Actions

Work Header

If We're Falling in Love

Work Text:

The grocery deli counter is unusually busy when Bitty approaches, the long glass case lined with at least a dozen waiting customers. The two employees behind it are in white aprons, moving swiftly back and forth from the slicing machines to the scales with handfuls of fresh cold cuts, slices of cheese, and scoops of deli salads. Bitty pulls a thin paper tab from the dispenser, number 104. The digital display on the wall reads 93. He lingers beside a tall basket of fresh french bread and waits.

It’s a Thursday afternoon in the first days of June and his mama is a few aisles over, pushing their cart with its squeaky wheel, finishing up the shopping. They’ve been at the store for the better part of an hour, and Bitty still hasn’t managed to figure out how to ask her about Jack’s possible visit next month. In another twenty minutes Jack will be done with his training for the day, and then Bitty’s phone will buzz incessantly and Bitty still won’t have any answers to provide unless he speaks up.

He stares at the display, watching it tick over from 96 to 97, and he thinks about Jack, flushed and spent in a nameless weight room more than a thousand miles away. He tries again to imagine Jack right there, in Madison, in his mama’s car, in his own house. He tries to imagine bringing the idea up to his mother without giving anything away, and it doesn’t quite seem possible.

“Are you still waiting for the ham over here, Dicky? Goodness,” his mama says, approaching from behind him with the cart, and Bitty startles a little. “Maybe we should just go, and I’ll pick it up tomorrow. Looks like a big ol’ storm rolling in.”

She’s holding a pen and a slip of paper, scratching items off one by one in quick strokes. Bitty watches her hands, and then catches her gaze briefly.

“Is there?” he asks.

“Mhm, the sky’s getting dark real fast. Is that blue umbrella still in the car? We might make it back home if we hurry up.”

“Let’s get out of here then,” Bitty agrees, and leaves his number on the top of the counter.

There’s still a line at the checkout, and as they wait their turn, his mama picks up a gossip magazine and starts to flip through it. Bitty nearly has it worked out in his head what to say, how to ease into the subject to make it seem like a casual request and not something he’s been mulling over for more than a week, since Jack first brought up the idea of a visit. The end of the conveyor belt opens up, and Bitty sets a plastic divider down before he starts to unload the cart.

“Hey mama?” he says, and it comes out quieter than he expects. He keeps his gaze on his hands, his attention on the task, keeping the like items together as he lines them up. His heart starts pounding harder anyhow.

“Hm?” she replies, still turning pages in the magazine.

Bitty swallows, his nerves a jumbled mess. He fumbles a can of butter beans, dropping it awkwardly onto the belt as it advances.

“I was thinking, uh,” he starts, and out of the corner of his eye he sees his mother tuck the magazine away again. His thoughts suddenly detour wildly, his next words tumbling out in a rush. “Maybe I should go get the car? You know. In case the rain starts.”

“Oh, good idea,” she replies, tucking her hand into her purse, fishing around for her keys. “Just pull up there to the curb and I’ll be right out.”

Bitty frowns at his shoes as he makes his way across the asphalt of the parking lot, the stagnant heat surrounding him, the clouds rolling in the distance.

Halfway home, the sky opens up and the rain pours out, falling in heavy sheets. Bitty grips the steering wheel of the silver sedan tightly, sets the wipers on high, and navigates carefully to the house and into the driveway.

“Let’s just sit for a minute, I bet the worst of it’ll pass,” his mama says as Bitty turns off the car.

There’s low thunder rumbling from far off, and the keys jangle as Bitty jostles them with his knee. He looks through the shifting blur of the windshield toward the house, at the shelter of the porch, the hanging plants, and the wind chimes that have been there as long as he can remember. They’re swaying a little, but he can’t quite hear them over the constant rush of the rain.

His phone buzzes against his thigh, and he knows his time is up. He shifts slightly in the driver’s seat, looking down at his hands, his heart kicking up hard again.

“Mama,” he says, and it’s not quite a question. “D’you think it’d be alright if… if Jack came to visit sometime? Just for a couple of nights, maybe? You know, like maybe over the fourth of July weekend or something?”

“Oh, Dicky,” his mama smiles. “That would be wonderful! Of course he could. He’s welcome anytime.”

Bitty can’t quite hide his grin at the flood of relief that washes over him. His phone buzzes again, twice in quick succession. “I’ll invite him, then. Thank you.”

“Good,” his mama says, and she reaches over, her hand patting his thigh a couple of times. “I’ll let your father know.”

Bitty looks up and tries to catch her expression, but she’s already opening the door to get out of the car. The rain is slowing, fat droplets still plunking on the windshield and the roof and the hood, and Bitty hurries to help her.

June crawls by, hazy summer days that pass the same way as the ones at the end of May, even though Bitty keeps busy with his camp counseling. Jack texts him constantly and they talk on the phone late at night and video chat as often as they can. Bitty wanders around his house fit to burst with a secret euphoria, so much sometimes that he wonders how it’s possible that neither of his parents seem to notice. Jack books his plane tickets and then it all becomes real, an actual itinerary that will put them together again, two nights in early July that Bitty marks in his phone calendar with a string of various heart-shaped emojis.

He tries not to think about reconciling the way he feels about Jack-- feelings he’s fairly confident are mutual, given their continuous and affectionate communication-- with the fact he’s not breathed a word of it to anyone, not even an inkling. He lies awake at night trying to imagine how his mother would react if he told her, and all he can conjure up are endless subsequent questions to which he has no answers. How, and when, and what happens now; where will things go when Bitty has to return to Samwell, when Jack makes his NHL debut in Providence?

He needs to get through this visit and discuss these things with Jack privately, to understand them himself before he can even attempt any explanation to his mother or to anyone else. This leaves an obvious dilemma, the one in which he and Jack are both undoubtedly eager to pick up where they left off on graduation day, there on the second floor of the Haus in the late afternoon sun. Bitty has never wanted anything more in his life than to kiss Jack again; the idea of it occupies an embarrassingly large percentage of his waking thoughts, and the majority of the thoughts he has while sleeping, too. He’ll have Jack right beside him for the entirety of two days, but with Mama and Coach around, they’ll have to be extra careful.

The night before Jack arrives, Bitty’s a restless mess, full of energy and nervousness that no amount of baking can dispel. Bitty’s mama joins him in the kitchen and as he’s putting together his third pecan pie, she informs him that she’ll be driving him to the airport to pick Jack up in the morning. Bitty makes an attempt to talk her out of it-- he’d already planned on having the lengthy drive back to be alone with Jack-- but she’s adamant that it’s the best plan.

“So you and Jack can catch up,” she says. “Unless for some reason you’d rather have your father take you?”

Bitty immediately ceases with trying to convince her otherwise, accepting her offer. Later, when Jack calls to say goodnight, sounding cheerful and lighthearted, Bitty fills him in on the new development.

“Oh,” Jack says. “That’s nice of her.”

“Yeah,” Bitty sighs. “But-- you know.”

“Hm?”

“Well,” Bitty continues. “I mean. We’ll pick you up and then come back home, and then it’ll be right off to MooMaw’s for the cookout, probably. Then that’ll last most of the evening, all the way through the fireworks.”

“Sounds nice,” Jack says, sincere.

“Jack,” Bitty says, fondly exasperated. He lowers his voice even though his bedroom door is shut and it’s late. “I still have no idea when I’ll get a chance to kiss you. That’s what I’m trying to tell you.”

“Don’t worry,” Jack says. “You worry too much sometimes.”

Bitty smiles so hard it makes his face hurt. “That is so ironic I don’t even know where to begin.”

“Get some sleep,” Jack says gently. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Yes you will,” Bitty says.

He’s up before his alarm, and entirely ready to go before his mama is even finished making her coffee. She pours him a cup and makes him sit at the kitchen table to drink it. Bitty keeps checking his phone even though he knows Jack is in transit, probably somewhere over Virginia by now.

It’s a hot day, the mid-morning sun high and bright overhead, the humidity thick and lingering. The inside of the car is sweltering, and Bitty flutters the front of his pale yellow t-shirt, pinched between his thumb and forefinger, trying to keep from sweating too much until the air conditioning fully kicks in.

When they reach the correct terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson, it’s still well in advance of Jack’s arrival time, and they find an empty row of seats in which to sit and wait. The minutes tick by with excruciating slowness, and more than once it crosses Bitty’s mind that he could just turn to his mother and tell her about graduation day, explain to her how he and Jack have been constantly in communication since, and try to convey to her how significant this visit is for him, even with all of the unknowns. She’s on her phone playing words with friends, probably with his aunt, but he knows she’d listen if he really wanted her to. He shifts in his seat, leaning toward her a little, and she looks up, meeting his gaze.

She smiles at him. “You seem nervous, Dicky.”

“I’m not,” Bitty says. “I’m excited.”

“It’s awful nice of Jack to take the time to visit, I’m sure he’s very busy.”

“Well-- yes and no,” Bitty says, compelled suddenly to inspect his fingernails very thoroughly. “I mean, he is, but. We still talk a lot.”

“I’m glad. He’s a very nice young man.”

“Mother--” Bitty closes his eyes.

“What? He is. I can say that, can’t I?”

The back of Bitty’s neck prickles with heat. He isn’t sure what he wants to tell her, exactly. This is a big deal for me, or this is important to me, or Jack is important to me and I need you to please try to understand that even if I can’t completely explain it right now.

He doesn’t get a chance to say anything though, because when he opens his eyes Jack is about ten steps away and moving toward them, a blue duffel bag slung over his shoulder. He’s in a pale orange button-down with the sleeves rolled up, jeans and a baseball cap, and he grins crookedly as he approaches.

Bitty shoots up out of his seat so fast, closing the distance between them with hurried steps, throwing his arms around Jack’s neck as they collide. Jack catches him, hugging him tight, and for a fleeting moment Bitty is lifted off his feet before Jack quickly sets him down again.

“Bitty,” Jack says, low and affectionate, and Bitty can barely hear it over the thundering of his pulse in his ears.

“Hi, Jack,” Bitty says, his voice strained with excitement.

It takes every last ounce of Bitty’s willpower to step back and stay back, to not reach to take Jack’s hands, to not immediately pull Jack into a kiss like he wants to. His chest aches from the effort of dropping his arms away, and he tucks his hands into the pockets of his shorts.

“Mrs. Bittle, hello, good to see you again,” Jack says, extending his hand to her.

“Oh please,” she replies, laughing softly with it, and opening her arms for a hug. “Come here, and call me Suzanne.”

Jack leans down to hug her and Bitty meets Jack’s gaze over her shoulder. Jack grins at him, and Bitty’s suddenly floored by a whole new rush of excitement because it’s really happening, Jack is finally, actually there.

There’s a brief moment of negotiation at the car; Jack’s bag goes into the trunk and Bitty offers him the front seat, but Jack insists he’s fine in the back, nudging Bitty playfully out of the way of the rear door on the passenger side. It’s just enough jostling, Jack’s shoulder bumping against his own, Jack’s hand on his waist, to remind Bitty how solid and strong Jack is, and how much Bitty wants to keep touching him.

Jack is more chatty than usual on the ride back; Bitty’s mama gets them on the highway toward Madison and then she has question after question about what Jack’s training is like, how he’s settling in, what he thinks of Providence. Bitty shifts in his seat, turning his head to glance over his shoulder, briefly catching Jack’s gaze before facing forward again.

“So, uh,” Jack says, and then he’s shifting, leaning far forward to bring himself closer to the front seat, almost over the console between Bitty and the driver’s side. “Suzanne. I heard there’s a cookout later?”

That’s all it takes for Bitty’s mama to start explaining all the details, listing off Bitty’s relatives by name and running through the likely menu. Bitty can’t keep turning to look at Jack, because he’s afraid if he does, with Jack so close, he’ll give himself away right there in the middle of the interstate before they even get home.

Jack asks another question, something about when and where the fireworks will be, and as his mama starts to explain about the town display at Heritage Park, that’s when Bitty feels it-- the barest brush of Jack’s fingers along the back of his arm, in the gap between his seat and the passenger door. He nearly flinches but catches himself in time, going still. His mama keeps talking, and Jack makes slow circles against his skin, around his elbow, and up under the edge of his t-shirt sleeve. It’s just a small, simple touch, but it still sends a sharp thrill all the way through him, his skin blooming with shivers.

Bitty closes his eyes a little longer than a blink, his pulse and his breathing going quicker. There’s probably no way his mama will notice the way Jack has reached over and around to touch him secretly, not with the way she’s keeping her eyes on the road, glancing intermittently in the rear view mirror, and continuing to talk about the festivities of the evening. Bitty moves slowly, carefully to avoid being obvious, and he folds his other arm across his middle, tucking his hand right under that elbow until his fingers find Jack’s.

