Disclaimer: The characters belong to Ngozi Ukazu.
A/N 1: I had two betas for this fic: happyzimm and OrSaiKellieLonore. I am eternally grateful to happyzimm for their enthusiasm and OrSaiKellieLonore for their input and corrections.
A/N 2: I'm autistic, as is one of my betas; my other beta has ADHD and went through the diagnosis process recently. This doesn't mean we know everything about autism or ADHD, but I'm not randomly guessing, either. If you have ADHD and feel I've misrepresented the condition or the diagnosis process, I'm open to hearing that, but if you don't have ADHD or autism please don't make comments on the representation here.
A/N 3: This is a canon-divergent fic because Jack and Bitty are already together before Jack graduates. Jack and Bitty's neurodivergence is not meant to be canon-divergent, however. Certainly the characters aren't confirmed to have ADHD or autism in the original comic, but they have a lot of traits consistent with those conditions, and I'm trying to write them as compliant with both canon and my headcanons.
Eric kind of wants to wait until the end of the hockey season to deal with the possibility of having ADHD, but, the week after he and Jack get together, he finds out that he failed a test that he'd completely forgotten was going to happen. It's not the first time he's forgotten about a test, but he hasn't flunked one since high school; last year he was able to remember bits and pieces of lectures and readings and make enough semi-educated guesses that he scraped by with Cs and C-minuses on the tests he forgot about. But the thing about school is that it keeps getting harder, and Eric's ability to do academics isn't necessarily keeping up. Eric knows he's decently smart—he's not Ransom or anything, but he was usually a cut above most of his high school classmates, at least when it came to in-class work—so he doesn't really think he's not smart enough for Samwell, even though it sometimes feels that way. It's not like he can't comprehend his readings or structure his essays. It's that he can't focus on his readings or keep track of the due dates for his essays. Which probably means Jack is onto something with this whole ADHD thing.
Eric is honestly not sure he'd be able to find it in himself to care about flunking the test, given how happy he is about being with Jack, except that tests are a bigger part of class grades than they were in high school, and failing this one has pushed his grade in the class to the edge, and the coaches are on him about it. Jack isn't on his case exactly, but he is concerned. He advises Eric to talk to Disability Services immediately about the possibility of him having ADHD, because even being in the process of getting a diagnosis might earn him some degree of leniency from professors, although it'll take an actual diagnosis for accommodations to kick in.
So Eric goes to Disability Services the day after getting the test back. He feels a little weird being there—he's always thought of wheelchairs and blindness when he's heard the word "disability." But there are posters in the main room of the office about dyslexia (which—is there even a point to written posters about dyslexia? Eric isn't sure) and ADHD and something called dyscalculia that Eric's never heard of, and the posters make him feel like he's come to the right place. The woman behind the desk puts him at ease, too. She hands him some paperwork to fill out while he waits. One sheet asks his name, student ID number, what year he's in, and stuff like that, while the other paper asks him about feeling "down, depressed, or hopeless" and "feeling like a failure." Eric thinks about asking the woman at the desk about the sheet, but instead he takes a picture of it before filling it out and texts the picture to Jack.
Eric to Jack: wtf is this?
Jack Zimmermann: That's a PHQ-9. It's a depression screening.
Jack Zimmermann: They gave me one last time I was at Health Services, even though I was there for bronchitis.
Jack Zimmermann: I think the school is just trying to get better at catching students with depression early enough to treat them, after that suicide last spring.
Eric to Jack: oh that makes sense
Eric fills out the questionnaire (he sometimes feels like a failure and definitely thinks he's letting his family down, and he's sometimes restless, but he doesn't experience most of the other symptoms) and turns in the paperwork to the woman at the desk. Then, after waiting for a while, during which he scrolls through his Twitter feed, Eric is called back into a room to talk with another woman.
"I'm Sandra Gibson," says the woman. "Your intake form says you're Eric Bittle, and you're a sophomore. Is that right?"
"Yeah," says Eric.
"It's nice to meet you, Eric. What brings you in today?"
"Well, I think I might have ADHD. I just failed a test, and my academic eligibility is on the rocks. I'm on the hockey team, and I need to stay on it to keep my scholarship. And I've been reading a lot about ADHD lately, and everything I read just feels so familiar. I mean, I definitely get distracted easily and have trouble focusing and remembering due dates and deadlines, but I also sometimes hit the hyperfocus highway, and I have hyperfixations, and I think I experience rejection sensitivity dysphoria, too."
