Chapter 1: Maybe I have hobbies that aren't you
"Parson?" Shitty asks, holding the door of the Haus open. It's raining, probably about to turn to sleet, and the wind is fucking brutal. Parson doesn't have a jacket. He's standing there in nothing but a soaked t-shirt and basketball shorts. He doesn't even have socks on. "You're going to ruin your sneakers if you walk on them like that, man."
Parson moves like he's planning to jam his hands in his pockets, realizes his shorts don't have any, and hugs himself instead, tucking his hands into his armpits. "Hey. Knight, right? Is Jack here?"
Shitty winces. "I know you and Jack go way back, but--"
"Is. Jack. Here," Parson insists, emphasizing each word like he thinks Shitty might not have heard him over the wind. He doesn't even have the hat Shitty always sees on him, and he's covered in goosebumps, miles away from the fun sparkly guy Shitty had met previously. His eyes look flat and dark. He looks, actually, pretty fucked up.
"I don't know if that's a good idea," Shitty says. "Last time was--It was bad news, man. I don't want to upset Jack."
"Yeah, we wouldn't want to upset Jack."
"Parson, come on--"
"I need to--" Parson starts, then changes his approach and goes back out onto the lawn, where he starts yelling, "Jack! Jack, you asshole, I know you're in there."
"Bro," Shitty tries. Parson doesn't pay any attention. He's looking down, searching the little patch of lawn in front of the Haus. "Dude, don't throw rocks. Come on. You don't even know which window is his."
Parson finds some pebbles and heaves them at the second story. They scatter across the siding, only a few bouncing off windows. None of them open, but Ransom comes up behind Shitty and asks, "Is that Kent Parson having a meltdown in our yard?"
"Should we--get someone?"
Parson wipes the back of a hand across his face, jaw set stubbornly, and leaves streaks of mud on his face.
"He's going to get pneumonia," Ransom says.
"Is that Kent Parson--?" Holster starts. Shitty grinds the heel of his hand into his forehead.
Parson throws another rock. A single, heavy one this time, and it hits the siding with a solid thunk, only about halfway up the side of the Haus.
"Dude doesn't have much of an arm," Holster comments.
Parson tries again, and does better, but this time loses a shoe and has to walk across the wet grass to get it back. His shoulders are hunched in a way that means he's aware that they've gathered to watch him, so if he's drunk or stoned, he's not that drunk or stoned.
"Parson, man, you're going to put out a window. You know we've got for-real winter up here."
Parson ignores them and hurls. Holster's right. His throwing game is a disgrace.
"And neighbors," Ransom adds.
Shitty heaves a breath and squares his shoulders. "Boys. I don't have a choice. I'm going to let crazy into our Haus, so if this gets ugly--"
Both Ransom and Holster nod before he's finished. One of them is clutching a hockey stick, choked up on it like he's expecting Parson to jump them. On the lawn, Parson scrubs rain out of his face again.
"Okay," Shitty says, to the guys, then raises his voice to call, "Okay, Parson. You win. Come in before someone calls someone else and you end up on Instagram."
Parson looks up. Shitty had expected a cracked or high sort of expression, but he looks more wary than anything, peering at them with his face closed off. "Yeah?"
"Yeah. And before you step on something and have to get a tetanus shot. But leave your shoes outside, they're just mud booties at this point."
"Oh. Um." His hair is plastered to his head. He seems at a loss. "Thanks."
"Don't thank me. Thank the party-hater who already called the cops on the Haus twice this year. You're our potential third strike, man, so cross our threshold with civility and in relative silence, please."
Parson does it, then stands inside their door and drips for a little, looking unsure before he says, "I need to talk to Jack."
"Alright. Fine. I'll get you a towel and a sweatshirt and see if he'll come down. Go stand by the heater."
Jack does, eventually, face set and impassive, but the second Parson sees him, he steps forward and nearly slips on the floor, then freezes to regain balance. "Jack--"
"Kent. I told you not to--"
"I know what you told me. Why didn't--How is--" He looks like he's ready to freak out again. Jack looks like he's completely unfazed. They both just look at each other for a few seconds, Jack mildly annoyed, and Parson wide-eyed like Jack's morphed in front of him into something terrible.
"Why don't you tell us what happened?" Shitty tries.
Parson swallows. Then he looks between Shitty and Jack a couple of times before quickly glancing at Ransom and Holster, who are politely pretending to be busy with something on the TV. "I--" he starts, and stops, then fixes on Jack to demand, "Are you in on it with fucking Squidney?"
For a second, Jack looks confused, then surprised. "Squidney?" he asks. "Why? What's wrong with Squidney? Did something happen to him?"
"To him?" Parson yells. Then follows up with, "To him?" and takes a step towards Jack but slips again. Shitty sticks an arm out to stop him, mom-style.
"Dry off, man. Don't move." Parson will definitely move if Shitty goes anywhere, but Ransom and Holster overhear and go get the towel and sweater Shitty had forgotten when he'd gone to call Jack. In a Samwell hoodie, Parson looks like any college bro, and with the too-large size, it's more noticeable that he's a smaller guy. Like a dude another dude might try to put in a headlock. He has that kind of post-headlock look about him, too, especially with the way his hair is starting to dry and fluff up in places.
"You knew, didn't you, Jack?" Parson demands, still letting Shitty block his attack. "You knew about him."
"About the program?" Jack asks. "Yeah. Of course, but-- It's just hockey, Parse."
"Who cares about hockey? Fuck hockey!" Now Parson sounds honestly hysterical. Shitty's not sure what to do other than rub his back and keep his hand ready to grab Parson by the sweater hood if he tries anything. "How could you--?" Parson's hands come up to scrub at his hair, and then he wipes at his eyes. "Why didn't you warn me?"
Jack huffs. "You're not even Canadian."
"What does that have to do with anything, Jack?" Parson yells at him, at full volume. Shitty takes unobtrusive hold of the back of his sweater. They should find Parson some pants as well. His basketball shorts are moisture-wick artificial, but they're still dripping all over the Haus floor, and if nothing else, Parson's nearly killed himself slipping in his own puddle twice now.
"How do you even know about Squidney?" Jack asks, at a much lower drama level than Parson, but still looking unhappy and maybe a little offended. Jack's hard to read, and when he's upset he folds up like some kind of tropical plant. Everything coiling protectively inward like he's made of delicate fronds.
"How do I know about Squidney?" Parson echoes, at an almost normal decibel, but then cranks it up again to yell, "Why don't you guess how I fucking know about fucking Squidney?" If he had anything in his hands, Shitty is sure he'd have smashed it. As it is, he goes through a series of abortive, searching movements, but there's a fortunate lack of throwable objects in his reach, and he ends up curling his hands into fists at his sides. "Come on, Jack. Take a shot."
Jack scrubs a hand through his hair. "Were you--Parse, I know it probably seems weird to you, but I asked you to stay out of my--"
"You're always trying to get into--"
"I said, guess again."
Parson's so pissed he's shaking. Leaning forward against Shitty's grip like that's all that's keeping him from spontaneously murdering Jack. "You can't blame him for doing what's best for hockey," Jack says, reasonably. "Go back to Vegas and concentrate on your own game."
A shudder of rage goes through Parson. Shitty twists more of the sweatshirt around his hand, but there's no attack. Instead, Parson stands there like he's rooted in place, and asks in a low, furious tone, "And how am I supposed to do that, Jack, while I'm carrying his fucking eggs around?"
Jack blinks. Then he and Shitty say, in very different tones, "What?"
Parson doesn't answer, still glaring at Jack like he should be explaining, but Jack looks mostly perplexed. Shitty can't really blame him, at least until he asks Parson, "Why would he do that?" at the same time that Shitty asks, "What eggs?"
"The--" Parson looks at him, turning from Jack like he hadn't noticed Shitty standing there this whole time, even though he's also spent most of the time being either blocked or held back by Shitty. His gaze flicks between them again and then his expression goes flat and guarded.
"Why would Squidney waste his eggs?" Jacks asks. "He only gets so many tries in a year."
Parson barely twitches. "Gee. Thanks, Jack." He sounds deflated, so Shitty figures it's probably safe to let him go. With his anger bled out, he's starting to shiver for real instead of vibrate with rage, but Shitty has a solid sense that Jack might be about to flip that around again. His ability to get under Parson's skin seems to be up there with his hockey skills.
"Why don't you hit the shower, Parson?" Shitty says, before they can get started again. "While you're at it, I'll see if there's anything edible left in the kitchen or if the scavengers have got to it all."
"I was gonna--"
Shitty's pretty sure what he was gonna. "Don't drive in this weather, man. If you go off the road because we didn't put you up, we'll never be able to show our faces at an NHL game again."
Parson scratches at a bit of mud streaked along his jaw. "Yeah. Um. I have to move my car, then." He gestures, in the vague direction of the street. "I overshot. I'm blocking your neighbors."
There's a lot of questions Shitty could ask about overshot. He goes for, "Keys? I'll get one of the guys to do it."
"Uh." Parson goes for his non-existent pockets again, then pats down the loaner hoodie, even though he hadn't had anything in his hands when he'd first banged on the Haus door. "In the car?"
"Dude--" Shitty starts, but before he can say anything else, Holster offers,
"I'll move it," from the couch where he and Ransom are still pretending to watch TV.
"If it's still there," Ransom adds.
It takes another minute for everyone to either find jackets--Ransom and Holster--or wait for Shitty to shove them towards the stairs--Parson--and then he's left alone with Jack and the muddy tracks of Parson's entry.
"So," Shitty asks, in his best chill bro. "Waste his eggs?"
Jack sighs. "I didn't mean it like that," he says, in an apologetic tone and meeting Shitty's eyes. Apparently communicating something that makes sense. "I just meant--Parse is American."
"Alright," Shitty says. "But weren't you born in Pittsburgh?"
"What's that have to do with anything?" Jack asks.
"What does being from New York have to do with anything?" Parson asks, when he's come back downstairs dressed like a dude who isn't looking to freeze to death, complete with borrowed sweatpants. His hair is ruffled from being toweled dry, and being under the hot water has made him look flushed and sleepy. He's poking at a veggie and meat filled pastry thing Shitty had found and nuked hot before garnishing with pickle slices. Dressing it up because they're hospitable bros.
Jack frowns the way he does at stupid freshie questions, leaning in the kitchen doorway like he doesn't want to get too close to Parson, arms crossed over his chest. "Because you have to be from Canada, or the eggs won't take."
"Aren't you from Pittsburgh?"
"I'm from Quebec," Jack snaps.
Parson takes a bite of the pastry, then makes a slight face, but keeps eating it. "Right," he says, "that place," in a wry tone that Shitty can't read at all, mumbling a little because of the fork still sticking out of his mouth. "Nice to know you still remember it."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Jack asks. Parson grinds his jaw, semi-chewing his fork. It's plastic, but Shitty still imagines the squeak of metal on teeth and winces.
"What's Zimmermann will understand supposed to mean?" Parson demands in retaliation, removing the fork to stab at his pastry again. This time destroying it into chunks instead of eating. "When did you get so fucking understanding?"
Jack's face drops. "That's not fair, Kent."
Parson looks like he might start yelling again, but then heaves a sigh and stirs pastry filling around, frowning sullenly down at his plate.
"What is it that Jack understands?" Shitty asks, when the silence drags on with both of them looking put out. "Allegedly?"
Neither of them answer his question. Parson shrugs. Jack says, "What were you doing with Squidney anyway?" and that makes Parson look up again, his head tilted a little and a disbelieving expression on his face.
"What do you think I was doing?"
That starts another stare-off, this time with Parson looking stubborn and Jack looking like he's the one who's been slapped in the face.
"We had games close together," Parson explains, tone intentionally casual. Shitty can tell by the nonchalant way he's started eating again, taking measured, too-polite bites and not looking at Jack. "So we met in the middle."
"Like a hookup?" Shitty asks, because it's Samwell and he's not thinking. Parson's expression goes oddly unperturbed. Not flat or guarded or blank, but just very normal. If he wasn't flicking to it from assy, to-aggravate-Jack fake-normal, Shitty would never have noticed. "Don't answer, man," he says, before Parson feels like he has to confirm or deny. "Unless you wanna, in which case what's said in the Haus stays in the Haus." He draws a cross over his heart to emphasize the point, but he's already killed Parson's momentum, because after he stumbles back into silence, he doesn't stumble out of it again.
"And he just--gave you the eggs?" Jack asks, tripping as he chooses his phrasing, and doing it entirely for Parson's benefit, because it's not like Jack doesn't know that Shitty's already connected a couple of dots if not three or four.
"Just gave me the eggs," Parson echoes, in agreement, but also in a dry, light tone that is seriously weird, especially combined with the look he gives Jack. Dark, with a kind of brittle amusement layered over it. He stabs at what's left of his pastry, and his fork squeaks against the plate. The sound goes straight to Shitty's teeth. "Just--fucking--what the hell, Jack?"
"Well, I don't understand," Jack says, in an affronted tone. Responding to an earlier part of the conversation like he's rewound it and nothing from that point on had happened. "He's not supposed to go outside Hockey Canada."
