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Prove To Me You Got Some Coordination

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Jack honestly had no idea how The Haus became the place for the Falcs to go after games. There were definitely bars and clubs closer to the Dunk, and obviously there were places more trendy, where it would be better to be seen. The Haus was kind of gross, honestly, and the beer made him think fondly of kegsters back at Samwell. But after games, Tater would clap him on the shoulder and said, “Okay, we going to our place,” and that’s where they went.

The fact that it was a strip club was just a whole other level of weird.

That might actually be the appeal, Jack thought reflectively, as Snowy tucked a twenty into Kitty’s g-string as she passed by on the stage. (She worked a blown kiss into her routine.) Like, the dancers, obviously, but also that, since it was a sketchy-ass strip club in a boring part of town, there were never cameras to catch them doing whatever dumb shit they were doing. Of course, if they did get caught, it would be a billion times worse for happening in a strip club.

Kitty’s routine was over, and the stage was dark for a moment, so Jack got distracted by Tater trying to explain something about the fight he got into tonight to Marty. A sproinging sound came over the sound system then, though, and Jack’s head snapped up towards the stage.

“Oh, it’s your lucky day, my dude,” Snowy said, elbowing him.

“Fuck off,” Jack said, but he wasn’t paying any attention to it at all, because there, back to the audience, gold shorts gleaming under the spotlight, was Bitty.

Paparazzi catch my fly and my cocky fresh sang some woman, and those hips swung, thighs rotating in and out as Bitty dropped down practically to the floor before straightening his knees, popping his ass up in the air. Then the twirl, and there he was, striding down the stage like a supermodel, hips swishing, his eyes fixed on the clock over the bar.

This was not one of the complications that Jack had anticipated about the strip club thing, honestly. He hadn’t planned on coming out for a few years yet. The first time a male dancer came out on the stage (it was Ransom, the muscular one, who was pretty hot) Jack’s jaw had dropped, and Marty had caught the expression. “It’s a mixed crew here,” he’d said, quiet, leaning over. “Is that gonna be a problem, Jack?”

“No,” Jack said, and stopped himself from staring at Ransom’s thigh where it was wrapped around the pole to make eye contact with Marty. “Just...wasn’t expecting it.” If the team was comfortable with going to a mixed-gender strip club, that was a good sign for his eventual coming out. He figured he just had to not overreact to the guys on stage and it would be fine.

That plan had lasted until Bitty came on the stage the first time. The guys were cool about it, he supposed, in that hockey bro way where he spent every second Bitty was on the stage getting chirped.

He was so strong, was the thing, Jack thought as the lady sang grind til I own it and Bitty, upside down on the center pole, executed a spin. Strong and flexible and his hair shone like honey and Christ, his ass. Oh, and this was his favorite part, right here, where Bitty landed on the ground, flicked his hair back, and glanced in the direction of where Jack always sat. Because, yes, Bitty was working, and he had that look for every man in this club, but when he caught Jack’s eye it ran through him like fire, holding him in place, setting him alight.

“Do you remember that Wyclef song, from like, 2001 or something? The one about being in love with a stripper?” Thirdy said mildly from over Jack’s shoulder. “Think we could get that as Jack’s celly song?”

“I’m literally never passing you a puck again,” Jack said, not taking his eyes off Bitty.

“Honestly, Thirdy, even your musical taste is old as shit,” Snowy said.

***

“Hey there, boys,” said a tired sounding voice from behind Jack, where he was drawing plays on a napkin for Thirdy.

“Little B!” said Tater joyfully, holding out his arms. “Come sit with us. Jack wanting to stare at you more.”

Bitty’s laugh was low and sweet as he came over to lean against their table. Still in the gold shorts; sometimes he changed to work the floor. He had a red pair that kept Jack up at night. Bitty gave Tater an affectionate pat. “Y’all win tonight?”

“Flyers are bunch of dicks.”

“You’ll get em next time,” Bitty said, and turned to Jack. “How you doing, sugar?”

And this should be the point where Jack made normal human conversation with his seventy-five-percent-naked crush, but because he was absolutely an idiot, he blurted out, “You’re limping.”

“Ugh,” Bitty said, and lifted his left foot, pointed it and rolled the ankle. “Tweaked it on the third dismount. This one always acts up in shitty weather anyway.”

“You should sit down,” Jack said, frowning.

“You know what the boss man thinks about that,” Bitty said, rolling his eyes. “No sitting during my floor shift unless I’m working for it.”

Jack had his wallet out before he can think, and pressed a hundred into Bitty’s hand.

“Oh, honey.” Bitty rested his hand on Jack’s arm. “You wanna go to the back?”

“His love is too pure for that,” Thirdy said.

“Just sit,” Jack said, grabbing a chair from the next table.

For ten minutes, Bitty ate Tater’s third order of wings, took Marty’s side in the argument about whether or not Snowy needed to stop listening to show tunes when rooming with him on roadies, and bumped knees with Jack under the table. Jack did, in fact, like staring at Bitty. But then the glowering asshole behind the bar started scowling, and Bitty sighed. “Time to earn my keep, y’all.”

“Don’t forget to ice it later,” Jack said. “Your ankle.”

“Yes, sir, Mr. Captain,” Bitty said with a wink.

Jack didn’t stop blushing for at least twenty minutes.

Chapter Text

Two weeks later they pulled up in Tater’s Suburban, high off a win against the Islanders. Before they even got out, though, they realized something’s wrong. “What, is it, like, Jesus freaks or something?” Marty asked, squinting at the line of people holding signs outside the entrance.

“I can’t read the signs,” Snowy said. “We should get out of here.”

“Wait,” Jack said.

“I know you want to see your boy, Zimmboni, but—“

“That’s him,” Jack said, pointing at the small blond figure in a hoodie, pushing a paper at a customer going in, who ignored it.

“What?”

“That’s Bitty,” Jack said. A flash of headlights illuminated the sign being held by March: EXOTIC DANCERS ON STRIKE. “It’s a picket line,” he said, in sudden comprehension.

“What is picket line?” Tater said. “Why Bitty not at work?”

“I’m going to go find out,” Jack said, and opened the door.

He kept his cap low, just in case, and made a beeline for Bitty. The next man he tried to talk to on the way in shoved him off; Bitty stumbled and dropped his pamphlets. He looked up from where he was gathering them as Jack was coming over. “Hey, you,” he said, sounding less exhausted than usual, and about a million times more livid.

“What’s going on?” Jack said, stepping close.

“Well, we’re on strike,” Bitty said. “Some of us, at least.”

“Yeah, I caught that,” Jack said. “And I won’t let the boys cross the line.” Bitty blinked at him. “Um. I come from a union family? Anyway. What is it? Wages, or?”

Bitty sighed. “Workplace safety. A guy fucked up Lardo in the back room.”

“What?” Jack liked Lardo almost as much as Bitty—she always danced to the weirdest indie music and was entirely unimpressed by the Falcs, which just made her seem cooler.

“He broke her fucking hand, Jack,” Bitty said, his voice going thick with emotion. “She’s a painter, and he broke her hand. And we’re supposed to let him back in? I’m supposed to let March or Kitty go back with him, to let him do it again, after that? Of course I am, because the asshole who did it drops a fifty to the owner—which is an insulting amount of money on top of all of it. ”

“That’s assault,” Jack said. “He should be in jail, not back in the club.”

“Exactly! But not if it’s a stripper filing charges, and not if the club owner says she’s a bitch who had it coming.”

Jacks never been a fighter on the ice, but right now he wished he was better at it, because he couldn’t decide whether to break the owner’s face or the assailant’s. “Is everybody going to walk out?”

“No, I couldn’t get more than a couple of us,” Bitty said, gesturing to the line, which Jack could now see was Ransom, the big blond bouncer, the bartender with the ears, and Kitty as well as March and Bitty. “I’m not really mad at the girls. I mean, I get that they don’t want to lose the money. But it just ain’t right, Jack.”

“Well, they’ve lost our business,” Jack said. Bitty smiled at him. “How’s Lardo doing?”

“She’s still in the hospital, and she doesn’t have insurance, so that’s gonna be a disaster.”

Jack kept forgetting that America couldn’t even manage health care. “Don’t they have more than 50 employees? It’s the law, right?”

Bitty snorted. “We’re independent contractors. You know, for a big shot NHL star, you know a lot about this sorta thing.”

“Um. I took a really good seminar on comparative welfare states my senior year?”

Bitty’s laugh was as golden as his hair. “I always forget you’re a college boy. Too distracted by the muscles, I guess.”

Jack wished he could control his blush. “Anyway. I should let you do your thing. Um. Should we like...bring you pizza or something?”

“We’re just fine. You’re a sweetheart, though.”

“Maybe you could...” Jack hesitated, and then went for it. “I could give you my number? You can text me, when the strike is over. And I’ll bring everybody back then.”

“I’d like that,” Bitty said with a smile.

***

Jack: You’re not a real lawyer yet, right?

Shitty: Tragically, no, brah. Why, you in jail?

Jack: Someone I know was assaulted and they’re not taking her seriously because she’s a stripper.

Shitty: Goddamn, that’s some fucked up shit. She needs representation? I could probably pull off a victim advocate role.

Jack: Let me ask.

Jack: Her friend says that might be good. He gave me her number. I’ll let you know.

***

Jack: How’s it going?

Bitty: They’re still being dicks. A few more folks are on the line with us, though. Derek (I think he dances as Nursey? idk we never work the same schedule) joined up and Kitty’s boyfriend came by to hold a sign for a while.

Bitty: Y’all playing today?

Jack: Nope. Roadie starts tomorrow though. You’d think I’d be good at packing by now.

Bitty: Honey, nobody’s ever any good at packing.

Jack: Haha. How’s Lardo?

Bitty: Getting out tomorrow! So now it’s just the bill :\

Jack: Which hospital? What’s her full name?

Bitty: You gonna send flowers?

Jack: Something like that.

***

Jack thought, when George sent a message that he should come up after morning skate, that it was just a check in, or maybe they’d gotten a publicity request about him. People kept wanting him to do interviews with his dad, which made him want to crawl into a hole and die. But when he got up to her office, the look on her face made him think that there was something much worse going on. He sat down and tried to not look like a kicked puppy.

“You know, Zimmermann,” she said sharply, and holy shit, she’d never called him by his last name before, what had he done? “I’ve got a pretty high tolerance for hockey player bullshit, but I didn’t expect this sort of thing from you.”

“I’m...sorry?”

“So, let’s get it over with. You want to tell me why I’m hearing through the grapevine you paid a stripper’s hospital bill this week?”

He blinked. “She didn’t have insurance?”

She was silent for a long moment, sizing him up. “That’s what you’re going to go with?”

