Disclaimer: The characters and setting belong to Ngozi Ukazu.

The Samwell LGBTQ Student Association hosts a huge hangout every September. It's not a party in the sense that Haus parties are parties, but it's certainly not a meeting, either, and "mixer" would imply that it's meant to help people find dates or hookups, and that's also not really the point, or at least not the whole point. Derek supposes "gathering" is probably the best word to describe it—or maybe it is a party and hockey has made him too narrow-minded about what those can be like.

Whatever it should be called, it usually overlaps with SMH's first game of the season, and this year it doesn't. Which means Derek actually shows up, for the first time in his college career. He grabs a name tag and writes his name and pronouns, as instructed, and then he snags a soda and starts wandering the atrium. He spots a lot of his fellow English majors, which isn't a surprise. The presence of another specific person he knows, though, very much is.

"Dex? Hey! What are you doing here?" Derek asks, coming up behind his defense partner, who was pretty much the last person he'd expected to run into at this thing.

"I'm queer, Nurse. Gay, specifically," Dex says. "Thought the queer part would be obvious, given the whole—" Dex gestures around at the rest of the atrium. "Being here thing."

"Oh, wow," Derek says. "I mean, um, cool. That's great, Dex. Thanks for trusting me."

"I'm trusting like a quarter of the school right now," Dex replies. "But you're welcome, I guess. And, uh . . . can you not call me that here?"

"Call you what? Dex?" Derek asks.

"Just let me be Will here," he says, gesturing to his name tag, which says WILL, HE/HIM. "Don't make me be Dex."

"Sure, dude." Dex—no, Will—starts walking and Derek doesn't immediately, but then he remembers something and rushes to catch up, reaching for Will's arm. "Wait. You introduced yourself as Dex on the taddy tour."

Will rolls his eyes. "Yeah, well, my last team nicknamed me Pointy, so . . ."

Derek guffaws. "Pointy?" Then he sobers. "You really don't like being Dex?"

Will shrugs. "It's a persona, right? An act. 'Hi, I'm Dex, I'm a D-man, and I'm going to check you into the boards.' That's not, like, someone I want to be full-time."

"So who do you want to be full-time?"

"I don't know if there's any way I want to behave, you know, 24/7. It's—there are always going to be situations where you have to put on an act, right? I can't talk to my professors the same way I talk to you or the same way I talk to my parents or in a job interview. There's always gonna be situational shit and I don't want to, like, give up the ability to adapt. But I want to be Will more often than I want to be Dex, and Will can wear more hats, more comfortably. I like that I have nicknames and it helps me shift from William the overachiever to Dex the hockey player to Will who's just some guy. I like that the names cue something for me. But Dex is a fighter, and there are places where I don't want to be that."

Derek digests this for a minute and then says, "Could we have fought less early on, do you think, if you hadn't always been Dex around the team?"

"Maybe. Mostly I was an ass, and I'm sorry about that."

"Thanks," says Derek. "You really were, but I appreciate that you apologized last year. But back to the 'just some guy' thing—you're never 'just some guy.'"

"I want to be, though," says Will. "I want the stuff I do to not matter sometimes. Not that I should just get to go around hurting people or whatever and never have anyone call me on it, because that would be fucked, but like. I want lower stakes sometimes. I want it not to matter that I'm gay. I don't want to be like Bitty and captain the team and win the games and get profiled in news segments and sports magazines and queer websites. I just want to captain the team and win the games and have that be the end of the story. I want to be able to get a B in a class sometimes and not have anyone breathing down my neck about it. I want someone to want to date me just for me and not any of the external bullshit, you know?"

Derek finds himself nodding. "Yeah. That makes sense. And, you know, mood."

Will flashes him a quick smile. "I thought you'd probably get it."

"I mean, I definitely know what it's like to have to put on an act for approval or safety or whatever."

"Yeah," Will says quietly. They just look at each other for a moment, and then Will says, "So. I think I'm going to be out for real this year."

"Yeah?" Derek replies.

Will nods. "I was barely willing to give it a name our frog year, and then sophomore year I was afraid that if I came out it would seem like an excuse or a distraction or something, like I was trying to get everyone to forgive and forget what I'd been like as a frog because I was struggling with internalized homophobia or whatever and therefore everything I did was magically fine. Which it wasn't. And then last year I just chickened out."

