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The Frogs

Bitty wheels his suitcase into the Haus kitchen, sets down the grocery bags slung over his shoulder, and surveys his domain with his hands on his hips.

"Well, Betsy," he says, blinking away a stray, ridiculous tear, "it's good to see you again."

A hidden complication of college, aside from stupid crushes on straight boys, is that half of Bitty's baking supplies are in Georgia and half are in Massachusetts, and it feels like everything he needs is in the other state when he's in one. Given the limitations of his suitcase and his mama's well-stocked kitchen, Bitty's been making do without his favorite rolling pin for an entire month. Christmas pies on second-best equipment are no joke, although of course a tool is only as good as the baker wielding it.

"Haus, sweet Haus," Bitty sighs, and wonders if he could get his Moomaw to embroider that on a sampler. She already gifted him with the most darling magnetic menu for the fridge, which had a section for each day as well as a long section boxed off to function as a grocery list. Bitty might have cried a little when he saw it.

He unzips his suitcase and pulls out the magnetic menu, giving it a place of honor in the middle of the fridge door. He already has half a plan worked out for training the rest of the team to write
"milk" on the grocery list before they use up all the milk. Mostly it involves rewarding them with baked goods.

The Haus is so quiet it might as well be five o'clock in the morning, not nearly eleven. The late January sunlight spills through the windows, giving the illusion of warmth. (Bitty took off his hat and gloves after he unlocked the door, but he has no intention of taking off his coat until he's been standing over a hot stove for at least half an hour.) Still, Bitty knows from the group text that the last of his teammates should be in Samwell by one in the afternoon, and that's an ideal time for a hockey brunch.

On impulse, Bitty marks the date on the fridge menu and writes "Froglets" underneath. If he remembers right, the enormous carton of eggs in the fridge is almost full, and he bought another one besides. There are packages of sausage and bacon to fry, and shredded cheese was on sale (for Massachusetts) in murder Stop-and-Shop. His teammates probably don't need a serious injection of vegetables after eating home cooking for a month, but Bitty… well, even Bitty gets tired of sweets all the time. "Eat more protein," he murmurs aloud, with only Betsy to hear him, and smiles.

Gonna be food round about 12:30, he texts the team, just to be sure the poor frogs have a chance to get a hot breakfast before the Haus consumes all in its path.

First he chops the vegetables: red bell peppers for Chowder, sweetest Frog that will ever join the Samwell men's hockey team; orange bell peppers for Dex, who will roll his eyes at the reference to his hair and freckles; and yellow bell peppers for Nursey, because for all his pretense of cool, he's still a pepper. Er, Frog. Bitty chops onions until his eyes water, his motions quick and sure across the cutting board.

Predictably, his teammates start stumbling downstairs when they smell the peppers and onions sauteeing in butter. Bitty tries and fails to keep the smug look off his face as Shitty literally lies down on the floor and moans.

"Mom and I love getting takeout and going out to eat, but damn," Shitty says. Ransom and Holster nod sympathetically, even though Bitty knows for a fact they each have at least one parent who likes to cook.

Lardo steps over Shitty's prone form, grinning. "'Sup, Bits? You want us to help you with anything?" She's not big on cooking, but she loves wielding sharp objects.

"Another pair of hands and potatoes can happen," Bitty says. Lardo hugs him before she takes the knife and shoos him away from the cutting board.

Shitty revives at that. "Brah, it is my sacred duty to grill that meat as I drink a beer."

"I was just going to put the bacon in the oven…" Bitty says, eyeing him doubtfully. The Haus does have a grill--technically. It's covered in snow and works just half the time, but Shitty insists that it cooks meat perfectly a hundred percent of the time.

"Grilled meat!" Shitty says, smacking his fist into his palm emphatically. The rest of the Haus takes up the chant, of course: "Grilled meat! Grilled meat! Grilled meat!"

"Fine!" Bitty says. "If y'all want to grill outside in the snow like lunatics, I won't stop you." He gives a dramatic huff, but ruins it by laughing a second later. Holster and Ransom grab their coats on the way out; all Shitty does is throw on a flowered apron over his bare chest before he grabs a six-pack and tromps out with the rest of the guys.

That's when Jack chooses to make his appearance. The bottom drops out of Bitty's stomach as he takes in sleep-rumpled Jack, who got in at "ass o'clock," according to Shitty. Normally Jack is up early, even on days after a party.

"Zimmermann," Lardo says, looking up from dicing the potatoes with unholy glee.

