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Dex almost doesn’t wake up when his phone rings. It’s after one a.m. and his family had only gotten back from their Christmas Eve services a little while ago. He’d fallen asleep texting with Chowder, still wide awake on California time, so his phone is wedged under his armpit. The sound is muffled but the vibration is clear enough to finally shake him out of his stupor. He’s so out of it, he picks up without opening his eyes to check the caller ID.

He’s not sure he would have answered, if he’d looked.

“‘lo?” he manages.

“Deeeexxxxxxx! Merry Christmas, Dex,” comes the voice through the line, and Dex’s stomach flip-flops. It’s Nursey.

He hasn’t actually spoken words to Nursey since… since, so all he can manage is, “Nurse, what the hell -”

Not that it matters, because Nursey is already talking again. “You’re so grumpy, Poindexter, don’t be mad, just wanted to say Merry Christmas to my D-man. My D-dizzle. Diddly-Dex.”

Dex blinks into the darkness of his room. “Are you drunk?”

Nursey’s laugh is too loud, loud enough that Dex pulls the phone away from his ear. “Fuckin’ right. Daddy’s Macallan 25. Goes down smooooth.”

“He’ll be pissed tomorrow,” Dex tells him. Nursey’s laugh this time is quieter, and when he speaks his voice is tinged with something Dex has never heard from Nursey before, a kind of forced cheer laced with desperation.

“Nah, he and Mom are still in Dubai. Sent an email yesterday that they got a line on a deal, had to stay and see it through. Not like the sheiks are big on Christmas, you know?”

“Wait, what?” Dex frowns in confusion. “Are you home alone right now?”

“Home alone is my middle name, man,” Nursey says, “Just wish you were -” He tapers off, and Dex’s heart is beating hard enough that he can hear it loud and clear over Nursey’s quiet breathing on the other end.

“Just wish I was what?”

“Nothin’, bro,” Nursey replies, his voice a little hoarse - from the whiskey, or maybe from something else, Dex can’t tell. “Sorry I woke you up. Have a great Christmas, okay? High-fives to all the little Dexes.”

The line goes dead before Dex can say anything else, not like he knows what the fuck to say. He lies in bed for a while, staring at the ceiling, before he kicks off his covers, muttering to himself about stupid morons. He’s not sure who he’s talking about.

*

The drive from the Cape to New York City takes about four hours. That’s four hours for Dex to sit and stew in his mom’s Ford Fiesta, wondering what the fuck he’s even thinking. He made it out the door a little before two, with enough money in his wallet for gas and some greasy fast food from an all-night McDonald’s on I-95.

It’s eerily quiet - the wee hours of Christmas morning are not prime holiday travel hours, apparently - and Dex finds his mind wandering as he speeds down the dark, empty highway, back to the last time he saw Nursey before break, at the Haus’s end-of-semester blowout.

The Haus was decorated with an explosion of tinsel and tacky ornaments, and Holster had mixed up his bathtub punch. Dex, Chowder, and Nursey had gotten their asses kicked by Farmer and Lardo in a fierce game of flip-cup, which meant they were all pretty wasted. They’d all ended up in Chowder’s room upstairs, still drinking sickly-sweet red punch and avoiding the crowds. Nursey was in his element, sitting on the floor of Chowder’s room with his long legs stretched out in front of him, gesturing with his hands as he told a story about some guy in his poetry class who got into an argument with the professor over the legitimacy of chap books. Dex didn’t know what chap books were, and he felt weirdly left out as the others laughed along. Maybe it was because he didn’t get the joke. Maybe because every time he was with Nursey these days, it felt like Nursey took up all the air in the room, like the whole world was in orbit around Derek Nurse.

It was fucking infuriating, the way he couldn’t stop looking at Nursey. The way Nursey kept looking at him, looking and smirking like he knew a secret that Dex didn’t.

So when one of Nursey’s grand gestures knocked Dex’s cup from his hands and on to his jeans, the sticky liquid soaking through right to his skin, Dex nearly came up swinging. “What the fuck, Nurse?” he gritted out as he lurched to his feet. His hands were balled into fists at his side.

