Your name is John Egbert and, not for the first time, you are scared.
Your feet pound against the empty hallways at your local high school, Medium. You had stayed after school with your lab partner Jade (which was always a bad idea, but this project really had to be finished and once you and she had started, time had slipped away). Most of the staff were gone, aside from the janitors, as you walked with her to her locker and then bid her farewell at the door. You had then remembered that you had forgotten your coat in your locker… and your coat had your house keys in it.
You knew there were goonies crawling around the school and that the janitors didn’t care much for the students. You also knew that cutting the courtyard was a risk but it would ultimately shave off time from being in danger. You peeked out one of the courtyard doors’ windows and gave it a label of all-clear and took off across the grass. It was almost perfect until you heard a voice shout from the side diagonal from you and your heart sank.
“Oi, Egbert! Lookit you all alone n’shit! Looks like you’re needin’ some company, ain’t that right boys?” Eridan Ampora and his gang of followers headed your way rather quickly and you were forced to curse not only your bad luck but also your slow running speed as they gained on you. There was no point in looking at who was following you; the fact that they were was enough. Eridan only spoke to you before a beatdown and being caught so late after school would mean it would be even worse than usual. Your ass was going to be handed to you if you didn’t ditch them, and fast.
So here you are, rushing through your school that you are having the hardest time remembering the layout of as the blood rushes in your ears and your muscles ache from all this running. What’s worse is you can hear Eridan and his posse catching up with every step. Damn, why didn’t you just take gym instead of chemistry this year? You should have known that the hierarchy of high school doesn’t change from middle school. As a nerd you’re a target, and as a freshman, you’re more like fresh meat to be thrown to a pack of wolves.
You make a split-second decision at a fork in the hallway, darting left and down the hall a few good yards before you realize it’s a dead end. They have you where they want you and there’s no janitor in this section of the school — if they’d even care. You stop halfway down the hall. What’s the use of running further when there’s no way out?
You turn and your eyes meet Eridan’s purple, malice-laced ones. He’s standing before you in his letterman’s jacket, rebelliously colored purple despite your high school’s color being yellow, barely even breaking a sweat from his run. He grins. “Why’d ya run, Egderp? We just wanna have a little fun with ya.”
Behind him you can count three others: Vriska Serket in her form-fitting short blue sweater-dress whatever-it-is with her hands on her hips and a face that spells danger, Equius Zahhak in his unseasonable tank top drenched in sweat but his steroid-induced sized muscles bulging (at least, you think it is steroids since he’s only a sophomore), and Meena Last-Name-You-Can’t-Remember in her full-on black leather pants and black cotton shirt looking at you from behind thick purple goggles.
You’re trapped. You’re so trapped and there is nothing you can do. You’re more trapped than Nic Cage in an airplane full of convicts hell-bent on doing a major jailbreak when all you want to do is get home to your family. You’re trapped by a bunch of bullies who are most likely destined to be convicts advancing towards you in your high school after-hours and oh my god Eridan just cracked his knuckles and you are so going to be in so much shit for having your glasses broken again and all Dad’s gonna do is shake his head and say Well Why Didn’t You Hit Them Back and why did you leave your jacket in your ————-
The first punch lands square in your face and you hear a sickening crack from your nose as it and your glasses break. Tears flood your eyes and pain floods your senses and blood floods your nose. You cry out like you swore you wouldn’t the last time this happened. It only gives fuel to your attackers’ fire though, and you hear them make snide remarks about hitting kids with glasses.
The second punch lands in your gut and makes you double over in pain as the wind is knocked out of you. Your back can’t protect you as it becomes a target worse than a middle-schooler with a “Kick Me” sign. It isn’t but seven seconds – you count them as a hopeless attempt at distraction – before a good leather-covered knee to the face knocks you to the floor. You curl into a ball and shake and plead with anyone out there, anyone, for it to please just stop.
The wailings continue for you-don’t-know-how-long and it really doesn’t matter anyways because you can’t think straight anymore and part of you just wishes you would lose consciousness because then at least you couldn’t feel every impact. Finally, Eridan snakes a hand into your underside and grabs ahold of your shirt, dragging you up before him. His smirk leaks into the air, creating a palpable smugness and you try hard to not lose your lunch all over his shoes.
“Awh, come on Egderp, ain’t you having any fun? I know we are.”
“’ey, I’m gettin’ bored Amphie,” you hear Meena say, “Let’s just toss him and go. Fuckin’ Strider bros ain’t here anyways. Ya know they don’t fuckin hang out with us doin’ this shit n’ it’s more fun with them.”
You watch through blurry vision as Eridan turns his head to Meena and probably bites back a remark. Meena’s the worst of them because she’s normally so violent. Why she’s wanting to leave first is beyond you but you silently thank whoever it is that heard you beg that she’s becoming unfaithful to her bully boyfriend and looking at a Strider boy instead. “Fine, what-fuckin-ever. Not like we can’t catch him around some other time, eh?”
