Dex’s face is entirely red when Nursey walks into the Haus. There’s nothing too odd about that in itself—but Nursey still has to do a double-take, because in his experience when Dex is red it’s because he’s angry, and that just doesn’t jive with the bashful smile he’s wearing now. He and Chowder are crowded together on the green couch, looking at some piece of paper in Dex’s hands, and Chowder is grinning like he wants to show off every last bracket of his braces.
Nursey does the only reasonable thing and flops onto the couch next to Dex.
“Yo, what are we looking at?”
“None of your business,” Dex snaps—and there’s the expression that usually goes with his red face. Nursey gets a brief impression of tight, angular handwriting before Dex crams the paper into his pocket.
“Chill, Dex, I’m not gonna read your love letter if you don’t want me to,” Nursey says with a shit-eating grin—except Dex immediately averts his eyes. “Oh shit, is it actually a love letter?”
“It’s definitely a love letter,” Chowder says, over Dex’s protests.
Dex buries his face in his hands. “I hate you, Chow.”
“Okay, but you can’t think you’re getting out of giving me deets,” Nursey decides, elbowing Dex in the ribs. “Who’s it from? Where’d you meet her? Do you like her like her?”
Dex shoves him off. “What is this, third grade?”
“C’mon man, don’t leave me hanging!”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“It was a girl in our CS class!” Chowder exclaims, and Dex turns to look at him in utter betrayal. “But that’s all I’m saying. The rest is up to Dex.”
“Can you just leave it, Nursey?”
As much as he loves to needle Dex, Nursey knows how to respect boundaries. There’s something earnest and a little desperate in Dex’s request, and he knows this isn’t the time to push. “That’s chill. Either of you up for a game of Mario Kart?”
And that should be the end of it.
It’s not the end of it.
Nursey just can’t get that letter out of his mind. He wonders if CS girl is any good with words, or if she favors the painfully candid expression of emotion school of writing. He hopes for Dex’s sake that it’s the former option—not to be weird about it or anything, but there’s a lot about Dex that deserves fucking poetry. Nursey is all in favor of Dex having someone in his life who’ll tell him how awesome he is (and maybe having a girlfriend will help him chill the fuck out) but at the same time, his D-partner deserves nothing but the best.
He catches glimpses of the letter at the weirdest moments too, which does nothing to help him forget about it.
Dex worries it between two fingers in the locker room before a game, and Nursey wonders if it has anything in it about Dex’s hands. How can it, if CS girl has never seen his precision and power with a hockey stick or his competent steadiness fixing the Haus dryer?
It turns up among Dex’s papers when they’re studying at the library, and it occurs to Nursey that CS girl has probably only seen Dex at his calmest and most quiet in class. There’s no way she could wax rhapsodic about the ignition of Dex’s temper, or the blinding elation in his eyes after a difficult win, or the way he snorts a little when he’s laughing too hard.
A corner of it sticks out from Dex’s back pocket when they’re at breakfast, and Nursey ponders whether CS girl knows to appreciate how Dex will read op-eds with you at breakfast just so you can debate them, how he’ll chew out an opposing defenseman on your behalf even though you just had a heated shouting match on the bus to the game, how his weird obsession with making sure everything is precise and organized makes him a surprisingly good baker.
It’s when he catches Dex sitting on a bench on the quad, letter in hand, that all of Nursey’s wondering overflows. He was going to stop by the Haus since he’s done with class for the day, but his feet take him over to Dex instead and the words are out of his mouth before he can stop them.
“So when are you two going out?”
“What?” Dex jumps as though he didn’t realize anyone was there, and reflexively shoves the letter in his pocket.
Nursey gestures vaguely at him. “The chick who wrote you that love letter. I know you’ve been carrying it around all week. Must be pretty serious.”
Dex’s gaze is flat and unimpressed. “I’m not asking her out.”
“Dude. It’s not cool to leave her hanging like that. Just ask and get it over with.”
“I said I’m not asking her Nurse, can you let it go?”
“Chill,” Nursey says, “it’s just that it doesn’t make much sense to carry the letter around with you if you’re not going to do anything about it.”
“Oh my God,” Dex exclaims, standing abruptly. “This is none of your business.”
Just to prove how chill he’s being about this whole thing, Nursey makes a conscious effort to relax his shoulders. There’s no reason for him to be un-chill about this. “Hey, I’m just trying to understand where you’re coming from. You really need that much of an ego boost with you all the time?”
An inhuman noise of frustration escapes Dex’s mouth like steam leaving a kettle, and he runs his hands through his hair. “You know what, just—you don’t know what you’re talking about so just leave it.”
