With Jack and his weird, intense mood out of the room, the guys actually manage to make headway on showers, and changing, and finding their shit, so Shitty doesn't end up having to lock up after all. It's almost a disappointment after successfully separating Jack from his behind-the-scenes symbol of office. He does get to twirl the keys on a finger as he shoos the last of the guys out, though, which is minor, but a consolation.
"We should go somewhere," Ransom suggests, as they're heading down the hall, comfortably worn out and awash in fucking camaraderie. "Eat or something." It's the closest anyone's likely to get to, and steer clear of Jack till he chills. It's kind of unnecessary to mention.
"Annie's?" Holster suggests, sparking off a debate about coffee and cake versus full proper meals and walking distances and who's how starved and closest to death by malnutrition. Shitty lets them talk around him while he texts Lardo, who's probably still somewhere around Faber, since he hasn't got a message saying otherwise. After that he shoots one off to Bitty, filling him in on their plans. Only Lardo responds, telling them to catch her outside.
"Around front, boys," Shitty directs, gesturing with his phone. "Lards says the coast is basically cleared out."
The guys backtrack after him, heading the way they'd come, to cut around to the front of the building and exit that way instead of through the side door they'd been heading for.
"What happened to Jack?" Lardo asks, when she sees them coming, not actually sounding that surprised at the absence.
"He ditched us, man." Holster shrugs. "Places to be, I guess."
"Parson too," Ransom adds. Shitty hadn't realized anyone else was paying attention, but of course they would be. Ransom and Holster were like a radar for Haus-related activity, which at least temporarily put Parson under their jurisdiction. Even aside from his being Kent Parson.
"We'll bring them something back," Shitty decides, in case Jack and Parson take the opportunity of an empty Haus to have a showdown and forget to feed themselves. "And for Bitty."
"So real food then, bros."
Ransom sighs in defeat, as Holster slings an arm around both his and Shitty's shoulders, leaving Lardo to lead the way, but it's not like they can't stop for coffee on the way back, which is probably what Ransom's jonesing for. He'll have Lardo in his corner for that one anyway, which is practically an assured victory in the case that Holster--or Shitty--feel like whining about tired legs and going straight home by then.
Shitty, if he's honest, kind of feels like whining about tired legs already, and gives in to the urge to start agitating about heading back while Lardo's still scooping chocolate sundae into her mouth. "Bros," Shitty groans, stretching across the table in what would be a dramatic flop if he wasn't moving slo-mo to avoid knocking dishes off the table. "Order the boys some rations so we can bounce. I'm dying."
The only sympathy he gets is Lardo feeding him a couple spoonfuls of ice cream, before she goes back to filling Ransom and Holster in on her theory of which art student was responsible for a potentially sexy mural slowly appearing on the quad a few painted stone cobbles at a time. "It's genius," she says, grudging, and ignores Shitty stealing the wafer stick out of her desert.
"Three burgers," Shitty decides, because no one else is, then amends it to, "Cheeseburgers. And like, a couple sides." If nothing else, to provide midnight snacking. "Any preference?"
"I don't think it's gonna be dirty," Holster says, still on the mural. "It's still there, so I bet it's got approval or whatever."
"Sides, bros," Shitty pushes, moving on to stealing ice cream from Ransom because Lardo moves hers out of his reach.
Ransom adds chicken strips off the kid's menu, then onion rings and extra fries, then tosses the menu so that it falls over Shitty's face where he's still flat across the table, and goes back to art sleuthing with Lardo. Mercifully, the restaurant has coffee to go, so Ransom and Lardo don't have any reason to wedge in another stop, and Holster takes it on himself to carry the to-go bag, which means Shitty doesn't have to do anything but put one foot in front of the other until they're closing in on the lax house and ceremonially cross the street to avoid passing by its cursed porch.
Entering the Haus is a relief, and Shitty immediately dumps his shit and kicks off his shoes before shouting, "Yo. We got, like, vittles for you homebodies." There's silence. Then the sound of movement in the kitchen. "Guys? Bitty? What are you--"
"Don't touch anything!" Bitty says, in urgent warning, then immediately pulls it back to smile and explain, "It's hot."
He's got an apron on over the Samwell Hockey t-shirt he'd had on under his hoodie, leaving the lockers, and one of his hands is hidden in a floral pattern oven mitt. The other is busy whisking something thick and cream colored in a saucepan. There's more of the stuff sitting out on the kitchen table in bowls.
