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To Be Alone With You

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Will refuses to call time of death on the Haus dryer until the replacement arrives.

“We can just hang a line up for the next few days. It’s not a big deal, Dex,” Chowder tells him, not unkindly, from the top of the basement stairs as Will adds yet another layer of duct tape to the machine.

“You’re wasting your breath, C.” Will can just make out Derek’s voice from somewhere behind Chowder in the kitchen. “If Poindexter admits defeat, he might lose his precious dibs.”

“That’s not how dibs works, Nurse!” Will shouts up at him.

He knows that’s not how they work, and he knows Derek knows it too. Derek’s just trying to get under Will’s skin. All the same, there’s still a tiny voice in the back of his head asking, but what if?

The semester’s just ended, and Lardo has already moved out. The trio of “OG Frogs” have only stuck around campus this long so they can be here for Jack’s #KupDay. After that, they’ll all part ways and head home for the summer.

It’s stupid to even be worried about the damn dryer in the meantime, or to worry that Lardo will text them out of nowhere that she’s changed her mind about her dibs and that they’ll instead be going to Derek alone. It’s stupid and irrational, but here Will is anyway, struggling to make a decade-old dryer turn on.

Derek ignores Will and continues addressing Chowder instead. “You know if he doesn’t play Haus Handyman twenty-four/seven he’ll combust, bro. Aside from the hockey, it’s the only reason we keep him around, right?”

Nursey.” There’s warning in Chowder’s tone, but Will doubts it has much effect.

It’s not like Derek’s wrong, anyway. Will knows his place on the team. Knows he walks the razor’s edge between being, in some small way, necessary, and being easily discarded.

But he grits his teeth and focuses on the task at hand, rather than getting sucked into arguing with Derek about the intricacies of dibs bylaws.

He used to like arguing with Derek.

Even if he’d never admit it.

Most of their arguments never really feel like fights, per se. At least, not since that first semester of their freshman year. Once they found their footing with each other, once they figured out the other’s buttons and settled into a routine of prodding at said buttons, the arguments started to feel more like... verbal sparring. A sharp-edged game of banter. Like maybe one of them should be keeping a scorecard.

Derek’s the only person Will has ever met who, right from the get go, refused to pull his punches in conversation with him. He went in swinging, put his whole self into every single thing he heatedly threw at Will, and part of Will lit up at the unspoken permission for him to do the same in return.

It baffles the rest of the team, and Will wonders if it’s even something Derek is fully aware of himself.

But there’s an amused glint in Derek’s eyes whenever he puts on his fake chill mid-conversation in order to rile Will up all the more that tells Will he’s not off base with the feeling being mutual.

“I don’t understand why you don’t just sit in a different row on the bus,” Bitty told him last semester, as they stood side by side at the Haus kitchen counter, kneading bread for PB&J’s the morning after a roadie.

“Oh, sorry, Bits, are we being too loud? I didn’t know it was bothering anyone.”

Bitty shook his head, like Will was being a self-sacrificing idiot. “No, Honey. It’s just that you two have been sitting together on roadies since your frog year, and I don’t know if one the alums made you think that was required for defensive partners, but it isn’t. You can choose to sit somewhere else, Dex.”

“I know that. I’m okay sitting next to him.”

Bitty frowned. “But all you do is wind each other up.”

Will had no idea how to explain himself, and so he just shrugged and kneaded a little harder, until Bitty was more concerned with correcting his technique than talking about the nuances of his friendship with Derek.

The thing is... It’s fun. Will refuses to admit that out loud, but he can at least admit it to himself now. His and Derek’s back and forth settles something in him he can’t define. It’s freeing. With everyone else, even Chowder, Will constantly holds himself back just enough to keep from saying or doing something that he fears will have them walking away from him for good. But with Derek, he knows they’re on the same page. Bruises fade. You don’t get into the ring unless you know how to take a hit just as well as give one.

And then the Dibs Flip happened.

Since then, the arguments have started to feel like fights again.

They’ve started getting mean.

Will knows it’s his own fault. But every time he has the urge to make an attempt at smoothing things over, Derek finds some new way to provoke him. And Will reacts before his brain is able to catch up enough to rein in his temper.

Neither of them are very good at taking a step back. Even if they show it in different ways, Derek getting increasingly more chill to compensate, and Will getting increasingly more irate.

It’s a rough few days, and he can tell that Chowder isn’t very happy with either of them.

The new dryer arrives, miraculously, before the old one completely gives out, but it doesn’t feel like the small victory Will was hoping it’d be. And he leaves Samwell for Maine, too preoccupied with dulling his emotions enough to deal with home for the rest of the summer to think all that much about the nosedive his tentative and unspoken friendship with Derek has taken.

This is mostly on him. He gets that.

But it’s a slow trudge through learned behaviors. An uphill battle out of childhood defense mechanisms.

The only things on his mind as he stares out the window of the train that will take him up to Portland is whether his dad will be there to greet him, or if he’ll send a text at the last minute, like he always does, to let Will know an Uncle is coming to pick Will up from the station instead.

Whether his brother, Connor, will find a way to make fun of him for it, or decide he doesn’t care enough to bother even speaking to Will.

Whether the odd jobs and insane hours for minimum wage will be enough to keep him from thinking and feelings things he knows he’s not allowed to think and feel while back there.

***

Being back in the same house as his brother gives Will some perspective. The two of them have never had to share a room, but they see each other often enough that Will’s constantly on edge, and he doesn’t want to have that feeling follow him back to Samwell. He doesn’t want to live where he isn’t wanted. Or, at the least, tolerated beyond cold glares and derisive remarks.

So he sends Derek a cursory text in late July with a simple, but, Will thinks, perfectly acceptable and upfront apology.

Hey man, sorry for being an ass about the roommate situation. See you in a couple weeks.

Derek’s response back is an immediate, lol bet I get you to move out by the end of August.

They don’t text again after that.

And the first couple months of cohabitation are... rocky. At best.

They spend their time either fighting or avoiding each other, with no in-between in sight. Even Chowder, after about a week or so of this, starts pointedly ignoring the both of them.

“This isn’t you guys just arguing anymore and you know it,” he tells Will during one of the rare moments Will manages to catch him alone.

“Of course it is, Chow. We’ve always--”

“No, you haven’t, and no, it’s not. It’s you guys being petty and childish. You know how to be in the same room as him, I’ve seen you do it. Hell, you were almost friends before the stupid coin toss. But you’re both choosing not to behave yourselves anymore because you’re both being stubborn assholes about the whole thing. Grow up.”

Chowder’s not wrong.

It’s not like he and Derek hate each other anymore. They just get under each other’s skin like no one else in the entire rest of the world can. But at this point in their college careers, having spent so much time together, that isn’t as much of an issue anymore. They know how to deal.

But they haven’t been.

So... “grow up,” huh? He supposes if anyone would know about maturity, it’s Chowder, who makes Dean’s List every semester, has been in a committed relationship with his significant other for longer than any other member of the SMH team, and who came back from summer break looking several years older and ten times hotter without his braces.

Will doesn’t have high hopes for accomplishing the feat, however. What with Derek being just as likely to play the “quit hitting yourself” game at team breakfast with him, as Will is to purposefully leave his dripping coffee cups on top of the chicken scratch of Derek’s notebook papers whenever he’s feeling particularly bitter.

They’re both kind of dicks, even on their good days, and not just to each other. Curbing that behavior might be asking for more than either of them are honestly capable of.

Still.

“I meant that apology, you know,” Will tells him the next time they’re alone together and haven’t started shouting yet.

Derek doesn’t even bother to glance up from the pie he’s stuffing his face with at the Haus kitchen table. He goes so far as to pull his phone out and start going through texts he’s already read just to drive home how little he cares to have this conversation.

Will sighs. “Seriously. I was an ass. This is me saying I’m sorry.”

“You’ll have to be more specific, Poindexter. You’re an ass more often than not.” He still doesn’t look at Will as he speaks around a mouthful of cherry filling.

“Oh for fuck’s sake, Nursey, you know what I’m talking about.”

“Whatever, man. It’s chill.”

“But it’s not! I messed up. I’m not... Okay, look. I’ve never had to share a room before. I lucked out with a single in the dorms, and the idea of sharing space with someone who... who could judge me in that space, someone who I’d probably always have to be on my guard around, it freaked me out. The idea of being, like, vulnerable or whatever, in front of another person every single day and night, it’s... It’s god damn terrifying to be honest. And so I flipped out. That doesn’t excuse anything, but I swear I didn’t mean half the shit I said, and I’m sorry.”

Derek is definitely looking at him now, eyes wide. “Well shit, I think that’s the most words you’ve ever said to me without yelling.”

“Yeah, and I’ve definitely just hit my limit, so don’t expect too many more from me for a while.”

Derek bites his lip against what Will suspects would have been a smile, and it makes something in Will’s chest feel a touch lighter, though he can’t explain why. “Alright. Apology accepted. I can understand the freakout in that context.”

“Thank you. It’s just.” Will sighs. “There’s a reason I’d rather find a thousand roaches in the attic rather than a person.”

“You worried I’m gonna smother you in your sleep, Dexy?”

“Well, now I am.”

Derek snorts unattractively. Or, rather, it should be unattractive, but somehow Derek Nurse can make even coming down with the flu look pretty. “Okay, chill. Seriously, I get it now. I mean, let’s be real, of all the people you might be worried would give you a hard time about stuff when you’re vulnerable, I’m probably at the top of the list.”

“You basically are the list, Nurse.”

Derek laughs, and then shrugs as if to say, “Yeah, but what can ya do?”

Will rolls his eyes and steals a piece of Derek’s pie crust on the way to the fridge.

***

Things don’t magically get better after that, but they do calm down a bit. Will and Derek start to just flat out ignore each other rather than fight. Which isn’t the most amazing progress, but at least they can both be in their bedroom at the same time without it devolving into something worryingly close to tilting over the edge into physical blows.

It’s on a random afternoon when Will realizes that somehow “ignoring each other” has become less a cold shoulder routine and more simply living in each other’s presence without making a big deal about it.