Sandra is giving him a skeptical look. "You're on the hockey team?"
"Yes," says Eric, letting his tone get steely. He's not going to say bless your heart to someone whose help he needs, but he's tempted to, anyway. "Number fifteen, right winger, first line."
Sandra's expression clears and she shifts in her chair. "Okay. Well, we can't make binding accommodations until you have an official diagnosis." She picks up a pen and writes something on a Post-It. "This is the name of a doctor who does ADHD evaluations. I'm not sure which insurance he takes or if he'll have openings, but he's quite good, so I advise working with him if you can. No matter where you go for an evaluation, though, it'll take a while to get a diagnosis. In the meantime, I'd advise you to talk to your professors and let them know that this is something you're pursuing, and ask if you can retake that test you failed."
Eric sighs. He's not sure if he'll be able to retake the test—that professor has never seemed to like him, and he doesn't have an official diagnosis (yet), and he wishes there were more Sandra could do, even though he's pretty sure there's not.
"If you do get a diagnosis, you'll need to bring us the paperwork, and then we'll work out a plan for accommodations. Accommodations might include a quiet, private space to take exams; extensions on assignments; or permission to use fidgets during class. Professors are required to allow you to use the accommodations we work out, but we require all accommodations to be reasonable. It's important to remember that accommodations aren't a substitute for treatment—if you need medication, therapy, or other things to help you cope, it's your responsibility to keep up with those things. If you have ADHD, academic accommodations from the school will not be as effective in isolation as they will be in combination with a treatment plan."
"Right," says Eric.
Sandra talks for a while longer, but Eric kind of unintentionally tunes it out, though he thinks he nods at the right times. When the meeting is over, Eric texts Jack on the way back to the Haus to let him know how it went.
Eric to Jack: it seems like there's nothing disability services can do until i get a diagnosis
Jack Zimmermann: That sucks. :( Did they refer you anywhere at least?
Eric to Jack: kind of? they gave me the name of one doctor but idk if he takes my insurance
Jack Zimmermann: That's not very helpful. Do you want help with next steps?
Eric to Jack: OMG YES PLEASE
Jack Zimmermann: Cool. I'll be in my room for the next couple hours if you want to stop by.
Eric to Jack: omw
When Eric gets to Jack's room, he knocks and then enters when Jack calls out, "Come in!" Nine days into his relationship with Jack, Eric is definitely not over the fact that he gets to come into Jack's room on a regular basis. Even Ransom, Holster, and Lardo don't get to do that. Eric's next goal is to get rid of the sad motivational poster Jack has. That thing has to be doing more harm than good. In the meantime, though, he needs to figure out how to get a diagnosis.
"This is the doctor who might be able to diagnose me," says Eric, handing the Post-It to Jack.
Jack takes the paper and frowns. "I hate when they don't give phone numbers or web addresses."
Eric feigns shock. "Jack Zimmermann, wanting to use the internet?"
"Autism fact," Jack says. He's been starting a lot of sentences that way when he and Eric have spent time together in the last week. Eric knows more about autism now than he'd realized there was to know just a couple weeks ago. "We hate calling people on the phone, especially strangers. I've been an adult for a while, Bittle. I've learned some workarounds, and the internet is one of them. I know how to use the Google."
Eric can't help but laugh. "The Google!" he says between fits of giggles. "The Google!"
Jack turns to his laptop. "Anyway. I'll look this person up and then you can call him."
Jack does, and then Eric calls. After being put on hold a couple of times and transferred once, Eric finally finds out that the doctor doesn't take Eric's insurance and isn't taking new patients anyway.
When Eric finishes that phone call with a heavy sigh, he sees that Jack has already gotten to his insurance company's website and is on the page that lists in-network psychiatric care. He's switching between that tab and new tabs where he's Googling the clinics listed and whether they do ADHD evaluations.
"Do you want me to do that?" Eric asks.
"It's fine," says Jack, and he keeps Googling, so Eric pulls up Twitter on his phone because he's not sure there's a way for two people to work on this problem at the same time.
Eventually, Jack narrows it down to three places where Eric can probably go to get evaluated for a diagnosis. "You should probably call all three, to make sure they actually do ADHD evaluations," says Jack. "Besides, this sort of thing usually involves a wait time, so you probably want to go with whichever one has the shortest wait. If you need a tiebreaker, maybe use driving distance?"
