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love knows life has been hard enough

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“why am i always running around in circles

between wanting you to want me

and when you want me”

(if only we’d met when i was that willing)

(Rupi Kaur)

 

 

Holster spots it first.

 

“Holy shit, Nurse!” he says, loud enough to shatter the pre-practice quiet. “Did you pull a cougar last night or something?”

 

Dex manages not to choke on his water at the words, but totally fails to keep from sputtering when he takes a glance at Nursey and sees what Holster’s talking about.

 

The normally flawless skin of Nursey’s back is currently covered with bruises, all of them--or at least, Dex thinks, willing his eyes not to drop too low, most of them--clearly made by someone’s mouth. They’re clustered around his neck and shoulders, stopping just short of his shoulder blades, where they give way to twin sets of reddened scratches, raking down over the backs of his ribs.

 

He looks, as much as Dex hates giving in to Holster’s wording, like he’s been mauled.

 

He also, to Dex’s irritation, looks totally unfazed by the attention. Nursey leans back into his stall, thankfully hiding his back from view--not that his front is much better, holy fuck, are those fingerprints on his hips?--and gives Holster a lazy smirk. “Jealous, Holtzy?”

 

“Shit, I could be.” Holster gives him what can only be described as a leer. “You gonna give deets?”

 

Nursey laughs, pulling his hockey pants up around his hips. “A gentleman doesn’t kiss and tell, bro.”

 

“Pretty sure gentlemen don’t come home from kegsters looking like they went ten rounds with a tiger,” Wicks says.

 

“You boys behave,” Bitty chides, ignoring the chorus of good-natured boos and chirps that greet the exaggerated wink Nursey throws toward Wicks. “Nursey doesn’t have to tell you anything.”

 

Thank fuck for Eric Bittle, Dex thinks fervently. It’s too early for this kind of shit.

 

Then Bitty grins. “Even if I do believe he owes the Sin Bin some money. I think there’s a bylaw about sex marks in public places?”

 

“Cold, Bits,” Nursey says, but he’s grinning. “Not some crazy shit like a dollar per hickey, right? Because otherwise I’m gonna need to hit an ATM.”

 

Holster leers at him. “Yeah you are, damn. I thought that girl you were chatting up was tiny, did she have to stand on a chair for some of that?”

 

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Nursey says, rolling his eyes. There’s a smirk hovering at the corners of his mouth, though, and Dex narrows his eyes suspiciously, watching Nursey watch Holster tip his water bottle back. Nursey’s grin turns wicked. “Some of them are obviously from her boyfriend.”

 

Holster chokes, spitting water all over his stall. Nursey bursts out laughing. “Well fucking played, my dude,” Holster coughs, wiping his mouth.

 

Nursey grins, like he hasn’t just outed himself to the whole locker room. “That’s what you get for being nosy, bro.”

 

The mood in the room is still easy and casual, and Dex feels like he’s been left out of a joke. The guys he played with back home weren’t all-out homophobes, but something like this would never fly.

 

Maybe it is a joke, he thinks. Maybe Nursey’s kidding. He’s said weird stuff to get a reaction out of the team before.

 

(But then he thinks back to Friday’s kegster, Nursey tucked into a corner of the living room with a petite girl who could have been Lardo’s twin leaning into his side, a tall, broad guy with Ransom’s coloring trailing a hand over the side of Nursey’s neck, and maybe--)

 

Dex shakes himself slightly. Almost accidentally, he catches Bitty’s eye across the room. Bitty looks almost shell-shocked, and he flushes when his gaze meets Dex’s, busying himself with the straps of his pads.

 

Shit, Dex thinks. That can’t be good.

 

The guys are starting to file onto the ice, and, grateful for the normality that practice always gives him, Dex stands up to join them. Before he can even step out of his stall, someone catches his arm.

 

He knows it’s Nursey before he even turns around. “What?”

 

The word comes out harsher than he means it to, but Nursey doesn’t look fazed. His green eyes are cool and steady. Dex envies that. “Are we chill right now?”

 

Dex frowns. He’s not sure what question he was expecting, but that wasn’t it. “What?”

 

Nursey makes a vague gesture to the empty locker room. “You heard what I said, right?” Dex nods. “So?”

 

It takes him a moment to realize what Nursey’s asking, to realize why Nursey’s expression is so carefully blank. When he gets it, he flinches. Shit, he thinks. “Yeah, dude,” he says, trying to push as much honest sincerity into his voice as he can. “Of course. We’re fine.”

 

Nursey narrows his eyes for a moment, like he’s weighing Dex’s answer, and then he grins. “Chill,” he says. “Let’s go play some hockey.”

 

He slips past Dex, easy and graceful as he only ever seems to be on skates, and Dex catches the hint of another bruise on the underside of his jaw.

 

Pointedly ignoring the heat in his stomach and the dryness in his mouth, Dex swallows hard and follows him out the door.

 

 

“So was it me, or did Nursey look better today?”

 

Dex stares at Chowder as they wait for their coffee at Annie’s before the trek to their programming class. “I’m sorry,” he says. “Did we not see the same person today? He looked like someone tried to murder him.”

 

Chowder rolls his eyes, taking the latte that the barista puts on the counter next to him. He checks his name and then grabs a cardboard sleeve. “You’ve got a low bar for murder.”

 

“Some of those scratches broke skin.”

 

“Let him live,” Chowder says. Dex’s coffee shows up next and they walk over to the milk and sugar station, weaving around other students. “And anyway, that’s not the kind of better I was talking about.”

 

Dex squints at him. “I’m confused.”

 

Chowder takes the lid off his cup and starts adding nutmeg. “Didn’t you notice how tense he was this whole week? He barely talked.”

 

“I thought that was just his...chill thing.”

 

The look Chowder gives him is something between exasperated and just plain irritated. “You still can’t tell the difference between his real chill and his fake chill?”

 

Dex shrugs. “I kind of assume it’s always fake.”

 

“I mean, it is, but there’s his ‘I’m trying to pretend I’m not a huge nerd’ fake chill and his ‘I’m a pile of anxiety and stress and I don’t want you to know’ fake chill.” Chowder puts the lid back on his cup and takes a sip, winces--probably the temperature; he always burns his mouth on the first sip, why does Dex know this?--and starts blowing on the steam. “Anyway, last week was the bad one. He looks a million times more relaxed now. Maybe whatever he got into after the kegster chilled him out.”

 

“He--seriously?” Dex frowns, thinking back to last week. Come to think of it, Nursey had been quieter than usual, more withdrawn. He hadn’t been poking at Dex’s buttons as much. Maybe that was why Dex hadn’t noticed so much--he was distracted by the lack of aggravation.

 

But then an image of Nursey, last Friday, sitting on the couch in the Haus living room, his face turned toward the window and his expression blank, so blank, distant enough that Dex had nudged his shoulder just to make sure he hadn’t had a stroke or something. Nursey had startled, turned to him, and given the weakest smile Dex had ever seen before making an excuse about “spacing out” and wandering out of the room. The next time Dex had seen him, Nursey had been halfway to wasted at the kegster.

 

It had been weird, sure, but not…

 

“Oh, shit,” Dex breathes. “I’m a shitty friend.”

 

Chowder pats his arm. “You’re not as bad as you used to be.”

 

Dex winces. “Thanks?”

 

“No, I mean it! Freshman year if I said anything about Nursey you’d just go ‘ugh, Nursey’ into your coffee.” Chowder grins. “Now you at least pretend to care.”

 

“I do care,” Dex says, before he can stop himself. Chowder raises his eyebrows, and Dex sighs, throwing away his empty sugar packets and putting the lid back on his coffee. “I mean, we don’t--He’s still my partner. And if he’s going out and--I just want him to be safe.”

 

Chowder gives him an unimpressed look as they walk out of Annie’s. “I’m sure he’s being safe.”

 

“That’s not what I mean and you know it.”

 

“Well, if you’re so worried, why are you talking to me and not him?”

 

Dex huffs, shivering a little as a gust of cold wind picks up around them. “Yeah, because he’ll definitely listen to me. We don’t exactly have the best track record, Chow.”

 

Chowder hums, sipping his coffee. “Probably because you really like to criticize everything he does.”

 

“If he’s doing dangerous shit, I should criticize him!”

 

Chowder levels him with a look Dex usually only sees on the ice. “First of all, you don’t know that, you’re just assuming,” he says. “Second of all, even if he was, criticizing him isn’t the way to get him to change anything.” His face softens. “Look. If you’re really worried, Dex, talk to him. But don’t--don’t be a dick about it.”

 

Dex snorts as they start up the stairs to the computer sciences building. “You make it sound easy. Being a dick is like eighty percent of my personality.” He sighs, and then, hesitantly, asks the question he’s been dying to ask since the locker room. “Did you know? That he’s--or that he’s not--”

 

“Not straight?” Chowder shrugs. “I mean, I don’t think he’s been trying to hide it? He’s talked about exes that...weren’t girls. And it’s not like he’s been sneaking around at kegsters when he does stuff with guys.”

 

“Oh.” Dex hesitates, pushing the door open and holding it so Chowder can go first.

 

“You really didn’t notice?”

 

Dex shakes his head. “I think I kind of trained myself not to notice shit like that, honestly. It was basically a self-defense mechanism back home.”

 

Chowder laughs, and Dex freezes, going dead still in the hallway.

 

Chowder gets a few steps ahead of him, then seems to notice that Dex isn’t next to him anymore, and comes back. “Hey,” he says, his face soft and open. “You okay?”

 

Dex swallows, and then realizes he...is okay. “Yeah. Yeah, I…”

 

“Hey.” Chowder puts a hand on his shoulder. “I can pretend I didn’t hear anything?”

 

“I--No.” Dex takes a deep breath, and sighs. “I’m good.”

 

 

Nothing changes, really. He doesn’t change the way he acts toward Nursey. Chowder doesn’t do anything with the knowledge that Dex is maybe-not-totally-straight. Nursey--well, Nursey doesn’t know about any of this, so he just keeps being Nursey.

 

So nothing changs.

 

Except.

 

He starts looking at Nursey.

 

It’s not like Dex didn’t know that Nursey’s attractive; he’s closeted and he’s got enough self-denial issues to fill a lake, but he’s not blind. When they’d met on the Taddy Tour two years ago, Dex had taken one look and immediately filed Nursey into the “out of my league” and “probably straight anyway” boxes in his brain--call it a coping mechanism, but it got him through middle school in Hudson and high school in Bangor once the Rams picked him up, and it’s gotten him through Samwell so far even though he knows that here, of all places, he probably doesn’t have to use it. But it’s a security blanket now, and he’s not ready to pack it away.

 

(Even if he does have Grindr on his phone now. The road to self-actualization is paved with clandestine dick pics, apparently.)

 

But the point is, he’d written Nursey off as a potential...anything from day one, and that had opened them up to whatever’s between them now, which is a partnership based in mutual antagonization and reluctant affection. Because even at the height of his frustration, Dex can’t deny that Nursey’s likeable--he’s smart, and passionate, and funny in a really dry, deadpan sort of way, and he’s incredible on the ice. Even when he wants to hate Nursey, he still kind of likes him. It’s hard not to.

 

Which doesn’t mean he’s not infuriating, but...Dex likes him. Despite himself, he wants to be friends with Nursey. (More than friends, the traitorous gay voice in his brain needles at him, but he squashes that shit down with the exasperated ease of long practice.)

 

He just needs to stop getting so fucking riled up about everything Nursey says, especially when he knows it’s just to get a rise out of him, and he’s better than that, there’s no reason that Nursey should affect him more than anyone else--

 

Oh, fuck. He is an idiot.

 

So he’s started looking at Nursey. And...he’s starting to get nervous about what he sees.

 

Because Chowder was right. Nursey’s chill is totally fake--and it does come in two kinds.

 

He sees the “don’t see how nerdy I am” chill most often. It comes out in Nursey surrounded by piles of books in the library, looking absolutely enthralled in what he’s reading or writing, but pasting on a look of “aw, it’s nothing” whenever someone asks what he’s working on. It’s Nursey flawlessly correcting the bibliography of Ransom’s latest biology paper, and when Ransom asks when--and why--he knows CSE, Nursey mumbling something about picking it up by accident. It’s Nursey speaking rapid, enthusiastic Spanish on the phone in the Haus living room and switching to soft, sedate English whenever someone walks in.

 

It makes Dex sad, a little, that Nursey hides so much. Not that he can really talk, but. It bothers him.

 

But not nearly as much as Nursey’s other kind of fake chill.

 

It’s harder to see than the other kind, but now that Dex is looking, he sees it more often than he likes. He sees Nursey go blank and distant sitting in the Haus kitchen, reacting with a startled jolt when someone calls his name. He sees Nursey’s hands shaking in the library, three empty coffee cups and another that he’s still drinking, his water bottle full and abandoned next to his elbow. He sees the faintest redness around Nursey’s eyes at practice in the mornings, redder than just interrupted sleep.

 

He sees it, and he worries.

 

That’s fine, though. He’s used to worrying; he’s a worrying sort of person. His mom says he gets it from her, so, whatever. He knows how to worry and keep it from being obvious.

 

At least, he thought so?

 

“Dude,” Nursey says.

 

Dex glances up from his laptop, looking at Nursey across the library table and pretending like he hadn’t been surreptitiously watching Nursey study a few minutes ago. “What?”

 

Nursey closes his book, leaning forward. “You’ve been staring at me,” he says, focusing the full weight of his gaze on Dex. It sends a shiver down Dex’s spine. “A lot.”

 

“No I haven’t,” Dex says immediately.

 

He’s a terrible liar. Nursey raises one eyebrow, somehow conveying you have got to be fucking kidding me without any other part of his expression changing. Dex sighs. “Fine,” he says. “Okay. But it’s not--it’s nothing weird, I promise.”

 

Nursey looks skeptical. “Right,” he says flatly. He regards Dex for another moment, and then sighs. “Look,” he says. “You said you were cool with me. And I’m not sure if this is some residual homophobic shit because you’re worried I’m gonna make a pass at you, or if you’re in some kind of gay panic because you just figured out that dudes here can be athletic and queer at the same time, but you need to sort your shit out without focusing it on me. Because it’s getting weird for me, okay?”

 

Dex opens his mouth to object, or deny, or something, but something in Nursey’s face makes him pause. He presses his lips together, and then says, “You’re right.”

 

Nursey blinks. “What?”

 

“You’re right,” Dex repeats. “I’m dealing with some shit and I’m pushing it on you and that’s a dick move. I’m sorry I made you uncomfortable.”

 

For a moment, Nursey just stares at him. Then he swallows visibly and says, “Are you on something right now?”

 

Dex rolls his eyes. “Dick. See if I apologize to you again.”

 

Nursey laughs, and it’s his real laugh, loose and gentle. Something tight in Dex’s chest relaxes. “There’s the Dex I know and tolerate,” he says, kicking his ankle gently under the table. “We’re cool, man. And hey--” He breaks off and gives Dex a slight smile. “If you want to actually talk about whatever’s going on, instead of staring like a creeper? I’ve got your back, dude.”

 

“Thanks,” Dex says. His face feels hot. He hopes the flush isn’t too obvious. “I might--I might take you up on that.”

 

“Here for you, bro,” Nursey says, easy, like it’s nothing. He kicks Dex’s foot again.

 

The weird thing is, Dex thinks, as they go back to their separate homework assignments, he’s pretty sure Nursey means it.

 

 

The next day, Nursey shows up to morning practice with a line of vivid bruising trailing down his throat and under the collar of his shirt, and Dex aches.

 

 

It takes him another two days of fidgeting and psyching himself up before Dex asks Holster if he’ll have coffee with him at Annie’s.

 

“This is weirdly formal,” Holster comments, as they sit down at one of the round tables in the corner, coffees in hand. “Is everything okay?”

 

“Yeah, it’s--like, school and shit, everything’s fine.” Dex takes a deep breath. “I fucked things up with Nursey.”

 

Holster raises his eyebrows. “Okay,” he says, in the tone of someone who is clearly not surprised.

 

Dex huffs a sigh. “Not--not recently, we’ve been okay lately. I mean when we started out. I fucked stuff up a lot. I--I’ve been an ignorant asshole, and I need to fix it.”

 

That makes Holster raise his eyebrows, eyes thoughtful behind his glasses. “Huh,” he says. “Okay. Proud of you for coming out and saying it, Dex, but shouldn’t you be saying this to Nursey?”

 

“No? I mean, yes, but--” Dex takes a sip of his coffee, collects his thoughts. “I need to be able to apologize right, and that means actually understanding why I was wrong about shit? And Nursey keeps saying it’s not his job to educate me on stuff. So I thought--you and Ransom are so close, and you might have had to…” How does Nursey put it? “Unlearn some shit, too, to make that happen, and I thought you could maybe. Help me. With that.”

 

It’s horrendously awkward. Holster, to his credit, doesn’t laugh at him, though his lips do twitch. “Dexy,” he says. “Rans and I clicked from day one. And yeah, he’s told me to check my shit on some, and I quote, ‘white nonsense’ more than once, but I didn’t go researching or anything. It’s like--you have to really look at your own shit.”

 

Dex’s heart sinks. “Oh.” Reading and academics, he’s good at. Self-reflection? Not so much.

 

Holster must see his thoughts written on his face, because he gives Dex an encouraging smile. “Look. If reading is the way to go for you, I’d say ask Shitty--he’s basically a walking check yourself bibliography, I’m sure he can give you some stuff to look at, or at least tell you where to go to find it. But no matter how much you read, it’s not the same as actually making changes. You know?”

 

“Yeah.” Dex turns his coffee cup in his hands. He hates that introspective shit.

 

But he really, grossly, awfully wants a chance with Nursey.

 

A chance to be his friend.

 

Obviously.

 

He sighs. “So,” he says. “You said I should talk to Shitty?”

 

 

Shitty, it turns out, is coming into town for their next kegster, because “1L is literally destroying my soul so I’m going to drink it to death instead of letting the motherfucking man win, brahs.” Dex doesn’t get a chance to talk to him before he’s a cup and a half into the tub juice and seventy-five percent of his clothes are on the floor and he’s not exactly at discourse-levels of brain function.

 

Specifically, he’s lying on the couch (ew) talking about moustache rides.

 

Dex thinks he might be high.

 

“Listen,” he says. “Listen. The thing you gotta understand about the moustache ride? Is that it’s an art. It’s not just, hey, come sit on my moustache. You gotta have finesse. You gotta know how pressure works. People with vaginas--or whatever--don’t like feeling tickled when they’re trying to get off. So you gotta know how to use the moustache. To your advantage. The moustache is a sensory adventure if you know what you’re doin, my bros.”

 

Bitty’s face is a mixture of repressed laughter and vague horror. “Someone please stop him.”

 

“Don’t hate the moustache, Bittle!” Shitty yells. He drags Bitty down onto his lap and proceeds to rub said moustache all over Bitty’s cheek. Bitty shrieks and squirms away.

 

“Alright alright alright,” Holster says, dragging Bitty off the couch with one arm and depositing him safely on the coffee table.

 

Well, safely might be an overstatement, it’s really sticky with spilled tub juice. But safer than Shitty’s lap, probably.

 

Bros,” Holster says. “Shitty is right. The moustache is a critically under-appreciated sexual tool. When I had last year’s playoff beard, I hooked up with this girl, right? And she was all about it.”

 

“Yo,” Ransom says, waving his solo cup. “Isn’t that the girl who you waxed poetic about for like, three weeks? The one with the tender moves?”

 

Holster looks at him like he’s been personally betrayed. Dex is pretty sure that he’s about to hear some details he really doesn’t need to know. “Excuse me,” he says, sloshing his drink slightly. “If anyone knows how to wax poetically, it’s our boy Nursey, amirite?”

 

Nursey rouses himself out of the lazy half-doze he’d been in, sprawled on the floor with his head in Chowder’s lap. “Yo,” he says. “Why’re you dragging me into this?”

 

“I’m just saying,” Holster says. “You know a couple’a things about how to party.” He waggles his eyebrows. “We’ve all seen it, dude.”

 

Something Dex can’t quite decipher flickers across Nursey’s face before it’s smoothed away. Chill, Dex thinks, and hates it. “That was kind of a special occasion kind of thing,” he says.

 

“Whoa whoa whoa, my bro,” Shitty says, struggling to sit up again. Having Bitty pulled off his lap kind of knocked the wind out of his sails. “This sounds like a fucking tale. Are you holding out on us, Nurse?”

 

“You bet your ass I am,” Nursey says. He rolls up to his feet, steadies himself with a hand on Ransom’s shoulder (managing not to spill any of the tub juice out of his cup; Dex is almost impressed), and gives Shitty a grin that doesn’t get anywhere near his eyes. “And I’m gonna keep doin’ it. Gonna get some air.”

 

He climbs over Chowder’s feet and weaves through the crowd, out of sight. It’s not a huge party, by SMH standards, but he gets lost in the noise and bodies almost immediately. Dex watches him go, uncertain, and then looks down at Chowder.

 

Chowder meets his gaze and widens his eyes significantly, a pointed let him go. Dex huffs a sigh, and heads for the kitchen as Holster starts in on a dramatic retelling of The Kegster Girl Who Changed My Life.

 

He doesn’t think he’s missing much.

 

 

He doesn’t see Nursey until almost an hour later, when the roar of the party has gotten overwhelming and he heads upstairs for a break. His plan is to just sit in Chowder’s room and--he grimaces--chill for a couple of minutes, but as he crosses the threshold, he hears laughter coming from Chowder’s open window.

 

Someone’s out in the Reading Room, Dex realizes. Before he can think about it, he’s sticking his head out the window to investigate.

 

Lardo’s there, and Nursey, and on Nursey’s other side is a girl Dex doesn’t recognize, with curly brown hair jammed under a beanie and what Dex is willing to bet are some serious curves hiding under Nursey’s SMH hoodie. “Hey,” Dex says. “This a private party?”

 

“Nah,” Nursey says, exhaling smoke. Dex glances down and sees a joint loosely held in Nursey’s hand. He bites back any comments about it being the middle of the hockey season; they almost never get drug screened, and it’s not worth starting a fight. “C’mon out, Dexy.”

 

Dex climbs through the open window, settling on Lardo’s other side. It’s cold out, but not too bad. He’s still hot enough from the party that he doesn’t regret not grabbing his coat from downstairs. “Hi,” he says, holding out a hand to the girl next to Nursey. “I’m Dex.”

 

“Esther,” she says, pulling Nursey’s sleeve back so she can shake his hand.

 

“Nice to meet you.” He sits back, trying to figure out why the name sounds familiar--he’s pretty sure he doesn’t know any Esthers.

 

She seems to get his train of thought. “I went to Screw a few times with Adam Birkholtz,” she says dryly.

 

Oh.” Dex vaguely recalls Holster whining to Ransom about getting “Screwed with Esther Shapiro again”, and winces.

 

Esther snorts. “Yeah.”

 

Lardo takes the joint from Nursey. “So Dex, like Nursey said, you can chill with us, but heads up, like--we’re balls deep in a bitch session about the white patriarchy--”

 

“Fuck white dudes,” Nursey and Esther chorus.

 

Lardo continues, unabashed. “So if that’s gonna be an issue for you, you might wanna not stay.”

 

“Uh--” Freshman year Dex would’ve bristled, but he takes a deep breath. “No, it’s--that’s legit. I’ll just, uh, listen. I guess.” Something almost approving flickers in Nursey’s eyes, and Dex tries not to flush.

 

He does glance at Esther, a little curiously. “Aren’t you white, though?”

 

She shrugs, reaching over Nursey to take the joint from Lardo. “I’m Jewish. It’s complicated. I don’t think we know each other well enough to have this conversation.” She takes a drag, and then offers him the joint. “You want?”

 

“Um, no. I’m okay.” He leans back against the window frame.

 

It turns out that the “white patriarchy” conversation is mostly focused on assumptions. Specifically, assumptions about sex.

 

“It’s honestly bullshit,” Lardo says, waving a hand emphatically enough that she almost smacks Dex in the face with it. It’s a pretty good tell that she’s getting inebriated. “If one more dude tells me about his exotic submissive fantasies, I’m gonna literally choke someone. I swear to God.” She takes a drag off the joint. “I mean--” She turns the full weight of her gaze on Dex. “Have you ever seen me act demure? Ever?”

 

“No,” he says immediately. Partly because it’s true, partly because she honestly looks like she might kill him.

 

“Exactly. But dudes see one fucking anime and all of a sudden it’s attack of the weaboos, I swear.”

 

Nursey pats her shoulder with the hand he’s not using to roll another joint. It’s actually a little impressive; Dex didn’t know he could roll one-handed. “Preach, babe.”

 

“I had a guy tell me he knew I’d want to sleep with him because he was getting a business degree,” Esther says. “Literally talked about his trust fund like it was an aphrodisiac. And then when I told him I wasn’t interested, he was like, ‘Oh, yeah, I heard girls like you are totally frigid,’ like, seriously? Seriously?” She gives Dex a significant look.

 

“Yeah it’s--it’s not cool.”

 

Nursey snorts. “A for effort, Poindexter.” He twists the end of the new joint. “Lards, you got the lighter?”

 

She hands it to him. “Did you tell him he was being a prick, at least?”

 

Esther snorts. “I told him to come back when he’d taken a gender studies class, and he called me a feminazi.” She levels Dex with a hazel-eyed glare. “Please tell me you know why that’s inappropriate.”

 

Fuck, even he’s not that dumb. “Because feminism is not equivalent to genocide?”

 

“Give the boy a prize,” she says dryly.

 

“Look, I’m sorry you’re dealing with that shit. It’s fucking rude. And probably racist, I don’t know.” Dex caves and holds out his hand for the joint when Lardo passes it to him. “I mean, I don’t know, like--the worst thing people assume about me is that I’m an awkward virgin. I can’t really relate to any of this.”

