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A Different Kind of Ride

Chapter Text

The clattering wheels of Dave’s board formed a steady rhythm as he took the familiar path to the skate park. The sun was just a hand’s breadth away from the roofs of the houses he passed, but it wouldn’t be dark for another few hours. He had plenty of time.


The park itself was nothing special- just a few graffiti-splattered concrete ramps and a rusty rail, looking out of place beside a kiddie playground and a big, ornamental fountain. But it was the best place around, and even on a school night a smattering of people could be seen on the pipe and jumps. Dave rolled up and stopped beside the fountain, where a pair of boys sat- one of them small and round-faced, with a slightly scruffy mohawk that could have looked cool if he gelled it up instead of back. The other was tall and lean, with a muscular jaw and a mop of tangled dark hair that flopped over his eyes. The smaller one waved cheerfully as Dave approached.


“Hey, Dave.”


“Sup, Tav.” Dave took a seat on the edge of the fountain with them, leaning his board beside him.


“Did you hear the good news, about Gamzee?” Tavros was beaming, his nose ring wobbling back and forth in a distracting way. Dave shook his head slightly. “He got onto the starting lineup, of the football team! Again!”


Dave looked past Tavros to Gamzee, his eyebrows raising slightly in appreciation. “Nice going, bro.”


Gamzee just shrugged, a lazy grin stretching over his face. His eyes were red- Dave wasn’t surprised when his words came out heavy and slow. “Ain’t nothing special that I done. A motherfucking miracle, that’s what it was.”


“…right. Well, still, way to go.”


Gamzee’s grin stretched even wider and he tugged a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket, holding them out in offering. Tavros waved them away, but Dave took one and slid it between his lips. A few moments passed in silence as the two lit up, and Tavros was the one to break it.


“You should try out for a team, Dave.” He nudged Dave with an elbow, who pushed him away.


“I will when you do.”


Tavros laughed and tugged up the leg of his jeans, revealing a prosthetic ankle. “I think I might have to wait, uh, until they start a high school Paralympics team.”


Gamzee laughed, but Dave just shrugged silently. Tavros sighed, exasperated, and elbowed him again.


“Oh, come on, Dave, I know you already thought of a comeback, for that thing I just said.”


Dave shrugged again, taking a drag on his cigarette. “Nah.”


“You’re lying.” Tavros tapped his fingers against the edge of the fountain. “In middle school, you had a comeback for everything! We would have those stupid, uh, rap battles, remember?”


“That was almost three years ago.”


“So, why did you stop? Don’t tell me it’s because of that stupid-”


“Shut up, Tav.” Dave raised his red eyes to meet dark brown, and Tavros backed down with a sigh of annoyance. Gamzee blinked blearily at Dave through a haze of cigarette smoke, as if he were wondering whether or not he was supposed to come to Tavros’s defense. Dave dropped his eyes to the ground.


They didn’t talk much until Gamzee and Dave had finished their cigarettes, and when they did, Gamzee pulled himself to his feet and stepped onto his board, the other two right behind him.


“Pipe first?” Tavros asked, and Gamzee turned toward it with a nod.


“Sure thing, motherfucker.”


Dave followed in silence, and the three pulled to a stop in unison at the top of the half pipe. Dave couldn’t help but notice how pale he looked in comparison to the other two- sure, they both had darker skin, from Tavros’s mom being Spanish and Gamzee being… well, Gamzee being whatever the hell he was. But it was still no excuse for Dave to look like he hadn’t left his basement in the past six months. His freckles stood out even more than usual.


“Go on, Gamzee,” Tavros prompted, and Gamzee shot them a last lazy smile before tipping his board over the edge.


Even stoned, he was good. Dave watched as Gamzee’s board slid back and forth, Gamzee’s enthusiastic shouts punctuated by Tavros’s cheers. It was a good run, and when Gamzee finally slid to a stop, a few other skaters took a moment to applaud him.


“You next,” Tavros said, and Dave didn’t argue. He pushed his board over the edge, bending low to get up speed as he hurtled downward- the slope flattened out suddenly, and then he was going up, up, up, and he reached the top of the other side to hang in the air for what seemed like an eternity. His body moved automatically, shifting his balance, bringing his board forward and around and then- crack- he was going down again, wheels rattling, wind pulling his hair back. Everything else fell away until there was only the board under his feet and the wind around him, until, too quickly, the run was over. He stumbled to a halt at the bottom of the slope, his legs slightly shaky from the adrenaline.


“Nice one, bro,” Gamzee called, back atop the pipe with Tavros. Dave waved slightly and hurried out of the pipe, board tucked under his arm.


Tavros slid down the moment Dave was out of the way, with a nervous whoop of laughter. The unnatural limp from his metal legs that was obvious when he walked disappeared the moment he stepped onto his board, and Dave couldn’t help but be a bit impressed by the tricks he managed to pull off even with his clumsy prosthetics.
The time passed quickly, and stars were beginning to appear by the time they parted- Tavros gave him a half-hearted invitation to come over to Gamzee’s with him, but Dave didn’t miss the way Gamzee’s arm wound itself protectively around Tavros’s shoulders. He declined with a not-quite-sarcastic quip about not wanting to be a cockblock, and turned to roll away before Tavros could form his embarrassed spluttering into words.


The air cooled quickly in the absence of sun, and Dave was shivering in his plain grey tshirt by the time he reached his apartment. It was empty, unsurprisingly, and Dave went through the motions of dinner and homework in silence. Bro still wasn’t home when he reluctantly slid into bed in the early hours of morning, not bothering to change out of his shirt. Dave closed his eyes as if they could block out the dark silence, and tried unsuccessfully not to dread the coming school day.

Chapter Text

Bro was eating cereal in the kitchen when Dave walked in. Neither of them said anything, and Dave went about getting ready for school as if his brother wasn’t even there. Collecting his mess of papers to stuff into his backpack, fishing his phone out of yesterday’s jeans, digging a clean shirt out of the laundry- an older one, that had once been bright red but had since faded to a gross sort of orange. He swung his backpack over his shoulder and grabbed his keys.

“Later, Bro.”

Bro grunted a reply, and Dave slammed the door behind him.

 

The city bus was crowded as usual, and Dave stood near the back, doing his best not to bump into anyone. A bunch of girls from his school had occupied the seats near the middle, and were talking and laughing loudly, leaning across the aisle to speak to each other. Dave recognized a few of them from his classes, but they didn’t pay him any attention. Not that Dave minded.

The bus stopped across the street from the high school, and Dave joined the throng of students crossing the road. Nobody actually used the crosswalk, and there was always a fair amount of beeping and shouting, but Dave just let himself be shunted along by the crowd until they reached the wide sidewalk leading up to the front doors. He spotted Gamzee and Tavros standing together under the shade of a tree- Gamzee was smoking and doing a horrible job of hiding it, but nobody seemed to have noticed yet. Dave slipped past them and continued through the doors.

Familiar off-white walls and dented rows of lockers greeted him as he wound his way through the crowds. His own locker was placed rather unfortunately in the middle of a crowded hallway, and he had to hunker his shoulders against the flow of people constantly pushing past as he grabbed his books. He was just about to slam the door shut when Tavros appeared beside him, the smell of Gamzee’s cheap cigarettes still clinging to his clothes.

“You should, um, eat lunch with us today,” he said, by way of greeting.

“No.” Dave shut his locker and slid his books under his arm, turning away. Tavros caught his arm and tugged him back.

“Come on, Dave, I know you’re really trying hard, to be as antisocial as possible, but Gamzee’s introducing me to a bunch of the guys on his team, and-”

“Eating lunch with a bunch of jocks doesn’t sound like much fun.”

“I’ll be there too.”

“I’m not interested in talking about how many yards some dude scored in the last basketball game, Nitram.”

“That doesn’t even make sense!”

“Exactly. I don’t do sports. See you at the park.” Dave yanked his arm away from Tavros’s hold and started down the hall. He could feel Tavros scowling at his back, but he didn’t turn around, and soon enough they were separated by the flow of people.

Classes dragged by, as always. Dave sat near the back, kept his head down, and doodled tiny ninjas battling along the top of his paper. The one with the twin katanas was winning.

When lunch finally came, Dave bought his food and hurried toward the door, keeping his head low and an eye out for Tavros and Gamzee. He finally spotted them sitting in the middle of a sprawling group that had claimed the foyer by shoving all of the benches together into a giant, clumsy-looking circle. Dave recognized a few of the faces from his classes, and he was glad to see Tavros looking decidedly uncomfortable as a tall, shark-like boy leaned over toward him. Dave could practically smell the purple hair dye and axe from across the hall.

He hurried past them and out the front doors without being noticed, escaping to his usual spot for lunch- a secluded little corner around the side of the school, which might have been a good place for stoners or couples wanting to make out if Dave hadn’t already claimed it as his. The rumors about the incident back in eighth grade had run out of steam years ago, but people still remembered him for it and steered more or less clear. It had occurred to Dave before that he could have worked his way out of that reputation if he’d tried, but at the time it was easier to simply shut up and let himself sink into the background.

He sat down, his back against the uncomfortable brick wall, and popped in his ear buds. The silence was drowned in ear-crushing music as Dave ate his lunch alone.

 

It seemed like forever until the school day ended, and Dave hurried home to pick up his board from the apartment- he could hear music coming from Bro’s room, but he didn’t bother saying hi- before escaping to the park. His board felt familiar and safe under his feet, and he pulled up to the fountain with a comfortable sense of routine. Gamzee and Tavros showed up after a few minutes, and they quickly set out on their quest to dominate each and every jump, ramp and rail. Despite October being only days away, the sun was beating down hard, and soon Dave’s shirt was sticking to his back and his face felt flushed. It wasn’t long until they finished their circuit of the jumps, and Dave settled himself beside Gamzee on the edge of the fountain as they watched Tavros attempt to teach himself a trick he’d watched online.

“You ain’t getting the front of the board up high enough, Tavbro,” Gamzee called, his cigarette dangling from his fingers. Dave’s took a draw on his own, letting his gaze wander around the park. It was crowded with people enjoying the sunshine- squealing kids and joggers and couples wandering around hand in hand. Gamzee followed his gaze, smiling blankly. A voice from the other side of the fountain made them both jump.

“Gamzee? Is that you?”

Dave turned to see a vaguely familiar, glasses-clad face, topped with a spiky mess of black hair and the dorkiest grin Dave had ever seen. Gamzee hooted.

“Oh, hey, motherfucker! What are you doing all up in here?”

“I was supposed to meet a friend, but they ditched on me.” He stopped beside Gamzee, eyes flicking over to Dave. It was almost amusing how his thoughts showed on his face, Dave thought- he could see the boy struggling to identify him, searching for a name to put with a face. Apparently he decided they didn’t know each other after all, because he flopped down on the fountain on the other side of Gamzee, who promptly offered him a cigarette. The boy shook his head, and looked as if he was about to say something when Tavros limp-ran over. His hair had come loose of its gel sometime during the afternoon and fell over his forehead in messy locks, but he didn’t seem to notice.

“Hi, John.”

Oh, so John was his name. Dave remembered him now- they were in English together. He was pretty sure they’d never actually spoken, even though John sat just two seats in front of him.

“Hey, Tav! I didn’t know you skateboarded.”

Tavros shrugged, taking a seat on the other side of John. “I kind of do.”

Dave scoffed, and Gamzee reached over John to clap a hand on Tavros’s shoulder. “This motherfucker can ride better with no legs than anyone else can with two.”
Tavros shoved Gamzee’s hand off with a noncommittal murmur, his eyes on his feet. John’s smile grew, if possible, even wider. He had to be wearing contacts, Dave decided. Nobody had eyes that blue.

“That is so cool! You have to show me some time.”

“Um, maybe. We come to this park a lot, so if you’re here again…”

“Yeah, for sure! I have practice tomorrow, but maybe on Thursday?”

Dave ground his cigarette out on the side of the fountain. It looked as if skating-time was going to turn into talk-to-John time, and that was his cue to leave. Unfortunately, his movement seemed to remind the others of his presence.

“Oh, yeah!” Tavros clapped his hands together. “John, this is Dave. Dave, John’s one of Gamzee’s teammates. He’s the quarterback.”

John leaned around Gamzee to beam at Dave. Oh great, Dave thought, a jock. How hadn’t he noticed the letterman jacket John was wearing before now? The word “EGBERT” was stitched in bright yellow across his shoulders. And now John was pulling a hand out of his pocket to hold out for… a handshake? Seriously?

Dave reluctantly reached out to take the hand, and at once yanked it away with a yelp. He clutched his stinging wrist to his chest, staring at John in a combination of anger and pure shock.

“What the fuck was that?”

John nearly tipped over backward into the fountain from laughter. It was a dumb-sounding laugh, all snorts and giggles. “Jeez, that was priceless! Haven’t you ever heard of a hand-buzzer, Dave? That one’s ancient!” He held up his hand to reveal a small metal device in his palm. Dave just scowled, shaking his still-stinging hand. Gamzee was chuckling along like an idiot, and Tavros was beet red from struggling to contain his grin.

“Great.” Dave drawled. “Really funny.”

John’s laughter faded. “Oh, come on. You should’ve seen your face! It was hilarious!”

Dave stood, picking up his board. “Not really. Sorry to disappoint.”

“Don’t be a dick, Dave,” Tavros snapped, but Dave was already rolling away from the park. The comfortable feeling from before was gone, and now he just felt irritable. It was all John’s fault, Dave decided. The dumb jock probably thought he was comedy’s gift to mankind- how the hell were people like that even popular? Dave disliked him already, and they’d only met for a few minutes.

Dave had almost reached the street at the edge of the park when he heard running footsteps and a hand latched onto his arm. Dave whirled around to see John standing there, looking unfairly calm and collected for someone who had just run half the length of the park.

“Hey! I didn’t mean to chase you away like that.”

Dave resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “I was about to go anyway. I’ve got shit to do.”

“But still!” That stupid smile was back, as if he was positive he was forgiven already. “I don’t want to say goodbye on bad terms like that.”

“The terms have decided to become saints, and are currently volunteering at orphanages across the country. Let go of my arm.”

John let go, but his grin didn’t falter. “Okay, great! See you around, Dave.”

“Sure.” Dave certainly hoped not. He finally turned away, pushing hard off the ground to get his board moving. He wondered for a moment if John had gone back to talk to Gamzee and Tavros, or if he’d just gone home. Dave hoped for the latter- Gamzee and Tavros were the closest thing he had to friends, and he wasn’t too keen on letting some grinning doofus with a dumb-looking overbite steal them away.

Dave shook the thoughts out of his head. John was part of a completely different social circle- they’d probably never even talk again. For the best, Dave decided. The less time he had to spend around smug idiots, the better.

Chapter Text

The next day began much like the one before. Dave finished his history essay on the bus, tried not to nod off in class, and ate lunch by himself, allowing blasting music to slowly destroy his eardrums. It seemed like forever before he could escape to the skate park, where Tavros sat in the usual spot on the fountain, alone for once.

“Gam has football practice,” Tavros explained, though he looked less than happy about it. He fiddled with a loose thread on his jeans as Dave fished out a cigarette and lit up.

“Surprised you aren’t sitting in the bleachers, ogling his ass. Don’t they wear those really tight, shiny pants when they play football?”

Tavros was laughing even as he flipped Dave off. “Shut up! You know it’s not… whatever.”

Dave arched an eyebrow. “Was that awkward loser speak for ‘yes we are totally fucking’?”

“We’re not!” Tavros’s voice was far too high-pitched, and his eyes were glued on his knees. “We’ve never, um. I swear. It’s not like that.”

“Sure.” Dave attempted to blow a smoke ring and failed miserably. “You guys had better be naming your first born son after me.”

Tavros swatted his leg. “See, this is proof, that you can still be a snarky asshole. Why aren’t you like this, most of the time?”

“Generally speaking, Tav, being a snarky asshole isn’t a good thing.”

“You know what I mean! You know, actually funny. And fun, to hang out with. But if you’re at school, or around other people, or even around Gamzee- you turn into this weird loser who never actually, um, talks.”

Dave took another drag instead of answering. Tavros made a frustrated noise.

“Come on, Dave. We’re seniors now, just because some stupid thing happened, back in eighth grade, doesn’t mean you have to turn into some creepy loner.”

“Says the guy who’s known me since before we could tie our own shoes,” Dave pointed out.

“Half the people at our school don’t even remember the sword thing!”

Dave stood, flicking his cigarette into the fountain. “Are we gonna skate or not?”

Tavros looked for a moment like he was going to argue, but he shook his head and hopped on his own board. “…yeah.”

Dave took all the jumps as fast as he dared, but he couldn’t outdistance an uncomfortable feeling in his gut.

 

Tavros caught him at his locker the next morning. “Guess what!” It was more of an exclamation than a question. Dave raised a questioning eyebrow at him, and Tavros continued excitedly.

“So, um, Gamzee was talking to John, while they were at practice, and John says he’s probably going to meet us, at the park after school.”

Dave tucked his headphones into his pocket and slammed his locker shut. “Great. I guess I have other plans for this afternoon, then.”

Tavros rolled his eyes. “No, you don’t. Come on, Dave, you’ve already met John and everything!”

“He tried to electrocute me.”

“It was a joke!”

Dave just shook his head, but Tavros wasn’t giving up this time. “It’ll be fun, John already knows how to skate, more or less, we were going to teach him some stuff-”

“I’m not in the mood to babysit a stupid jock.”

Tavros set his jaw, and Dave could almost see him attempting to muster up his courage. “If you don’t show up at the park this afternoon, Dave, I swear I’m going to go to your apartment and, um, and drag you out myself. Please!”

Dave hesitated for a moment, meeting Tavros’s stubborn eyes, before finally deflating.

“Fine. Asshole.”

Tavros broke into a relieved grin. “Awesome. I’ll see you, um, after school.” He turned and hurried away, and Dave turned to opposite direction to head for his first period class. Oh, well. He could always make an excuse and slip away early if John turned out to be completely insufferable.

Dave dropped his bags off at home- empty today, since Bro seemed to keep his schedule carefully irregular- and grabbed his board, taking the familiar route down to the park. He spotted Gamzee’s puffy mane of hair from the other side of the playground, and rolled up to the fountain, where the three boys sat in a row.

“Hey, Dave!” For once, the greeting didn’t come from Tavros- John was grinning widely from Dave’s usual seat on the fountain rim. Dave gave him a nod and sat down as far from him as possible, beside Gamzee.

It took Dave a moment to realize something was off- Gamzee was leaning over with his elbows on his knees, staring at the ground. Dave looked past his frizzy puff of hair to Tavros, who grimaced at him apologetically. Dave frowned down at Gamzee with concern.

“…sup, man.”

“Not. Motherfucking. Much.” Each word came out as a low growl, and Dave resisted the urge to back away.

“Um. Want a smoke?” Dave moved to tug his pack out of his pocket, but Gamzee’s head shot up glare at him.

“I don’t want any motherfucking cigarettes, bro.” His eyes, while not as red as usual, looked bloodshot and sunken. Dave swallowed and nodded, stuffing the pack back out of sight.

“Right, okay.”

Tavros finally spoke. “He’s supposed to cut down on smoking, for the football season,” he explained, putting a comforting hand on Gamzee’s shoulder. “He’s just not feeling too great.”

Gamzee leaned into Tavros’s neck, his fingers digging into the legs of his jeans. Tavros awkwardly rubbed at his shoulder, sending Dave a stern glance that meant this is not the time to make a stupid gay joke.

“I think maybe I should up and go home, Tavbro,” Gamzee muttered, his voice muffled by Tavros’s neck.

“Yeah, we should probably go. I mean, um.” Tavros glanced at Dave again, and then at John, who had been sitting silently. Dave wouldn’t have believed it possible for John to actually shut his mouth if he hadn’t seen it himself. “Is it okay, if I go? I don’t want to send him home alone, when he’s like this.”

“Go ahead,” John agreed, flashing Gamzee a kind smile. “It’s fine.”

Tavros looked almost pleadingly at Dave, who sighed. “Yeah, get out of here.”

Tavros visibly relaxed. “Okay, um, thanks. I’m really sorry- I’ll see you guys tomorrow.” Tavros struggled to his feet, Gamzee still half-draped over his shoulder. Dave watched as Gamzee finally tugged himself upright and hopped onto his board, Tavros right behind him. They skated off slowly, weaving through little kids and dog-walkers.

Dave watched their receding backs for as long as possible, dreading the moment when he would have to look away and actually talk to John. He wasn’t sure whether to be relieved or annoyed when John broke the silence first.

“How long have you been skating for?”

Dave finally looked over at him- John was smiling, though it wasn’t the same too-wide grin from before. This smile was a little bit nervous, a little bit uncertain, and somehow that made it less infuriating.

“Seventh or eighth grade, I guess.” Dave paused, but John was still looking at him expectantly. “…I mean, I skated some before then, but didn’t do jumps or anything like that. Tav’s been on a board since forever, though. Have you seen him? He’s really great.” Dave shut his mouth a bit too quickly to stop even more blabber from pouring out. You barely know John, he reminded himself. Shut up.

“Nah, not really, but I really want to.” John’s smile had grown more confident. Somehow Dave was almost disappointed. “But I’m sure you’re great as well, huh? Let’s see some tricks!”

Dave hesitated for a moment. It would be so easy to just say that he had other stuff to do and just go home. There wasn’t any reason for him to humor John, really. He’d spent the last three and a half years being ignored by more or less everyone, and there was no reason to change that now.

But at the same time… John looked so eager, like a kid on Christmas eve, and Dave just couldn’t bring himself to disappoint him.

“Let’s go to the halfpipe,” Dave said.

 

John was the most enthusiastic audience Dave had ever skated for. Every trick, no matter how simple, required a loud cheer, and Dave was almost worried that they’d annoy the other skaters with John’s constant shouts. Dave went through every jump he knew, and John still didn’t seem bored.

“That was great!” John exclaimed, as Dave returned from demonstrating a kickflip. “Damn, I wish I knew how to do stuff like that. I don’t think I’ve been on a board since I was ten.”

Dave shrugged and held out his board. “I can teach you.” The words came out without planning, but John’s ecstatic smile made it impossible to regret them.

“Seriously? Oh my god, this is so cool!”

Dave shrugged again, not meeting John’s eyes as he placed the board on the ground and stood back. John stepped on nervously, wobbling back and forth for a few moments before finding his balance.

“Jeez.” He pushed off experimentally, rolling slowly over the concrete. “I haven’t done this in forever. It’s so wobbly!”

Dave took a seat on the edge of the fountain. “Once you’re used to it, I can teach you some tricks.”

“Awesome.”

 

Dave went through two cigarettes as he watched John roll back and forth across the flat section of concrete- at first unsteady and slow, losing his balance every few feet. But he gained confidence quickly, and before long he was zooming in circles, experimenting with turns and bending low just to see what it was like. Dave intended to stare aimlessly around the park, but his gaze kept being drawn back to John. It was impossible for this guy to be the ultra-cool football star, Dave decided. The boy on his skateboard was nothing like how popular jocks were supposed to be- he was goofy and dorky and so unabashedly happy that it was almost embarrassing. Dave was almost reluctant to interrupt John’s fun just to teach him a trick, but the sun was getting low, and he eventually forced himself to his feet.

John rolled to a stop when he saw Dave stand. He was almost a full head taller than Dave when on the board, and Dave reluctantly craned his neck up so they could speak face-to-face.

“I think you more or less got it, man. Want me to teach you how to ollie?”

John looked ready to burst with excitement. “Hell yes!”

 

John, it turned out, was a fast learner, and by the time the sky started to fade from blue to dusky orange, John was ollying clumsily back and forth across the park.

“You’re not gonna get any better unless you practice,” Dave warned as they sat on the fountain, John peering at a small rip in his jeans that he’d managed to get from one of his less successful jumps. John nodded thoughtfully.

“I’ll have to see if anyone has a board I could borrow. I bet someone on the team has an old one.”

“Uh-huh.” Dave nodded, crossing his legs and leaning back on his hands. The sky was darkening quickly now, but Dave didn’t want to leave just yet.

“Hey, were you gonna come to the track meet this Saturday?”

Dave raised a sarcastic eyebrow at John. “Why the hell would I want watch a bunch of sweaty dudes in shorts run in circles?”

John laughed, kicking at Dave’s foot. “Well, I’m saying you should be there, because I’m gonna be one of those sweaty dudes.”

“As tempting as that is, no thanks.”

“Aw, c’mon. Why not?”

“I have a perfect record for not attending track meets. You’re asking me to throw that all away?”

“It’ll be fun! I only have to run in, like, three races, but I’m gonna be there all day anyway, and I’d rather hang out with you than the other guys on my team. I mean, they’re great and all,” John added quickly, raising his hands, “but I can only talk about sprint times and fitness plans for so long, you know?”

“So instead you’re gonna haul me along to talk about, what, skateboards?”

John shrugged. “Or other stuff. I dunno. I just think you should come.”

Dave paused, staring back up at the sky. The first stars had appeared. “…I’ll think about it.”

“Awesome.” John pulled himself to his feet. “I should really head home, though. I haven’t even started on homework, ugh.”

Dave stood as well, hopping onto his board. “Same here.”

John grinned again, his blue eyes standing out in the gathering darkness. “See you at the meet, then.”

Dave rolled his eyes. “I said I’d think about it.”

“Uh-huh. Bye!”

“Later.”

They turned to leave in unison, taking opposite paths out of the park. Dave stopped at the edge of the playground to glance back, only to find John looking back at him. John waved, and Dave nodded slightly before turning around and rolling down the dark, familiar streets.

His stomach felt kind of fluttery. Maybe it was something he ate.

Chapter Text

Gamzee seemed marginally better when Dave met him and Tavros at the park the next day. Tavros was hovering over him like a mother hen, constantly asking whether or not he was alright. Gamzee didn’t skate much, but sat on the edge of the fountain, his gangly arms wrapped around Tavros like an oversized koala. It took every last ounce of Dave’s willpower not to make a million cracks about their obvious couple status. Instead, he busied himself on the halfpipe, not returning to sit beside the two until his legs ached and his joints were stiff from crouching over his board.

They sat in silence- Dave was itching for a smoke, but Gamzee’s eyes were starting to take on a slightly desperate appearance, and Tavros shot Dave a dirty look for even reaching toward the pack in his pocket. So the three just sat in silence, each lost in their own thoughts. Dave, for one, found himself thinking of meeting John at tomorrow’s track meet. His thoughts made their way out of his mouth before he could stop them.

“…hey, Tav, what’re you doing this weekend?”

Tavros arched an eyebrow at him. “Um, nothing out of the ordinary. Why?”

Dave just shrugged, turning back to surveying the park. He wasn’t sure why he didn’t want to tell the others about the track meet. He told himself that it was just because he wasn’t sure whether or not he was even going to it. Dave’s Saturdays were usually spent skating or bussing to the most remote location he could find and taking photos until his memory card filled up.

Dave tried not to think of John’s disappointed face when he would realize that Dave wasn’t going to up. Or worse, maybe he’d hardly notice Dave wasn’t there. He’d probably know dozens of people at the track meet, and if Dave didn’t show up, he’d just spend the day talking with someone more interesting.

Tavros and Gamzee left early, but Dave stayed out until well after the sun had set. He still hadn’t quite made up his mind as he finally made his way home, though he set his alarm clock for the ungodly hour of 9am just the same.

 

After three repetitions of hitting the snooze button and a cold shower- the hot water was out again- Dave found himself on a bus headed back toward the school. It was far emptier on the weekend, and Dave was able to actually claim a seat. He was still almost ready to turn around and go home until he spotted the crowds on the field outside of the high school- the meet was bigger than Dave had imagined, with hundreds of people milling around in various school colors. Dave kept an eye out for the bright yellow and blue of the Star Salamanders, pushing through the crowds standing along the sides of the track or milling around by the bleachers.

It seemed like ages before Dave spotted the familiar head of spiky black hair, standing in the middle of a clump of people near the start of the track. John wasn’t looking at Dave- he was busy stretching, one leg pushed out on the ground in front of him. Dave hovered awkwardly nearby for a few moments, wondering if he should go up and say hi, but John seemed too focused to be disturbed.

