Actions

Work Header

and we dance like angels do

Chapter Text

He doesn’t mean to be down here.

 

That’s misleading. Yes, he did intend to visit Earth. He did not intend to get lost. He did not intend to miss the opportunity to return. He may have meant to be on Earth, but he didn’t mean to get trapped for another century. And he certainly didn’t mean to be enjoying his time on earth.

 

He didn’t, not at first. Enjoy his time, that is. He was sent to Earth on a mission. A very important mission. And it had been fulfilled, but not before he was sabotaged and trapped. He had no choice but to blend into human society. It was difficult, at first. He didn’t know their customs or how they worked, especially since every culture was entirely different.

 

Eventually, a kind family took him in. He supposes his youthful, charming face has helped. They taught him the wonders of cooking. Before he met them, he considered food to be a burden. Something necessary in order to maintain the quality of this meat suit. But they taught him differently. It’s not a difficult thing to learn. Within weeks, he was crafting masterful works, focusing on making them taste as good as they look. Naturally, he was drawn to pastries and the way sugar can make anything delicious while maintaining a supernaturally flawless appearance.

 

They also taught him the fundamentals of ice hockey, but he discovered ice dancing on his own. The sparkly costumes and the long twirls reminded him of being able to fly. On the ice, he felt closer to home. In every leap, he shone a little brighter than usual. No one his “age” should have been able to learn new tricks so quickly, but he had spent millennia gliding gracefully. His family wasn’t surprised when he qualified for competitions. Winning them didn’t mean a thing to him; so long as he was performing, he felt his bond to home strengthen. The feeling vanished every time he left the ice. He wanted to spend his life there.

 

He didn’t expect to get enrolled in high school, much less college. He didn’t expect to age so quickly, either. Apparently, on Earth, his outward visage aged with the years like any other human’s body. He only wished he said he was younger when he met his family, because his own form seemed a bit more underdeveloped when compared to the humans his “age.”

 

There seemed to be no choice but the obvious one when it came to colleges. He wouldn’t have survived the same way without being able to skate, and he knew about aggression in both concept and practice. He applied to hockey teams across the nation. Even if he didn’t become a member of the team, there would still be rinks. He could still skate.

 

By the time he arrived at Samwell University, he was almost enjoying his time as a human. He developed mild success on the Internet thanks to his natural charisma. He found multiple pastimes he enjoyed.

 

The only downside was his lack of attraction to humans who identified as female. It had never been a problem for him before, but apparently, on Earth, it created one. People learned not to mess with him eventually, but that didn’t mean he escaped their malicious intent. Burns would appear on their knuckles where they hit him, but they always chalked it up to “being in a fight.” It took them a while to make the connection. Once they did, they stayed away. Not that it mattered; they couldn’t hurt him. Not really. He almost didn’t notice the dirty looks thrown his way or the muttered words behind his back. They didn’t matter.

 

He can’t help any of it. It’s not as though he chose to be somewhat effeminate in appearance.

 

It’s part of being an angel.

 

•••

 

He learned how to hide most of the major clues before he came down to earth. His wings were carefully tucked away and only ever manifested as hazy outlines or slightly darker shadows in the nighttime. No one had ever commented on them except for one man, who was very drunk on the Fourth of July and was easily convinced he wasn't seeing anything at all.

 

Sometimes, when he felt particularly out-of-place, the pair that covered his face would blur out his features. He became someone no one could quite remember the appearance of. After all, they were given to him for self-defense.

There were parts he couldn't hide. Even in the dark, he emitted a soft glow. Any time someone touched him maliciously, they developed burns in the same places their skin had met. His pastries were better than any a human could make, and he could skate faster than anyone he'd met. He always knew what was going on behind him, but he could never explain how.

 

The worst was when spring rolled around and he began to molt. There were always feathers falling off him. During all times of the year, he would occasionally wake up with white fluff stuck in his hair. But the frequency increased during the spring. He would sneeze and feathers would float down around him, or he would take off his hockey helmet to a shower of lightweight tufts. It would be annoying to anyone else.

 

But he loves his feathers.

 

And sometimes, he loves being human.

 

•••

 

He had always found enjoyment in human life thanks to skating and baking, but he didn’t truly enjoy being forced to act human every day until he attended Samwell University. The hockey team made him feel welcome in a strange way. They were raw pillars of human emotion. There was no holding back and no lying, and he found it comforting. A little loud, perhaps, but never wicked. Some days, they reminded him of home in the way that they formed a family. Separate, but together.

