Will refuses to call time of death on the Haus dryer until the replacement arrives.
“We can just hang a line up for the next few days. It’s not a big deal, Dex,” Chowder tells him, not unkindly, from the top of the basement stairs as Will adds yet another layer of duct tape to the machine.
“You’re wasting your breath, C.” Will can just make out Derek’s voice from somewhere behind Chowder in the kitchen. “If Poindexter admits defeat, he might lose his precious dibs.”
“That’s not how dibs works, Nurse!” Will shouts up at him.
He knows that’s not how they work, and he knows Derek knows it too. Derek’s just trying to get under Will’s skin. All the same, there’s still a tiny voice in the back of his head asking, but what if?
The semester’s just ended, and Lardo has already moved out. The trio of “OG Frogs” have only stuck around campus this long so they can be here for Jack’s #KupDay. After that, they’ll all part ways and head home for the summer.
It’s stupid to even be worried about the damn dryer in the meantime, or to worry that Lardo will text them out of nowhere that she’s changed her mind about her dibs and that they’ll instead be going to Derek alone. It’s stupid and irrational, but here Will is anyway, struggling to make a decade-old dryer turn on.
Derek ignores Will and continues addressing Chowder instead. “You know if he doesn’t play Haus Handyman twenty-four/seven he’ll combust, bro. Aside from the hockey, it’s the only reason we keep him around, right?”
“Nursey.” There’s warning in Chowder’s tone, but Will doubts it has much effect.
It’s not like Derek’s wrong, anyway. Will knows his place on the team. Knows he walks the razor’s edge between being, in some small way, necessary, and being easily discarded.
But he grits his teeth and focuses on the task at hand, rather than getting sucked into arguing with Derek about the intricacies of dibs bylaws.
He used to like arguing with Derek.
Even if he’d never admit it.
Most of their arguments never really feel like fights, per se. At least, not since that first semester of their freshman year. Once they found their footing with each other, once they figured out the other’s buttons and settled into a routine of prodding at said buttons, the arguments started to feel more like... verbal sparring. A sharp-edged game of banter. Like maybe one of them should be keeping a scorecard.
Derek’s the only person Will has ever met who, right from the get go, refused to pull his punches in conversation with him. He went in swinging, put his whole self into every single thing he heatedly threw at Will, and part of Will lit up at the unspoken permission for him to do the same in return.
It baffles the rest of the team, and Will wonders if it’s even something Derek is fully aware of himself.
But there’s an amused glint in Derek’s eyes whenever he puts on his fake chill mid-conversation in order to rile Will up all the more that tells Will he’s not off base with the feeling being mutual.
“I don’t understand why you don’t just sit in a different row on the bus,” Bitty told him last semester, as they stood side by side at the Haus kitchen counter, kneading bread for PB&J’s the morning after a roadie.
“Oh, sorry, Bits, are we being too loud? I didn’t know it was bothering anyone.”
Bitty shook his head, like Will was being a self-sacrificing idiot. “No, Honey. It’s just that you two have been sitting together on roadies since your frog year, and I don’t know if one the alums made you think that was required for defensive partners, but it isn’t. You can choose to sit somewhere else, Dex.”
“I know that. I’m okay sitting next to him.”
Bitty frowned. “But all you do is wind each other up.”
Will had no idea how to explain himself, and so he just shrugged and kneaded a little harder, until Bitty was more concerned with correcting his technique than talking about the nuances of his friendship with Derek.
The thing is... It’s fun. Will refuses to admit that out loud, but he can at least admit it to himself now. His and Derek’s back and forth settles something in him he can’t define. It’s freeing. With everyone else, even Chowder, Will constantly holds himself back just enough to keep from saying or doing something that he fears will have them walking away from him for good. But with Derek, he knows they’re on the same page. Bruises fade. You don’t get into the ring unless you know how to take a hit just as well as give one.
And then the Dibs Flip happened.
Since then, the arguments have started to feel like fights again.
They’ve started getting mean.
Will knows it’s his own fault. But every time he has the urge to make an attempt at smoothing things over, Derek finds some new way to provoke him. And Will reacts before his brain is able to catch up enough to rein in his temper.
Neither of them are very good at taking a step back. Even if they show it in different ways, Derek getting increasingly more chill to compensate, and Will getting increasingly more irate.
It’s a rough few days, and he can tell that Chowder isn’t very happy with either of them.
The new dryer arrives, miraculously, before the old one completely gives out, but it doesn’t feel like the small victory Will was hoping it’d be. And he leaves Samwell for Maine, too preoccupied with dulling his emotions enough to deal with home for the rest of the summer to think all that much about the nosedive his tentative and unspoken friendship with Derek has taken.
This is mostly on him. He gets that.
But it’s a slow trudge through learned behaviors. An uphill battle out of childhood defense mechanisms.
The only things on his mind as he stares out the window of the train that will take him up to Portland is whether his dad will be there to greet him, or if he’ll send a text at the last minute, like he always does, to let Will know an Uncle is coming to pick Will up from the station instead.
Whether his brother, Connor, will find a way to make fun of him for it, or decide he doesn’t care enough to bother even speaking to Will.
Whether the odd jobs and insane hours for minimum wage will be enough to keep him from thinking and feelings things he knows he’s not allowed to think and feel while back there.
Being back in the same house as his brother gives Will some perspective. The two of them have never had to share a room, but they see each other often enough that Will’s constantly on edge, and he doesn’t want to have that feeling follow him back to Samwell. He doesn’t want to live where he isn’t wanted. Or, at the least, tolerated beyond cold glares and derisive remarks.
So he sends Derek a cursory text in late July with a simple, but, Will thinks, perfectly acceptable and upfront apology.
Hey man, sorry for being an ass about the roommate situation. See you in a couple weeks.
Derek’s response back is an immediate, lol bet I get you to move out by the end of August.
They don’t text again after that.
And the first couple months of cohabitation are... rocky. At best.
They spend their time either fighting or avoiding each other, with no in-between in sight. Even Chowder, after about a week or so of this, starts pointedly ignoring the both of them.
“This isn’t you guys just arguing anymore and you know it,” he tells Will during one of the rare moments Will manages to catch him alone.
“Of course it is, Chow. We’ve always--”
“No, you haven’t, and no, it’s not. It’s you guys being petty and childish. You know how to be in the same room as him, I’ve seen you do it. Hell, you were almost friends before the stupid coin toss. But you’re both choosing not to behave yourselves anymore because you’re both being stubborn assholes about the whole thing. Grow up.”
Chowder’s not wrong.
It’s not like he and Derek hate each other anymore. They just get under each other’s skin like no one else in the entire rest of the world can. But at this point in their college careers, having spent so much time together, that isn’t as much of an issue anymore. They know how to deal.
But they haven’t been.
So... “grow up,” huh? He supposes if anyone would know about maturity, it’s Chowder, who makes Dean’s List every semester, has been in a committed relationship with his significant other for longer than any other member of the SMH team, and who came back from summer break looking several years older and ten times hotter without his braces.
Will doesn’t have high hopes for accomplishing the feat, however. What with Derek being just as likely to play the “quit hitting yourself” game at team breakfast with him, as Will is to purposefully leave his dripping coffee cups on top of the chicken scratch of Derek’s notebook papers whenever he’s feeling particularly bitter.
They’re both kind of dicks, even on their good days, and not just to each other. Curbing that behavior might be asking for more than either of them are honestly capable of.
“I meant that apology, you know,” Will tells him the next time they’re alone together and haven’t started shouting yet.
Derek doesn’t even bother to glance up from the pie he’s stuffing his face with at the Haus kitchen table. He goes so far as to pull his phone out and start going through texts he’s already read just to drive home how little he cares to have this conversation.
Will sighs. “Seriously. I was an ass. This is me saying I’m sorry.”
“You’ll have to be more specific, Poindexter. You’re an ass more often than not.” He still doesn’t look at Will as he speaks around a mouthful of cherry filling.
“Oh for fuck’s sake, Nursey, you know what I’m talking about.”
“Whatever, man. It’s chill.”
“But it’s not! I messed up. I’m not... Okay, look. I’ve never had to share a room before. I lucked out with a single in the dorms, and the idea of sharing space with someone who... who could judge me in that space, someone who I’d probably always have to be on my guard around, it freaked me out. The idea of being, like, vulnerable or whatever, in front of another person every single day and night, it’s... It’s god damn terrifying to be honest. And so I flipped out. That doesn’t excuse anything, but I swear I didn’t mean half the shit I said, and I’m sorry.”
Derek is definitely looking at him now, eyes wide. “Well shit, I think that’s the most words you’ve ever said to me without yelling.”
“Yeah, and I’ve definitely just hit my limit, so don’t expect too many more from me for a while.”
Derek bites his lip against what Will suspects would have been a smile, and it makes something in Will’s chest feel a touch lighter, though he can’t explain why. “Alright. Apology accepted. I can understand the freakout in that context.”
“Thank you. It’s just.” Will sighs. “There’s a reason I’d rather find a thousand roaches in the attic rather than a person.”
“You worried I’m gonna smother you in your sleep, Dexy?”
“Well, now I am.”
Derek snorts unattractively. Or, rather, it should be unattractive, but somehow Derek Nurse can make even coming down with the flu look pretty. “Okay, chill. Seriously, I get it now. I mean, let’s be real, of all the people you might be worried would give you a hard time about stuff when you’re vulnerable, I’m probably at the top of the list.”
“You basically are the list, Nurse.”
Derek laughs, and then shrugs as if to say, “Yeah, but what can ya do?”
Will rolls his eyes and steals a piece of Derek’s pie crust on the way to the fridge.
Things don’t magically get better after that, but they do calm down a bit. Will and Derek start to just flat out ignore each other rather than fight. Which isn’t the most amazing progress, but at least they can both be in their bedroom at the same time without it devolving into something worryingly close to tilting over the edge into physical blows.
It’s on a random afternoon when Will realizes that somehow “ignoring each other” has become less a cold shoulder routine and more simply living in each other’s presence without making a big deal about it.
The revelation shouldn’t catch him as off guard as it does, but it makes him pause. Because what if there was never any real judgement to worry about all along? What if they can be around each other, can be their honest selves in the other’s presence, and the demons in Will’s head need not apply?
