Chowder slips into the Haus, careful of the rickety door, and lets it fall closed behind him before yelling a greeting. He’s pretty sure Bitty, at least, is here, and he’s really hoping that Dex and Nursey are, too, because Chowder has had all break to sit around doing nothing but thinking, and he couldn’t find them in their rooms, so they had better be here. Or on their way here. Chowder has plans. Also, if there’s pie already, Chowder would not say no.
There’s a chorus of loud yells from the den, and before Chowder can even turn, he’s being accosted by, like, six people at once. He’s surprised no one fell over trying to get to him, to be honest.
“Chowder!!” Holster yells in his ear, and then, “Ow, Ransom, that’s my foot!”
“That was me, actually,” Nursey says from behind Chowder. “Sorry, dude.”
The only thing wrong with a group hug, Chowder thinks, is that he can’t really reach everyone at the same time. He gives it his best effort, but really, this hug is kind of more something that’s happening to him than something he’s participating in. “Oh my God, I missed you guys!”
“Nursey and I were looking for you earlier,” Dex says. He’d been the first to reach Chowder; it’s easy to tell because he’s pretty much doing a barnacle impression on Chowder’s front. “We figured you’d show up here eventually.”
Chowder grins. “I came to find you guys! And to see everyone else, too, like, the people who live here, obviously, hi guys.” He pauses, short of breath, and then says, “Uh, guys? Are you going to let me go?”
“Never,” Bitty says from where he’s more hugging Dex than Chowder, really.
Chowder can feel himself turning red. “Well, uh, okay, okay, sorry, it’s fine.”
Bitty laughs and lets go, everyone else following suit. Ransom grabs Chowder’s hat off his head so he can mess up Chowder’s hair before shoving the hat back over it. Chowder reaches up to fix it, still blushing.
“How was your break, Chowder?” Shitty asks.
Chowder opens his mouth to say that it was good but long, and then he’ll probably repeat that he’d missed everyone, but Bitty holds up a hand. “Hold up, we need to get this boy some of the welcome back pie.”
“Ooooh, does that mean we can have more?” Ransom asks.
“No,” Bitty says.
“Pie?” Chowder asks hopefully.
Less than five minutes later, Chowder is shoving cherry amaretto pie in his mouth and dying of joy. He loves college. He loves Bitty. In fact, he loves everything, because oh my God, pie.
“Bitty,” he says, mouth still half-full, “have I ever told you that I love you?”
Bitty beams. “Thanks, Chowder. I think that might be your taste buds talking, though.”
“My taste buds are part of me, they totally count as me loving you,” Chowder protests.
“You know,” Dex says, “I never really thought I’d miss watching you talk with your mouth full, Chowder, but I kind of have.”
Chowder nearly chokes on his pie. He doesn’t really know what to say to that, and oh no, he’s definitely turned red again.
Nursey stops balancing on the back two legs of his chair and lets it clatter to the ground. “Did you miss me, Poindexter?”
“No,” Dex says immediately.
“Well, you’re always free to Skype me,” Nursey says with a smirk.
Dex looks like he’d rather punch Nursey. “Why would I want to look at your stupid face more than I already have to?”
Chowder’s lip quivers. “Guuuuuuuuys, stop it,” he complains. This is exactly what he’d had plans to fix. He can’t handle Dex and Nursey fighting all the time; Bitty may say they’re just different people and there’s nothing to be done, but Chowder firmly disagrees. He will bring harmony to this team—well, to these particular d-men—if it kills him. Which it very well might if the fact that they’d started bickering almost immediately is any indication.
They both look slightly remorseful, though. “Sorry, Chowder,” Nursey says. Dex nods. Despite their apology, they’re both staunchly refusing to even look in the other’s direction, and it’s making Chowder want to die, unfinished pie or no.
“This is actually a good opportunity to tell you why I was looking for you!” Chowder says brightly. “I’ve decided that my New Year’s resolution is for you guys to actually start getting along.”
Over by the sink, Bitty laughs. Chowder would be offended, but it’s Bitty, so no. Nursey and Dex both look horrified. That Chowder is finding a little offensive, but it’s Nursey and Dex, so he’s willing to forgive them.
“You can’t make your New Year’s resolution about someone else,” Dex splutters indignantly.
“Yeah, man,” Nursey says. “Resolutions are all about self-love, y’know?”
Chowder shakes his head. “Sorry, I’m sorry, but like? You two getting along would improve my life? So, like, I think it counts. Sorry.”
“He makes a good point,” Bitty says. Dex and Nursey both turn to glare at him, weirdly in sync. It’s when they do shit like that that Chowder knows they have the potential to, like, be totally awesome friends. They just haven’t realized it yet.
Chowder grins at Bitty. “Thank you!”
“I think it’s a good idea,” Jack says. Everyone jumps, startled.
“Jack!” Bitty says. “Where did you come from?”
“Canada,” Jack says, deadpan, and everyone stares at him. Chowder is pretty sure everyone else is as unsure about whether Jack is making a joke or not as he is. Then the corner of Jack’s mouth twitches up slightly, and he adds, “I’ve been standing here awhile. No one was paying attention.”
“Sorry!” Chowder says. He would hate to walk into a room and have no one notice, but Jack just shrugs off the apology.
“What were your plans?” Jack asks Chowder.
Chowder blinks. “I, um—what?”
“Your plans,” Jack says patiently. “You know, your ideas for how you’re going to accomplish your goal?”
“Oh! Yeah, sorry! I have those! Or, well, I have one of those? I thought maybe we could have a bicker jar?” He looks around hopefully and gets only confused looks back. He deflates. “You know… like a swear jar? But for bickering?”
“No,” Nursey says.
“So we’d have to pay every time we fought?” Dex asks. Chowder nods enthusiastically. Dex frowns. “Definitely not.”
“That’s a good idea,” Jack says. He smiles approvingly at Chowder, and Chowder has to fight to keep his wits about him. He probably fails a little bit, honestly. “If it’ll make you feel better, it can apply to everyone.”
“No one else really fights about anything,” Bitty points out. Dex and Nursey are fidgeting and not looking at each other again. “Well, maybe little things.”
Jack shrugs. “So that can count, too. A quarter each every time, maybe?”
Chowder nods. “Yeah! A quarter’s good.”
“Is this for real?” Dex asks. “Are you actually serious?”
“I’ll find a jar,” Bitty says, scurrying off.
“I think they’re serious,” Nursey says.
“Your face is serious,” Dex mutters.
Nursey scoffs. “That’s the best you can do?”
The tips of Dex’s ears turn bright red. “I’ll show you how much—”
“BICKER JAR!” Chowder yells at them. Dex’s mouth snaps shut.
Bitty pushes an empty jam jar into the middle of the table. “Pay up,” he says.
Dex and Nursey both look murderous, but they put quarters in the jar. Chowder smiles. This is going to go so well. He can tell already.
It doesn’t go well.
Two days later, the jar contains $11.50 and everything is worse. Dex and Nursey have, for some reason, decided that their new favorite thing to do is bait each other so that the other one will have to literally pay for rising to it. Chowder has no idea why they think this is a good idea, since both of them have to pay every time, but here they are, in a world where Dex and Nursey are walking around with pockets bulging full of quarters all the time. Chowder despairs.
“I’m telling you, you’re the one who wasn’t paying attention!” Dex is insisting.
“No way, Poindexter,” Nursey says. “You were skating with your damn head in the clouds. Again, might I add.”
“No, you may not!” Dex snaps.
Chowder lays his head on the table in the dining hall. Somehow his eggs aren’t so appetizing anymore. “Bicker jar,” he mumbles, sticking a hand out at them. He’s rewarded with two quarters and silence for what he knows is a blessed two seconds. Dex and Nursey are still eyeing each other in that way that means that they’ll be yelling again in no time at all. Chowder can see Ransom and Holster giving them disappointed looks, and he’s pretty sure Nursey and Dex can see it, too, but is that deterring them? No. No, it is not.
