Chapter 1: Of Bros & Beetles
With a lump in throat, the forever cool, eternally stoic Dave Strider stood awkwardly in the airport corridor, his eyes, behind his trademark shades, glued to the corner around which all new arrivals walked. He had been waiting for this day more eagerly than he would ever let on for months. While it had all begun with a simple proposition, it blossomed with plans and permissions, growing into a fully realized expectation; and now it was here. Today, he would finally meet John Egbert face to face.
It had been all the way back in September when John suggested they meet each other. He offered a bed for Strider to stay in for a couple of months, knowing that his dad would be fine with it. Dave wasn't, though. He had never been that far from home, always staying within the confines of the city, and the thought of him losing his cool and growing homesick was more than he was willing to put up with. So instead, he reversed the offer. John could come to visit and stay with him in Houston sometimes between school ending and starting.
It seemed, at the time, like a far-off dream. The two of them had barely started ninth grade, overly stressed with the new pressures of high school, and the thought of getting through one year of it was almost silly in its impossibility. However, as the weeks passed and they settled into the rhythm of more classes and more work, they started to gain hope in the knowledge that another sweet summer was closer than it seemed. And, eventually, John brought up visiting Dave with his father.
Dave could still remember how excited Egbert was that day when they were both home from school. Dave had signed on long ago, getting home before John due to time zones, but even then he could tell John had rushed to get on his computer. Instantly after signing in, he messaged Dave proclaiming he had big news. His dad had said yes. In place of a normal birthday present, he was being flown out to Texas to visit his best friend. Dave coolly replied with his usual nonchalant statements of semi-amusement, but he was smiling like a dope behind his computer screen, his heart fluttering with excitement.
Then came the waiting. Once dates had been set and tickets had been bought, both of them were eager for summer to arrive. Each had the day John would arrive marked on their calendars, though Dave's calendar was on his iPhone instead of his wall, and they counted down the days. Slowly, like sand grains in an hourglass, the days passed by. Then, as though all of the months spent passing time had only been a dream, Dave was waiting for John to round that corner and face him for the first time.
Each minute spent standing there, pretending to text on his phone as to seem occupied, was overly frustrating. He glanced over at the flight schedule which was being updated constantly on a large LCD screen. John's flight, the ID number of which Dave had drilled into his brain days ago, had already landed. A slow trickle of stately-looking businessmen and well-dressed women, the passengers of first class, no doubt, was threading into the corridor of baggage claim, waiting for the metallic carousel to bring them their luggage.
Dave's gaze returned now to that teasing corner, releasing more and more people from cheapskates with over-sized carry-on bags to full families pulling along myriads of whining little kids who were cranky from the flight. Occasionally, Dave would see someone who had looks similar to his mental image of Egbert, but once the came closer, he was disappointed in seeing they weren't his best friend. Fewer and fewer people began to round the corner, clearly indicating that most of the passengers of the latest flight had already come through. He looked nervously over at the schedule again, just to ensure that his flight had really-
"Dave!" Someone called from far away.
His head whipped back towards the corner, knowing immediately who would be shouting his name.
The fact that he was waiving his hand high over his head didn't hurt either.
There he was, John Egbert, in all his goofy glory. His hair was disheveled, a mop of messy raven hair falling down over a bespectacled face. His wide smile showed off his overbite, for which he seemed to hold absolutely no embarrassment. Clad in a t-shirt, sporting a green slime ghost, and a pair of tan cargo shorts, at least he had dressed for warm weather. A dark green backpack was slung over one shoulder, no doubt holding gaming magazines and other rags to hold him over during the four-hour flight. He quickly scampered towards Dave, his entire face lit with excitement.
For just a moment, the coolkid Dave Strider cracked a smile.
"Hi, Dave!" John grinned giddily.
"Oh, hey Egbert," he replied, composing himself once more.
"So, uh, glad to finally see you," John tried to keep from starting an awkward silence.
"Yeah, it's cool, I guess," Dave shrugged, his hands plunged firmly into the pockets of his black jeans. "You got any bags or something?"
"Oh, yeah, we should probably get that," John chuckled under his breath, forgetting his luggage in his state of heightened excitement. He turned and looked for the lane in which his bags would be circling, finding the correct one and approaching it without pause.
Dave followed behind, looking his friend up and down without a word. Though his anticipation was now wearing off, a new feeling was bubbling up from his stomach to replace it. It was something like nervousness, but not quite. He couldn't put a name to it, but it wasn't something he all together disliked. It was...pleasant.
John found his bag with ease, having tied blue ribbons to the handle to pick it out from the sea of similarly looking pieces of black luggage, and placed it on the ground, looking at Dave for what to do next.
"Bro's waiting out in the car. Said he didn't want to pay the toll for parking, it's hells of expensive."
"Ok, we shouldn't keep him waiting then," John replied, heading towards the exit without further prompting. Dave walked closer this time, sidling up to Egbert, wondering if he should offer to carry his backpack or something. Then again, the little derp seemed to be fine on his own, so Dave didn't chance sounding strange. Walking through the automatic doors, he spotted his Bro waiting in his convertible, the top down, of course.
Dave helped John load his bags into the trunk and then sat in the back with his friend. Bro offered John a friendly nod, but said nothing else, peeling out of the loading zone like the badass he was.
The ride back to the Striders's apartment was mostly uneventful, the wind whipping up John's hair into even more of a frenzy and keeping them cool in the blazing heat. He mentioned a few times how much warmer it was here than in Washington, to which Dave replied with uninterested remarks amounting to "no shit, Sherlock."
Bro dropped them off in front of the building, offering no explanation as to where he was going of why he wasn't coming up, but Dave was far from concerned by this. He had few expectations as to where his brother would be at any time, unless they happened to agree beforehand, such as they had this morning, or before another on of their utterly one-sided duels. John followed as the younger Strider entered the went though the front entrance and headed for the elevator, pressing the up button.
Dave avoided John's gaze as they waited for the elevator to get there, and also as he waited for it to stop at his floor. He was still nervous, but passed it off as indifference. Sometimes, when he was purely too curious, he would look at Egbert out of the corner of his eye and could see him happily looking back at him. Dave was glad that he wasn't yapping hyperactively as he had expected, but was still surprised at just how damn happy John was. It was something he had never experienced himself or from his brother, and couldn't relate to that kind of elation. He had been trained, mostly by himself, to be poker-faced from the time he woke up to the time he went to sleep, and seeing John's wide smile cease to fade was almost unnerving.
Finally, as they arrived to the door, Dave took his house key from his apartment and unlocked the door, leading John inside.
The place was a wreck, as usual, though Dave had tried to straighten things up a bit for his friend's arrival. The door opened into the living room, about which numerous colorful puppets were strewn. The furniture was mismatched and decaying from use, everything cracked or busted or chipping in some form, but not useless enough to be chucked out on the curb. Various pieces of audio equipment from soundboards to amps were placed against the walls or tucked under tables, waiting to be used. The network of wires which connected them all like a web streaked across the floor, seeming to have absolutely no pattern at all. Outlets were fitted with power strips, sometimes chained with multiple strips for optimal distribution, and it was a wonder that the whole place hadn't gone up in flames years ago.
Dave didn't bother with showing him around the place, seeing as there wasn't much to show that wasn't obvious. The kitchen was nestled into one corner of the living room, the appliances stuffed mostly with things that were clearly not food, and the bathroom door was open at the end of the hall, the floor littered with a few dirty towels. He lead John to his room, the only door which was firmly closed besides that of his Bro's room, and let him in.
Here his attempts at organization were a bit more obvious, seeing as he spent most of his time in his room anyway. His dirty clothes were stuffed into a laundry basket and not laying around on the floor (though many shirts were also stuffed into the bottom of the closet as well). His bed, sporting freshly washed sheets, was made to the best of his ability, though the corners had come untucked within the night of their being placed on. Finally, his various pieces of music-making electronics were neatly stacked next to his computer, which was nestled in the near-left corner of the room.
Dave told John to put his stuff down anywhere and clicked on the fan, relieving some of the building heat in the room. Egbert placed his suitcase and backpack next to the table holding Dave's sampler which was sitting under the open window. He looked around again, taking in Dave's residence, when a question popped into his head.
"Hey Dave, where am I gonna sleep?"
"Oh," he paused for a moment, "hadn't really thought about it."
"Well, I could take the couch in the living room, I guess," John suggested.
"Uh, I don't think that's such a good idea," Dave responded, thinking of how many times he had been awoken by Bro busting into the apartment at all hours in the morning. If he could be roused from his room, Egbert would probably be knocked to the floor in fright if he tried to get any rest out there.
"I think we have an air mattress in the closet or something," Dave said after a moment of thought.
"That'll work," John smiled, unzipping his backpack. "Oh, by the way, I have a present for you!"
With his interest no piqued, Strider watched as he rummaged through his bag, searching for something. Finally, after digging down to the bottom, he pulled out something which looked like a big in a block of clear plastic.
"I know you like collecting weird dead things and I saw this store at the strip mall when me and Dad were out last week getting stuff for the trip." He held up what Dave recognized to be a Rhinoceros Beetle preserved in Lucite, probably having been sold as a paperweight.
Dave took it from John's outstretched hand and stared at it for a moment, pondering the object. Its quality wasn't what fascinated him, as it was pretty ordinary as preserved bugs go, but it was the simple fact that Egbert had bought it. Dave's somewhat strange passion for taxidermy wasn't something he discussed often with John, or really anyone. He had mentioned it a few times, sure, referring to the collection of small prizes on the shelf that was bolted to his wall, but he never expected anyone to remember that. Could he remember something just as obscure about Egbert? Would it make him a bad friend if he couldn't?
Dave walked over to the shelf and placed the beetle between a scorpion and a large spider, both preserved in similar ways. His hand paused after placing it down, as though something clicked in his head.
John had waited months to see him, given up his birthday present just to visit him, flown hours on a cramped plane to arrive where he lived, and even through it all was cheery and eager to please Dave with a token of affection that betrayed far more than he probably even realized. John was kind and compassionate and maybe even cute.
In that moment, Dave Strider realized he was in love with John Egbert.
Chapter 2: Midnight Breeze
Well, here's the second chapter. I'll probably work on the third pretty soon. I'm doing this mostly blind, so chapters might not be posted too consistently while I figure out exactly where it's going. Anyway, enjoy~
It was the first night of John's stay and Dave's mind was racing.
As he lay there in his bed, a balmy summer breeze wafting in through the open window, he knew he had no chance of sleeping anytime soon. This is how nights often were, sleepless, his brain wracked with thoughts and decisions and worries. Along with hiding his emotions, his shades were quite useful in hiding the bags under his eyes after nights similar to this one.
Egbert was asleep on the air mattress next to his bed. It was the only place in his room where it really fit, making his tiny space appear even more cramped than it usually was. It probably would have made anyone else feel a bit claustrophobic, but Strider was used to being holed up and it didn't bother him in the slightest. In fact, the closeness of everything comforted him. Having everything he could ever need within arm's reach was a plus even those who weren't lazy could recognize.
And now, more than ever, what he needed was closer than it ever had been.
Dave rolled over on his side, facing the rest of the room. Even with the window open and the fan whirring quietly in the corner, sweat still slicked his body, his sheets sticking to any bit of unexposed skin it could find. He never slept with a blanket, not even in the winter, though Houston wasn't known for it temperateness anyway.
The lines of wire hung from one wall to another, usually suspending drying photos but now barren, swayed gently in front of the open window. Sounds of the still-buzzing city floated in from below, the murmur of engines and horns and the occasional raucous voice, softened from distance. One other sound persisted above all the others, one that Dave had yet to get used to: shallow breathing.
John was sleeping, hugging one of the unclothed pillows Dave had managed to dig out of the hall closet. The mattress he slept on hadn't been used for a long time and smelled a bit musty, but John was more than happy to have a place to sleep more comfortable than the floor, though Dave guessed he would have happily taken that too. He hadn't complained once since arriving; not at the uncomfortable sleeping arrangements, not at sweltering heat, not even at the left-over pizza for dinner. He took it all happily as though it was better than what he got at home.
Dave knew it wasn't. John lived in a cushy cookie-cutter house in a quiet neighborhood with a dad who loved to cook. That morning he had left the air-conditioned paradise of suburbia for the hot, sweaty turmoil of the big city. If he had been in John's situation, he would be bitching non-stop, even if it only manifested in subtle, passive-aggressive ways.
He guessed that was one thing which had first drawn him towards John. He always seemed so happy, even when the situation practically called for moaning and griping. Anytime he had a problem, he tried to stay positive about it. Even when Dave was upset and unable to contain his anger or frustration, John managed to cool him down and make him laugh, or at least keep him moderately amused. Considering how little skill John had at, well, everything, Dave supposed he developed it as a coping mechanism.
Did he really just think that? Who was he with all this psychological nonsense, Rose?
No, he was Dave. Cool, unflinching Dave. Who had a massive crush on his best friend.
Then again, should he have been so surprised? He had come to terms with the fact that he was something other than straight a long time ago. Hell, John was the only one who knew it. He remembered that day well.
It had been sometime during the winter before last. Dave had, in the privacy of his own head, decided that he wasn't straight. No, decided was the wrong word. He had realized he wasn't straight. Dave guessed he had always been this way, just refusing to accept it. He was just honestly worried about what would happen if he came out. He knew people would treat him differently. So much for building up a cool persona when with one admission, it could all come crashing down. He didn't think it changed who he was, but others...well, they probably wouldn't be so forgiving. Not here, at least.
Dave had been crying that day, worried and scared and frustrated. He hated crying, seeing as how much of a pussy it made him feel like, which made it even harder to combat his negative feelings. The worst part, however, was the fact that he had no one to turn to. Him and Bro just weren't exactly on the right terms to discuss something like this, especially with Dave's fear of alienation. Rose might not believe him, seeing as they constantly joked about phallic imagery in his dreams. Having someone think this was some sort of elaborate joke would do anything but console him. And Jade...well, she was Jade.
Then, John logged on. He wasn't particularly close with John at the time. They were friends, sure, and they played video games together from time to time, but they were never very personal with each other. Still, what was the worse that could happen? If John rejected him, he could just block him and never talk to him again. He wouldn't be losing anything he couldn't replace. If John decided to tell Rose and Jade, well, they could be replaced too. One thing Dave had learned was to never become too attached to any one person. That way if he lost them, for whatever reason, he could move on and continue with his life. It was one of the keys to his stoicism.
Their conversation started out as normal as Dave could make it. They greeted, joked around, made quips about their day, but even at that point, John could tell something was off. Dave's shortness with his comments, not the kind of shortness that came with being cool but the kind that came with emotional distress, tipped him off. With that, John asked what was wrong and opened the floodgates.
