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I Don't Know What I Would Do

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Shitty chooses Samwell over Harvard and Yale for a couple of reasons. The biggest, and the reason he tells the rest of the guys, is because of Andover. Andover, which was essentially a fast track into the world of business and law and rich, white privilege. Andover, with its halls full of trust fund babies and gossip about who was vacationing where on which island at whose family home. Shitty’s taddy tour at Samwell had been a breath of fresh fucking air, and the hockey team was decent, and they had a swawesome Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality department, and Shitty was sold almost immediately.

So really, the main reason he chooses Samwell is because he needs to get the hell away from the atmosphere of Andover. Sure, he relishes the fact that it pisses off his father to no end. And despite the fact that he couldn’t triple major, the fact that he gets to study Poli-Sci and WGS is serious leaps and bounds away from the business degree he’d be getting at Harvard.
He gets to play hockey on a somewhat decent hockey team, too, which is nice. The two sophomores (frogs?) he’d met on the tour, Storey and Johnson, both seemed like decent dudes, and he’s ready to spend the next four years there as soon as he steps into Faber during his tour.

The day Shitty moves in, there’s barely anyone on campus. The hockey team has early move-in because they have practices three weeks before class begins, and the only other people around are the women’s soccer team, whose season runs on the same schedule. Shitty honestly doesn’t expect to run into anyone as he wheels his bright yellow move-in cart down the hall, piled high with suitcases and boxes and his hockey gear, but as he’s attempting to shove the thing through his tiny doorway, he hears voices coming from the room across from his.
If he correctly remembers the dorm layout map he’d been looking at ten minutes ago, room 151 is a single. He’s tempted to knock on the door to say hello, maybe meet his new neighbor before he leaves for practice, but as he’s debating with himself the cart finally pops through the doorway and he barely manages to catch himself before faceplanting on the disgusting carpet that covers the floor.

He unpacks until he has to go to Faber for the team’s first practice, and as he leaves the room he realizes that there’s a very small chance that it will ever be quite this neat again, so he snaps a quick picture from the doorway before pocketing his phone, turning around and –

Bumping straight into another guy, who is, apparently, built like a fucking brick wall and doesn’t even stumble. Shitty, on the other hand, staggers back, the weight of his hockey bag over one shoulder pulling him off balance, and it’s only the guy he bumped into catching the strap of his bag that keeps him from doing something embarrassing, like falling into the wall.
“Shit, sorry,” Shitty starts, “totally didn’t see you there.”

“No, it’s,” the guy shakes his head, “it’s my fault, sorry.”

There’s something about the way he pronounces sorry, the ‘o’ sound elongated and the hint of a French accent, that has Shitty grinning. “Canadian, eh?”

Blue eyes meet his, and whoa, if Shitty weren’t 95% straight he thinks he could seriously be into this guy. “Um, yeah, I.” Blue Eyes nods and looks away, “Yeah.”

He seems awfully tense, and his hands start twisting into the hockey bag Shitty finally notices hanging over his own shoulder. He won’t meet Shitty’s eyes, and while Shitty has never really experienced first-day jitters before, he understands that the first day on a brand new team can be stressful as shit. He reaches out to gently punch the guy’s shoulder before swinging an arm up around his shoulders and starting the walk down the hallway. “You play hockey, huh? Shit, my dude, if the rest of the taddies are as buff as you are I might need to quit the team.” They stop when they reach the elevators, and while Blue Eyes hasn’t exactly gotten any less tense, at least he hasn’t outright shoved Shitty’s arm off of him. “I’m Shitty, by the way.” He says, stepping away and holding out a hand.

He can see the hesitation in Blue Eyes’ face before he reaches out to shake Shitty’s hand. “Hi.” There’s something almost calculating in his face as he shakes Shitty’s hand, but the elevator doors open and they shuffle inside and by the time they’ve figured out a way to fit both themselves and their giant bags into the small space, they’ve passed the stage where Blue Eyes would offer his own name, so the conversation moves on.

Shitty keeps up a constant stream of chatter as they walk to Faber when he notices that Blue Eyes doesn’t seem inclined to participate in conversation. He talks about his taddy tour and about the guys he’d met, talks about what classes he’s signed up for, and by the time they reach the rink, all he’s learned about Blue Eyes is that they’re both in the introductory level English seminar together and that he’s from Montreal.

It had seemed like Blue Eyes had become less and less stressed as they walked towards the rink, but as soon as they stop in front of the locker room, his back is ramrod straight and he looks like he’s gearing up for a fight.

“Dude,” Shitty says as they push the door open, “you okay?”

Blue Eyes doesn’t even respond, just keeps his eyes on the floor as they walk into the room. Shitty feels eyes on them almost immediately, and, chalking it up to being the new guys, simply finds his stall and tosses his stuff into it. He’s next to Storey, who he’d met on his tour, and he’s welcomed with a fist bump that quickly turns into a headlock and a facewash that has both of them laughing.

“We’re waiting for Murray and Hall,” Storey explains when he releases Shitty, settling back into his stall and picking up the tape he’d dropped when he’d grabbed Shitty “then we’ve got about an hour and a half on the ice. It’s usually longer, but it’s first practice, so.”

Shitty nods, grateful for the info, and busies himself with unpacking his gear. Soon after that a guy wearing the C walks up to Shitty, introduces himself as Bergy, and claps Shitty on the shoulder before walking away again. As far as first introductions go, Shitty thinks it could be worse. He’s fully prepared for the hazing and teasing that comes along with being a tadpole, almost excited for it, and he’s trying to look around the room while not seeming like he’s looking around the room when he realizes that Blue Eyes is all but hiding in his stall, not interacting with anyone as he meticulously tapes his stick. He makes his way over and claps Blue Eyes on the shoulder, reminiscent of the way Bergy had greeted him, and makes metal note of the way the guy all but jumps out of his skin.

“Dude, how’s it going?”

“Um, fine?” He says it like a question, eyes flicking from the floor to Shitty’s face and back to the floor.

“Come here, lemme introduce you to Storey, I met him on my taddy tour.” He doesn’t miss the way Blue Eyes hesitates to stand, and it’s at that moment the coaches walk through the locker room doors and the room finally falls quiet.

“Afternoon, boys,” Hall says, taking his glasses off of his nose and sliding them into a pocket. “Welcome back, hope you had a good summer, etcetera. Before we get on the ice I want to do a round of introductions for the new boys, and I’m gonna give you the lines we want to try before we head out.” Shitty tries to discreetly pick his way back to his stall without drawing too much attention to himself while Hall motions towards the stall on the left end that belongs to Johnson, whose goalie pads are strewn about on the floor. “Johnson, start. Name, year, position, where you’re from.”

The introductions continue until they reach Blue Eyes, which is when it suddenly seems like every hockey player in the room is holding their breath. “Um.” His jaw looks like it’s locked in place and it’s a miracle any words get out at all. “Jack Zimmermann. First-year, forward. From Montreal.”

And holy shit. Holy shit. Shitty has been chatting it up with Jack Fucking Zimmermann for the last half an hour.

There’s a noticeable pause, where the kid after Jack just kinda gapes at him like a fish until he realizes that he’s supposed to speak up next, and he stammers out an introduction, but there is still very much a gigantic fucking elephant in the room.

The rest of the introductions move fairly quickly after that, at least in Shitty’s opinion, even after he introduces himself as “Shitty Knight, first-year, winger, from Boston” and no one so much as blinks at his name.

Hall reads off their lineups and they lace up, finally, and Shitty tries to catch Jack before they make it out onto the ice, but Jack keeps his head down and is out of the locker room in record time, so no dice.

By the time Shitty steps out onto the ice, Jack is handling a puck as he skates in circles and quite frankly, he looks like he was born to be there, stick in his hand and blades on his feet. He’s jolted out of his daze by Johnson, knocking into him and chucking as he skates out to take his position between the post, but he’s pretty sure most of the other guys are watching Jack skate of the corner of their eyes.

 

~~~

 

After practice, Shitty has to go on a hunt for his clothes, which he eventually finds scattered across the bleachers. By the time he’s dressed and ready to go back to his dorm, the rest of the boys have cleared out and the athletic facility is pretty quiet, which is how he overhears the quiet mumblings of Hall talking to Jack.

And listen – Shitty knows all about Jack Zimmermann. Sure, he’d never purposefully googled him or anything, but anyone and everyone who had cared the slightest bit about hockey had heard all about what happened to the kid. Shitty hadn’t watched the draft that year, and after hearing about the overdose he had never really followed Jack Zimmermann’s life. He’d heard that Zimmermann was planning on going to college, it was impossible to not know, but.

Hockey. From Montreal. Didn’t even introduce himself to Shitty like a normal human being until he was forced to. Shit. How did he not put two and two together?

God, he’s going to be a shitty lawyer. Pun unintended.

He’s just passing the coaching offices when Hall’s door opens and Jack steps out, halting in his tracks when he sees Shitty, whose heart breaks when he sees the uncertain look on Jack’s face, and he makes a split-second decision.

“Jackabelle!” he crows, punching Jack in the arm. “Heading out?”

Jack’s face does something funny and Shitty can see him relax a little. “Yeah. Um.”

“Swawesome, those fuckers threw my clothes all over Faber, so I’m late to dinner too. Walk with you to the dining hall?”

Jack is slow to reply, but he nods and Shitty grins at him and they start walking again, and Shitty realizes the key to getting Jack talking is to ask him about hockey.

He still doesn’t talk much, but the topic of hockey seems to relax him, and goddamn it, Shitty is going to make this man as happy as possible, so they talk about hockey. Shitty talks about his background before Samwell, and when it becomes extremely obvious that Jack won’t do the same, he talks about the practice they’d just left, which elicits a few responses from Jack and Shitty counts that as a win.

They’re nearing the dining hall when Jack stops and says, “I… just realized I left something in the dorm. Um. I’m gonna run and get it.”

“Okay,” Shitty says, “I’ll save you a seat, man.”

Jack regards him for a moment and says “Thanks.” Then he’s gone, and Shitty is left with the realization that Jack Zimmermann probably hasn’t left anything in his room and would probably rather not sit through a dinner with 20 other guys who would treat him like a museum exhibit.

He heads into the dining hall and makes two take-out plates as he fields off chirps from the teammates who had hidden his clothes. As he’s leaving, one of the juniors stops him with poorly concealed curiosity written across his features, “Hey, where’s Zimmermann?”

“I dunno,” Shitty says, fully aware of the way more than half the team perks up at the mention of Jack’s name. “He’s not here?”

“Nah, Hall called him in after practice. You didn’t see him?”

Shitty shakes his head, “Sorry, brah.”

Someone further down the table snorts and shakes his head. “He’s too good to come eat with us, dude, I told you.”

“His robot programming doesn’t process meals.” Someone else says, earning a quiet laugh from some of the boys.

Shitty, who would very much like to drop kick some human fucking decency into these dickwads, merely shakes his head and heads for the door, overly conscious of the fact that this is his first day with the team and that if he were to make a scene it would do more harm than good.

 

~~~

 

He knocks on Jack’s door when he gets back to the dorm, and it takes a few seconds before the door opens. Jack’s wearing sweats and a t-shirt, and he looks exhausted. “Oh. Hey, Shitty.”

Shitty holds up the take-out box like a peace offering. “Figured you could use something to eat, I thought I’d drop it off.”

For a moment, Jack looks surprised, like he seriously thought he could get away with the ‘I forgot something’ excuse and that no one would notice if he’d just… skipped dinner. “Oh. Thanks, man.”

“Don’t mention it.” Shitty grins at him and hands off the box before giving Jack an awkward little wave and crossing the hall to his own door, which he has half-open before Jack makes a noise at him.

“Wait.” Shitty turns. “Do you maybe want to. Come in?”

It sounds like it took a whole bunch of effort for Jack to ask, so Shitty turns with his arms spread wide and a smile stretched across his face. “Jackabelle! I’d love to.”

Jack takes note of the take-out container in Shitty’s hand and grimaces. “I didn’t mean for you to miss dinner on my account.”

“Please.” Shitty rolls his eyes and plops down on Jack’s floor. “No biggie, my dude. I wasn’t really feeling it myself, to be honest. Move-in and practice and team dinner all on the same day? I’m about ready to tap out.”

There’s a pause as Jack shifts awkwardly in the middle of his room, and Shitty adds, “Plus, I think I need to work up a tolerance to some of those guys.”

Jack hums noncommittally and sits down at his desk as Shitty takes a bite of chicken.

“I’m sure they aren’t all asshats, I mean, I met Johnson and Storey and they both seemed pretty cool? Plus, like, brah. We go to Samwell. You’d think they’d be… better?”

Jack eyes him and says, “I think I know what you mean.” And takes a bite of his own chicken, effectively shutting himself up.

It’s hard to find a topic that opens Jack up like hockey, so that’s what Shitty sticks with, and after a while, it pays off. Jack’s been talking about the strengths and weaknesses of the team for the last ten minutes, going off of only what he’d seen in practice that day and it’s… honestly, it’s amazing. This is someone who can step onto the ice and pick apart a team in minutes, someone who has been living and breathing hockey for as long as he’s been alive. Shitty is in awe.

When Jack realizes that Shitty has been staring at him for the last five minutes and not saying a word, he cuts himself off mid-sentence with a quiet, “Sorry.”

“Brah, what the fuck do you have to be sorry for?”

“I talk about hockey too much sometimes.” Jack says with the air of a person who has been told to stop talking about hockey. “You can just tell me to shut up, next time. It’s fine.”

“Jack.” Shitty puts a hand on Jack’s knee and stares into his eyes as sincerely as possible. “That was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. You’ve known these guys for what, three hours? How the fuck do you know all this stuff?”

Jack shrugs. “I watched tape before I got here.”

“You –” Shitty scoffs and shakes his head, “You are a fucking thing of wonder, Jack Zimmermann, did you know that?”

Jack just raises an eyebrow in his direction and continues eating his chicken, and they sit in silence for a beat before Shitty chokes on a walnut and Jack offers him water through stifled laughter and it’s the most relaxed Shitty has seen him all day.

He leaves Jack’s room that night with the concrete knowledge that they’re going to be best friends. He doesn’t know if Jack has realized it yet, but Shitty is going to make goddamn sure that Jack Zimmermann will be happy at Samwell, whether he wants to or not.

Chapter Text

It’s… a process, to say the least. Getting Jack to open up is like trying to pry open an oyster with your bare hands – impossible and kind of painful. Shitty’s plan of action has honestly been I’m going to throw my love and affection at him so aggressively that he won’t know what to do with himself and it’s been… working. A little. He’s finally gotten Jack to join the team for post-practice dinners in the dining hall, which was hella awkward for the first couple of meals but has since become more bearable.

The first time Jack showed up to dinner, it was painfully obvious that everyone thought they knew everything about him. There was a weird period of time where no one talked to him directly, the rest of the team chirping each other half-heartedly, until one of the seniors leaned across the table and said, “So you know Kent Parson, right?”

The entire table fell silent, as if everyone had been waiting for someone to break the ice, and Jack nodded stiffly. “Yeah.”

“What’s he like? In person, I mean.” Someone else chimed in from the far end of the table.

And by this point Shitty has been around Jack enough to recognize when he’s uncomfortable, and Shitty hasn’t seen him this tense since the first day of practice. “No wait, brah,” he says, “What’s your mom like?”

Jack looks up at him, eyes wide. “What?”

“Your mom, dude, she’s, like, smokin’ hot.” Shitty sighs.

There’s a moment where the rest of the team cracks the fuck up at Jack’s face, and he eventually sputters out a “Shut the fuck up about my mom, Shits.” And the weird tension is effectively broken and dinner resumes like normal.

Later, when they get back to their rooms, Jack pauses with his hands stuffed in his pockets and scuffs a shoe against the carpet. “Hey, about earlier.”

“Oh, fuck, bro, I promise I don’t actually want to get with your mom.” Shitty says, “That would be weird, and yeah she’s hot as fuck, but like. Nah, dude. That’s weird.”

“No,” Jack huffs out a laugh. “I mean, okay, that’s good, but. I just – thanks, Shitty.”

Shitty smiles that little smile he always gets when Jack turns soft and quiet. “Hey, I’ve got your back, brah. You know that, right?”

“Yeah,” Jack says, “yeah, I do.”

And it feels like a victory.

So, they move on. They play hockey. The rest of the school moves in and they start their first year of college. By the time their first game rolls around, most of the boys have gotten over their initial idolization of Jack Zimmermann and now know him as ‘the taddy who makes the rest of us look bad’. There would be resentment there for anyone else, Shitty knows, but the fact that Jack keeps his head down and works his beautifully sculpted ass off doesn’t escape the rest of the team, who are content to chirp him about being a robot and otherwise leave him alone.

The only real conflict between Jack and the rest of the team arises when the boys try to give Jack a nickname. Shitty is apparently enough of a nickname for the rest of them, so they don’t give him too much flack about it, but when it comes to Jack, they hit a wall.

There’s a couple of names in the works, but none of them seem to really fit. Flappy, one of the seniors who lives in the Haus, suggests Zimms, but when they try it out that day in the locker room, Jack freezes and just doesn’t move for about two minutes. There’s an awkward pause, during which someone says, “O kay , so not Zimms, then.” And they move on, but the end result is a general consensus that the only nickname that’ll work for Jack is “Jack”, and it’s probably his status as a legendary hockey legacy that prevents any further attempts.

The night before their home opener, Shitty keeps a close eye on Jack, who begs off of dinner with the rest of the team and returns to the dorm instead. He packs up dinner for the guy, who is probably planning on going through a couple of protein bars instead of eating an actual meal, and knocks softly on Jack’s door.

There’s a pause, wherein Shitty can hear mutterings in what sounds like French but there’s no movement coming towards the door, and it lasts long enough that Shitty is debating just setting the food down outside and backing off, but as he stoops down to do so, the door opens, and Jack looks distraught , and with a “Whoa, hey, ” Shitty shoulders his way into Jack’s room and immediately wraps his arms around him in a hug.

Jack isn’t exactly crying, but he’s shaking, and Shitty wishes he had put the food boxes down so he could really hug him, but Jack pulls away soon enough and sits down on his bed, head in his hands. Shitty puts the boxes on Jack’s desk and drops down next to him, hands stroking firmly up and down Jack’s curved spine.

They sit there in silence before Jack says, “Sorry.” And if he didn’t look so miserable Shitty would’ve punched him in the arm.

“Jack, I say this with all the love in the world, I really do, but what in the everloving fuck are you sorry for?”

He shrugs, and he looks absolutely miserable, so Shitty does what he does best and starts talking. “You’re nervous about the game tomorrow.” It’s not a question. Jack doesn’t confirm that, exactly, but he doesn’t say no, either. “Talk to me, Jackabelle.”

“It’s just.” Jack takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. The way his hands are clenched into fists doesn’t stop them from shaking. “This is the first – the first game since.” And he doesn’t say ‘since I would’ve gone first in the draft and almost died instead ’ but the sentiment is there.

He trails off and so Shitty finishes the thought for him. “You’re thinking about all the fuckers that’re gonna watch you play and be judgmental asshats about it, aren’t you.”

Jack shrugs, which Shitty takes as a yes. “Brah, can I hug you? You can totally say no, I just – ” But Jack is leaning into him and Shitty wraps his arms around him as tightly as he can. “Jack Zimmermann, you listen to me, okay? Those fuckers don’t matter one single bit. They’re gonna say shit because they don’t know shit about you, but everyone who matters is gonna watch you play some perfect fucking hockey, because that’s what you do. Okay?” It’s a long while before he feels Jack nod from where his head is tucked under Shitty’s chin. “You’re so fucking good, Jack Zimmermann. So, so good.”

They stay that way for a few more minutes, Shitty rubbing circles into Jack’s back as his breathing gets stronger. Eventually, Jack sits up and rubs at his eyes, and his mouth starts forming the word ‘sorry’, and Shitty all but leaps forward to clap his hand over Jack’s mouth before he can get the word out. “Don’t you dare apologize for that, Jack. I told you, I’ve got your back, okay?”

Jack nods under Shitty’s hand, which is removed shortly after. “Thanks, Shitty.” He says quietly.

“Anytime, Jackie boy.” Shitty stretches over to the desk to grab the plate of dinner and hands it to Jack, turning so that they’re facing each other on the bed and crossing his legs. Jack picks at the food but doesn’t eat it, and Shitty figures he’ll give him a minute before making sure he consumes some sort of carbohydrates before the game tomorrow. “Brah, I don’t think I told you about what Annie said in class today.”

When Jack glances up at him, his eyes look exhausted, but there’s a quirk to the side of his mouth. “Is this ‘ fucking Annie’?” he asks, already familiar with Shitty’s least-favorite individual in his Intro to Feminist & Gender Studies class.

Shyeah, brah, it’s fucking Annie, you’ll never guess what she said today, I bet you won’t, I still don’t know if she’s fucking with us on purpose or if she’s just that. fucking. naive.” After shoving a decently sized bite of mashed potatoes in his mouth and swallowing, he launches into a patented Shitty Knight Versus The World rant, the kind he used to do at Andover when everyone and their father was trying to tell him how to live his life. The Rants™ usually consist of two strong-ish points and a whole lot of rambling, and by the end of them everyone has either moved on or has lost interest.

Jack, on the other hand, who still hasn’t touched his dinner but has at least gained some color back in his cheeks, cocks his head to the side and says, “Have you ever heard of Sherry Ortner? I read a book once that mentioned her, she basically thinks that today’s society is the way it is because it’s comprised of a system that praises and enables the patriarchy. I mean, she also thinks women are biologically subordinate to men, but. I feel like you’d find her interesting.”

It takes a solid two minutes for Shitty to reply, too busy opening and closing his mouth and not finding words to say, during which Jack finally, finally takes a small bite of chicken.

“You – I’ve never…” no one has ever actually listened to an entire Rant™ before. Shitty is floundering. “I don’t know her stuff, man, but I’ll check it out.”

Jack smiles around more chicken, pleased, and Shitty takes the opportunity to stuff food in his mouth before he says something embarrassing about how much that one small comment actually means to him. The two of them eat in silence until both of their meals are done, and at that point Shitty is wondering how to ask if Jack’s okay when the man himself looks down at his lap, clenches his hands into fists, and said, “I had a panic attack earlier. When I skipped dinner.”

Jack pauses in that way that usually means he has more to say, so Shitty waits. “I get them sometimes,” Jack continues. “but it hasn’t been this bad in a really long time, since – ” he cuts himself off and starts again, “It hasn’t been this bad in a while, so I had to call, um. I called my parents. Which is why it took me so long to answer the door, I was on the phone with them.”

Shitty nods, because it seems like the appropriate response when Jack won’t even look at him, gaze fixated firmly on the blue bedspread between them. “So that’s… all, I guess. I just thought you should know.”

“Jack,” Shitty says quietly, “thank you for trusting me with that, man.” Jack shrugs one shoulder but doesn’t respond, and Shitty just goes all in. “What can I do to help you? If it happens again?” and then he realizes, “Oh. Oh shit , brah, I totally didn’t even ask if I could touch you when I hugged you, fuck. I’m so sorry, Jack. Shit.”

Jack looks surprised for a moment. “No, it’s okay. It actually helps – contact, I mean.” He pauses and doesn’t really make eye contact when he continues on to say, “I’m not usually good at asking for it, so.” He shrugs. “It helped. You helped. Thank you.”

“Anytime, man.” Shitty says quietly, “seriously. Can I hug you again?”

Rather than answering, Jack just opens his arms and Shitty launches himself into them. Snuggling down into Jack’s chest Shitty says, “I love you, man.”

Jack doesn’t reply, but his arms tighten around Shitty, and that’s more than enough.

Shitty wakes up on Friday more worried about Jack than about their home opener. He’s got his own case of game day nerves to contend with, but those are nothing new and when he thinks of the ‘Be Better’ poster adorning Jack’s bedroom wall he feels his chest start to tighten.

Shitty knocks on Jack’s door before heading to morning skate, which is already weird because normally Jack is the one making sure he’s awake and ready to go ten minutes before they actually need to be anywhere. There’s no answer, so Shitty knocks again, and when he’s met with nothing but silence he squishes his face into the doorframe and calls, “Jack. Jaaaaaack. We gotta go!”

There’s a girl coming down the hallway towards him, shower caddy in one hand and towel held up with the other, and she regards him rather oddly before stopping a couple of feet away. “Not to interrupt your… intimate encounter with this door or anything, but the guy that lives in that room was leaving when I was walking to the bathroom earlier.”

Shitty tries to subtly thunk his head against the doorframe, but judging by the way the girl’s lips twitch, he fails. “How long ago was that, exactly?”

She shrugs. “Half an hour, maybe? Can’t say I timed it.”

“Right.” He straightens up and attempts to regain some of his long-lost dignity. “Thank you very much, Shower Girl.”

The girl laughs. “Tia.”

Shitty inclines his head. “Tia. Very much appreciated. Now if you’ll excuse me, I gotta go find my missing friend and yell at him for abandoning me.” He reaches out a hand to shake hers before realizing that, unless she drops either the caddy or her towel, she can’t return the gesture, and he feels his face begin to turn red. “Um.”

Luckily, she just grins at him. “Don’t worry about it. What’s your name again?”

“Shitty.” He flashes a grin at her as he starts to back towards the elevator. “I’m Shitty.”

She opens her mouth, closes it again, and tilts her head at him like she’s trying to figure out if he’s fucking with her. “Alright. See ya, Shitty.”

He winks at her as the elevator doors open for him, but as soon as they close he yanks out his phone and texts Jack, a quick ‘ hey man wya?’ that he hopes doesn’t convey the frankly parental levels of worry he’s feeling.

As he walks over to Faber – alone and therefore far too contemplative – he can’t help but think about how concerned he is over Jack Zimmermann’s wellbeing. The guy is only three years older than him but carries himself like he’s been reincarnated after at least three separate lifetimes of angst. Which, considering how Jack’s life has played out so far, might not actually be that far off. Normally, Shitty would think this level of protectiveness would be weird and unnecessary, particularly this early in a friendship, but he also feels like if any friendship would go zero to one hundred so quickly it would be his friendship with Jack Zimmermann.

Before he knows it, he’s at Faber, and the sounds of blades on the ice spur him to take the long way to the locker room, passing the rink on the way.

Things click in Shitty’s brain just before he steps into the bleachers, and there’s Jack, whipping pucks at the goal from a bucket that’s turned on its side, rubber disks spilled all over the blue line. How he got permission to get on the ice early on game day is beyond Shitty, but he’s also Jack Zimmermann.

He realizes the issues with that train of thought as soon as he thinks it and shuts it down immediately. After the first couple of weeks, he’d pretty much stopped thinking of Jack Zimmermann in italics, and now the only times it really hits him that he’s best friends with Canada’s prodigal son is when he watches Jack on the ice.

He watches Jack take a few more shots, two of which go in while the last one bounces off the post. Shitty can practically feel Jack’s hands tighten around his stick as he turns to line up three more pucks, undoubtedly aiming for all three to end up buried in the net before he stops. Shitty steps up to the glass and pounds on it before Jack can try again, momentarily distracting him.

Jack skates up to the boards as Shitty hops up onto them to dangle his legs over the side. “Hello, you gorgeous Canadian beaut. You sure woke up bright and early this morning.”

Jack grimaces. “Sorry, Shits.”

“Nah,” Shitty flaps his hands at Jack, “no worries, brah. Are you still doing morning skate with us?”

They’ve been friends long enough that Shitty can still see the way Jack holds his tension in his shoulders, and he’s debating whether or not to bring it up when Jack nods once, jerkily. “Of course I am.”

“Okay,” Shitty says. He’ll have time to talk to Jack later, and he really should get changed out if he wants to be on the ice in time. “Okay, brah. I’ll see you in a bit then, yeah?”

He reaches out and claps Jack on the arm before swinging his legs back over the boards, pretending not to notice the way Jack stops to take a couple of deep breaths before returning to the pucks he’d discarded earlier.

The sound of the pucks sounding off the boards echoes behind Shitty the entire walk to the locker room.

Jack is quiet throughout morning skate. Shitty and Jack tend not to interact too much during practice – Jack alternates between the first and second lines, but lately Hall and Murray seem to like him paired with Bergy on his right wing and a junior dubbed Flappy on his left wing, and Shitty has a feeling they’re gonna start tonight. Shitty is pretty firmly (and very happily) on the fourth line, although sometimes he gets bumped up to the third when Nate is out. Point is, Jack and Shitty don’t cross paths too often, and so Shitty is forced to watch Jack, who still plays hockey like a dream, quietly get more and more stressed as morning skate progresses.

No one else seems to notice, which is frustrating as all hell but also not surprising, and so it’s up to Shitty to chase after Jack once they’re let out of practice. It’s honestly impressive how quickly Jack flees the locker room; he’s in the showers one minute, and nowhere to be found the next minute.

Fortunately, Shitty knows most of Jack’s hiding places by now, and so on his way back to his room he stops by the history stacks in the library and the second floor lounge of the biology building. He’s not in either of those places, and so when Shitty gets back to their hall and expects Jack to be in his room, he’s thrown. Because Jack isn’t there. Or he is there and is just choosing to ignore Shitty’s persistent knocking on his door.

After ten minutes of this, during which multiple residents have poked their heads into the hallway and glared at Shitty, who does his best to pretend that they don’t exist, he gives up and heads into his own room, flopping down on his bed.

He takes a twenty second break from worrying about Jack to just breathe, and once those twenty seconds are up he sits up in bed, whips out his phone, and presses the phone icon next to Jack’s contact.

