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Houston, We Have a Problem

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Bro Strider was used to learning things the hard way. It was a fact that he had to face early on in life, such as when he realized that most third-graders wouldn’t hesitate to openly mock someone who brought a puppet to school and carried it around with him everywhere. It was around this time when he started studying martial arts and picking up the intricacies of irony as he planned to redefine cool.

Thus, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise when he had to discover firsthand through trial and error that raising a child on one’s own was hard. It was hard, and nobody understood. Not unless they had also gone through the struggles of being a single parent. Bro had it worse off than most, considering that he was barely 18 when he first found Dave and he had never taken care of a baby before in his life.

The morning of December 3rd, 1995 started off uneventfully enough, until Bro decided to take a trip to his favorite record store to see if they had the record they were holding for him. On his way, he’d passed the sunglasses boutique, walked right past the display window, then immediately backtracked and went inside. Out of the corner of his eye, he had spotted a child-sized pair of outrageously awesome pointy shades that were near identical to his own. He snagged them to give to Lil’ Cal when he got home, because the opportunity was just too good to pass up. While paying for the shades, he was thrown off-guard when the ground shook violently beneath him, a sudden earthquake that lasted only momentarily.

Bro tried to brush it off as some freak natural event, but when he arrived at the record store, he found the source of the tremors: a meteor strike. He was devastated to see that nothing remained of his favorite store but a massive crater.

But his disbelief at the wreckage of his childhood hangout was nothing compared to the sight of what lay within the crater: a dead pony, and a small infant propped up on top of it. He jumped into the crater to get a better look and make sure that the Texas heat wasn’t making him hallucinate.

Bro approached the baby, squatting down to get a better look at him. He had to rip his shades off to make sure he really wasn’t seeing things – the little one’s eyes matched his own, bright, bright red. Sure, Bro’s eyes were a lot more orange when he was younger, but they had darkened to reach the same shade as this mysterious kid’s.

“So. What do I do with you, kid?” he muttered to himself, taking off his hat and running his fingers through his hair. His mind was racing, weighing his options. The baby had crash-landed on a frigging meteor with only a dead horse to keep him company. He was all alone in the world.

Just like Bro.

From the moment he saw the infant, Bro saw himself reflected in those same red eyes that they shared. He knew what it was like to be all alone in the world, to be parentless from an early age and destined to be doomed to being shuttled around from one house to another, constantly rejected by foster parents who didn’t like playing guardian to a strange energetic boy with freakish eyes and issues with following orders. And he wasn’t about to let another orphan go through the same kind of life that he had to suffer through. There was no way he would be allowed to adopt the kid, not as an 18-year-old single male, and there would be problems further down the line, as he’d have to worry about forging a birth certificate at some point… but Bro Strider wasn’t one to let such trivial matters intimidate him.

He looked at the tiny pair of sunglasses he was still holding and down at the baby, who stretched his arms out to be picked up, and in that moment, Bro made a decision that would change his life forever. He placed the shades on the infant’s face and picked him up, the kid immediately clinging to his side. Bro wasn’t prepared for the sudden surge of affection that coursed through him, and he couldn’t help but smile. He hefted the dead pony up under his other arm and left the scene as quick as humanly possible, before the site of the meteor crash was swarming with newscasters and photographs.

And even though he was 18 years old, fresh out of high-school, and had only recently escaped the foster-care system, Bro took the baby home with him. Home wasn’t much – a small, cheap one-bedroom apartment, but it was better than nothing. He made up some excuse to his new next-door neighbors about an old ex-girlfriend who didn’t want the baby, resulting in a flock of old biddies who immediately thought he was the sweetest little thing.

And they were fond of the little one as well and fawned over him appropriately.

There was just one problem: Bro didn’t know anything about raising a kid. He just knew that he couldn’t leave the baby behind to be taken into custody and shuttled around from house to house. He felt a connection to him, like he was meant to be a part of this kid’s life. So he did his best to take care of him and be the kind of adult figure that he himself had never had.

And raising a kid on his own came with its own unique set of challenges. He quickly realized that he had no idea how to change a baby’s diaper and resorted to hunting around on the internet for some kind of video tutorial while the newly-christened Dave wailed his head off in the background. Eventually, he gave up and plopped him in the shower instead, handing Dave a plush smuppet to keep him quiet while Bro hosed him down.

For the first year or two, Bro got barely any sleep. He spent the day with Dave and worked the night shift at the 24 hour convenience store, giving the baby monitor to the next door neighbor and telling her to call him if Dave needed him in the middle of the night. In general, Dave was a surprisingly quiet baby who slept soundly when undisturbed, and Bro couldn’t have been prouder of his miniature poker face.  There was a period of time, however, when Dave started teething, and Bro would get routine phone calls from his harried neighbor who was desperate because she couldn’t get him to stop crying. The minute that his break time rolled around, he rushed home and barged into his apartment to swing Dave up into his arms.

“C’mon, little dude,” he said, bouncing Dave a little bit. “It’s all cool, I’m here now, shit, I shouldn’t have left you here like this…” It wasn’t helping any, so Bro did the only thing he could think of: channel his inner DJ Sancho and sing. “I’m sorry for all the times that I left you all alone, you were all by yourself, you were waitin’ by the phone. I was out doin’ you wrong, I was always gone, you were right all along, I should’ve been strong.” He beatboxed through the irrelevant lyrics, and Dave was already calming down, looking up at him with wide eyes. “I’m sorry, my baby, for everything. For telling you lies and making you cry, I’m so sorry, baby. I’m sorry, my baby, for everything. For telling you lies and making you cry, I’m so sorry, baby…” When he finished rapping through the rest of the song, Dave’s eyes had drifted shut again and he had nestled into his arms.

Bro breathed a sigh of relief and tried to put him back in his cot, but Dave jolted awake and started crying the minute that he did so. Bro took his baseball cap off and ran his hand through his hair in frustration, when something occurred to him. “Here, little bro,” he said, putting his cap into the crib with him to give him something familiar to cling onto, and to his surprise, it worked. From that day on, he always tried to leave some kind of security item behind with Dave — partly to make himself feel better about abandoning the kid to work, and partly because it actually did soothe Dave.

But even on peaceful nights, Bro arrived home at around 6:00 in the morning, just before Dave woke up. He found himself joining Dave in naptime, passing out on the futon while one hand held Dave protectively against his chest while they slept.


 He remembered exactly when and where he was when Dave said his first word. It had been about a year since he first found the baby, and he had been trying to teach him the basics of mixing some ill beats. So far he hadn’t made much progress – the first time he introduced Dave to his turntables, the kid had spit up on it. Bro had freaked out and banned him from touching the turntables for three months. Now that Dave was a year old, however, he thought he was ready to give the records another try.

He was in the process of picking out a record when he heard it, the voice of his baby brother, high and clear.     

    “Bro?” Dave’s tiny voice rose in a questioning lilt and he cocked his head, peering up at him through his miniature pointy shades.

    Bro’s chest tightened as a sudden surge of affection and astonishment flooded him, and his mouth curved into a small smile. “Yeah, little dude,” he said softly, taking Dave’s clenched fist and lightly bumping knuckles with him. “I’m your bro.”


     It was moments like these that made Bro realize how lucky he really was.

    And it was moments like these that made him forgive Dave for being a total cockblocker. Singlehandedly raising Dave while trying to earn money on the side left him with no time to pursue a serious relationship with anyone. There were a few instances where he would try to take somebody home with him, but they invariably freaked out upon realizing that he had a kid, or Dave would otherwise start crying when they passed through the living room on the way to Bro’s bedroom. And when Dave grew out of the cot, Bro gave up his room for him and chose to kip on the futon instead, and it was nigh impossible to have inconspicuous sex in the middle of the living room.

    So Bro gave up on relationships. But he was strangely okay with this. He already had someone to love – a baby brother who looked up to him and cared about him.

    And that was all he needed. When Dave started kindergarten, Bro came up with the brilliantly ironic idea of and fell into an everyday routine. His mornings were spent on site management and creating new content for the paysite. He would spend the afternoon and evening with Dave, and he left for his new job as a DJ in a local club at 7:00. It was a familiar routine, like clockwork, and he was happy with it, even if he was still single.

    But if you had told him that someday, the little squirt would end up being the one who indirectly led to him finally getting laid, preventing him from being the next 40 year old virgin – Bro would have said you were out of your fucking mind.

    Chapter Text

    “Yo, Bro. John invited me over for dinner and his dad said you should come too.”

    Bro pushed the rolling chair back from the computer and swiveled around to face Dave, lacing his hands behind his head. “Is this one of those things where I don’t really have a choice in the matter, regardless of what I answer?”

    “Pretty much, yeah.”

    “Aight, I’m not gonna say no to a free dinner.” Bro shrugged and turned back to his computer, resuming his typing.”When we leaving?”

    Dave checked the time on his phone. “Right about now?”

    “Man, give a guy some warning next time.” Bro heaved a sigh and shut down his Complete Bullshit application. “Fine, lemme just go get Lil’ Cal.”

    “What no, Bro, you can’t bring him with you.”

    “Hey now, don’t be harshing on my man over here. Lil’ Cal is the shit.”

    “Dude, I know, Cal’s the bomb, but you’re not bringing him out to dinner.”

    “Cal is just as much a part of this family as you are, Dave.” Bro manipulated the puppet’s mouth, adopting the higher pitched voice he used when doing his ventriloquist act. “’Dave, you’re hurting my feelings!’ Aw man, now you’ve done it! You just don’t go and make a brother feel bad like that, didn’t I teach you anything growing up?”

    “Bro, I’m serious. Cal stays here.”

    “You are tearing this family apart, Dave. I hope you’re happy now.” But Bro reluctantly put Cal down, giving him a farewell fist bump and whispering that he’d be back later.

    He was pretty sure that Dave was rolling his eyes behind his shades, but he ignored it and went to find his favorite light coat, the ironic denim jacket with Minnie Mouse embroidered on the back. These were God Tier levels of irony over here. Living in Houston, he didn’t really need a jacket, but when the cool fronts moved in during the fall, Bro liked to wear one anyway. It made a statement.

    “Bro, I know this jacket is like six levels of ironic, but I don’t know if it’s really a good first impression—”

    Bro casually flicked him on the forehead as he walked past, heading for the door. “Whatever, I do what I want.” It was cute, the way Dave worried that Bro would jeopardize his image. His little brother still had a long way to go in understanding the art of irony. It wasn’t his problem if other people couldn’t fathom the echelons of irony that Bro reached.

    Dave tried to suppress a groan and followed him, making sure to hold the railing on the way down the staircase. Bro had warned him about stairs. He’d warned him, dog.

    Bro was the first one out the apartment building and onto the streets of the big city, and he automatically turned left, but Dave stopped him.


    “Yeah?” he said, turning around to look at his adopted little brother.

    Dave pointed in the opposite direction. “This way.”


    John and his father had moved to Houston not too long ago due to his father’s promotion and relocation to Texas. They lived in a small house in one of the quieter, green neighborhoods in Houston, a far cry from the sky-high apartment downtown that Dave and Bro lived in.

    “Quaint,” Bro commented, shoving his hands in his pockets and looking around at the front yard while Dave rang the doorbell. He snapped his attention back to the door when he heard it opening and found himself gazing at the man who was ostensibly John Egbert’s father.

    He was the kind of cynic who didn’t believe in love at first sight, but there was no denying the physical attraction he felt upon looking at John Egbert’s father.

    Bro had always known that he was gay – it was just one of the many other reasons that set him apart from his peers at a young age. Just one of the many reasons that made him distance himself from others while growing up, preferring to spend time alone and cultivate his carefully maintained image of the ultimate cool guy. Sure, he had experimented with girls occasionally in high-school – he had a reputation to maintain, after all, and cool guys had girlfriends – but things never went very far. He couldn’t bring himself to take things past second base, and no matter how hard he tried to be normal, he just wasn’t attracted to them. He broke things off sooner rather than later, earning himself the notorious distinction of a heartbreaker, which he decided he was perfectly okay with. It made girls less likely to vie for his attention while giving him a socially acceptable reason to avoid getting in relationships with girls.

    He coasted through four years of high school, putting in only the bare minimum amount of work he needed to pass his classes – with the exception of those that he actually cared about, that is. He had no difficulty in maintaining straight A’s in his computer classes, his music theory course, and band, where he played a mean percussion.

    But in spite of the ease with which he sailed through high-school, there was a part of him deep down that wasn’t happy. He wasn’t happy, having to hide who he was. He wasn’t happy, dating girls out of his pathological need to be accepted by his peers. He wasn’t happy, living in a perpetual state of anxiety that his sexuality would be found out, no matter how much he tried to quash the fear, because it wasn’t cool to panic or show similar emotions. There was one time he confessed to crushing on a classmate in his freshman year of high school, and that had not ended well, as the boy had informed him that he was Not a Homosexual and then proceeded to avoid him for the rest of the year. This rejection, coupled with his deepest internal fears, left him bitter and jaded, and there was a period of time where he retreated into himself, becoming silent, brooding, and aloof. Most people left him well enough alone, either intimidated by him or in awe of his shadowy, enigmatic figure.

    His senior year of high school was a different matter, however. Bro found himself falling headlong into a relationship with the new student in his school, a slightly nerdy boy that nevertheless charmed his way into Bro’s heart. And then promptly broke it at the end of the school year with the excuse that he needed to “find his true self” and assured him that “it’s not you, it’s me.” Bro spent the summer after high school finding a job and carefully rebuilding all of the walls around him so that they were near impenetrable. He hadn’t allowed himself to get close to or even trust anyone after that incident.

    Then, that winter, he found Dave and entered the wildest thirteen-and-then-some years of his life. Dave mellowed him out, kept him from turning back into the prick he had been in high-school. He may not have had the opportunity to date anyone when he was so absorbed in taking care of the family member he had never had while growing up, but it was okay. He had Dave now; he didn’t need to let anyone else into his heart, least of all a guy who could so easily break it with a few sharp words.

    And yet, even if he hadn’t been completely secure in his sexuality after years of obsessing over it, meeting Mr. Egbert would have undoubtedly had him batting exclusively for the home team. He had met John before, of course, so he had been unconsciously assuming that his father would resemble him – bushy black hair, glasses, goofy buckteeth. What he had not been expecting was to find a sharply dressed man with neatly combed hair, a jaunty fedora, and well-defined muscles that were apparent even underneath his crisp white dress shirt.

    Then he realized that the man was talking. “Hello, Dave. And you must be Dave’s older brother?”

    Bro cleared his throat, a little embarrassed at being caught staring. “Yeah, that’s me. S’up,” he said, covering up for his faux pas with a mask of chill indifference.

    “Ah. Well, I’m Jack, John’s father,” the other man replied smoothly, extending a hand that Bro clasped perhaps a bit too eagerly.

    If Bro wasn’t so cool, he would have swooned at the sheer amount of mangrit that was conveyed in that firm handshake. As it was, he swallowed and kept his face perfectly blank before responding, “That’s a boring name. I’m just gonna call you Egbert, that cool with you?”

    He smiled. “Why not? It’s a pleasure to meet you, Bro… Broderick, I presume? Is it okay if I call you that?”

    Bro shrugged noncommittally. “I’m cool with that. You can call me whatever you want.” He didn’t want to get into the whole name business right now, since it was a bit of a thorny situation as far as he was concerned. He went exclusively by Bro these days, but he kind of liked the thought of answering to a special name, if Egbert was going to be the one calling him it.

    “Wonderful! But where are my manners? Let me take your coat, Broderick. And Dave,” Egbert added as Bro slipped off his coat and handed it over. “John is setting the table in the dining room, if you wish to join him.”

    “Sure thing, Mr. Egbert.” Dave disappeared, and Egbert turned around from the coat closet to face Bro with a smile.

    “Well, I’m glad to finally meet you. I’ve heard a lot about you from Dave.”

    “Oh yeah?” Bro grinned, glancing down the hall where Dave had just sidled into the dining room. “What kind of praise has my baby bro been singing about me?”

    “Oh, mostly just about how cool he finds you,” Egbert answered airily, starting down the hallway himself, and Bro tagged along just behind him. “I know he looks up to you a lot.”

    Bro couldn’t help but be touched, and he clapped Dave on the back when they entered the room. “Well, for what it’s worth, I’ve heard a lot about you in the Strider residence too. Mainly that you bake a mean red velvet cake.”

    Egbert chuckled a little. “I don’t know about that, but if you think so, I’m sure you’ll be pleased by tonight’s dessert course. Have a seat, I’ll be bringing dinner right out.” He disappeared through the door to the kitchen, and Bro plopped himself down on a chair near the head of the table.

    “I am so fucking ready for this cake,” he announced.

    “Uh, how about not?” John griped.

    “Dude, you don’t know what you’re talking about if you can’t appreciate that heavenly mouthwatering aroma of cake. Gonna have to side with Bro on this one. I’m so fucking ready to pull an Adam Richman and devour this entire thing.”

    “Language,” Egbert admonished as he reentered the room, balancing a platter of pot roast, a heaping bowl of mashed potatoes, a gravy dish, and a tray of drinks, which Bro clambered to his feet to help with.

    “Bro started it, I’m just repeating what he said,” Dave argued.

    “Hey now, you don’t get to badmouth the guy who raised you since you were in diapers,” Bro said, setting down the glasses and immediately helping himself to a mound of potatoes. “I used to tote you around in one of those baby carriers you wear on your chest, and you used to spit up on me in the grocery store when I was buying apple juice or something like that. All the time, seriously, there was like a 96.5% chance of you getting your hurl on in the grocery store, which is based on some statistical analysis I basically pulled out of my ass right now. The point is, you don’t have the right to talk smack about me.”

    Dave’s face turned bright red, and he quickly busied himself with the gravy boat. “Bro, can we not?” he mumbled. Next to him, John snickered into his pot roast, and Dave apparently kicked him under the table, as he yelped and shot him a dirty look.

    “If it’s any consolation,” Egbert said, “I’ve had my fair share of moments raising John… I once turned my back on him to take a business call, and when I returned outside, I saw that he’d taken it upon himself to wash my car. Now, this wouldn’t have normally been cause for concern… Except for a few problems. Firstly, he was using the hose instead of the bucket of water I had left out. Secondly, he was washing the interior of the car. The floor was flooded with two inches of water.”

    Bro sniggered, and it was Dave’s turn to smirk. “Wow, John, I can see that you were as sharp as a tack right from the start.”

    “I don’t even remember that!” John cried, the tips of his ears turning pink.

    “Really?” Egbert said thoughtfully, pausing with his fork halfway to his mouth. “You were in kindergarten, I believe.”

    “Well, I remember parts of kindergarten,” John said. “It was the best! You could just walk up to someone and say, ‘I like your blue crayon!’ And then you had a new best friend!”

    Bro twirled his fork around in lazy circles and commented, “Yeah, but then there’s that one bitch who steals your blue crayon, and ten years later when she invites you to a party, you remember, ‘Hey, that bitch stole my crayon!’ And then you’re like, ‘No, bitch, I ain’t going to your party! Oh, by the way, I like your nail polish, can I borrow it?’ And then you never give it back. Karma is so, so sweet. And then another ten years after that, you’re at your high school reunion and she’s like, ‘Remember that time you stole my nail polish?’ And you’re like, ‘Haha, yeah. And do you remember that time you stole my blue crayon?’ And she’s like, ‘Haha, yeah.’ And then, at the same time, you both say, ‘Bitch.’”

    “…Wow.” John said. Dave grinned, feeling a surge of pride that Bro was his bro and could come up with this pure gold off the top of his head.

    “The moral of this story is that kindergarten affects your whole life.” Bro speared another piece of chicken and stuffed it into his mouth.

    “…Thank you for that insight, Broderick.”

    Bro swallowed his mouthful of food and grinned across the table at Egbert. “You’re welcome. And dude, speaking of kindergarten and embarrassing things kindergartners do…”

    The grin slipped off of Dave’s face as he realized that this was not going to end well for him.

    “I went to pick up Dave from kindergarten one day, and I found him prancing around in the dramatic play area waving a plastic wand and pretending to be a fairy. He wouldn’t put down the damn wand, so I was able to smuggle it out of the kindergarten with us.”

    “Oh my god, please let this conversation not be happening right now,” Dave mumbled, putting his fork down on his plate and sliding down in his chair in the hopes of becoming invisible.

    “Ahh, come on, little bro. You were five years old. It was pretty frigging adorable, although you were really upset when I accidentally let it slip that the tooth fairy wasn’t real.” Bro reached across the table and ruffled his hair, paying no heed to the death glare that Dave was sending him. Dave smoothed down his wrecked coif and clamped his mouth shut, elbowing a laughing John in the side for good measure.

    “It’s a perfectly natural thing for a young child to do,” Egbert reasoned, giving him a fatherly smile. “Why, John used to enjoy playing ‘House’ and pretending to be the mother of the family at that age. He once got into a fight with a little girl over who got to wear the pair of red high heels, now that I think of it…”

    “Dad!” John wailed, and he and Dave exchanged similar looks of mortification and horror at how embarrassing parental units could be.

    Dave straightened up with a newfound resolve. “Okay, fine, two can play this game. You’re one to talk, Bro,” he challenged. Bro arched an eyebrow in response. “You remember that time I came home sick from school? I walked in on you wearing a —Christ, I don’t even know— dress— skirt— thing made out of smuppets.”

    “I’m sorry, what was that?” Bro said innocently, cupping his hand over his ear. “I can’t hear you over the sound of my own awesome.”

    “Bro. Too much spongy wriggling puppet dong near too much actual dong.”

    Bro turned to face the Egberts. “I’d like to preface this scandalous accusation with a disclaimer: this was an ironic homage to Lady Gaga’s stuffed Hello Kitty and Kermit dresses, and this was exclusive pay content for my website. By the way, Dave, that reminds me, you owe me $20. That’s some quality plush rump footage you got to see firsthand.”

    “I never want to see anything like that firsthand again. Or secondhand, or any other kind of hand. And fuck no, you’re not getting my money!”

    “I know where you keep your piggybank, Dave.”

    “I once caught Dad with a shaving cream mustache, quoting Jeff Foxworthy in the mirror!” John piped in, glad to join in the vicious cycle of embarrassing parent-child stories and dish out some retribution.

    “John!” Egbert started to say sharply, but he halted when Bro placed his hand over his own.

    “Egbert,” Bro said seriously. “Just remember… If you ever start feeling like you have the goofiest, craziest, most dysfunctional family in the world, all you have to do is go to a state fair. Because five minutes at the fair, you’ll be going, ‘You know, we’re alright. We are dang near royalty.’”

    A slightly astonished smile crossed Egbert’s face. “Impressive,” he said. Bro flashed him a grin, patted his hand once, and resumed shoveling the last of his potatoes in his mouth.

    “Oh great, now they’re going to be quoting Jeff Foxworthy all night,” John muttered out of the corner of his mouth to Dave. “Can we go play video games now?”

    “Yeah, that’s cool, but I want cake,” Dave said, pushing his empty plate away from him.

    “Bluh! I’m more interested in the pie that’s coming out with it. Do you even have room for cake right now?”

    “There is always room for cake,” Dave answered solemnly. “Always.”

    “I dunno, man, I’m kind of stuffed,” Bro said, sitting back in his chair.

    “Well, yeah, you singlehandedly ate half the bowl of potatoes!” John said, while Dave folded his arms and nodded.

    “Now, now, Broderick has a point,” Egbert said. “If you boys would clear your places, you can run off and have some fun, and we’ll call you in for dessert in a bit, when we’ve all had a chance to let our food digest some.”

    “I’m down with that,” Bro said, standing up with the others and picking up his dirty dishes. “But hey, do you mind if I grab a smoke first?”

    “Not at all,” Egbert answered as they headed for the kitchen and placed the dishes in the sink. “In fact, I think I’ll join you.” He withdrew a pipe from his pocket.

    Bro grinned. “Fucking ace. I left my cigs in my coat pocket, but let me go grab them and I’ll be right out.”

    “Excellent. I’ll be outside on the porch. The door is right through the kitchen.”

    “Sweet.” Bro made a beeline for the coat closet while the boys pounded up the stairs to John’s room. He rummaged around his pockets until he struck gold and found the package of Lucky Strikes.

    Egbert was already lighting his pipe when Bro stepped out onto the porch. It was dark outside already, and Egbert was looking out across the backyard, his back to the door. Bro took a moment before speaking up to admire the view of his ass (because okay, yeah, they’d just met and it was inappropriate, but hey – he wasn’t dead.

    “So,” he began, sidling over to Egbert and leaning against the porch railing. “You know, if I could reorganize the alphabet, I’d put U and ME next to each other. Kinda like this right here,” he said, gesturing at the two of them.

    Egbert couldn’t help but laugh softly, and Bro realized his mistake. He groaned. “…Can I start over?”

    “You can,” Egbert said amiably, turning to face Bro and taking another slow, steady puff of his pipe. “But don’t feel like you have to. I’m an easy man to get along with, Broderick, you don’t need to impress me.”

    Bro shrugged. “Just trying to break the ice, that’s all. I’m taking a metaphorical pickaxe to this proverbial block of ice between you and me. Gonna break the ever-living shit out of this ice.”

    “Funny, I didn’t think there was any ice to break.”

    Bro considered this. “You have a point.” Despite the fact that this was his first time meeting with Egbert, he felt strangely comfortable around the other man. He didn’t feel like he had to keep his guard up all the time, which was unusual for him. He tapped his pack of Luckies against his hand, sliding out one slender cigarette, but he realized that he didn’t have his lighter on him.

    “Shit,” he muttered, patting his pockets in search of the elusive lighter, but he came up short. He looked up at Egbert. “Got a light?”

    “Certainly,” Egbert said, striking a match, and it burst into a blaze of fire. The bewitching glow cast his features into sharp relief, and Bro’s heart thumped in his chest as Egbert held the match out to him.

    He slipped the cigarette between his lips and leaned into the flame, still watching Egbert behind dark mirrored shades and memorizing every line of his face, every dip and crevice creased in shadows.

    With the cigarette lit, Egbert pulled the match away and snuffed out the fire, extinguishing the light. Dusk fell around them once more, and Bro found himself missing the way the flame had lit up Egbert’s face. He took a long, deep drag on his cigarette and exhaled, smoke curling upwards and mingling with the sweeter scent of the loose tobacco Egbert used in his pipe.

    “Thanks,” he said after several minutes of comfortable silence, his voice husky with smoke. “Not just for the light, for inviting us over too. That’s pretty cool of you.”

    “But of course. You and Dave are always welcome in our home, you know,” Egbert said mildly. “Dave’s been a great friend to John since we first moved here, and I know it was hard for John to leave his old home and friends behind.”

    Bro let out a stream of smoke and removed the cigarette from his mouth to grin at him. “Ooh, dangerous offer there, Egbert. You do realize that this means we’re going to be over here for dinner all the time now? I can’t cook for shit, but you sure as hell can.”

    “I’ll take that as the compliment I am sure it was intended to be and not as a confession of how you will be taking advantage of my cooking prowess.”

    “Good choice.” Bro smirked and flicked his finished cigarette to the ground, tamping on it with the heel of his shoe.

    He could feel Egbert’s eyes on the back of his head and, feeling a little guilty, reached down to pick up the cigarette butt. “So. Where should I put this?”

    Egbert finished his pipe and smiled at him. “Thank you for being considerate, Broderick. I have an ashtray you can use. Let me show it to you.” He led Bro to the door, guiding him inside with one light hand on the small of his back. It was an innocent gesture, something that Egbert probably did unconsciously, but it sent a jolt of electricity down Bro’s spine.

    He cleared his throat, suddenly grateful for the cover the darkness of the night offered him. At least it prevented Egbert from seeing the flush that was spreading up the back of his neck. “And then it’s cake time, right?”

    He could hear Egbert chuckling softly behind him as he followed him through the porch door. “Yes, Broderick, then we’ll have cake.”

    Chapter Text

    There was something soothing about being in Trouble. Just you, the dance floor, and the pulsing beat of the music that fills the club. Bro considered himself lucky that he got to work in one of the finest establishments that downtown Houston had to offer, surrounding himself with the illest of beats as he put his turntable skills to the test. He got to be a part of the nightlife, and spinning records in the DJ booth always gave him a natural high that lasted the night.

    One such night, Bro was halfway through a mix when he glanced out at the crowd, and his eye was drawn to a group of businessmen, who stood out from the rest of the mob like a sore thumb with their suits and briefcases. This in and of itself wasn’t too unusual – they got the occasional rash of businessmen, who came in two breeds: those who were looking to loosen up and have fun after working in an office all day, and those who were desperate to return to their youth and wanted to be “hip” and fit in with the younger crowd of partiers. Thankfully, this group appeared to be of the former variety, as many of them were already laughing and loosening their ties.

    So Bro wasn’t too shocked to see some businessmen paying a visit to the club. What did send a jolt of surprise shooting up his spine, however, was the fact that one of them was wearing an all too familiar fedora.

    He waited until he finished his current mix to line up the next couple of songs and take a break, winding his way across the dance floor. Expertly navigating around a sweaty, giggling gaggle of girls, he craned his neck to locate the same fedora that he had noticed before. His heart skipped a beat when he realized that his suspicions were correct and that it was indeed Egbert who had sat down at the bar.

    Bro grinned to himself. This was the first time he’d seen Egbert out of his element. He and Dave had visited for dinner several times over the course of two weeks and became quite familiar with his house. But tonight, Egbert was on Bro’s territory. Wiping his palms on his pants, he approached the other man from behind.

    “Hey, Egbert, did I ever tell you how grateful I was to learn that you were a baker? Because it definitely explains your nice buns.” Bro was a man on a mission. Egbert remained unruffled every time he threw out a corny pickup line to get his attention, and he was determined to keep them coming until he finally caught the other man by surprise and provoked a reaction out of him.

    Unfortunately, Egbert wasn’t easily fazed by his innuendo, and he simply startled at the unexpected voice and turned around to greet Bro. “Why, Broderick, what a surprise to see you! What are you doing here?”

    “I work here,” Bro answered, a little put-out that Egbert didn’t even address his carefully planned pickup line, but he sat down on the barstool next to him anyway. “DJ Strider, at your service. I should be the one asking you what you’re doing here, so I’m going to do that: what got you in Trouble tonight? I’ve never seen you on my shifts before.”

    “Ah,” Egbert said, loosening his tie and undoing the very top button of his shirt, and Bro had to swallow to maintain control. “I just got out of a very long and frankly quite tedious meeting. My coworkers and I decided to stop somewhere for a quick drink to reward ourselves for making it through it, and someone remembered hearing about this club, so here I am.”

    “Well, you made the right choice,” Bro answered with a lopsided grin. “But hey, let me buy you a drink.” He beckoned to the bartender, a tall man with an impressive red-and-black mohawk. “Hey, Ruf…” he muttered, leaning in conspiratorially so that Egbert wouldn’t hear him. “Put all of his drinks on my tab, okay?” His partner in crime nodded in return, and a look of understanding passed between them.

    Bro sat back, and Egbert gave him a quizzical look that he chose to ignore. “Get the man another scotch,” he told the bartender in a more normal voice, glancing at Egbert’s glass to see what he had been sipping at when he arrived. “And if you could do me the pleasure of reacquainting me with my long-standing friend Jack Daniels, that would be pretty fucking sweet.”

    “I’m on it,” the bartender said, getting to work and sliding a glass of ice across the bar. After sharing the same shifts as Bro for quite some time now, he knew his coworker’s drinking habits, including his fondness for chewing on ice between swigs of beer.

    “Quite the gentleman,” Egbert said, an amused lilt to his voice as he accepted the refill.

    Bro grinned and raised his beer. “What can I say? I learn from the best. You’re the paradigm of gentlemanliness, Egbert. Just look at what you’re doing to me, reforming this legendary badass into a straight-up gentleman with every second I spend around you. Better watch out, lest I encroach on your title, Obi Wan Kenobi.”

    “I’m afraid you can’t surpass the master,” Egbert said, a playful smirk tugging at his lips as he took a long draught of scotch.

    “It sounds an awful lot like you’re challenging me. Are you challenging me, Egbert?”

    “Oh, never. A challenge would imply that you actually stood a chance at beating me. I was raised on good manners and chivalry, I’ll have you know…”

    Bro had to marvel at the ease with which they bantered back and forth. It wasn’t often that he came across someone who could match his rapid-fire pace in a verbal battle. Egbert was as into it as he was as well, seemingly forgetting that he was drinking perhaps a bit too much, too quickly, as the bartender surreptitiously refilled his glass without protest.

    Three glasses of scotch later, Egbert was definitely a little sloshed, while Bro, who had been tempering his beer with mouthfuls of ice was only lightly buzzed. He was crunching down on an ice cube when he slipped up and bit his tongue. Bro hissed at the sharp pain, swallowing the offending piece of ice and touching his hand to his mouth.

    He looked up at Egbert. “I bit my tongue. Will you kiss it better?” he asked innocently.

    He didn’t know how it happened, why it differed from his other ironic pickup lines, he just knew that all of a sudden, Egbert was kissing him. And he was more than okay with this.

    Bro grinned, smirking against Egbert’s lips as he returned the kiss with equal fervor. He hadn’t expected Egbert to actually cave and respond to his constant goading, so the fact that he was actually reciprocating the thinly-veiled sentiments that lied beneath his perverse jokes and innuendo sent a thrill shooting up his spine. Fully aware of the fact that this was the first time he’d been properly kissed in ages, Bro poured everything he had into the kiss, years of pent-up sexual frustration colliding with lust and desire and the inexplicable attraction he’d felt for Egbert ever since the day that they met.

    His hand drifted up to cradle the back of Egbert’s head, clumsily knocking his hat askew. He couldn’t think straight anymore. All he knew was that he was in heaven, losing himself in Egbert’s grip and basking in his comforting scent, a mix of Old Spice, aftershave, and the sweet aroma of the tobacco he used in his pipe.

    And yet, it was Bro, surprisingly enough, who was the first one to break this kiss. The small fire that had been kindled in his chest grew bigger and bigger until it became too hot to handle and he was unable to withstand the heat. So he broke it off, panting heavily as he looked back at Egbert. The other man’s chest was heaving and his cheeks were tinted pink, looking as hot as Bro’s felt.

    “I apologize. I… think I am a little intoxicated,” Egbert said, taking off his fedora and running his hand through his short hair.

    Bro laughed breathlessly. “No shit?”

    Egbert looked down at his empty glass. “…How many of these did I have?” he asked, bewildered.

    Bro shrugged. “I dunno, I wasn’t really paying attention.”

    The bartender spoke up in response. “That’d be your fourth.”

    “Thanks, Ruf,” Bro said, somewhat awkwardly. He was suddenly keenly aware of the fact that they were in public and that Rufio had been present the entire time that they were kissing.

    Egbert seemed to be thinking along similar lines, if the look on his face was any indication. “I… think I ought to go now.” Flustered, Egbert straightened out his wrinkled shirt, readjusted his tie, and grabbed his briefcase. “How much do I owe?”

    “A grand total of zero dollars and zero cents. I’m paying for you and that’s that, so don’t even try to argue this point with me, because I will win by a long shot and you will eat my dust.” He held Egbert’s gaze resolutely until the other man cracked.

    “Fine. But rest assured that I will find a way of paying you back. At some point in the near future.” Egbert got off the high barstool and stumbled a little bit. “I really… need to sober up before I get home, I can’t have John seeing me in this state.”

    “Dude, tell me you’re not driving like this…” Bro said, unable to keep the concern out of his voice.

    “No, oh no, someone else in my carpool is driving… If you’ll excuse me, I really must go find the rest of my coworkers, it’s getting late…”

    Before Bro had the chance to respond, or even deliver an ironic quip —“Call me!”— Egbert was gone. Bro stared after him, feeling strangely empty inside. He slowly turned around to face the bartender. “Did that really just happen?” he asked, incredulous.

    Rufio nodded and resumed cleaning the empty glasses behind the counter. “Pretty much, yeah.”

    Bro groaned. “I am not drunk enough for this. Gimme another beer, this song’s almost over, and I go back on in two minutes.”


    Two nights later, Bro was working at the club again and spent half of the night distracted because he was keeping a watchful eye out for Egbert. He failed to show up, however, and Bro was in a sullen mood by the time he threw in the towel and headed home at 2 A.M. It hadn’t been the best of nights to begin with, as he had had several disagreements with annoying drunken people who kept on badgering him to put on popular songs that would mess up his entire carefully planned playlist.

    He had finally had enough when three tipsy, giggling girls came up to him and asked him to put on a Hannah Montana song, of all things. Bro flat-out refused to do so and told them that, quite simply, he didn’t want to. When they pestered him a second time, he claimed that he didn’t have the song. They pointed it out to him on the shelf behind him, and he was beginning to regret that he had ever stocked the record for ironic purposes. Fed up with snarky broads and their bullshit, Bro pulled it out, slid the vinyl record out of its case, and snapped in half with his bare hands with a sick sense of satisfaction. “Like I said, I don’t have the record.” He tossed the pieces on the floor and returned to his turntables.

    While he counted this as a small victory, it didn’t do much to improve his overall mood. It was with an irritable demeanor that a disgruntled Bro left the club and hit the streets. Walking home, he pulled out his phone to check his messages, and the dark cloud that had settled around him lightened a little when he saw that he had a voicemail from Egbert. He dialed his voicemail and put the phone to his ear, reckoning that he must have missed the vibrating in his pocket when he was surrounded by the throbbing beat of the music.

    “Hello, Broderick.” Egbert’s voice was tinny through the phone’s speaker, but it still put Bro at ease, and he felt better, simply hearing his voice. “I’m calling because of the… incident that occurred the other night.” Bro closed his eyes and stopped walking, fervently thinking to himself, Please don’t say that it was just a drunken mistake, dear god no. “If you are free at all tomorrow, I will be taking my lunch break at noon at The Purple Cat if you would like to join me so that we can discuss the matter. Regardless, I will see you soon, I’m sure. Goodbye.” There was a click as Egbert hung up the phone, and a tight ball of dread twisted in Bro’s gut. He did not have very high hopes for his next encounter with Egbert after listening to his voicemail, and he had to wonder if he’d done the right thing in kissing him back, or even instigating the whole game to begin with. He shut his phone and headed home, resigned to the fact that he would spend all night worrying about what tomorrow’s lunch would bring.


    Despite spending several evenings with the Egberts, Bro had yet to properly introduce them to Lil’ Cal. For some reason that he could not comprehend, Cal seemed to be a bit off-putting to most people, as Bro knew from experience. That didn’t stop him from bringing Cal along with him the following day. He felt like he could use the moral support.

    Bro walked into The Purple Cat, a quiet café tucked away in a corner of a business district, and scanned the room. He spotted Egbert sitting at a table at the far end of the room, eating his lunch. Egbert looked up from his salad and, spotting Bro, smiled.

    Taking this as an invitation to proceed, Bro headed over to the table, and Egbert removed his briefcase from the opposite chair to free up a space for him.

    “Hey,” he said, lifting a hand in greeting as he approached the table.

    “Good afternoon, Broderick,” Egbert replied. He nodded at the puppet hanging around Bro’s neck. “Who’s this?”

    “Oh, this is Lil’ Cal, my man, my homie, mi amigo.” Bro plopped himself down on the chair across from Egbert and untangled Cal from where he was chilling on his shoulder. “Here, give him a fist-bump. He loves fist-bumps.” He held out one little fist until Egbert obliged and bumped knuckles with the puppet. Satisfied, Bro pulled up another chair and placed Cal on it.

    “You seem very attached to him,” Egbert observed.

    In that moment, Bro’s infatuation with Egbert grew even more precisely because Egbert referred to Cal as a “him,” not an “it.”

    “Yeah,” he said, fondly regarding Lil’ Cal. “I’ve had him since I was a baby. Always have. He was pretty much the one constant throughout my life, the only family I had up until I took Dave in. When I was little, I used to use him as a pillow at night. Brought him to school and carried him around with me until that wasn’t cool anymore. Then I just kept him in my locker. But yeah, we’re inseparable. He’s my buddy.”

    Bro looked up from Lil’ Cal to find Egbert watching him with a strange expression on his face. It wasn’t judgmental or weirded out, like Bro was afraid it would be. Instead, Egbert’s eyes were soft, his mouth curved in a half smile.

    “That’s sweet,” he said simply. “I feel privileged that you would share that with me.”

    Although he would later deny any and all accusations, Bro became a little flustered when he realized the magnanimity of what he had just revealed about himself. He wasn’t used to talking about himself or telling people about his past and his personal relationship with his puppet. But there was just something about Egbert that made him feel comfortable enough to talk about such matters. He wanted Egbert to know him, really know him for who he was beneath the mystery of his shadowy, cool persona.

    Still, he hastily stumbled over himself to lighten the atmosphere and the conversation away from this track. He was getting ahead of himself, putting too much on the line. He didn’t know if Egbert wanted this. For all he knew, Egbert had invited him to lunch with the purpose of telling him that their kiss was a mistake, a product of his being smashed out of his mind.

    “Yeah, I probably shouldn’t have brought him along though. He’s my best bud and all, but he does kind of make for an awkward third wheel on this breathtakingly romantic date for two. He just didn’t want to stay at home alone. You know how it is.”

    Egbert didn’t reply at first, and Bro was beginning to feel jumpy, his poker face mere seconds away from crumbling.

    “Mr. Strider,” Egbert finally said after an agonizing few moments of contemplation. He set his fedora down, resting his elbows on the table. He leaned forward, fixing Bro with that intense piercing gaze of his that always did funny things to his stomach. “You are perhaps the oddest, most outlandish…” —and it was not cool at all, the way Bro’s heart plummeted at his words— “…and strangely intoxicating man I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet.”

    Bro’s racing thoughts screeched to a halt, and he had to backpedal. “Wait. So, uh…. This is a good thing? I didn’t scare you off with my utterly superb kissing skills and planned-in-advance innuendos?”

    “Why, did you want to?”

    “Fuck, no!”

    “Well, I’m glad then, because I have a proposition to make. I know this seems a little backwards, given that we already had an, ah, intimate moment…” Egbert said somewhat delicately. Bro snorted, and Egbert allowed himself to grin in amusement. “I know, I know. But, if you are amenable, Mr. Strider… I’d like to ask you out on a formal date.”

    Bro’s face split into a grin. “You’re on,” he said.

    “Excellent. Shall I pick you up on Friday at 7:30, then?”

    “It’s a deal.” He extended one gloved hand, and they shook on it.

    While he would never outwardly show it, Bro was giddy the entire walk home. It wasn’t until he made it through his front door that the glow faded, and he realized something crucial.

    He hadn’t been on a date in 15 years.

    “…Oh, fuck.”

    Chapter Text

    It was Friday night, 7:00 P.M., and quite frankly, Bro was kind of starting to flip the fuck out. Without losing his cool, of course, that would never be a thing that happened. It didn’t matter that he had called Egbert in a mild state of panic three hours ago to ask him where he was taking him and what the hell he should wear. His cool was still completely and irrevocably in place.

    But he could at least admit that he was a little bit anxious. He was out of practice. He dug around in his closet for something appropriate to wear, since apparently Egbert was pulling out all the big guns and taking him to some fancy restaurant. He finally produced a suit that he had bought years ago for a job interview and found that it still fit when he tried it on. He made a face in the mirror as he tied his tie, dissatisfied with his reflection. He didn’t do this whole formal thing.

    He felt better when he put his fingerless gloves on and left the bathroom to survey the array of hats that littered the living room floor before snapping up a red cap. It matched his tie, and he thought he looked pretty damn classy, all things considered.

    Bro checked his watch like he had been doing for the past hour and saw that Egbert would be there to pick him up in a few moments, so he headed for Dave’s room to say goodbye, preparing himself to lie through his teeth.

    He knocked on the open door and announced his presence. “Hello, Dave. How do I look?” He straightened out the lapels of his jacket.

    Dave looked up from his computer and let out a low whistle. “What’s the occasion?”

    “Just grabbing some mad snacks with Ruf and the boys. Brorito X just came out, and I am going to fucking dominate this thing.”

    Dave raised an eyebrow. “Pretty fancy for video games. You sure you’re not going on a date?”

    “It’s a costume party, “ Bro said. It was a little alarming, how easily and effortlessly he could lie to his little brother. It made him feel a little guilty, but not guilty enough to actually tell him the truth. “Celebrating Halloween a bit early. You wouldn’t understand.”

    “Yeah, but—”

    “I’m Bond. James Bond.”

    “Okay, Bro.” Dave gave in. He didn’t try too hard to understand Bro sometimes. He figured it had something to do with profound irony, six levels removed from your average pedestrian irony. He just hoped that someday he would be able to fathom the depth of his bro’s ironic exploits.

    “So, yeah, dunno when I’ll be back. Babysit Lil’ Cal for me?”

    “Aw, dudeeeeaughhh!” Dave let out a high-pitched scream as Cal appeared at his right-hand shoulder in a blur of motion.

    Bro laughed, and Dave tried to regain his cool. “I’ll catch you later, little bro. There’s frozen pizza in the freezer if you get hungry. Just watch out for the ninja swords, and put them back in when you’re done.”

    Dave had already deposited Cal next to him and returned to his computer, typing out another candy-red reply to bright blue words on his screen. “Yeah, yeah, will do.”