Dave didn't hold back. Where he normally would have waved away every implication that he anything was wrong, he didn't resist the urge to call out to someone for help. He told John everything: his secrets, his fears, his hopes, his worries, everything. And after an onslaught of red text, John paused for a long while. Dave, seeing John type and erase, type and erase, and then finally stop, was already planning how he would block John and never speak to him again. He had made the mistake in confessing everything, more than just his fears of coming out, but he could fix it. He could shut John out, just like he had shut out everyone before him. Dave Strider was independent. Dave Strider didn't need anyone to coddle him. Dave Strider didn't need anyone's support.
Then, finally, John wrote him back. His message was short, but it fully encompassed everything Dave had been yearning for.
"It's ok Dave. No matter what you are, you're still my friend."
Just remembering the conversation was enough to make Dave sniffle, but he rubbed his eyes and fought back the nostalgic tears. He wasn't about to wake up John with his girly sobs. No, if he was going to wake up Egbert, he was going to wake him up like a man.
With that, he took one of the pillows from his bed and lobbed it John. It socked him right in the head and bounced off, landing beneath the table under the window. John squirmed and rolled over on his back, the sheet he was using only covering half of his body now. His eyes popping open, he looked up at Dave who was now sitting up at the head of his bed, his legs crossed.
"What the heck was that for?" John asked, sitting up and pushing his bangs out of his face.
"Bored, can't sleep," Dave stated, shrugging slightly.
"You could have just said something, I wasn't even sleeping."
"Yeah right, you were snoozing like a baby, probably even sucking your thumb," he teased.
"No way, dude, if anyone sucks they're thumb, it's you."
"Egbert, you suck at insults. Get the hell up here and talk to me."
"Fine," John stuck out his tongue and shirked off the rest of the sheet, plopping down on the foot of Dave's bed.
Dave could tell that John was uncomfortably warm in his pajamas, a button-up pajama top with matching bottoms, both light blue. Strider was more suited for the heat, clad in a wife-beater and heart-patterned boxers, which he wore ironically. That and all that damn hair Egbert had probably meant he was blazing.
"So, what'd you wanna talk about?" John got right to the point.
"Dunno, just wanted to talk, I guess," Dave was starting to regret waking him up, seeing as how he didn't have an express purpose in doing so.
"Oh, well, we can talk about what we're gonna do tomorrow, I guess."
"Yeah, I don't really have anything planned...what do you wanna do?"
"Anything's fine with me," John smiled. "We could even just sit around and play video games if you wanted. We've never gotten to play console games together."
"All the console games are my Bro's. They're cool but you probably wouldn't like 'em."
"Oh, I get it. They're ironically cool, right?"
"We could go out and do something, if you want. I've been saving up my allowance since New Year's, so you don't have to pay or anything."
"Nah, that's cool. There's not a lot of stuff to do around here when it's this hot. No one wants to go outside during the day. I guess we could go to the pool or something."
"Oh, yeah, that sounds great! I haven't gone swimming in, gosh, practically forever."
"Didn't you have to do drown-proofing last year?"
"You're right, that's probably the last time I went swimming. Can't believe you remember that," he chuckled.
"Eh, we had to do the same thing," he lied. Maybe he remembered more about Egbert than he was willing to admit.
"So, we can swim and maybe play some of those ironic games and stuff. Sounds like a pretty cool day,"
"Yeah, not too terrible," Dave smirked. "We should probably get some sleep though. Can't do anything if we're all sleepy and shit."
"True," John slid off the bed and laid back down on the air mattress, his back to the Dave who did the same, laying comfortably on his back.
"Hey, Dave?" John called after a moment of silence.
"Thanks again for letting me stay here. I'm really happy, even if I've only been here for like, half a day."
"Uh, no problem, dude."
With that, John said nothing more and drifted off to sleep, leaving Dave's mind racing even faster than it had been before. Even though it had just been John to thank him, he felt perhaps even more gratitude towards John in return. The last few hours had been the happiest he could remember.
Chapter 3: Aquamarine
Here's the third chapter! It's a little shorter than the others, but I'm starting to get out of the introductory portions and into the meat of the story. Next chapter will include truth of dare, so be on the look out for an update. Enjoy~
In the few minutes that it had taken Dave to walk from the back entrance of the building to the pool with John, he was already dripping with sweat. Everything, even the white concrete of the walkway, was scalding to the touch. Reaching to open the gate to the pool, he recoiled his hand with a hiss as pain seared through his fingers where they had made contact with the metal. Instead, he nudged it open with his sandaled foot and waited for Egbert to follow him before closing it again.
The two were alone there today, no one even daring to step outside, even if it came with the reward of a refreshing dip in the pool. Well, that wasn't quite true either. The water was lukewarm at best, a bit low from how much had already evaporated since morning, and it was more like one was simmering in broth than splashing into an aquatic paradise. Still, it was something to do and it would be more interesting than staying up in the stuffy apartment.
John, who was carrying a duffel bag with towels and such, picked a lounge chair near the bathrooms and set down his things, pulling his shirt over his head and tossing it aside, eager to get in already. Kicking off his flip-flops, he was now clad in only blue swim trunks and Dave winced at how ungodly pale the boy was. It was like he never went outside.
Then again, he wasn't much better himself. His arms had accumulated a bit of a tan, but his face was still unkissed by the sun and prone to burning if he wasn't careful. There was no doubt in his mind that the both of them would be cherry red come the evening and itching in a few days. His mind wandered for a moment, wondering if they had any aloe in the fridge.
"Dave!" John called his name.
"Aren't you going to get in?"
He looked over, seeing that Egbert was already easing his way into the water via the steps at one corner of the pool. He shook his head, chasing away any remnants of morning grogginess, and slipped off his shoes. He hesitated for a moment when removing his tank top. He still wasn't, well, comfortable with his body, even though he would never phrase it in such a way. Being unconfident was far from cool, and with his pursuit to be hip and ironic eternally pressing on, he threw off his shirt, walking over towards the edge of the pool and jumping in. Dipping in a toe to test the waters was for pansies.
"Dave, you idiot!" John chuckled from his right.
"What is it now, Egderp?" Strider frowned slightly.
"You still have your sunglasses on, Striderp," he replied snidely.
He was right. Dave hadn't even noticed he still had his shades on when he jumped into the shallow end, his feet hitting the bottom before he could dive all the way under.
"You still have yours on too."
"Well, I was about to take them off," John blew a raspberry at Dave and removed his glasses, folding them up and placing them on the ledge instead of getting put and putting them with the rest of their things. Dave didn't follow suit, much to John's befuddlement. "You're not gonna keep them on, are you?"
"Well, duh. It's fuckin' bright out here," Dave quickly snapped back.
"It's not bothering me at all."
"Don't care, I'm keeping them on."
"You're being weird, Dave," John frowned, his brows stitching. He didn't understand why his friend was being so snippy about not taking off his shades, but he knew there must have been a reason.
Dave turned away and leaned with his elbows resting on the rim of the pool. He didn't want John to see the real color of his eyes. He had kept on his shades since picking Egbert up at the airport the day before, only taking them off to sleep. And even though he had spoken to John late the last night, it had been far too dark in the room for his crimson eyes to be noticeable. It was another thing that he hided, one which he wasn't comfortable sharing with even John. Even though being gay was far more ostracizing than having a slight physical anomaly, at least it was something one could hide (though it often came at the price of their sanity).
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw John dive under water and swim away until he was out of sight, though he heard him surface not far away. He didn't speak, unsure of what to say, but he just hoped Egbert would drop the subject and not make a big deal out of it. Finally, he sighed, letting go of the last of his frustration, and turned to see John had snuck up right behind him and offered him no more space than to turn without bumping into him. Dave was about to bark some generic insult, but was stopped when John came closer, pinning him to the wall with his body, and plucked off his glasses. Dave instinctively turned away, shutting his eyes tightly and hiding his face with one hand while shoving John away with the other.
"What the fuck, Egbert!" He shouted, flailing his free arm to keep John from getting close to him again. His heart was pounding so fast that he could hear it in his head, half from fright of being cornered and half from the feeling of having the boy he was crushing on pressed up against him. He willed himself not to blush for fear of further embarrassment, already angry for losing his cool in such an utterly uncool way.
John was laughing, unable to grasp that Dave's anger was genuine and not feigned. He still held the Stiller shades, slowly wading over to place them next to his own before his chuckling faded out. Dave refused to turn and look at him, so he dove under the water and popped back up in the direction Strider was face. Dave turned in response, John repeating his diving act as though it were some kind of game, which wasn't helping Dave to settle down. This went on for another few turns before he finally lost his cool.
"Can't you take a fucking hint!" He yelled towards John with his eyes still shut tight.
John didn't respond. Instantly, Dave began to regret yelling, though he wasn't about to apologize. Egbert was the one that had started it. This was his fault and if he wanted to go off and cry about it, he could.
But he didn't. Instead, he stayed silent, swimming closer until Dave could feel the heat reflected off of his pale chest. He wasn't sniffling, just quiet, until he softly spoke.
"Dave, just open your eyes. What are you so afraid of?"
Against everything that was willing him from doing it, Dave did as john commanded, finding his friend's smiling face so close that their noses were nearly touching. Egbert's huge, crystal-clear eyes captured Strider's attention in their, for a lack of a better word, beauty. He hadn't noticed it when John was wearing his glasses, but they truly were perfect. Soulful, deep, betraying an innocence Dave barely knew could exist, they were captivating. When he was finally able to break his stare, he noticed just how wide John was smiling. He clearly didn't care that he had just been yelled at, or that Dave was being a genuine dick about something so seemingly insignificant. The fact that he was so forgiving was astounding to Strider, who held more grudges than he could keep track of.
Dave could feel his cheeks growing hot. His blushing, this time, could not be suppressed. He thought he could pick up a bit of flush in John's cheeks as well, but his mind was too contorted to process what it meant at the time. Egbert's smile slowly melted away, his lips not twisting into a frown or grimace, but instead parting slightly, looking up at Dave with a curious expression he couldn't unravel. It was as though time was standing still, waiting for something to happen to set it in motion again, but he couldn't do it. He couldn't take that final leap and kiss the boy.
So instead, he turned away.
He couldn't risk making things weird with unwanted advances. He couldn't risk losing John as his best friend when he had so much invested in their friendship. He frowned, sulking inwardly as he leaned against the side of the pool again. He had come so close to getting what he wanted but, in the end, he pussied out, just like he knew he would. He was too afraid to take that plunge and make a move on John. He was too innocent, too fragile, and he knew doing something so brash could ruin everything. If he wanted something to happen, something real, then he would have to know with one hundred percent certainty that it would work.
One way or another, Dave Strider was going to make this hapen.
Chapter 4: Lights Out
Well, another chapter down. This one hopefully makes up for the rather long introductory phase. Expect future chapters to be filled with more derpy cuteness as well. Enjoy~
Dave and John sat on the floor of the living room in front of the television, the latter attempting to navigate the landscape of a skating game which was plastered on the front of the latest edition of Game Bro, a copy of which was tossed carelessly over near the front door. While neither of them had spoken about their little moment in the pool earlier, the tension between them had certainly shifted. Where previously it had been the slight awkwardness of online buddies meeting for the first time outside of a chat client, it now bore a different feel all together, though neither of them was sure what it was.
Dave was sitting close by, resting with his back against the couch, eating chow mien out of a take-out box with chopsticks. Bro had left them money for the night while he went out to DJ some party. At least, that's how Dave explained his absence to John, who took this as fact without any real evidence. For all he really knew, his brother could be out flying on a rocket board, slashing meteors in half or something. No, wait, that would be stupid.
John's face was pink from the sun as he bit his lip, concentrating on keeping away from the poorly textured side rails of the game, which were apt to snag his character on a stray solid polygon. Really, who would green-light this near-legendary POS, much less praise it in what could loosely be interpreted as printed literature. He mashed the buttons to do a trick after launching off a plywood ramp, but the game was slow to react and he ended up landing in a crumpled pile on the concrete, bring up a big LOSER screen over which a shrieking guitar rift was played.
Sighing, he gave up and put down the controller, picking up his fried rice which had grown cold in his absence. He ate it with a fork instead of chopsticks, never having the dexterity to use them and not caring enough to learn. Dave always ate Chinese this way, even if it was inconvenient, since doing it any other way would feel too normal. It would be ironic to eat Chinese food with a fork, seeing as how it's normally eaten with chopsticks, but being in America meant the opposite was true. Or something. Either way, he had an excuse to eat in a cool way, which was something you normally couldn't do with any sort of ironic class.
They ate in comfortable silence until Dave's chopsticks were scraping against the bottom on the box and John was full, even though he still had a third of his rice left. Dave tossed it in the fridge with the other leftovers, which was nearly everything they had, and came back to find John sitting on the couch.
"So, what now?" John asked, looking up cheerfully at Dave as he rounded the couch and sat at the other end.
"Well, any ideas?"
"My Bro has a couple beers in the fridge if you wanna."
"Nah, I don't drink or anything," he politely refused.
"Yeah, probably wouldn't go well with the take-out anyway." Dave thought beer was gross, but he figured the cliché of it looking cool had to have some grounding in reality, so he sometimes snuck a few cans into his room.
"We could sleepover stuff," John suggested.
"Like what, paint our nails and talk about boys?" He scoffed condescendingly.
"No, like Would You Rather or Truth of Dare and stuff like that."
"Sounds hells of lame."
"Come on, it'll be fun," John prodded.
"Fine, I'll play your fruity girl games if it'll shut you up," Dave agreed, stretching until his back cracked.
John stood up and turned off the light, returning to his seat much to Dave's confusion. He hand-waved it away saying that you obviously couldn't play sleepover games with the lights on. Everyone knew that.
"So, truth of dare?" John asked first.
"Dare." Dave always chose dare. At least, he always chose dare when he thought about the scenario in his head. He had never actually played this game before, seeing as he rarely had friends close enough to stay the night.
"I dare you to draw a mustache on your face in sharpie."
"That's not even a real dare, you suck at this," Dave retorted.
"Nope, I dared you, you have to do it."
Dave scoffed and stood up from the couch, finding a marker on the kitchen counter and uncapping it. Against his better judgment, he pressed the marker to his face and drew a curly mustache, sighing with disappointment before returning to the couch. John giggled like a schoolgirl at the sight of his newly-mustachioed pal and covered his mouth to keep from laughing even harder.
"My turn. Truth or dare, Egderp."
"I dare you to go suck a-"
"Dave! Be serious, this has to be a real dare," John scowled melodramatically.
Dave proceeded to dare John to knock on another door and ditch, which they did, after which John dared Dave to give him a piggyback ride, which they attempted, after which they did a series of increasingly lame and silly dares until John finally decided to switch things up.
"Truth or dare?" Dave asked, sipping a Pepsi at one end of the couch.
