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A Little Bit Closer

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Bitty likes working forty hours a week when he isn’t also in grad school. His MLIS degree is practically fresh off the printer, but he feels a huge weight off of his shoulders going into work the Monday after graduation. For the last three years he’s been a library tech at the Boston Public Library West End branch, and finally Bitty is able to apply for Fatima’s position as Children’s Librarian. She’d been grooming him the last year to take over for her upon retirement at the end of the year, and he’s eager to get started not only with her position, but something more in line with her salary, too.

 

His education at Simmons has been very thorough, and rewarding, but three years of hard work is finally over and now he can dedicate himself to A) paying back his student loans, and B) having a social life again.

 

If he ever really had one before. Bitty’s undergrad life had been so much fun at Georgia, but moving to Boston, finding an affordable apartment in Boston (affordable = with income from student loans plus his library job plus regular bribing with baked goods), and putting his nose to the grindstone for one of the first times in his life meant that he hadn’t really made too many friends here. Baking pies alone in a tiny studio apartment did not a social savant one make. But that could change. It would change. Because Bitty has his master’s degree now, and nothing but freedom ahead of him.

 

“Help me with this,” Fatima says, when she spots him coming in with his messenger bag slung over his shoulder. She plucks at his short-sleeve green tee. “You look great in that color. Wear it more often.”

 

He nods to her headscarf, which glitters like little stars in the new LED lights of the library. “And you look great in that purple. It brings out your gorgeous eyes.”

 

She hides her mouth and gives him a shake of her head. “Don’t you flirt with me, I could’ve birthed you and then some.”

 

Bitty looks at the flyers with interest. They’re advertising a new children’s book out from one of the Bruins’ hockey players. It looks cute as hell, and Bitty immediately likes the title—Jacky’s Bad Days. The art is adorable and features a chubby little blue-eyed boy in hockey gear alone on the ice, centered in a spotlight. He looks at the blurb.

 

Ages 5 to 9

 

What do you do when you’re too scared to do the things you love? Jacky knows what it’s like to be scared every day, because he has something called anxiety. It makes his tummy hurt, and sometimes it’s hard to breathe. But Jacky has a big hockey game coming up, and he doesn’t want to disappoint his family and friends. It’s time for Jacky to learn how to overcome his fear and play the best hockey that he can.

 

Based on the true story of Jack Zimmermann’s struggle with anxiety, depression, and being the best, Jacky’s Bad Days explores the #1 mental health issue facing today’s kids in a way that is both fun and honest, and discusses the topic of anxiety in an educational way. Zimmermann, five-time NHL All-Star and two-time Stanley Cup Winner, has funded the printing, sale, and marketing of his book and will donate all proceeds to his charity Make It Better.

 

Bitty knows of Jack Zimmermann, the writer of the book. Everyone in Boston knows who Jack Zimmermann is. But until he read this blurb, he had no idea that Zimmermann had such a background. Bitty only knows he’s tall and well-built, and every now and then he can be spotted running around Boston in very small shorts.

 

Not that Bitty keeps an eye out for him or anything (most every morning at 7:15 right in front of his apartment building, and if Bitty’s window happens to face the street, so be it).

 

“Cute, huh?” Fatima says, looking at the flyers. “He’ll be promoting at the libraries in the area. We get him next Thursday. He’ll be reading for the elementary afternoon hour.”

 

“I think it’s a great idea for a kid's book,” Bitty says, moving to hang the flyers around the library. “Want me to wander around the area and put these up wherever I can?”

 

“That’d be great! Thank you, Eric.”

 

He’s told her to call him Bitty and she won’t, so he simply smiles, finishes placing the flyers in the library itself, and heads out to put them up around the neighborhood too.

 

It’s a fantastic summer day, and it’s even more fantastic because Bitty doesn’t have to read textbooks or write papers once he’s done with work. Hell, he might go down to the pub near his apartment. Why not? It’s been so long since he had fun without worrying about school.

 

He places the flyers up within five or six blocks of the library, wherever he can, and talks to parents with children who look interested in what he’s doing. It’s when he’s coming out of a coffee shop, with only one flyer left in his hand, that he recognizes the tall, attractive fellow in the tiny shorts who happens to be jogging toward him.

 

So Bitty, in the name of promoting the library and for no nefarious purposes at all, stops Jack Zimmermann by blocking his path and giving him a thousand-watt, winning smile. Zimmermann pulls out his earbuds and gives an awkward but polite smile back.

 

“Hi!” Bitty says, and he points to the flyer. “You’re reading this at my library next week.”

 

Zimmermann visibly relaxes. “Yeah, I am. Are you—you’re West End, right?”

 

Bitty has never heard him talk before. Sweet French Canadian Jesus. “Oh, uh. Yeah. West End. Few blocks from here? My name is Eric Bittle, hi.” He extends his hand, and Zimmermann’s hand is huge around his own, his grip firm but gentle in a way that says he understands how strong he is. “I’m a library tech at West End, and I specifically help with children’s services and social media.”

 

“Jack,” he says, and his eyes are shockingly blue, ugh. “Nice to meet you. Um. Do I need to…do anything?”

 

“Actually, I was wondering if you could help me promote our location a little bit. I saw you running and figured I’d ask you for a quick favor.”

 

Jack gives him one of those brief once-overs that Bitty has had dozens of times over the years, but coming from Jack it doesn’t feel sexual—it’s like he’s testing the waters to see if he wants to acquiesce to a favor that Bitty might ask for. “What is it?”

 

“Would you mind taking a picture with the flyer so I can put it on our Twitter?”

 

It seems like he didn’t expect that. His smile eases a little more. Bitty wonders if he was expecting to be asked for an autograph. “Oh, yeah. That’d be fine. Do I look okay? I’m probably pretty gross.”

 

“Hon, you could be covered in snot and you’d still be very attractive. Stand over there, the light’s a bit better under the awning.”

 

Bitty takes a few pictures until he’s satisfied, moving under the awning to stand next to Jack, showing him what he took. Jack picks the second one as his favorite. “I don’t look like I’m about to throw up in that one,” he says, and Bitty has to laugh.

 

“I think you look great in all of them.”

 

“Oh. Thank you.”

 

Bitty looks up and up at him. Damn, but he’s handsome. “Thanks for indulging me, I really appreciate it.”

 

“I’ll—see you next week, right? At West End?”

 

Bitty nods, already tweeting the photo. “Yeah, absolutely! Fatima’s starting her vacation at the end of the week, so I’m pretty sure I’ll be the one handling the event. You get in touch with me if you need anything, okay?” He fishes out a business card from his wallet and hands it over. Jack puts it in the sweaty pocket of his tiny shorts. “Email or call, okay?”

 

Jack nods, fiddling with his earbuds. “Yeah, sounds good. See you.”

 

Bitty waves at him and watches as Jack jogs down the street. His thighs are huge, his calves perfectly cut from stone, and his ass is unbelievable.

 

Bitty snaps one more picture before hurrying back to the library.

 

+

 

Jack settles in at his desk on Wednesday before dinner, signing into his Skype and waiting for Blanca to sign on. He’s always a little earlier than she is.

 

When her video request comes through, he takes it; the sight of her face makes him feel calm. “Hi Jack,” she says, and she waves. “How are you doing today?”

 

“I’m good. How are you?”

 

“Really good! The garden is coming along nicely.”

 

Jack grins. “You’ve promised me zucchini.”

 

She laughs. “I know, I know. I’ll get you your zucchini, don’t worry. How was your week?”

 

Jack relays to her everything that he’d done in the last seven days, and Blanca, as always, listens carefully. He never sees her write anything down, but she remembers everything he says anyway. “So when you were approached by the librarian,” she says, “what was the first thing that went through your mind?”

 

“‘Not again,’” he admits. “I’m trying to get better, but sometimes I don’t want to deal with people. Especially on runs.”

 

“And yet this happens every time, doesn’t it?”

 

“It does.”

 

“So what did we talk about last time?”

 

Jack recites almost word for word what he took away from their last conversation—namely, that he is supposed to be trying to expect interruptions in his daily life so they don’t negatively affect him as much. “The guy was really nice,” Jack continues. “Really bright, you know? Talkative. I didn’t mind taking the picture for him.”

 

Blanca shifts and brings her teacup to her lips for a moment. “What did he look like?”

 

Jack frowns. “Is that important?”

 

“It could be. Can you describe him to me?”

 

He shrugs and thinks for a moment. “Shorter than me maybe by half a head. Blonde hair, kind of darker, almost like a honey blonde. Really dark brown eyes. Solid brown, you know? Some people have green in their eyes, but he didn’t. Really long lashes.” He flushes suddenly and looks down at his keyboard.

 

“Did you find him attractive?” Blanca’s voice is calm and matter-of-fact. There’s not much of an expression on her face other than pleasant attentiveness. He can’t stand that sometimes, because he uses people’s expressions to guess as what they could be thinking; with her, he never knows until she actually says it.

 

“I guess so,” Jack says, because the answer is an overwhelming yes but he doesn’t know how to vocalize it. He doesn’t typically find people attractive or unattractive. People simply are. “He had some freckles,” he adds, and looks up at her to see what her face does. It doesn’t change at all. He wonders how often she wins at poker.

 

“So you were close enough to him,” she says, “to notice the shade of his eyes and his freckles?”

 

“I guess,” he says, shrugging and rubbing at the back of his neck. “I mean, we were talking. And then he showed me the pictures he’d taken, so I was standing right next to him.”

 

“When you looked at him, what did you feel?”

 

“At first, annoyance.”

 

She laughs at that. “Cute, Jack. What else?”

 

He has to think over that for several long moments. It’s like unraveling tangled string inside of himself. He doesn’t typically feel much of anything for other people in the way that she’s clearly looking for. He has his friends, his teammates, his parents. Himself. Her. “I liked his smile,” he says at last. “It was…really welcoming.”

 

“That’s an interesting word choice,” she says. “Welcoming. Did you feel welcomed by him?”

 

“I think so. I mean, it was only like five minutes, but I stopped being annoyed pretty quick.”

 

“That’s new for you,” she says, and it makes him laugh. She winks. “What else did you feel?”

 

He’s a little embarrassed that he can’t seem to vocalize it. “I don’t know.”

 

“Was it different from usual?”

 

“Definitely.”

 

“Do you want to know what I think?”

 

He nods, leaning forward more and focusing on her kind dark eyes. “Yeah, always.”

 

“I think that it’s been a long time since you found someone physically attractive,” she says. “I also think that you were interested in him in a way you haven’t been since Kent.”

 

The name makes Jack’s stomach cramp. “I don’t know.”

 

“Neither do I. I’m only saying what I think. I can always be wrong. I want you to think about something for me right now.”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Imagine yourself asking him out on a date. How does that make you feel then?”

 

“I don’t know if he’s interested in men,” Jack says, and Blanca shakes her head.

 

“That’s not the point. Imagine yourself asking him out. How do you feel?”

 

Jack pictures Eric Bittle’s face, turned up to him and shining with eagerness. It looked like Bittle enjoyed being a librarian like Jack enjoys playing hockey. He was cute, no doubt about that, and when Jack thinks about saying those words—you want to go on a date? or some formation of them—his heart skitters. It’s strange. It’s so strange he shakes his head.

 

“Are you thinking about it?” Blanca says, and he nods. “So here’s what I think you should do. When you get a chance to talk to him on Thursday, imagine yourself asking him out. You’re good at reading people, Jack—I think you’ll be able to tell if he’s interested. If you think he’s interested in going on a date with you, and you would like to go on a date with him, I want you to seriously consider asking him.”

 

Jack starts to shake his head, but stops. Then, “I don’t even know what people do on a date.”

 

“Don’t worry about what other people do; they’re not you, and you’re not them. Would you like to go on a date with the librarian?”

 

Dates could include kissing. Jack remembers how plush and pink his mouth was. It was a nice mouth. The fact that he noticed it, and can recall it so vividly, makes him blush. “I think so.”

 

“Then consider it. That’s all I ask. And we’ll talk again after next Thursday, okay?”

 

He nods. “The thought makes my stomach hurt.”

 

“It’s because it’s new for you. Don’t be afraid to open up to new experiences. They could be good or bad but they’re still new, which is exciting. In a good way.”

 

Jack nods again and takes a deep breath. “Thank you.”

 

“You are very welcome. Another thing I want you to think about,” she says, “is the idea of trusting that people are honest. If he says he is interested, then he is. If he says he’s not, then he’s not. People don’t always lie, or feel they have to lie, and you can trust them to be truthful with you. I also want you to consider the word worthy. What are you worthy of, Jack? It’s not just your Cups, or the All-Star nominations. It’s goodness and kindness and companionship. You are worth those things, and you deserve them like anyone else.”

 

He nods, trying to wrap his head around the idea of being worthy of something that isn’t hockey. “I’ll try to…remember that.”

 

“Good.” She smiles. “And when I visit at the end of June, I’ll bring you some zucchini.”

+

On Sunday, Bitty just so happens to be on the front steps of his apartment building at about seven in the morning, eating a cinnamon roll and watching the neighborhood roll by. He loves living in this area and knows he lucked out hard with his apartment. Sure, it might be a studio, but the oven works, there’s lots of natural light, a gorgeous brick interior, wood floors, and the neighbor he shares his bathroom with is very hygienic. For someone who has such a small life, it’s enough.

 

He licks icing off his finger and waits for Jack to run by. He hopes he has a memorable enough face that they can have a conversation, because Bitty did some intense Googling after running into the hockey star the week before, and the fact that Jack Zimmermann is the first openly non-straight NHL player caught Bitty’s attention immediately. Even more than that is the fact that Jack has apparently never dated anyone, even after his admission of his sexuality.

 

That’s interesting, to Bitty. Jack is interesting, and after indulging himself in about six hours of documentaries and interviews and fan-made videos, he kind of wants to get to know Jack a little better, because Jack seems lonely. He has sad eyes. Bitty is lonely too, and his flirting skills are pretty rusty, but if Jack is even partway attracted to him, he’ll be able to tell. And if he’s not, well. He’s still an attractive guy, and Bitty hasn’t had any room in his life for attractive guys the entire time he’s been in Boston, and fuck it, he’s graduated with a 3.91 GPA and a master’s degree, he can fucking flirt with a hottie and not have a heart attack over it.

 

Jack shows up around the corner right at 7:15, which is the exact moment that Bitty absolutely regrets sitting on his steps in cut-off shorts and a tank top. What the fuck is wrong with him? Grad school was easy compared to this, he’s so stupid, he had a moment of unfortunate bravery and that moment is absolutely gone and now he’s goddamn embarrassed with himself. Trying to flirt with Jack Zimmermann, of all the ridiculous ideas in the world.

 

“Hey,” Jack says, and fuck, he’s spotted Bitty and now he’s smiling. “Bittle, right?”

 

“Hi,” Bitty says, not sure what to do with his still-sticky fingers. “Yeah, that’s me. Most people call me Bitty.”

 

“Do you let them?” Jack’s face is fairly devoid of emotion other than his raised eyebrows, but Bitty thinks he’s trying to be funny. It’s cute.

 

“Some of them,” he says, standing and trying to discreetly lick the icing off his finger without making it look deliberate. It’s not deliberate. He really does just have sticky fingers. From the icing. “I’d let you.”

 

Jack’s face is flushed from the heat and the run, but his eyes drop for a moment before he meets Bitty’s gaze again. He’s got a very intense look in his eyes that’s a little disconcerting, like he’s always extremely focused. “Bitty, then. Do you live here?”

 

“What, you think I’m waiting outside for you to run by?”

 

Now the smile is sheepish. Jack runs a hand through his sweaty hair. “You could be visiting a friend or something.”

 

“I live here,” he says. “It’s a nice morning.”

 

“It is.” Jack is hesitating. Bitty’s love life can be summed up in two words: Connor Blake. His undergrad ex-boyfriend. His undergrad ex-boyfriend who did all the flirting so Bitty didn’t really have to. Now, Bitty can’t quite interpret Jack, and he’s not sure if that’s because of his own woeful inexperience or because Jack is that strange. Probably a mix. “You, uh. I mean. You—” He looks clearly embarrassed. “Did you have any plans for today?”

 

Bitty shakes his head. “Not really, no. I graduated last weekend, so at least I don’t have any homework to do.”

 

“Graduated? From where?”

 

“Simmons. Library and Information Science.” He grins. “I can be an actual real librarian now.”

 

It’s a strange conversation, but Jack expresses interest in librarianship, and Bitty, who loves his work, is only too happy to oblige him with information. It’s only when he’s talked for almost ten minutes that he stops himself in the middle of a sentence. “Goodness, I’m rambling! You’re supposed to be exercising, and I’m talking your ear off.”

 

Jack shakes his head, and indeed his eyes are still intense and not bored at all. “No, I was enjoying hearing you talk. You—you have a nice accent.”

 

Bitty puts a hand to his face with a groan. “Lord Jesus, no. I sound like a redneck.”

 

“I—think it sounds cute.”

 

Bitty can’t tell if he’s flirting or being nice, so he says, “You’re wrong, but thank you anyway.” He pauses, finally standing from his spot on the steps. “Don’t you need to finish your run?”

 

Jack nods. “Yeah, I have a pretty strict schedule.” He does that thing again where he frowns at the ground. He’s done it three times now, and Bitty’s not sure what it means. “But I do need to, uh, eat, so. If you need to eat, and if you’re not doing anything today, did you—want to get dinner?”

 

Bitty’s heart races like a thoroughbred in his chest. Jack cannot mean what he thinks he means. “I would really like that, but my budget’s tight and I blew my out-to-eat funds on pizza last night.”

 

Jack looks at the ground, then right into Bitty’s eyes. He seems to falter and regain resolve again. Now that Bitty has talked to him for longer than a few minutes, he sees that Jack is actually quite expressive—but it’s contained to his eyes and his mouth in minute changes. “Would you, uh. Be interested in maybe making it a date?”

 

Bitty swallows hard and isn’t sure what to say to that. “What would that change?”

 

“I haven’t—I mean, when people go on dates, usually the asker is the payer. Am I wrong?”

 

He can’t help but to smile. “No, I don’t think you’re wrong. It’s been a while since I had a date, but that’s kind of what I remember it being.”

 

Jack’s smile quirks and he looks pleased—Bitty’s not sure if it’s with his own courage (that had to take a lot of courage, oh Lord) or Bitty’s response. “Is that a yes?”

 

Bitty chews at his lip, trying not to smile too big or look too excited, but holy shit, Jack Zimmermann, NHL god, has asked him out on a fucking date after talking to him for all of twenty minutes. That’s like a thing, right? “Yeah, that’s a yes. But nowhere fancy. Lord knows I’ll embarrass myself in a fancy restaurant.”

 

Jack laughs, and it’s a very nice, deep, chesty sort of laugh. “I don’t do fancy. Is six tonight okay?”

 

“Sounds good to me. Meet me here?”

 

Nodding, Jack looks at his watch. “Yeah, that would be good. I’ll—I’ll see you in a few hours, then?”

 

Bitty nods. He can’t stop smiling. “Yes, definitely. See you soon. Have a good run.”

 

“I’ve got your number,” Jack says, and his smile is lopsided now and holy fuck is he hot. “I’ll text you, okay?”

 

Nod, nod, nod. It’s about all he can do. “Yeah, definitely. Thanks. Have a good run.”

 

“You already said that.”

 

Bitty slaps a hand to his face. “Sorry, you made me nervous.”

 

Jack takes a deep breath. “Yeah, you make me nervous too. I’m looking forward to getting more nervous.”

 

Who says shit like that? Oh God. “Me too. Yeah. See you.”

 

He watches Jack run around the corner before he races upstairs to call his mother.

 

+

 

Jack refrains from texting Blanca until he’s back in his apartment and has already put a load of laundry washing.

 

Jack: I took your advice and asked him out on a date. (8:49AM)

Blanca Diaz: That’s good! How did it feel? (8:55AM)

Jack: Nerve-wracking. I kept doubting myself. (8:59AM)

Blanca Diaz: That’s what some people say is part of the thrill. Are you excited for this? (9:07AM)

Jack: Not yet. Mainly I’m just nervous. And thinking he’s not really interested. He’s very polite.

Blanca Diaz: What did he say when you asked him out? (9:11AM)

Jack: First he said his budget was tight so I clarified that it would be a date and that I would. Take him out. (9:15AM)

Blanca Diaz: What did we talk about last week? Do you remember? (9:18AM)

Jack: That I need to start trusting that people are honest. It’s hard. (9:20AM)

Blanca Diaz: What else? (9:20AM)

Jack: That I’m worth it. (9:22AM)

Blanca Diaz: You are worthy, not just of your Stanley Cups or the All-Star games, but you are worthy of finding companionship. You are worth extra effort. You are worth kindness. Is he worth your time? (9:31AM)

Jack: I think so. (9:32AM)

Blanca Diaz: A date is just a date. You are not committing to anything but a date. If it turns out you are not as interested as you thought you were, that’s okay. If you are more interested than you thought you were, that’s okay. Not everything has to be contracts :) (9:35AM)

Jack: I didn’t get the feeling that he knows much about hockey. (9:39AM)

Blanca Diaz: That might be the best thing for you, Jack. What do you have in your life that isn’t hockey? (9:41AM)

Jack: Nothing. (9:41AM)

Blanca Diaz: Realistically, you’re turning thirty this year. Within the next ten years, hockey won’t be there anymore in this capacity. What will you have after hockey? (9:44AM)

 

Jack stares at her text. What will you have after hockey? He doesn’t know. He does his few dishes in the sink and runs his fancy vacuum over his hardwood floors, mops, cleans the bathroom, and checks his phone when it buzzes in his pocket.

 

Blanca Diaz: I want you to start thinking of finding a hobby. Something that isn’t hockey. Something that you enjoy. Then we’ll talk about it next time, okay? You are worth so much more than a sport, Jack. (10:31AM)

 

His hobby is hockey. It’s always been hockey. Everything in his life has always been hockey, and if Jack thinks too hard  about not having hockey, his chest squeezes like a vice. He is hockey.

 

Blanca Diaz: You are not hockey; hockey is what you play and what you do, but not who you are. I know what you’re thinking ;) (10:34AM)

 

Jack smiles and finishes his chores.

 

 

His mantra for the rest of the day is that he is not hockey, hockey is not who he is. It’s a hard concept for him to come to terms with, but Blanca always tells him he doesn’t have to do things in one day. He can take time with things, and his feelings are always valid. So he says the words and only the words, and he doesn’t think too hard about them, but by the time he showers and calls a cab, he’s feeling more comfortable with them. Hockey is not who he is. It’s a revelation.

 

He texts Bitty at about half past five: Hi this is Jack. I wanted you to have my number.

 

He gets a response almost immediately: Hi! Thank you! :)

 

Texting is a thing Jack does almost exclusively with Blanca for therapy purposes, but he figures if he’s not just hockey, then he also doesn’t have to keep texting only for her.

 

Jack: Are you regretting saying yes? (5:31PM)

Bitty: Goodness, no! I already told my mother I’m going on a date, you can’t back out now. Otherwise I’d be LYING to her!! ;) (5:31PM)

 

Jack’s heart pounds like it does before games. Can Bitty be his hobby? No, that’s weird, and also sounds a little sexual. Which is…not what Jack has ever been about, really, but maybe he wouldn’t mind—no, that’s weird.

 

Jack: I’m sure there are plenty of young men who would take you out. (5:33PM)

Bitty: If I haven’t found any yet, I highly doubt that -_- (5:33PM)

Jack: I feel like it’s normal for me because I’m a robot, but you’re really outgoing. (5:34PM)

Bitty: I have you fooled. I’m actually an introvert. I fake it a lot haha. Not in a bad way!!! Like I am genuinely excited that you asked me out :) But I am kind of a homebody I guess (5:36PM)

Bitty: ALSO, you are definitely not a robot!! You just have a quiet face. (5:36PM)

 

Jack flushes at that and gets dressed in jeans and a blue button-down shirt, soft from overwashing.

 

Jack: That’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said about a robot. (5:37PM)

 

Bitty sends back several laugh/crying emojis, then: Are we going like super casual here or should I dress up?

 

Jack: Super casual. I’m in jeans. (5:41PM)

Bitty: Good to know. I’ll be ready for you at 6 :) (5:41PM)

Jack: I’m on my way. (5:43PM)

 

Bitty’s sitting on his steps the same way he was when Jack jogged by earlier that same morning, which is sort of hard to believe because it feels like it’s been days since he’s seen him. Bitty stands when Jack gets out of the cab, and something in Jack’s throat seizes, because Bitty is in khaki shorts and sandals and a mint green button-down shirt, short sleeved to show off his toned, golden arms, and his blonde hair is sort of coiffed in a way that it hadn’t been that morning. If Jack ever doubted that he was genuinely interested in men, he has proof right here that he is genuinely interested in men.

 

“The place I picked is three blocks from here,” Jack says, and he’s sweating from sheer nerves. Thank God he put deodorant on twice. “Did you want to walk, or…?”

 

“Walking’s nice,” Bitty says, so Jack pays the cab driver and they watch him drive off. Jack has hands shoved in his pockets. He has no idea what to do now.

 

“I’ve never been on an actual date-date before,” he says suddenly, looking down at Bitty, who is looking up at him with very nice brown eyes. His lashes are impossibly long.

 

Bitty smiles at him. “Lucky for us, I have. So basically you flatter me a whole lot and we eat and we’ll talk, and I’ll tell you that you look unbelievably good in blue, and you’ll tell me I have beautiful eyes, and then you’ll walk me home, and if you’re good I’ll even let you have a good night kiss.”

 

Jack feels a little dizzy for a moment. “Oh, is that how dates go?”

 

“Good ones. I’m being optimistic.”

 

He has to laugh at that, leading Bitty across the street and down the block. “So I don’t know very much about you, but you could know a lot about me because of, you know, hockey and all, so why don’t you—can you tell me more about you?”

 

Bitty can, in fact, tell Jack a lot about him. He was born and raised in Georgia, and did undergrad for English at the University of Georgia. It was only in his senior year that he really started to focus on what he wanted in his future, and working at the campus library made him realize how much he wants to work with children and literacy programs. So he moved to Boston when he got accepted at Simmons, essentially bribed his way into his current apartment with baked goods, lives an openly gay life (which is so much easier in Boston than Georgia), and he knows virtually nothing about hockey.

 

“I figure skated for years,” Bitty says, as they wait at a crosswalk. “So I’m super familiar with the ice and the rink, but I don’t know a thing about hockey.”

 

“My therapist says that’s a good thing,” Jack says, without thinking, and blushes immediately. That’s not exactly the best thing to say on a first date.

 

“Oh yeah?” Bitty says, smiling up at him. He’s got a great smile—wide and bright.

 

“Yeah,” Jack says, and figures hell, if he ends up wanting Bitty to go on a second date with him, he might as well be honest so Bitty knows what he could be getting himself into. You are worthy. “Her name is Blanca. She thinks I need to start thinking about what happens after hockey.”

 

Bitty makes a noise. “Athletes retire a lot earlier than regular folk, huh?”

 

“Yeah. And I’m told I’m a little more intense than most athletes.”

 

Bitty bumps into him as they walk, and Jack isn’t sure if it’s on purpose or not, so he errs on the side of caution and keeps his hands in his pockets. “You know, I knew of you because I live in Boston and I’ve seen you running around everywhere, but I didn’t really know much about you until I harassed you with my flyer.”

 

Jack chuckles a little. “Did you Google me?”

 

“For like six hours,” Bitty says, and his cheeks are flushed deeply pink. It’s a wonderful look on him, and Jack finds that he likes simply looking on Bitty’s face. People have never interested him much, but something about Bitty’s vibrancy, the way he positively buzzes with life, is arresting. “You are a very interesting person, Mr. Zimmermann.”

 

“Literally nobody has ever said that to me,” he says, and Bitty laughs again.

 

“I just did,” he says, and he bumps into Jack, definitely deliberately now, so Jack bumps back.

 

“I heard it. What made me interesting?” They’re at another crosswalk, but the restaurant is across the street. It looks crowded, and Jack feels dread pooling in his stomach. Crowded means they won’t have a lot of time to talk privately, because he is usually interrupted frequently by autograph-seekers. He doesn’t mind obliging, but this is…it’s his very first date-date. And he wants to keep it special.

 

Bitty shrugs, looking thoughtful. “I’m not sure, exactly, but I couldn’t find…hardly anything about your personal life, other than, um, the overdose.”

 

“I don’t have a personal life, that’s why,” he says, and he smiles hoping that Bitty will smile, and Bitty does smile, and Jack is thrilled by it. This isn’t so bad. This is actually rather nice. He can do this. Date people. Date a person—Bitty. This is a nice date so far.

 

“That’s what had me interested,” Bitty says, and they walk across the street together, Jack naturally slowing his pace as he’s faced with something he does not want to do. “You are like this larger-than-life sports hero who does really great charity work, but what’s your favorite color? Favorite movie? How do you like your eggs? Those are the things that interested me, because so many other athletes have those kinds of things about them online, except for you.” He bites at his lip and Jack watches him flush harder. “You came out four years ago, but you don’t have any scandals. There aren’t any leaked photos or crazy club nights. I find you interesting, because you’re not at all what I expected from a professional athlete.”

 

At the door to the restaurant, the line is twenty people deep. Jack turns his head a little, trying to hide his face. Bitty notices. “You want to go somewhere else?” he says, and he reaches out to touch Jack’s arm, gently. He is a creature of touch, it seems, and Jack is a starving creature himself.

 

“Would you mind?”

 

“Honestly, if all we did was walk around West End and talk, I’d be fine with that. But I know you have a schedule to keep, so we should definitely get you fed.”

 

The second restaurant they try is much less busy. They get seated right away, the girl recognizing Jack and staring at him with wide eyes, and she seems reluctant to let another girl wait on them.

 

“Lord, she’s thirsty,” Bitty whispers at him, as soon as the girl slinks away in clear frustration. “Does that happen to you all the time? Women like wanting to throw themselves at you?”

 

Their table is small and private, and Jack is pleased with it. He likes being private. “Yeah, pretty much every day.”

 

“What about guys? You’re intimidating as hell, I don’t see a bunch of guys throwing themselves at you.”

 

“They don’t,” Jack agrees. “They sit on concrete steps licking their fingers at me.”

 

Bitty’s mouth falls open in shock and Jack grins at him. “You,” Bitty says, “are sassy.”

 

Jack is so proud of himself for that one he makes a note to remember it for later. “In all honesty, I have never been approached by a guy for…dating purposes.”

 

“Whoa, are you approached for, like—other stuff?” The way he says other stuff makes Jack flush.

 

“Sometimes. It’s kind of really weird.” He shrugs. “But that doesn’t really happen much. Mostly ladies.”

 

Bitty shakes his head, and at least he’s smiling, so Jack hasn’t embarrassed himself horribly yet. “All that attention must be pretty tiring.”

 

Someone gets it. Jack feels the nerves fluttering in his chest ease a little. “Yeah. So if I look like a creepy recluse, I kind of am.”

 

“Not creepy,” Bitty says, and he leans forward on the table a little. “Still interesting.”

 

“Green,” Jack says, “is my favorite color.”

 

Bitty’s smile gets a little bigger. “And your favorite movie?”

 

The Wizard of Oz.”

 

“Really? I thought you’d say, like. Miracle or Slap Shot.”

 

“Both good,” Jack says, “but not my favorite.”

 

Bitty rests his chin on his palm, looking at Jack in a way that makes Jack want to be looked at. “And how do you like your eggs?”

 

“Hard-boiled. Easy protein snack.”

 

Laughing, Bitty shakes his head. “You are something else, Mr. Zimmermann.”

 

“Is that a good thing?”

 

Oh, but that smile is sweet. “It’s a very good thing.”

 

 

Bitty’s hand is soft and warm. They’ve taken their time with their dinner and now they’re talking quietly as the sun sets, Jack’s hand palm up on the table and Bitty’s hand resting there gently. Their conversation hasn’t gotten awkward, or slowed, or ebbed; Bitty is a particularly attentive listener, and Jack, who doesn’t talk easily to people, talks easily to him.

 

“So what’s your first hobby gonna be?” Bitty asks. “You’ve already got author under your belt. Do you want to write more books, maybe?”

 

“I didn’t do too much with that,” Jack says, feeling strangely shy. “The real draw of the book is the great art. Larissa is a friend of my therapist and introduced us.”

 

Bitty shakes his head and squeezes Jack’s hand. “Don’t you start with that. You did something great, and you should be proud of it. Your words are in that book, and your story is in there too. It’s lovely.”

 

Jack wants to believe him, so he tries. It takes him a few more moments to speak. “Maybe I could write another book. One for older kids.”

 

“Or a memoir. You certainly have enough to say, and when you get going and stop being self-conscious, you’re fun to listen to.” He smiles. “I would definitely read something like that coming from you.”

 

“You’re getting biased,” he says, and Bitty squeezes his fingers again.

 

“Not biased. Interested.”

 

Interested. It’s a good word. It implies further discovery. And with the way Bitty’s looking at him, Jack is very much already thinking of what they could do on a second date.

 

“Excuse me,” a voice says, and it’s the girl from the hostess stand—her nametag says Paulina. “Mr. Zimmermann, would you, um. Can I maybe—”

 

“I can take a picture if you like,” Bitty says, pulling his hand away from Jack’s and flushing deeply. The girl doesn’t miss it. She looks like she is going to burst.

 

“That would be great,” she says, and Jack can see that she’s shaking a little. He doesn’t know why. If she knew how much of an idiot he really was, she wouldn’t be looking at him with those big doe eyes. “Can I—may I please put it on my Twitter? And Facebook?”

 

Jack nods. He doesn’t have a Twitter or Facebook, but he knows he’s all over both of them. “Yeah, sure.”

 

“Let’s go stand outside,” Bitty says. “The light’s better out there, don’t you think?”

 

When they’re outside, Jack puts his arm around Paulina and rolls his eyes as Bitty shuffles them around until he says he finds the perfect shot. She has her arm around his waist and is definitely shaking. When Bitty’s done, he shows Paulina the few photos he took.

 

“I think that one is best,” he says about the third one. “Your smile looks so genuine and nice.”

 

She’s bright red and she looks at him, then at Jack. He can see her making connections. “Thank you, thanks a lot. I really appreciate it.”

 

“He’s reading at the West End library,” Bitty says, and Jack rolls his eyes with a smile. Of course Bitty’s going to promote. “On Thursday, during after-school reading hour.”

 

Her eyebrows shoot up. “I take my son to the morning ones sometimes.” She looks up at Jack again. “What will you be reading?”

 

“He’s got a kid’s book coming out,” Bitty says, and he pulls out his own phone to show her the library’s Twitter. She puts a hand to her mouth. Jack thinks she’s going to cry.

 

“That is so sweet,” she says, and the hand to her mouth goes to her heart, and she’s looking up at Jack like she’s seeing a totally different person. “My son is three, is he too young?”

 

“Bring him along,” Bitty says. “I’m going to make Jack read in funny voices, so it should be enjoyable for the littler ones, at least.”

 

Jack balks at that. “Wait, nobody said I had to read in funny voices.”

 

“Jack, you’re reading to children, your monotone is not entertaining.” Bitty rolls his eyes and gives Paulina a very big smile. “We’d love to see you. He’s signing books after his reading hour and Q&A, and all the proceeds go to his charity, Make it Better.”

 

Bitty is really good at this. Jack wonders what would’ve happened if Bitty had been his media rep when he first got into the NHL. Probably would’ve gone more smoothly, for one.

 

They make a little more smalltalk after that until Paulina leaves, and Jack and Bitty go back in to finish up their drinks, Jack pays, and they walk slowly back to Bitty’s apartment, chatting now about books (Jack likes nonfiction history, Bitty will read anything by Stephen King). Jack wants to hold his hand, but that’s a little too public for him, considering that people are definitely recognizing them as they walk past, but at Bitty’s steps, he lets Jack walk him right up to the door, then turns to him and waits, his smile knowing.

 

Jack swallows. “Can I take you out again?”

 

“You can take me out whenever you want.”

 

His heart, dormant for so long, stirs awake. “Thursday, after the reading?”

 

“Why wait until Thursday?”

 

Jack sighs. “I have to do readings at a couple of elementary schools. I—don’t have it in my schedule, but I can make time for Thursday?”

 

Bitty nods. He’s leaning against the door, and it would be so easy for Jack to slide up against him and hold him there with his body. He doesn’t. Instead, he fiddles with his watch. “Um,” he says, and Bitty laughs.

 

“Oh, come here. Let me take pity on you.” He reaches out and snags Jack’s trembling hand and pulls him in. Bitty is small-built—he has fine little bones in his fingers and wrists, but the feel of his waist under Jack’s hands is surprisingly solid for how narrow he is. He tips his head back and Jack sees a flash of his eyes before bending down a little to press his mouth softly to Bitty’s, chaste, twice, before pulling back. His head is reeling a little.

 

It’s been nearly four years since he kissed anyone. “That was nice,” Jack says, and Bitty presses hands to Jack’s neck, the tips of his fingers a tease at Jack’s hairline.

 

“Yep. And that’s all you get for a first date.”

 

“I wasn’t asking for more.”

“I know you weren’t.” Bitty’s eyes search his face. “Okay, maybe one more for a first date.”

 

Jack smiles and smiles, and kisses him again.

 

+

 

@prettypaulie Oh my God, look who I met at work tonight!!!! #jackzimmermann ow.ly/4n98sl

@sinisterlies @prettypaulie oh my fucking god i am going to climb him like a fucking TREE #jackzimmermann #thatjawtho

@prettypaulie @sinisterlies he’s HUGE and super nice

@RaquelVox @prettypaulie @sinisterlies haha is he really??? he seems like kind of a jerk in his interviews

@prettypaulie @RaquelVox @sinisterlies I think that’s just nerves, he was very nice to me

@sinisterlies @prettypaulie @RaquelVox who took the pic? It’s a great shot of you girl make that ur profile pic

@prettypaulie @sinisterlies @RaquelVox The guy he was with. He took like 5 lol trying to find a good one for us, it was sweet

@RaquelVox @prettypaulie @sinisterlies wait HOLD UP he was with a guy????

@sinisterlies @prettypaulie @RaquelVox HOLY SHIT WAS HE ON A FUCKING DATE?????

@prettypaulie @RaquelVox @sinisterlies Yeah he was with this blonde guy

@prettypaulie @sinisterlies @RaquelVox I don’t know!! They were just having dinner and talking, people just have dinner sometimes Grace

@sinisterlies @prettypaulie @RaquelVox okay but was the guy cute??? do we even know what zimms type is???

@prettypaulie @sinisterlies @RaquelVox well i mean yeah he was cute. he’s a librarian at west end.

@swimmerfann @prettypaulie @sinisterlies @RaquelVox Was it this guy?? ow.ly/9899n2

@prettypaulie @swimmerfann @sinisterlies @RaquelVox haha yeah!! :)

@swimmerfann @prettypaulie @sinisterlies @RaquelVox I love him! His name’s Eric, he does a lot of stuff w/ kids over at @BPLWestEnd :)

@swimmerfann @prettypaulie @sinisterlies @RaquelVox One time I had to run to the bank b4 it closed & he watched Peyton for like 30 min!! so sweet <3

@RaquelVox @swimmerfann @prettypaulie @sinisterlies oh my god do u think they’re banging

@swimmerfann @RaquelVox Personally, I don’t think it’s any of our business?

@RaquelVox @swimmerfann Whatevs

 

Direct Messages

@swimmerfann Paulie, I saw them last night.

@prettypaulie Holy fuck, they were definitely on a date. Like. Oh my god I can’t breathe, they were DEFINITELY on a DATE they were HOLDING HANDS it was so cute I wanted to die. Like. Zimms looked hAPPY? How? How did this happen? Who is this blonde button of a child? TELL ME MORE ABOUT HIM just not like on Twitter directly, because oh my god Grace and Raquel have to calm the fuck down. They don’t deserve this knowledge. >.>

@swimmerfann They were definitely on a date, because there was goddamn goodnight kissing on the doorstep. I was grading at the Ollie’s across the street.

@swimmerfann I first met Eric because we just kind of noticed each other? He lives like a block up from me and he always comes into the coffee shop because he likes their pumpkin spice lattes LOL. So now I bring Peyton to see him sometimes, since he was just so GOOD with her.

@prettypaulie Maggie, he is SO CUTE!!!!!!! I can’t fucking breathe about it.

@swimmerfann Isn’t he though? He’s SUCH a nice guy too. I have to know how they met. I want to know everything. When are they getting married? Are they going to get a puppy together? I. Need. To. Know.

@prettypaulie It kinda felt like a first date. I was so fucking pissed that Tanya wouldn’t let me take their fucking table. That bitch. I covered for her twice last week >:|

@swimmerfann she’s such a cunt. Anyway, I’m taking Peyton to see him at the library on Thurs. She fucking loves him so much, it’s ridiculous. She’s been wearing his jersey every day to school. Like. Honey, we can WASH IT, at least. But she says it’ll ‘wash the luck out’ lord, he’s gonna love her.

@prettypaulie I was gonna bring Max. Want to go together? :)

@swimmerfann That would be great!! Let’s go ahead and meet there, yeah?

@prettypaulie Maggie, they were so cute ;________;

@swimmerfann I know, I know!!!! Deep breaths. This is it. Zimms came out forever ago and now he has a cute lil boyfriend, oh my lord what a time to be alive

Chapter Text

Jack: Good morning. (6:41AM)

Bitty: Morning!!! :) :) :) (6:42AM)

Jack: Did I wake you up? (6:45AM)

Bitty: Haha. Only by a little. My alarm just went off. Do you run every morning? (6:46AM)

Jack: I do, yeah. I start about now and end around eight. (6:47AM)

Bitty: There’s a coffee shop across the street if you’d like to change your schedule a little and meet me there? (6:48AM)

Jack: I’ll be there at 7:15 (6:50AM)

Bitty: I’ll brush my teeth and slap on deodorant, but don’t expect anymore than that. (6:51AM)

Jack: Haha, Roger that. (6:52AM)

 

“Hi, Eric,” a voice says, when Bitty trudges across the street in his cut-off shorts and a Red Sox t-shirt, still mussed from sleep. He turns toward the voice and sees Maggie Palmer waving at him. She’s settled in at a small table with her students’ tests in front of her. He shakes his head.

 

“Hey, mama. What are you doing up at ass o’clock?”

 

“Do you want to know the truth?” she says, and with her pale, freckled skin, he can tell she’s blushing.

 

“Oh my God, always.”

 

“Jack Zimmermann runs by every morning at seven-fifteen, and it’s like my dose of attractive male for the day before I deal with sixth graders.”

 

Bitty throws back his head and laughs, because good Lord, isn’t that why he’s out here too? She taps the seat next to her and he takes it. “I won’t lie to you,” he says, “that’s why I’m here too.”

 

She grins at him. “I saw you two last night. Looked fun.”

 

He puts his face in his hands and groans. “Oh my God. Did you tell anyone?” He hadn’t realized, exactly, that dating Jack Zimmermann would probably be big news, but clearly it’s going to be.

 

“My friend Paulie.” She winks at him. “You met her last night too. I trust her.”

 

“I saw you tweeted at the library,” he says, and he can feel how incredibly red his face is. “So I looked at her picture. Came out super adorable.”

 

“Our friends are assholes,” Maggie says. “Ignore anything else you saw there.”

 

“I saw Paulina vehemently defend Jack’s honor and call me cute,” Bitty says, stretching out his legs. He wonders, briefly, if this is how no-name people feel when they date movie stars. “Very sweet of her. I don’t think I quite…uh. Thought about how public this might be if we, like. Continue to date or whatever.”

 

“Oh, hon,” she says, but doesn’t say anything else. Bitty gets his order taken by Quinn, who’s working the register today, and when he gets his pumpkin spice latte—a year-round treat at Ollie’s—he takes a deep inhale of it.

 

While he waits for Jack, he helps Maggie grade the last of her tests using her guide, writing numbers at the top and frowning when kids get lower than a 60. “These poor guys,” Bitty says, and she chuckles.

 

“Summer school kids,” she says. “First week. It’s okay, we’ll work on it.”

 

“Bitty?”

 

He and Maggie look up, and Jack, in his tiny running shorts and white t-shirt, jogs across the street to them. Jack looks like a goddamn dream, all sweaty and bright-eyed. “Mr. Zimmermann,” Bitty says, kicking out the third chair at the table. “Have a seat. This is Maggie. Her daughter Peyton is in love with you.”

 

“She’s five, she only knows what obsession is,” Maggie says, and she reaches out a hand to Jack, who gives her that firm handshake of his. “Nice to meet you.”

 

“Peyton,” Jack says, and he sits down awkwardly, trying to get his long limbs to fold together. Bitty’s heart does little somersaults. Jack is even cuter than he was yesterday.

 

“Guilty,” she says. “I went to undergrad in Indianapolis. Our dog’s name is Manning.”

 

They talk a little more about football—something Bitty knows a lot about, which is a great juxtaposition to Jack’s woeful lack of knowledge—before Maggie has to pack up and head to work. “I’ll see you guys on Thursday,” she says, giving them a wave. Bitty waves back and watches her to make sure she gets to her car safely.

 

“She’s nice,” Jack says, and Bitty gives him a smile. She didn’t ask for an autograph or a picture, which had to take some restraint that Bitty greatly appreciates.

 

“She saw us last night.” It’s amazing how Jack can go pale and pink at the same time. “We weren’t exactly being discreet about it.”

 

“Are you okay with that? Because there are already some tweets about us online after Paulina put up her picture.”

 

Jack takes a breath. “I don’t want to start apologizing for living my life. Does it bother you?”

 

“Not really. Jack, I’m gay. It’s not like I have anything to hide. And you’re already out, so it’s not like you have anything to hide either. But…we’ve only been on one date. And this is going to get a lot of attention. I want to make sure that you’re okay with that.”

 

Jack gives him a look that Bitty finds is…warming. “I’ve been in the media spotlight since I was a baby because of my dad. I’m not afraid of attention. Especially not for something like this.”

 

Bitty looks down at his coffee. “So you think I’m worth it?”

 

“I already asked you out for a second date, didn’t I?”

 

Taking a deep breath, Bitty nods. “I’m into this, Jack. Into you. I’d like to keep dating you, if that’s okay.”

 

Jack leans in and his lips are soft on Bitty’s cheek, a fleeting little thing. His blue eyes are sad and earnest at the same time. “Yeah, that’s okay. I need to finish my run, but I can text you later, right?”

 

It is well-documented on the internet that Jack Zimmermann is not good with technology, so the request to text makes Bitty flush. “Yeah, definitely. I’ll be at work.”

 

“Sounds good. See you later.”

 

He jogs off, Bitty watches his ass (he is never going to get tired of that ass), and heads back inside to start getting ready for his day.

 

 

Direct Messages

@swimmerfann I just met Jack fucking Zimmermann. I am still shaking from it oh my god. I faked being cool harder than I have ever faked anything in my entire life.

@swimmerfann So I was at Ollie’s grading tests and waiting for his fine ass to run around the block like it always does in the mornings.

@swimmerfann When I get some company.

@prettypaulie No way, cute librarian??????

@swimmerfann Yesssss, he’s so nice. I think he likes me :o So he helped me grade and we admitted we were both waiting for Zimms to run by, and apparently they’d planned to meet because Zimms made like a beeline for us.

@prettypaulie THEY JUST WENT ON THEIR FIRST DATE YESTERDAY

@swimmerfann ZIMMS IS ALL OR NOTHING WE FUCKING KNOW THAT.

@prettypaulie Oh my God. Does cute librarian have his own Twitter

@prettypaulie OH MY GOD HE DOES!!!!!!

@swimmerfann !!!! I’m so fucking stupid, why did I never look.

@prettypaulie Oh my gosh, he talks about school and baking, look. ow.ly/399nph2

@prettypaulie Not a word about Zimms, I’m a little disappointed

@swimmerfann He’s so cute. Little cinnamon roll.

@prettypaulie He was so incredibly charming and sweet last night, Maggie, I can’t even tell you. I just keep thinking about it. He immediately offered to take a pic and made sure it was good lighting and he took seriously 5 of them to make sure one of them came out good and he told me all about Zimms’ book which OH MY GOD HAVE WE TALKEDA BOUT THAT? JACKY’S BAD DAYS? HELP ME!!! [flailingkermit.gif]

@swimmerfann I’m just so fucking proud of him. Watched him get drafted, you know? Worried about him like he was my own son, lord.

@swimmerfann Seriously, I was a senior in high school when Boston drafted him, and I got up at like six in the fucking morning to prepare for the draft ugh.

@swimmerfann And when he came out it was like—fuck YES. This is a guy who has worked his ASS OFF and has done so MUCH and I’m just. He’s a good guy. Raquel pissed me off bad when she said he’s a jerk in interviews. HE IS NERVOUS. HE HAS ANXIETY. LEAVE HIM ALONE.

@prettypaulie Right!!! The guy deserves some happiness.

@prettypaulie I JUST FOLLOWED CUTE LIBRARIAN AND HE JUST FOLLOWED ME BACK SHIT

@swimmerfann Oh my god. We talked about you. I told him we saw them and that I trusted you.

@prettypaulie I love you.

@swimmerfann hahaha ilu2.

 

They text throughout the day on Monday, and then on Tuesday (Bitty sleeps in so he misses Jack running), and they pepper texts to one another on Wednesday too, and Jack is so charming and Bitty likes him so much. Bitty is not someone who cares for people shallowly; he has never been able to do anything casual in his life, but this thing with Jack doesn’t feel casual at all. It seems like they’re enjoying learning one another every step of the way, and that’s something Bitty can get behind.

 

He learns so much about Jack that Bitty is surprised they’ve known each other for less than a week. There’s all the stuff the internet can tell him, of course, but there are Jack’s own words too—about his overdose, his anxiety, the things he’s looking into for hobbies (Bitty do you know how to knit? My mom says it’s cathartic), and so much about hockey. Bitty can’t grasp all of it yet, but Jack is serious when he says By the time the season starts, you’ll know everything. Bitty’s okay with that. He’s eager to learn more about this thing that Jack puts so much of himself into.

 

On Thursday morning, Jack changes his schedule a little and meets Bitty for coffee at ten at Ollie’s. There’s one table outside that’s free, so Bitty sits and waits for Jack, who comes in a cab instead of jogging, and when Bitty sees him he swears he feels a breeze blowing through the street, all cool and clean. Jack is in white shorts and sneakers and a slim-fitting rugby-style Bruins polo, and when he makes eye contact with Bitty, his smile is so big it’s painful. Bitty made someone smile like that, simply by existing. He wonders at this thing that’s less than a week old.

 

Jack doesn’t even hesitate before he bends down to give Bitty a kiss right on the mouth, and all the full tables inside Ollie’s go a little quieter. If Jack notices, he doesn’t seem to care; instead, he takes a seat beside Bitty, looking far more cheerful than he usually does. Visibly cheerful, which is not usually a Jack Zimmermann thing.

 

Wow, you’re in a good mood,” Bitty says, leaning back in his seat with a grin. “Where did that come from?”

 

“Having a good morning,” Jack says. “What kind of coffee is good here? I usually get it black, but I can have something a little sweet.”

 

Bitty thinks about something that Jack might actually like. “I’ll figure it out. You sit here, I’ll be right back.”

 

He heads into Ollie’s and everyone suddenly starts talking again. The girl behind the counter, Ramona, is clearly trying to hide a grin. “I’m not going to pretend you didn’t see that just now, so what do you wanna make for Jack Zimmermann?”

 

She puts a hand to her mouth, and her dark eyes are glittering brightly. “I have an idea, but if he doesn’t like it, I’m blaming you.”

 

Bitty laughs and nods. “Yeah, agreed. You do your thing.”

 

He brings by a small cup of coffee and doesn’t know what’s in it, but he passes it to Jack anyway. “Tell me what you think,” he says, and Jack sips it before his eyes go wide. Out the corner of his eye, Bitty is pretty sure that Ramona is watching them.

 

“Oh wow,” he says, then looks at his cup like it holds answers for him. “That’s—that’s really good, wow.”

 

Everyone in Ollie’s starts clapping and Bitty has to laugh. “Ramona made it for you,” he says, and Jack looks over to Ramona, and as soon as they make eye contact, she ducks behind the counter again. “I don’t even know what’s in it.”

 

“I taste maple syrup,” Jack says. “Wow, it’s great.” He doesn’t seem to know what else to say, and the Ollie’s customers—good folk, from all of Bitty’s experiences—go back to their own conversations but they are definitely watching Bitty and Jack Zimmermann in small little questioning glances. Bitty tries to engage Jack in a conversation so he doesn’t start to notice the attention again.

 

“I’m glad you like it,” he says, leaning forward a little with a hand wrapped around his own cup. “So what did you want to do for our second date tonight?”

 

“I have an idea,” Jack says, “but I’d really like it to be a surprise, if that’s okay?”

 

Bitty chuckles. “Yeah, of course. But you do realize that our third date is mine, right?”

 

Jack’s smile is crooked and shattering. “There’s gonna be a third?”

 

“Hush, you. Yes, there will be. And I have a surprise for you too.”

 

They chitchat after that for another hour, Bitty showing Jack a few pictures his mom had texted him recently of their kitchen renovations, and Jack shares a few things his mom had texted him on Pinterest for hobbies. Bitty admits that he does know how to crochet, so if Jack’s interested, then—yes, Jack is very much interested. They look at funny YouTube videos together and check out some tweets about Jack’s book.

 

About ten minutes before Bitty needs to start walking to work, Jack eases his chair closer until their knees knock, and his big hands reach for Bitty’s. Sometimes it’s hard to meet Jack’s eyes, so he doesn’t blame it when people like Ramona or Paulina have to look away. Jack’s gaze is intense. Even now, even delighting in that look, Bitty finds himself flushing and has to struggle not to lower his eyes. Jack holds his hands and rubs his thumbs over Bitty’s knuckles and he doesn’t say anything.

 

Bitty has a hard time reconciling what he’s seen of Jack online with the Jack that’s with him now. He simply lets Jack look at him and looks back. When Jack leans in, Bitty meets him halfway. Another small little kiss. Maybe, for their third date, they can explore that a little more in private.

 

“What are you thinking about?” Bitty asks, and when Jack starts playing with his fingers, Bitty has to remind himself that he’s a human being and he does need to breathe.

 

“Not much, actually,” Jack says. “I’m…pretty calm. And I definitely wasn’t this week, I was so nervous at those schools.”

 

“You said,” Bitty says, smiling a little. He traces his fingertips along the tendons standing in relief on the back of Jack’s hands, watching his progress. Jack’s hands are seriously huge, almost disproportionately big. Bitty kind of loves them. “But the kids seemed to like you, and from what I heard, you’re great with kids.”

 

“I try. Kids are easier to understand for me.” He turns Bitty’s palms over and inspects the lines found there, maybe looking for love or life. His fingers trace the highways of Bitty’s hands, and Bitty shivers, wondering at their destination. “They’re simple, and things are simple for them. Like. One of the girls, I don’t know if I told you, but she asked me why I can’t be happy. Like, right? I know. I feel that.”

 

“What did you tell her?”

 

Jack shrugs, his instinct at self-deprecation making him open his mouth, and his struggle to avoid that making him stop. He takes a breath. “I told her that I want to be happy but I can’t always do that. Sometimes it’s like I have two mes, and one Jack is trying to make the other Jack feel bad. And sometimes that mean Jack wins.”

 

“That’s a really good way to put it,” Bitty says. “Kids are really adept at understanding duality, especially put in those terms. They really get the concept of heroes and villains.” He gives Jack a little smile. “You’re going to be amazing today, I know it, but remember to have a little fun. The kids are there for you. Yes, your book is cool, that’s great and all. But they like you.”

 

Nodding, Jack gives him another one of those charming little smiles. “Thanks for making me feel better. I appreciate it.”

 

“Of course, honey. You’re worth it.”

 

Jack’s cheeks flush suddenly, and there’s something lonely and soft on his face for a long moment. When he leans in to kiss Bitty, it’s a slow movement. Bitty closes his eyes. Jack’s mouth presses to his cheek instead. Gentle.

 

“You should head to work,” Jack says, tucked close and murmuring softly in Bitty’s ear. “I’ll see you at four?”

 

Bitty nods because he doesn’t know what words are anymore, and Jack pulls away enough for Bitty to see his eyes, which are downturned and sad-looking but bright, so blue, and Bitty leans in to capture his mouth. He stands and slings his messenger bag over his shoulder, and Jack grips his hand one more time, and Bitty pulls away slowly until only their fingers cling, then air, then he walks very quickly away with his hands in his pockets and his heart slamming against his ribs.

 

 

Direct Messages

@prettypaulie Are you nervous? I’m nervous as hell.

@swimmerfann It’s going to be fine. We need to breathe. We cannot be fucking weird. Our kids are going to be there. We can’t be those embarrassing Twilight moms.

@prettypaulie Did you see the #jackzimmermann hashtag

@prettypaulie Because oh my God, they’re like dating publicly.

@swimmerfann I did. Let’s ignore the creepy pap-shots for a moment and just focus on how utterly adoring Zimms’ face is when he is looking at Cutie Librarian.

@prettypaulie I have got to know how they met. Like how did this happen.

@swimmerfann I have no idea. If we PLAY IT COOL they might even tell us.

@prettypaulie Jesus I feel so weird inside about all this. Like. What if we become friends with them. Can you imAGINE

@swimmerfann Come to BPLWE enough and Eric will legit feed you pie. He bakes all the time. I’m serious. Just keep coming to the library and you will be friends with him, he’s that kind of guy.

@prettypaulie What is Jack Zimmermann even like as a friend

@swimmerfann Nobody knows. [ivolunteerastribute.gif]

 

 

The library hits capacity and Bitty feels awful about it. Jack isn’t even there yet, but the artist, Larissa, is, and Bitty fusses over her and makes sure she’s comfortable and she has everything she needs. Then she says it to him.

 

“Dude, you’re gonna have to turn people away.”

 

Bitty watches as Molly and Kerri look at some of their information together. He sighs. “I didn’t want to have to do that.”

 

“I know. But keep in mind I’m still a starving artist, so if you want to do several of these, I personally am game.”

 

Bitty runs a hand through his hair and exhales slowly. “I think Jack would be okay with it if his schedule allows. All of this stuff is planned so far in advance. Doing another one would require a budget review and another proposal. If we had a bigger venue, this wouldn’t be a problem.”

 

Larissa frowns for a long moment. “I mean, if we had a megaphone or something, we could maybe set up outside, but…not super feasible.”

 

“We’ve got to make a decision,” Molly says, when she comes over to him. “Jack’s here. I think he’s signing autographs in the line outside on his way in.”

 

Bitty’s heart does a little two-step. “He’s not going to want to turn people away.”

 

“Let’s see what he says,” Molly says, and she moves to the doors to start letting people in. The other staff help get everyone in and settled. The kids are excited, but so are their parents. Bitty makes sure he personally greets Maggie and Paulina—and gives Peyton a big hug—before getting them settled in their seats as well.

 

The crowd opens up and Jack steps through, looking tight around the eyes and mouth. His robot face, Bitty realizes, is his anxious face. Bitty makes eye contact with him and winks to settle his nerves, and it seems to work for a moment. Molly approaches him and Jack follows her to the back office.

 

By the time everyone is seated, Bitty realizes that he’s turning away two-thirds of the crowd. There’s a lot of disappointment running through the families still waiting in line, and he thinks frantically about how he can make this work. He hates disappointing people, and most especially, he hates disappointing kids—some of them are out there crying because they won’t get to meet Jack.

 

By the time Molly returns, Bitty has worked himself into a tizzy and is trying to breathe and not mess his hair up too much. “It’s okay,” Molly says, followed by Jack, who’s smiling. “Jack says he’ll stay until everyone gets what they came for.”

 

Bitty looks over her shoulder at Jack, who’s flushed and looking embarrassed. “You and I might have to reschedule,” Jack says, and Bitty blinks at him.

“That’s—that’s okay,” he says, “really, wow. So you’ll—we don’t have to disappoint anyone?”

 

“As long as they’re willing to wait or come back,” Molly says, “we can schedule a couple more sessions.”

 

Bitty’s mind can’t help it when he says, “But that’s not in the proposal.” Their budget doesn’t allow for more than what was approved in the proposal, and a knot of unhappiness settles in his stomach.

 

“I’ve got it,” Jack says, and he touches Bitty’s shoulder lightly. “Really. I’ll take care of it.”

 

“Jack…”

 

“No, I want to do this. Really.”

 

Molly looks from Jack to Bitty. She’s smiling. “Bitty, we’ll make it work, don’t worry about the proposal. Let’s do what we’re here to do—get kids what they need.”

 

The library staff comes together to regroup and work on the fly. Bitty loves the teamwork so much—everyone pitching in for a greater whole. The current plan is to shorten Jack’s Q&A time and bring the entire appearance from an hour and a half down to an hour. Molly goes outside to explain this to the waiting parents, who are disappointed in waiting but express relief that the library is working to accommodate everyone. Kerri introduces Jack and Larissa and explains a little about what the library strives to do for its kids and the next generation. Bitty mostly hangs back and watches as everything works. It was his proposal in the first place to grant this kind of time, space, and money that got him here. He hadn’t known it would be Jack’s book, of course, but Bitty wanted to use some of the library money to do things like this—to bring kids and parents together to talk about real issues.

 

When Jack begins to read, Bitty realizes with a shock that he’s using funny voices, exactly as Bitty said he would. The kids love it. They’re doing the screaming-laugh thing that Bitty finds so wonderful, and when Jack makes faces to go along with his funny voices, they love it even more.

 

Twice Bitty meets his eyes, and twice Jack winks at him. Bitty’s not sure where they intend to go with all of this, but Lord is he willing to find out.

 

During the first Q&A session, Larissa gets asked the most questions about her art, her style, her education, and how she knew she wanted to be an artist. She answers the questions in all different kinds of funny ways to make the kids laugh, but ultimately what they take away from it is what Jack cosigns—follow your dreams and try your hardest every day.

 

It’s the parents who have the most questions for Jack—the kids are too excited at the chance to touch him, hug him, and have him sign their books.

 

One mother that Bitty has seen regularly but can’t recall her name asks Jack about what it’s like being out while living such a public life. “I teach my children,” she says, “to love one another regardless of where they come from, but so many parents don’t teach their kids that. What can you tell my kids today about being gay? What can they take away from this that they’ll remember from someone as important as you are to them?”

 

“I guess what I can say,” Jack says, sitting at the little signing table with two kids on his left knee and one on his right, “is that the most important part of a person is their heart. If they have a good heart, they deserve your love. Some people don’t have good hearts, so you have to protect your good heart from them.” He thinks for a moment. “I don’t see anything wrong with being gay, or feeling like you were born a boy or a girl inside when you’re different on the outside. We are exactly the people we should be, and we need to be proud of ourselves for that.”

 

“Amen,” Paulina says, and her son Max is next in line. He’s not interested in Jack, though. He pushes his book toward Larissa and it’s as though Jack doesn’t exist.

 

Maggie looks over at Bitty and Bitty laughs.

 

 

The library usually closes at eight on Thursdays, but the last family leaves at 8:45. Marsha, the branch manager, has a long conversation with Jack, and by the time it’s 9:30, she and Jack are still in her office. Bitty sends him a quick text: I’m famished. I’ll be at the café around the corner if you’d like to meet me?

 

Bitty is halfway through his turkey melt when he sees Jack sliding through the doors and waves him over. Jack looks exhausted, but his smile is wide. He leans down and Bitty lets him have a kiss. He’d let Jack have a thousand kisses, if he wanted.

 

“I can’t thank you enough,” he starts, but Jack holds up a hand, snags Bitty’s Coke, and swallows over half in one massive gulp before gasping a sigh.

 

“I’m so thirsty,” he says, and Bitty has to laugh. Jack has made a point of drinking only water and sometimes coffee.

 

“Let me get you some water, honey. I’ll be right back.” He pats Jack’s shoulder as he heads to the counter, ordering food while he’s there—the healthiest-looking salad he can find on the menu—before sitting across from Jack again with a tall glass of ice water. Jack sucks it right on down and Bitty is simply content to look at him until Jack is able to focus. “I can’t thank you enough for today. We could not have anticipated such a turnout, and you were amazing at adapting with us. I know that isn’t easy for you for public appearances, so I extra appreciate it.”

 

Jack reaches his hands out, and Bitty takes them. The motion seems natural for both of them, and Bitty occupies himself with Jack’s lovely long, strong fingers, tracing the ridges and the callouses and tendons and bones. Those hands would feel nice on his bare skin. “I had a fun time,” Jack says, and his smile is that lopsided one that Bitty likes best. “I’m really glad we made it work. That’s good publicity for Larissa and the library.”

 

“And you,” Bitty says, squeezing his fingers. “You were so amazing. Several reporters were there, so hopefully they’ll have a good story.”

 

“Did any of them talk to you?” Jack asks, and here Bitty flushes.

 

“A little.” He pauses. “They did ask me if we’re dating.”

 

Jack sighs. “I figured that would happen sooner or later, to be honest.”

 

“Me too. But I sort of sidestepped it and said that this was about your book, the kids, and promoting the library. So I’m pretty sure they’ll say we’re dating. Really hope they, you know. Talk about the library instead, but we know how people work. They’re interested in the fact that you’re interested in someone.”

 

“I am definitely interested in someone,” Jack says, and he brings Bitty’s hands to his mouth, kissing at his knuckles. Bitty pulls away, very aware of his heartbeat in dozens of points of his body.

 

“Don’t you start that in public, Mr. Zimmermann.” He lets Jack have that smug smile for a moment before he asks, “Are you okay with, like. People saying we’re dating?”

 

“I thought we were? Dating, I mean.”

 

“Yes, of course, just. People saying it. Are you okay with that?”

 

Jack nods. “Yeah, I am. Are you?”

 

Bitty thinks about that for a moment. His life has never been very big, but it’s important. He feels like he’s doing good work, and with his MLIS, that’ll afford him the type of lifestyle he really wants—namely an apartment that has preferably a separate bedroom and a really nice kitchen, and maaaaaaybe a famous NHL star to fill it. But his life is his life, and a lot of people judge him before they know him, and Bitty can’t help that. What he can help is this: He’s falling in love with Jack Zimmermann, and he doesn’t want to stop the fall.

 

“I am,” Bitty says at last. “I am very okay with that.”

Chapter Text

@sinisterlies OH MY GOD @prettypaulie @swimmerfann @RaquelVox DID YOU FUCKERS SEE THIS???? bit.ly/1qrbz8

@sinisterlies @prettypaulie @swimmerfann @RaquelVox i feel like i am literally dying

@swimmerfann @sinisterlies @prettypaulie @RaquelVox Not one mention at ALL about the amazing turnout @BPLWestEnd had. Bad journalism right there.

@swimmerfann Dear @WCVB, the @BPLWestEnd reading of #jackzimmermann’s new book had a crowd of over a thousand & you focus on trash? #weak

@sinisterlies @swimmerfann @prettypaulie @RaquelVox listen i understand you’re on some sort of crusade here but zimms has a bf, does that not interest u

@swimmerfann @sinisterlies what interests me is what zimms is gonna do with the proceeds of this book you wanker. stop being a cunt.

@sinisterlies @swimmerfann Maggie i feel like i don’t even know you anymore

@swimmerfann @sinisterlies i’m sick & tired of media focusing on stupid shit & not the real story. i met zimms & he’s a doll. who CARES about a bf

@bibliobaker @swimmerfann @prettypaulie It was good to see all y’all!!! Thanks so much for coming out <3

@swimmerfann @bibliobaker @prettypaulie Thanks so much for working so tirelessly to get everyone in there! You guys did an A+ job <3

@sinisterlies @bibliobaker @swimmerfann @prettypaulie WAIT YOU’RE CUTE LIBRARIAN BF AREN’T YOU???

@bibliobaker @sinisterlies @swimmerfann @prettypaulie Hahaha. Apparently I am a cute librarian, yes :)

 

Direct Messages

@prettypaulie STOP HER!!!!! STOP HER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

@swimmerfann I DON’T THINK WE CAN, IT’S LIKE SHE’S IN HER FINAL FORM. WHAT DO WE DO.

@prettypaulie oh my god do you think she’d share fanfic with him???? like the ones of zimms and parse?

@swimmerfann OH MY GOD SHE COULDN’T THOUGH RIGHT??? LIKE HALF OF IT’S HERS?

@prettypaulie i can’t breathe. should we DM eric and be like “dude please please don’t click on any links she sends you”

@prettypaulie IT’S GETTING WORSE???!!!!

@swimmerfann I’M GONNA DM ERIC

 

Direct Messages

@swimmerfann Eric, I am so, so, so sorry for our friend. She doesn’t really understand that you guys are like. Real People.

@bibliobaker It’s okay! I know what the internet is, I’ve seen fandoms. I’m not offended, don’t worry. :)

@swimmerfann If she sends you any links, don’t click on them.

@bibliobaker Oh, so this fanfic she’s already sent is something I shouldn’t have clicked on.

@swimmerfann oh my gdo

@bibliobaker It’s actually really good. But it’s about Jack, so that’s kinda strange haha. Really, it’s okay. Don’t worry. :)

@swimmerfann I’m so embarrassed I could die

@bibliobaker Awwww no! Why, hon?