 

Nursey rolls his eyes at him. “If you’re fishing for compliments, you’re at the wrong lake, bro.”

 

Dex flushes, glad of the darkness. “No, that’s--that’s not what I meant. I just meant that I don’t--I don’t get the same shit that you do. And I know that.”

 

Lardo cocks an eyebrow, regarding him for a moment, and then nods. “Nice character growth, brah.”

 

“It’s not--” He sighs. “It’s what I’m supposed to do, right?”

 

Nursey looks surprised, but pleased. “Not sure what aliens came and possessed you, Poindexter, but I like them.”

 

Kind of a backhanded compliment, but Dex’ll take it. He also takes the joint from Lardo, holding it a little uncomfortably between his fingertips. “Do I even want to know the kind of stuff you hear?”

 

“Probably not,” Nursey says. He leans back, letting his long legs sprawl out over the roof. Dex scoots a little closer to Lardo, who snorts and lets him. They all know that Nursey, inebriation, and even a vaguely slanted surface can be a dangerous combination. On Nursey’s other side, Esther loops a finger through Nursey’s belt loop.


Nursey’s quiet for a moment, and then he sighs. “Look,” he says. “I’m not gonna say what I like or what I don’t, because it doesn’t matter. But like--even the team, my friends, thought they knew me based on just seeing me after a hookup. They don’t know what I did, or who I did it with, they just decided.” He shrugs. “Sometimes it’s easier to play into what people expect from you, even if it’s not true. It’s too much to fight it all the time.”

 

“But…” Dex hesitates. “Whatever you did, you said you liked it.”

 

Nursey snorts. “I also said it was special occasion. I’m not out every night looking for someone to fuck me blind.”

 

Dex chokes on his inhale and coughs, sputtering smoke out of his lungs. Lardo cackles, smacking him on the back. “I think you broke him, Nurse.”

 

“What,” Dex wheezes. “The fuck, man.”

 

Nursey grins. “You said you wanted in on the conversation, bro,” he says. “Welcome to brutal honesty.”

 

His eyes are sparkling, though, for almost the first time all night, and Dex figures it’s worth a little smoke damage to see that.

 

 

“Hey,” Dex says, dropping into a chair next to Nursey at team breakfast--well, brunch, really--in the Haus the next morning. “Can we talk?”

 

Nursey mumbles something. He doesn’t pick his head up off the table, and all Dex can see of him are a few curls slipping out of the hood of his sweatshirt.

 

Dex takes it as an affirmative. He wants to get this conversation done before a crowd of people storm into the Haus--right now it’s just Bitty, and he’s engrossed in making the biggest pan of scrambled eggs Dex has ever seen. He takes a breath.

 

“Look,” he says. “I wanna apologize to you.” Nursey makes a vaguely incoherent sound, but it ticks up at the end, like maybe it’s a question. Dex taps his fingers on the table. “I’ve--I’ve made a lot of assumptions, from day one. And I fucked up a lot of shit with you, and I get it if you want to just, keep our shit to being teammates? But I’m trying to be better. And I’d really like it if we could be friends.”

 

There’s a long pause, and then Nursey picks up his head. His skin has a slightly grey tone and he’s bleary-eyed and clearly hungover, but he squints at Dex and doesn’t immediately tell him off, so Dex is taking that as a win. “Yeah, dude,” he says. “Okay.”

 

Dex startles. “Yeah?”

 

“Yeah.” Nursey drops his head down again. “Can you start our friendship by finding me some coffee? Somewhere in this kitchen there’s a mug that’s like, the size of my face. I want it.”

 

Dex snorts. “I’m pretty sure that if I’m your friend, I’m supposed to tell you to drink water, not coffee.”


Nursey picks his head up and narrows his eyes at him. “First rule of friendship with me,” he says. “Don’t judge my caffeine habits.”

 

“Whatever you say, buddy,” Dex says, and gets up to grind some coffee.

 

So, friends. Cool.

 

Being friends with Nursey is weirdly great. Nursey snapchats constantly, and his snapchat humor is a weird mix of literary references, puns, and gratuitous use of filters. He texts all the time, too, and Dex never knows if he’s going to get a picture of a lobster (always captioned with shit like “DO U KNOW HIM????”, and Dex gets over being annoyed by that really quickly) or a question that’s absolutely paving the way for a day-long social discussion.

 

He’s also about a million times more tactile now. Dex never noticed how much he and Nursey didn’t touch until now, when Nursey flops his legs onto Dex’s lap on the couch, or drapes an arm around him to lean over his shoulder when they go over plays at practice, or practically falls onto him when he drinks at kegsters. Dex finds himself getting weirdly familiar with the smell of Nursey’s cologne, and after two weeks realizes that there’s been so much contact between them that Nursey’s smell is starting to seep into his own clothing.

 

It’s way, way nicer than he wants to admit.

 

Unfortunately, he’s also become deeply attuned to Nursey’s moods. Which means that he notices instantly when they start to drop.

 

It’s not an instantaneous thing. It starts with his usually casual spaciness turning into longer periods of staring off into nothing, until it takes two or three attempts to call his name before he responds. Then it’s a tremor in his hands, that he hides by pulling his sleeves over his palms, but Dex sees it, and when he asks, Nursey mumbles that he’s not sleeping and takes another sip of coffee.

 

The third time he catches Nursey wiping tears out of his eyes when Dex shows up at his dorm room to walk to the Haus, Dex gives up on subtlety. “Dude,” he says. “Are you, like...okay?”

 

Nursey looks a little taken aback by the question, but he squares his shoulders and lifts his chin. “Yeah,” he says. “Of course I am.”

 

Dex narrows his eyes at him. “When was the last time you slept through the night?”

 

Nursey holds his gaze for a moment, and then sighs, shoulders slumping. “Look,” he says tiredly. Dex can hear the weariness in his voice, and for some reason, it makes his chest ache. “I’m just--I get into these funks sometimes, y’know? It’s just a thing. I’m just...waiting for an opportunity to blow off some steam.”

 

Dex frowns at him. “What kind of opportunity?”

 

“Don’t worry about it, dude,” Nursey says. He gives Dex a tight smile, miles away from his usual grin. “I’ll know it when I see it.”

 

“Right,” Dex says, a little skeptical. “If you say so.”

 

It’s not until the day after the next kegster, when Nursey turns up to Haus breakfast with scratches visible on his neck and a deeply pleased smile curving his lips that Dex realizes just what he means by blow off steam.

 

And it’s not until ten minutes after that, when Nursey leans against his side and Dex gets a vivid view of the bruise on the underside of his jaw, that he realizes that the twisting feeling in his stomach isn’t worry.

 

It’s jealousy.

 

Oh, he thinks.

 

Shit.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

it is important to recognize

 the difference between

want and need

cause i may love you

but having you is

not necessarily good for me

 

(Rupi Kaur, milk and honey)

 

It takes Nursey a long time to catch his breath, sprawled out on Lijah’s sheets with his face still buried in the pillows.

 

“Holy shit,” he manages finally.

 

Lijah gives a throaty laugh in agreement. He swats fondly at Nursey’s ass as he climbs off the bed to get rid of the condom, and Nursey rolls onto his back, letting the sweat dry on his skin. The room still smells like sex and a little bit like weed, the joint they’d been sharing abandoned on the ashtray on Lijah’s bedside table.

 

“Beer, bro?”

 

Nursey picks his head up. Lijah, crouching by his mini-fridge, waves a can of Coors at him, and Nursey makes a face. “Coors, dude? Really?”

 

“Didn’t know you were such a picky date,” Lijah teases, but he gets one for Nursey anyway, coming back to bed. He nudges at Nursey until he moves over and then flops down next to him, tracing his fingertips over the reddening marks on Nursey’s abs. “Think they’re gonna bruise?”

 

“I live in hope,” Nursey says, winking at him, and Lijah laughs, handing him the beer. He pops the tab and drinks, then grimaces. “This shit is truly gross, man. I thought Beta Sig had standards?”

 

“They do, but the football team doesn’t, and they’re the ones who stock my fridge.” Lijah nudges an arm under Nursey’s neck until Nursey lifts his head up to let him. “You feelin’ good?”

 

Nursey hums. His body still buzzes a little, sore and wrung-out in the best way, his fingers tingling from where he’d clenched them so hard he’d lost feeling. “Yeah. Definitely good.”

 

Lijah grins, and Nursey snorts. “Yeah, yeah. Don’t get smug.”

 

“Who’s smug?”

 

Nursey rolls his eyes, swatting at him, and Lijah catches his hand and bites at his fingertips. Nursey lets himself smile. Lijah’s a good guy and a good fuck, and he gets boundaries--the perfect friend with benefits, honestly. Their dynamic has been teasing and flirtatious since they’d met in the same freshman writing seminar (“Blackness and Masculinity: Voices of the African Diaspora”, sometimes Nursey fucking loves Samwell). They’d hit it off right away, but they hadn’t hooked up until spring semester, after SMH got knocked out of the Frozen Four and Nursey had needed a shoulder to cry on.

 

And then some.

 

“I’m just saying,” Nursey says, lifting his head to grin. “If you ran plays like you fuck, the football team might actually beat Harvard once in awhile.”

 

Lijah groans, pulling his arm out from under Nursey’s neck to shove at his face. “You’re the literal fucking worst.”

 

“What’s that say about your taste, then?” Nursey drains the can and sets it on the table, then sits up with a slight wince. Pleasantly sore is starting to give way to yeah, definitely gonna feel that tomorrow. He stretches, and then rolls to his feet. “Have you seen my underwear?”

 

“Under the sheet somewhere.” Lijah sits up. “You can stay the night if you want.”

 

Nursey shakes his head. “Got an early class.” He digs his boxers out from where they’re bunched at the foot of the bed, then slips them on to go hunt for his jeans. Those are, fortunately, easier to find, crumpled on the floor next to his shirt and sweater. He dresses quickly, slipping his shoes on without bothering to untie them, then turns back to Lijah. “Thanks for this, dude. I needed it.”

 

Lijah salutes him with his beer. “You know me, always here to help.” He pauses. “You cool to get home?”

 

“Yeah, I’m fine.” Nursey leans over to kiss his cheek. “See you in class.”

 

“You got it.”

 

The cool wind that greets him when he steps outside Lijah’s dorm makes him stop and inhale, filling his lungs with cold, fresh air. His muscles protest a little as he sets off toward his own dorm, the residual ache of pushing himself around too soon after a hard fuck. He likes it, though, leans into the sensation as much as he can, the twinge and stretch of it.

 

He knows, on an intellectual level, that the way he handles sex isn’t the healthiest thing. His antidepressants are great and he takes them religiously, but they don’t fix everything. On the days when his skin feels too tight and his pulse pounds like a headache in his veins and he can’t decide if he wants to cry or scream or disappear, a Xanax just doesn’t cut it.

 

Back in high school he’d tried smoking, sneaking cigarettes from seniors and townies. That had lasted until junior year, when his dad had found a crumpled pack of Marlboros in his bag and had raised his voice to him for the first time in Nursey’s life.

 

So, no more smoking.

 

There’d been some drinking after that--a lot of drinking, if he’s honest, and he’s still not great about controlling it. A lot of weed. He’s tried a few stronger drugs--no shortage of them at a private school full of rich kids with money to burn--but never to excess.

 

But sex is different.

 

It had taken him until senior year of high school to realize that a round of really intense sex chills him out more effectively than weed or alcohol or even running on a treadmill until he can’t breathe anymore. It gets him out of his head, and he needs that--needs it on the days when his fingers itch to pick up something that will hurt him or worse. Sex takes him away from that, makes him focus on something else, someone else.

 

And if he walks away with bruises he can press on for the next week, all the better.

 

So, yeah, things are going well.

 

(He’s pretty sure his therapist hates him at this point, because whenever she asks, he points out that he gets tested every six weeks like clockwork and he could be doing meth in a dirty basement somewhere, and isn’t this technically better?

 

Her side-eye is amazing.)

 

His phone goes off, the annoying boat horn he’d put in as Dex’s ringtone just to tick him off. He slips it out of his pocket, sliding open the lock screen to see a text from Dex asking if he wants to get late-night tacos at the dining hall. Nursey purses his lips, tapping a finger against the side of his phone.

 

Dex has been weird lately, ever since he decided that they were going to be friends now. He reaches out all the time, small things like this--food or movies or just fucking around on the ice when Faber’s open--and bigger things too, sometimes, apologizing for the way he’s been shitty in the past and asking about book recommendations by non-white, non-US writers.

 

If Nursey didn’t know better, he’d almost think Dex was flirting with him.

 

Which, come on. Fucking ridiculous.

 

He snorts, reopening their message thread. Just left the gym, should probably shower first, he texts, which is half a lie--he and Lijah started at the gym, meeting in the weight room for a quick session, but they’d only stayed twenty minutes before heading to Lijah’s dorm instead. But he definitely does need a shower; the quick wipedown with Lijah’s t-shirt had not gotten all the come off his stomach. Meet you in half an hour?

 

Typing dots pop up, followed by I will not save you guac.

 

Traitor, Nursey types back, and slips his phone back in his pocket.

 

He doesn’t mean to grin, but he finds himself smiling anyway.

 

 

His good mood manages to last about three weeks.

 

Three weeks is pretty good for him. His anxiety always increases the further he gets into the semester, and they’re heading towards midterms at top speed, so for him to go three weeks without a panic attack or a spiral of catastrophizing is something of a miracle.

 

But then SMH hits a losing streak, throwing two back to back games on a roadie, and then he falls behind on his reading and fucks up a discussion section, and then he gets a B on a paper that really deserved an A (alright, fine, maybe an A minus, but not a B, come on), and before he knows it--

 

“You’re getting twitchy again.”

 

Nursey scowls at Lardo. More specifically at her foot, which is in his lap. His hands have steadied enough that she’s letting him paint her nails for her while she makes the changes to her thesis bibliography he’d written out for her. “Your face is getting twitchy again,” he mutters, sullen.

 

He doesn’t need to look to know she’s rolling her eyes. “Nursey,” she says. “I’m not an idiot.”

 

“No one said you were.” He draws the brush carefully, wiping a stray drop with the edge of his thumbnail. He squints at the color. “Would this look good on me?”

 

Lardo peers over the top of her laptop. “No,” she says after a thoughtful moment. “Goth chic isn’t really your aesthetic.” She rummages in the makeup bag next to her and pulls out two bottles, a sunny yellow and a deep burgundy. “One of these. Depending on your mood, I guess.”

 

“Huh.” Nursey regards the two bottles and then shrugs. “Maybe.”

 

“You’d look good in it,” she says, her tone almost bored. “Either of them.” She puts the bottles away. “Don’t think I don’t notice you trying to change the subject.”

 

He huffs a sigh. “Lardo, it’s fine. I’m fine. This is just what happens. It’ll be--”

 

“Fine?” she offers, lip curling. Nursey rolls his eyes, and Lardo sighs, putting her laptop to the side. “You’re not fine.”

 

“I will be. I just need to--”

 

“So help me, if you say ‘fuck it out of my system’, I will tell Rans and Holster to put you on bag skates for a week.”

 

Nursey closes his mouth with a firm click. Lardo glowers at him, and then her face softens. “You know it’s not good for you.”

 

He manages not to bristle. “This is getting really close to some slut-shaming bullshit, Lards.”

 

“That’s not what I’m talking about, and you know it,” she says, voice sharp. “I’m not worried because you’re fucking multiple people, I’m worried because you let them hurt you.”

 

“Nobody’s hurt me,” he protests.

 

Lardo scowls. “They’re not gentle with you.”

 

“I don’t want them to be gentle with me.” Nursey finishes her last toenail and screws the brush back onto the bottle. “It doesn’t work like that, I need to feel it. If I wanted to have boring vanilla sex, I’d fuck Holster.” She sputters a laugh, and he shrugs. “You know I’m right.”

 

“I do know you’re right, I just can’t stop picturing Holster’s face if you said that to him.” Lardo pretends to wipe a tear from her eye with the side of her finger. “Fuck. Okay.” She takes a deep breath. “Look. I just...I want to make sure you’re taking care of yourself, alright? Really taking care of yourself, not just remembering to use a condom when you have your anxiety hookups.”

 

Nursey winces. “Anxiety hookups makes me sound so fucked up.”

 

Lardo snorts. “I hate to break it to you, Nursey, but fucking people so that your body will override your feelings and reset your mental health is fucked up.” He flips her off, and she shrugs. “You can’t be mad at me for wanting to make sure you’re okay.”

 

“I am--” She fixes him with a glare, and he sighs. “I’ll be okay.”

 

“Right,” Lardo says, dry. She gives him what he refers to fondly as her Manager Look. “And you’re sleeping enough? Drinking things that aren’t alcohol or coffee? You set your food alarms?”

 

“Oh my God, Lards, yes.” He rolls his eyes. “You’re worse than my mom.”

 

“Doubt it,” she says. “If I were your mom, I’d ground you.”

 

Nursey snorts. “Fair,” he says, and reopens the nail polish to give her another coat.

 

 

Despite the lecture, Lardo paints his nails for him before Saturday’s kegster, holding his hands steady while she smoothes the deep red polish over his nails. He kisses her cheek in thanks--she rolls her eyes at him, predictably and tells him to get out of her room so she can get ready--and goes back to his own dorm to change. Farmer meets him there, armed with a backpack of dresses and her makeup bag and pulling her top off as soon as he closes the door behind her.

 

It should probably be weird that he’s used to this.

 

“This isn’t too much, right?” she asks when she's dressed for the third time, twisting to look at her back in the mirror.

 

Nursey pulls his shirt over his head and turns to look at her. Body con dresses aren’t her usual style so he figures she must have borrowed this one from one of the other girls on the volleyball team, but it hugs her figure perfectly, short enough to emphasize her strong legs.

 

The effect is kind of ruined by the fact that she’s still wearing the fuzzy Hufflepuff socks he’s pretty sure she stole from Chowder.

 

“Not too much,” he says, sitting down on his bed. “The socks really make the outfit, you should keep them.”

 

Farmer makes a face, taking off one of her socks and throwing it at him. He laughs, catching it one-handed. “I’m kidding, babes. You look great. Chowder’s gonna lose his shit.”

 

“Good,” she says, flashing him a wicked grin. She sits down on the floor and takes off her other sock, then pulls a pair of black ballet flats out of her backpack and puts them on. If he knows her--and he does--she has a pair of pumps in her purse that she’ll put on at the Haus for about twenty minutes until she gets sick of them and trades them back for flats. “Can I put eyeliner on you?”

 

Nursey raises his eyebrows. “I’m trying to get laid tonight.”

 

Farmer digs into her makeup bag and waggles an eyeliner pencil at him. “I know,” she says. “So let me do your eyeliner.”

 

He eyes the pencil suspiciously. “You’re not gonna poke my eye out, right?”

 

“Have I ever before?”

 

“I don’t know, you hold grudges. I’m trying to remember the last time I pissed you off.”

 

Farmer snickers. “It was last week when you ate my last fudge sundae PopTart. But then you edited my English paper, so we’re good.” She spins the pencil around her fingers. “Now, lean forward and make your eyes all wide.”

 

He grimaces, but does what she tells him. In all honesty he’s not that worried; she’s put eyeliner on him before and it always looks good, and she can do her own one-handed using her phone camera as a mirror and walking down the campus sidewalk. But he’s also been twitchy all week and he’s not that happy about anything going near his eyes, so he twists his hands into his comforter and holds himself as still as he can.

 

She gives him an understanding smile, uncapping the pencil and taking his chin in her hand. “You’ve got absurd eyelashes,” she says. “Have I told you that?”

 

“Every time you do this,” he says. She starts running the pencil along his lower eyelid, and he tries not to twitch. “Pretty sure they’re my best feature.”

 

Farmer laughs. “Among others, you humble bastard. Close your eyes.”

 

Obediently, he does, and she uses her thumb to hold his eyelid taut while she starts applying what feels like the start of a wing. “Am I gonna look like an asshole?”

 

“You’re gonna look gorgeous. As usual. God, you’re the worst.” She moves to his other eye. “You’re almost unfairly pretty sometimes. Chris and I talk about it a lot.”

 

Nursey manages not to raise his eyebrows, but it takes effort. “Really?”

 

“Don’t smirk at me like that. We can talk about you without inviting you into bed.”

 

“Tease,” he says, and she flicks his jaw with her finger.

 

“Why are you like this,” she complains, but she pats his cheek. “All done.”

 

Nursey opens his eyes, then rolls off the bed to peer into the mirror on the back of his door, catching Farmer switching pencils and holding up her phone to run through her own makeup routine. His face looks different but not dramatically so, the gold liner around his eyes making them look softer, his dark lashes set off by the lighter color. It gives him a gentle, almost regal look, and he touches the edge of one wing with one careful finger. “It’s not too much?”

 

Farmer glances at him and opens her mouth to respond, probably with something sarcastic, but she’s interrupted by the door opening. Nursey jerks away from the mirror, stepping back quickly before it can hit him in the face.

 

Dex pokes his head in. “Hey. You guys ready to go--oh.” He breaks off as Nursey steps out from behind the door, his eyes widening. “Are you wearing eyeliner?”

 

For some reason, the thought of judgment from Dex turns Nursey’s apprehension into defiance. “Is that a problem?”

 

Dex’s cheeks flare pink. “Problem is--uh, no. Not the word I would use.”

 

Nursey narrows his eyes at him. “You’re being weird. Why are you being weird?”

 

“I’m not being weird!”

 

“Oh my God,” Farmer says, getting off the bed and picking up her jacket. “I can’t with you two. Derek, you look hot, don’t be an idiot. Come on, let’s go. I want to watch Chris’s face when I show up in this dress.”

 

The absolute last thing he wants to do is say no to Caitlin Farmer when she’s in that kind of mood. Nursey picks up her purse--yup, there are definitely heels in there--and hands it to her. “After you, princess,” he says, and she hauls them both out the door.

 

 

The kegster is already in full swing when they get there. Farmer takes ten seconds on the porch to use Nursey’s shoulder for stabilization while she swaps her flats for heels, and then she tosses Dex her purse. “Stash that in Chowder’s room for me, will you?” she says brightly, and charges inside without waiting for a response, leaving them staring into the throng from the front door.

 

Dex shakes his head. “That woman’s a force of nature,” he says.

 

“C can handle her,” Nursey says. People underestimate Chowder. It’s a rookie mistake. “Don’t suppose you want to take my jacket, too?”

 

Dex rolls his eyes. “I’m not a butler, Nurse. Besides, you’re gonna want it when you leave, and if Farmer drags Chowder upstairs you’re not gonna be able to get it.”

 

Nursey winces. “Point,” he says. He’s walked in on them before, and Chowder still gives him shit for it. In his defense, they’d been very quiet, and the door wasn’t locked. “Kitchen, then. Want me to take yours?”

 

“Thanks.” Dex shrugs out of his jacket and hands it to him, then makes a face at Farmer’s purse. “I’m gonna get upstairs before anyone sees me with this.”

 

Nursey thinks about making a what’s wrong with carrying a purse comment, and decides it’s not worth it. “Good luck, bro.”

 

They head inside, navigating through the throng of bodies in the living room, and split up. Nursey ducks under the caution tape on the kitchen doorway--Bitty declared it off-limits in kegsters after the third time someone puked on the floor--and tosses their jackets onto the table, where there’s already a decent pile of SMH jackets and hoodies. Team privilege, he thinks, amused, and heads back out into the party.

 

The bar’s set up where it always is, against the wall in what was once probably a formal dining room and is now used mostly for keg stands and beer storage, far enough from the living room with its speaker system and television to avoid any disasters with liquid and technology. The couch and coffee table have been moved out of the living room to the opposite wall of the dining room from the bar, giving a little bit of seating, but mostly makeout room. Nursey recognizes the back of Farmer’s ponytail, and grins despite himself. The girl moves fast, he gives her that.

 

SMH has a rule that the bar never goes unsupervised, and Holster’s watching it now, eyeing the amount of tub juice one of the Samwell Women’s Soccer girls is pouring into her solo cup. “Sup, Holtzy,” Nursey says, plucking a cup from the stack and opening the vodka bottle.

 

“Hey, Nurse.” Holster arches an eyebrow. “I like the eyeliner.”

 

Nursey rolls his eyes, pouring himself a generous shot and knocking it back. “Farmer’s idea,” he says, wincing a little at the burn. “Jesus, Holtz, is this vodka or floor polish?”

 

Holster shrugs. “Don’t blame me, blame the kegster stocking committee.”

 

“I will personally kick in extra money to the booze fund if it means we buy better shit than this.” Still, he pours another shot, ignoring Holster’s frown as he drinks it down. He’s had enough sobriety for the week.

 

“Wanna slow down there?”

 

“I do not,” Nursey says promptly. He looks at his cup thoughtfully. Two shots is enough, he decides, and ladles himself some tub juice.

 

He’s saved from what he suspects is going to be a judgmental comment by Dex’s appearance next to him. “It’s a good thing you didn’t put your jacket upstairs,” he says to Nursey, bypassing Holster to grab a beer from the cooler. “Farms looks like she’s on a mission.”

 

Nursey grins, grateful for the reprieve. “We had two roadies last weekend, and she’s had two tests this week. I think they haven’t had a lot of alone time.”

 

Dex makes a face. “I don’t need the mental image, thanks.” He glances at the cup in Nursey’s hand, then at the open vodka bottle. “Not wasting time, are you?”

 

“Let me live, Dexy,” Nursey says. Dex frowns, and Nursey rolls his eyes, uncapping one of the sharpies attached to the table with string and drawing two neat tally marks on his forearm. “There. Tracking my shit so I can be nice and honest with the paramedics. Happy?”

 

“I’d be happier if you weren’t out to get paramedics called,” Dex says. “I’m on Nursey Patrol tonight, can you at least try to make my job easier?”

 

“Nursey Patrol is patronizing as fuck and I want it on record--again--that I object to it on principle.”