The revelation shouldn’t catch him as off guard as it does, but it makes him pause. Because what if there was never any real judgement to worry about all along? What if they can be around each other, can be their honest selves in the other’s presence, and the demons in Will’s head need not apply?

Let Derek be Derek, and Will can be Will, and it doesn’t have to turn into a fight over which way of existing is more valid.

Will looks up from the homework he’s doing at the desk to see Derek intent over his own homework on the top bunk. “Hey.”

Derek hums, distracted, eyes scanning the end of a paragraph before he raises his head to meet Will’s gaze. “’Sup?”

“This is nice.”

“What is? Cramming for my stupid eight AM?”

“No. This.” Will waves a hand, vaguely gesturing at the room as a whole, and then at the space between the two of them. “I don’t know, I just-- I think we’re gonna be okay.”

Derek stares at him blankly for a long moment, and then a slow smile starts to tug at his lips. “You going soft on me, Poindexter?”

Will shrugs a shoulder and turns back to his homework in order to hide a half smile of his own. “Nah. Just finally realizing that it doesn’t have to be as hard as we keep making it.”

“Bro. That’s almost poetic.”

Will rolls his eyes. “Me figuring out that not wanting to strangle you with my bare hands takes less effort than actively plotting your demise is hardly poetry.”

“Personal growth then.”

“Maybe,” Will concedes with a tilt of his head, but he doesn’t really feel any more mature now than he was an hour ago, despite the implications of his conversation with Chowder. He still thinks of the name Derek Nurse and is immediately and profoundly annoyed. But he no longer feels compelled to act on that annoyance.

In what Will considers to be a minor miracle, it does start getting better between them moving forward. And better, and better, over the course of the semester, gradually growing into a kind of friendship that Will no longer has the urge to preface with a, “well, more like frenemies, but I guess if I were being generous...”

It occurs to him that this might be because Derek was always ready to turn over a new leaf with him. That he was ready for their friendship to grow, to evolve, far sooner than Will was.

Maybe Derek’s just been waiting for Will to give him a reason to bother.

Derek is not Connor, Will silently tells himself, explicitly acknowledging the fact for the first time. Derek likes to poke at Will, but only for fun. He doesn’t do it maliciously.

And once Will stops reacting to him the way he would to his brother... things improve dramatically.

It’s not as though they start going out of their way to be nice to each other. But they do step up their game in little ways that the other guys on the team probably don’t even notice, but that mean something pretty big when all added up.

Derek grabs an extra muffin from Annie’s to bring back to Will whenever he stops by the place.

Will saves him a slice of pie whenever all the SMH members who aren’t Haus residents descend on Bitty’s most recent baking efforts.

Derek stops trying to hide his laundry in with Will’s, and instead occasionally adds some of Will’s in with his own.

Will starts simply rolling his eyes and gathering up Derek’s dirty dishes that somehow accumulate all over their dressers and desks, instead of immediately shouting about it.

They still argue as much as they ever did, but it’s their usual kind of arguing, with none of the harshness of the last couple months. It’s the secretly fun kind that Will has been desperately missing.

Their arguments do start to end differently, though. And Will can’t say he’s complaining about that, even if it does leave him a little bewildered and at a loss as to how to interpret the strange warmth in his chest that starts blooming as a result.

Because they don’t end anymore with Will still angry. They don’t end with him needing to go on a run through campus to work off the last of his frustration, or with the both of them silently deciding to spend the next several days at opposite ends of the team breakfast table.

No, now they end with Derek laughing. With Will groaning into his pillow before throwing it at him. With one or the other of them rolling their eyes and then offering to pull up something on Netflix that they both actually agree on.

Now they end. Instead of lingering in the back of Will’s head for hours afterwards, half of him entertained and oddly satisfied by the banter, and half of him too keyed up to let himself interact with other people for the rest of the day.

“Oh, wow,” Chowder says when he enters their room through the shared bathroom and stops short, moments after Will and Derek have stopped yelling at each other about the number of vegetables on a pizza that would make it be considered a salad.

They’re now plopped down on the floor, backs against the side of the bottom bunk, watching Netflix on Derek’s laptop.

Lately it’s been a lot of Friends. They’ve been making their way through all of the popular nineties sitcoms, since Will has only seen a couple episodes of each, and Derek is basically an expert on all of them and likes to quote memorable lines along with the actors on screen.

They both look up simultaneously at Chowder’s presence.

“Hey, man,” Will offers, just as Derek gives him a, “Yo, C.”

Chowder blinks. “Did I pass through a portal into another dimension?”

“Uh, probably not?” Will responds as Derek reaches over to press pause on the episode. “Did you wanna watch with us?”

Chowder stares at them for a second longer, still processing what he’s seeing, and then draws in a deep breath and smiles. “Yeah, sure. ‘Swawesome.”

He sits down on the floor on the other side of Derek and they resume play.

“Okay, so why is this one of your favorite episodes?” Will asks idly after a few minutes.

“Because it’s OD hilarious is why. Hashtag New Hausgiving Tradition.” Derek smirks a little when Will scowls at that, obviously having intended the reaction, though he keeps his eyes trained on the laptop screen as Joey continues gesticulating with a turkey over his head.

“I think a better tradition might be figuring out how Hausgiving is even possible once Bitty’s gone.”

Derek whips his head to the side sharply to stare at Will, like he’s startled by the idea of a life without Bitty there for them. It’s a long moment before he’s able to shake it off and feign chill again, and he smirks a little to really sell it. Like he’s fooling anyone. “Don’t worry, Poindexter, we all know you got us covered.”

And then it’s Will turn to be surprised, eyebrows rising up to his hairline. “Oh you do, do you?” he questions, because as useful as he likes to make himself, as useful as he needs to be in order for anyone to keep him around, he has no chance of learning how to fulfill Bitty’s role in the Haus.

Stepping into those particular shoes would be a tall order for anyone, but Will even more so. How could he possibly take over any kind of leadership or caregiving role when he’s... Well. Him.

“Don’t front, bro, I know you made rhubarb pie the other day because I literally ate the entire thing. Also you made a chore chart.” Derek turns his head slightly to level Will with a look. “A chore chart, Poindexter. I think you’ve got next year’s Hausgiving in the bag.”

Will sputters a little, trying to come up with the words to argue this. But his brain keeps catching on the fact that Derek thinks it at all. That he thinks Will’s really capable of stepping up like that.

Finally, he manages to clear his throat and choke out a stilted, “Don’t get too excited, Nurse, I’ll be putting you on dishwashing duty.”

But Derek grins in response, like that’s the best thing Will could have said. It’s more than a little stunning, and Will has to look away, back to the laptop screen, for fear of being blinded.

He can feel Chowders eyes on the two of them, but he elects to ignore it.

***

Hockey this year feels different than it has in the past. Maybe because Will and Derek are more comfortable and confident in their positions on the team now as upperclassmen. First line this year, and with the well-practiced skills to justify it.

But they’ve always been good on the ice together, if Will is being honest. Even when he was practically tearing his hair out over Hall and Murphy always pairing him with the one person on the team he couldn’t stand, some part of him knew that they played well off of each other.

They were always in sync on the ice. Just never in sync off of it.

Now that the latter is starting to not be quite as true, their hockey has gotten better as well.

“Hey 24! Your boyfriend’s still checking like a fucking princess!”

The trash talk from rival teams doesn’t improve, though. If anything, Will finds he understands it even less than he did before.

Before, back when he was an eighteen-year-old with a chip on his shoulder and locker room experiences that were nothing like what he’s seen at Samwell, he would’ve gotten right back in this Harvard douche’s face with some choice words of his own. Would’ve earned himself a few judgmental looks from his teammates for it, and a disappointed look from Bitty and Shitty that he knew in the back of his head, even then, that he deserved.

Now he just huffs and heads to the bench for a line change, unimpressed and frankly fucking tired of how it’s always the same bullshit, no one on the teams they face ever acting like they actually care about what their words might mean.

Will didn’t use to care either. But he also didn’t want to. It was easier that way.

Right now, however, he’s considering dropping gloves the next time he’s back in the game. Being ejected for having Derek’s back, though he knows he should be smarter about this, has a certain appeal.

“Here.” Derek hands him one of the two bottles of Gatorade in his hands, and then they both tilt their heads back and squeeze several gulps into their mouths at the same time.

This, at least, is nothing Will has trouble understanding anymore. If anything, he understands it better. He and Derek have always worked in tandem. Their physical awareness of the other borders on the inexplicable, like their bodies knew each other before their heads ever cared to bother.

But maybe their heads are finally getting into the game as well, Will thinks, while watching Derek check Harvard douche into the boards once they’re back on the ice, hard enough that the guy has some trouble getting up and staggering his way to the bench.

And then Derek turns, skating backwards, half so he can keep track of the puck, and half so that he can grin at Will, clearly pleased with himself.

Will honestly can’t help the grin that immediately appears on his own face in response.

A grin that will, apparently, come back to bite him in the ass.

“You’re smiling again.”

Will spares a quick glance away from the notes he’s taking on his laptop at where Chowder is sitting beside him in the lecture hall. “Huh?”

The professor pulls up a new PowerPoint slide and Will goes back to typing.

“You’re smiling. Again,” Chowder repeats, and Will can hear the delight in his voice without having to look at his face to see it beaming at him.

“Shut up, I am not.” He’s not. Really. The edges of his mouth were curling up slightly at the thought of the team’s win last night, and the assist he got off Derek that helped them do it. But it wasn’t really a full smile, and it’s gone now anyway so he can scowl at his keyboard after having misspelled several words in a row.

“It’s just, you’ve been doing it a lot lately, and I don’t think you’ve noticed.”

Will huffs. “If this dumb conversation is the reason you miss out on half the lecture, I’m not letting you borrow my notes.”

“Rude. I bet Katie’ll give them to me. Or Austin.”

Or any single other student in this class since everybody loves Chowder and Will can’t really blame them. Well, except for right now he can. Right now he wishes he had the freedom he does in the Haus of pulling the guy into a headlock and tickling his sides until he starts crying from laughter and yells uncle.

Will sighs, long suffering, and glances sideways again to see Chowder watching him carefully. His expression is blank, but there’s a twinkle in his eyes. “What exactly are you getting at here, Chris?”

