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Shoulder the Weight 'Til My Back Breaks

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Dex is usually a reliable kind of guy.

His parents taught him to be that way—intentional, loyal, someone you can count on—and he takes a lot of pride in being known for his dependability. He means what he says and doesn’t see the point in skirting around the truth to spare the feelings of others (some people would say he’s just a blunt asshole with no empathy, but some people need to grow the fuck up).

He takes the Samwell Hockey motto, “got your back” very seriously both on and off the ice because his team means more to him than he could ever put into words. He’s not the poet on the team, okay? Words aren’t really his thing; he’s more a man of action, preferring to let his reliability speak for itself. 

But, still, when his phone rings not thirty seconds after leaving his fourth and final class on a chilly Tuesday in October, Dex almost screens the call. 

He’s not mad at Nursey, not really anyway. Their fight in the locker room after practice this morning was unnecessary--as they almost always are--but it didn’t turn into an all-out screaming match the way so many of their arguments did freshman year. They’ve both grown up and learned to get along, but that doesn’t mean they stopped being experts at getting under each other’s skin. 

So, really, Dex is just mad at himself for not being able to correct his d-partner’s assumptions about him without turning it into an argument. 


 

“What happened, Nurse? Late night?”

Holster’s question is accompanied by a raised eyebrow and a devious smirk, but he only gets an eye roll from the sophomore in return. 

Dex frowns as he carefully wipes ice off the blades of his skates. He thinks the inquiry is a little rude if he’s being honest; Nursey was pretty slow during practice this morning but they all have their off days. It’s a long season, shit happens. Implying that he was out last night instead of resting up for this morning’s six a.m practice ignores just how dedicated he is to the sport and his team. 

“For real, dude,” Chowder tosses a dirty towel at Nursey’s face, “not like you to hook up on a Monday night.”

He chucks the towel back with a scowl, “I told you, that bruise is from me walking into a desk.”

Ransom holds up his hands to the locker room’s outraged disbelief. “Hey now, if Nurse doesn’t want to kiss and tell we, as his teammates, need to respect that. We should wait until after he’s left the room to facebook stalk his lover.”

The team snickers and several guys start throwing chirps at Nursey, who instead of ducking his head with a bashful smirk like he’d normally do, glowers.

“Fuck off, guys, I didn’t hook up. Ask Dex,” he jerks his chin toward his d-partner.

Dex falters, startled out of the mental image of someone leaving that hickey on Nursey’s hip.

“Uh, what?”

“Back me up here, Dexy. We were studying until, like, ten last night, right?”

“Oh, uh, yeah, we were in the library super late.”

Holster scoffs. “Ten is hardly late, brahs. Who knows what Nurse-a-roo could’ve gotten up to afterwards.”

“I went to bed.”

“With who?”

Dex interrupts with a groan before this can continue any longer. “Back off, Holster. We walked back to the dorms together and went to sleep.”

This time it’s Wicks with the devious smirk. “Together?”

Nursey whacks him on the shoulder. “Don’t say shit like that, man, you’re gonna make his conservative little head explode.”

Dex freezes. That’s the third time this week someone has accused him of being homophobic just because once upon a time he was a registered republican. He’s so used to letting these comments roll off his back, but this time it feels like a knife twists in his chest. Maybe it’s the fact that it came from Nursey, maybe he’s bothered by the way the whole team is laughing at him, maybe he still feels the heavy weight of being in the closet on National Coming Out Day which was just last week, maybe he’s just tired of lying by omission. 

The words are out of his mouth before he makes a decision. 

“Fuck off, Nurse, what the fuck is up with you always assuming the worst about me?”

“Not really an assumption if it’s a fact, is it?”

“You have no idea what you’re talking about, so just back off, okay?”

He raises a careful eyebrow, but Dex knows him well enough to see the surprise under the fake ‘chill’. “What, you’re telling me the implication that you’d sleep with me doesn’t offend you?”

“Why the fuck would I be offended?”

“Uh, dude, I’m a dude.”

“Yeah, dude, and I’m fucking gay.”

There’s a beat of tense silence.

“Oh, shit, uh, sorry Dexy,” Wicks stammers out, face red.

“Dex,” Bitty is suddenly right there and his voice is careful because he knows, of course he knows, but he also knows he’s the only one who knows and now everyone knows and Dex is not freaking out. “Honey, did you mean to say that?”

He bites his tongue to keep from playing it off as just a stupid joke used to rile up Nurse because it’s about damn time the team knew. “Yes,” he says slowly, “I meant it.”

“Sweet, brah,” Ransom’s grin is easy and he holds his hand out for a fist bump. “Thanks for telling us.”

The room erupts in another chorus of noise, this one celebratory and supportive, and several guys come over to slap Dex on the back.

He is not upset that Nursey is silently removing his gear during this whole exchange; he doesn’t need his validation. 