He smiles at her, warm and uncomplicated. "Hey." His smile stays warm when he turns to Bitty, but as for complicated, well, Bitty can't say one way or another. "Smells good."

"Gonna taste even better," Bitty says briskly. No sense in dwelling on what he can't have; lord knows he did enough of that in high school. The doorbell rings at this opportune moment and he adds, "That must be the frogs. Mind getting that?"

If Bitty watches Jack retreat down the hallways as he whisks the eggs, he's only human.

With the frogs in the kitchen, sweet baby Chowder in particular, Bitty shakes off his blues straightaway. Since the oven is free, in go the potatoes with a generous sprinkling of seasonings and onions. Chowder notices the new magnetic menu on the fridge and says, "Wow, awesome! I'm a speciality dish!!!" If Bitty squints, he can almost see the stars in his eyes.

"You get the first froglet," Bitty says, beaming. "What'll it be?"

Generally, the whole point of brunch is for the host to be able to leave the oven, but Bitty's just happy to be cooking in the Haus again, and his teammates all eat in the kitchen anyway. The frogs and Lardo get omelets first--Jack says he's willing to wait and he also puts on the coffee, which Bitty forgot in his excitement about food. The rest of the boys pile in, bearing a tray of grilled meats as promised. Shitty insists on a moment of silence for the two pieces of bacon that fell into the grill; miraculously, he gets it.

It's Jack who tags Bitty out for the second round of omelets ("Froglets, Jack!"), which makes Bitty's heart thump painfully in his chest. He's almost grateful when Holster says, squinting at the menu, "So, I see the frogs get their own specialty dish… what about the rest of us?"

"I'll draw names out of a hat," Bitty says, cutting himself a bite of sausage. He'll give the boys credit: they do know how to grill, and that's coming from a Georgia native.

Ransom produces a hat from somewhere with a huge grin. "We were hoping you'd say that, Bits. Holster and I already took the liberty of dividing everyone up into groups."

And that's how Bitty finds himself with an extra project in the spring semester of his sophomore year: creating recipes based on his teammates. At least he doesn't draw Jack's name first, because a surefire way to pine for a boy is to obsessively try to capture his essence in a food item.

*

Ransom and Holster

Of course, the start of the semester brings a pile of syllabi and textbooks and assignments. Coming up with the perfect recipe for Ransom and Holster takes a backseat to Bitty's new workload. It always crosses his mind at the least opportune times, like at practice or when he's trying to study for pop quizzes. (Professor Cornell gives one every other class, why.) At least he can use it to distract him from thinking too hard about Jack graduating in a few months, or about coming out to his parents, or about anything difficult in his life ever.

There's no deadline for the recipe, either, but Bitty has a moment of panic in the middle of a Haus party, realizing it's been a month since the froglets. "I'm the worst," he wails to an audience of maybe more people than he would allow, were he sober. The four girls at the beer pong table, who he vaguely recognizes from the Samwell women's basketball team, blink at him in bewilderment.

"The cookies are good…?" one of them offers, holding up a half-eaten heart. It feels like a metaphor.

Bitty dredges up as much dignity as he can and sways his way into the kitchen. He fills his empty cup with water, as he's already had far too many refills on the tub juice, then rests his forehead on the cool surface of the fridge. The music switches to one of the Panic! At the Disco songs with a miles-long name and Bitty starts tapping his foot.

Squinting to make sure his drunken handwriting stays legible, Bitty scribbles a cryptic recipe title on the magnetic menu: Holster Your Guns, I'm Holding These Muffins for Ransom.

Bitty wobbles up to his room with his water, praying to the god of Haus parties that he's in good enough shape to bake tomorrow morning.

And there might actually be a god of the Haus, because Bitty wakes up at seven in the morning, clear-headed and bright-eyed. Whenever he drinks just enough booze and just enough water, he always gets up early and without a hangover. If only he could remember how he did it the next morning…

Bitty showers first, not trusting his miraculous non-hangover to last without one, then makes his way to the kitchen. He smiles when he sees his writing on the menu.

This muffin recipe takes two mixing bowls, each containing ingredients that will add up to something greater than the sum of their parts. A fitting recipe for Ransom and Holster, in Bitty's opinion, and he whistles cheerfully as he chops up the pears he picked up on impulse, longing for some kind of fruit in the dead of winter. He grates them next and says a silent prayer of thanks that he remembered to pack his box grater this time, though it was a bit difficult to explain to airport security.

Before he adds the rest of the wet ingredients to the pears, Bitty chops up the hazelnuts and the bittersweet chocolate. This time, his prayer of thanks is that no one on the team has a tree nut allergy. He understands life-threatening conditions in his head, of course, but his heart just wants to know why there are people in the world deprived of some truly delicious treats.

