Work Header

From the Hinge of the Tail

Work Text:

“Thank you,” Jack said, shaking hands with the owner, with Georgia, with some lawyers he’d forgotten the names of. “I will try not to let you down.”

The Falc’s owner chuckled. “Not much chance of that, son. I’ve been watching you play for months.”

Jack did his best to arrange his face into a smile, though he was certain it would look forced to them. His facial expressions often did. It wasn’t like he was unhappy to be signing with the Falconers. In fact he was certain he’d made the right choice. It was just… difficult, sometimes, for him to emote that happiness. Or at least, it was difficult when he wasn’t around Bitty.

He signed the papers without reading a word of them, and straightened up. “Thank you, again. For the opportunity.” He’s pretty sure he was supposed to say something more after that, or shake their hands again. Maybe get a drink, celebrate.

He walked out the door.

There haven’t been a lot of things in Jack’s life that he’s been sure of. There’s been hockey, perhaps, in the sense of skates on ice. Definitely going to Samwell. And there’s been Bitty. Bitty, who he didn’t even know was—

Ransom had asked him once, when he was exceedingly high, if Jack thought fish knew that they breathed water. He’d been staring at one of a long line of exceptionally short-lived Offical Haus Goldfish at the time. It might have been the one they named Schnapps.

Jack, who had not been high, had shrugged at Ransom. “They’ve gotta know. They live in it, eh?”

“Yeah but bro,” Ransom clutched at Jack’s arm to steady himself as he leaned towards the fish tank, “It’s just like, always around them. How would they even know?” Schnapps died six months later—a new longevity record—without the question having reached a satisfactory conclusion.

Jack’s first thought at graduation, after the one that prompted throwing himself into a dead run across campus, was that he owed Ransom an apology. Fish, as it turned out, were stupid. Perhaps astonishingly so. Fish had no idea that they breathed water. Fish could have a collection of photographs on their walls comprised of nothing but water, and they would still not understand why they felt like they couldn’t breathe without it. Certain fish even had to be gently prompted by their fathers in two separate languages before they would stop trying to drag themselves away from the ocean. His second thought was that Bitty had very soft lips.

Jack Zimmermann walked out of the Falconer’s office and into a quaint-looking local jewelry store.

“How would you like to be proposed to?” Jack asked. His question was mostly directed at the ceiling, since he and Shitty were currently lying on the floor of his new apartment in Providence, sharing a beer and recovering from hauling his boxes.

“I mean, marriage is kind of an archaic institution, brah. Plus I really wanna focus on my career right now.”

Jack smacked Shitty in the arm, but he didn’t really have the energy to make it hurt.

“I dunno, like just theoretically?”

“Or not,” Jack said. He had meant it to come out casual, a sort of throwaway mutter. It became clear, upon reflection, that it really didn’t matter how casually one mentioned planning to propose marriage to one’s best friend.

“Bro!” Shitty rolled upright, and Jack tried to remember when Shitty had lost his shirt. It was possible he had never even been wearing one. “Why didn’t you tell me you’ve been seeing someone? When do I meet her?”

Jack opened his mouth, not even sure where to begin correcting Shitty, but Shitty was on a roll all by himself.

“Wait, bro, where did you meet her? You only hang out with the guys on the hockey team and—“ Jack can actually see the moment where all the gears in Shitty’s head grind to a halt. “—and oh my god you’re totally dating a guy from the hockey team.”

Jack didn’t really think Shitty needed him here to have this conversation, and so he just sort of let him go.
“Fuck man, like you never said you were—I mean you only ever mentioned girls and I just always assumed but like fuck that’s so fucking heteronormative of me and brah, why didn’t you tell me? Like you’ve been dating this dude for who knows how long and—“

“Three weeks,” Jack said, and correcting Shitty here means that he’s confirming everything else, but that’s good that’s—Jack’s almost alarmed at how much he wants that. “We, uh, we weren’t together until, uh, graduation.”

