Chapter 1: Dave: A time of confessions and death
Your name is Dave Strider, and day-by-day, you are witnessing your best bro, John Egbert, kill himself.
The cuts wouldn't heal for a while.
He tried to keep them hidden, and for a few months we were oblivious to his self-inflicted wounds. They would have stayed a secret too, if it had not been for his cracking personality. A nervous glance towards the grimy, tiled floor, a pained whimper as one of us touched his previously wounded flesh, and the nauseating scent of rubbing alcohol and dried blood.
Perhaps the others were too nervous to confront him after the "incident", as they liked to call it. The day he stood in the front of our class room; a small anxious smile tugging at his lips, and announced to all of us that he was "coming out of the closet" as he called it.
Maybe he was bullied before, but it hadn't hurt him as bad as it was hurting him now. Nowhere near as much. The names people spat him were bitter and made my stomach churn. Now he was broken, a hollow, empty shell of his formal self. The jokester, the "Lord of Pranking", my best friend, where was he now? It felt like those timeless moments he had spent with him had been blown away by the cruel winds of fate; our memories only dust on the pavement of life. Then, all of those dusty memories were scattered far and wide, never to be seen again.
It was raining again today. The sky was a bleak shade of grey, the clouds coal, ash, and slate in pigment, giving off a marbled texture. The fluorescent lights; installed in rectangular, three foot, panels across the creamy white ceiling, flickered half heartedly, a low buzzing droning throughout the classroom.
I tapped my index finger to a beat, inaudible to anyone else, one that only I could hear, on my desk, and glanced over at him briefly. His face was buried in his thickly sleeved arms, his hood over his head. We all knew, even the teacher, that he was not asleep. He barely slept anymore.
Dark circles had formed under his eyes, and behind his thick rimmed, geeky spectacles, his eyes held a sense of dull suffering. He stirred a bit, and turned his head in the general direction of the clock and lifted his chin, squinting his eyes to read the time. He nodded, to himself, and lowered his gaze to me, the two of us locked in a silent conversation. Of course he couldn't read me, only I could read him; that's what shades were for. He stared anyway.
The bell rang, causing us to tear our eyes from each other, and we all stood, packing our bags with our wrinkled notebooks and monstrous biology textbooks. I looked over at him again. Usually, this was his favorite class. He would practically sprint down the wide, crowded, hallways of our amateur, public high school to get here. It didn't even matter that this was the last class of the day. Back then, I'm sure he would have been glad to stay after school, just to spend quality time in this not-at-all quality class.
With a quick nudge to the shoulder, the two of us sauntered out of the class; and for a moment, it reminded of simpler, happier times. And then I heard it. I heard the voices, jeering at the two of us, obscenities and crude remarks spilling from their mouths in rapid succession.
"Egbert! How's life knowing that we all want you dead?"
"Your very existence disgusts me."
"Oh? W-What's w-wrong, Johnny? Did you and Strider finally—"
I turn, teeth bared, my hand held tightly around John's bicep, as his wrists and forearm were currently unusable and lash out at them all, silencing the entire hallway immediately. John was currently pressed against the wall, shaking violently, struggling to maintain a regular breathing pattern, but obviously hyperventilating.
I steadied my voice and uttered, "Leave. Leave before I smash all of your ugly, unintelligent, faces in with my superior fist."
I give a particularly hard glare at one of them, Eridan Ampora as he rolled his eyes at the two of us. He wasn't rolling them long though, because in no less than five seconds, my fist crashed into his pointed nose, hearing a loud, crack, and his glasses flew across the floor, skittering to a stop in front of his girlfriend's feet. Vriska, Vriska Serket. She looked down, with a quizzical grin, and fetched the cracked and bent spectacles, casually walking over to her hopeless boyfriend to set them in his fidgeting hands.
"Oh~! Eridan, you just got oooooooone upped by the cool kid. I knew you were a loser but I never thought you would stoop to such low levels on the echeladder. Looks like you're pretty much at boy skylark now. Pffft."