The muffin batter is prepped before the oven is quite done preheating, so Bitty takes the opportunity to throw together a quick breakfast casserole. Muffins are not enough to feed a hockey team; he knows from experience that everyone will be clamoring for more food an hour after enjoying these muffins, no matter how amazing. Besides, he can make breakfast casserole in his sleep. Actually, that one Christmas morning Bitty had to cook through a lingering Nyquil haze probably counted as making it in his sleep.

The muffins and the breakfast casserole go into the oven, where Betsy had better take care of them if she knows what's good for her. Bitty twists his cheerful chicken-shaped egg timer to the correct time, then finally gets around to making coffee. Lord, when will he learn to do that first, so he has a nice hot cup of something while he cooks?

When the coffee maker beeps, Bitty pours himself a generous cup, then stirs in milk and sugar. He takes a deep breath before his first sip, savoring the scent of coffee and casserole and muffins all in one kitchen. The Haus feels so peaceful. It even feels warm, despite the million feet of snow outside. (Last night, Jack tried to talk to him about Canadian snow records as measured in meters. Bitty, far into his tub juice cups, just kept repeating a million feet of snow until Jack changed the subject to Skyping with someone on the Falcons' management tomorrow morning, which was even worse.)

Lardo shuffles into the kitchen wearing a pair of dark shades, her hair sticking up in ways that clearly signify that she spent the night in the Haus. She mumbles something unintelligible as she pours coffee into the mug Bitty hands her. She reaches the table and huddles around the mug, blowing on her black coffee until it's cool enough to sip.

There is no delicate way to ask, "So, are you and your best friend hooking up?" Bitty's tried to think of how to ask, not just Lardo and Shitty, but Ransom and Holster as well. There are too many feelings flying around the Haus at all times, but at least the guys here are in touch with their feelings. Sort of.

"I hope you slept well, at least," Bitty says, then shuts his eyes, wincing. "I mean, um, I hope you had a nice, platonic rest to make up for the hangover you're fighting right now. Can I get you some water, or…?"

"Dude, I don't get hungover," Lardo says. She makes an attempt to finger-comb her hair, but that sends it into worse, albeit artful, disarray. She sighs and pushes up the sunglasses, revealing reddened eyes. "Shits and I got super choked up about graduation, okay?"

Bitty's whole heart melts like a pat of butter in a hot pan. "Well, you still need water," he says, and fetches her a glass. "Crying is dehydrating."

Lardo slides the sunglasses back onto her nose, then accepts the water with a slight smile. They both know why she just told him that: he's been going through the same thing, crying behind closed doors. "So Ransom and Holster are for breakfast? At least those two get to graduate at the same time."

"I'll have no more of this g-word nonsense, Miss Duan," Bitty says, channeling his mother to the best of his abilities.

His accent must come through extra strong, because Lardo says, dry as dust, "As God is your witness?"

"This Haus shall never be hungry again," Bitty says, pressing a hand to his heart. The timer goes off and he pulls out the muffins and the breakfast casserole, all cooked to perfection. "Speaking of Ransom, have you seen him? I know he was awake for a long time studying for his test, but I don't recall seeing him at the party last night."

Lardo drains the last of her water. "He stayed up for like forty-eight hours, passed the test with flying colors, and then passed out facedown on his bed yesterday at dinnertime. Slept through the party like a champ, but he's still alive. Holster and I made a frog check on him once every hour."

Bitty feels a stab of guilt. While he was mooning over Jack, one of his teammates was down for the count and he didn't even notice. He pulls out his cooling rack from a cabinet and sets it up on the counter. "He'll be good and hungry, then." The thought cheers him up a little, and Bitty sets the muffins out on the rack to finish cooling.

Holster and Jack arrive in the kitchen at the same time, and Bitty can't help himself in his excitement. "These are pear and hazelnut muffins, with some chocolate chunks thrown in for fun," he says.

Holster squints at the menu title. "And they're called… Holster Your Guns, I'm Holding These Muffins for Ransom?" As he reads the title aloud, a bright, dangerous gleam grows in his eyes.

An uneasy feeling settles into the pit of Bitty's stomach.

"Gotta do what the recipe says!" Holster yells, and then he grabs Bitty's cooling rack with the muffins and races upstairs. A door slams. It all happens before anyone else even has time to blink.

"I," Bitty says, and stops there. His brain still can't believe what his eyes just saw. How is it possible for someone so huge to move so fast?

