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To Be Alone With You

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Will has been home for the summer for about a week now and he’s already worryingly close to putting his fist through a wall.

It never used to feel like this. Or, well, it did, but it was easier to handle when he was tuning it all out in favor of focusing on whatever job he was tasked with for the day. When he was working on the boat, or at the shop, or in the garage, or literally anywhere that would take him.

If he’s really, truly, honest with himself, the jobs have only ever been half about the money.

Since the age of fourteen Will has spent every single spare moment of time in his hometown working himself into the ground so as not to have enough time or energy for thoughts about how he increasingly doesn’t seem to fit in this place or with these people. Or to think about the fact that they can’t ever find out.

But this summer, despite still working just as hard as ever, there’s a new tension in his muscles that won’t go away. He can taste fear on the back of his tongue, and it tastes a lot like the words “I have a boyfriend” got stuck there and keep threatening to choke him.

He can’t say it out loud, obviously. Not to his parents. Not to his brother. Not to anyone in this small town, half populated with his own extended family.

Even back at Samwell, he’s only said it once, and accidentally. And it wasn’t even to the boyfriend in question, or to anyone important. Some girl from the soccer team at the last kegster of the school year asked him if he wanted to go upstairs with her, and he was so shocked by the offer that the words, “Oh, sorry, I have a boyfriend,” were out of his mouth before he knew what he was saying.

He and Derek haven’t exactly discussed labels.

It’s been a slow evolution of the casual touches they shared before acknowledging that they both wanted more. And that slowness has felt as natural as breathing, a kind of rightness to them taking their time with this that suggests to Will that they’re both in it for the long haul and have no problem putting in the effort and time to learn the ropes along the way so that they don’t fuck it up.

Hopefully, they don’t fuck it up.

Hopefully, Will doesn’t.

That’s another thing he’s trying not to think about.

It’ll be easier once they’re in the same space again, and can get back to learning and defining this new stage of their relationship. It’s the one thing that has kept Will relatively even-keeled this week back home: the knowledge that he’s only here for another few days. And then it’s down to New York to visit Derek and his family, a prospect which generates its own kind of anxiety.

But it’s still a whole hell of a lot easier to focus on that, rather than on how hard it is to answer, with a straight face and hands that don’t shake, all his mother’s probing questions about the girls in his classes.

His phone buzzes in his back pocket, and Will wipes engine grease off his hands to pull it out, as he stands up straight from where he was bent over the insides of an old Buick.

Chow says you miss me

Will rolls his eyes at the text, and shoots back, Funny he said the same thing about you

He said I miss myself???

Will rolls his eyes again. Derek remains as annoying over text message as ever, but Will still barely holds back a grin or a blush at every single one he receives.

Which makes it doubly annoying. And dangerous, judging by the side-eyed looks he keeps getting from his brother.

“So. Still sticking with the unpaid internship, huh?” Connor asks him from the other side of the transmission they’ve been working on all morning.

The judgment in his tone holds just enough suspicion to make Will momentarily freeze. For a moment his blood runs ice cold as he thinks he’s been caught in the lie. That Connor has figured out the real reason he’s going to New York, and it’s not the stilted story he told about wanting to make contacts in his field rather than work odd jobs again.

“You’re giving up good money from steady work here just to fucking network or some shit? Dad was right, that school changed you.”

You have no idea, Will thinks. But he relaxes a little at the accusation. The decision not to earn his keep this summer is an argument they’ve been having all week, his dad and Connor on one side of it, and Will on the other, with the occasional added defense from his mom.

The Samwell part is an argument they’ve been having for even longer.

“I saved enough living at the Haus last year to be able to afford it. Even without the work, I’m still going to have more money in the bank then I ever did before.”

“The ‘Haus?’” Connor sneers.

Will can’t even fault him for it, really. He had basically the exact same reaction to every nickname and quirk when he first encountered them at Samwell. He’s been careful about it whenever back home. But the longer he’s been away from home, the harder it is to keep from slipping.

“The hockey frat house,” he amends.

Connor shakes his head derisively and focuses on his work. He’s not a big talker usually. His pointed glares and judgmental eyebrows tend to do enough talking for him.

He’s older than Will by a year, shares his red hair, freckles, and big ears, but that’s about where the similarities end. He’s stockier, shorter by a couple inches, and not particularly interested in anything that can’t be solved by giving it the cold shoulder. Including team sports and school, the two things Will cares about the most.

He and Will have never been particularly close. The only place Will has ever seen Connor look even a little bit like he wasn’t angry at the world was out on the ocean. And Will knows his way around a boat, sure, is as comfortable and confident there as his uncle could make him, but he wouldn’t ever choose it. Whereas Connor would sleep out there if their uncle let him, and has been trying to save up to buy his own boat for ages now.

Connor mostly ignores Will for the remainder of their afternoon together, and Will, in turn, ignores his buzzing phone, for fear of his emotions peeking through again

Just a few more days, he reminds himself. He only has to get through a few more days, and then he’ll be able to breathe again.

***

It doesn’t get better over those next few days, but it doesn’t get worse either. It’s a steady thrum beneath his skin, a feeling of wrongness that has him doubting himself more than usual.

Will, when in his hometown, is not a Will that feels like he deserves Derek, deserves Samwell, deserves to be anything other than who his family thinks he is.

His father claps him on the back on the day Will is set to leave, but doesn’t say anything. Like Connor, he isn’t much of a talker, but he usually at least has a gruff, “Take care of yourself,” for Will whenever they part ways.

His silence this time speaks volumes, the judgement heavy on Will’s shoulders as he goes upstairs to grab his bag, and then heads to where his mom is peeling potatoes in the kitchen. He doesn’t think Will should be going to New York, and he’s made that clear in his lack of words as much as his actual comments on the topic.

“You sure about this, Baby?” his mom asks with her usual brand of skepticism mixed with overt fondness. She’s softer than most people give her credit for, given how hard she works and how stern her tone often is. She can whip her eighth graders into shape with not much more than a hard look, and keeps her husband and two sons in line with military precision. She runs their home and is the final say in every family decision, no matter how much it might look, from the outside, like Will’s father is.

But she’s also kinder than any of them, more generous, more forgiving. Will has always been envious of how she seems to find her strength in those things rather than any weakness, the way all the boys around her do. He wishes he’d managed to inherit that from her, rather than having fallen so squarely in his father’s intolerant shadow.

Bitty reminds Will a lot of her, actually. And Will is reminded all over again that he doesn’t know what he’s going to do this coming school year without the guy around anymore.

“You know I can’t keep coming back home forever. What was the point of Samwell if I just end up back here?”

She cups both his cheeks in her hands like she used to do back before he was taller than her and lost all his baby fat. “I understand you want something other than this, and I’m proud of you for going after it. But don’t let your brother catch you saying so. Just because his goals are different from yours, doesn’t make them better or worse. Alright?”

Will knows this. It’s not like he looks down on his brother, or on anyone else who decided to stay in town, stay with what they know. It’s just not a mold that he fits, and he knows his brother and father assume that’s because he thinks he’s somehow better than them.

He doesn’t. God, if anything, he struggles with not thinking the exact opposite.

“I know,” Will assures her.

“Call me when you get there,” she says firmly. It’s her version of, “I love you.”

“Of course,” he tells her, like he tells her every time she says it, when he’s one foot out the door, mentally already on the road and getting away from this place as quickly as possible. His own version of an, “I love you,” that he always feels guilty about the shortness of. He wonders if she notices.

He hugs her briefly, and then leaves for the airport. He’s not sure where Connor is, but they’ve never bothered with goodbyes before. No reason to start now.

***

Will gets into LaGuardia and grabs an Uber, his skin buzzing with something like nerves, but also something like excitement.

The Nurse’s brownstone is a kind of intimidating that Will forces himself to get the hell over before he dares to knock on the front door. So he ends up standing there on the sidewalk, his duffle bag at his feet, staring up at the place for several long minutes.

If he’s honest, it isn’t only about trying not to balk at the amount of money a place like this costs. A large part of it is just him psyching himself up to see Derek face to face again. The longer they go without seeing each other, the more Will wonders if the last couple weeks of last semester weren’t all some fever dream.

When he finally works up the courage to head up the steps and ring the bell, he’s still only half convinced that he’ll be welcomed.

But Derek throws open the door with an excited smile, and then they both just stand there, staring at each other, weirdly nervous, for way, way too long. It feels like the beginning of an awkward first date. Will’s ears burn hot and his cheeks flush and he feels like an idiot, but at least Derek isn’t fairing any better.

“Hey,” Derek finally says.

“Hey.” Will swallows. “Can I come in?”

“Oh, yeah. Yeah, shit, come on in, sorry.” Derek rushes to hold the door open wider, and then stumbles as he decides at the last possible second to step forward instead and reach for Will’s duffle bag.

Will hoists it up and away from him before he can take it.

Derek huffs, but looks more amused than annoyed. “You’re a guest, man. Act like it.”

“I can carry my own bag, Nurse.”

“Just because you can, doesn’t mean I won’t get flak from my mom for letting you.”

“You’re really pulling out the mom card already? Because I’m only letting you get away with that maybe five more times while I’m here.”

“Yeah, well, we’ll see what my mom has to say about that.”

“That’s number two,” Will laughs. And then he ducks his head, his cheeks heating up all over again as he realizes how close they’re standing together and how he’s suddenly realized that he wants it to be even closer.

Derek must notice. There’s not a lot that he doesn’t notice about Will lately, and vice versa. As physically aware of each other as they have been, both on the ice and off, it’s recently been heightened to a point that’s a little scary sometimes.

A slow, deliberate hand reaches out and gently slips beneath the duffle bag strap on Will’s shoulder, and Will allows it to be pulled away. And then he allows himself to be pulled forward with it, so that Derek can kiss him.

It’s a light, careful thing. A press of lips drawn out through a steady exhale, like a sigh of relief.

There’s not much Will wouldn’t do to be able to have this exact moment, over and over again, for the rest of his life.

