His tears spill onto his skin, rolling down his hot cheeks and evaporating off of him. His body is radiating and his whole face feels red, like it’s burning. He’s shaking almost invisibly, but he’s given away by the door he’s leaning on, that’s rattling in its frame. He hears it move, all the parts of it. The handle, the hinges, every screw. They all knock around in his ears and bang on his ear drums. He suddenly feels so disconnected from himself.
The familiar feeling was already bubbling up in his belly when he made his way to the bench. His temperature crept higher and higher every moment he sat there. He practically crumpled in on himself when he got into the office. His knees knocked on the desk in front of him, and he held himself together with his hands wrapped around his body as the coaches spoke to him. Now he holds his head in his hands, remembering and focusing on his physical form, his self, his humanity. It’s like the feeling, the one he’s been trying to gather up for so long, was suddenly slipping between his fingers. It always felt like bundling an endless ribbon, trying to collect himself and ground himself every day. And after all this time and work, each excruciating inch of the ribbon he’d gathered, it was all sliding away from him at once.
So he starts at the beginning again. He looks at the sky to try and calm himself, he sees the red setting sun has spilled, painting all the clouds around it in various shades of purple and blue. The farther off clouds are mostly grey, but there are the lucky ones that caught some of the sunlight, that are tinged pink. Eric’s reminded about before, all the different angles he could see the sunset from. He could watch it several times a day if he wanted to, following it around the earth.
He wipes the scalding tears away from his eyes. He doesn't know how long he's been there, but the sun has almost disappeared. He thinks maybe he appreciates this more, now that he only gets to see it once a day.
Eric takes a nap one afternoon, a few days later, with the curtains open and the lights off. It’s not dark out yet, but the vibrant colours of the sunset are long gone, leaving his room bathed in pallid grey tones. He puts on music, something Holster recommended to him, but he doesn’t really end up listening to it because he falls immediately, diving deeply, to sleep. He dreams of something, or someone.
He is gently stirred awake by dizzying, prolonged vocals and the light from his glowing palms. He rubs his eyes, hearing spiralling, echoing acoustic guitar and incessant drum beats from his phone on the nightstand. The sun is watery and streams in through his windows. His hands are still shining, only just, so Eric inspects them closely before they fade. They radiate a soft orange light, making his skin almost translucent, so he can just about see all his veins through it. It’s like it's shining through water; the light from a flashlight that’s been dropped into a lake. He wonders what he dreamt about, watching them slowly dim.
He kind of hurts from the hit, in the curve of his ribs. It’s a dull pain, and he notices it in his mind too. He’s been sleeping to escape it, escape his thoughts. They’re constant, like the throbbing between his shoulderblades, where his wings used to be. He misses their weight. He still feels slightly off-kilter without them. He tries not to think about them like this; explicitly, nostalgically. Trying to remember too much takes its toll on him after a while.
But keeping busy at the Haus isn’t hard. There’s always somebody around, somebody to talk to or bake for. He doesn’t always appreciate it (take Jack interrupting his shower, for example), but he can distract himself with frog problems, and college assignments too, of course.
Hazeapalooza rolls around, which Eric fully invests himself in. Pies are baked and fires are lit. His pile of neatly folded sweaters and Tupperware are close at hand. The frogs, and Jack, are almost naked on the ice, and Eric thinks about how pretty Jack looks behind the flames. He has a pretty flush across his skin, knelt on the ice, in a prayer position. Eric feels his cheeks flare up, like they usually do after looking at Jack for too long. There’s a hot pressure on his sternum and tightness in his chest.
Earlier, Eric was thinking how well he was doing in handling his emotions recently, but it is all thrown out of the window as soon as Jack meets his eyes across the flaming cones. Seeing Jack smiling like this, the grin that’s been playing on his lips all night, leaves Eric feeling lighter. He feels like he’s hovering an inch above the ground, like nothing has really touched him the whole evening. He’s starting to feel butterflies again.
Eric finds himself unable to sleep one night, which isn’t unfamiliar. He meets Jack unexpectedly in the kitchen, leaning on the counter.
“Hey,” he says, with a smile.
Jack looks up from his phone, smiles back, “what are you doing up?”
“I could ask you the same thing.”
“I’m, uh, I’ve been having trouble sleeping recently,” Jack pauses, “Hockey stuff, you know?”
“Well, no wonder… you’ve got a lot on your plate right now.”
“Huh. Yeah,” Jack shrugs.
“Any closer on picking a team?” Eric asks, even though he’s sure Jack has been asked the question a hundred times that day alone.
“Still deciding,” Jack says, ever the stoic hockey player, “it’s tough, though.”
“It sure must be.”
“What about you?”
“Oh, me? I’m just getting myself a glass of water,” Eric says, as he follows through on his lie and gets a glass out of the cupboard. He hears Jack’s phone vibrate.
Jack is looking back at his phone again, typing something to somebody rapidly.
“Goodnight, Jack,” Eric says, wishing the conversation could have been something different, “make sure you get some sleep tonight, alright?”
“Yeah,” Jack chuckles, “goodnight, Bittle.”
In his human body, Eric feels everything stronger. Just as he thinks he’s getting used to it, too. He has stopped noticing himself blinking for the most part (having only two eyes was limiting at first, but he got used to that as well). He’s still clumsy, and he still has some small difficulties with technology (he likes to use Twitter to remember everything, now his memory isn’t what it used to be). He gets fidgety. It always helps getting back on the ice and getting rid of some energy though, using his body.
And he’s spending more time with Jack now, still on the ice rather than off of it. Eric thought maybe the butterflies would go away after a while, but they don’t.
Then Jack ends up in one of his classes. Or, actually, Eric ends up in one of Jack’s classes (give Southern charm to an angel and he can get anything he wants). Now they’re suddenly sitting next to each other in class for an hour every Thursday, and helping each other with assignments. The more time Eric spends with Jack, the more he becomes sure of the feelings he has towards him. It’s outgrowing crush status rapidly.
Eric is kind of realising that Jack is everything he wanted but nothing like what he expected. He’s discovered a cheeky, wry sense of humour, a little clumsiness that’s non-existent on the ice, and a tendency to become a real story-teller, if you let him be. Eric finds himself smiling more, and feels his heart becoming lighter. He’s still weighed down by the fact that his feelings are in no way reciprocated, but growing closer to Jack, no matter if it’s just as friends, is lifting Eric up in a way that no one else has.
Before he knows it, the EpiKegster is right around the corner. Eric doesn’t really know what to expect from it, but he has no doubt that it’ll get wild.