"I get it," Jack says, solemn-faced. "He's holding the muffins for Ransom." Then the corners of his mouth turn up in a smile.

Bitty stares at him a moment, equally bewildered by Jack Zimmermann making deadpan jokes in his kitchen. Then his composure cracks, and he laughs until tears come to his eyes. Across the table, Lardo joins in as well, adding, "Dude, that joke was so bad Michael Jackson wrote a song about it."

He should probably be worried about his muffins, not the mention his cooling rack, but Bitty feels so good right now, laughing loose and free with Jack like there's no tomorrow. Holster returns a few minutes later, muffins and a still-sleepy Ransom in tow, and Bitty draws another paper slip out of the hat.

*

Shitty and Lardo

Things are a bit of a mess after Lardo's art show, to say the least.

On the surface, everything is fine. Shitty pretends that he didn't notice Lardo's absence in the team group hug. Lardo pretends she didn't leave her own show in tears after Shitty got accepted to Harvard. And Bitty is stuck pretending he doesn't know a thing about their situation, and that a brunch featuring both of their names won't be awkward for everyone.

Bitty frets more as March wears on, even though the sunshine and slowly (slowly) disappearing mounds of snow should make him feel better. The team will notice if he doesn't do his monthly recipe.

Obviously, the only solution is to create a recipe so mind-bogglingly perfect that Shitty and Lardo realize they're perfect for each other, whatever distance they have to deal with for a few years. (Not that Bitty would ever, ever project on his friends' relationship.)

The perfect recipe is easier said than done. Bitty considers avocado toast with a fried egg on top, but it doesn't scream Shitty and Lardo: destined to be together forever! Chocolate raspberry croissants don't feel right, either, though Bitty makes a note to try that recipe on another occasion. Once he finds himself considering breakfast cupcakes with silver sugar balls to represent Lardo's sculptures, Bitty lets his forehead fall into his hands. He has nothing, no ideas, and it's the last Sunday in March. Two hours from now, all his friends will be in this kitchen with empty stomachs and nothing on the menu.

"Headache?" asks a familiar voice. Bitty lifts his head, wide-eyed.

"Jack! You're back early!" he says, and his heart gives a painful thump of delight. Jack left on Friday for another trip to Rhode Island, as though signing on with the Falcons weren't a done deal already.

"Yeah. Guess I missed the Haus." Jack sets down his duffel bag and takes a seat across from Bitty at the table--goodness, he didn't even go upstairs to put away his things, Bitty realizes. "You feeling all right?"

"Fine, except I can't think of a recipe for Haus brunch," Bitty sighs. "Food is the best thing for bringing people together, except when it's bad food."

Jack cracks a smile. "Bittle, you're bad at baking like I'm bad at hockey."

That sends a shiver straight through Bitty, though he also feels warm all over. Curse Jack Zimmermann and his confusing ways. "I s'pose there's no sense in false modesty," he says. "I just… I want to do something nice for Shitty and Lardo. They're going through a rough time. You'd probably know better than me."

Jack looks deeply uncomfortable at this turn in conversation, but he started it with his concerned smiles and sweet compliments. "I have… talked to Shitty recently," he says, as though Shitty didn't barge into his room every day, usually without any clothes on. Even this admission gives him pause.

"And?" Bitty prompts. Shitty probably made the same mopey comments as Lardo, only with less grim-faced determination to avoid crying and channel her sorrows into chopping things for Bitty.

Jack stares down at the table as though fascinated by Bitty's lists of crossed out recipe ideas. "He's sad to be leaving, even though there are many opportunities in front of him. He's hoping that when he graduates, he won't have to leave everyone behind," he says at last.

Bitty hears every word as though from far away, shouted across an icy lake with snow muffling every word, every move. "Jack," he says, reaching across the table, and then the idea hits him. "Wait a minute! I've been going about this all wrong!"

"What?" Jack blinks as Bitty leaps up from the table and runs over to the fridge, where he scribbles something triumphantly across the magnetic menu board.

"That is what will remind them that they're perfect together," Bitty says, jabbing a finger at SHITCAKES AND LARD printed in all capitals. "Disgustingly named, yet disgustingly sweet! I'm gonna make the most amazing pancakes in the world, and you're gonna help me."

Bailing on Jack talking about his feelings (oh, Bitty knows that they're his feelings as much as Shitty's, even if he can't work out what exactly Jack wants) isn't the nicest thing to do. Bitty blames practicality, not cowardice, and sets Jack to work laying out food in little bowls. They are a Haus divided when it comes to blueberry versus strawberry versus banana versus plain in pancakes, so it's better to make stacks and stacks of plain pancakes and let everyone add whatever fruit they want later. (Strangely enough, no one is nearly as picky about other breakfast goods as they are about their pancakes.)