He shifted in his seat. “I mean...okay, I guess it’s kind of not the best thing that it’s where we go after games. But last time we were there, Bitty, that’s one of the dancers, he told me she was in the hospital, and she got hurt on the job, and—I mean, I have the money, and she shouldn’t have to deal with that kind of a bill. Really, the club owner should be paying it, but he’s not even banning the guy who did it—the dancers went on strike over that, I mean, so...” He looked up at George. She was staring at him like he’d just grown a new arm. “I’m sorry?” he tried again.

She stared at him. “So...you did it...to be nice?”

He couldn’t resist a bit of Canadian pride. “You guys really don’t have your health care system worked out here.”

She kept staring. “Just to clarify, what you’re saying is that you are not the guy who put her in the hospital.”

Jacks jaw dropped. “What? You thought—“ And suddenly he got it, why she had wanted to murder him. “I would never—I don’t even buy dances—I couldn’t—“

George waved her hand. “Okay, yeah, I don’t need to know anything about what you do or don’t do with strippers. So what I’m hearing is that you happen to patronize a club, a performer there was hurt in a workplace accident, you did her a solid and prevented her from getting a six figure bill. That’s not the worst story.”

“I wasn’t even thinking about publicity,” Jack said.

“That’s because you’re an idiot. Do me a favor? Don’t go back there for a while.”

“Not til the strike’s done,” Jack said automatically. George narrowed her eyes at him. “I mean. Like, my grandparents were really big in the union movement? And obviously both my parents are union members. And me too. So. If I crossed a picket line, like. Probably six generations of Zimmermanns would crawl out of their graves to yell at me in Yiddish.”

“So because of your commitment to the NHLPA, you’re standing in solidarity with strippers who are mad at their boss?”

He didn’t like the sound of that. “Are their legitimate problems with management unimportant because they do their jobs naked?”

“Touché. Look, next time you do some stupid shit like this, you owe me Starbucks.”

Chapter Text

Bitty: Ugh, it’s raining again.

Jack: I’m sorry you have to be out there in this.

Jack: Do you like coffee?

Bitty: I am in fact human, yes.

Jack: What do you take in your coffee?

Jack: Wait, how many people are there?

Bitty: It’s about ten of us. Honey, what are you doing?

Jack: There’s no Starbucks near the Haus. Is Dunkins ok?

Bitty: Jack. Jack. Honey.

***

“I can’t believe you take it black,” Bitty said, pushing his shoulder against Jack’s under the umbrella.

“I’m on a really strict diet.” Jack shrugged. “I’m surprised you’re in as good shape as you are if you drink those latte things all the time.”

“Do you know how many calories I burn on that damn stage? I’ll drink whatever I like, please and thank you.” Bitty huddled into his hoodie, and Jack tried not to feel like a creeper as he watched him. The thing is, he’s literally never seen Bitty with clothes on until this strike happened, so it’s still new, discovering how he tucks his hands into his pockets to keep them warm, how he keeps his hood up even when it’s not that cold. He hadn’t really thought about his crush on Bitty before this; it was just kind of a force of nature, something that cropped up at the Haus, obviously, and occasionally at other times. Now, it keeps surprising him, not just as they’re standing on the line together or texting about today’s developments, but even when they’re not together. His feelings keep mutating, shifting, growing new limbs. Like, Jack 100% wanted to see Bitty work a pole again, but he also was starting to have thoughts about their feet tangling on the couch as they watched Netflix.

“How did you learn to dance?” he asked suddenly, not really anticipating it until the words were already out of his mouth.

Bitty laughed. Even in a rainy parking lot in the cold, his laugh was still magic. “Oh, honey, it’s mostly instinct.”

“It’s not, though,” Jack said. “I mean. You’re pretty flexible, and not just like, in a normal way. Your quads and glutes are really developed—“

“Thank you.”

“And you’re way more attuned to rhythm than the rest of the dancers. I mean, a lot of them are just kind of. Shaking things. Plus, you can do tricks on the pole that I’ve never seen anyone else do. I googled some pole dancing championship things, and honestly, you’re better than most of those people.”

The silence stretched while they watched cars drive by and Holster (the bouncer) trying to give pamphlets to customers, who generally ignored him. Jack thought Bitty wasn’t going to answer, until he spoke. “I don’t tell people this.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine,” Bitty said, and his voice was harder than Jack’s ever heard it. “If you really want to know, well. I used to be a figure skater, is all. So that’s why the flexibility, and the rhythm. And the ass, to be honest. Skating is magic for that.” A little of his humor snuck back in. “As I’m sure you know.”

“I’ve been told often enough.”

“I bet you have.” Bitty punctuated this with a little leer that seemed to make him feel better.

“Why’d you stop skating? Your ankle?”

Bitty sighed and sipped his latte. “No, that was just a stress fracture. My parents got sick of paying thousands of dollars for their son to be a faggot in sequins. Joke’s on them, I guess.”

Jack thought about laying in bed in rehab and wondering if being a queer nutcase would mean he could never play hockey again, and his stomach hurt. “I would have loved to see you skate,” he says, as truthfully as he can.

“Yeah,” Bitty said, smiling wistfully. “You would have.”

***

George: Jack, FYI, some twitter person has grainy phone photos of you holding a sign saying WORKERS’ RIGHTS ARE HUMAN RIGHTS outside a grungy building.

Jack: Holding any of the other signs felt really inappropriate.

George: I do appreciate you skipping the END WHOREPHOBIA one, but the bigger issue I’m having here is that you’re walking a stripper picket line.

Jack: Do I owe you Starbucks yet?

George: Getting there. Leave the Falcs hat at home next time.

***

“Are they seriously not budging?” Jack had saved a cheat meal so he could eat the pizza he brought to the picket line tonight after the game. He and Bitty were eating it, along with the mini pies Bitty had saved for him from the batch he’d made, over the hood of his car, while Dex and Derek distributed the flyers. Kitty (whose real name was Cait, he’d learned) was home with her sick kid, but her boyfriend, Chris, had taken over her sign.

“Yesterday they sent some legitimate goons out to try to scare us. So, either we’re winning or they’re bored, I don’t know.” Bitty wiped his mouth with a napkin.

“Goons? Seriously? Are you guys safe out here?”

Bitty shrugged. “Are we safe in there? Anyway, Dex brought his hunting rifle in his trunk, and Holster’s pretty good at fucking people up if he needs to.”

“It’s been three weeks, though,” Jack said. “There’s gotta be something we can do to speed things up. What about a solidarity picket? Do you think you could get other people to turn out for it?”

Bitty thought about this while he chewed. “You know, Derek’s a student at Brown. Maybe he knows some folks, from, like, activist circles? You think we could get the feminists down for the violence against women angle?”

“Unless they start calling to shut the place down for the violence against women angle. Labor activists might be an easier call. There was a big labor solidarity organization at Samwell that turned out when our janitors went on strike, I bet Brown’s got something like that.”

“I’m on it,” Bitty said, with a determined nod, and dropped his napkin in the pizza box.

“Wait, hold on,” Jack said. “I mean, definitely go talk to Derek, but. Um. Do you think you’d want, like, press and things?”

“That would be amazing, but honestly, Jack, what makes you think they’ll turn up?”

“Well.” He cleared his throat. “You do know a famous person.”

***

Jack: How’s it going with the cops?

Shitty: Not terrible. Lardo’s pretty chill about it, despite everything being bullshit. She’s also fucking amazing, and thank you for bringing her into my life.

Jack: That’s good. Listen, how are you at contract interpretation?

Shitty: Brah. I just fucking aced it last term.

Jack: So you’d be able to tell me if something violated my morality clause?

Shitty: You beautiful motherfucker. Call me, we don’t need a written record of this shit.

Chapter Text

Jack: Everything on for Saturday?

Bitty: It’s looking good! The feminists are coming after all, and the labor folks. I’m trying to get more of the girls to call out for the day so we’ve got a good showing of actual workers. And Lardo says she’s feeling up to being there! She’s so brave.

Jack: That’s amazing. I think I’ll be able to get the cameras there for 7?

Bitty: Is it weird that I’m nervous about the cameras? I know they’re important. And it’s not like I’m really a shy person.

Jack: I guess I just got used to cameras really early? You know what to say, you just have to say it, and not react to anything they try to get you to react to.

Jack: It’s not weird though. I still hate doing press.

Bitty: But you’re doing it for us.

Jack: It’s the right thing to do.

Bitty: For a lot of people, that wouldn’t be enough.

Jack: Well, you know. The Zimmermann ancestor problem.

Bitty: Ah, that. Yeah, let’s keep those ghosts at peace. :*

***

Jack: Out of curiosity, what’s your Starbucks order?

George: Jack Laurent Zimmermann, what have you done?

Jack: Nothing yet. I just want to be prepared.

Jack: It’s fine. Don’t worry about it. You have enough stress in your life. I scored twice today?

George: Jesus fuck, Zimmermann.

***

Jack mostly knew the reporters on the sports beat, but the one he was able to get this time turned out to be the human interest one. He’d met her at the homeless shelter on American Thanksgiving, and she was nice enough, he guessed. “Thanks for being able to make it.”

She looked at the gathered crowd and shifted on her feet. “Look, Mr. Zimmermann. I’m not quite certain what you’re hoping to accomplish here.”

“I think this is a news story, is all.”

“Okay,” she said. “But, look. See, I don’t know what I’m looking at, but—“

“It’s a picket line. The workers are on strike, and other people are protesting in solidarity,” Jack said, trying to keep his cool, but honestly, did nobody learn workers’ history in this country?

“Yeah, okay, it’s a picket line, but from my point of view, the story is that an NHL All-Star is walking a picket line outside a really, really gross looking strip club. So if you want me to do the story, that’s going to be part of it. And I can’t help but feeling you probably don’t want that to be the story.”

“I think there’s a better story here than that, but I’m happy to start you off,” he said, as firmly as he could. He had to do this. For Bits, and Lardo, and everybody. And the ancestors.

“Your funeral,” she said, and gestured to her cameraman.

While they took establishing shots, Jack went to grab a sign. Bitty handed him one saying ORGANIZED LABOR SUPPORTS THE HAUS STRIKE. He’d swapped out his hoodie and jeans for a plaid shirt and khakis, and his hair looked...really, really good. It looked good the other way too. Bitty just had great hair. “You ready?” he whispered to Jack.

“Showtime,” Jack said, and reached out to squeeze his hand.

The reporter asked him to explain why he’s participating in the strike. “I’m here to support the dancers and other staff at the Haus, who are asking for better working conditions,” he said straightforwardly. “Every worker deserves a secure and supportive workplace, and when we learn about workplaces that aren’t providing that for their workers, I think it’s important to take action. I’ve been a patron of the Haus since I moved to Providence, and I’ve had some great nights here. But I’m not willing to spend my money in a place that’s not good to its workers.”

“Your sign talks about organized labor. Are the big unions here today?”

