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Double Jeopardy

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Bitty can’t be sure, but he thinks Shitty might have put this together as an insidious dibs showdown among the frogs (a moot point with Lardo’s not-so-subtle measuring the dimensions of her new room). Somehow, though, Shitty’s cobbled together all the knowledge from his LSAT prep and his and Jack’s theses to put together the most impressive game of Jeopardrink Eric has ever seen.

Granted, Bitty’s never seen a game of Jeopardy weaponized to frat proportions with cheap tequila available for the unlucky freshman who answers wrong, but he can’t imagine that this is a good idea.

He certainly can’t think of anyone besides Shitty Knight who’d come up with a trivia-based drinking game.

He’s glad he thought to make the meringue in advance, because he’s practically vibrating with his concern for his frogs, and he’d have beaten it into smithereens if he’d tried to make it now. He doesn’t need any fine motor control to fill a piping bag and load a cookie sheet, at least, and once he’s got his meringues baking he can park himself in the other room for an hour and supervise everyone properly.

Bless his frostbitten Québécois heart, Jack drops into the kitchen for a moment to tease him (“I don’t even know if I need to chirp you, Bittle. It’s pretty redundant to chirp someone when they’re already a mother hen”), but he also grabs three of his unpalatable protein bars to line the boys’ stomachs before Shitty makes a mess out of them.

“Grab two of those for Chowder!” Bitty bleats while his hands fumble with the last in a row of cookies. Jack doesn’t answer, but he’s so suspiciously silent that Bitty knows he’s in for it. He dares to glance up.

Jack’s smirk is tiny and fond, just creeping up one side of his face. He takes a fourth bar wordlessly and leaves Bitty even more flustered than he’d already been.

That was really fantastic; absolutely what he wanted out of the evening—to feel unhinged and overheated right on top of his big bundle of worry.

He tweets: Shitty should under no circumstances be trusted with the frogs. Does #jeopardrink sound as bad to y’all as it does to me?

He’s resigned to the fact that these cookies just aren’t going to be all that pretty. By the time they’re ready no one will be sober enough to notice, but it does mean he can’t send any pictures to his mother. Sacrifices need to be made.

He rushes through and does a hasty clean up before running into the other room just in time to watch Dex, Nursey, and precious baby Chowder grimace their ways through two consecutive shots each.

“And that’s what’s gonna happen if you screw up on a daily double you doomed fuckers,” Shitty crows gleefully while Chowder tries not to choke on his tongue.

“Christopher Chow cannot drink light beer without lighting up like he’s trying to guide Santa through the fog,” Bitty despairs, wringing his hands and looking desperately to Lardo to intercede. She snorts with laughter and cracks open a can of beer as if to tell him she could do something about this madness but is choosing not to.

“Head’s up, Chow.” Somehow, Jack had slipped back into the kitchen during the commotion, and he launches a water bottle across the room. “Let’s not lose the best goalie in the NCAA to alcohol poisoning, eh?”

Chowder had caught the bottle.

His jaw drops and Bitty swears he sees actual stars form in his eyes, but he can’t be sure because they’re obscured by the awed tears pooling along his lower lid.

Chowder had caught the bottle, but it falls now utterly forgotten to his feet while the poor thing works his jaw and mumbles, “Oh, sure—thank you. I mean, thanks for the. Thanks obviously, but—wow. Oh, my god.

Nursey rolls his eyes and sets the bottle back on Chowder’s lap. When Jack smiles modestly in that captainly way of his, Eric has to take several calming breaths to keep from swooning and making a scene.

“Enough! Are you sorry amphibians ready with your clickers?”

“Clickers?”

Eric plops onto the ground gracelessly and accepts the lemonade Ransom proffers like it’s his lifeline. He and Holster sit on either side of Bitty, and Holster murmurs, “Shits collected all our clickers from our lectures and McGyvered them to work with his computer.”

“Oh. Why did he do that?”

“To legitimize the game, bro. Now he’ll know who buzzes in first.”

Bitty takes a long pull from the bottle of Mike’s Hard before he can fathom a response.

“And, uh. Is that the projector Coach Hall uses for strategy?”

Rans shakes his head and grins. “It sure is, Bits. Shitty doesn’t do shit half-assed.”

The screen is set up on its stand in the middle of the Haus like it wasn’t burgled from Faber by a high pre-law winger with a pornstache. Lardo was definitely in on it—she and Jack are the only ones on the team with keys to the offices, and Eric can’t really see Jack as the accomplice.

Shitty hits a button on his keyboard and the lights from the projector swirl and tile the screen with questions and categories, and for the first time since his Hausmates all walked in with armfuls of booze Bitty feels like this might not be a terrible idea.

“Your categories are: intersectional social justice—“ Shitty recites in his best imitation-Jack accent.

Ouch, skipping the foreplay or what?” Ransom chirps; he and Holster high five over Bitty’s head and Lardo salutes them with her can across the room. Jack doesn’t seem very sympathetic, watching the scene unfold from the foot of the stairs by himself. How obvious would it be if Bitty casually made his way to that side of the room, really?

“Feminist literary protagonists—“

“Shitty totally wants to bone Jane Austen,” Ransom says as a matter of fact.

