Disclaimer: The characters belong to Ngozi Ukazu.
A/N: The title is from "Hast Thou Considered the Tetrapod" by the Mountain Goats, because it's a good song for when parents are bad. Please note that this fic contains parents being distressingly bad and characters having a variety of responses to that, including borderline hurting themselves and panic attacks. There's also angst about Catholicism, and I'm Lutheran, so I was kind of guessing at the Catholic feels.
Jack rescuing Shitty
Jack knows it's rude to leave the sound on his phone on at a restaurant, especially one as fancy as this, but, in his defense, it's not all the way on. He's set his phone so the only thing that would make any sound right now is a call from Shitty. They've only known each other for two months, but already Shitty is at the top of Jack's safety plan. He just says the right things, basically all the time, and it's not like Jack had a lot of other friends who were already on the list, so it's basically just a matter of Shitty being better at talking Jack down than Jack's parents are. Since Shitty agreed to be formally on Jack's safety plan a couple weeks ago, he's agreed to keep his phone open to calls from Jack at any time (Jack has assured him he won't take advantage of this option often and will try to only call when he's actively having a panic attack). It only made sense for Jack to offer to do the same thing in return and let Shitty call him whenever, too. Shitty's mental health seems to be in a better place than Jack's, which isn't actually saying much, but Jack wants to be a good friend, and offering to take Shitty's calls whenever seems like a good start.
Jack sets down his fork, slides his phone out of his pocket, confirms that the call is indeed from Shitty, looks at his parents, and says, "Sorry, I think I need to take this."
His mother frowns at him, but neither of them forbids him to leave the table, so he speed-walks out of the restaurant, sliding to accept the call as soon as he passes the hostess. "Shits, what's up?"
"I genuinely think that if I remain in my father's company for another half hour I am going to commit an act of violence, and I'm not sure if it'll be against myself or against him," Shitty replies.
"Woah, are you serious?" Jack asks.
"Kind of? I don't know. It sounds so dire. But like, I can see the indents in my palms from my nails, and I taste blood from biting my cheek, and I don't know how much longer I can confine the pain to small things that fly under the radar. Pain is the only thing that makes sense right now and it's demanding to be expressed."
Jack thinks of skating so long and so hard his feet bled or he threw up. He thinks of kicking his bed at the rehab facility, over and over and over. He thinks of all the times he's bitten through his own cheek, either during panic attacks or in an attempt to stave one off. Sometimes pain is the only thing that makes sense, and sometimes it demands to be expressed.
"I'm at a restaurant with my family," Jack says. "I need to tell my parents I'm leaving. Where are you?"
"Oh, sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt a family meal—" Shitty apologizes immediately.
"Shits. You are not okay right now. I'm coming to get you. Where are you?"
Shitty names a restaurant Jack has only heard of because his mother had initially suggested going there instead of here for tonight's meal. It seems, from his mother's report, like the only other really fancy restaurant in Samwell. Conveniently, most of the restaurants of Samwell are located along the same street, and the restaurant Shitty's at is only a couple blocks from where Jack currently is.
"Okay," Jack says. "I'll be there as soon as I can."
"Thanks," Shitty croaks. "Text me when you get here?"
"Of course," Jack replies, and then he hangs up. He speed-walks back into the dining room and to his parents' table. "That was my best friend," he tells them, standing by the table. "He's in crisis and he needs me to go get him. He's in the area, so I'll walk to where he is. I have my wallet, so I can get us a cab back to campus at some point. I know you wanted to see me and I'm sorry, but I need to go."
His parents exchange a look before nodding at him. His mother says, "Good luck."
Jack all but sprints the two blocks to the restaurant where Shitty is, feet hating him for trying to run in dress shoes. He texts Shitty to say he's arrived as soon as he crosses the street onto the right block, and Shitty exits the restaurant . . . followed by a man who's unmistakably related to him. "Get back inside, you ungrateful son of a—" the man whisper-shouts.
"What the fuck are you going to say against my mother?" Shitty snaps back.
The man looks around, clearly noticing Jack for the first time, as Jack hovers half a block away, unsure whether it's wise to get closer. The man straightens up, smooths his clothes, and says, very calmly, "Byron. We're having a family meal and you can honor your grandparents, if not me, by coming back inside and finishing your food."
"Nope!" says Shitty, in something that's maybe supposed to be fake cheer but that Jack can tell is rage.
"Byron, I'm aware we're not your favorite people—"
"And why do you think that is?" Shitty interrupts acidly.
"But the least you can do is come back inside and end this little stunt."
Shitty clenches his fists and Jack feels the bite of the nails as if they were pressing into his own palms, so he makes a decision. Running forward, he grabs Shitty by the arm and says, "Sorry, Mr. Knight. I'm borrowing your son."
Mr. Knight opens and closes his mouth a few times and then says, "Well. I'll see you at Thanksgiving, Byron," before heading back inside.
Jack tugs Shitty down the street as Shitty begins to say, "I hate him I hate him I hate him," over and over.
"So, that was fucked up," Jack says, once they're a few storefronts down from the restaurant.
Shitty laughs humorlessly. "Family, right?"