Shitty took a deep breath through his nose and let it out again. “Listen, Jack. My bro. My guy. As happy as I am that you don’t feel like you need to hide your boyfriend from me after all, it occurs to me that you asked me about proposing.”

“Yes,” Jack confirmed when it seemed that Shitty wasn’t going to continue without a response.

“To a guy you’ve been dating.”

Were he and Bitty dating? Was that the right term? Jack thought it might be, but they hadn’t officially had the conversation. It felt… small to him. Too small for what he had with Bitty. “…yes.”

“…for three weeks.” Shitty was staring at him with a deep and abiding incredulity, as though he were being exceedingly reckless, which Jack thought was a little unfair coming from the guy who had taken one look at the lovingly well-preserved Samwell Men’s Hockey recipe for tub juice and declared, “needs more grain alcohol,” but there they were.

“I have a ring,” Jack said defensively. It wasn’t like he hadn’t planned this out.

Bro,” Shitty said eloquently. Jack had never heard so much hysterical exasperation in one word before, and he’d spent three years living with Ransom and Holster.

It wasn’t that Jack was an unreasonable person, of course. He understood how things were supposed to work, that there was an order to them, and that deviations from that order led to problems that ranged from “Top NHL Draft Prospect Drops Out of Hockey, Drops in to Rehab” to “this might be a little hard to explain.” It was just that Eric Bittle made him forget that order.

“You can’t—you can’t just—“ Shitty took a breath, and Jack counted with him. One two three four in, hold. One two three four out. Hold. “It’s Bitty, isn’t it? It’s got to be Bitty.”

Jack nodded.

“Jack you can’t.” Jack opened his mouth but Shitty held up a hand. “Nah, bro, listen. I know you’ve got—like, you’re in love with him you’re ready to go, you’re Jack three hundred and ten percent Zimmermann and you’re gonna marry the boy. I get it. But could you please maybe chill? Just for a little while. For Bits’s sake. And also a little bit for me. You know, the guy who’s gonna have to pick you up and dust you off again.”

Jack frowned, tamped down the panic in his chest. “Do you think he’ll say no?”

Shitty’s mouth twisted strangely. He looked amused and sad and something else all at the same time. “No, actually. I think he’ll say yes. That’s kind of my problem with the whole deal.”

There was a light in Jack’s heart. He hadn’t realized until Shitty said the words, but somehow this all hadn’t been quite real to him before. Like he had been allowed to take the past few weeks out of someone else’s life. Someone luckier than him. The kind of person who had been born meant to be happy. The fact that Shitty was addressing him, Jack Zimmermann, about the inadvisability of proposing to Eric Bittle, who would probably say yes, was nothing short of a revelation. The panic was gone.

Ignoring his friend’s sudden state of exhilarated shock, Shitty went on. “He’s like you, man. I mean he’s not, in like the surface way, but underneath. That intensity. Like, he grew up a gay figure skater in Georgia. That’s enough to give anybody the crazy eyes and on top of that, like, he’s Bitty. Like, I’m pretty sure he was conceived to Steel Magnolias or some shit he’s just got like this iron in his blood and—“

“There’s iron in everyone’s blood, Shitty.” Shitty smacked him, and Jack retaliated. It turned into a full blown wrestling match, Shitty getting Jack in a headlock and both of them falling to the floor, laughing too hard to breathe.

When they came down a few minutes later, Shitty rolled to face Jack on the floor. “Seriously, dude. I’m happy for you—fucking thrilled, honestly—but you need to wait for a few years. Like, maybe a year after Bits graduates. Give you guys some time to do some laundry and shit together. Regular everyday stuff that’s not sweeping declarations of love and staring into one another’s eyes while T-Swift plays in the background.”

“It was Beyoncé,” Jack mumbled.

“Oh my god you piece of shit.” Shitty was laughing, though. He was still grinning when he pushed himself upright, held out a hand to Jack. “Do I get to see the ring?”