    As Bro was heading for the door to wait outside, his phone vibrated with a text message from Egbert to let him know that he was here, and Bro took the stairs two at a time. Egbert got out of his car to greet him, and Bro broke out into a grin at the sight of him in his best suit.

    “Well, you’re looking quite dashing tonight,” Egbert said. He couldn’t help but reach out and adjust the knot of Bro’s tie so that it fit more snuggly against the collar of his shirt. “Perfect,” he declared.

    Bro waved away his words. “Pfft, forget about me. Because baby, if you were words on a page, that’d be some fiiiine print.”

    Egbert shook his head in amusement. “You are never going to cease these pickup lines, are you?”

    “Nope,” Bro replied. “They’re fun, and it’s twice as ironic if I continue to say them even after we’re dating.”

    “I can’t pretend that I fully understand the extent of your dedication to irony, but I won’t discourage the pickup lines, because they are rather entertaining.” Egbert opened the passenger door for Bro to climb in.

    Bro laced his hands behind his head. “It’s cool, most people simply cannot comprehend the echelons of irony that I achieve. I’d tell you all about it, but explaining it automatically makes it unfunny. And then it is no longer ironic. The point is, I’m keeping this up until I finally catch you off guard. I’m gonna make this happen.”

    “You’re welcome to try,” Egbert replied, a mischievous glint in his eyes as he pulled away from the curb.

    “Fine, you know what? I will!” Bro retorted.

    Ten minutes later, they pulled up to Ristorante di Intermezzo, and Bro was immediately intimidated. He could tell just from the exterior that this was quite the swanky establishment. Definitely not the type of restaurant he went to often. Or ever, really.

    “…Impressive,” he commented.

    “Yes, I’ve heard excellent things about this restaurant from my colleagues. I’m rather looking forward to trying its cuisine. Shall we?”

    “We shall, indeed,” Bro replied, flashing him a quick grin as he got out of the car and they headed up the pathway that led to the restaurant.

    Bro opened the door with a flourish and gave a dramatic bow. “After you.”

    “Oh no, you go first. I insist,” Egbert said, stepping back chivalrously.

    “Dude, I opened the door, you’re supposed to go inside before me!” Bro protested.

    “A gentleman never enters the room before his date.”

    “Well, that sounds like it’d be great if it wasn’t for the fact that we’re both gentlemen, numbnuts.”

    Egbert placed a hand on his shoulder and with his most sincere fatherly voice said, “Broderick, you may be a man, but you’re not quite a gentleman.”

    “Oh, fuck you—”

    “Maybe later.”

    Bro couldn’t help but laugh, surprised at the ease with which the quip rolled off of Egbert’s tongue. And, if he was being perfectly honest with himself, he was secretly delighted at its underlying implications. “You wish! Now shut up and go through the damn door. We’re letting flies in, and it’s completely your fault. I’m going to be all kinds of pissed if there’s some motherfucker of a mosquito buzzing around my head on our first date. I’m holding the door. You walk through it. It’s that easy.”

    They were still arguing when they heard a voice from behind them sigh. “What are they doing?”

    “Having a maturity contest.”

    They both turned to find an elegant blonde woman watching them with one hand on her hip, an amused smile quirking her darkly painted lips. “I didn’t fly all the way out here to be held up by two men bickering like children over who gets to hold the door. The National Association of Scientists doesn’t take kindly to late dinner guests.”

    She turned to her partner, a stately woman resplendent in a jade-green empire-waist gown that looked too intricate to be store-bought. “If you’ll just excuse me for a moment, dear,” she purred. “I simply need to rectify this situation.”

    “Yes, I do believe that would be prudent. I’m certain your colleagues won’t be enthused if we are any later than we currently are, despite the fact that we are what one would term, ‘fashionably late.’”

    The blonde lady glided over to the door and pried a dumbstruck Bro off of the handle. “Go on in, be my guest,” she said, ushering them in with one sweep of her arm.

    Bro opened his mouth to respond, but Egbert beat him to the punch. “Well. Thank you, madam,” he said politely, as he took Bro by the elbow and led them both into the restaurant.

    Thank you, madam,” Bro mimicked in a high-pitched voice under his breath.

    “Broderick, is that… jealousy I detect in your voice?”

    “What, no. That would be lame and not cool in the slightest. I just find it hilarious that you won’t let me hold the door open for you despite the fact that we’re on a date, and yet you let some random stranger do just that. And it’s not just any insignificant stranger… it’s a girl. Where is your chivalry now?”

    Egbert sighed. “You do have a point there. I’ll admit that it wasn’t my best moment, and I apologize for not honoring your offer. At that point, all I wanted to do was make it inside the building and be with you, and I didn’t care who was holding the door anymore. Two for the Egbert reservation, please,” he added, speaking to the maître’d.

    “…Fine, I guess I can’t argue with that,” Bro grudgingly agreed, mollified by his explanation.

    The maître’d gave a perfunctory glance at Bro’s baseball cap and street gloves before surveying Egbert’s clean-cut, polished appearance. He gave them a cool smile and a little bow before saying in a smooth voice, “If you’ll just follow me, gentlemen, I will show you to your seats.”

    “Christ, it’s dark in here,” Bro complained as they navigated through the maze of candle-lit tables.

    “It’s atmospheric lighting,” Egbert replied. “Perhaps you should take your sunglasses off.”

    “Fuck, no,” Bro answered, and he promptly stumbled into a chair. Barely five minutes inside the restaurant, and he was already earning himself several nasty looks from the fellow diners thanks to his profanity and the ruckus he was causing.

    Egbert shook his head and reached out to take Bro’s hand, carefully guiding him over to their table.

    Bro decided that he didn’t mind the darkness so much if it meant that he got to hold Egbert’s hand.

    The maître’d seated them at their table and their waiter immediately swept over to ask if they would like any drinks to start.

    Egbert perused the wine menu before answering, “Ah, yes. I think a nice Chianti Classico would be desirable tonight. And you, Broderick?”

    Bro’s alcoholic repertoire was limited to beers, Mike’s Hard, and the occasional shot of vodka. “Uh, yeah, I’ll have the same.”

    Egbert raised an eyebrow. “I wasn’t aware you had such refined tastes in alcohol.”

    “Oh, well…” Bro shrugged it off with a little laugh and quickly changed the subject. “So, did you tell John where you were going tonight?”

    Egbert sighed. “No,” he admitted as he unfolded his napkin and placed it in his lap. Bro quickly followed suit – he was out of his element here; his restaurant excursions mainly consisted of midnight runs to McDonald’s when he had the munchies. He had no idea how fancy restaurants worked, so he tried to follow Egbert’s lead as best as he could. “John is my precious son, and the last thing I want to do is upset him by telling him about… this.”

    “But you guys seem to get along well, so there’s that,” Bro observed. “Model father-son pair and everything.”

    Egbert gave him a wry smile. “Well, we have had our fair share of teenage angst.”

    “Who hasn’t?”

    “There was a period of time where he didn’t want anything to do with his old dad. I was under the mistaken impression at the time that he loved harlequins, so I tried to connect with him by sharing his interests, but it didn’t work out like I hoped. Just before we moved here, he told me that he actually hated them, so I took that as a sign to leave all that behind and start fresh here. And I’m proud to say that that’s what we needed. Our relationship has improved since then. I think he’s finally getting out of that moody preteen stage and starting to open up to me more. Which is wonderful, since he means the world to me.”

    Bro couldn’t help but smile like a complete and utter sap at that. He placed his hand on top of Egbert’s, which was resting on the table between them. “You’re a good man, Egbert. A good father.”

    Egbert’s eyes crinkled with warmth in response. “Oh, I don’t know about that. He does think I’m out with some of my briar brothers at the moment, after all.”

    “Briar who-a-what, now?”

    “Some of my fellow pipe aficionados.”

    “Oh, of course. I should’ve known.”

    “That’s enough about me, however. Did you tell Dave about your plans for tonight?”

    “Nope,” Bro said, his mood suddenly darkening. The waiter returned with their bottle of wine, and Bro immediately clammed up as the waiter poured a small amount of wine into Egbert’s glass for him to sample.

    “Yes, this will be just fine,” Egbert confirmed, and the waiter proceeded to pour them both glasses. “It does make for a nice dry, medium-bodied red wine, don’t you think, Broderick?” Bro didn’t answer past a grunt of assent, and Egbert waited until the waiter was out of earshot to continue. “I’m sorry, you were saying?”

    “I was saying that I didn’t tell Dave where I was going. And with any luck, he’ll never know. He doesn’t need to find out that his big bro is a fucking faggot.”

    Egbert, who was reaching for his glass of wine, looked up sharply at that. “Please don’t tell me you really think that way, Broderick.”

    He shrugged, picking up his own glass and staring at it as he swirled the red wine around. “Whatever. I don’t think he’d take too kindly to the knowledge that I’m not really this super cool guy who picks up all the chicks.”

    Egbert looked as if he was going to say something further, but Bro quickly continued. “Anyway. No, Dave thinks I’m out shredding up some rails and dominating the skate park right now.”

    Thankfully, Egbert dropped the subject and accepted the change of topic. “Oh, do you skateboard?”

    “Used to, years ago. Quit after I fucked up and got my arm all torn up.” He rolled up the sleeve of his right arm to show him the scar that served as a reminder. “Also because people kept giving me shit for not wearing a helmet or anything, which I wasn’t about to do because hello, it’s lame. Not cool.”

    Egbert shook his head in despair.

    “So yeah, all of my skateboarding these days is in video-games, which is what Dave thinks I’m up to right now. You know that one series, Brorito? With the Doritos and the hilariously bad glitches? You’re looking at the current highest scorer of Brorito VII, VIII, and IX right here, baby. But I guess that’s pretty self-explanatory. I get the high score in everything.” With a smug smirk, he shrugged his shoulders in a poor attempt at modesty.

    “Even golf?” Egbert asked, and the amusement in his voice made Bro hesitate because, to be perfectly honest, he knew jack-all about sports.

    “…Especially golf. Aren’t you business people supposed to go out golfing after work or something? Take me with you next time, I’ll get the highest score. This score will be so high, it’ll be through the fucking roof.”

    “I have no doubt you will, Broderick.”


    The waiter arrived to take their order, and after Bro stumbled his way through some fancy Italian entrée and the waiter left once more, he turned back to Egbert. “Okay, fine,” he admitted. “It is really dark in here. I’ll take my shades off on a few conditions. The first rule of seeing me sans shades is: you do not talk about the freakishness of my eyes. The second rule of seeing me sans shades is: you do not talk about the freakishness of my eyes. Third rule, treasure the sight because you’re probably not going to see them ever again. Better yet, just don’t look at my eyes at all, okay? Okay, we’re good.” He slipped the pointy sunglasses off of his face and folded them, carefully placing them on the table.

    Egbert couldn’t help but lean forward when Bro looked up, curious in spite of himself, and found himself looking back into bright red eyes rimmed with thick blond eyelashes.

    “Your eyes aren’t freakish,” he said. “They’re exquisite.”

    Bro snorted. “That’s a word for it.”

    “It’s true!” Egbert exclaimed, sitting back in his chair as their dishes were brought out and placed on the table in front of them. “I find them fascinating, and really quite beautiful. You ought to display them more. I daresay that I could get lost in them. Eyes are the windows to the soul.”

    “Well, yeah. Why do you think I keep my eyes covered?”

    “I presumed that it was due to the coolness factor.”

    “That too. But no, I don’t want anyone seeing straight into my nonexistent soul. Fuck that noise. I’d rather the anonymity.” Bro dug into his meal, reveling in the savory flavor of the white wine sauce – at least, that’s what he thought it was, he wasn’t sure what exactly he had ordered, too overwhelmed by the number of options and their flowery Italian descriptions.

    “It’s a shame,” Egbert said. “I enjoy looking into your eyes. It’s more personal that way, instead of anonymous, and I find it rather… intimate.”

    Bro’s heart lurched at his choice of words. He coughed. “Well. Maybe I could be persuaded in taking them off for you some other time…”

    Unfortunately, Bro didn’t make it through the entire meal without his sunglasses. He started to get antsy and uncomfortable without the added protection of his shades, and he had wordlessly slipped them back on by the time dessert and coffee rolled around.

    He was surprised by how quickly the dinner had gone by, and he felt a twinge of sadness when it was over. There was a bit of a heated argument over who was paying, as Egbert refused to let him pay anything, insisting that it was his way of paying him back for the drinks the other night. Bro tried to get it through his head that there was a large price difference between him buying Egbert four glasses of scotch and the other man paying for dinner at a fancy restaurant. Egbert refused to back down, so Bro simply folded his arms and grudgingly let him pay.

    On their way home, Egbert needed to be reminded which turn to take, and Bro purposefully led him the wrong way so as to maximize their time together. After being sent on a wild goose chase orchestrated by the wily Mr. Strider, Egbert finally pulled up to the curb outside of his apartment building and shifted the car into park mode.

    “Well,” he said. “I thank you for a wonderful evening, Broderick, it was quite enjoyable. Even in spite of that scenic detour you decided to take me on.”

    “Yeah.” Bro grinned. “I had a pretty awesome time. So, uh… does that make us a ‘thing’?” He gestured aimlessly with his hands.

    “I think I’d like that.”

    “Yeah. Yeah, me too.”

    Egbert cleared his throat. “May I… give you a kiss goodnight?”

    “I would absolutely love to swap bodily fluids with you, if that’s what you’re asking,” Bro answered.

    “Crass, Broderick.”

    “What, you don’t want to? Should I rescind my offer?”

    “I didn’t say that. I said that it was a crass choice of words.”


    “What, Broderick?”

    “Shut up and kiss me.” Bro sealed the distance between them, tugging on Egbert’s tie to pull him closer. It was a clumsy, awkward kiss, with the joystick in between the two of them, but Bro wasn’t quite brave enough to kiss on the open streets, where Dave could conceivably look out of his window and spot him.

    When they pulled away, Egbert was smiling. “Good night, Broderick,” he said.

    “Night, Egbert. Catch you on the flipside.” Egbert squeezed his hand, and he climbed out onto the sidewalk.

    Bro smiled to himself as he watched Egbert’s car drive off down the road and touched his lips where they still tingled. He gave himself a moment to compose himself and, humming to himself under his breath, headed up the stairs to make sure that Dave had taken good care of Lil’ Cal in his absence. He still had nightmares about the time when a six-year-old Dave had stuffed Cal into the toilet…

    Chapter Text

    As time went by, they settled into a routine, and the hours that were once spent solely on managing his website was gradually replaced by Egbert’s presence. After Dave was shipped off to school on the bus and John was dropped off, the two of them met for a bagel and coffee before Egbert headed off for work while Bro returned home to get some of his Plush-Rump-related tasks out of the way. On days when both of them were free at the same time, they’d grab lunch together, although this wasn’t always the case, as Bro ran into coding problems at the worst possible times, and Egbert often got tied up with clients.

    Dinnertime was where things got awkward. The Striders and the Egberts still continued to have dinner together regularly, as Dave and John enjoyed them, and Bro was always a fan of not having to forage for food. Still, he had to watch his tongue, and the two of them were extremely conscious of what they said, neither one of them wanting to let something slip about their less-than-platonic relationship.

    Until one night, when that all went to hell.

    Egbert was taking a shower, and he could hear his son hollering his name from across the house. “Daaaaaaaad!”

    “What is it, son?” he called back over the sound of rushing water.

    “Your PDA just buzzed!” John answered, his disembodied voice growing closer as he headed over to the bathroom door.

    “I’m in the shower – just read it to me,” he said, rinsing the shampoo from his hair. It was about time his coworker got back to him about the business meeting he had messaged him about earlier that day.

    There was a moment’s pause as John presumably checked the text message. “Uh, Dad…” There was a squeak in his voice that made Egbert freeze in horror. “I think this is something you should read for yourself.”

    Not waiting for a further explanation, Egbert snapped off the spray and reached for the towel hanging from its rack. He shrugged on his bathrobe and opened the bathroom door in record time, but John had already disappeared from the scene, leaving the Blackberry lying on the ground.

    Egbert picked up his PDA to check the text, lit-up letters spelling out his correspondent’s name, Broderick Strider, and a wave of dread washed over him. He closed his eyes to compose himself before bringing himself to read what it said.

    “Hey, man. If you’re not doing anything tonight, why don’t you come over here, sit on my lap, and we’ll talk about the first thing that pops up?”

    Egbert sighed. It was a sweet thought, beneath the layers of perversity that Bro shrouded all of his affections in, and it was the kind of text that he would ordinarily look forward to receiving, if it wasn’t for the fact that John had been exposed to it. This was not how he had hoped to broach the topic.

    He typed out a reply message. “I thank you for the invitation, but I’m afraid I must decline, seeing as how my son saw this message and was traumatized by it.”

    Scarcely ten seconds later, his phone buzzed with a reply text: “…Fuck.

    Egbert found himself heartily agreeing with the sentiment. He pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration before returning to his room to get dressed and prepare for what was sure to be a very uncomfortable conversation with his son.


    The next day, Dave invited John over for a video game marathon, and Bro was the one to let him into the apartment. John shuffled his feet awkwardly when he opened the door, doing everything he could to avoid making eye contact with the elder Strider.

    Bro exhaled through his nose and stepped aside to let him in. “S’up, little Egbert?” he said, trying to act as if everything was perfectly normal, but John was still antsy. He rolled his eyes up to the ceiling and dropped his voice. “If it makes you feel any better, we’re not doing anything.”

    John still looked too disturbed to speak, so Bro sighed and pointed in the direction of the hallway. “Dave’s in his room. He’s already got the Xbox all set up out here. I’m not gonna be hanging around, so yeah. Party hard.”

    He stifled a groan as John fled to Dave’s room, and he hoped to god that the kid wasn’t going to squeal.

    Dave could tell that something was up by the fact that John was exceptionally pale and unusually quiet today. “Dude,” he said, putting down the video game controller and looking over at his friend. “What the hell is your problem? You’re sucking even worse than usual today, and you didn’t even respond to my perfectly delivered quips about how I am thrashing your soggy ass at this game.”

    “Oh, nothing,” John answered, snapping out of his trance and shaking his head. “I’m fine, just, uh, a little tired today, that’s all.”

    Dave snorted. “Yeah, looks like a fat load of nothing to me. You’re like a motherfucking zombie. Seriously, man, what’s the matter? Come on, I’m setting up a booth with a sign that reads ‘The Doctor Is In,’ just five measly cents to get psychiatric help from the one and only Dave Strider, and for an added bonus, I’ll even toss in a helping of actual legit psychoanalysis courtesy of one Rose Lalonde . This is a once in a lifetime offer here, better snap it up while it’s hot.”

    John groaned and bent over, pushing his glasses up onto his head and scrubbing at his eyes. “Why don’t you ask your bro?”

    Dave blinked behind his shades. “Wait, what happened with my bro? Shit, dude, please tell me you didn’t stumble across that ironic puppet porn site of his…”

    John made a face. “Ew, no! And besides, this is worse.”

    “What the fuck could be—”

    John decided he was done with this conversation, not wanting to think about the subject matter anymore. He shoved Dave in the side, knocking his sunglasses askew and scooping up the controller again. “Come on, last one to the finish line is a rotten egg!”


    After John and Dave had settled in front of the TV in the living room and taken up the video game controllers, Bro retreated to the roof for some privacy. He sat with his back against the wall of the roof’s stairwell and looked out over the city as he pulled out his phone and dialed Egbert’s number. He didn’t waste time with pleasantries and just started talking the minute he answered the phone.

    “Yeah, so things are kind of incredibly awkward with the mini Egbert here. Kid can’t even look me in the eye because it makes him think about the unspeakably kinky things I do to you. Or something like that. And it’s kind of freaking me out because shit, what if he tells Dave?” He faltered slightly. “I… literally don’t think I can handle that right now.”

    Egbert sighed, the line crackling with static in Bro’s ear. “Yes, I think this is a matter we need to address, but I think it’d be best if we talked about it in person. Are you free tonight?”

    “Yeah, I’m not working at the club. Why, you got a plan in mind? Whisking me away on some spontaneous romantic date?”

    He could hear the smile in Egbert’s voice as he replied, “Something like that. I have somewhere I’ve been meaning to take you, but the opportunity never arose. I’ll be at your apartment at 11:00 P.M., and we’ll go for a little drive.”

    “Ooh, late-night shenanigans,” Bro said, grinning as he tipped his head back and stared up at the clouds. “My body is already tingling in anticipation. Don’t suppose you’ll tell me anything more about where we’re going or what we’re doing?”

    “Oh no, it’ll be a surprise.”

    “I love surprises. All of them. Except for like, those mystery meat surprises that they dish out in the cafeteria in elementary school. That shit’s disturbing, like what even are those gray lumps, and that gravy looks more like snot than chicken juice…”

    “Broderick. I was eating dinner when you called. I don’t think I can finish it now.”

    “Whoops. My bad. I’ll, uh… make it up to you tonight,” Bro said, lacing his words with innuendo and waggling his eyebrows for effect, although the latter was pointless, given that Egbert couldn’t see him over the phone.

    Egbert chuckled. “I can’t wait. I’ll see you tonight, then?”

    “Damn straight you will.”


    John left at around 9:00, and Dave retreated back into his room, leaving Bro free to obsess over tonight on his own. When 11:00 rolled around, he popped his head into his little brother’s bedroom.

    “Hey Dave, I’m going out with Cal.”

    “Wait, what? Now?”

    “The night is young, little brother. See you later. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.” They shared a private moment of amusement at the ironic statement. There was pretty much nothing Bro wouldn’t do, and they both knew it.

    Bro bounded down the stairs with his puppet looped around his neck and emerged outside to find Egbert’s car already stalling by the curb.

    “I see we have a third companion tonight,” Egbert observed as Bro climbed into the passenger seat.

    “Yeah, I figured Lil’ Cal would enjoy the ride. Don’t worry, I’ll avert his sensitive eyes if any frisky business starts up, if you know what I mean.”

    “Oh, I know what you mean.”

    Bro chuckled and kicked back in the passenger seat, propping his feet up against the dashboard. “So, can I ask where we’re going on this mysterious little whirlwind of an adventure, or are you planning on keeping me in the dark?”

    “The latter, I think.”

    “You’re a tough nut to crack, Egbert.”

    Bro pestered Egbert the entire car ride until Egbert finally stopped the car, a good forty-five minutes later. They were outside the city, the far-off lights of downtown Houston mere pinpricks in the distance. The brightness of the full moon and the warm glow of the occasional streetlamp offered just enough light to see by. When Bro got out of the car, he could hear the sound of rushing water.

    “Where are we?” he asked, a faint sense of wonder in his tone.

    “A river,” Egbert replied, rustling around in the backseat and withdrawing a handheld basket. “When John and I were en route to Houston in the process of moving here, we stopped by here, and it really is a wonderful little hideaway. I figured it would be a nice spot for a bit of a midnight feast,” he said, holding up the covered basket.

    “You,” Bro proclaimed, “are a wonderful man.” He wandered out onto the grass and propped Cal up on his shoulder to squint out at the river. He could hear Egbert place the basket down behind him before speaking up.

    “Broderick?” There was a mischievous note in Egbert’s voice that should have warned him that he was up to something, but he turned around like a chump and received a face-full of cream pie.

    “What the f— Egbert!” Bro spluttered, wiping whipped-cream off of his shades. Before retaliating, he paused to stick his finger in his mouth and taste the cream. “This… is actually really good.”

    “Thank you. I made it myself.”

    “Don’t think that lets you off the hook though.”

    “I would never sugges— oomph!” Egbert suddenly had the wind knocked out of him as Bro tackled him around the midsection and pulled him down to the ground.

    “Take it back! Take it back!”

    “Take what back, the pie?”

    Bro paused and thought about it. “Actually, yeah. I’ll even be nice and give you a choice. Eat it, or I’m wiping it off on you.”

    “As sensual as that first option sounds, I think I’d choose elsewhere on your body to do that. Mind out of the gutter,” he added before Bro so much as had the chance to snigger.

    “Your loss,” Bro said, and he promptly buried his head into Egbert’s stomach, causing the other man to jerk instinctively. Bro wiped his face clean and looked up with a grin. “Ticklish?”

    “Not particularly, just surprised at the sudden and forceful contact with my abdomen.” Egbert surveyed his shirt in disappointment. “Well, this is ruined. At least I can be grateful that you pulled this stunt with the cream pie and not the chocolate pudding one. If I give you that one, will you promise to not get that all over my dress shirt as well?”

    “Maybe. No promises. I’m a wild man, can’t be tamed. But, you know, as heavenly as I’m sure your pies taste, I can think of other things I’d rather be eating right now…” He smirked and cocked one eyebrow.

    Egbert raised his own eyebrows in mock surprise. “Really, now? I can’t imagine what…” He took Bro by surprise and rolled over on top of him in a display of surprising strength and swiftness. Unfortunately, the fact that they were still on an incline meant that this movement made them slide further down the hill, and Bro took the opportunity to kick off with his feet and send them rolling until they came to rest at the bottom of the hill in a tangle of limbs. Bro started to laugh out of sheer adrenaline, and Egbert joined in.

    “I am definitely going to need to make a trip to the dry cleaner’s tomorrow,” Egbert said when they finally managed to calm down.

    “I’m worth it.”

    “Yes. Yes, you are.” Egbert was reminded of why he had been so attracted to Bro in the first place. He was unpredictable and spontaneous, and his love of adventure and sense of humor, despite its frequent inappropriateness, had Egbert charmed from the start. He reached up to wipe away a stray smear of whipped cream that Bro had missed on his nose. He was suddenly and acutely aware of the fact that he was so close that he could hear Bro’s heartbeat and feel his breath, hot against his cheek.

    Bro could feel the same spark in the air, and he grinned as he looped his arms around the other man’s neck and pulled him down into a kiss.

    A five year age difference didn’t matter much when he was 31 and Egbert was 36, but Bro could admit that he was definitely far more immature than his companion was. He was the one who snickered into his coffee when Dave made a crass joke and was the first to offer him a congratulatory high five, while Egbert shook his head and hoped that his son wouldn’t adopt his best friend’s more unsavory habits. Egbert was the mature one, the one who gave him some stability, the one who was more experienced in the ways of the world.

    And, apparently, Egbert was also far more experienced than him in the art of romancing, if the way his kissing made Bro weak in the knees was any indication. Bro was reckless with his kisses, wild enough to throw one arm around Egbert’s neck and plant one on him out of nowhere. But where he was passionate and sloppy, Egbert possessed a finesse that Bro wasn’t capable of. Every move was deliberate, and he was gentle, yet firm, and it just made Bro crave him even more.

    He tried to sit up from where Egbert had him pinned, and he managed to worm himself free so that he could straddle his lap and give himself more control over where things were heading. He responded enthusiastically when Egbert coaxed his lips open, and he’d be lying if he said he wasn’t growing excited, with Egbert’s broad hands at the small of his back. His hands gradually slipped lower and lower until his fingers were just brushing the top of his jeans.

    Bro rubbed up against him in encouragement, but Egbert pulled back, and it was with some regret in his voice that he said, “Okay, okay. We need to talk about the boys, before we forget the real reason we came out here.”

    Bro knew that Egbert was being the voice of reason and that he was right, but he wasn’t happy about having to stop. “Ugh. Fine.” He climbed to his feet and turned so that he was facing away from Egbert, trying to calm himself down. He had gotten a little too excited, and his body had reacted physically. Frankly, it was a little embarrassing, considering that things had not gone very far at all. He was just glad it was dark enough that maybe Egbert wouldn’t notice if he kept his back turned. He scooped up Cal and, trying to buy himself some time, he announced, “First, I want to check out the other side of this river, though. Bet you ten bucks I can use those rocks to get across.” He pointed at a set of boulders that looked precariously slippery.

    Egbert was wary. “Broderick, are you sure that’s the best of ideas?”

    “Your faith in me is astounding.”

    “Well, the zero really is an astounding creation…”

    “Oh, burn. Didn’t know you were capable of spewing such sick fires, Egbert. Come on, ten bucks says I can cross this easy.”

    “I don’t know how safe it is to use those rocks, the current’s strong, and they must be slippery. You should—”

    Before Egbert could so much as finish cautioning him, Bro grabbed Lil’ Cal and hopped onto the first rock. He easily reached the next rock and continued to skillfully pick his way across the swiftly-moving stream. “Don’t know what you were so worried about, Egbert, this is no—” He broke off with a swear as he miscalculated his next step and his foot skidded on a particularly slippery rock. A hand shot out to grab his hand before he could fall in, and he regained his balance.

    With his savior’s support, he stepped onto the riverbank and looked up to find Egbert standing in front of him. “Where the fuck did you come from?” he asked in sheer disbelief.

    “There was a fallen log approximately three feet away. I tried to tell you about it.”

    “Oh,” he said after a moment’s pause. “Well, whatever, you still owe me ten bucks.”

    “Actually, that offer became null and void when you fell in.”

    “I didn’t fall in, you asshat, I slipped and got the hem of my pants a little wet, that’s all. Don’t try to weasel your way out of this one, Egbert.”

    “Can I trade that in for a kiss?”

    “…This is an acceptable form of currency, yes. Get me a pie too and we’ll call it even.”

    “Deal.” Egbert crossed the river again to fetch the abandoned picnic basket —and fuck, he was right, there was a log right there, how the hell did he miss that one— and Bro took his shoes and socks off to plunge his feet into the rushing water. He sat down on the riverbank and carefully propped Lil’ Cal up on a rock next to him.

    “So. About the boys,” Egbert started as he returned with the pie. He stripped off his own shoes and socks, rolled up the hem of his pants, and joined Bro on the riverside with two slices of chocolate pudding pie. “You’re well aware that John knows about our relationship now.”

    “Yeah. And how did that conversation go?”

    Egbert sighed and rubbed his nose. “It was very uncomfortable for the both of us, to be honest. I don’t think he was very okay with the thought that I’m in a physical relationship with you, and your text message to me certainly gave him the impression that we are.”

    “I think it broke his brain. He was practically a zombie today, it was kind of creepy.” Bro hesitated before voicing his worries. “You think it’s because of the fact that you’re, uh… with another man?”

    “I suspect that that was part of the reason why, yes, as well as because I’m his father, and he doesn’t want to think about me being in an intimate relationship with anyone. I think it also had something to do with the fact that you’re his friend’s guardian, to be honest.”

    Bro groaned, Egbert’s words only confirming his fears about how Dave would react. He cut himself another hefty slice of pie, drowning his woes in the delectable taste of chocolate pudding. “Well, that’s fucking spectacular. Real awesome reaction. But here’s the thing. I do not want to tell Dave. Your kid didn’t tell him anything tonight, or else I would’ve heard about it from Dave afterwards. I want to keep it that way. I know him, he’ll flip his shit for all of those reasons and more. I don’t know what it was like back in Washington, but here… I used to go to the same elementary school that Dave went to. I know exactly the kind of shit that’s said about stick-slurpers there. I’m not about to tell him that I’m one of those people.”

    “He’s going to have to know eventually, Broderick,” Egbert said quietly, placing a hand on his knee.

    Bro turned to look at him straight on. “I’m not ready,” he said. “Just— give me some time. I’ll break it to him myself, after I figure out a way to talk to him about me being a homo. God, this sucks.”

    Egbert watched him for a few moments before nodding. “When you’re ready. I’ll have another talk with John and tell him to keep the news to himself until then. We’ll make it work.”

    Bro’s mouth twisted into a small smile. “Thanks, Egbert.” They sat in silence for a few moments.

    “…Can we go back to what we were doing before?” Bro asked.

    Egbert smiled. “I am perfectly okay with this suggestion.” He moved to lean in but stopped when he noticed Lil’ Cal over Bro’s shoulder, watching him with wide glass eyes and that ever-present smile on his face.

    “What?” Bro asked, noticing Egbert’s suddenly disconcerted expression. He glanced over his shoulder. “Oh man, is Cal wigging you out? Guess I can cross voyeurism off of our kink list.” Egbert made a scandalized noise, and Bro sniggered. “But hey, I can’t have the little guy witness all of our dangerously hot escapades. It’ll corrupt his virgin mind. Here, little buddy, let’s avert your eyes…”

    It happened without warning. He was just adjusting the puppet’s head so that he was facing the opposite direction, when Bro withdrew his hand, and in a single heart-stopping moment, Lil’ Cal was sent tumbling into the river.

    Bro shouted and scrambled to his feet to grab Cal, not caring if the sharp stones on the riverbed cut his feet, not caring if he was getting his pants soaked – but the current was too swift, and Cal was just out of grasp. He could only watch helplessly as Cal was carried away down the stream before disappearing beneath the foamy waves.

    There was a brief period of stunned silence. “Broderick?” Egbert finally asked, his voice full of concern as Bro stood there and stared at the river, motionless. “Are you okay?”

    “I’m fine,” Bro said, but the emotion in his voice said otherwise. “Boys don’t cry.”

    “…But men do,” Egbert stated, standing and placing a comforting hand on the small of his back, but Bro pulled away from him as if he had been burned.

    “I’m fine. Let’s go. No big deal. Everything’s cool.” He pulled the brim of his hat down low over his eyes, grabbed his socks and shoesm and forded his way across the river. His pants were sodden up to the knee, but he didn’t seem to notice as he trudged up the hill towards Egbert’s car and accidentally stumbled over an unseen tree root.

    Egbert watched him leave, troubled. When Bro reached the car, he yanked on the handle of the passenger door, only to find it locked. He gave up in defeat and leaned against the car, resting his forehead on the window. Egbert sighed, put his own shoes back on, and crossed the river to gather up their belongings and start up the hill so that he could let Bro into the car.

    Bro, usually so talkative and opinionated, didn’t say a single word the entire car ride home. He simply sat there, his face turned away so that Egbert couldn’t see his expression. After what felt like an eternity of silence, Egbert finally pulled over to the curb in front of the Striders’ apartment building. Bro moved to climb out of the car, but Egbert reached over and restrained him by the arm. Bro turned and looked at him for the first time since he revved up the engine.

    “It doesn’t make you any less of a man to cry, Broderick,” he said gently. “It just makes you human.” Egbert lifted the brim of his cap and caressed his face with one hand, outlining the curve of his jaw with the pad of his thumb. Bro’s entire body tensed up as Egbert gingerly reached to remove his sunglasses.

    Bro sat there stiffly, but he didn’t protest and allowed Egbert to slip his shades off of his face, breaking down the last of the barriers he had so carefully built around himself over the years. Without the safety of his mirrored shades to hide his emotions behind, he met Egbert’s gaze, red-rimmed, bloodshot eyes looking back at warm, understanding ones.

    “I can’t,” he croaked, shaking his head almost imperceptibly.

    Egbert regarded him for a moment longer. “We’ll work on it,” he said. It wouldn’t do to push him too much, not when he had such a deeply ingrained predisposition to keep any and all emotion bottled up. He considered himself fortunate that Bro even let him remove his sunglasses and see his eyes, which bared his soul for the world to see, when they were so obviously filled with anguish.

    “Chin up,” Egbert added, leaning into give him a quick kiss goodnight. “Get a good night’s sleep; you’ll feel better in the morning.”

    Bro returned the kiss somewhat half-heartedly, mumbling a farewell before getting out of the car and heading for his apartment.

    Despite the fact that it was quarter to three in the morning, Dave was still awake and busy playing another video game on the couch when Bro slouched through the door, wordlessly slipping his shades back on to hide the evidence of his not-quite-crying.

    “Dude, where were y—” Dave cut himself off when he looked up to see Bro, who, despite his poker face, was visibly upset. His brow was knit, the corners of his mouth turned down a little bit, and his body language was radiating waves of dejection. “What’s your problem?” Dave asked.

    Bro flopped down on the couch next to him. “I lost Lil’ Cal,” he said, his words heavy like lead bullets, ripping a hole in his heart.

    “…What?” Dave paused the game to stare incredulously at his brother. “You mean like you left him at a bar or somewhere?”

    “No, I mean like he fell into a fucking river,” Bro snapped at him, his bad mood only exacerbated by reliving that heart-stopping moment when Lil’ Cal was swept away by the current.

    “What were you doing at a river?”

    “This is not the important part, Dave! Who gives a flying shit about what I was doing at a river – I was embracing my inner Huckleberry Finn and getting my fishing on – what do you think I was doing at a river? The point is, Cal’s gone, he’s dashed to pieces in some godforsaken riverbed, and it’s all my fault, because I was so fucking stupid—” He hunched over, pushing his sunglasses up and rubbing at his eyes with his balled-up fists.

    “Bro, it’s just a puppet,” Dave said cautiously, somewhat disconcerted by his brother’s behavior. Striders didn’t show their emotions. It simply Was Not Done. And to see Bro, who was pretty much the coolest dude on the face of the planet, so visibly devastated about losing a puppet was bewildering, to say the least. “I dunno why you’re so worked up about it, you slashed him in half the last time we strifed, remember?”

    “And I lovingly stitched him back together with my own two hands! And he wasn’t just a puppet – he was my best friend. I just lost my best friend. I had him since I was in diapers, he’s what got me through—” He broke off, suddenly choked up. “Go away, Dave, I just – I need to be alone right now.”

    For once, Dave obliged him and left without a single snarky remark. Bro knew that Dave was undoubtedly uncomfortable and more than a little unsettled at his decidedly uncool, overly sensitive reaction. But he couldn’t bring himself to care about what Dave thought of him right now.

    Bro paced the length of the living room several times before reaching the conclusion that he might as well just go to bed, because he was so distraught and needed to shut his brain down for the night. Without bothering to change his clothes, he just killed the lights and crawled onto the futon.

    He felt lost without Lil’ Cal to keep him company at night, where he was usually hanging out on the back of the couch or lounging by his head. He tried holding a smuppet to his chest instead, but it just didn’t feel right. It wasn’t the same.

    Bro shifted on the couch, trying to make himself more comfortable. He was usually the kind of person who could crash and be asleep before his head hit the pillow. Not tonight. Tonight, he stared up at the ceiling for what felt like an eternity, trying unsuccessfully to drift off to sleep.

    And if he did let one or two traitorous tears leak out of the corners of his eyes, no one was there to witness it as he lay in the dark, completely and utterly alone.

    Chapter Text

    He must have fallen asleep in the darkest hours of morning, because the next thing he knew, Bro was being rudely awoken by the sound of someone knocking on his door. He grumbled, rolling off of the futon and slouching to the door. He didn’t want to be alive today.

    “What do you want—” But he quickly broke off his impolite greeting when he saw that it was Egbert who was standing there, looking weary and disheveled. His fedora was crooked, his shirt was untucked, and the bottom of his pants were soaking wet. But the thing that stunned him most was not his unkempt, un-gentlemanly appearance, or even how strangely attractive he found it.

    It was the fact that Egbert was standing in front of him with Lil’ Cal in his hands. He was looking a little grimy and beat up, and his clothes were trashed. But it was nothing that a little soap and water and a new wardrobe couldn’t fix. He was there, in one piece, and that was all that mattered. Bro looked up at Egbert, astonishment and adoration written all over his face.

    “I have never loved you more than I do at this moment,” he said. And without even thinking about it, Bro cupped Egbert’s face in his hands and kissed him.

    Lil Cal’ was still wedged between their bodies, because he hadn’t given Egbert a chance to hand him over. But that was okay, because he was just the awesome filling in a sandwich made out of mangrit and irony and sweet, sweet man-on-man loving. The only problematic part was that the puppet’s head was preventing Bro from doing what he wanted to do, which was to press his body flush against Egbert’s.

    He reluctantly pulled his hand away from Egbert’s cheek to fish Lil’ Cal out from between them and sling him over his shoulder. He was probably dirtying the rumpled white polo shirt that he had slept in, but he didn’t mind. With his obstacle removed, he pressed up against Egbert’s body and wrapped his arms around his shoulders.

    Egbert’s hand skimmed over his shoulder-blades and cradled the back of his neck. Bro could feel his heartbeat quickening, and he tangled his fingers in Egbert’s hair, knocking the fedora off of his head. He had backed Egbert up against the wall when he heard a yawn from behind him.

    “Hey Bro, did you buy more Lucky Charms yesterday? ‘Cause I’ve got me a hankering for some magically delicious—” Dave was mid-stretch, having just emerged from his bedroom in a semi-conscious state, when he froze at the sight before him.

    Bro’s blood ran ice-cold, and it took every ounce of willpower he possessed to bring himself to turn around and face his little brother. Despite the fact that he had steeled himself for the worst reaction possible, he still wasn’t prepared for the look of abject horror on Dave’s face.

    His mouth dry, Bro swallowed and attempted to regain control over his poker face. “Hey.” A million responses ran through his head —This isn’t what it looks like; I can explain; There is a perfectly logical reason as to why I am snogging your best friend’s dad— but the words died on his lips as he looked at Dave’s face, as white as a ghost.

    “I,” Dave said, “think I am going to hurl, and I mean that in the most literal way possible.”

    Bro regained control over his vocal chords again. “Dave, I was going to tell you—”

    “But you didn’t, you waited for me to find out by walking in on you sticking your tongue down John’s dad’s throat!” And that was definitely a look of disgust on Dave’s face, and Bro’s chest constricted. Before he had a chance to react, Dave absconded, and Bro winced as his bedroom door slammed shut.

    He turned to face Egbert and all but had a meltdown. “Shit,” he hissed, bending over double and fisting his hands in his hair. “Shit!”

    Egbert sighed and rubbed the back of his neck, still somewhat embarrassed at being caught in the act. “If it makes you feel any better, my first interaction with John didn’t go much better.”

    “Yeah, but he didn’t look at you like he hates you and get all grossed out, did he?” Bro shot back.

    “Actually, yes, he was pretty grossed out by it, and that’s a normal reaction for anyone who finds out that their parent has romantic and sexual desires. And as for the former, Dave does not hate you.”

    Bro snorted, rubbing his hands over his face. “Says you.”

    “He doesn’t,” Egbert maintained, rubbing Bro’s back in slow, reassuring circles. “Of this, I can assure you. You’re his older brother, and what’s more, his parent figure. I’ve heard the way he talks about you to John. He loves you and wants to be like you. He’s not going to turn his back on you simply because of your sexual orientation. Just give him some time to get used to the idea.”

    Bro straightened up and wrapped his arms around Egbert, burying his head in the crook of his neck. “You’re pretty good at this whole pep talk thing,” he mumbled.

    Egbert squeezed him. “I try. Now go to talk to him,” patting him on the back as they pulled apart. “You’ll feel better when you do.”

    “Thanks,” Bro said, and Egbert gave him one last encouraging smile before heading for the door. “And, Egbert?”

    Egbert turned around and gave him a quizzical look. “I love you,” Bro confessed.

    Egbert’s face melted into a smile. “I love you too, Broderick,” he replied. “I’ll see you later.”



    Dave was shaking as he sat down at his computer and immediately began to type.

    TG: egbert we need to talk
    TG: like now
    TG: not that anythings not cool here
    TG: everything is awesome in the strider residence
    TG: totally awesome
    TG: like
    TG: just
    TG: really really awesome
    TG: dude where are you
    EB: oh man, sorry, dave! i was watching Contact and got a little sidetracked.
    TG: no dont even start talking about your weird man-bro crush on matt maconnahay i cant even handle that right now
    EB: screw you, it’s mcconaughey!
    TG: whatever
    EB: no but seriously, are you okay?
    TG: oh yeah totally fine i am completely hunky-dory right now
    TG: no im not i am basically flipping the fuck out here
    EB: um… okay, what happened?
    TG: god how the fuck do i even say this
    TG: i think i know why you were so wigged out the other day
    EB: …oh.
    TG: yeah
    TG: so
    TG: question
    TG: is your dad gay for my bro
    EB: …i think so. how did you find out?
    TG: two words
    TG: tonsil hockey
    EB: ewww! gross dude! and i thought i had it bad!
    TG: yeah dont remind me im still trying to find enough brain bleach to wipe it out of my memory
    EB: well, if it makes you feel any better, i found out through a text your bro sent my dad. It was… kind of not really appropriate!
    TG: oh man this is so fucking messed up

    Halfway through typing another message, Dave heard a sharp knock on his door and looked up from his computer to find Bro standing in the doorframe. “Hey, little bro. Roof. Now. We need to talk.”

    He didn’t bother to reply, simply nodded curtly, and Bro left the room. He turned back to the computer to send John a quick goodbye.

    TG: hey gotta go
    TG: bro wants to talk to me
    TG: god this is going to be so awkward
    EB: good luck, man!

    Dave grabbed his katana and began climbing the stairs, dreading the assuredly uncomfortable conversation that was about to follow. When he opened the door that led out onto the rooftop, the first thing he saw was Bro’s silhouette, the red hot sun casting him in shadow. Years of training had prepared him for when Bro lunged at him, and he instinctively dodge-rolled out of the way.

    He usually enjoying strifing with Bro, even if it almost always resulted in him getting his ass kicked. It was a great way to get rid of the pent-up energy that came with the territory of being a teenage boy, and a tiny part of him was secretly thrilled that his big brother thought highly enough of him to let him be part of this ritual. It was the pinnacle of coolness.

