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He Was Fine

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Dex had been a massive asshole about the dib flip. He knew it, everyone else was witness to it, and he planned to apologise as soon as he got his wits about him because it wasn’t on and really wasn’t fair to Nursey. And it causes an ache in his chest to see how it had hurt Nursey to see Dex react like that.

But he didn’t have a place to live if he hadn’t gotten that room.

Sharing with Nursey wasn’t exactly the problem, well it was. Because how could he keep his secrets if he was rooming with someone? But no, it was more the idea that he wouldn’t have had anywhere to go for the summer if the coin hadn’t landed that way that had had him on his knees, practically staring into the abyss of panic.

Because he had worked damn hard for the room, he had needed to. And he was banking on somebody recognising all the hard work he had done for the haus to give him dibs.

Apparently, nobody else had realised how much work he had done. And then suddenly the possibility of not having a home for however many months was very real.

He supposed he could have used the spare key to sleep on the couch but….. That was a gross place to sleep for three months and there was still the problem for the rest of the year. It would be fine if he could afford dorms, but he really couldn’t. His scholarship was barely paying his way now just for his education. Any food he had been getting lately had come from the haus or his friends generosity. Which he hated, but really couldn’t do anything about.

Thankfully, nobody had seemed to notice. Because this was his problem, and nobody else's.

Plus he had managed to get an off-campus job in a dive bar which would help with food costs and phone bill as well as what he had to pay as a resident of the Haus. The job started a week into the summer, so hopefully he’d be able to manage until his first paycheck.

All of this runs through his head and more as he watches everybody leave for the summer. Nobody really has a good word to say to him but he knows he deserves it so he doesn’t say anything. Just waves from the steps, shrugging off peoples comments about when he was leaving since he was normally the first to offer people lifts to the airport before heading home himself.

No lifts had been offered this year considering his truck was getting sold off to some dude named Kyle a half hour after everyone was scheduled to leave. It was the start of his savings though, a few grand wouldn’t hurt. The guy was being generous, but the truck was fixed to perfection and he was going to miss it like hell. But he could just tell people he’d left it in Maine. That was the plan anyway.

His parents had thrown him out at the end of spring break after he’d gotten a little too drunk with his cousins and come out to them. Or more, he’d talked about he’d thought Nursey was too beautiful for words and maybe he was in love as they pieced the picture together.

They’d packed up all his things as he’s sobered up and thrown them into the truck, telling him to fuck off and never come back.

And he’d been okay in the dorms up until now seeing as though it had only been a month or two. However, he didn't have the dorms to go back to anymore. So along with truck, a lot of his other stuff was going too. Especially since his parents had cut off his old bank account, he’d had to get a new one. So any money he had saved from his years on that fucking lobster boat? Gone.

So he’d put everything he didn’t need up on craigslist. Leaving him with enough changes of clothes to last a week with washing every few days and his good suit. His school and hockey stuff, although he’d managed to sell some of his old gear from when he used to play at home. He keeps his toolkit too. But that’s it. Except for his bedding and towels which he needed.

Everything else is sold. And within the first month of summer, they’ve all been given to the people that had bought them.

His new job is shit. But it’s an income. The owners are a little shady and the patrons a little greasy, but it’s enough to keep him fed and putting money away for his rent. He has to shift his phone plan to something a lot simpler, but he’s fine. He’s surviving.

-

There’s almost a problem when everyone comes back to watch a Falcs game and to reconnect for a few days mostly out of the blue.

Or, he did know about it. Because the Haus had a decent wifi and he had managed to keep hold of his laptop so he was able to keep up with group-chats and the like. But Chowder and Nursey got in a day early, which had thrown him.

“Dex!” Chowder had been the first in, throwing himself at Dex bodily. “I didn’t think you were until tomorrow!”

“Nah, i’ve been here a few days, sorting the room out. Bunk beds aren’t gonna build themselves.” He tries for casual, tries his damn best.

But then Nursey comes in and he’s already frowning at the mention of the room. And Dex, tries. “I haven’t touched any of your stuff. And you can have the desk and shelves and everything. I’m just building the beds.”

Nursey hugging him is a surprise, even if it’s short. But he nods, like he knows Dex is trying to fix things. “Thanks bro.”

Dex nods, before turning back around. “I’ll be upstairs if anyone needs me. I should be done soon though.”

“Alright, oh we’re back together again this is so fun!” Chowder doesn’t seem to hold a grudge about what had happened, which was nice. Because Dex had been terrified about hi, picking Nursey. Even though he had every right to.

Dragging bags, they all head up the stairs, Chowder going to his room while Nursey follows Dex.

“Sorry. I promise everything will be right by tonight.” The mattresses are propped up in the hallway, and the bottom bunk was finished up, just the top needed constructing and putting on as well as the ladder.

“It’s chill Dex. And can I just say, the beard is killer.” Nursey just smiles, even if it’s a little strained, and grabs one of the mattresses, lying it down in the hall to collapse onto one, groaning happily.

Dex rubs at his beard, now very self conscious about it. Because Razors weren’t cheap and he found he got more tips at the bar if he had it. Thankfully the stress he was under had seemed to kick it into gear, and it looked much better than it had been last year.

“Thanks, I like you’re uhm. Scarf.”

“Yeah? My mom knitted it!”

“Well she’s uhm. Very talented.” Chowder peeps out from across the hall, grin in place.

“Are you guys good now? Is this you guys being good?”

“Well no. Because I haven’t apologised yet and I was planning to later but now is a good a time as any and.” He watches, heart in his throat as Nursey turns over, frowning in a puzzled manner, propping himself up on his elbows.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. I’m sorry I flipped out. There are reasons, although. Well no, no excuses I was an asshole. I’m sorry for having a meltdown and devaluing your hard work. You deserve this room just as much as I do, well more considering what you do for team morale and keeping everyone together and how lovely you are, never mind your work for Lardo. I’m also sorry if it came across as being a prejudiced asshole. Because, well I know i’m automatically privileged ‘cause i’m white we’ve spoken about that, I mean just like. You thought it was me using it as a reason I thought I should get the room. Which isn’t true at all. I mean. Fuck this is hard, sorry. I was more panicked about the idea of not having a room rather than, you know. Rooming with you.”

“You couldn’t have got a dorm?” Chowder interrupts just as Nursey’s going to say something and Dex blanks for a second, coughing loudly before hopefully recovering, heart hammering in his chest.

“Well, yeah I mean. Just, the Haus is always the better option right?”

“Right.” Nursey smiles properly then. “It’s chill Poindorkster. Sorry for like, antagonising you over it. It might take me a while to settle again, but I appreciate the apology.”

Dex holds a hand out and Nursey takes it before Dex hauls him up to hug him, because he couldn’t not in the moment, even putting his crush aside. He and Nursey were best friends when it came down to it, even if their friendship didn’t look the most conventional from the outside “Are we basically good?”

“Yeah we’re good.”

“CUDDLE PILE!” Chowder joins in, lunging at them as they tangle their limbs together and almost fall into the mattress, laughing loudly as they stagger around.

Hopefully they were good.

Chowder and Nursey stick around upstairs, although Dex does the work. And it’s nice, having other people in the Haus. Being alone he had felt well, lonely. The haus always felt better with other people in it.

Once he’s finished setting everything up, Nursey put his bag onto the top bunk, securing it for himself and Dex is glad he added the rail on the side before settling himself on the bottom bunk.

“You already moving in Dex? You’ve hung your clothes up.”

“Hmm, oh no. Sort of. I thought it would be easier bringing stuff down in chunks rather than all at once?”

“That’s a good idea.”

“Thanks.”

“We can totally fit a second desk in here, don’t worry about moving stuff around I don’t mind. Although I might need some more book cases.”

“We can go to IKEA if you want? When are you back home?” It’s a bad idea he knows it as soon as he says it. But he wanted to spend time with Nursey, try and get back to what they had been before the dip flip. Something comfortable and warm and maybe something he could think about as becoming something more.

“Whenever? Flights are flexible. Chow! When are your flights?”

“Uh two days after the match? We could go tomorrow though before anyone gets here?”

“Nice alright.” Nursey jumps down from the top bunk, dragging Dex up from where he was slumped to take him into Chowders room before dumping the both of them on Chowder’s bed.

“We need a game plan if we’re going to IKEA. Otherwise we’ll be there forever.”

“Never heard you say something so smart Nurse.” Dex tries weakly, which gets him an elbow to the ribs and a barely covered grin.

“Well my trucks back home, in shop.” Dex tries the lie and it seems to work. “So do either of you have a car?”

“Yeah, I managed to rent one. Right, what do people need? I need bookshelves.” Nursey throws out.

“I don’t need anything.” That’s a lie, but Dex says it anyway.

“I need more shelves too. Oh! And another one of those IKEA sharks if they have them!”

“Good shout.” Dex nods. “Sharky needs a friend.”

“Oh can you sew a mustache onto the new one?”

“What makes you think I can sew?” Dex laughs, and the way Chowder looks at him with a raised eyebrow makes him laugh harder.

