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A Comprehensive Guide to Not Talking About It

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Dex isn’t freaking out. Because that would mean that there was something to freak out about. And there isn’t. Because nothing happened.

So what if Nursey was about to kiss him? It was a close thing, but it didn’t actually happen, and so there is absolutely no reason for Dex to be sitting on the floor of the bathroom between their room and Chowder’s trying not to hyperventilate.

Nursey was drunk.

He’s usually not that handsy when he’s drunk, which frankly always surprised Dex. Nursey gets more and more extroverted as he drinks, but at a certain point of inebriation he starts to tip the other direction into intense introversion. He gets suddenly quieter, a little withdrawn, and prone to finding places around the Haus that allow him to avoid people until he sobers up. A fully shitfaced Nursey is known to get lost on occasion because he’s trying so hard to find somewhere quiet and away from people.

This is the first time he’s ever sought out someone.

Sought out Dex, to be specific.

And then tried to kiss him.

Almost.

That “almost” is key here. Because Nursey didn’t kiss Dex, and so Dex is definitely not freaking out right now.

He just needs a moment to readjust his worldview.

Nursey definitely wanted to kiss him, is the thing. Right before he groaned about feeling dizzy and then passed out across Dex’s lap. Which maybe means that Nursey’s not quite as straight as Dex always assumed? So, there’s that.

He should probably stop assuming straightness in general, honestly. He’s been yelled at for it often enough since he got to Samwell. But, to be fair to himself, the people who did the most yelling were all... Well. Very straight. And Dex is... kind of not?

Okay, yeah, he’s really really not. But he tries not to think about it for the most part. Between school and hockey and the pool of dread in his gut at the thought of how his family would react to the news, he doesn’t have the time or inclination to do anything about it.

And none of that even matters in the face of the other realization Dex is currently having right now, which is that Nursey might not entirely hate him.

Unless he’s the type to go around hate-kissing people. Which, honestly, doesn’t seem like Nursey at all. As much as Nursey can be an annoying asshole when he wants to be, he’s a total marshmallow at heart and only really lets himself get physically close to people he genuinely cares about.

This fact has always presented something of a conundrum for Dex. Because obviously Nursey doesn’t like him, right? And yet Nursey is always finding an excuse to throw an arm around Dex’s shoulders, or ruffle his hair, or squeeze into his side on the Haus couch, pressed from hip to shoulder and nearly on top of each other with Chowder on his other side.

Nursey wanting to kiss him though, that’s... Dex doesn’t even have the words.

He forces himself to stand up, and then grabs hold of either side of the sink and meets his own, panicked gaze in the mirror.

Nursey tried to kiss him.

Derek Nurse tried to kiss him.

The more Dex thinks about it, the more absolutely fucking ridiculous it sounds. Derek Nurse could have anybody, guy or girl, that he wants. Nursey has a god damn fan club and gets regularly featured in the photos that grace basically every single piece of Samwell promotional material in existence.

He’s beautiful, and he knows it. He’s also an amazing athlete, and one of the smartest guys on the entire team. There is absolutely no reason for him to want to put his mouth anywhere near William Poindexter’s mouth, even when drunk. Especially when drunk. A drunk Nursey should want to put about a thousand more miles between himself and Dex than there usually is.

Nothing about this makes sense. Dex has entered the Upside Down.

Obviously, the best course of action is to pretend nothing happened and go on with life as normal. Nursey probably won’t even remember it in the morning, and since nothing actually happened, nothing has to change. Right?

Right.

Dex quietly makes his way back into their dark bedroom, Nursey’s soft snores and the creaking floorboards beneath Dex’s feet the only sounds now that the kegster has died down.

Nothing has to change. This will be fine. And Dex is still decidedly not freaking out.

It does take him a very long time to get to sleep though.

***

Nursey is gone when Dex wakes up the next morning. Which is one more item to add to the list of weird shit Nursey’s done in the last twelve hours. Nursey never wakes up before Dex, and he certainly doesn’t bother to leave his bed when he’s as hungover as he must be after last night.

Post-kegster Nursey is generally an immobile ball of grumpiness that Dex, Chowder and Bitty have to take turns pestering into drinking Gatorade until he’s finally human enough to come downstairs and eat something.

Dex ignores it. Ignoring everything Nursey is the plan, and he’s determined to stick to it. He takes a shower, gets dressed, and wanders downstairs to see if anyone wants to head to Jerry’s.

But the only one home is Tango, who doesn’t even live here, sprawled across the couch watching cartoons and eating leftover pie with his hands from off a frisbee. “Hey Dex!” he greets, both cheeks stuffed with food. “Do you know why everybody was freaking out earlier?”

“Um. No. I just woke up.”

“Oh. Do you want some pie?” He offers up the frisbee, and Dex shakes his head.

“What do you mean by ‘freaking out’? Where is everyone?”

Tango shrugs a shoulder and shoves a large piece of piecrust into his mouth. “Ollie and Wicky went to Jerry’s, because I guess one of them owes the other breakfast? Because of a bet about Nursey? But I don’t think they’re very happy about it anymore because Bitty yelled at them and Nursey almost threw up.”

Oh god. Dex can feel his cheeks heat with a blush, partly in embarrassment but mostly due to growing horror.

“And then Chowder and Bitty dragged Nursey to Annie’s, because he was being really weird,” Tango continues, seemingly oblivious. “Like, overly chill? Like, really super fucking chill, it was kinda scary. Must have been a pretty epic hangover.”

Dex heaves a sigh, closes his eyes, and massages his temples with both hands. So this is apparently going to be a thing, whether he wants it to be or not, and because all of his friends are melodramatic weirdos, he’s not going to get away with his usual routine of repression and emotional distance this time.

Dex frowns, debating if he should crash the guys at Annie’s or even maybe the guys at Jerry’s and get this all over with, or if he should just avoid everybody everywhere for the rest of his life like he kind of wants to right now.

He opts for door number three and calls Ford.

“Dining Hall Waffle Station?” he asks when she answers on the first ring. She had tech for a show last night and didn’t make it to the party, so she’s probably been awake for more hours this morning than Dex has had a chance to sleep.

“It’s Saturday, why are we going to campus for breakfast?”

“Because I’m avoiding everywhere else.”

“In that case I better get some gossip with those waffles.”

Dex rolls his eyes, but he’d probably end up telling her everything anyway. She has that effect on people.

So he agrees to meet outside her place in ten to walk to campus together, and braces himself to admit out loud what happened with Nursey. Maybe when he does, the whole thing will start to feel somewhat real.

But Ford doesn’t look nearly as surprised by Dex’s account of last night as he thought she would. Her fingers keep playing with the ends of her homemade scarf and her eyebrows keep jumping around like they can’t settle on what she wants them to convey.

Dex narrows his eyes at her. “What’s with the face?”

“It’s just my face, Will.”

