Shield and Assets

Disclaimer: This is a purely fan-made piece that is using the world and characters from Ngozi Ukazu's Check Please!, and is made entirely for enjoyment. No financial gain has been made in the making of this piece. All other situations and plot developments are mine.

Summary: "That isAmerica's ass."

Author's Note: Happy birthday, Dex! I don't know if it's REALLY your birthday, but we're going with it.

Contains MANY spoilers for Avengers: Endgame. You have been warned.

Possible out-of-characterness and un-beta'd.

Constructive criticism and comments are always welcomed.

Published: 26 October 2019

Rating: T

Dex thinks he's making good progress with Kitty (who is—unironically—dressed like Shadowcat); they've been having a friendly heated debate over who had the worst character assassination in Avengers: Endgame and he's pretty sure he'll be successful when he asks her for her number later, and then the back of his neck prickles. He glances around discreetly, but doesn't notice anything immediately, so he turns his attentions back to Kitty.

"I mean, they don't bring anything new to the table! It's just a re-tread of the previous movies, motivationally and emotionally," Kitty is saying. "The only difference is the addition of a child as a cheap ploy! It's cliché and unfair!"

"But I think it's full circle," Dex argues, trying to ignore the feeling that he's being watched. "He opened the entire M.C.U.—not only is it fitting that he close it out this arc, but it also shows us how far as a person he's come. Iron Man I Tony would never have taken part in the final battle, much less been the one who saved the entire universe at such a personal cost! Sure, it wasn't the perfect ending for him, but I think it did the character more credit than it did for some of the other characters."

"Like Captain America?" She says, lifting an eyebrow.

"Steve got screwed," he affirms. "Almost as much as Natasha did."

"Okay, I can get behind Natasha getting the shortest straw, but Steve? Man went out and got a satisfying ending!"

"But it's not! There was nothing satisfying about how they complete undid his character! I mean, did they even watch the movies they supposedly wrote?! If we ignore the comics and focus only on the movies themselves—"

"Dex! There you are! Let me see you! I want to see what you did!" Ford's voice interrupts their discussion. She comes over, her Gryffindor robes flapping and Nursey trailing behind her. She puts her hands on her hips. "Okay, turn!"

Dex sighs, but obligingly holds his arms out slightly and spins slowly around.

"Lookin' good!" She laughs.

"That," Nursey says, words messy and a bit unsteady, "is America's ass."

Dex rolls his eyes as he completes his turn. "Shut up, Nursey. You're not funny."

"No, he's got a point. You look great! You did an awesome job with everything!"

"Wait," Kitty interrupts. "You made that? All of it?"

Dex shrugs. "The boots I got from an Army Surplus store, but I did everything else."

"The helmet? The shield harness? The shield?"

"Yup." He flicks a fingernail against the edge of the shield on his back, letting the metal ping.

"Dex is wicked good with his hands. Handy," Nursey informs her, swaying slightly. "He's a real hands-on kind of guy, if you know what I mean."

"Shut up, Nursey."

Kitty looks suitably impressed and Dex congratulates himself on guaranteeing getting her number later. "That's pretty amazing," she says.

"I know!" Ford agrees. "And I can't get him to change his major to theatre! We need someone like him!"

"Hey! I already helped you with the last four sets!"

"But we really could have used you for the last one in the Costume Shop as well! Imagine how much cooler Mark Anthony's armour would have looked if you had brought your leather working skills to the table!"

"It would have been awesome, but I would have failed my comp sci test completely if I helped with that on top of the sets. The line has to be drawn somewhere."

She sighs loudly. "Fine, be that way."

"Hey," Kitty says, "do you do commissions? Because my girlfriend would kill for an authentic-looking of Bracelets of Submission like Wonder Woman has."

Dex determinedly squashes the surge of disappointment he feels at the revelation that Kitty isn't on the market. "Maybe. What kind of timeline are you looking at?"

"Christmas, maybe?"

"Leather, metal, bit of both…?"

She purses her lips. "You know, I'll have to think about that. Here, give me your number and we can discuss the details at a later date, yeah?"

Dex desperately tries not be depressed over the fact that he's—yet again—getting the number of someone that will never result in a relationship. How the fuck is he supposed to get over his completely useless crush if he can't focus his attentions elsewhere? He comforts himself by pointing out that this could result in a profit, and god knows that he needs every cent he can get.

It doesn't help that he knows that the moment Kitty is gone, Nursey's going to chirp him ruthlessly. He doesn't look forward to it.

He hands Kitty her phone back and smiles. "Do you need a refill?" He asks, hoping to maybe get away for a moment and by the time he'll get back, Nursey will have wandered off, distracted by whatever shiny thing caught his attention.

"Thanks, but no. I'm good."

He nods and turns. "Ford?"

"Thanks, but I'm also good."

"I need a refill," Nursey says, tipping into Dex's personal space. He smells like cheap dive bar.

"No, you don't. You're drunk. Where's your patrol?"

"'Mnot drunk," the darker teen protests, staring at the shield harness. "But you could get me water—a tall, cool glass of water." He skids closer and his eyebrows twitch in a weird way.

"Ford, who's on Nursey Patrol?" Dex asks in annoyance.

Kitty mouths Nursey Patrol? as Ford shrugs. "I don't know. Ollie or Wicky, maybe?"