They can’t really properly hold hands, not without some blatant and awkward maneuvering on Bitty’s part, but Jack’s fingers trace the ends of his own, making soft, slow strokes over his nails, gently grasping his fingertips and releasing them one by one, again and again. Bitty gazes ahead at the highway, suddenly restless about the distance they have yet to go, and it begins to sink in just how hard hiding this-- for the duration of the ride, the evening, the weekend-- is going to be.

Jack stays like that, sat forward, leaning in, secretly grasping for Bitty’s hand while chatting casually with his mother, until the car finally turns into the long concrete driveway of the house.

“Why don’t you help Jack with his bag,” his mama says as she takes the keys from the ignition and presses the button to release the trunk. “I’ll go inside and put a little something together for lunch.”

Bitty steps out of the car into the midday heat, the sudden wall of it enclosing him, sticking to his skin. Jack climbs out too, closing his door carefully, peering around curiously at the yard. Bitty brushes against him on his way to the rear of the car, deliberate and lingering, and Jack turns to follow.

The trunk is open, the top of it shielding them both from view of the house, and before Bitty can even reach for Jack’s bag, he’s swept quickly into Jack’s arms, pulled close as Jack leans in and vigorously kisses him. Bitty makes a soft, clipped sound of surprise, but he catches up fast, his eyes falling shut as he grabs hold of Jack’s rolled-up shirt sleeve. He parts his lips, shuddering at the sudden and unexpected thrill of it, at the overwhelming elation after having waited so long. Jack’s hand cups his cheek, his fingers tucking into the hair behind Bitty’s ear, and he softens the kiss a little, his mouth moving gently against Bitty’s, capturing Bitty’s lips in his own again and again.

The fear of being caught hits him abruptly, rising up through his excitement and crashing over him in a cold wave. Bitty tears himself away in a hurry, out of Jack’s embrace, taking a step back. Jack’s eyes fly open and he stares at Bitty with alarm.

“Bitty,” Jack says, starting to reach for him, but dropping his hand away just as fast.

“Jack,” Bitty says regretfully, sounding breathless. He looks around quick, suddenly remembering he has neighbors, that Coach could even be in the yard somewhere. “We have to be careful.”

Jack’s expression shifts, going from fretful to sheepish. “I just missed you.”

“Missed you too,” Bitty admits, his heart still thudding uncomfortably in his aching chest. “But we should go inside.”

“Sure,” Jack says, hefting his bag from the trunk, setting the strap on his shoulder. “Gonna give me the whole tour?”

Bitty takes a swift, deep breath, lets it out fast, and grins. He reaches up and pulls the lid of the trunk down to close it. “Course I am.”

In the kitchen, his mama is standing by the sink, drying her hands on a towel. She drops the towel on the counter and puts her hands on her hips when they enter.

“Eric Richard Bittle,” she says, in a tone that has sent Bitty into the throes of panic ever since he was a toddler. He freezes, his eyes going wide, knowing he’s in trouble, and resists the urge to run. “I turn my back for one second,” she continues, and Bitty’s heart leaps into his throat, even as the corners of her mouth turn up into a grin. “And you’re making our houseguest carry his own bag? I taught you better than that, young man.”

Bitty’s pretty sure he comes close to passing out. He grips the corner of the kitchen island just as a precaution, leaning on it as his head spins. “Mother,” he says, a little helpless, and doesn’t know what to do with the relief that courses through him.

“I’m teasing you, Dicky,” she says lightly. “Jack, come here,” she continues, pulling her phone from the pocket of her jeans, stepping forward to hand it over to Bitty. “I want a photo of us.”

Jack reaches up, takes his baseball cap off and holds on to it, posing beside Bitty’s mama. Bitty holds her phone up, surprised to find his hands are shaking slightly. He taps the shutter button a few times, hoping one of them turns out.

“Jack, do you want one on your camera with Dicky?” she asks.

“Oh,” Jack says, grinning crookedly. “Only if Dicky wants to.”

“Oh my god, stop,” Bitty pleads. “C’mon, I’ll show you the guest room.”

He leads Jack upstairs, taking him through the hallway to point out his own room, the bathroom, the door to his parents’ room, and finally the guest room. There’s a double bed and a small dresser under the window that used to be Bitty’s when he was a kid. The closet is full of holiday decorations and storage boxes and the quilt covering the bed is patchwork, a checkered pattern in dusty rose and dainty florals that his mama has had since before Bitty was born. His mama must have been in there in the last day or so; there are fresh towels on the end of the bed, and clean pillowcases on the pillows.

“The bed’s pretty comfy,” Bitty explains, lingering in the doorway as Jack looks around. “I mean, I hope you think so.”

“It’s nice,” Jack says, and he sets his bag at the foot of the bed. “Thank you.”

“I’m glad you’re here,” Bitty says, quietly like it’s a secret.

Jack steps toward him with clear intention, and Bitty watches his face, watches his eyes light up, his expression going fonder. He gets close and Bitty places a hand on Jack’s chest, gentle pressure, halting him.

“Hm?” Jack hums, a question, his brow furrowing adorably.

“Just,” Bitty says softly, feeling the warmth of Jack’s body through the fabric of his shirt, his fingers twitching. “You take me by surprise, Jack. Every time.”

“Oh,” Jack says, and curls his hand loosely around Bitty’s wrist, easing it away from his chest. He ducks his head and presses a kiss to Bitty’s palm, keeping his gaze lifted and locked with Bitty’s.

“Oh lord,” Bitty sighs, his fingertips grazing Jack’s cheek, the corner of his eyebrow. Jack’s lips are so soft and warm in the center of his hand, his fluttering breath tickling Bitty’s skin.

His mama’s call from the bottom of the stairs makes Bitty jump, jerking his hand away.

“Boys, lunch is ready!”

Jack and Coach finally meet at the kitchen table; Jack shakes his hand and calls him “sir” and it goes much more smoothly than Bitty worried it might. His mama put together some coldcut sandwiches and potato salad but warns them all not to fill up too much since they’re off to MooMaw’s for the cookout shortly.

So much that Bitty takes for granted is a complete surprise to Jack-- he’s never seen a willow tree in person; he’s amazed at the deep russet color of the dirt. He fits in easily with Bitty’s family at the cookout, sipping sweet tea in the shade of the patio while Bitty’s aunts and great-aunts and cousins ask him questions about Canada and hockey and what he thinks about Madison. He’s patient and kind about their inquiries, and keeps swiping discreetly at his forehead and his temples, large beads of sweat trickling down his face and the side of his neck. His cheeks are flushed, a deep pink that makes his eyes seem even more blue. Bitty makes sure to keep refilling his tea.

They eat on tables lined up under the shade trees in the backyard; star-patterned plastic tablecloths half-taped at the corners and fluttering lazily in the breeze. There’s chicken and ribs and all the fixings: slaw and sweet corn and deviled eggs and cornbread, large slices of ripe tomato and melon and an entire table dedicated to desserts, half of which Bitty baked himself.

Under the table, Jack presses his knee against Bitty’s while they eat, solid warmth and pressure that Bitty presses back against. The sun is just starting to descend, and Bitty’s restless longing tugs at him sharply. He thinks about his empty house and how much he wishes he could just leave right then and take Jack back to his room for the rest of the night.

He’s startled from his thoughts when the son of one of his older cousins-- he must be just about in middle school by now, Bitty thinks-- approaches the table, football tucked under his arm, and asks if they want to play catch. Bitty starts to look around for Coach, ready to politely suggest asking someone else, when Jack stands right up and agrees with enthusiasm.

“Come on, Bittle,” Jack grins.

Bitty hasn’t tossed a football around with anyone in years, and he’s still not very good at it; when he throws he lobs it awkwardly, and fumbles more than makes his catches. There’s an easiness to it all now, though; it doesn’t really matter that there’s not enough arch or spin in his toss, or that it slips through his grasp more often than not when it comes back. He and his little cousin and Jack stand in the flat part of the yard, taking turns passing it back and forth, goofing around with it, laughing lightly at themselves.

When his father wanders over to join them-- because lord forbid any football activity happen in the vicinity without Coach’s input-- Bitty immediately offers to bow out, handing the football over. Coach stops him with a gentle hand on his shoulder and a light squeeze.

“Stay, son,” he says, his tone as gentle as Bitty has ever heard it. “It’s all right.”

Part of Bitty still expects the instructions to start up, for Coach to go right into coach-mode and start telling him everything he’s doing wrong and how to fix it. But it never happens; his father just stands beside him, mostly asking his little cousin about team tryouts next month, and discussing with Jack the relative popularity of American football in Canada. They take turns tossing the ball back and forth while the sun dips lower and lower in the sky.

When the sunlight is all but gone, everyone packs up and heads over to Heritage Park to claim a spot to watch the fireworks. Pretty much the whole town shows up, spreading blankets and lawn chairs wherever they can, claiming spots to wait for the show to start. Mama Bittle and Coach stake out one of the first spots they can find, helping MooMaw settle into a chair. With the rest of his family settling in, there’s not much unclaimed space immediately adjacent to his parents. Bitty searches a little awkwardly for a solution when his mama suddenly hands him a blanket, pressing it into his arms.

“You and Jack should go on up the hill,” she says, nodding toward it. “That’s the best view up there.”

“You sure?” Bitty asks. He’s never watched the fireworks from up on the hill; he’s only ever stayed on the field with his family.

“Yeah, of course. You boys have fun,” his mama says. “We’ll meet you back at the car afterward-- you remember where we parked?”

“Yes, mother,” Bitty says, smiling suddenly, thankful for the shadows and the way they hide his face.

It’s a gradual climb up the hill, the slope of it peppered with spectators on their blankets, and Bitty weaves between them carefully, glancing back every few steps to make sure Jack is following. The further up they go, the more sparse the crowd becomes, and Bitty keeps climbing.

“What about here?” Jack says, and they’re not nearly at the top yet, but there is space for them, room enough that they can fit and not be too close to the people around them.

“Okay,” Bitty says, letting the blue plaid blanket fall open from his arms. Jack takes hold of the opposite end and they place it down together.

They’re not alone, not really; there are people all around them, and somewhere down on the field half of Bitty’s relatives are scattered amongst the crowd. But for the first time since Jack arrived hours and hours ago it feels like they are; like they’re more or less by themselves and far enough away from watchful eyes. They settle onto the blanket and it takes no more than a handful of seconds for Jack to shift closer, to press right up against Bitty’s side and lean into him, bracing himself with one hand resting right behind Bitty on the blanket. Bitty’s breath catches and he’s surprised at how intense his physical reaction to Jack’s proximity is; he leans into Jack in return, and every nerve he has seems to light right up, tingling with excitement.

“Hi,” Jack says, his voice soft and affectionate and so, so close. He’s warm and solid where Bitty is tucked against him and he smells so good-- no different than he ever has, but somehow Bitty can’t get enough now, breathing in slow, as deep as he can. If Bitty just turned his head, turned his face up slightly, they could very easily be kissing.

“Hi,” Bitty replies, practically giddy, and little more than a whisper. He twitches and settles and very determinedly does not lift his chin, afraid that if they do start kissing, he won’t be able to stop.

This doesn’t prevent Jack from nuzzling at his hair, from reaching over to rest his warm hand on Bitty’s bare knee, palming the curve of it, his thumb brushing back and forth across the top of Bitty’s thigh. The touch sends a sudden rush right through him, making his heart thud harder, making his cock twitch and start to thicken in his shorts. Bitty glances around furtively for a second, but he’s fairly certain no one nearby is paying them any attention. It’s more or less dark now, the sizzling glimmer of the occasional sparkler dancing in the crowd, the constant hum of conversation under it holding the discernable anticipation for the fireworks to start.

“Are you having a nice time, Jack?” Bitty asks, sounding winded.

Jack’s lips brush against Bitty’s temple as he murmurs his answer. “I am, yeah,” he says, and Bitty watches Jack’s hand slip to the inside of his thigh and then back to his knee. “A really nice time.”

“Good,” Bitty says, lightly despite the way his heart’s still trying to pound its way out of his chest. Jack’s hand keeps caressing him, slow sweeps from his knee up to the hem of his shorts and back again.

“Bittle,” Jack says, and Bitty knows that tone, has heard it countless times in their late-night phone conversations, when Jack gets sleepy and sentimental. “Bitty. Hey.”

“What? I’m right here,” Bitty grins, lightly nudging Jack with his elbow.

