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Let's Get Drunk (and not talk about our feelings)

Chapter Text

                                           

 

 

Who the fuck picks the theme for these things? Joe wondered.

 

A giant banner reading “Drop It Like It’s Yacht” hung from the back porch of the EZ house, bedazzled with far too much sparkly glitter for a frat party. What was truly impressive, however, was the seven-foot tall replica of the sinking Titanic, a paper maché monstrosity in the middle of the woodpile that would eventually become a bonfire. Someone had gone to entirely too much trouble for this party.

 

There were at least thirty or forty people milling about the back yard, but none of them were Bill. Which was unfortunate, because Bill was the only guy Joe knew at this thing. He had initially promised to go with Joe from the start, but as a pledge, he had been “volunteered” for set-up duties. Joe remembered him saying something about manning the drink station for a while, so he went off in search of beer. And Bill. But mostly beer.

 

Moving into the house, Joe was enveloped in a cacophony of noise.

 

“PLEDGE MILLER, SURRENDER YOUR BEER!”

 

“Where the fuck is Liebgott? We’re running low on vodka!”

 

“Bull, put me down!”

 

“Joe! Joe Toye!” Bill’s voice broke through. Joe turned, and found himself with his arms full of an already tipsy Guarnere.

 

“Quite the place you’ve got here, Bill,” Joe remarked, still taking in his surroundings.

 

“Ain’t it?” Bill said dreamily. “C’mon, let’s go get you a drink.” Joe followed obediently as Bill navigated them through the throng of people.

 

“Christ, Bill, is the entire freshman class here?”

 

“Nah, just friends of the guys. And their friends. And their friends,” Bill shrugged. “EZ takes its reputation as the best party frat very seriously. At least that’s what Bull said.”

 

Joe hummed in response. “Glad to see you’ve got your priorities straight.”

 

They finally made their way to the plastic tables set up as a makeshift bar that was being manned by a trio of gangly freshmen pledges.

 

“Babe, get my pal Joe here a beer!” Bill commanded, clapping the red headed one on the shoulder.

 

“One beer for one Joe, coming right up!” Babe pulled a slightly dented, but cold, can of beer out of one the coolers, handing it to Joe. “I’m Babe, as Bill neglected to introduce us.” He stuck out a hand, which Joe clasped firmly.

 

“I’m Joe, Babe’s roommate.”

 

“You live in McCarthy, too? I’m fifth floor, room 517! You should swing by sometime!” Babe exclaimed.

 

“Sure thing,” Joe said, cracking open his beer. “Cheers.”

 

“I’m gonna show Joe around the rest of the house, see you later, Babe,” Bill said as he leaned over the table and plucked the fresh beer out of Babe’s hand before darting away, Babe’s protests fading behind the din of voices as they entered what Joe guessed was the living room.

 

Several silver kegs were set up along one of the walls with a large whiteboard hung up above them, littered with names and numbers.

 

“LUZ, you’re next, fucker!” Someone cried out, and a chant of “Luz!” began coursing through the room. One of the guys picked up a shorter man whom Joe assumed was the Luz character, slinging Luz over his shoulder to a chorus of catcalls. Joe couldn’t really see the guy, except for the decidedly pert ass that was sticking up into the air, a sight that he could definitely appreciate.

 

As he was deposited in front of the kegs, the shorter man attempted to right himself, adjusting his boat captain’s hat. And damn, Joe thought, as he caught a glimpse of the guy’s face, it was as if God had sent him the physical incarnation of Joe’s dream man. Well, typically Joe’s dream man didn’t wear a captain’s hat, but he could work with it.

 

Luz turned, gripping the sides of the silver barrel, as two of the bigger guys each grabbed one of his legs, lifting them above Luz’s head until he was in a pseudo-handstand. Another man then lifted the keg spout to Luz’s mouth, who latched on eagerly. As the nozzle was flipped open, the room reverberated with people counting the seconds, voices growing louder and less in sync as the numbers kept climbing.

 

“…forty one, forty two,” at that point, Luz raised one of his hands, making a tapping out motion. The nozzle was released, and the two holding him up set his feet on the floor. Luz dragged the back of his hand across his mouth, wiping the stray beer trickling down, then licking that up, too.

 

“Forty three! That’s a new personal record, Luz-y!” The dark haired guy at the whiteboard called out, and another cheer sounded. Luz gave an exaggerated bow and turned to pick up his old beer, taking another swig of that.

 

Joe hadn’t expected frat parties to be quite as true to Hollywood standards, but it appeared as if it was pretty on level with the likes of Animal House. Looking at the whiteboard with the scores, he located Bill’s and a grin split across his face.

 

“Wow, Bill, way to be second to last in the pledge class!” Joe scoffed.

 

“You shut your mouth, Toye. I’ve only just started my education in the fine art of alcohol consumption, I’m allowed a learning curve!” Bill tried to defend himself.

 

“It’s alright, Bill, you’re doing better than Bull did at the start!” Luz exclaimed, appearing to Joe’s right, clapping Bill on the soldier. “He only made seven seconds his first time. But I didn’t tell you that!” he winked. Luz turned more towards Joe, quirking an eyebrow up. “Now who is this? A potential new pledge, perhaps?”

 

“Nah, not really my thing. Joe Toye,” he said. “I’m Bill’s roommate, just along for the ride.” Joe ran one of his hands through his hair, which Luz’s eyes followed eagerly.

 

“Fair enough!” Luz exclaimed, taking another drink from his beer. “So is this your first frat party then?”

 

“Yeah,” Joe said, taking a sip of his beer in turn.

 

“Joe’s not really a party person, but I made him promise to try it out,” Bill added on.

 

“Then for research purposes, I’m going to need your opinion of the party so far, as an unbiased observer, of course!” Luz claimed, putting his free hand on Joe’s upper arm. There was a mischief in his eyes, and it seemed to Joe as if his mouth had a permanent upwards turn at the corners, as if his smile never really dimmed.

 

“Uhh, it seems pretty cool? A bit over the top, with the giant ship in the back? Who even picks these themes?” Joe questioned, rubbing the back of his neck awkwardly as he was put on the spot.

 

“That would be me, actually. George Luz, Social Chair of EZ, at your service!” Luz laughed, Bill joining in.

 

Joe’s ears flushed a bit, trying to recover himself. Of course he would make a fool of himself to the first hot guy he meets at this thing. This is why Joe shouldn’t be allowed to talk at parties. “I mean, it really looks like you really dedicated yourself to the theme!”

 

George laughed again. “No, no, it’s alright, it’s definitely over the top, but that’s how it’s supposed to be! We’ve got a reputation to uphold!” He took another drink from his beer, crushing the can as it emptied. “Bill, why don’t you go and get me and your friend here some new drinks?” Luz handed his empty can to Bill, as Bill grumbled something about the day when he wouldn’t be a pledge on drink duty. Joe chuckled, chugging down the last quarter of his own beer before passing it off to Bill. With his hands suddenly free, Joe stuck his hands in his pockets.

 

George leaned in a bit closer, lowering his voice for effect. “I’ll tell you a secret; the only reason I chose this party theme was so that I could blast the Lonely Island song ‘I’m On A Boat’ over and over, and nobody could stop me.” Joe laughed, and Luz’s eyes lit up, pleased with himself for earning a real laugh from the younger man.

 

“That’s as valid an excuse as any, I guess.” Joe replied, nodding his head. “So how do you get that job, party planning?”

 

“Elections, like any other position in the house. Get yourself nominated, make a pitch as to why you’d do the best, then the chapter votes.”

 

“So for social chair is your pitch just ‘I’ll throw really good parties, I promise?’” Joe asked. He was afraid that his very limited knowledge of Greek life wasn’t really working in his favor in this conversation.

 

Luz seemed happy enough to continue on answering Joe’s questions, at least. “Well, kind of. We probably wouldn’t elect a stick-in-the-mud like Roe to be Social, just because he doesn’t really LIKE social activities,” he said, motioning towards one of the guys in a group by the kegs. “But it’s a little more nuanced than that. I brainstormed some party themes, some ideas for date parties, for formal. Picked out which sororities I think it’d be cool to partner with this year for Greek activities.”

 

Joe was a little overwhelmed by the amount of social events Luz was listing. How did these guys ever get anything done? “That’s a lot of different stuff,” Joe observed.

 

Luz smiled indulgently. “Well yeah, but it’s pretty much all optional. And it’s spaced out over the year, so it’s not like we have three date parties in one month.”

 

“So what’s the difference between a date party and a normal party where people bring their dates?” Joe asked, uneducated about the term.

 

“It’s a smaller sort of party, where each member gets to bring one date of their choosing. They all have themes, and you make costumes to match each other!” George said excitedly. “It’s almost too hard to narrow down the themes I actually want to use, there’s so many.”

 

“Sounds fun, I guess.”

 

“I’m sure you’ll get invited to a few sorority date parties, good looking guy like you!” George reassured, letting his eyes rove over Joe again.

 

“Uh, well, not really interested in that,” Joe muttered, shifting his eyes around the room. He hadn’t really opened up about his sexuality in high school, not willing to subject himself to that particular torment, but he had vowed to himself that he’d try being more open about it at university. “The girl part, I mean. Going to date things with girls.” He spared a glance to Luz, whose eyes had softened, but was still smiling.

 

“Same here,” Luz said, clapping Joe on the shoulder. “Well then maybe I’ll see you at one of EZ’s date parties, yeah? Any of the guys would be lucky to have you on their arm!”

 

Joe gave him a small smile, but he was a little confused. Did Luz mean that there were other gay guys in EZ that would take him? Because honestly, Joe would rather go with Luz, not a different EZ guy. Was this his subtle way of saying he was unavailable to Joe? Shit, this talking to hot guys thing was hard.

 

“Maybe,” Joe agreed. He saw Bill approaching, bringing a trio of new beers with him.

 

“Here’s your fucking beers, you lazy asses,” Bill muttered, handing over the alcohol, popping the tab of his own can.

 

“Thank you, dearest,” Joe said with a smirk, thoroughly enjoying having Bill as his serving wench.

 

“LUZ, we need you over at the DJ table, Webster’s trying to play his pretentious hipster shit again!” A guy called from the threshold of the room.

 

Luz turned with a groan. “Liebgott, why the fuck can’t you handle that?”

 

“Dick said if I kept bitching at Web tonight that he’d cut me off before I started fights,” Liebgott shrugged. “Alcohol is more important.”

 

With a sigh, Luz turned back to Joe and Bill. “If you’ll excuse me, duty calls.”

 

Joe and Bill nodded, and Joe had to force himself to look away and under the prolonged eye contact.

 

“It was really great to meet you, Joe,” Luz said. He turned to go, but then paused and looked back. “Oh, and Bill? If you’d have told me your friends were this hot, I’d have let you put more people on the guest list!” Luz exclaimed before bounding out of the room, presumably to stop Webster from hijacking the sound system to play Bon Iver or something.

 

Mouth hanging slightly open, Joe just looked after the doorway that Luz had escaped through, stunned. Bill was cackling like mad, thoroughly amused by the look on his best friend’s face. “Damn, already pulling guys on your first night out! Why the fuck isn’t it that easy for me to get girls!”

 

Closing his mouth, Joe drank a long pull of beer, convinced that he had been dreaming. “Well, can’t do much in your case. A face like yours, not much of a cure for that.” Joe said seriously, smirking a bit at the end. Bill squawked, whacking Joe on the side of the head.

 

“Whatever, asshole. Let’s go play beer pong.”

 

Joe shrugged; content to follow Bill around for the rest of the night. He kept mentally replaying Luz’s closing line, and if Bill caught him slightly smiling for no reason, he didn’t say anything.

 

Throughout the night, Joe kept glancing around the room, keeping a mental note on where Luz was, trying to drink in more of his presence.

 

The unadulterated joy on Luz’s face as he stood on top of the porch railing, clinging to the corner post, belting out the lyrics to “I’m On A Boat” was contagious, and Joe found himself screaming the lyrics along with the rest of the party. He could swear that Luz kept making eye contact with him on purpose, particularly when the older boy kept making hip thrusts at the line ‘I fucked a mermaid.’ Joe had had to look away, because that much eye contact while Luz was moving his hips like that should be illegal.

 

And when the Titanic monstrosity was finally burned, Joe couldn’t help but think that the glow of the fire didn’t even compare to the glow of Luz’s smile.

Chapter Text

                                                      

 

A few days later, the men of EZ house were gathered in the main living room for their weekly meeting. They had initially tried to host it in the dining room, so that everyone would have a chair, but moved after repeated bitching from the upperclassmen about the lack of comfy chairs. The couches and chairs were filled by said upperclassmen such as Luz, Bull, Martin, Liebgott, Webster, Lipton, Roe, and Speirs, as well as a smattering of other men. The guys that were stuck on the lower end of the totem pole were lying about on the carpet or leaning against random pieces of furniture, attempting to find a position that would hurt their asses the least.

 

Standing at the front of the room near the fireplace were Dick and Nixon, President and Vice President respectively. This was now their second year in the positions, as their own pledge class had been relatively small. It may have also had something to do with the fact that Winters was the most competent choice by far, leaving him uncontested in both elections. Nixon, on the other hand, may have been less competent and a little more of a drunk, but Winters couldn’t wouldn’t have anyone by his side but Nix, so Vice President he was elected.

 

“Ok guys, listen up, we got a lot to get through, so sit your asses down and listen up!” Nixon called out, shooting a look at a few sheepish freshmen hovering near the doorway.

 

Dick stepped forward, casting his eyes to Lew’s for a moment. “Thanks for that heartwarming call to order, Nix,” he said, rolling his eyes.

 

“No problem,” Nixon answered with a mock salute.

 

“Anyways,” Dick turned towards the group. “Start of the new year, so we’ve got plenty to go over. Reminder that if you haven’t paid your dues by next Saturday, you’ll have Harry hunting you down, so get that done.”

 

Harry Welsh waved a hand in the air. “If you need a payment plan, see me after the meeting!”

 

“Can I pay mine in sexual favors instead?” Luz shouted out, wiggling his eyebrows in Harry’s direction.

 

“Deal accepted,” Harry crowed, sticking his hand out to shake on the deal. Instead of shaking, Luz grabbed the proffered hand and laid a slobbery kiss on it. Harry pulled back his hand in disgust as the other men catcalled the pair. “Deal revoked,” he amended.

 

“Thanks, Harry, Luz,” Dick continued. “Bull, Martin, how’s the new pledge class settling in?”