“I just like it when my friends are happy. And...” He trails off and shrugs. “I don’t know. I guess I wasn’t ever sure that you were before.”

Will bites the insides of his cheeks in order not to respond, because he doesn’t know what that response would be and he’s worried he’d regret it.

Instead, he forces a small smile, claps a hand on Chowder’s shoulder, and returns to taking notes.

He’s not sure what to think of Chowder’s comment. It’s not that he hasn’t been happy, because he has. Really. When he scores a goal or aces a test or Bitty makes his favorite pie... He’s been happy.

But he’s never really been able to translate happiness into something anyone else can see. Too used to keeping his head down and his emotions to himself, the urge to hide everything, including rare moments of joy, that might make someone dismiss him is so ingrained now it’s like breathing.

He can be useful. That’s the part of himself that makes anyone bother to keep him around, he’s certain of it. But being happy? That’s never been something he considered relevant to anyone’s opinion of him.

Will’s own happiness isn’t worth advertising if there’s just as much a chance that his friends or family will leave him because of it as there is that they’ll magically decide to let him stay.

***

It’s late into Autumn, the first snowfall just around the corner but not quite there, and Will’s general annoyance with Derek starts to become a reluctant fondness.

Anymore, there’s a bitten-back half smile whenever Derek slings an arm around Will’s shoulders on a walk to class and loudly talks about the “dopest” passage he just read in the book he’s holding. Or when Derek takes off his green baseball cap to shove it backwards onto Will’s head, saying that the color combo with his hair makes it feel like Christmas, and then darts away laughing before Will can tackle him.

But it isn’t just the fondness that’s new. Will starts noticing more about Derek that he would have stubbornly ignored in the past.

The way Derek is always wide awake well after Will has gone to bed, but also always up before Will in the morning, bags under his eyes most days that he tries to cover with a charming smile and a clever conversation misdirect.

The way he doesn’t initiate any flirting at parties, just rolls with whoever’s throwing themselves at him this time with a forced calm, and ultimately finds an excuse to retreat, shoulders a tight, uncomfortable line that probably no one would notice if they weren’t looking for it.

Will seems to always be looking for it lately. For the extra coffee Derek always buys and always forgets to drink halfway in, left on a windowsill or a shelf. For when Derek still scratches sometimes at the new ink on his bicep without realizing he’s doing it. For the lost pens, so many lost pens, that Will starts hunting down like he’s recovering things far more precious and valuable than cheap, twenty-four-to-a-pack, Bic’s, their ends covered in teeth marks where Derek’s chewed at them.

He doesn’t really do this with his other friends is the worrying part.

Will isn’t the kind of guy who notices all the little details about other people. A line of code or a broken appliance, sure, but with people he’s generally pretty oblivious to anything that isn’t spelled out for him.

Maybe it’s a consequence of their delayed friendship? Will hasn’t really had close friends until Samwell, and all the ones he’s made here were pretty immediate. Bitty might be an exception to that, but Will still liked the guy within about an hour of knowing him. He was just... confused by him. And maybe a little scared.

And so maybe finally getting to know Derek after more than two years of thinking he knows Derek is fueling this weird new impulse?

At any rate, Will is starting to believe, not just that this tentative idea of friendship might actually work, but that it might last. That it might solidify into something that allows him to let another person get as close to the real him as he lets Bitty and Chowder.

Then Winter Screw happens.

Neither he nor Derek have dates, mostly because they’re having too much fun setting up the tadpoles and the waffles with theirs to bother with their own.

Not that Will has ever brought a date to Screw before. His freshman year was a crash course in finding all the ways to turn down blind dates and set ups without admitting to the real reason why.

Half of that reason was that he wasn’t ready to admit that his only known preference was men. The other half was that there was very little “preference” going on for him at all. He’s been attracted to people before, but only once was he attracted to someone to the extent that he felt he might want to act on it.

He didn’t, though. And it eventually went away. And... Well. He hasn’t been inclined to investigate the intricacies of whatever it is he should identify as. He gets turned on easily enough, but it’s rare that he ever thinks about doing something about that with anyone other than his own hand.

The guys on the team seem to think that he’s just too much of a stick in the mud to bother with romance, and too singularly focused on school and hockey and practical things to bother with casual sex.

They’re only sort of right, but Will is in no hurry to correct them. At least they don’t try to find him girls to chat up anymore, and generally leave him alone about it.

Derek, of course, always has a date to Winter Screw. Even if he never seems very interested in making that date last. He’s easily distracted, especially in a crowd, and will get caught up in hanging out with other friends halfway through the night, not realizing his date has left him for her own friends until hours later.

This year, they’re both solo. But they go to the damn thing anyway for the free booze and the opportunity to record as much blackmail material as possible for next semester. Will is never going to have to wash dishes again thanks to how much of a lightweight both Whiskey and Hops are.

“Ten bucks says Bitty and Jack show up after all,” Derek murmurs around the lid of his cup, and then downs the rest of whatever he’s been drinking all night.

“Incognito, though,” Will mutters back, leaning in, their shoulders brushing as they hold themselves up against the far wall. “Totally thinking they can get away with it without a Swallow cover spread.”

Derek snickers, and then procures yet another drink from god knows where. “Neither of them are that slick. Ten more bucks says the cover spread happens.”

“I refuse to take either of those bets.” Will downs the rest of his own drink and smirks. “But let’s go see if Louis will.”

“Heh, he totally will. Let’s up it to fifty bucks.”

If Jack and Bitty do end up showing, no one successfully spots them. Luckily, Louis is too much of a disaster drunk to remember any bets won or lost while inebriated.

“I’m telling you guys,” Derek slurs a little and hiccups. “Louis Patrol needs to be a thing.”

“It is a thing. You’re just too busy still pouting about Nursey Patrol to notice.” Will is pretty sloshed himself at this point, but at least has the presence of mind to grab them both some waters and steal the rest of Derek’s punch from him when he’s not looking.

Derek does indeed pull off an impressive pout at this statement, crossing his arms over his chest. And then he abruptly uncrosses them and spins them wildly when he starts to lose his balance.

Will laughs until he nearly falls over himself.

They only leave once their suitably embarrassed and/or satisfied underclassmen start trickling off. Chowder and Farmer left a couple hours ago, because they’re the kind of couple that knows how to have fun with the gang for exactly the right amount of time before retreating to more private and probably more fun activities.

Not that Will is jealous. He’s never really even thought about wanting that for himself. Never considered it would even be an option.

He and Derek stumble back to the Haus a little unsteadily, but they get there with far fewer scrapes and mishaps than what might have befallen them a year ago. Will isn’t sure that’s what maturity actually looks like, but right now he’ll take it.

Will undresses down to his boxers and dives into his bed like it’s a life raft.

Derek, of course, takes several more minutes to fumble his way down to boxer briefs and a T-shirt, needing to fully sit down on the floor to wrestle with his pants and socks.

When he stands back up, he sways dangerously, and Will nearly gets back up out of bed just to stop him from face-planting.

Thankfully, Derek successfully rights himself, his glossy eyes taking stock of the bunkbed situation he is now faced with. He’s obviously too drunk to make it up the ladder to his bed, which is not unusual. It’s happened before, during a few kegsters. Ordinarily he just grumbles and pouts unintelligibly at the offending ladder that he can’t make his limbs climb, and then grabs a pillow and blanket so he can camp out on the floor.

Tonight, however, he doesn’t even bother with the grumble-pout.

Tonight, he shrugs a shoulder, and then slides right into Will’s bottom bunk after him.

Will freezes.

Derek doesn’t seem to notice. He buries his face into the same pillow Will has his head on and he throws an arm over Will’s chest.

Nurse,” Will croaks, a choked whisper.

Derek just grunts and burrows in a little further, his nose brushing against the back of Will’s neck.

Will can feel his cheeks, ears, and chest heat with a hot blush. And his skin was already pretty red from the alcohol. “Derek,” he tries again, but his voice is still too low, the word barely making it out.

He doesn’t understand why his body isn’t cooperating with the idea of just shoving Derek away. Or why the idea barely even occurs to him.

Blame the alcohol, he decides. He’s nowhere near as drunk as Derek, but he’s not exactly sober either. This is all just... dumb drunken bullshit. It doesn’t have to mean anything.

Derek exhales a soft sigh as he falls entirely asleep, and his breath is a comforting warmth down Will’s back. Against his better judgement, he allows his shoulders to relax under that warmth, and his eyes to drift closed.

This is obviously all a problem for Sober Will to deal with. And he’s out like a light within seconds of reaching that conclusion.

***

Sober Will very much hates Drunk Will.

Luckily, Derek’s gone by the time Will wakes up, and he isn’t around for the first few minutes of the morning during which Will tries and fails not to have a slight meltdown in the shower.

The Haus is still silent around him, and the kitchen is empty when Will goes downstairs to put on a pot of coffee.

He stares at the photos that cover the refrigerator while he waits for it to be ready. A couple years ago Lardo acquired an old Polaroid camera along with enough film to let the boys go nuts with the thing, and the collage of pictures on the fridge is the end result. They read like a story if you know how to look at them.

There’s Jack and Bitty, over and over again, well before they were Jack and Bitty. There’s Holster loudly holding court at a Kegster while several freshmen back away, terrified. Ransom tossing a Frisbee around at Lake Quad, oblivious to the growing number of admirers who’ve stopped to ogle. Shitty in his underwear with a joint in one hand while his other gestures wildly at the LAX house across the street.

There’s Will and Derek and Chowder, always a trio amidst it all. Always together even when it’s obvious they’re each engaged in different conversations or different activities. Even still they hover close to one another, and a part of each of them is always in frame when either of the others are the focus of the shot.

And Will doesn’t know how that happened. He’s never had this before. Chowder’s friendship already seemed so miraculous, and then Bitty’s, in turn, felt like an undeserved revelation.

Derek’s new closeness... Will feels like he’s been given something far too precious to be trusted with.

He pours himself a cup of coffee, adds a splash of milk, and is barely two sips in before it’s suddenly taken from him. Like it is almost every early morning.

“Oh hey, thanks,” Derek says drowsily as he snags Will’s cup right out of his hands.