Eventually, though, John glanced his way, his face splitting into a smile when their eyes met. He waved, and Dave returned it with significantly less enthusiasm. John sprung to his feet and jogged over. Dave noted with a bit of surprise that he wasn’t wearing his glasses- Dave had just assumed that John would be completely blind without them.

“Hey! My race starts in, like, five minutes, but we can talk after.”

Dave nodded awkwardly. “Um, cool. Good luck.”

John grinned. “Thanks. You could watch it from the bleachers, if you wanted.” He gestured to a set of metal seats behind Dave. “I should go line up.”

“Right.” Dave watched John flash him one last smile before turning and hurrying toward the starting line. Dave retreated to the bleachers, which were mostly empty besides a loud group of freshmen on the top row. Dave took a seat as far from them as possible and turned his eyes back to where John stood. He was talking to a boy from another school, laughing and gesturing wildly. He looked good in his track uniform, Dave noted. The baggy letterman jacket John had been wearing at the skate park didn’t do justice to how well-built he was.

Dave blinked, forcing his mind off of that particular train of thought. It wasn’t easy, because John was stretching his arms over his head, and his shirt had lifted to reveal a glimpse of stomach-

Huffing with annoyance at himself, Dave turned away. He wasn’t going to ogle John. He just wasn’t.

A balding man holding a megaphone walked out onto the track, raising his hand above his head in a call for attention. “Everyone please clear the track. The race will begin in two minutes. Competitors, come to the starting line.”

John broke off his conversation with the other boy and the two moved into place. Dave wondered vaguely how long the race was- he couldn’t see any obvious finish line. The guy with the megaphone was standing beside the track now, a flag raised above his head. Dave glanced back at John, who’s smile had melted away. Now he looked focused, intense. His blue eyes scanned the track, and he shifted his weight back and forth in anticipation.

“Runners, take your marks!” Called the megaphone guy, and the runners shifted. John set his fingertips against the ground, his eyes narrowing.

“Get set!” There was a long moment of pause, where nobody moved. Dave could almost feel the tension. Every spectator had paused in their conversation, watching the track, and then-

“Go!” The man waved the flag and the runners were off almost before Dave knew what was happening. He watched John, who had his head bowed slightly and was running right along with the rest of them. Dave found himself clenching his fists, as if that could somehow urge John to run faster- already, the leaders of the pack had reached the turn of the track. Dave watched in a sort of awe- sure, he was pretty fit from swordfights with his Bro and skateboarding every day, but there was no way he could run like that. They had passed the first lap already, and were going around again. Dave watched John- he was near the front, breathing hard, arms pumping back and forth. The runners came around to start their third lap, and Dave watched as they picked up the pace for what seemed to be the final haul. Yes, now Dave could see that megaphone guy was back, standing with his flag at the same place the runners had started from.

The runners at the front were so close that Dave could hardly tell who was ahead, but then, all of a sudden, John was past the finish line, and he was stumbling into a jog and then a walk as the megaphone man waved the flag again. People started cheering, and Dave sat and watched silently as John was lost in a crowd of congratulations and applause. It seemed like forever before John finally broke away from his cheering teammates and coaches and walked toward the bleachers.

“So, how’d I do, geek?” He still sounded more than a little breathless. Dave stared down at his shoes in an attempt to avoid noticing how disheveled John’s hair had gotten during the race.

“Definitely looks like you’ve got talent for running in circles,” he muttered. John laughed, rubbing at the back of his neck.

“Thanks a bunch. I’m gonna go grab a drink, be right back.”

Dave nodded to show he’d heard, and carefully didn’t stare at John’s ass has he walked away. You shouldn’t even be noticing his ass in the first place, Dave told himself sternly. John Egbert’s ass was probably reserved for cheerleaders and the types of girls who thought their hair deserved to be a national treasure.

Fuck, John was coming back.

“You’re pretty red,” John noted as he hopped up onto the bleachers beside Dave. “Not used to the sun?”

Dave shrugged as John took a swig from his water bottle. “Not all of us can go to tanning salons every weekend.”

John laughed. “I’m half Filipino, idiot.” He managed to make the insult sound affectionate. “The tan is natural.”

Dave decided not to comment on this- no need to bring more attention to his own sickly paleness and freckles. “How long was that race, anyway?”

“Four laps is one mile,” John recited. He was grinning that confident cool kid grin again, and Dave resisted the urge to roll his eyes. John continued. “Oh, and I’ve been meaning to ask. Um, do you wear contacts? Or are your eyes naturally…?”

Dave stiffened. Dammit, he supposed it was only a matter of time before John mentioned them. But still… “Genetic mutation,” he said, and his voice came out stiffer than he meant it to. “Runs in the family.”

“Cool,” John said, and Dave wondered for a moment if he was being sarcastic. But no, his face was pure excitement. It was ridiculous. “I don’t have another race for a while. Let me grab my glasses and then we should get lunch, I’m starved.”

“It’s not even eleven yet.”

“There’s a café-thing right across the street! I’ll treat you.”

Dave sighed, but reluctantly followed John away from the milling crowds of runners and to the café. It wasn’t crowded- “see, it’s way too early for lunch,” Dave said- and they managed to claim a table by the window after they ordered. Dave devoured his wrap as John talked. It wasn’t a self-centered, babbling type of talk, and John asked plenty of questions about Dave, most of which Dave answered with a shrug or a simple nod. But John seemed to realize that Dave was out of practice when it came to conversations, so he filled gaps that easily could have become awkward silences with cheerful stories and jokes. He told Dave about his sister, Jade, and how she had just been appointed head of the school mathletes team. He talked about how he really wanted to see Nic Cage’s newest movie, even though he had nobody to see it with- Dave almost choked on his wrap from snorting- and about his friends, Karkat and Rose and many others.

“I know Rose,” Dave muttered, swallowing the last of his coke. John perked up.

“Really? She never mentioned you!”

Dave shrugged. “I’ve barely talked to her since middle school. We used to be neighbors.” Back when Bro had a normal job at the mall and they lived in a house. Back when Dave sassed the teachers and people actually noticed him.

“I should reintroduce you guys!” John’s grin looked almost painfully wide. “You should come eat lunch with us on Monday.”

Dave hesitated. “…no thanks.”

“Why not?” John gave him a look that he probably thought was pitiful, but mostly just looked dumb and pouty. Dave suppressed a smile.

“Too many dumb jocks and pretentious assholes in one place,” Dave explained. “I can handle you in small doses, but that’s about my limit.”

John kicked Dave under the table. “Okay, you no longer have a choice. You’re totally eating lunch with me on Monday.”

Dave’s stomach knotted slightly. John didn’t know about his incident in eighth grade, he was sure, but someone in his group was bound to. What would they say? And what would John say, when he heard the story? “…no, seriously. I’ve got other plans.”

John gave him a disbelieving look. “Like what?”

“Just… plans.”

John scowled at Dave, but eventually sighed. “Fine, whatever. Keep being a loser if you’re really that determined.”

“I will, thanks.”

John traced the design on the tabletop with a finger, and Dave tried not to notice how his eyebrows crinkled together when he was thinking. “Would you at least come to my football practice after school, then?”

“So is the plan to get me to watch you perform as many athletic feats as possible now?”

“If that’s what it takes,” John grinned and stood. “Let’s get back to the meet, my second race should be coming up pretty soon.”

Dave followed, wondering what the hell kind of response that was, and why it made his stomach twist in stupid, embarrassing ways.

Chapter Text

John’s track meet wound down around mid afternoon, and even though he was getting a ride home with a teammate, John insisted on walking Dave to the bus stop.

“It’s only gentlemanly,” John explained, his mouth curving into a smirk.

“I didn’t see you putting your coat over that puddle back there for me,” Dave drawled. “You’re kind of a shitty gentleman.”

“I’m doing my best.” John leaned against the bus stop sign, tugging out his phone to check for texts. “Jesus, Eridan, stop texting me… oh, that reminds me! Dave, you should give me your phone number.”

“You can’t wait till tomorrow to talk to me?”

“Nope. I’m obviously obsessed with you. I stalk you, like, every day.”

“Then you should know my number already.”

“Shut up and give it to me.”

Dave shut up and gave it to him. John entered it into his phone with a few practiced taps, worrying his lower lip between his teeth in concentration. Dave took a quick interest in his own feet.

“Cool. I’ll text you.”

The bus was rumbling down the road. Dave nodded. “Right.”

John grinned and gave a stupid little wave. “Bye!”

Dave didn’t respond as he got onto the bus, though he couldn’t stop himself from looking out the window once he found a seat. John waved again before turning away, and Dave flopped back in his seat with a sigh.

He felt jittery, as if he’d had too much caffeine, and his chest had that same weird, fluttery feeling from the other night at the skate park. Dave popped in his headphones and cranked up the volume, making a valiant effort to drown his mind in electronic drumbeats.

Dave managed to keep himself distracted for the entire ride, but that didn’t stop him from checking his phone the moment he got to the apartment. One new text.

JOHN: my football practice is at 4pm on the north field. see you there!

Dave read it over a few times before deciding on a response.

DAVE: okay

He turned his phone off and played video games until Bro came home at two in the morning, looking exhausted, and told him to shut up.

 

“Are you sure, that you don’t want to eat with us?” Tavros asked, deliberately placing himself between Dave and his locker.

“Positive.”

“But it was actually, really fun, last time.”

“All I saw was you getting hit on by a fish boy.”

Tavros looked down for a moment in embarrassment. “Eridan is… cool. He’s just kind of, a little bit pushy, sometimes.”

“Don’t tell Gamzee. He’ll get jealous.”

“Oh, shut up. Are you eating with us, or not?”

“Not.”

“Fine.” Tavros gave him the most scathing look he could manage, which really wasn’t very scathing at all. “See you after school.”

“Yup,” Dave replied automatically, before hesitating. “…wait, actually, nevermind. I have other shit to do today.”

Tavros frowned. “But Gamzee has football practice! It’s no fun skating all alone.”

Dave shrugged and did his best to ignore a small pang of guilt in his gut. “Sorry, bro.”

With a huff, Tavros finally moved aside to let Dave get to his locker. “What are you doing, that’s so important?”

“Nothing special.” Dave didn’t meet Tavros’s eyes as he dug around for his textbooks.

Tavros’s mouth slowly stretched into a smirk. “Is she pretty?”

“I’m not blowing you off to go on a date, you asshole.”

“Right, sure. Tell me how it goes.” Tavros flashed him a grin and disappeared into the crowd before Dave could get out anymore than a few inarticulate curses.

 

Dave dutifully trudged over to the football field as soon as the final bell rang. He wasn’t the only one- a few small groups, mostly giggling girls, were already sitting by the goal posts. Dave took a seat far away from them, setting down his backpack and curling up his knees. It wasn’t long before the football players started pouring out onto the field, clad in bright yellow and blue. Dave could hardly tell them apart from under their helmets- he wouldn’t have even spotted John if his jersey didn’t say “EGBERT” across the back. Dave watched as they lined up and went through various drills, none of which he could make sense of. There was a lot of running and throwing, but it all seemed kind of stupid.

“Hello, Dave.”

Dave’s head jerked up so fast that he could hear his neck crack. A familiar figure was standing over him- whitish blond hair and lips painted black. She aimed a gentle, terrifying smile down at him. “Is this patch of grass taken?”

Dave forced himself to swallow. “Um. No. Why are you here?”

“My friend John invited me to watch his football practice.”

“Bullshit, Lalonde.”

Rose Lalonde folded her legs neatly beneath her and smoothed out her skirt before replying. “No, he really did. I was dubious at the time, but his motivation is now obvious. How’ve you been, Dave?”

Her voice was just as condescending and infuriatingly even as Dave remembered it. He shrugged. “Good enough.”

“You’ve changed quite a bit.”

Dave lifted his head to look at her, their eyes meeting. Rose didn’t blink. “You haven’t,” Dave admitted at last. Rose smiled.

“I’m glad to see you’ve kept some friends, at least. Tavros and… Gamzee, I believe he’s named?”

“Yeah.” Dave nodded his head at the field, where Gamzee could be seen running back and forth. Dave and Rose both fell silent for a few moments, watching.

“I haven’t a clue what the hell he’s doing,” Rose said at last.

“Agreed.”

Rose turned back to Dave with an air of getting down to business. “It seems you’ve been getting close to John.”

“Not that close.”

Rose ignored him. “He’s a very friendly person- I’m not surprised he managed to break through your shell of apathy.”

“My shell of apathy,” Dave echoed flatly. “Tell me, do you prefer to eat your thesaurus raw, or do you boil it first?”

“I think,” Rose continued, with a disapproving swat to Dave’s knee, “that it’d be good for you to broaden your social circle.”

“And what exactly is that supposed to mean?”

“Eat lunch with us tomorrow.”

Dave ran a hand through his hair and sighed. “God damn, does nobody respect the need for a man to have his lonesome chillout time while he eats his meals?”

“I’m sure you’ve had more than your share of lonesome chillout time these past few years, Dave. It won’t kill you.”

Dave turned his gaze back to the football players in favor of answering. He kind of wanted to. He honestly did. But… the reputation of his incident hovered over him like a dark cloud.

“Nobody cares about what you did in eighth grade, Dave,” Rose said soothingly, and Dave bristled.

“Stop reading my mind.”

“It’s impossible for me to stop. It’s an affliction.” Rose put a caring hand on Dave’s shoulder. “If you’re worried about what they think of you, the best thing would be to show them what you’re really like.”

Dave huffed, watching John toss a football in a perfect arc across the field. “I don’t give a fuck what they think about me.” Rose didn’t answer, but Dave didn’t have to look at her to know that she was giving him a disbelieving stare. He sighed, rubbing his face in his hands. “Jesus… fine, I will. Now stop nagging me.”

“I never nag.” Dave snorted, and Rose smiled again. “But on that note, I’ll be going. I try to minimize the amount of time my spent watching sweaty men throwing dead pigs at each other.”

“What a surprise.”

Rose stood, dusting grass off of her skirt. “Nice seeing you again, Dave.”

“Later, Lalonde.”

“Oh, and try to be patient with him. Not everyone falls as quickly as you.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Dave demanded, but Rose only waved as she waltzed back in the direction of the school. Dave turned back toward the field, where the team was doing some sort of stretching routine. His head was spinning in confusion- an unfortunate side effect of talking to Rose.

Some things never changed.

 

Dave watched the practice for a while longer. He still couldn’t make head or tail of the drills they were doing, though John seemed to be good at them. Gamzee looked pretty good, too- Dave was surprised that he could even catch the ball, but it seemed like he knew what he was doing.

No matter how good he was at drills, Dave decided, John still looked ridiculous with giant padded shoulders and tight, shiny pants.

His ass looked pretty great, though.

Football practice ended soon enough, and John waved at Dave before trooping back inside the school along with the rest of his team. Dave was just wondering whether he was supposed to wait for John to come out or just head home when his phone beeped with a new text.

JOHN: stay put for like two minutes, i’ll be right out.

Dave put his phone away without answering, but he waited anyway, and soon enough John could be seen hurrying out of the school and toward him, changed back into normal clothes.

The field had mostly cleared by then, but an adoring fan or two still waved enthusiastically at John. John waved back with a wide grin, sauntering to a halt beside Dave.

“So?” He asked, flopping onto the grass. His hair was wet and droopy from the showers, falling into his eyes rather than sticking up in odd directions.

“So,” Dave echoed flatly. John grinned.

“I saw you guys talking!”

“Oh. That. Yeah, thanks for siccing Lalonde on me.”

The grin just grew wider. “I just had to reintroduce you guys! When I asked, she told me all about how you guys basically grew up together, and how you used to hang out all the time as kids- I just couldn’t do nothing!”

John was sitting too close. Dave could feel the warmth coming off his bare arm, see a few drops of water clinging to the tips of his hair, smell him- cologne mixed with a musky, almost spicy scent. He quickly averted his eyes back to the field and rolled his eyes. “She’s making me eat lunch with you guys.”

John punched the air. “Awesome! I’ll get Tavros and Gamzee there too, it’ll be great.”

“Yeah.” Dave made an honest attempt to sound at least a bit excited. It didn’t really work. “But since I’m eating lunch with you, it means I never have to come to one of your football practices again.”

John laughed. “Oh, come on, I thought I did pretty good today.”

“You realize that I know absolutely nothing about football, right?”

“I could teach you!”

“Don’t you dare.”

They sat for a while longer- John stretched his legs out in front of him, leaning back on his arms, the very picture of relaxation. Dave stayed sitting, chin resting on his knees. John did most of the talking again, but this time Dave found himself snarking back, making snide comments and one liners whenever he could. It was easy to make John laugh, but Dave still couldn’t help but feel a bit proud every time he sent John into a fit of snickering.

They were sitting even closer than before, Dave realized, as a particularly strong burst of laughter sent John’s head bumping against his shoulder. Their arms were touching, their shoulders brushing each time they moved. Dave froze, his heart thudding. John blinked at him and shit, Dave thought, his eyes were way too blue. Unfairly blue. They couldn’t be that blue. Not allowed.

Oh god, something inside his chest was on fire.

John looked like he was about to say something, but Dave stood abruptly. “It’s getting late. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

John looked disappointed for a split second before the grin was back in place. “Sure. See you at lunch!”

Dave nodded, grabbing his backpack and hurrying across the field toward the bus stop. His face felt hot, which was ridiculous, because he never blushed. Ever. It just wasn’t a thing Striders did. His heart was pounding in his chest, and when the bus finally arrived, he found that his fingers were shaking as he flashed his bus pass. He collapsed into a seat near the back, resting his forehead against the cool glass.

Rose was wrong. He wasn’t going to fall for John Egbert. That was the stupidest idea he’d ever heard.

Fuck.

Chapter Text

Dave probably would have slipped away the moment the lunch bell rang if Tavros hadn’t anticipated this and cornered him by his locker. Tavros, to his credit, managed to keep up a near-constant stream of babble all the way to the cafeteria, although Dave barely absorbed any of it- his stomach felt tight and his heart was pounding. He was torn between freaking out completely, or simply spiraling into an annoyed, self-hating spiral. There was no reason to be going crazy over eating lunch with people, Dave scolded himself harshly. Just how pathetic are you? Since when did the freaky-loner-boy look stop being an act?

Tavros had to tap him on the shoulder to stop Dave walking straight past the cafeteria doors, and his hands fumbled as he dug the correct amount of money from his pocket. Pathetic, pathetic, pathetic.

“They’re in the foyer,” Tavros said, unnecessarily. The group could be seen from all the way down the hall, a loose circle of people lounging on benches or sitting on the floor. Dave clenched his paper cafeteria plate so tightly it nearly crumpled, and it was all he could do to keep his voice steady.

“Remind me why we’re spending our lunch with a bunch of big-headed idiots, Tavros.”

“Because they’re nice, and having friends is a good thing.” Tavros punched Dave’s arm affectionately. “It’ll be so much fun, you’ll see!”

Dave didn’t even bother answering that, and before he could think of an excuse to turn around, Tavros had dragged him up to the circle and fourteen pairs of eyes were staring up at him.

Dave desperately scanned the faces, looking for any familiarity. Gamzee was there already, his gangly legs spread to take up far more than his share of room. Rose was sitting across from him, glancing up to give Dave a brief smile before going back to her conversation.

And, of course, John was sitting right in the middle of it all. He broke into a wide grin at the sight of Dave and Tavros. “Hey, guys!”

Tavros smiled nervously, not used to being the center of so much attention. “Um, hi everyone. This is Dave.” He flashed Dave a reassuring smile, then scurried over to sit beside Gamzee.

Dave remained awkwardly standing- there wasn’t enough room between Tavros and the wall for him to squeeze in. There was hardly even room for Tavros, in fact, and he ended up slightly draped over Gamzee’s leg. Not that either of them looked like they minded.

Thankfully, John patted the bench beside him, and Dave hurried over in relief. He could feel gazes following him, and he wished yet again that he was anywhere but there.
There wasn’t much space on the bench- the whole circle was really rather tightly packed- and Dave found himself wedged between John and the tiniest, pointiest girl he’d ever laid eyes on. She flashed him a toothy grin, her eyes a looking a bit unfocused behind red-rimmed glasses. Dave gave her the politest nod he could manage before turning to John, who had already started talking again.

“I’m so glad you decided to eat with us, loser.” He grinned, as if the insult were some sort of inside joke. “I should introduce you to everyone!”

“Um,” Dave replied, and then immediately cursed himself. Dammit, it had been so easy to talk when it was just him and John! He forced more words out of his mouth. “…there’s a lot of everyone to remember.”

John didn’t seem to notice Dave’s awkwardness- or if he did, he didn’t point it out. “Well, you already know me, Gamzee, Tavros and Rose.”

“Well yeah, but-” Dave stopped suddenly, because something was sniffing his arm. He turned to see the pointy girl grinning up at him, her face more or less plastered against his shoulder. The moment their eyes met, she let out a high-pitched cackle.

“For starters, that’s Terezi!” John said helpfully.

“Pleased to meet you, coolkid.” She gazed blankly over his shoulder as she spoke. “John’s told me about you! It’s nice to finally meet you.”

Dave swallowed. Talking. Words. Yes, he could do this. “Yeah, nice to see you too.”

The smile disappeared from Terezi’s face as quickly as if she’d been slapped. “I’m blind, you asshole!” She wailed, her voice hitting a note that made Dave flinch. “John- oh, my god, John, you’re friends with someone who mocks the disabled!”

“I’m not mocking you!” Dave’s voice automatically rose in volume in response to Terezi’s screeches, and he grimaced as a few heads turned in their direction. “I didn’t even know you were blind!”

“Too late- the damage’s already been done.” Terezi placed a wrist to her forehead dramatically. “Ouch, coolkid. That really, really hurt.”

Dave realized with a dull sense of horror that she was joking. Fuck. Time to change the topic before his idiocy became even more obvious. “I… I didn’t…why were you smelling my arm?”

“I see with my nose,” Terezi explained with a wink, and then cackled again. Dave looked to John, hoping for some sort of guidance, but was instead greeted by a sympathetic smile that Dave wasn’t quite sure how to interpret, and really wasn’t much help at all. Dave struggled to gather what was left of his wits.

“Well, keep your hands off the merchandise. You break it, you buy it.”

“Oh, definitely, coolkid. The merchandise will be treated with the greatest of care.” She gave him one last toothy grin before turning around to talk to the long-haired girl on her other side. Dave held back a sigh of relief as he turned to John, who looked like he was trying hard to hold back his laughter.

“Terezi is… interesting.”

“She’s a character,” John agreed, nodding. “But she’s really nice, once you get past the whole licking-people thing.”

“I think it’s gonna take me a little while to get past the licking-people thing.”

John shrugged, allowing it. “Anyway, back to introductions! That’s my sister, Jade, and beside her is Karkat.”

Dave followed John’s gaze to a curvy girl with long black hair and round glasses, laughing loudly at a tiny, scruffy looking boy that Dave vaguely recognized from his World History class, only because at one point someone had called Napoleon a “midget asshole” and Karkat had flipped out and swore at them until the teacher sent him out of the room. He was glowering at Jade even as she reached out- rather foolishly, in Dave’s opinion- to ruffle Karkat’s hair.

“They look like a great pair,” Dave said sarcastically, which drew another laugh out of John.

“Oh jeez, they’re not a pair. Not even close. Thank god. Karkat’s only true love is his writing.”

“I heard that, asswipe!”

“But it’s true!” John grinned at Karkat across the circle, who glowered back. He reminded Dave of a yappy little Chihuahua- loud and angry, but harmless.

“Just because I enjoy taking time out of my life to be a useful fucking member of society by writing a bit of social commentary, which you refuse to even try reading, doesn’t mean that I’m incapable of-”

“Right, right!” John called loudly, and Karkat trailed off into grumbling as John turned back to Dave, raising an eyebrow expectantly. Dave didn’t realize that John was waiting for his opinion before he was prompted with a “well…?”

“Your sister’s hot. I want to punch Karkat in his social-commentary-spewing face.”

“Would you be surprised if I told you a lot of people feel the same way?”

“Not at all.”

“…don’t hook up with my sister. She’s got enough on her romance-plate.”

“I make no promises. You would know firsthand how hard it is for to stay away from all this bod of mine.”

John swatted Dave’s leg as he continued. “That’s Sollux, Aradia, Feferi, and Eridan.”

Dave glanced over the four- Eridan, the sharklike boy who had been talking to Tavros days ago, was now leaning over Sollux with a greasy smirk plastered on his face. Sollux glared right back up at him from his position as a pillow for Feferi’s head, Aradia leaning against his arm. Dave blinked. For a dorky looking guy who couldn’t have topped a hundred pounds soaking wet, Sollux seemed to be getting far more than his share of attention.

“…and over there by Rose are Kanaya, Nepeta and Equius.”

The names were beginning to run together in Dave’s head as he turned to see Rose talking with a slightly snooty-looking Asian girl. They sat beside the strangest pair Dave had ever seen- a tiny, imp-like girl draped on the shoulder of a hulking, uncomfortable-looking boy. Dave wondered vaguely if that was really sweat glistening on weirdly well-muscled arms or if Equius just used way too much body oil. He wasn’t quite sure which alternative was grosser.

“And, um. Who else.” John peered around the circle, his eyes finally coming to a halt on a tall girl with long black hair. “Oh, right, I nearly forgot! Vriska!”

Vriska looked up at the sound of her name, her face twisting into a confident smirk. “About time you got to me, John.” She rose and moved to wedge herself right between John and Dave, despite there being absolutely no room between them to start with. Dave shifted away as best he could and felt his back jab into one of Terezi’s bony shoulders. Meanwhile, Vriska had wrapped one arm around John in what looked more like a headlock than a gesture of friendship, even though John was laughing, his glasses knocked askew and balancing on the very tip of his nose. Dave resisted the urge to reach out and fix them.

“I saved the best for last! Ow, watch the glasses-”

Vriska ignored him, turning to Dave. “John and I have been best friends for ages and ages,” she drawled, and Dave didn’t miss the note of challenge in her voice. The second half of the sentence was left unsaid, but Dave could tell what she meant nonetheless: ‘so don’t you dare try to get too close to him, because that’s something reserved just for me.’ She smiled dangerously at him through the thick lenses of her glasses. “We’re really, really close.”

“Yeah, Vriska’s practically like my sister!” John quipped cheerfully from inside of his headlock. Vriska shot him a glare, her face flickering with hurt for the briefest moment before falling back into a carefully uncaring expression. She reached over to give him a noogie.

“Shut up, John.”

“Ok, ok, owowow, get away!” John giggled and swatted at her, and Vriska finally disentangled herself and waltzed back to her seat on the other side of Terezi. Dave shifted back toward John to fill the space she’d left. He must have overestimated the space she’d taken up, because somehow he ended up with his knee knocking against Johns. John flashed him a smile.

“So, are you going to eat lunch with us again, then?”

“Jeez, John, you really can’t stand to be away from me.”

“We’ve totally bonded for life. We might as well get married now.”

“You’ll look great in a dress.”

“So does that mean I’ll see you tomorrow?”

Dave chewed on the inside of his lip. Nobody had mentioned the incident so far, had they? But he really hadn’t spoken to many of John’s friends yet, and surely at least one of them would know. In fact, the shark boy was giving Dave suspicious-eyes from across the circle… yes, it was sure to come out eventually. Better to push everyone away before they got too close to comfort.

John’s knee was still touching his. Dave could feel the warmth even through two layers of denim.

“Sure, whatever,” Dave muttered.

“Awesome!”

No, fuck! Dave hadn’t meant to say that. That was an incredibly stupid thing to say- augh, no, shark boy was going to tell John what had happened, and then… what would John do? Would he be afraid of Dave, the way most people had been in the days that followed the incident? Avoid him, look away when their eyes met? Or would John be like those boys in his freshman year, the ones with mocking sneers and fists that left stinging bruises on his chest?

“…oh, and also, you need to learn to text back, idiot.”

Dave blinked. John was cocking an eyebrow at him.

“Oh. Right. I’ll… I’ll do that.”

“Right.” There was a pause, and John scuffed his shoe absently against the ground. “…so.”

“Yeah?”

“What are your favorite bands?”

And before Dave knew it, they were back into their strange yet comfortable routine of banter and insults and jokes, and the panicky feeling in Dave’s chest had faded away. It didn’t return for the rest of the afternoon, though it was replaced with that strange flutteriness the moment John was out of sight. Dave caught Rose giving him an infuriatingly knowing look as they passed in the hall, but he ignored her, too caught up in fluttering giddiness to care.

