You’re sitting in front of the new kid in school and, in all honesty, you’re pretty sure the only reason you’re here is because Rox is an insufferable broad that you practically cannot deny anything (that’s mildly healthy/good for her) because…well, you love the girl. Just not in the way that men are supposed to love women, you suppose.
“A pleasure to meet you, good chap!” Jake holds out a hand and you hesitate, unused to the idea of shaking anyone’s hand with non-combative purposes going with it. Jane tuts at you and you take Jake’s hand with a rough shake, though not without an inward sigh. Damn it all. “I’ve been told your name is…Dirk?”
“Strider, yeah.” You concede, sliding your hand out of his grasp smoothly to take hold of your mini-carton of milk. Shit’s healthy. “Jake English, I’ve been told?”
“You’ve been told correctly, then!" He laughs and…really, how can someone laugh that hard without getting tired? “I’ve only just transferred from a little somewhere over the Pacific, so I’m quite new to all of these rigmaroles of schooling. Hopefully,” he shoots a grin at your two ladyfriends and you suppress the urge to sigh at how easily he’s charmed them, “I’ll make enough good friends to help me along the way.”
“Ohh, certainly,” Rox slurs, a little too sleepy to be normal, and you try not to smack her on the back of the head for drinking again. “S’all get along and be bee eff effsies together, wouldn’t that be great?"
“It definitely will be,” Jane assures with a small smile of her own.
“Just great,” you murmur to yourself quietly, still sipping on your already half-empty carton of milk.
You’re writing down another blueprint for one of your personal projects (a robot bunny that could do some menial chores like opening the door and shit like that, nothing big) during Physics class, and you’re really not paying any attention to the teacher when someone suddenly whispers beside you,
You stifle a jolt and look up, instantly noticing buckteeth and black hair. Jake English grins at you from his chair, his foot tapping on the floor in distraction as he gestures with his lips pointing at your draft. “It’s a robot, if I’m to assume based on the technical jargon I can see around there?”
“You assume correctly.” The grin on his face widens further with your confirmation, and you try your hardest not to wonder what he might be thinking.
He doesn’t give you much of a chance to think about it, actually. “Say, are you planning on, in point of fact, making that creation of yours a reality?” You barely make a nod in his direction before he’s chuckling under his breath and leaning over, like a child who’s about to whisper a secret that he wants no one else to know and all in all looking utterly ridiculous. “I’d definitely adore having a look at your work, if that’s alright with you?”
“It isn’t a problem,” you mutter back, eyes darting forward to see if the teacher is noticing anything wrong with you or English. He’s not. “I…actually do appreciate people watching me work.” You admit truthfully, and you start to wonder instantly after why you’d let your mouth run away from you like that.
“I’m glad to know that,” Jake whispers right back, the grin still on his face, “Because I certainly wouldn’t mind watching you work on those projects of yours from time to time.”
You become silent, not responding once you realize the teacher is starting to take glimpses in your direction. It doesn’t matter, anyway. The only thing hanging from the tip of your tongue was the thought that,
You may just be in love with this guy.
And you really don’t want to weird him out with that, just because he took an instant liking to your most adored project.
“Dirk? Dirk, are you alright?”
You jolt awake at that, unfolding your arms from your desk to wipe at the wetness clouding your eyesight. “Sorry,” you mumble instantly, shifting around to stretch for a bit before taking your bag from behind you. “Didn’t think I’d fall asleep like that.” You quickly sweep your drafts, pencils and whatnot into your bag before standing up and walking alongside Jane out of the classroom. You hadn’t thought you’d actually sleep through the whole of your last class until the time to go home came, though you’d obviously thought wrong.
“Did you have…nightmares, again?” Jane whispers, not wanting anyone else to overhear her. You smile for a fraction of a second before reverting back to your poker face, though the knowledge that she is still as thoughtful as ever remains imprinted into your heart. You’d trust her with anything, if only because of that.
“Yeah.” You keep your stride to minimum speed to let her catch up with you, letting her place a hand on your arm as her own form of comfort. “Woke up screaming like a banshee. It’s not that bad,” you immediately assure her once her fingers grip tighter onto your arm, “just the usual, you know. Dying, zombie attacks, that shit.”
“That doesn’t mean that I can’t worry,” she chastises you with a tiny frown, the worry clear from her baby blue eyes. “Have you told your father about it?”
“He has enough worries as it is.” You shake your head, fingers fiddling within the confines of your pants’ pockets. “Add Dave to the equation, and I pretty much have my hands full. You know that.” You sigh, slipping your outside hand from your pockets to reach up and pinch the bridge of your nose. “The kid is too observant for his own good.”
“He’s your brother, Dirk,” Jane says with that affectionate smile on her face, and you smile back. “I think he knows when his big brother is feeling unsafe. He wants to protect you.”
“He should know better that I can do the protecting just fine,” you retort sharply, though Jane just takes it with a pinch of salt and a giggle. You ease away from the tension in your body and sigh again, letting her pull your hand out from your pocket to clasp it in hers. “Damn,” you mumble to yourself, stepping down the stairs with her as you approach your own personal entourage composed of one drunk blonde and an overexcited brunet. You press a small kiss onto the top of her head and she laughs, a light blush dusting her cheeks as you murmur, “You know what I’m saying, don’t you?”
Thank you, for pulling me out of my nightmares like you always do.
She grins back, gripping your hand in hers. “I know.”
It’s dark. So, so very dark. You reach out and you feel nothing, yet when you take a step forward you can feel something tugging you down, as though you were stepping on something sticky. You don’t think you want to know what it is.
“Hello?” You try to call out, yet nothing comes out. There’s only the echo of silence in your ears and you feel deafened, though there’s nothing you can do. You keep walking, trying to look for some light along the way, but you can’t. It’s all too dark and you’re all too alone, and you can’t stand it. This isn’t what you want.
As time passes, you’re slowly starting to hear noises coming from all around you. Groaning, pleading sounds, and you finally realize that you’re scared when you feel your knees lock at that moment. It takes you a frozen moment of fear to notice that the darkness is slowly slipping away to give room for blood, dark red blood that you find you’re drowning in and you try to scream but you can’t because it’s too late, it’s too late-
“Dirk, answer your phone already! It’s not very gentlemanly to keep a lady waiting!”
You jolt awake at the sound of Jane’s (sweet and angelic) voice, eyes wide open and staring at the ceiling as your chest heaves with your shallow breathing. You shake your head, rubbing at your eyes with your hands to clear away the blur before rolling around to get your phone. The repetition of Jane’s voice comes to a stop once you answer her call, your eyes fluttering shut again as you breathe in. “Hey,” you say as you roll out of bed completely, sitting on the edge. “Thanks for the wake-up call.”
“It’s quite alright, Dirk,” she says, voice overly chirpy for such an early morning. “This routine is certainly comforting for me as well, I hope you realize!”
You chuckle, the exhaustion creeping into your voice as you rub your face with your hand. “Same here.”
Maybe, someday, the nightmares will stop. You hope, with all of your heart, that they do.
You don’t usually drink. You find that drinking alcohol isn’t the most productive thing to do with one’s life, and you don’t want to ruin your internal organs so early at your age when you could easily become one of the greatest inventors in the future. (Psh, you wish.) Still, that doesn’t take into account the capability to try one’s hand at drinking.
You still don’t understand what the point is, though.
“Rox, why the fuck did I let you pull me into this again?” You manage to grunt, toying with the shot glass in your hand as you sit on the floor by the edge of her bed. Her mother is still away on one of her pleasure trips and her guardian is practically nonexistent, always out and about rather than actually guarding her wards. You find it miraculous that Rose is still the sanest and smartest little girl even with her drunken sister always at home.
“’cause you love me, dumpass,” she slurs, crawling closer to you before finally settling in the space between your legs with her own legs folded beneath her. You quirk an eyebrow when she slides her arms on your shoulders, effectively letting them dangle on you as she presses closer and nuzzles her nose into yours. “And you don’t like it when I’m lonely.”
“True it may be,” you manage to say coherently back, voice only mildly affected by the vodka, “that doesn’t mean that I should get shit-faced with you. If I remember correctly, good friends are supposed to stop you from getting wasted.”
“Then you must be my bestest friend ever,” she drawls before bursting into a giggle. You laugh, if only because there’s nothing else you can do in reply. “You love me enough to get pissed to the tits with me, isn’t that right mister Shades?”
“I’m not even wearing those fucking things anymore,” you grumble, hands moving up to wrap around Roxy’s waist. “Gotta lay off calling me that, Rox. It’s pretty-”
“Everythin’ I say’s pretty, duh.” She laughs softly again, her alcohol-laced breath wafting across your face. Your eyes look into her contacts-covered ones, before darting down to look in contemplation at her lips, shiny with lip gloss. The decision is made before you can even ponder on it and you shift forward, capturing her lips in yours. She doesn’t pull back, only moving for a fraction of a second to encircle your neck with her arms.
It ends as quickly as it starts and she laughs, and you laugh, and really, how’d the two of you make such a mess of yourselves with a little more than eight shots of alcohol?
“We’re freaks,” Roxy says with a laugh as she presses her forehead against yours, “and we’re a mess.”
“We’re a hot mess, to be exact,” you supply, your laughter slowly dying down into small chuckles. “I wouldn’t let it be anything less.”
“Good, good,” Roxy slurs again, the lopsided grin still on her face as she nuzzles her nose into yours. You nuzzle back, just because. “Love you, you dork.”
“I love you too, you drunkard,” you murmur back, only the truth spilling from your lips under the haze of alcohol.
6. Break Away
10. Breathe Again
You’re sixteen. There’s nothing really special about it. You’re in high school with a little brother still in elementary school, and you’re as normal as a person can get. (Which isn’t much, really.)
You’ve realized that being independent is a thing that’s usually happening at your age already, and you go with it. It’s something you need to conform to, because Dave needs someone strong. Pops’ been a little weak in the knees as of late with his old age and you know that you need to be ready. Who knows what might happen, right?
With that in mind, you know that you have to introduce Dave to the world of grown-ups sometime soon. A few years later, maybe two or three. You won’t be able to carry him in your arms or on your shoulders anymore, he’ll scrape his knee and he won’t run sniffling into your arms again; hell, he might even fall in love with a pretty girl, or a guy. You don’t know.
You’re scared. For once, in your sixteen years of life, you’re legitimately fearful at the idea that you’ll have to see your baby brother leave the nest. You can be a little cold to him sometimes, sure, but you do that because he doesn’t need a whimpering mess of brotherly affection. He needs to see someone strong with each day he wakes up, because he needs to be strong too. The two of you need to, because Pops needs it.
You all need it.
Which is why, when you set him down from your shoulders to let him run off into the elementary school building, you don’t forget to press a fleeting kiss on his forehead. He squints his eyes up at you from under his shades, you can tell, but he doesn’t complain. Somehow, you feel a little better that he doesn’t ask about it.
And, as per usual, you go back to your own building with your locker desecrated. “Faggot,” it says on your locker door.
It still hurts, even as you wipe and scrape the writing off with one of your reserve towels from your locker. But you won’t let it bring you down. You can’t, because that’s not you. You don’t let shit like this depress you, because it’s fucking stupid as hell. You’re better than these assholes, aren’t you? So why would you lower yourself to their level by feeling at least a hint of emotion?
“You have the right to feel anger, at the very least,” Jake says a while later during your break, having (figuratively) cornered you on the roof. You don’t bother to look at him, too busy with looking down at the ant-like people on the ground floor.
“I know. But what’ll that do, really?” You say, never really looking back to face him. He steps up to the space beside you eventually, too bothered with not seeing your face to stay behind. “It’s useless. I’ll get in trouble if I fight back, and I don’t think it’s worth it. The assholes can just die off in their own natural way.”
“I never said that you had to start some tussling, honestly,” Jake retorts with a small chuckle, “although, I do find the idea of fisticuffs attractive. Ah well, we can’t always have what we want.” He shrugs, before turning to face you with a curious smile. “You’re strong, are you not? Perhaps they can do with some, ah,” he laughs softly to himself, “intimidation, don’t you think so?”
Hm. Intimidating the douchebags sounds like a good idea, really. “I think you’ve got one hell of a brain on you, English. I’ll make sure to preserve it when you die.”
“You flatter me too much,” Jake quips, before turning away to look down at the ground. You sneak a glance at him, watching his green eyes roam along the crowd of ant-sized people, before turning away again.
You’ll break away from this hellhole someday, and you’re going to make sure that these bastards don’t get the chance to hurt anyone again.
“It’s heaven all wrapped up in a tiny yet absolutely delicious confection,” Jake sighs dreamily, still nipping at his cupcake bit by bit. Roxy has pretty much finished her fourth piece of cupcake by the time you’re done with one, though you’re not surprised. It’s probably the only proper food she’s gotten the whole day.
“I’m telling you, Crocker,” you start, before taking a bite from your cupcake, “you’re probably gonna own some major baking company in the future, or something. This is damn delicious as always.”
“Oh, you’re too much,” Jane laughs, some pink dusting her cheeks as she takes a nip from her own cupcake. “It’s just a hobby of mine, nothing at all I plan to be serious about!”
“Dear heavens, that’s practically blasphemy!” Jake cries out, and you stifle your snort of laughter. “You need to spread this talent of yours to the world, Miss Crocker! It’d be a dang shame if you let it go to waste!”
“Well, I suppose…” Jane trailed off, the pink on her cheeks becoming a more prominent red at Jake’s praise. “I-”
“Yer gonna be a baking queen, love,” Roxy manages to interrupt after her fifth cupcake, a lopsided grin on her lips as she let her arm hang around Jane’s shoulders. “No doubt ‘bout it. Else I’ll start a war, seein’ as you not being in your right job is pretty much hell on earth. You gotta have mercy on the peeps, Janey. They need to taste your heavenly food.”
“Oh, dear,” Jane sighs, an affectionate smile gracing her face as Roxy intertwines their fingers together. You and Jake share a look at that, though you don’t say anything about it. “Thank you so much.”
“No need to thank us, really,” you add, nudging Jake by the shoulder with a quirked brow. Jake quirks a brow back, that small inquisitive smile on his face, until he finally gets it.
“Certainly,” Jake concedes, a wide grin on his face as he claps Jane by the shoulder. “We’re only telling the truth, after all.”
Jane laughs, the redness spreading throughout her face as her eyes glisten with what you assume to be tears. “You people certainly know how to make a lady happy,” she murmurs softly before being pulled into your group hug with all of your arms on each other’s backs.
You don’t think any kind of heaven can ever compare with the happiness you’ve gotten from this family you’ve created for your own.
“You don’t know me,” Jake had growled (literally), before you got caught in the blur of action. You don’t know what initiated this, you can’t remember, but it doesn’t matter now.
It’s been close to five minutes and he’s still struggling, never giving in as you pin him to the ground. You’ve got some bruises around your stomach from his previous surprise attack, but you can live with it. It’s not fatal, anyway. “What’s wrong?” You say, as calmly as you can, but Jake growls at you either way like a mad hound let on the loose.
“You can’t possibly understand,” he hisses, thrashing against your grip on his wrists, “what it must be like for me to be trapped, here, with nowhere to go.” You keep silent even as he struggles, listening to his every word to try and understand what it is that he means. “You’re accustomed to the city life, I’m certain,” he chokes out a laugh before continuing, “you wouldn’t be able to comprehend how difficult it is to live in a place where you don’t belong, where you can’t at all fit in. You don’t know, Strider.” You loosen your grip on his hands for a millisecond, intent on letting his wrists have their circulation back, but Jake has better plans.
You’re on your back before you can comprehend it, and Jake is glaring enough figurative daggers into your skin to make you feel warm with his rage.
“I know how it feels,” you begin to say, before he interrupts you again.
“You don’t!” Jake practically howls into the wind, sharp nails digging into your wrists as he kept you pinned to the ground. You breathe in slowly. “You don’t know how it feels like to be in a frigging cage, ol’ chap. You don’t know what it’s like to walk in the hallways every damned day to hear their whispering, their insults at your dignity. You don’t-“
“Enough,” you grunt, hands balling up into fists as you gradually start to struggle underneath him. “You don’t know what you’re saying.”
“I think I know well enough what I’m saying, Strider.” He scowled, nails already leaving crescent-shaped marks on your pallid skin.
“No.” You’d remembered murmuring, before everything became a haze.
You don’t know how you ended up in Jake’s arms like this, sobbing uncontrollably like a fucking wuss for no reason at all other than the overload of pressure. You just know that he’s foregone his animalistic persona from earlier to calm you down, his voice whispering soothing words into your hair as he rubs your back. You try to curl in on yourself, not wanting him to see more of your pathetic crying even though you know that he’s already seen too much in the first place
“Hush,” Jake whispers, having already let you up to hold you close into his chest. “I apologize, I hadn’t thought…”
“No,” you choke out, hands already clutching onto his shirt as you bury your face into his chest. “It’s stupid. Just.” You shake your head, not knowing what else to say to make anything better for either of you. You don’t look up but you can feel him nodding, before you suddenly feel his chin pressing against the top of your head with his arms wrapping around your back. You try to keep it in, you try not to feel anything, but it’s so hard. You’ve never felt this warm and protected before and it hurts inside, you feel sick, because you’re supposed to be the strong one. You shouldn’t need protecting.
His fingers are curling around your nape and soothing you, tangling around your hair and you break down; you can’t do this anymore, you can’t keep pretending that it’s not real. “It’s alright,” he whispers into your hair and you cry harder, because you’re the one who’s supposed to say that. You’re always the one who has to say that.
“You’re just as innocent as any of us are, Dirk,” he murmurs, pressing gentle kisses on your temple and god, you hate how weak it makes you feel. “You’re still young, like the rest of us. You can’t always be the strongest.”
You don’t say what you’re thinking for fear of breaking down into a sob again, so you keep silent; cold hands clenched into Jake’s shirt with your forehead pressing into his chest. He keeps his arms wrapped around you, like a cocoon protecting you from anything that might harm you, and you feel safe. For one fleeting moment, you feel secure.
But I can damn well try to be the strongest, Jake. I can try.
“Jane, why can’t we just have bumper cars to drive in highways so it’ll be more fun?”
“Oh, honey,” Jane sighs, looking a little too frazzled as she kept her hands on the wheel of the bumper car. She smiles down at her little cousin before going back to steering, making sure to be near Roxy to ascertain her less than sober condition. “That would be difficult, seeing as there are wires that have to be put up to keep the cars going.”
John pouts up at her, little arms folding on his chest as he puffs his cheeks up. “But won’t it be more fun? And less dangerous! People don’t get hurt even when they bump their cars on bumper cars, do they?”
“Yo, slowpokes!” You interrupt instantly with an enormous bump into her car, a wild smirk on your face as you throw a wave at her. “Gotta keep on the alert, don’t you think?”
“Yeah, you’re just gonna get bumped into all the time without any defense at all if you keep at that,” Dave quips, the shades sitting on the bridge of his nose a little too big for his face.
“I’d bump you guys more if Jane would let me drive!” John yells back at him, practically unaffected by the disgruntling move that the two of you had made on them.
“Then why won’t you drive?” Dave calls back, and Jane sighs. You’re just trying your hardest not to laugh at how unruly Jane’s hair is looking at the moment.
You quickly spin the wheel before you’re hit by Jake’s bumper car, the adrenaline rush making you take a shaky breath in as you watch him pump a fist into the air. Jane’s bumper car has taken another spin with Jake’s move, making her look all the more worn-drown from the bumper car abuse. John just looks even more hyped-up with the hit, a wide and completely goofy grin on his face as he squeals in excitement.
“That was brilliantly exhilarating!” Jake exclaims breathlessly, a flush of excitement on his face as he does a high-five with his mini-me sitting beside him, Jade Harley. You’re a tad disturbed at how similar they are whilst only being second cousins.
You’re interrupted when Roxy’s car crashes haphazardly against Jake’s, eventually making him crash into Jane’s bumper car as well; leaving you and Dave to be the only ones unaffected. There’s a tense silence for a while of everyone breathing, your hearts pounding in your chests as you try to gain some composure.
“Whoa,” Roxy manages to exclaim after a moment, hands clenching into the edge of her seat. Rose is sitting calmly beside her, tiny hands clutching at the wheel and damn if you’re not proud of that girl for managing to mess the fuck out of everyone yet remaining as cool as ice.
