His favorite days were the ones when he had no responsibilities. Those were the days he could experiment in the kitchen, or head to the rink when no one was there and skate freely. He missed performing fancy jumps and complicated twirls. Hockey was good, but there was something much more elegant and freeing about ice dancing.
Those days came few and far between the longer the year progressed. Easy laughter was replaced by a type of quiet only broken by the turn of a textbook page or a frustrated sigh. To say that he despised the change of atmosphere would be an understatement. It was too harsh, too tense. It was part of being a human.
He sat in an extended split against the green couch. He held a book in one hand while he tapped a pen against his lower lip and tried to ignore the weight of the silence around him.
Lardo appeared without a sound. She never made as much noise as the rest of them. Shitty thought the reason people never noticed her appearances was because they simply weren’t paying attention, but Bitty had studied everyone’s footfalls. Hers truly were the quietest. She knocked on the doorframe.
“Hey, I have an art project coming up and I don’t know what to make. Can I use you as a model?”
“Me?” He asked, curling his back leg under him and easing out of the split. “Of course you can.”
Lardo nodded. “Cool. I need you on the roof. There’s good lighting and I need practice with the colors.”
Streaks of deep gold sunlight decorated the carpet. Apparently, more time had passed than he’d realized. In the winters, late afternoon began at three thirty, but it’d been creeping into springtime territory for weeks.
“Wait, you mean now?”
She had already started to leave by the time he worded his question. Her head poked back around the doorframe. “Yeah, I mean now. That still work for you?”
He nodded and marked his spot in the book with his pen before clamboring to his feet. The roof was a cold place to be, but at least all the snow had melted by mid-March.
She set him up in a simple pose. His legs swung over the edge of the roof. He leaned back onto his palms, balancing his weight so he didn’t fall over the edge. Not that it mattered anyways. If he fell, he wouldn’t be severely hurt. It was nothing his body couldn’t handle.
Lardo propped up a canvas parallel to him, anchoring it carefully. She adjusted the angle at which he sat until she was satisfied. She’d muttered something about drawing a three-quarter profile, because the colors and shading would already be tricky enough.
And then she told him not to move.
He had no problem with that. Not moving was not a difficult feat for him. He could stay perfectly still for extended periods of time without feeling uncomfortable. It was part of being an angel. He simply preferred to keep moving. It didn’t hurt that doing so made him appear more human.
Next to him, Lardo frowned. She sketched a few lines hesitantly.
He turned his head to look at her. “Is something wrong, Lards? I can move…”
She shook her head in reply. “There’s some weird shadows near you that shouldn’t technically be there. I can’t find their source point, but they look cool. I’m going to include them anyways.”
He shrugged and faced the sun again, eyes closed as it set above them. Lardo didn’t have long before her lighting was ruined, so he stayed as still as possible. The sunlight felt nice above him. He drifted off into a daydream, one of many about home and what was likely happening in his absence. In his mind, he was sorely missed and much had happened without him. In reality, he knew it could be centuries before anything of interest occurred. A few human years on earth meant nothing.
Before long, Lardo was shaking his shoulder. “You awake?” The sun had disappeared behind the lax house. The only indication it left behind was a light blue section of the sky fading into the navy shade above their heads.
He nodded, but his eyes blinked blearily. “How’d it turn out?”
“Good,” she said. “I didn’t get as many details as I wanted, but I got a basic layer of shading down and I’ll probably leave it like that. If I say I was channeling some famous impressionist, I’ll probably still get an A.”
Part of why he thought he liked her so much was because of their similar approaches to school. At least she did the work required of her.
“Can I see it?”
He pretended not to notice her hesitation before agreeing and turning the painting around.
He pretended he didn’t stop breathing the second he saw it.
She was talented. There was no denying that. She was, in fact, so in tune with her artist’s eye that she picked up details she shouldn’t have.
Bitty’s figure came to life on her canvas. He sat bathed in warm colors, all his sharp angles softened. His face turned towards the sun. A soft smile played on his lips. Behind him, strange, darker-than-usual shadows emerged out of the ordinary sunshine-created ones. The shapes were hazy and smudged, but it appeared as though a pair of wings extended behind him. Near his face, two more, much smaller shadows suggested wings that sat outstretched in the sunshine like he was sun-tanning. Another set played around his dangling ankles. Tiny spots of shine decorated his exposed limbs where his eyes would be if they hadn’t been closed. A soft glow circled him. Not a generic, warm glow, either; it was more pearlescent. More celestial.
He looked alive. Too alive. Alive like he had been when he’d been free to take on his own form. Alive like he had been at home. Lardo hadn’t drawn Bitty the human hockey player. She’d seen him as the angel he was and painted him that way.