“Dude, who doesn’t? Bits excluded, I guess.”

“The studio audience needs to shut the fuck up, and Jane Austen is my soul mate stay away from her, brah.

“Doesn’t sound like a legit category.”

“Nursey,” Shitty sighs, “Nurse, man, you know the rules. Bitch-ass commentary will not be tolerated. Someone pour this dickhead a shot.”

“Shitty’s going to kill them,” Bitty whines into his drink. It’s almost empty already. Getting a new one would be a perfectly good excuse to move his seat, and he’s pretty darn motivated to get another.

“The other categories are great war catalysts, the Bible, and just random potpourri whatever the fuck. Clickers at the ready!”

Bitty grabs himself two lemonades because he deserves them. He trudges wearily over to the bottom step and only just keeps himself from curling into Jack’s side to hide from the looming train wreck. Jack, naturally, chuckles at him while Eric scrabbles at the twist-off cap and relieves Bitty of the chore with a criminally easy flick.

“You know you just signed yourself up as my bottle opener for life, Mr. Zimmermann,” he says.

“I’ll have to find a way to work twisting into checking practice.”

Eric Richard Bittle does not choke on his drink. He is not thinking about Jack’s hands, nor is he thinking about twisting, checking, or any combination of the two. He is just a small southern boy who came to play hockey and mind his own business.

“The war category is obviously from your notes,” Bitty says in a rush, looking steadfastly at the coin toss to decide who will pick the first question and not quite understanding how it’s already caused a scuffle between Dex and Nursey. “But where in goodness’s sake did the Bible come from?”

“Shits and I took a class together sophomore year—The Bible as a Historical Document.”

Eric bolsters himself with a drink and finally manages to meet Jack’s eye again without feeling mortified to his bones. “That doesn’t sound like something Shitty’d be interested in.”

“He wasn’t. He took it because he’d read the professor’s paper in a collection on Biblical women and wanted the chance to tell him how wrong he was in person.”

Bitty nods solemnly; that makes much more sense.

“Nursey, for the last time, if you just call it in the air, flipping for it will still work. I swear to God.”

Dex, there are three of us and the quarter only has two sides.”

“Who the fuck is letting the lit major try to talk probability right now? Can you just shut the hell up for ten seconds?”

“Ch—“

“If you say what I think you’re about to say, I’ll—“

“Tails! I’m calling tails! Flip the coin, Shitty do it now!” Chowder squeals a little to be heard over the argument.

“It’s heads. Dex, make a call.”

Nursey blinks slowly before rolling his shoulders and snorting.

“Someone could have told me there’d be rounds.”

“Tails,” Dex spits. “Asshole.”

“Unsportsmanlike behavior is a beerable offense, men,” Shitty informs them after tossing his quarter into the air. “Considering none of us can ever really tell who started it, I’ll be nice and let you split a can. Once you’re done, it’s Dex’s pick.”

The crack of the tab popping echoes in the stony silence.

“Jack, promise me something.”

Jack turns so his body is pressed against the wall, angled toward Bitty and the rest of the room, and he gives Eric his full attention.

Eric, for his part, drains his second bottle. The last few drops of sugary oblivion disappear, and when they’re gone he looks sternly at Jack. He may even wag his finger.

It’s about baking, so some drama is allowed.

“If I pass out before the timer goes off, I need you to turn the oven off.”

“Should the cookies cool on the counter or should I put them right into the fridge?” Jack asks with appropriate sobriety.

“You listen here,” Bitty begins. “After you turn the oven off, you are not going to so much as look at those cookies. Don’t even open the door. They cool in the oven to set, so once that timer goes off, the oven does, too, and then they sit for another hour and a half.”

Jack blinks at him.

“You started baking these at ten o’clock.”

“I made seventeen pies last September, according to your count. Don’t test me.”

It’s good that Jack is there to open his bottle for him, because Bitty is definitely still too sober to handle the way Jack’s socked foot butts up against his, the way Jack’s hand folds over Bitty’s when he returns his drink, or the way he looks at Bitty with a smile and a gleam in his eye like he’s just about to say—

“I wouldn’t dare.”

Not that.

That’s pretty nice, though.

“So, I’ll take war for a hundred,” Dex mumbles.

“Of course you will, you little GOP fucker you,” Shitty grins, presses a few keys, and the room goes silent as the clue fills the screen.

The man will have you believe the death of an alternative dance-rock band was the cause, but decades of alliance-building, weapons stockpiling, and jingoism were the real tinder to this bonfire.”

Dex’s jaw is tight and totally square when he hits his clicker first, reflexes as sharp as they’d be if he were on ice.

“World War One”

Lardo reaches into the tote bag next to the beer cooler and pulls out an airhorn. Dex doesn’t see it until it’s too late.

“Respond in the form of a question! This is Jeopardrink! Shot!”

While Dex pours out a grudging measure, Chowder clicks in eagerly. Eric brings his hand up to his face so he can peek through his fingers. He wishes his arms were longer so he could elbow Jack in the side when his soft at-Bittle’s-expense chuckle starts up. He settles for stepping on Jack’s toes, but given that Jack doesn’t budge it’s probably not very effective.