"Okay." He glances over at Kitty. "I'll be back in a moment, okay?" He turns to go find his teammates because the sooner he gets rid of Nursey, the better.

xXxXxXxXxXx

Nursey is very discreet as he watches Dex walk away. Like a ninja. Nobody will know that he's salivating over America's utterly perfect ass or thinking about those very strong legs.

Nursey's always known that Dex's had a nice body, but he tries not to acknowledge it too often and he doesn't look in the locker room. It's easier to ignore when the redhead is being awkward and angry and prickly, but right now…

Dex's Captain America costume only serves to highlight how fucking hot he is. It lets everyone see that he's got a shoulder-to-waist ratio that would make Chris Evans jealous and biceps that aren't bulky, but are clearly well-defined and powerful. He could definitely pass for a super-soldier himself, and Nursey kind of wants to grab a hold of that shield harness and use it to reel Dex in so he can press himself up against all those hard-working muscles.

The only bad thing is the helmet covers most of Dex's face, and since he's cute, it's a problem. He knows he's teased the redhead lightly in the past about his face and ears, but it's because it is the only way he can get away with staring at them.

The cowl, at least, does show off those ears and Nursey wonders, not for the first time, what would happen if he scraped his teeth against the soft-looking lobes.

To make matters worse—so much worse—is that Dex made the entire costume himself, including the shield.

Did Nursey mention that he thinks he's developing a competency kink? Because he's pretty sure that he is, and it's all Dex's fault. Fuck, is there anything that boy can't do? God.

Nursey steals another very sneaky glance in the direction that Dex went. He hopes the freckled teen will be back soon because he hasn't gotten his fill of seeing Dex on display like that.

He wonders that if he steals all of Dex's stupid, shapeless flannels (that don't manage to completely hide how broad his shoulders are, but do him no favours, either) and replaces them all with shirts that are perhaps a little too small if he can convince Dex to dress up like Exercising Steve Rogers. Mmmphf, Dex in an almost skin-tight, thin shirt…

He beings to plot.

xXxXxXxXxXx

It takes him longer than he would like, but Dex manages to track down Ollie, who tells him that it's Tango's turn. Tango, it turns out, is permanently stationed in the Bitty-Ollie-Pacer's bathroom, because he ate some Stop-n-Shop sushi and now he's paying the price, violently. Whiskey and the blond Lax bro that Dex always sees the talented player hanging around are with Tango, and they tell him that they have it under control.

Dex extracts a promise from them that if anything changes, that they are to come and get him immediately, and he tells the miserable sophomore not to worry about Nursey Patrol—he'll take care of it. Tango is almost pathetically grateful, and Dex gently waves off any promise of recompense; Tango is, after all, his Tadpole.

Frustrated that now he's definitely not going do anything more fun the rest of the night, he hunts down Nursey. Shockingly, his teammate has not gone wandering off, and he thanks Ford for keeping him from doing something stupider than usual.

"Nah, it's okay," she laughed. "And thanks for this"—she lifts the cup that Dex grabbed for her and Kitty (who also hasn't gone anywhere, surprisingly)—"you didn't need to, but thanks."

"Dex. Dex. Deeeeexxxxxx. Where's mine?" Nursey lists towards the redhead.

Dex holds out a bottle of water.

"Noooooo! You'll bring them booze, but not me? Dex. DEX. Deeeeexxxxx. I thought you liked me! Aren't you suppposta protect and serve me?"

"Here." Kitty presses her cup into Nursey's hand and steals the water bottle. "Sorry Will, but I can't drink anything from an open container that I didn't have my eyes on at all times. I know you're a good guy, but I've seen how easy it is for someone to spike a drink as it goes by."

"No offense taken. And I get it. I saw it happen once to a girl whose drink had been brought over by a cocktail waitress. Luckily, her friends realised something was wrong before anything could happen, but the waitress never forgave herself for nearly being a part of it."

Both Kitty and Ford give him a long, assessing look, but Nursey—who has already slammed back the drink—gets a mildly alarmed expression on his face. "Dex. Dex. Deeeeeeexxxxxx. If something is funky about my drink, you've gotta protect me, okay? It's—it's—it's your American Duty."

"I'm not going to leave you in a ditch somewhere," Dex replies irritably. "But you would do that to yourself, no outside help needed. Why do you think we have Nursey Patrol in the first place?"

"So you can keep me safe," he says in an unusually lucid tone of voice before he blinks fuzzily. "Are you my patrol?"

"No," Ford say, "I'm pretty sure it's—"

"No, it's me," Dex interrupts with a sigh. "Tango ate Stop-n-Shop sushi."

Both Kitty and Ford wince. "Why? Why would anyone do that to themselves?" Kitty asks in horror. "That's like, the epitome of poor life choices!"

Nursey, on the other hand, is beaming blearily at the pale teen. "You're my patrol?" He sounds delighted. He leans towards Dex. "Are you gonna…patrol me?" He does that weird eyebrow wiggle again. "Will you perambulate me?"

Dex did not sign up for this. "The fuck, Nursey. NO, I'm not, and I'm pretty sure you're using that word wrong. But what you do need is some water—No! No more alcohol for you until—damn it, Nurse!"

Ford blinks at her empty hand and Nursey looks smug, having stolen her cup and throwing it back before Dex could stop him.

Kitty begins to giggle. "You know, I don't know what this Nursey Patrol is, but I'm beginning to get an idea of why it's needed."

