Actions

Work Header

bless this mess and call it a home

Work Text:

They’re not on speaking terms.

Admittedly, it’s not like the Haus could actually ever talk, not out loud, thank god. Dex’s life is strange enough without the voice of inanimate objects in his head. But Haus has been quiet lately. Reticent. No hum from the water heater when Dex walks by, no gurgle in the sink or extra creaking in the floorboards right before the attic stairs. No emotion at all when Dex touches the walls. Worse of all, it’s completely quiet in Lardo’s- no, his and Nursey’s room.

Fuck. This is his reality now.

It was much better yesterday, with Chowder helping him put the bunk bed up. Between Chowder’s chatter (“Frogs 4ever!”) and the low buzz of TV static from downstairs – because Haus can’t stop purring in stovetop heat and electricity running warm through the wires when Chowder’s around, the best approximation it can make to Chowder’s sunshine presence – it’d felt like Dex was really moving into a home. His home, for the next two years.

But the second Chowder took off to visit Farmer, Haus dropped silent. Only around Dex, though. The attic readily welcomed Ollie and Wicky, and the oven was practically trilling yesterday for Bitty. Nursey isn’t back yet, but Dex is sure the favoritism there will be even more egregious.

This spat has followed him for the last three days, and Dex is already sick of it. It’s not natural to live in a quiet house, especially when Dex knows there’s still things that need fixing. But Haus takes care to suppress its rattles and shakes, so that Dex can’t do anything about them. Just in case Haus has decided to stop being pissy, he presses his hand flat against the wall, sending a spark of that something he has-

(Magic, he supposes. That’s what everyone else would call it. Nursey would probably have some dumb poetic description at the ready.)

-and tries to keep it casual. Just a little hey, how’s it going? to test the waters, but Haus remains stoic and cold under his touch. The lights don’t even flicker, which is what usually happens when Haus gets annoyed. All he gets is the silent treatment.

“Seriously? You’re mad at me?” Dex mutters as he finishes putting his last few textbooks on the shelf. He’s worried for a second that Haus is going to rattle them down to the floor, but apparently their standoff hasn’t become that petty yet. Even with his quickfire temper, Dex hasn’t been stupid enough to start anything. He’s learned plenty of times from his family’s house back in Maine that taking out his anger on the furniture or the building will come back to spite him in the form of banged knees, burnt toast, and ice cold showers. So they’re at a detente.

All because Dex doesn’t want to room with Derek “don’t miss me too much over the summer, roomie!” Nurse.

Shit, it’s not even that he doesn’t like Nursey. He likes Nursey plenty, underneath all their bickering. It had taken them most of the year, but they’ve finally found a pace that works for both of them, on and off the ice. They’re friends, which is better than Dex would’ve ever expected last February; they study together, they squabble over Bitty’s pie and Chowder’s attention together, and on occasion, they even willingly hang out. Sure, they still constantly chirp each other, but it’s fun.

Dex can admit that whatever assumptions Nursey made about him, he made just as many in return. Worse ones. And as douchey as Nursey can be, Dex can be just as much of a dick, but these days, the fights they have aren’t meant to hurt each other.

But that’s the problem. Dex has heard all the horror stories about rooming with friends. Friends you didn’t realize had the most annoying habits known to man before you started living together. Those relationships always go down in flames, and Dex and Nursey absolutely cannot afford for that to happen, not when it was already so difficult to get to where they currently are. The team needs them to be functional around each other, which is off the table if they have to live together.

He would rather give up Haus than give up the team.

“If you wanted Nursey more, you should’ve just given the flip to him. None of this sharing bullshit. A crack in the fucking floorboards – you did this on purpose, and somehow you get to be mad about it?” Haus doesn’t answer, of course, and Dex is left standing in his new room talking to the walls like an idiot. All other factors, like money and convenience and a fair amount of spite, had been enough to convince him to accept Lardo’s dibs, but Nursey’s not even here yet and he’s already starting to regret it.

And okay. Maybe, just possibly maybe he could stand to stop acting like an asshole about this whole thing, because Nursey doesn't have any qualms about sharing with him, and if they don't kill each other in a month, and it actually might be pretty fun to live in a house with both him and C. Maybe it's not even going to be a thing, and sharing a room will give them that amazing d-men bond that Rans and Holster have. But the sheer betrayal that Haus has presented him with is so unforgivable that Dex is lashing out at his partner over it. Taking a deep breath, he tries to redirect his anger where it belongs: at this bastard of a house.

“You know that if he annoys me to death, it’ll be your fault, right? Same goes for if I murder him for saying ‘hashtag’ too many t-”

Dex’s window immediately slams shut with a resounding thud and his calendar falls off the wall. Dex throws his hands in the air.

“Jesus, you know that I’m not gonna actually- fuckin’ hell, I’ve gotta go find some actual humans to talk to. Let me know when you’re done acting like a child. Fuck you, I know you’re a house,” he says as one of his hangers mysteriously falls off the rack, clattering to the ground like a laugh.

--

Haus loves all of the SMH. With a particular fondness for its actual tenants, of course, but it loves all of them nonetheless, no matter what dumbass decisions and tragic messes they make. They always clean up after kegsters and defend its walls from invading lax bros, and they never, ever shut up about how much they adore it. As far as Dex can tell, that’s how it’s been since the hockey team first staked its claim.

Dex knows it’s got a huge soft spot for Bitty though. Bitty, who made the kitchen habitable again, who fills the halls with the scent of home, and keeps Haus neat and tidy. Haus takes extra special care of Bitty, because Bitty takes extra special care of it and the team.

It isn’t like that with Dex.

Despite what Nursey thinks, his stint as Haus’ new handyman doesn’t actually start as a bid for dibs. It’s just, one day the clamoring from all the broken pieces and worn out parts becomes unbearable, so sharp and anguished that it sticks in Dex’s bones. It starts with Betsy, whose death rattle Dex can hear before he even steps onto the porch.

He’d tried ignoring it at first. Dex doesn’t open up to every random building he enters. Only places that he forms a long-term attachment to, and even then it’s not always worth the trouble. His freshman and sophomore dorm rooms are out, as are most of the buildings on campus, save the computer lab that he has a tenuous relationship with. They piss each off, sure, but the lab usually gives in if he uses a soft touch. It’s the reason the comfiest chair in the room squeaks obnoxiously for everyone but him and none of the keyboards he uses ever seem to stick.

Faber, though, he bonded with immediately. It happened at the end of the Taddy Tour, when he still wasn't sure what school he was headed off to. The team seemed cool, if more than a little odd, but Samwell was still a little too preppy for his taste, and though the rink is stunning, he needed to know if there were gonna be any problems before he put this school into serious consideration. Houses and arenas don’t lie. Dex reached a tentative hand to the benches and the boards, pressing his hello into the foundations until he could be heard. And Faber swelled under his touch like a symphony, and he could feel the way the overhead lights beamed brighter for a split second, shimmering against the ice as the whole building awakened to him, calling welcome, welcome home.

Dex went home to Maine claiming he still hadn't decided, but his heart knew it had to be Samwell, with the rink that unfolds for him like the most beautiful of songs.

But Faber doesn’t need his help, doesn’t need his upkeep since the school keeps it in pristine condition. The rink is happy just to have him, so while he’s away from home, Dex doesn’t have accountability to any house. In a way he’s glad, because it’s exhausting sometimes to be the only one privy to a house’s thoughts. But it also leaves him restless and guilty to see anything in disrepair around him, especially in a place he frequents so often. It’s like skating past a teammate bleeding out on the ice without helping.

So when Betsy kicks the bucket, he offers to take yet another look for Bitty, to see if she can be saved again, and that’s when he decides it’s time for him and Haus to talk. He’s been careful for the last year not to let Haus catch onto him, just in case everything fell apart for some reason. Just in case he and Samwell hockey didn’t work out.

While Bitty and Nursey help him pull Betsy out from the wall, Dex takes his chance. In the space between cupboards is where he leaves his first hello. Unlike Faber washing up on him in a wave, Haus curls around him slowly, sweetly, familiar and wistful. Finally, it seems to say, as the kitchen tap stops dripping and Betsy’s clock jumps to life one last time before they unplug her. It tugs at Dex’s magic with a current of deep affection. I’ve been waiting for you, Dex, whispers the groan of the kitchen floor as Dex opens up his toolkit and gets to work.

Haus reacts like it’s always known about Dex, and looking back, he can’t say he’s surprised. He never was as good at keeping his distance as he’d have liked. He quickly realizes that it’s too late for Betsy, but all of Haus’ other aches and pains stand out so clearly that Dex has to help. Haus needs him. This team, this house, has watched out for him this whole year; it’s time for him to return the favor.

So he toils and fixes and he’s a tiny bit lying when he says he doesn’t hate it, but it’s worth it for every time Haus preens under his touch, glowing from attic to basement with that pulse of renewed life. And in return, Haus takes care of him like it does the rest of its own. Perfectly baked pie, no skips in his internet connection, no sharp bits poking out the worn green cushions of the couch.

Haus and Dex, they’re allies. At least, he thought they were. The Dib Flip makes it very, very apparent that this was a lot more one-sided than he thought.

The Dib Flip tells him that Haus is out to ruin his life.

--

“Wow, Poindexter, what’d I do to deserve the five-star treatment?” Nursey asks as Dex helps him unpack the remainder of his notebooks. “You missed me, didn’t you? Couldn’t wait to fill the Nursey-shaped hole in your life? You should call more next summer,” he ribs.

Dex lobs a highlighter at his face. No way can he tell Nursey he’s trying to get in good with Haus again by making an attempt at peace. “Shut up or Shakespeare’s going out the window,” he threatens, waving Nursey’s book.

“Dude, that’s not Shakespeare, that’s- nah, forget it, you won’t remember even if I tell you.”

“Really? Didn’t he write sonnets?” Dex looks at the worn book in his hand with the faded word printed on the cover. He’s pretty sure he knows that much. Love poems and shit, right?

“Lots of people write sonnets, Dex,” Nursey says, amused. “I’ve written sonnets.”

“Oh.” Dex tosses the book back to Nursey, who shelves it according to whatever incomprehensible system he uses. Of course he knew that Nursey wrote his own stuff, but he’s never seen any of it, and never really thought about what kind of poems they might be. Who he might have written poems about. “I’ve never heard your poems. You don’t- you only ever read other people’s out loud.” It comes out sounding defensive for some reason.

Nursey looks almost surprised by this, and Dex doesn’t blame him. He’s not even really sure himself what he’s trying to say. “Do you want to hear my poems?”

Does he? He’s got nothing against it, he supposes. “I’m not asking you to like serenade me or anything, don’t get me wrong-”

“There’s no music, bruh, just words-”

“-but, I mean, you're a good writer. So if you want to – it’s not like I hate poetry. I just don’t really get it?”

“That’s fine,” Nursey says, a smile settling on his lips. “That’s what I’m here for.” Why the hell is he so hot, Dex wonders irritably. Jawline like he’s been carved from marble, perfectly smooth brown skin, incomprehensibly impeccable eyebrows. Is that why Haus likes him more?

“Uh, cool, then,” Dex says lamely, trying to divert his attention to something else. “Wait, are we doing this now? Shouldn’t we eat first? Aren’t you hungry? You came straight from NYC; that’s at least five hours. You should be starving, we can swing by that burrito place-”

Chill, Dex. We’re not doing it now. Bitty’s gonna kill us if we don’t go help him set up team lunch.” Nursey slings his arm around Dex’s shoulder and walks him out of their room. They head down the stairs, and because Haus isn’t giving the cold shoulder to anyone but Dex, the railing squeaks in warning when Nursey takes his first step. Dex braces himself against the wall in time to block Nursey from toppling down to an untimely concussion. It knocks some of the wind out of him – Nursey’s like six feet worth of sculpted muscle and gravity isn’t on their side.

“Whoa, nice catch,” Nursey says, his breath tickling Dex’s cheek. He’s horrendously warm, and must be immediately removed.

“Yeah, well, one of needs to have good reflexes, and it sure as hell isn’t you,” Dex says, as he shakes him off. “How have you not fallen into traffic yet?”

“Actually…”

“Are you serious? Christ, do you need me to hold your hand the rest of the way down?”

He’s kidding, but Nursey stares him in the eyes and holds out his hand. Dex almost slaps it away, but then realizes that Haus will pay him back in kind somehow, so he silently accepts Nursey’s hand and leads him to the ground floor. At least Nursey has nice hands, broad and calloused and not at all sweaty. Nursey keeps a tight grip on Dex even after the reach solid ground, stuck on him like a leech until they reach the kitchen.

Bitty brightens at the sight of them, hurrying them into place next to Chowder, who’s already working the stove.

“Alright everybody, the frogs will be here by 1pm sharp! Let’s get to work!”


Lunch goes fine, dinner goes fine, as does post-dinner hanging out. It helps that Bitty and Chowder are always around to act as buffers between the two of them if things get heated, but for the most part Dex and Nursey are both on their best behavior.

“See? I’m being civil,” Dex tells the sink as he’s brushing his teeth that night. “You can stop icing me out now.” Not even a clink of the shower rings. “Fine, I wanted a break from fixing all your shit anyway,” he spits out with his toothpaste, rolling his eyes when he turns on the tap and the surge of water almost splashes all over him.

Whatever. Dex has never been anyone’s favorite, not at home, not at school nor on his team. He’s used to this shit, and he’s certainly not gonna go cry into his pillow just because his goddamn house likes his partner more than it likes him. All he wants is a tolerable amount of sleep and the patience to make it through this year.

--

And for a while, things are okay. Haus is still annoyed at Dex, which sucks, but the roommate situation is way less of a problem than it could be.

Sure, it takes a few weeks for them to fit their schedules together, and sharing space is difficult at first. Nursey just has so many fucking clothes that Dex always feels like he’s fighting his way through a rainforest to get to his own flannels and jeans. And Dex learns quickly that if he leaves his stuff anywhere besides a shelf or in a drawer, it’ll inevitably wind up in Nursey’s bag by accident. After Nursey is forced to run across campus to return a USB to him, they sit down and work out a system that’ll keep them from messing around too much with each other’s stuff.

Actually co-existing in the same room together goes pretty well too. When one of them needs more space they’ll head down to the living room, or go hang with Chowder, but studying together in their shared room isn’t the worst. They argue, of course they argue, but it’s not the kind of fighting that would tear apart the team. It’s the same old shit as always, as deeply ingrained in them as their teamwork is.

They’re fine.

They’re fine, and the issue doesn’t really become an issue until they lose their first home game.

The thing is, by the time they reached the Frozen Four last year, they’d already clicked on the ice. Even if they can't stop snapping at each other, everything else comes together perfectly when they play. The chemistry is there, the hard work they put into learning each other, and when it comes down to it, during a game Nursey is Dex’s partner above anything else.

But starting this morning, nothing goes right. They're completely out of sync the entire time, the game ends disastrously in a loss and Chowder being sent to the team physician for a knee injury, and it all goes downhill from there until they're shouting at each other in the Haus living room in front of the whole team minus captain and goalie.

“It seems like if your skating didn't get so sloppy when you speed up, that we could've blocked that last shot,” Nursey says tightly. They've been having this argument even before they left Faber, and Dex is not taking the blame on this one when Nursey’s the one who dropped the ball this entire game.

“What it seems like, Nurse, is that even after ten years you still can't play for shit. That's what it seems like to me.”

“That’s ‘cause your eyes are broken, just like your aim today.”

“That’s rich, seeing as you were basically useless this whole game. Maybe if you actually cared about something for once in your miserable fucking life, you'd actually be useful as a partner!”

Nursey jerks at that, looking injured. “You think I don't care? What's your excuse, then? You seem to care about every fucking little thing except connecting with me on the ice, so don't you dare lecture me on what matters. I'm well aware of what matters.”

“Yeah? Then tell me, do your goddamn teammates matter?”

“Of course they do-”

“Tell that to Chowder, asshole. Where the fuck were you when that fucker rammed him into the net? You sure weren't looking out for your goalie!” Chowder had claimed he was fine, that the hit looked worse than it felt, but Dex saw him wincing as the doctor looked over his leg. If Nursey had been doing his fucking job...

“Guys, stop, please,” Tango pleads, breaking into the tension filling the whole room. Whiskey’s already taken the frogs to the kitchen with Ollie and closed the door on the rest of them.

“Stay out of this, Tango,” Dex snaps at him. Tango flinches but doesn't back down, still inching toward them.

“Don't yell at Tango, you ass. He doesn't deserve to deal with your shitty attitude just because you're pissed at me.”

