Disclaimer: The characters belong to Ngozi Ukazu.
When Mr. and Mrs. Bittle finish yelling, Jack and Bitty grab their things and flee the house. Bitty holds it together stunningly well as they walk the streets of Madison—luckily it only takes about ten minutes to reach the high school, even with their suitcases, and then Bitty takes Jack under the bleachers at the football stadium, muttering something about his father, and about never having had the chance to sneak down here in high school. There's shade and privacy under the bleachers, even if it is hot enough that Jack is definitely sweating through his shirt despite still being morning. Bitty drops the handles of his bags and sinks to the ground, finally sobbing, and Jack joins him a moment later, wrapping his arms around Bitty despite the heat.
"Hey. Hey. Don't cry."
Bitty sniffles and pulls away from Jack's embrace, wiping away his own tears with his hands. "Sorry. Sorry. You don't deserve to have to deal with me."
Jack catches Bitty's wrist and holds it loosely. "Bits. Let's get one thing clear. What I don't deserve is you, full stop. You are sunshine and warmth and everything good and I'll never understand why you want to be with me. But if you do, if you want me, then it is my honor and privilege to get to sit with you through this, okay? I'm sorry for telling you not to cry. I hate to see you sad and I'm not good with feelings, but this is a lot and you're allowed to be upset about it."
"I just—I thought—they were supposed to love me," Bitty sobs, burrowing back into Jack's neck.
"They were," Jack assures him. "They were absolutely supposed to love you and I'm so sorry that they failed you. You deserve better, I promise."
Bitty shakes his head. "I couldn't be the perfect, straight son they wanted. Why couldn't I just be normal?"
"You are normal," Jack soothes. "You don't have to be straight to be normal. There's nothing wrong with you, Bits."
"Who are you and what have you done to Mister Eat More Protein?"
Jack winces. "I'm so sorry, Bits. You deserved better, especially from your captain."
"Every time someone tells me I deserved better, I feel like I've conned them," Bitty admits.
"Why?" Jack asks.
"Probably because my parents would never agree with it."
"This is bigger than coming out," Jack assesses. "Were they ever good to you?"
"Of course they were!"
Bitty looks down and doesn't say anything for several seconds. Finally, he whispers, "I don't know."
Jack hugs Bitty tightly and says, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
"None of this is your fault," Bitty murmurs into Jack's shoulder.
"If I weren't here, they couldn't have caught us—"
"I knew the risks," Bitty interrupts, pulling out of Jack's hug but not backing up all that far. "We didn't do anything I didn't want to do, and I had a better idea of what might happen than you did. This isn't your fault."
"But—" Jack searches Bitty's face and then sighs. "Okay. Okay. We need to figure out what we're doing next. Do you have ideas or do you want to leave that to me? Because I can get us back to Providence, no problem, but if you'd rather do something else that's also an option, though it'll take more work on your part."
"Providence is fine," Bitty says. "But you're really okay with that? I mean, if we go back now I'll be in your hair for like six weeks."
"Bits," Jack says, smoothing a hand over the back of Bitty's head. "I want you in my hair so fucking badly I don't know how to put it into words, and even if I didn't particularly care one way or the other, I hope you know by now that I'd offer my guest room up to just about any current or former teammate who didn't have anywhere else to stay."
"I could go to the Haus," Bitty says dubiously. "It's not like I'd be homeless otherwise."
"Do you want to go to the Haus?" Jack asks, serious. "Because you absolutely can. We can both fly to Boston and I can get back to Providence and you can head to Samwell if that's what you want. But I'd really love it if you came to stay with me."
"I'd much rather stay with you," Bitty admits. "But you're really okay with that?"
"Bits, of course," Jack assures him. "You are the light of my life, and I don't want to come on too strong or say anything you're not ready to hear, especially today, but please know I care about you and I'm determined to do it well if you'll let me."
"If I'll let you," Bitty scoffs. Then, quieter, he says, "You mentioned the guest room?"
"You're welcome to stay in my room with me if you want," Jack says. "But I don't want to pressure you, either. Please stay wherever you're comfortable."
Bitty meets Jack's eyes for the first time in a couple minutes and asks, "How are you so good to me?"
"Pretty sure this is what a boyfriend should do," Jack replies. "I don't think I'm going particularly above and beyond here." He holds up a hand and adds, "And no, I'm not doing this just because I think I should. I don't feel obligated. I'm doing this because I want to, because you're wonderful and I care about you and you're hurting in ways no one should ever have to hurt."
Bitty pushes into Jack's arms again and Jack holds him. "Thank you," Bitty says, over and over, crying harder than he has in a few minutes. "Thank you. Thank you."