 

“Looking good, boss man,” Bull replied, leaning further back into his armchair. “They’ll be having weekly quizzes, and then the National quiz is late October, but we’ll have plenty of time to prepare.” The pledges present groaned, already not looking forward to the hours of preparation they’d be spending learning the EZ constitution and policy handbook.

 

“We’ll also have Dad/Son listings soon, so make sure you’re meeting the new guys, see if you’re interested in signing up for this semester’s pledges,” Martin added in. Each new pledge would be paired with an older member, their “Dad” who would guide them through fraternity life and serve as a touchstone within the house. There wasn’t any sort of limit on how many sons a member could take on, and some were more suited for it than others. Dick only had Lipton, but Luz had two sons, Christenson and Talbert, and was rumored to be looking for a third this year. During the first few weeks of the semester the pledges were highly encouraged to spend as much time as they could at the house meeting their new brothers, in part so that they could determine who their top picks of Dad would be.

 

“Thanks for your report. Alright, what’s next…” Dick trailed off, referring to his meeting agenda that Nixon had prepared. Seeing the next item, Dick flushed, waving the paper in front of Nix’s face. “Lew, when I ask you to make the meeting agenda, please just type what I tell you.”

 

Lew stuck his hands up in defense. “Hey now, I’d say that getting you laid is serious business.”

 

“Here, here!” Harry called out, with a few others’ shouted agreements joining him.

 

“I’ve got a cousin visiting next weekend who’s not too hard on the eyes, if you’re interested!” Perconte piped in, and Dick raised a hand to his forehead, shaking his head from side to side.

 

“Frank, please don’t try and set me up with your cousin.”

 

“Hey, what’s wrong with my cousin? You’d be lucky to get with a gal like her!” the short man replied indignantly.

 

“Can we please get back to the actual agenda?” Dick pleaded. The brothers settled down a bit, and when it finally quieted to an acceptable level, Winters began again. “So our old Nationals District Representative Meehan has called it quits, so we have a new advisor, a Herbert Sobel.”

 

“Who the hell names a guy Herbert in this day and age?” Buck questioned. “Did his ma want him to get beaten up?”

 

Dick leveled a glare at Buck, which quickly shut him up. “Anyways.” He sighed. “This means we’ll have some inspections coming up, so that Sobel can get a feel for our chapter.” A groan resounded throughout the group. “Inspections mean don’t be doing anything especially dumb, so someone needs to be on Muck and Malarkey duty during that time.”

 

“Hey, now!” Muck starts, but Malarkey puts a hand on his shoulder, shrugging his own.

 

“Kind of true, bro,” he reasoned, and Muck slowly relaxed. He did have a point. But they hadn’t MEANT to burn down the tool shed. Not that anyone would let them forget it.

 

“I’ll handle them,” Speirs vowed ominously, and Malarkey whipped his head around to look at the imposing man standing behind their appropriated couch. He shrunk down into his seat a bit, crossing his arms over his chest. Speirs was a brother, but a brother that gave him the heebie-jeebies sometimes. Probably why Speirs served as security at their parties, using his I-can-snap-your-spine stare.

 

“…On the other hand, is that really necessary?” Malarkey squeaked out. “I’m sure Muck and I can behave ourselves!”

 

Speirs had the beginnings of a smile, lips quirked at the corners. He had way too much fun with these guys.

 

“We haven’t had inspections in forever, what gives?” Perconte asked.

 

Nixon shrugged, “I’m assuming just getting the lay of the land, making sure we’re still up to Nationals standards.”

 

“What happens if we don’t pass an inspection?” Babe asked Bill quietly, who gave him a befuddled look as a response, as he clearly didn’t know either.

 

Roe leaned forward towards Babe, who was sitting on the floor in front of him. “You fail an inspection, you can get a fine, or probation, or chapter suspension, potentially termination.” He murmured lowly into Babe’s ear, who stiffened for a moment, unaware that he could be overheard so easily.

 

He turned his head slightly to see it was only Gene, and smiled uncertainly. “Thanks, Gene, appreciate it!”

 

“No problem, Heffron,” Roe muttered before returning his gaze to Nixon up front.



“It’s Babe, actually,” the younger man interjected; a bit disappointed that Gene had seemingly forgotten. Gene hummed lowly, but didn’t avert his gaze. Babe leaned forward, dropping his head to his arms that were crossed on top of his knees in defeat.

 

He’d been harboring a bit of a crush on the sophomore since the very first meet-and-greet he attended during Rush Week, but Babe hadn’t really had much of a chance to spend time with Roe yet. He had tried to search him out at the first party, but had been informed by Smokey that apparently Roe typically didn’t stay long at the parties before retreating to his room. With Plan A scrapped, Babe was hoping that he’d get to see more of Eugene once he was able to spend more time at the frat house, but seeing as Roe didn’t even know Babe’s name, his plan seemed destine for failure.

 

“So anyways,” Dick continued, “that wraps up my portion of the meeting.” A cheer went up among the men, some of the new pledges starting to get up. “That doesn’t mean the meeting is over!” He called out, watching as the pledges slunk back into their seats and the older members grumbled a bit. “I’m passing it over to Luz, who’ll be going over our social calendar for the semester.”

 

Perking up from his spot on the couch, Luz bounded up to the front of the room, fumbling to get a crumpled up slip of paper out of his pocket. He cleared his throat theatrically, holding the paper out at arm’s length as he read.

 

“Since Formal is held in the spring semester and we have opted not to participate in Homecoming this fall, our budget for this semester is super open. I’m proposing one date party, and then focusing the rest on a few epic public party nights.” A murmur of approval moved throughout the room, and Luz smiled. “Themes have not been decided, but trust me, there WILL be themes that you WILL adhere to.” He turned to cast a sweeping glare across the room. “Else you’ll have me to deal with,” Luz promised menacingly, or, as menacing as Luz could get. These themes were important, at least to George, and he wouldn’t deal with Speirs’s humbug nature dragging his party down.

 

“And if you want a say in those themes, make sure to join the Social Committee when we make picks next week!” George added on as he folded up his sheet of paper. “That’s all I’ve got for now.”

 

“I know it’s not on the agenda, but if I could?” Lipton asked, hand raised in the air. Dick nodded his assent, amused by the formality Carwood always insisted on. Any of the other guys would have just interrupted with their point, as they took the protocol side of the fraternity much less seriously.

 

“As the new Academic Liason, I’ve made the decision to bump up required study hours from 6 to 10 hours per week.” A load groan reverberated among the ranks, although it was pretty pointless. Most of them already did at least that long, if not more, so the increase wasn’t that likely to affect them. “A reminder that required study hours are an honor-based system; you’re to sign yourself in and out at either the house or the library. If you’re cheating the system, you’re only cheating yourself, and your end of semester grades will reflect that.” Slightly cowed, some of the guys ducked their heads or averted their gaze, as Lipton’s speech had struck a chord, perhaps with their lower GPAs.

 

“We had were in the middle of the pack last year for average member GPA among the on-campus frats last year, and I’d really like to see us move up this semester.” Lipton implored. He turned to Winters, nodding his head. “That’ll be all.”

 

Nix resumed his spot in front of the fireplace once Lipton was seated again and clapped his hands. “Alright, boys, I think that wraps it up for the moment! Pledges makes sure to check in with Bull and Martin afterwards in case they have anything else for ya!”

 

With the official dismissal, the men poured out of the room, with Christenson and Malarkey crowing something about a ping-pong tournament in the basement. As the room emptied, only Lew and Dick remained, Dick in the armchair by the window that was unofficially the President’s chair and Lew leaning against the fireplace mantel.

 

“So what do you really think of this new guy, Sobel?” Lew turned his head towards Dick before pushing off the fireplace.

 

“Honestly, can’t be quite sure yet.” Dick said with a sigh. “I only talked with him briefly on the phone, he kept it pretty short.”

 

Nix hummed. “Well, Meehan wasn’t exactly our best friend either, but he worked out just fine.”

 

“Yeah, I know.” The redhead looked out the window, tracing a finger against the glass absentmindedly. “We’ll just have to wait and see, I guess.”

 

“With you at the helm, EZ’ll pull through it,” Lew assured him, clapping a hand on Dick’s shoulder. “C’mon, let’s go grab some coffee and scope out the new undergrads,” Nix decided, earning an eye roll from Dick, something that he found himself receiving often. But Dick still followed him, so there was that.

Chapter Text

                                     

 

During the first week of classes, Joe was pleased to discover that he shared three classes with Babe, as they were both engineering majors. They shared Calculus I and Physics on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and English on Tuesday and Thursday. Luckily, Babe seemed like a cool enough dude, and although he liked to goof off, he took his classes as seriously as Joe did. They developed a study buddy system on Mondays and Wednesdays at the library after class, where they would spend most of the evening collaborating.

 

On the second Monday of this schedule, Joe and Babe found themselves struggling through a ridiculously long set of calculus problems that were barely covered in the lecture before.

 

“I just think that if Professor Strayer only spends 5 minutes at the end of the lecture talking about the quotient rule, he shouldn’t be giving us homework on it. Why the hell am I paying tuition if he expects me to learn it all on my own?” Babe complained, throwing his pencil down on the desk in frustration.



They had found a relatively secluded corner of the library on the fourth floor near the stacks, with ample table space and outlets. Although several times they were interrupted by giggling couples darting into the stacks, no doubt attempting to cross ‘having sex in a public place’ off of their bucket list. Joe really wishes he didn’t know that his Intermediate Spanish TA liked to do it in the French Literature section, and he had avoided making eye contact with her in class ever since.

 

Babe continued to grumble on about how ridiculous the course load was when it was only the second week of school.

 

Joe attempted to nod along at the appropriate intervals, but he was still attempting to work through the quotient rule problem. “Well, we’re the ones who decided to be engineers. This is kind of self-inflicted.”

 

“I signed up to build skyscrapers, not do shit tons of calculus,” Babe said.

 

“I’m pretty sure that calculus and math skills are important when constructing buildings,” Joe reasoned. “You know, so you don’t miscalculate and then the building comes crashing down and kills everybody.”

 

“…OK you may have kind of a point,” Babe admitted, picking his pencil back up. “So how do we do this again?”

 

Nearing the end of the problem set, Joe heard some noise coming from the doorway, and he groaned internally, praying it wouldn’t be his TA coming back for round two.

 

Instead of his TA, it turned out to be Luz rounding the corner, humming along to something playing in his headphones. Instead of the captain’s hat he had been sporting the night of the party, his hair was covered by a backwards baseball cap, which would normally be a douche-y turn off for Joe, but it was Luz, so he'd allow it. The salmon colored shorts were a bit much, though. How the frat stars found colored shorts so appealing, Joe would never understand. Luz looked up from his phone a few seconds later, and a grin broke out across his face as he tugged out his headphones.

 

“Joe! Babe! What’re you doing here?” he swung his backpack down from his shoulder, setting it on the table and pulling out one of the open chairs to sit in. Joe was surprised that Luz had even remembered his name, as he hadn’t seen him since the party two weeks ago and he had been fairly sure that George had been nearing black-out-drunk as the night progressed.

 

“Finishing up this killer calculus set, Strayer’s class is a bitch,” Babe said, glad for another distraction from the calculus that was slowly numbing his brain.

 

“That sucks, man. I’m so thankful that education majors only have to go through Algebra II, I suck at math, don’t know how people do it,” Luz agreed.

 

“You’re an education major?” Joe asked, unable to quell his curiosity.

 

George smiled again, pleased that Joe was so inquisitive. “Yeah, I wanna teach middle school social studies. No math needed whatsoever.”

 

“You must have the patience of the saint,” Joe remarked. “Middle schoolers are the worst.” Hell, Joe remembers how awkward his own middle school years were, way too into My Chemical Romance and convinced that his parents would never understand him. Oh, to be fourteen again.

 

“Eh, we all have to go through that phase. Hormones, bodies changing, all that.” George shrugged. “It’s the age where they really start to become miniature adults, I think it’d be cool to be a part of that time in their lives. Make them my little minions!”

 

“All the power to ya,” Joe said with a hint of a smile. So not only was this guy super hot, he also wanted to help children? Fuck, Joe was already crushing on this guy way too fast.

 

“So what brings you to the library, Luz?” Babe piped in. “I thought there was a movie night or something at the house?”

 

“Yeah, they’re all watching Citizen Kane. I’m not a huge fan of all that artsy stuff, and I needed to track down some books for my Medieval Russian History class, so I figured now was a good a time as any.” Luz pulled a crumpled piece of paper with a few different titles and call numbers.

 

Joe was still fixated on the first part of Luz’s statement, in a state of disbelief. “You don’t like Stanley Kubrick movies?” He asked incredulously.

 

George shrugged playfully. “Just not my thing, I guess. I prefer funny stuff, or explosions. I’m not watching a movie to get all deep and shit.”

 

“Let me guess, you think The Hangover is the height of film?” Joe scoffed.

 

“Dude, I love The Hangover,” Babe contributed.

 

“I’ll have you know that The Hangover has love, it has suspense, it has action, what else do you need?” George challenged, willing to go down with his ship. With nine younger siblings, he was perfectly capable of holding his own in pointless arguments.

 

Joe let his head fall into his crossed arms, shaking his head. “You are so wrong, you don’t even know how wrong you are.”

 

“If loving The Hangover is wrong, I don’t wanna be right!” Luz insisted. “Although I may be convinced to give the artsy movie thing another try, if I had the right company to coach me through it,” he propositioned, wiggling his eyebrows in Toye’s direction.

 

“Uh, yeah, sure, maybe,” Joe agreed, a bit stunned and attempting to recover. Luz seemed to have the ability to trip up the unflappable Joe Toye, and he was unused to the feeling.

 

Luz stood, pushing the chair back into its spot at the table. “Well, I’ll leave you two to your homework, I need to grab my books and get back to the house before they crack open the ice cream, Doc always tries to steal my Rocky Road.” He directed another meaningful glance at Joe, before ruffling Babe’s hair, who squawked in response. “See you around!”

 

As he walked away, Joe was about sixty percent sure that Luz was moving his hips that way on purpose.

 


 

The first inspection was scheduled for the start of September, meant as a formal introduction for the men to meet their new advisor, Sobel. It also meant that EZ was undergoing through an extensive cleaning in preparation.

 

In the week leading up to the visit, Winters had made up a truly impressive list of things that needed to be cleaned or fixed, much to the horror of the EZ brothers. Deep cleaning the kitchen, scrubbing the bathroom spotless, tending to the front lawn, hell, even planting flowers. What sort of fraternity has magnolias blooming on the front lawn, Luz had no idea. Apparently EZ did.