“Oh, as if you actually give a fuck about him, or any of the rest of us. Don't be such a fuckin’ martyr, Nurse, everybody sees through your stupid charade. You’re so busy pretending to be chill about everything that you don’t realize everyone knows how much of a disaster you are inside. Don’t you ever get tired of faking your way through everything? When’s the last time you were real about anything, with anyone?”

It’s too much, Dex knows, even as he’s saying it. He’s gone too far, stepped way out of line, and they both know it. Nursey’s eyes flash, and Dex has never seen him this livid, or this shaken. He should apologize. He should, because he didn’t mean any of that, and it was completely inappropriate, but he’s so angry and so disappointed, and it’s easier to take everything out on Nursey, who will at least fight back, who will give him a reason to feel powerless and bitter. At least when they fight Dex is accomplishing something, even if that something is the collapse of a friendship.

Nursey’s expression goes hard, and Dex has never seen him looking this vicious outside a game, because that’s not who Nursey is. Because Nursey’s a nice guy, probably one of the best people Dex knows, but even the best of people get pushed too far. His voice is controlled and dangerous when he hisses back, “You don’t know a fucking thing about me, Poindexter, and you know what? I’m not surprised. Underneath all your aggressive bullshit, there’s nothing but insecurity, and for good reason. You never let anyone in because you’re too afraid they’re going to find out just how inadequate you are. As a person, as a player, and as a friend.”

“Shut your fucking mouth-”

“I get it now, why you were so angry about Dibs last year. It’s because you realized, isn’t it? That no matter what you do, you’ll never be good enough.”

It shouldn’t hurt anymore than it usually does when Dex tells himself the exact same thing, but somehow it does; somehow, hearing it from someone else, from Nursey especially, makes it more real. That’s the way it goes, though, isn’t it?

Maybe it shows on his face, or it’s the slight intake of breath, as if he’s just been punched, that gives Dex away, because a shadow of guilt flickers over Nursey’s face right after.

The front door slams open before either of them can say anything else, Bitty entering like a storm and supporting Chowder as they go. They stop several feet clear of Nursey and Dex, Chowder exhausted yet still looking concerned about the two of them.

“Chowder,” Dex says, worry overtaking everything else for a moment. “How’s the knee?”

“C, you okay?” Nursey asks at the same time, taking a step toward them.

“What is god’s good name do you two think you’re doing right now, fighting like that in front of the team, so loud that I can hear you from across the street?” Bitty snaps at them before Chowder can answer.

“It’s- we were just-” Dex struggles to figure out a way to explain it without making them both seem like assholes, but it’s not happening, and neither does Bitty want their excuses.

“No, you know what? I don’t want to hear it. I thought by now you two would be better than this, and until you can prove that you are, you need to go. Out, now.” Bitty has never looked more furious in his life, almost shaking with rage as he points to the front door. Chowder and Tango both look uncomfortable and upset, but don’t say a word. Dex feels a twinge of guilt fighting its way through the anger still boiling in his nerves, but it's not enough to defuse this situation.

“Bitty,” Nursey starts and Bitty stabs his finger at the door again.

“OUT. Both of you, until you can stop acting like overgrown children. I don't care if you live here, I don't care what you're fighting about, and right now, I don't care if you hate each other. You do not act like this in front of the team, and unless you figure out how to function and communicate like adults, you will not be a part of this team. I should be worrying about Chowder’s injury – I should not have to worry about how much your incessant arguing has terrorized the frogs. Now get out. Do not come back until you gentlemen have your shit together.”

Dex exits first, knowing that if he stays a moment longer this isn't going to end with words. He storms out without looking back, because if he sees Chowder or Nursey again, guilt will win out over anger, but right now, he’s in no place to apologize. But there’s everywhere and nowhere to go. At least in the past, he could retreat to his dorm room if he needed, but that’s clearly not an option here.

As he stalks out into the cold his magic churns in him, threatening to lash out, to latch onto the first foundation he sees and wreak havoc, but Dex is better than that. Just barely, but he hasn’t had a magical outburst in years, and he isn’t going to start now. Bitty was right. He’s supposed to be a fucking adult now, and here he is, the same reactive, inferiority-ridden Will that he was back in high school. At the very least, he should keep his magic under control.

Like always, there are three places he can think of right now that would help calm him down, but the ocean’s too far a drive, and who knows what the hell lives in the scraggly Massachusetts woods around Samwell. So, to the ice it is.

He lets himself into Faber using the spare set of keys Lardo gave him before she graduated. Coach Murray spots him from his office as he passes, but allows him to go sit in the arena, recognizing the look in his eyes. He sits as high as possible, watching as the custodians finish cleaning up, trying not to mentally replay every fuckup from an hour ago as he stares at the ice.

Faber reaches out to him, questioning, trying to console him when it feels all the negativity bleeding out into the stands. He resists at first, determined to mope in his own misery, but Faber insists, pressing him with reassurances, breathing you did your best, you worked your hardest into him until his anger and frustration begin to fade. Sometimes, it's easier to talk to buildings than people. Buildings can understand him without a word, but with people, sometimes what he wants to say gets lost on the way out. Faber just takes him for who he is, with absolute faith that he'll be better next time.

It’s soothing, but it also makes Dex feels worse. Everyone on the team worked their hardest today, so where does he get off lecturing anybody? Especially his partner, when he knows by now that Nursey would never give anything but his best. Fuck, and the things Dex had said to him...

Dex knows he fucked up. Now he’s gotta go do something about it.

He leaves Faber, trailing thank yous as he goes, making sure the rink knows the team loves it, and steps out into the dark again. Excluding Haus, Nursey could honestly be anywhere; Dex knows he has some friends from his department who’d be willing to put him up for the night, but he’s hoping he can find him without having to call. This is a conversation they need to have face to face.

He crosses North Quad, looping around buildings until he’s in Lake Quad, hoping he knows Nursey as well as he thinks he does. Luckily, he does. Nursey is sitting next to a tree on the beach, throwing acorns listlessly into the water. Dex approaches without trying to be quiet so that Nursey can hear him coming, can tell him to fuck off if he wants to.

But Nursey doesn’t say anything as Dex sits down next to him. He just throws another handful of acorns into the water, watching them splash. Dex takes a minute to figure out what he’s supposed to say to fix this, but there aren’t any easy answers. He'll just have to be sincere and hope it's enough.

“I’m sorry,” he chooses, because it's true. Nursey still doesn't look at him, but he stops picking at the acorns, so Dex takes it as a sign to continue. “I'm sorry about what I said earlier. It was out of line, and it was totally off-base. I know you. I know that you care, too much probably, but, shit, I was angry and I wanted to make someone else as miserable as I was, and you didn't deserve that, or any of the rest of my bullshit. I'm sorry I hurt you, Derek, and I can understand if you think it’d be better if- if we got some space from each other. In the Haus, on the ice, wherever. I get it.”

Nursey stays silent for a moment longer, before speaking up. But Dex doesn't expect him to ask, “What if you weren't wrong? What if that's what people really think of me, that I'm just a shell of a real person? What if they really don't think that I care? Do they even want me to?”

Dex recoils, trying to understand what’s gotten into Nursey’s head. “What? No, fuck, that was me just running my mouth like an idiot. The team knows you, Nursey. They know you care more than anyone. People who know you understand; me and Chowder and Bitty and the frogs. Please don't take it seriously. I was just being an asshole. Just ignore everything I said, okay?”

“I can’t,” Nursey says, his hands clenched tight in the grass. “It's not just what you said. Some days I feel like I'm drowning in myself, like I can’t be genuine about anything anymore, because what if it comes out wrong, what if I choke, or- or I’m not eloquent enough to make myself clear. I don’t want to care, I shouldn’t, but people have assumptions; people talk, or they whisper, and I can’t. I can’t prove them right.”

“About what?” Dex is almost afraid to ask, but if Nursey’s so worked up about it that his words are failing him, he needs to know.

“That I just don't belong here anymore. That Samwell isn’t for me.”

Understanding hits him right under the ribs, like being kicked in the stomach while down, and the absolute fury that surges through Dex burns far hotter than the anger he felt earlier when they were arguing. He feels almost sick with it.

“Who the fuck has been saying that to you?! Tell me who it was. I’ll deal with them.”

Nursey rubs his eyes, exhausted, and lets out a slow breath. “No, dude, I don’t want you picking fights on my behalf. I’m fine. And your scholarship would be fucked if you got caught.”

“You think I can’t fuck someone’s life up without getting in a fight? I have siblings, Nurse. I know how to wage a silent war. Just give me a name.” He scooches closer through the grass, already rolling up his sleeves to keep them from getting dirty. Of course, if it happens to come down to punches, Dex can give as good as it gets.

No, Will, seriously. I’ll be okay. It sucks, and it’s frustrating, but I don’t need you to fight my battles for me. Just support me when I need you, okay?” He rests his hand on Dex’s shoulder, squeezing until Dex deflates.

“Yeah, anything you need, whatever it is.” They stare out at the pond, the water barely visible from the light of the streetlamps behind them. Dex scoops a few of the acorns up from where they’re lying by Nursey’s feet and chucks them into the water as hard as he can. He can just make out where they land in the water with a faraway splash. “I’m really sorry about all the shit I said, and I’m sorry if it made anything worse for you.”

“Thanks,” Nursey says, the line of his back slumping down as the remaining energy seems to slide out of him. He leans against the tree as he says, “I’ve just been thinking about it recently. I think it’s thrown off my game.”

“Today was bad for all of us. It happens. Legit, though, if we run into any of those assholes, give me a sign or something. I’m not here to be civil to anyone who treats you like shit.”

“No it’s- no one’s said anything directly to my face this semester yet, but...sometimes somebody will make a comment, and I just- I know what they’re thinking. About me.”

“Fuck ‘em, then. You're vital; you were meant to be here. Fuck anyone who makes you feel otherwise. I'll punch their fucking lights out- god, even if it's me- especially if it's me, just like, let me know and I'll call Shitty or Holster to come lay me out.”

Dex knows that Nursey puts up with a lot of bullshit from all sides, and the least he could do is to be a supportive friend, especially considering their past. They’ve talked about it before, multiple times, until there was an understanding reached between them on both ends. But that doesn’t absolve him of any possible hurt. What if he made Nursey feel like this, and he didn’t even know?

(“If I'm not chill, then they'll find something else for me to be instead. Uncooperative. Belligerent. Disrespectful. You get the picture. So it's just safer, you know? To be the guy that isn't bothered by anything. To be even-tempered, and easy-going, so they never have any reason to complain. I mean, success rate is only like 70%, but it's what I've got. It also makes it easier to explain why I'm so fucking bad at feelings. When you feel so much all the time, it's easier to seem like you don't feel anything at all. And now I'm used to it, I guess. It's who I am. Chill. Most of the time,” Nursey explained as they sat huddled together in the reading room watching the snow drift down.

“Fuck, that's- I never realized. Christ, and that's the problem isn't it? I'm sorry, dude. Fuck. I’ll...I’m gonna lay off from now on. I mean, not on the stupid shit, but.”

“Nah, I get it. Stupid shit’s a whole different matter. I mean, I really shouldn't be dropping my laptop so often. And I mean, if I ever say anything insensitive about like, money or whatever, just let me know, okay?”

“That seems fair. I knocked my multivariable textbook into the river two days ago,” Dex offered as a token of peace, and Nursey laughed, flicking some snow at him.

“I knew there was no way you were blow-drying your hair for that long.”)

“You're literally the ‘I’ll kick my own ass’ meme right now,” Nursey says, his voice cracking on his laugh. He still looks bruised, physically and emotionally, but his hands aren’t shaking or balled up in fists, so maybe he’s tethered again.

Dex scrubs his face violently with his shirt sleeves, trying to let out the restless energy boiling inside him. “I'm serious, Derek. I've been trying- you know I'm working on my clueless white guy bullshit, but I'm gonna fuck up, and if anything ever bothers you or C or anybody, you've gotta let me know. I want to be better. You guys are my best friends; I need to be there for you.”

“Okay. Okay, that’s- I can do that, but you really can’t go punching people for me, Dex. It would be fucking terrible for all of us. I know you’re here for me. Sometimes, that’s all I need. For you to be there.”

“Always. Anytime. Even when you’re annoying the everliving fuck out of me, you have to know I’ve got your back.”

“I know.” When Dex holds out a hand, Nursey fistbumps him back without hesitation. But he squinches his eyes shut for a second before turning back to face Dex, resting his hand lightly on his arm. “I’m sorry too, about what I said. It was a shitty thing to say, even if I was upset with you, and it’s not true.”

“What’d you say?” Dex asks, furrowing his brow as he tries to remember their argument. It was barely an hour ago, but he's already started to let it fade. He's better about that these days: letting go of his anger instead of allowing it to eat at him. Unless he needs to punch someone for his team.

“That you weren't good enough. It's not true, I was being cruel, and I'm sorry.”

“Oh, that. Well, it's, you know. It's fine.” Dex had already kind of absorbed it and started to forget. It’s not like it’s news.

“No, Dex, it's not fucking fine. I know you’ve gotten used to thinking that it’s true, but you’re wrong, and anyone who tells you you’re not enough is also wrong. I’m an asshole for saying it just to be spiteful.” Nursey’s hand has tightened around Dex’s forearm, and his voice is stern.

Dex shifts uncomfortably in the fallen leaves he’s seated on. “I mean, I know I’m fairly decent at a bunch of things, and more or less adequate at most others. I’m not moping about it or anything.”

“Yeah, but you’re more than decent, Dex. You’re a great teammate and friend, and you’re smart as hell and you’re like a fucking wizard of technology or something.”

Dex almost laughs at that description. A wizard. If Nursey only knew. Instead, he flicks an acorn at Nursey, telling him, “You can’t be so nice to me. You're gonna throw our whole dynamic off balance.”

“I think our dynamic could use a little more nice. And until you believe me, I'm gonna keep telling you how amazing you are. Just a bro complimenting a bro, if that makes you feel better.”

“Jesus, no. I believe you, okay?”

“I dunno, man…”

Dex responds by throwing another acorn at him, and Nursey responds by stuffing a fistful of leaves down his shirt. Their petty battle lasts another minute until Nursey almost swallows an acorn somehow, and Dex calls it off, too busy laughing.

“This is what I was afraid of last year when we decided to room together. Us having such a huge fight that we get kicked off the team for ruining the synergy and having to, like, join the fuckin’ lax team or something,” he confesses after Nursey’s no longer in danger of choking.

“Well, now that we’ve had our first fight, there’s nowhere to go but up.”

“This is like our four hundredth fight, Nursey.”

“Even better!” And the way he nudges Dex tells him that they’re gonna be okay.

“You ready to go face the music?” Dex asks, helping Nursey to his feet when he nods. “I don’t wanna give Bitty a stress ulcer.”

They walk back together, and though they’re not quite back to normal, it’s not quite awkward. Nursey makes a joke about Bitty pelting them with mini pies, and Dex really laughs for the first time all day, and he knows then that whatever happens, they’ll work it out. They always do.

--

Things get better. Slowly. After a blowup that huge, they learn when they need to actually communicate, instead of letting their problems fester, especially during a game. Bitty sits them down and they have a long talk about what isn't appropriate to do in front of the team, and they promise to him they'll do better. They apologize to the team, and to Chowder, whose injury is luckily projected to be all healed in a few days. Chowder just gives them a hug neither of them think they deserve, glad they've worked some stuff out.

It's still tense around Haus the first few days right after the fight, but with both of them doggedly trying to make things feel normal, eventually the lingering tension fades back to their usual levels of minor disagreement. Now that they've aired a few of their problems, in some ways it's easier between them than it was before. Even when Chowder isn’t there to balance them out, they work in relative peace, and their squabbling these days becomes more affectionate than pointed.

They start talking to each other a lot more while they study, and find that they have mostly compatible habits. Nursey doesn’t mind that Dex is constantly typing and cursing at his code. Dex doesn’t mind the music that Nursey plays out loud, nor does he mind the careful recitation of stanzas that becomes drummed into his subconscious as Nursey analyzes his homework. Sometimes they even help each other when one of them gets stuck on some stupid elective homework. For all that Nursey projects nonchalance, he gets alarmingly tense during certain assignments. Not as bad as Ransom’s coral reef mode, but enough that on some days Dex can feel it even before he enters the room.

Dex learns that there are a few surefire ways to break Nursey out of a concentration strain. He usually leaves Nursey be until his eyes start to glaze over and his hands are clenched too tight around his pen, because disturbing him too early throws him off balance. But if the trance goes on too long he winds up drained of energy and unresponsive, which then worries Chowder and sets Dex on edge, and then they all prowl around Haus high-strung and irritable for the rest of the day. So it’s really for Dex’s own mental health that he learns how to help.