"Of course, bud," Jack murmurs back. "Of course."
After a couple minutes, Bitty gasps and pulls back. "Jack! I'm so sorry I forgot! What if this results in you getting outed? I can't create that kind of risk for you."
"Like hell you can't," Jack replies. He maneuvers his phone out of his back pocket without standing, unlocks the phone, and dials George.
"Jack!" George says when she picks up. "It's a holiday weekend! Aren't you supposed to be in Georgia?"
"I am in Georgia," Jack says. "Though I think I'm going to head back early. I've got some things to tell you, and I want you to know that I would have told you these things, but more slowly and in person, if circumstances had been different. But the way things are going, I think I need to tell you now."
"Okay?" George replies. "You're freaking me out, Jack. What's going on?"
"Sorry about that," Jack says. "It's nothing bad—well, I guess you can decide that for yourself, but it's nothing illegal or dangerous. It's just. I'm bisexual. And I have a boyfriend, a teammate from college, and he just got disowned, so he's going to be staying with me for the rest of the summer. We can spin it as a roommate situation, I think, but something could leak and I want you to be ready. I'm probably going to want to come out at some point in the next year or two, and we can make a plan for what that looks like sometime when I'm back in Providence, but I wanted you to know the basic facts now."
"Sorry, can we go back to the part where you described your boyfriend getting disowned as 'nothing bad'?" George asks.
"Oh," says Jack. "Shit. You're right. That part is bad. I was mostly concerned about your reaction to me being bisexual and having a boyfriend."
"Jack, I'm a lesbian."
". . . Oh."
"How did you not know that?" George asks. "I came out right after medaling at the Olympics!"
"I did know that; you're right. I'm sorry, my brain's a bit scattered right now."
"Ah. Right. I suppose it would be. Is there anything you need from me at the moment?"
"I don't think so?" Jack says. "I'm about to go book some last-minute flights and figure out a ride to the airport."
"Good luck. Let me know if you do wind up needing something," George says, and then she hangs up before Jack can thank her.
Bitty is gaping at him. "You just came out to your Assistant GM for me."
Jack nods. "I forgot she's a lesbian. So I literally had nothing to worry about from her. Also, I was going to have to do it eventually."
"I'm coming out at some point, bud. Can't keep you a secret forever."
Bitty looks down, playing with the hem of his shirt. "I kind of figured I was temporary."
"What?" Jack's louder than he means to be, because seriously, what?
"You know," Bitty says, "for the summer."
"You thought I kissed you at graduation so that I could spend the summer Skyping you and come see you once for under a week at your parents' house, and then I was going to dump you once we actually got within an easy drive of each other?"
"Bits, I love you, but that makes no sense."
Bitty jerks backward. "You love me?"
"Sorry," says Jack. "Was that a bad thing to say today?"
"It's never a bad thing to say if you mean it," Bitty replies. "Do you?"
"Of course, bud." Jack kisses Bitty's forehead and then draws back, pushing the home button on his phone again. "I think I should book some flights now."
Since Atlanta is Delta's hub, it's pretty easy to get direct flights from there to . . . just about anywhere, really, as long as it's not across the Pacific. Getting a same-day ticket during a holiday weekend is, of course, significantly harder, but Jack has absolutely zero compunctions about spending the extra money for first-class tickets, which eases the situation considerably. He's about to press the button to buy the tickets when he realizes that he's not currently in Atlanta, so he says, "Bits, will we be able to get some sort of ride to the airport?"
"Pretty sure most things are possible for a price," Bitty replies. "We do have cabs."
"Cool," says Jack. "Can you call one or should I do that?"
"Can you?" Bitty asks. "Sorry, but I'm still crying."
And oh, right. Bitty's sniffling has kind of become background noise to Jack at this point, but someone else would probably notice.
"Sure, bud," says Jack. "Should I just google 'Madison Georgia taxi,' or is there a specific company I should look up, or what?"
Bitty shrugs. "My parents both have cars. I haven't really taken many taxis."
"Fair," says Jack. So he finishes buying the plane tickets and then looks up the taxis himself and calls one, wondering if it's okay to be grateful that Bitty's parents let both of them grab their things before kicking them out of the house. They shouldn't have kicked them out at all, obviously. But this would be so much harder without, for instance, Jack's wallet, which he hadn't exactly had on him given what he and Bitty had been doing when Mr. Bittle walked in.