“What is World War One?”

Immediately, Holster and Ransom are on their feet and applauding.

“That’s fuckin’ right it is!”

Precious Baby Chowder, first on the board, first (after his mother, of course (okay, fine, second)) in Eric’s heart, does not fare nearly as well as the game wages on.

Lardo meticulously keeps track of the frogs’ totals, and while Nursey and Dex are running neck and neck and barely tipsy, Chowder’s liver has only made it this far because he’s not as quick on the clicker as the others.

“Femlit for 300, Shits,” Nursey says. Chowder’s head lolls onto his shoulder. “Chill, man. Drink some more of that water before you throw off my game.”

“If you can’t handle a check from me, you might as well quit now, Nursey,” Chowder says. He doesn’t sound as far gone as he looks, but Eric is still relieved to see him rehydrate. Chowder even finishes the bottle, and as the tips of Bitty’s ears begin to tingle, he wonders if maybe he can stop worrying so much about his frogs now.

“I’ll be right back.” Jack stretches his legs out in front of him with his arms braces against the second step before he levers himself up.

“Bring more of this!” says Bitty when Jack collects dutifully collects his empties.

“In a really fucking perverse turn of events, much of the marketing of her movie series was dedicated to a ‘love triangle’ that this protagonist of the books on which they were based had canonically little interest in. Instead, she spent most of her time trying to avoid getting murdered and shit.”

“It’s a real tragedy that I can think of a few series that might fit this,” Holster mutters to Lardo. Rans has stopped listening to Holster’s nerdy commentary on principle but has been keeping diligent notes in his datebook for most of the night. The little Moleskine only comes out once every ten or so irredeemably nerdy allusions. Ransom explains that he and Holster set up a tolerate so many outbursts, get out of this many best friend duets some time during their second semester.

Nursey clicks in and says, “Who is Katniss?” just as Jack returns.

“You brought me water, too.” Eric says it almost like an accusation.

“I don’t want you dying on me either,” Jack says.

“If you’re trying to sell me some ‘best winger in the NCAA’ line, I’m not buying.”

Jack grins and opens the water even though, really, Bitty could have handled that much.

“Maybe not, but would be just as tragic to lose the best baker.”

“Pfft,” Eric manages, cheeks flushing. “You’d be glad to get rid of me. You’re too stuck on your calorie count for your own good, mister.”

Jack’s head hangs down lower between his shoulders, so he can’t quite make out his exact expression. His shoulders tense up, and for a second Bitty wonders what he could’ve said wrong. A few seconds later, though, and he relaxes, lounging so his legs are splayed on the floor in front of the stairs.

He taps Bitty’s shin with a foot, and, smiling, he says, “I’m gonna miss you more than you think; now drink up.”

“Intersectional whatever for 200.”

“In the acronym LGBTQA+, the A stands for this.”

“Ally,” Nursey says quick and cocky, and Eric snaps back to alertness.

“Lards, if you will,” prompts Shitty.

“Bro.” Lardo lays on the air horn and shakes her head mournfully at Nursey’s faux pas.

The air horn is loud, but Nursey’s lips definitely form the word chill under the din.

Chowder buzzes in, bouncing, and says, “Wow, okay, cool—what is ally?”

Shitty grabs the second tequila bottle of the night and takes a pull from it to the soundtrack of Lardo’s staccato air horn blasts.

A—“ HONK “IS—“ HONK “NOT—“ HONK “FOR—“ HONK “ALLY!”

The distinct buzz of the oven timer is a welcome change to Lardo’s serenade.

Eric gets up to turn the heat off, and when he trips, it has nothing to do with the fact that he’s buzzed. He’s only had four drinks! No, it has a lot more to do with a certain pair of legs still draped across his ankles like they belong there and like their completely platonic intentions have any place messing with Bitty’s poor little gay libido.

“Steady there?”

“I am as steady as a sixteen-year-old going to her ’67 prom. Next time you wanna trip me, though, feel free to do it at practice so everyone else can see how rude you are to me.”

“See if I open another twist-off for you with that attitude,” Jack says, and he’s managed to bend his leg so his knee knocks Bitty in the back of the thigh.

Hockey players are very touchy. This isn’t a problem for Eric.

On his way into the kitchen he hears Chowder splutter after his punishment, but when Dex buzzes in, he can’t help but turn around.

“What is asexual?”

“You get the first cookie,” Bitty blurts in the silence that falls over the room.

Shitty slaps his thigh and cackles. “That’s fuckin’ right he does; 200 for Poindexter the Samwell Republican!”

Looking like he’s trying to bury himself in the cushions of the couch with decades’ worth of trash, Dex’s face turns a vicious red. “I don’t know why you guys think I’m this huge bigot, but like. I’m not, you know?”

In a moment of complete random happenstance with absolutely no inherent meaning, Bitty catches Jack’s eye. It’s been almost two years now, so Eric’s had a decent amount of experience working out what all the barely-there twitches and flexes on Jack’s face mean. He doesn’t need any of it, though, because Jack’s so nakedly, openly proud and content that Bitty completely misses Nursey launching himself across the couch until he’s already in Dex’s lap.

