"I 100% believe we tell our own stories," Shitty tells Jack earnestly. He gestures and his Solo cup sloshes a little. He's eighteen, and already half-schwasted; Jack is 21 and quiet and Shitty can't tell if he's more like humoring him or actually listening.
"He fucking told me it was evolution, like some lizard crawled out of the sea and that made him born to be an asshole. Fuck that shit, you know? I don't have to be the lizard in my brain."
Jack nods a little. "You want to be better."
"Fucking right," Shitty nods back, "I can be whoever the fuck I want to be. Wait, shit, is it weaksauce for me to complain to you about my dad?"
Shitty meets Larissa Duan when he's nineteen, before classes have even started. The dorms aren't open yet to returning students, but Shitty can get into the Haus and he's sick of being at home and Jack is coming back early too. His first sight of Larissa is like a punch to the nuts. Literally: he's busy talking to Jack and doesn't realize that they've walked into a soccer game until the ball slams into him.
Shitty's taken some hard checks, but JESUS; he's not sure if he's going to scream or throw up. He folds over onto the grass.
"Oops," he hears. He looks up. There's a girl standing there with her hands on her hips; she doesn't look the least bit sorry.
"Entirely... my... fault." Shitty gets out.
She sticks out her hand and pulls him up to his feet. She's strong, for someone who comes up to his armpit. He can see the little curves of biceps in her arms, and the little curves of her tits under her tank top.
She raises her eyebrows and tosses her ponytail a little; Shitty realizes he's staring.
"Shitty," he says. "I mean, uh, that's me."
She smirks at him, but it's friendly. "Cool," she says, "I should, uh." She points back at the handful of other frogs kicking the ball back and forth.
"Of course," Shitty says. "I was, uh." He points at Jack.
"See you around," she grins, and runs back into the game. Shitty is a little tempted to stay and watch, but that would probably be creepy.
"Did you even get her name?" Jack asks.
Shitty shakes his head. "It's her Orientation Week," he says, "We're not even supposed to be here, I don't wanna - I don't know." He twists a little, to look back over his shoulder at the running, laughing frogs, then makes a face at Jack. "You should talk, it's not like you ever hook up."
"Well," Jack says, visibly taking a breath, "I'm - "
The first kegster after Larissa's signed on as manager: by the time the sixth person has asked her which guy on the team she's dating, she's losing her shit.
"All of them," she snaps, "I just lie back with my legs open and they line up, bam, bam, bam, is that what you wanted to know."
"Jeez," the girl mutters, one of the seniors' girlfriends, Shitty thinks, "Just trying to be friendly, whatever."
Shitty wants to punch someone in the fucking face. Possibly himself, for his ludicrous, possessive, inappropriate rage.
"C'mon," he says instead, "Let's go find Jack, he's probably hiding from fun somewhere."
The kegster after that, he and Lardo have to help a very drunk, very sobbing girl decide whether she's going to to her room, to campus health, or to the ER.
"Campus health won't do a kit," Lardo is saying evenly, "But they can send a peer volunteer with you if you want to go. They're nice girls," and, christ, Lardo's a first-semester frog, why does she have to know this? "My RA volunteers," Lardo adds, petting the crying girl's shoulders, and Shitty has to look away, he's so relieved that's how she knows.
He lures the whole team back to the Haus the next day with false promises of more alcohol and screams at them for ten minutes about affirmative consent and what will never, never happen in his Haus. (He'll realize later it's the first time he says "my Haus" like that.) He doesn't know if it was one of them or not, isn't sure whether he wants to know. Jack stands up at the end and says, flatly, "I'll get you thrown off the team." It's not his Captain's voice; maybe it's his you-know-who-I-am voice, that Shitty's never heard before. Shitty doesn't even care that seven words from Jack have more guys looking wary than minutes of his best invective; he watches Lardo hug Jack and, for once, isn't jealous at all.
Jack doesn't smoke up, but he doesn't mind being around it, actually seems more comfortable sitting with Shitty and Lardo on the porch, watching them pass a joint back and forth, than he does when every hand holds a red cup. He grins when Lardo tries to braid Shitty's hair, when she insists he return the favor so that they can match. Shitty's not much of a braider but her hair is like fucking silk in his hands. Everything seems very important; Lardo's fingers on his scalp were as intense as - like, as, they were like, he felt like he was being poured with honey or something.
"It's too bad your hair is so short or we could be triiiiplets," Lardo tells Jack, and she and Shitty each end up snuggled on one of his shoulders, sneaking looks at each other and giggling.
