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Learned Our Lessons Well

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Samwell frog year

Shitty’s old Andover classmates always wanted to know what it was like being on a team with The Jack Zimmermann. It was fucking weird, was what it was like.

Shitty had known enough sons of celebrities and millionaires to have a pretty clear idea of what Jack Zimmermann would be like. But this kid – he was nothing like any of them. He was quiet, kept to himself, and incredibly awkward. All of the SMH upperclassmen thought he was a stuck-up snob, but Shitty wasn’t too sure about that.

For one thing, Jack and their weird goalie were the only SMH teammates who didn’t bug Shitty about his given name. You’d think on a hockey team, of all places, they’d respect the sanctity of nicknames but nooooo. Apparently they all loved a mystery and couldn’t stand not to know Shitty’s shitty first name. But not Jack. He’d asked what the “B” stood for the first time they’d met, but when Shitty had told him that he hated his given name and didn’t want to talk about it, Jack had nodded, said “Okay,” and moved on. Shitty had to give props to people who respected other people’s boundaries.

For another, the kid had no interest in promoting his parents’ fame or his own infamy. If anything, he avoided both topics which, again, was nothing like any rich kid Shitty had ever known. He kept his head down, deflected all questions about his parents or his time in the Q (and their upperclassmen had a lot of questions about both topics), and would redirect all such conversations to the mechanics of hockey or history facts.

If anything, Jack was kind of a nerd. Not that there was anything wrong with that. More power to him, for finding his passions and all that good shit; Shitty was not one to judge. The kid loved his coursework. Like seriously loved it, more than any other jock Shitty had ever met. It was kind of cool, in a nerd-chic kind of way.

(Not that his old Andover classmates cared about any of those details. All they cared about was getting some “hot goss” they could go viral with. Bunch of Aristocrat vodka-drinking inverted ball sacks.)

For a bunch of assholes fucking obsessed with Shitty’s nickname, the SMH upperclassmen were apparently determined not to give Jack one. Oh, they claimed it was just because they couldn’t think of one that fit him, but Shitty saw right through that bullshit. The kid’s name was Jack Fucking Zimmermann. Jay-Z. It was fucking obvious but the upperclassmen all swore up and down that oh no, it didn’t fit him, they’d just have to keep thinking of a nickname for him. That was some grade-A crap, right there, because every other frog had a nickname bestowed on them within minutes and some of them were obvious stretches but that batch of elitist bastards were clearly withholding a nickname from Jack because they thought they were too good for him or something…

(…And when did Shitty start thinking of millionaire sons of celebs as in need of his protection and people who didn’t like millionaire sons of celebs as elitist bastards? But holy shit, he did think of Jack and his upperclassmen teammates that way. He was seriously going to need to rethink his priorities.)

The whole situation was so fucking infuriating and his mother, holy shit his mother would probably judge him most of all for maybe actually wanting to be friends with this spoiled rich celeb kid. And his shitty father and super-shitty grandparents would probably love it. Hell, he knew they loved it; they were constantly pumping him for deets on his “celebrity friend”. Obviously he couldn’t be friends with someone his grandparents approved of, so he needed to just get that thought out of his mind double-quick.

Except that, ugh, this kid. He just seemed so lonely and his teammates were fucking bastards about the whole draft thing. And the whole celebrity parents thing. And about everything, if Shitty was going to be honest about it.

It all came to a head at the first EpiKegster of the year. The one time and place that Shitty hadn’t expected to deal with the upperclassmen’s hateritis for Jack. For all the media tried to portray him as a party boy, Jack never came to SMH parties – or any party, as far as Shitty knew. And yet, the kid showed up at the door to the SMH Haus at the same time that Shitty did.

“Uh, hey.” Shitty rubbed at the back of his neck.

“Hi.” Jack knocked on the door to the Haus.

“I’m pretty sure they never lock that door.” Shitty turned the knob, opening the door to the raging kegger inside. “Not to put too fine a point on things but… what are you doing here?”

Jack shrugged. “I’m here to support the team.”

Shitty shook his head. “I didn’t think you did parties.”