“Nurse, what the—“

“Yo, let it happen bro,” is exactly all the warning the Haus gets before Nursey uses one elbow to brace himself against the arm of the couch and hooks his other arm around Dex’s neck to bring him down into a kiss.

“Um. My cookies are going to burn,” mutters Bitty at the sight of two of his frogs making out while his infant son Chowder looks on in drunken shock.

Jeopardrink is never happening ever again; it’s going in the by-laws.

Erics spins and hurries into the kitchen to turn off the oven before his cookies overbrown (they’re already lopsided, so maybe it doesn’t matter so much, but he has a reputation to uphold here). Once the oven is off, he takes a fifth drink. There was a new six pack Jack had gotten specifically for him, because Bitty’s palate is too sensitive for the literal hellfire the boys buy in bulk, and Jack’s the only one who seems to realize if Bitty’s taste buds are compromised there’ll be no more sweets to speak of.

“Holtzy, you owe me twenty bucks,” Eric does not hear Lardo say. There’s a can opener in the top drawer under the kitchen sink. Who needs Jack Zimmermann and his stupid hands?

“Bro, did you really bet they wouldn’t get together? They had like, mad sexual tension,” Ransom does not ask. It’s the fastest Bitty’s ever finished a drink that wasn’t a shot.

Holster does not grumble, “I figured they wouldn’t figure their shit out until at least next year. Whatever, though. Good for them.”

“Penalty shots for Lardo and Holster for being total asshats and betting on the outcome of real people’s interpersonal shit!”

In the spirit of team camaraderie, Bitty decides he might as well just finish the pack off since there’s only the one left. He takes the last lemonade and throws out the package. All he has to do now is set the timer again for the cookies to oven dry.

“Okay, yeah, it’s unethical, but I needed the cash, and I know for a fact that you’ve got money on—“

Lardo trails off ominously when Bitty comes back into the den. Dex and Nursey are still kissing, and it’s a relief that it doesn’t strike fear into Bitty’s heart anymore. In fact, it makes him just the tiniest bit giddy.

Maybe it’s just seeing how obviously excited Chowder is that his friends are apparently into each other that does it, or maybe Bitty is living vicariously through his large hockey children. Either way, he’s reconsidering the ban on Jeopardrink as he figures out the best way to sit back down on the stair now that Jack has sprawled across the landing.

“Jack, I’m gonna be honest. I can’t really figure out how to get back down there, and I’m tipsy enough that I’m considering sitting on you.”

“It worked for Nursey,” says Jack blithely.

Now, Bitty isn’t stupid, and just because he’s only been out for about a year doesn’t mean he doesn’t know when he’s being flirted with. It’s just that he knows flirting doesn’t always mean something. In his experience, actually, flirting usually means jack squat. So, the fact that Jack Zimmermann is looking up at him with his droopy blue eyes and a sly smile like he knows exactly what he’s doing is nothing but Eric’s big old crush getting the best of him—making him see things he wishes were there but aren’t.

He’s not going to let this sudden wave of infatuated sadness ruin his night. Bitty braces himself with another long draught. He slides to the floor against the wall and snuggles into Jack’s shoulder to get the best, most comfortable view of a very reluctant defenseman being pried from the lap of another.

Nursey eventually sits back down with Chowder between him and Dex.

“What the hell was that?” Dex asks in a voice that definitely wants to be angry but is absolutely too smitten to get there.

Nursey grins, trying to be just as smug as Dex had wanted to be angry. He’s so darn happy, though, Bitty can see right through his veneer.

“Whatever you want it to be, man.”

“You—“

“Alright! Wild commercial break from our sponsors at LOGO! Poindexter, you have control of the board.”

“But he—“

“Jeopardrink now; feelings later.”

“Are you kidding, he just—“

“Talking back to the moderator is punishable by a double shot. Lardo, if you’d pour the tequila?”

“Ugh, fine. Random for 500.” Dex downs his shots with the blasé carelessness only the utterly bewildered can manage, and the purple of his embarrassed flush clashes with the red of his tequila flush. When Bitty points it out to Jack, Jack snatches his camera to take a picture.

“Your phone’s camera isn’t as good as mine,” he complains.

“A lot of people say that about the iPhone camera,” Bitty says, “but my front camera snaps circles around yours, I’ll bet.”

“Its common name actually a misnomer, this banging pie filler isn’t a berry but an aggregate accessory fruit.”

Jack rolls his eyes.

“What’s the point of a front-facing camera?”

“The front camera was the most important development in the history of the selfie! It changed everything! Revolutionary, Jack!”

Bitty waves his arm to prove his point, but he misjudges the distance between them and winds up smacking Jack in the chest. It reminds him of the gymnastic mats where he’d practice his acrobatics off the ice—cushioned and with some give, but still plenty firm. Patting his Jack’s pec a few more times, just to confirm, is a fine idea.

Jack just cradles his wrist and steadies his hand between them as he says, “I should’ve realized who I was talking to. Well, impress me. Why don’t you show me what your phone can do?”