Jack normally hates phone calls, so he's a little puzzled as to why calling the cab is virtually painless, but then he looks at Bitty and understands: he's in crisis mode. Of course he is. He'll crash later, probably, but for now he's probably capable of far exceeding his usual limits, both socially and physically. At least, that happened that one time Kent got a concussion in juniors, and when Johnson went missing sophomore year, and when Nursey broke his arm. As exhausting as crisis mode can be, it's also super useful. The only tricky part will be avoiding letting Bitty see him crash, or at the very least making sure he doesn't feel guilty for it.
It's a few quiet minutes before the cab comes, and Jack and Bitty spend the time walking to the road in front of the school. When the car arrives, Jack and Bitty both lift their suitcases into the trunk (Jack would have grabbed Bitty's—he's a bit surprised the driver isn't doing it—but Bitty stood and seemed capable of lifting things, so Jack lets him).
"Why do you two need a ride from the high school all the way to Atlanta on the Fourth of July? What were you doing at the school anyway? It's the middle of summer. And—hey, are you okay?" the driver asks, eyeing Jack and Bitty in the rearview mirror after they've gotten in.
"I will tip you $100 extra to not talk to us until we arrive at the airport," Jack says.
The driver nods. "Deal."
It's a long ride to Atlanta, much longer than it felt a couple of days ago when Jack arrived and Bitty picked him up at the airport, but the driver keeps his word. Jack and Bitty don't talk either; they just sit in the back seat holding hands while Jack hopes that he's out-of-context enough that even on the off-chance that the driver's a hockey fan, he still won't recognize Jack. Whatever. Even if Jack gets outed today, he's given George a heads up, and it's not like he's going to let Bitty sit there and suffer without even Jack's hand in his to keep him grounded. (Under other circumstances Jack might need his own hand held to stave off a panic attack, but crisis mode is pretty effective.)
Finally, the cab arrives at the airport. Jack tips even more than he'd promised, and then he and Bitty head inside, into the blessed air conditioning. Bitty had basically thrown some essentials into a suitcase, and part of Jack is worried about the lack of crucial documents—will he have to sue the Bittles to get Bitty's birth certificate at some point?—but that is definitely a problem for later. For now, they both have their IDs, so they wait in line for security (not holding hands now because the airport is crowded enough that that's not a good risk to take if it's unnecessary), and then they're on their way to their gate. Luckily, Bitty mostly stopped crying in the taxi. Jack is sure that wasn't the last of it, and he dreads the next few days, more for Bitty's sake than his own, but it's good that Bitty's not openly bawling in the airport.
"Do you want food?" Jack asks as he and Bitty search for their gate. "Shit, you've cried a lot today; you need fluids."
"Yeah, I think I'm dehydrated," Bitty admits. "Not super hungry, but I should probably eat. I'm a little worried about throwing up—nothing contagious, just . . . you know. I'm sad and angry enough to be a bit nauseous, I guess."
"I'm sorry, bud," Jack says. "I do think you should eat, but it can just be crackers or something, for now. I'm happy to buy you something for later if you don't want it now, also."
Jack isn't sure if it's their new relationship or everything that's happened today, but Bitty doesn't argue about Jack paying. Bitty winds up sitting at the gate and watching their carry-on bags while Jack buys sandwiches for himself and Bitty, along with Gatorades and crackers.
When Jack gets back, Bitty frowns a little at the sandwich Jack hands him. Or maybe he's frowning in general. Regardless, he says, "I don't think I'm going to be able to eat this right now."
Jack shrugs, trying to keep his expression light. "That's all right. It's peanut butter and jelly, so it'll be okay for a while. I mean, it'll be kind of soggy if you eat it later, but I'm not worried about it needing refrigeration the same way I'd worry about meat or cheese. If you really don't want it, we can throw it away later, but keep it for a while and we'll see how you feel in an hour or two, okay?"
"Okay," Bitty whispers. He twists the cap off the Gatorade Jack has handed him and takes a long sip. "Thank you."
Jack sits down next to Bitty and says quietly, "It may not be literally the least I can do, but it's pretty close. I can't fix what happened today, but I have money that I'm happy to throw at the problem until at least a couple things are a little easier for you, okay?"
"If you're sure," Bitty whispers.
"Definitely," Jack replies.
It doesn't take long after that to realize that Bitty's not really in the mood to talk, but leaving him to his phone isn't a great idea either. Once Jack finishes his own sandwich, he gets up, says, "Wait here. I'll be back in a few minutes," and goes in search of a newspaper (and a bathroom, because even in a crisis his body continues to have needs). After having used the bathroom and purchased a newspaper, he returns to Bitty and starts sorting through the sections of the paper he just bought.
Bitty glances up from his phone and raises a questioning eyebrow.
"Do you prefer sudokus or crossword puzzles?" Jack asks, finding the correct section and flipping to the page with the puzzles.