"With the eggs, you mean?" Shitty asks. "Which are--where, exactly?"
Parson's fork squeals again. His eyes flick to Jack's, this time like he's looking for help.
"They--" Parson starts, when Jack doesn't bail him out. He doesn't finish the sentence, one hand fiddling with the fork, the other tucked into the pocket of his hoodie. "It's kind of--"
"Some players can implant them," Jack cuts in, impatient. It's not wildly different from the way his captain speeches sound. Maybe with a little more boredom and a little less snapping at the end. "The eggs, I mean. Into other players, usually, but sometimes other people if they meet criteria. And if they take--" He shrugs a little, pausing to let Shitty come to the obvious conclusion. "There's a program." Then he adds, defensively and not quite directing it at Parson, "It's very prestigious."
Parson doesn't say anything to that. In the other room, the front door opens and Holster yells, "Neat car, dude," followed by a slam. It's not clear if they've come in or gone back outside, even though the rain is picking up, rattling louder against the windows.
"I need a smoking in the Haus exemption," Shitty announces. "On account of inclement weather." There's no objection, so Shitty takes the silence as assent, and goes to his room to get his lighter and a joint, then comes back and sprawls out in a chair. Kiddy-corner to Parson, and hooking one knee against the edge of the table as he lights up. "Anyone?" He asks, after a couple long drags, holding the joint out. "Parson?"
Jack makes a noise, and when they both look at him, clarifies nervously, "What if it's bad for the eggs?"
That seems to tip Parson out of indecision, and he drops his fork to snatch the joint out of Shitty's hand, glaring at Jack as he takes a long, deep drag. His shoulders hitch to suppress a cough, but he lifts his chin in challenge and inhales again, like he's daring Jack to stop him. Jack sighs but doesn't. He does say, "You're always like this," in a low grumble.
Parson takes another deliberate drag, then frowns when Shitty takes it away from him.
"Share, bro," he says, to show that he's not siding with Jack, then asks, "So these...eggs are going to what? Cancel out because Parson's got latitudinal issues?"
Jack shrugs. "Something like that? It's more complicated. I don't know." He gestures at Parson. A little wave that could mean well just look at him or I don't know what to do about this whole problem. "I don't know why Squidney would do this."
"Squidney said you would."
"Well, I don't," Jack snaps. "Why didn't you ask him?"
Parson's face gives nothing away, except that it also goes kinda red. He picks the fork back up, fumbles with it, then gives up the act, drops it, jams his hands into his hoodie pockets and slouches, head ducked and turned away, like the tile grout is suddenly really interesting to him. Shitty laughs, the way he would at a frog coming back flustered from Winter Screw, then feels a little bad about the possibility that he's making Parson even more uncomfortable. It's hard to know where the line of discussion is, that they're not supposed to cross even though so much is also painfully obvious.
"It didn't occur to me," Parson admits, face scrunching. "I was--I don't know. He does something."
Shitty's about to ask about that something even though he probably shouldn't, when he hears the front door again, and Bitty calls, "Whose car is that in our--oh," and immediately after, and offended, "You're smoking in the Haus?"
"Dude, have you been outside? It's nautical."
"I came from outside," Bitty sniffs, coming into the kitchen. He must have had a real coat, because he's only soaked from the knees down. "It's nice to see you again," he says to Parson. "Did you have a long drive?"
Parson laughs, but it sounds tense. Like a dude who's being faced with just a bit more shit than he can deal with. Shitty hands him the joint back and tells Bitty, "Personal crisis," because it's not a lie, and it seems like a good bid for sympathy points. Parson blows it by saying, mostly to Jack,
"It was pretty hot while it was happening."
He looks bewildered at himself for it too, the lightweight. Shitty snatches the joint away again.
"Crisis, huh?" Bitty says.
Bitty goes upstairs to change and comes back ten minutes later carrying a bundle of wet things that he takes to the basement. A few seconds later, Shitty hears the drier door bang emphatically shut, and then the low comforting rumble of the machine starting up.
"Sorry," Parson says. "I was going to ask if you had a plastic bag or something."
"No sweat, bro. It's not your fault Bittle's a laundry tyrant." And a bathroom tyrant. And a maximum beers allowed in the fridge tyrant. "He cooks a mean breakfast, though. You'll see."
"Sorry, man," Parson repeats anyway, when Bitty comes back. "I didn't mean to be a slob in your bathroom."
Bitty barely looks at him as he gets a pot out for tea or cocoa. "It's no trouble."
"You didn't have to pick up. You could've just yelled at me."
"Oh, I don't do that, hun." Bitty sounds breezy, puttering about stacking cups and silverware the frogs have left on the counters into the sink. "Here. Let me have your plate."
Parson doesn't give it, picking it up himself, then pausing.
"There's no dishwasher, so I'll just get it along with the rest," Bitty says, holding a hand out, and smiling so pleasantly that Parson doesn't have a choice.
"I can help?" he asks, as he gives in and relinquishes the crockery, but Bitty waves him off again.
"Don't be silly. I thought you had important business with Jack to see to?"
Parson glances at Jack and sits back down. "Yeah. Uh. I have a game tomorrow, so--?"
So he has most of a day. They're not going to resolve Parson's egg problem overnight, and it's pretty obvious Parson doesn't really expect them to, but is semi-hoping Jack has a quick and easy answer anyway.
"I don't know if we can figure this out that fast, Parse," Jack says, echoing Shitty's thoughts but sounding kind of grumpy about it. It's not clear if he's miffed about Squidney or at the prospect of Parson coming over again.
Parson nods thoughtfully, only a little disappointed looking, then asks, "But it should be fine, right? I don't want to miss stuff."
"It should be. What's the point if it interferes with the hockey?"
Parson laughs shakily, and he's right. Whatever Squidney's intentions, the hockey isn't exactly uninterfered with at the moment. "Okay," he says. "Then after the game I'll come back here. If that's alright?"
Bitty clatters something loudly, then comes over to set mugs down in front of Shitty and Parson, and then on the end of the table closer to Jack, before returning to the counter to get his own. "We have a game too," he says, sitting down with them. "I know it's not the NHL, but we do need Jack for it."
"Right," Parson says, and reaches to wrap his hands around the mug, pressing his palms to the heat. "Right. I wasn't going to kidnap him."
"We're volunteering," Shitty assures him, and lifts his own mug in a toast. "No kidnapping required."
"You're volunteering?" Bitty asks, only a breath before Jack says, to Parson,
"You probably shouldn't tell anyone about this"
Parson snorts. "Yeah. I was really going to spread it around, Zimms. Since this is exactly what I want to be known for."
Jack frowns. Parson notices and frowns back, then breaks and looks down at his mug and takes a sip to cover. "Holy shit," he says, and licks chocolate foam off his lip before taking a longer, slurping sip. "This is amazing--uh. Bittle, right? Damn, Bits."
"Bittle's fine," Bitty says.
They're not going to get anywhere with Bitty there. They'd barely been getting anywhere before he'd arrived, but his rebuff makes Parson go--not cold, but indifferent. A detachment that's about as genuine as a dressing room interview. Shitty considers the change in atmosphere as he hoists his own mug, then tops both his and Parson's off by stealing Jack's.
"You can have my bed," he says, to Parson. "If I understand what I think I'm understanding, I'm not making a bro sleep on the couch." Parson opens his mouth to protest, but Shitty forges ahead. "Come on, I'll show you the way. You can help me clear the rubber ducks off." Then, at Parson's curious look, "They're Lardo's. For a project."
"Oh," Parson says, perking up in recognition. "The one with the beer pong?"
"The exact same." Shitty hauls himself up and sticks what's left of his joint between his teeth. "If you want, I'll even let you glitter glue some ducks."
Chapter 2: Don't worry, we're very helpful around here
"Whoa," Parson says, coming to a stop just inside Shitty's door, where he's blocked by the lack of a path through the clutter. "That's a lot of ducks. What's she planning to do with them?"
"Top secret. I'm on a need to know basis and I won't need to know unless we're at risk of blowing the deadline and have to recalibrate." He steps around Parson to kick open a route through the room, shoving laundry, books, and hockey stuff into corners and under furniture with his foot.
The bed is covered in rubber ducks, most of them loose, but some of them still packaged six at a time in little nets with the cardboard tags still on. They're not great ducks. The mold is sloppy, and the colors are a bit dull. The muddy, off hues of cheap plastics. The nightstand drawer is open and full of tubes of glitter glue. Parson picks a couple up and turns them in his hand, watching the sparkly flecks drift. "Yeah," he says, more enthusiastically than the frogs Lardo had tried to conscript. "Yeah, I'll glue some ducks."
"Just cover them like those," Shitty nods at his desk, where a few rows of ducks-shape glitter blobs are drying. Parson scans them critically, then pushes enough ducks over to climb on the bed and put his back against the wall, before selecting one, pickily examining a few before choosing.
He's a lot tidier than Shitty. Slower, but also meticulous. He can't decide if Lardo would approve or if it would drive her nuts.
Shitty flops into his desk chair, on top of a towel and a couple pair of boxers, and gets started on his own duck, squeezing out a giant blob of glitter and letting it ooze over its head while Parson carefully outlines a wing at a time. He gives Parson the space of two ducks--pink and then silver--before saying, "Sorry Jack's being, you know--"
"A jerk?" Parson doesn't seem that bothered. He's frowning, but mostly in concentration as he carefully fills in a section of duck.
"Well, yeah. I know he gets cranky, but usually closer to start-up. This is like, out of season crankiness."
Parson laughs, then says, "Shit," quietly and almost wipes his thumb off on his sweatshirt before he remembers it's borrowed and looks around, then smears the glob onto another duck. "I guess you'll be pink too," he tells it absently, moving it into what Shitty figures is a queue, then goes back to work without looking up. "He's just pissed I came here again" he says. "I wasn't even sure he was gonna let me in."
"Bro, I let you in."
"Yeah." It's absent. Parson's back to frowning at his duck, carefully daubing glitter glue along its tail. Lardo would like that he's careful not to miss spots. "Yeah. Thanks for that, man. I don't know what I'd have done if you hadn't."
"Die of exposure, probably."
Parson looks up again, quirks a smile, then sets his duck aside to dry and picks up his mug from the nightstand. "I was thinking something more like, sleep naked in the car."
"Wouldn't be the first time that happened on this street. Or in front of this house. Or--"
"Were those all you?"
"Two out of three."
Parson laughs again. Mug cradled in his hands and his back against the wall, sitting sideways across the bed with his knees bent. Shitty's gearing up to tell him about the Lardo policy on art project break times, when some dude decides to knock on his door. "Yo," Shitty yells. "Enter, bro."
It's Jack, and once he comes in, he just stands awkwardly in front of the doorway, looking at Parson, who's looked up curiously with a glitter tube tucked behind his ear. He hasn't done the next pink duck and has skipped ahead to blue.
"I--" Jack starts awkwardly, then gestures with his phone, just lifting and waving it a little. "I called my dad."
"What?" Parson asks, "You said--"
"I didn't tell him anything. He--uh. He thinks it's me."
Parson keeps looking at him, in danger of tipping what's left of his cocoa onto Shitty's quilt until he suddenly notices the mug going diagonal and straightens it up, then rests it on his knee. Silent, like he's waiting for something to tell him how to handle this new information.
"Oh my god," Shitty says. "And you just let him believe that?"
"And I didn't tell him it was Squidney, but I think he might guess."
Parson opens his mouth, but the only sound that comes out is a small croaking noise.
"Dude," Shitty says, because there's no other way to convey just how truly fucked up Jack had made an already fucked up situation.
"I didn't mean to! I just--I thought--" He turns to Parson, "I was trying to help. I thought you wanted my help? And we needed information." He ends there, leaving Shitty and Parson waiting for clarification that doesn't come. Then, when nothing happens, he adds, "He kind of--I guess--jumped to the conclusion."
"Oh my god," Shitty says, for the second time in way too soon. "Your dad knows all about it, doesn't he?"
Parson makes a funny squeaking noise in his throat, like not enough air is coming through. Kinda like Bitty at the thought of a check.
"Well," Jack says. "Of course. If I had--I was supposed to--"
"Zimms," Parson finally manages. "Zimms, please stop talking."
"I was trying to help," Jack repeats, instead of shutting up, even though Parson looks like he might either try to fight him, or vomit cocoa. It's a toss-up which way that's likely to go, with a not-slight chance of both, one right after the other.
"I practically lived at your house." It's totally unclear what Parson means by that, but he segues right into, "Is Bob going to kill him?"
"Uh--I don't think so? He didn't seem too mad. I mean, he was mad, but I told him I was okay when he asked, and --Do you want him to be killed? The program doesn't like that kind of thing, but he says a case could be made that Squidney's gone rogue, if I didn't think it was an accident."
Shitty blobs glue onto his next duck, because whatever is happening in Canada, Lardo's deadline is uncompromising. "These are accidents? That happen?"