“Oh! I know this! What are strawberries! Dex, what are you gonna do about Nursey? I mean, you don’t have to tell me. Wow, actually, I guess it’s not really my business. Sorry! I’m sorry! Gosh, I—“

“You get five hundred, but only if you promise to shut up,” Shitty warns, waving a can of beer in front of Chowder’s flushed face.

Nodding contritely, he takes it and hunches forward.

“Uh, Bible for 200 I guess?”

Bitty shakes his head, “I dunno if you can tell, but I’m a little drunk right now.”

“You’re hiding it very well,” says Jack.

“Oh my goodness, your chirps just don’t slow down, do they?”

Jack’s fingers thread their way into Bitty’s hair and tug.

“You’re just an easy target, I guess.”

“The point I was trying to make is: I don’t think I could hold my hands steady enough to take a good picture, and I’m not about to let your head get any bigger by thinking I proved you right.”

“During the second plague, these amphibians came out of the water.”

Jack’s arms are very large. This isn’t a surprise, but it’s still an interesting and notable point to make when one of them wraps around Bitty’s shoulder.

“Then I’ll take the selfie. C’mon, Bittle. Get out your phone.”

Bossy,” Eric says like he minds.

Jack holds Bitty’s iPhone out far enough to get a horribly cute picture of the two of them wrapped up in each other. He can’t stop smiling even when Jack brings it back in to inspect his work.

“Huh. You might have a point.” The selfie screams unrequited gay crush, but if Jack isn’t going to comment on the way Bitty’s head is cushioned on his side and Bitty’s not even bothering to look at the camera, then who is he to comment? It is a beautiful picture of Jack, but Jack’s got such a lovely face he can’t imagine there’s a bad picture of him in existence.

His arm is still around Bitty’s shoulder.

Eric Bittle is going to perish, but first he’s going to bake Shitty a pie. Two pies even.

“Dex has buzzed in,” Shitty announces. It’s cute that he’s completely unaware of orchestrating Bitty’s slow and agonizing downfall.

“What are frogs?” Dex ask/answers. Since having the bejesus kissed out of him, he hasn’t been taking the game quite so seriously, but he’s still far too focused for someone whose had more shots than Bitty can keep track of.

Bro. What are frogs?” Nursey muses.

“Are you kidding me? Are you telling me this is who I fell for?”

The airhorn sounds, Bitty is pretty sure. He’s not positive, though, because the din created by almost half a college hockey team when it’s been set off by a romantic scandal is pretty impressive. Holster in particular yelling, “What the shit you guys, are you hearing this?” resonates loudly enough that the walls shake.

“Shitty, can my seat be moved now? Please? I don’t want to sit here anymore.”

“Chow, you oblivious bucket of chum, the game’s fuckin’ over. Get the hell outta dodge before you get pulled in.”

“They wouldn’t do—oh, my god you guys, I’m right here!” Chowder yelps.

“Holster, if you try to make out with me while Chowder’s sitting between us, I’m contractually obligated to kick your ass.”

“What contract?”

“Our friend contract,” Ransom says.

“That definitely wasn’t in there. We didn’t even know Chowder when our bro code was established. I’ll make out with you whenever I want.”

“I’m adding it right the fuck now, bro. Chowder isn’t invited.”

Holster taps his chin considerately and asks, “Are you saying I can make out with you if Chow isn’t between us?”

“Bro. Bad idea.”

“Yeah. The ghosts would be fucking pissed.”

“Shut the fuck up.”

HONK “You need to stay like that for the next ten minutes at least. I’m gonna sketch the fuck out of this.” HONK “Old liberal types eat this shit up, I’m telling you.” HONK “You guys are gonna pay off my student loans.”

Bitty can’t speak because he’s crying, silent tears trickling down his round cheeks while he grins at the spectacle on the couch of Chowder slithering out from under Nursey’s knees while the other boys ignore his struggle. Or, well, it’s possible Nursey’s digging his knees into the couch to make it harder for Chowder to get out. But he’s so earnest with his hand on Dex’s freckled jaw and Dex’s pale fingers in his dark hair that Bitty’s crying.

A year ago, he was afraid coming out to his team would be the end of everything, even at the most LGBT+ accepting school in the country.

Coming out had been more painless than he’d ever dreamed possible, but even then he never thought it would be so fine. It’s so okay that Lardo and Holster had money on it, and Shitty is shuffling two kissing boys off the couch and into his room.

Ever since he came out to Shits, Eric had known that being gay wasn’t going to be a problem, but this is his first glimpse—the first right-in-front-of-his-eyes proof—that he can be with the people he loves and—

Well, be with someone he loves.

Jack is the only other person who hasn’t said a thing, and he’s tightening his grip on Bitty to move him out of the way of the four-person tumbleweed making its way to the second floor.

“Lards, not that I don’t appreciate the help, but I think I got this,” Shitty says with a shoulder on each amorous frog’s shoulder to separate them.

“Help shmelp, bro; I already told you—this is my next project.”

“You can’t watch!” Dex protests.

“Dude, don’t knock it,” says Nursey.

“I’m not gonna watch watch; it’s purely professional.”

“She can’t watch!”

