Chapter 1: Newborn
The day Dave comes home from Mars, he gets a call from his sister.
Well, okay, not actually his sister. Not in this universe. But he and Rose remember things that never happened, in a place that doesn't exist. And once upon a time, they were siblings.
So when he answers his cell, he greets her with the most sickly-sweet "Rosie! Darling! It's been too long, how are you?"
"We've adopted," she gushes, entirely genuine, and entirely ignoring his bullshit. He stops said bullshit immediately and finds himself feeling pretty fucking genuine as well.
"Oh my god that is awesome," he says, shedding his NASA-issue jumpsuit while juggling the phone from shoulder to shoulder. "What'd you name it? Him, her, hir."
She giggles. She actually fucking giggles. "It's a boy. Dave. Dave you will never guess... Oh my gosh," she babbles, her voice fading out near the end. He hears a little static and noises like the phone is being bumped around.
"Dave, this is Kanaya."
He's got one eyebrow raised, but there is a warm smile on his face as he shakes his head at his friends. "Hey Kan. What's the story, since Rose seems pretty caught up in the breedfester throes over there."
Kanaya giggles too. So much giggling today! He is not at all surprised. They have been talking about kids for a while now, and they have been vomit-inducingly happy since they met when Rose was in college. "I see what you did there Mr. Strider. But anyway," and here he can practically hear her wave her hand in dismissal, "the boy is a sort of curiosity. We adopted him from a very reputable agency, and we met the woman giving him up multiple times throughout the pregnancy. He and the mother are both in impeccable health and seem quite happy. What Rose was trying to tell you, however, threw us both for a loop. It seems... Well, it seems that the child is John."
Dave freezes mid-toothbrushing. Suddenly his just-got-planetside routine seems irrelevant. Calmly, and with a sense of extreme pressure just underneath that calm, he rinses his toothbrush, rinses his mouth, sets the brush in its holder, and exits the bathroom of his small apartment. He had meant to sit down on the edge of the bed, but he ends up just sort of slumping on the floor.
He opens his mouth. Closes it. Feels the calm start to give way to the bubbling emotions. "We found John?" He can't seem to form any more words than that.
Both women have been in near-hysterics on the other end of the line. Rose makes a noise much like a squeal and shouts, "Yes! We found him! He's our son Dave Dave John is my son!" Dave assumes he is on speaker and that Rose has been doing that thing where she shifts from foot to foot and spins in circles. He's only seen her do it twice, and she tends to migrate around a room while doing it.
(The first time was when they met in person after finding each other on the web. The second was when she was in college, and she found out who was designing all the hottest trends of the season.)
All the energy sort of goes out of him in a rush of breath, and he feels kind of floaty. He laughs, incredulous. "We found John. Oh my god, fuck, oh wow."
Kanaya gives a chuckle, presumably at her wife, and tells Dave, "You must come over, of course."
He immediately gets to his feet and heads for his chest of drawers. "Of course. No shit. Yeah. I mean, I'll be there in fifteen." He's already throwing clean underwear, socks, tee shirt, old jeans onto his bed and wiggling out of his briefs.
From the other end he hears, nearly simultaneously, Kanaya saying "Dave it takes twenty-five minutes to get here and you know it," and Rose yelling, "Make it ten!"
He gets there in ten.
Chapter 2: Making The Call
Rose comes flying out the door before Dave even has his gloves stuffed into his full-face helmet. Pseudo-sister trumps motorcycle gear and he tosses everything into the lush grass beside his Ninja to catch her with open arms. She nearly knocks man and machine over sideways with her momentum, but he's steady on his feet, and she beams up at him with such joy and love that he stays where he is, straddling his bike and hugging this girl who was his whole world for a few years. When they first found each other online they realised that no, they weren't crazy, and their memories have some truth to them. They were each others' safe place when they felt like outsiders, and they trust each other with their lives. Dave squeezes a little harder and buries his face in her shoulder. "I missed you, sis," he murmurs into her blouse.
She laughs, pulls away. "I know. I missed you too, space man." They just sort of smile goofily at each other for a moment, still enjoying the reunion, until Kanaya walks outside with a bundle in her arms. Rose detangles herself and takes a step toward her wife and child, touching them lightly on the elbow, the forehead. "Dave, meet John," she says in a soft tone, still smiling.
Kanaya has a glow about her as well, more calm than her counterpart, but just as enthralled. She holds the bundle out to Dave, who quickly kicks out the stand for his bike and swings a leg over the seat to step closer. He hesitates, unsure of himself around something so small and fragile. Encouraging looks from both women spur him on, and he gathers his best friend in his arms. A sense of importance and infinite tenderness falls on him, and all three are silent as Dave gazes at John in wonder. He's wrapped in a blue blanket, which is pretty standard for baby boys, but holds much more significance for the former siblings. His eyes are closed, and his tiny fists are twitching softly with dreams.
Dave looks helplessly up at the couple, who have their arms wrapped around each other as if to steady against a storm. Their lives have just gotten more complete. He doesn't know what has happened to his. Glancing back down at the infant cradled against his chest, he starts when he sees that the child has opened his eyes and is looking straight up at him. Rose laughs at the completely melted expression on Dave's face, and reaches out with one hand to rub his arm. "It's wonderful, isn't it?"
He nods, unable to look away. He knows those eyes. Just like he knew Rose's when he first saw her. They were the wrong colour; deep grey instead of violet, but then, his are a light brown instead of blood red. John though.... John's are faded blue with gold lining the pupil. No wonder Rose could tell it was their John. It's like a punch to the face, how obvious it is.
He's still staring when he feels Rose tugging on his jacket sleeve, leading him into the house. Kanaya has already gone inside, presumably to do hostess things. She always fusses over house guests, even Dave, and now that there's so much excitement she's bound to overdo it. He hands John over to Rose when she gestures for him, and runs a hand through his hair while he tries to sort his emotions. Together the blondes sit on the couch in the living room, silently regarding the baby.
True to form, Kanaya sweeps into the room not long after, carrying a tray of sliced fruit, french bread, and cheese spread. Then she sweeps back into the kitchen to fetch iced teas, and only once everything is arranged on the coffee table does she sit in the armchair across from them.
They drink and snack in silent camaraderie for a few minutes, Rose occupying John, Kanaya and Dave watching.
"So..." Dave starts, rubbing his palms together. "When the hell did you guys get a baby? I was only gone for, like, ten months."
Kanaya answers, "We started the process right after you left. It took a couple of months to become eligible, and we found a woman seeking an adoptive family very quickly after that. To be honest, we were very lucky to be chosen so quickly. And to have the birth so close to your return."
"Not to mention the astronomical odds of our adopted child being one of us," Rose adds, giving Dave a meaningful look. Kanaya nods in agreement. Despite not having any odd memories like Dave and Rose, she is fully aware of the group of people who are being seemingly reincarnated from the twins' phantom past, herself included.
Over the years they had stumbled across, or tracked down, five of the other eighteen.
Jade was an aimless traveller, and after meeting Rose in a cafe in New York when she was a kid, promised to write every month. Rose still received brightly coloured letters about all the wonders of the world, and when the older woman told of a tan-and-white stray she had befriended in China years later, they both knew what it really meant.
Kanaya had been a blossoming fashion designer in New York, and upon discovering her existence Rose immediately took time off from university to fly up to her old hometown to meet her. Over the course of a few months, the two had become inseparable. They dated for two years and married in spring.
Bro was a teenager apprenticing at a bike shop back in Texas. He had no interest in talking, and Dave didn't push the issue.
Terezi had found Dave when he was in flight school, eighteen and nearly graduated. She was five years older, a veteran spacer giving a lecture in one of his classes. In a world of hyperintelligence, they were genius-caliber idiots. After Dave graduated and became a spacer himself, they hooked up as a team. They recently took a three-month shift on Mars together, singing each other shitty love songs and drawing shitty cartoons in the dust. Maybe making out a little in zero-G on the way back.
And now John.
Kanaya is politely gnawing on the edge of a piece of bread, leaving the two to their thoughts. The baby is beginning to gurgle, and Dave's leg is bouncing of its own accord. Eventually Rose breaks the silence.
"I know it must be hard, to see him so young. After all this time." Dave snorts. "But we've found him now. All four of us are here. And we've even found a couple trolls, and your brother..." She trails off, turning back to the squirmy boy in her arms.
Dave stands, paces a few laps around the coffee table. Pulls out his phone, stares blankly at it for a minute, then leaves for the kitchen. He hears Kanaya move to sit beside her wife.
Three rings, then a click. "Dave, I am in the bath. It is my just-got-planetside bath. I expect you to have a damn good reason for interrupting me, stud."
"Rez. How do you feel about another mission?"
He doesn't need to clarify, and he knows exactly the size and shape of the smirk she is certainly sporting now. "Where to?"
"How about that Alpha Centauri run?"
Sloshing water, then, and a gleeful curse. "You're serious," she doesn't ask. More sounds, and he figures she's getting out of the tub. (He isn't thinking of the water dripping from her olive skin.) "I'll make a couple calls. I can get us in. You know liftoff for that mission is in four months, right?"
"Livin' in the fast lane, babe. Make it happen. I'll see you in the morning, yeah?"
She cackles. "You just cannot get enough of me, can you, cool kid?"
He smiles and hangs up. Terezi doesn't need him to reply, and he doesn't want to waste any more time away from Rose. He's going to leave her again, too soon, but he needs to do this.
When he walks back into the living room, still holding the phone in one hand, Rose smiles sadly at him. "You're leaving me again, aren't you." Like Terezi, she doesn't ask. It hurts him a little, but he keeps his face clear of the pain.
Kanaya glances between the two, hesitant to speak. Dave gives her a small smile and a nod, and she leans closer to her wife. "Why? You just got home. I thought you were excited to meet John—" Rose cuts her off with one hand placed gently on her knee.
"Dave has already spent his time with me. We've been together for years. And now he wants his best friend back. But not as a child." Rose rocks said child gently, and Kanaya's expression shifts from confusion to resignation.
"I don't understand you two half the time. But I will respect your decision, Dave," she says quietly, her gaze steady as she meets his eyes. He's grateful, and to convey that, he walks around the table, kneeling to hug this woman who makes his Rose happy. Pulling back but not away, he presses a short kiss to her forehead, and squeezes her hand. When he gets back to his feet, Rose passes their son to Kanaya, who immediately begins tickling his cheeks and making happy noises at him.
Dave waits for Rose to change into jeans and the leather jacket he bought her when he got his bike, then offers her his arm. She takes it, blowing a kiss to Kanaya and John, and says, "Goodbye, my loves! Don't wait up!"
She climbs on the Ninja behind Dave and tugs her helmet over her head as he pulls on his gloves. Wraps her arms around his waist, and squeezes tight as he kicks it to life.
Kanaya watches them go through the front window, as she always does when Dave takes Rose out after a trip. This time she has plenty to keep her occupied until the woman of her dreams comes home. And plenty to snack on, she thinks, as the tray on the table catches her eye.
Chapter 3: Goodbye
As the sun slips behind the horizon, Dave and Rose sip Italian sodas and lean into each other. Dave lets his head fall back and sighs. Pretending she didn't hear him, Rose slurps loudly at the bottom of her plastic cup, stirring the ice with her straw. He fights down a smile and sighs again, dramatically. She continues to slurp, then gives up and puts the cup beside her on the sand, only to reach over and pluck Dave's from his grasp. He can't help but laugh as she begins to slurp again, earning a playful shove. Abandoning the second cup, she turns to tackle him into the sand, and they wrestle half-heartedly for a minute, laughing whole-heartedly.
When they stop rolling around they're splayed on their backs, nearly perpendicular, Dave's head on Rose's stomach. She runs a hand through his hair, so similar to hers even in this universe. He rolls his head to face her and she sees the apology in his eyes.
"Oh, stop that," she chides. "I know exactly why you're doing it, and I'll be fine." He makes a skeptical face. She sticks her tongue out. "I mean it! I have Kanaya and John both."
He rolls his head away to look up at the stars, becoming more visible every minute. Just as he gets closer to joining them, every minute. Terezi is pulling strings to get him there. Like he's always dreamed. Rose knows him too well; she lets him mull it all over and silently strokes his hair.
Much sooner than he expected, he feels the tears. "Dammit, Rose, you always do that," he accuses, making her laugh softly.
"Do what, Dave darling? Bring out all that burgeoning emotion hidden behind your facade?"
"Yes," he spits, with no real malice. Her fingers are still twining through his hair and he can't stand it. If she stops he'll kill her. She graciously ignores the way his temples are streaked with wet.
Another minute passes and he can feel the babbling start to claw its way up his throat. Rather than try to keep it down, he lets it come. Rose never judges him for even the most ridiculous and inane shit he says when he's like this.
"I just... I haven't felt this way since the first time I saw your face. You remember that day just as clearly as I do, I know you do. And I couldn't tear myself away from you. It was like... Fuck. Like... This is so fucking cliche and stupid." She waits, her hand never stilling. "It was like I was fucking whole, that day. Like my whole godforsaken life up until that day, I was this ragged piece of trash, just floating in a cesspool and gathering diseases faster than a two-bit whore. I was a piece of shit. Sure I had stellar grades, everybody was so fucking proud, and oh isn't it wonderful that Davey will get to be a space man just like he's always wanted, he's such a good kid."
His voice breaks, his breath catches, and she lets her hand slide down to one side of his face, resting the backs of her fingers there while he composes himself.
"And I didn't realise how crazy I was going until I met you," he continues, his voice softer now. "How awful everything seemed. It was just this constant buzzing in the back of my head and I couldn't hear it until you... turned it off." Another hitch in his breathing. He swallows a couple times before continuing. "And fuck, Rose, if everything didn't go even quieter when I looked into his eyes."
Tentatively, she wipes at the damp streaks leading from the corner of his eye into his hairline. He freezes, holding his breath, waiting. Settling on a response, she pushes gently at his head, and they rearrange to face each other, knees touching, sand falling off them unheeded. She takes his hands in both of hers and strokes his knuckles as she speaks.
"When I flew home to find Kanaya, I threw up on the plane." Dave knows that Rose has never gotten motion sickness a day in her life. "After that, I almost came back. I could have just gotten off, bought a return ticket, and come back to you. I wanted to. I was so afraid, I had no idea what to expect, or even if she remembered anything. I kept thinking, 'What if she's like Jade? Or she doesn't even want anything to do with me?' God, that terrified me. That this girl I had loved in another life wouldn't even..."
Dave doesn't wait for her to try to finish that thought. He gathers her in his arms, pulls them both up to kneeling so he can hold her close. "It'll be more than a decade for you," he warns, pulling back to look her in the eyes. "I'll only age a couple years."
She laughs bitterly. "I know how relativity works, David."
"And I don't even love him like you love Kanaya. I could just back out of the mission, tell Rez to find a different partner. I can help you raise him."
Rose purses her lips to avoid saying anything. Dave suddenly feels like she knows more than she's letting on. When she speaks again she says only, "You have to go." And he knows she's right.
In the months leading up to the Alpha Centauri mission, Dave spends his free time at Kanaya and Rose's house instead of his one-room apartment. John's nursery is temporarily converted back into a guest room, and he sleeps on a camping bag, ignoring the girls' fussing over him. Most nights the baby sleeps in the suite with his mothers, but sometimes he offers to take him off their hands and let them rest a while. Neither of them ever complains.
Dave really doesn't mind taking care of a baby, even when the kid stinks like hell. Or spits up on one of his favourite shirts. Or screams inconsolably for hours in the middle of the night. Or pees everywhere during a diaper change, so that Dave has to hand him off to one of his mothers while he cleans the ceiling. Really, he can take it.
When he's not in domestic wonderland, he's with Terezi, preparing for the deep space mission they took out from under another pair of spacers. (Spacers who hated them anyway, so they laugh loudly about it in private. Usually in the capsule during practice runs.) He's always felt so comfortable around Terezi, which makes them an excellent team. He's been to Luna with her a couple times, and they pulled off their recent Mars mission without a hitch. The Alpha Centauri run is a bigger deal than taking a trip to Mars, but nothing that hasn't been done before. Dave knows that Terezi can think quickly on her feet, and is a brilliant pilot, so he feels absolutely no nervousness about the mission itself. But she's made the run to this system before, and the furthest he's ever gone is Mars. He's kind of stoked.
Since Terezi has seniority, she coaches Dave through the basics as well as the intricacies. Things like the collections and analytical equipment they'll be operating, as well as the near-light-speed vessel they'll be in. After all, they'll be stuck together in the ship for three years, from their perspective.
This mission will be headed for the same planet Terezi has visited, but halfway around its circumference from the original landing site. The samples they take and analyse in that area will be compared to the ones she brought back the first time round. For her, this mission will be a continuation of her greatest work. For Dave, it's the realisation of his biggest dreams. He had thought walking around on Luna was the best feeling he'd ever have, and now he has the opportunity to soak up the rays of a foreign sun.
So Dave has plenty on his mind, and plenty to do, which of course means that launch day looms close before he knows it. Suddenly he is faced with the reality that when he comes back, he won't have just been gone for a few months, like on previous missions. He'll be in space for three years, and everyone on Earth will have experienced thirteen.
Rose will wait for him for thirteen years. (He swallows the guilt.)
John will be thirteen again.
Which is of course the reason he's even doing this thing. So that he can have his best friend back, instead of waiting around for this kid to grow up and being ancient by the time they can hang out. As it is, he'll still be twelve years older than John when he comes home. He guesses he can make that work.
He goes home for the last time eleven days before the launch. Rose and Kanaya work together to make a big sendoff meal while Dave entertains John. There's a setup on the floor of the living room with a soft blanket for him to lay on, a few teething rings and infant-safe toys, and a strap-in bouncer chair. John's favourite thing is a small stuffed bunny. If Dave holds that up in front of his face and wiggles it, or uses its paw to boop him on the nose, the kid goes berserk. But Dave's favourite thing is to curl up on his side on the floor, wrapped around John's tiny body, and listen to him make noises. It's something he just recently started to do, and he seems to do it a lot around Dave.
Rose pokes her head around the corner to find the two laid out on the floor, staring at each other. Dave has one hand on John's stomach, and John is making all kinds of noises. He's started drooling on Dave's shirt, but the man doesn't seem to notice. Her heart swells a bit, and she pretends she's not also incredibly sad. "Dinner is ready, boys," she calls, waiting for Dave to turn and acknowledge her before returning to the dining room to help Kanaya set the table.
Dave sits at the table with John in his lap and makes it apparent that he is going to eat one-handed. Kanaya covers a smile with her knuckles and exchanges a look with Rose, who smiles back. They spend dinner making small talk about John's progress, Kanaya's fashion career, Rose's writing. After dinner the girls wash up and put away leftovers, and Dave feeds John in the armchair. Rose sneaks a picture of Dave falling asleep mid-feeding, and he jerks awake at the flash, nearly dropping the bottle. Kanaya can't stop laughing and Dave chases Rose around the house in slow-mo so as not to disturb the baby.
That night Dave leaves after John's two a.m. feeding, tucking him in bed between his sleeping mothers. Before he closes the front door behind him he hesitates, then goes back inside to leave two envelopes on the entryway table. One is for Rose, apologising for leaving without saying goodbye, and promising not to be turned off when next they see each other and she's super old.
The second is a letter to John. In it he introduces himself as John's "uncle," but not really. He explains that he is a space man, and he's gone off to a really far away planet to do science. He promises he'll bring back a rock from the planet, and give it to him when he is thirteen years old. He says he can't wait to meet John, and hang out with him. He says I love you.
There isn't a wrinkly spot on the bottom of the page where a tear has dried. Dave made a clean copy.
Chapter 4: Dave In Space
In the morning, Dave takes his L-10 exam, the medical check to ensure he isn't going up with any bugs. Quarantine week passes quickly, and soon he is being examined one last time before suit up. Terezi greets him by smacking him on the ass as she waltzes in for her own thorough check. He winks at her and she grins widely.
Pre-flight routine always leaves him feeling blank. As if he's saving all his emotions for after liftoff. Which is appropriate, because he always gets a little emotional after a launch. He was the same way as a teenager, when he first started flying jets. There's always a sort of euphoria to it, and he has no idea where it comes from. He just enjoys it.
As the attendants help them into their suits, Terezi is babbling about the Mars mission, about all the fun she and Dave had together on that run, and how she really hopes they can have that kind of fun this time too, but for so much longer. Just three whole years of having fun with Dave. He finds it pretty damn hard not to laugh. One of the girls screwing parts together on Dave's suit is blushing furiously and deliberately avoiding his gaze. Mission accomplished, he guesses.
Soon they're on the ramp, headed into the ship. Dave takes his last breath outside deep, and holds it until they cross the threshold into the cockpit. He doesn't know why he does that either. Flying is strange.
Both spacers get strapped in, the door is sealed behind them, they do a systems check, Houston gives them a go, and soon Dave is relishing the extra Gs of atmospheric exit.
Three weeks into the flight, making out just isn't cutting it. Terezi makes the first move; she backs her partner against a wall and uses a nearby handhold to lever herself into him, grinding their hips together, expression challenging. Dave's mind has been back on Earth, replaying the images of his home and his hometown shrinking further away in space. It speaks to her talent for reading his mind that she waited until he was brooding to jump him. He allows his mind to blank out and returns her smug grin, pushing off the wall with feet and shoulders to propel them into the open air. Her back bounces lightly off the opposite wall and sends them spinning slowly as they strip their suits and grasp and pull and bite to stay connected in weightless space.
Dave is wearing nothing but his aviators and his space girl is watching the stars out the window, her breasts moving in the most wonderful ways. She's fairly small-chested, but he only needs a good handful, and watching the skin pulling lightly over the tissues underneath is certainly an eyeful. With his current trajectory, he should hit that panel, rebound at that angle, and then... Impact. Her squeal of delight echoes around the ship and he squeezes around her waist to keep her from throwing him off. "Attack! Houston, I am under attack! What is the protocol for dealing with alien scum?"
"Playing dead, obviously," he murmurs into her ear, sucking the lobe into his mouth.
"Oh, of course. How silly of me. So all I have to do is go limp and take it, and hope it goes away."
He turns her around by the shoulders and looks appalled at her from over his shades. "No. Forget I said that. You pretend you're in your death throes. Violent throes. Thrashing everywhere, very loud, tons of fluids leaking everywhere. Aliens hate that shit."
Any response she might have given is swallowed by him, and when he decides he's done with her mouth and moves down, she switches the conversational track.
"Dave. Sing for me again."
He glances up from her sternum, his hands coming to rest on the arch of her back. "I told you that was probably gonna be a one-time thing, babe."
Gently, she pulls his shades off his face, folding the arms and releasing them away from the two. Her hands return to smooth along his shoulders and down his biceps honey-slow. If he holds her gaze for much longer he won't be able to turn her down. Sometimes her silences are maddening, and from her lack of argument he can tell that she won't push him, not verbally.
Sighing, he push-pulls them so his head rests on her stomach, and her hands go into his hair, legs wrapping around his back. For a minute, the only movement is the slow drift of zero gravity and that of her fingers along his scalp; the only sound their soft breathing against the white noise from the ship.
Face turned into her soft skin, he begins humming. Psyching himself up, because there is no music playing now. He could try to manoeuvre them to the stereo and his mixing equipment, but he knows she wouldn't let him. He sang to her once on Mars, through the comms, and now she's asking for the real thing. After he's hummed the whole song through, he starts it over, fingers playing along her spine as if it were his instrument. It's a lullaby Rose taught him before the mission, and he sang it to John on the long nights where nobody slept and tensions ran high, as a last-ditch effort to silence him. He knows it well enough to put his own spin on it, and in his smooth baritone it could be a love song. Every muscle in Terezi's body goes slack, her fingers stilling in his hair. He nuzzles into her, singing the last verse twice, just to give her a little more of himself.
When he falls silent they stay loosely intertwined for a while longer. She's obviously tired; it must be her turn to sleep. Eventually he separates from her, after his shades come full circle around the ship to bounce off the back of his thigh. He tucks them into the pouch on his sleep harness and leads Terezi into hers. Strapping her in feels more intimate than any of the other things they've been doing for the last eight months. Nearly halfway to their destination, and after years of friendship and months of missions, and now he realises that he loves her.
By the look in her sharp green eyes, she knows. And then he realises that she probably loves him back. Probably has for... Who knows how long.
She smiles at him, giving a short laugh. "Don't worry, kid. I'm not gonna eat your life. We can keep this thing out in space if you want."
"No—" he shakes his head, takes her hand and twines their fingers. "Rez, I'm not afraid of commitment or anything. But, I mean, would you even want to eat my life? You don't strike me as that kinda gal."
She laughs, admitting, "No, not really. I like this the way it is. I may be old, but I'm not the housewife type." Hesitates, then asks softly, "Would you want that? With me?"
"Terezi Pyrope you are not gonna break my wretched shrivelled heart. Unless you leave me for another spacer."
It's his way of ending the discussion; telling her to stuff her pity and not to worry about him. Reassuring her that he still needs her. She gets him, and so she hears what he means along with what he says and laughs as if there were never tense emotions between them.
"There is the guy I first did this mission with. You know, he had a great ass."
Dave pointedly spins himself around.
Terezi cackles, catching him and stopping his momentum before he drifts away. "Fuck, you make a good argument!"
A warm smile spreads on his face. The kiss he presses to her forehead is feather-light and lingering. She smiles back at him as she pulls on her sleep mask. He pushes away to fiddle with something on the other end of the ship, and when he's sure she's asleep he grabs his camera from the pouch on his harness and takes a shitty self-portrait style picture of his face next to Terezi's sleeping one. It looks just like all the other shitty pictures he takes, but this one will mean something. Today (that being a relative term) he figured his shit out.
Chapter 5: AlphaCen
The view from the planet <3
Kanaya's gasps and sighs fill Rose's head with a fuzzy glow, the fingers in her hair making her nerves light up. She takes a thigh, pushing up and away, slowly stroking a hip with her other hand. Kanaya squirms and hums, and Rose looks up from her task to make eye contact. Her dark-haired love is so pretty, undone across the sheets. Whyever don't they do this more often?
"Mom! Mama! Can I bring a friend over for snacks?"
Kanaya curses and Rose nearly bites her tongue in her haste to scramble out from between her legs. Both women hastily pull on blouses and skirts with much less care than was taken when they came off.
"Yes, of course honey," Rose manages, struggling to control her breathing as she opens the bedroom door to her son. She feels the taller girl behind her, struggling to control her giggling. "Just wait out in back, we'll bring them out, alright?"
John beams up at her, all of six years old and pure like sunlight. "Thanks, mama. We'll be on the swings!"
As he scampers off to play with his friend, Kanaya bursts into laughter, pulling the flustered girl into her arms and finger-brushing her hair. "You look like sex," she teases.
"No thanks to you," Rose pouts, looking away. "Why the hell is he home, I thought he was on a play date."
"A play date with the girl down the street is not exactly a play date. It is going over to her house until he gets bored and finds a new child to play with. It is only a true play date if he has to be driven somewhere and cannot return on a whim."
"Obviously, that is the kind he should always go on. None of this barging in early nonsense."
Kanaya finishes with Rose's hair and takes her face in both hands, kissing the tip of her nose. "I will make it up to you. I certainly owe you a favour, after that."
Despite herself, Rose blushes faintly. She stands on tiptoe to kiss her wife properly on the mouth, then heads into the kitchen to start making sandwiches and carrot sticks. Kanaya follows and pulls glasses from the cupboard for iced tea. The two work in silence until they bring their offerings to the back yard to present to their son and his new friend.
Coming down from near-light speed is mostly uneventful. It's the view that steals Dave's breath as if he's just walked out into space without a suit. Two suns. Two suns. He knew in theory what this run would be like, but actually being in a different solar system floors him. He can't fucking wait to get onto the planet.
Terezi just sort of looks fond. Of the familiar view, or of her friend's reaction, he isn't sure.
By the time they run all the checks and send a quick message back to Houston (he thought he was far from home when he moved to Florida, but this makes moving in with his not-sister and starting a career halfway across the country look like a walk down the street to the park), he's calmed down a fair amount, but he's twitching his fingers the way he does when he's got too much energy. As if he's spinning tables. Terezi usually starts dancing to his silent beat when she sees.
They pull into orbit around the most promising rock in the system, help each other suit up, and together they load up the lander and cram into it to make the descent.
Stepping onto Luna was pretty fucking great, even if there were multiple stations dotted around the surface by the time he got there. All it needed was its own fast food joint, but Dave could still feel the residual solemnity and awe from the old days, when making the moon was a Big Fucking Deal. Mars was less teched-out, and more of a rush. But this.... This tiny, jagged ball in orbit around a foreign star, with its multiple sources of light and crazy day cycles; this steals the cake like the cake is diamonds and the planet is a thief in a B-rated heist movie.