@swimmerfann It is very hard to articulate the exact amount of embarrassment I’m feeling, but please, for the love of God, don’t ever, ever show Zimms, okay?

@bibliobaker Cross my heart and hope to die :)

@swimmerfann I also hope to die. Soon. In a fiery hole.

 

@RaquelVox @bibliobaker so have you banged yet?

@swimmerfann @RaquelVox @bibliobaker You need to think before you shit out of your fingertips, Raquel.

@bibliobaker @RaquelVox I banged my toe on my dresser this morning, does that count?

@RaquelVox @bibliobaker have you done the sex

@bibliobaker @RaquelVox I have done the sex more than onCE IN MY LIFE in fact

@RaquelVox @bibliobaker HAVE U DONE THE SEX WITH JACK ZIMMERMANN

@bibliobaker @RaquelVox is that a dance move because i’m 100% positive he can’t dance

 

Direct Messages

@prettypaulie I think he’s gonna be OK actually

@swimmerfann what a fucking champ, i mean REALLY

@swimmerfann but dear god, don’t let zimms ever get a twitter. ever.

 

+

 

Jack’s Friday morning is busier than he expects it to be. Before he goes on his run, he has to return a call from George, the assistant GM to the Bruins. Their conversation is fairly simple—the Bruins are going to treat questions about whether or not Jack is dating someone as they would any other player, which is to say they won’t comment at all. “If we wouldn’t say anything for a straight player,” she says, “then we won’t say anything about you. Deal?”

 

“Deal. Does he need to do anything…I don’t know, differently?”

 

George laughs. “No, he’s doing great. His Twitter is hilarious. Tell him he’s fine, if he gets worried.” She pauses. “I’m happy for you, Jack.”

 

Jack flushes deeply. He’s always had a close relationship with her and has always been grateful for that, when things with the media got tough. “Thanks. I’m happy for me too.”

 

“And that’s the most important part. Enjoy your run, I’m about to start mine too.”

 

“Tell Layla I say hi.”

 

“I will, when she actually wakes up.” George snorts. “See ya, big guy.”

 

Jack’s run, as always, takes him right by Bitty’s apartment, where Bitty’s waiting for him on the front steps.

 

With about four other people. Who have a video camera and a microphone.

 

When Bitty sees him, he smiles. It doesn’t look strained or uncomfortable, he simply smiles, and all four people turn to him, and this is how Jack does his first interview about the person he’s dating. He figures he might as well get it over with, and then maybe it’ll become non-news faster.

 

The most interesting part, however, is the fact that this small news crew all have in their hands what look like homemade breakfast bars. He gives Bitty a questioning look and Bitty grins.

 

“I made them this morning. I figured we’d have company.”

 

“They’re sooooo good,” the camera guys says. “Like oh my God, Jeff, are you tasting what I’m tasting.”

 

“I’m saving half for my wife,” Jeff says.

 

Bitty hands Jack something wrapped in a paper towel. “Here you go. Brought one out for you too.”

 

The news crew spends maybe another ten minutes asking them questions, to which Bitty answers all of them, sparing Jack about 65% embarrassment. He’s so fluid and easy to talk to, and he clearly has them all charmed. They leave. Bitty and Jack are mostly alone, save for Ollie’s across the street and people heading to work.

 

Since Bitty’s on the first step of the stairs, he’s actually a little taller than Jack; so Jack leans up to take a kiss. “That was unexpected.”

 

“After what happened on Twitter last night, I am fucking pre-pared,” Bitty says, and he touches the back of Jack’s neck softly, looking still half-asleep when Jack peers closer. How early did he get up to make those breakfast bars? “It’s gonna be okay. You still want to date me?”

 

“I still want to date you.” Jack leans his forehead into Bitty’s shoulder for a moment, trying to get back his equilibrium. He hopes he’s not interrupted on the rest of his run where Bitty can’t save him. “What are your work hours today?”

 

“Nine to five.”

 

“Maybe we can do our third date as our second date and our second date as our third date?”

 

Bitty laughs at that, fingers still soft at the nape of his neck, curling lightly in his hair. Jack feels very soothed and calm. “That’s fine with me. You want to come over about seven?”

 

“Sure. What were you thinking?”

 

“It’s a surprise, but it’ll be here at my apartment. That okay?”

 

Alone. Together. In Bitty’s apartment. Where nosy busybodies can’t bother them. Yes. “I’m fine with that. Should I bring anything?”

 

“Just yourself. And come hungry.”

 

They kiss one more time before Jack heads out. He has to stop for a long light about ten blocks up, so he takes the time to eat his breakfast bar. It’s so good he texts Bitty: I think I could eat about ten of these. Wow.

 

Bitty: I know. I am that good ;) (7:59AM)

 

 

Jack brings a bottle of wine he likes, one that, even with his medication, he’s capable of enjoying a glass of. Eric is waiting for him on the front steps when Jack’s cab drops him off. He looks…relaxed and comfortable in a pair of faded jeans and the Red Sox t-shirt from earlier in the week. His feet are bare, and Jack feels his heart slip to the left a little, surprised by the tenderness of his toes.

 

“Welcome,” Bitty says with a smile. “My apartment is very, very small, but it’s big enough for a dinner for two.”

 

Jack doesn’t mind it being small. He follows Bitty inside the rickety building and up one flight of stairs to a door with a peeling 202 on it. Inside, Jack is…a little surprised. Apparently his version of ‘small’ and Bitty’s are two totally different things.

 

If the room is more than 200 square feet, he’d be surprised. There’s a kitchen to the left of him, if one can call it that—about two square feet of counter space, an old oven with a 4-burner stovetop, one of those short refrigerators that’s halfway between a real one and a mini, and a very small living space with nothing but a couch, a coffee table, a narrow armoire, and a small flat-screen TV on a nightstand. There are books stacked neatly against the wall in every available space.

 

“Do you have a bed?” Jack asks, suddenly worried that Bitty sleeps on that old, flowery couch.

 

“Murphy bed,” Bitty says, and pats at some shutters Jack thought led to another window. “It’s hidden in here. I pull it out to sleep.” He gives Jack a grin. “This is what grad school looks like in a very expensive city. I’ll show you the bathroom now, if you like?”

 

He doesn’t think a bathroom can fit in this room, and he’s right—it’s down the hall, shared with 201.

 

“Is it weird sharing a bathroom with someone?” Jack asks, when they’re back in Bitty’s studio. His cubbyhole.

 

“Not really,” he says, and he moves easily in his kitchen. Jack stands to the side. It’s not like there’s a lot of places he can go. “I was in a dorm for two years in undergrad, so I’m used to it. And Kevin is super clean. He and I are well-matched for bathroom sharing.” He turns suddenly to Jack, placing a hand at Jack’s waist and rising up on his toes. It’s not necessary, exactly, but Jack rather likes it. Bitty gives him a kiss. “Sorry, forgot to do that.”

 

Jack pulls him back when Bitty turns to go, hands on his shoulders, then down to his elbows. Bitty looks flushed and expectant, so Jack kisses him again. Slower this time. Bitty’s mouth is narrow and plush. Jack thinks he uses chapstick because his lips are very soft. Bitty’s fingers touch at the nape of his neck, and then he opens his mouth, and Jack’s heart does more funny things in his chest as they deepen the kiss, Bitty sliding closer to him until Jack can feel his heat.

 

“That was better,” Bitty says, and his voice is pitched low. Jack likes it. A lot. “I’ve been waiting to be able to do that.”

 

“Me too. We could do more. I’m okay with that.”

 

Bitty cups his chin and holds him still while he gives him one more kiss. “After dinner. I’m working on pasta.”

 

“Can I help at all?” Jack asks, sliding out of his shoes and putting the wine on the coffee table.

 

“No way. There’s barely enough room in here for me. You get yourself as comfy as you can. You can put the TV on if you want.” He turns to look at Jack, and Jack likes the way he looks in the kitchen, all casual confidence. “I was thinking you could teach me more about hockey.”

 

As if Jack wasn’t gone enough, Bitty said the magic words. Instead of sitting on the couch, he leans against the wall and watches Bitty work, utilizing his tiny space in such an efficient manner that it makes Jack’s stomach swoop. He likes efficiency. He likes watching people being capable at what they do. And Bitty is so capable.

 

They talk a little about the reading, and Jack tells Bitty about the others he has planned through the rest of June. July is for preliminary training, where he starts to bulk up again and focus on building muscle rather than endurance. Then in August he starts team practices.

 

“I looked at your schedule for the year,” Bitty says, “and forgive me for being stupid because the sport I’m most familiar with is football, but you guys seem to travel a lot. Isn’t that hard?”

 

Jack shrugs, thumbs hooked in the pockets of his jeans. He’s never thought about it much. He’s been playing hockey for as long as he can remember, and his memories of his father involve a lot of time away. “It’s really all I’ve ever known. Hockey is in my blood. And it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. So traveling, for me, is fun. I get to go to places I like and do what I love.” He’s quiet for a moment before he says, “And it’s not like I’ve ever had anyone waiting for me at home, you know? So I think it’s a lot easier on me than most of the guys, who have families and stuff.”

 

Bitty makes a noise to show he’s listening. He’s mixing something in a bowl that smells good and tomato-y. “Yeah, I can imagine how it would be with kids and stuff. But you don’t…get lonely?”

 

The words are interesting, because Jack never really thought about them until recently. Being lonely. He guesses that he is, but he never put that word with the feeling in his chest before. Loneliness. “I never really thought about it, but I think I am. Lonely, that is. It’s kind of strange, because I never really wanted a family to come home to, but I also don’t want to have an empty apartment, you know?”

 

“There’s always a pet,” Bitty says, “but then who would take care of it when you’re gone?”

 

“Exactly. I could get somebody, but…that seems like a lot of work and not fair to an animal.” He mulls the word over more in his head. “I would like to be less lonely,” he says finally. “Blanca says I deserve that.”

 

“Of course you do, Jack. You’re no different from anyone else at the core of you, you know. People deserve basic things in their life. Happiness, companionship if they want it, food in their bellies, a roof over their heads. You’re not exempt.”

 

Jack moves in a little closer so he can bask in Bitty’s light. He’s still out of the way, he thinks, and won’t be disturbing his work. “I never thought about it that way.”

 

“You’re a great hockey player, Jack, but you’re also a guy.” He stirs noodles in a boiling pot and goes back to the sauce. There’s something in the oven and Jack thinks it might be meatballs?

 

He’s distracted by Bitty’s arms for a moment. He has those slight little wrists, but his forearms look strong, and when he moves a certain way, his biceps flex. The shirt is clearly worn and fits him well, and Jack’s eyes move from Bitty’s shoulders—narrow and slim—down to the taper of his waist, his slender hips. Everything about him is compact, and Jack thinks he probably weighs more than he looks. Jack thinks he could probably pick him up pretty easily. Then he’s thinking about picking Bitty up and what those long, muscled legs of his would feel like around his waist.

 

He flushes and coughs, and Bitty looks over at him with raised eyebrows, and his eyes are really unbelievable, probably one of his best features, with how dark and solid brown they are and those lashes, but then there’s his mouth too, and his jaw…

 

“Are you okay?” Bitty asks, and Jack is so embarrassed because he does not react to people like this. It’s new for him, and when things are new for him, they make him uncomfortable.

 

“I’m fine,” he says, looking down at his socked feet. “Was looking at you.”

 

“Oh?” Bitty sounds interested, but he’s turned back to his sauce. “And what do you think when you look at me?”

 

“A lot of things.”

 

“Care to share?”

 

“You have to cook,” Jack mumbles, rubbing at the back of his neck. “And I’m too shy to be having this conversation in person.”

 

Bitty laughs at that, pulling a colander out of one of his very small cabinets. “I’ll take pity on you this one time, but one day I want to hear what you think about when you look at me.”

 

“All good things, I promise.”

 

Their dinner is good, and they eat side by side on the little couch at the coffee table, each with a glass of wine (Bitty’s is much more full than Jack’s). Bitty tells Jack more details about his degree and what he hopes to do with the library (Fatima will be retiring at the end of the year, and they’d like Bitty to take her spot), plus a little more about his family down south. Jack isn’t sure how he feels about Coach stories, but Bitty assures him that his father has changed a lot over the years. “He needed some education,” Bitty says. “He was ignorant, not awful. He really does love me.”

 

When dinner is finished and Bitty’s fresh pie is baking in the oven, Jack takes a piece of paper from one of Bitty’s notebooks and draws a diagram of an ice rink. He tells Bitty all about the terms that he’s known since he was two, like boards, the neutral zone, faceoffs, all of it. Bitty keeps up with him easily and asks questions, and each time he asks a question, Jack gets another thrill in his belly. It seems like Bitty’s enjoying the hockey talk? Jack starts to worry that he’s not, and decides that he’s going to ask. Because he’s allowed to ask to make sure the other person is having a good time.

 

“I have the ability to shut up about hockey,” he says hesitantly. “If I need to shut up about hockey.”

 

Bitty laughs, settling closer to Jack. “No! I’m enjoying it. I feel dumb because I honestly didn’t know any of this before.” He looks up at Jack with a smile. “You can keep talking to me about hockey. I like the way your face gets all bright.”

 

Jack blushes, but he keeps talking about hockey. They end up watching a few YouTube videos on Bitty’s TV so Jack can show him some of the things he’s talking about. Then, when Bitty’s curious about faceoffs, Jack says, “Do you have a broom and a mop?”

 

And that’s how Jack ends up in Bitty’s small space of kitchen with a mop, facing off against Bitty who has a broom, and explaining the finer points of a faceoff and what it means.

 

“I’m good at this,” Jack says, because he’s only stating a fact. “So usually I’m the one doing faceoffs when we have them.”

 

Bitty’s looking up at him with wide eyes. “Yeah, I can see why. You’re fucking scary.”

 

“I usually make this face,” Jack says, and then he laughs when Bitty actually takes a step back.

 

“Jack, Jesus!” Bitty shakes his head. “You’re terrifying, wow.”

 

Jack, feeling playful, reaches out with his mop and taps Bitty’s broom. “Let’s see your faceoff face.”

 

“No!” Bitty swats at him with the broom, laughing. “I’m not nearly as scary as you are. You’ll make fun of me!”

 

“I wouldn’t make fun,” Jack says. “Come on. Faceoff face.”

 

Bitty gives him an exasperated look before coming closer and bending as though he really does have a hockey stick, and Jack thinks for a moment how Bitty would look on the ice with a stick, and his heart shudders. “Okay, fine.” He takes a few deep breaths to get the laughter out, then he gives Jack his very best faceoff face.

 

Jack has to refrain from tackling him.

 

“Not bad,” he says, and he sounds a little winded to his own ears. “The glower is very impressive.”

 

“You said you wouldn’t make fun!”

 

“I’m not.” Jack drops his mop and reaches out to grab Bitty’s broom, pulling him closer. Bitty resists, but he’s laughing.

 

“This cannot be a regulation move!” he says, letting Jack haul him in and gather him close. His body feels amazing under Jack’s hands, all warm and vibrant with life. When Jack cups the back of his neck, Bitty goes pliant, lets Jack nuzzle lips against his own, the two of them falling quiet as they kiss. Not that Jack has all that much experience, but Bitty is a great kisser, gets into it with his whole body. Before he knows it, Jack is being walked backward toward the couch, where he falls with a sigh before he finds his lap covered in Bitty.

 

“This okay?” Bitty asks, and Jack is distracted by the way his thighs splay open on Jack’s lap, his knees on either side of Jack’s hips. His throat goes dry as he slides hands up Bitty’s back, coaxing him closer.

 

“It’s great,” he says, hoarse, and they kiss again, and again, and again. They’re not in public. There’s no reason for them to refrain or hold back, and so they don’t. Bitty seems to enjoy the kissing and they take it slow, savoring. Jack is happy. He’s so happy, and Bitty feels so good.

 

Then Bitty’s mouth moves to his jaw, his neck, and Jack feels his whole body tighten up in reaction, exhaling slowly. It’s been four years since he kissed someone, and even longer than that since he felt like this, all live wires under his skin. He tries to keep his touch light, but his hands want to press and squeeze and push and pull. He closes his eyes and his breaths get shakier and shakier.

 

“You okay?” Bitty asks, and his hands are warm where they rest low on Jack’s waist.

 

“I’m okay,” he says softly. “A little overwhelmed.”

 

“We can stop for now,” Bitty says, and his lips are soft and sweet on Jack’s cheek. “You can show me more hockey plays.”

 

Jack shakes his head. “Don’t tempt me.”

 

“I like tempting you,” Bitty says, and curls fingers in Jack’s hair, tips his head back, and gives him a very intense, slow, deep kiss that has Jack making noises in his throat. Then Bitty slides off of him and claps his hands together. “Come on. There’s so much hockey you can teach me before our pie is ready.”

 

By the time they eat their peach pie, Bitty knows all the hockey positions, what they do, and most of the Boston Bruins. Jack pulls him close until Bitty stretches his legs over Jack’s, and they watch Miracle because Bitty likes it. Periodically throughout the movie, Bitty will turn to him, his eyes darker in the glow of the TV, and then his lips will be on Jack’s. When the movie is over, Jack is turning into a pumpkin, but Bitty’s still so warm against him that he has a hard time telling himself he needs to get going, that he has a schedule to keep, that his bedtime was over an hour ago.

 

“I think I need to call a cab,” Jack says, when Bitty’s all bundled on his lap again and they’re slowly making out. He’s got his hands under Bitty’s shirt, and the press of his ribcage against Jack’s fingertips is enticing.

 

“I want to see you again tomorrow,” Bitty breathes, his hands on either side of Jack’s neck as he kisses gently at his hairline, peppering little kisses down his temple to his jaw. “Please.”

 

Jack sighs. It’s getting to be late June, which means his Saturdays are supposed to be filled with weights and running and going to the practice rink. His Saturdays are busy. He has to think about how to make this work. “How do you work tomorrow?”

 

“I don’t work this Saturday, so I’m free.”

 

Jack tips his head back and Bitty’s mouth is at his throat, soft and tender. Jack pets at his hair, his heart racing enough to feel like this could be part of his workout routine. “I could have a couple of hours for lunch,” he says, hitching his hips to pull his phone out of his pocket. He keeps one arm around Bitty’s waist to hold him steady, looking at the time. Shit. He is so late for bed.

 

“That sounds good,” Bitty says. “I’m free all day, so text me what you want to do.”

 

Part of him wants to come here, where they’re away from public eyes and can do what they want. But obviously he’s not good with time management when he’s alone with Bitty, so he has to be careful. “I will,” Jack promises, and he keeps Bitty perched on his lap while he calls for a cab. They kiss more until the cab arrives, and Bitty walks him down to the front door, where Jack steals one more chaste little kiss.

 

“See you tomorrow,” Bitty says, and his eyes look darker than usual, and Jack wonders, briefly, how worked up he got Bitty tonight. He himself doesn’t tend to think about those kinds of things much, because he’s always had a pretty low sex drive to begin with, and his medication lowers that even further. But he’s…interested. In exploring Bitty’s body a little more. Seeing what kind of music he can make with all the fine strings of him.

 

By the time he gets home, Jack is so tired he all but falls into bed once he’s stumbled out of his clothes, but he does shoot Bitty a quick text: Think about me tonight?

 

Bitty’s response is instant: Already did :x

 

+

 

Bitty spends most of his Saturday responding to appropriate tweets. He’s decided to make himself a few rules regarding his Twitter, because Jack had mentioned that the Bruins weren’t going to let themselves be baited, and that they were going to treat this relationship in the same way they’d treat a straight relationship, but Bitty knows the reality is a bit different. So he makes rules for himself and even writes them down in case his angry heart is inclined to do something stupid:

 

1) Don’t feed the trolls

2) Try not to talk about Jack too much

3) Try to engage people in other discussions first—like baking, the library, reading, etc.

4) Protect Jack at all costs without feeding the trolls

5) Don’t embarrass the Bruins or Jack or hockey in general

 

He thinks they’re good rules to live by, and so he enjoys spending time with his two-hundred new followers, tweeting responses where he feels he can and completely ignoring the ones that are clearly baiting him. Rudely.

 

@crazy4u @bibliobaker what’s your favorite part of working in a public library??

@bibliobaker @crazy4u Probably the people. In a public setting you get a lot of different demographics, which I find a lot of fun. Also KIDS!!!

 

@remolaudesaucy @bibliobaker Any recommendations for a 3yo who loves ballet? Thx 4 being so sweet!!

@bibliobaker @remolaudesaucy Flora and the Flamingo is so cute; no words, only pictures. You can have the kiddo tell YOU the story! :D Super interactive

 

@henrikthedestroyer @bibliobaker Jack Zimmermann is a god among men y/n

@bibliobaker @henrikthedestroyer Are we saying Channing Tatum still exists or what

@henrikthedestroyer @bibliobaker No Channing Tatum.

@bibliobaker @henrikthedestroy Tom Hardy, then.

@henrikthedestroyer @bibliobaker the only male left on earth is Jack Zimmermann, is he a god among men y/n

@bibliobaker @henrikthedestroy I think you’ve answered your own question. If he’s the only one left I SUPPOSE SO

 

@riotousheart @bibliobaker So you’re a Tom Hardy man.

@bibliobaker @riotousheart Who isn’t a Tom Hardy man, Lord Almighty.

@riotousheart @bibliobaker I feel like I would’ve pegged you for Tom Hiddleston.

@bibliobaker @riotousheart Him too. Look, I’m not super discriminating here.

@riotousheart @bibliobaker Gilbert Gottfried.

@bibliobaker @riotousheart Sense of humor 10/10, would still date.

 

@jackzimms5eva @bibliobaker zimms looks so happy. im really glad for you guys. how long have you been dating? may i ask that? :/ sorry if im rude!!!

@bibliobaker @jackzimms5eva Thank you for being polite! We have technically had 2 dates, so not very long.

@jackzimms5eva @bibliobaker omg thank u for responding to me. is he really nice in person? he looks so grumpy on tv :( i just want him 2b happy

@bibliobaker @jackzimms5eva He is less grumpy in person, but if you interrupt his morning run to harass him about your library, he’s a bit grumpy ;)

@jackzimms5eva @bibliobaker omg is that how u met

@bibliobaker @jackzimms5eva I was putting up flyers about his book reading, saw him, & forced him to take a pic for @BPLWestEnd haha.

@bibliobaker @jackzimms5eva So that is how we met. My mother called it a “meet cute,” I am not even a little joking.

 

@LegitKentParson @bibliobaker Aren’t you a cutie.

 

Bitty stares at the tweet for a long moment. In their conversations, Jack had mentioned Kent Parson a few times. They came up together when they were young, and Parson went first in the draft when Jack took two years off after his overdose to coach peewee hockey. Their relationship ever since has been fraught with tension, and if Bitty is supposed to believe the fanfiction Raquel sent him (he hasn’t talked to Jack about any of that, ahem), then Jack and Parson had a much different relationship than Jack has let on. Bitty’s not one to pry, and he honestly doesn’t care what Jack did or didn’t do in the past, but Parson tweeting at him makes him feel…strange inside.

 

Kent Parson, NHL All-Star like Jack, Stanley Cup winner like Jack, but definitely someone who is not very much like Jack.

 

@bibliobaker @LegitKentParson My mama sure thinks so!!

@LegitKentParson @bibliobaker I’ve known Jack since he was nine. I feel it’s my duty to make sure you’re good for him.

 

Bitty chews on his lip. How does he respond to this? A quick Google search tells him a lot of what he needs to know about Parson even beyond what Jack has said—words like “partying,” “casino,” and “strippers” come up several times.

 

@bibliobaker @LegitKentParson I don’t know if 2 dates is even worth your time!

 

That sounds okay, right? Haha he’s joking so funny only two dates, go away.

 

His DM icon lights up, and it’s Maggie.

 

@swimmerfann Be careful with Parson. If you want my opinion, as someone who has followed Zimms’ entire career from draft until now, Parse doesn’t like it that his BFF Zimms bounced back from his OD like he did and has as many Stanley Cups as he does. Parse doesn’t like competition. And Zimms is definitely his competition. And now you are too, in a weird way. Just be careful. You’re sweet. We don’t want to get arrested for punching Kent Parson over you.

 

Bitty takes a long breathe before telling her thank you. It’s then that he sees that Parson has responded to him, and something ill settles in Bitty’s stomach.

 

@LegitKentParson @bibliobaker One date is worth my time. :)

@bibliobaker @LegitKentParson Feel free to scroll through my Twitter!! My whole life is on here :)

@LegitKentParson @bibliobaker I will. I look forward to it.

 

Is that a threat? Bitty doesn’t know. He feels very weird about it, and by the time Jack is meeting him for lunch, he’s made himself sick over it. What the fuck is wrong with Kent Parson? Bitty doesn’t even know him.

 

By the time Jack’s waiting outside for him, Bitty has worked himself into something awful in his stomach. His nerves are shot. He’s half-convinced that Kent Parson is going to show up at his work and have words with him or something.

 

“Are you okay?” Jack asks, and Bitty can’t even let himself be (too) distracted by Jack’s biceps trying to pop out of his slim t-shirt.

 

“I’m fine,” he lies, because he remembers rule #4: Protect Jack at all costs without feeding the trolls. “I’m freakishly hungry, though, so what were you thinking for food?”

 

They go to a café that has seventeen different types of salads, and when they sit together to eat, Bitty’s phone goes off with a tweet. He pulls it out, glances at his screen, and puts it in his pocket again.

 

“Your mom?” Jack asks, sipping his water. Bitty contemplates a lie, then decides no, he should only lie to Jack when it’s protecting Jack. His mama calls those white lies. Those are okay. Jack would understand.

 

“No, a tweet,” he says. Jack grins.

 

“Was it about me?”

 

“Sort of.” Bitty affects an eyeroll. “What, are you all excited to be popular or something?”

 

Jack laughs. “No, I am definitely not, but I’m still kind of curious about what people are saying.”

 

“Someone asked how we got together,” Bitty says, and launches into a few of his interactions with people while carefully not bringing up Parson. His phone keeps going off with tweets and Bitty takes the time to silence all his mentions. Several are from Parse, with questions, but Bitty doesn’t want to look at them because they make his stomach hurt.

 

“You can respond if you want,” Jack says, leaning forward. His eyes are a brighter blue than they’ve ever been before, Bitty thinks, in no small part due to the color of his shirt. “Maybe you could show me? I have no idea how to Twitter.”

 

If he shows Jack his Twitter, Jack will see Kent Parson’s name. Bitty takes a breath. “Okay, so. I’d love to show you, because a lot of people are being really nice and I think you need to see that, but I also want you to know that Kent Parson has been tweeting me too.”

 

Jack’s face falls, tightens up in the way it does when he’s approached by someone he doesn’t know who wants something from him. “Oh,” he says, and leans back in his chair. He’s clearly chewing on something big, and Bitty can’t really take it.

 

“He asked about you and me. I tried to be as polite as I could.”

 

“Was he rude?”

 

“No, not at all,” Bitty says, because it’s the truth. “There’s a lot of tone that’s missing from text, but I don’t think he was rude.”

 

“What did he say?”

 

Bitty holds his phone to his chest. “Are you mad?”

 

“At you? No.”

 

“At him?”

 

Jack shrugs. “I’m always in some state of angry with him.”

 

Bitty desperately wants to know why, but he figures he shouldn’t push, and that if Jack wants him to know he’ll tell him. “Here, then.”

 

The most recent tweets to Bitty are from Parson.

 

@LegitKentParson @bibliobaker okay so if you bake can you tell me why when I try to make cookies they fall flat

@LegitKentParson @bibliobaker because I follow the box and the box tells me something about altitude and I PAY ATTENTION

@LegitKentParson @bibliobaker and they come out all fucked up anyway, why

 

Jack reads them carefully, his face virtually expressionless save for the tightness around his eyes. Then he seems to ease a little. “Looks okay to me,” he says. “I don’t think he’ll give you a lot of problems. If he does, please let me know?”

 

Bitty has about five thousand questions and tries to find the most appropriate one. “Is there anything I shouldn’t say to him in particular?”

 

“Try not to talk about me directly,” Jack says after a long pause. “Other than that, he likes it when people give as good as he does, so feel free to tell him whatever you want.”

 

Bitty types a response then, angled so Jack can see it.

 

@bibliobaker @LegitKentParson Step 1: Do not make cookies from a box, you ding dong.

 

Jack laughs. “Yeah, that’s fine.” And it seems like it really is.

 

 

Direct Messages

@swimmerfann What the fuck is going on in this universe.

@prettypaulie Parse is talking to Cute Librarian and getting all territorial over Zimms, this is like a fucking fic. I swear I’ve read this. I may have WRITTEN this.

@swimmerfann I feel bad for Eric. :/ I sent him a warning message about Parse and his antics.

@prettypaulie Good, because those first few tweets had me SO WORRIED :( I wonder how Zimms feels about all this.

@swimmerfann No idea, but my guess? Probably not super good. Whatever he and history Parse have together—like, actual history—is mostly a mystery since neither has like EVER directly said anything about it, but there’s clearly some sort of bad blood there somewhere. I will never forget the time Parse threw his gloves down to fight Zimms in the 2013 playoffs, like what the fuck bro.

@prettypaulie Eric is handling all this really well though ;A; Bless him, he’s so sweet.

@swimmerfann He’s so good with people, though, so I’m not surprised? But I feel like he shouldn’t have to be shouldering all this. Part of me wants to know exactly how Zimms is handling this. :/ I really feel like Eric shouldn’t have to be responsible for all this heat.

@prettypaulie But think about it this way; they seem to really like each other? And we know Zimms is just so incapable of this kind of interaction with his anxiety, so maybe Eric wants to do this for him.

@swimmerfann I hope that’s the case, I really do. Too bad we can’t physically fight Kent Parson.

@prettypaulie I’m sure if we work together we could take him down.

@swimmerfann The fucker has some kneecaps we could work with.

@prettypaulie Take out the dick to take down the dick.

@swimmerfann We should get married, this is why I love you.

 

 

Sunday is spent sprawled on his back on the couch with Jack Zimmermann pressed between his spread legs, making out so furiously that Bitty finds himself rocking his hips rhythmically against Jack’s as his heart roars wildly in his chest. He has Pandora set to today’s hits, which he’d been cleaning to before Jack showed up, and Like a G6 punches through his spine as Jack’s mouth gets even more urgent, impossibly urgent, his teeth sliding across Bitty’s neck and sucking at his thundering pulse. Bitty arches his back and makes a noise, and Jack’s mouth covers his suddenly, kissing him so thoroughly that Bitty can do nothing but clutch at him with hands and thighs, his cock hard enough to hurt now. With whatever shred of thought he has left, he gently pushes Jack away, has to deal with Jack making a noise of disappointment, all sloe-eyed and dazed.

 

“Sorry,” Bitty gasps, his thighs automatically trying to close, but there’s a hockey player between them. “I’m—I can’t—”

 

“I’m sorry,” Jack says immediately. “I didn’t mean to…that was too much…”

 

“No, it’s so good, I—oh my God…”

 

Jack holds himself over Bitty, one hand at his waist and the other on the arm of the couch, bracing himself up. He starts to come back to himself and his eyes are searching Bitty’s face. “I—what do you—should I—”

 

Bitty feels like a teenager, both of them fumbling around and stuttering because they don’t have enough neurons to focus on speech. He doesn’t even know if Jack is hard. Maybe it’s more difficult for him, with his medication. They haven’t really talked about that. And as much as Bitty desperately wants to come, preferably with Jack’s hand around his cock, he’s not sure if that’s the best idea. Their new little budding thing has been shoved forcefully into the public eye, and Bitty continuously doubts himself when it comes to his heart. So even though it takes every bit of will power he’s got, he gently pushes himself further up the couch, putting space between his body and Jack’s.

 

“I think I’m calling a time out,” Bitty says, and Jack gives him a crooked smile.

 

“As long as I’m not getting a penalty, I am perfectly okay with that.”

 

Bitty laughs, putting a hand to his chest to hopefully get his breathing under control. “No penalty, I promise. But you don’t get a power play either.”

 

Jack leans back and sprawls out so Bitty’s able to move, but now all Bitty wants to do is ride him like a pony. He shifts enough to where Jack (probably) will not notice his erection, trying to think of all sorts of different things to occupy his head instead of Jack Zimmermann all flushed and kissed less than a foot from him. Bitty pulls out his phone as it beeps insistently at him, rolling his eyes.

 

“What?” Jack asks, and Bitty leans over to show him.

 

@LegitKentParson @bibliobaker so i’ve got the dough rolled out now what

 

“He’s a fucking moron,” Bitty says, and that makes Jack bark out a real laugh, which pleases Bitty. “I’ve told him as much.”

 

“He should hear that more often,” Jack says, and he still looks a little wary, like he’s not sure how he’s supposed to be feeling, but his smile is genuine so Bitty goes with it, showing Jack as he tweets back to Parson.

 

@bibliobaker @LegitKentParson If you’re taking the time to tweet, you can take the time to Google. It’s called teaching yourself, Parson.

@LegitKentParson @bibliobaker THERES DOUGH EVERYWHERE IDK WHAT TO DO WITH IT

@bibliobaker @LegitKentParson #solveyourownproblems2k16

 

“I think he likes you,” Jack says, and there’s something very strange in his voice.

 

Bitty puts his phone down. “Is that…a bad thing?”

 

“Not exactly.” Jack picks at a scab on his elbow. “I’m kind of jealous.”

 

The admission is a shock. Bitty didn’t even know Jack could feel something like jealousy. For as anxious as he is, he’s always had a sort of…confidence about him. “I don’t—I mean, what are you jealous of?”

 

“Kenny doesn’t like people easily, not like what he’s been doing with you. It makes me wonder what he thinks he can get out of you, because that’s the way he sees people—what can they do for him, what can they get him. If he actually likes you and not because of what he can make you do for him, then…I’m jealous. Because he’s always—” He’s not looking at Bitty when he talks, and Bitty gets the feeling that this is a very sensitive subject, and that Jack is also on the verge of telling him a whole lot more of it. “He and I became friends when we were nine. He’s damn good at what he does.” Jack twists his fingers together and Bitty lets him, keeping an eye on his body language. “I guess we were those kind of friends who were also really, really competitive with each other. When Kenny did well, I was…when I was younger, I wasn’t a very nice person, I guess. I had a lot of issues, and my dad never pushed me to be good like him or anything, but I pushed myself all the same. That’s how the overdose happened. I couldn’t get a handle on my anxiety and I started overusing my meds, because unless I took more, I couldn’t function. Then I’d lie about where the pills were going and say I left them at a hotel or I accidentally dropped some or something. It was stupid, but my doctor at the time believed me and kept giving them to me early and doing overrides and stuff. It was the only way I could focus enough on playing without panicking, and Kenny sort of fed into that a little—egging me on, I guess. Because when I collapsed, he excelled. When I excelled, it pissed him off.”

 

Bitty sits a little closer to him so they’re shoulder to shoulder, knee to knee. Jack takes a slow breath.

 

“So anyway, that’s the overdose. I wasn’t doing speed like everyone thought—just my prescription meds. Kenny—Kenny was probably the best and worst thing to happen to me. He gave me something to measure my own success by, because nobody else could really compete with me other than him. But…but Blanca taught me…his behavior…” Jack takes a breath. “He is manipulative and emotionally abusive. He doesn’t understand that he can be good without tearing other people down. He thinks it’s stupid that I see a shrink.”

 

It’s probably the most Jack’s ever talked all at once before and Bitty doesn’t want to break the spell, but he does reach out to Jack to take his twisting hands, holding them in his own. They twitch on and off, like he can’t control them. “If you don’t want to keep talking about this,” Bitty says, “we don’t have to. You aren’t required to explain anything to me, Jack. I respect you and what you want to tell me or don’t tell me.”

 

“I thought I was in love with him,” Jack says instead, and Bitty tightens his hands. He can only imagine how hard that was for teenage Jack—being in love with and hating this beautiful, perversely competitive boy, who actively tried to ruin Jack’s life. “And I have a lot of issues where he’s concerned. I always wanted him to like me for me, and he never did. I didn’t think he could like anyone for being who they were. He’s so—he’s so charming, Bits. But he’s not sincere. And a very big part of me wants to ask you to stay away from him, but I don’t want to be like him. I want you to understand what he put me through for years and why it’s always going to put me on edge when you bring him up.”

 

Bitty brings Jack’s hands to his mouth, giving him soft little kisses on his knuckles. “I think it should be very clear by now, Jack, that there’s a lot I’d do for you. If you want me to tell him to fuck off, I’ll do it very stylishly.”

 

Jack bumps his head into Bitty’s shoulder, and Bitty lets him lean closer, lets him reach for a kiss. His heart is an absolute wreck in his chest, and he knew that this was going to come eventually, but he didn’t think it would happen within thirty days. Within two weeks.

 

“I want you to be careful,” Jack murmurs. “He knows how to get under your skin so slow you don’t realize he’s there until it starts to hurt.”

 

Bitty strokes his hair back from his forehead, kissing his temple lightly. “Honey, there’s something you should know about me.”

 

“What’s that?”

 

“My motto as a southern boy is do no harm but take no shit. I am perfectly nice, and I will be perfectly polite to Kent Parson. But Kent Parson cannot manipulate me, because I won’t let him.”

 

Jack presses closer. “Yeah?”

 

“Yeah. I read people like him pretty good, and my mind’s pretty set.”

 

“Have you made up your mind about me?”

 

Bitty flushes as Jack looks closer at him. “Well, yeah. I have.”

 

“And?”

 

Bitty shoves at him. “And what, Mr. Zimmermann?”

 

Jack’s grin is nice to see. “What have you decided?”

 

Shaking his head at Jack’s evident compliment-fishing, Bitty sighs. “That you’re worth it.”

 

The kisses he gets in response distract him for an indeterminate period of time.

Chapter Text

Direct Messages

@LegitKentParson I made cookies.

@bibliobaker Good for you?

@LegitKentParson They’re pretty good, thanks

@bibliobaker Didn’t you find the recipe yourself?

@LegitKentParson Wouldn’t have tried them without you :)

 

Direct Messages

@LegitKentParson I can only imagine what he’s told you about me.

 

Direct Messages

@LegitKentParson Are you not talking to me now? :(

@bibliobaker You know, you’re almost thirty. Pouting isn’t cute.

@LegitKentParson I want to know what he’s told you about me.

@bibliobaker And people in hell want ice water.

@LegitKentParson So what, you’re not even going to give me a chance?

@bibliobaker What do I need to give you a chance for?

@LegitKentParson He’s really got you under doesn’t he.

@bibliobaker I’m fine being nice to you in public, but I don’t trust you.

@LegitKentParson I could be a great guy.

@bibliobaker You could be, but you’re not.

@LegitKentParson I bet if you got to know me, you’d like me just fine.

@bibliobaker This whole creepy predator thing—is that a new thing for you or

@LegitKentParson I like it when you flirt.

 

Bitty closes his Twitter app and feels so furious he almost physically breaks something. He should never look at his DMs while he’s getting ready for work, especially not on a Monday, which is historically an Awful Day For Eric Bittle. He’s never been so angry in his life. The thought of this kind of a person preying on Jack when Jack was too young to know it wasn’t his fault makes him burn with hate. And initially…he had been a little charmed by Kent Parson. Against his better judgment, yes, he had been—their tweeting back and forth publicly had been fun. But this is something different. Bitty can literally see all the little strings of his web he’s pulling—insinuating that Bitty is flirting with him, the coercion into talking to him, planting doubt in Bitty’s mind that maybe Parson is a good guy. All of it.

 

Now that he’s looking at his DMs, he can see it. It’s obvious to see how this behavior would affect Jack, and that makes Bitty so mad he takes another ten minutes before he responds.

 

Direct Messages

@bibliobaker I know what you’re doing. You’re going to count on the fact that I’m going to hide all of this from Jack to protect him, and you’re going to do anything you can to make me doubt him. It’s not going to work. I’m not hiding any of this from Jack.

@LegitKentParson He’s still in love with me.

@bibliobaker That doesn’t matter.

@LegitKentParson Doesn’t it?

@bibliobaker No, it really doesn’t. Because he respects himself now when he didn’t before.

@bibliobaker I’ll make nice with you in public, but don’t you fucking bully me, Parson. I’m not going to tolerate it. I’m not eighteen-year-old Jack Zimmermann.

@LegitKentParson :)

 

Bitty: Can you meet me for coffee? (7:09AM)

Jack: I’m downstairs (7:15AM)

 

“I’m going to fucking kill him,” Bitty says, as soon as he’s stepped outside and sees Jack waiting for him. “I’m going to murder him, burn the bones, and scatter the ashes across four oceans.”

 

“Who are we talking about?” Jack asks, and he looks completely caught off-guard. Bitty realizes how intense he’s being and tries to tone it down by taking a deep breath.

 

“Look at this shit,” he says, and unlocks his phone before thrusting it at Jack, who fumbles it before looking at the screen. His face goes very pale, and he’s quiet as his thumb scrolls to the last message.

 

Jack looks up at Bitty, who’s still so mad he’s got his hands clenched together in fists. Jack…smiles. “I’m curious,” he says, “at how quickly you’ve taken my side.”

 

“What? What do you mean?” That’s not at all what he was expecting.

 

“I could’ve been lying to you,” Jack says. “About Kenny. What if I made it all up?”

 

Bitty looks at him for a long moment, several heartbeats of silence. “Your words feel true and his don’t.”

 

“That’s it?”

 

“That’s it, Jack. I either trust people or I don’t. I always go with my gut. And you don’t ping my radar the way he does. When you told me what happened with him, it sounded true. I don’t think I’m being naïve. I believe you, and I believe that he’s trying to hurt you through me. I’m not going to tolerate that.”

 

Jack looks back down at the messages again. “He’s definitely trying something.”

 

“I know he is.”

 

“I don’t think I’m still in love with him.”

 

“Even if you are, that means very little in this situation.”

 

“Does it?” Jack looks at him with an otherwise blank expression, but his eyes are very curious. “Would it bother you, if I were still in love with him?”

 

Bitty thinks on that for a long moment. “Not really? I mean, first of all, Jack, I am super into you, but we’ve only known each other for like two weeks. You have a lot of history with him, and just because people are assholes doesn’t mean you always stop loving them. I would be more concerned if you didn’t see a problem with his behavior.”

 

“You were right,” Jack says. “I do respect myself now, when I didn’t before. I think that…contributed. When I was younger.”

 

Bitty takes his phone back, but keeps his fingers around Jack’s. “I think you’re doing very well for yourself, Jack. Emotionally. You sound like an adult looking back and trying to move forward. I think that’s important, and whatever happens with us, I want you to keep doing that. Keep moving forward.”

 

“I wanna move forward with you,” Jack says, and Bitty presses their foreheads together.

 

“Well, that sounds mighty nice to me. Come on, I’ll buy you a coffee and you can continue your run.”

 

 

Bitty: Have a good Tuesday!! (7:39AM)

Jack: You too. Busy tonight? (7:41AM)

Bitty: Yeah :( Fatima, Kerri and I are going out. Tomorrow? (7:51AM)

Jack: Doing team photos for upcoming season. Takes all day. Then team dinner after. Thurs? (7:59AM)

Bitty: Working til 8 haha. I guess we’ll have to get used to this when the season comes back huh? (8:01AM)

Jack: We can do it. Saturday you’re off at 2 right (8:16AM)

Bitty: Yeah I am, Saturday would be great! I also just had a thought :/ (8:20AM)

Jack: What’s that (8:28AM)

Bitty: Do your teammates know about me? (8:29AM)

Jack: I’ve talked to a few of them. That’s part of what the team dinner is for. (8:31AM)

Bitty: WOW. I’m not nervous about that at all. (8:33AM)

Jack: Is that sarcasm? Because I don’t know why you’d be nervous. I came out years ago and they’ve been fine with it. (8:37AM)

Bitty: Yeah, but you’ve never dated anyone since. Knowing it could happen and seeing it are two different things. (8:38AM)

Jack: I’m not particularly worried. I’m more worried about our date on Saturday and whether or not that’s going to have to be rescheduled again. (8:49AM)

Bitty: You’re impossible. (8:49AM)

Jack: You like it. (8:55AM)

 

@bibliobaker I’m in a funk, y’all, and I think it’s because I haven’t read ANYTHING since I graduated. Any book recs? I’m open to anything!

@prettypaulie @bibliobaker How do you feel about space/astronomy/astrophysics for stupid people (like myself)?

@bibliobaker @prettypaulie I absolutely love anything to do with space, but I am also a stupid people, so what do you have.

@prettypaulie @bibliobaker Hyperspace, by Michio Kaku. It’s gonna blow your frickin mind and then you won’t shut up about the 10th dimension.

@bibliobaker @prettypaulie Got it on my Goodreads list, thank you!

@prettypaulie @bibliobaker It’s a book I think Zimms would probably like too, for the way it’s described, since he’s a history buff.

@bibliobaker @prettypaulie Good point. He’s been trying to find a hobby, so maybe I can suggest reading more for him.

@prettypaulie @bibliobaker My brother is a huge history buff, so if you want a list of books for Zimms, let me know!

 

Direct Messages

@bibliobaker Yes, please. I think he’s going to need some distractions before the season starts.

@prettypaulie :( Has he been doing okay? I don’t mean to pry, I’ve just been a big fan of his for several years now, and I’m the type of mother who mothers everyone. I mothered my own mother.

@bibliobaker Awww, that’s cute!! <3 He’s like…75% okay 90% of the time, if that makes sense? The Bruins are doing a team thing tomorrow and part of it has to do with him dating, so I’m kind of nervous about that. We’re still new, and I feel like if it gets too much attention and it doesn’t work out, it’ll be even worse. You know?

@prettypaulie I know. But if you start going down that road, you’ll drive yourself nuts (speaking from experience). Just enjoy one another’s space for a while. That’s all you need to do—you don’t owe anything to anyone else.

@bibliobaker You’re a sweetheart, thank you. How’s Max doing?

@prettypaulie Terrorizing the neighborhood as always. Nah, he’s doing great. Is Larissa Duan putting out any other books, do you know? He’s fascinated by her.

@bibliobaker Actually, yes! We’ll be promoting it somewhere near the end of July, but she does have a new book coming out—she’s both author and artist.

@prettypaulie That’s awesome! Please tell me you’ll be doing a reading like you did for Zimms.

@bibliobaker Yep! Trust me, you’ll be the first person I tell. :)

@prettypaulie Thank you so much! Okay, I’ve got the list for you, coming right up!

 

@LegitKentParson @bibliobaker how do you feel about Hunter S. Thompson?

@bibliobaker @LegitKentParson Why am I not surprised that you like Thompson. I bet you love Fight Club too.

@LegitKentParson @bibliobaker and Blade Runner.

@bibliobaker @LegitKentParson Yeah, totally not surprised there. #dudebro

@LegitKentParson @bibliobaker that’s insulting.

@bibliobaker @LegitKentParson Oh I’m sorry, did you not realize you were a #dudebro?

@LegitKentParson @bibliobaker what’s your fave movie

@bibliobaker @LegitKentParson Battle Royale.

@LegitKentParson @bibliobaker seriously?

@bibliobaker @LegitKentParson No.

@LegitKentParson @bibliobaker so what is it

@bibliobaker @LegitKentParson Psycho.

@LegitKentParson @bibliobaker are you trying to scare me

@bibliobaker @LegitKentParson  Is it working?

@LegitKentParson @bibliobaker I feel a little fear yeah

@bibliobaker @LegitKentParson Good. Healthy for you.

 

Direct Messages

@prettypaulie Can we please talk about how Cute Librarian Eric Bittle is fucking SLAYING Stanley Cup winner Kent Parson.

@swimmerfann I have never been so proud of someone in my entire life. I would like to adopt him now.

@prettypaulie I mean HOLY SHIT!!! Parse is getting shut down and I just. I’ve never seen that before? Oh my god, it’s actually super attractive. For Eric, I mean.

@swimmerfann If I didn’t have one of those capability kinks before, I do now. Cute Librarian Eric Bittle is fucking raw man.

 

Direct Messages

@LegitKentParson I think you do like me :*

@bibliobaker Okeydoke.

@LegitKentParson you do, don’t you.

@bibliobaker Not at all.

@LegitKentParson then you’re an excellent liar.

@bibliobaker I have to work at it, unlike some people.

@LegitKentParson ouch.

 

+

 

Bitty: Happy Wednesday!!! I am hungover. (7:39AM)

Jack: Haha I figured. Take some anvil. (7:42AM)

Jack: Advil. Or anvil that could work too. (7:48AM)

Bitty: LOL. I will. Won’t say which one I’m gonna take. Btw I’m nervous about your team thing today :/ (7:50AM)

Jack: I’m not. (7:51AM)

Bitty: I know you’re not :P (7:51AM)

Jack: It’s going to be fine. Stop worrying. (7:54AM)

Bitty: Sir, I am nothing if not a worrier. (7:59AM)

Jack: Same. But I’m not worried so you shouldn’t be. (8:00AM)

Jack: Send me a selfie, I’ve already forgotten what you look like. (8:04AM)

Bitty: You think you’re cute. [img.003] (8:05AM)

Jack: Thanks. I like your smile. (8:07AM)

Bitty: I like yours too :) I refuse to send anything super incriminating in case Apple ever gets hacked, but here’s another one [img.004] (8:10AM)

Jack: I didn’t know you had a tattoo. (8:11AM)

Bitty: Just that little one. I did a Rebellious Thing when I was twenty. (8:13AM)

Jack: I kind of like it. (8:21AM)

Bitty: ;) (8:22AM)

 

Shitty: I cannot believe I have to find out from reddit that you have a boyfriend. (9:04AM)

Jack: He’s not exactly a boyfriend. (10:59AM)

Shitty: He’s not exactly just a friend, either. (11:00AM)

Jack: It’s just been a couple of dates. (11:17AM)

Shitty: You don’t date. So clearly you’re marrying him. (11:19AM)

Jack: Uh (11:27AM)

Shitty: Why didn’t you tell me, bro? That hurts my feelings. (11:27AM)

Jack: Things have been busy, Shits. It’s not like I was hiding it on purpose. (11:34AM)

Shitty: Well, we need to meet up for food. I have some updated legal shit for you to sign on murdered, processed trees. (11:38AM)

Jack: My mom is still baffled that I don’t use her lawyer. (12:04PM)

Shitty: That’s because she and I aren’t soulmates. She’d understand if we were. (12:09PM)

Jack: So we’re soulmates now (12:31PM)

Shitty: Bro, we’ve always been soulmates. Call me soon. I miss your body. (12:33PM)

Jack: Roger that (12:56PM)

 

“So let me get this straight,” Holster says, sitting on Jack’s right at the team dinner at La Famiglia Giorgio’s. “Sorry. That was a poor word choice.”

 

“Jesus Christ,” Ransom says, and he’s sitting on Jack’s left like a bookend. “You’ve already fucked it up.”

 

“So let me get this gay,” Holster says, and Jack can’t help but to laugh as he spears a ravioli with his fork. “You are dating this impossibly beautiful cherub of a man who is a children’s librarian and bakes and is essentially the most charming person on the planet. How the fuck did that happen to you.”

 

Chowder makes a noise that sounds like a macaw. “Jack is a great catch!” he says, trying to lean around Ransom to meet Jack’s eyes. It sort of works. “Jack, you’re a great catch, anyone would be so lucky to have you.”

 

“You can’t even hold down vodka,” Holster tells him, “so you can’t have an opinion on matters of the heart. Bro,” he adds to Jack, “you realize that he is actually out of your league, right?”

 

“Agreed,” Ransom says. “You’re like maybe a seven on a good day, but his master’s degree and the fact that he can bake makes him at least an eight.”

 

Guy, Snowy, Poots, and Tater all weigh in on whether or not Jack is worthy of someone like Eric Bittle, and the consensus is no, he’s not.

 

“You are good guy,” Tater says, “but he is great guy—you see difference?”

 

“He’s pretty great,” Jack says, and the entire table coos at him until he puts a hand over his face. Then they laugh at him, because that’s what they do.

 

The pictures for the upcoming season went well, and having everyone together gave Jack the chance to talk about this person he’s seeing, and for the team to discuss their plan of action. Jack has been woefully ignorant of the Internet in the weeks since Bitty existed in his life, but Bruins PR has not been. As a whole, they decide that the best way to handle it is to take the high road (“We know this not true for season,” Tater whispers to Jack, “only for now, because in season? I kill everyone who say mean thing”) and promote everything that You Can Play stands for, namely that of respect. There are a few ideas tossed around regarding new rainbow t-shirt designs, and the entire hockey team agrees that on their October 11th home game against the Canadiens, they will all wear rainbow wrist bands for National Coming Out Day. Jack is touched by the solidarity, but even more than that, he appreciates that they aren’t…making that big of a deal about it. Nobody’s asking him to give a speech like he did when he came out. They aren’t treating him really any differently than when Ransom started bringing March around for games. The teasing is there, of course, but it doesn’t feel cruel. In fact, it makes Jack feel like one of them more than he ever has.

 

Guy, team captain three years running, claps his shoulder when they all file out of the restaurant. “Bring him to the barbecue.”

 

It’s almost like getting baptized by the Pope.

 

Jack: It went fine. Guy told me to bring you to his annual Fourth of July barbecue. (9:59PM)

Bitty: Oh God. Really? (10:00PM)

Jack: Yep. They asked some questions about you. All good things. Team’s going to be doing some support of YCP, probably releasing rainbow shirts, that kind of thing. (10:02PM)

Bitty: OMG, that’s really cool!! (10:03PM)

Jack: Ransom and Holster say you’re out of my league. (10:03PM)

Bitty: Ransom and Holster. That’s…Justin Oluransi and Adam Birkholtz? (10:04PM)

Jack: You got it. Chowder defended my honor, at least. (10:07PM)

Bitty: Chris Chow, backup goalie? (10:07PM)

Jack: You made my day. Yep. Backup goalie. (10:10PM)

Bitty: Aw shucks. You’re so easy to please ;) (10:10PM)

Jack: I am. I have to go to bed. I could meet you for coffee in the morning? I’d like to see you. (10:12PM)

Bitty: I’d like that very much. But I want to say that you’re gonna owe me, since I don’t work until 12 on Thursdays. (10:15PM)

Jack: What could I give you as thanks? (10:17PM)

Bitty: I’ll think about it and get back to you ;) (10:20PM)

Jack: You do that. Good night, Bits. (10:25PM)

Bitty: Night, Jack <3 (10:25PM)

 

@bibliobaker @Ransom11 So I hear I’m out of his league.

@Ransom11 @bibliobaker BRO you are so out of his league it’s ridic. btw r u gonna make us baked goods

@bibliobaker @Ransom11 What kind of baked goods do you want, honey?

@Ransom11 @bibliobaker oh man i think i’m gonna marry u—can u do me a solid & make me some maple tarts

@Ransom11 @bibliobaker i miss my mom & she always makes me maple tarts

@bibliobaker @Ransom11 I can do that for ya. I’d even hand deliver them if you wanted.

@WholesomeHolster @bibliobaker @Ransom11 or we can hit u up at the library. we should read more anyway probably

@WholesomeHolster @bibliobaker @Ransom11 i’d like to place an order for homemade apple pie please

@bibliobaker @WholesomeHolster @Ransom11 I make an apple pie so good you’ll wanna slap your mama.

@WholesomeHolster @bibliobaker @Ransom11 holy shit i love my mom that sounds rad. so library on Friday then???

@bibliobaker @WholesomeHolster @Ransom11 Sounds good! Y’all meet me there and I’ll have baked goods for both of you :)

@LegitKentParson @bibliobaker @WholesomeHolster @Ransom11 can i join

@Ransom11 @LegitKentParson @bibliobaker @WholesomeHolster fuck off parse u don’t even go to this school

@LegitKentParson @Ransom11 @bibliobaker @WholesomeHolster rude

 

Direct Messages

@Ransom11 True facts—I’ve known Jack Zimmermann for 4 years and I’ve never seen him excited for something not hockey. And he only has like 2.5 expressions

@Ransom11 I’m jonesing to meet you dude

@bibliobaker I’m excited too but I’m fucking nervous, so don’t judge if I look like I’ve seen a bee.

@Ransom11 Haha brah no worries we’re good folks

@bibliobaker I know, but I’m like The New Guy.

@Ransom11 I mean no doubt we’re gonna judge you bro but ur a good egg so far, we like you fine, take a breath and bring me tarts

@bibliobaker I can do that, Mr. Ransom.

@Ransom11 Hey I fucking like that I’m telling Holster to call me that

@bibliobaker Bless your sweet heart <3

 

 

Bitty looks absolutely dream-worthy on the steps of his apartment, wrapped in an oversized sweatshirt for the unseasonably chilly morning and still wearing Superman pajama pants, hair a mess, leaning against the railing with his eyes closed. Jack wants nothing more than to pick him up, carry him inside, and tuck him in bed again.

 

Instead, he drops down on one knee and simply looks at him until Bitty cracks open one dark eye. “Hey handsome,” he says softly, his Georgian accent all tender and slurred over his words. “You ain’t even sweaty.”

 

“I’m taking it easy,” Jack says, and he curls fingers through Bitty’s hair, his heart warm at the soft sound Bitty makes in his throat. “I’m about to wind down on the cardio and start doing more weights. Why don’t we get you back into bed?”

 

“No, that’s okay. I wanted to get coffee with you.” He starts to uncurl his limbs, but Jack stops him, hands on his shoulders.

 

“You can make me coffee inside, how about that?”

 

“You gotta run.” Bitty rubs at his eyes and Jack very much needs to be alone with him.

 

“I planned for an hour with you, so I’m still on schedule.”

 

Bitty nods and stands, shuffling up to the door, and Jack follows him inside. As soon as the door is shut, he scoops Bitty up bridal style and carries him up to his room. Bitty doesn’t protest, only yawns and presses his head against Jack’s shoulder. The door to his apartment is unlocked, and he gets Bitty inside quickly, settling him down onto his bed with its messy sheets. The apartment looks even smaller with his bed unfolded, and the mattress does not look particularly comfortable. Bitty only stretches and buries his face into his pillows.

 

“I can make you coffee,” he says, and Jack snorts, turning and taking the three steps into the kitchen.

 

“I think I can manage coffee; you close your eyes.”

 

His little coffee machine is easy to work, and once Jack has a pot brewing for them, he settles himself down on Bitty’s couch, stretching out his legs. He feels very calm in this room, with its brick walls and overflowing books. He closes his eyes and thinks he could almost nap.

 

“Come over here,” Bitty says. “Shoes off first.”

 

Chuckling, Jack slides out of his trainers and stretches carefully beside Bitty on the full-sized mattress. It creaks in protest. It probably was not made for a hockey player, but Bitty snuggles into him all the same. They wrap around each other as Jack listens quietly to the sounds of the building around him, old and creaking, the coffee dripping into the pot, traffic outside the closed window. Bitty’s hair smells like honey, and he curls his fingers through the softness, closing his eyes.

 

He wakes up when an alarm goes off and is completely disoriented for a long moment, trying to figure out where he is. Bitty jerks in his arms, just as surprised. They look at each other, and Bitty smiles first, Jack following after.

 

“I messed up my schedule,” Jack says, because it’s ten o’clock now and his stomach is rumbling.

 

Bitty’s smile slides away. “Oh, shit. Jack, I’m so sorry.”

 

“No! No, it’s fine.” It is fine. He’s not…worried about it at all. In fact, he feels quite rested, but Bitty looks worried as hell.

 

“But you never mess up your schedule.”

 

“I know. But it feels okay right now. Really.” He reaches out at cups Bitty’s cheek, thumb brushing his parted mouth. “I promise.”

 

When Bitty kisses him, it’s slow and languid and easy and relaxed, and Jack cups the back of his neck, coaxing him closer. He’s a little surprised when Bitty resists, breaking the kiss and pulling back to look at him, his face flushed from sleep.

 

“I,” Bitty says, and he hesitates like he’s nervous. “I’m hard.”

 

The words are simple and small in Bitty’s uncertain voice, and Jack’s heart speeds up in his chest. He finds himself looking Bitty over, wondering if there are other signs of his arousal. Last Sunday, in this very apartment, he knew Bitty had been hard, but Bitty hadn’t said anything then. Had only pushed Jack away breathlessly.

 

“I could help,” Jack says, and he doesn’t think much about the words until he says them, and he goes very still because that was probably not the right thing to say. “If you want,” he adds, and that’s still not right, so he says, “And if you don’t that’s fine too.”

 

Bitty closes his eyes, head bowing as if in prayer. “I’ve known you for less than three weeks.”

 

Jack nods, watching the sloping curves of his shoulders, sighing. “Yeah, I know.”

 

Bitty’s on him in seconds, sliding a leg over him and pressing their hips together. The bed does not like the movement, and Jack grips at Bitty’s hips, alarmed.

 

“It won’t break, trust me,” Bitty says, and Jack briefly wonders how Bitty knows, but it doesn’t matter because Bitty’s mouth is so eager and insistent and Jack loves his mouth for all the amazing things it can do.

 

Jack fumbles to get Bitty’s sweatshirt off, and he’s not wearing a shirt underneath, his body suddenly exposed in a way Jack hasn’t yet had the opportunity to see, and he presses a hand to Bitty’s shoulder to keep him still, inspecting the little tattoo at his hip—an outline, nothing more, of the state of Georgia. There’s a trail of honey-colored hair from his belly button down, down, down.

 

Bitty’s voice is breathless. “You said you liked it.”

 

“I do.” He wants to put his mouth on that tattoo, trace the outline with the tip of his tongue. “I do, a lot.”

 

“You can touch me,” Bitty says, and Jack cups his chin, drawing him down for a long kiss that Bitty whines through. “Jack, please. Christ.”

 

Bitty’s pajama pants are thin cotton, well-worn and heavily washed, and Jack slides fingertips down his belly—those tight muscles twitching hard—until he reaches Bitty’s cock straining against the waistband. Jack is holding his breath, his eyes focused on the trajectory his hand makes, Bitty’s chest hitching in his peripheral vision. He feels impossibly warm through the fabric, and Jack traces the length of him, holding Bitty at the waist with his free hand when Bitty lurches forward with a gasp. Jack nuzzles a kiss against his slack mouth, saying, “I’ve got you” before he pulls the waistband down, slips Bitty’s cock out, strokes it with his hand.

 

He feels…good. Cut, which is strange, and thick, which is wonderful. Jack watches the progress he makes, thumb pressing into the slit, slick with precome, listening to the noises Bitty makes, watching the responses of his body. He is interested in what Bitty’s body does when it comes, and more than anything he wants to hear him.

 

“I hope your walls aren’t thin,” he says, and Bitty chuffs out a laugh, looking flushed and dazed.

 

“They are. I don’t care.”

 

Jack strokes him slowly, pulls his hand off, liberally licks his palm, and strokes him again. The scent of Bitty’s arousal is masculine and thick, and now Jack feels his own libido stirring sleepily, like it’s stretching awake out of hibernation. The last time he had sex with another person was in the previous decade, and that person was Kent Parson, and Jack has grown a lot since then but his body is still a quiet little thing so much of the time. Rarely interested, rarely roused. It’s a curious sensation, one that he’d like to investigate more closely at another time. Now, though, this is for Bitty. He wants to give him so much.

 

“Harder,” Bitty says, crouched over him, one hand on Jack’s where it rests on his waist, and the other clutching a fistful of pillow by Jack’s head. Jack tightens his grip as he slides up, then down. “Tight at the base,” Bitty says, his voice nothing but air. “Hold there. Just hold it.”

 

Jack is good with directions and he likes being told what to do, so he squeezes the base of Bitty’s cock, his heart pulsing fast in his throat, and watches as Bitty’s eyes flutter shut, as he shakes with effort. He hangs his head and Jack rises up to take a kiss, sloppy and wet. “Good?” he asks, because he needs directions, this beautiful body a map he is wholly unfamiliar with. He doesn’t know yet how to make it unfold. “Am I doing good?”

 

“You are so good,” Bitty breathes, and the hand covering Jack’s on his waist moves to cover the one on his cock. His stomach is a shivering wreck as he struggles, either to hold back or to come, Jack isn’t sure. “Tell me you want me.”

 

“God, I want you,” Jack says, and the words are all but punched out of him, so true and so honest he whimpers. “I want you, I want you.”

 

Bitty comes all over Jack’s wrist, his forearm. It’s messy and warm and Jack is so dizzy for a moment he thinks he might faint. There’s something impressive about Bitty’s compact, tight little body coming so much and so freely. It’s never been easy for Jack, but this—fuck, this is glorious.

 

When Bitty kisses him, it’s so lazy and sweet and he’s laughing, and this is actually fun, and when Jack sort of raises his hand to keep the mess from getting everywhere, Bitty sighs. “God, you’re gorgeous. Hold on.” He slides off the bed, takes the few steps to the kitchen, and cleans himself up with a towel before returning, wiping Jack clean. He’s still flushed and looking dazed, but there’s something very bright in his eyes as he slides onto the bed with Jack again. “I almost wanna call into work.”

 

“I almost want to let you,” Jack says, and when Bitty climbs on top of him again, Jack tips his head back and swallows. “I have…things to do today, but they’re…I mean, I could…not do them.”

 

“What would we even do?” Bitty asks, draping all over him and letting Jack’s hands wander on his warmed skin. “My apartment is so damn small.”

 

“We fit in the bed,” Jack says, and he’s never spent all day in bed with someone before. What would they even do? Maybe watch TV? Jack doesn’t know how to relax and do nothing.

 

Bitty kisses him for a little while and Jack enjoys the distraction, the way Bitty is good at making out. Jack can’t remember ever enjoying kissing or touching like this. It was always a means for an end, a challenge, needing to prove something. It was never sweet or sensual.

 

“Do you need anything?” Bitty asks, and Jack almost says he’s hungry and he could use some food when he realizes that’s probably not what Bitty meant. He gives that some thought.

 

“I don’t,” he says at last, truthfully. “I’m good.”

 

“Yeah?” Bitty traces his eyebrows lightly, watching him with such a look that Jack thinks must be adoration. “Are you sure?”

 

“I’m not,” Jack says, then starts his sentence over. “I don’t usually…get turned on. Much.”

 

“Okay,” Bitty says, kissing him again. Jack pulls away a little.

 

“Is it?” he asks, because his understanding is that for most people, sex is important. Really important. And Jack, for many reasons, is not capable of a lot of sex.

 

Bitty occupies his mouth with Jack’s neck instead, gentle, tender, and when he speaks his voice is very soft. “Of course it is. I—Jack, I want you to feel good and be happy. Whatever that means for you, I’m okay with. Really.”

 

“I liked what we did today,” he says, and the admission feels a lot bigger than the words. It’s also a realization for him that hadn’t held true before, with Kent. Jack liked giving to Bitty, because Bitty made him feel good before, during, and after. There was no uncertainty here. No obligations. “I would do that again if you wanted. Right now, even.”

 

Bitty’s laugh is lovely. “Definitely not right now, but I will take your interest into consideration, trust me.”

 

Jack plays with his hair for a few moments, enjoying the quiet intimacy, before saying, “Would you really call in to work?”

 

“I wouldn’t mind asking,” Bitty says. “I’m not gonna lie or anything, but I can ask Fatima if I can have the day off.” He crouches low over Jack, who is very interested in the movements of Bitty’s body. “Would you like that?”

 

Jack nods. Yes. He would. Bitty chuckles and slides off him to get his phone, which fell off the bed and skittered under the slid-aside coffee table. Jack props himself against the pillows and closes his eyes briefly. Maybe he could research hobbies or something. Or, if Bitty’s not going to fake sick, they could go out and do something together. Around other people. Where he can’t put his hands wherever he wants. Okay, scratch going out. But there’s more hockey for Bitty to learn, and there’s more librarianship for Jack to learn. They can talk. He likes talking with Bitty—a lot.

 

“Hey, Fatima,” Bitty says, moving into the kitchen to get some things out of his refrigerator. “It’s Bitty, hi. No, everything’s okay. I was wondering—I know it’s last minute, but is it okay if I take today off? No, everything’s fine, really. I’m not sick.” He turns and looks back at Jack, and Jack sees that he’s blushing. “Um, maybe. Yeah. Oh my God, Fatima, you didn’t.” He groans and Jack sees him slap himself in the face. “Oh my God, that daughter of yours, I swear. Okay, yes, maybe that’s why I want the day off. But I don’t have to take it—I just thought I’d—oh. Okay, yeah. No, I’ll definitely owe you, whatever you want. Pies, yes, anything.” He laughs, and it’s a good sound; Jack wants to bask in its warmth. “Yes, ma’am. Thank you so much. I’ll—yes, I’ll tell him.” As soon as he hangs up, he turns around to Jack. “Her daughter told her, like, last week about us on Twitter, and she thinks it’s cute that I want to spend the day with you, and she wants you to come back in as soon as possible so you can sign something for her granddaughter.”

 

Jack chuckles, stretching out comfortably on the bed. “I don’t mind doing that at all. Is she covering for you?”