“It must be noted that Rose Lalonde is the craziest girl to grace the bumper car rink, and I mean that in a damn good way.”
She raises an eyebrow at you in return, snarky little lady that she is, but you still note the amused smile on her face either way.
It’s cold. Not the type of cold that’ll leave you shivering in your pants, but the soothing kind of cold that you’d want to stay in whilst under Texan heat.
Roxy’s parents let her have the resort for a week during summer break and she, being the good friend that she is, obviously insisted first that the four of you “BFFsies” come over to have some fun. That being said, you couldn’t leave Dave at home to bother Pops with his rest, so you brought him along as well. Luckily for him, Jane brought John too with Jake bringing Jade along for the ride. You’d think Rose was the chaperone with her unamused expression unwavering, even as your group of seven is already having fun in the pool.
You’d stay here forever, if you could. It’s cold, comfortably so. The combination of cool air and cold water brushing against your front as you lie on the water is too much, so you roll around and slip into the water, half-diving in with eyes closed as you let the water caress your whole body into relaxation.
You want to stay here, forever. It’s quiet under the water, only the soft murmuring of the outside noise reaching your ears as you stay down. You curl in on yourself eventually, arms wrapping around your legs as you press your head down into your knees. It’s peaceful here.
Too bad you have to breathe.
You uncurl under the water before doing a failed imitation of that slow-mo rise up from one Disney movie (the irony is too good to pass up), taking in a deep breath of air instantly after you’ve risen from the chlorinated water.
“I give that one an eleven point five!” Jake calls from the farther side of the pool, a wide grin on his face as he passes a beach ball to Jane. Jane rolls her eyes at the points given though you smirk either way, feeling a little proud that Jake bothered to give you any points at all.
“Psh, no way!” Jade yells from the shallower side of the pool, skinny arms waving around in the water. “That’s a fifteen!” She manages to say before her voice evolves into a squeak-slash-yelp as John splashes her directly in the face with water.
“Nah!” John yells back as he avoids Jade’s retaliating splashes, “It’s a hundred, Bro!”
“Well shit, nii-san,” Dave drawls, arms hanging onto the kickboard as he kept his feet paddling, “you got all the chicks worshiping your moves.”
A few seconds later finds Dave spluttering in surprise in the pool, hands scrambling for balance on his kickboard as he tries to rise up from the water.
Really, the kid should have seen it coming.
“You got your little brother a camera? Why, that’s certainly thoughtful of you, mate.”
You shrug, amber eyes still focused on the aforementioned little brother who was now messing with his camera as he ran around the front yard, taking pictures of anything that he found interesting. “Gotta have him on his toes all the time.”
“By purchasing a gadget for him even with the lack of an occasion? That’s sweet of you.” Jake smiles, nudging you by the shoulder as you lean back onto the door way. You roll your eyes at him, nudging him back a little harder until he almost tips over from his seat by the stairs leading into the house. Jane barely hides her giggle when she looks back at the two of you, a hand covering her mouth as her gaze stays on one particular brunet. You try not to smile at how obvious it is.
“Striders don’t do sweet. We do grand proclamations of love in the most ironic manner possible.” You drawl, maintaining your poker face even as you watch Dave motioning for his trio of friends to group together for a photo.
“Aha! Yet I don’t see anything at all “ironic” in this, mister Strider! Need I say more?” Jake teases, before propping his foot up on his portion of the stairs and sliding it forward to poke at your leg. You swat away the appendage with a small huff.
“Think I agree with him on that one, Dirk,” Roxy agrees with a sly smile, her sobriety clear from her articulation. You’re guessing that she only stopped drinking for the day because of the kids- there was no way that she could’ve run out of alcohol so easily. “You can be a pretty sweet guy when you want to be. I would know.” She shoots you a wink at that, at which you hide a snort of amusement.
“It is true,” Jane concurs with a tiny smile, her body half-facing you as she sits with her legs crossed daintily on the stairs. “Did Dave ask for the camera, or did you just think it would fit him?”
You shrug at the question, using one hand to tip up your shades as you look at your little brother tugging his friends close for another photo, him included. “He told me that he wanted to keep his memories on something permanent. He’s a forgetful kid, so I thought a camera would suit him.”
You still remember the first time that someone touched you.
A teen your age- a classmate in Math class, to be precise- asked you out. She was a brunette, she was gorgeous, and she was nice. She wasn’t all that high and mighty, even with the stereotype that came with being a cheerleader. You think you could’ve grown to like her if it weren’t for that one moment.
The memory was a blur, all faded colors and distorted motions. But you remember stepping into her room with the original plan of helping her out with her Math homework, you remember closing the door behind you and hearing the flutter of garments falling to the floor; you remember her half-naked body pressing into your clothed one, her hands roaming under your shirt and touching pale skin in ways that made even you –you, Dirk Strider, the poker face master- squirm.
You remember her hands tugging your own to touch her, you remember your fingers shakily tracing along tanned skin, you remember tantalizing touches across your stomach before tanned hands grasped at your belt and tugged your pants down until you were left naked from the lower regions and she was pressing up against you and moaning and-
Everything faded, after that. You couldn’t remember much else.
The next morning found you ill, hands fumbling to reach for your clothes as you escaped from her house with cold sweat forming on your palms as you walked back home. Dave ran up to you as soon as you stepped in from the front door, the new shades that he’d received from his friend hanging haphazardly on the bridge of his nose as he asked you where you’d gone. You just replied with a nonchalant “just hung out with a bro, don’t worry” before walking away and to the bathroom.
You barely held back the urge to vomit as you washed yourself, your skin flushing red with the force you used to press down on the sponge. The dirty feeling that you had on your body disappeared but only momentarily- she’d called you the afternoon after, said that she was dumping you for using her like that, and that was it. The moment that started the rumour that you were…well, a faggot.
It was that moment of insanity that made you realize that you could never make a decision that you’d regret, ever again.
“Misfortune’s been dealing you quite the hand, Dirk,” Jake murmurs, eyes trailing on the clothes clinging to your skin as you cough out the water that had entered your mouth from the bucket that had tipped water over your head. “Or, rather, I’d call it that miss Crocker has taken a liking to making you her victim.”
“I wouldn’t place all of the blame on her just yet,” you grouse, removing your shades from your face as you try to dry out the water dripping from your fringe. “I hear she’s found herself an apprentice.”
“Perhaps you mean John? Ah, he’s been taught well, to have caught a person such as yourself off guard.” John shoots a wink at you, at which you respond with a barely hidden snort of amusement. You murmur a soft thanks when he hands you his handkerchief, using it to wipe away the water that had dripped all over your face. You wouldn’t have bothered him with it, but you’d left your own kerchief at home, and you honestly don’t like the idea of keeping your hair and face dripping wet.
“You think she’ll mind if I strip? It is partially her fault that I’ve gotten all wet like this.” You look up at the bucket hanging precariously on the kitchen door. Why hadn’t you noticed that, really? You take a glance at Jake, lips subconsciously pursing in thought.
“Oh, it’ll definitely go against her sensibilities. I suggest that you do it.”
“Mm? You want to see me strip? My, I didn’t take you to be such a man, English.”
You stifle a laugh when he sputters, the flush that you know would’ve been visible if it had been on your face remaining unseen with the brunet’s dark skin. “Chill,” you soothe him with a small smirk as you tug up at your shirt. You don’t bother to look at his reaction as you turn to the sink to wring the water out of the cloth, although you leave your slightly wet trousers on. It wouldn’t do if Jane’s dad suddenly came out to see you in just your boxers.
“I’m quite chill, don’t you worry,” Jake replies with a huff, hands crossed on his chest when you turn to look at him.
You cock an amused smile at him. “I’m sure you are.”
“You should do that more often.”
“What?” You tilt your head to look down at Roxy, pausing only for a moment from your motions of tangling through her blonde hair. She looks back up at you with a smile, although you can tell that it’s more on the side of mischievous than sincere.
“Smile, obviously,” she drawls in the same tone that you usually do, at which you roll your eyes. “You look, well…dashing, if I’m gonna use Jakey-wakey’s words.”
“I hear that all the time. It’s hard to smile when there’s not much to smile about.” You shift your arm around her shoulders, raising the hand by a bit to brush against her cheek. “I’m not like you guys. I’m gonna have to stick to being the snarky guy in the group. Jake’s already taken up the position for team optimist.”
“Hah, really? Didn’t know that there had to be a title for each one of us.” She nuzzles into your shoulder, hands fiddling idly on her lap. “What does that make me? The group’s drunkard? The pretty girl?”
“Team strategist, if anything. You’re smart.”
“Psh, am I, really?” She looks up at you, pink contact lenses covering her brown eyes. “You’re just as smart as I am.”
“You barely try to study, Rox. Who the hell are you kidding?” You dodge when she tries to punch you in the face, the amusement written all over your face as you raise your arm up to take her into a light headlock.
“It’s in the genes, darlin’,” she purrs, not even bothering to struggle as she goes limp in your hold. You try not to roll your eyes again as you release her. “’sides, you barely study too. You keep working on your technostuff.”
It’s silent. Complete silence only ever bothers you when it’s around your group, but today is different. The sun is already setting on Jake’s backyard and everyone is feeling drowsy from spending the whole day in play. Dave, John, Jade and Rose are all already huddled up on one pillow, the top of their heads barely touching each other as they sleep. You try not to raise an eyebrow at the sight of Dave and Jade holding hands, and you’re doing pretty well in your attempt so far.
Jane manages a soft coo at the sight, lips forming a smile as she runs a hand through Roxy’s blond locks. The blonde remains asleep even at the motions, her head on Jane’s lap as she murmurs words in her sleep. Even with Roxy’s soft murmurings everything is silent, only the soft rustling of the leaves from the trees breaking the quiet every once in a while.
It doesn’t take too long before Jane gives in as well, her eyes fluttering shut as Jake leads her to lean onto his shoulder. You don’t even bother to hide the smile on your face as the brunette falls asleep, mouth hanging open just slightly as her breathing turns into a slow rhythmic motion. It takes a while, half a minute perhaps, before Jake quirks an eyebrow at you.
You tilt your head at him in question, not wanting to break the silence completely. He rolls his eyes before making a motion with his hand, pointing to the sleeping girls then to you. You chuckle softly at that, the sound not entirely coming out of your mouth as you shake your head at him. He’s about to complain when you cut him off with your hand on the side of his head, tugging him gently to lean his head onto your shoulder.
A sudden burst of courage makes you lean down to press a kiss on the top of his head, your hand stroking idly through black locks as you keep his head down. A sigh confirms the brunet’s comfort under your hold, and you relax, knowing that Jake doesn’t mind what you’re doing.
You fall into a short nap at that, Jake’s head resting on your shoulder while his hand covered yours on the blanket you’d laid out on the grass.
Dave’s at that age where he doesn’t really give a shit about your privacy and just wants to keep on bothering you until you snap- which you won’t, because that’s definitely not something that defines a Strider. Still, he’s getting pretty close with all the questions. You can’t tell if you want to give him an award for being so good at pestering you or if you want to give him a little gift that involves puppets invading his room in avalanche-form.
“So you like Roxy?”
“Of course I like Roxy, squirt.”
“No, I mean-”
“Yeah no, not like that. Just, as a friend.” You shrug, sewing a small accidental tear from Lil Cal’s wrist. “The hell are you asking, anyway? You want me to interrogate you about your thing with Jade or something?”
“Uhhh, dude, what. There isn’t a thing. With Jade, I mean.”
You try not to raise an eyebrow at the lack of a reaction from your little brother. Kid’s getting good with his poker-face, isn’t he? “Right.”
Dave breezes through the sarcasm dripping from your tone with, “So, is there someone else I should be expecting to welcome into the family? Should I be hearing the church bells ringing ‘round the aisle already, maybe whip out some wicked beats for the bride’s entrance? Or husband, whatever.”
“Lil’ dude, you need to find a life.”
“I have a life, I’m just asking about yours ‘cause I’m worried. Gotta prepare my speech and all that if you plan on getting yourself a girlfriend or whatever.”
“How old are you?”
“You planning on giving your bro away for marriage already?”
“Well, if that’s what you want-”
“No. Hell no, I don’t plan on gettin’ hitched anytime soon.”
“Sooo…who is it? Is it Jane? She’s nice, and she makes damn good cakes. Man, I wouldn’t mind if she came over more.” Dave sighs, rolling over on your bed and rustling up the sheets that you just made.
“That’s because you’re clingy to her cousin, don’t try to deny it.”
“Is it Jake?” He shoots back instead, not skipping a beat in his questioning. You’re starting to doubt your own skills in bringing him up with Pops.
“If it is?” The question is plain and you throw it out there without a care, although your insides are already curling up and prepared to die if your own little brother decides that you’re a freak, just like the rest of them.
“It’s cool. I mean, damn, kid’s a bit dense and shit but if you like him then go the hell for it.”
Oh. Well, that’s a good sign that you guided him along nicely. You might not be that much of a bad brother after all.
“Huh. Well, okay.”
“Okay? So it’s Jake?”
“Alright, cool. Even if he is a bit of a nerd.”
“Your friends are nerds.”
“Think you’re so high and mighty, huh? What about now? Don’t have your sword to defend yourself with, Strider. What’re you gonna do?”
You keep your face void of emotion as you stifle the urge to struggle under this stranger- this teenage bully. What would it do if you tried to escape? It was undeniable; you were still weak, still lanky in form and incapable of defending yourself against meatheads like this one. The only thing that would happen if you tried to struggle was to cause his enjoyment at your squirming.
You try to shift your head around, uncomfortable with the knowledge that the lockers behind you are less than rusty but more than messed up. Which, really, you should’ve thought sooner because if you did you might have avoided the meathead’s assault on your head, making the sharp handle of the locker hit your head with a loud ‘crack’ before things went a little bit dimmer and you couldn’t tell if you were imagining Jake’s voice calling to you with your given name.
“It’s Strider, not Dirk,” is the last thing you remember muttering before you succumb to the darkness.
You wake up to a bright light and start wondering if you’re in heaven. Was heaven even real?
“You insufferably worrisome douche,” you hear Jake’s voice hissing at you, and you blink your eyes open. Shit, why is everything so bright? You cover your eyes with a groan, absently noting the dull ache on the back of your head and the smell of a hospital.
“You were knocked into the old locker doors by that tyrant of a jock. It was a good thing that I was looking for you, honestly! There was all this blood, and,” he trailed off for a moment, going into a daze, before slipping back with a shake of his head, “I’m just relieved that I made it in time.”
“Yeah, great,” you murmur half-heartedly, using your free hand to slide back and prod gently at the wound. Wow, that fucking smarted. “What happened to him?”
“I took care of him.”
His tone of voice, dark and dangerous, makes you look up in a slight squint. You try to ignore the way that your heart skips a beat when he holds his gaze with you in promise. This is getting ridiculous. “By take care of, you don’t mean you kicked his ass, did you?”
“Oh, well, I might have given him a good round of tussling, but other than that- you don’t need to fret about my dirtying my reputation with the school! Your father notified the principal of what happened and it got him a good suspension.” He grins and you stifle the urge to smile back. “All’s well, I’d say.”
“What about Dave?”
“He wasn’t very worried. I’m starting to think that you gave him the illusion that you’re invincible, Dirk.”
“I am. And, dude, not cool. You can just call me Strider or something.”
“Oh, come off it! It’s your name, I ought to use it right. Besides, Dave is a Strider as well as your father, I wouldn’t want to get things into a discombobulated mess!”
You cover your face with your arm, holding back on a sigh. This guy is something else.
You’re cradling Jade on your lap with Rose sitting beside you, both of them reaching out with small hands toward the bowl of chips in your hand. Your eyes are glued to the screen, yeah, but your ears are alert to the conversation happening behind you.
“What in heaven’s name are those three watching?” Jane asks.
“Oh? Oh, yeah, they’re watching My Little Ponies.” Roxy answers, and you think you can hear a little snicker on her part.
“My Little Ponies: Friendship is Magic,” Jade corrects, not once looking back. You hide a smile with a handful of chips as you keep watching. You weren’t the only one listening, apparently.
“Why is Dirk-”
“He likes it.”
“I’m observing pop culture. There have been a noticeable amount of people who watch this show and I’m merely taking notes on what is within it that attracts so much attention.”
“Other than the bright colors,” Rose adds.
“Other than the bright colors.”
“That, and he likes Rainbow Dash,” Roxy inserts with laughter.
Rose answers without so much as a glance, “A Pegasus pony. You can tell that it’s her from her rainbow-colored tail and cutie mark.”
“It’s the thing that looks like a tattoo,” Roxy supplies with a barely hidden snort of amusement. You roll your eyes.
Jane still has so much to learn.
You look up from your place by the window to see Dave entering your room, his dark red sweater far too large on his small frame. Not like he was complaining; he asked you to make it that way.
“Yeah? C’mere.” You gesture with your hand for him to join you on the ledge and he complies, his small hands hiding within his large sweater’s sleeves as he climbs onto your lap. You shift so that you’re both more comfortable, both of your arms wrapping around his middle as he leans his back into your chest.
“Texas doesn’t rain this much, does it?”
“Nah,” he murmurs back, voice soft. You smooth back his fringe with one hand, letting him lean further onto you with his eyes closed. You take off the shades from his face without much complaint, setting it down onto the drawer close to the window. “S’too cold.”
“Sweater’s not workin’ for you?”
“Sort of.” He shifts around so that he’s burying his face into your chest, small hands clinging onto your own orange sweater. You sigh, not once stopping as you pet his hair into less of a mess. He’d probably just woken up from sleep.
“Looks really grey,” you note. He looks up at you, red eyes clear on his pale face, before looking out the window. He nods, hands still clutching onto your sweater. “Think we can make something out of that?”
“Sick beats can be taken from anything, bro.”
You smile, and while it would be unseen to anyone else, it’s practically a sign of laughing out loud and rolling on the ground in tears to your little brother. Dave stares at you because of it, before reaching up and taking your shades off your face to place them on his own. You hide a snort of laughter at how lopsidedly they hang on him, and how much they cover half of his face. “Good boy,” you mutter in approval, before ruffling his hair. He grins at you with teeth bared, laughing softly as he lets you muss up his hair some more.
He’s the only one who knows this side of you.
Jane’s stifling a giggle. You can tell from the way she’s covering her mouth with her hand as she looks away from you.
“You can laugh, y’know. It’s dangerous to keep it in."
Jane’s barely through uncovering her mouth when she lets out an undignified snort, the redness spreading through her cheeks lightly as she bursts into laughter. You shake your head at that, not bothering to comment as you obediently mix the batter as Jane had told you to.
“Oh, you’re baking cookies? Magnificent! I was feeling a tad hungry,” Jake says as soon as he steps into the kitchen, a wide smile on his face as Roxy trails after him. You roll your eyes when he leans on the counter with arms folded, looking eagerly at you as though he’s some puppy that needs petting.
“What?” You stare him down through dark lenses, trying to inwardly urge him away from you.
“I was hoping you’d read my mind and know that I wanted to taste some of that batter you’re mixing,” Jake says with an innocent expression on his face, the smile far too sweet to be sincere.
“Nope.” You shake your head, leaning away from the counter and holding the bowl to your chest as you keep mixing it. “Gotta do what the apron says first, and maybe I’ll think about it.”
Roxy doesn’t bother to hide a snort as she laughs, already having taken her place on the countertop in front of Jane. “Do it, Jakey!” She whistles, earning a strange look from Jane, although the brunette does laugh either way.
“Well, if I must!” Jake exclaims with all the eagerness of an adventurer bound for another exploration. You can’t tell if the thing churning in your stomach is anxiety or hunger, which it might be both.
If anyone tells you how much of a pathetic teenager you are when you flashstep away from Jake, again and again until you’ve already mixed the batter enough; before flashstepping your way once more through the steps until Jake doesn’t have the chance to taste the batter because of you’re having already put the tray of spoonfuls into the oven- well. You might just punch that person right in the face. How the hell would you have not backed off if Jake had that weird look on his face like he wanted to eat you alive?
You blame the apron you borrowed from Jane. [You blame all of its frilliness, its blue color, and the fact that it said Kiss The Cook.]
22. Mother Nature
25. Trouble Lurking
“It’s close to bloody vacation! I don’t see why we have to endure studying like this. Can’t we perhaps take a time off?”