"Truth," John answered after a pause for thought. He was a little tired of all the stupid things they had been doing, which was impressive, considering that John thrived on the inane.
Dave had to stop and think for a moment. He could go for something completely inappropriate and outlandish, which was always his style, but he decided instead to go down a different path.
"Who was your first kiss?"
"Uh, well, I kinda haven't had one yet," He palmed the back of his neck. Dave already knew this would be his answer.
"Really? That sucks."
"Yeah, I don't know, no girls have really tried to, you know, get with me or anything." John's awkward phrasing nearly made Strider wince. The kid was so naive sometimes, it was almost painful to hear him talk about things like this.
"Nah, I just think you need to learn how to turn your swag on. If you could be even half as cool as I am every day, you'd be drowning in bitches."
"How many girls have you kissed, Dave?" John inquired. It wasn't a jab at his authenticity, more a test to find out how truly 'swag' he was.
"Dude, more than I can count," he lied. He could count the number of girls he had kissed on one hand and still have a couple fingers left over. Most were playground challenges or awkward advances during puberty when he still rejected his true sexuality, but they did happen. "I am the Mack Daddy of making out."
John chuckled, not for a moment doubting Dave's oral talents.
"You, however, probably suck," he continued. "I mean, not everyone can be as awesome as me on their first try but seriously, practice makes perfect. And now that you're in high school and you haven't even had your first kiss, any girl who finally tries to get at you is gonna be disappointed."
"I guess you're right," John looked down in embarrassment. He hadn't thought about it before, but it was true. How was he ever going to be a seductive master like Strider if he couldn't even complete the most basic task of wooing? "Hey, Dave?"
"Can you teach me how to kiss?"
"What?" The question caught him off guard. It was like some sort of scene from a bad rom-com.
"I figure you could offer me a few pointers since you're the best," he smiled innocently.
"Well, I guess I can give you a few Strider secrets. You know, be dominant but don't totally eat her face. And use your tongue if it goes that far. You gotta be tender with the ladies, but don't let 'em forget who's boss."
"Uh, yeah..." John trailed off.
"Don't make me have you show you what I mean, Egderp."
"Like, practice on a pillow or something?"
Dave resisted facepalming. He couldn't be this clueless.
"No, I mean, like, really show you."
"Oh, you mean," he finally caught on. "You don't have to do that...unless you think it's the only way."
"I hate to say it, but it may be your only hope. You don't want to end up some forty-year-old loner sitting at home playing WoW, do you?"
"Of course not, dude!"
"Fine. Then I'm only going to do this once - and you're gonna owe me for this - but I'm gonna teach you how to kiss like a true lady's man."
They both scooted towards each other, meeting at the middle of the couch. Their hands touched for a moment before Dave pulled his away quickly, adjusting his shades to brush off the awkwardness.
"Ugh, I can't see a fucking thing in the dark like this." He took off his shades, placing them on the floor next to game controller so they wouldn't get stepped on.
"Should I take off mine too?" John asked obliviously.
"Might as well."
He did as was suggested, setting down his glasses next to Dave's, then returning to face his new mentor.
There was an awkward period of inactivity which seemed to last years for Dave. He couldn't just lean in and do it like a coolkid would. Then again, he didn't have a clue what the right course of action really was. John looked eager, though perhaps not in the way Dave wished he was, but Egbert wasn't about to initiate it. Figuring he had to just jump in and do it, Dave leaned in and closed his eyes.
Just before their lips met, John pulled away, giggling like mad. Dave frowned, feeling like he had been had.
"I just," John could barely talk. "That mustache."
Dave looked down, going cross-eyed for a second, but couldn't see the mustache he had earlier drawn on his face.
"Just don't look, dammit," Dave sighed.
John laughed a bit more under his breath and closed his eyes, leaning back in.
Dave was far more flustered this time. His manly bravado had faded into boyish nerve and he had to brace himself to keep from shaking. As he got closer and closer, thoughts of disbelief were running through his head. Here he was, about to kiss John fucking Egbert, right in his own living room. How was this even a thing?
Then, it happened. Their lips touched, their teeth clicking together a bit, but not enough to stop them. Though the first split second was messy, the situation soon remedied itself in how well it proceeded. They kissed, softly at first but then with a bit more vigor, Dave trying desperately to seem far more experienced than he actually was, but also trying not to stress out too much and let it show. This conflict of interests kept him from enjoying the moment, his head far too busy to register something as trivial as pleasure. John kissed back to the best of his ability, even though he had no clue what the hell he was doing.
Then, Dave was taken by surprise. John placed his hand on his shoulder, pulling him in closer. Dave accepted the advance, groping blindly and finding Egbert's other arm. John's hand snaked its way up to the nape of Dave's neck, weaving his fingers into the blonde's short locks. This was more than just practice.
Dave pressed his tongue against John's lips, begging for entrance, but he didn't comply, instead tugging lightly at Dave's roots to say that he was reaching his limits. Strider backed down, not pressing his luck in being too demanding, finally starting to relax and enjoy himself. And then, just as quickly as it had began, it ended.
John returned his hand back to his side and pulled away from Dave, opening his eyes again. Dave stayed in place for a moment, hoping that it was just a pause but soon realized that it wasn't. When he finally got up the courage to look back at John, he found just what he expected: that same dopey smile Egbert always wore.
Then, without prompting, John's hand found Dave's and grasped it lightly.
In that moment, they both knew everything had changed.
Chapter 5: Realizations
Fifth chapter down, another many to go. This is probably my favorite part of the story so far, even though I've said it before, it keeps being true! I'm finally entering the part of the story I've been eager to write, where the secrecy of both boy's emotions starts to fade. Expect cuddling, comfort, and maybe a bit of Con-Air in the next chapter. As always, enjoy~
Sunlight poured through the window into Dave's room, bathing everything in warm orange light as the sun had now fully risen over the skyscrapers in the distance. While John, still sleeping on the floor, was protected from the heat by the shadow of the table, Dave was already sweat-drenched and the stinging sunshine roused him from a shallow sleep, urging him out of his bed as it did every morning.
His eyelids still drooping with barely-quelled exhaustion, he stepped into the hall and then the bathroom, locking the door behind him through force of habit. He never knew just when Bro would decide to launch a sneak attack and he had found himself, on more than one occasion, half-dressed and forced to defend against barrage of blows while trying to run a bath. Even though he was unable to coherently think in his current state, he could still protect himself.
Rubbing his eyes, he reached past the shower curtain and turned the faucet handle, waiting for the water to warm up before he got in. In the meantime, he threw off his clothes and looked in the mirror, slicking back his bangs. His hand came away slicked with sweat, much to his disgust but another, more puzzling thing caught his eye. Just above his upper lip was a large, black smear. He couldn't place what it was immediately, but it certainly deserved contemplation.
After a moment, he remembered where it had come from. That amorphous black blob that was streaking onto one cheek had been a mustache not long before, less than 12 hours by his own estimation. He guessed it had rubbed off sometime during the night, probably from perspiration, and he thought nothing more of it as he climbed into the shower, letting the water run through his hair. It was refreshing, to say the least, and better than the pool, although it did sting from his slight sunburn, and began to wake him up.
Washing that stupid mustache from his face, he started to remember the night before. They had played video games after coming back from the pool, ordered Chinese food, and played Truth or Dare. Dave swallowed hard when he remembered how that game had ended, and now wished he could stay in the shower for the rest of his life.
He had kissed John. And John had kissed him back. After it ended, both of tem were silent for a very long time, holding hands and awkwardly trying to gaze into each other's eyes. When it became too, well, weird, they mutually agreed that it was time to go to bed and said nothing more about what had just happened. They slept with their backs to each other, Dave unable to even look at Egbert below on the floor. He couldn't believe what he had done.
He was glad that he was alone now as he remembered it, completely unable to keep from blushing and gulping down his shame. Even if he hadn't forced himself on Egbert, he still felt as though he should have resisted being a part of what happened. John was his best friend and probably straight. If anything, he had been caught up in the moment and gone along with what Dave had started. Would John regret it? How could they possibly spend the next week and a half together after that mistake?
John would be getting up soon. Hell, he was probably awake right then, sitting back in Dave's room, doing the same thing that he was doing in the shower right now: lamenting. Dave had to get out sometime. He couldn't spend the rest of the day, much less the rest of the month, standing there under the increasingly lukewarm water, but he would be damned if he didn't try. He knew that whatever was out there, waiting for him to dare tempt it, was something he couldn't handle it, whether it be anger, embarrassment, or worse.
Strider sighed and clenched his jaw. He couldn't be this afraid of something so stupid. He was Dave motherfucking Strider, and he had shit to do. So, after washing his hair and building up his nerve, he stepped out of the shower and wrapped a towel around his waist, opening the door.
John was waiting on the other side, apparently in dire need to use the toilet, and rushed in past him, shoving him out and slamming the door. Dave was left blinking in confusion over what had just happened, but settled for having a few more minutes before he had to stare down whatever it would be like when John finally got out and spoke to him.
After pulling his shirt over his head, he searched the table beside his bed for his shades but failed to find purchase, instead being left wondering where the hell they were. He remembered taking them off sometime during the evening and figured he must have just never put them back on before leaving the living room for the night. Peering out of his room, he saw that the door to the bathroom was closed and figured that John was still in there, probably just as afraid to come out as he had been only minutes before, and turned to walk out and find his sunglasses.
John was not, however, cowering like a pansy in the bathroom, and instead had gone in search of his own glasses, which he had left next to Dave's. In fact, he was just reaching down to get them when Dave emerged, stopping dead in his tracks and then taking a step backwards, his courage failing. John heard him, looking up and grabbing his glasses, placing them on his face, and took the other pair that were still on the floor.
"Morning, Dave," John greeted him. His voice was friendly but softer than usual, betraying that something was definitely different than it had been the previous day. He stepped forward, holding out the sunshades.
Dave took them shyly, putting them back on with haste and swallowing.
"Dave-" He started, but was immediately cut off.
"Look," Dave managed to choke out the first word before launching into a full babbling rant, "about last night. That was an accident, er, a mistake. We shouldn't have done that. It was stupid. I shouldn't have made you, uh, you know. So can we just move on and pretend that never happened?" He stood, rigid and mortified, waiting for whatever retribution was to come.
"A mistake?" John repeated him. "You thought you made me do that?" His expression turned puzzled, cocking his head to one side. "Dave, you didn't make me do anything. If I hadn't wanted you to kiss me, I wouldn't have asked you to teach me."
Dave winced at the word kiss, still not comfortable fully confronting the act and preferring to refer to it with euphemisms, even in his own head. John continued:
"If you're thinking I'm upset with you or something, I'm not. It was a little weird, and really unexpected, but it wasn't a mistake. You know, unless you regret-"
"No, I don't, I mean-"
"Calm down!" John rolled his eyes and smiled. "Jeez, you don't have to be such a scaredy-cat, Dave. You're always so worried about everything. Lighten up for once. It was only a kiss. You're acting like we practically-"
"But it was your first kiss, John. I took your first kiss."
"You didn't take it, stupid, I gave it to you. It's not like you stole it, or anything."
"You wanted me to have your first kiss?" Dave stupidly asked.
"But...why? I mean, you're my best bro, but wouldn't you want to save that for someone you actually, you know, like."
"Yeah, well..." John broke his gaze, his almost imbecilic confidence waning away quickly. He flushed a bit, biting his lip and wringing his hands in nervousness.
"So, why didn't you?" Dave was beginning to get frustrated. Why wouldn't John just tell him why he did it?
"You see...the thing is..."
"Just spit it out already!"
"I like you, Dave!" John blurted out, looking back at him with perhaps the first serious expression he had borne since arriving.
The revelation hit Strider like a ton of bricks. Or like a ton of anything, really. He was dumbstruck, his jaw going slightly slack, unable to respond. John...liked him too? He wasn't even aware that Egbert had any inclinations that weren't purely heterosexual. Hell, Dave had no inkling as to who or what John fancied, but he hadn't seen anything like this coming. John seemed too normal. He was the kind of kid that grew up just to settle down with an woman who was average and have 2.5 kids, a white picket fence, and a Golden Retriever. He wasn't the kind of guy that developed crushes on their best friend of the same sex.
John's lip began to quiver and he balled his hands into fists as though trying to resist something. Dave still hadn't responded, having absolutely no idea of what to say, and the silence was horrifying. Why wouldn't he say anything back, even if it was just to rudely decline feeling the same way? His chest tightened as he tried to hold back his emotions. However, being just the person that he was, this was utterly impossible. With that, the first tears began to roll down his cheeks.
Dave internally panicked. John was crying. He had made his best friend, his crush, the closest thing he had to a first love in his life, start to cry right in front of him and he felt like there was nothing to do to stop it. The only thing now running through his head was a long stream of expletives, mostly directed at himself, frantically urging him to do something and chastising him for not. Every moment that passed made it even more painful to watch as John was breaking down before his very eyes. He couldn't stand still any longer.
In one swift motion, he stepped forward and took his friend into his arms, pulling him close and pressing Egbert's head against his chest. John, who couldn't have resisted even if he wanted to, clung to Dave's thin frame, sobbing into his shirt without any real words escaping his lips. He couldn't tell why he was crying now, what was making him feel so bad. It wasn't Dave, at least not entirely. Though he was certainly a factor in what was happening, he wasn't everything. Something deeper and more painful was starting to surface, something more frightening than rejection.
Dave knew the instant that John pulled him in tightly what was happening. It had been the winter before last that the same feelings had wracked his own body and shuddered through him: confusion in what he was, who he was, and what it meant for him. While the process of coming to terms with his sexuality had not been a sudden one, every thought had been lurking just beneath the veil, waiting to be released by a singular, seemingly inconsequential action. Then, without warning, they all sprang forth.
Before, when Dave had finally admitted to himself that he was gay, he had been alone. Only by reaching out to Egbert, who was half-way across the country at the time, had he been able to seek comfort from the kind words of another. Now, as John went through the same process, he was so grateful to be able to be here for him and return every word, every bit of acceptance he had been lent before.
Kissing his head softly, Dave whispered into his ear. It was nothing in particular, the generic reassurances that everything would be ok, but he knew they were what was needed. He wished deeply that he could give something more, something that could make all of the pain disappear, but he knew that magic word or action didn't exist. All he could do was be there to help him through it. He owed that much to the friend that was willing to be there for him when he had truly needed it.
And though he would never tell it to John, on that winter day, he probably saved his life.
Chapter 6: Shift
Another chapter for what's becoming a much larger project than I originally thought. I started writing the opening portions thinking that I would be done with it in under ten chapters, but seeing as the first six barely cover three days of two week visit, it seems that there's still a lot of work to be done. I will try to keep updating every day, but school may start to interfere and I've promised myself that it will take priority over my fandom duties (like that's ever going to actually happen!) Next chapter should include excursions and shenanigans with Bro. Enjoy~
John's eyes were still pink and puffy from crying, made even worse now by the fact that the two were watching a movie together in the dark, but he wasn't complaining about it. In fact, he was smiling now, though perhaps not as widely as he normally would, but smiling nonetheless.