Jack looked baffled. “Mackey said attendance at the epic kegster was mandatory.”

“You know this isn’t some kind of pep rally,” Shitty began. “It’s a fuckin’–”

“Eyyyyy, Shitt-ay!” The captain himself chose that moment to stumble toward them and slap a sloppy high five in Shitty’s general direction. “Sup, bro, I’m so glad you made it!” Mackey’s expression hardened when he turned to face Jack. “Oh, great,” he sneered. “The Not-So-Great-One has deigned to grace us with his company.”

Oh for fuck’s sake. Shitty pulled a hand down his face. There was only so much a person could put up with before they needed to teach someone a fuckin’ lesson. He cranked his fist back and punched that fartsucker right in the kisser.

Mackey went down, hard.

Jack blinked repeatedly. “Did you just punch our captain?”

Shitty sucked his teeth for a moment, then stepped carefully over Mackey’s prone body and walked deeper into the party, Jack by his side. He shrugged. “Did I? I’m drunk and I don’t know what I’m doing. I doubt I’ll even remember this by morning.”

Jack cocked a well-defined eyebrow at Shitty. “You just arrived here, at the same time that I did.”

Shitty grabbed two cups of tub juice out of the hands of passersby and chugged them down, one after the other. “Plausible deniability,” he croaked out before letting lose a belch. It was some strong shit, but surprisingly tasty. It had potential, serious potential, but it needed some tinkering to get it quite right. The philistines that made this tub juice didn’t know what they were working with. It would take an artisan, nay, an artist, to get it just right.

“Let’s find the tub and all of the potent potables in the Haus.” Shitty clapped Jack on the back. “We’ve got some work to do.”

_X_

Sophomore year

Shitty gave his reflection a once-over in the bathroom mirror. Looking good, as always. He gave the ‘stache a quick comb, and then opened the door to Jack’s room.

It only took two giant steps to reach Jack’s bed. Placing his right hand on the edge of the bed, he kicked his legs up into the air and belly flopped onto the bed. He propped himself up on his elbows and fluttered his eyelids in his best imitation of a child beauty pageant contestant.

Jack spun his desk chair around and smirked at him. “You’re fully clothed inside the Haus? That’s a first.”

Shitty shrugged. “No time to get comfy when we’re leaving for Jerry’s. You almost ready?”

Jack dropped his gaze and looked intently at his hands. “Oh, euh…”

Shitty cocked an eyebrow. “You’re coming with us, right?”

Jack flinched. “…No?”

“The fuck not?” Shitty pulled himself up to perch on his knees.

Jack sighed. “The boys don’t want to hang out with their captain.”

“Bullshit.” Shitty jabbed a finger at the air. “They used to hang out with Mackey all the time, and that asshat was a major league douche canoe.”

Jack shook his head. “They don’t want to hang out with me.”

Shitty should have known this was coming. Jack never gave himself enough credit. He was a great friend once you got to know him, but he put up so many walls that only the most persistent people could get past them.

“Let them decide that for themselves,” Shitty argued. “And how would they even know whether they want to hang out with you if you never give them the chance?”

“I hang out with the team all the time,” Jack protested.

“What? When?”

“On ice.”

“On ice?” A guffaw burst out of Shitty’s mouth before he could stop it. “That’s not hanging out, that’s fucking ice hockey practice, you doofus.” He stepped off the bed and pulled Jack to his feet. “They only know you as Captain Jack. They don’t know the real Jack.” He patted his right hand over Jack’s heart.

Jack rolled his eyes at him. “I’m too old to be hanging out with a bunch of college freshmen.”

Shitty screwed up his face and nodded his head sagely. “Yes, that makes sense. College sophomores often are.”

“I’m twenty-two years old!” Jack exclaimed.

“Yes, yes, so old. When are you getting your walker?” Shitty teased.

Jack sunk back into his chair. “They’re all into their YOLO and their Honey Boo Boos and their Gang-em Style and I… don’t even know what those words mean.”