"Please don't have your dad murder Squidney," Parson says, just slightly too loud. "I'm gonna be the last guy he was--" He stops. Glances at Shitty, who keeps his eyes on his glue, then plunges ahead. "I'm gonna be the last guy he was seen with. In a city neither of us were playing in. Like, if there's an investigation. There's going to be fingerprints."
"I don't think you need to worry," Jack says, way too normally in response to what Shitty would have assumed was just Parson working himself up. "Even if it goes to the board, he's more likely to get fined."
"The board?" Parson echoes, still that bit too loud, and maybe they should have closed the door, because the sound of debate manages to summon Bitty, who arrives to ask,
"What's going on? Why's everyone in Shitty's room?"
"Battling the endless duck pile, bro. Grab a glue tube."
Bitty's eyes narrow just a bit, in quickly smoothed-over suspicion, but Shitty is busily halfway through a duck, and even though Parson is still sitting on the bed holding his mug, the nightstand has a short but neat row of completed, drying pieces. "What?" Bitty says. "Still? Where's Lardo?"
"Still, man. Forever. This is my life now. She's finishing the armature, so I'd say she's at the art building, but I honestly hope she booked and isn't getting stuck out in that." Shitty gestures over his shoulder, towards his window. It's rattling a little in the wind. Not in a bad, alarming way, but just in a cozy old house way.
"Yeah," Bitty says, frowning at the weather. "I thought I was going to get washed away." He comes in, stepping around Jack, and starts to look around for an easy to reach duck or glitter tube. "Is there--Is everything okay?" he asks, face worried now. "Are you guys in some kind of trouble? Y'all are acting really weird."
"Parse," Jack says. Both Parson and Bitty turn to him, Parson looking a little surprised, and Bitty the opposite. Either of those could read a couple of ways, but that makes sense, because Jack's answer could read a few ways too. "It's fine, Bitty," Jack promises, then, over Bitty's head, "It'll be fine."
Parson looks a little wary, but after a second, he smiles and says, "Yeah."
"Just, we might have to go to Canada."
"Shouldn't you be heading the other way?" Shitty asks. "Like to Mexico? Or somewhere generally more South?"
"I have a game," Parson says.
"We have a game," Bitty points out, much less certainly than he had in the kitchen, turning an unadorned duck around in his hands.
Jack shrugs. "I don't think it works that way," he says.
Parson doesn't ask how Jack thinks it works, so Shitty doesn't either. They're all already kind of up in Parson's business, and just because he'd driven all the way to Samwell to park his car across the driveway two neighbors down doesn't mean he's given up all rights to privacy. Bitty, though, is looking at Parse like he expects something to happen, glitter tube and duck held in his hands, but forgotten, face perplexed.
"We'll sort it out," Jack say, sure, like the times when he's being a less crabby captain than usual, but he says it to Parson instead of Bitty.
"Okay," Parson says. "Okay. Focus on the game first, right?" The grin he gives Jack is a little watery. Like maybe the rain's washed something out of him, or like he's shouted it out in the kitchen, arguing with Jack.
Parson looks at him for a long second. Shitty can't interpret the look on his face--almost blank except for a slight frown. Not the Very Normal look he'd given Shitty, but just as locked down. "You want more hot chocolate?" Shitty asks, because that always helps, but also because Parson's been holding the empty mug for a while now.
"Huh?" Parson blinks at him, switching gears, then looks down like he's just realized he's still got the mug in his hands. "Oh. No. I'm good. Thanks. But--Uh. If anyone's got a spare toothbrush? I might have left my stuff in the hotel."
"What? All your stuff?"
Parson makes a face, this time obviously embarrassed. "I have my phone," he says, pats himself down, then adds, "In the car."
"I'll check the kitchen," Shitty tells him, getting up to take the mug from Parson. He gives it up without a fight. "See if the guys brought it in." Ransom or Holster would have, if they'd seen it. Samwell's a pretty safe town, but there's no telling what some dude might do, faced with temptation and the fragile barrier of a car window.
He drops the mug off in the kitchen and puts some frogs on off-the-couch notice while he's at it, telling them, "That's my bed tonight, bros. Get your butts of it in like, fifteen." There's a pile of wet jackets thrown over a chair, that Shitty leaves in favor of checking all the popular item dump zones. The kitchen counters and tables, the little built-in phone nook from the stone age that now houses a mini dart board and whose ledge is full of junk mail, change, and capless pens.
"Yo," he yells back at the frogs, when all he finds there is change and pens. "You guys seen a phone around?" Then, directed vaguely up the stairs, in case one of them's wandered out of the attic, "Rans!"
As soon as he starts yelling, he finds it, plugged in to charge and everything, set by the TV where there's a massively multi multi-plug. None of the frogs claim it when he picks it up, so he figures that's gotta be it, and pockets it, charger, cable, and everything.
"We're gonna be stuck with a house full of freshies tonight," he says, as he gets back upstairs and pushes his room door open. Bitty is gone, maybe to work on assignments or edit videos, but Jack is sitting at his desk and Parson is asleep with the glitter tube he'd stuck behind his ear having lost its cap and fallen to the bed, leaving glitter glue streaked on Parson's face and into his hair. Shitty would do something about that, if only to save the bed, but all his property is already covered in sparkle anyway.
"They'll have his things, right?" Shitty asks, nodding at Parson. "The Aces, I mean. Hockey things. For the game."
Jack swivels in the chair to glance over. "Yeah."
"Do you know where they're playing? Should we set an alarm?" He pulls the phone stuff out of his pocket, holding it up to show Jack. "I think this is his."
"Yeah," Jack says again.
Shitty waits for more, setting Parson's phone down in a clear spot where he's likely to find it when he wakes up, but Jack doesn't say anything else, and turns back to the window, watching the rain. "It's not like we can send them home," he says, after a little bit.
"The freshies. We can't send them home in this weather."
Shitty waits again. "Yeah. That's what I was saying, man," he says, when he's sure that's going to be Jack's whole contribution. "It's a cruel hike to the dorms at the best of times."
Jack looks over again, at Parson and not at Shitty, and this time without turning. Just a little look over and away again. He's glittered half a duck, Shitty notices, and then left it, exactly the way Lardo had said not to do because the uneven dry time might leave ridges.
"You could go with him," Shitty says. "If it's still like this in the morning. Help navigate or whatever."
Jack hums, thoughtfully, but not really like he's considering it. "We have a game," he says. "Parse'll be fine."
"I'll be fine," Parson says, back in his own clothes but with the borrowed hoodie and now borrowed shoes, because his are still a soggy disaster, drying out by the heater. He's standing in the kitchen, holding a plate and eating bacon with his fingers. His hair is a mess, and it's kind of remarkable how well he fits into the Haus. Like he could belong there, if last night's frogs would just relax and stop pretending they aren't watching every move he makes. "You've got a game."
He's inhaling breakfast in a way that Bitty would usually approve of, refusing to take a chair away from one of the team, but happy to steal pieces of waffle and sausage over their shoulders. Shitty's pretty sure that even his coffee has migrated to him from next to someone else's plate.
"We have a game tomorrow," Holster points out, gesturing with a fork to emphasize the point.
"It's a long drive back and forth."
"You're driving back and forth."
Parson shrugs, like that's different, and changes track to, "Thanks for bringing my phone in, man. I owe you guys one." He tops his coffee off, from another mug. Shitty's not sure whose. "Sorry for throwing rocks at your house."
"You did what?" Bitty demands, from over by the stove where he's flipping pancakes.
"I mean, not--" Parson starts, then finishes, awkward and self-consciously, "on purpose?"
"It's not a problem, bro." Ransom says, then leans back to yell across the kitchen at Bitty, "There's no damage. It's fine."
"It's not like the dude can throw," Holster adds.
"I can throw," Parson protests. "My slapshot is like--I don't know, but it's pretty up there."
Ransom shakes his head sympathetically. "That's a totally different deal, man. But see? You're cool in other ways. I wouldn't worry about it."
Parson scowls into his coffee, lost for response and sulking instead. It's still raining. Less dire than the night before, but it's grey and overcast, a steady drizzle coming down. It's not real rain, but it's still sure to soak a bro through in no time, and the visibility looks like it's going to be shit, even if it's not nearly as bad as coastal fog.
"Okay," Parson says, stealing a last piece of breakfast sausage and biting it in half. "I gotta move." He shoves the rest into his still-full mouth, and makes a happy noise, says, "God," then starts to reach for another piece, pulls his hand back, then goes for it. "I shouldn't have this much salt on a game day," he admits, eating the sausage anyway. "I'm gonna be so mad at myself later." He chases it with coffee, then seems to notice what he's doing, stops to look at the cup, then shrugs it off. "Committed, right?" he says, to the table in general, and knocks the rest back.
"Be careful out there," Shitty tells him, as Parson starts to make motions towards the door, then realizes he doesn't have his keys.
"Bro!" Holster tosses them. Parson tries to snatch them from the air, but bounces them off his hand and has to catch them two handed against his chest.
"Bro," Ransom says, in a totally different tone of voice.
"Fuck off," Parson tells them, mild in a way that Ransom and Holster will be living off of for the rest of the semester, at least. Then he starts to leave again, and stops. Looks at Jack. "Um. I'll see you after?"
He could have just walked out and it would have been less awkward, because now the whole Haus and last night's frogs are looking at Jack, waiting for a response while Jack's still focused on a pancake. He looks up from it right into intense team scrutiny.
"What?" he asks.
Parson gestures towards the door with his hand that's holding the keys, but doesn't repeat himself. He looks a little irritated.
"Drive safely," Bitty says, sounding cheerful. Maybe to make up for Jack's weirdness, and-or trying to fill the expectant silence. It doesn't work.
"Uh," Jack says, and gets up. For a second Shitty thinks he's going to hug Parson goodbye, but instead he goes to the fridge and gets out two Gatorades, and brings those over. "Here."
Parson takes them, but he looks nonplussed.
"You ate all that stuff," Jack points out, with a little head jerk back towards the table, and shrugs. "You said--"
"Oh. Yeah. Thanks, Zimms." Parson's whole demeanor brightens up at Jack's concern. For a celebrity hotshot, he's kind of easy. Maybe verging on pathetic if Shitty was going to be uncharitable about it.
He also doesn't get very far, because about a minute and half after he walks out the door, he's hustled back in through it by Bad Bob Zimmermann himself.
Chapter 3: Is this still plan A?
Zimmermann the elder walks right into the house, pushing Parson along in front of him, with what looks like a solid grip on the back of his hoodie. He's dressed in shirt and slacks, with a proper coat over it all, and leather shoes on his feet. A worn duffel over his shoulder. He's way more equipped than Parson had been, with his basketball shorts and indignation and not much else. He also looks like a dude who's flown out early and on short notice, with tired shadows under his eyes and his hair not quite in order.
"Papa?" Jack sounds bewildered.
Parson clears his throat, then says "I have a game," but without force. Like he's already tried that protest and failed to make it stick.
"You don't," Bob tells him. "I'll call it in. The program will handle it, so there won't be any problems. It'll be fine."
"They'll do without you," Bob repeats, not letting him go. "It's a team sport, and they're a strong team. Besides, you think you're going to drive all the way out there and be on top of your game?"
Parson frowns, but deflates, in a way that's sort of reminiscent of a scruffed cat. Stuck and surrendering, but petulant about it. A version of Parson that never makes it into the pressers. "Okay," he relents, grudging, and Bad Bob relaxes his grip a bit, but doesn't let go.
"Jack," he says again, a sigh this time. Shitty can't tell if it's in relief or what. There's a tone in it he can't quite identify. Sort of sad and tired, in a way that's got nothing to do with late, last minute flights. "I think you'd better explain."
The frogs take that as a cue to clear out, scrambling to put plates in the sink, while citing classes and morning runs like they've forgotten that it's still horrible out. Usually, it takes Shitty a bullhorn and threats to get anyone out of the Haus that fast.
"Knight," Shitty says, standing and holding out his hand to introduce himself, impressed by the kitchen-clearing efficiency, but dutifully taking point when Jack doesn't make any move at all.
"Right. Shitty, isn't it?" Bad Bob knows his name. Jack probably talks about them, so it shouldn't be as surprising as it is, but it's still pretty great to know. "How'd that happen?"
Shitty smiles. Shrugs a little. "Things happen," he says. "Sir."
"Justin," Ransom says, from his spot at the table. "Oluransi."
"Adam," Holster adds. He lifts his hand in a tiny wave.
"Bitty," Bitty says. "Uh, Bittle. Eric. We met at family week? After the game." He's still standing by the stove, holding a spatula and overseeing the transformation of the last of the batter into pancakes. "Can we get you some breakfast? Maybe some coffee? There's plenty."
Bob doesn't get a chance to answer before Jack cuts in with, "What are you doing here?"
"What am I doing here?" He sounds incredulous. "What did you think I would do? Getting a call like that?" He lets his breath out, shoulders slumping a little. "Are you boys okay?" he asks, voice a little gentler, clearly reassured by the fact that they appear to be.
"Of course we're okay," Jack says. Shitty can't decide if he sounds defensive or offended or just put out in the normal Jack way. Parson doesn't contradict him, but he doesn't confirm either.