The phone rings for so long that Shitty is sure it’s about to go to voicemail when at the last minute the line clicks.

It’s quiet, so Shitty says, “Jack?”

There’s an intake of breath on the other end of the line, but no words are exchanged, and Shitty has no choice but to evaluate this situation as quickly as possible. He’s talked some of the underclassmen at Andover through panic attacks before, but it’s much more difficult when he’s not even with the person. “Hey, Jackie, can you tell me where you are?”

Into the pause that follows he says, “I don’t need much, bro. Can I get a building? Maybe a floor number?”

“Gregory.” It’s breathy and quiet but it’s something , and Shitty barely remembers to grab his key before he leaves his room.

He stays on the phone with Jack as he books it from their dorm to Gregory, rambling on about nothing but not knowing if Jack is even listening. By the time he reaches the building and Jack tells him in the shakiest voice Shitty’s ever heard from him that he’s on the third floor, he’s panting and his palms are sweaty.

Jack is tucked into a study nook next to a huge window overlooking the quad, knees tucked up to his chest and forehead pressed against the cool glass. His eyes are clenched shut and his hands are balled into fists, and Shitty has to step around a table and three chairs in order to get to where he’s all but barricaded into the deep-set windowsill.

Shitty hovers for all of two seconds before remembering contact helps , and he wraps his hands around Jack’s wrists where they press his fists into his eyes. “ Hey , Jacko. Hey. You’re okay. You’re okay, you’re fine, breathe with me, c’mon.”

Jack shakes his head minutely, a motion Shitty takes to mean I can’t , and he crowds even closer. “Yes, you can, Jack. Here, breathe with me, okay? In for three, out for three. C’mon. In for three, out for three.”

He keeps mumbling nonsense comfort while Jack’s heaving breaths slow, and while the majority of his mind is laser-focused on counting breaths with Jack, a very tiny corner of his mind is focused on praying to every religious entity he can think of to keep their hallway clear of students or faculty.

Eventually Jack’s breathing evens out and Shitty feels Jack’s body unclench beneath his hands. Jack leans back against the wall, dislodging the hand Shitty had around the back of his neck, his eyes closed and covered in a slight sheen of sweat but breathing evenly and deeply on his own merit. Shitty releases the hand that had been holding Jack’s palm to his own chest and kneels down in front of him. “There ya go, Jackie. You’re good.”

Jack reaches out and makes a weak grabbing motion at Shitty’s hand, and when Shitty reaches for Jack he grabs Shitty’s wrist tightly, squeezing once before letting it drop. He licks his lips and sucks in a breath. “Thank you.”

“No problemo, my dude.” Shitty all but flops down next to Jack, landing half on top of him, and nuzzles his face into Jack’s bicep. “How’re you feeling? Besides the obvious, I guess.”

Jack sighs and scrubs a hand down his face. “Exhausted.”

Shitty feels his face twist up in sympathy. He’s never gone from panic attack mode to hockey mode in one day, but Jack has a game to play in a few hours and Shitty can tell just from looking at him how drained he feels. “Wanna head over to the dorms? Squeeze in a nap?” Shitty doesn’t ask if he has time to sleep before the game – would rather not talk to Jack about hockey ever again if it makes him feel like this – but he knows it’s all Jack is thinking about anyway.

There’s a slight pause before Jack shakes his head minutely. “Can we just… stay here for a second?”

“Yeah, Jacko, we can do that.” Shitty says, purposefully being as obnoxious as possible about arranging Jack to be the perfect pillow. He sees a faint upward tick of Jack’s lips as his arm is being pulled around Shitty’s shoulders, and although his eyes are a million miles away, the way he instinctively tightens his arm before Shitty accidently rolls off the window ledge shows that his body, at least, is more than present. They stay there for a good ten minutes, Jack just breathing and gazing out the window while Shitty tries to relax his body and not fall off the windowsill at the same time.

“Okay.” Jack says, heaving a sigh, “We should probably head back.”

Shitty lifts his head from Jack’s very comfortable arm. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah,” Jack winces, “we’ve gotta nap before we leave and it’s already getting late.” He moves to stand before realizing doing so would completely shove Shitty off of the windowsill and onto the floor. “Um. Shitty.”

Shitty has octopused his arms around Jack’s middle. “Yes, my most beautiful Canadian prince?”

“Shitty.” Jack sounds exasperated but he’s starting to smile again. “You’re going to end up on the floor.”

“Don’t shy away from the force of my love, Jack.” Shitty says into Jack’s armpit.

He can practically see Jack roll his eyes and instinctively latches on harder as Jack, ignoring Shitty’s protests, stands up completely and leaves Shitty to his own arm strength to keep himself off of the floor.

“Jack. Jack, don’t start walking, you fucker, you – ” he slides down to the cold tile as soon as Jack takes a step. “What the fuck, brah, how could you let me down like that?”

The smirk on Jack’s lips doesn’t quite reach his eyes, but at least it’s there, and Shitty will take all the small victories he can. He pouts up at Jack, who reaches down a hand and hauls him to his feet. Shitty uses the upward momentum to catch Jack in a short, fierce hug, smacking a kiss on the side of Jack’s temple before he steps away.

They make their way out of the building together and head towards the dorm, and when they part ways at their respective doors – because Shitty isn’t about to disturb a pre-game ritual and he has his own rituals to uphold – Jack clears his throat in the awkward way he does when he wants to say something but can’t quite bring himself to do so.

“You sure you’re good, brah?” says Shitty.

Jack nods, “Yeah. I – thanks, Shits. Really. Thank you.”

“Bring it the fuck in, Jackie.” Shitty declares, opening his arms. “I love you, fucker.”

Stepping closer, Jack tucks his face into Shitty’s neck and hugs him back for a second before sighing and gesturing vaguely at his door. “I should…”

“Me too, man. I’ll see you later, okay?” Shitty claps him on the shoulder in a very bro-like manner and immediately feels a little weird about it. “Go take your nap.”

Jack nods at him and they both head into their respective rooms, Shitty faceplanting directly onto his bed and letting out a very long breath. He thinks his roommate asks him something, but at this point the stress of the day has caught up to him and Shitty is already mostly asleep.

Chapter Text

When Shitty wakes up from his nap, he’s still got over an hour to kill before he needs to show up at Faber for warm up. He chugs a Gatorade and immediately regrets it when he realizes that the nervous butterflies in his stomach make him extra queasy. There are texts in the taddy group chat (they still aren’t in the chat with the full team – apparently they need to be hazed first?) with an open invite to play video games in one of the guys’ rooms before heading over to the rink, and Shitty weighs his options before deciding to venture over. He leaves his hockey stuff in his room, planning on walking over with Jack, and heads across the grassy quad that separates his dorm from one of the two other dormitory buildings.

He finds Javvy’s room easily enough. He’s in there alongside with Matts and Asher, a game of NHL 13 paused on the small television screen. They glance up when Shitty comes in and at least two sets of eyes dart to the doorway behind him, probably expecting to see Jack lurking there somewhere.

“Hey, man.” Javvy reaches out for a fist bump and Shitty complies. “What’s up?”

Shitty shrugs and settles on the floor, leaning back against Javvy’s roommate’s bed. “Nothing much, brah. Took a nap. Drank a Gatorade. Tried to not throw it up.”

The other two taddies wince and Matts, a third line defenseman, says, “God, I feel that. I’m fucking nervous and I’ve got no clue why. ‘S not like I’ve never played important games before.”

Asher, who makes up the other half of Matt’s defense pair, raises his water bottle. “I’ll drink to that, man, I’m basically shitting bricks. I fucking wish I was Zimmermann right now, god. Even more than usual.”

Shitty raises his head at that but scoffs, trying his best to be casual as he feels a defensive edge attempt to creep its way into his voice. “Why?”

“There’s no way that guy gets nervous, dude. He’s a fucking machine. He’s played in Worlds. ” Asher says.

“There’s no way a college game matters to Jack Zimmermann, what the fuck.” Javvy agrees. “Must be nice, too, not worrying about shit like this.”

Matts looks appraisingly at Shitty. “You hang out with him all the time, Shitty, what’s he even doing today?”

“Sleeping, probably.” Shitty replies, then not so swiftly changes the topic to the video game on screen – “shouldn’t you be more worried about the absolute annihilation happening in this game, brahs?”

Javvy leaps to his own defense immediately, “These fuckers keep distracting me, that’s the only reason – ” and Asher and Matts cackle and bump their fists together, voices rising over each other to rib Javvy in unison, and the game is resumed, serious conversation forgotten. Shitty joins the chirps halfheartedly, mind stuck on the way even Jack’s own teammates could make assumptions so wildly off the mark. The rest of the taddies don’t even notice that Shitty’s being distant, too caught up in their game and trying to mask their nerves with increasingly obnoxious chirps.

Eventually, Shitty begs off and slips away to grab his gear. The wind has picked up in the hour he’s spent with the other boys, and the flow he’s been trying to grow out is starting to get long enough that it’s being shifted in the breeze. The leaves on the trees are just barely edging towards fall, off-color just enough that it looks like a rendering software has glitched and left the color of the leaves incomplete. The sun is shining but the breeze keeps the temperature down, and the number of students that are just lying out in this rare October weather has him on guard, dodging frisbees and making sure not to accidentally step on someone’s blanket.

He’s caught up in a strange mix of overthinking and admiring the weather, and before he knows it he’s back at his building, riding the elevator up to his floor with a very familiar face.

“Ever find your friend?” Tia asks, dark skin contrasting very nicely against her bright yellow tank top. Something about the way she’s smiling at him makes Shitty feel very warm inside.

He grins at her. “Chyeah! Thanks for saying anything, brah, you totally didn’t even need to.”

“Oh good.” Tia says, leaning back against the elevator wall. There’s an awkward silence as they both try to figure out what to say next, until they both open their mouths to speak at the same time and Tia just kind of laughs at waves at him in a go on type of gesture.

“We never really met.” Shitty says, sticking out a hand. “Shitty Knight. Room 153. Leo.”

Tia laughs. “Tia Wilson, room 162, cancer. Is your name really Shitty?”

“Ah,” The elevator doors slide open on their floor just as Shitty opens his mouth to reply. “Yes. But also, no.” They exit the elevator together and as Tia reaches for her door handle, she raises a single eyebrow.

Shitty is immediately jealous and impressed all at once, because he may or may not have spent three days giving himself various forms of face cramps attempting to learn that exact skill. “Shitty is my – ”

The words ‘hockey nickname’ don’t even leave his mouth, because at the end of the corridor Jack’s door is opening and the man himself, looking fucking dapper as hell in his game day suit, is stepping into the hallway, eyes darting to the conversation happening at the end of the hall and brow furrowing momentarily when he recognizes Shitty. “Jackabelle!”

Tia laughs at him and inserts her key into the lock on her door. “I’ll catch you later, Shitty .”

She waves at Jack down the hall, eyes widening a little as she takes in the absolute glory that is Jack Zimmermann in a perfectly tailored suit jacket, and disappears into her room, leaving Shitty standing in the hallway.

“Shits,” Jack is walking towards him, suit tightening perfectly in all the right places . “We’ve gotta go, why aren’t you dressed? Where’s your bag?”

“Um.” Shitty opens and closes his mouth a few times. “It’s. My room. I’ll be right back.”

He unlocks his door to change, grabs his stuff in a rush, and is in and out fast enough that his roommate barely has enough time to tell him good luck before he’s gone again. Jack is waiting for him in the hallway, staring at his phone screen a little absently before Shitty reaches up to ruffle his hair. “Lead the way, my little Canadian ice bloodhound.”

Jack snorts out a weak “that doesn’t even make sense , Shitty,” as they begin the walk to Faber, but the wrinkle between his eyebrows has lessened.

Faber, which Shitty has yet to experience on game day, already seems to have a crackle of excitement in the air when they walk in the doors despite the game being well over an hour away. Jack very pointedly does not look anywhere near the vicinity of the ice, choosing instead to stare at the shine of the hallway lights reflecting off of his fancy shoes.

He doesn’t seem nearly as tense as he did a few hours ago, Shitty notes. There’s still an element of tension in the way he holds his shoulders, but the slight narrowing of his eyes belies the unshakable focus that’s earned him the robot reputation. They’ve been talking hockey all the way over to Faber – Jack’s been going on and on about plays and lines, and for the most part all Shitty’s had to do is make little noises of agreement. He’s seen Jack during scrimmages, laser-focused and glorious, but this Jack is a little harder, a little more unshakable, and Shitty would be lying if he said he wasn’t a little intimidated.

They’re early, but they aren’t the first ones into the locker room. Bergy’s there already, probably fulfilling his captainly duties, and some of the upperclassmen are scattered around taping sticks and messing with each other. Someone is blasting trashy pop over the loudspeakers, and it’s loud enough that Shitty can feel the bass in his stomach.

There’s no pause in conversation when Shitty and Jack walk into the room, no double takes or lingering gazes, and Shitty is grateful. He knows the other taddies think Jack is some sort of untouchable force, and that the rest of the team probably assumes something not too far off, but he’s glad that no one calls out to them when they walk through the doors.

When they separate to dump their gear in their stalls, Bergy claps Jack on the shoulder, saying something to him quietly, and they exit the locker room together. Shitty is curious, but Bergy’s proven to be one of the few upperclassmen who treats Jack like every other player on the team – no questions about his dad, or chirps about drugs, or asking about Kent Parson… just a quiet, firm kind of leadership that Shitty knows Jack appreciates.

The two of them are gone for a while. Players continue to trickle in, and Shitty gets his pads in order, drinks more Gatorade, and chats with Matts and Asher. He’s halfway through taping his stick when Bergy reenters the room, Jack a few seconds behind him. There’s no noticeable change to his demeanor, and when Jack catches Shitty eye he shoots him a small but reassuring smile as he sits down to tape his own stick. Bergy goes back to making the rounds, chatting for a while with the boys who’ve arrived in the time he’s been gone.

Bergy comes up to him just as Shitty hits a particularly annoying bump in his tape that just won’t lie flat. He darts a quick grin and fist bump in Bergy’s direction and feels more than sees his captain sit in Storey’s stall.

“All good, Shitty?” He asks.

“As soon as I can get this fucking tape done it will be.” Shitty grinds out.

Bergy chuckles a little and knocks his knee into Shitty’s before turning more fully towards him and lowering his voice. “I threw up before the home opener my frosh year. I’m not gonna name names, either, but the boys who might give you shit for it? They were all fucking scared too.”

Shitty smiles a little, the edges of his mouth twitching a bit with nerves. The time he’s spent waiting for Jack has only allowed the jittery energy from earlier in the day to creep back in, and the butterflies have turned into pigeons, all jockeying for room in the very small – and what seems like increasingly shrinking – space in his stomach.

“’s still stupid though.” Shitty shrugs. “Like.” He tries and realizes he doesn’t want to explain that this is something he loves, something he had to fight to be able to do, something that he cannot fuck up because he’s not playing hockey at Harvard, he’s playing hockey at Samwell . He wants to prove so many people wrong, wants it so bad he starts to get angry with it, can feel it simmering under his carefully constructed veneer of laid-back white boy woke-ness.

This is so much further into the depths of his psyche than he ever wants to delve, would much rather have the dredges of his thoughts remain in the dark, inaccessible corners of his mind, and he laughs. It’s forced, but he lets Bergy think it’s attributed to nerves. “It’ll go away, brah, I’m not stressed about it.”

Bergy regards him for a moment but nods in understanding and rises, leaving Shitty teetering on a precipice in his own head and staring at the bump in his tape.

           

The hour before warmups fly by, and before he knows it, and before he gets a chance to talk to Jack, they’re filing out of the locker room and onto the ice.

He knew that playing hockey for a Division 1 school on the East coast would be different than his high school team at Andover, but the sheer number of people in the stands leaves him floored. The game hasn’t even started, but all the seats in the section closest to the glass have been occupied. There’s a section behind the far goal that’s been left open for student seating, and that’s the only majorly empty section Shitty can see, students only just beginning to filter in.

It’s overwhelming, to say the least, but when he tries to search the ice for Jack’s distinctive ‘1’ he finds him burying puck after puck in the back of the net.

Warmups last about as long as it takes Shitty to blink, and before he knows it they’re heading back into the tunnel. The only time he’s been near Jack is when they’ve skated past each other, Jack’s blue eyes not once straying from where he tracks the puck.

Jack, Shitty knows, will be perfectly, wonderfully capable for the next sixty-plus minutes of play. Whispers and rumors aside, Jack was born to exist out on the ice, and he knows hockey better than he knows himself. Afterward? That’s an entirely different story, and Shitty has no idea how to handle anything, at all, ever. Much less something like this.

He’s letting his nerves take control of his thoughts and steer them wildly off-course, eyes tracking the plays Murray is outlining on the board but mind a billion miles away. He’s only brought back to the present when Murray caps the pen and leaves, Hall stepping up in his place to read out the lines for the night.

Sure enough, Jack, Bergy, and Flappy are first line. Shitty looks at Jack, who gives no reaction whatsoever to the news. He’s on fourth line, which he expected, and from there Bergy takes Hall’s place in the front of the room, both coaches disappearing into the tunnel.

“Alright, boys!” Bergy calls out. “Get out there, period by period. Play a strong 20 minutes, really work their D, and look for opportunities to put that puck in the back of the net. Play our game, boys, not theirs.” He looks around at the boys watching him and claps his stick on the ground. “Home ice, boys, let’s show ‘em what we’ve got!”

The speech is slightly lacking, Shitty thinks, but there’s a chorus of “fuck yeah!” and more clapping sticks and too soon they’re standing and moving towards the door and knocking their fists into Bergy’s and they’re on the ice, and the crowd is so loud, and the seats are filled with red, red, red , so much Samwell red that the few devoted Dartmouth fans are barely visible in their green clothing, and holy fuck, Shitty is awed and absolutely fucking terrified all at once.

A disembodied announcer voice reads out the starting lineups for the Big Green first, Samwell second, and Shitty is certain that as soon as the name “Jack Zimmermann” begins to echo around the arena the noise level increases by at least one thousand percent.

He realizes, abruptly, that there are probably a decent number of people in Faber tonight who didn’t come because they care about collegiate hockey. They came to see the return of Canada’s wunderkind for themselves.

As he’s coming to this realization, the rest of the team skates up to join the starting six players and someone sings the national anthem, and Shitty is still realizing that, for all he had thought about it, he’d never really comprehended the unsurmountable pressure that has been placed on Jack Zimmermann’s shoulders.

Hockey is hockey, after that. The whistle blows, the puck drops, and the world narrows to the scrape of blades on ice. By the time the horn sounds for first intermission, Jack, Bergy and Flappy have seven attempted shots between the three of them, and Eggy, a second line winger, has two of his own. They’re still tied at zero after the first, though not for lack of trying, and when they trickle off the ice for the first intermission there’s the slightest tension clouding the locker room.

The coaches don’t seem too worried, making a couple of comments regarding specific Dartmouth players and tweaking plays slightly, but leave the boys to their own devices after a brief pep talk from Hall. Shitty heads over to where Jack is absently passing a water bottle back and forth between his hands, sweaty hair plastered all over his forehead and practically radiating frustration.

“Wassup, Jacko?”

Jack glances up, startled. “Hi, Shitty.”

The music is once again blasting, drowning out all but the loudest conversation, and so Shitty knocks a leg into Jack’s and says, “What’re you thinking about?”

“Nothing.”

To give Jack credit, he may have seemed genuine to anyone else. Grumpy, maybe, but genuine. Shitty, though, sees the way Jack’s hands are clenching and unclenching into fists, the wrinkle between his eyebrows that means he’s thinking far too hard about something, and scoffs.

The noise causes Jack to look up at him again, and he visibly forces himself to retract the statement when he sees Shitty’s incredulous expression. “I just – I had open ice, and if I had been patient and just held it for two more seconds I would’ve had Murphy on the five hole.”

It takes a couple of seconds for Shitty to work out exactly what Jack is talking about, and when he does he has to double take, because he’s pretty sure Jack’s referencing his second shot on net that hadn’t quite made it through traffic, a one-off attempt that within seconds had been picked up by one of the Dartmouth defenders and cleared. He falters for a moment. “Wait, brah, what the fuck – ”

“I should’ve held it, that’s all.” Jack’s frown deepens. “I fucked up, I’ll fix it next time.”

Shitty doesn’t quite know how to respond to that, adrenaline in his veins unable to provide any helpful input to his brain beyond what the fuck . Because that’s impressive as hell, that Jack remembers that play clearly enough to analyze it without tape footage, but also definitely not something he should be dwelling on during first intermission.

Of course, because Shitty is Shitty, he stands there opening and closing his mouth like a fucking idiot, saying nothing moderately helpful and being generally very weird for such a long time that Jack, looking rightfully confused, turns around to answer a question from Flappy.

It’s due to the fact that he grew up expecting to be a lawyer that Shitty is able respond at all; when Jack turns back around to face him, Shitty scrambles for a second and then says, “Shake it off, brah, make it the fuck up in the next period.” He reaches out for a fist bump and when Jack knocks their hands together without meeting his eyes Shitty’s pads feel ten times heavier.

Most of the first intermission is spent either on his phone or attempting to wipe off the smell of Jonesy’s rank armpit, where Shitty’s face had been shoved for a good thirty seconds. By the time they need to head back to the tunnel, Shitty is still getting the occasional whiff of sweaty hockey stink, Jack has been deep in conversation with Bergy the whole time, and Shitty hasn’t gotten to talk to him again.

The play resumes in a very similar way, but this period their net is right in front of the screaming student section, and the energy that builds in the area every time the puck gets near the net has the hairs on the back of Shitty’s neck standing straight up. Despite having spent only two or three minutes on the ice, Shitty can tell when the crowd is getting restless, and everyone is starting to feel the twenty-plus minutes without a goal.

By the time five minutes have gone by, the plays are getting slightly sloppy, the checks have gotten dirtier, and the tension of almost half an hour of play without a score on the board is felt by both teams. And then. And then.

It happens so quickly that he barely has time to get angry about it – he hears the tail end of a comment made by one of the Big Green defensemen as they maneuver the puck past the Samwell bench, something about cocaine and the lines on the ice carved out by blades, feels the way the boards shudder under the force of the check Bergy sends his way, sees the loose puck sliding for approximately one second before Flappy picks it up and sends it over towards Jack, who is already streaking back towards the goal for a one on one. Murphy, who is waiting between the pipes, scrambles to the left as Jack pulls off the most beautiful backhand Shitty has ever seen, pivots around the back of the net, and slides the puck under Murphy’s pads, glove side.

The horn blows and the stands fucking lose it, Wellies and regular bystanders alike. The entire bench is hollering, from somewhere down the bench Shitty hears either Hall or Murray let out a quiet “ Attaboy ”, and Jack is being dogpiled against the boards.

Storey, who is sitting on the bench next to Shitty, yells, “Fuck yes, Zimmermann!” and the rest of the boys echo the sentiment, sticks clacking on the ice.

The celebrations die down way too soon, in Shitty’s opinion, and Murray is calling for a line change, meaning Jack’s line returns to the bench to receive congratulatory punches and slaps on the back. When Shitty can finally catch a glimpse of his face there’s the faintest smile on his lips – he can’t leap into Jack’s arms like he wants to, but when they make eye contact the smile on Jack’s face becomes just that much more genuine, and Shitty feels like his own face is going to split the fuck in half with how hard he’s smiling.

Jack opening up the score seems to light a fire beneath the asses of both teams, and by the time the second period is over both teams have netted another point each. They’re still up by one, and they’re giddy with the adrenaline rush that comes with good hockey, and the volume of the locker room reflects it. People keep going over to congratulate Jack and Flappy, who scored the second point of the game, a slick little wrister of a shot that slid right between Murphy’s legs. Shitty thinks this is the most positive interaction Jack’s had with this team, most interaction period , maybe, but something about the way that he hold his shoulders makes him seem just a little bit lighter.

That being said, Shitty has restrained himself long enough, and waits until he’s got a clear shot at Jack before leaping at him.

It’s not as dramatic as he’d like, because there are literal knives strapped to his feet, but the sentiment stands. “Fucking sick, Jackabell, you glorious fucker.”

“Thanks, Shitty.” Jack pats him on the back, awkward around all the pads, and starts to pull away, but Shitty clings tighter.

“I mean it, brah. Glorious .”

Shitty can feel Jack’s huff of laughter through the two layers of pads between them. “Alright, Shits. Thank you. Please get off of me.”

He’s about to protest, but Hall and Murray finally walk through the doors and he’s forced to retreat back to his stall. They do their thing, Bergy gives another mediocre speech, and then they’re exiting the locker room again, ready to take home a win.

Of course, Dartmouth scores again with five minutes to go in the last period.

Shitty grinds his teeth together in frustration. Matts, who’s sitting on the bench a few players down, exhales a quiet “ Shit.

Bergy’s taking the faceoff, and when the lines take their places it seems like everyone is Faber is holding their breath. When Samwell loses the faceoff, Dartmouth sends the puck away, most likely trying to run the clock down.

They’re playing that evasive, annoying game that never fails to send Shitty into a rage, especially with five minutes still left on the clock – play the damn game, respect us enough to give us a fight – it feels dishonorable, makes his skin itch in that weird crawly way that he always feels when his father watches him talk himself into a corner and with a single sentence and a smirk constructs two walls in front of Shitty’s face and leaves him completely stuck.

Dartmouth is toying with them in the same way. It’s probably not that deep; nothing really is, but Shitty likes being dramatic. That’s just hockey.

Strange, the way his head makes “ that’s just hockey”  sound so much like his father’s “ that’s life.”

The seconds tick down, and Hall calls for a line change with 4:45 left on the clock. As soon as Jack’s line sits down on the bench, he’s hunched over and whispering furiously to all of them.

After a few more line changes and with three minutes left on the clock, the whistle is blown for offsides. Jack, Bergy, and Flappy take the ice again, this time with Jack on the faceoff. Shitty doesn’t even need to look past his visor to know the mask of steely determination Jack’s wearing, down to the knitted eyebrows and locked jaw. It’s his game face, and the first time Shitty saw it he honest to Whatever-Deity-is-Out-There almost shit himself. No pun intended.

Jack is one scary motherfucker when he wants to be, and with hockey, he always wants to be.

The whistle blows, and Jack wins the faceoff. He sends it back to Bergy, who takes off down the ice, and Jack turns to follow, grappling all the while with the Dartmouth player he’d beaten to the puck. They’ve just crossed the blue line into the offensive zone when the player cross checks Jack so incredibly obviously that both refs notice.

They’re awarded the power play, and just like that the mood shifts. They stay in their offensive zone, puck going from Jack, to Bergy, back to Jack. There’s a moment where Spills was open for a pass on the far side of the net, but none of the boys on the ice seem to notice, and they’re stuck evading the Dartmouth defenders as the seconds tick by.

Eventually, the Big Green gets cocky on the offense and skates out to try and steal the puck from Jack. This is a stupid idea, because Shitty has never seen Jack let anyone steal a puck from him ever. Hell, probably even Baby Jack has never let someone take a puck away from him.

Jack so helpfully demonstrates how stupid this Dartmouth player is by feinting around him with a little over one minute left on the clock, getting the puck between his legs, and taking aim for a split second to fire a searing slapshot through traffic and right into the back of the net.

Shitty was wrong in thinking the noise from their first goal was loud. The noise from this goal, the goal that he hopes – knock on wood – is going to be the game winner, he feels in his bones.

The rest of the boys are yelling for Jack, Storey’s got an arm around his shoulders and is jostling Shitty back and forth, screaming in his ear, and Shitty’s cheeks are starting to hurt from the grin he can’t seem to get rid of.

The celly on the ice is short lived as the puck drops again, and Shitty doesn’t think anyone in Faber takes their eyes off the puck as Flappy wins the faceoff and sends it to Spills, who spends thirty stressful seconds passing between himself, Johnson, and Bergy before the horn blows and it’s over.

They’re piling over the boards and skating onto the ice to slam into one giant pile like it’s the fucking end of game seven in the Stanley Cup playoffs or something, Johnson and Jack and Bergy and Flappy in the middle somewhere, and it seems like their classmates’ cheers are about to shake the walls of Faber to the ground.

Chapter Text

Shitty’s adrenaline refuses to fade.

The game ends, they change out of their pads and back into their game-day suits, and he’s still riding on the post-game adrenaline when Shitty realizes that he really hasn’t seen Jack in a while. He swears he’d seen Jack shrugging on his suit jacket not even thirty seconds ago, but Bergy, who’s walking out the door with Flappy and Jonsey, tells him that he’d seen Jack talking on the phone while leaving ten minutes ago.

Shitty texts him a quick, bro wya? and allows himself to be manhandled into leaving with Matts and Asher, who are talking nonstop about the party the upperclassmen are throwing at the Haus later tonight. It’ll be insane, Shitty supposes, with all the boys riding the same adrenaline high and coming off of a win, and before he knows what’s happening he’s agreeing to pregame with the other taddies in an hour.

His phone buzzes while they make their way out of Faber. Sorry, Jack says, had to go meet someone for dinner .

Shitty thinks about that for a moment, because who could possibly make a post-game Jack Zimmermann sit down at dinner – and when would Jack have even had time to meet someone? It doesn’t matter, really, and Shitty shakes off the inklings of hurt he feels at Jack just up and leaving after their first game, texting back party at the haus later bro youd better fuckin be there to celebrate ur beaut of a game .

