Off to wonderland where never never finds you
For one enchanted night of dreams disguised in swirling lights
Ten thousand friends to make an ecstasy of motion
You're floating, rolling, free, and life is how it ought to be
(“Wonderland”, Bare: A Pop Opera)
Derek’s smart enough to know that having a boyfriend isn’t going to fix him.
Nothing magically becomes perfect in the month and a half since Dex kissed him. He still has bad days, he still has Bad Days, but on the daily, when he’s at whatever counts as his baseline, things are…
Kind of good, actually.
He likes being in a relationship. He always has, honestly, and that’s probably why he was such a serial monogamist in high school. For all he’d gotten into the hookup culture in his first few weeks at Samwell--and he had--he’d missed the stability of having a person, someone who he could text first thing in the morning and right before he went to bed, having a go-to person for cuddles when he’s feeling shitty and fun when he’s not.
What’s really surprising is that he likes being in a relationship with Dex. He would have laughed his ass off if anyone had said that to him at the beginning of this year, but they actually...really click. They push each other, sure, but they’ve been learning when to pull their punches, and they have fun together. Will is smart, wickedly so, and for all that some of his political stances make Derek want to strangle him, he’s been more and more open to the realization that he believes a lot of what he does because he’s never had the opportunity to see anything else. So they still send each other articles to debate on roadies and at team meals, but Will listens now, when it’s clear that Derek isn’t arguing his side just to argue.
(He’s seen Bitty tweeting about it, and he’s pretty sure he thinks they’re nuts, but whatever. Every relationship has its weird quirks.)
And Will’s kind, too, often when Derek’s least expecting it. He’ll sit with him on bad days, talking to him quietly and playing YouTube videos for him to make him laugh; he carries Derek’s favorite granola bars in his backpack in case Derek’s forgotten to eat; he reminds him, gently but firmly, to drink his water and take his meds and to go to bed at a reasonable time. He’s funny, and he makes Derek laugh, and all through everything he pushes him to be better, and it’s--
It’s good. It’s really good.
“Hey,” Will says.
Derek glances up from the window, startled a little out of his thoughts. Will wags an Annie’s take-out cup at him. “Brought you a present.”
“My hero,” Derek says, and means it. They’re about to hit finals, and it’s a shitshow, and Jack’s been policing everyone’s caffeine intake like a drill sergeant because, quote, I don’t want you jittering out of your skates on my ice. He’d been supremely unmoved by Derek attempting to tell him that he’d be more jittery without the extra caffeine.
Fucking hockey robots. Derek loves him, but damn. Where’s the compassion?
He reaches for the cup, but Will holds it just out of his reach, eyes glinting. “What’cha gonna give me for it?” he teases.
Derek makes a face at him. “It’s not a present if you’re gonna make me work.”
Will chuckles. “How about a kiss?”
Derek raises his eyebrows. “Yeah?” He gestures around the library. “Right here?”
That’s one of the things that...isn’t perfect. Will isn’t out, not really--Chowder knows, and obviously Derek, and a few people in the computer science department that Will’s close with outside of hockey. But they’re not out to the team, or to their families, except for Derek’s sister and one of Will’s cousins.
With all of that, Will’s cautious about PDA. Derek gets it, he does, and he’s trying to be good about not pushing Will out of his comfort zone--he knows it’s temporary, and Will just needs to get to the right place. But still, he wouldn’t mind a little more public cuddling.
Will smiles, though, and puts the coffee down on Derek’s study table. “I’m not gonna fuck you on the table, Nurse, it’s fine. A kiss is fine.”
His eyes flicker to Derek’s, though, and he can see the nervousness in them. Derek reaches up to cup his cheek, and then, when Will starts to relax, he hooks a finger into Will’s collar and tugs him firmly down. Will makes a little squawk of surprise and then laughs against Derek’s lips, soft and happy. Derek hums and presses their mouths together once, twice, three times, brushes the tip of his tongue against the seam of Will’s lips until Will makes a quiet sound, and then smiles and pulls back. “Hi,” he says.
“Hi,” Will says. His cheeks are flaming. “I guess you get your coffee.” He sits down next to Derek and pulls his laptop out of his backpack. “Think that’ll last you to the end of study time?”
“Got everything I need,” Derek says. He hooks his ankle around Will’s, and Will smiles.
They haven’t had sex yet, which is fine. Sex is great--Derek’s absolutely a fan--but it’s been good, taking things slow. They make out all the time, learning what they like and what they don’t, but nothing below the belt. It's been nice, almost, not having the expectation.
“We should talk about the kegster,” Derek says, nudging Will gently.
Will holds up a finger, his other hand still typing out code, his eyes still fixed on his laptop screen. Derek waits, used enough to this by now that it doesn’t bother him, and uses the time to try and figure out how to say what he wants to say without it sounding wrong.
After a minute or two, Will saves his code twice and then leans over to set his laptop on Derek’s desk so that he can shift around on the bed to look at him. “Okay,” he says. “What about the kegster?”
Rans and Holster have been planning it for almost two weeks now, the last blow-out before finals really start. Derek’s been looking forward to it more than he really cares to admit; he’s been good lately with the drinking and stuff, but he needs a decompression, and there’s no way in hell he’s not getting smashed. “So--I’m gonna be drinking.”
Will’s lashes flicker briefly, but his expression doesn’t change. “You’re allowed to do that.”
Derek gives him a Look, and Will sighs.
“I’m not saying I like it, when you get wasted and I know it’s gonna fuck with your meds and I worry about that, but you can do what you want, Nursey. I’m not in charge of you.” He pauses. “Pretty sure I am on Nursey Patrol, though.”