"Okay then," the team managers says. "Looks like I'm getting myself a new drink. Thanks a lot, Nursey. Really."

Nursey only smiles harder and sways closer to Dex.

"Well," Kitty says as Ford leaves, "I never did get to hear why you think Captain America got more screwed over than Iron Man. I would like to hear your reasoning so I can tell you how wrong you are."

Dex grins and launches forward.

xXxXxXxXxXx

Nursey can't tell if he's died and gone to heaven, or if he's in the midst of a really, really, really hot wet dream right now because Dex? Is wearing an amazing, form-fitting costume, and is passionately applying queer theory to Marvel's Cinematic Universe. There is no way this is real.

Well, he'll know soon enough. If it's a wet dream, he'll wake up after he makes a mess in his shorts, and if it's heaven, this will be his new norm.

Please, please, please let this be his new norm!

"Oh my god, please tell me you're not a Stucky fanboy!" The girl says, looking thrilled.

"It's not fanon if it's canon!" Dex fires back. "Anyhow, whether their love is platonic or romantic is irrelevant to the argument—the creators have gone out of their way to let us know how important Bucky Barnes is to Steve in the movies. There is no way that if Steve really went back in time to 'live his life' in this timeline like the movie so heavily implies that he would leave Bucky to be tortured for seventy-plus years and allow his 'wife's' life-long work of creating S.H.I.E.L.D. to be so complicit in it!"

Fuck, this is hot. Intellectually and physically. His head is spinning and his stomach rolling, and it's not just the alcohol.

"First off, the directors have explicitly stated he made an alternate timeline, and secondly, how can you say that Bucky is more important than Peggy is?"

"Exit interviews do not count and I will use Harry Potter as an example of this," Dex says. "Don't get me to get Ford over here to back on this. Even Nursey has things to say about that!"

"Who cares about Dumbledore's sexuality? Why does it matter?" Nursey says, a beat too late and nearly cutting the girl off as the world tilts before righting itself again. "Fucking queercatching."

"Fine, we'll ignore that point for now. So, Bucky over Peggy—defend and be prepared to be mowed down after."

"One: Steve goes to war twice. For Bucky. He'll go to extreme length for his pal. Two: Bucky is the only person he will make exceptions for in his moral code. He won't even make exceptions for himself, but for Bucky, he will." Dex lifts another finger. "Three: When Steve is fighting himself and is pinned, he says 'Bucky's alive', because he knows that will get a response and he can use it against himself. Four—"

"Dex," Nursey says in a strangled-sounding voice. Okay, some of the spinning isn't because Dex is so fucking hot. That last cup of tub juice had been a mistake.

Thankfully, Dex takes one look at him and understands. "Shit," he mutters. "Catch you later," he tells the girl as he grabs Nursey and physically hauls him quickly towards the back door, because it's closer than the powder room or the kitchen.

He gets the poet outside and over a bag that should be used for leaves rather than puke just in time. He pats Nursey's back awkwardly. "I've got you, okay? You're gonna be fine, just…keep aiming for the bag."

Nursey shudders and blinks away the wetness that always accompanies a hard vomiting. He leans heavily against his defensive partner. "Sorry," he wheezes, trying to curl into the redhead's warmth without dropping the bag as he waits for the world to spin at a more reasonable rate.

He feels a shoulder lift slightly, but drop quickly before it jostles him too much. "You didn't puke on me this time, so that's an improvement from what usually happens when I'm on Nursey Patrol, and we got you to a bag in time, so I don't have to clean up after you as much. All I have to do is tie that shut and chuck it in the bin. Done. Way better than having to scrub it out of…well, anything." There is a pause, then Dex says "are you done? Because I'll get that tossed and we'll get you up to bed if you are."

"…Yeah, think so."

"Okay."

Nursey whines when Dex gently shoves him up against the wall and takes all the warmth in the world with him as he goes to the side of the Haus were the trash bins are located. He shakes a little with cold and worries because Dex has been gone for such a long time. Maybe Nursey should go look for him. What if something happened to him? Like…like he got kidnapped by fangirls and is being forced into an awkward photoshoot? Or he could have tripped—there's that brick on the walkway that is out to get Nursey and it's decided the best way to hurt the poet is to take out Dex. Or maybe the real Captain America showed up and is jealous that Dex's ass looks better than his did in the costume.

Dex didn't tell him to stay here, so even though his stomach is still grumbling and he's freezing and the stairs are looking like they came from a Picasso painting, he unsteadily pushes himself away from the wall and takes a few tottering steps.

"Nursey, what the hell are you doing!" Dex suddenly appears and grabs his arm.

"Dex! You're safe!" Nursey throws his free arm around him and sighs happily at the return of heat into the world.

"What the…"

"You were gone! For so long!"

"Nursey, I wasn't even gone for five minutes. In fact, I'm pretty sure it was less than two."

"It was forever!" He insists and cuddles in closer.

Dex exhales. "God, are you 'swasted. C'mon, let's get you to bed."

Nursey lets himself be pulled inside. "Dex. Dex. Dex."

"What?"

"Would you go to war twice for me?"

"What?" Amber eyes flicker towards him. "What kind of question is that?"

"And! Make an exception to your moral code?"

"The hell, Nursey." Dex nearly drags him up the stairs because he is strong and showing off all his muscles. Mmm…

"And go stupidly extreme lengths for me? 'Cuz that'd be nice if you did."