 

His first year went as smoothly as it could. It took a little while for everyone on the men’s hockey team to warm up to him, but he was good at charming people so long as he had a little time. They folded him into their ranks easily, as though he was always meant to be a part of this family. They trusted him. In thanks, he baked foods they’d likely never have eaten otherwise. He considered their relationship to be symbiotic.

 

Thanks to an error with the housing department, he was in a single dorm throughout his freshman year. Most of his quirks went unnoticed, or else were noticed so infrequently that no one seemed to think twice about them. The arrangement worked perfectly for him. The last thing he needed was a roommate questioning how he always woke up looking like a swan coughed on him.

 

The problems arose in the late spring. The goalie wanted to give up his room in the Haus as part of a graduation ritual. He happened to be the recipient, but he didn’t know why. Despite years of being one of them, parts of human culture remained elusive. Not knowing what else to do, he confronted his other friends on a hot day.  

 

“Hey! I wanted to talk to y’all about something.”

 

Everyone looked up at him.

 

“What is it, Bits?” asked a petite girl named Lardo. She was the team manager. Apparently, that was okay, even though she was a girl. Yet another arrangement he figured he would never understand.

 

“Johnson told me something weird.” His brows furrowed together. “Something about how he wanted me to have his… dibs?”

 

His announcement was met with a profound silence.

 

Ransom was the first to speak. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

 

“Um,” he said. He fiddled with the drawstring on his tiny shorts.

 

Holster, the other half to Ransom’s defense position, looked past him at their captain. “Jack, is that even allowed? Like, I had to work for mine.”

 

Jack shrugged. Bits liked him.

 

“Nothing in the bylaws says you can’t,” Lardo confirmed. She knew the bylaws (a made-up set of rules scrawled by the water heater in Sharpie) better than anyone, besides Shitty.

 

With minimal grumbling, Ransom and Holster explained the idea of “dibs” to Bits. His head swam at the concept of being forced to do an unspecified number of favors in exchange for residence. It was only a house. He had been in many and had seen many more.

 

He tuned out once he realized he was going to be living in the Haus the next year. He was too focused on the feeling of dread pooling in the pit of his stomach. It was going to be much more difficult to hide his true self if he lived and played with these boys. He was reassured by the thought that he would at least have his own room. A small semblance of privacy was all he could ask for, but it was better than none.

 

He thanked them for their help and turned to head back to his dorm. He’d taken only a few steps when Jack grabbed his arm, stopping him. His instinct was to fight the touch. Jack’s hand would be raw and red in a few hours. There was nothing Bits could do to stop that from happening. Not when his initial response was alarm. As if he could tell, Jack dropped his hand quickly.

 

“You’ve got- There’s a feather in your hair, Bitty.” Jack carefully removed it, hardly ruffling any of the hairs surrounding it. Bitty would know. An eye, hidden in his curls, opened to stare at Jack. He forced it to close before Jack noticed.

 

“Oh, thank you,” he said quietly. It seemed like the only thing to say. Apparently, it was the right thing, too, because Jack nodded.

 

He was so focused on keeping all his “abnormal” eyes shut, he didn’t see Jack behind him. Not even when Jack shook his hand out and rubbed at the palm. Not even when Jack thought he made a connection between Bitty and his smarting hand. Not even when Jack stared after him in confusion, trying to figure out how he’d done it.

Chapter Text

Chowder sneezed.

 

He liked Chowder. Chowder was sweet and charming and enthusiastic. He liked seeing that in someone. But Chowder was more than the sugar and spice in Bitty’s baked goods. Chowder was a goalie. The new one, once Johnson left. Bitty hadn’t known it at the time, but goalies tended to have two personalities. One in the net, and one out of it.

 

Bitty learned quickly.

 

Chowder knows how to be aggressive. He fights for what he believes in. Nothing gets past him. And when it does, he makes sure it doesn’t happen again. He watches, he learns. He is a skilled and talented fighter.

 

Yes, Bitty thought, Chowder was quite a remarkable specimen.

 

Which is why, when Chowder sneezed and no one politely offered up a “Gesundheit,” Bitty stepped in.

 

“Bless you,” he said simply. He knew exactly what he was doing. The effects wouldn’t last more than a day or two, at best. For someone like Chowder, he didn’t mind blowing his cover.

 

Chowder, for his part, didn’t seem to realize what it meant. “Thanks!” he replied, and then he went back to studying at the kitchen table.

 

Bitty smiled to himself.

 

•••

 

“Whoa, Chowder, either you’re having a fuckin’ impeccable day or you’ve really improved.”