But that feels like a whole hell of a lot to admit to this soon in their relationship. Three years getting here, and only a couple of weeks really figuring out how to be here.

“If I tell you I missed you, am I gonna get chirped for it?” Derek asks quietly, not pulling away from Will more than an inch.

“Obviously. But I missed you too.”

“Sap.”

“Nerd.”

“Harsh, man. I’ve got a reputation to maintain here.”

For the first time since summer break started, Will feels the tension in his muscles begin to relax, and the fear on the back of his tongue fade, to be replaced with something warm and content.

There’s still a nervous edge to it, though, that makes itself sharply known as the sound of someone clearing their throat from the end of the foyer sends Will crashing back to the reality of where he is and what he’s doing.

Derek goes tense for a split second, before easing himself back towards chill with a practiced precision. There’s a determination in his eyes, masking a vulnerability, when he catches Will’s gaze, before he turns and smiles brightly at the man behind him.

“Dad. Hey. This is Will.”

“’Will,’ huh? Suddenly we’re too formal around here for hockey nicknames?” the man says, a friendly smile on his face and a glint in his hazel eyes. He offers a hand to shake.

Will shakes it, and tries not to hyperventilate. He puts on his game face. “Nice to meet you, Sir.”

Mr. Nurse laughs a little as he pulls his hand away, and then shakes it out like he’s trying to restore feeling in his appendages. “Right back at ya. And, wow, that’s a hell of a grip you got there.”

“Sorry,” Will cringes. Derek snorts.

“Don’t worry about it. From everything Derek’s told me about you--and believe me he won’t shut up on the subject--I probably should’ve expected it.”

Will cringes again, but Derek just laughs.

Mr. Nurse’s smile is as bright and charming as his son’s when he leans forward to tell Will, seriously, “I’ve watched as many of the Samwell games as I could the past few seasons, and you play some amazing hockey, Son. You and Derek make a good team.”

“Oh. Uh, thank you. I like to think we do.”

He glances quickly to the side at Derek, and is rewarded with a brilliant, adoring grin directed straight at him. He feels himself flush, and has to duck his head again to bite back his own smile and get himself under control before looking back at Derek’s dad.

Who looks absolutely delighted by the show. And also like it’s taking every single ounce of his self-restraint to keep from chirping them to within an inch of their lives. Will suddenly understands where Derek gets a good chunk of his personality from.

“So, yeah, great talk, I’m just gonna go get Will settled.” Derek grabs Will’s arm and hauls him away too fast for his dad to hold them back.

Mr. Nurse looks more interested in silently laughing at them anyway, but Will throws out a quick, “Thank you for having me!” over his shoulder as he’s dragged up a flight of stairs and down a hallway.

They end up in Derek’s bedroom. Derek tosses Will’s duffle onto the floor, and then turns around to shut the door while Will takes in his surroundings. The room is comfortable, but much sparser than Will expected. There are books, and a desk covered in papers and notebooks, but there’s not the same kind of clutter that Derek infects their room at the Haus with. It’s possibly an indicator of how little time he’s spent here, away at boarding school for his teenage years and then off to Samwell right after that.

Will sits down on the edge of the bed, spreading his hands wide over the soft duvet. “Your dad seems nice.”

Derek fiddles with the lock on his door before finally turning around. “Yeah. He is.”

“Did you... not think he would be?” Will asks carefully.

Derek shrugs, and Will quietly waits him out. Waits through Derek puttering around his bedroom idly for a long moment, and then through him throwing himself onto his back on the bed beside Will, his head landing close enough to Will’s hip that his hair flattens against Will’s jeans.

Will takes the opportunity to place careful fingertips at Derek’s temple, tracing lightly back and forth along his hairline.

Derek closes his eyes with a soft sigh at the gesture.

“I don’t know,” Derek says. “I just. I’ve never brought anyone home before? And the only people I’ve dated that they know about have been girls. Me being with a guy has always sort of been abstract enough for them to be able to ignore it.”

Derek frowns, thoughtfully. “Or, well. Okay, I’m not really giving them enough credit. They’re supportive, they always have been. They just never had to deal with it in reality, so I wasn’t sure if...” He shrugs a little as he trails off.

“I get it,” Will nods. He thinks he gets it, anyway. He gets that Derek was still scared of a bad reaction, despite all the evidence to the contrary. He gets that he can sometimes forget that a lot of this is just as new and unfamiliar to Derek as it is to him.

He keeps wanting to rely on Derek as the more experienced of the two, because Will is the very definition of the type of person who reads the instruction manual front to back three times over before ever starting a project. But he doesn’t have that guide here, and it’s unfair to expect Derek to be that instruction manual for him.

Derek’s scared too. That’s the take-away here. Derek doesn’t want to fuck this up either.

They’re in this together.

Will swallows, and then manages to produce a sincere, if somewhat wobbly, smile as he leans over Derek so that he’s looking him in the eyes. “So. Apparently you won’t shut up about me?”

Derek groans and shoves him away hard enough that Will falls off the bed, laughing the entire way down.

***

They spend about an hour just lounging in Derek’s room, not really doing much of anything. Relearning each other a bit, maybe. Talking some; touching some. They don’t kiss, but their faces remain close as they joke around, and occasionally reach out to brush a hand through hair or tug teasingly at an earlobe. It’s like a gentle slide from the friendship Will had only just become comfortable with, into whatever they’re trying to be now.

“So, do I eventually get the grand tour? Maybe meet some more of the family who is so graciously taking me in for the next couple months?” Will eventually asks, because first impressions are not his forte, and he’d rather get as many of them out of the way now before his nerves have a chance to overtake him and make introductions all the worse.

“We can do the tour now, and then we’ll all have dinner together in a couple hours. Mom’s probably still at the office, and Deedee won’t be home from band camp for a little while.”

“Your sister’s name is Deedee?”

“Denise. But, you know, I was only four when she was born and I couldn’t say it very well. So I called her Deedee and it just sorta stuck.”

Will frowns. “How did I not know this?”

Derek shrugs and falls a little closer to Will with the motion, his forehead brushing Will’s hand where it rests on the bed between them.

Will takes the opportunity to stroke his fingers lightly down Derek’s cheekbone to his jaw, then back up to trail down the bridge of his nose.

Derek hums a pleased noise.

The easy intimacy feels as comfortable as it does fragile. It doesn’t have to mean anything, of course. They’re used to occupying the same space, and have been even before they became... whatever they are now. And, anyway, the bed is really the only place to sit, as the desk chair is currently occupied by the stack of books Derek brought back with him from Samwell along with a hefty amount of laundry.

“I guess I don’t talk about my family very much with you?” Derek says, eyebrows furrowed as he thinks through his response. “Not that I don’t love them a lot, or that I think you wouldn’t like them, but you don’t talk about your family, like, at all. Or else, when you do, it’s because you’re avoiding phone calls from them or trying to figure out how to get away from them on breaks sooner. So I didn’t want to, you know, bring up any sore subjects.”

“Oh. Well, I...” Will clears his throat, for a split-second imagining Connor in the same room as Derek, or worse, his father, and it feels like two incongruent realities crashing into each other. It makes Will want to throw up just trying to guess how he would even handle the situation. “It’s not a big deal. There’s just not really much to say about them that you probably haven’t already guessed.”

Derek frowns, and looks like he’s trying not to say something that will turn this conversation into an argument.

So Will doesn’t give him time to get it out. He stands up from the bed abruptly and heads for his abandoned duffle bag, still on the floor by the door. “Hey, so, let’s get on with the tour. Maybe we can start with my room?”

Derek raises himself slowly up so that he’s leaning back on his elbows. His hair is a mess and it’s unfair how adorable that is. “Wait, what?”

“Oh. Um. I just figured there were guest rooms? Or, uh, the couch? I guess we didn’t really discuss it.”

Derek laughs a little. “Nah man, you’re in here with me.”

Will blinks, dumbstruck. “Your parents are okay with that?”

“They’re pretty easy going. The official word was ‘you’re an adult so just remember to use protection and not get too loud.’”

Will blushes. Derek smirks a little, but Will can see his own self-consciousness in the way he ducks his head slightly and one hand starts playing with a frayed thread on the bedcovers. They’re taking it slow physically, after all, but Will is starting to suspect that their reasons for doing so are surprisingly similar.

They should probably talk about that, but.

“Oh,” is all Will can come up with in response, feeling suddenly stupid standing there with his duffle bag in one hand and no place to go.

Derek sits up straight and smiles timidly. “Hey. Come here.”

Will hesitates, but then sets his bag back down on the floor and approaches. When he gets to the bed, Derek places a slow, gentle hand on each of Will’s hips, fingertips hardly a ghost of a touch against Will’s jeans. He looks up at Will with a vulnerable sincerity that has Will struggling to catch his breath.

“You’ll tell me if I’m messing up, right?” Derek asks.

Will swallows roughly and tries to feign unaffected. “Like I’d ever miss a chance to point out one of your mistakes.”

Derek doesn’t take the bait. “But about this especially. You and me. Tell me if I’m ever getting it wrong, okay?”

“Yeah, okay.” Will closes his eyes and pulls Derek into his stomach with a light hand on the back of Derek's head, and an arm slung over Derek's shoulders. “Promise me the same?” he breathes the words on a shaky exhale.

“Of course.”

They stay like that for a while, in a weird sort of loose hug that feels so much more comforting and safe than any embrace Will received while back home. For so long that when they finally untangle, they both clear their throats trying to shake off a mild embarrassment at having been so blatantly vulnerable for longer than either of them is used to.

“Alright. So. Grand tour, let’s hit it.” Derek stands and leads Will out the bedroom door.

The Nurse’s place is somehow both exactly what Will imagined it, and not at all. There’s an obvious amount of wealth here, but every room feels lived in and warm, taken care of in a way that suggests the people who live here value things more for sentimental reasons than net worth.

They make their way through the kitchen and the main living area, Derek pointing out the den where he says his father is probably reading, so they studiously avoid going in. Bedrooms and bathrooms and a lengthy detour up onto the roof where Will gets distracted, first admiring the garden, and then admiring the view.