    But today, all Dave felt was white-hot resentment towards Bro and simultaneous, bitter self-loathing. He gritted his teeth in frustration as Bro expertly dodged each of his attacks, and every miss only increased his aggravation. With each failed attempt, he grew more and more agitated and his moves became sloppier. He growled, raw and primal, as he swung his katana with reckless abandon, trying with all his might to clip Bro, just once— but his brother was as evasive as always, and Dave was more pissed off than ever, convinced that Bro was just toying with him at this point.

    But Bro had enough of games and ended it with one swift swing, disarming Dave and sending his katana clattering against the cement.

    Dave grunted as he hit the ground with a thud. Defeated, he lay on the rooftop and stared up at the sky, steadfastly ignoring his bro when he extended a hand to help him up.

    When Dave didn’t move, Bro sat down on the ground beside him, placing his katana next to him. He exhaled deeply and looked up at the clouds himself. “Never thought you’d be the one to judge me for being gay, bro.”

    “It’s not even the gay part,” Dave said, and the resentment in his voice made Bro flinch inwardly despite the stoic poker face he maintained.

    “Okay, fine, I’ll bite. Which part is it?”

    “Everything! First off, the last thing I want to walk in on is you sucking face with my best bro’s dad, that’s just weird and disturbing and wrong on so many levels. I don’t want to think about whatever freaky shit you do behind closed doors, period, never mind you doing it with someone who is related to my friend. And I don’t remember you ever having an insatiable craving for the taste of smoked Vienna sausage before—”


    “And speaking of which, you know what hurts the most?” Dave challenged, cutting him off and turning his head to glare at Bro. “The fact that you lied to me all these years, always telling me about the flighty broads you’re always picking up at the club, and not once did you ever tell me that oh, by the way, you’re gay! So you want to know how I spent the past few years of my life? Huh?”

    Bro didn’t answer, simply met his gaze through mirrored shades, red eyes never leaving his younger brother.

    Having lost his cool entirely, Dave was red in the face and his fists were clenched tightly. “Because guess what, they weren’t any real picnic, let me tell you. Constantly hiding who I am because I was scared, so fucking scared to tell you that I’m gay! You don’t even know what it’s like, basically living in fear that your big bro is going to find out that you have a perpetual hankering for throbbing beef bayonet and that he’s going to disown you because it’s not cool to be a fucking fudge packer.” Dave had sat bolt upright at this point and his entire body was shaking. He felt betrayed, hurt, angry, and when Bro reached out a hand to placate him, Dave smacked it away. “I spent so long hating myself. And after all that, it turns out that you’re gay too? Fuck you, Bro,” he spat, pure venom in his voice. “Just— fuck you!”

    Dave clambered to his feet and ran for the door, but Bro was quicker, flash-stepping over to the door and blocking it off before he could reach the stairwell.

    “You think I don’t know what it feels like?” he said, standing resolute even as Dave growled and tried to push past him. “You really think that? Then I hate to break it to you, little bro, but you’re a dumbass. Did you ever think that maybe the reason why I never told you is because of that same exact reason? Come on, you idolize me—” Dave opened his mouth to hotly protest, but Bro overrode him, raising his voice. “—And don’t try to pretend that you don’t, because I know you do. Or did, growing up. Whatever. The point is, you’ve always looked up to me as your big bro for your entire life. I wasn’t about to shatter your illusions of me as this perfect dude by telling you that I’m a freak who can’t get it up for a girl. Not exactly the coolest kind of guy right there.” He let go of the door frame and stepped aside to give Dave room to pass. “And you know what? I hope you appreciate the fact that I haven’t been in a single fucking relationship for almost fourteen years because of you. So, yeah, thanks for being happy for me. Real cool of you, man. I am so proud of you.” His final words dripped with sarcasm, a mockery of the genuine sentiment that Egbert always reminded his son of.

    Dave glared back at him and pushed past him, banging the door shut behind him and leaving Bro alone with nothing but the cawing of the crows to keep him company.

    Chapter Text

    Normally, Bro would have been proud of Dave for his ability to sneak around unnoticed over the next couple of days. His ninja-like stealth was impressive, all things considered, but it only added to the tension and strained silence that filled the apartment.

    Bro eventually got fed up with this whole avoidance bullshit and tracked Dave down, cornering him when he was on his way from the kitchen to his bedroom, a glass of apple juice in his hand. Bro could see the way Dave’s shoulders stiffened at the sight of him, but he refused to back down. It was a long, frigid moment of the Strider Staredown as twin sets of red eyes locked behind mirrored shades, expressions as impassive as ever.

    After several long, tense seconds, Bro decided that he was sick of staring at Dave. “This is stupid,” he stated, smacking the glass of apple juice out of Dave’s hand and sending it flying. It clattered to the ground, juice spilling out onto the tiled kitchen floor.

    Bro grabbed a chair and straddled it, resting his chin on his arms. “Look, let’s get a few things straight here. This has absolutely nothing to do with you and John. Me having a thing with Egbert doesn’t change anything, nothing between you and your friend, nothing between me and you. My relationship with him is not getting in the way of any other relationship. So stop being such a whiny, self-absorbed teen and grow a pair.”

    “Doesn’t mean I can’t be pissed off at you for hiding it from me.”

    “Oh, for crying out— I didn’t want to tell you because I knew you’d react like this! This is exactly why I hid it from you. Partly because I knew it’d upset you, and partly because I was scared shitless about what you’d think if you found out that I’m a homo. I think those are some pretty valid reasons there for keeping you in the dark.”

    “Fine,” Dave said, his voice a little sullen. “I still think it’s weird. And I’m still mad that you never told me you’re gay. Or like, given me a hint or something. So I wasn’t beating myself up since the fourth grade about it.”

    Bro softened a little. “Fair point. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you, it’s my fault there. Although I don’t know why you didn’t at least suspect something,” he added, scratching his head. “I hadn’t realized it ‘til now, but I would’ve thought that the pantsless Chuck Norris handcuffed to Mr. T would have been some kind of tipoff. I guess my subconscious was secretly crying out to you for acceptance, or some such shit like that.”

    Dave seemed to contemplate this for a few moments. “Guess I never really questioned the whole puppet thing,” he finally said. He hesitated, and Bro gave him time to sort out his jumble of thoughts before tentatively asking, “…Did you mean it when you said that I’m the reason why you haven’t been in a relationship in fourteen years?”

    Bro immediately regretted his words, which he’d spat out in the heat of the moment without thinking about their implications. “Dave, I didn’t mean it like that. I was pissed off and said something I didn’t mean. Seriously, it’s nothing.”

    “No, but that’s what you said," he insisted. "It’s my fault. I’m the fuckup here. I fucked up your life. You’d be better off without me around—”

    No.” Bro leaped to his feet, knocking the chair over in his haste. He ripped off his sunglasses so that Dave could see every bit of intense rage in his eyes. “Never, ever, say that to my face again,” he emphasized, his voice dangerous and even. Dave fell back a step, somewhat frightened at the fierceness in his big brother’s voice. “Dave, you are the best thing that ever happened to me. Don’t ever fucking demean that. You want cold, brutal honesty? Yeah, I didn’t have time to get involved in a relationship when I was taking care of you and working two jobs. Doesn’t mean I couldn’t have. I could have been that douchebag who went out, partied it up, and brought home some lay and fucked them senseless while you were sleeping in your cot out in the living room. I could’ve left you with the neighbor and gone out on a date with someone. I could’ve flirted with my coworker when I was working nights at the convenience store and started some scandalous back-alley romance full of stolen glances across the cash register and midnight smoke-break quickies. But I didn’t do any of that shit. Partly because I am a fine upstanding perfect hunk of a man, and partly because of you. I chose you over anyone else, Dave. You were more important to me than any possibility of a romance.”

    Dave watched him in silence and hesitated before saying, “…Really?” His need for acceptance shone through in his words, and Bro felt a sudden surge of affection for his baby brother.

    “Fuck yes,” he said. “And you still are. So don’t ever say that you fucked up my life again, or I will run a katana through you.”

    “Gee, thanks, Bro,” Dave said dryly, but there was definitely a hint of a smile on his face.

    “I threaten because I care. And I meant it when I said that you’re more important than me than any chance of a romance. But, I met Egbert. And it’s like, I feel complete when I’m with him, as much as that sounds like totally sappy romance novel bullshit. And I want this, Dave. I’m happy with Egbert.” He made sure Dave was making eye contact with him and continued, “I don’t want to have to choose between you two. But you come first, and I don’t want to upset you. What do you want?”

    Bro stared at Dave, waiting for an answer. He knew that he was putting his entire relationship with Egbert on the line, but he needed Dave to understand how much he meant to him. He’d fucked up by accusing Dave of being single-handedly responsible for his being alone for nearly fourteen years. And he had to fix things.

    Dave looked down at the linoleum and scuffed at it with the toe of his sneaker. “I guess it’s gonna take some time to get used to it, but I guess if he makes you happy, then whatever. I’m cool with it. Just. I don’t want to walk in on the two of you getting hot and heavy again, because that’s really kind of disturbing.”

    Bro snorted. “Hah, yeah, no, that’s awkward and not conducive to my relationship with him at all. I promise you won’t have to sit through any sloppy makeout sessions.” He picked up the chair that he knocked over before and slipped on his shades once more. “So, we’re cool now, then?” he asked.

    “Yeah. We’re cool.”

    “Hell yes. C’mere, kid.” He held his arms open, and he and Dave shared in a sentimental, completely-unironic hug. Striders weren’t ordinarily a huggy bunch, unless they were in public and were purposefully mocking TV commercial families. But this time, Dave squeezed him tightly, and Bro was suddenly reminded of how clingy he had been when he was a baby. Even though Bro privately thought he was still needy in an emotional sense, Dave had become less touchy-feely as he grew up. And while this was a good thing, sometimes Bro did miss those days. When he could fix a skinned knee with a Snoopy band-aid and a gruff hug. When Dave came into the living room in the middle of the night, crying, and he held him to keep the nightmares at bay. When Dave still needed his big brother to comfort him physically. Although Bro had to wonder if he’d done something wrong in raising Dave, if he hadn’t feel safe enough to tell him that he was gay. He felt guilty and tried to figure out where he had went wrong and what he could do to fix his mistakes.

    “You know I’m always here for you, right?” he said, resting his chin on Dave’s head.

    He could feel Dave smile into his shirt. “Yeah, Bro.”

    “I mean it. You can tell me anything at all, and I won’t judge you, if you’re gay, if you’re pregnant…”

    Dave punched Bro in the shoulder, and Bro wrenched away from him, laughing. Things were back to normal.


    December 3rd was always an emotional day for Bro, and although he tried to hide it behind his mask of chill indifference, he never quite succeeded in remaining perfectly stoic. This year was different than Dave’s past birthdays, however, as this time, he had his best friend living in the same state to celebrate with him. John had reached out to Bro, apparently over his uncomfortable awkwardness after learning of Bro’s relationship with his father, in search of the perfect gift. Bro had directed him towards a few choice eBay auctions, and he was currently in cahoots with Egbert. They had decided to schedule one of their usual dinners on Dave’s birthday, and while the boys were at school during the day, Bro was helping Egbert make a cake.

    And by “helping to make a cake,” he meant obnoxiously planting himself on the counter in front of the cabinets while Egbert tried to get ingredients out of them.

    “So, what are we doing, Betty Crocker?” he asked. Egbert responded by forcing the cabinet door open and knocking it into his head. “Ow, man! What’s the matter with you?” he complained, rubbing the back of his head.

    “That’s what you get for not moving your rear out of my way when I asked you to,” Egbert admonished, reaching into the cabinet. “And no, John said that the only way he would eat Dave’s birthday cake was if it wasn’t Betty Crocker. I swear, I don’t know what that boy has against her. Did you know he calls her the Batterwitch?”

    “Blasphemy. Also, you love my delightfully plush rump.”

    “Be that as that may, you are going to need to remove it from my counter if you want to stay in here. My kitchen, my rules. Now scoot.”

    With a roll of his eyes, Bro slid off of the counter and leaned against the wall. “So, what can I do to help?”

    “To be perfectly honest, I’m not so sure that I trust you with the delicate art of pastry-making, Broderick.” He was already clattering around with bowls and organizing ingredients by type.

    Bro clutched a hand to his heart. “Why, I am wounded, Egbert. Is that any way to treat your apprentice? I am just a lowly young grasshopper under your wise tutelage. Instruct me, my sensei, and tell me what my first task is.”

    Egbert bumped him out of the way with one hip to gain access to the mixing bowl. “Fine, if you can prove your worth to me in the kitchen… you can start with the dry ingredients while I begin with the wet ones. They’re all organized over there.” He nodded at the assemblage of dry ingredients he had lined up into a neat row. “You’ll have to open a new bag of flour to begin with, though, my jar is almost empty.”

    “I can do that,” Bro said, sidling over to the counter. “I’m good at opening shit. There is never a bottle of juice or jar of pickles that goes unopened in the Strider household.” He took the bag of flour into his hands and tried to tear it open, but his efforts were fruitless. He shook it out again, wiped off his palms on his pants, and gave it another shot, but the plastic only stretched annoyingly. At this point, a normal person would have gotten a pair of scissors, but Bro was too proud to resort to such measures. He put some more force into it and yanked at the bag until it ripped open in a veritable explosion of white flour.

    You could have heard a pin drop as a fine layer of powder settled over the counter, the sink, and the pile of clean dishes in the drying rack. Egbert slowly turned from his position to look at Bro, who could only grin sheepishly.

    “That’s it, you’re done in here, Broderick,” Egbert said, pointing for him to get out.

    Bro had already grabbed a handful of paper towels. “But—”

    “No buts. And put that down, you’re not cleaning up this mess with a wad of paper towels!” He swatted at Bro with a kitchen towel. “Go sit down at the table, and you are not getting up from that seat until I tell you. Your kitchen privileges have officially been revoked. I hope you’re happy with this mess that you’ve caused, Broderick.”

    Bro didn’t move from his spot. He raised his hand and waited for Egbert to acknowledge him before speaking. “Can I lick the bowl afterwards? That’s really all I wanted, anyway.”

    Egbert looked up at the ceiling. “Of course that’s the only reason why you insisted on helping me. Yes, you can lick the bowl, now go sit down and get out of my way.”

    Bro smirked and swaggered over to the kitchen table. “I’ve been such a bad boy, you’re sending me to time out…”

    Egbert didn’t answer him and simply returned to his cake preparations, cracking the eggs with the practiced hand of an expert before switching to sift the flour.

    Failing to get a reaction, Bro tried again. “Oh man, Egbert, you know, I got flour all over these black jeans… be a gentleman and come get me out of these dirty clothes?”

    “I am not speaking to you right now,” Egbert said, with a note of finality in his voice. Bro mercifully fell silent after that and Egbert continued with his work. All the while, however, he could feel Bro’s eyes on him, tracking his every movement. After finishing mixing the batter to completion, he finally turned to find Bro sitting forward in his seat, resting his chin on his hand and looking directly at him with an unmeasured intensity.

    “Broderick, what are you doing?” he asked.

    Bro continued to stare at him intently. “I am making ‘come hither’ eyes.”

    “Firstly, I can barely see your eyes behind those preposterous sunglasses of yours. And secondly, you could just say, ‘Come over here, I want a kiss.’” He poured the cake batter into three pans as he spoke.

    “Come over here, I want a kiss,” Bro parroted.

    Egbert shook his head and chuckled, but he obliged, bringing the mixing bowl along with him as well. He bestowed a kiss on Bro and held out the spatula for him. “I believe you wanted this?”

    Bro took the utensil from him, looked at it, then hovered it in midair for a few seconds before deliberately dropping it onto the floor.

    “Oops,” Bro deadpanned. “Looks like I dropped the spatula. I guess you’ll just have to use your fingers to feed me some of that delectable mess in there.”

    “Oh?” Egbert said, his eyes twinkling mischievously as he scraped up a dollop of cake batter.

    “Yup. It’s the only way, but hey, sometimes you have to make sacrifices when it comes to this kind of thing. All’s fair in— mmph!” He was caught off-guard when Egbert took advantage of his open mouth, but he grabbed the other man’s wrist and held it in an attempt to regain a modicum of control. Bro sucked on his finger, swirling his tongue around the digit to sample all of the cake batter before rearing back and climbing to his feet to capture Egbert’s lips in a kiss.

    Egbert’s hands settled comfortably on his hips, and he had no complaints when Bro backed him into a corner of the kitchen with every intent of ravishing him. He gave a hum of approval, and, encouraged, Bro took it a step further. He decided to be daring and slid his hands down to rest on Egbert’s rear.

    Egbert chuckled, lips soft against his skin. “Cheeky. If you’re going to cop a feel, you might as well do it right.”

    Even Bro, who had mastered the art of the surprise attack, jumped a little when Egbert cupped his ass. He was quickly coming to the realization that he was slow on the uptake when it came to the physical aspect of this relationship. He wasn’t used to being out of his league, but he was inexperienced in this particular field. He talked big, sure, but when things came this far he had no idea how to handle it or what to do.

    Bro’s heart rate skyrocketed as Egbert pulled him flush against his body, rolling his hips up to press against him. The contact made him shiver, and he was acutely aware of the fact that there were only two layers of pants separating him from Egbert’s groin. And he wasn’t the only one excited by the thought — he could feel Egbert’s arousal pressing against his own, and the realization that he was the one causing Egbert to feel that way sent a thrill through his body.

    Keen to get some more pleasure, Bro eagerly reciprocated, grinding up against Egbert in return. He felt like a horny teenager all over again, hard and needy from making-out, but he couldn’t help the fact that he was so unbelievably turned on by this. He had never had the opportunity to really indulge himself when he was in high school, so he was making up for lost time, and evidently Egbert was okay with him experimenting. At least, he wasn’t protesting the way that Bro was all over him like a lovesick puppy.

    Egbert tried to settle him down by slipping his hands in the back pockets of Bro’s jeans, anchoring him in place so that he could lead. He set the pace, rubbing up against him in a much more languid fashion, simply enjoying the pressure, and it was effectively driving Bro out of his mind.

    Bro rocked his hips up, gasping into Egbert’s mouth. He had to forcefully restrain himself from just rutting up against Egbert and hitting his peak too soon, but Egbert wasn’t making it easy for him to stay in control of himself. He took a shallow, ragged breath, in an attempt to steady himself as Egbert shifted his focus from his lips to his neck, kissing a trail down to his collarbone, where his tongue dipped into the crevice.

    Bro was teetering on the edge of oblivion, unable to keep a breathy moan from escaping his lips. And when Egbert’s fingers trailed down his stomach to cup him in his hand, he couldn’t hold back any longer, and he lost it entirely. Waves of pleasure washed over him, far more intense than any he had ever brought about with his right hand, but they were tempered by a heavy dose of shame and the uncomfortable sensation of wet, sticky pants.

    He broke away from Egbert, swearing as he looked down at himself and the mess he had created in his pants. Bro was unable to face the other man and was ashamed to admit that he took the coward’s way out, tucking his tail between his legs and hiding away in the bathroom.

    Egbert’s lips quirked in amusement, and he headed to his bedroom. Five minutes later, he was knocking on the bathroom door and holding out a spare pair of jeans. They weren’t exactly the same kind of trousers that Bro wore – these were the ill-fitting jeans that he’d had since John was a baby, but they held too much sentimental value for him to consider throwing them away. They were the pants that he wore when painting the garage or washing the car on the weekend, but he still thought they were more suitable for Bro than the many pairs or respectable slacks or the Sunday sweats he possessed.

    “Premature ejaculation is nothing to be embarrassed about, Broderick. It happens to us all at least once,” he said, his voice mild and nonjudgmental.

    “Shut the fuck up,” Bro grumbled, opening the door just wide enough to grab the proffered change of pants.

    “It’s really not as bad as you’re making it out to be.”

    “Easy for you to say,” Bro snapped, and Egbert could hear rustling from behind the bathroom door and the sound of running water. “You’re not the one who creamed his pants before the main entrée.”

    “Sure, you got a little overexcited,” Egbert acknowledged, folding leaning against the wall. “It happens. It’s completely natural. And for what it’s worth…” He had to struggle to keep from allowing a smile to creep into his voice. “I’m rather flattered.”

    A displeased grunt was heard, and Bro finally emerged from the bathroom, but he steadfastly refused to look at Egbert. “I am leaving now. Goodbye.” He popped his collar and hunched his shoulders up, but Egbert could still see the redness of the back of his neck, flushed with embarrassment.

    Unfortunately, the gods were working against him today, because as soon as he reached the front door, it swung open and John and Dave entered, chattering away to each other.

    Bro immediately spun around on his heel and walked away, resentful of his interrupted getaway. Egbert, who had been following him on his escape mission, smiled in amusement and shrugged his shoulders slightly. They had gotten a little sidetracked and let the time get away from them.

    “Hello, boys,” Egbert said, greeting them as they swung their backpacks off of their shoulders and dumped them on the floor. “You had a good day in school, I hope? And may I wish you a happy birthday, Dave?”

    “Thanks, Mr. Egbert.” The tips of Dave’s ears turned pink, pleased at being recognized. Then he noticed Bro, and he couldn’t help but smirk. “Hey Bro, since when do you wear ‘dad’ jeans?”

    His composure firmly back in place and his face carefully wiped blank, Bro turned around to face everyone. “They’re Egbert’s. I had an accident. Spilled apple juice all over my lap. It was tragic, little kids wept the world over at the loss of such precious elixir.”

    “Is he serious?” John whispered to Dave, who just shook his head slightly.

    “Don’t question his brand of irony, man. It’s completely unfathomable.”

    “Well, dinner isn’t quite ready yet,” Egbert said. “You boys can run along and play while I finish preparing it.” Bro made a move to follow Egbert, but he cut him off. “That means you too, Broderick.”

    Bro gave him an offended look. “Seriously, dude? This is like being demoted to the kids’ table at the Christmas party. I am outraged.”

    “After your accident in the kitchen—“ Bro shot him a warning glare “—you are not allowed to set foot in there again, never mind actually touch anything involving food preparation. First the apple juice, then exploding a bag of flour all over my clean dishes…”

    “Oh, I see how it is. Fine, be that way. I don’t love you anymore.”

    “Ah, but you do.”

    “…Okay fine, I do love you. God knows why.”

    Dave and John, who had been following this exchange in amusement, exchanged disconcerted looks of mild horror.

    “Oh, grow up,” Bro told them before rounding on Egbert, who turned his back on him and started walking down the hallway. Bro followed him, loudly declaring, “Egbert, I would like to file a petition. I do not deserve to be filed away in the children’s category because I, unlike them, do not get disturbed by G-rated confessions of pure and innocent guy love between two guys.”

    “Nevertheless, you’re still an overgrown child, and you’ll have more fun playing video games with them than standing around and watching me cook,” Egbert informed him, then placed a kiss on his nose and swung the kitchen door shut.

    Bro touched his nose, a small smile tugging on his lips. Mollified, he headed for the living room, where John and Dave had already dispersed to pick out a video game.

    And Egbert was right, he did have a blast playing video games and horsing around with the two boys. He was surprised by how quickly time had flown when Egbert announced that supper was ready and the aroma of baby-back ribs, Dave’s personal favorite, filled the house.

    They settled into their usual places at the table, falling into the familiar routine of their dinner dates. Dave and Bro were both practically salivating at the mouth when Egbert brought out the braised ribs.

    “This,” Bro pronounced as he dug into his meal, “is like an orgasm in my mouth.” As soon as the words left his mouth, he regretted his choice of phrasing. “And don’t take that literally, because it’s not funny.”

    Egbert struggled to contain a smile as John and Dave giggled into their food. He quickly tried to change the topic before Bro could react further. “John, did you ever get that math test that you were telling me about back?”

    John swallowed his mouthful of food and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Yeah, Dad! I got a 95 on it.” He puffed his chest out in pride.

    Egbert smiled warmly at him. “Very nice. I am so proud of you, son.”

    “Dude,” Dave said, giving John an incredulous look. “How’d you get such a good grade?”

    John shrugged his shoulders and grinned. “I don’t know!”

    “Cheater,” Dave accused, taking another bite of rib.

    “How could I have cheated if I got a good grade and I was sitting next to you?”

    “You—wait, what? No, shut up!”


    Bro laughed out loud and shared a grin with Egbert, locking eyes with him from across the table.

    Dinner went smoothly enough, and John was practically bouncing on the balls of his feet in excitement by the time Egbert was clearing the dishes from the table.

    “Oh man, we have to open presents now! Dave, let me get your present!” He was up and running before anyone had time to say anything in response.

    “Well, I might as well bring the cake out now,” Egbert said, wiping his hands on a towel and exiting just as John came skidding back into the room with a long, thin package in his hands. Dave had to raise an eyebrow.

    “What the hell is supposed to be in there?”

    “Open it and find out!” John insisted, thrusting the unwieldy blue package into his hands.

    “Give me a minute, I’m busy pissing my pants in excitement here, dude.”

    Egbert emerged from the kitchen with the elaborate three-layer cake in his hands, the candles already lit.

    “I contributed the candles,” Bro helpfully pointed out, having chosen to add an element of irony to the cake with a plethora of Barbie candles.

    “I noticed.”

    “Present first, then cake!”

    “Alright, calm your tits, man, I’m on it.” Dave unceremoniously ripped off the wrapping paper and opened the box. “Whoa.” He pulled out a katana and tested the weight in his hand before unsheathing it. “…Whoa.” It glinted in the light, gleaming sharp, and Bro let out a low whistle. This wasn’t one of the unbelievably shitty swords he had suggested to John. This was actually quality.

    John was grinning from ear to ear as Dave glanced up at him. “Yeah, it’s a sword that’s not a cheap piece of shit! Dad helped me buy it and everything.” He punched Dave in the shoulder good-naturedly. “Maybe now you can actually beat your bro!”

    Bro looked over at Egbert, who met his gaze with a smug expression on his face. “Egbert, you are a two-timing bastard,” he accused.

    “If I were you, Broderick, I’d watch your words. You might not want to speak ill of me,” Egbert said lightly.

    “Oh yeah? Why’s that?”

    “You’ll see in a few moments.”

    Dave put down the sword and stood up to address John, shoving his hands in his pockets. “So you’re kind of a goober and a complete dork, but you know what… you’re pretty cool.” He grinned. “Thanks.” Bro knew that beneath his casual words, Dave was genuinely touched, even if he didn't know how to express it. John must have seen it too, because he beamed at Dave and gave him a bro hug bump, in true Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff style.

    “I actually have a little something too,” Egbert said. “It’s not just for you, though, Dave. It’s for all three of you.” Bro, Dave, and John turned to face Egbert in various states of confusion. He pulled an envelope out of his pants pocket and slipped out four tickets. “I happened to win the office raffle the other day. Four tickets to a ski trip at a resort in Vermont. It would be a great pleasure if the two of you would like to accompany John and myself.”

    “Yes,” Dave said immediately.

    “Hell yes,” Bro added.

    “Hell. Fucking. Yes.”

    John threw his hands in the air. “This is going to be the best trip ever!” he declared.

    Egbert’s eyes crinkled in delight. “Well, I am certainly looking forward to winter break now. It shall be quite the adventure.”

    “Guess I’ll have to retract my previous statement against you, then. You’re not as much of a two-timing jerk now.” Bro elbowed him in the side, then turned to Dave and cleared his throat awkwardly. “Well, shit,” he said. “I can’t exactly top ski tickets to Vermont. Thanks Egbert, way to show me up when it comes to showering gifts on my kid.”

    “Wait,” Dave said, holding up a hand. “Does that mean that the pile of smuppets you literally showered on me this morning was my gift?”

    “No, that wasn’t your gift, that was my way of giving you an awesome start to an awesome birthday. Also, I really did not appreciate you cutting up Dick Smuppet into pieces. He was going to be the star in my next video.”

    “Dude, how the hell did you expect me to react? There I am, sound asleep, and the next thing I know, there’s plush derriere and oblong schlongs all over me.”“I do not understand why you are complaining about this. Ungrateful little bastard. Anyways, no, your present’s back at home. It was too heavy for me to lug it all the way out here.”

    “Awesome.” Dave grinned at him and turned back to the table. “So, uh… if we’re done with presents, can we eat cake? This thing is like begging to be inside me right now in all of its sugary goodness.”

    “Wait, first we need to sing happy birthday…”

    “Bro, don’t, this is fucking embarrassing—”

    “You are going to let us sing happy birthday to you, and you’re going to damn well like it, or you’re not getting any cake.”

    Dave groaned and slunk down in his seat, but despite his grousing, he couldn’t hide the faint smile on his face.


    It was late when they returned home from the Egberts’ house, and Dave had almost forgotten about Bro’s present for him, until he swung open the door to the apartment.

    “Holy shit,” he breathed. “Is that—”

    “New turntables, yeah. Figured it was time you deserved an upgrade.”

    Dave walked around the setup, checking it out in undisguised amazement. He had already had some pretty sweet turntables, but they were hand-me-downs from Bro. This was his first time with brand new gear, and they were good enough to rival Bro’s own turntables, which had always made him feel a little jealous inside whenever he walked past them.

    “I have got to test these out.” Dave ran to his room and came back with records in hand, giddy to give it a spin.

    Bro stood back and looked on. “Happy fourteenth, kid,” he said to himself, softly enough that Dave couldn’t hear him over the music. He leaned against the wall, content to watch on the sidelines and remember that unlikely day, fourteen years ago, when he stumbled upon the infant who would change his life forever.

    Chapter Text

    The day before they left on their trip was the last day of school for Dave and John, and it was on this day that Egbert came over to help Bro pack for Vermont.

    “You know, I think this is the first time I’ve truly seen your apartment,” Egbert commented as he walked through the front door.

    “Seriously?” Bro asked. He had to stop and think about it, and he realized that Egbert was right.

    “Yes, after the incident with Dave, the only other times I’ve been here are when I’m dropping off or picking up John. I only caught a glimpse that first time, given that most of that short visit was spent… otherwise occupied.”

    “Oh.” Bro scratched his chin. “It’s kind of a shitty apartment,” he confessed. “It’s small. The A/C’s been broken since forever, and it’s not so bad now, but it’s brutal in the summer. There’s only one bedroom, and I gave that to Dave years ago, ever since he outgrew the crib.”

    “You gave up your bedroom for Dave?” Egbert repeated, and the look of pure love in his eyes made Bro grin in embarrassment. “Where do you sleep?”

    “Oh, I just crash on the futon at night,” he said offhandedly and led Egbert over to see his sleeping quarters. “Watch out for the wires and smuppets, mind,” he added, stepping over a particularly plush yellow puppet. “Grand tour of the Strider apartment, here we go. To your right, you can see the veritable man cave that is my living space. Please take note of my incredibly sweet gear and killer technology. I hope you’re jealous.”

    The corner of Egbert’s mouth twitched. “Oh, I am,” he replied.

    “Good,” Bro said, satisfied. He turned around on the spot, pointing everything out. “Computer, soundboard, door to the hallway… that just leads to Dave’s room, the bathroom, and there’s a closet at the end where I keep my clothes and shit. Now, straight ahead, we have our kitchen…”

    Egbert paused. “Broderick.”


    “Your kitchen is full of weapons.”

    “Yeah, I thought it was a pretty appropriate place to keep them. I mean, that’s where all the sharp knives and shit go, right?”

    “Why is your kitchen full of weapons?”

    “Well, it’s ‘cause there’s not a lot of storage space in the apartment. And I collect them. They’re kind of my thing. The cheap, shitty swords are mainly for ironic purposes, and I used them when Dave was little so he wouldn’t hurt himself.” He pointed at one of the swords propped up behind the microwave. “That little plastic one’s the very first one I gave to him, when he was two years old. Anyway, so that’s the shitty swords, then there’s my personal collection of really rad, expensive katanas. Those don’t even require an explanation, because they’re so fucking sweet. The nunchucks are just because they’re fun to whip around, like whipping your hair back and forth, only less lame and obnoxious. And then on the wall, I have my shuriken. I used to keep those on me when I was working at this seedy convenience store when Dave was a baby. Wasn’t exactly the nicest part of town, and those throwing stars actually came in handy on at least one occasion. The scalpels and saw are from when I was experimenting with different kinds of blades. I mainly just use those for cooking now. Like, for Thanksgiving one year, I forgot to thaw the turkey and it was frozen, and that saw was the only thing that would hack it to pieces. I was going to try to make turkey soup, but, uh, we ended up ordering pizza in the end. Oh, and there’s that one over there, on the wall, see? That one was a Christmas present from Dave one year. I keep it on display. So yeah,” he finished. “Puppets and weapons. My two main interests. Not necessarily together. Except —wait, that gives me an idea for my next Plush Rump update—” He grabbed a piece of paper and a pen from one of the drawers, scrawled a note to himself, and used a throwing star to tack it to the wall for future reference.

    Bro turned around to find Egbert watching him. He shifted awkwardly from foot to foot. He wasn’t ashamed in the slightest of his hobbies, he knew that they were untold levels of cool, but he was also fully aware that others judged him because of them. Most people thought it was downright odd, but Bro didn’t care if they thought it was strange – they just didn’t understand the irony behind it all.

    But he did care about what Egbert thought of him. He cleared his throat a little. “You, uh, think it’s kind of weird, don’t you?”

    “No,” Egbert said slowly. “They’re not exactly the most orthodox of hobbies, sure, but they’re part of what make you, well, you. You’re unique, Broderick. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. Besides…” He smiled. “I’d say that my extensive collection of pipe-related paraphernalia isn’t exactly normal either.”

    Bro smiled back at him. It was like a sudden weight had been lifted off his chest. It was nice to have someone love him unconditionally, and it was strangely refreshing to not be judged for his choice of pastimes.

    Egbert clapped his hands. “Now, how about we get to work? Show me your closet and suitcase, and we’ll begin.”


    One hour later, they hadn’t made much progress. Egbert heaved a sigh. “Is this the warmest thing you possess?” he asked, holding up a flannel button-down.

    They had dumped the contents of Bro’s closet into the living room, and Bro was sitting inside his suitcase, feet resting in Egbert’s lap while the other man sorted through his clothes. “Yeah, I think so. If it actually gets semi-cold here, I just layer that with my jacket and I’m fine. It’s that, or the matching pair of father-son footie pajamas that Dave and I bought years ago for shits and giggles.”

    “Broderick, how on earth do you expect to survive in Vermont in the middle of winter with this kind of wardrobe?”

    “Fuck Vermont, I’ve never left Texas, Egbert! I’ve never even seen real snow in person! Dave and I went all the way to L.L. Bean to buy legit ski jackets or whatever like you told us to, and we were completely fucking lost because neither of us has any experience with that kind of thing.”

    “This is true. I apologize, I forgot. I imagine you must be quite excited to see your first snowfall.”

    “What? No, of course not, that would be an incredibly silly thing to get excited about.” He wasn’t being entirely truthful, and if the smile on Egbert’s face was any indication, he was well aware of this. Bro was secretly giddy at the prospect of seeing and feeling snow for the first time.

    “Tell you what,” Egbert said, putting aside Bro’s flannel shirt. “You’re set when it comes to pants, and you have the winter gear I told you that you’d need. I have plenty of extra sweaters, so I’ll just lend you those, and you should be fine.”


    “Now, I have a question to ask you… It might make you a little bit uncomfortable, so please don’t hesitate to refuse. You see, these tickets I won at the office raffle were intended for a typical family of four – you know the type, mother, father, two children…”

    “Yup. Is there a point to this? Are you being disqualified because instead of the picture-perfect TV family, you have this dude, his boyfriend, and their respective kids?”

    “No, no, of course not. My point is, because it was assumed that the winner would bring along his or her spouse or significant other… our lodging at the resort has two bedrooms. One that has two single beds, and one with a double bed. Now, I am not sure how okay you are with this sleeping arrangement, which is why I wanted to tell you now. If you simply are not comfortable sharing a bed with me at this stage of our relationship, which I can completely understand, then I am more than amenable to giving you the bed and sleeping on the couch instead.”

    Bro tried to hide a smirk. “Why, Mr. Egbert, it seems to me that you are inviting me to sleep with you!”

    “Well, in the literal sense of the term… yes. Unless, of course, you wish not to,” he quickly amended.

    “…I think my main problem right now is not the fact that you want me to sleep in the same bed as you —because I am more than okay with that— but that you apparently only want me to sleep with you in the literal sense of the term.”

    A slow, sly smile crept across Egbert’s face, the worries dropping away. “Are you propositioning me, Broderick?”

    “I don’t know, am I?”

    “I’m not sure if I can accurately answer that. Are you?”

    “Can we just drop the whole twenty-question cagey bullshit act now and start making out already? Why am I even phrasing this as a question?”

    Egbert smirked and chose to answer non-verbally. He nudged Bro’s feet off of him and leaned over to kiss him.

    Bro had already tilted his head up expectantly, and Egbert indulged him, but the fact that Bro was still planted in the middle of his luggage made for an awkward position.

    Egbert broke away and pushed up the brim of his fedora. “Broderick, you are going to have to get out of that suitcase if you want me to do anything to you.”

    Bro’s grin widened. “Tell me about what unspeakable things you are going to be doing to my tender and virile body.”

    “Why tell you, when I can show you?”

    “That,” Bro said, “is an excellent question.” He grabbed Egbert’s hand and used him as leverage to get back on his feet. He swept Egbert into his arms in a parody of a climactic movie scene and kissed him deeply, dramatically dipping him. They couldn’t help but laugh at the overblown cheesiness of it all as they stumbled over to the futon. The backs of Bro’s knees hit the edge of the frame, and he fell onto the cushions.

    Egbert’s hand was already teasing at the hem of his shirt, and Bro fumbled to return the favor by tugging at his tie. His fingers suddenly felt thick and unwieldy, like he was wearing a heavy pair of gloves, and he was having a hard time gaining enough control over his own movements. He finally succeeded in undoing the tie and throwing it onto the floor.

    Egbert helped him pull his own polo shirt over his head, and he frowned at the sight of a dark purple bruise just above his right hipbone. “What on earth did you do?” he asked, brushing his fingers over the bruise.

    “What, the bruise? Dunno where that one’s from,” Bro said. “Either from strifing with Dave on the roof, or that time when I banged into my mixing gear trying to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night.”

    “Hmm. Well, I hope it heals up quickly.” Egbert pressed a kiss to the bruise. He gravitated to the right, paying attention to every inch of skin his lips passed over until he brushed the soft fuzz beneath his navel.

    Egbert slipped an arm around Bro’s waist, pressing into the small of his back to pull him in closer. Bro let out a slow hiss. His hand caressed the back of Egbert’s neck, drifting up to knock his fedora to the ground and grip his hair. He needed to steady himself, already being driven mad by the subtlest movements, and the fact that Egbert was slipping further south wasn’t helping any.

    “Oh god,” Bro gasped. He was already rock hard, and Egbert hadn’t even undone his pants yet. The mere knowledge that Egbert was that close to his groin both thrilled and aroused him… but it positively petrified him as well.

    Egbert’s tongue was hot and wet against his skin as dexterous fingers finally unbuttoned Bro’s pants and slid them down to his thighs, just far enough to relieve Bro of the constricting denim. He was breathing heavily, simultaneously grateful for the small amount of relief it offered and on edge because it meant that this was actually happening to him right now.

    “Okay,” he said, perhaps a little too loudly to be natural, and Egbert pulled away from him long enough to listen to what he had to say. “There is definitely something wrong with this picture right here. Why the fuck am I the only one who’s half-naked right now?”

    Egbert chuckled. “If you insist,” he said, sitting back on his heels and starting to unbutton his shirt from the top. Bro wet his lips nervously. He felt like he should be doing something, so he reached for Egbert’s belt. He didn’t want to be the only one feeling shamefully exposed, and he had to admit that a thrill of delight coursed through him at the thought of seeing Egbert in this light. It helped ease the paralyzing terror that had snuck up on him and clutched him in its grip.

    Egbert soon finished unbuttoning his shirt and opened it. Bro was still trying to undo Egbert’s belt, but his hands were shaking too hard to succeed. Egbert gently batted his hands away and unzipped his trousers. “Better?” he asked.

    Bro nodded gratefully. After Egbert had nudged him aside, his hands found solace on Egbert’s exposed chest. This, he was more comfortable with, and he ran his hands up the length of his torso, admiring his muscle definition. For a businessman, he was a lot stronger than Bro had initially assumed. He decided that he liked it, and he was calming down some, enjoying the way Egbert’s thumb was stroking his hip rhythmically.

    But when Egbert pushed him down onto his back with all the confidence of a well-seasoned man, Bro realized that he had bitten off more than he could chew. He was constantly coming onto Egbert, a master of blatant innuendo and perverse jokes, but he had nothing beneath the surface of his bravado. He had no experience with this sort of thing —hell, he’d never been touched below the waist by anyone excluding his own hand, and the farthest he’d ever gone was groping some girl’s chest back in high school, which he didn’t even count because it felt so wrong— and it terrified him. He was way out of his element.

    Bro was starting to panic internally, the first time jitters taking over, and every muscle in his body tensed up as Egbert hovered over him, one hand sliding up the inside of his thigh. He wanted this contact more than ever, and he found it intensely pleasurable, but the anxiety was building up inside of him and his heart was racing.

    Egbert stilled, his hand stopping short of Bro’s crotch. “Broderick. Is this your first time with another man?”

    Bro laughed, a slightly hysterical giggle that was far too high-pitched to be coming out of his mouth. “Try first time ever—” he said, wishing that his nerves weren’t so jumpy right now.

    “Oh, no.” Egbert was all business once more, pulling away from Bro and zipping up his pants. “No, no, this won’t do.“

    Bro’s gut twisted up into knots, and he used his elbows to push himself into an upright position. “Wait, what the fuck, where are you going?”

    “Home,” Egbert replied as he buttoned up his shirt. “You’re nervous. This is too much, too fast.”

    “I’ll get over it,” Bro hastily said in one big rush of words. “Please,” he begged, reaching out a hand, but Egbert backed away and picked up his fedora, dusting it off.

    “Not now, Broderick,” he said calmly, “Another time, when you’re less frightened. I shouldn’t have pushed you to go this far, this quickly.”

    “But, but,” he spluttered, trying to regain control over his speaking faculties. “No, I want this, man, don’t back out now. Yeah, okay, I’m a blushing virgin, my purity is untainted, but I am giving you the flower of my virginity, the most precious gift I can offer—” He broke off, falling silent and looking down at his lap before glancing back up. “What’s wrong with me?” he finally asked. No blustering, no bravado, no hiding behind long and convoluted metaphors, nothing. Just him at his most vulnerable, a scared little boy who wanted to know why he was being rejected when he was most willing to give up all he had to offer.

    Egbert’s eyes softened, and he cupped Bro’s face in his hands. “Nothing is wrong with you,” he said gently, brushing his thumb across the scar on his cheek, a reminder of one of his more reckless skirmishes. “You just deserve more than this. I don’t want your first time being intimate with someone to be something that occurs on your futon in the heat of moment when you’re this tense. I’m going to do this the right way. And that means maybe taking things a little bit slower.”

    Bro looked back at him before sighing. “Fine,” he said, resigned. “Just don’t make me wait much longer, because I really do want this.”

    Egbert smiled, gave him a quick kiss, and got off of the futon, gathering up his tie and slinging it around his neck. “That, I can promise you. In fact, I think you’ll find yourself in this situation again sooner rather than later. Good night, Broderick.”

    He couldn’t help but whimper slightly as Egbert shut the apartment door behind him.

    Which was why Bro found himself locked inside his bathroom once more. “Lousy goddamn stupid Egbert!” he muttered aloud, even though Lil’ Cal was the only one around to hear him.

    He was slouched against the door, his pants hastily shoved down and his hand working furiously between his legs. Cal looked back up at him from where he was sitting at Bro’s feet, as comforting and reassuring as ever. Bro remained fixated on his face, needing something to concentrate his frustration on, and Lil’ Cal was a good listener.

    “With his stupid gentlemanliness and his ‘Oh no this needs to be special’ and his being such— a fucking— cocktease—” He swore as he came without warning, accidentally splattering Cal’s face. “Shit. Sorry, little dude.” He grimaced and, after regaining control of his breathing, stood up, buttoned his pants, and brought Lil’ Cal over to the sink, where he gently cleaned off his face. Cal smiled up at him after he finished drying him off with a towel, and Bro sighed as he leaned against the sink.

    “You’re the only one who understands me sometimes, you know that, Cal?” He used his hand to open and close Lil’ Cal’s mouth and spoke in his usual high-pitched voice.

    “I know, Bro, but it’s okay. Who needs anyone else when we have each other?”

    “Wise man. You know, you’re the only one who’s always been by my side. Oh, but I guess we need to get you some new clothes too. I know you’ve just kind of been freeballing it since the river, but apparently that shit’s not gonna fly up north. Come on, Cal, let’s go finish packing.”

    Chapter Text

    The trip to Vermont promised to be an adventure right from the start, as neither Bro nor Dave had ever flown before.

    Egbert picked up the two Striders bright and early in the morning, and he peppered them with questions regarding their carry-on luggage and refreshed them on what to expect while they drove to the airport.

    When he was satisfied that they understood all the ins and outs of air travel, he turned up the radio. Bing Crosby’s voice floated through the speakers, crooning, “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas…”

    “Oh man, Dave!” John said, his excitement evident. “You’re actually going to get to have a real white Christmas!”

    “Yeah,” Dave said nonchalantly. “I guess that’ll be pretty cool.”