 

“Yeah, she’s got me. She’s great. I’m going to miss her so much.” He busies himself in the kitchen and Jack simply watches him, the graceful slopes of his back, his deceptively broad shoulders, all the taut muscles he still hasn’t tasted yet. Jack shifts a little. He is, surprisingly, a little aroused. But it’s easily ignored in favor of Eric’s spectacular back.

 

“She seems really nice. I’ll go in next week to see her.”

 

“She’d love that. Surprise her, that would be even better.”

 

“What are you making?”

 

“Pancakes. My pancakes are killer, you’re going to love them.” He tosses Jack a smile over his shoulder. “I even got maple syrup just in case I could get you over here for breakfast.”

 

Jack flushes and rolls off the bed—carefully, so it doesn’t collapse—and slips closer to Bitty, who is furiously mixing batter like a pro. “Are you sure you got actual maple syrup?”

 

“Excuse you, I Googled.” He points to a top cabinet. “Look in there and see if you approve.”

 

Jack looks. He pulls down a glass bottle of dark maple syrup. Brown Family Farms maple syrup, Grade A dark amber. Jack is…shockingly impressed. It’s the brand he usually buys himself when he’s out before a trip to Canada. “I do approve. This is what I usually get.”

 

Bitty’s surprised smile is delightful. “Then I did good.”

 

Jack folds up the bed after removing blankets and pillows, and straightens up in the living room to get them ready for breakfast. Since the coffee is cold, he lets Bitty heat it up in the microwave (“Hon, we don’t waste coffee in this household, nuke it and drink it”) while he heads to the bathroom down the hall to splash water on his face and in general freshen up a little. He still can’t believe they have the whole day ahead of them, and the first thought in his mind is what he can teach Bitty about hockey today.

 

After they eat breakfast, where Jack is horrified to discover that Bitty’s not a fan of maple syrup and uses some sort of fake, unworthy replica all over his own pancakes, they get down to some of the finer points in hockey, though Bitty repeatedly interrupts him to kiss him all over, which, in retrospect, isn’t a bad thing.

 

Then they talk about Bitty’s grad school experience.

 

They talk about their parents (Jack’s parents know he’s seeing someone, but they haven’t probed much more than that; Bitty’s parents know that he is dating Boston Bruins star Jack Zimmermann, all of Jack’s stats, his height, weight, and his entire career timeline).

 

They talk about how they grew up, their childhoods, their dating experiences, why they each chose the paths that they did, why Bitty quit figure skating (his responses are short and to the point—he got made fun of, and he got sick of being made fun of), what Jack would do if he couldn’t do hockey anymore (it takes him five minutes before he says “Probably go to school for history stuff”), and all through their conversations they share deep, lingering kisses that punch Jack right in the gut every time.

 

For lunch around two, Jack orders pizza for them and they watch Cutting Edge, which Jack has seen but Bitty, surprisingly, has not. They don’t fit very well on Bitty’s couch, but Jack figures out it can work if Bitty stretches on top of him. He’s so comfortable he finds himself curling fingers in the lengthening hair at the nape of Bitty’s neck, sliding his hand up and down Bitty’s warm, bare back.

 

They make out, they eat pizza for dinner, make out some more, and then, around eight or so, Jack finally has to leave, kissing Bitty at his door before quietly stepping out onto the street and jogging (slowly, full of pizza) back home.

 

They text before bed, and Jack finds Bitty’s Twitter, reading through it in amusement as he lays bundled in his sheets, lights off, preparing to fall asleep.

 

@bibliobaker Nice day off! Thanks to Fatima @BPLWestEnd for hooking a dude up. #loveyougirl

@whitneyramos @bibliobaker I love days off!! Did you do anything fun or just relaxing?

@bibliobaker @whitneyramos Both!! I got to watch Cutting Edge for the first time, and I freaking loved it oh my god. #helpmeoprah

@LegitKentParson @bibliobaker haha I know what you were doing today

@Ransom11 @LegitKentParson @bibliobaker oh my god for the LAST TIME you don’t GO TO THIS SCHOOL

@bibliobaker @LegitKentParson I know what you WEREN’T doing today.

 

Jack snorts, puts his phone away, and slips easily into sleep.

Chapter Text

Bitty’s morning is filled with several things at the library—he takes care of all the interlibrary loan requests that are waiting from overnight, issues ten new library cards in less than an hour (West End is becoming a very popular branch, for obvious reasons), and spends another hour in the communal office putting together his proposal for Larissa’s newest book that’ll be out in the fall, organizing together a reading like he did for Jack’s book, but making sure he budgets in enough time for at least two sessions, if needed.

 

He’s approached by Soo-jin, their newest part-time page, who knocks on the door to the office and gives him a shy smile. “Hi, Eric? There are, um, two hockey players here to see you?”

 

Bitty almost forgot that Ransom and Holster were going to be picking up their baked goods. Almost. He stands so fast from the table that he almost knocks the chair over, smoothing down his blue button-down. “Oh, right, yes, okay. Are they—just at the front, or…?”

 

“They’re browsing,” she says, and there’s a flush high in her cheeks. “I issued them both library cards.”

 

He has to smile at that. “Sweet of them. Thanks for letting me know, Soo-jin. Do you like hockey?”

 

“Not really,” she says, then pauses. “But, uh. I could start watching it now.”

 

He leans into her as they walk back toward the main part of the library. “Trust me, it’s worth it.”

 

Enjoying the way she laughs, he watches as she heads back to circulation before roving around the library until he finds the two men that can’t be anything other than hockey players, because they’re huge. Bigger, even, than Jack, and from what he’s learned from Jack—a center—that’s typical of defensemen. From what he can remember, Jack has said that Ransom handles the puck more than Holster, and Holster is sort of the team’s first-line bruiser. As Bitty stares at them, he can see it—Holster’s nearly a full head taller than he is.

 

“Gentlemen?” Bitty says, and they both turn to look at him, their smiles splitting their faces equally. Bitty can see now why they’re best friends—they share each other’s gestures. “Um, hi, I’m—”

 

“Holy shit!” Ransom says, and he bends down, scoops Bitty up, and gives him the biggest hug Bitty’s ever gotten in his life. “Holy shit, Jack didn’t say you were such a little guy! Jesus Christ!”

 

“There are kids here,” Bitty tells him, but he can’t help but laugh.

 

Ransom’s voice instantly lowers to a much more acceptable level. “Jesus, dude, you are itty bitty. Is that why they call you Bitty?”

 

“Sort of,” Bitty says, and he thinks he’s going to get put down, but instead he’s passed to Holster. Who also hugs him tight. Bitty’s feet are dangling. “Hi there. Nice to meet y’all.”

 

He gets a kiss on the forehead from Holster, who finally sets him down. Bitty feels pretty short next to Jack, but this is like a whole different level of size difference. “I have food for y’all, if you wanna come back with me?”

 

“Hell yeah,” Holster half-whispers, and he and Ransom share the gentlest high-five Bitty has ever seen. Shaking his head in nervous amusement, he leads them through the stacks and back to the staff lunch room, where he pulls two apple pies and a three dozen maple tarts from the fridge.

 

“Holster, I made you two—one has the maple sugar crust Jack liked on my breakfast bars, and one doesn’t, so you can tell me which you prefer for next time. And Ransom, there are actually three different batches in here—I tried a few different things trying to get the best recipe I could.”

 

They both stare at him for so long that Bitty blushes. “What? Do I have something on my face, or…?”

 

“You’re really thoughtful,” Ransom says, and his head is tilted in a strange way. Bitty feels like he’s being very closely inspected. “I think that’s good for Jack. He doesn’t think he needs someone to care for him, but he does.”

 

“Dude needs someone who can read him,” Holster says, nodding. “He’s such a tight-ass so much of the time that he’s gonna need someone he’ll let pry him open. I think you’re a good candidate for that.”

 

Bitty’s heart is an erratic mess in his chest. The entire time he and Jack have been doing their thing, he didn’t really have to face the reality of it other than the weird Twitter attention and the paparazzi stalking his steps in the morning. These are Jack’s coworkers. People who have known him for years. People who are currently, for better or worse, judging whether or not they approve. He thinks they approve. It sounds like they approve. But Bitty isn’t exactly used to…interviewing for a boyfriend position.

 

“I like him,” he says, and tries hard not to break eye contact with either of them. It’s something he’s working on in preparation for the interviews that will happen at the end of November for Fatima’s job, which will be renamed after her departure from Children’s Librarian to Youth Services in order to cover a wider area of interest.

 

“We can tell,” Ransom says. “That’s super cool. He deserves that.”

 

“He’s a good guy,” Holster says, “and you seem like one too. So don’t let all the media bullshit freak you out. They’ll do anything for a story. Just keep your chin up and don’t be afraid to let us know if you need some heads busted in. We’re so good at that.”

 

“We really are, bro, we’re like fucking experts, it’s rad.”

 

They fistbump. Bitty smiles. “I appreciate the sentiment, boys, but I am pretty sure I won’t need to ask you to spill blood for me just yet. But I do have a favor.”

 

“Anything, bro,” Ransom says, and he’s already fishing out a tart and shoving it whole in his mouth. His eyes roll back in his head as he chews.

 

“Don’t be alarmed,” Holster says, “that’s just his O-face.”

 

Bitty decides that he likes these two. “Enjoy your O-face,” he tells Ransom, “but I would greatly appreciate it if I could maybe take a picture of you two with your library cards for Twitter and Facebook? Would that be okay?”

 

“Hell yeah,” Holster says, “we’ll give you some lip service, no problem.”

 

“Maybe you can take the picture with Soo-jin, since she’s the one who issued them.” Privately, Bitty thinks she’d quite enjoy that. “I already have a cute idea for the picture.”

 

 

@BPLWestEnd Big thanks to @WholesomeHolster and @Ransom11 for stopping by today! Soo-jin issued two brand new library cards! ow.ly/349nh3

@prettypaulie @BPLWestEnd @WholesomeHolster @Ransom11 awwww, this is such a cute picture! <3 <3 <3 Nice job, West End!

@swimmerfann @BPLWestEnd HAHAHA!!! She looks like a tiny doll in those big goons’ arms, how cute!!

@BPLWestEnd @prettypaulie @WholesomeHolster @Ransom11 They wanted to see if they could toss her in the air, but we said NO #quietinthelibrary

@BPLWestEnd @swimmerfann She weighs about 90 pounds, which I believe is what Ransom normally packs away at breakfast #nojoke

@WholesomeHolster Had a great time at @BPLWestEnd today! Go read books and stuff, they’re cool

@Ransom11 Thanks to @BPLWestEnd, Soo-jin, and @bibliobaker for making our morning like fun & educational, stay in school kids

@bibliobaker @Ransom11 I hope you like the tarts!!!

@WholesomeHolster @bibliobaker @Ransom11 he ate 11 of them on the train, i think he’s good

@WholesomeHolster @bibliobaker I ate some of the maple crust apple pie & i would like to be the first one to ask for ur hand in marriage

@bibliobaker @WholesomeHolster No offense, my dear, but that ain’t a horse I’m ready to put in the rodeo

@WholesomeHolster @bibliobaker shit well i love you anyway bro see @ the bbq!!!!

 

Direct Messages

@swimmerfann So it looks like dear Cute Librarian is ingratiating himself beautifully into the strange world that is hockey bro-dom.

@prettypaulie How cute are Rans and Holtsy oh my goodness, all of their tweets to him are just so welcoming. I sort of want to cry? And I’m really curious that the Bruins haven’t made any sort of statement yet. I guess they’re not going to?

@swimmerfann I kind of like that they’re not. I mean, they made one when Zimms came out, and I’m hoping that their attitude toward all this is to treat it like any straight relationship any other player might have. At least it’s nice seeing that the players themselves are reaching out and making this, like. A good thing publicly. I love it. It gives me joy.

@prettypaulie ALSO, when Eric took the day off yesterday, did you see his and Parse’s tweets at each other?

@swimmerfann Eric is such a sassy bitch, I love it so fucking much, I just can’t tell you. So it sounds to me like Parse knew they were hanging out (they = Eric and Zimms) and just couldn’t resist commenting, and Eric gave him that fucking zinger right back. Sweet lord. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

 

 

It’s been almost a year since Bitty’s been in his skates, but as soon as he laces them up and glides out onto the rink, he feels right at home. Saturdays are early days at the library, closing at two, and now Jack has surprised him by picking him up in his unnecessarily large black truck (he did not expect Jack Zimmermann to drive such a thing) and taking him to the Jim Roche Community Arena in West Roxbury.

 

“I wanted to get us some private ice time,” Jack says, skating along next to him, “but I thought it might be more fun if we did it during public skate.”

 

Bitty can agree with that. The kids on the ice have spotted Jack, and Bitty can tell they’re almost positive it’s him. “It’s been a while since I got a chance to skate,” he says, “but I always forget it’s really like riding a bike. I remember how to do everything, you know?” He slides hands into the pockets of his jeans, skating backward and watching as Jack follows him at an easy pace. Jack looks good in his track pants and slim Bruins t-shirt. Good and comfortable and relaxed.

 

“I have no idea what it’s like to not skate for a while,” Jack says, and there’s an expression on his face that Bitty reads as nervous. He’s noticed that everyone in the rink has noticed him. “I’ve pretty much been on blades since I was…two? Twoish, somewhere around there.”

 

“I was nine the first time I ice-skated,” Bitty tells him, circling closer to him as he warms up his long unused skating muscles. “It’s not like we have frozen ponds all over Georgia. My mama had to take me into Atlanta for their indoor rink.” When Jack’s shoulders tense and hunch, Bitty slides by him, one hand on his shoulder and mouth close to his ear. “It’s okay, just try to have fun. They’re going to ask you for autographs and want your attention—and that’s okay.”

 

Jack nods, taking a breath and clearly trying to ease something tight gnawing in his chest. The first bold kid—maybe a preteen girl, Bitty’s bad with ages—skates right up next to Jack and says, “Wanna race?”

 

Bitty is impressed with her guts; he doesn’t think, as a kid, that he could’ve done anything like that to his favorite hockey star. She’s even wearing a Zimmermann jersey. Bitty’s heart melts a bit. “Do it,” he tells Jack. “I bet you a dollar she’s going to cream you.”

 

Jack’s smile is hesitant but he nods to the girl. “What’s your name?”

 

“Nina. Bet you won’t forget it, either.” And she takes off around the rink.

 

Jack’s expression is priceless. “You didn’t say when!” he shouts, and he tears off after her, carefully staying just behind her as she weaves expertly through the other skaters. There’s laughter around the rink, and phones are being drawn out. Bitty can see the tweets now—Jack Zimmermann loses speed skating race to 12-year-old.

 

Bitty can’t help it; he knows he’s got a lot of Twitter followers now because of Jack, and all he can think is how good this is going to look for PR. Jack Zimmermann, reclusive hockey star, skating with kids.

 

When he finds the parent that must be Nina’s—a mother taking pictures and waving at her and laughing—he shows her the picture he’s taken and asks if he can put the picture on his Twitter.

 

“You’re the boyfriend,” Nina’s mother, Kassandra, says. “Right?”

 

“Not exactly,” Bitty says, “but close. I’m Eric Bittle.” They shake hands.

 

“I’ve never seen Zimmermann smile like this,” she says, and she looks dreamy as she watches Jack demand a rematch from her daughter. “What are you even doing here today? Is it a date?”

 

Bitty blushes and scratches at the back of his head. “Yeah. I used to do figure skating, but it’s been a while since I’ve been on the ice.”

 

“Nina wants to do figure skating so bad,” Kassandra says, “which is why I take her here as often as I can, but I just can’t afford the programs—they’re so expensive. Is there anything you might be able to show her?”

 

Bitty’s pleased and dismayed by the request; he hates it when kids aren’t able to do things they love just because of money. “Absolutely, I’d love to. And I’d be more than happy to look into programs in the area that might offer free or low-cost classes. I’m a librarian, so I am super good at research.”

 

She looks so relieved he wants to hug her. “Gosh, thank you so much. I really, really appreciate it.”

 

“Not a problem at all,” he says, shooting off a quick tweet about Nina before adding, “I’ll go work with her a little today, and you and I can get in touch about something more permanent for her, how does that sound?”

 

“That would be wonderful,” Kassandra says, and she dabs at her eyes. “God bless you, Eric.”

 

Bitty flushes and accepts her blessing awkwardly (it reminds him so much of home he feels a stab of homesickness before he recovers), sliding across the ice to see that Jack has a chain of maybe ten kids all linking hands as he drags them around the ice, swinging gently from side to side so they scream in delight. Every parent in the rink has their phones out. Bitty takes time to get permission from each parent for each child before taking more pictures and putting them up on his Twitter.

 

Nina approaches him first. “Mom says you figure skate,” she says, and Bitty nods as he slips his phone into his back pocket.

 

“Yep, I did. For almost ten years. Wanna learn some cool stuff?”

 

“Can you teach me a jump today?”

 

“Probably a little one, yeah. You’re pretty good on your feet already. Do you know about the inside and outside edges of your skates?”

 

While Jack occupies himself with kids, teaching them to skate backward and then letting them chase him around the rink and signing a multitude of autographs, Bitty works with Nina. After half an hour, she successfully lands a waltz jump (following about thirty failed attempts), and she’s so happy she gives him a huge hug, and all Bitty can see is Kassandra with her camera and tears in her eyes and a big smile on her face.

 

Bitty gets her information and promises he’ll look into local programs that will give Nina a chance to learn more than Bitty can teach her. He rejoins Jack’s group after that, and the two of them spend more time with new kids coming onto the ice before Bitty says it.

 

“I challenge you,” he says, “to a race around the rink.”

 

The kids oooh.

 

Jack snorts and folds his arms across his chest, and he looks so pleased with himself, and so cocky, that Bitty has to remind himself that he is surrounded by young people. “Do you really think that’s a good idea, Bittle?”

 

“I think it’s a great idea, Zimmermann. I am about 108% sure that I am faster than you are.”

 

Jack points to his skates. “Those give you an advantage.”

 

“I haven’t skated in a year. You have an advantage.”

 

They regard each other with raised eyebrows.

 

“I say it’s a fair fight,” one dad says, and the parents nod in agreement.

 

“Go for it.”

 

The kids are quick to pick sides, a chorus of “I’m on Jack’s team!” and “No way, I’m on Eric’s team!” serenading them. They all huddle in the middle of the rink, trying to jump up and down and falling and getting back up only to fall again.

 

“Three laps,” Bitty says, and he looks toward Kassandra. “You keep track, okay?”

 

She nods, grinning. “Ready whenever you are!”

 

Bitty extends his hand to Jack, who shakes it. “May the best Bittle win.”

 

Jack throws back his head and laughs. “You are in for it,” he says, and Bitty doesn’t find it so much of a threat as a promise.

 

The kids count down for them, and then they’re off. Bitty had never been a speed skater, per se, but he was good at multiple spins and jumps, and in order to achieve those he needed speed to get a lot of air. So he gives it all he’s got, warm from the exercises with Nina, and he and Jack launch themselves around the rink. He’s never heard so much cheering in his life, certainly not at any of his competitions, and he doesn’t dare to look over at Jack to see what his expression is. He’s concentrating on winning.

 

At lap one, Jack is in the lead by several lengths. Bitty takes a deep breath and pushes himself harder. He genuinely wants to win, not because he’s super competitive by any means, but Jack is, and he has a feeling that if he can beat Jack, or at least get close to it, that it’s something Jack will probably like. If Bitty were another hockey player, that might not be the case.

 

Lap two and Bitty’s two lengths behind Jack and panting hard. This has gotta be childplay for him; he does these kinds of drills all the time, and usually in much heavier padding. Bitty lets himself fly along the ice with the gray of Jack’s shirt right in front of him, cutting their distance shorter and shorter and shorter.

 

Lap three and Bitty has Jack’s shirt within reach. Half a length, maybe a little more, and when they cross what has been deemed the finish line, Bitty manages to grab him and cling to his back as Jack glides the rest of the way, and Bitty can feel him laughing and laughing.

 

“That was close,” Jack says, turning in Bitty’s arms to skate backward. They link hands and Bitty lets himself get pulled along, his muscles positively aching with effort. “Damn, you’re fast.”

 

“Not fast enough,” Bitty pants, wiping his sweaty forehead with the back of his hand. “God, it’s been so long, though. I’ll beat you next time.”

 

Someone grabs Bitty around the waist from behind, and before long they have another little conga line on the ice. Bitty hasn’t seen Jack look so comfortable in public before, and he thinks the entire day will be good for both of them.

 

Before they leave, he promises Kassandra again that he’ll do his research and get in touch with her. After everyone in the rink has had as much Jack Zimmermann as they can stand, Jack takes Bitty’s hand and leads him out to the truck. Once inside, Jack leans across the seat to give him a soft, sweet kiss on the cheek.

 

“Did you have fun?” he asks, and Bitty feels warm and glowing from the inside out.

 

“Yeah. I really, really did.”

 

 

@LegitKentParson We now have official photos of the happy couple @bibliobaker ow.ly/98nn92

@bibliobaker @LegitKentParson Damn, I look good in that lighting.

@LegitKentParson I like this one too @bibliobaker ow.ly/ti3828j

@bibliobaker @KentParson Where did you find that one? Nice pap shot of the inside of my living room.

@LegitKentParson @bibliobaker the internet is forever, brah

@bibliobaker @LegitKentParson WELL. That’s the last time I try to keep the window open when it’s warm. Thank God I had pants on.

@LegitKentParson @bibliobaker thank god he did too amirite? haha

@bibliobaker @LegitKentParson He already did the @ESPN The Body Issue, I don’t think anyone would’ve been surprised.

 

Direct Messages

@swimmerfann Do you need me to fight Parson.

@bibliobaker Nah. I think he’s jealous. Let him be jealous. :)

@swimmerfann You’re a good man, Bittle.

@bibliobaker No, I’m a petty bitch and I want him to stew in it.

@swimmerfann Same diff, actually.

 

 

Bitty: I’m actually really upset. Look. [twitter.jpeg] (10:09PM)

Jack: Don’t worry about it. We weren’t doing anything wrong. We’ll be boring soon enough. (10:15PM)

Bitty: But it was a close up shot right in my living room. That makes me feel…wrong. (10:20PM)

Jack: I know Guy had this problem when he and his wife were first dating. I bet they’d have some advice. (10:22PM)

Bitty: I feel like I’m causing a lot of trouble here. (10:23PM)

Jack: Would you rather us stop dating? (10:25PM)

Bitty: Not at all. I wouldn’t want that at all. I just feel grossed out. (10:27PM)

Jack: I’m sorry I didn’t think about those things. This has happened to me for so long I almost can’t remember a time when I wasn’t stalked by the media. (10:28PM)

Jack: Or cute guys sitting on their front steps licking icing off their fingers at me. (10:29PM)

Bitty: Are you trying to make me laugh Mr. Zimmermann? (10:30PM)

Jack: Of course I am. Would it help if I Twittered? (10:31PM)

Bitty: Twittered XDDDDDD (10:31PM)

Jack: I don’t know the term. Would it help? They might leave you alone a little. (10:33PM)

Bitty: You can barely set new alarms. I don’t think it would help if you “Twittered.” (10:34PM)

Jack: I’m going to Twitter and see what happens. (10:36PM)

Bitty: Jack oh my god no (10:37PM)

Bitty: Jack. (10:52PM)

 

@JackZimmermann How do I follow Bitty

 

 

Direct Messages

Holy Shit Jack Zimmermann

 

@prettypaulie This is it. This is where my body leaves this earthly realm and ascends to the spirit world.

@swimmerfann How is this going to work. We have Parse, we have Cute Librarian, and

we have Jack Zimmermann all on Twitter. How is this going to work.

@RaquelVox okay so i know i ahven’t been THE MOST you know DISCREET or whatever but i am having issues because i sort of ship jack and his bf but then there’s parse who is so clearly desperate for attention oh my god look at how thirsty he is

@RaquelVox like jesus chrsit

@sinisterlies i need to know that zimms is getting some of that adorable blonde ass. i don’t care whose adorable blonde ass. but preferably librarian because he is waaaaaay more likable than parse lmao

@swimmerfann Okay guys, can we PLEASE just REMEMBER that there are REAL PEOPLE AND FEELINGS IN THIS??? Please?

@sinisterlies obvs they’re real

@RaquelVox ugh you have to take all the fun out of it

@swimmerfann idk you guys, but ever since Eric got involved I just feel really weird about like…shipping these guys and stuff. They’re people. And Zimms is such a nice guy, I don’t know. I just feel weird.

@swimmerfann But I’m a hypocrite because I wrote a 1200 word fic last night of Sid comforting Parse. Anyway. I HAVEN’T MET SID OR PARSE IT’S FINE.

@prettypaulie Maggie, you shame me.

@RaquelVox IS IT ON AO3 OR WHAT

@swimmerfann IT IS NOWHERE because I don’t know if I’m comfortable posting fic like ever again. I’ve already deleted everything I had up.

@sinisterlies MAGGIE DAMMIT

@RaquelVox UGH that is unnecessary

@swimmerfann ERIC IS A LIBRARIAN, HE IS GOOD AT FINDING THINGS. HE’S A FUCKING HUFFLEPUFF. I DON’T WANT HIM FINDING THE SHIT I WROTE ABOUT HIS BOYFRIEND AND THE DREADED EX OKAy. Eric is a nice guy. I really like him and I don’t want to feel weird about this.

@prettypaulie Shit, I didn’t think about Hufflepuff Librarian. Shit. And he’s a curious sort. He’d go looking for it. BECAUSE SOMEONE ALREADY SHOWED HIM WHERE TO FIND IT.

@RaquelVox What? He DM’d me and told me it was good. I only showed him the G-rated post-Cup thing I wrote a couple of years back, come on.

@sinisterlies Please don’t tell me we’re all going on a crusade to delete our RPF just because of this. I really think that’s overkill.

@swimmerfann Grace, when you move to Boston and actually become friends with Eric, THEN you can have an opinion on what I do.

@sinisterlies Whatevs.

@sinisterlies has left the group

Chapter Text

The Sunday before Guy’s barbecue is weird for Jack. He has his usual schedule, one that involves texting with Bitty—and now tweeting—and he meets with Shitty for lunch at Russell House in Cambridge. It’s been a while since he’d seen Shitty, and Jack is not surprised to find that his mustache is even more magnificent than it was two months ago.

 

“Bro,” Shitty says, clapping him in a tight hug and kissing his cheek. “Bro. My love. I have missed you.”

 

“I missed you too.”

 

“I saw you got a Twitter. What the fuck.”

 

“It’s weird,” Jack agrees, and they take a seat at Shitty’s usual table. “But the PR team is pretty happy with it. I’m the last to cave.”

 

Shitty leans back in his chair, and Jack is struck, not for the fiftieth time, by the image that he presents of a carefree hipster frat boy who happens to be the smartest man Jack has ever known. “You must be super thirsty for this guy.”

 

“Why does everyone use that word?”

 

“Because it’s apropos, bro. Tell me about him. I followed him on Twitter and he followed me back, but we haven’t chatted yet. He’s very cute.” Shitty raises an eyebrow. “Looks like your type, too.”

 

“Shut up.” Jack does, in fact, prefer blondes. “He’s nice.”

 

“Oh wow, that’s so descriptive. You don’t need to tell me anything else, I know exactly who he is from those words—he’s nice.” Shitty orders them a pitcher of beer, even though he knows Jack only drinks half a glass. “Come the fuck on, Jack. Tell me. I pine with curiosity.”

 

Jack spills. He tells Shitty everything, from how they first met to the first date, the skating rink, the little coffee mini-dates and the book reading and the texting and Bitty’s unbelievable handling of Kent, and as he’s telling all of this to Shitty, Shitty is quiet like Blanca is—simply watching him, his fingers twirling his glass of beer.

 

“I think,” Shitty says, “that you are falling seriously in love with this guy.”

 

Part of Jack thinks of Kent. “I don’t know about that, but. I do like him a lot.”

 

“Yeah, but it’s been, what. Less than a month? Jack, you don’t do this. Please don’t misunderstand me, my bro, I am très happy for you, but I am also super concerned? So if we could talk about this a little more, I’d feel a lot better.”

 

Jack never thought about anyone being concerned for him. But then again, Jack doesn’t expect people to…care that deeply about him. He watches Shitty with soft eyes and reaches a hand across the table, grasping Shitty’s fingers and squeezing. “Whatever you want. I’m just super happy, that’s all.”

 

After a few more details (“Not that many,” Shitty interrupts, “I have a hard enough time with that issue of ESPN you did two years back, I don’t need more fantasies”) Shitty is fairly satisfied that Eric Bittle is not A) a predator or B) a crazy person. “He’s pretty funny on his Twitter,” Shitty says, scrolling through his phone. “Like, I’m sorry, but he is fucking taking Parse’s balls and dangling them like fuckin’ bait, it’s spectacular. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

 

“You had things for me to sign?” Jack says, because really, that’s why they’re here, and Jack is a little tired of talking about Kent Parson’s balls. “What am I updating this time?”

 

“Your last will and testament. It all goes to me.” Shitty pulls some documents in a file folder out of his purse—he refuses to call it a man-purse—and slides the to Jack. “Just a few addendums to your estate, that sort of thing. The pink arrows are what’s new. I figured you’d like the pink ones instead of the green.”

 

“I do like pink,” Jack says, and reads the paperwork carefully while Shitty orders their usual—garden burgers and kettle chips—and leans back in his chair to scroll through his phone more.

 

“Whoa,” Shitty says, as Jack’s on page three of forty-seven. “Dude, so I haven’t seen a lot of up close pictures of your guy, just some far off shots on that skating rink and Parse’s gross pap shot he tweeted, but damn.”

 

Shitty turns his phone around to show Jack, and Jack’s mouth goes dry.

 

It’s innocuous, is what it is, really; just a selfie Bitty took while he ran errands that morning, probably directly after texting with Jack. He’s gotten a haircut, which Jack knew he’d be doing, but there’s something about the cleaned-up fade, the sunglasses, and the bright-white grin that makes his heart stop. Also, he’s wearing a Property of Boston Bruins t-shirt, faded and slim and heather gray. Jack hasn’t seen this shirt before. “Oh,” Jack says.

 

“Shit,” Shitty says. “I’m telling him he’s hot.”

 

Jack hasn’t talked directly to Bitty on Twitter yet, and Bitty hasn’t talked directly to him, but he sort of wants to respond to that picture. What he’d say, he doesn’t know. But he wants to say something.

 

Completely against his nature, Jack pulls out his phone, opens the Twitter app, and tries to navigate to Bitty’s page. It takes him over thirty seconds. He opens the picture and stares at it again. Tries to decide what he could say. Settles on something simple.

 

@JackZimmermann @bibliobaker nice haircut

 

The response is almost immediate and Jack’s heart flips. Is this why people like Twitter?

 

@bibliobaker @JackZimmermann Thanks!! :)

@JackZimmermann @bibliobaker that shirt looks new

@bibliobaker @JackZimmermann well, it’s new for me. I found it at Goodwill and nearly threw myself at the cashier to get it.

 

Jack finds he rather likes having this conversation in public. There’s something fun about it.

 

@JackZimmermann @bibliobaker are you going to wear it to a game

@bibliobaker @JackZimmermann maybe. I kind of really want a @Ransom11 shirt.

@JackZimmermann @bibliobaker @Ransom11 traitor

@Ransom11 @JackZimmermann @bibliobaker #iamthebestboyfriend

@LegitKentParson @JackZimmermann @bibliobaker I vote we get him my jersey.

@bibliobaker @LegitKentParson Yes!!!! I’ve always wanted to start a bonfire :) :) :)

 

Jack closes the app.

 

 

Direct Messages

@LegitKentParson So you’ve joined 2010

@LegitKentParson I honestly never thought I’d see the day

@LegitKentParson He’s just making all sorts of changes in you, isn’t he

@LegitKentParson Come on Jack I miss you, I just want to talk

@JackZimmermann You don’t have to be rude

@LegitKentParson I’m sorry

@JackZimmermann You’re not

@LegitKentParson I’m a little sorry

@JackZimmermann You’re jealous, you’re not sorry

@LegitKentParson Jealous of him? You’ve known him for what a week

@JackZimmermann And I’ve known you for twenty years

@LegitKentParson Exactly. Jack srsly I miss you a lot, I don’t know why we can’t just let it go and move on

@JackZimmermann I don’t have to let it go

@LegitKentParson What’s the saying like something about you need to let it the fuck go to move on or something, did Ghandi say it

@JackZimmermann I don’t have to do anything on your time. I’m going to do it on my time. I might forgive you one day or I might not but that’s up to me. You don’t get a say in that

@LegitKentParson Did your therapist tell you that?

@JackZimmermann She did

@LegitKentParson And it sounds like you believe what she’s selling

@JackZimmermann I do. She helped me get better

@JackZimmermann I’m going to bed. I won’t be responding again until I’m ready to. I would appreciate it if you left Bitty alone

@LegitKentParson Jack

@LegitKentParson Jack just five more minutes

@LegitKentParson Jack please

 

Jack: Pick you up at 6? (10:47PM)

Bitty: Make it 6:15 so I have time to throw up. (10:47PM)

Jack: Come on, you already know Ransom and Holster. And me (10:48PM)

Bitty: Should I wear anything in particular? (10:49PM)

Jack: Any sort of clothing will be fine, it is not a clothing optional event (10:51PM)

Bitty: HaHA, Mr. Zimmermann. I’m serious. Is there a theme? Am I dressing up like Lady Liberty? What am I doing here? I made three pies, is that enough? (10:53PM)

Jack: Why don’t you just sleep it off a little okay, you’re stressed (10:56PM)

Bitty: You think you’re SO FUNNY I’m really upset over here (10:59PM)

Jack: Do you want me to come over (11:04PM)

Bitty: Lord no! It’s too late for that! (11:05PM)

Bitty: Jack. Please don’t tell me you’re actually on your way. (11:15PM)

Bitty: Oh my God, you’re a nutball. Are you seriously on your way? (11:20PM)

Bitty: Jaaaaaaack answer me (11:23PM)

Jack: Let me in (11:25PM)

 

 

Jack gets up to run in the morning like normal, leaving Bitty a sleeping bundle on the bed (with the blinds pulled firmly shut). He jogs his usual route, though his starting and ending points are different, and when he gets back into Bitty’s apartment, he quietly makes himself a breakfast of scrambled egg whites, fresh spinach, and a few pieces of unbuttered toast. It’s only when he’s finished eating and he’s sipping a cup of black coffee that Bitty starts to stir.

 

“Did you run?” Bitty asks, and his voice is hoarse from sleep, and lower than usual. It sends a little thrill up Jack’s spine.

 

“I did. Finished breakfast too. Want me to make you something?”

 

“Oh.” It’s like Bitty never considered someone cooking for him. “Oh, uh. Nah, I can do it.”

 

“Let me,” Jack says, already moving back into the kitchen.

 

Bitty’s quite for a moment. All Jack hears is him rustling in bed, then there’s a presence standing just behind him. “Nobody’s cooked for me before.”

 

“Everything gets a first time eventually,” Jack says, pulling out the eggs and spinach again and setting one of the small pan to heat up. He closes his eyes briefly when he feels Bitty put arms around him from behind and press his face into Jack’s back. Three weeks.

 

Bitty’s quiet as Jack makes him breakfast, and they shuffle together from fridge to stove to cabinet for a bowl and utensils. While Jack puts the bread in the toaster, he settles a hand over Bitty’s where it rests on his stomach and they curl their fingers together.

 

“I’m still nervous about today,” Bitty says at last, when he’s eating Jack’s breakfast and sipping too-sweet coffee. “I don’t know if three pies is enough. How many people will be there?”

 

“Usually at least fifty. Local guys and families and stuff.”

 

Bitty leans against his fridge with a sigh. “Well, shit.”

 

Jack busies himself with washing dishes. “No well, shit. It’s fine, really. People are more interested in eating than anything else. They’re just going to treat you like they treat anyone else.”

 

“I don’t think you’re understanding me here,” Bitty says, mouth full of egg whites and spinach. “I have never had, like. An out boyfriend before.” He doesn’t say anything after that, but his tone sounds unfinished.

 

“Was there more to that story?” Jack asks, drying the pan he used for the eggs. “Because I don’t understand what I don’t understand?”

 

He sighs. “What I mean is—I guess I don’t know what I mean. You’re probably right. I’m just unnecessarily stressed. I think it’s just very important for them to like me.”

 

Jack stops drying, looking at Bitty with a raised eyebrow. “Do you…not realize how likable you are?”

 

Bitty chews on his lip. “Jack, I try really hard to make people like me. It’s exhausting.”

 

“Then why do you try?”

 

“I honestly don’t know. It’s…important to some part of my weird psyche that people like me.”

 

Jack pours him a second cup of coffee to be nice. “Kent Parson likes you.”

 

Bitty snorts. “That’s not impressive. But Ransom and Holster seem to. And Maggie, Paulie…my coworkers…” He takes a breath. “People do like me.”

 

“They do. You’re very charismatic and sweet. That’s pretty much all people tweet at me, really. Other than asking what the circumference of my ass is.”

 

The laugh he gets from Bitty is worth the slight exaggeration. “That wasn’t the exact question,” Jack amends, “but it was definitely implied.”

 

“I haven’t even looked through your Twitter yet because you never show up on my timeline.”

 

“Timeline?”

 

Bitty rolls his eyes and saunters his slim little hips over to the coffee table, where his phone is still plugged in and charging. “You shouldn’t be allowed to use it if you don’t know the terminology.” He unlocks his phone and looks at a few things while Jack looks at him. “Oh my God, Jack. You have fifty thousand followers.”

 

“Is that good?”

 

“Jesus Christ.” His thumbs flick faster. “Oh my sweet God, you’re liking breaking Twitter.”

 

Jack shrugs. “I turned off the notifications because they were getting really annoying.”

 

“God, I’ll bet! Okay, I’m going to go take my shower now, and then I’m going to make at least four more pies. Do you want to help?”

 

Jack puts his hands up as if surrendering. “No, no. I am no good with baking. I can feed myself about six different meals but baking? No. I’d rather watch you.”

 

And he does watch Bitty, later, and he takes pictures of the process and tweets each one, and then he figures out how to upload videos, so he gets one of Bitty twanging hard as he says, “Y’all know I make my mama proud with my pecan pie” as he pulls something sweet and syrupy from the oven.

 

Jack’s video gets a lot of views, and he’s kind of proud of himself for it.

 

Then Bitty checks his phone and nearly chokes on his fourth cup of coffee. “Sweet God almighty,” he says. “I just got five hundred new followers.”

 

“Cool,” Jack says, inspecting the two pies Bitty has cooling. There’s a third, strawberry rhubarb, in the oven. “I’ve never had a rhubarb. What does it taste like?”

 

“Rhubarb is awful,” Bitty says, “but it’s amazing with strawberries. It’s a really tart plant by itself, but with strawberries and sugar, it sort of mellows out the sweetness? I am not sure you’d like it, to be honest.”

 

Jack does not think he’ll like it, but he’ll try just about anything Bitty bakes. Bitty holds up his phone. “Take a picture for me?”

 

“For you or for Twitter?”

 

Bitty has to think about that for a moment. “Just for me. I’ll make it your contact photo.”

 

Jack chuckles and says, “Okay, fine,” but really, he’s happy to smile for Bitty and let him take half a dozen shots before he finds one he likes. While the strawberry rhubarb bakes, Jack slips Bitty up against the wall, one hand cradling the back of his neck as he takes a slow kiss.

 

They stop only when the timer buzzes, and even then Bitty has to swat Jack away from him.

 

 

@JackZimmermann so here are all the finished pies ow.ly/209pq0

@JackZimmermann oh also happy 4th to Americans

@bibliobaker I WORKED SO HARD ON THESE. RT @JackZimmermann so here are all the finished pies ow.ly/209pq0

@LegitKentParson @bibliobaker @JackZimmermann what’s your favorite out of these

@bibliobaker @LegitKentParson maple crust apple pie—the recipe I tried for @WholesomeHolster

@LegitKentParson @bibliobaker when I play Jack in November will you make me pie

@bibliobaker @LegitKentParson oh, I’ll make you pie all right.

@LegitKentParson @bibliobaker did you just threaten to poison me

@bibliobaker @LegitKentParson not at all :)

 

+

 

Bitty expected a big house, but what he gets is a freaking mansion in Jamaica Plains. It immediately makes him wonder what Jack’s apartment looks like, and he realizes he doesn’t exactly know where Jack even lives.

 

“Please tell me your place doesn’t look like this,” Bitty says, sitting in the front seat of Jack’s ridiculous truck and staring at the Italianate architecture of the enormous house with a ball of uncertainty blooming in his stomach.

 

Jack snorts. “Yeah, my place doesn’t look anything like this.” He turns off the engine and gives Bitty a long look. “Are you going to be okay?”

 

Nodding, Bitty takes a deep, slow breath. “Yeah, I think so.”

 

“You look nice, if that helps.”

 

He better look nice. He spent his good-chocolate fund on a new royal blue v-neck shirt that looks casual but still clean-cut and trim. “Okay, yeah, I think I’m ready.”

 

“Wait,” Jack says, and he reaches across the seat to curl his fingers through Bitty’s hair—Bitty has to try not to reprimand him, because seriously, there’s gel in there—before leaning in and giving him a slow, slow kiss. “You actually look incredible, I was just trying to play it cool.”

 

Bitty blushes at that, fingers touching at the lapel of Jack’s white button down. “You look incredible, dear Lord.”

 

“We both look incredible. Let’s go.”

 

Laughing, Bitty pushes open the door and carefully balances a few of the pies—all in brand new reusable pie boxes, courtesy of Jack—while letting Jack get the others. There’s already noise and music coming from the backyard, and instead of going through the front door Jack leads him around to the fence, walking through a lovely archway. Just beyond Jack’s shoulder, Bitty can see that there are dozens of people in the backyard already, and there’s splashing going on in a pool and shouts from kids and the tantalizing, comforting scent of grilling burgers.

 

Bitty starts to relax. They’re just people. Isn’t that what he’s always telling Jack? That he’s just a guy?

 

He thinks everything’s going to be just fine until they are noticed. He doesn’t recognize anyone by name except for Ransom and Holster, though all the faces look familiar from what Jack has showed him. The group goes a bit quieter as they look at Jack, then Bitty, then Jack again.

 

Then everyone returns to their conversations.

 

Bitty lets Jack usher him through the house from the back door, past all the nice furniture and massive living room and four fireplaces and into the kitchen that makes Bitty stop dead because it’s three times as big as his entire apartment, and there’s a five-burner stove and a double oven and he stares.

 

“No ogling someone else’s oven,” Jack says, taking Bitty by the hips and shuffling him to the enormous island, where all sorts of snacks, desserts, and accoutrements are laid out. Bitty steals a carrot stick while Jack arranges the pies. “What do you want to drink?”

 

“I’m good with anything,” Bitty says, and he watches as Jack moves with familiarity to the cooler by the fridge.

 

“Beer? Soda?”

 

“Beer, for my nerves, please.”

 

Jack shakes his head but he’s smiling.

 

It turns out to be…a lot of fun. Bitty gets introduced by Jack as “Eric Bittle, he’s a librarian at West End” to everyone, and Bitty says, “You can call me Bitty” right after, and he meets all of the Bruins who live in the area, their wives, their kids, and he tries hard to get everyone’s names straight but it’s not the easiest thing in the world. Mostly he sticks by Jack as Jack sort of revolves from conversation to conversation. This is possibly the most relaxed Bitty has ever seen him, save for when they’re alone, and of course Jack is relaxed—these are his teammates, his family. He loves them fiercely, and something about that is beautiful. Not for the first time, or even the first ten times, Bitty’s heart misses beats as he looks as Jack’s openly pleasant face.

 

Ransom and Holster each give Bitty huge hugs, and he gets a hug from Chowder as well, who looks a lot younger than he probably is and shakes his hand so hard Bitty feels like a bobblehead.

 

“I’ve wanted to meet you so bad,” Chowder says to him, clapping Bitty on the shoulder. He’s the most tactile person Bitty thinks he’s ever met. “I can’t wait to try your pies, Jack has talked about them, he says they’re great, and I was wondering if I could maybe follow you on Twitter? You have so many followers already but I’d love to follow you, too, if that would be okay?”

 

“Breathe,” Jack tells him, patting him on the back. Jack’s grinning, and Bitty loves him furiously.

 

“Of course it’s okay,” Bitty says, yelping when Ransom picks him up from behind before hefting him fireman-style. “I’ll follow you back!” Bitty shouts, as he’s carried off. The kids think it’s hilarious so Bitty tries to slap Ransom on the butt to make them laugh harder.

 

It turns out Ransom only brings him to one of the picnic tables that are set up, sitting him down on the bench and taking a seat next to him. “So,” Ransom says, “this is my girlfriend, March.”

 

The blonde sitting across from them rolls her eyes. “Oh my God, you’re such a caveman.”

 

Bitty shakes her hand. “Pleased to meet you, ma’am. And might I add that you are a helluva woman for putting up with this.”

 

Ransom grins. “I know, right? And that’s Caitlin, Chowder’s girlfriend.”

 

Bitty shakes her hand too. “Pleased to meet you too, ma’am.”

 

“I really want to cut into one of those pies,” Caitlin says, and she and March share a Look. “That strawberry one smells divine.”

 

“Strawberry rhubarb, my Moo Maw’s best recipe. I have a feeling Jack will hate it, but then Jack doesn’t have to eat it.”

 

Bitty lurches forward when an arm slams down on his shoulders, and suddenly he’s being tugged toward a brawny, wide chest. It’s Holster. Bitty should not be surprised that hockey players are so handsy and physical, but he is, because Jack is much more restrained than this. “Hey stud,” Holster says, giving him a kiss on the cheek. “Did you bring that apple pie just for me? I ate half of the last one in about ten minutes.”

 

Everyone shoots the shit a little more, and then Bitty’s getting a burger from Guy, who isn’t particularly talkative but seems perfectly nice. Tater is the one that Bitty spends the most time with overall; it all starts when, upon introduction, Bitty says, “Priyatno poznakomit'sya,” a phrase he’d learned from his skating coach Katya, and the look on Tater’s face can only be summed up as joyful.

 

“He speaks Russian! Zimmboni, you say nothing about Russian!”

 

“I didn’t know,” Jack says, and he’s got a warm look in his eyes that Bitty is particularly fond of. “Where’d you learn it?”

 

“My figure skating coach was from Chelyabinsk,” he says, letting Tater squeeze him in a tight hug. “She taught me a lot of basic things.”

 

It’s then that Bitty is carried off for the second time that evening, but at this point he doesn’t mind at all. By the time the sun sets and everyone troops to the front yard so they can use the street for fireworks (apparently it’s something all the neighbors pitch in for, though Guy’s always in charge of the fireworks themselves), Bitty has twenty new Twitter followers, is following all twenty of them, and has exchanged numbers with March and Caitlin, both of whom he quite likes. He’s already agreed to go out for drinks with them the following Friday.

 

In fact, when Jack settles down next to him on a blanket on the front lawn, Bitty realizes that he hasn’t talked to him in over an hour. “Hi there,” he says, and God, but Jack looks good in white with his dark hair—an exercise in chiaroscuro.  “Long time no see.”

 

“You’re very popular,” Jack says, and he sits in such a way that their shoulders bump casually. “It amazes me how you make it look so easy. Talking to people.”

 

“You look pretty popular too,” Bitty says softly, speaking into the shared space between them. “I’ve never seen you so relaxed around so many people.”

 

“This is my family.”

 

“I know. It’s a great family.” Bitty’s looking into Jack’s eyes, an almost colorless wash in the darkness that’s punctuated only by soft lamplight on the street, but he sees when Jack looks down at his mouth and back up again. The grass smells alive and freshly-cut, and it’s a warm night, slightly breezy, and he can feel Jack’s shoulder against his, see the rise and fall of Jack’s chest out of his periphery. The soft chattering of the adults and the squealing of the kids makes Bitty think about glorious golden summers and endless picnics, heat rolling off of skin, water sluicing down bare backs. Jack leans in.

 

A small, unknown child interrupts them by falling onto Jack’s lap. He looks surprised but pleased when she wraps her chunky toddler arms as far around his waist as she can. “Hi Julia,” he tells her, patting her messy dark hair. “Where’s your mom?”

 

“Over there,” she says, and her tiny baby voice punches Bitty right in the heart. She points to a woman with red hair, who’s currently got her hands full with a preteen crying because her phone got taken away.

 

“Got it,” Jack says, and he settles his arms around her easily. “Want to sit with me and watch the fireworks?”

 

“Yes,” she says, and settles in more comfortably with her head against his chest. Jack looks at Bitty, winks, and Bitty can only smile because otherwise he might do something stupid like cry from how cute this is.

 

The fireworks are spectacular in the way of super rich people, and Bitty enjoys the time he spends with the Bruins, laughing at all the jokes that fly around and making the usual ooohs and aaahs wherever appropriate. It’s almost eleven by the time everyone starts packing up to leave, and Jack ends up putting Julia, now asleep, in the car seat himself.

 

“Thanks for having us,” Bitty tells Guy and his wife, shaking their hands again. “Your home is lovely.”

 

“We appreciate having you here,” Guy says. “And thanks for the pies—they were a huge hit. I think you’re going to have to start selling those recipes.”  

 

“My Moo Maw would kill me,” Bitty says, and they laugh. Jack leads him back to the car with six empty pie boxes. Once they’re inside, either Jack’s windows must be adequately tinted or he doesn’t give a shit, because he leans in and fixes his mouth to Bitty’s, all deep and thorough and breathless.

 

“Come home with me,” Jack says, “please.”

 

Bitty nods, kissing him again. “Yes, yeah. I just have to be to work at ten tomorrow, that’s it.”

 

Jack’s eyes search his face for a long moment. Something heated and promising curls between the space of their bodies, too far apart in the truck. “Okay. Good.”

 

He’s not sure what he expected of Jack’s apartment, but it’s kind of…fancy for him. Bitty thinks Jack looks perfectly lovely and at ease in his cramped studio, but this is a three-bedroom loft with nothing but enormous glass windows and soaring ceilings, and everything is hardwood floors and stainless steel, extremely clean, very neatly decorated, but missing the warmth of Bitty’s apartment with its overflowing books and personal knick knacks.

 

Jack doesn’t seem to be focused on any of that, though. As soon as they’re inside—the only light in the apartment being from Boston just beyond the windows—he’s got his hands all over Bitty, rucking up his shirt to touch skin, his big body urgent and eager as it presses Bitty into the wall.

 

That’s when he realizes that Jack is hard. It takes his breath away, and when Jack rolls his hips, rutting for more contact, Bitty audibly sucks in a breath. He puts hands to Jack’s waist, encouraging him to straddle Bitty’s thigh, and for long, unbearable seconds, Jack rocks against him with one hand splayed on the wall beside Bitty’s head and the other on his shoulder, breathing labored in Bitty’s ear. Bitty kisses at his neck, enjoying the way Jack shudders, and when he bites he gets an actual moan.

 

Then Jack is picking him up and carrying him to a bed, and though Bitty has been picked up several times in the last six hours, he thinks this is easily the best. He tightens his thighs around Jack’s waist and kisses him over and over, and when he’s dropped on the bed, Bitty looks around in half-curiosity, wondering what Jack Zimmermann’s bedroom looks like, but Jack’s not giving him the tour just yet and Bitty really can’t complain. Instead, sprawled on his back with Jack kneeling between his thighs, he gets to watch in shivery awe as Jack unbuttons his shirt and slides it off his broad shoulders. Bitty can’t get over the way his muscles literally ripple with movement.

 

“What do you want?” Bitty asks, because it’s so clear Jack wants something, and dear Lord but he can see the outline of his cock in his jeans even with the dim outside light, holy shit. “What can I do for you?”

 

Jack can’t seem to say anything yet, so Bitty lets himself be undressed by those huge hands, Jack taking the time to unbuckle his sandals and slide them off his feet, pulling Bitty’s leg up so he can kiss at the sharp bone of his ankle. Bitty bites at his lip to keep himself silent, even as Jack’s mouth moves to the top of his foot, his shin. Once Bitty’s feet are bare, Jack bends to work on his shorts, and Bitty drapes his legs over Jack’s shoulders as there’s nowhere else for them to go and holds his breath so hard he gets lightheaded. Literally nothing has ever made him feel like this in his whole life, like something bright and beautiful is consuming him from the inside out.

 

He’s naked in a decidedly short amount of time, and now Jack’s mouth is on his knee, first one and then the other, and Bitty whines. “What—what are you doing?”

 

“Kissing.”

 

“I can see that.” He huffs out a laugh at Jack’s little smile, clearly pleased with himself. “Why aren’t you naked here?”

 

“You want me to be?”

 

“Jack Zimmermann.”

 

Jack laughs and slides off the bed, Bitty watching with hungry eyes as he kicks off his shoes and shimmies out of his jeans and then—holy shit—he pulls his underwear down his thighs and tosses the briefs to the side. His cock is very, very proportional to the overall size of his body. Bitty hasn’t gotten a chance to see Jack like this before, and part of him is dismayed that there isn’t more light coming in through the window, but that part of him fizzles out of existence when Jack climbs back on the bed and between his shaking knees to rest their bodies together.

 

“I have a hard time,” Jack says, voice thin, “when it comes to…coming.”

 

“I’m sure I can make it good,” Bitty says, setting his hands tight on Jack’s waist, encouraging him to move his hips again and trying not to let the cock-on-cock sensation white out his brain entirely. “How do you want it? You can do anything to me.”

 

Jack’s little groan is a punctuation on the end of an unsaid sentence. He braces himself above Bitty, who squirms to get more contact, and then he shudders all over. “I don’t know. I can’t think right now.”

 

“I have so many ideas,” Bitty says, reaching to kiss him all over his face, mouth hovering over Jack’s trembling lips. “God, so many. Too many. But if you want to get on your back, I’ll suck you off.”

 

Jack has never looked so undone before, like he can’t control any of his facial expressions as he makes another little noise. “I don’t…have condoms…”

 

Bitty strokes his little cowlick back from his forehead, rising up just enough to kiss him again. “When was the last time you got tested?”

 

“Uh…the last time I—with anyone was about six years ago, so after that.”

 

“You were clean?”

 

“Yeah.” He’s red. He’s so red, and it’s endearing, and Jack is clearly trying very hard to hold himself still, and Bitty can only imagine how much he wants to come at this point, especially if it happens so rarely that he’s even in the mood.

 

“I was tested a little over a year ago, and I’m clean too. Haven’t been with anyone since. So if you want me to suck you off, I could definitely do that.” He strokes Jack’s cheek gently. “I would love to.”

 

There’s a long moment of uncertainty, and Bitty waits for Jack to have the capacity to process words. Finally Jack swallows with a click. “It’s not easy for me,” he says, and there’s something vulnerable in the set of his mouth. “I might not even be able to…”

 

“I am nothing if not a persistent motherfucker,” Bitty says. “If you want to come, you’re going to come.”

 

Jack nods, dropping a kiss on Bitty’s parted mouth. “Yeah. Yeah, okay.”

 

Bitty pushes at his shoulder until Jack goes with the movement, rolling off and onto his back, lolled out on the bed with all his beautiful muscles and his bones and his intense eyes. He’s effortlessly cut from marble from head to toe, and Bitty occupies himself with running hands all over the parts of Jack he’s never gotten a chance to really feel before, like his powerful thighs and his stomach and the divots of his hipbones. Jack’s cock rests, hard and ready, against the cut of his hip, slightly curved, and when Bitty reaches for him, his palm cupping Jack’s balls, Jack shivers and closes his eyes.

 

Sometimes, even when they’re just making out, Jack has to keep his eyes closed. It’s like he gets over-stimulated by everything else and sight isn’t an option any longer. Bitty nips at the inside of his thigh, making Jack jump, his eyes flying open again.

 

“What was that?”

 

“I want you to watch me,” Bitty says. “Keep your eyes open.”

 

Jack’s mouth falls into a little O of surprise. “I don’t know if I can.”

 

“You’d better try. Because otherwise I’ll stop.” He feels like a god with the way Jack Zimmermann looks at him then, a mixture of surprise and intense, desperate want.

 

“Bits…”

 

“You like it when I tell you what to do, don’t you?” Bitty asks, running the back of his fingers up and down Jack’s twitching cock. “Because every time I do, you get this look. It’s a great look.”

 

Something physical in Jack unravels. It’s a slow thing, and Bitty wonders what it could be called, what it is. But suddenly Jack looks even more bared than just his skin, and he nods slowly. “I do like it,” he says, his voice tremulous.

 

Bitty’s never exactly been adventurous in bed, but he’s going to make some fucking exceptions. “Do you want to tell me what to do here? Or do you want me to take charge?”

 

“You…you can take charge.”

 

Jack is so big and Bitty always feels so little next to him, but not now. He’s got all the power here and it looks like Jack knows it—and likes it. Bitty settles on his knees between Jack’s thighs, taking his time with feeling Jack’s cock, tracing the corded veins and looking up every so often to make sure Jack is doing what he’s been told. He is. He’s struggling but he clearly is, blinking slow and licking his lips and hitching little breaths in his chest. He’s so hard.

 

“When was the last time you came?” Bitty asks, playing lightly with his balls to see if it’s something Jack likes. It is. It takes Jack almost ten seconds to say anything.

 

“I don’t remember,” he says. “Months.”

 

Bitty lowers his mouth to the thin skin at Jack’s hip, teeth sliding against bone, Jack straining for something more than the feather-light touch from Bitty’s fingertips. When Bitty ghosts a breath over his cock, Jack’s chest hitches. As Bitty watches, the tip of his cock beads with precome, and Bitty doesn’t think before he dips his tongue there, tasting the salt of Jack’s body as he uses one hand to pull the foreskin down a little more. He’s never been with someone uncut before, but he’s pleased by how sensitive Jack is, the way he groans and tosses his head back when Bitty closes his lips around the head, sucking once before pulling off.

 

“You aren’t looking at me,” Bitty says.

 

Jack’s eyes flick to his and he’s mostly gone already, completely unrestrained. Bitty hadn’t realized just how tightly laced Jack keeps himself until he sees this. “I can’t help it.”

 

“Yes, you can. It’s just conditioning.”

 

Jack’s mouth goes slack. Bitty can tell he is saying all the right words here, and he’s rather proud of himself for it. “Bits.” That voice again, all shredded. Bitty slides his mouth over Jack’s cock again, little by little, watching him to see if he’s behaving. He is. His eyes are heavy-lidded and slow-blinking, but he’s focused on Bitty despite his shifting hips and the sheets clenched tight in his fists.

 

Bitty lets himself sink into the feel of the moment, Jack heavy on his tongue, slipping into the back of his throat. He presses his hands to Jack’s hips to keep them still, working his mouth and jaw and throat over Jack’s cock, slow so he doesn’t choke, careful because it’s been a while since he’s done this and it’s like relearning how to ride a bike. So to speak.

 

Something brushes at his hair, fleeting, then it’s gone. Bitty pulls off and licks his lips. Jack is still watching him, because Jack is a good boy, and that does something to Bitty very viscerally from the inside out. “You want to touch, honey?”

 

Jack nods. Bitty reaches for his hand and places it on his head, encouraging Jack’s fingers to curl through his hair. “Touch,” he says, and goes back down on him in earnest.

 

It takes a lot longer than Bitty’s used to, and toward the end, when he has pity on Jack and lets him close his eyes and toss his head back and shift his hips, Bitty’s jaw is aching something fierce and he uses his hand to help make up for what his mouth just can’t do anymore. Jack is so wrecked it’s astounding, and he’s a lot noisier than Bitty expected him to be, little breathless ah ahs choked off and stuttering out over and over. Jack says, “I’m close,” several times, but he doesn’t come and Bitty doesn’t stop. Jack says, “I’m so close” and he still doesn’t come. His fingers tighten in Bitty’s hair and Bitty slides down as far as he can manage and holds his breath and holds Jack’s cock and Jack still doesn’t come.

 

“I know you can do it,” Bitty says when he pulls off, jerking him hard and slow the way he seems to like, thumb playing roughly over the exposed head. “Come on, baby. I know you can come for me.”

 

“I can’t,” Jack starts to say, and his eyebrows are drawn in frustration. “I hate that I can’t—”

 

“You can. Come on.” Bitty goes down on him again, picking up Jack’s free hand and placing it on the back of his head, reassuring him that he can push, pull, do what he wants. And Jack does—Jack pushes him down and Bitty coughs once before taking a deep breath, and Jack pushes again and the burn in his throat is so fiercely perfect that Bitty has to close his own eyes now, can’t take the sight of Jack’s heaving body along with the scent of him, the feel, the warmth of his skin. Jack fists fingers in his hair and pulls him up and off and Bitty gasps, his hands shaking where they lay on Jack’s hips, and he meets Jack’s eyes and they simply look at one another, both panting, and then Jack pushes again, Bitty fumbling to grip his cock, to slide his mouth over it, to burn.

 

Jack pulls him off a second time right as he comes. It’s hard-fought, Bitty knows, and Jack’s whole body tenses like it hurts, and Bitty catches it at the corner of his mouth, down his chin—his neck, his collarbone. He’s always had a secret love for this part, though it feels deliberate with Jack when it was only accidents before, boys who had no idea how to control themselves. He holds himself still as Jack’s orgasm shudders through him. It’s quick but powerful, and when Jack’s hand in his hair falls away, he gasps in a deep breath before letting it whoosh out. Bitty takes a few moments to trace his fingers in the mess Jack left behind, licking his fingers clean. He’s struck then by their first Sunday meeting, Bitty on his front steps waiting for Jack to run by. Inexplicably, he finds himself blushing. Things have certainly changed since then.

 

When Bitty has mostly cleaned himself up, he starts to say something, Jack’s name partway out of his mouth, but suddenly he’s pinned to the bed with Jack curling over him, his eyes blazing and a smile curling at his lips. He looks exhausted and invigorated all at once, and before Bitty can do much more than spread his legs (lord, that’s going to be a problem with Jack), Jack is licking his palm exactly like he did last time, oh, and he jerks Bitty off so perfectly that all Bitty can do is clutch at him and whine and curse. Jack is almost ruthless with his passion, giving hard, deep kisses that set Bitty’s heart hammering ferociously in his chest, his free hand curled in Bitty’s hair, holding him still. It hurts a little, that sweet edge of pain, and there’s something filthy about the way Jack uses his body to trap him in place, filthy and fervent and good.

 

When Bitty is ready to take that sweet edge of release, Jack pulls away. He grabs Bitty’s hips and jerks him close, and for a second Bitty thinks Jack is going to fuck him, finds himself saying the words, not asking, telling, saying fuck me, and Jack only shakes his head and kisses him and rocks against him. Cock trapped between their bodies, the friction is not enough, and Bitty is frantic. He’s desperate. He wants to come so bad and this isn’t enough to get him there, and he curses at Jack, tries to work his hand between their slick stomachs, but Jack doesn’t let him. He catches Bitty’s wrist and holds him down.

 

“Is this okay?” Jack asks, and Bitty knows Jack is asking for consent, but his first instinct is no, this isn’t okay, he wants to come.

 

“I want to come,” he says, the words fracturing as they spill out. Jack is hazy around the edges, as though Bitty’s mind can’t process him anymore. “Please, please let me come.”

 

Jack hasn’t moved. It’s maddening. “Is this okay?”

 

“Yeah, yes. Yes.”

 

Bitty read once that Jack is either 0% or 110%. He either gives everything or nothing. Jack shoves him further up the bed, rumpling the comforter, and then he’s got Bitty’s cock in his mouth, all the way, all the fucking way, and Bitty comes so hard he has to bite his fist. He doesn’t know if there are neighbors who can hear him, but if he was noisy before, he’s shouting now. Tears prickle at his eyes and he hears a rushing in his ears. His head hurts, and he’s still coming, and Jack has one hand stroking him slowly and his tongue is still lapping, slow, and he doesn’t stop until Bitty pushes him away and finally says no, that’s enough.

 

The silence in the room feels thick. As Bitty’s senses come back to the earthly realm, he’s aware of Jack’s fingers stroking lightly on his bared thigh, Jack resting his chin on Bitty’s hip. When Bitty moves, Jack looks up at him. He seems to be sated and content. Bitty groans.

 

“That was fucking unbelievable.”

 

“You’re amazing.”

 

“And you, Jesus Christ. I literally can’t believe any of that just happen. That was fucking unreal. I think you gave me a migraine. I literally came so hard it popped blood vessels, oh my God.”

 

Jack’s chuckle is low and wonderful. He kicks his legs out until they tangle with Bitty’s, and both of them stare up at the ceiling. Bitty realizes that Jack has exposed ductwork in his apartment, like a fucking yuppie. He loves it. “We should do that again,” Jack says, “but definitely maybe not tonight.”

 

“Definitely maybe not tonight,” Bitty says, and he rolls over onto Jack to find his sweet mouth and kiss him into the next day.

Chapter Text

NHL Star Jack Zimmermann Married?

7/9/2016 4:02 PM PDT BY TMZ STAFF

 

Everyone’s seen the Instagram and the Twitter accounts by Boston’s cutest librarian as he navigates post-graduate life and love with Stanley Cup champion Jack Zimmermann, but nobody’s seen THIS.

 

Exclusive photos from a trustworthy source show Zimmermann and his librarian beau getting hitched in a secret ceremony at TD Garden. Is that a ring on Zimmermann’s hand? Why yes, it is! More after the cut.

 

 

@JackZimmermann it’s a Stanley Cup ring. I have two. I am not married. Nobody is married. I mean I’m sure some people are but I am not one of them.

@JackZimmermann I was picking up something I’d left behind and he happened to be with me since we were getting coffee. That’s it.

@bibliobaker @JackZimmermann This is a dream come true. TMZ is stalking me. I can’t breathe. It’s almost like I’m @beyonce except only 8% as fabulous.

@JackZimmermann @bibliobaker @beyonce she does have a beautiful smile.

@bibliobaker @JackZimmermann @beyonce Shhhh, let her be amazing in peace.

 

@bibliobaker GASP. WHEEZE. @beyonce FOLLOWED ME. I CAN’T DO THIS ANYMORE GOODBYE WORLD

@JackZimmermann @bibliobaker are you okay

@bibliobaker @JackZimmermann NO I AM TWEETING FROM THE AFTERLIFE, I HAVE DIED

@JackZimmermann @bibliobaker no you haven’t you’re just lying on your face on the floor

@bibliobaker @JackZimmermann IT IS THE SAME THING

 

@LegitKentParson @bibliobaker she’s followed me for like a year.

@bibliobaker @LegitKentParson and she’s followed me for twelve minutes JUST LET ME LIVE PARSON

 

@JackZimmermann @bibliobaker she just followed me too, all I have to do is go to her page and click the button right

@bibliobaker @JackZimmermann Just give me your phone, I don’t want you to screw this up.

 

 

Has NHL Star Jack Zimmermann Been Dumped?

7/14/2016 10:54 AM PDT BY TMZ STAFF

 

Word has it that Boston’s cutest librarian has dumped Zimmermann for these two lovely ladies. Exclusive pictures below, but needless to say—they’re racy.

 

 

@marchmadness @bibliobaker Did you see that @sjsharksgirl and I are your girlfriends? LMAO

@bibliobaker @marchmadness @sjsharksgirl GASP I did not! Why am I always the last to find out about who I’m dating??

@marchmadness @bibliobaker @sjsharksgirl Rans has already asked for something gross.

@bibliobaker @marchmadness @sjsharksgirl Ewwwwwwwwwwwwww, that boy.

@marchmadness @bibliobaker @sjsharksgirl I know, what a dude.

@sjsharksgirl @marchmadness @bibliobaker I bet you a latte that it’s because of the club we went to on Friday. Have u looked at the pics yet?

@marchmadness @sjsharksgirl @bibliobaker I did and it was HAHAHA. Oh Lord. IT WAS A GAY CLUB PEOPLE.

@bibliobaker @marchmadness @sjsharksgirl You ladies are great? But I am not a ladies man. At all.

 

@swimmerfann @bibliobaker So I didn’t know you could twerk.

@bibliobaker @swimmerfann GIRL PLS of course I can. I may not have the booty, but I have the passion.

@JackZimmermann @bibliobaker @swimmerfann what’s twerk

@bibliobaker @JackZimmermann @swimmerfann facepalm.gif

@JackZimmermann @bibliobaker @swimmerfann was there supposed to be a picture there, all I see is text facepalm.gif

@bibliobaker @JackZimmermann @swimmerfann eyeroll.gif

@JackZimmermann @bibliobaker @swimmerfann this is on purpose I think

 

@JackZimmermann @bibliobaker now I’m confused are we still dating?

@bibliobaker @JackZimmermann nope. I dumped your ass for @marchmadness and @sjsharksgirl

@JackZimmermann @bibliobaker @marchmadness @sjsharksgirl that’s unfortunate

@marchmadness @JackZimmermann @bibliobaker @sjsharksgirl We know how to treat him right. We’ll take good care of him.

@JackZimmermann @marchmadness @bibliobaker @sjsharksgirl make sure he gets more protein, he doesn’t eat well

 

Direct Messages

@prettypaulie This is the funniest shit I’ve ever seen in my life.