 

The elder members had already called dibs on the more desirable jobs, such as vacuuming, polishing the wall sconces, or “overseeing” the younger men in their delegated tasks. One of the larger tasks that had been assigned was given to the entire Sophomore class, who were now in charge of rebuilding the shed which had been burned down due to “mysterious circumstances,” otherwise known as Muck and Malarkey.

 

“If you guys hadn’t burned down the shed in the first place, we wouldn’t have to be doing this,” Talbert complained, eyeing the juniors and seniors who were spending the afternoon relaxing on the back porch and being served lemonade by some overzealous pledge trying to make an impression.

 

“You know what, that shed was poorly constructed anyways. We did EZ a favor by torching it!” Muck declared, pointing at the ground with fervor as he made his claim.

 

Malarkey raised an eyebrow, but backed his buddy up. “Yeah, there wasn’t that much to burn anyways. It was falling apart at the seams, that’s why it collapsed so easily.”

 

“Bullshit,” Smokey called out, wiping his forehead. Early September meant that the temperature was easily in the high seventies and sunny, not exactly comfortable shed-building weather. "You dumbasses were fucking around trying to make torches, in what way did you think that that would end well?"

 

Roe had kept himself mostly to the sidelines of the exchange, settling for only a small roll of his eyes. He hadn’t been there to witness the Shed Burning of 2015, but as a member of the same pledge class as the two culprits, was now forced to help reconstruct it. Being from Louisiana, the weather seemed mild in comparison, and he was the only one still wearing a t-shirt, the rest having stripped theirs off within the first half hour.

 

“Gene!” a familiar voice called out, and Roe turned back towards the deck, where a one Babe Heffron was bounding over from, glass of lemonade in hand.

 

“Hey, Heffron,” Eugene responded mildly, taking in the pledge’s disheveled appearance, covered in ash. “What chore were you stuck with?” he asked, curious as to what job had covered Babe in so much filth that his hair didn’t even look red anymore.

 

“I was declared the chimney sweep!” Babe replied excitedly, wiping one of his dirty hands on his equally dirty shorts before moving to fix his blackened hair. “I’m basically Dick Van Dyke á la Mary Poppins, right?” he crowed, launching into a verse of Chim-Chim-Cheree, voice joined by most of the rest of the sophomores eager to engage in the nostalgia.

 

Watching Babe belt out the chorus with the rest of his brothers, Roe admired how easily the freshman fit into the group. And maybe also the way that his smile seemed to take up half his face, and the strong calves of his legs, and the blue of his eyes, and—maybe it was best to switch that train of thought for the moment.

 

The verse concluded, and Babe redirected his attention to Eugene, remembering why he had wandered over in the first place.

 

“Want a drink?” Babe asked as he offered the glass to Roe, who accepted the lemonade easily enough.

 

Eugene nodded his head in thanks, raising the cup to his lips, and wow, Babe was probably staring way too much as he eyed Roe’s Adam’s apple as he swallowed, eyes carefully cataloging the moment for later reference.

 

“Hey, why didn’t you bring enough for everybody?” Malarkey complained.

 

“Now, why would I reward the guy who burnt down the shed in the first place?” Babe countered, cocking a hip.

 

“I didn’t burn down the shed either, but I don’t have any lemonade!” added Popeye, who was eyeing Roe’s lemonade with obvious jealously.

 

Shit, Babe probably should have thought of that before singling Roe out and being so obvious about his interest, but he had to roll with it now. “Well, maybe you shouldn’t associate yourself so closely with such troublemakers, and then you’ll get some lemonade!”

 

The rest of the sophomores protested weakly, before making the group decision to search out their own lemonade.



“Thanks for the lemonade, Heffron,” Eugene said in his slow drawl, heading inside with the rest of his old pledge class to take advantage of their unofficial break.

 

“Anytime!” Babe called out weakly as Eugene left, standing by the now abandoned shed construction. Well, that didn’t go quite as well as he had hoped, as Eugene hadn’t fallen to his knees and declared his never-ending gratitude and devotion, but it wasn’t the worst scenario ever. He’d consider Plan B a moderate success.

 


 

The day of Sobel’s arrival, Dick had charged Lipton with arranging the men on the front lawn in a semi-orderly display, a task with which he was having some difficulty.

 

“Lip, Joe keeps pulling my hair!” Webster cried out, glaring at Liebgott, who had clasped his hands behind his back, whistling and avoiding eye contact. “Make him move, I was here first!” Web insisted.

 

“Liebgott, leave Web alone, I don’t have time for this right now!” Lipton said with a stern stare at Liebgott, who didn’t look very sorry. “Now, pledges, stop moving around, you’re supposed to stand at the front.”

 

The pledges had been mingling with the elder brothers, and slid out of the crowd of older guys to grudgingly take their positions on the lawn. All the pledges were dressed in their khakis and blue blazers, with matching red ties, looking the picture of clean-cut fraternity men. The initiated members were allowed a bit more leeway in their attire, so long as they had a suit jacket, tie, and slacks of some sort. As long as it was an appropriate tie, as evidenced by Dick’s confiscation of Luz’s bow tie that had subtle designs of phallic objects.

 

As the men finally reached the correct spots, a nondescript blue two-door pulled into the driveway, and Dick and Lew both strode forward, straightening their shoulders in near identical motions. The man who was presumably Herbert Sobel met them at the sidewalk, extending a hand to both men.



“So good to meet you in person, Mr. Sobel,” Dick said, motioning to the men assembled. “The men have been looking forward to your visit.”

 

“I’m sure they have,” Sobel replied dryly, eyes skipping over the brothers and instead focusing on the exterior of the house. “I’m assuming that you are unaware of the new bylaw outlawing upholstered furniture on the porches of our EZ chapters, as it poses a fire hazard?”

 

Turning to look at the two couches currently residing on the porch, Lew and Dick exchanged a look, unsettled by the quick derailing of their greetings. Dick had planned out a whole spiel about the house’s new exterior renovations, followed by the house tour Lew had planned. That speech was now promptly discarded.

 

“Yes, we were,” Lew admitted. “I’m assuming it’s a new addition?”

 

“It was implemented last month, included in the updated Rules & Regulations that were sent to all chapter Vice Presidents in the monthly e-mail.”

 

Fuck, Lew thought, it must have been buried in some subsection of another subsection. He had skimmed the document, but it was ridiculously long, and Nix had put it off for later. A later that never happened, and was now biting him in the ass.

 

“I apologize, sir, I must not have read the e-mail as thoroughly as I had thought.”

 

“Apparently. Make sure to do so in the future.” With that, Sobel continued past the pair and the waiting men, moving to the front door, where Perconte opened the door for him. Without even a thank you, Sobel continued inside, as if it were his own house. Which maybe it technically was, with him being their advisor.

 

“Sorry, Dick,” Lew muttered under his breath.

 

“It’s fine, Lew. Just pay more attention next time.” And yeah, that stung a bit. Not undeserved, but stinging.

 

The two moved to follow Sobel into the house, waving for the rest of the guys to join them inside. This was only the first five minutes of the visit, and it didn’t bode well for the rest of Sobel’s time as advisor to EZ house.

Chapter Text

                                             

 

 

Joe must be dreaming. It would be a weird dream, but it would make a lot more sense than whatever was happening in the quad at the moment.

 

A plethora of metal cages were stacked in a haphazard pile, and in every cage but one was a chicken. Real, live, puffy white chickens, to be exact. The empty cage’s door was swinging to and fro, highlighting its missing occupant. And where was the chicken? Currently weaving its way around the large oak trees, the chicken was outrunning both Luz and Perconte, and by a decent margin, too.

 

“Frank, you need to go left, we need to corner it!”

 

“How the fuck are we supposed to corner it when there are no corners? We’re outside!”

 

“I don’t fucking know, weren’t you the one who used to go do farm shit?”

 

“My grandparents owned a STRAWBERRY farm, I never really got around to learning how to corral chickens!”

 

A decently sized group of people had started to amass, spectators to the strange circus that was George Luz and Frank Perconte. Random cheers went up in favor of either the chicken or the men, as they chased and dodged each other, with little progress being made. As much as Joe wanted to cheer for Luz, the chicken was far more entertaining to encourage, and was earning the majority of the support.

 

Luz and Frank shared a short deliberation before coming to some sort of consensus. They started to rearrange the remaining cages into a semicircle shape and then began approaching the chicken from two different angles. The chicken hadn’t ceased in its crazed spree for freedom, but instead was pushed into the direction of the semi-circle. Once it had neared the other cages, Luz broke out into a sprint, reaching out both of his hands in preparation.

 

The gathered crowd was silent in anticipation, holding their breaths to see if the scheme would succeed. Time seemed to slow, as the chicken turned, as if realizing that it was trapped. As Luz made his grab, the chicken let out another loud screech, and for a moment, the victor couldn’t be determined as the noise quieted. George slowly turned, raising the chicken above his head in victory. A loud hurrah started up, and Perconte had grabbed the open cage, letting Luz slip the creature inside.

 

The spectacle over, the crowd dispersed, no doubt already texting their friends about the idiocy of EZ boys.

 

Joe was about to go and head back to the dorm when Luz turned and his eyes found Joe’s. Luz said something to Perconte and then jogged over to where Joe was standing.

 

“Please, PLEASE, tell me you didn’t see that.” George rubbed the back of his neck.

 

“I’m not exactly sure what I saw, to be honest,” Joe replied. “Why are you wrangling chickens?”

 

“Well, you see, we weren’t supposed to have to wrangle them, we were just in charge of transport,” Luz reasoned.

 

Joe glanced at Perconte struggling with the crates. “Looks like something went wrong with the transport part, then.”

 

George laughed, following Joe’s gaze. “We didn’t wanna have to make two trips!” Joe shot him an incredulous stare. “Me and Frank are strong guys, we had it down!” This earned a quirked eyebrow from Toye, challenging that assertion. “OK, we had it down, until Frank’s shoelace became untied without him noticing, and then he tripped and fell, and one of the hinges was jostled and must have opened because the next thing I know we’re chasing a chicken on the quad and this is not the impression I want to leave you with!” By the end of his speech, Luz was a bit flustered, his arms waving about as he got more into the story.

 

“Still haven’t explained why there’s chickens in the first place.” Joe supplied helpfully.

 

George glanced around the quad, and once he was apparently satisfied, leaned in close to Joe. “You’d have to promise not to tell anyone; especially Bill or Babe or any of the other pledges.”

 

“Deal.”

 

“OK, so you know we can’t haze our pledges, as per regulations.” Joe nodded along in response. “Well, we have a friendly challenge for the pledges, so they can demonstrate their dedication to our great chapter.”

 

“Wouldn’t that just be hazing, but with a different name?”

 

“Actually, no, just hear me out. Hazing would imply we’re forcing them to do this.” George explained, although Joe didn’t look like he followed. “It’s a challenge, one that they can opt out of, sure, but a challenge! And there’s no consequences for not completing the challenge, except for the personal sense of dissatisfaction of not completing the challenge.”

 

Joe just shrugged, making a noncommittal noise in his throat. “If you say so.”

 

“I do say so!” George exclaimed indignantly.

 

“So why are there chickens?”

 

“Because I say so!” George squawks, before realizing just how ridiculous his argument was, Joe snickering a bit. “I mean, the pledges will be challenged to care for their chickens for a week. Feed them, give them some exercise, just make sure they don’t die and all that.”

 

“And where exactly are they supposed to keep these chickens?” Joe drawled.

 

“Wherever they live, I guess? EZ doesn’t have the space to just keep all of these chickens for the pledges.”

 

George could see the pieces clicking together in Joe’s head, as evidenced by the deepening furrows of his eyebrows.

 

“…You don’t mean in the dorms, right?” Joe asked, as George remained silent, averting his eyes to anywhere but Joe’s. “Because if you mean for Bill to keep his chicken in the dorm, that means that I will also be living with a chicken for a week.” Joe’s voice began climbing in pitch and volume, and George finally looked up nervously. “And you wouldn’t do that, right, Luz?”

 

“Y’know, would you look at the time?” George exclaimed, looking at the empty space on his wrist where a watch would be. “I’ve gotta get going, but it was great to see ya, Joe!” He turned and began walking back to Frank and the chickens at a pace that was much too fast to be deemed casual.

 

Joe was left spluttering for a moment before calling out Luz’s name in frustration a few times. Instead of answering Joe’s call, Luz hurriedly was grabbing up his chickens, making a dash in the direction of the EZ house, leaving a scrambling Perconte behind to wrestle with the remaining cages.

 

Fucking chickens, Joe thought.

Chapter Text

“Are you sure this is OK?” Joe repeated for the third time in as many minutes.

 

Bill clapped him on the shoulder roughly, squeezing. “Joe, swear to God, if you ask me that one more time, I’ll sock you right in the mouth.” The Philly native didn’t release his grip as the pair continued down the cracked sidewalk.

 

Grumbling a bit, Joe attempted to shrug out of Bill’s grasp. “I just don’t want it to be weird, alright?” Despite his best friend’s assurances, he couldn’t help but feel uneasy as they approached the EZ house.

 

“Dude, I’m telling ya, it’s not a big deal!” Guarnere explained. “Anybody’s welcome to hang out at the house, and the guys thought you were cool at the party! Just you watch, you’ll have a good time!”

 

“Whatever you say,” Joe mumbled. The closer the house got, the larger it appeared to loom, and the further Joe’s stomach sunk. Bill had been saying for the past week that Joe should tag along to the house sometime, and after the fourth excuse Joe provided, Bill was no longer taking no for an answer. He understood that he had been welcome at the party, that’s what parties were for, but he wasn’t a member, so why should he be hanging out at the house?

 

Bounding up the steps with a weary Joe trailing behind him, Bill burst through the front door with unnecessary vigor. “Honeys, I’m home!” He declared to the uninterested faces of Roe, Nixon, Popeye, and Liebgott. “And, I brought company!” he added, flourishing his hands as Joe stepped over the threshold.

 

Joe managed a small wave before shoving his hands back down deep in his jean pockets. Without the haze of alcohol, he was able to appreciate some of the finer details of the front living room.

 

To the right of the door was a staircase leading to the floors where the guys’ rooms were, which he hadn’t gotten around to seeing, as Bill didn’t have a room to show him or anything. On the walls were large frames with the fraternity class composite pictures, the men with their blue blazers and red ties, looking far formal than they did at the moment. Glancing at the dates on the pictures, some dating back to the 1930s, Joe couldn’t help but think of how many men had lived in this house. Three large couches were set on angles in the middle of the room facing the entertainment unit that appeared fully stocked with a variety of DVDs and books in the shelves. The walls were an olive color, lit by antique wall sconces that again implied the age of the house.