Jack shakes his head, hard. "No. I mean, I have massive issues with my parents and we've been to a ton of family therapy about the pressure they put on me, but that? Calling you a son of a bitch? Hell no. That's not normal, Shits, and it's not okay."
"I want to believe you," Shitty says, "but also everyone at Andover had horror stories. Even if this isn't normal for your crowd, it's normal for mine."
"Okay, whatever, maybe it's normal," Jack relents. "That doesn't make it okay."
"Yeah?" Shitty asks, like he's somehow not convinced.
Jack takes Shitty's hand and uncurls his fingers, peeling them away from his palm to reveal deep shadows where Shitty's nails have been. "Shits," Jack says, "this isn't good. He shouldn't push you to this point."
Jack squares his shoulders, taking advantage of the three inches he has on Shitty, and looks down at Shitty. "Shitty. Tell me you understand that it's not okay for your father to flat-out insult you and drive you to the point of causing yourself physical pain." He's using the captain voice he practiced in Rimouski, the one he's been trying really hard not to use on his teammates here. He's not the captain, not at Samwell, and he shouldn't try to usurp power that isn't his. But this, right here, is a situation he only has a clue how to handle if he exercises some authority.
Shitty looks down. "It's not okay for my dad to insult me and drive me to the point of digging my palms into my nails and biting through my cheek," he mumbles.
"Right," says Jack. "Thank you. Do you want to tell me what that was all about?"
"He spent literally the entirety of dinner talking about how disappointing it is that I'm at Samwell and not Harvard, and how at least I can salvage things by majoring in economics like every male Knight for God-even-knows-how-many generations, and then of course I said that actually I'm thinking about majoring in poli sci, or women's and gender studies, or both, and he told me to do something useful with my life while implying very heavily that women's and gender studies is a useless department and also that my mother's life choices are all terrible."
"Your mother wasn't there, was she?" Jack asks. He's pretty sure Shitty's parents are divorced, both from things Shitty has said in the past and from the way Shitty's father was talking during the minute or so he was on the sidewalk.
"Ha. No," says Shitty. "She's in town, and she was at the game yesterday, but she was not at dinner. Thankfully. She doesn't need to deal with that."
"Neither do you," Jack replies.
"I mean, I think I kind of do," Shitty says. "Tuition won't pay itself."
"Shitty—" Jack starts.
Shitty takes a quick look at Jack's face and shakes his head hard. "Jack, no. It's the literal price of admission, and I need to learn to pay it. Four more years, right? Not even; it's already October. Three years and seven months, and then I can be done with this. Don't offer to try to do something about it. This is just . . . how it goes."
Jack knows he won't win this argument, but he squeezes Shitty's shoulder and says, "I'm sorry it's like this, and I'm glad you called me."
"So am I," says Shitty.
"I'm going to call us a cab to take us back to campus," Jack tells him. "I don't want to walk in dress shoes and I don't think you really do either."
"Good thinking," says Shitty. "Thanks. Like, really. I mean it. Thank you."
Chowder rescuing Dex
"I'm so excited for Christmas!" Chowder says as he and Dex leave the math building after their comp sci final. Chowder finished the final a few minutes before Dex, but he hadn't wanted to abandon his friend, so he'd sat on the floor in the hallway until Dex had walked out. Now the two of them are heading in the direction of the dining hall, though neither of them has said for sure that that's where they're going.
Dex makes a face and then clearly tries to hide it, summoning up a smile. "That's great, C. How do you usually celebrate?"
"Usually we hang out with my cousins, and there's a bunch of us and we all get along pretty well, so that's a ton of fun. My youngest cousins are twins who are—what, three years old now? Gosh, that's wild; they're like real actual people at this point—and my oldest cousins are a couple years older than I am, so a lot of the kids still believe in Santa and the rest of us play along. We all bring lots of cookies, and my mom and my aunts cook a ton of traditional dishes and it's so much better than anything you could get at a restaurant."
"That sounds awesome," says Dex, and he sounds sincere.
"Do you celebrate?" Chowder asks. "You're Catholic, right?"
Dex chuckles humorlessly, all the pleasantness draining away from his face and voice. "I'm not anything. My family's Catholic, though. So yeah, we celebrate."
Chowder frowns at him. "Is there a reason that 'we celebrate' sounds like 'they murder my pets' when you say it?"
Dex sighs and then shrugs. "It's just how family is, right? You start a countdown to when you're allowed to move out when you're like 15, and the thought of going back makes you feel like you're Harry returning to the Dursleys, and you pretend like you're in an epic fantasy and your character is required to have a tragic backstory, just to get through it. That's what having a family means, you know?"
Chowder shakes his head. "No. I don't know, because it's not supposed to be like that."
"What do you mean?" Dex asks.
"I mean," Chowder says, "it's not like my parents and I always get along, but I've never felt like they were a tragic backstory for me, or like I was Harry Potter living with the Dursleys. And there are definitely things I like about Samwell and I'm glad to be here, but I wasn't counting down the days until I moved out—definitely not three years in advance, fuck."
"Oh," says Dex. "I guess I'm just a shitty son. Not that that's news or anything."