"Custard," Bitty explains. "It's for pastry filling."
"I was thinking I'd throw together a quick pie, because you know that's my go-to, but then I thought maybe it was time to expand the ol' repertoire. Not that this really is. I mean. I've made it before, but not for a while and practice is important to stay on top of your game, right? Jack always says--"
Shitty looks around. "Where is Jack?"
"Upstairs." Bitty says it casually, but his whisking accelerates enough that he could probably power a lightbulb.
"We got you onion rings," Holster announces, coming in to set the bag on the table, at the other end from the bowls of custard. "And a burger a piece. Parson come back here too?"
"Upstairs," Bitty says, still sunny but with no break in the rhythm of his whisking.
Shitty waits a few minutes, in case more is coming, but Bitty is engrossed in Ransom's recap of Lardo's mural theories, so Shitty abandons them to engage in some exploration, heading upstairs, to where he finds the hall empty, and the door to his room closed. When he opens it, that's empty too, outside of Lardo's duck army, and the bit of roof at the end of the hall is likewise unpopulated, which isn't a huge surprise. Bitty being elbow-deep in pie-splosion was the kind of thing to give a guy expectations, warning bells style, with the expectation not un-helped along by the tense vibes coming from Jack's closed door.
"Yo." There's no answer when Shitty knocks. "Zimmermann."
That gets the muffled sound of movement.
"Just so you know, we might have lost Parson. And your dad. Unless they're with you?"
More movement. The squeak of furniture. Bedsprings, or Jack's crappy desk chair that he insists is just fine, even if it's a lumbar assassin that had been lurking in the Haus since before Shitty'd moved in.
"Knock twice if you need me to break down the door."
There's a cough. It doesn't sound like Jack.
"Knock once if I should fuck off and pretend this conversation never happened."
There's another squeak, the low rise and fall of conversation kept low, their secrecy thwarted by the ancient acoustics of the Haus, and then the thump of a door--either bathroom or closet--and then the door opens just wide enough to reveal the middle third of Jack's frown and a part of each eye.
"We brought dinner," Shitty reports. "Bitty's working on desert."
"Are you having some kind of family meeting? I can bring your food up if it'd help. With, like, the hangrey-ness or whatever."
"Thanks," Jack says, without really accepting or refusing. Shitty huffs.
Jack shuffles his feet a little, like he wants to leave the conversation but thinks it might be rude, then decides not to shut the door in Shitty's face after all. "I'm not having a meeting."
"Okay. You want me to like--?" Shitty lets it hang, jerking a thumb over his shoulder to indicate vamoose.
"It's okay," Jack says, or at least starts to say, because before he actually gets a sound out, Parson's voice hisses, "Jack?” from further inside the room.
Jack's face goes kind of tense. Not as smooth a normal as Parson had pulled in the kitchen that first night, but a determined, game attempt at it. Trying way too hard and concentrating weirdly in a way that's coming off partly angry, partly like he's trying to remember something. "You look like Ransom at the start of exam week," Shitty tells him, and tries to think of something encouraging that won't sound as obviously clueless as, it can't be that bad.
"It's fine," Jack says, before Shitty can properly formulate. "It's--" He pauses, long enough that Shitty's sure he's going to give up and say fine again, but he finishes with, "under control," which is Haus code for totally not under control, or imminently reaching that point.
"Sure," Shitty says. "I'm here if you need me. Or in shouting range, tops, if you want to defer assistance and think about it."
"It'll be okay," Jack insists, unconvincingly and not really like he thinks Shitty's the one worried about the potential outcome. He also stays where he is, hesitating right inside his doorway.
"Or I could come in and chill?" Shitty offers. "Give third party, unbiased opinions, solicited and otherwise?"
Jack looks away, into the room, and hesitates some more.
"I'm going to take that as a silent scream for help," Shitty tells him, and shoves past, only partly surprised that Jack lets him do it, and even steps aside to let him in, before he shoves the door closed again and locks it behind them.
Shitty pauses to consider the click, then the inside of Jack's room and the partway-open door of the bathroom they share, and then the way Jack's blocking access to the hall, leaning with his back against the door. "I should have brought the burgers," Shitty says.