 

“This is Joe, in case any of you forgot,” Bill said as he jumped over the back of one of the empty couches, plopping himself out on one side. Joe elected instead to walk around the side of the couch, situating himself on the far end, facing the staircase.

 

“How could we forget such a valiant beer pong competitor?” Nixon asked rhetorically, sparing a smile. “Not bad at all, considering you’re a freshman and everything.”

 

“A freshman who took down at least six of you guys,” Joe challenged, shoulders relaxing at the friendly banter.

 

“He’s got you there,” Popeye added.

 

Nixon held his hands up in surrender. “Ok, true, true,” he admitted.

 

Ice sufficiently broken, conversation continued to flow easily as guys filtered in and out of the room. A marathon of some crime show was playing on the TV, and between conversations the guys were narrating the far too obvious plot lines and contributing ideas as to how they would have solved the crime far quicker than the television detectives.

 

“I’m telling ya, it’s always the guy wearing a cardigan!” Bill exclaimed. “Trying to look all unassuming and shit, it’s always them!”

 

“I can verify the truth of that statement,” Roe joked, motioning to the maroon cardigan we was currently wearing over his checked gray button down.

 

“Where’d you hide the body?” Nixon chimed.

 

“Wouldn’t you like to know?” Roe smirked, turning back to the TV.

 

Babe, who had joined the group sometime during the second episode, pondered for a moment. “Ya know, if anyone could pull it off, Gene could,” he considered. He must have thought that this was voiced quieter than it was, because when he realized that the others guys were staring at him, including Doc, he began to flush a light pink color. “Not that I think you’re a murderer!” Babe rushed out, eyes flicking over to Gene’s. “I mean, if you wanted to be, you’d be like, super competent at it, like you are at everything!” The hole he was digging seemed to only be getting deeper, and the guys were getting a good chuckle out of it.

 

“Babe?” Joe said. “Shut up.”

 

Babe only nodded quickly, clasping both his hands over his face, leaning forward on his knees. A terrified scream blurted from the TV screen, and the group’s attention reverted back to the program on the glowing screen. Eventually raising his head back up, Babe glanced back over at Gene, only to meet the older man’s gaze. Doc spared a small quirk of his lips before looking elsewhere, and Babe’s heart was slightly comforted. Maybe, just maybe, Gene didn’t think he was a total freaking weirdo. That seemed like kind of a long shot, at this rate.

 

 

 

Joe heard the familiar voice before he saw him.

 

“Hey, which one of you fuckers took my Axe body spray?” Footsteps sounded down the stairs, and seconds later a very shirtless George Luz appeared at the foot of the stairwell. Clad only in a pair of basketball shorts, with wet hair pointing in a few different directions, it was obvious that he had just jumped out of a shower, and wow, Joe needed to stop thinking about George being in a shower, like, right now.

 

George had been looking pointedly at Nixon, the most likely culprit, but as he swiveled his gaze around the room in passing, he did a visible double take as he realized Joe was sitting on the far couch.

 

“Joe!” He exclaimed, hands flying to smooth down his hair into something more presentable. “Why does nobody ever tell me when we have company?” George complained.

 

“Probably because you never usually care?” Liebgott questioned.

 

“Yeah, you didn’t even bat an eye when you nearly flashed my sister!” Smokey exclaimed, raising an eyebrow.

 

George spluttered for a moment, and Joe averted his eyes, trying desperately not to stare too long at George’s torso. “Well, I care now!” George said, crossing his arms over his chest in a huff as he wandered further into the room. He ended up propping an arm on the back of Nixon’s armchair, cocking a hip to the side.

 

From this angle, Joe was situated almost directly across from Luz, making it much more difficult for Joe to ignore the lean, lightly tanned body that was beckoning to him. Chancing a glance upwards, unable to control the compulsion, Joe startled as he made eye contact with Luz, who had definitely caught Joe checking him out, judging by the smile he was biting back. Mortified, Joe pointedly directed his eyes back to the TV, boring holes into the screen with the force of his gaze.

 

“So what’re we watching?” Luz asked, directing the question at Joe.

 

Not realizing at first that George was talking to him, Joe paused, clenching his hands into fists on his legs. “Uh, Criminal Minds?” He replied, glancing only briefly at George before looking anywhere but the other man.

 

“Nice, Hotchner is super hot,” George commented, internally rejoicing that the only open seat was on the couch next to Joe. Walking over to claim his spot (earning a few yells as he crossed in front of the TV, distorting the view of the other guys), George relished the shocked look on Joe’s face as he realized where Luz was heading. Plopping himself between Bill and Joe, Luz reached both of his arms back to rest on the back of the couch, not-so-subtly stretching his body out as he arched his back.

 

Swallowing, Joe was fighting every instinct in his body not to turn his head and drink the view in, aware of how ridiculously obvious that would be. He was just fitting in with the EZ guys; he did not need to appear to already be the clingy freshman tag-along with a raging crush on one of the brothers.

 

While Joe was denying this urge, Luz had no such problem doing so, continually ignoring the TV program in favor of leering at Joe. Nix, Bill, and Liebgott had definitely picked up on it, not even attempting to hide their smirks.

 

“So, what have I missed so far?” Luz whispers, leaning in towards Joe’s ear. Surely he must have some idea of the effect he had on Joe, as Joe swore he could detect a smile in George’s voice.

 

“Some chick is killing a bunch of dudes who remind her of her first boyfriend who cheated on her.” Joe supplied, finally giving in and turning to look at Luz. He stared resolutely at Luz’s face; hyperaware of how close George’s naked chest was to his body.

 

“Nothing like good old-fashioned misplaced rage!” George joked, cracking his neck.

 

“Exactly,” Joe agreed complacently.

 

“What murder weapon would you choose?” George asked, in a tone that implied that he thought this is a normal question to ask someone. “I think I’d lean towards an axe, because axes look cool as fuck. You know a dude is gonna go full horror movie mode if he has an axe.”

 

Joe stared for a moment, quirking an eyebrow. “Haven’t really put that much thought into it, as it seems you have, which is kind of concerning me,” he admitted. “Uh, I guess I’d say brass knuckles? Brass knuckles are cool?” Joe said, his answer coming out as more of a question.

 

“Brass knuckles aren’t very practical,” George pondered. “You’d have to get real close, and hit them a few times to really make sure they’re down. Plus you’d have all that literal blood on your hands.”

 

Joe shrugged, not very much bothered by that thought. “Brass knuckles are cool,” he repeated, more firmly this time.

 

“Well, yeah, they’re badass, but very impractical!” George exclaimed, moving the arm that was behind Guarnere, using it to gesture as he became more animated.

 

“Not really my concern, to be honest.”

 

“Remind me not to hire you for any murdering business, then.”

 

“Noted,” Joe responded, smirking. During the exchange he had briefly been able to forget about just how half-clothed Luz was at the moment, but as they both looked back at the TV, he very quickly remembered. Was this some sort of punishment sent from above? He was sitting next to a partially disrobed Luz, surrounded by new friends, unable to sneak any more peeks without looking like an obvious, creepy buffoon.

 

Moving to direct his gaze at any of the other guys in the room, Joe’s eyes found Bill’s on the other end of the couch. Bill raised his eyebrows suggestively, flitting his eyes in Luz’s direction purposefully, not even trying to contain his smirking. Joe fixed him with a firm glare, lips pursing together, willing his idiotic best friend to cease with the eye motions when he was sitting right next to Luz.

 

‘God, please send me the strength to make it through this afternoon,’ Joe thought.

 

 

 

The TV marathon continued, and brothers trickled in and out steadily through the day. Despite Joe’s best efforts to ignore the shirtless man beside him, Luz seemed determined to draw him into as much conversation as possible, constantly snarking little remarks, quiet enough not to piss off the other guys too much, but loud enough that Joe really couldn’t keep focused on the program.

 

“It’s the accountant, he looks creepy, it’s totally him.”

 

“I’m telling you, it’s gonna end in murder-suicide, I’ll bet you five bucks, it’ll happen.”

 

“They should really invest in writing some more shirtless scenes. Guarantee they’d see a ratings boost.”

 

Finally, Joe came to the realization that this babble wasn’t going to cease. He wasn’t even sure if this was flirting, he was starting to bet that George truly just lacked a brain-to-mouth filter, and as the nearest target, he became the victim of George’s attention.

 

“Do you always talk this much during a show?” Joe finally replied, voice laced with a touch of frustration.

 

George’s ever-present comments made it difficult to ignore just how there he was, almost pressed against Joe’s body. The breath constantly tickling his neck, the occasional brush of a hand as he readjusted his position on the couch, the tenor of his voice washing over him; all combining in an overwhelming of his senses with just George. The smell of George’s apple shampoo, crisp, reminding him of the pies his grandma made. The sight of George’s hint of a happy trail, taunting him with possibilities that he could never have. The sound of George’s breathing, steady, reverberating in his ears louder than it should. It was all positively overwhelming.

 

“Yeah, pretty much,” George said, his answer shaking Joe out of his trance. “Got a lot of thoughts rolling around in here,” he motioned to his head. “It’d be a right shame not to share ‘em!”

 

Joe raised his eyebrows. “A true shame.”

 

George looked as though he was about to answer with a challenge to the sarcasm, but his eyes paused on something behind Joe’s shoulder.

 

“SHIT!” He exclaimed, scrambling off of the couch. “Why didn’t anyone say it was almost half after five? You know I’ve got my night class, you assholes!”

 

“Surprisingly, I actually haven’t memorized your schedule, Luz,” Nixon drawled.

 

“Well, you should’ve!” George yelled as he ascended the staircase, thundering up it with impressive speed.

 

While Joe may have had his own internal struggles about sitting next to a shirtless Luz, he found himself missing that distinct presence as soon as George had leapt off the couch. Christ, he needed to get ahold of himself.

 

“Hey, Lew, you ever get anything from Nationals following up from Sobel’s visit?” Popeye asked.

 

Lew let out a bit of a sigh, scrubbing a hand over his face, letting his head rest back against the chair. “I was gonna mention it at the meeting, but due to our laundry list of infractions, he’s decided to give us monthly inspections until he’s satisfied.”

 

“What the fuck?” Liebgott said, giving a bit of pause to accentuate each word.

 

“What he said,” Webster begrudgingly agreed, as if it pained him to side with Liebgott on anything.

 

Joe had been somewhat filled in on the situation by Bill and Babe, as his two best friends were both suddenly busy with house chores and had barely been around the dorm for a week straight. He hadn’t been filled in on anything about the actual status of the inspection, but as he hadn’t heard too much more bitching than normal, he had assumed it had gone fine.

 

“Hell, that was after Dick managed to talk him down a bit. Pretty sure he was set on at least fining us, if not giving us probation, but Dick managed to buy us a month to get things fixed up, and promised more consistent Officer reports to sweeten the deal.” Nixon’s voice was tinged with disdain, no doubt thinking of all the additional paperwork he’d be forced to complete.

 

The thundering on the stairs returned, as Luz made a dash to the bottom, this time wearing a shirt, plus a backpack and the backwards baseball cap that Joe was starting to think was some sort of attempt at a ‘signature look.’

 

“Now, this baseboard looks like it hasn’t been cleaned since Vietnam! And when did you last polish your silver? AND WHO LET SUCH SHODDY SCREENS REMAIN IN THESE WINDOWS?” George bellowed out, in what Joe assumed was a pretty spot-on impersonation of Sobel, judging by the cackles of laughter from the other men.

 

George glanced at the clock again, before reaching for the door, no doubt trying to calculate how much he’d have to run across campus to make his class on time. “See you guys later!” Luz called, sparing a quick glance at Joe, who couldn’t help but give a slight nod back.

 

A head nod that Bill definitely caught, wolfish grin spreading across his face. Although it may have been worth it, given how George’s mouth curved up as he disappeared out the door and broke into a sprint in an attempt to avoid being marked late.

Chapter Text

“When I signed up for student housing, I thought I would only have one, HUMAN, roommate. Not one idiot plus one chicken.” Joe grumbled, shooting a glare at Bill’s chicken, who they had named Martina, in honor of John Martin, one of the pledge educators. Martin hadn’t really appreciated the namesake, which was quite rude, in Bill’s opinion. It wasn’t Martina’s fault that Bull’s name was harder to make into a girl’s name. Besides, naming his chicken Martina meant that he had an excuse to blast Martina McBride at all times, much to Joe’s dismay.

 

“Hey now, you’d better not be dissin’ Miss Martina,” Bill exclaimed, clutching a hand to his chest in mock hurt. He reached out to brush his hand reverently across Martina’s back, startling her and sending her flying to the other side of the room.

 

Their two-person dorm room was now outfitted with a children’s gate in front of the door to prevent Martina’s escape, as well as her cage in the corner in front of their sink. Rather than outfitting a second room with chicken-containing capabilities, Babe had unofficially joined them for the week, bringing his own chicken, Marshmallow, also known as Marshie, to the already overcrowded room for the majority of the time. Marshie was more docile than Martina, but it was still a second chicken, in a room that wasn’t supposed to hold any chickens at all.

 

“We only have three more days with Martina and Marshie, anyways,” Babe added. “So you should really savor this while you can, before they’re gone.”

 

“I count the hours until my dorm is chicken-free,” Joe deadpanned.

 

“You’re going to miss them when they’re gone, you totally will!” Babe insisted, picking up Marshie in his arms and spinning around. “You don’t want to leave me, do you, Marshie? No you don’t!” He cooed to the chicken, which was turning its head and making some weird chirping sound in confusion.

 

Joe and Bill shared in this confusion, eyes widening as they tried to discern just how serious Babe was. That kid was a strange fellow. Well-meaning, but strange.

 

Babe nodded, as if responding to something Marshmallow had said, “Yes, yes, I know, you’ll write me from your new home. At least once a week, you’d best remember!”

 

“Babe?” Bill asked hesitantly, as if trying not to poke the crazy person. “You do know that chickens can’t write, right?”

 

Huffing in annoyance, Babe only clutched the chicken closer, angling his body further away from Bill. “I know, Marshie dearest, Bill is being incredibly rude. Don’t let the opinions of little people bring you down,” he murmured to the chicken. How much of this chicken-conversation was fake and how much of it was real, Joe really had no clue. If anyone could talk to chickens, it’d be Babe.

 

Seeing that he wasn’t going to get any rational conversation from Babe, Bill turned his attention to his roommate instead.