Trick number one is a hot cup of one of the many varieties of tea that appeared in the kitchen cupboards after they moved in. Dex carefully follows the directions on the tea tins until he gets good enough at brewing a cup that it comes automatically. Haus gives him hints for which kinds are best for which days. Strong cup of black tea, lightly sweetened, when caffeine is needed. Moroccan sweet mint on those days that Dex has too much time on his hands. Chamomile for test anxiety or those nights that Nursey needs a little extra convincing to go to sleep. There are a lot of nights like that, but Dex is learning. It’s like coding, almost – what does Dex need to say and do in order to trick Nursey into resting? Some days, his work still needs some debugging.

The first time he brings Nursey a cup, his partner stares at it for a good half a minute before asking, “What is this?” in a dazed voice.

“Tea, obviously. Stop trying to snap your pencil in half and drink this instead.”

Nursey watches the cup for a moment longer, not suspicious, just confused, but finally he unclenches his hand from his pencil and gives it a try. The change spreads through him like a current; slowly his shoulders relax with each sip, then his back and his arms until he looks like he might puddle into the couch. Dex, satisfied, goes back to ripping his own hair out over his history exam, until Nursey pulls a chair up next to him and helps quiz him for half an hour.

Trick number two, much more embarrassing than the first, is letting Nursey catch him singing. For some reason probably having to do with Dex’s eternal torment, Nursey absolutely delights in hearing him. Doesn't matter if it's just absently humming whatever's stuck in his head, or singing along to whatever's playing quietly from his speakers. Some days Dex even scrounges up the six or so lines from musical theater that he's absorbed from passing by the attic last year, because Nursey will, without a doubt, pause what he's agonizing over and force Dex to listen to the entire show. Dex grumbles because it's his default response to anything Nursey makes him do, but showtunes are much less harmful than he was initially led to believe.

And it gets Nursey out of his own head and talking out loud. Like a practice run. Dex doesn’t always perfectly follow what’s being said to him, but whenever Nursey talks literature and language, he’s in his element, words and emotion flowing readily, even if it’s in starts and stops. Dex just nods and listens and offers his plebeian insight whenever it strikes, but Nursey’s never anything less than patient.

Trick number three he doesn’t really want to talk about, but can be summed up by the conclusion that Dex is a disastrous massage practitioner, and literally no one would ever pay him for his services. (Review from Derek Nurse, October 2016: “Pretty bad! But way less bad than it could have been. Five stars for effort though.”)

On the other hand, Dex spends the majority of his time stressing about homework no matter what, until he finishes. Even when he thinks he’s getting every step done properly, there are always tiny mistakes he doesn’t weed out until he goes through and checks a second time. Or a third. It’s such a process that little distractions are welcome, as long as they don’t take him wildly off-track.

The moment Nursey finds this out, he becomes a one-man distraction machine. Dex’s phone becomes a graveyard of stupid internet diversions, and at any given time there are at least four tabs open in his browser with inane personality quizzes – which logical fallacy are you? which 13th century astronomer should you date? – that Nursey keeps linking him.

He takes to spamming Dex with “pictures relevant to your interests,” which really means photos of boats and fish and farm equipment with short, unhelpful captions like “solid” (picture of someone using a backhoe) and “good form” (picture of salmon swimming upstream). It's infuriatingly meaningless, which is maybe why it usually makes Dex laugh, especially when he's in the library.

He also takes full advantage of the fact that Dex on full autopilot will do almost anything someone asks of him. Dex has unwittingly helped finish sudoku and crossword puzzles just because Nursey slid the paper within his line of sight every two minutes, gotten a temporary tattoo of a shark on a surfboard because Farmer asked politely to see his arm, and peeled a whole bag of oranges for Chowder while re-reading his research paper.

(Nursey has a whole three pages in his creative writing notebook covered in nothing but the words “William Poindexter” because Dex still has not learned not to sign off on something just because someone shoves a piece of paper in his face and says “sign here please!” while he’s not paying attention.

“Dude. You need to stop, or someone’s gonna take you for everything you’re worth one day,” Nursey says after Dex absently takes the pen from him and signs without ever looking away from his screen. Dex finally tears his attention away from his laptop to see his signature under the words “I, William J. Poindexter, hereby relinquish a bite of every slice of pie I ever eat for the rest of my life to Derek M. Nurse.”

“Aw, fuck,” says Dex as he finally comes to terms with his identity-theft-enabling problem.)

But Nursey also uses it as a way to trick him into eating on those days he forgets that it’s a necessity. They have it down to an art now. It’s so automatic for Dex to hold out his hand without looking whenever Nursey says “hey, eat this,” and take a bite of whatever he’s given that Bitty’s afraid one day Nursey’s going to accidentally give him a paintbrush or a candle or something and he’ll be ¾ done eating it before he notices. But he trusts Nursey not to fuck with him when it comes to food, and that trust hasn't failed him so far.

And when they both need to slack off, that's when their symbiotic relationship truly shines. Besides binge-watching four different HBO shows together and slowly building a shrine in the corner of their room dedicated to shit they're going to burn at the end of the year (any copy of The Swallow that casts aspersions on the SMH, that one stupid modernism essay that Nursey deserved way better than a B- on, a lax bro fundraising flyer they found taped to Haus’ door, etc.), they share a variety of niche interests.

Such hobbies include:
- arguing about pickles on sandwiches
- chirping Chowder for talking too long on the phone with Farms
- getting chirped by Chowder for being single and sitting on the floor in their boxers drinking orange juice from the carton
- going to war against the frogs in Settlers of Catan
- arguing about what constitutes a sandwich
- making shitty miniatures of everyone they know out of Lardo’s strangely sizeable stock of model magic
- french toast stick jenga
- spamming the group chat with pictures of Chowder sleeping on the green couch to torment their captain

When Chowder’s around to hang out as well, it's a veritable party. Throw in the sophomores and the frogs and plunk them all in Bitty’s kitchen, and Dex knows for sure that he's at home.

So, all things considered, they're good. They're roommates, and it's working, and Dex can breathe easier knowing that senior year shouldn't be an issue either.

Haus is still acting weird though, and sometimes Dex suspects that things can’t keep sailing as smoothly as they have been.

--

It starts with dinner.

Dex doesn't love cooking, but seeing as he finds it tolerable, and the team's been barred from eating instant ramen more than twice a week, sometimes dinner duty falls to him. A lot of the team eats whenever and wherever they get a chance, but Chowder insisted on Formal Frog Food and Fun Fridays, wherein at the very least the class of 2018 would get together and eat. Their standards on formality plummet more and more each time; last Friday Dex was in pajamas, Chowder in board shorts and a Samwell Women’s Volleyball tee, and Nursey in nothing but a bathrobe and a foam pirate hat. Today, Dex has deigned to wear at least four whole articles of clothing that would be acceptable in public, but both cooking and Chowder are currently a no show.

Chowder is excusable; he and Farmer decided to go have an actual movie date today since they’re both free. The cooking, not so much. Dex has been trying to boil pasta and roast vegetables for the last half an hour, but every time he gets either the oven or the stove started, they switch themselves off the moment he takes his eyes off of Dolly, Betsy’s successor. Even when he’s watching, Haus is audacious enough to turn Dolly off.

“Why are you doing this?” Dex snaps the next time the stovetop switch flips again. “I’m not allowed to eat dinner anymore, is that it?” Haus has the decency to send him a guilty apology, but does not stop oven-blocking him, so he throws the empty penne box across the room and spitefully elects not to pick it up when it misses the recycling bin.

If he really wanted to, Dex could probably manually operate Dolly with his magic, but that would be so exhausting he’d just fall asleep right afterwards. So instead he chooses to stare forlornly at his uncooked pasta swimming around the pot.

“How’s the pasta bake going? My chopping hand is ready to roll,” Nursey says as he strolls in, wearing a different bathrobe than last week. There’s still a bandaid on his ring finger from the last time he helped. Dex was just going to have him grate cheese today, hoping it would lessen the injuries sustained, but now that he thinks about it, might it be worse? Knowing Nursey, he’d find a way to grate a finger off by accident. Not that it matters anymore for today.

“It’s not. Dolly’s acting up; I’ll have to look at her later. We should just call the pizza place,” Dex sighs, pulling out his phone. But Nursey puts his hand over Dex’s and pushes the phone back down.

“Whoa, we can’t eat pizza, Dex. This is FFFFF. We don’t order out.” FFFFF Rule #2. The rules were officially codified with Bitty as witness, and though they’re nowhere near as important as the bylaws, the three of them have tried to stay as upright as possible. But Dex is hungry, dammit.

“Nursey, it’s pizza or nothing. Or, well, it could be wings or stir-fry or calzones. Sushi, too, if you don’t mind the wait.” The nearest Japanese restaurant is twenty-five minutes away by car.

“Nope, no takeout; we die like men.”

“Stop memeing and tell me what you want to eat,” Dex says as he dig out the stack of takeout menus and tosses them onto the table. “Not wings, actually. Chowder wouldn’t want us to do the spice challenge without him.”

“I’m telling you, there’s gotta be something we can make, even without Dolly. You just take a seat, Dex. I’ll take care of this.” Nursey herds Dex to the chair, forcing him to sit, and then forcing him to give up his phone so that he can’t secretly summon a pizza.

“No ramen, remember,” Dex says as Nursey begins raiding the cupboards and the cutlery drawer. FFFFF Rule #5. Dry or cooked: neither is acceptable.

“No ramen,” Nursey promises, as he plunks an economy-size jar of creamy peanut butter in front of Dex. “I’ve got something better.”

“Are you…” Yes, he is. After delving into fridge, past the rows of butter and Bitty’s endless berry supply, Nursey emerges victorious with three different jars of jelly.

“Alright, Dex, you want apricot, strawberry apple rhubarb, orrrrr...seedless raspberry?” Nursey asks, as he joins Dex at the table, the loaf of bread balanced on his arms.

“PB&J?” Dex huffs out, amused despite himself. “Is this formal enough? This peanut butter isn’t even crunchy.” Not that pasta bake is particularly fancy either.

Nursey raises his eyebrows in surprise. “You’re a crunchy peanut butter guy too? I read you as smooth all the way.”

“Smooth is for chumps and my gran, who is not a chump, but doesn’t really have any teeth.”

“I’m with you, bro, but we’ll have to live with Jack Zimmermann’s bad judgment. So what’s it gonna be?” He lays out four slices of bread and takes up a knife, gesturing to each jam jar in turn.

“Uh, I’ll take strawberry?”

“Strawberry apple rhubarb,” Nursey corrects, but he starts spreading jelly in generous swoops. Dex sits back and watches him work, making appropriately bland “ooh” and “aah” noises as Nursey finishes spreading with a flourish of his knife. “Thank you,” he says primly as he places the jelly knife aside and starts in on the peanut butter.

“This is actually kind of soothing,” Dex says. Nursey wields his knife like a pro, sweeping peanut butter across the bread evenly and cleanly in hypnotic circles. “Why isn’t there a restaurant for this? Where you can watch someone make you the perfect PB&J.”

“Like they do at teppanyaki places? Post-graduation, we could make it happen. Mull it over, Poindexter. You handle the money, I’ll handle the knives.”

“On second thought, let’s not. I don’t want you to lose a hand. Or an eye.”

Nursey holds up both hands, and flips them over for inspection. “Look, no injuries today!”

“You want a prize sticker?” Dex snickers, taking the sandwich that Nursey offers him. It looks quite nice, he has to admit. “Pretty good, Nurse. This could be a new FFFFF standard.”

“Handcrafted with love, Will.” Nursey holds his sandwich out and Dex smushes his own into it for an ineffective toast.

By the second sandwich they’ve finished a quart of milk between the two of them and Nursey’s wound up with peanut butter on his face. Dex very helpfully sticks a chunk of bread to his peanut butter blot and Nursey retaliates by taking a glob of apricot jelly and swiping it across Dex’s forehead despite his protests.

Do not,” Dex hisses through a laugh as Nursey tries to lift him into the air to no avail. Luckily, Dex has a few pounds on him, and can firmly hold his ground, even though he’s been backed against the wall.

“It’s the circle of life,” Nursey grunts out, finally hefting Dex by the waist up about two inches off the floor. “And it moves us all.”

“It’s not moving me much at all.”

They make it through sandwich number three because Dex insists they need to compare all three jellies, even though Nursey has already decided nothing can top strawberry apple rhubarb. Dex maintains that apricot is slightly better, which incites an argument that overflows into a poll on the group chat that almost tears the team apart.

(Bitty: Oh, Jack likes all of them, but I prefer peach actually!
Ransom: I’m with Bitty on this one
Ransom: Apricot ain’t no peach
Lardo: i’ve got no stake in this game
Holster: But wild maine blueberry doe
Nursey: wild maine blueberry...........is the only thing i’m calling dex from now on
Dex: I fucking hate you
Chowder: why are you guys talking about jam
Nursey: i’m a sandwich artist c
Nursey: even wild maine blueberry thinks my pb&js are gr9
Jack: They can’t be as good as Bitty’s though.
Nursey: oh shit gauntlet thrown
Lardo: bake off?!
Dex: Bake off
Dex: Or...sandwich off?
Bitty: <3
Ransom: FINE
Holster: FIIIIIIIINE
Holster: oh you beat me to it
Shitty: i love you all you beautiful assholes but Nursey’s the only one with good taste here
Chowder: pb&j is nOT A FORMAL FOOD GUYS)

By the next day, Dolly is no longer acting up, which is a relief, because Nursey makes a mean sandwich, but hockey players need hot food. Unfortunately, Haus goes after their bathroom next. The water pressure in the shower is too weak to be of any use, and the last thing Dex wants to do after a long day of lectures is muck around in the pipes, but better now than later when they’re all super rank and fighting over the desperate trickle of water. But when he pokes into the shower head with a strand of magic, it magically corrects itself, blasting him full on with a jet of water because he was dumb enough to be looking up at it.

“Fuuarghhhg,” is approximately the noise he makes as he hops away from the tub, already drenched to the shoulders.

Nursey pokes his head into the bathroom, and laughs when he sees Dex half drowned. “Yo, you fixed it! Great job.” He dodges when Dex throws his sopping shirt at him, spinning around him in one of his rare moments of stunning grace, and grabs a towel. “C’mon, let’s get you dried off.”

“I could do this myself,” Dex says as Nursey rubs the towel over his wet hair. He’s seated on the floor with Nursey on his bed behind him, gently combing through his damp strands before drying him again. He's not exactly sure how he got swayed into this.

“Could you though? I've seen the way you brush your hair.”

“Hey, I brush my hair every morning.”

“Yeah, I know. It's unfortunate.”

But Nursey’s hands in his hair are soothing as they comb gently through, and Dex finds himself starting to nod off as they massage at his scalp. The rainy weather headache that’s been bothering him all afternoon has finally started to fade, and for the first time today he feels at ease.

“Are you just way better than me at this, or am I just really tired?” he asks sleepily, leaning his head back on the edge of his bed against Nursey’s thigh.

“It doesn’t take a lot to be better at massages than you, Dex,” Nursey teases. He helps Dex up, who crawls under the covers and waves him toward the bathroom.

“Thanks, Nursey. Go forth and shower,” he mumbles, pointing off into space as he starts to fall asleep.

“Sleep tight,” Nursey says, patting Dex’s shoulder as he passes by.

But Haus cannot be satisfied if Dex gets even a second of rest, so next to fall is the dryer, as they find out when Nursey unloads his clothes still wrinkled and damp the following day.

“Did I forget to turn it on?” Nursey wonders, bemused, but Dex shakes his head. Wouldn’t do to have his house gaslighting his roommate.

“No, it’s probably on the fritz. Even though it’s brand new. I’ll figure it out,” Dex tells him with a beleaguered sigh. He presses the power button, but it doesn’t react. There’s no reason the sparkling, new, 87% financed by the epic love story of Eric Bittle and Jack Zimmermann dryer should be quitting on them already.

“You need any help? I can- well, I can learn,” Nursey offers, but Dex turns him down. Haus is just throwing a hissy fit anyway, so hopefully it’ll clear by tomorrow without Dex having to do much.

Meanwhile, Nursey is without clean shirts, so Dex lends him one.

“Sorry if it’s like, worn out, or it feels cheap or whatever,” he mutters as Nursey does up the buttons of the blue plaid. It brings out the color of his eyes. Dex should’ve picked a different shirt. Bad call.

“Nah, it’s great. Nice and soft. Perfect fit.” Nursey rolls up his sleeves, looking satisfied. “It smells kind of like you, too,” he adds, as he flattens the collar. He still seems pleased though.

“Does it?”

“Yeah, like wonder bread and lobster.”

“Fuck off, dude,” Dex says as he laughs, literally kicking Nursey out of their room.