When there isn’t a response for a couple of seconds, Shitty locks his phone and puts it back in his pocket, looping an arm around Matt’s shoulders as they walk back to their dorms to drop their stuff off before congregating in Javvy’s room for pre-Haus drinks.

Once he’s with the rest of the taddies, it takes about ten minutes for Shitty to consume seven shots of varying alcoholic beverages, get sufficiently tipsy, and head over to the Haus with Javvy under one arm and Asher under another. They’re welcomed through the front door with a cacophony of yells and someone – Flappy? – is doing a handstand on the keg. Someone shoves a cup of something that smells like lighter fluid into Shitty’s hand, and after that he doesn’t remember too much else.

He wakes up on a disgusting green couch in the Haus living room. There’s a brown stain the size of his hand right next to his head, and the cushions smell like cheap beer and too much Febreze. When he rolls over in an attempt to maybe stand up, his head throbs like someone is driving a stake through his brain and the world tilts sideways. He doesn’t want to throw up on this couch, but at the same time he doesn’t think his puke would be the worst thing to grace these cushions.

It takes a while, but eventually he can sit up without feeling the need to vomit. Standing is another matter entirely, and he needs to take a few minutes to sit before tackling that mountain.

He squints at his phone – there so many ‘new friend’ notifications on Snapchat that he doesn’t even bother to look through them. There are a few messages in the team group chat, mostly nonsensical things that Shitty is pretty sure wouldn’t make sense to his drunk brain, much less his sober brain. Towards the bottom of his notification pile there’s a single text from Jack, sent at 10:43 pm: Probably won’t make it back in time for the party. Sorry.

His first tired thought is that somehow, somewhere, Jack is hiding a puckbunny from the rest of them. His second, and much more coherent thought, is that there’s no way that’s true, because he’s with Jack literally all the time , he would know if there were someone trying to get all up on that. Right?

He sends back a quick, that was probably better, brah, I am at my least beautiful rn.  He pauses, debating, then tacks on brunch at jerry’s? and settles back into the cushions to steel himself for the endeavor of standing up.

Somehow he manages it, and from his standing position he can see the carnage that lies around him. Three people are passed out on the living room floor, and there are red cups and empty beer cans stuffed into every available crevice. He stumbles his way into the kitchen, realizing that he does not trust any of the cups in the cupboards enough to drink out of, and turns on the tap to gulp water from his hands.

As he’s splashing water onto his face, he hears a wry voice from the kitchen doorway. “Hey, you survived.”

It’s Jonsey. He doesn’t know the senior very well, aside from the fact that he’s on the second line, and that he and his d-man Boom both live in the Haus. “Did I?” Shitty groans, “I can’t tell.”

Jonsey laughs and fills up his water bottle at the sink, leaning against the counter next to Shitty. “You downed a shit-ton of tub juice, I’m surprised you can even stand right now.”

“Tub juice?” Shitty asks, “When the fuck did I do that?”

Jonsey smirks at him. “Storey gave it to you when you walked in, man, you tossed back the first cup like it was nothing.”

Oh. “That shit was disgusting, brah, what the hell was in there?”

Jonsey chugs the rest of his water and pushes off the counter. “No idea. Flappy makes it, he’s the only one with the recipe. Won’t give it to anyone.” He heads towards the door before turning around to look at Shitty one last time. “I’ll let you off the cleaning hook because I’m so impressed with you from last night, but you’ve gotta scram now, or I can’t promise one of the other boys won’t make you work.”

Shitty nods, grateful, as Jonsey heads back up the stairs, and he’s grabbing his jacket and sneaking out the front door when his phone buzzes again.

Sure , Jack says,  want to walk over now?

Shitty has to take a second to point himself in the right direction – he’s never tried to get to Jerry’s from the Haus before – before typing out a response. Nah, I KO’d at the haus last night, I’ll meet u there. He sends the message and starts walking, realizing that it really does take a concerted amount of effort to put one foot in front of the other. He’s so focused on walking that he doesn’t notice how quickly he gets to Jerry’s, snagging a booth and noting as he sits down how many people also look like they want to die. The table is blessedly cold, he realizes, cheek pressed against it, and he’s on the verge of nodding off when Jack slides into the seat across from him.

His head weighs twenty extra pounds when he raises it to look at Jack, who’s smirking at him. “Help me, Jackabelle.”

“Crisse ,” Jack almost laughs, “you’re a mess. What happened to you last night?”

Shitty frowns. “Something called tub juice?”

Jack does  laugh at him this time. “You willingly drank something called tub juice and you’re still alive?”

“But I’m barely breathing.” Shitty replies, because he’s hilarious. Jack just looks confused.

“You are breathing, Shitty. You’re fine.”

It takes Shitty a moment. “Jack. Jack. The song. ‘I’m still alive but I’m barely breathing’? The Script? No?”

Jack just looks even more confused, and Shitty sighs, heaving himself into a somewhat seated position. “Never mind, brah. Don’t worry about it.”

The waitress, probably seeing that Shitty is finally committed to waking up, steps up to their table. “Can I get anything started for you today?” She looks directly at Shitty and smirks when she continues. “Water? Coffee?”

“Both for him, please.” Jack says. “And just water for me, thank you.”

Their waitress, whose name tag reads ‘Sara,’ laughs and nods before disappearing again.

“Jack,” Shitty whines, “why are you not suffering with me. This is unfair.”

Shitty’s not so hungover that he misses the way Jack’s smile dims. “Because I’m responsible?”

He shakes his head, despite the way it makes the room sway, “You’re too damn smart to get shwasted, Jackabelle. I don’t know whether to be pissed or impressed.”

Sara returns with their drinks and Shitty gulps down the coffee immediately, absolutely burning the fuck out of his throat but also relishing the caffeine. Jack orders for himself, which makes Shitty realize that he hasn’t even looked at the menu, so he just points at the first thing he sees that looks good.

Sara leaves with their menus and Shitty settles back in his seat. “So, if you don’t mind me asking. Where the fuck were you last night?” Jack takes a long drink of water and won’t meet Shitty’s eyes, so he amends it with, “You defs do not have to tell me, Jackie, not if you don’t want to.”

Across the table, Jack shakes his head and swallows. “No, I, uh. I want to. It’s not like it’s a secret or anything.”

Shitty gives him a minute and keeps sipping at his water, the now-empty coffee cup sitting forgotten at his elbow. Eventually Jack just sighs and says, “My dad was at the game last night. We went for dinner after, and I wasn’t really in the mood to go out when I got back.”

There’s a moment where Shitty just forgets and says, “Brah! Why didn’t you say anything?” and then remembers that Jack’s dad is Bad Bob Zimmermann and realizes why he hadn’t announced to his college hockey teammates that his NHL legend of a father was watching their home opener. “Fuck. I didn’t say that. I didn’t.”

The corner of Jack’s mouth twitches and he finally meets Shitty’s eyes. “They would’ve wanted to meet him, probably. I just didn’t want –” he cuts himself off and drinks more water. “I would’ve felt weird about it, that’s all.” Jack continues. “Plus, parties aren’t really my scene anymore. So.”

Shitty nods. “Totally, brah. And sorry I kept asking you to come, I just had no idea where you fucked off to, ya know?”

“I know,” Jack sighs, “and it’s okay. It’s my own fault for disappearing like that. I just really didn’t want to have to tell anyone where I was going?”

He phrases it like a question and Shitty finds himself nodding vigorously, “No, definitely. You don’t owe anybody shit, Jackie.”

Jack smiles tightly at him and it’s small but a smile nonetheless, so Shitty will take it. “Thanks, Shits.”

There’s a pause where neither of them seem to know what to say, and after a second Jack fills the silence with, “So what exactly did happen to you last night?”

Shitty is in the middle of telling him about Flappy’s headstand on the keg – he thinks he remembers hearing the word ‘kegstand’? – when Sara brings their food over. Shitty is momentarily distracted by the pile of eggs and bacon and potatoes set in front of him, but Jack is grinning at the mental image of Javvy trying and failing to hold up one of Flappy’s legs and so he keeps going, maybe embellishing the story a little, but Jack doesn’t need to know that.

By the time they’re finished with brunch, Shitty feels a little less dead and a little more like actually starting his homework for tomorrow might be a possibility. They’re leaving Jerry’s to head back to their dorm when Storey and Flappy, looking nice and hungover, walk through the doors with three girls Shitty is pretty sure are the starting forwards on the soccer team. Flappy punches Jack in the arm.

“You dick, you left me to do the kegstands by myself.”

Jack and Shitty must both look confused, because Storey says, “Score a goal, do a kegstand. It’s in the Haus bylaws.”

“Ah,” Jack says. “Sorry, man. Next time.”

They both look too much like death to fight Jack on it, and they part ways quickly enough, but Jack is still a little too quiet for Shitty’s liking. “Bro, you know you don’t actually have to show up at the next party, right? Like. They can’t make you do shit.”

They walk on a little while in silence, until Jack says, “I don’t drink as much anymore. I haven’t, really, since before the draft.” He pauses to kick at a pinecone that rolls into their path. “If I explain it to them they’ll just assume I’m an alcoholic or something, which I’m not. I never was.”

Jack takes a deep breath and says, eyes fixed on the ground, “I OD’d on my anxiety meds. It says it right there on the bottle, don’t mix with alcohol, but I did it anyway. And then I took too many, and it was an accident. It was . But people think it was cocaine, or something else, and it just got easier to let them assume than to try and correct everyone.”

He’s still kicking at the pinecone. “I stopped drinking after that. I’ll have a beer with my dad sometimes, but I don’t drink like I used to.”

One wrongly-timed kick sends the pinecone skittering off into the road, and Jack looks forlornly after it for a second before shrugging at Shitty. “So, yeah. That’s why parties aren’t my thing. Not anymore, not really.”

Shitty is quiet for a second, absorbing everything. Jack’s never talked so openly about his overdose, not in such blatant terms, and Shitty can see the toll it’s taken on him – the way his shoulders slump, the way his voice turns quiet, a total contradiction to the hulking muscle mass that is his body. He abruptly feels the need to hug Jack Zimmermann and never let him go, and so he does.

“Jackie.” He stops walking and tugs at Jack’s arm until he turns around to face him, eyes hovering somewhere near the region of Shitty’s feet, and Shitty wraps his arms around his shoulders to pull him in. “Thank you for trusting me with that, man.”

Shitty can feel the moment Jack stops being tense and relaxes into his embrace. “Jackabelle. Jackie. I love you and your wonderful Zimmer-booty and your big Canadian heart. Thank you for telling me all of that, really. You didn’t have to.”

Jack squeezes him briefly before backing away and straightening up. “I know, but I wanted to. You deserve to hear it.”

There’s a surge of warmth spreading throughout Shitty’s chest, and he fights the urge to plant his face right between Jack’s pecs and snuggle there forever. “Brah. You’re the fucking best, Jackie, you know that?” He loops his arm through Jack’s and continues walking, tugging Jack along. “Let’s go play some fucking Mario Kart. My roommate has a consul and he never uses it.”

Jack splutters out some excuse about having homework to do, but Shitty elects to ignore it – and tells him so – and when that isn’t followed by more protests he knows that homework was never an issue, and that they’re going to play Mario Kart until four in the morning because they don’t have practice tomorrow and they’ll only regret it a tiny bit the next day.

 

Once the pressure of their first game has been taken off their shoulders, the team seems to settle into a routine. The boys give Jack shit for not showing up to the post-game kegster, which is apparently what parties are called at Samwell, but once a couple of weeks have gone by, during which one of the seniors sleeps with someone he shouldn’t have and the LAX bros do something apparently unspeakable to the Haus, the team’s attention has moved on from Jack’s absence. They’ve all got bigger things to worry about – not only is Parent’s Weekend coming up, but classes are starting to get more monotonous and content-heavy. No one seems to want to do much of anything, including go to class.

Shitty’s mostly in the same boat, but honestly, his FemGen intro class keeps getting more interesting. They’re learning about the nuances of intersectional feminism, and a lot of the class is forcing Shitty to acknowledge his own privilege as a rich white man; it’s a little hard to swallow at some points, but it’s also eye-opening, and being around hockey boys every day provides excellent insight that Shitty uses to actually contribute to class discussion.

They’re also learning about the gender spectrum and the Kinsey scale. Shitty thought he’d been aware of things when he was at Andover, but maybe just being around ignorant privileged kids had made him seem more woke than he actually was. He’d had some pretty good lessons, he’d thought – thanks, Nurse – but apparently there’s more to learn, and Shitty loves it.

He's at Annie’s, grabbing a quick bite to eat with Amanda, Cyrus, and Blake before they start work on their group presentation, when he sees Spills and his girlfriend from across the cafe. They look like they're fighting (again) and Shitty almost rolls his eyes and ignores it before Blake makes a semi-disgusted noise and he realizes that she, too, is watching their interaction.

Amanda looks up from her notepad at the sound and sighs when she sees what they're looking at. "I don't know why she's still with him, I really don't."

Blake looks pained. "Because he's a manipulative asshole, that's why."

Cyrus doesn't even glance their way but he says, "Wayne?"

"Who else?" she scoffs, still watching as Spills starts waving his hands around in the air, looking more and more upset, while his girlfriend just looks bored.

Amanda catches Shitty probably looking really damn confused, because he definitely has no idea what the hell is going on, and says, "Wayne and Ellie were in our first-year seminar. They've been on and off since, but he's a sleezebag and no one really knows why she puts up with him."

Blake looks over. "Sorry, Shitty. I know you're on his team, but he's just… he's kinda terrible to her, and we can't stand him, so sorry if you guys are friends or something."

"Oh, no." Shitty says, surprised but also... not very surprised. He's overheard Spills talking about his girlfriend enough to know that they don't have the best relationship, but beyond the rest of the guys telling him to shut up about it already, he doesn't know much else. "Nah, I don't really know him all that well? We don't interact much." Also, the fact that Spills’ name is Wayne throws him for a loop and he really has no idea how to respond after that.

He knows it’s not okay to ask what the deal is with them, and he could probably ask one of the seniors on the team and they’d at least tell him something,  but knowing hockey bros and their stupid unwavering loyalty to one another he doesn’t think he’ll be getting the whole story.

He doesn’t know how to ask about it, because all three of his groupmates are seniors and best friends to boot and he’s still an awkward first-year who doesn’t quite know how etiquette works, so he doesn’t want to overstep, but while he’s thinking all of these things he realizes that Amanda is still watching him and she’s smirking.

“It’s really none of our business,” she drawls in a way that says she’s about to make it their business, whether he wants that or not, “but it’s basically public knowledge to anyone who knows either of them, and you… know Wayne by association, I guess, so I don’t see why we can’t tell you?”

It’s a question and she’s looking at Cyrus and Blake out of the corner of her eye as she says it. When Blake doesn’t say anything and Cyrus just shrugs she turns back to Shitty with a wicked gleam in her eye. “They got together early first semester and I think they’ve broken up four times since? Maybe five?”

“Five,” Cyrus chimes in, “if you count that one party.”

“Okay, five then. He’s – pardon my French – a fucking dick, keeps trying to guilt trip her into coming to every single one of his games when she has, like, two jobs and her entire club tennis team to captain. And then he gives her shit every time she misses a game, no matter what the reason is, but he never goes to her stuff.” Amanda purses her lips side-eyes the two of them as she continues, “Every time they break up it’s because Ellie’s over it, but he begs and cries until she takes him back, and then he does the same thing over again.”

Blake leans over at this point and interjects, “And I don’t think he’s ever come to one of her games. Says he doesn’t have time for club sports if he’s training for a division one team. Which, and again, sorry, Shitty, is horseshit , because the entire school knows how often you’re all at the hockey house taunting the LAX team or fucking around by the pond.”

The girls exchange A Look and Shitty just kinda… sits back and absorbs that information, aware of the hurt and anger he feels on behalf of Spills’ girlfriend curling his hands into fists. While he’s processing, Cyrus, who up until this point has been fairly dedicated to finishing his work, casually pipes up with, “And he’s cheated on her twice.”

Abruptly, Shitty has never been more ready to get up and lay a motherfucker out on the floor. He’s not a fighter, never has been, but damn is he ready to let Spills have it. “He – what.” It’s not a question and the seniors know it, but all look amused at the fury brewing on Shitty’s face rather than wary of it.

What happened with his parents happened a long, long time ago, but he remembers the way it tore apart his mother for a year while his father carried on his merry fucking way like nothing had ever happened. He was sent to Andover the following year, was forcibly removed from the wreckage of whatever the hell was happening between his parents and has since never been able to contain his anger when it comes to that particular act. This is one particular fight in which he’d rather resort to violence than any sort of verbal smackdown, and he’s literally about to go punch their starting line d-man in the face before Amanda’s hand on his arm not-so-gently pushes him back into his seat.

“No need to go over there and defend her honor, Mr. Knight in shining armor.” The corner of her mouth twitches at the pun but her eyes are hard. “It was years ago, and she kneed him in the balls when she found out. Left him lying there on the ground. It was glorious.”

Shitty frowns, “He deserves worse.”

“Yeah, well.” Amanda says, shrugging, “Everyone keeps telling her to leave him, she’s just gotta woman up and do it. For good, this time.”

“She won’t,” Blake says softly. She keeps eyeing Spills and Ellie, who’ve since quieted down, though they don’t look any happier than a few minutes ago. “She wants to fix him. It’s a complex.”

Cyrus sighs and nudges Blake until she looks over at him, “Enough, B.”

“Sorry, Shitty,” Amanda tries to make her voice lighter, but she’s looking at Blake and something in her face is sad. “We got too real there for a sec.” There’s a pause where she shuffles all of her papers together into a neat stack and snaps her notebook closed. “Shall we move to the library, folks? There is absolutely no way this table is going fit all of our stuff at once.”

They work in the library for the rest of the day and nothing more is said about Spills or his girlfriend, but Shitty can still feel the residual anger shifting in his gut, restless in a way that nothing will shake short of screaming into a pillow for an hour or exercising until he can no longer feel anything but pain.

The seniors who make up Shitty's group had converged on the nearest lone individual – Shitty – the moment they’d heard the groups would be four to a topic. Shitty likes them; he likes the comments Blake, who sits right next to him, makes under her breath when she thinks no one is paying attention. He likes the way they text back in forth in a group chat while pretending to take notes, the way their group is so obviously closely-knit. It makes him wonder about his own senior year, about the people he'll meet and the relationships he'll have. Despite his best efforts not  to, he thinks of Andover more often than not, and the people he knew there, the "friends" he had, and realizes that they weren't really friends at all.

The point is, he likes these seniors. He likes that they've adopted him into their circle. Shitty is fully aware that they probably won't be quite as friendly once their class together ends, but he likes the way being brought into this upperclassman fold makes him feel. The upperclassmen on the team seem to stick to themselves, and though Shitty spends a fair amount of time at the Haus with them, they really don't know each other all that well. Why would they try to get to know a fourth-line winger? He's really not upset about it, because if this - this meaning the story with Spills and his girlfriend - is the type of people they are? Shitty doesn't really want anything to do with it.

"We should meet again next week," Cyrus says as they pack up their stuff. The group has been in the library for a little over two hours now, and it's getting to that point in the afternoon where the extracurricular activities are starting and everyone who isn't an athlete or in a club meeting or doing an art elective gets to fuck around for a few hours before dinner.

Shitty's about to say that he can't, because they leave for a roadie next Thursday, but Blake beats him to it. "I've got a tournament in Virginia next weekend and we leave on Thursday, can we switch it to Tuesday?"

"Oh shit, I completely forgot," Cyrus apologizes, "that's good with me."

Amanda echoes the sentiment and when they turn their eyes to Shitty, who nods, he tacks on a "What sport do you play?"

"Rugby." Blake shoulders her backpack and they head for the doors. "My RA called me over during the club fair when I was a first-year, and I was too intimidated to say no. Then I got stuck it in, I guess."

"Stuck on more than just the sport." Amanda mutters. Blake shoves her down the steps and she goes, laughing.

They part ways at the bottom of the steps, Shitty going back to his dorm, Blake apparently going to practice, and Amanda and Cyrus going who knows where, with plans to meet up again the following week. Shitty is halfway back to his dorm when he realizes that going to practice means seeing Spills, which also means Shitty needs to get himself the fuck under control, because Spills has about twenty pounds on him and could knock him off his feet in two seconds flat. It's a predicament, to say the least. He can't think about the guy without feeling that twisting anger start to churn, and he knows that if he tries to go to practice like this, he'll start more trouble than it's worth.

He's never skipped a practice before - not here, anyway. He skived off at Andover sometimes, when everything got to be too much and he needed to sit outside and blow smoke up towards the empty sky. He hasn't missed a single practice since being at Samwell, the lure of division one hockey and the pressure of just having a spot on the team too much to justify taking a day off.

There's something about the sky that's making him feel like this, he decides. It's a cloudy day, all billowing shades of gray and cold, gusty winds. The only leaves left on the trees are the ones that are stubbornly clinging with everything they've got, all dried and shriveled up as they shiver on the bare branches.

“Shitty?” He’s halfway up the steps to the entrance of his dorm when he hears Jack running up behind him. “Wait up.”

The uneasiness doesn’t go away as much as it settles in his skin, deep enough that he can brush it off when he turns around. “Hey, Jacko.”

They walk inside together, Jack practically admitting heat like some sort of giant Canadian space heater, and Shitty huddles closer on instinct. “How was your group project?” Jack asks. He’s well-meaning, Shitty knows he is, but thinking about it makes him think about Spills, which makes him think more about his own issues than he has in a very long time, which makes him want to crawl into a hole and never come out again.

He takes too long to answer, and Jack frowns at him. “Shits?”

“It was fine,” Shitty says, too casual and at the same time not casual enough, “nothing fun to talk about, don’t wanna bore you.”

The elevator doors slide closed in front of them and Shitty keeps his eyes firmly fixed on the panel of buttons. He can feel Jack staring at him. Honestly, if he were to talk to anyone about something like this, it would be Jack, but the guy has been stressed enough with the upcoming Parent’s Weekend, and he doesn’t want to add anything else to Jack’s plate.

When the doors open, Shitty steps out and beelines for his dorm room. He hears Jack call after him, but he ignores it and steps into his room, noting with relief that his roommate is nowhere to be found, and flops face-first onto his mattress.

It’s tempting to just… lay there and let himself suffocate. Instead, he muffles a long-drawn-out scream into his pillow and punches it twice for good measure before sitting up and forcing any discomfort down, down, down. He’s supposed to walk to practice with Jack, like always, and now that Jack’s seen him in the elevator he really doesn’t have a choice. Or, maybe he does, he supposes, but he also doesn’t have the emotional capacity to explain what’s happening in his head right now.

Staring into the mirror that’s hanging on the back of their door, Shitty gives himself a pep talk that amounts to ‘get it the fuck together, you idiot’ . He breaths out, long and slow, before exiting the room and knocking on Jack’s door.

Jack opens it fairly quickly, his own duffle slung over his shoulder, and does an excellent job of pretending like he isn’t looking over Shitty as if trying to physically spot whatever’s wrong with him.

“Jackie, you fucking angel. I’m good. Stop with the worried eyes.” His voice sounds detached if he thinks about it too long, but he’s hoping Jack won’t notice.

He doesn’t seem to, just nods and shuts the door behind him, and they’re heading to Faber like nothing is wrong. Shitty pointedly does not look anywhere near Spills’ stall when they get to the locker room, despite the fact that he’s fairly certain that Spills isn’t even here yet. Jack is quiet in his own stall, but Jack is normally quiet before practice. It took some trial and error, but the boys learned soon enough that the quickest – and usually only – way to get Jack to respond to them was to talk hockey, and even college hockey players want to talk about something else once in a while. They’re also mostly shits who only want a famous friend, and a fair few have mentioned using Jack as their plug, which had Shitty popping off on a lecture about the media and the false illusion of privacy it maintains and how much of a dick move it was to make assumptions about their own teammate.

His teammates are wary of him now, but at least no one talks about Jack’s “drug habit” anymore – not when Shitty’s around, anyway.

“Shitty!” Storey claps him on the shoulder as he sits at his own stall. “How’s it going, man?”

“Good, good,” Shitty replies absently, definitely not noticing that there seems to be someone of Spills’ shape and size and volume arriving in the locker room. “You?”

Storey says something, but Shitty isn’t hearing it, and he’s pretty sure he’s interrupting a story about the entire second line trying to hit on the same girl when he says, “Hey, what do you know about Spills and his girlfriend?”

Storey just blinks at him for a second before shrugging. “I dunno man, not much? They got together before I got here.” He looks away from Shitty to where Spills is joking around with Boom and Jonsey. “I didn’t say this, but he kinda treats her like shit? Plus, Ellie’s gorgeous, she could do so much better than his sorry ass. Why?”

Shitty nods at him and mimes zipping his lips shut. “I saw them fighting at Annie’s today, and the seniors I was with don’t seem to like their relationship too much.”

“Yeah.” Storey purses his lips and looks down at his own taping job. “Yeah. I mean, we don’t really talk about it. And I think by now a lot of the guys have actually met Ellie and know she deserves better than that shit.” He sighs, “But what are we gonna do about it, ya know? I just hope they break up before they graduate so she can move on.”

“Why won’t anyone talk to him?” Shitty asks. He should drop the topic, he knows, but he’s never been good at impulse control. “If so many of the guys think so?”

Storey shakes his head and leans back in his stall. “They’ve tried. I think Jonsey and Bergy have both been on his ass about it, since they’ve known him the longest. He always says he’ll talk to her and fix things but he’s a dick who thinks he’s God’s fucking gift to mankind and they can’t get him off his high horse.”

Someone puts on a pre-workout playlist and the music drowns out whatever Storey was starting to say next, but he just shrugs at Shitty and starts putting on his gear. There’s a chorus of greetings as Matts and Javvy walk into the locker room, and Storey is drawn away to talk to Eggy, leaving Shitty’s jumbled thoughts to crowd his head.

           

Practice goes badly, which is saying something, considering Shitty is already on fourth line. He’s missing passes left and right, connecting with absolutely no one, and fucks up the plays enough that Hall pulls him off the ice and sends him home.

He decides to get an early dinner from the cafeteria and go back to his room to watch one of the conspiracy documentaries in his Netflix watchlist, and possibly get very stoned while he does so, but once he drops his stuff off in his room he runs into Tia, who is waiting for the elevator.

“Hi!” She smiles at him. “Shitty, right?”

“That’s me.” He falls into step beside her as they step through the doors. “Hey, Tia, how’s it going?”

“Not bad,” she appraises him. “correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t you on the hockey team?”

He nods in lieu of a response and she cocks her head, crimped curls bouncing with the motion. “Is there… not hockey practice right now?”

Oh,” Shitty grimaces, “Yeah. Uh. It’s been a long day, so.”

He trails off, not wanting to say, ‘they kicked me out of practice because I can’t get my shit together’, but Tia looks like she understands what he’s not saying.

“Totally get it. Sorry about your day.”

He shrugs. “It happens. It’s okay.”

They keep walking, out of their building and across the quad, and Tia says softly, “It does happen, but it’s okay if it’s not okay.”

Shitty doesn’t – can’t – respond right away, but when Tia points wordlessly in the direction of the cafeteria he nods. “Sometimes life is gross.” She continues, “and that doesn’t mean we have to be okay all the time.”

“How’d you get so smart.” Shitty says as they walk up the steps to the cafeteria. It’s more of a statement than a question, and Tia seems to know that.

“Therapy is great.” She laughs. “I feel like I’m a therapist through osmosis at this point.”

As someone who has never been to therapy yet has the vague inkling that maybe it would help improve his life, Shitty can’t agree or disagree with the statement. “Well, if you’re a therapist by osmosis, that’s better for the rest of us.”

“So true,” she says. They’re moving towards the buffet lines when she adds, “do you wanna eat with me and my friends? They’re nice, I promise.”

The lure of his conspiracy documentaries is strong, but Shitty is also fully aware of the fact that outside of the hockey team – outside of Jack – he really doesn’t have too many close friends. It’s a little concerning, when he thinks too much about it, and he’s saying yes before he realizes exactly what’s coming out of his mouth.

They get their food and sit, Tia laughing a little at the sheer amount of carbs he takes, and she introduces him to her friends. Anahera he recognizes from his FemGen class, but he meets Anton, Jaz, and Lucas, all of whom seem more than welcoming when Tia announces that he’s joining them.

He strikes up an easy conversation with Anahera about their group projects and, too soon, they’ve sufficiently covered the small talk that comes with being in the same class but not really knowing each other. Somehow they both start whining about fucking Annie, at which point the rest of the table demands to know what they’re talking about and they trip over each other listing the amount of things that their classmate has either done, said, or insinuated throughout their two and a half months of class.

They’re all cracking up as Anahera, who has the most badass Māori accent Shitty has ever heard in his life, puts on a perfect imitation of Annie’s own New Jersey accent whining about her own crippling experience as a wealthy white woman. Anton laughs so hard that root beer starts streaming out of his nose, which sets them off all over again, and Shitty realizes that this is maybe the most fun he’s had at Samwell outside of his friendship with Jack.

As soon as he realizes this, the Samwell Men’s Hockey team bursts through the doors of the cafeteria, in a flurry of sound so intense it makes the boisterous laughter of his own table seem polite in comparison.

He winces, and Tia catches it. “Did you know,” she begins, leaning across the table conspiratorially, “that there’s a twitter account that shares the location of the men’s hockey team?”

Shitty almost snorts his water up his nose. “What? Why?”