He couldn’t breathe. If she saw, did she know? If the team saw, would they know? Would they make the connection? Would Jack?
“Wow,” he said. “It looks really good. You made me look great.” He blinked away a tear that threatened to fall.
“Thanks. Now let’s get back inside, kid.”
He helped her feed her canvas through the window without smudging any wet paint and climbed in after it. All he could think of was the way he’d been depicted. How could she have possibly seen? How could she have possibly known?
He slept, but it was fitful. In the morning, his bed looked as though someone had lost a fight with a down pillow. Jack stared from across the hall as he carried a towel towards the shower and tried to keep the fistfulls of feathers from leaving a trail behind him.
By the time Lardo’s junior art exhibition rolled around, he had all but forgotten the painting. It lurked somewhere in the back of his mind amidst thoughts of his own finals and the never-ending quest to determine the exact color of his captain’s eyes. Thoughts of her work of art rose to the surface only when he received her invite. Depending on what she wanted to showcase, she could expose him to the entire school.
It wouldn’t be the end of the world. He would transfer elsewhere and continue living his life. Eventually, the rumor that a real angel had attended Samwell would fade into obscurity and urban legend. Once the team graduated, no one would have any proof.
He would miss the hockey players, though.
A thousand and one thoughts and possibilities raced through his mind as he adjusted his bowtie in front of his mirror. He had a bag packed and was ready to leave for the weekend if things turned sour. But first and foremost, Lardo was his friend, and he was going to support her.
Especially because she knew his secret. If he wasn’t friends with her, she could expose him for who he really was. Whether or not anyone believed her was another matter entirely.
Someone banged on the door.
“Bits, come on, I’m not gonna be late ’cause you’re applying some fucking mascara or whatever. I’m sure you look beautiful.” Shitty. Definitely Shitty. He was always arriving in the nick of time, but when it came to Lardo, he was always early.
“Coming!” He yelled in return.
He looked in the mirror, smoothed out his shirt, and sighed heavily. “You’ve got this,” he muttered quietly to himself, though he wasn’t sure who he was reassuring. He joined Shitty and Jack outside his door, and together, the team headed towards an art exhibition that held Bitty’s future in its hands.
The gallery was beautiful. There was no denying that. Lardo worked in gorgeous pastels and large brushstrokes to create vaguely abstract pieces. You had to stand back and let the concept of it sink in rather than analyze each aspect. Most of it was reminiscent of Georgia O’Keefe in that it seemed as though it explored certain anatomy, but every piece could have actually been depicting something else. No one on the team was quite willing to admit that they all saw something not-safe-for-work.
They walked through the exhibit quietly. He cooed at certain pieces and gasped at the right times. Shitty smiled proudly at Lardo, and she returned it happily. The experience was slow and relaxed. It was everything Bitty had hoped for.
Eventually, they approached the back of the gallery. His breath caught. In the corner hung a familiar painting. It was warm in hue and depicted a small blonde boy sitting on a rooftop at sundown, shrouded in shadows. The team would catch sight of it at any moment, and that would almost certainly spell trouble.
Shitty’s phone buzzed. Lardo nudged him. He pulled it out of his pocket. The team pretended to contemplate a particularly curvaceous piece.
“I… got into Harvard.”
For a moment, no one moved.
There was a flurry of movement and hoots of celebration as an entire hockey team tackled Shitty in the middle of an elegant art show. Backs were patted and hair was ruined. Shitty was bombarded with questions.
Bitty was too small to remain in the heap. He carefully extracted himself just in time to watch Lardo disappear out of the doorway, wiping at her cheeks. Part of him wanted to follow her, but he wasn’t sure what he would say.
Someone rested a hand on his shoulder. “I got this one, Bits.”
He looked up to see Jack staring back at him with a soft smile. It didn’t reach his eyes. Bitty wasn’t sure if that was because his eyes were always sad, or if it was because he was feeling the same they all were: like something beautiful was truly coming to an end.
When Jack opened the door, Bitty could see Lardo sitting cross-legged on the floor. Jack moved to sit beside her. The door closed.
He was going to enjoy the rest of the show, including its open bar. And if he said he didn’t feel a wave of relief that Shitty’s Harvard news overshadowed the painting in the corner of the room, he’d be lying.
What Bitty didn’t know was this: when Jack sat down next to Lardo, he handed her a tissue without a word. He kept a travel pack in his pocket in case of emergencies. He’d seen enough breakdowns to know they usually happened without warning.
She’d accepted it, blown her nose, and wiped at the underneath of her eyes.
For a long time, neither of them said anything. They didn’t need to. Jack and Lardo had always understood each other on a level words could never touch.