Dex makes a token effort to fix the dryer, but mostly he sits on the basement floor sending annoyed messages down into the house foundations, trying to harass Haus into stopping its crusade against him.

The dryer holds out until Chowder comes home and wanders downstairs with Nursey to check on him.

“Dex! Nursey says stuff’s breaking around the Haus again? Should we get out the Sin Bin? We can hang outside Bitty’s room and wait for Jack to call. I don’t think he’ll notice if we bump up the fines to a dollar ten per pet name.”

“It’s okay, C. I think I’ll be able to figure it out,” Dex says as he pokes around the wiring just in case some rats got at it somehow. The other two hang over the rails of the basement stairs, goggling at him for fun, until Chowder notices Nursey’s new fashion choice.

“That's Dex’s shirt!” he exclaims, grabbing Nursey by the arms to examine him.

“And that's Chowder’s shirt,” Nursey replies, pointing at Chowder’s chest with a grin.

“Nursey! I’m serious!” There’s a bit of a scuffle going on behind Dex. When he looks up, he sees they’ve retreated farther up the stairs, muttering between themselves inaudibly in a two-person huddle. He suffers a flash of intense fondness for the both of them before returning his attention to the misbehaving dryer, but finds that it’s mysteriously on and functioning again.

Those two are still doing whatever weirdo thing on the stairs, so Dex takes the chance to have some choice words with Haus. “Look, if you’re coming at me, just be direct. Leave the motherfucking Whirlpool alone, and stop dragging other people into this.”

Haus takes his words to heart. There are no more attacks to household appliances after that afternoon. In fact, there barely seem to be any attacks on Dex either, so maybe they’re back at a stalemate. Either way, it feels like a win.

--

At the beginning of the year, Dex had taken the bottom bunk out of spite. It’s come back to haunt him now, as most things do.

Nursey, while sober, is physically incapable of climbing the bunk bed ladder without tripping about 50% of the time. Nursey, while drunk, will most certainly die on his way up. Dex solves this problem after the first few kegsters by telling whoever’s on Nursey Patrol to just leave him on Dex’s bed, resigned to switching for the night. Even when he’s completely trashed, at least Dex can manage to deposit himself on Nursey’s elevated bed without injuring anyone. Eventually, though, he can’t stand it anymore.

Objectively, even without Haus’ interference, Dex has the better mattress. And there’s no logical reason Nursey should be getting more use out of it than Dex, so the next time a kegster comes around, Dex decides he’s taking back his bed. After he helps Bitty with the initial cleanup, he wanders up to his room, undoing the buttons on his shirt and tossing it over his desk chair. He's clearheaded enough to function, but the alcohol is telling him he's long overdue for sleep. Unfortunately, there’s no way he can possibly carry Nursey up to his own bed, so they’re simply going to have to share.

“Shove over,” Dex tells Nursey, who rolls over long enough to squint at him. He’s been conked out here where Ollie and Chowder dumped him two hours ago after he danced himself out of energy. His shirt is rumpled and his hair a mess, and he looks confused as hell, but he smiles syrup sweet at Dex, and with a huff of irritation, Dex has to acknowledge the spark of fondness he feels glowing in his chest.

“Dexy? ‘Sssup,” Nursey slurs out.

“Nothing’s up; go back to sleep. But like, against the wall so I can fit in here too.”

“Here? With me?” He tries to sit up and straighten out his shirt, looking distressed as the splotchy stain on his collar doesn’t disappear. “Today’s not- we shouldn't today. Come back t’morrow. I’ll make it real good for you tomorrow,” he mumbles, embarrassed. Dex has no idea what he’s on about, so he takes pity and tries to end the conversation before Nursey thinks himself into a frenzy.

“Nursey, I’m not waiting until tomorrow to sleep, you dumbass. You’re still drunk. Stop trying to think and go back to sleep, okay? Never mind, you stay here, and I’ll just-” Dex presses Nursey back down to the mattress softly and takes the chance to climb over him while he’s lying there stunned. He manages to snuggle into the space between Nursey and the wall and yanks the blanket over them. “There we go. Perfect.”

Nursey is still staring at him, a little bit stricken and a little bit lost. Like a boat adrift too far from land. Sober Dex would probably understand better how to interpret it, but Drunk Dex just wants to finally sleep on his own lovely warm bed. It seems extra comfy today. Maybe Haus softened it up for Nursey – Dex isn’t complaining.

“C’mon, Derek, sleep,” he cajoles. “I've got you. You’re safe here with me.” He tucks the blanket up higher around them and rests his arm around Nursey’s waist. If Nursey’s a lost vessel, then Dex will anchor him. Nursey nods back compliantly, still staring at Dex with those soft green eyes, wearing some combination of tender and conflicted, his mouth half-curved around words he isn't going to say. Dex isn't the English major between the two of them, but he thinks this might be the kind of look that people write stories about. If he can remember it in the morning, he'll remember it forever.


The next morning, Dex wakes feeling gross and hungover and almost falls over Nursey in his automatic attempt to climb out of bed.

“Ow, fuck.”

“Dex?” Nursey asks, still disoriented. From his wince at the sunlight pouring into the room, still hungover too. Dex manages to escape the bed without stepping on Nursey or breaking his face.

“Who else, dude? You been sleeping in any beds besides mine lately?”

After Dex says it, he realizes how weird that sounds, as if he keeps tabs on how often Nursey gets laid, but Nursey just groans and rubs miserably at his eyes. “Nah. Ugh, I still smell like tub juice.”

“Probably because you tried to bathe in it yesterday.” Dex laughs at the look of mild regret that crosses Nursey’s face before tossing a clean shirt at him. “Maybe try using water this time?” Nursey tries to flip him off and untangle himself from the blanket at the same time, and falls off the bed. Dex laughs at him again.


After Dex finally feels clean, having scrubbed all the kegster grime off himself, he enters their bedroom to see Nursey hanging upside down from his own bed, his head and arms dangling off the edge as he reads.

“Holy shit, you’re gonna get yourself killed.”

“It’s chill, dude. I got this.” He turns a page and almost drops the book on Dex’s foot; Dex snatches it from his hand and chucks it into the pillow.

“You’re going to literally ruin Chowder’s life if you crack your skull open. Get down from there.”

“You just want me to come back down for more snuggles,” Nursey says with a grin. “No worries, Dex, you’re my number one cuddle bunny.” Arms outstretched, he reaches toward Dex for an upside down hug.

Dex takes a step back, trying to school his face into a more pitying expression. “You know what? It might be hard at first, but in time Christopher will move on from your unfortunate death. I’ll take care of him, don’t worry. You’ll be remembered, Nurse,” he says solemnly.

“C’mon, Will, don’t- whoa!” Of course Nursey would tip over now, when Dex isn’t in exact range and has to throw himself forward to catch him. They collide mid-fall and slam onto Dex’s bed in an aching pile.

“Why are you the way that you are?” Dex asks into his mattress. Somehow Nursey is crushing both his left arm and his left knee even though Dex is folded over him.

“Sorry, my b,” Nursey says, shifting so they untangle. “I really didn’t think I was gonna fall.”

Dex sighs against his bedsheets, regretting that they also smell like tub juice, and regretting the decision he’s going to make. “Look, let’s just switch bunks before you actually die.” They can at least swap the mattresses so Dex can keep the softer one.

“Thanks, but I’m good,” Nursey says breezily.

“What?”

“I like the top bunk. You like the bottom bunk. Why bother switching?”

Dex just scowls incredulously at him. “Because you’re a head trauma case just waiting to happen?”

“Only when I’m schwasted or fucking around. Besides, I’ve got you to watch out for me.” He makes his case by using Dex’s back as a footrest. It’s eight in the morning and Dex is already too tired to shake him off.

“And if no one’s around to help you up there?”

“We’ll just share your bed again. Worked for us yesterday.”

“That’s not a long-term solution.”

“Why not? Ransom and Holtzy shared a bed all the time.”

“Ransom and Holster are a single-celled organism that accidentally split at birth. Nothing they do should be taken as an example of normal.”

“Even I know that can’t be biologically correct. And we’re not talking about normal, Dex. We’re talking about the most precious of bonds. The ineffable, immortal connection between two defensemen. Don’t you want that for us? For the team? Don’t you, William?”

Dex’s instincts tell him to keep arguing, but he doesn’t honestly care enough to keep it up. Nursey wasn’t wrong; sharing really wasn’t a hardship. Nursey doesn't snore or kick. At the very worst, he winds up clinging to Dex and mildly overheating him. “Fine, whatever, you can borrow my bed if you’d die otherwise,” he grumbles. “Now get off me so we can go get breakfast.”

He’ll just let Nursey have this one. Besides, it’s not like it’s gonna happen very often anyway.

--

Exhibit A:

“I dunno, it’s like suddenly a spring broke. It’s been stabbing me in the back for the last two days.”

Exhibit B:

“I know all the windows are closed, but my blanket keeps getting blown away somehow?”

Exhibit C:

“Yo, do you believe in ghosts? ‘Cause I think my bed might be haunted. It won't stop doing this bouncing thing.”

Dex sighs. “Your bed isn’t haunted.” No interfering spirits here except that of one really persnickety house. “Just get in here already. Don’t drool on me or your ass is sleeping on the couch.” Nursey slides in with his pillow and blanket, filling in the space that’s quickly becoming his. He leaves as much room between him and Dex as he can, because he’s a nice, respectful boy, but the bed isn’t really intended for two grown-ass hockey players to share, and their limbs invariably wind up in each other’s space. Dex saves himself the trouble later and just throws an arm over Nursey ahead of time.

As Nursey dozes off next to him, Dex is left wondering what the hell Haus is up to, treating its beloved Derek this way. It’s downright suspicious, is what it is, but it’d take too much brainpower right now to contemplate further. He doesn’t know what Haus’ problem is, but he’s not certain he’ll figure it out before he graduates.

--

A day after they get home from a roadie, Dex wakes to Bitty’s scream. He jolts up, knocking Nursey’s arm off his chest. They’d crashed in Dex’s bed last night, Nursey too out of it after his shower to climb to his own bunk.

“Bitty?!” Dex hears Chowder call from his room, his voice wavering. Dex climbs over Nursey and his damn abs and takes off toward Bitty’s room before he realizes the screech came from the bathroom.

“Bits? Bitty, what’s wrong!” he yells, pounding his hand on the bathroom door. Wicky has stumbled down the attic stairs in alarm, coming to back Dex up should they need it. Chowder and Nursey are storming down the hall as well.

The door finally wrenches open, Bitty standing in a towel and looking drenched and wretched. “I’m so sorry about that, boys,” he says through chattering teeth. “I’m perfectly fine, it’s just the darned water is colder than a wit- well, the rest of the saying isn’t appropriate.” Dex breathes a sigh of relief after he scans the bathroom for any hidden intruders just in case.

“Why don’t you use our bathroom?” Chowder offers. Dex is about to offer to take a look at the shower when he realizes what just happened. Haus would never deny Bitty hot water, not voluntarily, which means they have an actual problem. A problem Haus has been hiding from Dex.

“ ‘Scuse me, Bitty,” Dex says as he pushes past his captain, reaching up to push a pulse of magic through the shower head under the pretense of examining it, hoping he won’t get hosed in the face again. In response, he receives nothing more than a painful croak from the pipe system, which tells him enough. Shit. The water heater’s shot.

He tells the guys as much, and gets to work right after breakfast. Luckily, it looks like the only thing he needs to do is replace the heating element, so he catches a bus into town to buy a new one. Nursey tags along, Sin Bin Tres in hand, pestering Dex with questions about every single item they pass on their way through the home improvement store.

“This one looks just like you,” Nursey says, pointing at a random tool hanging from the shelf.

“You're comparing me to a nut splitter.”

Nursey almost drops the Sin Bin as he chokes on his laugh. “Shit, really? Wait, I feel more inspiration coming on. Skin as fair as spackle. Spray-paint freckles. Those dulcet tones like wet cement – I think I'm onto something here.”

Dex checks him into the shelf. “The star of Samwell’s famed English department, everybody. He's on the fuckin’ brochure and everything.”

“Yo, with the right muse I can compose anything. And you, Dex, are the perfect muse.”

“Never say those words together again.”

“You just wait, Poindexter! I’mma write you a kickass poem. Help me think of a rhyme for nut splitter.”

“Don’t you dare, Nurse,” but he’s laughing, because they both have the maturity level of twelve year olds. Even when Nursey’s being annoying he can still make Dex laugh.

“Just need to find the perfect form. Haiku? Limerick? ‘There once was a boy we called Dex…’” Nursey starts, grinning back at him.

Dex snorts. “Classy.” They pass two more aisles in easy silence before he mutters, “Who never got offers for sex.”

The sheer delight in Nursey’s eyes is worth the self-inflicted burn. It's blinding sometimes, how much he glows in comparison to everything around him. “Wow. That was beautiful. Exemplary. This is why you're my favorite, y’know.”

“Liar. Chowder’s both our favorite,” Dex reminds him, but it's kind of nice to hear, even if it's not true.

Nursey waves him off. “Well, C’s my boy, but you're my partner, you get me? My other half. Alright, let's see. He’d ask for a kiss…”

“His request they'd dismiss-”

“-cause nobody wants to fuck techs!” Nursey fistbumps Dex so hard he almost crashes into a rack of screwdrivers.

“That was the worst poem I've ever gotten. Though, technically, also the best,” Dex says. They've finally reached their destination, and he heads over to find the part he wants. Nursey hangs around next to him, helpfully jingling the Sin Bin.

“You’re my muse now; I’ll write you a million poems.”

“You do that,” Dex tells him, distracted by the assortment of parts in front of him.

They return to the Haus and Dex chases everyone out of the building so he can drain the water tank and work in peace. The actual work isn’t difficult, and he finishes replacing the heating element and tests it successfully without a hitch.

But he doesn’t get that usual surge of happiness from Haus that he’s used to, that effusive warmth that floods him from head to toe. There’s nothing but a weak tingle in his fingertips that leaves him with a bad feeling deep in his gut.

“It’s not just the heater. What else are you hiding from me?”

Yet again, Haus doesn’t answer. Dex growls, tamping his anger back down so he doesn't do anything monumentally disrespectful like punch a wall, which would be both painful and counterproductive.

“Are we still fighting? I know I'm stubborn, but I dunno if I can do this for another year. You're gonna chase me out long before Nursey ever does. Fuck, Nursey’s not even a problem anymore,” Dex admits, leaning his forehead against the wall. He reaches out with a tendril of magic, a gentle I miss you, and in return receives a ripple of what can only be described as love. But beyond that, radio silence.

Haus is still standing its ground, but Dex can feel its scrapes and scratches like a phantom pain throughout his skin, and he knows he has to do something about it.

“Look,” he says quietly, letting a stream of contrition seep from his fingers into the bedrock. “I'm sorry about this, but you're not leaving me much choice. I can't help you if I don't know what's going on. Please let me in, okay?”

He doesn't like doing this; he's always found it intrusive, using his magic for more than communication. But this fight has gone on long enough.

Taking a deep breath in and out, Dex reaches down into his well of magic and gathers a sizable amount in both hands. With another breath, he flattens his hands against the floor, and releases it into Haus in one overwhelming pulse. At the same time he pulls, tugging at the consciousness buried deep in the wires and pipes and woodwork, asking to be invited in, to be carried along for the ride. There's resistance at first, but when Haus feels all his worry and all his care, it finally opens up for him. Pain blossoms along his arms as the damage begins to fill in him.

This is where it always gets sort of weird. Dex is still himself, and the Haus is still the Haus, but when every square inch is soaked in his magic, the lines blur so much that they become DexandHaus, some alien mesh of person and building. It feels...strange, to say the least. Both powerful and incongruous, and usually kind of painful. But it’s the only way for Dex to see for himself what’s wrong with a house if it refuses to tell him.

Right away he notices that a part of the porch floor is starting to rot away. The shrubbery is all fine, as is the grass, though the front door could go for a new coat of paint. These are all superficial, so he travels in deeper, through the wiring of the whole house, from top to bottom. There's the loose outlet in the living room he's been meaning to fix, but also one in Chowder’s room and the upstairs hallway. The contacts are worn down bare, which could be a hazard. Pipe system next.

“Dex?”

Everything looks good except the kitchen sink; he'll have to shoo Bitty out to get a look at that. Woodwork and masonry next. Attic beam is cracked, and so is Wicky’s bunk. Loose board on the attic stairs, but nothing urgent. Seven shattered tiles in the downstairs bathroom, cracked tub in the shared one upstairs, warped door frame on Bitty’s closet and damage to all the window frames that lead out to the reading room.

“Dex. Will. You okay over there?”

Fraying wires in the fridge cord. That’s going to be a tough one. Dolly is doing fine again at least. A few bulbs at the end of their lifespans, and indeed, some misshapen springs in Nursey’s bed.