“You look like you figured out the plot twist four chapters back, Foxtrot. Spill.” Her nose scrunches up at the nickname. Half the time she thinks it’s cute, and the other half she thinks it’s an inconvenient waste of time on the extra syllable.

“It’s just. Well.” She harrumphs adorably. “Don’t take this the wrong way, Dex, but I thought you were okay with it? You’ve been roommates with Nursey for months now, and you’ve never complained about his feelings before.”

“He’s never tried to kiss me before,” Dex argues. And then stops. Blinks. Mentally rewinds. “Wait. What? What feelings?

Ford’s eyebrows finally come to a decision, shooting up to her hairline and staying there. “You’re kidding,” she says flatly.

“The only ‘feelings' involved in my relationship with Nursey are general annoyance and reluctant friendship.”

“Dex. William. I know I’m still relatively new to the team, but I’m not blind. Nursey’s been pining away for at least as long as I’ve known him, and Chowder says it started way before that. To be fair, you definitely put up with it better than most ‘bros’ would. Or, well, you’ve never been a jerk about it, I guess. A low bar, but. I don’t know. We all figured you were cool with it?”

The number of times Dex’s mind has been blown in the last twenty-four hours is rapidly escalating. “Uh, Nursey has not been pining, what the hell? And what do you mean ‘we?’”

Ford puts her hands on her hips, just below her forest green cardigan. “It’s not exactly a secret, buddy.”

Dex has to stop walking and hold his head with both hands.

“Wow, you really didn’t know,” she says as she stops belatedly a couple feet ahead and turns back to face him.

“I-- I thought he was straight.”

“Internalized heternormativity.” She nods sagely.

Dex runs a frustrated hand through his hair, pulling hard enough to leave it sticking out in all directions despite how short he keeps it cut. “Look, I’m getting better at this shit, I swear, but unlearning things is not like flipping a fucking light switch, alright?”

Ford rolls her eyes. “Oh come on. He flirts with you constantly, Dex.”

“If that’s his idea of flirting, it needs some work.”

“I don’t know, the rest of us thought it was pretty blatant.”

Jesus. Dex might actually be freaking out now.

Nursey likes him.

Has liked him for who knows how long. And has been so obvious about it that the entire team picked up on it, while Dex has been... what? Willfully ignorant? Pointedly ignoring the supposed obvious? Burying his head so deep down into the sand that the only things he allows himself to feel anymore are related to hockey or schoolwork?

Nursey likes him.

Him.

That shouldn’t even be possible.

“You’re not going to be an asshole about it now, are you?” Ford asks warily.

Dex lowers his hands from his face and blinks repeatedly at her, trying to focus back in on the present. “What? Why would I--”

“You don’t seem to have a problem with Bitty and Jack, but when it’s your roommate, and he’s got a crush on you, I suppose I can see how that might be a little harder to--”

“Oh my god, Foxtrot, I’m gay.”

Ford’s mouth clicks shut.

Dex sucks in a sharp breath. He’s said it out loud maybe twice before? And never to anyone important. It always felt easier to admit these kinds of things to strangers who couldn’t use it against him or accidentally out him to his family.

The people that Dex genuinely cares about are also the people he distances himself from the most emotionally. Less because he’s afraid they might hurt him with whatever information they learn about him, and more because he’s absolutely certain they’ll outright reject him for it.

He understands that this is not, necessarily, a healthy way to live, but it’s worked for him so far and he doesn’t know how to stop.

A part of him has always been, and probably always will be, convinced that if anyone ever knew him entirely, they’d want nothing more to do with him. Most people barely want anything to do with him as it is, and he’s pretty sure most of their tolerance of his presence is only based on his usefulness.

Ford rallies spectacularly well, adjusting her scarf with one hand and grabbing Dex’s wrist with the other to continue leading him towards the dining hall. “Right then. Waffles,” she says resolutely, like it might be the solution to everything.

It isn’t until they’re sitting down, each with a freshly made waffle as large as their plates, that Ford purses her lips and hesitates over grabbing the can of whipped cream on the table that they pilfered from the waffle station.

“I didn’t mean to--” she starts and stops abruptly. Sighs. “If I had thought for even a second--” She stops again.

Dex takes pity and lays a hand over one of hers, while also stealing the whipped cream with his other. “This doesn’t need to be a conversation. We’re good.”

“Okay. Well. Thank you for trusting me with--”

“Please don’t start,” he groans, and she snorts a quiet laugh.

There’s a companionable quiet for the next few minutes as they eat their breakfast and alternately take direct hits from the whip cream as chasers for the pools of syrup and strawberry goo in every waffle crevice.

But eventually Ford starts getting restless, tugging at her cardigan’s sleeves in a way Dex recognizes as the precursor to a full-on bout of agitated, Shakespearean monologuing if he doesn’t nip it in the bud.

“Look,” he says, before she can start in. “I don’t actually care that a guy might like me. Obviously. But the idea that Nursey might? I don’t know.” Dex shakes his head and twists his mouth, eyebrows furrowed as he tries to turn the whirlwind of confused thoughts he has on the subject into words. “Just. It’s Nursey. And he’s been... pining?” Dex snorts a derisive laugh at the ridiculousness of the mere idea.

“Fine. Forget about Nursey’s feelings for a second then, if you’re having such a hard time processing them. How do you feel about him?”

That is... a really good question actually. And not one Dex has entertained yet, too busy focusing on the Nursey of it all that his own emotions and wants kind of took a backseat.

Like they always do, really. The wants and emotions of those around him have always taken precedence over his own, whether because they seemed louder than his or because they just seemed more important.

“I don’t know. I... I mean, he’s so far out of my league it’s not even funny.” Dex runs a hand over his features and then points a finger at Ford. “Never tell him I said that.”

Ford mimes zipping her lips closed.

Dex sighs. “I’ve never let myself think about it, honestly. There was never a good reason to, and I’m kinda still not convinced that having a reason to now isn’t just the product of some kind of mass hallucination.”

“It’s not,” she assures. “But, either way, maybe it is time you started thinking about it?”

Only he’s been trying to do exactly the opposite since the failed almost kiss last night. Whenever he tentatively pokes at the area in his mind that’s labeled Nursey now, his instinct is to sound the alarms and look the other way.

So, he breaks up the problem into smaller, less overwhelming pieces. A go-to coping mechanism. Analyze the parts, solve for x, try not to let anyone notice him doing it.

Other people only get to see the finished product. The job well done. Accidentally letting them in on how he gets there feels like a unique kind of failure.

Dex continues eating as he considers. He breaks it all down into something manageable.

Nursey is his friend. Nursey is beautiful. Nursey pisses him off more than anyone else in existence and for some reason Dex kind of lives for it, and loves finding excuses to argue with him.

It’s not fighting, not how it used to be. It’s more like... affectionate banter? Bickering as... foreplay?

