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The Bro Next Door

Chapter Text

Larissa was proud of the apartment she’d found, but currently, she was regretting signing a lease on a walk up. 

“It’s only two floors,” she’d reasoned. “It won’t be that bad.”

And it might not be another day. But on moving day it sucked.

“Hey, you alright?” A voice said from the other side of the box she was hauling. 

“Fine,” she gritted out, saving her breath for hauling up the steps.

“You want some help? Not to imply that you can’t haul all these boxes by yourself, but…”

Her foot found the landing and she dropped the box down. The man on the landing (presumably her neighbor since there were only two units on this landing and they were the top floor) had a mop of brown hair, a large mustache, and was wearing a crop top. 

“I’ve got some friends coming for the heavy stuff later,” Larissa clarified, reaching for the door handle. 

“Cool, bro,” her neighbor said. “If you want more hands, I’m happy to help, though.”

“I’m good.” Why was he so insistent? They may be neighbors but she had no intention of letting strange men into her apartment while she was home alone. 

“Kay, well, see you around. I’m Shitty by the way.”

“Larissa,” she offered a sweaty hand. 

Shitty (was that really his name?) nodded and shook her hand, then jogged down the stairs with a wave. 

Larissa opened the door at last and shoved the box inside, collapsing on the floor. She’d managed several loads but the truck was still very full and her apartment still very empty. Her friends would be here soon but trying to organize art school kids often felt like herding cats, so Larissa wasn’t sure how much help they’d be. Maybe she should take Shitty up on his offer after all.

When her art school friends did arrive, she gave them directions and led the way up to her new apartment. They all marched up the stairs and dumped the first load in the apartment and turned to go back only to run into the neighbor again. 

“Sup,” he waved. 

“Hi,” Larissa greeted cautiously.

“Heard you all in the stairs and wanted to apologize.”

Larissa raised an eyebrow at him. 

“I realized I came on really strong earlier and that may have scared you as a woman alone in a new place. So, I apologize. But I really was offering to help.”

“Yeah, alright,” Larissa conceded, too tired already and they were so far from done. “We’re getting pizza later, too,” Larissa offered. 

He hadn’t really given off a creepy vibe but she did feel safer accepting his help now that she was with friends.  

“Sweet,” he held out a fist and Larissa bumped it incredulously. “Lead the way,” he gestured grandly. 

Larissa started down the stairs, raising her eyebrows to Maggie as if to say “Is he serious?” Maggie hid a laugh in her fist. 

The move in went faster than Larissa had expected it to and Shitty did turn out to be a big help. Now they were all collapsed onto the various pieces of furniture she’d dumped into the front room, leaving arranging for another day and digging into several large pizzas and beer. 

“I’ve got some green back in my apartment if anyone is interested,” Shitty said between bites of pepperoni. 

“You don’t even know us,” Larissa said, narrowing her eyes. 

Shitty just shrugged and took a swig of beer. “You seem cool.”

Larissa looked around. She and her friends did enjoy a bit of pot now again, they were art school kids after all, but she wasn’t feeling it tonight. 

“Maybe another time,” she said. 

“Cool, bro.” 

They all chatted for a while after that, still. Shitty had gone to school up at Samwell and regaled them with slightly unbelievable stories of his time on the hockey team there (there’s absolutely no way he’s best friends with Jack Zimmermann), trading off with Larissa, Maggie, and the others sharing stories of the shenanigans of MassArt.

“You need a nickname!” Shitty declared at one point. 

“Larissa doesn’t really have any good nicknames,” she shrugged. 

“What’s your last name? More traditional anyway.”

“Duan.”

Shitty stroked his mustache and after a moment declared, “Lardo!” 

“What?” she laughed. 

“Combo of your first and last names. Plus it’s funny because you’re so small.”

“Hey!” she protested, but she was still grinning so it fell a bit short on intimidation. 

“Well, I should get out of your hair, I’m sure you wanna crash. See ya later, Lardo. Thanks for the ‘za.”

“Thanks for the help. See ya, Shitty,” she bumped her new neighbor’s fist. 

He grinned back then left. 

Maggie raised her eyebrows meaningfully but Larissa just flicked her off before cracking another beer. 