“Shit, Dex, look at me.”

There’s an unusual warmth on him. Is the heat acting up? It was fine a moment ago.

“C’mon, hey. Come back to me. It’s Nursey, you know me. I’ve got you.”

No, this is something else. Someone’s touching him – Dex, that is, and it’s a lovely sort of heat, solid and heavy against his cheek. Someone’s hand. Nursey’s hand, he realizes when he finally notices the kind, familiar voice speaking to him in low tones, murmuring his name. Extricating himself from Haus’ consciousness takes a few seconds, as he pulls himself back out of the nails and the drywall, flowing back out of the fusebox and the heating vents as he follows that voice back home. Finally, his eyes focus again, and he sees Nursey crouched in front of him, his eyes wide with panic.

“Nursey?” Dex asks, but he's not just himself speaking. He breathes out and Haus breathes with him, wind gusting down into the basement, rattling the windows from inside and out, and when he says Nursey’s name, Haus speaks with him. The water heater rumbles to life, the washer and dryer each start an empty cycle, and every faucet in the house opens at once. That’s going to be a pain to deal with, but he’s too preoccupied with being Haus’ conduit to think further about it.

He says Nursey’s name, and there’s that feeling again, that love that Haus directed Dex’s way earlier, but this time it’s not a ripple. It’s a cresting wave, coursing through him from Haus’ very foundation, and it’s heart-wrenching how much Haus adores Nursey. It empties from Dex in a torrent, flush across his skin and through his bones, so intense that it shocks him out of their connection, and his last thread of magic snaps loose, retreating back into his fingertips.

Nursey spares a glance at the appliances now churning along, but returns his attention to Dex immediately, his hand still pressed to Dex’s cheek, his eyes still wild. “Will, you with me? Do you know where you are?”

Dex feels hollow and raw, emptied of all the life that had been rushing through him just moments before, and sore from the empathy pains throughout his muscles. At the same time, there’s a relief in only being human again. “Yeah, yeah, I’m here. I’m good,” he rasps out when Nursey keeps staring. “We’re in the Haus basement.”

Nursey lets out a hitching sigh and sits back, withdrawing his hand. Dex almost follows his touch before coming to his senses. “You scared the fuck out of me. I came to see if you needed any help, and you were just like dissociating in the corner. I kept calling your name, but it’s like you couldn’t hear or see me.”

Reason #2 that Dex doesn’t like doing this: he completely loses track of what’s happening around him. He scrubs a hand through his hair, trying to figure out the best way to explain everything when he notices that Nursey still looks shell-shocked, and decidedly unchill. His hand is clutching at his knee, and if Dex concentrates he can see a slight tremor running through his fingers.

“Hey, Nursey, I’m fine. See, all in one piece here, all good.” Gingerly, he rests his hand on Nursey’s own. “I'm back, I'm fine, Derek.”

“You didn’t look fine, Dex.” He sounds the same way he did the last time Dex went down after a bad hit, tightly wound and clipped. Dex knows that he must be spinning out on the inside, so he tightens his grip, just enough for Nursey to know that he’s real. That he’s here.

“Yeah, I know. Sorry for freaking you out,” he says softly, running his thumb over Nursey’s wrist and projecting calm and reassurance. He waits for Nursey’s pulse to return back to resting rate. Upstairs, water continues flowing through every sink. Dex might be able to still salvage his secret, but suddenly he wants Nursey to understand. “Uh, why don’t you come upstairs with me and I’ll explain.” He tugs at Nursey’s hand, and pulls him to his feet before shutting off both the washer and the dryer.

Nursey trails after him silently as he shuts off every tap by hand, until they end up the kitchen, where Dex thinks it’ll be easiest to demonstrate.

“Okay, uh, there’s something I need to tell you. Or show you, I guess.” He hesitates for a moment longer, watching the water draining into the sink.

“Dude, the tap,” Nursey says, stirring to action when Dex doesn’t move. He reaches out to turn it off himself, but Dex blocks him with an arm.

“No, that’s what I was gonna show you. Just watch.” Dex carefully places his hand flat on the counter, a foot or two from the sink. He sends a stream of magic through the marble, worming into the sink through the old pipes that complain as he passes through. With a final push, the sink handle turns until the water shuts off.

Nursey stares at the sink for another beat, before turning to Dex. “Did you just use telekinesis on the sink?” he asks faintly.

Dex laughs, sounding a little hysterical. Fuck, he has no idea how to go about explaining this. He sends another sorry to Haus before dipping into the remainder of his magic stores. “Sorta? It’s not exactly telekinesis. I can’t levitate spoons or anything, but I can do shit like this,” and he gives a hard tap to the kitchen tiles, enough to tip over the wooden chair. Another surge of magic and both the drawers and the cabinets fly open.

“Holy shit, you’re a poltergeist,” Nursey breathes, marveling at Dex. He’s looking at Dex the same way he looks at his books sometimes, the kind of books that keep him up all night, lying on his stomach and using his phone to light the pages even when Dex tells him he needs more sleep.

“I’m alive, you dork,” but Dex is laughing again, both exhausted and filled with an unfamiliar lightness. He’s never shown this to anyone before, but it feels almost like a relief that someone else finally knows.

They hole themselves up in their room for the rest of the talk, just in case someone else comes home. Dex explains, haltingly at first, about his abilities. About realizing as a kid that it wasn’t normal that he could talk to houses. About the different ways a house can speak: through sound and action, or through emotion, which Dex always feels alongside a very slight siphoning of his magic. About the difference between using his magic to communicate and to control, about all those summers spent learning from his uncles how to repair everything known to man so that he could patch up his favorite buildings.

He explains about Faber and Haus, and everything (well, not everything. certainly not the long arguments they’ve had about nursey) that’s been happening with Haus for the last year. Haus closing him out, and what Nursey found him in the middle of doing. When he finishes, he sits awkwardly waiting for Nursey’s response, clutching the cushion under him.

Nursey takes a breath. “K, so let me recap. You’re magic and you talk to buildings. Buildings that have feelings. And sometimes you can fuse with houses and bewitch some shit into happening if you try hard enough.”

“Eloquent, but yeah. That’s pretty much it.”

“...’swawesome, bro.” Nursey looks genuinely thrilled, leaning into Dex’s space. He’s as brilliant as the day is long, and there’s a comfort in it, just like when Dex catches his eye across the ice and knows. “Can you, like, tell what Haus is thinking right now?”

Dex leans back into the couch, mentally poking at his magic reserves. Just enough for emergencies, but he probably shouldn’t perform any more party tricks. “Normally, I’d ask but I’m basically running on empty right now. I’ve been almost completely drained.”

“Oh, shit, sorry. I didn’t know.”

“It’s cool. I don’t usually use this much, but I should be back to normal in a few days. Just need food and sleep.” Already, his non-existent bruises are starting to dull in feeling.

“Okay, let’s go,” Nursey says, standing up.

“Go where?” Dex asks him, baffled.

“Lunch. C’mon, I’m buying. Let’s go to that burger joint near the Murder Stop & Shop.” Dex is tempted to argue, but Nursey hustles him off the couch and into his jacket and next thing he knows he’s sitting in a booth with a burger and a shake.

“Yo, does that mean that when I trip over shit, Haus is mad at me?” Nursey asks through the twelve fries he just stuffed in his mouth.

Dex laughs at the disappointment that’s starting to set into Nursey’s face. “Nah, you're just a total klutz. Haus loves you. Ever notice how none of your milk ever goes bad? How no one’s spilled beer on your favorite chair this year? How you always land on something soft when you fall down the stairs like a ditz?”

“Something soft like you?” Nursey asks with a raised eyebrow. Dex thinks back to two days ago, when he'd been alerted by a snapping in the stairs to Nursey’s downward trip. He managed again to catch the brunt of his partner’s weight before he could knock any of his beautiful, perfect teeth out. Something like this occurs at least five times a month.

“How do you think I knew you'd be there?”

Nursey shrugs. “I dunno, just figured you had my back like usual. It’s almost always you.” There’s something in the way he says it that sounds like there’s a meaning Dex doesn’t understand.

“Of course I’m always looking out for your clumsy ass, but Haus has you on constant surveillance. It’s blatant favoritism.”

“Awwww. Tell Haus I love it too.”

“Tell it yourself,” Dex says, throwing a fry at him. Nursey tries to catch it in his mouth and almost puts out his eye on his straw.

“You just don’t want to be the only loser talking out loud to our house anymore,” Nursey teases, and Dex has to pretend he’s not laughing by taking a sip from Nursey’s malted shake.

Nursey repays him by stealing another handful of his fries. “So, your whole handyman schtick really wasn't a dibs thing. I didn't realize you and Haus had this whole...relationship. Is that part of why you didn't want to room with me?”

“It was kind of a dibs thing,” Dex admits, rolling his eyes with a grin at Nursey’s muttered I knew it. “And I was being an entitled dick. You didn’t deserve that. I guess I just couldn’t believe that after everything I did for it, Haus wouldn’t just rig the coin toss for me.”

“You think Haus made us share a room?”

“Nurse. That coin landed perfectly upright between two boards after bouncing across the floor. It was 100% Haus’ fault and it was 100% intentional.”

Nursey falls still for a few seconds, looking out the window at a couple passing by. “Does it still bother you? That we’re roommates?” he asks quietly.

Dex almost starts chirping him, but Nursey looks completely serious and the words fizzle out in his mouth. “What? No, it’s good. We’re good. I mean, you’re still a hipster and a pain in the ass, but like. My pain in the ass, and alright, now that I’ve said it out loud – stop laughing, Nursey – I realize that I didn’t think this through, but you know what I’m saying. You’re my partner. Even though you have zero redeeming qualities, I’m glad you’re my roommate.” He finishes in a mutter.

Nursey smiles at him, dropping his head to lean against the window. “You’ve got a way with words, Poindexter, don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise.”

“Just eat your damn burger.”

--

So Nursey discovers his big secret, and it isn't actually the worst thing to ever happen to Dex.

In fact, it’s kind of liberating to have someone else who knows. Now, when Dex does renovations, Nursey accompanies him. He serves no practical purpose; all he does is murmur compliments and words of encouragement to Haus while Dex does all the actual work, but it’s kind of cute the way Haus spruces up under the extra attention. Ever since Nursey found out, Haus has been welcoming Dex back in again, especially since Nursey had an extended “conversation” on Dex’s behalf with the house while Dex was at class one day.

Mostly, it’s greetings and responses to Dex’s queries, but sometimes Haus peppers him with little reminders throughout the day of how much it loves everyone. The sigh of the green couch when Chowder sinks into it, the way doors are always half-open when Tango comes by so that his voice can carry through the whole house. The second hook from the door always sturdy and free for Whiskey’s coat, and the air perfectly still where Ford likes to do her homework, so none of her papers blow away.

Nursey, of course, gets the Haus equivalent of entire odes dedicated to him, even more than resident favorite Bitty, who’s been blessed with the most perfectly behaved kitchen. The interesting thing about Nursey is that Haus doesn’t just show Dex how much it cares. It tells him. Strands of emotion, running through him whenever Nursey does...well, anything. Joy tickling at Dex’s hands as he makes dinner while Nursey washes the dishes. A tender brush of affection when Nursey drops his bag on the floor in their room when they return from a roadie. Even during random times that make no sense, like when Nursey’s losing horribly at beer pong, or wailing along with Chowder during impromptu karaoke. Dex is pretty sure it’s happened before just because Nursey was laughing. Sometimes, Dex thinks he feels it even when they’re not at Haus, like at the dining hall, or Annie’s, or Founder’s, and then he realizes he’s just hallucinating, because it’s not like he’s open to any of those buildings; there’s no way they’d be talking to him.

It’s unusual for Haus to directly emote into Dex when he can understand all its regular tells well enough, but Nursey’s a special case, he guesses.

Dex tries to show him once, what it feels like to feel Haus’ affection. He presses Nursey’s hand against the glass of the window they’ve just replaced after some lax bros (seriously, fuck those guys) shattered the last one. Nursey actually helped this time around. Haus is vibrant under Dex’s touch, and he just wants Nursey to see what that’s like, but Nursey shakes his head.

“Sorry, I guess you’re the only one with the magic touch. I think I get it though, from looking at you.” Nursey smiles at him, and Dex drops their hands, disappointed.

It’s not fair, Dex thinks, for no one else to ever understand. If only he could use his magic to- wait. Would that work? “Give me your hand.” He arranges them so that their pointer fingers are just barely touching.

“Pretty weird time to re-enact E.T., but whatever floats your boat. Can we do Dirty Dancing next?”

“Jesus Christ, stop,” Dex says through his laugh.

He’s never done this with a person before. Carefully, he sends a tiny curl of magic into Nursey’s fingertip, a ripple of trust. He’s watching Nursey’s face, waiting for a reaction, and his partner doesn’t disappoint.

Nursey’s eyes widen, and he pulls his hand back to rub at his fingertip where they’d been touching. “Hey. Wait. Do that again.”

This time, Dex clasps his hand like they’re going for a handshake, and sends a slightly larger surge, a mix of affection and faith tied together with a strand of bliss, trying to capture the way Haus probably feels about Nursey. The way Nursey makes Dex feel sometimes.

“What’s it like?” he asks nervously as Nursey’s grip tightens around his hand and his breath catches in his throat.

“Like I’ve caught a star,” Nursey tells him, breathless, his eyes bright. “Burning and luminous. Lone splendour hung aloft the night. Ephemeral, even though right now I’m full to brimming with it.”

“Oh,” Dex says, unsure of what any of that means, if any of the emotions translated through. It’s probably best that he stick to houses, who don’t speak in riddles and metaphors. “So, good then?”

“It’s amazing, Dex. I’ve never felt anything like it.” Nursey stretches his hand after Dex releases him, still looking captivated. It makes Dex oddly happy, until Nursey tells him his palm is still tingling.

“I don’t know if it’s dangerous for people,” Dex realizes. “Shit, I didn’t think about that; I could’ve totally fucked up your hand. That was so careless. Are you okay?” Jesus, what if he had broken Nursey’s arm or something?

Nursey sees him starting to freak out and places his hands on Dex’s shoulders, pressing down calmly. It really is soothing. “Chill, no damage done. If you’re really worried, we just won’t do it again. Save your mojo for the Haus.”

So magic starts and ends with Haus, but Nursey’s fully embraced the whole “Haus can understand you” thing Dex told him about. He now does things like pet every doorway he passes through, and hold deep one-sided conversations with the green couch in Arabic whenever he’s blitzed. He takes extra care to clean all the problem spots after their kegsters, and Dex is pretty sure he’s seen him writing a poem about how resplendent Haus’ roof is. Nursey brings snacks to Dex every time he fixes something, even though Dex has explained time and again he doesn’t actually use much magic at all when he does repair work. Nursey just grins and tries to force one of Bitty’s fresh-baked cookies down his throat.

The weirdest change is the new morning ritual he starts at some ungodly hour after the first round of spring semester exams. They’d all drunken themselves into a stupor yesterday night; Dex is pretty sure the frogs are asleep on each other downstairs in the living room.

“I love you,” Nursey announces to the room right after he wakes. He’s in Dex’s bed of course, taking up all the free space and enjoying his extra fluffy pillow. Dex had pulled him in after he started nodding off while walking from the bathroom to the bed, magnanimously sharing his blanket and his body heat.

“What?” Dex asks sleepily into the non-existent gap between them, still not fully awake. He's basically mumbling into Nursey’s shoulder. His eyes open long enough to see Nursey watching him sideways, mouth slightly parted and his eyes green-gray under the thin light of winter haunting their room.

“I just love the Haus so much, man. I think we might be soulmates?” It's phrased like a joke, but his eyes are serious. Or maybe it's a trick of the light.

“No. Go date a real human,” Dex says, thumping his hand on Nursey’s stomach and already falling back to sleep on his arm.

After that, Nursey starts doing it every day at random times. Only when he’s with Dex, possibly also when he’s alone, because even the rest of the team would probably find it strange that Nursey’s started talking to the walls. Other than this oddity, Nursey’s a great secret keeper. He never teases Dex about anything that might give him away, and takes care not to discuss Dex’s magic where anyone else might hear. But hiding a secret from Chowder, even if Dex has been hiding it his whole life, feels wrong. Something about keeping it just between the two of them, when it’s always been all three of them from the beginning.

Dex tells Chowder after Hausgiving 2016, when the three of them are bundled up on Nursey’s bed watching Netflix. They’re full up of pie and turkey, content to leave Bitty and Jack in privacy as the two captains flirt their way through the rest of clean-up.

“Look, we’re Netflix and chilling!” Chowder says, wrapping his arm around both their shoulders after they finish another episode.

