Bitty learns a lot of things his first few months at Samwell.
He learns how to do a keg stand, and how to pull an all-nighter, and how to talk 22 other grown men into watching Beyonce music videos with him. He learns how to shower with flip flops on, and how much caffeine he can drink in one go before he starts to feel woozy, and that hockey players will do just about anything for homemade pie. He learns what it feels like to say "I'm gay" out loud, and that teasing can be friendly, and he might embarrass himself in the weight room but he'll always outpace them skating suicides.
What he doesn't seem to be able to figure out is why Jack doesn't like him.
It's a silly thing to worry about, really, but Bitty worries about it anyway. Maybe it's pretty unimportant and he's got bigger problems and things to sink his time into. His often-neglected homework, for one.
But there’s no crime in wanting people to like you, Bitty rationalizes, especially when that person is the captain of your hockey team. He’d felt so out of place on the team his first few weeks and he feels less so now, and Shitty and Ransom and Holster are huge parts of why that is, and maybe it shouldn’t really matter that Jack Zimmermann’s attitude towards him seems to bounce around from tolerating to lukewarm to downright icy. Bitty knows he’s not a great hockey player; that’s fine. It’s not that important to him that he’s great as long as he doesn’t feel he’s letting anyone down. Bitty likes being part of the team, the community and companionship and collection of weird people who all have each other’s backs. It’s something he felt he was missing for a long time in his life, even when he was a part of a team, something he hasn’t really had until now. Even in his second semester he’s still trying to wrap his head around not only his teammates’ behavior but the fact that he seems to fit into their lives without anyone threatening to shove him in a locker. He hangs out with people who will regularly walk into a kitchen to shotgun a beer at ten in the morning, and they not only tolerate his presence but seem to enjoy it.
So maybe it shouldn’t matter that Jack Zimmermann doesn’t like him. But Bitty had thought maybe something was changing when Jack had bumped his fist into Bitty’s own outside of the rink before the Yale game, some kind of buildup from lots of very early morning checking practices that weren’t even necessarily unbearable. But then Bitty had scored, and Jack hadn’t been nice.
He brings it up to Shitty, because strangely enough Shitty’s the person Bitty’s ended up feeling closest to, the person who knows the most about him and who’s madcap wardrobe and bizarre mannerisms settle strangely but not badly with his earnest advice and friendship. They’re in Shitty’s room in the Haus, which is a bit of a jumbled mess and always smells like weed but not necessarily in an unpleasant way, poking through some homework and eating cookies. Shitty’s telling some story about Jack that he can barely finish because it makes him wheeze with laughter, and Bitty brings it up.
“I think Jack hates me,” he says, and he can’t hide how heavy his voice sounds about it.
“No way, bro,” Shitty replies automatically.
“No, I mean it,” Bitty says. “I mean he’s—“
“A grumpy motherfucker?”
“Your words, not mine. But I just feel like he really doesn’t like me.”
“Jack’s a tough nut to crack, Bits,” Shitty says. He’s sprawled across his bed with a textbook open on his stomach but he closes it to address Bitty directly. “He’s like that with everyone. Don’t worry too much about it. It’s not you.”
Bitty makes a face. Jack likes Shitty, doesn’t just tolerate him or put up with him for proximity reasons. Bitty’s come into the Haus a few times to hear them talking or laughing together, Shitty’s long loud braying laugh undercut by Jack’s quiet chuckle. At first, it seemed like Jack stumbled into Shitty's friendship by accident and doesn't really know how to escape it. But Bitty's starting to realize it's a strange mutual partnership.
The first time he'd seen Shitty hug Jack off the ice, he'd practically dropped dead because it had been so weird to watch their captain voluntarily smile at another human being without hockey skates on.
“Look,” Shitty says. “We’ve known each other since we were freshmen, right? He lived across the hall from me and we were on the team together, we couldn’t escape each other. We didn’t get along automatically, it took a while. Shoulda seen us beginning of freshman year.”
“What were y’all like your freshman year?” Bitty asks, and Shitty flips over onto his stomach to look at him with one eyebrow in the air. It’s a face that Bitty’s seen before, usually before Shitty is about to launch into a speech or a tale.