Let Derek be Derek, and Will can be Will, and it doesn’t have to turn into a fight over which way of existing is more valid.
Will looks up from the homework he’s doing at the desk to see Derek intent over his own homework on the top bunk. “Hey.”
Derek hums, distracted, eyes scanning the end of a paragraph before he raises his head to meet Will’s gaze. “’Sup?”
“This is nice.”
“What is? Cramming for my stupid eight AM?”
“No. This.” Will waves a hand, vaguely gesturing at the room as a whole, and then at the space between the two of them. “I don’t know, I just-- I think we’re gonna be okay.”
Derek stares at him blankly for a long moment, and then a slow smile starts to tug at his lips. “You going soft on me, Poindexter?”
Will shrugs a shoulder and turns back to his homework in order to hide a half smile of his own. “Nah. Just finally realizing that it doesn’t have to be as hard as we keep making it.”
“Bro. That’s almost poetic.”
Will rolls his eyes. “Me figuring out that not wanting to strangle you with my bare hands takes less effort than actively plotting your demise is hardly poetry.”
“Personal growth then.”
“Maybe,” Will concedes with a tilt of his head, but he doesn’t really feel any more mature now than he was an hour ago, despite the implications of his conversation with Chowder. He still thinks of the name Derek Nurse and is immediately and profoundly annoyed. But he no longer feels compelled to act on that annoyance.
In what Will considers to be a minor miracle, it does start getting better between them moving forward. And better, and better, over the course of the semester, gradually growing into a kind of friendship that Will no longer has the urge to preface with a, “well, more like frenemies, but I guess if I were being generous...”
It occurs to him that this might be because Derek was always ready to turn over a new leaf with him. That he was ready for their friendship to grow, to evolve, far sooner than Will was.
Maybe Derek’s just been waiting for Will to give him a reason to bother.
Derek is not Connor, Will silently tells himself, explicitly acknowledging the fact for the first time. Derek likes to poke at Will, but only for fun. He doesn’t do it maliciously.
And once Will stops reacting to him the way he would to his brother... things improve dramatically.
It’s not as though they start going out of their way to be nice to each other. But they do step up their game in little ways that the other guys on the team probably don’t even notice, but that mean something pretty big when all added up.
Derek grabs an extra muffin from Annie’s to bring back to Will whenever he stops by the place.
Will saves him a slice of pie whenever all the SMH members who aren’t Haus residents descend on Bitty’s most recent baking efforts.
Derek stops trying to hide his laundry in with Will’s, and instead occasionally adds some of Will’s in with his own.
Will starts simply rolling his eyes and gathering up Derek’s dirty dishes that somehow accumulate all over their dressers and desks, instead of immediately shouting about it.
They still argue as much as they ever did, but it’s their usual kind of arguing, with none of the harshness of the last couple months. It’s the secretly fun kind that Will has been desperately missing.
Their arguments do start to end differently, though. And Will can’t say he’s complaining about that, even if it does leave him a little bewildered and at a loss as to how to interpret the strange warmth in his chest that starts blooming as a result.
Because they don’t end anymore with Will still angry. They don’t end with him needing to go on a run through campus to work off the last of his frustration, or with the both of them silently deciding to spend the next several days at opposite ends of the team breakfast table.
No, now they end with Derek laughing. With Will groaning into his pillow before throwing it at him. With one or the other of them rolling their eyes and then offering to pull up something on Netflix that they both actually agree on.
Now they end. Instead of lingering in the back of Will’s head for hours afterwards, half of him entertained and oddly satisfied by the banter, and half of him too keyed up to let himself interact with other people for the rest of the day.
“Oh, wow,” Chowder says when he enters their room through the shared bathroom and stops short, moments after Will and Derek have stopped yelling at each other about the number of vegetables on a pizza that would make it be considered a salad.
They’re now plopped down on the floor, backs against the side of the bottom bunk, watching Netflix on Derek’s laptop.
Lately it’s been a lot of Friends. They’ve been making their way through all of the popular nineties sitcoms, since Will has only seen a couple episodes of each, and Derek is basically an expert on all of them and likes to quote memorable lines along with the actors on screen.
They both look up simultaneously at Chowder’s presence.
“Hey, man,” Will offers, just as Derek gives him a, “Yo, C.”
Chowder blinks. “Did I pass through a portal into another dimension?”
“Uh, probably not?” Will responds as Derek reaches over to press pause on the episode. “Did you wanna watch with us?”
Chowder stares at them for a second longer, still processing what he’s seeing, and then draws in a deep breath and smiles. “Yeah, sure. ‘Swawesome.”
He sits down on the floor on the other side of Derek and they resume play.
“Okay, so why is this one of your favorite episodes?” Will asks idly after a few minutes.
“Because it’s OD hilarious is why. Hashtag New Hausgiving Tradition.” Derek smirks a little when Will scowls at that, obviously having intended the reaction, though he keeps his eyes trained on the laptop screen as Joey continues gesticulating with a turkey over his head.
“I think a better tradition might be figuring out how Hausgiving is even possible once Bitty’s gone.”
Derek whips his head to the side sharply to stare at Will, like he’s startled by the idea of a life without Bitty there for them. It’s a long moment before he’s able to shake it off and feign chill again, and he smirks a little to really sell it. Like he’s fooling anyone. “Don’t worry, Poindexter, we all know you got us covered.”
And then it’s Will turn to be surprised, eyebrows rising up to his hairline. “Oh you do, do you?” he questions, because as useful as he likes to make himself, as useful as he needs to be in order for anyone to keep him around, he has no chance of learning how to fulfill Bitty’s role in the Haus.
Stepping into those particular shoes would be a tall order for anyone, but Will even more so. How could he possibly take over any kind of leadership or caregiving role when he’s... Well. Him.
“Don’t front, bro, I know you made rhubarb pie the other day because I literally ate the entire thing. Also you made a chore chart.” Derek turns his head slightly to level Will with a look. “A chore chart, Poindexter. I think you’ve got next year’s Hausgiving in the bag.”
Will sputters a little, trying to come up with the words to argue this. But his brain keeps catching on the fact that Derek thinks it at all. That he thinks Will’s really capable of stepping up like that.
Finally, he manages to clear his throat and choke out a stilted, “Don’t get too excited, Nurse, I’ll be putting you on dishwashing duty.”
But Derek grins in response, like that’s the best thing Will could have said. It’s more than a little stunning, and Will has to look away, back to the laptop screen, for fear of being blinded.
He can feel Chowders eyes on the two of them, but he elects to ignore it.
Hockey this year feels different than it has in the past. Maybe because Will and Derek are more comfortable and confident in their positions on the team now as upperclassmen. First line this year, and with the well-practiced skills to justify it.
But they’ve always been good on the ice together, if Will is being honest. Even when he was practically tearing his hair out over Hall and Murphy always pairing him with the one person on the team he couldn’t stand, some part of him knew that they played well off of each other.
They were always in sync on the ice. Just never in sync off of it.
Now that the latter is starting to not be quite as true, their hockey has gotten better as well.
“Hey 24! Your boyfriend’s still checking like a fucking princess!”
The trash talk from rival teams doesn’t improve, though. If anything, Will finds he understands it even less than he did before.
Before, back when he was an eighteen-year-old with a chip on his shoulder and locker room experiences that were nothing like what he’s seen at Samwell, he would’ve gotten right back in this Harvard douche’s face with some choice words of his own. Would’ve earned himself a few judgmental looks from his teammates for it, and a disappointed look from Bitty and Shitty that he knew in the back of his head, even then, that he deserved.
Now he just huffs and heads to the bench for a line change, unimpressed and frankly fucking tired of how it’s always the same bullshit, no one on the teams they face ever acting like they actually care about what their words might mean.
Will didn’t use to care either. But he also didn’t want to. It was easier that way.
Right now, however, he’s considering dropping gloves the next time he’s back in the game. Being ejected for having Derek’s back, though he knows he should be smarter about this, has a certain appeal.
“Here.” Derek hands him one of the two bottles of Gatorade in his hands, and then they both tilt their heads back and squeeze several gulps into their mouths at the same time.
This, at least, is nothing Will has trouble understanding anymore. If anything, he understands it better. He and Derek have always worked in tandem. Their physical awareness of the other borders on the inexplicable, like their bodies knew each other before their heads ever cared to bother.
But maybe their heads are finally getting into the game as well, Will thinks, while watching Derek check Harvard douche into the boards once they’re back on the ice, hard enough that the guy has some trouble getting up and staggering his way to the bench.
And then Derek turns, skating backwards, half so he can keep track of the puck, and half so that he can grin at Will, clearly pleased with himself.
Will honestly can’t help the grin that immediately appears on his own face in response.
A grin that will, apparently, come back to bite him in the ass.
“You’re smiling again.”
Will spares a quick glance away from the notes he’s taking on his laptop at where Chowder is sitting beside him in the lecture hall. “Huh?”
The professor pulls up a new PowerPoint slide and Will goes back to typing.
“You’re smiling. Again,” Chowder repeats, and Will can hear the delight in his voice without having to look at his face to see it beaming at him.
“Shut up, I am not.” He’s not. Really. The edges of his mouth were curling up slightly at the thought of the team’s win last night, and the assist he got off Derek that helped them do it. But it wasn’t really a full smile, and it’s gone now anyway so he can scowl at his keyboard after having misspelled several words in a row.
“It’s just, you’ve been doing it a lot lately, and I don’t think you’ve noticed.”
Will huffs. “If this dumb conversation is the reason you miss out on half the lecture, I’m not letting you borrow my notes.”
“Rude. I bet Katie’ll give them to me. Or Austin.”
Or any single other student in this class since everybody loves Chowder and Will can’t really blame them. Well, except for right now he can. Right now he wishes he had the freedom he does in the Haus of pulling the guy into a headlock and tickling his sides until he starts crying from laughter and yells uncle.
Will sighs, long suffering, and glances sideways again to see Chowder watching him carefully. His expression is blank, but there’s a twinkle in his eyes. “What exactly are you getting at here, Chris?”