Obviously, Nursey isn’t homophobic--he’s pan for Christ’s sake--but would it kill him to say something in the wake of Dex outing himself to the whole team? Is a little support from his d-partner too much to ask?

He gets his answer when Nurse storms out of the locker room long before the rest of the team has finished taking off their gear. Dex doesn’t let himself think about it. 


 

So, things between them are definitely off. Dex planned on avoiding Nursey until he absolutely had to see him at practice the next day, but the caller ID flashing at him is proving that effort futile. 

God, he is so not prepared to deal with Nursey’s half-assed, captain-mandated apology right now. 

He doesn’t regret coming out to the team; he’s been meaning to do so since the start of the semester and was just waiting for the right time. The ‘right time’ probably wasn’t in the middle of fighting with Nursey, but what’s done is done. 

Words are hard for him, but, shit, he probably could’ve done better than “I’m fucking gay”.

He really shouldn’t answer this call. At this rate he’ll probably just start another fight.

But those safety meetings that he was forced to sit through during orientation week, both with the team and with the class of 2018 as a whole, drilled into his head how important it is to be there when a friend is trying to reach out to you, no matter the circumstances.

And despite everything, Nursey is his friend. More than that, he’s his teammate.

Dex sighs to himself, “got your fucking back,” and picks up the phone. 

“Yeah.”

“Dex?”

He freezes in the middle of the sidewalk at the sound of Nursey’s voice, ignoring the “what the fuck, dude” from the guy who crashes into him from behind.

“Nurse? Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m-“ he cuts himself off, coughing away from the phone, and when he puts it back to his ear, Dex can hear his ragged breathing. “I’m kinda, uh- shit, can you come get me?”

Okay, now Dex is freaking out. “What? What’s wrong? Where are you?”

“I’m, uh...I’m in Dickson Hall, the bathroom on the first floor.”

“Nursey, what the hell is going on?”

He groans. ”Stop yelling, dude, I’ve got a migraine, okay? I just, uh, I might need some help getting back to my room… my balance is kinda shot.”

Dex let’s out a long, relieved breath, and doesn’t think twice before assuring, “Yeah, okay I’m on my way.”

“Thanks, Dex.”

“See you soon.”

 

“Nurse?” 

The barley audible groan from the first stall in the pitch black bathroom tells Dex he’s in the right place.

He gently pushes open the unlocked door to find Nursey sitting slumped against the wall, knees bent and head hanging between them. His eyes are closed and his face is tense, but he stills attempts a smirk when he whispers, “‘Sup, Dexy?”

“Bro, you’re going to get so many diseases from this floor,” is the first thing that comes to his mind other than ‘Nurse is in pain and I have to fix it ’ but he’s not about to say that out loud.

“Maybe that’ll put me out of my misery.”

Dex’s mouth turns down in sympathy. “That bad, huh?”

“Worse. Can’t move my head without feeling like I’m gonna hurl.”

“Gross. How long have you been here?”

His brow furrows. “Uh, what time is it?”

Dex checks his watch. “Just after noon.”

“Fuck,” Nursey breathes out a laugh, “like, over 2 hours.”

“What the hell? Why didn’t you call me 2 hours ago?”

When it becomes clear the only reply he’s going to get is a shrug, Dex sighs. “Alright, c’mon. Let’s get you out of here.”

He’s never more grateful for his strength than when it allows him to gently lift Nursey off the floor without jerking him around or dropping him altogether when his knees buckle and he hangs all of his weight off Dex’s shoulders.

“Shit, hang on,” Nurse gasps, face paling.

“Please don’t puke on me,” Dex begs, trying to distract himself from the fact that Nursey is pressing his face into his neck.

“Trying not to,” he mutters through gritted teeth. After a moment of shallow breathing, his face relaxes and the two of them start the slow shuffle out of the building.

It takes a while for Nursey to notice Dex isn’t leading him towards his dorm, but when he does, he tries unsuccessfully to halt their movement. Dex is not worried about the fact that Nurse is too weak to do that. He’s not.

“My building is that way.”

“Yeah, but the Haus is this way.”

“Dex-”

“Don’t even, dude. You think I’m gonna leave you alone to die in your room? Besides, there’s a fifty percent chance the Haus will be quieter than your dorm.”

Nursey continues  more willingly, but raises an eyebrow. “And the other fifty percent?” 

“Well, there’s also a good chance that Bitty is in the kitchen blasting Beyonce since he’s the only one not in class right now.”

“Ugh, normally I’m always down for some Bey, but I’m pretty sure my brain is on fire.”

Dex tightens his grip on Nursey’s waist. “You get migraines often?”

“Nah, not really,” his shrug is carefully casual and Dex fights the urge to roll his eyes. “I have meds I can take when I feel one coming on, but I forgot to refill the prescription after the last one. Pretty stupid of me to try to go to class.”

“Admitting you’re a dumbass? Wow you must really not feel well.”

“Fuck off.” There’s no heat to it. “I was kinda hoping I imaged the aura this morning.”