There’s a sudden succession of high-pitched screeching sounds and then the sky above them starts to explode-- huge, bright round bursts of red, white and blue that spread outward and dissipate as they fall. The crowd erupts into cheering, and Bitty finally turns his face, his vision dotted and dancing from the contrasts, and he tilts his chin up to meet Jack for a kiss.

He feels more than hears Jack’s groan, a low rumble against his mouth as Bitty parts his lips and deepens the kiss, his eyes dropping shut. Jack’s hand moves from Bitty’s knee to Bitty’s face, holding his cheek, fingertips curling along the curve of his jaw. The sounds echo and bounce above them, sharp claps and long sizzles, loud booms that Bitty sees as flashes of red behind his eyes.

Jack pulls back only to continue kissing Bitty’s face, tender little presses of his lips to the corner of Bitty’s mouth, his nose, his cheek, his eyebrow. Bitty makes a belated attempt to chase the kisses, but Jack drops his hand away and he settles, gazing upward, his lips tugged into a crooked grin. The intermittent glow from the fireworks illuminates Jack’s face in waves, sparkling in his eyes. Bitty just watches him for a long moment, arrested with the sudden amazement that this is actually real, that Jack is there with him, holding him and kissing him like Bitty’s wanted for longer than he can remember. He presses his lips briefly to the sharp line of Jack’s jaw, just to make sure one more time, and then lifts his gaze to the sky again.

The harsh weight of reality creeps back in when the fireworks are over and they have to leave the hill to walk to the car. They’re going back home and they can’t openly hold hands there or put their arms around each other, and they certainly can’t kiss, or-- anything else they might like to do. Bitty stops that particular train of thought before it even leaves the station, holding the haphazardly folded blanket tight in his arms. His mama is all smiles and excitement to see them again, full of questions and running commentary as always, and Coach is as stoic as ever behind the wheel of the car. Bitty slouches in the back seat, feeling small and frustrated all of a sudden, limited in his choices like a child. He tries to think of a way to be alone with Jack that wouldn’t be glaringly obvious, but isn’t able to come up with much in the short drive to the house.

He’s all but resigned to having his parents present for the rest of Jack’s visit, to maybe sneaking in a kiss here or there only if they’re very careful about it. Bitty’s unpacking the cooler on the kitchen island when his mama mentions for the third time in her casual conversation what a lovely evening it turned out to be.

“Yes, mother,” Bitty says, impatient, shifting around the contents of the fridge to fit the leftovers in. “It did turn out very nice,” he adds, echoing her words, making an attempt to correct his tone. His father already left the kitchen and went upstairs, but the last thing Bitty needs right now is a lecture on his attitude.

“Jack, I thought you and Dicky might like to sit outside on the porch for a while, on account of it being so nice,” she says, and pulls two tall glasses out of the cabinet, setting them on the countertop. “There’s a fresh pitcher of tea there in the fridge, Dicky.”

Bitty can’t quite figure out his mama’s fleeting expression; she grins at him, the secret little smirk she saves for when she sneaks him an extra scoop of ice cream for dessert, but the context is all wrong. “Thank you, mother,” Bitty says, a little perplexed but reflexively polite.

“Sounds good, yeah. Thank you,” Jack adds.

“You’re very welcome. Just be sure to lock up when you come inside, okay? Goodnight boys, we’ll see you in the morning,” she says, and quickly ducks around the corner toward the stairs.

Bitty stands there in stunned silence for a moment, watching the empty doorway.

“Could I please just have some water?” Jack asks quietly.

There’s a wooden bench swing on the front porch that faces the yard, suspended on sturdy chains from above, and it creaks a little as they sit down on it. The air is full of nighttime summer noises, frogs and cicadas and other chirping insects, and in the dark of the yard beneath the trees there are fireflies, their greenish-yellow bodies flickering randomly on and off.

Jack puts his arm around Bitty’s shoulders, resting it along the back of the bench, letting his hand drop against Bitty’s shirt. Bitty leans against him with a little sigh, pushing with the toe of his shoe to send the swing rocking gently back and forth. Bitty folds his arm up so he can take Jack’s hand, lacing their fingers together right at the curve of his shoulder. They sit like that, close and quiet, until the movement of the swing diminishes to nearly nothing.

“Bitty?” Jack says softly, and it makes Bitty grin.

“Hm?”

“If I promise to be very careful, can I kiss you out here?”

Bitty shifts slightly, his smile growing wider, warm affection swelling in his chest. “Well. Only if you promise to be very careful, Mr. Zimmermann.”

Jack nuzzles at Bitty’s hair. “I promise.”

They begin slowly this time, lingering when their lips meet, soft pressure that blooms gradually into deeper, more consuming kisses. Jack squeezes his hand and holds him close as they kiss over and over, until Bitty’s lips feel full and used, until his jaw is sore, until his cock is full and twitching hard. They kiss until Bitty goes breathless, until his neck starts to strain from the way his head is turned, until the tender ache growing inside him becomes so insistent that he groans, gasping for air.

“Shh,” Jack says, tipping his forehead against Bitty’s own. They’re both breathing heavily, clinging tightly to one another.

Lord, Jack,” Bitty whispers, urgent.

Jack swallows heavily. “Should we stop?”

Bitty actually whimpers, a quiet little whine that slips out unintentionally. “I really don’t want to.”

“Neither do I.”

They kiss again immediately, hard and unrelenting, and Bitty feels dizzy with it, clenching a hand in Jack’s hair to try to ground himself.

“Okay, okay,” Bitty murmurs into Jack’s mouth, and Jack ducks his head to start kissing at Bitty’s neck. “Oh-- Jack, hang on a just a second, let me think.”

Jack hums, like a choked back little moan, and pulls back. He looks wrecked, all flushed with his hair messed up, his lips all bright and slack and kiss-bruised.

“Okay,” Bitty says again, but his brain is just sputtering, trying to form a coherent thought. All he really wants to do is lean in for another kiss. “If we go inside,” he begins, watching Jack blink curiously, watching the tip of Jack’s tongue dart out to wet his lips. “We can get ready for bed. And after a while, when I’m completely sure my parents are asleep, I’ll join you in the guest room.”

Jack’s gaze flickers over Bitty’s face, meeting Bitty’s eyes again, his hand brushing Bitty’s cheek. “Are you sure?”

Bitty nods, quick and certain. “Unless you have a better plan?”

Jack shakes his head. “I don’t.”

The most difficult part of the plan isn’t going inside and saying “goodnight” to Jack and leaving him in the hallway. It’s not changing into sleep pants and a soft t-shirt and lying down to wait, listening to the faint sounds in the hallway bathroom, the running water, the flicking of the lightswitch. It’s not tracking Jack’s gentle footfalls on the hardwood floor from the bathroom back to the guest room, and the clicking of the door.

It’s not even the part where Bitty traces a finger against his lips, pressing and poking at them, recalling the feel and taste of Jack’s mouth. It’s not the way Bitty is still hard and aching, his cock straining up against the button closure of his pajamas.

The most difficult part, after all of that, is in the silence that follows and in knowing Jack is waiting. Bitty listens as the minutes tick by with agonizing slowness, straining to hear past the steady rush of his own breathing for any indication that someone else might be awake. Five minutes of silence go by, then ten, and Bitty sits up; but every time he imagines taking the dozen or so furtive steps down the hall to Jack’s door, he pictures himself getting caught.

It’s almost twenty minutes before he gets brave enough to move, and takes the journey in stages. He stands at his open bedroom door for a long moment before taking his first steps, keeping a hand on the wall. Between his own door and the bathroom he’s still got a plausible excuse for being there, but beyond that bathroom threshold is trickier to explain. Bitty knows just where the worn floorboards creak, avoiding those spots with carefully zig-zagged steps. He pauses as he reaches the bathroom, hand on the door frame, listening. He stares at the closed door at the end of the hall that leads to his parents’ room, his heart thundering loud in his ears. With a deep breath, he continues, wanting so badly to rush, forcing himself to proceed slowly.

When he reaches the guest room door, he turns the knob gently and completely before easing the door open just enough to slip inside, turning around to close it as silently as possible.

Jack is sitting up in the bed, shirtless, propped against the pillows and the headboard, the small side-table lamp casting a low, warm glow into the corner of the room.

“Hi,” Jack whispers, with a smile that immediately dissolves half of Bitty’s tension.

Bitty makes him turn the light off and climbs into the bed beside him, getting under the bedcovers. They meet in the middle, face to face on their sides, pressing close to tangle together. Jack’s only in a pair of boxer briefs, his legs bare, and he tucks his hand up the back of Bitty’s shirt as he pulls him closer.

“You get lost on the way here, eh?” Jack murmurs with a smirk, but catches Bitty’s mouth in a kiss before he can respond.

“Mmmph-- you keep it up-- with the chirping--” Bitty says in fits and starts between their kissing, “and I’ll go right-- back to my own room, Mr. Zimmermann.”

“I doubt it, Bittle,” Jack says, spreading his hand against Bitty’s lower back and tucking his thigh up between Bitty’s.

“Oh--” Bitty says sharply, clenching tightly to Jack’s shoulder as he rocks his hips into the warm pressure and the friction. “Oh, Jack--”

Jack brings his lips right to Bitty’s ear. “Shhh,” he says, and then grabs hold of the hem of Bitty’s shirt. “Can I take this off you?”

Bitty nods and starts to squirm at the same time, trying to quickly draw his arm into his sleeve to get it free. Jack lifts up on the shirt right at that moment, and Bitty ends up stuck for a second, his arm folded up in the fabric, his head caught awkwardly in the collar. They both laugh a little, soft and breathy as Jack gently pulls and tugs, finally stretching it enough to work it over Bitty’s head and off his arms, freeing him.

When Jack’s mouth meets his again, he rolls Bitty onto his back, shifting over him, pressing chest to chest. It’s so much sensation at once, Jack’s warmth and weight and the feel of his skin, the broadness and contour of his shoulders where Bitty holds on to him. Jack still has one thigh tucked between Bitty’s, more pressure than friction this way, but Bitty shifts a little and he can feel the thick press of Jack’s hard cock moving against his hip. It makes him kiss Jack even harder, whimpering into it; makes him conjure up all at once the many imagined scenarios he’s been holding on to for so long.

“I want you so much,” Bitty confesses in a rush, breathy and desperate.

“What do you like?” Jack asks in return, slowing their kissing, pulling back just enough to caress Bitty’s face with his hand, fingers tucking into the hair behind his ear. “Tell me.”

Bitty blinks up at Jack, at his wide, curious gaze. He buys a few more seconds by lifting his head to seek out another kiss, but Jack just hums into it, inquisitive, keeping it brief.

“You can tell me,” Jack says, so sincere and attentive that it makes Bitty flush, his cheeks and ears flaring with warmth.

“Jack, I--” Bitty starts, and he shakes his head a little, trying to convey his words without actually saying them. He closes his eyes and takes a quick breath in, letting it out just as fast. “I’ve never-- I’m. I’ve never done any of this.”

“Oh,” Jack says, dropping a little kiss onto Bitty’s chin, just a tender press of his lips. “Then how would you like to start, hm?”

“Um,” Bitty says, unsure how to answer, and Jack keeps pressing little kisses to his face, to his nose and his cheek and just below his eye. “I don’t know,” Bitty admits.

Jack ducks his head to kiss Bitty’s neck, the tender skin just under the curve of his jaw. Bitty tilts his head back, sighing with a little whimper. Jack takes his time kissing along Bitty’s neck, over his throat, down along his collarbones. Bitty curls his hand at the back of Jack’s head, his fingers brushing against the short hair there.

“No ideas, hm?” Jack murmurs at the curve where Bitty’s neck meets his shoulder, his words buzzing and ticklish. Bitty grins a little despite his self-consciousness.

“Way too many, I guess,” he replies.

Jack shifts his weight to his forearms, lifting up to meet Bitty’s gaze and brushing at his cheek again. “We don’t have to do everything right now, you know?”

“I know,” Bitty says, but he frowns a little.

Jack kisses him slowly, lingering in it all soft and steadfast, and it makes Bitty warm all over. “We’ll have lots more chances,” Jack says. “Won’t we?”

Bitty nods a little because he wants it to be true.

“I’ll visit you,” Jack says, soft and sincere. “And you’ll visit me? When you can?”

Bitty nods again, more certain this time. “Anytime you want, Jack.”

“All the time, then,” Jack says, the corner of his mouth twitching with a grin.

“Okay,” Bitty grins in agreement, stroking the short hair on Jack’s head. “All the time.”

“Perfect,” Jack says, leaning in for another kiss, and Bitty closes his eyes, tipping his chin up to meet it.