“Yeah, well, it’s kind of about that.” Derek toys with a loose thread on his henley. “So, like...you know I kind of get drunk in stages.”
Will snorts. “Yes, I’m aware.”
They’re very concrete stages: happy drunk, horny drunk, introspective drunk, sleepy drunk, sad drunk. He usually doesn’t get to sad drunk because sleepy drunk tends to knock him out, which is good. “Right. So obviously I’m not going to be trying to hook up with anyone--”
“Thanks,” Will says dryly.
Derek elbows him. “Except you, asshole, which is what I’m getting at.”
Will raises an eyebrow. “I’m not super worried about you trying to hook up with me.”
“Even if I’m trying to get you to make out with me in the middle of a kegster?”
Will pauses. “Oh,” he says.
“Yeah, oh.” Derek says. “I kind of lose the logic side of my brain. It’s not great if we’re trying to keep this shit on the DL.”
“Oh,” Will says again. He looks...thoughtful, but not troubled. “I guess...I mean, that wouldn’t really be so bad.”
“Kegster’s pretty public, Will,” Derek says quietly.
“I know that. But…” Will holds out a hand, and Derek slips his into it. Will laces their fingers together. “We can’t hide this forever. And if the alternative is half the other people at the party trying to get into your pants, well…” He flashes a quick grin. “It’s pretty good motivation for me staking a claim, right?”
Derek hopes his surprise doesn’t show on his face. He’d been expecting to have a talk about boundaries, about maybe putting Chowder on Nursey Patrol to keep a barrier between him and Dex, about some kind of safe word Will could throw out if Derek was getting too touchy with him. This? Not what he expected. “That...That’d be really good.”
Will gives him an almost shy look. “Yeah?”
“You know I’d have this shit all over insta if you’d let me, Will.”
Will squeezes his hand. “I know. And I appreciate the patience, seriously. I know you’re reigning yourself in.”
“Two-way street,” Derek says. “I don’t wanna make you feel like you gotta move faster than you’re ready for.” He pauses. “Uh--which is the other thing.”
Will inclines his head. “Which is?”
“Horny drunk,” Derek says. He’s learned that blunt tends to work best with Will.
Predictably, Will’s cheeks flare red. “Oh,” he says. “I, uh.” He clears his throat. “I mean, the word drunk is right in there, so I don’t know that I should be taking advantage of that.”
“You wouldn’t be,” Derek says, because he knows himself enough to have thought this shit through. “Like, I have a very distinct tipsiness point where all I want to do is put a dick in my mouth. I am one hundred percent consenting in advance.”
“To--” Will’s mouth drops, and then he licks his bottom lip. “Derek,” he says. “I’m sure your drunk blowjobs are great--”
“Legendary,” Derek corrects, because hey, he knows his strengths.
Will rolls his eyes. “Fine,” he says. “I still don’t think our first time should be because you’re drunk and want to suck someone off.”
Derek can’t exactly argue with that, but it’s not totally true. “I mean, it’s worth noting that I want to suck you off in particular,” he says. “And also that--” His cheeks feel warm, and he ducks his head. “I mean, it wouldn’t just be because I’m drunk.”
“Oh.” Will sounds surprised. “I didn’t…” Derek glances up at him, and finds Will looking like he’s not sure if he should be confused or pleased. “I kind of thought...I guess I thought we were waiting because you weren’t ready to…”
“What?” Derek blinks at him. “No, I--Wait, I thought you weren’t--”
They stare at each other, and then Will bursts out laughing. “We’re so fucking stupid.”
“Gays can’t communicate,” Derek says with false solemnity. “We just circle around until someone goes nuts and blurts something out.”
“Or gets wasted and puts a dick in their mouth, apparently,” Will says dryly. Derek laughs, and Will shoves at him fondly. “Jesus. We’ve wasted about a month of time, I guess.”
Derek wags his eyebrows at him. “We could stop wasting time,” he says.
Will snorts. “That’s such a line, Derek, shit.” He’s grinning, though. “And we can’t, I have class in an hour.”
“You think I can’t blow your mind in an hour?” Derek asks, almost offended.
“I think you could blow a lot more than that in an hour,” Will says, eyes glinting. “But then I’d need another two to get my legs moving again.”
Derek smirks. “You’ve got a pretty high opinion of me.”
“You don’t carry yourself like someone who doesn’t know how to fuck,” Will says, and...yeah, alright, true. Derek leers at him, and Will chuckles. “No. Maybe it’ll give you an incentive to not get totally trashed at the kegster, huh?”
“Ruining all my fun,” Derek sighs, giving him a mournful look. He reaches out to loop an arm around Will’s neck. “Wanna make out, at least?”
“I really do,” Will says fervently, and pushes Derek back onto the bed. Derek laughs, sprawling out and tugging Will down on top of him, and Will meets him for an open-mouthed kiss. It gets dirty fast, like a dam has broken between them at the mention of sex, and after a few minutes Will pulls away with a groan, scraping his teeth over Derek’s jaw. “This is such a bad idea.”
“Shh, no,” Derek says, curling his fingers into Will’s belt loops to keep him from going too far. “It’s a great idea.”
Will makes a face at him, but he reaches over to Derek’s desk and fiddles with his phone for a moment before he sets it down. Derek gives him a questioning look. “Alarm,” Will says, and settles his weight over Derek again. “Something tells me I’m about to lose track of time.”
“I’ll be on my best behavior,” Derek promises, and Will snorts, bending down to kiss him.
By the time Will’s alarm goes off, they’re both hard and gasping, fingers twined together and a line of darkening marks sucked into Derek’s neck where Will’s pushed the collar of his henley down. “You’re a fucking menace,” Will pants, dragging himself away so he can silence his phone.