 

“So how’d you like hanging at the house yesterday?” Bill asked as he idly tossed a stress ball against the wall, the rhythmic thumping sound being oddly soothing.

 

“Cool dudes,” Joe responded, eyes warily tracking Martina’s current quest in attempting to snatch at his pillow. “Shouldn’t have worked myself up, they were all chill.”

 

“Told ya, man, they’re really awesome,” Bill said. “Now that you’ve been there the once, consider yourself blessed with blanket permission to hang there. The guys really liked you.”

 

Joe hummed in response, swatting at Martina as she almost successfully nipped his pillow.

 

“One guy in particular really seemed to like you,” Bill continued, and Joe looked up sharply, eyes squinted slightly as he tried to figure out what Bill meant.

 

“Don’t know what you’re talking about, man.”

 

“Oh, I think you do,” Bill challenged. “Does a Mr. George Luz ring a bell?”

 

Joe was eternally thankful that he didn’t really blush; otherwise he was sure he’d be as red as Babe’s hair. “Nothing there, Bill. Don’t know where you got that one from,” he denied. He had desperately hoped that despite their shared look yesterday, that Bill would let it lie and just drop it; no luck.

 

Scoffing loudly, Bill stood from his desk chair, hanging onto the overhang from his lofted bed. “Um, he called you hot the first night he met you, and then yesterday he was half-naked and leaning so close to you that I thought you were fused together for a moment. You can’t tell me there’s nothing there.”

 

Babe had deemed them interesting again, and collapsed onto the foot of Joe’s bed, still holding Marshie. “Plus he totally was coming on to you in the library, Joe.”

 

Joe shot a glare at the redhead, who really wasn’t helping his case. “How about we talk about Babe making an idiot of himself in front of Doc instead?” he suggested in an attempt to divert the conversation. Babe squawked in response, triggering a chain of answering squawks from Martina and Marshmallow that were quickly going to give someone a headache.

 

“Quit trying to avoid the conversation, Joe,” Bill insisted.

 

“There’s really not a conversation to be had,” Joe asserted, rolling his eyes and leaning back onto his pillows, folding his arms behind his head. “He’s hot, but I’m not gonna just try and get with one of your brothers, that’s weird.”

 

Well, it wouldn’t weird Joe out, but he was sure it’d make it weird with Bill and Babe. Despite how quickly the trio fell together as friends, dating or fucking or whatever with one of their frat brothers and then dealing with the subsequent fallout probably wasn’t a great idea if he wanted to hold onto the both of them as friends. Their newly formed bonds of brotherhood and fraternity and loyalty were being reinforced with all of their new pledge classes and responsibilities, and the promise of the fellowship with the EZ men was a far more interesting venture than just being friends with Joe, in his opinion. Rather than try and stack up against it, Joe was content enough to not rock the boat by trying to actually engage in any sort of anything with Luz.

 

“He’s hot, you’re hot, how is that weird?” Bill asked as he stared at Joe searchingly.

 

“It just is, OK?” Joe exclaimed, scrunching his eyes closed. “It’s not happening, seriously.” He repeated, opening his eyes to fix a look at both Babe and Bill. Babe appeared to accept it for the most part, but it was obvious that Bill wasn’t as sure. He didn’t challenge it any more, though, not willing to upset Joe further.

 

“So where do they send the chickens at the end of this week?” Joe asked, breaking the silence that had settled after his assertion.

 

“They’re being donated to a local co-op in town,” Babe answered, looking forlornly at Marshmallow. “Bull said I can visit them though, maybe I can help out on the weekends and earn some service hours, too. I won’t let them separate us forever, sweetheart,” he crooned to his chicken.

 

Well, at least Babe had found his true love.

 

---

 

“So when’re you gonna screw that freshman?” Liebgott drawled, moving to dribble the basketball around Luz.

 

Lipton shot Liebgott a disapproving glare, but didn’t comment, trying to follow the old adage about knowing when to pick your fights. If Liebgott hadn’t learnt any tact in the three years he’d been there, he wasn’t about to start now.

 

Luz groaned in frustration, scrubbing a hand across his face. “I’ve been trying, man!” He paused for a moment as he attempted to block Liebgott’s shot, but failed. “He just doesn’t seem into me! And I’ve been using all my best moves!”

 

“Maybe you shouldn’t be trying to make a ‘move,’ just let it happen naturally,” Lipton, ever the voice of reason, suggested.

 

George paused for a moment as if in thought. “Nah,” he settled on, dragging the word out.

 

“What you really need is to get the pledges to help you.” Webster said. “Bill and Babe hang out with Joe all the time, you need them to give you the inside scoop.”

 

“That’s actually not a horrible idea,” Lipton admitted.

 

Holding the ball and pausing the game, Luz started to meander over to the benches. “So, what, I just say ‘hey, Joe is hot, hook a brotha’ up?’”

 

“No, no, no,” Webster insisted. “You’ve gotta be a bit subtle, have some intrigue.”

 

“This isn’t one of your romance novels, Web,” Liebgott bit out, rolling his eyes all the while.

 

David fixed a firm glare at him. “Your idea of romance is wearing a condom with a heart on it.” As the other men on the court snickered a bit, Liebgott floundered for a moment and was about to bite out a retort when Web carried on. “Like I was saying, intrigue. You can’t go just straight out asking his friends, then they’re going to immediately turn around and tell Joe-“

 

“Wouldn’t that solve this whole thing, if they just told him?” Lipton asked.

 

The glare turned to Lipton. “Then Luz just looks desperate and like he’s not man enough to ask Joe out himself.”

 

“So what’s he supposed to do?” Liebgott pestered.

 

“I’m getting to that, Christ, do you ever shut up?” Web cried out in frustration. “So, lay some groundwork; when Babe or Bill mention Joe up casually, ask them about him. Or suggest that they bring their friends around the house a bit more, knowing them there’ll be some randos, but also Joe. Which is what we’re angling for.”

 

“That plan isn’t actually half bad,” George said.

 

“Thank you!” Webster said, smug grin pulling up the corners of his mouth. “Don’t know why you people don’t listen to me more, I have great ideas.”

 

“Don’t get too carried away,” Liebgott muttered.

 

The pair devolved into bickering, but George’s brain was already tossing around ideas for his new plan.

 

‘I will ensnare this man,’ he determined. He had every confidence in his sleuthing abilities, and Bill and Babe would make easy targets. Luz would be the James Bond love-spy, and Joe would be his Bond Girl love-target. ‘Or would it be Bond Man? Would that confuse him with James Bond? Because I’m James Bond right now. Whatever.’ He could figure out those specifics later.

Chapter Text

                                               

 

It being a Tuesday, Joe was alone at his table in the library that he had designated as his for the foreseeable future. Without Babe taking up his half of the table, Joe was free to spread out his books, binders, and papers as much as he wanted, which were quite plentiful. Being an engineering student, Joe’s teachers weren’t hesitant in piling on the homework, trying to weed out the freshman that wouldn’t have the stamina to make it.

 

Joe wasn’t necessarily the brainiac of his school, or even his family, but he was determined. He was taking a moderate course load, but he had purposefully avoided any extracurriculars or distractions for the moment, leaving him with plenty of time to study at the library. When he wasn’t at the library, Joe was mostly hanging out with Bill and Babe in McCarthy Hall, who were always up for some tomfoolery. Their constant hijinks were the reason Joe spent so much time at the library, because being in his dorm room meant a guarantee to be distracted by one of his best friends or another floor-mate.

 

It was only a bit after two o’clock, so the library was still mostly empty, a majority of the other students still stuck in afternoon classes. Joe was surprised, then, when he saw a hand pulling out the chair across from him from the corner of his eye.

 

Following the hand upwards, Joe saw that it was George seating himself, and let a small smile slip out before he composed himself.

 

“Come here often?” George flirted shamelessly, shrugging his backpack onto the floor and crossing his arms on the table.

 

Joe chuckled at the pick-up line, motioning towards his notebook. “Yeah, every day, actually. Life of an engineering student.”

 

“Well, it’ll be worth it when you’re raking in the dough after graduation,” Luz conceded. “Teachers-to-be like me, I’ll be begging for another bowl of porridge like Oliver Twist. Woe is the state of the educational system in America,” he sighed dramatically.

 

“Porridge isn’t that bad.” Joe deadpanned.

 

Luz reached into his own backpack, pulling out a laptop that was absolutely covered in various stickers. From campus clubs, to bands, to brands, there wasn’t a spec of empty space on the computer’s cover. It screamed of Luz’s personality, or what Joe knew of it so far.

 

“What’re you working on?” Joe asked, glancing at the notebook George had also produced, although there were so many doodles and scribbles on the cover of that too, that he couldn’t discern the subject.

 

“Sample lesson plans for my Educational Literacy class,” George responded idly, powering up his computer and flipping open his notebook to a page already consumed by notes. “We’re turning in lesson plans weekly, they’re expecting us to really get the hang of it by the end of the semester.”

 

“Those are a big part of teaching, right?”

 

“Yeah, super important. It’s basically your outline for the class, and you make them for the whole semester or year once you’re an actual teacher. Turn them in to the department chair, make sure you’re on curriculum. Also just helps so you know you’re hitting all the milestones you should be.” George seized on Joe’s interest in his major, relishing the one-on-one conversation that was hard to come by when Joe was always with his friends.

 

“So for your class now, do they give you a topic or age then, to plan for?” Joe assumed they did, considering the variety of the workload between that of a kindergarten teacher versus a high school literature teacher.

 

George nodded, clicking his pen absentmindedly. “Yeah, the teacher had us pick our preferred grade level, so we’d get more into it. Different weeks we’ll be focusing on different subjects, so that varies. But we’re supposed to write a lesson plan as to how we’d be teaching that topic to our level of students.”

 

Made sense to Joe. “What grade did you pick?” he asked. He remembered Luz saying something about being interested in the middle school range, but Joe didn’t want to come off as a creepy stalker, so he opted not to reveal just how much he knew.

 

“Eighth grade, old enough to cover some topics more in depth, but still young and moldable!” George declared, excitement oozing from his words.

 

“That’s cool,” Joe said, running out of ideas for conversation. They talked about schoolwork, now what was there? “So, uh, any new frat stuff?” he blurted out.

 

Although Luz was startled a bit by the sudden change in conversation, he quickly recovered. “Yeah, we’ve got a party coming up in a couple of weeks, G.I. Joes & Army Hoes!”

 

“Where do you even get all of these ideas?” Joe asked in amazement.

 

“I’m tellin’ ya, there’s many more where that came from,” George said, motioning to his head.

 

Joe chuckled lowly; a soft smile making it’s way to the surface. “So we just show up wearing camo and call it good?”

 

George’s eyes narrowed. “No, no, no, I’m expecting replica uniforms, steel toed boots, the works. I’m gonna have a whole platoon of drunken brothers to order around and do my bidding, as Party Master General, of course.”

 

“Pretty sure that’s not gonna work out like you planned,” Joe pointed out. “I’d bet on a coup.”

 

“And who would dare usurp my position?” Luz cried out, banging a fist on the table to exaggerate his point. The harsh banging earned a few glares from nearby students, which Luz didn’t even notice.

 

Shooting him a look, Joe inclined his head a bit. “Winters? Nixon? Lipton? Want me to continue?”

 

George huffed a bit, crossing his arms on his chest. “They wouldn’t know how to host a party that could even compare to anything I’d throw.”

 

Amused by Luz’s pouting, Joe moved back to his notebook, picking up his pencil again. “Can’t be that hard of a job, I’m sure they’d figure it out,” he teased, well, as much as Toye teased anybody.

 

Luz shoved at Joe’s notebook playfully, sending it a little bit down the table, earning a mild protest from Joe. “Be nice!” George commanded. “’Sides, it’s more work than you’d think!”

 

“Buy beer, make a banner, turn on music,” Joe listed off. “Think even I could pull it off, GDI that I am.”

 

“Heyyyy,” George whined, pouting out his lip a bit.

 

Joe caved, eyes softening as his lip quirked up. “Nah, just messing with ya. You throw one hell of a party, Luz.”

 

Luz perked up in his seat a bit, preening at the compliment. “I do, don’t I.”

 

“Don’t let it go to your head, Party Master General.”

 

 

 

They worked in a companionable silence, quiet but for the clacking of Joe’s calculator keys or the turning of a page in Luz’s textbook. Joe felt as though he’d never stared harder at his Calculus homework in his life, determined not to glance up at George every three minutes. Despite his best efforts, he was probably averaging about one glance every four minutes, and not all of them went unnoticed.

 

George would sometimes feel Joe’s dark gaze flicker, and he’d let their eyes meet. At first Joe quickly looked away, or pretended he’d been looking in another direction. The fourth time it had happened, George made sure to twist his face in a funny contortion, earning a small chuckle from Joe. It became Luz’s personal goal to pull a completely unique face each time they made eye contact, which became all the more frequent when Joe figured out what Luz was doing.

 

A series of looks later, George was pleasantly surprised when Joe was the one to poke his tongue out, crossing his eyes at the same time. He let out a laugh, and Joe’s smile peeked out in response.

 

 

 

“I declare a study break!” George exclaimed once he’d closed one of his notebooks. “Too much learning, not enough talking!”

 

Joe glanced up. “Pretty sure most librarians would say the opposite.”

 

“Well, there isn’t any librarian at this table, now is there?” George countered, although he paused and glanced around as if his words would conjure one out of thin air. Once he’d made sure the coast was clear he turned back to Joe.

 

“So, engineering,” Luz started. “That’s pretty impressive.”

 

Joe shrugged one of his shoulders. “Not really. Surprised they even let me into the program, honestly. Not really the smartest guy around, ya know?”

 

Luz’s eyebrows furrowed as his eyes narrowed in confusion. “I’ve only known you for like two months and I can already tell that that’s not true.”

 

Joe’s doubtful eyes darted up briefly to meet Luz’s before he went back to cracking his knuckles. “Well, thanks, I guess. But you’re not the one who has to sit and grade my papers.”

 

“Okay, that’s true,” George conceded. “But it’s almost October and you’ve been doing well this far, which says something. And you must work ten times harder than most other students, judging by the amount of times I find you here.”

 

Another shrug in response. “Mostly ‘cuz I need to, trying to keep up.” Joe tilted his head up as he crossed his arms across the desk. “First one in the family to go to college, I can’t screw this up, right?”

 

“That’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself,” George said softly.

 

“It’s fine, really.” Joe said. “Just gotta focus on school, not get distracted.”

 

“That why you didn’t rush or anything?” Luz asked.

