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“No.” Joey is adamant. He will not be participating in Screw Your Roommate this year. He is going to be very very busy. 

He’s not quite sure what he’ll be busy with, but he’ll figure something out. Don’t they have a game that night? He checks his schedule. Oh. They do not have a game that night. Or the night after. Dammit. 

He could go to the library--always important to stay on top of classes, especially with the craziness being a student-athlete brings. Whoops. The library closes early Saturday nights. Dammit. 

He turns back to Owen, who has been waiting patiently while Joey totally zoned out trying to figure a way out of this. Dammit. Owen is so patient and perfect and Joey’s gotten over his massive crush on him (mostly, anyway--he can’t help it, Owen is literally perfect!) but he still wants to be his best self around him. He can hear Scratch in his head laughing at him for even thinking “best self,” but it’s still true. 

Oh crap, he must have zoned out some more, because now Owen is looking concerned. 

“If this is because of last year…” Owen begins cautiously.

“No! No, I was just thinking, it’s nothing to do with last year, I’m so glad that you and Willy are together, Willy seems ever-so-slightly less murderous now, except for playoffs, but oh crap knock on wood, don’t tell Willy I mentioned playoffs, he’ll think I’ve jinxed us, and I’m not saying I know we will get into playoffs, I’m just thinking of last year, so it totally doesn’t count, and—” here Joey stops, because Owen has gone from looking concerned to looking supportive and faintly amused, and dammit. 

“Talking too much again, right?” he says.

Owen just says earnestly, “Not too much, just--you seem a bit nervous, is everything okay? And Tate isn’t murderous around me at all.” 

Well no, Joey thinks, because no one could ever be murderous around Owen, because he’s perfect. 

Owen continues, “Although, I admit that he was a bit intense during playoffs—” 

Joey’s face must have given away what he thought about “a bit”, because Owen laughs slightly and says, “okay, a lot intense. But not murderous .” 

“That’s because you’re not on the team,” Joey mutters. “Anyway,” he says at a normal volume, “that’s not the point. I don’t know how I got off the topic. No, you’re not setting me up. I’m not going to Screw, I am very busy that night.” 

Owen gives him a speaking look and waits. 

Joey is not going to cave. He is strong and firm in his beliefs, and just because Owen wants him to do this doesn’t mean that he’s going to, he’s absolutely not going to, his mind is made up, and—

“Okay, I’ll do it.” Joey is horrified to realize those words came out of his mouth. Dammit. 

Owen says gently, “Joey, if you really don’t want to, I didn’t mean to pressure you into it, and maybe having me involved makes it awkward for you, and--” 

Oh no, no, Owen and Willy are probably pitying him, poor Joey whose last Screw date ended up with his captain instead, and he cannot let Owen go on.

“I just hate blind dates, okay?” he says. “I don’t want to hang out with people I don’t know and make awkward small talk while I wonder if this one’s going to be a jackass and into revenge porn.”  

Oh shit, he’s gone and made it worse, and now Owen is definitely looking worried. 

“So,” Joey says brightly, “how’s your research going?” 

Owen will happily talk about his senior research project whenever asked, but unlike most seniors, actually makes it interesting enough that Joey cares. 

Owen, however, is not going to be deterred.

“Joey, I don’t want you to be uncomfortable, so if you really don’t want to do this, then I won’t push it and I will talk to Willy about it. If you don’t want to do it because you think no one would enjoy spending time with you, then I think it might be good to do it.” 

Joey stares at Owen. How does he always manage to do that? Joey really doesn’t want to go to Screw, and sure, he finds small talk kind of boring, but really he just knows that he’s going to bore someone else and then they’ll end up with someone better. Like Willy. Or they’ll be jackasses and he still won’t be good enough for them and… 

Dammit. Owen is probably right, because Owen is smart and perfect, so maybe he should give it a try? How bad can it be, really? He thinks back to jackass ex and quickly modifies the thought: How bad can it be if Owen is involved? 

“You know I wouldn’t pick anyone horrible,” Owen says, and whoops, Joey must have said that last part out loud. 

So he’s going to Screw. 

Owen is involved, so whatever he has to do to figure out who his date is probably won’t be too humiliating, even though Willy is involved and he definitely can have an evil streak, but Joey’s been playing well and putting up solid points, so he doesn’t think Willy will be too evil, not like Shithead might--

“You have to promise me to keep Shithead away from this,” Joey says urgently. “PROMISE ME.” 