The pair were sitting at the end of Dave's bed, Con-Air playing on computer monitor a few feet away. Strider himself was sitting with his legs dangling over the end, ready to spring forward again if his computer went into power save mode and the screen turned black. John was perched cross-legged beside him, the top sheet of the bed wrapped around him like some sort of patterned cocoon. Dave hadn't bothered to ask why the hell he was doing this, as it wasn't cold, but he figured it was just another one of his odd quirks and let it go.
Dave had been trying to sneak closer to John through-out the hour or so that the movie had been playing to no avail. Anytime he inched his way closer, Egbert would do move away, affording even more space between them. It wasn't outward rejection, instead just an ignorant attempt at offering his friend more room. He figured Dave was just trying to get comfortable.
Well, that was, in a sense, what he was trying to do. He had spent most of the day with his arms wrapped around John and now that he wasn't sitting there with his best friend whimpering into his chest, the space between them was oddly lonely. He wanted John to lean in and lay his head on his shoulder, to clutch his hand, to do something. Now that the floodgates of affection had flown open, he didn't want to waste any more time apart, even if the space separating them was now on the scale of feet and not hundreds of miles.
John had broken down into an utter mess earlier, as Dave expected he would, after the initial bout of tears this morning. He had tried to pick himself up again, drying his eyes and sniffling, trying to be strong, but it had failed. Though he staved off the turmoil for a while, long enough for the two to have breakfast, this painful transformation wasn't over by a long-shot.
Dave couldn't remember just what was said that put John over the edge, but it had been something seemingly disconnected. Then, just as quickly as he had crashed before, and in a far shorter a span of time than it took to clean himself up again, he was down. Curled up on the couch, his knees pulled to his chest, he couldn't stop himself from being torn apart by how new and different everything felt. Like a prisoner pulled out into the wide-open spaces of freedom, his newfound mental surroundings were overbearing, too much for him to handle all at once.
Strider swooped in like a parent cradling a fallen child learning how to walk, keeping John close. Egbert shared, through his cracking sobs, confessions of all manner, many relating to the situation at hand but others not. The whole thing, though he would never let any of this seem to shock him, really told Dave a lot about John that he didn't know. Things that he couldn't glean from the surface, a surface that seemed to hide no hidden depths, bubbled from the murk to show their true face.
John wasn't always this bouncy little bundle of joy that he appeared to be. Though he always wore a smile stretching from ear to ear, no one could see him biting his tongue out of shame or fear or pain. In truth, he had been exhausted and frustrated upon arriving to Houston. He had woken up early that morning, been lectured by his father on the way to the airport, had to go through security, and had been shoved in a cramped metal tube which proceeded to fly farther away from what was familiar to him than he had ever been. He was frustrated and tired, but he didn't let that show. His personal feelings, what wore him out when he let it, didn't matter then. What mattered was seeing that Dave was happy.
This was only one example of many that he was anything but hesitant to share. All those times when he assured Dave that high school would get better, he wasn't even sure about it himself. He was going through essentially the same hardships as everyone did, with his own added and those exclusive to others absent. It was the fact that he was so good at hiding all of these things that kept Dave from realizing that John was just as human as he was. When he was cut, it was blood that dripped from the wounds after all, not sugar.
In telling him this, John also made Dave realize something else quite interesting: how parallel two people could be incompletely differing ways.
Both of them were incredibly good at hiding their real thoughts and feelings, though Dave's poker face was countered with Egbert's goofy grin. Strider went out of his way to make sure that others pleased him, stroking his ego through various means and demeaning themselves to make him seem better in comparison. John was quite the opposite, gaining self-worth through a far more complicated scheme of aiding others, hoping that in return he would feel the same satisfaction and happiness that they did. Neither of them were objectively right or wrong. While John may have contributed to the well-being of his friends, how much was motivated by empathy and not by a yearning to leech from them what positivity he had instilled in the first place?
Dave didn’t want to think of it like that. He didn’t believe in absolutes. There were no such things as good and evil. What John did to help himself managed to help others, and that’s all that mattered. What he himself did to feel accomplished at the end of the day was sickening at best. But maybe by helping Egbert, the one who was usually doing the helping instead, he could somewhat redeem himself. There it is again with the selfishness. Couldn’t he just help him for John’s sake and not his own?
He tried to clear his head. Getting upset and negative was not an option with John so broken. He didn’t have the ability to log off and go think this time. He couldn’t make up an excuse and leave. So, in more ways than one, this kind of consolation was even better. The situation forced him to face something he found scary: the one who normally served as his cornerstone crumbling. He had to be brave for the both of them.
John asked a lot of questions as well; if he had told anyone else about what his sexuality, how they reacted when he did, how it had changed his life, if people could tell, if he ever thought that he might be straight after all and that this had all been a phase, etc. Dave answered as honestly as he could, though having mostly kept this secret to himself, he couldn’t offer much advise on how to react when others found out. Whatever he said seemed to help though, but maybe it was just having someone to ask for once that helped his best friend, despite what the answers turned out to be.
John, the one currently wrapped in sheets, was now mouthing the lines to the movie, Dave noticed. This must have been a part he really liked, probably having seen it dozens of times before. While he couldn’t understand the true appeal to the movie, Strider catalogued it as something he could possibly pretend to like for ironic purposes at a later date. Egbert bit his lip in anticipation, his eyes lighting up at every shock and jolt in the film, though they weren’t as shocking or jolting as one might assume from his reaction. God, why did he love this terrible film so much? His gaze seemed currently locked on Nic Cage, so Dave took this rare moment of distraction to make his move.
In one less-than-graceful movement, he shifted closer to John, close enough for their arms to touch while resting at their sides. Dave pulled his up to his body, however, so as to not make contact quite yet. He needed to be smooth about this. Strider was the sultan of smooth, the duke of dashing, and the count of completely-not-messing-this-up-oh-god-let-this-not-be-awkward. So, after quickly combing his repertoire of classy moves, he went with a stock favorite.
He pretended to stretch, though his back did really crack audibly, and put his arm around John’s shoulders, who failed to react in any fashion, still completely vexed by the rough-and-tumble hero with a heart of gold. He was like some bizarre incubus that seemed geared only on sucking John’s soul and no one else’s. Dave could sympathize with having a role model, but this kind of hero worship was bordering on fetishistic. He sighed, not willing to let something so petty as a celebrity crush bother him, no matter how stupid it seemed. After all, addiction is a powerful thing.
They spent the rest of the movie in this less-than-perfect position, Dave clutching John to his body while John was enthralled by what was happening on the screen. Strider resolved to enjoy the contact, even if his affection failed to be returned immediately. After all, any contact with someone who had stolen his heart was better than none, which is what he normally would be getting. Finally, as the film faded to black and the credits began to roll, Dave was given his due pittance.
John flung his arms around Strider’s waist, leaning against him with the full force of his weight and tipping Dave onto his side. John then wiggled his body up behind that of his best friend, nuzzling into his shoulder blade while his grip on Dave’s abdomen ceased to give up. It was an odd position, laying there with Egbert, especially considering how John was in the dominant place for once, but not an entirely unpleasant one. With a bit of fidgeting and squirming, Dave turned to face John, their eyes meeting in the dim light of the moonlit room.
The blue-eyed boy was wearing the same telling expression from the previous day at the pool. It was one of desire, though not a kind as physical as the word often means. It was a desire for connection and for, well, love. Then, with a single giggle, the look was dispelled from reality, though its image was burned into Strider’s mind like the brand from an iron fresh from the fire.
John leaned closer and kissed the tip of Dave’s nose, causing him to recoil in embarrassment, shifting out of Egbert’s grip amidst a flurry of boyish laughter. If there was one thing John could do without fail, it was ruin a romantic moment. Still, Dave could barely feign annoyance, perplexed by John’s sudden shift of expression but all the same amused with his cuteness.
Maybe there was still more about Egbert left to unravel.
Chapter 7: Camouflage
Sorry for posting this one a bit late, I tried to finish it before leaving to do errands, but couldn't. Anyway here it is! Expect more Bro in coming chapters, but other than that, I can't say what's to come! Enjoy~
John and Dave were awoken on the fourth morning by a loud crash; the sound of the bedroom door flying open and hitting the wall. There were already dents and cracks in the plasterboard where this had happened before, as it was a pretty common occurrence, and Dave was only slightly surprised to see his Bro standing in the doorway, waiting for them to get up and get ready. John, however was not used to such a rude awakening and jumped, covering his head with his pillow until he thought it was safe enough to look. He saw Bro point at Dave, then to his wrist where a watch would be, and leave without saying a word.
Egbert looked up at the younger Strider for a translation, who told him to get dressed and ready to go out soon.
"Where are we going?" John asked, fishing through his bag for something to wear.
"Dunno," Dave answered pointedly.
John looked for something light, figuring that it would be better to be a little cool somewhere indoors than be stuck outside in clothes far too warm. Come to think of it, it felt less blazing that day than the previous ones, but he still settled on a t-shirt and a pair of knee-length shorts. Dave picked out his clothes and changed in the bathroom, the door locked especially quickly that day, and emerged in skinny jeans and a shirt bearing the name of some band he was sure no one else had ever heard of.
The two made their way to the living room where Bro was waiting for them, then followed him down the elevator, out of the building, and around the block to where his car was parked. Having no clue as to what they were about to do or where they would do it, the boys climbed in the back seat and buckled in as Bro pulled out and started towards their destination.
It turned out to be a relatively short drive, ending at Hermann Park, which Dave had counted among the possibilities of where they were going. After parking, Bro retrieved a tote bag from the trunk, carrying it over his shoulder ironically like some kind of soccer mom at the beach. Dave knew what was going to happen, frowning slightly in anticipation, but followed his brother as they walked along one of the paved paths into the main area of the park.
The place was buzzing today with locals and tourists, having picnics on the grass, taking pictures in front of the massive reflecting pool, and walking dogs on leashes. John was delighted, happy to be getting some fresh air in a sunny place like this, though Dave was feeling a tad agoraphobic, keeping his hands shoved in his pockets the whole time. He didn't like being around so many unfamiliar people either, his arms folded flatly against his body to keep from rubbing elbows with strangers passing by. For some reason, he found himself in a slightly bitter mood today, perhaps from how his Bro had decided to announce their trip this morning.
Bro walked over to one of the walls around the reflecting pool and set down his bag, pulling out a bottle of sun block. Dave's slight scowl went into full-on-frown mode at the sight, now sure of what was about to happen to him.
The older Strider didn't even offer a choice to his little brother, knowing he would be met with fierce opposition. Dave hated sun block, even though he was apt to glow like a stoplight if he didn't apply any. In fact, the slightly pinkish hue he still bore from the other day's dip in the pool had reminded Bro to bring it with them. Taking a battle stance, he held out the battle like a katana, much to John's amusement.
"This is so not cool!" Dave protested, getting ready to dodge the sticky onslaught of UV protective glop which he knew was coming for him.
Bro moved faster than Egbert could even comprehend, though Dave managed to avoid the first blow, side-stepping at the right moment. Unfortunately, he was still outclassed by his brother and mentor, who got him on the second try, leaving Dave with a dollop of sun screen at the end of his nose. He then kindly offered the bottle to John, who took it half out of fear that he would receive the same treatment, and applied a bit to his cheeks.
Dave rubbed in the sun block while cursing under his breath about how utterly embarrassing this all was. Bro reached back into his tote and brought out a twenty, handing it to his brother and motioning that he was leaving now. Dave shrugged apathetically and pocketed the bill, watching to make sure that his Bro had really left before letting his guard down again.
"Does he do this every time he takes you somewhere?" John teased, giggling.
"Seriously, Egbert, shut the hell up," Dave frowned in response, starting to walk away from the busy waterside and off towards the quieter reclusion of the trees flanking each side. John followed close behind, eventually catching up and walking next to him.
Dave's hands were no longer in his pockets, so Egbert gently grasped the nearest one in affection, only to have his fingers shirked off by Strider, who didn't even glance in his direction. That was fine. It was still pretty warm anyway and no one likes sweaty palms, John reasoned.
The two strolled in silence until they had reached a sparsely populated path shaded from the sun by tall, dark-leaved trees. Dave picked a bench and sat there, slouching shamelessly as John took a seat next to him.
"So what are we supposed to do here?"
"No clue. There's nothing really cool to do, just golf and family shit. Figure we can just chill or whatever for a couple hours til Bro comes back to pick us up."
"That's no fun," John frowned. "You sure seem crabby today, Dave."
"Whatever. I'm just not feeling up to all this bright bullshit."
"Come on, perk up," John suggested nudging him with his elbow. He shifted a bit closer, taking Dave's hand, but he was once again refused, Strider pulling from his grasp. John looked over at Dave with confusion, pouting. He was used to his friend being aloof over chat, but this was the first time he had seemed so anti-social in real life. He went to place his hand on Strider's shoulder, but was shot a venomous glance and recoiled.
"Come on, you can tell me!"
"Nothing's wrong, okay!" Dave raised his voice.
John didn't say anything more, lowering his head. He knew something was amiss, but he didn't know what it was or how he could fix it, if that was even possible. He thought that maybe he had done something wrong.
Dave sighed sharply and crossed his arms.
"Look," he started, "I just...don't wanna get caught."
"What do you mean?"
"I live here. I know people here. I go to school with people here. I can't have them seeing me holding hands with another dude. Do you know how much trouble that could get me in?"
"Oh," John looked away.
"It's nothing about you, it's just..." He stopped himself. Talking wasn't going to make this better.
John swallowed nervously and wrung the end of his t-shirt between his hands. He understood where Dave was coming from, hell, he probably would have done the same think back in Washington, but he still couldn't help but feel a bit like Dave was ashamed of him. Even if he wasn't afraid of being outed, even if everyone already knew, would he act any differently? John didn't exactly consider himself a prize catch.
Dave looked over, saw that Egbert was clearly lost in his own thoughts, and sighed again. This boy could be so touchy sometimes.
"Come on, let's go check out the Japanese Garden. It's pretty nice," Dave tried to fix things by leaving this gloomy area. Besides, John liked dumb Asian things, right?
And so they went, walking along the various paths of the park, sight-seeing, even if the sights weren't so impressive. John lightened up a bit, though occasionally a pang of shame would course through him at the thought of embracing Dave. He wondered if it would always be like this, having to hide the fact that they were now more than friends. John, being the hopeless romantic that he was, assumed that they would be together forever, even if they were barely together now.