 

Dex looks at Nursey’s full solo cup, then at the tally marks on his arm, then back at the solo cup, and deadpans, “We’ve been here for ten minutes.”

 

“Not my fault you’re slow,” Nursey shrugs. He salutes Holster with his cup. “Gonna go dance. Try to keep up, Poindexter.”

 

Without waiting to see if Dex tries to follow him, Nursey heads into the dance floor. Ransom must be in charge of the music, because the club mix of Nicki Minaj pounding through the speakers doesn’t sound like one of the ones Bitty would have--probably because it’s not Top 40. He loves Bits to death, but if he talks about his “inner black queen” one more time, Nursey may have to strangle the little fucker.

 

Woo, okay. Booze is definitely kicking in. He takes a sip of tub juice in an attempt to bypass the first stage of drunkeness, which is always excessively bitchy, to jump right to loose and comfortable.

 

It works.

 

Within half an hour, he’s off the dance floor, the reigning star of the Samwell wrestling team holding him by the hips and pressing him back against a wall by the kitchen. He’s hooked up with Brett before and it was only okay--Brett came pretty fast and left sharper bruises than Nursey usually likes--but it’s been a long week and he’s not into putting in the effort to pull someone new.

 

Anyway, Brett’s a good kisser, at least, and the long, slow kisses mixed with the alcohol in his bloodstream is enough to dim his anxiety to a faint whine in the back of his head, rather than its usual shrieking roar.

 

Brett breaks away from his mouth and starts working his way over Nursey’s jaw and down to his neck, his stubble scraping against Nursey’s skin. Nursey closes his eyes, lets his arms drape over his shoulders. Brett’s shorter than he is by an inch or two, but broader through the shoulders and arms, all strong, solid muscle.

 

A bite to his collarbone makes him shiver. “Fuck,” he mumbles.

 

“Sure, if you want.” Brett leans up to kiss him again, his hands drifting from Nursey’s hips to attempt to slip under the waist of his jeans.

 

Nursey catches his wrist. “Hey,” he says. “Public.”

 

Brett snorts. “No one can see us. It’s dark as fuck in here.”

 

“That’s not the point.” Nursey frowns at him. He’s pretty tipsy, but he’s got it together enough that he’s gonna stick to his rule about nothing going on under his clothes in a public place. “I don’t like it.”

 

“Pretty rich, coming from you.”

 

Nursey stills, tightening his hand around Brett’s wrist. He’s still trying to go for Nursey’s boxers. “What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”

 

Brett rolls his eyes and finally pulls his hand back. “Just that the last time we were like this, you were pretty shameless. Didn’t hear a lot of nos, just a lot of--”

 

“Yeah, okay, you can fuck off.” Nursey pushes him back by the chest. “We’re done here.”

 

“What, now you have standards?” Brett doesn’t let him up. “Last time I checked, you were willing to spread your legs to anyone willing to--”

 

A hand lands on the back of Brett’s shoulder, and Dex looms up behind him. “I definitely didn’t hear you say what I think I just heard you say, right?”

 

Brett winces a little at Dex’s grip, stepping away from Nursey. Something in Nursey’s chest relaxes, and he can breathe a little easier. “What, you staking a claim?”

 

Dex’s expression doesn’t change, but that’s only because he already looked murderous. “Get the fuck out of my Haus.”

 

Brett’s lip curls. “Enjoy him,” he tells Dex, nodding at Nursey. “He’s a screamer.” He shoves Dex’s hand off his shoulder and stalks away.

 

For a moment, they just stand there in silence. Nursey’s anxiety is like white noise in his ears, and he wonders vaguely if he’s dissociating. He decides he’s not. It’s just the booze. “Dex,” he starts.

 

Dex rounds on him. He still looks furious.

 

“You didn’t have to--”

 

“Shut the fuck up,” Dex snaps. “And come with me. You’re wasted, I’m taking you home.”

 

He grabs Nursey’s arm and hauls him off the wall, pulling him toward the kitchen. Nursey stumbles a little after him, glad that Brett being an asshole had killed anything resembling an erection so that at least moving isn’t awkward and uncomfortable. “I’m not wasted,” he says, but it’s a half-hearted protest.

 

“Seriously?” Dex snarls at him. “That’s what you’re going with?” He finds Nursey’s jacket under the pile on the table and shoves it at him, then finds his own. He doesn’t bother putting it on before he’s pulling Nursey out of the Haus.

 

Dex looks angry enough that Nursey decides against saying anything else. The evening air is cold enough that it makes him shiver where it hits his alcohol-flushed skin, and he zips up his jacket, burrowing into the leather.

 

They walk without speaking, down Jason Street and past the other houses on Frat Row, most of them vibrating with audible bass. The different rhythms overlap and contrast, and it makes Nursey’s head hurt.

 

When they turn onto Elm, Nursey breaks the silence. “I could have handled it.”

 

Dex exhales hard. “Nurse, I swear to God.”

 

“Why are you pissed at me?”

 

“Are you kidding?” Dex stops, rounding on him. “What the fuck were you even thinking?”

 

Nursey bristles. “I was thinking it’s none of your fucking business.”

 

“Of course it’s my business!” Dex explodes. “You were halfway wasted and about to hook up with someone who clearly doesn’t give a fuck about you with the way he talked, and every time you do this you always look fucking awful afterwards, and--” He deflates slightly, like he’s realized he’s yelling and doesn’t want to be, and gives a hard, huffing sigh. “How is that fucking safe, Nursey? Jesus.”

 

It’s hard not to gape at him. Dex looks genuinely distressed--not judgemental, but like he’s honestly furious that Nursey might not be okay. Nursey is not equipped to deal with that. “I...don’t need your fucking input on my choices?”

 

“It’s not about input, I--fuck.” Dex sighs again, pressing the heels of his palms against his eyes. “Jesus, Nurse, what if he hurt you?”

 

Nursey rolls his eyes. “He wasn’t going to hurt me, he was just being a dick.”

 

“Oh, and that’s okay?”

 

“Why do you even care?” Nursey snaps back, defensiveness overcoming the last dregs of avoidance.

 

Dex looks exasperated. “Because you’re my partner? And my friend? And--” He breaks off, and then exhales through his nose, rubbing the back of his head. It’s a nervous tell, and Nursey frowns to see it. “And I don’t want you to get hurt, okay? Even if it’s just verbal shit, I...I don’t like thinking about you...being with someone who treats you like that.”

 

Nursey stares at him. He wonders if there’s a way to say I didn’t know you gave a shit without sounding like an asshole, and decides there probably isn’t. Then he tries to think of a way to say most of them aren’t like that without sounding as slutty as Brett just made him out to be, and comes up empty there, too. He closes his eyes for a moment, trying to calm himself down, and then breathes out slowly.

 

“Let’s start walking,” he says. “I can’t talk if I’m standing still.”

 

“Talk about what?”

 

Walk, Poindexter.”

 

Dex raises his hands, almost defensive, and falls into step next to him.

 

They head down Elm Street, heading towards River Street to go back to their quad. The wind ruffles Nursey’s hair, and he clenches his fists in his pockets, running the pads of his forefingers over his thumbnails. He can feel the smooth finish of the polish under his skin.

 

“I have anxiety,” he says after a few minutes of silence. “I mean. Depends on who you ask. My current therapist doesn’t really believe in diagnosing, but my last one was all about that ‘persistent depression with anxious features’ shit.” He keeps his gaze straight ahead. He doesn’t want to look at Dex’s face. “I get...I get into these spirals. I get stressed, and then I get anxious, and then I start feeling like I’m falling into this pit of--”

 

He stops himself. They don’t need to go there. “Anyway. I...I figured out that a couple rounds of really intense sex kind of...knocks me back to baseline. And I don’t...I don’t go out looking for something rough, or anything, I don’t want to be hurt. But I need to be--I need to get out of my head. I need to feel so much that I stop thinking. And sometimes the lines get a little blurred.”

 

“Nurse,” Dex says. Nursey risks a glance at him. His features are pinched, like he’s almost in pain.

 

“It’s fine. No one’s ever hurt me, not in any way that justifies the look you’re giving me right now.” Dex has the decency to look embarrassed at that, and Nursey can’t resist wheedling him at least a little bit. “But, you know. I can handle a little sharp.”

 

Dex’s cheeks flood with color. He opens his mouth, and then closes it. His flush, if anything, gets darker.

 

Nursey snorts. Will Poindexter, maybe not as vanilla as Nursey assumed. Who’d have thought. “All I’m saying is that I don’t need your approval. Or your protection.”

 

His foot hits a jagged edge of sidewalk, and he stumbles. Dex catches him with a hand on his arm.

 

“You might not need me,” Dex says, keeping a grip on Nursey’s arm until he’s safely back on his feet, the world still dipping around him from the alcohol in his veins. “But that doesn’t mean I’m not here.”

 

 

Chowder brings him coffee in the morning in an Annie’s takeaway cup the size of Nursey’s face, kicking off his sneakers and sitting down on Nursey’s bed with his own cup. “So,” he says. “Heard you had a fun night.”

 

Nursey scrubs a hand over his face. His hangover’s not nearly as bad as it could be, but he still feels like shit. “Who told you?”

 

“Dex.”

 

Nursey takes a long sip of coffee, ignoring the fact that it’s too hot. “Cockblocking dickbag,” he mutters.

 

Chowder snorts. “Tell me how you really feel.”

 

“I didn’t ask him to swoop in there like a knight in shining armor, C.”

 

Chowder takes the lid off his coffee and blows on it. Because he, unlike Nursey, is capable of holding an open cup without spilling it all over himself, Nursey doesn’t protest. “He said you’d told the guy to fuck off and he wasn’t going.”

 

“He would have,” Nursey grumbles. He takes another sip of coffee. “Besides, there were other people there. He didn’t have to drag me out like some kind of damsel.”

 

For a long moment, Chowder just looks at him, his expression caught somewhere between skeptical, fond, and exasperated. “I love you so much,” he says finally. “But you are so fucking stupid sometimes.”

 

Nursey rolls his eyes. “Thanks, C. Feeling that love.”

 

“He’s worried about you.” Chowder pauses. “You can’t really blame him.”

 

“I’m not doing anything wrong.”

 

Chowder sighs. “That doesn’t mean you’re being smart.”

 

Nursey feels a twinge of hurt. “Come on, C,” he says, dropping his head back against the wall. “I need one person in my life who isn’t judging me.”

 

“I’m not judging, Nursey, I’m just--” He cuts himself off, takes a sip of his coffee, and then gives Nursey a small smile. “You’re right. I’m sorry, I didn’t--The last thing I want is for you to feel like you can’t talk to me.”

 

“I don’t feel like that, I just...It’s shitty to feel like everyone’s looking at me differently because of this.” Nursey has to force himself not to tighten his grip on his cup; knowing his luck, the flimsy paper would collapse and he’d end up with spilled coffee all over his dick. “No one was even supposed to know, and now everyone thinks it’s their business.”

 

Chowder puts the lid on his coffee and scoots closer to Nursey until their shoulders are pressed together. “It’s not our business,” he agrees, and he looks genuinely apologetic. “Dex has just been...I think he’s fixating a little bit. You know how he gets.”

 

Nursey rolls his eyes. “Weird and obsessive?”

 

Protective,” Chowder corrects, but he’s grinning. “But, you know. Semantics.”

 

Nursey shakes his head, amused despite himself. “He’s a youngest kid, I don’t know where he gets this shit.”

 

“I think he has a bunch of little cousins.” Chowder nudges him gently. “You’re not really pissed at him, are you?”

 

He thinks about it. “No,” he decides. “Annoyed, maybe, but not mad.” He gives his coffee an appraising look, then decides it’s cooled enough to start chugging. “Anyway, it’s fine. At least I don’t have to deal with him tonight.”

 

Chowder pauses with his coffee halfway to his lips. “What’s tonight?”

 

“There’s a party at Bentley,” Nursey says. “A guy from my team at Andover invited me.”

 

“You said you hated everyone at Andover except Shitty.”

 

“Not everyone,” Nursey says, and then shrugs. “Besides, after last night’s bullshit I need someone to wreck me so hard I won’t want to risk being in a class with them next semester, so I’m outsourcing.”

 

Chowder chokes on his coffee. “What the fuck,” he sputters, and Nursey bursts out laughing. “You’re really not selling me on the good life choices thing, buddy.”

 

Nursey grins at him. “Hey, if I don’t cry, they didn’t do it right.”

 

Oh my God.

 

 

He doesn’t bother with eyeliner this time, just digs another black v-neck out of his closet--yes, he has more than one; he’s heard all the comments, but whatever, he looks great in them--and pulls it over his head, teases his curls to define them. He runs a hand over the stubble on his jaw, trying to decide if it’s worth shaving.

 

Nah, probably not. People like the stubble look.

 

There’s a knock at his door. “It’s open,” he calls.

 

The door opens. “Hey,” Dex says. He looks tired, but not nearly as tired as Nursey feels, wearing cords and his SMH hoodie. “Can we talk?”

 

Nursey hesitates, then gestures to his desk chair. “Have a seat.”

 

Dex sits down. He’s holding his phone in his hands, turning it over one way and then the next. “I’m sorry about last night.”

 

Nursey shrugs. “I’m over it,” he says. He sits down on the bed. “Is that it?”

 

“No, I…” Dex looks down at his hands. “Fuck. This is just gonna piss you off again.”

 

“Uh, okay.” Nursey raises his eyebrows. “So maybe don’t say whatever you’re about to say?”

 

“I think I have to.” Dex rubs a hand over the back of his neck, and then sighs. “Chowder told me what you said.”

 

Oh, for the love of-- “And?” Nursey says, already tired of this.

 

Dex gives him a weak smile. “Can I convince you not to go?”

 

“Jesus Christ, Dex,” Nursey says, exasperated. “How many times do I have to tell you that I don’t need your fucking permission to live my life?”

 

Dex winces. “Nursey--”

 

“Don’t Nursey me.” Nursey pushes himself to his feet. He can’t be still right now. “God, it’s bad enough you’re trying to fucking--manage me, I--”

 

“I just want you to be safe, okay?” Dex is up now, too, his face flushed.

 

God, why does he let Dex rile him like this? “I am safe!”

 

“But you’d be safer with me!” Dex shouts, and then goes a deep, vivid red, his eyes wide.

 

Nursey swallows. “Dex,” he says carefully.

 

Dex closes his eyes. “I didn’t mean to say that,” he says hoarsely.

 

His hands are clenched at his sides, his cheeks red. He takes a shaking breath, looking down at the floor. Nursey knows what it looks like when someone’s avoiding his gaze. “Dex,” he says again.

 

Dex looks up, meets his eyes, and the air between them feels electric. “I know you don’t need me,” he says quietly, and his eyes are intense, blazing. Nursey suddenly feels like there’s less oxygen in the room. “But…” He steps forward, almost close enough to touch. “Nursey, I…”

 

Nursey doesn’t breathe. He doesn’t dare. This moment feels delicate, sensitive, taut as a bowstring. Dex takes another half-step closer to him, and, when Nursey doesn’t move back, reaches out and curves a hand over his jaw.

 

“Tell me if this isn’t okay,” Dex whispers.

 

Nursey closes the space between them.

 

Dex makes a strangled noise, and for half a second Nursey thinks he’s misjudged, but then Dex grabs him by the waist and hauls him in close. The kiss goes from tentative to searing in less than an instant, Dex’s mouth hot and open against his. Nursey clings to his shirt and lets it happen, closing his eyes and just holding on.

 

He’s never given much thought to how Dex might kiss. If he had, he might have thought he’d be aggressive, given his temper and the way he is on the ice, or awkward, the way he is in conversation sometimes. He doesn’t expect this, intensity and heat without pressure, coiled strength in Dex’s grip on his hips, his teeth sharp as he bites at Nursey’s bottom lip. He’s gentle, though, when he slips his tongue into Nursey’s mouth, and Nursey finds himself digging one hand into the short hair at the back of Dex’s head, his other hand sliding under the hem of his sweatshirt.

 

“Fuck,” Dex breathes as he pulls away, and Nursey doesn’t wait for him to say anything else, just drags him back in with a hand curled around the nape of his neck. Dex lets him, groaning into Nursey’s mouth, their bodies pressed together from chest to groin, and fuck is right, God, this is such a bad idea, they’re friends, they’re teammates--

 

Fuck it.

 

“Off,” Nursey gasps between kisses, pulling at Dex’s sweatshirt, and Dex breaks away to yank it over his head, along with whatever he was wearing underneath. He makes a grab for Nursey’s shirt and Nursey lets him pull it off, and then Dex pulls him close again, bringing them skin-to-skin.

 

Dex kisses him once, deep and slow, until Nursey’s hard and shaking. Then he breaks away, setting his lips to Nursey’s jawline, then further back until his mouth is tight against the point where Nursey’s jaw meets his neck, just under his ear. He bites, and Nursey grabs at him, shuddering. “Dex, fuck.”

 

“Is this okay?” Dex presses a kiss to the place he’d just bitten, gentle, soothing.

 

Nursey closes his eyes. “Yeah. Fuck, yes.’

 

“Can I leave marks?”

 

He laughs, a little wildly. “What do you think?”

 

Dex shakes his head without lifting it from the crook of Nursey’s neck. “I think it’s right to ask,” he says, and then sets his mouth to that spot again, teeth and lips working in tandem until Nursey’s shaking against him, clinging to his arms to keep himself upright. His skin prickles, nerves lighting up in that strange in-between place of ticklishness and pleasure and pain, sensitive and over-bright.

 

It’s a long time before Dex stops, and then it’s only to move a few inches down Nursey’s neck and do it again. Nursey feels the sharp bite of capillaries breaking and drops his head back, then winces when his neck protests. “Hey,” he says. “Dex, hey.” Dex stops, looking at him. “Bed?”

 

“Absolutely bed,” Dex breathes. He doesn’t break contact, just walks Nursey backward until the backs of his legs hit the bed, and then pushes, gently. Nursey takes the hint and sits down, then pulls Dex on top of him. Dex grunts a little as they both land flat on the bed, Dex’s weight falling heavily on Nursey, and he shifts to prop himself up on his elbows and one knee. “Don’t wanna crush you.”

 

Nursey shakes his head. Normally he’d chirp him, tease him about being able to bench more than Dex’s body weight any day of the week, but everything feels hot and vulnerable, and he doesn’t want to risk breaking this moment.

 

“I like it,” he says instead, and he doesn’t mean for the words to come out shy, but Dex’s eyes darken, and he leans more of his weight down. Nursey can feel the hard line of his dick through his pants, and it takes every bit of his self-control not to arch into him.

 

Dex cups one hand around the side of Nursey’s neck, leans down to kiss him once, twice. “Tell me what’s okay,” he says, and Nursey’s never heard his voice like this, rough and hoarse. “Tell me what you want.”

 

Everything, I want everything, Nursey thinks, and then shivers, closing his eyes. Dex’s thumb is feather-light as it brushes Nursey’s cheekbone. Fuck, he needs to set limits here; this isn’t a stranger or an acquaintance, this is Dex, whatever they do tonight is going to have consequences. “No penetration,” he says. He’d prepped and cleaned for it, when he thought he was going to Bentley, but that was different.

 

Dex doesn’t look fazed. “Okay,” he says. He bends his head and kisses Nursey’s neck, light and soft. “Can I make you come?”

 

Nursey nods, throat dry. “Yes.”

 

“Can I touch you?” His other hand skims down, over Nursey’s bare skin, and Nursey shivers under the touch. He nods, and Dex’s mouth quirks up at the corners. “You told me you wanna feel everything,” he says. Nursey nods again. “You want me to do that for you?”

 

Nursey swallows. “Please.”

 

Light, teasing fingers slide over Nursey’s chest, down into the dips of his abs. “Do you trust me?”

 

More than I should. “Yes.”

 

Dex grins, and leans in to kiss him for real, open-mouthed and messy. Nursey gives up and arches into him, and Dex puts a hand on his hip, pushes him back down.

 

Nursey makes a protesting noise, and Dex bites his bottom lip. “Let me,” he says, and Nursey closes his eyes.

 

“I’ve got you,” Dex murmurs against his mouth. His lips are softer than Nursey would have thought, for all the time he spends biting them. “Let me take care of you.”

 

He shifts, and with his eyes closed, Nursey can’t see what he’s doing. He moves one hand up to slide his fingers into Dex’s hair, and Dex hums, sets his mouth to Nursey’s shoulder. Nursey waits for the bite, the pressure, but it doesn’t come.

 

Instead, Dex touches him gently, his fingertips brushing over Nursey’s skin. It’s a teasing touch, barely there, and it makes Nursey shiver. He tilts his head back against the pillow and Dex kisses the exposed line of his neck, his teeth scraping against Nursey’s pulse. Nursey clenches his hand in Dex’s hair.

 

Dex laughs, his breath warm against his skin. “There you go,” he murmurs, and skims his hands down Nursey’s sides, down to the waistband of his jeans. Nursey catches his breath, tilting his hips up, and this time, Dex lets him. He flicks the button on Nursey’s jeans and slides the zipper down, slips his hand inside.

 

His palm is calloused and rough, warm against Nursey’s heated skin. The touch drags a groan from Nursey’s throat and Dex chuckles again. “Sensitive?”

 

Nursey leans up to haul him back into a kiss in answer, and Dex slips his tongue into his mouth, catches Nursey’s lower lip into his teeth. The kiss is rough, but the touch of his hand is still tender, light, almost sweet. He doesn’t stroke, doesn’t jerk Nursey off, just brushes his dick with his fingertips, rubs his thumb under the head, circling his foreskin.

 

“Shit,” Nursey says, voice trembling, and Dex kisses his neck, his jaw. Nursey touches his shoulders, his biceps, and Dex shivers against him. “Dex, just--”

 

“Shh.” Dex’s hands move back to Nursey’s waistband. “Lift up.”

 

Nursey lifts his hips and lets Dex pull his jeans and underwear off. He kicks off his own socks as Dex rolls off the bed, stripping down to his boxers. They’re tented in the front and Nursey reaches out, drags his fingers over the the line of Dex’s dick, and Dex groans, shifting his hips back.

 

“Careful,” he says, lips twitching.

 

Nursey frowns. “You don’t want--”

 

“Oh, I definitely do.” Dex grins, sits back down on the bed. He nudges Nursey’s knee with his knuckles, and Nursey spreads his legs enough for Dex to climb between them. “I just want this to last, that’s all.”

 

His clothed erection brushes Nursey’s bare one, and Nursey licks his lip. “Planning on drawing it out?”

 

Dex leans down, nosing at Nursey’s collarbone. “You said you need to feel pretty intensely. Didn’t think I’d get you there with a five-minute handjob.” He runs his hands over Nursey’s sides, over his obliques, the tops of his thighs. “God. Do you know what you look like?”

 

“You see me naked five times a week,” Nursey says, but he feels his skin heat under the weight of Dex’s gaze, as sensitive as an extension of his touch.

 

“Not like this, I don’t,” Dex murmurs. His breath is warm against Nursey’s skin, his lips so much softer than Nursey would have expected. He kisses the dip of Nursey’s collarbone, his tongue barely making contact--it’s still enough to make Nursey shiver--and then moves lower, kissing the swell of his pec and then sealing his mouth around a nipple. Nursey arches up with a gasp and Dex hums into his skin.

 

“Got you,” he says, smoothing the flat of his tongue over Nursey’s nipple. Nursey whimpers. “Shh, I got you.”

 

He keeps his touch light as he runs his hands over Nursey’s sides. It’s teasing but purposeful, the pressure of his fingers varying moment to moment, never settling. He pulls back every time Nursey tries to arch into him, murmuring gentle admonishments, but he doesn’t hold Nursey down, doesn’t press him back.

 

For half an instant, Nursey wonders why he doesn’t take back control, doesn’t just roll Dex underneath him and suck him off until he screams, but--

 

But he likes this, he realizes, as Dex’s fingers slip lower and lower, down to his hips, against his inner thigh. He likes this pressure, gentle and dancing, likes how it sparks at his nerves, catches him in that place between oversensitivity and pleasure and keeps him there, hovering. “Please,” he says.

 

Dex picks his head up and looks at him, pupils blown dark. “Please what?”

 

“I--” Dex’s thumb brushes the edge of his balls, already drawn tight, and Nursey shudders, losing his breath on a moan. “Fuck, I don’t know.”

 

“Then let me choose.” He kisses the trail of hair under Nursey’s navel, lips and tongue hot over Nursey’s skin, and then goes lower, licking into the crease of his hip and thigh. “Let me take care of you.”

 

Fuck, this shouldn’t be so hot. Nursey feels like he’s vibrating out of his skin. “Please,” he says again, for lack of anything else.

 

Dex grins, wicked like he’s about to crash someone into the boards, and licks a line up Nursey’s cock.

 

“Oh fuck--” Nursey tightens his hand in Dex’s hair for half a second and then forces himself to relax his grip. Dex groans around his dick and ducks his head lower, and Nursey remembers from a very awkward day last spring involving popsicles and an ill-advised game of Truth or Dare that Dex absolutely has a gag reflex, so he keeps his hips still. That’s not enough to stop Dex from sliding a hand between Nursey’s legs, tracing his fingertips behind the base of his balls, and Nursey squeezes his eyes shut.

 

Dex pulls off. “Okay?”

 

Nursey nods, not trusting his voice. He takes his hand out of Dex’s hair and runs the back of his knuckles over Dex’s temple. His hand is shaking. All of him is shaking. “I’m good,” he says hoarsely.

 

“Yeah?” Dex puts his mouth on him again, a slow, lazy suck at the head of his dick, keeping it up until Nursey’s struggling not to squirm, and then he picks his head up again. “Your self-control’s good,” he says, as easily as if he’s commenting on a play.