She breaks off, snorting and turning her back on the silent crowd, flipping her hair over her shoulder and strolling away with a smug look on her face. But it was obvious, maybe only to me, that behind that layer of smugness, her partner's defeat had hit a sore spot.
John pushed himself up, and wrenched my tightened fingers off of his arm. His face was blank once more, and he headed off to the back parking lot. I scowled. Today was not flowing by with a proper level of irony. Nothing had been particularly ironic for quite sometime.
I grabbed my bag, and slung it over my shoulder, and turned with an air of "I despise all of you worthless beings you should all go strangle yourself with piano wire" and "strided" out of the slaughterhouse.
The damage had been done, now we were all reaping our rewards. Mine was leaving without anyone else bothering me. Their rewards were not being mauled and/or bleeding on the floor in front of me.
I exited the building, and the second I nonchalantly looked behind me, they had their backs turned, and were whispering to each other. And I thought they couldn't be bigger idiots than they already were. Apparently they could.
I felt the first drop of rain, and it sent a shiver up my spine. I had only bothered to wear a windbreaker, and John had the umbrella. I searched around, looking for his shriveled body that was undoubtedly sitting on the curb next to my motorcycle. Oh look. There he was, chilling exactly where I knew he would be chilling.
Maybe chilling was a bit of an over exaggeration, because at this current moment, Egbert had his face buried in his knees, his sobs all too discernible. I pulled the extra helmet out of my bag, and tossed it on the ground near his feet. My apartment was closer than his house, and there was no way that fool was going to go home to an empty house to reopen those nearly healed cuts.
I then started up the motorcycle, and pulled on my rusty, orange helmet, nudging John with my knee. He rose, slowly, and climbed on behind me, strapping on his helmet as well. I began to back out of the parking lot, everything was quiet except for the rain, which now poured heavily on the two of us as we raced back to my apartment.
A crackle of lightning surged through the darkening afternoon sky and John's arms wrapped around my waist, his face buried in my back. I could feel his fragile heartbeat pounding against me, and for a moment, I broke one of the "Strider Rules".
Tears began to roll down my cheeks, and I can't stop them. I'm crying because I know things will never be the same way again. I'm crying because my best friend is trying to kill himself. I'm crying because I don't know what to do. I'm crying because I love him. I love John Egbert.
I wipe my tears away with the back of my hand, and steer my motorcycle to the garage. I slip off of it languidly, and help him stand straight so that he doesn't fall face first onto the muddy floor. I enter the lobby of the apartment; no one occupying it except for the old, grumpy security guard, carrying my helmet in one hand, and the extra in the other.
Today is a good day to use the elevator.
In mere moments we are standing in my apartment, and then we are in my room. I drop everything in the corner of my room, on top of a pile of multi-colored smuppets. I spend a moment, glaring at them. Sometimes, Bro's irony goes too far. More like most of the time.
"You can chill for a while if you want. I'll make us some grub." the words seem to hang in the air as I exit my bedroom, and I wonder if he even heard me.
Bro went shopping apparently.
The cupboard is chock full of snacks of all kinds and varieties, several liters of Pepsi cola, and a huge pack of broblerones. The ingredients for a feast for the finest of Royalty is set before me and all I need to do is shove it all on a couple of wimpy cardboard plates and we can dig in. I have a feeling he knew I would be taking someone home today. Bro always knows.
I scramble back to my room, arms full of feast, and set everything on my dresser.
"Yo. Egderp. Dig in." I find the need to announce.
He might be depressed right now, but he still has his affinity for eating like he was just flown in from a third-world country and told that he could eat everything he wanted for free. The second he sees the broblerones, he grabs the bag and crams three down his maw. Next he goes for the kill, slamming an entire liter of Pepsi cola in no less than a minute. Oh Snap. He just ate that entire bag of goldfish. I totally wanted at least one those cheesy, aquatic, abominations. I grab some Ritz crackers; the ones with the filling that tastes like it could be cheddar cheese, but is more than likely imitation cheddar goo. I snag two of the broblerones and shove them in my back pocket for later use, before he completely demolishes the entire bag. I also make sure to snag one of the Pepsi colas before he chugs that too.
