Nursey’s just about to start unpacking when he realizes he still hasn’t turned his phone back on after the flight. From the floor of his childhood bedroom where he’s sitting next to his open suitcase, he reaches for the nightstand where his phone is.
The first thing he opens is his chat with Chowder. The attached picture is of the tupperware of sandwiches Nursey accidentally left in the backseat of Chowder’s car when he drove him to the airport.
you’re starving, aren’t you?
The reminder of food — and that he hasn’t eaten anything all day — makes Nursey aware of the hollow feeling in his stomach again.
It’s just that Nursey hates flights.
He gets so anxious that it makes him sick. Or he gets so sick it makes him anxious. Either way. So, yeah, maybe he can't stomach anything that isn’t homemade and warm and comforting like the grilled cheese sandwiches he made with Chowder that morning when he’s an anxious mess who’s about to board a metal tube that’s going to hurtle across the sky. Sue him.
im at my moms now tho so its chill
you need to stop forgetting your food :(
you didn’t even eat breakfast!
love ya, C
Nursey chuckles as he sets aside his phone. He ignores the strong need he has to see Chowder’s scolding face in person. Or just to see Chowder, really. It doesn’t matter that he just spent his last three nights in California in San Jose to hang out with him and Farmer before leaving.
3,000 miles from the place he’s spent the last two and a half years is quite the distance, and he can feel it in the way he shifts awkwardly from one sitting position to another on his bedroom floor.
It’s been a while since he’s spent a night in this room.
He was always too busy with grad school and work to fly across the country and visit. It was always his parents visiting him for holidays and birthdays and never the other way around.
The last time he spent a night in this room, he didn’t even get any sleep. He’d been too busy staring into the darkness, the start of his last semester of college looming. Never even realized it would be his last night there for a while.
On the wall still hangs a calendar opened to the January 2018 page. The 5th is encircled with a green marker and has a little doodle of a house — the Haus, probably — in the middle of the square. One of his Samwell hoodies, one he must have forgotten to bring with him back to campus, was still thrown over the back of the chair. A book he once swore he’d finish before he had to go back to Samwell still laid on the desk, a receipt used as a bookmark wedged between the pages of the last chapter.
So, yeah. It’s been a while. He can’t even remember now if he had been losing sleep that night over the excitement or the anxiety.
Nursey doesn’t really feel that different from the person he was almost four years ago. But that doesn’t stop him from feeling like he’s observing someone else’s room.
“You okay, mijo?”
He looks at the doorway to see his mama leaning against the frame. She changed out of the clothes that she wore to pick him up from the airport and was now in leggings and a giant Knicks sweatshirt he swears she’s had since he was five. “Yeah, mama, just unpacking.”
She raises her eyebrows. “Doesn’t look like unpacking to me.”
Nursey looks at his suitcase, still full of the wrinkled clothes he crammed in there, and then back at her with an apologetic face. “Just...Getting used to being here again.”
His mama peers at him curiously before walking into the room and crouching next to him. “Well, I’m glad you’re here again,” she says dramatically, pinching at his cheeks. “My babyyy,” she says in a sing-song voice.
Nursey chuckles, trying to fight off her pinching. “Mama, stop. ”
She does, but without patting his cheek a few times. “Really, though. Missed you so much, mijo.”
The earnestness in his mama’s voice as she says it and the way her eyes are getting glassy tug at Nursey’s chest. “I missed you too, mama,” he mumbles before pulling her into a hug.
Being in his mother’s arms makes the room feel a bit more like his.
He doesn’t know how long they embrace, but it gets interrupted with a loud rumble from Nursey’s stomach.
His mama pulls back, horrified. “Why didn’t you say you were hungry?”
As his mama gets up and drags him to the kitchen, launching into a tirade of I don’t care how anxious you get on flights, you need to eat and I told your mom we’d wait until she’s back from work before we have dinner, so I’m gonna make you food now but you have to eat again later, Nursey beams.
After a snack that really was more of a meal and his mom’s arrival from work which triggered another round of reunion hugs and tears and I’m never letting you move out of this house again declarations, they start getting ready for dinner.
Nursey forgot how much he missed this, just being in the kitchen with his moms as they cooked. The music playing from his phone is barely audible amid the exchanging of stories as they catch up, the swift chopping of vegetables, the occasional clang of pots and utensils.
When they finally sit down to eat, he can’t even finish his first bite before his moms start firing away. There’s a lot of So, what will you be working on during the writer’s residency? and Heard anything new from your agent? and the hardest one to answer when he’s looking back at two sets of hopeful, almost pleading eyes: You’re moving back into the city for good next year, right?
Nursey gives long and enthusiastic answers to some of them ( “— so I’m working on that, which is great because I’ve missed poetry and some of the visiting writers are, like, some of my favorite poets, and if they actually join the workshops, then, like, it would be —” “Hey, hey, slow down, Der. You’re going to choke. ”) and shorter ones to others (“Nah, nothing yet. It’s fine.” )
And a few, he completely evades ( “Ah, well. You know. I love New York. So, you know...How's that case you're working on, mom?” ) before his moms give up, finally changing the subject and letting him off the hook.
“Your dad doesn't know you moved your flight up, right? You still surprising him?”
“Yeah! Gonna crash his art exhibit tonight,” he says with a grin before taking another bite.
His mom snorts. “You're his son, I don't think it counts as crashing,” she points out. “But he'd love that.”
“Ha gus cominfff?”
“Don't talk with your mouth full,” his mama chastises pointing at him with her fork.
He swallows. “You guys coming?” he repeats with an innocent smile.
It takes five conversations with total strangers until his social energy starts to waver, and even then, he still can't find his dad.
The place is huge and, like all of his dads’ shows, crowded. He cranes his neck, scanning the throng of artists and photographers and buyers and press. His dad is nowhere.
Nursey finishes the last of his drink and places it on one of the cocktail tables before he decides to take another lap.
He stops at his favorite piece again; it’s a realistic portrait of a drag queen — Nursey vaguely remembers her as one of his dad’s friends — donning a wig styled in an updo with a marcel wave and a full face of makeup. Neck down, she isn't quite ready yet. Just breastplates, tights, and padding. She's mid-laughter, joy perfectly captured in the shine of her eyes, as she looks straight on.
The painting is huge, starting from the floor and towering over him. Nursey wonders how long it took his dad to make it.
He isn't sure how long he's been looking at the piece, eyes going over the meticulous details of it again and again, when a voice pipes up behind him.
“What a piece of crap.”
Nursey spins. “Yo, what did you s—” He cuts himself off as he sees who said it. “Oh my god, I hate you.”
His dad laughs — a loud, barking laugh that Nursey missed so much — as he opens his arms. “Sorry, kid. Thank you for defending my honor, though.”
Nursey rolls his eyes, but his face breaks into a smile anyway as he lets his dad pull him into a hug.
His dad squeezes him tight. “What are you doing here?! I thought your flight was tomorrow!”
“Managed to get an earlier one, and I wanted to surprise you.”
“Ugh, I missed ya, kid.”
Nursey smiles. “Missed you too, dad. And all this is sick, by the way.”
“Ah, thank you.” Pulling back, he holds Nursey by the shoulders and looks him up and down like he can't believe he's really there. “I wish you would've told me you were coming, though! We could've hung out earlier today.”
“Hey, it's chill! I know you're busy at these things,” Nursey assures. “I just wanted to surprise you and check it out.”
“Dad, I'll be fine! Your artist friends are chill. I'll...Ya know…” Nursey looks around and gestures, “I'll mingle.”
His dad does a little pout — the one Nursey’s moms always tell him he also does — and raises his eyebrows. “You sure?”
“Chyeah. I got your charisma, old man. I'm a delight.”