Jack hums into the kiss as it deepens, not a question this time. He runs one hand from Bitty’s shoulder to his elbow and back, the slow sweep of his touch whisper soft beneath the frantic hush of their stuttered breathing and the faint rustle of the sheets. Bitty’s heart thuds hard in his chest, echoing in his ears, and Jack just keeps kissing him until Bitty starts to shift restlessly, gasping as he arches up, whimpering.

“Bitty--” Jack says, soft but urgent, curling his hand at Bitty’s hip, holding on firmly.

Bitty squirms a little, breathing hard. He keeps one arm around Jack’s shoulders, but moves his other hand to meet Jack’s at his hip, hooking his thumb into the waistband of his pajamas and pushing them downward. Jack catches on fast, lifting his own hips up to make some space, and he tilts his chin down to look as he pulls the fabric away-- the pajamas and Bitty’s underwear all at once-- easing them over Bitty’s hips, carefully stretching the elastic as Bitty’s cock springs free.

He’s already warm all over, but he can feel his face flare with heat, watching as Jack just looks at him. His pants and underwear are halfway down his thighs and Jack’s hand runs over the sharp rise of Bitty’s hipbone and across the soft hollow of his skin beside it. Jack doesn’t hesitate as he palms at the length of Bitty’s cock, folding his long fingers loosely around it, finally lifting his gaze to Bitty’s face as he strokes him slowly.

Bitty inhales sharply, exhaling with a pleasured sigh. Jack’s grasp is warm and solid and the movement of his hand is both too much and not enough; the sensation is overwhelmingly brand new to Bitty, rapidly intensifying the strong ache that twists tightly inside him. Jack’s touch wanders downward, his hand gently curling beneath Bitty’s balls, caressing the weight of them for a moment before taking hold of his cock again.

Jack’s gaze never leaves Bitty’s face, and Bitty isn’t sure what to do, if he should maybe try to touch Jack too. His breathing grows shorter, his exhales harsher, even though Jack’s hand remains steady with its long, slow stroking. He tilts his hips up into the touch, rocking them a little, and Jack goes still, the pad of his thumb circling the sensitive tip of Bitty’s dick, slipping against the slickness there, spreading it around.

Bitty nearly groans, biting back the sound to stifle it, and then Jack is kissing him, stroking him again, a little faster this time. Bitty makes more sounds into Jack’s mouth, little incoherent and involuntary whimpers, until Jack abruptly pulls away and lets go and shifts his whole body downward, dropping a hasty trail of kisses from the middle of Bitty’s chest down to his belly.

The fact that he knows precisely what’s about to happen doesn’t prepare him for it in the slightest; Jack manages to get Bitty’s pants the rest of the way down with one determined pull and some creative maneuvering, and then suddenly Bitty is completely naked. He draws one knee up as Jack settles between his thighs, and in all of Bitty’s thorough imagining and re-imagining of how this might go, he never quite pictured it like this-- hushed and secret in the dark of his parents’ spare bedroom, with Jack’s shoulders nudging his legs open. Jack tucks one hand under Bitty’s hip, fingers splayed along the fleshy curve of Bitty’s backside, and fits his lips over Bitty’s dick, opening up to take him in.

The soft-slick heat of Jack’s mouth sends a sharp thrill rocketing through him, and it’s all Bitty can do not to vocalize it, letting his moan half-escape as stuttered and breathy. Jack sets a slow pace, his head rising and falling steadily, his shoulders shifting, and Bitty feels like he can’t keep up with it, the sensation so wildly surpassing any of his previous anticipation. He fits a hand to the back of Jack’s head again, seeking out a way to slow his untethering, to try to ground himself just a little. But then Jack groans and Bitty can feel it, the low tremble of it moving right from Jack’s throat directly through his dick. This time Bitty can’t even begin to halt the sound he makes in response, a startled and sharp cry of pleasure that has Jack pulling off fast, lifting his head to meet Bitty’s gaze.

“Shhh,” Jack says softly. “You okay?”

Bitty just nods, breathing hard, whimpering a little. “Jack--”

“Shh,” Jack says again, grinning with it, pressing a swift kiss to Bitty’s hip. “I don’t want to get you in trouble.”

Bitty wants to say too late and you already have, but what comes out instead is a hushed and urgent request. “Please don’t stop.”

Jack shifts around, reaching up with his free hand to touch Bitty’s mouth, tracing his lips with two fingers. Bitty parts them to let Jack’s fingers in, licking at the tips of them, closing his mouth around them with a soft whine and a wet sound, his eyes falling shut. Jack leaves them like that, letting Bitty suck and lick at them, and slides his mouth down around Bitty’s cock again, taking him in deep.

Bitty holds on to Jack’s wrist to keep his hand in place and runs his tongue against Jack’s fingers, and it’s by far the filthiest thing he’s ever done, breathing harshly through his nose and trying so hard to keep quiet as Jack’s mouth keeps working him over, wet and warm and perfect. Bitty suddenly and desperately wants it all-- he wants to suck Jack’s dick until he chokes, and he wants Jack’s fingers in his ass, and he wants Jack to fuck him and he doesn’t ever want to stop.

Jack squeezes at his ass with the hand that’s trapped between Bitty and the mattress, and Bitty quickly pulls Jack’s fingers out of his mouth, panting hard.

“I’m gonna come,” Bitty blurts out, his words breathy and broken. “I’m gonna--”

Jack’s hand clamps down over his mouth, just the length of his fingers, two of them slick as they push hard against Bitty’s face. Bitty arches off the bed as he comes, his dick pulsing over and over into Jack’s waiting mouth, his vigorous groans held in by the firm press of Jack’s hand.
Bitty is boneless and wide-eyed, sated and buzzing as Jack drops his hand away. He moves up over Bitty again, grinning a little, gazing at him with a hopeful quirk of his eyebrow.

“You taste good,” Jack says, settling his weight on his forearms, nuzzling at Bitty’s cheek.

“Good lord, Jack,” Bitty whispers with a dizzy smile, turning his face to seek out a kiss, still breathing hard.

He has the fleeting notion that maybe he should think it’s a little weird, kissing Jack after that, but that’s not actually how it feels at all. Jack parts his lips and Bitty licks right into his mouth and Jack responds instantly, groaning deep. Bitty can taste himself on Jack’s tongue, the lingering saltiness there, and Jack shifts around restlessly, rocking his hips down against Bitty’s again. It’s gratifying in a completely different way than his orgasm was; the traces of himself on Jack and inside him, the needy sounds Jack’s making.

“I’ve got you, honey,” Bitty murmurs, and when he drops a hand to tug at the waistband of Jack’s boxer briefs, Jack pushes up, makes room, and reaches down to help take them off.

Bitty’s barely seen Jack naked before, just in a fleeting way where he wasn’t really looking, in flash quick moments between the drop of a locker room towel and the stepping into underwear. He’s definitely never seen Jack naked and hard before, the deep cut of his lower abs, the dark path of hair that descends in a thin line from his navel and spreads out in a thick patch just above the base of his cock. Jack maneuvers to get his boxer briefs off completely, and stays up on his knees and forearms while Bitty gets a good look. Jack’s not much longer but he’s a little thicker than Bitty is, and he’s uncircumcised, the dark, shiny head of his cock peeking out from his foreskin. His balls are taut and smooth where they hang between his thighs.

“Everything okay?” Jack asks softly, and Bitty realizes he’s been staring.

“God, yes,” Bitty says, flushing a little at his own immediate enthusiasm. He strokes absently at Jack’s side, from his rib cage to his hip. “I can’t believe--” Bitty bites his lip, abruptly going quiet.

“Hm?”

“You’re just so gorgeous,” Bitty sighs.

Jack huffs out a little breath, a self-conscious laugh really, ducking his head a little. “Bits.”

“Show me how to touch you,” Bitty says, sitting up just enough to rest his weight on one elbow, touching his forehead to Jack’s temple. He curls his hand into a loose fist, running his knuckles against Jack’s lower belly.

“Sure,” Jack says, shifting his weight a little, spreading his stance on his knees.

He guides Bitty’s hand to his cock, and Bitty lets him place it where he wants, lets Jack’s hand fold around his own, their thumbs and forefingers forming concentric rings just below the head. Jack squeezes just a little and starts to move, slow up and down strokes that slide the skin partway over the tip and expose it again.

“Just don’t pull back too hard,” Jack says, breathing quicker, a little shallower.

“Okay,” Bitty says, keeping his head tipped against Jack’s, keeping the pace Jack set.

Jack hums, a stifled moan, and his hips stutter with little thrusts. “Bitty--”

Jack drops his hand away, and then it’s just Bitty that’s stroking him firmly, and he can see the way Jack’s muscles tense and quiver.

“You can-- a little faster now,” Jack says, his voice straining and breathy.

Bitty speeds up, and his own dick twitches slightly, and then suddenly Jack takes in deep, quick breaths, two of them in a row.

“Ah-- yes--” Jack says, and then he mutters something in Québécois that Bitty doesn’t understand in the slightest.

Jack’s cock pulses hard in Bitty’s hand and he spurts long stripes of come onto Bitty’s stomach, all the way up to his chest, painting his skin. The last of it leaks out in a dribble, dripping over Bitty’s fingers as he goes still. Jack tucks his forehead against Bitty’s shoulder, catching his breath, exhaling with little pleasured whimpers, eventually seeking out a long kiss.

After they clean up-- a hasty affair which results in a sizeable pile of crumpled tissues that Bitty will have to dispose of later-- Bitty takes his chances in curling up with Jack under the covers, leaving the bedside lamp on in an attempt to stay awake. He half-drapes himself on top of Jack, his head on Jack’s chest, and Jack holds him close, one arm wrapped tight around him, and his other finding Bitty’s hand so he can hold that, too.

Bitty keeps his ear pressed to Jack’s skin and listens for a long time to the rush of Jack’s lungs as they fill and release, listens to the steady backbeat of Jack’s heart behind it. There’s a small, sparse patch of hair right in the middle of Jack’s chest, and a few small moles scattered over his skin, and Bitty’s gaze flickers from one to the next, trying to learn all of them while he has the chance.

He only finds out that Jack’s asleep when he finally lifts his head, and Jack doesn’t stir at all. His mouth is parted slightly, his breathing slow and steady, his dark eyelashes fanning out over the tops of his cheeks. There’s a shadow of stubble along his sharp jawline, over his chin, across his upper lip. Bitty watches him for a long moment, and then reluctantly and gingerly slips away from Jack’s embrace, gets back into his pajamas, and turns the light out before he leaves.

He wakes up in his own bed to the indiscernible sound of his parents talking quietly downstairs in the kitchen, to the smell of coffee and the tangle of his sheets around his waist. He turns onto his back and stretches, his shirt riding up, the skin on his belly still retaining the faint remnants of sex. Bitty drapes an arm over his eyes and smiles wildly as he lets his vivid recollections wash over him, his partial morning erection filling out fast.

He tucks his hand down the front of his pajamas, right into his underwear, tempted to take care of it quickly before heading off to the shower. He has no idea if he’ll even get to kiss Jack today; they discussed maybe seeing some of downtown-- not that there’s much to look at-- but beyond that plan they’ll probably not be alone at all. They’ll have tonight if Bitty can sneak into the guest room again, but then Jack will be off to the airport early the next morning.

In the end Bitty gets up instead and makes his bed in a hurry, tucking Señor Bunny under the pillows, not wanting to miss out on any Jack time even if they have to keep it family friendly. He showers and combs his hair and goes back to his room to get dressed before he makes his way down to the kitchen.

His mama and Jack are sitting at the table across from one another, Jack with a glass of orange juice and his mama with a cup of coffee. Whatever they’re discussing has Jack smiling, and his mama has her phone out, so lord only knows what she’s been showing him.

“Morning,” Bitty says, making his way over to the coffee pot. His favorite Samwell mug is already on the counter for him, alongside the sugar bowl and the half-and-half.

“Morning, Dicky,” his mama replies, and she gets up from the table, moving around to retrieve a warm stack of pancakes from the oven and a bowl of fresh berries from the fridge, bringing everything to the table for them.

Bitty sits down beside Jack with his coffee, sipping at it delicately. “Morning, Jack,” he says, hiding his knowing grin behind his cup. “How’d you sleep?”

“Good, I think,” Jack replies. “Must have been really tired. I don’t even remember falling asleep.”

Bitty hums in acknowledgement, biting back his smile as he reaches for the butter dish.

His mama sits with them while they eat their breakfast, finishing her own coffee, chatting with them casually, offering to make more pancakes even though they’ll never get through the stack in front of them. As they’re finishing up she stands up, retrieving her purse and her keys from the counter.