Chapter Text

Larissa was climbing the stairs to her apartment (she was right, two flights weren’t bad when she wasn’t hauling boxes) with a bag of groceries when Shitty came barreling down the stairs and crashed into her. 

“Oh shit, I’m so sorry!”

Larissa sighed, taking in the damage. It seemed about half of her eggs had survived but the rest were currently soaking into the steps. The rest was salvageable, mostly in packages. 

“I’m so sorry,” Shitty said again, scooping her groceries up. 

“It’s okay,” she answered out of habit. 

“It’s really not, bro, but thank you.” Shitty clapped a hand over his heart. “Let me make you dinner or something. I owe you that at least.”

“You really don’t have to,” Larissa shook her head. “I’m gonna go get some cleaning supplies so the stairwell doesn’t smell like eggs forever.”

“Good idea, bro,” Shitty said, nodding emphatically and standing with the bag of groceries now mostly reassembled, sans eggs. 

Larissa picked up the carton and continued up to their landing. Shitty dropped the bag on her kitchen table and stood awkwardly in the kitchen doorway. Lardo thought as she rinsed off the remaining eggs and placed them in a Tupperware and stored them in the fridge. Shitty meant well, he was just a little much sometimes. 

He had offered again to smoke her up when they had run into each other getting their mail last week and she had taken him up on it. He had good weed, that’s for sure. And he made decent company, even if he talked a lot. Maybe he was just nervous about making a new friend? 

She’d even passed him in the hall with the actual Jack Zimmermann, so maybe he was telling the truth that they were still close after college, even with Shitty busy with law school. So yeah, he seemed a decent guy. He was still a white guy but she’d met worse white guys. Shitty was trying at least. 

She gathered up her cleaning supplies and grabbed the roll of paper towels and headed back for the stairs. Shitty followed. Larissa cleaned up the splatters of egg while Shitty shifted from foot to foot on the landing. Finally, she took pity on him and committed to making small talk.

“Where were you running off to, anyway?”

“Oh, um, I was just going to get the mail,” Shitty explained, rubbing the back of his neck. 

“Do you always go down for the mail like a tornado?”

Shitty laughed humorlessly. “Sorry about that, again. I was excited for a package that’s supposed to be here. Really, can I make you dinner?” 

Larissa raised an eyebrow at him. “What are you making?”

He shrugged. “Ramen? I make a mean ramen.” 

“Yeah, alright,” she agreed at last. She did like ramen. 

She sat at his tiny kitchen table while he dumped a couple of packets of ramen into a pot. She tried to sneak peeks to see what he was adding but he was blocking the stove. 

“Perfect,” he declared at last, and then Larissa saw him drop the seasoning packets into the water. 

“Did you just cook that… plain?” She asked. 

He looked over as he stirred the pot. “I put the seasoning in!”

“At the end?”

“Yeah?” He furrowed his brow. 

“Bro.”

Shitty shrugged and began to spoon the soup into a pair of mismatched bowls. He set one in front of her and sat in the chair. 

“Seriously though, do yourself a solid and put the seasoning in first. You wanna get fancy? Get a bag of frozen veggies. Now that’s ideal grad student ramen.” Larissa lifted a spoonful and blew on it carefully. 

Shitty lifted an eyebrow at her, clearly waiting for her to try it. 

“It’s ramen, bro. I dunno why you’re waiting for my reaction.”

He laughed and she grinned at him. 

“You chirp better that some of the professional hockey players I know.”

“Chirp?”

“Like, good-natured teasing. It’s a way of life for hockey players.”

“I have been known to tease people I like,” she said. 

“I can take it,” he grinned at her. 

Chapter Text

A couple of weeks after their terrible ramen and subsequent chirp contest, Larissa was startled from a peaceful evening painting by a scream from next door. She grabbed the crowbar she kept in her studio space and ran next door. 

“Shitty!” 

“Lards!” Came the reply. “It’s open!” 

She tried the knob and it was so she entered the apartment and found Shitty standing on his coffee table staring at the ground. 

“I lost it! It could be anywhere!” He finally looked up at her. “Is that a crowbar?”