“Hah! Well, if you say so,” his dad says, ruffling his hair. “But come join me for the after party later, and you can stay over at my place. So we can hang out all day tomorrow if ya want.”
Nursey grins. “Chill!”
His dad looks at him, amused. Then as he looks over Nursey’s shoulder, his smile falters. “Ugh, someone's calling me over. I'm sorry.”
“Dad, it's your night,” Nursey reminds him. “Just go enjoy. Do your thing.”
Sighing, his dad nods. “Alright, alright…”
“Besides, even if I do get bored,” Nursey adds, “there's an open bar and wifi. I'll def survive.”
His dad snorts. “Figures. I'll find you later, alright?”
Nursey watches his dad disappear into the crowd, hoping his unannounced arrival doesn't distract him from the rest of the night. But as he spots the way his dad immediately poses and laughs along when the group that called him over pulls him into a photo they were taking, Nursey smiles.
Despite everything he said to his dad, Nursey starts making his way to the open bar already. He knows he's good at socializing, but if he has to do it all night, he'll probably need another drink.
This would be so much easier if his moms didn't have too much work to do that night and could go. Or if he had his friends with him. Being social is just easier — or, well, less necessary — when he’s with someone else.
Anyone I know at this point, Nursey thinks to himself as he still can't find a familiar face among the throng of people he passes. He scans the crowd for a family friend. Or a colleague of his dad’s he’s met before. Or even just —
Nursey stops in his tracks. Feels his heart in his stomach as he reminds himself not to challenge the universe again.
Because, through the crowd, he sees Dex talking with a couple of other people by the bar.
Dex. His Dex.
Well, definitely not his Dex anymore. But. Dex.
As soon as he can will his feet to move again, Nursey turns around. Walking is harder when your entire body feels ten times heavier, but he forces himself to keep going forward anyway. The room suddenly feels too small and warm for his liking.
It’s not like he never considered running into Dex during his stay here. He’d be lying if he says it wasn’t one of the first things he thought about when he was booking his ticket. It was hard not to. The last time Nursey was in the city was over two years ago, preparing to move to San Franciso while ignoring the fresh wound the breakup left him with. So yeah, maybe he did imagine seeing him again a thousand times on the plane ride here. Whatever. It was a long flight.
But the encounter he had in mind was something along the lines of seeing a glimpse of him on Dex’s morning commute while he’s rushing to a subway car. Or seeing Dex from across the street while he’s Christmas shopping with his moms. None of the scenarios he played out in his head had him running into Dex again in an invite-only party on his first night out in the city.
He doesn’t know where he’s going. Nursey considers seeking out his dad, but he knows that interrogating him on why his ex-boyfriend is invited is probably a shit thing to do on his special night.
Heart beating hard in his chest as he weaves his way through the crowd, Nursey almost entertains the idea of just hiding out in the bathroom until he can piece together a game plan. Or, well, sneaking out to the roof or to the lobby downstairs so that he can call Chowder for help. Before he can decide, he spots an untouched tequila shot on one of the cocktail tables.
Maybe it isn’t him? Maybe Nursey’s spent so much energy the past 24 hours trying not to think about Dex that his brain is choosing to make up for it now by playing tricks on his eyes? It really could be some random redhead, for all he knows.
Ignoring the sliver of rational thought in his head telling him that drinking unattended alcohol he just happened to find is probably not a good idea, Nursey grabs the tequila shot and downs it in a gulp.
“Jesus.” He winces at the taste, but the smooth heat feels good down his throat. Feels good in his body. It almost gives him something resembling calm for a second there.
But really just a second.
Because, then, there’s a tap on his shoulder and a hesitant Nursey? in a voice he can recognize anywhere.
Nursey turns around, and, god, it really is him. Hair longer, a bit more stubble, but him. Freckles and cheekbones and furrowed brows and everything. Him.
“Dex,” he manages to choke out as he puts the empty shot glass down.
“Hey,” Dex says, an unsure smile on his face. He shifts forward the slightest bit — a hug? — but he stops and offers a hand. “Wow. It's been a while.”
“Hah. Yeah.” Avoiding his gaze, Nursey takes his hand and shakes it. Which is kind of ridiculous. They were in love, not two acquaintances who took a couple of college classes together. But whatever. He looks up at Dex, and it's too much. The overt politeness of it all. So, Nursey lets his hand go. “So, this really isn't your scene…”
“Oh, uh, your dad invited me. Figured I'd check it out.”
“He invited you,” Nursey repeats. The forced smile Nursey didn't realize he even had on his face until this moment freezes. Of course he did.
“Yeah, we ran into each other the other day and asked me to come. I thought he was just being polite, but he sent me an email invite and everything, and he said —” he cuts himself off, shoulders sagging. “Okay, look, I wouldn't have come if I knew you'd be here. I'm sorry.”
“Nah, nah. It's chill,” Nursey says with a clenched jaw.
Dex nods. Nods like he gets it. That it’s very much not chill. “You know what, I have an early day anyway tomorrow, so…”
There's a twinge of guilt sitting in his chest as he listens to Dex stammer out an obvious lie about why he has to call it a night at 9 PM on a Friday. He sighs.
“— besides it's getting late, and —”
“Dex,” Nursey interrupts. “I promise it's fine. Stay. Dad invited you. You should stay.”
“No, really, I have to —”
“Just stay, Dex,” Nursey says again, more firmly this time. Well, as firm as he can be given the circumstances. “It’s alright.”
Dex eyes him skeptically. “Yeah? You sure?”
In the logical part of Nursey’s brain is a voice telling him to force a nod before excusing himself and making sure he doesn't run into him again for the rest of the night. But the logical part of his brain is being drowned out by the thumping in his chest as he tries to wrap his mind around the fact that, two and a half years ago, he spent months obsessing over what he would say if he were to see Dex again.
And now Dex is standing in front of him. With all those annoying fucking freckles Nursey has lost sleep over.
So, what comes out of his mouth isn't Well, I hope you enjoy the show. It isn't I should go look for my dad now. It isn't Well, it was nice seeing you.
Instead, Nursey shrugs and says, “Sure. I don't know anyone else here anyway, so…Wanna get a drink or something?”
Dex raises his eyebrows at him, and Nursey almost feels dumb for offering until Dex says. “I mean, we're gonna need it if we're gonna attempt to not be weird and awkward.”
Nursey snorts. “You're weird and awkward.”
“Uh huh,” Dex says. “I literally just saw you down a shot that's been sitting on that table unattended.”
A chuckle bubbles up from Nursey. “You say unattended, I say up for grabs. ”
Dex laughs as he shakes his head. “C’mon. Let's get you a proper drink, Nurse.”
It's still weird after getting more booze in him. But by the time they've made another lap around the exhibit, there's a certain ease that weasels its way into their conversations in between stories and chirping and dumb jokes.
They sit on the couch in the corner of the room, and the rest of the crowd fuzzes out from Nursey’s attention as they catch up.
Nursey tells him about how he hopes he’ll have better luck with his manuscript now that he has an agent. About the disaster that followed when he and Chowder decided they could totally cook Thanksgiving dinner without anyone’s help last month. About how he’s been watching nothing by reality competitions on Netflix these past few weeks.
And Dex tells him about his recent promotion. About the kegster Haus 2.0 threw for him when he spent his birthday weekend in Boston a couple months ago. About how the only reason he's been growing out his hair out is because he keeps forgetting to have it cut because of how busy he’s been.
“But things are quieting down at work,” Dex says. “It’s going to be hectic again in a like a month, so I should probably have it cut soon.”
“I like it,” Nursey blurts out before he can stop himself. He closes his hand in a fist before he can entertain the temptation to reach out touch where it's starting to curl a little bit.
Dex smiles. “Thanks, Nurse.”