“I have a few errands to run,” she explains. “But y’all’ll be okay on your own until this afternoon, won’t you?”

Bitty frowns a little in confusion. “Of course, mother. But, um... where’s Coach?”

“You just missed him,” she replies. “He’s doing that charity golf thing, y’know? That same one as last year. I don’t expect we’ll see him again until supper.”

“Oh,” Bitty says, carefully keeping his face neutral. “And where are you going, Mama?”

“Here and there,” she smiles. “Got a big ol’ list of stops I won’t bore you with. Won’t be back for a few hours, most likely. Planning on stopping by the store last though, so I’ll text you as I’m leaving there, and then you can be ready to help me carry the bags in, if you don’t mind.”

“Of course,” Bitty says again, glancing at Jack, who looks just as surprised as Bitty feels.

“And then after I’m back y’all can take my car into town, if you want to.”

“That would be nice,” Bitty says. “Thank you.”

“Thanks,” Jack adds.

“All right. Have a good day, boys,” she says with a grin and little wave as she walks out the door.

It latches shut with a click and suddenly the house is quiet. Bitty listens in near disbelief to the sound of the car starting, and then backing out of the drive and pulling away. He turns his head to look at Jack, and Jack is already leaning toward him, gazing at him fondly.

“Hi,” Jack says, bringing his face very close to Bitty’s.

“Hi,” Bitty replies, tilting his head just a little to meet Jack for a kiss.

It’s soft and warm and lingering, and Jack’s face is smooth, the sharp scent of his aftershave mixing with the sugary sweetness of the pancake syrup. Bitty’s pulse kicks up harder as the kiss deepens, and then he hums happily as Jack pulls back.

“All finished with your breakfast?” Jack asks.

Bitty nods a little. “Pretty much.”

Jack lifts his hand to Bitty’s wrist, turning it over, taking Bitty’s hand in his own where it rests on the table. “Should we go upstairs?”

“Yes,” Bitty grins, watching their hands fit together, the way Jack’s fingers slide between his, how much longer and broader they are. The familiar tingle of arousal flickers through him, settling low in his belly. “I think we should.”

It takes them a little while actually get there. Jack keeps hold of Bitty’s hand but keeps stopping to lean in and kiss him-- right when they stand up from the table, a few steps into the hallway, and again just before the staircase. Jack nudges him against the wall, pressing close and leaning down to kiss him hard, and Bitty’s cock fills right up, trapped by his shorts and the press of Jack’s hips.

Bitty goes first up the stairs and Jack grabs on to him from behind, his big arms folding tight around Bitty’s chest, holding him close to ascend the stairs in tandem. Jack’s face is pressed to the side of his neck; it puts Bitty off balance and he sways a little, tipping back. He startles, scared to fall, grabbing tight to Jack’s arms, but Jack holds him steady and strong all the way up.

When they reach the landing, Jack starts to tug him by the hand toward the guest room, but Bitty resists, their arms stretching for a step. Jack stops, looking back with confusion, and Bitty pulls him the other way, toward his own room instead.

The mid-morning sun makes a bright, large patch of sunlight through the parted curtains on his window, casting an angled shape on the wall. They stand near Bitty’s bed to undress one another, and there are no shadows or sheets to half hide behind this time. Bitty unbuttons Jack’s shirt with careful fingers, pausing to rise onto his toes and seek out a kiss. They take their time getting down to their underwear, sharing sustained embraces, exploratory sweeps of their hands over newly exposed skin, and long kisses that neither one of them are in any rush to curtail.

They get into bed and lie down on top of the soft comforter, side by side and facing one another, their knees bumping as they shift to press close together. They kiss like that for a bit, and Bitty tucks himself right up against Jack’s chest. With his arm folded between them, Bitty runs his fingertips along the line of Jack’s clavicle, from his shoulder to the dip below his throat. Jack holds him tight, stroking his hair, tracing the curve of Bitty’s ear with his fingertips.

“When I woke up this morning, I thought about you,” Bitty admits quietly.

“Did you?” Jack says, the corner of his mouth twitching into a half-grin.

“Mhm, yes, I did,” Bitty says, shifting around a little, pressing his lips to that crooked corner of Jack’s mouth. “And now you’re here,” he adds softly, reverent.

Jack blinks, his gaze wide and thoughtful. “Sorry I fell asleep on you last night.”

“Technically you fell asleep under me,” Bitty says, playful, patting at Jack’s chest. “But it’s all right, I don’t mind.”

Jack kisses him lightly, teasing a little, nipping at Bitty’s mouth. Bitty huffs out a little laugh, and then a genuine squeak of surprise as Jack rolls him onto his back, resting his full weight on top of Bitty, capturing his mouth in a full-on kiss.

Bitty groans, getting his arms around Jack’s shoulders, drawing one knee up to fold his leg around Jack’s thigh. Jack shifts against him, a deep roll of his hips, and Bitty gasps, arching up into it, Jack’s erection pushing against his own. They find a slow rhythm like that, just rocking their bodies together, steady pressure and a little friction through the two layers of their underwear. Bitty opens his eyes mid-kiss, just to glance at Jack’s face, to peek down at what he can see of their bodies together, to watch the flex of Jack’s muscles as his hips move. He’s imagined being like this with Jack dozens of times easily, but the reality of it feels so much bigger, so much more significant than his anticipation. They’re about to have sex and Bitty wants that-- he wants it so much, he’s so ready-- but the sharp ache of his body’s urgency is perforated by all the uncertainty, all those endless questions in his mind that have yet to be answered.

When Jack goes still Bitty whines a little, but then they’re moving again, rolling the other way until Jack is on his back, pulling Bitty over and on top of him.

Bitty makes a curious sound, shifting so that he’s got one knee on either side of Jack’s hips, and Jack’s hands find his waist, holding on. Bitty keeps himself chest to chest with Jack and keeps kissing him, long and deep and barely pausing to breathe in between. Jack’s hands start to move and they travel everywhere, running up Bitty’s back, over his shoulders, back down to his hips, grabbing onto them tight. Jack’s hips tilt upward and he pulls Bitty down against him, and they both groan.

“Jack,” Bitty says, intending to pause for a second so he can collect his thoughts, but it comes out far too needy, and Jack moans in response, and they keep kissing.

Bitty lingers a moment longer in the kiss and then makes himself pull back, sitting up, trying to catch his breath. Jack still has a hold of him at the hips, and Bitty settles heavily onto Jack, sitting right down on the thick bulge of his cock. Jack clenches at Bitty’s hips, biting back a groan.

“Jack,” he tries again, taking hold of Jack’s forearms, almost at his elbows. Jack goes still, meeting Bitty’s eyes, breathing heavily.

Bitty just looks at him for a moment, at his flushed cheeks, his half-lidded eyes; at the way his dark hair is soft and tousled against his forehead. He drops his gaze quickly to Jack’s chest, then his abs, taking in the striking definition of his muscles, the flawless build of his body. Bitty swallows hard, trying his best to quickly determine how to turn his worry into actual words.

“You okay?” Jack says, and his hands twitch a little.

Bitty nods immediately, meeting Jack’s gaze again, but still can’t seem to find what he wants to say or how he wants to say it. “Can I ask you something?”

“Sure,” Jack replies, shifting slightly, a little roll of his shoulders, tilting his head where it rests on the pillow. “Anything.” He lets go of Bitty’s hips, only to take Bitty’s hands-- both of them-- loosely into his own, slowly brushing his thumbs over the tops of Bitty’s knuckles.

“I guess I’m sort of wondering if--” Bitty begins, giving Jack’s hands a little squeeze, hoping Jack won’t be able to tell just how hard his heart is pounding. “I mean. I know the future is-- well. There’s a lot we don’t know just yet, and I understand that, I promise I do. I’m just curious if maybe you had any thoughts on-- y’know. How you might want things to be. For us.”

Jack’s brow furrows, and Bitty’s heart kicks up even harder, his face flaring with heat.

“Sorry-- what? I don’t know what you mean.”

Bitty breathes in deep, letting it out slow, looking down at their hands but glancing up at Jack’s face. “I mean, for instance, when I come visit you. Y’know, at your place in Providence? Will we-- um. Will it just be, like... what will we be? I mean. To each other?”

Jack’s quiet for a moment before he responds, confusion lingering in his expression. “Are you asking if we’ll still be together? Why wouldn’t we be?”

“Still?” Bitty echoes quietly, startled. “Hold on, wait-- wait. Did I miss something?”

“Bitty,” Jack interjects, suddenly serious. He sits up in one swift move, releasing Bitty’s hands so he can gather him up, pulling him close, his gaze wide and determined. “Of course we’re-- how did you manage to think we’re not together?”

Bitty sighs, a little fond, mostly relieved, tipping his head forward so their foreheads meet. “I don’t know, Jack, you never said one way or the other? And then I didn’t want to pressure you or anything, and when you decided to visit me I thought, well, it’d probably be best to discuss it in person--”

Jack cuts him off with a kiss, and the rest of Bitty’s ramble is lost, dissolving into a whimper. He closes his eyes, folding his arms around Jack’s shoulders, and Jack squeezes him even tighter.

“We’re together, okay?” Jack says, taking Bitty’s head carefully into his hands, palming at his cheeks. “It’s only you. I thought you knew that.”

Bitty closes his eyes against the way his chest aches, all his apprehension turning over into a growing warmth that feels far too big for his body to contain.

“Now I do,” he says, and Jack’s thumbs brush the tops of his cheekbones, and Jack’s mouth finds his, and as they start to kiss again Bitty doesn’t hold back anything.

He shifts in Jack’s lap as their kissing quickly escalates, tilting his hips, trying to part his thighs wider, catching all of Jack’s soft pleasured sounds and the hitches in his breath. Jack moves his hands, folding his arms tight around Bitty again, trying to bring him impossibly closer. Bitty gasps as Jack grabs firmly at his backside, the heel of his hand resting against Bitty’s tailbone, his fingers squeezing at the curve of his ass.

“Jack,” Bitty says, whining a little as Jack’s fingers curl even tighter, one of them tucking snug into the cleft, pushing the soft cotton of his underwear right against his hole. “Jack, I think we should-- I think we should have sex now,” Bitty says decisively.

Jack hums, Bitty’s lower lip caught in his own. He sucks on it lightly before letting it go. “How do you want to?”

“You--” Bitty says, keeping his mouth against Jack’s, feeling brave despite the way his stomach flutters and his heart hammers wildly. “I want you inside me.”

Jack takes in a sharp breath and clutches tightly to Bitty, kissing him hard, over and over before he finally pauses enough to speak. “Yes,” he says, breathless, “me too.” He grins, small but sincere, and it’s infectious; Bitty can’t help but grin right back at him, his head spinning. “I need-- uh,” Jack says, glancing toward the door and relaxing his embrace, then pressing another quick kiss to Bitty’s lips. “I’ll be right back, I need to get-- something.”

“I have-- um. Things,” Bitty says, his voice growing softer. He climbs out of Jack’s lap and off the bed to stand up, finding his footing a little awkwardly. He steps over to his desk to get into the drawer, retrieving a plastic bag from the drugstore he’d stashed there a few days ago.

The receipt is still in the bag, and it makes Bitty flush all over again, remembering how long he’d stood there in the aisle to make his selections, and how he’d been so anxious to take them to the register to pay for them. He’d brought his messenger bag along so he could hide the purchases in it to bring them into the house.

When he turns back around, Jack is reclined on his bed, stretched out on his side and completely naked, his head propped up on his arm, watching Bitty closely. Bitty’s knees twitch, threatening to give out at the sight of him, and he drops the unopened box of condoms and the bottle of lube on the mattress before he gets back onto the bed.

Jack moves both items out of the way to get to Bitty again, and as Jack kisses him Bitty has a brief, belated regret that he didn’t think to get rid of his underwear while he was standing up. It passes quickly though; Jack gets up on his knees and gets Bitty onto his back and the first thing he does is tuck his fingers into the waistband of Bitty’s briefs, tugging at the elastic, pulling them over Bitty’s hips and ass and down to his thighs. Bitty draws his knees up to help, and Jack frees him quickly, one leg and then the other.

Bitty still has his knees bent and his feet in the air when Jack’s hands find the back of his thighs, pushing them forward, folding Bitty practically in half beneath him. Jack leans into him with a devious grin, stretching for a playful kiss. Jack’s body is broad and heavy even with most of his weight on his knees; he shifts around slightly and Bitty pulls him in, his arms around Jack’s neck, keeping him close.