“You can fix things and i’ve seen a small sewing kit in your tool box.”

“Fair point. Okay.”

“You sure you don’t need anything Dex?” Chowder looks at him from where he’s perched on the desk chair.

“Nah ‘m good.”

“Well maybe you’ll see something when we get there. Oh i’m excited! We can get the meatballs!” Chowder practically bounces with how excited he is and Dex nods.

“Sounds good.” He hadn’t been planning on eating anything not bought in bulk for cheap for a while, but he could dip into his savings to try and look normal. He’d just pick the cheapest things. He’d be fine.

“Ch’yeah of course it will be. It’s a FROGS DAY OUT!” Nursey punches the air which gets Chowder shouting, mostly wordless sounds as they all crash about laughing.

Yeah. Dex would be alright.

Dex was not alright. He was pushing the trolly which currently had two bookcases and some kallax units in it as well as a few succulents and a shark shaped mug. The bookcases and plants for Nursey and the unit and mug for Chowder. Dex himself hadn’t eaten much and was feeling a little light headed. Especially with how soft Nursey looked holding a soft squid toy, grinning as Chowder took photos. He always felt like that when he looked at Nursey though.

Chowder was holding his own shark before whipping around to Dex. “Dex I found the perfect thing for you, hold this!”

Expectantly, because Chowder would pout if he didn’t, Dex holds his hands out, frowning in the way that means he’s trying not to smile as Chowder puts a large stuffed lobster into his hands.

“Say Cheese!”

“Lobster!” He says it to make them both laugh and it works, and the warmth he feels spreads to his face as Nursey comes over to him, taking the lobster and putting it into the cart with the other plushies.

“Nursey-”

“Nope. My treat Dexy. Matching sea creatures for the frogs!”

Dex relents, because he knew how happy it made Nursey to treat his friends. Even if the money spent on him felt more like charity than ever. But Nursey didn’t know his secrets. So it was fine.

“Yeah, okay. Whatever you want. You good Chow?” Chowder had face-planted into a bin of the soft toys, moving his face around because it was soft, and Dex makes sure Nursey’s gets a picture before they move on.

Dex manages to add the cheapest desk he can find to the cart, and Nursey adds some candles while Chowder picks up some stationary for Farmer because apparently she loved doing calligraphy?

Overall it’s a good trip, even if Dex almost passes out on the way home. Thankfully Nursey was driving, and he’s in the back so it’s not obvious as he puts his head against the window and tries to just breathe.

Everyone is in the haus when they get there and it’s overwhelming and great and loud and Dex can’t deal with his head spinning. But then of course there’s Bitty with pie and a warm hug and everybody chirping him for the beard and it’s good.

Nursey follows behind, and him putting his hand on Dex’s shoulder, squeezing as he joins him at the table is good too, them brushing shoulders as they eat, Chowder across from them as they talk about their IKEA trip, people filtering in and out of the kitchen to say their hellos and pass on their hugs. It’s nice.

Thank fuck Dex doesn’t have work. Because he doesn’t know he would explain that the next day. Everyone is hungover after celebrating the Falcs win, Jack even managing to facetime in after the game. And nobody is leaving until the day after, all predicting their hangovers.

The evening hadn’t been Kegster level, but it had been damn close.

He’s tucked up in bed, hearing Nursey shift above him.

“Dex, Dex. I feel sick.”

“That’s the hangover bro.”

“I don’t want to puke over the side of the bed though.”

“Can you get down here?”

There’s a pause. “Yeah?”

And maybe it’s because Dex feels like shit too that he offers. “Then come down here. These bunks were built for Rans and Holts we can fit.”

He’s never heard Nursey move so fast in his life off the ice, and he’s down the ladder in record time without tripping. He also manages to grab their bin and pull it over to the side of the bed as Dex shuffles back to the wall.

“If you fidget i’m kicking you back out.” He mumbles, and Nursey just laughs as best as he can as he gets under the covers. They’re both mostly clothed, and at this point years of cuddle piles with Chowder make it so that it isn’t awkward as they basically snuggle up.

It’s probably the headache and sickness that make Dex want to tell Nursey about his predicament. Because Nursey was snuggling closer, head on Dex’s chest and breathing even and comfortable. And he was comfortable with Dex, even if they air was still a little stale from the dib flip. But how could Dex do that and ruin the moment?

So he doesn’t. Instead, he lets himself drift off back to sleep, arm around Nursey, comfortable.

He makes his excuses again when everyone leaves.

“Yeah im just gonna set everything up furniture wise so I don’t have to worry about it when I come back.” Chowder’s lingering. Nursey had gone reluctantly a few minutes before, but Chowder must sense something.

“You sure? I can help!”

“Nah C. Go catch your flight. And text me when you get home okay?”

“Same with you. Okay. I’ll see you when we all get back!” With one last crushing hug he’s gone, and Dex smiles at his sneaky attempts at glances until he leaves.

When the door is shut, and the haus is quiet again, Dex gets to work.

-

The last few weeks of summer are nice. Dex manages to set the room up in a way that is cramped but cozy, everything just about fits. Just. So that’s fine. And Chowders units are set up and waiting for him. Not that Chowder had asked, but Dex wasn’t good with his words, not really. So doing nice things for his friends to show them he cared was his best bet.

Bitty’s the first back after summer, and Dex welcomes him with cookies. Because Bitty had been taking care of that for as long as Dex had known him, and it would be nice to turn the tables for a change. That, and Bitty was now ruthless as captain and Dex didn’t want to get into his bad books early on.

“Oh you absolute sweetheart Dex thank you! You’re gonna have to clear that oven out though because I am ready to make some pie!”

“What, your flight too long to go without?”

“You betcha.” Dex takes the cookies out, putting them onto the burners to cool as Bitty takes over his kitchen.

“When’s everyone getting here? Cause i’ve got to be out by five but I don’t want to miss anyone.”

“Out? Where are you going to early into the year huh?”

“I got a job off campus. It’ll be nice getting some extra income you know.”

“Ofcourse. Oh where do you work? And i’m sorry, I think Tango is the earliest at seven.”

“No worries, i’ll see everyone in the morning for team breakfast. And you know Sparkles? It’s gross but, it gives me enough money to live here so!”

He says it like a joke, but Bitty whirls around. “Do you need help with the rent and stuff? With Jack helping-” Dex doesn’t miss the happy blush on Bitty’s cheeks but doesn’t say anything “You don’t have to chip in for food. And i’m sure if you let him know he’ll be able to cover your bills.”

Dex hates how he wants to snarl at the offer, to curl up and snap. But he doesn’t. Even if his tone is a little clipped.

“Nah i’m good Bits but thanks for the offer. Although maybe, if there’s ever need for fines, ease up a little?” It’s hard asking. Really hard, and his throat catches around the words. And even though it’s evident that Bitty hears it, he doesn’t say anything either, just nods.

“Can do sugar. Now come help me make this pie and you can have a slice before you head off to work.”

They both giggle at that, and Dex gets up to help.

“Do the coaches know about you job?” Bitty asks it as they start working and Dex shakes his head.

“No not yet, i’m gonna tell them before first practise. But sparkles does, and they’re pretty good about hiring students anyway so they’ve said i’ll get the time off for games and stuff which is so great.”

“And is it okay? You don’t get harrassed?”

“I don’t get harrassed, but there’s a reason they’re so desperate they want to keep me on you know. Not many people want to work there. It’s okay though, I get good tips.”

“As long as your safe.”

“Don’t worry Bits, I can look after myself.”

Going to work is hard, because he really wants to see Nursey and Chowder as soon as he can. Mostly Nursey, but if he pushes his crush aside then it’s Nursey and Chowder in equal measure. Especially since the conversations between him and Nursey had been flowing so easily during the summer after he’d apologised.

Dex had managed to duck out of skype calls. But Nursey had made do just with the regular calls, and it had been nice, even if Dex had avoided the truth. Because he had managed not to lie, dodging questions about his day by getting Nursey to go off on tangents and the like. It would be better with him here though.

Instead, he goes to work. And it’s fine. Because his manager is alright if lazy, and the patrons are alright if handsy. He doesn’t like it. But the tips that get handed to him or shoved into his pockets make it worth it.

He stinks of spilt beer and sweat when he gets in. But the haus isn’t quiet. Despite it being 2am. Ollie and Wicks are playing mario kart and Chowder’s with Farmer on the couch, Bitty’s still in the kitchen, but he’s at the table facetiming Jack and Dex doesn’t have a chance to look for Nursey because he’s barreling into him with a loud and happy shout.

“I MISSED YOU BRO! WHY DID YOU GET IN SO EARLY? AND WHERE’S YOUR TRUCK, I ONLY KNEW YOU WERE HERE CAUSE BITTY TOLD ME!”

“Shit hi!” Dex hugs back, laughing awkwardly as Nursey lets him go, holding him at arm's length.