“Sorry, bro,” Nursey replied, laughing. “Here, let me -” he reached out like he was going to touch Dex’s damp thigh and Dex’s whole body ran hot.

“No, jesus, don’t -” he stepped back quickly and turned on his heel, heading across the hall to the bathroom. He ran the tap and grabbed some toilet paper, wetting it and then dabbing at the spill. He looked up into the mirror to see Nursey leaning on the doorframe.

“Leave it,” Nursey said, his eyes at a drunk half-mast that makes him look even more chill than usual.

Dex’s shoulders tensed. “Some of us don’t have, like, fifteen pairs of jeans to pick from,” Dex snapped even though, honestly, he’s got plenty of jeans. It’s just that Nursey is so careless with everything, even things that aren’t his.

Nursey frowned a little, and Dex kept scrubbing. The toilet paper wasn’t helping the stickiness much, and it left behind little bits of paper in the denim. Dex huffed in annoyance.

“Oh my god, just take them off and rinse them out, then,” Nursey said, coming into the room and taking the paper out of Dex’s hand. “You’re just making it worse, dude.”

“What the fuck,” Dex managed and Nursey grabbed for the button of Dex’s jeans.

“Off, Poindexter. It’s nothing we haven’t all seen a million times,” he teased, and Dex felt himself start to blush all over. He grabbed at Nursey’s hands to keep them still, which just trapped their hands between their bodies, just north of Dex’s groin. Nursey flexed his fingers, testing Dex’s grip, and Dex felt the buzz in his skin turn up and up and up, until he was almost shaking with it. “Dex -” Nursey said, his voice suddenly a little raspy.

“Why are you like this?” Dex asked him, not even sure what he meant.

“Dex, I -”

“Shut up, just shut the fuck up,” Dex told him. Nursey flexed his fingers again, leaning in to Dex’s personal space.

“Make me.”

It was a dare, it was a push, Nursey was always pushing, and Dex hated losing and hated being left behind and hated the buzz under his skin that he couldn’t shake, so he did the only thing that made any sense in the moment: he kissed Derek Nurse quiet.

It wasn’t a pretty kiss - it was sticky and sweet from the punch, hard and biting from too many months of pent-up whateverthefuck this was between them. Nursey gave as good as he got, and Dex let go of his hands to keep from falling over as Nursey pushed him back into the sink. As soon as his hands were free, Nursey brought one up to fist in the hair at the back of Dex’s head, and the other pulled his hips closer, close enough that Dex could feel the line of Nursey’s dick through his pants. Dex’s dick was already half-hard, had been that way for the last hour, sitting next to Nursey and his stupid hands and his stupid face. He rolled his hips against Nursey’s and was viciously proud of the groan that Nursey made, chasing it with his tongue. ‘That’ll shut you the fuck up,’ Dex thought, as Nursey kissed him back even harder.

Dex has no idea how long they were in there, making out in Bitty and Chowder’s bathroom with the door barely closed, but it was long enough that Chowder came to look for them. The knock on the door was like a splash of ice-cold water on Dex’s skin. He pushed Nursey away from him hard enough that Nursey smacked into the towel rack on the opposite wall. “Fuck,” he hissed, and Dex couldn’t stop staring at his mouth, wet and red.

“Hey, guys?” Chowder asked through the door, sounding genuinely concerned. “Is everything -”

Dex didn’t trust himself to talk, so just yanked the door open and fled.

“Dex,” Nursey yelled after him, but it was a beat too late, and Dex was already halfway down the stairs.

He made it back to his room, collapsed on his bed, and lay there, his heart pounding, until he passed out from drunkenness or an adrenaline crash. He woke up in sticky jeans, and with four missed texts from Chowder, and one from Nursey - a simple ‘?’, the epitome of understated chill at something that made Dex’s hands sweat every time he thought about it.

Dex didn’t text him back.

*

By the time he hits the city and his GPS is maneuvering him onto the West Side Highway in Manhattan, Dex is kicking himself for his stupidity. Hours ago, in the dark of his room, he heard Nursey’s “just wish you were” and filled in here, but it just as well could have been not such a fucking asshole. He thinks about turning around and just driving home, but then he sees the sign for Nursey’s exit and he remembers the way his voice sounded, and he thinks about Nursey waking up on Christmas morning in an empty house, and he gets off the highway.

