"GENTLEBROS AND LADYBROS!" thunders Chad D., team captain and, as far as Stiles can tell, uncontested authority on All Things Collegiate Lacrosse. Stiles notes a couple guys looking shiftily at Kate and Justine, the team's female members, but fuck that. Kira was one of the best players on the BHHS team. If these two are anywhere as good, Stiles will fall at their feet and thank them every day for playing. If... that's not weird.
Stiles snaps his attention back as Chad D. surveys the assembled mass of lacrosse players. As a shiny new freshman of middling talent, Stiles is at the bottom of the food chain, and that's fine. He's here to play lacrosse, earn his degree, and stay as far from supernatural catastrophe as possible at the university with the highest supernatural student concentration on the East Coast. He's going to be a Normal Boy having a Normal College Experience. Starting with listening to sage words of wisdom from his new captain.
"Dude-friends," Chad D. says, "we don't have many rules here, because rules are Not Chill." He looks around with a squinty gaze that's probably supposed to be intimidating. But when you endure Derek Hale's Eyebrows of Doom on a daily basis, the bar is set much higher than a probably stoned college junior can clear. "But the ones we do have, we follow with complete and utter fidelity." Chad D. clasps his hands behind him like an actual dictator and says, "We follow the rules with what?"
"COMPLETE AND UTTER FIDELITY," the underclassmen chant, not quite in unison. Stiles says it, too, even though "complete and utter fidelity" to any set of rules is super not in the cards for him. Like, ever.
Chad D. beams papa-bear proud and pulls an old-school ceiling screen out of absolutely nowhere. A list of seven rules is scrawled on it— on the screen, not projected from anywhere. Chad D. has a yardstick in his hand now—Stiles has no idea where that came from, either—and he slaps the screen with it. "RULE NUMBER ONE!" he shouts. "The absolutely, without argument, most ironclad rule: FFFUCK THE HAUSBROS!"
The highlight of Samwell new student orientation day three had been an activity known, for reasons Stiles barely understands, as Freshman Crouton. Every student organization had set up a table in Lake Quad and answered every bizarre question the incoming frosh could throw at them. Between lacrosse, Derek, and the pack obligations Stiles could never fully escape, even on the other side of the damned country from Beacon Hills, he wouldn't have time for a ton of other extracurriculars, but he wanted to make at least an effort at joining the main LGBTQ group, winningly named "The Queer Kids." He chatted with the students sitting at the booth, added his email address to the mailing list, and pinned a "PAN PRIDE" button to his hat at a jaunty angle. He turned away from the table and plowed into a guy who looked like someone had literally taken sunlight and turned it into human form.
"Oh, jeez, sorry," Stiles said automatically.
"No, no, my fault," the guy said, and, oh, that was one hell of a cute accent. This guy wasn't Stiles' type at all, but he catalogued the details in case he met anyone who'd be into small and southern. "I was, um..." Small and Southern looked around Stiles, and Stiles realized he was trying to look at the Queer Kids table without looking like he was looking at the Queer Kids table.
Stiles opened his mouth to say something about it, but Small and Southern looked at him with his giant brown eyes wide and terrified. Stiles got it. People talked like California was 800 miles of hippie liberals, but Beacon County had passed Prop 8, and his dad was an elected official, and—yeah. He understood being in a position where even acknowledging that you knew you were in a closet, let alone taking steps toward leaving it, felt like the scariest thing ever.
Stiles laughed and turned away from the table. He couldn't—wouldn't —do anything about the brightly colored button on his hat that proudly proclaimed him a member of the tribe, but he would do everything in his power to turn down the pressure for Small, Scared, and Southern. "Hey, I wasn't looking where I was going. I have a long and glorious tradition of falling over my own feet."
Triple S laughed and looked relieved as they moved along the rows of tables, neither of them particularly looking at anything they passed. "Honestly, I don't know why I'm here," he confessed. "I won't have much free time, between games and practices. I'm not the best student to begin with. Last thing I need is some club to distract me more."
"What do you play?"
"Hockey." He said it with a touch of wonder, like he couldn't believe it was true. Stiles knew how he felt. After being a perpetual benchwarmer for much of his high school lacrosse career, only coming into his own in the second half of junior year, the fact that he was on his college lacrosse team—even if his odds of getting game time hadn't improved much—still blew his mind.
"Sweet," Stiles said sincerely. "I hear the team's, like, wicked good."
Triple S smiled. "I heard that, too."
Stiles laughed self-consciously. "Oh, yeah. That's probably why you came here."
He couldn't say for sure, but he thought Triple S's gaze flicked toward the Queer Kids table. "Something like that," he said quietly.
Stiles moved them out of the flow of student traffic. "Hey, listen, I'm not feeling the Crouton, you know? Want to grab coffee or something?" Stiles would not have thought it possible, but Triple S's eyes grew wider, and the terror flooded back into them. "Not like—no!" Stiles said frantically. "Not—I'm not asking you out. Not that you aren't hella cute. But I'm in a relationship. A serious relationship. Like, really serious. Like, awkward conversation with my dad about how I'm too young to be this serious serious." He was aware that he was 1) babbling; and 2) sharing more about his personal life with a complete stranger than could possibly be healthy. He just wanted this guy to stop looking like he was going to either bolt or hurl. "I just—I am three thousand miles from home and my boyfriend is the only familiar face I'm going to see until winter break. I haven't really met anyone besides the lacrosse team—and they're great! But it might be nice to have other friends? And, I don't know. You seem... nice." He winced.
But Triple S had been steadily relaxing throughout Stiles' word-spew, and now he was downright beaming. "Well, aren't you a sweet thing," he said, delighted. "That boyfriend of yours is a lucky guy." He looked at the crowd of students rushing around the quad. "I haven't made many friends, either. The hockey team tries so hard, but they're quite the bros, and I'm not sure of my footing yet. So, yes, mysterious stranger, I would love to have coffee with you."
"Oh!" Stiles said, startled, and thrust out his hand. "Sorry. I'm Stiles."
Triple S shook with a small, lightly calloused hand. "Nice to meet you, Stiles. I'm Eric."
* * *
The thirteenth, but most important, Haus bylaw, Eric (Bitty? He's not sure how he feels about the nickname. After a lifetime of being "Junior" and "Dicky," he'd been looking forward to finally being "Eric" at Samwell. His professors will call him "Eric," but he'll spend far more time with these boys than with his professors) learns, is "FFFUCK THE LAX BROS." He stares at that rule with pursed lips, and when Shitty moves the tour along, Eric pulls out his phone, takes a picture of it scratched on the wall, and texts it to Stiles.
ME: apparently we're enemies? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
The reply comes immediately.