“Fuck you, I’m a delight,” Derek says cheerfully, sitting up and watching shamelessly as Will stands up with a wince. “Uh, you might wanna…” Will sticks a hand down his pants to adjust himself, and Derek shakes his head. He’s pretty sure Will just tried the stick-your-dick-in-your-waistband move, but it’s not doing the job, especially with the slight damp spot on his light-washed jeans. “I don’t think so, dude.”
“Don’t call me dude when I just had my tongue in your mouth,” Will says, but he looks pained, and kind of like he really wants his hand back on his dick. Derek can relate. He also wants his hands on Will’s dick. “Fuck,” he sighs. “Do you have a pair of sweats I can borrow? I think loose is better right now.”
“Not quite how I wanted to get you in my pants, Poindexter,” Derek quips, but he dodges the half-hearted smack Dex aims at his shoulder as he rolls off his bed to pull a pair of SMH sweatpants out of his bottom drawer. They’re loose on him, and he and Will are about the same size.
He turns around while Will changes, and hears Will snort a laugh. “Nothing you haven’t seen before,” he says.
“It’s different,” Derek says, and Will’s quiet for a moment. Fabric rustles, and then Will’s arms wrap around him from behind, a soft kiss pressing to the back of his neck.
“It is,” Will agrees quietly. And then, “Thanks.”
Derek turns in his arms. Will’s cheeks are still flushed, his lips swollen. He bruises like a peach, which is why Derek’s so careful with his teeth, but even still, there’s a light pink mark under his jaw. “I really like you,” he says.
Will smiles. “I really like you, too,” he says. Derek’s fingers drift over Will’s neck, and Will shudders slightly, stepping back. “A little too much, right now,” he says wryly. Keeping a careful distance between their bodies, he bends over to kiss Derek’s cheek. “Wanna walk over to the kegster together? Or should I meet you there?”
“We should probably walk over together,” Derek says. “You can chaperone me easier that way.”
Will chuckles. “You got it. I’ll meet you here at nine?”
“Sounds good.” He pulls Will in for one more kiss, one that lingers much longer than it should, until Will pulls away with a groan and tweaks his ear in admonition before he leaves the room.
Derek barely waits until the door’s locked behind Will before he’s back in bed, dragging his jeans off.
After he comes, which takes less time than he’d normally admit, he checks his phone. There’s one message from Will: didn’t make it to class. Jerked off in the basement bathroom in the comp sci building. Dude at the sink def did not buy that i was “crying from finals stress”. You are in so much trouble.
Derek sends him back a string of flame emojis and rewards himself with a nap.
The kegster’s already in full swing when they get there, which is pretty surprising given that it’s not even nine-thirty. “Jesus,” Will says. “People really hate finals, huh?”
“I’ve literally read over a thousand pages in the past four days,” Derek says as they climb up the porch steps. “Finals can die in a fire.”
Will chuckles, drawing him into the kitchen (“SMH TEAM MEMBERS ONLY!!!!!”, according to the sign clothespinned to the caution tape across the doorway) so they can ditch their coats. Derek feels a slight thrill as Will’s eyes sweep over him. “You look really good.”
“Never say I don’t put in an effort for you,” Derek teases. He nods to the doorway. “Drinks table?”
“Yeah.” Will hesitates. “Look, I meant when I said you can do what you want, but…”
“Will, I’ll be fine.” Derek takes his hand and squeezes it. “No table dancing, I promise.”
“It’s not table dancing I’m worried about,” Will says, but he squeezes back. “Alright, come on.”
Shitty greets them with crows of delight, ladling vivid pink tub juice into their cups. “It’s strong tonight,” he warns, but he’s grinning. “I’ve been tweaking the recipe.”
Will takes a sip and chokes. Derek, who’s been drinking Shitty’s weird alcoholic concoctions since he was fifteen, proceeds with a bit more caution, but jesus fuck. “Shitty,” Will wheezes out. “What the fuck is in this?”
“Vodka, 151, rum, blue Curaçao, orange juice, Hawaiian punch, and Sprite,” Shitty says cheerfully. He waggles his eyebrows. “I’ve got some 5-hour energy shots if you wanna spike it.”
“Holy shit, no,” Will says, looking horrified. Derek puts on his most interested look, mostly faked, and Will smacks his arm. “Don’t you dare. I’m drawing a fucking line, Nurse.”
“Aw, lil bros,” Shitty cooes. “It’s taken so long, but Dex, you actually care!”
Will makes a face. “I just don’t wanna break in a new d-man,” he says, but out of Shitty’s line of sight, his fingers brush over the small of Derek’s back, and Derek smiles into his cup. “Do you have markers?”
Shitty points to the sharpies taped to the table with string, and Will draws tally marks on Derek’s wrist and his own. Derek watches him, raising his eyebrows. “It’s one drink, Dex.”
“It’s one cup,” Will says. “It’s like five drinks.”
“I haven’t even drunk it yet.”
“I give you ten minutes before you’re back getting another one,” Will says, capping the marker. “Because you hate me and my blood pressure.”
Derek laughs. “You’re the best at Nursey Patrol, Dexy,” he says, and Will gives him a long-suffering look, pulling him out of reach of the table. Derek lets himself be pulled, drinking as he walks.
He’s an introvert at heart, but he loves the anonymity of parties like this. He likes the pounding bass, the way the music vibrates through his body, the press of people around him. The potential for sex is part of it, even though he knows that’s not happening tonight. It’s the shared experience of free-falling, spiraling in one of the few ways that doesn’t hurt.
True to Will’s prediction, he drinks the first cup of tub juice quickly, and slips away from Will long enough to get another one while Will pairs up with Chowder so that Lardo and Ransom can wipe the floor with them at pong. Will loses good-naturedly, fist-bumping Lardo and Rans and ruffling Chowder’s hair before he turns back to Nursey.