"Uh, crossword puzzles, I guess? I hate dealing with numbers. Not that I'm good at either one, mind you."
Suddenly Jack isn't sure this was a good idea after all. "Sorry, we don't have to do this if you don't want to. You just seemed kind of miserable staring at your phone, and I thought . . . sorry, this was a bad idea."
"Jack, you're being incredibly sweet. And you're right—I'm not really enjoying looking at my phone right now. I just bet you could get through a crossword much faster on your own than with me looking over your shoulder."
"Getting through the crossword is kind of not the point right now, Bits."
Bitty stares at him.
"What?" Jack asks after a few seconds.
Bitty shakes his head. "You're just so competitive. I can't believe you'd actually do something like a puzzle or a game and not have winning be the point."
Jack frowns. "Bits. Pretty sure everything that's happened today constitutes a pretty good reason to focus on something other than competing."
Bitty's lower lip trembles and he looks down. After several seconds of very intentional breathing, he says, "You weren't kidding, earlier."
Jack wishes he could take Bitty's hands. Hell, he wishes he could kiss him, at least on the forehead or something. But there are people around, so he just murmurs, "I wouldn't joke about something like that, and even if I would, how could it be anything but true? You deserve every good thing and it's my honor to try to give you as much as I can."
"Lord, Jack," Bitty whispers back, and then, a bit louder, "So, ready to try a crossword?"
"Yeah," says Jack, and he's less afraid of the way yeah sounds like anything for you than he used to be. It's okay that Bitty knows, now. Important that he knows, even.
Jack manages to find a pen in his carry-on, and part of him would rather do this in pencil, like his mom always does, but he doesn't have any pencils in his luggage, so he has to use a pen like his dad would. It's a Thursday, which is doing them exactly zero favors, and Jack feels like a Monday or Tuesday puzzle would be more fun to do with Bitty, especially the first time they do a crossword puzzle together, but maybe the challenge is a good thing, today, as a distraction. They're still not done when it's time for first class to board, so the two of them continue with the crossword puzzle once they're seated on the plane, giving in and googling a couple things that they're definitely not going to figure out. By the time everyone else has boarded and the plane is taxiing away from the gate, they're finished and Bitty is muttering about Jack's French skills being an asset and why would an American newspaper give some clues in French anyway.
That's when Jack realizes that they're stuck on the plane for the next two and a half hours and their phones, by necessity, have to remain in airplane mode. Thank goodness he bought a newspaper, honestly. Jack takes the Sports section out of the paper and hands the rest to Bitty.
"What am I supposed to do with this?" Bitty asks.
"Euh, read it?" Jack replies. "Or not. I don't care much either way. It's just that you're usually on your phone and it has to be in airplane mode right now, so I figured you might get bored, and it's probably better for you not to be in your head too much right now."
"I suppose," says Bitty. He starts flipping through the sections, and Jack turns back to the Sports section until he hears Bitty let out a soft, "Oh."
The plane starts taking off just as Jack turns to Bitty and asks, "What?"
"I sort of forgot that Obergefell was literally under two weeks ago," Bitty replies, gesturing to an image in the Styles section of a couple of grooms in matching suits, and oh, fuck, Bits. "Like, just when things start going right for the community, they go almost as wrong as possible for me as an individual."
"Oh, Bits, I'm so sorry." Jack takes his hand, trying to keep the newspapers spread out enough that no one will be able to see, but damn it all, he's not going to avoid touching Bitty now. First class is pretty private, anyway.
Maybe the hand-holding is what tips Bitty over the edge, because now he's crying, and luckily he's a fairly quiet crier (Jack doesn't want to think about how and why he learned that skill), but it's still a situation to deal with. Jack doesn't have tissues on him, which feels like a huge oversight, so he wipes at Bitty's tears with his fingers and hopes no one's going to notice them.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm making a scene," Bitty gasps after a minute or two. He starts to stand up.
"Seatbelt sign is still on, bud," says Jack. "We're definitely still climbing."
"Fuck," Bitty whispers, refastening his seatbelt. Jack still isn't used to hearing Bitty swear, especially not outside of sexual contexts.
Jack sighs. "I wish I could promise you that everything is going to be okay, or even just that you're going to be okay, but I can't, because I don't know that for sure and I don't want to lie to you. Here's what I can promise: I'm going to be by your side as long as you want me there, and I'm going to minimize the fallout from this as much as I can. I can't promise that the team will be good to you, but it is something I'm pretty sure about, and I can try to exert some influence there if it doesn't seem to be going well. I'm going to be gone a lot this summer during the day, and I hope you'll visit Shitty or Lardo or Nursey, or let them visit you. And I haven't been through this specifically so I can't say it for sure, but I have been through some big shitty things, and I can say that for me they've taken up less space in my life as time has gone on, and I hope that's true for you as well."