“We’ve got some labor rights activists from Brown, and I think some independent trade unionists. But the performers in this establishment aren’t covered by any of the performing arts unions, and there haven’t been real efforts by the service industry unions to organize people working in the adult entertainment industry. I think it’s a shame, frankly. All workers deserve good representation, and all workers benefit from collective bargaining power.”

“Seems like you know a lot about this stuff.”

“Um, well. I was a history major in university? There was a lot of great coursework on the history of working people’s movements in North America that I took at Samwell. And I come from a union family. My grandfather was the union president at his textile factory, and my parents, obviously, were both part of unions during their careers. And obviously I’m now a union member, and I know how much we as NHL players benefit from being able to bargain with management. So why shouldn’t I want those rights for other workers?”

The reporter shook her head a little. “So you’re saying that you think that the exotic dancers here should get the same deal as hockey players?”

Jack made himself steady his nerves before he snapped at her. “Honestly? I think we’re in really similar careers.”

“You’re kidding.”

“Why would I be kidding? We’re both essentially doing entertainment work. The business we work for succeeds or fails based on our popularity with the audience and our ability to succeed at our performances. It’s incredibly physically taxing and takes a ton of training and practice to maintain. There’s a high risk of injury in the course of daily working activities. The biggest difference between me and the dancers here is that I signed up to get punched in the face at my job, and these guys didn’t.”

Her forehead crinkled. “Punched in the face?”

“Have you spoken to the workers about why they’re on strike yet?”

“Um. No, no, I have not.”

Jack put on a fake smile. “Luckily, I happen to have their representative right here.” He reached out and grabbed onto Bitty, who he hauled over into camera range. Bitty straightened up and gave the camera a smile that seemed to aim for determined, rather than scared shitless.

The reporter looked him up and down. “You work here? I thought you were one of the students.”

“No, ma’am,” Bitty said, and his voice was clear and strong, his gaze unwavering. “Are we still filming? Well then, my name is Eric Bittle, and I have worked as a dancer at the Haus for the past eighteen months. While I enjoy my job, and I love my co-workers, there are some real problems with management. We’ve had issues with nonpayment of wages, with occupational safety issues backstage not being addressed, and with verbal and physical harassment of employees by the management. But what brought this all to a head is that one of my co-workers was assaulted in the course of her work by a patron of this establishment. She was beaten so badly she required surgery to repair damage to her hands, and is still recovering. Despite the fact that this happened on the premises, not only were police and ambulance services not called by the management, but we were not allowed to call them. I personally had to drive my colleague to the ER where she was admitted, and I was docked wages for doing it. In addition, the perpetrator of this heinous crime is known to the management and to the staff, and we have been ordered to continue to serve him, including providing personal services that put us at risk of assault, given his history. Management is also continuing to stonewall the police investigation that has been launched. Given all of this, we, the staff of the Haus, no longer feel safe doing our jobs. We’d be happy to go back to work if we could be assured that we’ll be protected against these sorts of gross violations of our rights, and that we’ll be paid fairly and treated with respect. That’s all we really want.”

The reporter blinked at him for a moment. “There’s a police report we could follow up on?”

Bitty reached into his pocket and pulled out a business card. It didn’t even look like Jack had printed it out on his computer last night. “This is the card for my colleague’s legal representation, who would be happy to provide you with details about the state of the investigation. And if you’d like to talk to her, she’s standing right over there, between the tall blond gentleman and the skinny one with the mustache. I don’t know if she’s up for an interview, but you can certainly check.”

“Right,” said the reporter, looking at the card. Jack could literally see her realizing there was a story here. “Thank you, Mr. Bittle. Can I contact you via this number as well?”

“You sure can get a message to me through him, absolutely.” Bitty smiled more genuinely. “And I do appreciate y’all turning out here for us. If you’ll excuse me, I want to get this crowd fired up a bit.” He reached down and picked up the megaphone that the students had brought. Turning away from the camera, he brought it up to his mouth. “Okay, ladies. Let’s get in formation!” He called out, and the assembled protesters cheered back.

“Hey,” Jack said. “That’s your song!”

Bitty lowered the megaphone. “What, honey?”

“Your song,” Jack said. “The one you dance to sometimes. With the, um. The sproingy bits at the beginning. And you do the upside down part. It’s really great.”

“Jack,” Bitty said slyly. “Do you know what that song is called?”

“Um, no? Should I?”

“Who sings it?”

“...I don’t know?”

“Jack.”

“This is a thing I should know, huh?”

All of a sudden, Bitty changed the way he was standing—hip cocked, head tilted, eyebrows up. Standing there in plaid and khaki he suddenly looked just like he did in a pair of gold lamé shorts, and Jack thought it was possible he was falling in love. “Are you telling me that you don’t know anything about that song, but you know it well enough from watching me dance that you can recognize the lyrics?”

Jack paused. “When you put it like that, you make it sound weird.”

“Oh, my sweet summer child.”

“I never told you when my birthday is.”

“That’s not—oh my dear Lord. Stop talking so I can run a demonstration, sweetpea. We’re gonna learn about Beyoncé another day.”

“Okay,” Jack said.

It was at that point that he realized that the camera had been running the entire time. He turned to look at the reporter and cameraman, who were kind of gaping at him. “Um,” he said. “He is really good, though.”

***

The bit where Jack said that all workers should be safe in their workplaces, and where Bitty makes a passionate plea for support both end up on the evening news.

The unedited clip of Jack proving he has never heard of Beyoncé but has definitely memorized his favorite stripper’s routine ended up on Twitter. Tater retweeted it five times with five different gifs. Parse favorited all of them.

Jack left a toffee nut latte, skim, extra foam on George’s desk and ran away before she got there.

Chapter Text

It should have worked, is the thing. Getting all that attention, it should have made management willing to negotiate. That’s how it worked, usually. And maybe there had been a drop in business. But the assholes who came to the Haus now, they were doing it to harass the picketers. Some guy tried to grab March and Holster had to pull him off, which nearly ended up with Holster getting arrested. Bitty got shoved into a melting sleet puddle and ripped his winter jacket. Chris, Cait’s boyfriend who normally seemed like he couldn’t hurt a fly, turned into a terrifying demon when some guy talked shit to her, and Jack honestly wished he’d had a goalie with that kind of chutzpah back at Samwell.

Bitty huddled in front of the heating vent in Jack’s car to warm up at 12:30 at night, when he came over after a game. Jack had already distributed coffees to everybody, but Bitty just couldn’t get warm. It was starting to snow.

“I don’t know how much longer we can do this,” Bitty whispered. “I don’t want to let them win, but. Everybody’s got rent due next week, and they’re holding our back pay from before we went out on strike, so nobody’s got it. I’ve got a little something from my bakery job, but my landlord’s been shitty to me since he saw me on TV, keeps talking about how I’ve got other ways to pay, and I’m sure as hell not doing that. Cait’s out of money for daycare, and she needs it if she’s gonna get her nursing degree. I just...I don’t know. I don’t think we can keep going.”

Jack wanted to tell him to stick it out, to fight, that there’s power in the people, but Bitty’s nose was red and his fingers were white with cold. “Are you going to go back to work?” he said, quietly.

“Oh, fuck no, I can’t go back there.” Bitty shivered. “Maybe there’s another club in town that’ll hire a failed stripper union organizer?”

“You’re an amazing dancer,” Jack said. “Anyone would be lucky to have you.”

“And in a town full of mobsters, who’s gonna take that chance?” Bitty sniffled. Jack reached out without thinking about it and pulled him close, let Bitty press his face into his shoulder. “I can’t go back to Georgia, Jack. I can’t.”

“You won’t have to,” Jack promised. He would move Bitty into his own goddamn house before he let that happen. (He’d move Bitty into his house tomorrow if he could.)

There was a long silence while the snow falls. And Jack began, very slowly, to develop a plan.

***

Jack: How do you feel about writing contracts?

Shitty: Have you not been listening to anything I say about school, my brother?

Jack: Honestly I only understand the swearing most of the time.

Shitty: Fair. I feel very good about writing contracts.

Jack: OK. I think I have a plan.

***

Jack: If I, theoretically, needed an enforcer in an off-ice capacity, and mostly you just needed to stand around and look like you could smash heads, would you be available for that?

Tater: This for Little B?

Jack: Yep.

Tater: I am happy to smash the heads.

Jack: Don’t need you to actually smash them.

Tater: ((((((((

Tater: But yes, I am in.

***

On a Sunday, the second day of a five day break, at exactly opening time, 7pm, they pulled up in Jack’s car. Tater and Jack were wearing game day suits, and Shitty had pulled out the one suit his father approved of, and even left the marijuana leaf tie clip at home. Tater was carrying a large metal suitcase, which had been a real pain in the ass to buy and a bigger pain in the ass to fill with stacks of hundreds. They got out of the car and walked in a pack towards the entrance.

“Jack?” Bitty asked, from his place near the door. “What the hell are y’all doing here?”

Jack squared his shoulders. “We’re here,” he says, “to negotiate.”

Half an hour later, they came back out again. “I can guarantee that the management will agree to all of your demands,” Jack said.

“What the fuck?” said Holster.

“Really? Oh gosh, Jack!” said Chris.

“How?” asked Bitty.

Jack held up a signed, notarized piece of paper. “Because,” he said. “I am the management.”

Chapter Text

George walked into her office at 8:45 am on a Monday to find Jack Zimmermann staring at the ceiling in the chair in front of her desk. He didn’t look over at her, but there was a venti cup on her desk and she could smell toffee nut syrup from over here, so she guessed he was going to be in trouble at the end of this conversation. She put her bag down, sat, and took a long fortifying sip. There was whipped cream. He definitely fucked up.

“Okay,” she said. “I’m prepared.”

Jack hesitated before speaking. “So. I kind of bought a strip club last night.”

George buried her head on her hands. “Jack.”

“The strike wasn’t going well.”

“Did you actually buy your boyfriend—“

“He’s not my boyfriend—“

“Do you actually think it makes it better?”

Jack was quiet for a long minute. “We’re going to have to rebrand it before we reopen. I don’t think I want to keep using The Haus. Shitty suggested something like The Aerie, because falcons—“

“Oh my fucking God.”

“But I thought that might be a problem with the League. So I was thinking Wildcats? Because of the strike?” He looked at her hopefully.

“I don’t get it.”

“It was a wildcat strike? They were doing it without being organized by a union?” He sighed and looked back at the ceiling. “Bitty thought it was funny.”

“You’re 100% sure he’s not your boyfriend?”

Jack got a dreamy look in his eyes. “He did a summer fellowship at the Highlander Center in high school.”

George groaned and put her head on her desk. “PR thought we were getting a cokehead with you, you know. And right this minute, I would prefer that, honestly.”