Nursey coughs into his beer as Dex laughs at both of them. “C, didn’t we go over this?”

“Oh yeah! Sorry, I’ll stop third-wheeling, and leave you guys to it.” Chowder crawls over Nursey toward the ladder. Before he descends, he reaches into the pocket of his Sharks hoodie and pulls out a handful of condoms, which he tosses over at them. They scatter everywhere. One lands in Nursey’s hair. “Remember, safety is important!”

Nursey has begun choking on his beer in earnest, and Dex would probably be reacting the same way if he weren’t already laughing. Everything about this is hilarious, from Nursey hacking beer all over his sheets, to surprise condoms and Chowder’s perfectly sunny smile.

“Chowder, what the hell,” Nursey demands, still dribbling a bit at the corners.

“Chill, Nursey. Holster told me that a good wingman always preaches safe sex. Gotta make sure my besties use protection!” He gives them a thumbs-up, still beaming, but Dex knows what’s up. Chowder’s really not the innocent flower everyone seems to think he is. God only knows he’s played Dex enough times.

Why.”

“Oh my god, my sides,” Dex wheezes, collapsing onto his back. “You’re so smooth, C. I bet Farms loves it.” They fistbump as Nursey tries and fails to recover his chill.

“Look, C, I appreciate…all this, but we’re not- Dex doesn’t- just come back and sit down,” Nursey growls, tugging at Chowder’s hand. Reluctantly, Chowder complies, settling back between them with a flounce.

“Guys, it’s okay if you want some alone time. I don’t mind, honest!” He elbows Nursey once or twice in the side.

“Why would we need alone time?” Dex asks when he’s finally done cracking up at Nursey’s misfortune. “It’s not like we’re dating.”

Chowder narrows his eyes at Dex, before swiveling back to glare at Nursey, who makes a really bizarre face and shrugs like he doesn’t know what Chowder wants him to say. Their goalie turns back to Dex to demand, “If you two aren’t dating yet, then why does Nursey tell you he loves you every single morning?”

Dex hadn’t realized Chowder could hear them that well from the bathroom. From Nursey’s deer-in-headlights-look, he hadn’t known either. Oh well, it’s not like Dex was planning to keep this a secret much longer anyway. “Oh, yeah, I wanted to talk to you about that, actually,” he says. “Come down with me for a sec.”

When Dex, with permission from Haus, knocks all of Nursey’s hats off the wall hook and slams the door to the bathroom closed, Chowder gasps like he’s just witnessed the world’s greatest magic trick. Maybe he has. They give him the rundown on Dex’s powers and Haus, the eternal fixer-upper, Nursey’s role in everything, and the long-kept secret that Dex is pretty sure Chowder is Faber’s favorite.

“I didn’t want to hide it from you anymore. Frogs 4ever,” Dex finishes, and Chowder pulls him into a hug. Chowder always gives the best hugs.

“Wow, thanks for trusting in me, Dex. This is seriously like the coolest.”

“Well, it’s practical. Anyway, Nursey just really loves Haus. A lot.”

“Sure he does,” Chowder says, releasing Dex to look again at Nursey, who’s splayed out on his bed watching them.

“I do,” Nursey agrees, meeting Chowder’s gaze.

“So you’re not dating.”

“No, we’re not dating,” Nursey tells him gently, as if this news will ruin Chowder’s day.

“Even though you guys do that chirp-flirting thing all the time? And bring each other food? And share a bed?”

When he lays it all out like that it sounds incriminating, but Dex just shakes his head, amused by the misunderstanding. “That’s just how we talk. I mean, I chirp, and Nurse flirts, but you get what I mean. Not like we don’t chirp you too. And we all share food, bro. If that were a sign, Bitty would be dating the whole damn team. The bed thing- that’s just so Nursey doesn’t go and die on us after a kegster.”

“Oh.”

Dex claps Chowder on the shoulder in pity. “Thanks for the support, but nothing’s happening between us. Sorry?” He looks up to Nursey for aid, but he just shrugs.

Chowder sighs, sticking his hands in his pockets. “That’s okay. Why don’t you hold onto the condoms anyway, just in case.”

“Uh, sure. C’mon, let’s go find a shitty movie to watch.”


That night, Dex is lying in bed scrolling through emails on his phone when Nursey asks from his own bunk, “Can you believe C thought we were dating?”

Dex puts his phone down and looks up, as if he expected to somehow see Nursey through the slats of his bed and his mattress. “I mean, I could see why he might. We do touch a lot. And hang out constantly,” he says thoughtfully.

“...yeah, we do.”

“Ransom and Holster would be proud of how far we’ve come.”

Nursey chuckles. “We still can’t beat them at a round of flip-cup though.”

“We’ll work on it,” Dex says. “Hey, what Chowder was saying – that doesn’t make you uncomfortable, does it?” He knows now that Nursey’s like pansexual or whatever – they discussed this at length in sophomore year after crashing Bitty’s Baking 101 class for the frogs – but that doesn't mean Nursey's okay with assumptions that he's dating someone like Dex. If there are any rumors, they should put a stop to them before any damage is done.

“No, nope, you know me. It's alllll chill. What, uh. What about you?”

“No, it's mostly flattering? That I'd be dating someone as attractive as you.” Younger Dex might have been bothered by it, but he's come to accept that Nursey has some unexplainable magnetic charm.

Nursey makes a muffled noise into his pillow before responding, “Ha, thanks. Glad to know I got the straight boy stamp of approval.”

“That's what partners are for: stroking your ego.” And, because Dex is apparently sharing all his secrets tonight, “You know, I’m not even sure I'm straight?”

He'd been vaguely thinking about it on and off for the last three years, coming to a gradual realization that both guys and gals would catch his eye, and that he was kind of okay with it. It helped that most people at Samwell wouldn't kick up a fuss about him being okay with it. Dex’s family wouldn't either, but he's not about to go tell them something that he's not absolutely sure about, and risk turning it into another whole Poindexter thing, just like every other mildly interesting news about anyone in the family. Normally, Dex liked to have things settled and sorted, but there was just always so much other shit going on – hockey, Haus’ repairs, finding Lardo’s replacement, passing that one awful biochem stats class he took for some reason – that he decided to give himself a pass for once. It's not like he had time or people to date anyway.

“Uh, you- you're not?” Nursey’s voice just pitched up hilariously at the end there; Dex must have really thrown him just now. “No, fuck, sorry, I mean, thanks for trusting me with this. I'm here to support you, and I'm sorry if what I said earlier was insensitive.”

“No, we’re cool. I haven’t really ever talked about it with anyone,” save for one highly hypothetical conversation with Bits and Shitty in sophomore year, “but I think I might be bi, I guess?” There’s something conclusive about saying it out loud, and Dex decides that yeah, that feels accurate. Bisexual. Cool. Chill, even.

“Yeah? That’s good, great. I’m happy you felt you could tell me this, Frogs 4ever, right? So do you want, uh, for me to like hook you up with some people? Girls? Guys?”

Nursey hasn’t tried to set Dex up with anyone in a while, but it’s nice to know he’s always on standby as a wingman should Dex need it. Though, Nursey’s taste in people doesn’t really align with Dex’s. “No thanks. Between getting my ass kicked by machine learning, the whole kitchen sink debacle, and protecting you from concussions, I don’t really have the time for that right now. Thanks, though.”

“Anytime, dude.”

Nursey doesn’t say anything more after that, so Dex assumes they’re all squared and Nursey’s going to sleep. That was good, Dex decides to tell Haus, letting the emotions drift down through his bedframe. I get why you like him so much. Haus sends him back a quiet burst of affection, and he snuggles deeper into his sheets that smell like Nursey, starting to drift off to sleep.

--

Dex learns later that it happens in the kitchen, for Bitty. It’s a cute story that comes out during one of the many times Dex gets strong-armed by his captain into helping make pie. The way Bitty tells it, Jack is covered in flour and fucking up the lattice on a maple apple when the realization hits him.

Chowder – Dex was pretty sure it was love at first sight the day he literally fell head over heels for Farmer, but Chowder tells him one night while they work on a problem set together that he wasn't absolutely sure until he saw her smile at him under the porch lights during her first kegster.

Shitty and Lardo, Dex doesn't know about for sure, but when he sits in the reading room next to Nursey and Chowder with a beer in hand watching Holster and Rans on a visit from Boston grilling burgers down in the yard for the frogs, he thinks it must have happened up here. As if to agree, the roof slats rattle under his feet when Tango jogs back inside.

As for Ransom and Holster themselves, Dex still isn’t sure what’s going on there. The truest and best of bros? Secretly – or openly?? – dating since freshman year? Accidentally got married during spring break one time and never got the marriage annulled?? Whatever it is, he’s certain some part of it started in Haus.


One night, when he’s pleasantly buzzed and the rest of team is drunkenly fighting over who gets to play in Mario Kart next, Dex flops down on the couch next to Nursey, who moves enough to give him space to sit, but not so much that Dex doesn’t have to mold up against him to fit. They watch as Whiskey careens off the track and Ford pulls ahead of Delts with a whoop. Nursey cheers her on laconically, but Dex finds himself watching Bitty smiling down at his phone. Must be a text from Jack, and a bubbly, non-alcohol related warmth fills Dex’s chest. Man, he loves his team. He won’t admit it, but he also loves to see his teammates in love, and from the way things have unfolded for the past few years, he suspects he’s not the only secret romantic here.

“Did you do this? D’you have some kinda love magic?” Dex mumbles into the couch, letting a gentle wave of his own power wash down into the floor. The pillows soften a little when he asks, and the hum of the TV grows infinitesimally stronger.

“Hm?” Nursey turns to look at him, his green eyes forest dark. His arm is slung around the back of the couch, hand lolling next to where Dex is resting his head. “Love magic? You that impressed by me, Will?” he teases, dragging his fingers through Dex’s disheveled strands that have grown out a tad too long.

“Not you,” Dex tells him, eyes fluttering closed for a moment under his touch, though maybe Nursey has some kind of love magic too. People seem to fall for him left and right: girls who accidentally bump into him on the way to his Classics course, guys who see him taking a walk around the lake, customers at Annie’s who notice him waiting for his order. It’s not like he even needs magic on his side. That smile alone is enough to break hearts.

“The uh. Our friend,” Dex says, pointing vaguely above him, hoping Nursey will get it.

Nursey blinks slowly, looking up at the ceiling before he nods. “Right, our friend. You two okay? You’re not getting bullied anymore, are you?” His fingers remain loosely curled in Dex’s hair, the base of his palm pressed gently against the back of Dex’s head.

A laugh slips out from Dex’s throat, liquid and easy, and for a moment he watches Bitty texting Jack before he answers. “Nah, not since you guys had your talk. You’ve got a lotta clout, Nursey. I guess it’s good to be tight with her favorites.” He turns his attention away from Bitty to see Nursey watching him.

They way he’s looking at Dex feels familiar, as if Dex has seen this in a dream before – soft and quiet and just a little melancholy. “You know I’ll always take care of you, Dex,” he says like a promise, and Dex nods back, because he does know.

He yawns, slumping further into the couch, warm and relaxed all over. In the other chair Chowder and Tango are discussing something, hands animated and voices bright. Easy and Baker are sitting crosslegged flanking Ford, making bets on who’s going to lose next. And Nursey, solid and real, fits in the space next to Dex as natural as the New England snow drifting down onto Haus’ yard outside. This is good, Dex thinks to himself. This is what a home should feel like. “Same to you. D-men gotta stick together,” he agrees, curling into Nursey’s touch.

“Yeah, we do,” Nursey replies, giving him that heartbreaker’s smile.


It’s a Tuesday afternoon when it happens to Dex.

There's nothing special about the day at all, nor anything particularly interesting about what they're doing. Dex is sitting on the floor in their room and flailing his way through his database homework, while Nursey lounges on their couch reading his intro to linguistics textbook.

The words on Dex’s screen are starting to blur, but he needs to get this done by Friday, so he tries to truck through it until Nursey flicks a pen at him. It bounces off his arm, and he picks it up, absently trying to do the spinning trick Chowder taught him a week ago.

“So, when are we gonna finally take a class together?” Nursey asks, as the pen escapes Dex’s fingers and rolls away under the desk. “It's almost time for course selection; we better lock something down now.”

Dex stretches out on the floor, closing his eyes for a moment. Sometimes he doesn’t remember how nice it is to stop looking at his laptop until Nursey reminds him. “Why would I want to take a class with you?”

“Because I’m the light of your life?”

With a laugh, Dex rolls up so he’s resting on his elbows. Nursey is laid back against the cushions like a model, somehow managing to make slouching look cool. “Okay, besides the obvious reason.”

“What, you need a better reason than our invincible bond?”

“Can our ‘invincible bond’ withstand both of us having simultaneous meltdowns during finals week? You know I can’t sing to you if I’m dead from malnutrition.”

Nursey grins at him, smooth and quick the way he always does when they banter. “William. Shame on you, and shame on me for allowing room for uncertainty in our relationship. Our bond is indestructible. Unassailable. Literally nothing can tear us apart, not even Hot Rocks.”

“We’re not taking Hot Rocks, Nursey,” Dex protests, but he’s smiling too.

“Dance Technique IV?”

“Don’t you think we’d need Dance Techniques I through III first? Also, look, I’m not saying you’re not like graceful as fuck when you want to be, but I also don’t actually want to watch you die when you inevitably pitch off the stage.”

“Weak excuse, Poindexter. You’re just afraid of showing off your moves. You don't want people to know that you can get it.”

“Yep. You caught me; that's exactly it.”

“Fine.” Nursey hums, shifting around and digging a course catalog out from between two cushions. He flips idly through a few pages until he finds, “Elementary Hungarian.”

“You know I’m only good at programming languages!”

“Not true; don’t bring yourself down like that, babe.”

“Nurse. It’s been three years and I’ve only learned two words in Arabic, three in French, and how to say “failure” in Cantonese. Hungarian is not happening.”

“Quel dommage. Twentieth-Century American Legal Theory,” Nursey tries next, and Dex snorts.

“Do you hate me?”

“Open-economy Macroeconomics?”

“Do you hate yourself?”

“Yo, Practical Astronomy! We can make a star map out of you; that’s practical as hell.”

Dex gives up, splaying out on the ground again, looking sideways up at Nursey. “You wanna go stargazing with me, Nurse? We don't need a class for that. You bring the picnic blanket, I'll bring the pie.”

That comment rewards him with a laugh. Nursey leans on one arm, regarding Dex with half-lidded eyes, his pretty mouth curving into a smile. “Are you trying to bribe your way out of taking a class with me?”

“That really depends on whether you think it’ll work or not.”

“And that depends on what kind of pie-”

“Rhubarb, duh.”

“Oh, then fuck yeah, I’m in. Anything for Bitty’s sweet, sweet rhubarb pie.”

Dex rolls his eyes fondly. “Glad we got that all settled.”

So,” Nursey says, clasping his hands together, “when are you and C gonna finally take a class with me? And before you complain,” he says, kicking an old sock at Dex, who’s starting to do exactly that, “this is a totally different matter than what we were discussing previously. With Chowder in the mix, I really think it’s gotta be Hot Rocks.”

“Fuck you, I’m quitting school,” Dex says while laughing, scooting away to avoid the sock. Nursey just shrugs and flips the catalog back open, starting his barrage of classes on Dex again. He announces each course like he’s performing on stage, utterly serious, only the quirk at the corner of his mouth giving him away. The light outside has already dipped into the rose-gold hues of sunset, and it seeps in through their window, bathing Nursey in shadow and color. He really is terribly beautiful, Dex concedes.

As he listens mock-impatiently, Dex feels it once more, that all-encompassing rush of love directed at Nursey that had taken hold of him that afternoon all those months ago, when he was still half-Haus and half-himself. A heated flash of longing, threatening to overflow from him. He looks at Nursey, and aches with something he can’t name, both a wish and the acceptance that this wish will never come true. Dex takes a breath, and is filled with the understanding that already, too much of him belongs to Nursey.

It’s really a lot to take in at once, and Dex is tempted to roll his eyes at how sappy Haus gets sometimes. He’s about to send a little jolt of magic back, just to heckle the house a bit, when he realizes that not only is Haus currently silent, but that he didn't feel the usual faint tug at his magic that always accompanies Haus’ emotions.

Which means those feelings just now – those were just plain old Dex feelings, not Haus-to-Dex feelings. That love, that yearning. That was all Dex. But that can’t be right. Because he’s felt this before, and he knows it’s from Haus. It must be; he’s encountered it hundreds of times before. Every day, in fact. Maybe not at this great a magnitude, but still, it has to be the same. It has to.

Tell me, he begs of Haus. Tell me again how you feel about him.