Eridan tosses you to the floor at the massive feet of Equius, who picks you up by your hair and slings you over his back like a sack of trash. In fact, that’s where you are headed, you are almost certain – the trash can. He doesn’t say anything as they walk outside with you and toss you into the dumpster behind the cafeteria. They laugh and walk away.
This has been the ritual for the last semester.
You lay for a long while, your face coated in blood and your body covered in bruises, in the dumpster among the leftover food and sticky wrappers and smelly spoiled things. You cry. You shake and shiver. You try not to move your body too much, though you know that staying still will only make you stiff. You try to summon the energy to clamber out of the dumpster. You can’t for another hour.
This, too, has been the ritual for the last semester.
The sun is already starting to sink since the winter months bring early nights. You’re cold; beyond it, actually. The school is for-sure locked up now and your key is still in there, but you suppose it doesn’t matter now. Your dad is probably home and at least semi-worried for you and if he isn’t there, then you can just break a window. At this point you don’t care anymore. You hurt and you feel like the trash you smell like. You just want to get home and take a bath, clean yourself up, maybe watch a movie, and definitely avoid your dad.
You start the long walk home, shivering every now and then and trying your best not to run into anything. Damn your eyesight. Why are you as blind as a bat without your glasses?
You don’t know why you don’t just transfer schools. Well, wait, you do. You stay for Jade. Jade Harley, your should-be sister, who is just as much a nerd as you and would be a target if it weren’t for you acting as a buffer. You could never imagine her getting the shit beat out of her like this, so you make sure it doesn’t happen. You let yourself be the target and keep her away from it all as best you can. She worries about you and has tried doing the tell-an-adult thing they tell you about in elementary school but nobody does anything about it. You attribute this to Ampora being the mayor’s son.
But Ampora and Meena are both seniors and will graduate this year. You’ll only have to avoid Equius for two years and Vriska for one, and, you have to admit, you think you stand a better chance fleeing them.
“Yo, Egbert.” You turn your head frantically at the sound of a familiar voice. You respond with fear when you catch sight of Dave Strider, coolest freshman of them all and one of the guys who hangs regularly with Eridan, though he’s never with them when it comes time for the beatdowns. You’ve never spoken with him before and you don’t know what to expect from him as he walks over to you, his blurry red letterman’s jacket and shades looking rather formidable to your beaten form right now.
You say nothing in reply and instead back up into the nearest wall. He’s oblivious to your signs of fear, you guess; either that, or he just plain doesn’t care. He walks right with you up to the wall. His arms pin you on either side, and you look away from him as quickly as you can.
“Hey dude, look at me.”
You can’t, but you lie anyways, “I am.”
Dave’s spoken now more than you’ve heard him ever. “No you’re not.”
“I totally am,” you reply, your voice shaky on the last word.
“I can see your eyes, John. You’re not lookin’ at me.” His voice is pretty expressionless and he’s way taller than you. You know he can easily see your eyes, and your bloodied nose, and everything else. You try but you really can’t help it; the tears well up in your eyes and though you are damn intent on staying still and trying your best not to look like even more of a wimp, you feel them spill over anyways.
“Oh shit. Are you crying?” You hear Dave say. You still won’t move. Nope. Not gonna do it. “Shit, no, stop the waterworks man… Fuck.”
Your face is going red in embarrassment. You’re crying in front of a new potential bully, what’s more, in front of the kid of cool in school.
“I swear I’m not going to kick your ass or anything just stop. John… fuck…” You can’t help it. You flinch violently when he moves his hands away from either side of you and you just know he’s a liar and about to hit you now. Instead though, you feel one hand cup your chin and the other pat your head. “Shh, okay, just shh… They’re not gonna get you now.”
You don’t know why he’s doing this, but after a minute it starts to comfort you. However, now that you’ve started crying again, it’s really hard to stop. You sob and shake and feel the snot leak from your broken nose and mix with the dried blood on your face. You’re a mess but he doesn’t seem to care. Dave takes his hand from your head and slips his sleeve over it. With his other hand, he tilts your head up and wipes away some of both the snot and the blood. For the first time you look at him. You can’t see his eyes but he smiles a tiny smile.
“There, dude, see? Not gonna hurt you.” He leans down a little and looks at you closer. “Awh, man, they broke your nose. Damn, they are nothing but a bunch of douches, aren’t they? What else did they do to you, Egbert?”
You shrug and look away. “Same as always…”
Dave frowns. “What’s always? No, you know, I don’t even care. Look dude, you gotta come with me. I can help get you cleaned up and shit.”
“Why?” you ask.
“’cause. Just trust me, okay?”