Derek grimaces. "I mean, I'm glad you've realized that the way you acted as a frog wasn't okay, but also, all of that sounds rough, and I wish it had been easier for you."

"And that is why you're too good for me," Will mutters. Then his eyes go wide and he corrects himself: "Too good to me, I mean."

"Are you sure?" Derek asks.

"You're definitely too good to me," Will says.

Derek frowns. "You know that's not what I meant."

Will looks at the ground and says, "You're both."

"Am I?"

"You're too good to me and too good for me," Will affirms.

"I don't think that's true, though," Derek argues. "Maybe two or three years ago, sure, but now?"

"The fact that you're willing to look past that at all, though!" Will says loudly. More quietly, he adds, "I know I've apologized and I know I've tried to be better in the past couple years, but the things I said our frog year were deeply fucked up and it continually amazes me that you're willing to have anything to do with me."

"Will," Derek says as seriously as he can. "I know I get to, like, decide who I forgive, but you've genuinely become a good friend over the past couple years and I wouldn't want to miss out on that by holding a grudge, even for a valid reason. You've learned and grown and acknowledged what you did and apologized, and maybe I'd be justified in asking for more or refusing to forgive you, but personally I don't think that would do either of us—or anyone around us—any good. I like who you are now and that's what matters to me, okay?"

"You do realize you're just continuing to prove that you're too good to me and for me, right?" Will asks.

"I want to make sure I'm reading this right," Derek says. "Do you want to kiss me?"

"I mean, yes, always," Will says. "But why—?"

"Because I want to kiss you too," Derek interrupts.

"I repeat: why?"

"The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of," Derek quotes through a smile. Then his face turns serious and he says, "Because you care, Will. Because you try. Because you're hot and smart and good at hockey and I trust you. Is that a good enough list?"

"I—" Will cuts himself off and takes a breath. "Maybe. I mean, I want to try, and I trust that you mean it, even if it seems unbelievable to me."

"Chill," says Derek.

Will makes a face. "On the downside, chill. On the upside, at least now I'm pretty sure you haven't been replaced by body-snatching aliens."

Derek chuckles and then says, "So do you want to get out of here?"

"On the one hand, yes, absolutely," Will says. "But on the other hand—this is my first time being at a queer event, ever. And I kind of want to stay for a while? Talk to some people? I mean, not chat anyone up, obviously, but like—"

"Yeah, no, for sure," Derek says. "You've never been to a gay bar?"

"Pretty sure neither of my town's two bars are gay. And when I wasn't ready to be out, I wasn't ready to be out, you know?"

Derek nods and then gestures Will forward. "Go forth and make friends!"

"Come with me?" Will asks, holding out his hand.

Derek takes the offered hand, reveling in the feeling of Will's strong, calloused fingers in his. "Of course."

They run into Anna, a junior computer science major whom Will knew by a different name and different pronouns last year, and then they meet Kate and Tessa, who are both sophomores and are holding hands, and then Jamie, a frog whose hair is bright blue, and then Mason, a senior whose makeup and skirt are both on point, and then Jared, a frog who dresses kind of like Will and looks a little awkward and nervous, and then . . .

Derek has never seen Will like this. He's a little awkward, a little antsy, at least at first, but as the evening rolls on he blossoms. He's anxious to make sure he's referring to Anna correctly, and he smiles at Kate and Tessa, and Jamie seems pleased when Will offers a fist bump. He fumbles through complimenting Mason's outfit, and he has better things to say to Jared than Derek does, that's for damn sure. And through it all he keeps turning to Derek and grinning, like he can't believe he got this lucky, and he keeps squeezing Derek's hand, too. Derek squeezes back, of course, and many of the people they talk to ask how long they've been together. "It's new," Will keeps saying, to which Derek keeps adding, "But we've been friends for years."

After over an hour, after the latest person they were talking to moves on, Will asks, "Do you want to head back to the Haus?"

"Whenever you're ready, babe," Derek says, and Will promptly blushes all the way to his ears.

They walk a bit faster than usual on the way to the Haus.