I thought we were going to be meeting the boys?” His dad said, looking around the kitchen and obviously not seeing 5 larger than life tv personalities. “Alicia has been rubbing it in my face I haven’t met them yet.”

Jack shrugged. “They’re in Georgia? They have another show to film and then they’ll be back here in about a week.”

His father paused, looking confused. “Oh. I just… I thought... “ He trailed off a moment, and Jack tried not to grin, kept his expression cool and unbothered. “I thought you might want to be sticking close to… eh… them.”

“It sounds a bit cheesy, pappa, but I do think we’re going to be friends. I’ll see them when they get back.” He handed his dad a slice of the pie that Eric had stocked the fridge with - heated up to the exact specifications that his… uh… Eric had made. “Eric made this for you. Apple Maple. It’s kind of his signature dish.”

“Oh, Eric Bittle?” His dad said, and Jack tried not to laugh at the way the older man was fighting to keep his expression neutral. “That the boy you were going to marry when you were a teenager?”

“Yes, pappa.” Jack said, faking a long suffering sigh. “He only learned my name a week ago.”

“Well… maybe you don’t have the Zimmerman charm after all.” His dad teased, taking the plate. “I’d already proposed by the 4 day mark.”

“Took you three weeks to take the shot though.” Jack pointed out with a smirk.

“Ohhh, the boys got some chirps for his old man, has he?” Bob laughed, before scooping up a slice of pie. “You’ll never bea- tabernak, this is good!”

“Mhm,” Jack nodded, grabbing a glass of water for himself. Felt smug.

“You might have beat my Cup wins, kid, but you won’t beat me on this.”

Jack shrugged again. Tried not to laugh.


 

It was weird how everything smelt the same. Eric knew that about 50 miles away, his hometown was trucking along like normal, but he was sure that something would have changed. But no, the air still smelt like home. Like hot air and dry dirt and the scent of someone elses cooking in the air.

He’d called his mamma, told her he’d be nearby. He’d hoped that she might invite him round. Might offer to host dinner so that Eric could show the boys where he grew up.

She hadn’t.

No one was talking about it, either, which was both really nice and absolutely horrible - Eric wasn’t sure what he wanted. Did he want them to ignore it so he could do the same? Did he want them to ask so he could yell about how mad he was?

The teenager they were helping out had been nominated by his father. His prom was coming up and he wanted to do a nice prom-posal for his boyfriend and his father had nominated him. Eric was finding this one a little too hard.

Hey bud. My dad is sitting eating pie in my kitchen acting all smug about how I’ll never beat his 4th day proposal.

Did you tell him?

Nah. More fun this way.You doing okay?

Yes and no

Figures. I have a light week. If you need me, I can be there in a couple hours

Eric felt his heart thump his his chest, that warm, delicious heat that had been following him around since… since…

I love you, Mister Zimmerman

I love you too, Mr Bittle



 

When they watched the prom-posal footage, Eric cried.



 

“I never really thought you’d be the hosting a party type.” Dex was saying, as he leaned against the kitchen counter, Jack carefully pouring the mixed drinks into fancy glasses. “This more of Eric’s influence?”

Jack half shrugged. “Eh, could be. My parents really wanted to meet everyone, and Parse was annoyed that Tater met you guys without him, so…”

“Peer pressure is a terrible thing.” The redhead said, grinning.

Jack laughed. “Yeah, well. I didn’t realise that my mother was such a big fan of Dereks work though, you might not get him back.”

“I think the fact that Alicia Zimmerman knew his name was enough for him to break down on the spot.” Dex admitted. “It was nice of you to invite him.”

“You’re Erics best friends. Why wouldn’t I?”

“It’s starting!” Shitty yelled, from where everyone was piled around the tv in the livingroom and Jack rolled his eyes.

“It’s Netflix, Shitty.”

“I pressed play! Bring the booze!”

It had been Taters idea to host a viewing party for the new season of Queer Eye, and Jack had agreed. It had been a month since Eric came back from Georgia, looking a little sad around the edges, and Jack never wanted to see the smaller man look like that again. The idea of hosting a party though, seemed to cheer him up a lot, and the last couple of weeks had been a flurry of new recipes and trail bakes that had Jack hitting the gym a little more religiously than normal just to keep the pounds off.

The meal had been perfect though - and Jack had spent the night laughing with everyone he loved most in the world. Parse, for once, wasn’t the loudest personality at the table and Tater kept slipping into Russian when he spoke to Bitty, and his parents kept looking at Jack like they wanted to reach over and cover his face in kisses every time Shitty made him laugh.