“I’m afraid we can’t,” Jane ‘tuts’ at Jake with a wave of her index finger. “You’ve been failing-”
“-spectacularly, might I add-“ you interject calmly from your place beside Roxy.
“-yes, what mister Strider said. You’ve failed spectacularly in Math, and all three of us,” she pauses to let you and Roxy throw a wave from your place on the beanbags by the wall of Jane’s room, “have agreed that you need some help.”
“I can understand that quite well on my own, I assure you,” Jake soothes, both of his hands raised in mock-surrender as he breathes out a sigh. “But can I not have some time to rest? My mind feels quite addled with all of the swotting I’ve been doing.”
“Your mind has yet to be completely befuddled, Jake. We’ve yet to encounter half of the lessons that the teachers have taught you, even!”
Roxy whistles, head rising for a moment before falling back on your shoulder. “You can do it, Jake! Believe in the you who believes in me-”
“No, you got it wrong.” You sigh. “Don’t believe in the you who believes in me, or the me who believes in you. Believe in the you who believes in yourself.”
“That is absolutely confounding.”
You shrug. “Most anime are.”
It’s raining. Again. It’s even got the whole thunder and lightning thing. You can’t tell if you’re amazed at how gorgeous it actually looks outside, violent winds whipping about the tree branches and rain water slicking up the road until it has a nice sheen around it, or if you’re irritated at how it’s holding you and your brother up from getting home. You admit, the idea of staying over a bit longer in Jake’s house is tempting, but it’s really not when there’s a storm like this out there and your Dad’s left at home alone. You understand that he’ll be fine, really, but sometimes the paranoia gets to you.
“Are any of you up for some victuals? Grandma’s prepared some orange juice- and yes, we have apple juice for you, Dave-” Dave smirks from his corner of the room with his other friends, and you’re really starting to wonder if he’s trying to emulate you [considering him, you wouldn’t be surprised if that were actually the case], “and biscuits!”
You, Roxy and Jane all look to each other, searching for confirmation, before nodding. “We’d all be up for some grub,” you call out from your place by the windowsill.
“Tell your grandma thank you for us, won’t you?” Jane pipes up from her place beside Roxy on the sofa, a sheepish smile on her face once Jake smiles in amusement at the notion that Roxy is fixing her hair into tiny braids.
Jake grins. “Will do!”
A few minutes after finds you and everyone else in a circle around the coffee table, both small hands and large ones reaching out to the plate for some food with your other hands occupied with cups of juice.
“Mother Nature’s angry,” Jade pipes up from her place beside her older cousin, “because people haven’t been taking good care of her. That’s why it’s raining so hard.”
“No wonder they call her Mother. She’s a moody bi- woman.” You cut yourself off once you see the raised eyebrow from Jane.
Dave rolls his eyes at the sudden change of words, knowing well enough why you stopped yourself. You flick at the back of his head in retaliation. He yelps, shooting a glare at you, but not doing much else against it. All is right with the world.
“Come now, chum, you mustn’t be so hard on your brother!”
“Yeah,” Dave agrees from your side, trying to pull a doe-eyed look as he looks up at you. It would have worked, if he hadn’t worn those stupidly large shades on his face.
“Sorry kid, I rule with an iron fist. You gotta endure if you wanna be strong.”
“I thought you thought your brother was really cool?” John interjects with an innocent smile. “You want to be like him, and st- ow!”
“He started it.” Dave huffs, stuffing his face with biscuits as an excuse to say no more. It doesn’t do anything to hide the light flush of pink on his face, either way.
“Dirk Strider, if he were to be an animal at all, would certainly be a feline. Really?” Jane looks up from the paper she held in her hands, and Roxy waves a hand in dismissal at her. “Well, alright.” The brunet clears her throat, before continuing, “He is all sleek movements, sly smiles, and incorrigible logic. He is swift on his feet, always on the prowl, yet more than willing for a good petting or two.” Jane chuckles at the last note, and Roxy teasingly scolds her with a finger to her lips and a whispered ‘shh.’
“Ahem. He carries himself with grace, no matter how people disagree with his idea of it. He fights as though in a play, hand firm on his sword,” Jane looks up in bemusement when Roxy chuckles, before continuing once more, “and head held high with pride. He accepts defeat once he sees it, although that in itself is almost an impossible thing. Defeat is never recognized in this cat’s vocabulary, what with his unending line of strategies for winning. Most defeats he suffers through are merely part of his plans, which sooner or later end in his own victory. He knows how to purr in the right places, careful of who he should trust and care for. Like a fully grown cat, he knows when to hiss and snarl at what tries to harm his friends, or territory if we were to take it in a cat’s words.” Jane giggles softly at that, trailing her eyes down to the last words before moving back to continue,
“He knows when to let himself be touched by another being, and he knows when he is in good company. Though he makes it seem as though it is all part of some elaborate plan at times, his relationships with his friends and family are all things he actually treasures. Though he passes off as aloof, like a prideful kitten, he knows well enough than to push away the affection that is bestowed upon him. He knows what is best for his own well-being, and he does well in ensuring that he is well-off, in various aspects.”
Jane laughs out loud at the last line, not bothering to stop herself. “And, hah, I just like to think of our usually stoic friend as a purely adorable yet highly dangerous ball of fur.”
Dirk rolls his eyes, uncrossing his arms as he pushes himself off and away from the closed door of his room. This is what happens when he leaves two ladies alone for a few minutes to grab some food.
“I think your grandson is unreasonable for wanting to collect skulls yet not expect having people think him a possible murderer in the future.”
Grandma Jade takes a careful sip from her cuppa while you take a sip from your own cup of orange juice. She smiles at you, a knowing twinkle in her eyes, and your mind wanders with the possibilities of old people actually knowing everything. “Oh, really?” She questions, as though trying to be rhetoric, before sipping from her cuppa again.
“Yes, really.” You nod in emphasis, before taking a biscuit from the plate that she’d laid on the table.
“Doesn’t quite stop you from finding him attractive nonetheless, does it?” Her eyes are on the cookie in her hand, and you’ve come to realize that, perhaps, the possibility of old people knowing everything isn’t quite improbable.
“No, I suppose it doesn’t.” You answer carefully, amber eyes locked onto her face to try and search for a reaction- a rejection of some sort. You wouldn’t be surprised if she asked [threatened with her rifle] you to stay away from her grandson, although it didn’t seem a likely outcome. She’s a nice grandma. You wouldn’t mind having her as a grandma, actually. It makes you wonder what it would be like if you knew your own granny, though the idea seems a little less favorable when you remember that she was more strict and a little more insane with the training thing than your own Pops.
“Well, I’m glad for that. It’d be a pity if a strapping young lad such as you wouldn’t find my boy attractive just because of the skulls.” She smiles at you, before taking another sip from her cup of tea. You think you almost have a heart attack.
“I actually sort of like skulls, if we were to consider how I like observing them for research. Making robots, and all that. Planning on making an android soon enough.” You answer simply, hoping to whatever god was out there that you aren’t flushing pink.
Pops and Dave aren’t back yet. Jane and Jake both left already, the brunette a little more than happy at the prospect of having English escorting her home. You can’t even be bothered to get jealous, what with the idea that if you couldn’t have Jake, then at least Jane could have him. They’re perfect together, sort of. [Besides, you’ve not tried wooing him yet. You’ll see to it that if you have any competition, then it’ll be at least limited to one person.]
Pops and Dave aren’t back yet. Roxy is already starting to pester you about going out for a drink, though you refuse readily and coax her into playing a video game with you instead. She is eager to see the new horror [more like suspense] game that you’ve downloaded, and it’s enough to ease your anxiety for a while.
“Trouble could be lurking around the corners,” Roxy murmurs to herself as she starts up the game. You try not to think of it as an omen.
Pops and Dave aren’t back yet. You’re trying not to get antsy, but it’s hard not to when it’s already eight in the evening and you’re hungry but you don’t want to cook just yet because it’s Pops' turn tonight.
You get a call from the house phone, and it’s from Dave. You’re far from relaxing when you hear how shaky his voice is, like he’s trying not to cry but there are already tears streaking down his face.
“Kid? Are you okay?”
“Y-yeah,” he hiccups, and the worry claws at your insides enough to make you look paler than you already are. This earns you a curious look from Roxy. “Pops- we- I- I couldn’t-” his voice breaks and turns into a sob, and you try not to panic outwardly.
“Calm down, and tell me what happened. Where are you?”
“W-we’re in the hospital,” he says, voice soft and muffled, and you wonder for a moment if your heart has stopped or if your mind is just playing tricks on you, “a car crashed into us, and Pops- he-” he sniffles, “he saved me, and it’s my fault, I’m sorry,” he breaks down into a soft sob and you’re not scared, you’re not, you’re not.
“Hey, Dave, no, this isn’t your fault,” you soothe him quietly, though inside your breaking down bit by bit. Roxy is already sitting beside you, a hand rubbing at your back before you can realize it. “I’m coming for you, okay? Pops-” you pause, wondering if you were going to lie, before settling with, “it’s going to be fine, okay? Just wait for me in the lobby.”
“Okay,” he replies, voice a bit calmer than before. You set the phone down before turning to Roxy, and she smiles dryly at you.
Funnily enough, she was the one who proved to be more stable when it came to driving the two of you to the hospital.
Hahahah ok fine, I admit it. Each vignette is based on my mood swings- so if it's cracky, yeah. I'm not very good at writing compared to most other writers in the fandom, so I blame that as well.
Also, I moved on to use this 100 themes challenge instead! It seemed, well, better. Ahah.
26. Forever and a day
27. Lost and Found
28. Running Away
“He’s okay. He’s fine,” you announce to your group of friends as soon as you step out of the room to meet with them in the lobby. “He has a hairline fracture, some swelling here and there- but he’s fine. Dave’s got some few bruises but he’s doing better than Pops. Probably take a week or more before the doctors lets him go, but it should be fine.” You smile tiredly, your shades hanging precariously on the crook of your nose as you raise a hand to run through your hair. “Guess I worried for nothing. It’s a first.”
“Oh, Dirk,” Jane sighs with teary eyes and it shouldn’t have surprised you, but it does. She’s embracing you, her face hidden from your line of sight as she buries her nose into your chest. “Dirk, we should have been there, we shouldn’t have left-”
“Not your fault,” you answer instantly, hands automatically moving to rub awkwardly at her back. “You had to go home. You have your own dad worrying for you, after all.”
“But-” she stammers, pulling away, although you keep your hands on her shoulders just to make sure she doesn’t suddenly collapse into you. (Admittedly, you do it just to feel anchored to the ground, but you won’t tell her that.) “But we could have been there, Dirk. We’re your friends. And I-” she sucks in a breath and you soothe her with hands rubbing circles onto her shoulders, “I was scared. Your dad and mine, they’ve always been so strong, and I know that it’s not the most rational thing to think but I never thought that an accident like this could- could-”
This is the first time she’s ever come close to crying in front of any of you, and it’s utterly amazing how you’re able to comfort her like this. “But he made it out well enough, didn’t he?” Jake supplies with a comforting smile, his own hand moving to rub comforting circles on Jane’s back. Your eyes meet when he slides his hand up to cover your own on Jane’s shoulder, and you’re trying your hardest not to break down because you don’t need pity, and you don’t need him to make this thing, this thing clenching around your chest to worsen. You just offer a nod and he grins brightly, before your attention is taken away again by Roxy stepping closer to lean into your shoulder, her forehead pressing into your arm as she places a hand on your back.
“You should feel privileged, mister,” she accuses playfully as she traces a manicured fingernail along your back until you’ve straightened up a bit more. Jane has calmed down and is smiling at you and Roxy, and you prefer not to think about how Jake is grinning and clasping his hand around yours. Your hand –the one that’s not being held down- falls from Jane’s shoulder to slide around Roxy’s. “I stayed sober for you.”
“Thanks,” you reply dryly, although you are grateful that she managed to steer you away from thinking too deeply on things. “You’ve given me more of an incentive to put up with you.”
“Tut tut, Strider, no need to be so modest,” she slurs, though you know that it’s not because of the alcohol anymore. “Remember? Forever and a day, you promised.”
Jake and Jane turn to the two of you, and you subtly slide your hand off of Jane’s shoulder and out of Jake’s grasp. “And what might the two of you be referring to, exactly?” Jake asks with an eyebrow raised.
“Well, Rox and I knew each other a few years more than I knew the two of you. We swore when we were still in elementary school, just because she was so insistent after watching one of those Winnie the Pooh episodes-”
“I’ve yet to drink alcohol by then, and I remember that it was you,” Roxy points out with a languid grin. You huff and roll your eyes in response. “You made me promise that it’d be forever and a day,”
“Before I forget you, or leave you,” you finish with a smile tugging at your lips. Jane blinks, before cooing none too subtly. You turn your eyes away before chuckling in amusement. “It does sound like some sort of marriage proposal, now that I think about it.”
“Till death do us part,” Roxy says solemnly, before smiling brightly. “I don’t think I want to marry you, though. It feels like incest.”
You shoot her a blank stare, before nodding. “Great minds think alike.”
“I love you.”
“No you don’t,” Roxy replies glibly, rolling until she is lying on her stomach. You crane your head up until it’s lying on the edge of the bed, and Roxy gives you a light peck on the forehead.
“You don’t,” she insists again, shuffling until her right elbow is sitting just by your left ear. She looks down at you, both of her elbows propping her up as she smiles, all sweetness and resignation. “Not the same way I do.”
“I’m sorry,” you say instead, and she laughs. You let her remove your shades, not minding as she sets them down to your right on the bed. She smiles again and something breaks in her gaze, the edge of her lip shaking before she keeps it down with another wide smile. You think she’s going to cry, but you know she won’t let herself do that.
“No you’re not,” she says in reply, before pressing a kiss onto your lips. It feels scarily like she’s letting you go, and you don’t want her to. You still need her. “But that’s okay.”
“It’s not,” you insist, “because-”
Her smile wanes before returning full-force, although it’s a little less happy than before. “You don’t need to love me so I’ll stay. That’s a bit, well, desperate, isn’t it? I don’t want to be desperate.”
You stay silent for a moment, contemplating, before saying, “What if we just put our hearts up in some lost and found section? Do you think anyone will want us? Imagine that, getting your soul mate through a lost and found section.”
“How gory,” she slurs, before laughing. “I think you’ve had too much to drink, Dirk. You don’t even believe in soul mates.”
“I imagine you’re just as drunk as I am.”
“I’m an expert in this area. I can still be more sober even when you’ve drunk half of a bottle of vodka.”
“But I’m a guy.”
“Are we making this some sort of line of non sequiturs, then?”
You laugh, a little louder than you’d intended. “Shut up and got to sleep, Rox.”
Pops has healed up nicely and is back home after a week. You’re the one to wheel him out of the hospital in a wheelchair, and Jane’s father is kind enough to help you out in taking him back. You suppose being friends with your children’s friends is a good thing. He and Jane’s dad chat while you keep your gaze outside, watching the road as you get home far too quickly. You left Dave at home seeing as he was far too tired, which was fine. He could handle himself well enough, and you’d (perhaps illegally) whipped up some small bots to take care of any possible intruders. Not like anyone would want to try, considering how you’d fixed the gates to electrify anyone that was unrecognized when you weren’t home.
You tell yourself that you’re not running away when you get Pops into the house without saying a word. Just a line of inquiry here and there (“You doing okay?” “Need anything, Pops?”), but other than that, nothing else. It’s not suspicious, not really, because not talking has been a thing in the house for as long as you can remember. The silence when he looks at you and Roxy when your hands are touching, the silence when he sees you looking at Jake with observant eyes, the silence when you let yourself submit to Jake’s whims far more often than you would for anyone else; it’s nothing new. It’s not running away, because there was never a confrontation in the first place. Pops always just looks, observes, but never tells, accuses, or asks anything. It’s not running away, you think.
The accident had almost made him talk. You remember him sitting up on his bed, back leaning into the headboard as he looks at you. Jake has just left and a smile lingers on your lips, before you return to your stoic expression as you look at your father. He opens his mouth, amber eyes staring into your own, and you almost feel like your world will end with just one word from him. He’ll ask you,
“Son, do you like that blond friend of yours?”
And you’ll say without hesitation, “Roxy? Yeah, of course.”
“Are you attracted to her?”
“She’s beautiful.” It’s not a lie.
“Do you want to be with her?”
“Forever.” And a day, you’d say silently to yourself.
“What about that lad with the glasses? Jake?”
You’d freeze without meaning to, mouth opening without a sound coming out, before you say, “What?”
“Do you like him?”
“Well, I-” you’d sputter, hands trying not fumble as you slip them in your pockets, “yeah, of course. He’s my friend.” It’s not wholly a lie, but you’d know that your Pops hears it not in the way that you’d want him to. He’ll be suspicious, and you’ll sputter some more until you’ve become pale in the face and you’ve broken down,
“Pops, I’m gay.” Even though you’ve never needed to tell anyone that before, but you want him to know that you don’t want to be with a woman in the way a man should be, and you don’t want to lie to him.
The rest is typical. He’d disown you, throw you out of the house- but if you’re really fucking lucky, he won’t mind.
But that time hasn’t come yet, and you’ll keep everything to yourself for now.
You tell yourself that it isn’t running away, but somehow, you’re not very convinced with your own words.
Bullies are normal, you think. Really, they are. As much as everyone wishes for a better world where children are happy and untainted by the common Neanderthal that roams around the school campus, it’s still pretty much just a wish.
But it’s really not fucking normal when a guy in high school bullies a kid in elementary. It’s really not, and you’re not going to let shit like this slide, especially when your little brother is involved.
It’s the reason why you find yourself in an alleyway, your gloved hand grasping roughly at a brunet’s neck. He’s scrabbling at your wrist, your grip almost choking him as you glare into cowering brown eyes. “You think it’s fun to hurt kids barely half your age, hm? How about I break your fingers?” You smile, teeth bared as you snarl at him, “One by one, kid? You have nice hands too- probably a pianist, right? How about I ruin that for you? You don’t look so smart. It’s probably the only thing that’s keeping you happy at home.”
“Wh- who the fuck are you?” He whimpers, hands still (so very weak) trying to claw at your wrist.
“Remember, there are a lot of kids out there with brothers. It just so happens that you bullied one with a brother who knows how to use a knife.” His eyes flash with fear and you smile in satisfaction. “I could kill you right now, kid. I wouldn’t regret it. But I’m going to keep you alive, because I know you’ve got some friends that I can’t be bothered to deal with. Give them the message: I am out for your fucking blood and if you make one more step against a kid, I will kill you all- and I won’t even be caught, because you know why?” You grin, and he shakes his head wildly. “You don’t know who I am, and even if you try to find me, I’ll find you first, and I will make you all pay, starting with you.”
He nods, the fear written all over his face as he pleads for you to release him. You smile with a certain firmness, before saying, “Ah, but before that, let me give you a warning. Wouldn’t want you to go along hurting kids without a consequence, right?” His eyes widen and you cover his mouth with your other hand before he screams, your hand moving from his neck to his hand in one smooth motion. There’s a clear snap and he howls in pain, although you keep it down as much as you can with your hand. He passes out soon enough before collapsing into what you think is an uncomfortable position on the floor. Ah, well, not like you care.
(It’s a silent promise, never spoken, but it remains true either way. The Striders are unbreakable- and if someone tries to break one of you, then they’ve got hell coming for them in a nice pack of swords.)
You pass by a hospital, letting them know that there’s a kid who’s passed out in some alley around the corner, before slipping away without much notice as they send out one of the staff to check. There’s nothing untoward about you when you get back home, so Dave and Pops don’t place much notice on you either.
If Dave notes how there aren’t much people trying to bully him a week after his wounds and bruises have healed, he doesn’t tell you.
You’re pretty sure he already has an idea why they’ve been leaving him alone, anyway.
“Well I guess it would be nice, if I could touch your body; I know not everybody, has got a body like you!”
“I’m torn between thinking this is funny and having secondhand embarrassment because he’s my friend,” you say bluntly as you prop your chin up with folded arms. Jane nods, a light flush of pink on her face as she keeps her blue eyes trained on Jake’s wiggling (could it even be called dancing?) form. Roxy’s already dozing off, although it’s obvious that she’s seen Jake if one would note the silly grin on her face. You honestly don’t know what’s come over the boy, but you’re rather willing to blame it on his phone.