“Hey,” he says. He’s flushed and happy--his tolerance is lower than Derek’s, and Derek knows he’ll probably drink some more beer but will probably stop with anything stronger. “Where’d you go?”
“Nowhere important,” Derek says. He moves into Will’s space a little; it’s dark enough away from the pong tables that no one’s really paying much attention to them. “Wanna dance with me?”
“You know I don’t dance,” Will says. Derek makes his saddest puppy eyes at him, and Will laughs softly, running a hand over his side. “You can dance without me, D, it’s fine.”
Derek pouts at him. “I want to dance with you,” he says, and oh, damn, yeah, the booze is kicking in. He doesn’t do the fake whining when he’s sober.
Will, who knows him well enough to also be aware of that, just chuckles. “I think you’ll be okay,” he says. “You don’t have to hang out with me all night, you know. Go mingle. It’ll keep us from getting sick of each other.”
That hurts, a little, though Derek knows it shouldn’t. It’s a normal thing for someone to say, friends or boyfriends or whatever; it’s not Will’s fault that thinking about people getting sick of him is one of his biggest triggers. He swallows hard and forces a smile. “Right,” he says. “Yeah, that’s--makes sense.” He taps his cup against Will’s. “I figure you’ll come find me to make sure I’m not thinking about tables, right?”
Will grins. “Exactly.” He glances around, then leans over and kisses Derek’s cheek. “Go have fun,” he says.
Chowder appears out of practically nowhere then, grabbing Will’s arm to pull him back to the pong table, and Derek’s alone in the crowd. He touches his fingers to the place where Will had kissed him, trying not to feel stung. This isn’t rejection, he reminds himself. They do this at every kegster. Will’s not obligated to be glued to his side, and anyway, Will’s right; Derek likes dancing and being in the center of a crowd, and Will doesn’t.
It’s fine. Everything’s fine.
He takes another sip of his tub juice and sets off, drifting through groups of people until he runs into a group of Lardo’s art friends tucked together in the corner where Ransom and Holster pushed all the furniture before the kegster started. “Derek!” Clare exclaims, reaching up to pull him down to her (diminutive) height so she can smack a kiss to his cheek. “Where have you been, kiddo?”
Derek climbs over the back of the couch to sit next to her. Lara drapes her legs into his lap, situating herself comfortably. “Around,” he says. “Where’s Lards?”
“With Shitty somewhere, I think,” Clare says. She squishes herself against his other side. “Why do you look sad? Usually this is the happy drunk portion of your night.”
He makes a face at her. He likes that Lardo trusts him enough to actually hang out with her Cool Artsy Friends, but it’s kind of like having a bunch of extra moms (like his actual two aren’t enough), only with more drugs and explicit conversations about sex. “Guy I came with ditched me,” he says, which is half true.
“Aw, baby,” Lara says, propping herself up on her elbows. “I’m sorry. You looking to replace him?”
“No, I’m just--I don’t know. Cranky.” He sips his tub juice. He’s running low, but he shouldn’t get another cup yet. “This’ll kick in in a bit and hopefully that’ll help.”
Clare makes a knowing sound. “Probably,” she says. “Wanna nudge it along?”
Derek raises his eyebrows. Clare does almost all of her artwork tripping on something, which is good because the shit she gets is high quality and tested, but less good because she comes up with a lot of weird shit. “What do you have?”
She pulls a plastic baggie out of her jacket pocket, wagging it at him. There are a few small pills inside. Derek takes it from her. “How bad is this gonna fuck me up?”
Clare shrugs. “With your tolerance? Not too bad. And you know what they say.” She pitches her voice into her best Food Network White impression. “If you can’t make your own serotonin, store-bought is fine.”
“That’s the damn truth,” Derek says, and takes a pill.
It makes his tongue tingle, and doesn’t take long to kick in--or at least, doesn’t take long to mingle with the alcohol already in his system, and maybe that’s a bad idea, but fuck it. He’s already in this deep. He lets Clare and Lara pull him onto the dance floor and wrap themselves around him, and his skin buzzes at the contact. There’s no sexual chemistry between them--Clare’s a lesbian, and Lara’s gray-ace but swings mostly to girls--but the press of bodies still feels good, hot and grounding. Clare runs her hands over his sides and he shivers, laughs, downs the rest of his cup of tub juice.
He lets the empty cup dangle from his fingers, sticky and light. It feels almost like he can sense the chemicals swirling through his brain and his blood, and he ducks his head into Clare’s hair, breathes in the smell of her conditioner. He feels her giggle, and he drops a kiss to the top of her head.
There’s a sexuality to the way the music is moving through the Haus, bass-heavy and rhythmic. Derek drifts on the sound, barely feels it when Clare and Lara move away from him and people he doesn’t know replace them. He can smell a masculine cologne mixing with the other scents of booze and sweat, and lets himself lean back a little into the hard body behind him. It’s anonymous and faceless and he’s okay with that--the pressure feels good, and he doesn’t need more.
When a hand starts to drift down under his shirt, though, he pulls away, twisting around. It’s too dark to really make up the guy’s face, but Derek motions him closer, and he leans forward so Derek can talk into his ear. “I’ve got a boyfriend,” he says, just under a shout.
“Shit, dude, sorry,” the guy says back, barely audible over the music. “Just dancing, then?”
Derek shakes his head. “Gonna get some air,” he says, and leans over to drop a casual kiss to the guy’s cheek--he gets a squeeze to his lower back in response--before he weaves his way off the dance floor.