Dave frolics on the surface for a good five minutes before Terezi catches her breath from laughing and calls him through the comm to help her unload the bots.
By the first month, Dave has enough photos of the planet and its suns to fill a couple memory cards. Aside from the clinical, deliberate pictures of terrain and the suns in relation to each other and the land formations visible from the ship, he's got a good amount of skewed, artistic perspectives, and more shitty self-portraits and candid shots of Terezi against an alien landscape. There's a few of them side by side with their helmets knocking together, faceplates set to transparent, goofy grins on their faces and a hand drill or a chunk of rock held up for ironic display.
He really treasures the one of just her bust, in profile, against both suns.
They take samples from inside promising-looking crevices and under the lips of shelf formations, processing half and packing the rest up for analysis back on Earth. The bots roam the area nearby, helping them cover more ground, collecting samples in airtight containers to bring back to them at the end of each of the five months of their stay. The ship is built to come home with nearly twice the weight of the original cargo, so they don't have to worry too much about the sheer amount of stuff they amass.
Terezi jokes about how much of a shame it is they can't kiss under the triple-starlight, and Dave immediately bumps the front of his helmet against the front of hers and makes obnoxious kissy noises over the comm. (He drags his feet for the next few hours, though.)
As they're making their fourth monthly run back up to the ship to store samples and send a report back to Houston, something goes wrong. Initially, Terezi thinks it's just a thruster fizzing out. But the second loud bang and the way the lander shudders violently tells her otherwise. The girl can get down to business when she needs to, and as soon as it's apparent that serious shit has occurred she is all ice and sharp commands to Dave, her gaze steady and her face set. She ends up having to manually override some functions and pilot them back up herself, guiding them into the dock visually instead of relying on the autopilot and homing signals. Dave could have done the same were it a Luna mission, but out here Terezi outranks him officially as well as in terms of experience and undiluted badassery, so he takes the copilot's controls and defers to her until it's over.
When they've docked and made the seal and gone through the ship only to come back out the maintenance hatch with their mags switched on, they see that not only did a thruster fizz out, but it seems to have exploded. One whole side panel near the back has burnt off and exposed the inner layers of protection to the tech. Those are burnt through as well. Two of the tubes routing cooling gel to the computers have sections torn out and the ends are scorched shut. It looks ugly, but all it really means is they'll have to be careful on the next trip down and back, and fly by hand.
She acts like she's still under icy control, but she catches his hands as they're removing their suits and they take each other gracelessly until they're late in calling Houston. He can't tell if she's riding a near-death high or scared out of her mind.
As they pack up the last of the samples and put the bots (one was damaged in a fall, a move its AI could have easily avoided) back in their storage unit, Dave takes one last commemorative picture of the strange planet below and the eerily familiar constellations behind it.
They also have a commemorative fuck as soon as they've achieved cruising speed.
Dave Strider is twenty-three years old and some months; Terezi isn't far from thirty. Neither is too old to be desperately homesick at the thought of another year and a quarter in transit.
Chapter 6: Coming Home
Terezi finishes her workout set and propels herself into the room where Dave is "standing" in front of his mixing equipment, his feet strapped to the floor.
"Whatcha workin' on, cool kid?" Her chin comes to rest on his shoulder and he takes out one of his wireless earbuds.
"I'm calling it Centauri B. It's the music from the smaller star. It was like five billion kilometres off but still clear as a bell."
Nodding, she takes the bud in his hand and fits it in her ear so she can follow along as he mixes. Listening to him work usually puts her in a kind of trance; the combination of smooth flow and choppy editing not bothering her, although Dave has mentioned that it drives Rose up the wall. He allows her to wrap her arms around his chest and rest against his back while he tries to get the right sounds melded to match what he hears in his head.
Terezi lets her mind wander as her heart rate falls back to normal, with music in one ear and Dave's steady breathing in the other. This kid... He's been such a big part of her life. He was just five years old by the time she took to the skies, but he caught up with the help of time dilation. When she came home from her first AlphaCen mission she was invited to the flight training school to give a first-hand account of deep space travel. He had just been a hot piece of ass in the front of the class until he opened his mouth and proved himself one of the most interesting people she'd ever met. After the lecture they ended up talking for hours. Terezi isn't sure who had approached who, or if they just sort of mutually gravitated to each other. Holding a scrap of notebook paper with his cell number scrawled on it, she hadn't particularly cared at the time.
She became a kind of mentor to him, giving him inside tips on how to get signed up for the missions he wanted and which higher-ups to avoid if he didn't want to get grounded for small slights. They are also like children together, spending hours talking about philosophy, science, flying, and their respective pasts as well as having mud-ball fights and playing tag on the beach. Sometimes they snorkel together, perusing the coral reef and joking with each other in sign language.
Not for the first time, Terezi wonders why Dave wanted to do this run immediately after coming home from Mars. Usually spacers like to take time off in between missions, and while they did have a couple months before liftoff to train Dave in deep-space flight and get Terezi up to speed with the latest tech, there hadn't been any real downtime. Being so close to the kid meant Terezi knew about his tight-knit relationship with Rose, and the dramatic reunions with her even after the shortest runs to Luna or the space station. It confused her that he would want to leave his friend again so quickly. But he hadn't offered up an explanation, and the last thing Terezi would do is press him for information. Still, she's curious.
After a while Dave starts to get tired, and Terezi comes out of her meditative state as he shuts his equipment down for bed. She follows him to his harness and helps him get strapped in. It's really only a one-man job, but they've made a sort of ritual out of tucking each other in for their alternating sleep shifts. As he pulls the mask over his eyes she smiles fondly at him. She then decides she needs to clean herself up, and heads for the shower.
John Lalonde is the happiest boy in the world today. His thirteenth birthday party had been awesome because duh, thirteen, and also high school. The last three years till college. He's gonna be a marine biologist and work out on the reef. He's not at the very top of his class, but he's close, and his mom and mama are just smothering him with praise. Praise and quiche, for some reason. He is kind of getting sick of quiche lately.
Today is also exciting because he finally gets to meet Dave! Dave is this guy who was friends with his mama for years before he was born. Between the things his mothers have told him and the letter Dave left when he was a baby, he has grown to admire this awesome space man who apparently is traveling through time. (John knows the mechanics of near-light speed travel and time dilation and stuff now, but as a kid he legitimately thought Dave could hop through the time stream at will.)
Okay, serious face on. It's time to be serious. John stares seriously at himself in the mirror for about ten seconds before he just can't stop the gigantic smile that has claimed his face for the motherland. Maybe he needs some tea to calm his nerves or something. Still laughing about his short-lived experiment in somber facial expressions, he skips (oh god he's six years old again, haha, so much for being officially a teenager) into the kitchen to find his mom.
Kanaya is, unsurprisingly, making snacks. This time the nosh is for the trip to the landing strip to watch reentry and touchdown. It's a beautiful spring day, and they're going to have a picnic instead of just standing around because his mothers are romantic like that.
John gives his taller guardian a hug around the waist as she's arranging food in a basket. An actual fucking basket, who even does that? Kanaya's warm "Hello there, my little pogo-boy" makes his smile a little broader, but he still sneaks a peek into the snacks and, mercifully, sees no miniature quiches.
"Mom, it's a pretty dire situation. Somehow I have been fused with pogo genes and I cannot stop bouncing. I'm holding out for a cure, here."
Her laughter draws Rose into the kitchen as she sets about making John a cup of chamomile tea. "Sounds like you would make great study material," she teases, ruffling his already pretty messy hair. "I'm sure if you took a few cell samples you could cure yourself before touchdown."
John's eyes go wide. "Gosh. Man. I am a one-man science extravaganza. New species and Nobel prize winner all in one. The first non-human Nobel prize-winner. Aliens are real, and they are smart, and they are in your home."
The women chuckle as he takes his liquid calm from Kanaya. Not that any of them believe it will make much difference.
Rose ushers her family into the car and they drive up to the strip with the windows down. John has one hand on the picnic basket and the other out the window, letting the wind twine through his fingers. He closes his eyes and takes deep breaths of ocean air and wonders what Dave looks like now. He's seen a few pictures, including one of Dave feeding John in his living room when he was a newborn. Dave will only have aged three years, but he's seen an alien star up close. He's walked on a planet many trillions of kilometres away. How will that have changed him?
By the time they get to the patch of grass they've claimed for themselves and laid out their small feast, John has made the switch from kinetic energy to a sort of low simmer of anticipation. He sits still and talks quietly with his mothers and eventually sprawls out in the sunlight to watch the sky, the low chatter of onlookers all around him. Dave's ship is bound to come streaking back to Earth any minute now.
He's talking to his mom about what to plant in the front garden this coming autumn when suddenly Rose stands and stares up with the brightest smile John's ever seen on her face. Following her gaze, he sees the ship. Other people have noticed it too, and the noise level dies down as everyone turns their attention to the slowly growing vessel in the sky. As it gets closer, John realises just how big it is. He's seen plans of the interior; he knows how much space was dedicated to cargo and fuel and life support equipment, but it looks so much more intimidating off the page.
And then the wheels touch tarmac and John is finally going to meet his... His Dave.
Rose is the first thing Dave sees when he exits the cockpit. He unbuckles, takes off his helmet, opens the hatch to his first breath of fresh air in three years (it tastes different, slightly) and then he has an armful of girl. Except she's not a girl anymore, he reminds himself. When she pulls away he can see the extra decade on her face, and despite being mid-thirties she is just as beautiful as he left her. She's aged gracefully so far, and he's not a bit surprised. He kisses her on the cheek, the forehead, the nose, and she playfully bats at his face, saying, "If my wife catches us, Dave, you'll never be able to love me again."
"Can't have that," he says with a wink.
They're at the foot of the ladder and now Terezi is pushing at Dave from behind to "Get the hell out of the way, some of us have elderly fathers to attend to!" He shoves her back as she makes her way to her dad. He's coming up on eighty years old and still tells dirty jokes with Dave when his daughter brings him around.
Rose tugs lightly on Dave's gloved hand to redirect his attention to the kid standing with Kanaya and oh fuck there he is. That's actually John.
The funny thing about the memories Dave and Rose share is that they're not quite memories. Trying to remember a time when they played a game together and became gods is like trying to remember early childhood. Random fragments of memory fit together in any way that makes sense, even if the resulting stories aren't accurate. Images are foggy. There isn't sound or smell or sometimes even colour. But this he knows: John Lalonde looks so similar to John Egbert that Dave feels a little breathless. Rose just looks on in silent amusement as Dave sees for the first time this incredible thing that she's been watching unfold for the last thirteen years.
John himself is still gaping a little at the ship and the presence of this man he's been waiting for his whole life. Dave is a little nervous about how he'll react. But when he tentatively reaches a hand out to John, (is he going for a handshake? A pat on the shoulder? Dave what the fuck pull yourself together) the kid takes one long-legged step forward and hugs him kind of awkwardly around the chest of his suit.
"Dave," he says softly, squeezing tighter when the man's arms come around his shoulders. "Welcome home."
Not gonna cry not gonna cry not gonna cry.
Terezi looks over from her conversation with her dad and a few friends, and catches his eye as he's blinking away tears. She raises her eyebrows at the teenager in his arms and starts laughing. Kanaya attempts to shoosh her from a distance, but Terezi pretends the hand she's flapping is an indication to come over.
"So Kan. Fill me in on the situation here, because when we left Dave didn't have a kid."
Giving up, Kanaya takes the side-hug Terezi offers and gestures to the boys, who have separated and are staring at them. "Terezi Pyrope, meet my son, John Lalonde. Rose and I adopted him just before you came home from Mars."
Terezi's mouth goes o-shaped. "Wow, congratulations you two. That's great! He's a cutie, isn't he." She reaches out to shake John's hand, and he beams at her.
"Nice to meet you, miss Pyrope. I've heard a lot about you."
She laughs again, saying, "Call me Terezi."
John nods, smiles. Behind him, Dave is making a face. She shows him all her teeth.
Chapter 7: Getting To Know You
The spacers eventually pry themselves from their friends and family to take care of a few things. Being gone for over a decade means having to reintegrate with the rest of society, so Terezi walks Dave through the paperwork and together they read the updates: who died, who's in charge now, big events on Earth while they were gone. They joke about the fact that Terezi is technically fifty years old now. She says if she keeps making AlphaCen runs she'll live another couple hundred years. She'd be the hottest ancient crone ever, Dave assures her.
Terezi kisses him goodbye before she goes off to spend more time with her dad, promises to stop by and give him a hard time later. Dave makes a couple calls, sets some wheels in motion and checks up on some stuff he had going on while he was gone. Such as his bike. One of the employees at the facility is pretty cool, and Dave talks to him sometimes. So when he started making plans for a deep space mission, he asked the guy to look after the Ninja. The guy says it's in great condition, he's had it taken in for maintenance a few times over the years, it's parked in the back lot. Dave thanks him, sets a date to get together and catch up, and trots out to the lot to reunite with his machine.
Rose, Kanaya, and John are still out on the grass, enjoying the sun and waiting for Dave to finish official things. Kanaya is putting the last of the silverware back into the basket when the roar of an engine makes them all look up. Rose smirks as Dave brakes and rips around, tearing up grass in a dramatic entrance, ending up facing the way he came.
"Right on time," she teases. "As usual."
He flips the sun visor up so she can see the smile in his eyes. "But of course." He holds out a hand to John, who is gaping a bit at Dave's bravado. "Want a ride, kid?"
John hops up and takes the hand, then hesitates, looking back at his mothers. Kanaya sighs, throwing a glance at Rose, who nods. "There is a helmet his size in the trunk of the car. Do not forget to retrieve it before taking him out on that or I will make you regret it," she warns, only mostly serious.
"Awesome! Thanks, mom," John says, already climbing on behind Dave.
As they tear off in the direction of the main road, Rose reaches up to kiss her better half. "He's a show-off, but he's never been in an accident and he follows nearly all traffic laws." Kanaya refuses to be placated.
"You knew he would do this," she accuses playfully. "You always know what he will do. It is kind of eerie."
Rose laughs, folding up the blanket and tucking it under her arm as Kanaya latches the lid of the basket and they start toward the car. "He is my brother. In a way. And you know perfectly well how eerie I can be; I see no need for surprise now."
"They aren't going to the house, are they?" Kanaya catches Rose's free hand in her own and holds it delicately.
"I suppose they won't. Whatever will we do with all this spare time?"
"Ah, your brother is a generous man. I am beginning to feel that he is just as eerie as you sometimes."
Rose grins. "Sometimes, yes. But this time not even he knows exactly what he's doing."
Kanaya pretends her wife isn't being obscure and opens her door for her. She figures she might as well enjoy the alone time with her eerie beloved before the boys get home.
"What do you want?" Dave asks over his shoulder. They're in a drive-thru and John is struggling to pull his helmet off to get a clearer look at the menu.
"Two double-cheeseburgers with bacon. And fries. Lots of fries."
"Good call. This place has killer fries." He cocks his head a little, thinking.
The speaker box crackles. "Order whenever you're ready, sir."
"Yeah, gimme three double burgers with bacon, a chicken sandwich, and an assload of fries."
John smothers a giggle at the uncertainty in the voice coming from the box. "You want... Uh, a large fry?"
"No, man," Dave says, shaking his head in disappointment at the voice. "Just like a metric fuckton of 'em. How much can you fit in one bag? That's how much I want."
John is in stitches. The box is silent for a moment, then comes a "Would you like anything to drink with that, sir?"
"Nah, no drinks." He twists to murmur to John: "They'd spill. I've tried it. Got Dr. Pepper all over your mom."
John shakes his head. "I call Rose mama. So unless you went through a drive-thru on your bike with Kanaya and spilled soda all over her...."
Dave laughs, and John thinks it's a nice laugh.
The box rattles off the price and Dave revs it a little to pull them up to the window. He stands, holding the bike up with his thighs, to fish his wallet out of his back pocket, handing the money to John to give to the guy. As Dave settles back onto the seat, John pays and takes the bags, thanking the disgruntled employee who had to stuff an assload of fries into a bag for this weird guy and his little brother. Or whatever.
John jams his helmet back on and holds the bags with one hand between his stomach and Dave's back, holding on to Dave's shoulder with the other. They're weaving in between cars, running yellow lights, and going maybe fifteen over the speed limit. (Dave totally isn't showing off.)
John thinks his not-uncle is so cool.
Dave takes them to his apartment. They leave the bike in the garage and walk around to the beach to stuff their faces on the sand. It's pretty quiet, because this strip of waterfront is private, so they can just enjoy each other's company while they eat their (slightly squished) burgers and fries. So many fries. They end up throwing them at each other and don't bother to pick them up because it's not littering if the gulls are gonna eat the mess the minute they leave.
When they're done they ball up the wrappers and collect all the garbage in the bag to throw away. Then they lay back and watch the sky.
John breaks the following silence with a "So."
Dave looks over, one eyebrow raised.
"You've been up there," he says, hint hint nudge nudge tell me all about it.
"Haha, well, yeah. I've been up there a lot. I've also been to a few different 'theres' up there. Are you expecting the story of my whole career front to back, or what?"
John shrugs, rolls on to his side and leans on one elbow. "I guess. I mean, what was your first mission like? The first time you left the atmosphere."
Dave stays flat on his back, stretching his arms out to either side and wiggling his fingers in the sand. "Alright. My first mission. Well, it was pretty gruelling at first. The program is a lot more fast-paced than it was a century or so ago. So they take all the most promising kids straight out of high school and put them on the fast track. You still have to cram all that knowledge in your head though, and they test you constantly to make sure you're worthy of going up. I qualified when I was nineteen, because I graduated a year early from school, so I was like this golden boy. I'm actually a genius, barely."
"Wow, cool," John breathes, and Dave laughs.
"Kid, I bet you're not much dumber than I was when I was your age."
"Yeah, well, still. Four years of training?"
"Mhm. I did a lot of flying around in jets though, so it wasn't boring or anything. They want you to be a vet behind the controls of an Earth-bound plane before they even put you in a practice capsule. I also took a couple normal college courses. It takes a while."
"Okay, so what was it like after you qualified?"
Dave grinned at John's eager impatience. "Fucking fantastic. I went up for the first time as a total spaz and once we pulled free of the gravity well and I felt actual weightlessness, I think something in me changed. Now every time I go up it feels like the ship is a temple, and I'm crawling in on my knees to pray, and then the universe answers me. Enlightens me."
John is silent after that, and Dave laughs it off. "That got pretty intense, didn't it?"
"It sounds pretty intense," John answers. Dave nods his agreement.
"But anyway, my first mission was really simple. Just up to the station for a couple months. The second one was Luna, and that was an experience. I was just going up to take a shift in the labs, but jumping around on the surface was my favourite part. They've got false gravity inside, so it's just like being in any other building on Earth."
"Aw, lame. I'd want to be weightless all the time!"
"Not really. I weighed close to nothing the whole three years I was gone while you were growing up. Coming back made me feel like I weighed a ton, and I didn't get used to the gravity for the first half hour on my feet."
John laughs. "Did you trip over anything?" Dave makes a face and doesn't answer. "I mean, you looked fine to me. Not even wobbly."
"Wobbling isn't the problem. It's taking steps when you feel like you're wading through waist-deep water with mud in your shoes. Before the weight training."
"Weight training? Like when they make you wear the full suit and run around?"
"Yeah. That part's a bitch at first. Gets ya buff though," Dave brags, flexing. John pretends not to be impressed.
"I dunno, you don't look that buff." This earns him a fistful of sand to the face and a noogie.
"Uncle, uncle!" John shouts, hitting ineffectually at Dave's arms.
"Well, more of a family friend, but I guess it counts." He releases the teenager and watches as he shakes the sand out of his hair.
"Okay, now you have to tell me about Mars. That's the one you did right before I was born, right?"
Dave settles back down on his elbows, face down. "Yeah, it is."
"So, what was that one like??"
"Cool yer jets, kid, it was great. It's just not much of a story compared to the first time. The gravity is different from Luna's, and there's more actual work to do because we haven't explored all of Mars yet. So it was pretty sciency."
"And what about the one you just did?"
"Ah, AlphaCen. Also gruelling. No false grav, so you have to work out constantly. It was cool that I got to go up with Rez though. Well, technically, she's the only reason I even went up. She's been out there before. She's lucky she got to go twice in a row like she did. Normally they have teams alternate. They already had a different team lined up before we came along."
"Why did you go up instead of the other team?" It's such an innocent question, but Dave feels himself shut down a little. He isn't ready to talk about this with John. It's too weird.
He settles on saying simply, "You wouldn't believe me," and pushes himself up, grabbing the bag of garbage and motioning for John to follow him. "Let's go inside. I'll give you a tour before I take you home."
John is pretty confused, but he files a note away in the back of his head: Mystery surrounding AlphaCen mission. And he follows after his new friend.
Chapter 8: How Far We've Come
When John goes to bed, Dave sticks around to hang out with Rose. He doesn't feel like going out again, he kind of just wants to curl up on the couch with her and share a drink or two while they catch up. Kanaya makes him a whiskey sour and a vodka tonic for Rose, settling into the armchair with a cup of tea for herself.
Dave takes a sip and leans back against the arm of the couch, lifting his legs onto Rose's lap. "So what have you ladies been up to?"
"Oh, nothing much. We raised a child together. I've written and published a dozen novels. Kanaya has become a household name of sorts. How have you been?"
He shrugs. "I went to a different solar system. Got some pretty cool pictures. Did some science. Brought back a few rocks."
"You must show us the pictures," Kanaya insists. "I'm sure they are incredible."
"Oh, don't worry, you guys have a backstage pass. I even have an extra-solar gift for my favourite big sister." He nudges Rose's thigh with a toe, taking a sip of his drink.
One blonde eyebrow arches upward. "Really? What sort of gift?"
He shakes his head. "No way I'm ruining the surprise. Besides, it's not done yet."
The women exchange looks at that, but don't bother asking more questions. Instead Kanaya asks, "Is one of the 'rocks' you brought back intended for John? You did promise him a gift as well, after all."
Dave laughs. "Kan, I was only gone for three years. I didn't forget that stupid letter."
"It was sweet," Rose argues, pretending to glare at him. "I gave it to him when he was old enough to read it by himself and he never shut up about it after that. You were a faceless legend to that boy."
"Not entirely faceless, dear," Kanaya says over her tea. "We've shown him pictures."
Dave groans and runs a hand through his hair. "Not the one of me feeding him."
"Of course. The very one." Rose looks entirely too smug and Dave kicks her weakly.
"Why did you even marry this woman," he asks Kanaya, swinging his legs over the edge of the couch to sit properly. "She's just a flighty broad with sadistic tendencies."
"I haven't minded yet," she replies with a smirk. Dave makes a face.
"Really didn't need to hear that. Fuck—" Rose is pulling him sideways into a half-hug, and he scrambles not to spill his drink. "Dammit Lalonde this is not the time, I am so creeped out right now. Don't—augh—touch my hair. You're touching my hair. What did I just say."
Rose is laughing freely against the top of his head, and he is having a hard time pretending to be upset.
Kanaya finishes her tea and gets up to leave. "I think I'll leave you two alone. You seem to be having somewhat of a moment, and it would be terribly rude of me to interfere."
"Kanaya, noooo, you have to save me! Get your chick off me! Who even knows what she'll do once she has me alone?"
The taller woman blows a kiss to Rose as she walks out, and Dave can hear her rinsing her mug in the sink before she walks to the bedroom and closes the door. His pseudo-sister is still trying to control her giggles, and he readjusts so that they can snuggle properly, leaning his head on her shoulder.
"I missed you so bad," he admits, staring into the clouded amber of his drink. "I'm never leaving for that long again."
She gives one last soft laugh, ruffling his hair. "You won't need to. You've closed the gap, if only halfway. But believe me when I say I missed you so much more."
He's silent for a moment. With the hand not holding her drink she turns his face to hers and kisses his forehead. Smooths his bangs back, gently. "Dave, you don't have to beat yourself up anymore. I survived your absence and now I've got you back. But I do appreciate that fact that you seem not to intend to leave again."
"It's not an intention. It's a promise. I'll keep doing missions, but no more deep space. No more time dilation. I can't even imagine how hard it was to wait all that time."
She kisses him again. "You're an easy man to wait for, Dave Strider."
Feeling warm all over, he lets the subject drop. "So what else happened while I was gone?"
"Actually," she says, brightening up, "Jade came to visit."
"No shit. How is she?"
"Doing very well. Bec is still with her, though she calls him Shu now. She's aging, so she was very excited to meet John, and has taken it upon herself to become a sort of grandmother to him."
Dave has to laugh at that. "How did we end up as this giant family instead of a bunch of kids who met online?"
"This version of reality seems to be much more peaceful than the one we remember. I like the change. Some of those half-memories still give me nightmares."
Dave sips on his whiskey and swirls the liquid in the glass. "Does Jade remember anything?"
Rose sighs. "Not that I can tell. She does seem to have an attachment to both John and myself, which is more than we can say for your brother. But it's only that."
He rests his glass on his knee, staring at the floor. "Does John?"
Rose manoeuvres her arm around his head and takes a long drink. Leans forward to set her empty glass on the coffee table. Shifts so that she's facing him; sideways on the couch with her legs curled under her. "You really missed him."
Pretending for a moment that she hadn't said anything, Dave finishes his own drink, setting the glass next to hers on the table and slumping over to put his head on her knees. Licks his lips before saying quietly, "He's my best friend, Rose."
"I'm your friend too. Your sister."
"Stop trying to lead me. If you already know how I feel about it then what's the point of getting me to spill my guts all over for you to examine? I loved him. It was really fucking hard not having him around all those years. You're the best thing that's happened to me in this lifetime and I'll never love you any less but I found you. We had time to figure shit out and lean on each other and just be together while we were growing up. Now I have a chance to get my best friend back and all I want to know is whether he'll think I'm batshit insane if I say 'hey Egbert, you used to be my main bro, let's pick up where we left off in a different universe.'"
"That's not even his name anymore. I think that alone will make you sound batshit." He glares up at her and she taps him on the nose. "Does it matter if he remembers? He loves you anyway. He's been sort of hero-worshipping you his whole life, and he's completely taken with you after only an afternoon."
"I don't want him to idolise me, dammit," he grits out, one hand going to his face to rub between his eyes. "I just want... I don't know. What I want is impossible."
"I don't think it is," she says softly, pushing his hand away to smooth her fingers over the skin he was abusing. He sighs and relaxes into her touch, still frowning faintly. "Despite your misgivings about your own designs, you always seem to come out on top of things. And people tend to give you what you want, or hadn't you noticed?"
He snorts. "This isn't about John going 'oh hey you wanna be my best friend, strange older man? Sure, why not, here take my loyalty and fist-bumps.' It's not gonna be the same, even after I basically fast forwarded through his childhood."
"And you're just going to let that stop you," she says sarcastically, giving him an unimpressed look. "Maybe you should stop thinking so hard and let things happen. Befriend him, overwrite the idolisation with a real bond, and you'll have him right where you want him."
"Wow, don't make it sound creepy or anything. I'm not trying to lure him into my bed with candy, I'm trying to get my bro back."
Rose smiles knowingly and Dave is kind of afraid of her.
By the time he leaves, he's agreed to start up on the yard work again and teach John how to do it so they don't have to hire a crew when Dave goes on long missions. He's also gotten over his buzz, so he's totally cool to drive. As he heads back to his apartment in the dark, he wonders what the rest of his life will be like. He hopes like hell that he won't get thrown any more curveballs. At twenty-five, he's too old to be angsting over his past and his emotions.
Chapter 9: Welcome To The Rest Of Your Life
A couple days later, Dave's surprises are ready. He's had a small chunk of deep purple crystal from the AlphaCen planet set into a ring, and he presents it to Rose in a velvet box. She apologises for having to turn down his proposal, as she is already married, but she assures him she'll keep the ring anyway.
John gets a chunk of ordinary-looking rock to use as a paperweight, because hey, Dave never promised him anything fancy, just a rock. But then he gives John his real gift: blown-up framed posters of three of his favourite pictures that Dave took out in deep space. The boy immediately hangs them on the walls of his room and thanks Dave with a crushing hug.
The next year is idyllic.
Dave gives John rides to and from school as often as he can. On weekends and days off he always offers to take him out for ice cream or pizza, and they end up at Dave's apartment a lot to play video games and blast music through his excellent sound system. His building is concrete-reinforced to protect against storms, and Dave takes full advantage of the soundproofing. John loves it when he plays classical remixes in the background while they play poker.
Dave also takes him to all the big movie premiers that John flips his lid over. He often has to grit his teeth through horrible dialogue and cheesy special effects, but he tolerates it for John's sake.