Shitty is a supportive friend and it's an amazing opportunity. He rereads the wikipedia page about Nairobi on a weekly basis and sends her messages about Jack and the team and their new, adorable, pie-obsessed frog.
"OHHH yeah," Shitty hollers, stretching out his arms and tipping his face up to the sun. "Leeeet the sun shine! Hello blackbird, helloooo motherfucking starling!"
"It's forty," Lardo says flatly. She's bundled up in her puffy jacket and earmuffs same as she's been all winter. Bitty, beside her, is similarly wrapped up. Shitty, come down to the front of the Haus to meet them, has put on boxer briefs as a concession to indecent exposure laws.
"It's beautiful," Shitty corrects.
"It's still winter," Lardo says, "Look around, the snow is not gone," but she's laughing while she says it.
On impulse, Shitty takes their hands and drags them into a raggedly-spinning circle. He's gratified by the way Bitty grabs Lardo's other hand and gives weight. Shitty's tempted to sing, but the song they're quoting rhymes "starling" with "be my darling", so, better not. He spins them until he has to admit his bare feet are going numb on the cold ground.
"I know what you need," Shitty finger-guns at Jack, and Jack looks at him a little narrow-eyed and says "For you to wear pants in my bed?"
Shitty ignores this, as he does 90% of Jack's submission to the cultural hegemony of pants. "You need something to look forward to after playoffs."
"Like that contract I just signed?"
"Nooo," Shitty says, rolling his eyes. "Not the inexorable march of our carefree youth into our adult lives, something distracting. We should plan a road trip!"
"We have a five hour bus ride tomorrow," Jack points out, but Shitty rolls out of his bed and ambles down the stairs in hopes of thinking pie. He's in luck; there's a third of a butterscotch tart left out on the counter. He cuts himself a generous piece and sits down at the kitchen table with it.
The sweetness of the butterscotch melts into his mouth.
Shitty knows it would not be cool to, like, seduce and marry Bitty just so he'll keep making him pie, but seriously, how is he going to fucking get through law school without the security of pie on the counter. Sometimes he takes a bite and he can actually hear all the buzzing in his head just stop for a second, like it does for the bump of Lardo's fist or the clatter of sticks on ice.
Pie doesn't make the road trip idea sound worse. Shitty knows he feels shaky thinking about graduation, about having to pack his stuff up and hand over his room to Nursey. Jack might be moving on to the next hockey but he's still leaving Samwell, Shitty won't believe that's not hitting him. Shitty doesn't have a lot of illusions about how often he's going to see Jack in the future. Going somewhere, doing something, one last time together that isn't about hockey at all... Shitty thinks it might be nice for both of them to have that.
He blinks against the sudden glare as Bitty comes into the kitchen and flips on the light.
"Ugh, can't sleep," Bitty moans gently, dropping into the other chair and burying his face in his arms. "Why are playoffs."
"Playoffs are a gift from the gods to try us," Shitty tells him seriously. "Either that or, you know, post-World-War-Two college attendance spurring an interest in varsity sports. Pie?"
"Too much sugar," Bitty says sadly. His hair is shaggy and going every which way; Shitty leans over and pats his hand on the back of Bitty's head. Bitty twitches a little but doesn't throw him off.
"Should I kidnap Jack after graduation?" Shitty asks. "I just - maybe it would be easier to not be here if we went somewhere else. New Orleans, Las Vegas, I don't know. Get our kicks on Route 66."
Bitty looks up under Shitty's hand, making him look vaguely like he's wearing a very silly hat.
"I reject the concept of post-graduation plans," Bitty says grumpily, so Shitty has to pet him until he sighs. "Okay, I'm sorry. It's a good idea, y'all should do it. Get that boy some fresh air. Maybe not Vegas though?"
He's not quite meeting Shitty's eyes. Shitty tries not to impose his own hypothetical narratives onto the reality of other people's actions, so he focuses on filing that under "Bitty is sometimes protective of Jack in ways and directions that Shitty doesn't think to be and that's good".
"Sure," Shitty says easily, "Less Fear and Loathing, more... what."
"Hopefully not Thelma and Louise," Bitty mumbles. He's getting sleepy under Shitty's petting. Man, that's the best. Shitty gives him a last little scritch and sends him up to bed. He'll go back to his own bed soon. He just wants a quick look at some maps.
Playoffs turn out to be the tip of a vast relentless breaking wave of lastness - the last game, the last walk to Faber, the last rubbery cheese cubes at the last stupid Wednesday talk in the Poly Sci department. The forsythia and azaleas turn the campus yellow and magenta and it scrapes at Shitty's eyeballs and his insides. The dining hall can't serve fucking fish things bar without Shitty wondering if it'll be the last fish things bar. He can't smoke with Lardo any more, he's too scared what he might say.