You really shouldn’t, and you know your dad wants you home, but you go with him anyways. He’s got a firm grip on your hand and you are glad for it because he’s leading you through streets you don’t know. You’re exhausted, almost dead on your feet, and each step is filled with pain. Your head throbs. You’re so cold. You don’t dare say anything to Dave, and he doesn’t speak to you until you both stand outside his apartment complex.
“…Home sweet fuckin’ home,” he mutters as he leads you inside the main entryway and into an elevator. You don’t have the chance to take in much of your surroundings and you are pretty sure you couldn’t anyways without your glasses. Your stomach lurches with the violent upwards motion of the elevator and idly you realize Strider lives in the penthouse of whatever complex this is when he uses his free hand to slide a card in a slot.
When the door opens with a soft ding, you can’t see much but a bunch of white. Dave must live in one of those sparse contemporary-style homes you see in some of your futuristic movies, because you really can’t make out much of anything even as he leads you through a carpeted space and into a tiled one. He mutters something like “alli-oop” but you can’t quite make it out and he’s lifted you up from under your arms and placed you a counter before you can try.
You watch his blurry figure move away from you. The sound of a drawer opening and water running ensues. Dave’s back in a minute, a warm rag pressed gently to your face and clearing away the mess as best it can. You close your eyes. It feels really nice. You smile a little and close your eyes. You can’t help but feel safe.
A warm jacket envelops you. Your eyes flicker open (with some difficulty) and you see the bright red of Dave’s letterman on your shoulders. You look to him and he shrugs. “You’re gonna get cold when I give you the ice, so…” He turns quickly and rustles in a freezer a little ways away. You wish you had your glasses.
He comes back and places a bag of ice on your head. “Think you can walk with me?” He asks you and you mutely nod your head, but instantly regret it because the movement hurts like hell. He helps you down from the counter and into the carpeted area again, which you soon declare must be the livingroom because you are led to a white leather couch you can barely make out from the rest of the room. You sit down. Dave sits a little ways away from you.
“Man, what’re we gonna do with you? It’s so fucked up you get wailed on like that.”
You shrug a little and wince from an aching bruise. “It just happens I guess.”
“You guess? It shouldn’t. Bro and I don’t fuckin’ hang out with Ampora when he’s harassin’ people like that and we never thought to stop him but, damn, he’s using you like a punching bag and that’s not cool.”
You frown a little. “Why do you even care? I mean it’s not like it affects you.”
You hear a small change in his voice. It’s got something in there, now, and you can’t quite pin it to any one thing. “It does a little more than you realize.”
“Nevermind bro,” you see him shake his head, his blond hair swaying with him, “point is, it’s not gonna happen again so you don’t have to worry about it.”
You frown a little and settle into the couch more. You’re exhausted and you can’t help but yawn. Dave catches sight of it, though, and says, “Hey, do you just wanna give your parents a call or somthin’? I mean it’s not like I’m a close bro of yours or nothin’ but you look kinda tired and you’re free to crash here if you want.”
You think on it for a moment but decide that if Dave had wanted to hurt you, he would have by now and certainly wouldn’t have done all these nice things for you. “Yeah, okay. Sounds good.”
He hands you a phone and you stare at the numbers with a frown. They’re all nothing but glowing blur on black surface. Dave takes the phone back. “Right, I forgot you probably can’t see. What’s your parent’s number? I’ll dial it for you.”
You list off the number and he remains true to his word. He listens as you have a two minute conversation with your dad explaining that yes, Dave is a friend, no, he does not do drugs, yes you’ll be just fine, no really, just fine, and no, there is nothing to worry about dad okay bye.
Afterwards, he sits quietly for a moment before offering you a shower. You take the opportunity and, though with some difficulty due to your sight impairment and some pain due to your injuries, make it out of the bathroom clean and dressed in a shirt and a pair of pants Dave has let you borrow. You think both hang a little too loose on you but hey, they are a godsend. Dave is a godsend for all that he’s given you.
“My bro’s not comin’ home tonight. Wanna order pizza?”
The night continues on in a laid-back manner. You listen to some of his sick beats and decide that you quite like Dave’s choice in music. You run into a wall on your way back into the bathroom to pee and end up almost not making it because both you and he laughed so hard about it. On your way back out, you noticed you stepped on something, so you pick it up and bring it closer for examination. It’s a puppet with a huge butt and Dave refuses to explain. He pops in a movie and apologizes that you can’t see it well (you can’t see it at all, but you choose not to mention this). You’re not sure what time it is you start to drift off, but the movie is still on when you finally slump into the arm of the couch.
You’re partially asleep when Dave clicks the TV off and stands up from beside you on the couch. He leaves the room and comes back with a blanket that he covers you up with to keep you warm. The last thing you register before it all fades away entirely is the feeling of soft lips on your forehead for the briefest of seconds.
Sometime during the night, it clicks.
He barely even knows you but he’s acting as your knight in shining armor.