The majority of Jack's room is tidy as its usual pin, but his floor is scattered with stuff that Shitty knows for a fact aren't Jack's, because at least the jacket dumped in a pile at the side of the bed is Shitty's, and so are the aviator shades set with a bit more care on the edge of Jack's desk. There's a trail of clothing--scarf, socks, hat, sweater--more or less leading to the bathroom, where water is running into the tub. The door is open far enough that it's hard not to try to peer over, but not enough to actually get an eyeful of anything, or even an informative glimpse. Jack still has his back set against the door to the hall like a Zimmermann barricade, jaw set in a determined way that looks an awful lot like his game face.
"Jack?" Shitty tries. It's obviously Parson in the bathroom. It's less obvious what he's doing in there. More than just washing off facepaint, probably, considering how far the water's turned up and the fact that it keeps running and running.
"I, uh--" Jack says, and lets it hang. It takes Shitty a few seconds to realize it's intended as a complete sentence.
"Okay," he says. "I'm gonna need just a tiny bit more to work with." He holds his hand up to clarify, thumb and index finger barely apart, like Bitty demonstrating how much salt constituted a pinch. Jack stares at it. Shitty sighs. "Work with me, Zimmermann. Where's Bob?"
"He's not here." Jack's face looks super tight. Like the thought of that is freaking him out. "He went back to his hotel."
Shitty glances back towards the bathroom. Steam is starting to escape into Jack's bedroom. Parson must have the water turned to boiling. "I'm gonna--" Shitty gestures, waving vaguely toward the bathroom door, and when Jack doesn't respond except to frown more intensely, walks over and gives it a couple knocks. "Hey. Parson. You okay in there?"
There's some splashing. After a second, Parson says, "Yeah. I'm--I put your shades on Jack's desk."
"Right. Thanks, man. I hope you snapped Lardo a selfie before you washed off her masterpiece."
Parson laughs. Whatever the fuck is up with him, he's still a charmer of a bro.
"I thought you left with Bad Bob."
Parson laughs again, this time it's kind of obviously at Shitty's expense, but it's hard to tell exactly what he's said that Parson thinks is funny. Whatever it is, the amusement doesn't last long, because he sounds a lot more serious when he admits, "I told him it was fine. False alarm." Silence. Then, "Jack said the eggs like water."
Shitty looks over. Jack shrugs, finally moved away from the door, to an indecisive middle-of-the-room position. Maybe Jack had managed to exude more confidence for Parson, because he doesn't seem like he's that informed a dude at the moment. Or maybe Parson is the one projecting chill for Jack's benefit. It's hard to work out, and by extension, hard to know which of them to reassure and which one to press for answers.
"I'm coming in," Shitty says, in case seeing Parson's face makes him easier to read, but he stops after just shoving the door further open, leaning against the doorframe instead of stepping inside.
Parson's only washed off about half of Lardo's disguise. Red facepaint streaking down his cheek, and pink running from his hair. Like someone had tried to murder him, if Shitty didn't know better. His eyes are picking up pale grey-blue from the water, and even though the room is full of steam, with hot water still running and gurgling immediately down the overflow, he looks like he's cold, arms around his knees and goosebumps down his arms. He's also wearing sweatpants in the tub.
Parson blinks at him. "I think--" he says, "I think it's nothing. It's too soon, right?"
"Why would you tell the guy with the help that you're fine if you're not?!" Shitty doesn't mean to yell it. It just kind of happens. He also finds himself gesturing broadly and knocking his hand into Jack's towel, so that it slithers off its bar and crumples into a heap on the floor, where it's one hundred percent going to get damp and gross.
Parson's gaze slides away, not following the towel, but just avoiding eye contact, studying the little nook to put soap, but where someone's stuck one of Lardo's ducks instead. "Because," he says, kind of sulky. It's not cool Kent Parson at all, or charming Kent Parson, or sexy trying-to-sell-you-fashionable-underpants Kent Parson, but maybe a wanting to be cool Kent Parson. Shitty's never seen him make an actual effort at it before, and it mostly comes off petulant and stubborn, but when Shitty glances back over at Jack, it's also unlocked something in Jack's face that's been kind of scrunched since the fight at the couch. Either because Parson sounding like that meant something to him, or just because he groks wanting to save face in front of Bob Zimmermann and can't help but sympathize.
"Kenny," Jack says, tone softened in a way that Shitty's never actually heard before, but he doesn't get any further because Parson cuts him off, demanding,
"What?" in a snapped, crabby tone. Maybe having entirely missed Jack's tone. "You think I want some official representative of Canada to come document this?"
"Okay," Shitty says. "That's a fair point."