He kind of wants to punch himself in the dick, except Shitty is a self-aware guy who believes that the culture of masculine emotional repression serves the kyriarchy. So he just has to live with these feelings and all their related difficult facts. Jack seems half-gone already, keeping to his own room, sometimes fleeing in the middle of conversations. Shitty brings him slices of pie and drapes himself over Jack's back, sticks his feet on his lap, flops down next to him in his bed. It's always been part of his deal with Jack that Shitty doesn't pry, doesn't demand words or try to put any in Jack's mouth for him. Usually Shitty talks to fill Jack's silences but sometimes now he finds himself just joining them. He doesn't know where to start with the hopeless tangle that is campus and hockey and Lardo and the Haus, and Shitty himself a cut piece of string being slowly pulled free of all those knots.
Bitty, increasingly, is the voice of the Haus, the one who tells everyone what it's time to do, when Shitty is off with Jack. That's maybe Shitty's favorite thing in all this endingness, the way Bitty's redrawn himself a little bigger, a little surer. That and that Lardo is still around, that Lardo hasn't taken the excuse of hockey being over to melt out of Shitty's life like the last, filthy crusts of snow.
One night there are three subtly different kinds of key lime pie; Bitty claims to want feedback, but nobody's really paying attention to which one they're eating. There is also tequila, being mixed with Sprite, for reasons that Shitty thinks more or less boil down to "lime" and "we're in college".
The frogs are having some sort of argument about what superpowers would be best for hockey. Superspeed, obviously, but Nursey likes the idea of not being able to get hurt like Wolverine, and Chowder's arguing for prescience "because then no one would even know you were using it."
"That's cheating," Holster butts in, "I'd rather play good hockey and have a completely different superpower." He thinks for a minute. "Like Wasp, get giant, get tiny, that would be fun."
"Like you're not giant enough already," Ransom mutters. "No, look, I've thought about this, you get the best utility from touch healing, if you take it seriously."
Holster fist-bumps him. "Shitty wants mind control," he guesses.
"Fuck you I do not!" Shitty says, sitting up from his sprawl on the couch and almost knocking Lardo off the arm. "Ew. I wanna be Elastigirl."
"Ooh, stretchy," she says, waggling her eyebrows. He feels it sweet in his stomach like the pie. "I guess I want to be Superman, if I had the super strength and flight and the heat vision for welding I could make, like, giant mile-high sculptures."
"Why not just be Magneto?" Chowder asks, "And just - ". He puts his hands up in a "manipulating metal" gesture.
"Magneto's a douche, Supes is the man," Lardo says lazily. Shitty pictures her flying around in Supergirl's costume and has to gulp Sprite tequila.
Bitty comes out of the kitchen just then, carrying a fourth key lime pie.
"Bitty!" everyone says. "Imagine if you could just instantly materialize pies, like, anywhere," Ransom says.
Bitty shakes his head. "Oh, my goodness, no. I like to bake. Are we talking about superpowers? I always wished I could teleport, bamf and go. I've never been anywhere."
"I want to photosynthesize," Dex puts in dreamily, "Just, you know, drink sunshine."
"You've been drinking something," Bitty says fondly, and, oh, Shitty is hit by the worst wave of love for these guys. Law school will never be like this. He'll have some tiny apartment and he'll be up all night reading cases with Jack's games on in the background. He shifts so he can put his head in Lardo's lap like he almost never lets himself do any more, and closes his eyes while she cards her fingers through his hair.
"I think we should take Bitty," Shitty tells Jack.
Jack looks blank. "Take him where?"
"On the road trip," Shitty explains. "He sounded so sad when he said he'd never been anywhere, and, I mean, it's fucking true, even when they drive up his mom makes them route around all major metropolitan areas to avoid city traffic."
"Are we going to any major metropolitan areas?" Jack asks. "I thought we were camping."
"We'll go through Chicago," Shitty shrugs, "Bits likes the Blackhawks. And I bet he'd do, like, campsite breakfast."
Jack frowns down at his hands, grabbing his own wrist. "Are you serious, you think we should take him?"
"Oh, hey, no," Shitty backpedals - curse Jack for being so hard to read these days - "This can be just us. I wasn't sure if it was a bros thing or a bros thing, you know?" He's not entirely sure he knows what he means himself, but it gets Jack to lift his head, looking more focused than he has since the playoffs.
"No," Jack says, "If you want to take him, we can take him. It'll be okay."
