Jake once said, “Gadzooks, you’re the spitting image of someone I know.”
And Dave laughed without the smile reaching his face, and said, “Yeah. You too.”
It goes like this.
Dave fills up the coffee in his corner, mumbling about how the questionable coffee was so scalding hot, it was getting goddamn igneous in there, when something catches his eye in the other room. A flash of dark mussy hair, black frames, skinny legs with band-aids over the knees, and he turns quick enough to spill the coffee down his fingers, heart throbbing in his throat. But take two, eyes adjust, curtains raise, and it’s just Jake.
It’s always just Jake.
(It’s an art—the way his heart drops fast enough to scald his eyes, the way it shatters like glass, the way he drags his feet to pick it back up again and glues back together the pendulum, the dials, the hands, the cogs of his heart. It’d be impressive if that’s all there was to it—but by the fifth time, it’s an art.)
The poor kid stammers sometimes. Old Man Harley with a bad overbite and a queasy smile. He gets nervous and dabs his face with handkerchiefs, and talks in a strangely old way. Though he says he enjoys a good wag, he’s usually soaked through his shirt by the time the conversations pick up. His eyes dart across the room, rarely staying long on Dave, and he twists his fingers around until his knuckles are white.
“Pranks? Oh, those old ranygazoos, really. No, while I find those rather rambunctious tasks, I don’t indulge in them myself,” Jake says, and then sees something in Dave’s expression that makes him hurriedly add, “oh, but I’m sure they’re a spanking good time. I just never had—the chance, that’s all.”
Jake’s aching to make a good impression. Wants it so bad, he’s willing to backpedal and forward pedal and then hop off the bicycle for a jalopy. His eyes dart to Aranea and his fingers twist around and around, and Dave sits and watches.
He mentions briefly, to Rose, that Jake seems like a harmless nervous kid. Rose peers up from her book, dark eyelashes fluttering, lips pursed.
“Nervous? He boasts a rather proud, confidence appearance to me.” But something ticks in her Fruedian brain, the walls of floating cigars are suddenly penises, and she looks at him (looks at him) with such sudden tenderness, he almost gets whiplash. Her eyebrows arch together, and she touches his shoulder like she’s losing him, like for once, they’re actually two kids drowning, lost in the emptiness of space.
“Go easy on him. Even if…”
She never finishes the sentence, but they both know what she means.
(In the time before Jake, after flying into the green sun, Dave sometimes has waking dreams. He lies down on the carpet and drifts away to where there’s buckteeth and a wheezy laugh and that right tone of voice, those blue eyes that see him, look right at him, like he’s the only thing in the world. When Karkat kicks him awake in the ribs, he starts, and feels a crushing devastation smashing into his chest, an unshakable sadness weighing on his limbs.)
It’s like—a clock running a millisecond behind. Barely enough to hear the incorrect tick, but enough to feel the wrongness in his pulsating blood. There are moments, brief moments, like when the light glances through the windows and strikes at the shadowy dust, everything is perfect. At a certain angle of the face, if the nose was moved five degrees, the eyes moved ten, lift the hands, tuck the knees, move the fingers—then it was perfect, and Dave could pretend, the mathematical equations of hallucinations.
But then Jake moved, and the illusion was ruined.
There was the wrong millisecond of movies, because Jake had bad taste in movies, but the wrong bad taste. He had the glasses, but the wrong type of glasses. The teeth, the wrong type of teeth. He said words like gobbledygook and it was almost right, but the millisecond always fell off, like dead skin sloughing off after a burnt day in the sun, and Dave was left with his heart beating to the wrong step.
If it were only simple elements, Dave could forgive. But there was something about Jake’s optimism, the way his eyes shined, his quiet determination in the way he held up his head and moved his elbows. When the stark blueprints of reality were laid out in front of him, Jake drew straight lines out of mazes. Something in the way he built castles in the air and spoke with beams of light, the way he moved his hands and grinned so confidently, that it hurt.
It just hurt, so it was unforgivable.
But he forgives.
Still, he forgives, and he pins down Old Man Harley to talk to him. He covets their conversations like they’re boonbucks with actual economic power, until it’s a regular Marco Polo of where’s Jake and with Dave.
He wants to talk to Jake about anything, everything, to get the green eyes focused on him and pretend they were blue. They could talk about the non-existential weather as they flew through the iciness of space and Jake would still be keening to impress him, rubbing his sweaty palms over his shorts. They mostly talk about nothing, the small talk looking miniscule even compared to Karkat’s self-esteem. Dave changes the subjects faster than a pinball ricocheting down the board, hitting the bumpers of apple juice and video games and cake.
But sometimes, they really talked. The moments were rare, sudden bright headlights when walking down a dark road, and they always took Dave by surprise.
“It’s really a pleasant gallimaufry in here. You must never be lonely with this lot,” Jake happens to remark, and the pendulum suddenly twists away from the path it had taken for thousands of years and Dave looks at him because he’s suddenly talking to Jake, the real Jake. The words build on the back of his lips, poisonous truth sinking into the full body water of lies, and he can’t even put the words into language yet, just a feeling of talking to trolls and chalk underneath his fingertips and spilled coffee on the floor and still, yet still, that longing in the back of his heart of that boy skylark too stupid to learn not to fly.
But the moment is over, as quickly as it begins, because Jake opens his mouth and talks about oh for the flip fucking frag why does he always trip over that corner of the rug and the would-be words dissipate like steam into the air, more invisible than when they began.
(He’s not lonely, but he can’t describe the aching sensation, always lying in wait in between the space of his bones.)
Jake is always apologizing to him. Only to him, though he’s nervous at first with everyone. But maybe the shades weren’t gifted enough with Ben Stiller’s gaunt cheekbones to hide his expressions. Maybe when he talks to Jake in his quiet mumbles, it’s fucking obvious what he thinks. Maybe that’s why Jake sometimes twists his face tightly when Dave seeks him out, and maybe that’s why he always agrees to come with him anyway to the sessions where Dave asks about Ghostbusters and Bill Murray, even when they both knew Jake would never know who to call.
But sometimes, Dave catches hints of something more than that, where he finds Jake looking at him with that same intense scrutiny, the same wild endless search, the same dissatisfaction when he looks at the curves of the shades and the pat-down of the hair and Jake curves down his lips in something like petulant want, and they don't talk about the missing moment of their lives.
It went like this.
There was one moment where Jake gazes out the window, like the heavy expectations finally weighed down on his shoulders, and Dave is seized with a shaken feeling. He opens his mouth to say something, anything, and an honest apology happens to slide out between his armored defenses.
“Just stay here for a little longer,” he hears himself saying, “Don’t wake up yet. It’s just—” Please, don’t, an hour more, a second more, he just needs that time, greedy and broken, and Jake blinks at him through the thick frame glasses with his green eyes and Dave knows he has to say something else, anything else, but it has to be the right thing. So he inhales a deep breath, trying to compose the beats in his head to the right lyrical tune, the right rhythm, the right pace. It’s time to say the unspoken words, the ones earmarked with taboo. It’s to admit the truth, and he opens his mouth and just says it.
“You look just like…”
Jake disappears underneath his grasp, the sudden emptiness in the air caving in through his fingers. Somewhere in a universe, a boy wakes up on the ground with more baggage than he slept.
(And somewhere in a universe, Dave sits at the table and tries not to breathe, because suddenly the air pressing against his lungs hurts more than one boy with god powers and thin shoulders can take.)