Chowder sits up. “This isn’t working,” he says. “I can’t believe the stupid bicker jar isn’t working, I mean. Why are you two so stubborn? Sorry.”
Nursey shrugs. Dex looks at the wall like it’s the most interesting thing he’s seen all month.
“But I’m not giving up, just so you know,” Chowder adds sternly. “We’ll just have to try something else!”
Dex shrugs. “I guess we’ll be set for laundry quarters for awhile, then.”
Nursey snorts. “Yeah.”
Chowder frowns at his eggs. He’ll come up with something that’ll work. It’s only a matter of time. Time and some hardcore brainstorming.
Chowder is in his Introduction to Psychology class when it occurs to him. They’re talking about the importance of good communication, which is really interesting, and then the professor brings up how communication is essential in conflict resolution. Chowder sits up and leans forward a bit. Resolving conflicts is exactly what he needs to do.
He leaves class with a spring in his step and a laundry list of ideas in his head. He finds Dex and Nursey sitting at their usual table in the dining hall—or, well, he hears them first. They’re fighting the entire time Chowder is getting food, but when he sits down, they both stop talking completely.
“Hey, guys!” Chowder says. “How were your classes? Are you done for today? Mine were great, I learned this awesome thing that I have to tell you about. It’s like—wait, sorry, sorry. Tell me how you are first.”
“We’re fine, Chowder,” Dex says. “What’s the thing?”
“Speak for yourself,” Nursey says, but then he looks at Chowder expectantly.
“Okay, um,” Chowder stutters, unsure of himself when put on the spot, “we were doing conflict resolution, right?”
Nursey groans. “There’s no way this is going somewhere I’m gonna like.”
Chowder frowns. Dex reaches across the table to hit Nursey in the shoulder. “Hear him out, man.”
“You don’t like it either,” Nursey mutters. “Sorry, Chowder, go ahead.”
“Sorry,” Chowder says. “Lots of the things might work for you guys, but I liked I-statements best, I think.”
“What are those?” Dex asks, eyebrows furrowed.
“It’s like, when you have a problem with someone, you tell them how you feel instead of just blaming them and making them feel bad as well,” Chowder says. “You say ‘I feel this when you do this because of this’. Except with actual things instead of just saying this.”
“That sounds awful,” Dex says. “That wouldn’t even work for us. We don’t have serious arguments with feelings.” Nursey nods along. Sometimes Chowder thinks the only thing they’ll ever agree on is that they’ll never agree, but then he pushes that thought away and goes back to being optimistic.
“Sure it would!” Chowder insists. “Come on, what were you arguing about before I got here?”
“Oh, um—” Dex says.
“We weren’t—” Nursey starts.
“Guys,” Chowder whines. “Sorry, but I’m not stupid. I heard you. Sorry. What were you arguing about?”
There’s silence for a moment, and then, “Dex took the last piece of garlic bread when he knew I wanted it,” Nursey says accusingly.
“Well, you don’t have the right to all the garlic bread!” Dex shoots backs.
“You didn’t even want it!”
“Whoa, whoa,” Chowder says. “I didn’t mean start arguing about it again. Let’s try some I-statements.” Both of them stare blankly at Chowder. He sighs. “Nursey? How do you feel when Dex takes the last piece of garlic bread?”
“Like he’s being a dick,” Nursey says. Dex glares at him.
“No no no,” Chowder objects. “No blaming. Don’t use like.”
“Fine,” Nursey says. “I feel angry.”
“Good, good,” Chowder says. He’s feeling very important and knowledgeable leading this conversation. Wait. “I mean, not good, we don’t want you to be angry, but good statement.” Well, he was feeling very important and knowledgeable. He scrambles to save it. “You feel angry when Dex takes the last piece of garlic bread because…”
“Because he’s a dick,” Nursey says, but sighs when Chowder gives him a disappointed look. “Because it hurts me that he would deliberately try to upset me like that.”
“Okay,” Chowder says, nodding. “What do you have to say to that, Dex?”
Dex screws up his nose. “Do I have to say it in a statement thingy?”
“That’s the whole point, Poindexter,” Nursey says.
“Shhhh, sorry,” Chowder says. “Yeah, Dex. Go ahead.”
Dex appears to think about it for a minute, then says, “I feel angry when you accuse me of being out to get you, because I just don’t care enough about you to be trying that, Nurse.”
“Fuck you, too!” Nursey bursts out. “This is dumb, Chowder, he’s not even trying!”
“Neither of you are trying,” Chowder says with a sigh.
“I told you it wouldn’t work,” Dex says.
“It would,” Chowder mumbles, “if you tried.”
“God, you’re infuriating! Can’t you just leave me alone for ten seconds?”
At the sound of Dex’s voice, Chowder stops dead in the middle of the hallway. He shuffles more toward the wall in the direction of it, like maybe if he presses himself up against it, no one will see him trying to listen in on a conversation. Not that anyone around would care. Or think anything of it. Dex and Nursey are loud, and they attract crowds with their arguments on a semi-frequent basis.
“Obviously not!” Nursey replies. “You’re the one who asked, not me.”
“Well, I’m fucking sorry I did,” Dex says. Chowder desperately wants to know what Dex asked that has them yelling in the hallway. They’re not even near either of their rooms.
Nursey sighs loudly. “Do you want to book extra ice time or not?” Chowder frowns.
“I feel like you’re an asshole when you mock me for wanting to go over drills so that we stop fucking up at practice,” Dex says, “so no, I don’t.” Chowder resists the urge to hit his head against the wall. That is not what I-statements are for.
“Well, fine, see if I care,” Nursey says. “I feel like you need to grow the fuck up.”
“I feel like you’re the one who’s being a fucking baby about it.”
“All I said was that I don’t have to go over the drills because I’ve got them down.”
“And you don’t see why that might upset me?” Dex asks incredulously.
Nursey takes a breath. “Fine, I shouldn’t have acted like it’s just your fault we’re fucking up. I’m just stressed out.” Chowder fistpumps. That’s more like it.
Dex huffs. “I hate it when you act like it’s all my fault. I feel like you think you’re smarter than me.”
Nursey laughs shortly at that, and Chowder winces at how mean it sounds. “I feel like if that’s your biggest problem, then you need to walk a mile in my shoes,” Nursey says.
There’s a very loud silence. Chowder takes a chance and peeks around the corner. They’re standing close together, like they’d been getting right in each other’s faces to yell. Dex’s ears are the bright red they get when he’s genuinely pissed, and Nursey’s hands are in fists at his sides. Dex’s eyes are wide with surprise. Chowder thinks Dex glances over and sees him; he ducks back, heart beating fast.
He must have been making it up, though, because there’s no sound of someone coming toward him. There’s no sound at all until Dex says, “Nursey—”
“Don’t!” Nursey says sharply. Chowder wonders if Dex had tried to touch him. “Forget it. Forget this. I’m going.”
For the next couple days, Chowder can tell that Dex is trying to be nicer to Nursey. Unfortunately, that means Nursey can tell as well, and if the way he starts picking fights even more often is any indication, he does not approve at all.
The team has been getting used to ignoring Dex and Nursey fighting, but when it’s as constant as this, that’s difficult for anyone to do, much less a team of overworked, stressed out student hockey players. It’s grating on everyone’s nerves.
Tensions are always particularly high in the locker room, and it’s one day before practice starts, Dex and Nursey noticeably not talking to each other, that Shitty turns to them and says, “I bet you two can’t go all practice without arguing once.”
Nursey rolls his eyes. “Of course we could.”
“We’re not arguing right now,” Dex points out.
Half the hockey team snorts, and the other half looks pained. Chowder doesn’t blame any of them one bit.