I collapse back on the bed, stuffed full of high-cholesterol, American, junk food and carbonated corn syrup. He lingers around the empty bags of food, wiping the crumbs off of his mouth with his sleeve. He turns towards me, and for a moment, I am blessed with the sight of a small, grateful, smile. I haven't seen a smile from Egbert in nearly a year. It is a welcomed gift, and I intend to make the most of it. I smirk, and pat the area next to me, sitting up straight and crossing my legs like a pretzel. He sits, with a look of caution, next to me, his lips pressed firmly together, the smile still lingering on his pale features.
"Is that a smile I see, Egbert?" I ask sarcastically; no longer smirking, but grinning from ear to ear.
"Maybe." Is his only response.
I do everything I can not to burst out laughing. I need to keep my cool. That fool is blushing now. I never thought I would see the day in which John Egbert; the kid who was borderline Homophobic, would confess to the world that he preferred the company of men over women. He was braver than all of us. Rose, Jade, and I. We all knew that he and I were either bisexual or gay. It had been like that since the day all of us had met. I just refused to admit anything. Perhaps that was the coward in me shining through a little too brightly.
I crossed my arms behind my head and pulled off my aviator shades, leaning against the wall that my bed was shoved up against. There were indentations where the plastic nose piece had been pressing into my face. I yawned, rubbing my vermilion eyes, tiredness only showing slightly in them, as I had actually slept the night before, unlike John. The other three hadn't really cared about my eyes, but knowing all the other retards at school, they would find some way to bash me about it. As of late, I was fed up with them and their bashing. It was getting downright outrageous.
I avert my gaze to John; he's leaning against the wall next to me, his arms wrapped around his shins tightly, his chin resting on his knee caps, staring off into space. Then, without thinking, as if by its own accord, my arm is wrapped around his shoulders, and the two of us are pressed tightly together. His arms find their way around my torso, and we stay like that. Bodies intertwined, minds unsure of what will happen next. I look down at him, and he looks up at me. I can see a spark of someone that I used to know in his eyes. Someone with a knack for pranks, an obsesion with Con Air, terrible computer programming, and an unabridged copy of General Sassacre's Daunting Thread of Frivolity and Practical Japery. Yes, there was definitely one of those involved.
I can't help myself, and before I know it, I've said it.
"I love you."
Time is frozen for a moment, and I wonder if that was a huge mistake. A small, nearly mute noise comes from below me, where John is situated, at this point, practically in my lap. He looks away, and then back at me, his eyes now hazy with a look of confusion and worry.
"What?" his question stings, but only for a moment, as he finishes, "Are you being ironic, or are you actually.. for real?"
I turn him towards me, my hands gripping his shoulders tightly; fingers digging into his thickly clothed shoulders. He winces slightly, wringing his wrists with either of his hands.
"John. I love you." Very seldomly do I call him by his first name, and when I do, it's because I mean what I've said.
I am being completely serious about this entire ordeal, but I can't help all of the emotions that seem to seep from my usually composed self. My eyes slightly narrowed, eyebrows tilted upwards, and an uncharacteristic smile dancing on my lips, it's like all the strider in me is a complete lie. The perfect façade for a person such as myself.
Tears well up in his glassy, cerulean eyes, and begin to stream down his cheeks. Before I know it, those salty, uncool, tears are flowing from my eyes as well. That's the second time today; Bro would be so disappointed in me. No one must ever know of this.
"D-Dave…? Why are you crying?" he asks, his voice shuddering slightly; it obviousy is taking all he has not to start sobbing.
I wrap my arms around his shoulders, and hug him tightly, burying my face into his shoulder, soaking his hoodie in the process.
"Because I love you more than you will ever understand, Egderp."
His lips curve upwards and he smiles the brightest I've ever seen him smile. The tears are still there, but they have slowed down, and nearly ceased. I wipe the tears away, with my thumb, and he wipes mine away as well. He discards his glasses next to mine, and I reach for the light; with a flick of my wrist, the room is nearly pitch black. I squirm a bit, with him still wrapped around my torso, so that we are laying the correct way, and I pull the thick, wool, blanket over the two of us.
