Disclaimer: It's Ngozi's.
It's a good thing that Dex has an internship in Boston this summer. He knows it's a good thing. He came out to his parents as gay over Thanksgiving, and winter break was awkward as fuck. Part of him feels lucky that he wasn't disowned, but part of him—a part of him that sounds a little like Shitty and a lot like Nursey—says it fucking sucks that that's his standard for whether things went badly or not. Because, lack of disownment aside, he still feels like they went pretty badly. Which—it's not like he felt like he could be himself in Maine before he came out, either. He hasn't felt like he could be himself since he was a little kid, and that awful itchy feeling he gets whenever he's back with his family has grown more intense the longer he's spent at Samwell. But he had hoped coming out would make the itch subside a little, would give him a little room to breathe, and it absolutely didn't.
So Dex knows it's a good thing that he's subletting an apartment from a BU student this summer and interning at a financial services firm. (He almost hadn't applied to the internship, since the company's focus wasn't computer science, but then Chowder had started talking about all the different types of places he was applying to intern—this was before the Sharks had invited him to training camp—and Dex had realized there are a lot of computer science-y jobs in non-computer science-y fields.) Dex knows it's a good thing that he's in Boston for the summer. But sometimes that's not how it feels.
Because the thing is that Maine isn't home anymore—hasn't been for a while—but neither is Boston. If Dex is honest with himself, Samwell has been home to him for a while, probably since his second semester there. He hadn't been fully comfortable his first semester, too bitter about his teammates' wealth and obliviousness to realize how far he had his own head up his ass and the kinds of problems that might be causing, but by his second semester he felt more at home at Samwell—well, at least at Faber—than he'd ever felt anywhere.
And he misses it fiercely, more so this summer than he thinks he ever has before. He doesn't know anyone in Boston, and meeting new people has never been his forte. He doesn't have Chowder's sunny disposition or Nursey's ease with words. Insofar as he has friends in college, he's pretty sure that's due to a combination of the team being determined to have everyone's back no matter what, and Dex's ability to endear himself to people with handyman skills and baking the way he absolutely can't just by talking. Nursey would probably say something about acts of service versus words of affirmation, but Dex isn't sure what.
So Dex goes to his internship and then goes back to his sublet, and that's basically all he does. He's pretty sure he's doing good work as an intern, the kind of work that will make his supervisor remember him next winter and spring when Dex is applying to jobs and needs references, but his social life basically consists of the various SMH group chats he's in and the occasional intern lunch sponsored by the company where he's working. He's figured out a running route and runs most mornings, and he brought some free weights with him to lift after work, and he's cooking all his own food, so there's that, but it's really nothing exciting.
It's the second week of July when Dex decides he needs to get serious about this captaincy thing. He thinks about calling Bitty, but ultimately he decides he should try to do at least a bit by himself first. So he starts planning plays and lines and trying to get his hands on tape of SMH's games last season, especially the losses, as well as tape of the incoming frogs. He mentions some of this in the Frog group chat and Nursey immediately responds, don't forget that you're also in charge of kegsters!
And Dex thinks about that—about kegsters and Nursey Patrol and the tub juice recipe—and then he thinks about how different it's going to be having kegsters without almost any of the players who were there when he was a frog. Last year's kegsters were already hugely different than the kegsters of his first two years at Samwell, since Ransom and Holster had graduated and were no longer DJing, but to also be missing Bitty, Ollie, and Wicks? Damn, is he going to be able to pull this off, to make SMH meaningful to the younger players the way the guys before him made it meaningful for him?
That's probably what makes him realize that he wants to host a reunion. He looks at the game schedule and pinpoints the date of Samwell's first home game and then texts the SMH 2014-2015 group chat: hey, do you all want to come back to samwell for our first game of the season? like a reunion?
HELL YES, Holster replies immediately.
Absolutely! Bitty adds only seconds later.