Nursey’s house isn’t a mansion the way the big houses out in Provincetown are, but Dex figures this four-story brownstone on a quiet street on the Upper West Side probably cost about as much. It’s still dark out, but the streetlights throw out enough light that Dex can see the outlines of wreaths on a few neighboring doors. The Nurse house is shut up, quiet and dark.

Maybe you are a total asshole, Dex thinks to himself. Then he pulls his hand out of his jacket pocket, takes a deep breath, and rings the bell.

There’s no answer.

He thinks for a second that maybe he’s driven all this way for nothing, that Nursey probably found a friend in town to crash with. But no - not when he was calling Dex from an empty house at one in the morning. He wonders about how much Nursey’d had to drink before he was drunk enough to call Dex, wonders if he kept drinking after he hung up, and that sends him spiraling to a vision of Nursey passed out on his bedroom floor, half-dead from alcohol poisoning. He leans on the bell, over and over, and he can hear the sound of it bouncing off the walls inside. He starts alternating his rings with some pounds on the front door. He’s got his phone out of his pocket, ready to start calling Nursey - a three-pronged attack - when the door is finally yanked open. A bleary, slightly pale Derek Nurse blinks at him like he can’t believe he’s real.

“Dex?”

“Um,” Dex manages, and how did he waste four hours in the car without figuring out that he’d actually have to talk to Nursey at the other end of this drive? “Hey.” Nursey is still looking at him like he’s a hallucination, and Dex notices he’s leaning heavily on the door frame. He feels a sudden burst of concern that snaps into annoyance. “Are you still drunk?”

“Probably?” Nursey says. “Are you actually here?”

“Yes, asshole, I’m your fairy fucking godfather. You called last night and whined at me about spending Christmas alone and POOF, I’ve appeared. Go get your stuff and let’s go. You can sleep it off in the car.” Dex has interacted with still-drunk-kind-of-hungover Nursey enough to know he can be talked into nearly anything, as long as he’s promised some quiet time at the other end of it. He also figures if he plays this whole thing like it’s totally normal, Nursey won’t notice that it’s actually completely insane.

“Go where?” Nursey asks, but he steps aside enough to let Dex in the house.

“The Cape, man. Land of the living. Go, pack your shit. If we’re not back in time for turkey, my mom will kick my ass.” They walk into a kitchen fancy enough that Dex is pretty sure Bitty just orgasmed right now with no idea why. Every surface is pristine except for the island, littered with takeout Chinese containers.

Nursey wipes his hand over his face and leans on the island. “You’re kidnapping me to Cape Cod.”

“Kidnapping is such an ugly word,” Dex tells him, picking up some of the dirty containers and looking in vain for a trash can. Nursey finally points him toward what looks like a regular cabinet drawer but which is, in fact, a hidden trash can. Dex finds the Nurse family’s hiding of their undesirables strangely poetic for a moment, before he remembers he hates things that are poetic.

“Poindexter, what the fuck -”

“I’m not leaving without you so just go pack,” Dex tells him, even though he’s not quite able to look at Nursey when he says it. It’s quiet in the kitchen for a moment, and Dex can hear his own heart beating loud and fast, before Nursey mutters a quick, “fuck, okay,” and jogs up the stairs.

Dex doesn’t follow him. He half expects Nursey to just faceplant back in his bed and go back to sleep, like this was some weird dream, and maybe Dex should just let him do that. But less than ten minutes later, Nursey is staggering back down the stairs. He’s in jeans and a Sharks hoodie that he probably stole from Chowder, and he’s got a big suitcase, a duffle bag, and his full hockey bag. Dex is pretty sure that’s literally everything Nursey brought home for the holiday; he figures this means Nursey’s not expecting to come back here before spring practices start in two weeks. Dex discovers he’s one hundred percent okay with that idea, and tries not to freak out about it.

They don’t talk as they leave the house, Nursey locking the door behind him and Dex shouldering Nursey’s hockey bag. They wrestle it all into the tiny trunk of the car and when they get in, all Dex says is “Don’t puke in my mom’s car, bro.” Then they’re on their way.