“Well, okay, if you guys are so sure,” Shitty says, “then let’s put some stakes on it.”
“What kind of stakes?” Dex asks.
“If you can’t do it, then you get what my sister and I did when we were little and couldn’t stop arguing,” Shitty says. Chowder could swear that he has a glint of mischief in his eyes. “You have to wear a get-along shirt.”
“A get-along shirt?” Dex asks.
“A what?” says Nursey warily.
“Oooh!” Bitty chimes in. “It’s a thing on the internet! Two little kids, usually, wear the same huge shirt so that they’re forced to be together. We could totally make you guys one, right, Chowder?”
“Yeah!” Chowder agrees.
“We’re not going to need one,” Dex says.
“Okay,” Shitty says skeptically.
“We’re not,” Nursey agrees. “But if we did, how long would we have to wear it for? Obviously we can’t wear it forever.”
“I think twenty-four hours is fair,” Jack jumps in. “And we all need to be getting on the ice now, so you’d better shake on that bet if you’re going to.”
Shitty offers his hand to Dex and Nursey, one eyebrow raised like a challenge. Chowder holds his breath for the few moments it takes them to exchange a glance and then step forward in turn to shake Shitty’s hand.
“We’re going to rock this,” Nursey says confidently. “Right, Dex?”
He holds up his fist, and Dex bumps it. “Right!” Dex agrees.
Maybe what Nursey and Dex needed all along was a common enemy. Chowder can't keep himself from cheering at that fistbump—he even claps, he's so excited. It's so rare that Nursey and Dex agree on anything; if they both say they're going to rock this, maybe they actually will.
They do not rock this. They do not even come close.
It only takes them twelve minutes before they’re yelling at each other across the ice. At first Chowder is still hopeful, thinking they’re just saying strategic, helpful things, but then Dex yells, “Fucking hell, Nurse!” and there that goes. Chowder blocks a shot they’re too busy fighting to keep away from him with a heaving sigh.
Bitty skates past the net and says, “Come over to the Haus later to make the get-along shirt?”
“Yeah,” Chowder agrees, morose.
Chowder sends a group text to Dex and Nursey that consists of every even slightly disappointed looking emoji he could find. He waits two minutes for any guilty or apologetic replies, and when he gets none, sends another text telling them that their get-along shirt time starts at 8 PM on Friday and they should meet him at his room.
They arrive together, fifteen minutes early and bearing cupcakes from the dining hall.
“Sorry we couldn’t do it,” Dex says, handing the cupcakes to Chowder.
“Yeah, we suck,” Nursey agrees.
Chowder gets a little emotional about the cupcakes. They’re so nice. Awful to each other, but nice to him. “Thanks,” Chowder says over the lump in his throat. “Do you guys want some of these?”
Dex and Nursey look at each other warily, then back at Chowder. “No, man,” Nursey says. “They’re yours.”
“Oh, well, okay,” Chowder says. “Okay. I have something for you, too! Except you’re not going to like it as much as I like these cupcakes. Sorry.” He gets the shirt from where he’d laid it out on his bed and presents it to them. “Tah dah!”
“It’s, um,” Dex says, “nice.”
“Gonna love every second of wearing it,” Nursey says.
“I wish you really were,” Chowder says sadly.
Dex grabs the shirt from him. “We’re going to try,” he declares. “Come on, Nurse, let’s get in the shirt.”
They struggle a bit to get it on, flailing around while Chowder bites his lip and tries to help but mostly gets in the way. Eventually they manage it, and as soon as Chowder steps back and really looks at them, he laughs.
“Oh no, I’m sorry,” Chowder says. “You look—well, not ridiculous, but. Sorry. Stay still. I’m going to take a picture.”
“Aw, Chowder, no,” Nursey says.
Dex shakes his head. “No, do take a picture, Chowder! It’s fine.”
He probably means to be subtle about elbowing Nursey, but he fails completely. Nursey’s eyes go wide. “Uh, yeah, never mind. Picture time! Totally great.”
Chowder is well aware they’re just trying to make him happy, but God damn, is it working. He’s just going to take his picture of this glorious moment and savour it. “Try to look happy, maybe,” Chowder suggests. “Sorry.”
“Nothing to be sorry for,” Nursey says through a completely fake, all-teeth smile. Chowder takes the picture. It is utterly, completely amazing. He texts it to the hockey team’s group text and then makes it his phone background.
“So!” Chowder says brightly, putting his phone in his pocket. “Anyone wanna watch a movie?”
Dex and Nursey both agree without any argument at all, which Chowder thinks is pretty promising. “I ordered this DVD from Netflix for us, but we can totally watch something else if you guys want!” He waits, DVD in hand. He really wants them to watch this movie, but honestly he’ll go with whatever will make them stay happy and not fighting for the longest.
“Whatever you want,” Nursey says.
“Yeah, it’s cool,” Dex agrees.
Chowder beams and puts the movie in his laptop. They all cram onto Chowder’s bed—Chowder has a hell of a time trying not to laugh at Dex and Nursey attempting to coordinate sitting and eventually just falling over—and then they start the movie.
Five minutes in, Dex and Nursey both start laughing. It’s borderline hysterical. Chowder frowns at them and reaches to pause the movie. “Whaaaaat?” There isn’t anything funny about Remember the Titans. At least, nothing at that part.
“Chowder, man,” Nursey says, trying to compose himself. “Chowder. We see what you’re trying to do here.”
Chowder pouts. “What am I trying to do?”
Dex hiccups from laughing so hard. “Make us watch an uplifting movie about race and class issues so that we’ll maybe resolve ours?”
So maybe that was what Chowder had been thinking, a bit, when he picked the movie, but he didn’t think it was that funny. It had seemed like a pretty good idea at the time. Maybe not so much anymore. Chowder busies himself eating a cupcake so that he doesn’t have to answer the question.
“Whoa,” Nursey says, “are we actually gonna go there?”
“Well, we’re here,” Dex says. “And here we’ll be staying for the next 24 hours, so I don’t think we have anything to lose.”
“Fuck it,” Nursey agrees.
“Okay, so, first, can we just agree to be honest with each other right now? And, like, acknowledge that neither of us is trying to be an asshole?” Dex asks.
Nursey nods. “Yeah, for sure.” Chowder watches as they presumably shake on it inside the shirt. This is a surprising and totally welcome turn of events. He eats another cupcake in preparation.
Dex looks away from Nursey and takes a deep breath. “I feel like it’s not fair that you get to play the race card when you come from a family that has so much that you don’t even have to worry about stuff and everything can just be chill for you all the time,” he says. “I don’t get to be chill, like, ever. It’s hard to be chill when you’re worrying about making sure your GPA stays above a 3.5 so you don’t lose your scholarship and have to drop out of college.”
Nursey has his argument face on. Chowder braces himself, but Nursey doesn’t say anything. Dex looks from Nursey to Chowder and back again questioningly. “That’s shitty,” Nursey says finally. “Your whole situation, I mean, and man, that GPA requirement is high. But it’s not ‘the race card’. Racism is a real, society-wide, institutionalized problem.”
“Forgive me for having trouble seeing that. We have a black president,” Dex says.
Chowder pulls up Google on his phone as Nursey says, “And that’s awesome, totally, but it doesn’t even come close to meaning racism is over.”
Chowder shoves his phone at Dex. “Here, read this article!” he says. “It’s about white privilege.”
“Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack?” Nursey asks.
“Dude, nice,” Nursey says, holding his hand up for a high five. Chowder gives him one enthusiastically.
Dex looks doubtful, but he’s clearly reading the article. Chowder and Nursey wait in silence. Dex scoffs, and both of them jump. “Number 33,” Dex reads aloud, “‘I am not made acutely aware that my shape, bearing or body odor will be taken as a reflection on my race.’ What, do people really think you smell different because your skin is a different color?”