“First of all, it’s Gangnam Style, with an ‘N’ in the middle of the word. And second, who the fuck cares if you don’t know what they are? They’ll all be replaced by some other trends in a few years.” Shitty sat back down on the edge of the bed. “The team doesn’t want to hear you make pop culture references, they just want to know the real you.”

Jack shook his head. “Half of them are straight out of high school – no offense.”

Shitty shrugged. “You’d have to try a lot harder than that to offend me.”

“And they’re all interested in… I don’t know… teenage stuff,” Jack continued. “Maybe I liked that stuff too, when I was a teenager? But that feels like so long ago now.”

Shitty grinned. “Jack Zimmermann liked something other than hockey? Sounds fake.”

“I have outside interests!” Jack sounded offended, but he was grinning nonetheless.

“’Swawesome, then come on out with us and tell us all about world history or Downton Abbey or whatever the fuck.” Shitty jumped up and gave Jack a noogie. “Ooh, new plan.” He stepped out into a wrestling stance, holding Jack in a headlock. “Winner decides what we do tonight.”

Jack stood up, tossing Shitty over a shoulder. “You never win at wrestling!”

Shitty reconsidered for a moment, his feet dangling a few feet off the ground. “Winner takes pity on loser and goes out with him and the team?”

Jack chuckled. “Okay. You’re on!”

_X_

Junior year

“Did you see Bitty’s shot?” Shitty bounded into Jack’s room, still hyped over that evening’s game. “Did you see it? Fucking gorgeous, Jack!” He took an imaginary shot with an invisible hockey stick. “We’ve got to play that little bastard more often – oh.”

He stopped short at the sight of Jack at his desk chair, alternately squeezing a stress ball tighter than it was probably meant to be squeezed and bouncing it off a wall.

“I don’t want to talk about Bittle,” Jack muttered.

“’Kay…” Shitty sat cross-legged on Jack’s bed. “Where’s your dad taking you out to dinner tonight? I’ll bet it’s très bougie, huh?”

“I don’t want to talk about my dad, either,” Jack ground out. He slammed the stress ball into the wall. It rebounded over his head.

“Ohhhh-kay.” Shitty adjusted his legs and settled his hands on his knees. “What do you want to talk about?”

Jack sighed, rubbing at his eyes. “You’re right, my dad’s taking me out to dinner tonight. I’m not looking forward to it. He can be a bit much.”

Shitty nodded. He wasn’t really sure what was eating Jack tonight, but at least the dinner was an easy problem to solve. “I’m a bit much. Take me with you. I’ll entertain him and you can chillax in your own head, eat some good food, drink some fine wine, and join in on the conversation when you feel ready.”

“You can’t… you…” Jack began. He wrinkled his brow and thought for a moment. “Actually, I think my dad likes you.”

“Of course he likes me! I give good parent!” Shitty beamed. “If growing up among the Boston Brahmin taught me one thing, it’s how to impress parents. Hell, it’s easier with your dad than with the Andover ‘rents. He’s pretty chill, all things considered.”

“Eh.” Jack shrugged. “That’s strange, isn’t it? That you’re so good with parents but you’re also so… you?”

Shitty spread his arms widely. “I have layers, my friend. Like Shrek.”

Jack sat in silence, a thoughtful look in his eyes. After a long moment, he shook his head before speaking again. “You probably already have plans. You should… you should enjoy your own plans.”

“What plans?” Shitty shrugged incredulously. “Did you see my parents at the Family Weekend game? Or anywhere this weekend? My mom’s got a conference, and my dad is… my dad. My plans for the night consist of Hot Pockets and ramen on the couch. Please take me out to a fancy restaurant on your dad’s dime.” He folded his hands in earnest supplication.

“Heh.” A corner of Jack’s mouth turned up in a half-smile.

Shitty scooted to the edge of Jack’s bed then stood up. “Look.” He put a hand on Jack’s shoulder. “You obviously don’t feel up to conversation tonight. So let me help you! Talking is easy for me. I could charm the panties off a virgin nun.”

Jack pulled a face.