Owen, because he really is perfect, agrees. 

 

--------------------

 

Joey tries very hard not to think about Screw for the next couple of weeks. He has classes to pass and games to play, and games at this point in the season are pretty high-stakes anyway, but he’s keenly aware that if he fucks up then he might not be in Willy’s good books anymore, and who knows what might happen then. Even Owen can’t stop Willy if Willy thinks you fucked up during a game this close to playoffs. 

Hunh--if Joey fucks up because he’s worried about what Willy will do, does that make it Willy’s fault, and would Willy then have to be angry at himself? He’s trying to explain this to Scratch one night after dinner, and Scratch is just laughing at him. 

“Why did you agree to go if you’re so worried,” Scratch asks. 

“Owen,” Joey says glumly, as if that is enough explanation, and it is. Scratch heard all about Joey’s massive crush, although Joey quickly realized that for some reason Scratch doesn’t like Owen, which is incomprehensible. Did he mention Owen is perfect?

“Oh, of course, Owen,” Scratch says mockingly, “even though he’s been dating your friend since last year.” 

“It’s not like that,” Joey protests. 

Scratch gives him a look, and Joey says, “Okay, it used to be like that, but it isn’t anymore, Owen and Willy are perfect together, because they’re both perfect, and Owen deserves someone who’s perfect, so I don’t know what I was thinking--”

“Stop.” Scratch holds up both hands. His hands are very big. “You gotta stop doing that, Money. I know that your jackass ex did a number on you, but Owen isn’t that perfect, and he’d be lucky to have you.” 

For some reason Scratch is looking a bit red. Hunh, weird. 

“Dude, are you okay?” Joey says. “You look a little red.” 

Scratch coughs. “Uh, dinner was a little spicy, whatever,” he says. “Anyway. I have to go to the library to pick up a book for my paper. See you later,” and he practically sprints out of their booth in the dining hall. 

That was weird. Joey shrugs to himself. It’s a weird time of year, with playoffs coming soon and midterms as well, Scratch is probably just stressed, and he really is awful with spicy food. 

It’s only once he gets back to his room that he remembers that Scratch had eaten a big plate of mac and cheese. 

 

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Scratch is being weird. 

Joey doesn’t like it when Scratch is weird, because Scratch is usually so dependable. Scratch is like… the rock that he’s built his whole college experience on. 

Ever since they met freshman year they’ve been inseparable, either roommates or living in the same dorm, and now Scratch is barely talking to him, even though he knows that Joey is stressed out about Screw. Not that Joey wants to talk about Screw, but he wants to have, like, the option, you know?

Scratch still shows up to games and practices and team dinners and stuff, but now he’s spending a lot of time with Trigger, and it’s not that they’re not allowed to be friends, because of course they’re friends, and Joey doesn’t have a problem with that, but… he misses Scratch. 

Joey tried bringing it up to Willy exactly once, but Willy rolled his eyes so hard that Joey was half afraid that he might sprain something in there, and they need Willy’s eyes to be in top condition so he can keep playing beautiful hockey. 

Joey can’t bring it up with Owen, because Scratch is always weird around Owen, which is pretty weird when you think about it, because Scratch is usually the friendliest guy on campus. Everyone loves him. 

That basically leaves him Casey to talk to, but he’s not so desperate to talk about it that he’s willing to deal with his sister’s teasing.

“You’re an idiot,” Casey says, and then hangs up on him. Apparently he is desperate enough. 

Why is everyone being so weird? Ugh. Joey guesses he’d better… do work or something. Except, now that he’s not spending all his free time with Scratch, he’s actually ahead in his work. 

Fucking great, Joey thinks.

 

---------

 

It’s the day before Screw and Joey doesn’t have a clue what he’s supposed to do. He tried pumping Owen for information and got nowhere, and he knows better than to try pumping Willy for information. He wanted to ask Scratch if he knew anything about it, but Scratch is still being weird. 

Joey doesn’t like any of this. Also, he doesn’t like that Trigger has been giving him even more evil looks than usual. He doesn’t know why and he doesn’t like any of this. 