“Dude have you not been eating? Where’s your bulk? Shit you should see Chow, dude’s only gotten broader it’s amazing! Chowder!”

Chowder does come in, and he grins when he see’s Dex before they’re all in a frog pile, laughing.

“I’m fine, maybe it’s the lack of Bitty’s pies?” Dex doesn’t mention that’s it’s probably the lack of more than two meals a day.

“Ch’yeah probably. Also, the room looks great! Look come see what I added!” And then everyone’s being left behind as Nursey drags him upstairs to their room.

When the door opens, Dex can only grin. There are fairy lights everywhere, and a blanket on his bed with his lobster carefully tucked under the covers while Nursey’s bed is a mountain of them.

“What do you think?” Nursey beams, hand gripping Dex’s arm and not letting go.

“It’s great. I really like it.”

“I’m glad! And here I was thinking you were too macho for it.” Nursey doesn’t let go, instead he reels Dex in for another hug before letting go with a grimace. “Damn, you need to shower you smell fucking gross.”

“Yeah well, some of us have jobs Nurse.” It’s a soft chirp, one that would have held heat in freshman year but doesn’t anymore.

“I thought you had savings?”

“Nah, not enough to cover rent. Plus it’s nice to be like, self sustained you know?”

“I guess so. Go. Shower. You want dinner?”

“Fuck yes.”

“I”ll get your plate, Bitty saved one for you.”

Then he’s gone and Dex is left feeling warm and surprisingly cared for.

And oh. Oh that hits where it hurts. Because he had been avoiding thinking about that whole situation all summer other than the practical aspects of it.

It anyone hears him crying in the shower or realises he takes a little too long, they don’t say anything.

-

At first it’s fine. The coaches are fine about him having a job, and thankfully it won’t affect his scholarship. So everything is fine.

Sure, he doesn’t get much sleep between studying, work and hockey. But it’s manageable. Plus with more people in the haus, he’s started eating properly again. Which helps a lot.

Things with Nursey also seem to be going well. Living together is a little hard at first, but they settle into a rhythm that works. Dex uses the bathroom first while Nursey wakes up, Nursey keeps his nighttime writing quiet and in soft lamplight. They work well together, and the connection they have on the ice bleeds into their relationship off the ice.

With lingering touches and soft gazes. Dex, likes it. He really does.

He gets a second job on campus doing a bit of reception work for the IT department, and that’s extra money too which helps with the bills. He can get school work done too while he’s there, which is great. It also helps that the IT building is right next to the English department, and whenever Nursey’s around when he is, he brings Dex coffee.

It’s an excuse to see each other, they both know that as Nursey puts the coffee on the counter, sometimes with little chirp-y notes. And the head guys seems to get a kick out of it, but more in a ‘young love’ way that anything more untoward.

Dex denies the ‘love’ bit till he’s red in the face. But he can’t deny there’s a something going on as Nursey lounges around him.

Everything is fine. Really.

-

As soon as it hits September the weather changes, and everyone on the team has started to bundle up. There are draughts in the Haus again, and Dex really wants to get to them, but the toll of two jobs on top of hockey and his school stuff is starting to wear him down. He doesn’t say anything though. Because really, nobody needed to know. Not really. He was doing pretty damn well on his own, even if he was getting worn a little thin.

“Nothing coffee can’t fix.” He yawns around his cup that Nursey had brought him on his way to class. He’s early, because he had been for the last however many classes, so he lingers. Just talking.

“I think sleep would be better bro.”

“Says you mister all up night up writing.” Dex snorts, but there’s not heat to it and Nursey laughs too.

“You got me there. Whatever. You at work tonight?”

“Nah, just homework why?”

“I’m ordering in. My treat. I’m thinking pizza’s bigger than Jack’s ass.” Nursey waves a hand like the old guys did in movies saying ‘you’re gonna be a star!’ and Dex laughs at that. As well as the chirp that Jack wasn’t even around to hear.

“That’s a pretty huge pizza.”

“So you in? Chow’s on his date night so we get them to ourselves.”

“Like i’de turn down pizza. I should be back by six?” Dex wasn’t above grabbing any free food he could get now. And if he hoarded leftovers a little closely then that was his business.

“It’s a date. Later Poindorkster.”

“Later Nursery Rhyme.”

Nursey cackles he walks off, looking over his shoulder to chirp “Wow that was weak even for you.” Only to bump into the door frame before heaving out with a wave.

He’s so busy watching Nursey leave that his comments go completely over his head until Nursey’s well out of the building. Dex is so gone.

Letting himself have a small break to eat feels nice. Especially when they’re curled up in Dex’s bunk, shoulder to shoulder with a blanket over the side and lights threaded in to make a den. They’re shoulder to shoulder, bed a little too small for them to be doing so despite them doing it anyway. They’re watching Hilda, and shoving as much pizza into their mouths as possible.

“Hm.” Nursey wipes his fingers on Dex’s sweats to get rid of the grease and Dex returns by wiping his own on Nursey’s face.

Nursey screams, grabbing at Dex’s hands until they’re breathless and laughing, fingers intertwined awkwardly between them by their chests.

“I don’t think I said. But happy one month on not killing each other.” Nursey's breathing a little hard, but he's smiling as he talks. 

“Has it only been a month?” Dex groans, and rearranges his hands a little, not enough to disturb the tangle though.

“Well, you have been doing a lot.”

It’d be the perfect time for Dex to say something, about how even after a month the work was already getting too much. But he doesn’t. Because how can he? When Nursey’s is so soft, holding his hands. Dex doesn’t want to ruin this.

So he doesn’t say anything. Instead he just leans forward a little, a fit of bravery overriding his fear as he gently kisses Nursey’s knuckles.

“You said this was a date right?” His voice is shaking, and his mouth is dry. But then Nursey leans in and they’re kissing properly.

It’s soft, and sort of gross because they both taste like pizza and grease, it’s imperfect. Because it’s them. It’s disjointed, and they have to tilt their heads a little to find the right way to fit, and then their teeth are clashing before they find a rhythm. But the imperfect is perfect for them. And then they’re grinning too hard to continue on and Dex let’s himself rest his forehead against Nursey’s, just breathing.

Again, he could say something, should say something. Because secrets weren’t something you should keep from somebody like Nursey. It would lead to heartbreak. But how could Dex? How could he put aside his pride so easily.

“I, Nursey.” It’s there on his tongue. But he can’t. “Do you wanna do the whole proper thing and date?”

That was just as good.

“Yeah, that’d be chill.”

Dex let’s go to punch him gently in the arm before kissing him again. “I don’t know how good i’ll be, between my jobs and hockey and everything. I don’t have a lot of time. So I understand if you don’t want to.”

“We have time now right? Just hanging around with you while we’re studying is enough for me. I promise.” Nursey kisses his jaw, and Dex grins at the feeling of lips on skin, because he had given up and shaved his beard a week ago, tips be damned. It was getting too hard to manage.

“If it’s ever not, you have to tell me. I want us to be good. I don’t want to ruin this.”

“We’ll see how we fare. But I think we’ll be fine.” Nursey kisses him again, and it’s good. They’re good.

-

They’re still good at the end of the month. Practically everyone on campus knows, because they refuse to be subtle. But Bitty had been lenient with the fines, knocking them back a decent bit, and Chowder had just followed his lead. So that was a weight off somewhat. Especially given Nursey just had a habit of throwing money at Bitty before kissing Dex senseless while they were just relaxing on the gross couch or something.

The work, is fine. He’s still tired, because he was always tired. But he’s still performing well during their games and practises. Nobody has noticed anything. And thanks to the fact that he can do work while at the IT job means that his grades are average. He’s still got his scholarship anyhow. And honestly, he can’t afford to stress over getting grades better than that.

Nobody had tried to get in touch from home. Not even any of his cousins that he thought he was cool with. And it hurts to the point where his heart feels like it’ll burst with how broken it is. But Nursey’s affection soothes it a little.

Logically, he knows that Nursey won’t be able to fix anything. And he didn’t expect Nursey to either. That wasn’t his job. And Dex would kick himself if he thought he was pushing that on to Nursey.

His problems were his own. So he bottles it up and tries to move on. Like he always did.

Bitty sends looks his way, like he knows what’s happening. Or atleasts wants to know. But Dex just smiles and shrugs off any questions as best he can. Bitty meant well, but nobody else needed to know but him.

“You coming for the optional Dex?” Chowder calls from his room over to his and Nursey’s. “We’re gonna have a kegster after!”

“Nah you know i’ve got work. Wish I could though!”

“Kegsters aren’t the same without you!” Chowder whines, but it’s good natured as he crashes the room, throwing himself down onto Dex’s bed.

“I’ll let you know when I can get a day off. I can’t afford to take a sick day though.”

“You sure? We can spot you if needs be.” Chowder doesn’t look at him because he knew how Dex blushed when the topic of money came up.

And here’s another opportunity for him to say something. Because he knows Chowder wouldn’t pity him, and neither would Nursey who’s currently napping on the top bunk.