“But I’ve gotta think twice,” he sings as he walks from the center of the cafeteria to beside Jane, before kneeling down in front of her. The flush of red has already reached the tips of Jane’s ears when Jake continues, “before I give my heart away, and I know all the games you play, because I play them too.”
You’re already prepared to slam your forehead into the table, annoyed at the blatant interest on Jane’s face and Jake’s encouragement, before you’re stopped short when Jake saunters into your direction and slides a hand along to wrap around your shoulders. Oh, god. He can’t be serious. “Oh, but I need some time off, from that emotion- time to pick my heart up off the floor!” He croons, cheek pressing into your temple as he blatantly ignores (or thoroughly enjoys) the attention that is pouring onto him in truckloads. You try not to react, you really do, but you’re damnably pale that you can’t help from flushing to the tip of your ears. He grins (leers?) at you as he continues, hand already sliding off from your shoulders as he moves on to another victim, “Oh, when that love comes down without devotion, well it takes a strong man baby- but I’m showing you the door! ‘Cause I gotta have faith!”
You’re entirely satisfied when, one week later, you get both a flustered Jake English and a kiss from his not-so-soft lips. (Jane doesn’t mind [much] when she sees the two of you playing the pocky game, although you’re thinking it’s mostly because she doesn’t completely know yet that you have a thing for her own crush.)
Well, it’d be far too soon for you to actually get Jake, but getting him flustered is good enough for now.
33. Seeing Red
34. Shades of Grey
[Blargh. I need a beta.]
“Dirk, might it be alright to inquire on something?”
“Mm?” You don’t even bother to raise your head, too busy with screwing on the bolts of Squarewave’s head. Well, a prototype of what you want Squarewave to look like, anyway. “Something up?”
“How do colors look like to you under those specs of yours?”
You look up at that, meeting with green eyes and a grinning mouth as you start to twirl the screwdriver in your hand. “Dimmed down, obviously. What brought that up?”
“Ah, nothing in particular. Can you still differentiate the colors, either way?”
“It’s not like it’s that dark. Yeah, I can still differentiate.”
He nods, feet swinging as he sits on the couch’s armrest. “I see.” There’s a small pause before he asks again, “Why do you persist on wearing them every day? Doesn’t it get bothersome?”
You shrug, placing your hands back on the edges of the couch before heaving yourself up to sit on it, back pressing into the soft cushions as you look up at Jake. “You get used to it. Anyway, they’re my signature look. Can’t go around without them and have people wondering if anything happened.” You cock a smirk as you shift the shades on the bridge of your nose. “’sides, gives people something to think about when I stop wearing them.”
He grins, a hint of bemusement in his bucktoothed smile. “Well, that’s a mighty elusive reason you’ve got there. Would you mind if I ask you to take them off for a jiff?”
“Nah, it’s cool. Here,” you remove the shades, squinting a bit at the light, before blinking a bit more normally as you hand the sunglasses to Jake. “I’m planning on adding some things to it, probably a device for communicating someday in the future. Still doesn’t look possible with how thin it is, but I’ll figure something out.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if you get that job done after a month’s time, with how dogged you are,” he quips, turning the shades ‘round in his hand, before letting it sit on his palm with a finger tracing along its edges. “You have bloody gorgeous eyes too. It’s a pity you don’t show them off!”
You roll your eyes at that, the gesture catching Jake off-guard for a moment. He laughs once he notices the light flush that you know is on your face, one of his hands moving out to ruffle your hair, which you dodge with ease as you settle on the other side of the couch. “Not cool, dude. Hands off the ‘do.”
“Alright, alright,” he laughs, before handing your shades back to you. “I’m saying the truth, though. About your eyes.”
“I know,” you say, the words coming out a little bit odd and fumbled with, your hands moving quickly to grab at the shades as you settle on the carpeted floor once more. “Thanks. Your eyes aren’t too bad either.”
“I’m flattered,” he teases, grinning as you start on Squarewave again. “Might I take it that I- we’re special? Considering how we’re the only ones who can see you without the shades on.”
You pause, hearing the stutter repeating for far too long in your mind, before nodding. “Guess so.”
“Come on, Dirk,” Roxy whines, alcohol breath in your face as she crawls closer, hands on either side of your hips as her naked thighs press against your clothed ones. Her thin fingers slide up to touch your arms, the light touch creating goose bumps on your skin. Rough touches you could be prepared for, but this?
“I can’t,” you say, amber eyes closing for a moment, before opening to look into blue ones. “I can’t do this.”
“Why not?” Jane licks her plump lower lip, your gaze dropping down from her eyes at the action. Her fingers move away from your arms to settle on your stomach, your body wanting to shy away from the contact, although you keep the urge in even as dull nails start to rake across your now unclothed abdomen.
“Because,” you stutter, breath hitching as piano fingers dance along your pale skin, your hands gripping at the sheets beneath you.
“Because?” The image of Jane fades out and it’s Roxy again, her lithe fingers sliding up along your chest before moving back down to explore your stomach.
“I don’t want this.” You say in reply, hands unclenching from the sheets to reach out for her own, before you’re stopped with a lightning-quick movement and you find yourself pinned down onto the bed, both wrists gripped by a calloused hand.
“Why not, mate?” A very masculine voice says, his other hand moving down to trace along your sides. You open your eyes (when did you close them, anyway?) and look into green ones, the feral grin on his face making a growl slip from your throat as you buck your hips up.
“I don’t know,” you shoot back in reply, attempting to tug your hands away from his grip, before holding in a wince once he tightens his hand around your wrists.
“Not quite enough, Dirk,” he says (fuck, was that a purr? Did Jake just purr at you?), thick fingers exploring your chest, before moving to flick at your nipples. You suck in a breath at the action, amber eyes narrowing in Jake’s direction as you hold back from the foolish urge to buck up.
“This isn’t what I want!” You snarl, ready to lash out,
until you realize that you’ve opened your eyes and it’s your ceiling, your bed, and your room where there’s no one else but you.
You inhale and exhale for a moment, amber eyes closing as you try to ease up, before you open them again with a hissed out curse from your lips. “Fucking dreams,” you growl to yourself, rolling off and out of the bed as you take your business to the bathroom.
Valentine’s Day. Not your favorite occasion of the year, but it works out when you have a craving for sweets. You, Jane and Roxy would usually give each other chocolates for friendship’s sake, but the pattern altered a little with the addition of a certain green-eyed brunet in the group. It didn’t change much, considering how the three of you only had to buy/make one more gift, but it was the thought and the feelings poured out that made it different.
Jane’s gift to you is a small plastic container tied up by an orange ribbon, the thing inside it being a cupcake decorated with icing shaped into ribbons and diamonds. Roxy’s is decorated with flowers and clovers, and Jake’s- well.
He has three cupcakes in his, all of them littered with blue hearts and swirling lines, and Roxy doesn’t have to share a look with you to let you know that she’s noticed at well. The implications are clear as day, and you realize that Jake’s smart enough to know what it means. Yet he smiles, laughs, accepts the gift with a grin and a “thank you” before giving his own gift to her: a tiny box with a ribbon on it containing what you know to be handmade chocolates. If it were any other girl that Jake was smiling at, or accepting a gift from with such enthusiasm, you might feel jealous. Seeing red would be too extreme a description for how you’d feel, considering how he wasn’t even yours, or any semblance of romantically inclined to you for you to have any right to feel jealous. (Secretly though, you are feeling some jealousy at the notion that a girl has a better chance at the brunet’s heart.) He gives similar boxes to you and Roxy, which the two of you accept (you with a nod and a quirk of your brow, Roxy with a languid grin and an enthused “thank you”).
Roxy, in turn, gives boxes of chocolate liquor bottles to the three of you. Jane gives Roxy a raised brow, Jake laughs, and you shake your head and start to eat one.
Once the chitchat is done and you’re all making your way down the road, Roxy asks (finally),
“’ey now, you haven’t given us anything yet.”
“There’s a reason why I’m inviting you to the house,” you say, at which she and Jake grin. “There’s a set of instructions I need you to follow before you get to your gifts.”
“A mini-adventure, eh?” Jake quips, shoulder bumping into yours as he grins in your direction. “You sure do know how to make a chap feel excited!”
“Oh, you don’t know half of it,” you drawl to yourself, Jake shooting you a look in question, before you shake your head. “Nothing. Anyway,” and you begin with your instructions, eventually having the three of them separate as they search for their respective gifts around your house. Jane’s journey takes her to the secret door to the attic where she finds what looks to be a vintage jewelry box filled with chocolate coins and truffles, Roxy’s takes her shuffling right behind your bedside table to find a spherical jewelry box filled with similar chocolate to Jane’s, while Jake’s takes him to the tree right by your window (having already made him go around in circles inside your house), the steampunk-themed box sitting on one of the higher branches.
“Goodness, Dirk, that was one bloody work-out you’ve got me on,” he wheezes as he climbs back down, dropping down onto his feet in a crouch, before standing up and dusting himself off. Jane and Roxy are sitting by the stairs leading to the front door, distracted with watching Jake’s ruffled form, while you stand a few feet away with your hands in your pockets, expectantly waiting for him to comment on the gift. “But!” He grins as he takes out the gift from under his arm, admiring it with calloused fingers sliding along the old gold-painted surface. “This is certainly a magnificent gift. There really are no words to explain it,” he says in a rush, grinning still even as he opens the box to reveal the truffles and chocolate coins. “Do you always put such effort into your presents?”
“Oh, most definitely,” Jane chirps from the side, her jewelry box settled nicely on her lap as you and Jake turn to look at her. “No matter the occasion, he always makes such brilliant gifts.” She grins at you. “I’m starting to think that he just doesn’t want to be outdone by anyone.”
“You’ve revealed my secret,” you deadpan, a hand rising to brush away the hair getting in your face, before you shrug. “Not really. It just so happens that I’m inspired when I start on your stuff.”
“Of course, Strider,” Roxy calls out, a hand cupped by her mouth to help in adding volume to her voice. “We believe you!”
You roll your eyes at her sarcasm, turning to say something to Jake, before you notice him sliding a finger in the container to trace at the bottom of the box. “Jake?” He jolts into attention at that, green eyes blinking before he reverts to his grinning expression.
You can tell that he’s noticed the tiny dots and lines carved within the box, but you won’t let him know what it means. A true adventurer eventually figures stuff like that out on his own, anyway.
You never really take any of your drawings seriously. Sure, you take the blueprints seriously when it comes to fixing something up- but pure art? No, you never put too much effort when it comes to that. The most you can come up with when it comes to art that you actually show to anyone are doodles half-heartedly colored in using MS Paint- hell, maybe even Photoshop if you feel like it.
When it comes to private drawings though, you’ve only ever tried twice. Trying was painful, considering how you wasted a lot of paper because of the abundance of erasures. But you perfected it (or came as close to perfection in your case, anyway) eventually, having finally finished drawing round eyes and a tiny face, a nose and chin that have yet to sharpen out with age with hair always framing his face. Dave was your first subject, him being one of the only people you could observe up close without much disturbances, and him being one of the only subjects you understood as being perfect in form to be drawn. He was still young, still round along the edges, but he’d grow out of that eventually and you had to capture something of his youth before that changed.
Jane was the second. With the shades always donned on your face, she barely noticed how you stared at her for far too long to be comfortable, and you got to capture what you could of her features to form a vague face on a piece of paper. You loved drawing her. She was still growing, still maturing with the years, and she was perfect for this. With her none too slim figure and her youthful face, she became your goal when it came to pure art. You wanted to draw as much of her as you could, shade everything in grey that would define how rounded her face is, how plump her lips are, how the dimples on her face showed whenever she smiled.
Even if you’ve only ever finished such drawings twice, you’ve yet to regret the pain of your hand cramping up for it.
“’sup bro,” Dave says, tone blank (like you taught him) as he holds his fist out. You bump it with yours and he sets to put his own down, until you halt him with a raised eyebrow.
“I think you forgot something,” you begin, gesturing to the puppet sitting beside you on the bed. You catch the almost wince on Dave’s face before he nods and bumps fists with the puppet, before practically scurrying out of the room. You roll your eyes at the sudden weirdness with regard to Dave’s actions, automatically attributing it to a certain Egbert’s influence.
“Kid’s acting pretty weird,” you say out loud, shifting Lil’ Cal on the bed so he wasn’t slumping fully on the bed. “Think he’s finally catching on?”
Lil’ Cal remains motionless beside you, which doesn’t take you by surprise. Really, the only way he keeps moving around Dave is because you’re good at controlling his movements.
He was one of the first you’d sewn when you were younger. Your mother still managed to help you a bit before she died, which made him even more special. “You were always there,” you murmur, fingers clasped around his sleeve, “when I first learned how to take a beating. Then there was Dave, right? You helped me watch over the kid,” you trail off for a moment, a smirk growing on your face. “I’m surprised he didn’t freak out at you before. Took him long enough to realize what we’re doing.”
His head tilts to the side as you lightly tug at his arm, your hand eventually moving up to settle on the top of his head. “Well, in any case, I’m not forgetting you.”
If dolls had hearts and if puppets had free will, you were pretty sure Lil’ Cal would be giving you a good ol’ fist bump at that.
39. Out of Time
40. Knowing How
You can feel cold metal under your fingertips; your legs folded beneath you as you stroke the wheels paused in their turning. Amber eyes don’t find need for shades yet, still wide with innocence and glittering with excitement at the prospect of discovering something new. The pocket watch has stopped moving, the little arms taking their rest as you tinker with the screws hiding behind the metal cover.
Suffocating warmth is around your neck before you can realize it, tears brimming in your eyes as you scramble for balance. What’s this? There’s a voice yelling at you, arms locked around your fragile neck, and you don’t want this, you don’t, you don’t. You’re screaming back eventually, little hands scratching at the clothed arm around your neck as you cry out. You kick and struggle against his hold, choking out words that you can barely understand yourself.
The release is sudden and you’re falling, the light blinking on and off again and again until it fades into black and it’s so far, you’re going to die and you’re starting to accept it because there’s no way you can get out of this alive-
But you’re breathing.
You blink your eyes open, a hand automatically moving to cover your eyes as you notice the light pouring in from the curtains you’d left open the night before.
You sit up, scratching at your head as you try to figure out what you’d been dreaming about, trying to remember why it is that you feel angry and sick to your stomach; like you can never sleep again without being haunted by the invisible monsters in your head.
You come up with nothing. But that’s fine. Dreams aren’t always meant to be remembered, anyway.
There’s a mist around your mind that you can’t pull away from. There are words, all jumbled up and yelling: “worthless”, “just a child”, “you’ll never understand”, and “why?” The voice is always deep, always masculine, always the same tone that you know you love but you can’t help from shying away from it, because there’s something in his voice that scares you and it’s inexplicable, and you hate it. You’re supposed to be a prodigy, the smart child, you’re supposed to figure things out. Why not this one?
Then there are the warm touches, those calloused hands ruffling your hair or heaving you up onto his broad shoulders, those hands that you know are warm and big and they’re the hands of a person you love.
But those hands have hurt you just as much, made you cry even when you understood that you shouldn’t because “goddamnit Dirk, you’re a man! Act like it!” And you’ve stopped, you’ve broken it all and you won’t ever cry again,
Because I love you, I love you and I’ll change, I’ll change even though I know that I should hate you and I should run away, I should leave and never look back,
But I love you, so I’ll stay.
Even if you make me feel like the most worthless person that could ever exist, and even if you make me feel like I should die because I’m not the perfect fucking son that you wanted.
“You love who now?”
You jolt awake at the voice, amber eyes looking through dark specs as you turn your head up. “Huh?”
Jake is looking at you, green eyes trying to see through your shades as he taps a distracted finger on the coffee table you’re studying on. His buckteeth are digging into his lower lip, his eyes eventually darting away and back again to your face as he tries looking for an answer. “You were in a daze, and you said “I love you”, so I was wondering-”
“It’s nothing,” you say abruptly, taking hold of the pen you’d dropped on the floor. “Let’s get back to work.”
There’s a hesitant pause (you can tell from the shuffling sounds of Jake’s feet), until he says, “Alright.”
You didn’t know what you were saying either.
“Goodness, what did you get yourself into that you’ve gotten ill like this?” Jane frets, warm hands making you feel even warmer that it sort of hurts, until she removes them again and you breathe a sigh.
“Doc says it’s because of the pollen,” Dave chirps from the other side of the bed, his tiny body scrambling to get on the bed. He huffs once he’s at your side, his legs folding beneath him as he ‘takes guard’ over you. While this doesn’t usually happen, you have to admit that it feels just a teensy bit nice to be reminded that your little brother is more than willing to stay by your side, even when you’re vulnerable like this. “That’s why he feels so hot.”
“I’m always hot,” you grunt, eyes fluttering open, before closing again as you cough into the back of your hand. “Hot as planet fuckin’ Mercury.”
“Whatever, man,” Dave says, and you can feel him rolling his eyes. Which you’d do something about if you were feeling better, but you’re not. It’s like a heavy cloud of drought wrapping around you, making your skin burn with the fever and choking you until you can’t breathe but no, you can’t die from a possible chest infection, Strider. That’s fucking weak.
“Drink your medicine,” he says, voice blank, and you’d congratulate him on getting it right but instead you sit up just slightly, taking the pill from him and popping it into your mouth before drinking from the glass of water he gives to you. You set the glass back on the bedside table before lying back down on the bed, grunting and coughing a bit once you feel the cold cloth being placed on your forehead. You can tell that it’s Jane putting it on you, considering how she’s not sloppy with it.
“You should get some sleep,” Jane suggests, her hand squeezing around yours and while it’s not the most comfortable thing considering how hot you feel and how warm her hand is, you don’t tell her that it’s not doing you any good because you’re a damn gentleman, and she’s just trying to remind you that she’s there for you. “Jake and Roxy told me that they’ll be visiting tomorrow, so resting up ought to lend you some energy!”
“Of course, mother,” you mutter absently, already drifting into sleep even with the warmth trying to burn the life out of you.
“She’s planning on telling him soon.”
You set the screwdriver down in favor of holding the phone to your ear. “Who?”
“Stop shitting with me, Strider. You know who I’m talking about.”
“That’s the thing,” you say as you push aside the metal parts on the coffee table to place your free arm on it, leaning to the side as you look up at the clock hanging on the wall by the door. “Why would you be telling me this, when she’s your best friend?”
“What, a girl can have only one best friend now?”
“It’s not that. It’s that she’s your girlfriend. Your BFF, as you’ve said. I’m just a guy, trying to steal away the guy she likes.”
“Now now, no need to be so harsh, darling. She doesn’t have him yet, so there’s nothing to be stolen.”
“Why are you giving me a warning?”
There’s a pause, before you hear a drunken laugh on the other line and the sound of shuffling paper. “Because you know why.”
“You’re not making any sense.”
“I’m drunk. What the fuck did you expect?”
“Now now, no need to be so harsh,” you drawl in return, idly tapping on the coffee table. “It could do you plenty of good to tell her.”
“Already tried. Nope. Just laughed in my face, all awkward-like.”
“Ah yes, and you pulled it off as a joke. Good job.”
“Sometimes, I just get so pissed off at you, I don’t even know.”
“Anyway. You plan on doing anythin’ about it?”
“Well, to be honest, I find this turn of events unexpected. I’d have thought that Jake would tell her first.”
“So sure already?”
“Facts are facts. We both know the chances of those two getting together are close to one hundred percent. Even I’m intimidated at times.”
“Heh, are you really intimidiated?”
“Intimidated. But no, not really. You know me well enough to realize that if I want something, I’ll already have plan A to Z prepared on the first day.”
“What’re you going to do for this one, then?”
“Probably resort to Plan Z.”
“The last plan already?”
“Desperate times call for desperate measures. I’m running out of time.”
“What’s plan Z, anyway?”
“I’ll tell him straight out that I like him.”
“Do you know what it’s like, to be in love?”
There’s the sound of shuffling feet beside you when you listen closely, so you assume that it’s Roxy coming back. The sound is definitely not coming from Dave, considering how his feet are far too small to make that much noise. Besides, Roxy is the only one to visit you today. You’re far too tired to open your eyes; they feel heavy like lead and the effort doesn’t seem to be of much use to you. It’s easier to think with your eyes closed like this, the darkness surrounding you instead of the blinding lights.