Nursey looks at him seriously. “Yeah, man. Some people do. One semester at Andover the locker room smelled really bad, and I kept seeing a couple guys look at me when the coach talked to us about it. I overheard one of them saying that he thought it was probably me because he’d gone to middle school with, and depressingly, I quote, 'a bunch of black dudes who smelled like they couldn't afford soap. I'm not being racist, but even the poorest of the white guys never stank like that.'"
Dex stares at him. “Fuck,” he says quietly before going back to reading. Chowder watches him hopefully. That had seemed like real understanding, so Chowder’s feeling pretty confident in upping how hopeful he is about this. He eats another cupcake because they seem to be lucky so far. Also, they’re delicious.
Dex offers Chowder back his phone. Chowder takes it and looks at him expectantly.
“So, this stuff is really what you guys have to deal with?” Dex says.
Chowder and Nursey nod. “You can see why I have trouble trusting someone who has a republican sticker on his laptop,” Nursey says.
“Well, I’m not sure I’m one hundred percent on board with everything, but yeah, I do see why you’d feel that way,” Dex says. “I’ve obviously got some more reading to do.”
Chowder beams. Nursey is smiling, too, just a bit, but Dex is still frowning. He doesn’t look like he’s going to go off and start yelling, but Chowder is still worried. “But, like,” Dex starts, “is there a thing like rich privilege or something for how Nursey doesn’t have to worry about money and shit like I do?”
“Class privilege!” Chowder says.
“I’m sure there’s a knapsack article for that, too,” Nursey says. “The one Chow found for you was the original, but there are offshoots for tons of different kinds of privilege. You said that you’re going to do more reading, so once we’re not stuck in the same shirt, I’ll look that up, too. All right?”
Dex nods. “Okay, that sounds fair.” He offers Nursey a small smile that Nursey returns.
“Hey, Chowder,” Nursey says, “I’m feeling considerably less rage, I think it’s working!”
“You did it,” Dex agrees.
“No,” Chowder says, shaking his head. “I didn’t do it, you guys did when you decided you’d try. Sorry, but I just sat here and ate cupcakes. Mostly. Sorry.”
Dex looks at Nursey. “Do you think we can hug him while we’re in this shirt?”
Nursey eyes Chowder appraisingly. “We can try,” he says.
Chowder doesn’t have time to duck out of the way before they’re throwing themselves at him, and honestly? The resulting cuddle pile means that he doesn’t think he would have tried.
They work out sleeping arrangements pretty easily—Chowder’s room has an extra bed for his nonexistent roommate, so Dex and Nursey attempt to figure out how to sleep in the get-along shirt. Chowder leaves them to it, mostly, though he keeps giggling from his bed, which makes them stop and glare at him.
Everyone falls asleep eventually, though, and when Chowder wakes up in the middle of the night to pee, he realizes on his return that Dex and Nursey are spooning. Nursey is the big spoon, his arm curled around Dex’s waist, and they both look so peaceful. Chowder has to slap a hand over his mouth to keep from making a high-pitched noise and waking them up.
He can’t resist getting his phone and taking a picture, though. This one he keeps just for himself.
Chowder wakes up in the morning to the sound of Dex and Nursey whispering to each other. He takes a moment to wonder if he’s ever heard them whisper before and internally scream about it, and then he rolls over and sits up. “Good morning!” he says.
“Morning,” Dex says.
“Chowder,” Nursey says, dispensing with pleasantries, “can we take this thing off to go to the bathroom?”
Chowder bursts out laughing. “Sorry, sorry,” he says when both of them look distinctly unimpressed. “I guess you can, yeah. But only for that!”
Dex and Nursey don’t even seem that mad when they have to put the shirt back on, though they do complain about how annoying it is to not be able to use one of their hands. Chowder informs them that that’s part of the getting along process. This doesn’t seem to placate them, but whatever, Chowder tried.
They decide to watch a movie (“Maybe not Remember the Titans, though,” Nursey says, and Dex firmly agrees), and Chowder takes the opportunity to send the hockey team a group text: Over halfway through and not a single argument yet!!!!!
He gets a bunch of smiley faces and disbelieving texts back. Dex checks his phone and grumbles about the people who don’t believe it. Nursey tells him to shut up and watch the movie, and Dex just does it without even looking all that annoyed. Chowder can’t stop smiling. He knew they could do it.
For all that the get-along shirt did a world of good, Dex and Nursey are back to bickering on a regular basis within a couple days. Chowder comes to the obvious conclusion—if they hang out more, for longer, they’ll eventually just get bored of arguing. Chowder is sure of this.
He decides to bring it up when they’re all hanging out in the den at the Haus. Chowder is sprawled across the green couch while Dex and Nursey are in chairs across the room from each other, intently playing Mario Kart. Chowder hadn’t exactly forced them to come here and do this, but he’d definitely engineered it by casually suggesting that they go see if Bitty had baked any new things they could try to convince him they deserve to eat. Then, when Bitty wasn’t home, which Chowder had known he wasn’t, Chowder had insisted they wait for him.
“We should do this more often,” Chowder says.
“What?” Dex asks, mashing the buttons on his controller.
“Hang out,” Chowder says. “I think if you guys hung out more, you’d stop fighting so much.”
“We hang out all the time as it is,” Nursey points out.
“Not really,” Chowder says. “For practice and meals, mostly, and those don’t actually count.”
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” Dex says.
Nursey pauses the game. “I think I agree with Dex on this one,” he says. “We pretty much fight every time we see each other. Why would seeing each other more fix that?”
“I know you can fight about literally anything and everything,” Chowder says, “but I think if you tried to actually spend time bonding, you’d stop doing that. Remember the get-along shirt? That worked!”
They both still look doubtful. “I dunno, man,” Nursey says.
“Well,” Dex says slowly, “the get-along shirt did work. We even said so.”
Chowder grins. They’re totally coming around to it. “Come on,” he says, “we can have, like, set times where you two go do something totally not hockey related at all. Like, once or twice a week?”
“I guess,” Nursey says. “But how are you going to know if we’re getting along if we’re by ourselves?”
“I’ll know when you stop fighting when I do see you?” Chowder says, confused.
“Nah, that doesn’t work,” Dex says. “I think you should come with us.”
“Yeah,” Nursey agrees.
“No!” Chowder says. “Sorry, I mean, no. This is supposed to be about you guys! You don’t need me tagging along.”
Nursey shakes his head. “We do, though. We won’t even try if you’re not there.”
“You have to come with us,” Dex agrees.
Chowder frowns. “Are you sure?”
“Totally,” Dex says.
“Yep,” Nursey says.
“Well, fine,” Chowder says. He still doesn’t think they need him along, but neither of them look like they’re going to back down on this, and he really wants them to bond. “I’ll go with you. But I’m not going to participate! I’m just going to mediate and stuff.”
“Cool,” Nursey says.
“Yeah, cool.” Dex unpauses the game, which makes Nursey yell at him for not giving any warning. Chowder sighs. Soon these stupid arguments that go on forever will be a thing of the past. Soon.
Chowder decides that they’re going to go rock climbing for their first bonding session because that way Dex and Nursey will have something they have to work together to do. They seem okay with this choice until they all actually get there, and Dex and Nursey realize it’s more of a partner activity.
“What are you going to do, though?” Dex protests.
Chowder gestures at the concession on the other side of the gym. “Get a drink and cheer you guys on from the sidelines!” he says. “This is all about you guys bonding, remember?”
“But then you don’t get to have any fun,” Dex says.
“Yeah,” Nursey says. “You have to at least take one turn.”
“Fine, maybe,” Chowder allows. “At the end. You two go.” He shoos them off and goes to get a Coke.
When he gets back, Dex is a quarter of the way up the wall, Nursey belaying his rope on the ground. Chowder cheers. “Looking good, Dex!”
“Yeah, looking good, Poindexter,” Nursey says.