 

Joe nodded, mouth quirking up a bit. “Right on the money.” He let his fingers drum against his arm in a flowing pattern. “Much as I like hanging around with everybody at EZ, I can’t really commit to joining something that’ll require so much of my time. Figure as long as you all let me tag along with Bill and Babe, it doesn’t much matter anyways.”

 

George definitely wasn’t objecting to Joe hanging out at the house despite being a non-member, and he was ready to fight anyone who challenged that.

 

“Even without Babe and Bill, you should come over whenever! How about this, I’ll give you my number, and if you’re wondering if it’s cool to come over, you can just text me! I mean, it’s always cool for you to come over, but in case you need that extra reassurance, you know?” George rambled, barely even pausing for breath.

 

Joe’s toes curled in his shoes a bit, but managed to keep his face mostly neutral. “Sure, sounds good.” He grabbed his phone off the table and entered the code before passing it to Luz, who made grabby hands at it before passing his own phone over to Joe.

 

As Joe entered his own contact information, he couldn’t help but focus on George’s tongue poking out slightly from between his lips as he concentrated on punching his phone number in. Joe knew he’d have to come up with some sort of deal with Babe and Bill to make sure that he didn’t end up drunk-texting Luz. That could only end badly.

 

                                                                       

Chapter Text

 

                                                                 

                                                                  

 

 

 

Standing in the stairwell of the basement, Joe’s eyes instantly found Luz’s, which were lit up in mirth. Just as Luz began to open his mouth, Joe cut him off.

 

“I was already wearing this shirt, so save it, Luz.” Joe said.

 

Seated on one of the couches, George made a motion of zipping his lips closed, although they were curved up into a grin.

 

The rest of the seats were taken by a smattering of EZ brothers, and Joe plopped himself on the space on the floor in between Luz and Lipton. A beer was tossed to him from across the room as the guys settled back down and drifted back to their previous conversations.

 

Joe felt a light nudge to his thigh as Luz’s foot intruded on his space.

 

“So. Interesting outfit choice,” Luz observed.

 

Joe was sporting a green and white plaid shirt open over a black t-shirt, the v-neck showing off a peek of Joe’s collarbones.

 

“Told ya, I was already wearing this shirt, ‘m not gonna change just to spite ya,” Joe huffed.

 

“Sure, sure,” Luz teased in a light voice. “Now all we’ve gotta do is get you drunk enough to let me draw a mustache on you, to complete the look.”

 

Eyebrows dropping lower, Joe’s mouth tightened. “You touch my face with a marker, you die,” he promised.

 

“We’ll see.”

 

 

 

Pizza had been ordered and dished out at some point in the night, and Joe stared at his plate for a moment.

 

“These look suspiciously like the plates they’ve got at the dining hall,” he pointed out.

 

Malarkey perked up on one of the other couches. “That’s because they are. We’ve got a bit of a kleptomaniac in our midst,” he said with a pointed look at Speirs.

 

“I wanted them,” Speirs said plainly. It was obvious from his tone that he saw nothing wrong with this. Lipton looked as though he was torn between reprimanding the obvious rule breaking and just rolling his eyes in exasperation.

 

“Did you learn nothing from Dora the Explorer?” Luz asked. “Speirs no swiping!” Having already lost in the tournament and been forced to drink copious amounts of beer, he found his joke quite amusing. Joe smothered the chuckle that was about to get out by taking a large bite of pizza instead.

 

“We also have a collection of glasses from every bar in town,” Liebgott chirped.

 

“And sports equipment from the rec,” said Martin.

 

“And that painting of a beagle,” Smokey added.

 

The list of contraband continued to grow, and Joe pushed his plate to the side, sinking back against the foot of the couch. He listed slightly to one side, bringing him into contact with Luz’s leg. Through the fog of alcohol he vaguely recognized this, but Joe was really too tired to care. His head followed his body, leaning partially on Luz’s khaki clad thigh, as he struggled to keep his eyes open long enough to compete in the next round.

 

Luz felt the pressure against his leg and stiffened for a moment before realizing just who was using him as a support. The tension melted out of him, and wow, Joe’s hair was getting longer. Was Joe’s hair soft?

 

He let his hand wander into Joe’s dark hair, only grazing through the strands at first before letting his fingers graze against Joe’s scalp. George couldn’t really see Joe’s face at this angle, but he figured he had permission with how Joe leaned closer.

 

“Your hair’s getting longer, Joe,” George said, wonder tingeing his voice.

 

Joe didn’t answer immediately, lost in the pleasant sensation of George tracing indistinct patterns through his hair. “Think that’s what usually happens, hair growing longer.”

 

“Not always,” George replies. “Sometimes it falls out, and then you’re bald.”

 

Joe hummed in agreement, breathing deeply as he let himself drift towards rest with George’s fingers working as a tactile lullaby.

 

“Break over, next round beginning!” Buck announced, having joined in as the official gamekeeper. “Perconte and Toye! Toye, c’mon, wake up!”

 

Letting his eyes crack back open, Joe pushed himself straight, removing himself from George’s leg. George let out a small sound of disagreement as his hand met air, already missing the feel of Joe’s skin.

 

A controller and a fresh beer were passed along to Joe, and before long he had perked back up enough to pay attention to the race.

 

George hadn’t been watching the race too closely, content to watch Joe instead. He glanced to player two, Perconte, before he was struck with a thought!

 

“Luigi and Mario!” He exclaimed, startling some of the guys with his volume. “Mario and Luigi, we’ve got ‘em both right here!”

 

“Christ, Luz, shut up, I’m trying to win a race here!” Joe complained, turning back momentarily to glare at George. This distraction, paired with the lack of coordination brought on by alcohol, sent Joe’s car spinning off the bridge he had been traversing, sending his avatar into the water below. “Look what ya did!”

 

“I wasn’t the one who told you to take your eyes off the road!” George said, nudging his leg against Joe’s shoulder. “Maybe someone needs to go to Driver’s Ed again.”

 

Joe grumbled something under his breath that sounded like mimicry of Luz’s last statement as his car reappeared in the race. He was still a half lap in front of Perconte and was determined to maintain his winning streak.

 

Luz eased his way off the couch, jostling Joe slightly in the process and earning a half-hearted grumble in return. Heading upstairs in search of a snack, he found a smattering of pledges already taking up residence in the kitchen, circled around the center island and a plethora of bowls filled with chips and dips.

 

“Hey, Bill, thought we sent you guys up here to get the chips and bring them back, not devour them all yourselves,” George said.

 

The group paused in their eating and turned to Luz. Babe is the only one to look slightly remorseful out of the group of pledges, as Bill, Hashey, Miller, and Garcia stare blankly at Luz.

 

“Well,” Hashey started, mouth still full of chips. “We were getting to that.”

 

“Had to test them for poison!” Miller chimed in.

 

“Yeah, we’re doing you a favor, really,” Bill said.

 

“Sure you were.” Luz agreed doubtfully. He reached for a handful of pretzels, cocking one hip against the counter.

 

The boys took George’s movement as a signal to recommence their feasting, and conversation began again. Luz remained quiet for most of it, letting the pledges’ frantic ramblings wash over him as he rolled through the words he was trying to get out.

 

“So, Joe Toye.” George said, abruptly interrupting Babe’s soliloquy on Cool Ranch Doritos. Any words he had planned fled his mind, and the silence continued for a moment as the pledges waited for Luz to finish his thought.

 

When nothing else came, Bill rose to the plate.

 

“Yeah, Joe. Brown hair, about this tall,” he made a motion with his hand. “What about him?” He kept his voice serious, although there was a spark of bemusement behind his eyes.

 

“How’s he settling in?” George asked, mind pulling a blank.

 

“Wouldn’t you know that already, with how much time you spend together in the library and all?” Babe asked with a wicked grin.

 

“Uh, I mean, like, what’s your opinion as his roommate? You gotta know him better.” Luz said.

 

A Cheshire cat grin broke out over Bill’s face. “He’s good, settling in real good. Might be a little lonely though.”

 

“Lonely?” Luz asked, puzzled. “He’s got you guys, don’t he?”

 

“Well, yeah.” Bill acquiesced. “But we’re busy with frat stuff sometimes. Besides, that’s not the lonely I was talking about, if you know what I mean?” He raised his eyebrows meaningfully.

 

Catching on, Luz rubbed a hand over the back of his neck. “So, he’s not seeing anybody?”

 

“Nope! Very single! In all caps!” Babe said quickly. Bill shot him a look, obviously telling Babe to cool his jets.

 

“Still on the market, but not for long!” Bill promised. “Joe’s a hot commodity, I keep tellin’ him. One day he’s finally gonna let me set him up with someone.”

 

Luz glanced up sharply at that. “What’s the rush?”

 

“No rush, right Bill?” Babe said. “All about Joe being with the right guy, quality over quantity.”

 

Slightly appeased by Babe, Luz relaxed slightly, grabbing for another chip. “And what sort of qualities would Joe be looking for?”

 

Bill paused for a moment and stroked an imaginary beard. The rest of the pledges soon joined in, creating a weak imitation of a Greek council of scholars.

 

“One must be wise!” Miller said as he motioned to his head.

 

“One must be of good humor!” Hashey said with a twirl of the hand.

 

“One must be handsome!” Babe swooned.

 

“One must have defeated an enemy in combat!” Bill added, jabbing an imaginary sword in Luz’s direction.

 

“Ok, I get the picture,” Luz grumbled. Of course he wouldn’t get a straight answer out of this group of monkeys. “If that’s it, I’m gonna head back downstairs.”

 

“Ok, ok, wait, wait,” Babe implored. His mouth was still twisted up in a smile, but had softened. “Joe just wants to be with somebody authentic. He just needs someone who’s a good person, I think.”

 

George paused in his turn as he listened, nodding his head slightly afterwards. “Well, good talk, you guys. Don’t forget to bring the rest of the chips downstairs.” Luz started to head back towards the staircase to the basement.

 

“Oh, and if you mention this conversation to anyone, I will personally wallop you over the head with a paddle.” George called out over his shoulder.

 

Looking around at the other guys, Hashey chewed on his lip. “He wouldn’t actually do that, right?”

 

“He’s already got three of them, I bet he’d round up Liebgott and Nix to help him out.” Bill said reluctantly.

 

“Why can’t we just give them a nudge though?” Babe complained.

 

“No meddlin’,” Bill warned with a wag of his finger. “Gotta let the kids figure it out for themselves.”

 

Babe grumbled something under his breath.

 

“You hear me, Babe?” Bill asked, staring intently at his friend. “No meddling.”

 

“Yeah, yeah, no meddling,” Babe said. “At least not while you’re around," he whispered.

 

“What was that?”

 

“Nothing!”

Chapter Text

“Wait, so what are the rules of Drunk Jenga?” Joe asked.

 

“It’s like normal Jenga, but there are commands or prompts written on each brick, and you do what the tile tells ya,” explained Skip, who had suggested the game in the first place.

 

“What if I don’t like what my brick says?” Babe asks petulantly.

 

“You suck it up an do it, you don’t really have a choice.”

 

Buck, Babe, Malarkey, Joe, Skip and Luz were all seated around the folding table, and maybe the rickety old table didn’t have the stability that was necessary for the game of Jenga, but it would have to do.

 

“Hottest goes first!” Luz declared, reaching out to poke at one of the middle bricks, when Buck slapped his hand away.

 

“Don’t know when that was decided, but I’d definitely dispute it,” Buck said, ignoring Luz’s protests as he successfully grabbed the first tile. “Drink three,” he explained, showing the tile around the table before taking three long pulls from his can of Bud Light.

 

In the spirit of all proper games, the play continued going clockwise, as the players drank and stripped as commanded by the tiles. After the third round of only getting bricks that commanded him to strip, Joe had lost his shoes, socks, and shirt, and was quickly on his way to his birthday suit.

 

“Ok, is it just me, or does this game have way too many ‘strip’ blocks?” Joe exclaimed in frustration, motioning at his own body.

 

Looking up, Malarkey only grinned. “Oh, did we not mention? This is Luz’s set!” he cackled, and Joe could only groan.

 

Luz’s smug grin was unbearable, so proud of his own ideas. George was a firm believer that the only real purpose of any drinking game was to get people naked and frisky, and this particular Drunk Jenga set had come in handy many times in the past. With a leer at Joe’s half-naked body, he was giddy with hope that history would repeat itself.

 

Hesitant to pull another brick, Joe had to be encouraged by Babe before he even reached to poke around at the tower. Joe closed his eyes once he had extricated the brick, unwilling to look at it, shoving it at Babe. “You read it.”

 

Babe snatched the brick and read it quickly, and Joe could only judge by the pregnant pause that it wasn’t good news.

 

“Strip one,” Babe read out, regret lacing his voice, which was nearly drowned out by the cheer Luz sent up as he pumped his fist in the air.

 

If Joe flushed lightly at the display, he’d blame it on the alcohol.

 

“C’mon now, Joe, give us a show!” Skip called out as Joe got up and made to unbutton his jeans. Joe grinned a bit, rolling with it.

 

As Joe dragged the zipper of his jeans down, Luz was convinced that time had slowed down. Either that, or Joe was literally unzipping his pants slower than anyone else in history. Joe turned, placing his hands on his lower back as he arched and rolled his body lightly, earning several catcalls from the partygoers that littered the room.

 

Does Joe moonlight as a stripper? George thought. Because he was way too good at removing his pants, in Luz’s opinion. At least, way more talented than the average non-stripper civilian. Surely someone would have told Luz by now if Joe actually was a stripper? If Joe was a stripper and someone had withheld that information, George would be strangling somebody tonight.

 

Finally, Joe was fully divested of his pants, clad in black boxer briefs. With a little wiggle, he finally sat himself down, but not before throwing an over exaggerated wink at Guarnere, who had been the loudest catcaller of them all.

 

George Luz was convinced that there was a God somewhere.

 

Luz was startled out of his musings, however, as the wobbly tower collapsed, with Babe holding the final brick in his hand.

 

Malarkey held out a fresh can of beer to Babe, who didn’t hesitate to grab it out of his hands. “Loser has to chug the can,” Malarkey explained.

 

“Works for me!” Babe exclaimed with a laugh, eagerly popping the aluminum tab. Tipping the can back and chugging it down like a champ, Babe was clapped on the back a few times before being dragged into a new game of beer pong.

 

College parties were the best, in Babe’s opinion.

 

 

 

To Luz’s great sadness, Joe had put all of his clothes back on after the game ended. He really did need to amend the rules so that this re-dressing wouldn’t happen again. While he much preferred to finally glimpse Joe’s toned chest, George had to admit that Joe’s outfit tonight was delectable in its own right.