He couldn’t stop from constantly pulling out his phone to check for texts.

Chapter Text

Dave spent the following week eating lunch with John and his group of friends, his protests growing more and more halfhearted each day, until, when they arrived back at school the following Monday, Dave sat down beside John without a word of prompting. The other members of the group didn’t even pause in their various conversations as he arrived, and John didn’t comment on it- he only grinned and offered Dave a share of his homemade cupcake. Dave accepted.

As the days passed, Dave was seeing more and more of John, and not only at lunch- apparently John had decided that he liked hanging out at the skate park, because he joined Dave, Tavros and Gamzee as often as he could. For someone who didn’t even own a board, John was pretty good, slowly working his way through the jumps and tricks, growing more confident each day. Gamzee was still struggling to lay off on the smoking and rarely stayed out late, Tavros always going home when he did, leaving Dave and John to take turns on Dave’s board until the moon could be seen above the houses. They didn’t talk too much when they skated, but that was fine with Dave- they didn’t need to. It was comfortable anyway.

Dave still hadn’t spoken too much to many of the others in what he’d come to think of as simply The Group. He’d been deliberately avoiding Rose, who looked as if she were about to pull out her notebook and analyze him on the spot every time their paths crossed, and while he’d had several text conversations with Terezi (all of which involved ridiculous amounts of capslock and bad leetspeak, yet somehow Dave found himself enjoying the idiotic banter they managed to pull off), John was still the only person who he regularly talked to, other than Tavros and Gamzee.

However, despite Dave’s best attempts at keeping his mouth shut, that was starting to change.

Jade was the first one to drag him into a conversation. Dave could definitely see the similarities between her and John- that bubbly, nearly incessant cheerfulness was impossible to miss. She laughed a lot, and was the only girl Dave had ever met who could be described as sweet even when swearing like a sailor (“Karkat’s fault,” John explained). She asked more questions than John did, mostly just simple things like Dave’s favorite movies and what shows he liked to watch.

Even though Dave didn’t talk much to the others, that didn’t mean he didn’t listen. He got to know them just by being around them- he knew that Equius lived on a farm with his uncle and aunt, and that Nepeta came over every afternoon to feed the barn cats. He knew that Feferi was the head cheerleader, and that Aradia had tried every year to start up an archaeology club, but the idea had never caught on. He knew that Sollux was the seventeenth best Magic the Gathering player in the country, and that he routinely hosted tournaments which Eridan and Vriska attended.

The person Dave learned most about, though, was John.

Dave wanted to tell himself that the only reason he knew so much was because John talked to him the most, but really, he wouldn’t have found out half the things he knew if he didn’t watch John so carefully. It was impossible not to- John reminded Dave a bit of a cartoon character, with his endless set of expressions and hokey sense of humor. It was… sweet. And Dave couldn’t tear his eyes away.

He knew that John’s favorite color was blue, and that he used to be in the band before he’d become captain of the football team. He’d been a boy scout and a troop leader, his socks never quite matched, and he could recite the entire script of The Rocky Horror Picture Show from memory. His first kiss had been with Rose during eighth grade summer camp, and, John told Dave cheerfully as they sat on their usual bench, his first time had been just two summers later with his then-girlfriend, who had moved away that same autumn.

“It broke my naïve little heart,” John insisted, clutching his chest dramatically.

“At least, until you got onto the football team a few weeks later and made out with three cheerleaders in one week,” Jade put in helpfully. Dave shot John a look somewhere between amusement and disapproval, but John just shrugged.

“Cheerleaders are soothing to the soul.”

 

Dave was sitting in the kitchen, attempting to wade his way through an English essay, when Bro appeared beside him. He leaned over Dave’s shoulder.

“What up.”

Dave resisted the urge to push his brother away, keeping his voice carefully stoic. “School and shit.”

“Boring.”

“Yup.”

Dave’s phone beeped with a text, and Dave picked it up from where it had been lying just inches from his hand. Bro didn’t even bother to hide that he was reading over Dave’s shoulder.

JOHN: practice is over! meet at the park?

Dave tapped back a quick reply.

DAVE: sure 20 minutes

He set the phone down and scribbled out one last sentence before standing and stuffing his binders away. Dave noticed Bro watching him as he collected his things and hurried toward the door, but didn’t react until Bro stepped right in front of him, blocking his path.

“…sup?” Dave asked, trying to step around him. Bro moved with him.

“Going to the park?” It sounded like a statement.

“Yeah.” Dave stepped back to the other side, and was again blocked.

“You being safe, little bro?”

Dave rolled his eyes. “Duh.”

“Not safe for skating. Safe for sex. You got condoms?”

“…what?” Dave finally looked up, meeting Bro’s shades.

“They’re plastic dick tubes that keep the crabs away.”

Dave could barely keep his confusion out of his voice. “I’m not planning on fucking anyone at the skate park.”

“You probably aren’t planning on genital warts, either.”

“I don’t even have a girlfriend.”

“Obviously.”

Dave felt his poker face waver despite himself. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I mean, his name’s John, he’s obviously a dude.”

Dave stopped. It took his mind several long, painful seconds to put together what Bro meant by that, and when he finally realized it, it took him another moment before Dave was confident he’d be able to speak without screeching. “I… I’m not fucking John.”

“But you want to.”

Dave felt his cheeks heating. “What, I… no. What.”

Bro simply reached out and placed a pair of condoms in Dave’s hand. “Have fun.”

Dave held the condoms numbly. Bro gave him an ironically exaggerated salute before disappearing back into his bedroom.

Normally Dave would be thankful that they had managed to pull off an entire conversation with his brother without smuppets being involved, but for once he just felt slightly dizzy. He shook his head in a lame attempt to clear it and hurried to his bedroom, shoving the condoms carelessly into a drawer before racing him own shadow all the way to the park.

 

John was waiting for him on the fountain as always. It had rained the night before, and puddles of murky water still remained at the dips in the jumps and pipes, but a few stubborn skaters were still out and about. Dave rolled to a stop and sat beside John, who greeted him with his usual grin.

“What took you so long?”

Dave shrugged. “My bro decided now would be a great time to fill his yearly quota of parental worrying.”

John snickered. “What, was he worried you’d get lost?”

“More worried I’d get pregnant.”

John nodded sagely. “Well, of course. Teenage pregnancy hardly ever ends well.”

“I’d drop out of school to support the kid.”

“Who’d take care of it, then?”

“My lucky spouse, obviously.”

John managed to hold a serious face for another moment before bursting into giggles, and even Dave had to let his mouth twitch up a bit.

“Gosh, Dave, I’m jealous,” John managed between snorts. “I thought we really had something special.”

“It’s all good, I can always cheat with you.”

John’s laughter redoubled and he punched Dave in the arm. “You’re a horrible husband!”

Dave attempted to push John into the fountain, but John caught himself by grabbing two fistfuls of Dave’s sleeve, and they both teetered dangerously for a moment before regaining their balance. Dave made an honest effort not to stare at the annoyingly adorable flush in John’s cheeks. It was purely from the laughter, he knew, but an annoying part of his mind couldn’t stop hoping it was at least partly from their closeness.

When John finally quieted down, Dave reluctantly peeled his arm from John’s grip and stood. “You want to skate or not?”

“Of course!”

 

John stood beside Dave at the top of the halfpipe.

“Gosh, it’s big.”

“Well, yeah. You have to get up speed going down, or you won’t be able to get to the top of the other side.”

“Well, yeah, I know. But… wow. You make it look so easy!”

Dave gave John a look out of the corner of his eye. “Don’t go if you’re scared.”

John scowled, though Dave could see that his hands were trembling slightly. “I’m not scared! It’s just…big.”

“I can go first if you want,” Dave said, resisting the urge to roll his eyes.

“No, no!” John swallowed, scooting closer to the edge of the pipe. “I’ve got this. Just. Um. Okay.”

“You’ll be fine.”

“Right.” John took a deep breath and flashed Dave a nervous smile. “Here I go!”

“Don’t die,” Dave said, even as John tipped the board over the edge.

He slid down the steep side, faster and faster until he hit the puddle at the base of the ramp with a splash. John wobbled but managed to stay on the board, and then he was climbing the other side, higher and higher. He cleared the opposite edge, flipped the board around, and then he was shooting down again. Dave saw a flash of John’s expression- wide eyed with a mixture of terror and exhilaration, his mouth open in a shocked grin. The slope evened out toward the bottom, and-

Dave noticed the particularly deep puddle a split second before John hit it. The water slowed the board, but not John’s body, and the boy flew forward, tumbling onto the concrete with a sickening thud. Dave swore as he leaped forward and half-ran, half-stumbled down the slope of the pipe to meet John at the bottom.

John had curled up his knees and was holding a hand over his face, blocking himself from view. Dave dropped to his knees and reached out to tentatively touch John’s shoulder.
“John! John, you okay?”

“Ow ow fuck ow.”

John slowly lifted his head, revealing a badly bleeding nose and a nasty-looking scrape across his jaw. Tiny flecks of concrete mixed with the blood oozing slowly from his face.
“Ew,” Dave said, and John laughed weakly.

“That wasn’t fun.”

“No shit. Hold on, let’s get you up.”

Dave quickly grabbed his board from where it had rolled to a halt in the middle of the puddle, and returned to John’s side to help him to his feet.

John stood and winced as he put weight on his ankle. Dave offered a hand to help support him as they limped out of the halfpipe.

Dave was far too conscious of the electric tingle where John’s skin touched his, but he focused on helping John to the fountain, where they sat while Dave tried to assess the damage. His stomach was twisting with guilt and worry at the sight of the blood and bruises- not that he hadn’t seen far worse on himself before, but still. This was completely his fault for getting John to go off the halfpipe. “At least nothing’s broken,” he said, inspecting John’s slightly swollen ankle with nervousness.

John rolled his eyes, the effect slightly spoiled by the fact he was still pinching his bleeding nose. “I’m okay, Dave. I’ve had worse from football.”

Dave ignored him, because he’d caught a glimpse of John’s palms. “Jesus, John, look at your hands!”

John took a look for himself and winced- the heels of his hands, where he had caught himself to stop from falling flat on his face, were raw and bloody, the skin torn completely away.

“You need to wash this shit,” Dave insisted. “You’ll get infections.”

John sighed, as if he wasn’t sure whether to be amused or annoyed by Dave’s concern. “Yeah, I’ll head home, I guess.”

Dave frowned. “How far is it?”

“Not too far.”

“How far is not too far?”

“Sort of a little bit far.”

Dave’s frown deepened, as did the pit of guilt in his stomach. “You shouldn’t walk alone. Not like this.”

“So now you’re the one worried I’ll get lost?”

Dave took a moment to gather his courage before blurting out the next phrase.

“I’ll walk with you.” At once a surge of terror welled up in him, but Dave pushed it away- this was for a good reason.

John looked surprised for only a moment before frowning. “It’s already late, Dave. I’ll be fine, you can just-”

Dave rolled his eyes and stood, hooking his board under his arm. “This isn’t actually up for debate. I got you messed up, I’m walking you home.”

John looked for a moment like he was going to argue some more, but finally he broke out into a grin. “What a gentleman you are.”

“Anything for you, milady.”

John swatted at him, but Dave dodged away.

Chapter Text

The walk home was significantly worse than Dave expected it to be. John’s ankle was swelling fast, and although he allowed Dave to keep an arm around him to help him along, the whole ordeal seemed more stressful than romantic to Dave. John was putting up a good front of cheerfulness, but there was sweat beading on his brow.

“It’s just a few blocks more,” John said, as they shuffled their way around a corner. Dave’s shoulders were aching from supporting John’s weight, but he didn’t dare complain when John was still covered in his own quickly-drying blood.

“Do you have a key?”

John nodded tensely. “My dad should be home.”

He didn’t say anything more, which Dave took as a bad sign. He cast about for something to say, anything to distract John from his ankle.

“So you skated back when you were ten?”

John glanced over at him, looking a bit surprised- Dave didn’t often ask conversational questions like that.

“Um, yeah. I did. They were really popular for like two years back in elementary school, and then everyone just sort of forgot about them.” John laughed, and it sounded only a bit forced. “I think Dad gave mine away or something.”

Dave nodded, unsure how to continue the conversation. The weight of his board was cutting into his hand, distracting him.

“You never talk much about what you did before high school,” John pointed out.

Dave swallowed, avoiding John’s eyes. “It adds to my air of mystery.”

John made an attempt to elbow him in the ribs but lost his balance on his bad ankle, and for a moment both boys tipped dangerously before Dave caught their weight. John laughed, and Dave huffed.

“Oh, come on. You went to middle school with Rose, right?”

“…yeah.”

“Well, who were your other friends?”

“You mean fans?”

“Sure, loser.”

Dave paused again. He tried to think back to before the incident, when people looked at him with admiration rather than fear. “…just a few guys. We did normal middle school things and were basically enormous tools.”

“Like what?” John prompted. Dave sighed.

“I don’t know.”

John glared at Dave for another moment before switching tracks. “Well, okay. Tell me about your family, then.”

Dave rolled his eyes. “Getting eager to meet my parents? See if Daddy approves?”

John grinned. “That’s exactly why. You know me so well.”

“Well, you’ll be disappointed. I live with my bro, no parents around.”

“What happened to them?”

Dave shrugged. “Dead.”

John’s grin dropped off his face instantly. “Oh, jeez. I’m sorry.”

“Nah, I was just a baby.”

“Still, though.”

“Whatever.”

There was silence for a few moments, save for their shuffling steps. “It’s just down the block,” John said at last. “So… what do you and your bro do?”

“Avoid each other, mostly.”

John laughed again, but it was uncertain, and Dave felt a twinge of guilt. He and Bro got along pretty well, really. They just didn’t do the whole family time, thing. Dave hurried to clarify.

“He’s a cool guy, though. Taught me lots of cool shit when I was little, like how to rap and swordfight and crap.”

John was silent for another moment. They reached the walk leading up to John’s house. “…which middle school did you go to, again?” John’s tone had changed- it was low, thoughtful.

“Same as Rose. You knew that.”

“Yeah, but.” John stopped walking, turning to look at Dave. “There wasn’t anyone else in your class named Strider, was there?”

Dave could feel a cold seed of dread growing in his stomach. “No,” he managed at last.

There was a long, tense silence as Dave watched John’s expression go from thoughtful to slightly shocked. When John opened his mouth to speak, and Dave had to resist the urge to turn and dash away. “Dave, were you the one who-”

The front door to John’s house slammed open, and a man in a suit and hat hurried outside.

“What happened, son?”

John turned reluctantly to a man Dave assumed was his father. “I fell,” John admitted lamely. The man fussed with Johns bloody nose and palms for a moment before herding him toward the door, tossing around words like “disinfectant” and “immunity.” Dave hung back, wondering if he was supposed to say goodbye or just leave.

“Come on, Dave!” John called over his shoulder.

Dave still didn’t move, his stomach cold and knotted from what John had said. But John’s father hurried back down the driveway and ushered him inside, now babbling about how proud he was of Dave for helping out his son. Dave tried for a few moments to explain that he just wanted to go home, but apparently neither John or his father were going to listen, and eventually Dave awkwardly followed the two Egberts inside.

They ended up in the kitchen, Dave sitting on the counter- John’s father shot him a disapproving look, but Dave ignored it- as John washed himself in the sink. Mr. Egbert disappeared for a moment before returning with bandages, and he went about patching John up despite John’s feeble protests- “I’m okay, dad, it’s not that bad, I’m- ow!- my hands are fine, really-” before applying a liberal amount of gauze to John’s sprained ankle. Dave averted his eyes whenever John looked his way- all he could think was John knows, he knows, he knows.

John’s dad had disappeared again in search of an ice pack when the front door slammed loudly and Jade bounded in. “Dave!” She cried cheerfully, giving him her most dazzling grin. “Why are you- oh! John, what happened?”

“Dave beat me up,” John explained sincerely. “I put up my best fight, but Dave has muscles of tempered steel. You should be proud of me.”

Jade gave John her best no-time-for-nonsense look. “Really, what happened to you? You’re all scraped up!”

“He failed on his quest for mad air,” Dave clarified. “He couldn’t get past the final boss.”

“I didn’t have enough dexterity boost!” John exclaimed, his angry tone ruined by his wide grin. “It’s not my fault!”

“…so you fell off a skateboard, fuckass,” Jade translated wryly. “Are you okay?”

John shrugged. “I’ll survive, but only with lots of pampering.”

Jade stuck her tongue out at him just as their father came back into the room. Dave was almost surprised how obvious the family resemblance was with all three of them side by side. Jade had inherited her father’s green eyes, while John had been given the same strong jaw and lilting laugh. They looked… happy together, and Dave couldn’t help but feel a tiny bit jealous. Of course, his Bro was cool- the coolest- but things were different with them.

“Will you be staying for dinner, David?”

Dave didn’t even realize he was being spoken to until he met Mr. Egbert’s curious stare. He felt John looking at him from over his father’s shoulder.

“Nah, I’ll get out of here.” Dave began to slide off of the counter, but John moved in his way.

“No way, stay for a while! You walked all the way home with me, and I’m starving, so I bet you’re about ready to go cannibalistic. Please?”

Dave’s stomach growled slightly, but he still couldn’t meet John’s eyes. Heknowsheknowsheknows. “I should really go. It’s getting late.”

“I could drive you home after dinner,” Mr. Egbert said helpfully. Dave resisted the urge to wince. Instead he finally raised his head, only to see John beaming hopefully at him. His eyes really were too blue.

“…okay,” Dave managed at last. John whooped and immediately winced as he put weight on his bad leg. Jade, Dave and Mr. Egbert all moved in to catch him, but John recovered by himself and laughed.

“Get off of your feet until dinner is ready,” Mr. Egbert insisted.

“Okay, okay. I’ll show you my room, Dave!”

Dave couldn’t think of a reply that was appropriate to say in the presence of John’s father, but it hardly mattered because John was already limping his way out of the room. Dave hopped off of the counter and followed him, deliberately ignoring the knowing look Jade gave him.

John’s room was on the second floor, and after they went through the ordeal of getting John’s twisted ankle up the stairs, John led the way across the short second-floor hallway and flung open the door to his own room with an overly dramatic “ta-daa!” Dave followed him inside, and John promptly flopped down in his computer chair, pressing his ice pack to his ankle. The room was devoid of any other chairs, and after a moment of standing awkwardly, Dave perched on the edge of John’s bed and took a look around.

It was somehow smaller than Dave had expected it- smaller than Dave’s own room, even. Yet it looked much more… put together. The wooden computer desk matched the dresser, the bed was neatly made, and the curtains had obviously been bought to contrast with the walls- but all the same, hints of John managed to sneak their way in. Movie posters plastered the walls, and Dave spotted what looked suspiciously like a joke shop bag peeking out of the closet.

“Everything meet your approval?” John asked, watching with mild amusement as Dave took everything in.

“I expected more football jerseys and shit,” Dave said thoughtfully. “I mean, someone could come in here and not realize your passion for wrestling with men in shiny tight pants.”

John rolled his eyes. “As much as I love wrestling with shiny-pants-clad men, I like movies and pranks more.”

“Horrible movies and life-threatening pranks,” Dave corrected.

“These are great movies!”

“I like how you don’t deny the murderous pranks bit.”

John flipped him off. “Oh, shut up. Anyway! I was about to ask you something before my Dad showed up.”

Oh, shit. Dave felt his insides go cold again. “Oh?” He asked coolly.

“Well,” John looked a bit uncomfortable, “I heard about this guy who beat some kids up with a sword, a few years ago. I mean, beat them up bad, as in one was in the hospital for months. There was even a thing on the news about it, if I remember right.”

John looked expectantly at Dave, but Dave didn’t reply. He couldn’t look up from his feet. He felt like his heart was going to pound out of his chest, or maybe like he was going to be sick, or maybe both. He rubbed his sweaty palms against his jeans.

“They didn’t release a name, obviously, since everyone was underage,” John continued, when it became obvious Dave wasn’t going to say anything. “But, um, Rose told me that it guy was named Dave. Dave Strider. I thought it sounded familiar, when I was introduced to you, but I guess I didn’t really make the connection until…” He trailed off, staring at Dave, who in still didn’t look up. There was a long, tense silence.

“Yeah.” Dave said at last. His voice sounded more fragile than he had expected it, and he quickly attempted to swallow a lump that had grown in his throat.

“…why?” John asked, and he sounded so curious and innocent and ridiculously trusting that Dave thought for a moment he would shrivel up and die right there on the edge of John’s bed. The moment passed at last, though, and Dave spoke his reply to his shoes.

“I was stupid and scared. Stupid and scared and wrong.”

“What did they do?”

“It was dumb.”

“Come on, Dave.”

Dave halted for another long moment. “Typical middle school shit. They caught me in the change room, and it was six on one. Thought that it’d be funny to beat me up, see if they could make the coolkid lose his cool, and.” The lump was back in his throat, and Dave struggled to keep his voice even. “And I knew, I knew never to use a fucking weapon, especially not at school, not on kids- they were just dumb brats, that’s all- but they’d cornered me. I didn’t know what else to do.”

Dave fell silent, wondering vaguely if John could hear his heart pounding from across the room. He waited for John to say something- to be accusatory, angry, maybe scared. But when John finally spoke, his voice just sounded… soft. Like he was talking to a baby bird.

“Are you okay?”

Dave blinked in surprise, and he had to take a moment to make sure his voice wouldn’t betray him before he replied. “Sure.”

They sat for a long moment, and Dave struggled not to look up. He desperately wanted to see John’s face, to get an idea of what he was thinking, but nervousness held him back. The longer they sat there, the more Dave was convinced that he’d messed up completely and irrevocably, and John would never look at him the same way again.

Dave felt a weight on the bed beside him and stiffened as arms wrapped around him. He felt John’s cheek press against his shoulder, and, after a long moment of tense stillness, Dave allowed himself to relax. He rested his head against John’s, spiky black hair tickling his nose. The seconds ticked by, and Dave resisted the urge to move. He didn’t want to ruin this, not when his heart was pounding a million times a second and he could feel John’s warm breath on his neck. Dave could have happily stayed like that forever, but finally, John spoke.

“Did you get in trouble for it?” His voice was muffled and hardly above a whisper, and for a moment Dave was tempted to pretend he hadn’t heard.

“I didn’t go to jail or whatever, if that’s what you’re thinking,” Dave muttered, feeling John shift slightly against him. “There was a big meeting with the parents and principal and my Bro, and everyone talked about how it was self defense and how I was outnumbered and how stupid I was for bringing a weapon to school, and in the end it never even went to court. It was lucky.” He paused. “I was suspended for a week. That’s all, technically, but… you put a kid in a hospital and people are gonna treat you different after. And, you know, it was middle school. Rumors were flying like crazy. People said I’d killed the kid, or that I’d had a gun, or all sorts of crazy bullshit. It was easier to just shut up and let people ignore me than it was to try and show them my brilliant wit and instead just get asked the same stupid questions again and again. One of the teachers… she was terrified of me after that. Worse than most of the kids, even. She wouldn’t go anywhere near me. I can see why, but… jeez, it doesn’t exactly make you feel great, you know?”

John finally released his arms around Dave in order to look him in the eye, and Dave had to make a conscious effort not to look disappointed.

“Wow.” John’s voice was hushed.

Dave shrugged. He felt as if he’d used up all his words.

“That sucks.”

Another shrug.

They sat for a moment, and Dave began wondering once again if telling John had been a bad idea. John was just… looking at him, eyes travelling over his face and shoulders and hands, not saying a word. Maybe he should clarify that the kid had recovered with nothing but a few scars. Not that the fact made him sound any less like a dangerous lunatic. Dave was just about to speak up, but John beat him to it.

“They’re showing Ghost Rider tomorrow, at the theatre.”

Dave blinked. “What?”

“Ghost Rider. You know, the one with Nic Cage and that motorcycle?”

“…what.”

“No way! You’ve never even heard of it?”

“No.”

“You have to come with me, then! Nic is amazing in it!”

For a moment, Dave had no idea what to think. The sudden topic change had caught him off guard. But, slowly, it dawned on him. This was John letting him know that they were still friends, that Dave hadn’t scared him away. That John understood.

Dave felt a smile tugging at his lips. “…are you asking me out, Egbert?”

John’s grin grew until Dave was sure that his face must hurt. “Totally. The sappiest date ever. We need to share a bucket of popcorn.”

“I expect you to hold my hand at the scary parts. Or any time Nic Cage’s ugly mug appears on the screen.”

John slapped at Dave’s leg just as Mr. Egbert’s voice called up the stairs. “Dinner time, boys!”

Dave helped John limp his way down the stairs again, and he was sure that John's arm around him was the only thing keeping him from floating to the ceiling. His heart felt lighter than air.

Chapter Text

Dave didn’t talk much during the Egbert Family Dinner, except to give short answers to any questions directed his way- he must have repeated “uh huh” about fifty times. It hardly mattered, though, because Jade and John talked enough to make up for his silence. Jade babbled about her day and somehow managed to make it interesting, John cracked jokes, and Mr. Egbert put in a comment or smile once in a while. It was all very strange, to Dave- even when he had gone over to Tavros’s house back in middle school, they had usually eaten their dinners on the floor of Tavros’s room while his overprotective mom poked her head in every five minutes. And at Gamzee’s, of course, it was a surprise to even find edible food in the house. Dave couldn’t remember the last time he’d eaten a meal at a real dining room table.

When the food was gone- Mr. Egbert had forced Dave to accept thirds of dessert, which for some reason made John roll his eyes and clutch at his stomach- and the dishes were cleared away, Mr. Egbert took his car keys out of his pocket.

“I can drive you home now, David.”

John immediately jumped up, eyeing the car keys greedily. “Oh! Let me drive him home! Please?”

Mr. Egbert frowned. “It’s already dark out, son…”

John rolled his eyes. “Dad, I’m turning eighteen in April!”

Mr. Egbert seemed to consider this for a moment before reluctantly handing over the keys. “I trust you, but be careful. Thank you again, David, for helping my son- I’m so proud of you both.” He ruffled John’s hair, and John pulled away with a halfhearted “aw, Dad” before leading the way out the door. Dave, remembering a few shreds of manners, hurriedly thanked Mr. Egbert for dinner before following.

John was already getting into the driver seat when Dave caught up, and Dave stowed his board in the back before hopping in shotgun. “I’m really not sure I trust you behind the wheel,” he noted as John began backing out of the driveway. “How long have you had your license for, exactly?”

John flashed him a wide-eyed, innocent look. “Wait, you mean I need a license to do this? Is that how it works?”

Dave shrugged casually. “Nah, more of a suggestion, really. Just remember to stop on green and go on red, and you’ll be fine.”

John laughed, and they continued down the street for a few moments in comfortable silence. The sun had just set, and the world was tinted a dusky blue through the windows. Dave flicked on the radio and changed it from the weird old-people music station Mr. Egbert had left it on, fiddling at the knob until he came across something with a decent beat before turning it up until he could feel the bass thudding through his feet. John drummed his fingers against the wheel, and Dave rolled down his window slightly to let the chilly night air in.

“The movie’s at six,” John said suddenly, half-shouting over the music. “I’ll pick you up at a quarter past five?”

“You better bring me flowers,” Dave called back, glancing over at John. Those ridiculously bright eyes were still on the road, but he was smiling that same small smile from the first day at the skate park. Dave felt his heart stutter, and he quickly looked away. Fake movie bro-dates were nothing to get mushy over. John was the captain of the fucking football team, Dave scolded himself- he had seen the way those cheerleaders looked at him, just waiting to pounce. Even without the whole they-were-both-boys thing, Dave had to admit he would never have a chance. He wouldn’t even be part of the race. He would be sitting at home across the country, watching the race on TV and eating Cheetos with greasy fingers.

But, Dave had to admit, it was hard to remember that sometimes. Especially when the entire setting- from the love songs blasting on the radio to the way John’s hand had somehow come to rest invitingly between their seats- suggested that they had been transported into the middle of a cheesy romcom. Dave stared out the window, forcing himself to focus on the houses whizzing past, and all too soon the car pulled to a stop at his apartment.