“Oh, please.” Lucas says, “They’re so loud that no one can get any work done if more than two of them are together at once.”

Tia looks like she’s going to tell them that he’s on the hockey team, too, but he replies before she can say anything, “That’s fucking annoying.”

Anahera, who Shitty is fairly sure also knows that he’s on the hockey team, smirks at him and plops her chin in her hand. “I dunno. Some of them are pretty damn cute.”

Immediately, Shitty wants deets. “Who. Who, who do you think is cute, tell me right now.”

“Wow, Shitty, are we already at that level of friendship?”

Yes ,” he says, because none of those boys are good enough for Anahera. None of them. “Yes, we absolutely are. Please tell me. Please.”

She takes a sip of water to stall while the rest of the table looks on, but when she sets her glass down she says, “Nathan isn’t too bad.”

It takes him a second to realize she’s talking about Javvy, who while one of the better individuals on the team is still very much not good enough for Anahera. How he’s going to say that, while hiding the fact that he’s spent enough time in Javvy’s room to know where he hides the laundry he’s too lazy to go downstairs and wash, he has no idea.

Tia laughs at whatever expression is face is making and very purposefully says, “That Jack Zimmermann guy is pretty damn cute, if you ask me.”

Shitty doesn’t even bother to hide anything this time, just groans dramatically and knocks his head down on the surface of the table.

Everyone looks very lost but Tia and Anahera, who are openly laughing at him. After a while, Tia takes pity on the rest of them and says, “Shitty’s on the hockey team.”

Immediately, Lucas tries to apologize for his comment about the twitter account, but Shitty waves him off, grinning. “Nah, brah, you weren’t even wrong. I didn’t realize there was a twitter for it, though, that’s fucking great.” He glances in the direction of his team as they crowd the buffet lines. “I never realized how loud we are.”

“Okay, but. Nathan.” Anahera interjects. “He’s a cutie, and from what I know he’s apparently pretty good at hockey? Right?”

“I mean,” Shitty flounders, “I. He’s good at hockey?”

Tia pats his arm. “He is cute,” she says to Anahera, “I agree.”

Thankfully, no one brings up Tia’s joking comment about Jack, but as they’re finally starting to settle down and actually finish the meal they’ve been trying to eat for the last thirty minutes, four sets of eyes flick up to something behind Shitty just as he feels a touch to his shoulder.

It’s Jack, because of course it is, and despite Anahera apparently having a thing for Javvy Shitty can absolutely see her giving Jack a once-over. “Hi, Jackabelle.” He says, trying his level best not to laugh. There’s a to-go box in Jack’s hand, and Shitty would feel weird about inviting him to sit down with people he’s only just met, so he starts shoveling the remainder of his food into his mouth.

“Hey, Shits. Um, hi,” he waves awkwardly at the rest of the table, who are staring up at him with a mix of apprehension and awe. Jack Zimmermann, while stupidly gorgeous, is still an NCAA athlete with the muscles to match. “I was hoping – um. Can I talk to you?”

“Yeah,” Shitty says, using the rest of his water to wash down the four tater tots he’d shoved into his mouth. “Gimme ten seconds, I’ll walk back with you.”

He packs up his water bottle and the sandwich he’d made for later, waving goodbye to the table and leaning over to give Tia a hug when she reaches out for it. She squeezes him once and says, “I hope the rest of your day is better”, which honestly does make it better, just a little.

He and Jack head out, Storey and Flappy noticing and raising eyebrows or a thumbs up at Shitty to makes sure everything’s good – they’d all seen him leave practice early, and it really didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why – which makes him stupidly warm inside. He catches a glimpse of Spills, perched at the corner of the table with Boom, and his anger flickers in his chest but he’s honestly too worn down to get worked up about anything. He nods back at  the two juniors, grateful for the concern, and they emerge from the dining hall into the fading light of the October evening.

They’re almost back at their dorm before either of them say anything. It’s Jack who speaks, because Shitty doesn’t want to open up his own can of worms, but when he softly says, “Hey, Shits,” Shitty abruptly has never wanted to talk about anything less in his entire life.

“How was the rest of practice?” Shitty interrupts. “Did the boys manage to get that play down or did Hall change it?”

Jack looks sideways at him but answers dutifully, as Shitty knew he would. “Hall tweaked it a little bit, but the mechanics are the same.” Shitty’s about to ask a follow-up question, but Jack adds, “You can’t distract me with hockey questions forever, Shits.”

By now, they’re heading down their hallway. Shitty doesn’t know how to reply, would rather not lie to Jack by claiming that he’d never do such a thing, so he just stays silent. They reach their respective doors, and before Shitty can retreat, Jack stops him with a hand on his shoulder. “Wanna come in?”

He asks it like a question, but the way Jack’s arm is tightening on his shoulder says that he doesn’t really have a choice, so he agrees and slips into Jack’s room, the click of the door closing behind him seeming far more ominous than it actually is.

Jack settles at his desk chair and waits for Shitty to assume his usual spot – he has a usual spot, he realizes – on his bed. He’s got his food open and is two bites in before he realizes that Shitty really isn’t going to say anything on his own, and apparently deciding that the silence has gone on long enough asks, “Why’d you leave practice early today?”

It’s not what Shitty’s expecting. “Jack. You saw me at practice today, brah, I couldn’t make a play to save my damn life.”

“Okay,” Jack says, “but why’d you leave?”

“I – ” Jack obviously doesn’t want to hear about Hall kicking him out, everyone had seen that. “My head was so fucking far away today, I dunno.”

Jack tilts his head as he chews. “What happened?”

Shitty is so tired. “It doesn’t really matter,” he shrugs, “just my head being stupid. You really don’t need to worry about it, Jackie.”

Jack frowns. “I know I don’t need to worry about it, Shitty, I want to. Because you’re my friend.” He pauses and says, “Plus, don’t you think I know all about what it’s like when your head is being stupid?”

“Point.” Shitty concedes. “I just. This isn’t your shit, you shouldn’t have to care about it.”

“Shitty, you worry about my  shit and you shouldn’t have to. This isn’t any different.”

“Ugh.” Shitty lets himself flop down onto Jack’s bed and avoids eye contact. “Fine.”

Jack gives him a moment to gather his thoughts, and after a while, Shitty says, “Do you know much about Spills and his girlfriend?”

Even without looking, he can practically see the way Jack’s brow is furrowed, trying to connect the dots between Shitty’s terrible mood and Spills’ relationship. “Um. Not really?”

“He’s been dating this girl named Ellie since his first year. They’ve broken up a couple times, but they’re together again. The seniors in my group for FemGen don’t like him very much.”

Jack stays quiet, and Shitty continues. “He’s a dick to her. I asked Storey what he knew about it, and he said even some of the boys think she deserves better.” His next words stick in his throat and he has to clear it a couple of times before he can continue. “He’s cheated on her twice, apparently. It was a long time ago, but.”

Shitty falls quiet after that, attempting to figure out how to articulate the tangled mess of emotions in his head. Into the silence, Jack says, “It doesn’t matter how long it’s been, he still did it.”

“I just… got too angry about it, I guess. I let it get into my head and practice was shit because of it.” He figures a half truth is enough of a truth, and he’s prepared to leave it at that, but Jack fucking Zimmermann is perceptive as all hell, and waits a beat before saying,

“You got so upset with Spills that you screwed up in practice?”

It’s both an invitation to talk about things as much as it is Jack offering him an out, but Shitty returns to the knowledge that if he’s ever going to say anything to anyone it’ll be to the man next to him. Pointedly looking up at the ceiling, he steels himself and says, “We found out that my dad cheated on my mom the year before I went to Andover.”

Jack, to his credit, doesn’t react audibly. Once the words are out, they keep coming, like with only a few short words Shitty has knocked down a long-standing dam somewhere inside him and now nothing short of a miracle would be able to stop the rush of emotions.

“It wasn’t a one-time thing, either.” Shitty says, remembering the word mistress  uttered in hushed phone conversations between his mother and his aunt Laura, the way his grandmother had come to say with them for two months while Shitty’s father was, as he was told, away on business. “I think it had been going on for so long that my mom didn’t even know how to talk to him about it, just changed the locks on the house and wouldn’t let him speak to me. Not like he ever tried.”

He’s talked to Jack about his parents before, briefly. Jack knows they aren’t together, but that’s about it. “Dad didn’t even care, I don’t think. Never brought it up, never said he was sorry – at least, not where I could hear. Never acted sorry. Just threw his goddamn money at my mom during the divorce and moved the fuck on.”

He finally rolls over onto his side so that he can look somewhere near the vicinity of Jack without actually looking at him. “We’re better off without the douchebag, but it fucked with my mom for so long . She sent me to Andover while they were going through the divorce so I wouldn’t see the worst of it, but I’d – I’d come home and there wouldn’t be any family pictures, his office door was always locked, and my mom couldn’t even really smile .”

Taking a deep breath, Shitty finishes with, “He’d send me checks every year for my birthday and for Christmas, but I knew his secretary’s handwriting by that point. I haven’t talked to him since before graduation, and I’m better off for it.”

The words hang heavy in the silence of Jack’s room. For a good while the only sound is the hot water rattling through the pipes overhead, and the subtle creaking of Jack’s desk chair as he shifts his weight.

Finally, Jack says, “When’d you see him last?”

“Oh,” Shitty shrugs, “I don’t remember. Probably before he got indicted.”

“Wait, wait.” Jack shakes his head, “What?”

“He was some kinda chief something officer of this hedge fund thing and his whole board of directors got busted for embezzlement or accounting fraud or what the fuck ever. Never even went to jail or stood trail or fucking anything.”

“Jesus.” Jack mutters. “Shitty, that’s – ”

“Absolutely fucked up?” Shitty finishes for him. “Yep.”

He looks at Jack, finally, who is staring off into space, a slightly haunted look in his eye. “So when you heard about Spills…”

Shitty scoffs. “I wanted to murder him where he stood? Chyeah.

“And… is the reason you wanna go to law school because of your dad’s indictment?”

Shrugging, Shitty says, “Kinda. It’s unfair as fuck, is what it is, but once he found out I was coming here he said that he’d only help pay for it if I did law afterward. He and my mom fought it out. My mom wouldn’t let me talk to him. I think I called him three different renditions of ‘ douchebag’ within five minutes and hung up on him the first time he called to talk about it.”

Jack scoffs. “Of course you did.”

They’re quiet again for a bit. Jack doesn’t seem to know what to say, and Shitty doesn’t blame him. What the fuck do you say when someone tells you about their parental trauma besides ‘please go to therapy’?

“Thanks for listening to that shit, Jacko.” Shitty says with a huff. “Sorry it turned me into an uncooperative fuckwad today.”

“Hey, no,” Jack starts, “don’t apologize, Shits. That’s fucked up, is what it is, and you’re allowed to be fucked up about it.”

Shitty almost rolls his eyes at how similar those words are to what Tia had told him earlier. “It happened so long ago, though.”

“There’s no timetable to getting over something, Shitty.” Jack says firmly, leaving no room for argument, “Just because it happened a long time ago doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to still be screwed up over it.”

“You’re so smart.” Shitty says, looking up to see Jack looking at him fondly, blue eyes a little sad but a curl to the side of his mouth. “Therapy?”

Jack nods. “Therapy.”

“Amazing.” Shitty holds out his arms, “Come cuddle me, I’ve said enough emotional shit for today.”

Jack shakes his head but stands obediently, settling on the bed next to Shitty and allowing himself to be maneuvered until he’s half on top of Shitty, whose head is shoved very decisively into Jack’s neck. They just breathe for a moment, but Jack breaks the silence.

“Thank you for trusting me with all of that, Shitty.”

“That’s my line.” Shitty mumbles.

He can hear the strain in Jack’s voice – emotional conversations are by no means easy for him, Shitty knows, so he stays quiet and lets Jack speak. “I know, but you always listen to me. Even when I’m being dumb or overthinking things. And I wanted – I hope you know that I really appreciate that. And that I’ll always listen to you, too, if you need it.”

Shitty sniffles. As much as he’s trying to keep them at bay, there are tears gathering in the corners of his eyes. “Fuck you, Jackie, you’re making me cry.”

“You’re allowed to be emotional about things.” Jack says, squeezing Shitty a little tighter. “You of all people should know that there’s nothing wrong with that, Mr. FemGen know-it-all.”

Jack. ” Shitty’s voice cracks. “Stop.”

The arms around him squeeze him again, Jack’s arm moving in slow circles on his back. The tears spill over and Shitty lets himself cry for a few minutes, letting all of his residual anger and exhaustion take hold. Once he’s got himself under control, Jack’s neck is tacky with tears. The man himself very graciously doesn’t say anything about it, nor does he make a move to let Shitty go, just holds him.

Eventually, Shitty has recovered enough to say, “If I knew crying was all it took to get a quality Jack Zimmermann cuddle, I would’ve done it sooner.”

Jack grumbles good-naturedly and makes as if he’s going to move away, but Shitty locks his arms around him. “Excuse me, Jackabelle, I don’t know where the fuck you think you’re going. I’m sad, I need hugs.”

Shitty .”

He’s only half-heartedly trying to leave, and Shitty ducks his head back into Jack’s neck to hide his grin. “Cuddle me until I fall asleep. Then you can leave.”

“Shitty, this is my bed.” But he stays, and Shitty falls asleep quickly with a grin on his face.

Chapter Text

Somehow, he and Jack grow closer. Part of Shitty didn’t realize that was even possible, because he’d already spent a good majority of the first three months of school forcing his love on the guy, but now he’s taking midday naps in Jack’s bed, and spends the weekends avoiding homework by watching documentaries and binging HBO shows while splitting a bowl of popcorn between them.  

Due to this sheer amount of shared time, it’s easy for Shitty to recognize just how tense Jack is the week leading up to Parent’s Weekend. He laughs less, and all his smiles are accompanied by a tightness around his eyes. He stops talking about things that are happening in class, tending towards over-analyzing the happenings of hockey practice day in and day out until, finally, Shitty cannot take it anymore.

It’s a blustery day near the end of October. There’s no snow on the ground, not yet, but Shitty can feel the way the weather is building up to a cold snap. Jack has been watching film for the last hour, ignoring Shitty’s attempts to get him to turn it off in favor of resuming the way they’ve been slogging through all of the conspiracy documentaries Netflix has to offer.

“Jack.” Shitty tries. “Jack.”

“Mm?” Jack hums, not even glancing up from the notes he’s scribbling.

Shitty groans from where he’s starfished out across Jack’s bedroom floor. “I’m so bored.”

“You have homework to do, Shits.” Jack says, distant. He’s not paying Shitty nearly enough attention.

Jack.”

Jack heaves a sigh and spins around in his chair. “What, Shitty.”

Shitty pouts up at him from the floor. “Jackie. Can we do something fun, please?”

Jack glances out the window, where he can clearly see the trees adorning Lake Quad being whipped around in the wind, and looks back at Shitty skeptically. “Like what?”

While the sun is shining, the wind is bitterly cold, so going outside is really not the best option, but Shitty has never been known for his reasonable decisions.

“If I told you I accidentally stole Javvy’s frisbee the other day would you go outside and throw it with me?”

Accidentally,” Jack scoffs, “how do you even – ”

Shitty sits up, “Shhh, don’t ask me. He hasn’t even asked for it back yet. I think I’m in the clear.”

The fact that Jack doesn’t outright turn him down means that he’s considering it. “Does he know you’re the one that has it?”

“Irrelevant.”

“That’s relevant , Shitty, you can’t just accidentally steal things.”

“Jacko. Are you coming outside with me or not? Please. Please. I’m so bored.” Shitty flops back down on the floor, arms flailing in a way he’s sure looks very uncoordinated and not nearly as graceful as he’d hoped.

Jack looks down at him, somehow affecting an even more disapproving air than usual. “Have you even tried to look at your English readings?”

Fixing him with a look, Shitty doesn’t justify that with a reply. Just stares at Jack until he sighs and relents, like Shitty knew he would all along. “Fine.”

Fuck yes – ”

One hour and then we come back here, and you don’t get to do anything until you’ve read at least one chapter.”

Shitty leaps to his feet, grinning, and ruffles Jack’s hair. “Jackie, you hardass. Let’s go play some fucking frisbee.”

One thing he maybe should’ve considered is that playing Frisbee on an October day with crazy wind gusts means that no matter how hard he tries, none of his throws are going to go where he wants them. Somehow, all of Jack’s passes end up somewhere in his vicinity, but every time – seriously, every single time – he tries to pass the stupid plastic disk back to Jack it ends up thirty feet from where he wants it to go. It’d be annoying, if the sheer ridiculousness of the situation isn’t putting the slightest grin back on Jack’s face.

Twenty minutes and ten frozen fingers later, Shitty has almost sent the Frisbee into the pond twice, Jack has had to half climb a tree, and he can’t feel his nose.

They’re the only ones out today for a reason.

The third time Jack has to save the frisbee from the pond, he doesn’t even bother trying to send it back Shitty’s way. He just jogs over to where Shitty has come to stand on the edge of the beach, right where the water starts to lap at the pebbly ground. “I think maybe this wasn’t the best idea.” Jack says, spinning the disk around on his pointer finger.

“Sure it is, Jackie,” Shitty says, snatching the frisbee from him and trying to spin it on his finger the same way. “How in the fuck did you do that – ” he’s spinning the disk a little too hard, seeing as he can’t actually feel his hands, and when he accidentally flings it off of his finger the wind picks it up and, because he has all the luck in the fucking world, carries it over the middle of the pond and drops it right into the water.

There’s a beat where they both just kinda… stare after it and watch as it slips beneath the surface of the water, and then they’re cracking up. Shitty is practically on the ground in tears, and Jack’s got his arms wrapped around his middle, laughter muffled into the collar of his flannel.

Their laughter starts to peter off, but as soon as they make eye contact they’re set off again, and Shitty does fall to the ground this time. Jack joins him soon after, knees to his chest and staring out at the water, ghosts of laughter making his lips twitch every now and then.

Eventually, they get themselves under control. Shitty shoves his hands under his armpits to warm them up, while Jack looks perfectly toasty and Canadian in his fleece flannel. They sit there for a moment, both gazing out at the pond, before Shitty says, “Don’t tell Javvy.”

Jack snorts. “I won’t.”

Shitty reaches out a pinkie and Jack links their fingers together without a word.

They stay out at the pond until Shitty is involuntarily shivering, at which point Jack practically has to manhandle him back into the dorm.

Shitty’s been trying to spend more time outside lately, a feat which has proven more and more difficult as the temperature drops, but once he’s outside it takes a lot to get him back indoors. There’s something about sitting outside on his college quad that tastes like freedom in a way that hanging out on the lawns at Andover never really did. Sometimes he’s with Tia’s friend group, who he slowly but surely has grown closer to. Sometimes it’s his FemGen group, putting the finishing touches on their project as their midterms grow ever closer. Sometimes it’s those two guys in his hall that always seem to have a joint rolled and ready to go. He very rarely gets Jack to just stop and chill with him outdoors, especially lately. He’s always either doing homework or some sort of hockey related thing, and as the weather grows colder it’s less and less likely he’ll agree to fuck around outside with Shitty, despite the latter’s insistence that he needs fresh air before he keels over and dies, Jack.

It’s a process. They’re working on it.

“Shivering is the first sign of hypothermia, Shitty.” Jack grouches at him, shoving one of his Hudson’s Bay blankets into Shitty’s chest when they return to Jack’s room.

“T-t-thank you, you damn Canadian m-motherfucker.” Shitty chatters, setting the blanket down to tug off his layers. “I’m f-from Boston, I know what cold is.”

He throws his jacket and shirt on Jack’s floor and strips off his jeans in one motion, immediately cocooning himself in Jack’s blanket and flopping down onto Jack’s bed.

Shitty .”

“Mmph?” Shitty responds.

“Why are you naked.”

Well. “’m not!” He sits up. “I’m wearing boxers!”

Jack’s expression is a weird mix of despair and acceptance. He opens his mouth like he’s going to respond and snaps it closed again, squeezing his eyes shut and shaking his head while sitting back down at his desk.

Shitty gives him a moment to get his laptop booted up before he says, “Can we finish ExtraOrdinary?”

They’ve been watching the Stan Romanek documentary since last week. Jack picked it one night after they’d eaten far too many burritos to even think about moving from their spots on his bedroom floor and therefore absolutely could not start their homework. They’d watched it till Shitty fell asleep on Jack’s shoulder and haven’t watched it since. Shitty needs to know how it ends.

He sees Jack hesitate, knows that he wants to get back to tape analysis, but Shitty hasn’t seen him this level of relaxed in forever , so he doesn’t feel bad about pushing. “We’re having so much fun, Jackie. Come on. Don’t let the fun die.”

Jack considers him for a moment. Shitty pouts, turning on his best puppy-dog eyes, which makes Jack laugh. “Your face looks ridiculous like that, Shits.”

He opens his mouth to whine again but Jack rolls his eyes and tosses his laptop on the mattress before joining him on the bed. “Fine.”

Letting out a wordless cheer, Shitty envelops Jack in his makeshift blanket cocoon, immediately cuddling up to his Canadian space heater body.

Jack stiffens. “You’re not wearing clothes.”

“It makes you warmer, Jack. Body heat, or something.” He shrugs. Jack is quiet and still tense, and Shitty shifts away from him again. “Brah, if you seriously aren’t good with it I’ll go put on clothes. I don’t wanna make you uncomfortable or anything.”

After a few seconds with no reply, Shitty’s about to get up and steal some of Jack’s sweatpants, because no answer is an answer. He makes to move but Jack stops him with a hand on his wrist. “It’s fine.”

“Are you sure?” Shitty checks, “And don’t say and it is if you don’t mean it, Jacko, I’m serious.”

“I’m sure,” Jack says, “but we’re making a ground rule – no nakedness in my bed.”

Shitty nods. “Deal.” He takes a moment to consider. “Shouldn’t you change that a little, brah? How are you ever gonna get laid?”

Jack grimaces and ignores him to press play, and Shitty cackles.

He tries his best to keep Jack’s stress to a minimum the week leading up to Parent’s Weekend, but it doesn’t work. Shitty knows he can’t control Jack’s anxiety, but he wishes he could somehow staple shut the lips of every single team member who approaches Jack about his dad.

At this point, it’s a little ridiculous. If Shitty had a dollar for every time someone’s brought up Bad Bob in this week alone, he could probably cut off his dad for good and pay his own Samwell tuition. It’s not even just asking Jack whether he’ll be there or not – it’s also asking if he’ll come meet them, come talk to the team, what it was like growing up as Bad Bob’s kid… all the topics he knows Jack would avoid at all costs if he could.

He and Jack haven’t talked about hockey in weeks, mostly because Shitty will not let Jack talk about hockey. He knows that to some extent it’s okay, because hockey relaxes him, but sometimes he’ll catch Jack staring too long at the ‘Be Better’ poster tacked up on the wall and immediately needs to initiate a wrestling match by tackling him into the mattress. The poster is conveniently placed at the foot of his bed so that it’s the first thing he sees when he wakes up in the morning and the last thing he sees before he goes to bed. Shitty hates that poster.

They’re playing Yale, which isn’t a guaranteed victory but also isn’t a team they’d normally be stressed about playing, so the level of tension within the locker room after practice on Thursday is odd. Hall and Murray have said their piece, and everyone is changing out when Javvy calls across the locker room to Jack.

“How do you play in front of your dad without getting stressed, man? I feel like I’m gonna let him down and I don’t even know him.”

Jack freezes with his shirt half over his head, and Shitty fights the urge to brain himself on the corner of his stall. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Bergy close his eyes and sigh to himself.

“Uh.” Jack pulls his shirt on slowly and turns around. “I dunno. I guess I’m just used to it?”

Bro.” Flappy groans. “I can’t believe Bad Bob is gonna watch me play hockey. Jesus.”

Shitty figures it wouldn’t be helpful to tell them that technically Bad Bob has already watched them play hockey. He’s pretty sure Jack is thinking the same thing. “It’ll be fine, guys. It’s just my dad.”

Just his dad.” Javvy chirps to Asher, who laughs a little too wildly to pass it off as chill. The comment is very obviously a chirp (or at least, half a chirp), but it clearly doesn’t land well with Jack – and why would it? – judging by the tense lines of his shoulders.

Bergy steps in then and says something about a mandatory team dinner, effectively derailing the conversation, but Shitty knows that the rest of the boys are stuck on the fact that in 24 hours an NHL legend is going to be watching them skate. It’s pressure, yeah, and even Shitty is freaking out a bit despite having yelled hello to Bad Bob while Jack was talking to his parents on the phone.

The greeting had left his mouth before he’d really thought about who he was talking to, sure, but still. At least he’d gotten a cheerful hello in return, according to Jack, so.

Team dinner is less tense, but only marginally so. Jack is tapping away on his phone, quiet as he usually is around the team, so while Shitty takes his usual seat next to him he spends the majority of the meal talking with Flappy. The junior had taken a liking to him after his apparent fondness for the god-awful tub juice Flappy had made at the kegster. He’s also one of the few upperclassmen on the team not majoring in Economics, so Shitty likes grilling him about what the workload of a humanities major is really like.

They make it through dinner with only a few mentions of Bad Bob, none of which are actually directed at Jack, and by the time they’re back at the dorm he thinks Jack is about as relaxed as he’s going to get, especially the night before a game.

Jack stops him before they part ways. “Hey. My parents want to know if you and your folks have plans after the game? We’re going out to dinner and, ah, you guys could come? If you want.”

Shitty winces. “Ah,”

Jack immediately backtracks, “You don’t have to say yes, maman just really wants to meet you? I can tell her another time would be better.”

“No, it’s not that,” Shitty stops him, “my parents aren’t coming, man. I don’t wanna get in on your family time, though, but thanks for the offer.”

Jack’s frown cuts deep lines into his forehead. “Oh, I. I’m sorry, Shits, I didn’t – ”

Shitty waves him off, “Mom’s gotta give a talk at Cambridge on Saturday morning, and who the fuck cares what dad’s doing, honestly. I’m not cut up about it.” He shrugs and punches Jack in the shoulder lightly. “Seriously, brah, thanks for the offer, but I don’t wanna impose.”

Jack looks like he’s going to protest, and Shitty does not want that. “I’m gonna turn in. Walk over with you tomorrow morning?”

“Um, yeah,” Jack says, “Shitty – ”

“Swawesome.” Shitty says, very firmly. “Night, Jacko!”

He’s very aware that he’s shutting the door on the beginnings of Jack’s Concerned Face, but he’s honestly not that broken up about his parents not coming to the game. He wouldn’t’ve wanted his dad there anyway, and his mom had called him weeks ago explaining that the guest lecture she’d been booked for had switched dates on her last minute, and she’d promised to come to another one of his games later in the season. So he’s okay, really. He just doesn’t wanna see Jack’s face get all sad. It bums him out.

The next morning, Jack thankfully doesn’t mention his parents again. He’s wrapped up enough in his own head, and it’s probably terrible of Shitty to be thankful for that, but he is. They walk to Faber in relative silence, and Shitty squeezes his shoulder as they separate in the locker room.

Morning skate goes smoothly enough. Coach Murray is there, but Hall is off somewhere else, probably getting ready for the game, and after a couple of drills the boys drift off, either to meet up with their parents or, like Shitty, take a nice long nap before the game.

He walks with Jack about halfway back to their dorm before he, too, heads for the parking lot. Apparently Bob and Alicia are staying at a hotel near campus, and Jack is supposed to drive them to the game.

“You’re sure your pregame routine won’t mind?” Shitty chirps, before realizing that it might in fact make Jack’s anxiety worse. “Wait.”

Jack just shakes his head and smiles a little. “Nah, it’ll be fine. Maman asked me the same thing earlier.”

“Okay.” Shitty gives him a sideways hug before turning to make his way back to the dorm. “See you tonight, Jackabelle.”

Jack waves and Shitty’s on his own again, trudging across Lake Quad. He’s beginning to realize just how many parents are visiting as he watches varying groups of twos and threes drift from building to building or meander slowly through the expanse of Lake Quad. His roommate’s parents are around this weekend, so Shitty has the room to himself until Monday, but he doesn’t have any particular plans to celebrate. Maybe he’ll build a fort out of the mattresses and turn one of the sheets into a projector screen.

He catches sight of Anahera and her dad across the quad as he’s heading into his dorm and waves, and when he reaches his own room his roommate and his parents are just leaving. They greet Shitty warmly, as most parents are wont to do, but soon enough they’re gone again, and he can finally lie down for his pre-game nap. The halls are louder than usual, and it takes a while for Shitty to drop off into sleep, but eventually he manages.

He wakes up late as a result, groggy and disoriented, and fumbles on his game suit in a rush. His tie might be choking him. It’s okay.

By the time he’s finally out the door he’s just on the tail end of ‘on time’. Parents and their kids are still milling around, and some of them must recognize the suit or are planning on coming to the game because he hears calls of ‘good luck!’ or ‘Go Wellies!’ a couple of times on his way to Faber.

Most of the team is already there, read: everyone but one or two of the upperclassmen. Jack raises an eyebrow as he rushes through the locker room doors, and Storey starts chirping him for the lopsided tie almost immediately. Shitty barely even responds, too busy trying to change out and tape his stick and lace up all at once, but he must look like an actual fucking mess because Storey lets up after a while and just allows Shitty to be stressed in silence.

Hall and Murray come in and do their usual spiel. There’s no mention of parents being in attendance; the coaches treat the game like any other, because in the grand scheme of things, it is. They leave and Bergy sets up post at the door, offering fistbumps as the team makes their way down the tunnel, and they head out into Faber.