"Yeah," Bob says. "I thought so. I wondered, when you sounded so calm about it, but--" He looks down at Parson, who seems to just be letting everything happen. "And then I ran into this one out front." This one is fond. A bit exasperated. Parson twitches, almost smiling at it, but not quite. "It's not you, is it, Jack? The carrier."
"What carrier?" Ransom asks, and glances at Holster and then at Shitty. Shitty pretends not to see it, but it causes Bad Bob to look over at them.
"I need to talk to these two," he tells them, either excusing himself or trying to throw them out of their own kitchen.
Ransom doesn't let himself be evicted and by extension, neither does Holster, and because everyone else is staying, so does Bitty. "No," Jack admits. "It's not me."
"Bro, are you okay?" Ransom asks, reconsidering Parson like the way he'd shown up last night wasn't evidence enough. "I mean like, are you okay?"
Parson makes a nonchalant gesture. A dismissive little head jerk that makes Bob scowl. His face looks like he'd enjoy slamming a dude into some boards. Then he steers Parson back the way he'd come, Jack getting up to follow automatically, into the living room where Bob sits them both on the couch, side by side, and leans against the wall facing them. Standing by the TV with his arms crossed over his chest while he frowns. Parson mirrors him, but he looks more like he's hugging himself, chin tucked into the collar of his hoodie. Next to him, Jack's sitting very straight, one arm on the couch's armrest, the other resting on his thigh. Like nothing's wrong, except his demeanor is too stiff. They look, Shitty thinks, like they've been caught underage drinking, and once he has the image in his mind, he can't let it go. The others probably get a similar vibe, because as soon as they get a whiff someone being in trouble, they clear out before there can be a crossfire to get caught in. As heroic as the frogs, even though Bitty lingers, dragging his feet a little and giving Jack worried glances.
Shitty doesn't go with them. Bob gives him an expectant look, then must realize that he's already neck deep in it, and lets him stay, turning back to Jack and Parson to ask, "Was it Jack?"
He's looking at Parson. Shitty almost expects a sullen shrug, but instead Parson's head jerks up and he turns to look at Jack with what could be plain surprise, could be horror. Clearly, he'd thought Jack was in on it, but hadn't considered how in on it he might be.
Bob hums. "So no," he says. "I didn't think so. Who was it?"
There's no answer, just Parson frowning even deeper and glaring at the rug, at the spot where there's a stain that sort of looks like a panda head.
"Kent." That's softer. Kind. Parson blinks in surprise at the change in demeanor, the shift from stern to comforting, and looks up a little, not really lifting his head.
"I can't tell you," he says, low voiced. "You know I can't do that."
"You think I can't narrow down Canadians who are in the program and also have a tendency to do whatever they want? And then see if their schedule lines up?"
Parson shrugs, and Bob drops it. He's going to get Squidney. Shitty's sure he already has a fairly good idea of who the culprit is and was just looking for Parson to confirm. "Alright," he says. "You don't have to tell me. Just--are you hurt? Did anything--did he hurt you?"
That he is so matter of fact that Shitty thinks Bob must have known about Parson for a long time, but Parson still swallows hard at it. "No," he says, eventually, voice low and rough in his throat. "It was just--I didn't know he was going to." One of his arms unfolds, his hand sliding down to press against his stomach, like he's suddenly uncomfortable, though that could be the greasy breakfast making itself known. Shitty gets the feeling that Parson is generally a lot more careful about his diet.
"Okay," Bob says. He sounds relieved, but not really mollified either. Squidney's lucky he's never going to have to meet Bad Bob on the ice. "Okay. I don't know what Jack told you, but there's a good chance most of the eggs won't take."
Bob brushes right by that. "Do you know how many there are?"
Parson swallows again, then shakes his head and glances at Jack, like he expects to be rescued. Jack meets his gaze, exchanges looks, but stays silent.
"That's fine," Bob reassures him. "Maybe we can get some idea, but it's probably going to be around three to six. That's the usual range. Sometimes seven. The duds should be expelled in another day or two, and if it's all of them, then that's it. You're done. There shouldn't be any lingering effects, but if I was you, I'd stay here instead of flying all the way back to Vegas. You don't want it to happen on the plane."
"You can come to our game, bro," Shitty adds, because Parson looks like he really needs to hear something normal-normal, and not Hockey Canada breeding program normal. "I have a hat and some glasses I can loan you, if you want to stay low-profile."
"How," Jack asks, and finally looks at Parson, brow furrowed, "are we going to figure out how many eggs there are?"
"And what do you mean," Parson adds, slouching further down the couch, his loaner Samwell hoodie sliding up to bunch against his back, "by most?"
"Well, there's always a chance," Bob says, minimizing like a champ. "I wouldn't say a big one, but it's been known to happen, and you are very good at hockey."
Parson's face attempts and aborts a few reactions, but then he settles on frowning at where his hand is picking bits of something off the material of the couch. "Thanks." He looks up at Bob, like he's not sure that's the appropriate response for the situation, then adds, "I guess."
Bob smiles, but it doesn't look reassuring so much as dad-like and indulgent. Maybe a little nostalgic, like Parson's sulky expression is an old and familiar thing. Shitty's more familiar with Jack's sulky look, stiff and shuttered and a little hostile, as Bob goes on with, "And New York is close to the border. When we get an odd egg, it's usually from further North--" Norwegians or something, that means, probably, "--but it doesn't hurt to be careful."
It doesn't sound like criticism, but Parson's mouth pulls a little anyway. He's rolling a tiny ball of couch-fluff between his index finger and thumb, focused on it like it's a task that needs more concentration than listening to Bob Zimmermann.
"You'll be okay," Jack pipes up. He sounds impatient. Shitty would be annoyed with him for it, if he didn't know that was how Jack sounded when he was worried. Kind of snippy and callous, too filled up with anxiety to think about other peoples' anxieties or feelings. Parson doesn't seem bothered by it, nodding jerkily without looking over, either familiar enough with Jack to read him, or familiar enough to be used to him, or both, most likely. Shitty remembers them fighting after Parson's Cup-and-Calder season, and even then, the argument had sounded well-worn.
"Sorry," Parson says after a bit, sort of deciding to take it the wrong way. Shitty can practically see him quietly understanding Jack, then changing his mind about it. " I wouldn't want you to worry about the eggs. I'm sure they'll be great."
"Kent," Bob says, gentle, at the same time that Jack mutters,
"It'll be one egg. Maybe."
"Then I'm sure it will be great," Parson snaps, and flicks his ball of fluff away before agitatedly picking at the couch again. At least the Haus furniture is ruin-proof. At this point the only thing Parson can do to it is add character and patina.
"I didn't mean it that way." Now Jack looks irritated, brow furrowing and mouth thinning into a tense line, glaring at Parson, who doesn't look up from his small-scale destruction.
Bob sighs and says, "Boys."
Don't make me turn this car around, Shitty adds in his head.
"It's not my fault you got mixed up with--" Jack goes on anyway, catching himself just in time to not name names. "I didn't even know you were seeing him."
Parson's jaw clenches, and even without him saying anything, Shitty can tell Jack's hit some sort of button and now they've taken a hard turn into a totally different argument. This time Jack even notices it's happened.
"Kenny," he starts.
"No," Parson says, quiet and angry, but subsiding. "Of course you didn't know."
"Let's just get this sorted out, alright?" Bob says, in a very parental voice-of-reason tone. It's sort of blowing Shitty's mind. "We can worry about the rest later. In the meantime, maybe don't rile Kent up, huh, Jack?"
"Why?" Parson asks. "Is it bad for the egg?"
Bob huffs. Shitty had never imagined him as being this patient, when he'd watched him as a kid, punching guys in the mouth and slamming them into the boards. "Well, it's not good for you, either," he says, in a warm but kind of tired way that makes Parson glance up, eyes picking up the color of the couch and dulled by the watery light coming in the window to a flat green. Bob smiles at him, the way a coach or parent might at a kid that had just lost a game--kind of encouraging and sympathetic at the same time. "Try to take it easy." Bob looks at Jack in warning after he says it, then turns back to Parson. "I'll make some calls. Let our contacts in Vegas know to let you off the hook, and see who's in the area that can help us figure out how many eggs you've got."
"Ransom's pre-med," Shitty offers. "I could call him back down?"
Parson twitches. "He's a biology major." It's always surprising that he remembers stuff like that. Shitty's never been sure if it's because he's just good about people, or if he's been cyber stalking Jack, and Jack's friends by extension.
"Sure, but I think he knows some people from the nursing school. I remember they x-rayed some packages the lax dudes left on our porch one year."
"Great," Parson says, voice flat. He sounds a little like Bitty trying to politely entertain freshie excuses, but Shitty finds it within himself not to laugh and manages to mostly stifle the smile he can feel pulling at his mouth.
"Thank you, Shitty." Bob doesn't even stumble over the nickname. He's the rare kind of parent who doesn't, and Shitty feels mad respect for him over it. A little bit of envy for Jack, but then, parental coolness is like greener grass, basically as a rule of nature. Jack doesn't look very thrilled with any of them, frowning a little and unconsciously mimicking Parson's unhappy pout. Shitty guesses they both mean for that look to be taken seriously, but it's stupidly unsuited to Jack's face and not doing a thing for Parson's authority. "But I don't think that will be necessary. At some point we can--" Bob stops to look at Parson, considering. Maybe thinking of how to soften the point, or balancing his own sense of normal against the normal sense of normal. "We can wait until the eggs drop, then check if any are left," he offers. "Or check beforehand and count them as they come. It's up to you."
Parson doesn't answer. He's poking at the couch's armrest with a finger, scraping his nail over the little rows in the fabric.
"You shouldn't x-ray an egg," Jack says, into the silence, directing it at Shitty. Trying to break the awkward tension that's gathering the longer Parson stews, but just managing to send it right to tipping point. Parson's eyes flick to him, irritated again.
"Right," Shitty says, with a helpless look at Parson. Trying to agree with Jack in as neutral a way as possible and hoping Parson picks up on it as an attempt at diplomacy. "Got it. Filing for future reference."
Parson frowns at that, and looks across at Jack again, expression changed but in a way that Shitty can't read. There's a little crinkle in his brow, and his frown's deepened. He looks mostly confused. It's impossible to know what he's thinking.
"It's not Kent's job to take care of Canadian eggs, Jack," Bob says, voice gentle, even though he doesn't exactly sound happy about the prospect of Parson irradiating the future of hockey in the North, should Parson decline to use his contacts and opt for off-book after-hours sneaking instead. Shitty's pretty sure Rans also knows the security guy down at the nursing school, since Rans is a veritable rolodex of student athletes, plus some former student athletes. College football had come up during the planning around the lax-parcels thing, if Shitty remembers it right.
"Fine," Jack says, but then goes from snippy to a softer tone that's a lot like Bob's to tell Parson, "I'm not saying it is. I'm just--saying."
Parson, for his part, doesn't abandon snippy at all. "Stop saying, then."
"I know things have been rough with you boys," Bob starts. Jack looks away, frowning. Parson snorts. "But let's put that aside for now, alright? At least until this is over."
"Fine," Parson says, in a grouchier tone than Jack had. Jack glares at him.
"Why are you mad at me?" he demands. "I didn't do anything. I didn't tell you to--who to sleep with. I didn't ask you to come here."
Jack's drawn himself up, face tight and cold. Shitty knows that tone and expression, from a million previous instalments of Jack-pissiness. It's never been aimed at Shitty, but he's heard Jack get that way with Bitty, and a couple times with Parson, when he'd shown up at the Haus. Parson looks startled, then hurt, and then his jaw clenches.
"You'd have to talk to me to ask me things," Parson says, fake-agreeable, still slouched and not responding to the way Jack's even stiffer posture has also increased his loom. "So yeah. Of course you didn't."
Jack settles into an angry simmer, which somehow isn't good enough for Parson, who feels the need to add, "Don't worry. I'm not going to x-ray your stupid eggs."
"They're not my eggs," Jack snaps. "This isn't my fault."
"I didn't say--"
"And it's not my fault Vegas wasn't perfect. You always come here wanting me to fix things for you."
"Whoa, bros," Shitty starts, at the same time that Bob says, "Come on, boys," but it's too late to stop the train. Parson takes a breath, narrows his eyes, and his jaw gets an even more stubborn set to it as he decides to go for it.
"Why would I want you to fix anything, Jack?" He says the name like his whole point is wrapped up in it. A summary for years of whatever the hell the problem between the two of them is. "You couldn't even fix things for yourself."
Jack's face goes empty. He's nuclear pissed, everything wiped away before the approaching blast. Parson either doesn't care or has a pathological need to set fires, because he sees it and still says, "Go ahead. Throw me out and walk away. That's how you usually solve a problem, isn't it?"
"You're not my problem," Jack tells him, icy. Parson plucks a whole little tuft of green fluff off the couch in agitation. So far Bob's plan to have him take it easy is going great. "It's not my fault something didn't work out exactly the way you wanted."
That's rounding down. Or it's not about Squidney anymore. It's hard to separate the layers.
