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A Poet is a Nightingale

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 Derek was making a fool of himself. He was already a klutz and a try-hard but this was county fair prize winning foolishness that for once no-one else could see so at least he was a lucky idiot.

 It was just Dex drove him up the wall, okay? Derek was fresh out of Andover ready to breathe lungfuls of fresh, non privileged air, ready to not have to get in first with jokes about his middle name, to not have to be aware of everything he did so he was not open to attack, to experiment with girls and boys with no need to have excuses ready. To grow surrounded by like minded people, to just be. Then there was William J Poindexter with that fucking republican sticker on his laptop.

 Jesus christ, of all the dudes in Samwell to like guys why did the one with the eyes like a fucking cliché of sunshine on autumn fucking leaves have to be so obnoxiously fucking straight!?

 He had tried to open Dex’s mind on politics, economics, religion but he had a solid answer to nearly every one of Derek’s points, really solid ones, spitefully solid almost, not the stock phrases the guys at Andover would throw into the discussions they had. He could ask difficult questions, get them both angry enough to start swinging.

 Even when Derek tried to lighten the mood he still took it as an attack and Derek with his racially ambiguous face, same-sex parents, and romantic soul did not survive this long around white boys like him by not being able to give even better than he got.

 “So, got the complete works of Shakespeare down yet?” He asked, sitting down next to Chris in the study nook where him and Dex were working on code.

 “Haha Nursey, good one.” Chris laughed, bumping Derek’s shoulder.

 "Yeah, really funny. Can’t you come up with your own things yet or do you have to work up to it?”

 "Dex..." Chris laughed nervously.

 “And what do you plumb the depths of your human imagination for? New ways to copy and paste?” Derek spat, leaning over his bag to get in as much of Dex’s space as he could.

 “How you got through Andover wasn’t it?”

 “Nah man, didn’t have your white privilege to get those grades rounded up. Did it on my sweat, just like this country was built.”

 “You didn’t do shit, you’ve never done shit you hit the jackpot from birth, you only sweat to look good!” Dex snarled, eyes hard.

“Guys please.” 

 “Yeah I got a silver spoon in my mouth, but at least I can take it out unlike the fucking gate post up your ass. But I suppose you secretly like it up there like all republicans.”

“Nursey!” 

“Here we go, free fucking country as long as we all believe what you believe right Nursey?”

“You’re free to believe whatever 1950’s crap you like dude,” he stood up to get in Dex’s angry flushed face, “chill.” He hissed with a smile, watching the exact moment Dex really lost it.

 They were supposed to be the second line D-men, Coach Murray swapping them with Ollie and Wicks every other game because he said they were good enough, but they could barely look at one another without arguing. Chris had tried to fix things but just got caught in the buffers and breakers of their relationship. Bitty had spoken to Derek which meant he had spoken to Dex but it seemed his efforts had just made Dex even less patient with him.

 It got to the point that they were the cause of two Princetown goals. Chris could only do so much when their passes refused to connect, Rans & Holtz sprinting off the bench to save him while Jack and his line dragged Samwell back level. They sat at opposite ends of the bench, their mood descending on the rest of the team so they all started snapping at one another until Jack came off the ice with an expression on his face that had everyone looking at their skates apart from them, Derek shooting a glare right back at Dex as they stomped into the locker room.

 “24, 28 stay behind at the end.” Jack said firmly after the coaches talk, displeasure rolling off him. The rest of the team shot them looks as they thinned out unusually quickly until it was just the two of them, Jack, and Lardo in the ringing silence of the locker room.

 Derek supposed the look they were given was of fatherly sternness as Jack pulled up a chair to sit in front of their cubbies. His eyes were really very pale, like a cold, clear winter's morning, and they froze you to the spot when they looked at you intently.

 No strip was torn off them, much to Derek’s surprise. Jack told them in not unkind terms that they had better try talking instead of yelling if they wanted to be any good. They could be great D-men, they were getting there fast, but Jack made it clear if they did not sort this out they would be benched, might be cut altogether because they were making too much work for the rest of team. That ringing ultimatum put their spat into perspective for Derek, how selfish and self-centred they were being. Or it could have been the gentleness on Jack’s face when he turned to a flushing Dex and mentioned his scholarship like he knew anything about needing one.

 To think of it, what the hell did Derek know?

 “You didn’t tell me you had a hockey scholarship.” Derek said in a small voice, making the effort to not be combative, feeling it stick in his throat but he pushed through it for the team.

 “Uhh well having to haul up lobster pots all summer to get money for kit may have given you a clue?” Dex said tersely and Derek took a deep breath, telling himself to give Dex the chance to try.

“Guess I didn’t...I didn’t think.” He adjusted the strap of his kit bag. “I’m a private school asshole so that’s no shock.”

 Surprisingly Dex did not take that opportunity to attack, he just shrugged. “We’re teenagers, we’re all assholes.” 

“Bitty isn’t an asshole.”

“Bitty is an outlier…”

“...and should not be counted.” Derek finished, smiling when Dex let out a surprised laugh. He had never heard a genuine laugh from him before, it was a nice sound.

 “Hey Nurse, didn’t know meme’s were hipster?” Dex chirped, raising an eyebrow while Derek tried to come up with an answer. Denying being a hipster meant you were a hipster and Derek wanted to be genuine more than anything.

 “I’m not a - shut up! How the fuck did I get backed into a verbal corner by a Compsci Major?” Derek admitted defeat, losing the battle for the sake of the war.