    Bro glanced over his shoulder from his spot in the passenger seat. Dave was playing it cool, but he could tell that he was secretly excited, and truth be told, Bro was really looking forward to it himself. “It’s gonna be pretty fucking sweet. My body is so ready for this.”

    They arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare, which was a good thing, as it was nigh inevitable that they were going to get held up when going through security.

    Both Bro and Dave were agreeable enough when told to remove their shoes, jackets, and belts, but they drew the line at taking off their sunglasses. In the end, it took both John and Egbert to snatch their shades off and toss them into the plastic bin. The two Strider brothers were not pleased, but Egbert’s reassurance that they could put them back on once they made it past security mollified them slightly.

    Thankfully, neither one of them set off the beepers when passing through the gate. Bro started getting dressed at the end of the assembly line. “I feel like I just walked through the stage of a strip club,” he commented as he shrugged his jacket back on.

    Unfortunately, there appeared to be a bit of a hold up on the conveyor belt as the security personnel examined Bro’s suitcase. Egbert looked up from where he was lacing up his shoes to see a man dragging the suitcase out and placing it at the end.

    “I’m gonna need to take a look at your suitcase,” he grunted.

    “What? Why? There’s nothing illegal in there!”

    Egbert immediately headed to Bro’s side to prevent any collateral damage from occurring. “What appears to be the problem, sir?” he asked pleasantly.

    “Suspicious looking metal object, possibly a weapon.”

    Egbert shot Bro a look —he had repeatedly warned Bro and told him that he could not bring any of his weapons onto the airplane— but his face was blank, his brow knit in confusion.

    “I swear, I didn’t pack any weapons! Hey, fuck, don’t you need some kind of search warrant—” he tried to step forward and confront the guard who was struggling to open his suitcase, but Egbert tightly gripped his shoulder and gave it a warning squeeze.

    “Being aggressive is not going to help your case any,” he said through clenched teeth. “You’re just going to make it worse.”

    The security guard finally forced open the overstuffed suitcase and jumped back in surprise as a plush yellow smuppet burst out from the top, ass upwards.

    All eyes swiveled upon Bro to give him a strange look, including the guards and all of the people waiting behind them in line and complaining about the hold up.

    Standing several feet away from the ruckus, John whispered to Dave, “Lame.” Dave simply buried his face into his hands, his composure long gone at the embarrassing display.

    “What, that’s not illegal, is it?” Bro said, somewhat defensively.

    The security guard had to think about it for a minute. “No,” he slowly said, “I suppose it’s not.” Nevertheless, he was cautious as he searched through the rest of Bro’s belongings. When he finally pulled out a throwing star that had gotten lodged at the bottom of the suitcase, Bro visibly winced. Egbert rounded on him, his expression stony.

    Bro held up his hands. “I swear, I did not pack that in there,” he maintained. “I collect them, it must have gotten stuck on something else,” he tried to explain.

    “Is that so?” the guard replied condescendingly. “I’ll be confiscating this. Can I get someone to pat him down?” he addressed his fellow security personnel .

    Bro opened his mouth to protest, but he caught the hardness in Egbert’s eyes so instead he said, “Okay. I’m cool with that. I’ve got nothing to hide.” He went along with the search without making a fuss, as uncomfortable as it made him, until they let him go and declared him clean.

    “Can I at least keep the smuppet?” Bro asked.

    “Yes,” the guard who had rifled through his suitcase said at once. “Take it and get the hell out of here.”

    Bro had the distinct impression that he got let off easy, perhaps because they didn’t want to deal with a weirdo and judged him to be reasonably harmless. He scooped up his pile of belongings, crammed them back in his suitcase, and booked it out of there.

    “That guy was a fucking asshole,” he muttered as soon as they were out of earshot.

    “He was just doing his job,” Egbert said.

    “He didn’t have to be a dick about it!” He mimicked the man’s snotty tone. “I’ll be confiscating this…

    “You didn’t expect him to let you keep it, did you? Honestly, Broderick, I specifically told you to be careful about this sort of thing!”

    “It was an accident!”

    “Hey, Bro,” John piped up, defusing some of the tension. “Can I ask you why you brought the, um, puppet thing with you?”

    “Because I wanted to, god!” Bro snapped, hoisting his backpack, where Lil’ Cal was chilling out, further up onto his back. He was in a bad mood at this point, the stress of traveling getting to him, and he was not in the mood for dealing with people ragging on him. “I brought him for a reason, okay? Now everyone shut up and don’t talk to me.”

    An uncomfortable silence fell upon the group while Bro stewed in his own anger and the others dealt with their own annoyance. When they reached their gate, Bro slumped down into his chair while Egbert disappeared for a few moments. He returned with a peace offering, Bro’s favorite coffee, and Bro gradually came out of his funk. By the time they boarded the airplane, he was back to his old self.

    “Is it supposed to go this fast?” he hissed to Egbert when the plane started rolling. “Shitfuckdamn we’re going to crash aren’t we. We. Are going to crash.” He squeezed Egbert’s hand hard enough to cut off his blood circulation.

    “I promise you we are not going to crash,” Egbert reassured him.

    “That is complete bullshit. I bet that’s what Justin Bieber’s mom told him before he fell off a stage and broke his foot. We are going to crash and burn and I’m never going to have told Cal I love him. Shit, why did I put Cal in the overhead bin? Dave!” he called, kicking the seat in front of him, where Dave and John were sitting. “If we die, I want you to know that I love you, completely unironically!”

    Egbert shut him up with a kiss. “We’re in the air now, Broderick. We’re fine.”

    “Oh,” Bro said, sitting back in his seat. “That’s fine then.”

    “I never would have suspected that you didn’t have a head for heights, given your penchant for sparring on the roof,” Egbert commented, releasing Bro’s hand and massaging his fingers to try to regain some sensation in them.

    “It’s not so much the heights as the fact that we’re hurtling down a runway at, what, 150 miles per hour? That’d freak anyone out!” Bro said, but he was relaxing now that they were in the air and he couldn’t feel the rumble of the plane roaring down the track.

    Bro ended up conking out for the majority of the flight, his head lolling on Egbert’s shoulder while the other man tried to shift his position so that he could read without waking him up. Three hours later, he gently shook him awake.

    “Broderick, we’ll be landing shortly,” he murmured, and Bro groaned and scrubbed his face as he sat up straight again.

    “This is gonna be brutal again, isn’t it?” he asked.

    “For you, yes.”


    Egbert smiled at him and held out his hand, which Bro clutched tightly. “I’ve got you,” he said. Bro didn’t let go until the plane came to a stop, and he breathed a sigh of relief.

    As they slowly rolled up to the gate, the flight attendant came onto the loudspeaker. “Ladies and gentlemen, we’d like to thank you for flying with us today. Please remain in your seats until the plane has come to a complete stop. When you exit the plane, please make sure to take all of your belongings with you. If you are going to leave something behind, we would appreciate it if you ensure that it is something we’d like to have, because any remaining items will be evenly distributed amongst flight attendants. Please do not leave behind children or spouses, because chances are likely that we would not like to have them either. We hope you’ve enjoyed your flight, and have a nice day.”

    Bro laughed, and all the tension he felt during the landing dissipated. Leaving the plane was a lot less of a hassle than boarding it was, as there were no assigned seats, and it was pandemonium until the flight attendant told the passengers that they were not picking out furniture here, and everyone should just find a seat and get in it.

    Bro was also grateful that they didn’t have to go through security again. Once was enough. It wasn’t long before they were in the airport and heading for the exit, luggage in tow.

    “Hey, little bro, what did you think of our first flight? Where you bugging out as hard as I was?”

    “Nah, Bro, that was just you.”

    Bro looked at John to confirm whether or not this was a true statement. John was nodding. “Yeah, he didn’t even flinch or anything! So coooool,” he said, laughing as he good-naturedly jostled Dave.

    Bro was a little put-out that his baby brother had out-cooled him on the plane, and he opened his mouth to make a snarky retort, but he completely forgot the words as soon as they stepped outside.

    “Holy shit,” he breathed, and Dave nodded dumbly. “I have never seen this much snow in my life.”

    There were drifts of pure white snow that glittered in the late afternoon sunlight, and the sight of it in person was far more breathtaking than anything he had ever seen on TV. He was fascinated by the icicles that dangled from the awning and wanted to touch one, but Egbert was steering the group towards a nearby car.

    “You can explore the snow all you want when we get there,” he promised. “But right now, we have a rental car from my company waiting for us.”

    Bro dutifully followed him, but he spent the entire trip to the lodge glued to the window with Lil’ Cal, watching the snowy fields go by with a childlike wonder. On the other side of the car, Dave was equally absorbed at his window, barely listening to John, who sat between the two Striders and was keeping up a running stream of one-sided conversation.

    In spite of his carefully hidden excitement, Bro managed to keep his cool intact even after they arrived at the resort. This didn’t stop him from being the first one out of the car, with Dave hot on his heels, and plunging into the thigh-high mounds of snow.

    “This snow thing is fucking awesome,” he proclaimed, wading through the snow. He paused. “Oh man. Dudes. I can see my breath.” He stood there, surrounded by snow, and breathed through his mouth, endlessly fascinated by the phenomenon of breath vapor.

    Dave had dunked his hands into the snow, heedless of the freezing temperature, and was packing it together when he heard the sound of his name.

    “Hey, Dave…”

    He turned around and received a face full of snow. He spluttered and wiped it off to find John clutching his stomach from laughing so hard, his Prankster’s Gambit going haywire.

    “Oh hell no, it is on now!” Dave said, scooping up a snowball of his own and chasing after John.

    Egbert laughed and hefted his suitcase out of the trunk of the car while Bro extricated himself from the snow. He folded his arms and hugged himself for warmth.

    “Fuck, it really is cold out here. I take it back, I don’t know how much I like this snow thing. I can’t feel my nose.”

    Egbert put the suitcase down on the ground and kissed the tip of his nose. “Is it warming up?”

    Bro smiled and curled his fingers around Egbert’s hand. “Yeah… but now I can’t feel my lips…”

    “Well, we’ll just have to take care of that, won’t we?” Egbert’s hands settled comfortably on Bro’s waist as he moved in closer to lend him his body heat and rest his forehead against Bro’s.

    Bro could practically feel the electric spark in the air between them, broken only when Egbert leaned in to kiss him, long and slow. The heat rose in Bro’s face, and he was glad that the boys were too busy messing around in the snow to care about their guardians kissing.

    He was just pulling back from the lingering kiss when a snowball came flying out of nowhere and smacked him in the back of the head. It stung with the extra bite of a concealed lump of ice, and to add insult to injury, it slipped down the back of his neck and into his collar.

    He turned around to find John crouched behind a snow bank, trying and failing to hide a grin. “Sorry, sorry, I meant to hit Dave!”

    “You little bitch, that had ice in it!” He was still stunned by the revelation that snow, which looked so light and fluffy, could actually hurt. He took a threatening step towards John and promptly had his hat knocked off by an expertly lobbed snowball from behind him. He swiveled around and saw Dave smirking.

    “Oh, that’s how it is, I see. You’re just asking for it now. And you wipe that shit-eating grin off your face, Dave, or I’ll wipe it off for you,” Bro said, pointing at him. He grabbed a handful of snow and set off after Dave, who bolted over to John and dived behind his miniature snow fort.

    “No fair!” John cried as Bro got revenge by tossing his own sloppy snowballs at them. The small bank of snow did not offer much protection.

    “How is this not fair? It’s two against one!”

    “Because you didn’t even give us a chance to make a proper fort or stockpile up snowballs!”

    “I’m sorry, I was not aware of the etiquette of snowball fights, and I say fuck those rules, because it sounds an awful lot like you’re pussying out on me. Are you pussying out on me?”

    “Broderick…” Egbert said warningly.

    Bro paused in his barrage of snowballs to glance over at Egbert, who raised an eyebrow at him. “You just got lucky,” he said, turning around to face John and Dave. “I’m gonna listen to Egbert now, but someday, when you least expect it…” He dropped his final snowball and went to join Egbert in grabbing the suitcases.

    “Your bro scares me a little,” John whispered to Dave as they climbed out from behind the snow bank, dusting themselves off.

    “Yeah, he does that. You get used to it.”

    The boys trudged after their respective guardians, and Dave stared at his feet, enjoying the crunch of snow beneath his boots and the crisp footprints that were left behind with every step. He looked up to find Lil’ Cal staring at him with wide, glassy eyes and startled in surprise. Cal was nestled in Bro’s hood, riding along with him at the back of his neck. He was decked out in new gear, wearing an ironically tacky Christmas sweater and a beanie that replaced his usual sideways baseball cap.

    “You actually made him a winter wardrobe, Bro?” Dave asked.

    “Well, of course I did,” Bro said, shooting Dave a look over his shoulder. “I’m not about to look like a crazy person carrying around a naked puppet in public. I’m not stupid!”

    Dave rolled his eyes up to the sky and didn’t say anything, simply followed him as Egbert opened the door to the cabin and let them inside.

    “Aw, fuck yes!” Bro exclaimed, looking around the cozy living room of their little cabin. It was festively decorated for the holiday season, including an artificial pine tree bedecked in tinsel and plastic ornaments. He dumped his suitcase on the ground, and pulled out the notorious yellow smuppet. He made a beeline for the tree and plopped the smuppet on top of it in place of a star.

    “There,” he said in smug satisfaction, stepping back to admire his handiwork. “It’s like a piece of home.”

    “You are strangely endearing,” Egbert told him while he lugged the rest of the baggage into the cabin. “Boys, if you could take your own suitcases and bring them into your room, that would be a great help.”

    After they finished settling in, darkness had fallen despite the relatively early hour, and everyone was exhausted after the hustle and bustle of travelling all day.

    “I suppose now the question is, what do you all want to do for the rest of the day?” Egbert asked the group. “We could still check out the slopes, but I’m not sure if everyone’s too tired for that…”

    “Yeah, I’m beat,” Bro said, stretching his arms. As promised, Egbert had lent him a couple of his sweaters, and Bro had specifically chosen the “World’s Best Dad” sweatshirt for ironic purposes. It was a little big on him, as Egbert was broader in the chest than he was, but it was comfy and kept him warm.

    “Can we just stay in and like, watch a movie or something?” John asked, and when the answer was a unanimous ‘yes’, his eyes lit up. “Awesome, I brought Con Air with me! We should watch it. I’m prepared to fight you on this, Dave,” he added.

    “Whatever, dude, I’m too tired to even protest. We can watch your shitty movie.”

    The insult bounced right off of John, and he grabbed the DVD and bounded over to the TV to put it in. The boys sprawled out on the floor, leaving the adults free to take the couch. With Dave’s and John’s backs to them, Bro seized the opportunity to lean against Egbert, who wrapped an arm around him.

    It was a lame movie by Bro’s standards, and somehow he had the distinct feeling that John didn’t even like it ironically. He personally found it to be hilariously bad, and he had to contain himself from making quips about the cheesy one-liners.

    At the movie’s conclusion, John slung an arm around Dave’s neck, overwhelmed by emotion, and sang along, tears shining in his eyes at the touching reunion scene. “How do I live without you? I want to know… How do I breathe without you if you ever go?”

    Bro was laughing too hard to catch his breath while Egbert shook his head in exasperation, but despite the fact that he was shaking with suppressed laughter, he still caught the look on Dave’s face. While his best friend’s attention was riveted on the screen, Dave turned to watch him, and the expression on his face was… tender was the only word he could think of to describe it. Longing.

    Bro made a mental note to talk about this with Dave the next time they were alone before burying his face in Egbert’s stomach to muffle his laughter. Egbert stifled an undignified noise and pulled Bro off of him.

    As if on cue, as soon as the credits started rolling, the power cut off without warning, plunging the room into darkness. Pandemonium ensued.

    “Dave, I can’t see!” John cried, reaching his hands out to try and locate his friend.

    “Ow! Jesus dick, John, you just poked me in the eye!”

    “Augh, Egbert, what the fuck is going here?!”

    “I don’t know! A blown fuse, perhaps? Maybe a power line was knocked down? Regardless, I know I saw a flashlight on the table outside the bedroom…”

    “Nobody panic!” Bro said, jumping up from the couch. “I’ll get it.”

    “Watch it, that’s my hand!”

    “Why are you putting your hand where my feet are stepping?” Bro picked his way across the room, feeling his way through the darkness before bumping into the table. “Got it!” he said triumphantly, seizing the flashlight and flicking the power switch. Nothing happened. He clicked it back and forth several times to no avail. “Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me. It’s not turning on!”

    There was a chorus of groans from the boys.

    “Are you sure there aren’t any batteries there too?” Egbert asked. Bro slid his hands around on the table until he landed on a package of batteries.

    “What kind of dick doesn’t change the dead batteries in a flashlight and just leaves the new ones next to it?”

    “No idea. Bring them over here, I’ll change them.”

    “It seems to me that you’re implying that I can’t change these batteries on my own.”

    “Hardly. But the last thing we need is for you to rip open the package and send batteries rolling all over the floor.”

    “You are never going to let this whole flour thing go, are you? Man, Egbert, way to hold a grudge. Whatever, I’m coming back. Get your hands out of the way this time, I’m not being held responsible for stepping on them again.”

    He groped his way through the pitch-black room, using his hands to feel his way back. He reached the couch, blindly patting it to make sure it actually was the sofa, and plopped down on it.

    Egbert squawked in surprise. “Broderick, that’s my lap you’re sitting on.”

    “…Is there some kind of problem with this?”

    “Just get off of me and give me those batteries.” Egbert successfully replaced the batteries in the flashlight and turned it on. It didn’t offer much light, but it was enough to see by, and everyone cheered.

    “Can’t believe this actually happened on our first night here, though,” Dave commented, leaning with his back against the sofa.

    “Yeah, right? It’s like, merry Christmas! No TV or lights for you!” John added.

    “Well, we don’t need all those things,” Egbert said sensibly. “We can just enjoy each other’s company. And there is always the battery-powered radio, after all.”

    “Wait,” Bro said, suddenly sitting up straight. “Christmas. Shit.” Everyone looked around the room at one another.

    “…Did anyone remember to bring their Christmas presents with them?” Egbert asked, voicing the same question everyone was thinking.

    “You mean I’m not the only one who forgot them?”

    “I… left mine in my closet.”

    “Oh man, I took them out and everything, but I completely forgot to pack them!”

    “Well, I guess that makes four of us, then.”

    Bro, Dave, and John heaved sighs of disappointment.

    “Some Christmas this is,” John said glumly.

    “Now, now,” Egbert said, holding his hands up to placate everybody. “Who says that we need presents in order to celebrate the holidays? We have each other, and really, that’s all that matters. We’ll enjoy the week we have up here together and exchange presents when we get home.”

    “Mmmn, I guess you’re right…” Bro grudgingly agreed, leaning up against Egbert. “How about that radio now?”

    Egbert turned on the battery-powered radio that was near the couch, and the soft strains of classical holiday music filled the air. Despite the lack of electricity, the cabin was still toasty warm, and they passed the time in comfortable silence, listening to music and just enjoying the presence of one other.

    “It’s getting late,” Egbert finally said. “We should probably go to bed.”

    Dave spoke up. “As awesome as I find that idea, it’s gonna be kind of hard to do that with John here.” He nodded at John, who had fallen asleep next to him, his head slumping onto Dave’s shoulder. “Don’t wanna move and risk waking him up.”

    Bro was lying on top of Egbert with his head resting on his chest. He was in that hazy half-awake stage, lulled to sleep by the way Egbert was stroking his hair. “Seriously, can we just stay like this,” he mumbled, not even bothering to open his eyes.

    “I have no objections to this.” Bro nuzzled his cheek against Egbert’s soft sweater in response.

    Dave shifted his position to make himself more comfortable. John mumbled something in his sleep and burrowed in closer. And with the darkness as his cover, Dave allowed himself to drift off to sleep with the faintest smile on his face.

    Chapter Text

    By the time they awoke the next morning, the power had returned to the cabin, and it was assumed that whatever had caused the accidental power outage had been resolved. After getting dressed and visiting the main lodge for a bite to eat at the continental breakfast offered there, they were ready to hit the slopes. The two Egberts had some experience with the sport, having gone skiing in past winters at a Washington ski resort before their relocation to Texas. Bro and Dave, on the other hand, had never had that opportunity and had no idea what they were getting themselves into.

    “I figured that we’d begin by practicing some of the basics,” Egbert started as they rented their equipment and began strapping on their ski boots. “John, you could probably benefit from a refresher, and Dave, an impromptu lesson couldn’t hurt if this is your first time skiing.”

    “Sure thing, Mr. Egbert,” Dave said. He had been looking apprehensively at the skis and seemed a little relieved that he wasn’t going to be expected to strap on these two long thin pieces of wood and go hurtling down the side of a mountain without any preparation first.

    “And you’ll be joining us too, won’t you, Broderick?” Egbert asked.

    “Nah, I don’t need lessons,” Bro said offhandedly, standing up from where he was snapping on his skis and rolling his shoulders back.

    Egbert raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”

    “Yup,” Bro said, flashing him a winning smile. “I’m set, I learned how to ski from South Park. Pizza…” He wedged his skis together, but instead of the tips of his skis touching, he accidentally crossed his right ski over his left one and nearly tripped. “Oops.” He disentangled himself and shifted his skis so that they were parallel to each other. “French fries. Pizza. French fries.”

    Egbert looked as if he was going to say something, but he thought better of it and kept his mouth shut. Instead, he led the group outside, where the slopes awaited them.

    They started out at the foot of a hill, and Egbert walked them through the basics of stopping, starting, and turning. Bro was too cool to be seen practicing how to ski, so he stared at some of the more experienced skiers who were flying down the slopes, determined to replicate their mad tricks himself.

    “Good,” Egbert finally said after several minutes of the quick lesson. “Now, use what I taught you, take it easy, start out small…”

    John whooped in delight and exclaimed, “I am going to kick your sorry gay butt, Dave!”

    Bro had only been half-listening to the teenagers, but his eyes immediately darted over to Dave as soon as he caught John’s words.

    For just a split second, Dave’s stoic mask fell, but he quickly regained it. John was already tearing off towards the ski lift, and Dave tried to follow, but he hadn’t quite gotten the hang of moving around in skis.

    “Wait, wait,” he said, floundering as he made his way after John.

    Egbert shook his head in amusement. “Those boys…” he said.

    Bro contemplated telling Egbert about his suspicions but quickly rejected the idea. They were only suspicions, after all, gleaned from what he had observed of Dave since last night. He didn’t want to start anything if it turned out that he had been misinterpreting Dave’s feelings towards Egbert’s son. So instead, he changed the topic.

    “I am going to conquer the bunny slope!” he announced and turned to dramatically gaze upon it, his face aglow and eyes brimming with conviction behind his pointy shades.

    “Broderick, are you sure you don’t want me to—”

    “No, fuck you, I can do this on my own! It’s the easiest slope, right?”

    “Well, yes, but—”

    “Then I’m golden. Watch and learn, Egbert. This is how a real man does it.” He was off without a moment’s notice, heading straight for the same T-bar lift that Dave and John were riding.

    Egbert pinched the bridge of his nose in exasperation and sighed. “I suppose I’ll just stay here and assess the damage…” he said, resigned. He found a bench and sat down on it, keeping an eye out for the blue, red, and orange parkas that identified his boys.

    John was the first one to reach the bottom, followed by Dave, who was crawling along at a snail’s pace, taking the hill as slow as possible to avoid embarrassing himself by falling on his first run. John ribbed him good-naturedly, and Dave shot back rapid-fire insults about how John had very nearly crashed into another skier, but the briefest smile quirked the corner of his lips.

    Bro, on the other hand, wasn’t quite so fortunate. He started out much too fast for a beginner, and his speed rapidly caught up to him. When he tried to wedge his skis together, it backfired on him and he was launched out of his skis. After recovering from his face-plant, he finally made it down the rest of the hill and scooped up his skis, which had slid down the slope of their own accord. His poker face didn’t belie any of his embarrassment, but Egbert suspected that the pink tinge of his ears wasn’t just because of the cold.

    He had to work to keep from laughing, which was not the appropriate reaction in this situation, but he wasn’t doing a particularly good job of it. “Is that how a real man does it?” he said, his mouth twitching with restrained laughter, but he regretted his words when Bro scowled at him.

    “Fuck you. That was a fluke. It could have happened to anyone!”

    “I know, I know it was. But more importantly, are you okay?” he asked, lightly brushing some remaining snow off of Bro’s cheek.

    “Yeah, I’m fine. Nothing bruised but my ego.”

    Egbert clapped him on the back heartily. “Well, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. And this time, don’t let yourself reach that kind of speed right away.”

    “I don’t need your advice,” Bro said with a huff, abruptly turning away from Egbert and trekking back over to the lift. Egbert was torn on whether or not to follow him, but he backed off and remained where he was, letting Bro try again on his own.

    He started off decently enough but quickly lost control when trying to pass another skier and crashed to the ground, landing hard on his rear. He ended up sliding down the rest of the hill while struggling to get up, unable to swing his long and unwieldy skis around in order to stand up straight.

    Unable to watch Bro any longer, Egbert went over to him and pulled him up on his feet. Bro didn’t look directly at him until Egbert gently gripped his chin and tilted it up to make him meet his gaze. He slipped his shades off, causing Bro to fidget.

    “Will you let me help you, Broderick? At least let me ski along with you if you don’t want my instruction.” Bro glanced down again, and Egbert shifted his hand to caress his cheek.

    “I don’t want your help,” he finally said. “I don’t want anyone’s help. I want to do this on my own. By myself.” He looked up at Egbert through long, blond eyelashes, and Egbert was struck by how vulnerable he looked.

    He watched him for a few moments in silence before removing his hand. “Okay,” he said simply, recognizing how important it was for Bro to be self-reliant. ”I’ll be skiing nearby if you need me, though.” Egbert could have moved on to more advanced slopes rather than risking boredom with the bunny hill, but he wanted to be able to keep an eye on Bro.

    Unfortunately, however, the next several runs were no better than his first two, as they invariably ended up with Bro wiping out. After winding up on his ass for the fifth time in a row, he gave up, punching the snow in exasperation and flopping onto his back to stare up at the sky.

    Egbert swerved to a stop in front of him, unintentionally spraying him with snow and instantly apologizing.

    “This is so not cool,” Bro grumbled, folding his arms across his chest sullenly.

    “Cheer up,” Egbert said, extending a hand and helping Bro right himself once more. “Let’s get some hot cocoa inside of you and try again. The boys already went inside to get drinks as well.”

    “My ass hurts,” Bro complained in a non-sequitur of a response. “I think I’m in need of medical assistance. Dr. Egbert, can you take a look at it?”

    Egbert’s eyes twinkled. “I promise I will later tonight, how about that?”

    “Hot damn.”

    Bro cheered up a little as they entered the lodge to find their respective kids and get some hot chocolate. The four of them snagged premium seats by the fire to warm themselves up while they sipped their hot cocoa and regaled each other with stories about their adventures on the slopes. Dave was particularly proud of the fact that he managed to beat John in a race, although John maintained that he had cheated by cutting in front of him and knocking them both to the ground. Dave had managed to get to his feet before John and beat him to the bottom of the hill. Apparently, Dave wasn’t quite as terrible at skiing as Bro was, even though he still had a few falls to his name.

    Bro took another gulp of the rich hot chocolate before saying, “I don’t know about you guys, but I think I’m making some serious progress out there.”

    “What progress?” Dave asked.

    “What do you mean, ‘what progress?’”

    “Bro, I passed by you the last time you crashed. You suck at this. You’re not even ironically bad.”

    “You still have a lot to learn about irony, little bro. Some of my material is still too ironic for you to get.”

    Dave had to grudgingly give him that, remembering the comic about Animal and Rowlf the Dog that Bro had taped to the door to share with him. He still found it unsettling and couldn’t understand the irony behind it. He knew he still had a long way to go to reach the levels of irony attained by the big brother he idolized and emulated. Still, he had his suspicions that Bro was lying through his teeth about his poor performance being ironic, so he called him out on his bullshit.

    “I bet you can’t do a single run without wiping out,” he dared.

    “Is that a challenge?”

    “Fuck yes.”

    “You’re on.” Bro slammed his empty hot cocoa cup down onto the table, and the two Striders shook on it.

    After dispersing to tackle the slopes once more, Egbert acquired some ski poles for Bro, which worked wonders for keeping him upright. By the end of the day, he managed to successfully complete a run on his own, complete with several turns, without injury. He looked over at Egbert and grinned, raising his poles in the air in victory. He then tried to walk over to him and promptly tripped and fell down when he accidentally crossed his skis over each other. He swore as the cumbersome skis tangled together, causing a passing mother to shoot him a dirty look and cover her young daughter’s ears. Egbert shook his head in despair and knelt down in front of Bro to unbuckle his skis for him. “Come on,” he said, holding his hand out for him to take and pull himself to his feet. “We’re done for the day. I’m proud of you.”

    “Well yeah, I pretty much beasted this last one,” he bragged. “I’m a natural, what can I say.”

    “Mmmn,” Egbert hummed. “And I take it it’s your natural talent that is responsible for why you have a sore derriere at the moment?” he added, a shrewd smirk playing across his face.

    “Are you insinuating that I am anything less than the Tiger Woods of the slope?” Bro asked, clutching a hand to his heart in mock offense.

    “I think that might be pushing it a little bit.”

    Bro kicked at a drift of snow as they passed it. “Fine, maybe I’m not the best skier. And okay, I’m not saying I’m gonna win the next Stanley Cup or anything—”

    “That’s hockey, Broderick.”

    “But I don’t think I did that bad, did I?”

    Egbert pressed a quick kiss to his cheek and laced his fingers through Bro’s. He could feel the comforting warmth of his body heat even through two layers of gloves. “You did fine,” he told him. Even if it wasn’t an entirely true statement, it made Bro happy, as deluded as he was, and Egbert thought that a little white lie was a small price to pay for his happiness.

    After spending the majority of the day skiing, nobody had the energy to stay up very late, and they soon retired to their rooms.

    “All accidents aside, did you at least enjoy your first day here?” Egbert asked as he removed his sweater, folded it neatly, and placed it on the dresser.

    Bro had already stripped down to boxers and a t-shirt and collapsed onto the bed, where he was watching Egbert from behind. It took his brain a few seconds to process that he had been asked a question, as he was mesmerized by the way the muscles in Egbert’s back rippled when he moved. He shook his head a little, trying to snap out of it.

    “Oh, yeah,” he said. “Skiing turned out to be fun in the end, and I definitely… enjoy the view.” With Egbert’s back turned to him, he didn’t catch the wicked smirk on Bro’s face as he admired the other man’s form.

    Misinterpreting Bro’s words, Egbert replied, “Yes, it really is quite the picturesque view up here, isn’t it?”

    “Mmmm,” Bro hummed in agreement, lacing his hands behind his head and watching as Egbert stepped out of his trousers and slipped on his plaid pajama pants. “I like those pants. Very fatherly, they suit you. But you know, I think they’d look even better on the floor…”

    Egbert finally cottoned on and turned to look at Bro, who grinned at him mischievously. “And hey, I’ve been checking out your ass, but shouldn’t you be checking out mine? I’m pretty sure it warrants a full medical inspection after the number of times I injured it today.”

    Egbert chuckled softly. “Do you really want me to?” He sat down on the bed, and Bro scooted over to him, climbing onto his lap and straddling his hips. The question had a lot of weight behind it, given their recent encounter, which had not ended so well.

    “Yeah,” Bro breathed, and Egbert’s hands slipped around him to cup his cheeks. Bro winced a little and shifted in his lap. “I really do think I bruised my tailbone,” he admitted.

    Egbert quickly removed his hands, placing them on Bro’s hips instead. “My apologies,” he said.

    “S’cool. Just… be gentle with me, okay?” Bro murmured into his ear. For some reason, Egbert suspected that he wasn’t just referring to his soreness, but to the unspoken issue of his nervousness as a whole when it came to sexual intimacy.

    “Always,” Egbert answered, and he let Bro take the lead and push him back onto the bed. He was committed to taking things at Bro’s pace from now on, and he had the impression that Bro just wanted to explore right now.

    Bro sat back to drink in the sight of Egbert beneath him, eyes mapping out every detail of his body. He slipped his hands under the other man’s shirt and hesitated for a moment before choosing to travel north, running his hands up his torso and resting them on Egbert’s chest, where his thumbs stroked small circles around his nipples.

    Despite the fact that he had taken to fantasizing about Egbert and the things he wanted to do to him, he still didn’t have the guts to act on them when the opportunity arose. But Egbert was patient and understanding and more than willing to take things slow, and that was just one of the reasons why Bro felt like the luckiest man in the world to be in a relationship with him. And even if he wasn’t quite brave enough to leap into directly touching below the waist just yet, he still purposefully shifted so that the hard-on that had been tenting his boxer shorts rubbed up against Egbert’s own arousal. He stretched out to cover Egbert’s body with his own. But when he leaned down to kiss Egbert, his tongue darting past his lips, they both heard a noise and instantly froze. Bro quickly pulled his head away and listened carefully.

    Their eyes met in shared horror when they recognized the sound of John’s and Dave’s voices floating through the wall as they entered their shared bedroom. John’s voice grew louder as he crossed the room, and they could hear the sound of bedsprings squeaking right by their heads. It became apparent that their beds were adjacent, separated only by the wall between the two rooms. It wasn’t quite thin enough for them to make out what was being said, but it was obvious that unless they were extremely quiet, sounds would carry between the two rooms.

    Bro rolled off of Egbert and groaned. “Well, there goes my boner. That was an effective mood killer,” he grumbled. Neither one of them wanted to continue when their two teenage sons were right on the other side of the wall.

    Egbert sighed himself, disappointed as well. “Another night, then,” he said, but they both knew that they would be too paranoid to do anything sexual unless Dave and John were not in the room next door. “I suppose we might as well try to catch some sleep.” He turned off the table lamp and rolled over on his side, but his bedmate had other ideas. Bro seized the opportunity to spoon up next to Egbert from behind, wrapping his arms around his waist.

    “Broderick, what are you doing?” Egbert asked.

    “Hugging you. Why, are you against this for some reason?”

    “I never said th— oh.” Egbert broke off mid-sentence as Bro began to kiss his neck, lips hot against his skin. Titillated, he craned his neck to give him more access, and Bro kissed and licked his way south until he reached his clavicle. Egbert hummed softly in pleasure as he suckled at his collarbone, and Bro was suddenly grateful for the fact that he couldn’t see his face right now.

    Bro’s cheeks were burning out of combined self-consciousness and satisfaction, and he couldn’t help but smile as he lightly nibbled Egbert’s neck. He was insecure when it came to pleasing Egbert, and the knowledge that he had caught him unawares and that the other man was enjoying his improvised compromise made him glow in contentment.

    His kisses gradually petered out, replaced by nuzzling as he grew sleepier. They eventually drifted off to sleep like that, with Bro curled around Egbert and his face nestled into the crook of his neck.

    The next morning, Egbert was stunned to look in the mirror above the dresser and find several love bites trailing down the side of his neck. He turned around and glared at Bro accusingly.

    Bro gave him a sheepish smile from where he was still tangled up in the sheets, too lazy to get out of bed. “Oh. I may have gotten a little too enthusiastic. Sorry.”

    “You’re lucky that we’re up here and not back in Houston right now, because if so, I wouldn’t exactly be able to hide this with a turtleneck,” Egbert said, digging out a different sweater from his unpacked suitcase.

    Bro rolled over onto his stomach and watched as Egbert slipped on a turtleneck, the ribbed fabric clinging to his torso in all the right places. He propped his chin on his hands and commented, “If you were a novel, you’d be Fahrenheit 451 because you are that fucking hot.”

    Egbert tossed a pair of pants at him in response, and they landed on his head. “Just get up and get dressed. Today’s another big day.”

    Chapter Text

    Their one, luxurious week of vacation went by far too quickly, and despite the fact that his skiing skills never improved much, Bro found himself disappointed when it came time to go home. He’d enjoyed the week, all things considered, and he had the sneaking suspicion that it was going to be hard for him to readjust to not sleeping curled around Egbert at night.

    However, he was pleased that he managed to get one last sneak snowball attack in as revenge for the snowballs that John and Dave had thrown at him on their first day at the resort. He was the first one out of the cabin while the others were still packing, and he hid in the bushes and started packing snow together for his carefully planned ambush. The two boys were the first to head outside and bore the brunt of his assault, although he did save one last snowball with the intent of knocking off Egbert’s hat, which he did with great success.

    Bro spent the car ride to the airport bragging about his escapades, but his smugness died out when they arrived and he had to go through security once again. Thankfully, he managed to avoid accidentally stirring up any trouble this time, and the transition to boarding the plane went smoothly enough.

    “I’m going to miss the snow,” John said wistfully, glued to the airplane window as they ascended into the air.

    “I’m not,” Dave said, folding his arms over his chest. “Snow is a big chilly carpet of I-don’t-give-a-fuck that Old Man Winter shit out of his frosty asshole.”

    John made a face of disgust. “Oh eww, gross, Dave! And you’re lying.”

    “No I’m not.”

    “Yes you aaaare,” John sing-songed, poking Dave in the cheek.

    “I will bite your finger off if you do that again.”

    “Say it, you like the snow! I saw how excited it made you!”

    “It’s not bad,” Dave grudgingly relented. “I’m still looking forward to not freezing my ass off, though.”

    “Good enough for me!”John said cheerfully and settled back in his seat.

    Having turned away from the window, both boys were engrossed in digging through their backpacks for a snack to eat. Neither one of them noticed the wide-open, glassy blue eye that was peeping at them through the gap in their seats until it was too late.

    Quick as a flash and with no warning whatsoever, Lil’ Cal landed on Dave’s head with an all-too-familiar, high-pitched cackle. “HA HA HEE HEE HOO HOO!”

    Dave couldn’t stop himself from letting out a girly, completely undignified scream that made half the plane crane their necks to find the source of the commotion. “Aughhhh!”

    Bro snatched Cal back as Dave batted him away and swiveled around.

    “I liked you better when you were still scared of planes!” Dave gripped his chest, trying to still his pounding heart as he glared at Bro.

    “Oh, he’s still plenty scared of planes,” Egbert reassured him and held up his hand as proof, where there were white marks from how tightly Bro had been gripping it. “I’m still trying to regain sensation in my fingers. I think that using Lil’ Cal is his way of coping with the stress of the situation.”

    “Well, tell him to keep Cal on his side of the seat!” Dave said mulishly, his feathers ruffled as he turned around and launched into conversation with John again.

    “Broderick, Dave would like me to inform you to keep Cal on this side of the seats.”

    Bro whipped Lil’ Cal’s head around in Egbert’s direction and opened his mouth into a wide, gap-toothed grin.

    “I don’t know whether I should be terrified or amused by that expression on his face,” Egbert said.

    “Amused, of course,” Bro answered. “Why would you be terrified, Lil’ Cal is the shit.”

    “Of course. I don’t know why the thought even occurred to me.”

    “Exactly. I mean, the only way you could be terrified of him was if he watched you in your sleep, and I told him to cut that shit out years ago, so you’re fine.”

    Bro spent the remainder of the plane ride holding Lil’ Cal in his lap, and when he fell asleep, Egbert had to deal with not one but two heads leaning up against his side. He never was quite sure when Bro was joking when it came to the puppet that he adored so much, a trait that Egbert did find endearing, but just in case, he carefully turned Cal’s head so that his eyes were hidden.


    It was difficult for all four of them to get used to the tedium of real life after their relaxing vacation, but they eventually fell back into the groove of everyday life. Two weeks later, when the boys were back in school and Bro was catching up on his neglected website, John invited Dave over after school.

    Bro thought nothing of it at the time, since it was common for the two of them to hang out together after school let out. But when Dave got home from the Egberts’ house this day, Bro could tell that something was the matter with him, judging by his jerky movements and brisk pace. He looked over his shoulder from where he was sitting on the couch when Dave slammed the door to the apartment and tossed his backpack onto the floor, heading straight for the door that led to the hallway.

    “What’s up, little bro?” he asked, but Dave didn’t answer. He simply ducked inside his room and banged that door shut as well. Bro scratched his head but decided to give him some time to cool down. An hour later, he phoned in to order a pizza for dinner. When it arrived, he paid the delivery boy and brought the large pizza to Dave’s room, knocking on the door and twisting the knob when he got no response. He didn’t have to worry about the door being locked – both the doors to the bedroom and the bathroom were long since broken, just one other complaint to add to their apartment’s shit list, right after the broken air conditioner.

    “Hey,” he said, shouldering open the door. “I got pizza. Large meat lover’s, your favorite. There’s gotta be, what, a foot-long sausage on here just begging you to chow down.” It was a weaksauce joke, but even so, Dave would ordinarily respond with some kind of sarcastic quip in return. Tonight, he said nothing and simply remained in sullen silence, but he did at least accept a slice of pizza. Bro knew that Dave typically withdrew into himself when he was upset, putting up an ice-cold barrier and refusing to communicate with anyone. Eventually, he would explode when all of those repressed emotions came to a boiling point, but it was still hard for Bro to deal with not knowing what was getting Dave’s metaphorical goat.

    They sat in silence on the floor of Dave’s room with the pizza in between them and demolished it together. When Bro stuffed the last piece of crust in his mouth and brushed his hands off, he tried again. “So. Wanna test out that new katana the mini-Egbert gave you? Just you and me, I’ll even leave Cal out of it this time—”

    No.” The first word that Bro heard Dave utter since he left for school that morning was so forceful that it made him pause. Somehow he didn’t think that Dave was just vehemently protesting against strifing on the roof.

    “No, you don’t want to use the sword?” he asked, seeking clarification, and Dave gave him a stiff, jerky nod of his head. “Okay, spill. Did something happen between you and John when you were chilling at his house today?”

    No answer.

    Bro sighed and looked up at the ceiling. “I know you have a thing for him, Dave. At least, I think you do. I saw the way you looked at him when we were watching that shitty movie of his. And I know you got hurt you when he called you gay. I’m just perceptive like that. So what happened, did he say something stupid like that again? Do I need to bust out the homo superhero costume and go break some limbs, give him a lesson from the Sperminator on how that shit’s not cool?”

    “I got rejected, okay?” Dave burst out, his voice harsh.

    Well. Bro hadn’t been expecting that. “What?” he asked, but it was less because he hadn’t heard and more because he needed time to process this revelation.

    “I told him that I liked him, and he was all, ‘Haha, I like you too, you’re my best bro!’ And I was like, ‘No, man, I like you.’ And he got all quiet and asked me if I had a crush on him, so I said yeah.“ Dave still didn’t look up from where he held his head in his hands, staring down at the floor. “He turned like bright red and said sorry, but he’s not a homosexual. And I was like, ‘What.’ And he just said, ‘I’m not a gay.’” The unspoken words like you hung heavy in the air. “And it was just really awkward and uncomfortable and fuck!” He lashed out at the nearest object, sending his fan crashing to the ground. He ripped his shades off and covered his face, grinding the heels of his palms into his eyes.

    Sensing that Dave needed to let his emotions out but didn’t want to cry in front of his big brother, Bro reached out and pulled him close. Dave gratefully buried his face into Bro’s shirt to mask his expression, and if Bro could feel tears dampening his shirt, he didn’t say anything out of respect. Downplaying feelings was the chief rule of cool, but sometimes you just needed to let things out. The least he could do was help Dave save face by not watching him cry.

    “I bared my heart to him like a complete chump and he ripped it out of my chest and threw it on the ground and stomped on it. And I fucking ruined everything, Bro. I shouldn’t have told him I was gay or that I liked him. At least I had him as a friend, and now I probably don’t even have that since I made things weird between us now. Because that’s all I fucking do, I always fuck shit up. I am the goddamn mayor of Fuckupland, waving around my faggoty mayoral scissors. Just gonna cut this ribbon over here, open up the streets to the adoring throngs gathering to praise their fair and magnanimous leader, but then I’d fuck that up and like, I don’t know, cut my arm off or some shit like that. I’d fuck it up like I’m fucking up this metaphor.”

    Bro sighed and ruffled his hair. “I know how you feel,” he said, but the words sounded empty and impersonal, and Dave didn’t hesitate to call him out on it.

    “No, you don’t! You’re happy with Mr. Egbert, Bro. I just lost the guy I liked – and I lost my best friend. You have no idea what I feel like right now,” Dave spat, but his venom was more directed at himself than at Bro.

    “Fine,” Bro conceded. “Maybe I’ve never been in that situation before, but you know why that is?” He pulled Dave away from him and held him at arm’s length, forcing him to look at him while he spoke. “Because you are so much fucking braver than I am.”

    Dave shook his head and rubbed his eyes with the sleeve of his forearm. “I’m not brave, Bro. Not like you.”

    “Okay, you need to stop with the whole self-deprecating thing, because it’s not true. You want to know how I spent my high school career? Hiding so far in the closet that I was playing grabass with Mr. Tumnus in Narnia. I didn’t have the fucking balls to tell anyone I was gay, never mind that I was crushing on them. Hell, I had fake girlfriends so no one would suspect anything and people would still think of me as being cool. But guess what, that’s not cool. That’s not brave. That is straight up, downright cowardly, and I was nothing but a scared little boy who couldn’t handle the thought of anyone knowing that I was gay. And you, kid, are a helluva lot braver than I ever was because you had the guts to face that fear. Don’t ever tell me that you’re not brave.”