Bitty looks like maybe he has something to say, but then he shakes his head and just keeps crying quietly.
When the seatbelt sign finally goes off, Bitty gets up and heads to the bathroom. His eyes are still red and puffy when he comes back, but the tear tracks are gone from his cheeks and he seems to have blown his nose. When he sits back down, Jack hands him all the magazines that were in the pockets of the seats in front of them.
"Am I supposed to read these now?" Bitty asks.
Jack shrugs. "They should be less current."
Bitty maybe chuckles, just a tiny bit, a couple barely vocalized puffs of air that might mean amusement. "You're trying so hard," he says.
"Should I not?" Jack asks.
"Oh, honey, I'm not asking you to stop."
"Okay, then," Jack replies. "I'll keep going. Let me know if the magazines get boring and I'll try to figure something else out."
"As much as I appreciate your effort here, though, I'm not ultimately your responsibility," Bitty says. "I really appreciate all the ways you've helped me today and all the ways you've said you're going to continue helping me, but you don't need to make it your job to keep me occupied and entertained. I get bored pretty easily with most things that aren't baking or Twitter."
Bitty starts flipping through the magazines Jack handed him, and Jack turns back to the Sports section of the newspaper. Occasionally Bittle nudges him to point out some ridiculous item available for sale in SkyMall, but otherwise they don't talk much for the rest of the flight.
Deplaning goes smoothly, and soon they're outside in Providence, which is warm but much less outrageously hot than Georgia. Bitty makes it through the cab ride without showing much emotion, but when he and Jack board the elevator to go up to Jack's condo, Bitty falls apart. It's all Jack can do to get all their luggage down the hall more or less by himself and unlock the door as Bitty cries. At long last, they're inside his condo, and Jack leaves the bags by the door and shepherds Bitty over to the couch, thinking irrelevantly that this isn't how he hoped to introduce Bitty to his space. He sits beside Bitty, rubbing his back, and somehow he almost misses the way Bitty's breathing changes, but then he notices—shit, this is a panic attack. "Breathe, bud. Breathe. Come on, with me. In and out. I know you're crying, but please try to breathe with me. Come on. In, two, three. Out, two, three. Good. In, two, three. Out, two, three." Jack keeps counting until Bitty has calmed down, and then he says, "I'm going to go get us both some water. I'll be right back."
When Jack gets back, Bitty says, "Sorry."
Jack shakes his head. "Bud, you're not the one with anything to apologize for."
"Well, you definitely don't have anything to apologize for," Bitty replies.
"Well, not today," Jack says. "But I didn't mean myself."
Bitty looks down. "Oh."
"Yeah," says Jack. "So please don't keep apologizing for crying. I'm glad you're letting your emotions out. I'd be a lot more scared if you were acting like your usual self right now." He takes out his phone. "At some point we're going to need to tell our friends what happened. I need to call George at some point, too, but that can wait another few hours. I mean, so can our friends, but I'd like to figure out a plan, if you're up for that. Do you want to tell our friends, or should I? I can definitely text the group chat, or text people individually, or make some calls, though I probably can't call everyone tonight and I'm not sure you'd want me calling anyone anyway because conversations can go off-script and I'm not sure how much you want me to tell people."
Bitty takes out his phone, too, sighing. "I can text the group chat." He pokes at his phone a bit, but it's not like his usual phone typing at all; most of the time his thumbs go so fast they're practically a blur, but now they're barely moving. After a couple minutes, he looks up at Jack and says, "I don't know what to say."
Jack isn't really sure either, but he's a better improviser in crisis mode than he is usually (it might be a couple days before he crashes, but he's going to crash hard, ugh), so he says, "Well, maybe start by saying that you're safe and you're in Providence. I'm not out to anyone on the team, and we can reevaluate that if we need to, or even just want to at a later date, but I'd rather not spring everything on them at once if we can help it, you know? But you should definitely say you're here. And then—how do you want to phrase what happened with your parents?"
Bitty starts typing on his phone in earnest rather than replying to Jack verbally. After a minute or so, he hands his phone over. "How's this?"
Hi y'all. I'm safe and in Providence with Jack right now. He was visiting me for the Fourth and I came out to my parents. They threw me out. I'll be spending the rest of the summer with Jack. I don't have a job up here so I'd really appreciate visits from those of you in the Northeast to keep me occupied. Thanks for how supportive y'all have been up until now.
