Actions

Work Header

keep it simple (so I don't have to face you)

Work Text:

Kent is sucking on Larissa's clit, thumbs flexing against the building tremor in her thighs, about to drag his tongue down back inside her when Bitty throws open the bedroom door.

"Kennyyy," he whines as Kent turns to look at him, "I wanna go danc—oh! Pardon me!"

Larissa, because she's hella fucking cool, tucks her hands behind her head and says, "It's chill, bro—the more the merrier."

Bitty is staring at Kent's mouth. "I'm very gay, but thank you."

"Gimme five minutes," Kent tells him, to which Larissa raises an epically unimpressed eyebrow. Kent revises, "Uh, ten minutes?"

Larissa more or less shoves her pussy back in Kent's face as Bitty wanders off.

 

~*~

 

Twelve minutes later, Kent massages the crink out of his neck and asks, "Wanna go dancing?"

Larissa rolls her shoulders a few times as she slides to her feet. "Sure. Can I use your shower?"

"Door on the left." Kent squints at himself in the mirror and raises his voice. "Real talk only—do I have hot sex hair or ratchet sex hair?"

Bitty wanders in from his room through their shared bathroom, pausing to show Larissa how to turn on the shower, and pats Kent on the shoulder consolingly.

"Ratchet, honey." He starts rooting through Kent's dresser.

Kent sighs and follows Larissa into the shower.

"You've got, like, actual shampoo and conditioner," she says, leaning her head back into the spray. "I'm impressed."

Kent hums and agrees, "I'm super adult," as he slides a hand up her thigh. "You want another one for the road?"

"Why not," Larissa says and plants her feet.

Kent grabs the shower lube out of the cubby hanging above the faucet, smirking when she rolls her eyes at him, and slicks up two fingers before slipping them inside her.

Bitty groans dramatically and shouts, "Did you wash that tank from last week?"

"Babe," Kent shouts back. He circles his thumb over Larissa's clit and hooks a knee under her thigh to keep her from slipping. "You know laundry day is every third Thursday."

Larissa scrapes her nails down the back of his neck.

"Fine, then I'm taking the pink tank," Bitty huffs, his voice getting closer as he pouts his way back to his room.

Kent pours more lube over his fingers. "Then I get my hat back."

"The one with the little rainbow?"

"No," says Kent, trying to remember how to crook his fingers like he did—

"Shit," Larissa hisses.

—earlier. "The blue one."

"Deal." Bitty wanders through the bathroom again. "It's on your bed."

Kent winks at Larissa as he tells Bitty, "Thanks, babe."

Larissa pushes his hand away and moves around him to grab the conditioner. She watches him foam up the shampoo in his hair and asks, "So—are you two an item or just vaguely codependent?"

Kent laughs, dunking his head under the water. He lets the suds run over his eyes and down his mouth, holding his breath until he has to splutter free. She's still looking at him, unimpressed.

"Oh, babe," Kent tells her, grinning. "We're hella codependent."

 

~*~

 

They catch a train to the good clubs in Boston in honor of Larissa, who deserves to get shown a hella fucking good time—other than the hella good fucking time Kent already showed her, because, duh.

Anyway, the place is packed and they have one of those stripper poles in the middle of the dance floor that could definitely give you chlamydia just by looking at it, and Kent is grinding with Bitty against it front to front, one hand braced on the pole and the other holding Bitty's thigh half-hitched around his waist.

Bitty nudges his nose up against Kent's ear and shouts, "Whose turn is it for the thing?"

Kent pulls away with a groan. "Babe! You know it's your turn to do the thing—"

"What thing?" Larissa asks.

"—so stop trying to get outta it."

"But I wanna keep dancing!" Bitty whines. He does a little twirl around the pole to prove his point.

"The thing," Kent tells Larissa, "is that we take turns getting people—dudes, usually—to buy our rounds."

"Dude." Larissa gives him a high five.

Kent turns back to Bitty cheerfully. "And it's Bitty's turn!"

"But Kennyyyy!"

Bitty pouts like his life depends on it or something, all fucking doe-eyes and wobbling bottom lip, and, like, yeah, he does actually look obnoxiously cute like that—especially with his hair in that kinda too-long phase that Kent secretly likes the best but would obviously never admit—but Kent's built up an immunity to that shit.

As it is, he just rolls his eyes and says, "Bits, the sooner you—"

He cuts off with a basically audible record-scratch, because suddenly all his brain has the bandwidth for is hot dude hot dude hot dude when he catches sight of some tall guy with fucking thighs for days leaning against the bar.

On the one hand, Kent should stick to his guns and not totally reinforce Bitty's habit of being a little shit who bats his eyelashes to get out of or into anything he wants—but on the other hand, this guy has amazingly weird boyband hair and an ass that Kent would like to be his final meal.

Kent plucks his hat off his head and runs a hand through his hair. "Okay, okay, because I'm a fucking selfless and totally awesome friend, I'll let you off drink duty this one time."

Bitty, who has followed Kent's gaze in the time it took Kent to pick his jaw off the floor, pats Kent sagely on the wrist and says, "Go get 'im, Tiger."

Kent blows him a kiss before sauntering up to the bar.

"Hey," he says, sliding up next to Dude with a Great Ass. "You look new here."

Great Ass laughs self-deprecatingly. "Euh, do I?"

"Yeah." Kent smirks invitingly, leaning against the bar so he can smolder up at him. "But don't worry, man, it's cute on you."

Great Ass quirks his lips and leans in closer. "What's your name?"

"Kent."

"Kent," Great Ass repeats. "I'm Jack. Can I ask you a question?"

"Uh, sure?" Kent says.

Jack looks around pointedly, then raises an eyebrow. "Am I in a gay bar?"

Kent snorts with surprise and asks, "Holy shit, how'd you end up here on accident?"

Jack grimaces. "I don't, uh, go out much. My friend always talks about this place, so I thought…"

"Hey, man, no shame." Kent lifts his hands in surrender. "But if I'm barking up the wrong tree here—"

"Uh, no. I'm bi," Jack says.

Kent says, "Dude, hashtag samesies," and makes the symbol with his fingers.

"Haha." Jack smiles and nudges Kent with an elbow. "So what do I owe you for the assist?"

"Funny you should ask." Kent grins, turning to scan the dancefloor. "One round of—"

He catches sight of Bitty, who's sandwiched between some guy and Larissa, who is in turn making out with a chick with a sick fauxhawk.

Yeah, those fuckers can deal on their own. Kent deserves the occasional nice fucking thing.

"Scratch that," he tells Jack instead. "Buy me a drink."

Jack waves down the bartender. "What do you want?"

Kent drags his fingers up the line of Jack's forearm and says, "Whatever you wanna watch me drink."

Jack tells the bartender, "We'll take two PBRs, please."

"We will?" Kent asks, but he literally made this bed and might as well get fucked in it, so he takes the goddamn beer.

"The bottle's kind of hot, eh?" Jack shrugs unapologetically, completely sidestepping the fact that PBR is what Kent drinks at frat parties when there's no one's dick to suck. "And beer gives us time to talk."

Which is, like, weirdly sweet, and also brings Kent back to the dick sucking. He takes a swig of his beer, tonguing at the rim of the bottle as he sets it down, and asks, "Is that what you wanna do?”

Jack rips half the label off his bottle. "I'm open to feedback."

 

~*~

 

Kenny (11:32 PM): hey I'm taking this guy home

Bits (11:35 PM): np I've got lard

Bits (11:35 PM): *** Lars

Bits (11:35 PM): LARISSA

Kenny (11:37 PM): LARD lololl

 

~*~

 

**Kent created a group chat with Eric and Larissa**

**Kent changed Eric's nickname to Itty Bitty Booty Committee**

**Kent changed Larissa's nickname to Lardo**

Kent (11:45 PM): L A R D O

**Itty Bitty Booty Committee changed his nickname to Bitty**

Bitty (11:47 PM): I hate you

**Bitty changed Lardo's nickname to Larissa**

Bitty (11:47 PM): Lar honey if you don't like your nickname you can just tell him

**Larissa changed her nickname to Lardo**

Lardo (11:48 PM): back off im keeping it

**Bitty changed Kent's nickname to [eggplant emoji]**

 

~*~

 

Kent is debating whether or not he should join Jack, who is passed out in Kent's bed, or do the responsible adult thing and like hydrate and eat a snack or some shit—but then he hears someone moving around in the bathroom, and, honestly, if he can't out-adult Eric Bittle then there's no fucking hope left for any of them.

There's a sticky note on the outside of Kent's hallway door that says 'you owe me a drink >:(' in Bitty's handwriting, with two checkboxes underneath that both give him the obviously super desirable option of saying 'yes.'

Kent checks off the second box and slaps the sticky note back on Bitty's door. Then, he grabs the stack of sticky notes on the coffee table and makes one that says 'King Eggplant,' and another with a visual aid—his best effort at recreating the emoji from memory with a little crown on top—and sticks both of those on the door too.

Satisfied, Kent snags the last light blue Gatorade from the fridge and is about to head back to his room when Bitty's door opens.

In Kent's head, Bitty is forcibly shoving his apparent hook-up out the front door with both hands like people do in sitcoms—which is, obvs, what Bitty genuinely and clearly wants to be doing.

But real-life Bitty has the constant unfortunate desire to be liked by everyone who isn't Kent or possibly that one rude lady at the bakery, so he's actually just politely ushering the dude out with a stream of whispered excuses such as 'I have to wake up early' and something about a rude roommate that Kent will be the bigger person and ignore.

Bitty's head swivels over to lock eyes with Kent as soon as the front door closes.

"Ugh," he says, with such feeling that Kent chucks him the good Gatorade out of sympathy.

"Nice pump and dump," Kent tells him, resigning himself to the slightly shittier green Gatorade that they reserve for emergencies such as this.

Bitty chugs half the bottle. He holds the other half out for Kent—because he's occasionally not the literal worst, Kent will allow—and asks, "You keeping yours?"

Kent trades bottles with him. "No choice—dude passed out right after he came."

Bitty hums wistfully. "I miss that."

"Same." Kent clinks their drinks together.

Bitty offers, "I'll make everyone pancakes if you do my dishes," which is a bullshit deal because a) Bitty was definitely going to make pancakes no matter what and b) Kent always gets conned into doing the dishes.

"Sure," Kent says anyway, because refer to point b. He smacks Bitty on the ass as he walks by him, just to really make sure they're both aware that Kent is aware of what just happened.

 

~*~

 

Kent wakes up at around the same time Jack does, which is to the sound of the upstairs neighbors fucking an elephant, maybe. It's hard to say.

"What is that," Jack grumbles.

"It's hard to say!" Kent answers cheerfully. He's not, like, fundamentally a morning person, but there's something deeply satisfying about out-morninging a grumpy stranger in his bed.

"Fuck." Jack rolls over onto his side and takes all the blankets with him. Kent wouldn't mind, except now he has an obstructed view of that fucking gorgeous ass.

"C'mon, sunshine," he teases, ruffling Jack's hair. "Let's get breakfast."

Jack grumbles into the pillow, but he does get out of bed by the time Kent's grabbed a shirt off the floor and thrown it on over his boxers. Jack opts to redress entirely, so Kent takes first turn in the bathroom.

Bitty's side is unlocked; Kent peeks in and finds the room empty—unless you count the potentially sentient pile of clothes that's migrated from floor to bed again—which is extra awesome news because they're at least fifteen minutes closer to pancakes than expected.

Lardo is on the couch. Kent does a double-take and tilts his head at her.

"Did you sleep here?" he asks. He hears Jack opening the door behind him but doesn't turn around.

Lardo kicks her feet up on the coffee table. "Nah, bro. I live, like, right below you."

"Huh," Kent says thoughtfully.

Jack asks, "Uh. How do you two know each other?"

Kent says, "Sex!" at the same time Lardo answers, "Gender Studies," which is technically also correct.

"Oh." Jack looks between them. "Okay."

Lardo leans over the back of the couch to offer Jack a fist bump. "Hey, dude. I'm Larissa, and apparently also Lardo now?"

"Uh," says Jack. He touches their knuckles together tentatively.

"Bitty's in the kitchen," Lardo tells Kent.

Jack asks, "What's a Bitty?"

"I'm a Bitty!" says Bitty, bustling into the room with a plate of pancakes in each hand. He sets them both on the little dining table they shoved in the corner of the living room. "Hi! Nice to meet you. I hope you like pancakes—we've got chocolate chip and also blueberry because Kenny is the worst. D'you want syrup? I've got more butter, too."