    Dave had been watching Bro intently during his little speech. His brother never talked about his past, and it was strangely surreal to hear that maybe Bro wasn’t always the supremely cool, ironic guy he thought he was. But when he finished talking, Dave snorted and looked down at the floor. “Nah, it wasn’t me being brave, Bro. It was me being stupid. I was deluded to believe that he liked me back and stupid enough to think that even if he didn’t, he’d be cool with his best friend being a huge fucking faggot.”

    He heaved a heavy sigh and turned away. “Thanks for the pep talk, Bro, but I think I’m just gonna go take a shower now. Wash away all the pain and shit.”

    “Yeah, go get your ablutions on.” Bro’s eyes were still trained on Dave’s face, gauging his baby brother’s emotional state. “Ain’t nothing a good long shower can’t fix.” He watched as Dave crossed the hallway and shut the door to the bathroom before heading back to the living room and snatching up his cell phone. He pressed number four on the speed dial and listened to the callback tone.

    As soon as Egbert picked up the phone, Bro started talking, bypassing any pleasantries. “Have you talked to John recently?” he said, his voice brusque.

    “Hello to you too,” Egbert replied, a little taken aback at his iciness. “I just spoke with him at dinner. Why?”

    “Did he have anything interesting to say about Dave?”

    He could hear Egbert frowning on the other end of the line. “Not that I recall, no. I know he was here before I got home from work, but I don’t believe his name came up in conversation. Did something happen?”

    “Yeah, you could say that. Basically Dave finally confessed to your son that he’s gay and has a crush on him, and he got flat-out rejected in pretty much the harshest way possible.”

    Egbert went quiet for a few moments. “I wasn’t aware that Dave was gay,” he finally said.

    “Well, he is,” Bro retorted. “And thanks to John’s fucking homophobia or whatever the hell his problem is, I had to watch Dave cry for the first time in fucking years—”

    “Broderick!” Egbert’s voice flared up, and it only made the fiery rage that was hot in Bro’s chest boil further. “I will not have you talk about my son that way! My child is not homophobic, but he’s thirteen years old and still has a lot of growing up to do. You can’t deny that this had to be a shocking revelation for him—”

    Bro let out a disbelieving snort of laughter. “I cannot believe you are defending him against me!”

    “Look. I am sorry if John hurt Dave, and I’m sorry that Dave had to go through a rejection at all. I can’t change John’s feelings, but I will talk to him.”

    “Yeah, you do that. Because I’m not cool with having my kid’s feelings shit on.” Without waiting for an answer to his rude reply, he pressed the “end call” button and threw his phone on the floor. Part of him knew that he was overreacting, but Dave’s pain was so raw that it was tearing him up on the inside. He felt like a mother hen, but he couldn’t help but be fiercely protective of Dave. For thirteen years, Dave was all that he had to call his own. And thanks to the way he just treated Egbert, it looked like his life might be returning to that state.

    Chapter Text

    The next day, Dave stayed home from school sick. Bro both overlooked the fact that he was clearly not ill in the physical sense and played the part of the ironic matronly housewife, bringing him “homemade” chicken soup (which was only a can of Progresso cracked open and placed in the microwave, but it was as homemade as a meal got in the Strider residence) and otherwise doting on him.

    Dave slept for the better half of the morning, eventually emerging at noon to find his big brother engrossed in setting up a photoshoot in the middle of the living room. Bro fiddled with the tripod, his tongue sticking out of the corner of his mouth in concentration, until he was satisfied with its positioning.

    Dave watched as Bro turned to the semi-circle of puppets, which were in varying states of nudity, next to him. He knew it was probably better not to ask, but the words came out anyway. “What are you doing?”

    “Creating puppet pornography with flamingly homoerotic overtones. Wanna help? This video’s gonna be strictly puppet-on-puppet hardcore shit, so you don’t have to worry about being exposed to my glorious manhood in this one.”

    Dave turned on his heel and walked back into his room. He suddenly had way too much information that he never wanted about what Bro did all day when he was at school.

    Bro chuckled softly to himself and picked out a leather-thong-clad puppet before getting to his feet and stretching. He ambled over to the kitchen to take a break and heat up a Hot Pocket after clearing the microwave of all smuppets.

    Pouring himself into his work was the best way for Bro to forget about his spat with Egbert. Now that he’d cooled down somewhat after a night of stewing in his own resentment, he found himself missing Egbert. All the same, he wasn’t going to lie, he was still irrationally angry with the other man, and he was too proud to be the first one to apologize. He sighed and looked out the window, wondering if Egbert was thinking about him too.


    Egbert sighed and looked away from the window. He was still baffled by the previous night’s conversation and upset at the way it had escalated into a full-blown fight. He had been putting off talking to John about what had happened since he had arrived home from school, but he knew he couldn’t delay it any longer. He knocked on his son’s bedroom door and waited for the muffled “Come in!” before opening it. John was on his bed, rereading his dog-eared copy of Wise Guy.

    He sat down on the edge of the bed. “Son, we need to have a talk.”

    The cheerful grin slipped off of John’s face. Those words were never a good sign.

    “It’s come to my attention that you and Dave had a bit of a falling-out yesterday. Would you please tell me what exactly happened?”

    “No,” John answered stubbornly, and his eyes were guarded, closed off.

    Egbert regretted phrasing it as a question. “No is not an option. We need to get to the bottom of this.”

    “Well, maybe I don’t want to talk about it with you!” John said, and he was storming out of the room, trying to get away from the awkwardness of the situation.

    Egbert was up off of the bed in a flash, following his son down the hall. “John Egbert, you get back in here this instant!” he said sharply, raising his voice well above its usual gentle level. John groaned and turned around to face his father. Egbert pointed at the door, and John grudgingly obeyed, going back into his room and flopping down on his bed. His body language screamed, “Fine, but I won’t be happy about it.”

    “Now, tell me what happened yesterday.”

    John made a noise of frustration and pushed his glasses up on his head, rubbing his eyes with his fists. “I can’t believe I’m having this conversation with my father,” he grumbled. “Dave told me yesterday that he had a crush on me, and it was just really weird and kind of a little uncomfortable, okay? I didn’t even know he was gay! Rose was telling me about all of the signs of his latent homosexuality, and I’m just like, uhhh, I never thought it meant anything!”

    “Okay. And how did you react to that piece of information?”

    “I told him the truth! That I’m not a homosexual. And it was awkward and he just kind of left after that.”

    Egbert closed his eyes for a moment. “John, there are much more tactful ways to handle that situation.”

    “Well, what do you expect me to do?” John shot back. “He’s my best friend, and I just found out that he’s been crushing on me for like, god knows how long!”

    “What I expect you to do is to at least be a gentleman about it and treat him with a modicum of respect! I’m disappointed in you, son.” He shook his head.

    “Dad, you don’t know what it’s like!”

    “No, but I do know what it’s like to have someone you care about turn on you,” he said, standing up from his seat. “Food for thought. I suggest you consider what Dave might be going through right now.”

    “Dad…” John said, and there was slight guilt mingled with the weariness in his voice.

    “John,” Egbert stated in reply, his tone maddeningly calm.

    “Okay, fine!” John groused. “I’ll talk to him on Monday in school, just give me some space!”

    “Fine,” Egbert said shortly, and he shut the door to John’s bedroom behind him as he left the room. He sighed and rubbed the temples of his forehead, the onset of a migraine forming after the exertion of the altercation with his son. It was hard, being a parent. It was hard, and nobody understood. And under ordinary circumstances, he would call Bro to share his parental frustrations, but that wasn’t exactly an option available to him at this time.


    “You sure you’ll be okay by yourself?” Bro asked as he shrugged on his jacket, genuine, non-ironic concern in his voice. “I can still call in sick and we can chill out, thrash each other in an epic video-game marathon, drop some sicknasty beats…” The idea was growing more and more palatable to him, as he really did not feel like going to work tonight. He’d much rather spend the night in with his little brother than deal with the usual sweaty, energetic dance crowd.

    Unfortunately for him, Dave wasn’t cooperating with his subtle hints. “Nah, Bro, go to work. Have fun. I’m just gonna be a lazy fucker all night anyway.”

    Bro sighed inwardly, but he had to admit that Dave was right, and he probably shouldn’t play hooky from work, even if he did want to hang out with his little brother. They had bills to pay and sweet loot to buy, and they needed the money. “Well, I’m still gonna leave Lil’ Cal here with you instead of taking him along tonight. Just in case you need some company, alright?” He wrapped the floppy puppet around Dave’s neck for security. “It’s like old times! I used to sometimes leave the little man in your cot when you were crying and I had to go work at that shitty convenience store, and you shut right up.”

    “Cool story, Bro.” Dave carefully unwrapped Cal from around his neck, and as soon as the door shut behind him, he unceremoniously deposited Cal on the futon.

    With Bro out of the apartment, Dave had never felt more alone in the world. He spent an hour moping around, trying to psyche himself up and work on developing some pictures in his makeshift darkroom, but he couldn’t muster up the stamina. He was lying face-down on his bed with his pillow over his head when he heard a ringing sound that nearly made him jump out of his skin. His cell phone was purposely turned off, and Bro had taken his with him. They had a landline, but it was rarely if ever used.

    His curiosity piqued, he climbed out of bed and followed the sound of the ringing. The cordless phone wasn’t on the wall where it should have been, and Dave had to rummage through the kitchen drawers until he found it alongside an assortment of finger puppets and shuriken. A glance at the ID on the screen told him that the caller was from the Egbert house.

    Whether it was John seeking an apology from Dave or Egbert looking for Bro, he had no idea. Regardless, he didn’t want to talk to either of them right now. He couldn’t face John now, not when the pain in his heart was still so raw. And he was pretty sure Bro had spilled to the elder Egbert, which would undoubtedly make an interaction with him even more awkward. He put the phone back in its drawer and shut it tight before returning to his room. He could still hear its gratingly loud ring through the closed door.

    Dave fell back onto his bed and stuffed his pillow over his head again, idly wondering if maybe he could suffocate the gay out of him, because then he wouldn’t be hurting so much inside.

    The ringing petered out, and he heard the buzz of the answering machine.

    There was the sound of someone clearing his throat, followed by a shuffling noise as the caller hung up the phone, and the apartment was thrown into dead silence once more.


    It was a busy Friday night at Trouble, and Bro was shirking his job. He cranked out a lineup of songs and abandoned his DJ booth. Instead, he plopped down at the bar and cracked open a beer that Rufio slid across to him. He needed some bro time, even if it did mean getting chewed out by his boss later about how he wasn’t being paid to sit around on his ass and do nothing. Besides, Rufio was a good listener.

    “So now everything’s gone to shit. Dave’s a mess, I’m pissed off at Egbert and his stupid kid, and I’m pretty sure I fucked up the first relationship I’ve been in in fifteen years. And the worst thing is, I can’t even bring myself to care about that last part right now because I’m pissed off.” He punctuated his forceful statement by downing the last of his beer, slamming the bottle down, and holding his hand out for another one. “I don’t even know what to do anymore.”

    “Sounds to me like you need to talk to your guy, Bro.”

    “I’m not going to be the first one to talk to him or apologize,” Bro said stubbornly. “If he still wants me, he can be the first one to make a move.” He was starting to feel sullen again, and that was a path he did not want to go down while he was at work, so he changed the subject. “But enough about me and my personal woes. How’s your kid doing?”

    “Eh, Tavros is alright. He’s been having a lot of confidence issues lately, though. There’s this one chick in his class who’s always harassing him and bringing him down. Apparently yesterday she threatened to push him off of a cliff. I told him that he shouldn’t let her walk all over him like that. But he stayed home ‘sick’—” Rufio used his fingers to accompany his words with air quotes “—from school today. I knew he was faking, he can’t lie for shit, but I figured he deserved a break anyway.”

    Bro chuckled and took another swig of beer. “Yeah, Dave pulled the same stunt today too. The two of them would probably get on pretty well. And still no word from the baby mama?”

    “Nope,” Rufio said, a dejected expression flickering across his face for a moment. “I keep trying to get in touch with her lately, but she never answers. Asides from a pity fuck a year or so ago, I’ve barely heard a word from her since she showed up on my doorstep with the baby, said he was mine, and dumped him on me. Not that I’m complaining!” he added. “Tav was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

    “Yeah, I know. You’re the guy who un-ironically keeps photos of his kid in his wallet. And she was a bitch anyway,” Bro told him. “Marquise von Spiderbitch.”

    Rufio had to laugh at that, and he set about wiping down the glasses behind the bar. “Yeah, I guess she kind of was a bitch, but, uh…” He smirked as he placed down a tumbler and leaned forward, resting his elbows on the counter. “She was pretty wild in bed. One time, she tied me up as an experiment and forgot about me. It was really awkward, I had to call Big G for help. I’m pretty sure he was judging me, and you know your life is sad when the huge hulking semi-crazy stoner is judging you.”

    Bro was laughing so hard he could barely breathe when he caught a glimpse of a familiar white fedora out of the corner of his eye, and he promptly choked on air. Rufio pounded him on the back as he coughed. “Oh fuck, he’s here,” he managed to force out in between coughs, eyes darting around frantically. “I cannot deal with this right now. I literally cannot fucking deal with this.” Egbert was casting his gaze around the room until his eyes landed on the empty DJ booth. Sensing that the next place he would search would be the bar, Bro hissed to Rufio, “Hide me!” With ninja-like grace, he scrambled over the counter, dropping to the floor and crouching at the bartender’s feet.

    “Bro, what the hell are you doing? Don’t make me throw you out from under here. C’mon, what will people think?”

    “I don’t care what people will think. I don’t care if they think I am down here on my knees sucking your dick, I’m not coming out until he’s gone.”

    Egbert turned to scan the bar but couldn’t find Bro. His eyes lit up when he recognized Rufio as the bartender who had been present the last time he was at the club with Bro. The impressive red and black mohawk made it kind of hard for him to forget what the man looked like. He started making his way through the crowd in his direction.

    “What’s he doing? Is he coming over here?” Bro hissed from his hiding spot.

    “Yeah, stay where you are, I got this,” Rufio muttered out of the corner of his mouth. “Hey,” he said in his normal voice as Egbert approached the bar. “Can I get you a drink?”

    Bro’s stomach flip-flopped at the sound of Egbert’s voice, and he bit down on his knuckle as he listened intently.

    “Oh no, thank you, but… I could use some information. I’m not sure if you remember me, but I’m an acquaintance of your coworker, Mr. Strider…?”

    “Oh yeah, you’re the guy who got smashed and made out with him here, right?”

    Bro smiled to himself, imagining the way Egbert’s cheeks were turning slightly pink with embarrassment.

    “Ah, well, yes, that was me.” There was an awkward pause as Egbert cleared his throat and continued. “Anyways, I’ve been trying to get in contact with him.” Bro startled and checked his phone to find that he had missed three calls from Egbert, and he stifled a groan. With the pounding of the music and his own preoccupied thoughts, he hadn’t heard or felt his cell phone vibrate in his pocket at all. Granted, he probably still would have ignored him, but he felt guilty for not even realizing that Egbert was trying to reach out to him. “He hasn’t been answering his phone, so I was wondering if he was at work, because I thought he worked most Friday nights. I can’t say I’ve seen him since I arrived, so I thought I’d ask you if he is here at all.”

    “Oh, no, he did come into work and everything, but he went home about an hour ago. Said he ate something bad for lunch and needed to be near the toilet.”

    For one delirious, childish moment, Bro considered pulling down Rufio’s pants in retaliation but kept himself checked and sulked on the floor. If he looked up, he could see a barely-concealed smirk tugging Rufio’s lips, and he scowled.

    “Oh.” Egbert sounded disappointed. “Well, if you see him again soon, tell him I hope he feels better, since he isn’t talking to me.” He sighed, then sat down at the bar. “I suppose I might as well have a quick drink since I’ve come all this way…”

    Bro swore internally, fervently wishing that Egbert would just leave, because his playlist was winding down, and he needed to get back to the booth before his set of songs finished and all hell broke loose. He had to muffle a noise of pain when Rufio accidentally stepped on his hand, and he punched the other man in his calf in retribution. To his credit, Rufio outwardly showed no sign of discomfort whatsoever and continued preparing Egbert’s scotch.

    Egbert accepted the drink and took a long draught before placing the glass down on the counter with an audible clink. He must have looked dejected, because Rufio was watching him intently. “I know it’s not really my place to say,” he started, “but I heard about the shitstorm, if you’ll pardon my language, that went down between you and Bro. And I guess what I’m asking is, are you doing okay?”

    Bro closed his eyes, unsure of whether he should be thanking Rufio or cursing him. On the one hand, he wanted to know if Egbert was okay, but on the other hand, his best bro was supposed to be on his side.

    “Is this off the record?” Egbert asked, a wry smile on his face.

    “Yeah, sure, you don’t have to worry about me telling Bro, if that’s what you mean. What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him.”

    Bro was a little disconcerted at how easily and effectively Rufio could lie.

    “In that case, I might as well go ahead and say no, I’m not doing okay. It’s been a hard day. I tried to talk to my son like I told Bro I would, and it escalated into a fight. And the worst part is, afterward all I could think about was that if it was under any other circumstances, he’d be the first person I would call.” Egbert sighed, and Bro continued to chew on his knuckle. “I couldn’t even do that, and that’s what hurts the most about this whole thing. Then there’s part of me that’s angry with him, upset because he’s the one who antagonized me over the phone and made baseless accusations against my son—”

    Fair enough, Bro reasoned. He himself was still mad at Egbert for defending John’s behavior. It was part of the reason why he was hiding behind the bar, listening to the conversation he wasn’t supposed to be privy to. He supposed it was only natural for Egbert to be mad at him as well, even if his reasons made him prickle with resentment.

    “—and then there’s the other part of me that still loves him and just wants to be with him again.”

    There was no lump in his throat, Bro told himself. Why would he even think that there could be such a thing as him getting choked up over something like this? It was a stupid thought, and he dismissed it entirely.

    “Yeah, well…” Rufio said, lips twisting into a rueful smile. “Sometimes people do stupid things when they’re in love, you know? Bro loves his kid just as much as I’m sure you do yours, and you both are in love with each other. Someone was bound to get hurt, and it’s not just you.”

    “I know,” Egbert said quietly. “And I don’t want him to be hurt either, which is why I’ve been trying to reach him. So I can make things better.”

    “You can make things better,” Rufio told him. He casually leaned away from the counter and looked down under the guise of searching for a particular glass. His eyes met Bro’s, and Bro shook his head slightly, warning him. He looked back up at Egbert and continued, “Hopefully he’ll cool down overnight and you can talk to him in the morning. I have faith that next time will go better.”

    “You’re probably right, but still. It’s a hard thing to deal with.“ Egbert finished his glass and slid the money he owed across the bar. “…Why am I telling you all of this when I don’t even know your name?” he asked as he stood up and prepared to leave.

    Rufio laughed a little. “You’d be surprised at what kind of things people tell me when they’re drowning their woes at the bar. This is nothing. The name’s Rufio.”

    Egbert smiled. “Thank you, Rufio. Take care.”

    “You too.” Rufio waited until Egbert left the club before looking down at Bro and raising his eyebrows. “You gonna come out now?”

    Bro was quiet for a few moments before crawling out of his hiding spot.

    “You were saying something about if he wanted you back, he could make the first move? I think from that conversation, it’s pretty obvious that he has been making the first move. The ball’s in your court, Bro.”

    “I don’t know,” Bro finally said. “I still feel so betrayed by him, and I can’t really forgive him for that just yet. And then there’s the fact that I acted like a total douche to him, and yeah, he’s still pissed at me.”

    “You can’t hide from him forever. You need to just put aside your pride and talk to him like a real man. I know you don’t want to, but you’ve got to do it eventually. I believe in you,” Rufio said seriously, patting him on the back.

    The background music in the club stopped, and there was a surge of outrage on the dance floor. “You know, you’re pretty damn good at this whole pep talk thing, Rufio,” Bro said. “Thanks for covering for me, man. Gotta split before the angry mob grabs their pitchforks and torches and comes after me.” With that, he jumped back over the counter and ran back to the DJ booth to appease the crowd.


    When he got out of work after having his ear talked off by his boss who was irritated because of his poor performance that night, all Bro could think about was Egbert. He shoved his hands in his pockets and mulled over the fact that he had driven all the way down to the club just so he could find Bro. And despite the fact that Egbert was still a little angry, he confessed that he still loved and missed him, and that thought alone made his heart clench in his chest.

    It was late when he got home, and he checked in on Dave. His little brother had fallen asleep in his bed with the light in his room on, still wearing the pajamas that he had on since he woke up that morning. His glasses were knocked askew with his cheek pressed into his pillow, so Bro took the liberty of removing his shades and placing them on his bedside table.He smiled, reminiscing about the times he had done the very same thing when Dave was an infant, and flicked the light in his room off.

    He crossed the hallway to the bathroom to take a shower, shut the door behind him, and sank to the floor. He still wasn’t able to stop dwelling on the incident at the bar. Bro pulled his shirt, still smelling of the smoky haze of the club, over his head and tossed it aside. He sat there in silence for a few minutes, conjuring up an image of Egbert in his head. Egbert as he was at the ski resort, shirtless and stretched out in bed, inviting Bro to crawl on top of him, his fingers splaying across his chest…

    Bro’s hand was already creeping down his stomach, the heel of his palm pressing against the bulge in his jeans and his fingers curling under to grip his balls and squeeze. He grinded down into his palm, hips pushing up off of the floor to meet his hand halfway. He was suddenly needy and desperate, longing for Egbert and craving a quick fix. He was already hard at the thought and dripping with arousal, and the teasing pressure wasn’t enough for him any longer.

    Bro fumbled with the button of his jeans, his fingers numb from excitement, and as soon as he succeeded in unbuttoning them, he shoved his pants and boxers down and kicked them off. He fumbled with the shower faucet, cranking it up to the temperature he liked best, near-scalding and hot enough to turn his skin pink. As soon as the water turned warm (because he might have been near out of his mind with desire right now, but he had enough sense to realize what would happen to his hard-on if he leaped into the cold spray), he was in, sliding the shower door shut behind him.

    His fingers were shaking slightly as he grabbed the bottle of cheap Dove bodywash and squirted a dollop of soap into his hand. He didn’t waste time with much preamble, simply soaping up his chest and leaving a trail of suds directly to his cock. Bro tipped his head back in ecstasy as his hand closed around him, the stream of hot water tracing rivulets that trickled down his torso. He fully submersed himself in the water, slicking back his soaking wet hair and stroking himself the way that he liked it, hard and fast and moremoremore.

    It wasn’t long before he was gasping and incoherent, battling through the fog of lust just to think straight. He rested his forearm and head against the shower wall for support as he hunched over slightly so that the water was running down his spine while his soapy hand pumped up and down the length of his shaft. His brain was working overtime, imagining that it was Egbert’s hand working at him, imagining that he was in the shower too, his torso pressed up against his back and his lips kissing a trail down his neck, imagining that he was with him

    Bro forced himself to slow down and tried to steady his erratic breathing, but his breath was coming out in soft pants and he was so close to the edge that it was no use trying to calm down. He closed his eyes and let the water run down his face as he indulged in his fantasy. He enveloped himself and stroked, matching the pace that he thought Egbert would use, steady and slow and so different from his own tempo. Despite being on the brink and wanting nothing more than a quick release, he took his time, massaging his balls before working up his shaft and using the pad of his thumb to tease at the tip of his head. He soon settled into a rhythm, matching the slow beat he built up in his head.

    And if he kept his eyes closed, he could almost pretend that Egbert’s lips were ghosting up his shoulder, his tongue on his collarbone, a strong arm around his waist to support him while he whispered tantalizing, tempting words into his ear.

    “God, Egbert,” he choked out, his voice little more than a moan as he came, splattering onto the shower wall. Exhausted, he leaned heavily against the wall, taking his time to recuperate and letting the hot water rejuvenate him.

    As he watched the swirls of soap whirlpool down the drain, Bro promised himself that he’d talk to Egbert tomorrow.

    Chapter Text

    When Bro roused himself on Saturday, he was a man on a mission. The weekends were usually lazy days in his book, when he would went out to scavenge for breakfast with Dave and spend the day playing video games. Today, on the other hand, was different. He remembered his vow from the previous night to confront Egbert, and he was determined to carry it through. He untangled his legs from the blanket on the futon and picked up Lil’ Cal from where he had been laying on his chest while he slept. First, he had some unfinished business to tend to.


    John was lying in his bed on his back, staring up at the ceiling in boredom. He had no one to talk to: he was pretty sure that Jade was asleep, Rose’s mother had dragged her out for a sickeningly indulgent passive-aggressive shopping trip, and Dave was still missing in action. It didn’t help that things were still tense with his father, who had grounded him. He rolled over on his side to face the wall and look at his movie posters and got the scare of his life when he saw someone watching him through his bedroom window. He let out a shout of surprise and scrambled back, falling off his bed onto the floor.

    John wrenched open his window to find Bro perched just outside it. He opened his mouth but no words came out, so he just stood there gaping like a fish, trying to regain control of his speaking facilities. What did you say to the person who you found sitting directly outside your window and staring at you?

    Bro lifted a hand in greeting. “S’up,” he said stoically, with no trace of a smile on his face. “Your dad around?”
    “Uh,” John eloquently replied. “Yeah. He’s downstairs. Why are you outside my bedroom? That’s kind of creepy!”

    “Okay, so he’s here?” Bro confirmed. “Good, because I need to talk with him. Right after I’m done talking to you. Take the fucking screen out of your window, I’m coming in.” John obeyed, and Bro stealthily crawled through the window from his perch on the nearest tree.

    “You couldn’t use the front door?” John asked, still disconcerted from the shock of his sudden appearance.

    “Front doors are for squares. Besides, I didn’t want your dad to answer the door. I’m still here mainly to talk to him, but I wanted to just have a friendly little chat with you without his interference.” There was no mistaking the suddenly dangerous tone his voice took on and the subtle threat underlining his words. “And I figured this was the best way, because I don’t have to censor myself and shit.”

    Bro swiveled John’s computer chair around and straddled it, resting his arms on the back of the chair. He turned his baseball cap around in an ironic homage to Ash Ketchum and steepled his fingers. “So let me just make myself perfectly clear. I’ve got one rule here, and you’re gonna follow it. And that rule is: just shut up and listen to me. You are not allowed to talk or interrupt me until I’m done saying my piece. Got it?” John nodded wordlessly. “Good. So. You hurt my little brother, and that kind of makes me want to rip out your tongue and feed it to you through your eyeballs, but since I know Dave would get pissed at me and your Dad would obliterate me with all of his copious mangrit if I did that, I’ll abstain. You’re a lucky kid.”

    John looked as if he was going to protest, but with Bro’s warning fresh in his mind, he held his tongue.

    “I don’t think you fucking know what you did that was so wrong, do you?” he accused. “Blink once for yes and twice for no.”

    John rolled his eyes and shook his head no.

    Bro snorted softly, shaking his head in something resembling disgust. “Okay, yeah, you need to be educated. I know you don’t get it, so I’m going to lay it all out nicely for you. Being gay and being attracted to a straight best friend is literally one of the hardest things to ever go through. And to actually have the balls to admit that in spite of the fact that you’re going to get rejected and possibly lose a friend? Yeah, that’s the biggest internal struggle ever. And he’ll probably kill me for telling you, but you deserve to know what he’s going through. Dave’s all depressed and beating himself up over this, spouting bullshit about how he shouldn’t have told you and he fucked up his friendship with you. Now, if you’re really his friend, you’d be there for him. You’d be supportive instead of being a complete fucking asshole about this. So answer me this, is Dave still your best friend? Or is his being gay a deal-breaker?

    “Yes!” John blurted out. “I mean, not yes to it being a deal-breaker, yes to him being my best friend!”

    “Yeah?” Bro said, unimpressed. “Then why are you punishing him?”

    John’s voice was impossibly small when he spoke. “I’m not— I didn’t mean to be punishing him.”

    “Well, you are,” Bro said, and he wasn’t sorry for the rudeness in his voice. “I get it if you don’t like him back. I don’t give a shit about that. I can’t make you gay anymore than you can make me straight. But don’t be a dick and act like you’re going to catch gay cooties from him.”

    “But I’m not!” John cried. “It was just a really weird and unexpected thing, I just needed some time to deal with it!”

    “Oh, really now? Then why didn’t you say that? You don’t just say that you’re not a gay and then make things awkward until Dave runs away because he’s embarrassed and hurt.”

    “I know, I screwed up!” John said, and there was a pleading desperation in his tone. “I didn’t want to hurt him, I didn’t know what to do, I was just uncomfortable and stupid.”

    “Yeah, you were,” Bro said bluntly. “I can’t do anything about the stupid, but I can at least alleviate your worries,” he drawled sarcastically. “Dave’s not some whiny little bitch who is gonna cling to you and hit on you and shit like that, if that’s what you’re afraid of. He’ll get over the rejection. He’ll move on. But right now, he’s hurting, and he needs his best friend.” Bro stood up and pushed the swivel chair back up against John’s desk. “That’s all I’m gonna say. This is your chance to get back in my good books, because right now, the book of John Egbert is somewhere between the levels of Twilight and Mein Kampf.” He not-so-lightly patted John on the cheek in what could be construed as a friendly, if somewhat condescending, gesture. John winced slightly at the sting, and Bro exited the room, leaving him alone to puzzle over his metaphor.

    Out in the hallway, Bro shook his head slightly to shake off the bad mood that had settled down on him during his chat with John. He’d done all he could. It was up to John to salvage his friendship with Dave now, but as displeased as he was with the way John had acted, Bro still hoped that he and Dave would make up. He liked the younger Egbert well enough (when he wasn’t being ignorant, he thought bitterly), and they’d shared some laughs over successfully pulled-off pranks when they were on their vacation. But most importantly, he knew how much John meant to Dave, and he didn’t want him to lose that.

    But right now, Bro needed to put aside his concerns and shift out of protective big brother mode. He was on a mission to find the elder Egbert, he just happened to get a little sidetracked with his burning desire to make sure that John knew that he was not happy with his behavior towards Dave. He poked his head down a hallway and found nobody there. He wasn’t as familiar with the upper floor of the house as he was with the lower floor, since it was mainly home to the bedrooms and upstairs bathroom. But as much as Bro would have liked to see the inside of Egbert’s bedroom, he had never had that chance.

    He thought he heard the sound of someone rustling around in the kitchen below, so he put on his best game face and headed down the stairs.

    As he descended, he heard Egbert speak up from the kitchen. “John,” he said, sounding terse and exasperated. “You better not be thinking about going out, young ma—”

    Egbert cut himself off abruptly when he emerged through the door into the living room and saw Bro standing there with his hands shoved in his pockets.

    “Hi,” Bro said, nodding hello.

    Egbert dropped his cup of coffee, and the ceramic mug shattered on the floor. He didn’t bother to clean it up right away, his eyes still fixated on Bro. “Broderick, when on earth did you get here? I didn’t hear the door…”

    “Man, using front doors is so yesterday. Get with the times, Egbert. I crawled through your kid’s window and had a little chat with him.”

    “John’s bedroom is on the second floor.”


    “…Let me get this straight,” Egbert said, still staring at him in disbelief, but with a measure of suspicion as well. “You climbed a tree and made my son open his window so you could get inside his bedroom?”

    “Pretty much, yeah, I’d say that sounds like an accurate compendium.”

    “Why would you do that?”

    “Like I said, I wanted to talk to him. And the only way I could do that without there being any interference from you would be if I took the direct route to his room. Simple.”

    “I really shouldn’t be surprised. And… just what was the nature of this chat?”

    “Just thought he should know what he’s putting Dave through right now, that’s all. And besides, I wanted to talk to you too. That’s actually the real reason why I came here.”

    “You’ve been avoiding my phone calls for three days now, Broderick,” Egbert said, giving him a pointed look.

    “I know,” Bro admitted. “I just, I needed to get my shit together. I was still pissed off because of how much this whole shitty ordeal broke Dave’s heart, but it’s not like it’s your fault anyway. I guess it wasn’t really fair of me to say all that against you, because I know what it’s like to love your kid and be defensive about them. I guess people do crazy things to stick up for their kids.”

    The corners of Egbert’s mouth twitched in a barely-suppressed smile. “Like crawl through the bedroom window of the aforementioned kid’s best friend to lecture him?”

    “Exactly,” Bro said, and his heart fluttered hopefully. If Egbert was making a joke, that had to be a good sign, right? But still, his arms were folded across his chest for protection, and his usually warm eyes were wary.

    “Funny that you say that, though,” Egbert commented. “Someone told me almost the exact same thing last night.

    “Oh.” Rufio, right, that’s where the phrase had been planted in his head. There was an awkward pause as Bro shuffled his feet and tried to figure out what to say. His planning hadn’t gone much further than this. He knew he needed to apologize, but it was a difficult thing for him to do. He wasn’t accustomed to asking for forgiveness. Finally, he said, “Look, I just wanted to say I’m sorry. I was kind of a dick. I was just pissed off by everything and blew up at you. And I don’t know about you, but I’ve been kind of miserable the past few days.” Bro rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly. “And I guess that’s what it took to make me realize that maybe I was a little bit out of line. And I realized that it was stupid of me to keep avoiding you. Because even though we fought and even though I was mad at you…” Bro trailed off, looking down at the floor and self-consciously shifting from foot to foot, and Egbert patiently waited for him to collect himself. Finally, he looked back up and slipped off his shades so that Egbert could see the devotion in his eyes.“…I still loved you.” he confessed.

    Egbert’s eyes softened, and he smiled. “I did too. I still do. I never stopped loving you.”

    Bro’s throat constricted, and his face contorted into a strange expression as he struggled to maintain his poker face. Failing miserably, he just gave in to pure emotion. He choked out a strangled sob and strode swiftly across the room and into Egbert’s waiting arms, hugging him tightly and crushing their lips together. Egbert responded with passion, but gently, lips guiding Bro away from the bruising kiss and into something sweeter. Softer, but not exactly more innocent as Bro parted his lips to let Egbert in. His hand toyed with the hem of Egbert’s shirt before slipping under it, but Egbert placed a restraining hand on his chest and pushed him away as lightly as possible. Bro broke away, stumbling back with a hurt expression on his face.

    “Not while John’s in the house,” Egbert reminded him. He loosely wrapped his arms around Bro’s waist and pressed into the small of his back.

    Bro grudgingly allowed himself to be pulled closer. “Wait, so tongue-fucking’s okay, but I can’t even feel you up?” he asked, a little disgruntled.

    “Kissing’s one thing, but I have the distinct feeling that if you went there, neither one of us would have been able to stop.”

    “Goddammit, cockblocked again. And I would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for those meddling kids!”

    Egbert laughed and settled his hands on Bro’s hips, his thumb tracing a pattern against the ridge of his hipbone.

    “Tell you what,” he said, his eyes twinkling mischievously. “I’ll take you on a date, maybe one or two weeks from now, and I’ll make arrangements for John, so we’ll have the house to ourselves. Just the two of us. How’s that sound?”

    Bro shrugged. He’d waited 31 years; he supposed he could wait another two weeks. “It sounds dandy, but I still say you should ravish me on your kitchen counter anyway. We can traumatize John, it’s only fair payback for him breaking Dave.”

    Egbert pressed a quick, reassuring kiss to the tip of his nose. “Soon,” he promised. “And how is Dave?”

    “Not so great. He’s in one of those low-self-esteem funks of his, just moping around the apartment.”

    Egbert sighed and brushed a speck of dust off of Bro’s shirt. “I honestly do feel bad for the way this all happened. I never would have wished that on him.”

    “I know,” Bro simply said. “I know.”

    “And by the by, are you feeling better?”

    “What?” Bro asked, baffled at his concern.

    “I stopped by your work yesterday trying to find you, and your coworker told me about your stomach.”

    “Oh. Yeah.” He gave a mental fuck you to Rufio. “Yeah, I’m much better.”

    “That’s good, I’m glad.” Egbert brought a hand up to his face, caressing his cheek. Bro was overwhelmed by a surge of pure love.

    “God, I missed you,” he said, burying his face in the crook of Egbert’s neck and breathing in the comforting, familiar smell of Old Spice aftershave and pipe tobacco.

    “I missed you too,” Egbert replied. “More than you’ll ever know.”

    They stayed that way for a long time, content to just rest in each other’s arms and listen to the rise and fall of their breathing in sync, neither one of them wanting to be the first to let go, neither one of them wanting to lose the other again.


    Monday morning, and there was a shitstorm going down in the Strider apartment.

    “Stop being a whiny little pussy, Dave, because guess what? You’re going to school whether you like it or not!” Bro said, ducking behind the futon and grabbing some more makeshift weapons to add to his arsenal. The apartment looked like the scene of a grisly puppet snuff film, with decapitated smuppets strewn everywhere.

    “Fuck no, I’m not!” Dave snarled, swinging his katana and cleanly slicing the head off of another plush, blue smuppet that Bro lobbed at him. It fell onto the floor, dead eyes leering up at the ceiling and foam spilling out of the stump of his neck.

    “Yeah. Yeah, you are. I already let you stay home on Friday, you moped around all weekend, and now you need to pull on your big boy panties, suck it up and give a hearty ‘fuck you’ to your heartbreak, and get back to real life.”

    “Whatever. You can’t make me go. I’m not leaving.” Dave planted his ass firmly on the futon and folded his arms resolutely.

    “Is that a challenge? Because if so, challenge accepted.” Bro dumped an armful of smuppets onto Dave, and while Dave was fighting off the torrential downpour of plush rump and foam nose dongs, he scooped his little brother up and slung him over his shoulder. He was sick of the petty argument, so he carried him down the stairs, with Dave squawking the whole time about how uncool this was.

    Bro unceremoniously dumped him on the sidewalk. “Have a good day at school,” he said pleasantly and left him there, going back into the building and holding the front door shut so Dave couldn’t get back inside.

    Dave grumbled and climbed to his feet, dusting himself off before slinking off to the bus stop. He was sullen and withdrawn the entire ride to school, not that he socialized much with the others who rode on his bus to begin with. When they arrived, the first thing he noticed was Mr. Egbert’s car, dropping John off. He swore under his breath and contemplated faking sick, but he knew that Bro would have his head if he received the inevitable phone call from the nurse. The most that he could hope for was to try and avoid John as much as possible today. His chances of doing so were slim at best, since while their differing last names kept them separated during homeroom, they both shared first-period Algebra.

    He didn’t even have that long to regroup and work out a defense plan, since John was waiting for him at his locker, with his dorky little buck-toothed grin out in full force. Dave was mentally flipping the fuck out, but he managed to keep his expression cool and composed.

    “Hi, Dave!” John chirped cheerfully. Dave regarded him stoically, impassive and stony as ever.

    “You gonna move, or am I going to have to be the valiant knight and battle my way through your cloud of Egbertian stupidity and nerdiness?” Try as he might, he couldn’t keep the bitter hurt from seeping into his voice. “I’m a busy man, I’ve got places to go, people to see, hells of ill beats to throw down, you know how it goes.”

    “Come on, Dave, I just want to talk to you!” John said, but he stepped aside to let Dave reach his locker.

    “There’s nothing to talk about,” Dave said, and he had to work to keep from grinding his teeth together as he unpacked his backpack and stuffed his belongings into his locker.

    “Yeah, there is,” John pleaded, and Dave’s heart ached. Cursing his weakness for the other boy, he gave in, unable to say no to those puppy-dog eyes.

    “Fine. What?”

    “I just wanted to say I’m sorry!” John said, and Dave finally turned around to face him again. Encouraged, John continued, “I don’t like you that way—”

    “I know! Fuck, haven’t we made this abundantly clear already?”

    “Dave, shut up, let me finish! I don’t, but I kind of wish I did because, well, I didn’t want to hurt you, and I think I did!”

    “Well, you don’t like me like that, and there’s no changing that, so whatever,” Dave said gruffly, slamming his locker shut and starting down the hall with John trailing along behind him.

    “No, but you’re still my best friend!” John grabbed Dave’s arm and pulled him to a halt. “You’ll always be my best bro.” He impulsively threw his arms around him in a crushing hug.

    Dave swallowed around the lump that had lodged itself in its throat. He clenched his eyes shut and squeezed him back, trying to pour all of his traitorous love into the hug. Maybe if he emptied out his feelings now, he wouldn’t have to revisit them again. He knew in his sinking heart that he was going to have to settle for the fact that John would always be nothing but his best friend. But, he reasoned, it wasn’t a bad substitute, and it was better than nothing. He took a deep breath —which was not shuddery and relieved, it wasn’t— and pulled away, allowing a small smile to breach his cool façade.

    “Come on, man,” he said, jerking his head in the direction of their homeroom. “Let’s get this lame school thing over with already.”

    John slung an arm around Dave’s shoulders, and they headed off to class together.

    Chapter Text

    Bro was on tenterhooks for a week, waiting for Egbert to tell him about his plans for their big date. Every time he tried to ask about it, Egbert always brushed it off with some cryptic answer or another. Bro was idly contemplating what he had in store for him while he was at work on a busy Thursday night. For some reason, he was distracted tonight, unable to devote his full attention to his job. It wasn’t the best state to be in, but he was restless, and his mind kept casting around for things to think about as he methodically worked the turntables. A light bulb inside his head flashed on when he remembered that he had been intending to ask Rufio something. He got a lengthy song rolling and abandoned the DJ booth to push his way through the crowd. Some of the people on the dance floor were muttering darkly and giving him looks, and he knew that he was damaging his reputation as a DJ by skipping out yet again, but he couldn’t help it when he got flighty. He mentally promised himself that he’d make it up to his patrons when he returned to the booth, and he sidled up to the bar.

    “Bro, you’re not supposed to come up here anymore,” Rufio said warningly, eying him while he finished preparing a drink for a customer.

    “Yeah, yeah, I know,” Bro said, waving away his words. After the last fiasco, his boss had explicitly forbidden him from taking breaks on his shift, but he didn’t care about consequences. “This is legitimately only going to take two seconds. I got this sweet new game, wanna come over tomorrow so I can wipe the floor with you?”

    Rufio snorted. “Yeah, you’re going down. You mess with the bull, you get the horns.”

    “Bring it on, Ruf. Bring. It. On.”

    “I’m bringing it, believe me. But, uh, I might have to bring my kid too. Tav accidentally started some literal sick fires the last time I left him unattended.”

    Bro sniggered in appreciation. “Yeah, sure, let him tag along. He can chill with Dave. God knows he could use the company, since he’s still a little blue.”

    “Yeah, so could Tavros, actually. You’ve met him, you know what he’s like, always optimistic and happy, but still, he’s been having it rough lately. Hanging out with someone who doesn’t want to kill him or make fun of him would definitely do him some good.”

    Bro met Rufio’s gaze. “About the two of them – are you thinking what I’m thinking?”

    Rufio smirked. “Yeah, I think so. You know what they say, great minds…”

    “…think alike. Fuck yeah, let’s do this shit up right!”

    They high-fived triumphantly, and Bro skittered back to the DJ booth before his boss caught wind of his absence.


    The next day, it occurred to Bro that he probably should at least warn Dave about their visitors. He knocked on the bedroom door and opened it to find Dave sprawled out on his bed doing homework like he always did after school on Fridays, so he could enjoy the weekend without it hanging over his head.

    “Hey, little bro, I forgot to tell you – Ruf’s stopping by to thrash up some mad stunts on the Xbox, and he’s bringing his kid with him.”

    “What, am I supposed to entertain him?” Dave asked, looking up from his math textbook.

    “Something like that, yeah. We figured you could just chill out with him. He’s a nice kid, your age, maybe a bit dorky and has a stuttering problem, but he’s cool in his own way.”

    “Bro, I don’t want to spend my Friday night hanging out with some awkward stuttering dork.”

    Bro leaned against the wall. “Come on, give it a shot,” he encouraged. “Think of him like he’s E. Coli bacteria, and you’re a slab of room-temperature Canadian beef. He’ll grow on you.”

    “Dude, you equating him with bacteria does not make me any more thrilled about hanging out with some kid I don’t even know.”

    Bro grinned. “Hey, don’t judge before you meet him. You might get along with him. You know, he’s into fairies just like you were…”

    “Will you stop bringing that up! I was in kindergarten, fuck you!”

    “I still have that magic wand we stole from there, you know. You can probably seduce him with it…”

    Realization dawned on Dave. “Oh my god, you’re trying to set me up with him, aren’t you. I am not in the mood for this, Bro, not after what happened with John.”

    “Well, I have it on good authority that, unlike John, he happens to be interested in guys. Apparently he had the biggest crush on Peter Pan growing up.”

    “He sounds like a complete tool,” Dave said flatly.

    “You’re a complete tool.”

    “Your face is a complete tool.”

    “Your mom is a complete tool.”

    “Bro, I don’t have a mom.”

    A lengthy silence ensued. “…Would Egbert be an appropriate substitute?”

    There was a moment’s pause as Bro briefly considered a mama Egbert clad in nothing but an apron and Dave envisioned a mother who always had a slice of red velvet cake and a glass of milk waiting as an afterschool snack.

    Dave was the first to recover and fire back another comeback. “ Mr. Egbert is a complete tool!”