*

Nursey falls asleep by the time they hit the Bronx, which gives Dex some time to breathe and figure out what the fuck he’s doing. Nursey’s sleeping with his hoodie balled up between his head and the window, and Dex finds himself driving more carefully, trying not to jar him awake. He’s glad the traffic is still pretty slow; he keeps looking sideways at Nursey’s profile, at his mouth.

Somewhere around Bridgeport, when the sun finally peeks out over the horizon, Dex’s mom finally calls. “Hey,” he says, pitching his voice low so Dex won’t wake up.

“Hey? Really?” his mom replies, her voice clipped like it is whenever she’s worried. “I wake up to a note saying ‘took the car, back by lunch’ on Christmas morning and all you’ve got is ‘hey’? Billy, what the everloving fuck -”

“Sorry,” he cuts in. “I didn’t want to wake you and dad -”

“Yeah, well, waking up to you and my car missing was a great alternative,” she snaps. Dex winces.

“I had to go help out a friend,” he says, hesitant to say more for some reason. His mom huffs.

“A friend who needed your help in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve? It couldn’t wait until tomorrow?”

“No, ma,” he manages, glancing at Nursey in the seat next to him. “It couldn’t wait until tomorrow. It was important.”

“Where are you?”

“...Connecticut?”

“Well, as long as you’re not in jail,” she sighs in that tone that means she’s given up trying to be mad at him, at least for now. “Your father is currently bribing your brothers and sisters with all the sugar in their Christmas stockings to keep them from opening their gifts without you,” she tells him. “I give it three hours, tops, so you better put the pedal to the metal, kiddo.”

“I’ll be there,” he promises, already speeding up. “Oh and, um,” he adds, “I might have someone with me?”

“Oh really?” she asks, and he can practically see her eyebrows raised to her hairline.

“It’s one of the guys from the team. Nursey - Derek Nurse. You met him at the semi-finals, remember?” Dex is sure she’ll remember - Nursey was his usual charming self with Dex’s parents and his little sisters.

“Oh, the handsome one,” she says, and Dex rolls his eyes a little.

“Yeah, the handsome one.”

“Okay, I’ll set another plate. Hope he likes lobster and stuffed cabbage and chaos.”

Dex loves her so much. “It’ll be great,” he tells her. “Be home soon. Love you.”

“Love you,” she tells him. “And drive fast, but not too fast!”

He hangs up and tosses the phone in the cup holder, and steals another glance at the passenger seat. Nursey’s eyes are open, and he’s smirking a little. “Your mom thinks I’m the handsome one, huh?” he says and Dex smacks him in the arm, but he’s blushing a little too.

“Shut the fuck up, you’re not allowed to flirt with my mom.”

“Where are we?” Nursey asks, blinking as he looks out the window.

“Not even in New Haven,” Dex tells him. “Go back to sleep, I’ll wake you when we’re past Providence.”

Nursey puts his head back on his hoodie-pillow and closes his eyes. He’s quiet for long enough that Dex thinks he’s gone back to sleep, but then he says, his eyes still closed, “You didn’t have to do this, man.”

“It’s no big deal,” Dex tells him. And in some ways it isn’t - Dex is still shocked at how fast he decided to make this crazy trip, how easy it was to get in the car and drive without even thinking about it.

“I’ve been doing holidays alone for years, bro. I mean, I spent more holidays at Andover than in New York.”

Dex’s fingers tighten on the steering wheel. He kind of really hates Nursey’s parents right now, even though he’s never met them. (And how crazy is that? Dex has met nearly everyone’s parents from the Samwell hockey team, but the Nurses have never made it to a game, not once.) He wants to yell at Nursey about this ridiculous chill he has going on, about how it’s fucked up, ask how he’s not just pissed off all the fucking time, but he looks over and Nursey’s eyes are still closed, and he’s curled in on himself in the seat. “Yeah, well. Not this year,” he says firmly. Nursey tries to hide his small smile in the crook of his arm, but Dex sees it.

Dex sees it, and his heart basically implodes.