She doesn’t answer, so you continue. “Fuckload of emotions, that shit is. But you probably know that already.” You shift until your fingers are interlaced and propped up on your chest. “You think it’s just a thing, something that’s gonna pass soon enough and bam-” you snap your fingers, “shit hits you like a TGV right to the brain. You can never tell where it begins or where it ends, or when it even started. You think it’s just going to fade out when you don’t think about it but no, it ain’t that easy. You gotta take a knife right to the heart before you get it.”
There’s silence still, and you honestly don’t feel like stopping after starting already, so you say, “Bastard of a mind doesn’t let you know that the dude likes you back without making you take a look at all the angles. That’s the thing about it; you never know the facts unless you’re an outsider. Norns can’t take it easy with anyone’s destiny, can they? You feel like you’ve been fucked over worse than a pig slaughtered in an abattoir. But that’s life, ain’t it? C’est la vie. Knowing how a person falls in love is out of the question if you’re inclined to being emotional- even looking at it in a technical point of view ain’t gonna help. Well, unless someone figures out the formula of hormones for something like that. Hell, why does anyone even take it seriously if they know they’re just gonna ruin themselves over it?”
“Perhaps, because it’s a critical issue for a person who’s lacking in love elsewhere?”
You freeze at that, your hand dangling uselessly by your bedside table when you pause from reaching for your glass of water. “Perhaps,” you say eventually, voice cracking around the edges as a calloused hand brushes against yours when the glass of water is placed into your open hand.
“You’ve never talked about something like that with me before,” Jake says, and you’re met with a small grin when you open your eyes. “Blimey, I hadn’t even the tiniest inkling that that’s what you thought.”
“I’m full of surprises,” you drawl, letting Jake remove the wet cloth on your head to dip it into the cold water again. You take a slow sip from the glass of water before setting it back down on your bedside table. “Where has Lalonde gone off to?”
“She’s in the kitchen with the soup my grandma made for you,” he says, the bed dipping on your left side as he sits on it. “Her soups are mighty good at healing people up, I tell you!”
“I’ll take your word for it, then. Other than that, you should probably keep an eye on Rox for now.” You close your eyes just as Jake places the cold cloth on your forehead, before cracking one eye open to see his face. The crestfallen expression that appears for a glimpse of a moment on his face is unsettling, but it disappears just as quickly as it appeared when he smiles at you.
“I ought to go check on her, then.” He stands up again, hands fiddling in his pockets as he turns away from you and heads for the door. You close your eyes once more, patiently waiting for the creak of the door to signify his leaving. That is, until he speaks again. “Shall we continue our conversation some other time?”
There’s a pause and Jake’s shuffling again, unnerved at how silent you are.
You should really learn how to say no to this guy.
41. Fork in the road
43. Nature's Fury
44. At Peace
45. Heart Song
“Jake. You okay?”
Jake looks up just as soon as he’s seen your shadow right beside his, the sigh falling from his lips when he hears your question. “Do I seem that glum that even you’ve asked me such a question?”
“Pretty much,” you say as you sit beside him on the park bench, your arm stretching out to lie along the back of the bench. “What’s eating at you, man?”
“Jane has told me of her feelings for me.”
“I see. And that’s a problem, why?”
Jake leans forward, almost curling in on himself as his hands cover his face. Your hand twitches on the bench, the urge to touch him strong but not enough to actually let you do it. There’s a bad feeling clawing at the pit of your stomach that’s making you feel antsy, like there’s something Jake knows about you that you never wanted him to know but god, you want him to realize it anyway. (You love him. Fuck, you really do. You don’t even know how it became like this.)
“I noticed the morse code in the present you gave me on Valentine’s day.”
“Ah.” Fuck, you can’t tell if it’s a relief that he knows now or not. “What’s it say?” You ask instead, purposefully avoiding what you already knew to check if he understood it himself.
“I like you.” He uncovers his face after a moment of silence, green eyes looking at you and it’s burning right through you, making you feel giddy and sick of yourself at the same time because this isn’t something you should be fucking reduced to, damn it.
“How long have you known?” You ask, the hand on the bench curling up into a fist as you rein your emotions in, your face devoid of emotion as you look back at him.
“A few months. I,” he trailed off for a moment, hands fiddling on his lap as he leaned back a bit, enough to make you feel the warmth of his back against your arm. Before, it would been comfortable- but now it just reminds you that he’s really there, he’s right beside you, and the possibilities of rejection are rising up to fifty percent and it’s not what you planned. “I didn’t want to ask you so quickly, considering how I had to think on it myself- but Jane confessed to me as well, and now,” he sighed wearily, leaning forward again with a hand running through his hair, “I don’t know what to do.”
“A fork in the road, huh. Well, you know how it is. Bros before hoes.”
There’s a pause and he laughs, the tension being swept away by the grin on his face as he straightens up again. “Does that really apply here as well?”
“It could,” you answer with ease, the arm lying across the bench folding until your open palm pressed against your temple. “I wouldn’t mind at all.”
He smiles, nudging at your arm with his elbow. “I’m sure you wouldn’t.”
The likelihood of Jake reciprocating your feelings is rising up to seventy percent and goddamn if you’re not happy about that.
You look down from your hide-out, peeking through the leaves and leaning just a bit over from your branch to see a girl with blond hair standing right below you. “What?” You shout back, shifting so your two legs dangled below you, the lower portion of your back pressing against the tree’s trunk.
“How’d you get up there?” She asks, hands cupped around her mouth.
“I climbed up?” You answer, head tilting to the side once she starts to grab hold of the tree’s trunk and climb up. “Are you sure you can do it? You might fall if you try climbing up.”
“Me? Fall? No way,” she huffs, grabbing onto the thinner branches one by one as she rose, before settling on the thicker branch right by you. “See? Toldja I could do it!”
“Apparently so,” you say, a brow quirked as you turn your body to look at her more closely. “Most of the girls around here can’t do it.”
“I must be special,” she teases, legs swinging back and forth as she keeps both of her hands pressing down onto the branch for balance. “I don’t see a lot of boys getting this high up either.”
“I must be special,” you repeat, grinning as he grins right back at you. “What’s your name?”
“Roxy Lalonde,” she drawls, a small giggle accompanying her words. “What about you?”
“Dirk Strider,” you say, and she grins brightly, holding up a hand to shake. “Uh, I don’t think our hands can reach-”
“Silly, I know they can’t,” she says, “just hold your hand out and pretend we’re shaking hands!”
You do as you’re told, laughter erupting from the both of you once you set your hands back down. You barely notice the time passing when you’re already called for by your father, and she by her mother.
“Let’s see each other again?” You ask.
She smiles, holding up a hand with her pinky finger out. “It’s a promise!”
You’re ten years old, and you think it might just be the start of what those adults call ‘love’.
“Bro? You there?”
“Yeah, I’m here,” you call out, shifting through your drawers for a flashlight. Damn power outages. “Try not to trip over anything.”
There’s the sound of small footsteps coming closer, and you turn just in time for the sound of thunder and lightning crashing and Dave’s whimpering, already burying his face into your stomach before you can realize just what it is that’s happened.
He whines into your shirt, little hands bunching up the garment as he presses close to you. “Kid, you okay?” You ask, slowly kneeling down, until you notice that he’s crying. “Shh now,” you soothe, not minding at all how he automatically latches onto you, arms wrapping around your shoulders as you rub his back. “Come on,” you huff as you heave him up into your arms, shifting a bit so you could hold onto him with one while your other hand is free to hold onto the flashlight. “Is it the thunder?”
He nods, murmuring a soft “sorry” as he hides his face into the crook of your neck and shoulder. You sigh, carrying him as you make your way to the attic. You tug at the string sitting innocently by the ceiling, waiting as the stairs unfolded before climbing up with Dave still snuggling into you.
“It’s fine,” you say after a moment of silence, sitting with your back pressed into the wall. You fold your legs beneath you, letting Dave sit on your lap as he eventually moves on to hide his face in your clothed chest. “You don’t have to say sorry.”
“But I’m not supposed to be scared,” he says, sniffling along the while as he keeps tiny hands holding onto your shirt.
“Everyone gets scared sometimes,” you say, one arm wrapped around Dave’s small form with your other hand patting down his mussed up hair. “Even me.”
“Really?” He asks, wide red eyes looking up at you, the shades on his face dangling right by the bridge of his nose, until you take them away and set them down on the floor beside you.
“Really. I’m scared of being alone. Sure, thunder and lightning doesn’t really scare me, but that’s only ‘cause I know you’re here,” you say, a small smile on your face as you move to tickle his sides.
“S-stop!” He laughs, the tears abating as he grins at you, his own small hands trying (and failing) to tickle you back. “Dude, not funny!”
“I got you to stop crying,” you tease, a sly grin on your face as Dave huffs and looks away, arms folded across his chest.
“Wasn’t crying,” he retorts weakly, the flush of embarrassment already reaching up to his ears. “You were just seeing things.”
You laugh softly, a hand reaching out to ruffle his hair, ignoring his squawk of protest. “Sure, kid.”
Cloud-watching is definitely not one of the activities you could’ve done back in Texas. If you’d tried it, you might have ended up being barbeque- a very delicious one, but far too fried up for your liking either way.
“That’s an alligator with a cherub above it,” Jake announces after a moment of silence, at which Jane and Roxy laugh.
“You mean putto,” you say eventually, Jake shooting you a bemused look in return. “People have been confusing those two for a while. A putto is an angel that, as you know, is a little kid with wings. A cherub, on the other hand, doesn’t exactly have a material form when you refer to some literature, but there are cases where they are in adult form and have large wings.”
“I told you that,” Roxy points out, her index finger flicking at your nose, at which you scrunch your nose up.
“Yeah,” you sigh, shifting a bit to make your folded arms more comfortable underneath your head.
“The two of you know quite a lot of,” Jane trailed off, before continuing, “inutile things.”
“Where in heaven’s name do you even find out such things?” Jake exclaims, a curious expression on his face as he looks directly at you. You shrug in response.
“From the internet, definitely,” Roxy drawls, a hand reaching out to brush away the hair getting in Jane’s face. Jane looks up at that, a smile on her face as she tilts her head in question. You watch it all with mild interest, how Roxy shakes her head with a laugh, wiggling down a bit before hugging Jane, at which the brunette gets a bit flustered and tries to pry Roxy away.
There’s another moment of silence, until,
“Goodness, Dirk, that’s the reason why the children took the other picnic blanket!” Jane exclaims, face still a bit flushed from embarrassment.
“Well, it certainly brings us closer together,” Jake reasons out, a grin on his face as he wiggles into Jane’s personal space. It’s a tight fit with four teenagers on a small picnic blanket, and you’re a teensy bit disappointed that Jake’s on the far end, but it’s fine.
It’s the most peace you can get with high school life and teenage hormones trying to bring chaos into your usually organized life.
Dors, le mal est passé et tu entres dans la danse
Le pire de côté, ta revende en cadence
Tu sèmes le bonheur à chaque pas que tu fais
Et à ton réveil la vie reprend son train.
“My, is that French?” Jane asks, a smile on her face as she sits beside you. You nod, moving a bit to the side to make room for her. It’d be a bit of a while before you get to classes again, and you’d left your headphones at home, so you were reduced to listening through your small speakers. The songs on your cell phone are almost always shuffled when you play them, and a lot of them were songs you’d picked up from the internet by accident.
“Sleep, the worst is over and you enter the dance
The worst aside, you sell yourself to the rhythm
You sow happiness with every step you make
And when you wake up, life continues,” you recite, eyes looking at (or rather, through) your phone’s screen which held the translated lyrics of the song.
“You have a knack for finding such songs, haven’t you?” She comments, sipping on her carton of juice as she pulls out her lunchbox.
“It happens, when you spend a lot of time on the internet,” you answer, your mood a bit somber after hearing a line of none too cheerful songs. Music is something you’d lived with ever since you were small and you learned to understand your mother’s singing, as such making it just a bit difficult to separate your mood from the music you’re listening to. It hasn’t been much of a problem for a long time, seeing as you’d taught yourself not to delve into your emotions for too much, but there’s Jake, and there’s Jane.
Sometimes, you just feel like you ought to grow up and move on.
But then again, you don’t like losing.
Jane only smiles as you sing softly, not knowing what it is that your words mean when you croon,
“Et si ça fait mal c'est parce qu'il comprend pas
Que nul ne nage dans ton coeur depuis longtemps
Et si ça fait mal c'est parce qu'il ne te voit pas
Alors que ton sourire enfin s'éteindra.”
Translation of the last verse:
And if it hurts it's because he doesn't understand
That nothing has swum in your heart for so long
And if it hurts, it's because he doesn't see you
While your smile will eventually fade away
Fondu Au Noir - Coeur De Pirate
48. Everyday Magic
Yayyy, I've finally reached the finish line of the first half of this meme! /cheers
You wonder sometimes what the hell is wrong with you. You’re just trying to consider it from the average guy’s point of view, anyway.
What kind of twit would want to live with a guy who’s tried to kill him before?
What is wrong with you that you even have to think of such a question?
Your Pops’ a nice guy, really. You know that he is. It just so happens that his fury is something that no average child can handle without crying, and it just so happens that you’re not that average kid. But is it really all that reasonable to choke a child just because he tinkered with your pocket watch? Would you have done that if it was Dave? Fuck, of course not. You practically brought the kid up on your own, just so Pops couldn’t do to Dave what he did to you. You wanted the kid to be happy, not to become a soulless heap of human meat.
You don’t want him to grow up like you did.
But if you truly are as protective of Dave, then why haven’t you run away? What are those bullshit reasons that you have that make you stay?
Why do you love your father like this if he hurts you so much? Are you some kind of fucking masochist? What the hell has been fucked up in your brain that’s got you like this?
You don’t know.
You don’t fucking know, and just like that, the thoughts are gone in an instant, and you wake up.
“What the fuck was I even dreaming about?”
“My good man, what are you doing up so late still?”
“Could ask the same about you,” you drawl, holding the small metal arm in between your thighs while your other hand is busy with screwing a bolt on. You scowl to yourself once you notice how it’s not working, before shifting and holding the phone with your left hand while your right hand works on your small bot.
“Clearly, I’m talking to you.” There’s a teasing tone about his voice, and while you enjoy it most of the time, it just passes over your head without notice. “Dirk? Are you alright?”
“What? ‘course I am,” you say, before coughing and turning the phone away from your mouth. Goddamn illnesses.
“You’re coughing! Are you sick? Why aren’t you in bed? You ought to sleep if you’re feeling unwell-”
“Good god man, you’re not my mother,” you groan, a hand coming up to massage your temple as you fight off the slight headache from Jake’s loud voice. “Anyway, I need to finish repairing Huggy Bear before I can try to sleep.”
“Dirk! That’s only a bloody robot, you can try to fix it in another time! Your health is more important than that blasted thing.”
“Would you chill the fuck out, English?” You hold back a growl as you screw on another bolt into Huggy Bear’s arm. “It’s not like I’m that sick, I can handle this.”
“Goshdarnit, Strider. I know what it’s like when you get to work on something.”
“Most definitely! You work and work and work without ever stopping, you bloody perfectionist.”
“Was that supposed to insult me? Because it didn’t.”
“No! That’s not what I meant at all. I’m just saying that you ought to think more on your own health first before worrying over trivial things.”
“Jake,” you whisper, a scandalized tone in your voice as you shift the phone and hold it in between your cheek and shoulder, both of your hands working on piecing together Huggy Bear’s arm and body. “Are you saying Huggy Bear is a trivial thing? Shame on you.”
“Good lord you are difficult.” He sighs, and you chuckle. “Don’t you laugh at me, Strider!”
“Sorry, sorry,” you murmur as you go back to holding your phone with your left hand. “You’re just very adorable when you get worked up like that. Reminds me of Jane.”
“Ah? Am I supposed to assume that you think Jane is cute? Not that she isn’t quite adorable already, mind you.”
“Am I supposed to assume that you think I’m attracted to her? Because if you are, then that might just mean I’m attracted to you.”
“I’m kidding, Jake. Relax.”
There’s that nervous laugh again, the one that says that he’s floundering for words (it’s cute, in a way), and you can’t help but hold back a sigh. You want to tell him, you honestly do, but now just isn’t the right time. “Of course, of course. I, uh, knew that, certainly!”
“Sure you do.”
“Who’s an adorable little guy, Dave?” You say, grinning a bit as you carry little Davey by the armpits and raise him up abruptly, before bringing him back down. He gurgles happily at you, little hands waving in your direction, to which you reply with a finger tickling his sides. He laughs, high-pitched and really, the only reason you don’t find this annoying is because he’s your little brother.
The phone rings and you set Dave down on your lap, which instantly makes him cling onto your shirt. A swell of protectiveness rises in your chest at the motion and you crack a smile. Damn, he’s turning you into a sap already, and he’s not even five yet. “Strider residence, who am I speaking to?” You ask as you press the phone into your ear with your left hand.
“Well howdy, Strider! It’s Jane.” You can practically hear the smile in her voice. “What might you be up to in this moment of time?”
“Other than awesome stuff? Nothing.”
“Taking care of Davey, I assume? I can hear him from over here,” she says with a laugh.
“Mmhmm,” you hum, keeping an arm around Dave’s shoulders to make sure he doesn’t fall. “Pops is makin’ us dinner, so I have to look after Dave. Here, you can talk to him,” you hold the phone to Dave’s ear and he listens intently for a sound, red eyes wide as he hears Jane’s voice and laughter falling from his lips when he finds himself familiar with her voice.
“Goodness, he’s so adorable,” she coos, and you laugh in turn.
“I know. What’re you up to?”
“Well, nothing much! I just finished baking a cake with Dad, and now we have to wait.”
“You have to let me taste some of those cakes, you know,” you suggest, grinning a bit when Dave pats at your chest with both hands.
Jane says something in reply, and it all goes over your head because Dave is looking intently at you, both hands waving at you as he says,
“Oh my god.”
The phone falls from your hand to the floor, and you make a noise of embarrassment as you scramble to pick it up and put it up to your ear again. “Did something happen, Dirk?”
“He called me bro,” you say in a rush to the phone, and the grin on your face is really starting to hurt but you don’t care because wow, wow, Dave just called you bro!
“Bwo! Bwo, bwo,” he repeats to you, and you nod vigorously.
“That’s right, I’m your bro,” you grin as you pat him on the head, at which he squeals in delight.
“Oh goodness, really? Let me hear him!”
“Here,” you hold the phone out to Dave and he clasps both hands on it.
“What do you call me, Davey?” You ask as you point to yourself.
He grins, shaking the phone a bit in his hands as he says, “Bwo!”
You can hear giggling from the phone when you take it back, and Jane says, “Oh gosh, that is too cute!”
“I know,” you say a bit breathily, the grin on your face hurting just a tad as Dave cuddles up to you, red eyes wide as they look up at you. “I know.”
“Are you an idiot?”
You look up from your phone at that, an eyebrow rising once Dave leaves your side in favor of sidling up to the Egbert kid. Really, was that kid obvious or what?
“Fuck you, man,” Egbert Jr. laughs, lightly punching Dave on the shoulder as he lets your younger brother shield him from the rain. “I get panicky about exams, you know how it is.”
“Enough to make you forget about umbrellas?” Dave teases, earning him a smack on the shoulder from the brunet. “Ow, rude.”
“No, you are,” John replies with a huff.
“Don’t mind me,” Jake says and you look at him with a bemused expression. Where’d he come from? That, and you were pretty sure he already had an umbrella. “Had to be a gentleman and let the ladies borrow my umbrella. Theirs is rather small to fit for two people!”
“Of course.” You relax once you realize the motive of his sharing an umbrella with you [which you are very sure isn’t just because he had to lend his umbrella to Roxy]. “I don’t mind at all,” you say as you deliberately move closer to him, your arm already brushing against his own.
He smiles up at you, and you fight the urge to kiss him then and there.
You are painfully attracted to him, and you don’t really mind how much it hurts.
You have a bad feeling about this.
It was obvious from the moment you stepped into the house. The lights were off, there were sounds of rustling around the living room, and there were whispering voices. You’re not a fucking idiot that you can’t realize that someone’s in the house. Pops taught you better than that.
Which is why, when you flip open the lights, you’re prepared for an ambush of sorts [by Dave, most probably].