Eric’s tears fade into helpless laughter while they disappear up the stairs.

“Dex—“

“If you tell me to chill, so help me, you are bottoming.”

“Wait, topping is on the table?”

“TMI, goddammit,” Ransom moans.

Holster makes his way over to the stereo.

“Don’t worry, Rans, I’ve still got that playlist from when you hooked up with that soprano from the classical music program.”

Chowder squeals, “Shitty hurry!”

Very faintly, Eric hears Nursey’s dry chuckle before saying louder than necessary, “Chill.”

“Augh! Oh no!” Chowder collapses back onto the couch. Ransom and Holster bookend him offering consoling pats on the arm to the overloud strains of Zedd’s Clarity.

Only Shitty comes back down the stairs, and he tells Jack that he’ll be sleeping in Jack’s bed.

“Shits, I hate sharing a bed with you when you’re sober,” Jack says. He loosens his hold on Bitty’s shoulders, but when Eric wobbles on his feet his arm shoots right back up to the center of his back.

“I know, which is very lucky for you, because you will not be sleeping with me. Lardo’s crashing here tonight, too. Seeing as my room is occupied, we’re claiming yours.”

Jack glares.

“I could fight you.”

Sanguine, Shitty doesn’t seem to care.

“Chowder over there is both drunk and traumatized, so he’s taking the couch tonight.”

“Shitty, you fucker, can I please talk to you in private?” It’s impressive that Jack can get an entire sentence out when his jaw looks like it’s carved from stone.

Bitty has a flash of intuition that the phrase “shit-eating grin” has some part in the origin of his name, and the only natural follow-up thought to that revelation is to try to come up with some kind of nickname for Jack for his last few months at Samwell. Glarey? Laser? Frowno?

Grumpster deposits him on the couch and gives Holster stern orders to make sure Bitty doesn’t somehow get himself killed in the five minutes it’ll take him to murder Shitty.

“Bits, do your best not to die, alright? Don’t tell Jack, but he’s a little scary.”

Eric giggles and folds himself into the corner of the couch.

“You’d think that, but that boy’s heart’s as big as his butt.”

Shitty’s laughter echoes from the kitchen and it warms Bitty more than cheap flavored beers ever could.

“That it is, Bitty,” Ransom says. “And just think of the mess it’d make if we let something happen to you on our watch.”

“His heart or his butt?”

The best part about being drunk is that Bitty can absolutely blame the redness in his cheeks on that instead of his instinctive reaction to thinking about Jack or any particularly amazing part of him.

Chowder writhes on his end of the couch.

“Could you guys please stop talking about butts?”

“Dude’s got a point. I mean, one or both of his best friends are taking it up the ass right now.”

“Holst—“

Chowder’s skin turns a frightening shade of green, but Holster’s chirp game cannot be stopped.

And the one who isn’t receiving is giving; that’s gotta be a hell of a mindfuck.”

Eric’s beautiful newborn otter’s eyes widen and he clutches his stomach dramatically. Not even Capital Cities assuring him he’ll be safe and sound can protect him from the gritty details.

“Holster, knock it off,” Bitty says; aims for stern.

Holding up his hands in defeat, Holster leans back against the couch, and for one foolish moment in his young, foolish life Bitty thinks he’s won. Then, Holster looks at Rans.

“Not to mention, Lardo’s up there watching them get it on. That’s some kinky shit there,” Ransom adds.

“Gotta go!” Chowder cries, lunging for the bathroom.

Bitty knows that he’s not very intimidating, being five foot six and a half and tiny and blond (not to mention drunk. Not super drunk. But, you know. Tipsy). He likes to think, though, that he’s got something of a quality in him that gets the job done. He gives the stink eye to the boys sitting next to him, who are howling at their success in making the most perfect human of any of their acquaintances ill. They don’t keep it up long; Ransom catches Bitty’s eye first.

His mirth melts away and his shoulders slump.

“Bitty, next time just go ahead and tell me you’re disappointed in me and you expected better. Save us all some time.”

“Are you going to go take care of Chowder?”

“Yes, mom.”

“I’m proud of you, son,” Eric says in his best Coach voice.

Not ten seconds after Ransom’s gone, his timer goes off. This wouldn’t be a problem, except that Jack and Shitty are still in the kitchen. They’re having a secret conversation that Jack had gone out of his way to exclude Bitty from, and Bitty’s cookies are going to be the collateral damage.

“Holster, I need you to do me a favor.”

“What?”

“I need you to save my cookies.”

Holster slumps off of the couch onto his knees in front of Bitty, hands clasped. Even kneeling he’s taller than Eric.

“Bits, I am honored,” he begins. “Touched to the core that you would trust me with this.”

“You’ve earned it.”

But, I’m not gonna lie to you. I will fuck up your cookies. I will ruin everything. Your cookies will be bird food, and you’ll tell me you expected better from me, and honestly I don’t think I can handle that again. That was some heavy shit.”

“But I’m not allowed in the kitchen! My cookies are going to dry out! Dry out, Holster!”

Holster shakes his head.

“I value our friendship too much to do this to you, dude.”