*

They pull into the Poindexter driveway with ten minutes to spare, and Dex’s youngest sister Megan comes barreling out the front door, still in her pajamas. “YOU ALMOST MISSED CHRISTMAS,” she yells at him as he unfolds himself from the car.

“Sorry, squirt,” he tells her. “Had to pick up this guy.” He points his thumb over his shoulder to Nursey, who is standing next to the car, stretching his arms over his head.

“Hey Megs,” Nursey says with a wide smile. “Sorry I’m late.”

“DEREEEEEK,” she yells, and Dex winces a little. Megan is joined on the front step by Matty, who manages a quick wave, his Gameboy in the other hand, and Colleen, who Dex is mortified to see appears to have put on makeup.

“Hey, Derek,” she says.

“Hey, Col,” Nursey grins, and Dex glares at him.

“She’s fourteen,” he hisses and Nursey just laughs. Dex’s mom pops her head out to wave at them.

“Come on, kids - somebody give Derek the tour,” she says. Megan grabs Nursey’s hand and pulls him into the house, leaving Dex to wrestle Nursey’s bags out of the trunk. His mom comes down the stairs, still in her slippers.

“You okay, kiddo?” she asks, and Dex nods. He hands her the keys to the car. “Is he okay?” she motions to the door where Nursey just disappeared.

“Yeah,” he tells her. “I mean, I think so? His parents bailed on him for the holiday, and I couldn’t just let him sit in his house by himself.”

Dex’s mom sucks in harsh breath before letting it out slowly. “Nope, couldn’t do that at all. Okay - you get his stuff up into your room, and I’ll go make sure Colleen hasn’t cornered him in her room. At least I talked your dad out of mistletoe this year.”

Mom,” Dex groans, and fuck yes, thank god there’s no mistletoe.

*

The afternoon is pretty great, honestly. Dex is dead tired from driving all night, so after they open gifts (somehow, gifts mysteriously appeared for Nursey under the tree - a box of chocolates and a blue tie that Dex suspects was meant for him), Dex just collapses on the sofa and watches his siblings try to one-up each other for Nursey’s attention. Dex doesn’t think he talked about his family that much at school, but he clearly mentions them enough for Nursey to have paid attention. Nursey remembers all of their names, and what sports they play, and that Colleen does theater, and that Dex’s dad has a home-brew beer kit in the basement.

Nursey looks tired too, but he won’t take a nap, even when Dex’s mom tries to guilt them both into it. “I’d rather hang out and chill with the little Dexters, Mrs. P,” he tells her, grinning at Dex over her shoulder. Dex’s mom shakes her head, smiling, and just gives him another mug of coffee. Dex thinks he should probably nap too, but somehow he’s having too much fun, just watching Nursey enjoy Christmas with his family. He lets his mind wander to all those holidays at Andover, and he wonders how Nursey got through them all without hating Christmas entirely. He figures that Nursey’s omnipresent chill probably helped, and then he wonders which came first - the chill, or the disappointment.

Nursey likes to spent a lot of time pretending he doesn’t give a shit about anything. But if he really didn’t give a shit about anything, he wouldn’t be any good at hockey. He’d blow it off. And Dex might be loathe to admit it some days, but Nursey never blows off hockey. Dex realizes that the Samwell hockey team is more like Nursey’s family than his actual family. Even Jack, who lives for the team, still has Bad Bob and his mom at home, throwing big Christmas parties and sending him care packages.

Dex thinks maybe, just maybe, Nursey’s chill is just to keep him from caring that no one cares about him. Which makes Dex irrationally angry - Nursey may be a pain in his ass, but Dex cares about him. Maybe cares a little too much.

Nursey flops down on the sofa next to Dex, shifting the cushions so that Dex is leaning into him. Normally that would be enough to make Dex’s skin itch with frustration. Today, he just lets himself fall into Nursey’s side. “You doing good, bro?” he asks, yawning a little at the end.

Nursey laughs and looks at him from under his stupidly long eyelashes. “Yeah, Dex. I’m doing pretty great.”

Dex closes his eyes.

*

“Hey, sweetheart,” Dex hears his mom’s voice, pitched low and quiet. He blinks his eyes open and the den is empty save for him and Nursey, curled up on the couch. Someone tossed an old afghan over them while they slept, and Dex can feel Nursey’s hand warm on his thigh, under the blanket.