"Yeah, I'll just bet," he mutters. "Where are you keys?"

"And! Would you be with me 'til the end—"

"Keys, Nursey. We need to get you to bed so you can sleep this off."

Nursey pats his pockets. "I don't know."

Dex closes his eyes and his lips move silently for a moment. "Okay, I'm gonna see if Chowder's in his room and we'll get into your room that way, okay?"

"Don't go!" Nursey grabs on to the very convenient shield harness. "Captain never leaves Bucky! Don't leave me!"

"I'm not Captain America, you're not Bucky, and I'm not leaving you behind, okay? I'm just going over there so we can get you into your room." The redhead tries to loosen his hands. "Let go of me."

"I could be."

"That didn't even make sense. Could be what?"

"Bucky. Then you wouldn't leave me."

Dex blinks. "I…have no idea where you're going with this. And seriously, let go. Your breath stinks."

"But you'll leave me!"

"Fine, we'll text C, okay? But you have to get off so I can do that."

Nursey slowly loosens his grip enough that his teammate can step back, but he doesn't let go. Dex sighs in exasperation, but accepts the compromise. He fishes his phone of one of the pockets on his utility belt and types out a quick message while the curly-haired boy stares at him, drinking him in.

"Chowder says that you put your key on a chain around your neck," Dex says a few moments later. "Not in your pockets." He reaches forward and the darker teen feels his heart start to beat a little bit harder. Calloused fingers carefully smooth around the edge of his shirt and Nursey begins to feel lightheaded as all the blood in his head starts to leave.

His grip tightens as he tries to stay upright. Dex's mouth is pursed slightly in concentration and Nursey tilts his head in an invitation. His eyelids get heavy and what blood is left in his head gets very, very, very warm as Dex's breath ghosts over his face quietly.

The costumed redhead abruptly makes a noise of discovery and pulls away slightly, tugging a chain out from under Nursey's collar. Before the poet can really process what is happening, Dex lifts the chain over his head and unlocks the door. "Okay, let's get you squared away."

Nursey pouts and refuses to let go until Dex forces him to when he insists on Nursey drinking a sports drink. He manages to dodge the poet's grabby hands when he shoves Nursey into the bathroom so he can brush his teeth and get into something to sleep in.

"Where are your spare sheets?" Dex asks while his inebriated teammate sullenly brushes his teeth.

Nursey immediately perks up and tries to ask if it means what he thinks it means.

"I can't understand you. Spit and then try talking."

He does. "You're coming back?"

"Coming back from what—you mean moving back? No. Definitely not. No, what I meant is you're so 'swasted that I'm pretty sure you'd kill yourself trying to get up to your bed, so we're not even going to make that a thing. Where are your extra sheets?"

"If you stay forever, I'll tell you."

"Yeah, not happening. Sheets."

Defiantly, Nursey tries to stuff his toothbrush back into his mouth. He misses on the first two attempts and manages to get it on the third, but they were defiant failures and that's the important thing.

Dex rolls his eyes. "Fine, be that way. I'll just find them myself." He turns and goes back into the room. There's a slightly metallic sound as he puts the shield by the door and he looks.

It takes him less than five minutes to find Nursey's linens, and the poet can't tell if he's annoyed that it was so easy for Dex to find or if he's thrilled because Dex knows him so well that he knows exactly where to look first. It's honestly a toss-up.

"Okay, there you go." Dex straightens up a few minutes later and Nursey mourns the loss of the sight of Dex bent over his old bed, assets (heh!) displayed. "I put your trash can right here so if you have to puke again, you have something immediately on hand. There's water and painkillers on the corner of your desk for you tomorrow. Anything else you need?"

"Yes, you to stay." Nursey catches the other teen's wrist and tries to lead him towards the bed.

"First off, that's not going to happen; secondly, that's a want, not a need. There's a difference. And thirdly, let go of me."

He's pretty sure it is a need. "You promised. You said you wouldn't leave me." He tugs on the wrist a little harder.

Dex takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. "That is," he said, with only a hint of gritted teeth, "not what I said, but fine. I'll stay until you fall asleep. Happier now?"

Nursey pulls on his wrist again. He rolls his eyes and grabs Nursey's chair so he can place it next to the bottom bunk.

"Noooooo," Nursey protests. "You need to keep me warm. Captain America would keep Bucky warm—you need to do the same!" He struggles to yank Dex off of the chair and on to the bed with him.

"Hard no, Nursey! I'm not sleeping in my costume and I'm definitely not sleeping with you!"

"I could help you get out of it," Nursey immediately offers, ever helpful. He imagines peeling off the utility belt and the helmet, but he doesn't know how he'll get the shirt off while leaving the shield harness on. Good thing he's a poet—poets, as everyone knows, are full of creativity, so he'll be able to think of something.

The redhead pinches the bridge of his nose around the eye holes in the helmet with his free hand. "Go to sleep, Nursey."

The curly-haired teen lays on his side and stares at his teammate's knee. His eyelids are feeling heavy. "Dex."

"What."

"Dex."

"What."

"Dex."

"What."

"…I don't want to go to sleep," he finally say and reaches out unsteadily with the hand that's not clutching Dex's wrist. It takes a couple of passes, but he manages to get his hand on Dex's thigh.

Dex sighs again and pushes the hand off of his leg. "I'm sure you have many things you'd rather be doing, but I don't think you have much choice in the matter right now."

