Dex had never been in this position in his whole life. He’d never had time for thinking about romance and love. He was too damn busy trying to make sure everything got done around the house, that his little brothers and sisters were staying out of trouble, and that he himself could keep his grades up.
He’d had friends, and crushes, and not-crushes where he refused to admit that his feelings for a friend-who-was-a-guy bore a startling resemblance to a crush-on-a-girl; but that was NOT something that would fly in his small town, and he had no idea what his family would say if he was to admit to liking guys as well as girls. He *thought* his family would mostly be okay with things, but it felt like a dangerous thing to admit.
So he hid those feelings. He hid them really well, even from himself. It was hard. It made him angry and sarcastic, bottling up things he needed and wanted … but in life, SO many things just weren’t FAIR that he could be angry at THOSE things and vent out some of the other things that he was mad about all the time.
Dex got in a lot of fights at school.
He was a good student. He loved math and science and computers, and he knew a lot about marine biology and sailing and oceanography from all his lobster-boat family. His uncles and his parents were always discussing the weather and the migration patterns, the tells that would make a fishing voyage profitable or … not. These were just things he knew from having lived them, no big deal.
Same for how he could fix things. They always had to fix things around his house, around the boats. And his dad and his uncles taught him a lot of troubleshooting and repair, the same way his mom and his aunts taught him how to do repairs in other ways, to avoid getting teased at school. Do this to make the last season’s jeans and shirts look more like this season’s. To fix that tear, so the pants will last just a little longer. To keep your trainers clean and nice for school (they were always kept separate from his boat shoes). To shop for bargains and know how to stretch meals so they fed the whole family better, so nobody went to bed hungry.
But Dex was always a little awkward with his friends and classmates. He didn’t feel like he was clever with words, or easygoing, or the kind of boy other people swarmed around or picked first for kickball or anything like that. He got along fine, and he had some close friends and a good amount of people who he liked and who liked him… but there was always an edgy uneasiness in his gut, fear that the wrong someone would find out that he liked them… in the wrong way.
Just before graduating high school, Dex showed up for the hockey tour at Samwell, where he met a lot of potential freshmen that he might be playing with next year. Including a ridiculously enthusiastic guy from California and a dark and amused eighteen year old with five o’clock shadow. They were so different, and both were so interesting in their different ways…
The three of them, Nursey, Dex, and Chowder, swiftly became friends as their first year in college began. They played hockey, they studied, they got drunk, they yelled at video games, they ate Bitty’s amazing cooking. They laughed with Shitty, argued with Ransom and Holster. They listened to Lardo when she bossed them. They wondered, quietly, about Jack. And then they got to wonder more loudly, WITH Jack when all four of them were tied up together for Hazeapalooza.
They were three bros together: always in each others space, frequently in each other’s faces, sometimes fighting, sometimes play wrestling or pranking. Dex thought he might be having the best year of his life, bar none. His classes were going well. Even when he struggled to keep his grades up, his friends and teammates had his back. He knew Nursey, even Nursey, who kept arguing with him, inexplicably poking and niggling at him... would have his back against anyone ELSE who’d try to pick a fight or check him into the boards on the ice.
Dex felt… he felt warm. He felt safe. These wacky, chaotic people were around him all the time, throwing him into hugs, piling on in a bed or on the Green Couch of Awesome so everyone could watch a show… everyone sharing food, clothes, booze. Getting through good times and bad, just like a family does.
But as the winter started to give way to spring, Dex slowly came to realize that Chowder and Nursey: they were special. Special, and not just because they were his bros, his hockey bros, his teammates, his friends.
They were special because each of them had a piece of his heart, and he didn’t know at what point, exactly, he had given those pieces away. He could pinpoint certain moments, like when Chowder’s anxious attempts to help him and Nursey get along became adorable rather than annoying, or when Nursey and he finally sat down and had a real TALK about what was bothering each of them, rather than yelling and fighting. Both of them promised to do their best to really listen, to try to do better and not to escalate the fight just because it was easy.
That was scary enough. Being vulnerable with his bro, his teammate, went against a lifetime’s worth of bottling shit up, and let’s be honest, he recognized that he was bottling his FEELINGS up, that he was feeling shame about liking someone for the wrong reasons, in the wrong way, and bottling THAT up.
But here Dex was, here at Samwell, where people actually TALK about such things, and bad things don’t happen in the same way that he fears they will. Chowder’s just so goofy and lovable, like a labrador, and Nursey’s so cuddly and sweet like a cat, and the first time the three of them all fall asleep on Green Couch of Awesome together, Dex thinks his heart will break open from all the feelings he’s actually for the first time ALLOWING himself to feel rather than trying to deny them and shove them all into the bottle.
These are his guys. They all have each other’s backs.
And he trusts them.
But tonight he’s going to do possibly the scariest thing he’s ever done. This is tons scarier than leaving himself open to Nursey, trying to not raise his defenses, trying not to fight.
Tonight he’s going to have Nursey - Derek, and Chowder - Chris, over … the three of them are going to have pizza together, and talk. And Dex is going to say the thing that’s been running through his head for weeks: “I think I’m in love with you and I’m terrified.”
Then... well, then he’ll find out what comes after. He swallows nervously and finishes tidying up his room so there’s space and pillows for all of them to sit, and he hopes … He just HOPES, is all.