 

“Practice,” Nursey says. Dex makes a thoughtful sound, runs his thumb through the precome beading on Nursey’s dick, and Nursey lets his hips push up into his grip. “Dex, c’mon, please.”

 

“I’ll get you there.” He kisses Nursey’s hip, ducks his shoulder down into the bend of Nursey’s knee until Nursey takes the hint and opens his legs wider, and then he presses a line of open-mouthed kisses from his thigh down to his taint. “Just relax.”

 

Nursey bites his bottom lip. “Doesn’t seem fair,” he says, with a meaningful look at the bulge in Dex’s boxers. The fabric is tight and straining, a damp spot at the front.

 

Dex runs a hand over his own dick, holding Nursey’s eyes. He squeezes, and the damp spot gets bigger. “Let me worry about fair.”

 

“Fuck.” Nursey closes his eyes, and lets his hand fall out of Dex’s hair to twist into his sheets instead.

 

He holds on.

 

Dex touches him.

 

He’s slow, and he’s careful, and he’s calculating and teasing and so, so hot. Nursey thinks back to that conversation in the Reading Room last month, Dex half-joking that his sex stereotype would be awkward virgin, and he doesn’t know how much sex Dex has had but he’s not awkward. There’s the usual expected fumbling, a nail catching on sensitive skin, an accidental bout of giggles from a ticklish spot, too much pressure or not enough, but he goes with all of it, doesn’t get distracted, doesn’t get embarrassed.

 

Nursey wants to touch him back, wants to put his dick in his mouth or drag him into a kiss or ride him into the mattress or something, just to feel like he’s contributing. Because he’s almost ashamed of how much he likes this, just being touched, feather-light fingertips clashing with a hot mouth, Dex coaxing him to the edge and letting him plateau again and again, never pushing him over. He gets close, so close, so many times he loses track, and every time, Dex brings him back down.

 

“Not yet,” he says, the third or fourth or maybe tenth time, God, Nursey can’t breathe--“Not yet. Wait for me, sweetheart.”

 

Sweetheart, Nursey thinks wildly, and can’t stop the moan that tears out of his throat. “Dex,” he says. “Dex, come on, please, please, fuck--”

 

Dex laughs, low and warm, brings his mouth back up to Nursey’s and catches him in a searing kiss. He’s propped up on one elbow, his chest pressed into Nursey’s, and Nursey feels him shift, shoving his boxers down. His bare dick rubs into the crevice of Nursey’s hip, leaves a wet, sticky trail of pre-come. “You told me not to fuck you.”

 

Nursey arches against him, shaking with the effort of not not knocking Dex onto his back and sitting on his dick. “I’m thinking of changing my mind,” he gasps. “Please, come on.”

 

“Ask me next time,” Dex says, and he wraps a hand around both of their dicks. His hand is hot and dry, but they’re both wet enough from everything so far that it barely makes a difference. Dex shudders, kissing him again, and Nursey clings to him, thrusting up. “Fuck,” Dex says against his lips, his voice wrecked. “You wanna come for me?”

 

The only answer Nursey can give is to hook a leg around Dex’s waist and pull him closer, rolling his hips. Dex groans, chokes out “yeah, come on, come on,” and Nursey gives up and lets go.

 

After building for so long, the orgasm hits him hard, his hands clenching on Dex’s bicep as he shudders, coming almost untouched. His body shakes and keeps shaking, every nerve sparking, and he’s only barely aware of Dex falling apart with him, spilling across Nursey’s dick and stomach.

 

He can hear himself gasping, a whimper on his voice, and Dex props himself up and soothes him with a kiss, open-mouthed and messy.

 

“I got you,” he murmurs. “I got you, you’re okay.” He shushes him gently while Nursey grabs at his arms and holds on, his whole body trembling.

 

It takes him a long, long time to come back down and catch his breath. God, he hasn’t come like this from a handjob since he was sixteen, what the fuck? Dex holds him through it, stroking his fingers over Nursey’s temple and kissing his forehead, his cheekbones. His body is humming, vibrant and alive, and he doesn’t think he could string two sentences together into a thought.

 

“Fuck,” he says finally, letting his arm fall from around Dex’s shoulder. It falls limply onto the bed. “Dex, holy shit.”

 

Dex gives a low chuckle. His fingertips slide down Nursey’s chest, running through the come pooled on his stomach. Nursey makes a face at him, squinting through the sweat threatening to drip into his eyes, and Dex laughs properly, kissing his jaw. “You alright?” he says. “Was that enough?”

 

It takes him a second to understand what Dex is asking, and then a longer moment to figure out the answer. He feels good, he realizes, really good--not like he’s used to after a hookup like this, when he can already feel bruises darkening on his skin, but something different, buzzing and wrung-out like he’s gone for a long, hard run.

 

“I’m good,” he says weakly, touching a shaking hand to Dex’s cheek. “I’m...I’m really good.”

 

“Good,” Dex says. He says it firmly, decisively, like he’s properly pleased with himself. “So you’ll call me first next time, right?”

 

Nursey blinks. “I. What?”

 

“The next time you need something like this,” Dex clarifies. He sits up, leaning over the side of the bed to pick up his discarded boxers and using them to wipe the come off both of them. “You’ll call me first?”

 

Nursey stares at him, pushing himself onto his elbows. “Yes?” he guesses. Dex arches an eyebrow at him, pointed, and Nursey swallows. “Yes. Yeah. I’ll call you first.”

 

“Great.” Dex grins, rolling out of bed and pulling his jeans on commando, picking up his shirt and sweatshirt and dragging them on. “Good. So I’ll see you Monday at practice?”

 

Head still spinning, Nursey nods, pulling the sheets up over his groin. “Yeah,” he says faintly.

 

“Cool,” Dex says. He tugs his shoes on, then leans over and curls a hand over the back of Nursey’s neck, giving him a deep, toe-curling kiss. “See you, then,” he says, and presses a last kiss to Nursey’s cheek before leaving the room.

 

Nursey stares at the closed door.

 

What the fuck just happened?

 

 

Chapter Text

 

the way they

leave

tells you

everything

(answers, rupi kaur)

 

The cold air that hits him in the face as he walks out of Nursey’s building does nothing to take the flush off of Dex’s face.

 

He had sex with Nursey.

 

Holy shit, he had sex with Nursey.

 

His train of thought continues like that for the entire trip back to his own dorm, a half-frantic litany of holy shit, Nursey, sex, Nursey, holy shit, and another few holy shits thrown in for good measure, just in case his brain somehow missed the fucking point. He doesn’t make eye contact with anyone as he walks, absolutely certain that he’d blurt out something stupid (like “I just had sex with my teammate and I think I can still smell his cologne what the fuck do I do with that?”) if anyone so much as looks at him.

 

The slam of his door behind him is a relief, as is the immediate realization that his roommate isn’t home. Dex flips the lock and collapses into his desk chair, pulling his water bottle out of the backpack he’d left on the floor and dumping half of it--there’s not much, he hadn’t refilled it after classes yesterday--onto the first dry t-shirt he can find. He runs the shirt over his face, trying to cool down, and then his hands, wiping away phantom (or maybe not phantom) traces of Nursey’s come.

 

Or his own.

 

Or both.

 

Holy shit.

 

Dex shudders, throwing the shirt into his hampers and pressing the heel of his palm firmly against his dick when it twitches, because it is way too soon for that shit. “Fuck,” he says out loud.

 

This was, he thinks, either the smartest or dumbest thing he’s ever done.

 

He’s not a talker as a matter of principle, but he needs to talk about this before he screams.

 

His text thread with Chowder is open before he realizes that he’s tapping at his phone, and he freezes. Chowder knows Nursey isn’t straight, sure, and knows the same about Dex, but he’s a shared friend, and in his heart of hearts, Dex is pretty sure that Chowder is Nursey’s first. At any rate, he’s more protective of Nursey than he is of Dex. It’s certainly possible that C’s protective of Dex when he talks to Nursey, but somehow, Dex doubts it.

 

(Dex doesn’t hold it against him. Nursey’s got a gentler soul than Dex does. He’s not thin-skinned or anything, he’s just...soft inside. Realizing that about Nursey was simultaneously one of the best and worst points in their relationship.)

 

He taps his finger against the side of his phone, hesitant. Maybe Nursey would want to keep this private? He chews the inside of his cheek for a moment, thinking, and then texts his brother instead.

 

Danny Poindexter

 

Hey. you free?

 

Working on a paper. What’s up?

 

Any chance you can take a skype break?

Could use some advice

 

Yikes you must be desperate.

5 minutes? I’ll call you

 

Dex huffs a laugh and opens his laptop, taking a few swigs of what’s left in his water bottle. When they were younger, Dan would have chirped him to hell and back for writing a paper on a Saturday night. Grad school has really mellowed him out.

 

(Well. Grad school and a long-term girlfriend who doesn’t take any shit. Katie’s half the reason Dex felt like he could come out to Dan at all--her best friend from middle school is a lesbian, and she’d told Dan in no uncertain terms that no boyfriend was worth homophobic shit in her life, and he’d wisened up quick. The teasing’s still there--there’s no shortage of “You’d think with all the baking you do you’d know how to not overcook a Hot Pocket, bro”--but the sting is long gone.)

 

Still, he’s never talked to Dan about a specific guy before, not like this, not really, and he can’t help feeling nervous.

 

The incoming Skype call chimes on his computer, and he clicks to accept it. Dan’s face fills the screen, briefly goes pixelated--they’re both on shitty dorm wifi--and then clears.

 

“Hey, little brother,” Dan says, grinning, his years-old greeting since they’d watched Scrubs reruns together after school when Dex was in junior high and still too young to get most of the jokes. He looks good for how little sleep Dex knows he’s getting; all bright eyes and a well-groomed beard.

 

Dex likes to pretend he’s not jealous of the beard, but he really, really is. The chirps he gets in playoff season are bad.

 

“Hey,” he says, leaning back in his chair. “Going full lumberjack?”

 

Dan winks at him, stroking one sideburn. “Don’t hate. Besides, Katie likes the tickle.” He waggles his eyebrows.

 

“Dude,” Dan says, cringing.

 

Dan laughs. “So what’s up? You never call unless something big’s going on.”

 

“Yeah, well.” Dan scrubs a hand through his hair. Some of the strands are still sweat-tacky. He tries to hide his wince. “You remember Nursey?”

 

The look Dan gives him is so flat that Dex does wince. “Gee, I don’t know,” he deadpans. “You’ve only been bitching about him for a year and a half.” He feigns thoughtfulness, tapping his chin. “Remind me, is Nursey the one with the stupid tattoo you can’t figure out? Or the one whose hair you’re weirdly obsessed with? Or--”

 

“Thanks, I get it,” Dex interrupts. Dan snickers, and Dex huffs, ears flaming. “We’ve established that I’m an embarrassing fucking person, we don’t need to hammer the point.” He rubs the back of his neck. “Anyway. I, uh. We.” He breaks off. Dan’s been a lot better about Dex liking guys, but he’s never done this with him before. He can already feel his palms starting to sweat.

 

Oh, well. Fuck it. First time for everything, right?

 

“We slept together,” he says. “Like--we hooked up.”

 

Dan’s jaw actually drops. It would be comical, if it wasn’t vaguely insulting. “You--seriously?”

 

The incredulity makes Dex bristle. “Yes, seriously!”

 

“Sorry, bud, it’s just--” Dan echoes his back-of-the-neck rub; they both get that from their dad. He makes a what can you do? face. “I’ve seen that kid’s instagram feed. He is...out of your league.”

 

Dex scowls. “He abuses filters,” he says, but that’s barely true; Nursey’s just actually that stupidly attractive. Hashtag no fucking filter needed. “And fuck you, we’re in the same league.”

 

“Keep telling yourself that,” Dan says, in the fond but humoring tones of older siblings the world over. Dex makes a face at him. “And also, I’d like to go back to my original statement of: seriously?” He shakes his head. “I mean, I’ll grant you that that I don’t get the whole gay culture thing, but he’s on your fucking hockey team. Isn’t that just bad manners?”

 

He lets the gay culture comment go. They have bigger problems. “I know. I know, okay? But he’s been…” He sighs. “He’s been hooking up with people who are...doing shit to him that fucking messes him up, and I couldn’t watch it anymore.” He rubs his face. “And I didn’t like, plan it or anything, I just went over to talk, but it just--it just happened.”

 

“Wait,” Dan interrupts. “Just, like, just happened? Are you seriously Skyping me right now with some dude’s jizz on your--”

 

He breaks off, like he can’t decide if he’s contrite or grossed out or both. “Shit,” he says. That’s maybe a double standard. But like...can we not with the TMI?”

 

Dex grins. “Sorry,” he says.

 

He’s not sorry. Dan deserves to squirm a little after all those years of sideways homophobia. Still, Dan loves him, and Dex knows it. They’ll never be the kind of brothers who do unconditional support without constant ribbing, the shit-talking makes it fun.

 

“Anyway, I promise I washed my hands,” he says, which is still enough to make Dan’s face scrunch up. It’s also only half-true, but Dex is willing to meet him halfway.

 

“I raised you better than this,” Dan says.

 

Ma raised me better than this,” Dex corrects. “You threw me off a bunch of boats.”

 

“Yeah, but never at high tide.” Dan grins, conspiratorial, and then picks up a mug from somewhere off screen. He takes a swig, grimaces, and puts it down. “Okay, so you hooked up with your d-man and didn’t think it through, despite supposedly being the smart one in the family. Now what?”

 

Dex cringes. “I...left?”

 

Dan stares at him.

 

“Yeah,” Dex says. “That’s about what I was expecting.”

 

“Did you talk about it?”

 

“I mean...a little? It’s gonna happen again, probably.”

 

Dan stares some more.

 

Dex drops his head into his hands, and explains, in as little detail as possible, what had happened. Nursey’s patterns, their fight after the kegster, getting coffee with Chowder and finding out about the Bentley thing, yelling at Nursey turning into kissing Nursey--“Just the highlight reel, please,” Dan interrupts--and that short, stilted conversation afterwards, Nursey saying Dex would be his first call when--not if, Dex knows--he gets back to his breaking point.

 

He doesn’t say anything about how Nursey had trembled under his touch, strong muscle yielding with the grace of a wave coming to shore. He doesn’t talk about the way Nursey had looked at him, so trusting that Dex had been terrified to do the wrong thing, to be anything less than perfect to him. He doesn’t talk about the endearments that made it past his lips even though he'd tried to bite them back, about what it had felt like to hold Nursey when he came.

 

He keeps all of those things to himself, close to his chest, where he can keep them safe.

 

“And then I left,” Dex finishes. “I just...There didn’t seem to be anything left to do.”

 

Dan opens his mouth, lets it hang for a moment, and then closes it. “Okay,” he says. “Okay. Uh.” He hesitates. “Do you...Do you like him?”

 

“Of course I like him, he’s my partner.” That wouldn’t have been true a year ago, and Dan knows it, but it’s true now. They’re friends now, real friends. He’s not stupid enough to think that Nursey would have done what they just did if they weren’t at least friends.

 

“That’s not what I mean, don’t be an idiot.” Dan rolls his eyes at him. “Come on, Billy, don’t be a fucking middle schooler about this. Are you into him?” He catches what he said, and narrows his eyes. “Do not.”

 

“I wasn’t going to,” Dex says, which is a lie, but the joke had almost been too easy anyway. “And I’m...I don’t know. I’ve been--ever since this whole thing with him and the hookups, like, I keep watching him. And I don’t know if I want to protect him, or if it’s a crush, or if I actually like him, like him--shut up--or what. I just. It’s never been like this before.”

 

Dan hmphs an affirmation, looking thoughtful. “It doesn’t sound like he wants protecting,” he says. “Or like he needs it. I’ve seen his tape, he can hold his own.”

 

Dex bites back a defensive comment. “I know,” he admits. “He made it pretty clear.”

 

“So it sounds like you need to sort your shit out about that.” Dan points a finger at him. “If nothing else, then because it’s gonna bleed onto the ice sooner or later. If you don’t trust your d-man to watch his own back off the rink, you don’t trust him on it.”

 

Dex doesn’t trust Nursey to do a lot of things off the ice that he trusts him to do on it--for example, moving ten feet without falling over--but he gets the idea. “Yeah.”

 

“For the rest…” Dan shrugs. “I mean. You know what I’m gonna tell you.”

 

“Talk to him,” Dex says glumly.

 

“Yep.”

 

“Ugh.” Dex flops back in his chair. “Being in a stable relationship ruined you. You used to just tell me to steal dad’s beer and stop being such a little bitch.”

 

“Jokes on you, ya little fucker, you’re the one who gave me all that shit for using bitch like that.” Dan grins. “Listen, I gotta finish this lab write-up before tomorrow, we’re out in the field again at five. You gonna be okay?”

 

Dex sighs. “I’ll be fine.” He purses his lips. “You’re sure I gotta talk to him?”

 

“Man up, little brother.”

 

“I’m two inches taller than you,” Dex grumbles.

 

Dan laughs, blows him an obnoxious, smacking kiss, and ends the call.

 

Dex sticks his tongue out at the screen until the app closes, and then blows out a sigh. He drums his fingers on his desk, thinking, and then picks up his phone to text Nursey.

 

Hey, he writes. I think maybe we should talk?

 

 

They don’t get a chance to talk until after their next practice.

 

Nursey skates like a fucking dream, all grace and power, his eyes sparkling every moment he’s on the ice. A wicked, greedy part of Dex’s soul wants to take credit for it, wants to believe that he’s the reason Nursey is all but glowing today, but he knows he isn’t. This is Nursey’s natural state, elegant and fluid. It’s all the other days that are wrong.

 

Rans and Holster keep them on the ice a full five minutes after the rest of the team leaves, praising their chemistry and the way they connected--“Gonna make us fight for first line, eh?” Ransom teases, rubbing Dex’s helmet--and they beam at each other like idiots as they walk into the locker room.

 

“Bro, that last pass? Was fucking sick,” Nursey says, dropping his helmet into his stall and sitting down to unlace his skates. “I literally didn’t think you could see me back there.”

 

“I couldn’t,” Dex admits, grinning. “Just had a feeling.”

 

“Aw, Dexy!” Nursey crows, delighted. “Listening to a feeling? I’m so proud of you!”

 

Dex flushes. “Fuck off,” he says, but he can’t help his smile. “You’re rubbing off on me.”

 

Nursey gives him a full-on leer, and Dex rolls his eyes, shoving at Nursey’s shoulder. Nursey laughs, taking a long drink from his water bottle. As he lifts his head to drink, Dex sees the dark bruise under his jaw. It’s a deep purple against the gold of his skin, and Dex’s head spins.

 

I put that there, he thinks, wild and a little dizzy. That was me.

 

He clears his throat before he can get too far down that train of thought. “I guess we should, uh. Talk about that?”

 

Nursey’s laughter dies down, his eyes sobering. “Yeah.” He glances around the locker room. There are only a few people left besides them and Ransom and Holster, but it’s not private. “Annie’s? I don’t have class until ten.”

 

Dex has a nine a.m., but if they ditch team breakfast and go to Annie’s instead, he’ll be fine. “That’s fine.”

 

They shower off at opposite ends of the room, then go back to change. Holster’s the only person left by then, swapping his contacts out for his glasses without a mirror, which continues to be one of the freakiest things Dex has ever seen. “Yo,” he says. “Coming to breakfast?”

 

“Got a thing,” Dex says.

 

“Coolio.” Holster tosses his contact solution into his bag and slings it over his shoulder. “Don’t kill each other. Later, kids.”

 

Nursey watches him go, his belt still undone. “He’s a very weird person,” he says fondly.

 

Dex snorts, putting on deodorant and then pulling his shirt on. “Shouldn’t you be used to it? You’re from the same state.”

 

Nursey gives him an unimpressed look. “Holster is from Buffalo.”

 

“So?”

 

Dex is just trolling at this point, and Nursey knows it. He makes a face. “I’m not dealing with you before coffee,” he says, and finishes with his belt. He digs his clothes out of his bag, a grey v-neck and a soft-looking brown cardigan that brings makes his skin practically glow.

 

Most of the clothing Nursey wears look soft. He wonders about that, sometimes, if it’s just a preference or if his anxiety has something to do with it. Dex has a little cousin who screams if her mom doesn’t take all the tags off her clothes. Not just cutting the tags, either, she has to take them out by the seams so there’s nothing left to scratch.

 

Absently, he runs a hand over the sleeve of his flannel as he buttons the cuff. It was pretty soft when he got it, and it’s been worn even softer over the year or so he’s had it. Most of the clothes he had in high school, the things he’d gotten really comfortable, don’t fit anymore. His shoulders have filled out too much. He ties his shoes. “You ready to go?”

 

Nursey tugs his boots on. Because Nursey is an asshole who looks more like a model than a college student, he does not look stupid wearing skinny jeans with ankle boots. “I’m good.”

 

They head out, swinging by the Haus to drop off their gear. It’s not really on the way, but it’s faster than going back to the dorms. It’s still early enough that the student breakfast crowd hasn’t hit Annie’s yet--thanks, hockey, Dex thinks, too used to it to even be bitter anymore--but there’s a bit of a line. Nursey puts his head on Dex’s shoulder while they wait, and Dex panics for a minute until he remembers that this level of physical contact is about where they were even before he went temporarily out of his mind and put his hands on Nursey’s dick.

 

This is fine. They’re fine.

 

Nursey insists on paying, since otherwise Dex would just be using his meal plan at the Commons, and they’re post-practice so they need carbs. They get four breakfast sandwiches, two yogurts, and a muffin to share, and Nursey adds something called a Dead Eye to his order.

 

“Do I want to know?” Dex asks as they grab a table to wait.

 

“Coffee with three shots of espresso.”

 

“Jesus fucking Christ, Nursey,” he says, appalled. “How are you alive?”

 

Nursey shrugs. “My blood chemistry has a very delicate equilibrium,” he says.

 

“Oh my god.” Dex shakes his head. “Please tell me you drink enough water to balance that out.”

 

“Like I said. Delicate.”


Dex resists the urge to drop his head into his hands. No protecting, he tells himself sternly. “So,” he says. “Should we, uh. Do you wanna wait til we eat, or…”

 

Nursey shakes his head. “It’s fine.” He fiddles with his phone.

 

He looks nervous, and Dex frowns. “Hey,” he  says. “We’re...We’re good, right? I mean--the other day, you said you were okay, like, with what we did, but if you’re not--”

 

“No,” Nursey says, quickly enough that Dex finds himself searching Nursey’s face for the traces of the blushes he can sometimes manage to see. “No, I...It was good. It was really good.”

 

Dex grins. “Yeah it was,” he says.

 

Nursey rolls his eyes. “Don’t be an asshole,” he says, but his lip curls up all the same. “Not like you didn’t get off.”

 

Dex lets his grin get broader. Nursey shakes his head, bottom lip tucked between his teeth as if to try and hide his smile.

 

The girl behind the counter calls their names, and spares Dex what he’s pretty sure was going to be a kick at his ankle as they get up to get their food. Dex adds his usual two sugars to his coffee. Nursey dumps a bunch of cinnamon in his. Dex makes a face at him.

 

“No one asked you,” Nursey tells him, putting the lid back on his cup.

 

They go back to the table, and for a few minutes they eat in comfortable silence. Dex gets the breakfast sandwiches with ham and bacon, Nursey eats the vegetarian one and the one with seitan bacon.

 

“Did you plan it?” Nursey asks finally.

 

Dex pokes at his yogurt. “No,” he says. “I really did just come to talk to you.”

 

Nursey sits back in his seat, coffee in his hand. “But you’d been thinking about it.”

 

A blush creeps up the back of Dex’s neck. “Maybe,” he admits. Nursey sips his coffee and waits. “Not in concrete terms.”

 

“I’d be interested to know what you define as concrete,” Nursey says dryly. Dex’s flush makes its way from his neck to his ears, and Nursey laughs. He puts his coffee down and cuts the muffin in half. Dex eyes it and takes the part with more blueberries. No point in going against his soul. “Look,” he says. “The reason I’m asking is--I’m down for us to hook up again if it’s a casual thing. I trust you, and it’d be nice to have a go-to person for when I get all…”

 

He waves a hand as if to say you know, and Dex nods. He’s waiting for the but.

 

He doesn’t have to wait long. “I’m not looking for a relationship right now,” Nursey says. He picks up his coffee again, but doesn’t drink it. Dex thinks he might just want to have something to do with his hands. “With school and hockey and the extra shit I’m doing to get into the honors thesis program, I’m just stretched really thin right now, you know?”

 

Dex nods again. He’s seen the requirements for the honors thesis programs, especially in fine arts. He’s glad there’s an option to do an honors thesis or an honors project, and for once in his life he doesn’t feel bad taking the easier route. Trust Nursey to make shit harder on himself. “I get it,” he says.

 

“Right. So I just don’t--I don’t want anything complicated.” He looks at Dex warily. “I mean, more complicated than it already is, teammates and shit, but--I guess I need to know that this is just a physical thing? If you want something more than that, this...isn’t a good fit. I don’t want to do that.”

 

Dex swallows his disappointment. He’d take more with Nursey if more was on the table, but if it’s not, it’s not. He can do physical. It’s better than nothing, and it’s certainly better than the constant worrying he was doing before. “Casual’s fine,” he says, intentionally light. “Probably better for us, given the circumstances.”

 

Nursey’s smile goes soft with relief. “Yeah,” he says. “Yeah, I thought so, too.” He sips his coffee. “I know you gotta get to class, but we should--I mean, at some point we should sit down, talk test results, boundaries, shit like that.”

 

“Worried about Shitty haunting you from Harvard?” Dex teases.

 

“Worried about lobster-related STIs,” Nursey shoots back, but his eyes are sparkling.

 

“Remove the stigma,” Dex deadpans, and Nursey laughs.

 

Casual, Dex thinks.

 

Sure.

 

 

The sex is incredible.