“What, exactly, are you screaming about, Shits?”

“Centipede! It was the size of my fucking hand!”

“Oh my god,” Larissa rolled her eyes and set down her crowbar. She slipped into his kitchen and grabbed a glass, snagging a spare bit of mail from his table. She marched back into the front room and scanned the floor, locating the bug and capturing it swiftly with the glass. She slid the paper beneath it and crossed to the window, opening it one-handed and releasing the centipede onto a tree branch. 

“That wasn’t even as big as my hand, Shitty.”

“I was caught off guard?” He tried. 

She raised an eyebrow and was about to let him know just how ridiculous he was when a shrill beeping filled the apartment. 

“Fuck! I was cooking!” 

Shitty vaulted from the coffee table and into the kitchen. Larissa just laughed and followed him. 

“There’s no saving this,” he bemoaned, pulling a pan of… something black from the heat. 

“Is anything you cook savable?”

“Chirp, chirp,” Shitty said, dumping the charred mess into the bin and silencing the smoke alarm. “Takeout?”

“What?”

“I need something to eat. And you’re covered in paint so you probably haven’t eaten all day.”

She looked down at her painting clothes. 

“Am I wrong?”

“No,” Larissa crossed her arms. “Fine, but I’m paying half.”

“Deal.”

When they were happily wrapped up in a dumb show on TV, takeout containers half empty, the door swung open to reveal Jack Zimmermann and Alexei Mashkov, a six pack of beer in his hand.

“Do you two ever fucking knock?” Shitty rolled his eyes, pausing the show. 

“Oh,” Jack said, stopping in the doorway. “Didn’t mean to interrupt your date, Shits.”

Mashkov laughed at the frozen tableau. 

“It’s not a date,” Shitty shook his head. “Why can’t two bros of different genders hang out without romantic implications?” 

“Yeah, we're just bros. Bros who save each other from scary centipedes. Well, I am. Shitty just screamed like he was being murdered.” 

“Haha,” Jack said. “That sounds like Shits.”

“Come join us so Lardo can chirp the rest of you, too,” Shitty patted the couch. 

Jack and Mashkov exchanged a look then flopped onto the couch and armchair. 

“Shitty, why do you have a crowbar?”

“That’s mine,” Lardo nodded towards it. 

“She rushed in here with it to save me from the monster.”

“Centipede.”

“Why did you have crowbar at hand?” Mashkov asked. 

“Oh yeah, I did mean to ask you that,” Shitty looked over. 

Larissa shrugged. “I use it for sculpture, pull things apart.”

“Wicked,” Shitty grinned. “Lardo is cooler than either of you.”

“We’re professional athletes,” Mashkov protested. 

Shitty shrugged. “I don’t make the rules, bro. She’s cooler than you.” 

“I’m putting that on my business cards,” Lardo laughed. “‘Larissa Duan, artist, cooler than Alexei Mashkov.’ Has a nice ring to it don’t you think?”

“What, I don’t make your card?” Jack asked. 

“Literally everyone is cooler than you, Zimmermann. You’re a huge nerd.”

“She’s right,” Mashkov nodded. 

After she got back to her apartment that night, she thought back to Jack’s comment about interrupting a date. It was clear Shitty hadn’t thought of it that way, and she certainly hadn’t, but the more she thought about it, she realized she didn’t mind the insinuation. 

Shitty was a terrible cook and, apparently, very afraid of bugs. He was the weirdest combination of bro and over-zealous ally. But he was sweet. He hadn’t let the guys make assumptions tonight and he was always offering food, company, and sometimes pot, with no presumptions or expectations. He just seemed to like being around her. 

Not to mention the dude was passionate. Sure sometimes his passions were a little misplaced and he had a bad tendency to talk over own-voices, but he had the spirit, as the meme went. Plus, the guy was hot, even with the weirdly large mustache.

She wasn’t opposed but she wasn’t going to pursue it, she decided.

Chapter Text

“Did I ever tell you I almost went to Samwell?”

“Dude no way!”

Larissa was hanging out with Shitty again, he was over at her apartment this time, stretched out on her sofa as she painted something abstract that was definitely not Shitty. Nope, nothing to see here. They had ended up on the topic of college admissions after Shitty admitted to picking Samwell over Harvard and then ending up there anyway for law school. 