"Ooh, yeah, good point," says Eric. "These are all a ways off. The Uber is going to be super expensive."
Jack frowns at him. "Was that a joke?"
"No, why?" asks Eric.
"Because I have a car?" Jack replies, and it sounds like a question. "I can take you to your appointment."
"Jack, you don't need to—" Eric starts.
Jack takes Eric's hand. "My mom had cancer when I was in middle school, and my dad went with her to every one of her appointments. My father and I have our differences, but I learned a lot about how to be a partner from him."
Eric laughs nervously because he doesn't know how to react. Jack's devotion is amazing, of course, but it's also kind of overwhelming. "Jack, we've been together for nine days."
"Oh. Was that too much?" Jack asks.
"No," says Eric. "It's overwhelming, but in a good way."
"You sure, bud?" Jack asks. "I can tone it down. I just want to love you as well as I can, but I understand that that's . . . a lot."
Eric nods. "I'm sure. It is a lot, but I swear it's good."
"Good," says Jack. "Do you think you can call these places?"
"Yeah," says Eric. "Can I stay in here, though? It's easier to do scary things with you around, and also I'm worried I'll get sidetracked if I go to my room."
"Yeah, you can definitely stay in here," Jack replies. He writes down the three phone numbers on the back of the Post-It Eric got from Disability Services.
Eric calls all three places. True to their websites, they all do ADHD evaluations. One has a three-month wait; the second is booked out six weeks; and the third has a four-month waitlist. After hanging up with the third place, Eric sighs and says, "Well, that's a fairly obvious choice, then."
"Yeah," says Jack. "I understand if you want a break, but I think you should call the second place back as soon as possible to make sure you're able to get in quickly."
"Well, 'quickly,'" says Eric, making air quotes.
"Hey, the psychiatric world generally moves at a pretty glacial pace. Six weeks is actually not that bad."
"I suppose," says Eric, and then he calls the second place again and makes an appointment.
When that's all over, he asks Jack, "Can we cuddle now?"
Jack nods and gets up, moving toward his bed. "I think you've earned it. I'm setting a timer on my phone for thirty minutes, though. I do need to work on my thesis."
"Oh, right!" says Eric. "I've already taken enough of your afternoon—I'm sorry—"
"Bittle," says Jack. "I can spare half an hour, and you deserve to be cuddled. Get on the bed."
"Yes sir, Mr. Zimmermann," says Eric.
He means it to come off cheeky, to be obviously a joke, but Jack puts his face in his hands and Eric abruptly remembers that there's basically no such thing as "obviously a joke" when it comes to Jack.
"You don't have to," says Jack. "I shouldn't have phrased that like an order. You never have to do what I say in the bedroom. Please only go along with my ideas if you want to."
Eric climbs onto the bed, sits next to Jack, and wraps an arm around him. "I know that, sweetpea. I'm the one who asked to cuddle. I definitely want to. And trust me, I got Shitty's consent speech too. I know that I'm allowed to say no, and I trust you to stop if I say stop and to let me leave if I want to leave. I'm here because I trust you, okay?"
Jack lowers his hands from his face. "Okay. Thanks."
Eric nestles against Jack's side. "Jack. You're a trustworthy person. You don't need to thank me for picking up on that."
Jack pushes his face into Eric's hair and sighs.
"Honey?" Eric asks. "Is there something you're not telling me?"
Jack pulls back, eyes wide, looking frightened.
Eric shakes his head. "Not like that. I mean, is there a reason that someone trusting you feels like a big gift, and not like an everyday occurrence?"
Jack looks at his lap. "When you combine the stereotypes about queer men with the stereotypes about autism—it just isn't pretty, you know? So yeah, there are other people who trust me, but I've gotten used to thinking it's because they don't know very much about me, at least in terms of demographic stuff like sexuality and disability status. And that, if they knew, it might be different. But you know, and you trust me anyway, and that—that feels like a lot."
"'A lot' in a good way?"
"God, yes," says Jack. "In the best way."
"Well," says Eric, "glad I could help, I guess." He leans harder against Jack, and Jack wraps an arm around him, and the stress and shame about failing the test fall away.
A/N: Chapters two and three are coming in the next few days! Subscribe if you want to get emails when those go live!