“I appreciate that C thanks. I’ll let you know.” It’s not what he wants to say. Because the guilt had already started to eat him up inside about keeping things from his best friends. But he can’t. This was his problem.

Chowder makes a happy noise at that, because it was better than what Dex would have said even last year.

“Alright. Nursey, babe.” Dex stands from the desk after saving everything. He was already ready for work, but had managed to get finished early so he’d got some work done.

“Hmm.” Nursey rolls over and Dex tiptoes to be able to kiss him over the railing as Nursey barely lifts his head up. “Have a good time.”

“I’ll try.” He kisses Nursey’s forehead one last time before fist bumping Chowder and then he’s gone.

He’d taken the early open and was working till the morning but it would be well worth it. Because it was a friday, and people always tipped better on a friday.

The evening is long, but he gets enough tips to make it worth while. Especially since it was his turn to plan the date and he wanted to actually treat Nursey to something instead of just a cheap Annie’s date.

It’d be better in his savings given that his options after college were always a looming threat in the back of his mind. But he loved Nursey, he really did. So he’d rather spend the thirty dollars on him. He did pick up the extra shift after all.

The kegster is still in full swing when he gets home. But he’s too tired to even say hi to people. His head was pounding and after being on his feet for over six hours, all he could think of was going straight to bed.

So he does, moving the signs that are hung on the stairs to get up to his room. And he makes a quick job of changing before crashing into his bed. Nursey wasn’t back yet, but they didn’t have anything to do tomorrow so he didn’t expect him to. Well, they don’t. Dex had to go to the IT centre but that was fine. He was only there for a few hours and had to be there for eleven so he’d manage to get a lie in.

Setting his alarm for eight which isn’t as stupidly early as it usually is, because he knew he had a coding project he wanted to finish before heading off if we was to do any written work while at the centre. Once that’s done, he passes the fuck out.

A while later, he’s not sure how long. He feels Nursey climb into bed and all he does is shove up, letting Nursey cuddle him.

“Go to sleep babe.” He’s slurring, and he starts petting Dex’s hair a little clumsily. But his warmth breath on the back of Dex’s neck and the petting is enough to get Dex to drift off again. Feeling safe and warm and still bone tired.

-

The usual routine sets into his bones. Get up, study. Practise. Study. Go to work. Go to class. Go to other work. Maybe eat at some point. It’s okay. Everything is fine.

Exams hadn’t started yet. So all he has to focus on is turning his projects in on time for his grades, and they have their first game of the season. So he doesn’t have time to think about anything else.

It’s an away game at the very beginning of November. And with it being the first game of the pre-season with Dex and Nursey taking over from Ransom and Holster, it’s a lot.

Everybody is stressed, and Dex almost crumbles the evening before the game. Because what if they didn’t win? What if they then took his scholarship off of him because they didn’t win or he did a bad job and he couldn’t afford anything, never mind a place to stay. He’d lose the only thing he had.

But then everyone is there, shoulder to shoulder while they eat. Loud and brash and excited. His team were great. They played a damn good good game, they could do this. He couldn’t think of the options if they didn’t.

It’s rough, but his desperation only makes him play harder. There are a few rough checks that leave him reeling, but he and Nursey are magic out there. Together.

They win. Even if it’s close. They manage it. And Dex let’s himself celebrate. Because he could deal with being hungover on the way back. Sure, he had work that evening. But he had managed to get his comp homework finished on the way to the game. So he was fine.

Getting wasted feels good. Especially when it’s not his booze. And he and Nursey beg off early to go to the room, thank you Ford for rooming them together.

Crashing into their room, they’re a mess of limbs and mouths. Heat passes between them as they drunkenly make out, and the night is theirs.

Waking up in a bed that’s big enough for the two of them is nice. Even with their alarms going off and their heads pounding. Dex snuggles deeper into Nursey’s chest.

Nurseys awake, because he fumbles to turn their alarms off and he groans at the ceiling. But his hand goes back around Nursey as Dex draws invisible patterns into his chest.

They had won. And he was safe, as well as in Nursey’s arms. So he’s content. He could deal with the stress when he got back.

-

He could not deal with the stress. Of course as it gets later into the year, the school workload gets more intense. But he hadn’t collapsed yet. So even though he’s stressed out of his mind, he’s okay. People are just treating him like they had with Ransom when he had gone full coral reef mode, and that was fine by Dex.

Checking his phone still hurts. But he does it. Not that anyone notices that, which he’s thankful for.

Nursey starts planning their halloween costumes before September is even over. And he only gets more intense with his suggestions and ideas as the days trickle over into October as the weather only gets colder.

“Oh! We could be Jessie and James!”

“I don’t have the confidence to wear that dress Nurse. And I know you’d want me to be Jessie because we’re both redheads.”

“Oh come on.” The library is quiet, but they’re taking a break before they both have to to class. They’ve just finished their lunch, and are sitting opposite one another with a tiny desk between them. Nursey’s feet are in his lap, awkwardly scrunched up, but he doesn’t move them as Dex slowly rubs and and down his shin, soothing because Nursey had been stressed about his ‘stupid fucking professor’ not grading his work properly from the previous class.

“Nope. Just be happy I booked the day off.”

“And I am love, I so am. But why not make the most of it?” His puppy dog eyes are intense, and how can Dex not relent under the weight of that? Nursey was beautiful when he wasn’t trying, never mind when he was.

And Dex had been excessively checking over his funds ever since he moved into the haus. So he knew one days holiday wouldn’t hurt. But even if it would, the look Nursey’s giving him is worth it.

“Oh! You can’t say no to this because I know how much you love the books. You as Ron, me as Harry. We can give them the Yule Ball date they deserved.”

Dex cackles, too loud really for the library. “Derek you’re finally speaking my language.”

“Derek?” Dex just smiles at the delighted look on Nursey’s face at his slip up.

“Well it’s your name isn’t it?” He was so gone For Derek Nurse.

“That it is Will.” Then they’re beaming at one another, and only the buzzing from Nursey’s phone gets them to stop. “Shit we’ve got to go. Come on.”

It’s up to the frogs to decorate the haus this year, and it hurts Dex to not be around to help more than he can. But when he’s not busy he helps. And it’s fun, some of the most fun he’s had off the ice.

Chowder and Nursey do a damn good job, all Dex really does it help put banner and bats and fake cobwebs up. The only one he trusts on a ladder. Everywhere is a blur of orange and black and white. It’s gaudy and atrocious and Dex loves it. He had put money towards the decorations, because that was part of his job. But he knows somebody had snuck it back into his wallet. Even if it was only twenty dollars. And Dex knows that at least Nursey, Chowder and Bitty know that something’s up. But they care about him enough that they haven’t let on in a way that’s obvious.

And Dex still doesn’t say anything. Because he was managing. He doesn’t want to ruin anything. Because him saying things had only led to him being thrown out hadn’t it. To rejection. He doesn’t think he could handle that from his team as well as his family.

They’re holding a haus wide pumpkin carving session. And Dex is glad that this is a good memory to replace the ones he has involving his family.

Because Whiskey is laughing for once, Tango pulling faces. And Ollie and Wicks are making matching aesthetic pumpkins. Chowder is gleefully carving out a shark into his own while Bitty is making sure everyone gives him all the pumpkin guts and seeds separately.

He and Nursey keep knocking one another, making sure the pumpkins are sort of ugly just with how they’ve messed up each others movements. Both are horrifically on brand for gruesome halloween faces so it doesn’t matter. And he feels gross and sticky but he’s so happy.

Tango gets some aesthetic pictures. One’s with Dex pretending that the pumpkin is his head while Nursey gets one too in the same vein. And Nursey gets plenty of his own, sending them all to Dex.

New memories are enough to cover the old ones. Just about.

The day of halloween is a fanfare all of its own. They were dressed up the entire day, because really. It was halloween, they were allowed to. Nursey had sorted their costumes, getting one of his friends in the art department to help him. And they looked great, not going for the awful film versions and instead having some nicer looking robes. Nursey had stupid fake glasses on and a scar and Dex was already ginger so it worked.

“Hm. Come on. This is the first night off you’ve had in forever let’s goooooo!” Nursey drags him down the stairs just as Bitty starts his playlist, the haus already starting to fill up. And Dex goes.

“This is not and you know it. Stop being dramatic.”

“Let me miss partying with my boyfriend! Now come on!”

Laughing, Dex follows him into the crush of the party, hand not letting go of it’s tight grip as he’s tugged towards the kitchen. They go for the cookies first, because there would always be booze, but the sweets were in high demand, stuffing as many into their faces as they can without getting caught because Bitty had a ‘two to a person’ rule and they were very much demolishing that.

But they’re giddy and shoving at one another, reeling eachother back in to keep themselves close, crumbs around their mouth that the other doesn’t hesitate to lick away once they’ve had their fill and moved away to the corner.

It would turn into a makeout session, if Nursey doesn’t spot a couple in a Team Rocket costume. Because then he’s hopping up onto the counter, pulling Dex to stay close and snark into his ear.