“Oh shit, he really has been flirting,” Dex realizes out loud. And then drops his fork onto his plate with a clatter as it hits him a split second later that, “Oh shit, I’ve been flirting back.”

It takes several long minutes and a balled-up napkin thrown at her head before Ford stops laughing at him.

***

The Haus is suspiciously business as usual when Dex gets back. Ollie and Wicks are on the living room floor playing Halo and they both pointedly don’t even so much as glance in Dex’s direction when he walks past them.

Bitty is baking in the kitchen, but hasn’t turned on any background music, which is odd. He isn’t humming to himself either, or talking softly under his breath like he’s imagining what the vlog would look like. It’s a very un-Bitty-like state of things if you know what to look for beyond the pie-making. And when Dex enters, he doesn’t even look up from the crust he’s rolling out.

Alright, time to bite the bullet, apparently. Otherwise the rest of Dex’s time living in the Haus is going to be pretty excruciatingly awkward, if these last thirty seconds are any indication.

He swallows and shoves his hands deep into his pants pockets. “So. How is he?”

Bitty’s hands hesitate in the air only briefly before resuming their well-practiced motions. He shoots a smile over his shoulder at Dex that is probably supposed to seem reassuring, but looks a little strained around the edges. “How’s who?”

Bitty.”

Bitty sighs, shoulders slumping. He pauses to consider, and then shakes his head and looks up at Dex with a genuine kindness Dex has learned to spot through all the southern hospitality. “Why don’t you come help me with these apples, Honey.”

So Dex rolls up his sleeves and washes his hands, and he gets to work peeling apples over a colander in the sink, Bitty mixing spices together beside him. It’s become a weird sort of normal for the two of them over the last year or so. Bitty bakes, Dex assists. Bitty creates minor miracles out of whatever he finds in the Haus cupboards, Dex follows along and tries to keep up. It’s Bitty’s kitchen, but Dex suspects he’s being groomed to inherit it once Bitty graduates. Not that Dex will ever be able to pull off a meal without a detailed recipe right in front of him, but at least he doesn’t burn water.

“He’s fine,” Bitty says, after a time. “You know Nursey. He’s a bit of an expert in not letting things get to him.”

“You mean in not letting it show when things get to him.”

A small smile tugs at the corner of Bitty’s mouth, this one not at all strained, but Dex doesn’t particularly like the look of it all the same. “So you’ve noticed, huh?”

“I do live with the guy.”

Bitty nods in assent, and then stares thoughtfully down at the contents of his mixing bowl. The silence is as telling as the words he uses to finally break it. “He’s scared. But he only tells me as much as he thinks I want to hear, so I don’t have all the details.”

“Does anyone when it comes to Nursey?”

Bitty hums thoughtfully. “Maybe Chowder. He took Nursey to Boston with Farmer for the day. Try to take his mind off things.”

“Good. That’s... good.” For Nursey, at any rate. Not for Dex’s current state of mind, since he’s essentially been left to wallow and panic and pace in their room by himself until everyone gets back.

Dex ruminates as he finishes pealing, coring, and cutting the last apple. He takes the refuse over to the back door to dump into the compost bin, a project entirely inspired by Nursey, but left to Dex to actually maintain, since he’s the only one of the Haus residents with practical experience in the area. He had to place a long list, complete with pictures, of everything not to put into the bin, and then had to spend the better part of an entire day explaining in detail to a pestering Nursey the reason behind each item.

“He’s not scared of me, though, is he?” Dex finally finds it in him to ask. “He doesn’t think I’d actually, like, deck him for having a crush or whatever, right?”

“No, of course not! I think he’s probably more scared of himself than of you. He-- Well. I don’t think he expected to ever do anything about his feelings, drunk or otherwise.”

“So it’s true. What Ford told me earlier. He... has feelings.” Dex swallows. “For me.”

Bitty cocks his head to one side, gaze assessing. “You really didn’t know?”

Dex opens his mouth to defend himself, but can’t think of a convincing argument after the day he’s had. He sighs and shakes his head no.

He can’t tell whether the frown Bitty shoots him is more sad or critical.

They work for a few moments of quiet, but it’s not the comfortable kind that Dex is used to when it comes to the two of them anymore.

The whole Huas feels tense, breath held, faking a normalcy that doesn’t go past the surface. They’re all worried about Nursey and trying not to show it, but they’re worried about him too. Worried about what he’ll do, and trying to pretend that they all believe he’ll be a better guy than the one they first met as an angry, repressed eighteen-year-old his freshman year.

Finally, Dex can’t take it anymore. He sets down his knife and grabs hold of the edge of the countertop with both hands. He takes a deep breath. “Hey, Bitty? Am I in trouble?”

Bitty visibly startles. “What? Sweetheart, no, of course not. Why would you be?”

“I don’t know. I just always kind of assumed that if it came down to me or Nursey, everyone was gonna pick Nursey. And if he’s upset about what happened--”

“William Jacob Poindexter, you listen to me, there will be no choosing sides on this team. You both are family, and we love you both equally. Got your back, no matter what.”

“Yeah, unless everybody thinks I’m being a homophobic douchebag.”

Bitty frowns and looks down at the lattice work he’s placing over the tops of Dex’s peeled and seasoned apple slices. He seems to debate with himself for longer than Dex has ever known him to when it comes to speaking his mind, and then says in a purposefully neutral tone, “They won’t think that, Will.”

“Right. Because an entire team of socially oblivious hockey players have all become overly invested in the subtleties of their frog’s character development.” He pinches the bridge of his nose and reminds himself to breathe. “I believe that they don’t think I’m a complete asshat, but when it comes to Nursey...”

“You don’t need to worry, Dex. They know how-- how you two are.”

Dex feels like the floor is about to start racing towards him, and he holds onto the counter even tighter. “Hold on, us two? So, not just him. You all noticed that I-- I mean, shit, the team knows I--”

“Oh! No, heavens no, Dex, no. They’re lovely boys but they’re still, you know, dumb boys. But they know you two care about each other more than you want to let on, and that you would beat the living hell out of anyone who laid a finger on Nursey. They don’t know about... any of the rest of it. Not as far as you’re concerned.”

Dex catches his breath. Vaguely wonders when he got so good at doing that. “You know, though, don’t you?” It doesn’t come out as accusatory as Dex might have meant for it to if this were yesterday. But it’s today, and all Dex can feel is grateful for someone in his corner who has been there for longer than Dex even thought to notice.

“I... didn't want to assume. But I had an idea of it.”

“And Nursey didn’t?”

“Denial is a complicated thing.”

Dex looks at Bitty directly, feeling all kinds of helpless, which is something he hates. “What do I do?”

Bitty shrugs. “What do you want to do?”

“I want to transfer to another school.”

Dex,” Bitty huffs an amused breath and rolls his eyes. But then he places a comforting hand on Dex’s forearm and squeezes a little. “Honey, nothing has to change if you don’t want it to. We all assumed you knew about Nursey’s feelings, and... and now you do. It can be the same as before.”