“There’s nothing wrong with asking for help, Jack,” he continued in a more serious tone. “I’m your friend, I’m here, and I want to help you. You don’t have to do everything by yourself. Let me help you.”

Jack bit his lip and lowered his brow. After a few seconds, he took a deep breath. “Shitty, would you come out to dinner with my dad and me?”

Shitty let loose a whoop. “Hell yes, I will!”

Jack nodded his head repeatedly. “Okay… okay…” He took a deep breath. “Could I…?” He shook his head. “No, it’s dumb.”

“It’s never dumb to express your needs.” Shitty lectured him. “What can I do you for?”

“Euh…” Jack took a deep breath. “Could I… maybe… play with your hair for a few minutes before we leave? It’s kind of calming.”

Shitty grinned widely. “Of fucking course you can, my brah. Whatever you need. Will it just be a simple finger-comb or should I get a brush and hair ties from my room?” He pondered for a moment. “We could do my hair up in multiple ponytails or Pippi Longstocking braids and try to shock the conformist fucks at whatever fancy-ass restaurant your dad is taking us to.” It would look ridiculous, but would have the dual benefits of attracting all attention away from Jack and making Jack laugh. Shitty was always down to embarrass himself if it helped a friend.

Jack chuckled. “I think a finger comb will be enough for tonight, but we could always try your idea another time.”

_X_

Senior year

“Bertrand, don’t rush through eating your Indian Pudding,” Grandmother Knight scolded. “You’ll choke on it.” As if it were even possible to choke on pudding.

In only the latest of a lifetime’s worth of complaints about his father’s family, they had insisted that Shitty join them in Boston for Thanksgiving the day before a game. Meanwhile, the entire rest of his team was back at Samwell celebrating Hausgiving 2014, and no doubt eating at least three of the most delicious pies ever made.

He scooped up the last spoonful of pudding, swallowed it down, and rested the spoon gently on the lip of his grandmother’s china plate. “I’m finished. May I be excused?”

Shitty’s grandmother raised one thin eyebrow at him.

His grandfather cleared his throat.

“You know the family rules, son.” His father shook his head gravely. “No leaving the table until everyone is finished eating.”

Shitty glanced over at his grandmother’s plate. She was nibbling at pea-sized scoops of pudding every few minutes in between bits of conversation. This was going to take for-fucking-ever.

He didn’t just want to get back to the Haus to taste Bitty’s vastly superior baking (although that was definitely one consideration, no doubt about it). He wanted to be back with his friends. In his real home.

He hadn’t missed the look on Jack’s face when he’d told him that he had to go to Boston for Thanksgiving, either. Sure, it had been subtle – Jack was a master at hiding his feelings, even from himself. But Shitty knew Jack well enough to know when he was feeling hurt.

And Jack had every right to feel hurt about Shitty missing Hausgiving. Hell, Shitty had every right to feel hurt about it! It was their senior year. Depending on which team Jack signed with and where Shitty got into law school, this could be their last chance to spend Thanksgiving together. It wasn’t fucking fair that a couple of rich bastards got to control how he spent his holidays.

An eternity later, Grandmother finally set down her spoon, looking oh-so-proud of herself.

“Are we done here?” Shitty asked.

Grandmother looked heavenward. “We are, in your parlance, ‘done here.’”

“That was another delicious Thanksgiving feast as usual, mother.” Shitty’s father dabbed at his mouth with the corner of a napkin.

“Here, here!” Grandfather raised a glass of Scotch in Grandmother’s direction. “You’ve outdone yourself this year.”

“Yes, yes.” Shitty pushed his chair away from the table and stood up. “Great job ordering the servants around and taking all the credit. I’m off.”

“Bertrand.” Grandfather glared at him. “After dinner, we adjourn to the study for conversation.”

“Yeah, no.” Shitty crossed his arms. “You ordered me to attend dinner. I attended dinner. I’m done now.”

“Thanksgiving is for family,” Grandmother chided him.

“Exactly.” Shitty nodded vigorously. “That’s why I’m hauling ass back to Samwell so I can be with mine.”

