Friendship with Dex was never in the cards.
Just. It wasn’t an option. Not when every glance between them and every thought declared was laced with vinegar and disdain. Not when the mere thought of sharing space with Dex off the ice had Derek’s shoulders tensing up into knots.
So, no. Friendship with Dex? It should be unthinkable. It should be impossible. It should be the harbinger of some kind of apocalypse or something.
Bitty slides plates of pie onto the table (fragrant and warm and perfect), and Chowder’s rambling about yesterday’s practice (wanting to be better, needing to be better), and the thing of it is… the thing is that in the past, these are the things that would have been front and center in Derek’s life. These are the things that have always been the most important - the moments that he would carry with him throughout his days…
But then Dex shoots him a smile from across the table (just a warm, tender little slip of a thing), and everything kind of crystallizes. That smile is going to follow Derek throughout his day. This little nothing of a moment is the thing that’s going to keep him warm and balanced and chill all week. Years later, Derek is going to think back on his college career, and he’s going to think about Dex smiling at him just like this, and it’s going to make him happy.
So, yeah. Friendship with Dex wasn’t really an option before, but in this moment (as his lips quirk up in a smile of their own) Derek knows - he knows - that things have changed.
Because in this moment?
In this moment, Derek realises that they’ve been friends for awhile.
And it’s more than okay.
The thing about being friends with Dex is that for the most part it’s super low key. Derek breaks things, Dex fixes them - Dex needs to get out of his head, Derek distracts him - Ollie says something stupid, they share a look. Their friendship works, and it’s a simple enough thing that it doesn’t inspire overthinking.
Until it does.
Until it did.
Until all the hard work and all the smiles and all the chill moments between them came crashing down because Dex couldn’t handle the concept of sharing a room with Derek - as if they weren’t friends - as if Derek’s feelings meant nothing.
Now... if Derek was less of a liar, he would say that he spent the entire summer replaying the dibs flip in his head.
If he was less of a liar, he would say that it hurt.
As it stands, Derek’s prepared to say that it’s chill. The whole fucking situation is chill as hell, and that’s that.
Climbing up the stairs towards his - their - room, Derek does his best to hold onto that chill, zen-as-fuck feeling. Because he’s going to need it. Because he’s not prepared, but he’s never had the luxury to wait. He’s always had to hurtle forward by the seat of his pants. And it’s always had to be fine, or okay, or chill.
It’s his mantra, and he wraps it around himself like a blanket as his hand finds the doorknob (cool to the touch, the heavy patina of time dulling it to something weathered and solid and true), releasing a breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding as the door swings open to reveal an empty room.
(Because, yeah, Dex isn’t due in ‘til the end of the week. Which, if Derek was less of a liar, he’d admit was a blessing.)
(Because he wasn’t prepared.)
(And if he spends the day claiming little parts of the room as his own - the window sill, the bottom bunk, the entire fucking closet - no one needs to know.)
He falls asleep to the sound of creaking floorboards, anticipation and anxiety thrumming in equal measure beneath his skin like static.
Dex waltzes in on a Saturday and absolutely changes Derek’s life forever.
Derek knows himself well enough to be aware that he’s more than a little bit prone to flights of fancy and over-exaggeration… but that doesn’t make his internal monologue any less real. It doesn’t change the fact that Dex sweeps in at noon with a conservatively-sized duffle in hand, his computer bag slung over his shoulder, and an apology on his lips.
“I’m sorry,” Dex says, as if he’s not turning the world on its side by simply uttering two simple words. “I was a dick over dibs. I was selfish, and I was stressed, and I was really- I’m just sorry. You don’t deserve that kind of shit.”
It’s all that Derek can think to say.
For once, when it comes to Dex at least, he’s not trying to be a dick to make a point or to get a laugh out of him… for once he’s unguarded (completely fucking exposed), and the effect that it has is nearly instantaneous. One syllable from Derek’s lips and it’s like he can see the wind go out of Dex’s sails, only for his carefully crafted resolve to fall down like so much empty armor.