***

“So,” Jack said, to the assembled remaining staff of the Haus. The strikers were there, and some of the ones who never went out. It didn’t make sense not to keep them on, not if they wanted to stay. “The first thing is, we’re going to need to close for a while while we make repairs, bring things up to code, rebrand, stuff like that. But I know that everybody’s low on funds right now. So you’re all going to get a lump sum payment to keep you going. If you decide you want to take that as severance and look for a new gig, no hard feelings. Just let us know you’re not coming back so we can hire to replace you.”

There were murmurs of assent around the room.

“The thing is, I don’t really want to run a nightclub. But it really matters to me that you’re all paid fairly for your work and that your working conditions are good. So I what I was thinking is.” He cleared his throat. “I’d like to propose that we re-structure as a workers’ cooperative. That way, you’ll all receive a share of the profits, and you’ll all own a stake in the business.”

The silence was pretty profound.

“Brah,” Ransom said. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s an amazing idea. But I’m guessing most of us don’t have any capital to buy in with.”

Jack shrugged. “I mean. I don’t need to make back my initial investment. I can just take a share of the profits like everybody else.”

“Does that mean if we don’t do well, we don’t get paid?” Holster asked.

“Shitty and I ran the numbers and did some research,” Jack said, gesturing to his fake lawyer best friend sitting next to him. “I think we can do it so that you all get paid a fair wage, and then any profit we make beyond what it takes to keep the doors open is equally distributed? If we start taking real losses, that would mean no profit bonus, and maybe we’d need to restructure some. But honestly, you guys are the ones putting the work in. You should be the ones to get the money.”

“What about the costs for the rebranding and updates?” March said. “That shit totally isn’t cheap. Do we need to chip in for that?”

Jack wanted to say no, but looked over at Shitty before he did. Shitty was good at keeping him from being stupid, which was funny, because Shitty was definitely also full of stupid ideas.

“I think we could do a lot of that shit in-house,” Shitty said, quietly. “Lards, you can do all the design work, right?”

“I think I’m up to holding a mouse again,” Lardo said from her corner of the room, where she was eating Cheetos behind a pair of enormous sunglasses.

“And Holster, you’ve got an accounting degree, right? You can do the money.”

Dex piped up. “I worked as a contractor back home. I can probably handle most of the repairs. Might want to get in a real electrician, though.”

“My girlfriend’s an electrician,” March said. “I can have her come in to do that shit.”

“The one thing is,” Shitty said, “we need someone to be the manager. Jackabelle here can’t be in 24/7 making sure shit gets done.”

“Um, hello,” Ransom said. “I think it’s pretty obvious who the manager is.”

“I think so,” Jack said quietly. “He might need some convincing though.”

Everyone in the room turned to look at Bitty. Bitty, who was leaning in a back corner near the stage. Bitty, who had swung between stunned silence and deep suspicion and had barely said a word to Jack since he walked out of the club last night holding a signed piece of paper saying he was its sole owner.

Jack waited until he couldn’t wait anymore. “Bits?” he said, as quietly as he could. “You in?”

Bitty looked around the room at everyone watching him. He wasn’t confident, like he was on the stage. He wasn’t determined, like he was facing down assholes at the front door. He looked terrified, actually. But then he looked back at Jack, and closed his eyes. “Okay,” he said, voice shaking. “I’m in.”

The room erupted in cheering. Bitty tipped his head back and laughed along with them.

“What team?” Holster shouted out.

“WILDCATS” came back the call from about half the people in the room.

“I still don’t get that joke,” Jack said to Shitty under his breath.

“Brah,” Shitty said, and shook his head.

***

“Jack? Can I talk to you?”

Bitty’s voice was small, smaller than Jack had ever heard it. He looked up from where he, Shitty, Holster, and Ransom were designing an elaborate set of Excel sheets to manage the Wildcats’ finances. “Sure,” he said, since he only really gave a shit about the numbers insofar as they added up. “There’s an office in the back, I think?”

Bitty cringed just slightly. “I’d rather not, if that’s okay.”

Jack didn’t even want to know what Bitty associated that office with, but every new thing he learned about the old owners made him wish he’d gotten rid of them with a punch to the face rather than a bag full of money. “Our old table?” And Bitty smiled at that, so it must be ok.

They sat there silently for a long minute, until Jack finally had to say something. “Do you not want to be the manager?”

“I have...” Bitty tapped his fingers on the table. “Concerns.”

“You’re a natural leader,” Jack said quietly. “You’re organized and everyone here looks up to you. Even the ones who didn’t walk the line. You’re an incredibly talented dancer and that comes with respect, too. I think you’d be amazing.”

“What do you want from me, Jack?” Bitty asked, finally looking up at him.

“What do you mean?”

Bitty took a deep breath. “I’ve been working in clubs for a while now, Jack. This one wasn’t the best, but it wasn’t the worst, either. But in every single club, the owners want something from the dancers. And so I need to know what you want, and I need to know if you bought this club so you could get it. If you bought it to buy me.”

The feeling in Jack’s stomach is worse than when George thought he was the one who hurt Lardo. “Bits, I would never—“

“Don’t lie to me, Jack. I couldn’t stand it if you lied to me.”

And that was...fair. So Jack took a deep breath and tried to organize his thoughts. “Okay. Look. I don’t think it’s a surprise that I like you. That I have liked you, since I started coming here. But that’s not...” He gestured towards the stage. “I like you up there, obviously, but I also liked walking the line with you. I like talking with you. I like—I like that there’s a reaction gif on Facebook that’s you looking at me like I’m an idiot.” Bitty chuckled at that. “But you’re not required to like me back. At all. The manager position, the club here, it’s not contingent on that.” Jack thought about stopping there, but Bitty said not to lie, so he wouldn’t. “I would...if you want, I would like to...try. To see if we could maybe...date. Or something. But I don’t want to make you feel pressured, and it’s.” He cleared his throat. “It’s more important to me that you are okay, that you feel safe, than that we’re dating. So. That’s up to you. I don’t want anything from you that you don’t want to give.”

Bitty examined him closely, and Jack didn’t flinch. This was the most important faceoff of his life. And then Bitty closed his eyes, and put his head in his hands, and Jack felt his heart breaking. “Okay,” Bitty said, pressing his palms into his eyes.

“Okay? You’ll manage the club?” Because Jack didn’t know if he could do this without Bitty. He’d probably just sign the thing over to Lardo if Bitty left.

Bitty snorted and looked up, his eyes wet. “Well, I was sayin’ okay to dating you, but the other’s fine too, I guess.”

Jack’s heart whiplashed around. “Really? That’s—it’s not too much? Because I know, it’s complicated, and Shitty has like, a whole half hour lecture on why not to hit on service workers, so—“

“Shut up, honey,” Bitty said, and wiped a tear from his cheek. “You’re ruining our moment.” And he stood up, leaned across the table, and pressed his mouth to Jack’s.

Jack was so startled by the kiss, the sweet pressure of Bitty’s lips on his, the curve of his small hand against Jack’s cheek, the wet flick of a tongue across his lower lip, that he didn’t really process Holster’s shout of “Get it, Bits!” from across the room, or Lardo’s wolf whistle. He did catch Bitty flipping them off with his spare hand before he broke the kiss. Bitty pressed his hand into Jack’s cheek for a moment, examining his eyes, and then stood up and put his hands on his hips. “Ain’t all y’all got something better to do right now? This shithole won’t clean itself.”

“Yes, boss,” Ransom called back.

“You’re damn right,” Bitty said, and Jack slithered down in his chair, blushing furiously.

Chapter Text

Jack put down the sledgehammer.  “You know, I’m having a really hard time coming up with good first date ideas.”

Bitty made a noise of agreement from where he was ripping out studs from what used to be the office walls.  “That actually makes a lot of sense.  I mean, it’s not like we’re just getting to know each other, or like you need to worry about impressing me.”

Jack wiped his forehead.  “Do you need to worry about impressing me?”

Bitty arched an eyebrow at him.  “Jack, I am always impressive.”

“True.”  Jack made himself pick up the crumbled sheetrock and carry it over to the wheelbarrow.  His shoulders hurt. The trainers were going to kill him. “But just because we know each other already doesn’t mean I don’t want it to be special, you know?”  He did not say I’m hoping this is my last first date.  He did not say I don’t ever want you to think you don’t deserve something because of what you do or how people have treated you.  He didn’t say those things because they were too big for this conversation, but he felt like he was psychically broadcasting them at a million decibels.

Bitty brought the studs to wheelbarrow and leaned against the wall next to it, brushing his hair out of his face.  “You know, I don’t think I’ve ever been on a date, the way you’re talking about it?”

“Seriously?”  Jack was pretty convinced Bitty was the most dateable person on the planet.  

“Well, when would I?” Bitty shrugged.  “In high school I was closeted.  When I left for Atlanta I was too scared to do anything.  By the time I came up here I was already dancing, and it is not a good idea to be on dating apps where people might have seen you from work, you know?  I’ve been picked up at bars and things like that, but, like, dating dating?  This is a whole new ballgame.”  Bitty made a thinking face.  “We should go bowling.”

“Bowling?”  Jack hasn’t gone bowling since he was twelve.  

“Bowling.  I never get to go anymore.  Either I’m working nights, or I’m exhausted from getting up at 3:30 am to get to the bakery.”  He nodded.  “When’s your next night without a game?”

“Thursday.”

Bitty nodded.  “Thursday, then.  You’re taking me bowling. Pitcher of cheap beer, some fries.”  

“Or.”  Jack cleared his throat.  

“Or?”

“We could fuck off, go shower, and then go bowling literally right now?”

Bitty looked Jack up and down, taking in his plaster-covered shirt and grubby hands.  He smiled.  “The showers here still work, and I’ve got a change of clothes in my locker.”

“My roadie bag is in the trunk.”

“Twenty minutes?”

“Race you.”

 

****

“The balls are really heavy, okay?”

“Jack Laurent Zimmermann, you are a professional athlete,” Bitty said, his giggle bouncing around the car. “You can get that little puck in under a goalie’s knee, but you can’t keep a bowling ball out of the gutter?”

“It’s a totally different skill set. I’ll get better.”

“Oh, please, don’t, I want to keep kicking your ass at bowling for decades. It’s the gray one up there, by the corner.”

Jack felt himself blush as he pulled up in front of a fire hydrant next to what was apparently Bitty’s building. He did not comment on the decades thing, because that was more than he could deal with, honestly. “It looks nice?”

“That is a blatant lie, but thank you for trying. It’s cheap, the bus line to the Haus—I mean, to Wildcats—is two blocks away, and I can walk to the bakery. So, it’ll do.” Bitty sighed. “Thanks for driving me home. I’d invite you up, but my place is a wreck.”

“It’s fine. I’ve got an early skate tomorrow, I should really get home.”

They sat there silently together for a moment, and then Bitty said “Dear Lord, are we both going to sit here like sixteen year olds?”