This…was not what you expected.
“Happy birthday, Dirk!” A chorus of voices yells from around the room, and you have to blink and pause for a moment for that information to process in your brain. Birthday?
Oh, fuck. You completely forgot.
“Come on, mate, you can’t enjoy the party if you just stand there,” Jake teases, locking his arm around yours as he pulls you into the living room, where there is a holy fucking shit how many tiers does that cake have?
“Not what you expected, I take it?” Roxy laughs, lightly holding onto your arm as she presses a kiss onto your cheek, at which you inwardly grimace. Lipstick is definitely not a thing you like being on your face. Jane, meanwhile, greets you with a “happy birthday!” and a tiny hug, which you return with a little more enthusiasm. It’s fun getting her flustered, really.
“Admittedly, no,” you say, raising an eyebrow once you notice the design on the cake. Pumpkins made out of frosting. Really? “I didn’t think the kids would be in on it too,” you say, raising an eyebrow once you see Dave lying on the couch with a party hat on his head, the Egbert kid sitting on the space left of the couch, with Harley and Rose sitting on the other sofa.
“What? You did this to me on my birthday; I thought I could return the favor,” he drawls, before grinning and sharing a high-five with John.
“Save your excuses,” you drawl as you let Jake pull away from you, only to be surprised as he returns with a present. “Uh. Thanks?”
“You haven’t even opened it yet,” he says with a grin, before leaning up to press a kiss onto the corner of your lips while pushing the box into your open arms.
There was a moment of silence of you being dumbfounded and standing frozen with the box in your arms, until,
“Holy shit, you broke Bro!”
51. Troubling Thoughts
52. Stirring of the Wind
54. Health and Healing
You want to tell him. The urge is right there, the words bubbling up in your throat as you struggle to keep your mouth shut. Your amber eyes are wide underneath darkened lenses, your fists clenched by your sides as you look up from your place on the bleachers. Jake’s done with his round on the mat, the singlet hugging his form so tightly that your imagination is broken down into tiny little pieces, but it’s his smile that breaks you even more and you smile back without thinking. Your dad is going to kill you if he finds out.
“How did I do?” He asks, the grin on his face showing none of the humility that he is trying to exude through his words. Jane subtly sings him praises, Roxy giving him two thumbs-up as she grins in that languid way that she’s known for, and when he turns to look at you, oh, oh, you’re in love with this boy and it hurts.
But Roxy’s shooting you a pleading look, her eyes wide as she begs you through her thoughts, ‘Please, not now, Dirk.’
“It was okay,” you say, voice cracking a bit as you reach for the water bottle beside you to wet your suddenly dry mouth. Jake is disappointed, you can tell from the small frown and the furrowed brows, and you want to hold him and tell him that you’re lying, he’s perfect, and you wish that he is yours.
But you don’t.
“I don’t have a crush on English. That’s ridiculous,” you tell Roxy with your usual poker face, which ultimately becomes your downfall because you almost never use your poker face on her unless you’re trying to be sarcastic, or you’re lying.
She grins widely in a Cheshire cat-like fashion, doesn’t say anything else, before shooting you a wink and waltzing out of your room.
“Jesus christofer kringlefucker, what the bloody hell happened in this room?”
“Nothing,” you grumble, standing up and shoving away certain metal parts that have landed on your person. “I’m just fixing shit up.”
“By golly, it looks like I need a better prescription for my eyesight, then! Because it looks to me that the reverse of fixing shit up has happened.”
Jane is torn between smiling at Jake and shooting a worried frown in your direction, because she’s the one who knows best why your room can get so damned messed up just because of a few robot parts. “Dirk,” she trails off in a soft voice. While you feel guilty, you don’t feel guilty enough to entertain her with an answer regarding your current mood.
Roxy whistles. “Hoo boy, I wonder what happened.”
In the end, you ignore them completely in favor of sweeping away the mess that was made from sparring with your robots. You were trying to fix them up- for battle.
A lot of adjustments need to be made.
I’ll admit that I have a crush on him if Rox is sober today, he swears to himself, not quite feeling sorry for involving the girl in his mental bet. Roxy had been drinking when he’d last called her, so the chances were slim.
“Well, Strider! Fancy seeing you ‘round these parts,” she calls out, her words devoid of slurring as she smiles and sashays her way towards you, none of that flush of red on her face to signify her inebriation.
“Why. Why him? Why him,” you grumble, rolling around in your bed, content with the knowledge that the door is securely locked and there is no one else to see you in that moment. “I can accept that I’m straight as a fucking noodle- but why him? Oh, Jane,” you groan, hiding your face in your pillow as you muffle another loud groan. She already has a thing for the guy- why do your feelings have to barge in on you like this?
You turn your head up, the frown clear on your face as you reach out to take Lil’ Cal from the headboard and pull him to your chest. He’s the only one who’ll know, who’ll listen without judging you. You breathe out a sigh as you hug him to your chest, curling up on your bed as you try to sleep.
You can’t think, can’t breathe
A nightmare? A dream?
The thoughts fly out and he’s holding your hand
Whispering things you always wanted to hear
He’s coming ‘round so you better be warned
Call the cops that man is stealing hearts
You stop in your writing, slipping the pen just by your ear so it wouldn’t fall, before crumpling the piece of paper in your hands. It’s like you’re in a trance and the thoughts just come and go, until you blink your eyes and you feel like you’ve been sleeping for such a long time, the strong whisper of the wind having been the thing to wake you. You open the crumpled paper in your hands, straightening it out as much as you can before blurting out,
“I’m in love with him.”
“Took you long enough,” Roxy says, grinning lazily at you from her corner of the room.
“It is a different thing entirely to believe English capable of reciprocating my feelings, isn’t it?”
Lil’ Cal sits silently on your desk, and you sigh as you prop your chin up with a hand. “The future isn’t in my hands. The only thing I can predict is that I’ll tell him- at the most, I’ll be let down with a pat on the back with him saying that we should just be friends. At the worst,” you trail off, your eyes lowering their gaze to the desk. “He could say that we shouldn’t talk, ever again. But Jake’s a good kid, and he wouldn’t do that.” You look up at Lil’ Cal, reaching out for a moment to straighten him up, before giving up and taking your hand back.
“It’s not too much to hope, is it?” You ask. You don’t expect an answer, but you wait, either way.
“The signs are harder to see when you’re involved,” you groan, and Lil Cal’s head tilts to the side as he slide down from the wall. You straighten him up again by having him lean onto one of your thick books. “While emotions are easy to manipulate, they can be incalculable at the worst times. Trying anything more will lead to chaos if not at the right moment.”
Lil’ Cal’s head bobs forward and you sigh. Of course he’d agree with you.
“Health of the mind and health of the soul are two different things, and I assure you, you’re not very healthy of soul right now. You look like all the hope’s been drained out of you.”
“And I’m to assume that you’ll get to fix that problem in a jiffy?”
You crack a smile at that, leaning back onto your headboard as you reach out to stroke at dark brown hair. “I certainly think I have the heart for it. Don’t you?”
“Far be it for me to hold disbelief with regards to your capabilities, good chum.” He says, a sigh falling from his lips as he shifts so that he’s lying in a supine position, his head closer to you for easier access. “That feels good,” he murmurs as you start raking dull nails across his scalp.
“What are you, a cat?” You tease, and he laughs in the manner that he usually does; the sound loud but eventually fading into soft chuckles.
“I’m more of a dog person, really,” he says, before turning his head up to look at you. “And you?”
“Mm. Birds always did strike my fancy. Never really knew why.”
Jake chuckles at that, before slipping into silence again. He’s been falling into daydreams more often than not, and while you’re not one to pry when it comes to fantasies, Jake isn’t the type that’s prone to dozing off. It worries you.
“Dirk,” he says after a moment of silence, green eyes not exactly turned towards you. “Would you mind doing some of that healing right now?”
“I don’t mind at all. Any suggestions as to what I should prescribe for you?”
He looks up at you because of that, an amused smile on his face as he leans into your light touch. “I was thinking that doctors usually give the prescriptions, instead of the other way around.”
“Right you are,” you say, before wiggling down until you’re face to face with him. He shoots a grin in your direction and you smile wryly back, before opening your arms to him. It’s not taking advantage if you’re just trying to comfort him, is it? ‘course not. “Well then, how about some good ol’ cuddling? That should fix you right up.”
“How old-fashioned. But alright,” he sighs. He shifts until his chin is resting on the top of your head, and his arms are wrapped around your waist. “This actually feels quite nice.”
“Mm, yes,” you say absently, before snapping into attention and saying, “But I’m pretty sure I was the one who opened his arms to be the big spoon.”
“Too bad,” he says in that infuriatingly teasing tone of his, and you sigh in turn. “I’m the one who needs some healing, and I know what feels good for me, so there.”
“Alright, your highness,” you drawl, wrapping your own arms around him and hiding a smile as you nuzzle into the crook of his neck and shoulder. It’s a nice sort of warmth that reminds you that, as much as Jake isn’t officially in a romantic relationship with you [yet], he’s still there in the best way: as your best friend.
There is a line between Dirk the brother and Dirk the teacher.
Those two identities are two different things entirely, although not a lot of people realize that. If anything, Dave is the only one who knows well enough the distinction between those two.
The teacher doesn’t teach whimpering children. Dave knows this, and so he holds his sword with pride whenever he trains with you.
The teacher doesn’t know what it means to be tender. If Dave gains a wound from one of their spars, then it is his battle scar to keep, as a reminder of what not to do for the next time.
The teacher does not take to complaints, believing that if Dave has made a mistake, then it is with dignity that he must accept his punishment.
But it is the brother who helps Dave up when he falls, who gets the first aid kit for him whenever he gets a particularly large wound, who carries him whenever he’s far too tired, and who ruffles his hair and cocks that signature smirk at him to tell him that ‘it’s alright’ whenever he feels like a failure.
But all in all, Dave loves you, as he has told you numerous times before. Not because you are the person who has taught him how to be strong, or the person who has comforted him when he had first shed tears [although you suppose those two count as major factors as well].
He loves you because you are Dirk, his family, and the person who has loved him ever since the beginning.
56. Everything For You
57. Slow Down
58. Heartfelt Apology
It's 1am, and I have no idea if it's worth it to post this thing now. But I'm doing it anyway.
Love was never something you thought you’d feel, at least in a romantic manner. You thought it was foolish, that it made people irrational- but you never disregarded the slightest possibility of falling in love. You just thought that it was- well, stupid. You hoped that you didn’t have to feel it.
[At the same time, you had the burning curiosity to know what it felt like. You wanted to know what it was that broke men down into tears so easily, that made them crazy enough to do the impossible, that made them kneel and throw away their pride just to get ‘the’ girl.]
There’s Roxy. You loved her- you love her still, really. But as the years passed and you grew with her by your side, you learned that it couldn’t be like that. She is more precious than anyone, not someone you could just see as a sexual object, or someone you could regard in a romantic way. She’s the twin you never thought you’d have, the person who could understand who you are [and get pissed off by you, but never leave you nonetheless], and accept you. You are hers, as she is yours. It was love that didn’t need to be put in words.
You don’t know what it is about him, really.
But you know well enough that you’d do everything, anything, just to let him know that you love him. You’d take what you could, you’d wait if you had to; anything at all that could make him understand that you weren’t fucking joking, this is real and I am in love with you, Jake English.
You are in love, and it hurts. But you’re not going to stop.
“Jake, this isn’t goddamn funn-argh!”
“Be a man, Strider! Why train with your bots when you have good ol’ me?” He grins at you, uncaring of the fact that you just fell from the fucking couch because he had too much fun with trying to get his cold hands up your shirt.
“If anything, I’m manlier than you,” you shoot back, shifting so that you’re lying fully on your back, a grunt escaping you once Jake straddles you by the hips. “What kind of man shoves his hands up his bro’s shirt? Christ.”
“What, so you’re saying you don’t like it when I touch you?” He says, before leaning forward until his breath is wafting across your face and goddamnit, you’re too pissed off and half-awake to be playing along today.
“Not when your hands are as cold as fucking Antarctica,” you snarl, before yelping once he slips his hands up and under your shirt again. “Engli-mmph!”
Is he actually kissing you, or.
“Where the hell are you going,” you hiss when he pulls away, not even knowing when your hand had latched onto Jake’s nape.
“You were getting rather choleric with me so perhaps I ought to go-”
“You ain’t going anywhere when you’ve already started something, you ass.” You tug him down and he grins, the Cheshire-like quality to it making you want to punch him in the face. But kissing sounds better right now, really.
He leans down and kisses you again, and fuck, it’s great. It really is. Sure, the quality of the kiss itself isn’t all that remarkable [if anything, Jake rates at a 5 from a scale of one to ten], but the fact that it’s him makes you want to puke your guts out from happiness. It’s not a pleasing image, but it works well on describing how you’re feeling. “Don’t want to slow down at all?” He asks, pausing in between his words as he leaves tiny kisses on your lips. It’s [frustratingly] sweet of him.
“Do I look like I’m up for slowing down?”
“You certainly look like you’re up for some other things,” he points out, and you kick him lightly on the stomach. He grunts at the nudge, before nipping on your lower lip and man, that did not feel in any way pleasurable at all because that’d be really fucking weird.
“Shut up and kiss me, English,” you growl in between kisses, and surely enough, he obliges happily.
“Rox, I’m sorry. Please, let me in,” you call out, pressing your ear to the door to try and hear if she’d come closer to the door.
“Fuck your shit, Strider,” she yells, the clinking of bottles letting you know that she has two (and more, probably) bottles of liquor in her room. Shit. “I’ve had-” she hiccups, and the fact that you know that she’s glaring angrily at her bottle of wine right now makes you feel even sicker with shame. “I have had goddamn enough of your bullshit! Leave me alone.”
“I’m not gonna fucking leave you alone after that,” you snarl, fists clenching by your sides as you hold back the urge to knock the door down. “I’ll do anything, Rox. I’m sorry, okay? I’m really sorry,” your voice falters into a whisper, and the sounds from within the room fade as well.
There are footsteps from within the room, the sounds stopping until you can tell that her feet have already taken her to the door. “You keep doing this to me, Dirk,” she says through the wooden door, and you know that she’s crying because her voice only sounds that weak when she’s close to breaking down. You’re already close to tears at this point, because it’s true. This isn’t the first time you’ve made her cry, and you feel like the worst man to ever exist because of it. You wish you could change, that you didn’t have to be so fucking dumb when it comes to realizing how she’s feeling- but you are. You’re her best friend, and you don’t even know her well enough to realize that you’ve hurt her so much already.
“I’m sorry,” you plead, because there’s nothing else you can say that will be enough. “I’m sorry. I never wanted to hurt you, Rox. You know that. I’m sorry that I’m a goddamn idiot. Shit, you can hit me as much as you want to.”
The door creaks open and you step back, holding in your own tears once you see the wet drops still falling from Roxy’s eyes. You wince for a moment when she slaps you on the face with full-force, though you don’t complain. You deserve much more than just that.
You’re prepared for her to hit you more but she staggers forward and you hold onto her arms, the stench of alcohol all over her as she stumbles into you. She hiccups again before breaking down into a sob, her face buried in your chest as her frail hands clutch onto your shirt. You hold her tight, your eyes letting a few tears escape once you clench them shut.
You wish you could swear that you’ll never make her cry like this again, but you can’t.
You can never be what she deserves.
“Dirk, are these…egg shells?”
“What?” You look into the bowl in Jane’s hands and stare intently at the piece she’s pointing at. “Uh. Yeah, I guess so. Why?”
“You’re not supposed to let those fall into the batter,” she explains, the expression on her face telling you just how much you’re being a dumbass at that moment. You don’t have the same prowess she does when it comes to baking, okay? You can admit that much. [Still, it hurts your pride just a bit when her cheeks puff up from trying to hold the laughter in.]
“Right.” You pick out the pieces for her, and she nods with a mildly amused smile. “So, uh. How’re we putting that batter in the oven?”
“Well, we take scoops of them with the spoon and put them into the cookie tray,” she says, and you try not to feel relieved that you almost asked her if you were supposed to put the whole bowl into the oven. You’re eleven, for god’s sake. You make mistakes.
The cookies come out okay with most of the work having been done by Jane. You swear to fix your own skills at baking up after that, taking months to get yourself some lessons on baking and practicing with some recipes because you want something to share with Jane every once in a while.
It also didn’t hurt that it made Dave think that you could do practically everything right.
“I’m so done,” Roxy groans, throwing her notebook to the floor with all the grace of a drunken monkey, before settling the upper half of her body onto Jane’s bed in exhaustion. “I hate essays.”
“You’ve been drinking red wine for approximately half an hour; it’s a given that you’ll hate something that provides the minimum of a challenge.” Rose quips, still too busy with her crocheting to even look up. Doesn’t mean you don’t notice the way her body is inching back bit by bit, before settling on the space right beside her sister.
“Sometimes I wonder about the reasons that exist for you to be so articulate at such a young age,” you shoot back, closing your Chemistry book before setting it back and using it as a makeshift pillow as you lie back on the floor. “That, and I’m too damn tired to go through with this Chemistry thing.”
“Why, isn’t Chemistry far easier than Physics?” Jane asks, letting her cousin rest his head on her lap as he slept. “I find it odd that you think Physics is far easier.”
“We’re all unique,” Dave says, a sleepy tone already in his voice as he crawls over to you, before slumping forward and using your stomach as a pillow. “There is no other explanation on why y’all are different at picking easier subjects. Let’s just leave it at that.”
“Smart words from a smart man,” you quip, an arm already over your eyes to cover them from the light, while you move your other hand to ruffle at Dave’s hair. He grumbles at the mussing up, but doesn’t say anything more. Clearly, he’s far too tired for smart comebacks.
“In all honesty? I don’t understand anything from this bloody book,” Jake grunts, before throwing his Algebra book to the floor and curling up on the space beside you. “Even I’m disheartened at how bloody arduous it all is.” He yawns, before letting Jade settle in the small circle that his body forms in front of himself.
It takes a moment before everything ends up into a pile of kids and teenagers on the floor, Jane [with John still on her lap] and Dave resting their heads on your thigh and stomach respectively, Jade sleeping on her elder cousin’s chest with Rose and Roxy both already asleep while leaning back on the bed.
If you blink your eyes open a little while later to the sight of Jake’s face right beside yours, well. Who’s to say if you brushed away the fringe falling in his face?
62. Irregular Orbit
63. Cold Embrace
65. A Moment in Time
“It’s not my goddamn fault that she doesn’t love you back, Lalonde!”
“That’s why I’m telling you Jake, you gotta think more like Crocker.”
“It wasn’t like I forced him to date me, Jane. You can’t put all of this on me when you couldn’t even tell him your own feelings.”
To be honest, you’ve never really had a good shot at accuracy when it comes to reading other people’s feelings.
Jake English isn’t your whole world.
Much as you love him, you don’t plan on falling that deep into this trench of an emotional rollercoaster. You’ve already gone far enough with the jokes of possibly dating him, and you don’t want to push it any further.
You just like to see his smile, to hear his lame-ass jokes and laughter and to have him close, so close that you can feel the heat off of him after the good deal of pain he’d dealt his opponent in wrestling. He’s a gentleman in every way but he knows how to break a couple of rules, if only because he knows it’s for the better. He’s your best friend and he reminds you of it over and over again that sometimes you wonder if he knows, if he’s trying his hardest to make you get over it.
Sometimes you just have to pull away, and he gives you that confused and hurt look and you’re being dragged in again without even knowing it. If it were any earlier you would have been able to say no, because you wouldn’t want to dig yourself a deeper hole of what you know is emotional attachment. But you never even knew just when the feelings started to grow. You don’t know when it began, the painful feeling in your chest whenever he smiles at someone else, the hurt coiling in the pit of your stomach whenever he laughs while he’s hanging out with a person you don’t know, or the jittery feeling you get whenever he loops his arm around yours and leads you along to wherever it is he wants to go.
You don’t even know when you began to call it love.
“Your nose is red.”
“Astute deduction, Sherlock. Go back to your room.”
“Don’t make too much noise,” Dave warns you, to which you respond with a roll of your eyes and a dismissive wave.
“What was that I heard about not making too much noise?” Jake asks, having just returned from the kitchen with two mugs of hot cocoa. You take the other with a mumbled “thanks,” blowing along the rim before taking a careful sip.