"Chocolate chips?" Jack asks, holding up a bag. He even knows where Bitty keeps them, bless his heart.

Bitty frowns in thought. "I don't think so," he says at last. "Homemade pancakes are heaven in your mouth already, and they're the star of the show here. Some other brunch."

Thank goodness inspiration finally struck, because Bitty has a lot of pancakes to make. Shitty went grill-crazy after enough snow melted for them to find the grill again and there is no meat in the house to serve as a side. Bitty performs a few mental calculations, thinking of his ravenous and gigantic teammates plus Lardo's gigantic appetite, and quadruples his pancake batter recipe. Any extra pancakes will get eaten an hour after brunch, when Chowder gets hungry after washing the dishes.

As if on cue, the doorbell rings.

"Coming, swee--" Bitty starts to say, then catches himself before he gives the team another excuse to chirp him into oblivion. "Jack, you mind getting that? My hands have egg on them."

The frogs pile into the kitchen. Nursey and Dex are arguing about something, with Chowder trapped in the middle and trying to mediate. Bitty's expression darkens as he whisks the batter. They've been getting better about that, on the ice and off, and now they've brought it into his kitchen?

The frogs go completely silent. Chowder whispers, "See, I told you Bitty is the goalie of the kitchen."

"Cute until I need to be terrifying?" Bitty considers this for all of two seconds before he grins. His mama would approve. Coach, too, in his own way.

"Whatever, it's all good," Nursey says, reverting to his usual laconic self. "Do we need to wait for the guests of honor before we can eat these?"

"The table isn't set," Jack says. His voice is perfectly neutral, just making an observation, and yet Nursey and Dex snap to attention. Jack gives them a quiet nod of approval as they take out the Haus's mismatched plates. Chowder, bless his heart, pours the orange juice into its own pitcher even though the juice container is already shaped like one.

Bitty presses one hand over his heart as he sends a Brunch in 10 minutes OR ELSE message via the team group text. (This is a skill he has long perfected.) Jack wears authority like a second skin; most of the time he doesn't even notice when he switches into captain mode off the ice. Jack's aware of his hockey skills down to the last detail, but he's far too modest about all the other qualities that make him a good captain.

Then again, Bitty is maybe a little biased.

Even when Lardo isn't "secretly" spending the night at the Haus, she and Shitty get to brunch at the same time. They also see the magnetic menu at the same time, their eyes widening in identical expressions of delight. "Dude!" Lardo exclaims, right as Shitty says, "It's like you've seen into my soul and made it delicious."

They smile at each other from across the kitchen, the rest of the team caught in between an obvious romantic comedy moment. Bitty allows himself a smug grin but does not let himself write "Mission Accomplished" on their pancakes in maple syrup.

"Y'all have strange, strange taste in names," is what Bitty says once he's plated each of them a stack of pancakes. Shitty shrugs and Lardo grunts in agreement, and then they sit next to each other to devour pancakes at terrifying speeds.

Maybe it's just the sun coming back after such a long winter, but this morning, Bitty feels like everything will be all right, graduation or no graduation. He reaches into the hat for the next name and smiles at what he finds.

*

Bitty

After agonizing over recipes for all thirty-one days of March, it's a relief when Bitty draws his own name. He's been baking since before he was able to talk; of course he's thought about what he might make into his signature baked good. There are only two catches: one, he wants to dish up a new recipe, and two, there are just about zero fruits in season during April in Massachusetts. Everyone associates Bitty with pie, but he draws the line at a chocolate or a cream-based pie for breakfast. That starts him thinking about a nice jam tart, which feels almost right.

Then Samwell keeps winning, and winning, and winning, and Bitty realizes that this team breakfast will have to be eaten on the road.

Like all of Bitty's epiphanies this year, this one comes almost too little, too late. Bitty's alarm goes off at 4:30 AM and for a moment he thinks he's back on a figure skating schedule, his coach ready to terrorize him for oversleeping. "Just a baker's schedule," he mumbles, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. He'll nap on the bus. Breakfast isn't going to bake itself, as nice as that would be. With all this training in mass producing for a hockey team, maybe Bitty should open a bakery after graduation.

At least Bitty has the sense to start the coffee before all the baking happens. He puts 1989 on shuffle with the volume turned down low, although his teammates could probably sleep through an actual hurricane. He moves slowly, humming as he assembles the ingredients on the counter. This recipe will require multiple baking sessions, but the dough will keep just fine in the fridge while the first batch bakes.