"That's good," Jack says, handing the phone back, heart hurting for Bitty. "You might want to say how you do or don't want to be contacted—if you're running out of energy for interaction tonight, it might be good to tell people that so you don't get ten phone calls in the next couple hours."
"Good thinking," Bitty says. He types a bit more, and then Jack has a text in the group chat. It's what Bitty showed him, plus, Please don't call tonight, though, because I'm too tired to handle that right now. I'll respond to your texts tomorrow.
"I bet you're really tired," Jack says, "but we should eat before we sleep, especially since you never ate your sandwich. Even if you're nauseous, it'll be hard to sleep with nothing in your stomach, bud."
Bitty sighs, sets his phone face-down on the coffee table, and runs a hand through his hair. "I know. Do you have a go-to takeout place yet?"
"Not yet. Do you have any preferences?"
Bitty frowns at the wall for a few moments and then says, "Can you find somewhere that does all-day breakfast?"
"Sure. I mean, I can look, at least. It would be weird if there wasn't at least one place—yep, here." Jack hands his phone to Bitty, having pulled up the menu for the first restaurant that showed up when he googled "providence restaurant all day breakfast."
"Will you chirp me about protein intake if I ask for French toast?" Bitty asks after scrolling through the menu.
"I don't know if you've noticed, Bits, but I've been trying not to chirp you today."
"Oh. Yeah. That's true," Bitty says. "Will you think less of me if I get French toast?"
Jack shakes his head. "Of course not. Maybe if you ate it every day, because that wouldn't help you stay in shape, but today has been unbelievably traumatic. It's the definition of a cheat day."
"I love you," Bitty replies.
Jack, who had been looking down at the menu on his phone, snaps his head back up to look at Bitty. "You do?"
"Of course," says Bitty. "And no, I don't feel obligated either. I just love you."
"I figured you weren't ready to say it back," Jack admits.
"Well I am." Bitty nods sharply. "Order some food, Mister Zimmermann, and then kiss me."
"Bits, you know we don't have to do anything today. It's been traumatic and I don't want to take anything you're not ready to give—"
"You do still want to kiss me, right?" And that sounds like genuine doubt.
"Of course. Always," Jack says quickly. He places the food order, getting eggs and bacon for himself, and then sets his phone down on the coffee table (ignoring the Samwell group chat, which is already starting to blow up with everyone's indignation over what Bitty's parents have done) and kisses Bitty decisively. Bitty kisses him back with something like hunger, and Jack finds himself being pressed into the sofa. Bitty moves until he's straddling Jack and the kiss gets even more urgent, and then suddenly Bitty's pulling back.
"They're never going to love me again, are they?" he asks quietly, looking at Jack's chest.
Jack aches for him. "We don't know that, but it's a possibility," he admits.
Bitty collapses forward into Jack, who holds him tightly until it's time to go pick up the food. Bitty comes along on the drive to the restaurant and leaves his phone behind for one of the first times Jack can recall, staring listlessly out the window and not responding to Jack's (admittedly paltry) attempts to make conversation. Back in Jack's condo, Bitty eats the entirety of his French toast, which Jack had not been expecting, and Jack finishes his eggs and bacon as well. Bitty's quiet, but it's been a long day and Jack can't blame him.
Only once they've sorted the takeout containers into trash and recycling does Bitty pick up his phone. He looks at it for maybe twenty seconds before setting it down again, shaking his head, and telling Jack, "I'm going to shower and go to bed. Do you mind if I sleep in your bed?"
"Of course I don't mind," Jack says, trying to keep his voice soft. They already covered this, yes, but it makes sense for Bitty to be doubting everything right now. "Do you mind if I respond to some texts from the boys? Is there anything you want me to make sure to say or not say?"
Bitty bites his lip for a few seconds and then says, "I trust you. Let's talk about it before we let anyone know we're a couple, though."
Jack nods. "Yeah, that would be too much for today."
Bitty trudges off down the hall and opens the door to the closet where all the towels and extra sheets are and oh, right, he hasn't been here before. Jack hurries over to show him the correct bedroom and bathroom, and then Bitty remembers that all his stuff is still by the door and has to go back for it. Once Bitty's well and truly on his way to shower, Jack gets his phone and starts looking at his notifications. Other than the SMH group chat, he's got voicemails from Shitty, Ransom, and George; individual texts from Shitty, Lardo, Ransom, and Holster; and a missed call from his mother, because they'd been talking more often than usual while Jack was in Georgia. There are also plenty of emails, but those will keep.
Jack deals with the texts first, telling everyone variations on the same thing: Bitty's safe, upset, and tired; Jack doesn't mind him staying for the rest of the summer; there's not much more to say at the moment. Next he listens to the voicemails: Shitty and Ransom mostly wanted to reiterate their support for both Bitty and Jack, while George wanted an update.