STILES: i know??? this is some fox & hound level bullshit
"Bitty, keep up, ya beautiful southern belle!" Shitty yells from the kitchen. Eric laughs and moves to catch up, catching one last text from Stiles.
STILES: inter-team rivalries are bogus. got enough of that in HS
ME: Agreed. Let's still be friends.
Stiles hates to admit this, because Eric (Bitty? The hockey bros call him that, but he's not sure he's allowed to—or, more importantly, how Eric feels about it) is the only real friend he's made at Samwell so far, but by the end of September, he sees why the general student body hates the hockey team.
- They are loud. They sit together in the dining hall and shout like they're miles away from each other. They drag a TV onto their front lawn and scream at what are either hockey games or gay pornos (it's hard to tell, given the noises they make). The one with the moustache has a bullhorn and is not afraid to use it.
- They are huge. And that's whatever, it's not their fault, but a couple of them don't realize that they are inhumanly large and need to keep an eye out for normal-sized mortals. Stiles doesn't usually think of himself as small, but the first time the enormous blond with the glasses sat on him, he had to revise his self-assessment. He's not sure how many more blows like that his ego can take.
- They are gross. The commentary from Eric's Haus tour had been scary—and Derek lived first in the burnt-out shell of his family home and then in an abandoned train depot, so Stiles knows from scary living environments. Sometimes, the team brings a green couch out to sit on when they watch their hockey pornos, and if they ever leave it behind when they're done, Stiles is calling the Health Department to collect it. They throw huge, loud parties that generate more trash and vomit than Stiles would have believed possible from a school with 6,000 undergrads. They have food fights and belch-offs in the middle of the dining hall.
- At the bottom of it all, they're... weird. The one with the moustache and bullhorn stands naked on the lawn and recites opinions from famous gender- and sexuality-related Supreme Court decisions. They do a lot of their studying (and smoking up) on the roof. One day, as he was walking past, Stiles saw four guys on the lawn, two (Birkholtz and Johnson?) singing "The Star-Spangled Banner," the others (Oluransi and Jack Motherfucking Zimmermann) singing "O, Canada." At first it sounded like a competition, but eventually Birkholtz and Oluransi started trying to mash them up. That wasn't even the weirdest part, though—when the guys headed inside, Johnson had turned, waved at Stiles, and called, "I hope you're enjoying the exposition!" before running up the stairs and into the Haus.
If that was exposition (whatever the hell that means in this context), Stiles did enjoy it. The hockey bros are weird, but they're kind of okay, too.
Doesn't hurt that they have Eric. And his pies.
Here's the other thing: the hockey team is really good at hockey. Way better than the lacrosse team is at lacrosse. No one on the lacrosse team knows that Stiles has snuck into several hockey games since the season started, but today is his favorite so far—and the game hasn't even started. Today he's convinced Derek to come with him.
He's embarrassed to have stooped to it, but after weeks of trying to sell Derek on supporting Bitty, supporting Samwell, and seeing some damned fine hockey, Stiles won him over by reminding him about Jack Zimmermann. As soon as Stiles mentioned his name, Derek made that face that Stiles recognized as "you've convinced me, but I'm not going to let you know that yet." Stiles had grinned and kept arguing, waiting for Derek to be ready to agree.
Derek isn't a fan in the traditional sense. But Jack Zimmermann has suffered. If ever a celebrity would impress Derek, of course it would be someone who's fought his way back after losing what he held most dear.
They walk to campus. Derek stuffs his hands into the pockets of his leather jacket, and Stiles rests his hand in the crook of Derek's elbow. Scott calls it their "Victorian gentlemen stroll." It's a compromise between Stiles' desire to behave like any normal couple in public and Derek's (not entirely unfounded) worry that the pack's enemies could use knowledge of how much they mean to each other to hurt either or both of them. They could get away with more here, but by now it's ingrained, and whenever Derek puts his hands in his pockets, Stiles' hand gravitates to his arm.
Faber seems busier than usual. More cars clogging the visitors end of the parking lot; more people who look too old to be students—even nontraditional ones—streaming through the doors.
Derek tenses beside him. "Is there... another event or something?" he growls.
"I don't—" Stiles starts to shake his head and then freezes. "Oh, fuck," he mutters, earning a sharp glare from an elderly woman walking past. "I forgot it was Family Weekend."
Okay, that's not exactly accurate. Samwell advertises Family Weekend so heavily it's impossible to forget it's coming. But Stiles' family can't come this year, so he's tried not to pay attention to when. He squeezes Derek's arm and slides his hand away to give Derek space. "Do you need to leave?"
Derek considers for a second (a change Stiles appreciates from his act-first-regret-later approach when they first met) but then shakes his head. "I can stay for now."
Smothering his gratitude so Derek doesn't freak out about it, Stiles stuffs his hands in his hoodie pockets. "Thanks." Derek huffs, pulls Stiles' hand out of his pocket, and returns it to his arm. Stiles grins.
They're threading through the crowd (Derek may be glaring them a path) when Stiles spots a small blond woman peering into the trophy case highlighting Samwell's past hockey teams. It's a hunch, but Stiles has gotten good at knowing when to trust his hunches. "Hey, hang on a minute," he tells Derek, patting his arm, and then he sidles up beside her. "Excuse me, are you Eric Bittle's mom?"
The woman starts. Her eyes widen, and she puts a hand over her heart. Stiles grins hard. Yup, that's Bitty's mom, all right. "Well, my gracious!" she says, accent even thicker than Bitty's—although Bitty's gets stronger when he's startled, so maybe hers is the same. "You gave me such a fright!" She peers at him excitedly. "You a friend of Dicky's?"
Dicky. Stiles bounces on his feet. Oh, man, this is the best. He holds out his hand. "Yes, ma'am. Stiles Stilinski."
Her expression morphs to delight. "Oh, Stiles, honey! Dicky talks about you all the time."
Stiles smiles. "You too, ma'am," he says.
"Oh, you sweet thing," she says, smiling. "Call me Suzanne. Or Mama. Lots of Dicky's friends do." Her face falls. "I mean, if that's not—Dicky mentioned that you don't—" She blushes about as deeply as Bitty, too. "I'm sorry about your mother."
Stiles swallows. "Thank you. I—" He never knows what to say anymore, his mom's been gone so long. God, he still misses her so much, but it's not the same as when she first died. Being reminded of the loss now is both painful and awkward. He forces a smile and says, "I hope you enjoy the game. They're really good. Eric's really good."
She brightens. "You come a lot?"
"Not as often as I'd like. But when I've been able to, he's been good."
"Well, that sure is sweet of you, coming out to support him like that. I know he's said—" She breaks off abruptly, looking at something beyond Stiles and then away like she doesn't want to get caught looking at it. It reminds Stiles forcefully of the first time he met Bitty.
"Suzanne?" Stiles asks, jumping to red alert because that's how his brain works.