Jack just says, "Uh," again and stares at Bitty—which Kent is physically incapable of blaming him for, because in addition to, like, all the word vomit, Bitty is wearing that apron Kent got him last Christmas that says 'I put out for Santa' next to a little cookie jar, and he's got a streak of pancake batter on his cheek and also some in his hair, which is this obnoxious golden color from the light coming through the window.

It's a fucking lot, basically, in the best way, and sometimes Kent forgets that other people don't know what to do about it.

Bitty smiles at Jack for an extra second before saying, "Right! I'll just leave some on the table for everyone," and vanishing into the kitchen again.

Jack follows him, kind of like an imprinted puppy.

Lardo raises an eyebrow at Kent, who just shrugs. Everyone likes Bitty better than him in the morning, Kent very much included. It's not, like, a problem.

Bitty returns with Jack dutifully carrying two more plates and the syrup jug for him, which is legitimately hilarious. Kent wonders if they could con him into doing the dishes, too.

Kent's blueberry pancakes are fucking delicious, despite Bitty's eternal hatred.

Jack scrapes his fork across his plate and asks, "So, uh, is Bitty a...nickname?"

"Oh! Yeah," Bitty explains. He kicks Kent under the table even though no one can see that. "Kenny gave it to me as a joke and I guess it kinda stuck? I guess it's grown on me. What's your name?"

Jack blinks. "Oh, uh. Jack."

Bitty says, "Well, Jack, nice to meet ya," and then silence vaguely resumes while they eat.

Kent dumps more syrup onto his pancakes.

"So, Jack," Bitty asks, breaking the lull, "are you a student?"

"Uh, yeah." Jack looks up at him. "I go to BU."

Kent says, "Oh, sweet. We're over at Samwell."

"What do you study?" Jack asks.

Bitty's high-pitched laugh roughly translates into 'I'll stab the next person who asks me about my senior thesis.'

Kent says, "I'm doubling in Stats and Accounting and Information Systems," and squints at Lardo. "...Sculpture and a minor in craft?"

"Excellent memory, dude." She gives him a fist bump.

"What about you?" Bitty asks Jack with a smile instead of an answer.

Jack says, "Oh, I'm studying history," and, when prompted by Bitty, goes into a wild amount of detail about his honors thesis—that's apparently optional at BU, which is cosmically unfair.

It's a pretty cool topic, though, and Jack looks super hot when he's all intense and excited about something.

Actually, he's making almost the exact same face he made while he was fucking Kent last night, which is gonna lead to a hella awkward breakfast table boner pretty soon. Kent gets really into his pancakes.

 

~*~

 

Kent doesn't get Jack to do the dishes, but he does get Jack's number.

"Hey, man," Kent says, awkwardly hovering between going for a weird handshake or a hug or, like, who even knows because the vibe right now is distinctly non-sexual. "Hit me up if you wanna hang out sometime or—uh, you know—again."

He winks to avoid being totally incongruent with his entire personality, and Jack quirks his lips like he's kinda amused.

"Sure thing." He claps Kent on the shoulder, his hand lingering as it brushes down his arm, and turns to wave at Bitty and Lardo who obviously weren't eavesdropping like Kent's a zoo animal or anything. "Uh, nice meeting you."

"You too!" says Bitty.

Lardo just nods, and Jack leaves to catch his train.

Kent turns around and warns Bitty, "Say nothing," before the door finishes closing.

Bitty grins and tells him extra sweetly, "Don't forget the dishes!"

Asshole.

 

~*~

 

Kent finds a sticky note on his door that afternoon: '~you know~' in extra fancy cursive with a tiny peach drawn in the corner.

He pulls it down and sticks it in the nightstand with all the others.

 

~*~

 

Jack actually does text him the following Friday, while Kent is lounging on the couch and waiting for Lardo to get out of lab and bring him coffee—because apparently they've skipped over the weird "is it emphasis on fuck or buddies" stage into actual Buddies, even though they totally went back to her apartment and fucked after class on Tuesday, but Lardo hates her roommate so it might've been more an asserting dominance thing?

Anyway, Jack texts Kent so Kent sends Bitty a Snapchat for hairstyle approval and then texts Lardo with a schedule update.

Pretty Boi (3:33 PM): k can u make it an iced coffee and also not come over til the sock is off the door [sunglasses emoji]

Lardoooo (3:35 PM): do you mean metaphorically or will there be an actual sock

Pretty Boi (3:35 PM): [three sock emoji]

Lardoooo (3:39 PM): Unhelpful. Chelsea is home so I'm gonna chill in bits room and pretend I can't hear&picture your o face.

Pretty Boi (3:39 PM): [thumbs up emoji]

That taken care of, Kent makes sure both doors to Bitty's room are closed and tries to make the apartment look like two normal adult people live here—since Jack's actually awake and, like, probably sober this time—and by that point Jack's off the train and walking over.

Jack knocks on the door instead of just texting "here," which definitely doesn't scare the shit out of Kent or anything when he hears it.

"Yo, hey," he says, leaning against the doorframe.

"Uh. Hi." Jack rubs the back of his neck as Kent pushes away from the door to let him instead, then follows Kent into the living room.

Kent sprawls on the couch and pats the space next to him. "How was your week, man?"

"Oh, uh. Pretty good, thanks." Jack sits down far enough away that their thighs don't touch. "Is Bitty here?"

"Uh, no?" Kent checks his watch. "He's in class still. He'll probs be back in, like, an hour or two?"

"Oh." Jack looks down at his phone for a beat, waking and then sleeping the home screen, then over at Kent. "Did you want to have sex?"

Kent raises his eyebrows. "Uh, sure?"

Jack leads the way into the bedroom.

 

~*~

 

"Yeah, sure, you can take a nap here," Kent tells the sleeping hot dude in his bed, sarcastically. He runs a hand through his hair. "I've got, like, friends and shit."

Said friend is lounging on Bitty's bed, slurping up the remnants of a smoothie.

Kent flops onto the bed and worms his way under Lardo's arm so he can pillow his head on her chest. "'Sup?"

Lardo puts the smoothie down and cards her fingers through his hair absentmindedly, still scrolling through something on her phone.

"'Sup," she says, "your coffee's in the fridge."

"You fucking rock," Kent reminds her.

Lardo hums in agreement. "Jack leave?"

"Bed." Kent yawns. "Boring."

She hums again, in a tone that suggests she smells bullshit, which is as confusing to Kent as the kiss she presses to the top of his head is comforting.

Kent lets it slide. She did bring him coffee.

 

~*~

 

Kent and Lardo have migrated to the living room and Kent's gotten hyped up on dirty chai with extra double espresso by the time Whirlwind Bitty arrives, announcing to the world at large, "Someone better be in this godforsaken apartment to listen to my day," as he violently hurls his shoes off across the room.

"Present!" Kent responds dutifully.

"Same," says Lardo.

Jack emerges from the bedroom wearing Kent's four leaf clover boxers and an unfortunate hickey that kinda looks like a third nipple, which probably counts for roll call.

"You will not believe the nerve of this woman," Bitty huffs, technically to none of them. "All I asked for was two separate boxes—"

Mean lady at the bakery strikes again. Kent rolls to his feet, ruffles Bitty's hair on his way to the kitchen, and puts a pot of water on to boil—mean lady at the bakery stories usually end in a lot of angry carb consumption.

"Why don't you just go to a different bakery?" Jack asks, foolishly, and now Kent has to make garlic bread.

"Because then she wins!" Bitty flourishes a hand for emphasis. "And I will not let some spiteful old lady—"

Kent walks back into the living room and plucks the baguette out of Bitty's shopping bags. "Jack, man, you staying for dinner?"

"Uh. What're you making?" Jack asks.

Bitty says, "Spaghetti. What you need to understand is that this woman is from Buckhead."

Lardo follows Kent into the kitchen and hops up onto the counter, opposite the stove. She ducks her head when Kent motions that he needs to open the cabinets behind her and asks, "So, like, how often does this happen?"

"Ehh." Kent wobbles a hand noncommittally. "Everyone needs a nemesis."

"Fair," Lardo says, though she peers around the corner to try and get a visual on Bitty in the other room. "Jack seems kinda into it."

Kent shrugs, dumping a can of tomato sauce into a second pot. "Duh. Bits is fuckin' adorbs."

Lardo says, "Stop cooking so I can make judgemental faces at you."

Kent cocks his hip and makes a kissy noise. "Bite me, babe."

 

~*~

 

Dinner is, like, as normal as it would make any sense for it to be. Lardo even helps grate the actual parmesan cheese that Bitty buys but Kent never uses when he cooks because it's seriously way too much effort and the shit in the green can pretty much tastes the same.

Anyway, then Kent is doing the dishes (again) when Bitty walks into the kitchen and stares Kent down without blinking and says, "Kent, come look at the leak in the bathroom, I think it's getting worse."

There's not a leak in the bathroom, but Kent's also not an idiot, so he dries his hands off on a towel and answers, "Yeah, sure."

Bitty locks the hallway door to his bedroom and then shuts them both in the bathroom, practically shoving Kent towards the shower and tripping him on the edge of the bathtub—Kent has to jump into the tub and grab the shower curtain to avoid braining himself on the tile.

"Dude," he says, "what the fuck?"

"I think Jack just asked me out?" Bitty blurts. He paces back and forth, flailing both arms, totally oblivious to Kent's near death experience. "And I should have just said no but I panicked! He was all, 'do you want to get coffee,' and I was like, 'oh, it's so late for caffeine but we have a Keurig?' and he said, 'no, like another time,' and then I was all, um, 'oh, like a date?' and he said, 'sure,' and then I said, 'oh, no, the shower is leaking!'"

Kent pushes the shower curtain aside, stepping out of the tub, and takes Bitty by the shoulders. "First of all, that's the weakest sauce excuse I've ever heard and I love you."

"I'm going to die," says Bitty.

"You're gonna die of alcohol poisoning and take me with you." Kent slides a hand into Bitty's hair and tucks him into a hug. "Second of all, go on the date if you wanna, babe, it's chill."

Bitty smushes his face into Kent's neck, inhaling deeply, which always makes Kent's stomach flip.

"Are you sure?" he asks. He pulls back to look Kent in the eye, draping his arms around Kent's neck instead. "I feel like you kinda liked him."

There's literally nothing and no one in the world Kent could like enough to make this look on Bitty's face worth it. He tries to be, like, normal about it though, and doesn't touch his fingertips to the quiver in Bitty's lip.

"Babe," he says instead, "we fucked, like, twice. Super not a big deal."

Bitty nods resolutely, then ventures, "Was it good sex?"

Kent tilts his head, considering. "Yes and no, somehow?"

"Hm." Bitty fusses with Kent's cowlick, then manages a genuine, sly grin. "Maybe we oughta compare notes, just to be sure?"

Kent laughs and pulls Bitty into another hug.

 

~*~

 

Kent finds a sticky note on the bathroom mirror the next morning: 'Gone for Coffee~'

There's another one under it: 'I love you.'

Kent stares at his reflection for a long time.

 

~*~

 

"So you're not jealous?" Lardo asks him that afternoon.

"Dude," Kent says. He slides a hand up to cup her breast, massaging a thumb over her nipple to emphasize the point. "It's not like I was trying to be monogamous with the guy."

She hums appreciatively, arching her back into his touch, and tugs on his hair so perfectly that he might white-out for a second on the next roll of his hips.

"Fuck," she says, unrelated to the conversation. She's so wet, he can feel it even with the condom, and her breath is damp on his neck. "But, like—still. Sucks to be. Bailed on."

Kent shrugs, more or less. He licks at a bead of sweat running down her neck. "Eh, I dunno—whole thing was a little weird?"

"Yeah?" she asks.

"It's like?" Kent pauses, catching her earlobe between his teeth and tugging gently. "I do a lotta casual sex, but I don't like meaningless sex, you know?"

Her hips cant up, ankle slipping against the small of his back, fingernails scraping against his scalp. "That's what he wanted?"

Kent breathes out shakily, letting her rock against him, hand trailing down her ribs. "Maybe. Fuck—you feel—"

"Question," Lardo says. "Wanna be my boyfriend?"

Kent's heart skips a beat. He pushes up onto his hands when it restarts so he can look her in the eye. "Wait, you mean it?"

"Doofus," she says warmly. He's probably grinning like a fucking idiot. "Yeah."

"Fuck yes," says Kent. "Dude."