“Probably?” Jack said.

Bitty unbuckled his seatbelt at that and leaned across the console. Jack leaned in, and then they were kissing, Bitty’s hand buried in the hair at the back of his neck, getting just a little too long. Jack didn’t know what to do with his hands at first, but let one settle on Bitty’s cheek, and the other curl around his waist, feeling the muscles twist under his hoodie. Bitty’s hand was firm and his mouth was aggressive and Jack could stay here forever, just letting Bitty own him like his. Bitty pulled away for a moment, and pressed his nose against Jack’s, foreheads together. Jack thought he probably made a noise at that, but he wasn’t really sure. “God, Jack,” Bitty whispered.

“Please,” Jack whispered back, and Bitty pulled their mouths back together, harder this time. Jack let his hand slip under the edge of Bitty’s shirt to touch the burning skin under it, and slid his mouth across Bitty’s cheek to pull his earlobe between his lips. Bitty gasped and pulled at Jack’s hair to move him closer, so he moaned as he moved down Bitty’s neck, panting. Bitty’s spare hand pushed down the back of his shirt collar, curled sharp nails into his skin, and Jack bit down on the tendons in Bitty’s neck and tried not to sound like he was dying.

Bitty burst out laughing. Terror ran through Jack for a quick moment, but Bitty’s hands were still holding him close, his neck still arching to fit around Jack’s desperate mouth. “What’s so funny?” Jack whispered, trying to back off so that Bitty wouldn’t look like he’d been mauled in the morning.

“I just got the clearest impression of my mother’s voice saying, ‘Now, Dicky, nice boys don’t put out on the first date.’ Which, there are so many things wrong with that sentence I can’t even start to list them.”

Jack snorted. “I think you’re a very nice boy.”

Bitty smacked him on the back of the head. “Hush up and let me go.”

“No,” Jack said, but released his grip enough to let them look at each other.

Bitty stroked his face gently. “Okay. I think we should probably take this a little slow. So. Second date, we go to the movies, sit in the back row, watch something we don’t care about actually seeing. Third date, I cook you dinner, you stay over. Gotta give me some time to make my place ready for company, though.”

“You can use my kitchen if you want. My mom bought me, like, a thousand pans I’ve never used.”

Bitty patted him. “We can do that. When are you coming to the club this week?”

“Games tomorrow and Wednesday, so I don’t think I can fit anything in. Unless you really want me to?”

“No, sweetie,” Bitty said. “You’ve got a day job to keep. So Thursday? April’s coming to do the light rig, but I can ask Holster to stick around if we want to step out.”

“Pick a movie,” Jack said, and kissed Bitty’s nose.

***

Bitty: I know you won’t get these until later, but we’re watching! img1082.jpg

Bitty: Wow, that hit on Poots was awful. Hope he’s okay.

Bitty: What the fuck is wrong with that ref?

Bitty: Oh, honey, that goal was GORGEOUS. *kisses*

Bitty: I’m going to murder that ref.

Bitty: TATER!!!!!!!!!

Bitty: Ransom wants to know if you can kick number 37 in the balls. I said that was a bad idea in skates. He says that’s the point.

Bitty: Poor Snowy. But if the backup guy lets anything in he’s not allowed in Wildcats, tell him the manager says.

Bitty: WHY ARE YOU PUNCHING THAT GUY

Bitty: YOU’RE TERRIBLE AT PUNCHING PEOPLE, STOP THAT

Bitty: No, fuck YOU, Douchebag Ref.

Bitty: Good job, Marty! None for you, Bruins, byeeeeeeeeee.

Bitty: Oh, honey, that was awesome. Okay, we’re gonna keep getting stupid drunk at this bar until they kick us out. Feel free to call when you’re done press! <3

Jack: Tater and Snowy and Poots are asking where you guys are, and if you want company.

Bitty: We’re all pretty sloppy.

Jack: I think that’s what interests them, honestly.

***

The screams of “JACK!” “TATER!” “OTHER GUYS!” echoed out as soon as they walked into the bar. Holster grabbed Poots and swung him around; Poots had only been to the Haus a couple of times so looked pretty stunned. Ransom just jumped piggyback style onto Tater, which meant his head nearly hit the ceiling. Chris and Cait had cornered Snowy and were excitedly babbling about the puck he’d taken to the face. Lardo was standing on a stool and showering them all with peanut shells while giving a victory screech.

“This wasn’t a very important game,” Jack said in the midst of the chaos.

“We literally do not care,” said Ransom from Tater’s back. “VICTORAAAAYYYYYY!”

“Jack, honey, get over here,” Bitty shouted from where he standing on the bar. Jack wove over to him, and then lifted him down to the ground. Or tried to—Bitty just wrapped his legs around his waist when he picked him up, leaving Jack to hold him up at eye level. “Hey, I was liking bein’ tall,” Bitty slurred, arms curving around Jack’s neck.

“Hi,” Jack said.

“Hi, handsome,” Bitty said, and leaned his forehead against Jack’s. “You looked great out there.”

“Thanks,” Jack said. “You look pretty great right here.”

Bitty huffed. “I look like a hot drunk mess.”

“I agree with hot and drunk,” Jack said, setting Bitty onto a stool.

“You know, this is where I used to come to watch y’all’s games?” Bitty said. “I don’t have a TV at home, and we didn’t have one at work either. So the nights all y’all were playing and I wasn’t at work, I would come down here and sit nearest whichever TV had your game. I didn’t even know the rules of hockey when I started, I had to keep Wikipedia open so I’d know what the hell was happening.”

“So you liked us coming in, then.” Jack smoothed Bitty’s sweaty hair away from his face.

“I’ll be honest, at first? Y’all were good tippers and nobody tried to grab my dick, which shouldn’t be saying a lot but it totally is,” Bitty said, reaching behind him for a half-empty bottle of beer. He took a long sip. “But yeah, I did like you coming in. You especially.”

“Why me?” That’s been the question of Jack’s life—why him, in anything? Maybe Bitty’s got an answer he’ll actually like.

Bitty’s hands rested on Jack’s shoulders. “You were so polite. You watched me so closely when I was on stage, but when I was off it, you always looked at my face. You talked to me like I was a person even though I was naked and literally asking you to give me money to grind up on you. You took my time seriously even if you didn’t want a dance. Honestly, even if we’d never gotten closer during the strike, you’d still probably be my favorite customer, Jack.” He finished his beer and set it down. “That’s why. So, why did you like me? Apart from—how did you say it? My exceptionally well-developed glutes.”

“I mean, those helped,” Jack said, running his hands down to grab the glutes in question. Bitty giggled. Jack liked drunk Bitty. “But no, I...you’re so strong. I mean, obviously, you’re, like, emotionally strong too, but the way you dance, you’ve got to be so strong to do that. You’re little, but your power-to-weight ratio must be off the charts. What can you even bench, really?”

Bitty snorted. “I haven’t used a weight room since I graduated from high school, I have no idea.”

“You can come use the one in my building if you ever want to,” Jack said. “It’s decent.”

“Oh, Mr. Professional Athlete thinks a gym is decent,” Bitty snarked. “So what, it’s the muscles that do it for you? I’m surprised you’re not holding out for Ransom.”

“Well, no,” Jack said. “I mean, yes, muscles, but. You’re just so good at what you do. I think really that’s it for me. The dancing, and the tricks, and then...connecting with people? You’re just really good at it.”

“Why am I not surprised your biggest turn-on is competency?” Bitty smiled slowly. “So that’s why not Ransom, huh.”

Jack laughed. “Yeah, I mean. He’s hot, but...”

“Lord, he’s awful,” Bitty whispered too loudly.

“Enthusiastic,” Jack offered.

“Maybe I’ll put him on the bar,” Bitty said.

“He’ll be heart broken.”

“He’ll live.”

“Come home with me,” Jack said, before he had time to second guess it.

Bitty tilted his head. “Mr. Zimmermann, are you taking advantage of my impaired state to try to get me to speed up my no-sex-until-the-third-date plan?”

“No, I swear,” Jack said, and leaned in to rest his head against Bitty’s again. “I’m just exhausted, and if I’m here another ten minutes Tater’s going to be pouring vodka down my throat, and I’d much rather be asleep next to you.”

“Hmm,” Bitty said. “That’s very romantic. And too bad, because I was amenable to being persuaded.”

Jack pulled out his phone. “Let me see how soon an Uber can get here.”

“BITTAY!” Lardo yelled from the small space in the middle of the bar that the Wildcats and Falcs had turned into an impromptu dance floor. “IT’S RUN THE WORLD.”

“Come dance with me while we wait for it,” Bitty said, staggering off his stool. Jack let himself be dragged into the crush.

(Tater only forced one shot on him. He was still sober enough to carry a sleepy Bitty to bed.)

Chapter Text

Jack woke up to Bitty in his bed, and he knew, deep down in his bones, that he never wanted him to leave again. Which was ridiculous, because they had gone on one date, two maximum if you considered the post-game bar visit last night a date. And Jack had a game to get ready for, and Bitty had to go argue about the liquor license (thank God he was 21, otherwise that would have been awkward), and anyway Bitty didn’t want to be bought which meant he probably didn’t want to move in on the second date? Maybe?

But then, over breakfast, Bitty had said “Your TV’s big enough to count as going to the movies,” so between morning skate and Jack’s pre-game nap they’d watched something with superheroes in it. Jack couldn’t remember its title, because Bitty had spent the whole time lying on top of him, and even when they weren’t making out that kind of overloaded Jack’s cognitive ability. As the credits rolled, Jack had said “Do you want to come to the game?” and Bitty had said “I don’t have anything to wear” instead of no, Jack, why would I want to do that? So Bitty had done laundry while Jack napped, and then rode with him to the arena. As Jack was getting dressed, Bitty texted him a selfie in a freshly-purchased Zimmermann jersey, which had thoroughly disrupted his pre-game routine.

“Zimmboni, you staring,” Tater said, breaking him out of his reverie. “Who text you?”

“My boyfriend,” Jack said, not really thinking about it. And then he could practically hear the record scratch as everyone in the locker room processed what he had just said. Oh, yeah: he might have spent the last year and change in a glass closet with the door cracked, but that didn’t mean you dropped that word in the locker room thirty minutes before game time.

“HOLD THE FUCK UP,” Thirdy shouted from the other side of the room.

“Since when do you date dudes?” Poots asked.

“Seriously, Poots?” Snowy said.

“When do you even have the time to pick up anybody, between hockey and your exciting side gig with strippers?” Marty said, throwing a sock at him.

“Well,” Jack said, and tried to figure out how to explain this.

“Oh shit,” Thirdy said.

Crisse de fuck,” Marty said.

“Oh, yes,” Snowy said.