Shitty doesn't even know where he would start the hypothetical narrative. "Okay," he echoes. Jack wouldn't say it if he didn't mean it.
Bitty's eyes go huge when Shitty asks him. "Gracious," he says. "Really?" Shitty handwaves through the plan, watching Bitty flush a little as he nods along.
"I need to get home in time for camp," Bitty says, chewing on his lower lip. "Jack is really okay with this?"
"We're going to miss you, Bits," Shitty answers, and Bitty says "Oh, I'm going to miss you guys so much," and Shitty has to start singing "Life Is A Highway" before he starts fucking crying or something, even though it makes Bitty cover his ears.
Shitty keeps hearing Lardo laugh, and so Jack is crushing him at Mario Kart.
Ransom and Holster and the frogs have already left for the annual Dregs party in East Dorm courtyard, but Lardo's been doing something in Bitty's room for like the last half-hour. Shitty isn't going, despite it being his actual last college party. They'd had their last kegster the previous week, and it had been good, and Dregs was totally not Jack's scene, and Shitty does not actually need a last-chance hookup, thank you, so, time for best friend time. He just can't help but listen for Lardo.
Finally he hears footsteps on the stairs and puts down his controller, ready to make some kind of joke about seeing his kiddies off to the prom. But, JESUS. Lardo's wearing tiny cutoff shorts, and a cropped black tank top that doesn't reach the waistband, and Bitty's dressed the exact same way, so arm-in-arm they're like some crazy androgynous two-headed spider consisting entirely of arms and legs and they're tiny, they shouldn't even be able to have that much leg. Legs.
"Is that eyeliner," Jack says, sounding strangled, and Shitty tears his eyes away from Lardo long enough to notice that Bitty is, yup, rocking the cat eye. He's also pink in a way that shouts "pregaming" to Shitty's experienced eye, and his lips look red and wet. As do Lardo's. Jesus. Shitty had once, in one of the creepier moments of his creeper life, asked if he could try out her lip gloss. If this is the same one it tastes like strawberries.
"We're going to Dregs," Bitty says unnecessarily.
"Hhh - " Shitty starts. His mouth is desert dry. "Hunting seniors?"
Lardo shrugs a little. "Hunting fun," she says. "You guys want to change your minds?"
"No," Jack says curtly. He turns back to their abandoned game. "Shitty, you should go."
Shitty doesn't trust himself to stand up, let alone be a decent wingman. He's kind of wishing he had put his controller down in his lap for whatever camouflage it would provide.
"I - no," he says. "I don't need to kill my bottles or kiss my crushes."
Lardo rolls her eyes at the infamous Dregs slogan. "I guess tub juice doesn't leave leftovers," she says lightly. "Okay, boys. Happy shelling."
Bitty looks back over his shoulder as they leave, but he doesn't say anything.
"I'm going to bed," Jack announces as soon as they're gone, and vanishes. Fuck. Now it's just Shitty sitting here, thinking about Lardo and three hundred horny seniors looking for a last-chance fuck, and it's not like he hasn't been saying Bitty should get himself laid, but he didn't mean at Dregs, christ. Fuck, are they planning to pick up together? Shitty went last year and remembers seeing a couple of more-than-two-person makeouts in the courtyard corners. It had seemed messy and weird to him at the time but it hadn't been Lardo and Bitty.
If they bring someone back to Bitty's room, Shitty is very possibly going to be able to hear them. He goes and gets his laptop and sits in the living room, poking idly at road trip research, nervously eating peach cobbler. Lardo isn't much of a dancer but he bets Bitty could drag her into it. They could be dancing up on either side of a lacrosse player right now.
Shitty prepares himself to be a good bro when they come back. Magnanimous. Silent. Possibly hiding in the kitchen. But Bitty comes back alone and smudgy-eyed and disinclined to talk, and Lardo doesn't come back at all.
"I invited Lardo," Jack tells him. They're in their caps and gowns and Shitty is milling around with Jack at the end of the line instead of staying in K where he's supposed to be.
"You what?" Shitty asks. "For dinner? She was in already, everyone is."
"On the road trip," Jack says. "I think four would be better than three." Shitty shoots him a sudden, suspicious glance - Jack smiles back innocently - and then some lady with a clipboard is shooing Shitty back up the line and fucking Pomp and Circumstance is playing and this is it, this is it.
Shitty had anticipated this being a fraught three-way moment of tension with his parents, who are separately in the audience, but he doesn't think to look for either of them; all he can think as they file down to their seats is that Lardo is coming on the road trip. Oh fuck.