 

Not that Dex was expecting anything different. Nursey doesn’t exactly have a reputation, but Samwell’s not free of gossip, and Nursey’s past hookups haven’t not been chatty. Samwell chatter combined with Nursey’s own occasional sharing of deets (rare, but not unheard of) haven’t given Dex expectations, exactly, but after their first hookup, he has an idea of what he’s in for.

 

The first time, he learns immediately, should not have been his baseline.

 

Nursey’s a sweet, giving lover, so good with his mouth and his hands that their second hookup nearly ends before it gets started. It doesn’t take Dex long to realize that he’d caught Nursey off-guard the first time, and that when he’s expecting sex, all bets are off.

 

(Nursey, Dex also learns, does not have a gag reflex.)

 

They hook up three times in as many weeks. “Midterms,” Nursey says the third time, his smile tired, the circles under his eyes four or five shades darker than the rest of his skin. He’s shaking a little when he pulls Dex onto his bed, and Dex redistributes his weight automatically, pressing Nursey down. Nursey makes a pleased, relieved sound, and nuzzles his face into the crook of Dex’s neck.

 

“Hey,” Dex says afterwards, when they’re lying sweaty and sated across Nursey’s bed.

 

“Mm,” Nursey says, mostly into Dex’s chest. He has a small, smug smile on his face, which is probably because he just sucked Dex’s brains out through his dick after Dex got him off on three of his fingers.

 

He’s committing that mental image to memory. Whatever else happens between them, he’s pretty sure he’ll be jerking off to it for the rest of his life.

 

Dex runs his fingertips over the curve of Nursey’s shoulder. “You know you can call me before you get to this point, right?”

 

Nursey tenses slightly against him, and then worms out from under Dex’s arm, propping himself on one elbow. “That wasn’t really the deal,” he says.

 

“From your end or mine?”

 

“Uh.” Nursey looks uncertain. “Yours? I thought? I mean--it didn’t seem like you were offering carte-blanche friend-with-benefits shit.”

 

Dex shrugs. “I wasn’t not,” he says.

 

“Oh,” Nursey says. “I, um. Oh.”

 

“Unless that’s not what you wanted,” Dex backtracks.

 

“No, I just.” Nursey’s lips twitch into a small smile. “You don’t always think of using your treatment as preventative medicine, you know?”

 

Dex makes a face. “Way to make it sound clinical,” he says. Nursey opens his mouth, and Dex reaches up to put a hand over it. “If you make a joke about playing doctor, I will walk out of here and take all your pants with me.”

 

Nursey, who is both an NCAA athlete and a younger sibling, licks his palm without any hesitation.

 

Dex, who is also both an NCAA athlete and a younger sibling, doesn’t move his hand.

 

Nursey bites him.

 

Ow,” Dex says. Nursey raises one perfect eyebrow, and Dex shakes out his hand. “Yeah, fair.” He wipes his hand on the sheets--Nursey’s gonna have to do laundry anyway, there’s lube everywhere--and sits up. “So. Maybe you’ll call me before you get all…” He gestures to Nursey as if there’s something wrong with him, which is obviously absurd. He’s perfect. “Twitchy?”

 

“Maybe I should just keep you here,” Nursey says, looking thoughtful. “I’d feed you and take you for walks and stuff.”

 

Dex rolls his eyes. “I said booty call, not kept boy,” he says. He leans over, though, and kisses Nursey’s neck, just over his pulse where he knows it will make Nursey shiver.

 

It does.

 

“So,” he says. “Mario Kart? Or should we go another round to make sure you actually get a good night’s sleep?”

 

Nursey grins. “I do have an early day tomorrow,” he says, and pushes Dex back down to the sheets.

 

 

Three days later, Dex’s phone buzzes in his pocket as he heads into the computer sciences building with Chowder.

 

He takes it out absently, looks at the incoming text, and walks straight into a wall.

 

“Oh my god!” Chowder says, grabbing his arm when he staggers back in surprise. “Are you okay?”

 

“I’m good,” Dex says. Wheezes, really. He’d kind of choked on his tongue and now it’s kind of hard to breathe.

 

“Are you sure? You just walked right into--”

 

“Yup, I know,” Dex says, maybe too loudly. Chowder gives him a suspicious look, but he doesn’t press, even though he keeps a steadying hand on Dex’s back all the way to their classroom. “I’m not Nursey, you know,” Dex says, as they get to their seats.

 

Chowder snorts. “Could’ve fooled me,” he says. “You have some wall on your face.”

 

Dex flips him off, taking his laptop out and booting it up to take notes. He checks his phone again.

 

Nursey’s message is still there, and still says what Dex thought it did: you should come over and fuck me tonight

 

No punctuation, no capitalization, and also, what the literal fuck. Dex glances up at the clock, gauges that their prof won’t be there until ten seconds before class starts as usual, and texts back, the romance is dead.

 

There’s a pause, and then Nursey writes, we agreed no romance. Is that a yes or a no?

 

Followed by: ahahahaha c just told me you walked into a wall

 

And then: i guess i must be…………….rubbing off on you

 

Dex has to stifle a laugh. Chowder arches an eyebrow at him anyway. “Nursey’s being a tool,” Dex says, waving his phone.

 

“Uh-huh,” Chowder says dryly, and looks back down at his own. Dex peers over surreptitiously, but Chowder’s texting Farmer, not Nursey. That’s something, at least, though he’s probably still talking a lot of shit.

 

I hate you, Dex types back to Nursey. And it’s not a no. what time? I’m in class til 4:30

 

A few seconds later, Nursey writes, whatever’s good for you

 

Dex estimates how long he’ll need to go back to his dorm after class, shower, definitely jerk off because he’s not an idiot and he has reasonable expectations of his stamina, and then head over to Nursey’s. 6? Ish? Should i grab dinner first?

 

He can almost read the grin behind Nursey’s next message. I did say I’d feed you, didn’t I?

 

Ha fucking ha. I want pizza. He pauses, and then adds, gotta go. Class. Text you when i’m on my way over.

 

Nursey sends back a string of eggplant emojis, and Dex contemplates deleting the entire thread just so that it can never incriminate him.

 

He settles for sending a bunch of middle fingers in response, and turning off his phone for class.

 

His hair is still damp from his shower when he knocks at Nursey’s door at ten after six that night, jacket pulled on over his SMH sweatshirt. The nights are getting colder. “Nursey,” he calls. “You home?”

 

Nursey opens the door. “Hey,” he says, looking a little sheepish. “Had my headphones in.” He steps back so Dex can come in and flips the lock on his door.

 

And to think, at the beginning of the year Dex had been bitter about Nursey having a single.

 

“Don’t worry about it.” He drops his jacket onto the back of Nursey’s desk chair and takes off his shoes; he knows Nursey’s rules by now. “So,” he says. “Thanks for the most inappropriate text I've ever gotten. Definitely didn't throw my morning off at all.”

 

Nursey grins, sitting down on the bed. He looks soft and comfortable in sweatpants and a white undershirt, the sleeves taut over his biceps. “If that's the most inappropriate text you've ever gotten, you're missing out.”

 

“Not an invitation,” Dex says quickly. He'd had a semi for half his classes as it was. He sits next to Nursey. “So.”

 

The other times they've done this, Nursey's just pulled him into bed without much talking beforehand. This--Nursey relaxed and almost genuinely chill--is throwing him off his guard.

 

“So,” Nursey says back, teasing, and then seems to take pity on him. He motions to Dex’s lap. “Can I?”

 

Always, Dex wants to say. Instead, he just nods. Nursey slides into his lap, straddling Dex’s hips, and Dex’s hands find their now-familiar home on Nursey’s hips. “Comfortable?”

 

“You bet.” Nursey curls his arms over Dex’s shoulders. “Your ass is bony, but this part’s great.”

 

“This part?” Dex echoes. “I'm not sure if you mean my lap, or--” Nursey rolls his hips slightly, and Dex’s body reacts exactly the way Nursey probably intended it to. “Oh, okay.”

 

Nursey smiles, and bends to kiss him.

 

Dex knows that some people have rules about hooking up with their friends, and sometimes those rules are things like no kissing, and he’s glad, not for the first time, that Nursey isn’t one of those people. Nursey kisses like he does almost everything else in bed, with skill and sweetness and a hint of humor, dropping occasional nips of teeth to Dex’s lips and pulling back to chasteness at random intervals, just to make Dex chase after him.

 

“You’re annoyingly good at this,” Dex says against his mouth, mostly a mumble. They’re sprawled over Nursey’s bed at this point, both of their shirts on the floor. “The kissing thing.”

 

“I like kissing,” Nursey says. His green eyes are half-lidded and soft, lashes flickering slightly as he looks at Dex. “I had a makeout buddy in high school. We’d spend forever just, like.”

 

“Making out?” Dex asks dryly. He runs his hands over Nursey’s sides, enjoys the pleased shiver he gets in return.

 

Nursey hums his agreement. “Never went any further than that, we were sophomores, but it was nice. To just do that. No expectations, or anything.”

 

Dex leans back a little to look at him. Before he’d really started paying attention, he’d half-listened to Nursey talk about his high school and his family and his hobbies and he’d thought, wow, he really talks about himself a lot, and it had played into his whole view of Nursey as someone self-absorbed and spoiled.

 

It was only when he’d actually started listening that he’d realized that Nursey wasn’t telling people very much about himself at all. Moments like this, where he says something real, are rare enough that Dex has learned to spot them, and hold on tight. “You know we don't have to do anything,” he says carefully.

 

Nursey rolls his eyes. “Poindexter,” he says. “I asked you over, remember?” He takes one of Dex’s hands and sets it back on his hip, then draws it down until Dex’s fingertips brush his waistband. “So. Speaking of why I asked you over.”

 

Dex chuckles, slipping his hand under the band of Nursey’s sweatpants--and promptly freezes. “You,” he says, “are not wearing underwear.”

 

“Brilliant,” Nursey says. “This is how you got into an Ivy. I never should have doubted your intellect.”

 

“You're gonna kill me,” Dex groans, dropping his face into Nursey’s neck. He pushes at Nursey’s sweatpants, and Nursey helpfully wriggles out of them. Dex takes advantage of the newly bared skin, shifting down on the bed to press a kiss against Nursey’s hip.

 

One of Nursey’s hands comes down, his fingers slipping into Dex’s hair. Dex smiles and nuzzles at the trail of hair under Nursey’s navel, avoiding his dick, which nudges against his jaw anyway. Nursey tugs his hair a little, and Dex laughs. “What?”

 

“You're teasing.”

 

Dex props himself onto an elbow. “It's called foreplay,” he says, but he can't keep from grinning. “I thought you'd be a fan.”

 

Nursey looks amused. “I'm not opposed on principle,” he says. “But also, I'd really like something in me, so unless you’d like me to do it myself--”

 

“I'm not opposed on principle,” Dex teases back. Nursey hooks a leg over Dex’s shoulder, and Dex takes the hint, using the new leverage to slip a hand down between Nursey’s cheeks. What’s meant to be a teasing pass of his fingers ends up with the tips of two of them sinking in where Nursey’s already slick and open, and he can't stop the startled sound he makes. “Oh my god,” he says. “You--”

 

“Yes, hi, welcome to the program,” Nursey says. Dex stares at him, and Nursey rolls his eyes. “Dex, it was a very literal text.”

 

“Shh,” Dex says. His brain is short-circuiting slightly at the mental image of Nursey working himself open for him. “Don't ruin this for me.” He dips his fingers against Nursey's rim, and gets a gratifying moan in return. “Fuck,” he says, more reverently than he means to.

 

Nursey smirks. “That's the idea.”

 

Dex shakes his head. “Ruining,” he says again. He pulls his fingers back. “Still wish you'd waited for me. I like doing this part.” He presses a kiss to the place where Nursey’s inner thigh meets his hip, and Nursey makes that sound again, soft and wanting. “Let me do it next time?”

 

“You haven't earned next time yet,” Nursey says, but there's a breathiness to his voice now.

 

“I’ll earn it,” Dex says, drops his voice just low enough that the promise is clear. He kisses Nursey's hip again, lower and further in, and Nursey catches his breath. Dex closes his eyes, flicks the tip of his tongue against the soft skin of Nursey’s taint, just behind his balls. Nursey lets out a sharp gasp.

 

Dex picks his head up. “Can you come more than once?”

 

Nursey blinks at him. “What?”

 

“Because I want to eat you out,” Dex continues, as conversational as he can manage so that he doesn't lose his nerve, “but I don't think you want to end things like that tonight.”

 

“Oh my god,” Nursey murmurs, slipping his hand back into Dex’s hair. He tugs, and Dex can't help his groan. He's starting to get a Pavlovian reaction to that. “Next time,” he says. “Okay?”

 

“Done,” Dex agrees. He sits back so he can undo his belt and shove his jeans and boxers off, throwing them over the side of the bed along with his socks. Nursey tosses him a condom from the drawers next to his bed, along with the bottle of lube that’s getting to be very familiar. “How do you wanna do this?”

 

Nursey watches him roll the condom on with dark eyes. “I'm good like this,” he says.

 

“Want a pillow or anything?”

 

“So you can smear lube all over it?” Nursey smirks at him. “My abs aren't for show, Poindexter, I'll be fine.”

 

Dex slicks the condom with extra lube and wipes the excess on Nursey’s hip, just to be contrary. Nursey makes a face at him, but lets Dex sling his legs over his hips and shift closer to him. “Good?”

 

Nursey adjusts slightly, the movement enough to make Dex’s dick twitch, and nods. “Yeah, c’mon.”

 

He goes slow, because it's just good manners, but it only takes a moment to realize that he should go even slower if he doesn't want to come before they've gotten started. So much for jerking off giving him extra stamina, he thinks, exhaling shakily as he presses in another inch. “Fuck,” he says. “God, you feel…”

 

“Shh,” Nursey says. His eyes are closed, his features a little tense. “Just--don't talk. Not yet.”

 

Dex shuts up, running a hand over the trembling muscle of Nursey’s thigh. He keeps moving, slow and careful, until his hips meet the curve of Nursey’s ass and Nursey lets out a shuddering breath. “Good?”

 

“Mm.” Nursey doesn't open his eyes, but his expression is softer. He reaches up with one hand, and Dex tilts his head so that his cheek nestles into Nursey’s palm. Nursey’s lashes flutter and he blinks up at him, like he's surprised by the tenderness. Dex shifts inside him, a fraction of a movement, and Nursey bites his lower lip. “Yeah. That's--really good.”

 

“Good.” Dex squeezes his hip. “Can I move?” Nursey nods. “Slow or fast?”

 

Nursey grins. “Hard,” he says, and yeah, that--that won’t be a problem.

 

He pulls out and slides back in, puts just enough force behind it to make Nursey gasp. The second thrust makes Nursey reach a hand back and curl his fingers into the pillow behind his head, and the third drags a “fuck” out of him, which is gratifying, since Dex is using breathing techniques he usually reserves for the weight room to keep himself under control. His next thrust gets him a full-throated sound that’s somewhere between a whimper and a groan, and Dex decides he absolutely wants to hear more of that.

 

He picks up the pace, enough to make Nursey suck his lower lip back between his teeth, and grins. “Good?”

 

Nursey takes the hand that’s not crushing his pillow and splays his fingers over Dex’s ribs. “Yes,” he says. He makes the sound again on Dex’s next thrust, and Dex exhales hard, knows his grin might be turning a fraction feral. He adjusts his stance a little bit to give himself more leverage, moves harder the next time.

 

God,” Nursey breathes. He curls his fingers over Dex’s back, nails just long enough drag over his skin. Dex swallows hard and leans down to kiss him, and Nursey’s moan disappears between their mouths.

 

The kiss should quiet them down, but it doesn’t. It’s less of a continuous kiss and more of a series of shorter ones, some of them so brief they’re almost chaste; they have to keep breaking apart to breathe. Dex knows he could breathe through his nose but the idea of managing another task right now seems impossible. Instead, he bites down on Nursey’s lower lip and uses the resulting whimper as cover to shudder briefly against the skin of Nursey’s jaw.

 

“Hey,” Nursey gasps, when Dex lifts his head. “I can, you know.”

 

Dex blinks at him. The parts of his brain that think and converse are only functioning at half speed. “You can what?”

 

“Have multiples,” Nursey says, deliberately casual, and Dex nearly comes on the spot. He drags himself back under control, and from the grin on Nursey’s face, he’s not subtle about it.

 

“What the fuck,” he bites out between gritted teeth, slowing his thrusts down. He keeps the pressure up; but speed is the last thing he should be thinking about. “Why would you tell me that right now.”

 

Nursey laughs, breathless. “You asked,” he says. He rolls his hips up to meet Dex’s next thrust, and Dex realizes he’s relying solely on his abs to do it; with his ankles behind Dex’s back, he doesn’t have any other leverage against the bed. Fuck, Dex needs to work on his core strength. “I have to be a lot more wound up,” he continues, like he’s talking about the weather and not unraveling Dex’s control with every word. “Really trying to get out of my head, otherwise the overstimulation’s too much. But yeah. I can do it.”

 

“Jesus fuck,” Dex groans. He hitches Nursey’s ass into his lap, bending forward to kiss him again. Nursey threads both hands into his hair and holds on, his grip tight. “How many--”

 

“Four’s my record,” Nursey gasps. They’re close enough now that Dex can see how blown his pupils are, only the smallest ring of green around his eyes. “Pretty much--coming dry by the last one but--” Dex thrusts in hard, and Nursey groans. “Fuck, Dex.”

 

“We’re gonna do that,” Dex says. Pants, really, he’s given up on breathing evenly. “Gonna get you off as many times as you think you can, and then one more past it.” Nursey whimpers, tightens his fingers in Nursey’s hair. “Fuck. Please tell me you’re close.”

 

Nursey nods. His teeth have left marks on his lower lip. “Just--touch me, please, I’ll--”

 

Dex is pretty sure he could get Nursey off untouched, given enough time, but not today. Next time I’m jerking off twice, he thinks, and wraps his fingers around Nursey’s dick. Nursey hisses, rolling his hips up, and Dex runs his thumb through the precome dripping from the head, pumps his foreskin once to get him wetter. “Got you,” he murmurs, and Nursey makes that sound again, that whimper-groan that goes right to Dex’s dick. “Yeah, come on. Want you to come on me, lemme feel it.”

 

“God,” Nursey gasps, and comes in a streak over his own chest, and Dex can’t appreciate the sight enough because he’s busy shuddering through his own orgasm, his hips jerking almost frantically as Nursey clenches around him. “Dex, Dex, fuck--”

 

Dex shakes his head, kisses him and keeps his hand moving. Nursey moans into his mouth, his body arching into Dex’s, and something like an aftershock goes through him, violent enough that Dex breaks the kiss to swear.

 

“Don’t stop,” Nursey says against his lips, and Dex moves his head to bite at his jaw. He strokes Nursey off past the point where he’s not fucking into him anymore, until Nursey lets out a shuddering sound and then falls silent, trembling. Dex takes that as a hint to let him go.

 

Nursey shivers, reaching blindly up for him without opening his eyes, and Dex bends down, shifting until he’s lying with most of his weight on Nursey’s chest. He trails kisses over Nursey’s jaw and neck until Nursey’s shaking goes from borderline-alarming to just the occasional tremor. “Shh, shh,” he murmurs. “You’re okay.”

 

“Yeah,” Nursey sighs. Dex turns his head to look at him, the shadow of his eyelashes against his cheekbone. He takes a deep breath in and then relaxes, nuzzling his nose against Dex’s cheek. “Fuck. Thank you. I needed that.”

 

Dex kisses his jaw and leans back enough to run the backs of his knuckles over Nursey’s stubble. “Yeah?” His own body is settling into that sweet, post-orgasmic languor, and he takes advantage of the energy he still has to pull out, a hand on the condom to keep it in place.

 

Nursey makes a face at him as Dex moves away, and Dex squeezes his hip. He knots the condom and leans off the bed to throw it away, watching out of the corner of his eye as Nursey settles down against the sheets, rolling one hip until it pops before relaxing back. “Mm.” He watches Dex as he comes back to lie down next to him. “Good for you?”

 

“No, I usually come my brains out when I’m not having a good time,” Dex says dryly. Nursey aims a half-hearted slap at his shoulder, but mostly only succeeds in letting his hand flop onto Dex’s chest. Dex squeezes his hand, but doesn’t hold it. That’s not what they’re doing here.

 

For a few moments, they just lie next to each other, breathing. Finally, Nursey rolls onto his side, propping himself up to look at him. “So,” he says. “The booty call thing. I think it’s gonna work out.”

 

Dex laughs.

 

 

They don’t always talk afterwards, not really. There’s almost always some light chirping, gentle ribbing over who came first or what noises were made or stupid shit someone said, and Dex likes that; it makes him feel normal, like they really are just fucking around, like he can pretend he’s not stupid over his defense partner.

 

Sometimes, though, they talk for real. It’s usually at night, if they fuck by the soft light of Nursey’s bedside lamp, the gentle glow of it so much softer than the harsh overhead lighting. It makes them both speak more softly, makes them tuck their heads close together on the same pillow and share secrets like girls at a high school sleepover.

 

Well, girls in a high school sleepover movie, anyway.

 

“I think my brother’s gonna propose to his girlfriend,” Dex murmurs. He has one of Nursey’s hands in both of his, is toying with Nursey’s fingers.

 

Nursey makes a soft sound. “Yeah?” Dex hums a confirmation. “You happy about that?”

 

“Yeah,” he says, shifting on the pillow. “I like her a lot. She’s smart, funny, doesn’t take any shit.” He grins despite himself. “She keeps Dan in line.”

 

“This is the brother who has thoughts about baking?”

 

His voice is cautious. Dex knows he doesn’t talk about his family much, but it’s just kind of how he is. He doesn’t want Nursey to think that he doesn’t love them, though. “He’s gotten a lot better since I came out to him.”

 

Nursey looks surprised at that. “I didn’t know you were out to your family.”

 

“I’m selectively out,” Dex says. He adjusts his grip so that he can massage his thumb into the meat of Nursey’s palm, where he knows Nursey’s muscles start cramping when he writes too much by hand, and Nursey practically melts into his touch. “Dan knows. My mom...I think she knows, but I haven’t told her. My cousin Megan, but only because she came out to me first.”

 

“Oh.” Nursey’s eyes are thoughtful, half-lidded as he watches the movement of Dex’s thumb against his palm. “Your dad?”

 

Dex shakes his head. “Not yet. I’m getting there. Maybe over Christmas.” He shrugs one shoulder. “I think it’ll be okay, I’m just…”

 

“It’s hard,” Nursey says, squeezing his fingers. “I know.”

 

“Your moms--”

 

“Yeah, my moms,” Nursey says. “But my dad’s straight. And just because I have queer parents doesn’t mean it wasn’t hard to figure out the right time to talk to them about who I liked. What I liked.” He bites his lip, and Dex knows he’s talking about the occasional makeup, the not-so-occasional nail polish.

 

Dex smiles at him. “Hey,” he says. “I like what you like.”

 

Nursey’s eyes soften. “I like my body when it is with your body,” he murmurs. “I like what it does. I like its hows.”

 

Dex blinks. “What?”

 

“Cummings,” Nursey says. He rolls onto his back, his hand slipping out of Dex’s. “What about at Samwell?”

 

“A couple people know. My roommate, obviously. A few comp sci people.” He hesitates. “Chowder, though I didn’t tell him on purpose.”

 

Nursey laughs softly. “Those goalie eyes,” he says. “He doesn’t miss much.”

 

“Something like that,” Dex says. Something occurs to him. “Does he know about this?”

 

Nursey lifts his head to peer at him. “About what?”

 

“You and me.”

 

“Of course not.” Nursey looks almost affronted. “I didn’t know if you were out to him, I wasn’t going to tell him we were fucking.”

 

“Right.” Dex shrugs. “You can. I don’t mind, I know you hate keeping shit from him.”

 

Nursey laughs. “I really do,” he admits. He pauses, and then reaches out to touch Dex’s cheek. “Hey. I don’t like keeping shit from you, either.”

 

Dex holds his gaze for as long as he can, before he has to flush and look away. “I know,” he says. “I know.”

 

 

Chowder corners him after practice two days later. “Dex,” he says, grinning just widely enough that alarm bells go off in Dex’s head. “Let’s get Annie’s before class.”

 

A long-suppressed biological instinct that’s probably left over from a time when some ancient ancestor used to be cornered by predators starts screaming at him. “Uh,” Dex says. “Do we have time?”

 

“We’ll make time,” Chowder says. His braces glint in the locker room’s lighting.

 

Dex swallows. “Cool. Annie’s sounds great.”

 

Chowder is his best friend at Samwell and Dex loves him, but Chowder’s hand on his shoulder as he steers Dex through the door at Annie’s that he realizes that this is one of those times when Chowder’s friendship with Nursey is going to come out just that much ahead of his. “Get us a table,” Chowder says; “I’ll get coffee.”

 

Dex nods, not daring to object. He goes to sit down, and immediately texts Nursey. Did you talk to Chowder?

 

Yeah, Nursey texts back. Why?

 

I think he’s about to shovel talk me. he’s got that same look as when he put the fear of god into farmer’s roommate’s new boyfriend.

 

There’s a pause, and then Nursey writes, jfc. I told him it was just sex. And then, he gets like this sometimes. He chewed out my ex last year.

 

Dex hadn’t even known Nursey had dated anyone last year. It’s fine. it’s C.

 

Good luck buddy :-/, Nursey says, and then Chowder is sitting down across from him and pushing a mug of coffee at him, along with two sugar packets. “Thanks,” Dex says, tearing the packets open and stirring them in.

 

“You’re welcome,” Chowder says. He looks at him over the rim of his own cup, his eyes steady, and doesn’t blink. Dex has seen him use that move on opposing teams’ forwards. He waits it out, until Chowder says, bluntly, “Are you a fucking idiot?”