    “Fuck you,” Bro replied, smacking him upside the head and heading for the kitchen to graze on frozen chicken wings.

    He was halfway through his tenth wing when his cell-phone started blaring “I Won’t Say I’m in Love,” the ringtone that he assigned to Egbert’s phone number for ironic purposes. He snapped it up and held it to his ear, already talking before the caller could get a word in edgewise. “S’up, Egbert? You have uncanny timing, I was just contemplating you wearing nothing but an apron.” He went back to chewing on the chicken bone.

    Egbert, who was used to Bro’s unconventional greetings by now, took this information in stride. “A charming image, I’m sure you find it. I’ll keep that in mind for future reference.”

    “Fuck yes, I am on board with this idea.”

    “May I ask what prompted such a thought?”

    “What, can’t a guy picture his boyfriend half-naked in peace without the prude police getting all up in his grill? Nah, it stemmed from a ‘your mom’ joke. I asked Dave if you’d be an appropriate substitute for the mom that he doesn’t have, and then that naturally led to me thinking of you being in the kitchen and baking with just a little frilly apron on to hide your glorious manhood from my virgin eyes in the most tantalizing fashion.”

    “Naturally. Well, I’ll wear the title of Honorary Mother with pride,” Egbert said, and Bro could hear the smile in his voice. “I am calling for a reason, though. Would it be all right if I stop by on my way home from work? I have something that I need to tell you, and I’d rather do it in person.”

    “Why is that even a question?” Bro deadpanned. “It’s not like you’re never not welcome in my humble abode. I’ve just got a friend coming over in a couple hours for an epic video game session, that’s all.”

    “Well, I’ll be sure not to overstay my welcome, then. And it is good form to ask anyway, I wouldn’t want to intrude.”

    “You can intrude on me any day.” Bro put down the clean chicken bone and ripped off a piece of another wing with his teeth. “And yes, I mean that exactly the way it sounds.”

    “Your innuend—” Egbert interrupted himself mid-word to ask, “Are you chewing while you’re talking?”

    Bro swallowed his bite of food. “Not anymore.”

    “I don’t know whether to find the fact that you’re eating while you’re on the phone with me exasperating or bizarrely endearing.”

    “The latter, obviously. I’m an endearing dude, just call me Mr. Huggy Bear.”

    “Fine, Mr. Huggy Bear, I’ll be over in an hour and half or so.”

    “Sweet, see you then. Love you.” Bro still got a thrill of delight every time he got to say out loud that he loved Egbert. That giddiness of loving someone and being loved never dimmed, not when he had been so starved for affection after so many years of being single.

    “I love you too,” Egbert replied, and Bro hung up with a faint smile on his face. He was in a good mood; things were finally looking up for him, and he was positive that Egbert was at last about to spring the news on him about that much anticipated, mysterious date.

    He wasted time messing around on his computer and browsing through his Complete Bullshit content aggregator. He had just moused over a website’s strip and prepared to click on it —Pimped out puppets cam! All puppets, all pimp!—when the buzzer sounded, and he sprang from his seat to let Egbert in.

    “Hey,” he said as he opened the door to find Egbert sharply dressed as ever and carrying his briefcase. He took a brief moment to appreciate Egbert’s dashing good looks before launching into the question he had been dying to ask, refusing to get sidetracked by his attraction to Egbert’s business attire. “So, what’s the big news?”

    “Well,” Egbert said, shrugging off his suit jacket and loosening his tie. “I have good news, and I have bad news. Which would you rather hear first?”

    “Bad. Let’s just get that shit out of the way now.”

    Egbert sighed and placed a hand on the small of Bro’s back, guiding him over to the futon. Bro couldn’t help but feel a ripple of trepidation as they sat down and Egbert laced his fingers through his own.

    “I’m being sent on an international business trip to Germany. I’ll be gone for a week.”

    Bro stared at him, trying to process the implications of this statement. Not only was their momentous date being postponed, he was going to have to spend a week separated from his boyfriend by the vast ocean and a six hour time difference. “Are you fucking kidding me?” he asked, aghast. “Is this one of your stupid pranks?”

    “I wish it was,” Egbert said wryly. “But alas, it’s not.”

    Bro exhaled, leaning back and rubbing his free hand over his face. “When do you leave?”

    “Sunday night, and I’ll be returning the following Monday morning. I’m afraid it’s rather short notice, but my boss requested me, and I can’t very well say no.”

    “Doesn’t mean I can’t be upset about it.”

    “Trust me, I am too,” Egbert assured him, stroking the pad of his thumb over the back of Bro’s hand. “And I hate to spring this on you now, but I have a favor to ask of you.”

    “Yeah, anything,” Bro said, and he meant it, he would willingly do whatever Egbert asked of him.

    “It’s about John. Back in Washington, I would ordinarily ask a neighbor to look after John when I had to leave on business trips, but I’m afraid I’m not quite as familiar with our new neighbors to the extent that I’d feel comfortable asking them such a thing. Would you mind taking John in, just for the week?”

    “Yeah, why not?” Bro said, shrugging. He’d more or less patched things up with the younger Egbert after Dave told him about John’s apology, even if he was still a little sore over the whole incident. “He can crash on a sleeping bag in Dave’s room, no big deal.”

    “Thank you, Broderick,” Egbert said, gratefully squeezing his hand before letting go of it and running his own hand up Bro’s back to rest on his neck. “I’m sorry that this had to happen, I know it’s not ideal timing—”

    “The world is conspiring to prevent me from getting laid.”

    “I understand, I know how it feels,” Egbert said, his fingers rubbing slow, soothing circles at the base of his skull.

    Bro sighed, gloom settling down around him, and he leaned into Egbert, who wrapped an arm around his shoulders. “Guess I’m gonna have to get my week’s worth of Egbert Time in now. I’m gonna miss you,” he murmured.

    Egbert kissed the top of his head. “Not as much as I’m going to miss you,” he stated matter-of-factly.

    Bro laughed a little. “Fuck, we’re turning into one of Those Couples, aren’t we?” He adopted a high-pitched, mocking tone. “‘I love you.’ ‘No, I love you more, babycakes.’ ‘Not as much as I love you, sweetcheeks!’”

    “I am surprisingly okay with this status.”

    “Yeah, I am too, as sappy as it sounds.” Bro rested his head on Egbert’s shoulder, and they settled into a comfortable silence. The news that Egbert was about to leave the country made Bro’s heart ache a little, and he was surprised to realize just how much he was going to miss him. He dwelled on his relationship, feeling strangely warm and fuzzy on the inside. He had never loved or trusted someone so much before – not like this, never like this. And a wild, crazy idea occurred to him, the ultimate display of trust he could give Egbert and show him the extent of his feelings for him.

    He spoke up suddenly, breaking the quiet atmosphere. “Hey, did I ever tell you my whole name?”

    Egbert frowned, thinking back on it. “You know, I don’t think you ever did. Come to think of it, I just assumed upon first meeting you that your full name was Broderick Strider, given your nickname.” As the realization dawned on him, his face drained of all color and he looked a little horror-stricken. “Oh dear, I hope that wasn’t presumptuous of me…”

    “Right, well, I don’t exactly go around telling people my history when it comes to names, but… I wanted to tell you.” He took a deep breath, wondering for one split second why he was even entertaining this insane notion of baring his deepest secret. “My given name was Dirk. Dirk Strider.” His nose wrinkled like he smelled something sour. “After a lifetime of being referred to as Dork, Dick, Derp, and Haha-Your Name-Sounds -Like-A-Porn-Star, I got sick of it. It never suited me anyway. Legally changed my name to Bro when I was 18, since that’s what I was exclusively going by when high school happened, and I never looked back.”

    Egbert looked gobsmacked, for lack of a better word. “Broderick, I— Ah, but no, that’s not even your name, I can’t call you that any longer—”

    “If you call me Dirk, I will not hesitate to punch you in the gonads,” Bro flatly informed him.

    “But it’s your birth name!”

    “Yeah, the birth name given to me by the jackasses at the foster agency, which, by the way, is a time of my life that I’d really prefer to forget. I don’t need any more ties to it, and I don’t need to be reminded of it every time someone calls me that. Maybe on another day in another life, the name would have been okay, maybe even cool… but for me? I don’t answer to it.”

    “I just,” Egbert started, trying to wrap his mind around this revelation. “I cannot believe I have been calling you by a fabricated name all this time. I’m so sorry,” he said, his expression somewhat pained.

    “No, man, you’re not getting it.” Bro crawled into Egbert’s lap and held his face in his hands. “I like it when you call me Broderick. You’re the only person who calls me by a real name, not just my nickname. It makes you special. And hey, if it bothers you that much, I guess it’s not too much of a stretch – Broderick, Derick, Dirk…” He trailed off and shrugged a little. “And by the way… you’re the only person who knows about that name. I’ve never told Dave. Nor Rufio or any of my other buds. Just you.”

    He paused to let the gravity of that statement sink in, but Egbert still looked troubled. Bro exhaled and flipped the other man’s fedora off of his head so that he could run his fingers through his short hair. He felt a little guilty himself, wishing that he hadn’t dropped the bombshell after all. “Egbert. I didn’t tell you this because I wanted to make you feel bad, I told you because I wanted to, I don’t know, give you a part of me that nobody else knows about. Now call me by my name. My real name. Your name for me.”

    Egbert hesitated, then smiled. “Fine, Broderick. If that’s what you want. And I’m honored that you’d entrust me with such a personal detail.”

    “Now you’re getting it,” Bro said, grinning as he leaned in to kiss Egbert before slipping off his lap and tucking himself under his arm once more. “Oh, yeah, and what was the good news?” he added as an afterthought, keen to hear what else Egbert had to say.

    “Ah, yes! Well, you’ll be happy to know that I finally ironed out the details for our upcoming date.”

    “Yeah?” Bro said, excited in spite of himself.

    “Yes, I’ve managed to procure tickets to a play that I think you’ll find interesting.”

    “Oh.” Bro deflated a little, somewhat disappointed at the lackluster reveal. He wasn’t exceptionally interested in the fine arts, but if Egbert wanted to go to a play, he was willing to go along with it. “What is it?”

    “Are you familiar with a musical called Avenue Q?”

    The gears in Bro’s brain grinded to a halt. “Am I… familiar with it? No, I only have the entire soundtrack on my iPod and the lyrics to ‘If You Were Gay’ more or less constantly playing in my head. You’re saying you got tickets. To see a production of Avenue Q.” He was still trying to wrap his head around the information Egbert was feeding him.

    “Yes. I just thought it would be something that you would enjoy.” Egbert’s smile wavered hesitantly, a flicker of worry in his blue eyes.

    Realizing that he was giving off the wrong impression, Bro hastened to fix things and assuage his doubts. He slung a leg over Egbert’s hips and kissed him, long and hard, before breaking away breathlessly. “God, I love you,” he gasped. “You beautiful bastard, you. Fuck yes, I am going to enjoy this! Shit.” He took off his baseball cap and ran his fingers through his hair. “Shit,” he repeated. “I can’t believe you got tickets for Avenue Q. That’s like my entire fucking life’s dream right there.”

    Egbert beamed at him, relieved at his reception. “I’m glad you’re excited, and hopefully it will live up to expectations.”

    “Man, judging by the awesome as fuck music and the fact that it revolves around puppets, I’m sure it will. I’ve gotta say, I’m really looking forward to this date, and not just because of the sweet music we’re going to be making when we get back to your house…” Bro smirked and raised a suggestive eyebrow. Egbert opened his mouth to shoot back a quip of his own, but they both suddenly jumped at the loud and abrasive sound of the apartment buzzer.

    “Oh, yeah, that’d be Ruf and his kid,” Bro said, getting up from his seat to buzz them in through the front door.

    “Ah, right. Well, I suppose it’s time for me to get going as well. I ought to get home and see what John’s been getting himself into.” Egbert stood up and collected his briefcase along with the fedora that Bro had carelessly dropped on the floor.

    “Yeah,” Bro said. He was waffling back and forth on whether or not to say what was on his mind when he decided to just go for it. He didn’t care if it made him sound like a doting housewife. “Have a safe flight,” he said, and he could feel his levels of cool dropping like a stone.

    Egbert smiled at him as he placed his fedora on his head and straightened it out. “Thank you, Broderick, that was very considerate of you.”

    “Yeah, well, what can I say, you’re turning me into fucking Miss Manners over here,” Bro said, casually stuffing his hands in his pocket. He dropped his voice and said lowly, “But seriously. If you get in a plane accident and dive-bomb into the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, I will kill you.”

    “Your pteromerhanophobia truly astounds me.”

    “My pterodactyl is awesome.”

    “That doesn’t make any sense. Neither does your statement that you’ll kill me if I do, god forbid, get in a plane accident, considering that that extremely unlikely event would probably result in my death. I can assure you that it will not happen, given that air travel is far safer than driving my car.”

    “You don’t make any sense,” Bro retorted childishly, just as they heard the sound of someone knocking at the apartment door. Bro gave him a smug look, satisfied at having gotten the last word in, and opened the door to find Rufio standing there, towering a good few inches over him as usual.

    “S’up, man?” he said, giving Rufio a fist-bump in greeting and stepping back to let him and the teenager tagging along behind him inside.

    “Yo,” Rufio said, nodding at both Bro and Egbert.

    “Hello, Rufio,” Egbert said pleasantly. “Is this your son, I take it?”

    “Yeah, this is my boy.” He placed a hand on Tavros’s head. “Tavros, you’ve met Bro before, and this is his man, Mr. Egbert.”

    “Um, hi,” Tavros said with a shy, crooked grin.

    “Well, it’s a pleasure to meet you, Tavros,” Egbert said, shaking his hand with a firm, manly grip. Tavros seemed slightly awed at his presence, not-so-subtly staring him with wide eyes. Egbert was oblivious to the attention, turning to face Bro and bid him goodbye. “I suppose I shall be taking my leave now, then,” he said, regret in his eyes.

    Bro’s heart sunk in his chest. Scarcely aware of his automatic actions, he placed a hand on the small of Egbert’s back and led him over to the door, drawing him aside for a quick moment of privacy.

    “Yeah. I’d invite you to stay, but I don’t really think it’s your kind of scene…” he said, trailing off apologetically.

    “No, I completely understand, and I don’t think I’d be all that interested anyway,” Egbert said, his tone lighthearted. “I’ll talk to you later, Broderick, and I’ll see you first thing next Monday morning when I’m back in the States. I love you.”

    “Love you too. See you.” Bro gave him a quick, chaste kiss and handed him his jacket. He watched Egbert walk down the hallway to the staircase until he was out of sight, his brow creased almost imperceptibly. He was already unhappy with the thought of not seeing Egbert again for a full nine days, after getting so used to seeing him whenever he wanted.

    Behind him, he heard a small, happy sigh, which he was 99.9% positive did not come from Rufio. He turned around and looked at Tavros, who had a dreamy half-smile on his face.

    “What are you smiling at?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.

    Tavros’s expression immediately shifted gears, freezing like a deer in headlights at the realization that he hadn’t gone unnoticed.

    “’My boy’s a hopeless romantic at heart,” Rufio explained, a wicked smirk curling the corner of his mouth. “It’s like I keep telling him, someday his prince’ll come, you just gotta believe in that.” He ruffled Tavros’s mohawk. Tavros growled under his breath and smoothed it back into place, trying to hide his embarrassment.

    “What, so me and Egbert got us a fanboy, then? I mean, obviously, we’re the poster child of pure and chivalrous relationships, I’m the goddamn Cinderella to his Prince Charming. The sheer power of our love for each other is enough to make even the most staunch-hearted swoon like schoolgirls…”

    Tavros looked like he wanted to sink into a hole in the ground. Bro grinned, thoroughly amused at the situation. He could have continued ragging on him, but the poor kid was shifting from foot to foot, and he decided to give him a break. Besides, he needed to get Dave in the picture.

    “Hey Dave, your playdate’s here!” Bro shouted. He could hear Dave grumble as he emerged from the hallway, thoroughly unenthused.

    Tavros laughed somewhat nervously. “Oh, haha, I wasn’t aware, that this was a playdate… Or, uh, what kind of play that phrase would entail.”

    “Nothing dirty about this play, if that’s what you’re thinking. Jesus dick, get your mind out of the gutter, man.”

    Tavros’s face flooded with color. “Um. I wasn’t trying to imply anything, uh, sexual, if that’s what you’re referring to. Wow, okay, I’m really uncomfortable right now, sorry if I gave that impression, I didn’t mean—”

    “Chill, dude,” Dave interrupted. “I’m just yanking your chain. It’s not a playdate, my bro’s just being stupid.”

    “Dave, you really need to watch your language against me,” Bro admonished. “I have 14 years worth of dirt on you and no qualms about spilling it. So stop being a dick. This is Tavros, Rufio’s kid. Tav, this is my baby brother, Dave.”

    Tavros was clearly already over his momentary discomfort, grateful to Bro for rescuing him. “Hiiii,” he said with a little wave, his eyes shining with eagerness and a wide grin on his face.

    There was a pregnant pause until Dave finally said, “Hey.” To his credit, Tavros’s excitement at meeting someone new didn’t waver.

    “Okay, introduction’s over,” Bro said, clapping them both on their backs and accidentally knocking them into each other. Tavros yelped in surprise and Dave scowled as adjusted his shades, which had been knocked askew.

    “Yeah, so hit the halls, amigos,” Rufio said. He was already on the futon, messing around with the XBox controllers.

    “The big boys here are domineering the living room,” Bro finished. They simultaneously pointed at the hallway door.

    “Jesus Christ,” Dave muttered. He exhaled through his nose and jerked his head towards the doorway. “Come on,” he said to Tavros and headed in the direction of his room, with his guest trailing along behind him.

    He opened the bedroom door and flicked the lights on, wondering what the hell he was supposed to say now and cursing Bro for putting him in this awkward position. He needn’t have been worried, however, since Tavros had plenty to talk about without being prompted. He gazed around the small room, drinking in the aura of cool.

    When his gaze landed on Dave’s turntables, he immediately zeroed in on them. “Oh man, check out that totally awesome gear!” he said, an envious glint shining in his eyes.

    Dave reconsidered his initial assumptions; maybe Tavros wasn’t as lame as he thought, if he was into his mixing gear and record collection. “Pretty sweet, am I right?” he said. “This shit’s fresher than the Prince of Bel-Air.”

    Tavros giggled a little at that. “Oh, yeah, that’s pretty fresh! Um, can I assume that you like throwing down sick beats and spitting rhymes, then?”

    “Yeah, why, do you rap too?”

    “Uh-huh!” Tavros beamed at him, and Dave’s mood lifted somewhat. Tavros’s enthusiasm was contagious, and despite his evident dorkiness and lack of social skills, he at least had good taste when it came to interests.

    “Yeah? Fine, let’s see what you’ve got,” he said, falling back onto his bed and lacing his hands behind his head.

    Tavros followed suit, climbing onto the end of Dave’s bed and tucking his feet underneath him. Dave started to say something about personal boundaries and not crawling over people’s furniture without asking first, but he decided to let it slide.

    “You mean, like a rap-off?” Tavros asked.

    “Fuck yes. Come on, Nitram, bring it. Let’s start some sick fires, just you and me.”

    Tavros bared his teeth in a wide grin. “These incendiaries are most definitely going to be so unhealthy, they’ll, uh, be in dire need of medical attention.”

    “Damn straight they will. Gonna have to rush them to the emergency room and get some hapless sap to breathe air anew into them with the Kiss of Life, because they are just that deliriously ill. Let’s do this, man. Hit it,” Dave said, nodding at him to begin.

    Tavros took a deep breath before launching into his rap. “Well, I notice that you don’t want to be the first, because I am the best and you are the worst. You know deep down inside that this is true, when I’m through with you, they’ll be calling Code Blue. My rapping skills will put you to shame, because that is the way that we play this game. Kicking this over for you to take your turn. It’s just too bad that you’re gonna burn!”

    “Tav, come on, you gotta be trolling me. This shit’s so weak, even you gotta see, that your lame name game and callin’ me the worst shows that you know shit about who comes in first. I’m immersed in an avalanche of obscene suckitude, freestylin’ with someone with no rhythm accrued. And if you can’t admit that this fact is true, you can just go and fucking suck it, dude. ‘Cause I’ve got a shit-ton more gumption than President Nixon, I’m a playa’ who’s ballin’, I know what you’re thinkin’. There’s a swirling vortex of cocks and dicks-in, your mind’s eye, don’t try to deny, that my Watergate flow is sicker than you know. Get that blowchute open, prepare to eat crow.”

    Dave‘s smirk grew broader as Tavros’s face colored and he stammered out a feeble protest. The best part of rap battles was trying to throw your opponent for a loop and trip them up, and it looked like he’d found Tavros’s kryptonite.

    “The bottom line is if you wanna impress me, there better be something hidden up your sleeve. Gotta man up and show me what else you’ve got. It’s your turn now, so baby drop it like it’s hot—”

    “—I’ll still give it a shot, and win this rap battlecal, because my moves are sick and my beats are so radical!” Tavros recovered in record time and shot back a retort of his own, making Dave laugh in genuine admiration for his resilience. “And this beat is as ill as your lame-ass rhymes, which are lame like your ass, which is totally not fine!”

    Bro and Rufio were listening in as they sat on the floor outside of Dave’s room, huddled together with their ears pressed against the wall. Bro snorted softly. “This is rapidly decelerating into the shittiest gay-off I’ve ever heard. Dave’s gotta be nervous or taking it easy on your kid or something if this is the kind of stuff he’s spewing. Kind of want to go barge in there and tell them that both of their rhymes suck. Give them a lesson on how to seriously throw down some sicknasty beats.”

    “Yeah, well , as awesome as it would be to schoolfeed them on how it’s really done… Don’t do it, Bro. It’ll kill the mood.”

    “The mooooooood.” Bro snickered and started singing under his breath, “Can you feel… the love tonight?”

    Tavros was mid-verse when Dave interrupted, holding up a hand to shush him. “Wait. Do you hear something?”

    “Uh.” Tavros listened. “Yeah, I don’t really know what it is, though.”

    Dave opened the door to his bedroom, and they looked down to find their respective guardians holding each other, softly crooning the lyrics to an Elton John song.

    Dave was unimpressed. “Seriously, Bro? Seriously?”

    “Hey little bro, how’s it hanging?”

    “Dude, what is even with you. I thought you guys were playing video games. Get out.”

    “Oh, I see how it is. You want some privacy. Fine, I guess we can give you that. What do you say, Ruf? We can load up, we’ll party, maybe go down to the club and slip people some…”

    “Don’t even, Bro. I know what you’re going to say, and I’ll punch you if you say it—”


    “That’s a stupid joke, and you need to stop being a dick and slipping it in every chance you get,” Rufio told him, punching him in the shoulder.

    Dave exhaled through his nose. “Just beat it, okay?” He shut the door to his room, and the guardians could hear Tavros’s slightly nervous, apologetic voice floating through the wall. “I’m better when I have notes to go off of instead of just, um, having to think of it, in the heat of the moment.”

    “Nah, man, you’re cool. It just takes mad skills to top Strider talent, that’s all.”

    Bro jerked his head towards the living room. “C’mon, dude, let’s split. Besides, I still need to whoop your ass at this game.”

    “You wish! No, but seriously,” Rufio said as they got up off the floor and headed for the futon. “I think Dave’s doing Tavros some good. I haven’t heard him sound so confident in ages.”

    “Yeah, likewise. I mean, he made Dave really laugh for the first time since shit went down with John.” Bro scooped up the controllers, handing one over and flopping down on the couch.

    “You think we did good?” Rufio asked, turning to look at him.

    “Yeah, man, we did good.”

    “Good. Alright, now it’s time for me show you how it’s really done and obliterate you on Broblerone.” Rufio said, smirking at him.

    “Like fuck you will!” Bro shoved him with his shoulder and they dived into the game.


    Three hours later, and they were forced to admit that they were going to have to call it a draw. They were too evenly matched and couldn’t break the cycle of tying with each other.

    “Okay, fine, we’re done,” Rufio said, throwing the controller on the ground and stretching out his long legs.

    “Yeah, this isn’t going anywhere,” Bro admitted, yawning as he stood up and cracked his neck in a series of satisfying pops. “We’ll have a rematch sometime to see who really is boss.”

    “Sounds like a plan. Guess it’s time to go collect my kid, then.” They headed to Dave’s room, and paused for a moment to listen. They could hear Tavros laughing while Dave spoke, and Rufio looked at Bro questioningly. Bro shrugged his shoulders and shook his head, so Rufio went ahead and knocked on the door out of courtesy before opening it.

    “Hey little man,” he said, sticking his head into the room. “Time to go.”

    Dave was showing Tavros the archives of Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff, and they both looked mildly disappointed at the news.

    “Oh,” Tavros said. “Uh, okay.”

    “I’ll show you the rest of it another time,” Dave told him as he exited out of the obnoxiously colorful website.

    “I’d like that.”


    “Sorry, little buddy,” Rufio said as they made their way out to the living room. “But we do need to hit the road. I want to stop at the store and pick up some taco shells for dinner before we head home.”

    “Oh, well, I can never say no to tacos…”

    “I know, Tav, I know. Alright, well, thanks for inviting us over, Bro. See you at work tomorrow.”

    “No problem, man,” Bro said, lifting a hand in farewell.

    “Bye, Dave!” Tavros waved goodbye to him before following Rufio to the door.

    “Hey,” Dave said suddenly. “Tavros.”

    “Huh?” Tavros turned around in confusion.

    “Do you, I don’t know, have a screen name or something?”

    Bro and Rufio exchanged smug grins of satisfaction over the tops of their boys’ heads.

    Tavros’s face lit up. “Oh, yesss! Uh, it’s adiosToreador,” he said with barely-concealed excitement.

    “TurntechGodhead at your service. Maybe we’ll talk sometime or something.”

    “Yeah, we most definitely will have to make that a thing that happens.”

    “Cool.” Dave offered him the smallest of smiles, a corner of his mouth twitching upwards.

    The radiant grin that Tavros offered him in return made up for his own reservation, however. “Uh, where doing this man?” he said, his voice raising into a question at the end of his sentence, hoping that he was using the reference appropriately.

    Dave’s smile grew. “Where making this hapen. Later, dude.”


    “Talk to you later, Bro,” Rufio said, giving him a knowing look as he placed a hand on Tavros’s shoulder and steered him out the door.

    “Catch you on the flipside.”

    As soon as the door shut behind their guests, Bro rounded on Dave, just like he knew that Rufio was already grilling Tavros.


    “So?” Dave raised his eyebrows.

    “So we’ve got a lot to talk about, little bro. First order of business: what happened? You completely choked on that rapping. What, were you too nervous about there being a cute boy in your bedroom? Cause that’s gotta be the only reason why those so-called fly beats weren’t up to scratch.”

    “Bro…” Dave growled in warning. Bro wasn’t concerned, he knew that Dave was just covering for his humiliation.

    “The sexual innuendo was a nice touch, I’ll give you that, but next time you might wanna try to be a little more subtle. You think I bagged Egbert by throwing out a veritable cornucopia of neon signs emblazoned with perverse quips and blatant insinuations about how much I want to do him?”

    “Yes,” Dave said bald-facedly.

    Bro eyed him. “Touché,” he finally said. “Well, what’d you think of him overall?”

    Dave shrugged his shoulders. “He wasn’t totally uncool,” he said nonchalantly.

    “High praise from a Strider,” Bro said, offering him a stoic fist bump, which Dave accepted.

    Bro watched as he walked back to his room, and while Dave never would have said so, Bro could sense that he was feeling at least slightly warm and fuzzy inside. And even Bro had to admit that he was feeling a little bit of the same himself. As hard as he was on Dave about his rapping, Bro was proud of him, and it was refreshing to see Dave break out of his slump. Maybe now, Bro thought as he picked up Lil’ Cal and set him on his shoulder, this was the turning point for him.

    Chapter Text

    Nobody was around to protect John, Bro thought as he rested the barrel of his gun on the window ledge. Dave was nowhere in sight, and Egbert was probably halfway across the ocean on his way to Germany by now. He squinted as he looked through the sight, training the red dot on John.

    Like shooting ducks in a barrel. Bro pulled the trigger, and he hit his target square in the chest, bright red spattering across his torso.

    Bro smirked as he dropped to the ground to avoid being spotted. He didn’t want Dave to come tearing off after him for revenge once he saw that John was down for the count. He was hellbent on hunting down Tavros next, but he had to be careful. Rufio was protective of his kid. Stealth was of the utmost importance if he was going to get away with this.

    Bro’s ears pricked up at the sound of someone climbing the ladder behind him, and he swiveled around, aiming the gun at the intruder’s heart.

    Rufio hissed at him and held up his empty palm in self-defense.

    Bro lowered the gun and extended a hand to pull Rufio into the tower. “Sorry, man, I thought you were someone else. My bad.”

    “Yeah, no shit. Careful where you’re pointing that thing. We’re supposed to be in cahoots, it’s no good if you end up offing me. What’s the dead kid count on your end?”

    “Just bagged my first one, got the mini-Egbert right in the chest. He didn’t stand a chance. Hate to be the one to break it to you, but I’m going after your kid now.”

    “Like hell you are,” Rufio said, but before he had time to take a threatening step towards Bro, a spray of ammunition spattered against the outside wall of the sniper’s tower, and they both flattened against the floor. Rufio was the first one to brave the warfare, peering out the window to assess the damage. The front of the tower was painted yellow, and Tavros was looking up at them, his gun resting on his shoulder.

    “Tavros, you wipe that shit-eating grin off your face this instant. And yeah, I know you’re grinning under that mask,” Rufio said, pointing a finger at him.

    Bro was up off the floor in an instant, racing for the ladder, and Rufio swore, grabbing his gun and heading off after him at lightning speed. Bro jumped down the last few rungs and aimed his sight on Tavros, who yelped and dived for a bunker.

    Rufio cut in front of Bro, who growled in annoyance. He jerked his gun back so that his paint hit a pillar instead. “Shit, man, you’re on my team! I can pick him off easy, let me at him. All’s fair in love and war, now are you going to help me win this thing or not?”

    “Yeah, no, you’re not gonna be the one to— ow!” Rufio hissed, more out of surprise than pain, as several paintballs hit him in the small of the back, bursting on contact. He swiveled around to find Tavros on his haunches with his paintgun propped on his knees, trying and failing to contain his howls of laughter.

    “The fuck is this, Tavros? I try to protect your hide, and this is how you repay me? This is betrayal.” Rufio glowered at his son, but Tavros was undeterred.

    “Uh, well, we’re not exactly on the same team, and that’s what I’m supposed to do. I think, that you are just sore, because I managed to get you.”

    “…You are so grounded, young man.”

    “Sore loser, man, is this the kind of sportsmanship you wanna be preaching to your only son? He got you fair and square, now I’m gonna have to banish you to No Man’s Land.” Bro pointed at the safe area, and Rufio turned to find John sitting there, his front still stained red from Bro’s paintballs. John gave him a cheerful wave, and Rufio sighed, glumly accepting his fate and trudging over to the dead land.

    “Well, well,” Bro said lazily, turning his gun over and over in his hand. “Looks like it’s me and you, squirt. And my baby brother, but oops, he’s not here to be the knight in shining armor to your damsel in distress. Prepare to eat my balls,” he pronounced, enunciating every word carefully.

    Over in the no man’s land, Rufio buried his head in his hands and John giggled, whispering a “That’s what she said!”

    “Actually, no, I think that, it’s pretty much going to be the other way around,” Tavros said, fumbling with his gun. He aimed it at Bro, who prepared to flee as soon as the shot was fired. Tavros squeezed the trigger, but nothing happened. “Wait, what. Oh.” Realization dawned on him. “Oh, shit, what happens when you run out of paintballs?”

    “Amateur move right there, wasting all your pellets firing at nothing. And I’ll tell you what happens – it means your ass is mine,” Bro said, advancing on him with his gun at the ready and a predatory leer on his face.

    A warning shot fired directly in front of him, causing Bro to halt in his tracks and search for its source. Dave had emerged from his hiding place, where he had been biding his time, and his gun was pointed directly at Bro. “His ass is mine.” Bro stifled a snort, and if Dave’s face wasn’t completely hidden by the protective mask, he was pretty sure that he was blushing something fierce. Dave hastily backpedaled. “I mean, my team’s. Tav, go hide, I got this under control.”

    “Um, okay, I am most definitely doing that, right now.” Tavros crouched down behind his bunker, peeking out at Bro and Dave, his eyes wide beneath his helmet.

    A long moment of silence passed as the two Strider brothers faced each other off, staring at each other with cool composure. Dave suddenly sprang into action, firing his gun at Bro, who expertly dodged every carefully aimed paintball.

    He could have avoided getting shot. He could have easily overtaken Dave and won. It wasn’t even a question, not when you considered their individual skill sets and the fact that he had eighteen years and a good six inches on him. But Tavros was watching intently, and he could see the tension in Dave’s shoulders. Bro figured he could take a bullet for his little brother and let Dave save face in front of him. He purposely took a misstep, placing himself in the trajectory of the paintballs, which splattered his front with bright orange paint.

    “Ha!” Dave burst out triumphantly, breaking his cool long enough to let out a whoop of delight at his victory.

    “Yessss!” Tavros jumped up from the bunker and ran over to Dave, unable to contain his excitement. “We win! Dave, you did it, you got him!”

    “Well, yeah, of course I did,” Dave said, resting his gun on his shoulder and nonchalantly inspecting his fingernails. “What, you doubted my fine skills? I’m hurt, Tav. Real hurt. Here I am, busting into this fruity rumpus asshole partytown, all armed and dangerous, prepared to fight tooth and nail just to protect your ass, and you’re doubting me?”

    “What, my ass, that is supposed to be yours?” Tavros said, grinning wickedly as they headed off the paintball field, pulling off their masks.

    Dave’s cheeks were tinged pink but his voice was calm as he answered, “That was completely unintentional. I was responding to Bro’s lameass comment, and it didn’t come out right.”

    Bro rolled his eyes. “Come on, lovebirds,” he said, gripping them both by the shoulders and steering them towards the safe zone. Both boys immediately started protesting, flustered and talking over one another.

    “Bro, no, we’re not like that—”

    “Wow, no, oh god, not, I mean—”

    “—Completely off base—”

    “All right, all right, chill. Dudes can’t take a joke,” he explained as they approached a questioning Rufio, whom he exchanged a meaningful glance with, and John. “S’up, mini Egbert. Sorry I creamed you out there, but it was pretty inevitable. I mean, I’m not saying you’re bad, but… you’re bad.”

    John shrugged off the barb with a laugh that made Bro suddenly miss Egbert intensely. “Haha! Oh man, I don’t even care, I had so much fun with that!”

    “Yeah, me too!” Tavros agreed, and the two of them high-fived.

    Dave, who was in between the two of them, just shook his head. “Man, what did I do to get saddled with Derp and Derpier over here? Christ in a sidecar, I should be getting paid for this.”

    Bro let the three of them walk ahead of him and fell in stride with Rufio. They silently fist-bumped behind the boys’ backs, sharing a private moment of wordless satisfaction as they headed homeward.


    After dropping Tavros and Rufio off at their own apartment six blocks down, Bro, Dave, and John went home to tackle the problem of dinner. They had already had leftover Chinese food for lunch and weren’t too keen on the thought of more takeout, so Bro ended up tossing a few loaves of frozen French bread pizzas into the oven.

    “Stouffers is a motherfucking godsend,” he proclaimed when he pulled out the finished pizzas, burning his hand in the process because Striders were too cool for oven mitts. John winced at the sight; partly because it looked like it hurt and partly because his father had always taught him proper oven safety, which Bro was completely disregarding.

    Bro grabbed two of his rad and expensive ninja swords and carefully balanced one of the French bread pizzas on the flat edges of the blades.

    “What is he doing?” John whispered to Dave.

    “Shhh, don’t talk, you’ll ruin his concentration. This is going to be good.”

    In one swift, dexterous motion, Bro tossed the loaf into the air and rapidly sliced it into pieces, holding out a classy chipped plate and catching them as they fell.

    “Dinnertime,” he said, handing the plate to their guest.“Not exactly your dad’s home cooking, but hey, it’s good.”

    “This is so cool!

    Bro had to hide a smile as he turned to cut up his and Dave’s pizzas. John’s enthusiasm was gratifying, he had to admit.

    The three boys scarfed down their meals in record time, and as soon as they finished, John accosted his best friend.

    “Hey, Dave! We should watch a movie! Want to watch—”


    “Aw, Dave, you didn’t let me finish!”

    “If it’s Con Air, Failure to Launch, or Deep Impact, I don’t want to watch it.”

    “Hey, I wasn’t even going to suggest those! If you had let me finish, I was going to say Starsky and Hutch, dumbass.”

    “Huh. Okay, fine, I guess I’m down with that.”

    “Haha, I knew you would be! Because you always laugh so hard when we watch it, and because of your weird thing for Ben Stiller…”

    Dave casually choked on his soda. “What the fuck, no!” he said, coughing as John thumped him on the back. “Is this about the shades? Because I told you that I’m wearing them ironically. And they’re awesome. They’re awesome because they’re ironic, and vice versa. Go get Pat Sajak, someone needs to buy a fucking clue over here. Dave Strider is awesome, John Egbert sucks, the end.”

    As the boys set up the TV and continued to argue good-naturedly, Bro picked up the dishes and ambled over to the kitchen. He removed some of the fireworks that were lodged in the sink and dumped the dirty plates in, to be dealt with the next time that he gave a fuck about clean dishes. Or until Egbert returned from Germany and resumed picking up after him, as he was wont to do every time he visited the Strider apartment. Bro gave up on protesting after a while, reasoning that Egbert actually enjoyed cleaning for reasons that were unfathomable to him. Sometimes he had to wonder about his boyfriend’s habits.


    Later that night, after the boys had headed off to bed, Bro decided to get some prep work done so that he could begin working on a new stop-motion shoot for Plush Rump after Dave and John left for school. He changed into a pair of pajama bottoms and reclined the futon, transforming it into his makeshift bed so that he could sprawl out comfortably. He was stitching up a torn smuppet (a casualty from an unfortunate incident involving a box of noodles, a handful of kunai, and a misplaced skateboard) and humming to himself when his cell phone started blaring an all-too-familiar song.

    Bro started in surprise and glanced at the clock, doing a few mental calculations before answering the phone.

    “Egbert? Isn’t it like 4 A.M. over there?”

    Egbert’s voice was slightly tinny and scratchy over the line, but hearing it still made Bro smile. “Yes, well, my connection flight was delayed, and I’ve only just arrived at the hotel. Unfortunately, I’m not tired at all since I slept for the majority of the flight. Which, you’ll be happy to know, I survived. How are you, Broderick?”

    “Asides from missing you? Not bad. I took Dave and John paintballing today, and we ran into Rufio and his kid, so that was fun. Other than that, things are cool. Uneventful. How’re you? How’s the the hotel?”

    “It’s nice enough, I suppose. Business gives me an upgraded room, so I get a robe, slippers, and a fresh fruit platter. Which is all well and good, but it is a bit lonely.”

    Bro grinned wryly. “Yeah, it’s feeling pretty lonely over here too.” It was true, and to be honest, he was a little surprised at the intensity of his lonesomeness. After all, it wasn’t like he was able to see Egbert every day when he was in the States, but the fact that he didn’t have that possibility of seeing him for a solid week was difficult to bear with. Add to that the likelihood that he wouldn’t be able to call or text him whenever he wanted, or even receive a goodnight text, and Bro was feeling pretty empty inside. This call alone would end up being costly, but Bro didn’t care about the expenses if it meant getting to hear Egbert.

    “I wish I could be there with you in your bed,” Bro said. “Keep us both from getting lonely, being all intimate with you and everything.”

    He was praying that Egbert would cotton on to his intentions, but Bro couldn’t tell by his response. “That would be lovely, yes. It is a rather large bed, there certainly is plenty of room for you in it.”

    Bro hesitated, rolling the words around in his mouth. He was dancing around the subject, and he wanted to suggest something, but he didn’t know how agreeable Egbert would be to such a proposition. It was a matter that had to be treated carefully and with the utmost tact.

    “I want you to fuck me senseless.”

    Egbert laughed, static crackling through the line. “You are as blunt as ever, Broderick.”

    “No, but it’s true.” He dropped his voice so that it was huskier, low enough that Egbert had to listen attentively to every word. “I want you to pick me up with those strong manly arms of yours, spread me out on the bed, and have your way with me. You know, pound me into the mattress while whispering sweet nothings in my ear. Make me beg for more while I call your name.”

    And fuck, even just voicing the thought out loud was making him hard.

    The line was dead silent for a moment, and Bro was beginning to be afraid that the long-distance call had been dropped when Egbert spoke again, his voice sounding slightly off. “Broderick, are you intending to engage in… phone sex with me?”

    “Something along those lines, yeah. If you’re amenable to that prospect.”

    “While I’d prefer to be able to do it with you in person, I suppose I wouldn’t be too opposed to it, no.”

    “Ace.” Bro wet his lips, his mouth suddenly dry. “I guess this would be the part where I’d ask you what you’re wearing, but that means I’d have to tell you that I’m wearing my ratty old Muppet pajama pants. And while Animal is fucking boss, it’s not exactly the sexiest attire.”

    “Well, for what it’s worth, I find you plenty attractive no matter what you happen to be wearing,” Egbert reassured him.

    “And thank god for that, or else you’d probably have dumped me after our first date, since despite the fact that I was mad stylin’ in those threads, apparently it’s not in vogue to wear a baseball cap with a suit. Hold the phone, I just need to do something real quick first.”

    Bro got up and checked the hallway, listening for any sign of the boys, but he heard no noise coming from Dave’s room. It was a school night, and he was pretty sure that they were exhausted from playing paintball that evening anyway. Still, he shut the door to the living room firmly and, after staring at it for a minute, found a sock and hung it over the doorknob, hoping that they understood the universal code for “Getting it on, do not disturb.” On second thought, he shoved the heavy trunk that he used to carry his puppets in when he was bringing them out on gigs in front of the door. He was not taking any chances – the last thing he needed was for John to wake up thirsty and head to the kitchen for a glass of water, only to find his friend’s big brother jacking off to his father’s voice.

    Bro returned to the futon and moved the half-sewn smuppet to the ground before sitting down, hissing in pain as something sharp stabbed him in the thigh. He dug out the needle and the spool of thread from beneath him, threw the offending items on the floor, and lay down, picking up the phone once more.

    “So, uh.” Bro cleared his throat and tried again. “What are you doing right now?”

    Egbert sounded slightly amused when he answered evasively, “I think you can imagine well enough what I am doing.”

    “Fucking tease.” Bro allowed himself to fantasize for a moment and envisioned Egbert lying in his hotel bed across the ocean, his hand skimming up the inside of his thigh and pressing between his legs.

    “Dammit,” he muttered, shoving his hand down his pants to grip his rapidly hardening bulge.

    Egbert chuckled, his voice throaty and deep in his ear. “It’s nice to see that I can still affect you when I’m not even in the same country as you.”

    “Egbert,” Bro told him, “you could affect me even if you were dressed in a chicken suit on a drag show.”

    “Well, I certainly hope that would never be the case.”

    “I don’t know, I think you could work it. You’d be the sexiest chicken to ever exist. I mean, rooster. The alpha male of all cocks. Yeah.”

    “I get it, don’t worry. And I’m glad you think so highly of me. I do wish I could be with you right now, though,” Egbert added wistfully. “Just so I could hold you in my arms.”

    A lump formed in Bro’s throat as the weight of the separation bore down on him. “Yeah. Yeah, I’d like that.” He squeezed his eyes shut, but a single tear leaked out anyway, rolling down his cheek and leaving behind a wet trail of shame. He was lonelier than ever, with 5000 miles and a vast ocean separating him from Egbert. He tucked his phone between his ear and his shoulder while he grabbed a pillow and hugged it close, desperate for contact and the feel of a warm body pressed up against his own. The pillow couldn’t wrap its arms around him and hold him close to its chest, where he could relax his guarded expression and lose himself in its embrace – but it was better than nothing.

    “What else would you do to me if you were here?”

    “Kiss you,” Egbert answered without hesitation.

    And god, Bro fervently wished he could. He wet his lips, conjuring up the taste of him, smoky and sweet, on the tip of his tongue.

    “Starting with your neck,” Egbert continued. “Because I know how much you enjoy being kissed there.”

    “Mmm,” Bro purred, turning his head to the side and trailing his fingers down his own neck as he recalled their past encounters and the feel of Egbert’s lips against his skin.

    “Then I suppose I’d work my way up towards your mouth.” Egbert’s voice suddenly took on a mischievous tone, and Bro could practically see his familiar blue eyes twinkling playfully. “Of course, kissing you in such a position would undoubtedly bring me in rather close contact with your extremities…”

    Bro laughed breathlessly as the scene played out in his head. Egbert would break the kiss so that he could speak, but his lips would still brush over his jawline, breath hot against his skin as he murmured tantalizing words of lust and love. Even as his mouth was otherwise occupied, he’d roll his hips downward to meet the heat of Bro’s groin. “Yeah, it would. Not that I’m complaining, since my extremities would be pretty happy to make contact with yours. Let the ambassador of the Egbertian kingdom know that the nation of Striderdick is keen to establish negotiations with your lands down under. My soldier’s eagerly standing at attention in anticipation of your response.”