 “You learn more than how to take a punch from having five siblings.”

 “Holy fucking shit, five!”

 “Yep.”

  Things got steadily better after the Princetown game, rock bottom having been reached the only way they could go was up. Their arguments becoming more like heated debates than anything, leaving Derek wanting to write at the same time as going for a three mile run, thrumming with exhilaration. Dex became softer around him too, accepting hair ruffles with only a grunt and not an elbow to the ribs, brushing shoulders with Derek when they were squeezed on the bench or in the dining hall instead of bunching himself up so they were not touching at all.

 They even made syncing eye-contact in a game against Harvard, connecting every pass while double-teaming their verbal harassment of the opposing forwards - a sync they never really fell out of, finally in the fabled D-men zone, even if Dex still was a gloriously uptight fuck.

 Bitty, the little beauty, got the frogs baking a pie for Thanksgiving Dinner and it might have been his strict supervision or C’s excitement but they got the whole thing done without any bickering. There were plenty of rolled eyes and a flick of flour or three but at the end of it Dex was holding a pecan pie he had decorated himself with the utmost care, C beaming on one side of him and Derek pressed against the other with a hand in his hair as they posed for a picture, Dex flushing beautifully as he looked shyly at the camera.

 They were not like Rans & Holtz, or Jack and Shitty, or even like Derek and his buddy Cooper from Andover, but they had found a way to be friends. Dex did not even yell at him when Derek stood and watched as C crashed the two of them into half the volleyball team, he just laughed a little helplessly along with the girls as they all helped each other up and flushed when a couple took their chance to grab his bicep, glaring at Derek when he laughed at him.

 The change from open hostility to being a voluntary wingman for Derek at parties was sudden and surprisingly easy, his arm heavy around Derek’s shoulders as he chatted to girls who looked equally interested in both of them. Derek would try and repay the favour but Dex did not seem to want the help which was confusing at best. If it had been two months ago he would have taken it as an insinuation that he needed Dex’s help to get laid, a dent to his pride and vanity, but that was the them of the past, the them of the now were complicated but good.

 Derek had looked over at Dex one time during a lull in his evening, ruddy under his spray of freckles from the beer and the warmth of the party, laughing with March and June as April and a football guy were being destroyed at beer pong by Lardo and a faux-reluctant Bitty. June had left her hand on Dex’s arm, a clear invitation, but Dex had just blinked and pretended he did not know she was flirting, glancing in Derek’s direction before he got the caught look out of his eyes.

 Private school had not prepared him to work out what the fuck that meant.

 “You’re a good wingman yanno.” Derek said one morning at team breakfast while the rest of the guys were trying to get Jack to lose the Circle Game but he was wise to them.

“Oh, thanks man.”

“You should totally help out Holtz or Wicks sometime.” He noticed Holster glance around with a frown on his face like he sensed the chirping.

 Dex paused, “They’re not my….” then shoved some hash browns in his face like he was physically stopping himself from speaking, ears glowing red.

“Aww William! Was that a declaration of friendship!”

“Shut up Derek .” Dex said around a mouthful of mostly eaten food, pale and tired looking with some amazing dark circles under his eyes. Even then Derek thought he was warm and lovely like an end of summer day.

 The republican sticker was still on his laptop though. Derek knew you could have LGBTQ republicans, that Dex could even be so far in the closet he did not even know he was in it, knew this could all be wishful thinking.

Probably was.

Definitely was.

 But that certainty did not helped Derek. He had not hooked up with every girl Dex had been his wingman for but now it went down to zero, he did not want them, could not want them when Dex was pressed into his side warm and happy. When he did slip upstairs at a party now it was with people he chatted up on his own, guys with eyes that were not amber and skin that did not hold a galaxy in it.

 Inevitably Dex caught him, well not caught but he definitely saw him casually walking down the Haus stairs looking rumpled behind a guy who in hindsight had looked like a cut price version of Ransom (to be honest that was still pretty good looking) which was what Derek concentrated on being mortified about instead of worrying about the reaction Dex was going to have. He was okay with Bitty but he was mostly un-hetero-threatening, a lot of guys Derek had known liked their not-straights camp and certainly not bigger than them.

 He only had to wait for the stagger back to the dorms for the slightly underwhelming reaction. “I didn’t know you were gay.”

“M’not, pansexual.” Derek muttered, the overly sweet tub juice he downed not rinsing the taste of the guys dick from his tongue

“Oh.”

“Mean’s I like all genders.”

“I got it first time.”

“Y’kay with it?”

 Dex shrugged. “Not hurting anyone are you?” He gave Derek a look that he really wanted to show a lovesick kind of hurt but it was not there.

“No.”

“Well then.” They walked in silence for a bit longer. “I’ll wingman for guys if you want. Guess it’s just like with girls?”

 Derek stopped and exaggerated rubbing his eyes. “Wait wait wait...think I left my friend at the party. He’s named Will, is a pain in the ass?”

“Ayuh, he told me he was staying longer now you weren’t cramping his style.”

“I am his style.”

“Is that what you call it?”

“What would you call it?”

“Overpriced.” Derek opened his mouth, caught the smile on Dex’s face and laughed instead. “So uh...was that guy someone who, ya’know, on the regular or just…”

“Or just.”

“Okay.” Dex reached the door to the dorms and paused. “Thought I should check so I’m not shoving girls at you, it’d be inappropriate ya’know?”