“It doesn’t feel the same as before.”

“Well. There’s a difference between having feelings and acting on them. The guys, and Nursey too I’d bet, they’re just waiting for your cue on that one. They won’t know how to react until you decide how you’re going to.”

As far as advice goes, it’s the best Dex is going to get, but it still doesn’t help all that much.

***

Nursey and Chowder return some time after dinner, and head straight to Chowder’s room before Dex manages to get a look at either of them.

Dex knocks on the door, and waits for the “come in” before entering, even though he and Nursey have never bothered to knock before. But he’s wary of overstepping now, afraid lines in the sand have been drawn, despite Bitty’s reassurances.

But maybe it will be better, having Chowder there as a buffer.

Or maybe Dex is about to lose two friends over this whole thing instead of just the one.

Because he is definitely going to lose Nursey. He can feel it in his bones, like the first chill of a really bad winter. Whatever he does, this will end badly. Nursey will realize he can do better, that Dex isn’t worth his time, and everyone else on the team will follow suit right behind him in that judgement. Or Dex will just inadvertently continue making everything so awkward among the SMH that he’ll be kicked off the team and lose his scholarship and all of his friends along with it.

No pressure.

Their first year at Samwell had seen all of Dex and Nursey’s biggest fights essentially being over their competing friendships with Chowder. Things are different now, sure. They’re more of a real trio than they felt back then. But if Chowder ever had to choose... Dex knows who he’d pick. Who he probably already has picked.

Nothing has to change, he reminds himself as he hears the called out “it’s open!” from the other side of the door.

Nothing has to change.

He can do this.

He opens the door to Derek Nurse sprawled out across Chowder’s bed with a stuffed shark over his face, his sweater hiked up at his torso to reveal a thick, dark trail of hair over rock hard abdominal muscles.

He can’t do this.

“Hey,” Dex says. Well, croaks. And then clears his throat as inconspicuously as possible. Dear God, what is wrong with him? He shares a locker room with Nursey for Christ’s sake, he knows what the guy looks like naked.

But he’s never really looked before, has he? At least, not beyond idly cataloguing all the parts of Nursey that annoy the hell out of him, and chief among those is Nursey’s ability to attract every single person with eyes.

Oh no, was that actually some weird version of repressed jealousy? Dex kind of wants to strangle his past self.

Nursey offers no acknowledgement that he even heard Dex. Chowder is spinning idly around in his desk chair, messing with his phone, and smiles up at Dex with a casual salute.

It’s not an unusual scene by any measure, but Dex has never felt more awkward in it. Usually he’d shove Nursey’s legs aside and sit down at the end of the bed, and Nursey would throw the shark at him, and they might horse around for a bit until Chowder yelled at them to either knock it off or to find a room that isn’t his.

Christ, Dex really has been blind, hasn’t he?

Instead of the norm, he shuffles his feet. And then, at Chowder’s pointed raise of an eyebrow, stiffly sits down on the floor beside the bed, his back against it, Nursey now only visible in his periphery.

Chowder’s eyebrows do not get any less pointed. He eyes Dex critically, glances briefly up to where Nursey is still lying down, and then back to Dex with a small huff of breath. “So.”

“So.” Dex nods. Surreptitiously licks his dry lips. “You guys have fun in Boston?”

Chowder rolls his eyes. “Not really, no. Nursey? Did you have fun in Boston today?”

Nursey blindly throws up his middle finger.

“Ignore him. He’s ‘emotionally bereft.’ I tried to take his mind off of it, but he’s pretty insistent on moping.”

“Is ‘emotionally bereft’ our new code for ‘hungover?’” Dex asks.

Chowder laughs. Nursey groans miserably.

“It definitely should be,” Chowder says with a smile. “How was your day?”

Dex shrugs a shoulder. “Had breakfast with Ford. Helped Bitty out in the kitchen. The usual.”

“And you’re, uh... you’re okay?” Chowder glances up at Nursey again, very obviously treading lightly around the elephant in the room. “Sorry I didn’t text earlier. My hands were kinda full today.”

“C, it’s fine. You don’t need to--“

“But you’re okay?” He sounds and looks so earnest that Dex can’t help but believe his sincerity. Which is a relief, and also makes him feel guilty for ever doubting Chowder’s commitment to their friendship. “I mean, you guys are cool?”

“I’m good, Chris. We’re good. You don’t have to worry about it.”

The bed rustles as Nursey sits up and tosses the shark to the side, nowhere close to tossing it at Dex, so things must really be dire. “I can tell when you’re lying, Poindexter.”

His tone is clinical, cold. Completely devoid of even the usual amount of fake chill he likes to put on. This is the real thing. This is... not something Dex thought he’d ever be on the receiving end of even when their arguments were at their worst.

Dex stares down at his own hands. “And I can tell when ‘emotionally bereft’ really means ‘scared shitless.’ Didn’t think we were going to be bringing either of those things up tonight though.”

Dex can sense Nursey go tense, because it happens so rarely anywhere that’s off the ice that it practically sends ripples through the air. Or maybe it’s just that Dex is that in tune with Nursey, that aware of him, whenever they’re in the same room. Fuck, he’s an oblivious asshole. How did he not see it until now?

Not figuring out Nursey’s feelings is one thing, because it should be impossible that Nursey would have any in Dex’s direction. But his own feelings? He’s usually pretty self-aware. Even if he chooses to ignore all of the parts of that self that aren’t immediately necessary, he still knows they exist.

Chowder blinks at them with a shocked expression all over his face. “Wow, so we’re actually talking about this, huh?”

Nursey stands up. “No. We’re not.” And then he leaves the room without looking back, and not through the shared bathroom, so Dex doesn’t know where he’s going to end up.

Chowder doesn’t try to stop him. Simply frowns after him, and then sighs sadly. “Sorry. He’s just... embarrassed. He’ll get over it.”

“That looked a whole lot worse than just ‘embarrassed.’”

“You know Nursey. On the rare occasions when he’s not completely chill, he’s the most dramatic one in the room.”

Dex levels a flat look at his friend. “He tried to kiss me, Chow.”

Chowder winces. “Yeah, I know. He’d take it back if he could.”

“That makes one of us, I guess.” He isn’t sure he means it until after the words have left his mouth. Would he rather have avoided all the drama that this whole thing has prompted? Damn straight. But he doesn’t want Nursey to take it back. He wants Nursey to want to do it again.

Chowder almost falls out of his chair he whips around so fast to stare at Dex. “What?

Dex heaves a sigh and drops his head back to thunk against the mattress. “You didn’t know? I figured if Bitty knew, you’d probably have noticed too.”

“Noticed that you... wanted Nursey to kiss you?

“Um. Apparently.”