"If that word works for you," she amends, doing a rollercoaster motion with the hand not in his hair. "I know it's been kinda, like, yeah."

Kent hums. "Yeah, I'm feeling, like, pretty dude-ish lately, but I'll let you know if the needle moves."

"Sweet." Lardo smiles at him, her eyes lighting up. "So, like, about the sex we were having?"

Kent laughs, but he squeezes her waist instead of diving back in. "Maybe one more thing?"

"Sure," she says, tracing a thumb over the shell of his ear.

Kent glances at his nightstand, the unlocked door leading to the bathroom. He looks back at her and says, "I guess you kinda, like, know this, but—Bits is always gonna be my person, you know? I don't think I could really, like, make it work with someone else if that's not chill."

"Yeah, totally," Lardo agrees easily. She cups his jaw, fingertips brushing softly across his skin. "Whatever you wanna call it, that shit you two have is mad intense. I'm not really looking for a Person, you know? Just a boyfriend."

"Works for me," Kent agrees. He dips down to kiss her, rocking their bodies together gently.

She trails her hand down his neck, lightly digging into the muscle on either side of his spine. "Speaking of, though—sex with other people, on or off the table?"

Kent noses against her cheek. "Eh, on's cool, but I'm okay if not."

"Nah, on is chill," she agrees, then bites his bottom lip. "Plus, threesomes."

Kent laughs brightly, a burst of affection for her that's almost overwhelming, even without the really targeted way that she's sucking on the sensitive spot on his throat.

It's nice—feeling like he deserves this.

 

~*~

 

'Guess who has a gf now,' Kent writes. 'I love you too.'

 

~*~

 

Mary Berry is about to announce the next baking challenge when Bitty's phone starts buzzing on the far end of the couch. He grumbles, flailing a foot to hook the phone under his toes and drag it towards him without having to get up from his sprawl against Kent's chest—and then sits up straight as soon as he reads the caller ID.

"Jack?" Bitty asks excitedly. "Hi, honey!"

Kent pauses the TV.

"No, nothin' much," Bitty says. "I've just been, um, working on my thesis most of the day. If you wanna come over, though, I can, um, wrap up!"

Kent turns his head slowly and stares.

"Oh, no I got plenty done—it'll be nice to have a break." Bitty scoots farther away from Kent on the couch. "Yeah, I'll see you tonight! Bye!"

Kent raises a single eyebrow.

Bitty hangs up the phone, drops it to the couch, and narrows his eyes defensively. "What?"

"Netflix asked us if we're still watching twice," says Kent. He waves a hand pointedly. "You threatened to poison me if I mentioned my thesis."

Bitty crosses his arms and turns his chin up. "And? Haven't you heard of impression management, Kent Parson?"

"Yeah," Kent says, "like, using the good condoms on the first bang. Not straight up lying about the last ten hours."

Bitty gets up, possibly to bribe Kent with Gatorade. He power-walks into the kitchen and calls, "It's not like I embellished to you! Why do you care so much?"

Kent kicks his feet up and frowns at the TV. He doesn't answer until Bitty drops the Gatorade into his hand, and even then he just frowns at that too.

"Hm?" Bitty prompts. He nestles against Kent's side again and rests his head on his shoulder.

"Great question," Kent says, but he unpauses the TV.

 

~*~

 

Two weeks later, Kent gets home from therapy and finds the door unlocked with Jack's sneakers tucked neatly into the shoe rack that Bitty bought on principle and never actually uses—Kent kicks two different pairs of Bitty's shoes back in its general direction and then toes out of his own.

There's laughter in the kitchen, so obviously Kent needs to investigate. He tosses his backpack onto the couch and pockets his phone.

Bitty calls, "Hey, hun! Hope you want pie for dinner."

Kent peeks his head around the doorway and finds the kitchen in total disaster mode. Everything's covered in flour and every inch of counter space is taken up with mixing bowls and ingredients.

Jack, who's also covered in flour and frowning at a strip of crust dangling from his fingers, says, "If there is a pie."

"Don't be silly, sweetheart!" Bitty rests a hand on Jack's lower back and stands on his toes to kiss Jack's cheek. "You're doing great."

Jack doesn't respond, too busy carefully adding the next strip of crust to whatever bastardized kind of a lattice pattern is supposed to be forming on the pie.

"Welcome to the fold, dude," Kent tells Jack, clapping him on the shoulder as he squeezes by the pair of them to snag an Easy Mac from the pantry.

"Isn't this great?" Bitty enthuses, maybe to Kent, since he's grabbing the container from him and filling it with water himself—which is a totally unwarranted precaution because Kent seriously only forgot the one time freshman year—and sticking it in the microwave.

Kent ruffles Bitty's hair, unleashing a poof of flour. "Yeah, for sure."

Bitty headbutts Kent's shoulder affectionately and then flits back over to Jack, ducking under an arm so he can help with the crust.

"I've always wanted to bake with my boyfriend," he says, leaning against Jack's chest to beam up at Jack. "I know maybe it's silly, I just—it's really nice?"

"Oh," says Jack. He tilts his head for a second. "Uh, cool."

The microwave shrieks. Kent fumbles to yank the door open without turning around—he's still staring at Jack, who's still staring at the pie crust like Bitty didn't just a) say something really cute and personal and b) call Jack his boyfriend.

Bitty doesn't seem fazed, though. He smiles again, fingers brushing over the back of Jack's hand to grab another strip of pie crust, and starts humming under his breath.

Kent stirs his mac and cheese uneasily. He wants to tell himself that Jack obviously likes Bitty—like, who wouldn't?—and maybe the guy's just a little or a lot awkward or something. And just because his own not-thing with Jack was so weird doesn't mean Bitty's thing will be.

But Kent doesn't get it—how someone could hear Bitty say that he's always wanted this, have him tucked against their chest, and not be literally dying with how amazing that feels. He can't tell if Jack even cares.

His train of thought is interrupted by his phone buzzing.

Lardoooo (3:22 PM): ugh I'm having like the worst day

Lardoooo (3:22 PM): im still freaking abt senior portfolio and chel is being a huge dick about it

Kent frowns, clamping his spoon between his teeth to type with both hands.

Pretty Boi (3:22 PM): :(((( sorry babe how can I help?

Pretty Boi (3:23 PM): Jack and bits are making a pie if that helps

Lardo doesn't answer right away. Kent holds his Easy Mac up above his head as he leaves the kitchen so it doesn't end up covering anyone's apron.

Pretty Boi (3:25 PM): but it's cool of u want space too

Bitty says something that Kent can't quite catch, but his voice is bright, and all Jack answers is, "Haha, yeah."

Kent switches on the TV and puts on Parks and Rec. His mac and cheese tastes gross, all of a sudden, and he kinda wants to leave and he can't figure out why—maybe it's just the therapy hangover, or the unanswered triple text, or the weird potentially bullshit feeling that there's, like, emotional caution tape wrapped around the kitchen.

Lardoooo (3:30 PM): can we steal pie and then hide in your room so I don't have to talk to anyone

Lardoooo (3:31 PM): (besides you)

Kent actually kinda smiles.

Pretty Boi (3:33 PM): aww babe do I not count as people that's so sweet

Lardoooo (3:33 PM): dotn let it go to your head, hotshot

Kent turns the volume up on the TV. He's totally gonna let it go to his head.

 

~*~

 

Kent flutters his eyelashes in the mirror, trying to measure how the golden eyeshadow shimmers on his lids. It's on the knife-point of being too much—there's the little lump in his throat, weighing him down when he swallows, even if fear isn't the main thing his hands are shaking with.

He reaches for the eyeliner, staring at his own fingers. It's deep blue-black and brand new; the cap sticks as he tries to tug it free.

Lardo walks back into the bathroom and drags her fingers over his wrist where it's hovering near his cheek, the eyeliner a few centimeters from his face and a single smudge of black near the crease of his left eye.

"Want help?" she offers softly, meeting his eyes in the mirror.

Kent clears his throat. "Uh, sure."

She turns him gently to face her, plucks the pencil out of his hand, and says, "Close your eyes."

He does. He can feel her hand near his temple as she paints a steady line on his eyelid with the other hand.

"It's easier if you pull on the corner a little," she says, then does the other eye. He licks his lips self-consciously, lets out a shaky breath. "We can practice tomorrow."

Kent opens his eyes and glances in the mirror before turning back to meet her gaze, smirking. "Thanks, babe."

She hums, borrowing the pencil to do her own eyeliner, and then sets it on the sink. Meanwhile, Kent pulls out the lipstick he bought and uncaps it slowly, twisting the tube to make the color go up and down.

Going Tswift red seemed like a great idea at the time—except now Kent's feeling kinda chickenshit.

Lardo takes a look at whatever's on his face and says, "Hang on."

She comes back with her makeup bag and starts digging through it, pausing every few seconds to squint at his face.

"Some of these won't work with your skin tone," she says, setting tubes on the counter, "but I think I—ah. Here we go."

She uncaps the tube in her hands and holds the lipstick up to his face, showing off how it looks against the highlighter shimmering over his freckles. It's a softer red, more like the color his lips get after kissing or sex.

Kent nods silently, taking the lipstick, not sure why he's so painfully fucking speechless. But he paints his lips slowly, mouth hung open a little, and purses them together after, eyes squeezing shut.

When he opens them, there's a stranger in the mirror.

Or, not one—or, the body he wanted to settle into and couldn't, or—

Himself at peace, maybe, smiling, standing next to Larissa, with crooked teeth and red lips and wet eyes, the sound bubbling up out of his throat.

"Babe," she says, choked up. "Don't cry—you'll smudge the eyeliner."

He laughs and pulls her into a hug. She holds him tightly, kisses his shoulder near his collar.

"Thanks," Kent whispers.

"Duh," Lardo answers. "I—uh. Of course."

Kent takes a steadying breath and pulls away, then heads back into his bedroom. He looks his outfit over in the full-length mirror and then reaches for his black snapback—the one that has a rainbow on it—and turns it in his hands.

"Hat or nah?" he asks, flashing it at Lardo.

She tilts her head thoughtfully, then ruffles up his hair. "Hm. I feel like both are a mood."

Kent runs his thumb over the back and says, "I could, uh—ask Bits."

"Yeah," she agrees, and laces their fingers together as he ventures out into the living room.

Bitty and Jack are on the couch watching TV, Bitty tucked against Jack's side.

Kent scuffs his foot against the carpet and says, "Uh, hey."

"Hey, hun, what's—oh!" Bitty turns to look and a grin spreads across his face—the kind that's so genuine he always tries to contain it with a hand. "Sweetheart, you look—wow! You look beautiful."

Kent swallows thickly. "Uh, thanks."

Jack is looking at him too, his face doing...something unreadable, but his cheeks are pink when he stammers, "Yeah, you—uh. I like the, uh. The...mouth."

Lardo snickers.

"Thanks," Kent says again. His head feels kinda fuzzy. Like he's gonna pass out or maybe just needs a fucking drink. He runs a hand through his hair and asks, "Uh, should I—the hat? Is what I was gonna ask. Yeah."

Bitty crawls over the back of the couch and moves into Kent's space, messing with the collar on his flannel before gently prying the hat from his grip. He touches Kent's temple, big brown eyes scrutinizing his face, and then sticks his tongue out while he places the hat backwards on Kent's head just so.

Bitty fusses with Kent's hair at the places it peeks out under the hat and then takes a step back.

"The hat," he decides primly. His eyes are kind of shiny and wet, which doesn't—it's not like Kent told him about this shit or anything—because he was scared, or he knew it wouldn't matter, or he was scared it would matter too much.

Anyway, the point is—there's no context, that Bitty has, except for maybe if he's noticed little things, stuff Kent didn't even do on purpose—but it doesn't matter. He understands what Kent needs.

Kent asks, "Uh, are you gonna get ready soon? I thought we were leaving by eleven, yeah?"

"Oh." Bitty bites his bottom lip. "Um."

"Jack can come too, obvs," Kent adds.

"Where am I coming?" Jack asks, straightfaced.

Kent laughs. "Uh, we're gonna get shitfaced and go dancing, man."

"Oh, uh." Jack looks at Bitty. "You guys can go without me. I don't, uh, really like dancing. And I try not to drink too often."

Bitty super purposefully does not look at Kent. "Oh, um! Me neither, honestly? We can definitely just stay in."

"What," says Kent.

"Maybe watch a little more TV and turn in early?" Bitty suggests.

"Bits," Kent says quietly, "are you fucking serious?"