Dex is intimately familiar with aura migraines and he feels like a complete asshole for not noticing that’s what his partner was dealing with during practice. His mom has been suffering from migraines on and off for the last ten years and she’d often tried to describe the auras before the pain left her unable to speak; explaining how her vision would cut out and then blur, sometimes followed by tingling and numbness in her hands.

The fact that Nursey played through all of that and then had to deal with heckling from the team and from Dex himself makes him feel vaguely ill. 

“Why didn’t you say something?”

He shrugs again. “Didn’t want to make a big deal out of nothing.”

“Auras aren’t nothing, dude. I’m surprised you even stayed on your feet, never mind the amount of passes you were able to connect.”

“Yeah, all two of them.”

“Nurse--” 

“S’fine, Dex. I just want to sleep it off, okay?”

He relents. “Alright, well. You can sleep it off in Chowder’s room. No way am I being responsible for leaving you alone to choke in your own vomit.”

“Your bedside manner is impeccable, Poindexter.”

 

Walking through the front door of the Haus, Dex is relieved to find it empty and, therefore, quiet. The walk across campus only took 15 minutes despite them moving slowly, but it seems to have taken a lot out of Nursey. He stopped returning Dex’s chirps and his eyes are now firmly squeezed shut.

“Light sensitivity?” Dex asks as they head for the stairs.

Nursey hums in confirmation.

“Sounds too?”

“And smells.”

“You never do things halfway, do you?” When Nursey doesn't even attempt a snarky response, Dex’s worry increases. “C’mon, let’s get you to bed.”

”Uh, actually,” he swallows roughly, “can we, uh, bathroom?”

“Shit, yeah, okay. Hang on.” Dex pulls him up the stairs as fast as he dares, really not in the mood to be thrown up on, and ushers him into the bathroom, helping him kneel in front of the toilet before hesitating. What if he doesn’t want Dex to stay?

Nursey answers for him by leaning forward to retch over the bowl, face pinched and hands pressed tightly against the sides of his head as if to hold his brain together.

Dex puts a careful hand on his back and when Nurse doesn’t flinch away, starts rubbing gentle circles between his shoulder blades. It’s not the first time he’s been by his teammate’s side while he puked, but there’s usually a lot more alcohol involved. 

Eventually, Nursey backs away from the toilet and slumps against the wall. Dex busies himself with flushing, dampening a washcloth, and filling a cup of water to give him a minute of privacy to compose himself. 

“Want to see if I can dig up some iBuprofen?” He asks, pretending not to notice how hard Nursey’s shaking as he raises the water to his lips. 

“S’not gonna help.” He doesn’t sound upset, just resigned. 

“What if I go get your meds filled for you?”

He shakes his head, then winces. “Have to take them before I start throwing up. But thanks for offering.”

“Of course.” After a pause, Dex admits, “You look like hell, dude.”

“Hmm.” It’s almost a laugh. “Feel it, too.”

“You sure there’s nothing I can do?”

“Nah, just have to ride it out. You should go though; this isn’t gonna be fun.”

“You gonna be here for a while?”

“Probably.”

“Alright,” he pats Nursey’s thigh and stands up, “back in a sec.”

He makes quick work of gathering supplies. A blanket from the back of the couch (the soft one, not the one that smells like tub juice and regret), an extra pillow from Chowder’s closet, a bottle of ginger ale from the fridge, and some crackers from the back of the cupboard that are probably still edible. He dumps his findings into Chowder’s room before tapping on the opened bathroom door, but Nursey doesn’t so much as lift his head. 

“Dug up some migraine survival gear,” he tries, but still no acknowledgement. “...Nurse?”

His erie stillness is suddenly broken as he scrambles to lean over the toilet again, a pained groan giving way to violent heaving.

“Oh, jesus, Nursey.” Dex resumes his earlier position, for the first time understanding what it means to wish you could take someone’s pain away. He almost prefers Nursey’s fake chill to the obvious discomfort he’s in right now. 

When Nursey’s done vomiting, holding himself over the toilet and dragging in shallow breaths, Dex takes over again. 

“Okay, we’re moving this party into C’s room.”

“Ngh,” he protests weakly. “Not done here.”

“Yeah, well, you’re gonna want to pass out sooner or later and I’d rather not have to carry you when that happens. C’mon. I’ll put a trashcan next to the bed.” Dex holds out his hand and has to wait several seconds for Nursey to gather the energy to take it and another several minutes before he can allow himself to be pulled to his feet. He sways dangerously for a moment, but with one hand gripping his forearm and the other on his waist, Dex manages to get him onto Chowder’s bed without incident.

“Fuck,” Nurse groans softly into the mattress, raising an unsteady hand to wipe his sweaty curls out of his face. 

Dex, frustrated at his inability to be more helpful, isnt willing to leave his partner alone yet. 

“How long do these usually last?” he asks softly.

“Mmm, could be an hour or two, sometimes a couple of days.”

“Shit.”