He feels light and a little floaty, and it’s kind of a wonder he’s staying on his feet. Water might be a good idea, he thinks, but he doesn’t really want to fuck up this high. Maybe some air outside, like he’d said? Porch, he decides, not the Reading Room--
Oh, but the Reading Room would be so nice, he could feel the wind up there, and see all the stars, and…
He’s halfway to the stairs when someone catches his arm. “Nursey, there you are,” Will says. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you!”
Derek feels himself grinning before he even realizes he’s happy to see him, and shit, that’s a strange feeling, that surge of chemical delight. “Dexy,” he says, and abandons the stairs to jump into Will’s arms.
Will grunts a little at the impact of Derek’s weight, but he slings an arm around his waist. “Jesus, you weigh a ton,” he says, but his voice is fond, and he smooths his free hand over Derek’s back. “You been having fun?”
“Yeah,” Derek says, and means it. He nuzzles at Will’s neck, and feels the warm vibration of Will’s laugh under his lips.
“You didn’t waste any time, huh?” Will extricates himself gently from the circle of Derek’s arms around his neck. He peers at his face in the low light, and his brow furrows. “Hey,” he says. He cups Derek’s jaw, frowns. “Come with me, okay?”
“Always,” Derek says, and Will flashes him a tight smile that doesn’t reach his eyes. He takes Derek by the arm and starts pulling him through the Haus and out onto the porch.
The cold air makes him shiver when it hits his sweat-damp skin, and Derek remembers, a little belatedly, that it’s fucking December and he’s wearing a v-neck t-shirt. Gratifyingly, Will shivers a little, too, and draws him close as he guides Derek under one of the lights. “Hi,” Derek says, a little breathless. “Change your mind about drunk sex?”
Will snorts. “No,” he says. “Sorry.”
Derek gives him his saddest face. He doesn’t actually think it’ll make a difference, but god, he would love to get fucked right now. He’s pretty sure it’d feel amazing. “That’s sad,” he says, but shrugs, to try and take the sting out of it. The last thing he wants to do is make Will feel pressured; he’s smashed but he’s not an asshole.
Will’s frowning, though, as he takes Derek’s face in his hands again, turning his head from side to side. “You look wasted,” he says. “How much did you drink?”
“Two cups,” Derek says, a little defensively. That’s actually less than usual at a kegster like this, and anyway, he’d told Will ahead of time that he was looking to get fucked up tonight. “What’s going on? Are you pissed at me or something?”
“I’m not pissed, Derek, I’m…” Will lets his face go and huffs a sigh. “I’m just...I don’t know how to deal with you when you’re like this.”
“Like what?” Derek frowns at him, hurt starting to prickle through the haze of booze and drugs. “It’s not like you’re not used to me drinking, Dex, I’ve always done this, and you haven’t cared--”
“Of course I cared!” Will snaps back. “I’ve told you a million times that I get stressed when you drink on your meds, I--”
Jesus fuck, this again? “I’m always gonna drink on my meds,” Derek snaps. “And I can do that, because it’s my fucking body, and if I want to put shit in it then that’s my fucking right, and if you were gonna have a problem with that then we never should have started dating in the first place.”
Will opens his mouth, and then closes it. “I’m not doing this,” he says. He sounds angry, but tired, too, and Derek’s not going to feel guilty about this, he’s not. “We’re going to find Chowder.”
Derek scowls. “Why?”
“Because someone needs to look after your wasted ass and it’s not gonna be me,” Dex snaps. “Come on.”
He grabs Derek by the arm and pulls him back into the party. A tiny, petulant part of Derek wants to dig in his heels and refuse to move, or maybe just go limp, deadweight, make Will properly drag him if he wants him to go anywhere. Ha, deadweight, he thinks, bitter and wicked, but no, even he’s not that fucking petty, he won’t twist the knife like that.
They find Chowder on the dance floor, sandwiched between two girls from the Soccer Team, because Chowder has more game than any of the rest of them put together; people just don’t realize it, because racism. He tells Chowder as much, wrapping his arms around his neck and burrowing his face under Chowder’s chin.
“That’s true,” Chowder agrees, slinging a companionable arm around Derek’s waist. Derek feels him turn his head to look at Dex. “Something going on?”
“I’m tapping out of Nursey Patrol,” Will says.
He’s just projecting to be heard over the music; Derek shouldn’t feel like he’s yelling at him, but he still kind of does. He pushes his face harder into Chowder’s neck. Chowder rubs his back, because Chowder’s the best. “You two okay?”
“I just need a break,” Will says.
“Okay,” Chowder says. “I got him.” He’s quiet for a minute, which must be Will leaving, and then he squeezes Derek a little tighter. “Let’s take a walk, alright?”
“I don’t want to,” Derek says, and means it. He doesn’t want this night fucked up just because Dex is being a dick. “Come dance with me?”
Chowder looks hesitant for a moment, then he ruffles Derek’s curls, because he’s one of the few people Derek lets do that. “Alright. Three songs, okay? Then we’re gonna take a break.”
Derek nods. “Okay.”
Chowder takes him by the hand and guides him back onto the dance floor. The girls he was with earlier seem perfectly happy to fold Derek into their midst, and that’s--that’s good. Chowder stays close, plastered against Derek’s front, his hands on Derek’s hips. It’s platonic, because Chowder’s “pretty straight, dude”, but it’s closeness and warmth and touch, and that’s good on its own, especially mixed with the music. The Soccer girls are a little less platonic, but Derek feels it every time Chowder takes their hands off Derek’s chest or out from under his shirt.
Everything’s fine, Derek thinks. He doesn’t need Will with him to feel good, he’s fine. He’s still rolling, and sometimes it feels like he can physically sense the neurons firing in his brain, synthetic triggering of his chemistry and hormones. He barely feels the alcohol anymore, or at least, he thinks he doesn’t--it’s hard to make sense of what’s going on in his head, in his blood.