“I just like it when my friends are happy. And...” He trails off and shrugs. “I don’t know. I guess I wasn’t ever sure that you were before.”
Will bites the insides of his cheeks in order not to respond, because he doesn’t know what that response would be and he’s worried he’d regret it.
Instead, he forces a small smile, claps a hand on Chowder’s shoulder, and returns to taking notes.
He’s not sure what to think of Chowder’s comment. It’s not that he hasn’t been happy, because he has. Really. When he scores a goal or aces a test or Bitty makes his favorite pie... He’s been happy.
But he’s never really been able to translate happiness into something anyone else can see. Too used to keeping his head down and his emotions to himself, the urge to hide everything, including rare moments of joy, that might make someone dismiss him is so ingrained now it’s like breathing.
He can be useful. That’s the part of himself that makes anyone bother to keep him around, he’s certain of it. But being happy? That’s never been something he considered relevant to anyone’s opinion of him.
Will’s own happiness isn’t worth advertising if there’s just as much a chance that his friends or family will leave him because of it as there is that they’ll magically decide to let him stay.
It’s late into Autumn, the first snowfall just around the corner but not quite there, and Will’s general annoyance with Derek starts to become a reluctant fondness.
Anymore, there’s a bitten-back half smile whenever Derek slings an arm around Will’s shoulders on a walk to class and loudly talks about the “dopest” passage he just read in the book he’s holding. Or when Derek takes off his green baseball cap to shove it backwards onto Will’s head, saying that the color combo with his hair makes it feel like Christmas, and then darts away laughing before Will can tackle him.
But it isn’t just the fondness that’s new. Will starts noticing more about Derek that he would have stubbornly ignored in the past.
The way Derek is always wide awake well after Will has gone to bed, but also always up before Will in the morning, bags under his eyes most days that he tries to cover with a charming smile and a clever conversation misdirect.
The way he doesn’t initiate any flirting at parties, just rolls with whoever’s throwing themselves at him this time with a forced calm, and ultimately finds an excuse to retreat, shoulders a tight, uncomfortable line that probably no one would notice if they weren’t looking for it.
Will seems to always be looking for it lately. For the extra coffee Derek always buys and always forgets to drink halfway in, left on a windowsill or a shelf. For when Derek still scratches sometimes at the new ink on his bicep without realizing he’s doing it. For the lost pens, so many lost pens, that Will starts hunting down like he’s recovering things far more precious and valuable than cheap, twenty-four-to-a-pack, Bic’s, their ends covered in teeth marks where Derek’s chewed at them.
He doesn’t really do this with his other friends is the worrying part.
Will isn’t the kind of guy who notices all the little details about other people. A line of code or a broken appliance, sure, but with people he’s generally pretty oblivious to anything that isn’t spelled out for him.
Maybe it’s a consequence of their delayed friendship? Will hasn’t really had close friends until Samwell, and all the ones he’s made here were pretty immediate. Bitty might be an exception to that, but Will still liked the guy within about an hour of knowing him. He was just... confused by him. And maybe a little scared.
And so maybe finally getting to know Derek after more than two years of thinking he knows Derek is fueling this weird new impulse?
At any rate, Will is starting to believe, not just that this tentative idea of friendship might actually work, but that it might last. That it might solidify into something that allows him to let another person get as close to the real him as he lets Bitty and Chowder.
Then Winter Screw happens.
Neither he nor Derek have dates, mostly because they’re having too much fun setting up the tadpoles and the waffles with theirs to bother with their own.
Not that Will has ever brought a date to Screw before. His freshman year was a crash course in finding all the ways to turn down blind dates and set ups without admitting to the real reason why.
Half of that reason was that he wasn’t ready to admit that his only known preference was men. The other half was that there was very little “preference” going on for him at all. He’s been attracted to people before, but only once was he attracted to someone to the extent that he felt he might want to act on it.
He didn’t, though. And it eventually went away. And... Well. He hasn’t been inclined to investigate the intricacies of whatever it is he should identify as. He gets turned on easily enough, but it’s rare that he ever thinks about doing something about that with anyone other than his own hand.
The guys on the team seem to think that he’s just too much of a stick in the mud to bother with romance, and too singularly focused on school and hockey and practical things to bother with casual sex.
They’re only sort of right, but Will is in no hurry to correct them. At least they don’t try to find him girls to chat up anymore, and generally leave him alone about it.
Derek, of course, always has a date to Winter Screw. Even if he never seems very interested in making that date last. He’s easily distracted, especially in a crowd, and will get caught up in hanging out with other friends halfway through the night, not realizing his date has left him for her own friends until hours later.
This year, they’re both solo. But they go to the damn thing anyway for the free booze and the opportunity to record as much blackmail material as possible for next semester. Will is never going to have to wash dishes again thanks to how much of a lightweight both Whiskey and Hops are.
“Ten bucks says Bitty and Jack show up after all,” Derek murmurs around the lid of his cup, and then downs the rest of whatever he’s been drinking all night.
“Incognito, though,” Will mutters back, leaning in, their shoulders brushing as they hold themselves up against the far wall. “Totally thinking they can get away with it without a Swallow cover spread.”
Derek snickers, and then procures yet another drink from god knows where. “Neither of them are that slick. Ten more bucks says the cover spread happens.”
“I refuse to take either of those bets.” Will downs the rest of his own drink and smirks. “But let’s go see if Louis will.”
“Heh, he totally will. Let’s up it to fifty bucks.”
If Jack and Bitty do end up showing, no one successfully spots them. Luckily, Louis is too much of a disaster drunk to remember any bets won or lost while inebriated.
“I’m telling you guys,” Derek slurs a little and hiccups. “Louis Patrol needs to be a thing.”
“It is a thing. You’re just too busy still pouting about Nursey Patrol to notice.” Will is pretty sloshed himself at this point, but at least has the presence of mind to grab them both some waters and steal the rest of Derek’s punch from him when he’s not looking.
Derek does indeed pull off an impressive pout at this statement, crossing his arms over his chest. And then he abruptly uncrosses them and spins them wildly when he starts to lose his balance.
Will laughs until he nearly falls over himself.
They only leave once their suitably embarrassed and/or satisfied underclassmen start trickling off. Chowder and Farmer left a couple hours ago, because they’re the kind of couple that knows how to have fun with the gang for exactly the right amount of time before retreating to more private and probably more fun activities.
Not that Will is jealous. He’s never really even thought about wanting that for himself. Never considered it would even be an option.
He and Derek stumble back to the Haus a little unsteadily, but they get there with far fewer scrapes and mishaps than what might have befallen them a year ago. Will isn’t sure that’s what maturity actually looks like, but right now he’ll take it.
Will undresses down to his boxers and dives into his bed like it’s a life raft.
Derek, of course, takes several more minutes to fumble his way down to boxer briefs and a T-shirt, needing to fully sit down on the floor to wrestle with his pants and socks.
When he stands back up, he sways dangerously, and Will nearly gets back up out of bed just to stop him from face-planting.
Thankfully, Derek successfully rights himself, his glossy eyes taking stock of the bunkbed situation he is now faced with. He’s obviously too drunk to make it up the ladder to his bed, which is not unusual. It’s happened before, during a few kegsters. Ordinarily he just grumbles and pouts unintelligibly at the offending ladder that he can’t make his limbs climb, and then grabs a pillow and blanket so he can camp out on the floor.
Tonight, however, he doesn’t even bother with the grumble-pout.
Tonight, he shrugs a shoulder, and then slides right into Will’s bottom bunk after him.
Derek doesn’t seem to notice. He buries his face into the same pillow Will has his head on and he throws an arm over Will’s chest.
“Nurse,” Will croaks, a choked whisper.
Derek just grunts and burrows in a little further, his nose brushing against the back of Will’s neck.
Will can feel his cheeks, ears, and chest heat with a hot blush. And his skin was already pretty red from the alcohol. “Derek,” he tries again, but his voice is still too low, the word barely making it out.
He doesn’t understand why his body isn’t cooperating with the idea of just shoving Derek away. Or why the idea barely even occurs to him.
Blame the alcohol, he decides. He’s nowhere near as drunk as Derek, but he’s not exactly sober either. This is all just... dumb drunken bullshit. It doesn’t have to mean anything.
Derek exhales a soft sigh as he falls entirely asleep, and his breath is a comforting warmth down Will’s back. Against his better judgement, he allows his shoulders to relax under that warmth, and his eyes to drift closed.
This is obviously all a problem for Sober Will to deal with. And he’s out like a light within seconds of reaching that conclusion.
Sober Will very much hates Drunk Will.
Luckily, Derek’s gone by the time Will wakes up, and he isn’t around for the first few minutes of the morning during which Will tries and fails not to have a slight meltdown in the shower.
The Haus is still silent around him, and the kitchen is empty when Will goes downstairs to put on a pot of coffee.
He stares at the photos that cover the refrigerator while he waits for it to be ready. A couple years ago Lardo acquired an old Polaroid camera along with enough film to let the boys go nuts with the thing, and the collage of pictures on the fridge is the end result. They read like a story if you know how to look at them.
There’s Jack and Bitty, over and over again, well before they were Jack and Bitty. There’s Holster loudly holding court at a Kegster while several freshmen back away, terrified. Ransom tossing a Frisbee around at Lake Quad, oblivious to the growing number of admirers who’ve stopped to ogle. Shitty in his underwear with a joint in one hand while his other gestures wildly at the LAX house across the street.
There’s Will and Derek and Chowder, always a trio amidst it all. Always together even when it’s obvious they’re each engaged in different conversations or different activities. Even still they hover close to one another, and a part of each of them is always in frame when either of the others are the focus of the shot.
And Will doesn’t know how that happened. He’s never had this before. Chowder’s friendship already seemed so miraculous, and then Bitty’s, in turn, felt like an undeserved revelation.
Derek’s new closeness... Will feels like he’s been given something far too precious to be trusted with.
He pours himself a cup of coffee, adds a splash of milk, and is barely two sips in before it’s suddenly taken from him. Like it is almost every early morning.
“Oh hey, thanks,” Derek says drowsily as he snags Will’s cup right out of his hands.