"Don't make a big deal out of it," she murmurs, leaning in close, "but an ominous young man in a leather jacket is staring at you from down the hall."
Stiles unclenches and laughs. "That's my boyfriend. I sort of... ditched him in the middle of the hallway to come talk to you, so he's probably pissed." He waves his hand around the excited throng of hockey fans. "He doesn't like crowds."
He watches Suzanne struggle to keep her expression in check. Ah. Boyfriend. Stiles realizes he has a golden opportunity to collect information about how Suzanne Bittle reacts in the presence of an actual queer person. "Well, then, that's, ah, nice of him to come with you. Is he a friend of Dicky's, too?"
Stiles chuckles and shakes his head. "Derek's not really a friend of anyone's," he says, knowing full well that Derek can hear every word. "Even himself." Stiles doesn't have werewolf senses, but he swears he hears Derek growl.
Suzanne looks bewildered. She pats his arm and says, "Well, you boys enjoy the game, now. It's nice to meet Dicky's friends."
Stiles sweeps up Suzanne's hand and kisses her knuckles, grinning at her faint, startled gasp. "And it's a real honor to meet his mother," he says, throwing her a wink as he stands.
"Oh, you," she titters as he lets go of her hand. "Get out of here, flatterer. Your young man looks fit to chew through that wall."
He probably does, at that. Stiles smiles at Suzanne again and then turns to go rescue his anxious apex predator from the masses of humanity.
The game is great—not that Stiles expected anything different. The student section is rowdy, but Derek handles it well for the first period and most of the second. He gets a few double-takes, mostly from other supernatural students (two omegas, a selkie, and a whole clutch of Unseelie), but a few from lust-addled humans. Derek glares at them, and Stiles doesn't have the heart to remind him yet again that some people find that more of an encouragement than a deterrent. Derek buys Stiles sodas and nachos, doesn't growl at anyone, and holds Stiles' hand between their seats for a hot second in the first.
Still, after almost a decade of near-constant threat assessment and hypervigilance, Derek can only handle so much crowd. Stiles isn't surprised when the buzzer sounds at the end of the second with the score standing at zero-zero and Derek pops to his feet, stares around wildly, and says, "I have to go."
Stiles nods and stands with him. "I'll walk you to the door."
With every step away from the arena, Derek uncoils a little. By the time they reach Faber's main doors, he seems almost relaxed and gives Stiles a gentle goodbye kiss. "Text me when you're ready to go, and I'll come get you."
Stiles rolls his eyes. "Derek, you don't have to—"
"Text me," Derek says again, more emphatically.
Stiles feels frustrated—between sparring and his spark, which is actually a useful magical weapon now, instead of an uncontrolled menace, he's more than armed against anything foolish enough to attack him between Faber and the apartment. But he understands that, for his own peace of mind, Derek needs to do what he can to protect Stiles. "Yeah. Okay."
Derek kisses him again and slips out of Faber and toward the apartment ("our apartment," Derek insists, but Stiles can't let himself think like that yet, not with a semester and a half of on-campus residency requirement looming in front of them). Stiles watches him go for a minute and then turns—and almost jumps when he sees Suzanne Bittle standing in front of him. She's also watching Derek go (who wouldn't watch that ass?), but she turns her gaze back to him immediately. "He had to go?"
Stiles shrugs. "He's reached his people limit."
"Well, I'm sure you want to get back to your other friends. I just thought I'd say hello."
Stiles rubs the back of his neck. "It was just Derek and me. The rest of my friends aren't… into hockey?" He wonders if Bitty's told his parents about the hockey-lacrosse rivalry.
Suzanne links her arm through his. "Well, then, come sit with me."
Stiles balks. He knows she's in the family section, which are really good seats and probably expensive. "Oh, Suzanne, I couldn't—"
"'Course you could," she says, steering him around toward her gate with an ease and force that makes him think of Kira. "Bunch of parents left at the buzzer, too. Plenty of room."
Helpless to do anything but comply, Stiles lets Suzanne lead him to the family section. There are, as promised, quite a few empty seats, and no one gives the new arrival a second glance. He and Suzanne chat easily during time outs—Suzanne even asks a few questions about Derek. During play, they take turns white-knuckling their seats and each other's arms. And when Bitty scores the game-winning goal, no one screams louder than Suzanne and Stiles.
* * *
"You going home for Thanksgiving?" Bitty asks on Canadian Thanksgiving.
The silence on the other end stretches suspiciously long, and Bitty wishes they were in the same room so he could see Stiles' expression and read his body language. "No, it's—" Stiles clears his throat. "We're staying here. Derek and me. Having a normal weekend."
Bitty will not pry. He won't. He's heard Shitty's lectures enough times. But it seems wrong, Stiles and Derek alone here on Thanksgiving. "I bet it's rough to get back to California just for a couple days," he says in his best "not prying" voice. "What about Derek's family?"
The silence that ensues is even longer and more fraught than the one before. "His sister's in Argentina," Stiles says finally, "and his cousin's back in Beacon Hills."
Bitty hums sympathetically. "And?"
"And what?" Stiles snaps, clearly on edge now.
"What about the rest of his family?"
Stiles takes a deep breath. "There is no rest of his family, Bitty," he says gently. "Derek, Cora, and Malia are all that's left."
Bitty feels like his heart's going to break in two. He can't imagine what it's like—he can't even imagine imagining what it's like. Coach's parents died when he was too young to remember, but he's got MooMaw and PawPaw and his parents and a whole flotilla of aunts, uncles, and cousins. If he lost them all, he's not sure he'd still be standing upright, let alone maintaining an apartment, a job, and a relationship. "That poor darlin'," he murmurs.
"My dad and stepbrother might come here at Christmas," Stiles says in a rush, like he realizes how close this conversation is to a mopey abyss.
"Well, that'd be wonderful," Bitty gushes, distracted for the moment from the mystery of Derek's family and why Stiles is so adamant that they will not be returning to California anytime soon. "What are you eating on Thanksgiving?"
Stiles chuckles. "Come on, man, we've talked about cooking." Indeed they have. About how Stiles and Derek are just good enough cooks to get through an average week without resorting too much to take-out or frozen meals, but they're no culinary masters. "It'll be the same thing we eat every day."
Bitty gasps. "But it's Thanksgiving!"
"Eh." Bitty hears the shrug in Stiles' voice. "Derek kind of hates Thanksgiving anyway. We'll eat pasta and ice cream; I'll pretend to get ahead on homework; Derek will rant about genocidal colonists and the perils of collective superstition. Which is, really, more ironic than you will ever know, but that's Derek for you."