“But you’re-- But you guys--” Chowder drops his phone into his lap and grabs hold of his head with both hands. “I’m the worst best friend in the world, I’ve been trying to help him get over you!”

“No, no, C, that was a good call. I didn’t even know I liked him until this morning. He can definitely do better, and probably should.”

Chowder slides out of the chair to crouch in front of Dex, and puts firm hands on his shoulders. “That is not even remotely true, Will.”

“It’s a little true.”

Chowder looks like he wants to argue the point further, but stops himself and just smiles sadly. “Are you going to talk to him about it?”

“Did it sound like he wants to talk?”

“But you’ll try anyway, right?”

“I don’t know. I still can’t even figure out if this is a good idea or not. And I’m leaning towards not.”

“Alright, well. Let me know which side you fall on, okay? And I’ll be there for you guys however I can.”

Not a single one of them deserve Christopher Chow.

***

Dex goes for a long walk around campus as the sun sets and the night air turns cold enough that he wishes he’d brought a jacket. But he doesn’t want to head back yet and face the chance that it will be to an empty room. If Nursey’s upset enough to not even come home...

He has to head back eventually though. And thankfully Nursey is there when he does, tucked away in bed with the lights off. He’s not asleep, though he’s definitely pretending to be.

Dex strips in the dark, overly conscious of every small movement, every rustle of clothing being discarded, unable to stop imagining it from Nursey’s perspective. Or, even worse somehow, imagining their roles reversed. Dex feigning sleep while Nursey undresses for bed, now that Dex knows that even the smallest hint of exposed skin outside the locker room can affect him like he’s just hit puberty all over again.

Dex swings himself up onto the top bunk with as little jostling of the bedframe as possible. It’s a lost cause of course, but ordinarily Nursey can sleep through an earthquake so it’s never been an issue before.

Tonight, Nursey turns over in bed, and raises his hand to knock gently at the wooden slat directly beneath Dex’s pillow. Since moving into the Haus together last August, even when mad as hell with each other, this has been Nursey’s signal for a timeout. That first night, after spending the day sniping back and forth while unpacking and sweating through their clothes as the old air conditioning unit finally died, Nursey knocked and Dex groaned, but didn’t reach down to throw anything at him like he wanted to.

“Bedtime truce,” Nursey said.

“That isn’t a thing.”

“It is now. I don’t like sleeping anywhere I’m not wanted. So. Bedtime truce. You in?”

Dex didn’t want to think about why the idea of sleeping under a roof where he was wanted, where they both were, was such a startling and emotional concept for him when spoken aloud like that. So he just buried his face into his pillow and sighed. “Yeah, man. I’m in.”

This is the first time Dex hasn’t known how to respond to that little knock. A part of him wants to let an arm fall down, offer Nursey his hand to hold, but the fear of rejection is too strong.

“Hey, man, forget what I said before,” Nursey whispers. “We’re good.”

“Nurse--”

“It’s chill. I was just trying to get under your skin. It was mostly the hangover talking anyway. And the, you know, mad fucking exhaustion from having to thirdwheel around Boston all day while dehydrated with the two most in love people I’ve ever met outside of Bitty and Jack.”

Dex clears his throat awkwardly, still not knowing what’s expected of him here. Is this an opening to pretend things are normal? Or an opening to confess that he doesn’t actually have an issue with all the nuances he’s quickly learning about the nature of their relationship?

“Must have been rough,” he settles on, his voice going slightly hoarse.

Nursey doesn’t call him on it. His own voice has taken on a similar quality when he responds, “Yeah. You know. I adore the hell out of ‘em both, but they definitely need to be fined more often. We could use a new microwave.”

And just like that, they’ve agreed to not talk about it.

Just like that, everything goes back to how it was before this little drama.

Except for one noticeable difference.

Nursey won’t touch him.

The thing is, now that the casual touching is gone, it becomes so much more obvious how constant and a little miraculous it was in the first place. Nursey doesn’t get close to people he doesn’t trust and care about, and Dex always thought he was an anomaly, but it turns out he was the recipient of the most trust and caring out of any of them and didn’t even know it.

It’s not like Dex is a physically affectionate guy naturally. He doesn’t hold himself apart, but he rarely initiates anything with the other guys. The only group hugs he participates in with the team are the ones that happen on the ice. His mom is a hugger, sure, but his dad is standoffish on a good day and his brother’s idea of expressing love is giving Dex a dead arm.

But Nursey is different. Was different. Even when they couldn’t stand each other, they’d still take turns falling asleep on the other’s shoulder on the bus back from away games, and Dex would think nothing of it. Every arm slung around Dex’s shoulder, every press into Dex’s side when sitting together on the couch, Dex has leaned into. Has more than accepted it, he’s encouraged it.

And now it’s gone.

From the outside, Nursey is still Nursey and Dex is still Dex. From the outside, everything looks exactly the same as it always has. They sit together on the bus, they argue across the table at team breakfast, they jockey back and forth for Chowder’s attention like it’s a contest.

If you didn’t know any better, from the outside nothing’s changed.

But occasionally Dex catches Chowder forcing himself not to step in and say something, or he spots Bitty sighing ruefully and shaking his head. And he knows what they’re thinking, because he’s thinking the same thing.

Nursey doesn’t touch him. Doesn’t pilfer half his pie filling while casually trading the edge of his own crust for it. Doesn’t “accidentally” steal Dex’s clothes when they’re running late to practice and trying to dress in pre-dawn light while half blind with sleep.

He doesn’t act like he cares, however secretly. He holds himself stiff and separate, and he treats Dex like Dex were any other teammate.

It doesn’t hurt so much as it leaves Dex a little numb. Hollowed out and uncertain how to fill in the holes, since he didn’t even know there were holes to fill until now.

Dex finds that he finally can’t take it anymore, no matter how many times he tells himself that he can, on a lazy Thursday movie night. Chowder is in the armchair with Farmer in his lap, and there’s a mile of distance between Dex and Nursey on the couch. Bitty is baking and talking to Jack in the kitchen. Ollie and Wicks are pulling an all-nighter at the library.

And suddenly, Dex can’t breathe.

He grabs his only half empty drink, gets up and heads into the kitchen with it, just to have some privacy as he pulls himself together.

Bitty politely doesn’t comment on his state as he hunches over the sink, shuts his eyes tight and tries to figure out how to fix this. That’s what he does, right? That’s what he’s good for. He fixes things. He makes himself useful. He can do that here too, right? He has to.

A gentle hand on his shoulder doesn’t so much startle him as remind him that there’s still an ongoing reality to open his eyes to.

“What do you want to do, Honey?” Bitty asks, far kinder than Dex feels he deserves. “We’re all just waiting on you.”

“Why do I get the feeling like you guys have been waiting on me for a long time now?”

“Well. Nursey certainly has.”

Dex nods dumbly. He supposes he kind of always knew that.