It’s kind of frightening to have that much power, and the tender part of Derek that he likes to keep buried deep down might have a feeling or two over this whole moment, but the rest of Derek (the athlete, the intellectual, the student) doesn’t have much time for that kind of thing at all.
Not when he’s broken something that Dex can’t fix (with a single word poured from his lips, what the fuck).
“I mean, thank you for the apology?” He tries, voice a little more strained and a little less chill than he’d prefer. “It kind of sucked… but you’re my bro, and if we can survive Freshman year we can survive this, yeah?”
From where he’s standing at the door (bag still clenched in his hands, metaphysical armor still strewn ‘round his feet), Dex just nods, stiff and quiet as anything, and it’s not okay.
“Put your bag down. Jesus, it like you were raised by lobsters or something. Just put your shit down and get over here.”
Miracle of miracles, Dex does. He listens, putting his things down with about one hundred percent more care than Derek would have in his shoes, and he steps into the room. It’s more than a little bit awkward, but he doesn’t pull back when Derek goes in for a hug. He just kind of… god, he clings. He lets Derek wrap him up in a hug and then he clings in return, all desperate hands and shuddering breaths, and this is so much more than Derek had anticipated.
(Because he had anticipated something. Some days he was certain that it would be a knock-down fight. Other days he was sure that they’d move on without ever acknowledging the fall out. Most days he did his best to avoid categorizing the anxiety lingering in his chest at all. Out of all the possible scenarios, Derek never thought he’d get this.)
“We’re going to be okay,” Derek says, because it’s the only thing he feels he can say. It just makes Dex cling harder, but it’s fine. It’s okay.
It’s most definitely not chill.
“I-” Dex hiccups, voice muffled from where he’s speaking into Derek’s shoulder. He’s not crying - at least, Derek doesn’t think he’s crying - but he doesn’t sound far off. “All I could think was that I fucked up. And I kept trying to text you, but it wasn’t right. Because... you and Chowder? You’re my best friends, and you deserve more than a texted apology.”
“Next time you can call me, or we can Skype. It’s 2016, Dex, we have the technology.”
From the muffled laughter that vibrates through his shoulder, it’s pretty clear that Dex took the joke for what it was. He doesn’t stop clinging, but some of the tension runs out of him all the same.
(If it’s a nice feeling - the way that Dex is all warmth and lax muscles - no one has to know.)
“Yeah, sure. Next time I nearly ruin everything I’ll send you a fuckin’ snap, okay?”
“I dunno, that’s kind of intimate. What would the rest of the team say?”
Dex outright snorts at that, and it’s a beautiful thing. Slowly he untangles himself from where he’s burrowed into Derek’s shoulder (fingers letting go of Derek’s hoodie, arms unwrapping from where they’d been holding onto Derek so tight), taking a step back until they’re face-to-face.
And the thing of it is, Derek might be a little fucked.
Because Dex smiles at him - that same small, warm little smile that Derek had held onto all through the summer - and Derek kind of, maybe, just a little bit, realizes that he might, possibly, somehow feel more for Dex than just friendship and irritation.
He might want to press Dex into his bed (wrapped in fleece and well-loved cotton and the warmth of Derek’s arms), and he might want to kiss him.
Just a little bit, though. So it’s totally chill.
Yeah. Derek’s pretty much fucked.
Aside from the general fuckery of crushing on your unattainable best friend slash roommate, Junior year is kind of… well, it’s not as momentous a thing as maybe Derek had built it up to be in his head.
Because, sure, he’s living in the Haus now...
And yeah, he’s sharing a room with one of his best friends and a bathroom with the other...
And, okay, the team is shaping up for an epic year under Bitty’s calisthenic regimen and Chowder’s endlessly fierce optimism...