“Yeah. Yeah, no, it’s not a thing.” They looked at one another for a moment. “Why do you think it would be a thing?”

 Dex shrugged and easily heaved the heavy door open one handed, muscles hidden under his button up much to Derek’s chagrin. “You hadn’t been going with any of the girls we talked to.”

“Been keeping track?”

“How can I not when you follow me home nearly every night.”

“I’m protecting your blinding white skin from being bombarded by moths.”

“Fuck you, Nurse.” He growled as they got to the stairs and Derek took off, knowing Dex was chasing and gaining by the sound of his shoes on the stairs. When he fell through the door to their floor he sprinted down it in a time that would impress Bitty, weaving in and out of the few people in the corridor, having no idea what he was going to do when he got to his locked dorm.

 He turned just before the door, about to yell uncle but Dex’s solid mass bundled into him and sent them both bouncing off the end wall.

“The FUCK dudes!” Someone yelled at them as they lay on the floor laughing, Dex not moving from where his smile was pressed into Derek’s tattoo and this was all terrible and very not good. How could he ever concentrate again knowing what that felt like?

 The anger at himself, at Dex, at everything, went into his poetry. He spat out lines about humans hoping for peace in oceans that would suffocate them without even noticing, begged to know why his parents love was so easy but it always turned to ash in his chest, told a room that he knew had some of the SMH guys in that he never saw love coming until it had pulled him over the cliff with it and onto the sharp rocks below.

 So now half the team knew stuff was going on; Bitty baked him a sympathy pie and Chris looked forlornly at him while Rans & Holtz threw him a Cheer Up Kegster. Jack and Lardo were just Jack and Lardo which helped the most because they were still and quiet and he could sit with them in the hope the silence would fill his brain instead of Dex, hopefully then he could get his chill back.

“Nursey dude, not lost ya to the fucking trappist Hockey cult have we?” Shitty asked one day as he passed them all camped out in Jack’s room doing their own thing quietly. They all looked up at him in silent unison and he claimed it was, “The most fuckinng terrifying amazing-cheekboned-children-of-the-fucking-corn shit I have ever seen brah, I thought I was having a bad trip.”

 Losing the Frozen Four was...not chill. Derek felt shitty for the seniors, especially Jack whose eyes looked red and more despairing than usual as he walked silently onto the bus, head down, Bitty at his elbow looking worried and upset in equal parts. He felt shitty for Chris who was in the process of taking the whole weight of the defeat on his shoulders. Felt shitty and unnerved by Dex who had vibrated with anger and frustration all the way back to the hotel and up to their room.

 Derek leant on the wall, looking across at Dex who was sat on the far bed with his back to him, hands on his knees and glaring at the kit bag at his feet, still in his SMH jacket. Derek could remember when it had been a little too big for him across the shoulders, a Hockey season bulking him out enough to fill it perfectly now. One of the better things in life, Derek had always thought, was the stretch of fabric across a boy's broad shoulders but right now he missed how cosy Dex had looked.

"Will.” He said gently.

 Dex tensed some more. “What!”

“Can I get you anything?”

“Like what? Actual fucking skill at Hockey?”

“S’no-one’s fault, man. They were just better than us, all of us.”

“Not better than Jack.”

“Jack’s going to the NHL.”

“Yeh, and we couldn’t even give him the win to send him off!”

“He won’t see it like that.”

“Doesn’t change the fact we fucked up.”

“I know.” Derek pushed off the wall and gingerly sat down next to Dex, “I gotta be less afraid on the ice.”

 Dex finally looked at him, eyebrows drawn together, scrunching up his nose so he looked like an apple cheeked kid in a 50’s advert. “Afraid of what?”

 Derek shifted, turning to look at the boring print on the curtains. “I’ve always had a horror of breaking my fingers.”

“‘Cause you’re a poet?”

“Nah, just hate the thought of it.”

“We wear gloves.”

“Phobia’s don’t work like that, bro.”

“Ayuh.” Dex sighed, relaxing a little as they sat in silence for a long time, shoulders touching. “Fucking hate Yale.”

“Same.”

 So that was the end of his first season playing College Hockey. More dramatic than he expected, and with a lot of totally unexpected pie, but he would not have changed it for the world. Training became less intense but it still hurt because keeping up with Jack Zimmermann was a matter of pride for everyone. Team study and breakfasts were still a thing and the Haus was like a second home, the place to go when the dorms were too noisy and the library was too quiet, the team the best group of friends Derek had ever had and Dex probably the best friend he would ever have.

“You know…” Dex said one day as they sat on the porch waiting for the dude to come to take Betsy away (Bitty could not bare to see her go despite the brand new oven he was still crying to Jack about) and enjoying the unseasonably warm evening, “...never thought I’d voluntarily spend time with you Nursey.”

“My personality finally won you over?”

“Finally got immune to your bullshit.”

 Derek laughed. September last year he would have flown into a rage and they would have had a screaming match on the Haus lawn (again) with the Lax bro’s gathering on their porch to watch (again). He much preferred the crooked smile on Dex’s face to that. 

“Dude, you going on the crawl this weekend?”

“Might.”

“If you do I’ll be your wingman for once, get you laid.”

“Uh…”

“Not that I’ve been keeping track, like you’ve not been keeping track of me.”

 Dex had gone quite an alarming shade of red, his ears the worse culprit. If Derek did not know better he would have said they were glowing like in a cartoon. “You don’t - ’s okay.”

“Come on man, lemme repay the favour for my bro.”

“I said it’s okay!”