There are days that John goes to work with Dave. They get a lot of weird looks when they go into employees-only areas so John can get an inside look at the training equipment and stuff, but nobody gives them any problems. Dave makes damn sure of that. (Terezi's influence helps too.)
Everyone gets together during big family barbecues and John takes a liking to Dave's partner in crime, sometimes going off alone with her to set up pranks inside the house while everyone else is munching on ribs. Kanaya always tsks at Terezi for being such a poor influence, but then Rose reminds her that John knows better than to actually hurt anyone or damage anything, and the pranks are mainly intended for Dave anyway.
Dave watches as Vriska miraculously appears and inserts herself into John's life. One day she comes home with him from school and introduces herself flippantly, not really ever taking her attention from John. Apparently she's an army brat; just moved to town, and she's a couple years below him in school but she's always gotten along better with older boys anyway, the twerps her age are too soft for her. Dave has trouble holding back his laughter at this little girl's brazen flirting and her frustration at John's total obliviousness.
Terezi hates her instantly upon meeting her, and Vriska picks up the challenge in her eyes just as quickly. The two of them start up a strange relationship; Terezi normally being the one to tell Vriska off when she's being too pushy or rude, and Vriska retaliates by picking apart Terezi's home life. Technically fifty and still an old maid, only her pet science projects to keep her warm at night. Which is when Kanaya steps in, saying Vriska is too young to be talking that way. Dave has actually popped a bowl full of popcorn and watched one such exchange with his feet up on the coffee table. (Rose told him to get his shoes off the furniture.)
John works hard in school to prepare for college, and despite occasionally joking about giving up marine biology to become a spacer like Dave, his complete loyalty to his intended field is unshakable. He talks to Dave about his plans, and gushes about wanting to spend all his time underwater, to feel like he's flying while he works. Naturally, Dave takes him to get scuba-certified, and they go diving and snorkelling together, usually with Terezi.
When Dave goes up to take a shift on Luna for a couple months, he skypes John once a week. The kid is never late for a video chat date, though Vriska interrupts a couple times, complaining that John is ignoring her. Dave doesn't understand why he even keeps her around, but John says she's cool, she's just lonely. Dave tries to insinuate that he's got a thing for the younger girl, but it either goes over his head or he blatantly ignores him.
Dave comes home for the second time to John waiting for him by the runway under vastly different circumstances. No one else has come to watch him land, and it's raining. He takes John out for ice cream anyway, out of sheer happiness.
Not long after Dave gets back from Luna, Terezi takes a road trip. She won't be gone long, but they have goodbye sex anyway. Rose smells it on him or something, because as soon as he's sent his partner off and come back to the Lalonde house to socialise, she's on him like a bloodhound.
"So how long has this been going on?"
"Hey Rose, nice to see you too, how's things?"
She smiles that I'll-put-up-with-your-shit-but-only-for-so-long smile of hers.
"Yeah okay it's been since Mars. Please don't ask me how good it is or whether I'm compensating or anything."
"Are you happy?"
This catches him off-guard. "Sure I am. I mean, she's my partner. It's like a natural progression, I guess."
Nodding, she pats his arm, as if he's done a good job and he deserves the reward of her affection. He hates it when she plays like she doesn't care. The only time she does it is when she's up to something.
He tries to ignore her, pushing past the human barricade she's creating in the entryway to look around for Kanaya or John to chat with, but the house seems to be empty.
"They went for a walk. They won't be back for a while. Why don't we keep talking?"
He shudders, spinning around to face her. "Why don't we stop being creepy? I hate this psychotic mindfuck act, sis."
"Okay." She steps into his space, pulls him in for a hug, then holds him at arm's length and looks up into his eyes. "I want you to be happy. No matter who you're with. No matter what level of commitment you give that person. Gender, career, age; none of that means anything as long as you have found somebody you love and you do whatever you can to make that person happy as well."
Dave gets that feeling again, like she knows the shape of his soul and can see the path his future carves. Without words to reply, he is forced to lean forward and kiss her on the cheek. She is satisfied by this, and neither of them need to say anything else. She makes him a sandwich and they sit together in the kitchen until the rest of their little family comes home.
Terezi is hanging upside-down off the edge of Dave's bed, attempting to drink a beer while he points his at her and laughs.
"Rez, stop shitting around, you're gonna spill it and I'm not getting up to get you another."
She glares at him, pausing in her efforts to huff, "Dave, if you would shut up and let me concentrate, I would have drunk it all already. I'm nearly there, I think maybe if I...." She trails off and turns her head to one side to gnaw on the mouth of the bottle, sending Dave into a snicker-fit.
Finally giving up on the silliness, she rolls onto her stomach and scoots back to rest her chin on the mattress. When she takes a drink, she has to move her whole head to open her mouth, and she swallows noisily.
Dave slumps over from his position in one corner and props himself on an elbow to watch her with smiling eyes. "Girl, you're already drunk."
"Hell yes. Sloshed on six beers."
"Positive like a pregnancy test."
She giggles and mutters, "I'd have all your babies."
"God, I always forget how much of a lightweight you are." He shakes his head frowning, then takes another drink. "No more sauce for you, missy. And not just 'cause I'm too lazy to fetch."
Sensing a change in the mood, Terezi sits up. "I have been cooped up in a car for far too long to be denied my alcoholic consumption at this juncture. More booze for the birthday girl!"
"It's not your birthday," he calls after her as she gets up and stumbles into his tiny kitchen. Ignoring him, she comes back with two cans of soda.
"It is if I say it is." Dropping down across from him, she hands him a can. "What's on your mind, kiddo?"
"Rez, I don't think I can do this anymore."
All he gets is a shrug and an "Alright."
He blinks. "Just like that. No kicking and screaming and begging for my cock."
Leaning back against the bed, Terezi kicks him. "I'd scream, too, but the windows are open."
Dave shakes his head again, this time out of confusion. "So you just don't care, or what?"
"No, I love you to death. But you have a life, and it got a little bigger when we got back from AlphaCen." He doesn't respond, doesn't meet her eyes when she tries to catch his gaze. "Which I suspect is why you were so eager to leave in the first place. There's something about that John kid."
She knows him too well to believe any bullshit or denials, so he waits until he absolutely has to speak. Having done this before, she takes her cue to continue.
"You orbit him like a satellite. Like you're afraid to let him out of your attack radius, lest monsters spring up on him. If I didn't know any better, I would think he's your kid, the way you centre your whole life around him. But I do know better, so what does that make you? An uncle? A big brother? You're an awfully protective family member."
"He's not related to me in the slightest, Rez."
"So what, then?"
Dave grits his teeth, frustrated that Terezi remembers fuckall about... whatever it was. Their past life. Who they all are to each other.
"He's my best friend, Terezi. That's the only answer I have."
There's no malice or mockery in her voice when she says, "He's fourteen."
Still staring at his soda can, he finally opens the tab and downs half of it in one go. Sets the can down on the floor and shifts to sit upright and face her properly.
"What made you call me, after we first met? What made you even speak to me after the talk you gave?"
Surprised, Terezi sets her can down as well. "I don't know, Dave, you're a pretty charismatic guy."
He makes a face. "It was more than that. Wasn't it? Didn't you feel anything bigger?"
She blinks at him slowly. "I can't believe you're implying that we were destined to meet."
"But you believe me. You felt it, that day."
Tugging on the ends of her hair, she sighs. "Yeah, I did. I do."
"That's why I had to go to AlphaCen."
Realisation dawns on her face and she laughs. "You're destined to be this kid's best friend. You did the whole Sleeping Beauty thing when he was a baby and you rocketed off to a different sun with me so he could grow up. Oh man, you really are nuts."
Just in case he thought she was serious, she pulls him by the arm until he lands face-first in her lap and noogies him until he shoves her over. Between the alcohol and her laughter, she goes down easy.
Chapter 10: Blast From The Past, part one
John and Kanaya are talking about fashion. Most of it is going over Dave's head, but John seems to be keeping up, even though he's not really into fashion himself. He just loves taking part in other people's interests. He's leafing through sketches for Kanaya's new line, pointing out his favourite things, and even making a couple of suggestions. Despite not "getting" fashion, he has an eye for colour, and Kanaya honestly takes his ideas into consideration.
Rose is just beaming like an idiot at her family, book open and ignored on her lap. Dave stopped making fun of her for that a long time ago, and has recently started staring dumbly along with her when the other two get to talking.
The room is quiet except for their voices, though Dave has one wireless earphone on and is listening to his own mixes, taking mental notes about what to change once he's in front of his equipment. John requested a personalised set of original music, mostly star stuff, and he's been working on that for the last week or so.
It's this kind of domestic calm that Dave really enjoys. He still goes out on the town once in a while with Rose or Terezi, and he goes places with John all the time. But when he stands still for too long he starts to feel kind of old, and just being with people he loves is comforting.
It's rainy as hell and Dave doesn't want to drive home, so when it gets late Kanaya brings him a blanket and he makes himself a little nest on the couch. While he's stretching out for sleep, everyone else says their goodnights.
Kanaya plants a kiss on the top of John's head, which is something Rose can't do anymore because he's just getting so big. He's just turned fifteen and he's starting to fill into his body. So his mama just hugs him round the shoulders briefly, then blows a kiss to Dave, who catches it.
Dave wakes later that night to the sound of soft voices in the kitchen. The weather has only gotten worse, and he knows that John came out of his room to watch the trees dance through the sliding glass door. Rose always knows when her son has snuck out to listen to the wind, so she joins him, and they cuddle together on the floor to watch the storm.
Dave knows better than to disturb them. This is Rose's thing with John, and he feels kind of weird for even being awake to hear it. Silently, he rolls over to grab his earphones off the table and start the player, letting the sound of foreign stars lull him back to sleep.
The next morning Dave has an evaluation meeting at work. His watch goes off an hour late and he falls, cursing, off the couch, nearly cracking his head on the coffee table. John is snickering at him but he's also made him toast, which Dave snatches from his hands and crams into his mouth as he wrestles his jacket on and heads out the door. "Gonna get you back for that, kid," he calls over his shoulder around a mouthful of bread, but John is just waving from the front door, big smile on his face.
After the meeting, which was routine and tedious but necessary if he wants to keep his job, Dave goes back to his place and plans a lazy afternoon. Starting with a change of clothing. He strips out of the outfit he's been wearing for two days and puts on a clean pair of underwear and some sweatpants, not bothering with a shirt. He turns his sound system on and cranks it to "rib rattling," which isn't a big deal as long as he keeps his windows closed. Relaxing into his desk chair with a cold beer and surround sound is physically blissful the way that hanging around the Lalonde house is emotionally so.
He's gone through a few beers by the time he feels a change. Despite his eyes being closed, he's not blind. He can hear the distortion of the sound when something large comes between him and one of the speakers. His immediate reaction is defence, so when he feels a hand on his shoulder he grabs it, twisting until he's got his other hand on the back of a neck and is pressing a face into the desk.
It's John's face.
He springs back, then turns the music way down and checks John out as he comes up from the desk, wincing.
"Jesus, sorry, I didn't know it was you. Are you alright? Fuck."
John laughs, rubbing his cheekbone. "Yeah, I'll be fine. Can we just call that revenge for the watch thing this morning? And remind me to never sneak up on you again, damn."
Dave laughs at that, a little sheepishly. "Here, I'll get you an ice pack."
John sits on the edge of the bed while he grabs one from the freezer. "Nah, I don't think it's swelling too much. You could probably just kiss it better."
"Ah, love healing. What was I thinking, with my Western medicine?" Dave sits next to John and inspects his face. On a whim, he really does kiss the forming bruise just under his eye; lightly as he can so as not to hurt John again.
There's a split second of silence before John turns, caught off guard, and smiles like it's a big joke. In that moment, Dave feels his stomach drop, or lift, or flip inside-out. Something clicks in his head and he's quietly terrified, for some reason recalling the look on Rose's face before he left for a different system.
He keeps all this off his face, and when John smiles at him, he smiles back.
"Maybe I need the ice after all," John says, grabbing the pack from his hands. There's a brush of contact between their fingers, and Dave wonders why he notices.
"So," John starts, gesturing toward the speakers with the hand not holding the pack to his cheek. "Was that my mix?"
"Yeah. One of the heavier ones. They're not all like that, though. Some are actually really fucking tame, just the way you like it."
"I like everything you mix, dude." John shoves him with his shoulder. "The heavy stuff is great. It sounded perfect."
Dave runs shaky fingers through his hair, needing something to do with his hands. "Glad you like it so far. Should I turn it back up so you can listen to the rest?"
John shakes his head awkwardly. "No, it's fine, I'll listen to it when it's finished."
"Alright then." He gets up, fishes a shirt out of his chest of drawers, tries to look casual as he pulls it on. Sits back down at his desk instead of on the bed. "So. How was school?"
John laughs. "What kind of question is that? School was the same as it always is." He appears to remember something, and takes his phone out of his pocket. "Ugh, Karkat is still texting me."
"That tool is still around?" Dave does his best to look unimpressed. "Why do you talk to him, again?"
John types one-handed at his phone, then tosses it onto Dave's pillow. "He's a pretty cool guy. It's just annoying when he won't leave me alone during school hours. Just because I commented on his latest video at lunch doesn't mean he can blow up my phone when I'm in calculus, you know?"
"Sounds like he has a crush on you," Dave sing-songs, leering at John.
The younger boy makes a face. "It is not like that, oh my god. He just has a lot of free time."
"Maybe he should get a job instead of badgering high school kids all day."
"He gets paid by YouTube."
"A hobby, then."
"His hobby is playing video games and then posting the footage on YouTube."
Dave shrugs dismissively. "If you can put up with him then mazel tov."
"What do you have against Karkat anyway, Dave?" John looks genuinely curious. He's leaning back on the bed and propping himself up with his free hand, and he looks pretty stupid with the blue ice pack obscuring half his face. It's a different shade of blue than his eyes.
"I just don't like assholes."
John bursts out laughing. "You're an asshole too, dude."
"Yeah, but while your buddy is sitting in his mom's basement in Minnesota, I get to be an asshole in space."
John laughs again, and despite his soft snorting it's a nice sound. "Okay, space asshole, you win."
Dave decides he's had too many beers. Still talking to John, he gets up and moves around his small apartment, throwing bottles into the trash and rearranging papers on his desk and picking up his dirty laundry. Activity makes him feel less queasy, though the lightness in his chest lasts until long after John goes home.
Later that night Dave's phone lights up with a text from his false sibling.
Strider, kindly explain why my son's face is fucked up.
He calls her. When he hears the click on the other end of the line, he doesn't wait for her to say hello, or anything else she might have chosen to answer with.
"Lalonde, I know he told you what happened, don't even try to make me out to be a child abuser."
"He said you spooked. Which is hilarious and adorable. My issue is the nasty bruise under his eye and the fact that you put it there."
Dave snorts. "He's a boy. He's been way more banged up than that running around with other boys from school."
"He's graduating next year, Dave, he's not a boy anymore."
"Yer not a man till yer eighteen an' you've had sex," he drawls, hoping to elicit a smile. Not that he'd be able to see it over the phone, and she'd never admit if he succeeded, but he figures he has a good chance. She's not really angry anyway.
"Oh, spare me." Yeah, she's totally smiling. "Anyway, I had intended to threaten you with unimaginable torture should you ever harm my son again, so there that is."
"Duly noted. Shaking in my boots."
"Don't get cute. You owe me a drink; shall I pick you up or grab my helmet?"
It takes Rose seven minutes, nearly eight, to figure out something's wrong. The ride to the bar doesn't count, because they aren't really able to talk when she's behind him on the bike. So for roughly four hundred and eighty seconds comprised of dismounting, walking into the bar, seating themselves, ordering their beverages, and idle chat, he's safe. Then she gets that look in her eye and he doesn't even resist it.
"You can either dodge the issue or tell me yourself. I'll figure it out regardless." She sips her lemon drop slowly, holding eye contact over the rim of the glass.
"Has anyone ever told you you're a doll, Lalonde? Because you really are, you're just a total sweetheart, it's such a pleasure to be around you."
She laughs, setting her drink down. "Don't pretend you're being sarcastic. How about this: I'll erase your alcohol debt. I'll pay you back for my drinks tonight, no loopholes."
Dave busies himself with his beer in lieu of answering, then remembers the incident earlier that day and sets it down on the bar, slides it away, glares at it. Sighs to himself before giving in. "I may have been a little drunk today. When John came over."
"Why were you drunk in the middle of the afternoon?"
"I was relaxing. Loud music, no shoes no shirt, couple beers. I guess I lost track of how many 'a couple' is."
"I would say so, given your tolerance for liquor." Chin on hand, she's staring him down like he's a free show. It would be disconcerting if he wasn't so used to it.
"I wasn't wasted or anything. Just...." Coasters are fascinating. Dave is completely absorbed in this coaster right now.
He throws a glare at her, then returns his gaze to the coaster. Pokes at it with one finger. "I must have been tipsy or something, cause some weird shit happened. Like meeting someone again weird. But I re-met John two years ago, and everything has been pretty normal until now. I have no idea what is going on."
Rose leans back slowly and her hands gravitate to her lap unconsciously. Perfect posture. Sort of awed expression. Her lips part a bit. "Oh."
Dave's eyebrows rise. "'Oh'?"
Rose glances away, closes her mouth. Meets his gaze again and smiles almost shyly. "To be honest, I was expecting this. I just didn't expect it so soon."
"What, me going completely unhinged?"
"No, no. You remembering."
Dave narrows his eyes at her like she's just claimed to be the Pope's concubine. "Lalonde. I remembered at age seven."
"Apparently you didn't remember everything."
"Well do you remember everything? It's not like it even happened in this lifetime, sis; it's a wonder we even have memories of whatever-it-was."
"I certainly remember more than you." She takes another sip of her drink like they're having a casual, friendly conversation and she's not deliberately fucking with his head.
"Will you spit it out already."
She laughs lightly. "Dave, you really don't know what you felt?"
"Woman," he starts, but she silences him with a finger to his lips and a fond smile.
"Darling, I believe you are in love."
For a moment he doesn't even know how to react. He just grimaces under her finger and his left eyebrow twitches. Then he bats her hand away. "I'm not a fucking pedophile. Don't joke about this shit."
"John is an adolescent. The correct term here would be ephebophile. But I sincerely doubt you are sexually attracted to him—are you?"
"Shh, inside voice. It's perfectly normal, given our strange connections. It's actually very similar to the way I first felt about Kanaya, despite never having seen her in person before." Dave starts to calm down, and becomes thoughtful in a brooding sort of way. "I just happened to remember my feelings for her before I met her."
Dave is silent for a moment, and when he replies his voice is flat. "So you're saying I had a crush on John. Before."
"That's the reader's digest version, yes." She finishes off her drink and doesn't order another. Though she does eye his abandoned beer. He pushes it toward her, and she nods in approval. "Now you've repaid your debt."
"I thought you were going to pay me back if I squealed."
"Changed my mind," she shrugs.
Dave rolls his eyes. Turns to lean back against the bar and stare up at the ceiling. Rose nurses his beer and leaves him alone for once. A minute passes in comfortable silence before he shakes his head and turns back around.
"I thought it'd be Terezi, if anyone. Since Jade's not around. I mean, I didn't even think it would be anyone from then, really. I figured I'd find some girl... and I don't know what, after that."
Rose runs her finger around the rim of the half-empty glass. "Part of you must have known. I know I certainly wasn't capable of more than casual dating until I found Kanaya."
"Ah, so I've been saving myself for this child."
"Obviously you wouldn't enter any kind of relationship with him until he's eighteen." Her maternal side comes out a bit and she looks extremely serious. Dave recoils.
"Honestly, Rose, I wasn't really planning on entering any kind of relationship with him ever."
"I think you might change your mind about that."
"Hey, you and Kanaya ended up the same age. There's twelve years between me and John even after the time fuckery. And I might as well be his uncle. Fucking... he doesn't even remember."
Rose sighs and appears to give up. "We'll see what happens, won't we?"
Dave straightens his jacket and props his elbows on the bar and plays with the coaster some more, trying not to think about how right Rose always ends up being.
The next chapter is going to be from John's point of view! I feel like we hardly get to see/hear from him since Dave came back to Earth. I'm gonna fix that.
Chapter 12: The Boy Who Isn't An Idiot
There's a little easter-egg tribute to my moirail in this one. She also got to read it before it was posted so I could stare at her face like a creeper and gauge her (adorable) reactions.
Vriska Serket is relentless. John is perfectly aware of the way she manipulates him into giving her whatever she wants. He plays along, because he doesn't really care. If she pushes too hard or asks for something he just plain doesn't want, he knows how to get her to back off. Or at least propose an alternative, so she doesn't feel like she's lost the battle.
Which is how he ends up turning on the video feature in the skype window she's been pestering him from. She had asked him to game with her, but he has homework to do and finals to study for and she really only wants an excuse to accost him verbally instead of beating at her keyboard for his attention.
"Wow, take a shower or something, what is your hair even doing?"
John laughs, rotating his monitor and camera so they can see each other as he unpacks his school bag onto the other end of the desk. "Hello Vriska, nice to see you too. How was your Friday? How's the weather out there?"
"Shitty! It's like fifty degrees and raining. How's Florida?"
"Gorgeous," he says, faux-malicious.
She groans. "Why does my dumb dad have to keep moving us all over? I am so sick of Oregon."
John starts in on a calculus assignment with minimal enthusiasm. "Didn't you just get there like a month ago? You can't be sick of it already."
"Oh, but John, that is where you are so wrong," she says seriously. "It is really so horrible here that time stretches out to include the span of entire days in the course of what, to you, feel like only minutes!"
"You're being melodramatic," he mutters, not even looking at the camera, "and that's not how time dilation works. Trust me, Dave told me all about it. You cannot fool me."
"Ugh, Dave." John glances up at the screen to confirm that Vriska looks like she just witnessed someone eat a salted slug. She always does that. It's kind of funny. "I don't know why you hang out with him."
John rolls his eyes and goes back to math. "What is everybody's issue with my choice in friends lately, jeez."
Vriska puts on her lecturing voice, which she does often despite the two and a half years John has on her, and he tunes her out in favour of getting his work done. Even Karkat is capable of just shutting up and letting a companionable silence form during a video chat, but Vriska has abandonment issues, and moving away from John a year ago cut her pretty deep. Normally he would point out the fact that she's moved like six times before and never had more difficulty with leaving people behind than she does with forcibly befriending them, but he thinks he's the first person who has tolerated her more than absolutely necessary in a long time, so he indulges her. After all, she's pretty fun to hang around. She just needs gratification and is sometimes kind of sadistic. Nothing he can't handle.
Going through a loop of talking about whatever it is she's talking about, realising he's not listening, chastising him for not listening, and hopping right onto a different tangent, her voice is actually a nice meaningless buzz in the back of his head while he's crunching numbers. When he's done, he resigns himself to the fact that she won't get over her talky mood until he pays actual attention to her for a while, and turns to face the camera.
"So what were you saying?"
"Rude. You are not a charmer, John," she scoffs, though he knows she is totally charmed by him. "Well I was talking about this girl at my school but you wren't listening to that part. The last thing you probably heard was how much of a perverted freak your fakey freaky pervy uncle is."
John can't help but laugh at her. "He's a perv now, huh."
"He always has been. But now you're getting kissed and stuff and I can't believe your moms haven't called the cops or something."
"I thought you had exhausted this topic when I told you about it," he tries, but she won't have any of it.
"How the hell could I? There will be cause to warn you about him for as long as he's over there touching himself to the thought of you showering at his apartment, and have I mentioned lately how stupid staying the night over there is? Because it's asinine, John. You are smarter than that, at least a little. All of the warning signs are there: buying you gifts, spending all his time with you, slowly increasing the physical contact. I know everything there is to know about child molesters and he is the poster boy!"
She's gesturing wildly and making the most vivid facial expressions, and John just puts his chin in his hand and watches with a small smile of amusement until she's done.
"Dude. Even if he was a child molester, he wouldn't be into me. Considering, you know, I'm fifteen and change."
"Don't call it 'and change,' you're not impressing anybody. You're fifteen and a couple months, that is the same as being just plain fifteen."
"Vriska, you're still not even a teenager. How are you gonna talk to me about ages?"
"My birthday is coming up, douche papaya. And I fully expect a gift in the mail from you."
John smiles a little wider. "Yeah, alright, in the mail. Okay."
Vriska goes completely still and leans in toward her camera. "John Lalonde you are the biggest piece of shit. I mean it. Mail me a damn gift or I'll call your house phone and tell your moms about the weird kissing and stuff. Don't think I won't." John leans back with the force of his laughter. "What the fuck are you laughing at!"
"Nothing, nothing! I just like how intense you get." The odd sort-of compliment placates her slightly and she leans away from the camera and tosses her hair over her shoulder. "Hey, you got your hair cut."
She straight-up blushes at that. "Took you long enough to notice. I did it like three days ago. We've had a video call since then, asshat."
He totally noticed the first time. John is the kind of guy who hoards compliments so that he always has a backup store that he can pull from when he needs to calm someone down. It's a neat trick he learned hanging around Vriska that actually comes in pretty handy with other girls, too. Not his mothers; they would see right through his bullshit even if he had the balls to try something like that on either of them. But Vriska eats it up, and he thinks that now she might release him from his social obligation so he can get some studying in before Dave inevitably texts him.
She prattles on at a decreased level of urgency and he's actually listening to her now, for the most part. After an hour or so he's really enjoying the semi-quiet with bursts of Vriska's chatter every few minutes and cramming knowledge into his head in between, and then his phone lights up. When he opens the message with a smile, Vriska scowls on the screen.
"It's the pedo, isn't it."
John shrugs, typing out a response on his phone. "Aside from the part where Dave isn't a pedo, yeah."
"Mark my words: he wants your dick."
"That's fascinating and everything but he's on his way to do god knows what to me right now and unless you want to watch, I'm gonna have to hang up on you."
Vriska makes an offended noise and tries to start yelling at him again, but he just laughs and tells her sweetly that he'll text her later.
So much for studying. But he doesn't mind packing his school materials along with his overnight stuff and finishing up at Dave's apartment. As he's throwing a couple changes of clothes in his bag along with his books, he lets himself slip into serious thought. For the sake of appearances he has to brush off Vriska's rambling like it's totally unbased, but ever since the night he'd let himself into Dave's apartment without knocking (what a shining moment that was, he really should have known better than to try to startle a man who works out daily and practices defensive martial arts) Dave had been on edge, and it had started the moment he'd jokingly kissed John's injured face. It had been sort of a weird thing to do, but innuendo and stuff had been a part of their relationship almost from the start. John knew something had changed that day. He just wasn't sure what. And he wasn't sure if he liked how close to the truth Vriska was probably hitting.
Maybe he'd work a little of his magic on Dave this weekend. His bag of tricks isn't limited to flattering women, after all. His mama taught him well.
Chapter 13: Digging
That night, they stay in and chill out. John does some more studying with his school materials sprawled out on the bed while Dave surfs the net. When John feels he's done quite enough studying for the time being, he commands Dave to put on a movie. Dave has a collection of John's favourite movies saved to his hard drive for just this sort of occasion, and he obliges immediately.
Every time they watch a movie together at Dave's apartment, they end up in varying degrees of cuddle. Anything from arms pressed together to heads on shoulders to John tucked under Dave's arm and one leg draped over Dave's own. Lately Dave has been keeping a deliberate distance between them, but John plans to change that tonight. Instead of giving the older man an opportunity to claim that he's more comfortable in the desk chair or some other such bullshit, he requests a soda, and when Dave comes back from the kitchen to hand it to him he pats the bed, grinning up at the blonde like the oblivious little scamp everyone but his mama thinks he is.
It's pretty hilarious when he can actually see Dave kicking himself for what he's about to do, so he decides not to push it too much. As soon as they're next to each other against the headboard John snuggles up to Dave's side, pretending he can't see the carefully blank look on his face because he's too focused on opening his soda without it fizzing everywhere. (He's done that to Dave before, and he's always a little cautious about revenge.)
Throughout the movie, Dave chuckles along during the funny parts, more at John's laugh than the actual joke on-screen, and it doesn't sound particularly forced. He doesn't even pretend to be surprised at anything because they've watched this one together like five times already. But when the credits roll, he hops off the bed and declares it to be bedtime.
"What are you, my dad? It's, like, eleven. On a Friday."
"Well you can stay up if you want, but I'm crashing." He turns the computer and sound system off and shoves at John to move over. "Get off my bed. You know where the blankets are."
"Maybe I don't wanna sleep on the couch."
"Dude. I've let you have the bed like twice, and I was in a very generous mood both times. No such luck tonight. Git."