He goes back into the living room and sits down in the very middle of the couch, close enough to Nursey that their elbows knock together and their shoulders brush.

Nursey’s whole body goes rigid, a cord snapping taught so fast and hard it’s a wonder he doesn’t jump right off the couch to standing. “...What are you doing?” he asks under his breath, low enough that only Dex can hear, his gaze pointedly not leaving the television screen in front of them.

“Talking about it seems to be beyond us, so. I’m trying a different approach.”

“Poindexter--” But he cuts himself off sharply when Dex reaches over and places his hand next to where Nursey’s lies on the small bit of couch now between them, their knuckles touching, their fingers loose and right at the fine line between simply existing in close proximity of each other and becoming carelessly entangled.

Nursey sucks in a stuttered breath and closes his eyes. His body is no less tense than when Dex first sat down, but Dex doesn’t move, just waits.

What are you doing?” Nursey asks again, barely above the sound of his careful exhale, but more strained this time. Chowder and Farmer are oblivious a few feet away. On the TV, an action sequence starts up that Dex has no context for or vested interest in.

“Honestly? I don’t really know,” Dex admits, but doesn’t move away, still waiting for some kind of clear sign one way or the other from Nursey.

Slowly--at a pace so glacial it has Dex fighting back the urge to squirm or to shout or to do something--Nursey’s shoulders relax. His knee falls to the side to gently tap and then rest against Dex’s. His fingers beside Dex’s hand twitch, as though about to hook a pinky around Dex’s, or maybe interlace them all together, but always stop at the last second.

Dex has hit his quota of bravery for the day, so he doesn’t finish the half-thought gesture Nursey’s hand keeps having. It feels like just a touch too far a distance to bridge yet.

But he does lean a little further to the side, his shoulder now pressed definitively into Nursey’s. He can feel Nursey’s bicep flex once, and then relax again. His breathing evens out a little. They finish the movie without moving another inch, and Dex feels like he can breathe for the first time in weeks.

***

They don’t talk about it.

It’s not as if there’s anything to really talk about anyway. Once again, nothing actually happened.

And so Dex is totally not freaking out.

Anyway, they’ve spent at least the last year, if not longer, occupying each other’s space way more than this. It’s not a big deal.

It feels like a big deal, though.

Every time Dex risks it all to reach out and borrow Nursey’s pen straight out of his hand while they’re doing homework together at the Huas kitchen table, fingertips lingering briefly over knuckles. Every time Dex changes for bed and grabs a t-shirt that he knows isn’t his, pretending he doesn’t feel Nursey’s eyes on him from the bottom bunk as he does so. Every time he grabs Nursey’s green snapback for him without having to be asked, and tugs it down onto Nursey’s unruly hair, taking far more time than he needs to get it situated just right...

It feels like a big fucking deal.

But it also feels... light. Delicate. Warm. Like the beginning of a blush, or an unexpected soft look from across a crowded room.

Nursey still doesn’t initiate as much as he used to, though. It used to be that Dex “put up with” Nursey’s antics. Or, at least, that’s what he liked to tell himself. And now it’s all Dex can do to get Nursey to argue with him, now he’s the one constantly prodding, constantly trying to make the distance between them go away by any means necessary.

And Nursey “puts up with” Dex’s antics as though they’ve reversed their roles entirely. He doesn’t push away. He accepts it as though he doesn’t even know how hard Dex is working or how much it means.

It’s all such little things, though. Maybe too little? Dex doesn’t know how to go any bigger without breaking something that seems entirely too delicate for comfort.

They’re with a couple of teammates at the gym, and Nursey calls out to Chowder, whose stretching on the mats on the other side of the room, “Yo, C, come spot me.”

Dex steps forward before Chowder can even look up. “I can spot you.”

Nursey snorts. “I mean, yes, technically. But emotionally...”

Dex rolls his eyes. It’s all so familiar and yet it blooms a nervous, happy feeling in his chest that isn’t entirely new but is newly acknowledged, and seemingly all the stronger for it. “Whatever. Spot me then.”

Nursey blinks rapidly, for a split second very obviously stunned. “You don’t trust me to spot.”

Which is... more or less true. Nursey is just clumsy enough when off the ice to make weight lifting even in his general vicinity kind of an extreme sport. But Dex does trust him. Even if he’s a day late and a dollar short as to how much he does and why.

At last Nursey shrugs, playing it as cool as ever, and they’re quiet as they take turns lifting and spotting. It’s a little tense, charged maybe, but good.

They’re walking back from a shared gen ed morning lecture, Nursey droning on about every single thing he wanted to argue with the professor about but was too sleep-deprived to bother, and Dex turns them down the path to Annie’s with a guiding hand on Nursey’s hip that he only removes once Nursey’s monologue starts to peter out.

Dex can tell he wants to ask something other than what he does, which is a slightly high-pitched, “We’re not going back to the Haus?”

“Coffee first.”

“Did you not have time for your usual prescribed dose of caffeine this morning, Poindexter?”

“I did, but you didn’t. Exactly how many times did you press the snooze button exactly? Thirty? Forty?”

“I pressed it the normal amount of times. Just because you’re some robot of a morning person doesn’t mean you get to rub it all of us mere mortals’ faces.”

“Fuck off. You need coffee. So. We’re getting coffee.”

Nursey is quiet for about a block, though he looks like he’s chewing on his words the entire time, trying and failing to put them together in a way that doesn’t make his eyebrows frown in consternation.

You don’t need coffee, though,” he finally settles on, quiet and while looking straight ahead.

Dex adjusts the straps of his backpack and tries to feign casual nonchalance. He’s not nearly as good at it as Nursey, not in the same way that Nursey is, at any rate, but he’s got enough practice hiding various parts of himself to pull it off relatively well. “I don’t mind.”

When they get there, Dex pays for the both of them before Nursey knows what’s happening.

Nursey retaliates by forcing Dex to listen to an entire playlist of music he’s never heard of, sharing earbuds while tucked into a corner of the shop as they sip their drinks.

They’re arguing over jam flavors in the kitchen while Bitty attempts to teach Chowder how to make Farmer’s favorite cookies. It’s easy and fun and when Bitty and Chowder take turns looking up at them with matching little smiles on their faces, like maybe Dex is doing something right for once, not even Nursey trying to force-feed him a spoonful of boysenberry to prove a point and managing to somehow get it in Dex’s hair can stop him from grinning like an idiot at his own reflection in the bathroom mirror as he cleans himself up.

For a couple of weeks, things feel like they might be alright. More than that, like they might actually be headed somewhere really amazing. Sure, Nursey doesn’t ever initiate like he used to, but that’s okay because now Dex is, and Nursey accepts every gesture so easily it sends an impossible warmth straight through Dex’s chest, radiating out until he can feel it even in his fucking fingertips, and he wonders how he never thought to do this before. He’s been missing out on so much.