“See you tomorrow!” John called, as Dave collected his board from the back seat. He gave a little nod in reply, and John flashed him one last grin before backing out of the parking lot and disappearing into the chilly night.

Dave climbed up the stairs, hoping Bro would forget about the whole condom conversation from earlier. Thankfully, the apartment was dark and empty, and there was nobody to stop Dave from playing shitty video games on the couch all night, trying not to think about bright blue eyes and a dorky smile.

 

The next day passed in a slightly chaotic rush. John was annoyed about having to miss out on football practice for the next week- “Or maybe longer, if my ankle doesn’t heal fast enough!”- and Sollux and Eridan had a shouting match during lunch about, as far as Dave could tell, absolutely nothing. It ended when Karkat drew himself to his full five-foot height and out-shouted both of them, with a creative display of cursing that made even Jade’s ears turn red.

Dave hurried home after school. It wasn’t worth it to skate all the way to the park and then back again before John picked him up for the movie, but Dave took his board out anyway- he was feeling too jittery to stay inside. He raced back and forth across the apartment parking lot, bunny hopping on the curbs and practicing his kickflips. He needed to blow off steam and distract himself- not that it did any good, since Dave found himself getting so lost in thought that at least three cars had to honk at him to get out of the way.

Dave only returned to his apartment fifteen minutes before John was supposed to show up, quickly changing into a fresh shirt and splashing water on his face. He almost ran a comb through his hair, but his brain screamed this isn’t a real date, you moron, and instead he wasted the next ten minutes fussing aimlessly around his room.

“Ding dong!” Shouted a familiar voice, and Dave forced himself to walk at a casual pace to the door. He swung it open and, sure enough, John stood there, beaming and holding out a single red rose. Dave raised an eyebrow at him, internally noting how lucky he was that Bro wasn’t home.

“Really?” He asked, indicating the rose.

“Really!” John grinned. Take it!”

Dave rolled his eyes and reached out, and for a split second he had time to note that the rose’s stem felt oddly plastic before a steam of icy water hit him straight in the face. Dave let out an incredibly manly yelp.

“Oh my GOD, you actually fell for it!”

John was doubled over in the doorway, his entire body shaking with laughter. Dave threw the trick flower at his head.

“Do you have some sort of moral code that only lets you use pranks older than your grandpa?”

“But they’re the best!” John didn’t even flinch as the plastic rose bounced off his forehead, and looking up at Dave- his hair soaked with water and looking severely disgruntled- only sent him into a fresh wave of laughter. “Jeez, Dave, your face!”

Dave rolled his eyes. “I’m gonna go change my shirt. Be right back.”

It took John a moment to form words through his giggles. “B-but it looks so good on you!”

Dave ignored John’s fading laughter as he hurried to his room, changing as quickly as he could and rubbing roughly at his hair with a towel before hurrying back. It was slowly beginning to dawn on Dave how stupid an idea it might have been to leave John alone, when none of Bro’s puppets had been cleared away.

Sure enough, Dave returned to the living room to find John inspecting a bright green, plush-rumped smuppet that had been sitting on the hall table.

“What’s this?” He asked, holding it up to Dave, who couldn’t help but recoil slightly.

“It’s my Bro’s. Put it back and let’s go.”

“Is your brother in second grade?” John asked, although set the puppet back down, and Dave stifled a sigh of relief.

“Nah, he’s just… eccentric. Come on, we’re gonna be late because of your attempt to drown me.”

John followed Dave out the door, thankfully letting the topic of puppets go, although somehow during their walk down the stairs the conversation turned to the movie they were going to see.

“So basically there’s this awesome badass motorcycle rider dude, Johnny Blaze,” John explained. “He’s played by Nic Cage, of course, and he finds out his dad has cancer and is dying, so he makes a deal with this devil guy so that his dad can be healthy. But in return, he has to give away his soul! But then the devil tricks him and-”

“Just how many times have you seen this movie, John?” Dave interrupted as they reached the parking lot. He tried not to think about the fluttery feeling in his stomach from the night before.

John opened the driver’s side door, looking evasive. “Well, this is my first time seeing it in theatre. We’re really lucky they’re even showing it! It came out years ago, but I guess it’s a special showing because the sequel is supposed to be out pretty soon.”

“That doesn’t answer my question, you derp.”

John sighed dramatically, starting the car as Dave slid in beside him. “This’ll be the fourth. But don’t look at me like that, it’s a good movie!”

Dave rolled his eyes, settling back for the ride. John turned the radio up- it had been turned back to the old-people music station since last night, but Dave quickly made the proper adjustments. John hummed along to every song regardless of whether or not he’d heard it before, and always completely out of tune. When he went so far as to burst into a loud, off-key chorus of Hey Soul Sister, Dave buried his face in his hands.

“I thought you said you were in the school band!”

John reluctantly paused in his wailing, glancing over at Dave. “I was, until last year when football turned into a big thing. Second seat clarinet! And I play piano, too.”

“Then how the hell are you so tone deaf?”

“I have a great ear, you loser! I just can’t sing.”

“Yeah, I could tell.”

John took one hand off the wheel to punch Dave in the arm.

 

The movie theater was as crowded and loud as always. Dave followed John through the crowd surrounding the concession stand, and after much convincing John finally agreed to let Dave pay for half the popcorn. (“But I was going to treat you! It’s part of the bro-date experience!”)

The crowds thinned quickly once they escaped the crowded lobby and found their seats- a few loud middle school kids took up much of the top few rows and a couple here and there, but John managed to scope out a clear spot away from the others.

They settled in, and Dave did his best to focus on the mind-numbing pre-show ads in order to distract himself from the fact that he and John were actually at a movie together. After a solid ten minutes of trailers, Dave had almost managed to forget that John was even beside him, but then a piece of popcorn bounced off his head and he reluctantly turned and shot John a glare.

“Is it the part where we make out yet?” John stage-whispered loud enough for the whole theatre to hear, stuffing a handful of popcorn into his mouth. Dave was thankful for the darkness, because even though he’d never blushed before and he certainly wasn’t in the mood to start now, his cheeks felt unnaturally hot.

“Nah, dude, have some patience. I’ll let you know.”

John gave an overly dramatic sigh as Dave took a handful of popcorn for himself. The trailers continued, each one dragging into the next, and it seemed like ages until the movie itself started. However, when it finally did, John sat forward with a rapt look on his face.

Dave sat back and watched as the title screen faded into the movie itself. Ten minutes in, the only reason Dave hadn’t run screaming from the theatre was because he was trying to figure out what percentage of motorcycle riding was actually Nic Cage or if it was completely done by stunt double, and by the time half an hour had passed, the Stunt Double percentage was leaning dangerously close to 100. As Nic Cage popped off his sixteenth horrible one-liner, Dave groaned and gave up any pretense of enjoying the movie.

“John.”

No response- John was leaning forward with his elbows on his knees, his eyes glassy with concentration.

“John.”

“Shh.” John didn’t look away from the screen for a moment.

“Joooohn.” Dave poked John’s ribs, which finally got a reaction. John jumped and stifled a yelp before finally turning to Dave, annoyed.

“What do you want?” He was still using the same loud stage-whisper, and it occurred to Dave that John was probably unable to talk any quieter no matter how he tried. “This part’s really good!”

“Put away your boner for Nic Cage before you take someone’s eye out with it and let’s get out of here.” John looked ready to object, but Dave spoke over him. “This movie sucks harder than a cheap whore on her last dollar.”

“It does not! Just look at that acting!”

“That’s just the Nic-boner talking, John.”

“It’s a totally justified boner! He’s amazing!”

“…John.”

“What.”

“This entire movie is completely awful.”

“Shhhh.” John turned back stubbornly to the screen, and Dave flopped back against his seat in defeat. He managed to last a full fifteen minutes more before the sheer terribleness of the movie broke his willpower.

“Dear god, this is honestly the worst movie I’ve ever seen.”

“Shut up, Dave.”

At least John was replying now, Dave reasoned. That had to be a good sign. Maybe the horrible motorcycle effects had worn away at him.

“Just look at that. Look at their expressions. Jeez, nobody in this movie is even attractive.”

“What about Eva Mendez?”

“Who?”

“Nic Cage’s on-screen girlfriend.”

“Ugh, no, she looks like a dragon.”

John rolled his eyes. “Well, Nick Cage is pretty hot.”

“No, fuck you.”

John smiled at that, finally removing his elbows from his knees and leaning back in his seat. “C’mon, Dave! Just try to enjoy the cinematic experience!”

“Uh huh. It’s an experience, all right.”

John ignored that comment, and they sat in silence for a few moments more. Dave was beginning to think about pretending he had to go to the bathroom just to get away from the image of Nic Cage awkwardly flirting with his on-screen girlfriend for a few minutes, but before he could make his decision, Dave spotted John shifting out of the corner of his eye and suddenly there was an arm draped over his shoulders. Dave immediately stiffened.

“What are you doing?” His voice came out slightly squeakier than he meant it to, but thankfully John didn’t seem to notice.

“Isn’t that what bro’s do on bro-dates?”

Dave swallowed, struggling to think clearly, but all he could manage was a feeble “I guess.” John gave him a little one-armed squeeze, and then he was back to watching the movie, eyes glassing over again.

Dave sat for a few more moments, attempting to calm down. God, he scolded himself, he was being so immature about all of this- it was just a dumb joke between friends. It wasn’t anything to freak out about. John had just said it himself- it was a dumb, ironic bro-date thing.

Dave settled back against John’s arm. Nic Cage’s deadpan drawl suddenly seemed almost tolerable.

Chapter Text

“So, how was the movie?” Tavros asked.

Dave shrugged and adjusted the lunch tray he carried. “I learned a lot.”

Tavros gave Dave a crooked grin, but took the bait anyway. “Learned what?”

“I learned that a movie was capable of causing me physical pain.”

Tavros laughed, balancing his own tray on one hand as they made their way toward the usual lunch spot. Dave noticed at once that the foyer seemed emptier than usual- less than half of the normal group sat in their loose circle. Dave took his usual seat on the bench beside John, who promptly attempted to steal one of Dave’s chicken fingers. Dave yanked them away.

“You’ve got your own.”

“But yours are crispier!”

Dave sighed and elbowed at Terezi, whose tongue was getting uncomfortably close to his apple juice. “So where is everyone, anyway?”

“It’s the second Thursday of October,” John explained. Dave raised a questioning eyebrow, and John took the opportunity to nab a finger off Dave’s tray, biting into it even as he spoke. “Todays the first meeting of the year for the Elite Writer’s Club, also known as the Pretentious Hipster Asshole Club. Karkat founded it when he was in tenth grade, and Rose is kind of the official co-ordinater. They all write stuff together and edit each other’s stories, and every few months they publish this magazine-thing with all their best work in it.”

Dave rolled his eyes. “Sounds like something Karkat and Rose would do. But where’s everyone else?”

“I think pretty much everyone’s at the meeting.” John shrugged. “Kanaya and Eridan are vice-presidents or something, they’ve been there since the start. I don’t even know why Jade goes, since she never publishes anything, and I’m pretty sure Vriska just goes to pick on Eridan.”

“Correction,” Sollux called from his usual corner, not looking up from his DS. “She goes to flirt with Eridan.”

“She gave him a black eye just two weeks ago,” Feferi pointed out. She was proudly wearing her new cheerleading captain uniform, and Dave didn’t miss the way every passing guy eyed her.

“Exactly,” Sollux replied. “The marriage proposal will come any day now.”

“Gamzee went to the meeting too,” Tavros put in. He was perched awkwardly between Terezi and Equius, looking anywhere but at them and making an honest attempt to avoid physical contact, with varying degrees of success.

“Gamzee?” Dave echoed disbelievingly, but Tavros just shrugged.

John took a sip of his water- no soda for the athletic wonderboy- and frowned thoughtfully. “I could probably find you one of their booklets from last year if you want to see…” He trailed off as Dave shook his head empathetically.

“Hell no, I try not to read more horrible teen-angst prose than strictly necessary.”

John broke into a slow grin. “…I feel like I should argue with you, but it’s honestly pretty horrible.”

 

John babbled more than enough to make up for all of the missing faces in their group. By the end of the lunch hour Dave’s head was buzzing with stories, and his stomach was full of that fluttery feeling he was beginning to almost expect whenever he spoke to John. The questioning looks Tavros kept shooting him weren’t helping.

Dave had almost reached his Computer Sciences class, distracting himself by calculating how long it would take to write his English essay before he could hit the skate park, when a familiar cheerleading uniform appeared in front of him.

“Dave!”

“Feferi,” Dave replied, staring at her blankly. He could already feel people’s eyes flicking in his direction- who was the loser talking to the cheerleading captain?

Feferi didn’t seem to notice as she beamed up at him. “I was wondering if I could ask you a teensy little favor?”

Dave just stared for a moment, wondering what in the world Feferi could want from him, but shrugged anyway. “Sure?”

Feferi beamed. “Awesome! Okay, so, I know this is kind of early, but every year I host this HUGE party at the end of the football season, right?” Dave nodded as if he knew all about it, wondering vaguely where she had found earrings in the shape of interlocking golden whales. “And since John’s the Captain, and this is our final year and all, I want to make it extra special for him! So, since he pretty much tells you everything, all I’m asking is for you to keep an eye on him and figure out what we can do to make the party extra great.” That grin was back, a confident grin that meant she was used to people agreeing with her. Dave kind of hated to be proving her right, but he found himself shrugging again.

“Okay.”

“Terrific! This is going to be the best party of the year, I am so excited!” She flashed him one last perfect grin before flouncing away. Dave didn’t need to look to know that every boy in the hallway’s eyes were following her. Dave himself continued to his next class, feeling a bit stupid for accepting the task. Even though it was more or less impossible to say no to Feferi, Dave didn’t think of himself as the type to gossip about his bro to some random cheerleader he barely knew.

He wondered vaguely if Feferi had been one of the cheerleaders John made out with during the start of his football career.

He wished he didn’t care so much.

 

Dave tried very hard not to be disappointed when John’s ankle healed up enough that he could go back to practice, even though it meant they almost never saw each other outside of lunch. It seemed absolutely ridiculous to Dave for John to have football practice every day of the week, sometimes even both before and after school.

Friday came, and with it what promised to be one of the last warm weekends of the year. Dave was itching to get out his camera to capture the vivid autumn reds and golds, and he rushed through his homework on Friday night in order to leave his Saturday free for a day of photography. He was just putting the finishing touches on his Chemistry lab when his phone buzzed.

JOHN: hey! did you want to go skating tomorrow? i’m determined to master that halfpipe eventually!

Dave paused, staring at the texts. It was tempting- so tempting. But his camera sat beside him, fully charged and just aching to capture the last traces of October.

DAVE: sorry ive got plans

John’s text back was immediate.

JOHN: aw, ok! what sort of plans?

Dave frowned at the phone’s screen. He hadn’t really spoken to anyone about his photography in ages, but that was mostly just because nobody asked. After a few moments Dave decided that it wasn’t a big secret and there really wasn’t any reason to lie.

DAVE: taking some photos

JOHN: oh man, you do photography? that’s awesome! you have to show me some of your pictures.

Dave definitely paused at that- his pictures weren’t generally for anyone else’s eyes. Not even Bro’s, even though Dave suspected that was only because Bro didn’t really care one way or another.

DAVE: maybe

JOHN: what a lame answer! what are you doing sunday, then?

DAVE: nothing

JOHN: awesome, i’ll meet you at the park at six. bring some of your photos!

Dave sighed at the phone. He had forgotten to never underestimate John’s incessant ability to be friendly.

DAVE: okay later

It was absolutely impossible for him to say no to that boy.

 

Dave couldn’t quite believe he was setting his alarm before ten on a Saturday, but he got up anyway, showering and dressing quickly before slipping out of the house- Bro was setting up something in the living room that required large amounts of green tarp, but Dave didn’t ask- and getting on the bus to the river. Ideally he would have gone out of the city, to get some real nature shots, but the busses didn’t go that way and it wasn’t like Bro had a car he could borrow. So Dave settled for the trees and bike paths lining the river.

It was a long ride, and Dave passed it with music blasting in his ears and fingers itching to turn on his camera. However, when he finally got off of the bus, it was all worth it. The trees were practically glowing with golden leaves, late autumn flowers poking up from beneath the crunchy brown layer of debris that coated the ground. Birds sang soft, two-note melodies, and the constant noise of the river could be heard through the trees. Aside from the occasional dog walker or bicyclist zipping past, Dave was alone.

Dave wandered along the path, snapping a picture here and there. He felt calmer than he had in ages- the feel of familiar buttons and dials under his hands was more soothing than anything. Focusing the lens, twisting to get the light just right, moving close to capture a particular pattern of bark or shape of a petal.

Dave felt his mind drifting the way it often did on one of his picture-taking days. Though he’d never tell anyone, letting his mind wander aimlessly was half the reason he went on these photography expeditions.

Today, though, his thoughts seemed determined to come back to one topic again and again. Dave crouched to get a low shot of some branches, and wondered what angle would be best to capture that wide grin. He got a lucky shot of some sort of falcon perched high in a tree, and considered which lens he would use to catch those almond eyes crinkled with laughter. As the day drew to a close, Dave climbed a tree so he could see the horizon and darkening sky, and as his camera documented the sky fading from blue to orange to dusky purple, Dave’s mind was full of spiky black hair and long-fingered hands.

It honestly wasn’t fair, Dave thought bitterly. Life wasn’t allowed to throw so many stupid clichés at him without any sort of compensation. Why the star quarterback? Why couldn’t he have settled for some sort of quiet loner kid, someone who was actually in his league?

Because, replied a voice in Dave’s head that sounded suspiciously like Tavros, there’s no quiet loner kid out there that laughs at your dumb attempts to be witty and puts his arm around you in on bro-dates and honestly cares about what you think.

At least there would be a chance for a future if it was somebody other than the big time jock, Dave argued. It was possible to settle for less. It was possible to be realistic and not want something impossible to have. Dave knew he had no right to want a boy that could make out with cheerleaders whenever he wanted- there was no way anyone would choose a sickly-pale loser with mutant eyes and a violent childhood over that.

“Fuck,” Dave muttered, kicking at the ground.

His laugh sounds like wind chimes, the other voice replied.

 

The camera’s memory card was full by the time Dave took the last bus home that evening. The fuzzy high he normally felt from a day of photography was cut a bit short by an almost nauseous feeling in his gut, and he couldn’t figure out if it was good or bad.

Dave still didn’t want to admit it, but there was no longer any way he could deny it.

As he carefully put his camera away and collapsed into bed, Dave finally gave in to the fact that he was absolutely crazy for John Egbert.

Chapter Text

“Are you sure you’ve got this, John?”

“Yeah, definitely.” John didn’t sound overly convinced as he stood on the brink of the halfpipe, Dave’s board propped beside him.

“You sure? Because I think your Dad’ll be pretty pissed if I bring you home half-dead a second time. Your teammates will beat me up for damaging the star quarterback.”

That drew a smile out of John, even though his laugh was still nervous. “Shut up, I’ve got this. No puddles this time.”

“Alright, then.” Dave took a step back from the ledge, gesturing for John to continue. John turned toward the slope, jaw muscles tensing as he readied himself. John edged himself forward, and there was a short moment of silence as the board tipped over the edge.

The wheels broke the silence as they hit the concrete, immediately picking up a quick rhythm. Dave moved forward and peered over the edge of the pipe, watching as John slid up the opposite slope and brought the board around- clumsy, Dave noted, but good for a beginner- and hit the pipe again. John’s legs were bent, his arms spread out wide with fingers splayed, as if straining for every bit of control. He slid down the opposite side and up again, rising over the edge with a giddy, nervous whoop in Dave’s direction before coming back down again.

John didn’t quite make it to the top of the pipe the third time, and after that it wasn’t long before his momentum was used up. The board finally slid to a stop at the bottom of the pipe, and even from his vantage point Dave could see John’s arms shaking with adrenaline.

“Nice one,” he called down, and John turned to beam up at him.

“That was so awesome!”

Dave didn’t reply, although he couldn’t hold back a smirk as he watched John hurry out of the pipe, practically sprinting around to meet Dave back at the top.

“I didn’t die!” John announced as he stumbled to a halt, handing Dave back his board.

“That was a really good run,” Dave agreed, tucking the board safely under his arm and shrugging casually. The motion earned him a jab in the ribs from John.

“Oh my god, be excited with me already. That was so fantastic!”

Dave felt a smile creeping onto his face despite himself. “Fine. You were great.”

“I know! This calls for celebration.” Already John was pulling out his phone, and Dave craned his neck in an attempt to get a peek. John just angled his phone away with a grin, and Dave backed off reluctantly.

“What sort of celebration?”

“An ice cream sort of celebration!”

Dave felt his heart give a stupid lurch. John was simply not allowed to look that adorable. There had to be some sort of law against it. “And why does this require texting?”

John tapped a few last buttons and stuffed his phone back in his pocket before replying. “Vriska said she’d be at the mall today with Terezi, and I was thinking we could meet up! I need as many witnesses as possible for this momentous occasion.”

Dave could almost hear the pop as his heart deflated. He quickly composed his face into an expression that almost could have been mistaken as nonchalance. “Oh. Terezi too?”

“Maybe-” John was interrupted by his phone beeping out an annoying little tune that Dave vaguely recognized from Ghostbusters. John pulled it out quickly and grinned. “She says she’ll be there! Terezi went home, though. Apparently they had an argument, again.”

Dave bit back a sigh. “Cool. Um… when are we meeting her?”

“Right now!” John shoved his phone away again, pointing over his shoulder through the park. “It’s not that far of a walk.”

A thousand possible excuses for going home flashed through Dave’s mind, but in the end he simply nodded and followed John, listening to his familiar refrain of babble. Better to watch Vriska flirt than to leave John all alone with her to do who-knew-what.

“How do you know Vriska, anyway?” Dave interrupted. John blinked.

“Oh, man, that was ages ago! Ummm. Fourth grade, I think? No, wait, it was fifth, becaue I’d just gotten my braces. Right. She beat me up on the playground.”

“…wait, what?”

John nodded cheerfully. “Yeah! I mean, it wasn’t that bad- I’m pretty sure she just tripped me and then kicked me once or twice, but I was bawling and had a bloody nose and everything. Then at school the next day she gave me some licorice, and we’ve been friends ever since.”

Dave just stared at John incredulously. “John, that sounds like Stockholm Syndrome. Or just a really abusive relationship.”

John punched Dave in the arm. “She never beat me up after that, idiot! Well actually, she did once, but that was because I filled her locker with rubber bats, so I guess I deserved that.”

“Rubber bats?”

John just shrugged, but he caught the disbelieving look on Dave’s face and continued. “She’s actually really great! If it weren’t for her I probably wouldn’t be on the football team or social or anything like that. She always really pushed me to do better.”

“There’s pushing, John, and then there’s shoving you down a hill and laughing when you get to the bottom.”

That earned Dave another arm-punch. He was beginning to suspect he’d have a bruise by the end of the day, and decided it would be safest to change the subject.

“What were she and Terezi arguing about, anyway?”

John gave an exasperated sigh. “Who knows? It’s always something with them. I remember a few years ago Vriska had this giant pet tarantula, and Terezi thought it would be funny to steal it and fill the whole cage with gumballs instead…”

Dave only half-listened to John’ story, which melded right into another and then another, until they found themselves at the entrance to the mall. Dave followed resignedly as John hurried through the crowds and toward the food court, where, sure enough, Vriska was waiting at a table, sipping at a soda and waving toward them.

John waved back and dashed over to her, Dave following at a more casual pace and arriving just in time to see Vriska shoving her soda in John’s face.

“I’m really not supposed to have pop during the track season,” John explained, pushing the cup away. Vriska only held it out more forcefully.

“Oh, come on, John. They work you like a dog on that team! I’ve hardly gotten to hang out with you for weeks!

John swallowed and glanced guiltily toward Dave, who had to look away quickly to hide his surprise. Sure, the football practices had cut down on the time he saw John, but they still found time to hang out. Dave wasn’t sure whether to feel guilty or victorious.

Vriska had caught the glance too, and was glaring at Dave as if she’d like nothing more than to murder him in the middle of the mall food court. Dave stared back, carefully uncaring, and finally she looked back to John with a huff.

“Well, whatever. We’re hanging out now, so it’s all okay!” She took both of John’s hands in hers, the soda forgotten on the tabletop. “What was this big celebration for, anyway?”

John’s face looked like it would split from grinning. “Oh, right! I finally did the halfpipe!”

Vriska stared at him blankly. “The what?”

“You know, for skateboarding? It’s a big tube thing-“ John pulled his hands away to make elaborate gestures as he explained. “That’s why I hurt my ankle a few weeks ago, remember? It’s super freaky but so awesome! Dave’s been teaching me to skateboard for months. I was so horrible at first, but now I can actually do some really cool tricks!”

“You were a fast learner,” Dave put in, sitting down on a hard plastic food court chair beside John. Vriska shot him another glare before turning back to John as if Dave had never spoken.

“I just know you were great, John.”

“I could show you sometime, if you wanted!”

Vriska shrugged lazily. “Maybe. Anyway, are we getting ice cream or not?”

“Of course!” John jumped to his feet, leading his way across the food court. Dave and Vriska followed, both of them carefully not looking at the other.

The line wasn’t long, and soon enough they were all standing with large waffle cones melting in their hands. John swatted Dave’s hand away when he tried to pay for his- “You were my teacher! It’s my treat!”- but after Vriska put him in a headlock and gave him a rather painful looking noogie, John gave in and let her pay for all three. They returned to their plastic chairs, Vriska claiming the seat beside John. Dave somehow managed to keep his face blank as he sat into a seat across from them.

The three dug into their ice cream, and, as usual, Dave did more listening than talking. It wasn’t difficult, with John and Vriska- they both spoke too loudly and waved their hands too much, interrupting and talking over each other.

The more Vriska spoke, the more Dave disliked her. She had a drawling, lilting tone to her voice, and the way she leaned forward to talk to John was full of such possessiveness that Dave felt almost as if he’d lost the battle before even beginning to fight. After all, Dave thought as he nibbled at his ice cream, she was the sort girl John was supposed to go after. Tall and beautiful, in a dangerous sort of way. She wore the right clothes and had makeup on her eyes and showered John in compliments, and it made Dave’s stomach twist in miserable hopelessness.

Dave was reluctant to leave John alone with her, but there was only so much he could take. The third time Vriska’s fingers “accidentially” trailed along John’s arm, Dave pushed himself to his feet.

“I’ve got a lot of homework,” he explained stiffly. He didn’t have to look at Vriska to know there was a victorious smirk plastered on her face.

John barely glanced at him. “Aw, have fun! I’ll see you tomorrow!”

Dave nodded and turned away, keeping his pace casual. It wasn’t until he was out of the food court that he finally broke into a run. He needed to get away, away, away- because it wasn’t just Vriska with her hands all over John. There were dozens and dozens of girls at school who eyed John the way a cat eyed a mouse, who made any excuse to touch his shoulder or bat their eyes, and the stupid jock just let them- sat there and laughed at his own stupid jokes, fermenting in his own unfairly good looks, while Dave had to watch from the background.

It wasn’t fair.

 

Dave skated home so quickly that his legs felt numb, rushing straight to his room and sliding on his headphones. He turned the volume up until each beat of the bass made his ears throb. He flopped down in front of the computer, but couldn’t work up the energy to do anything more than stare at his desktop, eyes unfocused. He felt numb, drained, tired. Tired of playing a game he already knew he couldn’t win- but he just couldn’t stop, dancing around on the edge of the board in a desperate hope that somebody would notice him.

Dave finally managed to force himself to move, clicking aimlessly through websites, opening various school assignments only to close them again without writing a word. He got up at one point to microwave a pizza pop, eating it on the floor of his room so as to avoid the soulful jazz music Bro was blasting in the living room. An irony thing, Dave knew, but he just wasn’t in the mood to put up with it.

He was just starting to wonder if it was late enough to take a shower and sleep when his phone buzzed.

Dave already knew who it would be, and for a split-second he entertained the thought of just ignoring it before he grabbed his phone and read the single new text.

JOHN: you completely forgot to show me those pictures you took! i’m still super curious.

Dave answered almost automatically.

DAVE: ill bring them to school tomorrow

It would have been easy to put his phone away after that, but a morbid curiosity stopped him. Dave stared at his phone for a long moment, desperately trying to think of wording that didn’t sound desperate, pathetic or needy.

