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All Hail the Underdogs

Chapter Text

 

Lucifer was an angel once.

That’s what Nursey thinks, the first time he sees William Poindexter.

Because the boy is beautiful even though he shouldn’t be. Even though he’s doubtless the kind of person who would punch you in the face if you said the words “you” and “beautiful” to him in the same sentence.

His skin is choked with freckles. It’s potentially more freckle than skin, really. Not just his face, where his nose and cheekbones are so hyper-pigmented they look tanned, but his collarbones and forearms and the knuckles of his calloused hands. The close-shaved dark ginger stubble of his hair should make his ears look too big or his mouth too wide but instead it accentuates the long curve of his throat, the cup of velvet skin between the tendons in the back of his neck. It makes his cheekbones sharper, his eyes—so light brown they look almost gold—more stark under pale spiky lashes.

He’s wearing boots and jeans and a leather jacket that could either be beat to shit for aesthetic reasons or just beat to shit, and a permanent scowl that will likely give him wrinkles at an early age but right now is just terribly flattering.

It all adds up: the interesting face, the long, wiry frame and taut, fight-ready stance, to create a body that casting directors for edgy photoshoots would salivate over. The sort of photoshoots that, if they involve teeth, it’s not because people are smiling.

The point is, he has a carefully curated look and that look is fuck off.

Nursey wants to touch him.

Nursey has never touched someone with that many freckles before and he doubts this particular someone would let him close enough to try which is, he thinks a little despairingly of himself, perhaps why he finds the boy so damn compelling.

The grass is always greener.

You always want what you can’t have.

Etc.

Etc.

Etc.

Regardless.That’s Nursey’s first impression: An angry, pigment-spangled, potentially once-divine being. An angel trying very, very, hard not to be.

Nursey reminds himself, standing in line at the administration office, trying not to stare at the nape of the other boy’s neck—the freckled knob of his spine, pushed hard against the skin just above his collar, that Nursey is at Samwell to focus on hockey, not admire transfer students who are undoubtedly straight and probably won’t share a single class with him and who he’ll likely only see from a distance for the next year and then never see again and that’s a good thing because he’s here to focus on hockey.

Except then, the new kid steps up to the receptionist’s desk and says in a rough, surprising drawl. “I’m a transfer. Poindexter. I need to pick up my dorm keys.”

And Nursey knows that name.

Because it was in the email that Coach sent out over the summer. It was the name that was written in sharpie on the scratched DVD on Coach’s desk that he’d pushed toward Nursey the day before. Coach had tapped the DVD with a blunt finger and said, “I’ve found you a new D-partner, Nurse.” And Nursey had taken the DVD back to his yet-unpacked room and played it on his laptop, stretched out on the bare mattress of his shitty lofted bed. The footage was grainy, badly spliced together and clearly shot unprofessionally from the stands, but it was enough. Poindexter was good. Big, but fast. Aggressive, but smart. Together, Nursey thought, they might be great.

So when Nursey hears the name, he doesn’t even think. He just speaks:

“You’re the new defenseman?” he asks. “William Poindexter?”

And the boy turns around and considers him with what might be contempt but what might just be the way his face looks and says, “Yeah?” like its a challenge.

And Nursey thinks:

Oh no.

***

William Poindexter has his mother’s eyes and his father’s nose and on his face they’re still a family.

He considers his reflection in the filmy bus-station bathroom mirror, rubs his thumb down the raised line of scar tissue bisecting his chin—pink and new and only partially hidden in the drip-paint collage of his freckles, and then rubs harder, more habit than intention. 

After spending the summer as a stern man on his uncle’s lobster boat—sorting, banding, baiting, re-setting, trying his best to repair the limping hydraulic trap hauler that probably should have been scrapped a decade ago—layers of sunburn have turned into a tan, multiplying the pigment across his nose and cheeks and shoulders to a point where he looks constantly dirty. Like he’d been working in his other uncle’s garage and absently smeared an oiled forearm over his face.

His cousin, Saoirse, the one who’d left for New York at eighteen, got a job in marketing and now only returned home for shorter and shorter visits at Christmas time, had once said that Dex looked like a Jackson Pollock painting. He thinks she was trying to be mean. Or elitist. Or both. But he’d sort of agreed with her. He didn’t know who Jackson Pollock was, at first, but when he’d gone with his aunt into town the following weekend he’d used the library computer to google him. 

At thirteen, with new calluses on his palms from his first ever boat haul, constant peeling skin over his nose and shoulders, and the kind of secret that scrapes your insides hollow, he’d found the paintings, grainy and pixelated as they were on the old computer monitor, strangely familiar. 

Maybe he was like a Jackson Pollock painting: a dark, incensed, anxious, spatter of reds and yellows and blacks and blues. Too much color for one canvas. Too much feeling for containment. Too much, maybe, in general.

Someone bangs on the bathroom door and he stops glaring at his reflection because there’s nothing much he can do about it.