They lose track of time easily. Nursey only really notices it from the way Dex’s eyes flit to the crowd from time to time and how his hands settle on his lap awkwardly the way they do whenever he starts feeling exhausted from being around too many people. Of course, Dex never admits to it though.
“Hey, um,” Nursey starts, trying to remain casual. “I kinda need some fresh air.”
He doesn't miss the relief that flickers across Dex’s face.
“Are we allowed to be up here?” Dex asks as he spots a brick and props it against the frame to keep the door to the rooftop from locking behind them.
“Probs,” Nursey says, plopping down to sit against the wall by the door.
“What’s with drunk you and roofs?” Dex asks as he settles next to Nursey. Then he frowns and stares ahead. “Roofs? Rooves? Roof…”
Nursey laughs. “Who's drunk?”
Dex shoves him. “I'm fine .”
“I know, I know,” Nursey concedes. “You don't look like a tomato yet.”
“I’m gonna save my chirps for when I watch you end up on the roof again at Jack and Bitty’s New Year’s Eve party,” Dex says. Then, he adds, “I mean. If you’re going?”
“Yeah, I am!” Nursey says, grinning. “Thought I’d be cutting it too close — which, ya know, I do not want to recover from New Year’s on a fucking plane — but I ended up moving my flight to a week later anyway.”
“A week? You’re already here really early. How long is your break?
“Oh, uh, I'm actually done?” Nursey says.
Dex waits for him to continue, a confused look on his face.
“With school,” Nursey clarifies. “I overloaded a bunch in my first year because —” Nursey catches himself. Maybe Dex doesn’t need to know the reason he couldn’t be alone with his thoughts for a single minute in that first year. “I finished a semester early. I’m joining the grad ceremony after the Spring semester ends.”
Dex beams. “Oh, what? Holy shit,” he says as he bumps his shoulder against Nursey’s. “Congrats. That’s amazing..”
“Thanks,” Nursey says, his cheeks getting warm.
He looks at Dex whose smiling face is lit by the lights of the taller surrounding buildings that towered them, and his heart aches a little bit. Nursey’s over him. It’s been years. But his body remembers being able to reach out and touch Dex’s face too well. The dip below his cheekbone, the curve of his lip, the freckles that spot his face.
He moved away just days after they broke up. Nursey never got the chance to unlearn the impulse that came with being around Dex.
“So, yeah,” Nursey continues, “graduated, quit the publishing job that I kinda hated because it never gave me free time to write, and now I'm here till I have to go back for this writer’s residency.”
“A writer’s residency,” Dex repeats. “That’s a big deal,” he says, half-asking like he’s waiting for Nursey to confirm that he’s remembering right.
Nursey smiles. “Yeah, yeah, it kinda is. It’s one of the ones I’ve been applying to since undergrad,” he says. “And it’s a fully funded fellowship, so...”
“Oh, wow,” Dex says before taking a sip from his beer. “That’s really great, Nursey. That’s all so…wow.”
Nursey needs to take a moment to make sure he’s not being sarcastic, but when he looks at Dex, there’s nothing but genuine awe in his eyes. Even if he’s not the best at putting it into words.
“Yeah, it is,” Nursey says, cheeks burning. He’s been published in lit magazines and journals here and there the past few years, which have been great, but the past few months of rejection letters from book publishers have been starting to take a toll on him. So, yeah, maybe it feels good to be reminded that he’s doing pretty well.
“So you’re staying in California?”
“I...I don’t really know,” he says, forcing out a chuckle. “It’s a three-month residency. Then I’ll probably stay and keep working freelance until the ceremony. My lease isn’t up until around then anyway.”
“Eh. Who knows,” Nursey answers, shrugging. “Didn’t know when you asked me all those years ago, and I still don’t know with you asking me now,” he says with a little laugh.
It's only when Dex freezes that Nursey realizes what he said.
His laugh falters and then halts. “Fuck,” Nursey murmurs, running a hand across his face. “Sorry.”
“No, it’s —”
“I made it weird.”
Dex sighs. “Would've been weirder if we went the whole night without it coming up at all. I mean we haven't really talked since you…”
Nursey fiddles with his phone, avoiding Dex’s eyes. If he was not prepared to run into him tonight, he's definitely less prepared for this conversation. “I'm sorry.”
“Really, I don't mind you bringing it up, we —”
“No,” Nursey says. “I mean. I'm sorry for how things ended.”
Dex opens his mouth and shuts it. He leans back against the wall, staring ahead. “I...I wasn't expecting that.”
He shakes his head. “No. That you would think there's something to apologize for.”
Nursey frowns. He can still vividly picture the pain on Dex's face when Nursey decided for the both of them — without them even talking about it — that long distance wasn't going to work. “I feel like you and I are remembering the breakup very differently.”
Dex makes a noncommittal noise. “You had to move for school and our relationship was too new to try long distance. I get it.”
Being let off the hook should be a relief. But there’s something about the detached matter-of-factness Dex said it with that bothers Nursey.
Which isn't fair, he reminds himself. He’s the one who left out of nowhere. And it's been two and a half years. They're both over it.
Still. They were dating and living together for almost a year at that point. And in love for years more. And best friends.
Nursey eyes him curiously and tries not to sound offended when he says, “It wasn't new new.”
“Kinda was,” Dex says with a shrug. “And putting 3,000 miles between us when we were still that new?” Dex shakes his head. “You were right. It wouldn't have worked.”
“I got into schools in New York too,” Nursey reminds him, unsure why he's bringing up all the reasons Dex was so hurt.
Dex shrugs, his thumb peeling at where the bottle label is coming off at the edges. “We just turned 23 and didn't know what to do with our lives. I wasn't about to ask you to stay for me.”
“...And I wasn't about to ask you to move for me,” Nursey concedes.
Turning to Nursey, Dex smiles sadly. “Exactly.”
Picking a school across the country when he had also gotten into programs in New York was a rash decision, he can admit now. He was fresh out of college, working a soul-sucking copywriting job, and the uncertainty of what came next was paralyzing him. So, when all the choices of what to do next were suddenly getting dropped in front of him in heaps, the thought of getting stuck where he was at the time — no matter how happy he was in New York, no matter how happy he was with Dex — suddenly felt suffocating.
Grad school, San Francisco, meeting new friends — all of it has been fun, so it’s not like he regrets the move now. But the time that has passed since he first left New York has made it clear to him that the choice he made wasn’t exactly for the most rational of reasons.
He freaked out. Gained some things from it, lost some things from it. He’s accepted that for a while now, but sitting next to Dex, quiet amidst the noise from the cars and people out on the streets of Manhattan, is stirring up feelings of guilt he thought were gone.
Nursey breaks the silence soon enough. “Well. I'm sorry for not keeping in touch then.”
“I'm pretty sure we're both at fault there.”
And that’s not true. But he isn’t about to call attention to that too. “Yeah, well we can fix that now,” Nursey offers.
Nursey would be hurt by the doubt splashed all over Dex’s face if he didn’t know he was the reason they never talked after breaking up.
Dex’s attempts were far and few between, but they were there. And getting nothing back from Nursey definitely must not have been encouraging.
“You think I'm full of shit,” Nursey begins, “because I said I would keep in touch last time too.”
Dex scrunches up his face and tilts his head from one side to the other. “A little.”
“Fair,” Nursey says, nodding. “But I really wanna try being friends again this time.”
“Uh huh,” Dex replies immediately, avoiding looking Nursey in the eye.
Nursey elbows him. “Hey, c’mon, man, I’m serious.”
Dex looks at him, sighing. “Alright. Sure.”
“Yeah? Because —”
A buzz from Nursey’s phone interrupts him.
Hey kid things are dying down over here
Wanna head out soon?
Nursey quickly replies, telling his dad he’ll be down soon before he turns to Dex. “I gotta go.”