The coffee maker beeps and Bitty tries to pour himself a mug of coffee. Tries, because he pours a generous splash on his thumb instead and has to stick it under cold running water, swearing under his breath the entire time. Goodness, but playing on the Samwell men's hockey team has improved his vocabulary.

"You all right?"

Of course Jack is here to witness Bitty messing up his hand on the morning of a game. Bitty shoots him a pained smile. "Nearly. Might need a baking assistant, though."

Jack nods on the way to pulling a drinking glass out of the cabinet. He fills it with tap water and drains it in a few long gulps. He takes pre-game hydration very seriously, and not in the way the Haus usually interprets that phrase. "I'm happy to help. These breakfasts have been really nice. Good for team unity."

Bitty smiles as he slices a stick of butter in half, then unwraps one half along with an entire stick of butter. "I'll put you in charge of grating the butter," he says. "Since with the way my morning is going, I'll grate my finger."

"Grating the butter…?" Jack asks, frowning at the box grater Bitty presses into his hands next.

"Remember how we like pie crust to be flaky?" Bitty asks. When Jack nods, he continues, "Grating cold butter is another way to get dough nice and flaky."

"Ah," Jack says, and starts grating the butter. "Just when I think I know all your kitchen secrets, you surprise me."

It feels like being back in their history class all over again. Teaching Jack about pie was a joy, though it made Bitty tip over from crushing in denial to straight up crushing on a straight boy. Not his brightest move, combining his two favorite things: cute boys and baking. Now, Bitty steels himself against the urge to kiss Jack on the mouth. He would never initiate anything too steamy with an army of hungry boys to feed in an hour and a half, but surely just one little peck…

"Uh… Bittle?"

Bitty blinks and goes bright red, suddenly aware that he's been staring at Jack's mouth for lord knows how long. "Just gonna have a little of coffee and then we can start mixing the dough!" he babbles, and promptly burns his tongue on a too large sip of coffee. What a hot mess he's turning into.

Jack nods again, content to follow Bitty's lead, and there's some food for thought, best served with a dollop of whipped cream. "What's the recipe for today?"

"Itty bitty scones!" Bitty says, because he can talk baking even while dying of embarrassment. "Now, I know what you're thinking: shouldn't it be some sort of breakfast pie, like a quiche? That would even have protein! And you'd be right, but the fact is that these scones came to me in a vision, and you don't question kitchen visions."

Jack squints at him. "Is this a ghost thing?"

"Goodness, no, I'm not Rans," Bitty says, slapping Jack on the shoulder. "But I have a jar of my Moo-Maw's famous raspberry preserves, and a good scone deserves to have jam, whether it's spread on top or baked inside like these ones. Should tide us over until there's fresh fruit up here in the frozen north. Back home, we'd have our pick..." Bitty trails off, noticing the clock on the wall. "But enough of that. Time to bake."

They fall into their easy rhythm from last semester, stirring and whisking and mixing. Jack even manages to move around without checking Bitty this time, though he does chirp Bitty about the "my kitchen" comment again. Bitty sticks his tongue out and portions out half of the dough and sticks it in the fridge, then divides the remaining dough in half again. It takes only a few strokes of his trusted rolling pin before the quarter of dough is a disc, ready for Jack to spread the raspberry preserves. Once everything is to Bitty's satisfaction, he rolls the other quarter over the top. He uses a pastry cutter to make triangles, then cuts each scone in half again to make them itty bitty like the recipe says.

"The boys are gonna lose their minds. And Lardo, but she'll do it quietly," Bitty says with deep satisfaction. He twists the kitchen timer. "You saw how I did all that the first time, right? Now I want you to take over for the second batch. I don't want you going without baked goods when you're in Providence." A lump rises in Bitty's throat, and he swallows past it. "Be gentle with my rolling pin."

"Understood, captain," Jack says softly. He dusts the rolling pin with flour, large hands careful, and then rolls out the dough from the fridge. Bitty spreads the raspberry preserves this time, and Jack finishes everything off, producing mini scones sliced with mathematical precision. He's smiling as he arranges the second batch of scones on another baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and the sun is just starting to pour in the windows of the Haus.

I love this boy, Bitty thinks helplessly as the timer rings for the first batch of scones. What awful timing, on top everything else: the morning before a big game, the month before Jack and Shitty graduate.

Bitty's phone pulls up "You Are in Love" on shuffle, just to add insult to injury. "I know," Bitty mutters to the cooling rack, which managed to survive Holster's kidnapping. He puts in the second batch of scones and sets the timer again.