It’s nice, looking out over what they can see of the city. They watch as Derek’s mom and sister get home, and then a few minutes later Derek’s sister starts shouting at them from downstairs about setting the table.

Dinner is... surprisingly, not awkward.

But Will, of course, feels awkward anyway. Mostly because he can’t imagine a scenario in which he isn’t an uptight and graceless embarrassment in front of a significant other’s family, and so can’t help but view the whole evening through that particular lens, no matter what evidence to the contrary gets presented to him.

“So, how are you fairing so far this long away from an ice rink, Will?” Mr. Nurse asks him between bites of the takeout Indian food Mrs. Nurse brought home with her. Judging by the pristine state of the kitchen and the overflowing trash bin, takeout dinners are a staple around here.

“Oh. Uh. I’m alright.”

“Better than Derek then,” Derek’s mom smirks a little. She’s a head shorter than Derek’s father, but with a piercing gaze like she’s the one of the two of them to watch out for in a fight. Where Mr. Nurse is friendly, if a little devious, eager to push buttons, though never meanly, Mrs. Nurse is much more straightforward. She’s honest to the point of being overly blunt, but also easily finds the humor in any situation.

Derek rolls his eyes and responds while still chewing. “Don’t even start. I was way worse over Winter Break.”

“You were pining over Winter Break,” Mr. Nurse says. “It wasn’t the lack of hockey that made you insufferable during the holidays.”

Derek guffaws and Will nearly chokes on his rice.

“To be fair, sir,” Will dares to offer, once he’s managed to successfully swallow, “I spent most of Winter Break pining too.”

Derek’s parents laugh delightedly at that, while Derek just turns his head to stare at Will with wide eyes. Will focuses on his food and only glances over briefly, though long enough to see that Derek’s expression is soft and open and only for him. It makes Will’s heart stutter, but he elects to ignore it in favor of pretending to be a decent dinner guest.

“I can’t believe you found a boyfriend who’s just as much of a dork as you are,” Deedee says.

Derek pretends to throw his forkful of chicken masala at her. She lifts her chin primly and turns her gaze away, like she doesn’t have time for his antics.

Deedee doesn’t look anything like Derek, which threw Will off at first, though he’s starting to see the similarities as the night goes on. Physically she takes after their father, but her temperament and directness align more with their mom.

“I’ll have you know he’s even more of a dork,” Derek says, and it sounds like nothing more than a lame comeback, but he directs a fond side glance over at Will that makes Will’s cheeks heat with a blush.

Mr. Nurse must catch it, because his eyes suddenly twinkle with mirth. Any and all opportunities for chirping have the guy looking like a kid in a candy store. “Tell me, Dex,” he says, and Derek groans audibly at the use of the nickname. “Who made a move first? Did Derek finally get over himself? Or did you sweep him off his feet like the Hollywood ending he deserves?”

“Mom, stop him,” Derek pleads.

Mrs. Nurse adopts an expression that somehow clearly states that she has never met a single person at this table before in her life as she reaches for more naan.

Will looks around quickly for help, but finds only Deedee smirking at him like he’s a mildly amusing new pet. “I, uh.” He swallows. “It was kind of a joint effort? We’re better together than not, so. It was only a matter of time before we admitted that.”

There’s silence at the table for so long that Will starts to fidget, wracking his brain trying to figure out how exactly he’s fucked this up.

But when he finally looks up from the plate of food before him that he’s been steadfastly glowering at for fear of witnessing the judgement on anyone’s face, it’s to find all mirth in Mr. Nurse’s eyes gone and all reticence from Mrs. Nurse’s demeanor abandoned. Deedee is still smirking, but it’s a softer thing, her eyes on her brother like she’s seeing something there that she didn’t before and likes it.

Slowly, Will turns to regard Derek.

Derek, who’s got the same thunderstruck expression on his face he had when Will kissed him for the very first time. Derek, who’s half turned in his chair towards Will like he’s about to reach out for him and then drag him upstairs to his bedroom.

Derek, who, after catching Will’s gaze and offering up something grateful in his own, even if Will doesn’t feel like he entirely deserves it, reaches a hand over beneath the table to tangle their fingers together against Will’s thigh.

“Yeah. Basically,” he confirms easily, turning his levels of “chill” up to eleven.

Will doesn’t know who he thinks he’s fooling, as everybody at this table is familiar enough with Derek’s “chill” to see right through it.

But no one calls him on it. Mrs. Nurse smiles at Will with something like approval. Mr. Nurse nods, ducks his head, and then clears his throat and redirects his gaze to his daughter. “So how was band camp, Squirt?”

Deedee scowls and skewers her chicken with a vengeance. “Mr. Bowen is literally the worst.”

Mrs. Nurse hums disapprovingly. “We’ve talked about your liberal use of the word ‘literally.’”

“And I stand by its increasingly loose definition in modern vernacular. It conveys emphasis, mom.”

“It conveys a poor comprehension of the English language.”

Will tunes out the conversation, smiling down at his food, holding onto Derek’s hand with a firm, steadying grip.

***

They get ready for bed, and then climb in together the same way they started doing at the end of last semester at the Haus. It’s familiar enough despite its newness that Will doesn’t second guess himself through the entire process of changing, brushing his teeth, pulling back the covers and lying down beside Derek.

There are no intentions beyond sleep and being close to each other, and neither of them have tried to change that yet. Will almost doesn’t want to, for how safe and right this already feels.

“Are you going to tell me about it?” Derek whispers into the dark, his nose pressed against Will’s shoulder, his hair tickling Will’s jawline.

Will stares up at the dark ceiling and reaches between them to hold onto Derek’s hand. “Tell you about what?”

“About why you haven’t mentioned a single detail of your summer from the last couple weeks.”

It’s not that Will does this on purpose. It’s just that he’s his father’s son in this regard. Even the most important things in his life don’t always make it into words from his lips, but especially those things that involve emotion or vulnerability. Part of the reason he waited so long to tell his closest friends he was gay, even after he became comfortable enough with them and with the Samwell environment to do so, was simply because talking about these things feels like the opposite of natural.

Leave it to Derek to notice. Leave it to Derek to figure out the exact times when Will is not talking about something a little more than usual, but probably should be.

Will sighs softly and turns onto his side facing Derek so that he can fling an arm around his waist and pull him closer. “I thought I was going to punch someone the entire time I was home,” he admits.

“Just anyone? Or someone in particular?”

“I don’t know. I felt like I couldn’t breathe for two whole weeks. And part of that was because I, you know, I missed you. And Chowder and Bitty too, and the Haus and hockey and Samwell... But part of it was because I...” He trails off, struggling to find the words to describe what he’s been feeling.

Derek gives him time.

“I guess it just keeps occurring to me all over again that I will never be able to tell any member of my family about the most important things in my life.”

“And what are the most important things in your life?”

“Well. I mean. You.”

Derek freezes. Not going tense exactly, but so still that Will can feel more than hear him hold his breath. And can then feel him exhale it slow and soft against Will’s collarbone as he presses his lips against it in a lingering kiss just beneath it. He doesn’t say anything, but he doesn’t have to.

Will closes his eyes as Derek kisses the same spot again. And again. And then tilts his head up to kiss the side of Will’s chin.

They lie in silence for awhile, drifting slowly towards sleep.

After a time, Derek asks, “... Never?”

Will swallows, rough and painful. “Sometimes I want to. When I’m with you, I want to.”

“No pressure. You don’t have to.”

“I know. But if I’m honest with myself, I think that if I ever want to go home again and not explode, I’m going to have to.”

Derek hums in acknowledgement, because there really isn’t anything to say to that, is there? They both know there aren’t any easy answers to this one. They both understand the complication and struggle that is the part of growing up that means having more than one place to call home, and not quite knowing how to be yourself in both.

***

The first place Derek takes Will in Manhattan surprises the hell out of him.

“Uh. That’s the apartment building from Friends.”

“Well, the exterior shot anyway. Thought you might get a kick out of that.”

Will stares up at the familiar looking building for a moment, and then turns back to Derek with an annoyed huff. “You told me we couldn’t do any tourist stuff.”

Derek rolls his eyes. “I mean, we can if you’re that desperate to stand in long lines for a lame photo op. But this right here? The perfect compromise. I would even say genius. Because while you think we’re only here to gawk at some building from a TV show, we’re actually here for brunch.”

Brunch?” Will repeats, screwing up his face in distaste, and he swears he can’t help the judgement that comes out with the word. This is one of those little things he’s still trying to relearn his viewpoint on.

Luckily, Derek just laughs. “’Second Breakfast,’ then. Whatever. Let’s just go eat.”

Little Owl is small, and crowded, and urban hipster cute in that way that Derek seems to be most in his element in. Will studies the menu with a frown, internally debating whether he feels comfortable here or not. He likes the food options, and he secretly likes sitting at a table so small that it forces him and Derek to tangle their legs together beneath it and rest their elbows on it so close that their forearms keep brushing.

But he’s also not sure if he’s up to whatever standard of “cool” is the baseline for Greenwich Village.

Sure, there’s a lot more plaid going on here than he had originally anticipated, so his own blends right in. But looking around at everyone who seems so visibly comfortable, so confident, in their own skin, has him remembering all over again why Derek really shouldn’t be settling for someone like William Poindexter.

“I’m totally getting the avocado toast just to piss you off,” Derek snickers.

Will kicks him, and Derek laughs. Sometimes Will thinks that if he can just be the source of Derek’s laughter for the rest of his life, he’ll have at least made a dent in starting to earn the opportunity of getting to witness it.

“You do that and I’m getting the steak and eggs. And black coffee.”

“Oh my god, at least put sugar in it. You’re not a freaking lumberjack.”

“Too late, I’m into it now. I’m growing out a beard and building a cabin somewhere.”

“Give me your menu, I’m ordering for you.” Derek manages to swipe the menu out of Will’s hands just as their waiter approaches, and so Will doesn’t have a chance to steal it back without risking looking like a six-foot-two-inch five-year-old.