Nursey does not just fucking leave it. “Seems to me it’s gotta be pretty damn romantic if you keep reading it over like that. Maybe I should look it over for you, make sure she’s not feeding you a bunch of clichés.”
Dex’s face is going red, and out of nowhere Nursey realizes how much he needs to read this letter. Or maybe not out of nowhere, because Dex has been flaunting this secret in his face for the entire week and how is he not supposed to be wildly curious about it? And of course there’s always the inordinate amount of glee he gets from winding Dex up.
So he does the only logical thing and lunges for the piece of paper sticking out of Dex’s back pocket.
“What the fuck, get off me!” Dex shouts, fending Nursey off. Not to be deterred, Nursey tries going the other direction.
“Does she compare thee to a summer’s day, Dexy?” He asks as they scuffle. “Does she call your freckles constellations?”
Just then Dex manages an elbow to Nursey’s gut that knocks him off balance, and he lands on his ass with a heavy thud. Dex’s face is still red, but this isn’t the anger that Nursey was expecting. His expression twists into something painful that Nursey can’t identify.
“If it’s that fucking important to you, fine. Go ahead and read it. Just—I hope you’re happy.” He crumples the letter into a tight ball and throws it to where Nursey is sitting stunned on the ground. The paper lands just a little out of reach, and by the time Nursey has grabbed it, Dex is already walking away, back stiff and fists clenched.
Briefly, Nursey considers going after him – but when Dex is like this, it’s safer for everyone to give him some space. He weighs the wadded up ball of paper in his hand for a second, considering his options. It would probably be the respectful thing to do to return it to Dex unread, but. But he’s been dying to know what the big deal is with this thing for days on end, and Dex had given it to him after all, and--
And while he was thinking over his moral dilemma, his hands had flattened the paper out of their own accord, and the first thing he sees on the page is the word Nursey.
His stomach sinks.
Most of the letter is illegible, with strikethroughs and bits scribbled out, but even so it’s easy to discern that all of it is in Dex’s neat, angular handwriting. Under the lines of ink he can make out a few phrases here and there: your eyes are greener than the stupid leaves that always end up in your hair and when we argue I feel alive and if I didn’t love [blotch] it so much I’d hate it and your voice is so [illegible] when you read your poetry.
At the very bottom of the page, there are two sentences that aren’t crossed out. They read: This is stupid, I’m no good at this poetic romantic crap. I’ll just tell you to your face.
It’s possible that Nursey has miscalculated.
He springs to his feet, miraculously not tripping over them, and runs in the direction of the Haus. It turns out that Dex is only a couple blocks ahead of him—he doesn’t turn around when Nursey shouts his name, so Nursey puts on a burst of speed to catch up.
“Dex,” he begins, panting after his sprint. Dex is avoiding his gaze like it’s his job, but Nursey catches his breath and pushes forward. “So when C said it was a girl from your class—”
“He was covering my ass, yeah,” Dex mumbles, staring fixedly at a street sign. They walk in silence for half a block before it gets to be too much for Nursey.
“Your freckles aren’t constellations.”
This statement is apparently baffling enough to get Dex to look at him. “What?”
“I was getting pissed at the idea of some random girl writing you a letter because, like, she wouldn’t know that your freckles aren’t constellations, right? They’re red pepper flakes when you’re angry, or sparks stuck under your skin when you’re excited, or autumn leaves when you chill out for a change. But I kept seeing you with that letter and thinking that you deserved somebody who’d know all that, and it kind of just occurred to me that maybe that somebody is me.”
Dex’s face is stoplight red, so Nursey stops walking. Thankfully Dex stops too.
“I—” he begins, and cuts himself off. “You really—” Dex makes an aggravated noise and stares directly into Nursey’s eyes. “I’m no good at words—”
“I dunno, what I could read wasn’t that bad.”
“Oh my God,” Dex exclaims, throwing his arms in the air. “I’m trying to tell you I’m halfway in love with you, can you shut up for a second?”
“Chill,” says Nursey, because suddenly he can’t come up with any of the right words. And since he can’t talk, he might as well do something else productive with his mouth. He kisses William Poindexter right on the lips, and he’s exactly the right height and his lips are so warm (if a little chapped) and his arms are coming up to Nursey’s shoulders and—
Dex breaks away. “So were you going to apologize for being an asshole earlier, or…?”
“Nah,” Nursey says with a shrug and a grin. “Can’t say I’m too sorry about how things turned out.”
“You’re insufferable. I can’t believe I told you I loved you and you said chill.”
“Chill, Poindexter. I love you too.”
This time, it’s Dex that kisses Nursey.