Bitty shoots him a pleading look.

Lardo wraps her arm around Kent's waist. She props her cheek against his arm and tells him, "I'll still go with you, babe." She raises an eyebrow in Bitty's direction. "Gotta show off your new look."

Kent glances over at Lardo, sees that her expression is verging on pity, and consciously unclenches his jaw. He closes his eyes and says, "Yeah, let's go, I guess."

Bitty wraps his arms around Kent's neck and hugs him tightly.

"Please go have fun," he whispers. "You really look amazing, honey."

"Thanks," Kent answers. "You too."

 

~*~

 

'Hope you had fun!' says the sticky note on Kent's desk next to the bottle of water and two Advil. 'Sorry I wasn't there :('

 

~*~

 

"Wanna hit the sack?" Kent asks. He's still breathing hard, staring at the ceiling, kinda gross and sweaty but also shivering in the AC—they should probably shut it off soon, now that it's mid-October. He tugs the comforter over them. "Or we could watch TV?"

"I should at least pee if I don't want a UTI," Lardo grumbles, but she doesn't even pretend to get up.

The bathroom door swings open like it's on command, if "command" is a blotchy-faced Bitty who's having trouble breathing for probably not the same cool reason that Kent is.

"Woah, what's—" Kent starts to sit up worriedly, but Bitty is already crawling into the bed.

"We're like, super naked under here," Lardo warns, but Bitty just answers with a tiny sob.

"Hey," says Kent, wrapping both arms around Bitty as he nestles in between them and hides his face in Kent's neck. "What's wrong, babe?"

Bitty makes another hiccuping-sobbing sound and sucks in a breath. "J-Jack stood me—up. He just— forgot. I feel so—so—"

Lardo rolls onto her side and starts carding her fingers through his hair. "Shit, I'm sorry, Bits."

"Is that where you were all night?" Kent asks. His sweat is turning tacky, sticking to Bitty's nice clothes. At least he already ditched the condom. "Fuck."

"I just kept callin' him," Bitty says miserably, but steadier. "I thought he was running late, or in—in trouble—but he just—"

He cuts off with a sniffle.

Kent shares a look with Lardo—she frowns at him.

"Did he ever call you back?" Kent asks.

"Yeah." Bitty wriggles closer to Kent, coming dangerously close to kneeing him in the balls. "He just—he apologized, I guess? Said he was with his friends and maybe we could 'hang out' some other time?"

Lardo mutters, "Yikes."

"He didn't sound that sorry," Bitty says. He tilts his face up to look Kent in the eyes. "It's fine he forgot, I guess, but I just—I wanted him to feel bad."

"Yeah," Kent agrees. He meets Bitty's searching gaze—even though he's not sure what he's looking for.

Bitty closes his eyes and ducks his head. "Does that make me horrible?"

Kent hooks his chin over the top of Bitty's head, cupping the back of his neck soothingly, and promises, "Nah, babe, it doesn't."

It kinda makes him wanna fight someone, but that's probably not the point right now. He feels a tear drip onto his shoulder and squeezes Bitty tighter.

"Maybe he doesn't like me anymore," Bitty whispers.

Kent can't answer him.

Bitty asks, his voice small and tired, "Can I stay in here tonight?"

Kent looks at Lardo, who nods and rests a hand on Bitty's arm.

"Scoot over, though," she tells them. "I'm not that tiny."

Bitty's laugh turns into a sniffle, but he reaches back to take her hand after they move down to make space.

Lardo sits up to snag Kent's discarded t-shirt and throw it on, and then spoons up behind Bitty with her arm wrapped around his waist. He smiles weakly against Kent's chest and the pace of his breathing finally starts to even out.

Kent can feel his heart reverbing against Bitty's cheek. It's a shitty thing, maybe, but he drifts off to sleep thinking about how fucking lucky he is.

 

~*~

 

"Hey," Lardo murmurs some time in the early morning, half-waking Kent up. "Remind me to get cranberry juice tomorrow."

"I'll buy," says Kent.

 

~*~

 

Bitty's on the couch by the time they get back from the store the next morning, burritoed in a blanket and scrolling through his phone with the saddest pout Kent's ever seen.

Lardo retreats into Kent's room, squeezing his ass on her way.

"He's gonna come over later," Bitty tells the coffee table. "I texted him this morning."

"Uh, okay." Kent plops down onto the couch and tugs on the blanket until Bitty gives up and shares it.

Bitty rests his cheek on the back of the couch and stares at Kent. "How do I make him like me?"

"Uh, he should like you for you, and if he doesn't he's a fucking dumbass," Kent answers immediately, "so jot that down."

"Kenny," Bitty whines. He lists to the side dramatically, like Kent's just given the stupidest fucking advice he's ever heard. "I'm serious!"

Kent bristles without really meaning to. "I dunno," he snarks, "are you sucking his dick enough?"

Bitty, the passive-aggressive little fuck, pleasantly ignores Kent's tone and asks, "How many times a week d'you think is good?"

His eyes are doing that sad-bunny thing, though, and Kent's trying to be less of a total bastard these days.

"I mean, at least three," Kent answers with a smirk, forcibly shaking the irritation out of his system. "But you know what really sells it? Let him come on you."

Bitty wrinkles up his nose. "Ew. I hate that trick."

"C'mon, Bits." Kent nudges him with an elbow, because he can't totally resist needling a little. "You don't want a pearl necklace?"

Bitty huffs. "Don't kinkshame, Kent Parson. Some people actually like that."

"Uh, duh." Kent waggles his eyebrows and gestures at himself pointedly. "But you're not some people."

Bitty rolls his eyes, but when he glances over again his shoulders sag.

"I've never wanted to keep someone around this much," he admits quietly, eyes flicking down to stare at the blanket scrunched up in his hands.

Kent feels off-balance again. He swallows and points out, "You kept me."

Bitty smiles faintly, his lips barely twitching.

"You don't count," he says.

It's something in Kent's chest, maybe—a tight muscle, or the razor-sharp 'Why don't I?' that he can't get a grip on without blood dripping out. He can't look at Bitty's hands in the blanket and doesn't know what they should be doing instead.

"I meant it, though," Kent tells him. "That he should want you the way you are."

Bitty pleads, "But what if it's not enough?"

Kent sighs and pulls his feet up onto the couch, tucking his knees against his chest. The blanket pulls half-off Bitty's thighs, but he doesn't complain.

"You didn't give him a chance to, Bits," he says. "You could just tell him what you really—"

"I'm not you!" Bitty snaps out of fucking nowhere. "People don't just like me."

Kent slams his shin on the coffee table when he tries to put the distance between them—like Kent’s a fucking grenade, like there’s something physical he can throw his body over to stop what comes next. The pain blooms over the sound of Bitty yelping his name, the way he hisses and flinches away from the grip on his elbow.

He doesn’t mean to slam the door.

 

~*~

 

He practices smiling in the mirror, sometimes. Watches until the reflection can do it on its own.

 

~*~

 

Bitty finds Kent in the building hallway maybe an hour later and sits down next to him. His eyes are as red as Kent's probably are. Every time he blinks, tears roll down his cheeks.

Kent stares at his ankles.

Bitty's holding a pad of sticky notes. He swallows, chin wobbling dangerously, and scribbles something on the first one with a trembling hand.

'I'm sorry I'm a jerk :('

He sticks it on Kent's knee.

Kent glances up at him, throat sealed shut.

Bitty wipes at his eyes with the back of one hand and writes the next one.

'Youre more important to me than anyone.'

He puts it a little further up Kent's thigh.

Kent runs his thumb over the edge of it, feeling the threat of a papercut against his fingertip. He can feel Bitty breathing, the shaking effort it takes.

'I wish I could be like you.'

'Im scared.'

'& youre so brave'

Kent shakes his head.

Bitty sticks the next note right onto Kent's cheek, and Kent huffs out a laugh despite himself as he peels it off to read it.

'YES.'

Bitty keeps writing.

'I shouldn't have said it was easy'

His fingers linger over Kent's thigh, making the note flutter as his hand falls away. Kent looks at him; he smiles tentatively, like he's scared of that too.

Then he looks down again.

'Our friendship is so easy'

Bitty presses the pencil to the next note and stares at it with wide-eyed determination, writing slowly, the tears welling back up in his eyes, his lips parting in a quiet gasp for breath when they start to fall.

Kent watches—wants so fucking badly to hold him, and doesn't.

Bitty has to crumple up the note and start over. It lands on the floor with a soft crinkle and rolls a few inches away, and Kent wonders if they'll remember to pick it up or if someone else will find it later. He doesn't reach for it.

Bitty is writing furiously, with tiny letters to make it all fit, and he sobs and hides his face between his knees when he thrusts the note out blindly for Kent to take.

'I don't think anyone will love me like you & that made me angry at you & im sorry & im so scared'

"Bits," Kent croaks.

Bitty scrambles into Kent's arms and bangs his knees audibly against the cinderblock and breathes raggedly until Kent slides the hand into his hair.

"Please don't hate me," Bitty whispers. "I'm sorry."

Kent presses his lips to Bitty's temple. "Like I could."

Bitty digs his fingertips into Kent's spine.

 

~*~

 

Jack does come over that day, and the day after that, and the next weekend, and the day after—

Point made. And, like, if Kent was being  totally selfishly honest, he would probably admit that he wasn't super hoping that would happen. But Bitty seems happy, and he even goes out partying with Kent and Lardo on Halloween weekend.

Okay, Kent's not one hundred percent sure that Jack knows Bitty goes out partying on Halloween, but—hey, baby steps.

And then suddenly November is almost over and it seems like everything's actually gonna turn out fine, and Kent is ordering a pizza for when Lardo comes over later when Bitty walks into the living room and asks, "Do you think I should introduce Jack to my parents at Thanksgiving?"

"Uh," says Kent, locking his phone. "Is this one of those things where I give my honest opinion, or."

Bitty groans as he sits down on the couch. "You think it's stupid."

"Okay, I didn't say stupid," Kent argues. He kicks his feet up onto the coffee table. "I just also didn't say, like, 'hey, what a fucking awesome idea!'"

Bitty pouts at him.

"It's just, like, a little soon, maybe?" Kent says. "It's been what, not even three months?"

"But you were right," Bitty says. "I should be myself—and myself wants my parents to know who my boyfriend is."

Kent grimaces. "Okay, Bits—don't take this the wrong way, but—do you even know who your boyfriend is?"

Bitty raises his eyebrows and crosses his arms. "I don't know a right way to take that."

"I just mean, like—this thing with Jack's been kinda rocky, and it's new, and we waited, like, two years to tell your parents I was bi to 'ease them into it,' and, I dunno." Kent nudges Bitty's ankle with his foot. "You're sure this is the first guy you ever wanna introduce them to?"

Bitty glances around the room like someone could be listening—which, like, in theory they could be, but Lardo's in class.

"I like him a lot, Kenny," he says earnestly, leaning forward to clasp Kent's hands in his own. "He's funny, and cute, and he's a good listener, and—and I think I could be in love with him."

Kent's stomach doesn't drop. He'd be a really fucking shitty friend, if it did.

"Already?" he asks quietly.

Bitty raises his eyebrows again, playfully this time, and challenges, "Like you're not a little in love with Lardo?"

"That's not—I didn't—I, just, I mean—" Kent splutters. "That's different!"

"How?" Bitty asks sweetly.

Kent closes his eyes, chest aching, and says, "'Cause Lardo's there for me, Bits, and she knows me, and I'd trust her with almost fucking anything." He opens his eyes, finds Bitty watching his face. "Can you say that about Jack?"

Bitty's chin is quivering. He says, "I don't wanna fight with you again."

Which means no. But Kent doesn't wanna fight either, and there's a weird headache forming behind his eyes, and Bitty's always had this blind fucking optimism that makes Kent want to hold him and cover his ears and make it feel true, even if Kent's never seen it.

"I want it on record, though," Kent says.

Bitty pulls Kent's arm around his shoulder and then leans against his chest, and Kent graciously pretends he doesn't see the smug twitch of Bitty's lips.

 

~*~

 

A few days later, Kent and Lardo are chilling in Kent's bed, Kent working on his thesis while Lardo pillows her cheek on his thigh and scribbles ideas for her senior portfolio, when Bitty lets Jack into the apartment.

"Hey, honey!" Bitty is saying. His voice carries over the sound of Lardo's music. "How was class?"

"Good." Jack pauses. "How was your day?"