Jack dials George's number once he's listened to the voicemails. When George picks up, Jack says, "I'm back in Providence. My boyfriend and I are both safe, but I think it'll take a while for either of us to be okay. Don't expect to hear from me tomorrow. I'll be at practice on the sixth, but I might be pretty tired. Do you think I need to give anyone a heads up?"
"You don't need to out yourself," George says. "We can take that—maybe not slow, but at something other than breakneck speed. But it might be good to let your captains and coach know that you're helping a friend through a hard time and currently have a roommate."
"That's good phrasing. Thanks," says Jack.
"I'm good at my job, Zimmermann," George replies. "Do you need anything else?"
"I don't think so. I meant it about being tired, though. I've probably overextended myself today—emotionally, not physically, but it'll catch up to me."
"So give your captains a heads up," George advises. "You're a good kid and you've got a good excuse, even if you only tell them half of it."
"Thanks," says Jack.
"You're welcome. Anything else?" George says.
"All right. Have a good night." George once again hangs up before Jack can reply.
Jack decides he can put off telling his captains and coach anything until tomorrow. He debates whether to call his mother or Shitty first but ultimately decides to start with Shitty because his mother is by far the more soothing of the two and therefore the more appropriate person to talk to right before bedtime. He'll talk to Ransom soon, but Ransom's voicemail didn't ask for more information than Jack's already texted him, so Jack doesn't feel the need to return that call.
"Jack," says Shitty when he picks up Jack's call—no nickname, no shouting, no profane descriptors. It doesn't even sound like he's using an exclamation point. Jack can't remember the last time he heard Shitty this subdued. Probably when Lardo's grandfather died two years ago.
"Yeah," Jack replies, voice equally dull.
"Holy fuck, is Bitty okay?"
"Not really," says Jack. "We're at my place in Providence and he ate dinner, though. I think that's the best we can ask for right now."
"Were you there when his parents—?"
"Did he decide to come out to them while you were there for, like, moral support? Was he afraid this would happen and he wanted to make sure he'd be able to leave safely?"
"You can ask him about that some other time," Jack says. "For now—you remember how I got when Johnson went missing a few years back? And when Nursey broke his arm last year?"
"Yeah—oh. Fuck. You feel the same way now?"
"Not the same way," Jack says. "I think this is worse, in terms of the external situation, and so my feelings are different, but—it's that genre of reaction, for sure. Which means I'm going to crash in the next day or two. Maybe three if we're lucky. And Bitty's staying here, so it's going to be in front of him. And I need him to know that I'm going to be okay and it's not his fault even though it's related to what happened today."
"Does he have to know it's related at all, though?"
"Hmm. Good point. I guess not. I warned Georgia Martin that I'm going to be tired when I get back to practice the day after tomorrow, and she told me to give my captains and coach a heads up, so I'll probably do that. But you're right—I don't have to tell Bitty that I'm crashing, just that I don't feel well and I'm tired."
"You know I don't have a summer job," Shitty says, "so I can be around as much or as little as you and Bitty want me to be, before Bitty needs to head back to Samwell. I want to be there for him—for both of you—but I also know I'm a lot, so I don't want to push it if he's not ready for my kind of energy."
"Thanks, Shits. I'll see how he and I are both feeling tomorrow. There's no practice, so I have a feeling he and I might just take it easy, but who knows, maybe a distraction would be great. After tomorrow, I'll need to go back to the rink, and I'm a lot more worried about that, honestly."
"Got your back. Both of you."
"I know," Jack says, and then he yawns. "Thanks."
"Tired, Jackabelle?" Shitty asks.
"It's been a very long day," Jack retorts. More gently, he adds, "And I still need to call my parents and let them know what's going on. Mind if I go do that?"
"Go for it," says Shitty. "I love you, brother."
"Love you too, Shits," Jack says and hangs up.
He takes a few deep breaths (and yawns again) before dialing his mother's number. When she picks up, he says, "Maman, can I talk to you and Papa about something?"
"Sure," says his mother. "This isn't when I was expecting you to return my call. I thought you'd be on your way to watch the fireworks at this point."
Jack sighs. "I'm back in Providence with Bitty."
"What? Why?" Now she sounds worried. Jack wishes he could take it away, but worry is a pretty appropriate reaction to the situation, honestly.
"I'd rather only explain this once," Jack says, "so can you please get Papa? I'm okay, everyone is safe, and no one died, but that might be the best that can be said for the situation."
"I'll get your father," his mother says.
About thirty seconds later, Jack hears whispering, and then his father says, "What's going on, Jack?"