Will blinks several times in disbelief, as though this hasn’t happened multiple times over the last few months. And then he shakes it off enough to roll his eyes. “I’d fight you over that, but I’m pretty sure we’d both end up on injured reserve for the season.”
Derek shrugs halfheartedly. “Pancakes on me?” he offers, eyes closed as he drinks, his posture relaxed while leaning back against the countertop on his elbows. He’s either too hungover and tired to be awkward about their sleeping arrangements last night, or he honestly doesn’t give a shit.
Which isn’t like Derek. Because Derek secretly gives a shit about everything, as Will’s come to learn.
But if Derek can be chill about this, like nothing happened, then so can he.
“I require bacon and sausage on the side or no deal,” Will says, grabbing a new mug for coffee that he doesn’t bother to add milk to. He prefers it black generally. And it sends a jolt of surprise through him as he realizes he’s only been adding milk to his first cup because he’s so used to it ending up in Derek’s hands and he knows how Derek takes it.
“Of course you do,” Derek says, his tone so close to fond that Will does a double take.
The beginnings of one of those blinding grins on Derek’s face aborts as quickly as it starts, and he gulps down more coffee to hide it.
They head to Jerry’s a few minutes later.
They don’t bother waiting to see who else in the Haus might want to come.
And they don’t talk about the night before. Which Will is grateful for, because what the hell would he even say? Sorry I fell asleep instantly in your arms when normally I’m barely comfortable falling asleep in the same room as someone else? Or, Hey Nurse, you’ve never been a handsy drunk before but last night you really were and now I’m freaking out a little bit?
Will doesn’t understand how they ended up here, or really where here even is.
The strangest part is that, in the days following, even without the hangover as an excuse, nothing feels awkward between them. Derek doesn’t start holding himself differently around Will, or pulling out the tense set of shoulders he gets when escaping unwanted overtures. There’s no tension that Will can sense, and no one around them seems to notice anything either.
The friendly, casual touches between them continue, though Will is hyper aware of them now, something heavy and low in his gut stirring at every arm around his shoulders or ruffle of his hair. Something calming and warm blooming in his chest every time he remembers with visceral clarity the feeling of Derek’s arm across his chest and his steady breaths against Will’s neck.
It happens again a week later.
Finals are over, everyone who hasn’t immediately left for their vacation is in good cheer, and there’s a vibrant atmosphere around the Haus that feels as much like being swathed in the glow of Christmas lights as much as it actually looks.
A foot of snow is on the ground, there are Poinsettias in the kitchen window, and every room of the Haus perpetually smells of apple cider and gingerbread. It's the kind of Holiday atmosphere that Will could see himself wanting to partake in more than what he’s had with his own family over the years.
Their last evening together before break isn’t exactly on the scale of Hausgiving, but they put together one final holiday team dinner before the last of the Haus residents take off in the morning.
Between the two of them, Bitty and Will whip up a half a dozen different pies to go with the finger foods they all snack on while watching It’s A Wonderful Life in the living room. There’s more than enough booze to go around, and the stack of White Elephant gifts covering the coffee table prove to all be hilarious and embarrassing enough to keep everyone laughing throughout the night.
All the same, Will is on edge for a lot of it. He manages a couple of drinks and a few friendly conversations, but his head is already so wrapped up in Maine that he has trouble letting himself be happy in the meantime.
Will knows what he’s going home to.
He’s always known, and he’s always been able to steel himself against it while also welcoming all of the familiar, comforting parts. But this Christmas feels different.
This Christmas he doesn’t actually care about helping his mom decorate the tree, or playing watchdog over the sleeping cousins so his aunts and uncles can leave evidence of Santa around the house, so much as he cares that no one asks him any probing questions about Samwell. Because he’s honestly worried he’ll say something he regrets. Something true.
Will’s not sure he remembers how to lie anymore.
So he’s keyed up in a way that keeps him too sober for much merriment all night. As a result, he isn’t drunk enough this time to excuse the way his breath hitches at the contact of a warm body in his bed. And Derek isn’t nearly drunk enough to even pretend that he can’t make it up to his own bunk.
But Derek is buzzed enough to be bold, apparently, slipping into Will’s bed after him with an entirely fake stumble to try to justify it.
Will doesn’t react for several long seconds.
And then, once his brain goes back online, he still doesn’t respond. He’s just so wound up with anxiety over heading back home in the morning that letting this happen is too much of a comfort for him to immediately protest.
This feels like a different version of that realization a couple months ago, that he and Derek could be easy with each other instead of intentionally making things so difficult.
Like maybe they can exist in this way too. They can be a comfort. If they just let themselves.
Still. This isn’t them. They don’t do this. And Will doesn’t know what it means, if anything.
“Nursey,” he whispers.
Derek doesn’t have an arm around him this time, but he is close enough that Will can feel the warmth from his body all along his back and thighs.
“Derek,” he tries again.
The rustle of fabric as Derek shifts a little further into Will is overly loud in the quiet of their dark bedroom. “I’ll move if you’re gonna make a big deal out of it,” he says, low and muffled against where his mouth is pressed against the back collar of Will’s shirt. His tone is slightly clipped but still attempting to fake drunkenness with a halfhearted slurring of words. “But when I crack my head open trying to climb that ladder you’re gonna get so much shit from C about it.”
For whatever unacknowledged reason, Will doesn’t bring up the option of Derek sleeping on the floor.
For whatever unacknowledged reason, Will just sighs and closes his eyes. And they both fall asleep far quicker than they usually do. Far quicker than can be easily explained away.
In the morning, Derek uses up all of the hot water while Will packs, unpacks, repacks, unpacks, and repacks again for his trip home. It’s never been this hard to get out the door before.
”Have a good one,” Derek tosses out casually as he enters their room in nothing but a towel right when Will is getting ready to leave for the bus station.
“Yeah. Uh. You too.” Will makes a point of not looking directly at Derek’s bare chest, or the drops of water that are falling from his hair, down his shoulders, to map the planes of his pectorals.
Derek heads to the closet and starts rooting around for clean clothes. “See you in the new year, buddy.”
They still don’t talk about it. But what is there to really discuss? It doesn’t have to mean anything, he tells himself. Stop making it weird.
Christmas is... fine. It’s the same as every year, really. Though when Will says the word “fine” to Chowder on the phone after being asked about how his break is going, Chowder makes a sound like he finds the word troubling.
Will doesn’t have any other words for it, though. Not any he’d ever speak out loud, anyway. He barely acknowledges those other words even in his own head.
His family spends the day at Uncle Nick’s, and it’s the usual lumberjack breakfast followed by watching the younger kids open presents, and then a long day of family time over board games and snowball fights until a massive ham dinner. At least one uncle drinks far too much hard cider and passes out in a recliner before the table’s even set. At least one of the older cousins gets caught smoking in the backyard and gets their ears boxed for it. Most of the aunts congregate in the kitchen, a couple in the den to watch the kids, but their gossip makes it into every corner of the house by the day’s end.
Will hides out in the garage, putting together younger cousins’ Christmas presents--bikes and jungle gyms and Barbie Dream Houses--for as long as the rest of his family will let him get away with. Which is, thankfully, a rather long time.
No one ever goes looking for him, at any rate. They never have before, and he swears he’s grateful for the fact.
Honestly. He is.
He leaves Maine before New Year’s, using Jack and Bitty’s New Year’s Eve party in Providence as an excuse. His father and brother don’t seem all that impressed by the idea, but very little manages to incite much more than a frown and a nod from either of them when it comes to Will’s life away from home.
Coming back to Samwell is like coming up for air after being under water for far too long. It’s a startling sensation, catching Will completely off guard.
He wasn’t even fully aware he’d been drowning.
A part of him feels guilty for it. He loves his family. They don’t deserve this from him.
Another part of him wonders if he isn’t just making it all up. Being back home was exactly the same as it’s been in the past. Nothing’s changed. It’s ridiculous that, out of nowhere, he should suddenly start feeling such relief to leave the place and come back to Samwell. To the team. To the Haus. To Derek.
He trips over his own feet on his way up the stairs when the thought occurs to him, but he can’t deny it now that it has. He’s been looking forward to seeing Derek again more than just about anyone or anything else.
That can’t be good.
Luckily Derek’s not back yet from his break. Will has got at least another day to settle in and try to figure out what his brain and heart are doing.
Or, well, no. Not his heart. That’s never really happened before. That would be nuts. That would be...
Will swallows back a lump in his throat and starts in on the laundry he and Derek left behind. Then busies himself with the toaster oven one of the Waffles managed to break last semester, though none of them would admit which of them did it or how.
New Year’s Eve day is spent reorganizing the pantry so that it meets Bitty’s exacting standards, and unsuccessfully trying to spot-clean the couch into looking like an actual piece of furniture instead of a shoddily reupholstered demon sacrifice.
That afternoon, Ford shows up, decked out in Samwell red from head to toe, looking to investigate which team members are back on campus.
“Sorry, it’s just me so far,” Will tells her.
“You sound like I should be disappointed that you’re not someone else.”
“Uh. Aren’t you?”
Ford rolls her eyes. “I love all of my new hockey children equally.”
Will snorts a laugh, and then refocuses on trying to make his reflection in the full-length mirror of his and Derek’s bedroom look a little less... rumpled. He’d shoot for looking good, but he knows that’s never gonna happen. “You wanna go to Bitty’s party with me?”
“Depends on how much ‘with you’ you mean.” He sees her smirk at his back in the mirror, and he turns back around to give her an unimpressed look.
“I’m not asking you out, doofus. Just thought we could take the train together.”
Ford snorts a laugh. “Okay, but for real, did you wanna pretend I’m your date? I’m cool with that if you need it.”
He frowns. “Why would I--”
“Uh, Winter Screw?” she interrupts with a placating smile. “You kept leaning into Nursey to give you a bail out. Thought you might be asking me to tag along to the party so I could fill the same role.”
“Bail out?” he asks, honestly confused.
Ford’s eyebrows furrow, and she says, like it’s obvious, “Yeah. You kept getting hit on by randos all night, and the quickest way of getting rid of them seemed to be letting Nursey hang all over you.”
Will doesn’t remember anyone hitting on him that night, though a lot of it is pretty hazy in his memory. But obviously anyone who approached them only did it for Derek, not him.