After an hour or so of perusing the local flora, both of them were somewhat tired and stopped the rest by the reflecting pool again, people-watching. Or at least, that was what John was doing. Dave was trying to ignore everyone else but Egbert.
"This place must be really pretty around sunset" John remarked. "All the colors on the water. It must be nice."
"Yeah, it's pretty cool. I've come down here with Bro before for fireworks and stuff."
"Wow, that must look great too! I wish I could see it sometime."
"Maybe you can come back next summer before Fourth of July or something."
"Or maybe you can come and stay with me instead," Egbert smiled. Then, after a pause, he continued more somberly. "You know, it's gonna be hard going back."
"Yeah, I know."
"I'm gonna miss you, Dave."
Strider paused for a moment. He wanted to say something back to the same effect, but it felt all too sugary for him.
"It won't be too long," he reassured John.
It wasn't the truth and he knew it. It would probably be almost a year before they got to see each other again. Sure, they could talk over Pesterchum and Skype, but it wouldn't be the same. He would miss seeing John sleeping right next to him in the morning. He didn't want to think about it just yet. Their time together was too precious to spend it worrying about the future.
"I know it won't be." He smiled.
Dave's hand crept towards John, then carefully grasped it. John squeezed it in response, careful to keep their affection relatively hidden between them. Then, without solicitation, Dave swiftly leaned over and kissed him on the cheek, making John instantly blush. Strider pushed up his glasses and acted like nothing was out of the ordinary. Just two heterosexual dudes sitting in the park, holding hands. Nothing odd about that.
Not one bit.
Chapter 8: Shattered
God, this is a monster of a chapter and kind of a departure from the fluffy cuteness of the others, but it needed to happen for the plot (which never stopped being a thing, really). However, don't fret! More fluff will be coming in future chapters, and softer than ever. Enjoy~
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"Egbert," Dave half-whispered, nudging his sleepy friend with his shoe.
John had laid down about an hour ago, just as Dave had gotten in the shower, and assumed that they were in for the night, ready to sleep. He was, however, wrong.
"What...?" He rubbed his eyes, looking up at Strider.
Where Dave should have been clad in pajamas, he was far from it. A combination of designer jeans and a tasseled scarf meant that something was most definitely up.
"Get up, we're going to the club," he said, stretching.
"Dave, we're fourteen, we're not going to the club," John frowned, rolling over and covering his head with his pillow.
"Yes we are, now get dressed and don't look like an idiot."
Reluctantly, John rose from his bed, not quite cottoning to the idea of going out for a night on the town, especially considering Dave's idea of a fun time was a lot shadier than his own. Still, within a few minutes he was looking forward to the adventure de jour, even if clubbing wasn't exactly his thing.
"Uh, what exactly am I supposed to wear?" He asked Dave who was looking himself over in the bathroom mirror.
"I don't know, whatever you packed."
"I didn't really think this was among the list of things we might do."
"Jesus, Egbert, you packed a swimsuit but you didn't even include something to go out in? Have I really taught you nothing?"
John gave him a blank stare, not sure of how to respond.
"Fine," Dave sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. "Just let me look through your shit and I'll pick out something suitable."
Strider stepped past John and over to his bag, picking through the clothes he had stuffed in the night before the trip, muttering comments about how he had no sense of fashion. John in turn had to resist giggling, seeing Dave all worked up over what he was going to wear was funny to him, especially considering how Dave's coolness seemed to have gone completely out the window that night, along with his sense of how young he really was.
He threw a pair of pants at John and told him to put them on, which he did, but not before revealing a pair of Ghostbusters patterned boxers. Dave was too busy still looking for the rest of John's outfit to notice, however. Finally, with another frustrated sigh, he threw a white t-shirt to his friend and quickly switched to his own closet, looking for something to supplement Egbert's passé wardrobe.
"John, tell me that you have better clothes at home."
"I brought almost everything I had with me."
"I am going to have to send you so many links when you get back. You're not coming here again without at least one good outfit," he stated, thumbing through his button-up shirts until he found one he thought was right for John, handing it to him still on the hanger. It was a bit tighter than he was used to, but Dave thought it fit him perfectly.
"Don't button it up all the way, idiot," he turned, seeing John dressing himself like he was heading to an interview and fixing it for him, leaving the top few buttons undone. He couldn't tell if Strider was seriously bothered by his apparent lack of coolness, but he figured it was just Dave being Dave.
"Shouldn't I have a cool doodad like your scarf too?" John asked, half-jesting.
"Please, I don't think you're ready to look like a coolkid. You'll pass for that guy who stands shyly in the back of the club refusing to dance with any chicks because he's too nervous."
"You sure do seem worked up tonight."
"Well, yeah, we're not there yet. I have to save up all my cool for the club. Besides, it's not like I have to impress you or anything. You've seen me sleeping. You can never find someone cool again after you've seen them sleep. It's a written fact."
"So you have to be like a ninja whenever you have people over and sleep only when they're sleeping?"
"No, I just don't sleep at all. That's the cooler way to do it. Are you writing this down? Jesus, get a fucking pen," Dave smirked. John was comforted to know that Dave could be himself around him now, even if it was in some backwards round-about way.
With one more look-over in the mirror, Strider grabbed his wallet and left his room, John following close behind. He knocked on his brother's door once and said that they were going out, continuing on towards the front door before he could get a response. Bro wouldn't object to them leaving, but might have some kind of smart and torturous thing to do to him beforehand if he waited too long. He had learned to just announce his intentions and move along.
John checked the clock in the lobby before they headed out onto the street, seeing that it was a little past ten in the evening. He thought it was later, but guessed he just over-estimated how long he slept earlier. Glad he had done so, he wondered if Dave was still tired from Hermann Park earlier, though he showed no signs of being worn-out. If anything, he was more energetic than the days beforehand, cracking his knuckles excitedly as they walked along the sidewalk.
"So where exactly is it that we're going?" John asked curiously, struggling to stay up with Dave's quick pace.
"It's not far."
"No, I mean, the name of the place."
"Name's not important."
"And how are we getting in? We don't look anywhere near twenty-one."
"You don't have to be that old to get into most places, Egbert. But I've made some friends on the inside, if you gotta know the details."
John wondered what exactly he meant by this, but chose not to think about it for long. The answer was probably more confusing than his simple, mysterious explanation. Like everything with Strider, it was wiser to go with the flow and not question it.
They walked a few blocks, made a couple of turns, and eventually found themselves in a tight alley behind a large brick building, the sound of loud, base-heavy music hanging in the air. Dave seemed to know where he was going, but John wasn't so sure about this little 'adventure' anymore. The streets of a big city like this weren't very forgiving at night, and he wasn't nearly as comfortable about being out as the average person would be.
Dave found a door and opened it, grabbing John's hand to quickly pull him inside.
Beyond the entrance was the back room to a club, which appeared to be a large storage closet of some sort with chairs stacked to the ceiling.
"I thought you said you knew someone!" John whispered harshly.
"I do. How do you think I found out about this way to get in?" Dave assured him, walking towards another door on the far side of the darkened room. They made it through, but not before the two of them tripped over various supplies laying on the ground, John smacking his shin and cursing under his breath with a hiss. This was going far less than well.
The door led to a hallway, which led to a set of double-doors, the music growing louder as they approached. A few times Dave thought he saw someone coming, hiding himself and Egbert around a corner for concealment. Finally, they made it to the entrance to the main section of the club, Strider pulling John along behind him quickly.
They then found themselves in a room lit in mostly in blue, though other lights, timed to the loud music flashed intermittently. It was packed with people, most dancing, and all of whom much older than the boys. Dave put on his poker face now and led John towards left side of the room where a long bar lined the wall. John stuck close, a little flighty being in such tight quarters with all these older strangers, but he trusted that his friend would never put him in a dangerous situation.
Once they were near the bar, Dave told John to stay put against the wall while he went to get a drink. He nodded, watching as Strider walked calmly over to the bar, though he didn't go right up to the counter at first. He waited until a specific bartender, one that looked quite young himself, was free. He chatted up the barkeep for a minute or two before handing him a couple of bills and waiting for his order. John guessed that this was the inside connection that Dave had mentioned, since any other bartender would have turned him away instantly for obviously being too young.
He returned in a few moments, holding a drink in each hand.
"Here," he held out on tall, straight glass with a slice of lime on the rim.
"What is it?"
"Long Island Ice Tea."
John took the drink and placed it to his lips, barely taking a sip before turning his head in disgust.
"You didn't tell me there was alcohol in this!"
"Duh, what the fuck else would I be ordering from a bar?" Dave gulped down his own drink, his nose crinkling at the taste.
"I don't want it," he handed it back.
"Fine, more for me." Strider downed the rest of his own drink and started on John's.
"Do you really think this is such a good idea, Dave?"
"Don't be such a pussy, Egbert. We're here to have a good time. You told me not to be such a downer earlier, now take your own advice."
John frowned but didn't protest anymore. He certainly wasn't having any fun, but maybe Dave was right. Wasn't this what kids their age dreamed of doing? They were in a nightclub with access to booze, pretending to be adults. Still, John wanted to be back at the apartment, doing something a lot more relaxing. Being in this place made him tense.
It wasn't long before Dave was tipsy, being quite the lightweight. He tried to get John to dance, pulling him by the hand towards the undulating masses of people, but he resisted, staying plastered to the wall while Dave was plastered in a different way. Strider eventually gave up on trying to engage John, heading out on his own to dance.
Threading through the crowds of people, Dave was eager to enjoy himself. It had been so long since he'd come here, or anywhere really, and he was party-starved. It seemed like every night before John had come to visit he had spent at home, isolated in his room. Even an independent coolkid like himself needed to wind down and let loose on occasion. So what if Egbert wasn't going to do the same? For being so fun-loving, he sure was up-tight when it came to anything outside of their age group. Dave practically thought of himself as an adult anyway. He was way more mature than all of the other kids in his grade, right?
Someone offered to buy him a drink and he accepted. He couldn't tell quite who they were in the rush and low lighting, but it was an older guy. It wasn't like Dave was going to allow himself to be picked up, especially not with John to take home, but he wasn't going to turn down something free like this when it landed right in his lap. He chatted drunkenly with his suitor, who proceeded to buy him another drink after the previous one was finished, until he was practically falling down and the older gentleman led him to the back to lounge on the cushy furniture.
All the while, John was becoming more and more upset. Dave had woken him up after a long day out and, without a choice, taken him to somewhere he clearly didn't belong. At least Strider had been right on one account, he was now that guy in the back of the club standing around nervously, though he had nobody to turn down, for which he was thankful. Everyone here seemed slightly skeezy, at least to him, and they certainly weren't people who he would be friends with outside of this place.
His arms folded over his chest, he wondered how long it would be before Dave was tired and wanted to go home. Whenever that happened, or if he even hinted at being bored, John would be eager to go back. He wouldn't complain or initiate wanting to leave, as being here clearly made Dave happy, but he wasn't going to allow this to go on for much longer. He wasn't sure how long he had been waiting, probably only a half an hour at the most, but it felt much longer in the atmosphere of this strange place. Having no other options, he left his post and went to look for his friend.
Awkwardly pardoning his way across the dance floor, there was no sign of Strider. After bumping into more than a few people, John started to worry, thinking that maybe something had happened to him. No, that would be silly. What could happen to someone in a place like this? A lot of answers came immediately to mind, none of them good. Gulping down his fears, he turned and crossed the floor again, looking around for Dave's familiar shades and blond mane, though he was nowhere to be found.
Finally, having found no sign of Dave, he resolved to head back to where he had been left in the first place, figuring it was just easier to be found when the time to go home came than for him to seek out Strider, who was likely still dancing his heart out. Maybe after Dave got out all this extra energy, they could spend tomorrow doing something a little less-
There he was.
Dave was sitting next to a tall gentleman in a black button-up shirt. There was a drink in his hand, not the one John had given back to him, though this one was also quickly emptied. He was laughing, biting his lip, and just being very unDave-like. It was weird to watch, but nothing that concerned John wildly. At least now he knew where he was and that he was safe. He was probably just talking to a friend of his.
Then that friend leaned in and kissed his neck. Dave giggled and tried to push him away, though his attempts were pitiful at best.
John wanted to sink into the floor and disappear. If it all hadn't been too much for him to handle before, this was the straw that broke the camel's back. Well, it was more like the two-ton anvil that smashed the camel into the sand, but its effect was all the same. Dave was drunk, far more so than before, and was now allowing some old creep to feel up on him. John was disgusted in more ways than he even realized, though jealousy was one of which he was very aware, and he couldn't just stand there. It was past the point of being afraid to act. Egbert was about to go into Defcon 1 what-the-fuck mode.
He trudged over to where Dave and his suitor were sitting, though neither of them noticed him at first.
"Dave, we're leaving," he half-growled. "Now."
"Hey, mind your own-" Dave started before realizing just who was telling him this. He was too inebriated to realize just what had happened, just what John caught him being a part of, but he knew something was very wrong and that it was likely his fault.
The 'gentleman' turned to tell Egbert to fuck off, but stopped when he saw the absolutely deadly glare that was being shot at him, his hands retreating from Dave. Even though John was a relatively scrawny kid who didn't have much fight in him, there are just some kinds of angry you don't mess with. This was one of them.
Dave stood, stumbled a bit, then went with John, who grabbed his wrist painfully hard and pulled him to the back of the club, through the doors they had entered before.
They made it all the way to the alley again before either of them said anything, Dave being the one to crack.
"Don't even talk to me right now."
He pulled away from Egbert's grasp and stopped. John eventually stopped too, taking a moment before he turned around.
"I don't even care at this point what you're gonna say."
"I didn't mean to-"
"SHUT UP!" John yelled.
Dave finally stopped his babbling, frightened. He had never seen John like this.
"You think you're so mature," John began, his tone still aggressive and frustrated at the same time, "but you're not. You think you're an adult, but you're just a kid. You don't even know what you're doing or who you are. You try to act cool, you try to make yourself out to be something that you're not, and you just look like a massive prick! You're my friend Dave, but sometimes I just can't stand you! Sometimes you can be so sweet and like a genuinely good guy, but then you go and screw it all up to the point where you're so deep in shit that you can't dig yourself out of it anymore and I always have to be there to help you! I'm tired of it! Why can't you just figure out how to act like yourself and stop trying to live up to your Bro or whoever?
"You have this impossible vision of yourself in your head of this coolkid who parties and who everyone looks up to, but that's never going to be you! The only people who look up to you are the ones that are afraid of you, and everyone else thinks you're a massive jerk, even Jade and Rose! You told me when you came out that you tried to be straight for a long time and it tore you up inside and you ended up getting hurt because you were trying to be something that you're not. Can't you understand that the same thing is happening here!"
John was panting, his mind racing, but said nothing else. These were all the things he had kept to himself whenever Dave came to him, upset over something he had caused by trying to be the fake Strider, and they were finally coming out. He couldn't keep them to himself, for Dave's sake.