Sometime during warmups someone asks Jack where his parents are, and Shitty – as well as the rest of the team, probably – is overly aware of the press box for the rest of the game. A couple of the opposing players who, upon realizing that it’s Samwell’s Parent’s Weekend, actually skate up to Jack during stops in the play to ask if they could maybe get a photo with his dad? It’s weird, but Jack handles everything with the weariness of someone who’s dealt with this for his literal entire life. They play fine, and they win 4-2, so everyone is in decent spirits when the game ends.

They’re changing out when someone brings it up to Jack again, and now that the game is done Shitty realizes just how many of the boys are dying to meet Bad Bob. Shitty himself is kinda dying to meet Bad Bob, though he’d never admit it to Jack. It’s not that he wants to meet Hockey Legend Bad Bob, though he does , but he also wants to meet the Can’t-Cook-to-Save-His-Life, Would-Die-Without-Social-Interaction, Self-Proclaimed-Social-Media-Star Bad Bob that he’s heard about from Jack. 

“ – into the locker room?” Jack is saying when Shitty snaps back into the conversation.

Bergy shrugs. “I don’t see why not.” 

“Alright, I’ll text him.” Jack says, and Shitty realizes that there’s about to be an NHL legend in their hockey room. In their hockey room, where Eggy’s jock has been sitting in the shower for three weeks, there’s four very poorly disguised dicks sharpied into the wood of the trophy case, and only half the boys are actually wearing clothes.

“Wait!” he screeches, and everyone turns to look at him. “Jackie. Do not let Bad Bob Zimmermann into this locker room until all of these fuckers are wearing pants .”

No one besides Jack seems to appreciate the irony of the statement. Everyone scrambles to look decent while Jack raises an eyebrow at Shitty that screams ‘ says you? ’ He shrugs at his friend and Jack just rolls his eyes, stepping out into the hallway.

He returns a few minutes later, Bob Zimmermann in tow. Jack’s dad looks remarkably like Jack – same floppy dark hair, same build, same sloped eyes… Jack’s got his mom’s baby blues, but he looks a near enough carbon copy of his dad.

Jeez . Shitty thinks. That couldn’t’ve made it any easier.

There’s a weird pause where none of Shitty’s teammates say anything, because no one wants to embarrass themselves in front of Bad Bob , so Jack steps in and says, “Dad, the guys. Guys, dad.”

Shitty snorts.

The tension is effectively diffused, and Shitty watches as his rowdy as fuck college hockey teammates trip over themselves to be respectful and presentable. Bob is absorbed into a mess of handshakes and overeager questions and Jack turns to head back to his stall, all but completely forgotten in the midst of the excitement.

Shitty, who has shouldered on his suit jacket by now, heads over to join him. “Sick game, bro.”

“Thanks,” Jack looks up him while he ties his shoes. He’d racked up both a goal and an assist. “Could’ve been better, but.” He shrugs.

“You can’t play a perfect game, brah.” Shitty says.

Jack looks away. “I can try.”

Shitty sits next to him and watches their teammates take photos with Jack’s father. “Does this ever get weird for you?”


Jack finishes tying his shoes and sits up so they’re sitting shoulder to shoulder. “I mean… not really. ‘S pretty much the usual, for me.”

Shitty winces. “It’s still kinda weird.”

“Tell me about it.” Jack stands. “C’mon, I want you to meet maman.”

And, hang on. “Whoa, wait,” Shitty stands too, but only so he can be level with Jack, “bro, you’re not going to introduce me to your mom right now. I’m gross. I’m not beautiful enough to be in the presence of your mother. Jack.” Jack has grabbed his arm and is dragging him through the doors despite his protests. “Jack. You motherfucker, Jackie, you can’t – ”

“Hi, maman.” Jack says pointedly.

Shitty’s mouth snaps closed.

Alicia Zimmermann is wearing a baseball cap, jeans, and a t-shirt, and still manages to look more put together than either Shitty or Jack, and they’re both in their game day suits.

“Hi, baby.” She smiles warmly at Jack, who wraps her in a hug, and steps back to kiss him on the cheek before turning her eyes – Jack’s eyes – to Shitty.

“Hi, Mrs. Zimmermann.” Shitty says, slipping into his Andover voice on instinct and shaking her hand. He does notice Jack’s double take, though he pretends not to. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m – ” and he falters. He can’t say ‘Shitty’ in front of Alicia Zimmermann, can he?

“This is Shitty, maman.” Jack saves him. God bless the fuck out of Jack Zimmermann, honestly.

Her eyebrows rise in realization and her smile turns a touch more genuine. “Oh, Shitty! We’ve heard so much about you, dear.”

“Only good things, I hope.” He shoots what he hopes comes off as a fond glare in Jack’s direction. Jack still looks vaguely perturbed at Shitty’s Andover voice, but it’s become a habit when meeting parents, Bob and Alicia Zimmermann included.

Alicia is still smiling at him. “Only good things, I promise.” She says. “And call me Alicia. Mrs. Zimmermann is my mother-in-law.”

Shitty watches in fascination as both Jack and Alicia shudder in unison and vows to get that story out of Jack later. “So Shitty,” says Alicia, “you live across from Jack?”

He nods. “Yeah! I actually literally knocked into him the first day of practice. That’s how we met.” He shoots a wink at Jack. “Swept me right off my feet.”

Shitty .”

“Hush, Jack, let the boy talk.” Alicia laughs, eyes sparkling. Jack pouts.

Shitty is about to respond in kind, but Bob emerges from the locker room, looking no worse for wear.

Jack really does look like him. 

There’s a strange moment where Bob looks at him Shitty can see the moment when Bob figures out who he is. “Shitty?”

“Yes, sir.” He holds out his hand for a handshake, but Bob goes straight for a hug instead.

Bobby ,” Alicia admonishes.

“No need for that, son,” Bob chuckles, ignoring his wife. “I feel like I know you already.”

Shitty feels himself start to grin. “Do you?”

Papa ,” Jack groans, more insistent than his mother. “arrêtez.”

They separate, but Bob claps him on the shoulder. “Good to finally put a face to the name, Shitty.”

“Thank you, sir.” Shitty says, “Same to you. I didn’t want to add to the, ah...” He gestures vaguely to the locker room doors, “the excitement in there.”

Bob’s smile is a different sort of warm than Alicia’s, Shitty realizes, and not in a bad way. It deepens the crinkles by his eyes and softens his whole face. “Call me Bob.”

Shitty nods. “I – okay.”

“Shitty,” Alicia hedges, “we don’t want to interrupt your dinner plans, of course, but I asked Jack to let you know that your family is more than welcome to join us if you’d like.”

He’s shaking his head before she even finishes the sentence. “Oh, no, it’s okay. Thank you so much for the offer, really, but I don’t want to impose.”

“Your parents are more than welcome to come!” Bob adds cheerfully, impervious to Jack’s twisted expression and the way he’s clearly going to attempt to do some damage control.

Shitty jumps in before Jack can say anything. “My parents weren’t able to make it down, actually, but I really do appreciate the offer.” Both Zimmer-parents frown, and Shitty continues before anyone can say anything. “I have a hot date with my Netflix account and a pretty sweet pillow fort to hole up in, so I’m all set.”

He’s convinced Bob, he thinks, but Alicia hasn’t stopped frowning at him. Shitty spares a disparaged thought for mother’s intuitions.

“Well, as tempting as that sounds,” she says, “I insist you come to dinner with us. It’s the least we can do, to thank you for looking after this goofball this year.” She reaches up to ruffle Jack’s hair. It’s a playful gesture, but her blue eyes are steely and broker no room for argument. He’s seen Jack wear a similar expression enough times to know that resistance is futile.

Jack is ducking away and batting at his mother’s hands, but her expectant eyes are still locked on Shitty, who inclines his head. The warmth returns to her eyes at once. “Excellent. We’ll head to the car; I’ll call and change the reservation. You boys get your things.”

Shitty barely has time to stammer out a “Thank you!” before Jack is dragging him back towards the locker rooms to pick up the last of their stuff. Most of the team has cleared out since Bob’s departure, either heading to meet their own parents or to find something to eat for dinner. As soon as they reach the locker room and the door swings closed behind them, Jack turns to Shitty with a grimace.

“Shits, I’m sorry,” he says, “I told her you didn’t wanna come, I swear.”

Shitty shrugs. He still feels a little like an imposition, but he also was not about to tell Alicia Zimmermann ‘no’. “It’s chill, brah.”

“You don’t have to come if you don’t want to, I’ll make something up and tell them.”

Jackie .” Shitty says, grabbing his duffle. “It’s cool. Really. I didn’t wanna, like, interrupt your family bonding time or anything, but dude . Your mom is kinda scary, I’m not about to tell her no if I can fucking help it.”

Jack searches his face for a second before relenting and heading to pick up his own stuff. “Don’t I know it. How do you think she survived in Hollywood for so long?”

“Which! Is fucked up.” Shitty adds as they depart. “Hollywood is the prime example of the fuckery that is institutionalized sexism and I applaud your mother for taking absolutely no shit.”

“You should tell her that.” Jack says, “When I was little I remember she would spend hours ranting to my dad about this producer or that director, and it usually ended up with him offering to fight the entirety of LA.” He smiles at the memory. “She used to say that if women just ran the whole business it would be so much better.”

“Fucking right !” Shitty crows, “I love her, Jackabelle, let’s go dismantle the mass media patriarchy over dinner.”

Jack laughs outright at that and says, “If anyone were ever going to actually do it, it would be you two.

 

The ride over to dinner is remarkably quick – Shitty sits in the backseat with Alicia, while Bad Bob sits up front with Jack. “It’s his knee,” Alicia says conspiratorially as they buckle in, “it acts up if he can’t stretch it out enough.”

“My knee is fine , Shitty, she likes to spread rumors.” Bob grouches.

Jack and Alicia make eye contact in the rearview mirror and roll their eyes together. It’s cute.

The Zimmermann’s have reservations at a steakhouse not too far from campus. Dinner starts off a little awkward, as Shitty has never actually met the Zimmermann's before, but once Alicia starts reminiscing about her time at Samwell it's easy to jump in. It's remarkably easy to talk to her, Shitty realizes, because her manner is so similar to her son's. Jack and Bob start hockey talk almost immediately after they order, and Shitty and Alicia have no desire to join in, and soon enough they're bonding over Shitty's professor for his science requirement. Doc. Holst is a grizzled old man who has never once spoken above a monotone drawl, refuses to stop and explain any sort of concept, and is never seen outside of lecture. According to Alicia, his office is almost always locked or completely empty, and no one has ever been inside. He was ancient when she was a student, apparently, and she's surprised to hear that he's still around.

"Maybe he's immortal." Shitty muses. "But not Hozier-immortal or Florence Welsh-immortal, ya know? More like... if Hephaestus was doomed to teach science to ungrateful teenagers for the rest of eternity."

Alicia lets out a snort and raises her wine glass at him. He clinks it against his own glass of water and they take a sip, Jack and Bob both looking on with matching expressions of confusion. They look like carbon copies of each other, down to the little wrinkle between their eyebrows when they don't know what's going on. Shitty's still a little amazed by it.

"Do you think he even realizes that he has students in his classroom?" Alicia says. "When I was here I don't think he turned around from the board once."

Shitty laughs. "Probably not, but I've only ever interacted with his TA's."

"There was this one time - " she begins, before Jack cuts her off.

"Maman, please."

Dutifully, Alicia stops and looks over at him. Shitty sighs. "Jackie, don't be jealous of our stimulating conversation, you can take Bio of Plants next year and we can do this all over again!"

"Well now I don't want to." Jack grumbles.

Alicia smiles at her son. "No, you really don't. But if you did, I happen to know that Doctor H doesn't change his course material and I could give you all of the notes I took. If I can manage to find them."

"Mama Z," Shitty gasps, "what about me?"

"You're almost free, Shitty," says Alicia, "it'll feel better if you manage to get through it on your own." Shitty makes a face and she grins in response. "Trust me."

The waitress brings their check soon after, and they linger over the dregs of Alicia's wine and Bob's coffee. Over the course of the meal, Shitty has realized that the easy family dynamic between Jack and his parents doesn't come nearly as easily as it appears - there are a couple of times where Bob makes offhand comments that cause Jack's shoulders to rise with tension, where Alicia will subtly slip a hand around Jack's bicep and squeeze reassuringly without skipping a beat in her conversation with Shitty.

With the little he knows about Jack's past - the little he knows that has come from Jack himself, at least - Shitty knows that both Jack and his parents have been working on their relationship for a while, and that it's much better than it had been three years ago. What is made abundantly clear over the course of one meal, though, is that the Zimmerman's love their son an incredible amount.

Jack drops Shitty off at their dorm before driving back to his parent's hotel for the night. They've been given the following day off from practice, and Shitty is planning on sleeping in and then not leaving his bed unless the building catches on fire - and maybe not even then. The dorms are quiet, most students either still out with their parents or, like Shitty, keeping to themselves for the evening. He's settling in for bed when his phone vibrates. It's a message from Jack, short and simple, but brings a smile to Shitty's face nonetheless: Maman says she'll send you her notes if she can find them. Shitty stares at the message for a while, so he sees as soon as Jack sends a follow-up. I think she likes you more than me.

It makes Shitty laugh, because he knows that Jack doesn't believe it. He's debating the consequences of sending back I think I like her more than I like you, because he's fairly sure Jack would know that he's joking, when one last text comes through.

Thanks for coming to dinner.

He sends back, Anytime, Jackie, thanks for having me, and falls asleep feeling far less lonely than he has all day.

Chapter Text

The day before their presentation, Shitty is holed up in Founder's with Blake and Cyrus. Amanda had been with them for a few hours before needing to go to another class, and Shitty and the two seniors are pretty much wrapping up when someone slides into one of the open seats next to Blake.

Since it's basic library etiquette to ask before sitting at a table, Shitty looks up, ready to tell whoever it is that they need the table space and that they're almost done, if they wouldn't mind waiting for a few minutes. Before he can say anything, however, he realizes that it's Ellie, Spills' girlfriend. Blake has clearly already realized who it is that has joined them, judging by the happy little noise she makes and the way she's hugging Ellie before Shitty has even fully processed what's going on.

Cyrus looks up too. "Hey, Ellie!"

Ellie, who is still being hugged by Blake, smiles at him over Blake's shoulder, "Hi Cyrus!"

Blake pulls back and Ellie squeezes her bicep with a smile before glancing over at Shitty. "Hi! You look super familiar, but I don't think we've met. Ellie."

"Shitty," he replies, shaking her outstretched hand. "Nice to meet you."

"He plays hockey," Blake offers.

"Oh!" Ellie says, "You'd know my, ah. Wayne?"
Shitty nods, making every effort to keep his expression neutral. Cyrus manages too, as far as Shitty can see, but Blake can't keep a grimace off her face. Ellie notices, but she doesn't draw attention to it besides a gentle nudge of Blake's shoulder with her own.

"You had a good game last weekend," Ellie says. They'd been on a roadie, playing Harvard on their home turf, which made their victory all the sweeter. Plus, Shitty played third line and racked up his highest amount of ice time all season. It was a good game.

"Thanks," he grins. "It was fun."

Ellie glances down at the reports they've scattered around the tabletop. "How's your presentation going?"

"We're mostly done," Cyrus says, "just some last minute tweaks before we have to turn it in tomorrow."

Nodding, Ellie glances at Blake. "Did you ever get that paper sent over from Prospector?"

Privately, Shitty is surprised that Ellie knows about that. Blake had spent the last two weeks trying to request an article on the role of women in West Africa, and was about two non-conclusive emails away from staging a sit-in on the third floor of Founder's until she got the article delivered to her - for free, because 'I shouldn’t have to pay for information, Shitty, I already pay too damn much to go to this school. What good is it if they can’t buy articles for me?’

"Yeah," Blake says, "I got it yesterday." She rolls her eyes, "I think the librarians all want me dead, so that's fun."

Cyrus pats her on the shoulder. "At least you got it, though."

"Mm." Blake inclines her head in acknowledgement, adding another footnote into their paper as she does so.

Ellie doesn't seem to mind that they're all fairly quiet, just pulls out her notebook and says, "Okay if I join you?"

"Of course," Blake says, not looking up. Out of the corner of his eye, Shitty notices Cyrus smirk a little, but he doesn't say anything, and so Shitty doesn't either. He just smiles at Ellie when she looks to him and keeps working on his paper.

 

Cyrus has to leave a few minutes later; a pipe has burst in his apartment and his sink is slowly flooding the first floor. He leaves Shitty and Blake with a promise to finish the citations that night, no matter how flooded his house is.

He hasn't been gone long before Blake sits back in her chair with a groan. "If I have to look the words 'uncritical absolutism' one more time I'm climbing to the top of Founder's and throwing myself off of it."

Ellie snorts. "Drama queen." She's been quietly flipping through a printed out journal entry and taking diligent notes the entire time they've been working, not even interrupting the exchange of Shitty and Blake's increasingly overdramatic comments about their project. "I'm sure your project is killer."

"You shut your mouth," Blake says, mock-glaring at Ellie. "I know for a fact that you walked to the registrar to drop out of your thesis seminar."

Unapologetic, Ellie shrugs. There's a glint in her eye. "So what I'm hearing is that I have more balls than you do?"

Shitty opens his mouth to address the problematic nature of that expression, because technically men are fucking weak when it comes to their genitalia and women are and always will be badasses, but Blake holds up a hand without even looking at him.

"S'okay, Shitty." She hasn't broken eye contact with Ellie. "She knows what she means."

"Sorry, Shitty," Ellie says, "I do know what I meant." There's a long pause, where they just look at each other, and Shitty starts to feel awkward. Their faces are very close together.

Eventually, their weird little bubble pops. Ellie smirks and Blake rolls her eyes, looking away.
"Fine. You win."

And Shitty's pretty sure that no words have actually been exchanged, there. He's lost, but he's also starting to connect some very interesting dots.

It's disappointing, but he should probably head out for practice. "Hey," he stands up. They both look at him. "I gotta head out. Is there anything else you need me to finish tonight?"

"Um," Blake seems flustered, "nothing that I can think of right now. Thanks, Shitty."

"No problem." He shrugs his bag onto his shoulder. "See you tomorrow. It was good to meet you, Ellie."

"You too!" She calls after him as he walks away, leaving the two of them alone with their weird energy.

Interesting.

 

He's walking to the cafeteria for breakfast the next day when he sees Anahera across North Quad. She's with someone he doesn't know, but Shitty has never been afraid of meeting new people. He waves, and when she beckons him over he goes easily.

"Hey, Shitty!"

The boy with her raises his eyebrows at the name. "Your name is Shitty?"

"Yep." Shitty grins.

"...Okay." He nods with what looks like reluctant acceptance. "Cool. I'm Rawiri."

Shitty shakes the offered hand. "Fuckin' cool name, bro." He glances tentatively at Anahera. Their accents are similar, but he doesn't want to assume.

Anahera, bless her goddamn soul, knows exactly what he's wondering. "Yes."

"Cool." Shitty says again.

She holds up a finger to him before he can continue. "No, not all Maori people know each other. But we are over six thousand miles away from home, so this is a special case. And by ‘special case’ I mean that I do know every other Maori person on campus."

Shitty nods in acknowledgement. "Is that hard? Being so far?"

Anahera and Rawiri exchange a look, one that Shitty has seen enough times to know means you have no fucking clue and turn back to him, nodding. "Yes."

"It's never easy," Rawiri says, "but at least we aren't alone, ya know?"

"Exactly." Anahera agrees, “Can I ask what prompted the question, Shitty?”

He shrugs. “Nah, nothing, really. I just got curious. I don’t know anybody who lives as far away as you do. We don’t have to talk about it anymore, if it bums you out.”

Rawiri smiles at him hesitantly. “I barely know you, but I think I like you.”

“I like you too!” Shitty grins. “I have class at ten, but I was on my way to breakfast if you want to join me.”

They agree, and the three of them walk to breakfast together. Over the course of the meal, he learns that Rawiri is on the swim team, has never met anyone on the hockey team (“Your team is scary, man. Are you sure you’re not a cult?”), and is so into his Art Of The 19th Century class that he might want to minor in art.

He leaves Shitty and Anahera at breakfast to make it to his nine am class, and as soon as he’s out the door Shitty fixes Anahera with a look.

No,” she says, so vehemently that it makes Shitty want to completely erase the last two seconds.

“Okay,” he says slowly, “are you sure?”

She glares at him. “He’s like my brother, Shitty.”

“… are you sure about that?”

Shitty.”

He holds up his hands in surrender, “Okay. Okay, I’m sorry. He just seems like a nice kid.

“He is a nice kid. He’s great, and I love him. I love him like I love my brothers at home. That’s it.” She says.

He grimaces. “I just. Everybody else is shit. Nobody deserves you, and I just. Like him.”

She regards him a little too closely for Shitty’s liking. “Are you sure you don’t think he’s good for me because we’re the same ethnicity?”

“Oh, fuck,” Shitty shakes his head. “I don’t… think so? Nah. You’re just too fucking good for anyone, brah, you know that.”

“Well,” she stops looking into his soul, at least. “Thanks, I think? But I can find my own men, Shitty. You know that, don’t you?”

He sighs. “Yes.”

“Good.”

They walk to their FemGen lecture soon after, and Anahera graciously allows Shitty, who starts stressing about it, to practice his part of the presentation on the way.

 

He thinks it goes well – Anahera gives him a thumbs up when they’re done, and Amanda and Blake both give him subtle high fives when they return to their seats. He’s just glad the experience is over, if he’s being honest. Midterms suck.

When their class lets out, he heads to Annie’s to grab a bite to eat. Jonesy and Boom are in line ahead of him, but when he calls out to them they don’t even acknowledge it. Shitty knows for sure that they’ve seen him; he and Boom made direct eye contact when he walked in, Boom opening and closing his mouth in an aborted greeting.

The seniors are weird, but they aren’t usually this weird. They get their coffees and leave without a second glance.

He texts Jack, because if anyone would know about something happening with the hockey team it would be Jack, but only gets an I have no idea what you’re talking about, Shits in response. He shrugs it off, because there’s nothing else he can do, really. Everyone seemed perfectly normal at weights this morning. Maybe he’s projecting.

 

His second class of the day isn’t until two, so he heads to the library to get ahead on homework. They’ve got a roadie coming up, and while Shitty would much rather be doing anything other than homework, the weather is too cold to do anything else. He could go back to his room to do work, of course, but he’d probably end up bothering Jack or watching Netflix in Jack’s room or sleeping, and he’s trying to be fucking responsible, okay?

It’s slow, monotonous work, but he’s slogging his way through it when someone steps up next to him. It’s Tia and Jaz.

“Mind if we sit here?” Tia says.

Shitty shakes his head. “Of course not, brah, sit down.”

Jaz grins at him. “It’s been a while, Shitty.”

“I know,” he groans. “I’m sorry. I had this presentation and – ”

“Oh my gosh, Shitty,” Jaz says, “I’m joking. It’s okay.”

Tia, who’s sitting next to him, leans into his shoulder. “We miss you, that’s all.”

“Aw,” he wraps an arm around her, “I miss you too. We have a game this weekend, you should come.”

Jaz makes a face and Tia laughs. “Shitty, we love you, we don’t need to watch you slam into people for two hours to love you more.”

“But slamming into people is how I show my love.” Shitty pouts. They’ve had this conversation before, and he knows that his friends aren’t huge hockey fans. It’s a violent sport. They’re gentle souls. He gets it.

“You show us you love us without slamming us into anything, Shitty.” Jaz points out. “But if you really want us to be there, we can absolutely go.”

Shitty loves her. Jaz, beautiful, sweet Jaz who had once burst into tears watching a baby learning to walk on North Quad. Jaz, who could never hurt a fly. He could never make Jaz watch hockey.

“You, Jaz, are a motherfucking gorgeous human being, and I adore you.” Shitty declares. “I won’t make you sit through a hockey game. Plus, I cannot encourage Anahera’s obsession with Javvy.”

Tia scoffs. “She does love him.”

Shitty fake-gags, and both girls laugh. “Don’t you think that if anyone could handle a hockey boy, it would be Anahera?” Jaz says.

He’s never thought of it like that. “She still deserves better.”

“She knows what she deserves,” Tia says, “she can handle herself.”

“She told me that exact thing this morning.” Shitty grouches.

Tia ruffles his hair fondly before punching him in the shoulder. “Do your homework, Shitty.”

 

They sit at the same table for three hours, getting barely any work done. Shitty almost misses class, and has to practically run from Founder’s to the English building for the class he shares with Jack.

He slides into his usual seat next to Jack just as the professor walks into the room. Jack says nothing, just raises an eyebrow.

English has never been his favorite subject, and he dislikes intro level classes on principle. He never gets to study the aspects of the subject that actually interest him. He’s lucky Jack’s there, because as little as Jack pays attention – most of his notes contain scribbled hockey plays in the margins – at least he has someone to hold him accountable.

Class ticks by slowly, and occasionally Shitty will lean over to make adjustments to Jack’s hockey notes. By the time class is over, Shitty has written about three bullet points in his notebook. He and Jack exchange twin sighs when class is dismissed, and from there it’s back to the dorm to grab their practice stuff, then to Faber.

 

The seniors are still being cagey, barely even looking their way. It makes practice difficult, because they’ll interact with the taddies while running drills on the same line, but entirely ignore them otherwise. Hall and Murray don’t seem to notice, or if they do, they don’t care. It’s entirely confusing, and even Jack notices something strange going on.

“Who knows.” Jack says as they walk to the cafeteria after practice.

Shitty punches him. “Let me guess. As long as it doesn’t affect their game or the team dynamic, it doesn’t matter?”

“Well, yeah,” Jack starts.

“I love you and your predicta-fucking-bility, Jacko.”

Jack thinks about that for a while before saying, “Thanks?”

“Don’t mention it.” says Shitty, and leaps onto Jack’s back for a piggyback ride that lasts all the way to dinner.

 

Shitty’s been asleep for what feels like two seconds when he wakes up to someone pounding on the door.

His roommate is already getting out of bed, yanking open the door with a pissed “What the fuck, dude.”

He sees who it is and turns right the fuck around to get back into bed. Confused, Shitty starts to get out of bed, and when he sees who it is, he wishes he was his roommate.

Flappy and Jonsey, grinning, hold up the pillowcase between them.

 

Shitty doesn’t know anything besides the fact that his knees are freezing, his hands are tied behind his back, and he wishes he had grabbed thicker socks. He knows there are other people around him, can hear the shuffle of feet and the whispers of who he thinks are Javvy and Asher, but he’s been told not to talk until asked a direct question, so he shuts the fuck up.

“Frogs!” Someone bellows. It echoes the way Hall’s voice does in Faber sometimes, when the boys are being particularly quiet, so Shitty’s pretty sure he knows where he is. Also - are they finally being upgraded from taddies to frogs? Is this when that happens? “We’re taking off the hoods, but your eyes stay closed. We see your eyes, that’s an extra shot. You won’t know what the shot is, but you gotta down it, or you get another shot.” A pause, then. “Got it, Frogs?”

There’s a chorus of ‘yeah’ and ‘yes’ and a quiet ‘fuck’, and Shitty clamps his eyes shut as he feels the pillowcase start to lift off of his head.

It’s replaced fairly quickly with a blindfold. The rope around Shitty’s hands is removed as well, only to have his hands re-tied in front of him.

There’s can of beer placed in his hands, and a quick feel reveals that tab has already been popped.

“You drink on three, frogs. Don’t bother stopping until the whole can is gone. Three.”

Shitty raises the can to his lips, takes a sip, and has to forcibly stop himself from spitting it out. It’s tub juice, he knows enough to recognize Flappy’s recipe, but it’s extra strong tonight. By extra strong, Shitty means that it tastes like Everclear, Svedka, a whole lot of Fireball, and not much else.

It’s absolutely disgusting, and every swallow tastes like fire and regret. He finishes it, though, and as soon as he crushes the can there’s another pushed into his hands.

“Drink up.” Says a voice from his left. It sounds like Jonsey.

He drinks. It burns less than the first can, which is both good and terrible all at once. It’s tough, but he gets everything down. As soon as he crushes the second can, the blindfold is ripped off of his eyes and he blinks into the sudden light of Faber.

Sure enough, he’s kneeling on the ice, Javvy to his right, Matts on his left. There’s a spotlight shining down on the them – where the fuck the spotlight came from, Shitty has no clue. The line of frogs stretches beyond Javvy, where he thinks he sees the blurry figures of Asher and two others, but the sudden light has already disoriented him enough that he needs to focus on his balance rather than the actual people around him.

The tub juice hits him fast, faster than he would’ve expected, and the walls of Faber are starting to lilt sideways. It’s not until Flappy catches him that he realizes that he’s the one lilting sideways.

“C’mon, Shitty,” Flappy whispers to him, “I had faith in you. Hold your tub juice.”

Shitty goes to shake his head to clear it, before realizing that that is a terrible idea. “Sorry,” he croaks back, trying to stay upright on his own.

The other boys are starting to finish their drinks, and upon being un-blindfolded they blink around at each other before focusing on Bergy. Their captain is standing in front of them, arms crossed and sunglasses perched on the end of his nose. Every upperclassmen is wearing a matching pair of shades, and there isn’t an ounce of sympathy to be found.