Will blinks several times in disbelief, as though this hasn’t happened multiple times over the last few months. And then he shakes it off enough to roll his eyes. “I’d fight you over that, but I’m pretty sure we’d both end up on injured reserve for the season.”

Derek shrugs halfheartedly. “Pancakes on me?” he offers, eyes closed as he drinks, his posture relaxed while leaning back against the countertop on his elbows. He’s either too hungover and tired to be awkward about their sleeping arrangements last night, or he honestly doesn’t give a shit.

Which isn’t like Derek. Because Derek secretly gives a shit about everything, as Will’s come to learn.

But if Derek can be chill about this, like nothing happened, then so can he.

“I require bacon and sausage on the side or no deal,” Will says, grabbing a new mug for coffee that he doesn’t bother to add milk to. He prefers it black generally. And it sends a jolt of surprise through him as he realizes he’s only been adding milk to his first cup because he’s so used to it ending up in Derek’s hands and he knows how Derek takes it.

“Of course you do,” Derek says, his tone so close to fond that Will does a double take.

The beginnings of one of those blinding grins on Derek’s face aborts as quickly as it starts, and he gulps down more coffee to hide it.

They head to Jerry’s a few minutes later.

They don’t bother waiting to see who else in the Haus might want to come.

And they don’t talk about the night before. Which Will is grateful for, because what the hell would he even say? Sorry I fell asleep instantly in your arms when normally I’m barely comfortable falling asleep in the same room as someone else? Or, Hey Nurse, you’ve never been a handsy drunk before but last night you really were and now I’m freaking out a little bit?

Will doesn’t understand how they ended up here, or really where here even is.

The strangest part is that, in the days following, even without the hangover as an excuse, nothing feels awkward between them. Derek doesn’t start holding himself differently around Will, or pulling out the tense set of shoulders he gets when escaping unwanted overtures. There’s no tension that Will can sense, and no one around them seems to notice anything either.

The friendly, casual touches between them continue, though Will is hyper aware of them now, something heavy and low in his gut stirring at every arm around his shoulders or ruffle of his hair. Something calming and warm blooming in his chest every time he remembers with visceral clarity the feeling of Derek’s arm across his chest and his steady breaths against Will’s neck.

***

It happens again a week later.

Finals are over, everyone who hasn’t immediately left for their vacation is in good cheer, and there’s a vibrant atmosphere around the Haus that feels as much like being swathed in the glow of Christmas lights as much as it actually looks.

A foot of snow is on the ground, there are Poinsettias in the kitchen window, and every room of the Haus perpetually smells of apple cider and gingerbread. It's the kind of Holiday atmosphere that Will could see himself wanting to partake in more than what he’s had with his own family over the years.

Their last evening together before break isn’t exactly on the scale of Hausgiving, but they put together one final holiday team dinner before the last of the Haus residents take off in the morning.

Between the two of them, Bitty and Will whip up a half a dozen different pies to go with the finger foods they all snack on while watching It’s A Wonderful Life in the living room. There’s more than enough booze to go around, and the stack of White Elephant gifts covering the coffee table prove to all be hilarious and embarrassing enough to keep everyone laughing throughout the night.

All the same, Will is on edge for a lot of it. He manages a couple of drinks and a few friendly conversations, but his head is already so wrapped up in Maine that he has trouble letting himself be happy in the meantime.

Will knows what he’s going home to.

He’s always known, and he’s always been able to steel himself against it while also welcoming all of the familiar, comforting parts. But this Christmas feels different.

This Christmas he doesn’t actually care about helping his mom decorate the tree, or playing watchdog over the sleeping cousins so his aunts and uncles can leave evidence of Santa around the house, so much as he cares that no one asks him any probing questions about Samwell. Because he’s honestly worried he’ll say something he regrets. Something true.

Will’s not sure he remembers how to lie anymore.

So he’s keyed up in a way that keeps him too sober for much merriment all night. As a result, he isn’t drunk enough this time to excuse the way his breath hitches at the contact of a warm body in his bed. And Derek isn’t nearly drunk enough to even pretend that he can’t make it up to his own bunk.

But Derek is buzzed enough to be bold, apparently, slipping into Will’s bed after him with an entirely fake stumble to try to justify it.

Will doesn’t react for several long seconds.

And then, once his brain goes back online, he still doesn’t respond. He’s just so wound up with anxiety over heading back home in the morning that letting this happen is too much of a comfort for him to immediately protest.

This feels like a different version of that realization a couple months ago, that he and Derek could be easy with each other instead of intentionally making things so difficult.

Like maybe they can exist in this way too. They can be a comfort. If they just let themselves.

Still. This isn’t them. They don’t do this. And Will doesn’t know what it means, if anything.

“Nursey,” he whispers.

Derek doesn’t have an arm around him this time, but he is close enough that Will can feel the warmth from his body all along his back and thighs.

“Derek,” he tries again.

The rustle of fabric as Derek shifts a little further into Will is overly loud in the quiet of their dark bedroom. “I’ll move if you’re gonna make a big deal out of it,” he says, low and muffled against where his mouth is pressed against the back collar of Will’s shirt. His tone is slightly clipped but still attempting to fake drunkenness with a halfhearted slurring of words. “But when I crack my head open trying to climb that ladder you’re gonna get so much shit from C about it.”

For whatever unacknowledged reason, Will doesn’t bring up the option of Derek sleeping on the floor.

For whatever unacknowledged reason, Will just sighs and closes his eyes. And they both fall asleep far quicker than they usually do. Far quicker than can be easily explained away.

In the morning, Derek uses up all of the hot water while Will packs, unpacks, repacks, unpacks, and repacks again for his trip home. It’s never been this hard to get out the door before.

”Have a good one,” Derek tosses out casually as he enters their room in nothing but a towel right when Will is getting ready to leave for the bus station.

“Yeah. Uh. You too.” Will makes a point of not looking directly at Derek’s bare chest, or the drops of water that are falling from his hair, down his shoulders, to map the planes of his pectorals.

Derek heads to the closet and starts rooting around for clean clothes. “See you in the new year, buddy.”

They still don’t talk about it. But what is there to really discuss? It doesn’t have to mean anything, he tells himself. Stop making it weird.

***

Christmas is... fine. It’s the same as every year, really. Though when Will says the word “fine” to Chowder on the phone after being asked about how his break is going, Chowder makes a sound like he finds the word troubling.

Will doesn’t have any other words for it, though. Not any he’d ever speak out loud, anyway. He barely acknowledges those other words even in his own head.

His family spends the day at Uncle Nick’s, and it’s the usual lumberjack breakfast followed by watching the younger kids open presents, and then a long day of family time over board games and snowball fights until a massive ham dinner. At least one uncle drinks far too much hard cider and passes out in a recliner before the table’s even set. At least one of the older cousins gets caught smoking in the backyard and gets their ears boxed for it. Most of the aunts congregate in the kitchen, a couple in the den to watch the kids, but their gossip makes it into every corner of the house by the day’s end.

Will hides out in the garage, putting together younger cousins’ Christmas presents--bikes and jungle gyms and Barbie Dream Houses--for as long as the rest of his family will let him get away with. Which is, thankfully, a rather long time.

No one ever goes looking for him, at any rate. They never have before, and he swears he’s grateful for the fact.

Honestly. He is.

He leaves Maine before New Year’s, using Jack and Bitty’s New Year’s Eve party in Providence as an excuse. His father and brother don’t seem all that impressed by the idea, but very little manages to incite much more than a frown and a nod from either of them when it comes to Will’s life away from home.

Coming back to Samwell is like coming up for air after being under water for far too long. It’s a startling sensation, catching Will completely off guard.

He wasn’t even fully aware he’d been drowning.

A part of him feels guilty for it. He loves his family. They don’t deserve this from him.

Another part of him wonders if he isn’t just making it all up. Being back home was exactly the same as it’s been in the past. Nothing’s changed. It’s ridiculous that, out of nowhere, he should suddenly start feeling such relief to leave the place and come back to Samwell. To the team. To the Haus. To Derek.

He trips over his own feet on his way up the stairs when the thought occurs to him, but he can’t deny it now that it has. He’s been looking forward to seeing Derek again more than just about anyone or anything else.

That can’t be good.

Luckily Derek’s not back yet from his break. Will has got at least another day to settle in and try to figure out what his brain and heart are doing.

Or, well, no. Not his heart. That’s never really happened before. That would be nuts. That would be...

Will swallows back a lump in his throat and starts in on the laundry he and Derek left behind. Then busies himself with the toaster oven one of the Waffles managed to break last semester, though none of them would admit which of them did it or how.

New Year’s Eve day is spent reorganizing the pantry so that it meets Bitty’s exacting standards, and unsuccessfully trying to spot-clean the couch into looking like an actual piece of furniture instead of a shoddily reupholstered demon sacrifice.

That afternoon, Ford shows up, decked out in Samwell red from head to toe, looking to investigate which team members are back on campus.

“Sorry, it’s just me so far,” Will tells her.

“You sound like I should be disappointed that you’re not someone else.”

“Uh. Aren’t you?”

Ford rolls her eyes. “I love all of my new hockey children equally.”

Will snorts a laugh, and then refocuses on trying to make his reflection in the full-length mirror of his and Derek’s bedroom look a little less... rumpled. He’d shoot for looking good, but he knows that’s never gonna happen. “You wanna go to Bitty’s party with me?”

“Depends on how much ‘with you’ you mean.” He sees her smirk at his back in the mirror, and he turns back around to give her an unimpressed look.

“I’m not asking you out, doofus. Just thought we could take the train together.”

Ford snorts a laugh. “Okay, but for real, did you wanna pretend I’m your date? I’m cool with that if you need it.”

He frowns. “Why would I--”

“Uh, Winter Screw?” she interrupts with a placating smile. “You kept leaning into Nursey to give you a bail out. Thought you might be asking me to tag along to the party so I could fill the same role.”

“Bail out?” he asks, honestly confused.

Ford’s eyebrows furrow, and she says, like it’s obvious, “Yeah. You kept getting hit on by randos all night, and the quickest way of getting rid of them seemed to be letting Nursey hang all over you.”