Dave was still and silent for a long time, barely moving even to breathe. John couldn't tell just what his expression was with his eyes hidden behind those shades and his mouth locked in a blank half-frown, but he hoped that his message had gotten through. Egbert never could have known, however, just how much his whole speech had broken his friend.
He was right, Dave knew. He was absolutely right about everything. Dave was constantly trying to live the life of someone else, someone he felt he should have been born as but wasn't. Wearing sunshades was one thing, but getting boozed up by some older guy in a club was completely different. Who was he trying to impress with all of this? His friends didn't like it, his Bro certainly wouldn't if he found out, and the person in his life he considered his closest friend was utterly disgusted by all of it. The fact that he could trick himself into thinking this kind of life was right for him made him even more sick than anything else.
A tear rolled down Dave's cheek, which didn't go unnoticed by John, whose expression began to fade into one of concern instead of rage. He sighed quietly, keeping his eyes locked on Strider, who was struggling not to break down.
"You're," Dave's voice cracked. "You're right. I...I don't know what's wrong with me."
"Nothing's wrong with you, Dave..." John tried to keep him from breaking out into a full sob. This was not the right place for emotional awakenings.
"I just want people to respect me, to...I just want people to like me. I keep trying to cover up all these stupid flaws and I can't. Everyone can see right through my dumb charade...I just want to be normal."
John stepped forward and opened his arms to Dave, trying to pull him into an embrace, but he was pushed back.
"No," Dave protested, the tears falling more rapidly now, "I don't deserve your pity. I don't deserve anything. I fucked up, just like I always do. I'm no cool kid. I'm not anyone. I'm-"
"You're wrong," John interrupted. Dave looked up at him, waiting to be scolded again. "You're Dave Strider. You just need to stop trying to be anyone else. You're the coolest guy I know and," he swallowed hard, "and I love you."
Dave's breath hitched for a moment. After everything that had happened, those were the last three words he expected John to be saying, but there was no doubt about what he had heard.
"And that's never going to change," John added, a warm smile creeping across his face, pulling Dave in and hugging him tightly.
Dave buried his face in John's shoulder, crying even harder now. He couldn't understand it, but something was changing in his head. He loved John, and John loved him back. It should have been the happiest moment in his young life, but he knew that he couldn't stop and bask in its warmth. He had to fix himself. If not for his own well-being, then for John.
John was much more than a friend now, and he would never again do anything to hurt him.
==> END OF ACT ONE
But seriously, this has been the longest chapter for far for a reason. I wanted to make a kind of division between the first and second half of the fic, and I think this will serve that purpose well. I'm taking off a few days, so there won't be an update for a while. I need some time for school and also to plan the story a bit more, since I kind of have a direction to go in now instead of just writing whatever I feel like. I'm also planning the fic I'll begin after this one has finished. Check back on the weekend, as I will definitely have something posted by then. :3
Chapter 9: Forget
Well, I'm back! I'm sorry for this being so terribly short, only about a thousand words, but I've been very busy. The next chapter should be more substantial, like normal. I'm also still planning out my next fic, which I'm very eager to start once this one is over. I still have a few more things to accomplish here, a few plot points and some fluffy padding in between them, but I can't promise how many more chapters it will be, plus the epilogue. Let's hope that it's more instead of less, as I love writing this pairing!
"Need anything else?" John asked, carrying a glass of ginger ale in one hand and a pain killer in the other.
Dave was lying in bed, his face buried in his pillow. He sat up just long enough to down the medicine and a sip of soda, then planted himself firmly in bed again, tired and with a pulsating headache. John normally would have lectured him, saying this is why he shouldn't drink so much, but he figured the discomfort Strider was facing was teaching more of a lesson than he ever could. All he could do was smooth the process a bit, completely fine with getting no thanks. In fact, he would worry more about Dave's state of mind if he went out of his way now to thank him.
Sitting down on the air mattress, John stretched. He hadn't been up for long, maybe an hour at most, having slept in after their night out. Upon much poking and prodding, he had managed to rouse Dave, who proceeded to stumble to the bathroom and puke. It didn't take a genius to figure out that Strider was in the midst of a massive hangover. Still, John was doing everything he could to comfort his friend.
Well, more-than-friend. Boyfriend? He wasn't sure what to call Dave anymore. They weren't really dating, but something was happening. Sure, more-than-friend would do. Besides, he was only using the term in his head. It wasn't as though he had to explain the complicated status of their relationship now to anyone else. In fact, secrecy seemed to be something that Strider valued, regardless of his motivations. John wondered if he could even tell his other friends.
Jade? Probably not, or at least not without a lot of preparation. He would have to make her swear not to mention it to Dave, or even hint that she knew anything was going on. But, Harley being Harley, she would slip up sooner or later. She was just too excitable. Even if she could keep the contents of a secret to herself, the existence of the secret in the first place would be obvious to anyone in contact with her. So she was out of the picture.
Rose? Well, she was a different story. Sure, John trusted her, maybe even more than he trusted Dave in some respects, but she was tricky. Dave and her were close as well, and keeping something from a 'patient', as Rose would often describe him, was not the most ethical thing to do. Besides, she had an unquenchable curiosity about certain things, and this would surely be one of them. If she couldn't tap John for all the information she wanted to know, and there were some things he wouldn't know for sure, then she would have no chance but to confess her knowledge to Strider. Lalonde left not one stone unturned.
So for now, no one would know. Things might change after he left, after Dave was more comfortable with what was still currently happening, and then who could and couldn't be told would be discussed. He would never betray Dave's trust by letting someone in on their relations prematurely.
Strider groaned from his bed. His train of thought slipping away, John whispered up to Dave, asking him what was wrong. The blonde said nothing in response, simply slipping on hand out of the sheets and reaching out towards Egbert, who couldn't quite get what was wanted of him. So, eager to help, he crawled forward and kneeled at the side of the bed.
Dave grabbed the collar of John's shirt and pulled him closer, Egbert finally understanding what he wanted. John laid on his side behind Dave, who pressed his back to Egbert's chest and made himself comfortable in the arc of the other boy's body. John in turn pulled Dave closer, placing his arm around him gently as he was still pretty fragile. He rested his other arm beneath his own head, his hand slowly running through Strider's soft platinum hair.
This was the second time John had taken the more dominant position, but Dave was too sick to care. He just wanted the comfort that came with being cradled and cuddled and being cool wasn't very high up on his list of to do’s at the moment. In fact, he was fighting the urge to attempt some kind of ironic gesture, favoring more genuine ones. Though there were parts of the previous night that were fuzzy, the memory of his own back alley breakdown was as clear as could be. He wanted to change.
His eyes shut tightly, Dave rolled over and curled up into a ball, burying his face in John's chest, who fidgeted to reaccommodate himself. Strider’s breath was labored, feeling as though his stomach was twisting into painful shapes right beneath his skin, and he let out a quiet whine.
“Shoosh,” John cooed, kissing Dave’s forehead over and over. “You’re gonna be ok. Just relax and you’ll feel better. I promise.”
So he did. So Dave Strider, the cool kid who didn’t need anyone else to tell him what to do, took the nerd’s advice and sighed, knowing that the pain would pass. He figured this was another thing he could change: being so hard-headed. He was always so skeptical when it came to following advice, even when it came from someone so important to him. How could anyone else possibly know what was best for him? No, stop that. That was the kind of thinking that always got him in trouble with at least one person angry at him, if not more.
Calmly setting his mind adrift, Dave began to slip in and out of consciousness. Even though Egbert’s clutches were a bit warmer than he would have liked, the warmth failed to break the impenetrable barrier of comfort he had established around himself. It was perfect here, with John, with nothing else to worry about. He didn’t care about where his shades were or if he had remembered to take his wallet out of his jeans last night or anything else that would normally force him out of bed. It didn’t matter to him anymore.
All that mattered was the beautiful boy with which he was currently cuddling.
Screw everyone and everything else.
Chapter 10: Transcension
Sorry for the pause again. I've been catching up on things over the weekend and finally managed to write the chapter. I'll try to update every few days, but I can't promise an exact schedule. Still, I feel like I've broken back into this story after my break, and I'm eager to write more! The next chapter should feature one of the beautiful ladies, so keep checking back of updates! Enjoy~
"Stop button-mashing!" Dave bit his lip, his eyes constantly flashing between the controller and the screen, trying to remember which buttons to press for a combo.
"It's not button-mashing if you know what you're doing," John smirked, even if it was a lie.
The two were once again on the living room floor, playing video games. In fact, they had been here nearly the entire evening since Dave's hangover subsided and he was well enough to crawl out of bed. Still a bit feverish, he wasn't ready for anything strenuous, but fiddling with joysticks and accusing Egbert of cheating was definitely something he could manage.
"Come on, that wasn't even a real move, you modded this thing," Dave tried to recover from a devastating strike that knocked out half of his health.
"Modded? This is your game, idiot," John giggled.
"Yeah, you must have done something to it. You shouldn't be this good."
"I have this game at home. You just never get online and play it. Jade plays with me all the time!"
"I don't do the whole online console thing, it's stupid."
"Is not. Maybe if you didn't stay on your computer all day, you'd be better."
"You're one to talk," he scoffed, "I don't think I've seen you offline in months."
"Cause most of the time I'm one IM with you. But after you go to sleep I usually game for a while with Jade or Rose."
"Sometimes. She says she just plays for the plot, but I think she's just trying to seem cool and sophisticated, cause she even plays MMO's with me when I make her."
"Shit, Egbert, I never knew that. All I ever talk about with Rose is how everything in my dreams apparently looks like dicks and how in ten years I'm gonna start remembering all sorts of weird repressed stuff."
"Yeah, she tries to psychobabblize me sometimes but she usually stops. She says I'm 'too difficult.'"
"Pfft, sure. I think she just likes to snark me especially. We're like sarcasm buddies or something stupid like that."
"She worries about you more than you think, Dave."
Strider said nothing back, not sure how to respond. He knew deep down that it was true, Lalonde did hold something for Dave that could be construed as affectionate worry, but neither of them would ever willfully acknowledge it.
The battle ended when John finally scored the finishing blow, Dave's character left a bloody pulp on his end of the stage. He cursed under his breath as John stuck out his tongue, the boys both doing so in jest. Strider elbowed Egbert, who pushed back and laughed, starting a bout of roughhousing until the pair were bored, sitting around and thinking of things to do.
"We could go and see if Rose is online," John suggest, "you said you had a webcam, right?"
"Yeah, but it's Friday night. She has violin lessons at that old lady's house like an hour away so she doesn't get home til late."
"Oh yeah, you're right. Forgot what day it was," Egbert palmed the back of his neck. "Uh...I always have more movie suggestions if you wanna watch something."
"Nah," Dave shook his head. "Not really in the mood for that."
"Well, what do you wanna do?"
"What do you usually do at home? When you're not just talking to someone over IM, I mean."
"Not much else. Chill out and listen to music, write some sick rhymes, shit like that. What about you?"
"Well, my dad makes me play the piano sometimes and I try to practice with my coding and all."
"So, pretty much nothing. Cool." Dave cracked his knuckles. "So more video games and sitting around being bored, I guess."
"Well," John cracked a mischievous smile, "I kind of have an idea."
"What's that?" Dave perked up at just the way John's words flowed.
"You don't learn how to do something in one sitting. Rose is off learning her violin, Jade learned how to play her bass over the years, and we learned out instruments by practicing too, right?"
"Uh, duh, dumbass."
"Well, I did ask you to teach me something a few nights ago and, well, maybe I could use a bit more practice," he blushed.
"What are you..." Dave trailed off as he realized just what John was trying to get at. "John," he smiled coolly, "if you wanted to make-out, you should have just said so."
John bit his lip and adjusted his glasses, trying to hide his coy shyness as Dave leaned in closer. There was no preparation. He wasn't taking the time to shut off the lights or neatly place their glasses aside; they were making this happen right here, right now. And yet, as Dave's lips brushed gently against his own, John didn't care in the slightest about atmosphere. The feeling was perfect enough on its own.
Dave was more forceful this time, but still kept himself restrained. John was innocent, though perhaps not as innocent as he believed, and he waited for every inch to be given to him, careful to take only what was rationed, never more. This gentleness, if that's what it could be called, was less from a 'don't bite the hand that feeds you' mentality, and more from a fear of hurting the one he loved. His needs, and whether or not they would be fulfilled, didn't matter anymore. It was about what John wanted now, and Dave would give him anything.
John playfully traced Strider's lips with his tongue, experimenting with what felt right. Dave was eager to reciprocate, showing him what to do and how to do it, actually teaching him, much to John's amusement. He had used the practice excuse as a ploy where he was too afraid to be upfront, but he couldn't complain. As Dave's mouth played with his own, close enough to feel the heat of Strider's blush, new waves of bliss overtook him, feelings he had only grazed before now washing over him like waves at high tide.
Breaking away only for panting breaths, their hands entwined then separated, exploring curiously. Wherever John was brave enough to venture, Dave did the same, taking this as permission. Though Egbert was not nearly rash enough to take the plunge into more unknown areas, he found that certain spots did elicit an unexpected response. A gentle stroke on the neck, a trailed finger up the back, a caress of the collarbone; each of these was enough to cause Dave's breath to hitch and for his hands to falter. John catalogued every one of these special places, testing them curiously, wondering where his own weak points were and if they could just as easily be found.
The blonde pulled away again, though he did not return his own lips to John's with haste, instead dipping his head to the other boy's neck, kissing along its length. Egbert whimpered, an involuntary whine escaping his throat at the feeling. His entire body was aching for more contact, needing the feeling of mouth and fingertips more than even air at the moment. He half-whispered a name, his voice desperate and breathy, which made his partner smile.
John was lost in a way he had never been lost before. Perhaps the closest parallel would be to the ebbing from sleep to consciousness after an exhaustive day. A warm bliss flowed through his veins, overcoming all else, all pain and worry, to soothe and heal his mind, transcending just his body and, or at least he was convinced of it, transcending all that was physical. His bond with Dave underwent a blossoming metamorphosis from the playfully unsure tendrils of interest to the woven spirals of passion. Music filled his head, based around the low moans and sighs, some from Dave and others from himself, their origins a mystery. John was lost and he never wanted to be found.
Unfortunately, it was not to last and everything came crashing down in an instance.
Dave heard the door open, but by the time he realized just what that sound meant, it was too late. He pulled away from John, his hands retreating quickly from beneath the boy's shirt, but the damage had been done. His brother stood above the two, his arms crossed and his face rapidly shifting between emotions.
John was even more confused as to what was going on, his hands finally wrenched away under Dave's volition and not his own. He looked around for a moment, the music in his head having come to a screeching end and leaving him dazed. When he saw Bro above them and put together the pieces, he picked himself up off the floor and looked to the younger Strider for guidance.