@swimmerfann He fucking tweeted at me, I’m dying. I mean. I’m sure it’s because he has no idea how to remove someone from a tweet, but still. He’s trying so hard.

@prettypaulie I know!! What a cutie

@prettypaulie ALSO. I ran into Eric and he let me know that Larissa’s putting out a new kids book she’s written and illustrated called The Haus. Do you want to come with Max and me to the reading? They’re going to be tweeting about it soon from the West End account, but it’s on Saturday the 30th.

@swimmerfann That would be so great! And how cute, I wonder what it’s about??

@prettypaulie It could be about lawn ornaments and Max would still lose his shit tbh, he just loves her.

 

+

 

“I didn’t know you’d be here,” Bitty says, when he sees Jack coming through the library doors. “Are you here for Larissa?”

 

“Of course I am,” Jack says, and he has someone with him, a tall, narrow guy with a particularly impressive mustache. “I just thought I’d surprise you.”

 

“I am surprised,” Bitty says, and he lets Jack kiss his cheek hello. “And who’s this strapping—wait, you’re Shitty!”

 

Fatima, at circulation, gives him a look. Bitty bites his lip. “Here you’ll be known as Mr. Knight,” he says, and lets Shitty give him a hug. “Wow, it’s good to finally meet you! Twitter doesn’t really do your ‘stache justice, you know?”

 

“I knew I liked you for a reason,” Shitty says, patting Bitty on the head. “I’m just here for visitation rights. I legally get Jack every other weekend.”

 

“Good,” Bitty says, rolling his eyes. “He’s been ornery.”

 

“I have not,” Jack says, and Bitty shares a look with Shitty and they both roll their eyes. “Much,” Jack adds.

 

“Sit over here,” Bitty says, indicating two chairs in the back row beside Maggie, Paulie, and their kids. “Maggie and Paulie will take care of you.”

 

Jack gives them both hugs before he sits, and Bitty doesn’t miss the way they look at each other. They’ve both been so chill around Jack, but Bitty has a feeling that there are some secret tweets somewhere detailing every moment they’ve ever spent with Jack. He leaves them to go check on Larissa, who’s getting ready to read, and continues to escort parents and kids to their seats for the reading hour.

 

The event is successful as hell. Bitty budgeted in for two sessions, but they get by with one, though it’s a nicely packed house. Larissa does a way better job at reading than Jack did, and she has everyone laughing as she tells the story about the fun-loving ghosts in the Haus. It’s sort of a fairy-tale-meets-cautionary-tale, and the kids are delighted with it…though no one enjoys it more than Max.

 

Afterward, Larissa does her Q&A and signs copies of her books. Shitty gets one signed and asks her to make it out to him in his real name, but to write it so tiny it’s not legible. He even whispers to her what his first name is.

 

“I don’t remember,” Jack says, when Bitty asks him what the B stands for. “I seriously don’t. It’s been a while.”

 

They talk a little more while Larissa wraps up, and then they all sort of troop out together as one big group upon closure of the library for the weekend—Bitty and Jack and Larissa and Shitty and Paulie and Max and Maggie and Peyton—and they go to the sandwich shop that Jack has taken Bitty to several times now, getting a few tables pushed together so they can all eat lunch. Peyton chooses to sit on Jack’s lap. Jack does not mind.

 

“You need a nickname, brah,” Shitty says, pointing his straw at Larissa. “You in no way represent the Larissa I knew from fifth grade.”

 

“Mr. Knight, I don’t think you have any business giving anyone nicknames,” she says, and Bitty grins at the look on Shitty’s face.

 

“Are you chirping me?” he demands.

 

“Chirp,” she repeats, head tilted.

 

“It’s a hockey thing,” Maggie says. “Chirping is like teasing.”

 

“Or being super mean,” Bitty says, with a look at Jack.

 

“Or flirting,” Paulie says. “I’ve seen Tater tweet at Bitty. That’s flirting.”

 

Bitty nods. “Yeah, he’s trying to get me to make him some more piroshki.”

 

Shitty is still looking at Larissa. “You need. A nickname.”

 

“I will not accept one from you,” she says.

 

“I’m great at nicknames.”

 

“What’s Jack’s nickname, then?”

 

Shitty puts a hand to his heart. “That is a secret. It’s our form of private endearment and you can’t take that away from us.”

 

“He calls me honey-bunny,” Jack says, and the table laughs so hard Bitty thinks they’re going to have to call an ambulance. They all eat—Jack sharing a grilled cheese with Peyton because she asked and Jack doesn’t turn down little kids—before their conversation turns, inevitably, to hockey.

 

Bitty knew that Maggie and Paulie loved hockey, but he doesn’t think he realized how much. In less than two minutes, they’re arguing with Jack about power plays. Oblivious to the hockey conversation, Shitty and Larissa are discussing the nickname he has picked for her—Lardo, where did he get that—and it turns out she likes it and they’re exchanging numbers, which is not…the weirdest thing Bitty’s ever seen (it’s not like Shitty was waiting for her on his front steps, licking icing off his fingers), but it’s still a surprise because they looking shockingly comfortable together, but then again…he and Jack and such.

 

Content with the way the day has gone, he pulls out his phone, checks some tweets, pays two bills, and enjoys his time with his friends.

 

 

Direct Messages

@prettypaulie CAN YOU BELIEVE IT

@swimmerfann Can we say that we’re friends with Jack Zimmermann now

@swimmerfann Since we’ve been invited over to watch tape with him

@swimmerfann CAN YOU BELIEVE

@prettypaulie I know I know I know I know I know I can’t even function right now with how much I know this

@swimmerfann THAT WE HAVE BEEN INVITED

@prettypaulie I AM SCREAMING

@swimmerfann TO WATCH TAPE WITH JACK ZIMMERMANN

@prettypaulie And you’re 100% SURE your sister won’t mind watching Max too?

@swimmerfann Definitely not, especially since it’s next week and she’s in town with literally nothing to do. Holy fucking shit. Are we friends with Jack Zimmermann?????

@prettypaulie I THINK WE’RE FRIENDS WITH JACK ZIMMERMANN

@swimmerfann I want to tweet about it so bad to piss off Raquel and Grace but

@prettypaulie UGH IT’S SO HARD NOT TO

 

@JackZimmermann @prettypaulie @swimmerfann hi is Thursday good for you two

@JackZimmermann @prettypaulie @swimmerfann I can do Thursday after 9 or Friday after 9 or Saturday after 4

@swimmerfann @JackZimmermann @prettypaulie Saturday is best for me (summer school teacher), but Paulie has a variable schedule

@prettypaulie @swimmerfann @JackZimmermann Saturday’s a day off, woohoo!

@JackZimmermann @prettypaulie @swimmerfann I don’t know how to send messages so I will have Bitty text you my address

@JackZimmermann @prettypaulie @swimmerfann or would it be easier if I picked you up?

@swimmerfann @JackZimmermann @prettypaulie I’m sure we can navigate! No need to make you come grab us :)

@bibliobaker @swimmerfann @JackZimmermann @prettypaulie I’m making him pick ME up, so why don’t you two meet me at my place. You’re super close.

@prettypaulie @bibliobaker @swimmerfann @JackZimmermann as long as it’s not an inconvenience! Thanks, boys! :)

 

Direct Messages

@RaquelVox what the fuck are you doing with jack zimmermann next saturday

@prettypaulie Just watching tape. He invited us over when we had lunch yesterday.

@RaquelVox oh my god i need to move to boston

@prettypaulie He’s so nice!

 

Direct Messages

@swimmerfann Fucking SCORE

@prettypaulie Raquel already DM’d me, I’m fucking cackling. Zimms is a gift.

@swimmerfann Oh my godddddddd what do you think his apartment looks like.

@prettypaulie I HAVE NO CLUE BUT WE’RE GOING TO FIND THE FUCK OUT

 

+

 

Bitty: Morning, sunshine <3 img.048 (7:02AM)

Jack: Hi. I miss you. You’re gorgeous. (7:05AM)

Bitty: I know. I mean, I know you miss me, I miss you too. I’m also gorgeous, but you said it first. I wish you hadn’t been so busy this week. (7:08AM)

Jack: It’s only going to get worse. (7:09AM)

Bitty: Oh, believe me, I know. I’m also conditioning for the season too. I’ve been damn greedy since we met :x (7:11AM)

Jack: That’s okay. We should sit down together soon and go over a few in-season things. I haven’t really talked about what it’s like during the season. (7:14AM)

Jack: I’m outside, want to come say hi? (7:15AM)

 

Bitty feels good in Jack’s arms. Standing on the step above him, Bitty is that little bit taller, and he uses his advantage to drape his arms over Jack’s shoulders and tip Jack forward to kiss his forehead. “I’m seeing you tomorrow with the girls,” Bitty says quietly. “Maybe you could stay the night with me, since we’re coming back this way anyway?”

 

“That’d be good,” Jack says, keeping his hands on Bitty’s lovely hips. “I’m hoping I won’t scare you off when we talk about what happens during the season.”

 

Bitty raises an eyebrow. “Jack, don’t forget, I spent like six hours watching documentaries on you. I don’t think I’m going to be super surprised? You just have to be clear with me about your schedule, and I don’t think we’ll have any problems.”

 

Jack chews at his lip. He’s not sure if he’s ready for Bitty to experience this side of him. He knows how…intense he can get. More intense. “We’ll discuss it. My parents are also coming down right before pre-season gets under way. They’d like to meet you, if that’s okay?”

 

Bitty groans. “It’s great, but I’ve never met parents before.”

 

“Don’t you have a couple yourself?”

 

Swatting at him, Bitty tugs him close to kiss his cheek. Jack rather likes it when Bitty gets a little physically aggressive. “Don’t try to be cute. I mean it.”

 

“They asked if they could follow you on Twitter. I said I’d ask.” Jack reaches up to cup his face, because it’s right there. “Is that okay?”

 

Bitty’s hands are light on Jack’s wrist, and his dark eyes are clearly adoring. Jack is the subject of that look, and it makes him feel light in his chest. “Yeah, that’d be fine. I’ll follow them back.”

 

Jack finishes his run after that and spends another couple of hours lifting weights, answering tweets (he’s getting so much better at it), and talks to his parents. Their conversations have gotten increasingly longer in the last couple of weeks, because Jack, shock of all shocks, has more to say. He’s not sure why his parents keep looking at each other as he talks to them, but they’re smiling and really, that’s all he can ask for.

 

As they wrap up their Skype chat, his dad says, « Where would you like to go for dinner when we’re there? Because if you don’t have any preferences, I have a suggestion. »

 

« I have no preferences at all, » Jack says, because he really doesn’t.

 

His mom and dad look at each other. Jack refrains from sighing. « We were thinking, » his mom says, « of maybe just cooking together at your place? Just so we can have time to talk. It might make Eric feel a little more comfortable. »

 

« He’s going to be nervous no matter what we do, » Jack says, « but I think that’s a good idea. He’s been wanting to bake in my kitchen. »

 

« Good, » she says, and Jack has a sudden visceral memory of when he was twelve and got strep throat and the flu all at once. His mom sat by his bed all night, dabbing at his sweaty brow and feeding him broth and Gatorade and helping him to the bathroom when he needed it. Something still feels broken with his parents, but they’re all working to fix it. A decade of time seems to help these things.

 

They finish up their conversation and Jack makes himself dinner, sitting down with his schedule for the preseason and checking Twitter again. It seems as though Bitty and Kenny have found a common ground, and while part of Jack doesn’t trust Kenny around Bitty at all, there’s no doubt in the world that their Twitter conversations are some of the funniest things he’s ever seen.

 

@LegitKentParson @bibliobaker I actually can’t believe what I’m seeing here, are you serious

@bibliobaker @LegitKentParson Listen, Parson, there is nothing in the world that will convince me that Neville shoulda been Hufflepuff

@bibliobaker @LegitKentParson I know reading is hard for you when there’s no pictures, but did you ignore, oh, all seven books entirely

@LegitKentParson @bibliobaker dude you are super mean, but did you also ignore how loyal he is, that’s a puff thing

@bibliobaker @LegitKentParson NEVILLE IS A GRYFFINDOR

@LegitKentParson @bibliobaker well I am trying to POLITELY disagree but SOMEone is being a dick ab it

@bibliobaker @LegitKentParson I bet you’re gonna say Harry shoulda been a Slytherin

@LegitKentParson @bibliobaker good we agree on something

@bibliobaker @LegitKentParson OH MYG OD

@LegitKentParson @bibliobaker listen I have an idea, why don’t we read them again and debate like adult people

@bibliobaker @LegitKentParson it seems like you could definitely use a refresher on the finer points of HP. Is this like a book club or something?

@LegitKentParson @bibliobaker yeah sure it’ll be Parse n Bitty’s HP Showdown

@bibliobaker @LegitKentParson I don’t know if you’ll survive a book showdown with me. I am a librarian. Have you seen my Goodreads list?? #boss

@LegitKentParson @bibliobaker the only good reads I have are the ones in my heart so no

@bibliobaker @LegitKentParson you sweet summer child

 

Bitty: Have you been on Twitter at all today? (4:27PM)

Jack: Harry Potter reading club, huh? (4:28PM)

Bitty: Is that okay? (4:28PM)

Jack: You don’t have to ask my permission, you know that right? (4:30PM)

Bitty: I just wanted to be considerate, that’s all <3 (4:32PM)

Jack: You’re always very considerate. I don’t mind. I would just prefer not to be involved. (4:33PM)

Bitty: I understand <3 (4:33PM)

 

 

Direct Messages

 

@LegitKentParson so I was thinking that it’ll take me maybe a week per book until the season starts, then I just won’t have time.

@bibliobaker got it. Do you want to do our discussion in DMs?

@LegitKentParson well

@LegitKentParson my agent said I’ve been getting a lot of positive feedback from my twitter lately, so I was thinking we could do it public if that’s okay

@bibliobaker Sounds like your agent likes it when you act like a kind human being.

@LegitKentParson he didn’t say that, just that it’s been good.

@bibliobaker You know, you haven’t been terrible lately.

@LegitKentParson don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll go back to being terrible soon enough.

@bibliobaker You don’t have to. You can just stay nice.

@LegitKentParson then who would be the villain haha

@bibliobaker Not every story needs a villain. Some of the best stories are where the villain realizes he’s just human and lonely.

@LegitKentParson how’s Jack doing?

@bibliobaker I find it interesting that we’re talking about being a human and being lonely, and that makes you want to ask about Jack.

@LegitKentParson I always want to ask about Jack

@bibliobaker But you haven’t until right now.

@LegitKentParson he was pretty clear with me that he wants me to stay out of his life.

@bibliobaker I haven’t known him long, but it sounds to me like he was a very different person when you guys were younger. People grow and change. You can grow and change too.

@LegitKentParson what, by getting a shrink

@bibliobaker Maybe. Or just trying to think of others first instead of yourself. Maybe asking how someone’s day is without waiting to tell them about yours. Interacting on a personal level.

@LegitKentParson you know, I do things selflessly a lot.

@bibliobaker I’m sure you do. But when was the last time you had a conversation with someone that was just because? Not because you wanted something from them, but just because you enjoyed their company?

@LegitKentParson got you there, it was tonight with you BOOM I do things selflessly

@bibliobaker :) You did. And I had a good time. You are very funny and clever when you want to be. But here’s the thing: What were you after? Why do you talk to me so much?

@LegitKentParson you know why

@bibliobaker I do. But what about tonight was different?

@LegitKentParson I feel like I should be on a couch and you should have a clipboard while I tell you all about my childhood

@bibliobaker Maybe you should think about finding someone to talk to, then. Because you’re seriously complicated, Parson. And if you really want Jack to be your friend again, he’s going to need more from you than it seems like you’re ready to give.

@LegitKentParson What if I didn’t want him just as a friend?

@bibliobaker Then maybe that’s something you and him can discuss in the future, when you’re both ready for it.

@LegitKentParson it wouldn’t bother you if I was in love with him?

@bibliobaker Are you?

@LegitKentParson hypothetically speaking

@bibliobaker It wouldn’t bother me, no.

@LegitKentParson hypothetically speaking, what would happen if he broke up with you and came back to me

@bibliobaker I would be genuinely devastated and it would take me a long time to get over it. I’d probably still try to be friends with him because I am just that Southern, but I would need a lot of healing time. Then I’d probably just go on with my life. It would suck a lot, but I am important too and I also deserve to be happy. If it can’t be with him, I’ll figure out how to do it on my own.

@LegitKentParson wow

@bibliobaker Was that sarcasm?

@LegitKentParson no, it wasn’t. Huh.

@bibliobaker Did you expect me to scream and cry and tell you to fuck off?

@LegitKentParson not exactly.

@bibliobaker It sounds like you’re surprised I’m an adult.

@LegitKentParson I don’t know any adults like you tbh. Or people for that matter. Huh.

@bibliobaker Look. We all deserve basic things in life. We all deserve to be happy, healthy, and treated with respect. Sometimes the things that we want are the opposite of what someone else wants. That’s when you just have to figure out—is what I want harming someone else? If the answer is yes, you’ve gotta think on that more. Why is it harmful? If Jack came to me and said that I just wasn’t the one for him and that he wanted someone else, his happiness is important to me just like my own is. But if I tried to convince him that he should stay with me when he clearly didn’t want to, that affects his own happiness. So who’s right? Who comes first?

@LegitKentParson I would’ve said you yourself comes first. Before.

@bibliobaker What about now?

@LegitKentParson idk. I think I want to hit the strip for a couple of hours.

@bibliobaker Be good, Parse. Start Sorcerer’s Stone tomorrow?

@LegitKentParson yeah good plan, see ya

 

 

“So we need to have a schedule,” Bitty says, stretched out on his bed while Jack does crunches in the living room/kitchen space. “I’m okay with that. But looking at your days coming up…Jesus, I don’t know when I’ll even get to see you.”

 

“That’s why we need a schedule,” Jack says, and Bitty has no idea how he’s able to do hundreds of crunches at once without breaking a sweat. “Is that...okay with you? Having to schedule your life around me?”

 

“My life isn’t particularly interesting, I’m not too worried about it.” He flips through the paperwork Jack gave him, chewing on his thumb nail and trying not to feel anxious about this. His time with Jack has been almost surreal. The Twitter followers, getting to know the Boston Bruins, learning about hockey, increasing awareness of the library…all of it relates directly to Jack. So many little things went into them meeting—Jack having to write the book first, Larissa being a Boston local who contacted the library about promotion, Jack’s agent agreeing, Bitty being in charge of the proposal for more local authors and setting aside time for special readings, Bitty choosing Simmons over literally anywhere else, getting the job at West End after he was denied at Central. All of it, even where he lives, which just happens to be on Jack’s usual route for his runs? How many little decisions has he made over the years that have led him here?

 

Maybe his life is more interesting than he thought. As he looks over at Jack, whose eyes are closed while he counts his crunches under his breath (apparently he is now working toward five hundred), he thinks about his conversation with Parse from yesterday and what he withheld from that conversation: That he is furiously in love with Jack Zimmermann.

 

“Do you want to come to home games?” Jack asks, and Bitty looks over at him, watching him for a moment before responding.

 

“I’d like that, but I’m not sure if—I mean, people have already protested at the library. I don’t want to cause any issues for you at the games.”

 

Jack stops mid-crunch and looks at him. “You didn’t tell me about that.”

 

“I honestly forgot, because it ended up being a non-issue—they left after Fatima talked to them, and we got confirmation from the main branch that they were going to be supportive of all of their employees and will promote a safe workplace.” He shrugs. “But I think it’s going to be a lot harder with your workplace than mine.”

 

There’s a look on Jack’s face that is halfway annoyed and halfway angry. It’s a strangely attractive look. “I’m going to talk to George about this, but if you want to come to the games, you’re coming to the games. I’m not going to let bigots stand in the way of anything.”

 

“You’re sweet. Yes, I’d like to come to the games. Is there anywhere in particular I need to sit?”

 

“There’s a family section,” Jack says, returning to his crunches, “and I figured you could probably sit with March and Caitlin. Caitlin was pretty awkward at first because she was the only non-married one there, so she and March stick together.”

 

“I love them,” Bitty says, reaching for his phone so he can check his Twitter timeline. He half considers putting a picture on Instagram of Jack doing his shirtless crunches but then decides against it. “They’re so fun.”

 

“They are,” Jack says, and Bitty knows he means it because he doesn’t say anything he doesn’t mean. “And I feel like it would be good for you to sit in that section. It would be no different if we were a straight couple, and my understanding is that’s what the Bruins organization is promoting. That we’re just like everyone else because we are.”

 

Bitty doesn’t say anything for a moment, marveling at Jack’s well-muscled body. “Have you gotten any, uh. Rude tweets?”

 

“Yeah.” Jack crunches away. “But I’ve always gotten things like that, even to my face. When people think you do speed and coke, they feel like they have a right to antagonize you. Have you?”

 

Biting his lip, Bitty sighs. “A few made me cry,” he admits. “But honestly, it’s not all that worse than what I went through in high school when I did figure skating. At least nobody on the internet can physically stuff me into lockers.”

 

Jack pauses mid-crunch again. Bitty still can’t believe his muscles are that big. “Is there anything we should be worried about, you think?”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“Like, is anyone threatening to hurt you?”

 

Bitty shakes his head. “No, not yet. But honestly, sometimes it’s hard for me to even look at all the tweets I get—I mean, I’m getting dozens an hour. So it’s pretty easy to gloss over the nasty ones and focus on the good ones. There are a lot of people who are interested in becoming a librarian and have been asking me about grad school. Part of me wants to tell them to run away and hide in a hole, but I can’t crush dreams like that.”

 

Jack does one last crunch before rolling over and doing pushups. Bitty is instantly preoccupied with his glorious back. “At least there are some people who are interested in who you are and what you do apart from me. That’s nice.”

 

“It is. But people are still very interested in you. One of the ones I ignored today asked me a very personal question about your anatomy.”

 

Jack looks over his shoulder. He has to catch Bitty staring at his ass, but he doesn’t say anything about it. “Excuse me?’

 

“Yeah. I almost said ‘bigger than a breadbox,’ but decided I should just leave it alone.”

 

Jack has to stop doing pushups for a moment because he’s laughing too hard.

 

They come up with a schedule that suits both of them, Bitty sitting cross-legged on the bed with his back propped up by pillows, stroking fingers through Jack’s hair while Jack rests with his head in Bitty’s lap. There are a few rules they discuss, and Bitty tries not to ask for too much, but he does admit that texting one another good morning and good night has become a nice bookend for his day, and if they could continue that, that would be swell.

 

“Of course we can,” Jack says, as he’s tweeting on his phone. Bitty is amused that Jack has become so connected to his phone since he decided to finally get with social media. “And if you have anything coming up with the library that I’m around for, please let me know as soon as possible so I can fit it in.”

 

Bitty plays with his silky hair, reading over his shoulder as Jack tweets what he had for breakfast in response to a workout nerd. “You’re sweet. I don’t think we’ll have all that much going on, to be honest, but I’ll definitely let you know as far in advance as I can. I want it to be understood that I do not in any way expect you to be able to, you know. At the drop of the hat do things.”

 

“I know, but you’re going to be putting up with a lot from me, so I want to do as much for you as I can.”

 

Bitty leans down and kisses his forehead, watching as Jack flicks eyes up to him. Upside down, his eyes look happy. “You’re very sweet. Thank you.” He kisses Jack’s eyebrows, then his hairline. “I have kind of a weird question that I’m pretty sure I know the answer to, but we’ve never discussed it in explicit terms, so I’d just like it spelled out, if that’s okay?”

 

“…What is it?”

 

“We’re, like. Boyfriends, right? Because I feel like saying we’re dating is a preliminary step, but you are willingly changing your life around for me, so…we’re not just dating, right?”

 

Jack snorts and pulls up his Twitter, showing Bitty his profile. Professional ice hockey player for the Boston Bruins, author of Jacky’s Bad Days w/ art by Larissa Duan, also the boyfriend of @bibliobaker. “I added this like four days ago. I can’t believe you didn’t see it.”

 

He can’t help but to blush and grin, looking at those words over and over. “You’re such a dork, you know that?”

 

“Change yours,” Jack says. “It only works if we match.”

 

Rolling his eyes, Bitty fishes for his phone, which is trapped half under Jack’s muscular back, and he opens up his Twitter app and edits his profile. Eric Bittle: Librarian, baker, lover of books and music, filmophile, word nerd, and boyfriend of @JackZimmermann. “There. Are you happy?”

 

Jack moves and pushes Bitty against the pillows, showing him just how happy he is.

 

 

On the first Monday in August, Bitty spends half an hour talking to Kassandra, Nina’s mother, about a small state-run program that Massachusetts offers for low-income honor roll students who are interested in extracurriculars. “Technically figure skating shouldn’t count,” he says, “but I’ve drawn up a proposal I think will look good in your application that highlights why Nina should be given the scholarship and what it’s going to do for her confidence and her time management as she grows into a young adult.”

 

“You are too much,” Kassandra says. “I can’t thank you enough.”

 

“I’m sorry it took so long,” Bitty says, “but you’d be surprised how much state money there is for projects like this if you’re willing to do a lot of digging. All the obvious ones get their funds spent pretty quick, so I did my best to find you something where Nina will be less likely to be disappointed. There’s always a chance they won’t accept the application—typically they’re focused on team sports—but I have a feeling my argument is going to be solid. I’m nominating myself as her sponsor for the program, so everything I needed to do is already done. Do you want me to email this to you, or mail it?”

 

“We don’t have a computer at home,” she says, “but I can always come into the library for it.”

 

Bitty smiles. It’s something he hears often. “If you have the time, that’d be great—I’d like to see both of you again. But you’re a working mom, so I can mail it as well, just in case.”

 

They get all the kinks worked out, and Bitty gives her his personal cell number for if she needs anything further. After that, he utilizes the rest of his day at the library doing things he always does: taking one-hour shifts at circulation and reference, issuing library cards, taking payments for fines, cleaning up spilled juice boxes, noting the minutes for the half-staff meeting (and emailing it to the other half), and looking over what’s in the budget for the rest of the year.

 

Since Jack so generously donated not only his time but his money to the library for the extra sessions of his book, there’s some room for two more special programs, in addition to the ones already scheduled and the usual recurring programs. Bitty’s not sure what he’d like to do, but he puts together a survey for the patrons to see what they would like with their extra sessions before sending it off to Marsha for review.

 

By the time six hits, Bitty is exhausted but pleased by his day. He helps Kerri lock up before taking his usual walk home. When he gets to his street, though, he ducks in a nearby alley and looks with alarm at what’s going on in front of his steps—people with signs that he can’t read from vantage point are shouting at Ollie’s patrons, and the Ollie’s patrons are shouting back. He hears his own name and words like “good guy,” “generous,” and “better representation of Jesus than you fucks.”

 

The people in signs are blocking the entrance into his apartment, and Bitty has no idea what to do. He leans against the brick wall and pulls out his phone with shaking hands. Maggie has already texted him. Whatever you do, don’t come home. Go to Jack’s or somewhere safe, but there are bigots picketing on your front steps. Yalena’s calling the cops. (6:29PM)

 

It’s a Monday. Jack’s Mondays are filled with skating practice, meetings, and lots of workout time. At this point, he’s probably just winding down and will be making himself dinner while watching tape. Bitty doesn’t want to text him, so he tries to think of something else while his heart pounds in his chest.

 

He texts Maggie back. I have a right to my own fucking home. (6:42PM)

 

Her response pings in less than fifteen seconds. I know you do, but they don’t care. (6:42PM)

 

Bitty checks Twitter to see if there’s anything that’s been reported there, but nothing he can see with a quick glance at his timeline. Then he switches back to his text messages, looking at Jack’s name and taking a breath.

 

Bitty: Are you busy right now? (6:44PM)

 

The waiting until Jack texts him back is agonizing. In those minutes, he has thought of a dozen scenarios that end up with him in the hospital or worse. They know where he lives. What’s to stop them from breaking in? Jumping him when he’s going to or from work?

 

Jack: Just finished making dinner. What’s up? (6:47PM)

 

What’s up? He doesn’t know what to say to that. He feels shame blooming in his stomach. Things like this would never happen to Jack Zimmermann, but Bitty has always been average height and small-built, with bird bones at his wrists and slender hips and a narrow waist and pretty eyes. He has always been an easy target for the bigger boys, the ones who thought they had something to prove or just wanted to damage something. Bitty has been hurt a lot in his life. Getting shoved into lockers was the least of his worries as a teenager.

 

Not for the first time, but for the first time in a long time, Bitty wishes he weren’t gay.

 

He puts his phone in his pocket and heads back the way he came from the library, looking for people following him and jumping at every small noise in every narrow alley. When his phone buzzes with a text, he pulls it out before silencing it, just in case someone really is following him.

 

Maggie: The cops are less than a minute away. These asshats are still being asshats. I’ll text you when it’s safe, okay? We’ve got your back. Where are you? (7:00PM)

Bitty: Heading back to the library for now. (7:00PM)

Maggie: Did Jack not pick up? (7:01PM)

Bitty: I asked him if he was busy, he said no, but then I didn’t want to tell him what was going on. Let’s just keep it quiet for now. If we can. (7:01PM)

Maggie: I understand. Are you somewhere public? (7:02PM)

Bitty: Public enough. Has anyone been hurt yet? (7:03PM)

Maggie: Not yet. They’re lucky Ollie’s not here today, I think he would’ve shot at them and I’m not kidding. Do you want to stay at my place tonight? (7:05PM)

 

He feels sick to his stomach and sits down on a bench near the library, trying to make himself look small and unassuming. It’s a trait that failed miserably in high school and worked beautifully in college. No thanks, he texts. If I start running now, I don’t think I’ll be able to stop.

 

She understands, she says. And he believes her, because Maggie is a mother and she is honest with him. But she does add a few words that make his heart hurt: Jack should hear it from you.

 

He goes back to his apartment close to eight o’clock, when Maggie texts that everything is clear. He gives a statement to the cops along with his apartment neighbors and Ollie’s patrons, many of whom have stayed later than they normally would in order to help the situation. The cops don’t seem to care much, but Bitty’s not concerned with them; he’s looking at the now-vacant steps of his apartment and wondering if he’ll ever feel safe here again.

 

“Do you want us to post someone out here?” one cop asks, and Bitty shakes his head, striving to keep his voice calm and polite.

 

“No thank you, officer. I’m sure y’all have better things to do, but I appreciate the offer.”

 

They leave. Paulie pulls him to her and holds onto him like he’s been hurt, which…he has. “We can stay with you,” she says, “or you can stay with one of us. Let’s do that, okay?”

 

“You have kids to look after,” Bitty tells her, but he lets her pass him to Maggie, who squeezes him tight around the waist. “I’m really okay, guys. I’m just grateful y’all were here to give me the head’s up. When I came around the corner, I wasn’t sure what was going on.”

 

“They might be back in the morning,” Maggie says. “I’ll be here like usual and I can let you know if anything looks suspicious.”

 

He pats her shoulder gently. “No, honey, it’s okay. I appreciate the thought, but I’m sure it’ll be just fine.”

 

Maggie and Paulie share a look. Maggie raises an eyebrow at Bitty. “What does Jack know?”

 

“Nothing,” Bitty says, but he pulls out his phone now. One text from Jack, not five minutes ago. Did you forget to text back again? “But I guess I’ll have to tell him. He might want to find a new route to run for a little while.”

 

Bitty lets them kiss his cheek before he heads up into his apartment. He’s so jittery he almost can’t get his key in his door, and even though his apartment is way too small to hide intruders, he checks every space he can think of—under the couch (impossible, but maybe a mouse?), behind the TV stand, in the cupboards—before he sits on his couch and puts his face in his hands. The reporters were one thing—they were harmless, curious, and relatively polite. There weren’t a dozen of them there to tell Bitty that he’s going to hell, he’s a sinner, he’s an abomination of the devil. All things he’s heard before, every one, but Bitty thought he left Georgia far behind.

 

Buzz buzz. Jack again. Bits? Please don’t tell me Holster convinced you to watch Downton Abbey.

 

Bitty: Can you talk on the phone? (8:12PM)

Jack: Sure, call me. (8:14PM)

 

“Everything okay?” Jack doesn’t sound concerned—rather, he sounds distracted, and if Bitty listens he can hear the sounds of hockey in the background.

 

Bitty thinks of how to answer that. Of course, he wants to say no, but he also doesn’t want Jack to worry. Jack has enough to focus on with the upcoming season. “Everything is,” Bitty says, and doesn’t know which word to use.

 

“Bitty?” Jack sounds more focused now, and suddenly there’s silence on his end of the phone. “What’s up?”

 

It takes him several long moments before he’s able to speak in a normal voice, and while he tries to get his throat to work, Jack has said his name a few times. “There were people on my front step when I got home from work,” he says. “Local zealots, maybe a dozen of them? They were picketing in the name of Jesus on my fucking front steps.”

 

“What happened? Are you okay? Is that why you texted me?”

 

Bitty tells him the entire story from start to finish, and Jack doesn’t interrupt but Bitty hears him doing something in the background, moving things around, slamming drawers. “Everything’s fine,” Bitty says. “I didn’t even see them up close, they didn’t say anything to me face to face. Thank God for Maggie and Paulie—they were amazing. And I gave my statement to the cops, so there’s really nothing else we can do, you know? I just. I thought you should know, because it might be a good idea for you to maybe change your route for a while.”

 

“My route?”

 

“For your runs. You come right by here, and they might be here in the morning. I just don’t want you to deal with that.”

 

Jack is quiet for so long Bitty checks his phone a few times to make sure that the call hasn’t disconnected. “I don’t want to change my route,” he says, “and I don’t want you to feel unsafe. Let me call George and see what she recommends, okay? Just hang tight.”

 

“I don’t want anyone else to know what happened,” Bitty says. “Please. I feel like I’m a huge nuisance.”

 

“You’re not a nuisance at all. This is unacceptable and inappropriate, and if this organization is so proud of itself for being inclusive and creative a safe space, then they’re going to man up. I’m not going to put up with this.”

 

“I feel like,” he says, and then he stops. That word. That word he’s heard his whole life, the one that sends that tight ball of shame and hate and disgust right into his core. He hates that word, but so often he has felt that word.

 

“What?”

 

He can’t even say it. Jack would be repulsed at him for even considering it. So Bitty puts a hand to his mouth and says nothing until he feels like he can. “I don’t want to turn this into a bigger deal than it is. Can we just wait and see what happens tomorrow before we go storming to the Bruins front office?”

 

Jack is quiet for a moment. “All right,” he says at last. “I don’t like it, but all right.”

 

“I don’t like feeling like I need to be rescued.”

 

“I know.” He sighs. “It’s hard for me to not want to rescue you, though.”

 

“Oh?”

 

“Obviously you can take care of yourself,” he says. “But I don’t like it when people I care about have been hurt. Can I come stay with you tonight?”

 

Now that the immediate danger has passed, Bitty feels stupid for getting everyone all riled up. “I’m really okay, honey. I don’t need a babysitter, I promise.”

 

“I wasn’t offering to babysit,” Jack says, and Bitty shrinks against the couch a little. Jack’s never sounded annoyed with him before, and it make his already-tight stomach cramp even harder. “I was offering to—listen, it’s more for me than for you. If you don’t want me to come over, that’s fine.”

 

Bitty chews at his thumbnail, which is all but a nub now. “Don’t be mad at me, please.”

 

“What? No, I’m not mad at you. I just don’t know what to do, that’s all.” He exhales sharply. “I would really appreciate it if you would let me stay tonight.”

 

Bitty peeks out the window to look down at the mostly empty street, save for the usual pedestrians and dogwalkers and Ollie’s customers. What is he going to do if he can’t leave his apartment tomorrow? If Jack’s here, will that make things better or worse?

 

“Bits? I don’t have to.”

 

“I don’t want to make things worse for you.”

 

“And I don’t want them to be worse for you. Listen, you’re not going to make anything worse for me. You’re very aware of our public image. Are you worried about, what—embarrassing me?”

 

Jack’s astuteness makes Bitty bite down on his knuckle, hunkering down again in the corner of his couch. He doesn’t say anything.

 

“Oh, Bits,” Jack says. “Come on. How much have we talked since we met? You should know me better than that. And know you better than that.”

 

“I want you to come over,” he says, “but I don’t know what’s going to happen in the morning, and I don’t know if it’s better or worse having you leave my apartment when it’s clear you’ve been here overnight.”

 

There’s more noise on Jack’s end—the sound of zippers, drawers opening and closing again. “My thought on the matter,” Jack says, “is that it’s nobody’s fucking business.”

 

“People have asked me about the size of your cock, Jack.”

 

“Yeah, I know. I’m just saying, we don’t have to answer to everyone. We’re adults, Bits. What we do consensually in our private time is nobody’s business, and we don’t have to explain ourselves. I know you want to explain things—make people like you. You can’t. And you don’t have to.”

 

Bitty stays quiet for a long moment, until Jack speaks again. “You’ve never been in the spotlight like this before, but I have. People feel like they are entitled to you. They want a piece of you, and sometimes you have to be an asshole about not letting them take it. Because if you start giving everyone little pieces of yourself, you won’t have anything left.”

 

Thinking about Beyoncé and Nicki and Rihanna, Bitty nods. “Yeah, you’re right. I just want to live my life, and if that upsets people, then so be it.”

 

“Exactly. I’m gonna call for a cab, okay?”

 

“Okay. I haven’t even eaten yet, but I don’t know if I can keep anything down, to be honest with you.”

 

Jack chuckles. “That’s okay. Maybe I can convince your appetite to come back once I’m there.”

 

Bitty’s not hungry for food when Jack gets there, because Jack immediately puts his big hands all over Bitty’s body, like he’s checking him for wounds, and coaxes him in close with his plush mouth. He eases him down onto the couch and pulls the tension from Bitty’s muscles kiss by kiss. Bitty lets him, not talking, not trying to talk, only allowing Jack to distract him from his worry, which, little by little, seems insignificant in the face of this.

 

Jack isn’t hard but Bitty is, and Jack undresses him with slow, sure hands, lets Bitty squirm on the couch while he unfolds the bed and settles the pillows where they need to be. Then he shucks his clothes and stands naked in the middle of the room, the lines of his body bigger than Bitty remembers even from a week ago. He’s been lifting weights a lot, he’d said—building muscle mass for the season. Bitty can visibly see how he is expanding, and oh Lord, it’s hot.

 

Feeling awkward and shy, Bitty sits up on the couch, half-hiding his own throbbing cock, eyes averted from the amazing outline Jack presents, backlit by the kitchen light.

 

“Why so shy?” Jack asks, taking those few steps toward him and reaching for him. “Don’t hide, you’re gorgeous.”

 

They tumble to the bed together, Jack putting Bitty onto his back and rearranging his limbs to his satisfaction. Then he tucks himself between Bitty’s spread thighs and gives him the blowjob of his life. The sheer intensity with which he focuses his mouth and hands, on Bitty’s cock and his balls and his hips and his thighs, is unnerving. Each time Bitty gets close and whines at Jack that he’s going to come, Jack pulls away and asks him not to. Then, when Bitty shakes and shakes and manages to teeter back, Jack starts all over again.

 

When he’s finally allowed to come, the moment preceding the orgasm is almost better than the orgasm itself—having built the wave so high he simply falls off the edge. His fingers fists in the sheets and he arches his back and Jack’s cheeks hollow out as he pulls off, stroking him through the rest of it. Bitty is so dazed he can’t focus—it looks like there are two Jack Zimmermanns between legs. Isn’t that nice.

 

“Okay?” Jack asks, and Bitty only nods, closing his eyes and sighing as his thighs tremor with aftershocks. The earthquakes Jack produces in his body are astounding. “Forgetting about all the shit tonight?”

 

Bitty has to laugh at that. “You did that on purpose, didn’t you?”

 

“Of course I did. Did you like it?”

 

“Of course I did.”

 

When Bitty falls asleep shortly after that, his back tucked against Jack’s chest, he stays asleep.

 

 

@BuzzFeed When you see what happened to Boston’s cutest librarian, you’ll be pissed too. bzfd.it/8MzPiZ

@LegitKentParson this is disgusting. RT @BuzzFeed When you see what happened to Boston’s cutest librarian, you’ll be pissed too. bzfd.it/8MzPiZ

@LegitKentParson the first amendment doesn’t grant you the right to dehumanize someone for something YOU don’t agree with. Head out of ass pls

@bibliobaker @LegitKentParson It really wasn’t as bad as it looks, honest. I’m fine. It’s a nice morning.

 

@NHLBruins The Bruins’ organization supports its players & employees regardless of age, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, or gender identity.

@NHLBruins We are committed to supporting #YouCanPlay and ask for #RESPECT from players, fans, and all of Boston. #WeAreHereTogether

 

@JackZimmermann I don’t know what it is but it’s got maple in it and Ramona’s good at what she does. ow.ly/398ap2

@swimmerfann @JackZimmermann Oooh, I’m on my way! Ramona creations are always so good

@JackZimmermann @swimmerfann I’ll get one for you, see you soon

 

Direct Messages

@swimmerfann How are you doing?

@bibliobaker I’m good :)

@swimmerfann Your wonderful boyfriend is getting me a coffee haha. Will you be there?

@bibliobaker I’m having a slow start to the day myself, but you two enjoy :)

@swimmerfann Okeydoke <3 Talk to you later!

 

Direct Messages

@swimmerfann I vote we start the Be Vigilant for Bitty Brigade. I don’t want him to think he can’t go out and do things.

@prettypaulie That poor sweet baby :( I’m so fucking mad at those dicks yesterday. Yes. We shall be the Be Vigilant for Bitty Brigade and protect his sweet lil face.

@swimmerfann Zimms is getting me coffee so I’m heading to Ollie’s (I can’t believe I just said that as casually as I did). Can you meet us?

@prettypaulie My sister is picking up Max in like ten minutes, but I’ll be there ASAP! (I also can’t believe we are all casual when we talk about hanging out with Jack Zimmermann. What kind of a life do we have now? Answer: A fucking good one.)

Chapter Text

Against all odds, Jack makes it to the week before pre-season with virtually no more drama. They celebrate his thirtieth birthday quietly at home, which is then crashed by the Bruins and Shitty and Larissa, and that’s pretty much it. Bitty doesn’t have any other issues with stalker zealots, Jack only has a few paparazzi follow him home, and overall things have been…fairly quiet.

 

But now he’s on the couch, waiting for his parents to arrive, and Bitty is such a wreck that Jack is actually sitting on his legs to keep him from moving.

 

“This is insane,” Bitty says.

 

“I agree,” Jack says.

 

“Your ass weighs like a ton,” Bitty says.

 

“All the better to sit on you with,” Jack says.

 

“This is very unfair,” Bitty says.

 

“It’s the only way to keep you from dry heaving in the bathroom,” Jack says.

 

The doorbell rings. Bitty gasps and Jack snorts. “You need to relax, you’ve been talking to them for like a month on Twitter. They’re just human beings.”

 

“Twitter is different. They are the human beings who birthed you!”

 

“Yes, and I turned out fine.” Easing to his feet, Jack watches as Bitty quickly puts himself into a sitting position, flicking at his hair again, which is artfully done in a tousled sort of faux hawk. He’s wearing his blue t-shirt from the Fourth and jeans that fit his hips beautifully. He bends down and steals a kiss from Bitty, who makes a noise of surprise.

 

“Jack, get the door!” he hisses, and Jack rolls his eyes before doing just that, smiling at his parents. They look better than they have in a while—both of them have been doing more relaxing activities and slowly distancing themselves from the organizations they’ve founded over the years. Jack thinks it’s a good thing; they deserve to focus on retiring in peace and quiet.

 

Maman reaches for him and gives him a kiss on each cheek. « You look so good, » she tells him in Québécois. « I see you’re bulking up for the season. Workouts going well? »

 

« Of course, » he says, reaching behind her to clasp his father’s shoulder. « They always do. »

 

« He’s here? » Papa says, looking curiously down the hallway. This isn’t the first time they’ve visited, but it’s the first time Jack has had anything interesting for them.

 

« He’s very nervous, so please don’t chirp him too hard, » Jack says, a warning more to his mother than his father, because Maman thinks she’s cute and can get away with it. They walk into the living room, where Bitty stands immediately. He looks pale but bright-eyed, putting on his big smile that he usually has when he’s particularly tense.

 

“Maman, Papa, this is Eric Bittle,” he says, feeling way too formal for how much he’s talked about Bitty to them. “Bitty, these are my parents—Alicia and Bob.”

 

“Nice to finally meet you in person,” Bitty says, and oh Lord, Jack hoped that drawl would come out. Sometimes, when Bitty is visibly anxious, Jack waits in anticipation for all those rounded vowels to roll together. It makes him feel a little bad, but then Bitty keeps talking and he forgets to feel guilty. “Did y’all have a good trip down here?”

 

Maman doesn’t waste any time reaching for him and giving him a big hug, one that he returns with clear relief. She kisses both of his cheeks too. “We did, thank you for asking. I read the entire Parse n Bitty’s HP Showdown from start to finish. You two are funny; you should make a comedy show.”

 

“Lord, that sounds like a disaster waiting to happen,” Bitty says, and he seems surprised with Papa hugs him too, one of those gruff hockey hugs that Bitty is no doubt used to by now.

 

“I hear,” Papa says, “that I have been promised a lemon icebox pie.”

 

Bitty gives Jack a look of betrayal. “That was a surprise.”

 

“I couldn’t help it! He forced it out of me.”

 

“I asked you once, son.”

 

Jack shrugs. “I obey my parents.”

 

“If only,” Maman says, and she takes Bitty’s hand and leads him into the kitchen. “Come on. Let’s start dinner, I’m starving.”

 

« I like him, » Papa says, standing with his hands in his pocket and more weight on his left leg than his right. His right knee will always be the problematic one. « He seems like he’s a very good person. »

 

« He is, » Jack says, looking over at the kitchen where Bitty is swatting at Maman, telling her he can do it, she needs to relax after her long day. « I think he’s the best person I’ve ever known. »

 

« I believe it, » Papa says. « I’m happy for you. And proud of you. »

 

Jack doesn’t try to hide his surprise. « Proud? »

 

« For letting yourself have this, » he says, and he’s looking down at his feet when he speaks, because sometimes their best conversations have happened when they aren’t looking at the other’s face. « For so long, I worried that you had closed yourself off too much. That you weren’t letting in anything other than hockey. I think this is wonderful. And yes, I am proud. Because I know how hard making changes is for you, and you did it anyway. »

 

Jack doesn’t know what to say to that, so he says nothing for a long moment. « Thank you, » he manages. « That…means a lot to me. »

 

“Excuse me,” Bitty says, standing by the island where Maman is idling flipping through a magazine. “Not everyone in this room can speak French, you know.”

 

“You mean you,” Maman says, and he points a dishcloth at her.

 

“You want my strawberry rhubarb pie recipe or not?”

 

She makes a motion of zipping her lips and throwing away the key, and Jack can’t help but to toss his head back and laugh.

 

The dinner that Bitty makes is delicious—sundried tomato and chicken pasta with a variety of sautéed vegetables and a lovely little salad. Jack’s so hungry he doesn’t think about calories and ends up having four plates himself. Bitty looks at him fondly, and Jack doesn’t miss the way his parents notice and smile at each other.

 

“I’m just wanting the pie at this point,” Papa says. “Notice how much I did not eat of your delicious dinner.”

 

Bitty chuckles and stands from the table, heading into the kitchen and opening the refrigerator. Jack watches him. He looks so at ease now, and Jack knows him well enough to know that he isn’t faking it. He’s genuinely having a good time.

 

“Honey, look at the pictures I took at the lake last week,” Maman says, pulling out her phone and opening her Instagram app. Jack still isn’t on Instagram, but Bitty is, and sometimes he shows Jack the selfies he posts, and sometimes Jack asks them to be sent to him. He feels like a hoarder, with all the pictures he has of Bitty on his phone.

 

They flip through them together, and with each one Jack is more impressed. “You’ve been taking classes, right?”

 

“Yep, with Yvette. My doctor thought I should try to do something that’s both relaxing and creative.”

 

“Jack,” Bitty says, as he’s cutting into the lemon icebox pie that he baked four of before being satisfied that it was good enough for the parents. “What about photography?”

 

“What about it?”

 

“For your hobby. Wouldn’t that be nice? Something creative and quiet and non-stressful, and totally apart from hockey.”

 

Jack explains what Blanca had said a little while ago about looking into a hobby that wasn’t hockey. “I think that’s a great idea,” Papa says. “Jack, how do you feel about it?”

 

“I think it’s smart,” he says, half-shrugging. “She wants me to start thinking about life after hockey. One of Bitty’s friends gave him a list of books she thought I might like, so I’ve been getting those on my iPad, but I haven’t read any yet.”

 

“She’s your friend too,” Bitty says, as he serves Maman a beautiful slice of lemon icebox pie, with fresh Chantilly cream dolloped on top.

 

Jack smiles at him, and Bitty ends up giving him an extra large piece of pie with a wink.

 

After dessert, they settle themselves in Jack’s living room, and Bitty tells Maman and Papa a little more about himself, things he wasn’t willing to share over the Internet.

 

“My parents would love to meet all of you,” he says, his fingers curled around a steaming cup of coffee. “I don’t know what y’all’s Christmas plans are, but they’re probably going to visit me this year.”

 

“We’ll be at home the twentieth through the twenty-sixth,” Jack says, because he memorizes his season schedule every year before pre-season. “So we could all do it here. And if your parents want, I can get them tickets to the games?”

 

Bitty gives him a look. “Do you know what my mother did when I said I was going on a date with you?”

 

“I know she was excited?”

 

The look on Bitty’s face is priceless. “Excited doesn’t cover it. She was hollering at my dad about it. It was insane. They are going to be horrifically embarrassing, but yes, I’d love for you to get them tickets to the games.”

 

“Jack specifically told us not to make you nervous,” Maman says, giving Bitty a wink. “All parents are embarrassing, dear.”

 

Jack puts a hand to his face. « You weren’t supposed to tell him that, you know. »

 

“No French!” Bitty says. “That’s not fair!”

 

« Should we make him sweat a little? » Maman says, and Bitty looks at her with more betrayal on his face.

 

« We can say his name Bitty and see what he does the more we say it Bitty like that, » Papa says.

 

“You are all awful,” Bitty tells them, sulking playfully in his chair and looking at them with glowering but fond eyes. “One day I’m going to pick it up.”

 

Jack and Maman end up talking about books and photography while Bitty and Papa huddle together in front of the TV, Papa explaining more hockey to Bitty who is asking, because he “can’t get all the damn people on the ice straight.” Jack thinks his father is a much better person for the job, because he’s able to talk to Bitty in terms that Bitty understands best, coming from a non-hockey background, whereas Jack has a tendency to get overly technical and has to watch Bitty’s eyes glaze right over.

 

Jack loves talking hockey with Maggie and Paulie. They get just as into it as he does, and when he uses his technical words, they don’t give him big good-natured sighs.

 

By the time ten rolls around, Maman and Papa are ready to head to their hotel and sleep, and Bitty now understands what “all those little men” are doing on the ice. He seems particularly proud of himself, but not nearly as proud as Papa looks.

 

« Keep him, » Papa says, when he hugs Jack goodbye. Jack only smiles, kisses his mother, and watches them leave. As soon as they’re gone, he has arms around his waist from behind. He feels buoyed by warmth—his parents, and Bitty.

 

“They are so wonderful,” Bitty says into Jack’s shoulder.

 

“I told you.”

 

“I know, but they are really, really wonderful. I think our parents will get along super well, too. What does your dad know about football?”

 

Jack turns around in the circle of Bitty’s arms, walking him backward toward the bedroom. “Quite a lot, actually. He started getting really into it a few years ago.”

 

“Good. Then my dad and your dad will have plenty to talk about.”

 

There hadn’t been much of a discussion of if Bitty would stay over or not, but Jack thinks, with the look Bitty’s giving him, that he’s probably staying over. When they kiss it’s all slow twining together, Bitty’s hands on Jack’s, putting them on his hips. Jack squeezes him, picks him up by the waist and sets him on the bed, undresses him when Bitty says it’s okay, loves on him with mouth and tongue and hands until Bitty is pliant and loose and warm. When Bitty comes, it’s an easy thing, both of them smiling at each other and Jack ducking his head to take more of those lovely kisses Bitty is always so willing to give.

 

“What about you?” Bitty says, when he’s cleaned up and straddling Jack, mouthing at the curve of his shoulder because it makes Jack shiver. “Do you want anything?”

 

He has to think about that, hands moving slowly on Bitty’s warm, still-damp body. Does he want anything? Want and need are hard for him to separate, because he doesn’t think he needs anything, but want… “I don’t know,” he says. “I could be persuaded.”

 

Bitty raises an eyebrow. “Persuaded? How and with what?”

 

Jack chuckles. “I don’t know, that’s the thing. I guess I’m not that imaginative.”

 

Tilting his head, Bitty looks at him with acutely focused eyes. “So if I start suggesting things, you’ll tell me what piques your interest?”

 

Swallowing, Jack nods. Yes. He will.

 

“Huh.” Bitty sits up on him, and there’s something infinitely attractive about the way he’s positioned, so close to Jack’s mostly soft cock with his thighs splayed unashamedly. “Do you want to try something new?”

 

Jack can’t think of too many ways to make sex interesting, so he shrugs. “Sure, I’m open.”

 

“Because I have an idea I think you’ll like. It’s something we’ve talked about before, but you haven’t had in a long time.”

 

The reaction his body produces is immediate—his cock starts to swell with interest. “Oh, um.”

 

“Not my cock,” Bitty says, “just my tongue.” He bends close to kiss Jack on the mouth. It’s a sensual kiss, one of the ones Bitty gives him that’s all mouth and no teeth, a hint of tongue. It’s a long kiss, too, and by the time Bitty pulls away Jack is focused on his tongue and what it’s going to feel like, and Bitty slides off of him, coaxes him gently, and Jack finds himself stretched out on his stomach, trembling, trying to relax. “I’ll be gentle,” Bitty says, “and you can tell me to stop, okay?”

 

Jack exhales slowly. “Yeah, okay. I’m good right now.”

 

Bitty’s hands glide up the backs of his thighs, pushing them apart. Jack feels him settle close, breath on the curve of Jack’s ass, and Jack closes his eyes. It’s been nearly a decade since he got fucked, and he still remembers how intense it hit him. But this can’t be that intense. Just a tongue…but…it’s Bitty, and Bitty heightens everything Jack has ever felt.

 

“You know,” Bitty says conversationally, “I joke about your big ass, but it really is huge. Look at this thing. I fucking love it.” Jack feels him squeeze with both hands, tight and possessive, and he sucks in a breath and holds it. Something quivers inside his chest. “You’re cut from marble. I have never seen anybody in my life as attractive as you are.” His hands knead and squeeze and Jack is trying hard to keep from shaking apart. People have objectified him for most of his life—back when he was a chubby teenager, when he suddenly turned fat into muscle, when he overdosed, when he did this or that or anything else—but this doesn’t feel like objectification. He can feel how much Bitty appreciates his body, and something about that is…pleasurable.

 

Then Bitty spreads him apart and open, vulnerable, and his tongue is a warm, slick swipe against him, and Jack jerks into the bed and squeezes at the pillow, exhaling his held breath, making himself dizzy. “Oh my God,” he murmurs, and Bitty does it again, again, again, again, again, that maddening slow pace, the little licks, not pushing but stroking again, again, again, again.

 

Jack wants to beg, so he does. He asks “please” and “more” and, in a voice he doesn’t even recognize in himself, “Just fuck me.” When Bitty starts to push, relaxing that ring of muscle, Jack squirms and Bitty holds him down, hands on either side of his hips, forcing him still.

 

“Okay?” Bitty asks, and Jack nods. “Tell me this is okay.”

 

“This is okay.” He whimpers. “Please, more.”

 

“Hold on,” Bitty says, and he’s moving away and Jack flares with annoyance because he asked for more and he thought there would be more and there isn’t.

 

“What are you doing?”

 

“Don’t get pissy, I promise you’ll like it.”

 

It’s only seconds until he’s back, and Jack makes a noise when he feels Bitty’s finger where his tongue had been, slick now with what has to be the lube from the side table drawer—lube that Bitty brought over, because he was “100% not satisfied with that lotion.”

 

“Here,” Bitty says, and Jack can feel him kneeling behind him, and he has to bite his tongue to keep himself from asking Bitty to put his cock where his mouth is, so to speak. “Let’s try this. You’ll like this. But tell me if you want me to stop.”

 

His finger works in carefully and Jack has to force himself to relax. He’s shivering, mostly from anticipation but a little from the unknown. This doesn’t feel the way it did last time; this is a lot better.

 

“Watch,” Bitty says, and Jack wants to ask watch what, but Bitty’s finger curls downward, two knuckles in, and Jack feels a jolt like an orgasm sizzle through him, and then a second time, and a third time, and he cries out as he slides half across the sheets, almost trying to get away because he is so surprised.

 

“Hey, hey, it’s okay,” Bitty says, coaxing him back now with both hands. Jack’s cock is hard now, and it definitely hadn’t been before. “Did you like that or hate it?”

 

“That didn’t happen last time,” Jack says, voice straining. “Last time it was—it was nice, being—full—and that was—I don’t know what that was—”

 

Bitty shushes him, drapes over his back and kisses at his shoulder, the nape of his neck. Jack badly wants to be fucked. He can feel it intense and persistent in his belly, this need, especially with Bitty positioned the way he is, his own half-hard cock bumping right up against Jack’s ass. But he doesn’t know how to ask for things he wants, so he stays quiet.

“Did you like that?” Bitty says, and Jack has to wait for words to return, because Bitty won’t accept a nod.

 

“I did. I think.” He sighs. “That was intense.”

 

“I know. Too intense? I can be softer.”

 

Jack turns to look at him, struck by the passion in Bitty’s eyes. Bitty wants to please him. And Jack wants to be pleased. “Yeah, maybe a little—we can try again.”

 

“Sure?”

 

“Yeah. Please.”

 

It’s still too much, really, the lightning strikes that flash right through his cock, which is hard and pushing against the sheets as Jack thrusts his hips, as he pushes back against Bitty. It doesn’t take long for both Jack and Bitty to realize that Jack loves being held down, and so Bitty pulls away, much to Jack’s displeasure, and coaxes him onto his back again. When they both see how hard he is, Jack blushes and Bitty stares.

 

“Jesus, oh my God,” he says, and his hand reaches out and grips firm and proprietary, and Jack tosses his head back with a guttural sigh. His whole body is on fire, and all he wants is to burn more. “Jack, holy shit. You really like it when I hold you down, don’t you?”

 

Jack bites at his lip but he nods. “Uh, yeah. That felt nice.”

 

“Yeah?” Bitty strokes once, with his slippery hand, and Jack squeezes his eyes shut. “So, what about this?” And his free hand moves up Jack’s sweat-damp chest to his throat, coaxing him to bare it more, and Bitty’s fingers play over his Adam’s apple, which quivers as he swallows. He settles his palm there, pressing lightly.

 

If Jack could do nothing else for the rest of his life, he would choose to do this. Because deep inside his bones, Jack loves, loves this. “Ah, oui. C’est bon.”

 

Bitty presses down, and Jack finds it harder to breathe, and he whines and shifts but he doesn’t move, he lets Bitty hold him down, and Bitty strokes his cock until Jack thinks he’s going to burst, and then he slides between his thighs and presses inside him, his middle finger a welcome intrusion, and when he glides firmly against Jack’s prostate, the hand on his throat and the stimulation from inside combine to launch an explosive orgasm through every part of him, an orgasm like he’s never had before—brilliant, illuminating each cell, and he is so drowned by it that he shouts, he’s never come this much before, this has never been so easy before, and it seems like he’s coming forever as Bitty continues to coax it from him, his hand heavy on Jack’s throat.

 

He finally has to push Bitty away entirely, shaking so hard his teeth chatter, and still he’s coming as he rolls onto his side and curls into himself, his stomach heaving with effort. He’s not aware of much for so long that he’s surprised to feel Bitty curled up against his back and stroking his hair. Jack had no idea he’d even moved.

 

“Well,” Bitty says, “that was fucking amazing. How do you feel?”

 

He doesn’t even know the answer to that, so he rolls over—gingerly—and tucks his face into Bitty’s neck. Bitty croons at him, calling him all sorts of little sweet names, hands rubbing at his back and curling into his hair. “My baby,” Bitty says. “My honey.”

 

Jack is useless after that. Bitty not only has to clean him up but coax him to the chair in the bedroom so he can change the sheets. Jack wants to help but he feels completely lost of all limb movement. At last, Bitty shuffles him back to bed, holding him close. Jack rests his head on Bitty’s chest with a sigh. “That was too good,” he manages to say, sounding drugged and sleepy. “I don’t know if I can do that again for a while.”

 

“That’s okay,” Bitty says, and he cuddles Jack close. “As long as you liked it, that’s what’s important.”

 

“I did. I loved it.”

 

“Good. So did I.”

 

I love you, Jack doesn’t say, because he’s already drifting off, and Bitty’s soft, tender words of endearment pave the way into a dream.

 

+

 

Hockey is so goddamn complicated. When Bob explained everything to him, Bitty was able to understand it instantly; watching on TV meant he was able to pick out the players with an aerial view, able to understand who’s doing what, when, where, and how.

 

“What the fuck is going on?” Bitty says, irritated, as he sits between Maggie and Paulie, who were invited by Jack to the first pre-season home game against the Devils (New Jersey, Bitty tells himself, though fuck if it actually matters). Their seats are so good, the girls had gushed, but all it means for Bitty is they’re too goddamn close to actually see what’s going on.

 

“Stuff,” Maggie says, patting him on the knee. She’s riveted. Four minutes into the first period and Bitty has had enough. If he doesn’t see number one on the ice, he doesn’t fucking care at this point. “Look, you just want the guys in the black jerseys to cream the ones in white. That’s it.”

 

“But I want to know what’s actually happening,” he says. “Because I feel like a fucking moron when Jack goes on and on about breakouts and neutral zones.”

 

Paulie pats him on his other knee. Bitty wonders if it’s a motherly instinct. “Don’t worry so much about getting it right away. The more you watch, the more you’ll understand, I promise. That’s pretty much what we did.”

 

“Yeah,” Maggie says. “Just years of watching, honestly. Especially when Jack’s on the road, we’ll watch the games with you on TV, and you’ll probably understand it a little better.”

 

That’s when Bitty hears it, yelled in what is obviously his direction from behind. That stupid f-word. Maggie turns around so fast Bitty thinks she’s going to get whiplash. He starts to tell her not to bother, but he can’t get it out before she’s hollering back.

 

“Hey! Fucktrumpet! Look at me! Is your ass jealous of the amount of shit that just came out of your mouth?”

 

The crowd around them is in hysterics, and Bitty stares at her in shock. “You teach sixth graders,” he says.

 

“Not right now, I don’t.” She turns back to the ice and is back in the game again.

 

But the jeering doesn’t stop. He hears it again, from another part of the rink, and again from another. The fans he can pick out are not in Boston colors. Bitty feels tension build low in his stomach, and he leans into Paulie a little. “Be honest—will it be better or worse if I just leave?”

 

“Worse,” she says immediately. “Ignore it. You have to have a thick skin in hockey.”

 

“But they’re yelling at Jack now too,” Bitty says, and the crowd in Devils white and red have started a chant. A rude one.

 

“Just watch,” Paulie says, and she doesn’t seem concerned.

 

And that’s when it happens, maybe ten minutes later. Ripples in the crowd, the Boston fans getting louder, the New Jersey fans getting yelled at. Bitty stares as the stadium rallies behind him, and two big men come sit directly behind him and start fights with anyone in Devils colors.

 

And the Bruins on the ice aren’t taking shit either. When a Devil (Bitty doesn’t know who) shoves at Jack after a play is over, Tater is right there throwing his glove down and throwing a punch. He’s backed up by Ransom and Holster, who pick on two innocent Devils bystanders, and by the time the first period ends, half of the Bruins have been in the sin bin and Bitty has made fifteen new friends on Twitter.

 

“See?” Maggie tells him. “It’ll be okay. I promise.”

 

After that, Bitty starts to enjoy himself a lot more, and by the end of the game, the Bruins have won 2-0, the fans have run out every single New Jersey fan in the stadium, and they’re chanting Jack’s name even though Tater was the one with both goals. Bitty chants and hollers along with everyone else, and he and Maggie and Paulie all hug one another, and the men sitting behind him say something about “fucking call us” and “fuck them up” and Bitty is so grateful.

 

He’s grateful because he knows that this isn’t the end of it, that as soon as Jack leaves the safety of Boston’s fiercest fans he’s going to go through hell. But Jack has already been through hell, hasn’t he? He’s been there and he came back, and maybe he’s a little scarred from it, a little burnt, but he’s back and that’s the important thing. And if Jack got through that, if Bitty survived to go to college in the first place, then they could get through this.

 

“God, I love him,” he says aloud, and realize how incredibly, intrinsically true the words are. Nobody hears him—the girls are too busy screaming, and he has said it too quietly, but he heard. He heard the words when they came out, and he feels how deep they are, and if he’s wiping at his eyes, nobody says a thing.

 



@bibliobaker My first hockey game tonight was a lesson in patience.

@bibliobaker I literally had no idea what was going on. Watching it on TV with @BadBobZ is one thing. Aerial views, I have learned, are CRITICAL.

@bibliobaker But when they’re all eye level and swarming the ice like little ants, it’s like—who did what? Was that us? Did I even see Jack? Lord.

@BadBobZ @bibliobaker you’ll get it!!! It took @AliciaZimmermann 2 yrs to get it

@AliciaZimmermann @BadBobZ @bibliobaker Don’t flatter yourself, it was more like four games.

@bibliobaker @AliciaZimmermann @BadBobZ oh my God, if I can at least know who’s doing what by the end of the season, I’ll call it good.

 

@bibliobaker Ooh! This is a really nice shot of @JackZimmermann ow.ly/90Hr2q

@tannenbum @bibliobaker @JackZimmermann is this like a catwalk shot or what—look at that expression dang

@bibliobaker @tannenbum @JackZimmermann right? He looks like a politely inconvenienced movie star.

@JackZimmermann @bibliobaker @tannenbum I was thinking about dinner

@bibliobaker @JackZimmermann @tannenbum oh my sweet crap, of course you were.

 

@bibliobaker Getting late night pizza w/ my ladies @prettypaulie & @swimmerfann, who are probably my other 2 girlfriends (@marchmadness @sjsharksgirl)

@marchmadness @bibliobaker @prettypaulie @swimmerfann @sjsharksgirl take care of him!! Jack says he needs more protein

 

@bibliobaker This pizza is delicious and definitely not on an NHL diet plan… ow.ly/81jN5T

@JackZimmermann @bibliobaker is that the place with the huge salad

@bibliobaker @JackZimmermann the one even you couldn’t finish with your trash compactor stomach? Yes.

@JackZimmermann @bibliobaker can I invite myself over for dinner then

@bibliobaker @JackZimmermann I don’t know, can you? @swimmerfann @prettypaulie

@swimmerfann @bibliobaker @JackZimmermann @prettypaulie Only if he promises to run down literally every second on the ice.

@prettypaulie @swimmerfann @bibliobaker @JackZimmermann yes pls, I have missed hockey so much, I need a detailed replay

@bibliobaker @prettypaulie @swimmerfann @JackZimmermann dear god, wasn’t watching it once enough?

@prettypaulie @bibliobaker @swimmerfann @JackZimmermann NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!

@JackZimmermann @prettypaulie @bibliobaker @swimmerfann what they said. You can just twitter more

 

@bibliobaker “Twitter more.” Sweet Jesus, this man.

 

 

Life goes on. It’s strange when Jack leaves for Detroit, and again for New York, but Bitty simply watches those games with March and Caitlin at their rental house in Brighton, where Bitty also meets their mysterious third roommate, a young man named Johnson, who says, when he shakes Bitty’s hand, that he’s only here until it’s time for him to leave.

 

“He’s a little weird,” March says, “but he gives us his rent on time, so we don’t really mind.”

 

By the time the regular season starts on October 6th with a home game against the Jets, Bitty and Jack have set up a pretty good routine. Bitty’s busy during the day anyway with work, and he certainly has more than enough to occupy himself there, especially as he job-shadows Fatima more closely and takes on multiple projects, but they still text in the morning and the evening, and every now and then Jack will tweet at him. He’s starting to take more pictures with his phone now as he waits for his fancy DSLR to come in, and Bitty loves the simple things he finds to tweet about—a cup of coffee, his unlaced sneakers, Tater’s hands as they tape his hockey stick. Bitty tells him that Boston University does summer term photography classes for non-majors, and Jack responds with half a dozen smiley emoticons, and it makes Bitty’s whole day.

 

Usually on Thursdays Bitty works until 8, but he’d gotten permission nearly three weeks before to trade a Saturday with Soo-jin, so he can go to the first home game.

 

March, Caitlin, Maggie, and Paulie all meet him at the library at five, and they make a leisurely walk to TD Garden. Bitty feels comfortable with the four of them, enough that his nerves ease ever so slightly. Pre-season was one thing, but this is an ESPN-televised game, and there’s no doubt in his mind that he’s going to be a focus.