    Egbert laughed, and Bro was pretty sure that he was shaking his head in amusement. “All right, I’ll play along with your extended metaphor and let you know that the ambassador is equally standing erect over here as well.”

    Bro paused to consider the implications of this statement, and his cock twitched as he realized that Egbert was echoing his innuendo-laden sentiments. “I’m sorry, my train of thought was completely derailed at the image of you being hard for me. That freight car just abandoned ship, hurtled off the train tracks, and is dive bombing over the railing to the sea of jackoffitude because shit just got real.”

    “I don’t think that’s a real word, Broderick. And is that really such a foreign concept, that I reciprocate your own physical reactions when it comes to thinking about you in this context?”

    “No, I guess not. I mean, I am one fine piece of ass, and I‘ve definitely felt your manhood rubbing all sensually up against mine when we’re getting our mack on. And this is when I’d tell you to shut up and get on with it, because my aching cock is hungry for some friction.” Bro bent his knees and spread them just far apart so that he could press the pillow between his legs in imitation of his fantasy Egbert bearing down on him. He bit his lip in response to the much needed pressure, trying to keep his breath steady and in control.

    “Why would I want to be silent, when I could be telling you how much I love you?” And it was corny but romantic, and Bro’s heart kind of melted a little at his words. “And how much I… want you.”

    Bro’s eyes fluttered shut as he tipped his head back and basked in the sound of Egbert’s velvety voice. He arched his hips up, pressing into the pillow and grinding against it as he sighed. “As long as you don’t stop what you’re doing, you can say anything you want.”

    “Believe me, I don’t want to stop.”

    “Good. Good, then we’re on the same wavelength.” Bro wedged a hand between his body and the pillow he still clutched tightly, and he rocked up into the palm of his own hand.

    “Can I just— be on top?” he gasped.

    “Whatever you want, Broderick.”

    “Good,” Bro breathed, rolling over onto his stomach with the pillow still clamped between his thighs. “Because that’s all I want to do. Just— be on top of you, rubbing up against you…”

    “Like that night at the resort?”

    Bro smiled as he recalled their time together during their ski vacation. He’d be lying if he said that he hadn’t thought about that first night when jerking off since then. “Yeah. Just like that.” It wasn’t hard at all for him to conjure up the image of him on top of Egbert, kissing him as he explored the canvas of his body.

    He slid down the seam of the pillow, relishing in the way the edge traced down his shaft and over his balls. The angle of the pillow made it easier for him to imagine that it was Egbert’s cock rubbing up against his own. He hummed in pleasure, grinding down harder and faster to get the friction that he so desperately craved, and—

    And Bro heard the warning beep of a low battery. His eyes flew open. “Shitfuckdamn,” he hissed, “My phone’s about to die!”

    “What? Now?”

    “I know, fuck!” He was already up off the futon and scrambling for his phone charger. He had no idea where he had last placed it, and he tore through the room, upending smuppets and checking to see if it had gotten tangled up with any of the other wires that crisscrossed the living room floor. He swore, cursing his terrible luck. He was about ready to bust down the door to Dave’s room, obvious boner or not, and demand to use his charger when he spotted the cord.

    He breathed a sigh of relief and fished it out from underneath Lil’ Cal, patting him on the head. “Thanks for safeguarding this for me, little buddy.”

    After fumbling with the cable, he finally succeeded in plugging his phone in, and it buzzed happily in response. He stretched the cord as far as it would go and fell back on the futon.

    “God, talk about the shittiest timing. Where were we?”

    “I believe you were supposed to be on top of me?”

    “Oh, yeah.” Bro readjusted the pillow beneath him so that he was pressed up flat against it. “Basically going to town on you, grinding up against your cock and driving myself practically— insane—” His breath caught in his throat and he wormed a hand between his body and the pillow to grip himself.

    Egbert chuckled, but it was slightly unsteady, so different from his usual sturdy, calm voice. “Trust me, you’re equally driving me insane.”

    Bro’s only response was a strangled noise as he rutted against the firm pillow, his eyes squeezed shut as if his life depended on it. He was with Egbert, kissing him and carding his fingers through his short hair, secure in his embrace. Egbert’s fingers were gently trailing down his back, lightly skimming against his skin and making him shiver before circling around to trace a path down his stomach.

    There was only a small part of his brain that was cognizant of the fact that he was alone in his living room and humping his own hand while Dave and John were just down the hall. The rest of him was lost in the dream world that he had conjured, where it was Egbert’s hand that was palming him through his boxers, Egbert’s body that was pressed close to his.

    He was trying his best to be quiet, but a breathy moan slipped out as he thrust up against the pillow. If he had been in his right mind, he would have had second thoughts about doing so, out of fear of being loud enough that the boys could hear him. Or he would have at least covered the mouthpiece of the phone so that Egbert wouldn’t hear him sounding so needy and vulnerable. As it was, he was being driven wild by his overactive imagination and didn’t care enough to worry about how he sounded, all he knew was that he was about to burst and yes, fuck yes

    “Not yet,” Egbert said suddenly, his voice catching him off guard.

    “W-what?” Bro said, stuttering to a halt and opening his eyes. He tried to catch his breath, having unwittingly begun to pant in his feverish haste.

    “I said, not yet. I’m not with you right now, I can’t temper you like I normally would in this situation, so I need you to slow down for me.”

    Bro fisted his hands into the pillowcase, groaning as he forced himself to be still. He was in control, he tried to tell himself, but it was hard for him to believe his own words. He wasn’t one for edging, lingering on the very brink of climax. He didn’t have that kind of self-restraint; he was hasty and preferred to keep things quick and dirty. Because he wasn’t used to keeping himself in check, it was almost painful to ignore the pulsing ache below his waistband.

    To resist from thinking about how badly he desired to give in to his body’s needs, he envisioned just what Egbert would do to temper him if he was there with him. Maybe he’d cease all contact entirely, leaving Bro in the lurch without the stimulation he so craved. Maybe he’d forbid Bro from touching himself and make him watch while he himself inched closer to orgasm. Maybe he’d order Bro to pleasure him without allowing him to come.

    Bro unconsciously shuddered, a shiver of delight racing up his spine at the very thought. Egbert wasn’t speaking anymore, and all Bro could hear was the little noises that he was making, the heaviness of his breath and its somewhat stilted cadence.

    He shut his eyes and simply listened to Egbert’s deep breathing, trying to imagine what he was doing to elicit such a reaction. This was the wrong tack to take, unfortunately, because the mental image of Egbert’s hand working up and down the length of his shaft only made him all the more desperate for release.

    “Fuck, Egbert, please…” he managed to choke out, trying to keep himself from squirming around like an antsy child. With his brain working overtime, he had almost passed the point of no return and he didn’t know how much longer he could hold on.

    He could hear Egbert’s breath hitch and his name on his lips —“Broderick”— and Bro was gone, unable to restrain himself any longer. But he couldn’t feel guilty, because he was pretty sure that Egbert was hitting his peak at the same exact time, and the very knowledge made him come undone.

    Bro buried his face into the pillow to stifle his gasps, and stars burst behind closed eyelids, white-hot and blinding, as he cut off his air supply and heightened his senses even further. He rocked into the touch of his own hand as he came, unable to think of nothing else but the mantra that was echoing in his head, EgbertEgbertEgbertohgod.

    When he finally stilled, one last wave of pleasure making him shiver, he surfaced, sucking in gasps of clean air and trying to regain some control over his body. He tossed the pillow that he had been straddling aside and pulled his sticky shirt off, using it to clean himself up and dropping it on the floor to deal with tomorrow. He sank back down onto the mattress, letting the warm afterglow engulf him as he lifted his phone to his ear.

    “Jesus Christ,” he breathed. “If this was what it’s like not even getting to touch you or see you…” he trailed off. “Fuck, I can’t wait ‘til I get to see you again.”

    Egbert exhaled, and his voice was warm and content, but tired, when he spoke. “I can’t wait either, Broderick.”

    “Yeah. It’s gonna be awesome. And thanks, Egbert. If it’s not wicked expensive, you should call me again sometime this week, and I can show you a good time.” Even though he knew Egbert couldn’t see him, he raised his eyebrows suggestively.

    Egbert laughed appreciatively. “It certainly was a good time. I promise I’ll try to call again if I can. I’m not sure how feasible it is, given the time difference and my business conferences, but we’ll see. In any case, goodnight, Broderick. Sleep well. I love you.”

    “Love you too. G’night.” There was a click as Egbert hung up, and the apartment was filled with silence once more.

    And it was with his phone clutched in his hand and a smile on his face that Bro drifted off into a deep, peaceful sleep.


    Bro awoke the next morning to the sound of someone banging on the door. He groaned and got up, groggily heading for the front door before realizing that the sound was coming from the opposite direction. Bro scrubbed the sleep from his eyes and refocused on the hallway door, a cold wave of shock washing over him as he realized that he had never removed the chest from where it was blocking the entrance to the main room of the apartment. He swore, wide-awake at last, and hightailed it to the door, where he could hear Dave cussing him out.

    “Bro, what the actual fuck? We’re gonna be late, and it’s all your fault. The fuck are you even doing in there?”

    “Yeah, and I’m starving!” John chimed in. “I want my Cheerios!”

    “Fuck, hang on! Give a guy a moment, I literally just woke up all of ten seconds ago,” Bro groused, shoving the puppet trunk out of the way and opening the door to find two annoyed teenagers looking up at him.

    “Man, finally!” John said, ducking under Bro’s arms and racing to the kitchen. The bus was due to arrive in four minutes, and as a growing boy, John wasn’t about to pass up the chance for breakfast.

    Dave eyed Bro suspiciously from behind his shades, taking in his disheveled appearance and tousled bedhead. “I don’t want to know what you did last night,” he said finally.

    Bro had the distinct impression that he was being judged. But Dave had no idea what he did last night. The only person who witnessed it was Cal, and if there was one thing about him that Bro loved, it was that Lil’ Cal never judged him. “Good,” Bro said simply. “Because I don’t want to tell you.” He stepped aside to let Dave pass, and they were both perfectly fine with that arrangement.

    Chapter Text

    Much to Bro’s eternal disappointment, he was unable to talk to Egbert on the phone for the rest of their week apart, an unfortunate side effect of a six hour time difference and conflicting schedules. So by the time Egbert texted him to let him know that he had landed at the JFK International Airport in New York and would be arriving at Houston in three hours time, Bro was beyond antsy to see him. He was feeling reckless and a little impulsive, so he decided to seize the day and take a taxi down to the airport to wait for Egbert. He was still wary of airport security after his last disastrous encounter with them, but he was relieved to find that he didn’t have to pass through security to meet Egbert at the baggage claim.

    He was a few minutes early, so he stood there with his hands shoved in his pockets, rocking back and forth on his heels. When people began to flood the area, he kept his eyes peeled for a familiar fedora, and his heart skipped a beat when he spotted it. Egbert was standing at the far end of the carousel, waiting for his luggage. Bro recognized his old-fashioned suitcase as it emerged onto the belt, and he ambled over so that he was standing next to Egbert. When the suitcase trundled up to them, Bro reached for it at the same time as Egbert, and their hands brushed together.

    Egbert looked up at Bro, astonishment creasing his features as he recognized who was standing next to him.

    Bro grinned as he lugged the suitcase off of the belt. “Hey,” he said, leaning in to kiss a still-shocked Egbert. He couldn’t do what he wanted to do, which was to make out with him like a desperate, horny teenager, because they were in public and he was already getting dirty looks.

    “Well, this is a surprise,” Egbert finally said when he regained his voice, breaking out into a smile.

    “Yeah, well…” Bro said with a sheepish shrug of his shoulders. “I couldn’t wait. I needed to see you. I missed you.”

    “I’ve missed you too,” Egbert replied warmly. “More than words can say.” He looked as if he wanted to kiss him again but settled for the more innocuous option of holding his hand.

    Bro insisted on carrying Egbert’s luggage to the valet parking lot, outright refusing to listen to his protests. Eventually Egbert’s jetlag outweighed his need to be a gentleman, and he gave up and let Bro carry the suitcase. After the hassle of retrieving the car and loading it up, Bro climbed into the passenger seat next to Egbert.

    “Okay, we’re finally out of the public eye, I am officially declaring this a makeout zone. Fail to do so, and you will be towed.”

    Egbert didn’t dignify him with a response and simply sealed the distance between them with a kiss. Not for the first time, Bro cursed the joystick that always wedged between them whenever they kissed inside the car. He wriggled out of his seatbelt and knelt on the seat so that he was directly facing Egbert and could deepen the kiss between them.

    When he surfaced for air, his eyes were shining with exhilaration behind the dark lenses of his shades. “God, I really have missed you. This better not be a regular thing, I don’t know if I can handle these longass weeks without you in my life.”

    “Believe me, the feeling is mutual, and you are one of the reasons why I am so happy to be back home. And I don’t think that it will become a regular thing, so you have nothing to worry about. And now I’m afraid I’m quite exhausted from traveling, so I hope you won’t mind if I drop you off at your apartment and head home to rest…”

    “Nah, it’s cool, I know you’ve gotta be mad tired, and I have work tonight anyway. Just wanted to see you, that’s all.”

    “Thank you for coming all the way down here, Broderick. I’m glad your face was the first familiar one I saw after landing. Now buckle your seatbelt. Safety is important.”

    “Yeah, yeah…” Bro rolled his eyes but he clicked his seatbelt together again.

    As Egbert pulled out of the parking lot, one of his hands found its way to Bro’s knee. Bro took hold of his hand and squeezed it, smiling when he squeezed it back in return. It was good to have Egbert home.


    The week went by far too quickly, and before Bro knew it, it was Thursday night and the eve of his big date with Egbert. He was simultaneously excited and nervous, and he told Egbert so when they were talking on the phone.

    “I must confess that I am quite excited too!” Egbert said, and Bro heard him take a sip of his evening coffee. “But what is there for you to be nervous about?”

    There was a short pause before Bro filled the silence and said, “Nothing, I guess.” If Egbert didn’t know, he wasn’t about to tell him that he had the first time jitters and was afraid that he wouldn’t be able to perform. “Well, in any case, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but i think we might have hit a small snag in our plans for after the show…”

    “Oh, hell no,” Bro immediately said. “I don’t care what it is, I’m not letting anything else stand between me and that moment. What is it?”

    “What are we going to do with the boys? Obviously, John cannot be in the house if we are going to be…” he coughed delicately, “otherwise occupied.” Bro smirked at the expression but let him continue. “And if John slept over with Dave, I think there would be some questions asked as to why you aren’t returning. Plus, I’m not so sure that I’m comfortable leaving the two of them alone for the night without any supervision. Especially considering the amount of dangerous items you keep in your apartment.”

    “My apartment is totally safe, what are you even talking about,” Bro said, a little offended. “Dave’s a big boy, he knows how to take care of himself. But yeah, don’t think it’s a good idea to leave them there. They’ll totally know that we’re staying up all night banging at your place when I don’t come home. Shit.” He took off his baseball cap and ran his fingers through his hair in frustration, causing it to stand up on end. “Tell you what,” he said, jamming the cap back on his head. “I’ll talk to Ruf at work tonight, see if maybe Tavros can coincidentally ask them to sleep over tomorrow night.”

    “Ahhh,” Egbert said, sounding relieved. He trusted Rufio, who had a sensible head on his shoulders, and if John and Dave slept over with a mutual friend, it would circumvent any awkward conversations about their intentions for the night. “Yes, this sounds like it would be the best solution, if it doesn’t inconvenience Rufio.”

    “Nah, it’ll be fine,” Bro said, brimming with confidence. “He’s not working tomorrow night, and you know what he’s like with his kid. He wants Tavros to have friends.”

    “You make it sound like the poor child has no friends.”

    “Well, he is kind of a dweeb,” Bro said matter-of-factly. “Nice kid, don’t get me wrong, but a little socially awkward. I’m talking about friends outside of the kid who we’re pretty sure is already doing drugs and that kid with the lisp who hacked the school system and sent out a mass notice saying that school was closed due to a burst pipe. Anyway, what is this, gossip mom central? Ruf will be all for him hanging out with Dave and John. We’ll make it work. But speaking of which, I’ve gotta dash or I’ll be late.”

    “All right, Broderick. Let me know what Rufio has to say, and I will see you tomorrow evening.”

    “Fuck yes.” Bro smiled anyway, even though Egbert couldn’t see him. “Tomorrow at 7. My body is ready.”

    Egbert laughed. “I’m sure it is, and I hope it still is come tomorrow. Good luck at work. I love you.”

    “Love you too,” Bro answered and ended the call, shoving the phone into his pocket and bounding down the stairs in the hopes of making it to work on time.


    Bro was on his best behavior at work that night. He didn’t make snarky comments to people who requested stupid songs that didn’t jive with his set list, he didn’t play “Barbie Girl” three times in a row to spite the obnoxious drunks who sloshed beer onto his platform, and he didn’t skip out to grab a drink at the bar. He liked his job too much to lose it, so he figured he ought to play by the boss’s rules for a while instead of testing his limits.

    Both Bro and Rufio were working until close, so when 2 A.M. rolled around and they shut down Trouble for the night, they started walking home together as per their unspoken tradition.

    “Hey, Ruf. I’ve got a favor to ask you,” Bro said as he tapped out a cigarette from its carton and dug out his lighter.

    “Yeah? Hit me.”

    “My pleasure,” Bro quipped, socking him in the shoulder and causing Rufio to shoot him a look. “No, but seriously, I need your help. Me and Egbert are going out on a date tomorrow and I am totally getting laid. Problem is, we need someone to be our fairy-fucking-godmother and take the little dudes off of our hands.”

    “Am I supposed to be the fairy-fucking-godmother?”

    “Yeah, that’d be pretty sweet if you were,” Bro said, lighting his cigarette and taking a drag. “We thought maybe Tavros could, you know, ‘invite’ Dave and John over for a sleepover or some such shit.”

    “You know, that’s actually not a bad idea,” Rufio mused. “They all had a good time when we went paintballing two weeks ago. And besides, even if he hasn’t said so, Tav’s got the hots for Dave—”

    “I knew it!” Bro burst out triumphantly. “Because I’m 99.85% positive that Dave feels the exact same way.”

    “—and it wouldn’t hurt him to be more social instead of playing games for girls all night. Yeah, I’m down with that. I’ll clear it with Tav and you can dump them off before your date. And I’ll keep an eye on them so they don’t do stupid shit like blow up eggs in the microwave like the last time Tavros had friends over.”

    “…Dude, that sounds like fun.”

    “Oh, it was awesome, makes a really satisfying boom, but it sucks when you’re the one who has to clean up the aftermath.”

    “That’s why you make them do the dirty work. They make the mess, they can clean it up. Boom, end of story.”

    “Yeah, well, they were laughing and having a good time, I didn’t want to harsh their buzz. But if your kids do something stupid when they’re over here, it’s gonna be all on them.”

    “They’re teenage boys, Ruf. Of course they’re gonna do something stupid.”

    Rufio snorted in agreement, and they walked in silence for a little bit.

    “D’you think anything’s gonna come out of this thing with Dave and Tavros?” Bro finally asked, finishing his cigarette and carelessly flicking the butt onto the ground.

    “I don’t know,” Rufio replied. “I hope so, but I don’t think Tavros is going to be the one to make the first move and say it outright. It’ll take some serious confidence to go that route, and I don’t think he has the balls to take that first step.”

    “Oh , Christ,” Bro said, shaking his head in disgust. “I seriously doubt that Dave will initiate anything either, not after the clusterfuck that was that whole incident with him confessing to John. So they’re both gonna just be dancing around the subject, doing this whole complicated waltz of incompetence. Which’ll earn them a gold medal for fancy footwork but that won’t get them anywhere. Idiots.”

    “Yeah, well, we’ll see how tomorrow goes, if they make any breakthroughs,” Rufio said. “I’m turning here,” he added, jerking his head to the street on the right. “Catch you later, Bro.”

    “See you, man.” Bro nodded farewell to Rufio and headed homeward.

    When he returned to the apartment, he got ready for bed and crashed on the futon, but as much as he tried, he couldn’t sleep.

    This was going to be a long night.


    Five hours later, Dave stepped out of his room to find Bro in his pajamas, frowning at the hallway closet that held his clothes.

    “Bro, what are you doing?” he asked, a little afraid as to what the answer would be. He never knew what to expect when he posed that question to Bro, and he had regretted asking it on occasion. His big brother was wildly unpredictable, and he didn’t want to know what he was up to most of the time.

    “Trying to pick out what underwear I’m going to wear for my date with Egbert tonight,” Bro answered, rifling through the shoeboxes that held his underwear.

    “…Dude, it’s 7 A.M., you’re not going out for like another twelve hours,” Dave pointed out.

    “This is the most pivotal event of my life, Dave, it is crucial that I get everything right!”

    “Bro, Mr. Egbert’s not going to care what you wear for underwear. You could wear a pink thong and he wouldn’t give a shit.”

    “What, you mean these?” Bro asked, holding up a skimpy hot pink thong. “I mean, I bought them for irony purposes, but…”

    He was pretty sure that Dave’s eye was twitching behind his sunglasses.

    “Yeah, I gotta go. See you after school.” Bro watched as Dave quickly absconded, vaguely amused but consternated nonetheless. Consulting Dave had been no help whatsoever. He sighed and ambled back into the living room, flopping down onto the futon with a grunt. He picked up his phone and stared at for a minute before deciding to call for some advice. He dialed a number that he knew by heart and waited for the familiar voice to answer.

    “Hey, Ruf, hypothetical question. What kind of underwear do you think Egbert likes?”

    Rufio sounded more confused than anything when he answered, “What?”

    “You heard me. I’m getting laid tonight and I don’t know what the fuck to wear.”

    “Dude, why are you asking me?” Rufio asked incredulously. “If I knew what underwear he liked, I think we’d have a bigger problem here.”

    “Well, yeah, but hypothetically, if you had to take a guess.”

    “Dude. Dude, just wear what you normally wear.”

    “That advice bites, it’s not special if I just wear what I normally wear—”

    “No, dude—”

    “—Dave said I should wear a thong—”

    “No, Bro, what, don’t wear a thong. I sincerely doubt he was being serious.”


    “Bro. Bro, just— shoosh. Calm the fuck down.” Rufio finished spiking up his trihawk and put down the bottle of hair glue. After rinsing his hands, he snapped up his phone and switched it off of speaker mode. He rolled his eyes as he left the bathroom, holding the cell to his ear. “Then don’t wear any underwear! See what I care! Yeah, fuck you too!” He hung up on Bro and let out a huff of annoyance. As much as he cared about his bro, he sure as hell could be exasperating sometimes. But Rufio had enough on his plate to worry about that morning. Namely, getting Tavros to school on time without getting engrossed in a heated debate about underwear over the phone.

    “Tav! Let’s get a move on!” he called as he rounded the corner and very nearly knocked into his son, who was standing just out of sight. “And what are you doing?” he asked, looking down at him and arching his eyebrows.

    “Nothing,” Tavros said, raising a hand to touch a flushed cheek. “I was just going to get you and say that we should probably go now when, uh, I heard Dave’s name…”

    “Oh yeah, of course, your little flushcrush.”

    “He’s not—” Tavros started to protest heatedly, but Rufio interrupted him before he could finish denying.

    “Tav, you’re blushing,” he pointed out. “I think that makes him a dead ringer for a flushcrush.” Tavros didn’t have a response to that, so he just looked down and scuffed at the floor with the toe of his sneaker. Rufio put a hand on his shoulder. “S’nothing to be embarrassed about, kiddo. He likes you, haven’t you been talking to him online almost every night?”

    “Well. Yeah, I definitely am, it’s great.” Tavros couldn’t keep a grin from tugging at his lips.

    “So there you go,” Rufio said, clapping him on the back. “And you get to hang out with him tonight too, remember.”

    “Wait. What?

    “Oh, right, you were asleep when I got home from work last night. I didn’t get a chance to tell you. Bro and his man are going out on a date tonight and needed someone to watch their boys, so I said that Dave and John could spend the night. We’ve got those old cocoon sleeping bags in the closet, it’s no big deal.”

    He could almost see the cogs in Tavros’s head working. “So you mean I’m having a sleepover with Dave Strider tonight?”

    “And John Egbert, yeah.”

    “Wow. Okay, I don’t really have any words, for all the things I’m feeling right now. This is going to be so much fun!”

    Rufio laughed. “Yeah, I bet it will. But you can think of those words while you’re on your way to school. Are you ready to go?”


    “Alright, go wait out by the motorcycle while I find my keys, and we’ll hit the road. Blame Bro for making us late.”

    “I thought it was because you forgot to set the alarm clock last night.”

    “Easier to blame Bro. Come on, sport,” he said as he ruffled Tavros’s hair. “Let’s get going.”


    Bro put down the phone and stared at it petulantly, a little put out by his unsuccessful attempt to wrangle helpful advice from Rufio. His question was no closer to being answered. After five minutes of waffling back and forth, he decided to bite the bullet and call the man himself.

    “Well, hello, Broderick!” Egbert said when he answered the phone. “It’s rare to get a phone call from you so early in the day. I was just about to message you to let you know that I received your text from last night and John thinks it sounds fun, so we’re all set on that front. How are you?”

    “I’m cool, like always. But I got a question for you: are you a boxers or briefs kind of person?”

    “It’s not as if you haven’t seen me sans trousers before, Broderick. I think you ought to know by now that I tend to wear briefs.”

    “No, no, I mean on other people. Specifically on me.”

    “Are you asking me for advice on what underwear you should wear tonight?”

    Goddammit, Bro cursed internally. He wasn’t supposed to find out, but Egbert was a shrewd man. “Maybe. Who knows. I could just be conducting a survey, going around and calling people to harass them into spilling about what type of underwear they find most sexually attractive. This is important shit, you know. Top notch, Class A, FBI kind of shit. I’m putting my very life on the line by even telling you about this classified investigation.”

    “Just wear whatever you normally wear,” Egbert told him, tuning out his spiel. “I assure you that I will find you attractive no matter what you’re wearing. Honestly.”

    “This is not helping me.”

    “Tell you what,” Egbert said. “You normally wear boxers, don’t you? At least, that’s all that I’ve seen you in. Wear a pair of those. And if it helps you make your decision…” Egbert’s voice dropped to avoid being heard by anyone within earshot, although Bro was reasonably sure that he was using his hands-free headset and driving to work after dropping John off at school, judging by the noises he detected in the background. “It’s not like we’ll be wearing them for very long anyway…”

    Bro cleared his throat. “Oh. Well. Way to make me pop a boner, Egbert, thanks.”

    Egbert laughed, and Bro could practically see his Prankster’s Gambit skyrocketing. “That was the plan,” he teased.

    “Fuck you,” Bro informed him.

    “I thought we were saving that for tonight?”

    “I am hanging up on you now. I need to go take a shower and take care of this problem.”

    “You do that,” Egbert said, amusement lining his voice. “And I look forward to being able to take care of any other problems that arise in the very near future.”

    Bro hung up without answering. He was used to being the one who made the sexual innuendoes, and now that the tables had turned on him, he wasn’t sure how to feel. He looked down at his lap and heaved a sigh, getting up to head for the bathroom. But first, he stopped at the closet at the very end of the hallway and grabbed a pair of underwear from a shoebox. Boxers it was.

    Chapter Text

    Even with the underwear crisis resolved, Bro was still faced with the daunting task of choosing what else to wear for his evening out with Egbert. He hadn’t been so nervous since their first date, and he knew that it was largely because of the magnitude of this date and what was sure to follow it. However, part of his anxiety was due to the fact that he had not the slightest idea what appropriate musical-going attire was.

    “Yo, Dave, I need a queer eye for the fashion-challenged guy here,” he said, poking his head into the bedroom. “What the fuck does one wear to a play, exactly?”

    Dave looked up from the rusty orange text that filled his screen. “Dude, do I look like I’m the royal dispenser for fashion advice? I have no fucking clue, I’ve never seen a play in my life. Unless you count the school production of The Wizard of Oz, in which case I’d say that you should wear a fanny pack and soccer mom shorts.”

    Bro stared at him, thoroughly unamused. “Fine, I don’t love you either, Dave. I’m going to ask Cal.” He withdrew his head and, grabbing a pile of options from the hallway closet, entered the living room, where Lil’ Cal was chilling out on the couch.

    “S’up, little man?” he asked, dropping the armful of clothes onto the floor and giving Cal a respectful fistbump in greeting. “Dave’s being a douche again, so I need your help. And I’ve gotta preclude this with a disclaimer: we both know that my levels of chillness are through the roof. I exude astronomical amounts of cool from my very pores. Maybe I was born with it. Maybe it’s Maybelline. Anyway, of course that extends to my wardrobe. I possess only the flyest of threads and the dopest of rags. But that doesn’t mean I have any fucking idea about which I should wear tonight. I don’t do this whole fancy night out on the town shit. And since you’re my wingman and all, I figured I could count on you for help. You’re a dependable man, Cal, unlike certain other members of this household.” Bro methodically sorted his clothing into a semi-circle, sectioning it off into wedges based on the type of clothing.

    “Alright, little dude, you know what to do.” He gently tossed Lil’ Cal into the air so that he fell on the floor with a soft fwump, his floppy arms splayed in the direction of a solid white button-down shirt. Softer and more comfortable than a more formal dress shirt, but still nice enough to look sharp. He had to commend himself on thinking to consult with Cal, who always knew best. He repeated his little game until he had a complete outfit picked out.

    “Sport coat and tie and black jeans? Aight, Cal, I’m trusting your judgment here,” Bro said, nodding at him in approval. He wasn’t too worried; Lil’ Cal had never steered him wrong before, but he was venturing into unexplored territory here with an unfamiliar public venue and a lot riding on how this date went. He dumped the rejects onto the futon to deal with later and scooped up his planned outfit. On his way to the hallway, he stopped to grab an orange baseball cap from the collection of hats that spilled all over his spare soundboard and old mixing gear. It matched his tie, after all.

    Bro spent a good hour and a half in the bathroom showering and getting ready until Dave started pounding on the door and hollering.

    “Bro, you’ve been in there for forever! I seriously need to pee, it’s like fucking Christmas up in my bladder here and what do you know, you’re commandeering the bathroom like you’re Captain Kirk and the toilet is the goddamn Starship Enterprise. And if I don’t get to the Enterprise in the next thirty seconds, I’m gonna make like a redshirt and croak. Bones is gonna have a field day with this one, turning to you all grimly and just pronouncing, ‘He’s dead, Jim.’ And it’s gonna be all your fault, because you’re being a dick and still lingering in impulse when you should be hitting warp drive. Hey, can you at least do me a favor and like, I don’t know, transport all this urine that’s just kind of brewing inside me like the most vile batch of coffee to ever grace this side of the galaxy to the toilet, before I go and whiz all over your precious smuppets? Beam it up, Scotty! Dude, are you even listening to me?”

    “What? Sorry, all I can hear is ‘Blah blah blah, I’m a whiny little bitch with a bladder the size of a pea.’ And yes, pun totally intended.” Bro turned to the side and puffed out his chest to check himself out in the mirror while Dave cussed him out on the other side of the door. Finally, he deemed himself date-worthy and decided to let his little brother out of his misery, so he swung open the door.

    “How do I look?” he asked Dave, hitching his thumbs in his lapels and giving him his most winning smile.

    “Like a fresh summer daisy. Now let me go, Jesus Christ. I was this fucking close to pissing in a bottle and swapping it with your apple juice.” Dave forcefully shoved past Bro and slammed the door shut, making a mad dash for the toilet.

    “You wouldn’t dare.”

    “Oh yeah? Don’t test me,” Dave challenged as he relieved himself.

    “I have got to stop letting you hanging out with the mini-Egbert,” Bro commented, leaning against the wall and folding his arms. “His dumbass movies are rubbing off on you. Speaking of which, hurry up, we should probably head over to Ruf’s soon.”

    Bro waited for a full fifteen seconds, listening attentively. “…Are you still peeing?”

    “Fuck you,” Dave said, but he finally flushed the toilet and there was the sound of running water as he washed his hands. “Let’s go,” he said, opening the door and grabbing the overnight bag he had deposited in the hallway. Bro snickered and went to snatch up his keys and wallet. As they headed down the street in the direction of the Nitrams’ apartment building, Bro tried to convince himself that there wasn’t a colony of butterflies flitting around in his stomach like it was the motherfucking Botanical Gardens.


    When they knocked on the door to the apartment, Tavros was the one who answered, flinging the door open and greeting Dave with a huge grin. “Heyyy!” he enthused.

    “Hey Dave!” John piped up from behind Tavros, waving hello with equal gusto.

    “Pfft. Dorks.” Dave shook his head, but a telltale smile was quirking the corner of his mouth.

    “S’up,” Bro said, but he was already looking over the boys’ heads in search for his bro and his date. His eyes lit up when he spotted Egbert sitting at the cramped kitchen table with Rufio, sipping a mug of coffee.

    “Hey,” he said, sidling over to the table. “Sorry we’re a little late. Dave was taking a legendary infinite leak, blame him.”

    Dave punched Bro in the arm. “Dude, I wouldn’t have had to take a legendary infinite leak if you didn’t lock yourself in the bathroom for like an hour and a half. Don’t even try to pin this on me.”

    “Hey, primping ain’t easy.” Bro’s eyes flicked over to Egbert, who was smiling broadly, the implications of the remark failing to escape him. “Yeah, yeah… It takes time to look this good. All for you, babe.” He added the semi-ironic term of endearment for good measure, enjoying the groans it elicited from their respective kids. He never ceased to take amusement from embarrassing Dave.

    Egbert laughed good-naturedly and stood up. “I’m flattered,” he said, giving him a chaste kiss hello.

    “Annnd just like that, I’m out,” Dave said, swiveling around on the spot. “Later, Bro. Tav, be a gentleman and show me to your room?” he added in an undertone. Tavros’s face lit up in delight.

    “Oh, yeah, right this way!”

    “Yeah, I’m with you guys!” John hastily chimed in, setting off after Dave and Tavros. “Bye, Dad!”

    “Goodbye, son. Behave!” Egbert called after him, a slight note of warning in his voice, just as Bro replied to Dave’s parting words.

    “Later, asswipe. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

    Egbert turned and gave him a look.

    “What?” Bro said, spreading his hands wide defensively. “If he’s rude to me, I’m rude to him right back. How else is he gonna learn?”

    “Far be it from me to question your methods of parenting, Broderick. But I believe we ought to get going now – we do have a show to catch, after all.”

    A thrill of excitement coursed through Bro as he remembered where exactly they were going. “Yeah. Yeah, this is going to be pretty fucking sweet.”

    “Have fun,” Rufio said, smirking at Bro and raising a knowing eyebrow.

    “Oh, I will,” Bro replied, his voice laden with innuendo as he gave him a parting fistbump.

    “You have a nice night too, Rufio,” Egbert said as they walked to the front door. “You have my number if you need to call me at any point, and I ought to wish you good luck. You’ll need it, with three teenage boys running rampant.”

    Bro laughed. “Yeah, don’t really envy you there, bro.”

    “I can handle it, no biggie. I got through Tav’s stage when he was like four and wanted to practice flying by jumping off of every high surface imaginable, I can get through one night with the three of them. You guys go have a good night.”

    “Alright, see you tomorrow, man.”

    Rufio shut the door behind him, and Egbert took hold of Bro’s hand. “You look very handsome tonight,” he told him as they headed for the elevator. “That hour and a half was worth it,” he added, his eyes twinkling.

    “Yeah?” Bro said, the warm glow of pride tinting his ears a faint pink. “Not too casual?” he asked, doing a poor job at concealing the worry that still kept him slightly on edge. “You’re a little more dressed up than I am, but I guess that’s always the case.”

    “You’re perfect,” Egbert reassured him, squeezing his hand. Bro smiled and squeezed back, his anxiety assuaged.

    “It’s unironic how fucking excited I am for this,” he commented as he slipped into the familiar passenger seat of Egbert’s car.

    “I’ll confess that I haven’t had a chance to listen to any of the songs, so I’m quite looking forward to it myself,” Egbert said. “It’ll be an adventure, I’m sure.”

    “You’re not ready,” Bro informed him.


    “Nope. This shit’s gonna blow your mind. Hell, it’s gonna blow my mind, and I’m prepared because at least I know the music.” He paused before saying ‘fuck it’ to appropriate behavior and added, “And maybe that’s not the only thing that’s getting blown tonight…”

    Egbert made a scandalized noise and exclaimed, “Broderick!”

    Bro raised the palms of his hands in mock surrender. “Sorry, sorry!” he said, laughing. “Spoiler alert: I’m not really sorry.”

    “I gathered as much. When are you ever sorry for the things you say?”

    “Yeah, pretty much never.” Bro cleared his throat awkwardly. His voice was low and a little bit unsure as he said, “No, but seriously, I’d, uh, be down for that…”

    Egbert glanced over at him and smiled. “A fine idea, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves now.”

    “Right, right.” Bro wiped his palms on his jeans, a little disturbed with the way that his hands were sweating. It wasn’t cool in the slightest, both figuratively and literally. “Date first, sex afterwards.”

    “There’s nothing to be nervous about, Broderick,” Egbert informed him as he swiveled the wheel of the car, making a right turn at a stoplight.

    Not for the first time, Bro was vaguely unsettled at Egbert’s ability to see right through him. “I’m not nervous, why the fuck would I be nervous,” he protested. “That’s not even close to being a thing, man.”

    “If you say so,” Egbert replied, his voice mild and non-confrontational.

    “I do say so,” Bro said, folding his arms across his chest, and that was that.

    When they arrived at the theatre, Bro had to consciously work to keep from embarrassing himself in public and contain his emotions, maintaining that carefully cultivated poker face. He did well until they approached the theatre and he halted to look at the posters promoting the Avenue Q production, each featuring a close-up of a puppet and a corresponding tagline: “I am not a closeted homowhatever!” “Slightly overweight puppet seeking soulmate.” “What the fuzz are you looking at?” “Warning: Full puppet nudity!”

    Egbert drew up short when he realized that Bro was no longer with him. He turned around to find him staring at the posters, an expression of complete and utter glee on his face. “Broderick?” he questioned, cocking his head.

    “Shh, give me a second.” Bro held his hand up for a moment of silence. “I’m just basking in the glory of Avenue Q. Fuck, is this seriously my life right now? I’m not just dreaming or some such shit like that, right?”

    Egbert’s lips twitched into a smile. “I assure you that you’re not,” he said, reaching for his hand and lightly tugging him along. “Now come along, let’s get inside so we can find our seats before the show starts.”

    Still slightly dazed, Bro allowed Egbert to lead him into the theatre and present their tickets. When he saw the location of their seats, close enough to the stage to see every detail clearly, but not so close that they would have to strain their necks or deal with overly loud sound, he turned to Egbert with a look of utmost adoration.

    “I could kiss you,” he stated. “And I would, except I don’t think the middle of the theatre is the best place to go getting our mack on, so I’ll refrain.”

    “Besides, plenty of time for that later,” Egbert said with a mischievous glint in his eye that made Bro long even more to dip him into a kiss, but he chose to distract himself by burying his face in the playbill.

    When the theatre lights dimmed and the first strains of cheerful Sesame Street style music begin to play, Bro impulsively grabbed Egbert’s hand, unable to contain his excitement any longer.

    “This is already so fucking ironic, I love it,” Bro hissed into his ear. Egbert squeezed his hand in response and gave him a sidelong glance. Bro’s attention was riveted on the television screen onstage and its satirical introductory video segment, an adult parody of classic educational children’s TV, and Egbert had to smile at his look of sheer rapture. He turned his attention back to the stage as the television was cleared away and the upbeat notes of “It Sucks to Be Me” started up.


    The first act flew by in a whirl of song, color, and perverse humor.

    “Are you enjoying the production so far?” Egbert asked when the lights brightened to signal the intermission.

    “Yes,” Bro immediately answered. “Hell yes. Hell fucking yes, I am thoroughly enjoying this. Shit, these puppeteers are legendary, the music’s even better when it’s live, and the whole thing’s just fucking hilarious. What’s not to like? My one critique would be that sex scene, though. It was crude, no finesse to it – it’s not just about two puppets humping wildly, that’s an amateur move. And those cutaways to under the covers? A cheap copout.”

    Egbert propped his chin in his hand and listened attentively to his every word. If you had told him that one day he would be having a conversation about the finer mechanics of puppet sex, he wouldn’t have believed it, but here he was. “Well, I can’t claim that the domain of puppet copulation is exactly my area of expertise, but perhaps it was intentional, for the purposes of humor?”

    “Mmn, you might be right,” Bro conceded. “But what can I say, I’m a professional, it bugs me when it’s not done right.” Suddenly concerned that he was the only one who was getting something out of this date, he tried to gauge Egbert’s levels of interest in the musical. “So, uh, are you enjoying it too?”

    “I am!” Egbert said, and Bro breathed a silent sigh of relief. “It’s entertaining, if rather politically incorrect, but charming. I must say that I find Rod’s character to be fascinating.”

    “The closeted homowhatever. Yeah, agreed. I feel like a pussy, but I always get kind of choked up—”

    “—during the “Fantasies Come True” song? I felt terrible for him at the end, when he realized that he was dreaming!”

    “Exactly!” Bro said emphatically. Having someone commiserate with him on the topic made him elated. Despite his best efforts to induct him into the Avenue Q cult, Dave didn’t harbor the same intense love for it that he did. “Poor guy. Then getting outed at the wedding by his roommate. Harsh.”

    “I suppose it’s too much to hope for that he would end up with Nicky somehow?”

    Bro, who naturally already knew the outcome, grinned wryly as they stood up to stretch out their legs and take a short walk before the start of the second act. “Maybe, but I’m not gonna spoil it for you.” He was high on life, exhilarated at the chance to see the show of his dreams and thrilled that he wasn’t alone in liking it. As they headed up the center aisle, he snuck an arm around Egbert’s waist, his subtle way of showing his appreciation. As they continued to discuss their first impressions, all he could think about was that he was quite possibly the luckiest man on the planet.


    By the time the actors took their final bows, Bro was officially rendered speechless.

    “Was it as good as you expected?” Egbert asked as they left the theatre and stepped out into the crisp night air.

    “Fuck, yes. If not better,” Bro said as soon as he regained the ability to speak. “Best date ever. God,” he sighed, looping his arms around Egbert’s waist. “What did I do to deserve someone like you? I never thought in a million years that someone would do something like this for me.”

    “What do you mean?”

    “Taking me out on a date to watch the play that I’ve pretty much fantasized about seeing ever since it debuted on Broadway in 2003. I’m not stupid, I know that my puppet thing’s a little weird, and a lot of people would be turned off by it. But you, you’re willing to humor me on that.”

    “It’s not humoring you if I genuinely enjoy it as well,” Egbert replied. “And besides,” he added, his lips curving into a smile, “I like making you happy.”

    Bro shook his head but returned the smile with his own lopsided grin. “You’re too good to me,” he simply stated. He tipped his head forward to rest his forehead against Egbert’s. He was feeling strangely sappy and didn’t want to let go, so he softly hummed the first few bars of “Fantasies Come True” to himself and swayed his hips from side to side, rocking Egbert in his arms.

    “Broderick, we’re in public,” Egbert reminded him, glancing self-consciously at the people milling about them.

    “So? I can dance with my boyfriend in public if I want, it’s a free country.”

    Egbert gave in. Asides from a few peculiar looks, they weren’t drawing too much attention to themselves. You had to be fairly open-minded to attend and sit through a production of Avenue Q, after all. He wrapped his arms around Bro’s waist as well, his hands settling comfortably on the small of his back.

    Bro didn’t break his gaze as they slowly revolved on the spot, mesmerized by his calm, blue eyes. By the time that he spoke up again, most of the crowd had dispersed, leaving them lost in their private little world, illuminated by the soft glow of the streetlamps and the full moon in the night sky.

    “You know, you swept me off my feet since that first day we met. I’m still that helpless little dust bunny in the roaring cacophony of your automated leaf blower. And I’m pretty amazed that you’ve put up with me for this long.”

    “You say that as though being with you is a burden.”

    “Well, maybe not a burden, but it is a little strange. Come on, I know I’m not exactly normal, you’ve gotta admit that.” Bro wouldn’t call himself insecure, exactly – he was comfortable with himself and didn’t care what other people thought of him, but having someone cater to his interests was new to him. And it left him wondering whether or not he was good enough for Egbert, who deserved someone who wasn’t quite so out there.

    Egbert seemed to sense his worries, because he slid one hand up his back and around to brush his cheek. “Perhaps most people wouldn’t call you ‘normal,’ as constrictive as that term is in its conventional sense, but frankly, I don’t want ‘normal.’ It would get awfully boring after a while. You’re unique, and I wouldn’t have you any other way, because I love you for who you are. I hope you know that, Broderick.”

    Bro felt a smile curling his lips of its own accord as what could only be described as warm fuzzies spread throughout his body. His heart was feeling full, and he responded by leaning in to kiss Egbert. “I love you too, you sap,” he said when he pulled away, letting go of him. Instead, he reached for his hand, lacing his fingers through Egbert’s. “Come on, I think we have a date with your bed.”