“We could have done it better than that. And they just? Spray painted their hair what?” Dex giggles. Because the couple really didn’t make a an effort.

“We did do better. Look at these costumes you made us! We’re the best dressed here.”

“Don’t let Bitty here you say that.”

“I think he’d kill me if I did.”

They spend the next hour critiquing costumes. Putting on their best art critic voices. And they give Chowder a full on golf clap when he comes in with Farmer. Both wearing the others sport uniform. It’s great.

It’s his best halloween yet. He doesn’t get super drunk, because apparently he and Nursey are designated Chowder patrol before they can even hit that level. And once they’ve managed to get him and a giggly Farmer up to his room with the door closed firmly behind them, they’re sort of tired.

“Are we old? If this what being old is like?” They’re tipsy enough that dragging both mattresses onto the tiny floor to make a double bed feels like a good idea, and sure everything’s squished and multiple things get knocked over but it’s nice. Especially with how Nursey bundles them in their comforters after stripping.

“We’re not old. Just too busy to not be tired.” Dex yawns into Nursey’s mouth when they try and make out, so instead they just settle for cuddling. Tangling their limbs together as close as they can.

“Hm. Well you are.”

“Don’t- don’t undervalue your own work Der’.”

“I’m not. I’m just saying. You have more on your plate with the extra two jobs.”

“Well I don’t mind.” The alcohol makes his tongue a little looser. “Worth it. For after college. Gotta have those savings.”

“What about your lobster money?” Nursey is falling asleep, the liquor making him doze off already.

So Dex does say something. The liquor in his own system helping. Telling it to Nurrsey’s chest is easier though, so he does that. “Not mine anymore.”

Nursey doesn’t say anything else, already asleep. And he doesn’t say anything the next morning either. So Dex is fine. His secrets are still safe.

And then it’s back to his routine. Back to scrimping and saving, worrying. About the fact that no matter how much he worked he wouldn’t have enough to pay for a place after college. But still he works, and he studies, and he makes sure he keeps his scholarship. He manages.

-

Thanksgiving sneaks up on him. Because he couldn’t tell at this point how much of Bitty’s baking was just stress baking and just regular baking. And really, Dex didn’t have the brain power or energy to focus on anything but his routine. He eats whatever is put in front of him really, but it’s when the sweet pies start to get savoury that he clicks on.

“Bitty, what, turkey?”

“Yes. Two weeks ‘till thanksgiving. I have to get everything perfect for haus giving and then for when I go and visit Jack!”

“Two weeks, really?” Tango’s sitting opposite him, both at the kitchen table working on their respective homeworks.

“And I thought I asked stupid questions.” Dex kicks Tango under the table lightly for the chirp but he smiles at him.

“Shut up. I literally don’t even know what day it is now. Or the time.”

That’s not true really, because his work schedules made sure he knew the days. But dates were completely out of the window.

“You love thanksgiving though Dex. Work really must be getting to you huh?”

Dex used to love any holidays that meant he could be around his family. Because he had loved them wholeheartedly. Still did. But of course it was complicated.

Swallowing the bitter taste in his mouth at the thought, he tries to laugh and hopes it doesn’t sound too hollow.

“Work’s really scrambling my head I guess.”

Quietly, because Tango was currently on his phone, laughing and something and well and truly distracted, Bitty beckons him to the sink.

“If work’s too much, we can spot you Dex. We’ve got your back.”

Dex grimaces. Because how obvious must he be? But instead of saying anything about it he just shrugs.

“I’ll let you know if i’m not good.” He bumps their shoulders before flinging one arm around Bitty’s shoulders in a one armed hug. He lets his head rest on Bitty’s for a second. And all Bitty does is huff good naturedly but he leans into it.

“I really do appreciate the offer Bits thanks you.”

“Anytime sugar. Now. If you don’t want help, I need it. Finish your work then come help me with these pies.”

He hears the snapping of a phone camera from behind them to see Tango grinning. “The group chat is gonna love this. Also Jack. Because he told me to get nice pictures from around the house and team and stuff. Oh do you want me to get it printed it’s great!”

Bitty just rolls his eyes and grins. “You do that and i’ll get it framed.”

Haus Giving is amazing as it always is. Dex helps with the cooking, laughing with Bitty while they seem to work in a decent harmony. Dex nothing more really than a helper, but he loves it all the same.

Everyone is in and out of the kitchen during the day, getting chased out by Bitty or even Dex on occasion. Although nether say anything when Nursey and Chowder crash the kitchen, sitting at the table just to chirp. Although Dex does put up a fake protest when Nursey tries to get away with draping himself across Dex’s shoulders while Dex is cooking. To make up for shrugging him off though he turns around, brushing flour onto Nursey’s cheek as he kisses him soundly, before pushing him back to the table.

Bitty had waved off his offering for help with the food cost. Laughing loudly. “Oh honey, if you think Jack would let me go without food to cook for Hausgivings giving you are sorely mistaken.” Which had given him a nice little positive to start the holiday on. Because holiday food always did cost a decent amount more than regular food. And with the way Bitty was cooking, and the way Dex was able to squirrel away leftovers to keep them from the rest of the haus, because they all ate like fucking dogs, he would have enough left over to last him for the week.

So with those worries off his mind, he spends the night with friends, happy and full and soothing the ache of not going home with the affection and positivity he can get from them. He spends the night with Nursey under his arm or under Nursey’s own. And hopefully, it would be enough to get him through the week alone.

This time, Chowder and Nursey ask him a good few times why he’s ‘not leaving’ until the day after. And neither seem to buy his weak excuses. But they go eventually, with a group hug with Chowder and then a lingering kiss just between him and Nursey.

Watching them go is hard. But a week was a week. He’d managed the summer, he could manage this. 

He has a week off from his IT job, given that not many people were staying on campus. So he spends the week getting more shifts at Sparkles and getting on top of all of his projects. The amount of time he spends alone means he even finishes and submits all the one’s he can way on time.

Which is another positive for the week. But it’s not enough. Not really. Even with how hard he’s working, how much he avoids thinking about it. On the night of thanksgiving, he cries in the bath.

Because whenever Nursey needed a good cry and nobody was in, he always did it in the bath. He had told Dex it was soothing and cathartic.

Dex just feels like a snotty mess, curled up in the corner because the bath doesn’t feel right to lie in. The water is nice and warm, but he can barely feel it. Because the sobs are taking over his body, stress coming out in waves.

It doesn’t help. Not really. But the storm in his chest had calmed to more of a calm turmoil. Maybe that’s Nursey had meant. Not that the emotion would go away, but that it would feel a little calmer.

Dex had spent years repressing his feelings, had been told not to cry. Not to talk about his feelings. So, it feels nice, to get things out. Even if it’s not what he expects.

He’s at work on purpose for when everyone gets back home from the holiday. Because Nursey and Chowder were already suspicious. So it’s nice getting back in after everybody.

“Nursey!” He had missed Nursey, even though it had just been a week. So he’s the first name he calls as soon as he gets in.

“DEX!” He bowled over onto the nasty couch. But it is so worth it as Nursey peppers his face with kisses, hands coming to rest on his hips as Dex throws his arms around Nursey’s shoulders. They had called each other every night, and text as much as they could. But being together is so much more.

“Babe, baby.” He giggles the words out, trying to kiss Nursey back before their mouths align.

Everything, for those minutes, is perfect.

-

Dex makes sure he’s prepared for christmas. And Winter Break for that matter. Because he was not going to let it sneak up on him like Thanksgivings did.

So when he can, he buys the haus residents presents online. Sneaking them under the bed into a tightly closed box. He usually only got people small presents, so at least this year it would be different. And against his better judgement, he gets his youngest sister Milly a present too. Just a set of nice paints because he knew what an artist she was becoming. He addresses it to her along with a little card and everything.

Nursey’s present, he actually drops an IT shift for, catching the bus into town to go hunting. He knew Nursey had a bunch of notebooks already, but he finds a tiny antique shop that miraculously had one for sale. It’s old, but intricately detailed, and the edges are gold. Plus, there’s a few diary entries on the first few pages which Dex knows Nursey will love, being the history nerd he is.

Then he grabs some wool and needles from a little art shop and spends a good hour being taught how to knit by the nice old lady who runs the shop. Her name is Doris, and she’s probably the sweetest person Dex has ever met apart from Chowder.

“Yeah this, this for my boyfriend.” He had choked out when she had asked who he was making the scarf for. But his fears had eased when she had clapped happily, before going serious.

“Don’t knit him a sweater. Do you know about the sweater curse?”

The hour had then turned into two as they sat at the table in the middle of the shop. Her having to get up every now and then to serve customers, but in between she tells him of the dreaded sweater curse and also correcting his knitting while he tells her about Nursey and their relationship as well as his jobs and his school life and hockey.

“Well, if you need work over the holidays do let me know. You said you were staying here?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Call me Doris love. Oh you’ve dropped a stitch there.” She sets him about correcting it before continuing. “My grandson is going to visit his girlfriends family over christmas, and if you’re free well. That is certainly good timing.”