He doesn’t know if he’s imagining the disappointment that flickers across Dex’s face. “Oh, okay, yeah. I’ll just finish this,” he says, raising his beer bottle, “then I’ll probably get going too.”
There’s a stretch of silence that follows, a manifestation of the blank that Nursey comes to when deciding how to say goodbye for the night. The last goodbye he’d said to Dex had been far more dramatic.
It takes him a few nervous breaths before he can say, “It was really nice seeing you.”
“It was nice seeing you too, Nurse,” Dex says as he clinks their beers together.
Nursey stumbles as he gets up, but Dex’s hand shoots up to steady him. He smiles and leans against the wall, looking down at Dex. “I’ll see you again?”
“At Jack and Bits’ party?”
“Before that,” Nursey says. Insists.
Doubt still clear on his face, Dex nods anyway. “Alright. Your number still the same?”
Dex still has his number. “Yeah. It is.”
“Right,” Dex says. “I’ll uh. I’ll text you.”
“Chill,” Nursey says with a grin that only gets bigger when he sees the eye roll and chuckle it earns from Dex.
Nursey is lying on the couch in his dad’s studio the next day, legs hanging off the arm, and scrolling on his phone when his dad asks him what must be his 12th question about Dex in the past two hours.
“Yeah, he mentioned he got a promotion, so…” Nursey says in a bored voice. He puts his phone down on his stomach and turns his head to the middle of the room where his dad is working on a painting. “I don’t even know why you’re asking me. You invited him.”
“Ah, come on, I told you I’m sorry, D,” his dad says, eyes still on the canvas. “I didn't know you were coming!”
He knows his dad isn’t that sorry. He’s always been the fondest of Dex out of his parents.
But Nursey isn’t about to call him out on it. Not when he thinks he might actually have a real chance with salvaging his friendship with Dex now because of it. “Yeah, yeah, it’s fine. Besides, I guess catching up and everything was kinda nice or whatever.”
His dad looks up from his painting. “Yeah?”
“Mhmm.” Nursey picks up his phone and goes through his Twitter feed again, not really absorbing anything on his screen. Mostly just to sell the nonchalance. “We’re probs gonna hang out again sometime soon.”
Nursey doesn’t miss the suggestive tone in his dad’s voice. He chooses to ignore it. “Yep.”
“That’s…” his dad clears his throat. “That’s great, kid.”
Then, on cue, a text notification from Dex pops up at the top of his screen. He almost drops his phone.
Hey I don't know how serious you were last night
But C has a game tomorrow
Wanna watch it together?
He only realizes how hard he’s smiling when, from across the room, his dad huffs in amusement and asks, “That’s Will, isn’t it?”
Nursey turns to him, sees the teasing sparkle in his eye. “Mind your business, old man!” he laughs out as he chucks a throw pillow at him.
Dodging it with ease, his dad cackles and shakes his head as he returns to his painting. “Whatever you say, son.”
Nursey’s phone buzzes again.
Oh this is Dex by the way
Nursey grins and immediately types back.
Nursey stiffens as Dex sits a bit too close to him, their elbows brushing. Which was okay back at the art show, when they were at a party and fairly buzzed. But now, in the silence of Dex’s apartment and totally sober, it feels like too much.
Dex must notice too because it only takes him a few seconds to drop his gaze and gradually scoot away as they continue to talk until another person could comfortably fit in the space between them.
Waiting for the game to start is agony. Nursey quickly runs out of things to point out on the screen in lieu of making actual conversation. And it’s not because Dex isn’t making an effort, he clearly is. But every potential topic for discussion quickly gets lost as one of them trails off into awkward chuckles.
Nursey’s just about to kick himself for thinking it would be this easy to hang out with Dex again just because the night before wasn’t a total disaster when they see Chowder get on the ice.
It’s easier from there. Cheering for the Sharks — well, just for Chowder, mostly — distracts them enough for the tension to seep away from the air. They hoot and yell at the screen in unison for most of the game, cursing at every shit call or shoving each other in excitement whenever Chowder makes an impressive save.
Two periods in, they’re losing it over a story Nursey tells Dex during intermission. When Dex throws empty threats at him as he clutches his stomach laughing, Nursey tries to ignore the way his stomach flips. He hasn’t seen Dex laugh that hard in years.
“You’re such a disaster,” Dex wheezes out, wiping his eyes.
“I was celebrating surviving my first year of grad school! Sue me!” Nursey exclaims, gesturing a bit too much his beer almost spills. He braces himself for Dex to scold him for not being more mindful, but as the third period starts, Dex is already too busy launching into a rant of See, and that’s why we needed Nursey Patrol and Well, at least they found you on the roof in time and eventually Okay, but for real, you seriously need to be more careful, Nurse.
Nursey makes a show of dismissing him with a wave but mostly can’t hold back a smile through it all.
When the Sharks win, Dex and Nursey pose by the TV until the broadcast shows a close-up of Chowder with the score at the corner. “Hah, he’s gonna love that,” Nursey mumbles as he sends the selfie of them pointing to Chowder on their screen to the Frogs group chat that hasn’t been used for a while now.
“That we watched the game or that we got through the night without killing each other?”
Nursey says that he’ll just have a couple more slices of the pizza they ordered halfway through the game before leaving. And yet, it takes a few hours of them talking about the game, debating about the bowl on Dex’s kitchen table ( “Nah, man, that mug is definitely mine.” “What, just because there are leaves on it?” “Yes. Clearly!” ), and accidentally falling down into a YouTube rabbit hole of competitive eating videos (“I could do that.” “No, you can’t, Nursey.” “I definitely could.”) until Nursey actually remembers to book a ride.
“My ride’s almost here,” Nursey says after checking his phone, getting up. “I should head out.”
Dex looks up from the video they were watching on his laptop, and Nursey almost convinces himself there’s a tinge of disappointment on his face. “Oh, yeah, okay, cool. Well, uh —” He closes his laptop and sets it aside before springing up and leading Nursey to the door. Which, really, is unnecessary seeing as it was only steps away.
“Thanks for asking me to come over,” he offers before Dex starts stammering an awkward goodbye. “I didn’t expect you to actually text, TBH.”
“Yeah, well...We were best friends before all that mess.” He grabs Nursey’s coat and scarf from the rack and hands them to him.
‘'That mess’ as in our relationship?” Nursey asks in a mock-offended tone as he layers up. “You wound me.”
Dex laughs, punching him in the arm. “Fuck off, Nurse, you know what I mean.”
Nursey chuckles. “Really, though. I’ve missed this.”
“Don’t get sappy on me, Nurse.”
Nursey raises his brows.
With an eye roll, Dex concedes. “Fine, yeah, this was nice.”
Another ping comes from Nursey’s phone.
“That’s probably my ride,” Nursey says as he finishes up tying his scarf. “I’ll see you around?”
“Yeah, of course,” Dex says.
Nursey doesn’t know why he goes for a hug goodbye — maybe it’s the way Dex says Yeah, of course like he actually means it this time, the hopeful glint in his eye that came with it, or just the general relief he could actually Dex back in his life — but he does. He’s about to let go and apologize when Dex hugs back.
Nursey feels a swoop in his chest. He closes his eyes and lets himself sink into the hug, trying not to think too hard about how fast his heart is beating.
When they pull away, arms still loosely intertwined at their sides, they’re so close Nursey almost can’t breathe. He can’t remember the last time he could practically count every freckle on Dex’s face or could see himself reflected in those amber eyes.
It's all too much, Nursey decides, and he steps back. Before he can psyche himself out in the attempt to find something else to say, he turns around and leaves, only calling a last goodbye over his shoulder.
Nursey planned to head straight to his room the moment he got back and somehow try to sleep instead of figuring out why exactly he feels like jumping out of his skin when it had actually turned out to be a pretty good night. Instead, he’s halfway through a pint of Ben & Jerry’s on the kitchen island, leg bouncing and tension in his shoulders.