Both of the bathroom doors are open, so Kent can catch a glimpse of them as they walk into Bitty's room and sit down on the bed—his view of Jack is blocked, but Bitty's feet swing in and out of view as he kicks them anxiously. Kent casually scoots down his bed so he can snoop on Bitty's face.

"Um," Bitty says. "It was pretty good! I had a ton of homework to do which was annoyin', but I was lookin' forward to seeing you so I figured I better get it done, but then I saw Mama put a new tart recipe on our Pinterest and I—mm!"

Bitty cuts off when Jack dips down to kiss him, a hand cupping Bitty's face. He leans Bitty back against the mattress, and Kent's about to get up and close the door because he's learned the semi-awkward way that Jack isn't into the casual exhibitionism vibe—or, at least, that casual exhibitionism is on the list of things Bitty still wants to pretend isn't a part of his personality—when Bitty scoots back and sits up.

"Um, that actually reminds me!" he says, laughing awkwardly. Kent still can't see Jack's face, but Bitty is chewing on his bottom lip. "Mama and my daddy are comin' up for Thanksgiving and, um, I was wondering if you'd, um—would you wanna meet them?"

Lardo casually reaches over and turns the volume down on the Bluetooth speaker, because she and Kent might actually be soulmates.

"Oh," says Jack. "Okay. I guess depending on my plans next week."

"Oh, um, I thought you said you'd be in town?" Bitty asks.

"Uh, yeah." Jack shifts on the bed. "I think Shitty wanted to hang out too."

Bitty fidgets with his hands in his lap. "Um, they'll be here all week, so I was, um...I guess I was hoping we could—make plans?"

Jack doesn't say anything.

"For you to meet them," Bitty clarifies.

Kent can visualize Jack's slow blink. "...Why?"

The silence stretches out.

Bitty pleasantly says, "Excuse me for one second," gets up very slowly, and walks into the bathroom.

He locks the door on Jack's side and then glides into Kent's room, sitting himself down on the edge of the bed near Kent's knee.

"Kenny," he says.

"Yeah?" Kent asks.

"Do you remember how sophomore year, we drank all that sangria," Bitty asks evenly, "and you told me that you'd help me hide a body if I ever murdered someone?"

"Yeah," says Kent.

"Great." Bitty's next breath strings him up from his spine, shoulders locking. He uses the edge of Kent's blanket to dab at his eyes. "Thank you."

Lardo skips the next track on her phone before Kent can recognize it.

Bitty gets up, walks back into the bathroom, and flushes the toilet. He smiles at himself in the mirror, perfect and wooden. The faucet runs for one, three, five seconds. His teeth look like they were painted there.

The faucet shuts off. Bitty digs his palms into the edge of the sink hard enough to make the veins swell in his forearms—then walks back into his room, where Jack is apparently still waiting, just out of view.

"Sorry about that," Bitty says, and he doesn't sit back down. "I had a thought, though."

Jack says, "Uh, okay."

"We're both just so busy," Bitty says. "So maybe next week won't work out?"

"Oh." Jack pauses. "Maybe not."

"And since maybe we want different things," Bitty cooly continues, "we could just focus on those."

Jack says, "Uh, sure."

"Separately."

Bitty walks over to the hallway door and opens it for Jack.

Jack doesn't move.

Bitty is out of view, now, but Kent hears a foot tapping.

"Oh." Jack stands up. "Are you busy right now? Did you need me to leave?"

"If you could," Bitty tells him, his voice sharp and bright like a windchime.

Jack walks past the bathroom and presumably towards the front door. "Of course. I'll, uh. Text you later?"

Kent can feel Bitty flinch from here.

"That's nice," he says.

They can hear the faint click of the front door closing, and then the significantly louder sound of Bitty slamming his hallway door.

Kent opens his mouth and Lardo scrambles to sit up so he can hop off the bed, but anything Kent could've said is drowned out by Bitty violently shutting the bathroom door, too.

Lardo turns the music back up, but they can still hear it when Bitty starts to cry.

"Shit," says Kent.

"You want backup on this?" Lardo asks. She jerks her thumb towards the door. "Or should I, uh, you know."

Kent saves his abandoned Word doc and shuts his computer. "Probably just me—sorry, babe."

"It's chill." She ruffles his hair. "But, uh—Chelsea's having people over, so is it cool if I come back later?"

"Yeah, for sure," Kent tells her. He rolls to his feet and offers a hand to help pull her up. "Take my key—it's on the coffee table."

She leans up to kiss him goodbye, reaching up onto her toes and resting a hand on his shoulder for balance.

"Thanks, babe, see you later, lo—" She cuts off and rocks back onto her heels, eyes darting to the side. "I'll, uh, text you when I come back."

Kent shoves his hands into his pockets to hide the sudden shaking. It's not like she was about to—

Was she?

"Uh, cool," he says. "Cool. Cool."

Lardo's cheeks are flushed. She takes a step backwards towards the door before turning around. "Uh, yeah, cool. Um. Bye."

She heads straight to the front door without grabbing the keys.

"Hold up," Kent tells her, darting to grab them from the table, and skitters to a halt in front of her.

He folds them into her hand and then dips down to kiss her, a hand cupping the side of her face, fingers grazing through the prickle of her hair. She forgets to kiss him back, for a second—then snorts into his mouth and pushes up into it, dropping the keys to the floor so she can pull a little at his hair.

"See you tonight," Kent murmurs, sighing against her lips.

Lardo ducks down to rescue the keys. "Take care of him."

"Yeah," Kent answers, even though she's already slipped out the door. "Will do."

 

~*~

 

Kent gives Bitty around an hour to wallow, which is totally coincidentally the time it takes for the Moscato Kent's had stashed in his closet to chill in the freezer.

Then, he grabs the bottle and their nice wine glasses and braces himself as he walks into the room.

Bitty is curled up in bed, sniffling dejectedly while he scrolls through his phone—probably doing some sad shit like looking at all his saved Snapchats of him and Jack. He narrows his eyes suspiciously at the wine.

"I should be offended you already had that," he says, but he sounds too tired to be pissed at Kent.

"Bought it after that time he left you waiting at Annie's for like three hours," Kent says, unapologetically.

He sits down on the bed and Bitty scoots upright just enough to miserably burrow against Kent's side while he uncorks the wine.

"You can say you told me so, if you want," Bitty mutters, drying his cheeks on Kent's shirt.

"Nah," says Kent, pouring two very full glasses that he balances carefully against their thighs. "I'd rather get you super trashed and help you burn all his shit."

Bitty takes the glass that says Mommy Juice on it. His face is distorted through the glass, but Kent swears he sees the twitch of a smile before he chugs the whole thing.

"Slight problem," Bitty says. He wipes his mouth with the back of his hand and gestures for Kent to pour him another glass. "I don't have any of his shit."

Kent hums while he pours. "We could skip to the dancing?"

"Just as well." Bitty rolls his neck and watches Kent down his first glass. "No Lardo tonight?"

Kent nuzzles against Bitty's temple. "Just you and me—like old times, yeah?"

Bitty definitely smiles that time. He grabs his phone and opens up their OG pregame playlist from freshman year—Nicki immediately starts blasting through the speaker.

"Hell yeah," Kent says, ditching the wine bottle and his glass on Bitty's nightstand. "Let me do my makeup."

Bitty finishes his second glass and takes a minute to untangle them both from his blanket burrito. "We're going to Bottom of the Well, right?"

Kent heads into the bathroom and switches on the lights. "Duh, max old-school adventures."

"You never forget your first," Bitty agrees solemnly, then starts digging around in his closet.

Kent does his makeup in silence—aside from Ke$ha telling him that the party can't start yet—until Bitty dramatically throws himself back onto the bed in the other room. "Ugh, but what do I wear?"

"Hmm." Kent sticks his tongue out as he finishes his eyeliner. "Are we going for 'slutty but warm' or 'slutty and willing to suffer?'"

Bitty snorts. He wanders into Kent's room with a pair of shorts slung over his shoulder. "Hun, please."

"Ooh, what about the nip-slip shirt?" Kent suggests. He caps the eyeliner and hunts for his mascara.

"I thought we lost that last year," Bitty answers.

Kent tilts his face up and tries to convince himself that he won't blind himself with the mascara wand. "Uh, first of all, 'we' is a generous term, and second of all I ran into that guy in comp sci last semester and got it back."

"Seriously?" Bitty walks into the bathroom and stares Kent's reflection down in the mirror, arms crossed. "Then where is it?"

Kent smirks. "Hiding from your thot ass in my sex drawer."

Bitty's jaw drops in outrage. "You hid Nippy from me in the sex drawer?"

"Nippy is a special occasion shirt, babe," Kent says. "And also I never got the stain out of it—but you probs can't see it?"

Bitty's eyes flash, which is definitely an improvement over the depressing as fuck lifeless look he'd been rocking when Kent first came in.

"You're lucky I'm sad and indebted to you, Kent Parson," he threatens.

Kent blows him a kiss in the mirror.

Bitty goes to rescue the nip-slip shirt from sex toy prison, leaving Kent to finish his makeup.

He comes back in while Kent is cycling through his growing lipstick collection, trying to figure out which one he's vibing tonight.

"What about this one?" Bitty asks, plucking a tube off the counter. He uncaps it curiously—it's Candy Apple, the one Kent bought way back in the beginning and has never actually used.

Kent purses his lips self-consciously. "Uh, I dunno."

"I love it." Bitty beams at him earnestly. "You'll look like Taylor Swift."

Kent's stomach flutters, his eyes flicking over to meet Bitty's gaze and then back down, but he takes the lipstick.

Bitty kisses his cheek—clutches at Kent's shirt just a little too tightly, like he's unsteady on his feet—and then backs away. He looks really fucking good in the shirt, and his face isn't as puffy anymore, to the point where you probably couldn't tell he'd been crying for a solid hour.

Kent looks down at his lipstick.

He wonders how Bitty has the energy for it—doing this for Kent, right now, even if it's a small thing. He'll try to not take it for granted.

Kent swipes the color onto his lips carefully, has to wipe up a stray smudge anyway, and then tugs Bitty under his arm facing the mirror.

"Damn," he says, squeezing Bitty's shoulder. "We look hella fucking good—wanna take a selfie?"

Tears well up in Bitty's eyes again. He hides his face in Kent's shirt and begs, "I had to do it, right? I did the right thing?"

Kent doesn't know how to answer. He cards his fingers through Bitty's hair, probably smearing eyeshadow into it. “Bits, I…”

Bitty pulls back, petting absently at a wrinkle in Kent's shirt to smooth it out, and smiles again.

"Sorry," he says, like he's shoving something oozing back through the cracks. "Sorry. I'll get the wine."

"Bits," Kent tries, but Bitty's already flitting back into his room for the abandoned Moscato. "It's okay, we don't have to—"

Bitty hands Kent the wrong glass, but it doesn't really matter.

"I know," he says. "But I’ve missed this—I missed you."

Kent's too much of a selfish fuck to argue against that one. He swirls the wine in his glass before taking a long drink—his lipstick leaves a print on the rim, which sends a thrill up his spine—and says, "Then fuck that guy. We're gonna hair-of-the-dog this shit."

"I think that's just a rebound," Bitty points out, giggling.

"Rebound sex is for when you get dumped." Kent finishes off his glass and leans against the sink to reapply his lipstick. "We've just gotta wash the taste out of your mouth."

Bitty looks down at the bottle in his hand thoughtfully, then back up at Kent, and asks, "You couldn't've used better wine?"

Kent flips him off in the mirror.

 

~*~

 

The Bottom of the Well is Samwell-proper's one and only gay bar—mostly because anyone with a good fake ID or aged-out hikes it over to Boston—but Kent and Bitty have always had an attachment to this place. It did raise them from baby queers, after all.

They're decently tipsy from the Moscato and the shots that Kent schmoozed off some guy by batting his eyelashes and saying that his best friend over there got his heart totally broken—he's not above a little embellishment in the interest of getting wasted—and Bitty is currently off working his magic on some other stranger for a second round.

Kent watches him trail his fingers up the guy's arm, smiling sweetly, as the guy turns to the bartender and orders. It's been a while, but it's good to know this shit is like riding a bike.

Bitty slides into Kent's side of the booth with a giggle, momentum carrying him to bump against Kent's thigh. He's got two shot glasses of what Kent assumes is tequila, given the lime wedges, and he presses his lips against Kent's ear to whisper, "He wants to watch."

Kent grins.

