Eric had pretty much tuned the conversation out around the point where Ransom and Holster got in an argument about the relative hotness of Tina Fey versus Amy Poehler. He’s pretty sure that Rans is actually a Rashida Jones kind of guy, and he’s just touting the sexiness of Amy to make Holster wave his arms around in disgust. At some point Dex and Chowder wander in, and Shitty slips past them to lean against the sink. Eric just putters around them, pulling out the makings of some pasta sauce for dinner and checking his batch of lemon bars (Dex’s favorite) in the oven.
He lets the conversation wash over him as he chops up veggies and measures out spices. The boys turn from Amy and Tina to Jessica Biel (“She’s so old! But still pretty I guess!” - Chowder) and Mila Kunis (“Her voice is so hot.” - Ransom) and Miley Cyrus (“Not gonna lie, I’d still hit it.” - Dex).
“What’s your vote, Bitty - Tina, or my girl Amy?” Ransom asks, getting the argument back on track.
Eric rolls his eyes and tosses some chopped Roma tomatoes in the pot. “I am not getting in the middle of this.”
“No,” Dex grins, “I think Bitty would rather be able to vote for Rob Lowe.”
“The vote is not Tina versus Rob Lowe!” Holster cuts in, his face already red. “That is not a fair Bitty question, and not the issue at hand!”
“Eh, Rob Lowe’s not really my type,” Eric says with a shrug and immediately regrets it when the whole room falls silent behind him. “What?” he asks, afraid to turn around.
“I told you Bitty had a type!” Ransom crows. “Okay, bro, if it’s not Rob Lowe, who is it? Are you a Chris Pratt kind of guy, or an Adam Scott kind of guy?”
“No, oh my god,” Eric cringes. He doesn’t talk about guys with his guys, mostly to avoid just this kind of mortifying situation. The Samwell hockey team has been crazy accepting, but they’re so far into each other business that it gives Eric the hives sometimes. “We are not talking about this.”
“Maybe his type is more of a Ron Swanson manly-man,” Shitty says, grinning, “Someone with a dashing mustache.” Eric cuts him a wounded look.
“Et tu, Shitty?” Eric sighs but the room just laughs and Shitty reaches out to ruffle his hair.
“Nah, we all know that Bitty’s type is basically Jack anyway,” Dex says, eyes bright, and Eric can feel the whole room tilt underneath him, his skin running suddenly hot.
“No, nope, everybody out,” Eric tells them. His hands are shaking, and he hopes like hell no one notices. “That is awful and uncalled for, and -”
“Bits, we’re kidding,” Ransom says, placating, but Eric is in no mood to be calm right now.
“If you won’t leave, I will,” Eric says, tossing his paring knife in the sink with more force than is strictly necessary. Shitty winces as metal clangs on metal. “Lemon bars are done in five,” he calls over his shoulder as he walks out of the room, mostly because he doesn’t savor having to clean burnt lemon curd off the pan later, and less because Dex and his big mouth deserve them. He stalks up to his room and nearly slams the door behind him before he realizes that Jack is home (Jack is in the building right now while they’re making those awful jokes) and he closes it quietly to avoid Jack coming across the hall to ask if he’s okay.
Eric gets five minutes of blissful silence to calm his heart rate down to normal before there’s a light tap, not on his door, but on his window. Eric sighs and walks over to open it up.
“Shitty, it’s barely April,” he says, rolling his eyes as Shitty climbs inside. It’s not as cold as it has been, but there’s still a chill in the air some days. “You can use the door.”
“Didn’t want Jack to see me,” he says, and Eric’s stomach tightens. “Figured you might want to talk without him asking any questions.”
“No, why would I -”
“That was a pretty wicked non-Bitty reaction down there, dude.”
Eric sits down hard on his bed. He should have handled it better, he knows that. “Are they - do you think they’ll talk about it?”