 

Chowder, still in the net, did not respond. He had blocked every puck shot his way for the last several hours, and showed no signs of fatigue. Coach changed the practice and told everyone to line up and practice taking shots at the goal. They did, over and over again. Chowder blocked every single one.

 

No one on the team could quite understand it. In the locker room, there were approving hands on backs and jokes about doping that Bitty didn’t think were particularly funny. Chowder said he guessed he’d just had an unusually good day. Everyone agreed that he must have.

 

Bitty tucked his laces into his skates and smiled softly. No one would know he had a hand in Chowder’s performance. There was no way anyone could.

 

Across the room, Jack watched the edges of Bitty’s lips turn up.

 

•••

 

Chowder came bursting in through the front door with Dex and Nursey following a few steps behind. He was practically glowing, but not like Bitty. He didn’t wait to catch his breath before half-gasping, half-yelling, “Guys! I got a date with Caitlin!”

 

There was no response. Everyone in the vicinity glanced at each other. Then they glanced back at Chowder.

 

“Who?” Ransom finally asked.

 

“Caitlin! Caitlin Farmer? She’s on the women’s volleyball team?”

 

Nursey made a soft noise of approval. “They have good asses.”

 

Dex glared. Bitty cut in before there was an argument.

 

“That’s great! Have you talked about her before? Were we supposed to know...?”

 

Chowder shook his head. “No, but you know how out in the Quad we’re always doing weird game-”

 

“He knocked her over while competing in a piggyback race. And now they’re going on a date,” Dex clarified.

 

Jack looked over at Bitty and caught his eye. Bitty had no idea what his captain was thinking. He put on his most innocent face. Him blessing Chowder may have gotten the goalie the opportunity to ask her on a date, but it wasn’t all him. It never was.

 

The problem was that Jack was observant. This problem was made infinitely more concerning due to the fact that he lived right across the hall from Bitty. It was hard to hide his oddities. He’d wake up and head to the bathroom to shower out anything remotely celestial left clinging to him (sometimes, Bitty would dream of home, and when he woke up, he wasn't fully there) . Showering gave him time to prepare for another day of being human. But every now and again, he left his room at the same time as Jack. Bitty couldn’t hide the stars in his eyes when he first woke up. He worried that maybe, just maybe, Jack noticed.

 

Jack hadn’t said anything, so he figured he was okay. His cover had not been blown. Yet.

 

Bitty tore his eyes away from Jack and typed out a tweet on his phone about Chowder’s run-in with Caitlin. He burst into a bright, sunshiney smile. “Oh my goodness, Chowder, I’m so happy for you! You’ll have to bring her by sometime. Oh! What’s her favorite type of pie?”

 

His uncertainty dissipated. Jack was just being Jack. The sensation that he was being watched vanished, so he knew Jack must have looked away shortly after Bitty did. Things returned to normal.

 

But he would have to be more careful around Jack.

 

He would not be blessing teammates anymore.

 

•••

 

Bitty was sick.

 

In reality, he wasn’t sick. Angels didn’t get sick. But humans did, and he was only as strong as his meat suit. He’d gotten flu shots a few times, but this year, he didn’t bother. The likelihood of contracting a disease was low.

 

His body didn’t care about who he was or how likely something was. All it took was a small, airborne pathogen. He didn’t know how it happened. Maybe someone on the team had coughed in the kitchen and it had reached his baked goods. Maybe Nursey wouldn’t stop spitting everywhere.

 

It didn’t matter how it happened. He was sick, and he was going to blame Nurse.

 

The problem was, he didn’t quite know how to deal with sickness. He walked around snivelling until Holster had found him and told him to get in bed. Someone brought up chicken noodle soup while he was sleeping. It didn’t taste like it came from a can. Maybe someone had actually made soup, using a recipe.

 

He probably had a kitchen to clean up now.

 

The minute he stood up, he had to sit back down. His head spun. It was a horrible, bizarre feeling. He pushed through it anyways. There was no way he was going to let sickness hold him back from doing the things he wanted or needed to do.

 

He’d been right. There were dishes that needed to be washed, and someone had splashed the soup onto Betsy accidentally. So he did what he did best: he set to work. He always felt best when he felt useful.

 

That was where Jack found him. He didn’t notice his presence at first.

 

“Bitty, what are you doing up?”

 

Bitty looked up, startled by Jack’s voice. The look of alarm and concern on his captain’s face was well worth the pain of being awake and alive in that moment.

 

“Oh, someone made me chicken noodle soup, so I thought it would be nice if I cleaned up the kitchen for them…” He trailed off. There was more he wanted to say, but nothing more he could articulate. Not when it hurt to talk so much.