“So Bitty not mad at you for buying him club anymore? He agreeing to be boyfriend? I thought last night with the carrying, but nobody say,” Tater said.

“ARE YOU KIDDING ME.” Thirdy threw up his hands. Marty, meanwhile, started a full-on barrage of socks.

“Wait, which one is Bitty?” Poots asked.

“The hot one,” Snowy supplied. “Like, the tiny hot one, not the swole hot one.”

“Oh. I thought he was with the Asian girl.”

“Poots, I love you man, but you are dumb as a box of rocks.”

“ANYWAY,” Marty said. “Obviously you are telling us everything after the game, but first! Sexting in the locker room is fineable. Pay up, Zimmermann.”

“We weren’t sexting!” Jack said, trying not to spontaneously combust of shame. He flipped around his phone. “Look, he was just showing me he bought my jersey.”

Marty leaned over and put both hands on Jack’s shoulders. “Jackie my boy, you and I both know that, for you, that’s a goddamn sext.”

Jack thought about arguing, but decided not to bother. Marty wasn’t entirely wrong. “Fine,” he said, and reached for his wallet.

***

Jack: Are you with Gabby? Marty said he texted her.

Bitty: Yes I am. Also, next time, WARN A BOY when you’re putting him in the family box.

Jack: Sorry?

Bitty: It’s fine. I stopped hyperventilating eventually. You okay after that last shift?

Jack: I’ve been ordered to the ice bath. Anyway, if you’re with Gabby, get her to bring you back.

Bitty: You sure? I don’t want to make any trouble for you with the boys.

Jack: I already got fined once today, it’ll be easier if we just get it over with. Also Poots thought you were dating Lardo?

Bitty: Bless his little goldfish heart.

***

Apparently Bitty had used Jack’s nap time to bake as well as do laundry. “My nutritionist is going to kill you,” Jack said as Bitty put a second scoop of pouding chômeur on his plate.

“Oh, hush,” Bitty said, and picked up his own bowl. “You’re sure we shouldn’t put ice cream on this?”

“It’s perfect,” Jack said around a mouthful. “Never make it again.”

Bitty patted his hand. “Don’t be ridiculous.”

Jack tried to eat slowly. “You’re an amazing cook. Why isn’t that your only job? I mean—you’re an amazing dancer, too. But, like. It seems like it’s a hard career?”

“Says the man who wakes up at 5:30 in the morning to go running outside in the winter.”

“Fair.” Jack didn’t know how to ask if Bitty danced because he didn’t skate anymore. The thought of him putting down his skates because of other people hurt in a way Jack couldn’t properly articulate. Maybe he could buy him a new pair for Christmas. Or just, like, next week. “Still, though.”

Bitty sighed. “I mean, I like it, I’m good at it, but mostly it’s the money? I make minimum wage at the bakery, and there’s not a lot of upward mobility. If I want a more serious job in pastry, I’m going to need a culinary degree, and that shit is not cheap. If I want to own my own place, that takes a lot of business skills, which I’m sure I can learn, but also a huge amount of capital, which I don’t really have any way to get. But I’m pretty good at getting tips when I’m dancing, even when the owners take a lot back, so I definitely make more per hour. That reminds me, Holster worked out a couple of tip-pooling equations, we need to pick one.”

“Majority vote of the staff?” Jack suggested, licking caramel off his spoon.

“Well, let’s narrow the options before we vote,” Bitty said. “It’s really about whether we want to put the tip equalization into the quarterly profits or pay it out with wages.”

“Wages is the right answer, right?”

“As a dancer, I would say yes. As a manager, I feel compelled to point out that it gives us less capital to play with, though, especially since salaries have doubled.”

“Meh. The bar and the door should produce enough capital to keep us going. You should do a new kitchen menu, though.”

“Done,” Bitty smiled, picking up the dishes and carrying them into the kitchen. “Anyway, Mr. Zimmermann, if you’re gonna ask me nosy questions, I’ve got one for you.”

“I think I can take it.” Jack said, bringing the cake pan back into the kitchen and looking for the tin foil to cover it up.

“Why on earth did you never buy a dance from me? You would literally pay me twice what they cost and then just ask me to sit and talk. Not that I objected, mind you.”

“Um.” Jack thought about it for a minute as he took the sponge from Bitty’s hand and hip-checked him out of the way of the sink. “It felt weird, I guess?”

“Weirder than watching me dance on the stage?”

“I mean, that was...you were performing. It was a show, I was supposed to watch?” Jack concentrated, very hard, on scrubbing the fork in his hand. “I don’t know.”

Bitty is silent for a long moment. “I thought maybe you were grossed out by the idea of it. Of—you know. Me doing that with other people.”

Jack dropped the fork back in the soapy water. “What?”

“You would not be the first person to not be interested in sleeping with a whore, Jack.” Bitty was staring at the floor, arms wrapped around his chest, legs crossed at the ankle, as if he’s holding himself together. Jack was literally stunned silent by this, so Bitty, horrifically, continued. “And I don’t want that between us, if we—if this works out. So if—I don’t have to dance, at Wildcats, if you don’t want me to. Obviously you know I’ve done it before, but—“

“That’s—“ And Jack could see exactly how they got here and wanted to go back in time and slap himself for introducing the topic of conversation. “I would never want you to stop dancing because you think I don’t like it. It’s not—something I think is wrong, or that grosses me out. Even the private dances. I mean—it’s work, you know? And, um, look, if I were smarter or freaking out less about you dumping me I’d say something well-thought-out about paid care work?”

Bitty closed his eyes. “I’m not dumping you. I’m working to determine our boundaries and limits, because we are in a serious relationship and are adults who should talk things through.” He sounded like he was reciting from some self-help book he’d memorized.

“I’m not good at that,” Jack said. “Like, bad enough at it that my only other serious relationship ended with me in the hospital.” Bitty’s face crumpled a bit. Jack reached out and touched Bitty’s hand, where it rested on his closer elbow. His fingers were still soapy but he didn’t know where a towel was. “The reason I didn’t want you to dance for me was I didn’t want to do something that—intimate, I guess, with someone I wasn’t actually in a relationship with. And yes, I seriously liked you, but. It didn’t feel right. I would have been too freaked out to find it hot. I paid you to hang out with us because your boss was a dick and I wanted to talk to you and it seemed like you could use a break. So, uh. In conclusion, you should keep dancing if you want to, and I’m a weirdo.”

Bitty took Jack’s fingers in his own, tangled them together. “You’re not a weirdo. You’re a romantic, is all. And I’m sorry. I keep being the one to raise problems. It’s just—I want this to work out, Jack. I know it’s new, but this feels like it could be really good, and I don’t want to screw it up because I’ve got baggage.”

Jack pulled Bitty in close to his chest, and Bitty came willingly, half-boneless against him, so Jack felt slightly better. “I think we just need to...deal with things as they come? In the baggage department?”

“I’ll try to stop worrying,” Bitty said. “It just feels like this is too good to be true, and there’s gotta be something else lurking.”

Jack knew that feeling; he lived there, sometimes. He kissed the top of Bitty’s head. “Are you tired? We should sleep.”

Bitty leaned back and looked up at Jack with an appraising eye. “How badly did I ruin the mood?”

“Mood?”

“Jack. Honey. We watched a movie this morning. And then I cooked for you. In between there was a hockey game. We have passed the three date threshold. That mood.”

“Oh,” Jack said, and then “Oh. Well. I mean, I don’t feel like it’s entirely ruined?”

“Hmm,” Bitty said. “So, if you didn’t want to pay me to dance for you before, because we weren’t together, does that mean you’d be happy to accept a demonstration now?”

It shouldn’t be possible for Jack to get that lightheaded at a single sentence, but apparently that’s what his circulatory system is going for. He stuttered out something utterly incoherent. Bitty arched an eyebrow. “Is that a yes?”

“Yes,” Jack said, as unequivocally as possible. He made sure to nod, too. Just in case.

Bitty’s confidence was back. Jack had no idea how he went back and forth between vulnerability and swagger like that, but it was honestly one of the hottest things he’d ever seen. “Okay, darlin’. Let’s get you on the couch, then.” He slapped Jack’s ass and pulled out of his arms to walk into the living room. “Do you have speakers in here I can connect my phone to?”

Probably Jack did, but he had no idea how to actually make it possible for Bitty to do that, so he just followed, a little stunned and kind of horrifically turned on. Bitty was doing something on his phone, and then gave a little nod, so it must have worked. “Right, I think this is a good playlist. I don’t have my edit of Flawless without the Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie bit in the middle on me. Which, don’t get me wrong, that bridge is amazing, but being lectured about the patriarchy ain’t getting anyone’s dick hard. Well, maybe Shitty’s.” Bitty looked up at Jack standing right next to him like an idiot. “Jack? You okay?”

Jack nodded and tried to word. That apparently wasn’t happening right now.

“Honey?” Bitty reached out to touch him. “Is this too much? I realize I can be a little forward.”

“It’s...a lot,” Jack said. “But not in a bad way. I didn’t ever think about getting to be with you like this, so it’s all kind of hitting me at once.”

“You want me to back off? We can just go sleep.”

“I honestly think I will die if that happens,” Jack said.

Bitty’s magical laugh, then, broke through the room. “Well then, you’d best go sit down. Am I right that you don’t know the rules for this sort of thing?”

“You should assume I know literally nothing,” Jack said, situating himself comfortably in the middle of his couch.

“Right, well, the biggest rule is that I can touch you, but you can’t touch me.”

Jack nodded. He’d heard that one, but it had also been a part of a music video analysis that Bitty had subjected him to during the strike. “Like Nicki and Drake.”

Bitty beamed at him like a particularly proud teacher. “Excellent! I knew you were listening. Now, at some point we’ll relax that one, but let’s start with it and see how you like it.” Bitty pulled off his jersey, and Jack was almost sorry to see it go, but the shirt underneath disappeared right after, and suddenly Jack was face to face with Bitty’s flat, toned stomach. “Apart from that, my preference is that I run the show and you just follow along. That okay with you, or do you want to direct a little? Any requests?” Bitty was undoing his jeans now, and Jack was just trying to keep breathing. “Jack? Verbal consent, please?”

“You can do literally anything you want,” Jack said.

Bitty threw his jeans over onto the chair with the rest of his clothes, and hopped on one foot to remove his socks, one at a time. “I’m gonna try not to take advantage of that, hon. You tell me during if anything isn’t working for you.” And then he was just...standing there, hands on hips, wearing a pair of perfectly normal black briefs that were somehow the sexiest thing Jack had ever seen, even better than the red shorts, because Bitty was here in Jack’s apartment and he was going to touch him and honestly Jack’s not sure he’s going to survive this. Bitty leaned over and cradled Jack’s face, brushed their lips together. “You ready?”

“Please,” Jack said.