John pretends to storm off and he knows Dave isn't taking him seriously so he throws his empty soda can in the recycling bin and harrumphs and throws his jeans into Dave's room so he'll trip over them in the morning and makes a lot of racket getting the blankets out and setting up his temporary bed. Dave doesn't laugh out loud, but John knows he thinks it's cute when he pretends to pitch a fit.
The next morning John grumbles and moans about how sore his back is from sleeping on such a hard surface, and Dave tells him he can complain when he stops being teenager-invincible and actually starts getting aches and pains. John just laughs at how old Dave is, and that shuts him up for a while. Unfortunately for John, once they're dressed and are brushing their teeth together (he comes over way too often not to have things like spare underwear and a toothbrush stashed somewhere) Dave exacts his revenge. He learned the vinegar-soaked-toothbrush thing from John, which makes it gross and embarrassing. John just wonders if he was really so smooth as to prepare the trick in such a short time, or if he had planned on pranking John the next time he came over regardless.
Dave takes him bowling. The lanes are kind of crowded on the weekends, but it's better when there's other people around to make fun of anyway. Bowling isn't a very physically trying activity, and neither of them is much good at it, but they never fail to enjoy themselves. They always type each other's names into the scoreboard, so they end up with ridiculous and sometimes raunchy nicknames. Every time one of them gets a gutter ball, the other has a pre-established right to punch him in the shoulder as hard as he can. Strikes earn a fist-bump, doubles earn a hug-bump, and turkeys earn an explosion of gobbling noises loud enough that they've been kicked out once for doing it.
When they've played a couple games and laughed themselves sore at the ridiculous animations on the scoreboard, Dave drives them down the street to a burger joint. As per usual, they order bacon cheeseburgers and chicken sandwiches and as many fries as the employees will give them. John fills his soda cup with a mix of orange and cola, and Dave makes a face at him while sucking on the straw of his pure Dr. Pepper.
Both boys dip their fries in ranch more often than ketchup. Dave sometimes double-dips and gets red splotches in the white and vice-versa, so John tries to dip around the marred centre and challenges Dave to fry duels when he takes too much artistic liberty with the sauces.
After lunch John asks (for the tenth time) if Dave will teach him how to drive the Ninja already, and Dave replies (for the tenth time) that if John is willing to pay for the funeral after Rose chokes him to death with her bare hands, then yeah. He's only got another few months before he can take driving lessons anyway.
The thing is, though, that he's always liked it when Dave was the one to teach him things. His mom taught him how to chop firewood, but Dave taught him how to whittle without slicing himself up. He learned how to change a tire and check the oil under his mama's instruction, but it was Dave who walked him through the parts of an engine. Even if he hadn't ended up caring much about mechanics or wood carving, it was the time he spent with Dave that he sought out and relished. Over the last couple of years, he'd stopped looking up to him as much, but he still loved having him around all the time.
Which is why it hurts a little that Dave is acting weird lately. He wants to kick away the line in the sand that Dave has drawn between them and punch him in the face for being stupid. It's been a couple weeks and John is not putting up with it anymore. As they make the drive back to Dave's apartment to hang out on the beach, John decides he's going to poke around in Dave's head and figure out what the hell is wrong.
Standing ankle-deep in the ocean, they're silent for a while so they can just enjoy the heat of the air and the cool water lapping at their shins. Both have their jeans rolled up in a way that would make Kanaya cringe, and they left their shoes and socks inside the apartment. Restless, John backs up past the surf line and sits on the damp sand just beyond the reach of the waves. His ass will get wet, but he's got spare clothes inside so he doesn't much care. Dave glances over his shoulder but doesn't join him.
"Sometimes I wish I had gills."
Dave turns his whole upper body to look at John now, one eyebrow raised. John crosses his legs and leans his elbows on his knees to watch the rhythm of the surf's advance and retreat.
"I could swim around all day and study everything as long as I wanted, without having to worry about air supply or lung capacity or resurfacing. I'd have a waterproof touchscreen computer with me all the time and I'd make huge leaps in science and have friggin' gills."
Dave laughs, and turns fully to close the distance between them. When he's sitting next to John with his legs splayed out, no regard for the moisture levels of his jeans, he looks younger. More like a friend, and less like a mentor.
"I used to wish I could breathe in space. But there isn't a simple solution to that one. I like Earth, anyway. It's got all the people."
"What if you found life somewhere else? Like out in AlphaCen?"
"Then it'll be a really big deal for us as a race, but I won't have a part in it."
John gives him a look.
"I promised your mama I wouldn't go farther than Mars ever again. Probably not even that far. It was hard for me to leave her, but she had to wait a lot longer than I did. And now I've got you to worry about as well."
John snorts. "You don't have to worry about me. I survive just fine when you're offplanet."
"Yeah, well, you may not give two shits about me, but I don't feel like abandoning anyone again."
"I give at least two shits. Maybe three. Four on good days." That earns him a handful of wet sand to the thigh. "Alright alright I care! But hey, you said 'I love you' first."
"Oh my god let it go, that was so long ago."
"No, man, it's cool. Obviously you want children of your own, but since nobody is willing to come within twenty feet of that rancid personality of yours you latched onto someone else's kid. Happens all the time."
"There are maybe thirteen inches between us right now."
"When did this become a dick measuring contest? Why is it always about dicks?"
More sand, this time in his hair. He spends a couple minutes trying to get out of the loose headlock Dave has him in, and they're both total messes when they come apart. John rolls away to attempt to rinse the sand off his jeans in the shallows, but ends up making it worse. He may or may not have sand in his underwear now. Giving up entirely, he flops down onto his stomach a little ways away from the water, parallel to the water so he's facing Dave.
"So. We were talking about how much you love me." Dave makes a face and rolls his eyes, but John doesn't feel like fucking around anymore. "No. Really. It's weird, because I'm just some kid my mothers adopted. And how do you even know them? You met Rose online, right? But you two act more like siblings. Or something. I mean, even siblings aren't as close as you two. Was there an experimental phase in her life that I don't know about, or...?
Dave isn't emoting at all right now. John, left without any clues, ploughs on.
"I do feel like I've known you my whole life, between the letter and the stories I've heard. But what about you? You had a few memories of some kid whose diapers you changed for a little while and then you met a teenager three years later about whom you knew next to nothing. Yet you had no problem treating me as if you had raised me yourself."
Now he is getting a reaction, but not anything he'd been expecting. Dave actually looks a little repelled.
"You sound exactly like your mother right now. It's freaking me out."
John laughs, surprised. "Sorry, I got a little carried away. But really, it's been on my mind lately." He takes a breath, switches gears a little. "A couple years ago all I cared about was this cool older guy who'd been to fucking Alpha Centauri, who was giving me rides on his bike and teaching me how to hack people's home wifi on my cell. But it's more than that. You're not just some guy. You're never just some guy, not to the people you actually spend time with. The way you get inside people and make them love you, just like that," he snaps his fingers for effect, and Dave looks away for a moment, "is kind of amazing. Do you do that on purpose? Are you actually from Mars, and that's just a Martian thing?"
Dave doesn't answer at first. While he's thinking (John can practically see the gears turning) he digs his heels into the sand. The sun is making John's bare forearms tingle in a pleasant way, and he's making a hand sand angel when Dave finally says, "I need to make a call."
John knows who he's calling, so he doesn't complain about the subject change. Dave goes into the apartment, and John stays on the beach, watching the clouds.
Chapter 14: Synchronised Crazy
This scene took forever to write and I'm still not sure how I feel about it.
John doesn't stay put. He wanders inside when the gritty feeling of damp sand in his clothes gets to be too much to handle. Dave lowers his voice and slumps into himself on the bed when he sees John come in to grab his bag and slink into the bathroom. John hears him hiss "—psychoanalysing me, goddammit, Lalonde you've made him a horrible little beast—" before he latches the door behind him. He's got to snigger at that.
He strips down and hops in the shower to rinse off, then decides he needs a proper wash, so he uses Dave's shampoo and shower gel and is out in ten minutes. While he's towelling off he doesn't hear Dave talking anymore so he figures he's got his venting out and they'll talk more once he's dressed. But once he's pulled on a clean outfit and come out into the rest of the apartment, Dave is nowhere to be found. Instead of waiting around for him, he logs into the computer and checks YouTube to see if Karkat has posted anything new.
A few minutes into a playthrough of some new game, Dave reenters the apartment with Rose in tow. John shuts the webpage down and turns in the spinny chair but doesn't get up. His mama bends down to touch his cheek and kiss his hair before sitting next to Dave on the edge of the bed.
Rose looks him in the eye, not unkindly. "I hear you've already pieced a good bit of this together yourself, so I'll skip the pleasantries." John nods. "We've been keeping something from you, and obviously it's time to let you in on the family secret, as it were.
"When Dave and I were young, we had strange memories of a past life, or something like it, which were as vivid as dreams. We both dealt with them in different ways, but neither of us felt quite normal until we found each other and our stories matched up nearly perfectly. We met, consoled each other, and became as close as we are now."
John doesn't really know what to do with this information. He wasn't expecting crazy, and he certainly wasn't expecting their crazy to be synchronised. He supposes it could be a reincarnation thing, but he's never believed anything like that and neither have they. That he knows of. Oh god maybe the family secret is a religious cult. No, no, he would have noticed if his mothers were performing weird rituals.
Rose gives him a moment to mull and then continues. "In these strange memories, we were thirteen, and genetic siblings. We had two other close friends, who were also thirteen-year-old siblings, and the four of us went on a sort of adventure together." Dave gives her an incredulous look and John knows that she just glossed over something a lot bigger than "a sort of adventure." But he'll take what he can get.
"Who were the other two?" he asks, having a pretty good idea about at least one.
"They were you and Grammie Jade."
Alright, that one threw him off. Grammie Jade? Sweet old crass wanderer Jade with the dog, she used to be his sister?
Rose smiles at the look on his face. "We haven't decided if you two get on so well because you're adorable and old ladies love children, or if you are drawn together because of events that you don't remember."
"And Kanaya?" John asks. "Was she one of our friends?"
Dave looks a little shocked, and Rose just laughs, startled. "She was closer to me than to any of you three. You caught that, did you?"
John shrugs, aware that he probably looks a little glassy-eyed. "You have the same kind of longer-than-life relationship with her that you do with Dave. And I hear you talk about things sometimes. It only makes sense when you think about it." He pauses. "So how did I end up your son?"
Rose and Dave exchange a glance. "Well," Dave starts, withdrawing his hand from where it was unconsciously hovering on the bed near Rose's thigh, "considering all the searching we did for the others, pure fucking luck. Or karma, or something, who knows."
Rose puts in, "We met Jade and Terezi purely by coincidence as well. Maybe fate played a hand in our converging." Dave smiles a little and shakes his head at that.
"Okay." John leans back in the chair and closes his eyes, trying to wrap his head around all the information at once. The lump sum they're throwing at him now, and various things he's picked up over the years. The tiniest details are becoming significant now. He almost wants to be sceptical out of stubbornness, but he isn't having that hard a time believing them. Mostly because he can't see any reason they would make this kind of bullshit up.
"So you and mom loved each other in that life, and picked it up again in this one?"
Rose looks much less surprised than Dave, again. "Yes," she says, slowly. Expectantly.
"And is that what's happening to Dave now?"
Dave curses under his breath. He looks like he might get up to leave, but Rose puts a hand on his thigh and it's as effective as driving a stake through him, keeping him anchored to the bed. "Yes," she says again, more firmly. She maybe looks a little proud.
John picks at the fabric on the arm of the chair for a moment. "Yeah, okay."
Rose smiles, and Dave looks confused. "'Okay' what?" he asks, as Rose's hand slides off his thigh.
"Okay, I believe you. I buy the past life thing and I don't think it's weird that you have a trans-universal crush on me." He looks right at Dave and the older man just blinks at him, unsure. It's kind of cute.
Dave doesn't really know what to think. John and Rose had hugged it out and then Rose went back home and now apparently everything is completely defused and John's been initiated into the Sburb club without a hitch. He almost wonders if he's dreaming. He almost doesn't want to go back into the apartment, because John will be right behind him, and then they'll be alone, and John is still spending the night.
Oh god Rose is allowing her son to spend the night even with his weird infatuation totally out in the open. She's probably testing him. She can be such a shrew. He loves her to bits anyway.
After an awkward minute, John's the one who pulls him inside by the hand and sits him right back down on the edge of the bed. And then kisses his face.
His lips are warm and dry and it lasts a fraction of a second. Then Dave realises that the kiss was in the exact spot where, until recently, John had a bruise. The message is pretty clear, but John drives it home by saying, "There. Love healing. Now get over yourself, alright?"
Dave really doesn't understand how both John and Terezi are capable of accepting his impossible backstory without so much as blinking. But he figures he's been enough of a drama queen lately, so instead of continuing to flounder, he pulls John down onto the bed beside him and turns sideways to face him head-on.
"So you're cool with all this."
"Yeah, I guess." John shrugs one shoulder.
"You realise you came to terms with something in about five minutes that took me years to accept. And I actually remembered it."
"I'm just that awesome." Dave makes an exasperated face. "Really, it's fine. I mean, a lot of stuff makes more sense now, in context. Including your little episode a couple weeks ago."
"In my defence, you're fifteen. It's a little bit illegal for me to have non-platonic longings for you in this reality."
John smiles warmly at him and he feels so protective of that smile, of the happiness behind it. "You left for AlphaCen because of me, didn't you."
Dave purses his lips. It's not a question, so he doesn't actually have to answer. Yeah, John, I knew the minute I saw you that I had to sacrifice three years of my life and miss out on ten years of Earth time just so you could catch up with me a little. I'm that obsessed with you.
Of course, John doesn't need to hear this aloud to know it's true. So he says, "I think you can handle waiting a couple more years."
Dave leans back slightly, eyes narrowed. "Are you propositioning me, kid?"
John's laugh is just as warm as his smile and Dave unconsciously leans forward again. "I'm not opposed to exploring the possibility."
"You remember that I'm technically like thirty-seven, right?"
"Space took ten years off."
"Still got twelve on you."
"It won't matter much once I'm eighteen, will it?"
Dave makes a noise between a sigh and a huff. "Do you really want this?"
John shakes his head, still smiling. "Shut up, Dave," he says.
Dave shuts up.
Chapter 15: Second-Hand Stories
The rest of the weekend is fairly uneventful. John goes home Sunday night to study a little more and sleep in his own bed, and returns to school on Monday. He talks with his friends and gets into a minor food fight at lunch and breezes through a final, but his mind is always the tiniest bit occupied with recent events. After school he goes straight home, because for once Dave isn't there to pick him up. He figures he knows why when he gets home and it's just him and Kanaya. She's in her room, at her desk, looking over designs and making notes. When she notices him in the doorway she sits up straight and glances around.
"John, hello, would you like a snack?"
He smiles fondly at her and shakes his head. "I can grab something later. But thanks."
"Ah, okay." She relaxes a little and returns his smile. "How was school? You had a final today, didn't you?"
"Yeah, I kicked its ass." He sits on the edge of the bed, and Kanaya turns sideways in her chair to face him. She senses his mood and her smile changes.
"What's on your mind, sweetheart?"
John doesn't even pretend he doesn't know what she's talking about. "When did mama tell you? About everything before?"
Taking a breath, Kanaya leans sideways into the back of the chair. "Oh. A little over a year into our courtship. Just before things turned serious. In fact, I think that may have been the catalyst. I felt so entrusted, like she had given me this precious, although odd, secret to protect for her."
"What made you believe her?"
Her expression softens further and she sighs, looking at her hands. "I have no idea." She laughs. "I suppose part of the reason was because I couldn't imagine why she would tell such a lie."
"That's what I thought," he agrees, and now she's looking straight at him, eyes narrowed like she's trying to figure something out.
"Rose told me why she was leaving so suddenly Friday night. But she didn't say another word about it when she came home. Well, she said a few words about it. Just in that way of hers...." John nods solemnly. He knows her pain. "What exactly happened?"
John grins. "Mama isn't the only one who had a crush in a different universe," he says, shrugging like he's indifferent. Kanaya gasps dramatically and covers her mouth with one hand.
"I am genuinely shocked. In no way did I see this coming. What did you say?" Her eyes are bright and John laughs at her eagerness to hear about his love life.
"I told him I'd be willing to give it a try. When I'm old enough!" he amends quickly, seeing her smile falter. "I'm willing to think about it until I'm old enough."
She shakes her head in amusement. "Of course. But I'm glad his feelings have finally been revealed."
John's face scrunches slightly in confusion. "'Finally?' I was under the impression that he just started feeling them again."
"Well, just because he wasn't aware of it until recently doesn't mean he hasn't loved you since long before you were born."
"God, that sounds so cliche," he mutters.
She laughs. "It does sound cheesy, doesn't it? But it's true. The game left its mark on all of us, no matter how faint."
"Game?" Now he's very confused. And his face is really scrunched up.
"Oh, they didn't tell you about that." Kanaya looks as if she's accidentally told someone else's secret. Her eyes are wide, and she glances at the desk, where her phone is lying atop her sketch pad.
"Mama just gave me the basics," he admits. "Maybe you can fill me in."
She looks flustered now, stuttering, "Well I, um, I'm not sure if I would be the appropriate person to ah, to tell you about that, seeing as I myself have no memory of it and therefore would not be a reliable–"
"Mom, mom, it's okay, I don't need the whole story right now. Just tell me what you know. I mean, I don't remember either. We're both pretty in the dark about all this."
"Right." Smoothing her hands over her skirt anxiously, she visibly calms herself. "I suppose I should start with where your mama started when she first explained it to me. Which was under vastly different circumstances, mind you—"
"Got it. You guys were naked at the time. Continue."
Kanaya shoots him a glare. "Anyway. She began at the beginning. There were only the four of you at first: yourself, Rose, Dave, and Jade. All of you were thirteen, and you had met on the internet." John nods. He knows this already, but he can't bring himself to be impatient with his mom, so he lets her tell it at her own pace. "On your birthday, you all played a video game together. It seemed harmless at first, but then the natural disasters started, and soon it was evident that it was no ordinary game. You were the first to enter it, and physically interact with it."
John feels sort of squinty-eyed, and clears his throat before speaking. "I went inside a video game."
Kanaya winces. "It does seem far-fetched, doesn't it. I'm afraid it gets a little worse. For instance, I was part of a group of twelve who contacted you all once you were in the game. We were part of a different session of the same game, and by the time we discovered you we had already lost. We also happened to be... ah. There's no way to say this that won't come across as deeply weird. We were aliens."
"Yes. Part of a race from a parallel universe. Apparently we were called trolls."
Kanaya makes a face. "You seem sceptical."
"No, no, go on. It's fine. Trolls, and...?"
"Well... and... eventually we met. Your mother and I. After you four tried and failed to win your session. A lot of things went wrong, and a lot of people died. You died, actually. A couple times."
"A couple—yeah, no, keep going, I'll shut up."
"I don't know much about video games, but sometimes you get extra lives, correct?" John nods. "So when you reached the highest level, you gained extra lives. Or something like that. I'm not so sure about this part of it. In any case, when you died you had the ability to respawn, for lack of a better term."
John snickers. "Oh man, now all I can think of is first-person shooters and aliens with guns."
She smiles. "Probably not quite the same. And I, for one, did not use a gun. I had a chainsaw and your mama says I kicked ass with it."
"Woah, Kanaya with a chainsaw! I can totally imagine you hacking people in half."
"I'm told that is indeed a thing I did."
"Sweet." John holds a fist out and Kanaya bumps it with one of hers, grinning to match his toothy smile. "Okay, so you were a chainsaw-wielding alien called a troll, and you met Rose met after we all lost, and then what?"
"And then this, according to her." Kanaya gestures around the room, and John is kind of disappointed. The short version was shorter than he thought. He's definitely going to talk to Rose and Dave about details.
"Do you remember anything at all about all that?" he asks, scuffing one toe against the hardwood flooring.
Kanaya looks wistful. "No, I do not have any actual memories. But I had little trouble accepting the story when your mama told it to me, and I felt more attached to her than I ever have to anyone else." Looking startled, Kanaya sits ramrod-straight again. "Oh! On that subject, you have met others from that time. Trolls, like what I was."
John cocks his head. "I have? I mean, I know Grammie Jade was my sister..."
"No, your friend Vriska, from school. And that boy who makes YouTube videos, what's his name?"
"Yes, that's the one."
"Dude. I cannot believe how perfect that pun is. Karkat is a massive troll."
"Your mama claims he was actually quite short."
John laughs good and hard at that, and Kanaya looks pretty smug. They exchange another fist bump, and John feels like the luckiest kid in the world to have her as a mother.
Later he takes her up on her offer for snacks, she gets carried away, and he eats every muffin in the tin (with her help).
Chapter 16: Power Of Friendship
A very busy week descends upon them: as Dave prepares for a shift on Luna, John is blasting through finals and getting ready to graduate high school. John orders his class ring, Kanaya starts putting the finishing touches on his suit for prom, and Rose accompanies him to the college he's picked out. It's a short distance away from home, because he doesn't want to be too far from Dave and his mothers, and there's a good marine biology program there so he can pursue his dream. He's getting more and more excited every day, especially because Grammie Jade is coming to his graduation ceremony and the after party. He's been looking forward to seeing her again.
Every day he has at least a short video chat with Vriska. He's in his room a lot more, between all the communication with his faraway friend and studying like mad, though Kanaya makes sure to push him out onto the back porch every once in a while and order him to use the phone for once and get some sunlight. Not like his room is battened down and gloomy, but whatever.
Rose makes him homemade candy to suck on while he's being fitted for his suit or when he looks particularly absorbed in his work and it takes away what little stress builds up in the space between moments. He's handling the end of his senior year very well, but it's still a lot to prepare for, and he appreciates the gesture.
Finally it's the day before prom, and Rose drives him to the airport to pick Vriska up. She insisted that she would be his friend-date, to spare him from having to go alone or in a group of other boys, and he refrains from telling her about the three girls who asked to be his actual-date. He'd rather go with Vriska anyway.
It's been ages since they saw each other face-to-face, and she tackles him as soon as she finds him waiting outside the car for her in the pick-up line. He spins her because he knows she's secretly a romantic and she loves shit like that, and when he puts her down she smiles for maybe two whole seconds before flipping her hair over one shoulder and shoving her bag at him. On the way back to his house she basically won't shut up, and even Rose looks amused at how giddy she is to see him again. He's pretty giddy himself. He sits in the back with her, and she sits in the middle seat so their shoulders are pressed together.
Back at the house, she takes one look at the blankets and pillow piled neatly on one end of the couch and says, "That isn't for me, is it?"
John smiles. "Nope. I'm crashing out here and you get my bed, just like you requested."
"Good. I really do need my beauty sleep if I'm going to look like anything other than a zombie at your stupid prom."
"My stupid prom? Like you're not totally thrilled to be going three years early."
"Whatever. It's just like any other dance, John. I'm only here because the thought of you standing awkwardly in the corner while the entire rest of your class grinds and gyrates to bad rap is just sad."
"Oh, well thank you for saving me from that. Are you sure you want to be one of the people gyrating though?"
Vriska gives him a look that says you are the biggest fucking idiot and says, "Why the hell would I do that? Obviously we're going to dance properly and show those schmucks how it's done."
He doesn't ask if she means professional-style dancing or things like the running man, but when he thinks about it he realises they're equally ridiculous and would both be a ton of fun. Maybe he'll just let her surprise him when they get there.
Vriska has been in his room before, but he gives her a silly official tour anyway and shows her where the guest towels are in the bathroom and is warned that if he tries to interrupt her in the morning there will be consequences. He says he wouldn't dream of it.
Sleeping on the couch is hardly any different from sleeping in his bed. There's just less space to sprawl.
Halfway to sleep, John wonders, not for the first time, what it's like to drift off in a velcro-secured bag while drifting through space.
Vriska does indeed take her precious time in the bathroom. Luckily, she doesn't wake up until two hours after John has showered and brushed his teeth, so it's not a big deal. Jet lag is his friend in this case. When she comes out, hair wet and fresh-faced, he's confused. She shoots him an amused look and sweeps past him, fetching the french toast Kanaya has kept warm for her and nearly finishing it before throwing him a bone.
"I'll do my hair and makeup before dinner, silly. It'd be pointless to run around all dolled up for hours beforehand."
So they play video games in jeans and t-shirts and walk down to the beach, talking all the way, and stop for lunch on the way back home, and generally fuck around because it's just plain nice to hang out in person again.
Eventually it becomes Prep Time, and Rose styles Vriska's hair for her while John watches, fascinated. Her dress is a blue halter-top that hugs her waist and falls to mid-calf. He's got his suit on but he's still buttoning the wrist cuffs and fiddling with his tie when Vriska turns to face him, and the mess of wavy ochre that normally frames her face has been swept back and secured with little blue clips. She's put makeup on, and he can tell, but just barely. A little more definition in her lashes, her lips a little pinker. Her skin is slightly tanned and her exposed shoulders just about glow. One of his mothers must have used some kind of magic or cream or something, because Vriska never puts this much effort into being magazine-pretty. No, that's not right. The kind of pretty she's radiating right now is more real than the stuff in magazines. He exhales.
"Wow. You look fantastic."
She actually blushes. "I always look good, punk."
"Obviously. But you look so wow right now."
"Eloquent," she mutters, rolling her eyes. She's also smiling.
Rose waits until John has nearly completely given up on his tie before she steps over to help him.
"There's going to be alcohol," she starts, looking at the tie and not his face. "There's always alcohol. Your job is to make sure she stays out of trouble, and not to get too drunk."
"Too drunk?" he asks, teasing.
"If you have a hangover tomorrow, it's your own damn fault. You'll regret it all on your own, and I won't even have to think of a punishment."
They share a smile and he hugs her briefly before Kanaya comes into the room brandishing a camera. The photos look excellent, of course, and are sent to Vriska's dad immediately. After a couple hints have been dropped, Vriska gets her own copy emailed to her, and John can see her posting it online from her phone while they're in the car headed to dinner.
Sure enough, there is alcohol.
Turns out Vriska smuggled a bottle of vodka in her purse all the way from Oregon.
How did a thirteen-year-old even get a bottle of vodka? He doesn't get an answer out of her but he does get a lot of conspiratorial winks.
She drinks a little bit too much, and while her body doesn't reject it, she does get dehydrated, and their waltz is a little wobbly.
Everyone claps for them anyway. John nearly falls over when they bow.
Vriska grumbles at him for laughing when she says she has a massive headache, and threatens to fuck him up if he tells her dad.
Rose is waiting with aspirin and coffee when they come home.
Vriska sleeps in John's room again that night. Her flight isn't until the afternoon, so instead of waking up properly in the morning she texts him to join her, and they sit under the covers together in their pyjamas and watch movies on her phone until it's time for her to pack up.
Driving back to the airport, Vriska is just as chatty as ever, but when they get out and John walks her as far as he's allowed to go, she goes a little quiet. Goodbye is a short affair, with Vriska hugging John as tight as she can for three or four seconds and then kissing him on the cheek before she turns and walks, straight-backed as usual, toward the security checkpoint line.
He waits until he knows she's in the air to text her "welcome home!!"
That night he dreams of a gray-skinned girl with curved horns and bright blue wings.
He doesn't remember it.
Chapter 17: Promises
Dave blinks a couple times at John's worried expression, then laughs. "Well obviously I'm here now, so it's not a big deal."
"No, yeah, obviously, I wasn't worried about that."
"Gee, thanks for the concern."
"Just—I mean, tell me about it! Don't just skip over that, you can't just say 'something went wrong and we kind of almost died,' what the fuck Dave—"
"Woah calm down. I'll tell the whole story, god, stop clutching your fucking pearls." He's still chucking at John and the boy realises he's leaned forward over the table between them and he's actually in mild danger of getting burger juice on his shirt. He sits back in the booth, relaxes his shoulders.
So Dave tells him the story of the lander malfunction on the AlphaCen mission, in vivid detail. He doesn't know why he never told John about this before, but he can see that he doesn't need to worry about scaring him or anything. As he talks, John munches at the burger clutched in both hands and his eyes are glued to Dave's face, to his hands as he gestures. He decides to skip over the near-death adrenaline sex he had with Terezi afterward, but they way he leaves a gaping void at the end instead of wrapping it up nicely and tying a bow on it, he thinks John knows that that's exactly what happened. The kid has got a hell of a poker face, but suddenly he's looking at his burger a lot more than Dave's eyes. Part of him hopes so damn hard that it means something.