“Do you have a thing with a girl? Is that it?”

 Dex sighed long and loud, glancing around at the nearly deserted road. There was just a Lax bro leaning out of his window smoking and the sorority girls next door painting a banner on their lawn while listening to Rhianna. “Can’t believe I’m gonna fucking…” He sighed again. “I’ve never done it before.”

“Hooked up with a girl at a party? No worries dude it’ll be chill.”

“No you...jesus fucking christ, I’ve not done it before.”

“Oh.” Derek Malik Nurse, 19, was speechless for only the third time in his life. But he got over it quickly. “William Jacob Poindexter, Maine has not appreciated your hunky Irish self one bit.”

“I’m not Irish.”

 Derek could not help glancing at his deep red hair and freckles. “Really?”

“Poindexter is an English surname.” Dex turned to scowl at him. “Not all Irish are ginger and being ginger isn’t only an Irish thing, thought you’d know better than to stereotype.” Derek really did know better but most of the white people he met insisted they were fucking fifteen percent Irish or some shit. “If you want to get into it the name is 'Huguenot French'.” 

“Huh…” Derek leant back on his hands. “Never have guessed you’d be descended from refugees.”

“Ayuh, well, I’m solidly American and white so don’t get romantic idea’s about it.”

Derek grabbed Dex’s arm hard, ignoring the romantic comment for his own sake, “Yo, you just acknowledged your privilege! I’m so proud of you.”

“Fuck off.” Dex grumbled, flicking Derek’s snapback and dodging when Derek made to retaliate.

“But this is a big moment in your development! I’ll get Bitty to put it on the fridge, Jack will give you a proud fatherly nod…”

“You are such an asshole.” Dex shoved Derek into the railing hard enough that it wobbled dangerously but there was no malice to it.

“S’why we get along so well.”

 Dex grunted and they went back to silence. “There...I’ve fumbled around in the back of a car once or twice but never, ya’know. No time, too many siblings, plus I’m not…” He trailed off and Derek did not push, glancing over his bowed head before knocking shoulders.

“I’ll help you get a girlfriend if you want.”

“No thanks. They’d all want to go off with you.”

 Derek spluttered, not getting a reply out before he had to help lug an oven into the back of a truck, almost tripping on the curb when Dex wiped his sweaty face on his t-shirt and gave Derek a peek of the dimples at the base of his spine.

 Spring really was hot for Massachusetts, summer looking like it was gearing up to hit the east coast full force and didn’t Derek just love it when New York was humid, the buildings blocking the cool breezes from the river leaving still hot air hanging over the tourist packed streets.  

 Despite Bitty daily declaring it was only mild out the Canadian’s were suffering. Ransom was already in his salmon summer shorts and boat shoes and Jack, to everyone’s deep shock, seemed to own non-gym wear shorts that fitted, a trail of chaos left around campus when he combined them with worn thin t-shirts. Derek may have walked past Holtzy, Shitty, and Lardo holding a prayer circle for Bitty on the porch roof.

 Derek understood Bitty’s problem, he had eyes in his head after all, but his own problem was much worse. Jack allowed all of Bitty’s unconscious flirting and staring with a small fond look on his face, Dex would do no such thing. Which was why when he opened his door to find Dex had come to his dorm in a tank top he made a mental note to get his grandma to ask their tribal singer to do the Navajo equivalent of a prayer circle because fuck there were so many freckles.

 Dex had taken a Gothic Lit class to fill out his art's points and had bemoaned the fact that he was terrible and nothing made sense and he was going to fail to such an extent Derek offered to look over his work just to get him to stop.fucking.complaining. He settled in at his desk with the printouts of Dex’s final project and essay while Dex sat on his bed and got on with the code that was what was really stressing him out.

 Derek noticed the republican sticker was still there on his laptop, but now there was a SMH one over it next to a Bruins one that Jack had jokingly forged his dad’s signature on.

 The project was not bad at all, a little too coldly analytical to pass for an Arts Major but nothing was wrong with it so Derek left it alone, digging up a pencil to leave suggestions in the margins of the essay.

 After working in near silence for about two hours Derek spun around in his chair, pencil behind his ear and papers held out ready to scoot across the room to go over them, pausing when he caught sight of Dex. The sun was coming through the blinds to hit the wall just next to where he was leaning, the soft dissipating light catching in a few pale lashes, lighting up the darkening freckles across his nose. His lips were pursed to one side, eyes flicking over something rapidly as he scrolled down with one hand, the other twisting around to crack his wrist.

“Yo, stop that.” Derek muttered as he dropped down cross legged on the bed.

“Huh?” Dex blinked across at him.

“Your wrist, you’ll get carpal tunnel or something.” Dex frowned, then seemed to notice what he was doing and dropped his arm heavily onto the bed.

“Bad habit.”

Derek held out the papers. “Ready to go through this or did I disrupt your flow?”

“Nah I’m pretty much done.” Dex fiddled about saving his work then took his stuff from Derek.

“The project is solid, I don’t think you need to do anything to it except fix a few citations. The essay isn’t bad, I’ve put some suggestions in you can take if you want.”

 Derek sat back as Dex flicked through the essay, eyes bright as he processed the information in front of him, nodding a few times and frowning at something Derek had written on the fourth page, lips pursing again.