"Dex?"

"What."

"…I like your costume. 'Sit's nice. You look nice. Very nice."

"…Thank you."

"Maybe next year, we could match. Or I could be Bucky or something."

"Go to sleep."

"We'd be a great power couple." Nursey fights closing his eyes because if he does, he can't see Dex any more, much less Dex in his room in such a great outfit. "Hey, Dex?"

"What, Nursey?"

"We could, you know." It is getting harder to remember what he's saying, but he knows it's important, so he forces his eyes to open.

"We could what?"

"We could," Nursey mumbles. "'Til the end of the line, yeah? 'Til the end." He pulls the wrist still in his hand up against his chest and curls around it sleepily. Comforted by Dex's hand and pleased that he managed to say what needed to be said, he slips quietly into the realm of dreams.

xXxXxXxXxXx

Dex shuts his door behind him and drops his shield on his bed before taking off the helmet and relishing how much cooler he is without it on. He changes into his pyjamas quickly, methodically folding the parts of his costume that he isn't going to wash and carefully puts them in the storage bin so he doesn't lose a glove or anything. The parts he'll be washing later he drapes over the top of his hamper.

He climbs into his bed and determinedly pushes back the memory of Nursey's voice slurrily whispering ''til the end of the line' while struggling to stay awake. The poet probably didn't know what he was saying, and—considering how trashed he was—he won't remember it tomorrow. There's no need for Dex to read into it. Because it means nothing. Drunk Nursey says dumb shit to people all the time (once, he proposed to Lardo, Shitty, and Bitty all in the course of ten minutes before asking Jack if he would do a downward-dog pose so Nursey could 'make sure he wasn't slacking on his squats') and he will be back to mocking and hating Dex again as soon as he's sober. It's how it always goes.

Dex buries his face in his pillow, willing himself to drift off without thinking about stupidly handsome poets, and reminds himself that everything will be unchanged in the morning.

He doesn't fall asleep for a long time and he is grateful that he made thick walls for his bungalow so nobody can hear him when the burning in his eyes gets to be too much.

xXxXxXxXxXx

Nursey feels gross when he wakes up, but not nearly as bad as he expected to, so it's a decent start.

After he downs the painkillers that are sitting on his desk (and eats a few crackers that were next to them) and takes a hot shower, he feels almost human and brave enough to venture downstairs.

He slows as he approaches the bottom of the stairs. The hallway isn't...trashed and smells almost...good. It doesn't look like a kegster happened the night before. In fact, it's even cleaner than normal.

Feeling a bit like he's in some sort of alternate reality, he heads into the kitchen. As expected, Bitty's already there; what is not is that Bitty isn't baking. The small blond is sitting at the table, hands blissfully curled around a steaming mug. "Good morning, Nursey! You absolutely must try this coffee—it's divine." He tilts his head towards a carafe in front of him that's next to a large platter of muffins.

"Sure." He pours himself a mug and dumps in his usual amount of sugar and cream. He takes a sip and whoa. He stares at his mug for a moment. "That's...that's some velvety coffee."

"I know! It's not bitter at all. I'm practically drinkin' it black! Me!" Bitty takes another sip and clearly savours it.

"What kind is it?"

"I don't know; I didn't make it. It was all ready and sittin' next to the muffins when I came down this morning."

"You didn't..." Nursey looks at the bounty of muffins—it looks like there's three different kinds on the platter, and there's two smaller plates that are set aside and wrapped in plastic (one has Nguyen's nut-free label stuck to it and the other has one a sticker proclaiming it gluten-free for Johnny-boy). If Bitty didn't do this, then... "Did...did Dex do this? All of this?"

"I think so. I haven't seen him, so I can't be sure, but it currently looks that way."

"...Did he even get any sleep last night?" Nursey can't resist any longer and grabs a muffin. He takes a big bite and has to stifle a moan. He can't say anything because Bitty might get offended and never make him a pie again, but it's probably one of the—if not the—best muffin he's ever had in his life.

"I certainly hope so!" The southerner replies. "While this"—he waves a hand at the table and the amazingly clean Haus—"is incredibly sweet and an utter treat to wake up to, it must have taken him absolutely forever to do! And it could have gone twice as fast with us all helpin' him out." Bitty sighs. "I also was gonna make the Waffles do a lot of the pick-up out there 'cuz it'll be good for them, and now I gotta find something else to build their character and for them to bond over."

"I'm sure you'll think of something," the junior says around the last bite of his muffin. And—because there's a whole platter of them—he swipes another and eagerly takes another bite after a long drink of that amazing coffee. "Where is everyone, by the way?"

"Well, I haven't sent out the morning text yet. I mean, usually, I want the Haus to look less like a disaster zone, but since it already does...I thought I'd let everyone sleep in a little more than usual."

"Not in a mood to share that coffee, are you."

"Lord, no! I absolutely must ask Dex what kind this is—not only is it so delicious, it's wakin' me up beautifully!" Bitty shoots him a sideways glance. "Speakin' of wakin' up, I notice you're up earlier than normal and are in pretty good shape, considerin' last night was a kegster."

"Oh, Dex was my patrol last night and he always makes sure that I drink something other than tub juice and that there's always painkillers out and ready for me when I wake." The darker teen pours himself another cup of coffee because he feels like he's got a besotted expression on his face and he doesn't need to be chirped for it.