For a couple of weeks, things are good. And then, one afternoon, while Dex is ostensibly doing his homework in their bedroom, but really just trying to figure out how to get out of going back home this summer, Nursey gets back from class early.

“Hey, man,” Dex greets.

Nursey doesn’t say anything back. He shuts the door behind him ominously, but doesn’t come any further into the room. He stands there and heaves a sigh while staring down at the floorboards.

And then he looks up to meet Dex’s eyes with a determined gaze that he’s only ever directed at players on opposing teams. “You need to stop.”

Dex purses his lips against playing dumb. He knows what Nursey’s talking about, and Nursey knows he knows.

Nursey swallows and barrels on. “If this is, like, payback for all the unwanted attention or whatever, I get it, but I think I’ve served my time now, bro. I can’t--” He cuts himself off, looking haggard, as rough around the edges as he’s ever let himself be in front of another person. “Just. Please stop.”

“I thought...” Dex shakes his head and looks away, at the wall over Nursey’s shoulder. He feels a little numb, and a little cold, and also very very stupid. Of course even if Nursey liked him enough to flirt and fantasize, it never meant he really wanted to actually be with Dex, it never meant that he would want the same things Dex has finally figured out he wants himself.

“Okay,” he says, rough with how much he doesn’t want to be saying these words, how much he has to force them out at a tone barely above a whisper. “I’ll stop.”

Nursey runs a hand over his features, like he’s trying to wipe away the emotions that are still lingering there. He isn’t successful. “It just hurts too much, man. I know you don’t mean it. And I know I started it. But it’s not fair acting like you’d follow through when--”

Dex snaps his gaze back to Nursey’s face. “Wait.” He stands up from the desk chair.

“All I’m saying is it’s kind of a shitty thing to--”

“No. Just. Shut up for a second.”

“Hey, fuck you too, Poindexter, I’m baring my soul here.”

“No, shut up, oh my god, Derek. What do you mean I don’t mean it?”

Nursey’s eyebrows furrow inward and down, like he’s confused and a little angry about the fact. “I mean, I know we’re bros. But, you don’t actually like--”

Dex steps forward. “I do. Actually.”

Nursey snorts an ugly laugh. “Yeah, alright, whatever, you’ve made your point. I deserve this. I should never have been so obvious. It made you uncomfortable. I get it. But don’t fuck with me like this, Will, it’s just mean.”

Dex can feel his own frustration mounting, and the defiance in Nursey’s expression points to this somehow, hilariously, turning into an actual fight between them. Because of course the only way either of them will ever admit their feelings out loud is when shouting them at each other.

But that’s not what Dex wants. Not when he knows just how good it feels to hide a smile in Nursey’s shoulder when Nursey’s got his arm slung around his shoulders and is reciting from some liberal arts textbook like his favorite thing in the entire world next to hearing his own voice is hearing his voice when he’s talking to Dex.

Whether the right thing to say to diffuse the situation even exists, though, Dex has no idea. So he does the only thing he can think to do, always infinitely better with actions than with words. As these last several weeks have done nothing but highlight.

He clears the distance between them in two long strides, takes Nursey’s face in both hands and kisses him.

Nursey backs out of the kiss so hard and fast he bangs his head loudly against the closed door behind him.

He blinks owlishly at Dex for several long seconds while Dex stands there trying to catch his breath. How he’s fucking winded from barely a peck on the lips is anybody’s guess, but the adrenaline coursing through his veins is like nothing he’s ever experienced outside of the moment just after scoring a game winning goal.

“Why--” Nursey croaks, stops, licks his lips. “How--” he tries again, but can’t seem to form more than a single stilted word at a time. Complete sentences are definitely a lost cause.

But he looks like he needs them. So Dex rallies as best he can and tries to give them to him. “I didn’t realize how much I liked you until I was forced to see how much you liked me back. And I didn’t realize how much I could miss you until you were already gone.”

“I-- I never went anywhere, man.”

“You did. You freaked out and then it was like you were gone, and I missed you. Fuck, after barely even a couple of hours of not having you next to me, annoying the hell out of me, I missed you. Please don’t do that to me again, Nurse, I honestly don’t think I could take it a second time.”

A billion different emotions flicker across Nursey’s features as his eyes search Dex’s for something that Dex genuinely hopes he finds.

Nursey’s jaw clenches. He lifts his chin a little. He presses his fists back against the door to steady himself. “I can’t be your experiment.”

Dex swallows. He can do this. Use his words, put himself out there, be honest about what he wants instead of only about what he needs. And, hell, maybe this could be both. “I’ve known I liked guys a whole lot longer than I’ve known I liked you.”

Nursey visibly starts at that, but doesn’t say anything about it. He says instead, surprisingly evenly, “I can’t be your secret either.”

“Chowder knows. Bitty too. And Ford. Hell, I’d be surprised if the whole team hasn’t caught on by now, and, I mean, I’m good with that if you are? I can’t tell my parents, not yet, but put up a fucking billboard on campus if you want. And I know summer is coming up, but I thought we could, I don’t know, we could roadtrip? Go visit the guys in Boston, or--”

Dex has never rambled before in his life, but right now he can’t seem to shut himself up. Which is a good thing, since apparently him using his words is kind of a turn on for Nursey, and he gets cut off abruptly by Nursey’s mouth pressing, insistent and certain, against his own.

This kiss is different than that first brief, aborted peck. This feels like the physical culmination of the last two and half years they’ve spent at each other’s throats and having each other’s backs. It feels like they’re both finally finally on the same page, meeting in the middle, pushing just as much as they pull, giving just as much as they take, and completely here for all of it.

Nursey’s hands are on his hips, one rucking up his shirt and splaying fingers out wide on the bare skin over Dex’s ribs. Dex tugs on Nursey’s own shirt, but mostly just to pull him in closer and closer and closer and things are turning a little sloppy, a little desperate, but fuck it, Dex has been desperate for this for longer than he knew. When was the last time he even kissed somebody? High school? And when was the last time he kissed a boy without worrying about getting caught? Never. Not ever. He could get drunk off this feeling.

Wait,” Nursey rasps around ragged, heaving breaths, still so close that the word feels like another kiss, his swollen lips brushing against Dex’s cheek.

Dex moves his hands up to cup Nursey’s face again and run his thumbs back and forth over the apples of his cheeks, soft skin beneath his fingers and rough stubble beneath his palms. The best of both worlds, every contradiction, Derek Nurse, and he’s actually right here.

“I can’t believe you actually talked about your emotions for me,” Nursey laughs a little, attempting to catch his breath.

“I’m trying. It’s kind of a process.”

“I’m not actually any better at it, I don’t know if you’ve noticed.”

“Oh, I’ve definitely noticed. You’re just lucky I like you.”

“I really am.”

“Oh wow, so we’re gonna be that couple, huh?”

Nursey laughs again, and Dex does too.