Will doesn’t remember anyone hitting on him that night, though a lot of it is pretty hazy in his memory. But obviously anyone who approached them only did it for Derek, not him.

He doesn’t know what’s more confusing, honestly, the fact that Ford thinks people were hitting on him, or the fact that apparently he and Derek were all over each other more than he thought they were, enough to be noticed.

He can feel a light blush color his cheeks, and he turns back towards the mirror just as Ford’s expression turns calculating, her eyes narrowed. “Huh,” she says, like she just figured something out.

Will focuses on his own reflection, and tries to make his hair do something other than what it always does.

Ford frowns at him thoughtfully. Then she steps forward and motions for Will to lean down so she can reach up and fix his hair for him. She adds a bit more product, and fluffs some places that Will would normally leave alone. “You’ve got really fine hair, but you don’t have to keep it cut so short to compensate.”

“I’m not putting crap in my hair everyday just for the aesthetic. Cutting it short works.”

Ford shrugs, unfazed. “You do you. I’m just saying, if you wanted to try something different... I think you can pull off a lot more than you give yourself credit for.” She finishes messing with Will’s hair and steps back to assess her work. Then smiles and shrugs. “But only if you wanted to.”

Will doesn’t know what he wants, and is hesitant to try to figure it out, for more than one reason.

***

Derek takes the train straight from New York to Providence, and arrives to the party with his backpack and duffle on either shoulder. But both bags immediately fall to the floor in the doorway as Chowder tackle-hugs him in hello.

Will got the same greeting from Chowder a half an hour ago, and nearly fell back on his ass from the force of Chowder’s enthusiasm. It’s been two and a half years of friendship between them, but Will still isn’t entirely used to the physicality of Chowder’s affection.

Derek, too, has a way of expressing his friendship through touch. Even when they could barely stand each other freshman year, there was still always a hand on Will’s shoulders after a rough practice or a playful ruffle of Will’s hair after finishing his first pie for Hausgiving.

And that physicality has only increased these last several months, since they became actual, finally-willing-to-admit-it, friends. Especially since that night Derek drunkenly slid into Will’s bed and Will stupidly didn’t kick him right back out.

Stupidly even let it happen again.

Stupidly keeps wondering if it’ll happen this next semester too...

All the same, he’s completely caught off guard when, the moment Chowder lets go, Derek is on Will with a bear hug, far too steady and lingering to pass for bro-y. There are no back slaps, no stepping away a few seconds later with a punch to the bicep. Just Derek’s strong arms securely around him, practically lifting him off the floor. Which is impressive, considering they’re the same height and weight.

Will is falling into it before his brain has caught up enough to process what’s happening. On instinct that he didn’t even know he had, he wraps his own arms tightly around Derek and ducks his head down to bury the lower half of his face in Derek’s shoulder.

Derek’s sweater is soft and smells like the fabric softener he only remembers to use when someone is at his side to remind him. The always carefully maintained stubble along his jaw tickles at the shell of Will’s ear. Will’s ribcage feels like it’s in a vice for how hard Derek is holding him, or maybe that’s just from how hard his heart has started beating.

He kind of never wants it to end.

But then Derek releases him and steps back, a wide, honest smile on his face. “You have a good break, Poindexter?”

“It was...” After Chowder’s reaction, he feels like the word “fine” might not go over so well, and he doesn’t want to dim that smile. He forces a shrug. “You know. Same old. Built a couple of Santa-sanctioned Fisher Price jungle gyms.”

Derek laughs at that. And then he’s turning back around to grab his bags and fist bump Ford, pull Bitty into a one-armed side-hug that causes him to drop his backpack all over again, and then follow Jack to the guestroom for a place to put his things.

Will might be blushing, if the single eyebrow Chowder has just raised at him is any indication.

Obviously, a lot more alcohol is needed to survive the evening.

When midnight rolls around--the whole apartment shouting out the countdown, the Times Square ball drop cued up on Jack’s huge flatscreen--none of them are even close to sober.

All of the couples are practically in each other’s laps, ready to kiss at the start of the new year. Tater is eyeing Bitty’s latest pie like it’s the only thing getting anywhere near his lips tonight, while Ransom and Holster keep cajoling each other into calling or texting their on-again-off-again significant others that neither of them actually seems all that interested in talking to.

The Frogs are cross-legged on the floor of the balcony, huddled close for warmth but too drunk and lazy to get up and go back inside.

The countdown ends, the ball drops, Chowder pecks Derek and Will on their cheeks and they all dissolve into drunken laughter and shoving at each other.

Will doesn’t know if he’s ever been this happy. Or if he’s ever been this readily willing and able to make that happiness known to those around him.

Later on, at three in the morning, he’s one of the last ones still standing and he stumbles his way to the couch he’d earlier tossed a couple of blankets onto, only to find Holster snoring loudly across it. And waking up Holster, especially a drunk Holster, is like poking a freaking chiclet-toothed dragon.

Will is just drunk enough himself to not care about the implications of slipping into the guestroom where Derek is already fast asleep in the bed and Chowder is in a blanket nest on the floor.

He eyes the nest for a long moment, swaying on his feet. And then he moves to the bed to burrow in beside Derek. His inebriated brain doesn’t even think anything of it as Derek turns over and sleepily pushes his nose into Will’s sternum.

***

Will wakes slowly to the sight of Chowder sitting up in his blanket nest, a quilt wrapped around his shoulders, staring at him.

Staring, more accurately, at where Derek is holding onto Will in his sleep like it’s not just normal but familiar. Like this definitely isn’t the first time it’s happened.

Derek’s arm is wrapped around him from behind, Will’s back against his chest, Derek’s nose tucked into the back of Will’s neck. There’s not a lot of ways to explain their position.

But Chowder doesn’t comment on it, beyond the assessing stare. Instead, he stands up, letting the quilt fall to the floor. “I don’t think anyone else is up yet. If you wanted to...” He trails off awkwardly, quiet so as not to wake Derek up.

“If I wanted to what?” Will whispers, chest tight in fear of what the answer might be.

Chowder opens his mouth to respond, but then closes it and shakes his head. “I’m gonna use the bathroom. I’ll make sure no one barges in here until you’re ready.”

It sounds like a bigger promise than what his actual words are saying. It sounds like he’s waiting for Will to be ready for more than just rolling out of bed for breakfast.

Will gulps and watches Chowder leave, quietly closing the bedroom door behind him.

As soon as they’re alone, he can’t help but start cataloguing all of the places where he and Derek are touching. It feels like too many to count, especially as his mind lingers over each one, trying to figure out what that low thrum of energy it incites in him means.

Maybe it means he’s still partially drunk. Because if this were any other morning, he’s pretty sure he’d be a half-second away from a panic attack right now at how quickly his dick wants to get involved in the proceedings.

Before that can happen, he gently extricates himself from Derek’s arms and pads over to the closet, where he rifles around through Derek’s duffle bag in search of a fresh shirt to borrow. Derek will give him grief for it later, but Will doesn’t care that much, and he knows there won’t be any bite to his teasing.

There hasn’t been for a while now.

As he slips out the door to find the bathroom, he’s grateful to be not only out of the bed, but also out of the room, before Derek wakes up to catch him. At least he doesn’t have to worry about anyone other than Chowder knowing about his slip.

Will’s not sure what he would say if Derek cornered him about it, about the fact that, for the first time, Will got into bed with Derek instead of the other way around. He could throw back the number of times Derek’s done it. But he’s pretty sure he’d spontaneously combust if he even tried to.

After he’s had a chance to piss and brush his teeth, and then stare at himself in the bathroom mirror for several minutes, trying to understand what’s changed in him that doesn’t seem all that visible, he heads to the kitchen.

Bitty is already up, and surprisingly chipper for a morning that should be hangover central. He’s stirring pancake batter while watching over the bacon in the skillet on the stove, and he grins broadly when Will asks if he can help.

Will gets assigned to chopping mushrooms and onions, and then cracking eggs, for an easy scramble. But he spends as much time watching his hands work as he does watching Bitty. Watching him smile absently and hum along to a pop song that’s only playing in his head, and move around the room like not only does he belong here but like he’s perfectly happy to have Will join him. Like Will is not just safe here, but also welcome. Wanted.

He doesn’t know how he gets to have this. Any of this. Bitty, Chowder, Derek, a found family in various states of wakefulness in this Stanley Cup Champion’s Providence apartment.

Chowder enters the kitchen with the quilt back around his shoulders and over his head like a hood, yawning around a smile. “Hey, do I smell bacon?”

Bitty offers him a smile of his own along with a wink. “Get that coffee pot going for us, Hun, and I’ll save you an extra piece.”

Chowder drops the quilt onto the back of one of the breakfast table chairs and does as he’s asked. Though not before pausing by where Will is standing and clapping him on the shoulder.

The meaning is clear. Friendship, solidarity, comfort... Chowder may as well have spoken the words aloud for how clearly they’re read in this physical gesture.

And then Chowder’s searching for the coffee filters, paying Will no real mind. Letting Will come to him in his own time, if ever, and not making a big deal of it.

“Right hand cabinet over the dishwasher,” Bitty tells Chowder absently, attention on pouring the right amount of batter into the skillet.

Will starts sautéing the mushrooms and onions beside Bitty. He watches the pancake batter start to bubble, and focuses on the sound of Bitty’s voice softly explaining to him how to tell by those tiny bubbles when it’s time to flip.

Derek is the last to wake up and head to breakfast with the rest of them. Ransom and Holster have already had six pancakes apiece, and Holster’s now got a strip of bacon hanging out of his mouth as he chews. Jack is drinking coffee at the counter while not so subtly ogling Bitty’s ass. Ford looks comically confused over her eggs as Tater loudly explains to her why pie should be a breakfast food, with several pointed winks in Bitty’s direction.

Will keeps his eyes trained on his plate, and his thoughts trained on the one New Year’s Resolution he thinks he might now have. It’s still not quite fully formed, but he can feel it solidifying as he eats.

“Oh, chill, bacon,” Derek says with muted delight due to the obvious hangover. He heads towards the spread of food, but stops on the way to casually steal Will’s coffee, as if it were just two of them.

Will ducks his head to hide a blush, and stuffs his mouth full of pancake and egg.