Derek does order for him, but Derek knows what Will likes, and they end up sharing their orders between them anyway, swapping out a piece of bacon for a cut of French toast, a bite of poached egg for a helping of potatoes.

It doesn’t occur to Will until they’re mostly done with their meal and Derek is trying to convince him to indulge in a mimosa that this is the first meal they’ve shared together outside of Samwell. The first time they’ve gone to a restaurant, just the two of them, since they started whatever this is.

“Is this a date?” he asks abruptly.

“No, this is brunch.” Derek smirks. But then he sobers a little and looks down, absently running his fork tines through his leftover egg yolk. “But, uh, I would like to do that. With you. If you want.”

“Oh. Uh. What does that... Or, I guess, what would that entail? What would it look like?” Will hedges, but he twists one of his legs around Derek’s beneath the small table so that their calves and shins are pressed tightly together.

Derek attempts a nonchalant shrug, missing by a mile but sticking with the act regardless. “Dinner maybe? Somewhere not too stuffy. And, like, maybe some obnoxious making out on the subway on the way home.”

Will smiles down at the leftovers of his own meal, ducking his head in the hopes that his reddening cheeks go unnoticed. It’s a moot effort. “I’d like that.”

“Oh thank fuck,” Derek sighs. Will looks back up sharply just as Derek is visibly shaking himself out of the beginnings of some sort of panic attack.

Alarmed, Will starts to reach out, but Derek holds a hand up and shakes his head. “I’m good. Promise. I’m just... I don’t know, relieved? I guess I keep thinking that the way our friendship has always worked is the way you want us to always work. And I get that, because our friendship is pretty fucking great lately, but I keep second-guessing myself about how much more than that you really want.”

Suddenly, Will doesn’t care about how well he fits into this environment, or how far from the standard of significant other he feels like Derek should have set for himself he falls short.

The only thing that matters right now is making sure Derek knows what Will has struggled with saying for these past several weeks.

“Nursey,” he says. Stops. Tries to ignore the way his cheeks and ears heat with what is probably a bright red. He swallows against all the words caught in his throat that would usually get in his way. “I want everything and anything you are willing to give me. All of it. I... I want all of it.”

Derek stares at him for a long moment, lips slightly parted. And then he leans forward suddenly. “How do you feel about PDA?”

Will blinks and sits back, startled. He’s never had a real relationship before, so he honestly doesn’t have an immediate answer to that. He thinks back over the couple weeks at Samwell after his and Derek’s first kiss, realizing that, though he never shied away from physical affection with him, it was always within the safety of their bedroom in the Haus. Or else it was all innocuous enough to be interpreted as nothing more than overly friendly.

“I don’t know. I guess, uh, within reason?”

“Okay, because it is taking every ounce of my willpower right now not to kiss you.”

Will releases a breathy laugh, and then glances around at the crowd of strangers in this restaurant. He feels his hands start to shake just at the thought of kissing Derek here, but he also feels a small thrill run through him. This may not be the safety of the Haus, or even of Samwell, but he can still have this here. He can have this. Even if he can’t have it back home.

“Well, what are you waiting for then?” He makes it a challenge, and Derek grins.

It’s a light, casual thing, Derek rising a little out of his seat to reach Will across the small table. It’s more smile than not, nothing particularly life changing, but Will can feel it in his toes.

He glances around as Derek resettles in his chair, and no one is paying them any mind. Even if they were, Will thinks, suddenly, that it wouldn’t matter.

“For the record, you can do that whenever you like. You don’t even need to warn me first,” Will tells him.

“Oh man, I am going to date you so hard, Poindexter. You have no idea what you’re getting into.”

Will smiles. “I can’t wait.”

***

Will isn’t avoiding his standard, bi-weekly phone call home to his mother, so much as he’s tried to put it out of his mind for the last few days so that he can focus on being here in New York with Derek.

Or, well, so that he can pretend the rest of his life outside of this bubble that is just him and Derek in the city doesn’t exist.

But it does. And he’s too pragmatic and practical of a person to be able to pretend for very long.

He waits until the house is empty and calls, and it’s fine. Until it isn’t. As per usual.

“You be sure not to wear out your welcome there, alright?” his mom tells him not five minutes into the conversation.

“I won’t.”

“And you’re paying your own way?”

He’s not, not really, but admitting to that would probably go over about as well as the coming out conversation would. He offered to pay rent when he and Derek were first discussing the logistics of the summer, and Derek had just looked at him like he was being willfully obtuse.

Still, he helps around the house as much as Derek’s parents will let him get away with. And he managed to come up with a toolbox from the back of a hall closet, much to Derek’s blatant surprise and then outright amusement, and he’s been making use of it near daily, since it appears Derek’s inability to tell a socket wrench from a hammer was inherited.

“I’ve got it covered.”

She’s quiet for a moment, and Will can tell she’s choosing her next words carefully, because he gets that familiar twist in his gut that’s half nerves and half resignation at waiting to hear whatever it is he’s done wrong this time.

“I’m glad you’ve made such a good friend. I was worried... Well. Not worried. You’ve always been fine on your own. But even in high school, you never brought anyone home, never talked about anyone...”

Will closes his eyes and focuses on steadying his breathing. “I’ve talked about Chris and Derek before. And Eric.” Not so much Bitty, though, because he could see the way his parents would tense a little at the anecdotes about baking, the way his brother would start gearing up for a snide comment the moment Will mentioned that figure skating move Bitty pulled out at a game...

His mom hums. “Not much, though. And never... You’re really not seeing anyone? You’ve been away three years now, but there’s no one who--”

“I’ve been on dates,” he interrupts, and it’s a testament to how desperate he is to end this conversation that he interrupts his mom. If she were in front of him she’d cuff him upside the head for it. “Just nothing serious. Nothing worth mentioning. I’m happy though. You don’t have to worry.” The first part is a lie, but the second part definitely isn’t.

“Alright, Baby,” she says easily, but she sounds as far away from convinced as there is to get.

He wishes he could tell her that there is someone. That not only does he have friends, he has someone he thinks he could maybe love--though god knows it is way too early to be throwing that word around, let alone thinking it--but he bites his tongue.

***

Chowder hangs up on them midway through the first time they Skype him. Derek looks so affronted that Will breaks down laughing and falls over.

“That was mad rude, yo,” Derek says with a scowl that’s mostly pout when they call him back.

Chowder rolls his eyes. “You guys were this close to just making out in front of me, and I don’t need to see that. Again.”

“We were not,” Will huffs. But he had been pretty close to kissing Derek. He’s only been here in New York a handful of days now, and the novelty of being able to actually reach out and touch Derek whenever he wants to has yet to wear off. He wonders if it ever really will. He can’t even begin to imagine ever not wanting to kiss him.

“You two are gonna owe so much in back due sin bin fines when we get back to the Haus. I’m totally keeping track.”

“We’re not that bad, C,” Derek tells him. He and Will are sitting on the floor in his room, their backs propped against Derek’s bed, pressed together from shoulder to hip. Derek’s laptop is sitting on his desk chair in front of them.

“You are exactly that bad. Maybe next time you guys should, you know, get it on before calling me and not wait until after. Like, get it out of your systems so I don’t have to suffer through the foreplay.”

Derek tenses at that, and Will shifts awkwardly, not exactly pulling away from him, but moving as though he will if Derek gives any indication that he should.

Chowder notices something off and frowns, but is good enough not to comment. God bless Chris Chow, seriously. “Have you settled in alright, Dex? I kinda wish I was there just so I could see how exactly you fit into Manhattan.”

Will shrugs, because the truth is that he doesn’t think he does "fit into Manhattan." He’s enjoyed himself so far, though that enjoyment has mostly come simply from his proximity to Derek. But he’s yet to feel like he belongs. Or like he’s worth enough as a person to warrant staying in this expensive brownstone, wandering the city with a guy who could be an underwear model, not a single responsibility tying either of them down.

But Derek relaxes and leans back to throw an arm around Will and pull him in all the closer. “You’d be impressed, C. Our boy hasn’t grumpy old man’d me once since he got here. He even kept his mouth shut when we were stuck on the subway for half an hour between stops yesterday.”

“Oh shut up,” Will rolls his eyes and gives Derek a half-hearted shove. “And stop using ‘grumpy old man’ as a verb.”

“I stop doing that and I’m going to have to start using Poindexter as a verb instead, which I’m betting you’re going to like even less.” Derek’s eyes twinkle with the joy of their antagonistic version of flirting.

Will feels something suspiciously like delight emanating from his own features.

Chowder groans. “You guys are doing it again. Don’t make me hang up twice.”

It’s easy, after that, to not talk about the one awkward moment. The tension that ran through both of them. It’s as easy as it’s ever been for them to not talk about shit that they both know they should. Will is especially adept at it, and it’ll probably take Derek actually calling him out on it, much like he did that first night in New York, for Will to correct the issue.

***

Mrs. Nurse works at a large publishing house, which Will knew from the small talk over dinner the last few nights. What he didn’t know is that Derek’s summer internship is at the same place.

“It’s chill,” Derek shrugs as he gets ready for his first day there, pulling on a shirt, frowning at it in his full-length mirror, and then shucking it in search of another one. “Doesn’t pay anything, but it’s good experience. And thankfully I’m not anywhere near my mom’s department, because she’d probably work me harder than anyone else just to prove a point.”

Will is sitting on the bed, still in just his boxers and undershirt. The plan for today was to go scout out a few leads he has on part time work. Nothing fancy, just something to bring in some money and occupy his time until he hears back from the internships he applied for. He knew Derek was going to be busy with the start of his own internship today, but didn’t know Derek secured the job because of family connections.

For the briefest of moments, an irrational flare of anger hits Will.

He recognizes immediately that it’s uncalled for, and he hates himself for it as soon as it rears its ugly head inside of him. It’s not even a conscious decision to be mad, but rather a hair trigger response to the fact that someone could just walk up and get the job of their dreams simply because of who they know or how much money they could throw around.