Bitty licks at his own wrist and pours some salt on it, then uses his other hand to give Kent a shot glass. He holds out his wrist in offering, and Kent's breath still catches with a thrill when he takes it, lapping up the salt and then throwing his head back to take the shot.

The lime is between Bitty's teeth.

Kent dips down to bite it, face scrunching up when the sour-sweet hits, still reeling from the bottom-shelf tequila. Bitty giggles again, mouth slipping.

"My turn," he says, spitting out the lime with a coy look back at the bar, where the guy really is still watching.

Kent reaches for the salt, but Bitty tilts Kent's chin up instead and licks a stripe up the side of his throat. He sprinkles the salt and sucks it off gently, Kent shivering despite himself, reaching for the other lime wedge with an unsteady hand while Bitty drinks.

And, sure, the whole thing probably looks pretty sexy—but Kent's favorite part is the little squeak Bitty makes when he tastes the lime juice, coupled with smacking his hand against Kent's thigh. That there's still something no one else gets.

Bitty leans back, wobbling slightly, and waves to the guy at the bar. Then he pushes their empty glasses away and turns to Kent excitedly.

"Fuck, this's so fun!" he says, grinning. "Let's go dance!"

Kent's already being pulled out of the booth by his wrist, but he still says, "You got it, babe."

The dance floor is pretty crowded tonight and the DJ is playing their trademark very specific combo of '80s dance hits and modern grind-and-twerk songs, which is obviously a recipe for really fucking fun disaster.

Bitty slots their bodies together immediately, his entire back leaning up against Kent's front as they grind. Kent wraps an arm around Bitty's stomach and noses at his cheek where his head is tilted back on Kent's shoulder, already sweating and laughing breathlessly.

"Fuck," says Kent. He's not sure if Bitty even hears. "Fuck, I missed you."

Bitty reaches back and cups a hand around the base of Kent's neck.

They dance together for a few songs, until Bitty locks eyes with someone across the dance floor. The guy's pretty hot, more Bitty's type than Kent's even though they have significant overlap.

"Be right back," Bitty says into Kent's ear.

Kent watches him go, smirking with relief at the effortless way Bits gets back in the saddle, and lets himself get absorbed into a group of friends who are jumping around and laughing their asses off.

"You're so pretty!" one of them gushes, reaching out like she wants to touch his face. "Where'd you get your lipstick?"

Kent laughs when she grabs his hands and starts jumping with her. "Target!"

"I love Target!" one of her friends shouts.

Kent laughs again, feeling giddier every second as the tequila kicks in, and glances over at Bitty again—who's making out with some dude who may or may not be the same one from a minute ago.

Nice.

Kent dances with his five new best friends for a while, kinda loosely keeping tabs on Bits, who's apparently taking Kent's 'get the taste out' comment super literally—Kent counts at least three different dudes, and Bitty even trades numbers with one of them.

And then their song comes on, and Bitty fucking whips around with a giant smile on his face and they lock eyes like Kent is a homing beacon.

Bitty rushes through the crowd, squeezing past groups of oblivious people, and leaps into Kent's arms.

Kent laughs brightly, stumbling back a few steps to catch him, and then squeezes him tightly. He can feel the sweat soaking through Bitty's shirt, the swell of his lungs against Kent's chest. Some of the girls coo at them.

Bitty wraps his arms around Kent's neck and starts jumping with him when the chorus kicks in, shouting the lyrics in Kent's ear.

And it's not like everything fades away, but—maybe the exact opposite. Like everything's so real and big and fucking full of life, and Kent's so overwhelmingly a part of it that he couldn't rip away anything from this moment, even if Bitty's the core of all of it.

"I wanna dance with somebody— " Bitty's voice cracks, hands tightening in the back of Kent's shirt. "With somebody who loves me."

He is.

 

~*~

 

They stay at the club until last call and the so-ironic-it's-unironic-again blasting of Closing Time through the speakers, and then it's a ten minute bus ride back to the apartment that definitely won't be long enough to sober them up.

Kent has one of his drunk besties' numbers written on his arm in lipstick. He borrows Bitty's phone to take a pic of it—and also to text Lardo that his own phone is dead but they're almost home. She shoots back a thumbs up.

"That was so fun!" Bitty shouts, still in club mode and definitely too loud for their apartment. He twirls around to face Kent and stumbles backwards into the couch. "I couldn't do that when I was with—with stupid Jack."

Kent's not totally convinced that's true, but he knows how to read a room.

"Yeah," he agrees, turning on the kitchen light and then cutting the big lights in the living room. "Fuck him, right?"

Bitty makes grabby hands at him; he goes to sit down next to him and Bitty immediately crawls into his lap, face smushing against Kent's neck.

"Stupid, sexy Zimmermann," Bitty mutters, which is apparently Jack's last name. Huh. "Like he's so smart and cool, with his thesis and shit. He was wrong about stuff."

Kent scritches the side of Bitty's undercut. "So wrong."

"Like alcohol. Alcohol is awesome. Like dancing!" Bitty lifts his head and opens his mouth like he's gonna pick back up the train of thought, but then he kinda just stares at Kent's face.

Kent runs a hand through his hair self-consciously. "Uh, you good, babe?"

Bitty says, "He was right about a thing, I guess."

"Uh," says Kent. Bitty's eyes are dark in the dim light, suddenly serious and freaky intense. "What?"

Bitty's eyes drop lower.

"Your mouth," he says, "like this," and Kent is on his back.

Bitty is kissing him, teeth scraping the lipstick off his bottom lip, knees digging into the sides of Kent's thighs. He giggles—squirms when Kent squeezes his ribs.

It's been a while since they've kissed. Usually it's in public, 'cause someone else thought it was hot, or during a threesome.

Not like this, with Bitty gently cupping Kent's face, kissing him slowly, the sound of their breath filling the room—no one to make noise, no one to hear it. Bitty pulls away a little, the tip of his tongue barely grazing Kent's lip.

It hurts, somehow.

Kent scoots upright just a little—enough for Bitty to notice.

"Hun?" he asks, smiling and sweetly breathless.

Kent's lipstick is smeared across Bitty's mouth—puffy, used-up lips and the shock of intensely bright red dampened with shiny spit, like he ate something with a bloody heart.

"I'm not a dude, totally, I think—maybe," says Kent, around the clot in his throat. "Or, maybe I am? Sometimes I think I'm a guy who likes being really feminine, and sometimes I'm like—maybe I'm something else...too? I don't, uh, really know, which is why I haven't told you, but...yeah."

Bitty's smile is still genuine—Kent can see it in the eyes, even if it's also careful. "Oh, okay!"

Kent swallows thickly and admits, "I, uh—dunno if I wanted you to be surprised?"

"Well, um, I knew you were exploring something? With the, um—" Bitty touches Kent's bottom lip, his face softening into a smirk. "But I wasn't sure what, and I thought, um—I wanted to ask, a bunch of times, but I thought maybe you hadn't told me because, um, you're afraid of how I'd react? So I thought I'd just...wait for you."

"How are you reacting?" Kent asks.

Bitty boops Kent on the nose. "I love you so much, and I guess I'm scared I'll mess up? I mean, um, not in a 'make it about me' way but I don't wanna do something wrong and hurt you or—"

"Bits." Kent takes Bitty's face in his hands, which are shaking, and strokes his thumbs over Bitty's cheeks. "Thank you."

"I guess I should think more about what it means for, like—if the way I like you is related to, um, well, with me being—with the, uh…" Bitty scrunches up his face in exasperation. "...gay? Of it all?"

"Sure," Kent agrees, the most he can get in edgewise when drunk Bitty gets like this.

"But I—I love you more than anyone, maybe ever, and if we change what we—what it's called, or what I call myself or if maybe that doesn't matter?" Bitty groans and hides his face in Kent's neck. "Am I makin' any sense?"

"No," Kent says warmly.

Bitty laughs faintly and wriggles around so he can cuddle Kent closer.

"Can I kiss you again?" he murmurs. "I liked that."

"Yeah," says Kent. "Me too."

Bitty smiles into Kent's neck and nuzzles the underside of his jaw, and Kent turns half on his side so their lips can meet.

It's really good and specific, kissing Bitty, because it's like—there's no expectation behind it, like normally when Kent makes out with something it's foreplay for sex, usually, or at least related to it.

But Kent doesn't feel super sexual right now. It's more like—being safe, warmth spreading down to his toes, and the random burst of butterflies in his stomach whenever Bitty giggles or touches Kent with his fingertips. Like every once and a while this kind of spilling over is meant to happen, just to remind him how much he fucking feels all the time.

Eventually Bitty pulls away, looking up at Kent with half-lidded, sleepy eyes. He yawns and Kent immediately yawns too.

"Guess we should go to bed," Bitty says.

"Yeah," says Kent. He tweaks Bitty's ear. "You wanna sleep with me and Lar?"

Bitty drags his teeth over his bottom lip. "I, um, might wanna be alone, actually?"

"That's cool." Kent presses their foreheads together. "See you in the morning, yeah?"

"If I'm awake before two," Bitty tells him, "assume body snatchers got me."

Kent laughs as they both sit up and stretch, then helps Bitty to his feet.

"See you tomorrow," he corrects, leaning down to kiss Bitty's temple.

Bitty brushes his fingers across Kent's arm. "G'night, hun."

They split up then, each into their own room. Kent should do the responsible thing and take off his makeup, but Lardo is curled up in his bed and does one of those totally fucking adorable grumbly things where she almost wakes up but doesn't, and Kent's so tired and fucking lonely all of a sudden.

He crawls right into bed after undressing and wraps around her.

"Hey, babe," she murmurs, more awake than he thought. "How'd it go?"

"I came out to Bits," Kent says. "And also made out. Both in that order and not?"

Lardo rolls over so that she's facing him, shifting up the pillows to tuck his face against her chest.

"Big night," she says.

"Yeah," Kent whispers.

She's naked, her pubic hair brushing against his hip, and it's weird how it doesn't phase him. "You okay?"

Kent kisses the edge of her breast. "I think so."

"Cool," she tells him, carding her fingers through his hair lazily. "Let's go to sleep."

"Yes, ma'am," he mumbles, drowsy. His chest still feels tight and jittery, but the exhaustion is setting in and her skin feels so good against his, the gentle rasp of her voice.

If he's lucky, he'll fall asleep before it all sinks in.

 

~*~

 

"He texted me!" Bitty exclaims at 2:03 PM the next afternoon, standing directly above Kent and Lardo while they sleep.

Kent lifts his head and blinks rapidly, trying to clear the sleep-fog out of his brain, and squints at the clock.

"Whuzzat?" he asks.

"Jack." Bitty throws his hands up for emphasis—he's wearing the same shirt from last night, and it slips entirely off one shoulder to flash half his chest.

Apparently the foggy—and also somehow pounding?—headache is just a punishment for Kent's sins.

"Okay," he says, pushing up into a sitting position and shaking out two Advil from the open bottle on the nightstand. "I'm too hungover to sugar-coat for you, and I'm ninety-percent sure that poor bastard has no idea you dumped him."

Bitty shoves a Gatorade in Kent's face. "How could he not know? I was very clear!"

It is, tragically, not his sarcasm voice.

Kent uncaps the bottle and uses it to down his Advil. He hands it to Lardo, who is smacking at his arm.

"So, like, to clarify—this is a guy who didn't get why he should meet your parents?" Kent says, wincing as he gets up and his feet have to remember how to function sober. Bitty helpfully stabilizes him by the arm. "And you think 'cause you said you were busy he's gonna know you meant, like, permanently?"

Bitty's mouth is hung open like that giant-ass whole fish he bought from the supermarket on accident one time. He stutters for a few seconds trying to make a coherent response, then finally settles on chucking his phone onto Kent's bed.

"Fine! Fine!" he says, voice getting increasingly higher-pitched. "But if I stop texting him I won't have to think about it and it won't be my problem anymore, right?"

Kent yanks open his dresser and grabs a pair of boxers. "I love when you do that thing where you're so self-aware you're literally not anymore."

"Sweetheart," Bitty says pleasantly, "has anyone ever told you that you're a dick when you're hungover?"

"You," Kent answers. "Every time I'm hungover."

Bitty pats him on the ass—kind of condescendingly, actually—and then wanders into the living room. He puts Pandora on the TV and then presumably moves into the kitchen to cook his feelings.

"So, that was aggressively normal," Lardo says. She stretches with a big yawn.

"Hm?" Kent asks. He finally steps into his underwear. "Oh, yeah, I guess."