DAVE: so what did i miss with you and vriska

He sent it quickly and then reread it a few more times. Fuck, did he sound too curious? Would John think he was jealous or something?

Well, if John did think that, he would be completely right. But that wasn’t how it was supposed to be! When Dave’s phone buzzed again, he could hardly bring himself to look at it.

JOHN: not much, really! we stopped by the game shop because she wanted to get some junk for her d&d tournament this weekend, and then terezi showed up again and they wanted to go vandalize the toys r us so i left.

Dave blinked a few times. Either John was lying, or he was even more oblivious to Vriska’s flirting than Dave had thought. Either option wasn’t great, but he could already feel his stupidly optimistic heart fluttering in his chest.

DAVE: cool

DAVE: so when should i show you the pics

JOHN: want to come over after school? practice was rescheduled to tuesday.

DAVE: sure

JOHN: awesome! see you tomorrow then!

Dave finally managed to turn off his phone, sitting back in his chair. He wasn’t sure whether to congratulate himself for getting closer to John, or curse himself for continuing the chase even when he knew the outcome. But he couldn’t stop. The thought of not liking John was completely implausible, and, selfish as it might have been, Dave wasn’t ready to cut John out of his life.

Chapter Text

Dave decided that the walk to John’s house was significantly nicer when there wasn’t blood dripping onto his sleeve.

The house was only two blocks from the bus stop, and they kept up their usual stream of banter all the way there. John had paused in the middle of his driveway to reenact the time Karkat tried to beat Sollux at DanceDanceRevolution, Dave watching from the front steps and trying to suppress his laughter, when Jade came barreling out the front door.

“Hi, boys!”

“What’s up?” Dave asked. Jade grinned as she fished the car keys out of her skirt pocket.

“I’ve got a date!”

Dave glanced at John to see his reaction. He wore a complicated expression, torn between cheerful encouragement and brotherly concern. “Another? With who?”

Jade didn’t turn, flinging herself into the driver’s seat. “Adam. You know, the starting lineback.”

John frowned. “…Jade, last week you went out with the wide receiver.”

“I like football players,” Jade shrugged, tossing a slightly disconcerting wink in Dave’s direction. “What can I say?”

“You’ve gone out with over half the team!”

“Says the guy who’s made out with over half the cheerleaders!”

“But-” John waved his hands agitatedly. “That’s different!”

“Uh-huh, sure.” Jade closed the door and started the car, cutting off John’s argument. She waved at them through the windshield as she pulled out of the driveway. Dave nodded at her, and John gave a weary sigh.

“Seriously, I’m glad that Jade’s popular and social and all, but I swear to god her goal is to kiss every football player by the end of the year.”

“Better booby trap your bedroom, man.”

John swatted at Dave as he led the way into the house. “I didn’t mean me, you ass.”

The entryway was just the same as it had been the first time Dave had visited, but this time he was able to take a moment to appreciate his surroundings. Other than the rather unnerving portraits of harlequins plastering the walls, everything looked like something out of a furniture catalogue. Dave had the sudden impression he’d stumbled into an ad for cake-scented air fresheners. John gave a quick wave to his Dad in the kitchen before leading the way upstairs.

“So.” He stated once they reached his room, turning to Dave. Dave raised an eyebrow.

“So?”

“Let’s see those photos!”

Oh, right. Dave perched on the edge of John’s bed and pulled them out, a slightly battered envelope stuffed to the brim with home-developed snapshots. John flung himself down next to Dave hard enough to make the mattress complain loudly, taking the envelope and beginning to shuffle through its contents.

“Oh, wow,” he said, his eyebrows rising until Dave was sure they would float right off of his forehead. “Oh, wow! These are fantastic, Dave!”

Dave just shrugged awkwardly, watching as John continued to sort through the photos. He couldn’t help but wonder exactly what John was thinking every time he paused to stare at a particular shot. He seemed to like landscapes best, especially ones of the sky- but macro images of textures and bugs and tiny flower petals also caused long moments of staring as John drank the images in.

“These are great,” John insisted, peering at a shot of several long blades of grass. “I bet you could be a professional photographer or something!”

Dave shrugged again. “Nah, not my style.”

John made a “hmm” noise at that, tilting his head to the side to make sense of a strange shot Dave had taken from underneath a log. “Still… jeez, you loser, you never told me you were this good!”

Dave rolled his eyes. “I’ll be sure to tell you about any more of my hidden talents.”

John finally looked up from the envelope of photos, grinning. “Ha, like expert homework-procrastination?”

“Well, obviously. Not to mention leftover-reheating, jock-tolerating and lady-pleasuring.”

John snorted at the last one. “Lady pleasuring? The only girls I’ve ever even seen you talk to are Jade and Terezi.”

“Just because they’re the only one’s you’ve seen me-”

“Oh, bullshit.” John waved a hand. “I bet your last kiss was a seventh grade dare.”

Dave blinked, faltering for just a split second. John’s wild guess had landed uncomfortably close to the truth. “No,” he managed at last, “It wasn’t that long ago.”

John gave him a long, appraising look, arching one eyebrow. “Oh? Exactly when was it, then?”

A lie was already on Dave’s lips, but somehow the words got all mixed up as they were said, and the truth spilled out clumsily. “It… it was the start of eighth grade.”

“You haven’t kissed anyone in almost four years?!” John’s eyes widened into identical blue saucers, and Dave looked away quickly.

“It wasn’t like girls were exactly lining up to trade spit with the dude who put their classmate in the hospital. Not even my roguishly good charm can fix everything.”

John didn’t laugh, just tilting his head to the side to stare at Dave in much the same way he’d looked at the photos just minutes ago. Dave met John’s eyes defiantly, trying not to squirm. He could hardly believe how much of an idiot he was, admitting that to John of all people- god, he must look incredibly lame, John was probably wondering why he even talked to someone so pathetic-

“That’s ridiculous,” John said eventually, with a tone of such conviction Dave was almost tempted to believe him. “Awkward makeouts are a crucial part of the high school experience!”

“Says the expert?”

“Well, yeah.” John grinned crookedly before returning to seriousness. “Really, though, we need to get you a girlfriend on the double!”

Dave resisted the urge to bury his face in his hands. “No way in hell, John, you’re not playing matchmaker for me.”

“But I know some great-”

No.”

John hesitated for a moment before deflating with a sigh. “Fine. But it’s got to happen!”

“Yeah, yeah.” Dave quickly cast around for a change of topic, his eyes landing on the electric keyboard sitting in the corner of the room. “…what can you play?”

John blinked, following Dave’s gaze. “Oh! Um, I can play lots of stuff, really, if I have the music for it.”

Dave waved a hand, glad that the topic seemed safely away from romance, giving Dave an excuse to think about things that weren’t John’s lips. “Well, let’s see.”

John sighed dramatically, but he got up willingly enough and crossed to the piano, flicking it on and placing his hands tentatively over the keys. He glanced at Dave one last time, grinned, and then launched into song.

Dave didn’t know exactly what he had expected- maybe mediocrity, or at the very most just decency. But the music filled the room so suddenly and so clearly that Dave wouldn’t have believed John was the source if he couldn’t see long, nimble fingers dancing over the keys. The piece was more melancholy than Dave would have expected to come from such a bubbly idiot, but he could hardly focus on the complicated chords John’s fingers danced out. His entire mind was devoted to watching.

John’s head was bowed, lips pressed together slightly as he focused on the notes. For once his giddy smile was gone, but he didn’t look unhappy- the only word Dave could find for it was intense, with his blue eyes fixed on his hands as if he could play the notes from willpower alone. His whole body moved when he changed keys, shoulders tensing and then relaxing again. Dave couldn’t do anything but stare, eyes wide, and it felt like only moments before the song was winding to a close. Notes slipped up the scale and then disappeared, lingering over the last few chords. Dave quickly struggled to compose his face as John turned to face him, and he had to resist the urge to demand another song- he could have watched for hours.

“Wow,” Dave managed at last. He was a bit surprised that he could form any words at all.

John laughed, a bit awkwardly. Dave wondered vaguely just how many people had seen his piano skills. “Thanks?”

Dave nodded dumbly, but he needed to say more. John wasn’t just good at piano- he was amazing. “I mean… that was great. Really, really great. Why the hell did you quit band for football?”

“Oh,” John shrugged, his smile faltering slightly. “I dunno. I guess a lot of it was the pressure, since all of my teammates were counting on me. It’s not like I stopped playing or anything.”

“Well yeah, obviously.” Dave swallowed. “Still, just, uh. You’re fantastic.”

That was all it took to bring John’s grin back in full force. “Yeah, yeah, I know. Your face is kind of red.”

Dave scowled. “No it’s not.”

“It kind of definitely is.”

“Shut up.”

John rolled his eyes and changed the subject. “So do you play?”

“Not piano.”

John rolled his eyes, exasperated. “So you play something else?”

Dave shrugged. “I know a bit of a few things. I can work turntables pretty well.”

“Oh, cool!” John clapped his hands together. “So, like, you make remixes of things?”

Dave shook his head. “More like sampling bits and beats here and there to make my own songs, but yeah.”

“Oh, awesome!” John grinned widely. “You have to show me that stuff sometime!”

“Maybe.”

That earned him another eye roll. “I’ll keep bugging you about it. Anyway, you’re coming to the game this Friday, right? I mean, I know it sounds obvious, but I just wanted to make sure you hadn’t forgotten or anything.”

Dave sat in silence for a long moment. He was absolutely sure that he was missing something important. “…the what?”

It was John’s turn to pause uncertainly before replying. “The, um, the first playoff game of the season.”

“Oh. That. Yeah.” Dave nodded hastily, racking his mind for a memory. Goddammit, he was sure John had mentioned the game before, but he’d shoved it to the back of his mind along with the rest of the sports-related babbling. If the feeling of being a horrible friend wasn’t already enough, John was staring at him with an expression that reminded Dave far too much of a kicked puppy.

“Did… did you honestly not know?”

“No, no, I totally knew, it just slipped my mind.”

“…sure.”

“It did! But I’ll be there, yeah. Definitely. Um, and congratulations on getting to the playoffs and whatever.”

That, at least, brought a flicker of a smile to John’s face. “It should be pretty great, I think we’ve got good chances this year. You should hear Feferi go on about it.”

That struck a familiar chord in Dave’s mind. “Oh, yeah, she hosts that big party every year, right?”

John nodded vigorously, his grin growing. “Yep, it’s awesome! You’ve got to come to that, you have absolutely no choice. She says she expects over a hundred people!”

Dave blanched- he couldn’t help it. A house packed full of drunk popular douchebags wasn’t exactly his idea of fun. John noticed at once, narrowing his eyes to peer critically at Dave.

“Don’t you dare ditch on me! This is the biggest party of the year!”

Dave stared back at John, mouth quirked down as he wondered how exactly to get out of that. He was just about to make something up about Bro being overprotective, or possibly about his own long and tragic history of alcoholism- whichever seemed more plausible- when John yelled “STARING CONTEST GO!” and then widened his eyes into the most ridiculous, owlish expression Dave had ever seen.

Dave didn’t last long, bursting into hysterical laughter, and John was right behind him, collapsing into a giggling pile on the bed.

“Fuck, John! You look so stupid!”

“Your face was so red, oh my god!”

By the time their laughter was controlled, Dave’s stomach was aching and he could barely tell which way was up. John had fallen silent, but was still shaking with stifled laughter, tears in his eyes.

“Are you dying?” Dave asked casually, watching John contorting with silent hysteria.

“Yes,” John admitted, flopping back onto the bed. “Shit, I can’t breathe. God.”

Dave made an honest attempt to force his grin back into a suitably uncaring expression. “Don’t make me preform CPR on you, Egbert.”

John took a few deep breaths and sat back up, still grinning ear to ear. “I think I’ll live. Are you hungry? Because I’m going to switch to cannibalism if I don’t eat soon.”

“As much as I know you’d do anything to get your mouth on me, yeah, let’s go.”

John attempted to punch him, but Dave was already on his feet. They raced each other down the stairs, John only winning by tackling Dave into the banister.

Chapter Text

Over the next few days, Dave got really sick of hearing about football.

It was all anyone talked about. John was so busy with practice that Dave hardly spoke to him except over texts, and when the conversation wasn’t about their team’s chances, it was about plans for the party after the final game.

John wasn’t the only one in the group to have caught the football bug- Feferi was going all out with her cheerleading and party planning. She caught Dave in the hallway after class one day and drilled him on John’s interests until he was dizzy. By the time she finished the interrogation Dave had taken to responding mostly with “um”s and “uh”s, but she walked away looking satisfied.

For the week leading up to the game, Dave spent his afternoons in the skate park alone. Even Tavros and Gamzee had put aside their boards- Gamzee was practicing just as hard as John, and Tavros had taken it upon himself to be the team’s number one fan. Dave could see him from the bus stop almost every day after school, perched in the bleachers beside the football field.

Their normal lunchtime group scattered a bit over the course of the week- a combination of clubs, tests and football- and on the day before the game, Dave found himself eating lunch in the cafeteria with Jade. She cheerfully told him that although she enjoyed football players very much, she couldn’t make much sense of the game itself.

“Everyone is so crazy about it,” she sighed, picking at her food. “I can hardly talk to anyone anymore without it turning to football, football, football.”

“Or the party,” Dave pointed out. Jade waved her fork at him.

“Exactly, that too! I mean, I adore parties, and Feferi always throws the very best, but I can only talk about punch flavors for so long. It’s not until the last game is done, anyway, and that could be weeks away!”

Dave didn’t respond to that. Every mention of the party sent a cold chill of dread into his stomach. Several times he had nearly interrupted John’s excited babble about what DJ they were going to have and how ridiculously large the guest list was to make an excuse for not attending, but John was so incredibly enthusiastic about it all that Dave couldn’t bring himself to say anything.
            Still, the thought of so many strangers speaking to him, looking at him, seeing his weird red eyes and realizing that he was the same Dave Strider who had put some kid in the hospital a few years ago- it made Dave nauseous.

Not to mention that he hadn’t gone to a party since his own fourteenth birthday, just weeks before the sword incident.

He still had no idea what to get John for a present.

           

The afternoon before the first playoff game was one of the longest in Dave’s life. He hadn’t seen John in two whole days except for passing glimpses in the halls, and if he heard the words “starting lineup” again he was going to stab somebody. The only thing keeping him even remotely sane was that John somehow seemed to find time between practice, classes, and getting followed around by a crowd of overly excited fans to text Dave constantly.

           

JOHN: oh my god, i thought english would never end. uuuuuuuugh.

DAVE: friday english classes are possessed by the spawn of satan

JOHN: definitely! even though i almost wish school wasn’t over yet, i’m crazy nervous.

DAVE: youll do fine man youve been practicing your ass off

JOHN: well yeah, but the other team is really good too! they get into the playoffs nearly every year.

DAVE: shut up ive already bet my firstborn child on this so youd better not lose

JOHN: oh, well in that case i’ll be sure to win. i’ll look for you in the stands!

DAVE: yeah ill try to pick you out of the hordes of sweaty spandex wearing dudes

JOHN: just look for the best ass and that’s me.

DAVE: boniest ass gotcha

 

Dave rushed through his homework that afternoon. Jade had offered to give him a ride, since the proper football stadium that the playoffs took place at was on the other side of the city. Dave kept a careful eye on the clock, and when the hand finally neared five thirty, he slipped past Bro’s room and hurried down to the parking lot. He perched on the curb, checking his phone for texts every few minutes even though John’s last message had said he was getting ready for the game and would be out of contact.

Jade finally arrived, only ten minutes late, with a familiar scowling boy sitting beside her. Karkat shot Dave a look that just dared him to argue for shotgun rights, and Dave rolled his eyes as he slid into the back seat.

“Your apartment building is fucking impossible to find,” Karkat griped, as Jade sped out of the parking lot at a rather alarming speed.

“Dude, it’s right along a main road. What do you want me to do, put up a billboard on the roof that says Dave Strider Lives Here?”

Karkat opened his mouth to respond, but Jade spoke over him. “Shut up, Karkat. It’s not Dave’s fault that you can’t read maps.”

“I never volunteered to be the naviagator! I’m sorry for not specifically informing you that I never took the time out of my fantastically busy schedule to learn how to read shitty road-charts.”

Dave raised an eyebrow at the back of Karkat’s head. “By fantastically busy schedule, you mean writing long-winded, unreadable novels, right?”

“They’re plenty readable, Strider, they’re just meant for people who have more mental capacity than a fucking six year old.”

Jade huffed. “I swear to god, if you two don’t shut up you can walk to the stupid game.”

Karkat grumbled angrily, though through some miracle there were only a few more outbursts before they reached the stadium. Jade sent the car screeching into the parking lot, only to drive around aimlessly for another ten minutes as they searched for a space.

Once the car was finally parked and unloaded, Jade led the way toward the stadium entrance, where a throng of people already waited to get their tickets. Karkat made several loud statements about the intelligence levels of the crowd, but the line moved along steadily, and almost before Dave knew what was happening they were walking through a short passage and into the stadium itself.

“Wow,” Dave managed, as the three joined the flow of people headed toward the bleachers. “This is huge.”

Karkat scoffed. “Welcome to a fucking football stadium, where the entire point is to jam as many assholes into chairs as possible.”

Dave ignored him and walked on. He had absolutely no intention of letting Karkat know that this was his first time at a game.

They went through the process of getting drinks and food without issue, and Jade took the lead once more as they headed toward the seats. Dave frowned as she turned straight toward the front rows.

“There’s no way we’re going to find seats in the second row,” Dave pointed out, following her through the crowds. “It’s packed already.”

“The others are saving us seats,” Jade replied, pointing ahead. Sure enough, Dave could pick out a clump of familiar faces from the crowd. Tavros waved from where he sat wedged beside Terezi, and Dave quickly claimed the seat on his other side. Jade sat down beside Kanaya, Karkat following her reluctantly.

Dave sat back and finally took a good look around. He could hardly take in the sheer amount of people. It was impossible to make out any single conversation over the buzz of noise, and all around was a wash of blue and green- blue for John’s team, green for the opposition. Dave watched, almost dazed, as more and more people filed into the stands.

“This is insane,” he commented. Tavros grinned.

“I really wish you could have seen it, during last year’s playoffs. The whole place was packed!”

Dave just nodded dumbly. It seemed like ages before the flow of people slowed and, at last, the teams appeared.

Dave wouldn’t have known which player was John was if it weren’t for the name plastered on the back of his jersey. He looked almost inhuman with his helmet and mouth brace, legs appearing comically shrunken beneath his heavily padded chest and shoulders. Dave watched as the cheerleaders began their routine- there was Feferi, right in front, cheering with more enthusiasm than anyone. She grinned in the direction of their group, though Dave couldn’t be sure if she was looking at anyone specifically.

“Hrmph.”

Dave turned to see Eridan sitting behind him, arms folded. Dave gave him a questioning look, but Eridan just frowned and turned back to the cheerleaders. Dave looked to Tavros for explanation.

“What’s his problem?”

Tavros leaned in to whisper over the babble of the crowd. “He was on the football team last year, and tried out again this year, but he didn’t make it. I think he’s still pretty bitter, about that particular topic.”

Dave glanced back at Eridan again, whose eyes were now fixed coldly on the field. Sollux sat beside him, looking incredibly displeased about the arrangement as he tapped away on his phone. Aradia was nestled on Sollux’s other side, practically drowning in a blue hoodie several sizes too large for her.

Dave suddenly felt very self-conscious in his plain red tshirt. Even Terezi, who seemed to make a point never to wear anything that didn’t clash in at least three different ways, was wearing a school jersey- which, Dave discovered later, was really just Vriska’s old volleyball uniform.

Dave quickly dropped his eyes to his feet, doing his best to blend into the bleachers. At least red wasn’t the color of the opposition.

A loud whistle jolted Dave out of his thoughts, and he turned back just in time to hear the hollow sound of a ball being kicked. The field came to life, and suddenly John’s entire team was dashing around like ants. Dave stared in confusion as one boy he didn’t recognize- not that it meant much, under the padding and helmet- caught the ball and began dashing straight toward the green team. That seemed like a pretty stupid idea to Dave, because the green team was moving forward too, and despite the blue-clad boy’s dodging and weaving he was overtaken quickly by three of the opposition. One of them lurched down to grab the boy’s legs, all four of them collapsed to the ground with a slightly sickening thud.

Another whistle blew, and Dave watched as the boy in blue struggled back to his feet, looking scuffed and slightly annoyed but otherwise fine. Dave searched the mob of blue desperately for John, finally finding him when he rushed forward to give his recently-tackled teammate a high five. Then, without any signal that Dave could see, the teams were lining up. The whistle blew again, and there was more running and throwing and general moving. Dave watched for a few more long, confusing minutes before he had to admit to himself that he had absolutely no idea what was happening.

“Okay,” Dave turned to Tavros as the teams paused play in order to line up yet again. “What the hell are they doing?”

Tavros reluctantly tore his eyes from the field, giving Dave a baffled look. “Um, it’s not really anything special? Have you never watched a game of football?”

Dave hesitated for a moment, wondering if it would be possible to back out and lie, but a spark of understanding had already appeared in Tavros’s eyes. Dave deflated- Tavros knew him far too well. Might as well just admit to the whole thing now. “Nah. I’ve never had the urge to watch sweaty men in tights grope each other.”

Tavros made an admirable attempt to look sincere. “But Dave, it’s the national pastime!”

“And they say that the United States doesn’t support gay rights.”

Tavros flashed a quick grin before his face clouded with concern. “So… you really know nothing, about any of this?”

“That’s what I just said.”

Tavros’s frown deepened. “I mean, are you sure? I just assumed that you would know at least a bit, since John talks to you about it all the time. I’ve heard him a few times, during lunch.”

Dave shrugged, staring at the field to avoid meeting Tavros’s eyes. The players were running around again, though Dave couldn’t see a purpose. “I dunno. I guess I didn’t pay too close attention. This isn’t really my thing.”

Tavros made a small “hm” noise and then fell silent. Dave glanced over to him- Tavros’s eyes were back on the game, but his forehead was wrinkled in thought. Dave watched him for a few moments before finally sighing in exasperation.

“What?”

Tavros didn’t turn from the field as he spoke. “Um, okay. So I know it’s not really my business to tell you what to do when it comes to your, um, friendship, with John, but it seems like he’s really into a lot of the stuff that you enjoy. I mean, there’s the whole skateboarding thing, of course. But he also talks a lot about the bands, that you’ve showed him, and he seems really interested, um, in general, when it comes to your interests. So I think that, maybe, it would be a good idea for you to try to learn about some of the things, that he’s interested in. It just kind of seems unfair, the way it is now.”

Dave blinked a few times. That was quite a speech for Tavros, and they both knew it- Tavros’s eyes were now fixed anxiously on his lap. For several moments, Dave could do nothing but stare, because… fuck. Tavros was right.

The silence dragged on uncomfortably, and at last Dave cleared his throat and nodded. “Uh. That sounds like a pretty good idea, actually. I guess… I’ll try that. Thanks.”

Tavros looked up, his face folding easily into a grin. “Great! So, um, did you want me to explain the rules of football?”

Dave blinked. That certainly wasn’t what he’d had in mind, but he couldn’t think of any polite way to refuse. Anyway, he told himself sternly, if he was going to start taking an interest in some of John’s stuff, this was as good a place as any. “…sure.”

At once Tavros was off on an explanation, his hands gesturing dramatically as he explained plays and touchdowns and positions. Dave made an honest attempt to listen and understand, though the more Tavros spoke, the more the whole game seemed ridiculously complicated.

Tavros’s commentary continued right up until half time, describing each movement and player on the field. By the time the whistle blew and Dave stood with the rest of the crowd to stretch his legs and restock on refreshments, his head was buzzing with talk of halfbacks and yards- but the players running around on the field were almost starting to look as if they had a purpose.

 

Dave sat back down beside Tavros just moments before the end of half time, clutching a churro and listening to Eridan and Sollux argue loudly behind him. Though the crowd still made Dave feel lightheaded, the enthusiasm around him was catching. Dave was almost beginning to enjoy himself, and the feeling was solidified when John gave him an enthusiastic wave from the field.

The second half of the game was certainly more exciting than the first. John called excellent (according to Tavros) plays, and Gamzee executed several tackles that had Tavros whooping and jumping in his seat. The score inched forward along with the clock, and even though it shouldn’t have been a surprise when John’s team finished well in the lead, the crowd erupted with such enthusiasm that Dave couldn’t help but cheer along.

Suddenly everything was moving as fans surged forward with screams of congratulations, the green-clad members sulking away in defeat. Tavros grabbed Dave’s hand, tugging him toward the field. “Come on, come on!”

Dave allowed himself to be dragged over the row of seats in front of him, over the low wall separating the stands from the field, and then across the grass, people all around pushing and shouting and cheering. Dave could feel his eardrums vibrating in his head, and he was jostled so much it was all he could do to hold on to Tavros’s hand. But then, finally, they were through the crowd and in the middle of the team itself, everywhere blue jerseys and grinning faces. Gamzee appeared in front of them, and Tavros flung himself forward.

“You were really great!”

Gamzee grinned lazily as he wrapped gangly arms around Tavros. “Don’t be going and putting the all the credit on these shoulders of mine, Tavbro. The whole motherfucking team pulled off a miracle today.” Gamzee glanced up, noticing Dave standing awkwardly beside them. “S’pecially your bro John. Man, that guy is a motherfucking genius.”

“Right,” Dave agreed, but before he could say anything else there were strong arms crushing him in what was more of an attack than a hug.

Dave barely muffled a yelp, struggling to turn around as John’s face appeared over his shoulder. His head dwarfed by all the pads on his chest and shoulders and his hair was sticking almost flat to his head, but he was grinning wider than Dave had ever seen.

“We won, Dave! We won!”

All the excitement was infectious- Dave felt a smile creeping over his own face. “You were awesome, dude. I told you there was nothing to worry about.”

“Yeah, I guess you don’t have to worry about losing your first born son in a bet now!” John was bouncing with excitement, his face far too childish to match the football uniform he wore. “Just- oh my god, this is so great!”

With that, he pulled Dave into another bone-crushing hug. Dave only spent a few short seconds frozen by the sudden closeness before remembering to hug back. For a long moment, neither of them moved, and Dave realized dimly that this was probably longer than a usual congrats-on-winning brohug lasted. Not that he was about to pull away.

The next moment, however, there were bony fingers pulling on his shoulder, and Dave reluctantly turned to see Vriska standing over him. She shot him a quick glare before looking past him, meeting John’s eyes with a grin.

“You did it, John! I knew you could.”

“Vriska!” John beamed. “I still can’t believe it! We only have to win two more games!”

“I’m sure you will!”

Dave took a step backward, letting John and Vriska have their space. There would surely be a million other fans wanting a word with the star quarterback, anyway.

Dave was just about to slip back into the crowd when John caught his eye over Vriska’s shoulder, flashing him a grin and what could have almost been a wink. Dave returned the smallest of smiles before finally turning away, winding his way back to his seat.

He supposed that maybe football wasn’t that boring.

Chapter Text

The weekend passed quickly for Dave. Gamzee and John were still too busy to hang out, resting up and already beginning preparations for next weekend’s game, but Dave managed to coax Tavros into meeting him at the skate park Sunday afternoon. The air was cold, but they skated hard until they were both out of breath and stripped down to just tshirts. Dave couldn’t help but notice that Tavros was bubblier than usual- his grin hardly ever left his face, and the tricks he attempted on the halfpipe bordered on reckless. Finally, after Tavros executed a flip he’d been working on and let out a “Fuck yes!”, Dave had to ask what was going on.

“What do you mean?” Tavros replied blankly, stopping his board with his foot. Dave shrugged from his usual seat on the fountain.

“Dude, you’re never like this.”

“Like what?”

“This…” Dave waved his hands vaguely, searching for the word. “Happy, I guess.” But no, that wasn’t quite it. Tavros was happy often, but now… it was in the way he held himself, the way he spoke.

Tavros faltered slightly, and Dave spotted a hint of a flush on his cheeks. “Um, I dunno, I guess it’s just been a good week.”

Dave arched an eyebrow. “Bullshit. Did something happen?”