Stiles is putting a good face on the whole "enlightened Samwell student who doesn't celebrate The Man's oppressive holidays" thing. But Bitty knows Stiles, and he knows that Stiles is disappointed that there won't be anything special about the day for him and Derek. "Oh, hon," Bitty says softly. "I'd invite you to Hausgiving in a heartbeat, but—"
"I know," Stiles says with a shaky laugh. "No lax bros in the Haus."
Bitty laughs, too. "No hard feelings, Hatfield?"
"Never, McCoy." Stiles pauses a minute and then says, "Hey! You can come to our place for Thanksgiving. Unless, I mean—are you going home?"
Bitty blows out a big breath. "No I am not. I wanted to, but those tickets are too darned expensive. I'll be home at winter break, and that will have to be enough. But I'm not about to impose on you and Derek on Thanksgiving."
Stiles laughs again. "Bitty. You just heard me say it won't be a big deal here. Come on. Come over. You can make as many pies as you want. I promise they won't go to waste. I can spend time with you; you can fuss over us; and you can meet Derek. Everyone wins."
"Except Derek." Bitty won't deny that he's been dying to meet Stiles' mysterious boyfriend, but he has the sense that Derek doesn't much like... well. People.
"He wants to meet you," Stiles says, so earnestly that Bitty's willing to believe even if it turns out to be a big ol' lie. "Come on. What do you say?"
What Bitty says is, "What kinds of pie do y'all like?"
Bitty makes what feels like a thousand pies for Hausgiving. He puts two in boxes in the refrigerator and labels one "MooMaw's Ditch Weed Pie" and the other "Rutabaga Crumble." Even his boys have their limits.
He stays at the Haus that night, in Johnson's room. Johnson was the first to leave for break and had offered Bitty his room, saying, "It's great foreshadowing, bro."
Thanksgiving morning, Bitty's running around trying to get himself in order when the doorbell rings fifteen minutes early. He swears and hops to the door, full ready to give Stiles a piece of his mind, but—
"Oh!" Bitty says, and a little squeak maybe leaves his mouth.
He doesn't like to be disloyal to his boys. They are an awfully attractive bunch. Not that he, erm... looks at them. Like that.
But. The man standing on the sagging Haus porch is quite possibly the most attractive one Bitty's ever seen in person. He's tall and broad-shouldered, with short black hair and beard. His eyes are... green? blue? gray? They dance between colors, with flecks of gold throughout. And he has this... air to him. A sense like he could pick you up and toss you around a little, nbd.
Bitty becomes aware that he's standing in his doorway, staring at this gorgeous stranger, and he hasn't said anything besides a squeaky "Oh!" Years of training kick in, and he smiles his most gracious smile. "Hello there! How can I help you?"
The guy huffs. "You ready?"
Bitty blinks at him. "Ready?"
The guy makes an impatient "come on" gesture. "To go."
The guy casts his eyes heavenward and mutters under his breath. He smiles, and it is terrifying, like maybe wild animals taught him how. "I know I'm early, but Stiles said you'd be ready by one."
Bitty feels his eyes widen to the size of dinner plates. "Did—are you Derek?"
The guy (Derek?!) lowers his eyebrows and squints. It looks weirdly adorable on such a menacing guy. "Yeah?"
"Well, my gracious!" Bitty trills. He moves aside and motions Derek into the Haus. Derek does so cautiously and seems to be... sniffing the air. And, from the look on his face, not at all liking what he's smelling. Rude. It may not smell like roses and fresh-washed sheets, but what does Derek expect from a sad old house full of college athletes? Honestly, things are so much better than when Bitty got here. "I thought Stiles was gonna be picking me up."
Derek's shoulders sag. "He told me you he would text you. Scott called. They're… themselves."
Bitty pulls his phone out of his pocket and checks his texts. Nothing since last night when Stiles had sent him a series of borderline obscene emojis followed by the word "PIE" and about three dozen exclamation marks. "Must've slipped his mind," he says apologetically.
Derek shakes his head and says, "I blame Scott." Bitty gets a feeling he says this a lot. "So, are you ready?"
"Oh! Of course. Let me grab the pies quick, and we'll be on our way. Have a seat if you want—but not on the green couch. It's a biohazard."
Derek looks distastefully at the offending couch. "It's... not growing things, if that makes you feel better."
Bitty pauses in the kitchen doorway and looks at Derek, curious. "Now, how would you know a thing like that?"
Derek shrugs and looks sheepish. "Just have a good nose for it."
Bitty grins. "Aren't you a sweetheart," he says as he crosses to the kitchen, calling, "Just need a minute to put these in the carrier!" Another lie; the pies have been stowed in the carrier since his last teammate walked out the door this morning. But there's no need for Derek to know that, and Bitty has to send this text.
ME: u didn't tell me derek was picking me up!!
ME: u ALSO didn't tell me derek is an underwear-modeling serial killer!
STILES: uh hey listen also he has CRAZY good hearing, so he prolly knows u're not doing whatever u said u were doing instead of texting me
Bitty's sure he must blush clear down to his toes as he shoves his phone in his pocket, pulls the pie carriers off the counter, and puts on his best "taking a check" face before sweeping out of the kitchen to face his doom.
Derek's leaning against the wall scowling at his phone when Bitty comes into the living room. Bitty's about to clear his throat to get Derek's attention when Derek pushes gracefully away from the wall and shoves his phone in the pocket of his (very tight) jeans. "Ready?" he asks.
"All set!" Bitty carols, hoping he doesn't sound like a loon.
"Here, let me—" Bitty's pie carriers aren't terribly heavy, but Derek takes them from his hands like they weigh nothing at all.
Derek must catch a glimpse of the pie labels before he settles the carrier in back seat of his surprisingly mundane Toyota hatchback, because his only comment as they pull away from the Haus is a dry, "Ditch weed and rutabaga?"
Bitty doesn't smack those impressive biceps, because Derek is driving and Bitty's a gentleman. But he does tsk and say, "Don't you chirp me, Mr. Hale. My kitchen sits smack in the middle of HQ for 23 hockey-playing college students—and that's just varsity. If I want anything to survive in that refrigerator for more than an hour, I gotta be creative in my labels." From the set of Derek's eyebrows (which Bitty's heard a lot about from Stiles), Bitty knows he wants to ask something. Bitty smiles. "Since Stiles said you had pumpkin and apple taken care of—and please tell me that boy didn't buy them at a store—"
Derek smiles softly. "They're homemade. Just not our home."
Bitty nods, mollified. "I brought strawberry cream and peanut butter."
Something like wonder crosses Derek's face. "Strawberry cream is my favorite," he says.
Bitty hides a smile behind his hand. "And peanut butter is Stiles' favorite." He takes a chance on patting Derek's arm, because frankly the boy looks like he doesn't get enough touch. "Don't you worry, Derek. Got your back."