 

Whatever Dex was expecting Chowder to say, it wasn’t that. “What?”

 

“You and Nursey,” Chowder says. “Are you out of your mind?”

 

“No?” Dex guesses. Yikes.

 

Chowder puts his cup down so that he can rub his eyes. “Dex,” he says. “You like him.”

 

“I know I like him, we’re friends.”

 

Chowder snaps his gaze back up, eyes narrowing. “Don’t bullshit me,” he says, and Dex cringes.

 

“Okay,” he says. “I like him, fine. It’s not a big deal.”

 

“If it’s not a big deal,” Chowder says, taking out his phone and waving it threateningly in Dex’s face, “why is Nursey telling me that it’s, quote, just sex between you, no feelings, no shit?”

 

Dex opens his mouth, and then buys himself some time with a sip of his coffee. It’s too hot, but he forces himself to swallow, wincing at the burn. “Um,” he wheezes, swallowing a few more times to try to ease the pain. “Because that’s what it is?”

 

“That is a pile of shit,” Chowder snaps. “You give him heart eyes every time you look at him. He might not have picked up on it yet, but he’s not an idiot, Dex, you think he’s not going to figure out you’re into him?”

 

“I…” Dex flexes his fingers around his coffee mug. “It’s not a problem. I’m handling it.”

 

Chowder stares at him. “Handling...what, exactly?”

 

Dex frowns. “My feelings problem? Like I’m not--He just wants something casual, so it’s whatever. I’m not pushing him on it if he’s not interested.”

 

Chowder’s mouth drops open. He gapes for a moment, and then drops his head into his hands. “Oh my god,” he says into his palms. “Dex, the problem isn’t that you like him. It’s that you told him you didn’t.”

 

“It’s fine, C,” Dex says, trying to be reassuring. “Seriously. We’re just...It really is just sex. I’m not bringing any of my feelings anywhere near it. He doesn’t need to know.”

 

Chowder shakes his head, sighing. “Oh my god,” he says again. He rubs his forehead. “You know I’m gonna skin you alive if you hurt him.”

 

Dex winces. “Jesus, C.”

 

“Sorry,” Chowder says with a shrug. “I love him but he’s got the self-preservation instincts of a baby koala; someone’s gotta look out for him.”

 

“You yelled at me when I was trying to look out for him,” Dex grumbles, picking up his coffee again.

 

“And now you’re in bed with him, so it looks like I was right,” Chowder says tartly. He sighs again. “Dex. You know this is going to blow up in your face, right?”

 

Dex shakes his head. “It’s gonna be fine,” he says. “I promise.”

 

 

It blows up in his face.

 

It’s such a small, stupid fuckup.

 

Or maybe it isn’t, in the long run, but it seems like it in the moment, such a stupid thing to ruin something that had been so good.

 

They’re in that soft semi-darkness of the lamplight, pressed sweaty and tight against each other. Nursey’s already come once, shaking apart on Dex’s mouth and two of his fingers, and Dex had swished mouthwash and spat it out into Nursey’s trash can without even leaving the bed so that he could kiss him while they fucked. Nursey’s tightening up around him again, his head tilted back and his eyes closed, and then Dex’s stupid mouth runs away from him.

 

“You’re so good,” he says, leaning down to press kisses to Nursey’s hot skin, snapping his hips. “Fuck, you’re perfect. You’re so good, baby, God.” He’s talking too much, but he’s close enough to coming that his filter is gone. “You look so beautiful, I can’t stop looking at you, I never wanna stop looking at you, fuck, sweetheart, I--”

 

Nursey puts a hand on his chest. “Stop,” he says. His eyes are open, his expression unreadable.

 

Dex stops immediately. “Are you okay?” Nursey pushes at him, and Dex gets the hint and pulls out. Nursey pushes himself up on his hands and shifts away from him, drawing the blankets into his lap. “Nursey?”

 

“Why did you say that?”

 

Nursey’s voice is flat, and concern prickles at the back of Dex’s neck. “I…” He sits back, and Nursey uses the extra slack in the sheets to pull more of them onto his lap. The motion makes Dex realize how exposed he is. “I don’t know, my mouth was just--running.”

 

“No,” Nursey says. His eyes are wary, and he watches Dex take the condom off. He ties it off out of habit, leaning over to throw it away. When he sits back up, Nursey is still watching him, every line of his body tense. “You’ve never done that before.”

 

Shit, Dex thinks. He swallows and reaches over the side of the bed for his boxers, which are still tangled in his jeans. He starts to sit back down again, and then hesitates, sits further down toward the end of the bed, gives Nursey space. “I didn’t mean to say any of it.”

 

“So you were thinking it,” Nursey says, drawing the sheets up. He looks like he’s trying to hide, and Dex wants to reach out for him, but sense tells him not to. “Dex, you…” He swallows visibly. “Do you...like me?”

 

Dex hesitates. “Nursey,” he says. “I didn't...I didn't want you to know.”

 

Nursey’s face goes blank. “Get out.”

 

“Nursey--”

 

“I’m serious,” Nursey says. “Out.”

 

There’s a dangerous look in Nursey’s eye that sends Dex to his feet, reaching for his jeans. “Nursey, what did I do?”

 

“I asked you if you liked me,” Nursey says. “After the first time. Before we started this. And you said you didn’t.”

 

Dex pulls his shirt over his head. He doesn’t bother with his belt, just tugs it out of the loops on his jeans and shoves it into his backpack. “I didn’t think it was a problem.”

 

“You lied to me.”

 

Dex winces. “I didn’t--” He puts on his sweatshirt. “You said you didn’t want anything romantic. Or complicated. And I figured you wouldn’t want--” He takes a breath, lets it out slowly. “I just thought it would be better not to--not to tell you.”

 

Nursey laughs, a low, bitter sound, and Dex hates it. “And you don’t see how fucked up that is?”

 

“I just…” Fuck, he thinks, fuck, he has screwed this up so bad, Chowder’s gonna murder him. “I didn’t want...I just wanted--I wasn’t going to push anything on you.”

 

“So you just left out information that you knew would make me choose not to sleep with you?” Nursey says flatly.

 

Dex goes still. “No,” he says. He feels sick. “No. Nursey--Derek, I swear to God, it wasn’t like that. I wasn’t thinking--”

 

Nursey’s expression doesn’t waver. “You knew I’d say no,” he says. “If I knew.”

 

Dex closes his eyes. His stomach churns. In a million years, he never meant it like that. But it still happened. “Yes,” he whispers.

 

“So then,” Nursey says, his eyes cold, “Get the fuck out.”

 

Dex goes.

 

He can’t do anything else. He thinks he might throw up if he stays--he thinks he might throw up anyway. Everything in his head is screaming that this is a misunderstanding, that he was just trying to be there to keep his friend safe, to be someone Nursey could trust, and instead--

 

Instead.

 

His phone is in his hand, the call connecting, before he even realizes what’s happening.


“Mom,” he says, walking out of Nursey’s dorm. The night air hits his skin, and he feels so, so cold. “Mom, I fucked up.”

 

 

Chapter Text

 

the world
gives you
so much pain
and here you are
making gold out of it

(there is nothing purer than that - rupi kaur)

 

 

In the morning, Nursey calls himself out of practice.

 

He’d slept badly, his body protesting a sharp end to sex without orgasm and his mind spiralling. Around two in the morning he’d given up and tried jerking off, but that had just left him feeling worse, his skin prickling with a lack of contact.

 

When his alarm goes off at five forty-five, he knows in an instant that he’s not up for practice this morning. It’s not just that he doesn’t want to see Dex--though he doesn’t--but he knows himself well enough to know that he can’t handle the lights and noise of the rink and the ice and the team. He texts Coach Hall and Ransom, tells them he’s coming down with something, and then shoves his phone under his pillow and rolls over to go back to sleep.

 

The next time he wakes up, it’s to the sound of someone pounding on his door.

 

“Damn it,” he groans, pulling his pillow over his head. The knocking keeps going, and he forces himself out of bed, only barely remembering to put on pants before he staggers over to the door and wrenches it open. “What?”

 

Chowder holds out a coffee. “Here,” he says. “Unless you were also planning on missing your classes.”

 

He hadn’t decided, actually, though he honestly had been leaning towards giving himself a mental health day. Nursey sighs and takes the coffee. “Dex talked to you,” he guesses.

 

It’s not a question, but the way Chowder’s lips tighten would have answered it if was. “There was a conversation, yes.” He nods to Nursey’s bed. “Can I come in?”

 

Nursey steps back from the doorway, letting the door swing closed behind them. Chowder takes off his shoes, eyes the bed for a moment, and then pulls the comforter over the twisted sheets. “Probably a good move,” Nursey says dryly, sipping the coffee. The slightly bitter flavor of the espresso hits his tongue like a shock to his system, and he feels a little bit of the exhaustion leave him. He knows it’s a psychosomatic reaction, but he’s never claimed not to have an addiction.

 

“If I were really scared I’d take the desk chair,” Chowder says, sitting down on the bed with his back to the wall. “I’m counting on you to tell me if there’s jizz on your comforter.”

 

“There isn’t.” Probably. They’re pretty careful about kicking it out of the way. Were careful. He puts his coffee on his desk, pulls on a shirt from his hamper just so he’s not half-naked, and then sits next to Chowder. “So. He told you.”

 

“Yeah.” Chowder looks troubled. “But I already--” He sighs. “I already knew that he liked you, Nursey. I tried to get him to tell you, but I should have told you myself.”

 

Nursey blinks. He’s a little surprised that Chowder had known; it doesn’t seem like Dex would have told him. “He told you that--”

 

Chowder shakes his head. “He didn’t have to tell me, Nursey, I’m a person with eyes.”

 

“What?”

 

The look Chowder gives him is a mix of fondness and exasperation. Nursey’s on the receiving end of that one a lot. “He looks at you a lot,” Chowder says. “Looks at you, looks at you.”

 

Nursey looks down at his coffee. “Oh,” he says.

 

“You really didn’t know?”

 

“No.” He feels like an idiot. “Was it really obvious?”

 

Chowder doesn’t answer immediately. “No,” he says after a moment. “Not to anyone who doesn’t know you both well, I don’t think. I saw it because I knew what to look for, and because I keep an eye on you guys.”

 

Nursey rubs his forehead. “How long?”

 

“A month or two, probably?” Chowder purses his lips, looking thoughtful. “I started noticing after that kegster, the one right after we played Harvard the last time.”

 

Nursey tries to think back to that kegster. That had been a bad week, and he’d only stayed at the party for a little while. He’d gone home with the starting point guard for the Samwell Men’s Basketball team. “I barely saw him at that party.”

 

Chowder shrugs. “Must have made an impression somehow,” he says. He searches Nursey’s face, his eyes worried. “So are you doing okay? He said you were...really upset.”

 

“That’s one way of putting it.” Nursey turns his coffee cup in his hands. It’s still mostly too hot to drink. “I don’t know. I feel--not violated, that’s too strong, just…” He chews his bottom lip. Dex had bitten it last night, and it still hurts a little. He chews it harder. “I’m angry. And hurt. But I just…” He sighs, rubbing his eyes. “I know it wasn’t malicious. He wasn’t trying to manipulate me, or to hurt me, or anything like that. I feel like I’m overreacting.”

 

For a moment, Chowder just looks at him quietly. “Would you tell a girl she was overreacting in your position?”

 

Nursey startles. “Of course not,” he says. “Why would I ever--”

 

The penny drops.

 

“Oh,” he says, feeling a little numb. He closes his eyes. “Low blow, C.”

 

Warmth snuggles up against his side as Chowder shifts closer to him. “You’re allowed to feel hurt, if that’s what you’re feeling,” Chowder says softly. “You’re allowed to feel like your boundaries weren’t respected. His motivation doesn’t matter.”

 

Nursey looks down at his hands, curved around his cup. On one hand, it’s just sex, and he feels like he shouldn’t care that much. It’s not like he hasn’t made a string of stupid decisions about who he fucks and why. But at the same time, people have been projecting sexuality onto him since before it was appropriate, always assuming that he wouldn’t care, and it makes him feel...not used, exactly, but uncomfortable. It always has. He swallows. “I think I have some baggage about this.”

 

“No kidding,” Chowder says, in the dry tone of someone who gets it. Nursey knows Chowder deals with as much sexuality shit as Nursey does, just usually in the opposite direction. “I just want you to know that you can talk to me, I guess. Whatever you’re feeling.”

 

“I know I can.” Nursey lets his head tip over to rest on Chowder’s shoulder.

 

Chowder reaches up to scratch gently at Nursey’s scalp, digging his fingertips in at the roots of his curls like he knows Nursey likes. Nursey hums and leans into the touch. “I still feel like I should have told you that I knew.”

 

“It wasn’t yours to tell, C.” Nursey feels tired, and he wishes his coffee was cool enough to drink. He could use the boost. “Dex is your friend, too, and he should be able to trust you. I’m not gonna undermine that.” He picks up his head, gives Chowder a weary smile. “Don’t think I forgot that you ratted us out to Bitty when we tried fighting over you last year.”

 

“I can’t help that I’m everyone’s favorite,” Chowder sniffs, but he smiles back as he shoves gently at Nursey’s shoulder. He looks at Nursey for a long moment, and then says, his tone careful, “What time do you have class today?”

 

Nursey tries to remember what day of the week it is. “Uh, eleven. Queer Readings Before Stonewall.”

 

Chowder makes a jealous noise. “You take the coolest classes,” he says. He sips his coffee. “Is it okay if I stay with you til then?”

 

There’s a note to his voice that sets Nursey on edge. “I don’t need looking after,” he says.

 

Chowder regards him impassively, and Nursey remembers, maybe too late, that Chowder is one of the few people at Samwell who knows just how bad his depression can get. His face is calm, but concerned. “I think maybe you do,” he says. “At least for today.”

 

Nursey frowns, but Chowder’s expression doesn’t waver. Fuck, he thinks. He must look really bad, if Chowder’s watching him like this. “Okay,” he says. “Whatever you want.”

 

“Thanks,” Chowder says. He shifts until their shoulders are pressed together, and nudges Nursey’s ribs with his elbow. “Drink your coffee,” he says, “and then we’ll go get breakfast.”

 

He’s matter-of-fact but still gentle, and Nursey smiles despite himself as he lifts his coffee to his lips. “You’re a good friend, C.”

 

Chowder slings an arm around him. “Don’t worry,” he says. “I know.”

 

 

Practice is a shitshow.

 

All of the cohesive teamwork that he and Dex have scraped together over seems to have evaporated. The almost psychic sense of where Dex is on the ice, where his next shot is coming from--it’s all gone, leaving Nursey feeling disjointed and unsettled. Their passes barely connect, they miss obvious shots, they even run into each other once, going for the puck at the same time and sending both of them crashing to the ice.

 

It’s bad.

 

“Dex, Nursey,” Ransom calls at the end of practice, as everyone else is filing off the ice. “Stay a minute.”

 

Fuck, Nursey thinks. He glances at Dex, who isn’t meeting his eyes.

 

Ransom and Holster don’t talk right away, just look at them with matching blank expressions. It’s classic hockey intimidation; Nursey’s pretty sure they learned this from Jack. Next to him, Dex fidgets with his stick.

 

Finally, Holster sighs. “Guys,” he says. “What the fuck?”

 

Nursey opens his mouth, but Dex cuts him off before he can say anything. “It’s my fault.”

 

Ransom looks surprised. Holster looks closer to stunned. Nursey can’t blame them; he can count the times he’s heard Dex take responsibility for something like this without being pushed on one hand. “What?”

 

“We…” Dex glances sidelong at Nursey. “We had a fight. It was my fault. We just haven’t had time to--” He takes a breath. “We just need to work some stuff out.”

 

Holster frowns. “Not that I’m not proud of you for owning your shit,” he says. “But that?” He gestures at the ice. “You two haven’t played like that since your first semester.”

 

Nursey winces. “We’ll get our shit together,” he says. “This was just. It was a bad day.”

 

Ransom purses his lips. “Are you gonna get it together before the next game? Because that was some bullshit.”

 

“We’ll figure it out,” Nursey repeats. They’ve played through all but hating each other, he reasons. They can play through this.

 

Dex is quiet as they go back to the locker room, stays quiet as they strip out of their gear and shower. It’s not until they’re both almost dressed that he speaks, his voice hesitant. “Nursey,” he says. “Can we talk?” Nursey freezes with his shirt halfway over his head. “Just about hockey,” Dex adds quickly.

 

Cautiously, Nursey nods. He’s not ready to talk to Dex, not properly, but about hockey? They have to sort shit out somehow.

 

Dex sits down in his stall, his shoulders hunching in. His feet are bare, and it makes him look oddly vulnerable. “I,” he begins, and then he sighs, dropping his head into his hands. “Fuck,” he says. “I’ve really fucked all this up, huh?”

 

Nursey doesn’t answer. He doesn’t have the words yet.

 

“Right.” Dex rubs his forehead, and then lifts his face. He looks tired, dark circles smudged under his eyes, and Nursey wonders if maybe he’s sleeping badly, too. “Do you want to change lines?”

 

Nursey blinks, taken aback. “What?”

 

Dex runs a hand through his damp hair. “I fucked things up with you,” he says. “I know that. And I know we’re going to have to talk about it, but I don’t think you’re ready for that, and I don’t--I don’t want to push you. Not anymore than I already have. I wanna give you space, but with the team, we don’t get that. But--” He sighs. “I’m on an athletic scholarship, Nursey. I need to do well on this team.”

 

“Dex,” Nursey says.

 

“Just--listen, okay? I’m not trying to make this about me, I promise. I’ll ask Coach to change our lines, and I’ll take the drop to third, I don’t care. Whatever you need. I just…” Dex looks at him, and his face is open and raw. “I need to know, okay? Even if it’s just temporary.”

 

Nursey swallows. He doesn’t want a new partner. He wants things to go back to the way they were before. He reaches for his socks, just to have something to do with his hands. “Let me think about it?”

 

Dex nods. He opens his mouth, hesitates, then says, “Ransom and Holster will ask about--”

 

“I’ll talk to them.” Nursey ties his shoes, pausing with his fingers still looped through his laces. He chews his bottom lip. “Thank you. For offering.”

 

“Yeah. I mean--of course.” Dex gives him a small, uncertain smile. “And you’ll...You’ll let me know when you’re ready to talk?”

 

“Yeah. I will.” Nursey twists his hands together, then gets to his feet, slinging his bag over his shoulder. “I’m gonna go to breakfast.”

 

“Okay.” Nursey heads for the door. As he reaches it, Dex says, quietly, “Hey--Nursey?” Nursey turns back to look at him. “I came out to my mom.”

 

Nursey breathes in, sharp. “You did?”

 

“Not on purpose,” Dex admits. He looks down at his hands. “I called her when I left your place. She’s--She’s the person I always went to for advice. I didn’t know who else to call.”

 

Nursey bites his lip. “Was it okay?”

 

“Surprisingly yes.” Dex’s smile is surprisingly soft. “I, uh. Was right. She already knew.”

 

“Oh.” Nursey flexes his fingers around the strap of his bag. “You, um. I’m happy for you.” He hesitates. “Did she have the advice you wanted?”

 

Dex shrugs. “Apologize. Give you space. Make it clear I know I fucked up.” His gaze flickers up to Nursey’s, uncertain and a little hopeful. “Be patient and wait.”

 

Nursey laughs, even though it feels hollow. “Sounds about right,” he says. He hitches his bag further up on his shoulder. “I’ll see you around, Dex.”

 

He makes the mistake of looking back as he leaves the room. The door is half-shut, and he catches sight of Dex leaning his head tiredly against the side of his stall, his expression weary and regretful. Nursey’s heart twists in his chest, a small, stubborn part of him yearning to walk back in, to take Dex’s hands in his, to figure this shit out.

 

Goddammit, he thinks, and makes himself turn away.

 

 

At his next appointment, he tells Salma everything.

 

After this long, it’s easier to talk to her than it is for him to talk to himself. He started seeing her his first year at Andover, when it was clear he needed a local therapist, and her office is close enough to Samwell that he’d decided he’d rather stay with her than break in someone new.

 

Of course, the flip side is that after five years, she knows him well enough to spot his bullshit immediately, and to call him on it. Nursey doesn’t really mind, though. It’s probably good for him.

 

“Well,” she says when he finishes talking. Her expression doesn’t give anything away. “You were certainly right about this being complicated.”

 

Nursey snorts into his coffee. “Thanks,” he says.

 

Salma leans back in her chair, crossing one leg over the other. Her hijab is a soft, gauzy blue today, a few tones off from the cardigan she’s wearing. Every now and then, Nursey gets kind of absurdly jealous of her sense of color. It’s a weird thing to envy about a person, but he’s never claimed to not be weird. Her expression is thoughtful. “I’m curious,” she says.

 

“About what?”

 

She taps her pen against her notepad. “If I’m hearing you correctly, it sounds like you want to preserve your relationship with Dex?” Nursey nods. She puts her pen down. “Tell me about that.”

 

Nursey frowns. “He’s my partner,” he says.

 

“Bucky was your partner,” Salma says, referring to Matt Bouchard, Nursey’s defense partner for his first two years at Andover. “Would you be this invested in staying with him in a situation like this?”

 

“First of all, I never would have slept with Bucky,” he says. Salma gives him an unimpressed look and he sighs, slumping back. “No,” he admits. “I wouldn’t.”

 

“So, then.”

 

She looks at him, neither expectant nor judging. He wishes he could do that. “I guess…” Nursey trails off, turning his coffee cup between his hands.

 

Salma has had a coffee maker in her office for as long as he’s known her. Around his junior year of high school, when his caffeine addiction started getting more pronounced, she started putting on a fresh pot before his sessions. Holding a mug gives him something to do with his hands instead of picking at his nails, and having something to drink gives him an excuse to pause when he needs to think.

 

Now, Nursey takes a sip, holding it in his mouth for a moment to ground himself in the flavor and heat before he swallows. “He’s a good person,” he says slowly, working out the thoughts as he speaks. “He’s smart, and capable, and really kind when he’s not being a dick. He’s…” He chews his lower lip. “He’s come a long way since I met him. I want to see what kind of person he’s going to become.”

 

“You don’t owe him that,” Salma says quietly.

 

“No, I know that.” Nursey runs his thumb over the ceramic of his cup. It’s slightly lopsided, the colors splotchy. He thinks maybe one of Salma’s kids made it. “But I want to, anyway. Is that wrong?”

 

Salma inclines her head. “I don’t think anything that you’re feeling is wrong,” she says. “You value the work you put into this relationship and you don’t want to see it go to waste. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

 

Nursey frowns. “Even after what he did?”

 

“Well, let’s talk about that.” She picks up her own mug, takes a sip. “You said you’re feeling angry, betrayed, hurt. All of that is reasonable, given the situation.”

 

“Is this the part where you ask me how I think he’s feeling?” he asks glumly.

 

She smiles. “Very good.” He makes a face at her, and she chuckles. “I don’t ask you those things because I’m devaluing your feelings, Derek.”

 

“I know,” he says.

 

“So then why am I asking?”

 

He shrugs. “Because if I care enough to want to stay friends with him, I should try to see this from his point of view?”

 

“Good,” she says, humor in her eyes. “I should just go home, you don’t even need me.”

 

Nursey shudders. “Don’t even joke,” he says. She hums, and makes a go on gesture. He sighs. “I don’t know,” he says. “I guess...Probably confused. Disappointed.” He runs his thumb over the uneven ceramic again. “Uncomfortable.”

 

Salma raises an eyebrow. “Go on.”

 

“When I told him to leave, he…” Nursey shakes his head. “He looked like I’d slapped him or something. Just--shocked. I don’t think he had any idea that I could have interpreted what he did as--as manipulative, or wrong. I think he genuinely thought he was doing the right thing by not telling me. And when it clicked, he looked…” He shrugs. “I didn’t feel guilty, for making him see it, but I didn’t like that he looked like that.”

 

She inclines her head, the folds of her hijab shifting slightly with the movement. “Why not?”

 

He bites his lip, chews thoughtfully. She taps her pen gently against her notepad, and he takes his teeth out of his skin. “It would be easier to stay mad at him if he knew what he was doing.”

 

“I see.” She regards him for a moment, and then says, “What part of this situation is most upsetting to you?”

 

Nursey frowns. “I don’t think I understand the question.”

 

Salma places her coffee cup on the table beside her chair. “Let me see if I can clarify. You’ve talked about Dex’s actions, and you’ve talked about your reaction to them--wanting to preserve your friendship despite what he did. What do you think you’re having the harder time with--his behavior, or your response?”

 

“I…” He starts to pull his lip between his teeth again, makes himself stop. He takes a sip of his coffee instead. “I don’t know.” She doesn’t respond, just waits, and he knows when he’s supposed to elaborate. He sighs, pushing his hair back. “I know you think that this whole--the whole thing I do is stupid and unhealthy. And it is, maybe, but I have boundaries, and I stick to them, and they make me feel--safe, I guess. And he didn’t keep up his end of the deal.”

 

She nods. “I’m sensing a but.”

 

Nursey huffs a humorless laugh. “Yeah. I guess. I just--I want to be angry at him, but instead I just...I keep coming back to him.” He rubs his forehead. “That basically sums up all my issues, right? Someone fucks me up and I immediately start justifying wanting to jump back on their dick?”

 

The vulgarity doesn’t make her so much as raise an eyebrow, but then, it almost never does. Salma takes a thoughtful sip of her coffee. “Is that what you want to do?”

 

He slumps back in his chair. “I don’t know. He was good in bed. I liked having someone to call.” Not that he has a shortage of repeat hookups he could text, but Dex had felt...reliable.

 

“I see.” She takes another sip, and then lets her mug rest on her notepad. “You talked about how he has feelings for you. Do you have any romantic interest in him?”

 

“What?” Nursey startles. “No.” She raises her eyebrows, which almost always means she thinks he’s reacting on instinct and not thinking about what he’s saying, and he sighs. “I don’t...I don’t think so.”