***

Chowder gracefully doesn’t bring up, for a long time, what he woke up to that New Years morning.

But he does watch Will and Derek a little more shrewdly than he did before. Not judging, and not really all that searching either, but like he’s starting to reevaluate everything he thought he knew about their relationship.

Well. That makes two of them.

Spring semester starts. Derek ends up back in Will’s bed two weeks into it.

“Why do I have the top bunk again?” Derek mumbles as he starts to pass out, his face mashed into Will’s shoulder and his knees pulled up so that they dig into Will’s thigh.

He’s been pulling more all-nighters than not all week, to the point that Will gets exhausted just looking at him. He’s probably delirious enough with lack of sleep that he won’t even remember this conversation in the morning, or the fact that he fell into Will’s bed instead of his own with his eyes already closed and a single sock still hanging off his left foot.

“I told you to take the bottom,” Will huffs, but he’s half asleep already and can’t quite make his tone sound as disparaging as he means it to be.

“Thought you were just trying to pick another fight,” Derek mutters, his eyebrows drawing down in a halfhearted and barely-awake scowl. His breathing has been steadily evening out since his nose first touched Will’s bicep. “Couldn’t let you win one. Back then...” but he trails off as sleep overtakes him.

“And now?” Will asks, hushed, even though he knows he won’t get an answer.

But he doesn’t need Derek to say it out loud for him to understand what that answer would be. And, anyway, it’s not the question he really needs answering.

“Hey. So.” He clears his throat roughly beside Bitty in the Haus kitchen. “There’s someone I think I like.”

Bitty startles, eyes wide, mouth forming a soft, “Oh,” before he unsuccessfully tries to hide his surprise. He offers Will an apologetic smile for it. “Sorry, it’s just you’ve never talked about anyone like that before. I wasn’t sure if that was something you were interested in.”

Will shrugs. “I mean, it’s not. Usually. Which is kinda part of the problem I’m having right now.”

Bitty raises a questioning eyebrow.

“Just-- How do you tell? That you like someone beyond just friendship, I mean. I don’t have much in the way of a frame of reference. I’ve been attracted to people, but I’ve always sort of pushed it aside and focused on other things when it comes up.”

“So there hasn’t been anyone before? No one who’s caught your eye enough to do something about it?”

“Well, there was a guy on my old hockey team, but nothing ever came of it, so I don’t really have confirmation that that’s what I was feeling.”

Will swallows thickly, and then stops all motion at the realization of what he’s just said.

Bitty freezes beside him.

He was not actually planning on coming out during this conversation, but now that he’s said the words, he finds he doesn’t regret them. He always figured he’d tell Bitty first, if he ever told anyone at all.

“Oh, Honey,” Bitty finally jerks into motion, turning fully to face Will and placing both flour-covered hands on Will’s forearms. “Thank you for trusting me with this.”

Will nods. “Please don’t--”

“I won’t tell a soul, of course I won’t.”

“I’m not-- That’s not--” He hangs his head and sighs. “I don’t think I’d mind if the guys knew. I mean, my family can never... But the team. That’d be alright, maybe. It’s more the Nursey of it all that’s the issue.”

Bitty’s brow furrows in confusion. “I know Nursey likes to give you grief, but he’d never get on your case about this.”

“No. No, he--” Will looks back up at Bitty, and he knows his gaze is pleading, which he never really allows himself, because Bitty sucks in a sharp breath at being met with it. “Okay, don’t laugh,” he says.

Bitty’s eyes go wide, immediately catching onto what Will’s about to admit. “Oh my Lord. But he--”

“I know.”

“But you--”

“I know.”

Bitty opens and closes his mouth several times without sound, and then he gets a determined look on his face. “I think this requires Annie’s.”

He puts the dough in the freezer and washes his hands. Will rinses the flour handprints off his forearms and follows along without question or argument.

Derek likes to tease him about this, that Will has imprinted on Bitty like a duckling. But the truth is that Will just trusts Bitty. Since getting to know him while spending so much time in the kitchen together, he’s found he trusts Bitty implicitly. There’s not many people he can say that about. Bitty and Chowder are basically it. Maybe his mom. But, then again, if she knew...

They walk at a brisk pace, the quiet between them not exactly uncomfortable but definitely loaded. Will knows Bitty is mulling over his next words, but is also hesitant to give them when he doesn’t know the full situation.

Finally, Will sucks in a breath, and tries for nonchalance. “So, we’ve been sleeping together.”

The only reason Bitty doesn’t fall flat on his face is because Will has enough experience reaching out to catch a stumbling Derek that his hand goes out to stabilize him on instinct.

“Not-- Not like that,” he amends, and can feel his cheeks burn a brighter red than they already were from the cold. “Just, when he’s drunk or half asleep, he won’t be able to make it up the ladder to his bunk and so he’ll... sleep with me in mine. We haven’t talked about it. It just... happens.”

“And you’re not sure if you like him as more than a friend or not?” Bitty asks skeptically, glancing to the side at Will with a carefully constructed expression of non-judgement.

Will shrugs helplessly.

“Okay. Well. Do you like when he sleeps with you?”

A hard swallow. A hand to the back of his heated neck. “...Yeah.”

“Would you want him to do it more often?”

Will closes his eyes and drops his hand limply to his side with a sigh. “Yes.”

“I think you just answered your own question, Honey.”

They reach Annie’s then, and Will is saved from having to acknowledge out loud how right Bitty is. They enter and order ridiculously indulgent drinks and find a table tucked away in the back behind a bookcase hardly anyone bothers to peruse.

“I don’t know how to do this,” Will says.

Bitty snorts an abrupt laugh. “You think I did?”

“I think Jack Zimmermann would have a thing or two to say in your defense.”

“To be perfectly honest, we very nearly didn’t happen at all, Dex. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself to get things perfect. You’re allowed to fumble, to learn along the way. God knows I have.”

“Still.” Will pauses to consider his words. “You’re braver than I am. I don’t think I’m up to initiating anything. Or even talking to him about it.”

“Dex,” he says, and then sighs and shakes his head. “I wasn’t any more courageous or knowledgeable than you are. Hell, I’d never even kissed anyone until Jack.”

Will rears back in his chair, surprised. “What? How... But, you’re you.”

“And what is that supposed to mean?”

“Bitty, you’re like the biggest catch ever. Guys on campus fall all over themselves to get your attention.”

Bitty blushes and ducks his head, pretending it’s solely to take a sip of his drink. “Well, I don’t know about that. But, even if you were right, attention doesn’t equal experience. Just look at Nursey.”

“What? Nursey?”

“He’s got a reputation because of the number of his admirers, I know, but that reputation is obviously completely made up. That poor boy wouldn’t know how to survive a casual sexual encounter to save his life.”

Will’s eyes narrow. “If you’re telling me something that he admitted to you in confidence--”

Bitty’s hands immediately go up in surrender. “Gracious, no! He’s never come to me about this stuff. But I’m not blind, Dex. Nursey likes to talk a good game, but it’s all bark.”

Will frowns. “I don’t understand.”

Bitty looks like he wants to cuff him upside the head for his obliviousness. “He’s a closet romantic. Probably took his Valentine’s birthday to heart as a kid and never looked back. For heaven’s sake, he reads poetry for fun.” Bitty chuckles. “You should talk to him. I’d put good money on the idea that he’s just as tied up in things as you are if he’s been finding excuses to slip into your bed.”

Talking about emotions is not Will’s strong suit. He’d sooner contemplate eating his own hockey gear than having an open and honest conversation about his feelings with Derek Nurse. Just talking to Bitty about this stuff is excruciating enough.

Still. He likes Derek. Romantically.

Now he just has to follow through with his New Year’s resolution and do something about that.

***

It takes Chowder practically hitting him over the head with a “you’re being an idiot” stick for Will to actually follow Bitty’s advice, though.

Derek shows up back from the library somewhere in the very early hours of the morning and bangs his forehead several times against the closet door, before undressing in a way that makes him trip four different times.

He doesn’t bother putting anything else on after he’s undressed. And Derek Nurse in his boxer-briefs is something Will had to inoculate himself against early on in their friendship, but full body contact with it might prove too much to handle.

Luckily, Will barely wakes up enough at the movement next to him in bed to register what’s happening, so it’s entirely possible he’s dreaming this entire thing.

It’s a nice dream, he thinks vaguely, as he falls back into unconsciousness.

The next thing he knows, Chowder is entering their bedroom with a plate of French toast he’s probably looking to share, and stopping short at the sight that awaits him.

Will blinks blearily at him. Chowder blinks back. And then he turns and walks back out of the room.

Fuck.

Will spends the day buried in a coding project in an attempt not to think about whatever conversation he fears is coming from his best friend. Chowder’s always been good at not pushing at sensitive areas, but this is the second time he’s seen the two of them in bed together, and Will’s pretty sure that warrants an explanation. Which he doesn’t have.

Derek is only around briefly that morning, to gather his things up for his string of afternoon classes, a piece of toast sticking out of his mouth as he gets down on the floor to check under the bed for a textbook he can’t find.

“If the book your looking for is that art history one, you’re gonna feel like an idiot in a minute.”

Derek pops back up onto his feet and takes a bite out of the toast. “Why’s that?” he asks around chewing, which is gross and Will should not be hit with the sudden, overwhelming urge to reach out and brush bread crumbs off of Derek’s stubble for him.

Instead, Will points to the side, where the book in question is sitting open right in the middle of Derek’s desk.

“Oh. Chill.”

Will snorts, just as his phone starts vibrating on the desk beside his computer. He glances at it, and then firmly ignores it when he sees Connor’s name on the screen.

Derek raises an eyebrow at him while stuffing the book into his backpack. “Screening your calls now?”

Will shrugs and hunches over his homework. “Not worth answering.”

“You avoiding someone? An ex?”

Will can’t tell what Derek’s voice is doing at the end of that question, but it sounds strange. “My brother. And I’m not avoiding him, I just don’t feel like getting chewed out right now. I need to finish this project.”

Derek goes quiet for long enough that Will glances up at him to make sure he’s really going to drop this line of questioning, or if he’s plotting something. Only to find that Derek is staring at him with a hard frown.