“I… would really appreciate that thank you Doris. If you just let me know i’ll be happy to help.” And he would, it was better than moping anyway.

“Great. We always seem to get a lot of customers over the break, people buying last minute gifts or wanting to take up a hobby while they’re on break. I’ll give you a schedule and we can sort something out hm?”

“That’s be brilliant, thank you Doris.”

“Anytime you need extra work just let me know. I’m sure my grandson would be glad of the break.”

They sort numbers and things before Dex is leaving with a wave and a spring his step. At least now he had something to do over the two weeks. And it would be something productive and helpful too. Both for him and Doris’ shop.

Tucking away the knitting, because he wanted it to be a surprise, he gets back to the haus. He almost says something about the job. Because he’s excited and it’s more money in the bank and it’s something that’ll take his mind off of not going home.

But he can’t. Because that’s a secret.

“What were you going to say sugar?” And that’s Bitty, because he was in the kitchen, about to say something.

Dex just shakes his head “Oh uh, just wanted to ask if you needed any help?”

“Like you need to ask, come on.”

-

The work at Sparkles gets a little harder. Because the holidays hit people hard, and when things got hard, some people drank. So it gets busier. But the tips build up, which is the only reason Dex stays sane.

Hockey gets harder too. Which is to be expected, but it still hits Dex like no tomorrow. Bitty’s an intense captain, and even it’s effective he still aches like a mother fucker after practises. Nobody should have to do that many suicides in one practise no-one.

But they were getting ready for regionals. No doubt they would be chosen. They had to work hard, so that’s what Dex was doing.

And it’s made a little better with Nursey at his side. They complain together, curled up at their respective desks, finishing or starting work. And then in bed, twined together sharing lazy kisses and gentle chirps.

They’re good for one another really. Their bickering is still bickering, but there’s no heat anymore. They’re comfortable, easy with one another. Dex loves it, loves Nursey.

He whispers it into Nursey’s ear while they’re cuddled together one night, snow finally drifting down from the clouds that had been threatening it for days. He had thought Nursey was asleep, breathing slow and heavy on Dex’s chest.

“I love you too.” The reply back is unexpected, but then Nursey lifts his head and grins, free hand going to Dex’s chin to tilt it and then they’re kissing. Flying even, lost in eachother. Loving one another.

He almost says something, but doesn’t.

-

Snow keeps on coming, which is both brilliant and horrible. Brilliant because Dex loves the cold weather, being able to bundle up and let the cold burn him to his bones. It’s also fun for the snowball fights, the snowpeople (as Nursey and Chowder had dubbed them) and the eventual snow angels and Nursey dragged him down to the ground after slipping on ice.

It’s horrible though because he hasn’t had time to fix the haus heater properly, so it’s faulty at best. And then when he takes a day off to fix it, because it was an all day job, he has to take the money Bitty offers. Because he couldn’t afford not to.

“Bitty, I-”

“Just take it Dex. I know you don’t like missing shifts. Please honey.”

“I.” Dex had stared at it for half a second before taking it gently. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Now come up and get some pie.”

The way Chowder and Nursey nod at Bitty as they go into the kitchen means that they must have put money into the pile that Dex had carefully pocketed. And Dex hates the fact that he hasn’t been careful enough. Because they must know something.

Instead of saying something harsh, like his first instinct it to, he pretends like nothing’s happened. Sitting on Nursey’s knee just to get him to make a noise and Chowder yell ‘FINE’ at them. Normal was better.

It’s also horrible because his present to Milly gets sent back. Obviously he had sent it too early for them to not be able to return it. And even though he knew Milly always got to the post first, they must have recognised his handwriting and taken it off her, because it’s not even opened. Unless she’d been disgusted herself, which then makes the hurt that much worse and his knees almost buckle with the thought.

Thankfully, nobody sees him go upstairs to rip the package back open. Tearing the card out and up before going to the back to burn it and the parcel paper. He’s not dressed for it, has barely got his socks on as he’d snagged one of Nursey’s lighters, lighting it in his fingers, letting the flame eat at the paper and card till it almost burnt him before dropping it to the ground, letting it smoulder and smoke as he felt his shoulder shake with anger and unshed tears.

Somebody, it’s Chowder when he glances. Puts a hand on his shoulder that startles him out of his pain induced spiral.

“Chow-”

“Come inside bro. Bitty’s started prepping for ‘non denominational winter dinner’ and you know you don’t want to miss out on that.”

There’s no pity, just support. And Dex nods.

“Yeah. Yeah alright.”

Bitty cooks up a storm like he always does. And for the most part it’s due to stress, even though the team do offer to help with his work. Dex had tried to once, but Bitty had levelled him with a look.

“When? Honey you have two jobs, studies of your own and a scarf to knit. Don’t even try.”

Dex had retreated after that, and only offered to help with the cooking since.

He manages to finish off the scarf halfway through the month, stowing it away with the rest of the presents before he starts on a pair of socks for himself. Managing a trip to the shop again when the IT department had had a day off for an unannounced system wide upgrade that had the campus practically foaming at the mouth with rage and stress. He hadn’t been too happy himself, but it had given him the chance to get more needles and start on his new project. It’s nice, having something to do when his brain is too stressed to work, or when he can’t sleep because numbers are rolling through his head.

All of his presents arrive on time, which is good. Because everyone that had lived in the haus while Dex had been at Samwell comes back for the ‘non denominational present swapping’ which they’re holding the day before the haus meal.

They’re sprawled everywhere they can fit. Too many people trying to fit in the small living room but they manage it. Dex hadn’t spent a lot, he’d managed to budget pretty well. But everyone still seems happy with his presents. They hadn’t gone for a secret santa this year, because without Lardo it really was hopeless. So people swap, and there’s booze and it’s nice.

Dex gives the paints to Lardo with a small shrug.

“I know they’re not high quality, but you could always use them as filler for your bigger pieces?” And Lardo had tackled him from the couch and off of Nursey’s lap.

“You’re a beaut Poindexter!”

They had put a ban on fines, because there were more couples in the haus than there weren’t at this point so they overruled the others.

He’d gotten some mustach wax for Shitty and a kiss on the cheek for his efforts. Matching t-shirts for Ransom and Holster with ‘that’s my boyfriend’ on them with arrows. Jack got an old history book about world war two that he had found in the antique shop. Bitty got a new ‘classy’ apron with a stylised pie on the front, Ollie and Wicks got a new cushion for their double bed and Chowder got another IKEA shark plushie with a wig and a mustach to join his little hoard.

Everyone was happy with their presents if the amount of fist bumps and tackling he got was any indication. Especially Chowder’s ten minute long hug.

Although Nursey’s is the best response. And Dex hands it over when everyone is preoccupied.

“I… it’s not much.” Because it wasn’t compared to what Nursey had gotten him. A new flannel, one that was thick and warm in warm colours that would go with Dex’s hair. As well as a soft woollen jumper and a notebook of poems that Nursey had written himself.

Nursey’s quiet as he carefully unwraps the paper, legs tangled between them. And the way his breath hitches has Dex’s mind reeling.

“Did you knit this?”

“I, yeah.” And Dex is blushing he knows it. But the way Nursey looks at him is worth it.

“And, oh. The entries! And there’s still tonnes of paper. Dex it’s beautiful.” And then he’s leaning forward, kissing Dex so softly Dex feels as though he might break.

“I love them, thank you.”

“You’re very welcome.”

Nobody gets overly drunk that evening, which is nice. Because it means it’s quiet when Nursey and Dex sneak off to bed early.

Dex got a lot of clothes from people, although Bitty had also got him his own apron and Chowder had got him a beanie baby lobster that he puts with his first. It’s nice, and he makes sure to take care hanging them up as Nursey puts away his own things before they’re falling into bed.

“I really love the flannel and jumper you got me thank you. And I can’t wait to read the poems.” Dex rearranges them slightly so they’re face to face, lying down, hands curled between them.

“I love the scarf and book too, I can’t wait to have two different pieces of history on the pages, it’s rad.”

Dex snorts. “Can’t believe you just said rad.”

“Can’t believe your chirp is that weak but here we are.” Then they’re kissing and laughing into one another’s mouths.

The meal is great, because of course it is. Much like thanksgiving, Dex helps out wherever he can food wise. And Bitty even lets Nursey and Chowder help with setting the places and prepping the food. With Nursey washing and Chowder cutting because nobody trusted Nursey with a sharp knife.

And it’s nice, their shoulders bumping together as they worked as Bitty played obnoxious christmas music. They’re all in good spirits, the usual noise of the haus turned up even louder as everyone is back, it’s nice having Jack in the kitchen too, although he just sits at the table and chirps Bitty which Dex greatly appreciates as it seems to keep Bitty a lot calmer.

Ransom and Holster have set up a smash brothers tournament which is great background noise as people switch out, and the beer is flowing a little easier than it had the evening earlier.