"It's not my fault things didn't work out the way you wanted," Parson returns, uncreatively. "You're the one who--"
"Boys," Bob says again, interrupting, and with more warning in his tone. Shitty really admires his self-control, when judging by the look on his face, the turn of Jack and Parson's argument isn't exactly easy for him to sit through.
"What was I supposed to do, Jack?" Parson barrels on anyway. "I didn't ask for anything to go how it did."
He's definitely not talking about Squidney anymore, but Jack deliberately misinterprets. "Do whatever you want," he says. "They're not my eggs. You can take it up with Canada."
"Oh, so Canada's the problem here?"
Jack gives him a cool look. "What else would it be?"
Parson's mouth opens, then closes. His face is soft, for a second, and then it hardens back up into contained hurt and outrage before smoothing out into pissy cool. "I guess thanks for putting me up then, Zimms," he says, with no inflection at all, and then he gets up and storms out. Shitty can hear him stomp up the stairs, then down the hall before something bangs, and, more distantly, bangs again. After a few seconds of heavy silence, Jack gets up and trails him upstairs, way more quietly and without looking at anyone. The door to his room opens and closes in a restrained, civil kind of way, leaving Shitty in the Haus living room with the detritus of freshie sleepover and hockey legend Bad Bob Zimmermann.
"So," Shitty says, and pauses to clear his throat. "How about that breakfast? Bitty made like a zillion pancakes."
Chapter 4: They call it falling to your death
Bob makes phone calls over his coffee and pile of breakfast food. Bitty's really outdone himself in some fit of enthusiasm, but Bad Bob seems too distracted to really appreciate the plentitude and the deliciousness of the plentitude as he chases it with coffee and grumbles in a low, serious volume to either Canada or Las Vegas. Shitty can't really tell which as he tries to play host. He's feeling a bit desperate for backup by the time Bitty comes sneaking back down to play domestic D-man.
"Bitty, my man!" Shitty calls, extra cheerful so Bitty will know he's drowning here. Bitty's good with parents. He's wholesome and polite and cutely large-eyed enough to remind them of when their kids were happy, non-sulking, non-fighting, non-potentially-scandalizing-the-NHL-and-or-Hockey-Canada-in-particular children.
"Bittle," Bob says, in renewed greeting, then makes an awkward throat-noise, not unlike Jack, but also very unlike Jack. He nods at the table. "That's quite a spread, son."
Bitty turns a little pink and aw shucks-es his way past the compliment. He's a star. Shitty can feel the pressure shifting off him already. "I can whip up some more if you're still hungry?" Bitty offers, even though the table is still loaded. He's already starting another pot of coffee, like it's an automatic reflex. "It's no trouble. Or waffles? I'm sure the iron's still hot." There's no way he hadn't heard the arguing, or that he'd missed Parson's retreat. Shitty's pretty sure his well-timed reappearance is at least partly because he's on a fact-finding mission.
And maybe partly because he doesn't trust any of the rest of them to host properly. At least outside of throwing esters, which frankly, they excel at, but which are also not the way Bob Zimmermann prefers his breakfasts, probably.
Bitty picks up the pot of cool coffee and dumps it, before turning and starting, "Is--" before stopping to frown uncertainly, then powers ahead with, "Um. I don't mean to pry, but--is Jack okay?"
Bob looks up. Bitty fidgets with the pot, then turns quickly to get busy rinsing and measuring coffee grounds. "You have a game tomorrow," Bob says to his back, like he's just remembered. Shitty can't exactly blame him for not having their schedule at the forefront of his mind, just then.
"Home ice," Bitty confirms, needlessly since it's not like they're all busy packing or organizing frogs or anything. "Are you here to watch?"
He's a fucking operator. Shitty very carefully doesn't raise an eyebrow at it, in case it throws the outcome of Bitty's spy game. Like he has a chance of charming Bob into spilling the beans through guileless, wide-eyed blinking alone.
"Huh," Bob says, like it hadn't occurred to him that he could. "I think I can swing that." He waits till Bitty brings the fresh coffee over before offering him a smile. "You're still on Jack's line?"
Bitty flashes a winning smile and gets through an upbeat affirmative, but then his obvious desire to ask more questions is confounded by Bob nodding thoughtfully and failing to make helpful small talk instead of derailing into hockey tips. Bitty's got a pattern of being defeated by Zimmermann reticence, and his brow furrows the same way it does when he's trying to pry conversation out of Jack. He's got a different style than Parson, who's a lot more willing to barrel through Jack's silences and stand-offish responses until Jack either gets with it or gets mad.
It's been a lot more the second one, for as long as Shitty's known Jack. That or Jack going silent and sulky and moping off somewhere. Bob seems like a chiller brand of Zimmermann, but Bitty must recognize the familiar, Jack-like parts of the ground he's on, and sidesteps into breezily cheerful offers of syrups and toppings as he gathers up abandoned freshie dishes to stack in the sink, for whoever's on dish duty, which is probably not Shitty. He hasn't kept up with whether anyone's been turning the chore wheel.
There's a practice later, the last before their game tomorrow, so Shitty excuses himself under the cover of, some of us slept on the couch last night, bros, to head upstairs where he hesitates in the hall before deciding to leave Jack alone and going to knock on his own door, calling, "Parson? Sorry to interfere with your moment, man, but I gotta nap."
There's no answer. Shitty knocks again. "Parson?" When he turns the knob and cracks the door open, the room's empty. Shitty frowns and treks back the way he'd come, to tap on Jack's door. "Yo, Zimmermann. Do you have Parson in there, or did we lose him?"
Jack doesn't answer either, but the door's locked when Shitty tests it, so he's probably in there stewing, maybe with earphones on, and when Shitty looks out a window, Parson's car is still where Ransom and Holster had relocated it, tidily parked in their driveway. Shitty sighs and peeks into Bitty's room, but that's empty too, and the bathrooms he can get to are all unoccupied, and neither Parson nor Jack had come back downstairs. Altogether, it leaves one place a whole, even smallish, hockey player could be.
"You're gonna slide off that roof, man," Shitty tells him, sticking his head out the window into the light but still steady rain. It's like being misted, fine droplets soaking right into his flow and dampening his shirt. Parson's got his hood up, but his borrowed sweater isn't doing much better in repelling the weather. A bit further from the edge, Lardo's got a purple windbreaker and an umbrella with polka dots. Shitty blinks, both in surprise and to get rain off his lashes.
"Lards. When'd you get here?"
"While you guys were all yelling downstairs. I've been trying to save this professional athlete from himself."
"It's not that far down and there's a big bush," Parson says, like he's already pointed that out.
"You don't know what's in that bush," Lardo says, in the same tone. "What if you get impaled on like, a stick?"
Parson hums, thinking about it.
Shitty considers the whole thing before asking, "Are you running away from Bad Bob?"
"He said he was calling Vegas, so someone there probably knows what to do, right?" It's not really a no.
"If you were going to go for it, you'd have done it already," Lardo says, kind of heartlessly.
"I didn't know we had an umbrella," Shitty tells her.
"We don't. I borrowed it to come check on my ducks."
"We should get one."
Lardo smiles at him, then says, "Come back inside, Parson. You're afraid of doing an ankle and you know it."
"It's just that it's slippery down there."
It's slippery on the roof too, and Shitty's letting all the warm air out of the open window. "I need to snooze if we're gonna have practice later," he points out, because that seems more likely to work on Parson than appealing to self-preservation. "You can climb down the rainspout later if you still wanna."
Lardo collapses the umbrella and shoves it through for Shitty to lean against the wall inside. "Don't give him ideas."
"If you'd really rather tell Vegas--if you even know who to tell in Vegas--I can go around to the yard and try to catch you?" Shitty offers instead. "But you need to know that I don't vouch for this idea or guarantee good outcomes. Just please don't jump into the bush."
"Anytime someone wants to actually fill me in," Lardo starts, then lets it hang pointedly. Her hair is getting wet now that she's given up the umbrella, and the long bits plastering to her face are directing water straight into the collar of her jacket.
Shitty has to think about where to start with that, but Parson finally backs away towards the window, creating a shuffle on the roof as Lardo skootches to make room, and that buys him some time. "I'd tell you," Parson says, before Shitty can attempt a response, "but you wouldn't respect me as an opponent anymore."
"I don't respect you as an opponent now," Lardo scoffs, but accepts the obvious dodge. Mostly because it looks like Parson's decided to come inside and not act like a lunatic after all. He always seems so chill on TV.
"Jack doesn't even want me here," Parson grumbles, as Shitty steps back to let him inside, ready to grab and pull him through if he looks like he's about to change his mind and reverse direction. "This was a stupid idea."
Lardo shoves him through, then climbs in after, slamming the window shut after her.
"Dude," Shitty says, sympathetic, but doesn't follow up with anything.
"But where else was I gonna go, right?" Parson waves a hand towards the window he'd just come through, indicating something unclear. His aborted escape attempt, maybe. Maybe the general direction of wherever his team is supposed to be. "I'm really sorry about--you know. Making this shit your problem."
"It's no problem, bro. It'd be a problem if you'd broken a hip in our yard."
Parson frowns, dripping puddles all over Shitty's Haus, for the second day in a row. "It's not that far down," he says.
Practice is weird, with Jack even grumpier and snappier than usual, and Bitty giving him worried little frowns as he twists his hands around his stick like he's trying to wring it. Shitty has no idea what Bitty thinks is going on with Bob and Parson and Jack, but he's distracted enough by it that he forgets to clench up at the thought of being checked, so at least one of them is making a good show of themself. Ransom and Holster seem to be getting dragged into the Zimmermann grouch vortex, even though they're usually immune to it, while Shitty's left sort of out in the cold because Jack's all in his head in a way that's totally messing up their line, so that Shitty ends up spending a good part of scrimmage just skating up and down the ice trying to make connections that Jack doesn't pick up like usual, then gets pissy about.
It's tiring and not-fun, and he'd been looking forward to an afternoon practice instead of their usual ass-crack of morning timetable. Jack is seriously dinging his hockey buzz, and they can't even argue about it, because Bad Bob Zimmermann is still around somewhere and if Shitty knows one thing about Jack, it's that he wouldn't welcome a hockey argument breaking out in front of his dad, or even somewhere potentially in his dad's earshot. Shitty still glares at his back as they trudge back up the soggy Haus drive, but it's kind of ruined by the way they have to edge around's Parson's car.
"D'you need to call to extend the rent on your premature life crisis mobile?" Shitty calls, tossing his stuff in the living room to sort out later, after he's had a break and food. It's not the most conscientious gear care ever, but rink funk is a part of the Haus ambience, and failing to maintain its presence would also be slacking on a duty. "Parson?"
"Got till midnight," Parson says, absent. He's back on the couch and wearing his own clothes, even though it's way too cold be hanging out in shorts, and stupid to suffer when he could have just grabbed something in Shitty's room. Parson's sort of stubborn, is what Shitty's getting. About as much as Jack, though in a kinda different way.
Shitty shrugs. Says, "It's your fine," but tosses Parson his warm-up jacket. It falls crooked and kind of hooked on his head, but Parson doesn't move to adjust it or put it on properly, eyes fixed on the TV and chewing at the edge of a thumbnail, tense all over as the Aces do a line change. Shitty wonders if they're losing already, this early in, but then the score comes up in the corner of the screen, showing the Aces up by one, so Parson's just working himself up through long-distance backseat playing.
"There's beers in the fridge," Shitty tells him, because Bob's plan of getting Parson to relax seems more practically doable than Jack's plan that mostly seems to involve excelling at eggs and thereby at hockey, and by extension pissing Parson off. "Or in the basement. The butter-booze fridge quota is currently under renegotiation, so feel free to rummage. There's all kind of microwave stuff in the freezer down there too. Under the peas. Don't tell Bitty."
Parson glances at him, like he's surprised to have company, then checks the TV screen again real quick before saying, "Uh?", as he rewinds, then processes everything Shitty had said, and then he asks, "Where's Jack?"
"Jack," Shitty huffs, and slides onto the couch next to him. "Listen, man. Jack's my pal, and I love him like a weird brother, but dude can do a mood, if you know what I mean. He's probably upstairs."
"Sorry." It's low, Parson turned back to the TV so that Shitty's jacket draped over his head is obscuring his face.
"Don't sweat it. It's not like you hatched him or whatever." Parson twitches, but Shitty can't see if it's out of laughter or a flinch. "Too soon?"
On TV, the announcers use a stoppage in play to discuss Parson's absence. By the way they pick it up, it's clearly been an ongoing topic. Next to Shitty, real-life Parson huffs and heaves himself to his feet, offering, "I could get you that beer?"
"You're a lifesaver. My calves are killing me." Shitty kicks his legs out to emphasize the point, and Parson smiles a little as he adjusts the jacket, finally getting his arms into it like a regular person with a regular understanding of clothing.
"Been there, man," he says, like Shitty's done anywhere near the level of training that is Parson's day-to-day, and goes away to shuffle things around in the fridge. When he comes back, he's got two opened bottles and a box of chocolate cereal, which is the worst beer-snack combo on offer in their kitchen. On the other hand, Shitty hadn't had to get up to find it, so he graciously fishes a handful out when Parson offers him the box.