 

“ESPN’s tweeting about Jack right now,” March says, then they’re stopped at a crosswalk. Bitty thinks it’s cute that she’s wearing Chowder’s jersey and Caitlin is wearing Ransom’s. He himself has on a Tater jersey per the request of Alexei Mashkov. “Look.”

 

@ESPN All eyes tonight will be on @JackZimmermann, who recently stated that his goal was to ‘get this young team a Cup.’

@ESPN He has also been the focus of the media lately, with his out and public relationship with the @Buzzfeed coined Boston’s Cutest Librarian.

@Buzzfeed @ESPN He is definitely Boston’s Cutest Librarian, we took a vote: bzfd.it/3RqLuM

 

“Oh God,” Bitty says. “They actually voted me as—oh my God.”

 

“You kind of are,” Caitlin says, and she loops her arm in his. “Like. You’re the cutest. Just understand that and live your life, okay.”

 

When they get closer to TD Garden, they encounter more people than even Maggie seems to have expected. She frowns, and he doesn’t stop her when she moves in front of him a little. She’s short, but she’s fierce.

 

“I don’t like this,” she says, and Bitty can hear hollering, arguing, some kind of chanting. “Something’s going on, this isn’t normal.”

 

“Not again,” Bitty says, his stomach all twisted up. He honestly thought the assholes on his front steps were going to be the worst of it. “God, not again.”

 

“Wait,” March says. She’s on her tiptoes looking over the crowd, and as the tallest one in their group, she has the best vantage point. “Wait, no, it’s not what you think. I mean, yes, there are assholes, but wow. I swear half of Boston is here to support Jack.” She raises up her phone to get a better aerial view and snaps a picture before showing it to the others. “See?”

 

Bitty feels tears prickle at his eyes, but fortunately they don’t fall. Yes, he sees the God Hates Fags signs. Yes, he sees NHL? More Like NH-Hell.

 

But the majority of the crowd are in Zimmermann jerseys and rainbow shirts they clearly made themselves, and there are signs that say things like Love is Love and #YouCanPlay and Support Our Boston Brothers.

 

“I think we’re okay,” Paulie says, and she links arms with Bitty on his other side, bookending him with Caitlin. “Let’s go. I think we’re okay.”

 

If Bitty was uncertain before, he knows now that he is an actual minor celebrity. When the crowd sees him and recognizes him, the cheers that he gets easily outstrip all the bigotry spewing from the minority. Because he’s nervous, Bitty bows and waves and gives high fives and takes pictures with people, and he sticks by his girls because they make him feel safe, and when they finally get into the stadium, he ducks into the bathroom, hides in a stall, and focuses on breathing slowly.

 

He comes out and all but plasters himself to Maggie, who holds his hand and squeezes his fingers and whispers that it’s okay. She and Paulie have different seats—Jack couldn’t sit them all together—but she does give Bitty a kiss on the cheek and a promise that they’ll meet after the game is over.

 

Bitty and Jack have very tentative plans for after the game—Jack’s usual schedule is to go home and get right to bed after watching highlights, but he thinks he might be interested in hanging out for a little while. Bitty hopes Jack wants to see him, because he’s sure he’s gonna need it.

 

“This way,” March says. “We are going to introduce you to the ritual that is a Bruins hockey game with March and Caitlin. First we get beer and tacos, we find our seats, we eat as fast as we can and finish our first beer so we can have a second by the time the puck drops.”

 

“If you can hold your alcohol,” Caitlin says, “we’ll let you hang out with us again.”

 

Laughing, Bitty lets them lead him through the crowd to the taco bar, following their suggestions to a T before they make their way to their seats. He’s forcing himself not to be nervous, because Jack is probably already nervous enough—he told Bitty that he hasn’t thrown up before a game in years but he might start that all over again this year—but so far…the reactions he gets from the fans are either supportive or they just don’t care. Though, as he sits in the family section between March and Caitlin, he does hear his name said behind him half a dozen times and occupies himself by focusing on his girls instead.

 

“Now,” March says, pulling out her phone, “we always do a pre-game selfie for Instagram and Twitter. It’s a thing, and if you want to run with the cool kids, you have to do the thing too.”

 

“Lord, please tell me my hair looks okay,” Bitty says, and they confirm he looks amazing before Bitty lets the selfie-taking fly.

 

He’s surprised to get an @ mention from Jack when he’s halfway through his first beer.

 

@JackZimmermann @bibliobaker nice pic. I’m disappointed you aren’t wearing my jersey

@bibliobaker @JackZimmermann what can I say? @TaterTot asked first.

@JackZimmermann @bibliobaker @TaterTot he’s not your boyfriend

@TaterTot @JackZimmermann @bibliobaker I could be! Bitty the piroshki were best this time thank you :-*

@JackZimmermann @TaterTot @bibliobaker this isn’t fair at all

@bibliobaker @JackZimmermann @TaterTot if you score me a goal, I’ll wear your jersey at the next game.

@JackZimmermann @bibliobaker @TaterTot deal

 

Jack scores an unassisted goal five minutes into the first period, and Bitty doesn’t miss the way he looks right over at him with that stupid cocky little smirk.

 

 

Despite Jack’s quick and very impressive goal, they end up losing 6-2 to the Jets. Bitty has never seen someone as angry as Snowy when he lets in that fourth goal and is pulled in favor of Chowder. Snowy breaks his stick and isn’t seen on the bench for the rest of the game.

 

“Shit happens,” Caitlin says with a shrug, after Chowder lets in the sixth goal overall. “It’s only the first game, it’s no big deal.”

 

Bitty tries not to let his disappointment show. “You’re right. It’s a long season, right? Game one is fine.”

 

“Yeah, and at least it’s against the Jets,” March says. “Their fans are pretty mellow. They know they’re gonna lose, so when they don’t they’re all Canadian-pleasant and surprised and happy. It’s kind of cute. Not like fucking New Jersey, ugh.”

 

The game ends not long after that, and Bitty watches Jack’s jersey disappear last into the tunnel. March and Caitlin both look at him with concern and he rolls his eyes. “I know what he’s like, guys. I know he’s not going to be talkative or want to do things. I’m not some delicate flower all the time.”

 

Caitlin looks relieved. “Okay, good. Because I think you should be aware that Jack never hangs out when the team loses. Ever.”

 

Bitty’s disappointed but not surprised at all, so they meet up with Maggie and Paulie as everyone trickles out of TD Garden, and he teases them mercilessly at the looks on their faces when, supremely casual, Caitlin says, “Let’s go wait for the boys by the locker room.”

 

He’s learning that pre-season was very different from the regular season, because he ends up at a late dinner with his girls, Ransom, Holster, Chowder, and Tater, something he definitely didn’t do before.

 

“We do most games,” Tater says, sitting between Bitty and Maggie, who looks like she’s going to pop a blood vessel at any moment. “Have dinner together, talk, get frustration out. Sometimes we barbecue, yes?”

 

“Sometimes,” Ransom says, and he’s flicking through his phone. “Ugh, Winnipeg’s one dick fan is tweeting at me.”

 

“Put your phone away,” March tells him, and Ransom does it immediately. Across from Bitty, Caitlin is talking to Chowder gently, his hand in both of hers. His heart swells for them, and he thinks they fit well together.

 

He still hasn’t gotten a text from Jack, but he tells himself it’s no big deal.

 

They all eat dinner together and talk, and Maggie and Paulie both tell absolutely hilarious stories about their love for the Bruins, and after a couple more drinks they divulge the really embarrassing stuff that has Bitty howling with laughter. Ransom, Holster, and Tater all take pictures with them for their Twitter accounts, and by the time Bitty, Maggie, and Paulie get a cab back to their neighborhood, it’s nearly midnight.

 

He lets himself get into his apartment, shower, and get ready for bed before he texts Jack, who hasn’t texted him first. Bitty tries hard not to be upset, but he thought they’d…gone over this. That they would text good night and good morning.

 

Then Bitty realizes that they never exactly specified who would text what and when, and Jack could probably be sitting by himself, miserable, waiting for Bitty to text first. Lord, they’re going to have to work on that communication.

 

Bitty: I’m sorry about tonight’s game, honey. (12:09AM)

Jack: It’s okay. It happens. (12:09AM)

 

Bitty sighs, looking at Jack’s stupid little face on his screen. He’d clearly been waiting for a text, so Bitty calls him. Jack answers, his voice hushed in the way it is when he’s in bed.

 

“Hey,” he says. “I was hoping you’d call.”

 

“I was waiting for you to text me,” Bitty says, and he hopes Jack can hear that he’s smiling. “I didn’t want to bother you. I know how hard losses are, especially like that.”

 

Jack sighs. “I hate losing. I hate losing so much.”

 

“I can imagine,” Bitty says, and Jack’s voice, though unhappy, is a comfort. “The others didn’t seem too concerned.”

 

Jack shifts in bed—Bitty can hear his sheets rustling—and sighs again. “It’s really not. Early in the season isn’t a big indicator of what happens at the end. But I like starting strong. And I feel we really didn’t have it tonight. Pre-season ended with three losses, and now it feels like a fourth. I just hate it.”

 

Bitty is hesitant about asking too many questions and annoying Jack, but Jack is more talkative than he expected him to be and goes over certain plays with Bitty in further detail. Now that Bitty understands the basics thanks to Bad Bob, he can follow along much better as Jack talks, though over the next half hour he finds himself dreamily admiring Jack’s accent more than anything else.

 

“You’ll come to Saturday’s game, right?” Jack asks, and Bitty realizes he’s supposed to respond.

 

“Oh, yeah, for sure. It’s at seven, so I won’t have to worry about work.”

 

“And you’re wearing my jersey, right?”

 

Bitty chuckles. “If I can manage to get one by then.”

 

“Oh, I’ll make sure you get one, don’t worry.”

 

“You better get me one that fits,” Bitty warns. “Don’t you give me, like, a game-worn thing, I’m going to swim in it.”

 

Jack’s laugh is lovely, and Bitty feels a pang of loneliness, wishing he weren’t so far away. “I love you,” Jack says, and everything goes very quiet. Bitty can hear the slight buzz that tells him the call is still connected. He is smiling stupidly into his pillow, and his entire body is made of air.

 

“I love you too,” he says, and he can’t stop grinning. “Lord, do I love you.”

 

“This has to be stupid,” Jack says, and Bitty can tell he’s smiling too. “I’ve known you for four months.”

 

“Not even. This is definitely stupid.”

 

“I still love you.”

 

Bitty sighs, squeezing his toes tight. “I still love you too.”

Chapter Text

 

The Bruins don’t win a single game until they play Colorado on the 12th in an absurdly late ten o’clock Eastern Time start. Bitty is grateful that he doesn’t work until noon the next day, but he does end up watching the game by himself in his apartment, as everyone else has earlier shifts, and he does not feel repentant at all for how much screaming he does. They demolish the Avalanche 6-2, then they beat the Coyotes 5-3 in Arizona, then Bitty is woken up on Sunday morning with his phone buzzing, and he sees that it’s 7:15, and he sees that Jack is calling him, and Bitty all but hurls himself out of bed and rushes to the window, jerking open the blinds to find Jack waiting at the steps in his tiny running shorts.

 

Bitty shoves the window open. “What are you doing, you maniac?

 

“Gotta keep on schedule,” Jack says, even though he looks absolutely exhausted from his overnight flight. “Technically it’s 10:15 for me. Come down and say hi.”

 

Bitty doesn’t bother to put on a shirt or shoes, his too-long pajama pants dragging along the ground as he throws himself into Jack’s arms. Jack holds him tight, one hand cradling the nape of his neck, and they kiss enthusiastically. When Jack pulls away, Bitty tugs him back and kisses him again, standing on the first step so he’s taller.

 

“I missed you,” Bitty tells him.

 

“It’s only been five days,” Jack says, and his eyes are soft. “But yeah, I missed you too.”

 

Bitty hugs him close for several more seconds before kissing him one more time. “What else do you have planned for today?”

 

“I’ll be free for dinner,” Jack says, his hands resting on Bitty’s bare waist. “Can I take you out?”

 

“I’d let you do that. I just realized we haven’t, like. Really gone out on a date since we did pizza back in August.”

 

Jack’s mouth is so sweet where it nuzzles against Bitty’s jaw. “Let me take you out,” he says, and Bitty almost makes a noise at his tone. “And then take you home.”

 

“Who’s home, mine or yours?”

 

“Anyone’s, as long as I’m spending time with you.”

 

Bitty nods and they chat a little more about where they want to do dinner, then Jack puts his earbuds back in and continues his run. Bitty goes inside once he can’t see Jack anymore, collapses into bed, and heaves a happy sigh.

 

 

@bibliobaker Lazy start to my Sunday with an Ollie’s pumpkin spice latte! ow.ly/48J0qR

@LegitKentParson @bibliobaker I wouldn’t say it’s too lazy. I guess you haven’t seen TMZ’s latest

@bibliobaker @LegitKentParson oh sweet Lord, now what.

 

@TMZ PDA from Boston’s Cutest Librarian?? Jack Zimmermann Gets Big Smooch Right in Public: tmz.me/TNM028j

 

@bibliobaker Oh my God, seriously? This is what people call news???? MY LIFE. IS BORING.

@LegitKentParson @bibliobaker apparently not that boring. Nice tat.

@bibliobaker @LegitKentParson I don’t understand how people can take these photos and I don’t see them at all.

@LegitKentParson @bibliobaker you must have never heard of ninjas

 

Direct Messages

@bibliobaker This isn’t funny.

@LegitKentParson fuck em. They’re going to keep doing this whether you’re okay with it or not so fuck em, just live your life

@bibliobaker I feel like I can’t.

@LegitKentParson fuck em seriously

@bibliobaker Is that your response to everything?

@LegitKentParson most things yeah. They’re going to think what they want to think. You can’t change it and if you try they’re going to ride you harder. So fuck em

@bibliobaker That’s…oddly inspiring. Thank you.

@LegitKentParson sure

@bibliobaker Jack’s doing as okay as he can be sitting at 2-3.

@LegitKentParson I wasn’t going to ask

@bibliobaker I know you weren’t. But I knew you wanted to know.

@LegitKentParson thanks I guess

@LegitKentParson I miss him

@bibliobaker I know you do.

@LegitKentParson I’ve left him alone

@bibliobaker Yep. Like he asked. Thank you.

@LegitKentParson when can I stop leaving him alone

@bibliobaker When he tells you that you can.

@LegitKentParson and what am I supposed to do if he decides never to do that

@bibliobaker We talked about this. “I” statements.

@LegitKentParson I’m thinking about him first with all of this. He’s important, that’s not enough?

@bibliobaker I can’t say what’s enough for him. That’s up to him.

@LegitKentParson am I not important then?

@bibliobaker Of course you are. Your needs aren’t invalidated, Parse. But he’s putting himself first, before anything.

@LegitKentParson not before you

@bibliobaker Definitely before me. I respect his dedication, and I know what I’m in for with this.

@LegitKentParson he talks to you. I saw those pictures, his face. He’s in love with you

@LegitKentParson you don’t know what to say to that do you

@bibliobaker No, I don’t.

@LegitKentParson he’s told you hasn’t he, that he loves you

@bibliobaker What do you want me to say?

@LegitKentParson the truth, I just need the truth

@bibliobaker Parse, how is that going to benefit you in any way? Why does it matter?

@LegitKentParson he fucking loves you

@bibliobaker He’s said that he does.

@LegitKentParson I can’t do this anymore

@bibliobaker Kent, I’m so sorry I upset you.

@LegitKentParson sorry? Too fucking late for that, I don’t know what I was thinking, that if I tried to get to know you I’d see what he wants but apparently what he wants is not fucking me and it never has been, I thought if I just waited it would be fine

@LegitKentParson but fuck him and fuck you too

@LegitKentParson I hope you’re both very fucking happy together

 

 

Bitty doesn’t know why the Kent Parson situation has him so upset, but he’s genuinely distressed as he reads and re-reads their conversation. Parse has now unfollowed him on Twitter too, and for some reason that hurts even more. He thought they were maybe friends, outside of Jack. That he was helping Parse, with their long Harry Potter discussions and clever barbs traded back and forth. Parse seemed to be happier, at least, and he’d stopped asking about Jack. And, according to Jack, Parse hadn’t contacted him again, as requested.

 

And now Bitty can see more of Parse’s personality, something he has a feeling that Parse has hidden from people for a long time. His loneliness, his “fuck you” mask, the way all he seems to want in the world is to have Jack back in his life. But what Parse wants and what Jack wants out of a shared relationship are two different things (Bitty thinks). And if Parse can’t understand that, or won’t, then there’s not much hope for them.

 

Though part of him thinks he shouldn’t bring it up, he does during his dinner with Jack, after they’ve shared an appetizer and are working through a main course of salmon and brown rice.

 

“I really upset Kent today,” Bitty says quietly. Jack’s eyebrows go up.

 

“How? What happened?”

 

Bitty tells him in painstaking detail, because he knows Jack will ask anyway. And Jack simply watches him talk and listens and nods, and when Bitty gets to the part about the I love you, Jack sighs. Bitty runs a hand over his face. “Jack, he was so upset. He even unfollowed me on Twitter.”

 

Jack takes a long drink of his water and several more bites of his salmon before he responds. “I think it’s time I tried to talk to him.”

 

“I don’t know if that will help right now.”

 

“It’s been long enough.”

 

“First of all,” Bitty says, “it’s only long enough if you really feel that it has been; don’t do this just because he’s upset. Second of all, even though you may be ready, he might not be. So you can’t go getting riled up if he shoots you down. He might not want anything to do with you right now.”

 

Jack nods, pushing asparagus around his plate. He hates asparagus but eats it anyway because it’s green. “That’s a fair point. Should I—would it maybe be smart to try to give him a few days?”

 

“Maybe. Just keep an eye on him. I’ve found that when he starts tweeting cat pictures and saying he wants a kitten, it usually means he’s in a good mood.”

 

Jack smiles. “He’s always wanted a cat. One time we did a charity thing at a local shelter, and Kenny went nuts over the kittens. He wanted to see how many he could hold in his lap at one time.”

 

Feeling warm at the soft look on Jack’s face, Bitty smiles. “How many?”

 

“A dozen. He probably could’ve fit more, but he was worried they wouldn’t be comfortable.”

 

Bitty can picture this perfectly, and he wonders what Kent Parson was like as a teenager. From what Jack has said—arrogant, talented, tender, and manipulative. “I hope he can get a cat one day.”

 

“Me too.” He leans back in his chair, surveying his uneaten asparagus, then eats them all at once, making a face as he chews. “I feel very complicated right now.”

 

“That’s okay. It’s a complicated situation.” Bitty tells himself that he is okay talking about this with Jack, that he is not being selfish and thinking about how this could affect him, how he could potentially, and realistically, lose Jack to Kent Parson. He doesn’t think about how painful it would be to watch Jack jog by every morning, to accidentally run into him. To have to deal with TMZ catching him crying on his breaks and plastering his teary face all over the Internet. What would happen with his newfound hockey friendships? He couldn’t ever go to a game again. He’d lose all of it.

 

Jack pushes their plates aside and reaches his hands out, and Bitty puts his hands in Jack’s automatically. “What are you thinking about?” Jack asks.

 

Little white lie. “Dessert. I saw green tea ice-cream and fried banana on the menu, and it sounds divine.”

 

“You know,” Jack says, “when you fib, you look to the left. Every time.”

 

Surprised, Bitty meets his eyes. “I do not.”

 

“You do. Every time.” He squeezes Bitty’s fingers. “What are you really thinking about?”

 

It sounds more stupid voicing it aloud than it does in his panicked heart, so he says, “I don’t know. I don’t want to say it.”

 

“Fair enough. But you know I’ll listen, right?”

 

“I know you will.”

 

“And I won’t judge.”

 

“I know you won’t.” He pauses. “I’m being silly, I think.”

 

“No doubt,” Jack says, and smiles a little when Bitty swats at him. “If you want to talk about it, I’m right here.”

 

Nodding, Bitty tries to form the words to where they don’t sound accusing of Jack, whiny, or immature. Nothing seems to fit. Everything he wants to put a voice to sounds like one of those three. Frustrated, because words have always been his comfort, he says, “I don’t even know how to say it right.”

 

“Then say it wrong. I really won’t judge.”

 

“You could leave,” Bitty says, and he looks down at their joined hands, which is too much, so he takes his hands away and puts them in his lap and stares at the table. “You’ve known him for a long time, and I know there’s bad feelings and memories with him, but you guys can fix it. You should fix it, he’s clearly important to you and I think he genuinely tries to love you, but I’m being completely selfish here because all I can think is that—I could lose you. You could leave. And I wouldn’t dare stop you, because I—more than anything I want you to be actually happy, and part of me worries that you can’t do that with me. That I just can’t—I won’t be able to be that for you. Or that one day I’ll stop being that for you. That you’ll always wonder about something else, and I’ll be the one getting in your way. I am so committed to you, Jack, but I can’t ask for the same thing in return if it’s not something you can or want to give.”

 

Jack doesn’t say anything for a long while. Bitty can tell he’s thinking, so he stays quiet, even though he wants to take it all back and say he doesn’t mean it. Then, Jack says, “So here’s the thing: I did love Kenny before. I know I did. But I also changed a lot. I grew into a different person, and that person that was in love with him is only a part of who I am now. I want different things in my life now. One of those things is you.” He curls his long fingers around his water glass, but doesn’t take a drink. “Years ago, I would’ve gone to Kenny in a heartbeat. But that was years ago now. Even before I met you, I wouldn’t choose him now. But I do want to be friends with him again. I miss him in that way. But no more.”

 

“I don’t want you to ever feel like you’re obligated to do anything,” Bitty says, and even though he believes that Jack believes what he’s saying, a part of him—a big part, if he’s honest—doesn’t believe he, Bitty, is worth fighting for. In the grand scheme of things, Bitty is nothing particularly special. “Can you promise me that you’ll always be honest with me, even if you think it’s going to hurt me?”

 

Jack nods. “I promise. As long as you promise to do the same.”

 

Bitty hesitates.

 

Jack points his straw at him. “Don’t you start that, Bittle. If you can ask for something like that, I can ask for it too. And if I can promise something like that, then I would like you to promise it too.”

 

“It’s hard for me,” Bitty says, “because I don’t like upsetting people.”

 

“I know you don’t. But do you think I like upsetting you?”

 

“No, of course not.”

 

“Then why is it any different?”

 

Jack said to be honest, so Bitty says, “Because you’re more important than I am.”

 

“Bits.”

 

“It’s how I feel. It may not be the truth, but it’s how I feel.”

 

Their eyes meet, and Bitty has to force himself not to look away. “You know,” Jack says, “Blanca would ask you how often you feel that way.”

 

Bitty has to think about that. “I don’t know. I guess I don’t really think about it until it comes down to me and someone else. Then I always put someone else before myself.”

 

“And yet you’ve told me how important you are—how it’s okay to want to be happy, and to give yourself the care you deserve. You said it to Kenny too.” Jack is too astute sometimes; it makes Bitty want to squirm under his intense eyes. “So why is it different?”

 

“I guess…sometimes I say those things because I want people to take care of themselves and to know they’re important.”

 

“So you aren’t people?”

 

Bitty shrugs. He doesn’t know what to say to that, and fortunately Jack lets him off the hook. “I just want you to know that you are important,” Jack says, and now he takes a drink of his water. “To me, and to yourself. That’s all. Can you try to believe that?”

 

It takes a moment, but Bitty finally nods. “I can try, yes.”

 

“Good. I’m glad.” He picks up the dessert menu and looks it over. “The green tea and fried banana really does look good.”

 

Bitty has to laugh. “Are you seriously going to order a dessert?”

 

“I can sometimes be daring,” Jack says, and it makes Bitty laugh again.

 

 

@JackZimmermann Dessert was worth it. ow.ly/eU8pq1

@swimmerfann @JackZimmermann No way, you actually ate some of that? I think this should be @TMZ’s next story.

@JackZimmermann @swimmerfann you think your chirps are funny, don’t you.

@swimmerfann @JackZimmermann I do. I’ve had a lot of practice raising a kid.

@JackZimmermann @swimmerfann How’s she doing?

@swimmerfann @JackZimmermann Kicking ass and being awesome. She wants to go to Jack “Swimmermann’s” next game.

@JackZimmermann @swimmerfann hahaha cute, I’ll get tickets for you and @prettypaulie. Does Max want to go?

@bibliobaker @swimmerfann @JackZimmermann wait wait wait, is this why your handle is swimmerfann, I thought you were into like Olympic swimming?

@swimmerfann @bibliobaker @JackZimmermann Shit, my cover is blown. Yes, that’s where it comes from. I watched Zimms get drafted. My kid inherited it.

@JackZimmermann @swimmerfann @bibliobaker oh wow, I didn’t know that. Thanks for being so supportive Maggie

@prettypaulie @JackZimmermann @swimmerfann I’m in, but my kid is 100% not. He’d rather stay at home and color. >.>

 

Direct Messages

@swimmerfann He’s never actually called me by my name before, I want to die. Something is wrong with me. I’m like hyperventilating.

@prettypaulie He’s just the fucking cutest, I can’t get over him. I want to hang out with him again. Could we like invite him to do something? We can, right? Because he’s like our friend?

@swimmerfann I feel like we should go through Eric first. Maybe we can do another one of those “let’s talk hockey for four hours and eat Eric’s delicious baked goods” things.

@prettypaulie I am so into that, yes. Can you talk to Eric?

@swimmerfann I will sometime this week! I’m sure I’ll see him at Ollie’s LOL.

 

 

Direct Messages

Super Secret Group Chat

@bibliobaker Hi ladies. I wanted to talk to you four about something. I’ve already talked at length with Jack about it, and he’s comfortable with me telling you this.

@marchmadness Hi everyone! <3 How’s Jack doing, Bits?

@bibliobaker He’s mostly okay. Suuuuper pissed about losing to the Flyers in OT.

@swimmerfann God, I fucking H A T E the Flyers. Anyway. What’s up?

@sjsharksgirl You know, if the Flyers were on fire and it was up to me to put them out, I’d let the whole city of Philadelphia burn from their ashes.

@marchmadness Jesus, girl. Tell us how you really feel.

@prettypaulie Is everything okay with Jack? Also, fuck the Flyers.

@bibliobaker So we all know our boys are playing the Islanders on the 21st, but the 25th is the first Aces game here in Boston. If we can keep this between us, there’s a lot of history between Jack and Kent Parson. A LOT of history. And things are strange with Parse right now, and it’s got Jack super keyed up and antsy. So if we can all maybe band together and try to keep his mind focused on other things, we’d both appreciate it.

@bibliobaker He’s willing to change his schedule once we get closer to the Aces game so we can do things with him. Would you guys be free the Saturday, Sunday, and Monday preceding Tuesday’s game? In any capacity, not just like evenings or mornings or anything.

@marchmadness Parse is mad Jack picked you. I totally figured.

@bibliobaker Yeah, something like that. There’s just a lot going on, and Parse and Jack haven’t really talked in…years, and I know Jack is ready to talk to him about some things but after what happened a few days ago, I don’t know how Parse is going to react when he’s here. And I just want to make sure Jack has a good support group.

@prettypaulie We are totally a great support group, for sure.

@swimmerfann It’s funny you mention hanging out, because Paulie and I were going to see if you and Jack wanted to do more hockey talk again. We had a lot of fun last time.

@sjsharksgirl Why don’t we do it at our house? It’s nice and quiet on our street, and we can really get Jack focused on something other than Parson.

@bibliobaker Thanks, guys. I know everyone has different schedules, but whatever you can make work would be really amazing.

@sjsharksgirl Of course! We’d love to help out <3333 But Jack’s not the only one who’s going to be dealing with Parse. How are YOU holding up?

@bibliobaker It’s weird. We were kind of getting to be friends, but things sort of collapsed and I don’t know if we were actually friends at all or if he was just using me to get to Jack. Probably a combination of both, since I feel like some parts were real. I wish he weren’t so controlling and selfish. I really think he’s a good guy underneath that crappy exterior.

@prettypaulie Kent Parson is like five people in one. You never know who you’re going to get at any one time.

@sjsharksgirl Have you guys seen that nanny show? With the British lady whipping all those shitty kids into shape?

@bibliobaker Oh my God, I could watch that shit for hours.

@marchmadness I know where Cait’s going with this.

@sjsharksgirl That’s Kent Parson. Everyone has always given into whatever he wants as long as he pushes it hard enough. I really don’t think anyone has ever told him a no and meant no for like his whole life. If he tries hard enough, he gets what he wants.

@prettypaulie Until Zimms.

@swimmerfann I feel like Zimms gave in before, though, and the fact that he hasn’t yet is suuuuuper frustrating. And also Bitty who doesn’t take shit from fucking anyone. That’s gotta be stressful for a kid like Parse.

@swimmerfann I know he’s older than me, but he behaves like my 5-yo, so I’m calling him a kid until he proves that he isn’t one.

@bibliobaker I totally see it. Ughhhh, this whole situation makes my tummy hurt :(

@sjsharksgirl It’ll be okay, Bitty. We’re here for you too, okay? <3

@prettypaulie Oh totally. Team Bitty all the way! \o/

@bibliobaker You guys <333333

 

+

 

Jack hasn’t talked to Blanca this much over Skype in nearly three years. They’re at daily half hour-long conversations leading up to the weekend before the Aces game. It wasn’t like this last year or the year before, when all Jack had to do was ignore Kenny for a few hours; he’s had Kenny’s number blocked for a while now, and he’d never been on social media. His parents still have a nice friendship with Kenny, but that’s them and it’s not Jack, and Jack is wrecked over the thought of talking to him again, especially with Bitty in the picture now.

 

“You don’t have to,” Blanca tells him, as Bitty makes a late lunch in the kitchen on Saturday. “You don’t ever have to. But do you want to?”

 

“I want to, I know I do. I just wish I could, I don’t know. Predict him better.”

 

“But you can’t, Jack.”

 

He scrubs at his face with his hands. “I know I can’t.”

 

“Do you?”

 

“Some part of me does. But the other part wants to be able to control the situation better.”

 

“Can you do that, Jack? Control the situation better?”

 

Miserably, Jack shakes his head. “No, I can’t.”

 

“What can you control?”

 

“Myself and my responses. I can control me.”

 

“Right. What does that mean for you?”

 

They finish up their conversation soon after, and at Blanca’s polite suggestion, Jack takes his one-milligram Xanax before lying down on the couch with an arm thrown over his eyes. He can hear Bitty humming in the kitchen as he makes grilled cheese and tomato soup, and he tries to pick out the song. Unfortunately, Jack isn’t exactly well-versed in the kind of music Bitty listens to, but it’s soothing all the same.

 

“Here you go,” Bitty says, setting a plate and bowl on the coffee table. “Rye, Swiss, and lean turkey grilled cheese, with low-calorie tomato soup.”

 

“Thank you,” Jack says, and he sits up with a sigh before eating as slowly as he can manage. Bitty kisses him on top of his head, says you’re welcome, and moves into the kitchen to clean. Jack looks over at him and watches him for a long moment. Through all of this, Bitty has been…extraordinary. He’s had his moments of insecurity, like anyone would, but the sheer force of selflessness he’s been exhibiting has been humbling. Jack doesn’t know if he’s ever been that selfless and helpful and supportive in his entire life. And knowing that his girls have his back through all of this makes him breathe that little bit easier, too.

 

He finishes his lunch and heads into the kitchen, arms curling around Bitty from behind as he’s wiping down the stove. “What are we doing tonight?” he asks, bending to kiss at Bitty’s ear, because it makes him shiver.

 

“Heading to Caitlin and March’s house over in Brighton—Jack, don’t nibble. They want to do something super hockey related, I don’t know. I was just going to bake pies.”

 

“You bake great pies.”

 

“I know I do, and they’ve never had any before. I think Maggie’s had some when she’s come to the library.”

 

Bitty lets Jack distract him for maybe another ten minutes before shooing him away. By now, Jack’s Xanax has kicked in, and his anxiety can’t work him up even if he wants it to. So he sits on the arm of the couch and watches Bitty move, his eyes tracing over the outline of him, the sloped planes of his shoulders, his delicate collarbones peeking out of his v-neck shirt. Jack loves the confident shape of him, the way his hands move with skill over everything, including Jack’s body. He enjoys watching Bitty for a little longer before he heads into the bedroom for an afternoon nap.  

 

The March and Caitlin house is cute. It’s a one-and-a-half story house with an attached garage underneath, built up on a little hill. There’s a wide front porch with chairs and a table, and once they’re let inside, Jack likes the cozy feel it of with the hardwood floors, yellow paint on the walls, and the way everything feels comfortably small. He’s especially drawn to the fireplace, while Bitty is clearly looking for the kitchen.  

 

“We lucked out here,” March says, as she leads Jack, Bitty, Paulie, and Maggie into the kitchen. “This place should be easily three thousand a month, but the owner lets us get by on $2100 for all three of us.”

 

Bitty grins at her. “Did you also bribe your landlord with pie like I did?”

 

“Do you think we can bake?” Caitlin asks with a snort, taking the pie box from him and opening it to sniff. “Nah, but we do all the maintenance and stuff ourselves, plus we collect the rent each month from his other houses. Basically we’re his gofers and we’re cool with that.”

 

Jack settles himself comfortably at the kitchen table, letting everyone move around him and fuss over him. March makes him a cup of tea, and the mug warms his chilled hands. Bitty pats his shoulder each time he walks by, and he listens to them talk about the library a little, piquing with interest when Bitty says he’ll have interviews coming up for Fatima’s position.

 

“You haven’t said anything about that,” Jack says, and Bitty leans against the counter with his own mug of tea.

 

“I was gonna! We had other things on our mind, you know.”

 

Jack frowns. “I suppose so. What’s the interview process like?”

 

Bitty takes a few sips from his mug before replying. “It’s a three-phase interview. First with HR to determine if I’m qualified—which I am, now that I have my degree—then with my branch, then with the big guns that oversee the entire BPL system. Luckily they’re doing it internally, so it won’t be open to the public, but this still means I’m going to have to fight if I want it. I know Marsha really wants it to be me, but she doesn’t have final say.”

 

Jack realizes he didn’t know any of this, and he makes a mental note to talk to Bitty about it later. “How many people do you think will be interviewing?”

 

“Probably no more than five. It’s a focused position, you know? Youth services. It requires a different kind of work than doing things for adults. Not necessarily more planning, but definitely a lot of research and projects and proposals and things. Finding what the community’s needs are and getting kids interested in the library again.”

 

“You’re good at all those,” Maggie says. “Look what you did for Jack’s reading, you know? And for Larissa’s.”

 

“Definitely,” Paulie says, and she’s sniffing at the pie again. Jack understands. It smelled unbearably good while Bitty baked it. “And you’ve been working so hard to bring recognition to the library too. I feel like that has to count for something.”

 

Bitty smiles at them but there’s something in his eyes that isn’t smiling. He’s worried. Jack feels that look like a punch to the gut—Bitty has been worrying about his job and hasn’t said anything, and all Jack’s done for him is make things worse with Parse, make Bitty change his schedule to suit him. He holds out his hand and Bitty takes it, standing close enough so Jack can put an arm around his waist. “I think you’ll be great,” he says, looking up at Bitty, who’s dark eyes show a lot of emotion even when his face is politely pleasant, like now. “Is there anything we can do to help you prepare?”

 

“Maybe,” he says. “I do have to put together a presentation as a part of my interview, and I think I want to address the fact that we don’t have nearly enough books by and for people of color, especially for kids. In the neighborhood that we’re in, considering the history with the urban renewal project that all but decimated the non-white population, I think that’s a pretty big hole in our collection. So I’m planning to do some research into demographics, then look into what kind of books are not only available by writers of color, but what would be most likely to circulate.”

 

Jack knows, of course, that Bitty has a job and a life outside of him; they’ve talked a lot about what Bitty does at the library, what he studied in his classes (half of which Jack does not understand), but hearing him discuss things like this in such a capable and effective way…does things to Jack. He’s uncomfortable for several moments before saying, “Maybe you could do your interview in front of us and give us your presentation? That way you can have some practice doing it.”

 

“Oooh, we can score you,” March says, hopping up on the counter and popping a carrot stick in her mouth. “Like, hold up numbers and give you a score on how awesome you were.”

 

“Does being cute count?” Paulie asks, “because I feel like that’s an extra point in his favor, at least.”

 

After they rib Bitty a little more about being Boston’s Cutest Librarian, they all troop into the cramped living room, where Jack and Maggie practice face-offs. Maggie wants to see what it’s like to check Jack, and she ends up on the floor. Then Paulie has to try too, and after declaring Jack’s ass a national treasure, they put on a Bruins game from the last season where the Bruins demolished the Red Wings, and Jack settles in with Bitty on the big chair, their limbs folded together so they fit. Bitty falls asleep against him, and Jack feels quiet in his chest.

 

 

“Why didn’t you tell me about the interview?” Jack asks, when he and Bitty are back at his apartment, where Bitty has decided to stay the night. Bitty’s turning down the bed and is quiet for several long moments.

 

“Honey, we really do have a lot going on right now.”

 

“I know, but that was also important. I don’t want you to not tell me things like that.”

 

Bitty undresses down to his underwear and falls onto the pillows with a sigh. “I didn’t do it on purpose, baby, I promise. I really was going to tell you sometime soon. Probably after the Aces game.”

 

Jack has to wait another hour before he can take his next dose of Xanax, and the wait is frustrating. He feels keyed up in a bad way. “As long as you really were going to tell me. I want to, you know. Support you and stuff.”

 

“You do.” He sits up again and rubs at his eyes with a yawn. “This stupid chilly weather is destroying my supple skin. Can I use your lotion?”

 

“Yeah,” Jack says, and as Bitty’s reaching into his side table drawer, he says, “Wait, hold on.”

 

Bitty doesn’t pull out the lotion Jack keeps there. Heart pounding, Jack watches as Bitty frowns and pulls out the toy Jack had bought a month ago, then got too shy to try to use.

 

“What’s…this?” Bitty says, and Jack is absolutely mortified, so much so he can’t even speak. “Is this…” He presses the inlaid button on the back and grins as it starts to vibrate. “Is this a prostate massager?”

 

“I—I haven’t used it yet,” Jack says, and he wonders how much effort it would take to drown himself in the shower. “I just. I got it because of—when we—and I was—so I did some Googling, and I found—it was.” He covers his face with his hands. “Estie. Pourquoi. Pourquoi moi? Maudit que chuis con. C’est clair qu’y’allait pogner l’estie d’jouet. De toute les choses dans c’te foutu tiroir. Pu jamais, tabarnak.”

 

Bitty’s laughing too hard to say anything. Jack wants to sink into a hole and set himself on fire. “Oh my God, baby, your poor face. I don’t even know what you said just now, but it’s okay! I was just surprised! I love that you got this, it looks fancy as hell.”

 

“It’s a Lelo,” Jack mumbles. “The internet gave it good reviews, I. Oh God.”

 

Bitty slides off the bed with a smooth grace Jack forgets he has until moments like this. Then Bitty’s reaching for him, tugging him in close, fingers unbuttoning Jack’s shirt. “Don’t be embarrassed. I love that you got it. You really haven’t used it yet?”

 

“No. I didn’t really—I wasn’t in the mood.” He bites his lip. “You’re not mad at me, right?”

 

“Mad? Good lord, no! I’m excited.” He pushes Jack’s shirt off his shoulders before working on his belt. Jack lets him. He cannot move even if he wanted to. “Jack, holy shit. I’ve never done anything with toys before, and I kind of always wanted to. I kind of…there’s a lot of things I’m very interested in doing.”

 

“What kind of things?” he asks, because he thought they’d done quite a lot already. The memory of Bitty’s hand on his throat surges to the forefront of his mind. He’s half-hard now and getting harder.

 

Bitty bites at his lip, and Jack realizes Bitty’s playing with him with the way he’s looking up at him with his dark eyes and his long lashes. Jack wants to play, too—and he knows it would surprise Bitty.

 

So he grabs Bitty around his waist and sweeps his legs out from under him, smirking when Bitty yelps, and eases him to the floor where he straddles Bitty’s hips. Pinning Bitty’s hands above his head, Jack says, “You forget I’m bigger than you are.”

 

Bitty’s hands flex and his chest heaves. Underneath his stiffened cock, Jack can feel Bitty’s hips wiggling helplessly. “Thank you for reminding me,” he says, the words only half-voiced. “Do you want to keep showing me how big and strong you are?”

 

Jack likes playing games, but not more than he likes kissing Bitty. So he shuts him up the best way he knows how, Bitty’s mouth intensely eager like it usually is, all pushy and greedy and desperate. Jack threads fingers in Bitty’s hair and holds him down while he kisses him, pulling away only when Bitty’s not even kissing back anymore, just making open-mouthed panting noises as he tries to hitch his hips up higher.

 

“What do you want?” Jack says, and since Bitty shakes his head, can’t answer, Jack sits up on him. Bitty stares at him, his eyes traveling down Jack’s chest to the unbuckled belt and the popped button of his jeans. Bitty groans and closes his eyes, arching his hips again. His body is slender and flushed and Jack wants to fuck him. “What do you want, Bits?”

 

“I just want you to make me feel good.”

 

“How?”

 

Bitty touches himself a lot when he’s exceptionally turned on; now, he’s got his hands on his flushed chest before sliding them up into his hair, eyes half-lidded and intense. “Suck me off.”

 

Jack does. He shifts, jerks Bitty’s underwear off his legs, and swallows him down. He’s messy and eager, and his heartbeat thuds in several points of his body, notably his groin, and he fights with Bitty’s roaming hands, pinning them down again and again, because Bitty isn’t cooperating and that’s okay, Jack likes the struggle, the effort to gain control.

 

When Bitty starts whining more and fighting less, Jack pulls off, looking up at him between Bitty’s shaking, splayed thighs. “Is this all you want?” he asks, curling fingers around Bitty’s cock and stroking slowly. “Or do you want more?”

 

“What are you offering me, baby?”

 

Jack bites at his lip, trying to get his breathing under control. He’s so hard in his jeans he can barely stand it. “You could fuck me.”

 

Bitty’s eyes go wide. Then his mouth tips up in a grin. “I would love that.”

 

Which is how Jack ends up on his back, clutching at Bitty’s firm shoulders, his knees draped over Bitty’s straining forearms as Bitty fucks into him hard and perfect. He forgets that Bitty is so much stronger than he looks, that Bitty can fold him in half and piston his hips and make it good because of how solid he is.

 

This is probably one of the best ideas he’s ever had, and he gives in to the sensations of his body as Bitty pushes into him, curling a hand at the nape of Bitty’s neck and drawing him in for a fierce kiss. Then Bitty drops his leg and puts his hand to Jack’s throat and pins him to the bed, and after several erratic, deep, jerking thrusts, Jack comes messily between them. It’s not as good as the other one that he can remember vividly, but it’s good enough. When Bitty comes, Jack murmurs at him, telling him he’s so good, thanking him, until Bitty plasters himself to Jack’s chest with a soft cry.

 

It’s a few minutes until Bitty is roused enough to speak. “I want to try that toy soon.”

 

“Me too,” Jack says, carding fingers through the tufts at the top of Bitty’s head. “Definitely.”

 

After Tuesday, he thinks. Because until then, he’s going to be a wreck.

 

 

On Monday, Jack meets Kenny at the restaurant that Paulie works at, at her suggestion, so she can keep an eye on the situation and offer support as needed. Jack is there first, and when Paulie sees him, she reaches out and he lets her hug him.

 

“It’ll be okay,” she says. “I’m taking care of you guys tonight, so I’ll be right there with you the whole time.”

 

“I know,” he says. “I’m just nervous.”

 

“That’s okay.” She pats him on the shoulder, and he realizes, not for the first time, how incredibly short she is. “You want to have a signal for me? When you give me the signal, I’ll come in and kidnap you.”

 

This makes him laugh. “I don’t know if you can kidnap me, no offense.”

 

“Honey, I pushed a kid out when I was twenty. I can do anything.”

 

They talk for a few more minutes, and by the time Kenny arrives, Jack is much more relaxed. And then he gets nervous again.

 

“Hey,” Kenny says, and Jack turns to look at him, for the first time in a few years without ice under their feet. Tall, blonde, good-looking, muscular in a way he wasn’t when he was a teenager, because Kent Parson used to be this svelte, agile thing. His hair is artfully windswept and blonder than Bitty’s, who is more honey-gold. Jack knows he has a type. “Good to see you, Zimms.”

 

“Hi,” Jack says, because it’s the only word that can come out of his mouth right now. He looks at Paulie. She stands closer to him.

 

“This way,” she says, and Kenny follows her first, not looking back. Jack’s Xanax is working. He is going to be calm. This is going to be fine. He can control his part in this conversation, and if he doesn’t wish to have it anymore, he has the option to get up and leave. He does not have to concede to any particular outcome. He needs to put himself and his mental health first.

 

Jack sits in a booth across from Kenny, and he focuses his attention on Paulie, her soft round cheeks, spill of dark hair, her brown eyes. She is his friend. She’s got his back. “I’m Paulie,” she says, “and I’ll be taking care of—”

 

“Pretty Paulie,” Kenny says, giving her his usual smile. “From Twitter. Right?”

 

She smiles at him. She does not look starstruck the way she did when Jack first met her. “Yeah, that’s me.”

 

“Nice. I saw the vid you put up of your kiddo with his new coloring book. Super cute. I wanted that coloring book.”

 

Jack is grateful for her there, because she entertains Kenny and makes him laugh, and tells him she’ll tweet at him the name of the coloring book she found at Barnes & Noble. By the time she leaves to get their water, passing them menus, Jack is fairly calm.

 

“I’ve missed you,” Kenny says, and he’s not looking at Jack. Instead, he’s tracing patterns on the ragged wooden table.

 

“I know.” Jack wants to be honest, so he says, “I’ve missed you too.”

 

“I doubt that.”

 

“I’m being honest. I have.”

 

“Well, you found a replacement.” His voice, like it always is, shows virtually no emotion other than pleasant conversation. But Jack knows how to read the lines of Kenny’s shoulders, his eyes. “Where’s he at, by the way?”

 

“First of all,” Jack says, because he’s had some words prepared for a while, “I want us to talk civilly. You don’t need to be snide or rude. And I’d appreciate it if you left Bitty out of this.” He wants to say, I won’t let you damage him, but he doesn’t. “This is about you and me.”

 

Kenny’s eyes are strange. They’re never one specific color, always some indescribable shade of light, and he’s been called blue-eyed, green-eyed, and gray-eyed in various interviews. “It’s about all three of us now. You made it that way.”

 

“Who I choose to date is nobody’s business but mine. Not even yours.” His voice sounds so much stronger than he feels. Good. Fake it ‘til you make. “Everything’s like a chess match with you. You’re always thinking three moves ahead. But I’m not even on the board with you. I am not playing this game. And you need to tell me you understand that.”

 

“Who said I’m playing a game?”

 

“I did. Because that’s what you always do. I know what you’re thinking right now. You’re going to see how I react and plan yourself accordingly. If I don’t react, it frustrates you. Because you want to upset me. When I’m upset, I apologize. When I apologize, I want to make it up to you. You’re hoping I’ll give you what you want, because you need to manipulate me to do what you want me to do.”

 

Kent Parson looks at him for a long moment. Jack can see, in the set of his mouth, that he hit home somewhere but he’s not quite sure where. “If you know so much,” Kenny says, “why don’t you tell me what I want?”

 

Jack thinks on that for a moment. He’s quiet when Paulie comes back with their water and asks her to give them a few more minutes. She nods. Her eyes are worried, but she leaves them be. “You want things to go back to the way they were when we were teenagers—the two of us against everything. Because you liked having a sidekick.”

 

“You weren’t ever just a sidekick to me,” Kenny says, and he viciously tears the wrapper off his straw. “Jesus, is that what you fucking think of me?”

 

“Kenny,” Jack says, soft, “I’m not trying to make you feel bad. I just want to talk. I’m just talking. This is how I saw things. You can see them differently. It doesn’t mean either of us are wrong.”

 

“But you are,” he says, and he leans back in his seat with a huff. “I fucking love you, Jack. Doesn’t that count for anything?”

 

“Maybe.” He’s not going to say yes, and he’s not going to say no. Kenny deals in absolutes, and Jack won’t let him do that. Not now, when nothing he feels is an absolute. “I still think you want things to be the way they were fifteen years ago. That’s never going to happen again, and you need to accept that.”

 

“I don’t want to live in the past, Jack. I just want to have a future with you.”

 

“Then why don’t you tell me exactly what that means to you?”

 

Kenny glowers down at the table. “You know what I want.”

 

“You need to say it, and I need to hear it.”

 

They take the time to order then, because Jack can see Kenny thinking hard. His face slips of its mask every so often, minute details that reveal something different underneath. Jack knows him. He knows him better than Kenny wants to be known. But Jack still can’t predict him, and that’s the problem.

 

“I want,” Kenny says at last, when half his water is gone and Paulie’s been off with their order for nearly ten minutes, “to be able to talk to you whenever I want. To text  you or call you or hang out with you when I’m in town or you’re in town. I want to kiss you. I want to fuck you. I—” He swallows. Real Kenny peeks out just a little, not looking at Jack, staring, instead, at the wall. “I don’t have anybody in my life like I did with you. I just want that back again. I don’t know why I can’t get a second chance.”

 

Jack nods. He can understand that. In his pocket he feels his phone vibrating, and he instinctively knows that it’s Bitty. “Thank you for telling me,” Jack says. “Do you want to hear what I want?”

 

“Not really,” Kenny says.

 

“Okay.” And Jack stays quiet.

 

After a moment, Kenny sighs. “Okay, fine, tell me what you fucking want.” There’s no heat in his voice. He sounds tired, and he looks older than he ever has, Achilles at the end of his life. Weary.

 

“I want to be your friend. I miss us when I felt safe with you, and when we were…good to each other. I want to have that again.” He leans forward, and he makes sure that Kenny’s meeting his eyes. “I do not want us to have a sexual or intimate relationship. And we will not.”

 

“Why?” It’s a fair question, one Jack has to consider.

 

“Because I don’t want to. Isn’t that enough?”

 

Kenny shakes his head. He doesn’t say anything, but he shakes his head. Their food comes. Paulie pats Jack on the shoulder, and he nods at her. Neither of them eat. “Kenny, I don’t want to be with you. I don’t have to explain why.”

 

It looks like he’s chewing on that pretty hard, running a hand through his wild blonde hair. “If you hadn’t met him, then what?”

 

“I still would not want to be with you. His presence has no effect on that.”

 

“But why?”

 

Jack doesn’t shrug. He doesn’t let himself apologize, even though there’s real hurt in Kenny’s eyes. “I just don’t. And that needs to be enough for you.”

 

Kenny’s sneer is a perfect thing, an affectation he’s practiced for years. His disdain used to be a punch to the solar plexus for teenage Jack, who was smitten with this larger-than-life boy. “Maybe I’m better off,” he says. “Because you’re not the person I remember.”

 

“Maybe you are. I’m definitely not the person you remember.”

 

Kenny shoves a forkful of salad in his mouth. He chews, he swallows. “I still want to be your fucking friend, I guess.”

 

“Do you?”

 

“Yes. But I feel like I need to get to know you again. Find out what the hell you’ve been up to, because it seems boring.”

 

Something shifts in Jack’s chest, and he smiles. “Yeah, I’m pretty boring.”

 

“Like, you’re in fucking Boston and you don’t seem to do anything.”

 

Jack eats his own salad. His phone buzzes again, but he leaves it be. “I have a schedule I stick to, and it doesn’t include ‘raising hell.’”

 

“Boring.”

 

They chirp each other all through dinner, and Jack might be imagining things—maybe hoping too hard—but their conversation now is so much easier than it was at the beginning of dinner. Kenny is funny, he always has been, and he and Jack trade stories back and forth and laugh together. Jack catches him up on everything he’s done the last several years, but carefully keeps Bitty entirely out of the conversation.

 

Kenny, obviously, notices. “So where’s your boy, eh?”

 

“Not sure.” He glances at his watch. “He’s done with work, so he’s probably just at home.”

 

“I can’t believe you guys don’t live together yet.”

 

Jack shrugs. He tries to force himself not to blush. “I don’t know why we would. I’m not ready for that yet.”

 

Kenny looks like he wants to say something. Jack can almost hear the words he hasn’t said. You’re ready for I love yous, though. But Kenny doesn’t say it. He takes a breath and says, instead, “He didn’t stop following me on Twitter.”

 

Kenny has never not said something he wants to say, especially if it’s manipulative. Jack lets himself hope just a little. “Yeah, I didn’t think he would.”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Yeah. He likes you.”

 

Shrugging, Kenny takes a long drink of his water. “I don’t know why.”

 

“You’re very likable, when you stop being an asshole.”

 

“He pretty much told me that.”

 

“Because it’s true. You are. And he likes you.”

 

There’s a long stretch of silence between them. Kenny scratches at his chin. “I liked him too. Then I tried to hurt him.”

 

“You succeeded.” Jack doesn’t try to hide it.

 

There’s another long pause. “Well. That’s what I wanted, so I guess I’m…happy about that.” He doesn’t sound happy, though. He looks very unsure in that moment, not meeting Jack’s eyes. “I wanted to hurt him, because I felt hurt.”

 

“Did it make you feel any better?”

 

“Don’t psychoanalyze me.”

 

“Did it?”

 

“No.” He rubs at his face. “Not at all.”

 

Their conversation steers less heavy after that, discussing their shared interests, like golf and animals. Kenny still hasn’t gotten a cat, but says he’s getting close. “I’m trying to get it written in my contract that I can take my cat everywhere with me,” he says. “That way I don’t have to leave it at home and find like a cat-sitter or whatever.”

 

“There’s a thing called companion animals,” Jack says, and explains what it means. Kenny makes a face, because Therapy, but he doesn’t say it’s stupid.

 

Just before eight, Kenny pulls out his phone. “I’m following your boy back.”

 

“That’ll make him happy.”

 

“And me too, I guess. He’s okay.”

 

In Kenny-speak, it means Bitty is actually great, and Jack can’t help but to smile.

 

Their phones ping almost at the same time. Jack opens his Twitter app and smiles.

 

@bibliobaker Ohmygosh, I feel like @LegitKentParson needs to see this (@JackZimmermann check your TEXTS) ow.ly/93P23n

 

“Where is he?” Kenny asks, and his eyes are huge. “Where is that?”

 

“At Ollie’s,” Jack says, and he’s grinning. “You want to go meet him?”

 

They pay Paulie and they leave, and Jack walks with Kenny the several blocks down to Ollie’s, scrolling through his texts from Bitty at stopped crosswalks.

 

Bitty: Jack, Ollie’s cat had kittens, there are five of them. (7:02PM)

Bitty: I know Parse would love this. Can you maybe, if it’s all going good, let him know? (7:10PM)

Bitty: Jack look!!!!!! [img.923] (7:18PM)

Bitty: Ohmygosh their teeny little meows are K I L L I N G M E (7:21PM)

Bitty: Jaaaaaack look [img.927] (7:39PM)

Bitty: AAAAAH MAMA CAT LOVES MEEEE (7:54PM)

Bitty: Oh fuck it I’m tweeting you both (8:01PM)

 

When they get to Ollie’s, Maggie is there with Peyton, who sees Jack and loses all interest in the kittens. She runs to him and he swings her up into his arms, giving Bitty a smile.

 

“Thanks for the tweet,” Jack says. “I wasn’t paying attention to my phone.”

 

Kenny’s already making himself comfortable on the concrete, and Ollie’s customers have not missed the fact that the Las Vegas Aces captain is currently cooing at a box of kittens while sitting on the dirty ground in his designer jeans.

 

“Holy shit,” Kenny says, and Jack covers Peyton’s ears with his hand.

 

“Kenny, watch it.”

 

“Shit, sorry.”

 

“Parse, Jesus,” Bitty says, and he rolls his eyes and he’s smiling, but there’s a line of tension in his body that makes him stand stiffly. Kenny is completely focused on the kittens, and when Maggie starts putting them in his lap he looks completely entranced. Bitty watches him in such a way that Jack can’t interpret what he’s thinking. Hitching Peyton up higher and letting her hug his neck, he reaches a hand out to Bitty, who looks at Kenny first before taking it.

 

“Hi,” Bitty says. “Did you—how was dinner?”

 

Jack squeezes his fingers and smiles. “Really, really good.”

 

Kent Parson is completely beside himself. He’s got the mother cat draped halfway over his lap, and all her little kittens in a squirming, mewing pile. Several of Ollie’s customers—including Ollie himself—take pictures, and Kenny is only too happy to mug for the camera. Jack wonders at how easy this is for him—to be so charming. Jack has never been charming in his life.

 

They spend another half hour with the kittens at Ollie’s. Ollie offers them all to Kent Parson, free of charge, if he throws the game on Tuesday, and Kenny makes a big show of considering it. Then he starts taking pictures with people and talking to them while Jack passes a sleeping Peyton over to Maggie. Jack pulls Bitty closer to him, arm around his shoulders, and worries briefly at the way Kenny keeps glancing at Bitty, like he’s sizing him up.

 

When everyone has had enough of Kent Parson, Kenny steps toward Bitty, who’s standing with his spine straight and his shoulders back and a pleasant smile on his face. “Hey,” Kenny says, holding out his hand. Bitty shakes it. “Thanks for tweeting at us.”

 

“Of course,” Bitty says, and if Jack had just met him, he’d think Bitty relaxed and calm, but Jack knows him now. Bitty is on edge, hard, and Jack doesn’t know how to ease it. “I knew you’d like it. Sure you don’t want one?”

 

“At the price of throwing the game? Nah.” He turns and looks at the sign by the window, checking, probably, to see when Ollie’s closes. “Want to sit and talk? Zimms can supervise.”

 

The barb doesn’t sound sharp, not to Jack, and so he lets it slide and squeezes Bitty’s shoulder. “Take a seat,” he says. “I’ll get us all coffee.”

 

As he orders with Camilla, he keeps an eye on Bitty, who is nodding politely as Kenny gesticulates. They laugh together a little. Bitty is faking all of it.

 

When Jack sits back down and passes them their drinks, they’re talking about baking. Kenny’s complaining about how his shit never turns out right, no matter what he does, and Bitty keeps chirping him for not being able to read directions. Not once, in their half hour together with their coffee, does Kenny apologize. But Jack didn’t think he would.

 

“I should head out,” Bitty says, jerking his thumb toward his apartment across the street. “I want to work on my presentation.”

 

“I thought you were done with school,” Kenny says, leaning back in his chair looking casual and untouchable. Bitty, on the other hand, looks warm and inviting, and Jack wants to be invited. “What are you presenting?”

 

“Oh, it’s for an interview at work. One of the ladies I work with is retiring, so I’d like to take her position as the youth services librarian.” He takes a deep, quick breath. “I just need to prepare as best as I can.”

 

Jack has not been a very good boyfriend. “We’ll work on it,” he says. “You do what you need to do, and this week we’ll practice for the interview. Maybe Wednesday, since I’m flying out Thursday.”

 

Bitty nods. He doesn’t look reassured, though, and Jack makes an internal note to try something different next time. “Yeah, that’s a good plan. You boys get home safe, okay?” He stands and pushes his chair in. Jack wants a kiss, but he knows Bitty won’t give him one, not in front of Kenny, because Bitty doesn’t want to do anything to upset him. Because Bitty is, at his core, kind.

 

“Cross my heart,” Kenny says, and he has a strange smile on his face as he watches Bitty cross the street and head up his steps. Jack watches him too. “He’s cute.”

 

“I know.” Jack frowns at him. “No, you can’t have him either.”

 

Kenny’s eyebrows go up. “What? I just think he’s cute.”

 

Jack frowns harder. “Kenny, no.”

 

Kent Parson’s laughter rings across the whole street.

 

 

Jack: I love you. How’s the presentation going? (9:42PM)

Bitty: I love you too. It’s going okay. :) (9:42PM)

Jack: Are you okay? (9:44PM)

Bitty: No, I’m not <3 But I don’t need you to fix anything. Yet, at least. I’m just sitting listening to music and working on my interview. (9:45PM)

Jack: Can I at least do something, I don’t always have to fix it (9:46PM)

Bitty: No, really, I’ll be okay at some point. Probably just need some sleep. (9:52PM)

Jack: Do you want to stay over tomorrow night? (9:52PM)

Bitty: Maybe. Let’s see how I feel after the game. (9:53PM)

Jack: I need to admit that I am worrying right now. Did I do anything wrong? (9:59PM)

Bitty: No, baby, you didn’t. I’ve just got a lot of emotions going on right now and it’s overwhelming me a little. I know you understand that. I just don’t want to burden anyone, so I’m trying to keep myself quiet and calm. (10:00PM)

Jack: You’re not a burden ever, you know that right? (10:01PM)

Bitty: That may be true, but I feel differently right now. I don’t even want to bake, and I never in my life have ever not wanted to bake. Maybe bed might be a smarter idea haha. (10:04PM)

Jack: Are you sure there’s nothing I can do for you? (10:04PM)

Jack: You can ask me for anything. Even if it’s to back off. Okay? (10:05PM)

Jack: Bits, you there? (10:37PM)

Bitty: Sorry, needed some time away. (11:02PM)

Bitty: You’re probably asleep now. I love you. I’ll see you at the game tomorrow <33333 (11:03PM)

 

+

 

Maggie understands more than Bitty anticipated. “Dude,” she says, when they’re walking to TD Garden together, “you and I have literally had the same situation, and I know exactly how you feel. It makes you feel like shit because you’re jealous as fuck but you don’t really have a reason to be.”

 

“I don’t,” he says emphatically. “I fucking trust Jack. I don’t have a reason to be jealous. But sweet fucking Christ, I am so goddamn jealous it’s making me sick, and then I have all the work stuff, and I know Jack is so stressed already and I just can’t bring myself to make that any worse for him, and—” He stops and sighs, rubbing his face with his hands. “I think we just need to have some time to sit together and really talk.”

 

She pats his shoulder. “Yep, that’s pretty much it. If you guys don’t talk about it, neither of you can vocalize what you need. So just plan to sit down and chat. That’s really all you need to do.”

 

They get to the stadium, where they meet March and Caitlin, and Bitty tells Maggie about the Bruins hockey ritual, and they’re all starting their second beers by the time the players from both teams flood the ice. Bitty is not surprised when captain Kent Parson makes a beeline right toward him. He expected this, but he’s not sure what he’s going to get.

 

“Hey,” Parse says, and Bitty gives him a wave. Bitty’s wearing Jack’s jersey tonight for obvious reasons. So are his girls. “May the best Las Vegas team win, eh?”

 

Bitty rolls his eyes, trying for good-natured and not bitchy. He thinks he succeeds. “You think you’re cute.”

 

“You aren’t going to wish me luck?” Parse says, and Bitty tries to interpret what he’s looking for, but he can’t figure it out. For all intents and purposes, Parse looks like he’s trying to be friendly. But there has to be an ulterior motive, something Bitty is missing. It frustrates him. He responds a second too late and he knows it.

 

“Parse, I am not wishing you luck in this game,” he says, shaking his head, “but the next time you play the Devils, you will have all of my blessings.”

 

Parse salutes him and skates to his team’s bench, watched suspiciously by several of the Bruins. Tater comes by and asks Bitty if he’s okay, and Bitty says yes of course, everything’s fine, and he settles in with his girls while Maggie texts Paulie updates. This is going to be fine.

 

 

It’s Jack’s best game of the year, and a first in his history with the Bruins—he’s never scored a goal against the Aces before, and he’s got two of the six goals, an assist, and Snowy records a 6-0 shutout. But even with all that, the best part happens in the second period, as reported by several major news outlets, and the Aces team Twitter.

 

@ESPN Aces Captain Kent Parson stops his own teammate from using the F-word against Bruins center Jack Zimmermann: es.pn/1UpmR9h

 

@AP_Sports BREAKING: “Fa****,” says defenseman Gregory Pilner; “Don’t you dare,” Kent Parson says, pulling his teammate to their bench. ow.ly/38A0rp

 

@LasVegasAces As an organization, we support #YouCanPlay. In light of the incident on the ice today, there will be a teamwide sensitivity training.

 

@BostonBruins Shoutout to @LegitKentParson for being a standup player, man, and human being at tonight’s game. #YouCanPlay

 

@LegitKentParson can I get my cat now???

 

“It was a good game,” Jack says, when they’re all at West End Johnnie’s together. “I mean, for the Bruins.”

 

Across the table, Parse flips Jack off before looking at the menu. He’s seated between March and Caitlin, and there aren’t any of the Aces with them. Bitty finds that a little odd, that Parse doesn’t really do a lot with his team despite being their captain. “It was okay,” Parse says. “I had to let Zimms win at something, right?”

 

There’s a chorus of you asshole from Ransom, Holster, and Snowy, and Tater flags down their waitress before saying, boldly, that Parse is paying for dinner.

 

“Fine,” Parse says, and Caitlin slaps him on the back and tells him he’s a good sport.

 

“How are you doing?” Jack says, tucking closer to Bitty and keeping his voice low. Bitty likes being close to him like this, with Jack’s arm draped across the back of his chair, their thighs pressed together.

 

“I’m okay,” he says, being honest. “For right now, I’m good.”

 

“Do you want to stay with me tonight?”

 

Bitty nods. “Yeah, I do. That’d be really nice.”

 

Jack’s eyes are so sweet when they look at him sometimes, like now, that little smile turning up the corner of his mouth. “Okay, good. Because I really want you to.”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Yeah. Of course.” Jack’s eyes search his face, and Bitty can see the exact moment that he realizes he’s in public and can’t kiss him. Or at least, he won’t. “I’ve missed you a lot.”

 

The words are such a relief that Bitty didn’t know before now just how worried he was. His whole body eases, and he slips into Jack’s space that few more inches. “God, I’ve missed you too. We—I think we have a lot to talk about.”

 

“I know,” Jack says, and he sighs. “I’ve been worrying all day.”

 

“Me too. But tonight will be good for us.” Bitty puts a hand to Jack’s knee, all he dares in a place like this, where fans are coming up to the table every few minutes. “I just need a lot of time alone with you right now.”

 

Dinner is an enjoyable, fun affair, but Bitty is relieved when it’s finally over. Outside, saying goodbyes, Bitty hugs and kisses his girls, shakes hands with Snowy, gets kissed by Ransom, Tater, and Holster, and finally Parse steps up to him. Bitty lets him have a hug, but it’s a quick thing.

 

“You guys want to go do something else?” Parse says, when it’s just the three of them. Bitty doesn’t mind that Jack is standing close, a hand on his shoulder.

 

“I’ve gotta be at work tomorrow for ten,” Bitty says, “and I’m still working on my interview, so I need to pass this time.”

 

“When is that?”

 

All Bitty can think is that Kent Parson wants something from him, and he’s ashamed of himself for thinking that. Parse sounds more genuine than he ever has. Bitty can let things go. “Monday the seventh. I already applied, though, and HR approved me to go on through, so I made it through the first round.”

 

Jack’s hand squeezes. “Nice job.” Bitty is embarrassed by how much pleasure he gets from those simple words.

 

“If you guys want to go out, you should,” Bitty says. Part of him even means it. “I’m honestly just going to be doing more research on local demographics.”

 

Jack hesitates. Bitty nudges him. “Go.”

 

“I can give you my key?”

 

“Sounds good to me. I do need to get some things from home, first.”


Jack’s eyes search him over, and Bitty struggles not to look away. It takes serious effort. Jack apparently finds what he’s looking for because he says, “Kenny, what time is your flight leaving?”

 

“Noon tomorrow,” Parse says, and he’s watching them one with raised eyebrow. He doesn’t say anything, but Bitty can tell he really, really wants to.

 

“Let me meet you for breakfast.”

 

“Jack, you should go out. I’ll be up for a while anyway, honest.”

 

There’s a silent conversation for a moment, Jack watching Bitty and Bitty giving him a look. “Jack,” he says, “go. We’ll talk when you get home.”

 

“Yeah?”

 

Yes. Now go.” He nods to Parse. “Just make sure he doesn’t get hit by a bus or anything, okay?”

 

Parse salutes him. “Aye aye, captain.”

 

Bitty lets Jack kiss him and slip him his key, and he watches Jack and Parse walk down the sidewalk together, the two of them big-shouldered and complementary to one another—dark and light. Bitty calls a cab to make his life easier, but he does make a note in his phone that he can’t get Ollie’s until he gets paid again. As soon as he’s put together a backpack of overnight things, his laptop, and a few textbooks he think will help him, he heads down to the waiting cab and less than a mile over to Jack’s place.

 

It’s strange, being here alone. He doesn’t like how quiet and big it is, so Bitty puts on Pandora while he gets a peach pie together, looking over his presentation as it bakes in the oven. He’s pretty much done with it, at this point, but he’d like to have a little more information for a handout. His presentation is supposed to be ten minutes long and should focus on how to increase youth awareness of the library and its offerings. He thinks what he has is pretty damn solid, but his experience post-MLIS has been exactly four months. He knows BPL wants at least three years, and off the top of his head he thinks of Gertrude Polanski, over at the Lower Mills location, and Olivia Murray at South End. Both of them have similar credentials to him, but Gertrude has over ten years of experience after her MLS with BPL alone, and Olivia just made nine years after her MLIS back in January. Bitty’s got longevity with the library, but not with his degree.