Thanksgiving is both easier than Bitty expected and one of the hardest things he's done in ages. Maybe harder than working through his checking problem.
Stiles and Derek are wonderful hosts. Nothing in their apartment matches, and there's a "college student chic" vibe in both the décor and the cattywampus approach to dinner (turkey noodle soup and cranberry walnut muffins in deference to the holiday; it's not exactly traditional, but it's better than the pasta and ice cream Stiles had predicted). But they are gracious and attentive to Bitty and each other; the conversation is easy; and no one even suggests turning on any football games. It's not his mama's Thanksgiving, but it's more than he expected from a fellow student and his boyfriend.
And therein lies the problem. He hasn't spoken the words out loud yet, but what's inside Bitty gets harder to deny every day. The thing he came to Samwell to figure out. The thing that's been inside him long as he can remember, that he hasn't had the guts to name even to himself, in case someone could take one look at his face and know. All semester this thing's been stirring like a dragon waking from a deep sleep, but he's ignored it, and things have held like that. Being here, in this apartment that Stiles navigates better than his dorm room, working around Derek like they've lived together for years, easy and open and obvious in their affection, makes that thing in Bitty open its eyes and pick up its head more than it ever has before.
Bitty remembers being knee-high to a grasshopper and hearing a story about a Pride celebration in Atlanta come on the news. Mama'd sniffled, shaken her head, and said, "Those poor people. Their lives must be so hard." Life doesn't seem hard for Stiles and Derek. It seems like the easiest, most natural, most beautiful thing in the world. And... and Stiles' family and friends know he and Derek are together (hard not to, when Derek's packed up and moved clean across the country to be with him), and Derek's sister knows, and the lax bros know, and... and everyone knows, and the world hasn't ended.
It makes Bitty want. It makes him want something he's never allowed himself to think about, never allowed himself to bring into the light and name. He still can't let himself name it, but he's watching it play out in front of him, and he wants it. Badly.
It's near time to head back to campus, and Bitty thinks he'll walk. It'll be nice to have those ten minutes of movement to counteract all the food. It's frigid, of course, 40 degrees last Bitty checked. But he's got a heavy coat, and a hat, and Mama's last care package had the most divine thrummed mittens that keep his hands nice and toasty. He goes to find Stiles and Derek to thank them and tell them he's heading out. He'd last seen them in the kitchen, arguing over the last slice of apple pie (not as good as Bitty's, but acceptable, and lord, but these boys could pack it away! Hollow legs, PawPaw would say), but the kitchen's empty. Bitty listens for a minute and hears quiet voices on the balcony. He crosses toward the sliding door, ready to knock or call out. Then he freezes.
It's nothing… untoward. Derek's sitting back on a lounger, Stiles settled between his legs, back against Derek's chest. Derek's arms wrap around Stiles' waist; a plate with a slice of pie rests on Stiles' leg. As Bitty watches, unable to look away, Derek forks up a bite of pie and directs it, badly, toward Stiles' mouth.
Stiles laughs hard, covering his mouth with one hand and fending off the fork with the other. "Listen here, asshole—" he starts, though it's hard to make out around his laughter.
"What's wrong, Stiles?" Derek asks, all wounded innocence. "I thought you wanted to share the pie."
"Gah! I hate you, sasswolf."
Derek gives a rumbling laugh and nuzzles his face into Stiles' neck. Bitty just catches Derek's quiet, "Love you, too."
In maybe the worst display of bad manners of Bitty's life, he turns, lifts the empty pie carriers off the counter, and walks out of the apartment without a word. He'll send a thank-you note tomorrow. Right now he needs to be away from here, before the thing slowly waking in his chest opens its eyes and devours him whole.
It's difficult to remember, because Bitty spends so much time at the Haus, and Stiles splits his time between the lax house, the apartment, and the weirdly chill funeral home where his magic teacher lives and works, but Stiles and Bitty technically live in the same dorm, and sometimes their paths cross there. Today, their paths take the form of Stiles frantically pounding out his final paper for Psych 151 while Bitty flops face-down on Stiles' bed, looking like he wants the pillow to eat him.
Bitty's been here about ten minutes. He all but fell into the room, groaning dismally, and immediately assumed the melodrama position. Stiles has been in the middle of his concluding section for over an hour and refuses to acknowledge any emotional or psychological crisis until he's done with that. Bitty's not bleeding, vomiting black goo, or missing any limbs; he can commune with the pillow for a couple more minutes.
When the conclusion is as good as it can get at a first draft stage, Stiles closes his laptop and turns to face his prone friend. "You want to talk about it?"
Bitty groans, long and pitiful, face fully immersed in the pillow. He says something that sounds like "Radon and Hodor" until Stiles remembers that two of the hockey bros go by the nicknames Ransom and Holster.
"What about them?"
Bitty sighs and turns his face enough for Stiles to see his mouth. His answer is much clearer, though no less plaintive, when he says, "They're trying to set me up for Screw."
Stiles flips through his mental file on the hockey team, complete with their ridiculous nicknames. "This is Birkholtz and Oluransi, right?" he asks. When Bitty nods forlornly, Stiles grins. "Dude, that's great. Those dudes know, like, anyone who plays any sport at Samwell. Like, even the intramural table tennis club. They'll find you someone amazing."
Bitty's expression darkens, and he squeezes his eyes shut. "Yeah, but—but they're trying to—I haven't told them—" He huffs. "They keep trying to set me up with girls, because they don't know that—" Big breath in. "—I'm gay."
Stiles wants to get up and dance. He wants to sweep Bitty off the bed into a big, swinging-around hug. He wants to shower Bitty with rainbow flag confetti (he has some, a gift from Erica for Pride last summer). Instead he forces himself to sit, hands folded in his lap, and wait to see what direction the conversation takes next.
Bitty takes another huge breath and scrambles so he's sitting upright. "Woo!" he says, laughing. "That was—that's only the second time I've said it out loud," he admits.
Stiles puts his hand over his heart. "I'm honored to be among the first," he says sincerely.
Bitty laughs softly. His gaze drifts to Stiles' cork board. "Does it get easier?"
Stiles knows where he's looking, a picture pinned right in front of the desk, because a reminder of what's waiting for him is very motivational while he's studying. It's one of the only pictures of just him and Derek, without the rest of the pack. Mason took it during Lydia's "holy fuck we survived to graduation" party. Derek and Stiles are sitting side by side, Derek's face turned toward Stiles' shoulder to avoid lens flare, Stiles' cheek resting on Derek's head. The look on Stiles' face, and the lines of Derek's shoulders and neck, show two people at their most content, wanting nothing more than to stay right here, with this person, for as long as the world will let them.
The sheriff still isn't 100% thrilled about Stiles and Derek's relationship. But the first time he saw that picture, he'd given Stiles a crushing hug and said, in a suspiciously damp voice, "I'm not going to cry at your wedding."