“Are you sure about this?” Nursey asks, quieter and more serious. “I can’t go halfway with you. That’s not the way I’m wired.”

“I’m sure.” Dex smiles and doesn’t even consider hiding it. “Now if we could get back to the making out part, I’d be even more sure.”

Nursey smiles back, and kisses him again. And again, and again, and again.

The sun sets, but they don’t bother turning on a light, lying on the bottom bunk and lazily exploring each other, as much with their words as with their hands. They don’t stop until Chowder finally starts pounding on their door and yelling about how thin the walls are, and that he only gave them as long as he did because he loves them.

“We love you too, C!” Nursey shouts back, while draped across Dex and not actually removing his hands from Dex’s ass.

Dex buries a laugh in Nursey’s shoulder and doesn’t think he’s ever felt happier, or more wanted.

***

The last kegster of the year, Nursey gets happy-drunk, a little rowdier and more extroverted with every beer or cup of tub juice. Dex matches him up to the point where he’s only just past tipsy, and then switches out for water.

Nursey, the moment Dex’s back is turned, of course keeps on drinking until he falls into his usual end of the night intense introversion.

But instead of seeking out a place to hide, he seeks out Dex. Barrels straight into him and drops his head onto Dex’s shoulder, muttering something unintelligible.

“You done with people now, huh?” Dex asks, amused and fond in equal measure, bringing a hand up to rub circles into Nursey's back.

“Not done with you,” Nursey slurs into the collar of his shirt.

Dex tries to fight back a blush, but it’s a battle he’s destined to lose.

He manages to get the both of them upstairs and into their bedroom with minimal injuries. Nursey fights lethargically against the entire process of shoe and clothing removal, but when he’s finally lying in his own bed in just his underwear he sighs contentedly and makes grabby hands in Dex’s direction.

Dex laughs and shakes his head. “Alright, alright, gimme a sec, Nurse. But if you puke on me I’m breaking up with you.”

Nursey pouts, but then gets distracted by shuffling around to find the most comfortable position that doesn’t make his head spin.

Dex turns off the lights while toeing out of his shoes. He undresses in the dark, with the noise of the party below them still going strong but feeling so very far away in the privacy of this small space they’ve carved out together.

Despite the music and the people barely a few feet and a couple of walls away, it feels like the only sounds to be heard are the rustling of the clothes Dex busies himself stripping out of, and Nursey’s steady breathing on the bed.

Maybe that’s why the next, soft words he hears from Nursey’s mouth are so startling. Maybe that’s why the catch him so off guard. Maybe. “I told my mom about you.”

Dex freezes in the middle of the room, his shirt hanging off one arm, and stares at what little he can see of Nursey. “What?”

“She knows I...” Nursey’s voice goes thick and so quiet Dex has to strain to hear it, especially through the slight slur from the alcohol. “But I was scared. I don’t know.”

“That’s...” Dex doesn’t know what that is. He wonders if Nursey would have even told him if he weren’t drunk. He hopes so.

Nursey yawns, and then turns to nuzzle into his pillow. “Come home with me this summer?”

Dex smiles, heart beating fast. He wants to jump head first into all the possibilities of this conversation, but he doesn’t want to do that when they’re not both completely sober. “Ask me in the morning.”

You ask,” Nursey argues petulantly on reflex, and then yawns again.

Dex gets into bed with him, wrapped around Nursey from head to toe in order to fit. It’s not exactly comfortable, and Nursey definitely snores no matter what he likes to think, but Dex wouldn’t give it up for the world.

In the morning, the unthinkable happens. Nursey wakes up before him.

The sun is fairly high in the sky and streaming in through the bedroom window by the time Dex rolls over and finds himself alone in bed, mildly dehydrated despite the water he chugged last night, and more than a little disoriented to be on the bottom bunk without Nursey there with him.

Chowder isn’t in his room, Bitty isn’t in his either, and there are no sounds of video games or overly loud “bro’s!” from the attic. By the time Dex makes his way downstairs, frowning and still in his underwear, he’s wondering if everybody decided to head out for breakfast without him.

No matter how far Dex has come in the short few months since the last post-kegster morning that this happened, his mind keeps flashing back to it anyway, wondering what he might have done wrong, what newest drama or upset is going to make him question his entire life all over again. Whether he’s going to get downstairs to find that nobody actually wants him around for more than just his toolbox and his ability to play decent hockey.

He finds Nursey seated at the kitchen table, alternating between a mug of coffee and a bottle of Gatorade. He grins at Dex the moment he spots him, and Dex’s heart clenches embarrassingly.

“Yo,” Nursey greets easily.

“Morning. Where is everybody?”

“Jerry's. Ollie's stomach was growling too loudly for them to wait any longer. But I figured I'd let you sleep in for once and we could do breakfast here without 'em.”

Dex feels a little breathless suddenly, and like his knees might give out on him at any moment. He tries not to let it show. "Cool. Sounds like a plan."

Nursey ducks his head, somewhat bashfully, but tries to cover by taking a sip of his coffee. “Hey, Will?”

“Yeah?”

“Come home with me this summer.”

Dex laughs, bright and relieved, some last bit of tension that he was holding onto for who knew how long loosening. “Yeah. Alright.”

“Chill.” Nursey stretches his arms up with a groan. “Now, I don’t suppose you wanna make us pancakes, do you? I asked Bitty if I could make them, but he just gave me a look like I’d grown a second head and then hid the flour.”

Dex rolls his eyes. Luckily, he knows where Bitty likes to stash the ingredients he doesn’t want the boys to get into. “I will make pancakes if you make more of the good coffee.” He points a finger at Nursey. “I know you have a French Press in our room somewhere, don’t lie.”

“I also have one in the basement in case of emergencies,” Nursey smirks.

Dex snorts and starts setting out the ingredients he needs. “Of course you do.”

Nursey kisses his cheek and ruffles his hair on his way out of the room, and returns moments later with a French Press and a bag of fair trade coffee. Dex flicks flour at him, and then patiently runs cold water over Nursey’s hand when he inevitably burns himself on the tea kettle.

They work around each other so easily, it baffles Dex a little if he stops to think about it. He isn’t entirely sure how they got all the way here, affectionately sniping at each other while half-dressed, and taking turns serving the other the parts of their breakfast that they each brought to the table. How they both managed to learn how to ask the other for what they want instead of just expecting it, and how to give as much as they get without needing to be reminded. The entire time still arguing about it all like it’s the most enjoyable game they’ve ever played...

“Yo, Poindexter, you with me?” Nursey kicks his leg under the table with a smile while licking the last of the syrup off his fork. “You looked like you were freaking out over there for a second.”

Dex shakes his head and shrugs. He finishes off his over-priced but insanely good coffee. “Just thinking about what New York’s gonna be like, and how much more annoying you’re going to be when in your natural element.” He dodges to the left just in time to avoid the spoon Nursey throws at him, and grins. “Definitely not freaking out.”