She raises an eyebrow. "I thought last night was, like, some kinda breakthrough for you two."

Kent snorts, then shifts into the bathroom to brush his teeth and finally wipe the makeup off his face—he looks ratchet as fuck, but maybe in a kinda hot way? He's always been pretty into the walk of not-shame look on people he's fucked, anyway.

"We don't do those around here, babe," he answers, staring himself down in the mirror as he swipes the makeup remover across his face."We're just, I mean, friends, you know. I mean, what's—what would we even—"

"Nevermind, dummy." She gets up and starts getting dressed, and Kent swears he hears her mutter something with the phrase 'self-aware' under her breath.

"What's that?" Kent asks.

Lardo asks, "What's what?"

Kent lets it slide. He tosses the remover wipe in the trash and grabs his toothbrush. "I'm just glad the boyfriend is gone—shit can finally get back to normal."

 

~*~

 

The wild this is that it kind of fucking does.

Even the visit from the Bittles is normal—AKA, Kent and Bitty spend the entire day beforehand scrubbing the entire apartment of any evidence that they have ever orgasmed or possess physically any concept of what alcohol tastes like, and then Mama takes up a full 32 hours harping on Bitty for how messy the place is and using cleaning products whose names and functions delete from Kent's brain as soon as she leaves, and neither of them cop to the fact that it had already been the nicest the place had looked since Mama came up for parents' weekend last year.

Coach says a lot of sports things that Kent pretends to understand. Lardo hides at her art friends' place. Jack Zimmermann does not exist and neither does Kent's lipstick collection.

It's fine.

The Bittles take an Uber to the airport the evening before classes start back up. Bitty immediately flees the apartment to buy a shitton of beer at the Stop'n'Shop with the money Coach left him for groceries and Lardo comes over with the bags of sex toys that have been hidden at her apartment.

Bitty's phone lights up with the third text from Jack in an hour while he's busy shotgunning a beer.

"Dude," says Kent, watching the rivulet of beer trail down Bitty's chin. "What if you just, like, texted him and said to leave you alone."

Bitty tosses the empty can onto the coffee table and shoots Kent a dry look. "But then how will I look at all the stuff he sends me when I get really drunk and sad tonight?"

"That's fair," says Kent.

Lardo says, "I feel like there's a lot of points we could intervene at here."

Bitty gets to his feet, and apparently the four Miller Lites are catching up to him because he stumbles to the side and catches himself on Kent's shoulder.

"Okay, okay," he says earnestly, fixing the full power of his pout on Kent. "I know we said we should stay in 'cause it's class tomorrow but—but we were sober and bein' sober is stupid and I wanna go dancing."

Kent turns to look at Lardo, who just shrugs.

"Fuck class," Kent decides, even though he's definitely still gonna drag his ass to his lecture tomorrow. "Let's fucking party."

Bitty claps his hands delightedly and then jumps into Kent's lap, wrapping his arms around Kent's neck.

"You're the best," he murmurs. "I don't need anyone if I've got you."

Kent's stomach thrills. He clears his throat, a hand sliding up Bitty's back, and says, "You'll always have me," right when someone knocks on the door.

Bitty leans back so he can frown in confusion at Kent.

"I didn't text anyone," Kent says. The person knocks again. "Lards?"

"Uh, nope," she answers.

Bitty crawls off Kent's lap and goes to the door, miming for Kent to... spontaneously materialize a baseball bat? He stands on his toes to peek through the keyhole and immediately drops back onto his feet.

Lardo leans over and mutters in Kent's ear, "You don't think…?"

"Jack!" Bitty announces, yanking open the door with an erratic jerk. "What on Earth—"

"Can I come in?" Jack asks. He's panting slightly, like maybe he ran from the train station—except that would be totally fucking ridiculous.

Bitty takes a startled step back, his hand fumbling to push the door shut behind them. "You're all outta breath! What happened, is everythin'—"

"I talked to my dad," Jack says. His whole face jerks to the side, taking in Kent and Lardo's slack faces, and then back towards Bitty. "About what happened."

Bitty raises his eyebrows. "Um...okay?"

Jack rubs the back of his neck. "And he, uh. Called me something in French that doesn't really translate. And told me that you broke up with me."

"Um." Bitty hesitates. "Yes?"

"Because you, uh. Really liked me. Which is probably why you wanted me to meet your parents?" Jack ventures.

This is legit the most painful thing Kent's ever fucking witnessed, and not in a fun way. Bitty is reduced to speechlessness, which is terrifying enough on its own.

"And I realized that I, uh. I'm." Jack drags both hands up the sides of his neck, looking at Kent and Lardo again—he probably wants them to leave, but that's so not gonna happen. "Sorry, I'm, uh. I'm not good at...this."

Bitty nods woodenly.

"But I really like you too. And I'm sorry I didn't realize that," Jack tells him. His breathing's slower now, but his voice is still shaking. "I've never really—I don't date a lot, and I guess I'm confused by my feelings. And it shouldn't have, uh. Taken this for me to realize. But I want to—to do better."

Bitty's face is turning red, like he's on the verge of tears, and he puts a hand up to his face to hide the way he's chewing his bottom lip raw.

Jack reaches out slowly, resting his hand lightly against Bitty's wrist. "Will you let me try?"

"I don't know," Bitty whispers. "I don't know if—if this can work."

Jack drops his hand. "I'm sorry."

"No, I—" Bitty cuts off. He takes a breath, closing his eyes. "I mean—yes. I think that you should be. But I'm sorry too, and I wasn't—I, um...I made a lot of mistakes? That I don't know if…"

"I don't understand," says Jack.

Lardo takes Kent's hand in hers and squeezes.

Bitty opens his eyes, but he stares over Jack's shoulder, his chin quivering while he gets the words out.

"I mean, um, I could have...I could've just asked you? How you felt or, um, what you wanted?" he points out. "But I just wanted to, um. I just wanted things to be fine. So I could've asked you, especially if you didn't understand either, and we wouldn't be in this mess?"

Jack says, "Okay."

Bitty turns to Kent, nervous tears welling in his eyes, pleading for something—reassurance, maybe. Kent nods, smiling weakly.

Bitty smiles back, pressing his lips together to contain it, and takes another breath.

"And I, um—I guess I wasn't super honest with you for the same reason," he continues, turning back to Jack. "And I don't know if you'd like who I really am because I actually love going out and dancing and drinking and—oh, my God, I'm drunk right now— and...and I haven't written a lick of my thesis, and I just wanted you to like me so badly—"

"Oh," Jack says. "I don't care about that stuff."

Bitty stares at him. "You don't?"

"I mean, uh. I guess I'd like you to be honest," Jack explains. He reaches out again, taking Bitty's hand. "But those things aren't why I like you."

Bitty swallows, his voice going thick and more hesitant instead of rushed. "Why...do you like me?"

Jack furrows his eyebrows, like he's legit just trying so hard to come up with the perfect answer—which, Kent admits despite the weird sharp pain near his collarbone, is kind of fucking charming.

"I feel...warm around you," he says, and Kent would laugh if he didn't personally know how true it was. "Like you're, uh, just this warm person. And you care a lot about other people. And you tell really funny stories, and you explain them to me when I get confused."

"I do like hearing myself talk," Bitty jokes wetly.

"I like hearing you," Jack answers, earnestly serious.

Bitty laughs faintly.

Jack doesn't say anything else.

Eventually, Bitty turns their hands so he can stare at Jack's knuckles, eyes wide and still wet around the edges.

"Can I... have some time?" he asks, back to worrying at his bottom lip. "To, um, think about it?"

Jack clears his throat. "Of course. Does that mean I should, uh. Stop texting you?"

Bitty looks up, searching his face, and finally decides, "Um, we'll...see? But, well, um, you did come all this way, and I, um—I—maybe you could stay for a while? Just as friends?"

Jack smiles, his eyes lighting up. "Sure."

Bitty nods, probably more to himself than anyone, and then raises his voice slightly. "Kent, could I see you in the bathroom?"

"Is the leak in the shower back?" Jack asks, deadpan.

Lardo snorts, and Kent swears he catches a smirk flash across Jack's face for a split-second.

Kent still gets up, though, and says, "Sure," as he leads the way through Bitty's bedroom.

After they close both doors, Bitty turns to Kent and pleads, "What am I doing?"

"Uh." Kent glances at their reflections in the mirror. He can see his chest moving while he breathes. "Honestly, the most adult thing I've ever seen you do? So, uh, like, good job?"

Bitty wraps his arms around himself and shakes his head, eyes are on the floor. "But I don't—I don't know what I'm supposed to—do I take him back?"

And the thing is that—it would be so easy.

There's this huge part—this fucked up part—of Kent that wants to say, 'no, don't do it.' Because Bitty said it himself, just now—he doesn't need anyone else. Just Kent.

And Kent could—he could keep that feeling. The raw one in his chest, that aches and writhes whenever Bitty pokes at it, the pleasure-pain of pressing on a bruise just to feel the relief afterwards.

"Kenny?" Bitty asks, and his voice is shaking, and Kent knows what it means to really love him.

"I can't tell you," he says, the words rasping. "I can't—I think you'll know, if it's—if it's right, and I'll—I've just gotta be here."

Bitty hugs him.

"I hate being a grown adult," he mutters.

Kent slides a hand into his hair. "Yeah, me too."

 

~*~

 

Like Kent figured, they abandon the dancing plan in favor of more GBBO binging, and Jack leaves that night, which actually is a surprise. He does ask if he can keep texting Bitty, though—and Bitty says yes.

Kent catches Jack by the door before he heads out, while he's putting on his shoes and Bits is hiding with Lardo in his room.

"Hey, man," Kent says. "Can we talk about the whole, uh, showing up here uninvited thing? I mean, just with, like—if you knew Bits broke up with you—"

Jack yanks on his shoelace knot. "I'm guessing you're going to recommend I don't do that again."

"Uh." Kent blinks. "Yeah?"

"I know," Jack says. He glances up at Kent and then goes to tie his other shoe. "I, uh. Wasn't really thinking. Sorry."

Kent runs a hand through his hair, relieved. "Oh, okay, cool, yeah. No, it's cool. I mean, we've all been there, kinda, just saying—maybe not making it a habit?"

"Right." Jack stands up and leans his shoulder against the door, staring at Kent's earlobe. "And, uh, also. I think I should apologise to you?"

Kent asks, "You should?"

"When we had sex, I thought we both it was, uh. Just physical," Jack explains. His eyes flick over to meet Kent's awkward stare. "But, uh, recent events tell me I may have, uh, interpreted wrong? So I'm sorry if it was, uh, if I hurt your feelings or…"

Jesus Christ.

"Sorry, uh," Kent asks, "are you apologizing to me by saying you don't like my personality?"

Jack's eyes widen and he legitimately takes a step backwards. "What? No, I, uh—"

Kent laughs. "I'm just fucking with you, dude, we're cool. I mean, I, uh—definitely got the memo, which—it wasn't my speed, but I dealt."

"Oh, okay." Jack's face is gratifyingly red, because Kent's a petty motherfucker and he's used up his Good Deeds quota for probably the entire week. "Uh."

Kent claps him on the shoulder and turns the doorknob. "Just try to not be an entire bag of dicks to my boy, okay?"

Jack nods and takes the out when he sees it, slipping through the half-open door and into the hallway.

Kent closes the door behind him with gritted teeth. He stayed up too late without drinking more and the hangover is hitting early, which is great fucking news.

He hears Bitty and Lardo laughing from the other room, though, so at least the world isn't total shit.

 

~*~

 

Speaking of Lardo, she doesn't bring the Jack thing up for ten entire hours, because she's a fucking saint.

At which point she says, "So," in that really specific tone, and Kent is watching himself cry in the mirror.

"Oh," Lardo says. "So, like...worse."

There's a sticky note obscuring the view of half his forehead, and it says, 'Good luck on your test today <3'

Which, not only did Kent definitely fucking forget he has a fucking test today, he doesn't even really fucking care because one day Bitty's gonna move out and get married and have kids and forget Kent ever existed and there won't be anymore notes and Jesus, fuck, the world is total shit.

"Babe, babe," Lardo soothes, reaching up to touch his jaw. He unclenches it and the sharp aftershock pain shoots up to his temples. "Talk to me?"

"You've got class," Kent croaks, even though he's letting her drag him back over to the bed.

"Priorities," she says matter-of-factly. Her hand slides into his hair and pulls him against her chest and—

Okay, the world is total shit except for her.