Dex gets up a bit farther before Nursey lets the slack go on the rope for moment just as Dex is reaching for the next rock. Dex swears. “Nurse, I swear to God!”
“Nursey,” Chowder says, disappointed.
“I wasn’t going to let you fall!” Nursey yells. “Sorry, C, it was too tempting.”
“Bonding,” Chowder reminds him. “Trust.”
“Fine, fine,” Nursey says. “I’m not going to do it again.”
Chowder believes him, but he also knows that now Dex is going to do the same thing to Nursey when they switch. They are a never-ending cycle of provoking each other. Chowder goes to find himself a chair that he can drag to a good vantage point and settle in. He hadn’t really been thinking about it when he’d picked rock climbing, but it certainly does make for a great view—in more ways than one. From this angle, Chowder can see just how impressive Dex’s hockey butt is. Er, well, not that he’s ogling his teammate. That would be weird.
Nursey and Dex try to convince Chowder to go next once Dex has made it to the top and back down, but Chowder refuses. They sigh and switch places.
“Climbing?” Nursey says when they’re situated, offering his hands palm up to Dex.
“Climb on,” Dex says, giving him a double low-five. They grin at each other, and Chowder feels like he’s dying a little bit inside. They’re so cute. Rock climbing was the best idea Chowder’s ever had in his entire life.
True to Chowder’s prediction, Dex lets Nursey’s rope go a bit at one point. Nursey seems to have been constantly bracing himself for it, though, because he only makes a short noise of surprise and finds his foot and hand holds again easily. He cranes his neck around to look down at Dex. “You done there, buddy?” he yells down.
“Yeah, I think I’m about done,” Dex yells back smugly. Chowder sucks the melted ice at the bottom of his cup up through his straw and doesn’t say anything.
The rest of Nursey’s climb goes without incident, and this time when they gang up on Chowder and tell him he has to take a turn, he doesn’t have an excuse to say no.
“You’d better not let go of the rope on me,” Chowder says to Nursey. “I’d like to not die.”
“I would never,” Nursey says. “Not to you, Chowder.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll watch him for you,” Dex says.
Nursey sticks his tongue out at Dex. “I don’t need watching, either.”
“No fighting while I’m climbing,” Chowder says. “Or ever, if you wanted to arrange that. Sorry. Thanks.”
Rock climbing is harder than Chowder thought it would be, though that makes sense once he thinks about it. It’s also a lot of fun, so that makes up for it. He makes it to the top and belays back down no problem. Dex and Nursey both greet him with punches in the shoulder and slaps on the back when his feet are on the ground again.
“Aren’t you glad you went?” Dex asks.
Chowder shrugs. “Aren’t you guys glad to be spending time together?”
Nursey and Dex shrug and don’t look at each other. “Sure,” Nursey says.
“It’s not the worst thing that’s ever happened to me,” Dex says.
Chowder will take those responses. There’s room for improvement, of course, but they have time.
“Let’s go home,” Chowder says. “Next time we can do something less strenuous.”
He can’t tell what Dex’s and Nursey’s opinions on that are, so he pretends the look on their faces is excitement.
The rock climbing was their official bonding session for the week, but after practice on Saturday morning, Chowder overhears Dex and Nursey complaining about how much homework they both have to do. They’re arguing about who has the most, of course, and Chowder takes it upon himself to get them to shut up by suggesting that they all go to the library together. He’s kind of surprised when they both agree, actually, but he’s not going to say anything.
They manage to find three empty chairs pretty easily, and Chowder takes over the table with most of his notes while Nursey reads his book and Dex does something on his laptop. Or, at least, Dex was doing something on his laptop for awhile. Now he’s sitting sideways in the chair, legs over the arm and laptop balancing against them, the copy of the Daily he’d snagged on their way in open in front of him.
Dex turns the page and raises his eyebrows at it. “Dudes, this headline,” he says. “‘Psych 341 Study Indicates That Samwell Sexuality Stereotypes Are True’.”
“That makes sense,” Chowder says. “One in four is pretty accurate with the people I know here.”
“Who do you know?” Dex asks. “The team is almost all straight.”
Chowder is about to protest that he has friends who aren’t on the team, Dex, sorry, but Nursey talks first. “Not really,” he says. “There’s Bitty, and then Pacer and Ollie are dating, and Shitty dated a dude when we were at Andover, so he’s probably at least bi. And then me, so.”
Chowder smiles at the way Nursey so casually trusted them with that information by including himself in that list. Nursey and Shitty were the only ones that came as a surprise to Chowder, and not all that extreme of one, but Dex is staring at Nursey incredulously. “Hang on, what?”
“You’re going to have to be more specific than that, bro,” Nursey says. “Which bit confused you?”
“Uh, I knew Bitty went to Screw with a guy, but all the rest of it is news to me,” Dex says.
Nursey shrugs. “You didn’t even notice Pacer and Ollie?”
“I thought they were just bros! You know, like Ransom and Holster?”
“Bitty told me that Ransom and Holster sleep in the same bed all the time, so they’re maybe not the best to judge from? I dunno, sorry,” Chowder says. “And me too, so that makes six?” He freezes for a moment, realizing what he’d just said, then forces himself to relax. It’s not like this is the first time he’s come out, even at Samwell, though it is the first time he’s told anyone on the team. But Nursey just did it as well, so it can’t be that big of a deal. “Which is, uh, it’s more than one in four!”
Nursey smiles over at Chowder. “See, not almost all straight at all,” he says. “You wanna make it three for three, Poindexter?”
Dex flushes bright red. “I, er. I don’t—well,” he stammers. “I’ve never? With a, like, dude or anything? But it, uh, might be an option? I don’t know.”
Nursey stares at him. Chowder can’t help but be a bit shocked himself; he never would have thought that Dex would admit to possibly not being straight. He’s said some things in the past that Chowder thought… well, he'd caught himself thinking that such a liberal school seemed like a weird choice for Dex, and then he'd told himself that he didn't have enough information to be judging him.
“I was joking, you didn’t have to say that,” Nursey says. “But it’s cool that you did.”
“Yeah,” Chowder agrees, nodding vehemently.
“Whatever,” Dex mutters.
They go for frozen yogurt for the second bonding session. It goes pretty well, minus Nursey chirping Dex for getting all fruit everything and Dex responding that at least he’s not rotting his teeth with ‘all that chocolate’. Chowder tells them to knock it off, and they do, and then that’s that.
The rest of the outing is mostly chatting about their classes and other random things, and in between refereeing their bickering, Chowder keeps thinking back to their conversation in the library. Ever since then, he’s kind of been looking at Dex and Nursey in a different light. He knows he shouldn’t be, that nothing has really changed, but now there’s a remote possibility that it could, and Chowder can’t help himself. Since they’re not fighting quite as much, Chowder has lots of brain space to think about other things.
Everyone seems to be in a good mood when they head back home, and it’s this that makes Chowder stop them before they can split up and go back to their rooms. He’s not nearly ready to let the good moods go. Besides, casual froyo was maybe not the best gauge of their progress. “We should play a game,” he says, thinking that giving them an opportunity to be competitive might do the job better. He hopes it doesn’t set them back, at the very least.
“What game?” Dex asks.
“Uh, I have Settlers of Catan?” Chowder suggests.
“I’ve never played that,” Nursey says, but he doesn’t look opposed to the idea.
Dex grins. “How have you not, dude?” Nursey shrugs.
“We have to now,” Chowder says.
Chowder retrieves the game from his room, and they find an empty lounge in the dorm basement to set up in. They set up the frame, then Chowder shuffles the hexes and starts laying them out in order. Dex winces when an eight falls on a hex that produces wool. “Why is that bad?” Nursey asks, noticing.
“We’re gonna have so many sheep, bro,” Dex says. Nursey stares at him, then goes back to the rulebook Chowder had handed him before they started setting up.