 

Jack shook his head. “No, Bits.” His voice was surprisingly gentle and struck a chord. Something inside Bitty hummed a bright, clean note of a harp. “You’re sick, and I need you on the ice. You need to rest up until you feel better. Got it?”

 

“But…” He tried. It was clear there was nothing he could say. He sniffed and ran the back of his hand across his nose. His last, helpless plea was wordless: a desperate glance at the pot in his hands and the dish next to him.

 

“I’ll take care of it.” And indeed, it seemed as though Jack would. He came around to Bitty and carefully pried the rag out of his hands. Bitty had never seen him so gentle. “There. Now you can go back to sleep.”

 

Bitty nodded, but he hovered for a minute more. It was only when he sneezed several times in a row, each more violent than the last, that he mustered up the energy to head back up the stairs.

 

A minute after Bitty was upstairs and presumably asleep, Jack heard screams through the window in the kitchen Bitty left cracked. He said it was to let out the heat, but today, it was letting in heat.

 

Across the way, a lax bro raced out of the house with a fire extinguisher. He was followed closely by another bro carrying a burning microwave and screaming. It didn’t take long for the flames to disappear, but the microwave was trashed.

 

Jack finished drying the pot he was holding. He didn’t take his confused eyes off the steps.

 

•••

 

Barely a week later, Bitty was making cookies. He should have been studying, but he found it boring. It didn’t make sense for him to spend time on tedious human tasks. He was here to enjoy himself, was he not?

 

Unfortunately, he had a GPA to maintain or he wouldn't be able to stay on the hockey team. Homework was not on his list of favorite things, but being on the hockey team was. He crammed before tests and cursed his unwillingness to give up hockey for no homework.

 

It all felt extremely pointless in the grand scheme of the universe. He tried not to think about it.

 

Cookies, however, were quick and easy. He could make them with all of his eyes closed. He’d done so, once, to see if he could. He already felt practically blind with the majority of his eyes closed, so it hadn’t made much of a difference to shut the last two.

 

Shitty and Holster had decided to keep him company while he baked. It wasn't unusual for someone to. They liked scraping the remaining batter out of bowls and sampling foods before anyone else. Jack sat on the green couch across the hall and listened quietly. Separate, but together.

 

He left the cookie dough on the counter as he turned to put the already-spherical cookies in the oven. He’d named her Betsy for reasons even he didn’t know. It just felt right, and he had learned to trust his instincts down here.

 

Which is why he trusted his instincts and said, “I know y’all are not sticking your fingers in the dough behind my back,” while still facing the opposite direction.

 

There was a sound suspiciously similar to that of a finger being popped out of a mouth. “Jesus Christ, do you have eyes in the back of your head or something?” Shitty asked.

 

Bitty turned and stared at him evenly. “Yes,” he answered honestly. And then he gave them his patented smile. The one that put the fear of God in anyone he aimed it towards.

 

“Sorry, Bits,” Holster said. He shifted his weight uncomfortably. “It won’t happen again.”

 

“It’d better not.” He lifted his chin. “I think it’s time for you two to leave my kitchen.”

 

It wasn’t quite meant to be taken seriously. At least, it wasn’t quite meant to be taken as seriously as Shitty and Holster took it. They shuffled out of the kitchen immediately without trying to defend themselves, tails between their legs.

 

He knew the expression on his face was one of bewilderment. He hadn’t realized, or else had forgotten, the impact he could have on other people.

 

There were eyes trained on him. His head swiveled to find who it was. Actually, his head didn’t really turn. One moment, he thought about looking elsewhere. The next moment, that was where he was looking.

 

Jack stared at him from the green couch. Bitty stared back, shock still written across his face. He couldn’t read Jack’s expression. Jack raised an eyebrow, both a question and an answer. He looked back down at his laptop and continued to type something. Presumably a paper.

 

Bitty pulled a spoon out of the drawer next to him and bumped it shut with his hip. He scooped out a sizable chunk of prime cookie dough. The excessive amount of chocolate chips in the spoonful was both satisfactory and intentional. He balanced it on the knuckle of his middle finger, padded over to Jack, and handed it to him.

 

“Shitty and Holster got some, so I figured it was only fair,” he said by way of explanation

 

Jack looked up in surprise. He took Bitty’s offering, flipped it upside down, and ran his tongue along the concave side.

 

Bitty knew that was how Jack ate things from spoons. He’d seen Jack eat yogurt and too-thick protein shakes and ice cream. It always struck him as unnecessarily provocative. 

 

That didn't mean his heart didn't hammer in his chest.