He knows he feels strangely happy, feels good when normally he’d be a spiral of anxiety and hurt, every thought in his head focused on Will not wanting him, Will saying he’s too much to handle. This way, at least, he doesn’t have to deal with that. Fake happiness, fine; false positivity, fine; he’ll take it.
It’s better than what he’s used to.
Three songs end too soon, and Chowder’s waving to the girls and coaxing Derek off the dance floor and guiding him into the kitchen. It’s a little quieter there, the music dampened slightly by the walls. The light is bright, though, and it makes Derek wince and blink.
“Alright,” Chowder says. “What the hell is going on?”
Derek shrugs, pulling a chair out from the table and dropping down into it. “It’s chill,” he says. “He’s just realizing how fucking high-maintenance I am. It’s a wonder we made it this long.”
“Nursey,” Chowder says, sounding almost sad. He sits down next to Derek. “You’re…” He sighs. “You’re not high-maintenance.”
He’s tired, suddenly, and that sucks, because just a few minutes ago, he was feeling so good. Chowder sighs.
“I don’t think I can talk you out of this,” he says, and he definitely looks sad now. He leans forward, as if to say something else, and then pauses. “Woah,” he says. “Nursey, your eyes are--” He breaks off, frowning. “Are you on something right now?”
Derek shrugs. “Maybe.”
Chowder opens his mouth, hesitates, and then reaches for Derek’s hand. Derek takes it, because it’s Chowder. “If I ask you what you took, will you tell me?”
“I got it from Clare,” Derek says. “I didn’t really ask questions.” He slumps back in his chair. “It’s whatever, I feel fine.” He looks down at their hands, Chowder’s fingers gentle around his. His skin is still tingling. “I mean,” he says. “I guess I’m…” He sighs, and scrubs a hand over his face. “I guess I’m tired.”
It’s as much of an admission as he ever manages, and it feels like he’s opening his soul.
Chowder looks at him for a moment, and then his face softens. “Okay,” he says. “Okay, buddy. Let’s get you to bed.”
Derek wakes up, and he doesn’t remember where he is.
He’s in a bed that’s not his or Will’s; he can tell by the scent of the sheets and the give of the pillows. Someone’s with him, curled up against his back, an arm wrapped around his waist, holding him close. He’s dressed, for a given value of dressed, last night’s boxers and the t-shirt he’d worn to the kegster. He’s wearing his socks. Somehow, that helps.
He breathes, as slowly and evenly as he can, and tries not to panic. It’s not like this is the first time this has happened.
Slowly, hesitantly, he opens his eyes.
The room is aggressively turquoise. He recognizes the Sharks posters, and shudders in relief. The arm around his waist tightens slightly, and then Chowder says, “Nursey? Are you awake?”
Derek nods, and has to swallow three times through his dry throat before he can croak out, “Yeah.”
Chowder sits up, the warmth leaving Derek’s back. There’s a rustling sound, and then a water bottle is pressed into his hand. “Drink this. It’s just water.”
Too tired and disoriented to object, Derek drinks. The water helps, a little, chases some of the fuzziness from his head and takes the chalky feeling out of his mouth. “Thanks,” he says. He sits up. His head spins a little, and he rubs at his forehead. “Shit. How’d I end up here?”
“You don’t remember?” Derek shakes his head. Chowder shifts to sit cross-legged next to him. “We came back here after the kegster. You were…” He huffs a little. “You were pretty out of it.”
Derek scrubs a hand over his face. “I needed to get out of my head.”
Chowder looks at him. His eyes are sharp the way they are in the net, but his expression is gentle. “Something going on?”
He says it like it’s simple, but Derek’s used to this; he knows what that question means. He shakes his head. “It’s just school, C. I promise.”
“I believe you,” Chowder says, and Derek believes him. If nothing else, Chowder doesn’t lie to him.
Derek takes another sip of water, trying to chase last night’s memories down into some kind of concrete narrative. He feels tired, physically and emotionally, and knows it’s only partially the comedown. Store-bought serotonin, he thinks, and has to try not to scoff. This is why he usually tries to steer clear of getting totally crossfaded, no matter how much he drinks.
“So,” he says wearily. “How bad did I fuck things up with Dex, do you think?”
Chowder hums. “I don’t think you did at all,” he says.
Derek snorts. “He literally fucked out of the kegster because he didn’t want to deal with me anymore, C.”
“That wasn’t it, Nursey. I think he just knew he couldn’t deal with how he was feeling.”
Derek shrugs. “What’s the difference? I’m still the problem.”
Chowder shakes his head. “No you’re not.” He scoots closer, pressing his shoulder to Derek’s. The contact is grounding and warm. “He’s just worried about you.”
“I don’t need him to worry about me,” Derek says. “I’m…” He sighs, rubbing his eyes. “There are times when I definitely do need to be worried over, but this isn’t one of them.”
“So tell him that,” Chowder says. He takes the water bottle back from Derek and takes a long sip. “Just because he doesn’t have capital-A anxiety doesn’t mean he doesn’t stress about shit, Nursey. If you want him to worry less, then give him some limits. Otherwise he’s just gonna freak out twenty-four seven.”
Derek narrows his eyes at him. “You two talk about this shit on the regular, don’t you?”
“I wouldn’t say regular,” Chowder says, but he looks a little shifty. Derek groans, dropping his face into his hands.
“Chowder,” he complains.
“Oh, shush,” Chowder says, shoving his shoulder. “We’re your people, Nursey, it’s our job to worry about you.”
“Doesn’t mean it’s your job to text about me behind my back,” Derek grumbles.