 The sun was shining on Derek so he shifted back on his hands, eyes lazily resting on Dex’s face. The coconut oil Ransom had shoved on him the first month at Samwell, not able to stand by when he knew Dex had sensitive skin, was really doing wonders. Derek had been surprised when Dex had hugged him in a celly and he caught the smell, not expecting Dex to use it at all let alone keep it up for months. And it did not look like his face was the only place Dex was applying it, his shoulders looked even smoother than his face - practically glowing if you wanted to be poetic, which Derek did.

 Freckles man, he had known gingers at Andover but none were so liberally sprinkled in them as Dex. He had noticed before, but locker room and drunk Hazeapalooza noticing was a totally different thing, a weird kind of no-man's-land where everyone saw but no-one looked.

 He was looking now, thinking about how the freckles on his arms had almost been merged together into a tan when they first met. They were still dense over his shoulders and down his arms but more defined, more orange. Derek preferred them like this, loved the way they looked on his collarbone. He would whisper epics into the dip of it, the surprisingly gentle curve on such a broad guy, trace the slips of pale skin between the freckles, feel the firmness of muscle and bone under his soft skin, soak in the warmth that matched everything else about Dex.

“Nursey?”

 Derek’s eyes shifted up, looking at the sweet freckles on his nose, his green-gold eyes. The realisation that Dex was looking at him, had his whole attention on him, crept up a lot slower than Derek would have liked. He blinked and knew from Dex’s expression that all his thoughts had been emblazoned on his face as boldly as his name was on his jersey.

 He took a deep breath and moved to perch on the side of his bed to give Dex space, pressing his hands between his knees and turning slightly to look at him, watching as worry spread over his face.

“That was inappropriate to look at you like that, I know better than to look at you like that, I didn’t mean to make this weird or you uncomfortable but that’s no excuse. I am really sorry, I had -I have this under control and I will…”

“You have what under control?” Dex’s tone was guarded, something simmering under the surface.

“Just don’t fucking…” Derek moved further onto the end of the bed, wishing he had moved to the chair now and hating himself for it. Why the fuck should he get at arm's length if a guy could not take a him checking him out? “...I think you’re hot okay.”

 Dex recoiled and Derek felt really, really hurt for a moment until he saw there was no disgust or horror on Dex’s face, just complete shock. “What?” He breathed, still looking at Derek like a rabbit in headlights, a blush rapidly making its way from his ears down to his chest.

“I think you’re hot Dex, and I actually really like your shitty personality but I know you don’t like guys so I’m trying to keep our friendship going by being ch…”

“Don’t say chill!” Dex snapped, now looking more angry than shocked. “And why does everyone assume I’m straight! Is it cause I have a fucking republican sticker on my laptop?”

“Kinda? I know there are LBGT conserva…”

“It’s hiding a fucking crack on the lid okay! I’d rather not spend sixty bucks getting it fixed and they were giving them out for free. Because people thinking I vote republican means less to me than being judged for being poor!” Dex was shouting, New England accent more pronounced and voice more fragile than Derek had ever heard, fists clenched on his thighs.

“You argued me into a shoving match about Obamacare! What the fuck!”

“I come down here and see all these city boys wearing clothes that if I had gone to high-school in I’d’ve had the shit kicked out of me! I see them drinking shitty beer and eating shitty food like they’re edgy when that’s what I survive on, acting proud of their old phones with cracked screens while driving brand new cars. Then they - you - try and lecture me on what’s good and what’s right like you have any idea about the real world. About what it’s like keeping a GPA high enough for a scholarship when you’re working since thirteen to pay for your school shit.” Dex took a deep ragged breath, relaxing his hands and flexing his fingers like he did after fights. “I fucking cried in relief when Obamacare came in but I was not going to let any rich assholes pat themselves on the back for doing me such a favour. I push back ‘cause I know full well your imaginary poor is thankful for scraps and I am not! I am the real thing an’ don't care about what anyone thinks about who I should support even if I do vote democrat! 'Cause they ain't perfect either."

 Dex was real, his sharp edges meant you had to acknowledge all of him because he would not let you ignore him. He did not bullshit around trying to look genuine like Derek did and that meant being the dweeb in a tie at parties because it was smart, and smart meant not poor. “Oh.” Derek breathed, taking the crashing wave of Dex’s anger, letting himself feel shitty even though he did not want to. He could see himself in all what Dex said, understood how trying to tell him about the good of the wider population while wearing his pristine work boots and artfully distressed jeans would piss Dex off, let himself feel a little proud of his growth since then.

“Yeah ‘Oh’, bet your fucking bed sheets cost more than sixty bucks.”

“Just ‘cause I come from money doesn’t mean I spend it like it’s nothing!” Derek snapped, wanting to stay with this conversation but knowing they needed to have the other one.

 Dex closed his laptop with a loud sigh and scrubbed his large, long fingered hands over his face, making it more red. “I know. ’M sorry Derek.”

 They sat in silence for a beat, Derek a little shocked by how his name sounded in Dex’s mouth when he was not being sarcastic. “Didn’t mean to assume about you bro.”

“My brother keeps giving me shit about being at Samwell,” Dex muttered into his hands, straightening to lean back against the wall with a groan. “Momma clips his ear and pa tells him not too but they can’t stop him. I know it’s ‘cause he’s stuck working up through the fishery and I got a scholarship but he won’t let the 1 in 4 thing go. Keeps asking me if I’ve fucked a fag yet.”

“Shit Dex!”

“Sorry.”

“No. No, I’m sorry he speaks to you like that. He should be proud of you… doesn’t mean much but I’m proud of you.”