But that’s not what Derek’s done here, and Will knows that. Knows that this is all rooted in his own feelings of inadequacy and shouldn’t be taken out on the people around him.

And, thankfully, he’s grown enough over the past three years to recognize this fact and rein in his emotions before his mouth does something stupid like voice them.

Unfortunately, he doesn’t quite force his brain back to logical thinking in time for Derek not to look up and notice something’s wrong. “Hey. What’s with the face?”

“No face. I just didn’t know where your internship was going to be at. That’s awesome, man. Nepotism is always a solid career move.” He means it as a joke. Even tacks on an awkward laugh at the end. But as soon as he says it he realizes that it’s not going to be taken that way.

There is a moment where time seems to stand still... and then come suddenly rushing back with a deafening vengeance.

“What.” Derek’s tone is cold and devoid of any sort of inflection. His expression is the same, dead-eyed and passive to the point of not even being an expression.

Will stands up from the bed abruptly. “No, wait, that was a joke. I didn’t actually mean--”

“But part of you did.”

No. Like, for a split second I was just--”

“I need to go or I’ll be late.”

“Derek, I didn’t mean it, I swear.”

But then Derek is out the door and Will feels a lead weight drop into his gut. Did he just ruin everything already? He only just got here, and now...

For a long time Will just stands there, frozen, staring at the door that Derek didn’t even bother to close as he left. Silently vacillating between panicking and hating himself.

Finally he reaches for his phone to text Derek another apology, but everything he comes up with feels too inadequate, nothing all that different from what he already said aloud before Derek left.

Will wonders if he should set himself up in one of the guest bedrooms. Whenever they had a fight back at Samwell, they were still able to share the same room, but that was because they had separate beds to retreat to.

Maybe he should head home?

He debates over it as he goes about his day as if nothing happened. Derek’s parents are both at work, Mr. Nurse a partner at a law firm, who’s so high up the food chain he never sees the inside of a courtroom anymore. Deedee is at bandcamp. It’s tempting to just stay inside this big, empty house and wallow all day, but Will pushes himself to go outside and explore the city. Put in a few applications for minimum wage spots at a couple hardware stores, and then wander Central Park aimlessly, lost in thought over how he can make things right. If he even can.

When he gets back to Derek’s place, he fully expects to find his duffel bag in the hallway outside of Derek’s locked bedroom door. But it’s not there, and the door is wide open, Derek sitting on the edge of his bed inside like he was waiting for him.

Will isn’t going to waste the opportunity. As soon as he steps inside, the words rush out like he’s been barely holding them in all day. “I’m so sorry.”

Derek sighs and runs a hand down his features. He looks tired, but not in a way that can be helped by a good night’s sleep.

“Listen, Will.” Shit, bringing out the first names means this is serious.

Will starts to fidget. He doesn’t know how breakups work, but he’s betting that if it happens the conversation is definitely going to start with a solemn ‘listen, Will.’

“You know I’m qualified for the job, right?”

“More than qualified. Derek, I know you are and I’ve never doubted that. I wasn’t thinking.”

“The thing is...” Derek trails off and sighs again, and then looks up at Will with large, vulnerable eyes. “My entire life, no matter how hard I work for something or how much I’ve earned the right to it, there’s going to be people saying it was just luck, or affirmative action, or nepotism, or... whatever. I need you to not be one of those people. I... I need you to be the person who tells me I deserve it.”

This hits Will like he’s just been checked into the boards hard enough to leave him sprawled out on the ice afterwards. He supposes he always vaguely understood that being in a relationship meant that he had to step up his game as far as emotional support, which is something he’s never been particularly good at, but this is the first time it’s felt like a real, tangible and important goal that he should strive towards.

This is the first time it’s fully occurred to him that this is his role now for Derek--he’s not just his teammate anymore, and that means something--and this is what he needs to do in order to be any good at filling that role.

Will swallows and steps forward, stopping at Derek’s knees, not quite entering his space yet. “Alright,” he says decisively.

Derek looks surprised, and Will hates that he’s ever given him cause to be. “Alright?”

“I want to be that person. You should have a boyfriend who is that person, and I want to be it.”

Derek stares at him for a long moment, looking a little floored. And then he reaches out to pull Will into him with both arms around his waist, burying his face in Will’s abdomen.

Will curls down to wrap his arms around Derek, and cards his fingers through the short hairs at the back of his head.

“We need to go on that date already,” Derek mumbles against Will’s shirt.

“Oh yeah? Why’s that?”

“Because I have so many embarrassing emotions I keep wanting to admit out loud and there’s no way I’m doing it before we’ve even started actually dating.”

Will laughs. “At this rate, Chowder’s never gonna stop hanging up on us.”

Derek pulls away just enough to look up at Will. “And you are exactly as much at fault for that as I am, bro. I’m not the one who just whipped out the ‘boyfriend’ label without any warning.”

Will blushes. “Oh. Um. Did you want-- I mean, we don’t have to--”

“No, no, I want. Definitely want. I am 100% on board with getting to call you my boyfriend.” The way he says it sounds startlingly possessive, and Will feels a sharp thrill at that. He never thought that would do it for him, but apparently Derek thinking of Will as his is pretty damn heady.

Will places a hand at Derek’s neck, the warm skin soft against his palm. Grounding. “Say it again?” he asks, a whisper.

Derek grins, like he knows exactly what Will is thinking and feeling.

“My boyfriend,” he says, and then lower, nuzzling into Will’s hip, “Mine.

***

Will ends up getting the internship at the small startup in Brooklyn that he outwardly claimed was his last choice because it didn’t pay anything, but secretly was genuinely excited about. It’s interesting work is the thing, the one place that offered real hands on projects rather than a credit on a resume while Will was made to just order coffee and hand out mail.

An auto shop in Queens hires him part time, mostly just for cleanup duties and the occasional oil change, but it’s steady money for work he could do with his eyes closed.

But between that and Derek’s own busy schedule, they end up rarely seeing each other during the day. They get home in the evenings around the same time, clean up and sit down to dinner with Derek’s family. Then put Netflix on in the background as they get ready for bed and fall asleep to whatever show they’ve decided to marathon next.

They wake up together every morning, and every single time Will blinks open his eyes to the sight of Derek’s curls smashed into his shoulder and the feeling of Derek’s arm slung around Will’s waist, is like some kind of small miracle.

He lives in fear of doing or saying something that might break this spell.

Unfortunately, all this means that there really isn’t much time for sight-seeing or for any more lazy days like they had his first week here, the kind that start with brunch and end with getting stuck in a broken subway car.

Will has nearly forgotten that Derek wants to take him out on an actual date, figures they’ve settled into a decent routine that doesn’t necessarily need to be disrupted. It’s good. It’s surprisingly easy. Will feels lighter than he has since... well. Ever.

But then one weekend, Derek’s parents take Deedee with them for a visit to some extended family in DC. Derek and Will both have work, and can’t make the trip with them, which means they have the house to themselves, and it feels kind of intimately domestic. Just the two of them, cooking and eating meals together. Catching up on their laundry while listening to, and bickering about, the podcasts on Derek’s phone.

“You wanna go out tonight?” Derek asks him on Saturday. He sounds casual enough about it, but when Will glances over at him he looks a little nervous.

As if Will would ever refuse him. It’s getting harder and harder for Will to deny Derek much of anything. He’s just lucky Derek never asks him for something he didn’t already overwhelmingly want to give.

“Dinner?” Will clarifies.

“Yeah.”

“Sounds good.”

It all feels just slightly too good to be true, though the gentle ribbing Derek keeps dishing out reminds him that it is. This is Will’s new reality. A boyfriend and dates and casual PDA and a night to themselves, making out on the couch while whatever movie Will has honestly forgotten all about plays in the background.

It all comes crashing back to reality when Derek slips a hand beneath Will’s shirt and murmurs in his ear a breathy, “Let’s go to bed.”

Will freezes. Only for a moment, but he knows Derek’s noticed when he stills as well and pulls his hand away.

“I didn’t necessarily mean...” Derek starts to backtrack, sitting back to give Will space.

“No, it’s fine. We can...” Will tries to amend at the same time.

And it is fine. He’s just having a mild, internal freakout, and from the looks of things Derek is having one now as well.

They really need to talk about this already. One of them is going to have to be an actual adult here, suck it up and just admit to being nervous and inexperienced.

“I want to have sex with you,” Will says in a rush. “If that’s something you also want. But if it’s not, that’s fine too. I like what we’ve been doing, if that’s all we ever do.” He hesitates, swallows, and pushes through his embarrassment. “But also I’ve basically been in the closet and repressing so much shit for so long that my experience level is at, like, zero. You were actually my first kiss. So. There it is.”

Derek looks slightly taken aback. “Okay. I, uh. It is something I want. I just.” He fidgets. “The thing is, I’ve only actually been with girls. Er, one girl. Back in high school. So... yeah. We’re kind of in the same boat.”

Will breathes a sigh of relief, less because of Derek’s shared inexperience, and more because the way he says it, and the expression on his face, makes Will feel like they’re a team. They’re partners in this.

It’s the most comforting thing Will could possibly hear right now, and he suddenly has no idea why he was scared to face this next evolution of their relationship.

Upstairs, in Derek’s bedroom, they undress down to their boxers and makeout lazily on the bed. There’s no urgency to it, no pressure. Will feels like whether they go any further than this tonight, or ever, doesn’t really matter now. He’s half hard, but it’s not something he necessarily needs to do anything about if Derek doesn’t want to.

“We’ll get there,” Derek murmurs in the dark. “I like taking my time with you. This feels too important to rush.”

“Yeah,” Will whispers back. And he smiles into Derek’s bare skin as they fall asleep.

***

Derek’s family seems to like Will alright. There are a lot of friendly smiles during conversations, and a few surprised but pleased looks whenever he notices them watching him interact with Derek.

But there are also some thoughtful looks as well, mostly from Derek’s dad, and some more calculating ones from his mom. Will doesn’t ever feel unwelcome, but he does feel like he isn’t what they were expecting Derek to bring home.