Tavros set his chin determinedly. “Nothing that really, uh, concerns you, I don’t think.”

Dave blinked. That was certainly new. “Oh. Um… okay, I guess.”

Tavros let his firm expression slip, the grin returning. “But I think the real question is, has anything happened yet, between you and John?”

Now it was Dave’s turn to falter. “What? Why the hell would- we’re not- no.”

Tavros limped over to the fountain and perched on the edge, stretching his prosthetic legs out in front of him. The cold made his metal joints stiff, and Dave was familiar with the stiff way Tavros walked whenever the thermometers dipped below freezing.

“But you like him,” he insisted. “Don’t you?”

“Why the fuck would you think that?”

Tavros raised his hands. “That’s just what I assumed, from what I saw. But I’m not wrong, am I?”

Dave sat for a long moment, unsure what to say. Tavros probably wouldn’t believe him if he denied it anyway. “…shit, I dunno. Maybe.”

Tavros smiled sympathetically. “John will figure out what he wants, eventually. I don’t think he really considers things like dating and stuff, very much.”

Dave sighed and dug into his pocket for a cigarette. “Yeah, he just lets the cheerleaders fall into his lap.”

Tavros smiled again, and watched as Dave lit up. Dave waved the pack at him as usual, and as usual, Tavros turned it down. Dave focused on breathing in the smoke, and ignored the fact that his hands shook slightly.

 

Dave didn’t get back from the park until the sun had long disappeared, only to find his phone buzzing with texts.

 

JADE: dave!!! :o

JADE: i guess youre probably busy right now

JADE: but i have something really important to tell you when you get back!

JADE: actually i think it had better wait until monday, because this seems too important to talk about over text

JADE: so come meet me at lunch!

 

Dave stared curiously at his phone for a moment, trying to figure out what in the world could be so important, before finally sending back a simple “okay”. Knowing Jade, “too important” could be more or less anything, and Dave didn’t have time to mull it over when there were video games calling his name.

 

Dave dragged himself through his Monday morning classes. They felt longer than usual- probably because John wasn’t texting him for once. Dave tried to distract himself by actually paying attention to what the teachers were saying, but he couldn’t help but wonder what was keeping John too busy to text. By the time lunch rolled around, Dave was failing to resist the urge to check his phone every few seconds, and had completely forgotten about meeting Jade. He probably would have missed her completely if she hadn’t caught him leaving the cafeteria.

“There you are! Let’s go outside, I need to talk to you.”

“Hey… oh, right. That. There’s an empty table right over there.”

Jade shook her head. “No, no, I don’t want anyone overhearing this.”

Dave frowned curiously, but Jade just turned and led the way out the front doors and onto the crowded, grassy lawn, Dave following resignedly. Jade shooed a few freshmen off of a picnic table and sat down, Dave sinking onto the other side.

“So what’s up?”

Jade adjusted her glasses, all business. “Okay, first of all, you can never, ever tell John I told you this! In fact, he specifically told me not to tell anyone, but I’m going to tell you anyway because I think you need to know.”

Dave raised his eyebrows. “My lips are as sealed as Grandpa’s arteries after Christmas dinner.”

“Okay.” Jade took a deep breath. “So, the day after the game John woke me up at stupid-o’clock and he was kind of freaking out. You know John, it takes a lot to make him even realize something’s wrong, but he was seriously going nuts. So I’m trying to get him to calm down, and tell me what’s wrong, and-“ Jade’s voice dropped abruptly to a whisper, and Dave had to lean forward to hear- “he tells me he was dreaming about you.”

“…what?” Dave asked blankly.

“You know,” Jade hissed. “Sexy dreams! And he said he didn’t know what to do, because he felt bad for doing it because you were his bro, but it wasn’t like he could control what he dreamed about. Seriously,” Jade waved her hands exasperatedly,  “of all things to freak out about, it was because he thinks it’s rude to think sexy thoughts about you without your permission.”

“Wait wait wait wait,” Dave stammered, staring at Jade. “I… what? He was… he actually… are you serious?” Dave’s insides were squirming, and he wasn’t sure if he wanted to cheer or throw up.

“Of course I’m serious,” Jade said, rolling her eyes. “Why would I lie about this? Anyway, he calmed down quickly enough and we had a big talk about it. And Dave, you know I adore John, but he is such an idiot. He said he’d never really considered guys before, other than in passing, but he also said he wasn’t against the whole idea of it. I told him to talk to you about it, but I kind of doubt he will, because he was still being pretty awkward about the whole dreaming-about-you thing no matter how much I told him it was okay.”

Dave stared at Jade, wondering what she would think if he shriveled up and died right here on the picnic table.

“Uhhh,” he managed.

Jade sighed. “Look, Dave, it’s not that difficult! He kind of likes you- I mean, he didn’t say it in so many words, but it’s pretty obvious. And I’m pretty sure you kind of like him-”

“How do you-?”

And,” Jade continued firmly, “neither of you are dating anybody, so there’s really nothing stopping you two from going out!”

Dave fell silent, dropping his gaze down to his hands. He could think of several very good reasons right off the bat that stopped them from going out, the very first being that John was the quarterback who could have literally anyone he wanted and that Dave was the weird red-eyed loser who nearly killed some kid with a sword. When Dave finally looked up, Jade was staring at him expectantly.

“Jeez, Jade, I don’t know.”

“Do I need to ask him out for you? Because I will.”

“No, no!” Dave yelped, and Jade grinned. “I mean, uh, I’ll figure it out myself. I just… I might wait a while, because he has his whole playoffs thing. I mean, I don’t want to distract him or anything-”

“Oh, shut up.” Jade waved a hand. “I know you’re scared, Dave, and that’s totally normal! But you’ve just got to suck it up and take a chance. Even if you get turned down, you know John wouldn’t end your friendship over something like that.”

Dave frowned down at the table again. Jade was only partially right- even if John turned him down and they stayed friends, things would be different. There would be no more jokes about being in love with each other, no more too-long hugs or electrically charged glances. Worst of all, if John said no, there would be no more “what if” that Dave could hold on to. There would be no uncertainty about what could and couldn’t be, and Dave was afraid to lose that- because as much as the uncertainty sucked, it was better than a definite no.

“Not until after the playoffs,” Dave insisted. “He’s busy enough without me piling this shit on him.”

Jade frowned, but after a long moment she sighed. “Okay, okay. But you’d better not think I’ll forget all about this.”

“Right.” Dave took his untouched lunch and stood. “Um… thanks for telling me. I’m just gonna. Go now.”

Jade gave an encouraging smile, and Dave hurried away before she could say anything else.

He didn’t return to the school. The thought of being surrounded by people- or maybe even bumping into John- was too much. Instead Dave hurried to the familiar little niche at the back of the school, where he had spent his lunches back before John had dragged him into the circle of friendship that ate in the foyer every day. Still, the section of wall he had claimed back in freshman year was as empty as it had always been, though the smell of weed and cigarettes lingered to show that someone else had been taking advantage of it’s seclusion. Dave hoped it had served them well.

He sat down and leaned back against the warm bricks, taking deep breaths. The sensible part of his brain was telling him to think through what Jade had said and figure out exactly what to do, so that the next time he saw John he would know how to react. But the rest of Dave’s mind pushed that aside with sheer nervousness. He didn’t want to think or feel or sort things out- he just wanted the frightened, nauseous feeling in his stomach to go away.

Dave pulled out his headphones and slid them on, turning the volume up as far as it would go. He took a moment to make sure his hands weren’t shaking before he began to eat his lunch, forcing himself to focus on the motions of chewing and swallowing.

He thought he might have felt his phone buzz in his pocket, but he didn’t take it out to check.

Dave had plenty of practice at ignoring things he didn’t want to think about.

Chapter Text

Dave spent the rest of the day on his toes, keeping an eye out for John. He wasn’t sure whether to be relieved or disappointed when the final bell rang without seeing so much as a glimpse of spiky black hair. He packed up his things quickly and took the back door outside, walking as quickly as he could to the bus stop. If Dave stopped to think about it, he wasn’t even quite sure why he was going so out of his way to avoid his friends, besides the fact that even the thought of talking to someone made his stomach twist. What if they asked about John, and then he babbled and stuttered until they figured out the truth? Or, even worse, what if they started talking about something totally mundane and he was forced to nod and smile along?

Dave really didn’t think he could handle it.

He didn’t relax until the bus came, and he took his usual place at the back. His phone buzzed just as he settled into the luridly-patterned bus seat, and Dave whipped it out without even thinking. It wasn’t until he saw John’s name in his messages inbox that he remembered what Jade had said, and he almost stuck his phone back away.

However, his curiosity got the better of him, and Dave grimaced as he tapped at John’s name. The first message had been sent around lunchtime.

 

JOHN: hey dave where are you? i can actually eat lunch with you guys since i don’t have lunchtime practice today! it’s a christmas miracle!

JOHN: jade just showed up and said you were busy so i guess never mind.

JOHN: practice after school AGAIN. i am going to die.

JOHN: …dave is a loser who doesn’t know how to text back.

JOHN: you suck.

JOHN: seriously did your phone die or something?

JOHN: well i have practice now, bluuuuuuuuh, so have fun doing… whatever you’re doing, since jade is being all weird and secret-y about it.

 

Dave stared at the mess of letters for several long minutes. A man with a bushy beard in the seat next to him leaned over slightly in an attempt to glance at the screen, and Dave quickly tilted it away before giving the guy an incredulous stare. The man quickly turned back to the window, and Dave tapped out a reply. He read it over carefully a few times before sending it.

 

DAVE: sorry about that i was doing really important things that you would be totally jealous of if you knew what they were

 

Good enough. Dave flopped back in his seat with a sigh. Okay, he could deal with John, at least over text. He just wouldn’t think about how John had dreamed about doing sexy dream things to him, and how John wasn’t completely opposed to the idea of maybe making those sexy dream things a reality, and how Dave maybe really really really wanted that to happen, and-

“Goddammit,” Dave muttered, and the bearded man frowned disapprovingly. Dave ignored him.

Okay, maybe he couldn’t exactly deal with it. But he would find a way anyway, no matter how twisted up his stomach felt.

Dave slid his headphones on, leaned back, and made a conscious effort not to think.

 

The next few days seemed to drag on and on. Thankfully John was still busy with football practice for the second playoff game on Saturday, and his crowd of fans was larger than ever, meaning that it was near-impossible for them to spend any time face to face. Not that Dave was leaving anything to chance- he stayed out of John’s way as much as possible, and ate alone in his old niche behind the school. He never made a conscious decision to try to avoid everyone, but that was what ended up happening- whenever a familiar face appeared in the halls, Dave automatically ducked into a nearby doorway. It was easier than the alternative. He still reluctantly pulled out his phone whenever it buzzed, but after two days of sending nothing but one-word replies, the messages started to die down. Tavros had taken to giving Dave concerned looks whenever they crossed paths, but Dave stared resolutely at his feet and hurried away each time.

His phone had been silent for almost a full day when Saturday finally came. As the game approached, Dave turned it off and stuffed into his sock drawer where he wouldn’t be tempted to glance at it. He had absolutely no intention of going to the game- he couldn’t even talk to Tavros. No way he would be able to handle a huge crowd of people.

Instead, Dave sat in front of the TV, stared at a show he had no interest in, and proceeded to feel like a piece of shit.

Things had been going so damn well. He had friendsfor the first time in years, he was finally learning to fucking talk to people, to function like a normal human being- and then, just when he thought he finally had everything under control, it turned out that he couldn’t handle one little issue.

Sure, that little issue was the hopelessly dorky, unnervingly friendly, ridiculously attractive John Egbert, but that shouldn’t be enough to make Dave shut down. He should be able to handle this, and he wasn’t. He was taking the easy way out, cutting himself off from everyone just like he had before.

He was weak.

Dave turned up the TV, staring at it silently until Bro arrived home in the early hours of the morning and told him to get to bed. Dave obediently retreated to his room and lay on top of the covers, headphones clamped over his ears, letting the thudding base lull him to sleep as the first tinges of dawn lit up the sky.

 

Dave woke up, bleary and sleep deprived, and turned his phone back on to find six new texts- two from Tavros, one from Jade, and three from John. Dave gritted his teeth as he opened them one by one.

 

TAVROS: hEY DAVE, uH, I JUST WANTED TO LET YOU KNOW I SAVED YOU A SEAT, aND WE’RE IN ROW B 24,

TAVROS: i’M NOT SURE IF YOU’RE LOST, oR MAYBE JUST LATE, bUT YOU MIGHT WANT TO HURRY BECAUSE THE KICKOFF IS, uH, rEALLY SOON,

 

JADE: hey dave where are you? the games about to start!! :o

 

JOHN: i’ll be looking for you in the stands again. wish me luck!

JOHN: wow the game was crazy, i still can’t believe we won! where were you? nobody said they’d seen you.

JOHN: dave? did you lose your phone or something? everyone’s kind of freaking out right now.

 

Dave stared at the screen for several long moments. He felt nauseous, and filthy, and generally like the worst friend in the history of the universe. He could deal with cutting himself off from people, but he couldn’t make John worry or feel guilty. He just couldn’t.

Dave tapped at the new message button on his phone.

 

DAVE: hey lalonde

DAVE: help

 

It took an antagonizingly long time for Rose to reply, but when the familiar string of purple syntax finally appeared on his screen, Dave couldn’t help but sigh in relief. There was no point backing out now. Dave was determined to fix this, and if that meant giving Rose more psychoanalysis-fodder, so be it.

 

ROSE: Hello, Dave, have you finally decide to return to society? Quite a few people were worried when you didn’t show up at the game yesterday, John especially. I think he was counting on you being there.

DAVE: yeah i know im an idiot and thats part of the problem can you please shut up and let me spill my deepest innermost secrets to you

ROSE: Please, sit down on the couch of self-reflection and tell me about what’s bothering you.

DAVE: ok so long story short

DAVE: i have the manliest of all man crushes on a certain derpy jock asshole

ROSE: I know.

DAVE: ok not even going to ask how you knew that but anyway

DAVE: according to jade that same derpy jock asshole had an r rated dream about me and is being i quote weird about it unquote

DAVE: but at the same time apparently he isnt against the idea of toasting his dream wang over the fires of my burning dream passion

DAVE: and im not even supposed to know but ive been avoiding him all week instead of actually trying to do something about this

DAVE: and hes still texting me and acting all worried about me even though im a huge asshole

DAVE: so basically

DAVE: what the fuck am i supposed to do now

 

Again, it seemed to take an eternity for Rose to reply. Dave was very near throwing his phone at the wall when several messages finally popped up.

 

ROSE: For the purpose of appearing professional, I’m going to try very hard not to call you an idiot.

ROSE: As for advice, I suggest that you simply try talking to him.

ROSE: You two can get your feelings out in the open, and decide whether or not genital-toasting is the best course of action.

DAVE: thats basically what jade said i guess but its really not that simple

ROSE: Is it ever?

DAVE: i mean okay yeah it would be easy if we could just agree we want to have sexy hijinks together but first of all i dont just want his dick i want him as like

DAVE: a guy

ROSE: A boyfriend?

DAVE: fuck I don’t know maybe

DAVE: anyway theres a shitload of problems that come with that

DAVE: the first of which being hes a superjock who has the whole school chasing after his ass and there is literally no reason for me to even be on his list of bangable and/or dateable people

DAVE: second of all hes in the middle of the football playoffs and the last thing he needs is me throwing this at him while hes already stressed out

DAVE: third of all i have not kissed a girl since that redheaded chick with freckles on her chin in eighth grade

ROSE: I seriously doubt John cares about how many chin-freckled girls you’ve kissed, Dave.

DAVE: shut up lalonde you know what i mean

ROSE: I’m afraid I don’t, actually.

DAVE: god dammit lalonde do you not get it

DAVE: hes totally out of my league

 

Dave sighed, leaning back. It was embarrassing, and pathetic, and he felt like a preteen girl freaking out because the boy she liked had glanced at her, except he was handling this far worse than any preteen girl could ever manage. Ugh.

His phone buzzed.

 

ROSE: I can’t believe I’m saying this to you, Dave, but I think you’re underestimating yourself.

ROSE: It’s already clear that John enjoys spending time around you as a friend, and he has apparently said himself that he could see you in a romantic light. I really don’t see anything stopping you.

DAVE:  did you not listen to that whole thing where he is basically the troy to my gabriella

DAVE: except hes never going meet me at a karaoke bar on new years eve and find my slightly fetishistic love of math endearing rather than pitifully lame

DAVE: and also that instead of flirting with him as we sing duets im just avoiding him like a tool

ROSE: I’m going to ignore that reference in an attempt to take you seriously.

ROSE: Dave, do you honestly that John cares at all what people think of him? This is the boy who went trick-or-treating as a ghostbuster last Halloween.

ROSE: If John was really conscious of his appearance, I doubt he would even speak to half of the people he calls friends.

DAVE: having dorky friends and dating a weird monster eyed possibly dangerous loser are totally different things

ROSE: You asked for my advice and I gave it to you, Dave.

ROSE: Talk to him.

ROSE: And stop thinking so badly of yourself.

Chapter Text

Dave spent the rest of the weekend dreading Monday morning. He maxed out his Skyrim character, ollied around the parking lot, and made an attempt to wade through his homework, but his mind kept circling back around to John. Just thinking about having to face everyone made Dave’s stomach clench painfully, but no matter how many times he slammed his textbooks shut in frustration, Dave was determined to stop the lame routine of running and hiding. He wasn’t about to let the same mistake happen twice.

Even with that thought resolute in his mind, Dave’s hands shook as he walked through the front door of the school Monday morning. He focused on keeping his breaths even as he made his way to his locker, unpacking his books a bit more carefully than necessary just to put off the inevitable confrontation. However, that plan flew out the window when Dave looked up again to see Tavros standing beside him.

“Dave! Are you okay? Why didn’t you show up, at the game?”

“Sorry,” Dave muttered. Deep breaths, he could do this. “I was just being an idiot.” Tavros frowned in concern, and Dave rushed to clarify. “Everything’s totally fine, seriously. I just had… shit to do, I guess.”

Tavros relaxed slightly. “So, does that mean you’ll actually eat lunch with me today, like a normal person?”

Dave rolled his eyes. “I know you’ve gone crazy from missing me, but at least try to hide your obsession. No, I won’t give you another lock of my hair, you have six already.”

Tavros just grinned in a mildly exasperated way. “I’ll meet you on the bleachers, by the field.”

“The bleachers? Why not the regular lunch spot? You know, the one that’s inside where there’s heat and actual chairs?”

“Uh.” Tavros’s gaze dropped abruptly to his feet. “I promised Gamzee, that I would watch his practice.”

Dave rolled his eyes, but didn’t press the issue. “Fine, I’ll be there. Anyway, do you know where John is?”

Now it was Tavros’s turn to roll his eyes. “His locker is 371. I guess he’d be around there somewhere.”

Dave nodded, gathering his books under his arm. “Thanks. See you around.”

“Good luck.”

Dave wanted to ask what that was supposed to mean, but Tavros was already hurrying away. Dave turned as well- no time to waste.

He walked as quickly as he could through the halls, keeping an eye on the locker numbers. He was close, if the faded metal plaques were any indication. 365, 366, 367… Dave sidestepped around a group of giggling freshman and then, suddenly, there was John. He was bundled proudly in his letterman jacket, pulling books out of his locker, completely oblivious. Dave slid up beside him, but John still didn’t look up until Dave let out an awkward “hey.”

“Dave!” John turned quickly, and one of his books tumbled to the floor. He didn’t seem to notice. “There you are! I haven’t seen you in ages- why weren’t you at the game?”

Dave blinked at the wide-eyed, slightly hurt expression on John’s face, and he could practically feel his heart shriveling in on itself. John was nearly a grown man- there was absolutely no reason for him to have a puppy-dog look like that, goddammit. Dave picked John’s book off of the floor before he spoke.

“Sorry, I couldn’t go.” The words sounded cold, and Dave grimaced. “Stuff came up, and I was an idiot, and, uh. Sorry about that. I really wish I could’ve been there.”

John gave him a long, searching look, and Dave held his breath. Don’t think of what Jade said, don’t think of what Jade said…

After what seemed like an eternity, John’s expression softened and he reached out to take the book in Dave’s hands. “Well, you’d better not miss the last game. We actually have a pretty good chance of winning!”

Dave nodded seriously. “I won’t.”

John shoved the book into his locker and slammed it shut with a bang. “Awesome. Practice is crazy now that we’re in the finals, but you should text me sometime for sure! And not loser-y short texts, either.”

“I will, shut up.” Dave paused for a moment- there was more to say, but it took a moment for him to figure out what. “…uh, congrats on making it this far.”

“Thanks! Shame you weren’t there to see it.” John punched Dave’s arm affectionately. “Anyway, I should get to class- don’t forget to text me!”

“Later,” Dave managed, and then John had turned and was walking through the crowd, which parted easily to make way for his well-known presence. Dave didn’t move- he just stood in the slowly emptying hallway, letting relief wash over him. It felt like a knot in his stomach had come untangled all at once, and it felt so good that Dave had to resist the urge to grin- he hadn’t even realized how tight he had wound himself the past few days. He could practically feel the tension draining out of his shoulders.

Well, most of it. There were still obvious problems- mainly, still not knowing what the hell to do about John- but that was something he could deal with later. Dave couldn’t help but feel a tiny bubble of pride. For once, he hadn’t given up. He’d fixed things. He hadn’t failed.

 

The air on the way to the football field tasted frosty, hinting at the end of Autumn, and clouds hung low and thick in the sky. Dead grass crunched under Dave’s feet as he hurried toward the bleachers, where Tavros was huddled in an oversized hoodie that Dave suspected had once belonged to Gamzee. He was watching the teams go through their drills with rapt attention, though he reluctantly tore his eyes from the field as Dave sat down next to him.

“Hey.”

“Sup.”

“Uh. How was your morning?”

Dave shrugged, taking a large bite from his cafeteria-issued pizza. There was really no reason to tell Tavros how he’d gotten in trouble three times for texting John during class, or how he felt increasingly giddy each time.  “Decent.”

There was silence for several minutes, as Dave hurried to finish his pizza before it got cold. Tavros didn’t seem to mind the quiet- his eyes were glued on the team down below. Dave stuffed the last of the crust into his mouth and sat back, not wanting to interrupt Tavros’s concentration, but the comfortable silence quickly gave way to boredom. Dave fidgeted, searching for a topic.

“So,” He said at last, simply announcing the first thing that came to mind, “I’ve been honest with you about my romance shit.” Mostly. “Your turn. What the hell is going on with you and Gamzee?”

Tavros stiffened, but didn’t look up. “What gave you the impression, uh, that there was anything-”

“Oh, come off it.” Dave gestured vaguely toward Gamzee as he ran past the bleachers, looking lanky and intimidating in his jersey and padding. “You wouldn’t freeze your ass off on a metal bench to watch me run around in tights.”

A blush crept into Tavros’s cheeks. “Stop it, Dave.”

“No, really. How far have you guys gone?”

“Dave.”

“Do you have a date for the wedding yet?”

Dave.

“Is it just a friends with benefits thing, or are you the real deal?”

“I don’t know.

There was a long moment of silence, Tavros staring down at his knees with wide eyes, as if he hardly believed the words that had just come out of his mouth.

“How exactly does that work?” Dave asked at last, breaking the tense silence.

For a moment Tavros looked like he was considering not answering, but then his shoulders slumped and the words spilled out in a defeated mumble. “You know that Gamzee can be kind of, uh, vague sometimes. I don’t think he really, tries to be that way, that’s just how he is. We’ve done, uh, some stuff-” Tavros’s face was cherry-red right to the tips of his Mohawk- “but I don’t know, uh, if it really means anything, or if it’s just some sort of game, to pass the time with.”

“No fucking way,” Dave said without hesitation. “You guys have been friends for years, no way Gamzee would pull a stunt like that. He cares about you-”

“I walked in on him kissing a stranger at a party, a few weeks ago.”

Tavros’s voice was so quiet and broken-sounding that Dave felt his stomach clench. His words came out more passionately than he’d intended. “But things could’ve changed since then, dude. Anyway, just because Gamzee decided to play tonsil hockey with some random asshole one time-”

“Not so loud!” Tavros hissed, his voice dropping nearly to a whisper. “It’s not like I’m upset, with Gamzee. I mean, it isn’t like I have any right to not be okay with it in the first place, since we’re not, uh, together. And I can understand, why he would do it. It was right before the first playoff game, the Friday before last. Gamzee was under a lot of stress, from the pressure to win and from not smoking, and I think it was just a way to calm down, kind of.” Another pause. “Maybe.”

Dave shook his head indignantly. “So you honestly think Gamzee doesn’t care enough about you to do anything more than fuck you when he wants to?”

Tavros’s cheeks grew even darker. “It’s not like -”

“No, okay, okay.” Dave raised his hands. “I don’t need to know the lurid details, but what I’m saying is that Gamzee might be a total juggalo freak, but he’s not stupid when it comes to this sort of shit. He cares about you.”

Tavros was silent for a long moment. Finally, he nodded slightly, although his expression didn’t change. Dave sighed in annoyance, but before he could say anything more, a whistle pierced the cold air.

Down on the football field, the team stopped their drills, filing back toward the school in a ragged, exhausted line. John gave Dave an embarrassingly cheerful wave as he walked past, which Dave returned with a more reasonable level of enthusiasm. Gamzee grinned in their direction as well, but Tavros didn’t look at him.

“If you’re so confused, why don’t you just talk to him about it?” Dave asked, realizing too late how Lalonde-ish that sounded.

Tavros swallowed. “I should. I know I should.”

Another pause, but Tavros didn’t look as if he were going to say anything more- or say anything ever again, really- and at last, Dave sighed.

“Let’s head in, the bell’s going to go any minute and I think my ass has frozen to the seat.”

“Right.”

Without another word, they rose and picked their way down the bleachers and across the field. Dave watched Tavros from the corner of his eye- his head was hung low, and the prosthetics-stiffening cold was making him walk even more awkwardly than usual. Dave felt a twinge of guilt in his stomach- he wasn’t the only one with problems.

Goddamn football players.

 

The next few days passed with surprisingly little trouble, although once Dave got used to not avoiding social situations, he quickly found himself missing them. Everyone was busy preparing for the final game, and nobody moreso than John. Though the texts were long and plentiful, it wasn’t the same as face-to-face conversation, and Dave found himself wishing there was time to just hang out- no matter what awkward, unfulfilled questions hung around his head. Still, Dave couldn’t complain, not when John was giving his absolute all for the team. The stream of texts described an endless routine of practices and pep rallies, not to mention putting up with hundreds of fans and critics. John was admirably positive about the whole ordeal, though, and even if he sometimes complained to Dave over texts, he never let those particular feelings show in person.

The texts continued right up until Friday evening, as Dave sat on his floor, attempting to wrap John’s present for the party. Feferi had said that most people wouldn’t be bringing gifts- she was only giving him something because she was the host, and he deserved something for leading the team to victory. (Losing really wasn’t a possibility to her, it seemed.) But Dave wanted to get him something anyway, no matter how difficult the goddamned wrapping paper was being.

Dave’s phone buzzed with a new text right as his clock gave a quiet beep- it was midnight.

 

JOHN: vriska is trying to get me to wear her shoes for the game tomorrow. apparently they’re good luck.

JOHN: let’s just ignore the fact they’re like six sizes too small for me.

DAVE: should you even be awake right now dude you have a game in like sixteen hours

JOHN: oh jeez, don’t remind me, i’m stressed enough about this as it is.

DAVE: cool just pretend i changed the subject

JOHN: well, i actually am going to change the subject now.

JOHN: to the afterparty! because it is going to be soooooooo awesome.

DAVE: oh yeah

DAVE: that

JOHN: your enthusiasm is catching, dude. calm down.

DAVE: should i pretend to think youre funny or would that be enthusiastic for you

JOHN: shut up, you know i’m hilarious.

JOHN: but seriously, feferi’s been telling me all about it! there are HUNDREDS of guests, we’re probably going to have to turn some away or something.

JOHN: i wish we didn’t have to, but even her huge house can only hold so many people.

JOHN: have you ever been there? it’s enormous!

DAVE: nah but ive heard about it from jade and tav

DAVE: by the way keep an eye on your sister dude

DAVE: every time i ask who shes going to the party with i get a different answer

JOHN: ugh, i’m trying not to talk to her about that stuff, actually. i really don’t want to know.