I can tell he's tired. Within moments, he's asleep, his face nuzzled into my collar bone. One of my hands, rests on his cheek bone, stroking his face softly, and the other is wrapped around his waist. I feel myself drifting off to sleep as well. The thunder and lightning is just as bad as earlier, if not worse, but the darkness of the room seems to swallow it, enveloping the unwanted noise in its thickness. I close my eyes, and in mere seconds, I too am fast asleep.
I awake to Bro's voice, the door is wide open, and John is standing in front of him, his eyes widened in utter horror. I see him, through a sleepy haze, as he collapses to the ground, overcome with grief and I surge out of the now cold, bed. I look to Bro for answers; his face is unreadable and expressionless, like usual.
And then I see it. A small, silvery tear rolling down his cheek and he practically whispers,
"Dave, John's Dad was killed."
Chapter 2: John: Lose a Father, Gain a Brother
His skin was cold. Why was his skin so cold? There was no pulse. His chest had ceased its struggled rising and falling. No. This can’t actually be happening. This is just another nightmare. Just a bad dream. Pinch me and I’ll wake up, right? Wake up, idiot. Wake up! WAKE UP!
Your name is John Egbert and your adoptive Father lies dead on the pavement before you.
The feeling in my chest is unlike any other I’ve ever felt. Everything is dark and hazy. Minutes pass by in a blur, and reality has officially been banished to oblivion. I see the flashing blue and red lights, hear the scream of its siren; the ambulance is here. They know it is too late. This is just a formality for them. As long as they can say they were here, that they "tried" to save him, they can get off clean. I drop to my knees and the tears burn at my eyes, the sob sears in the back of my throat. Dad’s body is heavy now, shards of broken glass are strewn across the ground, and his car is a crumpled heap a few feet away.
"..He had swerved to miss a stray mutt…. he hadn’t had his seat belt on, his window must’ve was down too…. He hit a dip in the road…Went straight over the curb, hit the wall..", someone had reported to Bro.
Dad wasn’t a weakling, but he would put his life on the line for anything, even some unknown animal, soon to die too. It was just in his nature. He was a true man; he knew the secret behind adulthood and maturity. It wasn’t just a fedora and a smoking pipe.
I can’t hear anything anymore; I only feel the surge of agony caused by this rapid turn of events.
I cling to his frozen body, hysterical at this point. Then, in my peripheral vision I notice something blue smeared across his shirt and the interior of the car.
A cake. He had gone out and bought me a cake for my birthday. I almost forgot it was my birthday tomorrow.
Usually, he would just have made it at home, but he had said something this morning about being really busy for the next few weeks.
His fedora has undoubtedly been picked up by the wind and was thrown onto some uncharted course, never to be found again. As I hold him close, my tears mingling with his blood, I stroke his tousled brown hair, pieces of grey glinting in the moonlight. My chest tightens and I cradle his head in my lap---praying to some god I’ve never really believed in that this isn’t real, that this isn’t actually happening. All attempts prove futile.
"D-Dad. P-Please.. you’ve gotta wake up.. You can’t sleep now..” I slur, my fingernails digging into the back of his head, “It’s too early… I’m not even grown up yet.." my words are gurgled stutters. The pit of my stomach feels as though it’s filled with molten lava, and the unsettling feeling of nausea is slowly taking over.
The men and women who were rushing to get to their cars, the police and medics with their crisp white and blue uniforms, young and old…everyone gathers around the scene. I wish they would all leave. Why can’t they just ignore me like they always did when I was at school? From somewhere behind me, I hear Bro whispering something to Dave, trying to calm him down I suppose. I glance back at them; behind the two pairs of shades, tears blinded eyes that were usually detached, looking onward into the future.
It’s not supposed to happen like this.
The paramedics roughly push through the crowd and cautiously approach Dad and I. Their fingers brush against my shoulders, mouth questions and words of sympathy. I am deaf to all they say. They’re lying. They don’t care about Dad; they don’t care about me. They only care about their pay.