“Frogs.” Bergy addresses them, “tonight, you become full members of the Samwell Men’s Hockey team.” He nods to the seniors that flank him. Spills and his d-man Konny hand each frog a shotglass filled with what looks like Absolut and take up their positions next to Jonsey and Boom.

“Drink,” Jonsey orders. Shitty knocks the shot back and barely even feels the burn as it goes down. “What happens tonight will not be repeated. If a single word about what happens here gets out, you cannot even begin to imagine the severity of what will happen to you.”

He gestures behind him again, and this time Jonsey and Boom step up and refill their shotglasses from a bottle hidden in a paper bag. "I'm instating a One Frog, All Frog policy. If I hear someone said something, I don't give a fuck who it was. Someone snitches and you all go down, you hear me? Drink."

It's just more vodka, and after the tub juice and the previous shot it goes down nice and smooth.

Spills takes over the speech for Jonsey. "Tonight, each of you will be assigned to an upperclassman. You do whatever they tell you - and when I say whatever, I mean whatever. They want a fresh bottle of 7-Up from Murder Stop 'n Shop in the middle of the kegster? You go get it. They want you to drink half the tub? You man the fuck up and drink it." He jerks his head at Konny, who refills their shot glasses once more.

"Drink."

After the frogs down the shot, Shitty retains enough sense about him to notice Konny replacing the screw cap on the bottle, and hopes that they're done with the liquor for the time being.

Bergy takes off his sunglasses and glares at all of them. "Alright, boys. We'll see you at the Haus."

It's hard to believe that they're just being allowed to stand up and walk away, but as soon as that thought passes through Shitty's mind, the blindfold is yanked back over his head. He feels hands grasp the hem of his shirt soon after.

Shitty has never particularly been afraid of nudity. Years of hockey have made him perfectly comfortable with his body. He sleeps in boxers, if anything at all, and the only reason he's wearing a shirt now is because Flappy and Jonsey had taken so long debating the pros and cons of taking him to Faber in just his boxers that Shitty's roommate had thrown his own shirt in their direction with a muttered "Fucking leave already." and that had been that.

He feels the shirt being lifted over his head, a process made infinitely more difficult by the fact that his hands are still fucking tied together. Eventually, the upperclassmen get the shirt off of him and manhandle him up into a position that could possibly be considered standing if he hadn't been tilting pretty drastically to one side.

From what Shitty can tell from the voices around him, the seniors have all but disappeared. There's a single pair of arms wrapped around Shitty's biceps - he thinks - and he assumes they belong to Flappy, but he can't be certain, and he's pretty sure that the no-talking rule still applies.

Whoever is holding his arms is trying to get him off the ice, which maybe would've been possible had Shitty been sober, but he's well on his way to drunk now, and the disorientation that comes from being blind on the ice combined with the alcohol spins that are slowly but surely getting worse has him practically falling on his face.

Flappy sighs from behind him and tightens his grip on Shitty's arms.

 

They exit Faber with their blindfolds still on and their clothing nowhere to be found. The amount of alcohol in his blood keeps his body warm, but the cold fabric of his boxers is definitely not doing his body any favors.

Shitty has the vaguest idea of where he is, and the cold air is a sobering shock to his system, so when the arms that are holding him suddenly disappear he doesn't immediately fall down.

"Listen up, frogs," someone barks, "You find your way back to the Haus, you take the blindfold off. Until then, you don't even get to think about peeking. Got it?"

A chorus of "yeah" is followed by an abrupt silence from the rest of the team, and Shitty starts to slowly walk forward along the sidewalk. For a while, the only sounds Shitty can hear are quiet curses coming from either side of him as the frogs fumble their way back to the Haus.

The only reason he knows that their team is still around to make sure they don't actually die is when he almost falls off the curb and feels a hand yank him backward.

It takes anywhere from twenty minutes to four hours, Shitty can't really tell, but when they reach Frat Row it's easy to follow the sounds of a party to the front porch of the Haus. As soon as he climbs the steps to reach the front door, he takes off his blindfold and looks around.

Somehow, there isn't anyone on the lawn. There isn't anyone on any frat lawn, which Shitty doesn't think he's ever seen in his life, though it is probably one in the morning on a Tuesday - Wednesday, now. The lights are on in the Haus living room, and there's a muffled bassline pumping through the house. It's loud, but Shitty's heard louder from these same speakers, so he assumes this is a private hockey party. It's almost more worrying, the fact that there won't really be anyone around as witnesses.

The door in front of him swings open, leaving Jonsey standing in the frame. "Hello, Shitty."

"'Sup," Shitty tries for what is supposed to be a cool head nod. As soon as he tries it, he knows it doesn't come off as cool as he would've liked.

Jonsey grabs his arm and tugs him inside, shutting the door behind him even though Shitty knows that there are other frogs standing on the porch. He's being tugged towards the kitchen as Boom opens the front door again to, presumably, claim his own frog.
Most of the guys are in the living room playing video games, so Shitty is a little confused when he and Jonsey head for the kitchen.

Jonsey steers him towards the kitchen table and sits him down, then fills up his own water bottle from the sink and hands it to Shitty.

"Drink."

Shitty frowns down at it. "'S there alc in the pipes now, what the fuck?"

"What the fuck, Shitty, that's water. You just saw me fill it, you dumbass. Drink."

Dutifully but cautiously Shitty raises the bottle to his lips. When he realizes that it is, indeed, water, he directs his frown up at Jonsey.

"Aren't you supposed to be giving me fucking alcohol poisoning?"

Jonsey rolls his eyes. "Don't be dramatic, Shitty, we aren't gonna kill you guys."

"Didn't fucking seem like it," Shitty grouches, taking another swig of water. "Could've gotten hit by a motherfucking car, walking around in the street like a crazy person."

"But did you?" Jonsey asks.

Shitty pouts, "No, but my point is - "

"I know, Shitty," he interrupts, "I know what your point is. Finish the fucking water."

Jonsey fucks around on his phone while Shitty chugs the rest of the water bottle, and when he pushes it back in Jonsey's direction the upperclassman rises from the table to pour two shots of tequila.

He brings them to the table and hands one to Shitty, raising the other in a toast. Shitty knocks the glasses together, probably a little too hard judging by the way some of the liquid sloshes out of the side, and they toss them back together.

Jonsey leads him back to the living room and hands him a shirt, which Shitty declines because he's already warm as fuck and feels free and light and floaty. He realizes that he's said as much when multiple people laugh in his general direction, and after Jonsey ties the shirt around his head like a scarf he doesn't remember too much else.

 

Somehow, Shitty wakes up in his own bed. Part of him almost thinks that the whole thing was some kind of weird-ass dream, but as soon as he tries to move and almost pukes he realizes that no, it really did happen.

He wonders if Jack is in a similar state, but realizes that the fucker probably doesn't even get hangovers, and also that going across the hall to see how Jack is doing requires actual movement, and quickly decides not to do that. There's a glass of water by his bed, though who it's from Shitty has no idea. He looks at it for a while before deciding that sitting up to get it is also too much work, and promptly falls the fuck back to sleep.

 

He wakes up, judging by the light streaming in through the windows, a few hours later. He's definitely missed his classes today, but he could also care less. He finally feels like he could look at his phone without going blind from the light of the screen, so he gropes around for it on his nightstand with one hand while massaging his pounding temples with the other.

Unlocking his phone reveals that he's been added to the hockey team group chat alongside all of the other taddies, and that there exists an entire photo album dedicated to their hazing. A few pictures in, Shitty realizes that the churning in his stomach isn't just coming from the memory of the tub juice in the pictures - it was neon green, Flappy, what the fuck - and that he is, in fact, about to vomit literally all over his room. He flings his phone somewhere near the foot of his bed and takes off for the bathroom down the hall, thanking whatever deity he can think of that he made it in time.

He's rinsing out his mouth and debating the pros and cons of just drowning himself in the sink when the door opens and Jack walks in.

He double-takes when he sees Shitty, and one quick glance obviously shows him all he needs to know because when he speaks, it's purposefully quiet. "So this is why you missed our lecture."

"Fucking yeah, Jackie, I think I'm actually dying."

Jack rolls his eyes. "Yeah, okay, Shits."

Shitty swallows a couple of gulps of water from the still-running tap before turning it off and straightening up. He uses both arms to brace himself on the counter, very carefully not moving for a few seconds.

"What time is it?" he asks the bathroom sink.

"Almost two thirty," replies Jack, "and I've gotta run to lecture, but if I leave you here are you actually going to die on the bathroom floor?"

"Possibly."

He doesn't see it, because he doesn't want to turn his head, but he knows Jack rolls his eyes. "Okay. Well, I've always thought you had higher standards, but I'll make sure they at least commemorate you here. Maybe build you a shrine."

At long last, Shitty stands up straight. He swallows hard, looks Jack in the eye, and says, "I appreciate that, Jack."

"Anytime."

Shitty slowly makes his way to the door while Jack looks on, clapping him gently on the shoulder as he passes, and continues to grope his way down the hallway back to his room.

Tia exits the elevator just as he reaches his door, and she takes one look at him before she bursts into laughter. He just glares at her and slips back into the blessed darkness of his room, where he sits gingerly on the bed and then lays down in the same careful fashion before falling back to sleep.

 

He barely wakes up in time for practice, and the rest of the frogs look equally as terrible as Shitty, possibly even more so. The only one who doesn't look affected is Jack, the motherfucker, who laces up without even glancing around at anyone else and, as usual, is the first on the ice.

He's also the last to leave, as per usual. Practice is a shitshow, and the coaches are so frustrated with the frogs that eventually the lines are changed to exclusively contain upperclassmen (plus Jack) on the first three, and the remainder of the frogs on the fourth line. Shitty's body aches despite the four Advil he'd popped before practice, and it takes everything in him to keep his balance as he skates off the ice.

He's still in the showers when Jack walks in, fifteen minutes after the rest of the upperclassmen have left for dinner. Matts and Javvy are still showering, and last Shitty saw, Asher and Kicks are in the locker room. They're all just trying to push their way through the fog of alcohol-induced misery coupled with a shitty performance in practice.

Jack and Shitty walk to dinner together much later, Jack characteristically silent and Shitty uncharacteristically silent. It's already pretty late, meaning people are leaving the dining hall as they're walking up the steps. Blake and Ellie are two of those people, and they pause their conversation to yell hello to Shitty.

"So she's the one dating Spills?" Jack says quietly to Shitty after the girls move on. "How'd you meet?"

"The other girl, that's Blake, she was in my presentation group." Shitty says. "They're... friends. Or maybe not friends," he amends, "but they're definitely something."

Jack looks adorably confused. "Not... friends? What are they?"

"That, Jackie, that is the million dollar question." Shitty replies as they get their food. "It is, very unfortunately, not my place to say."

They lapse back into silence for most of the walk back to their dorm. Shitty, having missed two classes and a lab assignment today, really does need to do his work, so he brings his laptop and notebook over to Jack's room and curls up in the corner of Jack's bed.

Despite the fact that Jack is usually the quieter of the two of them, he seems more subdued than usual today. It's taking up more and more of Shitty's attention as he tries to finish his homework, and eventually it's all he can think about. Jack's not even doing anything, just finishing up his own assignments at his desk, but something about his silence seems heavier than usual.

Shitty is debating whether or not to ask him about it. He doesn't want to pry, and maybe he's just imagining things, but it's also Jack. Jack wouldn't mind if he asked.

Fuck it. "Hey," says Shitty.

Jack turns around to look at him.

"I might be way off the mark here," Shitty says, "so feel free to shoot me way fucking down if I'm wrong, but. Are you okay?"

Shitty can see his moment of indecision. Jack opens his mouth to say yes, thinks better of it, and closes his mouth again. He shrugs, but doesn't offer anything more.

Wordlessly, Shitty opens his arms. Jack stands up from his desk and plops down next to Shitty on the bed, leaning into him and tucking his face into the crook of Shitty's neck, nuzzling in a little as he does so.

It takes a while, but the stiff line of Jack's shoulders gradually softens. Jack's silences don't normally stretch this long - usually he caves and tells Shitty what's on his mind after about twenty minutes. At this point, even though he doesn't have a watch, Shitty's pretty sure it's been longer than that. He doesn't want to ask, because he's already done that, so he just kinda strokes his hair and holds him tight.

After a while, Jack sits up and blinks blearily at Shitty, rubbing his eyes with the heel of his hand. "Thanks."

"No prob." Shitty responds quietly. The atmosphere feels fragile, like one too-loud word would shatter it into pieces.

Jack stretches a little before sliding out of bed. He crosses the room to shuck his jeans and t-shirt in exchange for a worn pair of sweatpants, and promptly crawls right back into bed. "I think I'm just gonna turn in."

"Of course, brah," Shitty says, starting to climb out of Jack's bed. He's half accomplished it before Jack's hand wraps around his wrist.

"You could stay, if you wanted." Jack won't meet his eyes, but Shitty knows exactly what he's asking for and he quashes down the impulsive exclamation of"Zimmermann cuddles!" in favor of flopping - literally - right back down on top of his friend.

"Your clothes have to stay on, though." Jack says, stopping him in the middle of his attempt to remove his shirt and squash Jack at the same time.

"Ugh."

Chapter Text

Thanksgiving arrives before Shitty is ready for it. He and Jack are walking out of their EN100 midterm and Shitty is complaining very loudly about going home to Cambridge for Thanksgiving when Jack interrupts him in the middle of a rant.

“Why don’t you come home with me for break?”

“And then I’ll have to be all, ‘ No, Grandfather, I will not be cutting my hair, fuck you very much .’ And he’ll – wait, what?”

Jack shrugs, which would be lost in the layers he’s wearing if he weren’t so damn built. “You don’t wanna go home, I’ll be bored without you, you should just come.”

Shitty gapes at him. “I – are you sure? You’d be okay with that? I don’t wanna crash your holiday like I did on Parents weekend.”

“Parents weekend? What are you talking about?”

“Dinner with your parents?”

Jack groans, “Shitty, for the last time. We wanted you to come. I thought we’d moved past this.”

“Well,” he trails off, kicking at snow.

“Shits.” Jack huffs, and then there’s a handful of snow being dumped down his collar.

It’s so cold that it fucking burns , and Shitty curses. “What the fuck , Zimmermann, that’s so fucking cold, holy fuck.”

Jack isn’t laughing, but his eyes are bright and his cheeks are rosy when he glances Shitty over. “Freezing cold is good look on you.”

“Fuck you, Jackie, you motherfucker. Come here.” Shitty lunges at him.

The fight that ensues finds them both in a heap on the ground, half lying in the cleared walkway and half covered in snow. The people that steer around them on the path are too run down by midterms to spare them more than a passing glance. Jack’s hat is half on his head, Shitty having taken it off to fill it with snow before replacing it. Shitty’s jacket is unzipped for the same reason – the amount of snow that had been stuffed down the back couldn’t be shaken out without removing the whole thing.

They’re short of breath and laughing, finally relaxed after what has been one of the more stressful weeks of Shitty’s life, and they’re both lying on their backs staring up at the gray sky when Jack speaks up.

“Seriously, come with us. We’re going to Nova Scotia for break, it’ll be more fun if you’re there. Maman would love it. So would Papa, probably.”

Shitty’s quiet, thinking it over, when Jack adds, “It’s not like we’re celebrating anything, anyway, eh?”

At first, Shitty thinks he’s talking about how Thanksgiving is a fucked-up holiday that celebrates the genocide of Native Americans, but then he realizes – “Canadian Thanksgiving!”

Jack nods sagely. “Already happened.”

Jack . Did you even celebrate? Are you allowed to go back to Canada if you forgot Canadian Thanksgiving?”

“I didn’t forget , thanks,” Jack says, “I drank a beer in solidarity with my fellow countrymen.”

Shitty sits up. “When the fuck did you do that? And who the fuck are your countrymen?”

“On October 14th, Shitty. Konny and Eggy and I.”

“What the fuck, Jack, why didn’t you tell me?”

Jack sits up and looks at him, confused. “I… didn’t think it would matter? You’re American, Shitty, in case you’d forgotten.”

“Fuck you, Captain Canada, as if I could forget what fucking country I come from. I would’ve celebrated with you!”

Jack pats him on the arm and lays back down. “Okay, Shitty. I’ll remember that for next year.”

“Fucking right,” Shitty huffs, laying down again. “You’d better.”

There’s a pause, where they watch the clouds of their breath disappear into the sky, and into the stillness that always accompanies snowfall and wintertime Jack says, “So you’ll come?”

“Alright, fine,” Shitty acquiesces, “but only if you let me celebrate belated Canadian Thanksgiving with you right now by buying me a beer.”

Jack stands and hauls Shitty up after him with a grin. “Done.”

 

They arrive in Halifax at two in the afternoon. Shitty lets Jack navigate their way through the airport, as he seems to know exactly where he’s going, and sure enough they emerge near the baggage claim just as it begins to turn.

“My dad is outside in the car,” Jack says to him. “He’s keeping it warm for us, he says.”

It makes sense that Bad Bob Zimmermann wouldn’t hang out inside a public airport – already Shitty had seen a few double takes as Jack made his way through security. Luckily, they don’t have to wait for too long, and they pick up their duffels and are headed out the door in no time.

Jack beelines for a large black sedan idling at the curb, and when he knocks at the window the drivers side door opens right away. Bob rounds the front of the car, grinning, and pulls Jack into a hug. He does the same for Shitty, to Shitty’s surprise, and helps them load their stuff into the trunk before they head off.

It doesn’t surprise Shitty in the slightest that Bob listens to the same collection of “dad rock” Jack has stored in his iPod. What is more surprising, however, is that Bad Bob, hockey legend and social media extraordinaire, cannot hold a tune to save his life.

Jack is slowly turning more and more pink in the seat in front of him, but Shitty is having the time of his life.

By the time the ride is done almost half an hour later, Jack has a few new videos on his phone that Shitty maintains will never, ever be deleted upon pain of death. The first – a three minute long, shaky as hell video clip that begins with Shitty attempting to croon the first three lines of ‘Somebody to Love’, only to take a deep breath right before dropping into the first verse and choking on a peanut. The footage is so shaky because Jack couldn’t stop laughing enough to keep the phone stable. The second video is only seven seconds long, a clip where the faint sounds of Garth Brooks’ ‘Friends in Low Places’ can be heard in the background, barely audible beneath Shitty screeching at Jack because he wouldn’t “ sing, Jackie, I know you know this song, you country-loving Canadian bumpkin ”. Not featured in the video is the half second prior, when Jack had, in fact, been mouthing along to the chorus of the song. The third and final video, and Shitty’s personal favorite, features one Bad Bob Zimmermann dueting with one Shitty Knight in a breathtaking rendition of ‘Summer of ‘69’. Highlights of said video include Shitty’s talent for headbanging, made more appropriate by the flow he’s attempting to grow out, and Bob’s frankly impressive air guitar. The air guitar is only made better by Jack’s voice in the background swearing in French, and his “ Papa , you’re driving .”

It’s a wonderfully productive car ride, as far as Shitty is concerned.

 

The cabin is beautiful, nestled away next to a frozen lake that Shitty suspects has been cleared off specifically for the Zimmermanns. From the outside, it doesn’t appear ostentatious or out of place in the slightest – rather, it looks like it grew out of the ground where it stands, no different from the snow-heavy trees that line the driveway.

Bob tries to help Jack and Shitty with their bags, but Jack manhandles him back towards the house before he can lift a single strap. He comes back to grab his own bag from Shitty, who has shut the trunk and started to make his way towards the cabin. It’s cold but not windy, which helps enormously, and the walkway to the front door is perfectly cleared of snow.

Alicia Zimmermann is waiting for them in the kitchen, judging by the way the house smells of cinnamon and spice when they enter the mud room. Once they’ve kicked their boots off in the entryway and Shitty begins debating the pros and cons of roping Jack into a sock-sliding competition, they dump their bags near a staircase and Shitty follows Jack as he navigates his way through the house.

“Hi, boys!” Shitty hears Alicia trill, and as they draw closer to where her voice came from he hears the soft sounds of a radio station playing in the background.

Sure enough, both Alicia and Bob are situated at a marble-topped bar, four mugs of something that smells fucking delicious set out in front of them. Bob is swinging his legs back and forth as he sits perched atop a bar stool, and Alicia stands on the kitchen side of the bar, elbows resting on the countertop.

“Hi, Maman,” says Jack, beelining for his mother. Alicia folds him into a hug immediately.

Shitty sees her mutter something to Jack, too quietly for Shitty or Bob to pick up what is being said, and Jack responds, muffled as his face is tucked safely away in his mother’s hair. During the exchange, Bob notices Shitty lurking around awkwardly, having no clue what to do with himself, and gestures at one of the mugs.

“Alicia’s cider.” He says by way of explanation, “she made a fresh batch just for you boys. It’s the best damn cider I’ve ever had in my life.”

“Strong endorsement,” Shitty grins, stepping up to the counter to grab a mug. It’s wonderfully warm in his hands. “I hope it lives up to the hype.”

“It does.” Jack sounds smug. He’s stopped hugging his mother, though his arm is very comfortably situated around her shoulders, and he’s watching Shitty fondly. “Try it.”

Shitty says nothing, just raises his eyebrows at Alicia, who shrugs. With seemingly no response forthcoming, he raises the mug to his lips and takes a sip. He has to try pretty immediately not to moan in appreciation.

It’s citrusy, more so than he’d expect, but it’s balanced perfectly by the slightest hint of cinnamon and… nutmeg? He’s not a spice guy, he’s just taking ballpark guesses at holiday spices, but when he thinks the name they seem to make sense.

“Holy shit,” is what he says before he realizes where he is and the company he’s keeping, “I mean. I. Sorry, but wow . That’s delicious, Mama Z.”

Alicia smiles at him, sliding out from under Jack’s arm and reaching for her own cup. “Why thank you, Shitty, aren’t you sweet.” She takes a sip of her own and then hands the mug to Jack, who takes it gratefully.

“She’s been making this for me since I was… actually, since before I can remember.” Jack says. “I was… not the fittest kid, so it was usually this in place of hot chocolate. Wasn’t really missing out on anything, though.”

His Canadian accent gets slightly more pronounced when he’s home, apparently, The fact that Shitty has realized this is delightful, and he barely restrains himself from chirping Jack with a teasing “out”. Alicia, in the time it takes Shitty to tamp down the instinctual response of chirping the shit out of Jack, has perched herself on top of the counter and has her own mug of cider cupped in her hands.

“How was the flight?” she asks.

Shitty slides onto his own stool as Jack takes up Alicia’s place on the other side of the counter. “It was okay. A little bumpy, but not too bad.”

“Mm,” hums Alicia, “and midterms? They were okay?”

“Yes, maman,” says Jack, with the air of someone is all too used to having a mother fret over him, “they were fine.”

She turns her gaze to Shitty. “Yours, too? How was Holst?”

“Brutal,” he admits, “but everything else was… equally as brutal, so.”

Bob chuckles and claps him on the shoulder. “At least it’s over now, eh?” And Shitty briefly has a moment of Dad Bob turning back into Bad Bob . He’s talking to Bad Bob about his final exams. While in his cabin in Nova Scotia. What the fuck.

 

They’re released from the kitchen a little while after, Jack pointing out that they both still smell like recycled airplane air. He shows Shitty to a guest room, containing a queen bed with a fluffy duvet that sits pretty beneath frost-covered windows overlooking the frozen lake, and looks on, amused, as Shitty faceplants onto the sheets.

“Comfortable?”

“Mmrrph.” Shitty responds, rolling onto his back to look at Jack. “So comfortable.”

Jack sits gingerly on the edge of the bed before Shitty reaches out and tugs on his shoulder, resulting in the two of them laying side by side. Jack’s legs are dangling off the side of the bed, and Shitty’s arm is weirdly flopped off the other side, but neither of them make any move to adjust.

“This place is dope as hell,” Shitty says after a moment.

“Yeah,” Jack says quietly, “It’s a nice place.”

The wooden ceiling fan spins slowly in place, the faint clicking of the mechanisms the only sound in the room, and Shitty watches the blades turn until Jack sits up again. “C’mon, I’ll give you the grand tour.”

He leaves his bag behind in the room and tags along after Jack, who proceeds to give a very lackluster tour of the cabin.

“That’s the living room.”

“That’s my parent’s room.”

“That’s the other living room.”

“That’s the den.”

“Jack,” Shitty interrupts, “not that I’m not living for this, but where’s the spark? The pizzazz?”

Jack looks at him blankly for a moment, before exasperation crosses his features. “It’s just a house, Shitty, I don’t know what else to tell you.”

Shitty hops up on the back of a couch and kicks his legs out at Jack. “I dunno, just… show me the best places for hide-n-go seek, or something. Oh! I know! Where you’d fuck off to when you had a girl you wanted to make out with. This house has some juicy secrets, Jackieboo, I can feel it .”

Jack’s face shutters a little, and it’s enough for Shitty to realize that he’s probably hit a nerve, but Jack recovers pretty quickly. “Alright, fine, come on.”

He drops his own bags on the couch and before heading down a hallway off the Other Living Room. He opens one of the three doors, peeking around inside, and shuts it again before turning back to Shitty. “Close your eyes and count to twenty.”

“What?”

“You wanted hide-n-seek, Shits, you’ve got it. I’ll be somewhere in these three rooms.”

There’s a spark in Jack’s eye that Shitty barely sees, and it doesn’t take much debate before Shitty grins and shuts his eyes tight. “One…”

 

It takes… well. It takes approximately twenty seconds to Shitty to count to twenty, and when he opens his eyes Jack has vanished. He’d heard only one of the doors open and shut, so it doesn’t take much brainpower to figure that Jack is hiding in one of the rooms. Shitty picks a door at random – the second door down the hall, one of two on the left-hand side – and slips inside.

It’s a study, or an office, or something. Shitty is struck by a sudden feeling of being eight years old and playing hide-n-seek with his cousins while the adults sipped at cocktails at the bar – a game that usually ended with Shitty being yelled at for hiding beneath his father’s desk.

There’s a giant mahogany desk sitting in the middle of the room, backlit by another enormous window. Shitty follows his instincts and peers beneath the desk, though the space is very much empty. The room isn’t that big, and aside from a few nooks between bookshelves there isn’t anywhere for Jack to hide.

Shitty casts one last cursory glance around the room before heading back into the hallway, where he tries the door across the hall. It’s a home gym, and with an entire wall being mirrored it’s very easy to see that Jack isn’t in this room, either. Shitty snoops around some of the weight equipment just to say that he did before returning to the hallway, where one door remains.

He thinks finding Jack will be a no-brainer – it’s not like he’s a small guy – but when Shitty opens the last door to find a bathroom, he’s stumped. The shower has a clear door, so it’s not like Jack could be hiding behind a curtain, and he checks the cupboards despite the fact that there is no way in hell Jack could possibly fit into them.

Jack is simply not there , and Shitty seriously begins to second-guess himself. He goes back to the gym and checks it again, walking around every piece of gym equipment, but cannot for the life of him find Jack anywhere.

He heads back to the office one last time before he caves and shoots Jack a text. Ok, fine. You win. Wya.

In response, Jack sends a photo. It’s a selfie, which Shitty will treasure forever, of Jack looking smug and far too self-righteous for his own good. He’s standing in front of a window, with what looks like the same view from the office, only Shitty is currently standing in the office, and Jack is nowhere to be seen.

what the fuck dude are you invisible or something

you’re sure you’re ready to give up? Jack replies.

Shitty scowls. my dude I have never been more confused shut the fuck up and tell me where you are

The typing bubbles pop up for a second before they disappear again, and Shitty is staring at his phone waiting for a response when the bookcase moves.

Jack steps out from behind it and the grin on his face widens when Shitty looks up and him and promptly gapes like a fish.

“I win.”

“I – you – what .” This is, like… one of his biggest fantasies. “Is that a secret passageway .”

Jack, the fucker, has never looked more proud of himself. “Maman likes to hide from us sometimes.”

Please let me see it .”

Jack shuts the bookcase behind him and gestures at it. “Wanna see if you can figure it out?”

“Ohmygodyesplease.”

Jack perches himself on the edge of the desk while Shitty pokes around the bookcase. He tries the obvious methods first – pulls down books by their spines, flips picture frames facedown – to no avail, and eventually he’s overcome by anticipation and turns to Jack.

“You smug motherfucker, help me.”

With that stupid grin on his face, Jack pushes off of the desk and heads to the other side, pressing down on what Shitty thought was a lock on one of the drawers. There’s an audible click, and Jack tugs the bookcase towards him with no effort at all.

It swings out like a door, and Shitty feels practically giddy. “Can I go in?”

“Sure.”

The short passageway leads to an airy reading room. A couch and two plush armchairs face the massive window, equally as impressive as the one in the office. There are more bookshelves lining the room, filled with novels and fiction Shitty would actually read, rather than the business books sitting in the office. The photographs on the walls are an assortment of family photos and pictures obviously taken by a personal camera – a much younger Jack and his dad ginning at each other over a giant plate of French fries, Alicia and Bob arm in arm at what looks like a charity fundraiser, judging by their fancy dress, landscape shots of the cabin and a skyline that looks a lot like New York City, Jack asleep, curled up next to a massive white dog – it’s a stark contrast to the artistic black and white photography hanging in the office.

Jack has sprawled out across the couch, watching Shitty take everything in. “I used to hide in here a lot when I was little.”

“Nice place to hide.” Shitty agrees.

Jack clears his throat and says, “Sometimes, when everything felt… too big, Maman would open the door for me and bring me hot cocoa and just let me sit here. I wasn’t allowed to come in on my own for a while, but every so often she’d – she’d know? When things were getting to be too much, and she’d let me in here, and no one could find me.”