“What,” Shitty asks, sitting down next to him. “to each other? Probably. To Jack? Definitely not, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
That is actually exactly what Eric’s worried about. He feels his shoulders relax a little. That is, until Shitty leans back on his elbows and say, “So, Jack, huh?” When Eric turns to look at him sharply, he’s grinning, the bastard.
“No, Shits, I do not have a crush on Jack.” Shitty waggles his eyebrows suggestively, and Eric barely refrains from hitting him with a throw pillow. “Seriously, stop it. I can’t have a crush on Jack, so just let it be.”
“Whoa, you don’t, or you can’t?” Shitty sits up and looks at him.
“Same thing,” Eric handwaves.
“Those are not at all the same thing, Bitty. You’re allowed to crush on anybody you want, man, even if it’s -”
“No,” Eric stands up, pacing across the room with his arms crossed. His heart is beating too fast again and he can feel a stupid blush blooming on his cheeks. “I do not have feelings for Jack because he’s my Captain and one of my best friends, and if I let myself think about Jack like that,” about his eyes or his arms or his big, nimble hands, or his mouth when he finally, finally smiles at the end of a good practice, Eric thinks to himself, “then I’d just curl up into a ball and never come out of my room. Having feelings for Jack would be like getting checked into a brick wall every damn day, Shitty, over and over, and I’m just not sure I could survive that.” He’s on the edge of losing it, his throat closing up as he thinks about Jack, about things he never (or, almost never) lets himself think about.
Shitty looks at him for a long, intense moment before he sighs, rubbing a hand over his face. “Okay, Bits,” he says. “I’m going to drop it, on one condition.”
“What?” Eric asks, almost afraid to know the answer. Shitty stands up and opens his arms up wide.
“You get your ass over here and let me give you a hug for no reason at all.”
Eric takes him up on it, and gladly. Shitty’s hugs are kind of the best.
It’s only three years of dealing with Shitty’s weirdness that keep Jack from jumping in his chair when Shitty knocks on his window. “Shits,” he says, shaking his head as he yanks the window open. “You know you live literally next door.”
“I know, my friend,” Shitty tells him, unfolding semi-graciously from the sill, “That’s why I am able to enter your room in stealth mode!”
Jack blinks at him. “It’s 3:30 in the afternoon, and you’re wearing a lime green track jacket. That is literally the opposite of stealth.”
“Ah, but stealth depends on from whom one wants to hide their shenanigans,” Shitty says, and Jack just sits back down at his desk. He’s been trying to finish a paper before they have three away games next week, and he’s not in the mood to deal with Shitty’s randomness. Shitty kicks his flop-flops off and lays back on Jack’s bed, arms tucked under his head. “Aren’t you going to ask me who I’m hiding my shenanigans from, Zimmermann?”
“Nope,” Jack tells him, backspacing over his last sentence.
Shitty sighs audibly at the ceiling and mutters something about ‘brick walls indeed’. Jack barely suppresses a grin. “Look,” Shitty says, his voice serious in a way that makes Jack stop typing. “I shouldn’t be telling you this, because I know he’d be fucking pissed off, but I’ll be damned if I spend my last two months in this Haus watching you both be morons. So listen up because I’m doing this for your own good. I did some recon, and when it comes to Bitty, you’re definitely going to have to make the first move.”
“If you want in his pants. He’s not going to say anything, so it’s on you, Captain.”
“O-Okay?” Jack manages, and his paper is definitely not getting his attention right now. “I mean, I don’t? But thanks?”
Shitty drops his head into his hands with a groan. “Are you shitting me with this, Jack?”
Jack spins his chair so he’s facing Shitty. “Bitty’s great, I mean, he’s really upbeat and takes care of the team and mentors the frogs, but I don’t think -”
“Nope, you are the worst at thinking, man, I am with you there,” Shitty groans. “But if you can, just try thinking about it, for like, three seconds. Is there a chance you might be into Bitty?”