They wait for Nursey to finish reading the rulebook, and then they start placing their settlements. On the second round, Nursey bites his lip and looks consideringly at the board.
“Put it near lumber and brick,” Dex says.
Nursey looks doubtful, glancing over at Chowder in question. Chowder grins. “You should!” he confirms. “To build roads, that’s important.”
“Okay,” Nursey says.
“I’ll try not to be offended that you didn’t believe me,” Dex says dryly.
Chowder braces himself for breaking up an argument, but Nursey just shrugs.
Nursey picks it up fairly quickly after that. Chowder is impressed when they steal from him because it makes sense in the game instead of just moving the robber to each other at every opportunity to be assholes. It’s one of the kinder games of Catan that Chowder has ever played, and he is so, so glad he suggested it. He could gladly live in this conflict-free moment forever.
Then Nursey plays the monopoly card and takes all of Dex’s and Chowder’s lumber. “Motherfucker,” Dex swears. He practically throws his cards at Nursey. “Fine, take my lumber and shove it up your ass, Nurse.”
“Don’t mind if I do, Poindexter,” Nursey says, smiling beatifically. It’s sort of a gorgeous smile, which is not something Chowder really needs to be noticing right now, because that is not a nice smile. That is a smile of triumph over Dex, and Chowder had thought they were getting past that.
Chowder sinks down in his seat and puts his face in his hands. It’s too bad life kept on happening and the conflict-free moment had to end.
“Man,” Nursey says, still smiling, “I’ve got so much lumber now. Who wants to trade me a sheep for a lumber?”
Chowder takes his hands away from his face. “Seriously?” Dex asks disbelievingly.
“Seriously,” Nursey says.
Chowder watches them trade cards, amazed. Nursey might’ve sounded like a dick while he did it, but he hadn’t needed to be nice like that. He could have demanded to trade way higher, but he didn’t, and Chowder is pretty sure it wasn’t because Nursey doesn’t know how to play the game. Chowder kind of wants to cry about it.
“Chow,” Dex says, “your turn?”
“Oh!” Chowder says, snapping out of it. “Sorry, sorry.”
In the end, Nursey wins. Dex shakes his head and says, “Beginner’s luck,” but there isn’t any heat behind it. Chowder is just happy that they actually managed to avoid getting at each other’s throats in a competitive situation. Their progress bar is possibly even farther than Chowder thought it was, which he knows is saying something. He loves being wrong when it comes to this; he never doubted that they could do it, and the faster, the better.
“Good game!” Chowder says. Then, on second thought, he demands, “Group hug!”
Dex and Nursey grumble about it, but they fall into the hug easily. Chowder clings to them as tight as he can. Maybe, he thinks optimistically, next time they won’t argue at all.
He keeps thinking it after every outing, after bowling and trivia night at the bar and a trip to the farmer’s market, but there’s always at least one argument that Chowder has to stop in its tracks.
One Sunday afternoon a couple weeks later, Chowder looks out his window at the sunshine and then checks his phone for the temperature. It’s surprisingly nice out for the time of year—though, of course, not as nice as Chowder wishes it were. He goes hunting for an outdoor activity anyway.
He decides that mini golf looks like a great idea and texts Dex and Nursey to see if they’re up for it. They both agree almost right away, and Nursey offers to drive them all there. Dex calls shotgun, and Chowder is all too happy to settle in the back and let Dex sit next to Nursey. It’ll probably be good for them.
The car is quiet for a few minutes before Nursey takes a corner slightly faster than he should, and Dex does not pass up the opportunity for a chirp. “Jesus, Nurse, slow the fuck down. If you get arrested for speeding I’m not bailing you out.”
Chowder can feel Nursey hitting the gas harder. “Too fast, huh? That’s not what you said last night.”
“What?” Chowder asks, leaning forward. First of all, did they do something together last night of their own volition? Because Chowder might cry if they did. And second, that had sounded like they were—well.
Dex glances back at him. “Yeah, we were hanging out last night,” he says, and Chowder tries not to audibly screech. “And listen, Nursey, it’s not my fault that you’re bitter about being too slow to stop me scoring on you. No need to take out your frustrations on the gas pedal.”
“You didn’t even win,” Nursey says.
“Yeah, the first time, sure,” Dex says. “What about the three times after that? You got an excuse ready for those?”
“Win what?” Chowder asks.
“Air hockey,” Dex and Nursey say in unison. “And you were cheating,” Nursey says to Dex.
“How could I cheat at air hockey?” Dex asks. “Just admit that you’re slow.”
“Bro, you put the nurse in nursing home.”
Nursey groans. “So help me God, Dex, I will turn this car around.”
“Please don’t,” Chowder says, sad that they had to start this off with another argument. And after they’d hung out alone, too. Things had been going so well. “And knock it off, would you? Sorry.”
Surprisingly, things continue to go well after Dex and Nursey stop arguing in the car. Chowder expects them to get competitive—Chowder had barely been able to hang on to the peace when they’d gone bowling—but they don’t. In fact, they keep joking with each other, and on the fifth hole, Dex starts pretending his golf club is a hockey stick and steals the ball from Nursey.
Nursey looks at him, exasperated. “I know you need to practice your stickhandling, but is this really the time or place?”
Here we go again, Chowder thinks, resigned.
“Always,” Dex says mildly, knocking the ball gently over to Nursey. Nursey rolls his eyes and lines up his shot. He gets a hole-in-one, and Dex nods approvingly. “Nice shot, man.”
“Thanks,” Nursey says. They fist bump, and Chowder stares at them. That had been—goodnatured teasing?
It gets Chowder thinking so hard that he has to try to sink his ball, like, ten times. The fight in the car—had that even been a fight? Now that Chowder’s looking back at it, he thinks it might have been almost… fond? Maybe not quite that far, but there had definitely been less heat in their voices than usual. Would they have even kept arguing and escalated into yelling if Chowder hadn’t stopped them? He thinks maybe not.
“You were doing way better than this before,” Dex says to Chowder as he hits the ball and it goes wide again. “What happened, bro?”
“Sorry,” Chowder says. “I’m just… distracted, sorry.”
“No big,” Nursey says. “We’ve got all day, and this just means we’re winning.” He hits Dex in the shoulder. “Right, man?”
“Since when are we a team?” Dex asks. Chowder wonders the same thing.
“Well, your last chance to not be obliterated just left the building,” Nursey says, shrugging. Dex laughs.
Chowder cannot believe this. He tries to get the ball in again and completely fails. He doesn’t even care one bit.
Monday finds Chowder in the library with Dex after class, planning to spend a few quality hours on their programming project. Chowder’s been feeling a bit stuffy all day, so he’s armed with a box of tissues shoved into his backpack. He’d really rather be in bed, honestly.
Then Dex pulls out his laptop and opens it up, and Chowder forgets all about bed for a moment. There’s a colorful LGBTQIA sticker on Dex’s laptop, right where the Samwell republican sticker used to be. Chowder stares, wondering when Dex had done that, and then gives Dex a wide grin.
“Don’t look at me like that,” Dex mumbles, but he smiles back, tiny and beautiful.
Once Dex is immersed in his project, Chowder pulls his phone out of his pocket and pretends to text. He actually opens Snapchat and carefully angles the phone to take a picture of the sticker. Dex’s laptop!!!!!!!!! he captions it, followed by as many happy emojis as will fit across the screen, and then he sends it to Nursey. It’s barely a minute before his phone vibrates at him with a notification that Nursey had taken a screenshot of the snap. Chowder smiles dumbly at his phone screen.
“What’s so amusing over there?” Dex asks.
Chowder jumps. “Oh, nothing! Sorry,” he says.
Dex shrugs and goes back to his work. Chowder goes back to smiling and staring into the distance. Work can wait; Chowder needs to live in this moment while he can.