Kent closes his eyes, blinking down a fresh round of tears, and says, "I just got him back."

Lardo massages her fingers against his scalp. "Yeah."

"And he's just—whether it's Jack or not he's gonna meet someone, and he'll just—" Kent takes a breath. "He'll ditch me again."

"You don't know that for sure," she says carefully.

Kent shakes his head, curling his shoulders in on himself. "C'mon, Lar. Even if it's not as bad as last time, it's—you know how Bits is. You know he didn't—you and me had this whole talk and we figured it out and he'll never—that's not what he does, ever, and I just wish—"

"But what if you asked him to?" Lardo says suddenly.

The ache stutters in Kent's chest. He lifts his head. "I—I can't. I mean it's not—he's just a friend, it's not like I have the right—"

"No, but, that's what I'm saying." Lardo smoothes her thumbs over his eyebrows. "You could ask him to define things."

Kent pushes away from her, almost dropping off the bed, the knee-jerk twist of betrayal lodging in his throat.

"How could you fucking—" he stammers, "I mean, I thought you knew—we're not—it's the whole fucking point, that we aren't—so many people've been like, oh, you obviously wanna fuck, or—or one day we'll realize that's it not like—like—but I just want my friend—"

"Babe," she says.

"And I thought you got that—that we shouldn't have to be—to—" He's not breathing right but it's just—he has to explain. "I want it to be enough —loving him like—like—"

"Kent."

He flinches.

Lardo sighs, slowly, like she's stabilizing herself. "I know. That's what I'm trying to tell you, but you're not—will you just listen?"

"I'm sorry," Kent rasps. He fists a hand in his hair. "Fuck, I'm sorry, I'm so—it hasn't been this bad in fucking forever, fuck."

"I know," she repeats, softly this time, a hand reaching back out to take one of his. "Can you hear me out?"

Kent nods.

"I'm not saying to change the 'friends' part," Lardo tells him patiently. "I'm saying to axe the 'just.'"

Kent scoots away from the edge of the bed and draws his knees up. "I don't know how."

"Why don't you tell him what you told me?" she suggests. "When we got together—that he's your person and you want him to treat you the same way."

The panic flares back up again, hurting—he can feel it in his joints, behind his cheeks.

"But he could say no," Kent says.

"Yeah, he could," says Lardo.

"But it's hard," Kent whispers. He stares at his feet, glances up at her blurry face. "I'm so tired of doing hard things."

She clears her throat. "I know, babe."

He crawls across the bed and wraps both arms around her waist, his face hidden in her torso, the way her hands find his hair again so much fucking gentler than anything he's ever deserved—anything he's thought to ask for—that the thought of asking for more seems catastrophically impossible.

At least for today. And there's only fourteen more hours of that.

 

~*~

 

It takes three days, all of Carly Rae Jepsen's discography, and one therapy appointment for Kent to work up the guts, at which point Lardo is working in her studio and Kent is pacing the apartment waiting for Bitty to get home—he finished setting everything up early, which at first was like, 'oh, thank God,' but now it's more like, 'Oh Jesus oh fuck I'm gonna die this was so fucking stupid.'

But then the front door opens and there's not time to rip everything down, and Bitty looks up as one of his shoes flies across the room.

"Oh!" he says, eyes going wide. "What's—Kenny, what's this?"

He's staring at all the sticky notes. More specifically, almost every sticky note he's ever written Kent in three and a half years of being roommates, which used to live in the nightstand and are now plastered to the wall to spell out 'BE MY QPP?' because this was a stupid fucking idea fuck.

But Kent says, "Uh," because it's balls to the wall now. "It—it stands for queer-platonic partner? Which is like, uh, it's like having a life partner who you're, uh—"

"I know what it is," Bitty says faintly. He toes out of his other shoe and bumps into the couch in his way to Kent—he pats it apologetically as he side-steps.

"Who you're really committed to, I guess, and—" Kent pauses. "Uh, you do?"

"I did a lot of googling after…" Bitty makes a vague gesture in front of his face, which is actually turning really red. He covers his mouth with one hand.

That's good, right? That's like—like he looks like he's about to cry, but it's the good way? Kent's lungs are gonna collapse. He's gonna die. It hurts to talk and he had this whole fucking speech but it's this terrified static in his brain and Bitty's eyes are welling up.

Kent swallows. "And I'm not asking, uh, for you to not date people, I more, uh, I—I just—"

"You kept them," Bitty says. He moved his hand away to talk and now it's in a fist, his teeth lightly dug into his knuckles.

Kent tries to move his mouth again, but it's stuck open.

Bitty makes a sound around his hand that's like a laugh raked over gravel and bolts into his bedroom.

Kent can hear him flinging clothes around. "... Bits?"

Bitty comes scrambling back out of the room and careens into Kent, sending them both stumbling backwards and shoving something against Kent's chest with both hands.

He's panting and not crying but almost, like he has to choose between keeping his composure and catching his breath. He smushes his face into the crook of Kent's neck and shoulder.

Kent is holding a book.

It looks like a photo album—one of those cool over-priced ones from like T.J.Maxx—but when Kent opens it all the little pages are filled with notes in his handwriting.

Kent flips through with shaking fingers.

'Hey urself new roomie.'

'Circle one: boxers or briefs' (Bitty picked briefs).

'dont forget ur lunch (again)'

The latest page has just one note on it so far, from a couple of days ago.

'You're gonna get through this.'

It's all crinkled up and there's a water spot near the corner.

Kent closes the book and leans over to toss it gently onto the couch, then slides his hands up to Bitty's biceps.

"Bits," he asks, laughing breathlessly, "does this mean…?"

"Of course," Bitty answers. He lifts his head to smile unsteadily, his teeth stabilizing in his bottom lip. "Of course, yes, you fool."

Kent snorts. "You didn't even hear the whole thing."

Bitty wraps his arms around Kent's middle and mumbles, "You can say your whole thing if you want, won't change my mind," into Kent's shirt.

"Okay, I'll, uh." Kent clears his throat. All the nerves are burning out into a shaky euphoria that's actually only slightly more enjoyable and no easier to talk through. "I know we talked about, uh, how shit could change and not being sure what to, uh, call things, and I thought—I realized this'd always be here for us and we don't have to change anything else?"

Bitty nuzzles his collarbone.

"And like I said," Kent continues, "I'm not asking you to not date or, uh, have other relationships, I just—I want—I want—"

Bitty slips a hand around to cup Kent's jaw. "What do you want, sweetheart?"

Kent closes his eyes, leaning into the touch and the earnest way Bitty asks, like the answer really matters.

"I want a commitment," he says, shoulders dropping instantly. "I want—I wanna know that we're gonna—fuck, that we're gonna spend our lives together, Eric. That it's—that you won't forget me, or—"

"Yes," Bitty says again. His voice is firm, bordering on fierce. "Yes, Kenny, you're—I'd never. I know I got carried away, with Jack, but I won't—I don't ever wanna make you think that again. I'll—I'll talk to him."

It's a fucking miracle that Kent wasn't sobbing like a baby already, but the luck runs out. He falls into Bitty's embrace, wheezing for air and laughing with relief as the tears fall.

Bitty holds him and cries too, the tears soaking into Kent's shirt. "I'm so happy."

"Me too," Kent manages. He presses his face into Bitty's hair and sucks in a deep breath, smiling when Bitty's hands tighten in the back of his shirt. "Me too."

Eventually, Bitty clears his throat and smoothes out the wrinkles he's caused before leaning back to look Kent in the eye.

"I know the answer is yes," he says, "but you've talked to Lardo, right?"

"Uh, yeah," Kent admits, "It maybe was kinda her idea?"

Bitty smiles fondly, patting Kent on the chest. "I love that woman."

"Yeah, me too," says Kent. He pauses, then smirks as the idea strikes. "Which, actually—I need your help with something."

Bitty raises his eyebrows deviously.

 

~*~

 

It takes two weeks to put together, partly because Kent has some people to bribe and partly because he needs at least a couple of chill days in between episodes of feeling like he's literally gonna die.

"How're you doing, sugar?" Bitty asks, sidling up next to him.

"I'm literally gonna die," Kent answers.

Bitty smacks his ass encouragingly and wanders back into the kitchen.

They're in Lardo's apartment, which looks almost exactly like their own apartment—except for how it's filled with Lardo's artwork and the couch isn't in an awkward position to hide the wine stain on the carpet, which doesn't exist.

A lot of other people are also in Lardo's apartment. Kent knows most of them, but some of them are here because he asked people to spread the word.

"This is the worst fucking idea," Kent says loudly. Some people look at him weird, but Bitty pokes his head around the doorway.

"That's what you said about asking me out." He bats his eyelashes. "Which was obviously the best decision you've ever made."

Kent tells him, "I'm gonna barf," as the door opens.

"Oh," Lardo says, "sorry, wrong pla—Kent?"

"Uh." Kent does jazz hands. "Surprise?"

Lardo looks down at her dress. "Is this why you said to dress up? I thought we were going to dinner."

Kent shoves his hands in his pockets. "Uh, yeah, about that."

"These are my sculptures," she says.

They're talking to each other from across the entire room—and apparently she's not gonna move—so Kent comes over to stand in front of her.

"It's, uh, an art show," he says. "Since you were, uh, nervous about the one for your portfolio? I wanted to show you how much everyone—oh, fuck, this is a shitty surprise isn't it—I should've told you, I thought—"

Lardo smooshes his cheeks between her hands. "Take a breath, dummy."

Kent does what she says.

She pushes up onto her toes to kiss his nose. "This is awesome. How'd you get Chelsea to agree to this?"

Kent says, "Bribed her with calc notes. She's gonna be gone all weekend, so you can have the place to yourself for a while, too."

Lardo huffs out a laugh with shining eyes. "Thank you."

"Uh," Kent answers, swallowing thickly. "You're welcome? I, uh, everyone has, like, those little cards where they can write nice things so you can read them later and Bits is gonna—"

"Pardon me, madame," Bitty says in what's maybe supposed to be a British accent. "Can I interest you in a refreshment?"

Lardo drops back onto her heels to take Bitty in—he's thrown his apron on and is holding a tray of mini pies in different flavors.

"Bits," she asks, "are you catering my art show?"

There's a crash in the kitchen, followed by someone saying what Kent has to assume is something dirty in French.

Lardo raises an eyebrow. "What's that?"

Bitty winces, dropping the accent. "That'll be my date."

"Bits," Jack calls, peeking into the room. "Can you wash off a pie if—oh. Uh. Hi. The pies are fine."

Jack is, fucking hilariously, wearing an apron that says 'please do nothing to the cook,' which in this moment feels less like an inneudo and more like begging to not get in trouble for pie-related sins.

From the look on Bitty's face, he's probably safe.

"Hey, Zimmermann," Lardo says, brushing her fingers across Kent's arm and pausing on her way to the kitchen to hug one of her friends. "You got any booze back there?"

Jack vanishes around the corner for a moment and comes back with bottles of red and white wine, one in each hand.

"Epic," says Lardo, and Bitty nudges Kent with an elbow, shooting him a satisfied smile.

It's totally epic.

 

~*~

 

Kent and Lardo are in her bed later that night—after all the guests are gone and Lardo's pretended to not cry while she read through all the comment cards—Kent's thumb rolling a slow circle over her nipple.

She says, "Hey."

Her breath is hot on his neck. He closes his eyes, nosing against the underside of her jaw as he rolls his hips again. "Hey."

Lardo tightens her hand in his hair and whispers, "I love you."

Kent sighs a breath out and gets caught up taking the next one and trying to answer at the same, the feeling so fucking much in his chest and her body against his—the sweat and prick of her fingernails, the lipstick smudged against her mouth that he can't pin down as his or hers.

"You too," he tells her, his voice rough and so fucking giddy. "Fuck, babe, I love you too."

She laughs, eyes crinkling at the edges with her smile. "About time we—"

"Guyssss," Bitty whines, throwing open the door with a clumsiness that confirms he definitely got into the leftover wine. "I wanna go dancing!"

Lardo scoots up against the pillows and Kent turns his head with a teasing eyebrow raise.

"What's Jack gonna do?" he asks.

Jack wanders briefly into view before turning around again, super pointedly not looking into the bedroom. "I'll listen to my podcast and clean up around here—it'll be nice. You guys have fun."

Kent looks between the two of them and then back at Lardo, who shrugs.

"I'm in," she says.

Kent grins at her and calls out, "Gimme ten minutes."