 

He swallowed hard and tore his eyes away, remembering his mission. A discreet glance at Jack’s screen told him his suspicions were correct: Jack was researching for a paper. Not taking notes on Bitty’s strange behaviors. Of course not.

 

“S’good, Bits,” Jack said. Bitty was brought back to the present. “But if I get salmonella, I'm going to blame you.”

 

He rolled his eyes. “ Oh- kay, sure. I’ll nurse you back to health. Maybe then you’ll forgive me.” The oven timer went off, so he headed back into the kitchen.

 

Even if Jack wasn't picking up on anything, Bitty really had to be more careful around him. He also had to stop blowing his own cover.

 

Part of him wanted the team to know. They were all so honest to him. Nothing he wanted to know was ever truly hidden. In return, he was lying to them all day, every day. He’d seen the way they reacted to him saying he liked men, and part of him believed that they’d be accepting of him no matter who he was.

 

Part of him knew that wasn’t the case. They wouldn’t even believe him until he proved it. And he didn’t want to prove it. He didn’t want to answer their questions. He wanted to say, “I’m an angel,” and have them all shrug and say, “Okay,” and drop the subject.

 

It was impossible, but so was everything else he wanted from this life.

 

Back on the couch, Jack pulled up the Word document he’d hidden when Bitty approached him. It was full of bullet points and websites with more information. The title read, “ Bitty Theories: Possible Causes and Explanations.

 

•••

 

The day was unusually warm for the late fall, especially this far north. He wasn’t complaining. The two things in the world that made him feel closest to home were the lights of the stars and the floating feeling of gliding on the ice. Soaking in the sunshine was as good as it could get.

 

They sat near the edge of the lake. Above them, the trees changed colors from green to yellow to red to brown. It was a day off, finally, and they still didn’t want to be around anyone else than each other. Shitty’s head was in Jack’s lap. Lardo fed him gummy worms occasionally, which meant whenever he opened his mouth and stuck his tongue out.

 

“You know those things are as acidic as battery acid, right?” Ransom asked. He stood, ankles in the water, with Holster, who had convinced him to dip his feet in.

 

“Good thing he’s a basic bitch,” Lardo called back. She dropped an orange and green one in Shitty’s open mouth. “It all neutralizes out.”

 

Ransom chuckled; Bitty laughed. He was practicing a handstand against the trunk of a nearby tree. Chowder had wanted to see how long Bitty could hold it without passing out, and now even Nursey was growing intrigued at how his face was hardly purpling after several minutes. Bitty could have stood there all day, but Lardo had made him laugh, and he lost his balance. He carefully dropped one leg down in front of his face, followed by the other, performing a temporary split in the air.

 

Chowder paused the timer on his phone. “Eight minutes and thirty-four seconds. That’s got to be some kind of record!”

 

Bitty, for his part, was still laughing. He was giddy from the rush of oxygen and blood.

 

“Okay, Bitty, it wasn’t that good of a joke,” Lardo rolled her eyes good-naturedly.

 

He looked over at her, face red, as he struggled to catch his breath. The sun was low on the horizon and framed him perfectly. He was almost a silhouette except for the bright ring of golden-blonde hair surrounding his head like a halo, or a Renaissance painting. Life appeared to be one big illuminated manuscript, and Bitty was the most eye-catching page. The one on display in museums for everyone else to marvel at.

 

Jack’s breath caught in his throat.

 

The events of the past several months flashed by in his head. The feather in Bitty’s hair. The way his hand had felt like it was burning after he grabbed Bitty unexpectedly. Bitty’s soft, unsurprised smile after practice while everyone gushed over the way the puck never made it past Chowder’s pads. Actually, the way Chowder had exceptional luck for no apparent reason. The way he always knew what was going on behind him. He’d even said he had eyes in the back of his head. The day Bitty was sick and the lax house caught on fire. The mornings when Jack would run into Bitty around sunrise and Bitty seemed to be somewhere far, far away.

 

Back when he’d get up for checking practice, last year, and Bitty would curl up in a ball on the ice and Jack didn’t think he could touch Bitty. Not that he didn’t want to offer a hand to help him up. Something had always stopped him, like Bitty was hiding behind himself and some sort of shadow. He’d thought it was the hockey pads, but now he wondered if it was something else. When they sat near each other on the bus and the lights would turn off so people could sleep, Bitty’s features were never consumed in darkness. He was always brighter than anything else on the bus. Like the light was coming from within.

 

It was all impossible, but so was Bitty.


In the light of the setting sun, Bitty looked like an angel. Jack supposed he appeared that way because he probably was one.

Chapter Text

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.