Once the illness hits Chowder full force, he’s down for almost an entire week. It’s nothing major, just a cold that has him sneezing everywhere and feeling super gross, but it means he spends most of his time tucked up in his bed either sleeping or eating food that Bitty brings him.
He’s been fussed back to health pretty fast, though, and his first order of business is making sure Dex and Nursey get their bonding time in. He can’t have them backsliding now.
“We should go bike riding,” Chowder says.
Dex looks at him like he’s insane. “What?”
“You guys haven’t had your bonding time!” Chowder says.
Dex and Nursey exchange a look. “Chow,” Nursey says, “no way are we going for a bike ride.”
Chowder frowns. “Why not? Is there something else you’d rather do? Sorry, I just assumed, sorry, of course you’d—”
“Dude,” Dex interrupts, “we’re not doing that because you just got over being sick. You still need to relax.”
“What, no,” Chowder says. “I’m totally fine!” His voice cracks and he coughs. Dex and Nursey are looking at each other and then at Chowder in that concerned way again. “I’m fine,” Chowder repeats.
Dex shakes his head. “You’re not.”
“How about we do something around here instead?” Nursey suggests.
“Like what?” Chowder asks.
Nursey shrugs. “There’s a game on?”
Chowder doesn’t really think watching a hockey game counts as a bonding session, but he can’t convince them to do anything else. They try to get him to sit between them, but he puts his foot down at that, shoving Nursey toward the middle and sitting down on the end instead.
The game starts, and eventually Chowder stops staunchly sitting up in protest. It’s not that big of a couch, really, so doing that puts him pretty close to Nursey. He doesn’t know if it would be okay to lean against him, so he does it little by little, shifting slightly and waiting on tenterhooks, heart racing, for Nursey to protest before doing it again. Nursey never does, and eventually Chowder is leaning against Nursey’s side completely. Nursey is so nice and warm and there. Chowder dares to cuddle in closer, holding his breath, and is rewarded with Nursey putting his arm around him. He breathes out, relieved, and relaxes.
Dex is leaning against the arm of the couch. He’s staring at the TV, but every so often, out of the corner of his eye, Chowder can see him looking over at them and frowning the slightest bit. Chowder half-abandons watching the game in favour of watching Dex, trying to figure out what’s up with him. Eventually, after a particularly prolonged look over, Dex scoots closer to Nursey and leans into him. Chowder’s heart skips a beat.
“Hey, man,” Nursey mumbles, putting his other arm around Dex. Chowder can see Dex immediately soften into the cuddle and turn into Nursey so he can put his arm around Nursey’s waist.
We’re cuddling! Chowder thinks excitedly. This is real, actual cuddling, the likes of which has never featured in Chowder’s wildest dreams—well, okay, maybe the very wildest ones. In those he was always touching Dex as well, though, which he isn’t right now. That’s easily fixed, at least. Chowder swings his legs up so that they’re draped across Nursey’s lap, his feet resting against Dex’s thighs.
Dex smiles at him and moves his arm so that his hand is tucked between Chowder and Nursey. Chowder grins back and closes his eyes, face pressed to Nursey’s chest. This will do very nicely for a nap, Chowder thinks. He doesn’t care about the hockey game anyway.
Chowder can’t stop thinking about the cuddling. He’d drifted off a bit only to be woken when the game was over by Dex poking him in the cheek and Nursey grinning at him, and then he’d gone back to his dorm to sleep and thought about the cuddling more. He’d dreamed that he was tucked up between two people, warm and safe, and when he woke up he wasn’t sure what had been real and what had been a dream. He stumbled into the shower, woke up more, and realized that yep, that had happened. (Then he’d tried not to think about it anymore, because er. Awkward.)
Now he’s on the way to morning practice, still thinking about cuddling and in possibly the greatest mood ever because of it. He spots Dex and Nursey walking together up ahead of him and calls out for them to wait, hurrying to catch up. “Good morning!” he says brightly, falling into step as they part to make room for him between them.
“Morning,” Dex says. “You’re chipper today. I mean, more than usual, even.”
Chowder shrugs. “Woke up in a good mood,” he says. He glances over at Nursey, intending to ask how he is, and notices that he’s slightly wide-eyed. It’s only then that Chowder realizes that somewhere between catching up with Dex and Nursey and now, he’s started holding hands with both of them. He must’ve initiated it—he doesn’t think either of them did—but he can’t remember making the decision to. He’s about to drop their hands and apologize when Nursey smiles at him and squeezes his hand.
Well… maybe Chowder will just let it happen, then. Nobody seems to be protesting, and it’s nice, actually, walking hand-in-hand to practice.
Shitty is at the doors to Faber when they’re approaching, and Chowder can clock him noticing the hand holding. He thinks Shitty might say something, but he just flashes them a double thumbs up and then holds the door open. They drop hands by apparent silent mutual agreement once they’re inside.
Practice goes remarkably well. Dex and Nursey haven’t been really fighting at practice anymore save some occasional bickering, but they also haven’t been playing like this. They’re completely in sync today, always seeming to know where the other will be without looking, and they nail drill after drill, play after play. Everyone notices, and everyone has either a compliment or a backslap for them. Chowder has never been more proud in his life.
“All down to you, huh, Chowder?” Shitty says to him quietly after practice, punctuating it by slapping Chowder’s butt.
“All them,” Chowder protests, but Shitty just raises an eyebrow and walks back to his locker.
That night, Bitty sends out one of his mass emails about food, and Chowder books it to the Haus as soon as he sees it. (He really needs to stop leaving his study group in the lurch, but, like, food.) He gets there at about the same time as Dex, and when they walk into the kitchen, Nursey is already sitting at the table.
Chowder flops down in the chair next to him. “You got here fast!” he says.
“He was already here,” Bitty says.
“Is that even fair?” Dex asks, sitting down on the other side of the table.
“Chill, Dex,” Nursey says. “I helped make it.”
Dex rolls his eyes. “Are you sure it’s edible, Bitty?”
Nursey gives him a look of mock astonishment. “Bro, come on, are you saying something Bitty has touched could possibly be bad?”
“I didn’t let him poison it, if that’s what you’re asking,” Bitty says with a sigh.
Dex shrugs. “Nah, I know he wouldn’t.”
Bitty looks between them, eyebrows furrowed. “You two are being so civil,” he says. “Chowder, what did you do?”
Chowder beams despite himself. “It was them, not me,” he insists. He’s allowed to be proud of them, but he refuses to take the credit for it.
“Please, Chowder, man,” Dex says. “It was all that bonding time that you made us have.”
Nursey nods in agreement, and Chowder can feel his cheeks heating up. Bitty looks interested. “Bonding time?”
“Yeah!” Chowder says. “I made it a rule that they had to spend time together outside of hockey and meals at least once a week. We’ve been doing a bunch of fun stuff, like mini golfing and the farmer’s market and things.”
“Chowder is a great chaperone,” Nursey jumps in.
“Not the point,” Chowder mumbles, avoiding looking at anyone. “Sorry.”
“Well, it was clearly a great idea,” Bitty says, smiling at all of them. “It really seems to have worked.”
Chowder brightens again. “It has, yeah! They’re getting along so well that I don’t even know if we need to keep doing it anymore.” He frowns at the realization. He expects Dex and Nursey to say something, maybe an exclamation of relief, but they’re both sitting silently. They look at each other and then away again quickly, and Chowder frowns harder.
“Well!” Bitty says with a clap of his hands, breaking the tension a bit. “That’s great news. Now, who’s ready for food?”
They all agree enthusiastically and with an edge of relief, crowding around to get some of the lemon garlic chicken. It’s amazing, but even when Chowder is sitting down again and eating it, he’s thinking about not having the bonding sessions anymore. It leaves a sad, bland taste in his mouth that even Bitty’s cooking can’t chase away.