"do you want to come back to Samwell?" he asks. OF FUCKING COURSE, YOU GLORIOUS MOTHERFUCKER! is Shitty's reply, and Dex can feel his face heating up. There were definitely times, during his first semester, when he couldn't imagine ever agreeing with Shitty about anything—and times during his second semester when he'd started agreeing with Shitty about quite a bit but was worried that the guy would never approve of him. That was the only year the two of them played together, but Shitty's been around enough to see some of the progress Dex has made as a person since then. The way Shitty clapped him on the shoulder at Bitty's graduation and told him he was proud of him is something Dex thinks about when he gets lonely, and it always makes him smile.
In the end, Jack says he'll have to wait until he sees his schedule, but Shitty, Ransom, Holster, Lardo, Bitty, Ollie, and Wicks all agree to come to the reunion kegster barring unforeseen circumstances. Dex spends much of his free time in July and August planning plays and watching tape, and he does wind up calling Bitty—and, by extension, Jack—a few times, but when his brain turns to mush from too much hockey on top of too much coding, he sometimes works on planning the reunion kegster instead, putting together the playlist (enough Beyonce to keep Bitty happy; no show tunes no matter how much Holster likes them) or brainstorming decorations or debating how much tub juice to make.
Finally, finally, he gets to leave Boston and return to Samwell. The new frogs look so young, even the one who's huge and immediately earns the nickname Giant. Dex can't believe he could possibly have seemed so young when he started at Samwell—except then he thinks back to attending that meeting of the Samwell Republicans and putting their sticker on his laptop, and he totally can believe he was a baby his frog year.
It's weird playing without Bitty on the ice. Dex has spent all summer thinking about it, running plays in his head, but it's still bizarre to actually practice without Bitty as one of the wingers—almost as weird as it is to be the one calling drills. Neither Ollie nor Wicks started consistently enough for Dex to feel their absence the way he feels Bitty's, and all the older players were gone last year, too, but Bitty—Dex misses him more than he'd counted on.
The new frogs are okay, definitely promising, but none of them starts in the first game of the season. It's Whiskey, Tango, Bully, Nursey, and Chowder piling onto the ice for the first shift with him, and by now he's used to these lines, and it feels good to skate into position with his team. His team. He's not used to that part yet, but that's okay. Bitty says he might not ever get used to that part.
It's a hard-fought game, but Samwell wins it 3-2, avoiding overtime by the skin of their teeth thanks to a sick wrister from Bully in the final seconds. Dex takes some hard checks and gives as good as he gets, keeping it clean—he's not out beyond his family and Samwell, so the homophobia he's getting is mostly a result of Samwell's reputation and the fact that this is still, to many of their opponents and the world writ large, Bitty's team, but it's nothing he can't handle.
And then he gives his first victory speech in the locker room, almost feeling the need to pinch himself because who the hell put him in charge of speeches, and then he hits the showers and then it's time for the kegster.
His former teammates mob him just outside the locker room. Nursey and Chowder both made it out before him, and Nursey's still hugging Shitty when Dex opens the door, but there's a huge cheer when everyone notices Dex, and then they all slam into him in some sort of off-ice celly. On the way back to the Haus, Bitty chatters Dex's ear off about how good the game was and how well Dex is doing as captain, with occasional (very sexual) interjections from Shitty. Jack is there too, just holding Bitty's hand and not saying anything, but when they get to the porch Jack claps Dex's shoulder for a moment and says, "I hope you're proud of yourself. You deserve to be," and Dex nearly cries right there. He loves Bitty and values Bitty's opinion, he does, but compliments just hit differently coming from someone who's a professional at the thing you're trying to do.
The kegster is a raging success. Dex had wound up asking Ransom and Nursey for help with the playlist—though he'd retained veto control because some of Nursey's tastes were a little out there—and Shitty had entrusted him with the tub juice recipe. Dex is sticking to beer tonight, not tub juice, since he wants to remember everything about this night and also he knows it's his responsibility to fix anything that breaks or goes wrong, but not much seems to be breaking or going wrong, and he's able to get pleasantly buzzed without feeling completely hammered.