He tried talking to Owen about it, because things are now so weird that they’re weirder than Scratch-around-Owen weird, but Owen just sighed and said that maybe he should talk to Scratch about it. So he tried, but Scratch just… never seems to be where Joey is, outside of practice, and Joey knows better than to try to bring anything personal up in practice. He likes being alive, thank you very much. 

He’s even considered talking to Trigger about it, because he and Scratch are really good friends, but Trigger earned his nickname fair and square, so no thanks. 

He finally finds Owen in the coffee shop on campus where he likes to study. Joey is not above begging. 

“Owen, please tell me what I need to do tomorrow. Please!”  Joey is well aware of the more humiliating things people have had to do to figure out their date for Screw, and he is really hoping that whatever they’re cooking up, it won’t suck. Too much. 

Joey is sure that some people love doing different tasks in public to try to match up with whoever their blind date is--he remembers last year someone standing on a table dressed in overalls yelling about being a farmer needing a hoe, and finally figuring out her blind date when she spotted a girl carrying a hoe, and that had been mild. Mild! 

He also remembers the couple forced to dress up in diapers, and all he’s saying is that he hopes he’s on the carrying a farming implement end of things and not the naked except for diapers end of things. 

He realizes that Owen is giving him another one of those looks, and—oh. 

“Did I say all that out loud?” Joey asks.

Owen laughs. His laugh is delightful. He and Willy are such a perfect pair of perfect people. Joey would really hate him, except he doesn’t, because he’s Owen. Willy he can manage to hate a little. 

“I promise there will be no diapers involved,” Owen says, “and you’ll see what you need to do tomorrow. You just need to be by the side door of the dining hall at 5pm.” 

Joey is not satisfied with this answer, but apparently that’s all he’s going to get. 

 

---------

 

Joey glances at his phone again. 4:55. So far he’s seen someone dressed as Charlie Brown walk out holding hands with someone dressed as a football, several people in various sexy costumes, someone carrying in a cello, several people dressed as Pokemon, and someone in a rock-climbing harness carrying a bunch of gear. All of them have friends accompanying them, because that’s also traditional, in case someone is going in completely the wrong direction or is being very dense. 

Joey looks down at himself again. He’s wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt, because Owen hadn’t specified anything else, and Joey wants to blend into the woodwork as much as humanly possible. He also feels the tiniest bit hopeful, because maybe Owen did find him a great guy, because Owen is perfect and it would stand to reason that he’d be perfect at this. 

Joey wishes that Scratch were here as moral support, but he hasn’t seen him since practice that morning. He’s not answering texts either. 

Joey checks his phone again. 4:56. 

He texts Casey “waiting by the side door wish me luck,” and he gets back a string of crying-laughing emojis. His sister sucks. 

He watches someone in a T-Rex costume struggle to fit through the door and goes over to help their friends push them in. That takes up several minutes, thankfully, and then Owen is there, carrying something under his arm. 

Joey takes a few deep breaths--Owen is genuinely a good guy, and he won’t let Joey be completely humiliated, and he’s bound to have found someone who’s at least a decent guy, and—yep, Joey needs to take a few more deep breaths before he can walk over to him. 

“Here you go,” Owen grins. He hands Joey a wearable sandwich board that’s decorated to look like … a scratch-off lottery ticket? 

Joey looks closer--it’s a hockey-themed scratch-off design, which is pretty well done, actually. Hunh--so far, not too bad.

“Who did the design? It’s really good,” Joey says.

“Trigger did it,” replies Owen. Goalies, man, they have hidden depths. Who knew Trigger could paint stuff? Joey shakes his head and tries to focus.

“Okay, you have to put it on and walk around the dining hall until you find your date,” Owen says. 

Joey considers the sandwich board for a moment. As Screw activities go, this is really very mild, and-- “Do I need to shout anything?” he asks. 

Owen shakes his head. 

Well, that’s a relief, Joey thinks. It seems like he’s getting off pretty easy--definitely Owen’s good influence. 

“You’re a good influence on Willy, Owen. Well done,” Joey says. 

Owen just laughs and then helps Joey put on the sandwich board. It’s surprisingly comfortable, all things considered. Joey takes a deep breath and walks into the dining hall. 