“Yeah.” He’s quiet for a moment before starting, “Look, about this morning-”

“Nursey-“

“No, seriously, I was being a dick because I wasn’t feeling well and that’s not fair and I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you feel like you had to out yourself to the whole team to stop me from being such an ass.”

“Hey, no it wasn’t like that. I wanted to tell them. I just...I guess needed a little kick in the ass, which you so kindly provided.” He adds the last part with a small smile and is pleased when Nursey attempts to return it. 

“Either way, I’m sorry.”

Dex shrugs. “I forgive you.”

“Chill.” He punctuates the statement by leaning over the side of the bed to puke.

Dex sighs. “So chill.”

 

It’s been twenty minutes since he last checked on Nursey, and Dex is trying to decide if he should just do his homework in C’s room after all.

Nurse kicked him out two hours ago because “your breathing is too loud, bro. I need to sleep”, but every time Dex has gone in there to make sure he’s still breathing, he’s been decidedly not sleeping; face drawn in pain and breaths labored. Dex is making sure he keeps drinking water, but Nursey throws it back up almost immediately; the pain never giving him a moment of relief. 

All of his experience babysitting his little sisters when they were sick as a kid did nothing to prepare him for two-hundred pounds of hockey player unable to sit up on his own. 

Not that being in the same room with his suffering teammate would be of much use. He’s probably better off in the kitchen, where his keyboard clicking isn’t drilling into Nursey’s skull, but Dex really hates that he’s alone up there.

He winces in sympathy as the sounds of Nursey being sick again make their way downstairs. He’s just starting to convince himself that Nurse needs him to stay up there when the front door slams open. He jumps to his feet.

“Shh!” he chastises his captains frantically, cutting off whatever Holster was about to shout.

“Woah, brah,” Ransom’s voice is way too loud. “Why the intense greeting?”

“Nursey has a migraine,” he whispers, hoping the guys will get the hint that they need to do the same. “He’s up in C’s room.”

“Oh, is that why he was all over the place during practice?” 

“Holster, you’re yelling,” Dex points out, all too aware of how easily sound travels through the Haus. 

Ransom slaps a hand over his co-captain’s mouth. “Forgive him, he doesn’t have an inside voice.” He ignores Holster’s muffled protests and asks, “Do we need to go check on him?”

Dex shrugs. “I’ve been up there a couple times; I think he’s just trying to sleep it off.”

“He’s in good hands, then.” Ransom claps him on the shoulder and Dex ducks his head. “Let us know if you need anything.” 

“Thanks, Rans.” 

He drags Holster off by the head, clearly not minding the way that his hand is getting licked to death, and they head up to the attic. 

Dex stares after them, shaking his head slowly, before reluctantly returning to his homework.

Another half hour passes before Bitty returns to the Haus, his entrance much quieter than the seniors’. 

After peeling off his layers in the entryway, he walks into the kitchen and greets Dex with a warm smile. “Hey, Dex. Didn’t expect to see you here so early.”

He checks the time and is surprised to see it’s almost four. He’d normally be working at the comp sci tutoring center right now, but he found someone to cover his shift so he wouldn’t have to leave Nursey alone.

He tells Bitty as much and gets a worried frown in return.

“How long has it been since the migraine started?”

“Close to six hours.”

He puts a hand over his heart. “Oh, poor thing. Is he sleeping now?”

Dex shakes his head. “Heard him getting sick a few minutes ago.”

“Alright, I’m going up there.” Bitty turns on his heel and heads for the stairs, a determined sort of protectiveness on his face.

“I’ll come with,” Dex jumps to his feet. “He probably needs more water, anyway,” he adds, trying not to show just how worried he is. It’s just a headache. Nursey’s fine and Dex is overreacting as always.

Bitty gets there first, gently easing open the half-shut door and calling, “Nursey?”

The answering hum is more of a whimper and Dex’s heart rate increases. He looks even worse than he did just twenty minutes ago; sweating, shaking, one arm thrown over his eyes in an attempt to block out any light, and the glass of water on the bedside table has gone untouched.

Bitty procedes into the room, light on his feet, and sits at the very edge of the bed. He puts a hand on Nursey’s shoulder and asks, softly, “How are you doing, honey?”

Only Nursey’s lips move when he croaks out, “Not so good, Bits.”

Dex sucks in a breath. The total lack of false bravado is almost as troubling as how ill he looks.

Bitty moves his hand to the back of Nursey’s neck and starts rubbing soothing circles. “What can I do, Derek? How can I help you?”

He shakes his head minutely. “Can’t.”

The junior sets his jaw but his voice is kind when he says, “Try me.”

Nursey’s lip trembles and he bites down hard before admitting in a whisper, “There’s nothing I can do. It won’t go away, I can’t take anything, and it hurts--” he cuts himself off with a choked off sob and Dex is at his side before he realizes what he’s doing, kneeling beside Bitty and putting a grounding hand on Nursey’s ankle.