The ring, which Jack had hidden inside an empty box of pre-made pie shells (Shitty had snorted, but not denied the fact that it was the one thing in Jack’s whole apartment Bitty would never, ever deign to touch), was nothing fancy on the outside. The band was white gold, smooth and gently beveled at the edges. It felt small in Jack’s hand. It probably would only fit on his own pinky finger.

“Jesus Christ, did you even get it insured?”

“You can do that?” Jack asked.

Shitty groaned, but didn’t press further. He glanced at Jack first, silently asking permission. When Jack nodded, he picked it up, tilting it towards the light and squinting at the French inscription on the inner surface. “This had better not say ‘eat more protein,’ or some shit, Zimmermann.”

“Your French isn’t that bad,” Jack sniffed.

“Nah, not really.” Shitty was grinning at him. Actually grinning, pink cheeks and all. “You’re really gonna do it, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” Jack said. He didn’t think there was anything else to say.

Shitty hugged him and gave a watery sounding laugh. “I’m just—I’m so happy for you guys, man. He’s gonna love it.”

Jack smiled.

In the end the agreement was simple. Jack was not convinced that a torte written out on the crumpled paper napkin from his hibachi take out would hold up in the court of law, but something about the set of Shitty’s shoulders said that if he learned nothing else at Harvard, he would figure out how to make it stick.
“I, Jack Laurent 310% Zimmermann, do hereby agree on this day, June 1st, 2015, that I will not propose marriage to Eric Richard 4000% Bittle until at least June 1st, 2018, because I seriously need to slow the fuck down.

“Should I violate the terms of this contract, I hereby grant Shitty B. Knight the right to commission an ice sculpture of myself as an infant for use as a centerpiece at my reception. I also agree to hand out copies of a childhood photograph of his choice as part of the wedding favors for guests.”

And there, underneath, was Jack’s signature. The i dotted and the t crossed.

“So witnessed,” Shitty said smugly, flipping the napkin over to sign and date his own name. Jack only sighed.

He stapled the napkin to the ring’s receipt, and filed it away with the paperwork from the rest of his major purchases, and made himself comfortable with the wait.

Jack frowned at his computer. Despite the fact that his frown was now a somewhat legendary motivator in multiple parts of New England, the laptop became no more responsive. “I don’t understand,” he said.

Bitty raised an eyebrow at him from his place in the kitchen, and Jack realized he had been mumbling in French. “I don’t understand,” he repeated in English. “It’s making noises at me, but the screen isn’t doing anything.”

“Did you turn the display off again, sweetheart?” Bitty was kneading something. Jack wasn’t quite sure what, but he knew that it couldn’t be pie dough because Bitty had gasped aloud when he implied pie crust was something one kneaded.

“How do I do that?” Jack asked, flushing a little.

“Just a second honey.” Bitty put the dough into a greased bowl and put plastic wrap over it, setting it in the kitchen window. He rinsed his hands quickly and came over to Jack, putting his head on Jack’s shoulder as he bent to look. Bitty felt warm and happy and smelled like flour and yeast and it was…nice. Even after two years of Bitty like this, even with his laptop still beeping at him, Jack’s frustration melted away. Bitty tapped a few keys, then he frowned too. “Huh,” he said, and poked at it a little more.

“What’s wrong with it?” Jack asked.

“Well, I’m no expert, but it looks like you’ve got a messed up connection between your screen and the rest of it. I don’t think the whole laptop’s broken but you’ll have to get it fixed for sure.”

“Can Dex do it?”

Bitty raised his eyebrows again. “Sure, if you want to drive to Maine and ask. It’s summer, honey.”

“Oh,” Jack mumbled. “Maybe I should just take it to Best Buy.”

Bitty kissed him on the cheek. “Maybe. Where’s your warranty, darlin’?”

“Binder on top of the fridge,” Jack told him absently. He pulled out his phone to reply to the email from George he’d been trying to get to on his laptop.