Haus is happy to comply, flowing into Dex with ease, and here it is again, that love that Dex has grown accustomed to.

But it’s not the same as what he just felt. The want that was searing through Dex – it’s not here. Nor is that wistfulness, that bone-deep ache for something more. Haus’ love is amicable and content. Settled. Nothing so profoundly fond as what Dex felt earlier.

Nothing at all like what Haus has been telling Dex for the last few months.

If this is how Haus really feels, then all those emotions, all that love he thought he’d been harboring for Nursey on Haus’ behalf all this time...

Oh, so that's how it is.

He’s in love with Nursey. Of course he is.

Dex nods blankly to himself. This seems about right. Perhaps this is what Chowder’s been seeing between them that Dex was blind to before. That push and pull between them like the ocean against the shore that he’d grown used to some time these last three years, until it was just routine, like the tides. Those sparks he would feel in his chest sometimes, the slow, yet staggering wave of fondness that would swallow him up whenever Nursey made him laugh, or leaned into him. Those house-emotions that always seemed too out of place, too passionate to be anything other than human.

Maybe Dex was right about the love magic. Or maybe he's just one in a long line of Samwell hockey players who needed a small push from a meddling house to see what was in front of him all this time.

“So are you in or out? You two teach me the coding stuff and I'll teach you the language stuff,” Nursey is saying, tossing the course catalog at Dex’s legs, the description for computational linguistics circled twice in blue ink.

“I didn't sign up for this,” Dex says automatically, because it's easier than saying, “So I've probably been in love with you for half a year now.”

Nursey puts his hands up in surrender. “Okay, that's a no on CompLing too. We've got about half the catalog left; there's gotta be something in there you won't veto.” He looks vaguely amused by Dex, like always, smiling just slightly. Dex wants to feel that smile against his lips.

Shit, what were they talking about again? “Uh, yeah, you know it's just that none of us have both prerequisites, so we really can't,” he explains in a jumble, tossing the catalog back to Nursey. He's sort of running on autopilot as of now.

“Good point,” Nursey says. “Well, we can talk to C and find an easy A to take together.”

The sophomores crash their study session soon afterward, freeing Dex from the pressure of being alone in a room with the apparent light of his life. It’s easier to ignore when he’s helping Tango debug his code or taking one of Ford’s surveys for class. He’s so pointedly ignoring it that he doesn’t notice that everyone’s leaving their room until Nursey nudges him with a foot as he walks by.

“Let’s go, Will. Provisions before projects. Hashtag mashed potato time.”

“Huh?” Dex asks vacantly. He's so out of it that he'd probably sign away his life savings if anyone asked right now.

“Team dinner, Dex!” Ford tells him. “Are you coming?” They wait in the doorway, but he waves them on.

“Right, yeah, I’ll meet you guys downstairs. Just have to save this first,” he says, and she gives him a smile before leaving. Nursey doesn’t seem to believe him until he scowls, swearing he’ll be just a minute. But Dex dawdles by the stairway, pacing back and forth for another thirty seconds, trying to make a plan. He needs to get it together.

It’s not successful. The general plan he settles on is “don’t blow it,” and then Whiskey’s calling his name and Dex has to stop holding them up.

Around him, Haus’ lights are abuzz with...excitement? And satisfaction? The house is fussing for some reason, and Dex gets the sinking feeling it might have something to do with him. He thumps his hand against the wall weakly, and gets a pulse back that feels an awful lot like good for you, Dex!

“Are you fucking kidding me?” he demands of the heavens, of Haus, of himself.

The stairs just creak happily in response.

--

Exhibit A:

“Oh, boys, remember not to overknead the dough! It’ll make the- what’s wrong, Dex? You look like you’re burning up! Why don’t you take a seat? Derek Nurse, you’ve licked that spatula thrice clean already; come here and help us with this dough.”

Exhibit B:

“Hey, Dex, I know you’re probably busy, but uh Chowder’s on campus and my code won’t compile? Oh, hey, is Nursey okay? Still sick? Aren’t you worried about his germs getting all over your pillow? No? Oh, so can you take a look at my code while the soup’s heating up? I can like go buy some OJ for him- you already got some? Wow, you guys are like such good bros!”

Exhibit C:

“Dex! Guess what me and Nursey saw on our way here!! Guide dogs in training!!! They’re here to socialize, and they’re so cute?! Look, I got a picture of Nursey with like five of them, there’s some random little kids there too, he’s helping that girl hold- oh no, are you okay?? Dex? Dex??”

“Chill, C, he’s just ascending to another plane.”

“Oh man, don’t be sad; I will call you immediately the next time this happens!”

They escort him kindly back to Haus, reassuring him that the puppies will certainly be back. Dex just hangs his head in shame. This is it, then. Dex’s life is officially ruined.

--

The whole in-love-with-Nursey thing resolves itself by becoming a full blown issue, complete with a total loss of control on Dex’s part. Now that he understands what these feelings are, they’ve rendered him utterly useless. The plan, to say the least, is not going well.

Dex is still very good at not sharing things that would leave him vulnerable, so no, he doesn't blurt out his undying affections for Nursey even when totally wasted. What he does instead might actually be more embarrassing in the long run.

The early touches of spring arrive, and after the snow melts, Dex ropes a few others into helping him clear the dead leaves from the lawn. Nursey builds himself a sad pile of ashen leaves and nestles in while the rest of them fill the yard waste bag, until the only leaves left are Nursey’s pathetic clump next to the tree. Dex frees his apprentices back to the Haus and goes to deal with Nursey himself.

“Move,” he says, prodding Nursey’s leg with his rake.

“Not until you test drive this sick leaf pile with me.” He reaches an arm out; Dex rolls his eyes, but flops down next to him.

“Nursey, this pile sucks.” The leaves are shriveled and crunchy, scratching uncomfortably at Dex’s neck.

“Yeah, but the company sure doesn’t.” Nursey turns his head to smile at him. They’re no closer than they usually are when they share a bed, but there’s a strange intimacy here, with their shoulders touching and Nursey’s skin particularly radiant against the graying autumn colors.

Dex is about to sit back up when Nursey reaches toward him, and he tenses. Nursey’s hand brushes against his cheek and pulls a crumpled yellow leaf from Dex’s hair. “You’re stealing my style, Dex,” he says, his voice just hinting at a laugh, and Dex thinks god, I love you and your stupid leaves and your dumb New York hipster fashion. He doesn’t realize until it’s too late that he’s doing it, but his magic surges at the exact same moment, flooding into the dirt. It scatters some of the leaves, which startles them both into sitting up, but from the corner of his eye, Dex notices that it’s done something much worse.

“You can go inside; I’ll finish by myself,” he tells Nursey, pushing him until he’s through the door, before storming back to pick up his rake. As he gathers the remaining leaves, he glares at the yellow blossoms that have spontaneously sprouted all over the grass.

“Where the hell did you get flowers from?” he hisses at the yard. “There's never been any fucking flowers here!”

On closer inspection he finds that they're all dandelions, which doesn't really make him feel any better. Dex is debating if he should rip them out of the grass when Nursey calls his name from the porch. He's standing there half-lit by sunlight, that annoying smile of his playing at his lips and the slight breeze teasing at his curls. Dex’s heart lurches horribly and twenty or so buds suddenly bloom open on the shrub next to him.

“Jesus fuck,” he mutters, jumping away from the greenery before he gives some passerby a heart attack. He’s so screwed.

At least with plants, no one is in any danger of getting hurt. It's inside that Dex’s problem becomes outrageous. Dex peels himself off his desk one morning after crashing post an all-nighter to get his project in on time and finds that Nursey’s draped a blanket over his shoulders at some point and slid a pillow under his head. Ugh, this is why he can't quit pining. Already irritated, he trudges downstairs and sees all the frogs chilling in the living room, studying while they wait for brunch. Inside the kitchen is Chowder helping Nursey with the pancake batter, while Bitty oversees Ford and the bacon station.

“Need help?” Dex asks, but Bitty bumps him toward the table.

“No, you just rest, honey. Nursey says you've been up all night.”

“Chyeah he has. Up all night running through my dreams,” Nursey says with a grin and Chowder stifles a laugh. They're fucking incorrigible, honestly. Ever since they confirmed that they weren’t dating, Nursey’s fake flirting has gotten outrageous. Dex supposes he dug this grave for himself. He flips them off, and slumps into the table to rest his still tired eyes.

He slits them back open when he feels something tickling his nose. “What the fuck,” he whines, squinting at Nursey crouched down to look at him.

Nursey reaches out and pokes his face again, drawing a streak of flour across his cheek, and then again and again. Dex eventually catches on to what's happening, and tries half-heartedly to smack Nursey’s hand away, but Nursey is already done. He steps away to admire his handiwork.

“There. Now my cuddle bunny has whiskers.”

What the fuck. The others in room don't even try to hide their gradeschool giggling. Dex turns violently pink and grabs the closest thing on the table to throw at him. Sadly, it's just a butter wrapper. It feels tragically short, and Nursey flicks another burst of flour at Dex, which only makes his blood pressure rise.

“Haha, nice. It's even better when you blush.” Nursey’s wearing an apron and beaming at him like Dex delights him from head to toe. There's a sprinkling of flour on his dark hair, some caught on his eyelashes too, and he’s so close, and so real, that Dex wants for one burning moment.

Just a second of weakness, but Dex feels the pressure in his chest snap and Ford’s pan bursts into flames.

“Oh my god! Fire! Too much fire!” she yells, dropping it back onto the stove, which is still flaring. Bitty jumps heroically in front of her, trying to get his beloved Dolly under control, and the frogs stampede into the kitchen to help, but Dex, mortified beyond belief, tries to do damage control before anyone gets set aflame and winds up cutting the gas supply to the stovetop completely.

“She’s never done that before! Did I push her too hard with the eight pies last week?” Bitty says, fiddling with the controls in concern as Dolly doesn't respond.

“Bits, Dex and I will take a look. Why don’t you guys go to Jerry’s for brunch?” Nursey says, already pushing the baby frogs out of the kitchen. Tango almost trips over Kilo on his way out.

“Don’t volunteer for me,” Dex groans, lowering his head to the table so he doesn’t have to see Nursey glowing angelically at him.

“But you’re Dolly’s only hope. Pie is at stake here, Dex.”

“You two don’t eat brunch?” Whiskey asks with a raised eyebrow, and Nursey shrugs.

“Don’t worry about them!” Chowder says cheerfully. “Let’s give them some space. They can join us later. Much later.” He pats Dex on the back as he follows everyone else out the door, and it's no comfort at all.

Without talking to Nursey, Dex stalks over to the oven and fixes it with one gust of magic, before dragging him out the door to chase after the rest of the team. There’s no way he’s missing Jerry’s brunch or eating alone with this menace.

Basically, Dex is so busy concentrating on not making things weird with Nursey that his subconscious goes completely berserk, letting his magic run completely amok. This literally hasn't happened since he was a kid, and his temper tantrums would be accompanied by power outages. But controlling his temper is one thing. Controlling his stupid, lovestruck heart? Totally out of his hands.

It's so bad that he's started leaking into other buildings too, which sounds super gross, but is probably the best way of describing it. On Monday, Nursey steals all the strawberries off Dex’s plate one by one for himself and Chowder, grinning when Dex finally notices him making off with the last one. Before Dex can say anything, Nursey presses the strawberry to Dex’s half-parted lips until he opens up and accepts it. As he chews slowly in confusion, squinting at Nursey, the other boy winks.

“Don’t blow your lid, Dex; I’ll get you some more.” Before he leaves, he swipes his thumb across Dex’s bottom lip, cleaning away a stray droplet of juice. Dex already wants to flip a table, but the laser-focused giddiness that Chowder is aiming at him makes him want to dive out the window as well. Dex knows his face is flooding with color, but he doesn't notice that he's also flooding the power lines with magic until all the lights in the dining hall flare painfully before suddenly shutting off. Dammit. At least Chowder’s not looking at him anymore.

It’s SO BAD that Dex can't go anywhere with Nursey anymore for fear of imploding something. Already he's accidentally rebooted every computer in the lab and cracked the ice at Faber; he'd spent the next practice skating his apologies into the rink. They take a trip with Chowder and Farmer to Boston’s Chinatown, and Dex just barely saves himself from shattering the floor tiles in the bakery when he sees the way Nursey lights up at the assortment of pineapple and custard buns and ham-and-egg bread that Chowder picked out for him. He's so glad their season is over and he doesn't have to worry about destroying another school’s property every time Nursey makes a goal, or an assist, or even looks at him for longer than two seconds with that on-ice intensity he gets.

At least Haus takes it all in stride, more amused by Dex’s struggle than annoyed that he keeps short-circuiting everything. Dex knows they're going to reach a breaking point soon though, but there's no one to air his grievances to so he finds himself grousing at Haus while replacing some old boards on the porch. All the other tenants are elsewhere on campus for welcome week tours, Bitty still in full Captain Goody Bag mode for the recruits even when he’s got a whole host of other senior stuff on his plate.

“I knew this roommate thing was going to screw me over. Didn't see this coming, but that doesn't make me any less right. You threw me under the bus with the Dib Flip,” Dex tells Haus as he sets a new board in place.

Haus is happy and warm under his touch. Bastard.

“I get it, okay, I do,” Dex snaps as he hammers in a nail. “You love Nursey. Fine, great, everyone loves Nursey. I love Nursey, and that's the problem, you asshole.” The water in the hose nearby bubbles cheerfully at him, completely missing the point.

“No, it's not good, because, courtesy of you, we share a fucking room. I almost broke a furnace already this week; do you really want me to shatter all your windows? Because I will!” He keeps ranting, hammering as he goes. Haus’ glee does not diminish.

“Do you know what it's like to sleep every night next to the boy you're in love with? And I'm talking every night; he barely uses his own bed anymore! What did you do to his mattress? And half the time he's shirtless- okay, I guess I do that too, but it's my bed.

“It’s not like this is just a crush- if this were just like an “oh no, he’s hot” thing, we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now. He’s been hot for-fuckin-ever, I already knew that part, and it was- well, it wasn’t fine, but I was used to it, right? So my best friend is literally the most beautiful man on earth, whatever, I’m over it.”

At this point, he’s lying defeated on his side as he works on the bottommost slat. Haus is still radiating positive energy at him, which is both kind of sweet and annoying as fuck. At least it’s listening to him without judgment. The grass shifts, and the new board shimmers at him with a spike of exhilaration, but Dex chalks it up to excitement over feeling brand new and keeps working.

“But he’s so fucking nice sometimes, and it’s killing me. He brings me lunch, and knows how I like my coffee, and sometimes he helps hang up my laundry because he knows I’ll still be in class when the dryer stops? Who does that? And he always knows what to do when I’m stressed as fuck, or tired, and he’s- he’s sweet, y’know? He cares, more than anyone I know. He pays attention to people. To me. No one’s ever...well, anyway, you get it.

“And he's honestly just...he's brilliant, and he makes me laugh, and he's the best damn partner I've ever had, and you knew, didn’t you, you meddl- that's why you rigged the flip! You knew I'd figure this out eventually and fall in love and fuck up my own life. Thanks for that, I guess.”

The hose bubbles again, and the tree sways overhead smugly, saying, no problem! Dex laughs under his breath as he hammers in the last nail for this board. This is a no sympathy zone. It’s not like it’s hard being in love with Nursey. It’s just a truth about Dex, a state of existence that he’s come to accept. He loves Nursey like he loves the ocean, like he loves the woods. Like he loves the ice. It’s just...a part of him now, he supposes. Maybe he’ll actually get a handle on it soon. Or maybe, with time, it’ll just fade like the quiet of evening into his bones, and he’ll learn to carry it with him until the day he dies.

“So, anyway, I’m fucked. At least by the time we graduate I can probably look him in the eye again without exploding the well during commencement. Unless, y’know, he smiles at me or some shit. Then I’ll probably just try for a desperate last-ditch kiss in front of the whole university. Yeah, that’s right, in front of our parents and Chowder and the fuckin’ president and everybody. You should be glad you won’t be able to see it.”

There’s a noise behind him that sounds like a snort, but that can’t be right, because that would mean someone heard everything he just said, and that would mean that Dex needs to go live in a cave for the rest of his life. So he decides to be grown-up about this and just lie there motionless unlike a caught fish. He stares at the repaired portion of the porch, and admires his own steady handywork as he ignores whoever’s behind him, hoping they’ll just leave him to die in peace.

“Dex?” Or not.

Dex sits up, blank-faced and hair askew, still brandishing his hammer. Nursey stares back at him from a yard away, his mouth blissfully silent for once. But he looks- he looks the same way he did that night Dex first forced him to share the bed, minutely overwhelmed despite the facade of calm. Vulnerable. Dex had forgotten that expression, forgotten that he’s only ever seen Nursey look that way once, and only at him. It aches to see again, and somewhere inside Haus Dex is sure he just unintentionally sent a mug or two smashing to the ground.