"Uh-huh." He gets the feeling from the tone of Bitty's voice that he's fooling nobody.

"He also cuts me off before anyone else does, so I don't end up drinking as much for as long, so..." He shrugs.

Bitty abruptly frowns. "Wait, wasn't Tango supposed to be on Nursey Patrol last night?"

"Dex said he was sick. Something about sushi?" Honestly, Nursey doesn't remember. He was paying far more attention to how good his d-man partner looked. "So Dex was filling in, I guess." It was an added bonus for him.

"Ah." Then—a little too causally—the blond says "that was some costume he wore."

"He said he made everything but the boots." That seems like a safe, non-infatuated thing to say. Of course, it would be more believable if he didn't sound completely enamoured.

Thankfully, Bitty doesn't point it out. "My understanding was he wanted to as authentic as possible for the kids."

"The kids?"

"Yeah, you know, the kids. The ones that he reads to or visits in the hospital...?"

"Wait, you're telling me that Dex—Our William Jay Poindexter—dresses up in a Captain America costume that he made so he can visit kids in hospitals and to read to them?" Screw competency kink—he had a kindness kink, and Dex was checking all the boxes!

"Oh my Lord, you haven't seen?" Bitty grabs his ever-present phone and starts tapping away. "He and some friends of his have this whole thing they do and it's amazing."

"What's amazing?" Ford asks, coming in. "And what's going out there? It doesn't look this place has even heard the word 'kegster' before!" She spots the muffins and dives for them. "Bitty, these are awesome, as always!"

"I didn't make them; we think Dex did. We also think Dex's is responsible for the way the Haus looks."

"Dex made these? And cleaned out there? Do I need to have a talk with him about sleeping?" She pours herself some coffee.

"I don't think so—" Bitty is cut off by Ford making an obscene noise of pleasure.

"Oh my god," she says reverentially. "I am going to marry whoever made this! And then I am going to demand this every day! Did Dex make this?"

"Probably."

She glances over at Nursey. "Nursey," she says in all seriousness, "I will fight you for him."

"Hey, that's hardly fair! Everyone knows I can't win against you!"

"Good, then he can be all mine!"

"Here," Bitty hands his phone to Nursey. "This is what I was telling you about."

Ford leans over his shoulder and watches as the video starts.

It looks like it's being shot from the second-floor balcony of a hospital lobby, and it opens with Dr Doom pushing a cart with a futuristic machine (complete with a tall, person-sized glass tube) on it into the centre in flash mob style, and announcing that he has discovered a way to cut through time and space, giving him access to unprecedent powers. Bullseye and Crossbones show up (there's a couple great lines of dialogue where they imply they're short on funds and are working with Doom to try and raise some, and one says 'well, that whole 'for hire' bit for Cage and Rand…'). Not long after that, Captain American comes barrelling in, and when they tell him that he's alone and how easy it will be for them to beat him, Ghost-Spider literally swings down from the balcony, doing a couple of truly impressive aerial acrobatics before landing next to the Captain (the audience loses their shit for her and so many kids are cheering). There's more deliciously corny, comic-bookesque dialogue, and then Doom laughs that they are too late. He hits a button, lights flash, the tube fills with fog, the glass slowly opens, and…out comes Batgirl (that is not a twist Nursey was expecting). Dr Doom orders her to attack and delivers a watered-down villainous monologue, only for Batgirl to try to kick him in the face halfway through. There is a pretty well-choreographed fight sequence (in which Dr Doom escapes, and the other two villains are apprehended). They try to send Batgirl back and it doesn't work, so Captain America calls up Iron Man while Ghost-Spider texts Spiderman. They get their answer, and the whole thing ends with them taking the machine and cart away amidst wild applause.

"That…was the most amazing thing I have ever seen," Nursey breathes out as the video flashes up a few links at the end. "Tell me there are more like this out there!"

"They have one that they do when they can be outside, where one guy plays Wolverine with gloves that actually pop out claws, and he tears through set pieces, much to the delight of the children. The guy who plays Bullseye switches over to a different villain, a fire one, and they use real fire, and the girl who was playing the Spidergirl goes as…um…Black Cat, I think her name was," Bitty says, taking back his phone. "Dex says that one's harder because he spent forever getting his costume fire-proof and padded enough he doesn't burn himself on his shield, and he has to be super-careful about how he angles his shield when he's fighting the villains so he doesn't accidently send the fire into someone's face or something like that."

"So you're telling me," Ford speaks slowly, "that Dex is a part of a theatre troupe that makes its own sets and authentic costumes, writes its own scripts, choreographs their own fights, and creates their own, live-action special effects, and he's not a theatre major?!" She puts her mug down sharply on the table and marches to the basement. A few moments later, they can hear her banging on Dex's door, yelling for him to get out here, RIGHT NOW!

"Is Dex even here?" Nursey asks after a few minutes.

"I have no idea," Bitty replies.

Ford does come back up a little bit later, and Nursey can't tell if it's because she's given up because she thinks Dex isn't home, or if she's pulling back so she can try and squeeze through the vents and surprise him that way. "I cannotbelieve that boy!" She mutters fiercely. "Doing all that and not being a theatre major! Doesn't he know how in demand those kinds of skill are? And not just for theatre—he could be doing parties or corporate events or any number of things! It pays!"