He didn’t like typing out business-related things on his phone when he could avoid it. It made his fingers feel giant and slow, and he couldn’t understand how Bitty could just fly through email and text in the time it took him to open the correct app. Still, he ought to at least let her know his laptop was broken, and it was a simple enough question to answer.

Jack had just pressed send when he heard the crash. “Bitty?” Jack was on his feet immediately.

Bitty was standing in the middle of Jack’s (and his. It was Bitty’s now, too. All his boxes were in the rooms they belonged to, in varying stages of unpacked) kitchen, a heavy binder on the floor in front of him, with a napkin in one hand and the other pressed tightly to his mouth.

“Are you all right?”

“Jack—“ Bitty’s eyes were huge, and it wasn’t until he turned to face him that Jack remembered.

“Oh,” he said softly. “I uh, there’s…I can—“ Jack cleared his throat a little.

Bitty reread the note, his eyes flicking across Shitty’s surprisingly neat black lettering. “This is dated, Jack.”

“Do you not date contracts when you sign them?” Bitty looked like he was welling up, and Jack tried not to panic. He’d never really been good with crying. It was one of the things that had made him seem like more of a hardass than he actually was as a captain. “Um, please don’t cry Bittle. I uh, could you not. Eric?”

“You bought a ring,” Bitty said, tears streaming down his face now, “three weeks after our first kiss.”

Jack nodded uncomfortably.

“Jack we weren’t even dating three weeks after our first kiss. We didn’t have the relationship talk until 4th of July.”

“I had just gotten my signing bonus and it, uh—it felt right.”

“Jack Zimmermann, that is just about the most unreasonable thing I have ever heard. I’m not even out to my parents yet, you have the NHL to consider, and you bought an engagement ring before we were even actually dating.” Jack had forgotten just how hard Eric could hit, when he chose to check someone. He caught Bitty squarely in his chest and stumbled back a few steps before righting himself, clutching Bitty to his now-wet shirt. Bitty sniffled, said something that sounded like “this boy,” and wrapped his arms around Jack. Jack held him close, kissing the top of his head and feeling the world brighten.

“Wait just a second,” he said, his hands on Bitty’s shoulders. Jack rummaged in the back of the freezer. It had been a lot easier to get to the things back there before bitty had moved in and taken up all the space with pie fillings and extra butter, but Jack certainly didn’t mind. He found the pie crust carton and slid the little ring box out of it, then turned and got on one knee.

“Bitty, I meant to do this more romantically. Or at least with more planning. But I’ve been waiting for two years now and I can’t—“ Jack was crying now. He hadn’t really meant to start, but there they were, all the tears, just waiting. “I love you,” he choked out. “So much. Will you please—?”

Bitty held out his hand. “Lord help me, I think I would have said yes if you’d asked me two years ago,” he said.

“That’s what Shitty said,” Jack told him, sliding the ring onto his hand.

Bitty laughed, pulled the ring off again to examine the inside. “Ma grâce salvatrice,” he read slowly. “Is that—oh, Jack.”

“Your pronunciation is horrible,” Jack said, and kissed him.

Shitty looked a little bleary when he picked up skype, and Jack was momentarily taken aback to see him in a suit. Or, well, with clothes on at all.

“Shits, I think I need legal help,” Jack said seriously. Bitty’s shoulder was already shaking with silent laughter beside him. “I’ve entered into a contract with unfair terms, and I violated it due to extenuating circumstances.” Bitty snorted a little, tried to cover it up.

Shitty frowned at Bitty, confused by his reaction to Jack’s apparent legal trouble, and that was enough to make Jack lose it and crack up too. “Jack, what’re you—“

Bitty just waved over Jack’s shoulder, the ring glinting in the morning sunlight. Shitty yelped.

After the laughing (and the exclamations, and the crying) had subsided, Shitty put on his best serious lawyer face. “I’m sorry, Mr, Zimmermann, but the terms of that contract are binding and I believe you owe me an ice sculpture.”

Jack kissed Bitty’s hand, his lips right over the ring. “I think I can deal with that.”