He uses a paper towel to dry his hands, runs his fingers, still damp, over his buzzed hair, and shoulders his duffle bag.

Samwell is waiting.

He’d googled Samwell at the same time that he’d googled all the rest of the best hockey prep schools in the country. 

Same library. 

Same shitty library computer. 

Initially he’d wanted to try and play for a junior team, he was good enough, he’d been scouted, but now, money issues aside, billeting would be all but impossible considering his legal situation. So he’d spent stolen hours at school and after work searching boarding schools with prep hockey teams, comparing stats and rosters and course offerings, before he sent in his game tapes and paperwork with scraped together application fees and letters of recommendation from his former and current coaches.

He’d applied to six schools and was accepted at two.

Samwell was the closest, not that he really cared about staying close, but his lawyer said it would make things easier for possible future hearings if he was within a few hours drive of home. If he could even call it that anymore.

Samwell was also the cheapest, which he did care about, and it routinely produced D1 and NHL prospects which was his primary concern. A full scholarship with housing, a meal plan, and a chance to elevate his game to the point that maybe, next year, he could get a scholarship to college? Or even get drafted?

An easy decision.

After getting a handful of salt-crusted 100’s from his uncle at the harbor early that morning—payment for his summer of work—he’d hitched a ride with another stern man from Port Marta to Brunswick and then took a Greyhound from there to Boston, and then another bus from Boston to Samwell.

And now he’s here, standing outside the station with a paper map from his library’s equally shitty printer, a duffle bag from the army surplus store full of abused hockey gear, and an address written in permanent marker on his wrist.

He does have a newly-purchased cellphone, an unfamiliar weight in his back pocket, but he doesn't want to call an Uber because according to the map, Samwell’s campus is only a mile away and he’s not ready to start spending his money yet. Definitely not when there are more important things he’ll need soon. Like new skates. Books. Clothes. 

He shoulders his bag and starts walking.

When he gets there, the campus looks exactly like the online pictures: Sun-dappled and idyllic with people lounging under trees and throwing footballs and weaving colorful bikes in and out of foot traffic on immaculate sidewalks.

He’s too hot in his leather jacket and the strap of his bag is rubbing the side of his neck raw but he walks with a purpose and doesn’t make eye contact when people look at him. 

And people do look at him.

He’s six-foot-two, will probably hit six-three soon, dressed all in black and carrying a bag over his shoulder that’s nearly as big as he is. Doubtless, he stands out like some sort of hulking freckled raven among songbirds. 

By the time he finds the administration building his palms are so sweaty it’s hard to get the stupidly ornate door open, and, once inside, standing in line on the marble floors, looking up at the vaulted ceiling, the whispered assertion that’s been following him since he stepped foot on campus gets louder:You do not belong here.

He’s felt that way for most his life, though, wherever he was, so it isn’t that disconcerting.

He clears his throat when it’s his turn, stepping up to the counter at the student center, trying to muster a smile.

“I’m a transfer,” he says, “Poindexter. I need to pick up my dorm keys.”

Before the receptionist has a chance to answer, though, the person behind him speaks:

“You’re the new defenseman?”

Dex turns to look at the speaker and pauses.

Because he recognizes the boy’s face.

He’d seen it on rosters and game footage.

During his furtive research, he’d memorized the names of three players at Samwell. Three players he thought were exceptionally good. Maybe NHL good. These would be your peers, he’d told himself.

The first was Jack Laurent Zimmerman. Center. Senior. Number 1.

The second was Christopher Franklin Chow. Goalie. Junior. Number 55.

The third is now standing in front of him:

Derek Malik Nurse. Defenseman. Senior. Number 28.

What he hadn’t anticipated is that, off the ice, Derek Malik Nurse looks a lot less like the goon he does on the ice and a lot more like the kind of boy his father warned Dex against becoming, sometimes with words, but sometimes with fists.

Because apparently off the ice Derek Malik Nurse wears cuffed skinny jeans stretched tight over the bulk of his thighs and half-unbuttoned floral shirts and pale, stretchy, yellow headbands to hold back his curls. His dark skin is clear and pore-less and the delicate gold chain around his neck should look out of place on someone so broad but it doesn’t.

He is irritatingly well-groomed.

He’s also waiting for an answer.

“Yeah?” Dex manages, and it maybe comes out more aggressive than he intended. 

“I’m Nursey,” Derek Malik Nurse says, extending a hand and smiling: straight white teeth and the easy confidence that comes with money. “I’m on the hockey team too.”

Nurse’s hand is warm and dry and the torn callouses on Dex’s own chapped hand scrape jarringly against Nurse’s soft palm.

“Dex,” Dex says, because if there’s one thing hockey has given him it’s a name that his father didn’t.

Nurse squeezes his fingers, holds on a moment past comfortable, grins wider so the skin around his grey-green eyes crinkles, and says: “Dex. Chill. Coach says you’re going to be my new D-partner.”

And all Dex can think is:

Oh no.