When Jack starts to pull back, he turns his head, dropping a kiss to the inside of Bitty’s arm as he goes, and then the top of his knee. Jack sits back on his heels and reaches over to grab up the bottle of lube, keeping his other hand on Bitty’s thigh until he needs it to work the cap open.

Bitty watches as Jack pours some into his hand, carefully catching it in his palm. Bitty’s done this sort of thing to himself before; not frequently, but on a rare occasions with the time and space in which to indulge his curiosity, a finger or two slicked up and tucked inside himself while he jerks off. It always amplifies the sensation in a way that only ever makes him want more, a better angle or a means to go deeper, neither of which he can ever manage to coordinate with only his own two hands.

It’s a completely new feeling for Bitty to spread himself out for Jack like this, thighs parted and legs bent and hips stationed between the press of Jack’s knees into the mattress. Knowing Jack can see all of him, knowing that Jack wants to look and touch, and that it excites him as he’s doing it, evokes a sort of unexpected shamelessness within Bitty. It’s the kind he would get in brief flashes-- after graduation day when he and Jack would speak on the phone or over video chat late at night in hushed tones and reticent words-- the fierce desire to let Jack see and have all of him. But that was all fleeting anticipation and imagination; the reality of spreading out eagerly on his bed for Jack is orders of magnitude more ardent and consuming. Bitty flushes with heat and his cock twitches upward from where it rests on his stomach. He grabs hold of it, giving it a firm squeeze, watching as a generous drop of pre-come swells up from the tip.

Jack’s first touch is all cold slickness along his perineum, making Bitty gasp and flinch slightly, the downward trickle followed by the sliding pressure of Jack’s fingers against his sensitive skin. Bitty keeps hold of his cock but doesn’t move his hand at all as Jack presses at the rim of his hole, making a little circle with his fingertip when he finds it. There’s so much lube that his touch just kind of slides around, warming slowly, but it still makes Bitty draw a quick breath in, makes him moan a little, makes him try to part his thighs even wider.

The tip of Jack’s finger starts to press inside him, and Bitty feels the easy stretch of it, the dull pressure that builds as it slips in slowly. He squeezes tighter at his cock, giving it a couple of quick, short tugs and then going still again. Jack stops to put more lube on his hand, tipping it out of the bottle, the chill of it renewed as it dribbles down over his fingers and onto Bitty. Jack draws his finger out part way only to press it in deeper, the movement making a faint wet sound in the quiet of the room.

Bitty groans, quiet but not restrained, and Jack keeps his finger moving, out and back in, slow and easy while his gaze switches from his hand to Bitty’s face and back again. Bitty finds himself tilting his hips up as Jack presses in, and down a little as he withdraws, chasing the slide and the drag, his breathing going heavy.

Jack stills his hand and grabs up the lube again, and Bitty shifts around, restless and aching. He almost says something-- that it seems like there’s enough down there already, that he’s pretty sure about it and that Jack doesn’t need to keep stopping-- when the stretch and the pressure suddenly double, easing in carefully, making Bitty gasp and hold still.

“Oh--” Bitty stutters, exhaling in a rush, his heart thudding a little harder.

Jack meets his gaze, his mouth slack, his eyebrows pinched slightly in concentration. His fingers feel so thick as they press in, and they just keep going, deeper and deeper. Bitty breathes deep, whimpering a little. Jack gently sets his free hand on the inside of Bitty’s thigh, stroking it with warm sweeps of his palm.

“Okay?” Jack says, so soft that Bitty barely hears it. “You look-- incredible like this,” Jack continues before Bitty can respond.

Bitty flushes fast, the warmth of it flooding his face, and that bold shamelessness rises right up on its heels. Jack’s rocking his fingers just a little, keeping them nearly all the way in, and Bitty bites back a little grin, moaning through it.

“Mhm,” he replies. “Feels good, Jack.”

The slight tension in Jack’s forehead smooths right out. “Yeah?”

Bitty nods, breathing harder, and his cock twitches in his hand, making him moan. Jack does something with his fingers-- turns them maybe-- but the stretch sharpens, the bright sensation slowly subsiding as Jack keeps sliding them in and out, in longer and longer strokes.

He’s not sure how he’s supposed to tell when he’s ready, when it’s been enough. Jack doesn’t seem to be in a rush or anything; he seems content to keep turning and twisting and curling his long fingers to gradually work Bitty open, letting Bitty intermittently stroke himself through it. But Bitty is eager to get to the part where it’s Jack’s cock that pushes inside him, filling him up; where it feels good for Jack, too.

Jack folds himself forward slowly, resting his forearm near the pillow as he leans in for a kiss. He’s still working his fingers in and out of Bitty, and Bitty touches Jack’s face, blinking to meet Jack’s gaze as the kiss tapers, the tip of Jack’s nose tracing the bridge of Bitty’s. Bitty moans, releasing his grasp on his cock, folding his arm around Jack instead.

“Do you want to stay on your back like this?” Jack asks, soft and curious.

“Um,” Bitty says. “Should I?”

Jack’s lips twitch into a half-grin. “We can try it,” he says, and then kisses Bitty again swiftly. “I like looking at you.”

“Okay,” Bitty grins. “Me too.”

Jack kisses him again and Bitty closes his eyes, Jack’s fingers still moving inside him, Jack’s cock pressing insistently against his hip. Bitty whimpers a little when Jack pulls his fingers out, slow and easy, pulling back from the kiss and pushing himself up to sit back on his heels again. Jack reaches for the box of condoms, trying to handle it carefully in order to avoid using his slicked-up fingers. Bitty huffs out a little laugh, reaching to help.

“Thanks,” Jack says, sliding his hand along Bitty’s thigh again as Bitty works the box open.

“Of course,” Bitty replies. It takes him a moment to get to the strip of them inside, to tear one off, to set the rest of them back out of the way.

When he looks up again, Jack is staring at him, his gaze fixed and resolute, the fondness in his expression making Bitty’s chest ache.

“Bits,” Jack says, his gaze flickering down over Bitty’s body.

“Hm? What?”

Jack takes the condom from Bitty’s fingers and shakes his head a little, his grin tentative, a little shy. “Nothing. You’re amazing.”

Bitty closes his eyes a little longer than a blink, unable to keep himself from grinning, affectionate warmth washing over him. “So are you,” he says, watching Jack get the condom open, watching him pinch the end and roll it onto the full length of his cock.

Jack goes for the lube again, covering his cock with it liberally, and then using even more on his fingers. He traces the rim of Bitty’s hole, dipping the tips of his fingers inside, and Bitty moans a little.

“I’ll go slow, okay?” Jack says as he folds forward once more, shifting around, taking hold of himself as he tilts his hips to find the right angle.

Bitty just nods a little in response, his breath coming faster, his heart rate taking off again. He rests a hand on Jack’s shoulder as Jack tips his chin down, and then there’s the blunt nudge of the tip of Jack’s cock against him. It slips a little when Jack starts to move, and then again on the second try, and then Bitty can feel Jack’s knuckle pressing right at the edge of his hole, and then the thick head of his dick, finally catching and slowly pushing inside.

Jack groans and immediately goes still, and Bitty only half-hears it over the sound he makes himself, a breathy, desperate whimper. Jack lifts his face again and his eyes blink open, and he carefully removes his arm from between their bodies. Bitty’s still breathing a little quick, shaky as he exhales. Jack’s cock feels huge, even just the fraction of it that’s holding him open impossibly wide, and when Bitty flexes just a little, trying to lift his hips to take more, the strain of the stretch shoots through him sharply, making him flinch.

“Oh--”

“Easy,” Jack says, gentle, his breathing heavy. His hand finds Bitty’s cheek, stroking it with his thumb. “Give it a minute. Helps sometimes if you do that.”

“Okay,” Bitty whispers, inhaling deep, letting it out slow.

Jack leans in to kiss him, and Bitty closes his eyes gratefully. None of this was in any part of his thoughts when he imagined how it might go; the awkward logistics and the long pauses and the seemingly excessive amount of lube. He never quite imagined it happening in his own bed at home either, in the middle of a quiet summer morning. Before graduation day, he certainly never imagined that it would actually be with Jack.

When Bitty opens his eyes, Jack’s already looking at him, still tracing the rise of Bitty’s cheekbone slowly with his thumb, still brushing his lips lightly against Bitty’s, making them tingle. From this close, Bitty can see the small variations in the color of Jack’s eyes, all the multitudes of bright blues and flecks of slate that thread together around his pupils.

“We can stop if you need to,” Jack murmurs.

Bitty shakes his head immediately. “No, I’m okay-- I’m good.”

“You sure?” Jack says, and his voice wavers with restraint, and Bitty nods quickly.

“I’m sure,” Bitty says.

It’s still startling when Jack starts to push again, his cock pressing deeper and deeper into Bitty. He’s so slow and careful about it, and Bitty breathes through it until Jack’s hips are completely flush with his own. Jack goes still with a low moan, his eyes closing.

Jack kisses him then, long and deep while they stay still, while the sharp intensity begins to taper off. Jack’s body is all solid muscle and strong lines, warm and heavy and real against him-- all the way inside him-- and Bitty quivers with excitement, his breath shaking.

When Jack finally starts to move it’s small, just a little flex and a slight rock of his hips, and he never stops kissing Bitty. There’s still an edge to the stretch and the pressure that borders on overwhelming, but beneath that there’s an intermittent spark in the slick friction that makes Bitty gasp, that makes him clench tighter to Jack’s shoulders.

Jack’s breathing goes heavier as he works his hips, keeping a slow, controlled pace but gradually increasing the span of his movement, the length of his thrusts. Every time Jack pushes in Bitty tries to angle his body, tipping his own hips up eagerly, urging Jack deeper, and catching Jack’s pleasured moans in the press of his mouth.

“God--” Jack groans, sudden and short between deep kisses.

Bitty whimpers in response, and Jack starts to move a little faster, finding a set pace and pulling back enough to meet Bitty’s gaze. Jack’s cheeks are flushed a deep pink, his gaze steadfast and reverent, his hand brushing delicately against Bitty’s cheek again. That erratic flicker of pleasure deep within him grows more and more consistent, heightened by the steady drag and push of Jack’s cock and the way their bodies meet, Jack’s hips bumping heavy and insistent against Bitty’s own over and over.

A sudden rush of elation soars through him and Bitty moans, blissfully lost in all the little details-- the soft creaking of the mattress, the warmth of Jack’s skin under his hands, the way they’re both breathing hard in the stillness of the room. Bitty runs his hands down Jack’s back, from his shoulders all the way to the swell of his backside, feeling the way his muscles flex and stretch as he moves.

“Ah-- Bits--” Jack moans, all breathy and whimpering. He suddenly goes still, pausing with his hips nudged right up against Bitty, his eyes shut tight.

Bitty kneads and squeezes at Jack’s ass, digging his fingers in. Jack exhales in a rush, whining at the end, his hips twitching sharply as he blinks his eyes open.

“Please don’t stop,” Bitty says, his voice straining. “You feel so good, Jack--”

Jack shifts his weight toward one side, leaning in to kiss Bitty again as he does, fierce and insistent and untethered, making both of them moan. Bitty moves his hands, grabbing at Jack’s shoulder again, the other curling tight to hold the back of Jack’s neck. Jack tucks his hand between them, seeking out Bitty’s cock, folding his fingers around it when he finds it and quickly resuming the pace of his hips.

Their kissing is derailed after that, dissolving into only the wet press of their open mouths and their harsh breathing. Bitty makes no attempt to halt the sounds that escape him as Jack strokes him with short, quick pulls of his hand, keeping time with the thrust of his hips, bringing the bright sparks of pleasure into sharp, consuming focus.

Bitty doesn’t even realize exactly when he starts to come, the sensation building and sustaining and then rolling over him in deeper and deeper waves, his moans growing louder and louder. His cock pulses again and again in Jack’s grasp, shooting up onto his stomach and chest in thick, recurring spurts. Jack’s thrusts lose all their rhythm at the same time, and Bitty is barely able to draw in a grounding breath at the end of his own climax before Jack comes too, groaning wildly with a heavy snap of his hips. Bitty gasps at the feel of Jack’s cock inside him, the flickering pulse of it, Jack’s entire body shuddering.

Bitty can’t put words to the magnitude of his feelings in the immediate afterward-- the deep satisfaction of his orgasm, the consuming rush of adrenaline, and the swell of affection in his chest that seems far too big for his body to contain. Jack kisses him and they’re both still breathing heavily, grinning together until the kisses taper into light, gratified laughter.

When Jack finally moves away it’s reluctant and careful, easing out and holding the condom in place. Bitty stretches his legs, humming happily, watching Jack reach for the tissue box on the bedside table, plucking a couple for himself when Jack offers them.