“Shh, just breathe, honey. It’s gonna be alright.” Bitty’s face is pinched with worry; Dex thinks his face must look the same.

Nursey’s breathing gets more ragged as he loses control over the tears that have been building for hours, and as he cries the pain in his head must explode to a new level. 

“Ow...” he moans pitifully, drawn out and so clearly passed the point of being embarrassed. 

Bitty turns. ”Will, go get Justin.” The urgency in his voice has Dex nodding and scrambling to his feet in an instant, silently grateful that Bitty is here to be the steady, comforting presence that Nurse so clearly needs. 

He takes the stairs three at a time and opens the attic door without knocking, something he’d never risk under normal circumstances. Incredibly, both boys have pants on and they’re actually doing schoolwork.

Dex’s expression must be more obvious than he thought because his captains jump to their feet at his entrance.

“It’s Nursey,” he reports, only slightly out of breath. “I think he needs to see a doctor.”

Wordlessly, Ransom grabs a shirt off the floor and pulls it over his head as he hurries after Dex and Holster down the stairs and into Chowder’s room. Nursey is still crying softly, but his face is dry, and the reality of just how dehydrated he must be suddenly hits Dex who’s concern grows with every passing minute.

Ransom wastes no time in kneeling in front of Bitty and resting a hand on Nursey’s head. “Hey, man,” his voice is as gentle as Dex has ever heard, “not feeling so good, huh?”

He shakes his head, eyes still shut tight, and leans into Ransom’s touch.

Dex speaks up to offer more details, not wanting to overstep but all too aware of how hard it is for Nurse to talk when he’s in this much pain. “He’s been in this much pain for over six hours, and hasn’t been able to keep any liquids down in just as long.”

Ransom frowns. “Has he taken anything for the pain or nausea? 

“He’s tried some over the counter stuff for headaches, but it just comes back up. He has a prescription for migraines but he ran out and has to take them early.”

“Imitrex?” he directs the question to Nursey, who nods.

“And no fluids have stayed down in six hours?”

Another nod.

“Maybe we’ll have better luck with ice chips. Adam, go grab some from the freezer please.” 

Holster turns on his heel with a curt nod, face serious, and Dex is, not for the first time, in awe of his frat-brothers-at-heart captains for being able to step up when it matters.

“Nursey, do you have an ID and insurance info on you?”

“Mhm. Wallet in my bag.”

“Okay, good. If we can’t get some fluids to stay down, I want to take you over to urgent care.”

Nurse makes a sound of panicked protest and Bitty shushes him, rubbing a hand up and down his arm.

“Dehydration can be really dangerous, Der. You’ve been vomiting all day without being able to replace what you’re losing and that migraine won’t go away if we can’t get some fluids in you.” 

“Rans is right, Nurse,” Dex whispers, “Dehydration is nothing to mess with.”

“We’ll go with you if it comes to that,” Bitty assures him, and that seems to help him relax slightly.

He accepts the cup of ice chips Holster hands him with a breathy, “thanks” and the immediate reply, “got your back” is enough to bring a tired smile to his face.

Dex has never been religious, he turned his back on his Irish Catholic upbringing long before he knew he was gay, but he finds himself praying that the ice won’t make his friend sick; willing to beg a magic man in the sky if it means Nursey starts feeling better.

When he ends up puking after the third ice chip, Dex mentally tells God to kiss his ass.

“Alright,” Ransom climbs to his feet after Nurse finally stops dry heaving, “time for plan B. Dex, go get Nursey’s wallet and jacket, and grab a few bags from under the sink.”

“On it.” He hurries to comply and is back up in Chowder’s room in less than a minute. 

When Holster tosses Ransom his keys, Dex frowns. “You’re not coming?”

Holster shakes his head. “We’re supposed to be in a coaches meeting in twenty minutes. At least one of us needs to be there.”

Rans pinches the bridge of his nose and lets out a sharp breath. “Shit, right. I forgot.”

Holster puts a steady hand on Ransom’s shoulder and the latter covers his hand with his own, squeezing tight.

“Don’t sweat it, bro. I got this. Go.”

Dex takes Bitty’s place at Nursey’s side and helps him sit up, giving him a moment to adjust before pulling him to his feet. He grunts under the weight of college hockey defenseman and pulls Nursey’s arm over his shoulder, holding his wrist in place while his other hand has a gentle grip on his waist.

“Here, Bits,” Ransom tosses him the keys, “go start the car, we’ll meet you out there.”

He supports Nursey’s other side and they slowly make their way down the stairs. 

The sophomore is quiet during the journey, letting out an occasional groan if he gets jostled too much, but otherwise not feeling well enough to protest being mostly carried out of the Haus. By the time they get to the car, he’s shaking hard and breathing harder. 

Ransom squeezes the back of his neck. “You made it, bud. Hard parts over.” 

Dex slides into the back of Holster’s Toyota and holds out his hands for Nurse to grab onto, helping him slowly lower himself onto the seat, and holding steady when he all but collapses into Dex’s side.