"Bitty's father walked in on us this morning," he says, immensely glad that he's already out to his parents and they've known about his new relationship since graduation. "He and Mrs. Bittle both yelled at us. A lot. When they were done with that, they gave us ten minutes to grab our stuff and get out. Which. Bitty was planning on staying the summer, so his stuff was everywhere, you know? So we threw as much as we could in a suitcase and got out. I won't bore you with the details of getting back to Providence—you can probably connect those dots on your own—but I want you to know that Bittle ate dinner and went to bed. He's been crying a lot, which means that at least he's actually feeling his feelings. So obviously I'm worried, but not as worried as I would be if he were trying to pretend everything was fine."
"How are you, Jack?" his mother asks.
"Surprisingly good," Jack says. "Sometimes I get like this when someone else is hurt or in trouble. I'm pretty sure I'm overexerting myself and I'm going to crash sooner or later, but it's been useful so far. I haven't had a panic attack since before I left for Georgia."
"What does it look like when you 'crash'?" asks his mother. He can hear the air quotes.
"I'm going to wake up one of the next few days really, really tired, and maybe with some symptoms of a head cold or something as well. I'll feel kind of awful for a day or two, but I'll be okay. It doesn't usually involve a panic attack, just a lot of fatigue and sometimes minor physical illness."
"Do you think this is going to result in you being outed?" his father asks.
"I don't think so," Jack says, "but I've given George a heads up just in case, and she and I are going to keep talking about contingency plans. I don't think the Bittles would out me, since I'm pretty sure they want to keep Bitty's sexuality as secret as possible, and even if they did want to go to the press I'm 95% sure they neither have nor want pictures. I haven't been as careful today as I maybe could have been, but I just couldn't avoid touching Bitty a little on the plane when he was crying. I mean, I guess I could have, but hiding isn't worth that."
"So Bitty is in Providence with you? Is that . . . permanent?" his father asks.
"I've invited Bitty to stay the rest of the summer," Jack confirms. "He's going back to the Haus in August, obviously. But he'll be here for like a month and a half."
"Is there anything we can do to help?" his mother asks.
"George keeps asking that too," Jack says. "I honestly don't know what Bitty needs. Maybe he'd like something from you, or maybe that would just rub in his face that I have a functional family and he doesn't. Can we table that?"
"Sure," says his mother.
"You've had a long day, Jack," his father adds. "Why don't you get some sleep?"
"That's a good idea," Jack agrees. "I love you both. Thanks for the support."
"Love you too," both of his parents reply.
Jack hangs up and then sneaks into his bedroom as quietly as he can. Bitty seems to be asleep in the bed, though he could just be pretending to sleep. Jack takes a clean set of pajamas and underwear out of his dresser, pads over to the bathroom, showers, brushes his teeth, and sneaks back out into the bedroom. He's worried Bitty will wake up when he slides into bed next to him, but Bitty keeps sleeping. Jack is worried that he won't be able to sleep, that he'll stay awake either replaying the day or planning for the near future—tomorrow, when he'll need to keep Bitty distracted; a couple days from now, whenever he crashes; the next six weeks, while Bitty will be at his condo and Jack will be at practice most of the time; beyond that, when Bitty returns to Samwell. But somehow the toll of the day is such that Jack falls asleep in about half an hour, which is only a little longer than it usually takes.
He dreams about Parse, which is maybe to be expected after a day that has, yes, also been traumatic for Jack, and he wakes up in the middle of the night terrified, particularly when he sees blond hair on the pillow next to him. But then he realizes it's Bitty, and he remembers everything that happened the previous day, and he only just barely restrains himself from pulling Bitty close to him. There will be time to hold Bitty when it won't disturb his sleep.
Getting to sleep is harder this time, but Jack keeps trying because he wants to be as rested as he can be so that he can take good care of Bitty. Eventually he slides back into dreams, and they're not as bad this time.
He wakes up multiple hours later, feeling almost rested, as Bitty eases his way out of bed. Jack rubs his eyes and sits up.
"You don't have to get up," Bitty whispers.
"If you're up, so am I," Jack replies.
Bitty finishes getting out of bed, not looking at Jack, and Jack follows him, coming to hold him close.
Yesterday sucked. Today is probably going to suck. Tomorrow will almost certainly suck. Many things are going to suck in the next six weeks. But this, right here, holding each other, doesn't suck, not even after factoring in fatigue and morning breath.
"I love you," Jack says into Bitty's hair.
"I love you too," Bitty replies into Jack's chest.
Jack can't be everything Bitty needs, he knows, and there are ways in which he isn't going to be enough. But he can do this, and he will, for as long as it's welcome.