 

The olive green Henley that Joe was sporting hugged his body; particularly the biceps that George knew Joe had been working on at the campus rec center. That campus recreation center sure had been good to Joe (and in turn, Luz) this semester, as he was filling out his still growing form. At the start of the semester Joe could have been considered on the lankier side, but now he had a firmly average build with a decent amount of upper body strength. Oh, and how George wanted to test that newfound strength and vigor. To test it nightly, in fact.

 

The group began to disperse from the table, in pursuit of new ventures to get them drunk. George found himself shooting the shit with Lipton, trailing behind the group Joe was a part of that had made its way towards the front sitting room. He hadn’t been paying attention to Lip much, throwing in an occasional nod and hum, no doubt tipping Lip off instantly.

 

“You’re not even listening, don’t know why I bother.” Lipton complained, nursing his rather tame rum and coke.

 

Forcibly removing his eyes from following Joe around like a puppy, Luz turned to Lip, angling his body so that he had his full attention.

 

“I’m listening, I’m listening. What’d you say again?”

 

Lipton huffed good-naturedly, rolling his eyes. “Just saying that I saw you’ve been spending an awful lot of time at the library lately. Finally taking my advice about being a good example?”

 

“That’s exactly it, Lip!” George declared. “I’ve seen the errors of my past, and I’m a new man now!”

 

“New man, huh?” Speirs countered, appearing at Luz’s side, startling the smaller man.

 

Shit, Speirs, you really need to stop doing that, the creeping thing.” Luz complained, taking a pull from his own mixed drink.

 

Speirs adjusted his stance, widening his feet a bit. Which, with the practically perfect Army uniform he was sporting, only added to the intimidating factor. The lengths of fake ammo draped across his chest were a bit overkill; at least, hopefully fake ammo. But Speirs was finally participating in a party theme, so Luz would take what he could get.

 

“Not my fault you all are easily spooked,” Speirs deadpanned.

 

“I wasn’t spooked, I was surprised.” Luz clarified. “Horses are spooked, and I am not a horse!” The argument quickly devolved, highlighting the alcohol coursing through his system. “Although, I may be horse-like in the ways that count, of course.”

 

Lipton raised a hand to his face, desperate to change the topic of conversation before Luz began describing his dick in greater detail. “Hey, I think they’re gonna start a game of Boom Cup, let’s do that.” Really, Lipton was ready to do just about anything that wasn’t talking about his best friend’s penis.

 

“Boom Cup! Yes! Onwards!” George pumped a fist in the air, wrapping an arm around Lipton’s shoulder, steering him in the direction of the table currently being set up, Speirs trailing along behind them.

 

The game hadn’t even started and Babe was already reaching for the cups of beer being arranged at the table, downing three partially filled cups before Malarkey could swat him away.

 

“Hey, now, let us set up the damn game first!” He complained, arranging the mass of cups into a diamond in the center of the table. “Now no touching until we actually start.” Malarkey commanded, poking a finger at Babe’s chest, who attempted to return a solemn nod, but only really managed a giggle instead.

 

Babe leaned heavily on Joe, who’d slung an arm around his waist to keep him upright. Luz tamped the irrational jealousy, reminding himself that helping a friend to stand up was not a romantic declaration and that he shouldn’t see it as such. But a small part of his brain seethed, already scheming how to take Babe’s place.

 

After a brief explanation of Boom Cup from Muck, the game began, and it quickly became apparent that Babe was horrible at this game. His coordination only worsened as he continually lost and drank the corresponding cups, sending him into a losing spiral. Joe made it obvious that he was purposefully trying to make it easier on Babe, but still, Babe continued to lose. Joe traded some exasperated looks at George across the table, particularly as George would one-bounce his in and then pass it to Joe across the table to try and get Babe out.

 

While Babe ended up drinking a good majority of the cups in the middle, it was Skinny who ended up having to chug the center cup. He then promptly vomited on Perconte’s trousers, and the group quickly dispersed from the scene of the mess with vague calls for the pledges to clean it up.

 

Relocating to a set of couches, some of the men were content to chat, with idle talk of starting some card games. Joe had nabbed one of the end seats on the couch, and George seized the opportunity to plant himself in Joe’s lap.

 

“George, there’s a seat right over there.” Joe nudged at his shoulder, although it lacked any real amount of force.

 

“Think I’m good right here,” George assured with a wink, leaning back to rest against Joe’s shoulder. He let his head rest back against the couch and captured one of Joe’s hands between both of his, idling wiggling the fingers every which way.

 

“Thought that Liebgott and Webster didn’t get along?” Joe nudged him again, gesturing his fingers in the direction of the pair on one of the other couches.

 

Liebgott had an arm slung casually over the back of one of the smaller couches, David sitting near him. Not nestled together the way Joe and George were, but considering they usually held a three foot radius from each other, this could be called intimate for them.

 

George hummed a bit, shutting his eyes. “’S a bit complicated.”

 

Joe flexed his fingers in George’s hands. “I like a good story.”

 

“Not necessarily a good story.”

 

“Just tell me, George.” Joe complained lightly. “Please.”

 

“Well, you asked nicely,” George sighed. “Long story short they used to fuck, then some shit happened, then Webster fucked off to Australia for a year, ever since he’s been back they’ve been acting like bitches to each other.”

 

Joe’s other hand rested lightly on George’s knee, tapping out an idle rhythm. “Looks like they might be fucking again.”

 

“I don’t really follow the drama that closely. Too tiring.”

 

The conversation died out, but the pair continued their mindless fidgeting. Both were too drunk to overthink, instead reveling in the feeling of each other’s hands.

 

George was fighting the distinct urge to let his hands roam to other parts of Joe’s body, to trace the biceps, the collarbones, the jawline. Thank the Lord he wasn’t drunk enough to do that. Didn’t need to be labeled the creepy guy who touches people’s faces. That wouldn’t do at all.

 

Lost in the sensations, neither of them noticed when Webster and Liebgott slipped out of the room and up the stairs together.

 

 

 

Having left the party after the first half hour, as per usual, Roe had gotten a decent amount of work done that night. He’d pushed through his Organic Chemistry homework, he’d reviewed for his Microbiology mid-term, and even gotten a bit of his Literature readings done before the sweet call of sleep started to call out to him.

 

Gene glanced at the clock, 1:32 A.M.; the party seemed to still be in full swing, judging by the music and voices that managed to make their way upstairs. Packing away some of his books, he decided on grabbing a snack, maybe even a beer if there were still any to be had on the premises.

 

Moving down onto the main floor, Roe was quickly surrounded by gaggles of drunk college students in various states of regrettable behavior. Even though he was only a sophomore, he often felt so old at these parties. He was looking forward to being twenty one, when he’d be able to go to adult bars where civilized people went to drink and there wasn’t someone running to puke in a bathroom. That was the dream.

 

“Gene, you joined the party!” Harry exclaimed, wrapping his arms around Gene’s neck, although his lack of balance almost sent both him and Gene to the floor.

 

“Just one beer,” Roe conceded, letting himself be tugged along to the kitchen.

 

The kitchen was in a state of obvious disarray, and the floor alone was enough to prove it, sticky with spilled alcohol.

Luz seemed to finally be making some sort of progress, standing in the V of Joe’s legs as he sat on the counter, head tipped back against the cabinets. Although, Joe’s eyes were closed, and whether that was sensual or just trying to fight an urge to vomit, Roe couldn’t know.

 

Harry served him up a decent beer, which had been squirreled away so that the masses couldn’t find it. He took a drink to appease Harry, but firmly refused to shotgun it.

 

“I’m not that young or that stupid anymore, Harry.” Gene said with a bit of a chuckle. As a freshman, he’d fallen prey to the peer pressure only a few times before it got old. The guys liked to have a good time, but they had never truly forced him to drink, and even though he was the butt of some ‘stick-in-the-mud’ jokes, the guys mostly left him alone about his lack of partying. Because he never got crazy drunk, he’d unofficially become the Drunk Shepherd, there with a glass of water and an Advil for those poor souls who faced an incredible hangover the next day.

 

“Where’s Babe?” Gene asked. The redhead had the prettiest flush when he drank, and was even more handsy than normal, a fact that Gene didn’t mind one bit.

 

“Uh, last I saw he was doing body shots in the basement? I’ll help you find him!” Harry declared, set on his new quest. “I will help you find your true love, and then you will shower me in gold coin as payment for my good deed!”

 

Gene rolled his eyes a bit, but Harry missed it, content in his own delusion. “Sure, Harry. Gold coins.”

 

“Babe’s a leprechaun, he’ll have the gold coins, that’s why we need to find him.” Harry explained with a logic that could only be found when inebriated.

 

Descending into the basement, Roe found himself keeping a hand on Harry’s arm, praying that he wouldn’t pitch himself forward accidentally.

 

The crowd in the basement was primarily located on the makeshift dance floor, the area where the couches has been pushed out of the way. There were a few low coffee tables the some people were doing body shots on, shirts hiked up to above their bellies or discarded completely, copious amounts of tequila covering the tables.

 

Roe initially glanced towards the low tables, cautiously optimistic that he’d get to see a shirtless drunk Babe, which while not a rare occurrence exactly, was still a treasured one none-the-less.

 

Babe wasn’t at the low tables however, and he couldn’t really see that well into the crowd on the dance floor, although he saw Bill and some girl dancing near the edge. His eyes moved to the perimeter of the room, moving over the scattered couples and trios that were trying to chat over the sound of the music.

 

Not-Babe, Not-Babe, Another-Not-Babe… Babe?

 

Gene could see a shock of red through the people, on one of the couches in the corner of the room. If it meant that he didn’t have to dance, he was even more on board.

 

“Hey, think I found him,” Gene relayed to Harry, who practically started bouncing in excitement.

 

“Yes! The gold coins! Lead the way, my steed!” Harry said with exuberance. He even tried to jump on Roe’s back, in an attempt to ride his ‘stallion’ to the ‘fair maiden’s castle,’ but Roe wasn’t having any of it, depositing Harry back on the ground as quickly as he had left it. “No fun,” Harry pouted.

 

The closer to the couch he got, the surer Roe was that it was Babe. He was slightly turned away from the room though, laying down on his side on the couch. It was probably best to wake him, get him to sleep in his own bed; his back would thank him in the morning.

 

Gene squatted down next to the couch and touched Babe’s shoulder lightly, giving it a gentle shake. “Hey, Babe, c’mon, let’s get you in your room, then you can go to sleep,” Roe said in his soothing talking-to-drunk-people voice, a voice that could seemingly charm any inebriated person within a ten foot radius.

 

Babe didn’t respond, and Gene frowned for a moment. “Babe? C’mon, get up.”

 

This time he did get a slight groan, but it was so quiet that Roe almost swore that it was just some horny teenager on the dance floor. Tugging on Babe’s shoulder more firmly, he managed to roll him onto his back.

 

There was a trail of vomit down Babe’s face and shirt, and judging by the smell that had previously been muffled by Babe’s body, the rest of the vomit was now in the couch cushions. Even after being shifted around, he still wasn’t opening his eyes, or even moving at all.

 

Roe’s heart began to beat faster and faster, starting to zone in onto what was happening.



“Babe, I need you to answer me, right now, okay, Babe?” Roe asked insistently, although his command went unfulfilled. “Shit,” he cursed under his breath.

 

He turned to Harry, whose mouth was open and gaping where he stood flummoxed. “How much did he drink?” Roe asked, voice rising in pitch.

 

Harry raised his hands, eyes widening. “I don’t know, OK? I don’t know?” The panic in Harry’s voice eliminated him from actually being a help to Roe.

 

“We need to take him to the hospital, Harry!”

 

“Shit, shit, shit,” Harry repeated in a litany, crossing his arms tightly across his chest as he tried to tamp the panic down. “We can’t do that, what if it gets back to Sobel?”

 

Roe launched to his feet, gripping the front of Harry’s shirt. “Pretty sure that if he dies of alcohol poisoning, Sobel would be more concerned with that.” Pulling himself back to the situation at hand, Roe gestured to Bill who was in the crowd of onlookers that was starting to amass. “Get Winters down here, NOW!”

 

Bill scurried up the stairs, feet pounding almost in time with the music that was still coursing throughout the party.

 

“Harry, help me get him up, we need to get him to a car.”

 

With Babe being completely dead weight, the two men struggled to support him. Where was Bull when you needed him?

 

“Can’t believe you actually fucking suggested that we just leave him.” Roe said in disbelief.

 

The sound of footsteps thundering down the stairs revealed Winters as the cause of the noise as he rushed over to the trio, taking the scene in.

 

Harry continued despite Winters’s arrival. “How are we supposed to know what to do? Nobody’s ever gotten this fucked up before!” He asked indignantly. Being accused by Roe had rubbed him the wrong way, and his pride pushed down any sense of guilt that had been bubbling up.

 

“You are officers of this fraternity! You oughtta know!” Roe yelled out, finally snapping. “How the hell have you gone through four years of college without knowing the signs of alcohol poisoning?”

 

Welsh was immediately cowed and averted his gaze, while Dick met his eyes.

 

“Let’s just get him to the car, he needs to get looked at,” Dick said neutrally. “We can talk more about this later.”

 

“You’d better bet there’s gonna be a later, Dick,” Roe promised. “This shit doesn’t get taken care of, I’ll take it to Nationals, don’t bet that I won’t.”

 

Moving to switch places with Harry, Winters and Roe proceeded to lift Babe up the stairs, although it was precarious. Some of the partygoers were too drunk to notice the spectacle, but most of the brothers had zeroed in on the situation.

 

“Shit, what happened to Babe?”

 

“—knew he shouldn’t have done that keg stand.—“

 

“—thought Babe could hold his liquor?”

 

“He didn’t seem that drunk?”

 

The plague of voices shifting responsibility and arguing as to the details of the situation did nothing to help Roe’s mood, who was glaring ominously at anything that looked his way.

 

“Will someone get the fucking door?” Roe shouted, sending Skip in a scramble to wretch the door open so that Babe could be maneuvered outside and into Roe’s old Toyota.

 

With Dick and Harry piling in as well, the car peeled out of the driveway, leaving a gaggle of partygoers lingering awkwardly on the front porch. Some of the younger brothers looked around for some guidance in the situation, uncomfortable in every sense of the word.

 

It was Ron who ended up taking charge, ordering the music to be turned off. He shooed the stragglers off, groups splitting off and wandering away from the front lawn. The air was tense as those still awake shuffled to their rooms; the tension lying thick over the house like a fog.

 

A memorable night for all involved.