He doesn’t know what’s more confusing, honestly, the fact that Ford thinks people were hitting on him, or the fact that apparently he and Derek were all over each other more than he thought they were, enough to be noticed.
He can feel a light blush color his cheeks, and he turns back towards the mirror just as Ford’s expression turns calculating, her eyes narrowed. “Huh,” she says, like she just figured something out.
Will focuses on his own reflection, and tries to make his hair do something other than what it always does.
Ford frowns at him thoughtfully. Then she steps forward and motions for Will to lean down so she can reach up and fix his hair for him. She adds a bit more product, and fluffs some places that Will would normally leave alone. “You’ve got really fine hair, but you don’t have to keep it cut so short to compensate.”
“I’m not putting crap in my hair everyday just for the aesthetic. Cutting it short works.”
Ford shrugs, unfazed. “You do you. I’m just saying, if you wanted to try something different... I think you can pull off a lot more than you give yourself credit for.” She finishes messing with Will’s hair and steps back to assess her work. Then smiles and shrugs. “But only if you wanted to.”
Will doesn’t know what he wants, and is hesitant to try to figure it out, for more than one reason.
Derek takes the train straight from New York to Providence, and arrives to the party with his backpack and duffle on either shoulder. But both bags immediately fall to the floor in the doorway as Chowder tackle-hugs him in hello.
Will got the same greeting from Chowder a half an hour ago, and nearly fell back on his ass from the force of Chowder’s enthusiasm. It’s been two and a half years of friendship between them, but Will still isn’t entirely used to the physicality of Chowder’s affection.
Derek, too, has a way of expressing his friendship through touch. Even when they could barely stand each other freshman year, there was still always a hand on Will’s shoulders after a rough practice or a playful ruffle of Will’s hair after finishing his first pie for Hausgiving.
And that physicality has only increased these last several months, since they became actual, finally-willing-to-admit-it, friends. Especially since that night Derek drunkenly slid into Will’s bed and Will stupidly didn’t kick him right back out.
Stupidly even let it happen again.
Stupidly keeps wondering if it’ll happen this next semester too...
All the same, he’s completely caught off guard when, the moment Chowder lets go, Derek is on Will with a bear hug, far too steady and lingering to pass for bro-y. There are no back slaps, no stepping away a few seconds later with a punch to the bicep. Just Derek’s strong arms securely around him, practically lifting him off the floor. Which is impressive, considering they’re the same height and weight.
Will is falling into it before his brain has caught up enough to process what’s happening. On instinct that he didn’t even know he had, he wraps his own arms tightly around Derek and ducks his head down to bury the lower half of his face in Derek’s shoulder.
Derek’s sweater is soft and smells like the fabric softener he only remembers to use when someone is at his side to remind him. The always carefully maintained stubble along his jaw tickles at the shell of Will’s ear. Will’s ribcage feels like it’s in a vice for how hard Derek is holding him, or maybe that’s just from how hard his heart has started beating.
He kind of never wants it to end.
But then Derek releases him and steps back, a wide, honest smile on his face. “You have a good break, Poindexter?”
“It was...” After Chowder’s reaction, he feels like the word “fine” might not go over so well, and he doesn’t want to dim that smile. He forces a shrug. “You know. Same old. Built a couple of Santa-sanctioned Fisher Price jungle gyms.”
Derek laughs at that. And then he’s turning back around to grab his bags and fist bump Ford, pull Bitty into a one-armed side-hug that causes him to drop his backpack all over again, and then follow Jack to the guestroom for a place to put his things.
Will might be blushing, if the single eyebrow Chowder has just raised at him is any indication.
Obviously, a lot more alcohol is needed to survive the evening.
When midnight rolls around--the whole apartment shouting out the countdown, the Times Square ball drop cued up on Jack’s huge flatscreen--none of them are even close to sober.
All of the couples are practically in each other’s laps, ready to kiss at the start of the new year. Tater is eyeing Bitty’s latest pie like it’s the only thing getting anywhere near his lips tonight, while Ransom and Holster keep cajoling each other into calling or texting their on-again-off-again significant others that neither of them actually seems all that interested in talking to.
The Frogs are cross-legged on the floor of the balcony, huddled close for warmth but too drunk and lazy to get up and go back inside.
The countdown ends, the ball drops, Chowder pecks Derek and Will on their cheeks and they all dissolve into drunken laughter and shoving at each other.
Will doesn’t know if he’s ever been this happy. Or if he’s ever been this readily willing and able to make that happiness known to those around him.
Later on, at three in the morning, he’s one of the last ones still standing and he stumbles his way to the couch he’d earlier tossed a couple of blankets onto, only to find Holster snoring loudly across it. And waking up Holster, especially a drunk Holster, is like poking a freaking chiclet-toothed dragon.
Will is just drunk enough himself to not care about the implications of slipping into the guestroom where Derek is already fast asleep in the bed and Chowder is in a blanket nest on the floor.
He eyes the nest for a long moment, swaying on his feet. And then he moves to the bed to burrow in beside Derek. His inebriated brain doesn’t even think anything of it as Derek turns over and sleepily pushes his nose into Will’s sternum.
Will wakes slowly to the sight of Chowder sitting up in his blanket nest, a quilt wrapped around his shoulders, staring at him.
Staring, more accurately, at where Derek is holding onto Will in his sleep like it’s not just normal but familiar. Like this definitely isn’t the first time it’s happened.
Derek’s arm is wrapped around him from behind, Will’s back against his chest, Derek’s nose tucked into the back of Will’s neck. There’s not a lot of ways to explain their position.
But Chowder doesn’t comment on it, beyond the assessing stare. Instead, he stands up, letting the quilt fall to the floor. “I don’t think anyone else is up yet. If you wanted to...” He trails off awkwardly, quiet so as not to wake Derek up.
“If I wanted to what?” Will whispers, chest tight in fear of what the answer might be.
Chowder opens his mouth to respond, but then closes it and shakes his head. “I’m gonna use the bathroom. I’ll make sure no one barges in here until you’re ready.”
It sounds like a bigger promise than what his actual words are saying. It sounds like he’s waiting for Will to be ready for more than just rolling out of bed for breakfast.
Will gulps and watches Chowder leave, quietly closing the bedroom door behind him.
As soon as they’re alone, he can’t help but start cataloguing all of the places where he and Derek are touching. It feels like too many to count, especially as his mind lingers over each one, trying to figure out what that low thrum of energy it incites in him means.
Maybe it means he’s still partially drunk. Because if this were any other morning, he’s pretty sure he’d be a half-second away from a panic attack right now at how quickly his dick wants to get involved in the proceedings.
Before that can happen, he gently extricates himself from Derek’s arms and pads over to the closet, where he rifles around through Derek’s duffle bag in search of a fresh shirt to borrow. Derek will give him grief for it later, but Will doesn’t care that much, and he knows there won’t be any bite to his teasing.
There hasn’t been for a while now.
As he slips out the door to find the bathroom, he’s grateful to be not only out of the bed, but also out of the room, before Derek wakes up to catch him. At least he doesn’t have to worry about anyone other than Chowder knowing about his slip.
Will’s not sure what he would say if Derek cornered him about it, about the fact that, for the first time, Will got into bed with Derek instead of the other way around. He could throw back the number of times Derek’s done it. But he’s pretty sure he’d spontaneously combust if he even tried to.
After he’s had a chance to piss and brush his teeth, and then stare at himself in the bathroom mirror for several minutes, trying to understand what’s changed in him that doesn’t seem all that visible, he heads to the kitchen.
Bitty is already up, and surprisingly chipper for a morning that should be hangover central. He’s stirring pancake batter while watching over the bacon in the skillet on the stove, and he grins broadly when Will asks if he can help.
Will gets assigned to chopping mushrooms and onions, and then cracking eggs, for an easy scramble. But he spends as much time watching his hands work as he does watching Bitty. Watching him smile absently and hum along to a pop song that’s only playing in his head, and move around the room like not only does he belong here but like he’s perfectly happy to have Will join him. Like Will is not just safe here, but also welcome. Wanted.
He doesn’t know how he gets to have this. Any of this. Bitty, Chowder, Derek, a found family in various states of wakefulness in this Stanley Cup Champion’s Providence apartment.
Chowder enters the kitchen with the quilt back around his shoulders and over his head like a hood, yawning around a smile. “Hey, do I smell bacon?”
Bitty offers him a smile of his own along with a wink. “Get that coffee pot going for us, Hun, and I’ll save you an extra piece.”
Chowder drops the quilt onto the back of one of the breakfast table chairs and does as he’s asked. Though not before pausing by where Will is standing and clapping him on the shoulder.
The meaning is clear. Friendship, solidarity, comfort... Chowder may as well have spoken the words aloud for how clearly they’re read in this physical gesture.
And then Chowder’s searching for the coffee filters, paying Will no real mind. Letting Will come to him in his own time, if ever, and not making a big deal of it.
“Right hand cabinet over the dishwasher,” Bitty tells Chowder absently, attention on pouring the right amount of batter into the skillet.
Will starts sautéing the mushrooms and onions beside Bitty. He watches the pancake batter start to bubble, and focuses on the sound of Bitty’s voice softly explaining to him how to tell by those tiny bubbles when it’s time to flip.
Derek is the last to wake up and head to breakfast with the rest of them. Ransom and Holster have already had six pancakes apiece, and Holster’s now got a strip of bacon hanging out of his mouth as he chews. Jack is drinking coffee at the counter while not so subtly ogling Bitty’s ass. Ford looks comically confused over her eggs as Tater loudly explains to her why pie should be a breakfast food, with several pointed winks in Bitty’s direction.
Will keeps his eyes trained on his plate, and his thoughts trained on the one New Year’s Resolution he thinks he might now have. It’s still not quite fully formed, but he can feel it solidifying as he eats.
“Oh, chill, bacon,” Derek says with muted delight due to the obvious hangover. He heads towards the spread of food, but stops on the way to casually steal Will’s coffee, as if it were just two of them.
Will ducks his head to hide a blush, and stuffs his mouth full of pancake and egg.
Chowder gracefully doesn’t bring up, for a long time, what he woke up to that New Years morning.