 

“Those are different things,” she points out gently.

 

“I know.” Nursey rubs his forehead. He tries to sort through his feelings about Dex, sifting through the layers of disgruntled affection and fiery chemistry and surprising sexual attention to try to figure out what the emotions are at the core of any of it.

 

It’s all too tangled together. Nursey sighs. “I don’t know if I like him like that,” he says. His chest twists a little as he says it; he hates admitting he doesn’t know what he’s feeling. “It just--it wasn’t an option. We were teammates, and then friends, and then things were supposed to be just--casual, I guess. I never let myself think about it.”

 

Salma nods. “Sometimes we close ourselves off to certain possibilities to keep ourselves safe,” she says gently. “It’s not a bad thing in and of itself, but it can be limiting.” She gives him a curious look. “What do you think would have happened if he had been up front with you about his feelings?”

 

Nursey frowns. “I wouldn’t have slept with him.”

 

“No, I don’t think you would have.” She spins her pen around her fingers, seems to catch herself doing it, and sets it down. “What I’m wondering, though, is how your reaction to this situation might have changed if a romantic relationship was presented as an option.”

 

Her voice is gentle, softening the defensiveness that bristles through him at the question. Nursey tightens his grip on his coffee mug, and tries to think. He wants to say that he’d have dismissed the idea without question, that there’s no way that he and Dex dating would have ever even crossed his mind, but…

 

But if Dex had brought it up for him?

 

He shakes his head. “I’m not sure,” he says. He bites his lip. “Why does it matter? That’s not what happened.”

 

“No, it isn’t,” she agrees. “But I’m raising the question because I think it’s possible that your reaction to this situation might have something to do with having to manage feelings that you weren’t planning on paying attention to. You do have a tendency to practice self-denial, Derek.”

 

Nursey makes a face at her, and she chuckles, leaning back in her chair. “I’ll admit,” she says, sobering slightly, “that I’ve worried about the way you’ve been treating your body. We’ve talked about that before. And I do believe you when you say that you’re being safe and setting boundaries. But if those boundaries aren’t protecting you--and your heart needs protecting just as much as your body, Derek--then maybe it’s time to reevaluate them.”

 

He considers that. He knows she’s not telling him to let this whole thing go, to give things with Dex a shot, but he can’t quite figure out what she is saying, and he’s got the bad feeling that she’s angling for a lot of self-reflection and thought exercises, which he hates.

 

He sighs. “Just once,” he says, glumly bringing his mug up to his lips. “I wish you’d just tell me what to do and get it over with.”

 

Salma smiles. “Now where’s the fun in that?” she says, and laughs when he leans over to clink his mug against hers.

 

 

After that, he starts paying attention.

 

He and Dex don’t hang out, really, but they’re in each other’s vicinity more than they would be under any other circumstances. The nature of the team--practices, shared meals, games--means that they’re in each other’s pockets more often than not, and even though Nursey made the call that they should stay together as a defense pairing, it’s still uncomfortable between them. The camaraderie they’d fallen into even before they’d started sleeping together is gone, and it’s hard to build it back, even with Dex making a clear effort to give Nursey space and respect his quiet request for as little physical contact as possible.

 

Still, Nursey notices things.

 

Dex watches him, when he thinks Nursey isn’t paying attention. Not in a creepy way, not in a way that’s uncomfortable, but Nursey will feel his gaze sometimes on the ice, in the Haus, during team study hour in the library. The few times he’s glanced back, not catching Dex’s eye but still managing to see his expression, Dex’s face is a mix of regret, worry, and something that’s not quite wanting but not quite not, either.

 

It’s a look that makes something in Nursey’s chest feel tight, but not in a way he doesn’t like. It makes him want to watch Dex back, and he does, sometimes, when he thinks he can get away with it. He watches the way his face scrunches up when he’s working on a tricky line of code, he watches the intent expression he gets when they go over plays, he watches his strong, capable hands as he tapes up his stick.

 

Every now and then, Dex sees him looking, meets his eyes. It sends a pang through Nursey every time, something that scares him if he looks at it too closely.

 

(Dammit, Salma, he thinks. This is why he doesn’t pay attention to his feelings. Because they are assholes.)

 

The other thing is that Dex hasn’t stopped caring. He’s just being sneakier about it.

 

“Drink this,” Chowder says, sitting down next to Nursey at the study table in the library and handing him a water bottle.

 

Nursey takes it, blinking. “Why?”

 

“Because Dex is going to whine to me if you don’t.” Chowder types something into his phone and puts it down on the table. Nursey stares at him.

 

“Dex is going to--what?”

 

Chowder rolls his eyes. “Dex,” he says, in the tones of someone who has been very patient up to this point but is reaching the end of his rope, “is concerned that you’re getting spiraly again.” He gives the two half-empty coffee cups on Nursey’s table a significant look. “I can’t imagine why.”

 

“Fuck you too, buddy,” Nursey says. He unscrews the cap of the bottle and takes a drink, and oh, okay, shit, he is dehydrated. He downs half the bottle, then puts the lid back on. “And why couldn’t he tell me this himself if he’s so worried?”

 

Chowder gives him a look as if to say, seriously? Nursey sighs. “Point taken.”

 

“I still don’t understand why you two can’t just talk about this shit like normal people,” Chowder says, sitting back in his chair.

 

Nursey picks up one of the coffee cups and takes a cautious sip. It’s a little colder than room temperature and he makes a face as he swallows. “I don’t know how to talk to him right now.”

 

Chowder raises his eyebrows. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

 

“It means…I don’t know.” Nursey rolls his shoulders. Maybe he has been sitting here too long, he’s starting to get stiff. “This whole thing is just--complicated.”

 

He sees the moment the penny drops. “Oh my god,” Chowder says. “You like him.”

 

Nursey winces. “Maybe.”

 

“You like him,” Chowder repeats. He looks like he can’t decide whether to be exasperated or elated. “Nursey, how is this not a good thing?”

 

“I don’t know, C, maybe because we had a fucked up sexual relationship based on misinformation at best and a lie at worst, and now I can’t figure out if I’m actually interested in him as a person or if I just miss his dick?”

 

Chowder blinks. “Oh,” he says. “Okay, I can see that.” He looks thoughtful. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I think if you just missed his dick, you would have just gotten back into bed with him. I don’t think you’d be stressing about it this much.”

 

Nursey tries not to wince. “Jesus. Thanks, C.”

 

“I don’t mean that in a bad way,” Chowder protests. “I’m just saying--if feelings weren’t an issue, you’d just, um, get it out of your system? The fact that you’re even spending this much time trying to work it out tells me that this matters to you.”

 

“Of course it matters to me,” Nursey grumbles. He picks up the coffee again, then puts it down. Not worth it. “He’s my teammate, I have to make this shit work with him.”

 

Chowder gives him an extremely unimpressed look.

 

“Ugh, fine.” Nursey scowls. “I maybe like him, okay? But I just--” He sighs. “This whole situation is fucked up as it is, you know? I don’t want it to get even worse.”

 

Chowder’s face softens. “Oh, Nursey.” He slings an arm around Nursey’s shoulders, and Nursey lets himself slump into his side. “I’m sorry.”

 

“Feelings are exhausting,” Nursey says, miserable. “And stupid.”

 

“I know, buddy.” Chowder brings a hand up to scritch gently at the roots of Nursey’s hair, and Nursey sighs, leaning into him. He thinks he might be a little touch-starved. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

 

“Facilitate my death,” Nursey deadpans. Chowder flicks his ear. “Ow!”

 

“Don’t even joke,” Chowder says sternly. “Besides, I was being serious. I could talk to him, if you want.”

 

Nursey shakes his head. “No. I need to figure this shit out myself, I think.” He bumps his head against Chowder’s shoulder. “Thanks anyway.”

 

“What are friends for?” Chowder says, and Nursey closes his eyes.

 

 

All things considered, Nursey actually thinks he does a decent job keeping his shit together.

 

He goes to class and he goes to practice and he goes to the library. He sleeps, for a given value of sleep, which is to say the turns off his light at a reasonable hour and puts on an audiobook and fades in and out of consciousness for a few hours a night. He takes his meds and he journals and he writes a lot of shitty poetry that will hopefully never see the light of day.

 

Basically: he keeps moving.

 

“You’re not happy,” Lardo says quietly, as the bus trundles up 84 on the way to New Haven for their game against Yale.

 

Nursey pulls out his headphones. “I’m not unhappy.” She levels him with a look, and he sighs. “It’s been a shitty couple of weeks.”

 

Lardo frowns at him. “And you aren’t…” She trails off, giving him a meaningful look. He raises his eyebrows at her, and she huffs a sigh. “Usually you’ve gotten yourself fucked back to normal by now. Well, your normal.”

 

He snorts. “Right to the point as usual.”

 

“Nursey.”

 

Her tone is flat. He makes a face. “I’m taking a break. From that.”

 

“Really,” she says.

 

“Jesus,” he says. “How bad is my fucking reputation that it’s surprising that I’m not falling into bed with someone to handle my issues?”

 

Lardo clicks her tongue at him, chiding. “You don’t have a reputation,” she says. “I just know you, and I know how you usually deal with your problems. If you’re going off-script, more power to you, I just want to know that you’re doing something.” She narrows her eyes. “You are doing something, right?”

 

He shrugs. “I guess.”

 

“I swear to god, Nursey,” she says. “I love you, but you make it difficult as fuck to not strangle you sometimes.” She shakes her head. “Are you going to be okay on the ice, at least?”

 

Nursey scoffs. “Come on, Lards,” he says, slinging an arm around her shoulders and ruffling her hair. She shoves at him, but it’s fond. “I’m always okay on the ice.”

 

What’s that saying about famous last words?

 

...

 

The hit that fucks him comes in the third period.

 

Up to that point, the game is actually going fairly well. They’re playing hard, and Nursey gets an assist in the second period when he shoots to Whiskey, who tips the puck in glove-side and then slams into Nursey’s side with an enthusiasm he only ever shows on the rink. Things are even going okay with Dex--after a few weeks, they’ve gotten some of their chemistry back, have started to regain that sense of where they are in relation to each other, at least on the ice.

 

Finally, he thinks, we might be okay.

 

He has the puck on his tape and is about to shoot it to Wicks when someone yells his name in warning. He doesn’t have time to respond before someone hits him, and then he’s crashing to the ice.

 

His right knee explodes in pain when he lands, a choked gasp punching past his lips as the weight of the other player falls on top of him. It’s a bad angle and puts more pressure on his knee, and his brain flies to a million worst-case scenarios--a knee injury can fuck everything in hockey; it could be a dislocation, a shattered kneecap, a torn MCL.

 

Somewhere, shrilly, a whistle blows. The guy on top of him moves off, or gets pulled off; Nursey can’t tell. He rolls onto his back with a wince. Someone is yelling.

 

“You diving motherfucker,” the person is screaming, and oh, shit, that’s Dex. “What the fuck, what were you trying to--no, don’t turn this shit on me, I didn’t fucking touch him--”

 

There are raised voices. Probably the ref and the other guy, Nursey thinks, still a little dazed. Shit, he didn’t think he fell that hard. He rolls over onto his back. Someone puts their hands on his shoulders and he looks up at Ollie’s worried face.

 

“You okay, Nurse?”

 

Nursey takes stock. His knee is killing him, and that’s fucking terrifying, and his head feels thick, his pulse racing. Adrenaline, probably. “I’m okay,” he says. “Help me up?”

 

Ollie takes his arms and pulls him carefully to his feet. Nursey puts his weight onto his right leg cautiously. His knee protests, but after a brief, dizzying flare of pain, it settles into a dull ache. He breathes a sigh of relief. Bruised, maybe strained, but nothing major. His hands start shaking in his gloves. “Fuck,” he says.

 

The ref skates over. “You good, kiddo?” he asks.

 

Nursey nods. The ref claps him on the shoulder, then signals to the linesman to set up a faceoff to resume play. Nursey hears a sharp whistle from the bench and snaps his head around to see Murray jerking his head, and he makes for the bench, Dex at his back.

 

Ransom and Holster switch out with them, and Nursey collapses onto the bench in a heap, rubbing his knee through his pads. Dex sits down next to him, clearly fuming. “Should have punched him in the face,” he mutters. “Are you okay?”

 

“I’m fine.” Nursey glances up at the ice. Play’s back on. The guy who hit him is in the box. “Did he actually get called?”

 

“Yeah. Wicks barely brushed him, and then he fucking threw himself down to knock you. Ref got him for diving and clipping.” Dex looks closely at him, his face sweaty and flushed behind his visor. “You sure you’re alright? You don’t look too good.”

 

Nursey shrugs. “Knee shit,” he says. “There’s always that second, you know.”

 

Dex shudders. “Fuck. Yeah, okay.” He hesitates, then nudges Nursey’s shoulder with his. “Be careful out there next shift.”

 

Even through their pads, Nursey can feel the heat of him. He closes his eyes, takes a breath, and then makes himself watch the game, his heart pounding in his chest.

 

 

They win 6-3, and Nursey skates the rest of his shifts on trembling legs, his body buzzing. He’s still shaking as they leave the ice, his hands a mess as he strips off his gear and showers; he barely hears Ransom and Holster’s rousing post-game speech.

 

The phrase the straw that broke the camel’s back is starting to feel very relevant to him.

 

He opens Tindr when he gets on the bus, tucking himself into the window seat and angling his phone so it doesn’t reflect on the window. It’s not his favorite way to find hookups--he prefers people he at least knows--but desperate times, desperate measures, whatever. Ignoring the buzz of the bus around him, he swipes left on a few people (he has a few hard and fast rules: no one without at least one face pictures, no one holding a fish in their profile pictures--it never ends well), swipes right on a few more.

 

It doesn’t take long for one of his matches to send him a message. The guy is good looking, from the pictures at least, well-built with sandy hair and blue eyes. His profile says, “Corey, 21, i never read the comments.” Yo. Samwell hockey?

 

As opening messages go, it’s far from the best Nursey’s ever gotten, but it’s also way far from the worst. He’s got a hockey picture in his profile, though, so it’s not surprising. Hell yeah, he types back.

 

Nice, he gets back. You just kicked my ex-boyfriend’s ass. ;)

 

A Yale kid, then, probably, Nursey thinks. Cool. Your school’s team is a bunch of goons.

 

You’re telling me, Corey writes. So. Can I reward you for rubbing their faces into the ice?

 

Nursey licks his bottom lip, running his thumb over the side of his phone. What did you have in mind?

 

There’s a pause. There’s usually a pause at this point in the conversation; Nursey’s done this before, on both sides. Everyone wants to draw shit out.

 

Your abs are fucking gorgeous, Corey writes finally. and i’d really like to get my mouth on them.

 

Nursey swallows. Really.

 

Another pause, and then, Among other things.

 

The message stays there, teasing without elaboration. Nursey shakes his head, half in amusement, half in anticipation. He flips back to Corey’s profile, swiping through his pictures. He’s a nice looking guy, he thinks. Broad shoulders. His hands look strong.

 

Absolutely without his permission, his eyes flicker to Dex, sitting across the aisle next to Chowder. His hands are on the keyboard of his laptop, probably already working on homework, and Nursey’s gaze drifts over the strong tendons of his fingers, the cords of muscle visible in his wrists and forearms where he’s pushed up his sleeves.

 

God fucking dammit, he thinks. He knocks his head against the back of the seat, then does it a few more times for good measure, but the phantom touch of Dex’s hands on his skin doesn’t go away.

 

Neither does the way his body reacts to the memory of it.

 

Dammit.

 

He goes back to the chat. Just found out we have a curfew, he writes. Sorry man. Rain check?

 

Sucks, Corey writes back to him. Good game, anyway. Hope someone sucks your dick for it.

 

Me too, Nursey thinks, a little bitterly. He opens his imessage thread with Lardo.

 

Hey, he types. Can you room me with Dex?

 

 

Dex is quiet as Nursey keys them into their room, his face set into an expression of troubled confusion. Neither of them talk while they rinse the parts of their gear that can be rinsed in the shower and drape it over the curtain rod and on top of the air conditioner to dry. Dex turns the AC on high, and Nursey shivers appreciatively, but doesn’t look at him as he strips off his suit and trades it for sweatpants and an undershirt.

 

The tension is tight between them and Nursey knows it’s on him. They haven’t roomed together since they broke off their--whatever it was, between them, and he knows Dex was probably blindsided when Lardo said they’d be roommates tonight. It probably doesn’t help that it was Lardo who told him, not Nursey, and that Nursey still hasn’t said anything to him.

 

It’s mostly because he doesn’t know what to say.

 

Finally, Dex breaks the silence. “Nursey,” he says, and there’s a hint of a plea in his voice. “Are you talking to me again, or what?”

 

Nursey puts his phone down on the bedside table and looks at him. Dex is sitting on the edge of other bed, barefoot in Samwell sweatpants and a worn Rolling Stones t-shirt, his face closed off, like he’s afraid to give anything away. “Or what,” Nursey says. He gets off his bed and walks around to stand in front of Dex, nearly between his legs, and Dex sucks in a breath.

 

“I thought you were mad at me.”

 

“I am,” Nursey says. “At least, I think I am. But.” He takes a step closer, into Dex’s space, and Dex doesn’t push him away, just looks up at him. His fingers twitch on the comforter, like he wants to reach up and touch him. “But it’s been a shit few weeks, and I’m a fucking mess, and for some reason I still trust you, so.”

 

Dex opens his mouth, then closes it. He swallows visibly. “Nothing’s changed for me,” he says. “You need to know that. I still--”

 

Nursey shakes his head. “I don’t care. I just need--”

 

He cuts himself off before he can say something he’ll regret, but it’s okay, because Dex is reaching up for him, pulling him closer, murmuring, “Okay, okay.” He curls his hands over Nursey’s hips and tugs, gently, until Nursey’s sitting down on the bed next to him, and then he pushes him down onto his back. Dex brushes his fingertips over Nursey’s jaw, and he shivers. “Can I kiss you?”

 

This is such a bad fucking idea, Nursey thinks.

 

“Yes,” he says.

 

Dex’s lips are still dry from the game, a little chapped, but he’s so fucking soft when he presses his mouth to Nursey’s. He shifts until he’s draped half over him, his weight held up on his elbows and his chest pressed down against Nursey’s, and Nursey can feel the heat of his body, the hard, steady warmth. “You gotta promise me you’re okay with this,” Dex mumbles against his lips, his voice strained. “I don’t want to hurt you again, Nursey, I can’t do it.”

 

Nursey closes his eyes, threads his fingers into Dex’s hair. It’s still slightly damp from the shower. “I’m okay,” he says, and something twists inside him when he realizes he means it. “I want this.”

 

Dex doesn’t move, and Nursey opens his eyes to see Dex furrowing his brow. “With me?” he specifies. “You’re sure you want this with me?”

 

Nursey scowls. “Well, I turned down a guy from Tindr, but if you’d rather I--”

 

“No.” Dex’s hands flex on Nursey’s hips, digging in briefly before he relaxes. Nursey feels his lip curl. Gotcha. “No. You’re here with me.” He leans down, nudging Nursey’s face to the side so that he can kiss his neck. Nursey closes his eyes again as Dex’s teeth brush his skin. “Are you still okay with marks?”

 

“Yes.” Nursey tightens his hand in Dex’s hair. “You’re asking too many questions.”

 

Dex snorts, biting down gently on Nursey’s pulse point. “Sorry for trying not to fuck up again,” he says. He kisses the place he just bit, and then says, “Fine. One more question, okay?” Nursey sighs, looking up at him expectantly. Dex meets his gaze, steady. “What do you want tonight?”

 

The heat in his eyes sends a shudder down Nursey’s spine. There’s promise there, and intent. Whatever he asks for, Nursey realizes, he’s going to get. He swallows. “I want to come,” he says, surprising himself by how hoarse his voice is. “Until I can’t anymore.”

 

Dex’s pupils blow out. “Fuck,” he breathes, closing his eyes for a moment. “Okay.” He squeezes Nursey’s hips, then lets him go. “You brought--”

 

“In my bag,” Nursey says.

 

“Okay,” Dex repeats. He sits back on his knees, the line of his dick already visible in his sweatpants. “Go get it, and come back.”

 

Nursey gets out of bed, stumbling slightly as his bad knee takes his weight. Dex catches his arm. “Whoa,” he says. “You okay?”

 

“Knee,” Nursey admits.

 

Dex frowns. “That fall?” Nursey nods, and Dex swears. “I knew I should have hit him. How bad?”

 

“It’s fine, just…” Nursey rubs at it through his sweatpants, wincing at the pressure. He can already tell it’s going to bruise. “Just freaked me out.”

 

Dex’s face softens. “Yeah, I know the feeling,” he says. He reaches out and pulls Nursey back onto the bed. “I’ll get it. Toiletry bag or your duffle?”

 

“Shaving kit.” Nursey watches Dex rummage through his bag, his t-shirt pulling tight across his shoulders as he moves.

 

“Got it.” Dex comes back with the whole bag, rather than carrying a handful of condoms, lube, and gloves, and deposits it onto the bedside table, sitting down next to Nursey. He pushes gently at the center of Nursey’s chest, and Nursey takes the hint and lies back. Dex puts a hand on his leg just above where his knee already feels swollen and hot, his touch careful. “Is that what made you snap?”

 

Nursey blinks. “What?”

 

Dex shrugs, stretching out next to him on his side. “I’ve been keeping an eye on you,” he says. “You’ve been getting tenser the last couple days, but I figured something happened to make you need…”

 

He gestures between them, and Nursey’s cheeks heat. “Oh. Yeah, I guess.” He runs his fingertips over the stitching on the comforter. “I just--I went to the worst-case scenarios, you know? And from there it was just…” He trails off, not wanting to get too far into it and bring everything back up again. As it is, the faded anxiety is starting to scratch at the back of his head again, sharp as nails.

 

It must show on his face, because Dex leans over and kisses his cheek. “It’s okay,” he says. “I got you.” Nursey looks up at him, uncertain and feeling suddenly vulnerable, and Dex touches his jaw with his fingertips. “I’m gonna take care of you, okay?”

 

Nursey nods. His skin is starting to get that tight, shivery feeling that comes with anticipating sex, when he knows that someone is going to dick him down hard. “Just--” Dex raises his eyebrows, and Nursey swallows. “Don’t be gentle this time.”

 

Dex’s eyes darken. “I can do that,” he says. He shifts his weight until he’s draping most of his body over Nursey’s, his hands curling over Nursey’s forearms. “I’m not going to hurt you. But I can do that.” He bends down, touches his forehead to Nursey’s. “You good?”

 

He’s done waiting. “Please,” Nursey says, and Dex leans down to kiss him.

 

It’s the kind of kiss that starts out deep and just gets deeper. Dex kisses him like he wants to drown in Nursey’s mouth, and Nursey shudders into it, leaving one hand in Dex’s hair and slipping the other under the hem of his shirt.

 

God, he wants this. His body is practically melting, dissolving under Dex’s touch. He thinks he should hate it, but he doesn’t.

 

Dex leans to the side to start trailing kisses over Nursey’s neck, biting every now and then, whenever Nursey isn’t expecting it. He seals his lips over Nursey’s pulse and sucks, hard enough that Nursey knows there’ll be a mark, and Nursey whimpers, digs his fingers into Dex’s back. Dex shifts his mouth an inch closer to Nursey’s collarbone and does it again, and the skin is more sensitive there, enough that Nursey arches his back, gasping.

 

“Fuck,” he groans, and Dex chuckles against his neck, running his hands down over Nursey’s sides and making him shiver. “Dex, I want--”

 

“Shh,” Dex says, but he’s grinning. He slips his hands under the hem of Nursey’s undershirt and tugs, and Nursey props himself up so that they can pull it over his head. “I’m gonna get you there, okay? Relax.” Nursey pulls pointedly on his shirt in return, and Dex laughs, taking it off.

 

Bare-chested, Dex leans back down to kiss him, and Nursey shudders at the touch of Dex’s skin on his. Nursey lets one leg splay out so that Dex can shift in between them, and he can feel Dex’s erection, hard against his. He starts to reach a hand between them, but Dex catches his wrist before he can slip it under his waistband. “Don’t,” he murmurs. “Just let me get you, okay?”

 

Nursey bites his lip. “I--” He takes a breath, steadies himself. “I wanna make you come tonight.”

 

“I will, don’t worry.” Dex flashes an almost apologetic grin. “I’m pretty one and done, though, so you’re gonna have to wait on me, okay? You, on the other hand,” He runs a hand over the bulge in Nursey’s sweatpants, and Nursey catches his breath. “Yeah. One to take the edge off?”

 

Nursey shivers. The residual adrenaline is combining with the palpable emotions in the room to turn him on faster than he’s used to, and the gentle touch of Dex’s hand is enough to make him tremble, his dick twitching in his underwear. “Yeah.”

 

It’s fast and dirty. Dex peels his sweatpants and boxer briefs off in an easy motion, Nursey lifting his hips to help, and settles between his legs with a quick flash of a grin. He runs a hand up Nursey’s inner thigh, teasing and warm, and then ducks his head to lick over the head of his dick. His mouth is wet and hot and Nursey swears, reaching down to comb his fingers through Dex’s hair. Dex hums at the touch and sinks down, wrapping his hand around the base of Nursey’s dick to make up for what he can’t get into his mouth.

 

“Fuck,” Nursey breathes, running his thumb along the curve of Dex’s ear. Dex glances up at him through his eyelashes and Nursey thinks he’d be grinning if his mouth wasn’t full; he squeezes his hand a little tighter, moving in time with his lips, and Nursey shudders, body tightening. He’d been more wound up than he thought. “Dex, I’m--fuck, I’m close.”