Also, he can sense the judgment whenever he breaks out the toolbox, or gets to work on cooking a meal or doing the dishes before anyone else has the chance to.

Or, well, maybe not judgment, but he’s definitely being regarded with something akin to curiosity and laced with concern. Like they don’t understand what he’s trying to prove, but don’t want to hurt his feelings by mentioning it.

The thing is, Will isn’t trying to prove anything, so much as he’s just trying to earn his keep in whatever ways Derek will allow him. If Will isn’t useful, then what good is he? Who would put up with him if he didn’t at least come with a few handy skills and a decent work ethic?

They seem to strike a balance pretty early on, with Will doing what he can, where he can, around his internship and his part time job, and Derek gently chirping him before his parents can comment whenever Will goes a little overboard.

So Will isn’t expecting it when he gets cornered by Mr. Nurse in the kitchen while making a pie as a desert for after the takeout Mrs. Nurse is picking up on her way home from work.

Derek is upstairs in his bedroom reading, after Will kicked him out of the kitchen for trying to help too often. Will isn’t even sorry for it, since Derek definitely knows better. Bitty has a standing rule about exactly what things in his kitchen Derek is allowed anywhere near, and Will feels like enforcing that in every other kitchen is only prudent, and will save them a heck of a lot in emergency room bills.

He’s regretting it now, though, as Mr. Nurse sidles up beside him and steals a blackberry with that same smile and twinkle in his eyes that his son definitely inherited, and that often allows him to get away with murder. “So.”

Will is not fooled by that smile, especially when the man’s tone of voice suggests that Will is about to get trapped in a serious conversation.

Mr. Nurse gestures at the pie crust Will is rolling out. “Derek says you learned to do this from your Captain?”

“Eric, yeah. He’s a lot better at this than I am, but he taught me the basics.”

“Looks like you’ve got a handle on more than just the basics. And, let me tell you, we’ve all been grateful for it these past few weeks.”

Will braces himself. “I sense a ‘but’ coming up.”

Mr. Nurse’s smile turns a little gentler. “But,” he concedes with a nod. “You know you don’t have to do this, right? We’re happy to have you here. I don’t want you to feel like you owe us anything for the room and board.”

“But... I do.”

“You’re a guest, not a tenant, Will. If Derek wants you here, then you’re here. If you’re with him, then you’re family.”

Will looks away, jaw clenched tight. He wants Mr. Nurse’s words to feel as comforting as they’re obviously intended to be, but the doubt in him overshadows all else. He knows he’s not good enough for Derek, that it’s only by some miraculous fluke that Derek wants him back, but surely Derek’s parents must be able to tell that their son deserves better.

“That’s kind of you to say, but I’d feel better if I could contribute. I know that, I’m-- I’m not what you wanted. Derek says he’s never brought anyone home before, and I know you thought it wouldn’t be someone like me. I can tell.”

“You’re not who I pictured for him, no. But I don’t mind being wrong.”

Will swallows thickly. “What did you picture?”

He shrugs a little and steals another blackberry. “Someone calmer, I guess. Derek gets so caught up in his own head, I figured he’d need someone quiet, someone soft, to settle him.”

“Yeah, that’s... definitely not me.”

“You ground him in other ways. You’re steady. Solid. It’s not what I ever thought he’d be looking for, but honestly, now having witnessed it, I think it’s even better.”

He sounds certain, but Will doesn’t know if he can make himself believe the words or not. Maybe with time. He nods tightly, and Mr. Nurse takes it at face value. He claps Will on the shoulder, and then leaves him to his baking.

That would probably be the end of it, Will continuing on as he has since he got here, except that Mr. Nurse obviously sold Will out to his son and told him about their conversation, because Derek hovers over him in bed that night with a serious expression.

“At the beginning of the summer, when I told you what I needed from you, what I needed you to be for me as my boyfriend, I never... I should’ve asked then, because you’ve never actually told me what you need.”

Will shrugs. “I’m lucky I get anything at all from you. I’m not gonna push my luck by requesting more.”

Derek frowns. “You get to ask for things, too. You’re not any luckier than I am in getting to be together.”

Derek must be able to tell that Will doesn’t believe him, because he frowns harder and reaches down to place a hand on Will’s chin to hold him in place and maintain eye contact. “Hey, listen to me. I value you and I love you. Whether or not you can fix a damn toaster.”

Will’s breath hitches. “You...”

“I know it’s still early, but I needed you to hear that. You don’t have to say it back, or--”

“I love you, too,” Will interrupts.

Derek pauses, like his brain has stalled on the words, and then his face lights up. “Well, good. Now quit acting like I’m only in this for the free home maintenance. You matter to me.”

It’ll probably take more than the one conversation for it to really sink through Will’s thick skull and permeate a lifetime of insecurity, but in the moment it feels like enough. It feels like he’s exactly where he belongs. Right here, right now... he fits. He’s enough.

***

Hot June days bleed into each other, and towards the end of the month Will is starting to feel... settled. Not necessarily at home in this city, but at least more comfortable with himself than he ever felt back in Maine.

More than that, he’s comfortable with Derek. The nerves and awkward tentativeness they both felt at the start has faded into a healthy give and take. The thing is that they’re friends, first and foremost, and Will is starting to realize that that won’t ever change.

He wakes up every morning pressed close to Derek, he kisses him goodbye as they finish their coffee over the island in the kitchen and Derek’s family is busy around them getting ready for the day.

They manage to get the same handful of days off just as this year’s Falconer’s playoff run comes to a disappointing close, and make plans to go visit Jack and Bitty in Providence.

The four of them get dinner together, and then eat their weight in pie back at Jack’s place. Jack seems so much looser and happier than the Captain Will remembers from his freshman year. He wonders how much of that is the Stanley Cup, how much of that is being out, and how much of that is just Bitty.

He wonders when and how he himself started to think of being in love as being the more meaningful of those three things, and if Jack feels the same.

Bitty knows about him and Derek, as Will told him over the phone earlier in the summer after checking with Derek about it, and so Will sort of took it for granted that that meant Jack knew as well. But then Jack is offering the option of either an air mattress or the couch in addition to the guest bedroom, and Derek is hesitantly looking to Will for his cue as to how to respond.

Will just frowns, confused, not getting it at first. “We’ll be fine with the one bed?”

Jack blinks, startled. “Oh. Alright.”

Bitty smiles widely, though it’s nothing compared to the blinding grin Derek shoots him.

“We’re not keeping this a secret, are we?” Will asks later, when they’re in bed and staring up at the dark ceiling. Derek’s arm is flung across his waist, Derek’s forehead resting against his shoulder. “Us, I mean. The whole boyfriend thing. Are we supposed to be keeping it a secret?”

“Not a secret, no. But I haven’t exactly been shouting it from the rooftops. I wasn’t sure if you wanted to be, you know, out.”

“We have literally been on multiple dates at this point. In public.”

“Yeah, but strangers aren’t the same thing as the team. They’re not the same as your family.”

Will ducks his head to the side and presses his face into Derek’s hair. “No. I guess they’re not,” he says quietly. “But I want to tell people. I don’t want to hide. At least, not at Samwell.”

“Okay, good. Me neither.” Derek smiles against Will’s bicep, and Will feels the familiar joy of being the one who put that smile there. He doesn’t think it will ever get old, or ever feel any less like one of the major accomplishments of his life. Hockey, and college, and making Derek Nurse happy.

***

As the summer winds to a close, Will is looking forward to returning to Samwell and knows Derek is too. What he’s not looking forward to are the handful of days he’ll be back home before then, ostensibly to say goodbye to his family and pick up his truck, since he’ll now, finally, have a parking spot for it at the Haus.

Not that he’s going to tell his mom that when she brings it up on the phone a week before he’s set to return.

Maybe he doesn’t hide his dread well enough, though. And maybe that’s why his mother says what she does, hoping it will make him feel better about it.

Instead it makes him feel like a bucket of ice water just got dumped over his head. And the feeling lasts all the way through their brief goodbyes, until he’s standing in the bedroom doorway looking at Derek.

“Mom wants you to come with,” he says, a little numb, phone still in hand and hanging loosely at his side.

Derek frowns up at him from where he’s been reading on the bed. “What?”

“She wants you to come back to Maine with me, when I go pick up the truck and drive it back to Samwell.”

“Wait, really?”

“Yeah. She...” Will runs a hand down his weary features in frustration. “She says she wants to meet my ‘best friend.’”

“Oh. Shit.”

Will doesn’t realize his hands are shaking until Derek approaches him and takes them both in his own. “Hey. Will. It’s gonna be okay. You’re gonna be okay.”

Derek pulls him fully into the bedroom and shuts the door behind them. He huddles in close, pushing Will gently onto the bed and wrapping himself around him.

“I think I need to not think about this right now,” Will says, shutting his eyes tightly against whatever emotion this is. It feels like a lack of emotion, like a hole where emotion should be.

“Okay. Yeah. What do you want to think about?”

He draws in a deep breath and opens his eyes. “You,” he says plainly, and then kisses him. “Just you.”

It begins a little thoughtlessly. Will loses himself in kissing Derek, and he doesn’t even realize they’ve progressed to lying vertically with hands wandering beneath shirts until Derek pulls away for a second, out of breath, and asks, “Yeah?”

Will nods. And from there, it’s so much easier than they’ve been making it out to be.

They fumble blindly, and then the fumbling turns into something more determined and in sync. They know each other too well for inexperience to get in the way, have always had a physical awareness of the other even back when they didn’t like each other. Derek sits up to peal his shirt off and toss it aside, then runs his hands up and under Will’s shirt, pushing it off of him and into the pillows above them.

It feels like falling. Like he’s no longer in control of himself, and can only let gravity do its thing, pulling him down down down into Derek, for as long as Derek will let him.

Will digs his fingers into the meat of Derek’s back, and slots their hips together harder than he intends, but it still feels amazing.

“I love you,” he says.