It’s just… Derek feels like it could be so much more. That it should be so much more.
Surely, after all, all the books he had read and all the films and TV shows he had seen wouldn’t have lied. Surely, after all, this was supposed to be the time of his life.
Derek goes to class, and he goes to practice, and he hangs with the team.
It’s a pattern that’s never been particularly boring, and to be honest, it’s not. It just feels smaller than it should be. It feels like less.
Which is possibly part of the reason why Derek’s spending yet another kegster holed up in his room.
And yes, he’s noticed Bitty’s concerned little glances from across the room. And yes, Chowder’s pulled him aside more than once to make sure he’s okay... and for real, it was completely unnecessary for them to call in Shitty to mediate something that didn’t really need to be mediated to begin with. He loves his team, but he’s not broken. He’s not depressed. He just doesn’t need to be mingling with sweaty, drunk-ass coeds. Not when his Junior year has been a clusterfuck of pining and ennui.
Not when drinking makes him bold and the object of his affection sleeps on top of him.
It’s a bunk bed, it’s not his fault that it always sounds so dirty when he explains it out loud.
There’s a crash that sounds from downstairs, and if Derek hadn’t already put in an hour on door duty he’d probably go check it out. That being said, he’s done his time, and Bitty’s not screaming, so it probably wasn’t anything in the kitchen - and if it’s not in the kitchen, it can wait until tomorrow.
What can’t wait until tomorrow is the fact that he actually needs to study for his upcoming Introduction to Theories of Mass Communication exam on media regulation. Which. Honestly, when Derek first started thinking about majoring in Journalism, he didn’t realise that so much of it would be boring. Like, obviously there could only be one Max Robinson, but still. He had been hoping it would be a least a little bit sexier - a little more raising up the disenfranchised and a little less laws, regulations, and the bigoted white men that often put them in place.
And yet, here he is - alone in his bedroom as a party rages on beneath him, rereading the same passage for the fifth time because he can’t fucking concentrate - all because William fucking Poindexter was totally dancing with some rando while Derek was still on duty - and it’s not like Derek is jealous, but he’s totally jealous and it’s ruining his entire life.
Or his night.
Falling asleep on his desk was not on the agenda, but really, neither was mooning over Dex.
Dex, who apparently knocked over the shoe rack by the door on his way in, waking Derek up as he stumbles further into the room, and Derek is in way too deep if he finds Dex’s drunken flush kind of adorable.
He finds a lot of things about Dex adorable that he didn’t before, and it’s grating in a saccharine kind of way.
Rose-tinted unrequited glasses, and all that shit.
Whatever. Dex is still an asshole, even if the way that he bites his lip to maintain his balance (as if that’s a thing that works) is precious.
“Dex, c’mon, I was studying, man,” Derek whines, turning in his seat to better crack his back, relishing the way it feels as he works the kinks out.
“Pfff, y’weren’t studying. It’s all over your face. Like, right there,” and yeah, apparently Derek is more exhausted than he had realized, because all of a sudden Dex is right beside him, finger tracing along the meat of Derek’s cheek. “Y’got ink all over… s’cute.”
In self-defence, Derek does the only thing a reasonable person can be expected to do… in that he flails like a moron, hands flapping at Dex like a middle schooler in a slap fight. “What the fuck, get off of my face.”
“It’sa good face,” Dex says, as if that’s a normal response, and really, what the fuck.
“Alright, creepy, let’s get you to bed, okay?” Without waiting for a response, Derek leverages himself out of his chair, using his sober advantage to help herd Dex around - first to the bathroom, then into the bottom bunk (because as clumsy as Derek can be, he’s about a million times surer on his feet right now than Dex is). “We’ll get you tucked in and cozy before I go back to studying, yeah?”
The little smile that Dex throws him in response - sleepy and small and serene - does absolutely nothing to help quell the feelings that have taken root in Derek’s heart, but it does bode well for Dex’s general drunken compliance.