"Yeah, but it isn't always consistent," Nursey feels obligated to point out in Dex's defence. "And besides, there's something to be said about leaving it a hobby. Sometimes, even things you love become work when you do it for a living." He's seen that with his mom.

"It doesn't change the fact—DEX! You get your butt in here, right now!"

Dex—who looks like he's just come in from a run—slowly takes off his earphones (which are starting to look like they're being held together with duct tape and sheer force of will) as he comes into the kitchen. "What's up?" He asks cautiously, clearly unsure what he's done to annoy their manager.

"When you said that you had an authentic costume that you made yourself, you neglected to mention why you needed it!"

"What? What are you talking—Bitty."

Their captain—who has suddenly gotten verybusy with his phone and is clearly trying to make himself as unobtrusive as possible—winces. "Yes, sweetie?"

"Did I or did I not tell you that video was not to make its rounds?"

"It didn't make the rounds! I was just showin' your d-man partner because I thought he would enjoy seein' you in action! And Ford—"

"What part of 'I don't want to be chirped to death' was I not clear with?!" Bright spots of colour appear on Dex's cheeks, almost the same shade of his ears. "I only told you about that because I thought that you would be discreet with that knowledge!"

"Wait, wait, wait!" Nursey butts in. "Who do you think is going to chirp you for going to hospitals and doing something that will make sick kids happy? What kind of asses do you hang out with?"

The look Dex gives him speaks volumes.

Nursey feels like he just got slapped. "Me? You think I'd..." He's so hurt by the thought that he can't even bring himself to finish the sentence. "I would never...I thought...how can you even think that I would?!"

"Oh, I don't know, maybe it's because you've made fun of absolutely everything about me, even things that I've told you were strictly off-limits?" Dex suggests irritably. "Why should this be any different?"

"Maybe I did a little bit of excess chirping you in the beginning, but I haven't—"

"Last Thursday afternoon," Dex says flatly.

Nursey opens his mouth to angrily protest, and then he remembers last Thursday. He realised he knows exactly what Dex's is referring to, and...the redhead isn't completely wrong. Nursey had been chirping him, but he had thought it had been relatively light-hearted, and that Dex had been overly sensitive.

"...Okay, I...may have...been a little out of line there"—Dex snorts derisively, but doesn't say anything—"but I would never make fun of someone doing something so nice for sick kids, much less something so well thought-out and well executed! I mean, that was one of the best things I've seen in my life!"

"It was pretty amazing," Ford immediately puts in. "I especially loved the part where you used your shield for the pink spider girl to jump off of, right into target-face's head! And how did you guys get Batgirl to appear and disappear in the tubes like that?"

"Ghost-Spider and Bullseye," Dex corrects. "And it's an old magician's trick. Art's grandfather and uncle were magicians and illusionists, back in the day, and a goodly number of our special effect come from them." His shoulders relax marginally with Ford's questions, but he still appears on edge. "If you think that trick is impressive, you should see the one that the twins are cooking up for Nightcrawler."

Ford's the only one who doesn't react with confusion. Her eyes get big behind her thick glasses. "Oh my god," she breathes. "You guys are going to make him 'teleport'? Oh. My. GOD!"

Dex shrugs, but the corner of his mouth twitches up and Nursey nearly forgets how to breathe for a moment. "Well, we have to shake things up every now and then. Can't do the same thing all the time. The kids would get bored, and it's more fun to see how much we can get away with."

"Tell me again why you're not a theatre major?" Ford laments and grabs another muffin.

He lifts his shoulders slightly. "Just not for me. Now if you guys don't need me, I'm going to go shower before everyone else wakes up and uses up all the hot water."

"Which reminds us—did you clean all that up in there and make breakfast?" Bitty asks.

Dex's brow furrows slightly, as if he's trying to decide if the question is a trick one or not. "…Yeah?"

"Well, that was awfully sweet of you! But as your captain, I gotta say, you need your sleep!"

Dex shrugs again. "Couldn't sleep and what sleep I was getting wasn't very good. I decided to make better use of my time."

"I have to know—where did you get this coffee?" Ford asks, pouring herself yet another cup. "It's amazing."

"I made it. It's egg coffee."

They all blink at him.

"…Pardon me?" Bitty finally says.

"Egg coffee. You know, where you use an egg to absorb the bitterness and enhance the caffeine…? It's a bit of a pain to make, but I figured people could use something less acidic and bitter to soothe their hangovers." Dex's hand comes up slightly, as if he wants to rub the back of his neck, before he stops it and lets it fall down to his side. "So…if that's all…I'm gonna just…"

"Well, thank you again!" Bitty smiles. "It was a real treat to wake up to all this!"

Like always, Dex awkwardly brushes off the thanks, obviously lying through his teeth when he says it was nothing.

Dex heads off to the basement and—ignoring Bitty and Ford's knowing smirks—Nursey gets up and follows him.

Pretty amber eyes narrow as he clatters down the stairs. "What?" Dex isn't exactly being hostile, but it's a near thing.

"Just a couple of things," Nursey smiles as winningly as he knows how, but the redhead appears unimpressed. "First, I don't want you thinking that I'm not super impressed with what you're doing with the superhero thing. It goes beyond chill; it's pretty sick and amazing."

Dex crosses his arms and Nursey can almost see him retreating behind a wall.