“Hey, mom,” he whispers, blushing hard and desperately hoping that hand ended up there after the blanket.

“You boys have been down for a few hours and I shooed out the Celtic hoards, but it’s about time for A Christmas Story and your dad doesn’t want to miss the beginning.” Dex nods and nudges Nursey’s head with his shoulder.

“Hey, Nursey,” he says, and blushes even harder when Nursey turns his face into Dex’s neck and squeezes his thigh under the blanket.

“Shhh,” he slurs, “‘m sleeping.”

Dex’s mom chuckles. “Just leave him be,” she says. “I don’t think anything’s going to wake him for a while.” She looks long and hard at Dex, and then at Nursey, before adding, “Why don’t you come help me with some kitchen cleanup, since you weren’t around to help with the cooking this year. I’ll tell your dad and the kids they can come back in and watch TV, and we’ll let Derek hang out with them.”

Dex’s heart is suddenly pounding, even though he doesn’t think his mom knows… or, he hopes his mom doesn’t know? But Dex’s mom somehow has the knack for knowing everything. “O-okay,” he says and she ruffles his hair as he stands up. Nursey makes a grab for him, but Dex manages to sidestep it.

“He likes you,” his mom says as they wander into the kitchen. It’s a mess, with flour and lobster shells dusting the counters. Dex grabs a handful of paper towels and starts wiping them down, just so he won’t have to look his mom in the face.

“We’re just friends,” he says, and wow, well done, Poindexter, that’s not suspicious at all.

His mom takes the stockpot off the stove and puts it in the sink, filling it up to soak. “He doesn’t look at you like a friend,” she tells him and Dex freezes. His hand starts to shake where he’s wiping down the formica. “Do you like him? I mean, you drove to New York City in the middle of the night for him, so I think I know the answer to this one, but -”

“Mom,” Dex cuts in, but he doesn’t know what else to say. He just wants her to stop talking so he won’t have to hear something he doesn’t want to hear. She looks at him with her eyebrows raised. “I - I don’t know,” he manages, because he doesn’t, not really. He knows he wants to shut Nursey up most of the time, and he hates that the best way he can think of to do that now is to kiss him. It wasn’t supposed to be like that, Dex wasn’t supposed to be like that.

“Honey,” his mom says, turning and leaning against the sink. “You don’t have to know. But if I’ve ever said anything to make you think -”

“You wouldn’t let me go to P-town,” Dex tells her, stuffing his shaking hands in his pockets. “You never wanted us to go there. You and dad wouldn’t let us go to the beaches up there, and Uncle Joe said that the fags were ruining the Cape, and -”

“Your Uncle Joe is a bigoted asshole,” his mom cuts in. “And no, I didn’t want my kids wandering beaches where men were doing… things, with other men. And drugs. When you were a kid, there were a lot of drugs on those beaches,” she tells him. She sounds defensive, and Dex hunches his shoulders, ready for a fight. But all she does is take another deep breath and let it out slow. “I don’t care,” she tells him. “I mean, I care a little, obviously, but you’re my kid, and you’re always going to be my kid. I’m not going to bail on you for Christmas, or any other holiday ever, you got that?”

Dex nods, his throat tight like he might cry.

“And I’ve gotta give you points for taste, Billy. Your boy is definitely a looker,” she adds, and Dex can tell from her strangled tone of voice that she’s trying not to cry too. “You tell him he’s welcome here any time, okay?”

“Okay,” Dex manages, and then she’s pulling him close into a tight hug.

*

Dex likes guys.

Or, no. Dex maybe likes guys, but Dex definitely likes Nursey.

Dex likes Nursey enough to drive eight hours to pick him up and bring him home. He likes Nursey enough to have memorized the curve of his jaw, the plump lines of his lips, the dimples he gets when he laughs. He likes Nursey enough to get butterflies down to his toes from just pressing up against him on the sofa, from the brush of Nursey’s fingers against his hand.

Dex wishes he’d known this last week, when he was busy fucking everything up.