Shitty is genuinely better at people then Jack is, so he looks at the floor for a minute and thinks about Bitty on the ice, how determined he looks even when he’s terrified; about Bitty’s enthusiastic singing in the shower; about the lean line of Bitty’s back when he stands at the kitchen sink; about the smile that Bitty gets sometimes, the one that lights up his whole face and makes something go tight in the middle of Jack’s chest. Jack thinks he probably shouldn’t be able to picture all of those things so clearly if he doesn’t have feelings for him but - “Look, just because Bitty is gay doesn’t mean he would be into me,” Jack tells him. Shitty smacks himself in the face and Jack just frowns and continues. “He’s shown no indication that he likes me like that, and even if he did I -”
“Stop, oh my god, before I maim you,” Shitty tells him and Jack snaps his mouth shut. “Fine, if you don’t have feelings for him, ignore me. If you do have feelings for him - if you’ve ever let your brain have a single non-hockey-related thought that might be about Bits naked, you are one hundred percent going to have to make the first move, Jack. He’s scared shitless of getting his heart broken.”
“That’s - I would never do that.” Jack says, honestly appalled that Shitty would think he could.
“Good, because if you did I would have to beat the shit out of you, and I wouldn’t enjoy it,” Shitty nods, and Jack tips his head back and groans.
“This is all moot, though. Because even if I did, he wouldn’t -”
“He would,” Shitty interrupts.
“He doesn’t -”
“Oh, he so totally does.”
“But… why?” Jack looks at Shitty helplessly. “I mean, he’s great. He’s the best, the kindest - why the fuck would he ever want someone as clearly messed up as me, Shits?”
Shitty smiles enigmatically. “The heart wants what it wants, bro.”
Two weeks later, Eric finds himself climbing the rickety metal stairs that lead to the top of the science building on Science Hill, following a more-inscrutable-than-usual Jack Zimmermann. “So, why exactly did we have to climb to the roof?” he asks, pulling his scarf tighter around his neck. It’s Spring, and Holster and Nursey have been giving him shit about still wearing it, but he’s glad to have it up here where the wind is pretty intense.
“You can see practically all of campus from here,” Jack tells him, standing near the edge of the roof and looking out past the main quad to the lake. They can’t see the Haus, but only because it’s blocked by a few of the taller buildings on campus. Eric isn’t afraid of heights, but the wind has him nervous, so he stands a few feet back and watches Jack instead. He’s tense - he’s been tense for over a week, and it’s made Eric tense in response. But even with his back ramrod straight, Jack looks gorgeous in the fading sunlight, wrapped in a navy peacoat, his hair ruffling a little in the wind.
Jack turns and smiles at him, a weird, kind of jittery smile, and Eric tries to smile back. “Jack, are you -”
“I’ve got something important to ask you,” Jack says, dropping his messenger bag to the roof and squatting down to reach in and pull out - sandwiches. And a bottle of champagne. “I probably should have asked a while ago, but I wasn’t sure you’d want, you know.”
Eric’s heart starts beating way too fast. “Jack -”
“No, let me just,” Jack takes a deep breath. Eric can’t make his heart slow down. “Bittle,” he says, standing up and looking at Eric intently, “I’m nominating you for Captain next year.”
“But that’s… what?” Eric’s heart gives a weird lurch.
“I’ve thought a lot about it, and I think it should be you.”
It’s so far from what he’d expected to hear (hoped to hear, wanted desperately to hear) that he’s not sure he can even chase down the threads of what Jack is telling him. Jack wants him to be Captain? “Jack, I’m not the best player on this team. Hell, I’m not in the top ten!” They’re standing so close, Bitty has to tip his head back to look at Jack’s face.
“You care about them, though. You take care of them, you listen to them, and they’ll listen to you. Let the coaches worry about technique and plays.” Jack’s hand comes up to his shoulder, but instead of a manly shake, he curls it around the side of Bitty’s neck, his thumb brushing Bitty’s jaw. “The Captain’s job is to make a team, and no one would be better at it than you.”