Shitty sits in one of the armchairs and knocks his foot into Jack’s. “She’s pretty great, huh?”

“Yeah,” Jack smiles a little, “yeah, she is.”

They sit in silence for a while, watching the snow drift lazily from the sky, before Jack says, “After I overdosed, she brought me here.”

Shitty turns to face him and Jack, looking pointedly out the window and not at Shitty, continues. “After rehab, she wanted to take me away for a couple of months. I think it was as much for her as it was for me, honestly; she couldn’t deal with anyone anymore, mostly my dad, and she wanted me to have ‘fresh air’ or something. I think she needed to get away before she did something she’d regret – she was really angry. At him, at hockey, at everyone.”

Jack smiles fondly and traces random patterns on the arm of the couch. “That was the first time she let me come in here on my own. I think I spent the majority of those months staring out this window.”

“Does that mean you’ve read all of these books?” Shitty asks, trying to lighten the mood.

“Probably,” Jack glances around, expression lightening. “She might’ve gotten more since I’ve been here.”

Abruptly, Shitty realizes that amongst the pictures scattered around the room there aren’t any photos of anything related to hockey. In fact, there are very few of Jack looking any younger than twenty.

“You were a cute kid.” Shitty says, waving a hand at the picture of Jack and his dad and the French fries.

Jack makes a face. “I was chubby and awkward.”

“So?” Shitty shakes his head, getting to his feet. “Still cute.”

He hauls Jack to his feet. “I’m gonna go take a shower and mope about the fact that you beat me in hide-n-seek , and then we’re gonna finish that tour. Get up, get up, c’mon.”

 

They leave the secret room behind them, and Shitty continues to quietly freak out about it throughout his shower. Once he finally feels like a human again, he rejoins both Bob and Alicia in the family room.

“That’s a sick reading room you’ve got, Mrs. Z.” Shitty remarks, settling on the couch.

“Oh! Thank you!” She and Bob exchange a surprised glance, a raise of an eyebrow so quick that had Shitty not been watching he’d’ve missed it. “Jack showed you?”

Shit. “Yeah, um,” he flounders for a moment. “sorry, was he not supposed to?”

“Oh, no,” she shakes her head quickly, “no, it’s fine! It’s just that. Well.” She flicks a glance at Bob, and then towards the doorway leading down the hall towards the bedrooms. “Jack hasn’t told anyone about that room before, not even – well. He tends to keep quiet about his little hidey-holes.”

“I trust Shitty.” Jack says, scrubbing a towel across his hair as he enters the room. Alicia jumps a little and then grimaces guiltily, but Jack just raises his eyebrows at her. “I can make my own decisions.”

Bob jumps in then. “No one said you couldn’t!” He clambers to his feet and claps one hand on Shitty’s shoulder and another on Jack’s. “And now that you boys are both here, you can help me grab firewood from the back porch!”

It’s a thinly-veiled attempt at changing the subject, and Shitty can tell that Jack recognizes it for what it is, but he allows his father to push him towards the door. “Shitty,” Jack calls, “please don’t make me do this by myself.”

He takes his sweet time standing up before realizing that he has no idea how to get to the back porch on his own. He hollers for Jack to wait before scrambling out the door, leaving Alicia’s quiet laughter behind him.

 

Their first night at the cabin is spent gloriously lazing about in front of a real wood-burning fireplace. For Shitty, who has grown up with electric fireplaces for aesthetic purposes, it feels wonderfully rustic. He tells this to Jack, who rolls his eyes.

“You say that now, but when you have to go and actually get more wood you’d reconsider.”

“Nah, bro.” Shitty sighs, lounging in the warmth of the fire. “I won’t.”

Bob and Alicia had turned in a while ago, charging Jack with extinguishing the flames before bed. He and Jack have been nursing their beers for the last hour; apparently Canadians are pretentious about their beer, because as soon as Jack had been offered an Alexander Keith’s he’d made a very interesting noise and grabbed it right out of Bob’s hand.

It’s not like Shitty’s never seen Jack drink before, but it’s rare, and it says something that he’s not afraid to grab a beer right out of his father’s hand, here in this beautiful cabin that represents so many things.

Granted, he’s only had the one drink, but the point still stands.

They stay by the fire until it burns itself out, and Jack helps Shitty to his feet. “Bed?”

“Bed.” He agrees, setting his bottle next to Jack’s on the counter.

They head to their rooms, and right before Shitty opens his door Jack catches him by the arm. “Hey, Shitty?”

“Mm?”

Jack releases him. “Thanks for coming. I – I’m glad you did.”

“Jackie,” Shitty snatches him immediately into a hug. “I fuckin’ love you, brah, thank you for saving me from Cambridge, Jesus.”

Jack hugs him back for a second before pushing him away. “Okay, okay. Bed. We’re skating tomorrow, probably, I have to talk to Papa about it.”

“Yes. Skating. We’re on vacation but we’re skating. Of course we are.”

 

True to his word, Jack hauls him out to the lake after breakfast the next day. They spend most of the morning playing a disjointed version of tag, made even more fun when Bob laces up to join them. The sun comes out sometime during the morning, and it gets warm enough that Shitty can take off his hat and fling it at Jack to tag him when he skates out of Shitty’s reach.

Neither of them are wearing pads – Jack had tried to insist on it, back when he’d tried to run drills, but Shitty had refused on the basis of ‘we’re on vacation, Jack’.

By the time Alicia hollers at them from the porch, they’re a flushed, sweaty mess. Shitty is lying sprawled out on the ice, right where he fell when Jack shoved him down. Bob is holding Jack in a headlock to avenge Shitty, one that Jack is only halfheartedly trying to get out of.

“Boys? Boys .” Only Shitty sits up and pays Alicia any attention, as Jack and Bob have since reversed their positions.

Bobby .”

Immediately, both Jack and Bob drop their hands off of each other and straighten up, looking sheepish. She waves them towards her, and all three of them make their way over. Jack and Bob continue to shove at each other the entire way over.

Once they’re standing in front of Alicia, Bob goes to kiss her on the cheek. “Hello beautiful.”

Alicia rolls her eyes and shoves at him, but doesn’t protest when he wraps an arm around her waist. “I need you to run to the store for me,” she says to Jack, “so go and shower.”

“Can I drag Shitty along?” he asks. “I wanna show him the town while we’re out.”

“Of course,” Alicia says, and Shitty nods along, “but shower first, boys, I don’t want you killing the rest of the town with your hockey funk.”

 

They drive around Dartmouth and Halifax for a couple of hours before going to the store. Jack has stories about parks, and tiny hole-in-the-wall stores, and when they drive past the Canadian Museum of Immigration Shitty notices the way his eyes light up and his history-nerd brain switches on.

“We should go back there.” Shitty offers as Jack points it out.

Jack shrugs. “I mean… I’ve been there with my parents before. It’s kinda boring, I wouldn’t want to make you walk through it – ”

“Jackie.” Shitty says. “It sounds fucking dope. Can we come back?”

The way Jack looks at Shitty makes it clear he knows that Shitty is enabling him, but he eventually nods. “We could probably come back tomorrow.”

“Swawesome.”

 

They make it to the store at some point, after Shitty spots a Tim Hortons and practically begs Jack to pull into the drive thru. He orders his weight in Timbits and munches as they peruse the grocery store, and he’s still eating them when they return home.

Alicia takes one look at the mostly-empty Tim Horton’s box in his hand and bursts out laughing. “Quintessential Canadian experience, huh?”

“I couldn’t not get any, Mama Z, we drove right past it!”

Jack sets the grocery bags on the counter and laughs, too. “He also wouldn’t stop whining until I pulled into the drive thru.”

Shitty sputters something about betrayal and heartbreak while Jack punches him in the arm and steals a Timbit for himself. One of the chocolate ones.

“Is nothing sacred to you?” Shitty cries, launching himself at Jack amidst the dinner preparations.

 

The rest of their trip goes similarly. At one point, Shitty stumbles upon a photo album full of Jack’s baby photos . Sure, he and the rest of the world have seen the photo of Jack taking a dump in the Stanley Cup, but now? Now he knows – that photo does not do baby Jack any justice.

“Good golly,” he whispers, staring at the gold mine of chirping material, “you beautiful, beautiful motherfucker.”

Jack groans and tries to take the album away, but Shitty puts up one hell of a fight. “Let me stare at you, Jackie, look how fucking amazing you looked – ” but Jack yanks the album away and throws it on top of a cupboard way out of Shitty’s reach.

“Ha.”

Shitty eyes him. “Your mother won’t like that one bit, Jack Zimmermann.”

Jack just glares at him in response.

 

They go back to the museum, and Shitty spends over an hour trailing Jack around as he talks about Canadian migratory history. They stop at a place for lunch after, where Shitty promptly decides that he’d gladly drown in poutine for the rest of his life.

They need to head back to school the next day, break shortened courtesy of division one hockey. Shitty begs off to his room right after dinner to work on the readings he’s chosen to ignore up until now, and Jack remains behind with his parents. Shitty can hear the soft cadence of their conversation from his bedroom, and he ends up falling asleep feeling more comforted than he has in a very long time.

 

The day of travel exhausts both Jack and Shitty, and by the time they make it back to Samwell Shitty is about ready to take a nap. Jack is feeling the same way, and they part ways at their rooms.

Shitty is just about to open his door to crawl into bed when a burst of noise erupts from down the hall – Tia’s door opens, and she and someone else spill out of the room, giggling at each other and tripping over their feet. It takes Shitty a second to realize that the other person Tia is with is, in fact, Jaz, because she’s chopped off all of her hair and is rocking the hell out of a buzz cut.

“Holy fuck!” He exclaims, “Jazmina, you look fucking hot .”

Both girls turn at the sound of his voice, smiling wider when they see him.

“Hi Shitty!” calls Tia, waving.

“Thanks, babe!” Jaz blows him a kiss that he pretends to catch.

It’s only after they part ways that Shitty realizes that they’re both back from break awfully early.

 

Hockey starts up again, and eventually classes do too. He hangs out with Tia and her friend group enough that it sometimes also feels like Shitty’s friend group, too. He gets coffee with his old FemGen presentation group, because they still fawn over him as the baby of their group sometimes and he won’t say no to free coffee. On one memorable occasion, Shitty accidentally interrupts a video call between Jack and his parents and spends half an hour chatting with Alicia about the latest episode of New Girl.

He feels like he’s finally gotten into a groove, like he’s officially starting to be a functional college kid. It’s nice.

The weather gets colder, slowly but surely. Daylight savings happens, and then the sun starts to set at 4 PM, which is fucking ridiculous. He complains about seasonal depression to people who actually have depression, which puts him back in his place pretty damn quickly, but throughout it all he’s learning.

He’s about ready to finally declare his major, way earlier than he needs to, but there’s something in him that is hesitant enough to make him pause. He talks to Anahera about it, because she’s already declared. He tries to talk to Jack about it, too, and the seniors in his FemGen class. No one is able to help him make sense of things.

It takes the events of a single week to push him into the registrar’s office.

 

Chapter Text

i.

One of the strangest weeks of Shitty's life actually begins on a Tuesday.

He doesn’t realize that it’s strange at first, because everything seems… perfectly normal. They’re in their cohorts during the last thirty minutes of his FemGen class and have broken up into discussion partners to discuss Audrey Lorde’s Zami: A New Spelling of My Name.

His discussion partner for the day is a tiny blonde girl named Amelia – “call me Milly” – whom he had immediately dubbed MillyRock. When he tells her of the nickname she laughs and does a fairly terrible attempt at the dance move, and Shitty likes her immediately.

With only a few more chapters to go, they’re starting to wrap up the novel. They’re supposed to be talking about the character development of Audre, but he and MillyRock have gotten just slightly off-track and have begun assigning characters to people in their own lives. Once they get to Toni, however, she pauses.

“I mean,” she laughs nervously, “If anything, I’m probably the Toni of my high school.”

“Yeah?”

She scrubs a hand over her face. “Yeah. An old high school classmate who ends up being a lesbian? That’s me.”

Shitty laughs. “Fucking dope, brah, good for you.” He ponders his own answer for a second, because out of all the hypermasculine douchebags at Andover he maybe has a feeling about one or two of them. Some of those track kids had a crazy intimate relationship. “I dunno if I have a real answer, because I don’t know anything for sure, but there are definitely a few people that come to mind.”

MillyRock is quiet, and when he looks at her she’s twisting a hair tie around and around her fingers until they turn pale from lack of circulation. “You okay?”

“Oh,” she looks up at him, “yeah, no, I’m fine.”

“You sure about that?” Shitty asks, glancing pointedly down at her hands.

She tugs the hair tie off of her fingers and watches as they slowly regain their color. “I’m sure. I’ve just – I’ve never told anybody? That thing about… me being Toni? So that was a little freaky and weird.”

Shitty is taken aback for a second. “Oh, shit! That’s really fucking dope, MillyRock, thank you for trusting me with that.”

“I mean, you took it really well, so thanks.” She grins. It’s a little weary, but it’s genuine, and Shitty grins right back at her.

He’s hit by a sudden realization about one his Andover classmates suddenly, and almost flails himself off of his chair. “Oh my fucking god. Oh my fucking god John Baer was sleeping with his track coach.”

MillyRock blinks at him. “I’m sorry, what? ” and their fragile moment is forgotten in light of Shitty’s – frankly, scandalous – realization.

 

ii.

He's just leaving his BI100 lecture that afternoon when he hears a familiar voice over the hubbub of students streaming out of the lecture hall. It's Blake, and she sounds rather upset, and Shitty has no idea where her voice is coming from, but he suddenly feels the need to locate her and make sure she's okay.

He turns against the tide of students, feeling rather like a salmon attempting to swim downstream instead of up. Eventually, he makes it through the throng and navigates his way through the science building until he comes across one of the study nooks that are scattered throughout the building. Blake is curled up in an overly-stuffed armchair in the corner of the space, one hand holding her phone to her ear and the other nervously twisting a lock of her dark hair around her finger. She hasn't noticed him yet.

"You know that's not what I meant!" Blake says, throwing her hand in the air in frustration as the lock of hair drops listlessly back to her shoulder. "Why do you always, always do this?"

Her furrowed brow smooths into an expression of incredulous frustration as she listens to whatever is being said on the other line. "No, you're not listening - "

Whoever it is interrupts her and she squeezes her eyes shut, pained. Shitty watches as the fight seems to leave her shoulders, watches as she starts to curl into herself, and makes an aborted step forward.

She notices the movement out of the corner of her eye and, upon realizing that it's just Shitty, relaxes and waves at him halfheartedly. She doesn't look like she's been crying, and Shitty doesn't want to make assumptions. He's debating just flashing a questioning thumbs up and leaving again, but Blake makes the decision for him.

"Look, I can't keep doing this with you. I gotta go." She listens for half a second and hangs up the phone, tossing it onto the floor none too gently and groaning into her hands.

He gives her a second, but when her face doesn't emerge from her hands he crouches down next to her. "Hey."

"Hi, Shitty." Comes the muffled response.

He shifts and puts a hand on her knee. "What's up?"

Before she can reply, her phone begins buzzing. It's right next to Shitty's leg, and when he bends to pick it up he sees that it's Ellie calling. He hands it to Blake, who takes one look at the caller ID and presses 'decline', and Shitty is immediately concerned.

He tries to make his "Is everything okay?" sound as innocuous as possible, but he also doubts Blake has any desire to analyze his interest in her life at the moment.

It takes her a couple of seconds, but eventually Blake picks her head up out of her hands. "It's nothing."

Shitty says nothing, just stares at her.

"Fine," she relents. "Ellie and Wayne are having issues again."

Normally that wouldn't come as a surprise, but seeing as Ellie and Spills had allegedly broken up during Thanksgiving Break Shitty didn't think they'd be having issues for a while yet. Blake must know what Shitty's thinking, because she nods tiredly.

"He's pulling his 'I-want-you-back' shtick again," Blake says, "I just... don't know what else to say to convince her that he still doesn't mean it." She slumps in her chair and lets her head fall back to hit the cushions.

"I mean," Shitty hedges, "you'll be out of here in six months, brah. I don't know her plans, obviously, but is that really the relationship she wants to start the rest of her life with?"

"I know!" Blake cries, "I've told her that exact thing. So. Many. Times, Shitty." She grabs his hand where it rests on her knee and shakes it around. " So many times . She says this is his ' Last Chance, capital Last capital Chance '" her voice goes high and mocking when she repeats the phrase. "She's been saying that for the past two years, and I don't - "

To Shitty's horror, she starts choking up and cuts herself off. He's only spent the last four months with her, but it already feels incredibly wrong to him to see cool, bubbly, completely-put-together Blake starting to cry. He surges up off of his knees and wraps her up in a hug.

She doesn't really shed any tears, just breathes deeply until she pulls herself out of Shitty's arms and straightens up. Her expression is hard. "It's just frustrating, that's all."

Her tone is rather dismissive, Shitty notes. It's very similar to the one Jack uses when he thinks he has to shoulder all of his own issues. Shitty has gotten very good at spotting it.

"You can shoot me down if this is too pushy," he says tentatively, "but this isn't all on you, you know that, right?"

She sighs and her stare goes off somewhere in the distance. "I..."

"Blake."

She frowns slightly and starts fiddling with a lock of her hair again. "...Objectively I know that. Rationally, I know that. Rationality doesn't really help anything, though."

"Why are you so invested in this?" Shitty asks. He has a feeling that he knows the answer, but the question slips out before he can think to stop it.

"She's my best friend." Blake says automatically. "Her issues are my issues. I just feel things really deeply, that's all."

That's not exactly what Shitty was expecting, and he apparently can't school his expression into neutrality fast enough, because Blake catches it. "You don't believe me."

"I mean..." he flounders a little, "you definitely seem very close?"

She scoffs a little. "Fine."

After shifting around in her chair to pull her legs into her chest, she wraps her arms around them and rests her chin on her knees. She doesn't look at Shitty, but he notices the way her knuckles go white where her hands are interlocked.

"Wayne cheated on her when we were sophomores. I think she found out towards the middle of spring semester, and they were broken up from then all through summer. That's the longest break they've taken." She takes a deep breath and her hands tighten around each other. "We're best friends. I wasn't lying about that. She spent four days in my room crying after she dumped him because she thought she'd thrown away her one chance at love." She shakes her head a little the ghost of a smile appears on her face. "Dummy. Anyone who knows her knows she could have absolutely anyone she wanted. I've never known anyone who has a heart like hers. She's a goddamn angel, that girl."

She doesn't seem to want to say anything else, so Shitty quietly says, "You love her."

Blake huffs out a sad puff of air and the corner of her smile twitches. "Yeah."

"Does she know?"

She finally looks at him - it's a quick glance, a flick of the eyes that's so quick if Shitty had blinked he'd've missed it - and a shadow of amusement passes across her face. "I hope so, we hooked up enough that I'm pretty sure she's got some idea."

"You - oh."

She sighs. "We've talked about it. A few times, actually, but she's got a fixing-people complex that keeps driving her back to him. And she doesn't want to screw up our friendship." The last sentence comes out bitter.

"When did all that happen?" asks Shitty.

"Oh, sophomore year." Blake says. "She came to visit me over the summer. She and Wayne were very solidly not together at the time."

Shitty nods. "But then she got back together with him?"

Blake nods.

"Did you know she was gonna do that?"

Another nod.

"...and did you try to stop her?"

"No," Blake says, "it's complicated."

Complicated. "Can you explain it?" Shitty asks.

"I know they don't seem good together now," Blake says, "because they aren't. But in the beginning of their relationship they were so happy, and he was so good to her. She told me she'd never felt that happy because of another human being." Her expression twists a little and she takes a couple of deep breaths before continuing. "Breaking up with him really fucked with her. And I know - I know that cheaters don't learn from their mistakes, but I couldn't stand in the way of her being with him again." She shrugs. "He's shitty to her now, but that first time? I could find a way to justify them getting back together. And then she just got stuck in a cycle."

Shitty nods. "And now you get sucked in?"

"Every time."

"Fuck, Blake," Shitty shakes his head, "that's awful."

She merely shrugs and clenches her hands together again. "Yeah, well."

"Who else knows about this? Please tell me there's someone you vent to about all this shit."

"I've never told anyone before, actually." Blake says, "Nobody besides Ellie knows all of the details. Except you, I guess." After a pause, she says, "I mean, my friends definitely know some things. They make assumptions. They've never asked me about it, though, so I just let them assume."

And damn. Shitty's gotta hand it to her - the casual way she'd handed him the story had made it seem like she'd told it all before.

"Thank you for trusting me with that," Shitty says, because it seems like the right thing to say.

"I'm sorry you've had to sit with it for so long."

"Eh," she shrugs, "it's okay, really. I'm resigned to it."

"No," Shitty says, indignant on her behalf, "you shouldn't have to be resigned to anything, Blake, you fucking deserve all of the things you think Ellie does."

A smile that seems half wry and half self-deprecating spreads across her face. "Thank you, Shitty." 

"No," he insists, "I'm serious. You shouldn't be dragged through their shit every time something happens, that's not fair to you." 

"Sure, maybe it's not." Blake allows, "But I'm still her best friend, and part of being her best friend is being there for her when her shitbag boyfriend breaks her heart over and over again. I can't just beg off best-friend duty because it's a little inconvenient for me." 

Unfortunately, he can see where she's coming from. "There's gotta be a way to distance yourself." Says Shitty. "You shouldn't have to be so involved in this."

All of a sudden, he realizes something. "Are you even trying to get over her?"

Blake shakes her head sadly. "She's my best friend and I don't want to lose her. I'll take her in my life in whatever capacity I can get." She scoffs. "At this point I think I'm just kinda hoping that I'll magically wake up one morning and not be in love with her anymore, but who knows if that'll happen."

And that's honestly one of the hardest things Shitty has ever had to hear. He's a romantic at heart, and despite everything that's happened with his parents he's never really stopped believing in love. He opens his mouth to respond but has no idea what to say.

"It's okay, Shitty, really." She says. "It's been a while, I'm pretty much used to it by now. I barely even notice."

"I - that doesn't make it better, Blake," he says, "you shouldn't have to be hurting all the time."

"Oh, I'm not hurting." She waves him off, "It's been long enough. It's just hard to be involved when she doesn't listen to me when I tell her not to get back together with him. I'm okay. Really."

His sideways look doesn't go unnoticed, and Blake punches him lightly in the arm. "Really, Shitty. And I don't really wanna think about it anymore, to be completely honest, so if you don't mind..."

"Right," Shitty says, "right. Of course. I'll just... Go. I'm going." He collects himself off of the floor and on impulse ducks down to hug Blake one last time. She squeezes him back for a second before pushing at his shoulders.

"Alright, alright. I'm good. Let me wallow in my misery in peace."

"Blake."

She rolls her eyes. "I'm mostly joking. Seriously, go now. Thank you for even being here in the first place."

He flashes a small smile at her. "No problem, brah."

As he's walking away, she calls out to him. "Hey, Shitty?"

"Yeah?"

"Could you maybe." she chews on her bottom lip for a moment. "Could you maybe not say anything about this to anyone? I normally wouldn't care, but it's not just my business, and I can't just explain the situation without outing Ellie, too, and I just - "

Shitty shakes his head. "No worries, brah, these lips are sealed shut."

"Thank you." She shoots him a grateful smile, which he returns as he heads back down the hallway.

 

iii.

 It's Wednesday when it happens again. He's working on a project in Annie's, tucked away in a back table staring listlessly at the snow falling outside the window. His third large coffee is steaming on the table next to his laptop, and for a fleeting moment Shitty considers what, exactly, the consequences would be if he were to accidentally pour coffee all over his keyboard.

He's been sitting at this table for hours, has watched at least two inches of snow pile up outside, and despite the fact that he'd sooner drive a metal stake through his eyeballs than look at his lab report one more time the snow deters him from leaving the warm bubble of the cafe.

Anton sliding into the seat across from him breaks the death glare he's been leveling at his cup of coffee, which is stupid because the coffee is probably the most innocent party here.

"Hey, brah," Shitty says, "what's up?"

He doesn't know Anton that well; he's never hung out with him one-on-one before, and has only really seen him in passing on campus, but he's one of Tia's friends and they've gotten enough meals with a larger group to be able to strike up a friendly conversation.

Anton grins at him. "Hey, Shitty. I'm just waiting on my coffee, is it cool if I sit here for a bit?"

"For sure!" Shitty says, "Please, fuck, I need someone to put me out of my misery."

Anton laughs, eyes flicking down to the laptop in front of him. "What are you working on?"

"Lab report for Holst's class." Shitty replies, reaching for his coffee and resisting the urge to dump it on the computer.

He takes a sip as Anton grimaces and says, "Sounds like fun."

"It's fucking brutal, my dude. I've never hated anything more."

"Do you like the class, at least?" he asks. "I've heard some… interesting things about the guy who teaches it, so I ended up not taking it."

Shitty considers the question for a second. "Doc H is not the best. His TA's are fucking dope, though, and they really know their shit. They saved my ass so many times this semester, Jesus."

"Hm," Anton nods, "good to know."

"Are you still thinking of doing BioChem?" Shitty asks. He remembers being awed by how certain Anton was about his choice of major earlier in the year, and has only become more awed after slogging his way through an actual science class for an entire semester.

Anton nods. "Yeah, I'm still pretty set on it. I figure I'll have to take a class with Holst eventually, but I'm gonna put it off as long as possible. Are you still thinking WGS?"

Shitty is about to respond when the barista calls out Anton's name. It's surprising for a couple of reasons, for one because the service at Annie's is pretty notoriously slow and Anton has definitely only been sitting with Shitty for a couple of minutes, and another for the way that the eye contact Anton makes with the grinning barista handing him his cup sends a bright red blush creeping up the back of his neck.

When he turns back to Shitty, whose eyebrows have crept up his forehead, he ducks his head and sits back down. Anton very much avoids eye contact, choosing instead to sip at his drink and stifle a flinch when it is, predictably, too hot.

"Well well well," Shitty says, taking note of the phone number scrawled on the side of the paper cup, "what have we here?"

The flush deepens and Anton, who still refuses to look at Shitty, flicks a look behind the bar instead. Shitty follows his gaze. The barista, tea towel slung over his shoulder as he deftly draws a leaf or heart or some other fancy shit into the foam of a latte, looks awfully relaxed and confident, and hey, Shitty can appreciate the aesthetics of other men despite being mostly straight.

Anton is staring down at his cup, fiddling with the lid, when Shitty looks back at him. "So," he says, still resolutely studying his coffee, "WGS?"

"Chyeah," Shitty replies, going with the subject change, "I think so. The intro lecture is honestly fucking brutal, but, like, also so good, brah."

"Cool," Anton says, "cool. Cool. Um."

He seems like he's at a loss for what to say, and one of Shitty's specialties is talking at people until they're less stressed, so he just kinda... keeps going.

He's halfway through what is basically a reiteration of his group presentation when Anton abruptly cuts him off.

"I think I might be gay."

It takes a second for the words to fully process in Shitty's brain, and when they finally do and he shakes off his surprise it's to see Anton, slightly pale, turning a napkin into shreds.

"Well, thanks for trusting me with this, brah. And for letting me be a part of this..." he gestures at the barista very vaguely, "this moment."

Anton opens his mouth and shuts it again, a strange mix of relief, confusion, and amusement passing across his face. "I don't even know what this 'moment' is."

"Ooh," says Shitty, sensing an opportunity for gossip, "explain that."

"I-" Anton starts, "I don't know how to explain it, Shitty, I'm still trying to figure out everything for myself."

"So fair," Shitty nods, "Sorry I pushed, brah. Can I help at all?"

"Maybe?" he says, "I honestly don't know. I don't know anything right now."

"Well," Shitty starts, lowering his voice considerably, "do you think he's cute?" He jerks his head towards the bar.

"What?"

"The barista who just gave you his phone number. Do you think he's cute?"

"I mean," the flush is back, "I guess so? I. Yeah. Yeah, I do."

"Swawesome," Shitty grins, "wanna get to know him better?"

Anton is so red. Shitty would normally take so much glee out of turning someone that color, but right now he's just endeared.

He squeaks, "Yes."

"Fucking sweet, brah, put that phone number in your phone and text the dude!"

Anton bites his lip for a minute before apparently deciding fuck it and adds the number into his contacts. When he closes his phone without sending a text and Shitty is about to say something about it, Anton cuts him off. "I'm literally still sitting five feet away from him, Shitty, I'm not gonna text him right now."

Shitty pouts for about two seconds before refocusing on the bigger issue at hand. "Your call, my dude, your call."

"Thanks," Anton sighs, "just... thanks, Shitty."

"No fucking problem, Ant, I'm literally just sitting here doing fuck-all. You had the hard part." He reaches out to knock him lightly on the shoulder.

Anton makes a face and slumps back in his chair. "Yeah, I guess."

Shitty takes a swig of his coffee before speaking again. "Hey, quick question."

"Okay?" Anton looks wary, probably rightly so after being friends with Shitty for a few months.

"Why tell me?" He asks, "I know we aren't... well. The closest friends. I'm just a little curious."

He watches as Anton considers the question. "You're right. I think that helped, a little, that we aren't as close. It didn't feel like there was as much pressure telling you. Less possibility for things to go south. And, no offense, but I didn't exactly expect you to be here for..." he trails off and blushes a little. "You know. That."

"No, that totally makes sense," Shitty says. "I'm totally honored, though, Thanks for trusting me."