It was a pain in the ass taking the commuter rail to and from Boston in one day. Another year, Shitty might have spent the night in Boston and tried to stay in his grandparents’ good graces rather than rush off into the cold. But the warmth on his friends’ faces at Hausgiving made the whole thing worth it.

“I didn’t think you would make it!” Jack’s face lit up as he moved over to make room for an extra folding chair.

“Of course I did.” Shitty ruffled Jack’s hair before sitting down next to him. “You couldn’t keep me away.”

“Next year…” Jack began seriously.

“We’ll figure it out,” Shitty assured him. “There’s always Skype or FaceTime. We’re bros for life! We’ll always be here for each other, even when we’re not here here.”

_X_

Harvard Law 1L year

Shitty leaned his head against the front door of the Haus, breathing in all of the familiar smells. Stale beer, decomposing garbage on the LAX bros’ lawn, and crisp fall leaves. Smelled like home.

It had been another brain melting shithole of a day. One exam done; another one to start studying for. One essay turned in; another due soon. And grades returned to him that were... not exactly what he was used to.

Shitty had never been the sort of person who derived a lot of self-worth from his grades. In fact, he'd always thought that people who got super competitive over class rankings were certified sweaty ball sacks. School was for learning, not for winning.

In truth, Shitty had never had to work hard for good grades before. All he’d had to do was attend classes, enthusiastically participate, and do the readings. He could churn out an A-worthy persuasive essay while half-drunk. School had never been a part of his life that he had to worry about.

But now, he was at Harvard Law with hundreds of other students who were used to being top of their own respective classes. And students who had worked their asses off their whole lives to be there. And, Shitty couldn’t let himself forget, there were so many more who had worked their asses off their whole lives but weren’t there because he and other legacy students had taken their seats.

Even if he could convince himself that class rankings really didn’t matter (they had never mattered to him before, there’s no reason why they should now, even if some of his classmates wouldn’t fucking shut up about them), the volume of coursework was unlike anything he’d ever experienced. It was non-fucking-stop. He couldn’t even take a mental health day, not with the overwhelming amounts of work he’d have to catch up on. He probably shouldn’t have even come to Samwell, he should be back at his study carrel, but he’d driven down practically on autopilot.

Nursey and Dex turned their heads in unison toward the Haus door as Shitty walked in. They were sitting in Shitty’s rightful place on the green couch, playing Halo or some shit.

“Out.” Shitty crooked his thumb toward the door.

Nursey shook his head, a sympathetic expression on his face. “We’re kind-of in the middle of a game, but Bitty and Jack are in the kitchen if you want to chill with them until we’re–”

“Play it another time. I need that couch more than you do.” Shitty made a shooing motion with his arm as he lumbered over to the couch.

Dex sputtered. “You don’t even live here anymore!”

“Oh?” Shitty raised an eyebrow and fixed them with a glare. “You got dibs yet? Either of you?”

Dex flushed angrily. “I’m still working on it,” he muttered.

Nurse shrugged in agreement.

“Then I’m invoking alum privilege. Out. Both of you.”

Nurse and Dex looked at each other and held a quick nonverbal conversation that Shitty was too tired to parse but probably amounted to something along the lines of “It’s not worth arguing this.” After a moment, they both set down their controllers and walked out.

“Later, Shits.” Nurse patted a comforting hand on Shitty’s shoulder as he passed him.

Shitty flopped face first onto the couch. That was the stuff. This was a couch that was meant to be lived on, not like the museum pieces at his grandparents’ house. It was worn down in all the right places, infused with the literal blood, sweat and tears of his teammates and predecessors – not to mention soaked with beer, tub juice and who knew what else. It was vaguely revolting, yet somehow comforting.

“Oh Lord, Shitty, no! Get your face away from that disgusting thing! I don’t even want to think about what germs you’re breathing in right now!”

“Hi, Bitty.” Shitty rolled over and propped himself up on his elbows to greet Bitty and Jack before slumping on his back to stare at the ceiling.

After a moment of silence (and no doubt another nonverbal conversation), Jack asked, “Would you mind giving us a few minutes, Bits?”