“Not it’s...thanks.” Dex stared at Derek’s desk for a moment, just breathing. “You think I’m hot?”

“Chyeah.”

 Dex shook his head. “You’re such a fucker you know that? I was called Dumbo and Lobster Pot in high-school, I struggled for prom dates and you, you who look like a goddamn... fucking... hipster model think I’m hot.”

“I really do, and I think everyone in Maine is an idiot. Including you.”

 Dex looked at him, pale eyes guarded and vulnerable and Derek wanted so badly. “I thought I was just waiting for the right girl, that’s why I wasn’t really into any dates I did get but then Shitty was ranting about demisexuality or something on the bus and I always thought girls were cute but then Jack is really hot…”

“Jack.” Derek whispered, trying to catch his racing thoughts to put them away to deal with later - of every possibility that had run through his head Dex liking a boy other than him had not been one of them. He had to pull himself together, he could have a break down after supporting Dex through this mess of a coming out.

“...I kinda like girls and I kinda like guys but I don’t know, Nursey, I don’t know.”

“You got all the time in the world to work it out, man, I'm here for you. I got your back.”

“Isn’t this the part where you kiss me like the dramatic little shit you are?”

 It was Derek's turn to be stunned, gaping at Dex in a very unchill way. He found himself suddenly with one knee on the bed and the other foot on the floor, leaning into Dex who was still red and still shocked. “Just ‘cause you like guys doesn’t mean you’ll wanna kiss me.” Derek said, stopping himself leaning in further because what the fuck was happening?

“Holy fucking shit we found a limit to your ego.” Dex snapped, still looking up at Derek with wide eyes.

“You know why I have an ego.” Lardo had made some pot brownies on a lazy sunday and Derek had found the need to share the fact in his whole life his parent’s had only ever picked him up from school, any school, themselves once and it was because ma did not trust anyone else with his tonsillitis. They adored him, he knew, they were just busy saving everyone else.

“I do.” Dex confirmed, and they were still staring at one another.

 Very carefully Derek raised a hand, painfully aware of how ordinary they were next to Dex’s calloused, elegant workman's hands, and touched his cheek as lightly as he could. He was aware he was looming over Dex so dropped down to sit on his leg to bring them nearly level, amber eyes staring at him still. “Is this okay?”

 Dex nodded and Derek ran his thumb along the freckles on his cheekbone, down the sweet little bump on his nose where it had been broken to rest next to his plush bottom lip (for a white boy). “Can I kiss you?” He asked, having a hysterical moment where he considered running off to shave so his stubble did not harm Dex’s delicate skin.

“Yeh.” Dex said in a small voice, eyes zipping all over Derek’s face as he moved in slowly to press a kiss to his top lip, sliding down to kiss along his bottom lip, Dex letting him with only shuddered breaths as a response before he reacted, hand resting awkwardly on Derek’s shoulder as he kissed back in the same unyielding way he did everything.

“You’re so sweet.” Derek murmured against his lips and kissed him again, containing himself from pushing Dex back against his sheets and claiming every freckle.

 He pulled back slowly, shifting so he could sit on his ass as he let his fingers drop from ghosting over the redness of the beard burn around Dex’s mouth to skim down his strong arm, finally resting on his hand. “Was that okay?”

 Dex nodded, pink lips pressed together like he did not know what to do with them. “What.” Dex croaked, clearing his throat to start again, “What do you wanna do now?” Derek raised an eyebrow and then felt bad as Dex went maroon. “ I didn’t mean…”

“I know.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Why?”

“For this not being a college hook up, falling into bed with someone you have a crush on. I can’t do that.”

“I don’t want you to be a hook up. Want to date your fucking awful self.”

“Oh…” Dex fiddled with his laptop, nail picking at one of the USB ports. “Okay.”

“Really?”

“Yeah fucking really, why else would I say it?” Dex snapped and Derek was relieved - open, raw, vulnerable Dex was unsettling as fuck.

“What about Jack?”

“Jack? Are you going to ask his per…" Dex laughed, then realised what Derek meant. "I said he was hot you moron! That's like saying water is wet, it's just a fact!”

“I know, I know just ignore me. I’m...I panicked just ignore me. Please” He gabled, for once relieved he was an idiot.

 Dex gave him a sceptical look but, amazingly, did ignore it. “We’ll have to go slow.”

“Fine by me.”

“And you can’t be mad if I end up strangling you.”

“Eh, maybe like twenty-five percent mad.”

“Okay...okay.” Dex squared his shoulders. “Okay. I have a boyfriend now.”

“If you’re going to freak out…”

“I’ve been freaking out for the past five minutes.”

“...don’t leave. Stay here, we’ll do some work or watch some TV and just chi- hang out. Think about all this.”

 Dex nodded, holding his laptop against his lap. “Okay.”

 Derek got his book and settled in next to Dex, shoulders pressed together no more than usual, his knee touching Dex’s thigh where he had his legs crossed. He looked over to make sure Dex was okay and got a peck on the lips, a considering look, and Dex ignoring him for the next forty minutes while Derek listened to him type code like a man possessed.

 So, he was dating Dex now. It was quite easy really; in training they became their own little D-men chirping powerblock to rival Rans & Holtz, their bickering became more playful, Dex would lean his head on Derek’s shoulder and giggle as they walked back from parties drunk. He got to kiss Dex, got to slip his arm around his waist as they watched Netflix, got to gaze at him adoringly while Dex glared his homework into submission.