When he sees the living room lights turn on, he winces and suddenly feels like a little kid again who’s about to get in trouble for being up way past bedtime.
He figures it’s too late to shove the ice cream back in the freezer and rush to pretend he was just down here to get a glass of water. And he's also still in the clothes his moms had seen him go out in. So, he just braces himself until his mama appears at the kitchen doorway, hands on her hips.
“Mijo, what are you doing?”
Nursey smiles apologetically before scooping up another spoonful. “I’ll replace your ice cream tomorrow, mama.”
“That’s not what I mean, I —Wait, is that the chocolate fudge brownie that I —”
He raises his eyebrows at her.
She waves her hand in a nevermind motion, walking over to sit on the stool next to him. She slides the utensils drawer open to grab her own spoon and digs into the ice cream too. “So, wanna talk about it?”
“Noooope,” Nursey says, popping the p.
He can feel the doubtful glance his mom throws him, but he ignores it as he continues eating.
“Hm. Okay then.”
“Okay,” Nursey repeats, almost challengingly. He peers at his mama who’s just helping herself to the pint, with a knowing look on her face. And Nursey knows she’s just waiting for him to break. Which he won’t. It’s late, and he’s tired, and he honestly doesn’t know what’s bothering him tonight, and — “Hey, you and dad were best friends, right?”
“Your dad and I are best friends, thank you very much,” she says without skipping a beat and popping another spoonful into her mouth.
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Nursey says, waving his spoon. “But I mean. Before you two got together.”
His mama nods, turning to him with a curious look on her face. “Yeah, we were...Why?"
“How did you two get back to being best friends after splitting up? I know it wasn’t, but you two made it sound mad easy, and you were married.”
The way her expression softens tells Nursey his mama is definitely zeroing in on what’s on his mind. But she answers his question anyway as she scrapes at the bits of ice cream melting at the edges. “It was very hard. But your dad and I knew we were done long before we could even say it aloud. So, by the time we signed the papers, it felt like we had enough closure, you know? Enough time to grieve it...And, of course, having you—” a grin splits her face as she touches the spoon to Nursey’s nose, and he yelps when he fails to dodge it — “in the middle of it all helped.”
Nursey glares at his mama as he wipes the ice cream off his face with a paper towel. He can’t hold it for long, though. He always plays disgusted when his mom talks about how infectious his mama’s laugh is, but she’s right. Nursey’s chuckling along with her in no time.
After her laugh whittles down and she promises not to instigate a food fight at three in the morning, she asks him, “Why? What’s on your mind?”
“Nothing.” He grabs the lid and twists it tightly onto the container. “Just curious."
“Uh huh,” she says as she rinses their spoons before leaving them in the sink for tomorrow. “Doesn’t have anything to do with you spending time with William?”
He freezes halfway into putting the almost-empty pint back into the freezer. Of course his dad told her where he was going tonight. “I really wish you and dad weren’t best friends.”
“I am not going to pry, but—”
“But you’re gonna anyway?” Nursey teases.
“But,” she repeats with emphasis, “promise me you’re being careful with whatever’s going on.”
“Yeah, mama,” he says, yawning. He doesn’t think there’s anything to be careful about, but he’s sleepy and doesn’t have the energy to unpack whatever that means. “I will.”
If Nursey’s being honest, all he had let himself hope for when he promised Dex he’d keep in touch and insisted they could be friends again was them being able to be active in the same group chat without it being weird. Maybe send each other memes and links to articles from time to time.
Not because Nursey didn’t mean it. It’s just that after the mess of a breakup they had — the lack of attempts to compromise on his part, the fights about whether or not to try long distance, all the texts he never answered after the split — it felt too good to be true.
But in the few days since they watched the Sharks game together, they haven’t stopped talking.
It really was just the memes and articles he expected at first. Then, Dex is sending him photos of the dalmatian he always sees on his morning commute. Which quickly turned to Nursey asking — and actually receiving — for updates of how work is going. Or Dex replying within seconds as Nursey rambles on about his plans with his moms for the day.
It isn't long until Dex is FaceTiming him to rant about trashy HGTV shows with hosts he hates or until Nursey is texting him live updates whenever he grabs a bite at places he missed while he was away.
Which makes it fair that it also isn’t long until Chowder is lecturing him on speaker as he tries to get some writing done.
“I don’t get what the problem is, C!” Nursey exclaims as he types away. “You’ve been wanting us to be friends again for, like, ever, man!”
“I didn’t say there was a problem!” Chowder retorted. “I was just making an observation. And, you know, popping in with some kind reminders based on that observation.”
“C, dude, you sound like someone who’s trying real hard to remember talking points from a conflict resolution seminar.”
“Haha, very funny. Not gonna take chirping from someone flirting with their ex in the group chat on the daily.”
Nursey groans. “I’m not flirting.”
“Flirting or not —”
“— I’m just saying I hope you two are being careful and don't do anything rash.”
Nursey sighs. “Yeah, yeah, I know.” He still thinks Chowder is overreacting a little, looking way too much into things. But he also knows how weird it must be for him to have two best friends who didn’t talk anymore one day and Nursey and Dex acting like the past few years didn’t happen the next. It's fair that he’s a little suspicious, even if he really doesn’t have any reason to.
He takes Chowder off speaker and brings the phone to his ear as he gets up from his desk and flops down onto his bed. “I’m honestly just really, really glad we’re friends again after all that shit you know? I get how it looks. But for real, it’s not like that.”
Nursey hears an unsure hum on the other side of the line. “Alright, alright, that’s fair...Not that it would be a completely bad thing for it to be, you know... like that. Just not, like, if you’re still not sure about coming back to New York after the residency and all.”
The thought of them getting back together just for Nursey to break them up again over the same problem makes Nursey wince. Not that it matters, of course. Because that’s not happening. “Yeah, I know, I know. But, really, man, we’re just trying to catch up as much as we can while I’m here.”
“Okay... I’m really glad you two are friends again, okay! I’m just. Making sure.”
“That we’re not being idiots?”
“You know it,” Chowder says.
“Did Dex get this lecture too?” Nursey asks, smiling at the ceiling as he pictures Chowder staring at their contact names on his phone as he tries to figure out who to interrogate first.
Chowder snorts. “Maybe.”
Nursey laughs. “Never change, C.”
i lend you my Netflix password again just so you can spend your friday night watching an entire season of a car restoration show? really?
“How about this one, Der?” Nursey’s mom says, making him look up from their bed where he’s switching between texting and watching Netflix. It’s been an hour since his moms dragged him to their room to help them pick outfits and they’re still not done. He’s not complaining, though. He somehow enjoys it as much as he did when he was a kid who was just happy to be included in this ritual.
“Oh, definitely that one,” Nursey says as he sees his mom step out of the bathroom in a deep purple dress he’s sure is new. “Maybe not with those earrings, though?”
His mom turns to the dresser, pulling her curls back to get a better look at the earrings. “Ugh, you’re right,” she mumbles before heading back into the bathroom where his mama is still changing.
“Of course I am,” Nursey says, eyes back on the screen.
I can see what you’re watching too, you know
Doubt your friday is any more eventful
You’re literally on your 7th episode of love is blind for the day
i need to know if mark really marries jessica okay
Nursey looks up, and this time it’s his mama holding up a pair of boots in one hand and a pair of dress shoes in the other.
“That one,” he says, pointing to the latter.
She drops the boots, using her free hand to squeeze his cheek. “Thank you, mijo.” His mama sits down at the edge of the bed to slip the shoes on just as his mom is stepping out in the same outfit but with gold hoops in her ears replacing the blue earrings she had on moments ago.
“You’re really staying in tonight, Der?” his mama asks, almost a pout on her face. “You’ve been hanging out with us and your dad all week, kid, go have fun!”