Chowder shrugs. “We do half of it in the Frog group chat, it’s your own fault for not paying attention.”
“Leaving my phone on silent is queer culture,” Derek deadpans, and grins despite himself when Chowder rolls his eyes and shoves at him.
“Talk to your damn boyfriend,” Chowder says. “And also, treat me to breakfast. I deserve it for sharing my bed with you, you kicked me.”
“Lies and slander,” Derek says, but he gets up to go find his pants.
He feels better after breakfast and a shower. He still feels like he has an emotional hangover, almost an artificial depressive day, his head moving sluggishly and his eyes randomly getting teary, but after a few cups of coffee and a chain of texts with his sister, he can smile a little, even laugh. So that’s fine.
Will texts him in the early afternoon, just a simple, hey.
Then he ruins it by adding, can we talk?
Derek’s still staring at his phone, trying to decide if it’s worth it to freak out, when Will follows up with, shit, that sounded bad. I meant just about what happened last night. You and me are good. At least, i am? I hope you are.
What the fuck, Derek thinks. His phone buzzes again. I’m fucking this up. Sorry. Annie’s?
It says something about Derek’s taste in guys that he finds this shit almost endearing, for all it makes his anxiety spike like crazy. He sighs. Twenty minutes? He texts back.
Will answers immediately. Sounds good. I’ll get you a coffee.
Annie’s is busy when Derek gets there, the usual Saturday rush made worse by finals looming on the horizon. Monday is way too soon, Derek thinks, taking off his jacket and scanning the room as he brushes a few snowflakes out of his hair.
He catches sight of Will at a small table in the corner. He doesn’t have his laptop with him, which is surprising. “Hey,” Derek says, tapping him on the shoulder.
Will snaps his face up from his phone. “Hi,” he says. He sounds almost relieved to see him, and, to Derek’s surprise, gets to his feet and folds Derek into a hug. Derek blinks, taken aback, but Will’s holding on tight, and after a moment Derek relaxes into it, wrapping his arms around Will’s neck and tucking his face against his shoulder. Will’s hand curves over the back of his neck, pulling him in close, and a small shudder passes through him, his breath soft as he exhales against Derek’s neck.
It goes on longer than could ever be mistaken for platonic, and Derek’s still a little off-guard when Will finally lets him go. “Hi,” Will says again, his face soft and a little uncertain. “Wanna sit? I ordered coffee, it’ll be up soon.”
Derek takes the empty chair. “How much do I owe you?”
Will shakes his head. “It’s on me,” he says. He’s quiet for a moment, then he says, “I fucked up last night.”
Of all the ways Derek expected this conversation to start, that’s not it. “Um,” he says. “You…What?”
Will sits back in his seat. “After I left last night, I...I thought a lot about what you said. About letting you--” He breaks off and shakes his head. “No, that’s the wrong word. About--understanding, I guess, that you need to just blow off steam last night. And I realized, I guess, that I’d be so pissed if anyone I was dating tried to tell me what I could or couldn’t drink, or started…” He winces. “Policing my behavior, I guess? And I know that’s what I was trying to do to you. That was a dick move, and I’m sorry.”
Derek stares at him. He honestly doesn’t know what to say to that. “I…” He spreads his hands slightly. “I gotta be honest, bro, I don’t really know how to respond right now.”
“Fair,” Will says. He gives him a small half-smile. “Say you forgive me?”
Derek shrugs. “I wasn’t really pissed at you in the first place. I thought you were pissed at me.”
Will shakes his head. “No. I was frustrated, but--more with myself, than you.”
The barista calls Will’s name, and he gets up to go pick up two mugs of coffee, bringing them back to the table. “Caramel soy latte,” he says, handing one to Derek. “Happy Saturday.”
Derek smiles despite himself, taking it. “Thanks.” He sips it carefully, then wipes foam off his mouth with the back of his hand. Will makes a face at him and gives him a napkin. Derek rolls his eyes fondly and takes it from him, and for a moment, it’s business as usual. He wipes his mouth. “What were you frustrated about?”
Will cups his hands around his own mug. “I guess I just…” He sighs. “To me it felt like you just didn’t give a fuck about yourself, you know? Like you wanted to just get fucked up and you didn’t care about how it could mess with your system. I keep reading all this shit about antidepressants and like, how they interact with other shit, and I just…”
He trails off, and shakes his head again. “But then after I left last night I tried to look up, like, people’s personal experiences with stuff, and I just realized I was putting all my own shit on you. I just…I never know when to worry about you because I need to actually worry, and when I’m worrying when I shouldn’t.”
He sounds so miserable that Derek sighs. “Will,” he says. He holds out his hand, and Will takes it, holding tight. “Look. I know that this shit is...is hard for you. But I need you to understand that this is my fucking life, you know? This is just reality for me, every day. I know what my limits are--”
Will opens his mouth, and Derek holds up his free hand, cutting him off before he can say anything. “I said I know them, not that I stick to them, chill your shit. What I’m saying is like...I need to feel like a normal person sometimes, not like a headcase. And sometimes that means going out and getting wasted, and sometimes it means pulling all-nighters even though I’m supposed to be watching my sleep schedule, and sometimes it means eating Taco Bell with you and C at three a.m. even though that’s not good for anyone.”
It’s more than he usually says about this shit in one go, and Will’s watching him with eyes that are just a little too bright. Derek squeezes his hand. “I just...I need to be a fucking person sometimes, you know? Especially on the days when I don’t feel like one. That’s when I need it the most.”
Will licks his bottom lip. “I hear you,” he says. He looks down at their joined hands, and lets go of his cup so that he can fold both of his around Derek’s. His palms and fingers are warm, a contrast to Derek’s chronic cold. “It’s just hard to turn it off, you know?”