Anton rolls his eyes. "No problem, Shits." He hesitates, like he wants to say something else, so Shitty gives him a second. "This might be a little, um. Stereotypical? But I'm gonna ask it anyway, so sorry, I guess."

Shitty very warily braces himself. He's a cis, white, straight man, and he's pretty sure there's very little that could actually be considered offensive towards him, but he waits.

"Do you guys learn about this stuff in WGS? Like. If I have questions, can I ask you?"

And that is not what Shitty was expecting, not in the slightest. "Brah, of course . I'm definitely only one class in, but if you need fucking anything I am so here for you."

"That's...ugh. That's super helpful. Thanks, Shitty. Again."

Shitty shakes his head. "Literally how many time do I need to say it's nothing? I love you, brah, can we hug it out?"

It's Anton's turn to shake his head. "No, um, it's okay. I'm kinda panicking a little bit, I think I need to go breathe in some freezing air and maybe not think about anything for a while."

"Oh, for sure," Shitty says, backing off immediately. "You good?"

"Yeah," says Anton on an exhale, "I'm good. I think I'm gonna head out though." He laughs a little as he stands, hand clenching around his cup of coffee. "Good talk, Shitty."

"Good talk, Ant," Shitty grins. "Love you, man."

"See ya." And he's out the door, but not without a glance towards the bar and the sweetest fucking wave at the barista Shitty has ever seen in his goddamn life.

He takes a sip of his now lukewarm coffee and settles in his chair, finally feeling better about working on his essay.

 

iv.

The next time it happens, he's just leaving the cafeteria after lunch on Friday. Jack has an essay due that he's gone to Founders for help on, which is why Shitty is on his own, power-walking through the snow and focused entirely on making it to the warmth of his bed. 

He's walking so quickly that when he turns the corner he doesn't have time to stop before he slams right into someone. The person he hits slips on the packed snow and Shitty reaches out to grab them too late - they end up on their back, blinking blearily up at Shitty through red, puffy eyes. 

His first assumption is that they're high as hell, but he takes another look and realizes that a) this person is still crying, they're not stoned, and b) it's Jaz.

"Shit," he curses, immediately helping her to her feet. "Are you okay? I'm so fucking sorry, Jaz, shit."

She sniffs. "I'm okay. Hi, Shitty."

"What's wrong?"

She shudders, visible even under all of the layers she's wearing, and her eyes fill with fresh tears.

"Okay," Shitty says, "I'm making an executive decision, come here," and he bundles her up in his arms and walks them towards his dorm.

Jack's room is unlocked, and Shitty knows that he won't be back for a couple of hours, plus it's always neater than Shitty's own room. He tells Jaz to start the process of removing her winter gear and disappears to gather the necessary mugs and hot chocolate packets.

When he comes back, she's sitting despondent on the floor amidst a pile of clothes. He starts Jack's hot water kettle and sits across from her, opening his arms. She takes one look at him and all but crawls into his lap, head tucking into his neck, and he wouldn't know she was still crying if he couldn't feel a wet patch starting to stick his shirt to his collarbone.

She sits up and moves away when the water kettle shuts off with a click, and he gets up to fix their hot chocolates while she settles against the foot of Jack's bed. At the last minute, he remembers the Bailey's he has tucked away in his own room and rushes to get it, quirking an eyebrow in Jaz's direction when he returns and holding up the bottle.

"God, yes please." she says. Her voice is croaky and she's eyeing the bottle like she'd drink the liquor straight if Shitty offered, so he pours her a generous amount and sits down across from her again.

"Who do I need to kill."

Normally, she'd roll her eyes and smile at him. Now, she just looks at him tiredly. "Me?"

"Abso-fucking-lutely not, Jazmina, what the fuck. I meant, who did this to you?"

"Not my name." She sighs. It's an old argument. "And I did it to myself, so you really should just kill me and put me out of my misery."

"You're not an injured racehorse or some shit, Jaz, stop that right the fuck now. What happened?" Shitty is growing increasingly concerned, and also upset, because Jaz is not allowed to be sad. Ever.

"Nothing happened." she says. In the face of Shitty's scoff, she amends, "I got in a fight with my mom. It's not a big deal."

Except it very clearly is a big deal, if this is her reaction over it, and Shitty tells her so. She shrugs and sips her hot chocolate, leaving Shitty to worry in silence.

Eventually, when the silence feels loaded and oppressive, she says, "Mom hates my haircut."

Shitty remembers when he'd seen it for the first time after Thanksgiving. He'd thought it looked great. "Why? You look awesome."

"She thinks Samwell is turning me into a lesbian." Jaz says quietly. Sadly. "I don't - I mean, I'm not - " she cuts herself off and Shitty is gutted to see her eyes well with tears again.

"Jaz, you don't owe anyone - "

"An explanation, I know," she finishes for him, "but my Mom thinks that it means I like girls, and I don't, but she won't listen."

Shitty reaches out and takes one of her hands. She squeezes it gratefully. "I'm sorry she won't listen to you."

Jaz sniffs. "It's okay."

"It's not."

She just shrugs again. "She didn't want me coming to Samwell in the first place, but I needed to get the hell out of my house."

"Yeah," says Shitty, "and I'm glad you did, it doesn't sound like a great environment."

Jaz laughs listlessly. "Yeah, no shit." She pauses to take a long sip of her drink. "My mom has always been the type of person to associate femininity with dresses and makeup and frilly things, and I've never... I've never been that kind of kid?"

Shitty nods along as she speaks, not wanting to interrupt. "And so me coming to college and not having to wear skirts and dresses and curl my hair every day obviously means that I'm not trying to make myself an object of femininity, which obviously means that I'm not trying to attract a man, which automatically makes me gay."

The twisted, pained expression on her face only adds to the bitterness of the statement. She takes another deep sip of her hot chocolate and frowns down at it as she replaces it on the floor, like the burn of the Bailey's isn't quite strong enough.

"That's bullshit." Says Shitty - it's a useless thing to say, because he knows that Jaz knows full well how false that statement is. "I'm sorry you have to live with that."

She grimaces and shrugs. "I mean. It's fine. I don't live there anymore. It makes going home for breaks harder, maybe, but." She sighs. "I just feel like the version of me that exists at Samwell isn't someone my family can ever meet, and I don't-" she cuts herself off as her voice cracks and takes a second to gather herself. "I don't know how to be two people when one of those people isn't even real."

Fresh tears carve tracks down her face and Shitty gathers her in his arms again. "I'm sorry," he whispers into her hair, "I'm so sorry, you deserve so much better than this."

"I just feel so... resigned," she whispers sadly, "like there's no point in trying to make them change."

"Them?" Shitty asks, "Is your dad like that too?"

He feels her shake her head. "My dad is a bag of dicks and I haven't seen him since I was, like, ten. I don't give a fuck what he thinks."

Shitty can relate to the deadbeat dad situation. He rubs her shoulder comfortingly and hums his agreement as she continues. "My grandma lives with us - my mom's mom? And she's the exact same way. Maybe even worse. And every time I try to talk to my mom about it I get the whole 'it's a different generation' cop-out and I'm sick of it."

No matter how hard he wishes otherwise, there's nothing he can say to make this situation any better. Instead, he tries to provide the most physical comfort he possibly can. It doesn't feel like enough.

Jaz, who has apparently cried herself out for the time being, sighs wetly and rests her forehead against Shitty's collarbone. She's quiet in a way that seems like she's not quite done talking yet, and so Shitty continues to wait.

“It’s not even that I like girls,” she says, voice smaller than Shitty’s ever heard it, “because I really don’t. It’s that – it’s that I don’t even think I am a girl.”

And that… that is not what Shitty was expecting to hear, not at all, but he tightens his arms around them even more and tries to keep the surprise out of his voice when he says, “Okay. Okay! Hey, that’s cool. Do you know what pronouns you wanna use? Jaz? Jaz, no, don’t – ”

Their shoulders shake briefly before stilling. “Sorry.”

Shitty shakes them slightly. “Don’t be sorry.”

“I don’t know what pronouns to use,” they say, using their t-shirt to swipe at the tear tracks on their face, “I barely know anything at all .”

“Do you wanna talk about it?”

Jaz pauses, then shrugs a little. “I don’t know what there really is to talk about? I just… sometimes I feel so itchy and anxious for literally no reason and it makes me want to tear off my skin even though sometimes I can’t even touch it without feeling nauseous, and – ” they cut themselves off to take a shaky breath, “and sometimes I look in the mirror and have no fucking clue who the hell is looking back at me.”

Shitty rubs a comforting hand up and down Jaz’s back, trying to soothe them as much as possible. “Did cutting your hair help with that?”

“God, so much,” they sigh, “but it also set off my mom, and I don’t know what to do about that because she can’t know, she can’t – ” and just like that they’re crying again.

Holding Jaz in his arms, Shitty aches for them in a way that he’s never felt before. He knows that there’s no way he could possibly understand the absolute pain and confusion that Jaz – one of his best friends, one of the kindest, most genuine people he has ever met in his entire goddamn life – is going through, but he wants nothing more than to take the burden of what they’re carrying away, if just for a moment.

He settles for rocking them slowly back and forth, murmuring all the while. “I love you, I love you so much, we all do. You’re gonna be okay, Jaz, we’ve got your back.”

It takes a while, long enough that Shitty is starting to wonder if he should maybe text Jack about not coming back to his room for a bit, but eventually Jaz pulls away from him and sits up, wiping at their eyes. “Ugh.”

Shitty reaches for their hand and squeezes it. “Hey. I’m super serious here, okay? You need anything – and I mean anything – you let me know. Thank you for trusting me with this moment.”

Jaz quirks a miniscule smile at him. “Thanks, Shitty.”

“Hey, seriously though,” he says, “what should I call you? I don’t wanna make this any harder on you than it already is.”

Their face twists uncomfortably, but after a pause they say, “I think maybe they/them would be okay for now? I honestly don’t know. Can I get back to you if I wanna change it?”

Shitty nods. “Of fucking course you can, brah, you tell me the second you want me to change anything at all. Is there anything you wanna do name-wise?”

“I can do that?”

“Chyeah, you can do whatever the hell you want.” Shitty says.

They smile at him again, a little bigger this time, and say, “I think I like Jaz. Maybe not, like… the full thing, anymore? But I like Jaz.”

Shitty smiles back, “I like Jaz too.”

The two of them stay on Jack’s floor for a while. Shitty does end up shooting him a quick text, explaining the situation as best he can without giving too many deets, but he trusts Jack to trust him and not ask too many questions.

They finish their hot chocolate eventually, Shitty handing the rest of his off to Jaz when they drain theirs and look longingly over at the bottle of Bailey’s still sitting on the desk.

“I’m not giving you the bottle.”

“Fine.”

A pause.

“I’m having a crisis.”

“No.”

“Not even just a little –

“Nope.”

They sigh dramatically at Shitty, a familiar flash of the bubbly, overdramatic personality that he knows so well. “ Fine.”

He watches as Jaz hauls themselves to their feet, pouting at the pile of clothing sitting sadly on the floor. “I hate winter.”

“Want me to walk you back?” Asks Shitty, reaching for his own coat.

Jaz smiles at him and shakes their head. “Thank you, but I’m okay.”

“Okay,” Shitty says, watching them drag their layers back on, “you’ll call if you need anything, right?”

“Of course, Shitty.” Jaz replies, “I promise. And thanks for this, I’m sorry I was a mess.”

Shitty shakes his head, “It’s no problem, Jaz, seriously. You don’t need to apologize.”

They shrug a shoulder. “I’m gonna apologize anyway.” With a final yank they pull their coat on and step forward with open arms. “Can I get a hug?”

Shitty launches himself into their embrace and snuggles right into the squishy padding of their puffy coat. “I love you.”

They laugh – it’s quiet and short but finally real – and tighten their arms around Shitty. “I love you too, Shits.”

 

v.

Later that night, he finds himself sprawled across the ghastly green couch that no one else in the Haus seems to ever sit on, Anahera on his left and Rawiri on the other side of her. He seems skeptical about the nature of a few of the stains gracing the armrest, but thankfully doesn’t ask Shitty about it – he doesn’t know what they are, and he isn’t entirely sure he wants to find out.

Their game either that evening had ended in a 3-2 loss to Harvard that still stings when Shitty thinks about it, and the rest of the team is valiantly trying to drink their sorrows away. Jack had been around for a grand total of three seconds before disappearing off to who the fuck knows where. A couple of the upperclassmen have fucked off upstairs with some of the girls on the tennis team, and he spots Flappy and Eggy in the corner of the room with two girls he vaguely recognizes from his Bio lecture. The rest of the boys, he assumes, are somewhere in the dark crush of bodies dancing in the adjacent room.

Anahera is just drunk enough to let her legs flop on top of Shitty, arm around Rawiri’s shoulders as she rambles on about one of her hot TA’s. Rawiri hasn’t contributed much to the conversation aside from the wry twist to his mouth and the occasional “Mhm,” but he’s got one hand fiddling with the ends of her hair and the other decidedly occupied by a cup of tub juice – procured by Shitty, probably not trustworthy, but being consumed anyhow.

Anahera lolls her head to the side and looks up at Shitty. “His hair looks so soft. It looks like I could just – ” she makes an aborted gesture with her hands that Shitty has no fucking idea how to decipher, “sometimes I just wanna pull it.

Shitty sips at his own tub juice. “Kinky.”

“Sometimes I just look at his face and imagine it between my thighs, you know?” Anahera sighs. Rawiri chokes on his drink. Shitty cracks up.

He’s about to say something in response when Matts, Asher, and Javvy walk through the front door to a chorus of yells. Anahera sits up immediately, detangling herself from where she’s wrapped around Shitty and Rawiri, and fixes Shitty with a look. Had she not been more than a little tipsy, he would’ve been a little more afraid of it.

“Shitty.”

“Yeah?”

“Nathan.”

No, why .”

Before he can reply, Asher and Javvy appear around the arm of the couch and reach out their hands to Shitty for a bro-shake. He greets them with a “What the fuck is up, brahs?” and only when Anahera kicks him in the ankle does he sigh and say, “Bros, this is Anahera, that’s Rawiri.”

“’Sup?” says Asher, with all the eloquence of a Hockey Bro, and reaches out to fistbump the both of them.

Javvy, Shitty notices, is having a hard time tearing his eyes away from Anahera. “Yeah, hey.”

Shitty hates this. He hates this so much .

“Where’s Matts?” Shitty asks, trying to direct this conversation somewhere else . It’s Asher who answers him, though, so no dice.

“He went to grab a drink.” Asher sits on the couch arm next to Shitty. “The tub juice was running low so he had to go find Flappy.”

“Speaking of drinks,” Javvy cuts in, tilting his head at Anahera, “do you want to go get one? Since it looks like Shitty left you empty-handed.”

Shitty gapes at him for a moment, because he actually had not , fuck you Javvy, she’s already finished her cup, but Anahera grins up at him and reaches out a hand.

“Sure, help me up?”

Traitor.

They disappear into the kitchen, all three of the men on the couch watching them go, and as soon as they get out of sight Asher turns to Shitty. “What’s her deal?”

He’s trying to be a good wingman, Shitty can give him that, but ‘bros before hoes’ works both ways, and Anahera is definitely his bro in this scenario. He maybe shouldn’t bring that up to his teammates.

He takes too long to answer, so Rawiri pipes up from the end of the couch, “She’d be into him.”

He shrugs in the face of Shitty’s death glare and takes another sip from his cup, only wincing a little as the drink goes down. Shitty is, for a second, absurdly proud of him.

“Swawesome.” Asher says, clapping Shitty on the shoulder and standing up. “Good to meet you, dude.” He directs towards Rawiri, disappearing into the kitchen after Javvy and Anahera.

Dude.

Rawiri frowns at him. “Why are you so against this?”

“Because,” Shitty groans, flopping down in the space Anahera has vacated, “Hockey Bros are grade-A douchecanoes. We suck. She can do so much better than Javvy .”

“Why don’t you just let her make her own decisions about it?” Rawiri says, echoing the sentiment of literally everyone else who he’s talked to about this. “She won’t take shit from anybody. I feel like you should know that by now.”

Shitty twists to look up at him. “I do. I do, I promise. Doesn’t mean it’s not hard sometimes.”

Rawiri pats him on the head. “Okay, Shitty.”

Hey ,” Shitty says slowly, narrowing his eyes at his friend. “What if – ”

“I’m not gonna date her, Shitty.”

His mouth snaps closed. “I wasn’t – ”

Rawiri levels his gaze at Shitty and he takes a larger gulp of the tub juice. “She did tell me about that time you tried, you know.”

“Well, fuck.” Says Shitty. “In my defense, you’re cute and nice and funny.”

“You think I’m cute?”

“Chyeah, brah,” Shitty says, waving a hand at him. “Those eyes? That jawbone? If I wasn’t fairly sure I was straight I’d be all over you. Plus you’ve got your whole… wholesome, kind shtick going on.”

Eyebrows raised, Rawiri says, “Do you mean just being a decent human being?”

“Well. Yeah, I guess so, asshole.”

“Thanks, I guess.” He says, draining his cup. “But Anahera isn’t really my type, so I don’t think that would ever happen anyway.”

Shitty drags himself into a position that could vaguely be considered ‘sitting’ and says, “My man. Do you wanna wheel tonight? I can totally fucking help you, dude, let’s find you a dope-ass girl to fall in love with.”

Rawiri laughs at him. “Well. They probably wouldn’t be my type either.”

“Damn,” Shitty says, “what is your type, then?”

“Men.”

Ah.

Rawiri’s eyes flick around the room, as if he’s checking to see who’s around that might be listening in. “I’ve, uh. Only Anahera knows, so far? I haven’t really been out trying to meet people or anything.”

“Well,” Shitty claps him on the shoulder and pulls him sideways into a hug, “thanks for feeling like you could tell me, brah, I appreciate it. And if you’re ever trying to find a guy, we could definitely make that happen.”

Rawiri indulges his hug for about three seconds before he pulls away. “Thanks, Shitty.”

“We could find you someone right now! Wanna go see who’s here?”

He wavers. “Um, no offense, Shitty, because I know you’re not like them, but I’d rather not try to hook up with another guy in the living room of the hockey house.”

And Shitty… Shitty has to sit back and blink his eyes a few times because. Huh. For all that Samwell is an accepting, proud institution – one in four, maybe more – the fact that the hockey team, with all its homoerotic subtexts, still comes across so hypermasculine that a gay student wouldn’t want to be who they are in their midst? Is fucking Shitty up a little.

Although that might also be the combination of the tub juice and the new strain of weed he’d bummed off of Eggy finally hitting him.

“That’s… that makes total fucking sense, bro, I’m sorry. It’s pretty fucked up.” Shitty muses, “On our part, obviously, not yours, but. Fuck .”

Rawiri shrugs. “It’s okay. Thanks for understanding, though.”

“It’s definitely not fucking okay, dude, but I’m gonna work on them. Promise.”

“You know what?” Rawiri says, “I believe you.”

Shitty beams. “Thanks. It’s the least I can do on behalf of the fucking heathens on this goddamn team.”

“Who are you calling a heathen?” says a voice from behind the couch, and the next thing Shitty knows he has a lapful of Flappy. Rawiri, by proximity, has his empty solo cup knocked out of his hand.

Shitty shoves his knuckles into Flappy’s forehead. “You, fucker.”

“Shit,” says Flappy, “I knocked your drink down.” He’s slurring his words in a way that very clearly suggests to Shitty that Flappy has consumed a whole fucking lot of tub juice. “I can get you more! I made it! Do you want more? Are you thirsty?”

It’s a lot of words to decipher at once, but to Rawiri’s credit, he seems to figure it out just fine. “Always.” He says, with just a hint of a smirk, and Flappy is abruptly rolling off of Shitty – his elbow very narrowly missing some very important bits – and standing up.

“Be right back.” He says, and fucking winks , before leaving the room again.

Rawiri gazes after him, dazed, and Shitty does the same.

Huh.

 

i.

November turns into December in the blink of an eye. Finals are two weeks away, and on one of the rare December weekends where they don’t have a game, the entire team has gathered in the Haus under direction from the seniors.

They’ve been playing Mario Kart for the better part of two hours, and the few people who aren’t occupied in front of the TV actually have their books out and are doing homework. Shitty has to blink hard to make sure he’s not dreaming, because he’s never seen this many hockey players actually pay this much attention to something school-related.

Jack, who had given up his remote after coming in seventh for the second Grand Prix in a row, has his papers spread out on the floor in the corner of the living room. He and Bergy are comparing notes for the Stats class they’re both taking, talking with their heads bent over a few sheets of paper, and Shitty has his own backpack thrown on the floor next to them. He brought it as a reminder that he should actually be studying, but it’s been lying, neglected, next to Jack since they’d walked in together.

Once the current Grand Prix finishes and the pizza that Jonsey and Boom had ordered an hour ago fucking finally arrives, someone in the room realizes that the Aces are playing the Rangers right now at MSG, can we watch the game? And Mario Kart is turned off in favor of the NHL.

In the chaos of trying to get to the fucking pepperoni before the rest of his teammates and fighting one-handed with Asher to reclaim his spot on the couch, he misses the way Jack seems frozen on the floor.

He’s gloating about his pizza and trying to protect it from the thieving little shits he calls teammates when someone says,

“Damn, Parson skates circles around them.”

It doesn’t take long for the rest of them to put two and two together, and while they’re all looking at Jack, Shitty is the only one who knows how badly this could go.

“Yo, Zimmermann,” calls Spills, “what’s the deal with you and Parson? Did we ever hear that story?” Fucking dickwad , Shitty thinks, twisting tendrils of dread already creeping around his stomach.

There’s a no! from somewhere in the kitchen, near the pizzas, and the team turns their expectant eyes back to Jack. “So what’s up?” Spills asks, “Do you still talk to him?”

Jack’s shoulders are up by his ears and his eyes are cold. “No. We don’t really talk anymore. He’s.” He gestures at the TV. “He’s busy.”

“You know,” drawls Matts, “I heard some rumors from some guys I knew in the Q that you and Parson were pretty close.”

Shitty didn’t realize it was possible, but he can see Jack’s shoulders tighten even more. “We were best friends.”

“You sure that’s it, Zimmermann?” Matts grins. “Best friends?”

It draws some chuckles from the rest of the guys, all of whom are clearly torn between watching the game and joining the conversation.

Jack’s eyes couldn’t be colder. “Yeah, ‘m pretty fucking sure.”

Matts holds up his hands in surrender, smirking, and Shitty has never had much of a problem with him before but currently has never wanted so badly to shut somebody up with a punch to the fucking mouth.

“Fuckin’ tragedy that the world lost the Zimmermann-Parson no-look one-timer.” Eggy says after a pause in the conversation, where onscreen the puck gets iced into the Aces zone. “I watched the Montreal Cup back in 2009? And, I mean, I know you won so you heard this a million times, but holy shit , Zimmermann.”

Jack just shrugs, and when he offers no other response Eggy just shakes his head and turns his attention back to the game.

After just one period of play the Aces are up by two, both goals by Parson. The boys have escalated from commenting on well-executed plays to making obscene comments about Parson’s goals, stick handling, passes… everything. They’re not undeserved, either – Kent Parson is easily one of the best hockey players Shitty has ever seen, and he’s been wearing the A on his jersey since last year. He’s barely 21, fuck.

After Parson steals the puck from beneath Gaborik’s nose and nearly scores on the breakaway for the second time that night, Jack closes his book abruptly. “I gotta head out.”

The boys pause in their yelling to chirp him about needing to charge his batteries for the next day, but Jack doesn’t even try to crack a smile, just shrugs his bag over his shoulder and heads out. He doesn’t even look in Shitty’s general direction.

Shitty gives him approximately five minutes to get a head start, and he spends the entire time forcing himself to sit still on the couch. As soon as those five minutes are up, he stands and gathers his stuff as casually as possible.

“You’re leaving?” Flappy barely glances away from the television screen.

“I’ve got a group project to work on and we’re meeting tomorrow morning at 9.” Shitty fibs. “I should get to bed.”

“That’s rough, man.” Matts says from his spot next to the couch. “Just show up late.”

“I’m not a lazy piece of shit like you, dumbass,” Shitty chirps as he passes by on his way to the door. “This is why no one likes doing group work with you.”

“Your mom didn’t mind doing group work with me the other night!” he hears Matts call out in reply. The chorus of laughter that accompanies it is cut off abruptly when the front door swings shut behind him.

 

He drops off his bag in his room and knocks softly at Jack’s door. It’s a couple of minutes before Jack pulls it open, brow furrowed as he looks at Shitty.

“You never knock and wait for me to answer.”

Shitty shrugs. “I thought you could use some space. Figured I’d let you choose if you wanted to deal with me tonight or not.”

“I don’t have to deal with you, Shits,” he steps aside and waves Shitty in, “and I don’t mind that you let yourself in – I like not having to get up.”

He seems a little tense, still, but much less so than before. He’s got an essay pulled up on his laptop, which is sitting open on his desk. He never does homework in bed, which continues to baffle Shitty to no end. It’s so much more comfortable.

It does leave his bed open for sitting, though, which Shitty takes full advantage of.

Once he’s snuggled under the covers, he turns towards Jack, who has seated himself at his desk and is watching Shitty with amusement. “So. You wanna talk about what went down back there?”

Jack’s face tightens up a little, but he doesn’t say no. “The stuff about Parse gets to me more than it should.”

“Don’t feel pressured,” Shitty says, “but am I ever going to get to hear that story? I know you don’t like talking about it, so you for sure do not have to tell me anything, but I gotta admit that I’m hella fucking curious, dude.”

Jack shrugs. “There isn’t much to tell, really.” He stands up and shuts his laptop, joining Shitty on the bed. “Shove over.”

“Cuddle time. ” Shitty whispers reverently. Jack laughs and sits up against the wall, legs stretched out next to Shitty.

“Kent and I were – he was my best friend. He was… everything I needed during Juniors, and during the Q, and. We played really good hockey?”

He says it like a question, like the hockey world hadn’t been falling over itself talking about the two up and coming draft picks that were demolishing records left and right. Shitty scoffs.

Jack’s smile twists a little ruefully. “Alright. We played damn good hockey. But we also partied too much, and drank too much, and I kept taking more and more meds to keep myself going, and then everything just. Stopped.”

“I cut him off, after.” Jack pauses to take a breath before continuing. “After the overdose, he called. Talked to my parents every day for weeks, wanted to see me in the hospital, wanted to visit me in rehab. I couldn’t do it, and I cut him out. He stopped trying, after a while.”

Shitty reaches out from his blanket cocoon and holds onto one of Jack’s hands where he’s started to pick at a thread in his jeans.

“When I told Matts that we don’t talk anymore, I meant it. I haven’t heard from him in years. I haven’t really watched him play hockey in years, either.”

“Why not?”

“It just felt like he had everything I was supposed to have.” Jack says quietly. “The NHL career, the Calder. A life.”

Shitty tugs on Jack’s hand a little. “You got a life right here, Zimmermann.”

“Yeah,” Jack smiles at him, “I know. Once I got out of rehab and went to Nova Scotia with my mom, it just seemed like it had been too long, and, well. That was it.”

“And then you came here?”

“And then I came here.”

Shitty turns to the side and lifts himself up on one elbow, watching Jack. “I wanna ask you something but I don’t to stress you out with the question.”

“I’ve been stressed out enough tonight, Shits, I don’t think one question is gonna make it any worse.” Jack says, gazing back evenly.

Shitty fidgets for a second before asking, “Do you miss him?”

Jack, to his credit, actually considers the question. “I don’t miss what we were. We were really bad for each other – really bad – and I didn’t realize how toxic it was until I was out of it. But sometimes I miss him . Does that make sense?”

Shitty nods, and Jack continues. “I miss the way he’d always try to read books over my shoulder. He’d pick all of the tomatoes out of a salad because he hated them, and for a while I could barely eat salads because it made me think of him. Maman thought I was crazy.” He laughs a little. “Sometimes I wish he was back on my line. He made me a better player. I like to think that I made him better, too.”

Shitty has to take a moment to think about this, because he’s been watching the way Jack’s face has changed in the last thirty seconds, and it’s… intriguing. There’s the slightest flush to his cheeks that Shitty may or may not be imagining, and his eyes look just this much more alight. Talking about the ways he misses Parson has made his voice a shade warmer, happier.

Intriguing.

“When you say bad for each other…?”

Jack purses his lips a little. “He knew I was taking extra meds and mixing them with alcohol. I knew he was drinking too much because of issues at home. Neither of us said anything to anyone or to each other. We never talked about any of it. We just… fed off of each other in really toxic ways.”

“You were just kids.” Shitty says softly.

“Yeah,” Jack agrees, “yeah. We were kids. We weren’t good for each other. Maybe we could’ve been, but.” He shrugs. “We’re way past that point.”

Shitty feels like they’re skirting around something super fucking important, here, but he’s not going to push Jack to say anything about it.

“I was so wrapped up in losing hockey that I hadn’t realized I’d lost my friend, too. And by the time I’d realized it, it was too late.”

“Your best friend.” Shitty says gently, trying his best not to look like he’s watching Jack as closely as he is.

Jack’s eyes meet his for a split second and dart away. “Yeah. My best friend.”

Shitty reaches for his hand again and squeezes. “I love you, Jack Zimmermann.”

Jack takes a purposeful breath and slides down the bed so he’s lying next to Shitty. “I love you too, Shits.”

“Can I cuddle you?”

Please.

“Oh, good.”