That’s not technically true, Nursey wants to correct. Except he knows that I just grabbed lunch with Dex yesterday isn’t the best argument to make in front of his nosy mothers. “I like hanging out with you.”
His mom grins. “That’s the right answer. We trained him well, Ximena.”
With a fond smile on her face, his mama rolls her eyes and turns to Nursey. “No, but really. Didn’t you say one of your writer friends from Samwell invited you to a party?”
Nursey makes a noncommittal noise. “I guess.”
“Ah, come on, I bet it’ll be fun to see everyone again,” his mama says.
He really isn't in a partying mood, but his mama is looking at him expectantly and he did tell a couple of his friends he’d try to make it. “Yeah, yeah, okay, I’ll go.”
His mom starts prattling on about making sure he doesn’t forget to eat something before drinking this time, and Nursey nods and chuckles out a few promises, but only really only half listening now. He opens his chat with Dex again and, before he can think too hard about why it’ll be easier to have him around, starts texting.
ok new plan!
have a lil faith, dexy
it’s just a party
that’s a yes
Where is it
“You better not ditch me until I’m drunk enough to talk to people, Nurse. I don’t know anyone here,” Dex mumbles as he leans against the counter of the already crowded kitchen.
They had just taken shots of tequila together but Nursey insisted on mixing drinks for them too once they saw how packed James' already huge loft apartment was. He knows they both need to calm their nerves a bit.
“That’s not true. You know James,” Nursey says, handing Dex a red solo cup. “And a few other people from Samwell will be here."
“Your English major friends, you mean.”
“Who we’ve also hung out with a ton when we — during your first year here,” Nursey points out, quickly recovering. “Come on, don’t be pissy. You agreed to come with me.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Dex says, eyes scanning the room. His gaze lands back on Nursey, who’s giving him a warning look. “I won't be pissy,” he promises.
“Good,” Nursey says as he takes a sip from his own cup and tries not to visibly blanch at the taste. He obviously fails, judging from the unimpressed look on Dex’s face.
“These taste gross, don’t they?” he asks, looking down at his own drink. “I told you to let me mix.”
“Yeah, well —” Through the arched entryway separating the kitchen and the living room, Nursey spots a few familiar faces passing by. A spark of anxiety starts to stir in his stomach at the thought of talking to friends he hasn’t seen or talked to in a while, but he takes another gulp of his drink and reminds himself that it will be nice to catch up with people, before turning to Dex. “I’m gonna say hi,” he says, nodding towards the living room.
Dex is frowning at his cup, clearly having just taken a sip of it. “Yeah, yeah. Just let me get a different drink.”
“Ouch,” Nursey says, watching in amusement as Dex walks over to the cooler to grab a beer. “It’s not that bad.”
After Dex takes a few swigs of his beer, Nursey leads him to the next room. The party is a lot rowdier than he expected it to be this early, so it takes him a few moments to find his friends in the crowd again, but he eventually spots them by the pool table.
Nursey grins, spreading his arms as he approaches him. “Hey, happy birthday!” he exclaims, pulling James into a half-hug — holding his drink away from his body to avoid spilling it — and patting him on the back.
“Thanks, man,” he says as they pull away. “Wow, it’s been a while.”
“Yeah, Der, we haven’t seen you in forever!” Luisa, who Nursey almost doesn’t recognize because her pink hair is gone, pipes up as she pulls Nursey into a hug as well.
Nursey laughs as he hugs back. “Sorry. Kinda hard to make an appearance from the other side of the country.”
She snorts. “Well, I’m glad you could make it, dude.”
Nursey greets the rest of them — none of them seem to have taken actual offense at him not keeping in touch as much since moving away, he realizes with a relief — with hugs and jokes, and before he can get caught up in questions, he places a hand on Dex’s back.
“You guys remember Will,” he says, avoiding looking any of them in the eye. He may not have been great at keeping in touch, but he definitely talked to them enough for them to know he and Dex aren’t together anymore. Nursey does not need to entertain any of the knowing looks on their faces right now.
“Of course we do,” James says, bumping fists with Dex. “Sup, Will?”
The tension Dex is holding in his shoulders is obvious, but he smiles anyway and nods. “I’m good. Happy birthday, James.”
The conversation picks up easier than Nursey expects and he settles into it pretty quickly. He tries to keep the attention away from himself, just happy to listen to them talk about their lives or to lead the conversation somewhere casual. And he does it pretty well because Dex gets more of their questions than he does.
Dex doesn’t seem to mind. His first bottle is empty in his hand, and he definitely doesn’t look tipsy, but he looks a lot more relaxed than he was half an hour ago. Nursey forgot how well Dex actually got along with his friends; it’s just that Dex was always freaking out about whether or not they liked him when they were dating.
It must be easier, Nursey thinks. There must be less pressure now that he’s not The Boyfriend. Just another one of Nursey’s friends.
Which is great.
Nursey watches Dex laugh as he tells a story all his friends are eagerly listening to, feeling his chest bloom with something warm. Nursey looks down at the new drink in his hand — Luisa had gotten it for him when she spotted his empty cup — and figures that these drinks were definitely stronger than he thought.
He takes a few gulps instead of slowing down anyway, letting himself bask in the ease of his friends’ company and the slow buzz that starts to take over him. By the time he can’t avoid being the one asked about jobs and plans, he feels a lot more relaxed. Dex looks at him with an encouraging smile, and he smiles back, grateful he dragged him to this party with him.
“Ah, yeah, I’m not really sure what I’m doing in the long-term,” he says as casually as he can, “but I got into this pretty sick residency back in California that I’ve been trying to get into since undergrad.”
“Oh, shit, that’s great, man!” James exclaims, patting Nursey on the back. “Which one is it?”
Nursey talks about the residency, feeling a little conscious. Getting into the specifics of what it entails makes the fear that he’s not good enough to actually thrive in the program start to seep in again. But as he focuses on his friends’ delighted faces and sincere questions, it becomes easier to fight it. He even gets through them asking about his luck with submitting his manuscript without dwelling on the panic in his chest.
Eventually, someone on the other side of the room — Nursey recognizes her as one of his roommates — starts calling for the birthday boy to do a keg stand.
James pulls a face at the request, but he puts his drink aside and motions to his friends that he’ll be there. “Jesus Christ, how old do they think I am?”
“Bro, you turned 26, not 60,” Nursey says, laughing as they wave him off to join his other friends.
Their little group breaks and spreads out, some of them following to watch James and others to find food or more drinks.
It leaves Nursey and Dex alone again in the corner, tucked away in their own little space.
“Easy,” Nursey says as cheers erupt around where James is successfully doing keg stand across the room.
“You’re telling me you can do a keg stand right now?” Dex mumbles. He downs the last of his second beer — Nursey isn’t even sure when he got a new drink — but keeps his eyes on Nursey in a challenging stare.
“Dex, I know I can,” Nursey replies.
“You couldn’t even do one in college.”
“That is not true, Poindexter.”
“Without accidentally kicking a sorority girl in the face,” Dex amends, with a satisfied look on his face.
“That was one time!”
Nursey told himself that he’d only stay for a couple hours at most, but having Dex by his side makes it easier. Maybe staying a little longer won’t be so bad.
As they keep to themselves for a bit, arguing about whose memory of all those kegsters is more reliable as they throw drunk story after drunk story in each other’s faces, the party gets rowdier around them. He finds himself inching closer and closer to Dex so that they can hear each other over the music blasting at a volume that makes it obvious that James either barely has neighbors on this floor or they just don’t care.