Derek nods. “I know. And it means a lot to me that you worry, it does. But I…” He sighs. “I need you to be my boyfriend, Will. Not my therapist, not my babysitter. My partner.”
“I know. You’re right.” Will takes a deep breath. “So how do I…” He runs his thumb over the back of Derek’s hand. “I don’t want to lie to you, to say I’m not worried about you when I am. But I can’t just turn it off, either.”
“I get it.” Derek thinks about it. “Honesty policy,” he says.
Will raises his eyebrows. “Okay,” he says. “Which translates to…”
“If I’m having a bad day, I’ll tell you,” Derek says. “If I know I want to get fucked up, I’ll tell you. If I’m feeling…” He swallows. “If I’m not feeling safe, I’ll tell you.” Will’s fingers tighten around his. Derek does his best to smile. “And it’ll go both ways. If I’m acting some kinda way and it’s making you nervous, tell me. If you’re really scared for me, tell me. And if you need a break…” He takes a breath. “Tell me.”
Will looks uncertain. “Yeah?”
“Yeah.” He laughs, a little tiredly. “It stung last night, because I didn’t see it coming, but leaving last night and handing me off to C? Probably the smartest thing you could’ve done. You needed some space, and it’s not like I was giving it to you.”
“We both could’ve done better,” Will says, but the tension is starting to leave his shoulders. He keeps up his gentle rhythm over the back of Derek’s hand. “I should’ve handled it better, but I just...I knew we’d fight, if I stayed, and I didn’t want that.”
“We got close enough as it was,” Derek admits. He reaches across the table to touch Will’s cheek. “So--we’ll talk first next time, yeah? Come up with a game plan?” He hesitates.
Will nods. “That sounds good.” He leans into Derek’s touch. His eyes are soft. “You’re kind of a badass about all this shit, you know that?”
Derek snorts, taking his hand away and sitting back, looking down at the weird smudgy latte art on his coffee. “It doesn’t feel like it. It’s just...it’s life, you know?”
“It’s your life,” Will says, and there’s a ferocity to his voice that makes Derek look up at him. His face is determined, his eyes all but blazing. “You deserve for it to be good, Derek.”
“Yeah. Well.” Will holds his gaze, and Derek finds his nonchalance crumbling under his eyes. “I’m trying.”
Will leans forward. “You know that’s enough, right?” He takes a hand away from Derek’s to cup it over the side of Derek’s neck. His thumb brushes Derek’s pulse, and a little more of the tightness leaves him, like just the feeling of Derek’s heartbeat is enough to soothe him. And maybe it is. “I just wanna be with you for it.”
Derek swallows the lump in his throat. “Nowhere else I’d want you,” he says.
They finish their coffee, and Will tangles their fingers together as they leave. Derek burrows his face into the collar of his coat. The snow is getting heavier, already a few inches thick on the ground. They leave footprints on the sidewalk, and Derek wrinkles his nose, reaching up to brush snowflakes out of his hair.
Next to him, Will chuckles. He stops walking, taking off his hat and pulling Derek to a stop so he can put it on Derek’s head instead. Derek makes a face at him. He hesitates with his fingers against the bottom of the beanie, and Derek nods at him in permission, feeling warm and a little touched. Will gives him a soft smile and adjusts it on his head for him, slipping his fingers under the fabric to arrange Derek’s curls into a soft sweep. “There,” he says. “Ugh, why does this look so much better on you than on me?”
“I’m just that good looking,” Derek teases. Will rolls his eyes, and Derek laughs, reaching up to take his hand again as they start toward campus again. “Aren’t your ears gonna be cold?”
“I’ll soak up the heat radiating off your ego,” Will says dryly. He squeezes Derek’s hand. “You wanna come back to mine?”
Derek raises his eyebrows. “For…”
He trails off, meaningful, and Will shakes his head. “Just a movie or something. I just…” He gives him a slight, sidelong smile. “I kind of wanna just be with you for a little while.”
“That’s mad gay,” Derek says, but he’s grinning despite himself.
Will shrugs one shoulder and brandishes their joined hands. “Yeah, well.”
Derek hums. He swings their hands. “This is a thing you’re doing now, huh?”
“Yeah, well.” Will ducks his head, cheeks pink. “It’s Samwell, y’know?” He pauses and then, more quietly, “I don’t want to hide you here.”
Will looks at him, tugging his hand slightly until Derek stops walking. “Yeah,” he confirms. He steps closer, into Derek’s space, and it’s a little unfair how warm he is, even with the snow coming down around him. A few flakes settle into his eyelashes, onto his hair, and Derek has an instant to think of all the ways he could write this into poetry before Will leans over and kisses him.
It’s chaste and sweet, quiet as the snow. Derek closes his eyes, and feels Will smile against his lips, his thumbs brushing Derek’s cheeks as he pulls away. “Hey,” Will says softly. Derek opens his eyes, and Will bumps their noses together. “I really fucking like you.”
Anyone else, Derek thinks, would drop an I love you here, even if they weren’t ready, just to have the moment, perfect as it is. He likes it better this way, honest and simple, cold lips and real truth. “I really fucking like you, too,” he says.
Will’s eyes glint. “Gay,” he says, and Derek doesn’t have even have time to laugh before Will’s darting in for another kiss. Derek catches him around the neck, lets him knock him backwards off the sidewalk and into the gathering snow, his grin caught between their mouths.
(Honestly, having a boyfriend really doesn’t fix any of his shit.)
Derek shoves a handful of snow down Will’s collar, and Will yelps, retaliates by shoving his freezing hands inside Derek’s shirt. Derek’s laugh rings through the quiet air.
(He likes it anyway.)