Derek tries to say it back, but the words get lost in another breathless kiss.

When their clothes are off, everything heats up fast. The hard, thick line of Derek’s cock is more of a surprise than it should be as Derek shamelessly grinds up against Will’s hip. Will returns the favor, seeking friction with a desperation he didn’t know he had in him.

Derek flips them over so that Will is beneath him now, but then his body is suddenly gone.

Will blinks dumbly up at the ceiling, until he feels a kiss against his abdomen and looks down.

“Can I?” Derek asks.

And Will tells him “yes” because, fuck, Derek can do whatever the hell he wants right now and Will would thank him for it.

Derek takes him into his mouth, and Will sees stars.

As soon as he’s able to get his bearings enough to form any word beyond Derek’s name, he places his palms on either side of Derek’s jaw and nudges just enough for Derek to lift off. “Can I do this to you, too?” Will asks.

“Do you want to?”

“I really really do.”

Derek’s pupils are blown even wider. “Oh wow,” he breathes, a little wondrous. And then he lowers his head back down and starts all over again. It’s messy and without finesse, but Will thinks he might just pass out in the next sixty seconds from how good it feels.

He manages to pull Derek off in time to come across Derek’s collarbone as Derek pants against his abdomen.

It takes a minute. But Will never forgets a challenge, never forgets a plan, and will always tackle every project he’s given with the same unwavering attention to detail.

Will’s knowledge of the act is limited to porn and what he’s just been given. He analyzes Derek’s dick for a moment as if it were an appliance with an instruction manual, and then he puts his mouth on it and does his best.

“Holy fuck,” Derek whines, and then groans, the words a muffled shout that would have been louder if not for his right forearm held against his own mouth.

Will has only occasionally fantasized about putting his mouth on someone else’s dick. And only once before this about someone’s dick in particular. Thinking about the whole idea of a blow job in general has always seemed like so much whatever, but this...

He licks up one side of Derek’s cock, suckles at the head, and then dips back down to do it again from another angle.

The idea of this has never been a turn on before. But little has, really. Now that he’s here, now that he’s been given free rein to take Derek apart with his hands and mouth, it’s like nothing he could have possibly imagined.

Will thinks he could come again just from sucking Derek off. Or maybe he could turn them over and have Derek finger him open until he’s ready to...

Derek comes with Will’s name falling from his lips, just as Will is pulling away. It makes a mess of his chin, which is... strange, but Derek takes one look at him and groans again like the sight of Will right now could kill him.

Later, after they’ve cleaned up, and have started to get used to lying together with so much bare skin exposed to touch, Will finally admits what he couldn’t before. “I do want you to come home with me.”

“Okay,” Derek says, like it’s that easy. “Then I’ll come home with you.”

“But I don’t want to lie to them about you.”

“Then don’t.”

“It might end up being a very short trip if I don’t.”

“Then it’s a short trip. We go up, we come back, we get on with our lives. You still have your scholarship whether they like it or not, and you can stay with me for the holidays.”

Every holiday?” Will asks skeptically, because that’s a lot.

Derek nuzzles his nose against Will’s temple, and unabashedly squeezes Will’s ass. “Every single fucking one.”

***

In the harsh light of day, Will knows that he doesn’t want to make the trip back home at all if it’s only to be sent away again.

And he doesn’t want to spring this confession on his family without giving them time to adjust, especially if it means Derek might get caught in the crossfire.

He doesn’t want Derek to be put in the position of having to be polite to people who will be less than that back to him. Will can take it, he’s used to it, but there’s no way he’s bringing Derek into that.

So he calls his mom. He concentrates on just breathing, sitting on the floor with his back against the closed door, while Derek’s out picking up breakfast.

“I talked to Derek about visiting. But I wanted to make sure it was still okay.”

“I wouldn’t have invited him if it wasn’t, Baby.”

“I know. I just.” He shuts his eyes tight. Breathes in deep through his nose and out through his mouth. “He’s my boyfriend.”

Silence.

Will pushes the knuckles of his fist harder into the rug. He breathes in and out once more, silently counting the seconds that each action takes. He swallows back bile. “So. Yeah. I wanted to make sure it was still okay.”

He can hear his mom’s shuttered exhale. And then, so soft it’s nearly a whisper, “It’s okay, Will.”

Will refuses to cry.

It’s okay,” she says again, a little more firmly.

“But Dad...” Will manages, voice choked.

“Don’t worry about him. Come up and see us. Bring your friend. I mean... Bring Derek. Don’t worry about your father. It’s okay.”

Will feels breathless and hollowed out. He doesn’t feel relief at her response, or even at getting the weight of this confession off his chest. He just feels wrung out and vaguely disbelieving. Like he can’t quite trust what his mother is telling him, but doesn’t have the words to explain to her why.

“Alright. I should... Derek will be back soon, so I should...”

“But you’re coming, right? Will, you’ll still--”

“Yeah. I... I have to go.”

He hangs up. He’s never hung up on his mom before, wouldn’t dare, but it seems like such a weird thing to suddenly be panicking about considering the conversation he just had. He should call her back and apologize, and he almost does. But then can’t. He just... he can’t. His bravery for the day has been tapped. He’ll be lucky if he can even face another human being for the rest of the damn day, let alone talk to them.

When Derek returns, Will is still sitting on the floor with his phone beside him. Derek stares at him for a long moment, and then drops the bag of food in his hands and sits down with him. He gathers Will up in both arms from behind, wrapping his legs around his waist, until Will is pretty much covered by him. A human blanket of solid, steadying muscle and comforting warmth. Derek’s chin is hooked over Will’s shoulder, their temples pressed together.

Will sighs. “How do you do that?” he murmurs.

“Do what?”

“Make everything better just by being here.”

He feels Derek smile, lips brushing against Will’s cheek. “It’s my super power. Slowly but surely making William Poindexter unclench. Maybe by the time we’re eighty you’ll finally have relaxed a little.”

Will half-heartedly swats at Derek’s side for that. And then curls inward so that he can burrow a little further back into Derek’s arms.

“Are we still going to Maine?” Derek asks, after a long silence.

“...I think so.”

***

The summer comes to a close. Maine gets closer and closer. Derek doesn’t seem as worried about the trip as Will thinks he should be.

“I know you’ve got my back,” he shrugs, like he’s just that certain that Will wouldn’t let anything happen to him, whether a punch or a dirty look or anything in between.

And Will realizes, with a start, that he’s confident of that as well. He knows, beyond a single shadow of a doubt, that he’ll defend Derek against the entire damn universe if he has to.

Will stands up from the desk where he had been working, approaches where Derek is sitting on the bed reading, and reaches out to place a hand on either side of Derek’s face. Derek looks up, puzzled.

“I love you,” Will says.

Derek grins. “See? You’ve got me.”

“I got you.”

“And I’ve got you right back.”

And then it’s time to leave New York, and Will feels simultaneously like this summer has matured him by years, but also like it wasn’t nearly long enough.

It’s a short flight. An even shorter cab ride from the airport to his childhood home.

He’s not ready.

As soon as Will gets out of the cab, the front door opens and his mother is stepping out to meet him. She pulls him into a strong embrace the moment he reaches her, holding on tighter and for far longer than he’s used to from her.

Will releases a held breath and holds onto her right back. Relief floods him, muscles relaxing that he didn’t even realize he’d been holding so taught.

“I was worried you wouldn’t come,” she says quietly.

“I was worried you wouldn’t want me to.”

She pulls away, but puts a hand on each of his biceps, squeezing. “Then you’re a damn idiot.”

A startled laugh is punched out of Will, and he’s still got the smile on his face when Derek approaches.

“Um. So, this is Derek,” he awkwardly introduces.

“Pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Poindexter.” Derek offers a hand to shake, his expression that pasted on charm that most people fall for but that Will has learned to see right through.

His mom looks like she might be able to see right through it as well. She’s always been naturally able to read people, and honed the skill all the more by having to deal with all the preteen bullshit in her classroom on the daily. But she shakes his hand and smiles politely. “I’m so happy to meet you, Derek. I’ve heard nothing but good things.”

Derek laughs. “Then I don’t know who you’re hearing them from, because it’s definitely not Dex.”

“Hockey nickname,” Will explains, before she has a chance to ask. And then shuffles from foot to foot with nerves. “Is Dad around?”

“Still at work. And,” she pauses, pursing her lips and wringing her hands a little. “Connor’s staying with your Uncle Samuel for the weekend.”

A cement block drops into Will’s gut and he feels suddenly cold. “Oh. Right. Uh. Probably for the best.” He swallows, and is almost too scared to ask, “But Dad...”

Derek reaches between them and grabs hold of Will’s hand in a tight grip.

“He’ll be home from the shop for dinner. He’s excited to meet Derek.”

“Somehow, I don’t quite believe that.”

She huffs an exasperated breath. “He may be bad at showing it, but the man is actually capable of having an emotion or two other than general grumpiness.”

Derek chuckles beside him. “So that’s where you get it from.”

Will turns his head to face him and scowl. “I swear to god, if you pull the grumpy old man routine here, I’ll--”

“Shut up, you love me too much to actually kill me.”

Will sighs and rolls his eyes. “Yeah, I guess that’s true.”

When he looks back at his mom, her eyes are a little watery and her smile is small but startlingly genuine.

They make their way inside and up to Will’s old room to get settled in while Will’s mom works on dinner.

The air mattress is already made up beside Will’s bed. A pointed, awkward reminder, that however accepting his mother is, she’s still... working on fully getting it. He’s pretty sure that if he had brought a girl home, his mom would be making Will sleep on the couch, while the girl got his room all to herself.

It’s definitely easier for him and Derek to get away with secretly sharing a bed this way, but Will doesn’t know how he feels about the fact that his mom is treating Derek’s visit like she does when Will’s cousins sleepover, rather than how she did when Connor’s last girlfriend spent Thanksgiving with them.

“She’s trying,” Derek says lowly, somehow reading Will’s mind and placing a comforting hand on his shoulder.