“Ow,” he whimpers into Dex’s ear.

“I know, dude, I know.” 

He puts and arm around Nursey’s shoulders and holds him tighter against his side, suddenly grateful that no matter how many times they manage to piss each other off over the past two years, they’ve still gotten closer as time has gone on. Dex is glad he has people who will let him do this; be there in the way that it counts. Even with Nursey breathing his puke breath into his neck and sweating all over his shoulder, Dex feels grateful for his second family. 

He feels slightly less grateful when pulling away from the curb makes Nursey dry heave into a plastic bag that Dex holds under his chin, but still. 

The rest of the drive passes without incident and soon they’re ushering Nursey through the doors of the Urgent Care clinic. Dex almost groans aloud when he sees how many people are in the waiting room, and Nursey does groan aloud at the bright lights.

“Close your eyes,” Dex suggests quietly. “I got you.”

He eases Nursey into one of the hard plastic chairs, Bitty on his other side, and lets his captain deal with the front desk.

“I have a 20 year-old male showing symptoms of moderate to severe dehydration. Migraine-induced nausea has prevented him from keeping fluids down for seven hours. He took 800 milligrams of iBuprofen at 2 p.m. but threw it up immediately. Pulse is 120 and temp is 100.6 as of thirty minutes ago.”

The woman behind the desk gives him a knowing smile as she takes Nursey’s ID and insurance card. 

“EMT?” she asks.

“Off duty. He’s a friend.”

“Alright, dear. Have a seat and we’ll be with you and your friend shortly.”

“Thank you,” he glances at her nametag and gives her the most charming smile he can muster, “Andrea.”

He takes the seat next to Dex and Nursey turns to squint at him. 

“When’d you take my pulse?” he slurs. 

“When I was carrying your ass to the car.” 

“Oh.” He’s quiet for a moment before turning back towards Bitty. “Can you do the neck thing?” he asks hopefully. 

Bitty looks up from his phone and smiles. “Of course, hon.” He scoots closer to Nursey so he can message the base of his skull, gently easing some of the tension from his muscles.

“Hmm,” Nurse hums contently and puts his head back on Dex’s shoulder, settling in to wait for the doctor. 

“Updating the team?” Ransom asks Bitty quietly.

He nods. “Everyone sends their well-wishes. Chowder says thanks for not throwing up on his bed.”

Nursey hums again, this sound a little less content than the last. 

“You doing okay?” Dex worries.

“Mph. Nauseous,” he mumbles into Dex’s neck. 

“You gonna be sick?”

“Don’t think so.”

Ransom goes back up to the front desk and says something quietly to the receptionist. He sits back down with a disposable barf bag and hands it to Nursey with a wink and a, “just in case.”

It ends up coming in handy just a few minutes later when a mother and her noisy toddler walk through the doors. At first, Dex thinks it’s the screaming child that makes Nursey stiffen, but then he gets hit with the overwhelming smell of perfume and his own stomach turns in sympathy. 

Nursey scrambles to sit up and get the bag under his chin in time before he’s heaving up whatever tiny amount of fluid is still in his stomach. Dex has his hand on his back so he can feel the muscles straining under the force of the retching and he realizes how sore he must be after so many hours of this. 

“It’s rude to stare.”

Dex whips his head up to see where Bitty directed the icy comment and his eyes land on the overly-perfumed woman. 

Her eyes narrow and she takes in the four boys with an air of disgust. “Well then, don’t cause a scene and there will be nothing to stare at.”

Ransom sits up to his full height and reasons calmly, “Ma’am, he’s sick.”

Her eyes rake up and down Nursey’s body and she scoffs. “Mhm.”

“Excuse me,” Andrea snaps from behind the desk, “Ma’am, please have a seat.”

She turns with an indignant huff and heads for a row of chairs as far from the boys as possible, but her movement kicks up a cloud of perfume that sets off another round of dry heaving. 

When he’s done, Ransom disposes of the bag and Bitty produces some tissues for Nursey to wipe his mouth. He slumps back against Dex, shaking and making quiet sounds of distress. 

“You’re okay, I got you,” Dex murmurs gently. 

“Hurts,” he whimpers, bringing his hands up to cover his face, clearly embarrassed about being sick in front of strangers. 

“I know, I’m sorry.” He pushes some hair out of Nursey’s face before tapping the back of his left hand. “Here. Gimmie.”

Nursey makes a curious noise but lets Dex take his hand in his own, observing through squinted eyes as Dex presses firmly between Nursey’s thumb and forefinger.

“It’s supposed to help with migraines,” he explains as he massages the pressure point, “sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.”

Nursey settles his head more comfortably against Dex’s shoulder and closes his eyes. “Where’d you learn that?”

“My mom gets migraines pretty often; once she stopped hiding them from me she taught me all the tricks.”

“Hmm. Thanks mama Poindexter.”