Stiles picks his words carefully. "It gets... easier," he says, "but it may never be easy. At least it isn't for me. Maybe things'll be different for you. But it—at some point it starts to feel more important for people to know than for them not to. Then you'll take all the energy you put into hiding and put it into being open, instead."
Bitty takes that in, looking thoughtful. Usually they're well-matched wells of words (or maybe Wellies of words, heh), but Bitty has a better handle than Stiles ever will on when it's wise to shut up for a minute.
"And, uh—" Stiles scratches the back of his neck and glances at the picture again. "Some people wait until they're with someone before coming out, so they can focus on a relationship rather than an identity. That's a valid choice, and if it works for you, go for it. But I find being in a same-gender relationship just... makes hiding less possible. I mean, god, I know it sucks, but we live in a world where it isn't always safe to be out. And when you're Eric R. Gayguy, living your life, you don't have to tell anyone. But once you're Eric R. Boyfriend, it becomes—I mean, you can hide, if you need to, but it takes a lot more energy." Stiles puts a hand on Bitty's arm and says, "But that's a problem for another time. For now, be… happy and gay!" They chuckle. "Seriously, Bitty, congrats. I'm so happy for you."
"Thank you, Stiles," Bitty says, beaming. "I doubt I'll ever want the whole world to know—gracious, I haven't even told my mama—but I feel better with you and Shitty knowing."
Stiles grins. If he'd had time to think about it, he might've guessed that Shitty would've been the first person Bitty told. They've never met (because Shitty's the most adamant of the hockey players about not mingling with the lacrosse team), but from what he's been able to observe, Shitty's a damned good friend to Bitty, and Stiles is glad he's in Bitty's corner. "Uh, you know, on that topic, that time I met your mom? She was really good about me and Derek. And, like, I totally get that people react differently when it's their own kid— believe me, I so get that. I'm just saying that if you ever decide you want to tell her, I think she may, like, surprise you with how she reacts." Bitty pales, and his smile slips, but he nods jerkily. "And, listen," Stiles continues, "any time you want to talk about boys or vent about how fucked up the world can be toward queer people, my ear's open."
Bitty smiles. "Thanks, hon."
"Oh, and!" Stiles leans forward excitedly, twirling his pen around his fingers, "if you want me to help you find a guy, I'll have you know that I my matchmaking skills are renowned."
Danny and Mason are very happy, and they always give Stiles credit when people ask how they got together. That counts as "renowned," right?
Bitty laughs and pats Stiles' hand. "That's awful sweet of you, Mr. Stilinski," he says, "but I got more than enough matchmaking going on for me at the Haus." He sighs and shakes his head, now much more fond exasperation than despondent panic. "Guess I'll have to tell Ransom and Holster that dog won't hunt." He grimaces. "Think they'll be upset?"
Stiles rolls his eyes. "I think they'll stagger around dramatically, demand to know why you didn't tell them sooner, and then switch to a different spreadsheet." When Bitty blinks at him, Stiles rolls his eyes back in the opposite direction and says, "This is Samwell. 'One in four, maybe more' isn't just clever publicity; it's, like, solid stats. I'd bet you all of Derek's money that your boys have spreadsheets that cover every permutation of gender identity and sexual and romantic orientation. They've got your back."
Bitty laughs and slumps over onto Stiles' pillow like the conversation's drained him too much to stay upright. "You say the sweetest things." He shakes his head. "All right. They are my boys, and I am loyal to them, so I will let them find me a Screw date. But if it doesn't turn out so good, I'll let you take over for a while."
Stiles laughs and sticks out his hand, which Bitty shakes sideways so he doesn't have to sit back up. "Deal."
Bitty's Screw date is awful. Stiles doesn't see much of Bitty, because he's too busy taking selfies of himself and Derek to prove to the pack that, yes, Derek voluntarily dressed up and came to a college dance. But the glimpses he can catch tell a sad (if typical) story of Bitty's date moving from nice enough to embarrassingly drunk to puking on Bitty's shoes.
Stiles starts the spell as soon as he gets home.
It's not a love spell. Love spells are gross and unethical and anyway they rarely work like you want them to. Heck, what Stiles is doing is barely a spell at all. It's... opening his physical and magical senses, which allows him to be aware of compatibilities between people. It's how he figured out how good Danny and Mason could be together.
So he's ready. When Bitty says, "I'm not looking now. I reckon Screw put me off dating for a bit. But when I'm ready, why don't you give it a try?" he puts it in motion so he'll have options available when Bitty gives him the go-ahead. Sometimes he likes using his tendency toward hypervigilance for good.
* * *
Winter break is uneventful. Bitty goes home to Georgia, eats more cookies than Jack Zimmermann would approve of, answers his relatives' questions about "that liberal school of yours," and goes so deeply back into the closet he sees Narnia.
The SMH group text provides consistent comic relief. Shitty blows it up periodically with rants about both the secularization of religious holidays and the imposition of Christian norms on a secular nation. Holster texts back a picture of himself and his sisters grinning and holding plates of latkes, with the caption "Delicious and unassimilated." Which sends Shitty off on a different rant about historical pressure on American Jews to conform, but at least he's not talking about Christmas anymore.
When they come back for their game on the 29th, campus is mostly empty. There's a magic to the place, coated in a fresh layer of snow and muffled in solitude and silence. Bitty stands on the back steps of his dorm and watches the wind blow the snow in gentle swirls around the street. He feels peaceful.
He takes a picture and sends it to Stiles. "Happy Holidays from Samwell University," he writes.
A few seconds later he gets a picture back—Stiles on the balcony of Derek's apartment, so bundled Bitty can really only see his eyes. But they're crinkled at the corners like he's smiling, and he's holding his thumb up. "welcome back dude!" the accompanying text reads, "derek says come over any time"
Bitty laughs and pockets his phone. He assumes that Derek most emphatically does not say that, but it's nice of Stiles to extend the invitation anyway.
By the time the new semester starts, Bitty feels ready to have Stiles suggest some guys for him. He's not looking for happily ever after, but if he can go on a few dates with guys who won't throw up on his shoes, he thinks that could be fun.
"Guy-shopping" with Stiles, as Stiles insists on calling it, is nothing like Bitty expected, and he says so.
Stiles laughs and nods. "You're used to Oluransi's matchmaking-by-spreadsheet method. Nothing wrong with that. Lotta queer guys around here. Hard to find the right one." He grins and makes jazz hands. "Options!"
Bitty laughs and shakes his head no at the guy Stiles points out to him. Stiles makes a note on the piece of paper in front of him. Bitty's not sure the notes are in English.