 

It’s going to be a hard fight, but he feels good about his chances. At least, in this current moment he does. As long as he doesn’t think about everything Gertrude’s done for the library and children’s services, he feels confident.

 

He’s just putting the finishing touches in PowerPoint on his handout when there’s a knock on the door, and it takes Bitty several seconds when he realizes that Jack gave him his only key and obviously can’t get in.

 

“Hi there,” Bitty says, when he opens the door. Jack pushes his way in and Bitty’s heart jumps in his throat when Jack’s big hands fit around his waist and tug him in close. Sometimes Jack can kiss very soft, and sometimes he can kiss very hard, and Bitty loves all of Jack’s kisses but these? These may be his favorite—all focused and deep and messy and thorough, like Jack is making extra special sure that every part of Bitty’s mouth and tongue have been lavished with attention. It’s exactly what he needs, and he curls arms around Jack’s neck and lets Jack back him into the living room, tumbling on the couch together, silent except for breathless noises made when their mouths part for brief seconds, Jack’s fingers in his hair and at the back of his neck, holding him where he wants him. Bitty doesn’t stop him. They kiss long and deep until the oven timer goes off, and even then Bitty presses his mouth to Jack’s jaw, telling him, softly, that he needs to take the pie out.

 

“So that’s what smells so good,” Jack says, sliding to his feet and pulling Bitty with him, who is slightly unsteady at this point.

 

“Yep, peach pie. You had the ingredients available and I was feeling—well. I stress bake.”

 

Jack plasters himself to Bitty’s back with hands on his stomach, walking awkwardly with him into the kitchen. He doesn’t let go even when Bitty bends to take the pie out of the oven, or when Bitty has it cooling on the rack. He doesn’t let go, and Bitty doesn’t want him to. He needs Jack’s touch to ground him into the present and into this moment together, and somehow Jack seems to know that. When Bitty has turned off the oven and the pie is safe, Jack picks him up and sets him on the counter, kissing him again. It’s several more minutes before they speak.

 

“How’s your presentation coming?” Jack asks, tucked comfortably between Bitty’s spread knees. His eyes are soft and sweet, and Bitty likes looking into them like this.

 

“Pretty much done. And I think I’m done with my handout that I’m doing too, so if you wouldn’t mind looking it over and tell me what you think, I’d appreciate it.” He curls fingers in Jack’s hair, finding that he loves his goofy little cowlick right in front. “Did you have fun tonight?”

 

Jack has to kiss him breathless again before responding. “Yeah, I did, actually. He wanted me to let you know that he’d like it if you could come to the Vegas game in February.”

 

Sure. Bitty bites back a bitchy comment before saying, “I could maybe look into that.” Then he says the bitchy comment anyway. “Are you sure he doesn’t want you all to himself?”

 

“Oh, he definitely does,” Jack says, slipping his chilled fingers under Bitty’s shirt and making Bitty squirm. “But I think he’s trying to be something other than selfish. For once.” His mouth is a warm respite, and Bitty is mollified for the moment. “So if you can take the time, that would be nice.”

 

Jack feels so good with the way his hands rub up and down Bitty’s back, and Bitty is tucked against his chest long enough that he starts to feel sleepy from it, the attention something he’s craved for a while now. Jack asks in a soft murmur if he’d like to go over the presentation, and Bitty, despite being suddenly exhausted, says yes. They sit at the kitchen table together, knees knocking, and Bitty shows Jack what he’s been working on. Jack asks several questions that help Bitty understand a little more about what his presentation sounds like to an outsider, so he takes the time to make those notes in his Word doc to review for later. Jack seems rather pleased with himself for helping, and Bitty cuts them a small slice of pie to share before they head into the bedroom.

 

Bitty loves Jack’s view of Boston, and while Jack brushes his teeth and takes his allergy meds for the night, Bitty stands at the window and looks out at all the twinkling lights. He’s a little relieved that Parse will be gone as of tomorrow, that they won’t have to see him until February, but he knows that Parse will be involved in Jack’s life more regularly now and he tells himself that’s perfectly okay. Jack deserves that, and he deserves to be happy.

 

He’s calm when it’s his turn for the bathroom, Jack passing by him and giving him a minty-fresh kiss. Bitty takes his time, washing his face and brushing his teeth, looking at himself in the mirror and trying to see what Jack sees. What Jack finds worth all of this. He’s not sure, but he tries not to dwell on it.

 

When he comes out of the bathroom, Jack’s turning down the bed, having folded the clean clothes in the laundry basket and put them away. Bitty watches him for several moments, admiring the way Jack takes care with the sheets, making sure everything is neat and orderly. He’s not wearing a shirt and his pants are sitting low on his hips. He’s beautiful. So Bitty tells him so.

 

“You’re biased,” Jack says, sliding under the covers and patting the space beside him.

 

“Me and like fifty thousand other human beings,” Bitty says, and he climbs into bed and pushes himself under the cool sheets. He busies himself first with getting his phone plugged in and his alarm set, but as soon as he’s done Jack gathers him close, not kissing but holding, his touch nourishing Bitty’s uncertain heart. “We need to talk,” Bitty says, after several minutes of tenderly petting at one another. “About Parse, and…and my jealousy.”

 

“I don’t want you to feel jealous,” Jack says, “but I completely understand it. If I were in your shoes, it would probably drive me nuts.”

 

“I know it’s totally unnecessary,” he says, propping himself up on one elbow so he can make eye contact. “I want you to know that I trust you. When you tell me it’s just me, I really do believe that. It’s him I don’t trust. And I’m still not sure that I’m even worth any of this, so it really is my issues making me feel this way and nothing you have done, I need to make that clear.”

 

Jack smiles at him, his fingers tracing at the line of Bitty’s collarbones. “You’re sweet to say that, but I haven’t exactly been the best boyfriend to you lately, so I’m pretty sure my own actions have not really helped the situation. I’m sorry I haven’t been more present in your life, when you’ve made a huge effort to be present in mine.”

 

The words are unexpected, and even more than that, they’re true. Bitty would have never brought it up in such a way, but…he really has sacrificed a lot, hasn’t he, to be a part of Jack’s much-needed inner circle. And he doesn’t think about how much he wants that too until Jack straight-up says it. He’s so caught off-guard that he’s not sure how to respond, but Jack continues anyway.

 

“What I’ve been thinking about for most of today is what I’m going to do to make changes,” Jack says, “because it kinda hurt, I guess, that I didn’t know about how important this interview was, and I still haven’t done much to help you with it. So what I’m thinking is that we can stop focusing so much energy on me and start focusing that on you.”

 

“I don’t—” need it, Bitty starts to say, which is mostly true. He doesn’t need the kind of attention he’s given to Jack. But Jack puts a finger to his protesting mouth and waits until Bitty is quiet again.

 

“You need me right now,” Jack says, “and after your interview, I may need you again. This relationship should be equal, Bits. You can’t give me everything and not expect me to do the same.”

 

He thinks that over for several long moments. “It’s hard for me,” he says, “asking people to do things for me. Or admitting when I need help. I usually wait for someone to offer, then I might take them up on it, but…asking for things outright makes me feel needy.” Saying the words out loud make him feel both relieved and like a pain in the ass. Whiny. He’s always hated that word.

 

“Then I won’t make you ask,” Jack says, and he smiles. “I’ll just try to anticipate your needs the way you’re so good at anticipating mine.”

 

They cuddle a lot after that, and discuss the Parse situation very briefly. Bitty doesn’t feel the need to go in depth about it anymore, but Jack’s gentle reassurances ground him further, just like Jack’s gentle hands do. They agree that Bitty will do his full presentation and go over his resume the next evening after work, and Jack will be available and present on the day of his first interview. “But you’ll have just gotten in from a long roadie,” Bitty says, and Jack shushes him with kisses.

 

Though it takes Bitty a long time to fall asleep, he’s content. Jack has dozed off in his arms, and the apartment is quiet save for the city sounds outside. Jack’s bed is so much more comfortable than his own, and finally, eventually, Bitty follows him into sleep.

Chapter Text

 

Bitty spends an hour getting ready in Jack’s bathroom on the morning of his interview. Jack, for his part, is trying to multitask—he’s already finished his run and postponed his morning workout until afternoon. While Bitty showers and primps, Jack spends some time watching tape and taking notes, stopping when Bitty comes out with a towel around his waist and fishes through his duffel bag.

 

“Iron’s in the closet,” Jack says, thinking that Bitty will probably ask. It earns him a particularly big smile that sets his heart beating faster. “Also, I love you.”

 

For that, he gets a kiss before Bitty bustles into the bathroom again, closing the door partway. His music is on, playing from his phone, and though Jack doesn’t know what it is, it’s okay because Bitty sings to it anyway. Jack tries to make himself useful and gets the ironing board set up and the iron heating. He meant it when he said he’d try to anticipate Bitty’s needs, and since his promise he feels like he’s done a pretty good job of it, especially with yesterday’s game snapping a horrendous three-game losing streak. Even when losing, Jack forced himself not to forget Bitty, and made an effort to reach out first. Sometimes Bitty beat him to it and Jack let Bitty console him with his sweet, optimistic words, but as soon as his bad feelings were assuaged, he put the focus on Bitty again.

 

Now, he pushes into the bathroom just a little, watches as Bitty does his usual once-a-week shave. Jack has always found something cute about that—that Bitty can get away with shaving only once a week, because he’ll shave in the morning and have a shadow by night. “I can iron your clothes,” he offers, trying not to let himself get distracted by Bitty’s naked, still-damp body. “If you want me to.”

 

“That would be great,” Bitty says, and he wipes his hands on a towel before handing Jack his button-down shirt and slacks. “Thank you, honey.”

 

Jack can’t resist giving him a slap on the ass, and it’s worth it for Bitty’s shriek. Darting out before he can get swatted, Jack gets to work carefully ironing his clothes for him and laying them out on the bed before finding matching socks, underwear, and a belt.

 

When Bitty is dressed and his hair is perfectly styled, Jack confirms that yes, he looks amazing, and yes, he’s ready to give the interview of his life. They’ve gone over his presentation three times now, and he and Bitty hosted the girls over for Bitty to practice with them too. He’s ready for this, and Jack is nervous for him as he drives Bitty to the library, stopping for a cup of overly-sweet coffee at Ollie’s first.

 

“When will you find out if you go to round three?” Jack asks, and he realizes that, for Bitty, this is like making a push for the Cup. Jack wants him to get it very badly.

 

“Probably Wednesday, because there’s only five of us interviewing,” Bitty says, warming his hands on his cup while they sit in Jack’s truck at a red light. He looks particularly adorable in his green pea coat and matching knit hat. The color is saturated and looks striking against the gold of his hair, which has grown out in the last few months and now flops with precise care over his forehead. He always grows it out in winter, he says. I need some kind of protection for my southern head.

 

“You’re going to do fine,” Jack tells him, resting a hand on his knee as they drive. “Just be yourself. You’re so charming and so smart, and it’s obvious you really care about what you’re doing and you care about the library. Just let that come out and let them see it.”

 

Bitty smiles at him. “Thank you, baby. I really appreciate that.”

 

They talk a little more about his afternoon plans—his interview is at 11:00 with Marsha, Fatima, and the director of HR who Jack can’t remember the name of—and Bitty will be taking the rest of the day off after the interview. “I’m so keyed up I probably wouldn’t be of much use anyway,” he says, as Jack pulls up to the West End library. “It’ll last about an hour, if you wouldn’t mind coming to get me?”

 

“I was already planning on it,” Jack tells him. “Did you want to skate with me this afternoon? I booked a rink and need to work on some drills, but it would be nice to have your company.”

 

Jack tries to take Bitty’s mind off of things by making him laugh, which only half works, so then he starts kissing on him, which works a little more.

 

“Don’t you dare,” Bitty says, when Jack gives him a little bite on the neck. “Excuse you, I am literally going to meet with my boss and interview for a full-time library job, don’t you leave marks all over me.”

 

“Didn’t get a chance to leave them all over,” Jack says, and Bitty swats at him anyway. They kiss once more, Bitty gets out, and Jack watches him go into the building before he makes his way back toward his apartment.

 

 

@JackZimmermann sometimes when I have most of the day free I don’t know what to do with myself

@JackZimmermann but my camera arrived a little while ago and I think I know how to use it now so let me put some pics up

@JackZimmermann first here’s the sunrise in Montréal from my parents house: ow.ly/48A0jr

@pantoute @JackZimmermann vous étiez à Montréal pour combien de temps? Avez-vous eu la chance de parcourir votre route habituelle?

@JackZimmermann @pantoute oui, j'ai pu! il a fait vraiment beau pendant les deux jours que j'étais ici. les levés du soleil étaient magnifique.

@pantoute @JackZimmermann la prochaine fois que vous êtes en ville, le Village aimerait vous sortir à dîner! Faites nous savoir! xoxo

@JackZimmermann @pantoute c'est très gentil de votre part! Je vais revenir le mardi 6 décembre, mais s'il vous plait envoyez moi un tweet, sinon je vais oublier

@JackZimmermann this is probably one of my favorite pictures that I took (@AliciaZimmermann likes it best too): ow.ly/o1J43pQ

@AliciaZimmermann @JackZimmermann yé tellement adorable! (@bibliobaker)

@bibliobaker @AliciaZimmermann @JackZimmermann Y’ALL, what did we say about FRENCH

@ransom11 @bibliobaker bro she said you’re cute chill

@bibliobaker @ransom11 oh. Well. Thank you @AliciaZimmermann, now I’m blushing.

@bibliobaker @JackZimmermann when the heck did you take that picture??

@JackZimmermann @bibliobaker last night when you were baking instead of sleeping like you should have been

@bibliobaker @JackZimmermann don’t you chirp me, Zimmermann.

@bibliobaker @JackZimmermann it’s actually not a bad photo, hmmm. Can I make it my profile pic?

@JackZimmermann @bibliobaker sure, that would make me happy

@LegitKentParson @JackZimmermann bring that camera when you come in February, I bet you could get some good shots on the strip

@JackZimmermann @LegitKentParson haha I can definitely try, not sure about the lighting there though

@LegitKentParson @JackZimmermann start looking up slow shutter photography, you’re welcome

 

“That’s a good suggestion,” Bitty says, once he’s in Jack’s truck and scrolling through tweets. “That would probably look amazing with all the lights on the Strip.”

 

They talk only a little about the interview, because Bitty is flushed and not from the cold, and he has a look in his eye like a panicked deer. Jack distracts him with some hockey talk (“I texted Sid and he said he’d be happy to take a selfie with you if you want to come to the Pittsburgh game” “Jack, oh my fucking God, don’t lie to me and toy with my heart like that”) before getting him a Starbucks drink upon request.

 

Once they’ve changed into more comfortable clothes and are out on the ice, Bitty looks marginally more relaxed on his skates. While Jack runs his usual drills, Bitty skates lazily and takes pictures with his phone, asking Jack for Twitter and Instagram permission each time before he uploads the pictures. It’s nice having him out here on the ice, a quiet presence that helps keep him from overanalyzing. His performance so far this year has been subpar, particularly by his own standards, and as a team they haven’t done so super great either—their four-game winning streak seemed like it would last forever, but that only helped push them to 7-6-1.

 

“Don’t make that face,” Bitty says, not for the first time over their hour on the ice. “What have you guys talked about in meetings? What’s your plan?”

 

“Play hockey,” Jack says. “That’s it. Just play hockey. Don’t focus on numbers or what one guy is doing. As a team, we’re just going to play hockey.”

 

“Exactly. And what are you doing right now?”

 

Jack sighs. “Thinking too hard about hockey.”

 

“Is it helping?”

 

“No.”

 

“Come here.” He holds out his hands and Jack slides toward him, letting Bitty tug him around the ice, their fingers laced together. They’re both good with their footwork but Bitty is a little better—sometimes, Jack is amazed that his feet are even on the ice at all. When they kiss, Jack closes his eyes and keeps a tight hold to Bitty’s waist. “You need to focus on playing hockey—not thinking about it, just playing. Are there any drills I can help you with?”

 

Jack thinks for a moment. “Actually, yeah. Have you ever worn goalie pads before?”

 

Bitty hasn’t, but he’s a good sport and lets Jack dress him up with what he can find in the equipment closet. “I have no idea what I’m doing,” Bitty says, “and to be honest with you, I feel like a sumo wrestler.”

 

“You look great,” Jack says, because it’s not a lie. He fiddles with the puck as he skates around center ice, watching Bitty try to get comfortable in the net. “You’ve got great eyes on the ice, so just focus on the puck and try to stop it, that’s really it. You’ve got your glove, your stick, and your whole body. I know you’ve watched Chowder and Snowy enough to get the gist of it.”

 

“You are a professional hockey player,” Bitty says, “and I am a former figure skater turned librarian. This is not going to end well, and you’re going to owe me.”

 

Jack goes pretty easy on him. Out of fifty attempts, Bitty makes one save. It’s such a good save, though, top shelf with his glove hand, that Jack tweets about it as soon as Bitty’s helmet is off. He can’t resist taking a picture of Bitty sweaty, flushed, and grinning, and tweeting that too.

 

“Do the Bruins need a backup-backup goalie?” Bitty asks. “Because I could be that pitiful guy they put on the ice when all is lost anyway.”

 

“Nah,” Jack says. “They’d rather have an empty net.”

 

He gets chased around the ice for that one, and when Bitty has finally shed all of his padding he catches up, grabs Jack, and kisses him enthusiastically against the boards.

 

 

Bitty makes it through the second round of interviews. Jack picks him up at work and takes him to Cambridge to have dinner with Shitty, and even though Jack is trying to convince him that it’s a good thing, Bitty is still wringing his hands together like he’s about to break his own fingers from anxiety.

 

“I heard that Olivia and Gertrude are the other two,” he says, “and they’re the ones I’m most familiar with. Jack, I can’t compete against them, I just can’t.”

 

“If you couldn’t,” Jack says, pragmatic, “then they wouldn’t have put you through to the next round. They would’ve just told you thanks but no thanks. If they put you through, it’s because you have a chance.”

 

Bitty chews on his lip for several moments. “I worried, at first, that it might have been because of you. The reason they’re doing this, I mean, like…they don’t want to upset the entire Boston Bruins organization or something ridiculous like that. But I haven’t said anything about the interview anywhere public, and nobody’s asked me about it when they ask me about, like, every tiny detail of my life. So I’m hoping—I hope I’m professional and they can see that.”

 

“I’m sure they can and do,” Jack says, reaching for his hand so Bitty will stop twisting his fingers. Instead, Bitty starts to play with Jack’s fingers instead. At least he’s gentle. “But let’s not think about it right now. The most important thing is you’re still in it, and we’re going to enjoy dinner, and I am going to be sad that you can’t come to tomorrow’s game.”

 

Bitty punches him in the arm, and it makes Jack laugh. “Don’t make me feel guilty, Zimmermann. I already took off Monday, I can’t skip out on closing, too. Especially with the interviews and all. I really want to look—I want to be—”

 

“Mon chou, I didn’t mean to make you think about work again.”

 

Bitty squeezes his hand. “It’s okay. I don’t think you’re going to be able to stop me, but you’re right. They’re not going to make more work for themselves out of pity. I’ve got a shot, even if it’s a small one.”

 

Shitty does a much better job at distracting Bitty than Jack, since he has Larissa with him and it is apparently now a double date.

 

“Ohmygosh,” Bitty says, and his eyes are huge and dark. “Are you guys—seriously?”

 

“I am a decent young man,” Shitty says, and Larissa rolls her eyes but doesn’t comment.

 

They talk about hockey, art, briefly about Bitty’s interviews, books, music, and movies. Jack is wholly unfamiliar with everything but hockey, for which he gets magnificently chirped. Larissa’s book The Haus is doing spectacularly well, something she directly attributes to Bitty’s amazing marketing skills. Bitty flushes modestly but Jack can tell he’s pleased by it.

 

“Seriously,” she says, pointing a fork speared with ravioli at him, “you work your cute little ass off, and I for one appreciate it.”

 

After they leave Cambridge, Jack takes Bitty back to his own apartment, where he undresses Bitty and loves on him for the next hour, pulling all the tension and uncertainty from his straining muscles. When he’s finished, Bitty is a pliant, sated, sleepy little thing that only murmurs at him when Jack tucks himself close. It takes Jack longer to fall asleep, but when he does, he’s out.

 

+

 

Not only are the Bruins 9-8-1 and unable to catch a break, Bitty is called into Marsha’s office the Friday before Thanksgiving, right at the end of the day. From the look on her face, and the timing, he knows he didn’t get the job.

 

“Eric,” she says, and motions to the chair in front of her desk. He takes the seat and he smiles.

 

“I understand,” he says, wanting to spare her the trouble of explaining it. “I really appreciate the chance to interview, it was really rewarding.”

 

“You had a wonderful presentation,” she says. “So good, in fact, that I would like to explore it further within the budget. The only thing that stopped you was experience, so as long as you want to be here, we’ll keep building you up for future opportunities.”

 

He nods. He refuses to get too emotional, at least in front of her. “Yeah, I’m totally committed here, a hundred percent. I’ll do whatever the library needs me to.”

 

“I’m glad you said that,” she says, pulling out some paperwork and pushing it toward him. “Olivia will be joining us after the first of the year, and I’d appreciate it if you could help her get caught up to speed with Fatima’s current projects, since you’re familiar with them. I’ve put in a request to promote you to Tech III, which I think you have more than earned, and I don’t feel it will be denied considering how impressive you were in this interview. Once accepted, we’ll talk about your pay raise.”

 

He needs to be satisfied with that. It’s more than he was even expecting, and it shows that they’re as committed to him as he is to them. Bitty makes himself smile, and they talk back and forth for a few more minutes while he emphasizes that he’s here to do whatever it takes, and that the interview was a great learning experience for him. She lets him go early, and for the first time since he started working at West End three years ago, Bitty doesn’t say goodbye to anyone when he leaves.

 

He does manage to get to his front steps before he breaks down, sitting on the frozen concrete with his face in his hands, hoping belatedly that there are no paparazzi around. Wouldn’t that be a fucking awful headline. Of course they’d assume it was a breakup or something outrageous. Of course it can’t be that Bitty feels as though his dream had been genuinely within reach and snatched away from him.

 

“I’m fine,” he tells himself, wiping at his eyes with the sleeve of his coat. He’s unbearably cold, but he does nothing to warm himself up, because he feels like he deserves it. To be so cold. “It’s going to be fine. It’s fine. I’m fine. I’m fine. I’m fine.” He lets himself into his building, then into his apartment, where he collapses into tears again.

 

It takes him a long time after that to come around and feel normal again. After crying, he can usually see things a lot more clearly, and now is no exception. So he didn’t get the job—he had a 66% chance of losing it anyway, didn’t he? And at least Marsha seemed serious about how well he did. That’s an accomplishment in and of itself—to be so young, newly qualified, and beat out two other full-time librarians for the second interview? It’s something to be proud of.

 

And a pay raise couldn’t hurt. Bitty’s at a little over thirteen-fifty now, anything more would help—especially since he’s coming up on having to pay back his student loans, and lord knows how expensive that’s gonna be.

 

If he budgets even closer than before, he can make this work. It’ll be easy, really—and healthier, he’s sure. Bitty could stand to eat more healthy, based on what Jack regularly consumes as fuel. And so what if he has to skip out on Ollie’s? He’d rather keep his apartment than drink fancy coffee, anyway.

 

Calmer than before, he takes the time to call his mother and tell her what’s going on, reassuring her that he’s really okay with it after he cried about four gallons of salt water. “You’re going to go places,” she tells him, “I just know you are. Sometimes we just have to wait a little before we get there. What did Jack say?”

 

“You were the first one I called,” Bitty says, looking through his small pantry area and making a list of things that need replacing. His baking supplies are not on the list, because he does not need to bake. From now on, he will only go with the necessities. “I’m sure I’ll talk to him at some point. He won yesterday, so I think he’ll be in an okay mood.”

 

“They haven’t been doing so well, have they?”

 

Bitty sighs. “Yeah, no, they haven’t. I think it’s extra frustrating for him because he’s finally playing better, but the team overall is struggling. Jack sometimes has a hard time understanding that he’s not the only one on the ice.”

 

“He’s passionate,” she says, and she doesn’t know the half of it. Bitty’s got a bite mark on the inside of his thigh that’s still tender when pressed. “It’s a good trait, but it can cripple us too. Especially because we’re all our own worst critics.”

 

“Exactly. And Jack more than most.”

 

“Be good to him, sweetie. And make sure that he’s good to you too. Share the love, okay?”

 

“You know I’m good at that, Mama. I will.”

 

They hang up, Bitty calls Coach, and they have a similar conversation—though more about hockey and less about the interview. “It’ll come when you need it,” Coach says, and though he sounds gruff, Bitty knows Coach is being as tender as he can. “Trust me, son. You haven’t worked your ass off for nothing. Just not the right time, is all.”

 

Then his dad asks about Jack’s hat trick, and Bitty occupies him on his drive back to Madison from Atlanta with hockey and football talk. They say their I love yous and hang up. Bitty looks at his phone for a long moment. At least he’s still on his parents’ phone plan and won’t have to give up his iPhone. He doesn’t know what he’d do without it, which makes him feel temporarily awful.

 

 

Bitty: Call me when you can :) (6:32PM)

 

 

While waiting for Jack, Bitty sweeps his apartment and takes a load of laundry to the basement, changes his sheets, and makes himself a small dinner of baked chicken, orzo pasta, and sundried tomato alfredo sauce. He’s actually done with all his laundry—washed, dried, and put away—by the time Jack calls.

 

“Hi, baby,” Bitty says, settling on his coach with his notebook, so he can take a closer look at his bills and hopefully estimate how much Wells Fargo is going to make him pay each month in loans. “How was your day today?”

 

“Okay,” Jack says, and by his tone Bitty can tell it was not an okay day. Best not to bring up the interview.

 

“Doesn’t sound good,” he says instead. “Do you want to talk about it?”

 

“Not really.” He pauses. “I mean. No offense, but I’d rather not rehash it again.”

 

Bitty can understand that, so he changes the subject none-too-subtly, because Jack doesn’t much care about subtle anyway. The spend a few minutes talking about Jack’s latest pictures—that of Snowy’s new huskie puppy—and make tentative plans for after the next day’s game.

 

“I’m wearing Ransom’s jersey,” Bitty says. “You got outbid, sorry.”

 

“I’m your boyfriend,” Jack says. “How did I get outbid?”

 

“He liked my selfie yesterday,” Bitty teases. “And you didn’t even have a comment for it.”

 

“I was busy! Like he should have been.”

 

“And yet he still made time to like my selfie, so he wins.”

 

Jack snorts. “Yeah, well. There are a lot of things I can do for you that he can’t.”

 

“Don’t challenge him to that—I have no idea what will happen if you do.”

Though Jack sounds a bit cheered now—even chuckling softly—Bitty doesn’t bring up the interview. Maybe another win will help. If he weighs the pros and cons, Jack’s more in need than he is here, especially since Bitty is feeling a lot better about his interview situation. So he and Jack end their conversation with smiles, and Bitty occupies himself with social media (Instagram replies, which are severely delayed at this point) while he winds down for bed. As long as he doesn’t think about not baking, he’s fine.  

 

 

@marchmadness @bibliobaker yo, we’re hitting up the usual place tonight @ 10, you in?

@bibliobaker @marchmadness as much as I want to, I’m gonna have to pass. My fun funds have drastically lowered.

@marchmadness @bibliobaker oh no, does this mean what I think it means?

@bibliobaker @marchmadness probably. but it’s REALLY okay, I just want that to be clear. :) i 100% am on board with it.

@marchmadness @bibliobaker you’re a good egg, Bits. Want us to treat you? We can!!!

@bibliobaker @marchmadness I’m gonna raincheck the treat for when I reALLY NEED IT <3333 please have fun & shake an ass or two for me!

 

Direct Messages

@LegitKentParson :( did you not get the job

@bibliobaker I didn’t, no, but I’m pretty zen about it right now. I haven’t told Jack yet—he didn’t have the best day. But I’m really okay with it. I know the person who got it and she’s spectacular, so it’ll be nice to work more closely with her. They’re also trying to get me a raise, so I am NOT complaining about that.

@bibliobaker Please don’t tell Jack. I know he should hear it from me, but I don’t want to make his day worse or something.

@LegitKentParson do you actually keep things like this from him?

@bibliobaker Don’t you judge me, Kent Parson. I weighed the pros and cons. I’m totally fine right now and he’s stressed, so I’ll tell him sometime soon.

@bibliobaker Please don’t tell him.

@LegitKentParson k, I won’t.

 

Direct Messages

@LegitKentParson you should talk to your boy

@JackZimmermann what do you mean?

@LegitKentParson just go talk to him

 

 

Bitty’s half asleep when his phone buzzes. He reaches for it, sees that it’s Jack, and gets a ball of anger in his stomach as he answers. “Did Parse fucking tell you to call me?” he says, by way of greeting.

 

“Yeah, he said I should talk to you,” Jack says. “What’s going on?”

 

Bitty seethes for a moment, sitting up in bed. “That fucker. I fucking told him not to tell you.”

 

“What did you tell Kent Parson that you won’t tell me?”

 

“It’s not like that, Jack. That—oh my God, I’m so mad at him. I was going to tell you tomorrow.”

 

“But what did you tell Kent Parson first before me?”

 

Bitty can’t tell if Jack is hurt or mad or what. “Jack? Honestly? I was going to tell you tomorrow. Because I’m fine with it today and you have not been having a good couple of days, so I figured that I would put your needs first because I could afford, emotionally, to wait.” He pauses. “I didn’t get the job.”

 

Jack’s quiet for a moment. “But why would you tell him that and not me?”

 

“March asked me to go out and I said I didn’t feel like it and my—fuck, he shouldn’t have told you, he’s fucking trying to make us mad at each other.”

 

“I’m,” Jack says, and then he’s quiet.

 

“You’re what?” Bitty says, a little meaner than he means, because he’s putting Jack on speakerphone and pulling up his Twitter app with angry thumbs.

 

“Never mind.”

 

“Jack, I didn’t mean to sound pissed at you. I’m just. I am angrily telling Kent Parson that he’s a shitty person, hold on.”

 

 

Direct Messages

@bibliobaker You fucking dick, you are a shitty person, you know that?

@LegitKentParson you guys need to talk about things when they happen

@bibliobaker THAT IS NOT YOUR DECISION TO MAKE!!!!

@bibliobaker You are not in this relationship with us!!

 

 

“I think he thinks he’s trying to look out for me,” Jack says, and Bitty snorts.

 

“Yep, looking out for you right as you walk out the door.”

 

“Bits, for God’s sake. Seriously?”

 

No, not seriously, I’m just—I’m fucking mad, Jack. He had no right. And now he’s lecturing me on the importance of communication.”

 

 

Direct Messages

@LegitKentParson but communication is important, I thought you knew that

@bibliobaker I do know that!! But you know what else is important? Trust between friends, that’s also important. And guess what you FAIL AT, Kent Parson?

@LegitKentParson I think the answer you’re reaching for is “trust” right? Or is it “friends”

@bibliobaker oh my god fuck you

 

 

“Listen,” Bitty says, when he has forcefully closed his Twitter app, “I didn’t deliberately go behind your back and spill all my secrets to Kent fucking Parson. He DM’d me after seeing my vague tweet to March and asked about the job, so I told him the truth. And I told him not to tell you because I was going to tell you, at a better time. I’m sorry I upset you by not telling you first, but I really was trying to see who needed what first. That’s it. And I concluded that you needed more than I did. That’s all.”

 

“Next time,” Jack says, and his voice is slow and soft, “I would like to know something this important regardless of who’s in what state. I felt pretty invested in your interview, and it—would’ve been nice to hear about the outcome from something…not like this.”

 

Bitty feels a little awful, but that is nothing in comparison to the sheer rage he feels toward Kent Parson. “Jack, I am so sorry, I really am. There’s nothing else I can tell you other than sorry and that I will try not to do it again in the future.”

 

Jack seems pacified after that, and they talk a little longer about his interview. Bitty assures him that yes, he is really okay with the outcome, and he’s just happy to be appreciated. “But I will say,” Bitty says, since he doesn’t want Kent Parson bringing this up too, “that I am going to have to be really lean with my money. I’m going to start paying student loans back in January, and depending on how much they’re going to want from me, I may have to, I don’t know, get a second job or something.”

 

“Bits, it really can’t come to that. How much are student loan payments?”

 

Bitty will forgive him because Jack really has no basis for comparison, but if the same question came from Kent Parson, he’d fly to Vegas just to beat his ass. “Jack, they could be several hundred dollars a month if I’m lucky. I had to do my entire graduate degree on loans. Private loans, since you can’t get federal funding for grad school. I’m just lucky I don’t have any loans from undergrad—I got a scholarship for everything but fees and books, and those my parents helped me with.”

 

“How much was grad school?”

 

“Almost thirty thousand a year, honey. It wasn’t cheap.”

 

Jack makes a noise. Bitty bites back the question he desperately wants to ask—are you able to find forty-thousand dollars in change in your couch cushions? Because the answer is probably.

 

“For three years,” Bitty continues, “I have almost a hundred thousand dollars in student loans with books and some living expenses. I’m literally going to be paying that off until I die. Don’t get me wrong, it was 100% worth it, but…it feels overwhelming right now.”

 

There’s silence on the other end. Bitty knows what he’s going to say even before he says it. “Maybe I could help,” Jack says, and Bitty smiles.

 

“You have a big heart and you are very sweet, but I can’t take money like that from you. Thank you for the offer, but no. I just need to prepare myself a little better.”

 

“Well,” Jack says, “just know, uh. I can help you if you need me to. For, like, anything.”

 

“I love you,” Bitty says, and Jack murmurs it back, a few times, before they hang up.

 

Jack: Just promise me you’ll talk to me first, even if you think it’s a bad time. I just want to know things with you. (11:57PM)

Bitty: I promise to make the effort. It’ll be hard for me, but I promise to try. (11:57PM)

Jack: I can work with that. Good night mon chou (11:59PM)

 

Jack has said that twice now, though seeing it written is different from the way Jack pronounced it. Bitty hopes  his Google-fu won’t fail him yet again on the Québécois, and it doesn’t. I’m his fucking cabbage, Bitty thinks, and he is so delighted with that he finds himself unable to sleep for another hour.

 

+

 

Jack’s grateful for the three-game win streak come Thanksgiving, which he’s able to spend in Boston. Since the team had just gotten in overnight from Detroit, Bitty and Jack have a quiet Thanksgiving at his apartment just the two of them, Bitty cooking in the kitchen and Jack helping as best as he can (he is a fierce onion chopper). Bitty’s talking a mile a minute about his parents’ new stove, and he shows Jack all the pictures as though they’re his firstborn child, cooing over the double oven and six burners and all the shiny stainless steel.

 

“Ready to move back home for that oven?” Jack asks, and Bitty swats him on the ass with a dish towel.

 

“Not a chance, bucko.”

 

Their meal is fairly simple—a small turkey, stuffing, green bean casserole, and a pecan pie. They argue briefly over how to pronounce pecan until Bitty wins by sliding on Jack’s lap and shutting him up with kisses. Jack doesn’t let him go after that, and they sit comfortably together while they eat the pie, Jack rubbing Bitty’s back lightly until Bitty all but dozes against his chest. Feeling quiet and particularly warm, Jack carries him to bed, where Bitty grouses that they need to pick up the food, before shushing him with a kiss.

 

“I’ve got that taken care of,” Jack tells him. “Just close your eyes, I’ll be back.”

 

He’s efficient in the kitchen, getting all the dirty dishes loaded and the leftovers put away. When he comes back, expecting Bitty to be asleep, he finds him very much awake, undressed, and inspecting the toy Jack still hasn’t tried out. Jack flushes. He wonders if Bitty could sense that Jack has been aroused for the last twenty minutes, at least.

 

“Can you be persuaded?” Bitty asks, and Jack’s already pulling off his shirt. “Because I want to play with you.”

 

His voice already pitched lower, Jack says, “Yes, I can be persuaded.”

 

It’s Bitty who undresses him the rest of the way, standing naked and warm in front of him, fingers on his belt, then his zipper, stripping him away. In the deepening sunset from the windows, Bitty is dappled in gold and red, and Jack cups his cheek, drawing him in for a kiss. By the time they’re both naked, Bitty’s able to curl a hand around Jack’s mostly hard cock, tucking himself to Jack in such a way that hides almost all of him except for the luscious curve of his shoulder, the arch of his back, his hip. Jack doesn’t think he’s ever been awakened before the way he is with Bitty.

 

Jack lets Bitty take gentle control, getting them both on the bed and arranging limbs until Jack is where Bitty wants him—on his stomach, thighs spread, clutching a pillow in his arms and looking over his shoulder at Bitty, who’s busying himself with lube. Jack exhales slowly, muscles jumping at the first slip of Bitty’s slick fingers.

 

“I’ve got you,” Bitty says, as he coaxes Jack to relax. “Just let me in, baby.”

 

Despite the effort it takes, Jack does. He’s shaking finely all over, and it takes Bitty’s soft words and soft kisses and tender, questing fingers to loosen him up. Once he’s there, once he’s open and quietly vocal and squirming and his heart is wrecking his chest, Bitty reaches for the toy.

 

“Start slow,” Jack says, and part of him prickles with anticipation—almost a fear—at what’s about to happen. The memory is still strong of the last time Bitty destroyed him, and this can only be—

 

It’s a warm sort of buzzing pressure, soft and light, but still good enough that Jack surges forward on the bed with the pillow gripped tight in his hands. He holds his breath, head bowed. “Oh my God.”

 

“Stay with me,” Bitty says, shifting so he can move closer, placing a hand on Jack’s spine and sliding it up and down his sweat-damp back. “We’ve barely gotten started.”

 

Bitty is the best and worst sort of tease, talking to Jack in low tones—filthy things, words Jack can’t believe are coming out of his mouth—and moving his hand and playing with the toy and turning the speed up and down and driving Jack insane. He finds himself begging in Québécois, and Bitty stops until he can use English again.

 

Then Bitty tells him to turn over. He says it three times until Jack can move, the toy still firmly pressed inside him, medium speed, shorting out all the wiring of his brain. As he shifts, it nudges closer inside and he cries out once he’s on his back, his cock so hard it’s leaking all over his stomach. This angle is terrible, all deep and overriding everything until he can’t focus on anything but that damn vibration pulsing through him. When Bitty’s mouth slides over his cock, right to the base, Jack almost loses it there. But then Bitty’s fist is tight on him, holding the orgasm at bay, forcibly preventing him from spilling over.

 

It is, without a doubt, the most sexually worked up Jack has ever been in his life. Each time he thinks he’s finally going to come, Bitty pulls off his cock and makes him lie still, despite how bad his hips ache to move. The eye contact alone is doing Jack in, coupled with the way Bitty slaps him on the flank when he closes his eyes. Bitty is fierce, aggressive, and the slight edge of pain Jack gets for disobeying preserves his mind enough to keep from coming. Bitty’s mouth is profane and greedy, and Jack’s eyes roll back into his head as his hips push into that tight, wet warmth, the toy inside him pushing insistently against his prostate. He’s so close, he’s so close.

 

Bitty pulls away. Jack swears at him viciously, a combination of Québécois and English, and a flash of anger sizzles through him. Bitty reaches down between Jack’s trembling legs and turns the speed all the way up to high. Then he’s crouching over Jack, pressed so close his cock is tight next to Jack’s, and he eases his palm to Jack’s bared throat and he pushes.

 

Jack cries as he comes, sucking in a sharp, shaking breath, his body seizing up until he can’t move. It feels like everything is narrowing down to two points of his body—his choked throat and his pulsing dick. He feels filthy and owned and so deliciously aware of his body as he comes and comes and comes, and finally he has to push Bitty’s hand away, tears trickling into his ears as he struggles to breathe. Bitty is there with fingers in his hair, murmuring gently, still hard as a fucking rock. Jack whimpers when Bitty slides the toy slowly out of him, turning it off and tossing it onto the bed.

 

Jack says it in Québécois, and Bitty can’t know what it means but it seems like the look on his face, or the reaction of his body, transcends language. Bitty shifts, holds his legs up, and pushes his way inside of him, the thickness of him filling Jack to the brim again, and he can’t come but he can certainly make Bitty come, beg Bitty to fill him up.

 

It doesn’t take long at all. Bitty’s breath is ragged and he’s so vocal Jack is overwhelmed by his noises, guttural, desperate moans, his hips snapping sharp and deep over and over and over. The sound of their bodies meeting is indecent. And when Bitty comes, shouting, gasping, Jack cups a hand at the nape of his neck and holds on, rocking his hips harder, asking Bitty for everything he’s got.

 

They both move gingerly after that, Bitty draped over Jack, shaking, his face tucked in Jack’s neck. Jack is sick to his stomach from the force of his orgasm. If he thinks about it too hard, tears prickle at his eyes. It was so good he doesn’t think he wants to do it again. Ever.

 

“Are you alive?” Bitty asks, and the question is perfectly reasonable.

 

“I think so. Are you?”

 

“I am pretty sure I didn’t die? Jack, that was wonderfully awful.”

 

“I don’t think I can do that again for a while,” Jack says, touching at Bitty’s hair, the curve of his ear. “Come here, I need to kiss you.”

 

It’s a weak-ass kiss, is what it is, all slack-mouthed and utterly without effort, and it’s so pathetic that Bitty starts to chuckle, and then Jack starts to chuckle, and before long they are both beside themselves with laughter even as it hurts. Finally, Bitty manages to roll off and sit up, still shaking finely in the muscles of his shoulders. With effort, they manage to help each other to their feet and trudge slowly in the bathroom, turning on the shower so they can clean up.

 

Jack watches as Bitty washes his hair, eyes closed and shampoo bubbles sluicing down his neck and chest as he rinses. Leaning against the wall for balance, Jack admires all the strong lines of him, and wonders, not for the first time, what kind of life he’s leading that this is normal. That being in love is something he can have.

 

“I can feel you lookin’ at me,” Bitty says, vowels lazy like marbles in his mouth. “Whatcha thinkin’?”

 

“Not much,” Jack says. “Just how much I love you.”

 

“You sweet boy,” Bitty says, wiping water out of his eyes and looking up at Jack. Droplets cling to his lashes. Jack’s heart beats quicker. “You sweet, lovely boy. I love you too. So much.”

 

Jack carries him out of the shower then, drying them as best as he can before he takes Bitty to the guest bedroom, whose sheets are not covered in come and lube. There, warm under the covers together, skin to skin, Jack falls asleep with his head on Bitty’s chest and Bitty’s fingers in his hair, and a perfect calm in his heart.

Chapter Text

 

Despite Bitty’s protests and insistence that they’ve got it covered, Jack says his Christmas present to Bitty’s parents is putting them up in the same hotel that his own parents are staying at. Bitty tries to argue, but Jack won’t have any of it.

 

“I can’t hear you over the sound of my generosity,” Jack says at one point, and Bitty nearly beats him with a frying pan before laughing.

 

Come mid-December, though, his excitement over Christmas fizzles out completely when he checks his mail and sees an innocuous envelope from Wells Fargo regarding his student loans.

 

He doesn’t focus on anything but his monthly payment—almost four hundred dollars. Nausea wells up through his chest and he covers his eyes for a moment. He can pay it every month, if he doesn’t buy food or wash his clothes or…no, even then, he can’t pay it. He’s living lean enough as it is, and the raise at the library isn’t enough. Not with his rent. Which is outrageous at fifteen hundred a month, but the convenience of the location, and the fact that he—sadly—loves it to pieces was worth it until this moment.

 

But maybe it still is. He’d mentioned a second job to Jack, and depending on what’s in the area, he doesn’t need much. Just the four hundred a month, maybe an extra fifteen hours a week. He’d be able to eat and wear clean clothes and stay in his apartment and not default on his loans.

 

“Can’t you defer?” his mother asks, when he calls her and tells her about his plan. “Honey, you already work enough, and you’ve got your hands full with that boyfriend of yours and all that hockey. Are you sure you can add another fifteen hours of work?”

 

“I don’t want to defer,” he says, already opening up his laptop and pulling up jobs around Boston’s West End. The TV and DVDs he can sell—he can watch all of Jack’s games online anyway, or at a bar. “The longer I wait, the worse it’ll be. I need to be an adult and take care of this now.”

 

“I don’t like the thought of you straining yourself,” she says. “I know your father and I can help you. Let us pay for the first couple of months, at least. Maybe give you some time to find a cheaper place to live?”

 

“Mama, I love where I live. I don’t want to move. And you and Coach already do enough for me—I can’t ask for any more, not when I am capable of doing it on my own. But thank you for the offer. This is why we’re besties.”

 

“Lord,” she says, “you’re a high maintenance bestie, but I love you.”

 

After he hangs up with her, Bitty considers not telling Jack. But the last time he tried to do that, it completely backfired. He still hasn’t responded to any of Parse’s DMs, but he’s played mostly nice in public—as has Parse. Bitty knows that Parse and Jack have been talking what seems like normally, but Jack never really brings it up and Bitty never asks. As far as he’s concerned, he can’t trust Kent Parson.

 

The Bruins are on the road in Pittsburgh for the game, and despite the very tempting offer of dinner with Sidney Crosby, Bitty declined the trip. He would’ve had to take off work and fly and get a hotel…and even though Jack offered, Bitty knows Christmas is coming up and that Jack has already said he’s gotten his gift. Bitty doesn’t want to ask him for anything else at least for a little while, especially when he’s in no position to return any sort of gifts. Christmas is going to be damn tight this year, but fortunately he’s good at making things for cheap, and he thinks Jack will like the handmade coupon book he’s going to get (especially with the coupons inside).

 

He puts the game on TV and declines March’s text asking him if he wants to meet her, Caitlin, and a few of her coworkers at The Fours, citing the disgusting practice that is student loans. We’ll treat you soon boo, she says, and he sends her kissy faces and hearts.

 

While he participates in back and forth tweets with dozens of people (most of them he doesn’t know) on Twitter, he works on the coupon book, rectangular pieces of off-white cardstock he’s going to hand-bind. He carefully sketches out in pencil first before lining in ink and erasing all the pencil marks. By the time the first period is over, Bitty has done three coupons total (morning sex, afternoon sex, and middle-of-the-night sex), colored carefully with the fancy colored pencils he’d gotten a while back at Michaels. As he looks at them, and the other three he’s made (free blowjob, sensual massage, and shower sex) he realizes there’s a pattern and that so far, Jack cannot open this in front of parental units. Bitty obviously has something on his mind.

 

During the commercials, he makes himself soup in a bread bowl and pours a small glass of the red wine Jack brought over the last time he was here. Then Bitty tries to decide what kind of non-sexy coupons he can give Jack, but those aren’t quite as fun. He does come up with a few ideas—a walk together in the park, touring the State House, and checking out the MFA on Wednesdays after four (when admission is free). Those, he thinks, he’ll put at the beginning of the book.

 

Determined to have at least thirty total, Bitty misses Jack’s second period goal, and tweets about it only after they’ve done a third replay of it.

 

@bibliobaker Nice goal, @JackZimmermann! I maaaaay have missed it because I am currently working on somebody’s Xmas present but the replay was GR8

 

A salty part of him waits for the DM. He is not disappointed.

 

Direct Messages

@LegitKentParson what are you making Jack for Christmas, it’s too early for a pie right

@bibliobaker Oh, you want to ruin his Christmas present too?

@LegitKentParson you’re still mad at me

@bibliobaker Was I obvious?

@LegitKentParson I just wanted to help since I haven’t helped anything in a long time

@bibliobaker You 100% did not help, at all, and I am 110% sure that you knew what you were doing, and helping was not what you were doing.

@LegitKentParson do you think I’m actually trying to break you guys up

@bibliobaker Let me think………………

@LegitKentParson why are you being so mean? You’re never mean you’re always nice

@bibliobaker Yeah, I try to be, and look where that got me. You and Jack may be friends and that’s fine. But I gave you the benefit of the doubt and that REALLY rebounded on me. Twice. I’ve been a punching bag for a long time and I don’t want to do it again. I’m staying out of this.

@LegitKentParson but

@LegitKentParson I liked having you as a friend I guess

@bibliobaker Then maybe you shouldn’t have treated me like something to be used, or a means to an end. Not everyone is going to forgive you, Parse. It took Jack a long time to do it, and honestly, you’re lucky. Because in his position, I would go to my grave without saying another word to you. That’s why he’s a better man than I am.

@bibliobaker But I mean it. You betrayed my trust. I don’t want to forgive you for that, and I don’t have to.

@LegitKentParson what can I do to show you I’m really actually sorry and I feel bad and I’d like you to talk to me again, like really talk to me, not just fake on twitter

@bibliobaker I don’t know. Let me think about it, I guess.

@LegitKentParson so you’d give me a second chance?

@bibliobaker This is probably more like a fifth or sixth. Don’t hold your breath okay.

@LegitKentParson I really did think of you as a friend after a while. And then I told myself I couldn’t be your friend because I wanted Jack and you have him. So I tried to pretend to like you so you would maybe start to tell me things about him, things I could do to get him to talk to me again because if he talks to me I was sure I could make him understand. And you did, I saw exactly what he liked about you and why and I thought I could use it to my advantage but it didn’t matter, he already loved you and Jack is too decisive, he would never change his mind. So I told you I was lying the whole time but that wasn’t entirely true, I did like you a lot as a person, you made me feel good sometimes. So I’m sorry. I don’t like being sorry.

@bibliobaker Thank you for telling me.

 

Fucking fuck.

 

 

Jack: Hi I’m at the hotel. (11:04PM)

Bitty: Idk I’m up for chatting on the phone, is that okay? (11:04PM)

Jack: Yep I’m tired. These old bones are wearing down (11:05PM)

Bitty: Drama queen. You’re barely 30. (11:06PM)

Jack: I bet you just rolled your eyes at me huh (11:06PM)

Bitty: Correct :) I love you. (11:07PM)

Jack: I love you too. What are you preparing to tell me (11:07PM)

Bitty: How the fuck did you know??? (11:08PM)

Jack: Intuition. You won’t believe that but really, just had a feeling. What’s up (11:09PM)

Bitty: My first student loan bill came in, due Jan 15. It’s $397.48 a month. I haven’t found one today, but I’m going to get a second job to pay for it each month. Mama suggested deferment, but I don’t want to put this off forever. I need to just pay it now. I called to see if they can lower it further, but they said they did from $792.01. I looked a lot tonight but nothing that I think will work with the library job, so I’m probably going to have to find something that’s either early in the morning or on the weekends at night. (11:13PM)

Jack: Is a 2nd job really necessary? (11:13PM)

Bitty: My expenses in a month: $12 for laundry, $150 for groceries (I can cut back to $125), $60 w/o tax for Ollies (I am bringing this to $0), $35 a week for fun money (been using @ hockey games), maybe $15 a month for the bus when I need it, $1450 for rent (includes water/sewer/gas), highest electricity bill is in winter, so coming up, at $100/month, $75 for internet/basic cable. That’s $888.50 every two weeks, for a total of $1777 a month if I cut out literally all the extras. My biweekly paycheck, after taxes and health insurance, is $998.20 which is $1996.40 for the month. Now add in $397.48. (11:27PM)

Bitty: I’ve already crunched the numbers as far down as I can. I can’t make it without a second job, not even for a little while, and my parents already pay my phone bill. (11:28PM)

Jack: Bits I think there’s another solution here (11:30PM)

Bitty: Thank you, really. But no <333 (11:31PM)

Jack: I don’t understand why it’s not feasible (11:31PM)

Bitty: Because. I just can’t. You’ve never had to count your pennies before, or go without something because you had to save that money for something more important. My family struggled a lot when I was growing up, but once Coach got his senior coaching job, we were doing okay. But they still couldn’t afford to help me with grad school, and I can’t make them stress over money when they’re finally in a position not to every month. I have to do this on my own. (11:33PM)

Jack: Can we talk real quick on the phone (11:34PM)

 

“Jack, honey, you need to be in bed.” Bitty keeps his voice soft so Jack doesn’t think he’s mad.

 

“I am in bed,” Jack says, and he sounds soft too, a little slow, which means he’s very tired. “I just needed to talk to you for a minute.”

 

“We can talk about anything tomorrow too, you know.”


“I know. Why can’t you let me help? I guess I don’t understand.”

 

Bitty sighs. Jack is very sweet. “Because. You’ve always had money, so you don’t know what it’s like not to. It’s something I need to do for myself, even if I struggle.”

 

“But that doesn’t make sense to me. Why would you deliberately work harder when you don’t have to?”

 

Laughing, Bitty wishes he could see Jack’s face right now, because he sounds so confused. “Why do you play hockey, Jack? Why do you work so hard at it?”

 

There’s a long moment of silence. “Oh.” Then, “Okay, got it. I’m not happy about it, but I understand. What can I help with?”

 

“Your love and support, that’s it. And…I don’t know if I can go to all the home games every single time. Or to Vegas. It’s money I can’t afford.”

 

Bitty can literally hear Jack chewing on something over there. “I like having you at the home games, and you’re not paying for the tickets, so. Can we…because I like—I just want you there?”

 

“Baby.”

 

“I’m serious. I’m going to respect your wishes to do the student loans on your own, but I need you at my games, Bitty. Please. I get it on Thursdays because of the way you work, but if it’s just—I don’t know, dinner or whatever, let me at least do that so I can keep you there. Please?”

 

He can’t say no to that, and he doesn’t. Jack’s relief is almost palpable, and when he says his good-night-I-love-you, Bitty can’t stop smiling.

 

 

For the first time, Bitty uses his minor celebrity status in Boston for evil. Five blocks from his apartment is a little family-run bakery, Babushka’s, and when he goes in to inquire about their open position for a pre-shift baker, the owner, Zoya, recognizes him immediately.

 

“You are Cute Librarian, no?”

 

“Oh, um. Yeah, that’s what—people call me that, yeah.”

 

“You are dating the hockey player, yes? Jack? His friend, Alexei, he come here often.” She gives Bitty a look. “He say your piroshki best.”

 

Bitty can’t help but to smile sheepishly. “I worked really hard to make them good for him, yes. I’d had yours a while back and tried to recreate them.”

 

“You want to work here? I give you any job you want, okay? You just say tweets about my bakery, okay?”

 

And that’s how Bitty negotiates hours that suit him—Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Sunday from four to eight. Zoya even agrees to pay him more than the ad specified as long as he can bring in more customers. Bitty agrees. He knows how to market himself and others, and if that’s all it takes for him to get what he needs, he’s ready and willing. His first day will be the Wednesday after Christmas.

 

He leaves the bakery and heads back to his apartment, getting his now-wrapped gifts organized in a tote bag before texting Jack that he’s ready to be picked up at any time. Despite the impending doom that is working 56 hours a week, plus having extremely long Thursdays, he’s feeling pretty damn chipper and proud of himself. He’s going to make this work because he can, and because he’s strong. He can be independent.

 

 

@bibliobaker First student loan payment due in Jan. How am I going to pay for it, you ask? By doing what I love to do anyway!

@bibliobaker Zoya w/ @babushkaboston is giving me an awesome opportunity to roll out delicious dough 4 days a week. @TaterTot, more piroshki for you!

@TaterTot @bibliobaker @babushkaboston This is best news! I am excited Bitty for your piroshki, Zoya she is lucky!

@bibliobaker I’m still full-time with @BPLWestEnd so please come see me there if you’re interested in me talking your ear off about books!

 

@erinmalkin @bibliobaker :( I deferred my loans bc I just couldn’t afford the payment at first. Is that not an option for you?

@bibliobaker @erinmalkin I decided I’d rather do what I can to pay them now. Honestly, it’ll give me more time to learn new baking techniques!

@bibliobaker @erinmalkin Zoya w/ @babushkaboston is a true artist when it comes to bakery foods. It’s going to be like a hobby, really.

@erinmalkin @bibliobaker Just remember to take time for self care! I’ll be in Boston in Feb, so I’ll stop by @babushkaboston :)

@bibliobaker @erinmalkin Oh, that’s wonderful!! Will you be going to a Bruins game?

@erinmalkin @bibliobaker Ha. Hahaha. Listen, you’re a cutie patootie, but my fam has been rooting for the Canadiens for like a hundred years, so.

@bibliobaker @erinmalkin :O ….yeah, never mind. ;)

 

@LegitKentParson @bibliobaker will you still be able to come to Vegas in Feb?

@bibliobaker @LegitKentParson We’ll see, I’m honestly not sure just yet and I don’t wanna commit if I can’t :/

@LegitKentParson @bibliobaker I just bought a jukebox for fun, I am pretty sure I can get u a plane ticket

@bibliobaker @LegitKentParson you bought a jukebox for FUN??

@LegitKentParson @bibliobaker yeah?? Don’t you like jukeboxes?

@bibliobaker @LegitKentParson I don’t…have a particularly strong opinion on jukeboxes one way or the other. Hon, you’re a lil strange.

@LegitKentParson @bibliobaker my new jukebox doesn’t think so

 

@RaquelVox @bibliobaker so riddle me this- ur bf is a famous nhl hockey player who makes $7.25 mil a year and you’re getting a second job?

@bibliobaker @RaquelVox Jack’s not an ATM.

@RaquelVox @bibliobaker well YEAH but u guys are partners in this. doesn’t that mean sharing?

@bibliobaker @RaquelVox Gotcha, okay. And that’s the way he sees it, but I can’t let ANYONE give me money like that if I haven’t earned it.

@RaquelVox @bibliobaker oh i’m sure there are pLENTY of things u could do to earn it.

@bibliobaker @RaquelVox well, that was awkward, gross, and uncomfortable. Are you wanting to get blocked, or

@RaquelVox @bibliobaker i was just joking

@bibliobaker @RaquelVox jokes are supposed to be funny.

 

Direct Messages

@prettypaulie Hysterical wheezing laughter, are you watching what I’m watching????

@swimmerfann Shit no, what’s going on

@prettypaulie Go to Eric’s feed and check out his tweets with Raquel.

@prettypaulie I mean holy shit, he’s really good at shutting people down in such a way that all you want to do is stand up and applaud him. “Jokes are supposed to be funny” Jesus fucking Christ, I’m screencapping that.

@swimmerfann LMFAOOOOOOOO. Oh my God, Raquel, you deserved that one. Now she’s gonna talk shit about how he’s so rude but dear Lord, she got exactly what she should’ve gotten. But now I’m worried for our bb librarian :(

@prettypaulie Yeah, I am too, but his mind seems pretty made up. And at least it’s baking? So it’ll be something he enjoys anyway. But I have a feeling he’s probably going to cut Ollie’s trips and other fun things out, which sucks.

@swimmerfann We’ll just have to bring fun things to him, or do free fun things from now on. It’s not like I shouldn’t save money either. My dream is to get an apartment just for me and Pey and not have to live with ma anymore.

@prettypaulie Right? I’m right with you there. I’m hoping to start school next fall, my grandma says she’ll watch Max if it’ll help me. First time she’s offered, so I think she’s over the whole “baby out of wedlock” thing.

@swimmerfann That’s awesome! It’ll be easier too once Max is in school. Definitely helps that Pey’s in kindergarten.

@prettypaulie I sure hope so! Here’s to cute librarian inspiring us hahaha.

@swimmerfann He DOES, though. He’s just so Good™, you know?

@prettypaulie Oh, I definitely know. Bless him.

 

 

Jack’s in a particularly good mood. Bitty shouldn’t be surprised by it, but Jack has typically shown roughly four different emotions since the season started, and this is a little different—he’s talkative, affectionate, and he keeps kissing Bitty’s knuckles as they drive to the grocery store for Christmas dinner things.

 

“My parents are coming in pretty late tonight,” Bitty says, “so are you still okay coming with me to pick them up?”

 

“Yeah, absolutely. My parents will be in tomorrow. And you’re off Monday, right?”

 

“Yeah.” Bitty kisses Jack’s knuckles in return, not missing the smile that brightens Jack’s face for a moment. “So we’ll all go to the game together.”

 

Once they’re parked at Whole Foods, Jack turns the ignition off and look at Bitty with serious eyes. “I buy all the groceries, you cook all the food. Deal?”

 

Pleased with the exchange, Bitty leans across the seat to give Jack a long, slow kiss. “Deal. Thank you.”

 

Jack waits patiently as Bitty bundles up in his coat, puts on his hat, and pulls on his gloves for the short walk into the store. The city is covered in a soft layer of snow that’s getting thicker and pillowier by the hour, and Bitty is nothing if not a southern boy grown in humid heat and long summers. Jack is in a hoodie, shorts, and sneakers. Bitty does not understand.

 

They hold hands on and off through the store while Bitty loads up a cart with a list he’s created, putting together a Christmas dinner both families will enjoy. He pores over the wine selection for a while before deciding on two different reds and two different whites, for variety. Jack gets talked up as they make their slow way through the store, people coming up to them and asking him questions, wanting pictures. Jack doesn’t seem nearly as awkward as he usually is, and Bitty is rather proud of him for it. Though there are a few uncomfortable moments where a woman and a couple of men feel the need to explain to them why they’re going to hell, Jack simply thanks them for their opinion, takes Bitty by the elbow, and moves them to another aisle.

 

“I will never understand people who feel the need to say things like that to other people,” Bitty says, when they’re in the spice aisle and he’s checking his list to make sure he gets everything he needs. Jack hand is on the small of his back, still felt through his layers and layers. He’s been touchy today. Bitty loves it.

 

“When I overdosed,” Jack says, reaching up to get the cardamom on the top shelf per Bitty’s request, “I was eighteen. I spent twelve weeks in a rehab center, and when I was released, there were news trucks waiting at my parents’ house when they brought me home. I don’t remember a lot of what they asked—my mom got me inside as fast as she could—but it was pretty invasive. I guess I’ve just been used to it ever since.”

 

“Still don’t make it right,” Bitty mutters, crossing off cardamom and allspice off his list. “What kind of pie do you want, honey? I can’t decide myself.”

 

Jack’s looking over his shoulder at what else is left on the list. “Do we have to pick just one pie, or can we do a couple?”

 

“Well, I’m making gingerbread cookies and a cheesecake, but I was thinking a pie might be nice too?”

 

Though Jack probably doesn’t care at all, since he’ll eat anything Bitty makes, he says, “Your pecan was pretty good, and my mom’s favorite pie is pecan. Since you made my dad the lemon icebox last time, maybe—”

 

“That’s a great idea, Jack. The pecan is my dad’s favorite too. How about I do a chocolate bourbon pecan pie, make it a little more festive?”

 

He gets a kiss right in the middle of Whole Foods for the suggestion, and blushes all the way through checkout.

 

 

Back at Jack’s apartment, they get everything put away in the pantry, fridge, and freezer, Bitty taking inventory of Jack’s cooking equipment to make sure he has enough of what he needs, satisfied that he can make adequate Christmas Eve and Christmas dinners. Jack slides warm arms around him from behind, mouth falling to Bitty’s neck, and Bitty languishes in his embrace for a long moment, the apartment quiet around them. It doesn’t take long before they’re on the couch together, Bitty straddling Jack’s strong thighs, lazily making out. Bitty is hard—he almost always is, when he and Jack are alone like this—but he ignores it in favor of touching Jack’s warm skin, pushing fingers into his messy hair, finding new ways to pull little noises from Jack’s throat. Jack’s hands are still so unbelievably big under his sweater, roaming over his muscles and the curves of his shoulders. Their mouths press and cling to one another, tongues slick and slow.

 

He’s not surprised when Jack gets him on his back and starts working on undressing him. Even when Jack isn’t in the mood for himself, he is always in the mood for Bitty, and Bitty always lets him, the anticipation leading up to Jack’s mouth or hand on him warming every inch of his skin.

 

When Jack has finished with him, and declined reciprocation, Bitty stumbles into the master bathroom for a shower, emerging much more alert and invigorated than before. He can hear Jack in his weight room and heads to make them a healthy dinner of baked salmon, asparagus, and salad. After dinner, Jack puts hands all over him again, and Bitty has to laugh.

 

“Honey, what’s gotten into you?”

 

“I don’t know,” Jack says, and he does look a little confused. “I just—want to touch you a lot. Is this okay?”

 

“It’s always okay. Yes. Of course.”

 

They’re interrupted on the way to the bedroom, though, by Jack’s phone going off with a DM. Bitty hides his annoyed face in Jack’s shoulder, because he knows who it is.

 

“Kenny wants to Skype,” Jack says, when his face is lit up by the light of his phone. Bitty can’t complain, he’s already come once, but he was preparing to lay Jack out like a French Canadian god on the bed and persuade him for more. “Is that okay? He’s asking for both of us.”

 

“That’s fine,” Bitty says, but his voice sounds distinctly cooler than it did before, and he doesn’t protest when Jack sits him on his lap while they load up Skype. Usually he doesn’t flaunt him and Jack in front of Parse, but he certainly fucking is now like the salty, bitter bitch he is.

 

When the call request comes in and Jack takes it, Bitty almost doesn’t recognize Parse at first. He looks so excited and so manic that ten years have been taken off his face alone. It’s damn easy, now, to imagine how Parse would have been as this gregarious, charismatic teenager. Parse’s eyes, huge and generically light, are filled with tears.

“Guys, look,” he says, and he holds something up.

 

It’s a squirming white kitten, with long skinny legs and a skinny tail and bright green eyes.

 

“Guys,” Parse says, and he’s wiping at his eyes now. “They let me have my cat. I can take her everywhere. It’s in my contract. My agent negotiated it.”

 

Bitty hates himself for the tears that prickle at his own eyes, because he really has no reason to trust or like Kent Parson, but despite himself he sort of does. Like him, that is, since the trust part still has a long way to go. But Parse has never looked so happy before, or so unselfconscious, and Bitty is genuinely happy for him. “Parse, oh my God, that’s amazing.”

 

“Kenny, what’s her name?” Jack asks, and he’s leaning forward and grinning at the screen, and the kitten covers up the camera with her forehead. Bitty can hear her purring, and Parse’s voice is so tender when he tells her to let him see his friends. Bitty thinks about a conversation they had a while ago, about loneliness.

 

“I don’t know yet,” Parse says, once he’s got her in his big hands and she’s trying to nuzzle at his chin. “I got her at a shelter today. Took me like six hours to pick her, I wanted all of them.”

 

Bitty realizes he may have already known about part of this. “I saw a Buzzfeed thing about you donating something like half a million to an animal shelter?”

 

“Yeah, that was the one. I asked them what they needed to make sure all their animals were taken care of and they said about twenty thousand a month.”

 

Parse’s love for animals is undeniably pure. Jack’s smile is soft, and Bitty finds his own is too. “You’re a good guy,” Jack tells him, and Parse looks up at him with surprise.

 

“You are,” Bitty says, “don’t try to deny it. She needs a name, Parse.”

 

“Ask Twitter,” Jack says, “make it a thing. Your agent would love it, eh? Maybe you can donate a scholarship or something to the winning suggestion. Or have people suggest names and then put a vote to the top five.”

 

Parse strokes the kitten’s little head with gentle fingers. He is consumed by her, and it makes Bitty want a pet so fucking bad, ugh. “I think that’s an awesome idea, thanks. Yeah. I like the idea of suggesting names and putting the top five to a vote. Do you guys have any ideas?”

 

Bitty likes human names for pets, so he suggests Penelope, Sophie, and Charlotte. Jack says those names are awful (they get into a brief scuffle where Bitty gets him in a headlock before Jack tickles him in his left armpit and Bitty immediately lets go) and suggests hockey-related names.

 

“You cannot,” Bitty says, “name a cat Deke.”

 

“How about Biscuit?” Jack offers, and then has to explain that’s another word for a puck, and Bitty tells Parse that he can’t have Biscuit because Bitty is going to use it for an unnamed pet as some time in the future. Biscuit, oh goodness yes. They could have a Biscuit and a Gravy, and now all Bitty can think about is having two dogs with Jack in this apartment here, and he puts a hand to his heart to keep it from rattling inside his chest. The domesticity of it is killing him.

 

He sort of tunes back in when Jack and Parse are talking more about the kitten, who is all over the place now, and regularly blocking the camera view. When Parse talks to her directly, he uses a baby voice that Bitty frankly appreciates. People who don’t talk to their pets in little baby voices aren’t to be trusted at all. Maybe Parse is going to be okay.

 

“I love this, though, look,” he says, and he turns her a little so they can see that the only color on her is a splotch of blondish-orange on her flank shaped like—

 

“Oh my God,” Bitty says, “she was fucking made for you. That’s like a textbook spade. Holy shit.”

 

“I know! All the cats they had were so cute, and there was a mama cat I loved but her kittens were too young to be taken from her. Then I found this girl, and finally settled on her.”

 

They spend another fifteen minutes talking to Parse about the new addition to his family and what his contract entails (“They’re currently negotiating with all the hotels for road trips and stuff, and I’ll be conditioning her to being around a lot of people so she’s not scared”) before hanging up. Bitty immediately goes to Twitter, waits for Parse to post pictures, and starts liking and retweeting every single one. He and Jack are both busy, Bitty still on his lap, with their phones and Jack’s laptop looking at everything Parse posts.