They watch in silence until Ransom and Holster catch-up to the possibility of watching an Aces game with Kent Parson, and try to pile onto the couch with them, wiggling around in an attempt to make butt-space until Holster gets forced to the floor. Then there's a lot of talking and yelling, and loud rooting against the Aces to try to rile Parson up. It doesn't really work. Parson stays pretty quiet and serious, drinking his beer and eating Holster's Cocoa Chunks, chewing mechanically with his eyes fixed on the screen. Hyper-focused like he's trying to will his team to victory through the power of brainwaves, even though Shitty also catches him looking kind of zoned out once or twice and not even during ad breaks.
If Jack was in a better mood, Shitty would try to ask him about it.
Chapter 5: Be the storm cellar, brah
Parson's still sort of serious and quiet by the time the Samwell game rolls around, but Shitty's so caught up in pre-game ritual and team shit that it's just a low-volume ping on the edge of his radar. Bad Bob's still around anyway, and he's probably got a better idea of how to deal with the Jack-Parson-Canadian Egg situation than Shitty, even just based on the fact that Bob Zimmermann is probably not still wrapping his head around the concept of the Canadian Egg situation being a situation.
"You gonna come watch the game?" Shitty does ask, while he's rounding up all the shit he'll need from where it's migrated around his room, scattering with the winds. It would be uncool to make Parson feel like he wasn't welcome in their cheer section just because Jack's in a snit. "You can use my shades if you wanna go incognito."
Parson looks surprised at the offer, then frowns a little. Shitty's a bit surprised he hasn't just bought a couple changes of clothes by now, because it's not like he can't afford it, but he's still hanging around in a mix of his original not-season-appropriate gear and loaners.
"And maybe a beanie," Shitty adds. "Or, you know, I bet Lardo can rig you up a disguise."
"I thought I'd stay and work on ducks," Parson hedges.
"I know we're not the NHL, man--"
Parson twitches and looks away.
"So if you're not into it, don't feel obligated or anything."
That makes Parson look even more awkward. Shitty's got no idea what he's nudging up against, but it's obviously something.
"On the other hand, it's not like we completely suck. We're at least entertaining."
Parson's nose wrinkles like he's caught a whiff of something off, making Shitty frown, but then his expression smooths out again. "I know."
"I just mean like, if you're bored hanging around here smelling Ransom's sock funk."
That gets him a flicker of amusement, and Parson asking, "Is that what that is?" even though Shitty doesn't buy for a second that he's not familiar with sport dude stink. "I thought it was the couch."
"Maybe a bit," Shitty allows. "It's a delicate blend."
Parson offers him a smile for his effort, then turns it upside down, into an unhappy, rueful kind of frown. "I dunno. I don't think Jack exactly wants me around while his dad is watching him play hockey."
Jack's so weird. About everything, but especially about the Zimmermann hockey empire or however he thinks of it. It's rough that Parson's taking it so seriously instead of brushing it off as Jack being Jack and letting him get over it.
"Look, man, I don't know if you're gonna buy this, but you need to take a page from Bittle."
Parson's face turns quizzical. He's not quite raising an eyebrow, but Shitty can tell the intention is there. "Yeah?"
"Yeah. Not like bribe him with pie, but you know. Just do your thing, man. Let the storm blow through, you know?" He's not sure Parson's on board with that, but he frowns some more, and then reluctantly gives in with a muttered,
"Right. Sure." He doesn't sound convinced, and Shitty can see why, considering Parson had only turned up at the Haus because Jack was there. Probably, Parson thought doing his own thing involved getting scarce, and anything else was invading Jack's turf, even if Bad Bob himself had also told him to stay put.
Parson doesn't say anything else, though, turning away to fiddle with glitter tubes, while Shitty changes from lounge-around-the-Haus wear to team swag. It only takes a few more minutes, but Shitty can already hear Lardo yelling downstairs, driving the team into motion and rounding up frogs.
"Parson needs a disguise," he tells her, when she comes upstairs to collect their wayward selves. It's enough of a distraction that Shitty can shove a few last things into his bag, zip it shut, and scoot around her and out of his room before she can mention his failure to join the herd.
"Well," he can hear her say thoughtfully, as he turns to head down the stairs, "Let's see what we've got to work with."
Lardo pops back up sometime after Shitty finishes dressing, with a clipboard under her arm and her hair tucked back under a Wellie-red beanie, to cryptically report, "Your boy's a wuss about face paint," to Jack, and then proceed to ignore Jack's lack of meaningful reaction in favor of making sure they have enough Gatorade to hydrate and that none of the frogs have managed to show up with two left gloves instead of one per hand. Shitty doesn't have time to question her about it either, because Coach takes over after that, and after that, Shitty's got to concentrate on the game.
At least Bitty's less wound up than usual. Putting his energy into unclenching Jack instead of working himself up into a dense ball of nerves, determinedly upbeat and putting real gas into his skating. He's doing great, and doesn't even turtle up until Holster launches at him in a celly. Shitty's busy laughing and thumping backs before it occurs to him to remember Bad Bob and Kent Parson are there in Faber, watching them play, which might have been a lot more impressive if he hadn't also recently seen Parson with glitter glue stuck to his cheek.
It's not hard to spot him in the stands, now that's Shitty's looking. He's sitting near Bob Zimmermann, not next to him, but diagonally down one row and a couple seats over, dressed in a mix of jock frat chic and art student glam, hair streaked pink and with Shitty's aviators topping off the look. Lardo's streaked red on his cheek, but that must have been when Parson had decided to mount a resistance, because the stripe is smeared and only drawn on one side.
"Gotta work with the materials you've got," Lardo comments, when she notices Shitty checking out her handiwork. "You try to hair chalk a guy who won't stop squirming."
"I think we had a hazing like that," Shitty comments, turning his attention back to the ice, where their frogs are getting some game time and not even embarrassing themselves. It's a good game. High energy and not too chippy. Jack could stand to pick up the mood a little, but it's not like Jack's ever a bucket of cheer, even on the ice, really.
Shitty scoots, moving down as Ransom and Holster climb over the wall, back onto the ice, followed by frogs coming back to the bench. They'll be back on soon. On either side of him, Shitty can feel Jack and Bitty starting to tense up, for totally different reasons, and sighs a little. When there's a brief stop in play, and he has a chance to look up at the stands again, Bob is on his phone and Parson is gone, and when Shitty looks again maybe three, five minutes later, Bob's peaced out too.
That's gonna steam Jack, if he notices. It's a good thing he's got his single minded, laser-eyed game focus dialed to full, so if no one bothers to nudge him and point out the thinning population of their cheer squad, he's not likely to look up and check. Bitty, though, follows Shitty's gaze, then looks at him questioningly.
"It's nothing, bro," Shitty tells him. "Something must've come up."
Bitty looks dubious, and then turns his dubious look on Shitty, frowning with his eyebrows crinkled up, like he suspects nefarious play but hasn't worked enough of it out yet to form actual questions.
"It's nothing," Shitty repeats, protesting too strongly, maybe. "I mean, I'm sure everything's fine."
The walkback is pretty weak, and Bitty's too sharp for that kind of C-rate gameplay anyway. He scans the stands again, then leans to look towards the tunnel, like he expects Bob to come down it, maybe to get Jack in some kind of family emergency round-up. Shitty's deflection attempt is working out as good as throwing chum in the water.
"Seriously," Shitty tries, hissing it like he thinks Jack won't hear--which isn't too unlikely, because Jack's busy staring hard at the ice, oblivious to the two of them ducking their heads together to confer. "It's just a hockey thing."
"A hockey thing," Bitty echoes, flat, then looks back up to where neither Bob nor Parson has reappeared to actually watch any hockey, then settles back on the bench to give Shitty a sideways, skeptical look from under the edge of his helmet, but before Shitty can say anything, whether in general, unspecified self-defense, or general, noncommittal explanation, Coach is sending them back onto the ice.
Bitty picks up a loose puck almost instantly, and sends it to Shitty, for a pretty assist that will possibly make Jack even tetchier for being left out of it, even if it means their lead is nice and solid now. That makes for a calmer celly, which is also a celly where no one is charged up enough to forget about being wrong-footed around each other. At least it hasn't effected their teamwork, Shitty thinks, even if Jack is extra stiff and weird to hug.
As always, it takes a while to get out of Faber, post-game, and it takes even longer post-win, with players and the student body in general more reluctant to leave the bubble of shared exhilaration. There's loitering in the stands and in the locker, and outside too, where their former spectators are more than likely clumping together into little pockets of conversation and semi-public drinking, rowdy and clogging things up enough that Shitty figures there's no point rushing through showers or anything, even if Jack is agitating like he wants them all to clear out ASAP.
"You could just go," Ransom points out, after the third time Jack makes restless motions about their dawdling, already changed himself even if his shit is still only half packed and half still tucked away into his stall cubby. "Good job, nice win, fist bumps all around, captaining job done." He bumps Holster's fist to illustrate, then holds his hands open in a modest see? gesture.
Jack clearly doesn't see, fixing both of them with a nonplussed look before he goes back to methodically relocating things into his bag.
"Or, like, loom and oversee the skate packing. Whichever you like, man," Holster says, backtracking. "Maybe shower."
Shitty hadn't realized that Jack had skipped straight to changing and not just triple-timed a shower out of impatience. He's pretty wired for having won a game, when usually winning mellowed Jack out a little and losing was what usually turned him into an impatient tyrant. Shitty gives him a pat on the back, other hand holding the corners of his towel together at the hip, asking "Where's the fire, Zimmermann?" in the teasing tone that usually made Jack realize that he's being a giant grouch and then recalibrate and lighten up.
Jack doesn't lighten up. If anything, he just gets antsier, like the contact is making him itchy. Or maybe that's the sweatshirt pulled on over the lack of shower. His hair looks sweat-sticky in a way that might have translated as ruffled attractiveness if Shitty didn't know that it came from skating full-throttle with a bucket jammed onto his head and then marinating in it.
"Just hurry up," Jack says, slipping into his bossy captain-voice. That's never worked on Shitty, not even coming from two whole captains ago, when they'd both been squeaky-bright new innocent freshies. Jack should really know better by now. And he should have picked up from experience that being too pushy was more likely to cause the whole team to dawdle even more, as the guys slow down to rubberneck potential drama. Bitty, for one, has decelerated to pretty much a full stop, hands still on his bag, with the zipper half pulled and a water bottle sticking out of the gap.
"As also a responsible senior," Shitty says, putting a hand to his bare chest to help make the point, "I think I can manage directing these good gentlemen back towards the Haus without losing more than one."
That makes Jack's forehead crinkle up like an old dude. A kinda judgmental one. "That's not the--"
"Yeah, yeah. I absolve you of captain duties," Shitty interrupts, holding a hand up and towards him like he's conducting a blessing. "And promise to lock up if you give me the keys."
"And double check that no one got locked in like that one time, and then hand them to Coach."
Jack hesitates. The faith their relationship is built on is turning out to have a few less than solid spots.
"Come on." Shitty pauses to adjust his towel, then turns his hand over so it's palm-up, and wiggles his fingers in encouragement. "Alternate, bro."
"I'll come with you," Bitty offers, out of nowhere, hands jerking into motion like a gear'd just come unstuck. He goes back to packing with quick, precise motions, tape and deodorant and towel disappearing tidily instead of being jammed away as a giant wadded up bundle, which is the more usual team-getting-a-move-on style.
"Oh," Jack says, this time sounding surprised.
"Just gimme one second," Bitty goes on, pulling on clothes before Jack can argue. His head disappears into a red hoodie with the exact right timing to disrupt incoming objection. "There," he says, when he re-emerges with a big, reassuring smile spread across his face. He takes a second to adjust the way the hoodie settles at his waist, then makes a quick attempt to straighten his hair. "All I need's my shoes."
"Fine," Jack allows. Mostly, Shitty thinks, because he's unresponded himself right past any good refusal opening. He turns away to unzip the side pocket of his bag, fishes around a bit, and then comes up with the unofficial ring of official team keys, all collected onto a cracked rubber Samwell dongle last sold in the campus shop maybe three redesigns ago. Almost old school enough to see a reboot.
"I'll guard them with my life," Shitty swears, as his fingers finally close around them. "Now tag me in so I can throw down."
Jack hesitates, like he's not sure what to make of that, then taps him once in the shoulder, hard enough that it's more of a jab, before he turns and grabs his bag, leaving abruptly so that Bitty has to rush to follow.
Chapter 6: I'm sure these are decisions
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."
Chapter 7: You gotta be lucky
"The water's too hot," is what Jack decides is helpful input, after a while, and even then it's not very useful to Parson, because he only says it to Shitty, sitting next to him on the bed where the two of them have retreated to, giving Parson space to do whatever it is he's doing, half-dressed in their bathtub.
"Should he be in there by himself?" Shitty asks, even if he kind of suspects that any advice Jack's in a position to give might not be advice Parson wants to hear. It's not really that clear, retrospectively, exactly what kind of advice Parson had been hoping for when he'd shown up. Jack, maybe thinking along the same lines, shrugs. Pokes at a hangnail or something, then straightens his legs out across the bed and lets his head rest against the wall with a soft thump.