It’s great. Dex is wearing his new flannel as well as the nice pair of jeans Jack got him, everyone had dressed up a little too, and Nursey looks stunning in a plain deep green shirt that matches his eyes. And soon they’re eating, laughing like nobody has a care in the world and Dex knows it’s the best he’ll feel in weeks until everyone comes back again.

So he enjoys the night, drinking a little more than he should given he had to be up early with everyone to ‘pack’ and make out as if he was going home. Because everybody was already suspicious enough. It helped that he had a shift at the craft shop pretty early anyway, and he doesn’t think Doris would mind him putting a bag in the back while he worked.

Everyone ends up asleep downstairs for the most part, because everyone got a little emotional around this time of year and it was only heightened with the drink. Farmer had come over at some point, so Dex had been squished onto the gross couch in a frogs/farmer cuddle pile which was uncomfortable but nice nonetheless.

He wakes up to somebody's alarm with a groan, hand going to his face to block out the overhead light that gets switched on.

“Everybody up. We’ve got breakfast.” And that’s Jack's captain voice, so Dex scrambles up with everyone else, tripping and sprawling onto the floor after getting caught in Chowder’s leg.

“Offt. Wipeout.You okay babe?” Nursey’s helping him and and Dex rubs the slight carpet burn from his cheek from where he’d skid a little across the floor.

“I will be after breakfast. Bits, what’ve you got?”

They all pack after breakfast, and Dex makes a big show of being one of the first few to leave.

After giving everybody their hugs and goodbyes he’s left with Nursey on the step, waiting for his uber ‘to the airport’.

“Gonna miss you.” They’re cuddling, leaning up against the railing of the porch because they can.

“It’s two weeks. We can do two weeks Will we’ve done it before.”

“Yeah. Hmm. I’m sad we can’t skype though, but you know how annoying my family gets.”

“Calls will be enough. Shit, your Uber.” Then Nursey’s dragging him into a long kiss, before pushing him gently down the stairs. “Two weeks.”

“Two weeks. Love you.”

“Love you too.” And then he’s in the car, quietly giving the driver the craft shop address.

He pays with a wince that he hopes isn’t visible when they arrive, quick to enter the shop and dump his bag into the back. It’s not heavy, just his laptop as well as some of his textbooks. Enough for people to think he was actually going. He also had his knitting, because Doris had said it would probably help the shop if customers saw him using their products.

Doris hasn’t opened up yet, but she does as soon as he’s at the counter, knitting in hand.

“Ready for you first day here Dex?”

“I am ma’am.”

“It’s Doris dear. Now, it should be a little quiet for about an hour so i’m off to make drinks. Get comfortable behind the counter, you can be on till.”

He nods, smiling as she passes. Tills were something he was used to and could use with an annoying ease at this point, so he doesn’t mind. Pulling one of the stools that sit behind the counter closer to him so he can sit. Leaving the other one for Doris.

“How do you take your coffee?”

“Milk no sugar please.”

“Well here I was thinking somebody else here would drink it black. No matter.”

The sun had slowly been starting to rise when he had left, so about now it’s half way in the sky, bathing the shop in a nice warm glow that Dex feels like a cat in, given the warmth it provides.

“Here.” And then Doris is beside him, putting the coffee’s down before pulling her own project out. A quilting project or something that Dex thinks is entirely too complicated although he does ask about.

And the day goes like that. People come in and out, most looking for last minute gifts and some who are regulars that Doris greets with hugs before they’re dragging him into conversation, most of which goes over his head but he tries his best to keep up.

But the day goes too quickly really, and then they’re closing up, and Dex heads straight to Sparkles to open up.

Really, he shouldn’t have taken the open, because a day of work was still a day of work and he’s already a little tired. But it’s fine. He didn’t have that shift for the rest of the week at least, so he’d have at least two hours in between jobs the next day.

And that’s how he spends his two weeks. Mostly. He doesn’t have the day off for christmas, but he wakes up early to get some studying done and manages to get out onto the lake to skate for a few hours, and it’s good skating. He would go to Faber but he knew Bitty had access to those security tapes and he didn’t want him to check for something else and see that Dex had lied. It’s still nice though, skating in circles, not really able to do much else given that he can’t go and get any hockey gear. And he’d probably kill Chowder if he took the lucky puck down from the corkboard in the kitchen. So he skates just to skate, and it barely takes his mind off of it until he has to go to Sparkles. Because that place apparently never fucking closed.

When he had got back though, he had been a little numb. This was the first christmas day he had spent without his family. Never mind alone. In his sadness, he had let himself eat his feelings, because all crying did at this point was make it worse.

But then he’s back again the next day, as if his numb day of sadness hadn’t happened. He’s pretty sure it’s illegal how much he’s working at this point. But he’s not saying anything, especially given how steady the pay was.

Even in the few days between christmas day and new year, he still manages work there. Even if he had stopped helping at the craft shop. However Doris had just offered up more work for the winter holidays as he’d left, and he’d readily accepted.

He calls Nursey as often as he can get away with, which is at least once a day. And they spend New Years Eve on the phone together. Or well, the countdown at least, as Dex was working, but everyone was distracted during the countdown. And his boss was drunk at this point so nobody could chastise him for it.

“3! 2! 1! HAPPY NEW YEAR!” Everyone is shouting, and Dex can hear Nursey laugh at the end of phone.

“Happy New Year Will.”

“Happy New Year Derek.”

Somewhere distantly, there are fireworks, but Dex can’t tell from who’s end of the phone. And they stay on the phone then for a few minutes, just listening to one another breathe.

So he works. And the workload is fine given that he doesn’t have hockey practise right now, but the last few days before everyone comes back grate on him.

The whole point of holidays were to rest. And Dex hadn’t done that. So he tries to brace himself for the workload to get heavier again when classes start.

-

Everyone gets back the day before classes do start, which Dex things is vaguely irresponsible especially if people had work to get done because he knew the haus, and nobody would get stuff done at home. He wouldn’t have either if he were still at home.

Pushing that thought aside, he bakes. Because Bitty had clearly appreciated him doing it last time, and they had thought he had gone home. He could easily say he got back a few hours early.

So this time, he tries mini pies. Because Bitty had stuck a recipe for them onto the fridge, mostly for Dex’s benefit, so he tries. And maybe he spends too much time making sure at least one of each pie is everyones favourite. Sue him. And they turn out pretty well, although he does make chocolate chip cookies too just in case people don’t like the pie.

Bitty is delighted when he gets back, Ollie and Wicks in toe as they’d apparently met at the airport, and they all seem appreciative of what he’s done. So he counts that as a win, even if his eyes are dropping closed as he sits at the kitchen and waits for people. Ollie and Wicks don’t say anything, just lightly punch him in the shoulder before going up to their room.

Bitty lingers though, dropping his bag onto the table.

“You okay sweetpea?”

“Oh, yeah. You know. Families and all that.” He’s not lying. But Bitty still tuts at him, going for a hug before going up to his room.

Dex lets himself nap at the kitchen table, or well. He doesn’t exactly let himself as his body just decides to, because it’s Nursey waking him up however long later, hand on his shoulder, soft words in his ear.

“Will, hey Will.”

“Hm?”

“Bitty said you made pies and cookies, hey.” Dex just blindly reaches out, face turning to the warmth of Nursey who laughs softly and kisses him.

“Let’s get you to bed huh?”

“No. ‘m fine.”

“Family kept you busy huh?”

“Yeah.” Again, it’s not a lie. He goes to say something, maybe something about waking up but Nursey’s hauling him up, steadying them as they slowly make their way upstairs.

Denying Nursey would hurt them both at this point, so he lets it happen. Letting Nursey undress him to his boxers before guiding him to the bed, getting in behind him.

“Welcome home Derek.” He barely manages to get out, smiling as he feels Nursey kiss his forehead.

“Welcome home Will.”

-

The tiredness turns into a full on cold in just a few days. Enough so that Dex has to call in sick to both jobs and can’t make practise. Chowder gets his work for him from his classes but refuses to give him anything ‘until he’s better’.

His head is a foggy, snot filled mess for at least twenty four hours. He’d spread himself too thin and he knew it. But he couldn’t exactly do anything about it.

“I knew he was spreading himself too thin.” Dex wakes up, head still aching, and he can’t really open his eyes, so he just listens to the hushed whispered. From what he can hear it’s Bitty and Nursey.

“Do you know anything Bits?”

“Nope. He won’t say anything.”

“He’s going to break soon. What are we going to do?”

“We’ve tried talking?”

“He won’t tell anyone anything. Just brushes it all off.”

They both sigh then, or Dex thinks they do.

“There’s nothing we can do Nursey, i’m sorry sugar.”

“Well, at least we’ve got him.”

Dex is quick to fall back into sleep after that.

The sickness leaves his system pretty quickly, and nobody else gets it. Which they wouldn’t have, because it wasn’t a bug like he had been saying it was. But still.