Before Bitty is forced to contemplate something too drastic, Jack and Shitty trail into the den, and Eric vaults of the couch. Later reports will make mention of a shriek of “my meringues!”

Thankfully for everyone but the birds, Bitty pulls off the save.

If it weren’t the middle of the night, and if he weren’t slowly approaching the groggy stage of post-drunk that comes immediately before bedtime, he’d be embarrassed about losing his chill. Meringues can sit overnight. His meringues would have been fine. This is why he got chopped back in ’07.

“Cookies are ready if y’all—“ Eric walks flat into Jack’s chest when he tries to leave the kitchen.

“Chowder’s sleeping on the couch. Everyone else is upstairs.”

Jack looks very cool with his shoulder pressed up along the doorjamb, and it’s really not fair that even slouched over Bitty has to look up to meet his eyes.

“I guess they’re missing out. You want a cookie? They’re meringues so they’re only about a quarter the calories of your average store-bought chocolate chip.”

One of Jack’s gross, perfect black brows rises.

“Should I be concerned? You seem like you worry about my calorie intake more than I do.”

“Don’t be silly,” scoffs Eric. He grabs the hem of Jack’s sleeve and drags him to sit at the table. “If you didn’t have that NHL contract to worry about, you’d have to roll to all your classes with everything I’d be feeding you.”

There’s something so satisfying about the idea of watching Jack sit at a table and actually enjoy what’s in front of him without thinking ahead to how many sets he’ll need to do to work it off—especially if it’s something Bitty made—it just makes him feel good. It’s probably just as much a Georgia thing as it is a “being in love with Jack” thing.

It’s a credit to Jack’s athleticism that he catches the plate Bitty all but throws at him when he trips over his own feet.

In love with Jack, huh?

“What do you make of this thing with the frogs?” Jack asks after eating his first meringue in one bite. Bitty gave up asking them to savor their food ages ago, but every time he tries a new recipe a small part of him recoils when the boys inhale without even stopping to pause and reflect; give notes, critique, enjoy.

“Dex and Nursey? I think it’s great! I’m happy for them.”

Bitty couldn’t sound more distracted if he tried, but Jack is focused enough for the both of them. His face is intense and pinched, zeroed in on the lopsided dollop on the table in front of him. Bitty hasn’t seen him this wrapped up in anything but play or game notes in ages.

“You were crying earlier,” says Jack more gently than his intense face would suggest. He at least spares Eric the embarrassment of looking at him.

“Well, uh. They weren’t sad tears. I was just really happy.”

“You’re that invested in their relationship?”

Bitty sighs and stares at Jack’s JC Chasez haircut for strength. He tries to do what he does when he looks at Lardo’s painting and just find a pattern in it that speaks to him, but it’s pretty redundant since he’s apparently in love with Jack. Pretty much the whole package appeals to him.

“Not really. Of course I’m rooting for team Dexey, but it was also sort of a selfish moment for me.”

Stupid, stupid Jack Zimmermann looks up at that exact moment, and Bitty’s sobriety makes a stunning return.

“What do you mean?”

“It’s just that I realized for the first time that, uh. I could, um. I mean, if I wanted, I could have that, too.”

“You want to kiss a teammate for the first time during a drinking game in front of a bunch of drunk assholes? And you want Lardo to watch?”

“Mr. Zimmermann, I don’t have any flour to throw at you right now, but rest assured you’re in for it in the near future.”

Never mind that it’s actually a pretty sweet scenario, no matter how much Jack seems unable to do anything but tease Bitty. Lardo might be a deal breaker, but depending on which teammate he were kissing, Bitty would be willing to negotiate.

“I didn’t think it was a good idea. I’m still not sure I do.”

“It’s not—is it the gay thing?”

“Bittle,” Jack says in a gravelly voice. “I know your grades aren’t the best, but I figured that had more to do with the baking than it had to do with you being an actual idiot.”

“I—“

Elbows on the table (Mama Bittle’s heart would break if she saw it), hands clasped and chin on his laced fingers, Jack holds Eric’s gaze fiercely.

“People in any close unit dating can be dangerous; if they don’t stay together forever, the only other alternative is a breakup. Best case scenario they’re soulmates, but knowing them, it’s just as likely Dex is going to sneak out in the middle of the night and Nursey’s going to be even more aloof pretending he’s not hurt. It’s not going to be my problem much longer, but I’m still going to worry.”

“Oh.”

“Did you really think—“ Jack taps Bitty’s leg under the table when Eric won’t look up, and very reluctantly and very mortified, Eric tilts his chin up slightly.

“Did you really think I cared that they weren’t straight? Do you think I care that you’re not straight?”

“No!” Bitty rushes to correct him.

He knows what it’s like to be around people who care about who’s straight and who’s not, especially athletes, and Jack has been a treasure. Jack has been his friend anyway, and Bitty would never dream of lumping him in with the football players who shoved him into lockers or accused him of spying on them in the showers.

“I know you’re fine with me being gay. It’s just that I thought maybe it might be different. Lots of people are fine with it in theory, but when it comes to putting it into practice—“

“Bittle.” Jack does them both the service of ending Bitty’s rant before it gets unbearable. “I have absolutely no issue with putting it into practice.”