JOHN: oh yeah, that reminds me. who are you going to the party with?

DAVE: dude you know itd be a crime to tie myself down when there are going to be so many ladies desperate for a piece of this

JOHN: oh yeah, i forgot that you’re totally the most popular guy there, how dumb of me.

JOHN: but seriously! i know a bunch of girls who want dates if you need one.

DAVE: nah im all good

JOHN: if you’re sure!

DAVE: wait

DAVE: so

DAVE: are you going with anyone

JOHN: haha, nope!

JOHN: i don’t even have time to hang out with you, forget having time to go looking for someone to go with.

DAVE: as if youd have to go looking for a date

DAVE: you could literally just stand up in the lunchroom and shout

DAVE: im single

DAVE: and half the student body would be drooling on your shoes in seconds

JOHN: shut up, dork.

JOHN: i kind of just want to spend the party hanging out with my friends! i haven’t talked to everyone enough lately.

DAVE: the girls are gonna be shedding a tear dude

DAVE: you sure about this

JOHN: well, i guess we’ll see if anything happens at the party!

DAVE: …

DAVE: yeah

DAVE: sounds like fun

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Dave woke up late- John had signed off not long after midnight, but Dave stayed up until the wee hours of the morning, messing around on the internet and generally not doing anything useful at all. He dragged himself through his morning routine, pausing frequently to check his phone- no new messages, which was unsurprising. Everyone had plenty of reason to be busy.

Dave spent the next few hours fidgeting- he could tell he was driving Bro crazy by walking back and forth across the apartment, picking up a bag of chips or the TV remote only to set it back down, flipping through his iPod without settling on any song. By the time Jade texted him to know she was on her way to pick him up, Bro looked about two minutes away from throwing Dave out the window.

Jade’s car was significantly more crowded than it had been last time Dave had been in it- Karkat was huddled in the shotgun seat again, while Dave squashed himself into the back between Tavros and Nepeta. Thankfully, they were both fairly small, allowing Dave to fit in without too much trouble, but he still found his knees knocking uncomfortably against Tavros’s metal ones as Jade pulled out of the parking lot. He held his gift for John on his lap, caringly wrapped in the most garish Barbie Princess wrapping paper he could find.

Dave spent most of the ride in silence, but the others talked more than enough to make up for it. Jade and Tavros were having an intense discussion about plays and positions, and Dave couldn’t help but notice that Tavros was showing off his knowledge a bit. Nepeta was making an honest attempt to coax Karkat into a conversation, but he was more or less ignoring her in favor of glaring out the window as if each passing telephone pole had wronged him personally, and occasionally contributing a snarky remark to Jade and Tavros’s conversation. They weren’t paying much attention to him, likely because every angry critique just served as further proof Karkat really didn’t know anything about football.

It was a relief to finally pull into the stadium parking lot, which was even more crowded than it had been the last time. It took the group quite a while to make their way to the crowds and down toward their seats, which the others had dutifully saved for them. Nepeta disappeared at once to sit beside Equius, dragging Karkat along with her, while Dave, Jade and Tavros chose to join Rose and Kanaya in the next row down. Dave sat quietly and watched as the last of the crowd filed in, team colors muffled beneath neutral-colored coats. Dave was glad he’d at least remembered to wear the proper colors this time- a blue tshirt under a faded yellow hoodie- but now he was wishing he’d thought to bring something a bit warmer. He stuck his hands deep into his hoodie pockets and waited for the game to begin.

Thankfully, he didn’t have to wait long. The entire stadium roared with noise as the teams jogged out onto the field, and Dave cheered with them. After that, it didn’t take long for the game to start- the coin was flipped, the ball was kicked, and Dave sat back to watch.

It was much more exciting now that Dave had an at least vague understanding of what was happening. The seemingly random variations of running, huddling, and kicking were no longer mysteries to him. A few times Dave was tempted to ask Tavros to clarify what a certain whistle or play meant, but he held himself back- Tavros was utterly immersed in the game.

It was actually amusing to watch. Tavros was hunched over, elbows resting on his knees, eyes wide with concentration as he followed each movement of the ball. He screamed with joy, groaned with disappointment, and leapt out of his seat whenever a point was scored. Dave had to hide a smile.

Even with the distraction of Tavros’s whooping, though, Dave’s eyes continued to be drawn back to John. He looked so absurdly confident on the field- all of that dorky goofiness was gone from him, and the expression half-hidden under his helmet was one of pure concentration. He directed his team confidently, never seeming to pause or waver. He looked at home on the field, like he’d been born to lead his team.

However, despite John’s confident leadership, the opposing team’s score was inching ahead. The clock ticked down to halftime, and Dave could see a glint of desperation in John’s teammates eyes as they filed off the field with the opposing team several points in the lead.

The second half of the game seemed to take forever to start- Dave huddled in on himself against the cold air, sipping at the soda Jade had been thoughtful enough to get for him from the overpriced concession stand. By the time the teams returned to the field, Dave could barely feel his fingers. Rose suggested he borrow her immaculately embroidered gloves, but he quickly refused. He wasn’t about to be sucked into one of her passive-aggressive generosity games.

John’s team played well in the second half- Tavros clasped his hands together with nervous excitement as each pass was completed, each tackle connected, and the score inched forward. It wasn’t until late in the game when they finally took the lead, eliciting a cheer from the blue-and-yellow-clad members of the crowd.
Dave didn’t notice how much time had passed until he spotted the clock with only a few minutes left. The opposing team was only yards away from scoring the touchdown they needed to return to the lead, and Dave could practically feel Tavros trembling in excitement.

The play began- the opposing team had the ball, made a break for it. The runner was twelve yards away- ten- five-

Whumph.

The player hit the ground hard, Gamzee suddenly on top of him. The ball slid from his hands and rolled across the frozen grass.

“Yes!” Tavros cried, flinging his arms above his head. “That was amazing!”

Then the timer ticked to zero, the whistle blew, and the world erupted into noise.

 

“We won, we won!” Tavros screamed, grabbing Dave’s hand and squeezing it so hard his knuckles cracked.

“I know!” Dave screamed back, giddy with the sudden excitement.

The crowd whooped and cheered, the noise continuing even after the officials appeared on the field with the trophy. They handed it to John, who looked about ready to burst with excitement. The entire team was whooping and jumping, clambering to be closer to the trophy. An official-looking man said something that was drowned out in the noise of the crowd, and then John lifted the trophy above his head, his smile so wide it threatened to pop right off his face.

“Congratulations!” Rose called, as if the team could hear her over the scream of the crowd. Dave turned to tell her this, only to see Kanaya reach over and sweep Rose into a long, deep kiss. Finally, Rose broke away and opened her eyes, meeting Dave’s questioning stare with a smirk and a shrug.

Beside Dave, Tavros giggled.

The crowd trickled out of the stadium slowly- Tavros wouldn’t stop whining about how he wanted to see Gamzee, but Rose, Dave and Kanaya insisted that it was just too crowded, and anyway, they would see everyone at the party.

Nepeta disappeared into the crowd, presumably to go find Equius. Kanaya and Rose split up to take Rose’s car- “use protection,” Dave called, and was presented with a perfectly manicured middle finger as a response- while the rest of the group piled back into Jade’s. Dave managed to claim shotgun for once, much to Karkat’s annoyance, and then they were headed toward Feferi’s house.

She lived in one of the nicest neighborhoods in town, where every house came with a perfectly maintained front lawn and a security system on every window. Despite the enormous houses, Feferi’s still managed to tower over all the others- a huge coral-pink mansion, complete with an iron gate in front and a swimming pool out back. It sat slightly away from the other houses, due to it’s sprawling lawn- Dave resisted the urge to call it an “estate” in his head- and already music could be heard spilling from the brightly lit windows.

It took Jade a few minutes to find a place to park- the street was already crowded with cars. Finally, they unloaded themselves, Dave carefully tucking John’s present under his arm as they made their way up to the house.

The party was just getting started, but there were already people milling about. Every room they walked through was filled with bodies, and it took a while of pushing through groups before they found Feferi. She was in the crowded kitchen, giving instructions to a boy Dave didn’t recognize.

“There’s extra ice in the basement, you can get anyone to fetch it- and of course there are more drinks down there, too, but I don’t think there’ll be any shortage.”
She was holding one of Sollux’s hands as he leaned against the kitchen counter, fiddling with his phone and looking bored. Dave wondered vaguely what she saw in him as Feferi turned to face their group.

“Oh, you guys are here!”

She quickly detatched herself from Sollux in order to give Jade a tight hug, and they both grinned as they pulled apart.

“It’s looking great already,” Jade commented, waving vaguely around the house.

“I hope so! Everything’s all planned out but I’m still worried something will go wrong last minute.” Feferi clapped her hands together. “Oh! Speaking of which, I should have a few words with the DJ before people start dancing, but you guys have fun! The whole team should be here soon, I expect, and there’s pizza on the way. Oh, one last thing-” the smile dropped off her face abruptly, replaced by a serious, almost dangerous expression- “I wouldn’t go into the basement if I were you, apparently Gamzee invited some of his… friends.”

Dave saw Tavros stiffen out of the corner of his eye, and knew what he was thinking- was the girl (guy?) Gamzee had made out with here? If so, was there still anything between them?

“Gamzee’s friends? I’d love to meet them!” Jade was still smiling, completely missing the point. Feferi sighed.

“Well, I’m not about to let them ruin this, not when I have everything planned out.” She shook her head, and Dave noted vaguely that her earrings now depicted a pair of golden octopus with dangling tentacles. “You guys have fun! Get some drinks from our resident barman.” She patted the shoulder of the boy she’d been talking to earlier before dragging Sollux off through the crowd.

“What’d you like?” The boy asked, resting his elbows lazily against the counter. He shot Jade a look that made Dave glad John wasn’t here- he probably would have gone into full-on protective brother mode.

Jade looked around the little group. “Well?”

“Nothing for me,” Karkat said, making a face. “I’d rather die of dehydration than drink that cat piss. I’m going to go get Sollux before he trips over his feet and kills himself in a miserable, well-deserved death.”

Karkat pushed his way through the growing crowd of the kitchen and disappeared around the corner. Jade sighed, turning her eyes to Tavros and Dave. Tavros just blinked, wide eyed, so Dave took it upon himself to answer for both of them.

“Uh, whatever’s fine.”

How eloquent.

Jade rolled her eyes. “Three beers.”

The boy nodded and tinkered around the kitchen for a few moments before returning, juggling three red Solo cups in his hands. Dave took his reluctantly, feeling like a high school cliché. Tavros held his own beer as if it might shatter at any moment, and Dave was reminded that Tavros wasn’t even eighteen yet.

Jade, however, took her cup with a smile and downed half of it in one long gulp. “I’m going to go find somewhere to put my coat. You guys go socialize! Have fun!” She punched Dave good naturedly in the shoulder, almost causing him to spill his beer. “Let me know when the football team gets here.”

She gave them both a wink that could have meant anything- good luck with John, Dave. Good luck with Gamzee, Tavros. Good luck to me, because I’ve got the entire football team wrapped around my little finger- and then disappeared into the crowd.

Dave and Tavros stood for a moment, watching as other people trickled into the kitchen, ordered drinks, bumped into friends, talked. Dave made the mistake of taking a sip from his cup, and instantly regretted it- the beer was sour and throat-burning. He quickly set it down on a nearby countertop, not intending to pick it back up.
Tavros, meanwhile, was sipping slowly at his own beer with a vaguely concerned expression on his face. His eyes tracked every person who walked in, and Dave got the impression that he wished he could just go home.

Dave couldn’t exactly disagree.

After a few more long, silent minutes, Dave sighed.

“Let’s see if we can find any of the others.” Dave wasn’t quite sure who he meant by “others”, but Tavros didn’t ask- he just nodded, took another gulp of beer, and followed Dave out of the kitchen.

The house had gotten much more crowded. The hallway outside the kitchen was packed with people- just standing and talking, drinks in their hands. Music pounded from one of the nearby rooms, loud enough that Dave could feel the bass through the soles of his feet. He headed toward it, Tavros following closely, as if he were afraid Dave would vanish the moment he got out of sight.

It didn’t take long to find the source of the music. A table was set up at one end of a large room, complete with amps, computer, and a large display of turntables. Dave was instantly itching to take a look at them, but the room was so packed he could barely make out anything- someone had set up a sort of disco ball, and it flashed meaningless shapes and colors along the walls of the otherwise darkened room. The furniture had been pushed up against the walls, the carpet removed, and people were dancing- drinks sloshing in their hands as they moved clumsily to the beat, jumping and swaying. Already a few couples were squashed up against each other, grinding their hips to the sound of the music. Dave saw Tavros wrinkle his nose.

“Let’s not stay here,” Tavros said- or at least, Dave was pretty sure that was what he said. The music made it impossible to hear much of anything. “It’s too loud.”
“Okay,” Dave said, and they slipped back into the hall. The party was nearly in full swing, and people were everywhere- boys with too much hair product, girls with too much makeup, voices merging together into a wordless babble, the smell of alcohol and sweat already in the air. Dave stared through the crowd, a knot of desperation beginning to form in his chest- what was he supposed to do?

Suddenly, one shrill voice rose above the others.

“The football team is here!”

Chapter Text

“The football team is here!”

Tavros and Dave exchanged a look, Dave’s eyebrows automatically raising. His palms felt suddenly clammy- any moment now, he was going to see John, and then what would he say? They had hardly spoken in person for ages. His stomach fluttered nervously, and Dave bit the inside of his cheek to distract himself.

Calm down, Strider. You can handle this.

Every head in the crowded hallway had turned toward the entranceway. There was some slight jostling as people craned their necks in an attempt to see. Someone bumped against Dave’s elbow, and he came close to spilling his drink for the second time that night.

A long moment passed in quiet tension, before someone at the other end of the hallway gave a loud whoop- and suddenly everyone was cheering, clapping. The football team bursting into the hallway, bundled in lettermen jackets and grinning ear to ear, flushed with excitement. The crowd rushed in to meet them before Dave could get a good look. He stood on tiptoe and craned his head, but it was impossible to separate John or Gamzee from the writhing mass of people.

After a few long moments the crowd quieted a bit, and Dave could hear the voice of the football player nearest him- a large boy with sandy blond hair who Dave vaguely recognized from one of his classes. Sam? Stan? Something like that.

“Haha, thanks, yeah, ‘scuse me- move your fat ass, Parker.”

  A gangly boy- presumably Parker- laughed and clapped Sam/Stan on the back before stepping aside. The line of football players moved through, making a beeline for the kitchen. The crowd on either side of the hallway clapped and gave out high-fives as they passed, though Dave and Tavros stood back slightly, watching in silence. Dave waited in anticipation- he barely gave a cursory glance to the other players who walked by. He was convinced, each time someone came around the corner, that it would be John, but every time he was disappointed.

Finally, Gamzee appeared, at the very back of the line. He reeked of the sickly-sweet scent of weed, strong enough that Dave could smell it from down the hall, and he couldn’t help but wrinkle his nose. Tavros, however, grinned as Gamzee came toward them like he didn’t even notice.

The crowd in the hallway patted Gamzee on the back and shoulders as he walked past- one short, chubby girl screamed “GO MAKARA!”, which caused the rest of the crowd to giggle- and then, realizing that the show was over, the viewers quickly returned to their talk and drinks.

“Congrats, Gamzee!” Tavros beamed as Gamzee came to a stop in front of them. “That last tackle, that was just, wow. Awesome.”

Gamzee grinned back. His eyes were out of focus, and Dave resisted the urge to sigh. It hadn’t been that long since the game ended- how much had Gamzee smoked already?

“I saw your chill-ass self all cheering for me up in the stands,” he drawled. His voice was rough from the smoke. “I’d never’ve been able to pull off such a motherfucking miracle without you, Tavbro.”

Tavros blushed a bit at that. “Uh, thanks. I’m just really, really glad you won.”

“Same here, my miracle brother.” Gamzee paused a moment, as if sorting out his thoughts, before continuing. “Anyway, if you motherfuckers ain’t got anything planned, I’d take this opportunity to all up and invite you to hang with me and my brothers and sisters.”

Dave glanced over to see Tavros stiffen again. “Uh, thanks, Gamzee. That sounds, really great.” His eyes shot over to Dave, pleading. “Uh, Dave can come too, right?”

“Of course, man. This motherfucker’s allowed to be getting his chill self wherever he’s all up and choosing.”

Tavros relaxed slightly at that, and Dave held back another sigh- he supposed he had no choice but to go with them, even if all he really wanted to do was look for John. Why wasn’t he with the rest of the football team? Was something wrong?

Maybe, a nagging voice at the back of Dave’s head suggested, he’s found someone more interesting than you to spend time with. A girl someone, with a low neckline and tempting words that John wouldn’t be able to resist.

“My bros are all up and chilling in the basement,” Gamzee continued, jerking Dave from his thoughts, “so let’s get ourselves down in there.”

“Right,” Tavros said, his voice higher pitched than normal, and Gamzee turned to lead the way.

“Stop freaking out,” Dave whispered to Tavros as they neared the door to the basement.

Not like you’re one to talk, the voice in Dave’s head noted. It was starting to sound sort of like Rose.

“I’m not, uh, freaking out.”

“Yeah, you are. It’ll be fine, just calm down.”

Tavros didn’t say anything to that, just pressed his lips together and followed Gamzee down the basement steps.

 

Dave hadn’t been in a basement in ages. Even back when he and Bro lived in a house, neither of them went down there much- it was just a few dark, damp rooms, with concrete floors and a closet-like space holding the boiler and a tangle of leaky pipes. At one point Dave was sure there were ghosts down there, but he later found out that there were mostly just torn-up smuppets.

Feferi’s basement, however, was hardly comparable. The stairs led down to a short, thickly-carpeted hallway, with dark wooden paneling on the walls and cheerful lighting in the ceiling. Gamzee led the way to the very last door, which was slightly ajar, and ushered Dave and Tavros inside before following.

Dave found himself in a large room- he wasn’t sure what it would be called, but he supposed it could pass as a game room, or maybe a den. There was a pool table at one end and a cluster of couches, chairs, and a TV at the other. It was significantly less crowded than it was upstairs, but any available seat was still covered in people- sprawled across each other’s laps and sitting in clumps on the floor, piled like dogs in a messy heap. The entire room was hazy with smoke, and it didn’t take Dave long to spot the source: several bongs and joints being passed around by the room’s inhabitants.

Beside him, Tavros gave a very long, drawn out “uhhhh.”

“Hey, Gamzee!” Called one of the girls on the couch. Her eyes were half-lidded and she held a joint between her fingers. She was leaning against a boy with spiky green hair and a Rubik’s cube in his hands. His hands twisted at the colorful surface with sloppy determination. “Did you bring friends?”

“You bet I all up and did, sister.” Gamzee moved past Dave and Tavros to flop down at the foot of the sofa, leaning his back against the expensive-looking leather cushions. Dave wondered for a moment what Feferi’s parents would say about the smell.

 The girl passed Gamzee her joint, and Gamzee took a long drag. His eyes fluttered closed, and he sighed contentedly.

The green-haired boy giggled. “You been missing the grass, Gam?”

Gamzee didn’t reply, only smiled lazily at him as he passed the joint. He glanced back to Dave and Tavros, still standing awkwardly by the door, as if he’d almost forgotten they were there.

“C’mon over here, Tavbro, there’s room.”

Tavros gave Dave a nervous glance before reluctantly going to join Gamzee. Dave followed- no way he was leaving Tavros alone down here.

Tavros sat next to Gamzee, his metal legs stretched awkwardly in front of him. Dave took a seat on his other side, uncomfortably close to a boy with long, greasy hair.

The entire room smelled of weed and sweat, thick and stifling enough that Dave’s throat tickled. It was quiet compared to the main floor- faint music filtered through the roof, and all around people were immersed in quiet conversation. Many weren’t even talking, simply staring into space. One girl was scribbling furiously into a half-torn notebook, and a few younger-looking boys were laughing amongst themselves over by the pool table. Dave was suddenly suspicious that marijuana wasn’t the only drug present in the room.

Feeling profoundly uncomfortable, he settled back against the leather couch and tried to look as if he knew what he was doing.

“Hey.”

Dave turned. The greasy-haired boy was staring at him, head cocked to the side.

“…hi?”

“I’ve never seen you before.”

“Uh, yeah. I’m Dave.” He stuck out a hand awkwardly, but the boy just blinked at him.

“Someone should put on some music.”

“What?”

“Good music,” the boy clarified. He waved his hands in the general direction of the roof. “Not that stuff they’re playing up there. Music that means stuff.”

“Oh. Um, yeah.”

“What music do you like.”

The boy’s voice was so monotone that it took Dave a moment to realize that it was a question.

“Um, you probably haven’t heard of it.”

Dave inwardly cursed himself- what a stupid hipster answer- but the boy just raised one lazy eyebrow at him.

“Betcha I have.”

Suddenly, a hand clapped Dave on the back. Dave jumped and sloshed his beer before he realized it was only Gamzee.

“No, no, man, you got yourself mixed up. This motherfucker right here,” Gamzee jabbed Dave in the chest, “He can throw beats down like the music is all up and running through his veins.”

The greasy haired boy considered that for a moment, then nodded sagely. “Cool.”

Dave carefully extracted himself from Gamzee’s grip, sharing another glance with Tavros. He would really rather be anywhere but here- the thick smoke in the air was making him feel woozy. He wondered vaguely what Bro would say if he came home high. It wasn’t like he had a problem with cigarettes, but for some reason Dave suspected he’d be less chill about weed.

“So Gam,” said a girl from across the sofa. She was wearing enough bracelets to reach all the way up to her elbows, and jangled in a symphony whenever she moved. “I hear you won the football game, huh?”

“That’s right, my miracle sister.”

“It was awesome,” Tavros added. “He made a tackle, right at the last minute, that probably won us the game!”

The girl looked Tavros over, smirking. “Must be proud of your boyfriend, huh?”

Tavros blinked. “Uh, I, what?”

“Aren’t you guys dating?” The green haired boy with the Rubik’s cube piped up. “I thought you were. Gam talks about you all the time.”

“Nah,” said the greasy-haired boy beside Dave, “Gamzee hooked up with Aaron just a while back, remember?”

“Oh, yeah.” The girl with the bracelets nodded. “I forgot Aaron wasn’t still with Wanda.”

“Nah, she moved out to Arizona a month ago.”

“Oh, okay.”

That was apparently the end of that conversation, because the bracelets girl turned away and green-hair went back to his Rubik’s cube. Tavros was staring at Gamzee with wide eyes, but Gamzee just leaned his head back against the sofa cushions, eyes closed. Dave resisted the urge to slap him.

“I, uh.” Tavros said at last, standing suddenly. He wobbled slightly, his metal legs not meant to bend so much so quickly. “I’m gonna, uh, go.”

Gamzee opened his eyes slowly. “You okay, Tavbro?”

Tavros’s jaw was clenched tight. “No, I guess I’m kind of, really, not.”

With that, he turned and hurried out of the room.

“What’s his problem?” The girl with the bracelets asked.

Dave gritted his teeth. He hated this. He hated parties, he hated these clueless people- drinking and dancing and smoking and not thinking, never thinking- he hated John for not showing up, he hated Tavros for not just saying what he meant and saving himself all the trouble and confusion. But most of all, he hated Gamzee for being so unbelievably clueless.

Dave took a deep breath and scooted over to Gamzee.

“Gamzee.”

Gamzee blinked vapidly at him. “What can I do for you, my brother?”

Dave twitched angirly, as if trying to shake off a fly. “Okay, listen to me.” He leaned close, voice dropping to barely above a whisper. “I’m only gonna say this once and I’m going to make it as simple as fucking possible, and then I’m going to hope you wrap you stupid empty head around it because for once this is important.”

Gamzee just blinked, corners of his mouth turning down slightly. Dave took that as an indication to continue.

“Okay, listen now. Because Tavros. Is. In. Love. With. You.”

A long pause. Gamzee blinked slowly.

“…what?”

“He’s in love with you, you asshat. He freezes his metal buns off on bleachers so he can watch you play a game he used to care nothing about, he stares at you from a distance as if he’s gonna burst into a Taylor Swift song any second, he actually cares about you more than any single person in this goddamn world. Is a single word of this getting through your skull, or do I need to go find a hammer and try again?”

Dave stopped suddenly, his hands balled into fists. He hadn’t meant to go that far, but he was so sick and tired of Gamzee’s cluelessness despite Tavros’s never-ending loyalty.

Gamzee just stared for a long, drawn-out moment. Dave counted the seconds in his head, until finally-

“I gotta go find him.”

Gamzee was on his feet and out the door in a moment, a gangly mess of tangled hair and limbs. Dave watched him disappear down the hallway.

“That was the best goddamn pep talk I ever seen,” announced the greasy-haired boy.

“Thanks,” Dave muttered.

He sat for a moment more in silence, watching the various groups of people scattered around the room. There wasn’t any reason for him to stay there- his next objective was obvious.

He had to find John.

Dave stood and hurried out of the room.

Chapter Text

The main floor was such a contrast to the smoky, hazy room downstairs that Dave felt dizzy. Music and conversation blended together into an endless babble as he wandered through the house, scanning each room for familiar faces. Tavros and Gamzee were nowhere in sight- Dave told himself that this was a good thing, that they were off somewhere sorting themselves out. He hoped so, at least.

Eventually Dave found himself back in the living room, the most crowded part of the house. He was sure he knew someone in the grinding, flailing crowd on the makeshift dance floor, but it was impossible to tell through the darkness and the flashing lights. The music was giving him a headache- his respect for the DJ fell with every Katy Perry song he played, and the bulky, Barbie-wrapped present under his arm wasn’t making it any easier to navigate through the crowd.

Finally, Dave spotted a familiar figure, and he hurried toward them as best he could through the mass of people.

“Terezi,” Dave called. “Terezi! Over here!”

She turned to face him, red-tinted glasses flashing in the darkness. “Hi there, coolkid! Where’ve you been?”

“I was hanging out with Gamzee and Tav,” Dave waved a hand vaguely. “But they’re off doing something now. So, uh… what’s up?”

Terezi grinned widely. She was holding a cup full of toxic-colored liquid, and Dave quickly decided not to ask. “I was dancing, genius! Care to try it?”

“Nope,” Dave said, too quickly. Terezi’s grin only grew.

“Oh, come on! I know you’re just itching to show off your sick moves!”

Dave shook his head. “No, seriously, this party couldn’t take me. They’d have to find a place to put all the swooning ladies, and nobody wants that.”

Terezi stuck out her tongue. “Fine, coolkid, I know you’re shy!”

Dave ignored that. “Have you seen any of the others?”

“I’m pretty sure Vriska is setting off firecrackers in the backyard.”

“No, I mean John or Rose or anyone.”

“Rose and Kanaya aren’t here yet,” Terezi looked positively gleeful. “I think they got a bit distracted. But I caught a whiff of John in the kitchen!”

“Right. Thanks.” Dave flashed her what he hoped was a smile before hurrying back through the crowd. He glanced back from the doorway to see that Terezi had returned to dancing, looking slightly dangerous as she grinded her way through the crowd.

Dave made his way through the hallway, headed toward the kitchen. However, he was stopped at the doorway by a large group of people deep in drunken conversation.
“’Scuse me,” Dave muttered, attempting to slide past a vaguely familiar-looking brunette boy.

“Whoa there!” The boy shouted in the slurred, too-loud voice of a drunk. “Hold up, just, wait one second there, dude. You look really… reeeally familiar.” He leaned down slightly to be face to face with Dave, staring at him curiously. Dave felt his stomach lurch in familiar horror. Fuck, he’d gotten so used to hanging around John and Tavros and the others that he’d almost forgotten the lung-crushing anxiety he used to feel whenever meeting an unfamiliar face.

“I don’t think so,” he managed, attempting to sidestep the boy, but a meaty hand latched onto his forearm.

“No, no, no, hold on a second! Rob- Rob, lookit this guy and tell me if you know him from anywhere.”

A second boy appeared, with shaggy blonde hair and icy eyes. He looked familiar as well. In fact, Dave was sure he recognized him from-

Oh shit.