Inside the dining hall, it’s complete and utter chaos. There are people literally waltzing by.  There’s someone rappelling off the balcony, and in another corner, he sees the T-Rex try to hug someone in a Jurassic Park t-shirt. It seems like it’s pretty hard to hug with those tiny arms. He spots the cellist talking animatedly with someone holding a violin, while the cowboy is shouting something about … sparing a horse? Joey shakes his head. He’s having a hard time picking one thing to focus on.

“Okay, what am I looking for?” he asks Owen. 

Owen laughs.

“Joey, you know it’s against the rules!” He says. “I can’t tell you who or what to look for, you need to figure out what goes with what you’re doing. I’m just here to guide you a bit if you go way off track.”

Joey says, in a small voice, “And for moral support?” 

Owen smiles warmly. “Always for moral support,” he says, and Joey doesn’t quite sag in relief, but he comes close. 

Joey starts walking around. As he looks at the sea of chaos, nothing is jumping out at him. He wonders what Scratch is doing, and if he’s here right now, and his mind starts picking again at why Scratch has been so weird lately. 

He realizes he’s zoned out again when Owen gently elbows him and reminds him to keep walking around. Oh, right, Joey thinks, he’s here to figure out his blind date for tonight. 

He’s scanning the room again when he spots Willy and Trigger. He starts walking toward them, because might as well, and then he sees Scratch behind them. Awesome, Joey thinks, maybe they can commiserate on being roped into this. 

When he gets there, he sees that Scratch is wearing a sandwich board too. Scratch turns around, and he’s wearing the same scratch-off lottery ticket design that Joey is.

Joey laughs at Trigger and Willy. “You couldn’t think of anything else to do for Scratch? Having us do the same thing is a little uncreative! Will our dates also be doing the same thing? How will we tell them apart?” 

Joey guesses that he’ll get the guy doing whatever it is, while Scratch gets the girl. Joey looks at Scratch, expecting him to be laughing too--their friends can be lazy, but really—and realizes that Scratch is weirdly pale. 

Willy is burying his face in his hands, Trigger looks like he wants to kill Joey--which, fair, he’s been looking like that a lot lately, so maybe he just looks like he wants to kill Joey even more. 

Joey turns to Owen, who is looking at him with … pity? Joey is so confused right now. 

“Guys,” he says uncertainly. “What’s going on?”

Trigger looks at him in disgust and says, “You are the stupidest fucker ever.” 

Joey agrees with that in principle, he really isn’t the brightest bulb in the basket, but he doesn’t understand what he’s done at this precise moment. Scratch is looking more and more upset, and Joey doesn’t like that, but he doesn’t know what is going on, and now Scratch is leaving and Joey is still so confused.  

Willy is clenching his jaw so hard that Joey is afraid he might burst a vessel or something.

Willy points at the sandwich board and says, through gritted teeth, “Scratch. Money. SCRATCH MONEY.” 

Joey nods—he does understand what a scratch-off ticket is, he’s not that stupid—but what does that have to do with anything?

Trigger gives an inarticulate yowl of rage. “You really are the stupidest fucker ALIVE,” he yells, right in Joey’s face. “Scratch, we set you up with Scratch!” 

Joey just blinks. Why would they do that? Scratch is his bff, and straight, and… 

Oh. Oh . They couldn’t find a guy to go on a date with him. He’s so pathetic that his best friend agreed to, what, be his pity plus-one? What the hell. That really hurts. 

“Look, I get that I’m no great catch or anything,” he says, “but I didn’t want to do Screw, you guys were the ones who insisted, and I thought maybe you’d actually found a possible date for me, so what the fuck? I know I’m pathetic, but I didn’t think I was so pathetic that you had to set me up with a pity friend-date.” Joey wraps up his rant by taking off the sandwich board— he wants to throw it at Willy but manages to restrain himself. Playoffs are soon. 

Joey turns to Owen. “Look, I know you didn’t want me,” he says, “and I get that, why would you, I know I’m pathetic, okay, and you and Willy are perfect together, because you’re both perfect, but I thought you at least wouldn’t rub my nose in how no one wants me. Poor Money, can’t even get someone to agree to a blind date with him.” 

Owen is looking at him with something akin to horror. 

“Joey, no, that’s not it, that’s--you think I didn’t want you because you’re pathetic?” Owen even sounds horrified. 

Joey just shrugs. That part is pretty obvious, he thinks. 