“I still don’t think -”
“Say yes, Bits.”
Jack is still touching him, his thumb warm against Eric’s pulsepoint. Eric blinks, slowly, his breaths coming faster. “Yes.” It comes out almost as a whisper and Jack smiles down at him.
“Good, that’s. Good. You’ll be a great captain, Bittle.”
And Eric can feel the heat in his face as he realizes that he’s projecting so much right now, that if Jack were any normal person he’d be mortified at how Eric’s looking at him. Eric swallows hard and pulls back from Jack’s hand, putting a few solid feet between them. Of course Jack would confuse a big hockey thing with a romantic gesture, and of course Jack is just worried about the team. Eric read it wrong, that’s all. It’s not what Eric wants, and he was kidding himself when he talked to Shitty about how he doesn’t let himself want this, want Jack and sunset dinners on the roof and bottles of champagne. But he sends a silent ‘fuck you’ to Shitty anyway for making him think about his not-feelings for Jack and pushing all this shit to the surface.
Eric turns so he can get himself under control enough not to cry. Though, hell, he could probably pass them off as hockey tears of joy or something, and not ‘god damn it Jack how can you be so perfect and so terrible for me all at once?’ tears.
“It’s an honor, Jack,” Bitty says, but his voice sounds off and he won’t look at Jack, when a second ago he was looking at Jack in that way he did sometimes where Jack almost couldn’t stand it, Bitty was so pretty. And happy. And also pretty. And now he’s tense and upset and Jack’s stomach twists.
“I’m screwing this up, aren’t I?”
Bitty laughs, but it’s not a happy laugh. “No, Jack, you wanted to make this special, and I appreciate it. And I’ll try my best to live up to your expectations next year. I know how much the team means to you.”
“And you. You mean a lot.” Bitty’s shoulders tense and Jack fumbles forward. “You’re not like anyone I’ve ever met, Bittle. You’re so -”
“Stop, okay? Just, please don’t,” Bitty says, and shit, shit, it sounds like he’s going to cry. Jack is not equipped for crying.
“Look at me. Bittle. Eric.” Jack pulls on Bitty’s arm until he turns, and Jack’s close enough that he can reach down and cup his face with one hand. Bitty’s eyes are wary and slightly damp; he looks fucking miserable, and if Shitty were here he’d definitely be taking a swing at Jack right now for putting that look on his face.
Jack really thought this would do it, this is as grand a declaration as he’s able to make, handing over the thing that means the most in the world to him to Bitty - his team, but also his heart, because they’re not separate from each other, not at all. But Jack is so terrible with words and Bitty doesn’t get it and, “Bitty,” Jack says. “I just. I want. Fuck it.”
He leans in to press his lips against Bitty’s. Bitty gasps, opening his mouth enough that Jack can slip him a little tongue. Just to make the situation clear. Because it clearly wasn’t clear before. “Jack,” Bitty whispers, and Jack just kisses him again, cups his face in both hands and just pulls him in tighter until Bitty’s arms snake around his waist and he’s up on his tiptoes, whimpering lightly into Jack’s mouth. “Fuck,” Bitty manages when Jack pulls back to catch his breath, and when Jack grins down at him Bitty gets that smile, the lighting up the room one.
“I heard maybe you had a thing for me,” Jack says, and Bitty’s face flushes bright red, his smile slipping.
“God damn it, Shitty -”
“I maybe have a thing too,” Jack says, “for you.” And it sounds so stupid in his ears that he wants to kick himself, but Bitty just blinks up at him, and there’s a new smile this time, one that doesn’t light up the room, but lights up something inside Bitty, inside Jack. Jack thinks maybe this one could be just for him. For them.
“Good to know,” Bitty says, quiet and happy, and Jack just kisses him again.
He’ll let Bitty be the talker in the relationship.