I hate them, and I hate the crowd too. That crowd is only here because of human obligation to cram mock pity and compassion down the throats of those who have felt real suffering and pain.
There’s a tug, rough and slightly violent as one of the paramedics tries to pull Dad out of my impossibly tight, practically feral grip. No. No. They can't be taking him.
"Thieves! Robbers! Give him back he isn't yours!", I hiss, throwing fists blindly, and shoving hands away with a brutal force, unexpected for one of my size.
From somewhere behind me, I feel hands coiling around my waist and arms, pulling me back. Bro and Dave each restrain me as a jump to my feet and I feel the waterworks begin to flow harder than ever.
"GIVE HIM BACK!" I screech, through the torrent of tears surging down my cheeks. "G-GIVE MY DAD BACK!"
Everything aches: body, mind, soul, spirit, but most of all--my heart. The ambulance begins pulling away, sirens shrieking, the lights as blinding as ever in my fatigued state. Within ten minutes---ten minutes that feel like ten hours, the crowd has dispersed, and all that is left is a battered car, three battered men, and a million words left unsaid. My throat feels tight as if someone is strangling me, my stomach is in knots, my head throbbing, and I nearly fall back onto the soaked black top. Dave's arms wrap around me, preventing me from a crash. My knees have given way, and only his arms support me.
"Let's go home.", Bro mumbles.
Dave begins to walk, but I can't. I can barely hold my head up and I just hang limp in his arms.
"J-John..", Dave stutters, glancing over to Bro with a nervous look.
Without a word, a pair of stronger, broader arms lift me up with no effort whatsoever, and I curl into a small ball. For the longest time, this was the main position I would find myself sitting or sleeping in, and even now, it was a comforting position. I could close my mind to the world, and protect myself from the sharp daggers that life shot at me. This way, gaping wounds were diminished to scrapes and bruises—an “after school special” with the school jocks was only a verbal quarrel. I find myself reflexively burrowing myself into Bro’s chest, hiding from the truth.
In a matter of moments, we are standing in the doorway of the apartment. It is monotonous, a simple grey, the only colour invading the uniform colouring the bright light that is pouring in from the hallway. Bro sets me down on the couch, gently and retreats to his room for a brief moment. When he comes back, Dave and I are huddled together. Even those brilliant red eyes barely pierce their way through the darkening of my mind. Bro leans over us, tucking us into a large blanket covered with depictions of “plush rumps and awkward puppet proboscis’”. I can’t form the words I need to say, hell, I can barely keep myself from doubling over and sobbing again.
After a few minutes of hesitation, I feel the couch indent only slightly on the other side of me, and that same pair of arms that carried me here drape over Dave and I. This is the first time I’ve actually ever shared physical contact with Dave’s brother, and hearing his gasp, I’m sure it’s one of the few Dave’s had in a very long time. We sit like that for quite sometime, rocking back and forth slowly, Dave and Bro pressed snugly next to me. For a second, I mistake Bro’s arms for Dad’s.
I open my mouth, and ask timidly, “C-Can… you be Dad for…a-awhile…?”
I feel both of them stiffen and I burrow myself deeper into the blanket, ready to be punished for some unknown offense. Instead, I’m met with a pair of watery orange eyes and a small, bitter smile.
“You’ve got it little man.”
The night passes slowly, a chill prowling through the air—but in the Strider residence, the cold seems to avoid the three men. Within a few hours, the younger two fall asleep; fingers tangled together, shades and glasses on the lost somewhere in the mound of blankets. The eldest Strider presses a kiss to both of their foreheads, a low sigh lazily drifting from his lips. He removes his shades, for the first time in years, and holds John’s hand between his, curling up on the couch like the others.
A half-asleep John opens his eyes halfway and he and Bro stare at each other for quite sometime. A slow drawl of words float from the orphaned boy’s mouth as he drifts back to sleep taking Bro with him,
“Th..ank…y..ou.. for… e..verythin..g…Dad.”