“Yep,” she nodded, adding a new color to her palate. “My parents didn’t want me ‘wasting my time at art school,’ so to appease them I applied to some liberal arts colleges with decent art programs, too.”

“Like Samwell.”

“Yeah. It was my top choice if I couldn’t get them to agree to art school.”

“How did you?”

She shrugged. “I got an amazing scholarship to MassArt and they couldn’t say no anymore.”

“That’s swawesome.”

Larissa smiled at the canvas. She’d gotten used to his Samwell-isms but they still sounded ridiculous. 

“Would’ve been cool to have known you at Samwell, though.”

“Yeah, I think I would’ve had a good time there, too.”

“We could’ve been friends so much earlier, too!”

Larissa laughed. “Please, like we would have known each other there. Jocks and art students do not mix.”

“Well, it’d be unlikely, but I like to think we would have found each other anyway. Maybe you could’ve been the hockey team manager!”

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

“I’m serious! We really needed a better manager. You could’ve been her!”

Larissa raised an eyebrow at him. “Doubtful.”

“Nah, bro, imagine it with me.” Shitty wrapped a hand around her shoulders and wiped his hand in front of them like he was wiping condensation off of glass. “You’re walking through campus frog year--”

“Frog?”

“Freshman year. It’s a Samwell thing.”

“Of course it is.”

“So you’re walking through campus, and you’ve got a scholarship but you kinda need a chill campus job, right? And you see it. ‘Wanted: Manager for the coolest team on campus’.”

Larissa chuckled “Please tell me you actually advertised it like that.”

“No, the coaches wouldn’t let me. But we’re imagining so it can say whatever I want it to say.”

“Sure,” Larissa nodded, motioning him onwards.

“So you see the sign. You take the email address and send in your application. You get the interview. And there you meet your charming new captain, professional grumpmeister Jack Zimmermann.”

“He doesn’t seem that grumpy.”

“He was then, trust me. Love has changed him, all I’ll say. And beside him is me. And you go, ‘dang that dude has sick flow, I should take this job for sure.’ And you rock the interview and you become our fearless leader and keeper of keys and the rest, as they say, is history.”

“You certainly have quite the imagination, Shits.”

“It would’ve been magical, bro.” Shitty dropped his arm from Larissa’s shoulders and she turned back to her painting to hide the shiver the loss of his touch left. 

“So then we’d be best friends, huh?” she asked the canvas. 

“Obviously,” Shitty scoffed from behind her. “Beer?”

“Sure,” Larissa nodded, not looking away from the paint she was mixing. 

She focused on the feeling of her brush against the canvas and not on the horribly domestic scene of Shitty puttering around in her kitchen. Over the past three months, her new apartment, beautiful in its emptiness and solitude after four years of roommates, had started to feel empty without Shitty around. 

Just like in his imaginary Samwell scenario, they had become friends. Good friends, even. When he was busy with coursework, stuck at the library for hours on end, she missed him. When she was starving for human contact or inspiration, she thought of him first. Sure, he was the closest of her friends, but she was starting to think it was something more than that. 

Chapter Text

After Shitty had gone home that evening, the two of them exchanging a slightly buzzed hug and making vague plans to see each other again soon, Larissa let her mind wander back to her earlier revelation. 

When had Shitty become the person she thought of first? And what did it mean? 

Larissa was bi, had known it for years, and she tended to date mostly women, but she largely blamed that on the general state of men. Who could blame her for wanting an emotionally intelligent partner who put in the work to make their relationship thrive? It wasn’t her fault that was usually a woman. 

But Shitty. 

She allowed herself to daydream for a moment. Imagined going to him when she needed comforting and knew he would do everything he could to help her. She imagined spending time with him, comfortably calm together, her cold toes tucked under his warm thighs, and felt a sense of calm. And she imagined kissing him. And that went… well. She tried to blame her body’s reaction on the couple of beers they had shared but knew that was a weak excuse. 

The more she thought about it all, the more she thought she might already be a little in love with her next-door neighbor. Now the only question was: what should she do about it?