By the time their drinks are gone again, empty cup and bottle abandoned on the fireplace mantel next to them, they’re almost chest to chest and ducking their heads closer to each other every time they talk. It kind of makes Nursey dizzy how close Dex is to him in this dark corner as he tells Nursey another story — they have so many stories to tell each other, so much time to catch up with — but Dex doesn’t seem to mind. Nursey knows that they definitely wouldn’t be standing this close if they were sober, but that doesn’t matter now with Dex’s face already starting to redden and Nursey’s mind starting to feel cloudy.
“Oh, she was furious with me,” Dex says with a little laugh as he recounts the time Lardo visited New York for a workshop she got into. Apparently, Dex had gotten them lost on her last night there with both of their phones dead.
“Man, you’re so fucking stubborn about asking for directions, I’d be pissed too!” Nursey says. “Also, you’ve been living here for over a year at that point.”
He shrugs. “Guess you did a shit job of showing me around.”
Nursey snorts. “Oh, fuck you.”
The pulsing lights dance across Dex’s smiling face, and it takes everything in Nursey to not dwell on how pretty he is. It’s not like he’s forgotten. But knowing it and being close enough that they brush each other’s arms with each gesture, close enough that Nursey can’t escape the thoughts of how gorgeous he is and how it definitely still has the same effect on him that it had years ago, are two completely different things.
It doesn’t have to mean anything. It’s not his fault his ex is hot and barely inches away from him.
Though it is his fault that he’s buzzed right now and thinking about how nice Dex’s lips look, all shiny from the booze he’s drunk so far. But it’s fine.
“Sorry, what?” Nursey snaps out of it to see that Dex’s hand is on his shoulder.
“I said your friends are calling you,” he says. There’s an amused look on Dex's face that tells Nursey he must've caught him staring.
Cheeks burning, Nursey cranes his neck and gives himself a second to focus until he spots his friends.
They’re holding up red solo cups and mouthing something that takes Nursey a while to understand, but he gets it eventually.
Nursey turns to Dex. “Want me to beat you at flip cup for, like, the bajillionth time in your life?”
Dex scoffs and grins at the challenge before letting Nursey take his hand and lead him to his friends.
Nursey’s team does win. Although, in Dex’s defense, he would’ve had a shot at beating them if the drink didn’t catch him off guard before he could regain enough composure to chug it. He expected it to be beer and not, in his words, jungle juice that tastes like ass.
“Excuses,” Nursey says in a sing-song voice as he sits on the arm of a couch, looking up at Dex.
“Your friends are worse than you at mixing drinks,” Dex says with an eye roll as he downs the drink he mixed himself afterward.
Nursey reaches up to touch Dex’s elbow. “Woah, slow down there,” he says with a little laugh.
When Dex lowers his cup again, it’s empty and Nursey raises his eyebrows at him.
“You said I should catch up with you,” Dex says, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
Nursey shakes his head and chuckles. “That I did.”
The rest of their night goes like that. They let themselves be pulled into different groups, although mostly Nursey’s friends, and get roped into one activity or the other. There are drinking games and drunken debates and calls to help finish up the huge birthday cake in the kitchen; Nursey starts to lose count of all the people he’s introduced himself to.
Neither of them mind; they end up having a good time and laughing and filming short videos of each other — from Nursey somehow losing drunk Jenga on his third turn to Dex crushing everyone at a chugging contest — to send to the SMH chat. But they always find their way back to whatever space they can carve out for just the two of them in between so that they can breathe.
Or that’s what Nursey tells himself at first. Now that he’s a lot more drunk, he can admit that talking to Dex is just fun and easy to gravitate towards after leaving a group, especially when Dex is flushed and has enough booze in his system that he can’t stop smiling at everything Nursey says.
“You’re drunk,” Nursey says after Dex finishes a story that Nursey barely understood because of how much he was laughing.
“You’re one to talk,” Dex quips. His eyes drop down to Nursey’s hand. “You’ve been trying to unlock your phone for the past five minutes. It’s upside down, genius.”
Nursey looks down at his phone and huffs in amusement when he sees that Dex is right. “Fine, we’re both drunk,” he concedes. “Maybe we should stop.”
Dex squints at him, blinks a few times like he’s assessing how drunk he’s feeling, and then nods. “Okay. Yes.”
Nursey laughs. “Stay here, I’ll get us water.”
He can feel himself sway a little as he makes his way to the kitchen. His head is fuzzy, and he can feel the music thrum like it's playing underneath his skin. But he feels nice and warm and is actually having a good time, so he doesn’t mind as much. As long as he switches to water before he gets I need to start climbing things drunk or I have to throw up right at this second drunk, he figures he’ll be fine.
After fishing out two bottles of water from a cooler, he finishes one in a few gulps, not realizing how dehydrated he was. He opens one more and drinks half of it too before getting another bottle to bring back to Dex.
When he’s back in the living room, his eyes dart to the spot where he left Dex and he feels his skin go cold.
Some dude — Nursey recognizes him as one of James’ friends who gave him and Dex shots when they first arrived, but he can’t remember his name — is talking to Dex and obviously flirting. His hand keeps making its way to touch Dex on the arm, laughing way too hard and leaning way too close for Nursey’s comfort.
Nursey feels stuck where he’s standing like there’s cement covering his feet and drying up faster the longer he watches them. He wants to be cool about this, regardless of the agitation he can feel starting to creep up on him. He should go and hang out with someone else for a bit.
Right when Nursey is about to turn around and send Dex a teasing congratulatory text on wheeling a guy, Dex’s gaze meets his. There's a smile plastered on his face as he continues to nod at what the other guy — Nate? Nolan? Whatever — is saying, but it looks like it’s frozen on his face. His eyes widen by just the tiniest fraction when they find Nursey. And Nursey knows that look.
He quickly crosses the room, stumbling through the crowd. When he gets to Dex, there’s zero hesitation when he says, “Hey baby, here you go,” as he pushes past the guy and wraps an arm around Dex’s waist.
There’s a startled look on Dex’s face for a second there, but he quickly recovers, albeit with an obvious flush creeping up his cheeks. “Oh, thanks, babe,” he says smoothly as he grabs the bottled water from Nursey’s hand.
Nursey’s head is tipped towards Dex as he pointedly ignores the guy for a few more seconds before he hears him clear his throat. He smiles as he straightens and turns to him. “Oh, hey, I’m Derek.”
“Yeah, yeah, we met earlier. I’m…” his eyes flit to Dex and back to Nursey, clearly caught off guard. “I should be looking for my friends.”
Dex smiles at him apologetically, but Nursey feels his hand on his back. “Alright, man. Have fun,” Dex says, raising his hand in a goodbye as the guy backs away.
When he’s out of sight, Nursey turns to Dex again. “Oh, dude def thought he could wheel you.”
Dex chuckles, ducking his head with a shy smile. “Well, he thought wrong.” He opens the bottle of water and starts drinking.
“You could’ve just said no.”
Dex shrugs as he empties the bottle before his lips pop off it, all shiny and wet. Nursey lets himself stare a little before dragging his eyes back up. “My brain is not working right now. Too drunk to even process half the shit he was saying.”
Nursey realizes he’s still draped all over Dex. It’s weird how natural it still feels, to fit at his side like this. He tries not to make a big deal of it and just laughs at what Dex said as he slides his arm off and backs aways a little.
The lack of contact suddenly feels like a rush of cold, and the urge to wrap himself around Dex comes again. But that’s not something they do anymore. And it’s not like Nursey minds. He just — he downs the rest of his own water bottle and crumples it in his hand — he’s just drunk .
Before Dex can say anything about it, he perks up and grabs his wrist, pulling him towards the more crowded center of the huge living room where people are dancing. “Then let’s sweat it out.”
“That’s not how it works!” Dex calls over the noise, but it doesn’t matter. Nursey’s already got him to the middle of the room, where a few of his friends all cheer as they join them.
A Britney song is playing, and it’s enough for Nursey to shake off the uneasy feeling sitting in his chest. He starts singing along to the lyrics of Baby One More Time as he dances with his friends.