 

Dex brings his other hand up, curving over Nursey’s hip and squeezing gently in acknowledgment. He gives another swirl of his tongue--Nursey bites his lip, hard--and then lifts off him, the spit and precome more than enough to let his hand move easily over Nursey’s heated skin. “C’mon,” Dex murmurs, pressing a kiss to Nursey’s thigh, close enough to his balls that Nursey jumps. “I got you.”

 

Nursey comes quietly, the back of his hand pressed to his mouth. It’s a tight, shuddering orgasm, rocking through him in waves, and he keeps his eyes closed, losing himself in sensation as Dex works him through it with a tight grip.

 

“Good?” Dex asks when he finally reaches down to touch his fingers to Dex’s wrist, a nonverbal enough. Nursey nods, and Dex kisses his hip. “You want a break?”

 

“No.” Nursey shakes his head. “I wanna sit on your dick.”

 

Dex’s cheeks flush, but his lips tilt up in a grin. “Normally I’d be all for that,” he says. “But I don’t want you to fuck up your knee any more than it already is.”

 

Fair point, even if Nursey doesn’t like it. He makes a face, and Dex chuckles, moving up his body to kiss him, low and deep. “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of you.” He drags his fingers through the come on Nursey’s stomach. “Worth cleaning this up, or should I just see how messy we can get you?”

 

Jesus, Nursey thinks. “The mouth on you,” he says. “Where the hell did you pick that up?”

 

“We have dirty talk in Maine,” Dex says dryly. He bends down, drawing his lips over Nursey’s pulse, and Nursey shivers, pleased. Dex lets his fingers drift down between Nursey’s legs, brushes the tips of two of them, dry and teasing, against his hole. Nursey jumps, instinctive, not sure if he’s trying to get closer or move away, and Dex smiles. “This what you want?”

 

Nursey nods. The away locker room had had a few shower stalls in addition to the open room and he’d taken advantage, cleaning up after the game much more thoroughly than he’d normally ever get away with. It’s not perfect, but they use gloves and condoms, they’ll be fine. “Yeah. Please.”

 

Dex chuckles and reaches for Nursey’s bag, digs in until he comes up with lube and the ziplock where he keeps gloves. He slides one on and flips the cap on the lube, drizzling it over his fingers and then sliding his hand down again. “Good?”

 

“Stop asking,” Nursey says, shifting his hips to try and get closer to the barely-there touch. “Just--”

 

Dex presses a finger into him, slow but firm, and Nursey closes his eyes. “Yes. Fuck. Thank you.”

 

“You’re welcome,” Dex says, his voice dry and amused. He runs the tip of another finger against Nursey’s rim, and when Nursey squirms down against it, gives him that one, too. Nursey shudders at the feeling. “Fuck, this is a good look for you.”

 

Nursey opens his eyes to look at him. Dex’s gaze is fixed on the place where his fingers are inside him, his cheeks flushed. “You think?”

 

“Yeah.” Dex’s throat moves as he swallows.

 

“I’ll look even better when it’s your dick.”

 

The movement of Dex’s fingers stutters. “Fuck,” Dex says. “You’re a menace.”

 

Nursey smirks. “Maybe.”

Dex takes him up to three fingers faster than they normally would. He’s not gentle, just like Nursey asked, but he’s not rough either. The stretch is surprising, even though it shouldn’t be since they’ve done this before, but Dex has big hands and long fingers, and Nursey finds himself closing his eyes again, breathing deeply and making himself relax.

 

Something must show on his face, because Dex makes a soft sound. “You okay?”

 

Nursey nods, but he doesn’t open his eyes. “’m fine.”

 

The lube cap clicks, and Dex’s fingers leave him briefly. Nursey whines at the loss, and Dex shushes him, slides them back into him, slicker now. “There you go,” Dex murmurs, when Nursey groans. “God, you’re so fucking tight.”

 

“Been a little while,” Nursey says, and then realizes what he said when Dex’s fingers still.

 

“Yeah?” he asks, his voice gone suddenly faint. “Was I the last one to do this to you?”

 

Nursey opens his eyes to see Dex looking at him, his eyes wide and his face unreadable. He swallows. “You know you were,” he says.

 

Dex makes a punched-out sound and leans down to kiss him, open-mouthed and hard, almost sloppy. Nursey can taste the emotion in it, can read the lines of wanting for more in every line of Dex’s muscles against his. His bare hand curves over Nursey’s jaw, his fingers trembling, and Nursey hears himself whimper when Dex pulls away. Dex kisses him again, softer, and presses his fingers deeper. Nursey groans.

 

“I can make you come like this,” Dex says, hoarse. “You want me to? Make you come on my fingers before I fuck you?”

 

He’s hard and aching, but it’s not what he wants. “No,” Nursey says. “No, come on, I want--”

 

Dex swears and pulls his fingers free, strips off the glove and tosses it off the bed without looking, fumbling in Nursey’s bag for a condom. He rolls it on one-handed, slicks himself up.

 

“Roll onto your side for me,” he says, and Nursey shifts over, turning until his back is to Dex. He grabs one of the extra pillows and pulls it into his arms, presses his face into the cool fabric as Dex spoons up behind him. Dex’s hand curls around his thigh, pushes up until his knee is bent near his chest, and Nursey’s glad it’s his good leg.

 

There’s a shuddering exhale against the back of his neck, and he feels the blunt pressure of Dex’s dick against him. “Yeah?” Dex murmurs. Nursey presses back against him in answer, and Dex kisses his shoulder and pushes in.

 

It’s good, deep stretch and pressure, and Nursey hears himself moan, distantly, like it’s coming from somewhere separate from him. The head of Dex’s dick bumps up against his prostate, and he bites his lip, feels his cock twitch where it’s rubbing on the sheets.

 

“You feel so fucking good,” Dex mumbles against his shoulder. He pulls out and then thrusts back in, and he can’t go that hard in this position, but the depth is fucking amazing. Nursey reaches an arm back until he can wrap a hand around Dex’s hip, pulling him deeper into him, and Dex laughs, low and rough. “This is what you wanted, wasn’t it?”

 

Nursey nods into the pillow, not trusting himself to speak. Dex’s thrusts keep that slow, rolling rhythm, stretching him wide.

 

And then he changes it, pushes in with a sharp snap of his hips, and Nursey lets out a sharp cry before he can bite it back. “Answer me, Nursey.”

 

“Yes, fuck!” He digs his fingers into Dex’s hip. “It’s what I wanted, fuck, please, just--”

 

“Make you come?” Dex’s voice is close, his lips brushing Nursey’s neck. “Yeah?”

 

Nursey shudders. “Please.”

 

“I got you.” A warm, slick hand curls around his dick, and Nursey whimpers. Dex jerks him slowly, in time with the movement of his hips, the tight grip of his hand a counterpoint to the pressure building inside him. Nursey feels himself coiling, tightening, and Dex kisses the back of his neck. “Fuck, I can feel that. Come on, Nurse, let go for me.”

 

“Don’t want to,” Nursey chokes out, and he’s fighting himself, but he’s not ready for this to be over, he needs more. “Not yet, I don’t want to be done--”

 

Dex chuckles, almost dark against Nursey’s skin. “We aren’t done,” he says. “I promise, we’re not finished til you’ve come so many times you can’t anymore, til you can’t say anything but my fucking name--”

 

Nursey comes with a shuddering cry, spilling messily over Dex’s fingers and clenching on his dick. It’s harder than the first one, coming from deep inside him and rippling out through his body, makes him shake and shudder while Dex fucks him through it, never letting up. The aftershocks are nearly as intense as the orgasm, and he squeezes his eyes shut, riding them out with the pillowcase caught between his teeth.

 

“There you go,” Dex soothes, trailing light, fluttering kisses over Nursey’s shoulder and neck. The barely-there pressure makes Nursey shiver, another pulse going through him. “There you go, yeah. So good, sweetheart.”

 

He catches his breath, then, like he didn’t mean to say that, but Nursey twists around before he can stop himself, dragging Dex into a wet, messy kiss. Dex makes a surprised sound into his mouth, but quickly recovers, pressing back into the kiss and shifting them, using the grip he still has on Nursey’s leg to coax him onto his back and wrap the leg around his own waist. He manages it without ever slipping all the way out of him, and when he slides back in at the new angle, Nursey has to break the kiss to groan.

 

“Fuck.”

 

“Yeah,” Dex agrees against his lips. He thrusts in again, deeper, and Nursey arches his back into it. He’s oversensitive and it should be too much, but he’s so wired up that it feels good, his nerves sparking everywhere. He reaches up to wrap his arms around Dex’s neck, wanting more contact, and Dex drops down onto his elbows, his chest warm and solid against Nursey’s.

 

“So good,” Dex says again, and he sounds reverent, almost, soft and worshipful. Nursey buries his face into the crook of Dex’s neck, scared to look at him, afraid of what he might see on his face.

 

It doesn’t matter. His voice gives everything away, raw and open and wanting, and Nursey feels a lump in his throat. It makes his chest ache, the sound of it, and he doesn’t know if it’s because of the actual emotion in Dex’s voice or because he wants back, so sudden and spiraling that he whimpers, curling his fingers against Dex’s shoulders.

 

Arousal starts building inside of him, slow and warm; it’s all in his prostate, his dick barely half-hard against his stomach. Dex kisses his neck, sucks a mark into the crook of his jaw. “Please,” Nursey whispers, and doesn’t even know what he’s asking for.

 

“Please what?” Dex says, breathy, but Nursey just shakes his head, presses his forehead into Dex’s shoulder to hide whatever might be showing on his face. He clenches down on Dex’s dick to try and distract him.

 

It works. Dex lets out a sharp breath, and retaliates with a hard thrust and a nip of teeth against Nursey’s neck. “Hard enough for you?”

 

Nursey shakes his head. It’s almost what he needs, but not quite. “Harder,” he says, and Dex swears into his neck and picks up his pace. A particularly firm thrust makes him gasp, and Dex makes a questioning sound. “Yes, fuck, that’s--” Nursey chokes, and Dex groans, keeps that speed and pressure until Nursey’s letting out desperate sounds at every thrust.

 

The lube is starting to lose some of its slickness and the friction is just this side of painful. Nursey whimpers something he isn’t sure is intelligible and Dex pulls out, slides his fingers back in to hold Nursey open before he can even protest the emptiness. He opens the lube cap with his teeth and pours more directly onto his dick, his face flushed and sweaty.

 

Nursey thinks he’s never seen anything so fucking gorgeous.

 

Dex tosses the bottle aside and smears the new lube over the condom, working Nursey’s prostate with his other hand. In one motion, he pulls his fingers away and presses his dick back in, and Nursey groans, dropping his head back onto the pillow.

 

“Yeah, fuck,” Dex hisses. He loops his arm under Nursey’s good knee, hooking it over his elbow and pressing back to open Nursey up, pushing in even deeper. Nursey’s hard again, his dick throbbing and leaking as it rubs through the mess that’s already all over his stomach, but Dex doesn’t touch him. “You’re gonna come for me,” Dex says, his mouth against Nursey’s ear. He bites his earlobe, and Nursey jerks his hips. “Just like this.”

 

“I can’t--” He can, he has, but he’s already come twice and it’s so much.

 

“You can.” Dex pushes his knee further back, his dick sliding impossibly deeper; Nursey bites out a moan. Dex is teaching a master class in fucking; Nursey feels wrecked. “Come on, fuck, you’re so gorgeous like this, come right on my dick, let me feel it.”

 

Dex,” Nursey gasps, and comes between one thrust and the next, shooting up his chest as his body arches. He doesn’t cry out but it’s a close thing, he has to bite his lips and cling to Dex’s shoulders, desperate and trembling.

 

Dex doesn’t let up, his breathing ragged against Nursey’s cheek as he drops his head down. “That’s the fucking hatty,” he says, and Nursey lets out a breathless, frantic laugh. He’s caught between feeling too much and not enough, his body barely done coming and already tightening up again. “Oh fuck, fuck, you feel so good, Derek, shit.”

 

Nursey grabs at Dex’s face and pulls him into a messy kiss. “Want you to come,” he slurs.

 

He feels it when Dex shakes his head. “One more.”

 

“I can’t.”

 

“Yes, you can,” Dex pants, tension in his shoulders under Nursey’s hands. “I know you can.”

 

Another hard thrust, and Nursey does choke out a cry. “Fuck,” he says, digging his nails into Dex’s skin. “How are you still--”

 

“Sheer fucking stubbornness,” Dex says, half a laugh, but it’s wild, less humor and more desperation. “Come on, baby, one more for me, you can do it.”

 

There are tears in Nursey’s eyes, threatening to spill down his cheeks. “It’s too much,” he says. “It’s too much, I can’t.”

 

“You can.” There’s a note of command in Dex’s voice, just rough enough that it hits Nursey deep in his chest. “You think I can’t feel it? C’mon. You can do it for me, sweetheart.” He drops his mouth to Nursey’s neck, bites over his pulse, draws a sharp sound out of Nursey’s throat. “C’mon. It’ll make me come, I know that’s what you want.”

 

Nursey squeezes his eyes shut, his body overwhelmed. “I can’t,” he whimpers, “I can’t, I can’t--”

 

He does, the orgasm crashing into him without his permission, dick only half-hard and jerking. It’s so much, it’s so much, and he thinks maybe he screams, but Dex is kissing him, groaning into his mouth as he goes rigid, snapping his hips in sharp, deep thrusts as he comes like he can’t do anything else.

 

Dex is panting when he finally slows to a stop, dropping down onto his forearms and then rolling them carefully onto their sides until he can gather Nursey, shaking like a leaf, into his arms.

 

“You were so good,” he says, trailing kisses over whatever parts of Nursey’s skin he can reach. “Fuck, you were beautiful.” Nursey whimpers out what he hopes is an affirmative, and Dex shushes him gently, running soothing hands over his back and sides. “Shh, baby, shh, I got you, just breathe. Come down for me, you’re okay.”

 

It takes a long time for Nursey’s head to clear. Every aftershock that goes through him sets off a new round of trembling, and they keep coming, his nerves not getting the message that they’re not fucking anymore. Dex is still inside him, barely, but he’s going soft and Nursey knows from experience that he won’t stay there long in this position.

 

He shifts his hips slightly, wanting the withdrawal part over with, and Dex kisses his shoulder and pulls out, holding onto the condom. He draws away from Nursey long enough to tie it off and throw it into the trash can next to the bed, and then he comes back, pulling Nursey into him again.

 

“Are you okay?” he asks, when they’ve been lying in silence for a few minutes, their combined ragged breathing and the hum of the AC the only sounds in the room.

 

Nursey swallows. His throat feels raw, his mouth dry from gasping. He nods. “I think so,” he says. “Just. A little…”

 

He moves a hand limply, trying to convey done without words, and Dex laughs softly. He brushes his fingertips over Nursey’s neck, lingering briefly on the marks he’d left, and then he says, “Do you think you can manage a shower?”

 

Nursey considers that. “You’re gonna have to hold me up,” he admits. His legs feel like jelly.

 

“I can do that,” Dex says.

 

Moving slowly--Nursey wasn’t kidding, his legs won’t support his weight and standing is an immediate, intimate reminder of the fact that he’s just been fucked within an inch of his life--they head into the bathroom. Dex starts the shower while Nursey leans against the counter, and then Dex manhandles him gently under the spray.

 

The hot water does wonders, easing the residual ache in his muscles from the game and soothing away some of the tightness from tensing so much during sex. Dex still has to hold him up, one gentle arm around his middle while Nursey leans his head against the slick tiles, closing his eyes. He hisses through his teeth when Dex brings soapy fingers against his hole, gently washing away lube.

 

“Sorry,” Dex says. “You okay?”

 

“Sensitive,” Nursey mumbles.

 

“I bet. Almost done, promise.”

 

Nursey nods without opening his eyes. Dex moves his fingers away after a few more seconds, squeezing Nursey’s hip. A moment later, his touch is back, rougher now. Washcloth, Nursey thinks. Okay.

 

It’s a little weird, letting Dex wash him like this, but he can’t say he doesn’t like it. He’s gentle and thorough, steadying Nursey against the wall while he drops down to his knees to wash his legs for him, and it’s surprisingly nice, being cared for like this. Nursey feels warm and heavy, a little sleepy. It’s not like an adrenaline crash, it’s something softer, calmer.

 

Oh, he thinks. Contentment. That’s what this is.

 

The realization should be startling, alarming even, but it’s not. It’s almost a relief.

 

They get out of the shower and towel off together, and then Nursey kicks Dex out and turns the water back on so that he can use the bathroom in private--some things aren’t for sharing.

 

Dex is sprawled out on the second bed when Nursey comes out of the bathroom with his towel around his waist, scrolling through his phone. He’s wearing new boxers but nothing else, and Nursey thinks fuck it and follows his lead, pulling a clean pair of underwear out of his bag and then climbing, a little gingerly, onto the bed.

 

(It occurs to him a moment later that he could have gotten into the other one, but it’s covered in lube and come, and he just got clean.)

 

Dex doesn’t seem to mind, though, just puts his phone down on the bedside table. “Hey,” he says. He picks up his water bottle and unscrews the lid, passing it over, and Nursey drinks gratefully, realizing belatedly how dehydrated he was.

 

“Thanks,” Nursey says when he’s downed half of it, passing it back.

 

“Sure.” Dex takes a quick swig, then puts it down. He rolls onto his side, studying Nursey’s face. “You feeling better?”

 

“Yeah.” Nursey shifts slightly on the bed, winces, and then settles. “A little sore, but in a good way.”

 

Dex nods. He reaches a hand toward Nursey, like he wants to touch him, then hesitates and lets it fall. “Ready for bed? It’s pretty late.”

 

“I could sleep,” Nursey admits. His limbs feel heavy, and the anxiety that was screaming in his head earlier has simmered down to its usual resentful murmur.

 

“Okay.” Dex pauses. “Uh, is it okay that I’m--I mean, do you want me to--”

 

Nursey shakes his head. “Stay.” Never mind that it’s Dex’s room too; he doesn’t want to be alone.

 

“Okay.” Dex reaches over and hits the light switch, and the room falls into darkness. Nursey wriggles under the blankets and feels the bed dip as Dex does the same next to him. He closes his eyes.

 

“Hey,” Dex says, his voice soft in the quiet room. “Are you still mad at me?”

 

Nursey opens his eyes. There’s just enough moonlight coming in through the vertical blinds that he can make out Dex’s profile on the pillow beside him. He’s looking at the ceiling, like he’s not ready to meet Nursey’s eyes. “I don’t know,” Nursey says.

 

Dex turns his face to look at him. “You don’t seem mad.”

 

“I know,” Nursey says.

 

There’s a soft intake of breath, and then Dex rolls onto his side, facing Nursey. “Come here?”

 

He can’t make himself say no. Nursey shifts over to let Dex wrap an arm around his shoulders, and settles his head on Dex’s chest. He can hear Dex’s heartbeat, steady and smooth.

 

“G’night, Derek,” Dex says softly, and Nursey closes his eyes.

 

 

He wakes up alone.

 

It shouldn’t surprise him, not after everything, but it still hurts a little. Nursey rubs his eyes, blinking in the sunlight, and twists to look over his shoulder at the alarm clock on the nightstand. Barely after seven; team breakfast in the hotel dining room isn’t until eight. He guesses he should have figured that Dex would want to get out as soon as he could, though.

 

No chance for an awkward morning-after that way. Except they still have to see each other at breakfast, and back on the bus, and at the game at Dartmouth tonight, and oh, what the fuck, this whole thing is going to be a mess.

 

Nursey groans, reaching for his phone, and then frowns when his hand hits paper. He frowns, sitting up and then wincing--he needs to stretch or take a hot bath or something, holy fuck--and picks up his phone, which is tucked inside a folded piece of hotel stationary with his name scrawled on it. He unfolds it and finds a note from Dex, telling him he’d gone to get coffee.

 

“Oh,” he says out loud.

 

Before he can start thinking about a response, the door opens and Dex walks in, carrying two paper coffee cups in a tray. “Oh, hey” he says. “You’re awake.”

 

“Yeah, just now.” Nursey pulls the blankets up over his lap, feeling oddy exposed. “Um--thanks for the note.”

 

Dex snorts. “I’ve seen enough movies to know not to leave without putting something in an obvious place,” he says dryly.

 

Nursey laughs despite himself, looking him over as Dex closes the door. He’s dressed already, jeans and his SMH hoodie, but his hair is still sleep-mussed, and it gives him a soft, gently rumpled look. “You got me coffee?”

 

“There’s a Starbucks next door.” Dex offers him a cup, then pulls it back when Nursey reaches for it. “Uh-uh, you gotta get out of bed. I know how you work.”

 

“Rude,” Nursey grumbles, but he hauls himself out of the twisted sheets, digging a pair of jeans out of his duffle and then dragging a t-shirt over his head. Dex keeps the coffee out of his reach until Nursey shuffles to the bathroom and brushes his teeth and puts on deodorant. He gives Dex his most pitiful look when he comes back out, and Dex chuckles, passing the cup over.

 

He makes a pleased, shamelessly greedy sound as he breathes in the steam, and Dex smiles, nodding to the bed. “Mind if I sit?”

 

Nursey waves him over, focused on burying his face into his cup. The coffee is just how he likes it, strong and dark, and he thinks he can taste the bitterness of an extra espresso shot. There's cinnamon, too, just a hint, and he realizes that Dex must have added it for him. Something strange and warm flutters in his belly.

 

They sit in silence for a few minutes, drinking their coffee side by side. It’s a more comfortable quiet than they’ve shared in weeks, and Nursey’s surprised by how nice it feels, how easy.

 

Dex breaks it. “So, uh. Last night.”

 

“Yeah,” Nursey says.

 

“That was…” Dex glances sidelong at him, like he doesn’t know the words to use. “I mean, it didn’t feel…”

 

Nursey can hear the uncertainty in his voice, and knows, knows why it’s there. “I know,” he admits.

 

Dex looks down at the cup in his hands. “Look,” he says. “I know that I fucked up before. I did...I did basically everything wrong. And I can’t go back and fix that, but I just...I want to be honest with you going forward, okay?”

 

Nursey nods.

 

“I can’t…” Dex sighs. “Last night was fucking amazing, Nursey, and I’m glad I could--I could be there for you, when you needed someone. But I don’t think I can do casual with you. Not in any way that’s fair to either of us.”

 

He sounds raw and exposed, like he’s making himself more vulnerable than he wants to be, and maybe he is, Nursey realizes; Dex rarely talks about his feelings, and almost never in a way that puts him in someone else’s hands.

 

Nursey, whose biggest coping skill is basically handing himself over to someone and letting them take the reins, can’t really relate. But then, doing that with his body is different from doing it with his heart.

 

Except, that’s what he’d done last night, he realizes. He’d been more open than he’s been with anyone he’s slept with in a long time, had begged and clung and cried, even, and Dex had held him through all of it, gentle and soothing. He’d felt safe, cared for, and…

 

Fuck it.

 

“What if,” he says slowly, “we did...not casual?”

 

Something unrecognizable flashes across Dex’s face, and then his expression settles into something cautious, guarded. “Is that something you’d want? With me?” Nursey opens his mouth to answer, but Dex shakes his head. “I mean it, Nursey, I want you to be sure. Do you even like me like that, outside of the physical stuff?”

 

Nursey hesitates. “I…” He bites his lip, trying to get his thoughts in order, to make sure that everything he’s saying is something true.

 

“I care about you,” he says after a moment. “I know that I care about you. I want you in my life, and I feel safe with you. And I know that’s not--that’s not perfect, things are really complicated and messy between us, but...but we have a connection. I don’t want to lose that. Or miss out on seeing what it could be.”

 

Dex’s fingers flex around his cup. “It’s not...I don’t want you to just need me, Nursey. I want you to actually want me.”

 

Nursey puts his cup on the bedside table, and reaches out to take Dex’s, putting it down next to his. He touches his fingers to Dex’s cheek, and coaxes his eyes up until Dex looks at him.

 

“I do,” he says. It’s the first time he’s admitted it out loud, and it’s strange, but even as the words leave his lips, he knows he means them. “Will. I do.”

 

Dex still looks hesitant. “We’ll need to talk about this more,” he says. “Not--not now, I know we have to go meet the team, but--I know we have more to figure out, to make sure you don’t--that neither of us gets hurt.” Nursey nods, and Dex reaches up for Nursey’s hand, takes it away from his face and lacing their fingers together. “I have another question.”

 

“Okay,” Nursey says.

 

“I know you don’t need me to look out for you. But that’s the kind of person I am. And sometimes…” Dex sighs. “You scare me sometimes, Derek. I know there are things going on with you that I don’t understand, and I don’t expect you to tell me everything or feel like you have to push yourself past where you’re comfortable, but…”

 

“I get it.” Nursey looks down at their joined hands, grounds himself by taking in the contrast between their skin, counting the tiny scars on Dex’s knuckles. “And I--I do need looking after, sometimes. Chowder can tell you about it, a little, I don’t know that I can really--” His voice catches in his throat, and he swallows. “But I’m working on it. It’s slow as shit, but I’m…”

 

He trails off, but Dex is taking their hands and bringing them up to his lips, is kissing the back of Nursey’s gently. “It’s okay,” he says. “It’s okay, Derek. You don’t have to tell me. I just need to know that you’re safe.”

 

They’re being honest, Nursey reminds himself. He chooses his words carefully. “Today I am,” he says. “Is that enough?”

 

“It’s enough.” Dex kisses his hand again, his eyes steady on Nursey’s. “You’re enough.” He hesitates, and then, his voice small, asks, “So, we’re doing this?”

 

Nursey smiles, and it feels real, and good. His mind is quiet and calm. “We’re doing this,” he says.

 

Dex grins like the sun, and pulls him forward into a kiss.

 

They don’t make it to breakfast.

 

It’s worth it.

 

“love will hurt you but
love will never mean to
love will play no games
cause love knows life
has been hard enough already”

- rupi kaur, milk and honey