They're at Annie's, tucked around a two-top by the front window so Stiles can spot guys coming inside and ones going by outside. "You, on the other hand," Bitty says, leaning across the table to poke Stiles in the arm, "seem to be pointing out guys at random."
Stiles' face twists, lips pursed, forehead wrinkled. "It's not... exactly random?" he says. He taps his fingernails against his coffee cup. "Look. On paper, Derek Hale and Stiles Stilinski are the worst idea anyone ever had. If Oluransi were doing this for me, Derek wouldn't even be on the page. Yet here we are, together since I was 17, and I guarantee we will be married within three months of my graduation. I respect the spreadsheet, but in matters of the heart, sometimes you gotta step back and let chaos reign."
Bitty makes a face. "That sounds like the Haus."
Stiles grins sharply at him. "Then you should have no problems with my methods. Him?"
Bitty looks at the man walking by outside the window, olive-skinned, lanky, with his dark hair in a short ponytail and a violin case under his arm. Bitty shivers. "A definite maybe." A guy who looks like that and is good with his hands? Yes, please.
"Excellent!" Stiles wiggles his eyebrows and makes another mark on the page.
"I don't get how you're going to find the ones I say yes to. Do you know all of 'em?"
"What? No." Stiles looks baffled. "I mean, I've seen a lot of them around campus, but, no. I don't know most of them."
"Well, then?" Stiles looks at him blankly, and he gestures around them. "How are you gonna find them again?"
For a second, Stiles looks... panicked. There's no other word for it. Then he puts his hand over his heart, bats his eyes, and says, "Bitty, have you no faith in the scientific method?"
Bitty flicks his napkin at Stiles' head. "The scientific method, yes. The Stiles method..." Stiles throws the napkin back and laughs. Bitty grins into his cup.
This coming out process is way more complicated than folks let on. First there was admitting it to himself. Then there was admitting it to other people. Now there's acting on it. He's only done that once before, so the process is still new enough to feel a little taboo. Saying "I'm gay" for the first time had been a huge moment in his life, but "gay," when you come right down to it, is kind of an abstract concept. Jumping from "I'm gay" to "I'm attracted to that boy" feels like almost as big a hurdle.
Bitty swallows. His peppermint mocha sits heavy in his stomach, and the sunlight reflecting off the snow stings his eyes. He shuts them for a second, and when he opens them, Stiles is watching him in that intent way he gets sometimes. Bitty smiles apologetically.
"Long day, huh?" Stiles says.
It hasn't been, but Bitty gratefully takes the out. He nods. "Yeah, I... this is fun, but can we be done for the day?"
"Yeah. Yeah, of course." Stiles stands and gathers his things. He grins. "Hey, next time let's do this at Faber before a game. Find you a hockey fan."
"Sure," Bitty says absently, trying not to think about "next time."
Bitty and Stiles bundle up (the New Englanders and Midwesterners are wearing light jackets and caps today. Bitty and Stiles are so heavily wrapped they can barely move, but it is cold out there; he doesn't care what anyone says) and leave the coffee shop. On the sidewalk, they debate whether to part ways here or go on together. Stiles has to run back to the dorm to grab a book he forgot for his 3:30 class. Bitty's done with his classes for the day, so he could go anywhere. He's itching to get back to the Haus and try another of the new cookie recipes MooMaw gave him over break. But he's still mad about Jack not wanting Bitty on his line, so he's not super interested in running into him right now.
He turns to walk with Stiles to the dorm—
—and runs right the hell into Jack Zimmermann.
Bitty staggers. He doesn't land on his ass only because Jack has crazy robot reflexes and grabs his arms to haul him upright. He stands there for a second with his hands on Bitty's arms, looking less hostile than he has in weeks. He, of course, is wearing his ultralight flannel jacket over a long-sleeve shirt, no hat, and the jacket isn't even zipped. Bitty feels cold just looking at him. (But he also feels warm just looking at him.)
"Whoa!" Bitty says weakly. "Musta hit an icy patch?" He looks desperately at Stiles, but Stiles is looking between the two of them with a frown, like they're a busted watch he's trying to tell the time by anyway.
Jack glances at Stiles, too. His face hardens, and he yanks his hands away from Bitty's arms. "Watch where you're going, Bittle," he snaps, moving around Bitty and toward the Haus. "And don't let Shitty know you're dating a lax bro."
"We're not dating!" Bitty yells. "And Shitty's not the boss of me!" His hands are in fists, and he's boiling with formless, directionless rage, like always after a bad run-in with Jack.
Bitty was a small, figure-skating, pie-baking boy in rural Georgia. He's no stranger to people disliking him. But Jack's dislike feels different, not based in anything he does but actually aimed at something integral to his personality. Bitty knows he shouldn't let that get to him, but it does. More than anything has in a long time.
The collision with Jack has jarred Bitty's bag and its contents. He rights it and turns toward the dorm with a determined spark in his heart. See if he'll bake cookies for any Haus that Jack Zimmermann calls home. "Come on, Stiles," he says, "let's get your book." He takes a few firm strides—and then realizes that Stiles isn't next to him. He pauses and turns, frown already forming. "What?"
Stiles is standing where he'd been when Bitty ran into Jack, still giving Bitty that broken-watch look.
"What?" Bitty asks again, worried now.
Stiles shakes his head. "Sorry. Nothing." He catches up in one and a half loping strides and slings an arm around Bitty's shoulders. "So. Gorgeous, broody men with tragic pasts who communicate via grunts and scowls. You and me got a lot to talk about, bro."
* * *
"Babe," Stiles says, flinging himself onto the couch, "my mojo's broken." He shoves Derek's computer to the side so he can stretch out with his head in Derek's lap. What's the point of working from home if you can't go at your own pace, right?
Stiles goes boneless with contentment as Derek runs fingers through his hair. "I didn't have any complaints about it this morning."
Stiles laughs delightedly and swats at him. "Pervywolf. No, but, listen. I went out for coffee with Bitty today, right?"
Derek nods. "Man-shopping."
"Don't mock that spell. It did the pack a lot of good. Here's the thing: I got a couple of okay matches for him, nothing to write home about. Then, on our way out of Annie's, he ran—like, literally ran—into Jack Zimmermann. I'm telling you, dude, my senses fritzed out, they matched so perfectly."
Stiles waits for Derek to scoff and say that's ridiculous. But he looks thoughtful for a minute, fingers massaging Stiles' scalp absently, and then says, "I can see that."
"What? No!" Stiles waves his hands. "Derek, they hate each other."
Derek hums again. Why does he do that? He knows Stiles hates that. Dad does it, too, which makes Derek doing it even more annoying.
"I mean it. You should've heard the way Jack yelled at him. And I'm pretty sure Bitty almost punched him."
"Huh," Derek says. "So… sort of like… Jack slammed Eric's head into a steering wheel and Eric said you should let Jack die?"