After lunch, which is Dave's treat pre-graduation, they head back to the Lalonde house so John can wiggle into his gown and grab his hat and class ring, and then he's in the car with Rose, Kanaya, and Jade, on the way to his high school for the last time. Dave picks Terezi up and gives her a ride on the back of the bike, then they join the other women in the auditorium and sit in the seats they've saved.
Before the speech and the march, Jade tells a story about a woman in Australia and the scar she earned in a fight with a narwhal. Kanaya protests that narwhals are peaceful, and are actually quite shy of humans, and Jade admits that they were pretty high when the story was first told, so maybe one of them misremembered. That gets a laugh out of Rose and Terezi, though Kanaya just shakes her head and tries not to smile.
When John walks across the stage to accept his diploma and shake hands with the principal, Jade whistles ridiculously loudly and John turns to find her in the crowd to wave at her and his mothers. He spies Dave and Terezi next to them, and his wave slows and his smile shrinks, then grows even bigger. Dave really hopes it means something.
Being officially done with high school makes John pretty talkative. He spends half an hour on the phone with Vriska while everyone else is preparing for the after-party. There'll be a bigger, more official party with a bunch of his fellow graduates later tonight, but he requested a small family event in the back yard immediately after the ceremony.
While he's in the living room, Terezi grills hot dogs and salmon steaks in the back yard, Rose and Kanaya make fries and fruit salad and relish from scratch, and Dave unwraps the bag of buns. He normally isn't much help for big family events like this, because even Terezi can cook and he just never learned any skills that would keep Rose from shooing him out of the kitchen. This time, though, he doesn't have to sit on his thumbs and wait for everyone else to finish, because Jade is real and breathing his air and he might be sitting on her long skirt a little. They're side-by-side at the picnic table out back, trading stories about their adventures and getting to know one another better. Well, he's getting to know this version of her. She doesn't seem to remember anything at all, and it's a little heartbreaking.
He sips his iced tea while she tells a story more with her hands and face than her words, about how she found a dog on the streets in China and had to fend off an angry shopkeeper by reimbursing him for the stolen meat and claiming ownership of the poor mutt. The man barely refrained from beating and possibly killing the animal, and Jade took him in and cared for him until he was no longer skinny and skittish. Shu himself is wagging his tail against Dave's shin from where he's curled up at Jade's feet. They're inseparable. It's adorable.
In return for all her chattering, Jade listens with an audience's engaged silence and genuine awe as Dave tells his own stories. He recounts his training, his first missions, the trip to Mars, and the epic journey to and from AlphaCen, complete with near-death-experience adrenaline sex. She laughs at that and agrees that that's the best kind, so the conversation turns back to her long enough for her to tell him about her slip down a waterfall in Ireland and how her hiking partner/lover had, unnecessarily, jumped down after her. He was injured more than she was and they had breathless, giggly sex on the shore of the pool underneath the falls. It makes him happy to hear her so carefree, and he finds himself holding her hands in both of his before he quite knows what he's doing.
She laughs and squeezes his hands, not pulling away or looking confused, but she says "David, what are you doing?"
He doesn't tell her not to call him David. He suspects she does it just to tease him anyway. "It's just really good to meet you after all this time. I've read all your letters to Rose." It's sort of a flimsy cover story in his mind, but technically he's not lying. Just leaving parts out. "You're exactly like I imagined you."
"Oh, dear, you're getting all misty. Rose was right about you, you're just a giant sweetheart aren't ya?" She's grinning mischievously and he immediately releases her hands, straightens his back, puts his nose in the air.
"I am anything but. My character is all hardened steel and coal black heart pumping ice."
"You're daffodils and gumdrops and a bleeding heart and I like you already. I don't normally go for younger men, but you're pretty smokin' as well." She winks and he returns it with an otherwise straight face before Terezi abandons the grill to drape herself over his shoulder.
"He's very good in bed, Jade, but I don't think he'd be able to keep up with a woman like you. Space he can handle, but I doubt hiking and waterfalls would be as kind to him. He'd get eaten by a bear or something."
"Well, if bears are too much for him then I certainly would be!"
The women laugh and Dave makes a petulant face and doesn't even bother responding. John walks outside and he pretends to flail at him from under Terezi. "John, help, there's too much estrogen!"
John blinks at the tangle of bodies on the bench and snorts a little. "You're on your own, man," he says dismissively. Rose and Kanaya come outside with a pitcher of iced tea and the side dishes, and Terezi relinquishes Dave to serve up the meat.
During dinner the conversation mostly revolves around John: Jade asks how he's been since she last saw him, and he tells her and Terezi of his plans for college, how he's not going far and he'll be majoring in marine biology, and of course Terezi insists that they go scuba diving together as soon as he gets certified. Eventually John gets tired of hearing about himself and tries to change the subject.
He doesn't have much trouble on that front. Terezi has been bursting with excitement since the first reports from the current AlphaCen mission came back, and she's been running her mouth off about it to Dave. Graciously, he suggests that Terezi fill them in.
The girls and John are all rapt as she gives a brief history of deep-space travel: the US got there first around fifty-seven years ago, but Russia was only ten years behind, and both countries have been sending teams to the same planet in order to cover as much ground as possible, as quickly as possible, with overlapping missions and, after a while, total disclosure. Three years before the Pyrope-Striders came home, Russia launched the eighth and last mission to the first planet. Though they started transmitting about a year ago realtime, the check-in reports have just started trickling in to headquarters over the last couple days, and in another few months they'll have all the mission logs.
Dave points out that Terezi has gone in super early every morning for the last two weeks to check for messages from the foreign team, and since they started coming has been poring over them, untranslated, comparing them to previous missions. They have whole groups of scientists in both countries doing the same thing, but she's a one-woman supercomputer, and she was there.
Jade asks if Dave is keeping up with the reports as well, and he shrugs. "Well, yeah. I was there too, and I care a lot about what we do or don't find. But it's really Terezi's baby. She's the only spacer who's been out there twice, and she's given up a lot of Earth-time to make it happen. I pretty much let her do all the obsessing." They share a smile. Dave catches a weird look on John's face out of the corner of his eye. Please let it mean something.
It means something.
Just before John is supposed to leave to party with his ex-schoolmates, he corners Dave in the bathroom where he's washing his hands. Dave pretends his hair needs to be tamed while John leans against the door frame and chews his lip. After a few awkward seconds John clears his throat. Dave turns.
"What's up, kid?"
"Don't call me kid." Judging by the look on John's face, that came out harsher than he intended.
"Sorry. Something on your mind?"
Only slight fidgeting; Dave's proud. "You and Terezi." He stops, shoves one hand in a front pocket of his jeans. "Right?"
Dave leans back against the sink and takes a breath. "On Mars. And AlphaCen."
John glances away and hisses "fucking knew it" under his breath.
"But it was never serious and we cut it off after we came home."
"Yeah. Sorry if we come off as..."
Dave winces. "Were you jealous?"
"I, well," John thumbs at his nose, doesn't look Dave in the eye. "If the relief I feel now is any indicator, yeah. Pretty jealous."
Hurting John sucks. The fact that John was jealous is kind of awesome. Dave tries not to smile. John sees it anyway. He smiles a little too.
"I guess this means I like you."
Roller-coaster-grade stomach shenanigans are happening and there's zero-G lightness in his chest and his head is spinning and John likes him back. Jesus what is he six years old?
"Should we make it official then? Promise rings and shit? I solemnly swear that I'll be true to you and only you." He sings the last bit and John laughs.
"Promise rings would be so fucking tacky."
"Let's do it." John is pulling off his class ring and he steps forward, centres himself in front of Dave, grabs one of his hands, slips it on the pinky. It only goes to the second knuckle.
Dave wants to make a joke, but all that comes out is, "My old class ring is at my place."
John smiles and says, "I doubt it'll fit on me. Your hands are huge."
He's so small. They're nearly the same height but John hasn't fit into his body yet, has only lost about ninety percent of his baby fat. He's not quite sixteen. Dave is twenty-eight. Thirty-eight, Earth-time. If he had been able to bend time just a little further.... But he bent it as far as he could manage and still came out a decade too old to make this work smoothly. He's not into kids, and John is standing just on the other side of the line of adulthood. The line keeping them apart legally and morally.
He lets John kiss him softly on the mouth anyway.
Chapter 18: La Luna
When John takes off, Dave gets ambushed. All four women simultaneously see the ring he can't bring himself to take off and two of them start laughing at him. Terezi is in stitches, leaning against a wall, totally unable to speak (for now). Jade is chuckling softly, and she comes over to clap him on the shoulder in what he guesses is congratulations. She offsets this sentiment immediately by saying "David Strider, if you hurt that boy I will have you killed." Rose nods a promise to do the same. "I should probably also threaten you with some kind of bodily harm in the event that you cross any lines before he turns eighteen."
Dave rolls his eyes. "Rose already gave me that speech. Don't worry, he'll not misplace his virtue while he's in my care."
"Oh, please swear to that in blood!" Terezi's regained enough composure to hassle him. "I want to see what your punishment is when you go back on your word."
"Girl, if you think I'd take advantage of a kid then you're crazier than I thought. This whole situation is really a lot less creepy than it looks."
"Good, because it looks pretty bad."
"At least he's not in high school anymore," Jade says.
"Barely." Dave shoots a glare at Rez and she cracks up again. "Man, and I thought the fate thing was weird."
Grey and brown eyes dart to Jade at the same time, but she has no reason to react or to think the twins are remembering her from a different past. Terezi, however, sees their reaction, and the look she gives Dave (raised eyebrows; small smirk) tells him that she's starting to put more of the story together. He knows he's going to have to talk to her about this eventually. She won't pester him, but she also won't let him get away with keeping such an interesting secret.
After the initial teasing and promises to defend John's honour, things settle down. Terezi helps clean up outside and goes home. Kanaya makes hot tea, and the Lalondes and their two remaining guests sit in the living room to talk some more. Rose and Kanaya do a little bit of gushing about their son growing up and moving on to bigger things. Jade commiserates as much as she can, not having kids herself. And for the most part Dave is silent, drinking his tea and fiddling with the ring on his pinky; eventually he realises that he's gravitated toward Jade a little bit, and instead of sitting a couch cushion away he's right up next to her. She doesn't seem to mind when their elbows knock together.
When it's dark and cool, Dave hugs his girls and says goodbye to Jade and Shu. Jade's staying on the couch for the night and taking off again in the morning, too restless to stick around for very long. The way she puts it, she has adventure in her veins. He's happy for her, but he's going to miss her a lot. He tries not to show it. She sees it anyway, and kisses him on both cheeks and the nose.
In high school, Rose was physically absent, yet ever-present in Dave's mind. They called each other frequently and texted in class and basically acted like smitten lovers. A lot of their friends thought they were secret long-distance lovers. Neither of them ever corrected that assumption, and it became a joke between them. When they graduated (both a year early at fifteen), they had the same idea about their class rings. Rose ordered a red stone in hers, and Dave ordered a violet one. It was a silly little tribute to each other, and it became useless pretty quickly because as soon as they were able, they moved in together.
As Dave sits on the floor of his apartment, a box of old things open and its contents strewn out in front of him, his old ring between his fingers, he thinks of Alpa Centauri. Of his sister, and her son. Thinks of going back. Reaffirms his own determination to never leave again.
Well, not literally. He's leaving again in a couple days. But he'll only be gone for two months. A standard shift on Luna. It's too far from home and not nearly far enough into space.
Some part of him hopes that Terezi will go back to AlphaCen, and maybe take a lock of his hair or something.
His ring fits on John's left thumb and slides off all nine other fingers. John promises he'll wear it every day and tell people it's an engagement ring from a giant. Dave corrects him: Amazon. John won't stop referring to him as an Amazon for hours.
Liftoff is incredible as always, but after that it's just walking around on a rock in space. He gets sick a couple days in at the station, but they've stocked it well with vaccines and things like cough medicine, and there's an isolation chamber just in case. Really though, he just pukes twice and feels like crap for a day.
Shifts on Luna are staggered, so he'll work with this stocky, soft-spoken guy for a month and then another shuttle will arrive to deposit his replacement and whisk him back to earth, leaving Dave with a new partner. You know your civilisation is evolved when there's basically a bus stop on your planet's moon.
The Hubble-calibre telescope planted firmly on the surface is Dave's main priority as a spacer on Luna. Weather obviously isn't an issue, but he and his partner have to keep an eye out for meteorites and such. There are specialists planetside who operate the machine via remote, but as a maintenance worker Dave can look in on the activity log in order to diagnose problems, so he sometimes watches the log and the image feed just to see where they're looking. If he listens hard enough, and stands near enough to the massive optic, he swears the stars' singing gets louder.
Half his shift passes pretty quickly. John is kept busy with university stuff, but he still skypes when he can, and the other guy in the station will poke his head over Dave's shoulder to say hi if he's around. He's got a little girl back home, so he skypes too.
Dave's next partner, however, is less amiable. She's got sharper angles than Rez and an even sharper personality. He can tell she's new because he's never seen her before, and spacers tend to keep tabs on each other. It's immediately clear that she thinks Dave's personal use of the computers is unacceptable, even though it's perfectly legal and allowed by the higher-ups. He has to try really, really hard not to make any quips about the stick up her ass. Diplomacy is key when you're stranded on a rock with someone for four weeks.
One day she walks in on him changing, and notices the necklace that is normally hidden under his shirt. Sure, it's his fault for not closing the door to the shared bedroom, and maybe he shouldn't have cracked a joke about his naked chest making her soak her panties. But looking pointedly at the ring at the end of the chain and making an acidic remark about personal items being non-standard and sentimental trash besides, that's just too much. Fuck diplomacy with this chick.
He runs a hand through his hair (opening up his ribcage and showing off his muscles and the ring all at once), steps into her personal bubble, takes a moment to relish the way she cringes and half-steps backward. Says, "It's my boyfriend's."
A correct guess about the homophobia, then. Pretty unusual in this century. He tells her as much as he brushes past her, still shirtless, and wonders if the face she's making hurts at all.
The next three weeks are interesting, with all efforts to be civil swept under the rug. It keeps him entertained, and staves off the loneliness a little.
Chapter 19: The L Word
Jesus fuck how long has it been since I updated?
An enormous thank you to the anons who sent me wonderful messages on tumblr.
On the day John tells Vriska about his new relationship with Dave, she reacts predictably.
"Are you fucking kidding me? You're dating your uncle?? Your uncle, John, really."
"I'm gonna ignore the fact that we've talked about this a million times."
"Yeah, not actually related, whatever. It's the same thing, though."
"It's not like that. He's older and he's basically my mama's brother and stuff, but he's more like a friend. You're allowed to date your friends."
"Sorry, the two and a half decades of time between your birthdays doesn't bother you at all?"
"Don't even go there. It's twenty-six years of earth-time."
"Aw, come on. With the dilation—"
"I know how time dilation works, John. I just don't care." John huffs a little, and the other end of the line goes all staticky with Vriska's much larger, more dramatic sigh. "Okay, fine. Twelve years between your birthdays. That's still pretty weird."
"My general happiness overrides the weirdness factor."
She pauses. "Alright. I guess I'm happy for you too."
"Thank you for your blessing. It means a lot to me."
"Just don't let him jump you before you turn eighteen. I don't want to have to come down there for the court case and the therapy and the drama, I just know you'd sob like a baby if somebody popped your cherry before you were ready."
"Who says I'm not ready?"
"Um, national laws, for one. And I haven't been around a lot lately but I'm pretty sure that unless your mama hit her head and underwent a massive personality overhaul she'd crunch his skull with her bare hands for touching you before you're legal."
"No, that's still true."
"So why is she okay with this? Wait, she does actually know about it, right?"
John laughs. "Of course she does. She knows Dave wouldn't molest me before my time."
"Ignoring the subtext about when your time does come."
"Besides, she's not as prissy as you are about it. Age is just a number."
"Come on, you know you'd be thrilled if there was really a court case. You'd testify against him and everything."
"Because I'm a great fucking friend."
"Because you love drama."
She makes a noise like she's completely offended, but he knows she hasn't been more than half serious during this entire conversation.
"You're still supportive of me until I get raped though, right?"
"Oh god don't even say that. Yes, I'm a goddamn pillar. A very sceptical pillar."
"But a pillar nonetheless!"
"You are such a hopeless dork." John knows Vriska's smiling. He is too.
Terezi looks at Dave through two layers of plastic coated in gold, her eyes bright and her smile brighter and he can see the reflection of a foreign star in her helmet, can feel its warmth on his back. He bundles up into the ship with her and they make the long haul back to earth, the short haul, the blink of an eye and he's on the ground, gravity is tugging at him and he didn't do enough compensation training this trip so he's wobbly. But no, it's not the zero-grav weakness that brings him to his knees, it's John's face. Mid-twenties, only a couple years younger than Dave and he's so handsome, he's grown so tall and strong while Dave was digging for signs of life on a different planet. Then John is kneeling in front of him, looming over him, pushing him down and running large hands over Dave's bare chest, and he's wearing the ring like a wedding band, he's holding Dave's gaze and grinding down into him, he's whispering into Dave's ear but he can't make out the words, he's panting into the crook of Dave's neck and crushing him with too much weight and then Dave's back in space, he's floating in the vacuum and digging his nails into John's back to hold on and it doesn't stop, he doesn't come down
until he wakes up.
And catches his breath.
And remembers that John is sixteen, and that he'll never see Alpha Centauri again.
Dave grabs the pillow from the other side of the bed and holds it over his face, breathes hard through the resistance. He can't go back. The time-machine trick could only work once, for him. There's nothing in the galaxy, including the magic of another solar system or another nine years knocked off the age gap (nearly closing the gap completely), that would be worth missing any more time away from John.
He can't he can't he can't do it, he won't, it's not going to happen.
So what if he's that guy. The thirty-year-old dating a teenager.
He flings the pillow across the room. Rolls onto his stomach to grab his cell from the bedside table, hits speed dial two and props himself up on his elbows, his free hand over his eyes. It's three in the morning and John has class in a few hours, but he picks up anyway.
Dave doesn't wait for a greeting. "I love you."
"Woah, moving a little fast there. You have to woo a lady properly before you go saying shit like that. What time—Oh my god, Dave. Go back to sleep."
"Sorry for waking you. Just needed to present you with my still-beating heart in verbal form at the most inconvenient time I could manage."
"You're a big fluffy teddy bear, you've been in love with me since the dawn of time, I get it. We'll grab lunch after my second class, yeah?"
"I'll pick you up."
"Great. Now go back to sleep."
Dave hangs up. He doesn't go to sleep. He doesn't want to have that too-perfect dream again. He's afraid of it, just like he was afraid of the last one: the one where he's thirteen, and a boy in blue holds his hand and pulls him into the sky.
Instead, he strips off his sticky underwear, takes a cold shower at three in the morning, and thinks of career change.
Chapter 20: Siren Star
Dave and his space girl are sitting on a bench along a public sidewalk, enjoying the fresh air and sunlight. Terezi in real life is pretty much the same as dream-Terezi in space. Though both of these versions are, thankfully, less bloodthirsty and more safety-conscious than the troll he remembers from a long time ago and far, far away.
When he tries to use that phrase to preface the story he's finally agreed to tell, she punches him in the arm.
"Star Wars, really?"
"Okay maybe more like the other side of a black hole than the other side of the universe but that was cute and you know it."
"I don't even know what you're talking about, Dave. The entire point of this conversation is to fill me in on all the secrets you've been keeping."
"Pshaw. Secrets? Why would I keep secrets from you? There are just some things that aren't worth mentioning if I don't want to get straightjacketed."
"All you're accomplishing here is the inflation of my curiosity."
"Yeah alright so the other side of a black hole. Which is in the past and not nearby—"
She leans toward him and just stares into his eyes, unblinking. It's her secret weapon because he never fails to be unnerved by it. He flinches, abandoning the bullshit.
"The 'fate thing' is really more of a past life thing. Most of the important people from that life keep popping up in this one, usually in pretty close proximity."
Satisfied, she leans away and starts blinking again. "Past life? Like, reincarnation?"
"What was I like before this one? Was I famous?"
"You were an alien."
"The Hollywood kind or the kind we're looking for in AlphaCen?"
"Neither. Humanoid. Gray-skinned and horny." She hardly opens her mouth before he's holding up both hands, the smirk on his face giving away his intentional slip. "Actual horns, you nympho."
"Sweet. I was a hot alien, of course."
"So hot. Irresistible to all genders and species."
"Excellent. What about you?"
"I was a plain old boring human. So were Rose and John and Jade."
"Kan was a horny gray alien too, then?"
"Dave, do you have any friends you weren't fated to re-meet?"
"So basically, your life is a replay of the last one."
"That is completely untrue. John was my age the first time around."
"Ah! That makes way more sense. It started as a breathtaking bromance, right?"
"Pretty much. Though Rose says I had a thing for him even when we were kids fighting for our lives."
Terezi straightens and Dave could swear her ears twitch up. "I smell a bigger story there. Aliens and alternate universes and children in mortal danger, good god, you should write a book."
"Ha! Maybe I should. I could retire and live off the royalties, maybe buy a country and erect some pointless monuments." They grin at each other for a moment before Rez leans in close and changes the subject again, though he knows she's not done milking him for details.
"How much is it killing you that you can't bone him yet?"
Dave runs a hand down his face. "Jesus, Terezi, shut up."
"No, really. How many days till he turns eighteen? I know you've got it memorised."
"Please. You could calculate that in half a second and I'm better at math than you."
Shrugging, Terezi leans back. And waits.
"...Four hundred twenty-one."
"Can you just taste it?"
"Yes," he admits, voice flat. "It's been years since I last had sex, which is bad enough, and now he's not just some kid. He's growing up and filling out and his voice is getting deeper and god, I never thought much of men but when it gets too hot to mow the lawn with a shirt on—" Dave makes a frustrated gesture, as if he's trying to twist open the air immediately in front of his chest. "But he's a minor, so every time I think anything impure all these little red flags pop up in my head, sirens blaring to the tune of 'touch him and you die by Rose's hand.'" Terezi's hand is on his knee now, but it's an entirely platonic gesture and it's kind of helping. "I can take it, but I'm feeling a little overwhelmed."
"Have you kissed him yet?"
"He kissed me once. After his graduation."
"Man, what I would give to have been in that bathroom when he gave you his class ring," she sighs, shaking her head.
"It was romantic as fuck, Rez. The heavens opened up and the sound of the holy choir washed over us. Rainbows spewed forth from the sink and toilet."
"I still can't believe you wore it on your pinky the whole night."
"You expect me to just remove such a sacred symbol of a man's affections?"
"Pff." She pokes him in the cheek. "A man's affections involve much more organic substances than metal and gemstones."
"Quit reminding me."
"Oh, Dave. You know I'm just jealous that you've abandoned me for a younger, prettier girl."
Dave slings an arm over the back of the bench behind her. "You'll always be my girl, Rez."
"I know." Her hand finds its way back to his knee.
"Even if you are ridiculously old."
She barks a quiet laugh, and her voice is a little tentative when she says, "Just wait till I get back."
Startled, Dave withdraws his arm and turns to fully face her, expression pleading for an answer he already knows.
"I'm going to take the next trip out to AlphaCen, scout the second planet. Skip another ten years. Set a few records. 'Most time dilated. Most light-years traveled.'"
Something pulls in him and it tastes like envy, like sadness. "That's fantastic, Rez."
"Come with me," she implores. "You're my partner—"
"You've had other partners, babe."
"But you're my favourite!"
"I love you too."
"What if we find life this time? You know you want to be in on that."
"I won't miss it, I'll be down here partying when the transmissions come back—"
"John would grow up." He knows she doesn't expect a yes from him. She's making every effort just so she can rest assured that she did everything she could to try to convince him.
"So would Rose. She'd be like fifty when we came home, and I'd be in my early thirties. She's like my twin, it's not right, it's too much as it is—"
There are tears on both their faces, and then she's hugging him, awkwardly, sideways on a bench as people pass them by and the breeze ruffles their hair. He hasn't been apart from her for long since the day they met. She's like his alien soul-mate. What's the word? Morail.
"I'm going to miss you so fucking much."
Terezi laughs, rubbing her face on his shirt to blot her tears. "Who wouldn't, cool kid?"
Chapter 21: Past-Life Trolls
I have chapter 22 finished, and most of chapter 23, but I'm only going to give you one chapter at a time because I am evil. The upside is that even if I don't get a chance to work on this fic in the next few days, I'll still have something to post the next time I get online so you aren't left totally hanging.
Also: I have watched my boyfriend play shooters before, and I asked him for some advice while writing this chapter, but I am not a gamer myself. So if there's anything wrong with the description of gameplay, feel free to point it out, and I apologise in advance.
John turns seventeen and the coolest thing about his birthday is the fact that Kanaya has gone on some sort of hostess overdrive and made at least seven different kinds of homemade dessert or snack despite there only being like ten people at the house. He's invited a few of his new college friends and a couple people he's kept in touch with since high school, and of course Dave and Terezi are there.
Speaking of the power-couple, they're huddled together in one corner of the living room when John passes by on his way to toss the armful of gifts he insisted he didn't need onto his bed. So that's where Dave went off to. For a moment he is jealous again, and then he remembers that Terezi is leaving, this time without her partner. Reminding himself that Dave could have gone with her, and chose not to, he limits his outburst to an eye roll before going back outside.
Dave is lucky he's a tolerant kind of guy.
It's while he's playing a shooter with Karkat that he puts together the pieces of a plan.
The internet star is yelling again. He tends to do that when he's playing PVP, and John's one of the only people who can actually run an entire campaign with him without losing his cool.
"Wow, you talk a pretty big game for someone who sucks so bad at basically everything," he remarks during a pause in the ranting, punctuating with a headshot to Karkat's avatar.
Karkat curses under his breath as he respawns, then launches back into his tirade.
"Alright, you wanna play that way, we can play that way." (John doesn't mention that friendly fire has always been switched off in their free-for-all games, or that Karkat is usually the one to take John out first.) "I'm gonna fuck you up, kid. My kill count is already ridiculous, I don't even know why you think you're so much better than me. Let's play games with the angry game guy, maybe show him up! No, you cannot show me up. You are just like every other sap who has thought they could school me in my own best fucking subject. I will always be just around the corner, waiting for you to drop your guard. Because, inevitably, you'll slip." As Karkat goes on, John kills eight, nine more enemies. "I bet you're wondering where I am right now, yeah, I can see you look around all 'where is he?' But you won't see me from your high vantage points because I am goddamn stealth itself! Your little hide-and-snipe game is childish, it's straight-up cowardly, so you can suck on this, Lalongshot!" And John dies from a knife to the back as Karkat laughs victoriously.
Even as he respawns, John chuckles at the attempted insult. "Yeah, I am a pretty good sharpshooter. Thank you for the compliment."
"Oh fuck you, you little cocksucker. And don't just run back up the tallest building you can find, come out here and fight me like the man you wish you were. We'll have a showdown, it'll rain bullets like a proper firefight and you'll still be sucking my lead."
"Woah, okay, you said showdown and suddenly I really want to do it cowboy-style, where we wait till the clock strikes noon and do that quick-draw thing."
Karkat grunts his disagreement. "No tumbleweeds. It's not legit unless there's tumbleweeds."
"You're just too much of a pansy to fight me man-to-man like that when you know my reflexes are better than yours."
"Oh bullshit, no, we're not letting that one go. I will prove to you irrevocably that my reflexes are superior and you will be face-down in the dirt before you realise I've won."
"How're you gonna manage that when there aren't any tumbleweeds?"
Lots of tinny shouting from John's headset about semantics and being intentionally petulant. John just grins and shoots Karkat in the back of the head before the NPC behind him can.
He decides, while simultaneously duelling Karkat and fighting off the unrelenting wave of enemies, that if Dave is going to spend an elongated goodbye with his past-life troll, then John is going to pay a personal visit to his own. He doesn't think Karkat even knows what he looks like, which turns out to be the very last piece of his plan.
At the end of their gameplay, John returns Karkat's earlier name-jab with a "See you later, Vantasshole," and doesn't even care that they sound like five-year-olds because he means to actually see Karkat with his own eyes in the near future, and Karkat has no idea.
He's wanted to go on a road trip for ages.
He cuts it a little close with the buying of the ticket, but he makes it. He knows Karkat is going to be at the con because he mentioned it in one of his latest videos. John opted out of summer classes, so he doesn't have to worry about missing anything.
Early in the morning the day before he plans on arriving, he prepares for departure. Kanaya helps him pack a cooler to put in the back seat as Rose reviews road safety things, like spreading cat litter on ice, and this tool cuts a seatbelt and breaks a window, and even though some of her tips are out of season and he's pretty sure he won't have to deal with wild animals on a trip to California and back, he listens to all her advice. Kanaya reminds him to stop every few hours to take a break and eat, because you shouldn't eat while driving, and you shouldn't stay cooped up in the car for too long without resting your eyes and stretching your legs. Rose puts in that he shouldn't try to make the whole trip at once, because it's a forty hour drive and he needs to sleep at least once in the middle. Around this time he's just nodding along, and eventually they shut up and kiss him on the forehead and let him get on his way.