Lardo sighed. “I’m going to miss you, too.”
“I know,” Jack said. “But it’s different with him.”
She nodded. “It’s different,” she repeated in a whisper.
He lifted an arm in invitation. She tucked herself into his side and cried quietly against his suit. He did his best to comfort her. Mostly, he reminded her that he and Shitty weren’t leaving yet. It wasn’t much, but it was all he could do.
What Bitty didn’t know was this: Jack kissed the top of Lardo’s head. He said, “These paintings? They’re amazing. Lards, you’re a brilliant artist, you know that?”
Lardo sniffed, but he could feel her smile. “Thanks, Jack.”
What Bitty didn’t know was this: Jack asked, “There was one that I liked in particular. I think it was of Bitty on the roof of the Haus?”
Lardo tensed up the moment the words left Jack’s lips. They had always understood each other on a level words couldn’t touch. She knew what he was leading into.
“Oh, that one? I didn’t think anyone would see it. I needed an extra piece to hang and I didn’t have time to make a new one.”
Her tone was nonchalant, but Jack knew better. “I liked the shadows,” he said.
What Bitty didn’t know was this: Jack asked, “Do you think Bitty could be an angel?”
What Bitty didn’t know was this: Lardo replied, “That’s not my business to know.” She hesitated a beat before adding, “Or to tell.”
What Bitty didn’t know was this: Jack nodded and said, “Okay.” He handed Lardo another tissue and held her until her tears stopped flowing. They missed most of the remainder of the show.
What Bitty did know was this: The whole time Jack comforted Lardo, Shitty’s smiles and laughter never quite seemed genuine. His gaze drifted around the gallery more than once. Bitty would bet he was searching for a girl he wasn’t going to find until she wanted to be found.
And in the meantime, he was going to keep the team herded towards the open bar and away from the corner where his true self sat, depicted in supersaturated golds and reds.
Despite all the time they had with each other, there was no preparing anyone for graduation. Jack and Shitty dressed up in fancy suits and gowns that brushed against their ankles. Lardo pretended not to cry. Holster and Chowder didn’t bother pretending.
They were losing their favorite captain and their beloved comedic relief. It was a sad day for the Samwell Men’s Hockey team. Bitty kept focusing on the fact that they were going to be doing something amazing with their futures. After all, humans couldn’t stay in one place forever. They weren’t made for it.
He supposed that leaving as soon as his most basic goodbyes were done made him seem rather human, too. He’d kept a brave face on as he said goodbye to Jack Zimmermann, but his facade was beginning to wear thin. The excuse of having to go prepare for his flight was more than sufficient to get him out of there.
It was nice to be alone; he could open his eyes for once and breathe. When he could see, he felt much closer to home. And right now, he needed as much of home as he could get. He wasn’t homesick, but he hurt. It was hard to place the exact feeling. An ache in the depths of his chest, somewhere he didn’t think actually existed.
He sniffed. Humans came and went every day. This wasn’t any different, so why did it feel like it was? Music played softly in his ears as he folded and carefully packed away the last of his clothes.
If most of his eyes hadn’t been open, he wouldn’t have seen Jack race into the hallway. They snapped shut, fitting into his skin seamlessly. He turned around.
“Oh my goodness, why are— is everything all right? You’re outta breath! You could have texted—”
Before he could get another word in, Jack was rushing towards him. He hesitated only inches away, gathered his breath, and kissed Bitty. It was a little harder than he’d expected. In his imagination, Jack was soft and sweet and careful. In reality, there was edge of desperation that gave way to something that felt an awful lot like relief.
He let himself enjoy it. This wasn’t something that was going to be able to happen again. It was a bittersweet moment, but the whole day was one long series of bittersweet moments. He wasn’t in the business of denying himself simple pleasures.
Like all good things, it had to end too soon. His lips tingled faintly. Everything human in him wanted to kiss Jack again.
“Jack, I…” he sighed. A hand flapped helplessly. “I can’t, I mean this won’t— I’m not like you, Jack, I’m—”
“An angel,” Jack finished for him.
Bitty stared. His mouth hung open. He’d been so careful. How could this have happened?
Jack took his silence as confirmation. His expression softened. “I know you are.”
The angel in him screamed. This boy was dangerous and bad news. Blind trust wasn’t something that existed in angels, and Jack could destroy Bitty’s life on earth with only a few choice words to the right people. But he’d been on the planet long enough that the human in him knew that Jack wouldn’t.
He pushed aside centuries of conditioning and millennia of tradition. He swallowed down the bitter taste of a culture he wasn’t sure he belonged to anymore. And he did the most human thing he’d done since arriving on Earth: he kissed Jack Zimmermann.