He reaches out and ignores the small flinch when he puts his hand on a strong freckled forearm. "Hey, I'm being dead serious here. It's sweet and kind and just…wicked, you know? Those kids are super lucky to have someone like you doing shit like that for them! And you're pretty 'swawesome Captain America."

Dex looks away, but his cheeks are bright pink and his ears are slowly darkening to a scarlet. "Fine. And the second thing?"

Nursey scoots in just a bit closer. "Thanks for watching over me last night. The only reason I'm even coherent right now is because you took such good care of me."

"It was my job," the other teen mutters.

"No, it wasn't, but you still did it, and I'm allowed to be appreciative."

"Fine. Was that all?"

"Nope. What are you doing later today?"

"Why?" He can see Dex getting defensive again.

Nursey takes a deep breath, and bravely goes out on a limb. "Because I thought that maybe we could get dinner or lunch or something. Go to a place that has tablecloths on the tables, maybe one that has candles and a wine list. Some place with a more romantic vibe than Annie's, yeah?"

Dex gets very still. "Like a date," he says flatly.

The darker boy takes another step out and hopes to god above the limb will hold his weight. "If you want it to be."

Something flashes in the depths of Dex's eyes. "And what the fuck about your wants?" He demands, augmentative to the end. "Relationships—healthy ones, at least—are built communication and give and take!"

Nursey feels a smile try to creep over his face and he has to work to not to start beaming like an idiot. "Okay, asshole, communicate this: I want to go on a date with you. It'll be better if you'd like that to do that, too. And since I asked, I pay. You can pay for the next one. Enough give and take for you, you dick?" He slides his hand down and curls it around a powerful wrist.

"And what if I decide to make the food for the next date, huh?"

"First off, dates don't have to include food, though don't ever let me discourage you from making me some. Secondly, if you're buying all the ingredients yourself, that definitely counts. Thirdly, prep and baking and all that shit costs way more than anything I spend at a restaurant, so if anyone is not bringing enough to the table, it's m—"

Dex kisses him, fast and hard. It leaves Nursey completely breathless and he gasps unattractively like a fish when the redhead pulls back.

They stare at each other for a moment.

Then they both move and crash into each other, mouths hot and eager.

Nursey ends up smashed against the dryer and since Dex is pinning him there, he is one hundred and ten percent okay with it. His fingers are twisted up in the back of Dex's old shirt (he thinks he may or may not have put a new hole in it) and he can't decide if he wants to use it to pull Dex closer or if he wants to rip it off of his teammate.

But he got to see Dex's reaction to his teeth to his earlobe (very favourable), so even if nothing else happens today, the day will still have been a complete success.

Dex does eventually pull back slightly. "Nursey," he says and his voice is rough and destroyed. "Your hand is on my ass."

The darker teen tries to smirk, but he's pretty sure he's just grinning like a loon instead. "Well, it is America's ass," he says breathlessly (and it surpasses all expectations and fantasies, thank you very much!).

The redhead snorts, and buries his face in Nursey's neck. "That's it," he mumbles, the laughter only partially muffled, "I'm breaking up with you. I refuse to date someone who likes my alter-ego more."

"Aw, babe, don't be that way!" Nursey tightens the leg he has over Dex's thigh. "It's not every day I get to experience something that others can only dream of! Let me enjoy myself."

The other teen rocks back slightly, eyes bright and golden. "Not here, you won't," he says, pulling the hand in question away. "If that's how things are going to be, we're not going to do it here. The dryer is still new, and my room is just over there."

"Well," Nursey tries to pretend that he didn't get dizzy at the suggestion that they move to Dex's (bed!)room. "I suppose if we scar the Waffles, Bitty might have something to say about that."

"And then you'd have to listen to him tell you about it"—Dex leans forward and presses slow, open-mouthed kiss right behind Nursey's ear and the poet feels his knees go soft—"instead of spending your time doing other things."

Nursey is not to proud to admit that he lets out a whine.

The freckled teen steps back and casually pulls his partner towards his door.

"Hey," Nursey says as Dex digs out his keys. "When someone asks if we've killed each other yet, I wanna say that I'm totally dead because you've killed me a little bit, and I'm about to ask you to do it again."

"I thought you weren't planning on scarring the Waffles." Dex tugs him inside the cosy space.

"Yeah, but think how hilarious their reactions will be when they figure out what I've said!"

Dex purses his lips in thought and then he shrugs. "Yeah, okay, but only if you pay the ensuing fines."

"Oh my god, DEAL! Deal, deal, deal, deal, deal! Yes! This is going to be amazing!" He cackles with glee. Today is turning out to be the best day ever!

Dex reaches out and derails his train of thought by carefully cradling his jaw.

He doesn't get back online for a long time after that.

xXxXxXxXxXx

Ford is clearly torn between being happy and being deeply disgusted. "FINE," she choruses with Bitty, pointing at the glass jar.

Nursey doesn't even blink and pays twice the amount. "For later today," he says dreamily.

"Oh Lordy, what have we done?" Bitty sighs, face bright pink.

"Argh, I'm leaving!" Ford grabs her bag. "You were loud and I am not listening to that again!"

Nursey shrugs, completely unabashed and disappointed that Dex isn't up here to hear this because his face would be positively on fire right now. "Imagine how bad it would have been if Dex hadn't put extra insulation on his walls," he replies smugly. "The hands on that boy!"

Ford shrieks and Bitty buries his face in his hand.

"FINE!"

x Fin x