As John gets on the highway, he can't help feeling a little giddy. It's 2,565 miles to the venue, he's got a full tank of gas, half a tuna sandwich, it's dawn... And he forgot his sunglasses. Damn. At least the sun won't be in his eyes till evening.
For the first time, John is doing something completely on his own. Getting out of his hometown. Not that he's never traveled with his mothers, but Kanaya's annual visit to New York and trips to Disney World don't count. This time he's by himself, he's independent, he's a lone wolf. Arooo.
And soon, for the first time, he'll see one of his best friends in person. It's gonna be so great.
Karkat Vantas has been tolerating fans of varying disposition all day. Some are suck-ups or obnoxiously flirtatious, others attention-seeking "critics" trying to tell him how to do his fucking job. He hates a good percentage of them, and the ones he doesn't hate aren't especially likeable either. Mostly he's just bored.
Right before he plans to grab lunch, someone insults him in a slightly-above-brain-dead way, and he rewards this person for their above-average creativity with an actual response instead of a short laugh and a turned back. Of course, Karkat ends up crushing the guy's soul with words alone, but he's unfortunately not quite smart enough to realise he's been pulverised. Good thing Karkat has endless time to waste on reaming total morons. It's actually kind of amusing.
In the middle of the reaming, someone in the small crowd gathering around him and the idiot giggles. Karkat's first thought is: who the fuck is empty-headed enough to titter at these scorching burns? He whirls around to face the mystery dolt, finding a young-looking guy (surprise surprise!) who is actually covering his mouth with one hand.
"What's up, chuckles? Funny bone feeling ticklish today?"
The kid lowers his hand and his grin is huge. Yeah, I'm famous, you're standing in close proximity, ride the high while you can because I'm not throwing you any bones.
"You're just so much more angry-looking in person. It's like the camera adds ten pounds of niceness." Karkat is about to switch targets and ream this new guy instead when the kid opens his mouth again, and when he says, "I'm John!" the generic name doesn't stop him from immediately figuring out who this little nerd is. He should have recognised him by his voice, honestly.
"John," he says, deadpan. John nods, smile growing.
"Hey, you have a facial expression other than 'stepped on.' It looks good on you."
"Yeah, you're John," he says wryly, deliberately replacing whatever dumbstruck look is on his face with a scowl. He notices that some of the people who'd been spectating are giving the two of them weird looks. Excellent, they all think that this is my only friend, and look how stellar his personality is. At least he's attractive, not the scrawny lab rat he'd imagined over the years.
"And you're Karkat." John's voice is slow, teasing. "I'm hungry, do you wanna go get something to eat? The name of the meal at this time of day is 'lunch,' by the way."
Shrugging, Karkat makes to exit the circle of people around him. "Whatever. I was just about to grab some—what's the name, lunch?—anyway. Tag along if you must."
John correctly interprets this as a friendly invitation, and jogs the distance between them to bump shoulders with him in a more personal, silent greeting.
For whatever reason, the con feels like less of an exhausting obligation now.
Chapter 22: Bonding
Spending time with his long-distance friend face-to-face is exciting for about three minutes, and then it's just like texting or gaming, like they've been doing for years. Comfortable.
In all of John's previous experience, Karkat doesn't often shut his mouth for longer than the minimum necessary to let someone else speak. But while they trade snark and jabs through the line to buy food, once they sit at a table to actually eat it Karkat quiets down. He doesn't talk with his mouth full, and John discovers that if he's got something cutting to say and he's just taken a bite, he will patiently chew and calmly glare until he's done. He also eats over the wrapper to avoid a mess on the table, folds the wrapper fairly neatly before trashing it, and recycles his soda can. John says something about it and gets an eye roll in response.
"I pay taxes. I vote. I own a house. These are adult things, much like cleaning up my own messes and contributing to the effort not to waste literal tonnes of potentially reusable resources. It's not difficult."
John thinks he respects Karkat. Like a lot. For someone who makes a living off of YouTube videos. Which reminds him.
"Do you also have a day job? I mean I figured the money from your videos would help you pay rent and stuff but if you own a house you've got a mortgage, right?"
Karkat gapes at him. "The entire time we've been friends you've been imagining me sitting on my lazy ass in an apartment and dicking around on the computer all day."
John shrugs, nods. "I mean, I guess. I don't know, you never really talk about yourself."
"Yes, I have a job, you cretin. And a social life, thanks."
"Oh, for—" Karkat throws his hands up. "Why is that such a hot goddamn issue? Am I not allowed to be single and unbothered by the prying of complete strangers?"
"I'm not a stranger."
"No, John Lalonde, you certainly are not a stranger."
John can tell Karkat has kind of given up, so he drops the issue. "It's nice to be able to talk like this," he says, sipping from the soda he still hasn't finished. "Instead of typing or whatever."
"We talk when we game." Karkat is looking at him a little weirdly. Or, rather, as if John is being weird. He probably is. He doesn't care.
"It's different, though. When we game together it's all 'you asshole, you killed me!' and 'motherfucking killstealer!' and 'I'm gonna kill you so stealthily because I'm just that awesome.'"
Karkat laughs. It's a blunt sound, and it sounds almost bitter coming from him. "Because that's what headsets are for. You expect emotions sharing-time while we're blasting human waste off the battlefield?"
"No, not at all. But that's why it's nice to hang out with you in, like, real life. Get to know you better, you know?"
No wonder Dave was reluctant to talk about the game. John doesn't even remember any of it, but since hearing the stories he feels a lot more connected to the people he knew back then, or at least more aware of a preexisting connection, and he's probably coming on pretty strong in this reality. He could get away with it with Vriska, since she likes him as much as he likes her. But Karkat is looking at him strangely again, and he kind of cares this time. He thinks maybe he needs to tone it down.
"I have to say, you're not what I expected." Karkat looks away, faces forward to watch where he's walking. They're taking a stroll outside, the sun gently simmering on the exposed parts of their skin and the breeze sweeping away the heat from time to time. "I guess I imagined someone with a ton of acne and coke-bottle glasses and shit."
"Way to stereotype me, dude. Were you raised in a fucking barn?"
"No. My parents were kind of backwards, I guess. Yeah, I'm sorry, that was dumb of me to assume, huh?"
"So dumb, oh my god."
"Yeah, alright, I was a snot-licker for a minute there and obviously I was wrong so let's forget about it."
"Are you kidding? How could I forget about that? It's like you're two hundred years old or something. You're not that old, right?"
"Fuck you kindly, science dork, I'm twenty-eight."
"Wow, you're like Dave's age. You are old!"
"What the hell, I'm only like ten years older than you."
"Oh, excuse me, eleven."
Karkat sighs, looking exasperated. John smiles at him, and for the second time today Karkat looks a little less like he's uncomfortable in his own skin, nearly looks content.
"What?" John stops mid-stride, turns back around to face Karkat.
He's shaking his head. "It's summer. In California. Did you not notice the heat out there? It probably hasn't cooled down much from earlier, and unless you want to run your engine all night to keep the cold air going, you'll probably get heat stroke and die if you hole up in a fucking car for that long."
"So I'll leave the windows open."
"Then you're still hot as fuck and you're easier to mug and murder."
"No, really, my hotel room has A/C and there's one of those stuffed armchairs in the corner. You can crash on that if you're too cheap to pay for a room."
"I'm not too cheap, I just don't want to waste the money my mom gave me."
"Right, your moms. How the fuck did they let you leave the house knowing you were gonna try to sleep in your car out here?"
"They didn't know?"
Karkat yells wordlessly and beckons with one arm for John to follow him, in the opposite direction from the lot where the car's parked.
The walk to Karkat's room is mostly silent. Outside, the fading light and comparative calm on the air casts a sort of spell over them. John is starting to learn that Karkat only seems talkative in small bursts. He keeps the conversation going during a game or video, or via text messages, because he's designated that time to socialisation. Being in someone's presence for long stretches of time is different. It's nice, during the lulls, to just enjoy each others' company.
The calm spell lasts until Karkat's door swings closed behind them, and then he, briefly, plays host.
"There's your chair, bathroom's over there, and don't take anything from the fridge. I have to pay for this shit and I don't like you that much." John smiles his thanks and plops down on the foot of the bed when Karkat sits near the middle. "I'm gonna watch TV. Any requests?"
Karkat snorts. "Of course. I was totally out of line with the stereotyping thing. You're so unpredictable."
Predictably, Karkat finds something to yell about, even on Discovery Channel, and he and John end up arguing semantics for a while as darkness takes over outside the window. Without the sunset lighting him up, Karkat is all dark. When he's not speaking, John finds himself noticing the rich milk-and-coffee shade of his skin, his near-black eyes. His nails are blunt, but not bitten, and he moves his hands when he talks, making sharper gestures the more adamant he is about a point.
John wonders what Karkat's skin feels like. It looks smooth in places, but he has used-looking hands. Not calloused, but not untouched by labour. He thinks he might be able to smell Karkat's shampoo or something, he's not sure.
"You're not even listening anymore, so what's the point," the other man says, collapsing backward onto the bed and turning the TV off with the remote.
"No, I was paying attention. I just got tired of arguing, I guess."
"More like you couldn't handle the fact that I was blowing your arguments out of the water." John just rolls his eyes, which makes Karkat snort again. "Giving up is an automatic forfeit."
"You win then. Congrats." There's no sarcasm or malice in John's voice, and Karkat props himself up on one elbow, twisting sideways to look at him oddly again.
"Something is off about you."
"Maybe I'm car-lagged."
"No, I mean in general. In your personality. You're fucking strange."
"I didn't say it was a bad thing."
Light from outside buildings and street lamps seeps in through the unshaded window, falling on the boys at angles. There's a little over two feet between them, but John could easily close that distance by leaning his weight on his arms, tilting forward and down; Karkat's face would be right in his face's path. He's only kissed Dave once.
He doesn't notice that he's already begun to lean in until he's nearly there.
Chapter 23: Feelings Jam, Anyone?
I noticed an error in the plot, again, but this time I didn't catch it early enough to fix it before publishing, like I did with the first half of this chapter. (For those of you who don't follow me on tumblr and have no idea what I'm talking about, here's a link to the scene I deleted.) If this were a novel I would have been able to fix all the mistakes before anyone saw them. As it is, I've just reposted all twenty-two chapters that've already been published in order to implement big changes, such as some pretty important info about Russia and the AlphaCen missions I never mentioned in chapter seventeen (another handy link!), and small ones, such as typos and the wrong kind of dashes. Thank you so all much for putting up with my fumbling around while I get used to this writing thing; I appreciate every single reader, kudos-leaver, and commenter, and I hope you've been having as much fun with this fic as I have.
All my less-than-threes,
Dave is kind of grumpy. John is in California visiting shouty troll, someone he never particularly liked, and he won't be back for another couple days. Rose and Kanaya are taking advantage of their childless house, so he doesn't dare attempt to visit them for fear of walking in on them. Again. Meanwhile, Terezi is training with her new partner, and spending most of her free time with her dad, since he probably won't be around by the time she comes home. Dave has been invited to tag along a few times, because he thinks her dad is cool and her dad thinks Dave is cool. Everything is cool. Except that it's not cool at all when he barely gets to see his sharp little spacer babe anymore and she's leaving in a couple weeks and he can't even distract himself.
Finally he gets a text from her; she's free for the night, and she expects him at her apartment ASA-fucking-P to take her out. He doesn't protest, doesn't dawdle except to grab something off the printer and shove it into his wallet.
Rez has her own helmet, like Rose, and she's ready to hop on the back of his bike as soon as he pulls up. She squeezes him round the waist and absently fiddles with the hem of his jacket, babbling at him when he stops for red lights. They go to her favourite club, and she's all toothy grins and pulling him along by the hand, only letting go once his ass in on a bar stool. Of course, he insists that all her drinks are on him. She agrees, and insists in return that he dance with her lots. At first he tries to argue, saying if he has to drive them home he can't possibly get drunk enough to dance, but one does not easily win an argument with Terezi Pyrope.
They drink, they dance, they yell at each other over the music about how stupid everyone looks, including them. Dave sings along to some of the songs, but not very loudly, and Terezi pulls him close in order to hear him, humming along when she knows the melody. When they tire of dancing they head back to the bar for more drinks. Dave's slight buzz wore off long ago, so he allows himself one more beer along with Terezi's bright, fruity thing. He wonders what the alcohol content of it is, and then decides it doesn't matter, because to his knowledge Rez has never thrown up from drinking too much, or even had a hangover. The lucky bitch.
During a lull in the conversation, Dave remembers his gift. He takes his wallet back out, removes the small print-out of a photo, and hands it to her. It's a picture he took of the two of them en route to AlphaCen, and it has such heavy meaning to him that he figures she'll understand why he's giving it to her. She looks confused for a moment, since she wasn't exactly conscious when he took it, but then it clicks in her head and she just about throws herself at him.
"You asshole, why would you remind me of that right before I have to leave?" she says into his ear, arms around his neck.
Smiling, Dave leans his head into hers. "Because I'm going to miss you more unless you have a painful reminder of how incredible I am."
"You couldn't miss me more if you tried."
He laughs. "Alright, so you'll miss me more."
"Damn straight. Because while you're planetside boning the man of your dreams, I'll be locked in a tube with another woman for years on end, and I can't fuck this spacer, Dave. What'll I do if I can't mess around with my partner?"
Terezi laughs. "I don't know. It doesn't matter, because I am."
"Ah. That does make it more difficult, then."
She rolls her eyes, pulling away and settling back onto her own stool. "You're so helpful."
For a moment they're quiet, music washing over them, Rez staring at the photo as Dave stares at her. Then he downs the rest of his beer and gestures at her radioactive-looking glass. "You gonna finish that? I wanna dance again."
Terezi knows Dave would never "want" to dance. She doesn't call him out on the lie, though. Instead she obediently swallows the last of her drink, stands, slides the photo into her back pocket, and lets him lead her back into the throng of people.
John jerks away, eyes wide. "Oh god, I'm sorry, fuck."
Karkat wonders for a moment why the boy on his bed is wringing his hands, then realises he's twisting the ring on his middle finger. Fidgeting.
"What just almost happened," he asks, "and why are you apologising?"
John drops his hands into his lap and glances around the room before meeting Karkat's eyes. "Um. I have a boyfriend. Sort of."
"Sort of?" he echoes, eyebrows raised.
"Well, I don't think it's really an official relationship. But we're like, boyfriend-engaged. Until I turn eighteen."
"Wait, your sort-of boyfriend is older than you? Is it that Dave guy?"
John flinches, which is confirmation enough. Karkat lets his mouth twist slightly as he thinks: wasn't he like an uncle or something? Family friend, at least?
"I'm his age, though, right? So it's okay to kiss me but not him, or what?"
"Oh my god, no. Fuck no. I wasn't actually going to—okay, I was, but I wasn't thinking, I didn't mean to like..."
"Almost sort-of cheat on him?" John purses his lips and his right hand goes back to the ring. "Don't worry, kid. It doesn't count unless you actually did it or you actually meant to. You're not falling in love with me, are you?"
John makes a face. "Hardly. I mean, you're attractive, and I noticed, but like. Hormones, not feelings."
Karkat nods, a little flattered. "See, you're off the hook." John looks unimpressed but he doesn't seem to be conscious of the fact that he has relaxed. "Is that ring symbolic of your sort-of love?"
That earns him a small laugh, and John holds up his left hand so they can both see it, expression soft. "It's his old high school class ring. It didn't really fit me at first. I must still be growing."
"That's sweet. Old-fashioned as fuck, but sweet." John meets his eyes again and smiles. "You're seventeen, right," he starts, more of a segue than a question. "So hormones are probably a big issue for you right now. I mean, it's possible that you're just a really late bloomer, but judging by the size of you I'm guessing you are perfectly in bloom."
"And rarin' to pollenate," he says darkly.
"Does your boyfriend-engagement thing require you to remain chaste or something?"
John looks at him oddly. "I have to wait till I'm eighteen. I'm a minor; he's not legally allowed to de-chaste me."
Karkat rolls his eyes. "No shit. But are you banned from kissing, too?"
It's apparent from John's expression that he's never thought about that before. "I... haven't really tried. Neither has he."
One of Karkat's eyebrows goes up. "You've never tried kissing your boyfiancee but you nearly just kissed me." His tone is purposeful. John smacks himself in the forehead, lightly.
"I think I'm going to go to bed," he says after a moment, and he does sound tired. "I obviously need to get some sleep."
Karkat's feeling a little worn out, too, so he doesn't respond beyond a nod. John gets up and moves to the chair, and Karkat strips off his jeans and slips under the sheets. John hasn't bothered taking off more than his shoes, but he looks comfortable enough curled up with his head on the armrest. Satisfied, and feeling almost brotherly, Karkat loses consciousness quickly and sleeps soundly.
The next morning, John is up before Karkat. He chalks it up to the time difference between Florida and Minnesota, and goes out to the car to retrieve his toothbrush and spare clothes while he waits for his friend to wake up. As events from the previous night come back to him, he's filled with emotions. Confusion, embarrassment, frustration, gratitude. Also a little surprise, because he didn't take Karkat for the type to give romance pep talks. Yet he feels reassured by the way Karkat reacted, and the things he said. He just needs to figure out how to release all the hormonal pressure he hadn't been aware of until now in a way that doesn't end with any more almost-accidents, or Dave on a spit and his mama's cackling face lit by the flames.
When Karkat joins him in consciousness, all the awkwardness from last night is gone, erased by sleep. They set out to explore and meet more of Karkat's fans. John pretty much hangs out in the background and observes, enjoying the familiar obstinate ranting with the added spice of new debate partners/practice dummies.
John can't stay for too long, though, and around noon he tells Karkat he's going to head home. John reaches for a handshake, but receives a hair-ruffle, and ruffles Karkat's own dark hair before darting out of reach and cheerfully waving to the growling man surrounded by a loose cloud of people waiting to take up his attention.
On the trip back home, he mulls over his feelings and his options a little, but mostly he just thinks of Dave, and listens to the old star mixes Dave made him. By evening the next day he's ignored a handful of texts from Dave and Vriska, and one from Karkat, and he doesn't even want to think beyond the simplest processes like check blind spot, look both ways at stop sign, put parking brake on, find key to Dave's apartment on ring, tackle sort-of boyfriend. Kisses, lots of kisses.
Dave seems surprised by the late-evening visit, but not as surprised as he is when John kisses him, repeatedly, without hesitation or reserve. And Dave kisses back just as enthusiastically.
He's less surprised when John says "I love you," but he kisses a little harder afterward.
John doesn't go home. He goes to sleep early, curled up in bed with Dave, fully clothed for the second summer night in a row. He wakes up only once, and he thinks, sleepily, that Dave might be stroking his hair, then drifts back into dreams.
Chapter 24: Gone
When John wakes up, he feels the empty space next to him on the bed and hears the shower running. He rubs his face to get rid of the fuzziness under his eyelids and realises he doesn't have another change of clothes with him, so he's stuck in the ones he slept in until he goes home. As he's grimacing to himself and raking his fingers through his hair, the water shuts off. Dave comes out and smirks at him, asks, "Sleep well, honey buns?" In answer, John groans and slumps back over onto the bed. "You were pretty wiped out last night," he observes, towelling his hair dry.
"Pro'lly should've listened to my moms," John mutters into the pillow. "Pushed my body too hard."
Dave sits at the edge of the bed next to the curled form of his young boyfriend, allows himself a brief smile, then pokes the boy in the side and flings the damp towel at his head as he gets up to make breakfast for the two of them.
John watches him from the bed and thinks of kisses.
After the weird surprise sleepover and the kissing, things change. They kiss, casually. Except it's not casual, it's kind of electrifying every time. And they don't do it terribly often. And it never lasts very long. Okay so not much has changed, really. They don't attempt to sleep together again because it's one thing for John to crash out in Dave's bed with him, fully clothed and exhausted, and quite another to premeditate a night spent together in such close proximity, especially with the sexual connotations of sharing a bed and the way the phrase "sleeping together" has that sinister double meaning. But they kiss, sometimes, and John makes sure to text Karkat a thank-you for the advice.
Now that the floodgates are open, John's view of his impending relationship with Dave has changed. It feels less like he's waiting for a bus and more like he's just ordered an entire chocolate cake at a restaurant. He's also become a little territorial, almost possessive. He can't help but stroke his ego a little bit every time he catches a glimpse of his ring under Dave's shirt, and he's taken to turning Dave's round his finger when he's distracted or thinking particularly hard. He wonders if Dave wears the necklace in the shower, which makes him picture Dave in the shower, wearing nothing but his ring. It's a very pleasant image.
He starts to let himself think of things like that a lot more often.
Not that he'd never had a fantasy about a classmate or a wet dream about a pretty stranger he saw in a store; that's all normal kid stuff. But with the promise of Dave dangling just out of his reach, it was harder to take care of the physical aspect of the problem and get back to life as usual. It taunted him near-constantly, and his frustration compounded the more he thought about it.
At first he figured that a little more contact would help. Make him less twitchy. So he attempted kisses more frequently, tried to push the limits of what was a kiss and what was straight-up making out. Dave wasn't a fan of his rebellious attitude toward the waiting rule.
John whined at Karkat about it once and got thoroughly laughed at. The man may have helped him out when he was in need of guidance, but he was still kind of a prick. Still, better to be ridiculed by one friend than to have the other make threats and general noises of disgust, and god forbid he ever be tempted, in a moment of weakness, to tell one of his mothers about how badly he wanted an older man's body.
Rose probably already knew anyway.
John is, distressingly, a very good kisser. Dave is about a hundred and ten percent sure the kid is a virgin, but he obviously had a lot of practice with his mouth. Was he like some kind of kiss-slut, or did he have regular make-out buddies, or was he just a quick study? What else does he know how to do?
Dave knows that thinking like that isn't going to do him any good. So he compartmentalises, pushes the thoughts away until he can retrieve them from his brain like files in a folder at a more appropriate time. He also desperately tries not to think anything too risque when he's in Rose's presence. Supposedly she's only human, but she has a knack for knowing exactly what's on his mind.
Then John starts getting bolder. Initiating more encounters, involving more body parts. Mostly just hands on hips, but sometimes he gets cheeky—literally grabbing Dave's ass by both cheeks, once. He suspects it's more about being playful and making him jump than anything, but he starts to get uncomfortable with how comfortable John is getting with the whole situation. He starts putting distance between them again, this time telling John flat out the reason for his skittishness: he doesn't want the temptation. John pouts a little but ultimately backs off, and Dave knows him well enough by now to be suspicious of the way he immediately concedes. All he can really do is hope there are no more snags until spring. Spring, spring, spring, and John turns eighteen and they can be together for real, spring and he can have everything he's wanted for two lifetimes.
The last day Dave spends with Terezi before he loses her for thirteen years is a cool day, which makes him feel pretty dumb for eating ice cream out of the carton, but despite the spacer tradition of hiring people to keep their houses from gathering cobwebs and dustballs in every corner while they're gone, nobody is going to be able to stop the stuff in the fridge and freezer from going bad except them. Dave tries not to think about losing his best friend as she knocks his spoon aside to get at a ribbon of caramel nestled in the chocolate. They're cross-legged on her kitchen floor, mostly-empty carton between them, a small stack of other perishables in the fridge beside them and a couple of bananas and apples in a bowl by Dave's knee. He lets her have the caramel and sucks his spoon clean.
"So," she starts, snapping him out of his reverie, "you said we were fighting for our lives."
"What, before?" She nods. "Yeah, pretty much."
She seems to expect more, and when he doesn't give it she thwacks him on the thigh with her spoon, getting chocolate on his jeans. "Well, did we win, or what?"
Dave smiles. "Babe, I got you back this time around. I got Rose and John and Jade, too. That's all I care about."
Terezi laughs around a bite of ice cream, and he waits for her to swallow so she can grin crookedly at him and say, "So we got our asses handed to us."
"Yep." He sticks his spoon back into the carton in time to scrape the last bite from the bottom. "But in our defence, the final boss was pretty nasty. Big black dog with wings and tentacles and shit."
The look on Rez's face is something like skepticism. "Sounds more like cartoon porn than a dangerous enemy."
He shrugs. "I don't remember all the details, but I know that motherfucker was bad news." This seems to be sufficient, because she tosses the empty carton and its lid into the trash from five feet away and opens the fridge back up.
"We've still got some pickles, and leftover teriyaki, and a couple beers."
Dave nods once, approvingly. "Sounds like a party."
Standing near the launch site in the sunlight, watching the small figures traverse the catwalk leading to the mouth of the deep-space vessel, Dave holds his breath. He doesn't release it until both heavy-suited women disappear from view, and he has to quickly suck in another to quell the tears that threaten to rise up in him. In his head, he's already begun the countdown until the day he sees her again.
Rose doesn't remind him that this is exactly how she felt when he left all those years ago.
John leaves him alone for a couple days, because while he waited his whole life to meet Dave, he's never lost anyone.
Kanaya makes him an apple pie.
Chapter 25: Winter
Dave turns thirty. Rose had turned forty the year before, and been the butt of all the age-related jokes. Now is her chance to get revenge, and she takes it gladly. John, of course, joins in at every opportunity. Kanaya is forty-five, and knows better than to open herself up as the easiest target of them all. Mostly she busies herself with Dave's birthday dinner and pretends not to hear.
After the meal, Rose doles out Dave's birthday shots, though she graciously allows him to halve the number: one for every two years. Fifteen straight shots of whiskey later and Dave is warning John against excessive drinking, trying to shrug Rose's cautionary hand off his shoulder as he leans a little too close for effect, and reacting hilariously belatedly when John closes the short distance between them to give him a "birthday kiss" right there in front of his mama.
She gives him all thirty of his birthday punches, straight to the gut, but they aren't that hard.
John decides he likes the taste of whiskey better than vodka.
Christmas is always a pretty quiet affair at the Lalonde house, more about the company and things like eggnog and peppermint bark than the presents or pomp, though they do erect a smallish, modestly decorated tree. On the twenty-fourth, John and Kanaya make sugar cookies while Dave and Rose cuddle on the couch with their 'nog, and everyone goes out into the back yard to watch the stars and listen to classical carols before bed. Christmas day, they all lounge around in pyjamas to watch the seasonal movies that play on TV until dinner, which is eaten in pyjamas as well.
(Dave wears sweat pants and an old tee, and John wears shorts and a pullover, but the girls wear silk sleepwear sets in complementing colours and tease them for being under-dressed.)
Halfway through January, Dave is asked to watch over John while Rose and Kanaya go to New York. They make the trip every year, and since Dave had come home they had left John is his care. That way John doesn't miss any school, he doesn't have to tag along while his mothers visit with family and do fashion things, and the girls get some time alone together. The last three years had been as uneventful as any weekend stay at Dave's place; at least, it had for John. This year, though, John has somehow awakened the beast within, and now it's not just Dave having inappropriate urges. He's pretty anxious, and Rose isn't helping.
"I hope you'll keep in mind my son's age and lack of experience when you two feel like rutting on the floor," she's saying, looking him dead in the eye. "Just because it's acceptable to have a mostly meaningless sexual relationship with someone like Terezi doesn't mean I won't crack you open and suck your marrow if you touch my son before he's legal or treat him as casually as you did her."
Dave refrains from groaning. "Yes ma'am."
"'Yes ma'am,' what, Dave?"
"Yes ma'am, I will treat your son with the utmost respect and keep my filthy paws off his silky drawers," he drawls, grinning. Rose does not smile at his joking reference. He shuffles awkwardly, expression falling into something more serious. "I swear, Rose."
Satisfied, she stops glaring into his soul, and kisses him fondly on the cheek. "I've already made him promise to call every couple of days, but I hope to hear from you as well. Kanaya will be busy most of the time we're gone, but I'm mostly there for moral support and to stand next to her and look ravishing while she's schmoozing, so I'll get any texts you send." She pauses to check her watch, and then abruptly hugs him. "I know how hard it must be, darling, I really do. This is the worst time for you to be alone with him, and I appreciate your willingness to watch him anyway."
Dave sighs and hugs her back. "Anything for you, sis. Just don't actually suck my marrow, okay?"
"No promises." She releases him, kisses him again, glances at her watch again. "We're going to be late if we don't leave now. I still have to make sure Kan didn't overpack—oh, hell." She's looking behind Dave, into the kitchen, where Kanaya is attempting to make John a sandwich for his lunch. John is standing close by, looking like he's already done his fair share of protesting and been ignored. Neither blonde is surprised, and Rose bustles in to coax her wife away from the lunch meat, leaving her bags by the door. Dave takes it upon himself to load her things into the back of the car.