"No," Chowder replies, "that's not what I'm saying. I'm saying you deserve to feel good and welcome and loved in your home."
Dex rolls his eyes and scoffs. When Chowder just keeps watching him, he says, "What? Were you serious about that?"
"Yes," Chowder says. They're both quiet for several seconds, and then Chowder says, "Will your parents be pissed if you're not home for Christmas?"
Dex shakes his head. "Nah, that would probably be a relief. Not having to deal with me."
Chowder winces. "That sucks, but also, we can work with that. Come to California with me."
"What?" Dex squawks.
"Come to California with me," Chowder repeats.
"I . . . I don't have money for a ticket."
"My parents work in tech," Chowder replies. "It won't be a big deal."
"I can't just—" Dex starts.
"Dex," Chowder interrupts. "Which do you want less, to spend Christmas with your family or to let me buy you a plane ticket to come spend Christmas with my family?"
Dex bites his lip.
"Oh, for fuck's sake," Chowder grumbles. "I'm inviting you into my family's space and traditions. Are you seriously going to let your pride get in the way of an invitation like that?"
Dex's eyes flash momentarily, and then he slumps into himself. "Fine. If there's a ticket available on the flight you're taking, yes, I'll come with you to California for Christmas."
Chowder grins. "Swawesome."
Tango rescuing Whiskey
Whiskey really thought he could do this. He, Tango, and Dex are the three members of SMH who were raised Catholic; Tango's the only one who still goes to mass or confession on anything resembling a regular basis, but he invites the other two on major holidays. Whiskey's a little in awe of Dex's ability to brush off Tango's invitations, like religion and God and the threat of hell mean nothing to him. They still mean something to Whiskey, much though he wishes they didn't. Whiskey has spent all of Lent feeling intermittently guilty for turning down Tango's invitation to come to mass for Ash Wednesday, so here he is on Good Friday, sitting in a pew next to his best friend, listening to a priest drone through a homily.
For some reason it's the Eucharist that does it. The bulletin lists out who is and isn't eligible to receive the Lord's Supper and Whiskey just doesn't know what box he fits in. He's been baptized and confirmed, but what does he believe? Is he really Catholic? Is he worthy?
He doesn't realize he's acting oddly until Tango tries to pull him to his feet to go take communion. And then, when Whiskey responds to that by starting to hyperventilate rather than standing, Tango pulls his arm again, this time in the other direction. After several seconds, during which time the people from further down their pew have cut through the pew in front of them to get to the front of the church, Whiskey manages to stand and stumble down the side aisle and out the back of the church after Tango.
Tango is usually full of questions, but he knows when to hold his tongue, so the only sound is Whiskey's frantic attempts at breathing as the two sit side by side on the steps of the church. Whiskey fights with his lungs and his throat, trying to get himself under control. It's a struggle and takes way longer than it should, but after several jagged, shuddery minutes, he's back in control of his body and his breathing.
"Sorry," Whiskey says.
"No!" Tango replies. "No, I'm sorry. I should have listened when you said you didn't want to come."
Whiskey shrugs. "I know you meant well. You like it here. You just wanted me to like it here, too."
"Still, though," says Tango. "I won't ask you to come here again."
"But I should," Whiskey says.
"What do you mean?" Tango asks.
"I should go to church more," Whiskey clarifies.
Tango shakes his head. "I don't think you should."
Whiskey frowns. "Are you saying I don't belong here?" He's been on the edge of getting kicked out of church before, but never by a friend.
"I'm saying that being here clearly isn't good for you," Tango replies before Whiskey can get too close to another panic attack.
"What does that have to do with anything?" Whiskey asks. "It's church. I should go."
Tango shakes his head. "The God I believe in doesn't want you to torture yourself."
Whiskey stares at him silently for few moments before managing to articulate, "The God I was raised to believe in only wants you to torture yourself."
"Well fuck that," Tango replies immediately.
"How are you Catholic?" Whiskey asks. "Isn't guilt and self-flagellation, like, our entire thing?"
"I don't know that I am Catholic, exactly," Tango says. "I believe in a higher power and the rituals of the Catholic church are my default mode of connecting with it, or them, or whatever pronouns the higher power uses. I think it helps that there were some radical nuns in my area when I was growing up who were active on, like, a bunch of social justice fronts. I know the Catholic church has done a lot of awful things, including clearly to you, but it's also my home, not necessarily because I believe everything it says but because I connect to its rhythms, and its dogma and its history aren't the only things it represents to me."
Whiskey is still staring at Tango.
After several seconds of silence, Tango stands and says, "You know what, let's just get you back to the Haus."
Whiskey frowns. "You didn't get any communion."
Tango rolls his eyes. "Whatever. It's Holy Week. I had communion yesterday at the Maundy Thursday service, and I can get it tomorrow if I come to the Easter Vigil, and I'll for sure have it on Sunday for Easter. It'll be my most communion-heavy week all year even without getting any today."
Whiskey takes a deep breath, nods, and says, "If you say so."
"Okay then," says Tango, tipping his head in the direction of the parking lot. "Come on."