“You beg so nice, honey,” Bitty said. He reached over to the table and turned on the music. The beat started, something electric and pounding, and Bitty started to move his hips. Tonight Imma let you be the captain sang someone who Jack was sure he was supposed to have heard of, and Bitty rolled his spine while running a hand down his chest, his abs flexing as he moved through it. The hand brushed over his cock as he kept going, flexing his thighs as he moved his hips towards the floor. Jack shifted in his seat, watching Bitty’s muscles move beneath his skin, the fine blond hairs on his thighs. The image of those thighs pressed against his shoulders, pulling him in, grabbed him as Bitty popped back up and switched to a more hip-centric movement again. Jack looked up at Bitty’s face, and his eyes trapped him for a moment, pulling him in. He felt his spine giving in, felt himself starting to slump down on the couch, desperate to pull Bitty in to him. Oh, but he wasn’t supposed to, he couldn’t touch, and now he got it, why anyone would do this. Take it take it love me love me went the song. Bitty turned around, and Jack actually couldn’t prevent himself from groaning at Bitty’s gorgeous full ass in his face, watching the slight jiggle of his cheeks where they peeked out from the bottom of the briefs. He wasn’t allowed to touch Bitty, but could he touch himself? No, terrible idea. Tonight Imma get a little crazy and yes, that’s exactly how Jack felt as Bitty turned around again and leaned over, bracing his arms against the back of the couch and continuing to roll his body so close that Jack can smell his sweat. Bitty straightened up again, and Jack followed him, instinctively, wanting to press their bodies together, but Bitty pushed him back with one hand, never losing the beat. He slid his hands up and down his chest again, stopping for a moment to pinch his nipple with one hand while the other tangled in his hair, and Jack remembered how he looked on the dance floor last night with Lardo, just this free, just this abandoned. Only here, Bitty was in charge, perfectly in control, and carefully and deliberately turning Jack into a puddle of lust on his couch. He spun again, and dropped down so his ass is in front of Jack’s knees, popping it in rhythm to the music. Jack was hypnotized.

The song transitioned into something a little faster and less musical, and Bitty segued up to the new tempo. Jack had no idea how you did that thing where your ass cheeks move separately, but Bitty could definitely do it, and it was both extremely impressive and fucking smoking hot. You love when I wine it sung this woman, and Bitty transitioned into smooth rolling hip movements, arms intertwined above his head so his shoulder blades roll into each other, showing the clean straight line of his spine. Jack could see beads of sweat rolling down the muscles of his back, and wanted to lick them off, to taste Bitty’s effort, pull his flavor into his body and hold it there. Those rotating hip motions brought Bitty back to face him, and he dropped into the open squat again, eyes closed and hands running down his body. He opened his eyes as his hands hit his knees, and held Jack in place with his stare as he pulled himself back up. Jack must have been panting, he must have been bright red now. He say it taste good just like honey Bitty mouthed along with the song, and he put one leg up on the couch next to Jack, keeping the rhythm but now his skin was so close, and Jack just wanted to bite his thigh, the thick muscle there taunting him. He didn’t want to push the limits, but he bent forward and inhaled, could smell the sweat and pheromones pouring off Bitty, and groaned again, desperate to bury his face in Bitty’s crotch. He could see that he was hard now, maybe not all the way but he’d never seen Bitty’s cock anything but at rest on stage, and now he just wanted his mouth full and his hands full and his senses full of nothing but Bitty.

New song, and Bitty laughed and seemed to be following the lyrics suddenly. Let’s move it side to side smack it in the air sung someone else (is this Beyoncé?) and Bitty smacked his ass and Jack honestly almost came. Bitty put both his feet on the ground and spun around, shoulders sideways smack it smack it in the air, and dropped down so he was sitting on Jack’s lap, grinding his ass into Jack. Jack arched without meaning to, and Bitty laughed again, reached behind him and got both his hands in Jack’s hair while his hips kept time. “This good, baby?” he said, pulling Jack in towards him.

“Can I—please, can I,” Jack panted out, moving his hips in counterpoint to the rolls Bitty is still managing, hands knotted into the fabric of the couch but desperate to touch.

Bitty didn’t respond in words, but took his hands out of Jack’s hair to pull Jack’s off the couch. He intertwined his fingers with Jack’s left hand, and pulled the right down his chest, like he had with his own hands while he was dancing. His abs were sweat-slick and hard like the rest of him, but Jack didn’t really have the ability to process that because Bitty was pressing Jack’s hand over his cock, and using their joined hands to pull Jack’s head down to his shoulder. Jack was lost to this, somehow more consumed than he’d ever been during sex, at the mercy of Bitty’s hips and hands. Bitty arched his neck and moaned loud, moving Jack’s hand how he wanted it, through the fabric of his briefs but Jack could feel the heat of him, how he throbbed. “You gonna come for me, baby?” Bitty whispered in Jack’s ear, and Jack did, his whole body seizing, crying out into the space between Bitty’s neck and shoulder, helpless in the face of it. Bitty moaned at the feeling of Jack’s shuddering against him and pressed Jack’s hand down harder, and Jack could feel him spurting through the fabric, his hand growing damp. Bitty rode him through the aftershocks as the song’s crushing beat seemed to begin to withdraw around them, let go of the hand he was holding by his shoulder to wrap his arm back around Jack’s neck and hold him close. Jack gasped and shook and held Bitty as close as he can. His clothes were soaked with sweat and semen and he felt like he just came off a twenty minute shift on the ice and sex has never been like this, not ever.

The song ended, and a new woman sang been here all night, been here all day and Bitty burst out laughing, his whole body shaking. Which was an interesting feeling.

“What’s so funny?” Jack panted.

“Oh, it’s a good song choice, is all,” Bitty said. “You were right, by the way.”

Jack managed an inquiring noise.

“I am...incredibly glad we didn’t do this before.”

Oh, yeah. Jack’s glad about that, too.

Chapter Text

Bitty: The planning for opening night is getting pretty locked down, y’all.  March, Cait, I still need your second-shift music cues lined up right.  Can we run it tonight?

March: yah probably

Cait: OMG, I’ve got this midterm to study for, can I do it Friday morning afterwards?

Bitty: ugh FINE look at you trying to IMPROVE YOURSELF I mean really

Bitty: It’s also time to get the VIP guest list ironed out.  We don’t want it to be too Falcs-centric, but Tater’s confirmed, and I know Snowy is planning on being there.  Any luck on anybody who doesn’t share a locker room with my boyfriend?

Ransom: Nobody’s taking my calls, which is kiiiind of bullshit.  Nursey?  Lardo?

Lardo: I mean, my performance art crew are coming, but none of them are famous yet.

Nursey: My whole poetry slam team?

Bitty: bitchplease.jpg

Jack: Do we want other hockey players?

Jack: Because, I mean it’s kind of far, but the Aces aren’t playing that night.  

Holster: Dude.

Ransom: Bro.

Shitty: Brooooooooooooooo.

Bitty: OK, somebody’s gonna need to tell me what’s going on.  

Ransom: Jack, are you implying that you could personally get Kent Parson at our strip club’s opening night?

Jack: Yes?

Holster: Is there some…reason you might have an in with Parson?

Jack: I feel like that is a leading question.

Ransom: YOU’RE FUCKING RIGHT IT IS BRO

Holster: DEETS DEETS DEETS DEETS DEETS DEETS

Bitty: Wait, is this your ex Kenny?

Holster: kermitarms.gif

Ransom: I HAVE TRANSCENDED THIS MORTAL PLANE

Holster: TEN THOUSAND FANGIRLS JUST FELT A DISTURBANCE IN THE FORCE

Holster: AS IF ALL THEIR TINHAT THEORIES WERE CONFIRMED AT ONCE

Shitty: BROOOOOOOOOOOOOOO also good for you for having the exes talk with Bits so early, A+ relationshipping

Jack: I’m just…not going to respond to any of this, that seems best.

March: Anyway, Jack, how IS it going being the first out NHL player?  

Jack: Honestly, I don’t even know if I’m out yet?  It kind of feels like the media was so distracted by me being a sex Marxist that nobody’s really noticed the queer thing.

Shitty: sex marxist i’m dying bro

Holster: Sex Marxist, title of your sex tape.

Bitty: Look, I get the joke, but our sex tape would totally have a better title than that, think harder.

 

***

Jack came to the weekly team meeting with two coffees. Without acknowledging it, he dropped one in front of George. She said nothing.

At the end, she sidled up to him. “What, did you fucking propose or something?”

Jack pulled a piece of cardstock from between the pages of the notebook he’d taken desultory notes on during the meeting. It was bright pink, so probably not a wedding invitation. “Thought you’d like to know. You’re on the house’s tab for life.” He smiled and ducked out of there as fast as he could.

The invitation read:

GRAND OPENING

WILDCATS

PROVIDENCE’S FIRST
ALL-GENDER WORKER-OWNED
ADULT PERFORMANCE VENUE & NIGHTCLUB

VIP ADMISSION
DRESS CODE: CASUAL CHIC
VALID 10PM-CLOSE

Goddamn it. It was actually pretty tasteful. She tucked it into her file folder. Maybe she and Angie could get a babysitter.

 

***

 

Jack: Look what I installed: img007.jpg.

Bitty: Jack, we literally own a strip club, we did not need a pole in your living room.

Jack: I checked, the heights for the poles at Worlds are higher than the ceilings at Wildcats. You need the space for the drops if you’re going to be competitive.

Jack: Also, we probably shouldn’t have sex at work?

Bitty: You’re ridiculous. I love you. We have to figure out how to make it not look like we have a stripper pole in the living room when your parents come visit.

Jack: ...They might have fronted me some of the money for the club.

Bitty: It’s fine, I’m dead now.

***

“Are you nervous?” Jack asked. He was sitting on the floor next to the bathtub; Bitty was sitting mostly submerged in hot water, and was methodically shaving his legs.

“I haven’t cut myself shaving in years, hon,” Bitty said, dipping the razor into the water and shaking it to get off the hair.

“No, I mean, about tomorrow.” They’d put the opening on day two of a four day break for the Falcs, so Jack could show up in the morning to work and could afford to stay out until close. Tater was threatening to come work set-up too; since he’d been there at the purchasing, he pretty much felt it was his club. Maybe they’d let him buy in if he agreed to take some bar shifts. Nobody wanted to work the bar.

Bitty sighed and picked up the plastic cup of wine he’d balanced precariously on the edge of the tub. “I’m nervous that we’re going to run out of well alcohol because everyone who shows up is going to be a cheapskate. I’m nervous that Ransom still can’t hit the fucking spotlight right for his second number, even after I dumbed down the choreography and literally spent hours doing eight-counts with him like a third grader in jazz class. I’m nervous that the kitchen staff are going to forget to defrost the mini pies and overbake them to compensate and then serve bad pie with my name on it. I’m nervous that Lardo’s going to forget she can’t grab the pole with her right hand yet and is gonna rip a tendon. So, a little.”