The girls finally get on their way, and then it's just him and John.
"You all packed?" he asks, unsure what to do with his hands.
John nods, hums assent. "I'll meet you at the apartment, then?"
Dave nods back. "Yeah. Alright. See you in a minute."
John locks his car and hefts his suitcase. A week and a half with Dave. Ten days, alone, in close quarters. There's no way Dave would let him sleep in the bed with him, but maybe he could pretend to fall asleep during a movie? It's happened before... but no, Dave wouldn't fall for that kind of thing, not since he came back from California. The most he can get out of the older man is brief goodbye kisses and occasional hand-holding. It's infuriating. He wants it to stop, and he doesn't want to wait three more months until his birthday. His goddamn magical fucking birthday, as if he could be innocent and fragile and corruptible one day and suddenly open to any filthy sexual acts Dave may please to act out on him the next. He's open to them now, dammit.
Despite his frustration, John tells himself he'll chill out and have fun while he's staying with Dave. He'll go to his classes and hang out with his friends in between them and come home and be perfectly casual and happy. Dave'll take him out for sushi or something a couple times throughout his stay, because that's what he does every year. And he'll be a good little boy and not flirt, not push boundaries, not go stark raving mad from proximity and forbidding.
Or he'll just come up with a better plan. Yeah. He's good at that.
Once inside, he tosses his bag by the couch and checks the clock on his phone. He's got a little time before his first class of the day, but not enough to play a game or watch a show with Dave. He figures he might as well just leave now and buy himself a coffee on the way or something.
John runs his hands through his washed-but-unbrushed hair, catches Dave's eye. "I think I'm just gonna head out," he says. "Grab a mocha. Get to class early."
Dave nods from his desk chair, absently taps the pen he's holding against the wood. "'Kay. See you later, then."
Dissatisfied with this, John suppresses a grimace and forces a cheerful nod in return. "Yeah." Hesitates for maybe half a second before he's made up his mind and is crossing the room, bracing one hand on the arm of the chair, leaning in to kiss Dave with just the slightest parting of lips.
Dave's response is a beat... two... three of restraint, then he melts into it. John feels a hand come up to gingerly rest against the back of his neck, feels Dave turn his head the slightest bit to make the kiss infinitesimally deeper. Their breath is mingling, and something stirs inside John at the slow movement of their mouths together. Dave lets it go on for longer than expected, but soon he's faltering, his hand twitching against John's skin, and John is paying close attention to all these little signs that he's come back to his senses, he's about to pull away—
"Have a good day," Dave says meaningfully, only trace amounts of breathlessness and an elevated heartbeat leaking into his voice. John doesn't contest the unspoken order, ignores the implied chiding, and makes his way back out to his car with one last smile to Dave. He knows exactly what he's going to do while his mothers are gone.
Chapter 26: The Plan
Monday goes by pretty quickly. John's last class lets out in the afternoon and he has the rest of the evening to hang out with Dave. They fuck around on Dave's Playstation for a while, John does some homework, Dave makes microwave mini-pizzas for dinner in true sleepover fashion, and they crash around two in the morning because John is a responsible fucking college student and he doesn't do that all-nighter shit. (Also his first class on Tuesdays isn't super early, so he can get away with it.)
Tuesday morning he sleeps in, though not by much. Dave is still out cold when he gets up, so he tiptoes around, makes cereal as quietly as possible, very carefully rinses his bowl and puts it in the dishwasher, watches TV with the volume way down low, and totally doesn't hear Dave come up behind him during the first commercial break. One second he's blinking at an ad for some reality show and the next he's on the receiving end of a headlock/noogie combo. They tussle briefly on the couch and John ends up on his ass on the floor, Dave still half-on the couch and leaning over him, laughing. Sitting there on the floor with Dave's face so close to his own, the obvious thing to do is to kiss him—really kiss him—so that's what he does. It's just as sweet as the one the day before, if a little more breathless, and this time Dave doesn't hesitate to kiss back. John enjoys himself, but he's counting in his head the whole time, waiting for signs that Dave is about to pull away. Before he gets the chance, John pulls back himself, eyes wide, and glances around. "Fuck, what time is it? I have to get to class!"
The discombobulated look on Dave's face tells him his tactical switcheroo worked like a charm. As he scrambles up to pull his pyjamas off and throw on jeans and a tee, he sees Dave pull himself fully upright on the couch, wipe his mouth, pretend he's not watching John undress out of the corner of his eye. John grabs his bag and plants a parting kiss on the top of Dave's head before whisking out the door, suppressing a giggle.
When he gets home that evening, the apartment is empty. He takes over the computer for a couple hours, drinks a couple sodas, leaves the cans propped against the front door on their bottom edges so they'll fall over and clatter a bunch when Dave comes home, and crashes on the couch fairly early.
Wednesday morning he wakes up on his back with the empty soda cans fixed to the front of his shirt with way too much scotch tape. Dave's sitting at the small dining table when John gets up to toss the cans in the bin, back turned but still alert enough to catch the ball of wadded-up tape before it hits him in the head. Dave makes like he's gonna throw the ball back in his face, but as soon as he twists around in the chair John's on top of him, next to no prelude to the kind of intense kissing that makes the older man's heart race. It's really nice to be able to feel it pounding, with one hand on the curve of Dave's neck, like a little winged thing beating against his skin from the inside. John, of course, pulls away just in time, and only smirks a little bit while he sticks frozen waffles in the toaster.
John's morning class is mostly spent ignoring the buzzing of his phone. Afterward, he reads through all fifteen texts from Karkat and replies, "i would apologise on behalf of """my generation""" for your snowball troubles, but i've never even had a white christmas so fuck off. :)" Then he drives back to the apartment to hang around with Dave until his evening class.
After deciding nothing good is on TV, they break out the cards and play War. It's a game of pure chance, but they treat it like truth or dare, where the loser is at the winner's mercy for the duration of one ridiculous question or order.
John wins. He makes a big show out of thinking of Dave's punishment, but he doesn't really plan on making him do anything. Instead, he asks something he's vaguely wondered about for the last two years: "What would you have done if I'd turned out ugly?"
Dave blinks at him without expression.
"I mean, you were gonna fall in love with me anyway, right? What if I'd turned out to have a skin condition or hereditary baldness or be cross-eyed or something?"
After a moment of consideration, the only answer he gets is a shrug, followed by, "Well then I'd'a been stuck with a fugly boyfriend, huh?"
John raises an eyebrow and watches Dave turn all the cards face-down and shuffle them. He's so quick at it, and he bridges flawlessly even without a hard surface. "Your fated romance is that inevitable, is it?" he asks, voice sarcastic though the question is genuine.
Dave shrugs again, like it's no big deal that they're talking about his intense devotion to some reincarnated past love. "Doesn't seem like I could have avoided it. And I didn't fall in love with you because you were attractive, I mean jesus you were fucking fifteen, the quality of your ass wasn't a part of the equation back then."
John snickers. "But it is now."
Dave rolls his eyes and glances up from the cards. "Gee thanks for zeroing in on the important part there, Lalonde, real sharp a' ya. Obviously my assessment of your behind is the most crucial element in this dizzying circus act of a premature relationship."
John shifts, leans in, lifts one hand and lets his fingers trail the outline of the necklace under Dave's shirt, listens to the way it makes Dave's breathing go shallow and controlled. Thinks in silence for a moment, then says, "I'm really glad you fell in love with me." Dave's outer calm is betrayed by his eyes, and John loves watching his pupils widen, pushing the irises into thin rings. "I'm glad you went to AlphaCen, so we could be closer." He hesitates, licks his lips. "I'm glad I got the chance to love you back."
For a long second, Dave doesn't speak, and John wonders if he maybe should have laid off the sap. He's not sure it'll interfere with the Plan, if it'll remind Dave of what's at stake. His sort-of-almost boyfriend puts his mind at ease, though, when he's the one to close his eyes and lean in for a kiss. It's slow and gentle and has none of the heat he's been going for lately but it doesn't matter right now, because Dave's mouth on his is about the best thing in the world. He lets it stretch on for as long as he thinks is safe, then pulls away with a sheepish smile and a look that says "sorry, we probably shouldn't keep doing that," reaching out to squeeze one of Dave's hands when the man apologises, looking flustered and guilty and resigned.
The mixed emotions on Dave's face make him light up with a wicked satisfaction that he carefully keeps off his face. He'd meant every word, but nothing is going to stop him from getting what he wants.
Thursday John has classes throughout the day; Dave picks him up during his lunch and takes him out for sushi, and aside from that they don't see much of each other. Friday Dave has the day off, but John has a couple of classes in the afternoon, so they sleep in and stay up together and Dave pesters him while he's in class just to be a brat. They both have free days on Saturday, so they get out of the apartment and into the sunshine and it goes really really well until John goes for another kiss and Dave leans away, on a much higher alert level with strangers all around them. He's probably getting all insecure about how obvious their age difference is, even though it's not that big a gap and it's not a huge deal if someone sees and John starts to get really frustrated.
As the day wears on and Dave seems increasingly more aware of the tension between them, John gets increasingly more fed up with the entire situation. He's pretty good at reading people, but he's never actually been in a relationship before. His experience is comprised of media portrayals of couple-hood, what he's seen from his mothers, and the few schoolyard sweethearts he's had. But those were more holding-hands-in-grade-school and making-out-in-the-junior-high-bathroom than actual emotional connections where he had to consider the other person and shape his life around them. And he has no idea what Dave's romantic history is like, but his sexual one would certainly blow John's little collection of kisses and hurried ventures to second base out of the water. Maybe none of these things matter in the larger scope of things, but he can't help feeling he's missing out on some secret, key knowledge.
Maybe he's just not trying hard enough.
Chapter 27: If You Can't Take the Heat
Sunday they stay in, much to Dave's relief. Saturday had been a nightmare, what with John's attempts at PDA making him paranoid, and it only got worse once he cut it out and started sulking. The set of the boy's jaw when he realised how uncomfortable Dave had been and the way he immediately backed off and then stayed there, always just a couple inches too far away and a little too formal with his speech, had made Dave feel guilty as hell. They had always been close. Or, rather, they'd been close for the four and a half years they'd known each other in this universe. It feels so wrong to have this tension between them.
Just one more reason the kid's eighteenth birthday can't come fast enough. He thinks about it for a second: eighty-two more days. There's no time to dwell on that thought, though, because just then John pokes his head around the corner. "Wanna watch a movie?"
Dave puts down the book he wasn't focusing on anyway. "Sure. Got one in mind?"
John's mouth twists in a half-frown. "No, there's nothing interesting on DVD. Turn the computer on."
"Yessir," he says, rolling off the bed and booting up the computer.
John comes over to lean on the back of the chair and watch over Dave's shoulder as he scrolls through his film collection.
"Woah, Lion King. I am so in the mood for Lion King," he says, earning a sceptical look from the blonde.
"You're going to sing along to every single musical number," Dave says, sounding decidedly unenthused.
John laughs and ruffles Dave's hair. "You bet. Don't pretend you won't get caught up in the Disney magic and start singing halfway through 'Just Can't Wait to be King.'" Dave tries to shake his head, but John shakes his more firmly. "Dude. I have seen you dance in your seat during that song, don't even deny it."
Dave makes an affronted noise and swivels the chair to gape at John with one hand clutched over his chest. "How dare you," he whispers. He'd had more dramatic nonsense planned, but John reaches over him (leans into him) and commandeers the mouse long enough to open up the file and start it playing. "Slow down, damn, I still have to route the image through the TV—"
"Not my problem," John sings, flopping onto the bed and arranging the pillows so he can sit upright. "Oh, hey, I forgot to grab a snack. Can you...?"
This boy is a menace. Dave probably would have done it, too, if John hadn't burst into laughter and apologised for acting like a brat, getting up to grab sodas and a box of Cheese Nips. Dave hooks the TV up while he's in the kitchen and pretends he's not a total sucker for his sister's kid.
While the credits roll, Dave brushes cheese dust off his chest and out of his hair, checking for any stray Nips on the bedspread left over from their small projectile battle wherein John used innocent crackers as ammo in retaliation against Dave's teasing about his singing.
"I swear," Dave says, getting up to put the cracker box back in its cupboard, "you made me sit through that whole movie just so you could woo me with a shitty sing-along of 'Can You Feel the Love Tonight.'"
John's tugging on the bedsheets, smoothing out the ass-prints. "Maaaaybe." Dave doesn't turn around when he hears John come into the kitchen behind him, just stares accusingly at the last soda in the fridge and starts composing a mental grocery list. John's arms being suddenly around his waist messes with his brain, though, causing it to skip like a record. Soda butter oranges soda butter oranges. "Did it work?" John's breath is on his neck and now his list is alcohol alcohol alcohol, like an alarm, abort abort abort.
"Maaaybe," he forces himself to say, closing the fridge and turning in John's grip to look at him. He doesn't have to look down, anymore. He thinks John is going to kiss him, but it never comes. Relieved, he sees John smirk knowingly, feels him squeeze slightly before letting go, watches him walk back into the bedroom to grab his phone off the night stand and start texting someone. Leaning back against the fridge, he quickly composes the rest of his grocery list.
They take John's car to the store. John comes up to him with various snacks and things like a small child, asking with his eyes for Dave to buy them. Dave says he can have absolutely anything he wants—he's got his own money, doesn't he? John pretends to pout. Dave ends up giving John his credit card anyway, so he can check out with the food while Dave hangs back to buy his beer with cash. He doesn't actually see it happen, but he's pretty sure John buys himself a candy bar or two from the impulse shelf just because he can.
Dave mashes the radio control buttons on the way home, dissatisfied with every station, until John takes one hand from the wheel to jam the volume knob in, cutting off the sound. He tries to glare sideways at Dave in a "cut that shit out" kind of way but really just ends up grinning at the windshield. It's endearing as hell.
Once in the building, they hip-check each other down the hallway, and by the time Dave gets the door unlocked he's laughing freely, John sniggering behind him and crowding him through the doorway, shoving at his back as he walks to the kitchen to set his bags down. He turns around to kiss his boyfriend, maybe even make out just a little because he's feeling generous, and instead gets bowled over. There's a soft thud and a brief jolt of colour and light behind his eyes as his head hits the linoleum, and then he's staring up at John, pinned at the shoulders and hips to the kitchen floor, and John whispers, "Pinned ya."
Dave can't help it. His laughter is malicious and uncontrollable, and it takes him a second to calm down enough to gasp out, "You are the lamest fucking dork on this or any other planet."
To which John responds, "Love you too, space asshole."
And then they're kissing. Soft little pecks, so that Dave can keep laughing without vacuum-sucking the air from John's mouth, but then John does something, Dave doesn't know what, and the tone of his breathlessness changes. The kisses get longer, less gentle. Dave's hands find John's thighs. Leftover giggles turn to panting, and John's breath has gotten heavier too, his body moving subtly over Dave's, his hands in Dave's hair, and suddenly it's too hot and Dave can't stop his hips from moving, can't kill the small noise in his throat before John hears it. John's answering moan sends a second flare of heat through him, and a very small part of his brain lights up red even as he takes advantage of John's temporarily open mouth. At some point his hands slide up John's thighs to grip at his hips, and he'd be using them as leverage if John hadn't already started grinding down into him, drawing more desperate sounds from him, tugging at his hair and breaking the kiss long enough to look at him like he's watching a movie, like he's being entertained—
Dave's next gasp cuts off as the little red light grows into a proper siren and John didn't pull away, he's so fucking stupid. He shoves John off, rolls away, glares at the boy as he wipes his mouth. "You have got to be fucking kidding me."
John tries to play innocent, his face falling into that familiar bad-dog expression, and suddenly the act is so obvious, Dave's so angry at it, that he cuts him off in the middle of saying "I'm sor—"
"No. You're not. Because you're not the one who has to deal with the consequences here." John's mouth purses slightly, and he looks like he might try to say more, but Dave feels way too hurt-guilty-ashamed to put up with it. "You've been playing me this whole time," he spits, and it's enough to end the conversation.
He gets to his feet without looking at John, walks out the front door, very carefully doesn't slam it, and calls up an old buddy.
It's either very early or very late when Dave comes home. Either way, it's dark. He's not drunk, but he's tired enough to feel like it. John's car isn't in the parking lot, which is incredibly relieving, and the apartment is free of booby traps, which is also pretty nice. The shower is calling to him. He goes willingly.
Clean, if unshaven, Dave skips over beer entirely and pours himself a carefully calculated amount of whiskey. He finds his wireless earphones, hitting play on his way past the MP3 player on the desk. Settles into the bed without bothering to get dressed, and falls asleep with the untouched whiskey waiting on the night stand as a waking-up present to himself.
Waking up is a small ordeal. His eyes don't want to open; his ears are sore from sleeping with the 'phones on; his knees crack when he swings his legs over the side of the bed; his mouth is disgusting and he realises he forgot to brush his teeth before crashing. He tries to substitute alcohol for toothpaste and gets almost halfway through the glass in smallish sips before he thinks to check the clock on the night stand. It's after noon. He'd slept all day. Now he has just enough time to put himself together before John comes back from class. He rolls his eyes at no-one.
When the front door swings quietly open, he's fully dressed and sitting in the computer chair, sipping absently at the rest of his whiskey. John raises an eyebrow at him as he drops his bag and toes off his shoes, but Dave pointedly ignores him. John comes into the room and raises both eyebrows at the glass. Dave ignores him some more. Takes another sip. John clears his throat, but it's Dave who speaks.
"You should probably call your mother."
John nods once, slowly. "Yeah. I'll go do that, then."
It's never been as awkward between them as it is now. John lingers in the doorway for a moment, not looking directly at Dave, though he can hear the boy's teeth grind in the thick silence. Finally, he leaves, and Dave tries very hard not to care where he goes. He tries very hard not to think of anything but the glass in his hand and the fact that skipping two meals is accelerating the effect of its contents.
Chapter 28: Aftermath
Forty-eight hours after The Plan blew up in his face, John risks an encounter with Dave. They've been avoiding each other and quietly stewing in emotional juices, and he's had about enough of it. When Dave comes home from the gym Tuesday evening, he waits a few minutes to let him settle in, then asks, "Dinner?" in a voice just loud enough to carry through the doorway.
Dave comes out of his room and levels a wary look at him. "What about it."
"We were gonna go out tonight. It's Tuesday."
Dave's lips tighten. "I really don't think now is the best time for a date, John."
"When would a better time be, then?"
"When you're eighteen."
John can feel anger swell up in him and he clenches his jaw shut on the first words that come to mind. Takes a breath and composes a less bratty answer. "Why is my age such a critical issue?"
Dave pinches the bridge of his nose. "It's a consent thing, John."
"Consent!" he laughs, bitterly. "I'm perfectly consenting!"
"Yeah, I noticed your enthusiasm." Dave shuffles his feet and leans back against the door frame. "Look, I don't make the laws, but I'm not going to break this one. Especially not with your mother as an added negative incentive."
John's jaw clenches again, and Dave glances away. "I love my mama," he says, voice hard. "But this is not about her. It's about you and me. I'm old enough to make my own goddamn decisions even if I'm not legally an adult, and even that is only a couple months away! I don't understand why I absolutely have to wait till then!"
He doesn't realise until he's done speaking that his voice had raised considerably. Dave's voice is much quieter, though no less serious. "You knew what you were signing up for, kid. If you were with someone your own age you could be doing whatever you wanted right now." John tries to interject and Dave shoots him a glare. "But you're not the only one waiting, alright? I've been wanting to fuck you just as long as you've been swimming in hormones, and I've wanted to be with you, consciously or not, for a hell of a lot longer than you've given two shits about me."
"Woah. What." John takes a step back, lets the surprise show on his face. "You think this is just about sex?"
Dave throws his hands up. "The way you've been gunning for my dick lately, what else am I supposed to think?"
"I'm not some slut, Dave. Sex is part of the whole package for me. God, I cannot believe you thought—" He stops, takes another breath. "Just because I never remembered doesn't mean I'm not just as in love as you are."
Dave goes tense, arms crossing over his chest almost defensively. "You're still young," he says, and John feels like he's been sucker punched.
"Well I'm sorry for being born too late," he says, vicious sarcasm covering the breathlessness he feels at Dave's dismissal. "Not much we can do about that now, is there?"
"You've been so fucking selfish and manipulative, and then you tell me that you love me—"
"Because I do! Okay, so I've been using some slightly underhanded methods to—"
"You've been so hot and cold, how else am I supposed to keep up with you! I just wanted it to fucking stop! I thought if we just did it, all this back-and-forth would be over with!"
"John..." Dave looks defeated, and John realises very belatedly that his hostility was a front, a defence mechanism. He feels kind of exhausted himself, so he gives up on the argument, makes his way to the couch and flops down onto it. When Dave keeps his post in the doorway, staring at the floor, he pats the cushion next to him and waits for the older man to get up the nerve to cross the room and sit. For a long, awkward moment, they're silent. Then John takes a chance and reaches toward Dave, hand resting on the cushion palm-up. It takes a while, but Dave extends his own hand and allows John to lace their fingers together.
Dave doesn't look up from their joined hands when he murmurs, "We're supposed to be together on this."
John feels guilty as hell for the first time, and feels like a piece of shit for not feeling it sooner. "I know. God, I'm sorry." His fingers curl tighter over Dave's. "I didn't mean to hurt you."
Dave nods. After a moment, John scoots closer. They lean on each other, the silence between them more tired than anything else, and stay that way a long time.
The next morning John wakes to the sound of Dave talking on the phone. He's in Dave's bed, and as his memory of the previous night floats to the surface of his consciousness, he feels guilty all over again. Dave had willingly taken the couch, which is pretty fucking backward considering how much of an asshole John's been the last nine days.
By the time John has pants on and has made his way into the kitchen, Dave is off the phone and nibbling on a dried apricot. John leans against the doorway.
"Morning," Dave says back, popping the rest of the apricot in his mouth and gesturing to the bag of dehydrated fruit on the counter. "Want some?"
Silence. John chews on his lip a bit.
"I wanted to apologise again for..." he trails off as Dave shakes his head.
"It's okay. You already said you were sorry last night."
Dave's small, hesitant smile offsets the harshness of the hand he claps over John's mouth. "Shut up. We pretty much said everything we wanted to say already. I know how you feel, you know how I feel, it's over."
John lowers his eyebrows and fails to lick Dave's hand before he pulls it away. "It's not, though."
Dave gives a tiny sigh, one that he's probably unaware of, as he shoves his hands into his pockets. "I was assigned a shift on Luna a while ago. It overlapped with your birthday, so I had a buddy cover for me. After this week, I figure some time apart will do us some good until the restrictions lift. So I told my buddy that I would take my shift back." Dave's wandering gaze locks with John's, and he has to force himself to hold it. "I leave in three weeks. I'll be back mid-April."
Slowly, John nods. "Yeah, that's probably the best move."
Now the silence between them is awkward, and John can't choose just one thing to feel out of the tangled mess of emotions inside him. So he goes in for a hug, and Dave welcomes him with open arms, and things kind of suck but they could be a lot worse.
Coming home is sort of weird, for Kanaya. After all the events she'd attended and new people she'd met and old friends she'd visited, she was glad to be back in the relative peace and close warmth of Florida. But things start going strangely once she crosses the threshold of her house.
For one thing, the boys are not together. She's surprised that Dave would miss an opportunity to reunite with his sister after a time apart, however short. And what's more: immediately upon seeing John, Rose seemingly sheds all of the tension she'd been carrying the last few days of their trip.
"Oh. So things went well, then?"
John's face looks the way Kanaya feels. "Uh. Yeah, they did," he says, glancing at Kanaya. She shrugs, having no explanation for her wife's actions. As if she ever does.
"Good. I'll go visit Dave once we've unpacked," she says, beaming. She walks over to where John's playing on his phone in the armchair and kisses him on top of his head before taking her bags into their bedroom. Kanaya looks after her, shaking her head.
"I take that to mean that both of you behaved while we were gone?"
Kanaya raises one eyebrow, and now it's John's turn to shrug. He gives no further explanation.
Kanaya, for the thousandth time, gives up on understanding anything about these people.
Chapter 29: Bare Asses and Watermelon Lube
I'm sorry for taking forever to update. Hopefully the length will make up for it a little.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
John is used to Dave going on missions. It's been happening for the last five years, and before that he never saw Dave at all, except in photos. He's never been bothered by the months-long absences; he and Rose both do just fine without Dave around all the time.
These things repeat themselves in his head as the rumble of takeoff a couple miles up the coast shimmies its way up his ankles and echoes in his ears. He feels it every time they send a ship up past the atmosphere, but it always seems louder when he knows Dave's on board.
Rose breezes past his open door and then backtracks, pops her head inside to smile at him where he's sitting at his desk. "It'll be worth it when he comes home," she says, and disappears again. John shakes his head in amusement and tries to focus on his homework.
He meets Vriska at baggage claim. She greets him with a "Happy fuckin' birthday!" and hugs him tight, nearly lifting him off his feet.
"Woah, slow down, my birthday isn't till tomorrow!"
"Don't care. I'm here for three days, so we're celebrating for three days. This is day one of your extended birthday. Happy birthday!"
John laughs at her enthusiasm. "Guess I can't argue with that."
"Damn right you can't. You know what my suitcase looks like, right? Mind keeping an eye out for it while I find a bathroom? Thanks."
All he can do is laugh again as she strides off.
When they get back to his house, she immediately plops down on his bed with her suitcase in front of her.
"Sit," she commands. He sits opposite her, watching as she unzips the bag and holds the lid horizontal, blocking his view of its contents.
From over the top of the lid, she hands him a card-size envelope with a flourish. He's a little sceptical of the smirk on her face, but he opens it, snorting at the "Happy eightieth birthday!" card.
"It's close enough," she says cheerfully.
He rolls his eyes and opens the card, reading the generic printed message and then the note scrawled below it: "so you can practice until he gets home ;)"
Confused, John glances up, but before he can ask what the hell she means by it, her meaning is staring him in the face. She's holding out a butt plug, which is sparkling happily at him from inside its clear packaging.
"Do you love it?"
John purses his lips. "Maybe ask me again later."
"Later as in after you've broken it in?"
"Gross, no, just—there's another present, right? This isn't all you got me?"
"Hell no!" Vriska scoffs, and tosses the plug at him in order to reach into her suitcase and pull out... a little bottle of lube. "You can't just shove that thing in dry, John, come on. Don't be dumb."
He facepalms. "I meant something non-sexual. But thank you for being so creepily considerate."
"Well, this is just the starter kit." She tosses the little bottle at him; it lands in his lap. While he's examining the label, she says, "That's the most basic stuff there is. I'm going to take you shopping later, and we'll get you something better."
"Because the quality of my lube is so important to you."
"It is! I don't want you complaining to me about how sore you are when Dave tries to stick it in and you're completely unprepared."
John laughs. "Don't worry, that's not something I would bother you about."
"Exactly. Because I'm going to set you up with everything you need." John rolls his eyes; Vriska narrows hers. "And I think you should take this a little more seriously, kid. Do you even know what could happen to your butt if you don't—"
"Yeah, actually, I do, because I go on the internet too!"
Vriska laughs. "Okay, okay, I'll shut up. And yes, I did get you something else." Reaching into her suitcase one last time, she pulls out a thin rectangular box, handing it to him with a smile that manages to be smug and warm at the same time.
Almost before he takes it from her, he realises what it is. "Holy shit. You are the best."
It's a waterproof tablet. Top of the line. Equipped with lights, camera, stylus, and a crazy amount of memory.
"I couldn't believe you didn't already have your own, so I fixed it," she says with a smile. "My dad helped me find the best one. Because of course my best friend has to have only the best tech."
He puts the box aside and leans over her suitcase to kiss her cheek. "Thanks, Vriska."
She pulls him in for a hug. "Duh."
They stay like that for a moment, awkwardly holding each other with the suitcase between them, and then Vriska pulls away and smiles, looking slightly predatory. "Alright. Now for Soul Calibur."
They wake up the next afternoon, stomachs protesting the sheer amount of ginger beer, pizza, and mango salsa they'd consumed the night before. John realises that he woke up primarily because of his full bladder, so he rushes to the bathroom, and, while he's there, decides to run through the shower. As soon as he's out, Vriska pushes past him with her bag of girly stuff. While she's getting ready, John cleans up the mess from their all-nighter. He's wrapping up controller cords when his computer starts ringing, and he sits at the desk to answer the incoming Skype call from Dave.
"Hey, John. Happy birthday."
He beams. "Thanks."
Vriska comes back into the room, hair damp.