*

When the movie ends, Dex’s dad herds Matty and Megan upstairs while Colleen disappears into her room with her cell phone. His mom wanders through the den and presses two mugs of hot cocoa into Dex and Nursey’s hands. “Put a little Bailey’s in these,” she says with a wink. “Just like grandma used to.”

Nursey grins at her and Dex takes a big sip of cocoa to keep from saying anything stupid. He splutters a little as the drink burns it’s way down his throat. “Whoa, ma, that’s a lot of Bailey’s.”

“Eh,” she says with a shrug. “It’s Christmas and we’re Irish.”

After she heads upstairs to help put the kids to bed, Dex tugs on Nursey’s sleeve. “C’mon,” he says, pulling them toward the front door.

“Where are we going?” Nursey asks, and Dex just grins at him.

“Just come on,” he says, and Nursey pulls on his wool peacoat and his scarf and follows Dex out the door and down the street, both of them cradling their warm mugs in their hands.

It’s quiet out, but there are Christmas lights on most of the houses and a blow up Santa on the Hoffman’s front lawn. Dex leads them down the block and around the corner, then down another two blocks. He hears the ocean before he can see it, a black abyss stretching to the horizon, the waves hitting the shore with a heavy, comforting thud.

He hears Nursey whistle behind him, low and impressed, and Dex just keeps walking down onto the sand and a little bit west, until they end up under the overhang of the Pier. It’s sheltered there, warmer than the open beach, and Dex stands and stares out at the darkness, sipping at his now-lukewarm cocoa. Nursey stands next to him, close enough that their shoulders touch.

“So,” Nursey asks after a few quiet moments. “Is this where you make your move, or where you plan to hide the body?”

Dex huffs out a laugh, surprised. “No bodies, promise,” he says. “This is just where I like to come and think.”

“Needed to do some thinking?” Nursey asks and Dex shakes his head, still looking out at the water.

“I think I’ve been overthinking, honestly,” he says plainly, and Nursey laughs quietly.

“Yeah, Poindexter, that’s kind of your recurring problem.”

Dex elbows him in the ribs, but there’s no heat behind it. “I’m sorry,” he finally says. “For freaking out last week.”

“Yeah?” Nursey’s looking at him now, but Dex can’t quite meet his eyes.

“I just - wasn’t prepared.”

“Really? Because I’ve been waiting for that since last year, bro,” Nursey tells him, and Dex finally turns to stare at him, eyes wide. “You really didn’t notice? We flirt worse than Jack and Bitty sometimes, Dex.”

“Oh, god,” Dex groans, and maybe they’ve heard a lot of jokes about bickering like an old married couple, but Dex didn’t realize that Nursey thought they were flirting. Though, looking back, Dex supposes that’s exactly what they were doing.

“No big deal, though,” Nursey says, shrugging and turning away to look out at the water. “I mean, it was just one kiss, right? If you’re not into it, that’s -”

“Shut the fuck up,” Dex says, a smile tugging on the corner of his mouth.

“You gonna make me?” Nursey asks, and Dex just laughs and leans in, meeting Nursey halfway. The kiss is nothing like their first one; this time they’re both a little more sober and a little less frantic, and Dex sighs as Nursey tilts his head and opens his lips. The heat of Nursey’s mouth is shocking after the cold night air, and Nursey hums a little, a happy sound that Dex inhales.

They just kiss for a long few minutes, fingers hooked in jacket pockets, just their lips touching, over and over. Nursey finally pulls back to breathe and Dex rests his head on his shoulder.

“Thank you,” Nursey says quietly, lips pressed to Dex’s temple. “For coming to get me. You showing up on my doorstep this morning was probably the best Christmas gift I’ve gotten in years.” Dex pulls Nursey closer even as he groans. “Oh, fuck, are we going to be that sappy, gross couple on campus?”

Dex laughs. “Nah, i think Chowder and Bitty are in a sappy boyfriend contest. We’re not even in the running.”

“We’ll just have to be whatever we are,” Nursey says sagely, and Dex lifts his head to roll his eyes.

“A privileged hipster poet?” he asks, grinning.

“Better than an uptight Republican nerd,” Nursey replies.

“Seriously, shut the fuck up,” he says, and they do.