Dex huffs a quiet laugh. “It’s helping, then?”

Nursey considers this for a moment before shrugging. “It’s not hurting.”

“Derek Nurse?” 

All four boys turn toward the young nurse standing by the triage door who gives them a warm smile. 

Ransom stands first. “C’mon, Der, that’s our cue.”

When he reaches down to help Nursey up, the nurse asks, “Do you need a chair?”

The sharp, “no!” he gets in response startles Dex, and it must startle Nursey too if the way he ducks his head afterwards is any indication. “Sorry. No, I’m fine.”

“Yeah,” Dex grunts as he lifts him out of the chair, “you’re totally fine.”

The three of them make their way into the triage room, Ransom and Dex supporting Nursey while Bitty steps outside to answer his phone after mouthing apologetically, “It’s Jack”. 

They set him down in a chair in front of the nurse and he struggles to open his eyes in the brightly lit room. Dex mentally smacks himself for forgetting to grab sunglasses on their way out of the Haus.

“Alright, Derek, my name is Kyle and I promise to not make any terrible jokes about your last name.” Nursey’s lips twitch. “Can you confirm your date of birth for me?”

“February fourteenth, 1996.”

After entering Nursey’s basic information into the computer, he considers Ransom and Dex, both of whom still have a hand on each of Nursey’s shoulders. 

“Are you okay with your friends being in the room while we go over some medical stuff?”

“Sure.” Nursey hasn’t let go of Dex’s hand where it’s resting on his shoulder, and he gives it a light squeeze. 

Kyle makes quick work of taking Nursey’s vitals, and both him and Ransom frown at the monitor once it beeps. 

“Seems like you’ve got the migraine to end all migraines, my friend. Scale of 0-10, how would you rate your pain?”

“Ten. Eleven if I move.”

“When did the pain start?”

“Right after practice this morning.”

“Eight a.m,” Ransom provides. 

Kyle looks the three of them over before guessing, “Hockey?”

Dex laughs. “Nice. Most people guess football.”

“Nah, you guys are big, but you’re not that big.” He inputs a few things into the computer before asking, “You take any hits during practice today?” 

“Nothing serious.”

Kyle frowns. “Anything I would consider serious?”

“Mmm...probably not.” 

“Alright, I’ll take your word for it. You’ve been unable to keep clear fluids down for how many hours now?”

“Um, like, six?”

“It’s been almost eight hours,” Dex supplies.

“And you’ve been vomiting for just as long?” At Nursey’s nod he continues, “About how often?”

Again, Dex steps in for him. “About every half hour, or whenever he tries to drink something.”

“Is this your first time getting a migraine?”

He repeats what he told Dex this morning about his usual prescription and tells Kyle that the last migraine was two weeks ago. He can’t come up with a possible trigger for this one other than stress, but with midterms just around the corner that’s hardly surprising. 

“Are you taking any other medications?”

Dex can feel Nursey tense under his hand, and he hesitates before responding. “Uh, yeah, I’m on fifty milligrams of Zoloft and I take one miligram of Klonopin as needed.”

“For anxiety and depression?”

“Yeah.”

Dex squeezes Nursey’s hand again, hoping the action conveys his support. He always figured Nursey’s chill was carefully crafted, but it’s another thing to know your friend has mental illnesses that he doesn’t talk about. 

“Any allergies?” 

“No.”

“Okay, Derek. You and your friends can head back into the waiting room and a doctor will call you in soon. Feel better.”

Nursey is quiet in the waiting room and Dex can feel him trembling where they’re pressed together. He’s gone back to messaging the pressure points in his hands, but it doesn’t seem to be helping. Still, he’s unwilling to give up the contact, desperate to ease his suffering in any way. 

Derek’s name is called again not five minutes after they’ve sat down, and they’ve barely climbed to their feet when the rude woman from earlier makes a reappearance. 

“Oh come on,” she cries, jumping to her feet. “My son’s arm might be broken and you’re going to let this thug get seen before him?”

Ransom flinches, Dex freezes, and Nursey makes a sound of surprised hurt.

A pin drop could be heard in the suddenly silent waiting area, all eyes trained on the four large hockey players standing in the middle of the room.

Bitty responds first, turning slowly, eyes murderous. “Beg your pardon?”

”These doctors don’t have time for this nonsense when there are sick and injured children in need of medical attention!”

“That’s enough!” Andrea steps out from behind the desk before the boys can reply. “Patients are treated in order of severity; if you don’t like it, feel free to seek care for your child elsewhere.”

“Yes, I think I will.” She grabs her child’s arm and all but drags him towards the doors, giving the boys an icy glare as she passes.

Nursey turns his face into Dex’s neck to avoid breathing in her perfume and whines almost silently when the waiting room bursts into applause at the woman’s exit. 

This time, he doesn’t protest the wheelchair that’s brought out for him, and leans forward to bury his head in his hands as soon as he’s seated. The boys are led through double doors into a corridor full of beds separated by curtains. The nurse helps Derek into his and assures them the doctor will be in soon.