"Your boyfriend on the line?" she asks.
"Nah," Dave says, "just some dude who looks like him and who happens to also be on the moon."
"Oh good, just what we need." Vriska stands behind John and leans her forearms on his shoulders, and in the little box in the corner of the screen John can see her smirking at Dave from over his head. "What are you up to today, space man?"
"Space stuff. Running a systems check on the telescope's machinery right now. Might grab a snack later."
"Sounds like a blast," John says flatly.
"It is, actually," Dave retorts. "I'm finally back in space! I miss it up here when I'm planetside babysitting you surface folk."
Vriska drops her head down onto the top of John's and giggles "Surface folk!" under her breath.
"You're just relieved that you don't have to exercise any self-control if you're up there," John teases, brushing Vriska's hair out of his face.
"Uh, yeah? I kinda appreciate the break. Not like I haven't been the most in-control dude in the history of temptation for the last couple months or anything."
Vriska straightens up and barks a laugh. "I hear you were very dedicated!"
John rolls his eyes.
Dave says, "Yes, I certainly was dedicated to not suffering bodily harm from vengeful mothers of deflowered children."
"Oh, come on," John says, "I really doubt Rose would maim you just for screwing me."
"Shhhhh!" Dave waves his hands at the camera like he can forcibly shush them from two hundred and forty thousand miles away. "She can probably hear you, is she home? Don't say it like that, she'll think it already happened."
John chuckles and Vriska cracks up, saying, "Dorkus!"
Dave cocks his head and grins. "Aww, she finally likes me, ain't that cute."
Vriska shrugs. "Well I can't in good conscience hate you now that John's Of Age and you're no longer the creepy guy trying to get into a kid's pants."
"How sweet," Dave mutters.
"And speaking of pants," she continues, "we're going to go watch people take theirs off now, so I'm gonna have to end this call. It's been nice chatting, Dave."
John twists around to look at her in surprise. "What? Vriska, you're sixteen!"
Dave laughs pretty loudly, then says, "As long as you make sure he keeps his hands to himself during any and all lap dances."
"I'll try, but I hear he's feisty," Vriska says with a wink. Dave's still laughing when she reaches over John to hit the end-call button, and John's still got one eyebrow raised at her when she says, "Ready to go? I'll drive."
Vriska insists on buying him dinner first. After all the snacking and forgetting-to-eat they'd done since she arrived, actual food seems about ten times more delicious than it probably is.
Then she takes him West, into the mainland, and they have to drive for a while to get to "this place I know about," which John translates in his head to "the place with the best online reviews." By the time they get there, it's dusky. John has to stifle a giggle when Vriska switches out her legal driver's license with a fake ID proclaiming her to have turned eighteen three months ago, but when she presents it at the entrance, the security guy seems to buy it. John teases her that it's probably the makeup, but he knows it's more than that: she carries herself like she's invincible, and sometimes it's hard not to believe whatever comes out of her mouth, even if it's just a dangerous flash of teeth.
Inside, the lighting is low, and the music isn't half bad. The outfits are even skimpier than the kind of thing people wear on the beaches, but neither of them are complaining. One of the men working there asks Vriska if she'd like a dance, and she tries to pass him off to John, but he's not sure if that would be breaking lap dance etiquette or something? The guy laughs and offers to call someone else over so they can both have a dance, and would he like a man or a woman? All John can do is blush a bit and blurt out, "Surprise me." The man winks at him like he's being smooth, but Vriska winks at him because she knows he's flustered.
He ends up getting a dance from a woman with all the wrong body parts covered, and all the best ones in plain sight. Vriska holds his hand, saying it's "to discourage you from touching," but she seems to be having difficulty herself. Afterward, they watch the dancers walk away, still squeezing each other's hands and grinning stupidly.
On the drive back, Vriska hooks her mp3 player up to the car's stereo, and they sing along to techno remixes of pop songs until they pull up to the house and stumble into John's room, trying to keep their giggles quiet. Vriska goes into the bathroom to change into her pyjamas, and when she comes back to flop onto the bed, she pulls John into a hug and murmurs "happy birthday" before rolling away and snuggling in to sleep.
Kanaya greets him with a smile and a pile of French toast when he shuffles into the kitchen the next morning. He takes the plate, sitting heavily in the seat to Vriska's right and going for the syrup.
"You're very welcome. How was the club last night?"
The overlarge bite he shoves in his mouth is half a stall for time and half genuine hunger and enthusiasm for Kanaya's French toast. The slowness with which he chews is all stall, though.
"It was nice," he says when his mouth is empty, then immediately refills it.
"That's good," she says with an amused little grin. "While you were out," she adds, "a package came for you."
"It's from Karkat," Vriska chimes in around a mouthful of eggy bread.
John nods and tells himself he'll give a shit once he's done with breakfast.
Fifteen minutes later, he's sitting on his bed and blinking at the small pile of lube samples that he's just dumped out of the envelope from Karkat. He sighs, and it's drowned out by Vriska's laughter.
"Oh man, we have to try them."
John looks up sharply. "Try—what?!"
"I mean taste them, dumbass," she says, rolling her eyes and reaching for a pink one. "Strawberry. Hmmm."
John looks on in slightly grossed-out interest as she tears open the plastic and squeezes a fat droplet of the stuff onto her finger, then happily pops it in her mouth.
"Vriska. Why are you eating lube."
"So we can figure out which one to get more of."
"Here, you try. This one is too sweet for me, but maybe you're into that. Lemon..." She takes another taste, and gags theatrically. "Oh god this one tastes like ass. The point is to cover up the taste of ass, what the hell. Ugh, don't even try that one, where's your trash can, fuck."
From there it's one flavour at a time and detailed commentary from Vriska, who treats the whole thing like the judges' panel of a cooking show. When John finally voices something like satisfaction with the watermelon one, she announces a trip to the sex shop. John lets her drive, never mind how she knows where to go without so much as a print-out map, and texts Karkat. Karkat is amused by John's complaints and wishes him luck.
Vriska uses her fake ID again to get into the store, and pulls John straight to the lube shelves, stacked four-deep with brand upon brand and dozens of flavours. Suddenly he's grateful for Vriska's little taste-test party earlier, because she grabs the right bottle within seconds, and then they're done.
With that, anyway.
They spend the next half hour in the toy section, John carrying his bottle of lube and sort of trailing along after a very enthusiastic Vriska, who flits from phallus to phallus, saying things like "Oh, this one is great," and "I almost bought you this! But I figured you'd want something smaller for your first plug," and "Say hello to the most powerful vibrator on the market. Wanna feel the magic?" He laughs along with her when they find a dildo the size of his arm, and almost get in trouble when he starts swinging it at her like a floppy sword.
After that is the lingerie.
John's protests earn him no reprieve.
Vriska texts photos of some of them to Karkat for a second opinion. Karkat responds with little to no remorse when John accuses him of being a traitor. She doesn't quite manage to convince him to try anything on.
They return home having bought nothing but the lube, though Vriska says he should buy "a sexy little something" for Dave's birthday later in the year.
Rose and Kanaya present him with gifts and hugs. They spend a pretty calm afternoon together, just the four of them, talking and watching movies and eating John's favourites for lunch and dinner. Kanaya asks Vriska about her schooling, and she says it's going well. She's not at the top of her class, but she's close, and she's graduating soon. When Rose asks about her plans for the future, she gives a vague answer about banks and corporate ladders. John is so not surprised.
After dessert, Vriska kisses both his mothers on the cheek and apologises for monopolising their son before whisking him off again. They walk together to a secluded bit of beach to stretch out on, and John laughs in defeat when she pulls a glass bottle out of her purse.
"What even is it with you and liquor?"
Vriska sighs. "John, if you have to ask that, you'll never understand." She twists off the cap and holds it out to him. "This stuff tastes like cinnamon candy, you can't even tell it's alcohol."
He takes the bottle, sniffing a bit at the mouth of it. Vriska gives him a look, so he just drinks it.
A song is playing, and John rolls over to smoosh his face into his pillow. Someone grumbles, "Turn that shit off," and John remembers that Vriska is staying over for his birthday.
"It's your fucking phone," he grumbles back. "You turn it off."
Vriska whines and he feels her roll off the bed. His head still hurts when the alarm stops, but the silence is nice. Then Vriska laughs weakly.
"Oh man, now I remember."
John turns his head, cracks open one eye, blinks a few times...
"Why are you naked?"
"You are too, dude."
He scrambles to sit up, noting the total absence of bedsheets on his bed, and stares down at his underwear. Vriska is wearing a black bra and blue panties. As he gawks, she pulls a shirt out of her suitcase and wiggles into it.
"It rained like hell last night, remember? Guess we were too drunk for pyjamas." She grabs a shirt from his closet and tosses it at him, then falls back onto the bed, still not wearing pants.
"My head feels like death," he mutters, staring at the shirt but not putting it on. "Prom wasn't like this. Why is it like this."
"You must not be a whiskey guy," she says.
John slumps back down, covering his face with the shirt. "Wake me up when I turn nineteen."
Vriska rolls on top of him and pokes at his forehead through the shirt. "I have to go home, John. You gotta drive me to the airport."
"You like driving so much, you drive."
"I can't drive right now, are you kidding?"
"I'll drive," comes Rose's voice from the doorway. Vriska gets off him and he tugs the shirt off his face. Rose is smiling softly, and holding two mugs of coffee.
"You are the best mother in the world," he breathes as Vriska gets up to hug her.
Rose leaves so they can chug their coffee and get dressed, and John helps Vriska shove all her things back into the suitcase, including her still-damp clothes from the night before. She leaves the bottle of whiskey on his desk, and tells him that the remaining third of its contents is her last birthday gift to him. He thanks her, and wonders if Dave will like it.
They fall asleep in the car, and Rose wakes them up when they get to the airport. John carries the suitcase to the check-in line, despite being more hungover than Vriska is. Then all that's left is the goodbye.
"Did you have a good birthday?" she asks, hesitating before the final hug.
He grins and punches her shoulder lightly. "Of course I did, dumbass."
She smiles back, nods. "Good luck with Dave. Call me." Quickly as she can, she stands on tiptoe to kiss his cheek, then turns and walks away. He watches her for a moment before he turns to leave.
I'm also sorry for the prank title. Kind of. Don't worry, the real smut will be in the next chapter.
Chapter 30: Endings are for Fairytales
This chapter was difficult as hell, but I got it done. And now Space Man is over. See the end notes for more commentary and a goodbye.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It's early morning on Earth when Dave steps out of the ship and takes a breath of home. After all the official stuff, he drives to his apartment, bathes, shaves, dresses, makes himself an omelette and washes it down with a beer. Stares in dry amusement at his bed, which has apparently been unmade for the last two months, and thinks of napping. Instead, he shrugs on his riding jacket.
He drives an hour north to the chocolate factory to grab a box of the fudge John likes, then buys a big bouquet of flowers from a grocery store back home. (Not roses, though; he buys a single one of those every year for his sister's birthday. As cliche as it is, he can't help but associate the two.) Parked in the half-empty driveway of the Lalonde house, he glances at his watch and confirms what he instinctually knows: it's still not even noon. He lets himself inside. Kanaya greets him in the living room, and he sighs into her neck when she embraces him, fussing at his helmet hair. She offers him tea, coffee, milk, juice, water, alcohol? and he says no, no, thank you, it's okay, really, Kanaya I'm fine. She tugs at the chain around his neck playfully and he gently head-butts her. She goes back to her magazine and he sets his gifts on the kitchen table before wandering into the master bedroom.
Rose is reading a paperback, propped up against the headboard with like five pillows. She lifts her arms up to allow him to collapse across her legs, reading a moment longer before marking her place and setting the book aside.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
"You're nervous," she decides, "but not anxious. Excited, maybe—"
Dave snorts into the comforter over her hip. "Are you kidding? I mean—sorry, I know he's your kid and all—"
"Hush, Dave. I know." Running her fingers through his hair, she lets the silence stretch for a moment. "I'm excited for you."
"Creepy," he mumbles.
"You're my brother. You've waited a very long time to be with the person you love. I'm allowed to be happy about today's reunion."
Content, he hums, nuzzling into her. She smiles down on him as she moves her attention to his back and shoulders, provoking a small sigh when she begins tracing swirls into his skin with her nails.
Dave wakes up alone in Rose's bed. He glances at his watch, rolls off the bed to peer out the window. John’s home by now. They probably had dinner without him. He makes his way through the house, feeling like he's in college again and he's on his way to take an exam. As he enters the kitchen, Rose crosses his path and offers him an encouraging smile. Through the sliding glass door, he sees John, sitting on the swing out back and messing with his phone. Breathing becomes a little too difficult. He's painfully aware of his pulse. He opens the door, and John looks up at the sound.
"Hey Dave! Thanks for the flowers."
"We saved you some salmon and rice."
Dave lingers in the doorway, unsure of how to proceed. Grinning, John motions him over, sliding his phone into one pocket and spreading his knees so he has room to pull Dave in close by the hips.
"Welcome home, space man," he says softly, pulling at Dave's shirt until he's bent over and they're kissing, warm and slow, and now he's home. Now he can relax.
Then John slides one hand up to the back of his neck and holds him there, the fingers of his other hand slipping into the waistband of Dave's jeans and tugging, and Dave has to pull away.
"What?” John protests. “We can do that now."
Dave shakes his head. "Nope. I'm gonna romance you properly. It wouldn't do to tarnish your reputation and sully your virtue and it'd be really awkward if we started doing it in your mothers' backyard, anyway."
"You want to take me on a date before you fuck me."
"Because I'm a virgin."
Dave blinks, shifts his weight. "Well, yeah, there's that, but also because I'm a romantic and it'd be weird to just... fuck."
"You've never 'just fucked' anyone before?"
"Yes, but you're not 'anyone'."
Heaving an entirely fake sigh, John relents. "Alright. And where will this wooing occur?"
"Well normally I'd take a girl out to dinner, but you already had Kanaya's cooking, so I doubt I'd be able to fit any more food in you, even if you are a teenager."
"College kids tend to just ask each other out for coffee," John supplies, shrugging.
Straight-faced, Dave gets down on one knee, puts a hand on John's thigh and the other over his heart. "Johnny Lalonde, I think you're swell and I'd like to take you out for coffee."
John cackles at him, batting Dave's hand away. When Dave just watches him, saying nothing, he tames his laughter. "Wait, really? Now?"
"It's, like, seven thirty at night, Dave."
"So we'll get decaf. Unless you want to wait? I can pick you up tomorrow after class and—"
"Decaf it is," John says loudly, ending the conversation by grabbing Dave's wrists and pulling him to his feet, towing him along toward the house.
Since he slept through dinner, Dave orders a bagel with strawberry cream cheese at the coffee place, along with a black tea. John calls him a wuss. Then John orders a decaf vanilla latte, and Dave calls him a hypocrite. Dave pays for everything and smiles politely at the girl behind the counter, who looks like she's trying to suppress a laugh.
They find a little table in a corner by the windows and sit down. It's pretty quiet; that isn't surprising, considering it's not exactly peak caffeine traffic time. It's almost awkward between the two of them, though. How the hell are they supposed to act tonight, anyway? They've gone on dates before, but those were like practice runs, dates with the training wheels still on; pretty much their usual interaction but with a little more kissing before they parted ways. At a loss for anything else to say, Dave smashes the ice to bits with his biggest hammer.
"So you're still a virgin?"
John, who was blowing on his coffee to cool it, nearly spills all over the place with the force of his startled laugher. "I guess that depends on your definition of virginity!"
"It's kind of a stupid concept, I'll admit, but..." Dave raises one eyebrow over his shades. "How far did you manage to get by the time you were fifteen?"
John gives him a lopsided smile. "How far did you get by fifteen?"
Dave takes a bite of his bagel. John sips his latte, then settles it between his hands, and the contrast of his skin tone against the ceramic of the mug occupies Dave's attention while he considers how to answer.
He decides to deflect: "If virginity were defined as never having shared an orgasm with another person."
John taps at his mug for a moment, and suddenly Dave really, really hopes that John hasn't had any orgasms with other people without sharing.
Then he answers, "In that case, yeah. I'm a virgin," and something possessive inside Dave does a triumphant fist pump. "You gonna change that for me when we get back to your place?"
"Nah, can't just jump you the first chance I get, my brother taught me better than that. We should go dancing or something first. Or at least take a moonlit stroll along the beach, considering I fucking live on the beach. Maybe end up making out in the sand again. Hopefully I won't swallow any this time." Taking a drink of his tea distracts him, so he doesn't immediately notice that John is looking at him oddly.
"I didn't think you had any siblings."
Startled, Dave shakes his head. "Right, no. I don't. Sometimes I get mixed up."
"Um." John hesitates, looking unsure. "Does it have anything to do with, like... last time?"
Dave just meets John's gaze, not bothering with food props. He sort of doesn't want to get into this right now; the differences between that life and this one, how hard it was not to have Bro around, how hard it was to find him again. Especially not when he's supposed to be focusing on wooing this boy—no, not boy, man. John's not thirteen anymore, and he hasn’t been for a long time. He’s all grown up now; the longer Dave looks at him, the more obvious it is. He's younger than Dave, less experienced, but he's not the child in the dumb outfit who Dave waited so many years for. He's bones and muscle and blood pumping hot under skin, lungs breathing the same air as Dave, his foot touching Dave's under the table and he's here.
"Yeah," he breathes, unable to look away from John's eyes and the way the gold rings around his pupils are visible in the sunlight angling through the window. "Last time."
Somehow, John gets it. He reaches across the table, palm up, and Dave grabs his hand, squeezes once. They drink in silence for a long moment, hands loosely clasped, and even when they let go and change the topic, John keeps his foot nudged against Dave's.
They do take a walk on the beach before going inside. Their footprints trail behind them, mostly washed away because John can't stay out of the surf, likes to feel the sea swirl around his ankles. He always has. Dave doesn't understand how someone can live their whole life in one place and still love it so much, but then, John has no reason to be bitter about his childhood. He mostly watches and listens as John talks, sometimes wandering a little further into the water but never so far that he has to let go of Dave's hand.
As soon as they turn around to head back to the apartment, Dave feels himself counting down. He easily calculates a time based on their current speed and the distance across the sand. Unless he's mistaken, John can feel the anticipation too; he's just babbling now, talking about nothing. Their hands may or may not be clutching more tightly than before.
The countdown ticks down to zero and Dave opens the door with a little flourish, motioning for John to go first. John smirks at him, pulling him inside by his shirt and catching him in a kiss.
"Eager," Dave taunts, kicking the door closed. "At least give me a chance to light some candles."
"You don't own any candles. Now shut up and fuck me."
Dave laughs, partly because John's an overzealous horny teenager and partly because they can do that now. John is now mouthing insistently at his neck. Dave pushes him gently into the door, reaches around him to latch the deadbolt. John breathes out a half-laugh, winds the fingers of one hand into Dave's hair and holds him still so he can simultaneously kiss him and take his shades off with his free hand. He pulls Dave's shirt up over his head and tosses it across the room, staring only briefly at his bare chest before his hands are all over it, sliding around his ribs to his back, pulling him in close, and Dave can feel blunt nails pressed into the skin under his shoulder blades. He goes willingly, allows himself to be manhandled even as he continues the movement, pins John firmly to the door and returns his hungry kisses. When John pushes his hips into Dave's he's already hard. Fuck. Dave grabs at his hips, pushing him up the wall, pulling both thighs up and around his waist. John kisses hard, making small noises into his mouth and arching into him. Making out is amazing enough, but John's young and impatient; soon he's pushing at Dave, getting away from the door and lowering himself to the floor so he can steer them toward the bed. He pulls his own shirt off on the way, starting in on Dave's pants almost before Dave's ass is on the mattress, and Dave has to laugh again.
"Slow down, killer. You have me all night."
“Dave, c’mon, I’ve been thinking about this all day, I just want—” He cuts himself off by kissing Dave again.
John’s relentless forward motion is infectious. It’s stirring up a frantic energy in Dave that he hasn’t felt in years. He’s murmuring into the mouth against his, and John's got a hand down his pants, panting Dave’s name right back at him, forehead on his shoulder so he can watch himself work, and it's hot as hell but it's not enough.
He pulls away, evoking a breathy noise of complaint from John, which turns into a little approving hum when he shimmies John's jeans and boxers off his hips, freeing his dick. He tugs John down onto the bed and crawls up to hover over him on all fours, his pants still mostly on and this beautiful boy laid out stark naked underneath him, legs open. Slowly, he lowers himself to kiss along John’s collarbone, grinding down on him, the friction between them electric. John’s pulling at his belt loops for leverage, twisting and arching under him with his knees up and his head tipped back into the mattress. Dave holds himself up with both arms so he can watch the way John’s muscles move, can watch his face, can glance down and see the place where they’re joined, where the contact is burning a hole into him and John’s acting like he can feel it too, like he’s sizzling inside and he can’t get the heat out except by panting it into Dave’s mouth when he surges up to kiss him. It doesn’t take very long before John comes, holding Dave to him by the back of the neck. With John struggling for breath, Dave slows to a stop.
Once his breath has evened out, John glances down and, smirking, reaches between them, ignoring the mess on his stomach to grope Dave’s dick. Dave coughs out a laugh at his boldness and almost manages to speak, but John bowls him over sideways. He could fight it—could continue the momentum and throw John over the edge of the bed, if he wanted—but he lets it happen, goes limp and wide-eyed as John hovers over him, straddling one thigh. John licks his lips, reminiscent of a predator, but his touch is gentle. His head dips down and he bites Dave’s earlobe so lightly it’s almost more breath than teeth, making Dave shiver. When he squeezes, it’s hard to keep from thrusting. Then he picks up the pace, and plants a single kiss to Dave's temple before he starts whispering, saying "how does that feel?" and "fuck you sound so good" and "I'm gonna do all kinds of things to you now that you're mine", and Dave can't stop himself from bucking up into John's hand until he’s choking on curses, on John’s name, clutching at him hard enough to bruise and coming hard.
When he's done and John snuggles back down against him, his erection digs into Dave's thigh. Dave wonders how long he's been hard. Smiling to himself, he thinks that as much of a douche as John can be sometimes, he is apparently not greedy in the sack. As soon as the world around him settles again he disentangles himself and rolls off the bed. John looks confused, but Dave just grins up at him from his position on the floor, grabs John's legs and drags till his ass is at the edge of the mattress, propped back on his elbows. It's worth the discomfort of knees on carpet when he gets his mouth around John's dick and the younger man hisses in pleasure.
Dave has to hold his hips to keep them still while he works. It's been a while since he's done this, and the noises from John make it hard to hold back. Somehow, he manages. With one arm across John's abdomen and his other hand around the base of his dick—with both of John's hands fisted in the sheets, John's mouth hanging open and needy little noises coming out of him—Dave manages quite well. Dave can tell he's getting close even before he says, "Dave, fuck, I'm—" and he welcomes it, coaxes it out with his lips around the tip and his hand squeezing the rest, swallows it down while John all but screams.
Spent, John collapses back on the bed. Dave leaves a short kiss on the inside of his thigh before getting up to clean himself up and rinse his mouth out. When he's done, he brings a warm, wet washcloth back to the bed and sits next to John to start rubbing the mess off him. Every one of John's muscles is completely relaxed under his hand, and it seems like he's already mostly asleep. Dave can't bring himself to ask the kid to move so they can get under the covers, so he doesn't. Tossing the dirty washcloth on the night stand, he cuddles up with his boyfriend and falls the fuck asleep.
John wakes up slowly. Comfortably. He's warm and snug, and there's someone breathing next to him. Dave. He's in Dave's bed. Dave is naked beside him. Memories of the night before come back to him in gentle waves, and he feels deeply satisfied. He turns, props his head up on one arm so he can look at Dave's sleeping face and bask in the feeling. It was so much different than doing it by himself; so much more intense. It felt like being underwater. It almost felt like flying—but who is he to judge what does or doesn't feel like flying? Maybe he should ask Dave if sex for him is like going into space.
Dave eventually stirs and smiles, opening his big brown eyes, and John doesn't know why that strikes him as weird. Dave's eyes have always been the same, light like chocolate and honey, and he's not sure why the sight of Dave all disheveled and blinking up at him in the morning light makes him think they should be red.
Touchdown is the most exciting thing to happen to Terezi in the last year and a half, of course, having done little more than float around on the ship with her partner since leaving Alpha Cen. They're both excited to come home, so that when they finally land and exit the ship, met with the usual homecoming party, it feels bigger than just a routine run. It feels like they’re returning conquerors.
Dave, because he's Dave, bypasses the rest of the crowd, nods once at her partner as they pass, and bounds up the ladder with the strength of a gravity-walker and the speed of a man reunited with his best friend. Flash bulbs light them up as he hugs her fiercely, and she laughs into his neck because he's just so ridiculous. He pulls away after a moment and holds her gloved hands. When she glances down she sees something that is definitely not John’s old class ring.
Dave nods. "To John. Couple years ago. I would have waited for you to come home so you could be my best woman, but you were gone a fucking decade."
"Hell, I'm just glad it worked out. It would have sucked if you went through all that drama for nothing."
"Oh god, you didn't even see the real drama."
"Dave, baby, he was a teenager and you weren't putting out. I can imagine the drama." She raises an eyebrow at him. "...You weren't putting out, were you?"
He swats at her playfully. Then he leads her down the ladder and onto solid ground, still holding her hand.
Later, Terezi sits in the Lalonde living room in Rose's clothes, hair still damp from her shower. It's just like old times, including the yoghurt parfait that Kanaya presents her with. While she eats (goddamn but she missed fresh dairy, Kanaya is an angel), Dave rambles at her about the state of things on Earth.
"What is he babbling about now?" Terezi and Dave turn to see John in the doorway, smirking.
"Dang, kid," says Terezi, shoving her parfait at Dave and getting up to greet him. "You're all grown up, aren'tcha?" John lets her stroke his bicep, then chuckles when she takes one in each hand and squeezes.
Dave stands, puffing himself up in a parody of territorial display. "Unhand my husband, you minx."
John flexes for her, smiling over her head at Dave. "Aw, Rez is harmless. She's just appreciating the scenery."
"Yeah, what the stud muffin said," she chirps.
"I thought I was your stud muffin," Dave says, sounding wounded. From her place next to him on the couch, Rose pats his shoulder.
A car pulls up outside and John goes "There he is!" before disappearing around the corner. Terezi sprawls out across the chair again and holds her hand out until Dave gives her parfait back to her. There are significantly less strawberries in it than before. She digs out a blueberry and throws it at him, which makes Kanaya inhale sharply like she's about to admonish them, but he catches it in his mouth and aims a dorky thumbs-up at his sister-in-law. Kanaya looks placated, but only just.
A minute later John comes back into the living room with another man, whose utter unfamiliarity doesn't stop something like recognition from shifting hotly in Terezi's chest. She carefully sets her parfait down on the coffee table and rises to her feet, meeting the stranger's gaze.
"Terezi, this is my buddy Karkat. He's visiting from Minnesota."
"P.S., he's kind of an asshole," Dave puts in, earning a dismissive eye roll from the man in question.
"Karkat Vantas, ma'am," he says, stepping toward her and offering a hand to shake. "Pleasure's mine."
Out of the corner of her eye she can see Rose watching her, as if the other woman can see right through her to the inexplicable wingbug party in her gut. Taking his hand, Terezi manages to get out, "Uh. Terezi Pyrope."
Karkat laughs, seeming genuinely amused. "Oh, don't worry, I know who you are. It's nice to finally get to meet you," he says, and as a smile grows on her face without instruction from her brain, she thinks to herself,
To those who were looking forward to seeing an Andrew Hussie cameo, and especially to solarVerdancy, who dared me to work him in somehow, I apologise; I wrote him into the epilogue, which got pretty much shredded (it lost 1100 words) in an effort to reduce an entire chapter to the space of a few paragraphs.
To those who were capable of picking out the discrepancies when it comes to space travel and physics, I apologise; some were plot devices and some were just mistakes made out of ignorance.
To those who've stuck with me this last year and left encouraging or inspiring comments... thank you so much for putting up with my erratic updates and for making me feel like I'm doing something right. I appreciate every last one of you, even if you're just a name on the list of kudos. (I read those.)
And a huge thank you to secondhandact, without whom this chapter would have been significantly late and/or fifteen different flavours of not-right.
The Space Man 'verse is open for offshoot fics about characters that have been glossed over (Karkat, Vriska) or not involved in the main fic (Bro), much like with JumpingJackFlash's Space Bro and its offshoot California Dreaming. If you want to write one, then go ahead! I ask only that you indicate that it was inspired by this fic, or tag it "unrealityfreak" on tumblr so I can see it, and I'll link to it here.