 

“I’m really happy for him,” Bitty says. “I hope this will help him be less lonely.”

 

“I know it will,” Jack says, “because that cat will love him regardless of anything else. He needs that in his life. Something purely unconditional. Because then he can learn to be unconditional too.”

 

Bitty strokes at Jack’s hair and kisses his hairline. “You’re a smart cookie sometimes, Zimmermann.”

 

“Thank you, Bittle.”

 

They don’t get to lay Jack out like a French Canadian god on the bed, but that’s okay—Bitty’s content simply hovering in Jack’s orbit, letting himself hold and be held at the same time.

 

+

 

Jack is nervous while they wait at baggage claim. He’s rarely in Logan when he himself isn’t flying out, and even though he’s wearing a ballcap and trying to look inconspicuous, Bitty has posted enough selfies by now that he’s the one getting recognized first, and then they realize the tall mysterious man with him is Jack Zimmermann.

 

One girl completely ignores Jack and wants a picture with Bitty instead. Jack happily obliges with the photo before reaching out to pull Bitty to his side once she leaves.

 

“It’s like we’re a power couple,” Bitty says, grinning up at Jack, who very much wants to kiss him but refrains.

 

“Can we be a—wait for it—power play couple?”

 

“Oh my God,” Bitty says, but he’s laughing even as he socks Jack in the chest. “You’re such a dork. People think you’re so focused and serious, but you’re a huge a dork.”

 

It’s another twenty minutes of random conversations and pictures before Bitty, facing the terminal, lights up and starts to bounce. He embraces a woman whose hair is the same shades as his own, that deep honey blonde, and Jack feels awkward for about two seconds before a beefy, ginger-haired man steps around Bitty and his mom and extends his hand.

 

“Richard,” the man says, and Jack shakes his hand firmly.

 

“Jack. Nice to meet you, Coach.”

 

“You too, son.” He jerks a thumb toward Bitty and his mom, who are talking excitedly over each other. “This is gonna last a while. Thought you should know.”

 

Jack snorts and follows Coach to the conveyor belt, grabbing the suitcase when it’s pointed out. “Nice,” Coach says, as Jack hefts the bag easily. “You ever play football?”

 

“No, not at all. Bitty said you might be able to show me how to throw one, though.”

 

When Coach smiles, it makes his mustache twitch. “It’d be my pleasure. You ever seen him throw one? Perfect goddamn spiral every time. Bet he could show you himself, to be honest.”

 

Having a moment where he imagines how Bitty might look throwing a football, he turns when a hand grabs his, and grins at the sheer bright-eyed excitement that Eric Bittle is presenting. “Jack, this is my mama. Mama, this is Jack.”

 

“Hi, Mama,” Jack says, and when she holds out her arms and wiggles her fingers, he gives her a big, firm hug like Bitty taught him to. Hugging people when he’s first met them feels kind of strange still, but he tells himself if he’s ever going to go to Georgia with Bitty, he should be prepared for this.

 

“Oh my lord,” she says, squeezing his shoulders. “Aren’t you big.”

 

“I’m pretty average for hockey,” he says, and she throws her head back with a laugh. She and Bitty have the same laugh. He loves her already.

 

“Modest little thing. Jesus God, Dickey, it’s cold here. I don’t know what we’re gonna do to keep warm, I only brought this one coat, I don’t think it’s warm enough.”

 

“We’ll buy you more if we need to,” Bitty says, rolling his eyes. “But don’t worry, Jack’s truck has heated seats. It’s the best invention God gave us, second to jam.”

 

The accent is so thick in Bitty’s mouth that Jack shudders even further into love than before. He follows the three of them back to the parking garage, carrying the suitcase easily mainly because Bitty keeps looking at him with admiration in his eyes, and the Bittles talk up a storm, all talking over one another and flapping their hands and getting overexcited. Even Coach shows his own brand of excited, which often culminates in him saying, “Now just listen here.”

 

There’s an argument once they get to the car, and Jack’s anxiety flutters until he realizes they’re not actually mad at one another. Bitty is trying to give his mom the front seat because she gets carsick in the back seat, but she’s saying no, he should have the front seat with his boyfriend and she’ll be fine in the backseat, and Coach says he’ll take the front seat if it stops them all arguing, and Bitty insists again that his mother should take the front seat.

 

Finally, Jack steps in. “Mama, I’d like it if you sat up front with me,” he says, and since she will not tell him no, Bitty gets what he wants and gives Jack a very big smile for it.  

 

On the entire ride to the Mandarin Oriental, Jack listens to the happy back-and-forth chatter between Bitty and his parents. Coach doesn’t say much, but when he does it’s pretty funny. Jack parks and leads them into the hotel to check them in, and though they insist that he doesn’t need to do this, all he says is, “I’m really glad you’re here.”

 

Bitty’s looking at him in such a way that tells him he’s going to enjoy the ramifications of those eyes later. “Y’all get some rest,” Bitty tells his mom, as he kisses her cheek. “We’ll pick y’all up tomorrow morning for breakfast, sound good?”

 

“Make it brunch,” Coach says, and he looks particularly tired. “It’s been a long week, Junior.”

 

Jack makes sure they’re taken care of at the front desk before he and Bitty head back out to the waiting truck. Once inside, Bitty’s across the seat and kissing him enthusiastically, all deep and intense. Jack all but pulls him onto his lap, hands skirting underneath Bitty’s coat.

 

“Let’s get home,” Bitty says, and Jack almost breaks two laws getting there.

 

They fumble with each other as they make their slow way into the bedroom, Jack trying to get Bitty out of his many layers of clothes, cursing when he has issues with Bitty’s thick sweater. Laughing, Bitty helps him until he’s stripped down to his underwear, and Jack can’t resist picking him up and carrying him the rest of the way to bed, hands all over him. He crowds himself over Bitty, between his legs, and eases him against the pillows to make sure he’s comfortable before he works his way down Bitty’s shivering body, mouthing over his cock through the cotton of his briefs, loving the way Bitty gets so vocal and insistent, shifting his hips, telling Jack how good he is. Calling him a good boy. Jack is more emotionally worked up than he is physically, but Bitty is pretty much always in the mood, and Jack is ready to give it to him. But he has an idea.

 

“On your stomach,” he says, and Bitty looks at him with a bitten mouth and dazed eyes.

 

“Huh?”

 

“On your stomach.” He doesn’t say please, and Bitty’s eyes on his own are intense.

 

“Yes, sir,” Bitty says, and he untangles himself elegantly from Jack’s limbs before rolling over in one smooth movement onto his stomach. Jack takes off Bitty’s underwear and leaves him completely exposed for several long seconds, long enough that Bitty looks over his narrow shoulder at Jack, face flushed, lips parted, and raises eyes eyebrows in question.

 

Jack settles a hand over the curve of his ass, testing, watching Bitty’s shifting muscles and looking for signs of distress. The feedback he’s getting seems to be positive.

 

“Okay?” Jack asks, and Bitty responds with a small little yes okay.

 

Jack spreads his cheeks and waits for Bitty to consent a second time before he bends down, uses his tongue to press against him, tracking Bitty’s shivers to make sure they’re the good kind. Bitty’s quiet. Jack knows he’s never been on the receiving end of any of this before, and while they’ve done plenty with Jack on his stomach like this, he doesn’t know if Bitty will like any of it.

 

He pulls away after a few solid seconds, placing kisses along the small of Bitty’s back, up his spine. “Do you want me to stop?”

 

“I don’t know,” Bitty says, and his voice is breathy. “I think I like it. It feels a little weird.”

 

Jack chuckles, because he knows that’s definitely true. “It does. Can I try something else?”

 

“Yeah, just—take it slow?”

 

“Always.”

 

Bitty’s more vocal once he’s slicked with lube and Jack’s carefully slipping inside him, slow, giving his body time to get used to it. He murmurs as quiet as he can, kisses at Bitty’s hip and his back, using Québécois because Bitty seems to respond better to the soft sounds than he does to English when Jack is only giving him reassurance. Bitty squirms a little but settles down when Jack pins him gently to the bed.

 

He curls his finger in the same way Bitty had done for him, and Bitty jerks in the same way Jack had done for Bitty. Jack shushes him gently and strokes inside him, responding to Bitty’s uncontrollable noises with tender encouragements. His body is beautiful. The way it comes alive when Jack touches him is a miracle. Nobody has given anything to Jack the way Bitty has with his unselfconscious responses.

 

Bitty doesn’t have the explosive orgasm that Jack does when they do this in reverse, but he does roll onto his back and ask to be sucked off as he nears the end. Jack obliges, of course, because he’ll do anything Bitty wants him to pretty much at any time. The feel of Bitty clenching around him as he comes makes him think of other things they could do, and he’s a little distracted even as he pulls off, with Bitty satisfied and sweaty beneath him.

 

“You want somethin’?” he asks, looking at Jack through his thick lashes.

 

Want versus need—his personal continuous battle. It takes Jack a while to answer, but as soon as he says yes, Bitty’s eyes brighten and turn interested. Compared to what they’ve done before, Jack’s not asking for much—hands and a mouth, Bitty more aggressive than usual to pull Jack as quickly to the edge as possible, both of them knowing that Jack will hover there for several long minutes before his body finally gives in.

 

When they’ve both come and have cleaned up, Jack is the first one back in bed, tumbling there with a groan. Bitty snuggles up to his back, one arm possessive around his middle, dotting kisses along his shoulder. Jack loves being held, and Bitty is so good at it, too, all firm and warm.

 

“Love you,” Bitty says into the back of his neck, dropping a kiss there too.

 

“Love you too,” Jack says, and that’s the last thing he remembers before he slides into sleep.

 

 

It’s an interesting experience, being with Bitty and his parents as they navigate through Boston. Though Bitty has lived there for almost four years, his parents have never visited; he’s always been the one to go home for Christmas. Suzanne cannot stop talking about how beautiful everything is, and Coach is most interested in the local sports teams. Jack talks to him a lot about hockey, shyly pleased that Coach has made the effort to learn more ever since Jack and Bitty started dating, and when they go to CambridgeSide Galleria to get Suzanne warmer clothes, Jack buys a football at Champs and gives Bitty a grin.

 

“Oh no,” Bitty says immediately. “Nobody is teaching you how to throw a football. I changed my mind. You do not need to be any more of an athlete than you already are.”

 

“I hit a homerun once in Fenway,” Jack tells him, and Bitty rolls his eyes.

 

“Yes, Jack, I know. It’s on YouTube. I’ve seen it.”

 

Coach claps Bitty on the shoulder. “I don’t know, Junior. My money’s on you.” He looks at Jack with obvious pride. “Kid’s got a helluva arm. If he weren’t so scared of sacks, he’d’ve been a great quarterback.”

 

Bitty snorts. “Coach, you forget the part where all the other boys stuffed me into lockers.”

 

“And you forget the part where I told their daddies and their daddies whipped their asses so hard they couldn’t sit for a week.”

 

Father and son grin at each other. Jack is, briefly, jealous. He and his father never had that when Jack was young. They’re starting to get it now, as Jack grows up and out of himself, but this kind of camaraderie is something he’s never experienced.

 

After getting some new clothes for Suzanne, they have lunch at the Cheesecake Factory and head back to Jack’s apartment to wait for his parents to fly in. While Suzanne busies herself with baking a batch of cookies, Jack, Coach, and Bitty head to the courtyard area of the building so they can throw the football. Jack picks it up instantly, like he usually does with most sports, but his spiral is nowhere near as tight as Bitty’s, and his form isn’t as good either. So Jack spends most of his time outside watching Bitty and Coach throw back and forth, admiring Bitty’s prowess in something other than figure skating and librarianship. And baking. And general good advice.

 

They eat cookies together at the kitchen table and look at YouTube videos of all of Jack’s fights, of which there aren’t many.

 

“I thought you and Sidney were friends,” Bitty says, as Jack lands a particularly hard punch on Crosby. Crosby goes down after that and Jack follows him, still swinging.

 

“We are,” Jack says. “But we play hockey.”

 

By the time the Zimmermanns arrive, Jack is even more relaxed. To accommodate both families, he rents an Audi Q7, which Bitty eyes with a look he usually only reserves for Jack. Jack makes a mental note of it. Depending on how things go in the future, Bitty might need a car.

 

When everyone is buckled up in the Audi and talking up a storm—Suzanne and Maman hit it off well—Jack takes them back to his apartment so Bitty can get to work on dinner. When the wine is poured and everyone is relaxing, Maman pulls something out of her tote bag.

 

“I had to bring this,” she says, “because I thought it should be shared among friends.”

 

Jack’s heart sinks. « Mama, please don’t, that’s not fair. »

 

« Oh, come on! You were a…cute baby. »

 

“Are we looking at baby pictures?” Suzanne says, her eyes brightening. She sets her cocoa down and pulls her huge handbag toward her. “Because I brought some too.”

 

“Oh my God,” Bitty says, and he rushes into the living room with a wooden spoon in one hand. “No, mother, please.”

 

The mothers cannot be stopped. While Papa and Coach talk about the NFL, completely oblivious to their wives, Maman and Suzanne snuggle on the couch together with their baby pictures spread out on the coffee table. They start laughing hysterically. Jack isn’t amused, and neither is Bitty.

 

“He won prettiest baby in Madison,” Suzanne says. “You can see why.”

 

“Ah, look at that big smile!”

 

“It took forever for his teeth to come in. We thought he’d be gumming his food through fifth grade, I swear.” She gasps. “Oh my God, is this—is this Jack?”

 

Bitty takes an interest at that, but as he tries to move around the couch to look closer, Jack grabs him around the waist and hefts him over his shoulder.

 

“Jack! Oh, for God’s sake!”

 

“You’re not looking at those pictures. You’re staying in the kitchen, you could burn something if you don’t watch the stove.”

 

“There’s nothing cooking yet!”

 

“Then you’re behind schedule.”

 

They bicker for several more minutes before finding a truce, one that Jack makes him pinky swear to. I will not look at my boyfriend’s baby pictures. Jack also makes Bitty promise not to Google for them either, and Bitty sulks for ten minutes afterward.

 

“You two are ridiculous,” Suzanne says, and she goes back to cooing (and snickering) at Jack’s baby pictures again.

 

 

Bitty’s dinner is light and delicious, especially after something heavier from lunch and his parents having flown in on a particularly long flight. They sit packed at Jack’s kitchen table, pouring wine for one another and helping themselves to grilled balsamic chicken salad and roasted veggies. After the table has been cleared and the dishwasher started, everyone helps decorate the six foot tree Jack got for the occasion, and his mother keeps looking at him with some indescribable softness in her eyes.

 

Once everything is decorated and the presents are under the tree (Jack makes everyone laugh when he puts his printed out reservation for the Bittles’ hotel room right next to a wrapped present for Bitty from his parents), they spend some time watching tape together so Jack and Papa can explain more hockey to Coach and Suzanne. Bitty is tucked against his mother’s side on the couch, eyes closed as he rests his head on her shoulder, and her fingers card through his hair like they’ve probably done all his life. It’s clear that he’s missed her. Jack wants him to be able to see her more often.

 

“So what if I’m understand this right,” Suzanne says, “there are rules in place and if you break those rules, you go to timeout.”

 

“Pretty much,” Maman says. “They call it the sin bin.”

 

The sin bin,” Suzanne says. “Oh my Lord, I love it. Jack, how often do you go to the sin bin?”

 

“Rarely,” he says, sitting on the floor and doing his usual after-dinner stretches. “I don’t like giving the other team any advantages.”

 

Suzanne picks up everything a lot faster than Bitty did, which Jack points out. He gets hit in the head with a pillow for his comment.

 

“Unnecessary roughing,” Jack says. “Two minutes in the sin bin, Bittle.”

 

“Denied,” Papa says. “I saw no penalty.”

 

He and Bitty high five. Jack snorts as he moves into stretching his hamstrings. “I don’t like this fraternization with the ref.”

 

They watch a movie together after that—Miracle, at Suzanne’s request—before Jack drives them all back to the hotel. When Bitty moves into the front seat with him and takes his hand, Jack can’t stop smiling.

 

 

Christmas morning comes early, with new snow falling outside. Jack gets out of bed at his normal time, but Christmas is one of the only days during the season he lets himself go completely. Shortly after he rolls out of bed, he makes coffee and puts on some Christmas music in the kitchen, looking through the fridge for something he can eat for breakfast. He’s already finished his waffles and fruit by the time Bitty trudges out of the bedroom, wrapped in Jack’s monogramed robe (and oh, that does something to Jack’s heart) and wearing Jack’s too-big slippers. He looks mussed and sleepy, and Jack pulls him in to his side, pouring more batter for another waffle.

 

They don’t speak other than saying Merry Christmas, Bitty dozing on his feet while Jack cooks. He thinks of something he said to Kenny before—how he wasn’t ready for Bitty to move in with him. That might have been true at the time, but it’s a lie now.

 

Once they’ve both eaten and showered and dressed, they pick up their parents at the hotel and take them back to the apartment. Once there, Suzanne and Maman and Bitty make cookies while Jack stands on his balcony with Coach and Papa, who are both smoking cigars. It turns out to be a customary Christmas morning ritual for both of them, and they are rather delighted in a shared tradition.

 

“Wife says no any other time of year,” Coach says. “Can’t say as I blame her, but she can’t take it away for Christmas.”

 

“It’s a nice treat, Papa says, looking relaxed as all three of them look over snow-topped buildings. Inside, Bitty is caterwauling his way through Jingle Bell Rock, and Coach gives Jack a sly look.

 

“You get to put up with him now,” he says. “We ain’t takin’ him back.”

 

“I’m not giving him up,” Jack says, and he gets a hard slap on the shoulder for it along with a twitch of a mustache.

 

Jack’s favorite Christmas tradition comes early afternoon, after they’ve all been picking at plates of cookies and veggies and cheese and talking over cups of coffee and then wine. He picks up a present under the tree for Maman and hands it to her. Ever since he was little, it’s been his job to pass out the Christmas presents, and it’s not something he’s going to give up anytime soon.

 

“For me?” she says, like she always does. Jack nods. She opens it carefully, not wanting to tear Jack’s beautiful wrapping job. When she sees the new lenses for her DSLR, she grins at him. “Mon petit, how did you know?”

 

“Twitter,” Jack says, and he’s pleased to make everyone laugh.

 

They go down the line like that—mothers, then fathers, then sons getting their Christmas presents. Bitty nearly cries when he unwraps his new rolling pin. How’d you know? he asks his mother, clutching it to his chest like it’s a newborn. Suzanne says mothers always know. From Bitty, Maman gets a framed photo Jack had taken of her and Papa when he visited last in Montréal, and Papa unwraps a Bulldogs shirt that he proudly pulls on. His own parents get a gift card for Cracker Barrel, their favorite restaurant in Madison, and then Bitty has to spent fifteen minutes telling the ‘flying buttered roll’ story.

 

The other gifts Jack isn’t much interested in. He’s grateful, of course, particularly that Suzanne gives him a framed baby photo of Bitty (“Not fair!” Bitty says) and that Coach gives him his own personalized Bulldogs shirt too (Zimmermann 1). But when he opens Bitty’s coupon book and flips through it with a smile—hand drawn and hand colored and, uh, dirty—he feels his heart swell.

 

“Thank you,” he says, and Bitty just blushes and smiles at him.

 

“I thought you’d like it. There’s thirty of them.”

 

“Can I double-dip?”

 

No. One per day, I even have it at the bottom.” Bitty leans over to show him the very tiny fine print. “I knew what you’d try to pull.”

 

The last gift under the tree is for Bitty, and his eyes go big when he sees that the enormous gift bag is for him. “Jack, what the hell did you do?”

 

“I picked out the color,” Maman says, and she’s grinning as she shows Suzanne something on her phone. Suzanne claps a hand to her mouth.

 

Jack picks up the bag and sets it in front of Bitty. “It’s pretty heavy, so you might want to be careful opening it.”

 

It was so worth the hour of research online, then having to call his mother and make her pick out a color because there were too many options. Sea glass, she’d said. Very pretty. It’ll look great on your countertop.

 

“You got me,” Bitty says, and then his eyes go big. “Holy shit. Jack.”

 

“Hopefully I got all the accessories and stuff you’d use,” Jack says, as Bitty is staring at the box that contains his new stand mixer. “There’s, like, a juicer thing and a bakery something something, I just grabbed everything I thought you’d use.”

 

“This won’t fit in my hovel,” Bitty says, and he’s inspecting the teal-colored stand mixer with an open mouth.

 

“It’s not intended for your hovel,” Jack says. “I figured we’d keep it here. So you don’t have to do things by hand anymore.”

 

Other than Jack, Bitty is the most self-aware person Jack has ever known; now, he’s very aware that all eyes are on him, that the parents are smiling, that Suzanne is asking to look at the food processing attachment. Bitty is clearly overwhelmed but doesn’t want to show it, so he just smiles his beautiful smile and says thank you, and Jack knows they’ll have words later, maybe playful maybe exasperated, but Bitty is happy and that’s really all he cares about.

 

Dinner is light-hearted, fun, and extensive. Half of Jack’s time is spent eating, the other half is spent taking phone calls from his teammates and wishing them Merry Christmas. As they’re eating pie, Jack accepts a video chat from Kenny, who shows off his kitten—still unnamed, but in the lead on Twitter by a huge margin so far is Kit Purrson—and wishes everyone a good evening.

 

“Don’t tell me you’re by yourself over there,” Suzanne says, looking scandalized. Kenny only nuzzles at his kitten, who is licking at his beard like it’s her job.

 

“I’m not,” he says, “I’ve got company right here, see?”

 

“Kenny, you could’ve come here,” Jack says. “I didn’t think to look at your schedule.”

 

“Didn’t have time to fly out,” Kenny says, now putting the kitten on his shoulder. He’s grinning. “I really, really don’t mind. She and I had a nice lazy day. I took her out in the snow, let her explore a little.”

 

After Maman declares that her name should definitely be Kit Purrson, Kenny hangs up and Jack fields yet another call from Ransom, who’s howling at him to come play out in the snow.

 

“Can’t,” Jack says. “Got some family here.”

 

“Oh shit,” Ransom says, and his loud voice can easily be heard without speaker phone, “tell everyone I say Merry fucking Christmas!”

 

“Oh dear,” Bitty says, and he’s covering his eyes with his hands and laughing helplessly. “That boy doesn’t know what ‘mixed company’ means.”

 

Bitty makes a new pie with his mixer and tests out the food processing attachment while Suzanne watches with glee. Jack puts on some tape of the last Bruins game, and he and his dad dissect it in detail, Maman knits and Coach sips his whiskey. By the time Jack has brought everybody home, it’s nearly midnight. He and Bitty haven’t been alone for most of the day, and now, as they curl up in bed together and fade away into the night, Jack has never been more in love in his life.

 

+

 

Bitty manages not to cry when he drops his parents off at the airport after Monday’s game, but it’s a close thing. Fortunately, he has enough to occupy himself, as Jack heads on the road immediately after the game, and he’s got one more day (Tuesday) to relax before he starts at Babushka’s on Wednesday.

 

He’s exhausted as he rolls out of bed, and even more tired as he makes the walk in the snow, arriving a little early and bouncing up and down to keep himself warm.

 

“I like on time,” Zoya says, as she comes up the steps with him. “Good, shows you care. Come.”

 

Their entire first day is spent with Zoya showing Bitty how to do things her way. He follows along side by side with her and is impressed with all the little things she does that he would’ve never considered—like using less salt. As eight o’clock rolls around, her husband and daughter come in to help, but Bitty has made just about all the dough for the day, and is setting more rising. He pulls pastries from the oven and soon gets into a good rhythm.

 

“I take video for Twitter, yes?” Zoya says, and Bitty laughs, his face dusted with flour.

 

“Absolutely, but get my left side, it’s the cutest.”

 

Her laugh is big and loud and he loves it. Even though he’s exhausted and has to go directly to the library after this, he’s pleased with how his first day has turned out. He retweets the video she posts as he walks to the library, and once there he has a very busy day with Fatima preceding her going-away party at the end fo the week.

 

Losing Fatima is bittersweet for him. She took him under when he first started, and has been monumental in his success, both academically and here at the library. Each day that ticks down to her final day is painful, and Bitty tries to make the most of it by exuberantly helping her tie up loose ends and getting a binder of helpful tools together for Olivia if Bitty’s ever out of the office.

 

“I’m so sad it wasn’t you,” she tells him, when it’s just the two of them in her office space. “It broke my heart and I cried.”

 

He pats her shoulder. “Me too. But Olivia’s going to be great. I’m excited to work with her.”

 

She touches his chin lightly so he meets her eyes. “Don’t ever lose this part of you,” she says, and Bitty blinks back tears as he struggles to look at her. “You are so genuinely good, and you have been such a joy to me the entire time you have been here. I want you to know you are appreciated and loved. Don’t forget. Okay?”

 

He nods. Gives her a hug. After the moment is over they get back to work together, but he’s feeling much better about things.

 

 

@LegitKentParson So it’s official. I’m closing the poll, I don’t feel like waiting. Meet Kit Purrson. ow.ly/t0F21j

@bibliobaker @LegitKentParson GASP that little FACE, oh my gooooooosh

@LegitKentParson @bibliobaker she’s so chill and outgoing at the same time #mybetterhalf

@JackZimmermann @LegitKentParson @bibliobaker are you going to do family photos

@LegitKentParson @JackZimmermann @bibliobaker I already did you peasant not my fault you aren’t on Instagram

@LegitKentParson @bibliobaker why isn’t he on Instagram what’s wrong with you

@bibliobaker @LegitKentParson me?! What have I got to do with it?!

@LegitKentParson @bibliobaker you’re supposed to be the one enlightening him

@bibliobaker @LegitKentParson honey, we JUST started on Sasha Fierce, okay, give the boy time

 

Direct Messages

@LegitKentParson Jack’s in a pretty bad mood isn’t he

@bibliobaker What did he do to you? I ask because I probably won’t be surprised.

@LegitKentParson I’m shocked he even responded to me on twitter with as pissy as he’s been

@bibliobaker Pissy doesn’t begin to cover it. 19-12-4 makes him livid. They’re only third in the division with like half a season to go, but three losses in a row makes him so ornery.

@LegitKentParson you should like low-key put on wizard of oz, that should calm his tits a little

@bibliobaker Parse, some of us have day jobs—more than one, in fact. Besides, I’m not going anywhere near him right now. I have enough stuff on my plate here. He’ll stop being a dick eventually.

@LegitKentParson please tell me you’re going to his game tonight at least

@bibliobaker Can’t, I work till 8. Plus I’ve been up since three, trying to do a game tonight will kill me.

@LegitKentParson you can’t take one for the team?

@bibliobaker No way, I’m staying out of it.

@LegitKentParson please. he probably really needs you.

@bibliobaker Ugh. Even if I wanted to, I work until 8, so it’s a moot point.

 

 

@LegitKentParson @BPLWestEnd Hi this is Kent Parson captain of the Las Vegas Aces. Can @bibliobaker pls be excused to go to tonights Bruins game?

@bibliobaker @LegitKentParson do you not realize that I also do the West End twitter account, you noodle.

@LegitKentParson @BPLBoston Hi this is Kent Parson captain of the Las Vegas Aces. Can @bibliobaker pls be excused to go to tonights Bruins game?

@bibliobaker @LegitKentParson Kenneth.

@BPLBoston @LegitKentParson Hi, Kent Parson, Captain of the Las Vegas Aces. That is up to @bibliobaker’s branch manager. #gobruins

@LegitKentParson @BPLBoston hi thank you, how do I get in touch with the branch manager

@MarshaHarding @LegitKentParson Hello, Mr. Parson. Yes, @bibliobaker can leave early if he can work Sat instead.

 

@bibliobaker I cannot believe how often @LegitKentParson gets what he wants, this is insane. Thank you @MarshaHarding. #idontdeserveyou

@Ransom11 @bibliobaker dude we’re not complaining, glad to have you!!!!

 

Bitty isn’t exactly up for the game. He declines the usual Bruins gameday routine with March and Caitlin, settling in his seat with a yawn while he waits for them to return, hunkered down in his Zimmermann jersey. He dozes while waiting for the game to start, drifting in and out of consciousness. He jerks alert, though, when someone bangs on the glass in front of him. He opens his eyes and sees that it’s Jack, who is smiling.

 

Jack never comes to say hello when he’s on the ice.

 

Bitty tries to straighten up and not look like he was out like a light. “Oh, hey! Hi, Jack. How are you?”

 

That stupid smile gets wider. “I’m good. How are you?”

 

“Oh, um. It’s just been a bit of a long day, that’s all. Marsha let me have the night off so I could—” He stops in the middle of his sentence because he has to yawn. Though there are people behind him screaming his name, Jack doesn’t pay attention to any of them.

 

“You should go home,” Jack says, leaning close to the glass. “You’re practically asleep already, eh?”

 

Bitty shakes his head, stubborn. “No way. If Kent Parson tweeted my boss to get me here, there’s no way I’m peacing out early.”

 

Jack tilts his head. “He didn’t.”

 

“He one hundred and twelve percent did, yes. And March picked me up a ticket. On your tab, by the way.”

 

“You know I don’t mind,” he says, and Bitty has to lean closer to the glass to hear him now, with how loud the crowd is behind him. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

 

“I’m fine, honey, I promise.” Bitty doesn’t want to be too obvious, because he’s certain there’s going to be a camera or two on them, but he does allow Jack a small smile. “Really. Just score a goal for me, okay?”

 

Jack nods, and he smiles again too. “Will do. Did you want to stay with me tonight?”

 

“No, baby, I can’t. Babushka’s at four, remember?”

 

“Right.” He doesn’t look crestfallen, exactly, but it’s clearly not what he wanted to hear. “Maybe soon, then?”

 

“Oh, for sure,” he says, stopping himself from touching the glass. Sometimes Jack’s sad eyes look extra sad; now is one of those times. “I love you.”

 

“I love you too,” he says, tapping his stick against the glass one more time before skating off.

 

 

Direct Messages

The What-Are-You-Doing-Bittle Chat

 

@prettypaulie Honey child, do you not know the Internet.

@bibliobaker Oh my fucking god what now, why is this chat named this way, who did what and why.

@prettypaulie Darling. Precious child.

@bibliobaker WHO DID WHAT WHEN AND WHERE

@swimmerfann If you’re going to have a conversation with Jack Zimmermann at the start of a nationally televised ice hockey game, please understand that every word you say will be subtitled and gif’d. Literally everyone knows Zimms asked you to stay the night at his place and that you call him things like ‘baby’ and ‘honey’ and the I LOVE YOUs are plastered all over tumblr now.

@bibliobaker We’re boyfriends!! How is that news????

@marchmadness Bits, holy shit, do you not know what fanfiction is? Do you know how much of this exists? I have personally witnessed like three dozen Rans and Holster coffee shop AUs myself.

@sfsharksgirl There’s a ton of Chris/Snowy too tbh. My favorite part is the way Chris gasps everything in fic, it’s hilarious because it’s accurate. He’s such a swoony little bottom.

@marchmadness CAITLIN!!! oH my god di you just say that

@bibliobaker I’m not a moron, I know what fanfiction is. I may or may not have gone snooping like shortly after I started dating Jack, once someone showed me one.

@bibliobaker OH MY GOD!!!! Chowder is like a child to me, you can’t say shit like that about him :O

 

Direct Messages

@prettypaulie Oh fucking shit.

@swimmerfann I goddamn knew it, that fucking Hufflepuff.

 

Direct Messages

The What-Are-You-Doing-Bittle Chat

 

@marchmadness Literally all you did was give people porn to write about, you realize that, right?

@bibliobaker I thought Jack and Parse was the Thing? Am I wrong?

@prettypaulie NOBODY TELL HIM

@sjsharksgirl http://archiveofourown.org/tags/Eric%20Bittle*s*Jack%20Zimmermann/works

@prettypaulie caitlin no

@bibliobaker !!!!!!!!! Whoa, people write about ME?! Oh my God.

@marchmadness 53 new ones since Zimms asked you to stay over last night. Just wait until you get into some weird threesomes. There’s one of Rans with Tater and Crosby, I don’t know.

 

Direct Messages

@swimmerfann I am going to kill Caitlin and March, I swear to God???

@prettypaulie I’m breathing into a paper bag right now, hopefully I can pass out before this is all said and done.

 

Direct Messages

The What-Are-You-Doing-Bittle Chat

 

@bibliobaker So wait, y’all read these fanfics about your boyfriends banging other dudes?

@marchmadness They don’t always bang, Bittle. Way to be crass.

@sjsharksgirl Sometimes there’s tender caressing. (I’ve only read a bit, it’s a little creepy because…yeah, my boyfriend? But I’ve read fanfiction for other things—ask me how strong my feelings are for Teen Wolf.)

@bibliobaker I’m curious. (How strong are your feelings for Teen Wolf, because that Hoechlin fellow is my jam.)

@prettypaulie oh my god, bits, dooooon’t.

@sjsharksgirl ;ALS;ALSEKJR. Bitty, I’m going to put together a very extensive DM for you right now. You’re welcome.

 

 

@bibliobaker Dear people who write fanfiction: You are passionate, and that is wonderful.

@bibliobaker But can we please stop calling me short? I mean for real here, I’m not short? That’s all I ask. #stopshortbitty2k16

@LegitKentParson people have all of my body proportions wrong in fic

@bibliobaker @LegitKentParson Regardless of which direction you are going with this, I 2982% do not need to know.

Chapter Text

 

This is the most tired Bitty thinks he’s ever been in his entire life, and that includes grad school. He pays his first student loan payment and he doesn’t stress much about the funds, but he’s living through a sort of daze all the time now, unable to catch up on his sleep even when he doesn’t work. All of Jack’s games start running together, and Bitty tries to make more time for him—time he doesn’t really have—because Jack needs him now more than ever. A bad loss to Vancouver has him salty, and though the Bruins are 24-17-5, they’re still behind the Panthers. Jack wants to be in first place, and the fact that they aren’t is making him more irritable than usual.

 

“I know you’re tired,” he says, and his tone sounds cold. It makes Bitty’s stomach hurt.

 

“Please, don’t be mad at me,” he says, with all the energy he can find. “Please, I’m begging you.”

 

“Bits, I’m not mad. I know you—I know this is something you want to do on your own, I get that, but I’ve asked you three times this week alone if you had a chance to look at my email and help me pick a color for Maman’s birthday gift. You said you’d do it and you haven’t, and I don’t want this to sound like I’m blaming you, but I’m kinda frustrated here.”

 

Bitty rubs at his eyes, which ache from tiredness. He doesn’t want to deal with this right now. All he wants to do is sleep, but he can’t even do that. When he tries to sleep, he worries about everything else he has to do—helping Olivia get situated in her new position, promote Babushka’s, go to hockey games, engage with humanity. It’s too much. He thought he could do it, but it’s too much.

 

“Bits?”

 

“I’m sorry,” he says. Then, “I don’t know what to do.”

 

Jack’s voice gets infinitely softer. Apparently Bitty has been forgiven. “Mon chou, what can I do?”

 

“You do enough. Too much, really. You shouldn’t have to baby me like this. I need to be more present here, and I’m sorry that I’m not.”

 

“You know I’m just worried about you, right? You haven’t been yourself. Not really.”

 

“I know.” He looks around his tiny apartment, the brick interior and old hardwood floors and ancient appliances. The Murphy bed, which is super uncomfortable but has a sort of charm to it. He looks at his walls, bare because he’s sold most of his books; the space where his TV used to be, because he sold that too. What does he want in his future? If he didn’t have Jack here, would he still be killing himself over this apartment? Probably. But he wouldn’t have hockey either. And if he didn’t have hockey, if he didn’t have Jack, working these hours would be okay. Because he also wouldn’t have a life. So what does he want more?

 

Bitty sighs. “Jack?”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“I think I’m going to have to look into moving.”

 

Jack’s quiet for a moment. “Or you could let me pay your student loan bill.”

 

“I can’t, I just can’t. I’m sorry, I know you don’t really get it, but I can’t.”

 

“Maybe…maybe it can be more like a loan? You pay me what you can, when you can?”

 

Bitty collapses face first into his couch. “Jack, honey.”

 

“Bits, I just—I’m trying to come up with solutions here.”

 

“I know you are, and I appreciate that. But solutions are tough here. I really think it’s best if I just look for a cheaper place to live.”

 

There’s silence on the other end. “I’ll miss running by your apartment every day. I remember the first time I saw you there.”

 

Bitty blushes, remembering how sticky his fingers were and how he tried so discreetly to lick them clean. “I was planning to flirt with you. That’s why I was outside. Did I ever tell you that?”

 

No. Were you really?”

 

“I knew you ran by like every morning. Some days I’d watch you out my window and just admire your fabulous ass.”

 

Jack’s laughter is infectious, and Bitty finds himself laughing too. “I talked to Blanca about you,” Jack says, “right after you harassed me about the library. She seemed to think I was interested and convinced me I should ask you out if it felt right.”

 

Thank God for Blanca. “Good, because when I saw you, I freaked out and got all nervous.”

 

“You flirted anyway.”

 

“So did you.” Bitty feels so warm all over. “I love you, Jack.”

 

“I love you too, Bits. You know we’re in this together, right? We’re partners. I’m in it a hundred percent for you.”

 

“I am too, I am. But I still can’t let you pay for my loan.”

 

“Damn, that’s what I was looking for.”

 

They pick at and flirt with each other as Bitty pulls up Jack’s email on his laptop. He tells Jack he thinks the plum will look best. “I mean, your mother would be gorgeous in a potato sack, but the plum will really bring out her eyes and her hair.”

 

“Thanks,” Jack says, and he sounds relieved. “I’ll order it now.”

 

Bitty confirms he’ll be at the game, and says Jack can stay over if he likes but he still has to go to Babushka’s on Sunday morning. “That’s fine,” Jack tells him. “I just miss falling asleep with you.”

 

It has been a while since they’ve spent the night together. Bitty didn’t realize how much time had actually passed. He decides that Jack is more important than his studio, and when they hang up, before he leaves for the game, Bitty looks into a new place to live.

 

 

“It’s either still too expensive,” Bitty complains to his girls, “or it’s too fucking far. I don’t mind public transportation, but if I have to be on the bus for more than an hour and a half one way, I’m going to go on a rampage.”

 

“What about a roommate?” Maggie asks, getting Peyton set up with nachos and napkins. “I mean, obviously not where you live right now, but somewhere else?”

 

Bitty shakes his head. “I’m weird about roommates. I’m fine sharing the bathroom with Kevin, but—I mean, look at who I’m dating. What would you say if you didn’t know me and I brought a hockey player home?”

 

“I’d say some pretty crass things,” March says, “after I was done drooling. But okay, no roommate. Brighton is pretty okay—you can usually get like a private bedroom in a house, but…there’s the roommate thing again.”

 

Paulie has Max on her lap, his attention preoccupied by her phone, which has a drawing game on it. “What about doing a find a roommate thing, though? You can get somebody matched up first and then look into an apartment?”

 

Bitty shakes his head again. “I don’t know…it was fine in undergrad, but it feels super weird with Jack. Like, what if they get all creepy?”

 

“Bits,” Caitlin says, “not everyone is going to be stalking your boyfriend. You could find someone who doesn’t even give a shit about hockey. You could specifically request that they don’t care about sports or something.”

 

That’s a fair point. “Yeah, this is true…do you guys know of anybody who might be non-creepy that could be a roommate?”

 

They don’t. Bitty huffs a sigh and sips at his water. He wishes things could be easy for once, and tells them this.

 

“The easiest thing would be to let Jack help you,” Caitlin says, “but beyond that, you’re gonna have to do some more work.”

 

This is true. Bitty tries to focus on enjoying the game, their seats right up to the glass again, which he rather likes even though it makes it hard to see what’s going on. Jack gets checked, hard, into the boards in the second period, and when he shakes it off after the play is over, he tips his stick to Peyton, who’s pounding the glass and calling his name. She blows him a kiss and he pretends to catch it and put it in his pocket, his face still his Usual Hockey Robot mask. The juxtaposition has them cackling more than the kiss-catching itself.

 

It’s viewed over a hundred thousand times on YouTube within an hour after the game, which the Bruins win 3-2 in a shootout.

 

 

Now, at halfway through the season, Jack’s body has both aging and fresh bruises all over his limbs. He’s spent a lot of time in the whirlpool and in ice baths, and uses the elliptical almost exclusively to be easier on his knees. Things have changed, he says, since he hit about twenty-seven. His body can’t take the beating the way it used to and bounce back right after.

 

Bitty kisses each bruise gently, letting Jack pull him in close, simply breathing together. Jack pets at his hair, his bare back. Makes little rumbly noises when Bitty presses lightly at a huge bruise on his side, frowning.

 

“Jack,” he says, and Jack tugs him up for a kiss.

 

“It’s hockey. I look like this every season.”

 

“I’m worried.”

 

“It’s hockey,” he says again, and his mouth is a warm respite. Bitty’s got the heat on as low as he can stand it to save money, so they share their bodies together as a way to ward off the chill. Bitty doesn’t remember falling asleep, but his alarm jerks at his dream and pulls him brutally out of it. He curses and thumbs frantically at his screen to turn it off. Three a.m. He got less than three hours of sleep.

 

Bitty almost cries as he struggles away from Jack’s warm arms, his feet freezing on the floor of his apartment. It takes so much energy for him to move into his kitchen and start coffee. So much.

 

“Mon chou,” Jack says, voice hoarse with sleep. “Come back to bed. Zoya will understand.”

 

“I made a commitment,” Bitty says, taking several deep breaths. He aches all over and reaches for the Advil in the cabinet, but he’s out. He had a full bottle a month ago. “I have to keep this commitment.”

 

“Can you give her your two weeks?”

 

“I can’t think about that right now,” Bitty says, reaching into the fridge for creamer. “I can’t focus on anything. We’ll talk about it when I get back.”

 

“My flight leaves at noon,” Jack says, and Bitty almost throws the creamer. He honestly forgot that Jack’s going to Philly. “You’ll be back about eight-thirty, right?”

 

“Give or take. Sometimes it takes longer in the snow.”

 

Jack’s quiet for a minute. “Why don’t you—never mind.”

 

“What?”

 

“I almost said to take a cab.”

 

Bitty smiles. “Can’t afford that.”

 

“I know.” Jack’s glowering but Bitty doesn’t think it’s directed at him. Then Jack sighs. “This is stupid, Bits. Please take a cab today, both ways. On me.”

 

There’s a long moment of silence between them. Bitty hesitates, then says, “Okay. Thank you.”

 

He’s never seen Jack look so relieved. “Good. Thank you.”

 

Bitty can’t deny that the cab ride is warm and he dozes against the door for the few minutes it takes them to get to Babushka’s. Once out, Bitty pays and waits for Zoya to arrive. They bake together in silence for nearly two hours before she speaks.

 

“This job no good for you, I think,” she says, and Bitty, who had been focused on the motion of kneading dough and sprinkling flour, stares at her.

 

“What? Why? What did I do?”

 

“I see your tweets,” she says. “They not happy like before. You fall asleep in the game, and I watch your little face on my TV. You look peaceful when you sleep, but too tired. Should not be sleeping on my TV.”

 

Shame wells up in his stomach. “I’m so sorry. I know I haven’t been as focused as I need to—”

 

“No, you misunderstand,” she interrupts. “I worry about you, moya solnishka. I think you are weighed down and this not help you like you want.”

 

“I love it here,” he says, “I really do. It’s been—I don’t want to leave. I know I can be better.”

 

She puts a hand to his shoulder and kisses his cheek. “We will talk. But you are too young to be so tired. Me, I have had lifetime to have fun, I like the work. But you—you need life.”

 

Her words hit him hard. He finishes up his shift and gets a cab back to his apartment, where Jack is doing particularly athletic stretches in the kitchen/living room. Bitty watches him for a moment as he shuts the door behind himself. Then he breaks down into tears.

 

Jack’s arms are quick to curl around him. “Hey, what happened?”

 

Though his words are garbled, Bitty tells Jack in halting sentences what happened with Zoya. He tells Jack how ashamed he is at himself, because so many people do several jobs just to survive, and that he did full time school and full time work and it wasn’t nearly this bad. He tells Jack he wishes he would’ve deferred, but if he does it now he’ll feel like a failure. He tells Jack he feels like a failure. And he can’t ask for help and he can’t move and he doesn’t know what to do.

 

“We’ll figure it out,” Jack says. “I promise. But you have to talk to me before things get like this. Don’t bottle everything up.”

 

“It’s what I do,” Bitty says, his face pressed into Jack’s shoulder. “Slap on a smile and lie.”

 

Jack’s hands are strong as they rub his back. “Please don’t lie to me.”

 

“I feel like,” he says, then he stops. Jack encourages him. “I feel like I have to be a certain way sometimes. And that I shoulder everything on because I don’t like seeing anyone else burdened, but then I break my own back in the process. And as I’m breaking, I say I’m fine, I can take on more. Why do I do this? Why can’t I say no?”

 

“Because you’re selfless, generous, and kind. It’s a strength and a weakness. Because you love very completely, and that makes you want to take care of people. But you also have to take care of yourself. Emotionally and physically. And sometimes taking care of yourself means asking for help when you need it.”

 

“I hate needing help,” he murmurs. “I hate it.”

 

“But other people need help and you give it to them. Do you hate them for asking?”

 

Bitty can hear Blanca’s words in Jack’s voice, and he lets himself be shuffled over to the bed, which is still unmade. Jack takes time to undress him. “I don’t hate them for asking, no.”

 

“Why is it different for you?”

 

“I don’t know. It just feels different. It feels like I’m whining or begging or asking for a handout, or something I don’t deserve.”

 

“Why doesn’t it feel that way when other people ask you for help?”

 

“Because I want to help them.”

 

“And they don’t want to help you?”

 

“I don’t know.”

 

“If they offer, don’t you think they’re genuine in wanting to help you?”

 

Bitty curls under the blankets with a huff, pulling them up over his head. “Don’t make me think, Jack.”

 

“If you don’t want to think now, think about it later, okay?”

 

He thinks he responds but it might not have been audible because he’s already asleep.

 

 

On Monday morning, Bitty has a two-hour meeting scheduled with Olivia so they can discuss the collection he put together for his interview, since it’s something that Marsha was particularly interested in curating for the library. He feels like he hasn’t gotten enough time with Olivia since she joined right after the first of the year, so today they’re going to spend some quality time together and build a better children’s collection for their minority patrons. Thanks to Jack’s thoughtfulness, Bitty spent Sunday evening baking a pie for the two of them.

 

“I’m glad you brought that,” Olivia grins at him, “because I thought you might, so I have some ice cream to go with it.”

 

Bitty bats his eyes at her. “You’re my hero, thank you.”

 

They get themselves set up at the meeting table while Bitty slices the pie and Olivia scoops ice cream into a bowl. They chitchat while they eat, and she says his chocolate pecan pie is the best thing she’s ever tasted.

 

“Wait till I make you the maple-sugar crust apple pie.”

 

When they’ve finished their (first) slices, Bitty puts their plates aside and pushes a binder toward her, explaining what he researched for his interview, where he got his statistics, and how he decided on the twenty books he selected.

 

“This is amazing,” she says, and Bitty doesn’t take her for one to say things like that lightly. “You really dove into what this community not only desperately needs, but wants. I notice there’s fewer young children’s books on here?”

 

“The demographics have a higher percentage of school-age kids,” Bitty says. “I figured if I wanted things to circulate better, picture books wouldn’t be it, regardless of how incredibly cute the art is.”

 

“Nice, I can see that.” She flips through his notes. “These are very detailed, Bitty. I can see how passionate you are for what you’re doing. We’re lucky to have you.”

 

Bitty finds himself blushing. “I love what I do. I just want to be the best at what I do.”

 

“I think if you give yourself maybe another six months, you’ll find that more opportunities will open up for you. It took me six years after my degree to get an actual librarian job, and let me tell you, I didn’t work nearly as hard as you do. Your dedication will pay off.”

 

He’s touched by the comment and tells her so. She laughs. “I mean it! You’ll see. You’re going to go so far, and I want to help you get there as fast as possible.”

 

They discuss options of integrating the new collection with what they already have, and Bitty suggests taking the time to weed the current collection to remove non-circulating books and attempt to bring in something new. Then, they have to figure out how to market it.

 

“I don’t suppose,” Olivia says, as she cuts a second slice of pie, “that your famous boyfriend would be willing to help?”

 

Bitty has to laugh at that. “I already harassed him once about promoting the library. I think we’ll be on our own for this one.”

 

Olivia says she can survey the budget to see what they have available; once that’s decided, they’ll figure the best way to introduce the new collection to the neighborhood. “I have some friends with young kids,” Bitty says. “I can always ask them what they think would catch their eyes as parents, maybe?”

 

“Great idea. I’ll put together a few ideas for the budget and see what we can get approved. Then we can go from there?”

 

They shake on it and split a third piece of pie. As Bitty’s cleaning up, Olivia says, “Hey Bitty, can I ask you a personal question?”

 

He nods, packaging up the last quarter of the pie to take to Ransom. “Sure, what is it?”

 

She hesitates, and he can see that she’s blushing. “What is Jack Zimmermann like as a person?”

 

Bitty smiles a little as he gets the lid on the pie box. “Passionate.”

 

+

 

Losing 6-2 to the Ducks fucking hurts. Jack skates laps around the rink long after everyone has left. Since it’s a Tuesday, he knows Bitty has an early shift tomorrow and so doesn’t bother texting him once he gets home.

 

Except that Bitty texts him instead.

 

Bitty: Hi honey. I’m sorry about tonight :( (11:09PM)

Jack: It’s okay. 26-18-5 could be worse. Just disappointed in myself. (11:09PM)

Bitty: It’s okay to feel disappointed. Just know that you aren’t a disappointment. There’s a difference. (11:10PM)

Jack: You’re right. I love you. What’s up? Shouldn’t you be in bed? (11:10PM)

Bitty: Can you talk on the phone for a bit? (11:11PM)

 

“What’s up?” Jack says, putting some clothes washing.

 

“I talked to Zoya today,” Bitty says, “and now I’m wondering if I can…ask you for something.”

 

Jack’s ears perk up at that. “What’s that? I mean, the answer is yes, but what exactly is the question?”

 

Bitty snorts at him, and the sound is cute. “Haha. You’re so funny.” He gives a heavy sigh. “I don’t think I can keep doing what I’m doing. Not with how much Olivia and I are going to be doing for the spring—I really will need some time at home to get projects done. And I’m—I’m willing to find a new place to live, I am. But I talked to my landlord and breaking the lease before it’s up is three times the rent.”

 

“I can get it for you,” Jack says.

 

“You don’t even know how much it is!”

 

“Does it matter?”

 

Bitty’s quiet. “I guess not. It’ll be $4,350. I’d—I’d like to work on a repayment or something, maybe, when I can. I can’t take money like that without paying you back.”

 

“Are you offering to be my personal back-rubber?”

 

“You think you’re so cute.”

 

“A little.”

 

“I’m serious here.”

 

“That’s fine,” Jack says, because it is. He knows Bitty will catalogue every penny, but he doesn’t much care. “Let me know what I need to do and when.”

 

“First I need to find somewhere to live. Then I may have to, like. Get a bed. Because the mattress came with the Murphy bed, so. I’m kinda outta luck there.”

 

Jack does not comment upon the fact that Bitty is sleeping on a bed that is not his own, nor does he contemplate how many times he has slept on that bed and what could possibly be living in it. Instead, he says, “We’ll make sure you get what you need. You can keep an itemized statement or whatever. Am I supposed to charge interest?”

 

Bitty makes a sound of derision and hangs up on him, but calls right back, laughing and laughing and laughing.

 

 

On the second Monday of February, on the way to Columbus to play the Blue Jackets for Valentine’s day, Ransom shoves Tater out of his seat and slides into it instead, looking at Jack with big eyes.

 

“Dude, look,” he says, showing Jack his phone. It’s a text from March: Johnson’s moving out—said something about this story getting way too long and it needed to move forward? He’s backpacking across Canada, I think. I know Bitty said he didn’t want roommates, but do you think me and Cait are different?

 

Yes,” Jack says, so emphatic he nearly drops his water bottle to get at his phone. “Yes, they’re different, he would love that. Let me text him. When’s Johnson leaving?”

 

“I’ll ask,” Ransom says, and they both text furiously as Tater whines about his seat being taken, his lucky seat next to Zimmboni. Jack tells him to hold on, Tater, waiting for Bitty’s reply.

 

Jack: Johnson’s moving out of Caitlin and March’s place. Can you live with them? Please say yes (11:09AM)

Bitty: OMFG NO WAY????? YES YES YES!!!! OH MY GOD PLEASE HOW MUCH??? (11:09AM)

 

“How much?” Jack asks.

 

“Hold on,” Ransom says, “she’s texting back now.”

 

March: He’ll be out the 19th, $850 for everything – rent, utilities, cable, Internet, and food. Cait & I will each pay an extra $50 if Bitty cooks for us. Let him know his room is the smallest one, so we pay more for that too. One bath. We’re glad he’s hygienic. (11:11AM)

Ransom: ok ok ok lemme tell jack are u sure u girls are ok w/ this? (11:12AM)

March: Uh, duh? We’re his girlfriends, remember? (11:12AM)

Ransom: hahaha ok hold up lemme see. u ok with our arrangement too? if he finds out? (11:14AM)

March: You can tell him if you want babe. Whatever you’re comfortable with. I know he’d be totally fine with it :-* (11:15AM)

Ransom: ok yeah lemme think ab it p sure he’ll say yes to the room (11:15AM)

 

Jack: $850, all included, and they’d like you to cook for them. Is this a deal? (11:13AM)

Bitty: YES OH MY GOD!!!!!!!!! YESSSSSS!!!!!! WHEN?! WHEN CAN I MOVE IN? JACK!!!!! (11:13AM)

Jack: The 20th, that work? We’ll be home. We have a game but we’ll be home. (11:14AM)

Bitty: THAT’S PERFECT. I’LL LET MY LANDLORD KNOW. I’LL TAKE THE DAY OFF. TELL THEM I LOVE THEM. (11:14AM)

 

Ransom: bits says he loves you (11:17AM)

March: We love him too!!!! (11:18AM)

 

Jack high fives Ransom right before Ransom is physically removed from his seat by Tater, who then snuggles into Jack’s side so they can continue their movie.

 

 

Bitty has said the words oh my Lord exactly fourteen times on moving day. Jack, given what he has interpreted as free reign, has taken over the moving process. It takes Bitty all of two hours to pack up everything he has left, and in order to expedite things, Jack hires a small moving truck from a local family-owned company, pays the landlord with cash (hundreds and a fifty, counted carefully six times), and gets him settled in the March/Caitlin/Bitty house before lunch.

 

Really, Bitty should’ve known Jack would do the moving thing with as much efficiency as possible. The whole time he keeps tugging at Jack’s sleeve, saying his name, and trying to protest. Jack simply smiles and continues his plan.

 

The afternoon is no different. Bitty tugs at his sleeve after he has completely unpacked and put everything in its place. “Jack,” Bitty whines, when Jack is looking online for a local mattress place that can deliver. “Jack, come on, this is too much.”

 

“You’ll pay it back eventually. You need somewhere to sleep anyway, eh? And somewhere for me to sleep too, right?”

 

Bitty goes red at that, like Jack expected him to. “I mean, yes, but we can wait—”

 

“I’d rather not. I thought I’d sleep here tonight. Help you get settled in.”

 

He means sex. Bitty’s thinking it too, Jack can tell. They both look at each other and grin, sheepish and excited in the way they always are with one another like this.

 

“Ugh,” Caitlin says, as she comes into Bitty’s new room with a potted plant, “you two are kind of disgustingly cute, you know that?”

 

“We know,” Bitty says, and when he puts his arms around Jack and squeezes, Jack thinks it may be the best thing ever.

 

“You two just be cute,” she says, waving her hand dismissively at them. “I’m going to feng shui the shit out of your room, Bits. You need some healthy vibes in here.”

 

“Feng shui away,” Bitty says, still tucked against Jack’s chest. Jack sits at the desk Johnson left behind, pulling Bitty onto his lap and navigating on his phone. Bitty nixes a king size immediately but concedes to a queen. The full size Murphy bed was pretty small even for them.

 

“I don’t need anything fancy,” Bitty tells him, scrolling past the memory foam and eco-gel with a huff. “Jack—”

 

“Bittle, I am a professional athlete. If you expect me to sleep over, I need to have something of quality. Or do you want to explain to the Bruins why their star center can’t—”

 

Star center, Jack Zimmermann, when did your head get so big?”

 

“It’s probably swollen because of your awful mattress—”

 

The tussle that occurs after that drives Caitlin out of the room, yelling across the house to March that Jack and Bitty are having a sexy fight. Jack lets Bitty pin him to the chair, his narrow hips as distracting as his parted mouth as he struggles to get the upper hand. Jack pretends like he has it, because he likes it when Bitty pins him down.

 

“Let me get you a decent mattress,” Jack says. “And maybe a box spring. And a bed frame, minimum. Please.”

 

“Just let him be your sugar daddy,” March yells, and Bitty’s whole face goes red. His smile disappears too and he sits back, still on Jack’s lap but definitely not playing anymore.

 

“That’s not what I want,” he says, and Jack sighs. March might be playing, but Bitty’s issues will supersede that every time. “That’s not what this is.”

 

“I know that,” Jack says, settling his hands on Bitty’s hips. “We know that. She’s only joking—she doesn’t take anything from Ransom either, you know.”

 

Holster’s a different matter. She does let Holster spoil her. “I know she’s joking, but that’s how it’s going to look to people. They’re going to think—”

 

“Yes,” Jack says, cupping his hand at the back of Bitty’s neck. “Yes, they’re going to think you’re after my money. They’re going to think you’re not really interested. They’re going to think this is some kind of a stunt. That we’re pushing the liberal agenda. I have never been able to convince anyone but close friends that my overdose was for prescription anxiety meds—people are positive I was addicted to coke and speed. People are going to say mean things about you that are not true. Let it go. You can’t control that.”

 

Bitty mumbles something into Jack’s neck then. Don’t like it when people don’t like me. Jack strokes his hair, says he knows because he does, and waits until Bitty has roused himself out of his uncertainty. It doesn’t take long before they’re back to flirting and picking out a mattress.

 

In the end, they get a firm queen size mattress and a plain (but sturdy) platform bed so they don’t have to also buy a box spring. Everything is delivered before Jack leaves for the game, so they make Bitty’s bed with new sheets but can’t enjoy them until later.

 

“I’ll see you there,” Bitty tells him, wrapped up in Jack as Jack half-walks him to the door. “I love you.” His eyes are bright and his body is so vibrant and alive that Jack simply looks at him for several long moments, gathering strength from him.

 

“I love you too,” Jack says, bending to kiss him one last time before he has to rush out the door.

 

 

The bed is very sturdy. They’re trying to be quiet but they keep giggling their way through the entire process of undressing, warming each other up, and getting each other off. Jack takes forever, as usual, and it’s even more work because they keep snickering every time Caitlin pounds on the wall and asks them to keep it down. They aren’t being that loud but Caitlin and March did promise to give Bitty the true roommate experience and so they’ve been harassing them both intermittently.

 

Bitty is spread out like melted butter next to Jack, his limbs loose, and Jack wonders how it is he can get so comfortable and so relaxed like this. Even when he hasn’t just come twice, he’s got this easiness to his body that Jack envies.

 

“What are you thinking?” Bitty asks him, reaching out to rest a hand on Jack’s stomach, simply for the ability to touch. “It’s something serious.”

 

“Nah. Just jealous of you and how…easy everything looks for you.”

 

Bitty’s expression is scandalized. “You think things are easy for me?”

 

“No, but they look like it. You make it look easy.” Jack rolls over closer so he can rest his head on Bitty’s chest; his heart has finally stopped pounding from their exertions before. “Everything looks so easy for you. Not in a bad way, but in a way that…I don’t know. I’ve never been like that.”

 

Bitty’s fingers card through his hair and Jack closes his eyes. This bed is very comfortable. He’s secretly pleased he never has to touch that Murphy bed again. They talk a little more about the game before Bitty falls asleep. Jack watches him for long moments, contemplating each day that has led to this, then follows soon after.

 

+

 

On Thursday, when the Bruins are playing the Hurricanes, Bitty—with Caitlin and March’s permission—invites Maggie, Paulie, and their kids over for the game and food. There’s a grill out on the deck, and Bitty braves the snow and the cold to make perfect burgers. He deep-fries homemade French fries, makes three pies in total, and serves everyone right as the game starts. Max is set up with a new coloring book, and Bitty’s got his Twitter game on point.

 

@bibliobaker Big party here for the Hurricanes game! @marchmadness @sjsharksgirl @swimmerfann @prettypaulie

@marchmadness @bibliobaker @sjsharksgirl @swimmerfann @prettypaulie yep, big party with all your girlfriends, sorry @JackZimmermann

@bibliobaker @marchmadness SHH. LET HIM FOCUS.

 

@LegitKentParson @bibliobaker look what i have ow.ly/45R03j

@bibliobaker @LegitKentParson Where the hell did you find your own jersey that small?

@LegitKentParson @bibliobaker build a bear hahahahahahahaha, i had to tailor it to fit her, tell me she’s cute

@bibliobaker @LegitKentParson Parse, she’s perfect <3

@LegitKentParson @bibliobaker i’m sad you couldn’t come to vegas to meet her, maybe soon?

@bibliobaker @LegitKentParson YES. I WANT TO SNUGGLE HER.

@LegitKentParson @bibliobaker what about me?

@bibliobaker @LegitKentParson okay fine, you can snuggle her too.

 

“I’ve missed you so much this last week,” Maggie says. “Actually, I’ve missed you so much this last month. I know you really wanted to keep your place, but Bits, I’m glad you’re smiling again. To be honest, you weren’t doing that so much anymore.”

 

He leans into her and kisses her cheek before stealing one of her fries. “Yeah, I know. And Zoya was so lovely about it. At least I got her super busy—she was very grateful for that.”

 

“It’s a good thing all around,” Caitlin says, stretched out on the floor with Peyton. “I feel like it works out well for all of us, honestly.”

 

“Yikes, that was a hard hit,” March says. “They’ve got it out for Jack tonight.”

 

Bitty sighs. “I know. Pretty much anything south of the Mason Dixon has been—not nice.”

 

“Remember Dallas? Gross.”

 

Paulie makes a noise of disgust. “Don’t remind me. I almost flew to Texas and burned the whole state.”

 

“At least they’re calling penalties,” Bitty says. “That didn’t happen in Florida.”

 

@bibliobaker All I’m asking is for the refs to call it like it is. No special treatment to anyone. Just call the game like it is.

@traumarauma @bibliobaker i feel like this is a naïve way of thinking

@bibliobaker @traumarauma It is, but it shouldn’t be. I shouldn’t have to say “play fair” to grown men who do this for a living.

@traumarauma @bibliobaker ppl have a right to express themselves. just because you don’t like it doesn’t make it wrong

@bibliobaker @traumarauma When is “expressing themselves” high sticking thirty seconds after a stopped play? That just happened. How is that relevant?

@traumarauma @bibliobaker some people feel it’s their duty to uphold the word of god

@bibliobaker @traumarauma Are you saying that high-sticking a non-straight player in the middle of a regular season game is upholding the word of God?

@traumarauma @bibliobaker ppl express their love for god however they want

@bibliobaker @traumarauma How is brutalizing another human being expressing a love for God? Pretty sure God is #respect and #love. Please read your Bible

 

@bibliobaker Baaaaaaaanned. That was easy. And woo! @TaterTot with a goal, @JackZimmermann w/ assist!

 

“I’m making,” Bitty says, then looks at Peyton and Max, both of whom are very focused—one with hockey and one with coloring. “I’m going to make some adult beverages. Anyone want something?”

 

“Wait,” Caitlin says, and she’s staring at the TV. “Bitty, something’s wrong.”

 

The announcers are saying something about a hit after the goal. Jack’s on the ice, helmet off, and seems to be trying to crawl, dragging his left leg. Bitty can’t see anything wrong with it, but Jack’s face is contorted. When Tater skates to him and bends down, Jack frantically waves him away from his leg. His jaw is clenched so tight Bitty can see the tendons standing out in his neck.

 

“I don’t think it was the play that did it,” the ESPN announcer says. Bitty can never remember their names. “Or rather, it wasn’t the hit, it was the fall. Let’s watch again. No doubt it was a dirty hit by Branson, but watch Zimmermann’s fall.”

 

Bitty’s heart is a wild thing in his chest, jumping into his throat when they replay the hit—definitely dirty, defenseman Mark Branson slamming Jack into the boards as Jack’s about to skate to his bench. The way Jack falls though, does something—unnatural to his left leg. Bitty can’t even comprehend what he’s seeing. Then they play it again in slow motion.

 

“There’s no way he didn’t break his leg,” Maggie says, her hand covering her mouth. Peyton’s crying, and Caitlin, sitting next to her, consoles her by rubbing her back and telling her Jack’s going to be totally fine.

 

“See the way he falls?” the announcer says. “Definitely not the hit but the fall that did it. If Jack Zimmermann’s leg isn’t broken, I’m calling a miracle.”

 

There are four medics out on the ice. They’re crowded around Jack and Bitty can’t really see him, but he keeps slamming his fist on the ice. Then he stops moving altogether while they get a stretcher.

 

“And Jack Zimmermann is getting carried off the ice. This looks bad, folks. The last time Zimmermann had an accident anywhere close to this was his sophomore year when he took a puck to the face, like so many hockey players do. Branson’s getting a major for unnecessary roughness, but I don’t think we can attribute the leg injury to him. From what I’m hearing, it is definitely a fracture—sounds like his femur?”

 

“That’s six months,” March says, running a hand over her ponytail and exhaling with a whoosh. “I mean, six, eight months. Especially for an athlete. Maybe ten. He’ll be lucky if he’s ready for next year’s season.”

 

“What’s—what’s the protocol for this?” Bitty says, and his voice sounds strange and high and tight to his own ears. “I mean, what’s going to happen, what will they do?”

 

“Well,” Caitlin says, rubbing at the back of her neck, “when Chris had the fractured wrist, it didn’t need surgery. But they took him off the ice and to a local hospital for an x-ray. Got him put in a cast that night. With this, I don’t know. I was pretty sure leg injuries like that, like a broken femur, needed surgery. I guess it depends on how bad it is and how stable he is.”

 

“How bad it is? How can it get worse?”

 

She grimaces. “If his bone didn’t pop out of his skin, they might get him back to Boston before they do surgery. He’d probably get put in a leg brace for the flight and not a cast.”

 

Bitty doesn’t quite know how he should be processing this. He looks down at his phone—already he’s blowing up with tweets and texts—and then looks back at the TV. They’re still talking about the injury. It is a femoral shaft fracture. Bitty’s phone rings and he sees it’s Jack’s mom.

 

“Maman,” he says, and doesn’t know what else to say after that.

 

“He’ll be okay,” are her first words. “Dr. Asnis says it’s very similar to what happened to Kurtis Foster back in 2008. From what they’ve said, it’s a closed fracture, so the bone didn’t go through the skin. He’ll get some x-rays, maybe a CT scan, and get flown back tonight to Boston.”

 

“So it’s definitely broken,” he says, standing and walking into the kitchen for something to do.

 

“Definitely broken,” she says, and her voice is so gentle. “He’s in a lot of pain right now, but once he gets some painkillers he’ll be okay.”

 

“Is he okay with pain pills?”

 

“Absolutely. He’s never had a problem with those. My guess is they’ll probably give him a shot of morphine for the flight. We’re going to be flying in to meet him at the airport. Would you like to come with us?”

 

Bitty still can’t focus on much of anything other than the way Jack looked when he was clawing at the ice and trying to crawl away. “I don’t want to—to overstep,” he says at last. “Or crowd y’all.”

 

“Mon cher, you could never. He will probably need you there. He won’t like it, but it’s what he needs.”

 

Of course Jack wouldn’t like it. He doesn’t like it when Bitty sees him less than his best. “Would I help or hinder him?”

 

“Help, ultimately. He wouldn’t want us there either, but he won’t stop us.” She gives a soft chuckle. “Zimmermann men are notoriously hard-headed.”

 

They coordinate a few things together—she tells him Jack will probably not make any phone calls tonight, but that she is going over his next steps with Claude and will follow up with Bitty as soon as she hears anything.

 

Bitty wonders if they’ll even let him into the hospital to see Jack after surgery, and it seems that Mrs. Zimmermann knows what he’s thinking. “More than likely he’ll have his surgery at Massachusetts General, and they are very welcoming. You won’t be turned away if you’d like to be there.”

 

When they hang up, he heads back into the living room. Despite the huge curveball thrown into Bitty’s life, the game is going on. And the Bruins are getting penalties left and right.

 

“They’re so mad about Jack,” Maggie tells him, patting the seat next to her. When he sits, Peyton climbs onto his lap and hugs him around his neck, petting his hair and saying there, there in her sweet little voice. He holds her close. Her Zimmermann jersey is fading from so many washes, and he makes a note to himself to get her a brand new one.

 

“Rans is going to live in the sin bin tonight,” Paulie says, shaking her head. “I still can’t believe Branson made that hit. If they ask him about it he’s going to deny why he did it, but even the announcers are saying it—and ESPN keeps things as P.C. as possible.”