“I’m terrified,” Jack said. “I don’t even know why.”

“You didn’t miss your meds last night, did you?” Bitty picked up the razor again and went after the hair under his arms.

“I don’t think so. I think I’m just worried about everybody judging us for what we’re doing.”

“Yeah, fuck ‘em, though,” Bitty said. “Hand me that washcloth? Urgh, it’s come in so thick.”

“I like it,” Jack said, handing over a wash cloth.

“Sadly, I do not have the build to pull off hairy on stage,” Bitty said, using the cloth to wipe off the blade. “Look, honey. People say shit about you when you play, right? They say shit about why you went to Samwell, they say shit about you being on an expansion team, they say shit about your dad. And what do you do? You say fuck ‘em, and you play hockey, right?”

“Mostly,” Jack said.

“Well, people are gonna say shit about us, because we’re not ashamed of what we’re running, because we’re trying to be upfront about what the industry is actually like, because we’re queer and we’re hot and we’re cooler than them. And what do we do?” He arched an eyebrow over at Jack.

“We say fuck ‘em, and we run a strip club,” Jack said.

“Hell yeah we do,” Bitty said.

***

Bitty had tried to get Jack to wear a suit, but he felt gross dressing like the mobsters who used to own the place, plus he knew he was going to end up clearing tables at some point because Chris said he’d be barback but was too excitable not to wander off. He was carrying a tray of glasses into the kitchen to be washed when he felt his phone vibrate. He glanced around—Lardo had just left the stage, Cait, Nursey, and Ransom were working the floor, March was in the back with somebody but the safety light was still green, everything seemed good—and put the dishes down near the dishwasher. The kitchen light was blinding after the dimness of the floor, but he fished out his phone.

Bitty: I’m up in fifteen. I told Tater to save you a seat. I expect you to be in it, Mr. Zimmermann.

Bitty: Make sure the edge of the seat of your chair (NOT YOUR KNEES, the actual chair) is no more than eighteen inches from the edge of the stage. I had Holster try it in rehearsal so I know you can fit.

Bitty: And no I don’t know how many centimeters that is, don’t you chirp me.

Jack squinted at his phone and walked back out onto the floor. Holster was leaning against the bar talking to Ransom and looked up when he came over. “Did you rehearse something with Bitty?”

“Oh, dude,” Holster said, and threw his arm over Jack’s shoulder. “This is gonna be awesome. Rans, go make sure the photographer has a good view?”

“Ours or the newspaper one?” Ransom said, finishing splitting his tips into two piles, handing the pooled pile to Dex who was keeping the box, and sliding his own into the jar with his name on it behind the bar.

“Both, shit, you have no idea.” Holster dragged Jack away from the bar towards the Falcs’ old table. Most of the furniture had been replaced, but the tables were generally in good shape, and Jack was unaccountably fond of this one in particular, so they’d stayed. Tater had dramatically thrown his suit jacket on top of a chair, which was right about where Jack had first sat and been hypnotized by Bitty all those months ago.

“Hey, waiter, think I could get a refill?” Snowy said like an asshole, shaking his beer at Jack.

“You want table service, you pay for table service,” Jack said, sliding into the chair and handing Tater back his jacket.

Gabby was sitting on Marty’s knees just behind Jack, and leaned forward to throw an arm around him. “Jackie-boy, this place is great. So great that I’m going to forgive you for taking my fucking husband to a strip club after every goddamn game.”

“He brought me the first time!” Jack protested.

“Zimmboni,” Tater said. “Why Little B not come out yet? All the other dancers, they say hello, have big naked hugs for Tater. Where you keeping him?”

“Don’t ask me, I just work here,” Jack said, grabbing the last chicken tender off the decimated appetizer platter. He examined his chair, decided it was probably about sixteen inches away from the stage, and scooted a little closer just to be safe.

His phone buzzed and he pulled it out.

Bitty: Placement is perfect. Now don’t move.

Jack grinned and texted back.

Jack: I’m ready.

Bitty: Oh, honey. No, you aren’t.

The lights faded up on the stage a little higher, and down in the rows around it (thank God for April, who could actually wire dimmer switches—Jack is shocked the place hadn’t burned down with how it was wired before), and there was a round of cheers from the audience, who didn’t even know what was happening. Jack didn’t know what was happening either, frankly.

Then the spotlight turned on in time with with opening notes of Formation (Jack now knew not only the title but also had spent a lot of time studying the annotations on genius.com). Bitty’d changed his costume, was his first thought; he was wearing the red shorts, always a good thing, but instead of being topless he was wearing a red flannel shirt, hiked up so his ass wasn’t covered. Jack had an uncomfortable feeling that it was actually his shirt, and that he would never be able to wear it again in public. Y’all haters corny with that Illuminati mess had Bitty dropping earlier than his old choreography, but Jack was just as entranced by those thighs, the control evident in them. I’m so reckless when I rock my Givenchy dress was Bitty’s hands running up the soft flannel as if caressing it, and then—

Jack really should have seen it coming, but Beyoncé sang I’m so possessive so I rock his ROC necklaces and Bitty pulled off the flannel and threw it aside to reveal that he was wearing a crop top that started out its life as a Falcs t-shirt. Written on the back in black letters was ZIMMERMANN 1.

“Holy shit,” Marty said.

“J’vais mourir,” Jack muttered, and slid down in his seat.

Worse, Bitty’s confident stride down the stage somehow had grown a handspring, and he caught the pole with the momentum coming out of it and went directly spiraling up, his body snaking and sensuous as his forearms took his weight and he used his legs to increase his spin.

“Is there, like no gravity up there?” Snowy said.

“Where my money?” Tater muttered. “Bitty needs all my money.”

Got hot sauce in my bag, swag and Bitty was back on the ground, moving to the front pole and dropping back to twerk in the faces of whoever was sitting down there. Jack could see his eyes were open, looking straight at Jack as people threw money at his feet. The look was appraising, a thinking face, one Jack had seen when Bitty was trying to figure out the grocery order for the kitchen or about to see how much height he could get on the living room pole. Whatever Bitty was planning for Jack, he was thinking about it right now, and oh shit, Jack knew the lyrics well enough to have a sinking suspicion what’s about to happen.

Okay ladies, now let’s get in formation had Bitty striding purposefully up the stage towards Jack, and he braced himself, literally, because slay trick or you get eliminated had Bitty stepping off the goddamn stage to plant one foot back by Jack’s hip on the seat of the chair, bending that knee and planting the other one at the front of the seat so he was straddling Jack’s lap with his hands braced on the back of it. When he fuck me good I take his ass to Red Lobster sang Beyoncé, and Jack was almost too stunned to be turned on, which was good, because every eye in the place was on Bitty undulating across his lap. Bitty’s hips hit double-time for if he hit it right I might take him on a flight on my chopper, causing whoops and cheers to rise around them, and then Bitty leaned in, gently booped Jack on the nose while smiling like a secret between them, and whispered, “Push back on my hips.” Jack followed the order without even thinking about it, and Bitty used the momentum to get himself back up on the stage, where he spun on his ass before gliding back up onto his feet and heading for the pole for the next round of the chorus.

“I think I’m pregnant,” Gabby said.

“I think everybody in this entire place is pregnant,” said Snowy.

Bitty was swinging around the poles again, his spins and undulations moving him around so confidently. He had to watch his footing because there was money everywhere on the floor; Jack almost wished they’d banned tipping onto the stage because he wanted to see how much more aggressive Bitty’s choreography would be if he’d planned for a full empty stage. (The triple pirouette he pulled off was still pretty impressive.). The last full chorus came up, and Jack realized Bitty was working his way back towards him. Bitty stopped right behind the pile of bills Tater has dropped on the stage, right in front of Jack but not looking at him. He ran his hands down his thighs at you know you that bitch when you cause all this conversation, bowing down so that on always stay gracious he could pick up a huge handful of cash and straighten back up, and on best revenge is your paper he flicked his wrist so the bills showered down, not across him, but onto Jack.

The lights dropped to black, and the crowd went wild.

***

Creative New Addition To Providence Nightclub Scene Breaks Strip Club Stereotypes
Malika Jones, providencejournal.com

Wildcats is not your father’s gentleman’s club. Taking over the space held by not-particularly-savory Providence institution The Haus, this adult performance venue (as it is called by the staff) is trying to upend its audience’s expectations. “Our goal is to create a space that’s welcoming, comfortable, with as little of the baggage of your standard strip club as possible, but at least as much fun,” says manager Eric Bittle, who is taking the lead in making sure that environment is achieved. Bittle spent eighteen months working at the Haus before taking over at the rebranded Wildcats, and has carefully selected the decor, music, and menu with an eye towards bringing in young professionals who might otherwise never set foot in such a place. “Just because we’re here to be sexy doesn’t mean we can’t be classy,” Bittle insists.

Based on the turnout at the opening night, Providence’s clubbing masses appear open to the idea. VIP guests included city councilmen, leaders in the arts community, and several members of hometown favorites, the Providence Falconers. The full kitchen service got rave reviews from the patrons, especially the wide and excellent selection of desserts. The bar has carefully chosen local craft brews and a seasonal cocktail menu, and, for those interested in interacting with the dancing staff, there are discreet but straightforward handouts on all the tables advising of standard rules and rates.

Most surprising for many is Wildcats’ open commitment, as an institution, to progressive politics. A mixed gender group of dancers perform, and the club is hoping to draw a clientele that includes men and women, straight and LGBT attendees, couples and singles. Rather than having a single owner, Wildcats is a worker cooperative, where everyone, from Bittle to the dancers to the barbacks, will be getting a share of the profits, in addition to a minimum of fifteen dollars an hour before tips and full health benefits. Wildcats exists because of a four week strike by the dancers over safety issues under the previous management. Coming out of that upheaval, Bittle and the other staff are committed to promoting a different model for the adult entertainment industry—“less worker exploitation, and more sexy goodness,” Bittle says.

One of the major advocates for this project has been Bittle’s partner, Providence Falconers’ center Jack Zimmermann, who was a vocal advocate of the strike. In fact, Zimmermann is a member of the cooperative, and can be often be spotted at Wildcats on nights he isn’t playing. When this reporter tried to get him to comment on whether he’d anticipated this direction for his career, he shrugged around the tray of clean dishes he was carrying to the bar. “Hockey’s fun, but it’s nice to have a life too, you know?”

***

George: I want to be mad at you for the Wildcats article, but honestly, the photo of you and Eric is so adorable I’m going to forgive you that he’s mostly naked.

George: And wearing a Falcs shirt. With your name on it.

Jack: You want me to pick up some breakfast too on my way in?

George: You have any of those cake pops left? The cherry ones?

Jack: Bitty says he can deliver by lunch.

George: I’ll allow it.