"It's not my fault," he says, after a few minutes and instead of answering the question. "That Parse--" He lifts a hand, gesturing vaguely towards the bathroom before dropping his hand, then lifting it again to pick at the side of his nail a little more.
"No one said it was, bro."
Jack heaves a breath instead of acknowledging it, but stewing is a pretty standard Zimmermann MO, so the best bet is to just let him simmer away to a conclusion. Except that what Jack comes up is, "I can't go to Las Vegas."
Jack's looks away from the patch of ceiling he's been studying to glance at Shitty's face. Like he thinks Shitty hadn't been paying attention. "Vegas," he repeats, a little louder and enunciating a little more carefully. "I'm not going to Las Vegas."
"I told him to let it go."
"Okay." Shitty looks over. Jack's still looking at him, in an intense way that makes the eye contact a little weird. Shitty gives him a shove with his elbow. "Are we talking about--" he nods towards the bathroom, where the water just keeps running, driving up the utilities and maintaining a stable incubation temperature. Jack doesn't answer, but Shitty takes his silence as an affirmative. It's not, honestly, a massive challenge of a guess.
"Cause it's too far from the Northern border?" Shitty asks, when the silence drags on, minus a bit of muted swearing from Parson as water splashes. Jack looks surprised, then shakes his head.
"That doesn't matter," he says. And after a second, "They weren't going to pick me anyway. Even without--" He waves a hand, awkward. Not towards the bathroom, but just generally. Indicating his room, the Haus. Maybe Samwell. Maybe including Shitty in it too.
"Bro," Shitty says, a little hurt by the implication.
"Definitely not now."
Jack doesn't look really, actively upset. More thoughtful and resigned and a little sad in a way Shitty's not that used to seeing on him, except on the rare occasions Jack had been adventurous enough to try some tub juice, and its paint stripping powers had done the same work on his temper, melting surliness into a kind of low-burn, stoic funk.
They need a kegster, Shitty thinks, when this is all over. Or maybe two solid hockey wins, and a crack of dawn training session in Jack's case. That's usually good for resetting his weirder moods back to more standard parameters.
"You know I live for your success, man," Shitty says, nudging him with his elbow again. "I bet you can have a million little Squidneys if that's what you want."
Jack makes a face. It's surprisingly Parson-like. Like Jack's picked the expression up in just the few days Parson's been shacked up at Samwell. Or else Parson being there had unlocked a whole preexisting repertoire.
"Or not," Shitty adds. "When you get to the big time, you'll have a ton of options." Jack has options even going into the NHL, considering the multiple teams scouting him. At least three of them. Four, if Shitty adds the insider scoop of Parson coming around to ask Jack to pick me, pick me.
"No," Jack says, dismissing Shitty's optimism with a little movement of his hand. Picking it up to make that gesture--not quite a wave--then dropping it again, before frowning at his own knuckles. "The board's fussy about their options. They don't want an egg that can't take--" Jack stops. Looks like he's not going to go on, then shrugs and wraps up with, "It's a lot of pressure."
"Some of them crack, huh?" Shitty offers. Jack doesn't even give him a pity smile for the effort, but just nods his head once, in a serious little bob, face set like they're talking about game day plans. Still stewing, until the silence gets heavy and Shitty can't take it anymore and gives him another nudge.
"I'm gonna get you those burgers, man. They're in peril down there in communal space."
"Shout if you need backup."
Jack looks up, considering the bathroom door for a couple of seconds, before turning to where Shitty's waiting for exit confirmation, hovering with his weight already halfway off the bed and one foot on the floor. "Right. Thanks."
"Then I will bee-ar-bee ay-ess-ay-pee. Don't let Parson drown while I'm gone."
"Yeah," Jack says again. "I've got it."
Bitty's still busy in the kitchen when Shitty gets there, and still wearing the same Samwell shirt, with flour dusted over it now and a smudge of custard on his cheek as he concentrates on piping filling into a growing stack of puff pastries.
"Dude," Shitty says, stealing one and taking a bite. It's warm and goopy and the perfect level of sweet. "I hope you took a burger break."
"Yeah," Bitty says, distracted like Jack, but in a less pent-up moody way. Getting it all out instead of shoving it all down.
"These are great, by the way. I'd rob your windowsill any day."
Bitty stops piping to look at him. His expression is mild, but something about it leans a bit to the judgmental. Like Shitty's crossed him in a way that Bitty's considering forgiving him for but is unlikely to forget.
"What?" Shitty asks, helping himself to another pastry. "Did Rans eat all the French fries or something? It wasn't me, man, I swear upon my achy breaky heart."
"It's nothing," Bitty says, picking up his piping bag and carefully selecting another pastry. "It's not my business anyway."
"What isn't?" This time when Shitty bites into the pastry, custard pushes out the back of it, over his fingers. "Whoops."
"You don't have to tell me," Bitty goes on, magnanimous and tactfully ignoring the mess Shitty's making.
"Are we talking about Jack? Because I'm here to keep him from starving to death, so I'd better--" Shitty gestures, indicating a proposed route through the kitchen, then, when Bitty doesn't protest, moves to make good on it, trying to stay out of the way as he rinses his hands, then finds plates that will survive nuking and gets the food out of the fridge, where someone's conscientiously shoved it.
"Is it because Parse wants him to sign with the Aces?" Bitty asks, when they've gone about their business in silence for a while, and while Shitty's waiting for the microwave to ping. Doubling back on you don't have to tell me pretty quick.
"Is what?" Shitty hedges. Bitty huffs.
"Why Parse is here. And Bad Bob."
"I heard them talk about it," Bitty says, filling a pastry and picking up another. Concentrating super hard on the task. "Jack and Parse. Before. When we had the Epikegster."
"Huh." Shitty hadn't known that detail. That explains why Jack had brought it up, kind of.
The microwave goes off. Shitty switches plates out and sets the timer again.
"Jack's not leaving school, is he?" Bitty asks, peering up from his pastry. One brow furrowed suspiciously.
"For the league," Bitty says, still leveling him with that same look, but with an added layer of exasperated patience. Like he can't believe Shitty's not keeping up. "To go pro."
Bitty's brow tightens, drawing lower over his eyes into a perfect horizontal.
"Uh," Shitty starts, but he's saved from Bitty's interrogation powers by the sound of rapid stomping, followed by a thump that could be something falling, could be someone falling, and then footsteps and doors banging.
"What--?" Bitty starts, but Shitty's already going, yelling,
"Sorry! Watch my food!" as he heads back up the steps, then sprints down the hall, sliding in his socks just to find Jack's door closed and locked. It's not clear what he should do.
Leave, and give Jack and Parson their privacy, or hang out in case something's going wrong and the locked door is just Jack panicking or reflexively turning the key on re-entry.
"Jack?" He tries, eventually, rapping a knuckle on the door. There's no answer, but he can hear Parson's voice, talking too low to make out, but definitely alive. "Are you guys alright?"
Silence. After several seconds, Jack calls, "Yeah."
Shitty waits for some follow-up, but there's nothing until a few minutes later, when Bitty shows up carrying a plate of onion rings and saying, "Why did you microwave these? It makes them all soggy," before he comes to a stop right at the top of the stairs to watch Shitty stare at Jack's door.
"It's locked," Shitty says, answering the silent question. Stating the obvious.
"Are they fighting?"
It doesn't sound like it. Shitty shrugs.
"Do they still want food?"
They're hockey players, so probably. "Maybe?"
For a second it looks like Bitty's working up to be offended at their lack of consideration, but then he comes over to sit down with his back against the wall, and the plate set on his bent knees. "Then they better open the door before we finish these."
"Yeah," Shitty says, but stays standing. Considers pacing, up and down the hall like a cartoon dad waiting for news, then decides against it.
"Should we get someone?" Bitty asks, after a while, still just balancing the plate.
"No. I don't know. Jack has his phone." To call Bob, if he needs to.
Bitty doesn't answer, but after a few minutes suggests, "You can't break in through the bathroom?"
"It's probably locked from Jack's side. We have a system."
"Does Parse know your system?"
It's against the shared bathroom code of conduct, but it's also a good point. "I can check." Just to know. Just in case they need to make a quick entry, or in case Jack calls in reinforcements and Bad Bob needs entry. Bitty follows him as far as his bedroom, putting the plate of onion rings down on Shitty desk, on top of a textbook and next to the couple of ducks Jack had half-heartedly glittered. They're lumpy, just like Shitty had predicted.
"Jack?" Shitty calls, knocking on his own door to the bathroom, "Parson? You still in there?"
The knob turns when he tries it. Shitty exchanges looks with Bitty, then pushes, cracking the door open. Calls, "Parson?" through the gap, in a stage whisper. "You okay, bro? We heard impact all the way down in the kitchen."
There's no answer, so Shitty opens the door enough to stick his head through. "Guys?" The tub's still full, but there's water all over the bathroom floor, with Jack's dropped towel sitting in it, crumpled and walked on, with the clothes Parson had been wearing in a wet pile in the middle of it all. "Dudes?"
The door to Jack's room is closed, but not all the way, stopped with an inch to go by the bathmat that's caught under it, wedged into the corner by the hinge.
"What happened to the bathroom?"
"Parse did it." It's a weird tone. Almost like Jack's teasing. Parson says something in response, but it's sharper. More combative, less friendly. Jack lets it ride, not answering one way or the other.
"You're destroying my whole Haus, man," Shitty calls. His socks are getting soaked, even picking his way carefully across the bathroom trying to dodge puddles, hopping spot to spot on his tiptoes until he gets to Jack's side. "Are you guys okay? Can I come in?"
There's no objection, so Shitty rounds it up to positive response, and pushes the door, then stops to unwedge the bathmat with a toe, shoving it away before trying again. Slipping into Jack's room and closing the door behind him, only a bit guilty about shutting Bitty out.
Jack's floor is wet, but only about a foot of the way in, and then there's another towel on the floor, marking the end of the wet tracks. Shitty peels his drenched socks off and leaves them at the same spot, to proceed barefoot.
He's not sure where he's heading. Jack's still in the same spot Shitty had left him--or back in it--and Parson's taken up the real estate Shitty had left, wrapped up in Jack's comforter in a way that makes it obvious he's only wearing the comforter. The water had been set to a pleasant million degrees, and the bathroom's still muggy with it, but Parson looks like he's been fished out of a blizzard. Goosebumps rising on his skin, where one arm is more visible than the other, and a washed-out look to him. Even his eyes look like he's soaked the color out, even if it's probably just the dark of Jack's comforter reflecting gray off his irises.
"I didn't know we had a hamper," Shitty says, because Jack's staring into one. It's plastic, a nice blue and molded to look like a big basket, with yellow bits at the handles.
"Oh." Theft might explain the rapid footsteps and door locking. "He'll be so thrilled."
There's a small bunch of near-perfect spheres in the bottom of it, nestled in the folds of two practice jerseys, some Underarmor, and a sports towel. There's a rainbow shimmer to them, like the surface of an oil slick or the inside of an abalone shell, but it's faint. Mostly, they're a cool white, blueish if Shitty had to specify, rather than warm toned. "They're smaller than I thought," Shitty says.
"Like hell," Parson says, but it's mild. Like he can't really be bothered arguing about it. Maybe he'd already argued with Jack about it. The way they're leaning slightly away from each other makes it seem likely they'd argued about something. It's not like they're not predictable, at this point. "I'm sorry I ever went to Canada."
Jack looks down at him, then back into the hamper, frowning, but it seems like Parson didn't mean it the way Jack's taking it because he redirects into,
"I'm sorry if the water was too hot," and raises a hand to rub at his face while the other holds Jack's comforter closed. He looks tired enough that it's probably not worth taking anything he says too seriously. "Are they dead?"
"They're just eggs," Jack says, even though he's still staring at them in fascination. "A lot of them aren't ever--anything."
Parson doesn't question that assessment of Squidney's eggs, looking up at Jack's face instead of leaning to get his own look into the depths of Bitty's hamper.
"Are we supposed to do something with them?" Shitty asks. Like keep them warm, or maybe refrigerated. Maybe sink them back into the tub, once the water's come back to a more optimal temperature. "Should I see if Ransom and Holster want to start driving them North?"
Jack doesn't answer.
"How do you know?" Parson asks. Somehow, Jack gets where he's picking up from and shrugs.
"Some of them just don't ever hatch. A lot of them. Even when they have the whole off season. Even when they have everything right."
"Sorry," Parson says, again. Like it's his fault he's from the wrong side of Niagara Falls, and had only managed to hang on to them for the lesser part of a week.
Jack repeats the shrug, dismissing the idea. It's hard to tell why he's being so chill now when he'd been so wound up for literally every preceding second, from the moment Parson had shown up. "Squidney just thinks he's so hot," he says, when both Parson and Shitty keep looking at him, waiting for more answers. "He should have known it wouldn't work. There's procedure for a reason."