    “You are certainly right, we do.”

    They walked to where Egbert had parked the car, but before he could so much as unlock the door, Bro stopped him.

    “Hang on,” he said suddenly, placing a hand on his shoulder. “I was going to wait until we got in the car, but then I remembered how much I hate that fucking cockblock of a joystick between the seats. Since I know we’re gonna get sidetracked as soon as we get back to your place, I wanted to say it now. Thanks for tonight. You seriously have no idea how much it means to me.” He cupped Egbert’s face in his hands and leaned in to kiss him. He didn’t care that they were still standing on the sidewalk, where anyone could see them. All he cared about was now, this very moment, when his love for Egbert overwhelmed any desire to be inconspicuous. For a split second, Bro was afraid that he would pull away, but instead, he smiled into the kiss and returned it, his hands settling lightly on his hips.

    Encouraged, Bro pushed him against the car and parted his lips to deepen the kiss, but as soon as he pressed up against Egbert’s crotch, the other man placed a warning hand on his chest. “What?” he said as he stumbled back, already half-hard and vaguely disoriented.

    “What did I say earlier about getting ahead of ourselves?”

    “Uh.” Bro tried to clear his foggy head and think back to their previous conversation. “Don’t do it?”

    “Exactly.” Egbert unlocked the car and opened the passenger door for Bro to get in, which he did, grumbling all the while.

    “You weren’t complaining just now…”

    “Of course I wasn’t. But we were standing in the middle of the street, so let’s be rational,” he reasoned as he started the engine. “You’ve given me your thank you kiss, and it was lovely, but let’s at least get home first before we continue.”

    Bro stared down at his lap, trying to will away his hard-on. His mind was a mess, a confused jumble of lust, nerves, and confusion. He had reacted viscerally to the contact, and he was overwhelmed with the sudden force with which he craved Egbert’s touch. Their date had only reconfirmed his intense love for the other man, and now all of the sexual frustration that had built up over time was coming to a head. But even with his desire to jump Egbert’s bones, he was still battling the nervousness that had coiled in a tight ball inside of him.

    Bro drummed his fingers against his knee, silently contemplating the best course of action, before deciding that the most logical thing to do would be to just go the direct route. He casually reached across the gap between seats to rest his hand on Egbert’s knee.

    Egbert’s eyes flicked over to him, and he smiled, removing one hand from the wheel long enough to cover Bro’s hand with his own, larger palm. He just as quickly returned it to the wheel to make a careful turn, ever the cautious driver. Bro seized the opportunity to slide his hand up Egbert’s leg, his fingers curling around the inside of his thigh and inching higher—

    “Absolutely not,” Egbert said, and Bro looked up to find his back rigid and the faintest trace of pink coloring his cheeks. “You are going to get us into a car accident.”

    Bro let out a huff of air but withdrew his hand, and Egbert’s tense body visibly relaxed. He sat back in his seat and folded his arms across his chest, sticking his lower lip out in a pout.

    Egbert glanced over at him and laughed, which only riled him up even further. “Don’t make that ridiculous face at me, Broderick.”

    “You left me hanging, I can make this ridiculous face all I want.”

    “I wouldn’t have had to leave you hanging if you hadn’t been so intent on going so far in the middle of the street.”

    “I wasn’t going to go that far—” Bro scoffed.

    “Your body begs to differ.”

    “My body would love to be in intimate contact with yours right now.”

    “While I’m driving and could very well run the risk of crashing this car? We can be in intimate contact all you want as soon as we get home. Now stop whining.”

    “I’m not whining!”

    “Yes you are. You sound like John when he’s begging me to buy Fruit Gushers at the grocery store.”

    “Okay, first of all, don’t ever compare me to your kid again when I’m horny, it’s a major boner killer. And second of all, why are you stopping this car, if I have to go through one more delay, I’m gonna make like a banshee and scream.”

    “Broderick, we’re home.”

    “Oh.” Bro looked around the Egberts’ driveway as if seeing it for the first time. “Well, in that case, what are we waiting for.”

    Egbert chuckled. “You tell me.”

    Bro stared at him for a split second before hasting to unbuckle his seatbelt and scramble out of the car. He was on the doorstep before Egbert could get out of the front seat and lock the car.

    As soon as Egbert unlocked the front door and let them both inside, Bro was all over him like white on rice.

    Egbert laughed and tried to calm him down, treating him like an overexcited dog. “Down, boy,” he said, and Bro whined. “Can we at least make it to the bedroom first?”

    “I will gladly shag you on your living room floor, but fine. I’ll do it your way.” He followed Egbert up the stairs, his heart all but beating a tattoo into his chest. He took a few surreptitious deep breaths, trying to calm himself down and not act like a sex-crazed maniac. He was cool. He was completely and utterly cool and his composure was not cracking in the slightest.

    Still, he was keen to see the interior of Egbert’s room. His curiosity was piqued, having never had the opportunity to visit his bedroom before. And when he stepped through the door, Bro took the time to look around and drink in the sight of his personal quarters. It was vastly different from his own living space, but then again, they had vastly different personalities. Bro decided that he liked it, and he told Egbert so.

    “It reminds me of you. Very sensible.” He ran his hand over the rack of ties and paused at the dresser to flip through the assortment of recipe cards and sentimental photographs of John as a toddler. “Even if it does look like the Dadly Depot had one too many to drink and threw up all over everything.”

    Egbert snorted as he began unbuttoning his suit jacket. “I’m not sure if that was meant to be a compliment, but I’m choosing to take it as one.”

    “Well, yeah, it’s a compliment. You’re like the epitome of the perfect dad, and it shows. So, who’s this douchebag?” Bro asked, nodding at the picture hanging above Egbert’s bed.

    Egbert gave him an odd look. “Please do not tell me that you don’t know who Bing Crosby is.”


    Egbert raised his eyes to the ceiling despairingly. “Remind me to educate you later. But right now, I can think of better things to spend my time doing.” And goddamn if that sultry look in his eyes didn’t make Bro’s cock jump to attention. He swallowed hard, trying to come up with an appropriately witty reply, but his brain had short-circuited, so he just stood there, feeling foolish with the bulge in his jeans painfully obvious and the red hot bundle of desire and nerves burning in the pit of his stomach. His eyes tracked Egbert’s movements as he slipped off his suit jacket and hung it over the back of a chair.

    He loosened his tie and sat down on the bed, holding his arms out to Bro. “Come here,” he simply said.

    “Don’t have to tell me twice.” Bro crossed the short gap to the bed and captured Egbert’s face in his hands, leaning down to seal the distance between them with a kiss. This was familiar territory; he was no stranger to sloppy makeouts of the Egbert variety. It was only when things progressed beyond sucking face, as he so romantically put it, that he started to freak out. But this – he could stay like this all night. If it wasn’t for the fact that standing was giving him a crick in his neck, that was. He crawled onto Egbert’s lap so that he was on the same level as him and wrapped his legs around his waist.

    Egbert ran his tongue over Bro’s lips, and Bro eagerly parted them to let him in. He cradled the back of his neck with one hand, fingers kneading the pressure points at the base of his skull and wordlessly urging Egbert on. But when the other man began to withdraw instead, Bro let out a discontented noise and nipped at his lower lip to express his disapproval. Egbert chuckled, and Bro unconsciously shuddered at the sensation of the vibrations against his skin.

    His frustrations melted away as Egbert shifted his attention to his neck, and he tipped his head back so that Egbert could press his lips to the underside of his jaw, that tender spot just above his Adam’s apple. Bro hummed in gratification as he meticulously traveled further south, tracing a path down the length of his throat until he reached his collarbone. Egbert shifted the collar of his shirt out of the way to gain access to his clavicle before sitting back to undo the loosely-knotted orange tie and start unbuttoning his shirt.

    “I think it’s time we got this off of you,” he said as he swiftly removed the tie and tossed it onto the rack where he kept his own collection of ties.

    “Yeah, same goes for you,” Bro said, concentrating on undoing Egbert’s own tie, but whatever type of knot Egbert used was beyond his comprehension, and he was pretty sure he was just knotting it further. He gave up when Egbert nudged his hands out of the way and undid it himself. “I’ve got this deep-seated burning desire to see your hunky manflesh, and this shirt is not conducive to my interests right now.”

    Egbert laughed and pressed a quick kiss to his lips before expertly undoing the rest of the buttons on his shirt. His practiced hand shifted to take care of his own dress shirt while Bro shrugged off his sports coat and button-down.

    Egbert let out a slightly strangled noise, and Bro looked up at him, suddenly realizing that he was wriggling around a bit too much in his attempt to extract his arms from the two layers of clothing. A wicked grin spread across his face at the knowledge that he was affecting Egbert and he purposefully grinded down into his lap to test the waters further.

    “You are impossible,” Egbert said, but there was no mistaking the sharp intake of breath as Bro rolled his hips forward again.

    “I don’t hear you complaining.” Bro snatched his fedora off his head and chucked it onto the hat stand by the bed. On second thought, he took off his own hat and lobbed it on there as well. The bright orange baseball cap stuck out like a sore thumb amidst the collection of muted fedoras, but the sight still warmed the cockles of his heart. He liked making his mark in Egbert’s bedroom, a visible sign of his presence in his life.

    “Hang on.” Egbert lifted his hands to his face, and Bro allowed him to slip off his sunglasses. “Your eyes really are exquisite,” he remarked as he gazed into orange-flecked eyes, eyes that had deepened to a red hue with time. “I don’t know why you keep them covered all the time.”

    Bro felt naked without the shades perched on the bridge of his nose, and he self-consciously raised a hand to his face. “Simple. They’re like a part of me at this point, I’ve been wearing them for so long. And it’s a helluva lot harder to keep your guard up with your eyes exposed.”

    “Well, I quite like it when I can see you with your guard down. And besides,” he added, and there was that mischievous, prankster’s glint in his eyes that always made Bro’s heartbeat quicken. “I’d like to be able to see every little thing you’re feeling when you’re underneath me. Or on top of me, as the case would be.”

    “Oh, fuck,” Bro hissed, his breath catching in his chest. “How is that so hot?” He didn’t wait for an answer to his rhetorical question, simply throwing his arms around Egbert’s neck and clumsily kissing him, hard and insistent against the other man’s gentler lips.

    He didn’t even bother trying to disguise his need any longer, shamelessly grinding his hard-on against Egbert’s body and relishing in the way Egbert’s own arousal rubbed up against his own more sensitive parts.

    But where he was reckless and sloppy with his motions, Egbert was steady and in control, his deliberate actions only driving Bro even wilder. His hands rested on his hips, fingers curling into his belt loops to drag him closer. His thumbs hooked over the waistband of Bro’s jeans, tracing a pattern against the sharp lines of his pelvis.

    Bro finally broke away from the kiss with a gasp, shoving a hand between their bodies to grip himself through his pants. He shifted so that the back of his palm was flush against Egbert’s erection and arched his back as he pressed down into the contact. Egbert’s fingers tightened subtly, causing the fabric of the jeans to dig into his hips. After a few moments of improvised dry humping, Bro decided he couldn’t take it any longer and reluctantly withdrew his hand from between his legs

    “Okay,” he started to say, but his voice came out raspier than intended. He cleared his throat and tried again. “Okay, fuck, I need to get these jeans off before I cut off circulation downstairs or something drastic like that.” He wet his lips as the reality of what he was suggesting weighed down on him. He wanted this more than ever, and he mentally chastised himself for still being so nervous about it, but it was a deep-rooted worry, albeit an irrational one.

    Bro scooted off of Egbert’s lap and busied himself with undoing his fly, shoving his anxiety to a far corner of his mind. He was just about to pull down his jeans when he remembered something, and he grinned up at Egbert. “Oh, yeah, so I did what you said and just wore what I normally wear, boxers. But I did you one better – these boxers that I’m wearing? Made ‘em myself, they’re a Bro Strider original.”

    Egbert raised an eyebrow, intrigued in spite of himself. “Oh?”

    “Oh yeah. Steel yourself, your body’s not ready for this.” Bro tugged off his pants, and Egbert clapped a hand to his mouth in a gentlemanly attempt to keep from laughing uproariously. He failed miserably.

    Bro grinned, feeling much better about the situation. Using humor was his way of defusing the tension and deflecting his nerves, and it was working. “Yeah, so, you ever see those elephant boxers where your boner is literally the trunk?” he asked, casually placing a hand on his hip and pretending not to notice Egbert’s uncontrollable fit of laughter. It felt pretty damn good to reduce Egbert, who was both a master of practical japery and adroit at maintaining his composure, to stitches. “Figured I’d put my own little twist on the idea. Think I’m gonna trademark them, give them some kind of fancy name like Smuppet Dick Boxers or something equally awesome.”

    He turned to the side to give Egbert a clear view of his erection, which curved into the shape of a smuppet nose, framed by a bulbous white eye and a cheerful grin. The back of the boxers was tastefully shaded to emulate the perfect plushness of the smuppet derriere. It was a work of art. A beautiful, ironic work of art. “So, what do you think? Can my cock rock the look or what?”

    Egbert had managed to rein himself in at least somewhat. “You look very dashing in them,” he said, but the corner of his mouth was still twitching in barely-concealed laughter. “But I think they’d look better on the floor. I’d rather not have to service what appears to be a phallically shaped puppet nose.”

    “Ooh, smooth, I’ve always wanted someone to use that line on me,” Bro said, hooking his thumbs over his waistband and pulling them off. He tossed them off the side of the bed to join the rest of the discarded clothing and knelt to undo Egbert’s belt buckle.

    “What, servicing a phallically shaped puppet nose? Is this something I should be concerned about, Broderick?”

    Bro let out a snort of laughter. “No, dipshit, I meant the ‘they’d look better on the floor’ remark. Obviously.”

    “Romantic as ever,” Egbert said, a twinge of irony in his voice.

    “I’m a classy dude, what can I say.”

    “If by classy, you mean ‘utterly ridiculous and occasionally goofy’, then yes, I’d say you are.” Egbert cupped Bro’s chin and kissed him. He still had to chuckle in amused disbelief when he pulled back. “I still cannot believe you wore those.”

    “Yeah, well, I’m a man of many surprises, you know. Can’t be tamed.”

    “Really, now?” Egbert’s blue eyes gleamed as he smiled at him. “Is that a challenge?”

    Bro swallowed, his cockiness bumped down a notch. “If you want it to be.”

    Egbert chose to answer nonverbally, pushing Bro flat on his back and hovering above him.

    Bro’s heartbeat quickened, but he managed to keep his voice steady and as seductive as he could muster. “Challenge accepted, I take it. And I guess if anyone could tame a Strider, it would be you. But I think there’s something wrong with this picture…” He slipped his hands around Egbert’s waist to cop a quick feel —he couldn’t help it, he was an ass man, he had to get his hands on him and assess the plushness of that rump, alright— before gravitating towards his crotch. “Come on, if we’re doing this, I’m not gonna be the only one completely naked, that’s just mad awkward.”

    “I would never dream of suggesting such a thing.”

    “Good, because I’m pretty damn ready to behold your glorious mangrit-infused physique.” Clumsy fingers fumbled with unbuttoning his pants, and he growled in frustration, tugging harder to try to rip them open. Egbert made a small noise in the back of his throat that warned him to be more careful with his good dress pants, but Bro was a man on a mission and too enthusiastic to care. Finally managing to undo his fly, he succeeded in wrestling Egbert’s pants and briefs down his thighs, and with a little assistance, tugging them off his legs so that he could chuck the offending articles of clothing over the side of the bed. Bro let out a hiss of appreciation at the sight of the bare form above him, unable to tea his attention away.

    “Broderick, my eyes are up here,” Egbert said with an amused lilt to his voice.

    Bro flicked his eyes back up and grinned. “Sorry, m’just a little bit too preoccupied with other things to get lost in the depths of those gorgeous cerulean orbs.”

    “That sounds like it’s straight out of a terrible paperback novel.”

    “Yeah, why do you think I said it? Quoting trashy literature during copulation is like the perfect form of irony. Just be glad I’m not going into depth about your tumescent tube of fire, the raging trouser snake of lust, that heat-seeking moisture missile—”



    “Would you please be quiet?”

    “Yeah, okay, shutting up n—mmph!” Egbert did him the favor of cutting his adrenaline-and-nerves-fueled rambling short in the most effective way possible. Bro closed his eyes and opened up into the kiss, letting go of his anxiety and wrapping his arms around Egbert’s neck. One hand cradled the back of his head while the other wandered further up, carding through his hair. He tugged insistently, craving further contact.

    Egbert chuckled against his lips and shifted his weight to free up one hand, causing Bro to jerk his hips up involuntarily when it settled on his thigh. He trailed his hand upward, taking his sweet time with his fingers massaging slow, teasing circles as they crept higher and higher. They curled around his inner thigh, stroking the juncture where his leg met the curve of his groin, and Bro practically came undone.

    He freaked out on the inside, afraid that this would be a repeat of the last time he got too excited and came prematurely. He was more turned on than he had ever been before, rock-hard, with pre-cum leaking down the side of his shaft. Egbert could sense his panic, feeling the way his muscles tightened up beneath him, and he quickly backed off. He pressed a reassuring kiss to the corner of his mouth and rubbed encouraging circles against his chest instead. Bro took a few deep breaths to calm himself and nodded barely imperceptibly when he was ready again. But this time, he was determined to take the upper hand, so he slid his hands down south and pressed into the small of Egbert’s back to pull him down on top of him.

    Bro sucked in a sharp breath of air at the sensation of skin against skin, and he bent his head to bury his face in the crook of Egbert’s neck. He had to stifle a groan when Egbert shifted, his erection pressing against his own and causing the heat to rise in his face. His hands made their way to Egbert’s ass, and he squeezed, holding Egbert close so that he could rut up against him.

    With his body flush against his own, Bro was in heaven, grinding his hips upward and relishing in the friction, but there was still something missing. He turned his head to the side so that he wasn’t speaking into Egbert’s shoulder, mumbling a lazy, sex-addled, “You know what we need? Lube. Yeah.”

    “I think that can be arranged,” Egbert said, and he tried to get up, but Bro refused to relinquish his iron grasp. “Broderick, you are going to have to release your grip on my rear if you really want me to fetch some.”

    “Oh. Yeah, right,” Bro said, reluctantly letting go, but he did take a perverse satisfaction in the way that his fingers had left their mark on Egbert’s choice ass when he left to fetch a small bottle from a chest of drawers. His heart was pounding like a jackrabbit’s when Egbert returned to the bed, but this time, it was more out of excitement and anticipation than nerves.

    “My body is ready,” he pronounced with a sweeping gesture down the length of his body. He hummed with pleasure as Egbert drizzled the lube over him, pressing his hips into the air in needy desperation.

    “Don’t be a tease,” he muttered out of the corner of his mouth, but he couldn’t help but smile as Egbert carefully worked the slippery substance into his skin, hands running over his thighs and circling his groin.

    “I wouldn’t call it teasing so much as simply being…” He paused, searching for the right word. “Attentive.” Bro shivered involuntarily; he had a way of making perfectly innocent words sound positively erotic sometimes. “But if you prefer a more direct approach…”

    Bro’s breath hitched when Egbert’s hand just barely brushed over him, skimming down his length and momentarily fondling his balls before moving on to graze his inner thigh instead. Now he was definitely teasing him on purpose, but somehow, he found himself not minding so much. It wasn’t like he had never experimented with lotion before, but when it was Egbert’s warm, slick fingers gliding over his skin, and satiny-smooth, quality lube instead of the cheap hand lotion he picked up at the convenience store, the experience was almost surreal.

    His toes curled into the soft sheets in blissed-out ecstasy and he bit back a moan as Egbert returned to that sensitive spot where his thigh met his torso, tracing the outline of his groin. But as far gone as he was, Bro didn’t want to be the only one enjoying the sublime sensation.

    “Give me that,” he managed to say, motioning to the bottle. Snatching it away, he bent his knees and spread them so that Egbert could kneel between his legs. When he was comfortably situated, he poured a generous dollop of lube in his hand and wasted no time in wrapping it around Egbert’s cock, chuckling softly at the small noise of alarm over the cool temperature that escaped his lips. The tip of Bro’s tongue poked out of his mouth in concentration as he worked the length of his shaft, mimicking Egbert’s thoroughness. He ran the pad of his thumb over his head, brushing against the slit and relishing in the beads of pre-cum that had formed. When he was satisfied that he had massaged every inch, Bro settled into a rhythm, hand jerking up and down in a quick, rhythmic tempo.

    He didn’t even realize that he was subconsciously and subtly thrusting his hips up with each stroke, needy for further contact. Finally, he threw in the towel and with an exasperated grunt, scooted up so that he could hold onto Egbert’s waist and grind up against his upper leg.

    Egbert took charge then, holding Bro’s hips down to still him for a moment and turning a blind ear to his sputtering protests so that he could reposition himself.

    Bro’s frustrated noises quickly petered out when he realized that Egbert had no intentions of stopping him from getting the sexual satisfaction he craved – he was only fixing things to make it easier for him to do so. When Egbert’s lubed-up cock glided over his entrance and brushed against his balls, Bro arched his back in response.

    “Yeah…” he exhaled, his voice little more than a murmur as he tipped his chin back and squirmed around on the bed.

    Egbert wrapped his arms around Bro’s thighs to tug him closer, and Bro smirked, rolling his hips forward to grind against him. He hooked his legs around Egbert’s waist, never wanting to let go or lose the intimacy of this moment, when he was with Egbert, when he was part of him.

    When Egbert’s hand enveloped him, caressing his shaft with his firm, dexterous fingers, Bro stifled back a choked groan, his fingers scrabbling for purchase against Egbert’s back.

    “Let it out,” Egbert murmured into his ear, running a soothing hand up his front. “There’s no one around to hear you but me.”

    Bro swore, and his hand found Egbert’s chin so that he could tug him into a kiss. Even with his lips and tongue otherwise occupied, the other man could still drive him wild. He maintained a slow, steady pace as he stroked Bro, who moaned shamelessly into Egbert’s mouth, too far gone to care about being cool and collected.

    Egbert’s hand slipped lower, taking the time to massage his balls before traveling further to knead at the sweet spot just above his entrance. Bro broke off the kiss with a sharp keen, reflexively convulsing at the overwhelming stimulation.

    He buried his face in the crook of his arm, trying to stifle the stream of delirious words that was flowing freely. “Oh god oh man oh god oh man oh god oh man—” He was a complete and utter mess while Egbert was as cool and collected as ever, and it was making him insane.

    Concerned, Egbert stilled and withdrew his hand. “Broderick, is that a good reaction or a bad one? Should I stop?”

    “If you stop, I will rip your balls off,” Bro growled. He covered Egbert’s hand with his own and pressed it between his legs again, kneading the other man’s fingers to get him to resume the motions. And when he took the hint and crooked his fingers just so, Bro was reduced to mewling pathetically like a stray kitten.

    “Fuck, fuck,” he panted, tossing his head back and lifting his hips up off the mattress to press into Egbert’s touch. His breath was coming out in raggedy gasps, and Egbert’s was just as heavy and erratic. He was teetering on the edge of oblivion and quickly slipping, and he couldn’t bear the tension any longer. Bro reached between them to grasp both of their cocks in one hand and began pumping frantically. His movements were sloppy and uncoordinated, but he didn’t care, because the slickness of Egbert’s lubed up shaft sliding against his own with every stroke was enough to make him lose it entirely.

    His labored breathing was emerging in quick, shallow spurts, and when he finally came with a shuddery gasp, white hot flashbulbs erupted behind closed eyelids and his free hand fisted into the sheets.

    “Will you open your eyes for me?” Egbert asked, brushing his fingers against Bro’s cheek with infinite tenderness, but there was a sense of urgency in his words that made Bro comply.

    He gazed up at Egbert, eyes glassy with the haze of lust, and his heart clenched painfully. “I love you,” he said, reaching up to cradle Egbert’s face with one hand. “I love you, god, I really fucking do.” He broke off with a breathless little laugh and leaned up to kiss him, squeezing the hand that was still wrapped around the base of their cocks and causing Egbert’s composure to unravel entirely.

    “I love you too, Broderick—” Egbert managed to force out in reply, sucking in a sharp lungful of air as pulsing waves of pleasure overtook him and he rocked against Bro’s body.

    “Oh, god,” Bro rasped when they both stilled, chests rising and falling together as they slowly regained control over their breathing. “Oh god,” he repeated, all of his coherence having vacated his brain with the intensity of his climax. “That was pretty much abso-fucking-lutely incredible.”

    Egbert laughed and rolled onto his side, running his fingers through Bro’s hair. “I’m glad I’m not the only one who thought it was perfect,” he said.

    “Perfect’s a word for it,” Bro agreed, surreptitiously wiping his sticky hand behind him. He was drifting in a sea of post-coital bliss, content to just lie there together, forehead to forehead and legs intertwined. A sudden thought occurred to him, and a grin spread across his face. “You know what this means, though?”


    “I’m not gonna be the next 40 year old virgin after all.”

    Egbert snorted. “Oh, Broderick…” he said, raising a hand to caress his cheek.

    “It’s true! This is like the best fucking night of my life, you don’t even know!” Pumped up with a sudden burst of exhilaration, he jumped out of the bed and crossed the room while Egbert rolled over to watch him in mild confusion.

    Bro banged open the doors to the balcony window and flung his arms out wide, shouting, “My name is Bro Strider, and I am no longer a virgin!” He let out a whoop and leaned out into the night air, not caring if he was drawing attention to himself.

    Egbert laughed and buried his face in one hand, shouting, “Broderick, get back in here before the neighbors hear! Or see, for that matter – at least put some underwear on!”

    “What, you don’t think that they should get the chance to enjoy the view too?” Bro asked, turning around and smirking.

    “Can you hardly blame me for feeling a little possessive? And I think I’d rather that the neighborhood wasn’t privy to our sexual exploits. Come back to bed,” Egbert said, holding out his arms to Bro.

    “I can do that.” Bro did him the favor of shutting the balcony doors before scurrying back to the comfort of Egbert’s outstretched arms. He spooned up next to him, curling up and savoring the warmth of the other man’s strong arms, wrapped protectively around his frame. After the short burst of adrenaline, he was starting to realize just how exhausted he was, his last vestiges of energy expended after the night’s intense activities. He let his eyes drift closed, blindly feeling around until he found Egbert’s hands and placed his own hands over them. He could feel Egbert smile against his skin and press a kiss to the back of his neck. Bro sighed contently and let the waves of drowsiness wash over him, succumbing to sleep, safe and sound in Egbert’s arms.

    He had never felt more at home than he did right now.

    Chapter Text

    The orange glow of daylight streamed through the slats in the blinds in Egbert’s room, casting an amber glow across the bed sheets. Bro stirred slightly, and in his half-unconscious stupor, he was dimly appreciative of the way that the soft sheets felt against his bare skin.


    He didn’t have sheets on his futon. Disoriented, he jolted awake, sitting bolt upright and groggily looking around the room to try and remember where he was. The events of the previous night slowly filtered back into awareness, and he looked down at Egbert, smiling at the way the first rays of dawn illuminated his features.

    Egbert wasn’t even half-awake, barely roused from his slumber by his bedmate’s sudden movements. He sleepily groped for Bro’s arm, and Bro allowed himself to be pulled back down into bed. Now that he was awake, he knew that there was no way he would be able to fall back asleep, but he was content to watch Egbert sleep. He rested his head on the pillow and listened to the rhythmic rise and fall of his breath, resisting the urge to trace the lines of his face and risk waking up.

    Eventually, he got bored of being the only one awake, so he slid closer and ran a hand up the other man’s bare chest. Bro pressed his lips to the soft patch of skin on Egbert’s neck just below his ear and murmured, “Hey, you. Wake up and keep me company, would ya?”

    Egbert shifted and opened his eyes, smiling when Bro pulled away to make eye contact. “Good morning to you too, Broderick.”

    “Morning.” Bro leaned in to kiss him while Egbert’s hands slipped around his waist. He would have been perfectly happy with staying this way for the rest of the day, lying in bed with Egbert in a tangle of limbs, but he begrudgingly accepted that it couldn’t last forever. They had to get their kids sooner or later, after all, and then the magic of their previous night alone would fade back into the normalcy of juggling their relationship with two teenage boys.

    Egbert was the first one to break the spell of the early-morning lethargy. “All right, time to get up,” he said, patting Bro on the rear.

    Bro grumbled, wanting to laze around in bed for a little while longer, but he relented. He sat up and stretched, the sheets slipping off and pooling around him.

    “Why don’t you go take a shower while I start making breakfast? Are pancakes okay?”

    Bro had secretly been hoping to shower with Egbert, but his stomach growled and he decided that this was probably the best idea. “Yeah, sure,” he said, watching in mild disappointment as Egbert put on a bathrobe to make himself decent, as he had been enjoying the view. “And pancakes sound pretty fucking ace right about now.”

    When Egbert made his way downstairs to begin cooking, Bro sidled over to the bathroom and glanced over its contents. Nothing too surprising; it was immaculately clean, with fresh towels hanging neatly on their racks and a can of Barbasol and a razor in their places on the countertop. He pulled back the shower curtain and started running the water, drumming his fingers against the wall while he waited for it to heat up. This whole situation was still so surreal to him, but it made him indescribably happy to be here, in Egbert’s home after what was undoubtedly the best night of his life, getting ready to use his shower like it was the most natural thing on Earth.

    When the water was hot enough to fog up the mirror, Bro slipped in, sighing as the spray hit him. He had always been fond of his ablutions. There was just something soothing about being surrounded by hot water and letting it wash away all of his cares. He figured he shouldn’t take too long and crank up Egbert’s water bill, and besides, he was hungry and craving pancakes, so he began lathering himself up. He had to smirk to himself as he used Egbert’s Old Spice body wash so that he could smell like the man that his man smelled like.

    Bro finished rinsing out his hair and shut off the shower, wrapping a towel around his waist. He shivered slightly when he opened the door and the cool air hit him, an unwelcome change from the sauna-like atmosphere of the bathroom. When he wandered back into Egbert’s room, he frowned slightly, unsure what he should do about the clothes situation. He didn’t want to wear the same outfit that he had worn the previous night, but he hadn’t had the foresight to bring a change of clothes with him.

    After a moment of intense deliberation, he said “fuck it” and began rifling through Egbert’s clothes, looking for something casual enough that he could wear. He unearthed a simple long sleeved shirt and the same pair of jeans that he borrowed light-years ago after that unfortunate incident in Egbert’s kitchen. As mortifying as it had been at the time, he found it almost nostalgic now as he got dressed. He had come a long way since then —he tried to not think about the number of times he had come embarrassingly close to ejaculating prematurely last night too, preferring to live in the state of De Nile— as had his relationship with Egbert.

    Bro slipped on his shades and jammed his baseball cap over his damp hair, not caring too much about the hat hair that was bound to ensue. He stepped out into the hallway and took a deep breath, inhaling the aroma of freshly cooked pancakes that wafted up the stairs.

    “Goddamn, that smells good,” he remarked, stepping into the kitchen and taking a seat at the table.

    Egbert looked up at him and smiled. “Thank you. Hopefully they’ll taste as good.”

    “Egbert,” Bro informed him, “anything you make tastes good. Now give me some, I’m drooling over here.”

    “Gladly.” Egbert acquiesced and slid a stack of pancakes in front of him before settling in at the seat across the table with his own plate.

    “Yeah, you got nothing to worry about,” Bro said through a mouthful of pancakes, digging in with gusto. “If I could marry food, I’d make this stack of pancakes my blushing bride.”

    Egbert snorted with laughter in a most ungentlemanly fashion, and Bro grinned, proud of his achievement.

    Breakfast passed far too quickly for his liking, and before Bro knew it, it was almost time for them to collect their kids from the Nitram apartment.

    “Would you mind if I take a quick shower first?” Egbert asked as they headed upstairs.

    Bro shook his head. “Nah, go for it,” he said, flopping down on the unmade bed. “Go get ready, I’ll just chill here for a bit.”

    Egbert gathered up a change of clothes and disappeared into the bathroom. Bro stretched and looked around the empty room, which still bore the signs of the previous night’s activities. He figured the least he could do was try to help out, so he got up and began picking up stray articles of clothing. He had no idea where to put them, since he was pretty sure he had spotted the laundry hamper in the now-occupied bathroom, so he gathered them up in his arms and fell back on the bed.

    When Egbert emerged from the bathroom, clean-shaven and dressed, he found Bro lying on his bed with a mound of clothes on top of him. “What are you doing?” he asked, unable to keep from laughing.

    “Oh.” Bro sat up, still clutching the clothes. “I wanted to do something, so I thought I’d pick up all of our shit from last night, but I didn’t know what to do with it since you were in the bathroom.”

    “Well, thank you, that’s a very considerate thing to do. Tell you what, give me your clothes and I’ll wash them first thing when we get back from picking up John and Dave, and I’ll return them to you as soon as possible. I’ll do the rest of the laundry later.”

    “Okay, cool.” Bro picked out the articles of clothing that belonged to him and handed them over so that Egbert could fold them neatly and put them at the top of the stairs as a reminder.

    When Egbert returned to the room, Bro was still holding the remainder of the clothes, almost as if he had forgotten all about them. He went to his hat stand to pick out a fedora and asked, “Broderick, can I have my clothes back? I need to put them in the laundry hamper.”


    Egbert turned to look at him, arching his eyebrows. “What do you mean, ‘no’?”

    “I mean, I’m keeping them,” Bro elaborated.

    “Why do you want to keep my clothes?” Egbert asked with unyielding patience.

    “I dunno, so I can remember last night forever, or some equally sentimental bullshit like that?”

    “You don’t need my clothes for that, Broderick. You’ll have me there to remind you of that every day.”

    Bro was pretty sure that his stomach just somersaulted, and a wide grin spread across his face before he had a chance to stop it. He cleared his throat and attempted to regain his composure. “Oh. Well. In that case…” He gave an offhand shrug and handed over the clothes, which Egbert took from him and dumped in the laundry hamper.

    Egbert offered him an outstretched hand, and Bro accepted it, using it as leverage to stand up. “Guess it’s time to go get the little shits, then?”

    Egbert made a scandalized noise and nudged him in the side. “Broderick!”

    Bro cracked up and elbowed him in return, laughing as they made their way out to the car, hands still linked together.


    Less than twenty minutes later, they were standing outside the Nitrams’ apartment. When Rufio answered the door, Bro had to raise his eyebrows in surprise. “Wow.” Rufio’s hair, his crowning glory, was an unkempt, floppy mess of black and red, a far cry from the styled masterpiece that he wouldn’t be caught dead without. “Rough night?”

    “You have no idea,” Rufio stated dryly. He pointed to the three kids who were sitting at the kitchen table, all of whom looked exhausted but happy as they munched on Eggo waffles drenched in maple syrup. “Take them.”

    “Oh dear.” Egbert sighed. “What happened?”

    Bro was already peering into the living room, which looked like a disaster area, to say the least. “The fuck did we miss last night?”

    “Uh, well, let’s see,” Rufio began, folding his arms over his chest. “First they played ding-dong-ditch up and down the hallways until I got a phone call from the neighbors asking me to rein them in. then when I made them get their asses back in here, they decided to make a pillow fort—”

    “—war bunker—” Dave corrected him.

    “—sorry, war bunker in the middle of the living room, using my expensive stereo equipment as weights and staples for fasteners, then proceeded to stay up until 2 A.M. playing video games at full volume. With a break for improvised nachos using whatever they found in the kitchen, which was actually the best part of the night, since they were pretty damn good.”

    “They actually let you have some of their nachos? Damn, you must be doing something right if they like you that much.”

    “I think it was a peace offering. Or a distraction for when they decided to play the ‘who can light their hand on fire the longest using hand sanitizer’ game.”

    “Tavros won!” John informed the adults, wiping excess maple syrup from his mouth with the back of his hand.

    “Yeah, Tav served up some seriously sick fires last night,” Dave said, and Bro was pretty sure that that was pride in his expression as he glanced across the table at Tavros, who beamed back at him.

    “Not gonna lie, they were some truly unhealthy incendiaries…” Tavros boasted, trying and failing to sound modest.

    “Yeah, unhealthy in that you could burn your fucking hand off, and then where would we be? Didn’t I teach you anything growing up?” Rufio told his son, his sleep-deprived irritation clearly visible. “Also, someone had the brilliant idea to replace my hair gel with honey,” he finished, turning back to the two adults.

    “John…” Egbert gave his son a stern look, and he broke out into a fit of guilty giggles, quickly joined by his two partners-in-crime.

    Bro had to struggle to keep from laughing himself. “Come on, that sounds like every thirteen-year-old’s wet dream of a sleepover. You and me would totally do the same things, don’t even try to deny it.”

    “Yeah, well, when you’re supposed to be the responsible one and you’re the one bearing the brunt of everything, it’s not half as much fun.”

    “Well, I am sorry you had to put up with it all, and rest assured, I will be having a chat with John later. Speaking of which, I think it’s time we get going, champ,” Egbert added, addressing his son.

    “Yeah, let’s not overstay our welcome,” Bro chimed in with a smirk. “Let Ruf catch some Zs, the man deserves them.”

    “Aww,” John said, and Dave’s slight frown mirrored the sentiment. “Well, I had fun! Thanks for having us, Mr. Nitram, and sorry about the hair gel – but you have to admit it was pretty funny!”

    “Hilarious,” Rufio said dryly, trying to separate a chunk of sticky hair that had started to harden. He didn’t mess around when it came to his hair, and he wasn’t happy about losing a brand new bottle of spiking gel, but he supposed it would be funny in retrospect.

    “Bye, Tavros!” John said, turning to grab his duffel bag and sling it over his shoulder.

    “Yeah, later, man,” Dave said with a little half-smile, nodding at him.

    “See you,” Tavros replied, grinning at him as they made eye contact.

    Dave’s eyes lingered for a second too long on Tavros, and Bro mouthed the words “eye fucking” at Rufio over the tops of their heads.

    I know, Rufio silently mouthed in return.

    Did they… Bro jerked his head at their kids, figuring that he would know exactly what he was asking, and he did.

    Rufio shrugged his shoulders. Not that I noticed, no.

    Bro opened his mouth to reply but promptly snapped it shut when Dave finally tore his gaze away from Tavros and turned around to face him. “Bro, what are you doing?”

    “Things that you’re not cool enough to comprehend,” he breezily answered, brushing the question aside. “Anyway, let’s split. See you at work tomorrow, Ruf, thanks for watching the brats.”

    After one last chorus of goodbyes, the door to the Nitram apartment shut behind its guests, and the four of them headed downstairs.

    “Well, I suppose I should wish you goodbye now,” Egbert said when they emerged onto the sidewalk. “I think I ought to have a talk with my son about appropriate and inappropriate pranks to play in other people’s houses.”

    “Daaaad…” John rolled his eyes but gave Dave a fist bump while Bro leaned into Egbert to sneak a kiss goodbye.

    Bro and Dave set off in the opposite direction on foot when the Egberts’ car pulled away from the curb.

    “So, you had a good time?” Bro asked, shoving his hands in his pockets.

    “Yeah, it was pretty sweet.” Dave still had an uncharacteristic smile lingering on his face, so Bro tried probing further.

    “What did you do?”

    “Dunno, Rufio pretty much covered it all,” Dave replied evasively, shrugging.

    Bro had to physically keep himself from sighing but decided not to press further, figuring that maybe nothing really had happened between Dave and Tavros after all.

    Their afternoon passed relatively uneventfully, like most Saturdays in the Strider residence. They had an impromptu video game marathon, in which Bro soundly thrashed Dave’s ass, and an argument about the aesthetic qualities of smuppets over microwaved hot pockets before splitting up to go about their own business. It was late evening when Dave emerged from his bedroom, and Bro was taking a leaf out of Rufio’s book and trolling people on Delirious Biznasty under his Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff inspired handle DUMBHOMOTOOL.

    “Hey, Bro.”

    Bro looked up from his computer to find Dave standing in the hall doorway, brandishing the sword that John had gotten him for his birthday.

    “Let’s strife.”

    Bro chose not to question the fact that this was the first time that Dave picked this particular sword, which he hadn’t so much as touched since John’s rejection of him, to strife with. It was enough to know that he’d finally moved on. “You’re on.”

    Dave nodded once. “Meet you on the roof.” He disappeared through the door, and Bro turned back to Delirious Biznasty. He typed out a quick farewell “piece out num fuks *ollies outy*” before shutting down his browser and standing up. He grabbed his best katana from its spot of honor above his turntables and set off for the roof.

    When he opened the door that led out to the rooftop, Dave was waiting for him and immediately lunged at him. Bro, who had been expecting this, reacted with lightning quick reflexes and flashstepped around him, landing a blow on his side with the blunt edge of his sword that made Dave grunt. He twisted around to retaliate, but Bro was already on the opposite side of the roof.

    Dave charged, katana at the ready, and Bro stood stock-still, not moving until the very last second possible. Just when Dave thought that he would actually be able to land a blow, Bro darted to the left, clipping him on the back of the leg in a mocking gesture. Dave didn’t miss a beat and rounded on him once more, slicing at him with remarkable agility. Bro had to duck for once, the katana whistling in the air over his head, and he was begrudgingly impressed. Dave was improving, and pride welled up inside of him. His kid was really growing up.

    For a split second of insanity, he considered throwing the match and letting Dave win the strife for a change of pace, just to give him a confidence boost – but then he immediately decided against it, writing it off as a lame move. He’d let Dave know that he was proud of him later, after he wiped the floor with his ass.

    Dave swung at him again, and Bro met his blade mid-air with a satisfying clang of metal on metal. He sent Dave stumbling backwards with a single push, and the next thing the younger Strider knew, his brother was bearing down on him. He fell back with every slash, trying to defend himself, but Bro was relentless and knocked him to the ground. Dave let out an “oof” as he hit the floor, wincing slightly and rubbing his ass.

    He didn’t even seem upset at being defeated, however, picking himself up off the ground and dusting himself off. He rested his sword on his shoulder and looked out over the city. From this height, he could pick out the Nitrams’ apartment building, and a flicker of satisfaction crossed his face.

    Bro, who had been studying him with a hawk-like gaze, spoke up. “Dude, you’ve been walking around like you’re on cloud nine all day. What’s up?”

    “Nothing, what are you talking about?” Dave maintained, wiping his face of all emotions.

    “I’m talking about the fact that ever since I picked you up, you’ve been acting like a giddy schoolgirl.”

    “What the fuck, no I haven’t!” Dave protested.

    “Hate to break it to you, little bro, but you kinda have. So what happened?” Bro sat down on the edge of the roof, swinging his legs over the ledge of the apartment building. He beckoned at Dave to come over and patted the ground next to him. “Come on, come tell papa,” he said in his most ironic fatherly voice.

    Dave gave in and sat down next to him. “Alright, whatever, but if we’re gonna do this, it’s gotta be a completely nonironic conversation. And it’s stupid anyway.”

    “Yeah well, you’re stupid, so it’s all cool,” Bro casually informed him.

    “Don’t even talk to me about being stupid, you dumb homo tool, you are the big man of being stupid. It is you. But what the fuck, are we talking about this or not?”

    “Where doing it man.”

    “Where making this happen.” Dave paused to wet his lips and collect his thoughts. “There’s no cool way to say this, fuck—”

    “Just spit it out,” Bro advised.

    Dave took a deep breath. “I got my first kiss last night,” he said, his words tumbling out in a hurried rush.

    “Yeah?” Bro said, a grin curling his lips.

    “Yeah.” Dave’s façade cracked and he started to grin himself. As he watched him, face bathed in the orange glow of the setting sun, Bro had to marvel at how much younger Dave looked when he let himself smile. He looked his age, like a fourteen-year-old who had found love for the first time. “John was the first one to pass out like a pussy, so we went up to the roof to eat raw cookie dough out of the tube and chill without waking him up. And Tav, uh. Kinda planted one on me.”

    Bro snorted and ruffled Dave’s hair. “Guess the little squirt finally got up some courage after all. Rufio’s gonna be so proud. But I hope you showed him how the smooth dudes do it and gave him a proper kiss. Be a fucking gentleman, Dave, don’t let the lady do all the work.”

    “It’s none of your fucking business if I did,” Dave retorted as he fixed his mussed-up hair, but the giddy smile that he failed to conceal said it all. That maybe he had, once, twice, until they finally got it right. “Guess I owe it to you, though. You’re the one who introduced me to the dork in the first place.”

    “Pfft.” Bro shook his head. “Yesterday must have been a night for firsts, because I had sex for the first time last night.” Dave raised his eyebrows and gave Bro a silent fist bump of respect while doing his best to not think about his big brother and his best friend’s father in bed together, focusing instead on regaining his poker face. “Yeah,” Bro said, nodding once to affirm his statement. “And the funny thing is, I owe that to you. You’re the one who introduced me to Egbert, and as pathetically sappy as it is, I can’t picture being without him. So I guess what I’m saying is… thanks, little bro.”

    The corner of Dave’s mouth lifted. “Let’s just call it even, yeah?” he said in response.

    Bro matched his half-smile, sunglasses gleaming in the last rays of the setting sun. “Fair enough.”

    He draped an arm over his little brother’s shoulders, and the two Striders sat there together, gazing up at the dimming sky as the red-hot sun sank beneath the horizon and another day in Houston drew to a close.