“What?” Will asks, immediately on the defensive.

“Nothing.” Derek shakes his head and looks away. “I’ll see you later tonight. Stay gold, Pony Boy.” He runs his hand through Will’s hair and shoves at his head on his way out the door, and Will flips him off for it.

That afternoon, Chowder enters their room looking shifty-eyed. “Hey.”

Will glances sideways at him from where he’s sitting at the desk and tries to play it cool. “You look like a snitch in an interrogation room.”

“You look like the first Weasley to be born a squib.”

Will throws his pen at him. It hits Chowder on his left shoulder, but he appears unbothered by the fact, instead loosening his tense posture and leveling a look at Will that is too complicated to parse. “Nursey’s still out, right?”

“It’s three, so yeah. He’s got Politics of Modern Poetry for the next hour, and then, uh, ‘something something critical thinking’ right after.”

Chowder stares at him, assessing, for a long moment. “You have his schedule this semester memorized.” He doesn’t make it a question.

Will really thinks it should be a question. He does not like how certain Chowder seems to be of something Will is only just figuring out.

“Listen,” Chowder says, at the same time Will tries to tell him, “About this morning--”

There is a lengthy pause. And then Chowder firmly shuts the bedroom door behind him and approaches Will with a small smile. “So. You guys finally...”

Will frowns in confusion. “Finally?”

“I mean, you were sleeping in the same bed, again, so I thought maybe... You know...”

Oh. No. Chow, no. It’s not like that.”

Chowder squints at him. “Are you sure it’s not like that?”

“Seriously. It’s innocent.” Will hesitates, and then draws in a deep breath. “But I am... I mean. I don’t know about Nursey. But I... I do like him. Like that. So it’s innocent, but I guess I wish it weren’t?”

Chowder’s entire face softens into something tender and full of far more love than Will knows what to do with. He doesn’t say anything immediately in response, just reaches out and reels Will up out of the desk chair and in for a firm hug.

“I love you a lot,” he says, so definitively that Will believes it without question. And there’s little Will ever believes without question, especially when it comes to how others claim to see him.

“Er. Thanks,” he replies awkwardly, but Chowder just laughs, moving back enough to meet Will’s gaze with amused eyes. He looks like he was expecting exactly what Will was able to give him and no more. Like he’s even grateful for it. Will doesn’t understand how.

And then Chowder steps back and socks him in the arm.

“Ow! Hey!”

“That’s for all the pining I’ve had to put up with.”

“There’s been no pining! I only just realized how I felt, like, a week ago.”

“Just because you’re oblivious, doesn’t mean I am. There has been so much pining, William. If not for me, could you at least put Nursey out of his misery already and make a move?”

Will has been carefully not daring to hope that Derek might feel the same way. “You really think he...”

Chowder hits him in the arm again. “You let the guy spoon you every night and you really need to ask me that question?”

Will blushes and ducks his head, muttering a petulant, “Not every night.”

The thing is, Nursey doesn’t pick up when anyone’s watching. Maybe he doesn’t pick up at all. Maybe Bitty’s right about how much of a romantic he is. But he’s only ever talked about girls, and he’s only ever tried to set up his single teammates with girls, and so it’s not an absurd leap to make that the guy is straight. Or, if otherwise, definitely not out. Not to Will at least.

Then again. Will’s never talked about anybody and everyone still assumes he’s straight.

“Please,” Chowder says. “Trust me when I say it’ll work out if you just use your words.”

Will sighs, because he can’t exactly argue with that. Things might not work out, but using his words has always been the correct answer to most problems, even though it’s the last answer he wants to find.

And then Chowder hits him on the arm again, and so Will has no choice but to tackle him to the floor and strike for where he’s most ticklish.

***

Bitty leads them to the frozen four, but they get knocked out early on by Yale.

They get an unprecedented amount of press over it, though, due to Bitty’s now well-known relationship with Jack. Will can’t help but watch his captain deal with reporters with a bright smile and southern charm, a warmth flooding his chest. It’s inspiring. If there was one person he wishes he could be more like, wishes he could do more to earn approval from, it’s definitely Bitty.

They have a kegster to celebrate how far they made it, even if it wasn’t all the way. It’s relatively tame as far as kegsters go, since most of them are already knee deep in studying for finals and distracted by the looming graduation of their captain.

What does the Haus even look like without Bitty? Will can’t picture it, and is worried about what his senior year holds for them all more than he lets on.

Derek still seems certain that Will can somehow step up to the task of managing the Haus in a way that won’t make Bitty’s absence too pronounced. But Will still doesn’t believe that’s possible.

He’s on Nursey Patrol for the night, so he opts to stay sober and clear-headed just in case Derek decides to go wild one last time before finals.

But Derek barely finishes the single drink he nurses the entire time, going a little quieter than usual at every person who tries to chat him up, and looking a little tired around the eyes in a way that tells Will he’s probably been getting fewer hours of sleep lately than normal.

He’s definitely sober though, and lucid. They both are. Which is why Will is surprised enough later, when Derek slips into his bed, that he actually says something. “Nursey, you had one beer. You’re not drunk.”

Derek sighs, long and weary. “No. I’m not,” he admits in a hushed, slightly broken tone.

Will doesn’t know what to do with that. “Then what’s going on?”

“It’s just. I get into these bouts of insomnia, like, all the time. Even alcohol doesn’t really help unless we’re talking blackout levels of intoxication. But, when we’re sharing... I fall asleep. Like, every single time. And, fuck, I’m just so tired, Will.”

For a long moment, Will doesn’t know how to respond. He feels Derek go tense, and then start to roll away from him. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to... Sorry.”

Derek moves to leave, but before Will can second guess himself, he reaches out and latches onto Derek’s arm to keep him there. “It’s okay. I don’t mind.”

“Poindexter, you don’t have to--”

“Really. If it helps you sleep, then... Then I’m happy to. It’s not a big deal.” That last part feels like a lie, but it comes out relatively steady. Is this a big deal?

As if to prove his words, Will moves his hand from Derek’s arm to his hip and pulls him in close until Derek is on his side, chest pressed to Will’s other arm, Derek’s own arm falling haphazardly across Will’s waist.

He feels as much as hears Derek’s breath stutter. “Dex...”

Will shuts his eyes tight and exhales. “Go to sleep, Nurse.”

And, a little miraculously, Derek relaxes and does. Will listens closely to his breathing even out, tracks his steady pulse where the inside of his wrist rests against the bare skin of Will’s hipbone where his shirt has ridden up, and he knows now. He knows he likes Derek. He knows he wants Derek.

He knows he’s not going to let this school year end without seeing if he’s maybe wanted back.

***

Something shifts after that night.

Derek looks at him now, sometimes, like he might just lean in and...

But he doesn’t. There’s just this unspoken feeling between them that is the shared info that they want to be around each other more than usual.

“Hey, thanks,” Derek says as he steals Will’s first cup of coffee the morning after they’ve been pressed against each other from shoulder to toe all night.

Will no longer lets himself be surprised by this.

As much as he’s not sure how to lie at home anymore, he’s starting to lose the ability to lie here at Samwell too.

Or maybe not lie. Maybe he’s just losing the ability to hide.

He watches Derek gulp down the mug of coffee Will made, and only starts preparing a new cup once Derek’s eyes find him and his brow furrows in confusion at the sight of Will just standing there staring.

Will is afraid to ask what they are to each other now. What they could be. He doesn’t want to assume the wrong thing for fear of driving Derek off, and he also doesn’t want to get his heart broken if that wrong thing gets corrected too flippantly.

Because even though he said it was okay, Derek doesn’t try to sleep in the bottom bunk again. At night they retreat to their own bunks, but sometimes Derek... lingers. Hesitates. Like he wants to initiate something that he doesn’t know how to.

Will doesn’t know how to initiate anything either, really, so maybe this whole thing was doomed from the start.

Or maybe they’re both just still learning. Maybe taking their time isn’t a bad thing.

I will murder you, Chowder mouths at him when he catches the two of them doing a back and forth of longing looks across the table at a team breakfast.

So, Will decides to man up already. Reading Week has just started, and then there are finals, and so there’s only a couple of weeks before they all part ways for the summer.

He makes his way home from the library after his study group is finished, and with each step becomes more determined in his goal. By the time he reaches the Haus, there’s not much on Earth that could stop him from seeing this through.

Derek glances up sharply from the book he’s reading when Will basically slams their bedroom door open, and then slams it quickly closed behind him.

“You should sleep in my bed tonight,” he says without preamble.

Derek looks like he just got sucker punched. He stands up from his desk chair, practically gawking at Will. “I-- What?

“My bed. With me. I told you it was okay, but you... I don’t know. I don’t think I was clear. I’m not, like, putting up with it. I want you there. I like you there.”

Derek releases a stuttered breath, eyes wide with something that’s half shock and half disbelief, though mixed with a dash of fear. “Uh, Will...”

“And I’m going to kiss you now.”

Derek rears back a half step in surprise.

Will blushes and amends, “Uh. If that’s okay. I mean... I would like to kiss you now.”

There is a very lengthy pause in which they both simply stare at each other and Will gets more and more terrified that he just ruined everything. But then Derek swallows thickly and nods his head.

Will sucks in a deep breath and holds it. This moment feels like base-jumping for the first time. Or like the moment when the bungee cord snaps you back up after the fall. It is thrilling and unexpected and yet the very thing that has been waited on the entire time. He knew it was coming, but is no less startled by it once it arrives.

“Okay. I’m sorry in advance if I’m bad at this.” Will steps forward and places his hand on the side of Derek’s neck, and then he leans in. It’s a brief, warm press of dry lips. And then another. Both chaste and hesitant.

He licks his lips as Derek places hands on his hips. He presses in again, opens his mouth a little, and Derek opens up for him as well.

Will pulls back. “Good?”

“Yeah,” Derek breathes. He licks his lips too, and Will tracks the movement with his eyes like he can’t help himself. He unconsciously pulls Derek a little closer to him, their chests bumping together. Derek’s thumbs find their way beneath Will’s shirt to brush against bare skin.

“Do you think we could do this sometimes?” It’s such an awkward way of asking, he knows, but his brain isn’t firing on all cylinders at the moment.