“Hey. You’re here,” Dex says. “Listening to me talk to Haus.” He’s keeping his cool, because he can be a chill dude, too, right? Just like Nursey, right?? Except Nursey is only actually chill, like, 59% of the time, which doesn’t exactly bode well for this conversation, because if Dex is not chill, and Nursey is not chill, then they are both way too unchill and sober to actually discuss anything! Christ!

Nursey gives him that thin “what the fuck is my life” smile that he uses when he wants to nope out of a conversation but can’t because of social pressure. “Yup. That, uh, that’s a pretty accurate description of what’s going on here.”

“Cool, yeah, of course. Please do something about this,” Dex tells Haus stupidly, instead of taking any of a million other saner options like running away to jump in the pond or taking an eternal vow of silence.

Haus dumps a metric fuckton of leaves on top of Nursey’s head.

“Not that!” Dex yells as poor Nursey splutters out leaves and a few stray twigs. He brushes most of the foliage off his shirt and shoulders, but some leaves are still caught in his curls. The hose jumps pitifully, trickling out a contrite stream, which isn't enough to make up for the fact that Nursey now looks like some sort of ethereal forest elf person here to seduce Dex into death by drowning, or some other mythological bullshit like that.

“You made him more attractive, what the fuck.” Haus has no answers for Dex, and he buries his face in his hands. Vaguely, he's aware that he's still clutching his hammer.

“So, maybe we should talk?” Nursey says, suddenly sitting next to Dex instead of standing a nice, safe distance away. It seems like a great time for Dex to blue screen of death himself, but the closest he can get is the doomed numbness he feels inside right now.

“Hell no,” he says calmly, lifting his head and patting Nursey on the arm. “Go away. I'm busy.”

“You were busy. Now you're just sitting in the grass and crying into your hammer.”

“You think I'm crying over you? Get over yourself, Nurse.”

“Between the two of us, I’m not the one who needs help getting over me.”

Dex can’t help it; he laughs, even if it’s at his own expense. It's worth it for the tentative smile Nursey gives him. “Stone cold. Seriously though, get the fuck out of here. I’ve got things to do.”

“I could help.”

“With what, my pity party? Humiliation can be enjoyed alone, Nursey.”

“Let me help,” Nursey insists. He crosses his arms, then uncrosses them and tries to sit back casually, then crosses his legs instead, all in the span of twenty seconds. This guy seriously has no idea what he's doing sometimes.

Dex glares at him a moment more, then decides that if they’re going to do the whole feelings and rejection thing, he might as well get it over now. It’ll be like ripping off a bandaid, and if he’s distracted by repairing Haus at the same time, well, even better. An easy letdown. Maybe it’ll hurt less.

“Fine. Don’t distract me though, or we’ll probably both wind up in the ER.”

He finishes nailing in the current board while Nursey continues fidgeting and being no help whatsoever. Dex sits up to examine his work so far, and places the rotted boards to the side. He thinks he’s even, but he should check before continuing.

“Hand me the level,” he commands, making a grabby hand.

Nursey picks up a screwdriver. “This one, right?”

“Are you fu- you’re definitely fucking with me.” Nursey’s crooked smile says it all, and Dex throws a splinter of wood in his direction.

“Okay, I’m gonna be honest, I actually need your help. With a poem. I need your opinion. It’s important.”

“...right now? At this very moment?” In the middle of Dex’s quarterlife crisis? Unbelievable. Though, possibly a blessing in disguise? Maybe Nursey will go the route of pretending he didn't hear any of the embarrassing junk Dex just said about him, and they can just carry on with their lives.

“Yeah. Put down your hammer first, though?”

“Oh, sorry.” Dex drops the hammer and scoots forward to receive the folded piece of paper Nursey takes out of his pants pocket. It’s been worn flat, a sheet ripped straight out of a notebook, lines of blue ink in Nursey’s curling, clear handwriting. The page feels soft, as if it's been handled a lot, and Dex wonders briefly how many others have read this already. “Should I just…?”

“Yeah- just, uh. You can just read it in your head and tell me what you think.”

Nursey is nervous, even though Dex already knows he's a good writer, his eyes flitting away to examine the grass. Must just be nerves from sharing something personal. Dex forces himself to stop watching Nursey for once and begins to read.

had I known
that I would have loved you
from your rafters to your rails
attic to cellar
bylaws and battle wounds and all

I might have run

buried my stained-glass heart under the ice
where it might remain safe another year
or two or three
or forever
(as long as it takes for me to forget the feel of you under my unsteady fingertips)

but you are incandescence
down to your foundations
oven heat and fairy lights
autumn brisk and summer dry

and I never stood a chance

you are steadfast walls and frosted windows in the brightest of rooms
snowdrift on the rooftops and bonfires at midnight

your doors are all unlocked
but I’m still waiting for a key

for I have lived in many houses
but you

only you could build me a home

“It’s a nice poem,” Dex says tentatively when he finishes reading and finds Nursey watching him intently. This is the weirdest of subject changes he’s ever dealt with, but it’s considerate of Nursey to save them the trouble of talking about Dex’s inconvenient feelings. Dex really doesn’t think he’s qualified to offer any feedback, even though anyone’s supposed to be able to read poetry. “I can really tell how much you, uh, love Haus. Maybe you are soulmates,” he jokes.

Nursey’s laugh is a bit shaky, but he doesn’t break eye contact, still watching Dex like he’s the only thing he sees. “Dex. Bro. It was never about Haus.”

Dex knows how to read between the lines, but Nursey’s always been a special case. Some days, it’s like they don’t even have to speak to understand each other. But here and now, he’s not sure he knows anything at all. “You know I don’t get poetry,” he says quietly, because it’s safe. So he doesn’t have to get his hopes up.

“That’s what I’m here for. You trust me?” Nursey asks, just as quietly.

“Of course,” Dex says without pause.

“Sweet.” Nursey’s perfect green eyes crinkle at the corners when he gives Dex that soft, slightly nervous smile again. “Let's say you're right, and the poet’s in love with the subject.”

“I mean, it's like the very first line,” Dex says, mostly to be annoying, but Nursey laughs.

“Yeah, it is. So he loves his subject, which is a house. And maybe the house is a metaphor.”

“You lost me.”

“You fucking liar, I know you know what a metaphor is.”

“Yeah,” Dex admits. “So the house is a metaphor. For...a person.” Am I the house, he wants to ask, but he can't be, of course he isn't. Even if Nursey watches him sometimes with the sort of singular attention you reserve for a painting in a museum – for beautiful things, beautiful people. Even if sometimes the space between them diminishes even more, and the rest of the world falls still when they look at one another. Even when their eyes meet and Dex thinks you must know, the whole planet knows, even the stars know how I feel about you.

But people don't write nice poems about boys like Dex. People write poems about their beloveds, their muses.

“Okay, we can go with that. The house is a person, which makes everything else an extension of that metaphor, so what do you think the author’s saying?”

“You're really going to make me work for this, aren't you?”

“You can call me Professor Nurse, if you want. Or pretend I have a PhD, and call me Dr. Nurse instead, eh?”

“You're a riot. A true pioneer of comedy.”

“I'm multi-talented,” Nursey says modestly, and Dex gives him a little shove, trying not to get distracted by his charm.

“Alright, shut up, I'm trying to learn. Okay. So he loves this person a helluva lot. Like, from head to toe. Even though he was, what, afraid to?”

“I think that's a pretty solid interpretation.”

“But why?” Nursey’s clearly the author here; they're dancing around this, but they both know it to be true. And the subject, the person he's in love with- “What are you afraid of? Anyone would be lucky to have you,” Dex tells him, too bluntly perhaps. But the truth is the truth.

Nursey sucks in a breath, before blowing it back out slowly, looking up at the clear sky above them through the tree branches. “You wanna know what I think?” he asks, and Dex shrugs, gesturing for him to go on. “Let’s pretend you’re our poet, theoretically named Derek-”

“Theoretically.” Dex bumps Nursey’s knee with his own, smiling when Nursey bumps him back.

“-and you meet a boy. And he’s uptight and contrary and he's got all these rules, and ideas of the way things should be, and he drives you up the wall, because the two of you can't seem to stop fighting.

“But what makes him different from all the other people just like him you've met before is that he's willing to try. He's willing to learn, and to meet you halfway, and then, eventually, the two of you just kind of...click. It falls into place. You become friends.”

Nursey must notice how Dex’s eyes grow wide, but he quirks a tiny smile.

“And sometimes, in the right light, you can't help but notice the way his eyes turn soft for you when he's a little bit drunk, or the confidence in his hands and his back when he's fixing up, well, everything. Because he's reliable and constant and competent, and you've been looking for so long for somebody you can lean on.

“And maybe you pay too much attention to the way his voice goes sweet when he tells you the night’s grown late and you really need to take care of yourself, before he pushes you into his bed. Or how his eyes and nose scrunch a little when you make him laugh and it draws attention to all ten million of the freckles you’ve spent the last three years memorizing. There’s a part of your subconscious you devote to things you’ve learned so well that you could recite them in your sleep – that’s where you keep every memory of what he looks like when he smiles at you like he means it.”

Nursey’s laugh is self-conscious, and he scratches a little nervously at his hair as he waits for Dex to take this all in. Dex just nods numbly as it all filters through.

Shit, maybe he really is the house.

Nursey exhales, picking at some blades of grass before he continues. “But what you notice most of all is how much of himself he gives away. All those walls he puts up aren’t to keep people out so much as to keep what’s left of him in, because once you break through his shell, he gives you more and more, and it’s never enough, because he doesn’t think it’s enough. What you wouldn’t give for him to let you all the way in – not because you want to have all of him, but god, you do, you’ve never wanted anything so much – but because you want to keep all the pieces of him safe, to make sure he never feels anything less than whole.

“Because he doesn't know that he's beautiful, and it hurts you, y’know? You want to shake him, to tell him that he’s sunset and starlight and a dream made real by the earth itself, because he doesn’t see it. He doesn’t understand. But you can’t say a word, because you’re in way too fucking deep, and the second you do you’ll give yourself away.

“The thing is, every light is the right light when you're in love with someone. But you're a fucking idiot, so you keep sharing a bed with a straight boy, and you pretend your heart doesn't break every time you wake up and he's holding you close and too sleep-soft to realize he’s looking at you like he loves you back.”

“He does. He always did,” Dex blurts, because it’s a lot to take in, but he needs Nursey to know this, even if his head and heart are spinning. Nursey always did carry so much inside of himself, words and feelings like a whirlwind barely contained, but Dex could never have imagined any of it directed at himself. It doesn’t help that it took him this long to understand his own emotions, too lost in the woodwork and wires of other houses, other lives, to separate himself.

“He didn’t know,” he continues. How is he supposed to explain this? “I didn’t know. How I felt about you, how much I loved you, I thought- I thought it was just the Haus, speaking through me again. But it was never about Haus.”

“I guess not,” Nursey says, his gaze soft again. He takes the poem from Dex’s hand and sets it aside on the grass beside them. “So back to the poem. You get the basic idea, but I think you can probably extrapolate the rest if I kiss you?”

“Fuck, okay,” and Nursey’s hand is at his cheek, and they’re both leaning in.

The first kiss is careful. Tame. Just Nursey trying to express to him without words what’s been developing between them for the last three years. The second kiss isn’t careful anymore. The third kiss is all heat and desperation until Nursey stumbles while trying to crawl into Dex’s lap and tips them over onto the ground.

“Wait, pause,” Dex says, laughing against Nursey’s mouth as he’s flattened into the grass.

“Sorry, is this too fast? We can stop,” Nursey offers hastily, propping himself up so he’s no longer resting his weight on Dex. His eyes are slightly glazed over and his mouth slick and inviting as he hovers cautiously over Dex, who feels another rush of tenderness for him.

“No! No, we’re good. We’re great. You’re great. There’s just fuckin’ nails and splinters and stuff everywhere; I’m afraid you’re gonna lose an eye if we continue out here.” He reaches up and removes a twig caught in Nursey’s curls.

“Oh.” Nursey stares a moment longer, eyes flickering down to Dex’s mouth. “It might be worth it?”

No, Derek. Not worth it.” Dex tries to sit up, but Nursey is still trapping him in place, so the obvious solution is to kiss him until he moves. “Wait, dammit, we need to stop,” he sighs, finally pulling away after another few minutes. “I’ve got a job to finish.”

Nursey sits on the edge of the porch, looking down at Dex from above as he works on the last board.

“So, you’re right. We should probably talk,” he tells Nursey when he’s done, resting his arms on the porch wall. “Are we...we’re on the same page, right? About us?”

Nursey scratches at the base of his neck, looking earnestly back at Dex. “Yeah, I mean. Whatever you want. Is what I want. Even if it’s casual, that’s fine. We could-”

“Date me,” Dex says, cutting him off, before Nursey works himself into a tizzy. “Be my boyfriend, Nurse. That’s what I want.”

“I can do that,” Nursey replies, his smile glowing. “Let’s date, Poindexter.”

“ ‘Swawesome.” Dex looks around, afraid that somehow Holster and Ransom are going to appear out of nowhere to fine them. Just in case, he should make sure they have everything settled before anyone else comes home. “Hey. I’m in love with you, in case that wasn’t obvious. Just wanted to make that clear.”

The nice thing about Nursey being unbearably radiant when he looks at Dex is that at least Dex can complain silently about it to Haus, who creaks in commiseration. “Okay. Yeah. Chill.”

“I see I’m not the only one who’s got a way with words.”

“Would it help if I said you leave me tongue-tied?”

Dex grins, hopping up to sit next to him. “Smooth save.”

Nursey shrugs before linking their hands together. “I sound better on paper, I swear. And, I know I tell you this every day, but. I love you too.”

“Every day?” Dex wrinkles his nose, trying to remember when this happened, if ever.

“The second you wake up, dude.”

Sure, but Nursey’s not talking to Dex. “But that’s- you’re talking to Haus.”

“Will, c’mon, we discussed this. It was never really about Haus.” At Dex’s surprise his grin sharpens. “You really didn’t figure it out? Seriously? Even with the way I look at you, like you’re the ginger apple of my eye?”

“Like I understand a single thing you do, ever,” Dex grumbles.

“I love Haus, but not so much that I need to repeat it every single morning.” Nursey looks like he’s charmed by how embarrassingly oblivious Dex is. He leans in and leaves a brief kiss on Dex’s cheek while Dex tries to digest all of this.

“But...you love me enough to say it every day?”

“Well, yeah, Dex. You’re my other half, remember?” Nursey laughs sheepishly, hand tightening around Dex’s. “I guess I hoped you would put it together one day, even if it royally fucked up my life. And if not, well, at least I’d know. And maybe a few years down the line, after I got up the nerve to finally ask you out, you’d look back and remember. That was the plan, anyway, until I found you talking to yourself about how great I am. What was it you said again? I didn't hear you clearly the first time.”

Dex feels his face heat up and his magic threatening to go off without warning again. Nursey’s probably going to be the death of him. Might as well see if he can turn the tables. “I said that you were the greatest thing to ever happen to me,” he tells Nursey seriously. “Every time you smile I almost short out the power on the whole block, because that's how happy it makes me. You're one of my best friends, and honestly, you're too good to me, but I'm selfish and I adore you, and I'm not letting you go. Sorry,” he finishes with a shrug.

It doesn't show much on his cheeks, but Dex is pretty sure Nursey’s blushing right now. “You can't just spring that on a guy,” he protests.

“You asked!”

“Yeah, but it's not fair when you're being all serious and genuine and sweet. You were just supposed to chirp me back.” He looks helpless.

“Sorry not sorry,” Dex says, leaning in to steal a kiss. Under and around them, Haus thrums with the singing happiness that only a well-loved home can express, and Dex finally understands that he and Haus are okay. All the trouble over the last year was worth it to have Nursey here with him now, and he sends a burst of gratitude through the porch railing. Haus just gives him a flutter of adoration back, and Dex smiles against Nursey’s lips.

That’s how the team finds them, still tangled up in each other. Dex can make out the sound of Tango and Whiskey yelling “FIIIIIIINE” while Ford herds the rest of them back into Haus, and he’s pretty sure Bitty’s already making plans for a get-together pie, but he’s too occupied by the fact that Chowder has tackled him and Nursey to the ground, blubbering something that sounds like “oh my god guys, finally, I love you two but you were driving me nuts, oh, but I’m so glad,” and when he meets Nursey’s eyes over their best friend’s head and gets that perfect smile back, he knows for certain. This is his home.