“All right, sweetheart,” Bitty sighed. “You boys call me if you need anything.”

A moment later, Jack crossed into Shitty’s line of sight. “Hey, Shits.”

“Hey, Jack.” Shitty rolled his head to face Jack more directly. He was standing in front of the couch with his hands in his pockets, looking like a cool drink of water.

“What’s going on?” Jack asked.

Shitty sighed and stared back up at a water stain on the ceiling. “Harvard suuuuuuucks. No, lawyers suck. No, Harvard Law fuckin’ sucks giant swampnuts.”

“Move over, I’ll sit with you.”

With an effort, Shitty pushed himself up to sit on the middle cushion. When Jack sat down next to him, Shitty leaned his whole right side against Jack’s left.

“You don’t have to sit up if you don’t want to,” Jack offered.

“Nah, brah, I’m not going to lie down while you’re sitting up,” Shitty shook his head before resting it against Jack’s shoulder. “Wouldn’t be fair to you.”

“I wouldn’t be offended.” Jack shrugged gently against Shitty’s cheek. “But tell me about Harvard.”

Shitty sighed. “There’s so much new shit to learn. And I always have to be ‘on’, ready for any questions my profs might ask. And most of my classmates are a bunch of competitive douche-nozzles who just want to talk about the fastest career path to become millionaires…” He started. “And I shouldn’t be complaining about any of this to you.”

“Why not?”

Shitty shrugged. “My stress level couldn’t be anything compared to yours. You’re in the NHL, dealing with fuckhead commentators and gossip bloggers, living life in front of the cameras…” He squeezed his eyes shut. “And now I’m probably stressing you out, fuck!”

“Don’t apologize!” Jack chuckled. “And don’t worry about my stress. You’ve been here for me so many times. If I wasn’t here for you now, then I would be the, euh, fuckhead.”

Shitty craned his neck to stare at Jack. “Did you just say that?”

“Tell me more about what’s bothering you.” Jack nudged him gently in the side.

Shitty sighed and laid his head back down on Jack’s shoulder. “It just feels like so much. I’ve been going non-stop since Labor Day, and I can’t even take a break to catch my breath.”

“Why not?” Jack asked.

“Too much fucking work!” Shitty threw his hands up in the air, careful not to hit Jack. “And my classmates aren’t out there taking breaks, are they?”

“Maybe?” Jack asked.

“No they’re fucking not, because they’re hypercompetitive assholes.”

“You don’t know…” Jack began.

“They’re assholes, Jack.” Shitty pointed a finger in the air. “And I can’t take a break because then I’ll fall further and further behind and the work will just pile up and I’ll fucking fail out of Harvard Law.”

“You’ll fail out of Harvard Law if you take one break?”

“Maybe.”

They both sat in silence for a moment.

“Okay,” Jack began. “Tell me this. If you work nonstop and don’t take any breaks and don’t get enough sleep and you burn yourself out, will you be a better lawyer or a worse lawyer?”

Shitty blinked. Twice. He sat straight up and turned again to face Jack. “Who are you, and what have you done with Jack Zimmermann?”

Jack chuckled again. “Maybe I’ve learned a few things. Maybe I’ve even learned some of them from you.”

Shitty opened his mouth but he couldn’t make the words work. After a moment, he swallowed and tried again. “Well, fuck. You’re right. As usual, you beaut.”

Jack grinned. “I don’t know about ‘as usual.’” His face softened a bit. “You look really tired, Shits.”

Shitty nodded. “I feel really fucking tired. I think I might have mentioned the whole ‘non-stop since Labor Day’ thing?”

“So why don’t you take a nap?” Jack suggested.

“Here?” Shitty asked.

“Here, or I’m sure Lardo or one of the boys would let you nap on their beds,” Jack offered.

“Honestly, a nap right here on this couch sounds fan-fucking-tastic.” Besides, Shitty didn’t much feel like hiking up the stairs at the moment.

“Do you want a pillow or a blanket?” Jack started to rise.

“No, uh, would you mind…” Shitty ran his index finger over his moustache self-consciously.