“Apparently, he doesn’t want his virgin ears to be tainted with the sound of our love-making.”
You have a very good feeling that, had Jake not been dark-skinned, he’d be blushing up to his ears. “I see. Well, not to worry for him, then! We will be as hushed up as the tigers prowling for prey.” He laughs, before settling down on the couch with you. He turns to look at you, taking a moment to blink, before he chuckles again. “Your face is all flushed, Strider! The look is quite charming on you.”
“I’ve been hearing that a lot. And thanks, I try my best for you, darlin’.” You wiggle your eyebrows at him, and he laughs again. You pull your feet up after a while, feeling too much of the cool air to be comfortable. “How’s the snowman doing outside?”
“He’s being an absolute gent while watching over the backyard,” Jake says. “I say, it was quite courteous of you to let him borrow one of your scarves.”
“Courteous is what I am,” you say, taking another sip of your cocoa while you keep your knees pressed to your chest. You look through the corner of your eyes at Jake, seeing him take a sip from his mug before he places it back down on the coffee table with a sigh. You’re not given much warning when he opens his arms and winds them around you, enveloping you in what would be a warm embrace- had Jake not been so cold from the winter breeze.
“Holy shit, you’re cold,” you mutter as soon as his fingers graze along the portion of your skin unhidden by your long-sleeved shirt. He only laughs, pressing a little closer as you struggle to put your mug down on the table. “You just came from the kitchen. Why the fuck are you so cold?”
“I might have taken a bit of a closer look at our snowman,” he says sheepishly, and you groan. “Perhaps you can warm me up?” He asks all too innocently, and you give him a look. “What?”
“Yeah, sure, whatever,” you sigh before shifting so that your back is pressing into the arm rest, your arms wrapping around Jake’s waist as you let your legs rest on either side of him after he’s already turned around to face you. “You can have all the cuddles, bro.”
He smiles widely and you smile back, if only for a moment, because there is no way you can resist something like that from him. “Then I shall accept them most graciously,” he says, lips pressing against yours before he moves to nuzzle into the crook of scarf-covered shoulder, his arms slowly warming up as they remain wrapped around your shoulders.
The feeling of frost forming in your chest, the cold and painful constricting of your heart whenever you see Jake smiling and laughing and leading a man or lady along to god knows where- it’s a feeling you never want to be familiar with again.
And so far? You’re doing great.
“Hey,” you call out, Jake instantly turning his head around to look at you as he smiles. “Still up for some lunch on the roof?”
“Of course,” he insists, before grinning and waving a hand goodbye to the women he’d previously been talking to. You hold a hand out and he takes it, a sheepish grin on his face as he follows after you. “Pardon for that little intermission, they’d been asking me about our recent project.”
“Yeah, I heard,” you say, and he laughs, nudging you by the shoulder. “What?”
“You’re quite the eavesdropper, aren’t you?” He teases, and you roll your eyes beneath dark specs. “Not to worry, I’ve no intention on running off with a dame after having you ask me out in that bizarre way you did.”
“Normally I’d agree with you all-out on that, but the thing you did with the roses made me look like a pathetic dipshit who’s just new to the romance thing.”
“Now now, no need to get insecure on yourself, Strider,” he consoles jokingly, fingers intertwining with yours as you take the stairs on your way to the rooftop. “You can make it up to me for another time.”
“Ah, so you’re expecting more wooing? I knew there was a motive behind you taking out all those people to ask me out.”
“And you thought you were the only one shrewd enough for such things,” he says, a proud grin on his face as he squeezes your hand in his.
“I was wrong,” you agree, squeezing back. You may have been smiling, just a little bit.
A few minutes before, Jake English broke one of your mini-robots by accident.
A couple of hours before that, Roxy Lalonde managed to spill her drink onto your favorite white shirt.
Just now, Jane managed to accidentally rip through one of your blueprints because she’d stumbled on the foot of the teen sitting beside you.
You are really fucking tired and you have no more patience to give for anyone else who might try to piss you off. You’re already damn sure you’re going to remember this day forever because it’s the worst one you’ve had to live through so far in your life as a teenager. [It’s the fact that one of your blueprints and robots got ruined, really. Usually you’d be more patient, but this is something else. That, and you woke up with your head hanging off the bed with the alarm clock on snooze mode.]
As such, you had no time to bother asking Jake why the hell he was dragging you to another building of the school and to the gym, because you are too busy being irate at the fact that he managed to make you trip twice along the way.
“Jake, what the hell are you-”
“Shh!” He tuts at you, a finger pressed to his mouth as you try not to throw one of your books at him. You are not up for waiting right now, if he hadn’t noticed that yet. “Everyone!” He calls out, and you look around in bewilderment as people start to come in from the other doors with some even coming out from under the bleachers. What the hell was going on? “Well? Go!” He yelled again, and there were the sounds of rushing footsteps as everyone…formed a line?
“What the fuck are you doing, English.”
“Just wait,” he says again, grinning as one by one, the people pull out large pieces of colored paper with messily written letters on each one of them, spelling out:
You were not expecting that. You don’t even know what else you were expecting to happen.
He looks back at you before kneeling on one leg, the other propped up as he puts a hand behind his back and produces of eleven peach-colored roses. “You’ve given me a lot of time to think this through, and I honestly appreciate it, Dirk. Also, I managed to figure out what the thirteen red roses meant.” He grins, and you flush pink in remembrance of the day you’d given him said roses. You’d thought he’d forgotten about that already, to be honest. “So, what do you say? Think you’re willing to give this gent a chance?”
You stay silent for a moment, inwardly enjoying his fidgeting, before you say, “Stand up.”
He stands up immediately, almost like a trained dog- which, if you thought about it, he really was. To an extent. He looks at you with wide green eyes, buckteeth digging into his lower lip as he tries not to bounce from one foot to another. It doesn’t take too long before you’re crushing him into a hug and he’s gasping, obviously not having expected that either. “Dirk?”
“What the fuck did you think? Of course I’ll go out with you, you crazy bastard,” you say, voice muffled as you hide your face in his shoulder.
It’s never a good idea to be hugging a person who has the extreme urge to jump around and yell in decibels that are painful when up close.
66. Dangerous Territory
68. Unsettling Revelations
70. Bitter Silence
“John is being an asswipe,” Dave says once he enters your room, an unbecoming pout on his face as he shuts the door behind him and slumps into your bed. You raise your goggles to settle on the top of your head, an eyebrow quirked as you regard the kid.
“What did he do this time?” You ask, stashing away the bolts on your table into a tiny container.
Dave looks up, shades dangling from the bridge of his nose as he stares miserably at you. His eyebrows are furrowed and his lips are trying their best not to pout (and failing)- but that’s not it. It’s his red eyes, glassy red orbs that are usually good enough at playing casual.
He’s struggling not to cry and you feel sick inside just looking at him.
“He doesn’t want to hang out with me,” he complains, removing his shades before using both of his hands to rub at his face in frustration. “He’s making me pick between him and TZ!” He grumbles even louder now, hands still covering his face as he rolls over until he’s lying on your bed, feet kicking up at the air.
“She’s the one who pushed him into the street that one time, wasn’t she?”
“She apologized.” Dave argues immediately, rolling around to face you properly as he removes his hands from his face. “She’s a really cool gal, man, you know her,” he says, having calmed down, red eyes turning away, “I just don’t know why Egbert doesn’t get that.”
“Maybe he doesn’t like his best friend being stolen by a girl.”
Dave stares intently at you in response, to which you shrug. “Hey, it happens.”
“John is usually more patient than that- and he’s fine with me and Jade and Rose.”
“He’s friends with them too.”
“We’re gonna complete a revolution around this topic before we make any sense, bro.”
You sigh. “Most probably. Maybe he’s traumatized from his almost accident and doesn’t want to forgive her.”
“Serket almost killed him and he still has a crush on her.”
“You picked one of the weirdest guys to befriend, Dave.”
“Says my brother who has a crush on a dude with an accent and doesn’t know how to work the coffeemaker.”
“Hey, not my fault he lived in a deserted island before we met. He doesn’t even drink coffee.”
“Right. Tea kind of guy?”
“He has a thing for milk tea at times.”
“Apple juice is so much better.”
“I beg to disagree. Orange juice is way better.”
“Apples are healthier.”
“The orange is both a color and a fruit.”
You roll your eyes as you set the screwdriver in your hand into one of the racks on your table. “In all seriousness, kid. What did he say to you?” Dave groans, pushing himself up until he’s sitting with his legs crossed in front of him.
“I don’t like her,” Dave says, imitating a whiny version of John’s voice. “She’s mean. She doesn’t like me. I don’t like her being your friend. Ugh!” He yells, throwing his hands up to the air in frustration. While Dave is usually trained to put up a poker face, there are still times when he’s a fucking drama queen. You don’t blame him; the world can be a very dramatic place. You’re just glad you’re the only one who gets to see this. (Hopefully.)
“There you have it. He thinks she’s mean. And he doesn’t like her.”
“Why doesn’t he like her?” He asks (more like yells), glaring at you for an answer. “She’s not even mean. She doesn’t do anything bad- sure, she pulls some pranks- but he does too! They’re actually supposed to get along better because of that, right?”
“Maybe he feels threatened.”
“Terezi wouldn’t do that to him again- not when I’ve already told her off about it.”
“Perhaps he feels threatened because he feels that there is some chemistry between you and her.”
“It’s just an assumption. There are kids who feel like their best friends are being stolen away by other kids- and all because they have crushes on them.”
He opens his mouth to argue, before shutting it again with an expression of discomfort. “Well. Maybe. But that doesn’t mean we have to stop being best friends.”
“Maybe he likes you,” you suggest, turning around as you separate the lag bolts from the mirror screws. There is silence when you wait for a response.
“I was kidding,” you say as you set the bolts back down, the exasperation subtle in your eyes as you face him again. He’s staring at nothing when you look at him, red eyes dull as he processes your words, before they go wide in realization. Realization of what, you’re not too sure.
“Sure,” he says, attempting to be blithe, grabbing his shades from where he left them as he sets them back on his face. But you know that something’s up. He’s trying to be casual, not being it. He’s thought of something dangerous, he’s thinking it now, and it’s your fault.
“Don’t think too much on it, Dave,” you warn, and he shoots you a smirk before leaving your room.
He doesn’t listen.
You were still so unused to attention, trying so hard to be greater than what you were when you were a child. You held your head high, you did things no one else could, you put up a poker face whenever anyone tries to break you down- and you had no friends. There were people who admired you, who hated you, who didn’t care. You didn’t have anyone special. You’ve never thought anyone else important before.
Sky blue eyes meet your covered ones when you look up, and you tense. “Hi,” you say as calmly as you can, looking back down at your sandcastle as you shape out the walls. Anyone else would have gone by now, offended by your disregard- but she stays. She bunches up her puffy skirt under her knees as she sits on one of the wooden rims of the sandbox, her eyes still on your hands as you pick up one of your buckets and fill it up with a little bit of water from one of the other buckets you’d brought, and even more sand.
“Why are you putting water in?” She asks.
“The sandcastle won’t fall if you put it in. It makes the sand stick together.”
“Oh!” She gasps, and you look up to see her face. Her eyes are wide and her smile makes her whole face light up, to which you stare a bit. Such an expression has never been directed at anything you’ve said- or to you, at all. “Really? How did you find out?”
“Pops explained it to me, when we were at the beach.”
She grins, her buckteeth not at all lessening how pretty she is. She really is very pretty. Sort of like your mom.
“What’s your name?” You ask this time, still looking up at her.
She holds out a hand and you brush away the sand on yours, before clasping it around hers. “Jane Crocker! What’s yours?”
“Dirk. Dirk Strider. I just moved here.” You reply, letting her shake your hand as she squeezes it in greeting.
“Well, it’s nice to meet you!” She chirps, smiling, before letting your hand go.
You became friends.
She turns to you, blue eyes standing out from the whites of her clothes and the greens of the grass she’s lying on. “You know that you’re my best friend, right?”
You smile. There’s no need to hide with her. Not anymore. “Yeah. You’re my best friend too.”
She moves her hand so that it’s in the space between your bodies, her palm upturned as she looks at you. “Do you think we’ll be best friends even if we grow up?”
You shift, ignoring the rustling of the grass as you turn your body to face her completely. You use your right hand to cover hers, squeezing her hand in yours as you nod. “It’s gonna be a lifetime before you get rid of me.”
She laughs, and you do too.
You grow closer.
“I’m in love with him,” she tells you, sky blue eyes glassy with emotion as she looks up at you. Your arms tense from around her waist, your mouth opening to form words, before you settle for a smile. “Seriously? The kid with the glasses?”
“He’s as much of a kid as you are,” she sniffles, hiding her face in your chest again. You laugh at that, bowing your head as your squeeze your arms gently around hers. It’s been years and she’s still here, still yours, and while it scares you that she’s finally fallen in love, you don’t care. You won’t let her go for this.
She squeals when you suddenly use your grip around her waist to carry her, whirling around as she clutches onto you with her arms around your neck. “Dirk!”
“I like it when you scream my name, babe,” you purr. She laughs, slapping your arm playfully.
“Such perverseness, Strider!” She scolds, huffing as she crosses her arms. It doesn’t look all that intimidating when you still have your arms around her waist.
“You love it, sweet cheeks,” you tease, and she laughs again, before raising her arms back up to hug you again. She’s so warm in your arms, so perfect, and she’s in love.
“Jake English, huh?” You murmur to yourself.
[She is yours, as you are hers.]
[And nothing will change that.]
It’s been months since Jake first joined your group of friends. Jane has a crush on him; Roxy thinks he’s perfectly chivalrous and a sweetheart- and you?
Well, suffice to say, you’ve found a man after your own heart. Sure, you found him unbelievable at first with his accent and words practically being recited out of an old-fashioned dictionary, and his capability for chivalry is very unnerving- but it’s grown on you. It makes Jake who he is, and you wouldn’t change him even if you could. It’s not that usual that you see a man capable of being such a gentleman who’s more than willing for a good scuffle.
He’s also amusing to watch whenever he gets into a rant with all those fancy words falling from his mouth like it’s the most natural thing in the world. It’s surprising how you can even understand anything coming from him.
You’re finishing up a prototype for Squarewave when he suddenly sits back and opens his mouth, green eyes wide as he exclaims, “heavens, Strider! If I’d been accompanied by one of your ‘bots on the island it might’ve been a piece of piss to take down those creatures! While it’s true that some of them were sooks you honestly cannot believe me a cockamamie goof-off if you’d seen those things! Many of them were colossal, and while I profess to being a man who enjoys a hunt, it does not mean I’d be suicidal enough to want to strike up combat with a muscled beast capable of crushing me with one hoof...”
You’d be lying if you said that you didn’t enjoy listening to his voice. While he tends to get excited at times, practically yelling some syllables for emphasis, his voice still somehow manages to soothe you. It’s like…how do you put it?
It’s like knowing that you’re home. Or something. Wait, that’s an odd way to put it, isn’t it?
He has really nice eyes too. Emerald orbs. Always gleaming with excitement, full of emotion, passionate. You don’t get to see that in someone often. While Jane’s eyes are beautiful as well, they just don’t hold as much ardor- not like Jake’s.
“…I have a feeling you’re not pinning your ears back for this, Strider.”
“Hm?” You hum in distraction, screwing in a bolt to conjoin the two metals in your hands. “I was paying attention. You said something about the muscle beasts, right?”
He sighs in exasperation, buckteeth scraping at his lower lip, before being instantly soothed by a red tongue.
He has nice lips too.
“Strider? Are you well?” He asks when the screwdriver falls from your hand with a ‘clank.’ “You look a bit distracted there, chap.”
“Mm? Yeah, I’m fine,” you say, trying not panic as you grab the screwdriver and turn your head away from him, taking what will be the prototype’s head into your lap as you fix the joints at his cheeks. Fuck, you did not think he had nice lips. That was not a thing to do. Definitely not a thing to do.
“You’re looking a bit wan there-”
“-I’m fine,” you insist again, keeping your eyes turned away from him as you put all of your attention on the metal in your hands.
“You were in love with him?”
There is desperation in Jane’s face that hurts like a knife stabbed to your chest, the sharp blade twisting more and more as you see the tears brimming in her eyes. She trusts you. You always held her close when she cried, supported her when she needed you, told her that the whole world could be hers if she just spoke her mind.
“You could have told me,” she says, voice broken as she turns teary eyes up to look directly into yours. You can barely look at her. “I always told you about him, I trusted you about it Dirk, I never told anyone else but you and Roxy. You couldn’t even trust me with this?”
“I didn’t think it would matter,” you say in response, hands clenching and amber eyes turned away. “I thought it would stop. It didn’t. I didn’t think I had a chance.” And it’s true. You’d kept it quiet when it began, hating yourself for every moment that you wanted him- because she was in love. You weren’t. That’s what you’d thought and you tried, you tried so fucking much, but he was perfectly flawed and you’d never wanted anyone so much before.
“But you did! He-” she chokes back a sob as she shakes her head. “You saw what he did! You saw what he did in the gym, all those people, the letters, the roses!” She shudders and you try to reach out to her, at which she flinches back.
“Jane, please,” you try to plead, and she steps away.
You feel something shattering, something small, somewhere inside your chest.
“No, no,” she says, hands furiously wiping away the tears threatening to pour from her eyes. “It was a lapse in my own judgment, wasn’t it? I’m the villain here, I shouldn’t try to make myself look like the victim,” she laughs, the sound dwindling down into what sounds like a sob. “It’s fine. Just- give me some time. But,” she trails off, eyes turned down to the ground, uncertainty clear in her voice and you hate it, you hate how you were the one who’s done all of this to her.
“Jane,” you begin, “I love you, you understand. I would never do this to deliberately hurt you.”
She pauses, blue eyes looking up into your amber ones, before a weak smile appears on her face. “Truly?”
“I’d rather die before lying to you about such a thing.”
“But you wouldn’t give him up for me, would you?” She asks, and your heart stops, if only for a moment.
“No,” you manage to say, and she smiles again, a bittersweet taste to it when you look at her. “I-”
“Don’t apologize.” She says, wiping away the last of the traitorous tears brimming in her eyes. “I’m glad that you love him- maybe even more than I do.”
I’m so sorry. The words are unsaid but they’re there, and for the first time, you’re watching Jane be the one to leave you.
It feels like something has been stolen from you, but you’re not sure what it is.
The silence tastes strong on your tongue, bitter, enough to make you feel ill with unease. It's been days since Jane last smiled at you in that bright way she always did, been weeks since you'd felt her close as you always were since you were children. It hurts. You love her, so much, and you're slowly realizing that maybe, just maybe, you could give up on Jake for her.
You're studying in Jake's living room, a strained smile on Roxy's face as she nudges Jane into helping her out with her Chemistry homework.
"The atomic size increases downwards and to the left..."
"You make it sound far too easy, Janey!"
Maybe. Maybe you'd give him up.
"A penny for your thoughts there, love?"
You jolt into awareness when you feel cold lips pressing against your temple, your amber eyes widening a bit as he pulls away to smile at you. "Not quite looking your best today, are you? You ought to take a rest."
"I'm perfectly well," you mutter back, internally repeating his words over and over again until it hurts to think. Love.
"Tell me whenever you're up for it," he insists, before handing you a glass of orange juice whilst sitting next to you. He's warm, comfortable, and for once in your life you feel like you're loved, and not just loved back. It's in his smile, the light grasp he has on your hand as he subtly clasps his calloused hand on yours, and his eyes. He brightens up considerably when you look at him, and you smile back, just for a bit. You look away to glance at Roxy and Jane, to which your eyes are greeted with Roxy gripping Jane's hand in hers.
The smile on your face instantly drops. You hide it as you go back to answering your Algebra homework.
Could you really give him up?
71. The True You
I have no idea why there are people still reading this. I'm very aware that the characterization is really fucking off, considering the differences in culture that I have with the characters, but I'm trying.
So yeah. Thanks for the support! <3 You guys are awesome.
You're so close to losing Jane. As much as you hate to admit it, you are. You love her, you really do, and it hurts that it has to end up being a choose me or him kind of deal. She's not putting it out as something like that, Jane could never be that cruel, but you realize what it means nonetheless.