As soon as they’re alone, he starts to cry.

“Hey, hey, hey,” Ransom perches on the edge of the bed and wraps his arms around his teammate, hooking his chin on the top of his head. 

Nursey has his hands pressed against his temples, so at first Dex thinks he’s in tears because of the pain, but then he starts choking out words around the sobs.

“I want to go home, Rans. I don’t want to be here.”

“Shh, I know, Derek, but the doctors here are going to take good care of you, and that racist bitch is gone, okay?”

“No, it’s-I don’t-” He’s gasping now, working himself into a panic, so Ransom changes tactics.

“Breathe with me Nursey,” he commands in his Captain Voice, and the sophomore struggles to comply.

It takes a few tense minutes, but soon his breathing is back to normal and he clears his throat.

“The last time I was in a hospital-” he stops, swallowing hard.

“You don’t have to explain yourself, Nurse,” Dex hurries to reassure him.

He shakes his head. “I want to. Um, the last time, it--last year, I drove myself to the ER because I was suicidal.”

Dex’s stomach drops and he almost doesn’t hear Nursey’s next words over the ringing in his ears. 

“I’m better now but being here is-I don’t-it feels bad. ” He buries his face in Ransom’s chest.

“Hey, that’s okay, sweetie,” Bitty steps forward to put a hand on his shoulder. “Of course being here is going to be triggering for you, but this time you’re not alone, right?”

“I’m sorry that being here is digging up a lot of hard memories for you, but you’re exactly where you need to be,” Ransom reminds him. “You’re really sick, Der.”

“I know, I just--” He shudders and this time Dex steps forward, taking one of Nursey’s hands in his own.

“Hey,” he waits until he meets his eyes, “I’m really fucking glad you’re here.”

Nursey’s lip starts to tremble again but before he can reply, the doctor walks in and the moment is lost. He tells them that he wants to take a few scans of Derek’s head to make sure there’s nothing serious going on while they get him started on IV fluids to combat the dehydration. Once they’re sure it’s just a migraine, he’ll get some painkillers and, if needed, anti-nausea medication to deal with the symptoms. 

A nurse comes in to wheel him out for a CT scan and Ransom elects to go with him. As soon as the curtain closes behind them, Dex collapses into one of the plastic chairs along the wall and buries his face in his hands. 

Bitty sits next to him and puts an arm around his shoulders. 

“How are you doing, Will?”

He shrugs without lifting his head. “Better than Nurse.”

“You did a big thing today,” he prompts gently. 

This morning feels like so long ago he has to take a moment to remember what Bitty’s talking about. He laughs aloud. Right, he came out to the entire team in the middle of the locker room today. 

“Yeah, well, it was about time they all knew.”

“No regrets?”

“None.” If he says it enough, maybe he’ll start to believe it.

“And this has nothing to do with a certain curly-haired defenseman?”

“Bits-”

“You care about him, don’t you?” His voice is warm. 

“Of course I do; he’s my friend.” Dex doesn’t mean to emphasize the word friend , but it comes out that way and he cringes. Could he be any more obvious?

He looks up at Bitty’s knowing expression and groans. “C’mon, Bitty, can we not do this right now? Nursey needs a friend. Just a friend.”

“Of course, sweetie. You’re right.” He cards a hand through Dex’s hair. “He’s lucky to have you, you know.”

He shrugs again. “I think I’m lucky that he didn’t write me off as some ignorant asshole last year even though I would’ve deserved it. I still don’t know why he’s given me so many chances.”

“Because you’re a good person, WIlliam Poindexter. Inherent biases and all, you’re good to him. To all of us.”

He feels the blush crawling up his cheeks and ducks his head again, saved from having to deal with the compliment by Nursey and Ransom returning. 

The doctor follows them in and gives the good news, “Brain looks normal, Mr. Nurse. I’ll have a miss nurse give you something for the pain and hopefully that’ll take care of the worst of the nausea.”

He manages a tired smile at the lame joke and whispers, “Thanks, doc,” as the man heads off again. 

They don’t have to wait long before a nurse comes in and pushes medication through the IV line, and the effects are almost immediate. The lines in Nursey’s forehead smooth out for the first time all day, and he all but melts into Dex’s side when he sits down next to him. 

“Hey, Dexy?” he mumbles, eyes closed and already drifting off.

“What’s up, Nurse?” He can’t resist bringing his hand up to brush the hair out of Nursey’s face, but he’s surprised when he catches his hand and holds it there.

“You were mad at me, but you still answered the phone,” he states, voice full of wonder.

“I wasn’t mad-”

“You were sad. I made you sad but you came to get me anyway.” He squeezes their joined hands and Dex finds himself swallowing back a wave of emotion as he meets Ransom’s approving gaze and Bitty’s similarly proud expression.

“Yeah, well. You know.” He has to clear his throat before declaring, “Got your back.”