She saw him the next day in the laundry room and this time she couldn’t deny the butterflies in her stomach. 

“Hey, Shits.” 

“Sup, Lards!” 

When had she started thinking his smile was beautiful? She dropped her basket and offered a fist which Shitty bumped easily. After her laundry was happily spinning in the washer, she hopped up on the top of one and looked at Shitty. 

“So, I was thinking.”

“About what?” he asked, setting down his phone. 

“You. And me.”

Shitty’s eyebrows shot up into his mop of hair and he blinked at her. 

“What?”

“C’mere.”

Shitty stood and walked up to her washer. 

“I’m gonna kiss you now, ‘kay?”

“Okay,” Shitty nodded, swallowing hard. 

Larissa leaned in and pressed her lips to his softly. She pulled back after a moment and studied his face, mouth slightly open and eyes still closed. 

“You wanna do that some more?” She asked. 

His eyes snapped open and he leaned in, cupping a hand around her jaw and bracing himself on the lid of the washer with the other. This second kiss was more heated, the shock having worn off, and Larissa melted into his touch. He really was quite a good kisser and the mustache didn’t tickle nearly as bad as she had expected. 

She ran a hand up his chest, sliding it around the back of his neck and pulling him in closer as she opened her mouth. When they pulled apart again, Shitty gave her a blinding smile. 

“Wow.”

Larissa smiled back. “Not so bad yourself.”

“So, um, not that I’m complaining, but what exactly is going on right now?”

She shrugged. “I like you. Thought I’d like to kiss you. So I did.”

“I like you, too. But I should warn you, I’m balls at friends-with-benefits or whatever. I’m an all or nothing kind of guy.”

“That’s kinda what I was hoping for,” Larissa answered with a smirk. “You in?”

“So in,” he grinned again, leaning in to kiss her once more. 

They spent their remaining time in the laundry room cuddled up on the old couch, exchanging lazy kisses, compliments, and their usual exchange of stories and ideas. It was comfortable in a way Larissa liked in a partner and she knew she’d made a good choice in acting on her feelings. 

And if they went back to her apartment after their laundry was done and lost more time in an activity that didn’t require any clothes? Well, that was just fine with her. 

Chapter Text

“I still can’t believe your neighbor is just casually friends with hockey superstars,” Maggie sighed. “But he throws a good party so here we go, I guess.”

“You like him. And them. I know you don’t suffer fools, Maggie,” Larissa said with a smirk. 

“I do not. They’re… fine.”

“A ringing endorsement.”

Maggie laughed. “Yes, fine, I like your weird neighbor and his sports friends. You happy now?”

Larissa nodded. She hadn’t actually told Maggie she and Shitty were dating yet, but she had planned to this evening. When the moment was right. 

“Come on, let’s head over.” Larissa scooped up the six pack and the bag of chips she’d promised Shitty and headed for the door, Maggie trailing behind. 

The party was chill, just a handful of Shitty’s college friends, Jack and Tater (Mashkov insisted Larissa call him that), and her and Maggie. She ruffled Shitty’s hair as she walked past on her way to the kitchen and he shot her a soft smile. 

Jack watched her carefully as she disappeared into the kitchen with the beer. They had yet to tell Shitty’s friends, either, though she was almost certain Jack knew. He had a knack for these things, Shitty had said. Beside the point. They were gonna tell them. 

Tonight. 

Probably. 

Larissa stuck the beer in the fridge, removing two for herself and Maggie and returning to the front room. She handed Maggie her beer and then flopped down on the couch beside Shitty. She took her rounds in Mario Kart, played a little beer pong with Shitty against two dudes supposedly named Ransom and Holster (who she was pretty sure were dating).

“Lards that was amazing!” Shitty hollered when she sunk the final ball, securing their victory. 

“Pong queen!” Ransom declared. 

Holster clapped a hand to his heart. “It was an honor.”

Larissa rolled her eyes. “Your friends are dorks,” she told Shitty. 

“They just recognize excellence when they see it.”

“Are you done flirting now?” Tater piped up from the couch. 

“Never,” Shitty grinned at her and she cocked an eyebrow, asking him silently if he wanted to tell them. 