“I think we can do this all the time, actually.” Derek smiles, but his blown pupils and breathlessness point to him being just as affected as Will is.

Will smiles back, it’s shaky, but it’s true. “Okay.” He takes a breath. “Okay. I promised Bitty I’d help out with dinner, but later...”

“Right. Yeah, of course.” Derek lets his hands fall away from Will’s hips. Will reluctantly takes a step back. But then steps forward and kisses him again, quick and probably a little too hard, before backing up several steps so that he’s not tempted to do it again.

Alright, who is he kidding, he’s still totally tempted to do it again. But he keeps backing away anyway. Somehow finding the willpower.

“Tonight?” Will asks as he reaches the door.

Derek remains standing in the same spot, seemingly frozen. But he nods his head again, and Will feels lighter than air all the way through dinner.

***

They don’t mention anything to the team.

Will’s not entirely sure what, exactly, there is to mention yet. Derek does sleep in his bed that night, and every night after, all through Reading Week. But they only kiss again a couple of times, a little nervous with each other in a way neither of them knows how to push past.

Otherwise, their relationship doesn’t really change much beyond the friendship they already shared. There’s just as much casual touching, just as many chirps back and forth, but now they’re both aware of what they want.

And sometimes there’s kissing.

Sometimes. Not as often as Will would like. They’re both still a little shy in that regard. It still takes a bit of courage every time Will lets himself stare at Derek’s mouth for long enough to reveal his interest.

Neither of them has been in a serious relationship before. Will has never even been in a casual relationship before. And so it’s all just very... new.

It’s not just nerves that impede them, though. Derek is cautious with Will in a way that suggests he fears every romantic advance will be met with rejection, and Will doesn’t know how to reassure him enough to make that go away.

As for Will’s own hang-ups, there’s a part of him that knows he doesn’t really deserve to have this. It’s the same part that keeps belligerently trying to prove to the team, to Derek, to himself, that even if he doesn’t deserve to be here, he’s still worth keeping around. He can fix an oven or a dryer; he can replace shoddy door hinges or broken garbage disposals; he can play some solid hockey.

He may not be able to earn any sort of significance, but he can at least earn his keep. As part of the team, as part of the Haus, as part of whatever he now has with Derek.

And they only have two weeks before they leave for the summer. It’s not nearly enough time to figure anything out, especially with finals taking up so much of their focus.

“You could come visit me,” Derek whispers into Will’s shoulder one night, and then kisses that shoulder softly.

“Depends on what internship I end up getting. Won’t know what my summer looks like until then. And if I don’t get one at all, I’ll have to head back home and work my usual jobs.” The thought makes him a little queasy. It never has before.

“Find an internship in New York. My parents totally wouldn’t mind putting you up for a couple months.”

He says it so casually, but Will can feel how tense his muscles have suddenly gotten. “Maybe,” Will responds, because that’s... kind of a lot. Not just the spending the summer together part, or the meeting Derek’s family part, but letting himself accept room and board without compensation? Applying to more internships when, this late in the school year, they probably wouldn’t be able to get back to him with an answer until well after the break has already started?

“Just think about it,” Derek whispers. And Will tells him he will.

The decision practically gets decided for him the very next day. The Frogs are all studying together, though it’s mostly devolved into a series of overly long breaks to play Mario Kart and then to nearly burn a whole cookie sheet of bagel bites that they proceed to eat anyway.

At one point, the three of them pressed close on the couch while another episode of Friends plays on the television set before them, Derek reaches for Will’s hand, but pauses midair to mouth silently at him, Can I?

Will knows, in that second, that he’s probably going to spend his summer in New York.

He nods. Derek’s relief is palpable as he puts his hand over Will’s and turns to Chowder. “Yo, C.”

“Yeah?” Chowder turns to them, his gaze immediately zooming in on where they’re touching, and his eyes widen. “Oh, holy shit, finally.”

Derek laughs, and Will has to bite back a smile.

***

The thing of it is, for the time being, they’re too busy with finals to do much more than share space together. It’s hard to figure things out between them when Will is also trying to figure out where he went wrong in his calculus practice test and Derek is trying to figure out how to fit whatever novel-length essay answer he has prepped into a single blue book.

Finals become a lesson in self-control and discipline. One that Will is getting worse and worse at by the hour.

He was good at this before. Good at consciously ignoring how insanely pretty Derek is. But suddenly he can’t go five seconds without wanting to stare, or touch, and it’s proving to be an issue.

“I need to go.” He stands abruptly from the seat at his desk.

Derek startles, head snapping up from his reading where he’s sprawled across Will’s bed. A fact that Will can’t stop thinking about.

A flash of panic contorts Derek’s features as he processes Will’s words, but he quickly reins it into the worst approximation of “chill” Will thinks he’s ever seen him try to pull off. And he’s seen some pretty bad ones. “Right. Okay, cool. I’ll just--”

“I’ve been reading the same page of my textbook for over an hour,” Will interrupts.

Derek blinks at him dumbly, clearly not expecting that response.

“You’re literally going to make me fail half my classes.”

A slow grin that’s half smug and have delighted spreads across Derek’s face. “You saying I’m distracting, Poindexter?”

Will can feel the blush spread hot across his cheeks and the tops of his ears, but he holds Derek’s gaze determinedly. “Yes.”

Derek’s expression sobers, his lips parting in a soft, “Oh.”

“I want to be distracted by you is the problem.”

Derek looks like he doesn’t know where to even start. “Ah. Um. Chill.” He swallows and fidgets. “So. Okay, you stay here. I was gonna hit up Bully and Tango for a study sesh at the library anyway.”

Will breathes a sigh of relief. “Cool. Sounds like a plan.”

“And we...” Derek looks surprisingly nervous. “We’ll still...”

We will figure things out when I don’t have my GPA on the line.”

Derek snorts a laugh and then rolls his eyes as he starts to pack up his stuff. “Alright, you wet blanket. I’ll see ya tonight, brosef.

“You are the true embodiment of everything about the universe that I despise.”

Derek pretends to wipe away a fake tear as he heads out the door with a full backpack and a smirk. But he stops halfway there and heads back, hesitates over Will for a second, and then ducks down to lightly peck him on the cheek. “After finals,” he says, like a promise.

“Yeah,” Will says, embarrassingly breathless from something so innocuous. “After finals.”

***

Will applies for internships in New York. It feels like a statement, and even more so when he tells Derek.

“I won’t actually know if I get one of them until I’ve already gotten there. It’s still... It could not happen.”

“But you’ll come anyway?”

“I...” He doesn’t know if he should, too practical by half to be able to just say fuck it and see what happens. But the look on Derek’s face when Will hesitates is so vulnerable that Will feels the intense urge to fix it, and he knows he won’t be able to live with himself if the cause for Derek being in any way broken is his fault. “Yeah. I will. I’ll come.”

The semester ends. Bitty gives Ford his dibs. Ollie and Wicks give theirs to Tango and Whiskey.

Bitty’s graduation is an afternoon of tears from every SMH teammate who won’t be going with him.

Will pretends that he’s immune, discretely hiding his own sporadic crying behind eye rolls and scoffs at the lame speeches. But once the ceremony is over and Bitty is hugging each of them in turn on the lawn, while his parents, Jack, and Jack’s parent’s look on, Will finds he can’t quite keep it together anymore.

“You’re going to be okay,” Bitty whispers into Will's neck as they hold onto each other tightly. Will shuts his eyes against expressing any further emotion, but his breath hitches dangerously as Bitty amends, “No, you’re going to be more than okay.”

“Thank you. For everything. For helping me get this far.”

“I hardly did a thing, Sweetheart. It was all you.”

“No. No, you... You did so much. And I can’t...” He breathes in and out a couple of times, and then pulls back a little to look Bitty in the eyes. “Thank you,” he says again, with as much sincerity and determination as he can muster. “I think I would have drowned here too if not for you.”

Bitty’s smile trembles a bit. “Here ‘too?’” he questions.

Will looks away, at the grass beneath their feet, but Bitty moves his hands to Will’s biceps and squeezes, reassuring.

“Don’t worry about it,” are the words Will finally settles on. “This is your day. And you’re kind of my hero, so please know that you deserve this.”

Bitty grins, just as another teammate starts grabbing for his attention. He pats Will’s cheek with his fingers lightly as he turns away, and makes sure to tell him lowly, “You deserve it too, you know.”

Will’s not so sure about that, but he smiles back and nods anyway.

He leaves for home tomorrow and he still hasn’t told his mom that he’ll only be there for a couple weeks before taking off to New York. If he thought he could get away with it he’d just text her, but he’s not that cowardly after all.

“It’s a good opportunity,” Will tells her over the phone, standing in the empty Haus kitchen. Everyone except for Derek has already left. Will’s own bags are piled in the pickup truck he drove here after the last winter break, now that he has a parking spot at the Haus, ready for the long drive up to Maine.

“You’re an adult, Will, you don’t have to justify the decision to me.”

“Yeah. But. You’re not mad?”

“I’ll be happy to see you for however long you’re able to be here. It’s been awhile since Christmas.”

“Do you think Dad will be okay with it? I mean, just, that I’m not gonna be working for a paycheck?” Most of the places where he applied were unpaid, though many offered college credit. It’s been eating at him, both the lack of income and how his parents will probably feel about it.

“He’ll be fine. You said it’s a good opportunity, so.” She sounds skeptical, but he’ll take the out.

“Do you think you could tell him for me?”

She sighs. “You never give him enough credit, you know.”

“Please?”

“I’ll tell him. And drive safe, alright?”

“Will do. I’ll see you later tonight.”

When he hangs up and turns, Derek is in the doorway watching him. He wonders how much of that conversation Derek overheard, but is afraid to ask.

“I should get on the road. It’s a long drive,” he says instead.

Derek nods, and then comes forward to wrap Will up in a hug. They stand there for a long moment, just holding onto each other, not talking. When Derek finally pulls back, it’s for a lingering kiss, the kind that they haven’t had a chance to test out nearly often enough these past two weeks.

“See ya, Poindexter,” he says with a grin as he backs away.

Will takes a deep, fortifying breath, and heads out the door and back to Maine.