Once he’s better, he manages to get back to work and hockey pretty easily. Their proper games hadn’t started yet, but there were a few pre-season ones. And he manages to invite Doris to one. It’s January, so it’s still cold as hell, but it’s no longer snowing, so she drives to the campus. And it’s nice, having her there.

He meets her beforehand, making sure she gets a seat in the front row, and can’t help but laugh when he sees she’s got his jersey on.

“Hey uhm. This is weird. But can you not say anything my job? Just like, we met when I needed knitting help?” People are already piling in around the stands, she’d just gotten there a little early on his request so she could get the best seats. She raises and eyebrow but nods.

“Whatever you need love. Now win me the game!”

“Oh i’ll try my best to. Stay here and i’ll make sure you get home after okay?”

“Can do son. Now go!”

They win the game. But it’s down to Nursey, Bitty and Chowder. Not him. He was still a little sick, reeling from the new year still as he hadn’t been able to rest. Going straight back to work with as many shifts as he could take. So he wasn’t performing well. He was barely eating, no time for it. So he was off. He hadn’t almost cost them the game or anything, because Chowder was a beast and Nursey and Bitty were on top form. But he wasn’t playing his best.

Despite the shame he feels after the game, he pastes on a smile as he introduces Nursey to Doris when he goes to talk to her again, Nursey tagging along to make sure she got to her car okay. Because they were both gentlemen and Doris was a lovely lady. As expected, she and Nursey get on terrifically, and if Dex wasn’t feeling so bad it’d make him happy.

When they go back in though to get their things, Dex can feel the ice judging him, the cold not welcoming as it usually was. He wasn’t frozen four ready, he would let his team down. He had let his team down, just in this one unimportant game so how was it going to be when it was important? Where would he go? Because when they kicked him off the team he wouldn’t have his scholarship anymore, wouldn’t have the haus to go back to. Wouldn’t have a home. And the last of his family, his team, wouldn’t want him either.

And really, he was letting his feelings addle his brain. But it still hurt a little. Because he hadn’t been playing his best, but Bitty hadn’t looked at him with anger, but pity and worry and and and -

And that’s what sets him off.

It’s a culmination really, of still being a little sick, the tiredness that had seeped into his bones, and knowledge that he wasn’t frozen four good enough, and that his scholarship could be taken away at any moment. The fact that he really, barely had anything anymore. His hunger, his tiredness, the ache in his heart.

It all gathers, and he blacks out.

-

Waking up hurts, really hurts. There’s noise, he thinks. Hushed voices, but he can’t make them out. And there’s something soft underneath him, and when he moves a littler there seem to be covers over him. His head is banging, and he feels sore on his hips and back.

“Will, Dex.” It’s Nursey, and although he winces, he opens his eyes. The light stings as he opens them, blinking slowly to try and get rid of the blinding white before his vision slowly focuses on Derek’s face.

“Derek-” The words barely leave his mouth, throat catching before he’s coughing, and coughing hurts. Bringing his hand up, he tries to cover his mouth which is when the needle registers, and before he can panic about it he makes his eyes go up to the IV.

Okay. IV. Bed. Hospital. He must be in hospital. His blood freezes at the instant thought of medical bills, and he goes to try and say something again before Derek is pushing a paper cup to his mouth.

“Shh, it’s okay. Drink.” And he does, sipping the water until it’s gone, his throat finally feeling as though it’s not burning.

“Derek, we. Gotta get home i’m fine I-”

“Don’t you dare William Poindexter.” Slowly, because moving hurts, he turns his head towards to Bitty who’s sitting on his other side. “If you ever black out on me again so help me.”

“Bitty-”

But then they’re interrupted by a nurse pulling the flimsy sheets around his bedside aside before coming into the makeshift cubicle.

“William. Now that you’re awake, we need details for your forms.”

Derek is there, handing him a cup of water as he tries to sit up, trying his best not to be rude. And he takes it with a shaking hand, glad of Nursey’s help as he holds it steady.

So they go though his name, date of birth, blood type everything. But then they get to his address.

“I’ll need where you currently live and then a secondary address please.” He gives the first easily enough but then stops. Because normally he’d just give his old home address. But he doesn’t have anywhere else.

“I don’t have a secondary address.”

“Just put here-” And it’s Nursey rattling off his own home address, and Dex is grateful but heavily ashamed. His flush is right down his chest, he knows. But it can’t bother him because they knew now. Nursey and Bitty knew now.

“You can sort the payment and insurance once you’re discharged.” Then she’s gone again, leaving the three of them alone.

“Guys-” He chokes, and Nursey’s hand comes grip his tightly.

“It’s okay Will, we’re here for you my love.”

“They-” He swallows, throat back to burning. “They kicked me out at the end of spring break. Cut off my savings, my card, any insurance everything.”

“Oh Dex honey.” And then Bitty is gently taking his other hand, careful of the IV. “We knew something like that must have happened.”

Dex chokes again but this time it’s on a sob, and he lets himself cry. Huge, heavy sobs as he breaks down.

“Did you really all know?” It’s hard to understand he knows, but Nursey is wiping gently at his eyes with his sleeve and Dex barely catches him nod.

“We knew something was up babe. I’m sorry.”

Dex groans through the crying.

“I, tried so hard to hide i’m sorry. I- Please don’t me mad i’m sorry-”

“Shh, shh it’s okay Will it’s okay.” Nursey smoothes over his hair as Bitty holds a tissue up to his nose, and he lets go of Nursey’s hand to try and wipe himself up, even as more tears keep coming.

“It’s hard honey we know. Nobody’s mad. Just a little sad you didn’t think you could come to us.” Bitty’s remark makes the hurt even worse.

“That’s why. It’s not your worry. I got myself kicked out for being fucking gay, so I have to look after myself.”

“That is not your fault Dex. But i’m glad we finally know.”

“I’m not.” It’s out before he can take it back, and the heartbroken look he gets from both his boyfriend and his captain has him crying all over again.

“I didn’t mean it like that I just. None of you deserve to worry over me. I’m not that important.”

“Oh Will.” And then quietly, softly, Nursey is kissing him, and Bitty is squeezing his hand tightly.

“We love you, you’re family now Dex. You are so important to all of us. I promise.”

“Bits-” And then Bitty’s throwing himself into the hug, and then Dex knows he’s not the only one crying because he can feel Bitty’s shoulders shaking and Nursey’s breathing is a little laboured.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry i’m sorry.”

“Shut up Poindorkster.” And then he’s laughing at the stupid old nickname, and Bitty retreats to his chair, laughing and wiping his eyes as Nursey does the same. Dex wipes himself up properly, sniffing heavily.

“You’re quitting your job at Sparkles. Jack can just throw in your rent and say it’s his duty as an alumni alright. You just save your money. We’re already paying for your bills on this, no questions.”

“Bitty-”

“And you’re coming home with me for breaks. We’ve been together months anyway you can finally meet my moms.”

“Nursey fuck-”

“Nope. No questions.”

“Bitty, i’ll pay you back for the bills. And I can help with flights-”

“Dex. Honey. Let us take care of you. Because I’ll kill you if you black out again. We just need you happy and healthy.”

“I-”

“Will. This isn’t up for debate okay. Please. What would you do if the roles were reversed huh?”

And Dex just lowers his head at Nursey’s question. Because he’s do the exact same thing Nursey and Bitty were doing.

“I’ll try and pay you both back eventually, please. Just, not even all of it. Just some of it, please.”

“We’ll see after we win the frozen four.” Bitty tuts. But he smiles, and Dex lets himself feel a little hopeful.

“I’m sorry for lying. No-one deserves that. I was just scared.”

“We know why you did it Will don’t worry. But there’s no reason to now okay.” Nursey kisses his hand and Will nods.

“Okay, alright.”

“Come on.” He nearly whines when Nursey let’s go to pull out his phone. “Lets facetime Chowder, he’s worried sick.”

So they all squish up as best they can just so they can all see the screen and when Chowder answers he gasps.

“Dex! Dex you’re okay! Farmer he’s fine he’s awake!” And then Farmer’s popping up next to him, eyes worried like Chowder’s own and Dex cringes.

“I’m sorry, for worrying you both.”

“Us and the whole team! Although Bitty did text but still! Dex, are you okay what happened?”

“I’lll.” He takes a deep breath even though it hurts a little. “I’ll explain when I get back to the haus okay? Are you okay?”

“Yeah i’m good! The best now that you’re okay! Don’t you ever fucking do that again!”

The goalie face is enough to get Dex nodding, but then everyone is giggling a little as Chowder starts to ramble.

They knew. Mostly. But they’d helped. And Dex should have expected it from the beginning.

But they knew know. And he was fine, still alive. They’d help him, they loved him. He reaches out to grab Nursey’s hand again as Bitty takes the phone from him to lecture Chowder about goalie facing somebody who’s ill, and in the quiet moment he brings Nursey’s knuckles to his mouth to kiss them and mutter a quiet ‘I love you’ into the delicate skin there that Nursey repeats, just as softly.

They knew, and everything was fine. He wasn’t good. But he would be. They’d make sure of that.