“Weeeeelp,” he says, “to be honest with you Bits the first time I met Jack I thought he was a handsome asshole.”
Bitty ignores the adjective to center on the noun. “Really?” he asks. “You guys seem so close.”
“Oh, we are now,” Shitty says, waving one hand around. “But I don’t know if you’ve noticed this yet, B, but Jack has an asshole veneer. He puts it on like putting on a fucking jacket, so the trick is to take off the jacket and get to the good stuff underneath.”
“Um,” Bitty says.
“Let me put it to you this way,” Shitty wiggles across the bed. He points up at Bitty and nods to himself. “You gotta defrost that motherfucker. He’s all ice and impressive frown and brooding shoulders on the outside but on the inside he’s a complete loser with a bad sense of humor and the inability to dress himself. You just gotta chip through the layer of ice surrounding that. You gotta do the work.”
“Yeah, but you get along with everybody,” Bitty says doubtfully.
“Untrue. And you’re composed of, like, sunshine, brahski. Jack’s just a stubborn dick-in-a-box about things and he takes a while to warm up to people. It’ll be fine.”
“Okay,” Bitty says, feeling a little better. “I guess. What did you do to get him to warm up to you?”
“Oh, you know,” Shitty says, even though Bitty does not know at all. “I demanded he become friends with me for a start and I think he was too polite to tell me to fuck off.” Shitty makes a funny face that Bitty can’t guess the meaning of, like he’s laughing at his own inside joke. “And we—well. Y’know. Freshman year was some real whack shit.”
“Right,” Bitty says, confused. “Well, I’ll take your word for it I guess.”
“Swear to god,” Shitty says, then pauses. “Speaking of,” he says, and points towards his bedroom door. There’s someone coming up the stairs, not Shitty’s own few-at-a-time jumps or Ransom and Holster’s double-team dash.
“Jaaaaaack?” Shitty yells.
“Hey Shitty—“ Jack says, and Shitty launches himself up off the bed and hits the ground running. Bitty jumps up after him to see where he’s off to and he’s in time around the door to see Shitty take a flying leap in Jack’s direction. Jack is in jeans and plaid, carrying his school bag over his shoulder, and he yells in anger when Shitty barrels in his direction but catches him anyway. Shitty ends up sprawled in Jack’s arms, one arm around Jack’s shoulders with Jack’s arms under his knees and upper back.
“I could have been holding something!” Jack yells. Shitty grins up at him, and Bitty can’t help laughing because they make such a ridiculous picture. “What if I’d been carrying coffee, eh? Or my computer?”
“Sure bro, and you would’ve dropped it, because you love me and appreciate my companionship.”
Jack sighs, but not in a way that seems to indicate he disagrees.
“Now go on,” Shitty says, waving a hand grandiosely. “You’ve swept me off my feet, now carry me over the threshold.”
“I hope you don’t expect me to put out after this,” Jack says, and Bitty chokes because never in his life would he have expected to hear Jack Zimmermann say those words. “Because I think I’m developing a headache.” But he walks up the hall and towards Shitty’s door with Shitty in his arms.
“You never hold me anymore,” Shitty says. “All the passion’s gone. See, Bits? What did I tell you?” Bitty moves out of the way of Shitty’s door, still laughing, and Jack pauses like he’s spotted him for the first time. “You just gotta defrost him! Like the abominable snowman. Bleak but handsome and all gooey on the inside like a candy.”
Jack glances down at Shitty’s grinning face, and then over at Bitty, and then he sighs very deeply and drops Shitty unceremoniously onto his bed.
“Ow!” Shitty yells. “You Neanderthal!”
“Sorry,” Jack says. “Guess I’m too bleak and handsome to help it.”
“True, not your fault,” Shitty sighs.
“Bye, Shitty. Bye, Bittle,” Jack says, and leaves the room and walks down the hall.
Bitty watches him turn out of Shitty’s door, and wonders what the hell happened during Jack and Shitty’s freshman year to produce this as the end result. He's a little afraid to ask.