Lardo kicks everyone's asses at pong, Ransom and Holster dance together in that way they have that always makes everyone wonder if they're together—they still won't confirm or deny anything—and Bitty even gets Jack to dance for a while. Shitty sits on the green couch and complains about Harvard Law and reminisces about his days at Samwell, especially in the Women's and Gender Studies department, and winds up basically holding forth to a rotating cast of current and former SMH players, until finally Nursey gets bored of dancing and invites Shitty to the Reading Room.
Dex chats with Bitty for a while while they whip up some cookies—Bitty's at the level of drunk that requires baking, apparently. (Although, with Bitty, is there a level of either sobriety or drunkenness that doesn't require baking?) Dex wants to follow Nursey and Shitty to the Reading Room eventually, both because Nursey is Nursey (and Dex is beginning to admit to himself that he never wants to look away from him) and because time with Shitty is precious and Shitty's approval has come to mean a lot for Dex. But everything in good time.
When the cookies are done, Dex brings a dozen of them out to the living room. Louis and Hops are both sitting on the green couch in positions that Shitty would probably describe as "manspreading," and Dex suddenly really wants to sit down, not in a drunk way but just in a tired way. He did play a whole hockey game earlier, after all. He's not sure if there's room for him with the way Louis and Hops are sitting, though. The couch is definitely capable of seating three, but that requires a certain amount of cooperation by those three people, especially if they have hockey butts.
"Hey, guys," says Dex, holding out the plate of cookies in Louis and Hops's direction. "Can I sit with you for a minute?"
Louis blinks up at him, red solo cup held loosely in one hand. Definitely wasted. "Finns hjärta rum, finns stjärt rum," he says.
Dex blinks back. After a few seconds, it becomes clear that's all he's going to get, so he says, "Bro, I don't speak Swedish. I'm gonna need a yes or a no in English, or at least a head nod or something."
"Oh!" says Louis. "Yes. You can sit here."
"Cool," says Dex. "That would involve you two moving over a little, though."
"Right," says Louis, and he and Hops obligingly scoot over to allow him to sit.
The three of them eat two cookies each, and it takes until Dex is midway through his second cookie to realize that he doesn't recognize the language Louis and Hops are speaking. Which means . . . "Hops, since when do you speak Swedish?" Dex asks, leaning forward to see around Louis.
Hops shrugs. "It's a pretty easy language if you already speak English, and I'm pretty good at picking up languages. I mean, I got pretty good at Japanese from watching anime, and that was before DuoLingo became popular. Now that I've got the app—it's just a nice way to relax and still feel like I'm learning something, you know? I had a lot of free time this summer, so I decided I might as well learn Louis's mother tongue. He had to help me with some of the grammar stuff, and I'm pretty sure I'm still messing up word order and pronunciation sometimes—the whole bisats thing is kind of confusing—but, I mean, we're communicating, and that's what matters. Right?"
Louis grins, a little dopily, and Dex wonders if he's witnessing the start of yet another SMH romance. He'd been pretty sure Hops was straight, prior to tonight, but he's never really been able to read Louis's vibes—it's hard to tell what's a Swedish thing and what might be a gay thing, and Dex isn't even sure if the same clothing choices are gay-coded in Sweden at all—and learning an entire language seems like a long way to go for a friend.
Dex doesn't really want to figure this out tonight. He's got his own crush on a teammate to deal with. So he nods at Louis and Hops, stands, and makes his way to the Reading Room with the other six cookies.
It's a good night.
A/N: Louis's Swedish literally translates to "If there's heart space, there's butt space." What it really means is more along the lines of "We like you, so we'll make room for you to sit with us." The best thing about this phrase is the fact that it rhymes.