Jack has already started on the dishes. Bless him, he learns well. He looks like an advertisement for something, the rising sun throwing his cheekbones into sharp relief as he runs a sponge over the inside of the mixing bowl. "I'll miss this," Jack says, staring out the window.

That lump rises in Bitty's throat again, threatening to choke him. "The Haus won't be the same," Bitty says. He takes the mixing bowl from Jack and starts drying through sheer muscle memory, unable to see all that well over the haze of tears in his eyes.

"Yes, I'll miss everyone," Jack says. He's still staring at the outdoors, and his hands have stopped moving, just holding the whisk under the faucet. "And I'll miss… baking."

"Yes, well," Bitty says, wondering if he should just take the whisk out of Jack's hands. "You can do that if you get an apartment with a nice kitchen."

Jack turns to look at Bitty. He doesn't look like an advertising model anymore; he looks so young, and his eyes are so blue. "You won't be there."

"I," is all Bitty can get out, his heart beating treacherously, recklessly hard. It's too much, the look on Jack's face, the sun rising over Samwell, Taylor Swift playing in the background, the smell of freshly baked scones in the air. He wants to kiss Jack. He's going to kiss Jack.

The timer goes off again.

"I'll get that," Jack mumbles, his cheeks brick red.

"Mitts," Bitty says faintly, because Jack looks ready to take the baking sheet out with his bare hands. One burned thumb between the two of them is bad enough.

Jack grabs the oven mitts. "Right."

From long experience, Bitty knows to box small baked goods into individual portions, then store the extras in a large Tupperware. Without the benefit of portioning, the first guy to open the box will devour three shares. Bitty's hands are shaking too much to add ribbons to each box, though itty bitty scones deserve the festive flair. Maybe some other time, when he's not trembling all over from the stupid thing he almost did.

Would it be so stupid?

"So why scones, really?" Jack asks. He snags a scone from the pile of extras (which will be gone by the end of the bus ride, if Bitty knows his teammates). He takes a large bite and his eyes close in bliss.

Bitty watches the long line of Jack's throat as he swallows. "I wanted to do something different," Bitty says at last. "'Stead of doing the same old thing all the time."

And that's what this whole college experience has been about, hasn't it? Out in the open instead of in a closet. Friends and acceptance instead of loneliness. Scones instead of pies every now and again. If he can do it in baking, he can do it elsewhere.

Bitty stands on his tiptoes to kiss Jack. He means it to be just the peck he let himself daydream about, but then Jack pulls him close and deepens it into the kind of kiss Bitty only dreams of at night. He tastes his scone recipe for the first time on Jack's lips, jammy and sweet, and makes a small sound. Jack takes that as a signal to suck Bitty's lower lip between his teeth and then Bitty has to lean into him, pressing their hips flush against each other. They only break it off when the shower turns on upstairs.

"I like different," Jack says softly.

For once, the lump in Bitty's throat isn't from sadness. Leave it to him to get choked up at the happy moments, too.

*

Jack

There's only one name left in the hat, so Bitty doesn't even bother drawing it. He has other things to preoccupy him, anyway.

The Haus has its own graduation celebration before the underclassmen head home and the parents turn up for the big ceremony. Bitty expressly forbids a Saturday night party lest it interfere with Sunday brunch, so the last big kegger of the semester happens on a Friday night. Bitty hangs out with Lardo, watching her dominate at flip cup before she climbs on Shitty's back and demands to ride him like a mighty stallion. He leaves quickly after that, but the mental image will be forever burned onto his eyelids.

(Lardo's a little bit of an inspiration, though. Bitty and Jack retire early and receive much chirping for it, since they try to be discreet.)

Bitty goes a little overboard with the Canadian theme for his French Canadian toast recipe, but, well, is it possible to go overboard on maple flavoring? Bitty loved it long before he fell in love with Jack Zimmermann. He whisks maple flavoring in with the milk he pours over the bread slices layered in the casserole dishes, and he drizzles on some maple syrup to bake in, as though they didn't have maple syrup ("real maple syrup," Dex had emphasized, when Bitty sent him off on a shopping errand) to pour on the toast when it comes out of the oven.

Now that it's proper grilling weather, Bitty outright asks Shitty to take care of grilling the sausages. "I am no mere meatloaf, I am the Meatlord," Shitty says, and walks off singing an off-key version of "Paradise by the Dashboard Light." Bitty chooses to take that as a yes.