He has the fleeting thought that he should probably get up and shower again, that they should get back into their clothes soon. But once they’re finished with a perfunctory clean-up Jack lies down beside him, curling closer, draping an arm across Bitty’s middle. He drops a kiss onto Bitty’s shoulder, and when Bitty turns his face toward him, Jack shifts to rest his head on Bitty’s chest, tucked up under his chin.

Bitty gets an arm around him and they settle, half-tangled and pressed close together. Bitty nuzzles into Jack’s dark hair, breathing in the warm scent of him, exhaling slow as he presses a kiss to the crown of Jack’s head.

It’s so tempting to stay right there, loose and pliant and drifting with Jack heavy and warm against him. But after a few quiet minutes Bitty stirs, stroking Jack’s arm with gentle sweeps of his hand while briefly holding him tighter.

“We should probably get up,” Bitty murmurs.

Jack hums, low and non-committal, making Bitty smile.

“C’mon Mr. Zimmermann,” Bitty says, nudging at him playfully.

Jack just clings tighter, determined, keeping Bitty pinned beneath him. Bitty tries with no success to jostle him and then sighs in feigned exasperation, grabs up the loose pillow beside him, and brings it down onto Jack’s head with a light thump.

Jack springs right up after that, biting back a grin, his expression a devious one that Bitty recognizes all too well from their handful of roughhousing incidents at the Haus. He grabs the pillow right out of Bitty’s hands to retaliate, and Bitty squeaks, holding his arms up in self-defense. Jack’s vengeance is two swift, half-hearted thwacks that land on his forearms and only make Bitty laugh, and then Jack tosses the pillow aside entirely to lean in and kiss him.

It’s far too easy to start to get lost again in the press of Jack’s lips and the way their mouths fit together, the absence of urgency in it. Bitty starts to entertain the idea of not getting up after all when Jack quickly pulls back, his gaze pulled away to the side as he sits up.

“Hey, who’s this?” Jack asks, and Bitty goes still in sudden realization just as Jack reaches for the inadvertently revealed Señor Bunny.

“Oh, that’s not-- uhm. It’s just--” Bitty says, scrambling to sit up, reaching out in a panic, but stopping himself abruptly as Jack picks him up, looking him over. “It’s just something I’ve had for a real long time.” Heat flares on his face and his heart pounds wildly as he reaches out again. Jack looks up, meeting Bitty’s gaze, handing Señor Bunny over.

“She’s cute,” Jack says, sincere.

Bitty frowns, barely suppressing the urge to tuck Señor Bunny away and back out of sight. He smooths the rabbit’s ears down, stroking his head a couple of times.

“Did you name her?” Jack asks, and the knot in Bitty’s chest loosens, just a little.

“Him,” Bitty says softly, keeping his eyes on his rabbit. “His name is Señor Bunny.”

“Oh, sorry,” Jack says. “Sorry, Señor Bunny.”

“I’ve had him since I was real little,” Bitty explains, his heart still racing. “I guess I just always held on to him.”

Bitty lifts his gaze, and Jack smiles at him fondly.

“What?” Bitty asks, feeling awkward and exposed. “I know it’s silly, but--”

“No, no,” Jack interjects. “It’s not--”

“He makes me feel better.”

“It’s cute,” Jack finishes. “Bits.”

“Hm?”

“I adore you,” Jack says, his voice low and quiet. “Everything about you.”

The words aren’t new; Bitty’s heard the sentiment from Jack before, in hushed tones over the phone or through his earbuds during their video chats. In person it’s something else entirely, with Jack’s hand on his arm, and Jack’s face so close to his own, his gaze wide with sincerity. Jack kisses him again and it’s slow and sweet and reassuring, making all of Bitty’s self-conscious insecurities fall quietly away.

By the time Bitty’s phone chimes with the text notification that his mama is on her way home, he and Jack are properly cleaned up and back in the kitchen, where Bitty is attempting to verbally convey all the highlights and points of interest they’re about to experience in downtown Madison. They go to the car to help with the groceries-- only one bag each, in the end-- and Bitty knows, logically, that there’s no possible way his mama could be aware of the events that transpired in her absence. He still can’t quite bring himself to look her in the eye in the driveway, years and years of her unrelenting intuition make him believe that she’d somehow know instantly if she only managed to get one good look at him. But nothing about her words or her demeanor indicate any suspicion. She doesn’t ask for any details on how they spent their morning, just smiles and hands over her car keys and tells them to have a nice time in town and to be back by suppertime.

Main Street is lined with American flags and red, white and blue banners for the holiday. Bitty gives Jack the full tour of town-- the ice cream shop, the diner, the drugstore-- interspersed with little anecdotes and memories from when he was younger, times he hasn’t thought of or talked about in years. Bitty’s surprised at how nostalgic it makes him, how easy it is to remember all the details, and how pleased he is to share them with Jack, who listens curiously and smiles, asking questions and squeezing Bitty’s hand while he talks.

Bitty takes Jack out past his old middle school and then by the high school, past the empty and looming football stadium, and then out even further to the rec center where he used to skate and play hockey. It’s not much to look at, a box of a dark brown brick building and a big parking lot with no cars in it at the moment. They sit in the half-circle drive by the front doors and Bitty talks about his figure skating training, his former competitions, and how and when he decided to switch to playing hockey. It’s a story he’s never really tried to put into words before, but right in the middle of telling it he’s hit with the sudden realization that every turn and every decision led him right to now: to Samwell, to his scholarship, and to being here with Jack, Jack’s hand holding tight to his own.

He takes the long way back toward his house, the road extending among the outstretched power lines and fields of lush trees, the afternoon sun still bright and unrelenting. They stop at a railroad crossing, caught by a passing train, the length of it flying by in a syncopated blur with the diminishing blare of its horn. Jack leans over the console toward him and Bitty glances in the rearview mirror, back at the empty asphalt receding behind them, and then meets Jack for a kiss.

After the train passes and they cross over the tracks, Bitty pulls in behind an old warehouse, the the thin layer of gravel crunching beneath the car tires, adrenaline making his heart pound harder. He parks up in the shade under a couple of trees, and rolls all the windows down before he turns the car off.

They almost don’t fit in the backseat; Jack’s legs are so long, but they maneuver around until it works. Bitty sits in Jack’s lap to start, Jack’s shoulders against one of the doors, one of Bitty’s knees wedged in the crease of the seat. They kiss vigorously, tucking hands up and under their clothes, the cloying heat and humidity interrupted by the occasional soft breeze drifting in. When Bitty’s knees and neck start to ache they try to find another position, laughing lightly at bumped heads and sharp elbows, trying to contort themselves in the limited space. It’s all stops and starts and shifting limbs, the strong press of Jack’s palm against the hard line of Bitty’s dick through his shorts, Bitty’s fingers firmly tracing the shape of Jack’s in return.

They don’t go much beyond kissing and touching like that, not with the way even the distant sound of a car on the road makes Bitty go still, not with how they never really manage to get comfortable in the confinement. It’s still exhilarating, the rustle of the trees and the reprieve of the shade and Jack’s lips and hands always moving, making Bitty groan, making the sharp ache of want within him coil tighter and tighter.

By the time they reluctantly return to the front seat Bitty has to take a moment to catch his breath, his head tipped back against the headrest, his hands squeezing the steering wheel. He’s impossibly hard and the hinge of his jaw aches from all their kissing. From the way Jack is shifting in the passenger seat, his hand adjusting the front of his jeans, he seems to be in the same predicament. Bitty lifts his gaze to the rear view mirror, brushing at the sweat-damp ends of his hair, trying to make himself look a little less like he’s just been rolling around in the back seat.

Bitty starts the car and puts the windows up, turning the dial for the air conditioning. As they pull away, Jack’s hand sneaks over to take his, lacing their fingers together. Just before they turn onto the road, Jack lifts their hands to press a soft kiss to Bitty’s knuckles.

“Will you come to my room again tonight?” Jack asks.

A fresh new wave of want washes over him, making him weightless for a moment. Bitty grins, his breath hitching. “Mhm,” he replies, shameless. “Course I will, sweetheart.”

At home, Coach has the grill going on the patio out back, and his mama is in the kitchen at the island chopping vegetables. It’s easier than Bitty thinks it’ll be, sliding back into the façade of nonchalance, picking up a chopping knife and another cutting board to lend a hand in preparing the food. The conversation is casual and upbeat, even when Coach comes in to say hello and to ask about their day, retrieving a stack of marinated steaks. When they finally sit down to eat, passing the side dishes around, with Jack and Coach deep in a discussion about NFL quarterbacks, Bitty allows himself a moment to imagine this exact scenario happening again and again-- that his parents could possibly learn the truth about him and Jack and that it could still be just like this, easy and uncomplicated and good.

His reverie is abruptly fractured when the topic shifts to the impending media attention Jack will face as he enters the professional hockey world, the lack of privacy he’ll endure, how he plans to handle that. His parents are only curious, Jack is as gracious and polite as ever, and Bitty chews his bite of food so long he’s afraid he won’t be able to swallow it.

When supper is finished and his mama refuses his help in cleaning up for the third time, Bitty joins Coach and Jack in the front room, pretending to be as captivated by the sports news channel as they are. He grows restless and impatient as the evening drags on, with Jack sat across from him in one of the recliners, with his mama beside him on the sofa poking through her phone, with Coach still and silent in his regular armchair through the canned laughter of sitcom reruns playing on the television. The time he has left to be with Jack is steadily trickling away, and all Bitty can do is endure the wait.

It’s not until the very end of the late news that his mama finally makes moves to go upstairs, getting up from the sofa with a stretch and a small yawn. For a moment as she lingers Bitty is afraid Coach isn’t going to budge, but his parents very briefly share one of their non-verbal conversations, the kind they have entirely through long gazes and subtle shifts in facial expressions. The whole exchange lasts no more than a handful of seconds, and then Coach is pushing himself out of his armchair, up to his feet, also saying goodnight.

“My keys are by the door, Dicky,” his mama says. “You be safe driving Jack to the airport in the morning, y’hear?”

“Of course, mama. I will.”

Watching Jack say goodnight and goodbye to his parents is both odd and endearing. His mama hugs Jack once before Coach shakes his hand, and once again after, and Jack stumbles over repeated expressions of gratitude for letting him stay.

“You come back anytime,” his mama says, patting Jack on the back through their prolonged hug.

“Thank you,” Jack says. “I’m sure I’ll be back again soon.”

The expression is casual enough, but Bitty’s stomach still swoops suddenly with nervousness. Mama Bittle catches his eye when she pulls back from Jack’s embrace, her grin small and knowing. Bitty looks away quickly and calls out a goodnight to Coach as he’s on his way out of the room. He accepts a hug when his mama offers it, but he’s grateful when she’s finally gone and it’s just him and Jack and the low sound of the television.

“I should probably go pack,” Jack says.

“Want some help?” Bitty asks, already picking up the remote to turn the TV off.

“Sure,” Jack grins.

There’s not much Bitty can really do; he sits on the bed beside Jack’s open duffel bag, trying not to feel sad as he watches Jack fold his clothes up to tuck them inside it. The door to the room is mostly shut, open just a sliver, and Bitty pulls up a playlist on his phone, keeping the volume down, the cheery pop beats providing a little background noise.

“I can’t believe you’re leaving already,” Bitty says, quiet and wistful.

Jack pauses, shirt in his hands, and sets it aside to sit beside Bitty. “I know. I wish I didn’t have to.”

“I won’t see you again until…” Bitty trails off, thinking. “Until I go back to Samwell, I guess.”

Jack looks around, locating his phone on the bedside table, reaching over to pick it up. “Well. Let’s see,” he says, poking at the screen until his calendar appears.

Bitty can’t help but try to look; Jack scrolls down to August and nearly every single one of his days has a little dot in it. When Jack leans closer, deliberately showing Bitty the screen, Bitty presses himself against Jack’s arm, tipping his head to rest it on Jack’s shoulder.

“If you want,” Jack says, “you could come up earlier. Stay with me for a few days before you have to go back to the Haus.” He taps the screen to bring up the first weekend in August; his appointments are all training, conditioning, pre-season practices and press obligations.

“D’you think so? You seem awfully busy.”

Jack shrugs a little, nudging Bitty as he does. “Not really. I mean, I have things I can’t miss, obviously, but. We’d have afternoons and evenings, see?”

“Well, and it’s your birthday, too,” Bitty grins, touching his finger to the 3rd of August. The only appointment on Jack’s calendar that day is morning practice.

“True,” Jack replies.

“I wouldn’t be in the way?”