“What is it?” Jack asked.

“Would you, uh, maybe play with my hair until I fall asleep?” Shitty cringed. He didn’t want to impose himself on his best friend, but there was nothing better than a nice scalp massage to help him relax.

“Of course!” Jack smiled broadly and sat back down on the couch before patting his left leg.

Shitty laid his head on Jack’s lap and curled up next to him. He smiled reflexively a moment later when he felt Jack’s fingers running through his hair. He hadn’t known how much he’d needed this.

“Just like old times,” Jack promised.

Shitty Knight rests his head on Jack's lap in a peaceful rest

_X_

2L year

Shitty had just settled down with the last slice of Bitty’s classic apple pie when he heard Jack come upstairs from the Haus 2.0 basement. “In here!” He called out from the living room. “You’re still awake?”

“I am, but Bits is fast asleep already.” Jack yawned and scratched at his back. “Is there still pie left in the kitchen?”

Shitty winced. “This is the last slice.” He pointed guiltily with his fork at the slice on his plate.

“Share it?”

Shitty considered carefully. Sure, Jack was his best friend, but some things just weren’t worth compromising over.

“You had two slices after dinner tonight.” Jack arched a brow.

Shitty sighed. “Forks are in the drawer next to the sink.”

Moments later, Jack settled next to him on the couch. They ate together in companionable silence over the next several minutes.

“This is a nice place you’ve got,” Jack remarked as Shitty savored the last forkful of pie.

“It’s worked out pretty nicely,” Shitty agreed.

“It was really nice of Holster to loan Bits and me his room for the night.”

Shitty shrugged. “I’m sure he and Rans are happy to share a room again.” He knocked his shoulder against Jack’s. “You’ll have to host us next time.”

Jack smiled. “You know you’re welcome anytime, but Bits is the expert at entertaining company. We’ll probably do a big Thanksgiving dinner next fall, after he moves in.”

“Oh, he’s moving in with you, is he?” Shitty waggled his eyebrows.

“Well, you know…” Jack blushed. “We haven’t exactly discussed it yet.”

“My lips are sealed.” Shitty made a zipping motion over his mouth.

“We’ve still got a ways to go before that anyway,” Jack reasoned. “Bits needs to focus on his thesis, and I’ve got the whole season ahead of me.”

“You’ll repeat for sure,” Shitty predicted.

Jack wrinkled his brow then, the way he always did when he had something to say but wasn’t quite sure how to say it. “Did you ever think we’d end up like this?”

“You as a Stanley Cup champion?” Shitty asked. “Yes, absolutely. From the moment I met you.”

“Not that.” Jack shook his head. “I didn’t come to Samwell to make friends. I was looking to revive my hockey career and attract attention from scouts.”

“Yeah, and you did damn well at that!” Shitty interjected.

“Yeah,” Jack acknowledged. “But also I met Bits and you and the rest of the team. I might be NHL now, but my life hasn’t exactly turned out the way everyone expected it to; it turned out better, and you’re a part of the reason why. You’ve – all of you – made my life so much richer.”

“Fuck you, Jack Zimmermann, don’t make me cry!” Shitty sniffled, his eyes welling up in spite of himself.

“Okay, I’ll stop.” Jack held up a hand. “But I just want to say that your friendship has meant all the world to me.”

“You didn’t stop!” Shitty shoved him playfully. “It goes both ways, you know. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for you.”

Jack shook his head. “No, Shits. That’s all you.”

“That’s where you’re wrong.” Shitty straightened up and jabbed a finger at the air. “You drove me to be my best self. You’ve been the best captain – and friend – a guy could ever have.”

Jack ducked his head. “Shits…”

Shitty ruffled Jack’s hair. “Let’s just say we helped each other. And I think we both turned out pretty okay.”

“Better than okay,” Jack smiled.

Shitty propped his feet up on the coffee table and sighed contentedly. It had been a beaut of a day – even if he had had to share the last slice of pie. He was a damn lucky guy, surrounded by everything and everyone that made him happy; no one could ever convince him otherwise.