Trigger has been glaring at him the whole time. “You need to fix this,” he growls at Joey, and stalks off in the direction Scratch went. 

Joey is now hurt and confused, because he doesn’t understand what he needs to fix. 

“I don’t understand what I need to fix,” he says plaintively to Owen and Willy. “You guys thought this up, and now Scratch is upset and I don’t even know why, I’m the one who got set up for a pity friend-date!” 

Owen says gently, “We didn’t set you up on a pity date, Joey. We set you up on a real date.” 

Joey is more confused than ever. “Did that one fall through? Did you tap Scratch as backup or something? Who was it?” 

Willy is so red that Joey is genuinely concerned for his blood vessels. “If I didn’t need you for playoffs I would be banging your thick head against that wall,” Willy grits out at him. 

Joey stares at him uncomprehendingly. 

“Oh for fuck’s sake--” Willy bursts out. “Scratch! Scratch was your real date! He’s in love with you, you stupid stupid fucker!” 

Willy then stalks off in the same direction Trigger went, leaving a stunned Joey behind. 

Joey thinks, haltingly, Scratch is in love with … me ? Joey shakes his head and looks back at Owen.

“Scratch can’t be in love with me, because he’s straight,” he says decisively. 

Owen keeps looking at him. 

“Isn’t he?” Joey says, a bit uncertain. Scratch would have told him, right? Not that he owed Joey or anyone else that information, but… but they're best friends. He thought he knew everything about Scratch. 

He looks at Owen, and says, tentatively, “Scratch… isn’t? straight?” 

Owen shakes his head. 

“None of this makes sense,” Joey bursts out. “I know about all his hookups--I’ve watched him pick up girls at parties! I’ve never seen him with another guy!”

“When I first met you, I was sure you and Scratch were together,” Owen offers, and continues, “and when would he have time to spend with another guy? He spends all his time with you. When was the last time you saw him pick up?” 

Joey just stands there as his entire world reshapes itself. 

He looks at Owen, lost. Joey doesn’t know what to think or do. He stands there staring at Owen, and then suddenly realizes—, 

“Wait, Scratch was upset! Scratch was upset because of … me?” 

He looks at Owen, who makes an encouraging go on gesture. 

“Scratch is upset because….” Joey is thinking the hardest he’s ever thought in his life. Scratch is upset, and it’s his fault, and he hates it when Scratch is upset, because Scratch should always be smiley and happy, and…

”Scratch is upset because I didn’t realize it was a real date?” he tries. 

Joey knows he really needs some help here, because he’s really not very bright and he’s clearly fucked things up with the single most important person in his entire life and—oh. He should really come back to that thought, but first he has to figure out what to do.

“I really need some help here, Owen,” Joey implores, “because I’m really not very bright and I’ve clearly fucked things up with the most important person in my life.” 

“You keep putting yourself down, Joey,” Owen says gently. “You’re not stupid. And you might be a bit,” here he winces slightly, “oblivious, but that doesn’t make you stupid. It’s possible that Scratch was upset because you so clearly have never thought of him as a potential date.”

“He was straight!” Joey exclaims. “I play hockey, which is in general a super homophobic sport, so you learn real fast to keep your eyes down and to never ever think of your straight friends as possibilities! They exist in like… a different box or something! Scratch was never an option!” 

“It seems like he was an option,” Owen points out. “Now that you know, what do you want to do about it?” 

Scratch was never an option, Joey thinks. Scratch, with their in-jokes and habits. Scratch, who always knows when Joey needs a hug. Scratch, who likes those horrible candies that Joey always stocks for him, and who has the biggest heart of anyone he knows and is fiercely loyal. Scratch, with his warm smile and broad shoulders and curly hair and really spectacular ass. 

Oh. OH. Joey is the stupidest fucker alive.

“I really am the stupidest fucker alive, aren’t I,” he says wonderingly. Owen doesn’t contradict him, he notices. “I… I should go find Scratch,” Joey says.

“He’s in his room, Tate just texted me,” Owen says helpfully. 

Joey nods. Joey nods again. He should. He should go find Scratch. 

He starts walking toward the exit and Owen tugs on his arm and points at the sandwich board. Oh. Yeah. Joey hands it over in a daze and then keeps walking. 

Once he’s outside, he starts running. He needs to talk to Scratch right now.