Every single one of Bitty’s higher brain functions short circuits.

Jack’s smirking like the cat that got the canary, and Bitty doesn’t know what to think except that he’s the canary. But how in the world the cat figures into this whole situation, he’s got no idea.

“Now, see, that’s not fair. I’ve got no clue what you’re saying right now!”

Jack Laurent Zimmermann reaches across the round table in the dingy kitchen of the Haus and covers Bitty’s hand in such a way that Jack Laurent Zimmermann is holding his hand.

“I think I’m being pretty obvious.”

If Eric had the privilege of coming out as a younger boy and experimenting with dating back when everyone else was just as inexperienced as he was, he might have done better here. He might have thought of something better to say than, “Oh, lord, you were flirting with me!” in a scandalized gasp.

He might have said something better than that, and then Jack might not have pulled his hand away quicker than a snake.

“Uh. Well, that was the idea. I was trying to, anyway.”

“All night?” Bitty tries to confirm.

Jack’s eyes widen a fraction.

“Bittle. All year.”

“No, that can’t be right.”

Bitty already did the dishes, but there are plenty of empties to clear out in the other room. Everyone will be thrilled with him tomorrow when the cleanup is already done, and no one will bother to ask him why he is never leaving his room again.

“It… can’t?”

“No, because that would mean that you were flirting with me before I even knew I had feelings for you, and that’s just crazy impossible. I’m obviously dreaming, so I’m gonna go clean up the den.”

Sober, his only chance getting out of an arm check from Jack, even if he is sitting down, is if Eric managed to dance around it and outpace him. Tired and buzzed, it’s a lost cause.

“Tell me more about these feelings.”

“You’re distracting me. I don’t remember.” Bitty’s telling the truth, too. Somehow, Jack went from holding his arm out like a turnstile to holding Bitty vertically flush against his body in a very private, very cozy celly.

Bitty’s noticed that the boys from the colder climes tend to generate their own little bubbles of heat. Shitty and Ransom are better than a cardigan if the heater on the bus isn’t doing the trick on a roadie, while Chowder and Bitty make people colder just by existing. He’s not sure how it happens.

Jack is one of those space heaters—Bitty knew that already—but these are some next-level warm and fuzzies.

“Oh my god, Jack. I think I love you,” Bitty blurts out, because his head is tucked into the crook of Jack’s neck, and his feet are bracketed by Jack’s on either side. Jack’s cheek is pressed into his hair so that every breath breaks against the shell of Bitty’s ear, and it’s all too much for him to manage without saying something huge and stupid.

“You should probably just forget that,” Bitty mumbles. He doesn’t try to move, but he holds himself very still in the event that Jack realizes that he’s judged Eric as something other than the silly, figure skating little boy that he’s never learned how to stop being. Any second now, he’ll figure it out.

Or, he’ll cup Bitty’s chin in his fingers and tilt it so he’s face-to-face with one inexplicably smitten Quebecker.

“I don’t think I want to,” he whispers, and every single joint in Bitty’s body wobbles hard enough that Jack tightens his hold on Bitty’s waist.

“I think I figured out where you can sleep tonight,” Bitty says softly. He’s got enough grit left in him to watch the way Jack’s cheeks stretch with the strength of his smile, but it runs out before he can get on tiptoe and give Jack the peck on the lips he wants to.

Staring is enough of a hint, it seems, because Jack hoists Bitty onto the table like the character in one of the romance novels his mother’s book club pretends not to read. He doesn’t manage to do more than hold on for dear life, but when Jack dips down and Bitty’s tasting his own pastry and boy it doesn’t matter much.

“Bitty, did you ever finish those—Oh no! God, this is almost worse! I’m sorry, but it’s like walking in on your parents. Excuse me!”

Chowder, sunshine of Eric’s life, may have to be disowned.

As Jack steps away and helps Bitty to the floor, Bitty catches him looking at his lips and changes may have to be to definitely will be.

“I’m going to go check on him,” says Eric.

“If you want… I could wait for you upstairs? In your room? I really only want to sleep, but—“

In the future, Eric will have to find a better way to initiate kisses than leaping and wrapping his legs around Jack.

It works in the heat of the moment, and he really isn’t sorry he didn’t pause and reflect. Sometimes you just have to go for it.

He finds Chowder in the bathroom, the poor boy near tears with apologies the second Bitty walks in. Things are right as rain once he sits him back on the couch with a few meringues and a glass of water, along with the assurance that Chowder will never know anything about his and Jack’s sex life. Eric almost expires saying it out loud.

Bitty takes a second back in the bathroom to collect himself. Nothing's going to happen tonight, not when he's so drowsy he hasn't ruled out the possibility that this has all been a vivid dream, but he fixes his hair with damp fingers anyway. He has a half hour or so of smooching in him, at least. At the thought, he splashes some water on his overheated face, and he's struck with inspiration for the perfect tweet on his way to his bedroom.

What SMH captain asked to take a selfie with his favorite liney? #jeopardrink

He attaches the picture, staring for only a few seconds before he posts the whole thing. He shakes himself and opens his door; apparently he’s got Final Jeopardy in the bag.