 

The tweets are overwhelming. Dozens of celebrities weigh in on what has been decided to be nothing other than a brutal attack fueled by homophobia. There was no other reason for it, and the fact that Branson had been tagging Jack all night long with dirty hits and sneaky checks has been well televised.

 

The outpouring of love and support on Twitter far outweighs anything negative that slips through. Bitty takes time to respond to a few tweets, but stays away from making any sort of definitive statement until he gets more information from the surgeons.

 

“He’ll be fine,” Paulie says, as she, Maggie, and the kids head out to the waiting cab. Bitty walks them there and opens the door for him.

 

“I know he will,” he says. “I love y’all. Talk to y’all tomorrow.”

 

They give him hugs and kisses before he turns and heads back inside, enveloped in the arms of March and Caitlin, who make him a daiquiri and sit him on the couch while he waits for more information from Jack’s parents.

 

 

Direct Messages

@LegitKentParson anything I can help with?

@bibliobaker No, honey. Not yet, at least. I’m waiting for Jack’s mom to text me. They put him on a flight about an hour ago, and since it’s direct he’ll be here in about another hour. I’ll head to the airport soon.

@LegitKentParson he’s gonna be fine

@bibliobaker I know he is, but he may not play hockey the same way ever again, and I’m scared of what that’s going to do to him.

@LegitKentParson do we know for sure what the injury is

@bibliobaker yep. Oblique femoral shaft fracture. The bone is completely severed. He’ll be getting surgery probably tomorrow or the next day.

@LegitKentParson have you talked to him

@bibliobaker I haven’t, not yet. Just his parents.

@LegitKentParson I’m thinking of him and you and his parents okay?

@bibliobaker Thank you. I’ll keep you updated. Just text me—I don’t know why we haven’t exchanged numbers yet. 706-555-2981.

@LegitKentParson probably because I didn’t deserve your number, but I’ve been trying really hard

@bibliobaker I know you have. Of course you have. You’re a good guy.

@LegitKentParson I don’t want to be the villain.

@bibliobaker You’re not. I promise.

 

(716) 555-1777: hey it’s parse (10:02PM)

Bitty: Hey. Thanks, I’ll save you in my phone. (10:02PM)

Parse: I’ve been Googling. Shouldn’t be long before he’s able to work out again fairly normally. (10:02PM)

Bitty: His season’s shot. I read an article that studied femoral fractures in athletes that said it’s anywhere from seven to eighteen months for full recovery. It was over ten months for the hockey player they studied. (10:03PM)

Parse: This won’t ruin his career Bitty, he’s too good and they love him too much in Boston, he’s an icon. (10:03PM)

Bitty: He probably won’t play the same again. And for Jack, that’s as good as retiring. (10:04PM)

Parse: We don’t know that yet, just keep your chin up and be strong (10:04PM)

Bitty: I’m trying, sorry. I know you guys can get hurt—really, really hurt—but I didn’t see it happening like this. (10:05PM)

Parse: It shouldn’t have happened like this that’s for goddamn sure (10:05PM)

Bitty: My cab’s here for the airport. I’ll text you when I know more? (10:09PM)

Parse: Sure thing thanks (10:10PM)

 

 

Bitty doesn’t have much to go on as far as expectations are concerned. There weren’t any pictures of Jack online anywhere after he was wheeled into the locker room, but as he’s standing near the gate with Mr. and Mrs. Zimmermann, unfortunately surrounded by a lot of reporters and cameras, he forces his face to remain as still as possible when one of the airport staff comes through the gate pushing Jack, who’s in a wheelchair with his leg propped up and strapped into what looks like a very uncomfortable, very heavy-duty brace. Jack is in a t-shirt and shorts, his other foot in a flip flop, and Bitty can tell he still has morphine in him because he looks sleepy-calm, the way he does after an orgasm. Even that thought can’t make Bitty blush, though, because his heart seizes in his chest and he feels tears prickle at his eyes, though he forces them back. It’s not like Jack is coming back from war or anything. Jack is going to be fine. Obviously.

 

Jack sees his parents first because Bitty is hanging back, and Bitty doesn’t miss the grimace he gives them. He’s out of it enough that he doesn’t even notice the cameras yet.

 

There’s a lot of French spoken back and forth between them until Mr. Zimmermann turns to Bitty and motions for him. Bitty steps forward. He tries to be calm. He tries to keep the fear out of his eyes, because Jack always sees emotions in his eyes first.

 

“That brace is bigger than your padding,” Bitty says, and Jack’s smile is crooked, his eyes glassy.

 

“Hey, Bits.”

 

“Hey yourself. You made Peyton cry, you know.”

 

“Oh no.” His face falls. “Is she okay?”

 

Bitty snorts. “Of course she is, honey. She’s worried about you, though. And I think she needs a new Swimmermann jersey, because hers is pretty worn out from washing.”

 

“I’ll get her one,” Jack says, and he turns his head a little and his eyes go wide. He’s seen the cameras. “Oh, uh.”

 

“We’ve got this,” the woman pushing his wheelchair says, and she steps forward and tells the camera crews that they need to clear out, they’re blocking the walkways. It takes some time for them to be shooed away completely, and in that time Jack has reached for Bitty and Bitty squeezes his hand, which is clammy. He looks particularly sick and washed-out. Bitty bends to kiss his forehead, his free hand stroking over Jack’s hair. He really is okay. His leg looks like it’s in a sci-fi movie, but he’s here and he’s breathing and he’s going to be fine.

 

They hold hands the entire way to the parking garage, Mr. Zimmermann pushing the wheelchair and Mrs. Zimmermann outlining their plan for the evening. Jack will get another dose of morphine from a nurse at his apartment once they get settled in, then he’ll sleep through the night and have a consultation with the surgeon first thing in the morning.

 

Getting him into the Audi Q7 is easier than Bitty thought it would be, because Jack’s upper body strength is formidable. He sort of climbs his way in, but even being as careful as he can be, he jostles his leg a bit and hisses through his teeth until he’s settled horizontally in the far back seat, left leg stretched out as he thunks his head against the window. Bitty thinks he falls asleep shortly after that, so he sits in the middle seat and helps direct Jack’s parents through a shortcut back to Jack’s apartment, where it takes some time and effort to get him into the elevator and up to his floor.

 

The nurse arrives not five minutes after that and gives them instructions on what to do in the interim, and advises that Jack will be fine to take his usual medication in the morning.

 

“Make sure he drinks fluids,” she says, “that replenish electrolytes. We usually recommend half cold water and half Gatorade, but not the lemon lime flavor—it’s too harsh on tooth enamel.”

 

“Jack hates it anyway,” Mr. Zimmermann says with a smile, as Bitty helps Jack into his bed. Jack takes the second morphine shot with a mostly expressionless face, then props himself up on several pillows before letting everyone else putter around him. Bitty has never seen him so pliant before. Something feels inherently wrong about it, and Bitty takes the time to text Parse and let him know what’s going on before he makes sure that Mr. and Mrs. Zimmermann are comfortable in the second bedroom.

 

“I’m taking off tomorrow,” he says, realizing that he hasn’t brought anything to sleep in, or change into. He was so frantic earlier he completely forgot that yes, he’d probably be staying with Jack tonight. “Is there anything I need to be doing in particular, or…I mean. Can I go to the appointment tomorrow?”

 

“You and Alicia will go,” Mr. Zimmermann says. “The consultation would be a little too crowded with all four of us, so I’m going to take some time to stock the toiletries, fridge, pantry and things. He’s running a little low right now, and he will be spending a lot of time at home.”

 

Bitty didn’t even think of those things, and he feels briefly shamed. “I should’ve thought of that.”

 

“You don’t need to,” Mr. Zimmermann says, kind. “That’s what we’re here for. Go get yourself some sleep, eh? The appointment is at ten.”

 

Though it takes a lot of tiptoeing and being as quiet as possible, Bitty manages to get his teeth brushed with Jack’s extra toothbrush and changes into an old pair of Jack’s sweats, which are too big but have a drawstring he can tighten at the waist. He makes himself a little nest on the couch with a pillow and blankets grabbed from the linen closet and idly flicks through tweets on his phone to help himself try to sleep. Then he watches YouTube videos about Sidney Crosby working at Tim Hortons, because he desperately needs something to take his mind of off everything, and Sidney Crosby is always a great help with that.

 

Then he gets a text.

 

Jack: where are you (1:04AM)

Bitty: On the couch, honey. Try to sleep. (1:04AM)

Jack: ae you in my aparmtnet? (1:05AM)

Bitty: Yes, baby. I’m on the couch in your apartment. You need to relax and sleep. (1:05AM)

Jack: why aren’t you in bed then why are you o the couch in my apartamtnet (1:06AM)

Bitty: I didn’t want to jostle your leg. Put your phone down, sweetheart. (1:06AM)

Jack: but it’s my lef leg an you sleep on my right so you cant jostle it.? can you clme to beD/ (1:07AM)

 

“Jack,” Bitty says, soft as he can as he pushes into Jack’s bedroom. “I think you’ll be safer if I’m not in here.”

 

“Big bed,” Jack says. “Please.”

 

Bitty doesn’t want to argue any further after that, because Jack really does need to sleep. So he crawls into bed beside him and protests quietly when Jack starts tugging at him and pulling him closer.

 

“I’m injured,” Jack says, and his words sound very French and particularly slurry. “You shouldn’t be mean to me when I’m injured, just come here.” There’s a string of French after that, and Bitty doesn’t even bother to tell Jack he has no idea what Jack has just said.

 

Only when he’s tucked against Jack’s side does Jack relent and fall quiet. He’s asleep almost immediately. Bitty isn’t. Bitty stays up for another two or three hours after that, worrying himself so much that his stomach cramps and he has to breathe in slow through his nose and out through his mouth to keep the rising panic down.

 

His sleep is fitful. He wakes every time Jack shifts minutely, worried that Jack is in pain, that Bitty has hurt him by accident. But if he tries to move away, Jack’s arm clamps on him harder and Bitty can’t move without waking him up. The most he can do is turn onto his right side, clutching at Jack’s arm like it’s Señor Bun, which he needs to remember to pick up from home the next time he goes by.

 

When morning comes, Bitty has slept maybe two hours total, but Jack is still completely gone, having barely moved from where they put him. Bitty can’t move without waking Jack, so he rolls over onto his other side and rests his head on Jack’s shoulder.

 

It’s Mrs. Zimmermann who comes through the door first, peeking in slowly before smiling. “Has he got you trapped?” she whispers.

 

“Yes,” Bitty says. “All night long. I feel like a toy.”

 

She wakes Jack up by running her fingers through his hair until he opens his eyes. When he sees her, French tumbles out of his mouth, then out of hers, and they both sort of murmur at each other. The sound is so soothing Bitty nearly falls asleep. But they have to get Jack up and ready for his doctor’s appointment.

 

It’s a struggle, getting him dressed. While Mrs. Zimmermann makes a quick breakfast of omelets and oatmeal, Bitty helps Jack work his shorts down his legs, careful of the brace, and slide into new ones. Then he helps Jack with his shirt, rolling his eyes when Jack catches him around the waist and pulls him in for a kiss.

 

“Are you in pain?” Bitty asks, fingers tracing along Jack’s jaw as he tries carefully not to jostle his leg in any way.

 

“Yeah,” Jack says, but Bitty wouldn’t have guessed with the way Jack paws at him. “Quite a bit, actually. But I’m trying not to think about it. Blanca and I talked last night as I went to the airport, and I can’t focus too far ahead in the future. Just on today and what is going to happen directly next.”

 

Relieved at that, more than he cares to admit, Bitty gives Jack a few more kisses to satisfy him. “I’m glad to hear that. You know I’m here every step with you, right?”

 

Jack’s eyes go wide. “Wait, you’re supposed to be at work, aren’t you?”

 

“Honey, I took off today. Don’t worry about it, Marsha understands. She’s aware I might not be there tomorrow and Monday too. We’re working it out.”

 

Placated, Jack lets Bitty get him dressed the rest of the way, Bitty insisting on a hoodie and warm socks with his sneakers if he can’t wear actual pants. “You’re going to freeze,” he says, fretting, but Jack simply waves his hand at him as though Bitty is being silly. (He’s not; it’s 28° out and too cold to snow.)

 

They all eat breakfast, Jack takes his usual meds—his dose increased to 30mg for his Lexapro per Blanca, who is anticipating an increase in his anxiety—and then they maneuver him into his wheelchair, down the elevator, and into the Audi. Though Jack is more talkative than Bitty expects him to be, it’s clearly forced. Maybe Blanca told him to strive for normalcy? Or optimism? Bitty’s not sure. He doesn’t question it, though, and the ride to the hospital is almost pleasant. Jack talks with pragmatism about what Dr. Asnis anticipated his recovery being, and says more than once that he’s not going to overdo it.

 

“It’s only going to hurt me more if I push too hard,” he says. “I’ll follow whatever they want me to follow for the quickest recovery.”

 

The doctor consultation is quicker and easier than Bitty expected it to be, and it takes him longer than he wants to admit to realize that when you have money the way Jack does and do the type of job that he does, people are much more likely to jump to your every need. The last time he got sick, he had to wait four hours at urgent care before he saw someone.

 

They schedule the surgery for Monday at seven in the morning. The surgeon, Dr. Huang, explains what she’s going to do in detail, and it makes Bitty feel a bit queasy; Jack and Mrs. Zimmermann only nod, like they hear all about intramedullary nails every day. “Don’t you have to go through insurance?” Bitty says when they’re back in the elevator to go to the parking garage, and Jack shrugs.

 

“I don’t know. I just wait until they tell me to pay and I pay.”

 

Well. How nice.

 

Back at the apartment, Jack takes one of the Vicodin Dr. Huang prescribed before easing himself into bed for a nap. He’s grimacing a lot but hasn’t complained. Bitty’s anxiety is through the roof.

 

“What would be best for him?” he asks Jack’s parents, when they’re all in the kitchen together. “I mean, should I…go in with him on Monday, or…?”

 

“That’s up to you,” Mrs. Zimmermann says, forcing Bitty to sit down so he stops pacing. She puts the kettle heating. “I know Jack would appreciate having you there, but you have to work. I can stay with him and make sure he gets what he needs, but this surgery isn’t going to be nearly as bad as it sounds. He’ll probably be up and moving about on crutches come Tuesday.”

 

Bitty takes a deep, slow breath and tells himself to look at the facts without emotion. Jack has a very clean oblique femoral fracture that, after the CT scan, his doctors says is the cleanest break they’ve seen in this kind of an injury. No arteries or nerves were damaged, no blood clots are to be expected. Jack has only ever been under anesthesia twice in his life—when he had his tonsils removed at twelve years old, and when he was twenty-two for his jaw surgery. Though this surgery on his leg will be much longer than what he’s experienced before, he’s not in a danger zone for anesthesia. He’ll be on crutches for two to four weeks before he’s assessed again post-surgery. Jack is not an invalid; he can take care of himself.

 

“I think I’ll take Monday off,” Bitty says, trying out the words aloud to see how they sound. He’s the one that needs comforting right now, not Jack. “You’re right, he should be fine Tuesday. I don’t mind staying with him, though, to see if there’s anything I can do for him, like cook and laundry and stuff. Which I know he can do on his own, but it would make me feel better.” He nods and takes another breath. “Yes, I’ll take Monday off, and he’ll be fine after that.”

 

Mr. Zimmermann claps him on the shoulder. “Good plan. We’ll stay through the surgery tomorrow and head home, if that’s all right with you?”

 

“Oh, of course it is. I think Jack would want you both here.”

 

They look at each other. Mrs. Zimmermann busies herself with making tea. “I don’t think he will,” she says. “He’s…very independent. You know this, yes?”

 

“Everyone thinks I don’t know Jack Zimmermann’s dark side,” Bitty says, chuckling. “Trust me, I know. He’s absolutely insufferable when he doesn’t get his way, and he’s an ornery bastard when he’s not living up to his own idea of perfection. I get it. He’s going to be a jerk, I’m prepared for that.”

 

She smiles at him and gently kisses his cheek. “And this is why you are perfect for him, mon cher.”

 

 

@NHLBruins We’re glad @JackZimmermann’s surgery went well! Looking forward to his return! #YouCanPlay

@NHLCanes @NHLBruins Great news! Can’t wait to see @JackZimmermann back on the ice!

@TBLightning @NHLBruins Excellent news for the day! The Lightning send Zimmermann the best of luck for recovery!

@FlaPanthers @NHLBruins This is wonderful! Good luck to Zimmermann for his recovery!

@DetroitRedWings @NHLBruins We are sending the best recovery vibes from Detroit!

@Senators @NHLBruins The Ottawa Senators are glad this first step was successful! Best recovery wishes to Zimmermann!

 

@NHLCanes “Be modest, be respectful of others, try to understand.” - Lakhdar Brahimi

@NHLCanes The Canes have begun sensitivity training for all of its employees in order to better represent #YouCanPlay

@NHLCanes We should respect all people as people, without question.

 

@NHL Carolina Hurricanes’ defenseman Mark Branson begins his 20 game suspension for his illegal hit on Jack Zimmermann tonight: s.nhl.com/9819bR0

 

@bibliobaker Surgery for @JackZimmermann went great! He’s still super groggy from the anesthesia. I’m going to Vine the hell out of this.

@ChrisChowdah @bibliobaker Oh good!!! I’m glad he’s okay!!! Is he like those kids who get their wisdom teeth out?????

@bibliobaker @ChrisChowdah Pretty close. He just asked me if the Americans really went to the moon in 1969. Apparently his head is in space right now.

@ChrisChowdah @bibliobaker hahahaha! Oh Jack! <3

 

@LegitKentParson @bibliobaker quick, tell him the wire is better than breaking bad

@bibliobaker @LegitKentParson Are you insane? He just had an eight hour surgery!!

@LegitKentParson @bibliobaker please do it, for me, and vine it please

@bibliobaker @LegitKentParson oh my god, you’re horrible

@bibliobaker @LegitKentParson he’s going to kill you when he’s coherent: View on Vine

 

@bibliobaker Good for the next ten minutes only--@JackZimmermann will say anything you want him to say on Vine.

@LegitKentParson @bibliobaker Kent Parson is the best hockey player ever

@bibliobaker @LegitKentParson he says he’s going to kill you twice: View on Vine

 

@barbramason @bibliobaker “I feel pretty, oh so pretty” and he has to sing it

@bibliobaker @barbramason HAHAHA, oh, this is a good one—he’s actually not tone deaf!! I’m surprised! View on Vine

 

@darthsk8er @bibliobaker aretha franklin, his choice, make that boy sing some more, dear lord

@bibliobaker @darthsk8er Oh my God, he chose (You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman: View on Vine

 

@bibliobaker Okay, so Jack is NOT a bad singer, even when he’s completely doped up and has no idea what he’s actually doing. #colormeimpressed

@TaterTot @bibliobaker this is news! I have never heard him sing before, he is good! Perhaps he has second career, no?

@bibliobaker @TaterTot ALEXEI, are you kicking him out of the NHL already?!

@TaterTot @bibliobaker Bitty no! Of course not! I love Zimmboni! I want him to play forever with me :( But maybe in many years I see him sing!

 

@JackZimmermann @LegitKentParson I’m going to kill you

@LegitKentParson @JackZimmermann twice i heard

@JackZimmermann @LegitKentParson and I’m taking your cat

@LegitKentParson @JackZimmermann NO YOU WONT!!!!!!!!!

 

“You seem like you’re in a better mood,” Bitty says, running fingers through Jack’s hair once they’re settled in bed.

 

“I’m okay,” Jack says, then he turns his face into Bitty’s shoulder and starts to cry.

Chapter Text

You are ahead of the curve, Jack tells himself, as he slowly gets dressed on a Thursday morning in late March. You do not need crutches. You have started physical therapy two weeks earlier than expected. You have been swimming. You can ride a bike. Your progress is excellent. You are ahead of the curve. You are ahead of the curve.

 

Bitty’s baking a breakfast quiche in the kitchen, and the smell makes his mouth water; he hasn’t had much of an appetite lately. He walks into the kitchen once his sweatpants and t-shirt are on, watching as Bitty takes the quiche out of the oven and puts it cooling on the stovetop. Breakfast is simple other than the quiche—fruit Jack has to get himself. Jack appreciates that Bitty has not been…extra Bitty throughout this whole thing. He rather expected to be completely mothered, but he’s ended up doing a lot of things himself, though Bitty took charge and directed him around so Jack didn’t have to actively think of what the hell to do next.

 

“Five minutes to cool,” Bitty says, pouring himself what is probably his third cup of coffee. He’s dressed extra-smart in dark blue corduroy pants that fit him like a glove and a soft gray sweater vest over a white button-down. He’s even wearing a dark blue tie. Jack feels something warm stir in his belly when Bitty looks at him. The picture he presents is all slim lines and confident angles, his hair freshly trimmed and his lashes obscenely long. His eyes are a huge focal point on his face, and sometimes Jack finds himself looking at Bitty and not even realizing he’s doing it. Jack is so physically attracted to him that it hurts.

 

“Something on your mind?” Bitty asks, leaning against the counter to sip his coffee. He looks…like a librarian. Not for the first time, Jack wishes he wore glasses, just to complete the look. “If you’re thinking sexy thoughts, you will have to postpone them. I’m heading to work early to meet with—Jack, don’t you dare! My hair took me twenty minutes!”

 

Jack grabs at him anyway, once the coffee cup is safely put away. Bitty doesn’t fight too much because Jack is still recovering and can’t wrestle the way they did before, but he does manage to efficiently pin Bitty against the counter, hands curving around his hips. They haven’t done anything like this in what feels like forever. Even kisses have become perfunctory good morning and good night. Jack misses him. A lot.

 

Bitty lets himself be kissed in such a way that Jack finds unbelievably arousing—all pliant and giving of himself, not protesting when Jack’s hands search hungrily along his body. It’s clear that if Bitty didn’t want to be kissed, he wouldn’t let Jack do this. So Bitty’s consent is evident in every slick slide of his mouth.

 

“Stay with me tonight?” Bitty asks, and he tucks his hand against Jack’s neck, mouthing at his jaw. Their bodies draw closer, an easy slip of hips, an arched back. Jack aches for him so intensely he almost asks him to take off work. But Bitty has a big meeting planned today with Olivia and Marsha—hence the super nice clothes—so Jack will have to…wait. Something he is not good at. “I have a lot of work to get done so I need to be at home, but…I need you there. Is that okay?”

 

“That’s great,” Jack says, careful of Bitty’s hair as he kisses him again, long and deep and slow. “I’d love that. Yes.”

 

Bitty indulges Jack for another few minutes before sliding away from his arms. Jack follows him as he buttons up his coat and slings his messenger bag over his shoulder, double checking to make sure he has the binder and paperwork he needs. When he looks over at Jack, he smiles.

 

“Eat your quiche,” he says. “It’s cooled enough by now. Want to meet here and then we can go to Brighton after I’m off?”

 

Jack nods but doesn’t say anything. This is the first time since his injury that he’s felt genuinely lonely. He’s had a lot to occupy him until this moment—his first day off from rehabilitation without Bitty there to ply for his attention. Jack walks him to the door and doesn’t protest when Bitty takes another several long moments to kiss him all over.

 

“I love you,” Bitty says, and Jack echoes the words, watching him leave. He looks very good in those pants.

 

Jack spends the rest of the day taking pictures around various points in his apartment, finding aesthetic shots like his and Bitty’s toothbrushes next to one another at the sink, a crumpled Zimmermann jersey, and the half-eaten quiche. He plays with settings on his computer until he’s satisfied with each picture, then uploads them one at a time to his Twitter. He’s never been…bored before. He’s only been cleared to swim and bike, and he’s been ordered two days of rest a week. This is one of them. A day of rest. He hates it.

 

@JackZimmermann Since I’m not allowed to do anything today, does anyone want to entertain me?

@twatterer @JackZimmermann where’s the cute librarian??

@JackZimmermann @twatterer At work. Being a cute librarian.

@twatterer @JackZimmermann bummer :( nice pics tho! have you taken classes yet?

@JackZimmermann @twatterer Not yet. I’d like to at some point if I can.

@twatterer @JackZimmermann since you’ve got downtime, maybe check out youtube. might be some tutorials there you can follow.

@JackZimmermann @twatterer Hey thanks, I never thought about that.

 

@prettypaulie @JackZimmermann I feel bad for you, bro. Not being allowed to do anything must hurt!! Want to come have lunch with me?

@JackZimmermann @prettypaulie Yeah actually that’d be great. I can’t sit by myself in the house anymore.

@prettypaulie @JackZimmermann I figured! If you want you can bring you camera. We could go for a walk in the park!

@JackZimmermann @prettypaulie Great idea, thanks. I’ll meet you at our pizza place?

@prettypaulie @JackZimmermann I’ll be there! :)

 

Jack enjoys his lunch and his time with Paulie. He’s never had the opportunity to talk to her one-on-one and finds there are a lot of things about her he didn’t know—namely how she got Max. She tells the story almost like it’s something she watched on the news—how she got drunk at a house party thrown by her roommates one night and woke up in her own bed with her clothes on, not thinking much about it. She had plans to go into the army, but when she did her final checkup, they told her she was pregnant and wouldn’t be able to enlist.

 

“I always had wacky periods,” she says. “I didn’t even realize I’d missed one.”

 

It takes Jack several moments before he can speak. “Do you know who the—” He can’t say rapist. “Who the father is?”

 

“No, and I’ve never wanted to know. I thought about an abortion, but it just wasn’t right for me. I love my son, but I do not want to know who his father is.” She pauses. “Kind of hard being a lesbian and finding yourself with a kid like this. I never thought that would happen, but life can’t really be predicted, you know? I decided to take what it gave me and try to make something good out of it.”

 

She lets him take her hand and they walk around the park together in silence. Before she leaves to pick Max up from his art class, Jack takes a picture of her framed against a low sun on the horizon, her dark hair lit with gold and her dark eyes wide and brighter even than her smile.

 

+

 

Bitty: Thanks for occupying Jack today <3 He’s been far less grouchy than I expected, honestly, but still too grouchy for his own good ;) (4:32PM)

Paulie: He’s SUCH a sweet guy, Bitty. Just know I am always willing to cheer him up! (4:51PM)

Bitty: I’m really surprised he’s taking this as well as he is. It’s like he has fits of melancholy sometimes, but he’s been REALLY good about sticking with his doctor’s recommended plan. I’m just worried about what will happen once he’s feeling a hundred percent and they only let him go fifty. He’s still a little sore, especially in the mornings. (5:09PM)

Paulie: We’re here to do whatever we need to for him. Teamwork!! (5:11PM)

Bitty: Bless you, friend. (5:15PM)

Paulie: Maggie says not to forget Peyton’s birthday—first Saturday in April! (5:15PM)

Bitty: Oh my God, are y’all kidding me? AS IF we’d forget that! <3 (5:57PM)

 

 

Bitty thinks his favorite part of his day now is curling up in his comfy bed in the little Brighton house with Jack stretched out beside him. They cuddle together and watch Particle Fever on Netflix. Jack has finally finished his first Michio Kaku book that was given as a recommendation to Bitty, and he’s fascinated by space, astrophysics, and higher dimensions. When Jack isn’t at home games with a delighted Peyton in his lap, he’s reading and watching documentaries and trying to listen to doctor’s orders.

 

While Bitty half-dozes and Jack learns, the house fills up around them. Ransom is staying the night with March—Bitty can hear them yelling at each other in her room over a Settlers of Catan game—and Caitlin, with her roommates’ permission, has invited over four girls from her work to have a movie night. Each time Bitty goes into the kitchen to refill his water, they all stare at him and whisper excitedly while she rolls her eyes in amusement.

 

So Bitty asks Jack to take off his shirt and wander casually into the kitchen for a glass of water. Jack obliges, bless him, and comes back in with a grin on his face.

 

“I think I killed them,” he says, and as soon as he’s back in bed again, their phones beep back to back with a text.

 

Caitlin: You guys are dicks. Bitty, I know this was your idea. Jack, your body is too attractive for words, congratulations. Thanks for destroying my coworkers. (10:07PM)

 

Bitty spends some time after the documentary at his desk, working on the remaining paperwork for his and Olivia’s last presentation to Marsha and the director of library services. Their meeting today went great—only a few more kinks to iron out before they get final approval. Their youth collection is on the verge of a major overhaul.

 

“How many books did you weed?” Jack asks, and Bitty is a little surprised when he hops up on the desk. It’s an oddly…optimistic gesture, and Jack has been mostly subdued lately. In his shorts, Bitty can see his still-healing scar.

 

“Over four hundred,” Bitty says. “We’re making a huge change. I don’t think the library has had a change like this in a long time.”

 

“That’s really cool. And you think it’s going to bring in more kids?”

 

“I do. I really do. Because there are a lot of issues facing kids today that our books simply don’t address. The world is changing. We need to change with it.”

 

Jack looks interested in Bitty’s paperwork, so Bitty hands him one of the stapled copies. Jack’s big hands flip through it and Bitty feels pleasure blooming in his chest. Whenever Jack shows interest in what he does, Bitty…reacts. “That’s the current iteration of our proposal,” Bitty says. “We pared it down quite a lot from what I’d done originally, because I am overexcited and longwinded when it comes to the library.”

 

The smile Jack gives him is sweet and a little indulgent. “You do get pretty overexcited.”

 

“Excuse you, Mr. I’m-Going-to-Practice-Faceoffs-On-the-Second-Date.”

 

Jack flushes, and his embarrassment is endearing. “Okay, so I guess we both get overexcited with what we do.”

 

It feels like it’s been forever since Jack was this much of himself, and Bitty relishes in the flirting, the little casual touches of their hands. He’s known Jack for nine months now, and in that nine months they’ve been through a lot together: the media harassment, the second job, meeting each other’s parents, the fracture. Also simply learning about one another and adjusting to their different personalities. Finding a balance. Falling in love.

 

“What are you thinking about?” Jack asks, leaning into Bitty’s space and mouthing at the edge of his ear. Bitty fits his fingers into Jack’s hair, which he hasn’t cut in a while. Instead of answering, Bitty turns his head for a kiss. Then another. Then he stands and fits himself as close to Jack as he can, Jack who spreads his knees to make room for Bitty, who always makes room for Bitty. They kiss more, Bitty pressing palms to Jack’s bare chest, his thumbs brushing Jack’s rising nipples. Jack scoops him up and carries him to the bed, ignoring Bitty’s murmured concerns about his leg. Then Bitty is spread out on the bed with Jack crouching all big and broad over him, Jack kissing him deep and slow, hips rocking against hips. Bitty’s in his most worn sweatpants and a t-shirt, and Jack’s shorts don’t have a lot of fabric either. They are both hard. Heart pounding far faster than it has any right to, Bitty lets Jack undress him.

 

“What do you want?” Jack says, when Bitty’s clothes are in a pile on the floor. Shivering from the contact, something he hasn’t had since before Jack’s surgery, something that his hand on his cock does not satisfy, he doesn’t know how to answer that. Everything is God’s honest truth, but Jack has to be careful. His physical therapist hasn’t said to lay off the athletic sex, of course, but he feels like that should be lumped in with restricting vigorous physical activity.

 

He slides a hand between them, fingers brushing lightly over Jack’s cock, which is hard. “Are you in the mood?” Bitty knows from experience that Jack can have an erection and not want to do anything about it; asking is always a foolproof way to make sure he doesn’t accidently attempt something he shouldn’t.

 

Jack breathes a husky yes into Bitty’s ear, which warms Bitty from the inside out. This man. Bitty coaxes Jack’s shorts off with trembling fingers, sighs at the press of skin to skin. They’re quiet as they push and rut and fumble with one another, Jack’s breathing harsh in Bitty’s ear as his sweaty hand grips Bitty’s hip, seeking stability as he thrusts his hips. Bitty wonders what it would be like to be filled by Jack. He’s never cared about that part of sex before, though he loves fucking Jack, how tight and warm he is, how loud he gets. But now he’s curious about the reciprocal. Will he like it as much as Jack does?

 

“On your back,” Bitty says, the shred of thought left in his head concerned at the strain Jack is putting on his still-healing bones. “Please.”

 

Jack obliges. He is all long limbs and angles as he settles his head on his pillow, and when he looks at Bitty through half-lidded eyes, Bitty can’t see an end to this here the way he has before with boyfriends. He doesn’t see them stopping this. Or this getting old. He sees Jack stretched out beside him on countless nights just like this one. He sees them fighting and making up, moving in together. He sees children. He sees dogs (Biscuit and Gravy, of course). Bitty sees Jack aging gracefully with graying hair, retiring from hockey and maybe making a new living as a photographer. He sees himself putting out a cookbook (maybe, one day, who knows). He sees long winters and long summers and beautiful springs, falls wrapped in red and orange, time with families and friends. Bitty’s never been to Italy. He could go with Jack. He could ask, and Jack would do anything for him, just like Bitty will do anything for Jack.

 

Bitty has never had a desire to search for his ‘other half’ before, and in college he decided that didn’t exist. There was no other half, because he wasn’t incomplete. He and Jack are not puzzle pieces. Instead, they’re something great individually that makes something even better together, like cinnamon and sugar. They are cinnamon and sugar, and they are making things new and different and exciting.

 

Sliding over him, Bitty settles his knees on either side of Jack’s hips. He says, Make love to me, and Jack’s blue eyes widen a little, his hands fitted around Bitty’s waist, splaying fingers on Bitty’s skin. Jack touches him with a strange sort of tender propriety, cupping at the back of his neck, drawing him down for a kiss. Inside me, Bitty says, and Jack asks if he’s sure and Bitty says he is, of course he is. He wants to try it, and he wants to try it with Jack.

 

Jack slicks up his fingers with the lube from the nightstand, gives Bitty’s cock a few slow slides to make him pant, then he eases him open, Bitty’s body responsive and eager for anything Jack will give. It doesn’t take long before Jack lifts him, shifts under him, and Bitty lets gravity take him down little by little.

 

It’s strange. He doesn’t know if he likes it, and he knows he’s making a face when he’s seated. Jack is shaking under him, and Bitty thinks Jack may like this a lot.

 

They ask if the other is okay at the same time, then chuckle kisses into mouths as answers. Bitty closes his eyes and starts moving his hips, pressing Jack’s shoulder down when he tries to move as well. Your leg. Jack says it’s fine and Bitty exhales as they start to rock together in rhythm, Jack’s hand at the back of Bitty’s neck and Bitty’s hands braced on Jack’s shoulders. He flutters with pleasure and can’t help but smile, his heart enormous and glowing behind the cage of his bones. Jack smiles too. They grin stupidly at each other, then kisses each other’s smiles, lick into mouths, mumble endearments. Jack’s sweet French fills Bitty’s ears as Jack hand curls around his cock, urging him to come. The spiral toward the crest is languid, little by little, further and further, until Jack puts a hand to Bitty’s mouth to keep him quiet and fucks into him with more force than he really should, and Bitty wants to be concerned for his leg but he’s not, he’s riding the wave and he’s not breaking, he’s not breaking just yet but he wants to.

 

Then Jack pushes at him—not off but leans him back, sits up himself, holding Bitty at a precarious angle and driving him down and down and down on Jack’s cock. It’s not nearly as intense as Jack’s fingers; instead, it’s like Jack is working to simply slide past his prostate, a slight press, enough of a jolt to make Bitty come all over himself as his cock can’t take the pressure anymore. Bitty doesn’t shout—he bites at his fist and keeps his wild whimpering to a minimum, eyes squeezed shut, letting the intense sensations of his body and of Jack’s flood him.

 

Once Bitty’s capable of focusing on something other than his own pulsating body, he gives Jack a quick swipe with a washcloth (Bitty’s not a fan of the way the lube tastes) before giving him a long, slow blowjob that culminates in Jack’s hand on the back of Bitty’s head, pushing him down, as he comes with only the smallest of noises in his throat. Each time Bitty can get him to come, he’s tremendously pleased with himself, and now is no different. He and Jack share kisses that make Jack particularly aggressive, big hands clutching at each curve and angle he can reach. Bitty nuzzles at Jack’s neck, placing kisses there, letting himself be held and loved.

 

They talk quietly after they both clean up, Bitty with his head resting on Jack’s chest. At Jack’s further questions, he explains more about his project for the new collection, and how he’s hoping it’s something that’s going to look good on his resume for the future. Jack sounds confident when he says, “I think this is going to be very good for you,” and Bitty lets himself bask in Jack’s praise and admiration.

 

Then he gets hungry. Pulling on his pants but not bothering with his shirt, he tiptoes out into the living room, which is blessedly empty, and makes his way into the kitchen. He hears movement, but he’s pretty sure Caitlin’s friends are gone.

 

“Come on,” Ransom says, and his voice sounds low and tender. “We want you to stay.”

 

Without thinking much about it, Bitty shuffles into the kitchen to cut a slice of pie and get a scoop of ice cream. He freezes. Cornered by Ransom against the stove is Holster. Both of them are in t-shirts and shorts and socks, and they look cozy. Cozier than cozy. Ransom’s got his face tucked into Holster’s neck, and the look on Holster’s face is pained and aroused all at once. Bitty tries to back out before he’s seen, heart pounding, but Holster turns that little bit and makes eye contact. He shoves Ransom away, and now Ransom’s looking at Bitty with wide eyes too.

 

“Bits,” Holster says, and Bitty’s first thought is oh no, because March. Bitty has never actively caught somebody cheating before, though he’d talked to acquaintances in college about their own cheating woes and drama. He feels incredibly sick and heavy with such a secret, unable to process what’s actually going on.

 

“I, uh, don’t need pie anymore,” Bitty says, and tries to smile and wave and it comes out all wrong. “Sorry, I’m going to—sorry—”

 

He’s halfway down the hall when March comes out of her room, rubbing at her eyes with a sleepy sort of sweetness that breaks Bitty’s heart. He stops her from going into the kitchen with a hand on her shoulder, and all he says is, “Don’t.”

 

“What’s wrong?” she says, and her hair is out of its usual ponytail, framing her face in silky blonde curls. “Bitty, are you okay?”

 

“Um, I’m fine,” he says, “but why don’t you—what are you getting in the kitchen? Can I get it for you?”

 

“I can get it myself,” she says slowly, like he’s touched in the head. “What’s gotten into you?”

 

“Wait, let’s just,” Bitty says, striding in front of her and blocking her. “Let’s just—hold on for a bit, okay?”

 

“Bits, it’s fine,” Ransom says, and Bitty finds himself deliberately keeping her from him, looking at Ransom over his shoulder. “She knows. It’s fine.”

 

Bitty doesn’t know how that makes it any better—knowing that your boyfriend is cheating on you is just as bad as the cheating itself. When March chuckles, he’s even more confused.

 

“Bitty, you are so kind. But it’s okay.” And she moves around him, kisses Ransom, kisses Holster’s cheek, and proceeds to pour herself a glass of water.

 

Uncomfortable silences have a sound. The sound is oppressive and punctuated by the obvious clinking of clean dishes coming out of the dishwasher, the tap water turning on, the glass filling. Bitty can’t meet anyone’s eyes, but it’s okay because they can’t meet his either. It’s March who saves his bacon.

 

“Bitty, honey, don’t make this more complicated than you think it is,” she says, but her tone isn’t unkind. “Nobody’s cheating on anyone. For the sake of clarity, Holster and I happily share a boyfriend. I didn’t tell you because I was just waiting—the time never seemed right to bring it up.”

 

He’s never been so relieved before. “Okay, so this is—all y’all agree to this.”

 

They nod. Holster scratches at the back of his head and sighs. “We know it’s weird.”

 

“No,” Bitty says, and he’s so emphatic they all stare at him. He tells himself to calm down, he does not have to go on a crusade about consensual, loving relationships right now. They only need to know he’s fine with it. “No, it isn’t weird. It’s perfectly fine. If it works for you, I’m happy for you. I love all y’all, all I ever want is for y’all to be happy.”

 

Ransom reaches for him, and Bitty gets a big hug. Holster spoons him from behind. While it took some getting used to at first—the Fourth of July picnic comes to mind—Bitty rather adores hockey players that are such huggers. It makes him feel so warm and loved.

 

“You’re a good egg,” Holster tells him, voice all rumbly against Bitty’s back. They fall quiet, hugging one another, until March complains that she’s tired.

 

“I’ve taken off work tomorrow,” Bitty tells her. “Jack doesn’t know it yet. I thought I’d surprise him after his morning session and take him on a date.”

 

“You’ve got some coupons he can use,” she says, and Bitty often forgets that Jack has the coupons from Christmas until Jack presents him with one. Then she gives him a look. “I think you’ve been using a bunch of them since you’ve been here, honestly.”

 

“We aren’t loud,” Bitty says, defensive. “I mean, we aren’t that loud. You’re making it sound worse than it is.”

 

They all shuffle to their respective bedrooms, Bitty trying hard—and failing—not to imagine exactly how that relationship works. From the way March made it sound, she and Holster are not dating. Which is fine, of course—they’re adults, as long as everyone’s aware of what’s going on, Bitty sees nothing wrong with it. He thinks about having to share Jack, though, and realizes that he’s probably not as good of an egg as they think he is. If someone wanted to share Jack—Kent Parson being the obvious person that comes to mind—Bitty would probably have a fit of deeply intense jealousy. And if Jack wanted to be shared…Bitty would have to seriously consider letting someone else touch Jack—

 

No. That wouldn’t happen. They’ve had that conversation before regarding Parse. And Jack’s bewildered expression at the mere suggestion of it had been answer enough.

 

Bitty’s back in the bedroom before he realizes that he never got his pie, but Jack is already asleep on the bed, looking young and vulnerable, and Bitty thinks that food can wait until morning.

 

+

 

“You’re kind of miraculous,” Whitney says, as Jack demonstrates his wall slides and toe raises as she has requested. “Jack, I’ve never seen anybody proceed this well after surgery. You’re doing a great job.”

 

“When do you think I’ll be able to skate?” he says, wiping at his sweaty forehead with the back of his hand. That’s the next goal in his mind, but he’s forced himself not to think about a timeframe. Small goals, Blanca had said. He wants to skate—that is his goal, and that is all that matters. He will let the professionals tell him the rest.

 

Whitney fits a two-pound weight around his ankle and makes him do ten rep leg lifts while watching his form carefully. He shouldn’t even be at this stage yet, but he is. “If I’m being optimistic and taking in your fast progress, maybe late May. Usually we would advise July, but I think you’re doing shockingly well.”

 

If he skates in May, he could theoretically be able to play at the start of the season. “Okay. So should I have May as a goal in mind?”

 

“Why don’t we make your goal June first? If you exceed the goal, we’ll celebrate. If you don’t, you’re still ahead of schedule.”

 

Blanca would approve, so Jack agrees. He tells himself he will be skating on June first. He will not get his hopes up for any sooner than that, nor will he be disappointed if they have to push it back. He is ahead of the curve. He focuses on the exercises she orders, and by the time he’s showered and changed, heading out to his car, he stops as he sees Bitty at the nurse’s station, in jeans and a soft-looking blue sweater.

 

“What are you doing here?” Jack asks, trying not to smile too wide. He’s very aware of the attention they’re getting, and out the corner of his eye he sees several young boys fighting on whether or not they should approach him.

 

“I took the day off,” Bitty tells him, giving that little tipped-up smirk that makes him look handsome rather than cute. “I thought we could use some of those coupons from Christmas.”

 

They’ve used a lot of them already, Jack thinks, as he gets a little warm under the collar. “Which coupons?”

 

“Maybe a date in the park?”

 

When was the last time they went on a date? Jack can’t even remember. “I’d like that, a lot. I’m sore, so maybe nothing too vigorous?”

 

“I’ll take care of you,” Bitty says, and Jack smiles the entire time he signs autographs and talks to people about his recovery, taking several dozen pictures that he ends up tagged in on Twitter before Bitty gently ushers him out into the parking lot and toward his truck.

 

They walk around the Public Garden for a while, taking pictures together and looking up the history of the Garden on their phones. Jack ends up signing more autographs while Bitty takes perfect pictures for anyone who asks for one. They hold hands occasionally, and Jack looks up at the bright blue sky and takes in the warmth of the sun, and he is genuinely happy.

 

A leisurely lunch happens at 75 Chestnut, where Jack lets Bitty pay; afterward, they walk through the Museum of Fine Arts, where Bitty lets Jack pay. All in all, it’s a day spent with the two of them, focused on flirting and talking and learning even more things about one another (like Bitty’s favorite flower, for example, which Jack files away for the future).

 

“Where do you see us in a year?” Jack asks, when they’re sipping coffee at the always-crowded Thinking Cup. They haven’t talked a whole lot about the future in specific terms, instead using phrases like the long haul and I’m in this with you. Bitty, slowly enjoying his latte, gives that some thought.

 

“Still together,” he says with a smile, “obviously. I don’t see that changing, if I’m honest. Ever.”

 

Jack agrees. The thought of spending each day with Bitty is a comforting one.

 

“But if we’re looking for, I don’t know, certain time stamps? I’m hoping in the next year that I’m doing more of what I want to do. I don’t want to leave Boston, I know that. I still love it here, and living with March and Caitlin is really going to make a difference for me.” He takes another sip. “But eventually? I’d like us to live together. Whenever that feels right. And I’d like a dog. Or two.”

 

Jack focuses on Bitty’s dark eyes, the lace of his lashes. Oh, but he loves him so much. “Living together, yes. Dogs, yes. I’m good with all of that. So it sounds like we’re on the same page.”

 

“I think we are.” Bitty ducks his head to hide his grin, cheeks pinkening. “Man. I’ve thought about this a lot, but I’ve never really said it out loud.”

 

“Kinda scary, huh?”

 

“Scary and wonderful, yes.”

 

They take a final selfie together, Jack’s arm around the back of Bitty’s chair, kissing Bitty’s cheek. The picture itself gets several hundred retweets as they finish their coffee, both of them on their phones and showing one another tweets back and forth, comfortable in this warmth and space they’ve created together.

 

@LegitKentParson @bibliobaker @JackZimmermann I miss you guys when can I visit

@bibliobaker @LegitKentParson @JackZimmermann If y’all keep playing the way you’re playing, it might be sooner rather than later #focusonhockeyparse

@LegitKentParson @bibliobaker @JackZimmermann hey I’m not worried at all, we’ll be fine

@JackZimmermann @LegitKentParson @bibliobaker I want to see your cat

@LegitKentParson @JackZimmermann @bibliobaker I’ll text her to you later, she’s perfect

 

Direct Messages

@LegitKentParson I am trying really hard to let you go

@LegitKentParson I mean not let you go as a friend obviously I didn’t work this hard for nothing

@LegitKentParson but I am really trying hard to let you go

@JackZimmermann I know it’s not easy. And you know I love you.

@LegitKentParson you do, but you don’t love me the way I want you to, and that’s fine. You don’t have to. But I also don’t have to keep waiting or keep trying because if I really loved you I’d know that you’re happy and I would stop trying to stop that happiness. I am trying hard to let you go. I want to be your friend. I want to be Bitty’s friend. I am going to do that and I’m going to be a great friend because I’m awesome.

@JackZimmermann You’re a great friend, for sure. I’m glad to have you in my life again, Kenny. I hope you know that.

@LegitKentParson I do. I’m going to take more pictures of Kit now, I’ll text you later

 

 

The second Peyton sees Jack and Bitty coming through the front door, she starts screaming. While the living room filled with adults laughs in delight, Jack swings her up into his arms and hugs her tight.

 

“Happy birthday,” he tells her, carrying her into the kitchen because she’s not letting go of him anytime soon. “Did you think I wouldn’t come?”

 

“Oh, Jack,” Peyton says, and the tone is exactly her mother’s. He kisses her cheek and props her on his hip while they look at her presents on the kitchen table. Maggie squeezes him from behind, and Maggie’s mother Vicky says repeatedly that she just can’t believe it’s him.

 

“I told you,” Maggie says, accepting a kiss on her cheek from Jack as well. “How do you think I got all those hockey tickets?”

 

“You have your ways,” Vicky says, and Jack can feel the love and the warmth in the small apartment, and it makes him happy.

 

Peyton’s sixth birthday is a success. There are five kids with her from her class, and their parents, and Jack’s appearance makes everything instantly more exciting. The parents, whose names he’s already forgotten, ask him a lot of questions and engage in a back and forth conversation that Jack has gotten far better with since knowing Bitty. He’s genuinely interested in how their kids know Peyton, and he’s pleased that Peyton does interact with other people besides Jack…even though she repeatedly comes back to him for hugs.

 

Bitty’s cake is also a success. It took him half a dozen tries, but he manages to make a cake shaped and colored like the Bruins logo, and the taste of it is even more amazing than the decorating prowess. Peyton has to be coaxed into letting them light the candles, and as soon as they do, she has to blow them out before they sing to her, so it doesn’t mess up the cake, she says.

 

“Is that raspberry?” Maggie asks, closing her eyes as she chews. Paulie, March, and Caitlin all nod as a unit. They sigh. The kids are hyped up on sugar and need an outlet, so Bitty volunteers as tribute.

 

He ends up playing several different games with them, and, when it’s time to wind down a little, he reads to them from one of Peyton’s library books—going the extra mile to do dozens of different voices to make the kids laugh. Jack spends his time entertaining the adults, occasionally wandering into Bitty’s orbit, where he lets himself be tugged in and touched lightly, hands on shoulders, sides, a bump of hip.

 

“Are you two ever going to have kids, you think?” a mom asks, as Jack is helping Peyton into her new Swimmermann jersey, signed, of course, by Jack.

 

“I don’t know,” Jack says. “I never thought about kids, but we’ve discussed dogs.”

 

“Kids are a lot of responsibility,” Bitty says, passing their second gift for Peyton, an envelope, to a bewildered Maggie. “I don’t know if I’m ready for something like that yet. But maybe we’ll revisit that at some point in the future.”

 

As Peyton’s opening up a gift from one of her classmate’s, Maggie gasps. She’s opened the envelope and is looking at the check inside the birthday card.

 

“Jack,” she says, staring up at him with huge eyes.

 

“Don’t say you can’t take it,” Jack says. “She deserves it. You do too.”

 

Jack, this is impossible, I can’t.”

 

Bitty touches her hand lightly. “Let him. It’s okay. Just let him.”

 

“She needs to go to college,” Jack says, looking over as Peyton shouts, pulling out a Bruins lunchbox. “And you don’t need to break your back doing it.”

 

Peyton, oblivious to Maggie’s tears, starts making herself a lunch for Monday in her new lunchbox before getting back to her presents.

 

After the kids and parents leave and Peyton is in bed, Maggie is on the couch with Bitty while Jack does stretches on the floor. Jack doesn’t miss the way Vicky blatantly appreciates him, and maybe he flexes a little more to make her fan herself. It makes him smile, and when he smiles, Bitty smiles too.

 

“Jack, I don’t think you understand,” Maggie says, “what this means to me. It’s not the money. That’s not really what this is about? It’s about the fact that I—I watched your draft, and I’ve sort of been this super hardcore fan for so long, and I really don’t know what I did to deserve this friendship of yours.”

 

The words are a shock. He knew, of course, that she was a fan. But she’s always treated him like a person, which, he thinks, means he needs to rethink what his idea of a fan is. “You gave me a friendship first,” he says, “no questions asked. You supported me, reached out to me. You took care of me. And you did the same to Bitty. You and Paulie…you guys never treated me as anything other than family. How could I do anything but treat you the same?”

 

Bitty rests his head on her shoulder, curling their hands together. “We love you, mama,” he says. “We want to take care of you too.”

 

She presses at her eyes with a shaky sigh. “I really don’t know if I can accept something like that. I’ll…I’ll have to think about it, if that’s okay?”

 

“Shit, take it,” Vicky says, slapping Jack on the shoulder as she stands to get more wine. “He can afford it and probably won’t even notice it’s missing. And Peyton deserves more than we can ever give her.”

 

“I’ll think about it,” Maggie says, and Jack gives her a smile that she returns in full.

 

+

 

@swimmerfann I have a story to tell. It’s about one of the kindest human beings I’ve ever met, and something I never dreamed of happening to me.

@swimmerfann When I was a sophomore in HS, I learned about this hockey player who was scheduled to go in the draft. His name was Jack Zimmermann.

@swimmerfann He didn’t go that year because of his well-documented overdose, but I kept track of him via Google News. I liked this guy.

@swimmerfann I liked him bc I saw a lot of myself in him: Always working harder, putting his nose to the grind, filled with this overwhelming anxiety.

@swimmerfann When he overdosed, it broke my heart. I worried about him a lot. I wanted him to be okay. I didn’t read a lot of articles after that.

@swimmerfann Mainly because I knew in my heart that his rx abuse stemmed from a fear of inadequacy and failure, something I was familiar with.

@swimmerfann Then, two years later, he’s in the draft again. I get up at 6AM to watch him. Boston takes him in the first round, and I’m a crying mess.

@swimmerfann In college, I got into no less than twenty verbal fights and two fistfights over Jack Zimmermann. I defended his honor like it was my own.

@swimmerfann When he did well, it made my days better. And when he did poorly, his post-game interviews made me rethink my own successes and failures.

@swimmerfann He always approached failure as a learning opportunity, something I never did. When I failed, I collapsed.

@swimmerfann Jack Zimmermann taught me that failure wasn’t always a bad thing, that it meant you could improve, and learn from mistakes.

@swimmerfann Jack Zimmermann taught me that as long as you really gave it your best, you had nothing to be ashamed of.

@swimmerfann Jack Zimmermann taught me that I wasn’t alone in this feeling of dread, this crippling anxiety that had plagued me for most of my life.

@swimmerfann Because of Jack, without having ever met him, I started seeing a therapist. I take medication and manage my condition on a daily basis.

@swimmerfann An unexpected friendship with a very kind librarian led me to meeting Jack Zimmermann for the first time. I was in awe.

@swimmerfann I tried so hard not to be. His whole life he has had people gawking at him and I didn’t want to be that. But I wanted so badly to tell him -

@swimmerfann – thank you for what he did for me without ever knowing it. How he helped me grow and find some peace. How he helped me to be strong.

@swimmerfann My daughter is named after another athlete I admire for his strength and willingness to be kind and to be helpful and to be compassionate.

@swimmerfann But Jack Zimmermann is her favorite. She sees in him what I saw all those years ago—a strength of character, someone worthy of admiration.

@swimmerfann Today, I would consider Jack to be one of my closest friends. His idea of friendship is something unbelievably pure and genuine.

@swimmerfann He is selfless, attentive, considerate, funny, & above all—kind. He’s a role model without trying & he is very human—flawed but wonderful.

@swimmerfann One day, my daughter is going to grow up. She will be beautiful, smart, talented, and kind, in no small part to Jack Zimmermann.

@swimmerfann She will go to college. She will find her own people to admire and to look up to. And I know she will never forget what he has done for her.

@swimmerfann As casual as anything, Jack has completely changed the course of her life for the better. And he has changed mine too.

@swimmerfann And with God as my witness, if anyone ever talks shit about him in front of me, I have no problems going to jail. Fuckin fight me.

 

 

Best Seller

Jacky’s Bad Days

by Jack Zimmermann and Larissa Duan

 

What do you do when you’re too scared to do the things you love? Jacky knows what it’s like to be scared every day, because he has something called anxiety. It makes his tummy hurt, and sometimes it’s hard to breathe. But Jacky has a big hockey game coming up, and he doesn’t want to disappoint his family and friends. It’s time for Jacky to learn how to overcome his fear and play the best hockey that he can.

 

Based on the true story of Jack Zimmermann’s struggle with anxiety, depression, and being the best, Jacky’s Bad Days explores the #1 mental health issue facing today’s kids in a way that is both fun, honest, and discusses the topic of anxiety in an educational way. Zimmermann, five-time NHL All-Star and two-time Stanley Cup Winner, has funded the printing, sale, and marketing of his book and will donate all proceeds to his charity Make It Better.

 

Five Stars for Jacky’s Bad Days. I think the blurb speaks for itself, and the art is top notch—beautiful, poignant, and effortless. The best part? Zimmermann has raised almost $1 mil for his charity. I’ll support anything that does even half of what Zimmermann has done.         - Erin G.

 

 

NHL Star Jack Zimmermann Has Quote of the Year

4/17/2017 11:32 AM PDT BY TMZ STAFF

 

Not two months after Zimmermann’s horrific leg injury following an illegal and brutal hit by Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Mark Branson, Zimmermann finally makes a statement to the press regarding the incident. His statement is as follows:  

 

“Things could have happened differently. I could’ve been hit during regulation, but I wasn’t. I could have ended up with a muscle strain, but I didn’t. Branson could’ve chosen to respect me, but he didn’t. The referees could’ve chosen to ignore the play, but they didn’t. The NHL didn’t have to suspend him, but they did. I could’ve died during surgery. I could’ve pinched a nerve or bled out or gotten a blood clot. A thousand different things could have happened. I am alive, I am healing, and I am well. I wish Branson and the Hurricanes a wonderful season, here and beyond. I wish them the best because they deserve it. Branson chose not to respect me, but I will respect him, because that is what I have chosen to stand for. I forgive him, for he knows not what he did.”

 

 

@LegitKentParson shiiiiit boyyyyy way to fuckin SLAY tmz.me/MNT09j

@LegitKentParson that last line is like a mIC DROP

@bibliobaker @LegitKentParson It gave me the same feel as when I heard Formation for the first time. I’m so proud I could die.

@Ransom11 @bibliobaker @LegitKentParson fucking shit man our bro has become a god

@bibliobaker @Ransom11 @LegitKentParson From an academic standpoint, I’m floored by the way he chose to respond. That last line is damn deliberate.

@bibliobaker @Ransom11 @LegitKentParson Like, I’m low-key screaming over here.

@Ransom11 @bibliobaker @LegitKentParson u didn’t help him write that bro

@bibliobaker @Ransom11 @LegitKentParson NO I DID NOT! I had no idea he was even doing it! Every now and then he likes to be smug n sneaky.

@LegitKentParson @bibliobaker @Ransom11 obviously he’s a good writer, his book was really great but this is like diff, this is some Obama shit

@marchmadness @LegitKentParson @bibliobaker @Ransom11 Let’s all bask in this moment, because it’s legit going to be a historical thing.

 

+

 

They all had a feeling it was coming, but Jack reacts harder than Bitty expects him to when the Bruins finish their final regular season game in a loss to Ottawa, which eliminates them from the playoffs. Jack gets up and leaves the apartment without saying a word—Bitty doesn’t know where he goes, exactly—and doesn’t come back for several hours. By the time he does, Bitty has finished his own dinner and wordlessly reheats a plate for Jack.

 

Once Jack is eating, Bitty gets some paperwork out of his messenger bag and sits down at the table with him. “Can I talk to you about something at the library?” Bitty asks. Jack waves his hand to continue. Not really the most emotive statement he was hoping for, but if Jack didn’t feel like listening to him, he would’ve said so.

 

“My collection revamp was a huge success,” Bitty says. “So big, in fact, that I’ve created a sort of a template for the other locations to use. I’ve included how I did my research, what my criteria was, that sort of thing. They’re going to be implementing it in their own branches for collections that are lacking or slow to circulate—even our initial numbers are showing that the budget allocated is worth it for the new circulation we’re getting. That’s pretty cool. But the really cool thing is that the Brighton branch is going to be hiring for a youth services position they’ve created—they’ve never had one just for youth services before.”

 

Jack perks up at that, looking down at the paperwork Bitty pushes toward him. “Are you applying?”

 

“Definitely. And I’m…feeling really good about it.” He hasn’t told anyone else about this yet, and he doesn’t think he will. He doesn’t want to jinx it, and can’t help but think that’s what happened the first time, that he was too excited and too confident. “I have to do the same set of interviews that I did before, but Olivia’s got my back pretty hardcore, and I think a lot of the work I’ve done in the meantime has really spoken for itself.”

 

Jack smiles now, and Bitty hopes this help pull Jack out of his melancholy. “I don’t doubt it. Baby, that’s wonderful. I’m really proud of you.”

 

“You’re the only person I’ve told,” Bitty says, “and I’d like to keep it that way? I haven’t even told my parents. I don’t want to ruin my chances before I even begin, you know?”

 

“I understand,” Jack says, and his smile widens. “I have a good feeling about this.”

 

“Me too. But I’m trying so hard not to get overexcited.”

 

Jack reaches out a hand and Bitty takes it. “I’m proud of you, Bits.”

 

“Thank you. I’m pretty proud of me too.” He closes his eyes for a moment, trying not to let his racing mind get the better of him. He needs to be focused and calm for this. Even though he feels good, he does not want to go through that horrendous disappointment from before. He’s in a much better place now, though, and whether he gets it or not, he’s going to continue doing whatever he needs to in order to help the library. That has always been his focus.

 

After Jack has cleaned up his dishes, he and Bitty tangle together on the couch, Jack more tactile than he had been all day. “I wanted to talk to you about something,” Jack says, tucking his face into Bitty’s neck. Bitty is careful of Jack’s leg, which is still very much injured despite how well he’s been doing with it.

 

“What’s that? No, I’m not changing my mind on dog names. Biscuit and Gravy is all I’m committing to.”

 

“You’re cute. It’s not about that, I like those names.”

 

Bitty curls fingers through Jack’s hair, watching him with unrestrained adoration. He’s sure going to miss having Jack around so much. But at least they’ll have the summer together like they did last year. More of it, even. “Then what’s up?”

 

“My contract is up in two years. Historically guys with injuries like this don’t play at the same caliber as they did before.”

 

Bitty has to force himself not to disagree, because disagreeing would imply that Jack’s research is false. It’s not. Bitty has done the same research. “Historically, yes, but not always. Right?”

 

“Right. But let’s say I’m on par with what typically happens. There’s a good chance Boston wouldn’t pick me up if I’m not playing the way they need me to play. I could get traded. It happens. It’s part of the game.”

 

Obviously it’s a part of the game. Bitty’s not a moron. He simply didn’t think it could happen to Jack. So much about Jack seems impossible anyway; Bitty felt deep inside that Jack would retire with Boston because it seems so appropriate for him to do so. The hero that defied the odds. But he indulges Jack’s concerns by saying, “Okay, so let’s say you’re traded. What exactly did you want to talk about with that?”

 

“Would you come with me?”

 

That’s a loaded question. The simple answer is yes. But Bitty isn’t equipped as a person to be satisfied with the kind of life spouses or partners of athletes lead. He’d want to work, of course, and he’d want to do it in a library. Any library would be fine, but Bitty loves working with kids, and he feels like he can do more at a public library than an academic one.

 

And library jobs are scarce, particularly without a lot of experience.

 

“It could be a while,” Jack says, “so it’s not like you’d have to decide now. I was curious, that’s all.”

 

Oh, and that’s such a lie. Bitty can see right through it. Jack is worried, not curious. He’s worried he’s going to be traded and that Bitty won’t come with him. He’s worried he won’t ever play the way he did. He’s worried about everything, and has done such a good job trying to overcome it. Bitty kisses him all over his face until Jack’s tension eases slightly in his shoulders. “Of course I’ll come with you,” Bitty says, “when the time comes, if it ever does. I won’t say it’ll be easy for me, but as much as I love Boston and what I do, I’d be excited to start somewhere new. My only concern would be finding a job.”

 

“By then you could have a couple more years of experience,” Jack says, mumbling his words into Bitty’s chest. “That would help, right?”

 

“Oh, yeah. Definitely. Everything I’m doing right now is going on a resume. There’s a reason I’m working my ass off here. One day, it’s going to all pay off.” He pokes at Jack’s shoulder. “Speaking of paying off, I have another three hundred for you.”

 

“Bits, I literally do not care, but thank you.”

 

Jack isn’t ticklish anywhere except under his left armpit toward the back, so Bitty digs into it until Jack seizes up with a yelp. “Careful of the leg,” Jack says, and Bitty throws back his head in a laugh.

 

“Oh my God, you never bring it up unless it’s to your advantage.”

 

“Well, yeah. It’s my secret weapon.”

 

“You mean your secret excuse to get away with stuff.”

 

“That’s synonymous with what I said and you know it.”

 

While Jack takes his afternoon nap, Bitty puts the finishing touches on his application and submits it online. He’s going to at least get to the third round, he just knows it, and Olivia’s resounding recommendation is a boost he knows he needs. Now to bake, so he doesn’t throw up.

 

He bakes chocolate chip cookies for the Girls' Day Caitlin, March, Paulie, and Maggie are having that Sunday (Bitty gets babysitting duties, which he’s excited about), then some maple sugar cookies to cheer Jack up (only sixty calories each). He bakes a maple-crust apple pie for Holster and maple tarts for Ransom. He runs out of maple, and ends up baking a raspberry chiffon to bring to work on Monday.

 

As Bitty bakes, he thinks. He and Jack have been together for over ten months at this point. He’s committed. They both are. But he can feel that things are going to change on the horizon, and while not all change is bad, it’s going to be different—there’s no way it can’t be. But when he thinks about this, when these kinds of questions plagued him in his first year of grad school, they tormented him. It was all he could think about, the what-ifs and hows and whys. But now, he’s calm. He’s not alone. He has a great support system in his friends, and his parents, and his—let’s face it—in-laws. Jack loves him. And he loves Jack.

 

Love isn’t enough, and Bitty knows it. But they’ve got trust too, and fondness. They’ve got admiration and respect in healthy doses. While he adores Jack, he doesn’t think he’s got him elevated too high. And Jack doesn’t elevate Bitty either. They are simply two people trying to navigate the landscape of life as best as they can, and enjoy the ride while they’re at it.

 

He thinks about what it would be like to pack up and move across the country, or to Canada. What it would be like to live in Montréal or Vancouver or San Jose. Dallas. Phoenix. And when he thinks about how scary it would be to start over, a part of him is perfectly serene, because Jack will be there and his friends will still be his friends, and new friends are always out there to be made. Bitty could pack up and start somewhere new and completely renovate another library somewhere else, a sad and tired library that doesn’t know where to go. He could get kids interested in reading again—he knows he can, he’s determined to—and he could change lives.

 

He’s changed Nina’s life—her mother, Kassandra, sends Bitty letters once every couple of weeks with pictures of Nina in her figure skating class. He changed her life, and Peyton’s, and Max’s. He changed his own.

 

Well, Jack helped with that, but Bitty has always been independent and hungry for more. Having Jack is a delightful and wonderful bonus. Bitty can’t wait to see what their lives have in store for them.

 

Once he’s done with his baking and all the dishes are in the dishwasher and the laundry is in the washer and the sheets have been remade on the bed, Bitty idly looks at all the different hockey cities on Google, then looks over their libraries. He could do this. He could really do this, if he needed to. He doesn’t have to, but he could want to.

 

“I love you,” Jack says sleepily, from his spot on the couch. Bitty gives him a soft smile, and says he loves him back. Jack’s smile is warm.

 

 

Bitty’s sitting on the steps of the Brighton house on a hot June day, waiting for Jack to bike by. It’s almost a ten mile bike ride from his apartment in Boston, but Jack is a beast at biking now and still wears his little shorts while he exercises—except now his shorts are skintight, which is even better.

 

The sky is clear and a vibrant, impossible blue. Bitty shields his eyes from the sun and waits for Jack to come by, like he does every morning now. He’s been skating since the end of May, and his therapist has told him to lay off the running for now, but biking is highly encouraged.

 

Jack is an expert biker. He even had Bitty pick out his helmet.

 

When Bitty sees Jack rounding the corner, he grins and stands. He’s in his short shorts and his Bruins t-shirt. Jack’s smile is enormous.

 

“Were you waiting for me?” Jack says, like he does every morning. He leans the bike against the mailbox and takes the steps two at a time, which puts a pounding in Bitty’s heart. He’s waiting, still, for Jack’s leg to give out, but it hasn’t yet. He’s stronger than ever.

 

“What, you think I’m waiting outside just for you to run by?”

 

“Yes,” Jack says, and he takes Bitty in his arms and gives him a thorough kiss. “I do, actually.”

 

“Well, maybe,” Bitty says, and he extricates himself just enough from Jack to bend and hand him a small foil-wrapped package. “Made you an energy bar. Just finished them like an hour ago.”

 

“Thank you, Mr. Librarian.” Jack’s kisses are obscenely over-the-top, lips smacking and everything, and Bitty laughs as he shoves at him.

 

“That’s Mr. Youth Services Librarian, be more specific.”

 

“I like being specific.” Jack gives him a real kiss this time, and Bitty wishes Jack were just a little less focused on recovery. Just a little. Because he would like to make out now. “Mr. Youth Services Librarian.”

 

Bitty pats him on the tush just because he can. “Go get back to your workout so you can be clean by the time we meet the girls for dinner in Cambridge. Shitty’s been so desperate to see you he’s been tweeting me gifs of dogs begging.”

 

Jack snorts as he takes a bite out of his energy bar, bounding down the stairs toward his bike. “I’ll be swimming for two hours this afternoon, but then I’ll be over. Deal?”

 

“Deal.”

 

Bitty waves at him as Jack disappears around the corner again, his new route for his bike taking him around Brighton and back over the bridge to Boston. Bitty sits on the steps again to enjoy the sunshine, closing his eyes and smiling.