Chowder spends the next few days in a funk. He does everything he’s supposed to, like going to class and practice and occasionally hanging out with friends, but nothing is as exciting as usual. He feels an urge to curl up in his bed and cry, but he refuses to do that, because really, it was never about him, and the whole point was that Dex and Nursey would eventually get over themselves and start being real friends. Chowder should be happy, and he is, honestly.
This is probably a good thing, actually, because whatever Chowder was doing with the cuddling and the hand holding and the noticing how hot they were—that was kind of getting out of hand. Still, deep down, a part of him wants to go back to that, back before he’d realized that it meant they wouldn’t have a reason for bonding sessions anymore.
He’s curled up on the green couch in the Haus, trying to have a nap before the game tonight but mostly just feeling sorry for himself, when Shitty walks in.
“Hey, Chowder,” Shitty says, sitting down on one of the chairs, his legs dangling over the arm of it. “How’s it going?”
“Oh, you know, it’s going,” Chowder says, sitting up so he can see Shitty better. “How are you?”
“I’m good, man,” Shitty says. He looks at Chowder for a moment, considering, and then adds, “Do you want to tell me how you actually are? Because if you want to keep on with the moping you’ve been doing, that’s cool, but you’re starting to freak everyone out. We need our cheery Chowder.”
“Oh God, I’m sorry!” Chowder says. “Sorry! Do you think it’s affecting the team? Do I need to apologize to everyone? Oh no.”
“Whoa, calm down.” Shitty holds his hands up placatingly. “It’s fine, Chow. I just thought you might want someone to talk to.”
“Oh.” Chowder looks down and sighs. “I mean, I guess…” He trails off, trying to figure out how to make this sound not ridiculous. Shitty waits patiently. “I’m just upset because Dex and Nursey don’t need bonding sessions anymore. Not that that’s not a good thing! It’s just sad, because it was really fun to hang out and stuff, and now there’s no reason to, and I dunno.”
Chowder looks cautiously at Shitty for his reaction; he’s frowning deeply and looking very confused. “Wait,” he says, “are you three not… dating?”
Chowder stares at him. “What?!”
“I thought—the hand holding! And you were going on dates? I just assumed!” Shitty runs a hand through his hair and shakes his head, disbelieving.
He makes a very good point, now that Chowder is thinking about it. Chowder has definitely had some thoughts, as much as he’d been trying not to. What if Dex and Nursey have as well? Maybe they really have been dating this whole time and Chowder just hasn’t noticed? He’s never been very good at relationship things. Oh no, what if him saying they didn’t need to have the bonding sessions—the dates?—anymore was like telling them he wanted to break up? Chowder doesn’t want to break up! Provided they were dating in the first place, of course. Oh God.
“Are you okay? You look like you’re about to explode,” Shitty says, sounding concerned.
“I… um. I think I’m okay,” Chowder says. “I just have to… go. And find Dex and Nursey. Um. Sorry. Thanks, Shitty.”
“You’re welcome,” Shitty says.
Chowder’s nearly out the front door of the Haus before he abruptly turns around and goes back. Shitty is still exactly where he left him, and Chowder throws himself on him in a hug. “Whoa,” Shitty says, but he hugs Chowder back, patting him on the back. “Go get your boys,” he says when Chowder pulls away. Chowder salutes him and turns to go, intending to do just that.
Of course, Chowder had managed to forget completely that there was a game to go play, so of course he doesn’t have time to find Dex and Nursey and drop an important emotional question on them. He waits until after to stop them on the way into the locker room and say, “Wait for me, would you? I want to talk to you guys.”
They look slightly alarmed, but they agree, and when Chowder’s showered and changed, they’re both waiting outside the locker room for him.
“What’d you want to talk about?” Nursey asks.
Chowder shakes his head. “Not here,” he says. “Sorry, it’s just—not a hallway conversation.” They’re both looking alarmed again, but Chowder doesn’t know what else to say that could placate them. “Sorry.”
He doesn’t really know where to go, either, so he just leads them to his room, heart pounding the whole way. “Chowder,” Dex says slowly as Chowder’s opening the door, “this is your room.”
“Yeah,” Chowder agrees. “Just come in.”
They do, Nursey shutting the door behind them, and then they’re both staring at Chowder, waiting. It’s intimidating, though he knows they don’t mean it to be. Chowder takes a deep breath and tries to steel himself against it. “Um, I was just… I was wondering… “ His hands are shaking. He clenches them into fists and gives up. “Are we dating?”
“What?” Dex asks immediately, sounding shocked.
“Oh God, sorry, sorry,” Chowder says. “I was talking to Shitty earlier and he thought that we’ve been going on dates? I didn’t really… sorry. I mean. Have we been?”
“He thought the bonding sessions were dates?” Nursey asks.
“Well, they weren’t,” Dex says. Nursey hits him in the arm. “They weren’t!”
“They could’ve been!” Nursey says. Now both Chowder and Dex are staring at him. “I mean, we, uh, we may as well have been dating. We could date now?”
“You’d want to do that?” Chowder asks hopefully. His heart is practically beating itself into overload.
“Wait, can three people even date?” Dex asks. He looks lost. “I don’t think anyone does that.”
“Well, we could,” Chowder says. “Shitty thought we were anyway.”
“People do,” Nursey says. “It’s not just us. I googled it.”
There’s a lengthy pause. “You… googled it,” Dex says. Nursey nods, looking slightly embarrassed. Chowder wants to scream out a window; Nursey googling it means that he was thinking about it. “And people do?”
“Yeah,” Nursey says.
“Oh,” Dex says quietly. “And you both want to date…”
“Both of you, yeah,” Chowder says.
“No, both. I think it has to be both,” Chowder interrupts. “I mean, sorry, sorry, what do you think?” He looks between them.
“I think it has to be both, too,” Nursey says.
Chowder and Nursey both turn to Dex. He still looks pale from shock, but there's color slowly returning to his cheeks, and the corner of his mouth is turned up in an uncertain smile. “I thought about it,” he admits, “but I didn’t think it was okay to want. You want it, though, so I do, too.”
They stand in silence, awkwardly looking at each other, for a long moment. Chowder feels like he’s going to vibrate right out of his skin. They’ve all established that they want to do this, but now someone needs to actually do something, or else they’ll all just become statues, rusting away.
“For the love of God!” Dex bursts out. “Someone kiss someone already, I’ve been thinking about this since we watched that stupid hockey game.”
“Why don’t you kiss someone,” Nursey says.
“Why don’t you kiss each other?” Chowder suggests.
“Fine,” Dex says, and then he steps forward into Nursey’s space and kisses him. Chowder gasps slightly; they make an unbelievably pretty picture like that. Nursey’s hand is on Dex’s waist and Dex’s hands are shoved into Nursey’s hair, and oh my God, Chowder has died and gone to heaven. This is better than watching them play perfect hockey.
They break apart and turn to look at Chowder. Nursey reaches his hand out and grabs Chowder by the front of his hoodie, tugging him in. “Come on, C, your turn,” he says. Chowder doesn’t have any time to prepare at all before Nursey’s lips are on his. Chowder leans up into the kiss and nearly falls over in surprise when Dex starts kissing his neck. Nursey steadies him, laughing slightly, and kisses him again.
“You’re totally hogging him,” Dex mutters, shoving at Nursey’s side, but he’s still kissing Chowder’s neck between words, so he can’t be that bothered. They break apart, and Nursey shoves Dex back, grinning.
“There’s enough of me to go around, guys, come on,” Chowder says, leaning in to kiss Dex. Nursey takes Dex's place kissing Chowder's neck, and Chowder smiles into Dex's mouth. It's like the dream he had where he was safe and warm between two people—except better, because this is real and tangible and happening. Chowder has never been happier.
Getting Dex and Nursey to stop fighting was the best New Year's resolution ever.