“What are’ya studyin’ for?” Dex mumbles from under the covers as Derek tucks blankets around him, making sure he’s snug-as-a-bug (and really, the fact that Derek knows to do this for Dex when he’s had a little too much to drink - that he knows what Dex likes to that specificity? Ugh.). His forehead goes all wrinkled in concern, and sometimes he’s just a little too much for Derek to handle.
(He’s always just a little too much for Derek to handle.)
“Eh,” Derek sighs, making sure Dex is cozy before heading back to his desk, turning off the desk light and dimming his screen before answering. “There’s a big test coming up on Monday in Mass Communication. Same shit, different day.”
Dex sighs at that, a sleepy little thing, and for a moment Derek lets himself believe that he’s gotten off easy. That he’ll be able to study and that Dex will fall asleep and that maybe one day all these stupid feelings will go away. It’s just a fleeting thought, though. Dex doesn’t let it be anything more than fleeting when he turns onto his side, face lit up even with his laptop being dimmed. He looks soft enough to touch.
“You’re gonna be great, y’know. America’s gonna love you with your- your convictions’n your face. It’ssa good face.”
“Yeah, man. You said.”
Derek would say thanks, but Dex is snoring within seconds.
And yeah, it’s fucking cute.
And yeah. If Derek spends the rest of the night studying with a smile on his face, well.
That’s no one’s business but his own.
Kissing Dex was never in the cards.
It just never made sense. Because, like… honestly, they hated each other. And then they didn’t, but there were still so many reasons not to do it. From their partnership on the ice to their tenuous friendship off of it, it was never worth it.
Because kissing Dex? It was never going to be easy.
Until it was.
Until it is.
Until Derek can’t help himself, because one day Dex is drunk and waxing rhapsodically about Derek’s ‘good face’ and the next day he’s saving him the last slice of pie, and Derek has never been able to deny himself the things that he really, really wants. Not for long.
So, yeah. Kissing Dex wasn’t ever going to be a reality, but that doesn’t change the fact that Derek’s got him pressed against their door, all warm and soft - soft enough to touch.
(He’s always soft enough to touch these days.)
(It’s a danger.)
It’s just- one second Dex is chirping him about his snapback (and really, there’s nothing wrong with coordinating your snapback with your socks, no matter what Dex says on the matter), and the next Dex is kissing him back, and that-
Dex kisses back, and it’s enough to snap Derek out of his fugue-like state. Because apparently it’s one thing for his brain to decide to kiss Dex, but it’s completely outside of the realm of all things possible for Dex to kiss back. For Dex to want to.
(For Dex to want him.)
“You kissed back,” Derek says, mouth always at least three steps behind his brain. It’s enough to make him want to kick himself, but then Dex’s hands and his fingers and his everything are pulling Derek closer.
“Yeah, but you kissed me to begin with. Seems fair to me, Nurse.” There’s a laugh in Dex’s voice, and it’s a beautiful thing. It’s kind of the best thing, and it’s enough to have Derek listing into his gravity without fear of falling.
“It just- it kind of felt like the thing to do, you know?” As soon as it’s out Derek’s wincing. Because, like, it doesn’t feel like the smoothest thing to say - and god, does Derek want to be smooth right now - but then he can feel Dex laugh against his lips, and it’s everything.
In lieu of an answer, Dex kisses him instead, all soft lips and sure tongue, and Derek should know better than to fall in love, but he kind of does.
Just a little bit.
And it’s more than okay.
It's easy in the way that everything with Dex is hard.
It's giving in and breaking down and stepping up all at once, and god, Derek shouldn't love him. Derek should fucking run, because love is tricky and too much too soon, and it’s everything that Derek's never allowed himself to expect.
It's too much.
It's not enough.
It's Dex's fingers linked around Derek's neck, and it's Dex's hips fit tight against his own, and it's languid and desperate and god.