Dave felt his insides go cold. Memories from middle school flooded his mind- cornered in the dim part of the locker room, faces leering all around him. A meaty brunette. A blonde with icy eyes.

“Let me go,” Dave managed, his voice higher pitched than normal, but it was too late- Rob’s eyes widened in recognition.

“Fuckin’ hell, you’re Dave Strider! Izzy, this is him!”

No, no, no, no-

“Strider?” The brunette- Izzy- echoed. “Wait- shit, that’s right, from middle school! The one with the freaky eyes-”

“And the sword-”

“Jesus Christ, you’re the guy who nearly murdered Chris!”

The words hit Dave like a punch. He yanked his arm back automatically, but Izzy’s grip only tightened.

“I can’t believe I almost didn’t recognize you,” Rob said, his voice low, “with the freaky red demon thing you’ve got going on.”

“Let go,” Dave said again, but his throat was too dry- the words hardly came out. He swallowed.

“What d’you think we oughta do about it?” Izzy drawled.

“I dunno, man…” Rob leaned in close enough for Dave to smell the alcohol on his breath. “But we can’t let this fucker go around thinking it’s okay to do that shit.”
Izzy grinned slowly. “Of course. We’d be doing a favor to the community.”

Dave felt his heart pounding in his throat. He tightened his grip on the stupid gift still held under his arm- it was hard enough to do some damage if swung- but he still knew he had no chance. Izzy and Rob were both plenty bulkier than him, and the rest of their friends were still standing around curiously- even if they weren’t sure what was going on, Dave was sure they wouldn’t have a problem with joining in on a game of Punch-The-Freak.

“Hold his hands,” Rob instructed, and Izzy moved at once, tightening his grip on Dave’s arm and reaching for his other hand. Dave pulled away, and Izzy growled.

“Hold still, you little-”

Dave kicked out, his ankle making contact with Izzy’s knee. The grip on his arm slipped for a split second as Izzy yelped, and then Dave was bolting.

“Stop him, fuck!” Rob called, and the other boys were moving toward him, but Dave didn’t stop- he pushed through the crowd, heedless of anyone in his way. He knocked a drunken girl with blue hair out of the way, and felt someone’s drink slosh over his arm.

His mind was whirling in double time. He had to find somewhere to hide- think, Dave, think! The living room was a dead end, the kitchen led to the backyard- but no, he didn’t want to go outside where there would be less witnesses. Basement? No, too far away, he’d have to go past the kitchen again. Then where? He swept his eyes around the hallway one last time-

There! Stairs, leading up. Dave dashed toward them, ducking low to keep his head below the crowd. He could hear Rob’s voice- “Where’d he go? He fucking disappeared!”- and then he was climbing, up and up. Second floor, hallway. Almost nobody around, except for a couple making out against the wall. They didn’t even look up as Dave ran past, searching for a hiding place. A bathroom- no, he’d have to leave when someone wanted to use it. Linen closet? No, too small. Useless. A large bedroom, probably belonging to Feferi’s parents- but there was a group of freshmen sitting on the floor in there, laughing drunkenly, so that was definitely out.

Last door- closed, but not locked. Dave could hear heavy footsteps on the stairs, and his stomach lurched- no time to look for a better spot. He fumbled the door open, stepped inside, and slammed it shut behind him. Turned the lock with shaking hands and then stepped back, covering his mouth with a hand to muffle his breaths.

He could hear footsteps in the hallway, and then the creak of a door.

“Hey, you guys see a freak with red eyes?”

“Nah, dude.”

More footsteps. Dave held his breath as they paused near the door, but then, after what seemed like the eternity, he could hear them thudding back downstairs.

Dave sighed, feeling the adrenaline and panic drain out of him. His stomach felt hollow. It had been so easy to forget about the reason he’d become so silent and reclusive in the first place. So easy to forget that without Tavros and Gamzee and Rose and John, he was still just the violent freak with red eyes.

Dave forced himself to take a deep breath and look around. If he was going to be stuck in the room for a while, he might as well know where he was.

…holy shit, that was a lot of pink.

Dave blinked, feeling nearly blinded by the assault of color. The walls of the room were a rich fuchsia, with a matching bedspread, and pink strips of cloth in varying shades were hung from the ceiling and walls. It give Dave the impression of being trapped inside a small, aggressively colorblind jungle. Strings of Christmas lights hung around the room gave the space a strange, uneven glow. A large bulletin board covered most of one wall, covered in photos and notes, and shelf in the corner held a large collection of makeup as well as a pile of plush squids.

Feferi’s bedroom. Of course.

Dave sat down awkwardly against the wall- he felt like an intruder already, no need to make it worse by sitting on her bed or one of the several beanbag chairs stuffed in the corner- and closed his eyes. He could still hear the music from downstairs, the faint thrum of conversation. From the room across the hall drifted the voices of the freshmen- after a few moments of listening, Dave concluded that they were playing a very giggly, drunken version of Spin The Bottle- but other than that, it was quiet.

Dave let his breath out in a whoosh, setting the gift- which he had miraculously managed to hold onto during his escape- on the floor beside him. He could stay here for now. Heck, he could probably stay here for ages- Feferi would be busy all night with her party, and the door was locked. Still, he had to figure out what to do next.
He felt drained, miserable. Rose was still out of the picture, and who knew where John was- off making out with some airheaded cheerleader, probably. Dave decided to wait for a few more minutes, and then he would sneak downstairs and go home. He had enough money for the bus. It would be lame and disappointing, but hey, it didn’t involve him getting beat up, and that was always a plus.

There was a knock on the door.

Dave froze- okay, no need to freak out, there was no way for anyone to know he was in here, and whoever it was would leave once they realized the door was locked. Just stay calm and-

“Dave? Are you in there?”

John’s voice. Dave leapt to his feet and hurried to unlock the door, pulling it open. Sure enough, there was John, his forehead creased with worry.

“Hi,” Dave managed, doing his very best to pretend it wasn’t weird at all to have been found locked in Feferi’s bedroom.

“Are you okay?” John was slightly out of breath, and his letterman jacket was hanging off one of his shoulders. Dave tried not to notice the appealing shape of his muscles and utterly failed. “Everyone’s been saying that this group of douchebags were looking for you. Someone said they saw a fight or something. Did they hurt you, or-?”

“Nah, I’m fine, seriously,” Dave waved a hand. John frowned at him, not quite ready to relax yet. “No, seriously. They were just a bunch of tools who knew that guy. You know, the one who I, uh.”

John blinked, understanding crossing over his face. “Oh. Jeez, those dickheads, were they seriously trying to beat you up?”

“Yes, and they still are, which is why it’d be really great if you stopped shouting and got out of the doorway,” Dave hissed. John stepped quickly into the room and Dave closed the door behind him, breathing a sigh of relief. Not that he’d ever admit it, but he felt safer with John around. “They haven’t given up yet, then?”

“Nope,” John said, staring curiously around Feferi’s room. “I’m pretty sure they’ll get bored soon, though. Still! it’s so stupid, why would they even do that?”

Dave shrugged, reclaiming his seat against the wall. After a moment more of poking around Feferi’s things, John came to sit beside him. He stared at the lumpy gift-wrapped package on Dave’s other side.

“Dude, what the hell is that?”

Dave glanced at it. “Oh. That. It was a thing for you.” He picked it up and handed it to John, suddenly feeling awkward. “Kind of a… ‘congrats on not getting your ass pounded at football’ present.”

John beamed. “Oh my god, Dave, Barbie wrapping paper?”

“I am a man of fine tastes.”

John tore the wrapping apart- it took him a few moments, due to Dave’s liberal application of masking tape- but when he finally pulled the last of the paper away to reveal a sleek skateboard, John’s eyes went wide as saucers.

“Holy crap,” he breathed.

“Now you don’t always have to borrow mine,” Dave muttered, not quite able to meet John’s eyes. Suddenly, there were arms wrapping around him. Dave made an overdramatic choking sound.

“You are the biggest dork ever,” John announced, his face buried in Dave’s shoulder. “But oh jeez, thanks! This is so cool.”

Dave returned the hug, breathing in the scent of John’s hair and doing his best not to feel creepy about it. “No prob, man.”

John pulled away- sooner than Dave would have liked- and spent a few moments examining his new board. He spun the wheels, rolled it back and forth across the floor of Feferi’s carpeted room as best he could.

“Oh man, I really want to try this out.”

“We could go to the park tomorrow,” Dave suggested.

“No,” John said thoughtfully, “no, we should go to the park right now.”

“It’s almost midnight, dude.”

“I don’t care!”

“You’d ditch the party?”

“Sure, why not?” John was grinning. “I spent the last hour and a half talking about football to people I barely know. You don’t even know how sick of it I am. You’re more fun to hang out with than a bunch of drunk strangers anyway!”

Dave rolled his eyes, doing his best to keep from smiling. “I don’t even have my board here.”

“Gamzee brought his! I saw him with it in the change room. I bet he dumped it by the front door. He won’t mind if you borrow it, will he?”

Dave hesitated. “No, but-”

“Then let’s go!” John jumped to his feet, holding out a hand to help Dave up. Dave stared at him for a long moment. John was the goddamned quarterback, he wasn’t supposed to leave the party early- he was supposed to be in the thick of it, holding a lukewarm beer and shouting about his own accomplishments.

His eyes were still too goddamned blue.

Dave took John’s hand and let himself be tugged up. John held on a few seconds longer than was strictly necessary.

“And away we go!” John announced, flinging the door wide. The couple making out jumped and looked up at the noise, but John just waved at them as he led the way downstairs.

Dave felt himself grinning, but he didn’t even care.

Chapter Text

Dave caught up with John at the base of the stairs, catching his arm.

“Hold on,” he hissed, scanning the crowd of people milling around the hallway. “There. That was one of them.” He pointed over John’s shoulder, where a broad-shouldered boy was standing, a determined set to his jaw.

“Okay,” John eyed the boy critically. “Just stay on the other side of me and keep your head low. As soon as we’re out, we’ll be fine- they won’t be able to outrun us on boards.” He paused for a moment. “…I could take him anyway, I bet.”

Dave couldn’t help but huff a laugh at that- the thought of dorky, giddy John initiating a fistfight with anyone was ridiculous. But then Dave remembered the steely glint in John’s eye when he directed his teammates on the field, and he wasn’t quite so sure.

“Ready?” John asked, interrupting his thoughts.

“Go,” Dave agreed, and together they stepped into the light of the hallway.

Dave ducked low, staying hidden behind John’s shoulder. It was easy enough, given John’s broad build against Dave’s lankiness. They walked at a forced-casual pace to the entryway, where Dave finally straightened up.

“Here,” John said, sounding relieved. “His board would be somewhere in the closet.”

Dave nodded once and then dropped to his knees, digging through piles of coats, purses, backpacks-

There it was, leaning against the back wall. Dave could identify it at a glance- it was worn and battered from being left outside overnight, with paint splattered across it’s surface. Dave tugged it out and then yelped as his jostling caused a coat to slip from it’s hanger and fall over his head.

“Shit,” John said, standing over him. “I think they saw you.”

Dave disentangled himself from the coat as quickly as he could, clutching Gamzee’s board under his arm as he stood. “Let’s get out of here.”

“Right-”

“There! That’s him!”

John and Dave both turned to see Izzy and a few of his drunken friends pushing through the crowd toward them.

“Run!” John grabbed Dave’s sleeve and tugged him forward, flinging the front door open. The music and light spilled out onto the street, seeming improper among the rows of giant, perfectly manicured homes.

Dave followed John as they barreled out onto the front walk. Dave reached the gate first, rattling helplessly at the lock for a moment before it came undone and swung open.

“Out here, they’re out here!” Came a voice from the doorway, and Dave felt John’s hand on his back, pushing him forward as they dashed onto the street. Dave dropped Gamzee’s board down with a clatter and hopped on, John right next to him. He planted his foot hard against the ground and pushed off, and then he was flying down the middle of the road, John laughing by his side.

A long string of curses could be heard from Feferi’s yard. John gave a whoop of laughter, and Dave grinned. He felt giddy with relief. The noise and light of the party was quickly falling away, replaced with the familiar clatter of the boards and the warm yellow light from the street lamps. John gave an extra-hard push and shot ahead slightly, then turned back to give Dave a slightly surprised grin.

“Oh my god, Dave, this board is awesome!”

Dave just smiled back, leaning forward. “Let’s see how you do on the jumps.”

John didn’t respond, only grinned as he did wide, swerving loops across the street.

It was a fairly long ride to the park from Feferi’s house, though thankfully it was mostly downhill. Dave’s face and hands were stinging with cold by the time they turned off of the roads and onto the concrete paths of the park, but he didn’t complain; John’s giddy grin was far too endearing for Dave to imagine taking away.

It was half past midnight by the time they rolled to a stop in front of the jumps. The park was completely empty- in fact, Dave was fairly sure it was illegal to be there at night. The dim glow from the lamps along the paths provided barely enough light to skate by.

John paused for a moment, staring at the empty jumps laid out before him. Finally, he turned to Dave. “Let’s go?”

“Right behind you.”

John pushed off toward the ramps, Dave following closely. He spent more time observing than skating as he watched John get used to his board. He still had the clumsy, slightly out-of-control look of someone who hadn’t been skating very long, but for all of the flailing and wobbling, he was surprisingly competent. He slid across the jumps, bunny-hopped over the concrete, and all the while the giddy smile never left his face. Dave seriously wondered if his cheeks were getting sore.

Dave lost track of time as they skated- it was an easy rhythm to fall into. The clack of wheels against cement, the comfortable silence aside from their breaths and their boards. They didn’t stop until Dave’s calves were aching and his whole body felt like noodles. He collapsed beside John on the edge of the fountain, which was empty and silent for the coming winter.

Dave caught his breath before he allowed himself a sideways glance. John was flushed from the exertion and the cold, his breaths appearing in barely-visible puffs. He had finally stopped grinning, and his look of quiet contentment was somehow even better. Dave struggled not to stare, fiddling with the zipper of his hoodie.

“That was the best birthday gift I’ve ever gotten,” John said quietly. “And I’m including that time when I was eight and Dad took me and Jade to Disneyland.”

Dave rolled his eyes. “You can’t choose a skateboard over Disneyland, dude. That’s not how it works.”

“I went on six roller coasters in a row and then threw up,” John retorted, and Dave failed to hold back his snort of laughter. It was so easy to laugh when he was with John- especially now, in the deserted park, when it felt like they were the only ones in the world. The loud noises and lights of Feferi’s party seemed a million years ago.

“It’s a shame it’s cloudy,” John said. His voice was softer than usual, and Dave wondered if he could feel the intense aloneness as well. “I bet you could see the stars great from here.”

“Yeah,” Dave agreed, glancing up. At the same moment, something warm touched his hand. Dave turned quickly to see John resolutely staring in the other direction, his hand still placed cautiously on top of Dave’s.

Dave’s heart thudded. Okay, this definitely overstepped the lines of broship. But he was okay with that. More than okay.

Focusing on keeping his breaths steady, Dave wove his fingers in between John’s. He could feel John’s hand stiffen slightly- surprise? Nervousness?- but he didn’t pull away.

“I bet those thugs have given up looking for you by now,” John said at last.

“Yeah, because they’re probably all blackout drunk. I don’t envy Feferi’s toilets.”

John laughed, his fingers curling tighter against Dave’s. “Ugh, no kidding. I’m so glad that party is at her house and not mine.”

“People will be wondering where the quarterback went.” Dave glanced over, suddenly curious to see John’s reaction.

John turned and met his eyes, quirking an eyebrow. “It’s way more fun just hanging out with you.”

“You’re so bad at being popular.”

“You’re really good at being a loser, so it evens out.”

“If you weren’t holding my hand I would punch you.”

John just laughed at that, scooting slightly closer. “Nah, you like my face too much to mess it up.”

“Your face was a lost cause way before I got to it.”

“It’s been taking lessons from yours.”

Dave became dimly aware that they were both leaning toward each other, their faces far too close for a normal conversation. His heart was pounding so quickly it hurt, and it took him a long moment to find his voice.

“Is my face a good teacher?”

“I think mine is just a horrible student.”

“Right.”

“Yeah.”

Dave had no idea what to say. John was looking straight at him, blue eyes meeting red, and it was impossible to look away.

“Dave?” John said at last, and his voice was softer than Dave had ever heard it.

“Yeah?”

John closed his eyes, leaned in the final few inches, and kissed him.

Oh.

Dave tilted his head slightly and kissed back and

God

Yes

Finally.

Dave’s mouth felt dry with nervousness. He really hadn’t kissed anyone in ages- what if he was absolutely terrible? But then John’s fingers wove through his hair and his tongue slid against Dave’s lower lip and Dave decided that he really couldn’t care less.

Dave would have been more than content to sit on the fountain and kiss all night, but suddenly something cold landed on his hand, and then on his cheek. John must have felt it too, because he pulled away slightly, staring up. Dave followed his gaze and heard himself whisper “oh, wow.”

It was snowing. The flakes came down thick and puffy and slow, melting the moment they touched the ground. They glowed in the dim yellow light of the streetlamps, and stood out starkly against John’s dark hair. Dave automatically reached out and brushed some away. John smiled, catching his hand. They sat for a long moment, both staring at the scene around them as the snow slowly began to form on the ground.

“Dude, you’re shivering like crazy,” John said at last. He rubbed Dave’s hand in between both of his. Dave didn’t want to admit it, but it was true- his flimsy hoodie wasn’t nearly warm enough for sitting in the snow all night. His fingers felt numb and clumsy in John’s hands.

“I really don’t care,” Dave muttered, leaning in again, but John only kissed back for a short moment before pushing Dave away, laughing.

“I’ll walk you home. Or, uh, skate.”

“What a gentleman,” Dave snarked, but John’s grin only widened.

“Let’s go before your fingers fall off.”

“Too late, bro.”

It was nearly three in the morning, according to Dave’s phone, by the time they made it to the parking lot outside of his apartment. Dave had warmed up slightly from the physical exertion of skating, but his fingers still stung numbly, clenched in his hoodie pockets. He turned to face John, hardly able to make out his face in the darkness.

“See you at school,” John said gleefully, and it could have easily been just a friendly goodbye if he hadn’t leaned in for another kiss. Dave met him halfway, and didn’t pull away until he was burning for breath. There was a short pause as they both stood, faces just inches apart.

“I’ll ask Dad if I can borrow the car on Monday,” John said, and Dave suppressed a smug grin at the sound of John’s breathlessness. That was his doing. “We can go out for lunch somewhere.”

“Right,” Dave agreed, a bit too quickly. He felt something in his chest flutter. A tiny, terrified part of him had been sure that the moment he was separated from John the whole thing would be over, and he’d be left with nothing but the torturous memory of those kisses. But no, that was definitely an invitation for a date. They had never eaten off school grounds before.

“I’ll text you,” Dave added.

“Awesome.” John smiled, and began to lean in again before stopping himself. “You should probably get inside before your hands turn into icicles.”

“They’re already snowcones,” Dave said, but he turned toward the door anyway. “Night.”

“G’night.”

Dave glanced back one last time in the doorway, and John was grinning at him- all overbite and glasses and messy hair, cheeks flushed from cold, snow piling up on his shoulders. It was all Dave could do not to walk right back over to him and kiss him until their lips were black and blue.

Instead, he gave a lame little wave, adjusted his skateboard under his arm, and stepped inside the apartment. He paused inside the door, listening. There was a crack as John’s skateboard hit the cement, and then the clattering of wheels as he rolled away.

Dave stood alone in the entryway of the apartment for a long moment. His head was buzzing with a mix of adrenaline, hormones, and exhaustion, and he was fairly sure he’d completely lost feeling in his toes.

Suddenly seized with giddy excitement, Dave ignored the elevator and ran all the way up the stairs, grin threatening to split his face. His phone buzzed just as he reached the door to his apartment. Dave tapped it open with fingers that were slowly regaining feeling.

There were two new messages. Dave opened the earlier one first.

TAVROS: jUST THOUGH I WOULD LET YOU KNOW, tHAT EVERYTHING IS FINE,

TAVROS: mORE THAN FINE, i GUESS,

TAVROS: yOU COULD PROBABLY SAY, uH, EVERYTHING TURNED OUT REALLY AWESOME,

TAVROS: sEE YOU ON MONDAY, }:)

Dave texted back as he unlocked the apartment door (DAVE: name the baby after me) before opening the more recent message. It was surprisingly short, but the moment Dave opened it he felt his cheeks flush bright red. Bro glanced up at him from his seat on the couch, took one look at his face, and snorted with laughter. “Damn kids,” he muttered fondly.

Dave ignored him.

JOHN: <3

Chapter Text

--Several Months Later--

 

Dave pressed the doorbell with mitten-clad fingers. It chimed twice, and, a moment later, Rose appeared in the doorway. Behind her, Dave could see that the entire entryway was festooned with Christmas lights- trailing along the ceiling and making arcs over each doorway. A small ceramic Santa sat on top of the coat rack.

“Ah, Dave and John,” Rose said, smirking. “I see you’ve finally decided to join us.”

 “Sorry!” John said, not looking sorry in the slightest. “We’re not that late, are we?”

“Only a few minutes, no need for concern. I’m sure you two have a perfectly good reason for being late, anyway.” She paused, quirking her lips as Dave and John exchanged a glance.

“Well, uh-” John began at last, but Rose waved an amused hand at him.

“Spare me the details. Come in, the others are in the sitting room- Dave, you have a hickey on your jaw, by the way.”

Dave rolled his eyes at her as he and John stepped through the door, shedding their coats before following Rose through the dim, spacious hallways and into the sitting room.

Most of the others had already arrived- Gamzee, Tavros, Jade and Karkat were all squashed together on the couch, Vriska was sprawled over the armchair, and Terezi had claimed a perch on the edge of the crackling fireplace, suspiciously close to the Christmas stockings. Sollux was leaning against a large Wizard statue in the corner, tapping away at his DS. Dave couldn’t help but notice that the statue was wreathed with tinsel, a Santa hat perched on top of it’s grizzled stone head.

There weren’t any seats left in the room, but John claimed a spot on the floor by the foot of the couch, Dave joining him a moment later. Rose walked to the middle of the room and clapped her hands together.

“Now that nearly everyone is here, let’s begin the entertainment.”

“Entertainment?” Dave echoed. Jade answered before Rose could.

“A movie, of course. Christmas tradition!”

Dave could feel John perk up beside him. “Oh man, which one? Nobody told me we’d be watching movies!”

“That was intentional,” Rose said calmly, and John scowled at her. “In the spirit of the season, it was agreed that we would be watching A Christmas Story.”

Jade gave a cheer, and Rose busied herself by the large television. John buried his face in Dave’s neck. “It’s not as much of a classic as Home Alone 3,” he muttered.

“I’m pretty sure that counts as cruel and unusual punishment, babe.”

John jabbed him in the ribs.

 

Everyone quieted down quickly enough once the movie got started. John had fallen into his usual glassy-eyed movie trance, lips slightly parted as he stared at the characters on the screen. His arm was curled limply over Dave’s shoulders, and Dave was torn between finding it absurdly dorky and hopelessly endearing.

The movie was decent enough, but Dave couldn’t find himself getting into it. Instead, he watched the people around the room. Rose and Kanaya, curled together in front of the fireplace, Rose’s knitting needles clacking away steadily even as she watched the movie. Feferi and Eridan, arriving halfway through the movie and joining Sollux by the Wizard-Santa statue. Equius, standing stiffly near the doorway, looking painfully awkward in a set of felt reindeer horns that Nepeta had insisted he wear.

Near the end of the movie, Rose’s mother appeared from the kitchen with glasses of eggnog. Everyone took one except Rose (“It doesn’t count as eggnog if the alcohol content is above seventy-five percent, mother”) although, once Mrs. Lalonde had left the room, Dave saw Rose steal a sip from Kanaya’s glass.

By the time the movie credits rolled, the sky had faded to black, and there was a comfortable, friendly air to the room. They exchanged their Secret Santa gifts (Dave received an enormous pack of red candies as well as a new album from Terezi, and gave an ironic set of My Little Pony coloring books to Equius- though the look of genuine happiness on his face when he unwrapped it made Dave wonder just how ironic it really was.) After that, the party broke into smaller groups- Vriska, Terezi, Aradia and Eridan initiated a game of Dungeons and Dragons on the kitchen table, which resulted in at least two instances of screaming and several tears. Gamzee and Tavros wandered away soon after presents were given out, and Jade, Rose, Kanaya and Karkat were having a serious, eggnog-fueled discussion about literature in the middle of the living room.

Dave couldn’t help but view the whole mess with a vague sense of pride. He could honestly call every freak under Rose’s roof his friend, which was far more than he could have ever imagined just a few months ago. And when John caught his hand and suggested they take a walk in Rose’s backyard, Dave couldn’t hold in a grin.

They sat on the edge of Rose’s porch, hand in hand. It was a good view- beyond the backyard the ground sloped away, revealing an intricate grid of buildings and roads. John sighed and leaned his head against Dave’s.

“We should really watch Home Alone 3 some day,” He said suddenly, and Dave snickered despite himself.

“We really, really shouldn’t.”

“Why not?” John straightened up, prepared to defend his taste in film to the death, but Dave just leaned in and kissed him. After a moment, John gave a frustrated huff of laughter and kissed back.

“That doesn’t mean it’s not a good movie,” John insisted, when they finally pulled away. Dave rolled his eyes.

“Just the Nic-boner talking again.”

“Nic Cage isn’t even in that movie.”

“Really? Huh, I must have confused him with the dog.”

John pushed Dave off the edge of the porch, sending him tumbling into the thick snow on the ground. Dave lay flat on his back and burst out laughing, and a moment later, John joined him, flopping down by his side.

“You’re the biggest dork I’ve ever met,” John announced affectionately, looping his arm through Dave’s. It took Dave a moment to stifle his laughter long enough to reply.

“I disagree, your honor. May I present exhibit one: John Egbert.”

“I’m going to stuff snow into your coat, loser.”

“I’d like to see you try.”

John didn’t reply, instead turning his head up to the sky. Dave followed his gaze- the night was cold but clear, and the stars twinkled faintly above the colorful Christmas lights surrounding them. Dave enjoyed the comfortable silence for a moment, until he felt John’s grip on his arm stiffen slightly and glanced over. John’s jaw was set in a familiar, determined way, and even though his eyes were still fixed upward, Dave didn’t think for a moment he was actually stargazing.

“What’s up?”

John breathed out, long and slow. “I love you,” he said at last.

Dave froze, blinking. Oh. That… that was new. They’d never really discussed that sort of thing. There were no empty promises of forever, no pointless, gushy messages. Their conversations were made up of snarky banter, a constant back-and-forth of meaningless insults and jokes. Dave had hardly even considered the idea.

Love. Was that the fluttering sensation in his gut he felt whenever John kissed him? It was possible. Why not? He liked John. He liked him more than he’d ever liked anyone. They spoke and texted constantly, hardly ever argued, spent more time around each other than with anyone else.

Dave looked over. John was staring at him, his expression a mix of concern and terror. Spiky black hair, kiss-swollen lips, wide blue eyes. Dave felt his heart stutter, and the words bubbled up in his throat almost before he had time to consider them. “I love you too.”

John blinked- once, twice- and then his face broke into a grin. “Awesome.”

Dave felt a smile on his own face as he leaned in for another kiss. “Yeah.”

Half an hour later, Rose found them- half-covered in snow, fingers numb from cold and lips red from kisses.

“I was going to invite you in for Christmas pudding,” she said calmly, as John awkwardly removed a hand from Dave’s back pocket. “But you seem a bit busy.”

“No, no, uh, we’ll be right in,” John mumbled, his cheeks flushed- whether from cold, the making out, or embarrassment, Dave couldn’t say.

The corner of Rose’s mouth twitched upward, and Dave could have sworn she sent a wink in his direction. “No rush,” she said simply, and then disappeared back into the house.

Dave reluctantly sat up, wincing as half-melted snow dribbled down his back. “We’d better go in, I think I lost all feeling in my toes.”

“What toes?” John agreed, standing stiffly before reaching down to tug Dave to his feet. “I hope Rose’s mom’s pudding is as good as her eggnog.”

“And hopefully not as alcoholic.”

John smirked, planting one last kiss on the corner of Dave’s mouth.

“Merry Christmas, loser.”

“Same to you, babe.”

--END--