Stiles' mouth drops open. "Oh." He blinks. "Oh." His brain scrambles to rearrange pieces of the puzzle. Part of why he and Derek had treated each other so horridly when they met was to quash an attraction that neither of them had been ready to accept or deal with at the time. If Bitty and Jack are struggling with the same problem—"Wait, no." He shakes his head. "When I do this spell for queer dudes, I set it up to screen out straight guys."
"So?" Derek sounds unimpressed.
"So, the spell is obviously defective!"
"Are you sure?"
Stiles cranes his neck, the better to gawk at Derek. "Am I sure that a future NHL star is straight?" He pauses, frowning. "Actually…"
Derek strokes the sensitive skin behind Stiles' ear, and Stiles melts. "Think about what you've done with with your magic over the last year and a half."
Stiles feels a little diffident and a little cocky. "I'm marginally badass."
Derek smiles. "What's more likely: that you messed up, or that Jack Zimmermann's in the closet?"
Stiles thinks about this. Stiles thinks about this a lot. He also, he's ashamed to say, does some googling. "Jack Zimmermann gay" returns a lot of Kent Parson/Jack Zimmermann fanfic links, which Stiles rapidly backs away from. "Jack Zimmermann Kent Parson" yields more helpful results—the most pertinent being that if the rumors about Jack and Parse are true, then Jack has a type. A type Bitty fits pretty damn well.
Stiles considers himself a coffee connoisseur. Two years of all-nighters where he had to balance schoolwork with not dying has given him insight into factors like taste, convenience, economy, and caffeination levels. As far as he's concerned, the best coffee in all of Samwell is at Jerry's, and the best fancy coffee drinks are at Annie's.
Unfortunately, the lacrosse team, for reasons Stiles may never understand, is loyal to the Starbucks off the north end of campus, which is where Stiles sits now, drinking an oversweet dirty chai with Chad N., who's chugged his triple espresso and is looking at Stiles sternly.
"Stiles," Chad says, "at this time of year we start thinking about who's getting space in the house next year."
"Okay." Stiles chews on his straw and tries not to look like a baffled n00b. Even though he feels like a baffled n00b.
"Three spots are gonna be free come fall. And, like, usually those are totally for first line juniors and seniors. But sometimes we offer a space to an underclassman with, like, promise? As, like, a player and a bro."
Stiles nods. Dave's lived in the house since his sophomore year because he is, in Chad D.'s words, sick with the grill tongs. "Solid," Stiles says.
"We like you. You have, like, way less chill than we expected from a Cali dude, but your 'no fucks given' attitude works out pretty good for us."
Stiles' straw freezes, dangling out of his mouth. This can't be the conversation he thinks it is. The Chads aren't stupid.
"But." Chad holds up a finger, and Stiles drops the straw back into the cup. "We're worried about your relationship with the hockey player, in direct and flagrant violation of Samwell Lacrosse bylaw number 1. Number one, dude! Like, the very first one!"
"Okay, Chad, listen," Stiles starts, but Chad rolls over him with his prepared speech.
"According to the Bylaw Amendments of 2003, there are three situations where a member of the lacrosse team is allowed to interact with a Hausbro. One: when you're trying to wheel him. Two: when you're trying to scam him, like, for class notes or something. Three: zombie apocalypse." Chad taps a sugar packet on the table for emphasis. "So, like, we know you aren't trying to wheel him, because you're banging the only non-student to make The Swallow's 50 Most Beautiful since, like, the '80s."
Stiles groans. If no one ever brings that up again, it'll be too soon. Derek had been mortified, and what had seemed like a funny, ridiculous college-kid stunt had suddenly seemed invasive and objectifying, letting a bunch more people see Derek only for his body and overlook everything he is underneath.
"At first we thought you were scamming him for, like, pie and shit, 'cause we hear his baking is tight. But if you are, you're not sharing, which is, like, so against bro code it would mean, like, super-automatic disqualification for the house. And I don't see any zombies, so." Chad spreads his hands and looks at Stiles expectantly.
"So…" Stiles says. He doesn't mind Chad having enough rope to hang himself, but he'll be damned if he hands over any more himself.
"So—oh, yeah. Right." Chad sits up straight and tries to look imposing. It doesn't work well. "Mieczysław Stilinski, you stand accused of sustained violation of Samwell Lacrosse Bylaw #1. How do you plead?"
"Okay, first of all—" Stiles stops and shakes his head. "No, wait, changed my mind. First of all, you are not allowed to attempt my legal name again. Like, ever. I am invoking my rights under the Geneva Convention. Just, I mean, don't do it."
Chad looks abashed. Smart man.
"Second, I plead hella guilty by reason of it's an asinine rule." Across the table, Chad blinks. "Look. I get it. Chad D. is pissed because he and Knight banged during their freshman orientation and Knight didn't return his calls. That's a dick move. But, I mean, dude's hockey name is literally 'Shitty.' I don't know what Chad expected. And you can't force the rest of us to give up our friends because one hockey player violated hookup etiquette when he was 18. That's not bro, dude. Bitty's my second-best friend here. And he does give me pie, but it's not a scam. He does it because he's nice. Nicer than anyone on this team, for sure. And I don't share because you guys are assholes, and my boyfriend is an actual trash compactor in human form. It doesn't go to waste."
Chad leans across the table into Stiles' personal space and hisses, "We do not speak of Chad and That Man!"
Stiles groans. "Oh my god, emotionally constipated boys and their feelings." Chad's lips curl into a snarl, so Stiles moves on to his next point. "Three: what the hell makes you think I want a place in the house? I have a place to live next year. It's no Taj Mahal, but it's no nasty frat house, either. And I only have to share it with one person—who is my boyfriend. Which reminds me—four. Stop objectifying my boyfriend."
Chad stares at Stiles for a long minute. A really long minute. He seems torn between crying and hugging Stiles. "Dude, you are the literal best," he gushes. "Chad F. wasn't sure, but I knew we were making the right choice offering you a spot."
Stiles squints. "But… but I don't want the spot."
"Dude, that's cool," Chad says. "You can change your mind any time."
"I'm not—" Stiles pauses and holds up a finger. "Hold on a sec, okay?" He stands and heads to the counter. If he's going to wade into what looks like a long, trying conversation, he's going to need more caffeine.
By the time the hockey season ends, Stiles knows these things for sure:
- No one at Samwell matches Bitty as well as Jack Zimmermann and vice versa.
- Neither of them has a clue about this.
Then Bitty takes a hard check during Samwell's game against Princeton. Stiles forces himself to look away from his friend, unconscious on the ice, and look at Jack instead. Now he also knows that:
3. Jack may be closer to realizing it than Stiles has thought.
Sophomore year is going to be so interesting.