Shitty just nodded and leaned down, Larissa meeting him halfway in a chaste kiss. 

“What?!” Holster yelled. “You just—“ 

“Yeah, we do that now,” Larissa said, still looking up at Shitty. 

“We need another round!” Ransom shouted. “We have to toast this! Shitty finally asked her out!”

“Technically I asked him out,” Larissa clarified turning to look at the pair and excited overgrown frat boys. “But I’ll still toast to it.”

From behind her, Maggie finally spoke. 

“And how long have you two been keeping this secret?”

Larissa turned around, not sure if Maggie was upset or just teasing. 

“Just, like, three weeks?” She offered. Shitty looped his arms around her from behind and she leaned back against him. 

Maggie hummed, considering. “Alright, you’re cute together. He can stay.”

Larissa rolled her eyes and Maggie descended on them for a group hug. 

“Shots!” Tater called, coming out of the kitchen with a round for everyone. 

“Tabernac,” Jack groaned. “I’m too old for shots, Tater.”

“Your best friend is finding love! You need vodka!”

“Exactly!” Ransom chorused, taking a glass. 

Larissa chuckled and took one as well, holding it up with everyone. 

“To Shitty and Lardo!” Holster yelled. 

“Cheers!” they all shouted, clinking glasses and downing the shots. 

Shitty grinned down at her again and she pulled him in for another kiss to a chorus of catcalls and whistles. She couldn’t care less. 

Chapter Text

“So I was thinking,” Shitty said one afternoon that winter. They were curled up in Larissa’s apartment, fuzzy socks and cozy blankets, hot cocoa mugs discarded outside their cocoon of warm cuddles. 

Lardo hummed in question. 

“It seems silly to keep paying for two apartments.”

She shifted in the blanket nest to look at him. “Are you asking me to move in with you?” 

“Maybe?”

“Shits, we’ve only been dating for six months. Isn’t that a little fast?”

Shitty shrugged. “We kinda already live together though. Our stuff keeps ending up at each other’s places, we spend almost every day together. I dunno, it just seems like it makes sense.”

“You’ve really been thinking about this,” Lardo murmured. 

“Well, yeah. But we have a bit to decide, my lease isn’t up for another three months.”

“So… what were you thinking?”

“Well,” Shitty laced his fingers through hers. “I don’t really care much about my place. And yours is so… lived in. Comfortable. Makes more sense if I just… moved in here?”

“Really?”

Shitty nodded, his cheeks pink. Larissa thought about it for a moment. She was very fond of her little one bedroom with a nook for art. She looked around at the home she had built for herself over the last eight months. 

Her latest sculpture sat half-finished beside her easel, smock hanging on a hook between them. In the kitchen, she had neatly organized all her utensils, pots, and pans so they made sense to cook for herself, and now Shitty more often than not. 

She noted all the little touches Shitty had added over their relationship as well. His jacket left permanently on her hall tree. His favorite takeout place’s menu stuck to the fridge. A sketch she had done of him tacked to the wall. She wouldn’t mind more additions like that, she decided. 

“Yeah, that sounds awesome,” she nodded. 

Shitty grinned wide and leaned in to kiss her. 

“I love you, Lards.” 

“Love you, too, Shits,” she grinned, before kissing him again. 

Three months later, Jack, Tater, Ransom, and Holster lugged what of Shitty’s things he was keeping over to Lardo’s apartment, bringing the rest of the furniture to the curb or truck for things Ransom and Holster were taking. 

“Easiest move, ever, bro,” Holster fist bumped Shitty. “And Lards! Welcome to the Samwell family.”

Lardo shook her head with a smile. These boys. 

“What’dya think, Shits? Should we feed these guys pizza for helping us in the easiest move ever?”

“Already ordered,” Shitty said, looping an arm around her shoulders. 

She lifted her chin up and he gave her a quick kiss. 

“Fooooine!” Holster and Ransom chorused together. 

“Shut up, we’re already buying you losers pizza,” Larissa scoffed. 

Ransom and Holster exchanged a look and a shrug. Larissa snuggled back into Shitty’s chest as they all flopped down to wait for the pizza together. Unpacking could wait. 

They had the rest of their lives.