Will nods, already determined to accept his family’s acceptance in whatever ways they’re willing to offer it. There’s room to grow, sure, it’s just gonna take some time. “She is,” he agrees.

“I’m sorry about your brother, though.”

Will shrugs. “To be honest, it’s probably for the best. I was kinda expecting to get cold clocked the moment he saw me.”

Derek’s jaw goes tight, and there’s a fury in his eyes that he never lets the rest of his features express. “He’d have to get through me first.”

The smile that tugs at Will’s lips is small and a little sad, but genuine. He reaches out for Derek with both hands, tugging on Derek’s shirt until they’re pressed close. “Derek,” he says softly, and Derek immediately softens in his arms. “If you think for a single second I’d let my brother’s fists get anywhere near you, you’re an idiot.”

Derek smirks a little. “I honestly can’t tell if you’re being stupidly romantic, or stupidly stubborn.”

“Probably just plain stupid. You kinda have the effect on me.”

Derek leans in close and breathes a soft, “Hey.”

“Hey yourself.”

“I love you.”

It’s been rare that he’s gotten to hear it from Derek, and it still sends a chill down his spine.

***

Dinner is awkward. Will was expecting as much, but it’s still hard, pressing through the stilted conversation and tense silences.

His dad isn’t... unkind. But he’s never been a talker, especially in the face of things he feels uncomfortable with. So he focuses on chewing his food rather than trying to converse with any of the rest of them. And Will’s mom fumbles enough that she often stops, mid-sentence, to change the subject to something that she can actually speak knowledgeably about.

Derek is a charming and charismatic saint through it all.

Will is going to give him the orgasm of a lifetime the moment he gets him alone.

But, before that, while Derek volunteers to rinse plates and load the dishwasher, and Will’s mom stares at Derek like she can’t believe she already likes him this much, Will heads to the den after his father.

This needs to happen. He won’t be able to come back home again until it does.

“It wasn’t Samwell,” Will blurts out, the moment he finds his dad alone. The man is scanning through DVR recordings of missed football games to save, and very obviously debating with himself which hockey games to bother with.

Will’s father’s brow furrows in mild confusion as he turns to face him. “What?”

“The school didn’t turn me gay. I know what you’re thinking, and it wasn’t the school. It didn’t change me, I was already the way I am before I ever got there.”

The silence that follows is long and pronounced. Until Will’s dad stands up from out of his recliner. “I know that.”

“But you’re always saying...”

“It did change you. But it made you...” He struggles for words for a moment. He’s not good with them. Actively hates them most days. And has never made an effort to change that fact.

But he’s clearly trying to find the right ones now.

“You were always so sad as a kid, Will. All that anger your mom and I tried to get you to put into hockey, it was always so-- so desperate. It wasn’t like with your brother. You weren’t lashing out because you didn’t care, it was because you were hurt. And I never knew how to...” he trails off with a frustrated exhale, like he’s upset that he can’t find the perfect way to phrase what’s on his mind.

This is already more sentences than Will has ever heard his father string together in a single sitting.

“When I say that school changed you, I mean that I’ve been seeing less and less of that sad kid ever since you started going there. It’s a good thing, Will. Even... Even if I don’t entirely understand it.”

Will refuses to cry.

He shakes off the impulse and steals the remote out of his dad’s hand, selecting the last unwatched Falc’s game, though he already knows they lost that one. “You’re really not...” He doesn’t want to be an ass about this, but he needs the both of them to be completely clear with each other if he’s really going to let himself start breathing again while at home. “If you’re upset with me about this, I need you to tell me. Please.”

His father studies the floor for awhile, chewing over his own words.

When he looks back up, he looks as stubborn and determined as Will can often get. As much as they don’t understand each other, they are so similar that it should be a moot point, and only isn’t due to that shared stubbornness.

“Derek is... a surprise,” his Dad says. “But it’s not my place to dictate who you... Who makes you happy.”

“I love him.”

His dad nods once. “Okay.”

Will feels something essential in his head and in his heart--something he hasn’t been able to get a good look at until he, now, finally, lets himself--slide into place.

He breathes.

***

The Haus is still standing when Will and Derek return to it. Whatever blood sacrifices were required for this to be the case, Will doesn’t want to know.

The dynamic is different now, with Bitty, Ollie, and Wicks now gone. But it feels easier and more familiar than Will was expecting it to be. The Tadpoles are burning Texas Toast in Betsey 2.0. The Waffles are playing Telephone over something Jack might or might not have implied the last time he visited. Ford is talking to herself while staring at the whiteboard they use to remind everyone of the practice schedule.

“I was thinking we could sell the bunkbeds,” Derek says, as they begin to unpack their things.

Will freezes in confusion for a long moment. “Okay. Why?”

“So we can get a queen. Or a king. Or a double, or... Come on, Dexy, don’t tell me you haven’t thought about it, too.”

He has. But he’s been trying not to. Because deciding to do this leads to a lot of unhappy what-if’s.

Will clears his throat and sets the shirt he was folding aside. He gathers his courage and looks up to meet Derek’s gaze head-on. “What if we break up?” he asks, attempting to hide how scared of the idea he is behind his usual dryness.

Derek doesn’t fall for it. His gaze softens, and his overly casual shrug looks rehearsed. Like he’s been going over variations of this conversation with himself in the mirror for a while now. “Doesn’t mean I’ll stop having your back. Doesn’t mean I’ll stop being your friend.” He pauses, and then, says as earnestly as Will has ever known him to allow, “Plus you’re never getting rid of me, so good luck even trying.”

Will snorts and rolls his eyes. “You sap.” But he knows his teasing tone comes out just as much relieved as not.

“You’re even worse, Bro. Don’t front.”

Will is poised to argue that, but his phone starts vibrating in his pocket. When he takes it out to see that it’s his mom, his entire line of thinking gets redirected to reminding himself not to be scared.

There’s no need to be scared. She told him that. But still.

“You got there alright?” is the first thing she asks.

“Yeah.”

She’s quiet for a moment. “It’s just. You didn’t call.”

And Will thinks of their usual “Call me when you get there,” version of I love you. He thinks how, even after this summer, nothing about her love has changed. It’s still as steady. It’s still as true.

“Sorry,” he says. And then, through the sudden lump in his throat and the reluctance in his nature: “I love you, too, mom.”

He can hear her suck in a shaky breath. Hear her take her time to compose herself into something she thinks Will wants.

“Alright. Well. Tell Derek he’s welcome here at Fall Break if he likes. I... I’m glad. That you’re happy.”

Will draws in a deep, fortifying breath, and then locks his gaze with Derek’s when he says, “I’m happier than I ever imagined I could be, honestly.”

She hums in acknowledgement. And then, quietly, somewhat choked, “Baby, you should’ve been imagining yourself as so much happier than you thought you deserved... God, if I knew...”

But she trails off, and Will doesn’t want to push.

“I love you,” she says, suddenly. Definitively. “All of you.”

Will closes his eyes. “Thank you,” he whispers.

***

Hausgiving this year only happens because the Frogs, the Tadpoles, and the Waffles all simply assume it will. None of them have ever known a Samwell that doesn’t have a Bitty.

Will wakes up earlier than anyone else that morning, carefully extricates himself from out of Derek’s arms, and heads downstairs to survey the kitchen. He puts on a pot of coffee, assembles all the ingredients for stuffing on the countertop and then eyes them critically from over the lip of a steaming mug.

Bitty’s absence from Will's side is pronounced, but Will doesn’t feel as bereft as he was expecting.

There’s a plan in place for tackling the food, and he has all the recipes printed out, even though he doesn’t really need half of them. He made the pies the day before, and the turkey has been fully defrosted.

He can’t be everything Bitty was, of course. But he’s got Chowder for the good cheer and Derek for the moral support. He’s got Ford for the life advice and he’s got Louis for the playlist. He’s got a little family here, and they have each other’s backs enough that, for once, he doesn’t think he’s going to screw this up.

Derek enters the kitchen just a few minutes later, still bleary-eyed with sleep, and promptly steals Will’s coffee. Will seamlessly turns back to the coffee maker and starts pouring another cup.

“Told ya you’d kill it,” Derek says with a nod towards the turkey Will’s been prepping.

“Day’s not over yet,” Will shrugs, but there’s no real weight behind his words. He feels like he’s got a handle on this. Like he’ll actually even have fun while doing it.

Derek smiles. “But you know you don’t have to, right? You know we’re all still gonna love you if you just suddenly say ‘screw Hausgiving,’ and let our heathen teammates fend for themselves.”

Will smiles. “I know,” he says softly. And then he turns back, to keep working on the stuffing, and tells Derek, going for casual and probably missing the mark. “You’ve been sleeping better.”

“Yeah, well, I got my secret weapon.” Derek leans in and kisses Will’s cheek messily, playing it up, until Will has to shove him away with both hands.

“Seriously. I’m glad.”

“Thanks.” Derek's tone turns a little more serious. “I think it’s an anxiety thing. But having someone close, having you close, settles my nerves. I’m not, like, cured. But it helps.”

Will nods and continues working. By early afternoon he’s got most everything ready to go for when their friends start to arrive. Derek and Chowder have set up camp at the table near him, pretending they’re helping, but really just throwing cranberries at each other when they think he’s not looking.

They’re interrupted when a dejected looking Tango appears in the doorway to the basement. He huffs a sigh, looking lost. “I think I broke the dryer.”

Will can only shake his head, because of course Tango did. One of them was bound to eventually. “I’ll take a look at it after break,” Will tells him.

“But... laundry,” Tango says back, helplessly.

Derek looks to Will with a raised eyebrow, like he’s just waiting for Will to magically whip out his toolbox so Derek can chirp him for it.

Instead, Will rolls his eyes. “We can put a line up for now. It’s not a big deal, Tango.”

Derek startles visibly at that, and just stares at Will for a long moment. Finally, he grins. “This is gonna be a good year.”

Will was already smiling, but now he makes sure Derek can see it. His happiness on display like a badge of honor. “Yeah. This is going to be a good year,” he repeats. And means it.