You don't want to lose her. She's been your friend for something close to a decade now, and something like this- something as small as this shouldn't be able to destroy what you have with her. You've read enough books out of boredom to know that romance was never easy, nor did you ever think it would be difficult. But it's hard. It's hard because you didn't think you'd have to choose between two best friends.
If you were really honest, you'd say that it's because you're lonely. You're not much of a social butterfly, you never were, but in Jane and Roxy and Jake, you found everything you could ever need. You grew attached. You loved.
And it hurts so much. This isn't logic. These are emotions, feelings dragged out by hormones and stimuli and you want to do something to make it all easier, but you're not the master of this story. You're not some puppeteer that could just change things, make Jane fall in love with someone else, make yourself fall out of love, or make Jake any easier to comprehend.
Sometimes you wonder what would have changed if you'd met Jake first, maybe met Roxy and Jane at another time. Would it have been different? Would you have fallen in love with Jane instead? Would you have gone through with loving Roxy as more than a sister?
Sometimes you wish. But nothing ever changes.
"You are the weirdest fucking kid."
"You've got some nerve," the kid behind you hisses, red eyes flashing under the light, "calling me weird."
"I'm just sayin'." You grab your Physics book before shutting your locker door, gesturing with a shrug of your shoulder to the new kid as you weave your way through the stream of teenagers coming in and out of their classrooms. "What kind of name is Caliborn anyway?"
"You wouldn't know. Clearly." Kid's got an issue with his speaking, you've noticed. "It's an ancient name. Maybe if your tiny brain could take in more information. You'd know what it was. What it signifies."
"I apologize if my humble mind offends you," you drawl, earning a furrow of Caliborn's eyebrows. "Lucky you that we've got the same Physics class."
"Me?" He laughs, voice low and rough and you'd get the shivers, if you were any weaker to that sort of thing. As it is, you've already gotten used to crazy bastards trying their hardest to creep under your skin, make you feel uncomfortable, so no way were you gonna get intimidated by the new guy. That, and it's hard to be scared of someone smaller than you by more than twelve inches. "You should think yourself lucky. I wouldn't usually allow another person's presence. In my personal space."
"Funny. Here I thought I was the one whose personal space was being invaded."
"What are you trying to say? Dumbass."
You roll your eyes, trying to take a step away from him. He steps closer until your arms are brushing against each other. "Maybe you shouldn't insult the guy assigned to give you a tour of the school."
"Maybe I'd like it better. If you shut your fucking cake hole. And make with the tour."
"Right away, sir," you drawl, earning a growl of annoyance from Caliborn.
It really shouldn't have surprised you that the weeks (months?) of getting threatened by the new kid was all a pretense.
You really should have guessed when he started giving you those weird looks across the hall.
You really should have realized before Jake got any hints. Which is surprising, considering how you'd always thought that Jake was a bit clueless to this sort of thing. (But really, he was the one who figured out you had a crush on him, wasn't he? You should have figured he'd realize it before you did.)
"Would it kill you. To fucking get on with your point?"
"Yes. It's dangerous to my heart if you take away the suspense."
You sigh. "It's not my fault that you can't figure out Shakespeare, is it?"
"I don't even see. The relevance of studying this. This is in no way pertinent to the job that I will acquire."
"Well, yeah. But we all have to be literate somehow."
"I am literate enough. Without this word vomit. Of a man who was lacking in sanity."
"Hey, you can't fault a guy for being romantic."
"Romance is stupid. This whole fucking subject. Is stupid."
"Okay, I'd agree with you on that- but it's history. And I'm your tutor. As much as it pains both of us, I want to go home early and I'm thinking that so do you."
Caliborn raises an eyebrow at you in challenge, and you shake your head. "Hey. Let's just get on with this, yeah? So you can go home and do whatever it is you do on Friday nights."
"To be honest," he begins, before pausing, then turning his gaze away and to the floor. Weird. "I'm not much. For partying. Nor do I have any other hobbies with which I can occupy myself with."
"What, you don't call chess a hobby?"
"It gets tedious to have the same opponent. Always making strategies against one person. It's not very stimulating."
"I can understand that." You trace a finger along one of the lines in your book ('these violent delights have violent ends, and in their triumph die, like fire and powder, which as they kiss consume: the sweetest honey, is loathsome in his own deliciousness'), before turning your eyes up to look at him again.
Ah, there we go. The staring.
There's a moment of silence, before he clears his throat (angrily). You raise an eyebrow in question. "So. I was thinking. Perhaps you could be a reasonable opponent."
"I'm not much of a guy who plays chess."
"Are you saying. That you are scared to fight me?"
"You make chess sound so much bigger than it is."
"Ah, but it is." He grins, canines practically gleaming under the light. "Think of it as strategic combat. A battle of the minds."
"Play one game with me, Strider." His grin widens, and you swallow back a retort. "Then we'll see if you're up to par. Against me."
You discreetly check your watch. It's five in the afternoon. You didn't really promise Jake that you'd visit him, but you wanted to surprise him. Maybe. You turn your head to look at Caliborn again, and yeah, he's still staring. "So. You want to test my intellect? Is that it?"
"You could say that. Or. You could take it as a privilege. Because I do not usually offer people chances. At beating me in chess."
"It's that big a thing to you, huh?"
His stare turns into a glare, and you've barely even blinked. "Just say yes, windbag."
This whole thing probably explains why Jane keeps interrogating you about your unusual patience with the guy.
You're drowning, choking on water, the cold salty liquid slowly filling up your lungs even as you try to keep the air from running out.
I don't want to die like this, I can't die like this, I can't-
I want some more,
What are you waiting for,
Take a bite of my heart tonight-"
You wake with a gasp, skin cool with sweat and eyes wide as you struggle to find some semblance of alertness. You breathe slowly for a moment before turning your eyes to the source of music, the breath that leaves you coming out shaky as you reach out a quivering hand to answer the phone, effectively silencing it as you bring it to your ear.
"Hey," you manage to rasp out, before you clear your throat. "You okay?"
"With the state of your voice, I think it'd be more appropriate to ask you such a thing."
"I'm fine," you soothe, lying on your back and turning your eyes to the ceiling as you keep the phone to your ear. "You don't usually call at," you trail off, checking the alarm clock on your bedside table, before raising an eyebrow in bemusement, "midnight. Is there something wrong?"
There's a moment of silence after you ask your question, and you close your eyes- only to open them again as visions of water tainted with blood enter your mind. You suck in a breath, ascertaining that Jake doesn't hear you doing so.
"Did you have one of your nightmares, Dirk?"
Well, so much for that.
"I-" you falter, before sighing. "Yes. I was drowning, same old. I don't know why they keep coming back, but...yeah. But I'm fine now."
"It's fine to be scared, you understand."
You raise your other hand to rub at your furrowed brows, soothing away the creases on your skin as you wipe the sweat away along with it. "I'm aware. Doesn't mean I can let it get to me every time."
"I have nightmares too, sometimes. Not as fearsome as yours, I suppose, but nightmares nonetheless."
He hums, and you smile. "Mmhmm. Yes. Most of them involve me running, which is rather odd considering the circumstances. I'm more of a man to fight instead of retreat."
"It could be a subconscious thing."
"Maybe you have emotional problems that you're running away from."
Another pause. An awkward laugh.
"Oh, I don't think that's it." You doubt that he's telling the truth, considering that you'd already heard his nervous laugh.
"Really," he assures you, and it's not helping. He's using that tone of voice that you know is reserved for when you're being far too stubborn.
"You can tell me anything, you know. I'm still your best friend."
"I- well, yes. That is true."
"So? I think you've got an idea regarding your emotional problem."
"You are one irritatingly brilliant chap, you know that?"
"So I've been told," you say, an amused smile tugging at your lips. "Tell me."
"It...It involves you."
The smile falters on your face at that, before fading into a solemn expression. "Go on," you say, trying not to sound too neutral.
"I- you wouldn't cheat on me, would you? Dirk?" You hear the sound of a frustrated sigh on the other side of the line, before Jake continues, "I apologize for asking something so idiotic, really, I don't mean to be this- this anxious. It's unlike me, it truly is-"
"Wait. Wait, what? You- what happened, exactly? What gave you this idea that I might cheat on you?"
"I." There's another pause. (It's getting annoying.) "Caliborn."
"Your- your cousin?"
"Oh, for Christ's sake! It's not that unbelievable! You've been quite comfortable with him and it's goshdarned frustrating."
"Jake. It's...no. Really. There is no way."
"But you've been so chummy with him-"
"I cannot believe that you are serious about this. Jake. Do you honestly think I'd be the type to cheat?"
"Well, no, but-"
"And no, he's not hitting on me either. Just relax, got it?" You pause, before chuckling a bit. "Now you've got me doubting if I've been too lax on you."
"Here I thought I was being too clingy, darlin'." You drawl, a grin tugging at your lips as you hear the shaky inhale from the other side of the line. "Guess I was wrong. Do I need to talk to you every night to assure you that I'm not cheating?'
"You're making fun of me now, Strider. It's not amusing. I do not find this amusing."
"Oh, come on. I can't bask in the fact that you were being possessive of me for a moment there?"
"What- you enjoy it? That's-"
You raise an eyebrow. "That's what?"
"I...suppose it's alright."
"Oh." You breathe in slowly, a smile growing on your face. How juvenile. "Hey. I'm serious about this, though." You pause for a moment, before lowering your voice into an almost whisper. "I love you."
There's that inhale again. "I- I know."
"Good. As sappy as that shit was, I don't want you forgetting it."
"Understood." You can practically hear the grin from his voice. "And...I love you too. I'd prefer that you not forget it either."
"You're the hopeless romantic, not me."
"We could bet about that, and you'd lose."
"Hush. Go to sleep."
"Fine. But what did you call me for, in the first place? You never told me."
He pauses for a moment, before admitting with some sheepishness in his voice, "I couldn't sleep."
"Ah. What about now?"
"This- talking helped."
You smile. "I knew that you loved my voice."
"Don't let that get to your head, love."
You stifle a shiver. You'll never get used to hearing him call you that. "Yeah. Go to sleep, sweet cheeks."
"Will do, Strider. Good night."
Jealousy is a green-eyed monster that you'd rather not battle with.
Jake English, while you know him to be loyal, is still very much a man that can attract a good number of women. It may be because of his looks, his accent, his charming personality- hell, you were attracted to him because he's an absolute dork. You understand that hiding is necessary, especially when you're in a place that constantly threatens even the smallest hints of homosexuality, or anything else that people just can't find as understandable. You hate that people can be so closed-minded, so blind, but you can't change anything with where you are. You still don't hold an influence on anyone.
You don't mind that not a lot of people know. Really, you don't. Sure, you'd prefer not having to hide at all- but you want this thing between the two of you to be special. Yeah, yeah, it's sappy as fuck. You understand as much. But it makes sense to you. Why would you ever need to scream to the world that the two of you were together, anyway?
In any case, it still sucks somewhat that you have to hide. You trust Jake, you really do, but it's not like you can help it when women start flittering around him like bees competing for the nectar of one flower- except Jake doesn't lie back and watch. It's rather impossible to compare him to a flower when he's who he is.
You're not that possessive. You're most likely to be seen teasing Jake about his admirers, really. You love it when he gets flustered, annoyed, when he stumbles over his words because he's not sure if you're being passive-aggressive with your jealousy or if you're really just being an asshole who likes to tease him.
But you have your moments. You can't help it. When Roxy's clinging to Jane's hand, clutching and twining their fingers together, you're reminded of the reality that you can never have that with Jake. Not yet, not at this point in time. So when you turn your eyes to him and find him surrounded by a couple of girls, it's really not your fault that you feel some jealousy. He could have any of them, he could be holding their hands at any moment because...surely, Jake gets tired of hiding too, sometimes. You wouldn't fault him for wanting something more visible, something that he could hold on to and be proud of at the same time. You're satisfied with what you have, just being with him.
But you can't help thinking that maybe, Jake doesn't think it's enough.
76. Summer Haze
78. Change in the Weather
80. Only Human
"Congratu-fuckin'-lations, Einstein. Wouldn't have guessed."
"Bro, I'm dying."
You scoff. Dave rolls his eyes at you and throws one of your puppets to the door, pushing it a little bit further until only a bit of space left it open. You scowl at him from under your shades. Fucking rude.
"Not my fault the air-conditioner broke."
"But you can fix it. I don't understand why you're not gettin' on your ass and fixing it right now!"
"I don't know if you've noticed, kiddo, but I don't exactly have the tools to fix that shit."
"Do I?" You raise an eyebrow at him, to which he grunts in response. "Where's your evidence?"
"Ugh." He groans, rubbing at his face in frustration. "Ugh. I hate you."
"You love me, little man."
He responds with a loud grunt before turning his back to you- on your fucking bed. Brat couldn't even stay in his own room.
"Oh, look. It's us."
"Jesus christmas. What- how-"
Jake turns his gaze to Dave, raising an eyebrow while he does it. Dave only shrugs and says, "Memories. They're worth keeping."
"I don't understand the significance of your keeping this."
"To be honest, same here."
"Well, I'll have to agree with Dave here," Roxy chirps, alcohol-free, cuddling one of her cats to her chest. You don't know how she managed to sneak that thing inside the house without you noticing, but you're not gonna tell her to throw it out. No way. (The cat is adorable.) "Don't you think it's cute- and hot-, Janey?"
"Hm? What?" Jane comes forward, a bowl cradled in one arm with her other hand occupied by a wooden spoon. You squint as you try to read the writing on her apron, which earns you a laugh from the lady herself as she sticks the spoon in the bowl and raises her arms to let you have a peek. "I mustache you a question, but I'll shave it for later." You snort. She rolls her eyes and continues mixing the batter. "Well," she begins, leaning over with her shoulder pressing into Roxy's as she looks at your laptop, "I- oh. Huh. I remember this."
"You said you were scarred forever."
"I was drunk!" She insists, and you laugh.
"Oh come now, it wasn't all that scarring."
"There's tongue." Well, thank goodness for pointing that out, Dave.
"Dave, man, are you using that photo as masturba-"
"Whoa!" Dave almost shrieks, and you snicker as he throws a pillow in your direction (which you dodge with all the ease of a ninja). "Gross, dude!"
"Dude, I'm not the one keeping a photo of me and Jake playing tonsil hockey under the mistletoe."
"Photo of myself and Jake."
She huffs. "Someone needs to keep your grammatical errors in line."
It's raining. Great.
You open your umbrella, letting it cover you from the harsh shower of water as you pass by the park. The plastic bags of groceries rustle against your thighs as you make your way down the street, and you're close enough to slipping into a daydream because it's just that fucking boring when you're alone.
Not so alone now, when you notice a distinct green-clothed and dark haired figure in the distance. Or not so distance, considering how you're only a few feet away from him.
You really can't pass this up.
"They say dumbasses don't get colds," you begin, earning a yelp of surprise from the brunet as you find your way to his side. He turns wide green eyes at you, looking at you in bewilderment as you shield him from the rain. "But you really shouldn't test it, English."
"Well," Jake says, laughing once he's gotten his composure back, "not quite my fault that the weather is unpredictable, is it?"
"True. But I'm thinking it's more of you never watching the news."
"Oh, shush." He huffs, folding his arms across his very wet and clothed chest. "I've long ago deigned it your responsibility to watch the news."
"I've been uninformed of such plans. You could have told me."
"Well, I didn't think it necessary to inform you when you're already so intent on watching everything you can find."
"You make me sound like a knowledge-gobbling monster."
He snickers, before slipping back into another solemn expression. It's really not working when his lips are twitching like that. "Yes, well." He clears his throat. You start to walk in the direction of your house, letting him follow along as you shift your grip on the grocery bags. "You must enlighten me on that very first line of yours, Strider."
"Hm? How do you mean?"
"It sounds like a thing from one of your animes."
You chuckle. Of course he'd pick up on that. "Excellent deduction, Watson. We'll make a fine detective of you yet."
He grins. Says, "I certainly hope so," before leaning in a bit closer and twining his pinky finger around yours.
"Say what now?"
"I asked him out."
"You told him that he was an asshole and you asked him out."
"What?" Dave scowled, his annoyance radiating like Texan sunshine as he pushed the computer chair with his feet until it was further away from you. "Is there a problem?"
"Dude. That's the most unconventional fucking way to ask someone out ever."
"Well, it fucking worked."
"Damn," you whistle, snickering as the flush of red finally spreads up to Dave's ears. "He must be crazy."
"You've seen him. You know it."
"Dude, as far as I know, he's just a dork with a nice ass."
"Bro, no," he made a face, "that's- no. He's far too young for you."
"Oh come on. I'm just saying that he's got a spank-worthy booty."
"Fuck you, man. Seriously, how'd shit happen?"
"I said that he was being an ass, told him he better be thankful he's got a sweet ass to go with it-"
"Oooh, smooth, Romeo-"
"-shut up, he was asking for it. Anyway, I said it'd be awesome as hell if he maybe went out with me like a date and watch a movie or something- and he said yes. Because I'm awesome."
"You're a liar."
"Well, yeah, he did sort of say that I was being an idiot and- okay, he thought it was a platonic thing-"
"Fuck you. I'm totally cool with keeping shit platonic. Anyway, yeah, I...sort of explained it again and he said that it was weird to be in a romantic thing with me. Uh."
"Wasn't he the kid who screamed "romance is stupid" at me?"
"Damn, kid. You got yourself a handful."
"Whatever. He said yes. That's the point."
"So he found it in himself to be cool with the romance?"
"I just told him that I could be cool with not making shit romantic."
You raise an eyebrow. "You sure you're okay with that?"
The flush of red darkened, just a bit. "Well, yeah."
You whistle. "You got it bad."
He shoots another glare at you. "Dickwad."
"I yelled. I- I actually yelled. I."
"Shh, Dirk," Jake soothes, and you hate how you're fucking trembling like a goddamn leaf. This isn't you. This isn't you at all. You breathe in deeply as you curl into yourself further, Jake's additional warmth managing to calm you until you've stopped shivering in your seat. You stare down at the floor for a while, still stuck on the moment that you'd screamed at Pops that "I'm sick and fucking tired of you treating me like I'm nothing but a child!'
"I didn't mean to," you whisper, and Jake nods. He presses a kiss to your temple and you exhale shakily, burying your face in his shoulder as he wraps an arm around your waist. "I didn't mean to. I was just- he was making it look like I couldn't take care of Dave. Like I couldn't take care of myself. Jake, I- I've never even told him that we-"
"I know. It's fine." He whispers back, his other hand rising to cup your cheek, turning your head until you're looking up at him. "It's fine, alright? I can understand."
"I want to tell him the truth," you say, frowning. Jake's thumb traces circles on your cheek, his hand moving to brush away the hair falling in your face, before he finally gives up on the gentle touches and just holds you close, almost crushing you in his grip as he hides his face in the crook of your neck and shoulder. "I fucking hate hiding like this,” you say, your own hands clutching onto the back of his shirt.
"So do I- but it's not forever," Jake says, pulling away to press a kiss on your temple. You bask in the affectionate gesture, smiling lightly as he squeezes his arms around your waist. "I'm aware that fighting can't be everything. You've taught me that," he admits, and you laugh softly. "The right time is all we need." He pauses, before pressing a kiss to your lips. You kiss back, letting it remain chaste, before he pulls away with a sad smile. "You're only human, Dirk. As is your father. You are both capable of mistakes. As much as he is an adult, it remains that maturity is not something to be assessed based on age. You," he trails off, licking his lips, and you cock your head in bemusement at what he is trying to say, "are far more mature than people think you are. You act like a child at times," he smiles, and you roll your eyes, "but you...are older than you appear. You are wise beyond your youth, Strider. I don't understand why that is."
He pauses again, arms sliding away from your waist to be placed on his lap. You don't hesitate to take one of his hands in yours, which earns you a grateful smile. "I must confess, it scares me to think of the reasons as to why you're so settled with who you are. I barely even know what to do with myself after college."
"You're living with me, remember?" You say, and he laughs.
"Of course. I wouldn't have forgotten that," he says, teasing, and you share a grin. "But...after everything, you must understand that I love you. That Dave loves you, as do Roxy and Jane. We love you, as much of a complete asshole you are."
You laugh, tears brimming in your eyes for a moment. "I love you guys too, dickwads that you are."
He laughs. "Good. I wouldn't have known what to do with myself if you'd said otherwise."