It was a little strange, watching his favorite TV show with the people who were actually on the show, but Jack found himself relaxing into the couch. Eric, having no reason to hide the fact that he’d moved in to Jack's apartment, was sitting with his legs thrown over Jacks, with Dex on the floor. There was room on the couch but the redhead insisted that he preferred to lean against the couch. His boyfriend, who Jack had only met once before, was sitting beside Eric with a hand playing in Dex’s messy hair. Shitty and Tater had gotten into a fake wrestling match to see who got to sit beside Jack, and during that time, Shittys wife - a tiny woman, smaller than even Eric, had settled down beside him with a wink. Jack liked her already. It was a squeeze, getting everyone settled, but Jack didn’t feel uncomfortable with how close everyone was sitting. Didn’t get that prickle down the back of his neck. Instead, he felt relaxed and mellow - listening to the guys as they dished the behind-the-scenes gossip on the contestants and pointed out all the little things that Jack probably wouldn’t have picked up on during his first watch.

“Oh my god, this guy was a nightmare!” Holster groaned. “We had to cut so much of his one-to-ones out because he was so fuckin’ arrogant - sorry Mrs Z.”

“Married to a hockey player, darling. You can saying fucking in my presence.”

“Thought he was god's gift, honestly. When we arrived he seemed like he wanted the help, but he fought everyone on everything. He tried to tell Bitty how to make a pie!”

“No!” His mother, father, Parse and Tater said at the same time, looking genuinely shocked, as Eric blushed and preened a little.

“Bless his soul,” Eric smiled. “He did even out in the end.”

“A little.”

“Not enough.” Holster mumbled. “Still a bit of a dick.”

“I love the way you did the livingroom here, Dex,” His mother said, looking over at the redhead on the floor. “Those sliding doors are honestly lovely.”

Dex blushed hotly and mumbled something about ‘reclaimed wood’ and ‘barn doors’ but it was far too quiet for Jack to make out.

They were a few too many drinks into the episode where they’d all gone down to Georgia and Jack could feel Eric tense as it started - the long camera shots over the countryside and places Jack thought Eric might have actually been.

He guessed it didn’t help much when the family of the teenager they were making over actually seemed so happy to bring Eric into their home - showing off their own copies of his cookbooks and calling him a ‘local boy gone big’. They seemed so proud - and yet no mention of Eric’s family had been uttered, and Jack knew that they hadn’t spoken in person despite only being an hour or two away.

He pulled Eric a little closer, and felt the smaller man snuggle deeper into his embrace. However, he didn’t seem to let it affect his mood - still laughing and pointing out little things that he found funny at the time, or nudging Jack in the side. “That was the thing I was texting you about,” he laughed at one point, when Eric and the boys went to the fair and bought fried Kool-Aid.

Finally though, it was time for the teenager to get on with his prom-posal, and - just like the first time - Eric got all misty-eyed. He wasn’t the only one, Jack could see Parse getting a bit choked up too. He sometimes forgot that Parse had a very similar story to Eric - the difference being that he’d already made his money when his family turned him away.

“Well that was a lot more complicated than when I was a girl.” His mother said, once they’d watched the ‘he said yes’ balloons fly away. “I was asked in the hallway. I didn’t even get a card! Or flowers!”

“Kids these days want to make everything more impressive and meaningful, I think,” Lardo said, looking at the screen. “They want to make everything count and be memorable.”

“I agree!” His dad said, leaning forward to see Lardo better. “Everything is bigger and better than when I was a teenager and I love it. I get sent all these memes on twitter all the time. Honestly the way they talk is amazing. I’d say something would be gross, and they say ‘my soul would depart my body’ and that's just so much better!” He grinned. “But that was one hell of a prom invite, I’d say.” He looked over at Jack and winked. “Someone might have to up their game, if you know what I mean.”

Jack felt Eric squeeze his arm a little and he knew that this was it. He pulled Eric a little closer and shook his head at his father.

“Pappa, no one is going to be proposing to Eric.” He said, rolling his eyes.

The room erupted into a cacophony of “Don’t say that!” or “Hey, man, not cool!” and he couldn’t help but laugh at his parents absolutely shocked expressions.

Eric shrugged and waved a hand. “Look, I understand, it’s okay. It would be far too awkward anyway.” He added, looking at Jack. “I’d hate to have to turn someone down.”

When the room became quiet, everyone looking confused and (in the case of Shitty and his dad) a little upset, Eric shrugged again.

“I mean, honestly.” He said, kissing Jack on the cheek. “I couldn’t possibly accept. I’m already married.”


 

Eric was pretty sure that he’d never been happier in his whole life at that moment. Jack’s episode was playing in the background by no one was watching, everyone cheering and laughing (and in Shitty’s case) crying openly. On the screen, Jack was opening the door, but on the couch, Jack was laughing - looking at  Eric with those big blue eyes brimming over with all the love and devotion that Eric could feel in his heart.

“I love you, Mister Zimmerman.”

“I love you, Mister Bittle.”


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Six days!”

“I know, Bobby.”

“He had me beat by over two weeks!”

“I asked you to marry me, remember Bob.”

“Good god. Hey, Ali?”

“Hmm?”

“Our kid is pretty awesome, eh?”

“Got two now, Bobby.”

“Yeah! Hey, we’re pretty fuckin’ lucky parents, Ali.”

“I know, Bobby, I know.”