But he does watch Will and Derek a little more shrewdly than he did before. Not judging, and not really all that searching either, but like he’s starting to reevaluate everything he thought he knew about their relationship.
Well. That makes two of them.
Spring semester starts. Derek ends up back in Will’s bed two weeks into it.
“Why do I have the top bunk again?” Derek mumbles as he starts to pass out, his face mashed into Will’s shoulder and his knees pulled up so that they dig into Will’s thigh.
He’s been pulling more all-nighters than not all week, to the point that Will gets exhausted just looking at him. He’s probably delirious enough with lack of sleep that he won’t even remember this conversation in the morning, or the fact that he fell into Will’s bed instead of his own with his eyes already closed and a single sock still hanging off his left foot.
“I told you to take the bottom,” Will huffs, but he’s half asleep already and can’t quite make his tone sound as disparaging as he means it to be.
“Thought you were just trying to pick another fight,” Derek mutters, his eyebrows drawing down in a halfhearted and barely-awake scowl. His breathing has been steadily evening out since his nose first touched Will’s bicep. “Couldn’t let you win one. Back then...” but he trails off as sleep overtakes him.
“And now?” Will asks, hushed, even though he knows he won’t get an answer.
But he doesn’t need Derek to say it out loud for him to understand what that answer would be. And, anyway, it’s not the question he really needs answering.
“Hey. So.” He clears his throat roughly beside Bitty in the Haus kitchen. “There’s someone I think I like.”
Bitty startles, eyes wide, mouth forming a soft, “Oh,” before he unsuccessfully tries to hide his surprise. He offers Will an apologetic smile for it. “Sorry, it’s just you’ve never talked about anyone like that before. I wasn’t sure if that was something you were interested in.”
Will shrugs. “I mean, it’s not. Usually. Which is kinda part of the problem I’m having right now.”
Bitty raises a questioning eyebrow.
“Just-- How do you tell? That you like someone beyond just friendship, I mean. I don’t have much in the way of a frame of reference. I’ve been attracted to people, but I’ve always sort of pushed it aside and focused on other things when it comes up.”
“So there hasn’t been anyone before? No one who’s caught your eye enough to do something about it?”
“Well, there was a guy on my old hockey team, but nothing ever came of it, so I don’t really have confirmation that that’s what I was feeling.”
Will swallows thickly, and then stops all motion at the realization of what he’s just said.
Bitty freezes beside him.
He was not actually planning on coming out during this conversation, but now that he’s said the words, he finds he doesn’t regret them. He always figured he’d tell Bitty first, if he ever told anyone at all.
“Oh, Honey,” Bitty finally jerks into motion, turning fully to face Will and placing both flour-covered hands on Will’s forearms. “Thank you for trusting me with this.”
Will nods. “Please don’t--”
“I won’t tell a soul, of course I won’t.”
“I’m not-- That’s not--” He hangs his head and sighs. “I don’t think I’d mind if the guys knew. I mean, my family can never... But the team. That’d be alright, maybe. It’s more the Nursey of it all that’s the issue.”
Bitty’s brow furrows in confusion. “I know Nursey likes to give you grief, but he’d never get on your case about this.”
“No. No, he--” Will looks back up at Bitty, and he knows his gaze is pleading, which he never really allows himself, because Bitty sucks in a sharp breath at being met with it. “Okay, don’t laugh,” he says.
Bitty’s eyes go wide, immediately catching onto what Will’s about to admit. “Oh my Lord. But he--”
Bitty opens and closes his mouth several times without sound, and then he gets a determined look on his face. “I think this requires Annie’s.”
He puts the dough in the freezer and washes his hands. Will rinses the flour handprints off his forearms and follows along without question or argument.
Derek likes to tease him about this, that Will has imprinted on Bitty like a duckling. But the truth is that Will just trusts Bitty. Since getting to know him while spending so much time in the kitchen together, he’s found he trusts Bitty implicitly. There’s not many people he can say that about. Bitty and Chowder are basically it. Maybe his mom. But, then again, if she knew...
They walk at a brisk pace, the quiet between them not exactly uncomfortable but definitely loaded. Will knows Bitty is mulling over his next words, but is also hesitant to give them when he doesn’t know the full situation.
Finally, Will sucks in a breath, and tries for nonchalance. “So, we’ve been sleeping together.”
The only reason Bitty doesn’t fall flat on his face is because Will has enough experience reaching out to catch a stumbling Derek that his hand goes out to stabilize him on instinct.
“Not-- Not like that,” he amends, and can feel his cheeks burn a brighter red than they already were from the cold. “Just, when he’s drunk or half asleep, he won’t be able to make it up the ladder to his bunk and so he’ll... sleep with me in mine. We haven’t talked about it. It just... happens.”
“And you’re not sure if you like him as more than a friend or not?” Bitty asks skeptically, glancing to the side at Will with a carefully constructed expression of non-judgement.
Will shrugs helplessly.
“Okay. Well. Do you like when he sleeps with you?”
A hard swallow. A hand to the back of his heated neck. “...Yeah.”
“Would you want him to do it more often?”
Will closes his eyes and drops his hand limply to his side with a sigh. “Yes.”
“I think you just answered your own question, Honey.”
They reach Annie’s then, and Will is saved from having to acknowledge out loud how right Bitty is. They enter and order ridiculously indulgent drinks and find a table tucked away in the back behind a bookcase hardly anyone bothers to peruse.
“I don’t know how to do this,” Will says.
Bitty snorts an abrupt laugh. “You think I did?”
“I think Jack Zimmermann would have a thing or two to say in your defense.”
“To be perfectly honest, we very nearly didn’t happen at all, Dex. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself to get things perfect. You’re allowed to fumble, to learn along the way. God knows I have.”
“Still.” Will pauses to consider his words. “You’re braver than I am. I don’t think I’m up to initiating anything. Or even talking to him about it.”
“Dex,” he says, and then sighs and shakes his head. “I wasn’t any more courageous or knowledgeable than you are. Hell, I’d never even kissed anyone until Jack.”
Will rears back in his chair, surprised. “What? How... But, you’re you.”
“And what is that supposed to mean?”
“Bitty, you’re like the biggest catch ever. Guys on campus fall all over themselves to get your attention.”
Bitty blushes and ducks his head, pretending it’s solely to take a sip of his drink. “Well, I don’t know about that. But, even if you were right, attention doesn’t equal experience. Just look at Nursey.”
“He’s got a reputation because of the number of his admirers, I know, but that reputation is obviously completely made up. That poor boy wouldn’t know how to survive a casual sexual encounter to save his life.”
Will’s eyes narrow. “If you’re telling me something that he admitted to you in confidence--”
Bitty’s hands immediately go up in surrender. “Gracious, no! He’s never come to me about this stuff. But I’m not blind, Dex. Nursey likes to talk a good game, but it’s all bark.”
Will frowns. “I don’t understand.”
Bitty looks like he wants to cuff him upside the head for his obliviousness. “He’s a closet romantic. Probably took his Valentine’s birthday to heart as a kid and never looked back. For heaven’s sake, he reads poetry for fun.” Bitty chuckles. “You should talk to him. I’d put good money on the idea that he’s just as tied up in things as you are if he’s been finding excuses to slip into your bed.”
Talking about emotions is not Will’s strong suit. He’d sooner contemplate eating his own hockey gear than having an open and honest conversation about his feelings with Derek Nurse. Just talking to Bitty about this stuff is excruciating enough.
Still. He likes Derek. Romantically.
Now he just has to follow through with his New Year’s resolution and do something about that.
It takes Chowder practically hitting him over the head with a “you’re being an idiot” stick for Will to actually follow Bitty’s advice, though.
Derek shows up back from the library somewhere in the very early hours of the morning and bangs his forehead several times against the closet door, before undressing in a way that makes him trip four different times.
He doesn’t bother putting anything else on after he’s undressed. And Derek Nurse in his boxer-briefs is something Will had to inoculate himself against early on in their friendship, but full body contact with it might prove too much to handle.
Luckily, Will barely wakes up enough at the movement next to him in bed to register what’s happening, so it’s entirely possible he’s dreaming this entire thing.
It’s a nice dream, he thinks vaguely, as he falls back into unconsciousness.
The next thing he knows, Chowder is entering their bedroom with a plate of French toast he’s probably looking to share, and stopping short at the sight that awaits him.
Will blinks blearily at him. Chowder blinks back. And then he turns and walks back out of the room.
Will spends the day buried in a coding project in an attempt not to think about whatever conversation he fears is coming from his best friend. Chowder’s always been good at not pushing at sensitive areas, but this is the second time he’s seen the two of them in bed together, and Will’s pretty sure that warrants an explanation. Which he doesn’t have.
Derek is only around briefly that morning, to gather his things up for his string of afternoon classes, a piece of toast sticking out of his mouth as he gets down on the floor to check under the bed for a textbook he can’t find.
“If the book your looking for is that art history one, you’re gonna feel like an idiot in a minute.”
Derek pops back up onto his feet and takes a bite out of the toast. “Why’s that?” he asks around chewing, which is gross and Will should not be hit with the sudden, overwhelming urge to reach out and brush bread crumbs off of Derek’s stubble for him.
Instead, Will points to the side, where the book in question is sitting open right in the middle of Derek’s desk.
Will snorts, just as his phone starts vibrating on the desk beside his computer. He glances at it, and then firmly ignores it when he sees Connor’s name on the screen.
Derek raises an eyebrow at him while stuffing the book into his backpack. “Screening your calls now?”
Will shrugs and hunches over his homework. “Not worth answering.”
“You avoiding someone? An ex?”
Will can’t tell what Derek’s voice is doing at the end of that question, but it sounds strange. “My brother. And I’m not avoiding him, I just don’t feel like getting chewed out right now. I need to finish this project.”
Derek goes quiet for long enough that Will glances up at him to make sure he’s really going to drop this line of questioning, or if he’s plotting something. Only to find that Derek is staring at him with a hard frown.
“What?” Will asks, immediately on the defensive.
“Nothing.” Derek shakes his head and looks away. “I’ll see you later tonight. Stay gold, Pony Boy.” He runs his hand through Will’s hair and shoves at his head on his way out the door, and Will flips him off for it.
