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They say that he’s a player.

That he’s easy with his affection and difficult with his heart and that his body is an instrument that too many have played.

(And really, it’s nothing that he’s not used to, being the target of rumor and whispers and falsehoods. It’s something that’s followed him from homeschooling to Andover to Samwell... because boys that look like him rarely attract anything but trouble.)

(So really, when he learns that the latest rumors have him being loose and easy and too attractive to function? When it doesn’t sting as much as the rumors that he’s a charity case - that he’s Affirmative Action in action - that people like him can’t be trusted to be alone with anything… money or booze or women… well, at that point he’s happy for the change in pace.)

(It’s chill.)

So, yeah.

They say that Derek Nurse is a sex god.

They say that he gets around.

And for the most part it’s chill, because there’s something empowering about being an object of lust, and there’s something delicious about knowing that eyes are on him when he’s dancing (because they always want to know who he’s going home with - because they say that he never goes home alone), and for the most part it’s a manageable persona.

Until something like this happens.

Something like Dex spread out on his too-narrow bed, buttons undone and hair tousled in a way that shouldn’t be attractive, looking up at Derek like he’s looking to be taught.

“I don’t know how this works,” Dex blurts, the words tripping from his lips like they’re fighting to get out. “I’ve never- I haven’t done this before… but, I think it would mean something with you. I just… need you to show me what to do. I don’t want to be bad.”

It’s probably the most honest, tender thing that Dex has ever said to him, and from the way that his skin flushes deeper (all the way down his chest, like the fucking overachiever he is) it’s pretty clear that Dex knows it too. This whole thing… it’s kind of crazy. Because yesterday they were bickering over what constitutes a fine, and now they’re half-dressed and talking, and Dex’s lips are so, so pink, and Dex wants to know how to not be bad.

The whole thing makes Derek want to scream.

“You’re not gonna be bad, Poindexter. You just need to chill… we’ll feel it out as we go.”

“No. Don’t do that. Do not tell me to chill if we’re having sex, because I’m not going in blind. I can’t. I’m not like you, Nurse. Not with this.”

Something in Derek’s chest tightens at that. Because even though he knows the rumors, and even though he’s fed into them from time to time… it still hurts to know that Dex thinks of him like that.

“Yeah, ‘cause I’m a big fuckin’ whore, right?” The words taste bitter on Derek’s tongue, though that could just be the situation itself, and god, he just doesn’t want to be here anymore. Just looking at Dex hurts…

So he doesn’t.

He looks everywhere else he can - at the walls, out the window, at the sheets spread wrinkled on the bed.

“I didn’t say that, Nurse. I would never say that, Jesus Christ. I just- I’m not chill like you, and I can’t go with the flow. That’s not who I am. But, like… I want to be good. For you, y’know? I don’t want to be a disappointment.”

When Derek drags his line of sight back to where Dex is sitting, and god.

Sometimes he’s so beautiful that it hurts. This is one of those times, even now with tension outlining every limb as Dex rakes his fingers through his hair, lips clenched small and tight as he tries to keep himself together. And, look.

The fact that Derek knows what Dex looks like when he’s trying to keep himself together? It says a lot… it speaks of trust and friendship and to the ridiculous amount of time that Derek’s spent watching Dex from the corner of his eye.

It kind of puts everything into perspective, because if there was anyone that Derek would want to drop the charade for, it would be Dex. And out of all of his friends, Dex is probably the only one who wouldn’t handle him with kid gloves afterwards. For all of the baggage and bullshit in their past, Dex is the only one that Derek can’t imagine a future without…

“You’re not,” he sighs, heavy and awkward. “Look, you’re not the one that’s going to be a disappointment.”

Dex raises an eyebrow at that, a silent encouragement for Derek to use his words. It’s enough to have Derek huffing out a laugh, because it’s kind of them. Derek’s words coming easy until he needs them, and Dex pulling them out and piecing them together like a puzzle or a broken glass or a particularly baffling poem.

I’m the fucking disappointment, Dex. Like, I’ve had sex with all of two people, and it was only penetrative with one of them, and I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to make it good for you any more than I knew how to make it good for them, and they didn’t stick around long enough for me to give them a questionnaire, y’know?”

“But…” there’s a question there, but nothing else comes out from Dex’s mouth.

“It’s all bullshit. The hookups, and the rumors, and everything else. All of it is just… it’s a misunderstanding that I fed into. And I’m sorry. For lying.”

“You didn’t lie, you fuckin’ goober. Jesus, don’t apologize to me for lying. It’s not like I ever asked. It never even came up before this. I mean, shit. I’m sorry for just assuming that the rumors were true. Fuck.”

Dex… he looks livid, but it’s not the anger that usually flows so freely from him - quick to rise and quick to be soothed (and more often than not aimed at Derek). No, this is a quiet anger. A silent simmering guilt, and Derek hates that he knows what Dex looks like when he’s beating himself up over something. He fucking hates it. And, honestly, there’s nothing more that Derek wants than to fix it, but then Dex is reaching out, and Dex is taking his hands in his (soft despite his callouses, as if Derek was something tender to be held), and the anger is draining out of Dex’s face as easy as anything.

“I like you,” Dex says, sweet and earnest and too much for Derek’s heart to handle. He takes a deep breath before picking back up. “More than like, really, and that has nothing to do with how many people you’ve been with.”

“Not with a face like this, right?” Derek laughs, even as his chest gets tight just from the look that Dex sends him in response.

(And god, it’s a tender look.)

“Shut the fuck up, Nursey. God, I’m trying to- just shut up, okay? I like your everything. I like the way that you make me feel safe, and I like the way that you drive me crazy, and I like the way that you’re one of my best friends.” His fingers tighten for a moment, not hard enough to hurt but tight enough to have Derek squeezing back. “You’re probably the hottest person I’ve ever seen, but you’re also beautiful, and funny, and smart as hell, and you don’t take shit from anyone. You’re my favorite, Nurse.”

“Your favorite what?” It’s a breathy little slip of a question, and the second it comes out of Derek’s mouth he wants to take it back. Because it leaves him feeling exposed. And small. But then Dex is pulling him closer, and the last thing on Derek’s mind is regret.

“You’re my favorite everything.”

And that?

It’s just not fair.

(Because who the hell gave him the right to be so smooth? Or earnest? Or sweet?)

“What the fuck, Dex?” Derek breathes before pressing closer, letting go of Dex’s hands in order to cup his face, leaning in until their breath mingles and their eyes cross. “What the actual fuck?”

And Dex...

Well, he just laughs, and just like that the scene’s been reset. Because he’s gorgeous when he laughs, and because it makes Derek more than a little weak. And maybe that’s how this whole thing started - the two of them sprawled on Derek’s bed, chirping each other to the gods, high on laughter and drunk on chemistry.

Dex laughs, and Derek…

He just has to kiss him. So he does. And it’s gentle, and stunning, and perfect. And, look... it’s kind of everything, because even though it’s not the first time that they’ve kissed, it is the first time that they’ve been on the same page.

Because Dex?

He’s Derek’s favorite too, and for the first time, the pressure that Derek’s been carrying around with him is gone.

Because Dex knows, and Dex doesn’t care that he’s not some Lothario. And if Derek’s fingers shake a little when they stroke across cheekbones and eyebrows and the long line of Dex’s neck… well, it’s okay. Dex moans into the kiss as he pulls Derek closer, and it’s okay that Derek’s out of his depth, because his hands aren’t the only ones that are shaking.