Chapter Text

Luz almost didn’t catch it the first time.

 

“I told Reneé she’d have to find another EZ guy this year for date party, since I’ve got Babe here. I was thinking of setting her up with Christenson, you think he’d go for—“ Gene was sitting at one of the long dining tables, munching on a very sensible fruit salad.

 

“Well, why can’t you just take her officially but then obviously Babe’s your real date?”

 

“Gotta do right by my boyfriend, Nix.” He chuckled a bit, shooting a glance through the door to where Babe was preparing his own plate in the kitchen.

 

“Wait, pause, rewind.” George was almost positive he heard Gene call Babe his boyfriend.

 

Gene and Nixon shot him a blank look, obviously unsure about what needed repetition.

 

“You… and Babe?”

 

Nixon barked out a laugh. “Did you really not know yet? It’s been like a week!”

 

“No, I did not!” George said indignantly. “It’s not like we have some sort of news bulletin about this stuff!”

 

A look of contemplation passed over Nix’s face. “Note to self, start including relationship updates during chapter meetings.”

 

“Dick’s gonna shoot that one down real fast.”

 

“No meeting announcements, maybe a newsletter? We could post it in the kitchen…”

 

Roe rolled his eyes as he continued his munching.

 

“No, seriously!” George waved his hand in front of Gene’s face. “When did this happen?”

 

Gene shrugged a shoulder. “Night we had to take him to the hospital.”

 

“Please tell me it was a bedside confession where you thought he was asleep but really he heard you and made you confront your feelings.”

 

“Not quite that melodramatic. He was conscious the whole time.”

 

By then Babe had joined them at the table with a coffee and a kiss for Roe, much to Luz’s objection.

 

“How is this fair?” George cried dejectedly, head sinking to the table. “I have been putting in WAY more effort than you and you already got your guy!”

 

This earned Luz another eye roll from Gene, although there was an undeniable smirk present.

 

“It’s not exactly a race, Luz,” Lipton countered, appearing in the kitchen with a backpack on his shoulder. “When it happens, it happens.”

 

“Don’t give me any of that ‘sage wisdom’ shit, Lip,” George complained. “What am I doing wrong?”

 

“Maybe the part where you haven’t actually asked him out yet?” Babe piped in.

 

“That would probably be it,” Nixon agreed.

 

“It’s not just that easy!” Luz exclaimed, annoyance settling in as everyone else apparently knew how to woo Joe better than him. “I’m not trying to spook the kid!”

 

“It’s been like three months, George,” Lipton said. And Lipton was the king of ‘take it slow’ and ‘patience’ and a lot of other words that George did not associate himself with. If Lip thought he was taking it slow, it was truly a glacial pace.

 

“I get it, I get it.” George admitted, finishing off the last of his coffee. “Get a move on it.”

 

Now it was only the how part he had to figure out.

 


 

The 506th, the shitty town bar that let underage kids in with obviously fake IDs, was the epicenter of nightlife for most freshmen. The exterior was somewhat dilapidated, and it was a good thing the lights were so damn dim that you couldn’t see the sticky mess of the floor. Nevertheless, a bar was a bar when it was your only option. The rest of the bars on the strip were notoriously stingy about fake IDs, so unless you knew the house or frat party scene, it was the place to publicly drink.

 

Joe and Bill hadn’t gotten in on the first round of fake ID buys, and were currently waiting on theirs to ship in. The guy made the fakes for pretty much every generation of EZ pledges, and Joe was added on in as he was with everything else. In the meantime, they’d gotten their hands on two old fakes that circulated around the house like a pair of library books waiting to be checked out.

 

The men they were supposed to be, Connor Grimes and Derek Barnes, were both white men with brown hair, which was good enough to pass the security at The 506th. Despite being reassured by pretty much every brother that they’d pass, Joe and Bill had both been sweating bullets as they first approached the door. They’d practiced the names, addresses, birth dates, the whole shebang, desperate for their story to pan out.

 

Their worries were unfounded, as the security guard barely glanced at the flimsy plastic before directing them to the guy to pay the cover fee.

 

Joe had known more people than he thought he would, and he was pretty sure that half his Calc I class was present, probably drowning their sorrows over the test they’d taken this week. They ran into Muck and Malarkey at the bar as the duo were buying drinks for a pair of ladies that seemed amused by their antics, and Joe and Bill had said their hellos before catching the hint that this was a mission they wouldn’t be needed on.

 

Bill had dubbed the night as 'bros night,' which meant trying to play wingman and downing as many cheap hot shots as possible without getting alcohol poisoning.

 

“We need to be like Muck and Malark,” Bill said as he took a pull of his drink.

 

“You mean be super homoerotic half the time?” Joe raised an eyebrow. “Because I love ya’, bro, but not like that.”

 

Bill shoved at Joe’s shoulder. “You know what I mean, jackass! We need to be gettin’ laid!”

 

Muck and Malarkey’s group had left earlier in the night, and judging by the smiles the gals had been sporting, they seemed game for the night’s events. Some guys had all the luck.

 

Joe scoffed. “I’m doin’ just fine, don’t you be worryin’ about me.”

 

“Bullshit!” Bill barked out a sharp laugh at that, startling the pair of bar-goers next to him. “You’ve had blue balls since September!”

 

Joe quickly averted his eyes down to his drink, fingers ripping at the bottle’s label, creating a tiny pile of confetti on the countertop.

 

“Don’t know what you’re talkin’ about.”

 

“Dude, it’s just me here, and you’re a shit liar. Anyone with eyes can see that you and Luz are like this close to fucking.” To illustrate his point, he held up his thumb and index finger, so close that they were practically touching.

 

“Maybe that’s the point!” Joe exclaimed, setting the bottle down on the counter. “I don’t want to just fuck him!

 

Bill paused for a moment, unused to seeing Joe so riled up. “You’re gonna have to explain it to me, buddy.”

 

Joe groaned, head dropping into one of his hands tiredly. “I wanna hold his hand, and date him, and kiss him, and yeah, fuck him, but like, on the regular. Goin’ steady. All that shit.”

 

“And what’s so wrong with that?” Bill was quickly becoming confused.

 

“What’s wrong is that’s not what he wants! Since we met he talks about how I’m hot or whatever, and I’m half-sure he’s just tryin’ to get a rise outta me, but it’s not like he’s asking me out or anything!”

 

“Well, it’s not like you’re asking him out either…”

 

“Bill, I’ve never even flirted with another guy. I have no clue how this works at all. I’m hopeless, and George knows I’m hopeless, and I’m gonna die hopeless and alone.”

 

“Now, now, that is not the attitude of a winner!” Bill felt a great idea forming. “You’ve got no confidence. That’s our mission tonight, we’re gonna get you some confidence!”

 

With a snort Joe went back to his drink. “Ok, sure.”

 

“I’m serious! You’re gonna flirt with at least one guy— NOT ME— and then you’ll have confidence and then you’ll be able to score your man!”

 

“Think you’ve been watching too many chick flicks, Bill.”

 

Bill hopped off the barstool, waving the bartender down. “Four shots of your cheapest vodka, thanks.”

 

“Because that’s a great idea.” Joe drawled.

 

Bill pushed a finger at Joe’s shoulder. “You are no longer in charge of tonight. What I say goes, capiche?”

 

More dangerous words had never been spoken.

 


 

Luz’s phone rang for the billionth time; he just happened to get the BADD duty shift on the night when practically every brother was out drinking. He must have been back and forth from the house to the strip and back again at least fifteen times that night so far. Thankfully no one had puked in his car yet, but it was just approaching 2 a.m., when all the sloppiest drunks started to head home.

 

“Personal chauffeur to all drunks speaking. May I ask who’s calling?” He had to spice it up somehow.

 

Some shuffling was heard on the other end with a heavy bass echoing in the background.

 

“What?” came the garbled response. Obviously Luz’s sense of humor was lost on the overly inebriated.

 

“It’s Luz, I’m BADD duty tonight? I’m assuming that’s why you called?”

 

“Luz!” Bill’s voice came through. “Joe, it’s Luz on the phone!” He crowed excitedly, although slightly away from the receiver judging by the sound. “Luz, can you pick us up?”

 

George’s heart rate ticked up involuntarily. “Yeah, where you guys at?”

 

“Joe, where are we?” Guarnere’s voice was a bit muffled as he conferred with Joe. If Luz concentrated just enough he could hear just a bit of Joe’s rough voice in the background. Or maybe he was just imagining it. He imagined Joe's voice a lot.

 

“We’re outside, we’re at the 506th. But we were thinking of getting tacos. Should we get tacos?”

 

Luz sighed a bit. “No, no tacos. You called BADD, not Taco Truck. I’m heading over now, be there in five.” He hung up before there could be any more discussion of tacos, lest they get any ideas and go wandering in search of them.

 

 

Pulling up to the corner of the 506th, there were a few smatterings of people obviously stumbling out after last call, deciding where their next adventure would lead them. He spotted Bill and Joe rather easily; at this point he was pretty sure that his eyes would automatically search out Joe in any circumstance. They were hyper-focused to identify his brown hair, his broad shoulders, the gait of his walk.

 

A gait that appeared a bit affected tonight as he started stumbling towards George’s car, arm slung around Bill’s shoulders.

 

Bill appeared marginally more sober than Joe as he guided his friend into the front seat, taking up his spot in the back.

 

“It’s alright that we make an extra stop to take Joe home, right?”

 

Technically, Bill should have filled him in on this when he was actually requesting a ride home, as it was at the discretion of the DD if they’d be OK with transporting guests. But this was Joe, and obviously Joe was an exception.

 

“No problemo,” George said, keeping his tone light. He glanced over at Joe, who was slouched into the seat, eyes shut lightly. “Hey, buckle up, buttercup. Seatbelts are required at all times.”

 

An eye cracked open, and Joe reached a hand up weakly to swat at the seatbelt on the side of the car before giving up, hand dropping back to his lap.

 

“Someone’s had a fun night.” George leaned over, reaching for the seatbelt, aware of how close he was hovering over Joe’s body.

 

Joe was also aware, eyes now peering open. A hand fisted itself in George’s shirt, holding him in place as he continued to struggle with Joe’s seatbelt, while another trailed across his arm.

 

George let out a weak chuckle as Bill cackled in the back seat. He gently pried Joe’s fingers from his shirt before grabbing the seatbelt again and successfully securing it across Joe’s body and retreated back to the safety of his own seat.

 

“All right, ready to go.” Luz muttered to himself, shifting the car out of Park. “Looks like you guys had a good time?”

 

“It was the BEST night,” Joe sighed, head lolling from side to side. “Best, best, best.” He kept muttering, voice trailing off softly.

 

“So you hit The 506th?” George chuckled, fondly remembering his own drunken tomfoolery at the frosh bar.

 

Bill leaned forward, arms looped around Joe’s shoulder’s from behind. Most likely because he was the type of the person who hated to be excluded from any conversation.

 

“Yes! We did!” Bill yelled in a voice that was much too loud for such a small car. “We saw everybody we knew, ever! And we did shots, and I got to be wingman, and we danced!”

 

George was smiling along until he heard the ‘wingman’ bit, his smile freezing awkwardly. Luckily, Joe was trashed and not paying attention and Bill couldn’t see his face from the back.

 

Of course, George had had his own drunken fumbles at The 506th. That was the problem, he knew what sort of things happened in those bathroom stalls, and imagining Joe with some faceless random was not his idea of a good time.

 

“-and this guy, what’s his name, he actually WAS gay, which was a good thing, ‘cause I was getting worried we wouldn’t find anyone, and he was cool and bought Joe a beer and-“

 

“Beau, ‘s name was Beau. Beau, Beau, Beau.” Joe chimed in.

 

“That’s nice,” George commented lightly, hands flexing on the steering wheel.

 

“Woulda been more fun wi’ you there, George,” Joe complained, arm reaching out to rest on George’s shoulder. “Always more fun, ya know?”

 

He let his eyes dart away from the road for the moment, glancing at the arm that hadn’t moved from his shoulder yet. “Maybe next time, yeah?” Luz said noncommittally.

 

The hand on his shoulder started moving towards his neck, fingers entangling in the hair at the back of his nape. George did his best not to startle too obviously but couldn’t help the tightening of his shoulders.

 

“Now, now, no distracting the driver, Joseph,” George admonished.

 

“Yeah, stop feelin’ him up, Joe!”

 

Joe mumbled grudgingly under his breath. “Feel him up whenever I damn well please, Bill.” He did withdraw his hand, though, so at least George could try and focus on driving.

 

Luz almost hadn’t caught it, and a strangled laugh caught itself in his throat.

 

Bill didn’t have the same problem, guffawing loudly. “I can’t wait to tell you about this tomorrow!”

 

Thankfully they were pulling into the parking lot at the dorms before Joe could test Luz’s restraint any further.

 

“Thanks for the ride, Luz!” Bill chirped, hopping out of the car with a grace that was pretty impressive for a drunk person.

 

A grace that Joe was lacking as his hand flopped uselessly, trying and failing to open the passenger side door. Bill managed to hoist him out of the passenger side, but it was obvious that Joe was struggling with the whole walking thing.

 

George sighed for a moment before un-clicking his seatbelt, coming to Bill’s aid and supporting most of Joe’s weight while Bill strutted along a few paces ahead. Pressed up against Joe like this, George was hyper aware of the smell of cologne and stale cigarettes that emanated from his walking partner. It was distinctly masculine and extremely distracting.

 

As the elevator doors closed, Joe decided that he still wasn’t close enough to George, slinging his remaining arm around George’s shoulder, body slumping against George’s and face dropping to George’s neck. And Bill wouldn’t stop wiggling his damn eyebrows suggestively. He wasn’t helping at all.

 

“Okay, I wouldn’t object to this in ANY other scenario, but you’re way too drunk, so hands to yourself,” George said, trying to remain strong. His fingers carefully pried Joe’s hands from his shoulders, placing them firmly at Joe’s side.

 

He didn’t know that Joe Toye was even capable of pouting, lower lip sticking out temptingly, obviously miffed that Luz was interrupting his plans. George couldn’t decipher his drunken mutterings even if he tried, but they didn’t sound very positive.

 

They lost Bill in the floor lobby, as he had locked his sights on some group of girls hanging out on the sofas and promptly ditched the guys. Again, not helpful.

 

Through some pointed prodding and pushing George was finally able to figure out which room was Joe’s and was able to maneuver him into bed, refusing any offers of cuddling.

 

This night must have been some sort of punishment from a vengeful god, here to taunt George for taking so long. He got it, really. Ask Joe out, and soon.