That afternoon, Chowder enters their room looking shifty-eyed. “Hey.”
Will glances sideways at him from where he’s sitting at the desk and tries to play it cool. “You look like a snitch in an interrogation room.”
“You look like the first Weasley to be born a squib.”
Will throws his pen at him. It hits Chowder on his left shoulder, but he appears unbothered by the fact, instead loosening his tense posture and leveling a look at Will that is too complicated to parse. “Nursey’s still out, right?”
“It’s three, so yeah. He’s got Politics of Modern Poetry for the next hour, and then, uh, ‘something something critical thinking’ right after.”
Chowder stares at him, assessing, for a long moment. “You have his schedule this semester memorized.” He doesn’t make it a question.
Will really thinks it should be a question. He does not like how certain Chowder seems to be of something Will is only just figuring out.
“Listen,” Chowder says, at the same time Will tries to tell him, “About this morning--”
There is a lengthy pause. And then Chowder firmly shuts the bedroom door behind him and approaches Will with a small smile. “So. You guys finally...”
Will frowns in confusion. “Finally?”
“I mean, you were sleeping in the same bed, again, so I thought maybe... You know...”
“Oh. No. Chow, no. It’s not like that.”
Chowder squints at him. “Are you sure it’s not like that?”
“Seriously. It’s innocent.” Will hesitates, and then draws in a deep breath. “But I am... I mean. I don’t know about Nursey. But I... I do like him. Like that. So it’s innocent, but I guess I wish it weren’t?”
Chowder’s entire face softens into something tender and full of far more love than Will knows what to do with. He doesn’t say anything immediately in response, just reaches out and reels Will up out of the desk chair and in for a firm hug.
“I love you a lot,” he says, so definitively that Will believes it without question. And there’s little Will ever believes without question, especially when it comes to how others claim to see him.
“Er. Thanks,” he replies awkwardly, but Chowder just laughs, moving back enough to meet Will’s gaze with amused eyes. He looks like he was expecting exactly what Will was able to give him and no more. Like he’s even grateful for it. Will doesn’t understand how.
And then Chowder steps back and socks him in the arm.
“That’s for all the pining I’ve had to put up with.”
“There’s been no pining! I only just realized how I felt, like, a week ago.”
“Just because you’re oblivious, doesn’t mean I am. There has been so much pining, William. If not for me, could you at least put Nursey out of his misery already and make a move?”
Will has been carefully not daring to hope that Derek might feel the same way. “You really think he...”
Chowder hits him in the arm again. “You let the guy spoon you every night and you really need to ask me that question?”
Will blushes and ducks his head, muttering a petulant, “Not every night.”
The thing is, Nursey doesn’t pick up when anyone’s watching. Maybe he doesn’t pick up at all. Maybe Bitty’s right about how much of a romantic he is. But he’s only ever talked about girls, and he’s only ever tried to set up his single teammates with girls, and so it’s not an absurd leap to make that the guy is straight. Or, if otherwise, definitely not out. Not to Will at least.
Then again. Will’s never talked about anybody and everyone still assumes he’s straight.
“Please,” Chowder says. “Trust me when I say it’ll work out if you just use your words.”
Will sighs, because he can’t exactly argue with that. Things might not work out, but using his words has always been the correct answer to most problems, even though it’s the last answer he wants to find.
And then Chowder hits him on the arm again, and so Will has no choice but to tackle him to the floor and strike for where he’s most ticklish.
Bitty leads them to the frozen four, but they get knocked out early on by Yale.
They get an unprecedented amount of press over it, though, due to Bitty’s now well-known relationship with Jack. Will can’t help but watch his captain deal with reporters with a bright smile and southern charm, a warmth flooding his chest. It’s inspiring. If there was one person he wishes he could be more like, wishes he could do more to earn approval from, it’s definitely Bitty.
They have a kegster to celebrate how far they made it, even if it wasn’t all the way. It’s relatively tame as far as kegsters go, since most of them are already knee deep in studying for finals and distracted by the looming graduation of their captain.
What does the Haus even look like without Bitty? Will can’t picture it, and is worried about what his senior year holds for them all more than he lets on.
Derek still seems certain that Will can somehow step up to the task of managing the Haus in a way that won’t make Bitty’s absence too pronounced. But Will still doesn’t believe that’s possible.
He’s on Nursey Patrol for the night, so he opts to stay sober and clear-headed just in case Derek decides to go wild one last time before finals.
But Derek barely finishes the single drink he nurses the entire time, going a little quieter than usual at every person who tries to chat him up, and looking a little tired around the eyes in a way that tells Will he’s probably been getting fewer hours of sleep lately than normal.
He’s definitely sober though, and lucid. They both are. Which is why Will is surprised enough later, when Derek slips into his bed, that he actually says something. “Nursey, you had one beer. You’re not drunk.”
Derek sighs, long and weary. “No. I’m not,” he admits in a hushed, slightly broken tone.
Will doesn’t know what to do with that. “Then what’s going on?”
“It’s just. I get into these bouts of insomnia, like, all the time. Even alcohol doesn’t really help unless we’re talking blackout levels of intoxication. But, when we’re sharing... I fall asleep. Like, every single time. And, fuck, I’m just so tired, Will.”
For a long moment, Will doesn’t know how to respond. He feels Derek go tense, and then start to roll away from him. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to... Sorry.”
Derek moves to leave, but before Will can second guess himself, he reaches out and latches onto Derek’s arm to keep him there. “It’s okay. I don’t mind.”
“Poindexter, you don’t have to--”
“Really. If it helps you sleep, then... Then I’m happy to. It’s not a big deal.” That last part feels like a lie, but it comes out relatively steady. Is this a big deal?
As if to prove his words, Will moves his hand from Derek’s arm to his hip and pulls him in close until Derek is on his side, chest pressed to Will’s other arm, Derek’s own arm falling haphazardly across Will’s waist.
He feels as much as hears Derek’s breath stutter. “Dex...”
Will shuts his eyes tight and exhales. “Go to sleep, Nurse.”
And, a little miraculously, Derek relaxes and does. Will listens closely to his breathing even out, tracks his steady pulse where the inside of his wrist rests against the bare skin of Will’s hipbone where his shirt has ridden up, and he knows now. He knows he likes Derek. He knows he wants Derek.
He knows he’s not going to let this school year end without seeing if he’s maybe wanted back.
Something shifts after that night.
Derek looks at him now, sometimes, like he might just lean in and...
But he doesn’t. There’s just this unspoken feeling between them that is the shared info that they want to be around each other more than usual.
“Hey, thanks,” Derek says as he steals Will’s first cup of coffee the morning after they’ve been pressed against each other from shoulder to toe all night.
Will no longer lets himself be surprised by this.
As much as he’s not sure how to lie at home anymore, he’s starting to lose the ability to lie here at Samwell too.
Or maybe not lie. Maybe he’s just losing the ability to hide.
He watches Derek gulp down the mug of coffee Will made, and only starts preparing a new cup once Derek’s eyes find him and his brow furrows in confusion at the sight of Will just standing there staring.
Will is afraid to ask what they are to each other now. What they could be. He doesn’t want to assume the wrong thing for fear of driving Derek off, and he also doesn’t want to get his heart broken if that wrong thing gets corrected too flippantly.
Because even though he said it was okay, Derek doesn’t try to sleep in the bottom bunk again. At night they retreat to their own bunks, but sometimes Derek... lingers. Hesitates. Like he wants to initiate something that he doesn’t know how to.
Will doesn’t know how to initiate anything either, really, so maybe this whole thing was doomed from the start.
Or maybe they’re both just still learning. Maybe taking their time isn’t a bad thing.
I will murder you, Chowder mouths at him when he catches the two of them doing a back and forth of longing looks across the table at a team breakfast.
So, Will decides to man up already. Reading Week has just started, and then there are finals, and so there’s only a couple of weeks before they all part ways for the summer.
He makes his way home from the library after his study group is finished, and with each step becomes more determined in his goal. By the time he reaches the Haus, there’s not much on Earth that could stop him from seeing this through.
Derek glances up sharply from the book he’s reading when Will basically slams their bedroom door open, and then slams it quickly closed behind him.
“You should sleep in my bed tonight,” he says without preamble.
Derek looks like he just got sucker punched. He stands up from his desk chair, practically gawking at Will. “I-- What?”
“My bed. With me. I told you it was okay, but you... I don’t know. I don’t think I was clear. I’m not, like, putting up with it. I want you there. I like you there.”
Derek releases a stuttered breath, eyes wide with something that’s half shock and half disbelief, though mixed with a dash of fear. “Uh, Will...”
“And I’m going to kiss you now.”
Derek rears back a half step in surprise.
Will blushes and amends, “Uh. If that’s okay. I mean... I would like to kiss you now.”
There is a very lengthy pause in which they both simply stare at each other and Will gets more and more terrified that he just ruined everything. But then Derek swallows thickly and nods his head.
Will sucks in a deep breath and holds it. This moment feels like base-jumping for the first time. Or like the moment when the bungee cord snaps you back up after the fall. It is thrilling and unexpected and yet the very thing that has been waited on the entire time. He knew it was coming, but is no less startled by it once it arrives.
“Okay. I’m sorry in advance if I’m bad at this.” Will steps forward and places his hand on the side of Derek’s neck, and then he leans in. It’s a brief, warm press of dry lips. And then another. Both chaste and hesitant.
He licks his lips as Derek places hands on his hips. He presses in again, opens his mouth a little, and Derek opens up for him as well.
Will pulls back. “Good?”
“Yeah,” Derek breathes. He licks his lips too, and Will tracks the movement with his eyes like he can’t help himself. He unconsciously pulls Derek a little closer to him, their chests bumping together. Derek’s thumbs find their way beneath Will’s shirt to brush against bare skin.
“Do you think we could do this sometimes?” It’s such an awkward way of asking, he knows, but his brain isn’t firing on all cylinders at the moment.
“I think we can do this all the time, actually.” Derek smiles, but his blown pupils and breathlessness point to him being just as affected as Will is.