Dave couldn't look at either of them. He was fighting back tears, so afraid of what was going to come next. His chest tightened, his hands beginning to shake as he was unable to remain composed any longer. He managed to motion John towards the hall, and Egbert was more than eager to escape the situation, holing up in Dave's room for whatever was going to come next.
He sat down on the air mattress, pulling his knees towards his chest. He was scared too, though not nearly to the degree to which Dave was, and he couldn't do anything about it. The helplessness, the insecurity of his future, tore at his defenses and let in everything that had been kept out by the warmth Dave had infused into him through their embrace. Every noise from the living room, any word half-caught through the plasterboard walls, made his wince with fright. Would he have to go home early now? Would his Dad find out about this? Would he still be able to speak to Dave? The possibilities, especially the worst-case scenarios, ran through his head with vigor, eradicating any evidence that happiness had once filled the nooks and crannies of his mind.
He pled, first silently and then in whispers, that everything would be ok. He didn't know to who or what he was pleading, or even if this was anything more than a way to keep from sobbing, but he did it.
After a while, things were quiet. He dare not venture out from the bedroom, but at least there was no yelling. God, was John afraid of yelling. Yelling in any context, save for a joyous cry, was frightening, even if it wasn't directed at him.
It seemed like hours passed with no sound. John began to nod off, not exactly bored but merely unstimulated, before Dave returned, quietly opening the door.
John stood up immediately, trying to see if things had went well or not before Strider could say a word. Dave’s eyes were puffy from tears, and he was still sniffling, but he managed to smile weakly. Without a pause, John flung his arms around Dave and hugged him tightly.
“It’s ok,” Dave stated quietly after Egbert let up. “He just said,” his voice cracked, “not to make-out in the living room.” He tried to make John laugh, succeeded, and felt a little better. In truth, his conversation with his brother had been a lot more content-heavy than just a warning and a stern look, but he wasn’t ready to talk about it just yet.
Still, perhaps this was a good thing. It let out a few facts, ones that had become quite important in his life, that would have taken a lot longer to reach his brother’s ear. He could only imagine how many days would have been spent building up his nerve, how many terrified false starts he would have had, and how sick it would have made him to think about it. Now that everything was out, he had one less thing to worry him. Maybe he could use this as the impetus to let others in on who he really was.
Old Strider kept everything to himself, never letting anyone in. New Strider...well, he would have to see about that.
Chapter 11: Analysis
Another one down! Finally, some action from a new character as well. I've been thinking about it a lot lately, and I'm thinking that I might write a sequel to this fic after it's finished. Of course in the mean time I actually have to end the fic first! I'll also probably complete at least one or two other, smaller fics before then. Still, if you'd like to see more of Rose, then I think you'll enjoy what I'm cooking up for the sequel. Next chapter should, pretty obviously, include Jade. Enjoy~
The boys, still in their pajamas, sat in front of Dave's monitor, John sitting on a folding chair dragged from the hall closet. Both were waiting, quite impatiently, for a certain sarcastic young woman to log online for the morning, knowing she would be up soon. She had to be, Dave thought, it was nearly ten where she was, and it wasn't like her to be sleeping in late. Though the two were tired, they had agreed to wake up early on that Saturday morning and speak with Rose as soon as possible, lest she become preoccupied with something else. Now, silently, they watched for a message to appear saying that she was available.
It wasn't long before a small window popped up from the chat client icon showing that TentacleTherapist had signed in. Today her status read that she was open for patient review, meaning in Lalondese that she was open to talk to anyone who wished to put up with her analysis. Dave swallowed audibly, opening the window and hovering his pointer over the call button. John, about as frightened as Strider was, hiding it behind his foolish bravery, clutched the hand of his friend where he knew the webcam couldn't see.
Dave clicked the button and a soft ringing came from his speakers. He was reaching to turn up the volume when the sound stopped, another larger window appearing now to cover the rest of the screen.
A room came into view, lit from a high window on the opposite wall, shaded partially by the branch of a tree, and pleasantly shadowy. The walls were a calm shade of lavender, though little of them could be seen beneath the various posters that were tacked up, portraying various monsters and characters from literature so obscure that Dave nearly lent her some of his own hipster cred for them. A bed, dressed in messy sheets and sporting an even less tidy knitting bag, was stationed below the window, protected by the wall from the harsh sunlight.
John turned his head and looked at Dave, both of them asking the same question in their head.
Then, as though able to read their thoughts, a lithe form came into frame, silhouetted against the window. With a shuffling sound, the view began to shift, resettling in front of a pile of warm knit clothing, where the form sat, its visage now illuminated instead of hidden.
Rose Lalonde appeared striking, as always. Even curled up in a purple bathrobe over silken pajamas, her pose was proper and she bore an air of elegance more befitting an oil painting than a sleepy teenager. Still, neither of the boys were phased by it. They had long since become accustomed to how different Rose was from others of their age, as they knew how truly similar she was when she let her guard down.
"Hello, Dave. Glad to see you've come for another visit, and with a guest," she smiled gently.
"Yeah, John's sacking out on my floor for a few days. It's cool."
"Hi, Rose!" John leaned in and grinned, always happy to see her. She nodded in return, lightening up a bit. John had the odd ability to calm her where as others usually made her more tense. She figured his presence could perhaps even her out for this encounter with Strider. While their arguments were usually friendly in nature, they could also squabble like siblings when neither of them were in a good mood.
"So, I received your message from last night. May I ask what was so important that you two are awake and in front of the webcam and not sleeping or out frolicking?"
"Frolicking?" Dave scoffed. "I have never and will never do anything that involves frolicking. That shit's not cool."
"Fine. Why are you two not out mackin' on the ladies, as you might put it?"
Dave paused, a lump building in his throat. She knew. She had to know. Why else would she say something like that? She was Rose, that's why. It was just her way. Sarcasm, teasing, and sarcastic teasing were her go-to methods of conversation.
"Well, Rose-" John began, only to be hushed by a tight squeeze from Dave's hand.
"Look, there's something I kind of want to talk about," Dave tried to appear as seriously as he could. "I'm not just joking around her. I'm going Defcon 1 serious."
"All right, seeing as that level of significance is usually reserved for orphanage fires, I'll bite."
"You see..." Dave looked away from the webcam. He wasn't sure of exactly how to say it. "I'm kind of...well, you know how you're always insinuating-"
"Strider, if you're attempting to come out of the closet, you're doing it very poorly," Rose smirked.
Dave still averted his gaze, unable to respond. The shame that he had been fighting back since they had begun the conversation came flooding in, as did the color in his cheeks.
"You..." Rose dug her fingers into the pile of knittings beneath her, her eyes widening at the realization, "you're serious?"
"Yeah," he finally replied with a sigh. "I'm serious."
"Well, I...I, uh," Rose stammered, which was something quite unusual for her. After a moment, she cleared her throat and continued, "I'm sorry. I wasn't teasing you with genuine malice."
"I know," Dave shifted uncomfortably.
"I'm just a little surprised. I mean, I had my suspicions, after the way you talked about, um, certain things," she avoided using Egbert's name, as he was now in on the conversation as well, "but I guess that just proves I'm not as good at reading others as I try to be. Either way, I'm glad you can trust me enough to be honest."
"Duh, of course I'm not gonna lie to you," Dave smiled coolly, relaxing again. "Lying to my own shrink would be stupid."
"Yes, that would be quite counterproductive," Rose laughed quietly under her breath for a moment and yawned. "So, seeing as how John failed to react in any way, I assume he already knew."
"I've known for a while now," Egbert cut in.
"That doesn't surprise me, seeing as how close you two have become."
Though Strider knew she meant nothing by it, her comment still made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. He was already half done with his confessions to Lalonde, though the second half seemed to weigh a lot heavier on his mind than the first, seeing as how the latter was far more recent in existence.
"Rose," Dave said, calling again with sincerity. "There's kind of something else I wanted to say too."
"Yes, Dave? I'm all ears," she leaned forward and rested her chin in her palm.
He choked. Not only couldn't Strider speak, he also found it quite hard to breathe, clenching his jaw and desperately trying to make some form of comprehensible statement. What few, hushed noises escaped his mouth came in the form of stalling sounds. Still, she waited intently, staring into the camera instead of rushing him to the point. Somehow, he found this even more disconcerting than if he had been berated for filibustering.
"Dave and I," John jumped in again, taking the reigns, "we're together."
"Yes, John, I can see that you're in the room."
"No, I mean we're together together, like, romantically."
The awkwardness of the phrasing made Dave twitch, but at least he hadn't been the one to have to say it.
"Hm," Rose pondered the notion for a moment, not letting her face betray her thoughts. "I'm not sure if that revelation if more or less surprising than the first, but I must say that it pleases me to hear it."
"Why?" Dave's brows stitched.
"You always seemed to pine for each other. I'm glad to see you've come to terms with it."
Dave turned to look at John. Pined for each other? Ok, maybe Dave had unconsciously clued Rose in on his crush. Hell, maybe he had been pretty forward with it at times, even if it was only in a joking manner, but Egbert? Had he done anything to the effect of pining?
"That's not, I mean," John blathered nervously, "I didn't even really accept that I was-"
"John, I may not have been able to crack Dave, but you are as transparent as glass with your feelings, and more open than a Denny's at three in the morning with your desires."
Egbert flushed bright pink at the thought of Rose figuring out he was gay before he had.
"But like I said, I'm glad to hear you two have finally come together," she attempted to shift the subject. "I believe this will add an entirely new layer of analysis to my study of the Strider dynamic."
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Dave crinkled his nose. He didn't like the sound of that.
"Well, I will have able to access all new kinds of intimate psychological information."
Dave raised an eyebrow.
"The way one relates their sexual experiences tells a lot about-"
"Oh no, we are not going there," Dave's hand shot to the mouse, which Rose could see.
"Wait, I just-"
"Bye, Rose!" John managed to slip-in before Dave ended the call. He quickly signed off of the chat client in case she tried to call again.
John was giggling up a storm beside Strider, who shot him a displeased look. He didn't find Lalonde's attempts to weasel her way into every part of his life as amusing. Still, John snickered under his breath, nudging his partner with his elbow to tell him to loosen up. Dave crossed his arms and sighed.
"Look at it this way," Egbert leaned over and rested his head on Dave's shoulder, "Rose is out of the way. Now all we have to do is tell Jade and things will be a lot less stressful."
"Right, I'm sure that's going to be hells of fun," he sarcastically replied. "She's been trying to IM me since you got here. I can only imagine what kinds of batshit crazy she'll go when she finds out what you and I have been up to. She'll probably run off to write yaoi fics about us."
"Come on, she's not that bad."
"No, she really is. She's just like you, after all."
John let out a sigh of his own, refusing to be bothered by Strider's snide remark. He simply planted a kiss on the blonde's cheek and stood up to go gather up his laundry for the wash. Dave refused to move from his seat for a few minutes, ruminating over what had just happened.
Being the new Strider sucked, but he guessed he could put up with it for now. Maybe in time he would learn to like it.
Chapter 12: Dreaming
Whoa, holy crap. After a long hiatus, I'm actually updating this? Yep. Sorry for the wait, but there's been a lot of personal stuff keeping me from doing just about anything for myself lately. I finally managed to sit down and write this, so I figure I'd post is as soon as possible. Enjoy.
"Well?" John sat with his legs crossed, staring back at Dave.
"I'm not so sure about this," Strider frowned. While he had already agreed to telling Jade, he was beginning to have second thoughts.
"Come on, we have to. It's not fair if we already told Rose. We have to tell Jade too," John's mouth curled to match Dave's.
"I know, I know...I just," he sighed, "it's different with her."
"I know you don't talk to her as much as Rose, but she's still our friend. If it wasn't for her, I never would have met you in the first place. Don't you think we owe her the truth?"
"Yeah, I guess you're right." He couldn't fault John's logic. It was true: Jade had been the one to bring the four of them in contact in the beginning. Even if that seemed ages ago, it still meant something.
"Fine. Let's do this."
Dave turned on his webcam and opened the chat client, seeing that GardenGnostic was indeed online. Her status read: inside for the night! How late was it there anyway? He could never remember what time zone she had parked herself in.
He hit the call button and waited, listening to the high-pitched ringing for what seemed like years, the tension inside him building towards a breaking point. Between his bro and Rose, his nerves were just about warn out. Tomorrow, he would demand a break from all these emotional gymnastics.
Finally, she answered.
Harley, childish and sun-kissed, perched perkily on her cloud-patterned sheets. Plush toys of Squiddles and Manthro Chaps were strewn across her pillows, great planters of vivid flowering plants hanging down into frame from the ceiling. Behind her was an open window, showing a brilliantly star-spattered sky. It must have been late, since no trace of evening could be seen. It was still light in Houston, only a few minutes past five, but the reach of the internet could connect them through time itself.
"Hey, Dave!" A big, goofy smile stretched from ear to ear as she first spoke. She was almost bouncing with excitement, not having talked to either John or Dave for quite a while. It was easy to get lonely on that little island of hers, even if she did have Bec to keep her company.
"Oh, hey," he smirked, trying to keep some semblance of sanity. Inside, his mind was screaming for him to call the whole thing off.
"Hey, Jade!" John greeted her back with his own nerdy grin. Strider was amazed how similar the two could act and appear at times.
"So, it's great to hear from your guys!" Jade grabbed a Squiddle and cradled it in her lap. "What's up? How have you two been? What have you been up to? Have you had a good time?"
"Whoa, slow down there Harley." Dave held up a hand to cease the barrage of questions.
"Oh, sorry," she giggled.
"It's been good," the blonde continued on smoothly. "We're cool. It's been pretty decent, I guess. We've just been sitting around and playing video games, you know, guy stuff."
"Like sleep-over stuff? Talking about girls and playing games?"
"You've never actually had a sleepover, have you." Dave raised one eyebrow.
"Well, no, but I've seen them all the time in shows. Sometimes I pretend with Bec and paint his nails, even though he doesn't like it very much."
"God, Jade, just give us both diabetes while you're at it, why don't you."
She stuck out her tongue and laughed.
"How are you, Jade?" John finally joined in.
"Oh, you know, I've been good. Today I picked up some packages that a plane dropped and cooked Bec lunch and then played my Bass some. I've been practicing a lot lately."
"I know what you mean," Dave bit the inside of his cheek.
"Nothing," Strider cleared his throat, looking over at John. After a nod of encouragement, he looked back towards the computer and shifted in his seat, biting the bullet.
"So, Jade, we kind of had something to tell you."
"Oh, really?," Jade looked down, fiddling with the colorful strings tied around her fingers as reminders.
"Yeah. It's sort of serious."
"Go on." To Dave's annoyance, she didn't look up, but he went on anyway.