 Dex still seemed a bit jumpy at times, curling up to Derek and then tensing for the next fifteen minutes, looking guilty when someone from his Compsi class came into Annie’s while they were eating, still not knowing where to put his hands after two weeks worth of kisses. But Derek was a patient man, muses could never be rushed.

 What was difficult was not spoiling Dex rotten. He wanted to buy him the world but knew that A) Dex would not take kindly to it and B) mom would lower his credit card limit again. He made a compromise with himself by bringing Dex a muffin here, a iced coffee that he always drank while saying he hated them there, getting to their lunch dates early so he could pay for it all.

 As he had no classes until the evening on a Tuesday Derek skived study and went to the local Target looking for a new band for his fitbit. While he was aimlessly wandering around to waste time he noticed a dark green tie that would suit Dex’s burnished copper hair and, well, they had been dating two weeks and Derek was a romantic fool. Such a fool that when he saw there were some candles on sale he picked them up too, only realising how much a fool he really was when Dex shouldered into his dorm that evening and froze.

“Uh…” He looked right at Derek and then stepped back out into the corridor as if he was checking this was the right room. “Nursey?”

“Hey Dex.” He said from where he was sat on the floor with two pizza boxes and a four pack, candles lining his desk and window sills.

“Are your lights broken?”

“Nope. It’s aesthetic.” He lied, really glad he had not been stupid enough to go in on some rose petals.

“...okay.” Dex dropped his bag onto the bed and came further into the room as he chirped, “Is the floor aesthetic too?”

“Just sit down.”

 Dex’s wide mouth was trying not to turn up at the edges as he flopped down to lean on Derek’s bed. “I have sat, as you commanded.” He said, reaching for one of the pizza boxes.

“You have no idea how much that means to me!” Derek fake sobbed, hands over his heart.

 Dex just took a bite of pizza and crinkled his nose at him.

 Dinner was good, they bickered and laughed and Dex had to search through his bag for something to open the beer with because Derek is an idiot and apparently Dex really is Mr.Fix-it. Derek had stared at the cut of his hip, thrown into relief by the candlelight, and got chirped for it but in all honesty he was the winner here.

“Got somethin’ for ya’.” Derek sing-singed, smiling as Dex looked over with a little frown on his face as he cleaned pizza grease off his fingers.

“If it’s a kiss you’ve done that like, five times already this week.”

“Nope.” Derek pulled out the tie from under his leg, still wrapped in a Target bag to protect it from him.

 Dex looked like he expected something horrible to be in the bag, ears going red when he peered into it and realised what it was. “I can buy ties myself.”

“I know, I just wanted to get it for you.”

 Dex looked at him like he was alarmed at the prospect, pulling the tie out of the bag to run it through his fingers.  “You can’t spend money on me like this.”

“It’s from Target, not like I got it from Tom Ford.”

“No, I mean...shit, I can’t buy you stuff ‘just cause’, I gotta…”

“I don’t want you to.” Derek cut him off, not wanting Dex to bring up how tightly budgeted he was. It put thunder on Dex’s brow and gave Derek a nasty feeling in his chest. “I did it for you asshole, ‘cause I like you a whole bunch? If it means so much to you you’ve fixed shit for me before and defo will in the future.”

 Dex looked back down at the tie that was now wrapped around his knuckles a little like a boxers hand wraps, “Thanks Derek.”

“S’okay man.”

 Dex turned to look at him, the soft candlelight making him glow, eyes dark and burning like the air around him. Derek had a moment to think about how pink Dex’s lips were for like the fiftieth time before Dex’s rough hands were on his face and those lips were on his and he was being pulled forward, catching himself on his hands to stop himself landing on Dex. “Brah,“ he got out before Dex was kissing him again, fingers in his hair and tongue sliding against his.

 He moaned loudly, embarrassingly loudly, running a hand up Dex’s chest, feeling every single muscle through his t-shirt, the other curling around the strength of his thigh. Dex was not kissing like himself, even with their chaste kisses Derek could feel the fight in them, the push back, but now Dex was gentle and cautious, pliant if Derek was prepared to get punched for it, happy to let Derek take the lead.

 He sucked on Dex’s bottom lip, trying to regain some composure after the embarrassing moaning but then Dex opened his legs and the inside of his thighs were so warm against Derek’s hips oh my god his boner was slotted against the crease of Dex’s hip and Derek was going to die and then Dex would kill him.

“Dex…”

“What d’ya want Nursey?”

 It took Derek a moment to realise this was not the tone used to snap at him in the library at four o’clock on a Thursday, this was soft and breathy and small. Derek leant his cheek on Dex’s temple, painting warm breath into his hair. “You don’t wanna know what I want.”

 Fingers pulled on his curls. “I’m not like the delicate virgins in all those books or whatever.”

“I know, but still.”

“Fucking hell Nurse, just...I want you to do what you want to me.”

 Derek paused in his breathing in of the smell of Dex’s cheap shampoo and stared at his floor that really needed a fucking vacuum. That would be an amazing invitation like, six months in the future but right now an alarm bell was ringing. He pushed himself up on his elbows to look down at Dex who was flushing prettily, face pinched and eyes determined.

“So you’d let me fuck your mouth for buying you a fifteen buck tie?” Dex blanched under his flush so Derek pulled himself up so he was on all fours over him. “Don’t do this Dex, don’t do this to yourself or to me.”