Will smiles back, it’s shaky, but it’s true. “Okay.” He takes a breath. “Okay. I promised Bitty I’d help out with dinner, but later...”
“Right. Yeah, of course.” Derek lets his hands fall away from Will’s hips. Will reluctantly takes a step back. But then steps forward and kisses him again, quick and probably a little too hard, before backing up several steps so that he’s not tempted to do it again.
Alright, who is he kidding, he’s still totally tempted to do it again. But he keeps backing away anyway. Somehow finding the willpower.
“Tonight?” Will asks as he reaches the door.
Derek remains standing in the same spot, seemingly frozen. But he nods his head again, and Will feels lighter than air all the way through dinner.
They don’t mention anything to the team.
Will’s not entirely sure what, exactly, there is to mention yet. Derek does sleep in his bed that night, and every night after, all through Reading Week. But they only kiss again a couple of times, a little nervous with each other in a way neither of them knows how to push past.
Otherwise, their relationship doesn’t really change much beyond the friendship they already shared. There’s just as much casual touching, just as many chirps back and forth, but now they’re both aware of what they want.
And sometimes there’s kissing.
Sometimes. Not as often as Will would like. They’re both still a little shy in that regard. It still takes a bit of courage every time Will lets himself stare at Derek’s mouth for long enough to reveal his interest.
Neither of them has been in a serious relationship before. Will has never even been in a casual relationship before. And so it’s all just very... new.
It’s not just nerves that impede them, though. Derek is cautious with Will in a way that suggests he fears every romantic advance will be met with rejection, and Will doesn’t know how to reassure him enough to make that go away.
As for Will’s own hang-ups, there’s a part of him that knows he doesn’t really deserve to have this. It’s the same part that keeps belligerently trying to prove to the team, to Derek, to himself, that even if he doesn’t deserve to be here, he’s still worth keeping around. He can fix an oven or a dryer; he can replace shoddy door hinges or broken garbage disposals; he can play some solid hockey.
He may not be able to earn any sort of significance, but he can at least earn his keep. As part of the team, as part of the Haus, as part of whatever he now has with Derek.
And they only have two weeks before they leave for the summer. It’s not nearly enough time to figure anything out, especially with finals taking up so much of their focus.
“You could come visit me,” Derek whispers into Will’s shoulder one night, and then kisses that shoulder softly.
“Depends on what internship I end up getting. Won’t know what my summer looks like until then. And if I don’t get one at all, I’ll have to head back home and work my usual jobs.” The thought makes him a little queasy. It never has before.
“Find an internship in New York. My parents totally wouldn’t mind putting you up for a couple months.”
He says it so casually, but Will can feel how tense his muscles have suddenly gotten. “Maybe,” Will responds, because that’s... kind of a lot. Not just the spending the summer together part, or the meeting Derek’s family part, but letting himself accept room and board without compensation? Applying to more internships when, this late in the school year, they probably wouldn’t be able to get back to him with an answer until well after the break has already started?
“Just think about it,” Derek whispers. And Will tells him he will.
The decision practically gets decided for him the very next day. The Frogs are all studying together, though it’s mostly devolved into a series of overly long breaks to play Mario Kart and then to nearly burn a whole cookie sheet of bagel bites that they proceed to eat anyway.
At one point, the three of them pressed close on the couch while another episode of Friends plays on the television set before them, Derek reaches for Will’s hand, but pauses midair to mouth silently at him, Can I?
Will knows, in that second, that he’s probably going to spend his summer in New York.
He nods. Derek’s relief is palpable as he puts his hand over Will’s and turns to Chowder. “Yo, C.”
“Yeah?” Chowder turns to them, his gaze immediately zooming in on where they’re touching, and his eyes widen. “Oh, holy shit, finally.”
Derek laughs, and Will has to bite back a smile.
The thing of it is, for the time being, they’re too busy with finals to do much more than share space together. It’s hard to figure things out between them when Will is also trying to figure out where he went wrong in his calculus practice test and Derek is trying to figure out how to fit whatever novel-length essay answer he has prepped into a single blue book.
Finals become a lesson in self-control and discipline. One that Will is getting worse and worse at by the hour.
He was good at this before. Good at consciously ignoring how insanely pretty Derek is. But suddenly he can’t go five seconds without wanting to stare, or touch, and it’s proving to be an issue.
“I need to go.” He stands abruptly from the seat at his desk.
Derek startles, head snapping up from his reading where he’s sprawled across Will’s bed. A fact that Will can’t stop thinking about.
A flash of panic contorts Derek’s features as he processes Will’s words, but he quickly reins it into the worst approximation of “chill” Will thinks he’s ever seen him try to pull off. And he’s seen some pretty bad ones. “Right. Okay, cool. I’ll just--”
“I’ve been reading the same page of my textbook for over an hour,” Will interrupts.
Derek blinks at him dumbly, clearly not expecting that response.
“You’re literally going to make me fail half my classes.”
A slow grin that’s half smug and have delighted spreads across Derek’s face. “You saying I’m distracting, Poindexter?”
Will can feel the blush spread hot across his cheeks and the tops of his ears, but he holds Derek’s gaze determinedly. “Yes.”
Derek’s expression sobers, his lips parting in a soft, “Oh.”
“I want to be distracted by you is the problem.”
Derek looks like he doesn’t know where to even start. “Ah. Um. Chill.” He swallows and fidgets. “So. Okay, you stay here. I was gonna hit up Bully and Tango for a study sesh at the library anyway.”
Will breathes a sigh of relief. “Cool. Sounds like a plan.”
“And we...” Derek looks surprisingly nervous. “We’ll still...”
“We will figure things out when I don’t have my GPA on the line.”
Derek snorts a laugh and then rolls his eyes as he starts to pack up his stuff. “Alright, you wet blanket. I’ll see ya tonight, brosef.”
“You are the true embodiment of everything about the universe that I despise.”
Derek pretends to wipe away a fake tear as he heads out the door with a full backpack and a smirk. But he stops halfway there and heads back, hesitates over Will for a second, and then ducks down to lightly peck him on the cheek. “After finals,” he says, like a promise.
“Yeah,” Will says, embarrassingly breathless from something so innocuous. “After finals.”
Will applies for internships in New York. It feels like a statement, and even more so when he tells Derek.
“I won’t actually know if I get one of them until I’ve already gotten there. It’s still... It could not happen.”
“But you’ll come anyway?”
“I...” He doesn’t know if he should, too practical by half to be able to just say fuck it and see what happens. But the look on Derek’s face when Will hesitates is so vulnerable that Will feels the intense urge to fix it, and he knows he won’t be able to live with himself if the cause for Derek being in any way broken is his fault. “Yeah. I will. I’ll come.”
The semester ends. Bitty gives Ford his dibs. Ollie and Wicks give theirs to Tango and Whiskey.
Bitty’s graduation is an afternoon of tears from every SMH teammate who won’t be going with him.
Will pretends that he’s immune, discretely hiding his own sporadic crying behind eye rolls and scoffs at the lame speeches. But once the ceremony is over and Bitty is hugging each of them in turn on the lawn, while his parents, Jack, and Jack’s parent’s look on, Will finds he can’t quite keep it together anymore.
“You’re going to be okay,” Bitty whispers into Will's neck as they hold onto each other tightly. Will shuts his eyes against expressing any further emotion, but his breath hitches dangerously as Bitty amends, “No, you’re going to be more than okay.”
“Thank you. For everything. For helping me get this far.”
“I hardly did a thing, Sweetheart. It was all you.”
“No. No, you... You did so much. And I can’t...” He breathes in and out a couple of times, and then pulls back a little to look Bitty in the eyes. “Thank you,” he says again, with as much sincerity and determination as he can muster. “I think I would have drowned here too if not for you.”
Bitty’s smile trembles a bit. “Here ‘too?’” he questions.
Will looks away, at the grass beneath their feet, but Bitty moves his hands to Will’s biceps and squeezes, reassuring.
“Don’t worry about it,” are the words Will finally settles on. “This is your day. And you’re kind of my hero, so please know that you deserve this.”
Bitty grins, just as another teammate starts grabbing for his attention. He pats Will’s cheek with his fingers lightly as he turns away, and makes sure to tell him lowly, “You deserve it too, you know.”
Will’s not so sure about that, but he smiles back and nods anyway.
He leaves for home tomorrow and he still hasn’t told his mom that he’ll only be there for a couple weeks before taking off to New York. If he thought he could get away with it he’d just text her, but he’s not that cowardly after all.
“It’s a good opportunity,” Will tells her over the phone, standing in the empty Haus kitchen. Everyone except for Derek has already left. Will’s own bags are piled in the pickup truck he drove here after the last winter break, now that he has a parking spot at the Haus, ready for the long drive up to Maine.
“You’re an adult, Will, you don’t have to justify the decision to me.”
“Yeah. But. You’re not mad?”
“I’ll be happy to see you for however long you’re able to be here. It’s been awhile since Christmas.”
“Do you think Dad will be okay with it? I mean, just, that I’m not gonna be working for a paycheck?” Most of the places where he applied were unpaid, though many offered college credit. It’s been eating at him, both the lack of income and how his parents will probably feel about it.
“He’ll be fine. You said it’s a good opportunity, so.” She sounds skeptical, but he’ll take the out.
“Do you think you could tell him for me?”
She sighs. “You never give him enough credit, you know.”
“I’ll tell him. And drive safe, alright?”
“Will do. I’ll see you later tonight.”
When he hangs up and turns, Derek is in the doorway watching him. He wonders how much of that conversation Derek overheard, but is afraid to ask.
“I should get on the road. It’s a long drive,” he says instead.
Derek nods, and then comes forward to wrap Will up in a hug. They stand there for a long moment, just holding onto each other, not talking. When Derek finally pulls back, it’s for a lingering kiss, the kind that they haven’t had a chance to test out nearly often enough these past two weeks.
“See ya, Poindexter,” he says with a grin as he backs away.
Will takes a deep, fortifying breath, and heads out the door and back to Maine.
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.”
“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.
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.
“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.
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.”
“Yeah. She...” Will runs a hand down his weary features in frustration. “She says she wants to meet my ‘best friend.’”
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.”
“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.”
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.
“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.”
“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.
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.
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.