"I don't really know how to tell you this, so I'll just go out and say it. John and I, uh, we're together."
"I know," she finally looked up.
"No, I mean-"
"I know what you mean," she held up her hand to reveal a ring of blue and red thread tied around her ring finger. "I knew you'd tell me." She removed the reminder and tossed it aside as though nothing had happened.
"You know," Dave gaze narrowed, "I'm getting tired of people knowing things before I actually say them. How could you have possibly known? I don't even talk to you about my personal life."
"I just have a sense about this kind of thing," she covered her mouth and giggled. "Is that all you had to tell me about, Dave?"
"Well, yeah, I guess."
"Aren't you at least a little bit surprised?" John asked.
"Kind of, I guess. I mean, I knew you guys would tell me, but I'm surprised it's really true? I don't know how to explain it exactly, but I'm happy for you two!"
"Oh, thanks," John smiled and blushed.
"So, have you guys, you know," she shied away and stumbled over her words.
"Jade, I don't think-"
"Had your first kiss?" She finally spit out her question.
"Oh...well, duh?" Dave wasn't quite expecting that kind of question, but it was better than what he thought she was going to ask.
"Gosh, you guys are too cute!"
"Way to make this totally awkward, Harley."
John elbowed Dave, who scowled. After having built up so much nerve, an anticlimactic reveal, he felt in need of some form of catharsis.
From somewhere off camera, a bark could be heard. Jade turned her head and the imagine went slightly fuzzy, the video feed being flooded with green fuzz.
"Oh, Bec just came up. I better go make sure he's got something to eat for the night. Guess I'll talk to you later!" Jade's speech was slightly garbled. The boys managed to get out goodbyes before she ended the call, Dave shutting off his monitor and turning towards Egbert.
"So now what?" John asked.
"Dunno. You hungry?" Strider shrugged.
"Not right now."
"Sure there's not anything you want to do?" He prodded Dave's arm in persistence.
"Kinda, I guess," Dave stretched and stood up, stepping over to his bed and falling back onto the mattress. "I'm exhausted."
"A nap, then?" John followed and flopped back on the bed next to him.
"Yeah. Just some time to relax." He sat up, then went back to his computer to put on some music. Settling on something calm and suitably obscure, he adjusted the volume and went back to the bed, laying down on his back next to John.
"This all must be hard for you." John said quietly, turning onto his side to face Dave.
"No kidding, I'm fucking on edge."
"Well, it's fine." John shifted a bit closer. "We already told Rose and Jade and your brother is okay and-"
"Just shut up," Dave smiled and put his arm around John, who laid his head on his chest. He obeyed, content knowing that Strider was suitably reassured, and closed his eyes.
Dave stared up at the ceiling for a long time, thinking. This really did feel like the start of something new. His days of secrecy seemed like a far-off dream now, and he wanted it to stay that way. New Strider liked it. No, Strider liked it. There was no division between new and old now; there didn't need to be. Splitting things up like that was stupid. People changed, but they still stayed who they were in the beginning. He was Dave now, he had been Dave a year ago, and he would be Dave in a decade. Nothing was different.
Well, maybe the boy now nodding off comfortably in his embrace was different, but that was kind of the point. John was what had made the change happen, and he was the one to blame. No, the one to thank.
Chapter 13: All Good Things
Here we are. Notes at the end.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Days passed. It never rained. The moon grew a bit smaller with each passing night.
In the foreground of his psyche, Dave only concentrated on what was right in front of him. He woke up to John clutching his sweat-drenched body, and went to sleep in fresh sheets. He had a breakfast of left-overs, a lunch of microwaveable chow, and a dinner of take-out that he would finish in the morning. Everything became cyclical and yet he had no problem with that.
Dave was normally not one content with the same things all the time. He needed spice and variety and action to keep his mind from straying to grayer skies, but this was different. This kind of routine, where John was always at his side, did not make him yearn for more. He was content with playing video games and watching movies and just sitting around talking, or even not talking, with Egbert. He loved this life, and it was very easy to entrance himself with it. This shift from a solitary existence to a shared one had not been without its troubles, but had been a smoother shift than anything comparable through which he had been before. He had a feeling that John shared the sentiment.
But in the back of his mind, Dave knew it wouldn't last. No matter how much he willed it, the day would come. No matter how disheartening it would be to know John would be leaving, there was not a thing he could do about it. He would not have the luck of being trapped in some sort of Groundhog Day scenario, though now that he thought about it, maybe that wasn't the best thing to wish for after all. Those types of plots rarely turned out well for the protagonist.
This string of thought, this nasty twist of rough twine through a silky mane of more pleasant moments, persisted within him, abrading every good memory as it formed. Still, as scary as it was, this moment was far away.
Until it wasn't.
Dave had left to walk a few blocks and pick up a Thai food and returned home to see John wasn't in the living room where he left him. Setting down the paper bag baring warm styrofoam containers, he looked down the hall and saw the bathroom door was open, and the light inside off. John must be in his room, but why?
Strider quietly edged his way to the room, and opened the door. John was inside, just as expected, but was folding and placing clothes in his suitcase, which was unexpected. He paused and turned, hearing Dave step on a creaky board.
"Oh, hey Dave," the goof smiled.
"What are you doing?" Dave tried to ask casually.
"I'm packing, duh. I have to leave tomorrow, remember?"
"Yeah, I remembered," he lied. He had completely forgotten that Egbert's flight would be leaving tomorrow at three. His jaw tensed as he entered and sat down at the edge of the bed, not saying a word.
John continued packing for a bit before he paused, gazing over to see Dave with his head in his hands, sitting starkly still. Leaving his luggage, John went to the bad and sat beside Dave, putting his arm around the other boy's shoulders and pulling him in tight. Strider didn't visibly react.
"Come on, I know you're sad that I gotta go, but don't worry. I'll be back before you know it!"
Dave was silent.
"It's not like I'm gonna be dead or anything. I'll still be on pesterchum every night and we can voice chat and play games online."
"And maybe we can group chat with Rose and Jade sometime and we can maybe plan to visit them too! Er, Rose at least. I think Jade might be a little too far to-"
"John," Dave choked out, "for the love of god shut up."
Egbert balked, the blond going stiff in his embrace.
"Just," Dave's voice cracked, "just don't make me think about it. Not yet. We still have one night, okay? Can't you pack in the morning?"
"All right," he replied simply. He could argue about needing to be at the airport early, but he didn't. Drawing this out would do nothing to help.
They sat there for a long while, even after John's arm went numb from the position, until Dave stood and walked towards the door. He stopped to make sure Egbert had stood to follow, then went on. Silently, he made his way through the house to the front door, locking it behind them. Again, without a word, he walked to the elevator and pressed the up button, entering when it stopped at his floor. John stayed close, but not too close, glancing over to Dave periodically, but to no avail.
After a long ride up, they reached the top floor and Dave climbed an iron ladder dangling from the ceiling to the roof. Lending John a hand up. Finally, out in the open, under a murky, smog-filled sky, he spoke.
"I wish you didn't have to go."
"Then promise me something."
"Sure, what is it?"
"Promise me," Dave turned to face John, then took his hand, "one day you won't have to leave."
John's eyes widened for the slightest of moments, then melted with the rest of his visage into one of peace.
And there, they kissed.
It was not particularly passionate, nor steamy. It was night like one of John's shitty movies where the hero and the heroine stand at the top of a cliff, in front of the immaculate sunset while fireworks go off in the background.
It was two teenage boys pecking lips on a dingy rooftop on a muggy evening under a starless sky with the sound of horns and sirens in the background.
In Dave's mind, that made it all the better. This wasn't some hopeless fairy tale relegated to the realm of rom-coms and internet archives. This was real.
They stayed on the roof for some time, first standing and then sitting. They watched together as the last rays of sunlight disappeared over the horizon, replaced by the ambient glow of the lively metropolis. Too far above the ground to hear errant voices, the mish-mash of traffic sounds slowly faded into a low grumble, ever persistent. And together they finally descended back into the building, laying down together without another word. They woke up a few hours later John standing to pack his bags, and Dave just laying there awake, staring at the ceiling. His mind was a blank, forced so to keep from thinking about what this day meant. If he concentrated, he could pretend it wasn't happening. Well, at least for a while.
Before he knew it, it was time to go. Bro came in and gestured that they needed to leave. John, who was now dressed in the same outfit he had arrived in, toted his things along, Dave in toe. It felt strange to follow once, instead of lead, but it let him remove himself from the scene even further. They left the building and got into Bro's car, arriving swiftly at the airport with plenty of time. Still, John checked his bags with haste and then found the entrance to the terminals. Security was just around the corner, and this was the last place he could be with Dave.
John turned, looking back at the Striders. Bro had pulled back a bit, crossing his arms and looking only slightly impatient. Behind those shades, he couldn't tell if his eyes were closed, astray, or staring daggers at him, but he didn't mind. Dave was closer, only a few feet away in fact, and stood limply, like a marionette strung by lazy hands. He too was clad in shades, but the rest of his face painted his expression well enough: straining so hard to be collected.
Egbert stepped closer and flung his arms around Dave, nuzzling his neck tenderly and then raising his mouth to Dave's ear to whisper:
"Don't be so tense. You're not fooling anyway."
And those were the words that released the floodgates. John's persistent silence had been the finger in the dike that kept Dave from collapsing and now that it was pulled, nothing was sacred.
Dave returned the embrace, squeezing the very breath out of John and sobbing into his shoulder like a baby. Never had he even imagined crying like this, much less in public, and only Egbert's soft words kept him from wailing. He didn't care who heard him, or what others thought of him, because that didn't matter. John mattered. His feelings mattered. That was all he could think about.
They stood like this for what must have been minutes, but far too short a time for either of them. Still, they both knew that John had to go to catch his flight, and the embrace couldn't last forever. Egbert pulled away as Strider pulled himself together, now stony-faced and sniffling. John held his hand tenderly, then, though their hands lingered for a brief moment, they were finally apart.
And then Egbert turned to leave.
Dave took a final look at his friend: his mop of messy black hair bobbing with every footfall, his pasty skin now not so pasty from the sun, and his backpack with the stupid slime ghost on it. He grew farther and farther away until he finally rounded the corner, escaping from sight. Dave turned and left, not even bothering to say a word to his bro.
At home, he headed to his room, falling onto his bed. He was tired, so tired, and yet, he didn't want to sleep. The thought of waking up alone was horrible, too much to bare, but it was a reality now. It was something he would just have to get used to.
Of all the things about new Dave he liked and disliked, he knew there was one that would cause him the most torment, and the most bliss. And if he only knew one thing, this would be it.
Dave Stider was in love with John Egbert.
First, I'd like to say thank you to everyone who has read this. I dearly appreciate all of you. This fic ended up being over half a novel in length, and it's been my biggest accomplishment as far as fan fiction goes. It was difficult and frustrating and great and amazing. I had a lot of help and encouragement every step of the way from my friends and readers.
Second, I'd like to apologize. Updates first came with great frequency, every day for a while, but then they faltered, stuttered, and finally stopped. I took a scheduled break and then another and another and just dropped it all together. I wrote other fics, even a few that were well-liked, but nothing of this magnitude or close. The simple reason is because I just lack the motivation. The more complicated reason would be a slurry of problems in my personal life from school to relationships to family to my future. A lot has happened since I started this fic, over half a year has passed, and it's been an interesting ride.
Third, I want to apologize for a different reason. I didn't mean for it to end like this. I really didn't. I meant for this to be about twice as long and span more content and be even better, but I failed. I lost motivation and ideas and at some points even just writing was difficult. But I couldn't put it off any longer. If I wasn't going to make any more real chapters, I needed to at least end it. I don't want to leave everyone hanging, even though I easily could. I figure this half-assed closure is better than no closure at all.
So again, thank you guys so much. I'm sorry it turned out like this. Please consider reading some of my other fics. Also, stick around just a bit longer. There will be a tiny epilogue after this.
Chapter 14: Epilogue
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
John trudged through the slushy snow after his final day of school before winter vacation. He was only a few blocks from his bus stop, but it would take longer than usual to get home due to the icy sidewalks laden with half-frozen mush. He was clad in his thick snow jacket, one he had worn for a few years and was now a bit short on him, and a long, blue scarf. His gloves were in his pockets, forgotten, leaving his hands chilled to the bone and as pink as his aching face, tears welling in his eyes from the chilly wind.
Still, he persisted. At the end of this long, lonely walk was a warm home filled with the scent of holiday baking and a comforting bed in which to sleep. Though the break wouldn't be long, he would have time to relax and talk to his friends, gabbing over what presents they received and trying them all out. Maybe they would even all group chat like last year. It was fun to see Jade laying under her fan and Rose bundling against the bitter cold at the very same time. In fact, that seemed like a good idea. He would have to run it by the rest of them that night.
John could see his house now. It was a straight shot from here to his home, the inside dark even though his dad's car was still there. He must be back in his study or something. Yeah, that's it.
He took his time the last block or so. There was no real rush, after all. Even though his dad usually let him open up a present or two early, hew knew there would be nothing that truly satisfied what he wanted and he had accepted that. John had even suggested going down to see Dave a few months earlier, but his father said he really couldn't swing the money. Next summer, he promised, he could go again for as long as he wanted.
Here, surrounded by white and frozen lifelessness, next summer seemed very far away.
John reached his mailbox, which is empty, then trudged up to the front door. It was locked, and he know his father wouldn't hear him knocking in his study, so he fished in his pockets for the key and unlocked the door, exposing his hands to the cold metal for as short a time as possible.
Inside he could see the shadowy forms of furniture all around. The staircase, the dim fireplace and the couch. It was empty. He went back to the study and said hello to his father, who said he had left a couple of presents on his bed upstairs. John thanked him, only half paying attention, and headed upstairs.
His door was closed, with was a bit strange. Usually his father would leave it open when he went inside for some reason. Opening it, you could see why he wanted to keep the 'presents' hidden til the last moment.
Sitting on your bed as a small, green-wrapped box, and a tall, blond-headed boy. Without even thinking, you rush forward after he stands up and tackle him down to the bed, making weird, high-pitched sounds you would normally find embarrassing.
"What are you doing here?" You finally ask, standing up again.
"Bro thought it would be cool for me to see someplace where it snowed for once," he smirked.
"And my dad knows about this?"
"Of course, you doof. Bro and him sorted it all out. I'm staying til winter break's over."
"I just, oh man, how do I even-"
"Oh, just shut it." Dave hushed him with a kiss, only delaying all the questions and comments.
But it was enough. John sank down to the bed and fell back after they parted, closing his eyes dreamily.
It was going to be one hell of a break.
Well, it's officially over. I really hope you enjoyed all of it, especially the ending. It's the ending I've had in mind since very early on. Anyway, I'll be starting on more fics soon. I'll see you all later.