 The pretty flush turned an angry red before his very eyes. Derek would have been amazed at how he could tell apart the different types of blushes of one William J Poindexter but he was being shoved away, Dex scrambling out from under him and going for his bag. Derek caught his wrist and pulled him back down onto his knees. Dex struggled, just as strong as Derek but not as bulky, not able to pull away when Derek leant his weight back.

“Let me fucking go!”

“No!”

“Fuck you! Let me GO!”

“No.” He expected more of a tussle but Dex just slumped to the side, head down, shoulders dropped, the fight gone out of him. Derek loosened his grip on Dex’s boney wrist and he pulled his hand back, shifting to sit on his ass, burying his face in his drawn up knees.

 The shocked silence around them was broken by a strangled sob and Derek tripped over his knees going to Dex’s side, kicking over an almost empty bottle of beer that went ignored. “I’m sorry Will, I’m so sorry.” He whispered, placing a hand lightly on a shaking shoulder. Dex shuddered, then leant into the touch so Derek snuffled forward, curling an arm around him.

 Dex muttered something wetly into his knees, freckled fingers gripping onto his shorts so tightly the knuckles had gone white. “I can’t hear you, Will. Talk to me. If you want to. I’m sorry.”

 There was a few more muffled sniffs before Dex sat up, pressing the heels of his palms into his eyes, his voice thick and wet when he spoke. “Getting you off is all I really have to give to this relationship or whatever the hell this is. I know I’m angry all the time and I don’t know shit about the arts and I’m awkward an’…” He moved his hands to the side of his face so he was staring at his knees, “...I know I’m ugly.”

 Derek gasped, feeling offended and hurt and so desperately sad. He moved in front of Dex and pulled his hands away from his face to replace them with his own, dark thumbs wiping away the hated tears from his cheeks. “The people who made you feel like this deserve to be stuck in bumfuck Maine their whole lives and in twenty-five years have their shitty kids stressing out as they write essays about my poetry that is all about red sunsets on stormy seas and constellations leaving me weak and every gross fucking cliché I can fit in about how fucking beautiful you are.”

 Dex blinked at him before his face crumpled and he started crying again, this time arms reaching out for Derek who pulled him against his chest and held on so tightly it was definitely crushing him, hurt and love growing when he felt wetness seep into his shoulder. “I will immortalise every single freckle and every pale eyelash on you, every flip out and every punch you throw so when I’m old hipster trash some douchebag will make a documentary about it and you can yell at them like you yell at me.”

“God your fucking ego, Nurse.” Dex said, pulling his face off of Derek’s shoulder to press his hot forehead against his jaw.

“How can I not aim high,” Derek said softly, skimming a fingertip over the freckles on Dex’s arm, “how can I settle for my feet on the ground when I have felt the heartbeat of the galaxy under my fingers, when it has burnt me and shown me beauty, burnt me and shown me forever, burnt me and showed me what I am not. Oh, how small this earth is when you love the stars.”

 Dex sat back with an unattractive sniff, Derek’s arm still around his waist, face red and tear streaked and the prettiest mess Derek had ever seen. “Better write that down before you forget it.”

“Much rather kiss every little bit of you that floors me.”

 Dex gave him a shove. “That ain’t gonna keep me in ties, get to writing. I’m gonna...wash my face and stuff.”

 Derek let Dex go with a gentle kiss and watched as he shuffled off to the bathroom. He grabbed one of his stash of notebooks after mopping up most of the spilt beer, getting caught up in his flow so a few verses were scrawled across the pages before he realised Dex was back. He looked over his shoulder to watch him run the tie through his fingers a few times, a little smile on his face before shoving it into his bag.

“Hey can I stay?”

“Course, I’ll take the floor…”

“Don’t be an idiot.”

 Derek smiled at him, could not stop smiling as he dug up some PJ shorts for Dex, smiled while he brushed his teeth, smiled when Dex chirped him for getting into bed without blowing out the candles, smiled as he stumbled on his desk chair in the darkness, smiled as he blindly kissed all over Dex’s face and told him he was gorgeous.

 Ransom, of course, spotted that Dex was wearing yesterday’s clothes as they shuffled into team breakfast the next morning. His eyes practically zeroed in, Holster whipping around like he felt Ransoms attention shift.

“DEXXYYY!!” They bellowed, making Jack jump.

“Is this a walk of shame I spy before me!?”

 Holster wiped away a tear. “They grow up so fast, my baby D-man getting laid.”

“You been wheeling a chick on the quiet Sexy Dexy? Come here, let me smell you so I can guess who it was.”

“Get off me Rans.” Dex laughed as he pushed Ransom off him, everyone too much of an idiot to notice Derek’s leather bracelets hiding the angry bruise he had left on his wrist.

 It had been almost first thing he saw that morning, how could he miss it, and had almost freaked out, almost burst into tears at what he had done. Dex, who would fight anyone on and off the ice and checked huge forwards like they were nothing, bruised like a ripe peach. He had told Derek it was fine, he forgave him, but Derek would hate himself until it faded to nothing.

“You can either give me my hand back or type for it.” Dex grumbled a few days later in a little out of the way nook in the library as Derek kissed the dirty yellow edges of the bruise.

“I’m sorry.”

“Stop apologising. Not the first time I’ve been bruised.”

“Yeah, but I did this.”

 Dex yanked his arm back. “You’re an over-dramatic dick.” He snapped, glancing around before he swooped in to give Derek a peck on the lips, giving him such a warm smile Derek ended up resting his chin on a pile of books so he could watch him work for the next half hour, totally besotted.