The team is constantly underfoot during this round of brunch preparation. They're all aware that this is the last brunch that will be like this, Shitty and Jack still their fellow Wellies instead of alumni. Chowder turns up with his adorable girlfriend, and to their credit, Dex and Nursey actually behave themselves in the presence of a lady. Lardo, correctly reading Bitty's rising irritation as he trips over yet another teammate, convinces everyone to play poker at the kitchen table, and then cleans everyone out with ruthless efficiency.

Bitty refuses to let Jack help prepare his own specialty dish, so Jack goes outside to hang out with Shitty. Probably for the best, since Bitty almost burned a pie the other day, too busy kissing Jack. They do that all the time now, safe in the privacy of the Haus. Some chirping from their teammates is worth it.

"I am literally going to die if I don't eat," Ransom moans at last, when the smell of baking French Canadian toast is cinnamon and maple and perfect throughout the kitchen.

"Not to criticize your methods, but maybe stop sleeping for an entire day after staying awake for two?" Bitty says.

"He's a coral reef," Holster says, as though coral reefs made a regular habit of existing on Red Bull and frayed nerves.

Shitty and Jack return with a heaping stack of sausage patties, which they set down in the middle of the table. The French Canadian toast smells just about ready, so Bitty pulls it out of the oven and arranges it on either side of the meat plate. The table looks as pretty as a picture, especially with the maroon and white striped tablecloth. Samwell colors, for the Samwell seniors.

"Breakfast is served," Bitty says. He dabs at his eyes with the corner of his apron. As bittersweet as this is, it's more sweet than bitter, thank goodness. There's nothing that a meal with friends won't cure, even temporarily.

He's not the only underclassman with a surprise up his sleeve, it turns out. "So Bits has been kind enough to make us all custom recipes this whole semester, on top of all his homework and playing the hell out of some hockey," Lardo says. She whips the paper bag off a large bottle of champagne, to the cheers of her teammates. "I can't make custom cocktails for all you fuckers, but I can swear on my newly minted 21-year-old license that I'll make sure there are mimosas from now on."

"You're too kind," Bitty says when Lardo hands him the first mimosa. (It's in a Solo cup. It is the Haus, after all.) He's smiling so hard he thinks his face will crack, and Jack is holding his hand under the table. He looks over at Jack and Jack gives his hand a squeeze.

"Good toast, eh?" Jack says, much to the delight of his teammates.

"A toast to motherfuckin' toast!" Shitty says, raising his glass high. The team echoes enthusiastically, and Bitty clinks his cup against everyone else's without ever letting go of Jack's hand.

On the surface, the last brunch of the semester is nearly identical to the first. The team eats its weight in breakfast food, to the point where Bitty has to consider putting in an emergency call for pizza delivery. (Luckily, some leftover strawberry rhubarb pie is enough to satisfy Lardo, Holster, and Chowder, the three most bottomless pits on the team.) They shout inside jokes and eat off each other's plates. They get just tipsy enough except for Chowder, who ends up under the table with his slice of pie because "it's friendly down here, guys!" Bitty laughs until tears stand in his eyes, and he soaks up all the compliments on his cooking, and his heart is so full of his friends it might burst like an overripe peach.

But when Shitty and Lardo head off to smoke, no one follows them to bum a few hits. "I'm chill with most things, but watching my friends make out? Nah," Nursey says, and Dex nods, for once in complete agreement.

Not long after that, Holster points at Jack and Bitty and says, "All right, lovebirds. Out. Dishes cannot be done when there is love in the air."

"Doesn't that eliminate most of the team, yourself included?" Bitty points out.

"I love my girlfriend," Chowder says dreamily. "And this table."

"Out," Holster says, gesturing for the other frogs to peel their wayward teammate off the floor.

"Well, it's a nice day," Jack says, and that's all the incentive Bitty needs.

They don't go far, just out to the front porch. It's one of those rare, perfect spring days in Samwell, warm and bright and lightly fragrant with blossoming trees. Up north, Bitty's found that spring is ready to snap back into winter at a moment's notice. He misses home sometimes, where spring is an actual season instead of a few days scattered between April and May, but he appreciates days like this all the more for how rare they are.

"I stole the last piece of toast," Jack says, producing a plate from who knows where.

"Lord, I couldn't eat another bite," Bitty says, patting his stomach. "Eat it yourself. It's named after you."

Jack smiles. "Because I want to take a picture."

Bitty ends spring semester of his sophomore year posing on the Haus porch for his boyfriend, perfectly baked French toast melting on his tongue and laughter on his lips. With an ending like that, what follows can only be even better.