It hadn't seemed like Jack had been so sure it wouldn't work and had in fact been pushing for home team success, but Parson snorts and lets it stand, finally pushing himself up. His wet hair is mussed up on one side into spikes that are definitely going to dry that way if he doesn't do anything about it. He looks half asleep, eyes heavy and half lidded like he's the one who'd played a whole hockey game and not Jack.
"So now we're supposed to--what?" he asks. "Give them back just in case?"
Parson nods, considering the hamper without looking in it. "Bittle might want his laundry basket back, so I hope your dad brought bubble wrap or something."
"I have a briefcase," Shitty offers, looking back down at the eggs. "Or we can put them in Jack's photography box." With the foam dividers for maximum lens protection. "Unless you checked that out from the equipment room?"
"It's Samwell's," Jack admits. "But I have a bag. It's got padding."
Parson rubs at an eye, then tucks his hand back into the comforter, hunched up like the frogs trudging to pre-morning practice. "I can send you a new one."
"You don't have to send me a camera bag."
"It's not a big deal, Zimms."
"Don't send me a bag. It's fine. I don't want you to."
"Just have your dad send it back," Shitty interrupts, before they can escalate into an argument instead of just trying to hot potato niceties back and forth, and goes to dig the thing out of Jack's closet. It doesn't take much excavating, since it turns out Jack's closet is as organized as his locker over at Faber, everything in its right place, tidily hung up or tucked onto the shelf. Shitty finds the bag in about five seconds flat, and brings it over, to start unpacking spare batteries and filters onto Jack's desk, then hesitates.
"Who wants to do the honors?" he asks, holding the bag out, to a point roughly between the two of them. All neutral and impartial like, while they both frown at it.
"I need clothes," Parson decides, and gets up to help himself to the contents of Jack's dresser. Jack frowns, watching him open and close drawers, efficient like he's been there before and knows where everything is, then grudgingly reaches to take the bag from Shitty's hand, not looking as Parson tries to get dressed without mooning the room.
One of those eggs might be the next Kent Parson, but Jack packs them all away without comment and without lingering over it, rearranging the camera bag's divisions until he has a little padded chamber for each one, then drops them in, letting them slide gently from his fingers and making sure they're snug before he zips the whole thing up and secures the bag flap, pushing the Velcro down carefully to make sure all the little hooks are catching.
"I'll text Bob," Parson offers, still hanging back, busy folding the waistband of Jack's sweats over to try to make them a bit shorter.
"I've got it.'
"Oh." Parson shifts his weight. "Okay. Thanks, Zimms."
"I'm the one who called him."
Jack doesn't answer again, and Parson just keeps standing there, in Jack's clothes and awkwardly holding his comforter in a messy bundle, half of it flopping over his arm and trailing onto the floor.
Which is when Bitty decides to make his own entry through the bathroom, taking Shitty's failure to return as a cue to investigate.
"Oh," Jack says, surprised, then says to Shitty. "I forgot you were getting food."
"Is that my hamper?" Bitty asks, bringing the plate of onion rings with him as cover even though they're probably cold again.
"Sorry, bro. It was an emergency."
There's still the little pile of Jack's things in the bottom of it, which Bitty casts a dubious look onto, before turning the same expression on Jack. "Here," he says, pushing the plate at him. "Shitty said you boys were starving up here."
Jack takes it and dutifully eats an onion ring, then holds the plate out towards Parson, still chewing. "Did you microwave these?" he asks. "It makes them soggy."
"Well, excuse me, Jack Zimmermann, for not heating up your dinner properly while you don't tell me a thing about what's going on, and why we're hiding a fugitive NHL player in your bathroom."
"I'm not a fugitive," Parse objects, even though he'd shown up looking at least fugitive adjacent.
Bitty doesn't look convinced. "Aren't the Aces in New York?"
"Buffalo." Parson dumps his armload of comforter at the end of Jack's bed, then takes two onion rings and shoves them into his mouth together. "Till tomorrow," he adds around them, chewing. "Hey, not bad."
"I could try to crisp them up in the oven," Bitty says, reluctant. Like he doesn't really want to offer, but also can't help himself. He also doesn't make any move to actually do it, and just lets Jack try to hand the plate off to Parson, who keeps eating without taking it.
"Then Montreal," Parson continues, and stops to consider his own words. Decides, "I could meet up with them in Montreal. Go up with Bob, if he still wants to--" He stops, slides a look at Bitty that's way less subtle than he probably thinks it is. "Talk about stuff."
Bitty huffs. "A gentleman takes 'no' for an answer, Mr. Parson."
Parson pauses with another onion ring halfway to him mouth. "What?"
"If Jack wants to be a Schooner, just let him be a Schooner."
Parson doesn't eat the onion ring, frozen in place and looking at Bitty with a stunned, round-eyed expression, before he looks at Jack, half reproachful, half stricken. "A Schooner? Please don't be a Schooner, Zimms."
Jack's face closes up. He puts the plate down on the bed. "I haven't decided."
Parson makes a face. "But the Schooners?"
"I haven't decided."
"Fine," Parson says, tossing the onion back towards the plate and missing. "Fine, if you never want to make it to the Stanley Cup final, who am I to judge." He makes a face at his dropped onion ring, like it's fallen as an intentional, personal affront to him. "It rains all the time, if that's what you're into."
"I haven't decided yet," Jack says for a third time, more patiently than Shitty would have expected. "I was thinking I might stay on the East coast."
Parson heaves a sigh, like the conversation's burned out whatever energy he had left. "You'll still have to play us," he points out, watching Bitty pick the onion off the bedspread and frown at the grease spot in silent reproach, before moving the plate out of the danger zone and onto Jack's desk, where the accumulating things are starting to make it look a bit more like Shitty's desk. "Like, at least twice a year."
"And in the playoffs," Jack adds.
"Yeah." Parson smiles a little. "I'd see you in the playoffs."
Jack reaches for his phone, tapping the screen, then starting to peck away at a text. "Unless you lose to the Schooners."
"Or you lose to the Bruins."
Jack looks up at him. Parson's smile gets a little quirk in it. It's the disarming one he uses when he wants interviews to bypass the less than stellar parts of a game and see him in the best possible aw-shucks light, but softer. More hopeful, like he's not sure Jack's going to prove as willing to be led.
Jack taps something on his phone. "I haven't decided."
"You're going to make me get it from TSN, huh?" Parson asks, deflating as he gives in, but coming back to reclaim the spot he'd vacated. Moving a little tentatively, like he's not sure Jack won't rebuff him now that they're not both panicking over potentially drowned eggs or whatever the hell had gone down in the relatively short time it had taken Shitty to shoot the breeze in the kitchen and nuke two burgers and one side.
"I have to graduate first," Jack tells him, still frowning down at his phone and not seeming to notice Parson shift back onto the bed and then scoot his butt to where it had been.
Bitty releases a breath, hard enough that both Jack and Shitty look at him, but he doesn't elaborate.
"Yeah. Okay." Parson frowns, busy tucking his feet under the pile of comforter. It reminds Shitty that he's barefoot and that his toes are kinda freezing. The weather's definitely about to turn wintery and after that it's not likely to turn back until something like April. "I know that." Parson slouches back against the wall. "Is Bob coming? Tell him--"
"We're having company?" Bitty cuts in. "But the kitchen's a mess!"
Mostly, the kitchen just looks like an understaffed bakery, and it hadn't exactly been orderly the last time Bad Bob saw it either, but before Shitty can say anything reassuring, Jack offers, "I'll help clean up," and gets to his feet, making sure he's all the way up before he carefully picks up the camera bag and slides its strap over his shoulder. "And take this down."
Parson frowns at it. "Yeah."
"I'll tell him you're asleep," Jack says, making no sign that he means Parson should do that anywhere that isn't his bed. "You can call him when you want."
"I didn't mean to trash another bathroom," is what Parson says, directing it generally. Starting to look a little less gray around the edges. Maybe Bitty can be convinced to brew up another batch of hot chocolate, to see if the combined sugar hit of that and a cream puff revives him the rest of the way.
"You can make up for it in duck labor," Shitty tells him, and goes to kick everything on the floor into the bathroom, then closes the door on the mess. "It's an endless stack of penance."
"I can do that."
"Just don't let Lardo hear you sound enthusiastic, or she might not let you leave."
Parson laughs, but it sounds kind of token. He's lagging on the response, obviously low on battery, and Jack's looking a little impatient, standing in his own doorway with his bag hooked over one shoulder and both hands holding it steady by his hip, so Shitty wraps things up with a quick, "Catch you in a few. Don't climb out a window," and lets Jack pressure him into the hall through sheer move-it-along vibes.
He follows a few minutes later, heading straight to the door to make the handoff. Waiting outside with no coat, and then staying there after Bad Bob shows up to talk on the porch. Too out of range for Shitty to put his half semester of French to any use, even though he can just make out the rise and fall of their voices over the clink of dishes and running water, and after that Jack comes back inside to join them in the kitchen. Drying dishes in silence while Bitty puts things away.
Parson doesn't reappear until the next day, and by then most of the take-out's been decimated, leaving Parson with coffee, custard filled pastries, and the last of the chicken strips Ransom had ordered for Jack as breakfast.
"At least it's better than our usual prefab chicken," Shitty offers, watching Parson arrange it all on a single plate. Pastry and puddle of ketchup for the chicken and everything. Already adapted to their ways like a champ.
"Hah," Parson says, setting down at the table, with a strip of chicken already in his mouth. "I bet I know the one." He looks more relaxed. More like his normal self, maybe, but it's hard to really judge based on just a handful of previous real-life encounters and seeing him on TV.
Parson's prying a pastry apart when Jack comes back from running, sweaty and dressed in a hoodie and track pants. For just a second it's like a standoff, Jack pausing in the kitchen doorway with his water bottle in his hand, and Parson holding half a cream puff in his hand, head ducked to taste the custard, and then time kicks back in and Jack moves to the sink.
"I called Bob," Parson says, straightening. He doesn't go on. Jack makes an affirmative noise, and goes about refilling his bottle, but doesn't answer. It's not tense or hostile anymore, but it's still weird and tentative. Like something's just barely in balance between them. "I'll be out of here in the morning," Parson goes on, almost a question but not really. Jack looks at him.
"We're gonna see someone, or something. Make sure things are settled."
"Then I guess I'll catch up with the guys."
Parson smiles. In his shoes, Shitty probably wouldn't have, but Parson seems to be reading a totally different Jack code than Shitty. Or else giving Jack like a million bonus points just for forming multiple verbal answers.
"Sorry for making my shit your shit," Parson goes on, eyes on his pastry as he finally tastes the filling. Jack doesn't answer. Parson makes a face, either at the lack of response or because he's not into Bitty's pastisserieship. Or maybe it's just from hearing himself talk and hating what he's saying. "I didn't mean for you to fix anything."
Jack's brow scrunches. "What?"
"You didn't tell me who to see."
Jack looks confused for another second, and then his expression clears as he recalls the argument and catches up. "Oh."
"Yeah," Parson says. "So thanks for--" he gestures, using a piece of cream puff to indicate the Haus in general. "I guess I owe you." He peers at Shitty. "You too, man."
Shitty lifts his coffee mug. "Don't mention it."
"It's fine," Jack says, a little terse. Parson doesn't seem to notice, busy frowning at the pastry filling he's gotten all over his fingers. "You didn't--I should have warned you. Before this. Just in case."
Parson's cheek twitches. It's unclear what expression he's stifling. "It's fine," he echoes. "Thanks, Zimms."
Silence again. Mostly friendly, but so cautious it's almost coming back around to awkward. Shitty keeps drinking coffee just to have something to do, while Parson picks his way through another pastry and a handful of chicken strips and Jack just stands there while his running gear turns clammy.
Shitty's about to bail, when they're rescued by the front door banging open and Ransom and Holster stomp in from an early class. "Bros," Holster shouts, from across the Haus. "The car's still here," like they'd expected Kent Parson to disappear during the course of an English quiz.
"Kitchen," Shitty shouts back.
"Aces at Sabers?" Holster asks back, still at cranked volume. Shitty's not sure who it's directed at. "Tonight?"
"Uh," Parson says, and looks at Jack, as Ransom finally makes it to the kitchen, followed a second later by Holster.
"I have an early flight," Parson hedges, possibly for Jack's sake. "Maybe--"
"Jack," Ransom says, very seriously, then gestures at Parson with both hands like he's pointing out something obvious that Jack should do something about.
"What?" Jack sounds annoyed now, but just in his normal impatient way. It's comforting, kinda. "I didn't say anything."
"So you're in?" Ransom asks. "Rendezvous back here around five? I've got bio."
"Fine," Jack grumps, mostly because they're all looking at him, waiting for him to call the play. Shitty's not sure he won't bail by the second commercial break, but Holster pulls a tiny, silent fist pump.
"Great," he says, thumping Ransom in the arm like they've completed a successful play. "I'll do a snack run."
Parson and Jack look at each other, but it's a rare opportunity to launch a coup, so Shitty turns away, putting his coffee down with a decisive thunk of mug against counter. "I'll bring some beer up from the basement," he says. "Who wants to help me move some butter?"