“Bits,” Jack says, shifting so Bitty has to look at him. “I always want to be with you.”

There’s nothing Bitty can say to that, so he kisses Jack instead, swift and sweet, tingling with excitement.

“You’re important to me,” Jack continues, his voice going even softer. “Not an inconvenience.”

“I always want to be with you, too,” Bitty says, nearly a whisper.

Jack just gazes at him for a long moment, and Bitty takes in the sharp features of Jack’s face-- the rise of his cheekbones, the symmetrical arch of his eyebrows, and the line of his nose, tinged pink from being out in the sun the previous day. Bitty inhales quick at the sudden swell of attraction that arrests him, arousal stirring deep in his belly, making him lean in even closer.

“Think I could fit you in my carry on?” Jack grins.

“Actually-- you probably could,” Bitty replies, laughing lightly.

“I love you,” Jack says, and the words hit Bitty like a thunderclap; his laughter cutting out completely as his thoughts scramble to catch up.

He’s stunned and speechless for a moment, his heart thumping hard in his chest, roaring in his ears.

“I do,” Jack says, quieter, his gaze wide and unwavering.

“I love you too, Jack,” Bitty manages, his voice a squeaking whisper as his throat seizes up.

Jack kisses him and Bitty’s breath shakes, his ears ringing, tiny pinpricks tickling at his eyelids. The kiss tapers because Jack can’t stop smiling, murmuring the words over and over against Bitty’s lips, until Bitty can’t keep up, pulling Jack into a tight embrace instead.

It’s more than tempting just to stay, to nudge the door shut and take the chance that his parents won’t ever know the difference. When Bitty dares to peek into the hall, it’s hard to tell if all the lights in their bedroom are out or not; their door is shut and the slight gap between it and the floor looks dark, but he knows sometimes one or both of them will stay up to read. He looks back over his shoulder at Jack, frowning a little.

“It’s okay,” Jack whispers. “I’ll wait for you.”

Bitty doesn’t last very long in his room. He changes into his pajamas and sets his alarm and watches the minutes tick by slowly, each one bringing Jack’s inevitable departure closer and closer. He hears Jack go into the bathroom and back out again, but nothing from his parents room at all, and tells himself he’ll give it thirty minutes.

After twenty-two, he sneaks right back down the hall, right into the guest room, closing the door as quickly and quietly as he can. Jack’s bag is on the floor and packed, the bedside lamp is on, and Jack is sitting on the bed in his dark grey boxer-briefs. He puts his phone away as soon as Bitty appears, standing up as Bitty pushes the door shut, and meets him in the middle of the floor, pulling him close.

The floorboards creak softly under their feet, and Bitty’s pajamas never make it to the bed. They climb in and Bitty reaches over to turn off the lamp, the room going dark. In the time it takes his eyes to adjust, Jack is already moving over him, broad and solid and insistent, the mattress dipping under his weight, finding Bitty’s mouth with an urgent kiss.

It’s almost as if they pick up right where they left off that afternoon in the car, but without the hinderance of confinement or the lurking fear of being found out, and conveniently without the restriction of clothes. They push each other’s underwear out of the way in a hurry, and then Jack folds his hand around Bitty’s cock and Bitty takes hold of Jack’s in return, their hands brushing as they stroke each other, groaning together as they kiss.

Bitty matches the pace Jack sets, copying the fast, firm rhythm of it, urged on by the clipped whimpers Jack makes into his mouth and the quickness of his breath. Jack’s touch is steady, never letting up, and Bitty’s entire body flushes with heat, the racing quiver of it converging hard and fast between his legs. It’s Jack that comes first though, nearly without warning, just a sharp twitch of his hips and a strangled cry, spilling out over Bitty’s fingers. That’s all it takes for Bitty to follow right after, biting his lower lip to stifle his sounds, coming fast and hard in Jack’s hand.

There’s still a low buzz of arousal lingering in his muscles, but the sharp edges of it are smoothed out. Bitty doesn’t want to stop kissing Jack, and luckily Jack seems to be right there with him, pausing only to swipe his hand on a tissue, and then pulling it quickly across the mess on Bitty’s belly. They wriggle out of their underwear completely and get right back into each other’s arms, pressing close to keep kissing.

Bitty loses track of how long they spend like that, naked and making out, tender affection building to heated insistence and tapering back again. Their kissing is punctuated with little intimate exchanges, whispered sentiments and confessions, shared endearments that make Bitty’s heart thud harder, that have him clinging to Jack as tightly as he can.

Jack ducks his head to kiss Bitty’s neck, down to his chest, but before he can shift any further Bitty stops him, holding Jack’s face in his hands. Jack looks up at him, his brow furrowed in unspoken question.

“Can we try something else?” Bitty asks, low and breathless.

“Anything you want,” Jack replies, pressing his lips to Bitty’s skin one more time.

Bitty urges Jack to lie down on his back, moving over him, essentially switching places. Jack’s broad hands slide against Bitty’s back and shoulders in long sweeps as they kiss, and Bitty’s stomach flutters with nerves as he ducks his chin to kiss along Jack’s collarbone, carefully inching lower.

Some parts are just how Bitty imagined they would be; the warmth of Jack’s skin under his lips, the way his muscles quiver in response. He settles between Jack’s legs and holds Jack’s cock in his hand and runs his tongue over the tip of it, broad and slow, licking at the slickness of it, tasting him. He’s surprised at how wide he has to open his mouth to fit it around him and take Jack in, how smooth and solid and heavy Jack feels, and how fast it fills him up, meeting the back of his tongue well before he reaches the base with his lips. Bitty lifts his gaze, looking up at Jack through his lashes. Jack is breathing hard, and stifles a groan when Bitty starts to move.

He works out how to use his hand at the base, just his thumb and two fingers circling the shaft and meeting his mouth intermittently. The friction makes his lips start to tingle-- another aspect he didn’t expect-- but Jack is making all these soft pleasured sounds like he just can’t help himself, and Bitty is surprised at how eager that makes him to continue, how sudden and insistent his desire is, how he wants to make Jack feel like this all the time. He falls into a pattern of movement, breathing hard through his nose, letting out a little whimper when Jack’s fingers card through his hair. Jack’s hips start to twitch, stuttered little upward motions, and Bitty groans around him. Jack says his name softly a couple of times, his voice thin with restraint. When he warns Bitty he’s going to come, Bitty keeps going, listening to Jack’s harsh and heavy breathing. Jack’s cock pulses again and again, flooding the back of Bitty’s tongue, filling his mouth and slipping out past his lips, trickling over his fingers.

Bitty swallows after he pulls off, using the back of his hand to wipe at his mouth, and Jack reaches for him immediately, hauling him up for a deep kiss. Bitty rocks his hips to slide his cock against Jack’s thigh until Jack rolls him onto his back, curling forward quickly to get his mouth around Bitty, taking him in all at once. Bitty knows he’s not going to last, not with the fierce wet heat of Jack’s lips and tongue, and when he comes it’s with a low, shaky groan. He tips his head back onto the pillow, deep pleasure washing over him, still tasting Jack at the back of his throat.

They collapse together beneath the sheets after that, tangled up and sated, and Bitty’s wild pulse gradually tapers off. Jack’s body fits snug up against his own, holding Bitty from behind, Jack’s arm folded around him to keep him close. Bitty tingles all over, the distant thought of moving back to his own room undone by his contentment.

He isn’t aware of falling asleep until he’s waking up again with Jack slowly stirring behind him, drawing in a deep breath as he stretches out his legs. Bitty looks back over his shoulder, opening his eyes just enough to see Jack’s face, and Jack leans forward for a kiss. Jack’s hand rests low on Bitty’s belly, his fingers twitching before he rubs slow, warm circles against Bitty’s skin. Jack shifts his hips, and he’s hard again, the thick line of his erection nudging right up against the firm curve of Bitty’s backside.

Bitty finds Jack’s hand with his own and Jack pauses, going still, until Bitty eases their joined hands downward, urging Jack to touch him. Jack does, but it’s tender and careful and Bitty presses back into the warmth of Jack’s body, against his chest and his slow-shifting hips, close and quiet in the dark. Bitty’s sudden recollection that Jack will be gone in a matter of hours makes his breath hitch, makes him turn his face up to seek out another kiss, makes him whimper softly at the firm press of Jack’s lips to his own. Jack strokes him for a long time, smooth and unhurried, until Bitty murmurs pleading words into Jack’s mouth, pushing up into his hand and back against his hips. For a moment Jack stops, letting go of Bitty’s cock and rolling away entirely, and Bitty sits up halfway in confusion until he realizes Jack is just going for his bag at the foot of the bed. He sifts through it for a few seconds before he returns, bringing back a small bottle of lube, flicking the cap open as he settles behind Bitty again. Jack slicks his hand up and folds it around Bitty’s dick, his tight grasp sliding easily, making soft wet sounds as it moves. Bitty moans, shifting his hips, and then grabs up the lube himself, pouring some into his hand and folding his arm behind his back. He fumbles a little to get a hold of Jack’s cock like that, to spread the slickness over it, most of it smearing onto his back accidentally. Jack nudges Bitty’s arm out of the way and keeps rocking against him, rubbing off on the soft skin of Bitty’s ass, his shaky groans and heavy breaths filling Bitty’s ears. Jack comes all over him, up his back and into the part of his cheeks, and Bitty stifles his own sounds as he spills into Jack’s hand right afterward.

There’s a faint greyness filtering in through the curtains when Jack’s voice draws him out of sleep a second time, saying his name quietly over and over. Bitty flinches with a start and then Jack soothes him with soft kisses to the side of his face, slowly stroking his shoulder.

“Sorry, sorry,” Jack whispers. “It’s almost morning. Thought you might need to, you know. Move back to your room.”

Bitty’s half asleep and half dressed as he shuffles down the hall. There’s only a little more than an hour left to sleep, but when he climbs into his own bed and curls up, it seems like less than a minute later and his alarm is going off.

The skies are overcast and the drive to the airport is a nearly silent one. Bitty’s stomach feels hollow from lack of sleep and the inevitability of goodbye, even as Jack holds on to his hand, only letting go when Bitty needs to pull a ticket for the parking garage.

He finds a spot on a high floor, where the parked cars are sparse and where there’s little chance of traffic. They’re early enough that they can sit there for a little bit, turned toward one another, leaning in close. Jack closes the remaining distance to kiss him softly, and despite Bitty’s best efforts, his eyes swell with tears. He blinks quickly and sighs, and they spill right over out of the corners. Bitty tries to dab at them swiftly with his fingertips, but when he meets Jack’s gaze again, Jack frowns.

“It’s okay,” Jack says, touching Bitty’s cheek, catching one of his tears. “It’ll be alright, Bits.”

Bitty nods, sniffling. “I know.”

“I’ll see you soon, yeah?” Jack says. “You’ll come visit me?”

Bitty nods again. “Course I will,” he says, his tears slowing.

“Not even a month away,” Jack says. “And we’ll talk every day, still.”

Jack leans far over the console to pull Bitty into a hug, holding him close. Bitty presses his face into Jack’s shoulder, breathing in deep.

“I love you,” Bitty says against Jack’s collar. “I love you so much, sweetheart.”

Jack squeezes him tighter. “Love you too.”

Bitty manages not to cry again until he’s back on the highway heading home, a short-lived little relapse that’s quelled by putting on one of his upbeat playlists. He knows the long haul will only bring more of this-- more departures, more stretches of time apart, more countdowns to being in the same place again. As long as it means more of Jack, Bitty is all in.

When he’s back in the driveway of his house, he turns the car off, sitting there quietly for a moment. The birds chatter cheerfully as he inspects his reflection in the rear view mirror, his eyes bright despite the shadows of fatigue lurking beneath them.

“I’m in love,” he says softly to himself. “I’m in love with Jack Zimmermann.”

In the kitchen, his mama is sitting alone at the table with a half-eaten slice of toast and a cup of coffee. His Samwell mug is clean and ready by the coffee maker, and Bitty fixes himself a cup, sitting down to join his mama. She starts in right away with the questions-- how was the drive, did you have trouble finding the airport at all, did Jack make his flight-- and Bitty answers all of them without embellishment, cradling his mug with both hands. Upstairs, he can hear the water turn on for the shower, which means Coach will join them in a matter of minutes.

When she finally runs out of things to ask, his mama looks at him quietly for a moment.

“You all right, Dicky?”

Bitty takes a long sip of his coffee and then carefully sets his mug down. His pulse kicks up, his heart pounding harder in his chest, and he keeps his hands curled tight around his mug, his thumbs tracing the arch of his college logo.

“Yeah, mama,” he says. “Can I tell you something?”

*