After a couple verses, he turns and finds Dex awkwardly trying to figure what to do with his body, mostly just nodding along to the song and attempting to sway with the melody. He knows that if Dex weren’t drunk, he wouldn’t be moving at all.
Nursey’s chest fills with warmth, bubbling over into a fond laugh.
Dex glares at him.
“No, no, I’m not making fun!” Nursey says, raising his hands. “I forgot how stiff you are when you try to dance.”
Dex’s moves — if he can call them that — start to slow. “Oh, yeah, cause that’s not making fun.”
“Hey, no, c’mere.” Nursey shakes his head and gets closer to Dex, ignoring his friends now. He places his hands on Dex’s hips. “Loosen up.”
Dex looks Nursey in the eye, and Nursey feels like maybe he let the booze get to him and overstepped. He’s about to apologize and let go when Dex fondly rolls his eyes before letting Nursey lead his hips.
Nursey grins. “See.”
“See what. You know I can’t dance.”
“Not true, you got some pretty good white boy moves in you once you relax,” Nursey leans in to say as everyone’s singing gets louder at the last chorus. “So, relax.”
Right as he says it, the song is over and a new one starts. Nursey’s eyes light up as soon as he recognizes it.
“Okay, you have to dance to Rihanna,” Nursey yells as Rude Boy starts.
Dex flinches at the volume of Nursey’s voice and laughs. “I’m trying!” he whines, but Nursey feels Dex finally loosen up, swaying his body in time with the music.
“No, that’s better already,” Nursey mumbles, eyes dropping to Dex’s hips and slowly drawing up his torso and then his face, just a couple inches away from his. His heart starts to thud like it's part of the bass of the song. It’s crowded around them as more people join in; it’s not like there’s much space to move away anyway, right?
So, Nursey stays where he is, chest and hips brushing against Dex’s every few seconds as they dance. Dex doesn’t seem to mind. Doesn’t even mention that Nursey’s hands are still on him.
His head is fuzzy from the booze and the music thudding in his ears, and all he can focus on is Dex looking at him with a lazy smile, obviously as hammered as Nursey is. His eyes are dazed but piercing through that lidded stare, and Nursey feels himself grow hot.
They don’t exchange any more words as the song goes on; they just dance and get lost in the beat together, eyes locked in a way that makes Nursey feel impatient for something he can’t put his finger on. He’s buzzing with all this energy, and Dex’s grin as he looks at Nursey like that is fuelling it in a way that gets him way too flustered for his own good.
Before he can stop himself, he lifts a hand and puts it at the back of Dex’s neck as he leans into his ear and says, “Knew I remembered right. Moves .”
Dex’s low chuckle in his ear as he places a hand on Nursey’s waist to steady himself goes straight to the pit of Nursey’s stomach. “You’re just drunk.”
Nursey trails hands down Dex’s arms as they continue to dance. God, these arms. “Maybe.”
He pulls back just enough to see the intent look on Dex’s face. “Dex…”
Dex smiles. “Mmyeah?”
Before Nursey can even take a second to remember what he was about to say, the song fades into a new one. The crowd around them starts jumping up and down as they sing along, and that’s enough to break the trance.
Dex blinks a few times like he’s just remembered where he is. He looks around before turning to Nursey again.
Before he can even say anything, Nursey nods and says, “Want to call it a night?”
A tired, thankful smile spreads across Dex’s face.
Nursey and Dex push past the smattering of people loitering by the apartment door in the hallway, an overflow of the party’s crowd.
When they’re further down the corridor where the music sounds more distant behind them, Nursey takes his phone out. He’s about to say something about getting a ride because he doesn’t think he’s good to walk when he feels the world sway around him, the walls of the hallway shifting around him in a way they shouldn’t be.
Quick to move, Dex is in front of him, hand on his waist and the other on his upper arm. “Woah there.”
Nursey blinks hard. Once, twice, then he registers he’s hunched over, looking down at Dex’s shoes. He laughs as he straightens, putting his hands on Dex’s chest to steady himself. “Thanks, Dexy,” he mumbles.
Dex’s furrowed brows soften into an amused expression. “Just returning the favor. You saved me back there.”
“Yeah…” Then it clicks that he hasn’t even checked in on him about it yet. They had just laughed it off. “You good?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Dex says with a one-shoulder shrug. “He wasn’t like...pushy or anything. He just, uh,” his eyes flicker downward for a second, and Nursey swears Dex was looking at his mouth. “He just wasn’t my type.”
Nursey glances down to where Dex is still holding onto him and then back to Dex’s eyes. He steps closer, the buzz he can feel throughout his body feeding off the way the air is charged with something too busy and maddening as if the energy he was sure they left on the dance floor followed them out.
“Yeah? What’s your type?” he asks before he can stop himself, feeling brave.
Dex stares at him like he’s in a daze, his eyes slowly moving up and down, mapping Nursey’s face. Nursey feels his whole body heat up underneath his gaze.
“I think you have a pretty good idea of what my type is, Nurse,” he sighs out like it took everything in him not to let it slip.
Nursey smirks. His hands on Dex’s chest move on their own, thumbs idly grazing at the fabric. “Guess so.”
There's a glint in Dex’s eye as he sucks a breath through his teeth and shakes his head slowly like he can’t believe himself right now. “God…”
Nursey can feel Dex's hand tighten around his waist. “What?”
“‘Bout to do something stupid,” he mumbles, eyes fixed on Nursey.
It’s dizzying, really. From the alcohol in his system to how ridiculously close Dex is to him now. So much so that he doesn’t have the energy — or desire — to linger on the fact that this is a very bad idea. He can feel his head throb in time with the music in the distance, his surroundings tilting, and the only stable thing is the way Dex feels underneath his hands.
“I was counting on it.”
Nursey barely gets the words out when he feels the wall they stumble against at his back, Dex’s forearm braced on it and his other still holding on Nursey’s waist. There’s only enough time to notice the relieved breath Dex lets out before his mouth is on his and Nursey’s eyes flutter to a close.
A pleased hum escapes Nursey immediately like his body is telling him that this is what it’s been waiting for, and his hands are now fistfuls of Dex’s jacket. Dex’s lips are a little chapped and he’s kissing way harder than he needs to, but all it does is remind Nursey how much he loved the intoxicating roughness of William Poindexter.
He wraps his arms around Dex’s neck, deepening the kiss like he’d die on the spot if he doesn’t, eliciting a low whine from Dex that sets Nursey’s skin on fire. Dex tips his head back a little, but Nursey only manages to whisper out a fuck, Dex between kisses instead of taking a breath before their lips are colliding again.
Nursey’s hands trail down until his fingers hook around Dex’s belt loops, and he pulls. And he doesn’t know what else he was expecting as their hips fit against each other, but he whimpers into the kiss as Dex’s thigh pushes between Nursey’s legs that fall open easily.
Then, Dex’s lips are gone. But before Nursey can open his eyes and complain, there’s a wet mouth on his jaw, kissing and sucking trail down his neck, and a hand slipping under his shirt, and just like that, Nursey’s entire body shifts into a level of urgency he can’t take.
As he tilts his head to give Dex better access, his hips involuntarily buck forward against Dex’s thigh. The desperate whine that rips from his throat is almost embarrassing but Nursey’s too drunk, pent up, and delirious from the Dex of it all to care.
“So. Should we — ah, Jesus, Dex,” he interrupts himself as he feels Dex whimper against his skin, hips rolling forward against Nursey. “Should we get a ride?” he tries again, breathless and desperate and wanting.
“Yeah, yeah, fuck,” Dex babbles as he runs his palm against Nursey’s abs, gaze pulling up to look him in the eye. “Yeah,” he says one more time, before leaning in, kissing Nursey again.