"Daaaaaaave!" the boy to your right begins to whine, and you literally have to choke down every fiber in your being that tells you to mock him in earnest.
It seems you're both a little too doped up on Mr. Egbert's birthday cake and copiously ironic amounts of alcohol to actually try that hard to stop yourself.
"Stop mocking me, jerk." he snaps, but it completely loses any potential bite he'd intended for it to have when a giggle escapes him.
Turning to look down at the brunette, you can't help but join into his fit of mirth when your eyes land on the tangled heap of limbs that are Rose Lalonde and Jade Harley.
"You think we should wake them up?" he asks you, voice a little softer now as he tenderly watches his ecto-sister cuddle further with your own counterpart.
Even you have to admit, the sight is a little more than tooth-achingly sweet (or maybe it's the vodka talking you're not really sure); but it's enough to keep your chin perched atop John's while he curls further into you as well.
"Nah, they look pretty okay like that." you finally remember to respond, a part of you proud that you're hardly slurring at all as opposed to your earlier condition. "Besides, god knows Rose would pull a fucking Lorena Bobbitt on me if she saw my beautiful face waking her up from her one freebie to cop all kinds of sick feels on Jade."
John merely chuckles at that, shaking his head under yours before yawning and finds himself yearning to slumber away, too.
"Oh shut up, Dave. You know better than I do how often Rose feels up her girlfriend." he rolls his tired blue eyes when you snort, but gives no other leeway as he suddenly goes limp and heavy in your arms. "Now make like a pillow and let me sleep."
Adjusting your posture against the foot of the couch to keep the edge from biting any more painfully into your back than necessary, you proceed to groan as the brunette makes no move to actually back off. Which presents a problem - well two, actually - one being that you're really not in any mood to become your inner creep and watch Rose and Jade get their cuddle on. The second problem is a little more dire: you're especially not in the mood to have the young Egbert cuddle you to sleep in front of Rose and Jade. John provides them contingency enough to ruin your otherwise indisputable reputation of cool-kid extraordinaire around campus as it is; like hell you'd give them unnecessary ammunition to completely destroy it.
"John. John, seriously bro, seriously?" you try, a minor inflection of annoyance penetrating your usually monotonous voice, but he seems to just ignore you when you try pushing him off.
So, you try again.
"Yo, Egbert. You have got to be kidding me. I am not, I repeat, not going to participate in such a high degree of bromosexual intentions in front of Harley and Lalonde." you don't really notice some of your inner thoughts projecting in your usually ironically-layered jibes because you're just so buzzed and tired that you honest to god don't want to deal with this. "This is officially reaching a new level on the echeladder, dog. Other brodudes are literally weeping at how far we've surpassed the last level- we've reached God Tier Bromance. We skipped right over Ironicfootsies, ollied the fuck past Platonicmakeouts and dive-bombed right into Postcoitus Cuddlers. Can you hear her, John? Rose is literally chanting a slow, sultry incantation of gaygaygay as we speak. Even Jade would be surprised―"
You are completely satisfied when John finally succumbs to your tactics, letting out an annoyed growl before shoving at your chest and glaring up at you.
"Aughhhhh alright, alright, I give!" he flops down onto the cushions of the couch, writhing in place like a fish out of water and whining like no tomorrow. "Jeez, those were fucking terrible, Dave! I can't believe you were actually going to keep going."
The corners of your mouth actually lilt up at this, and you use the sudden rush of audacity in you to make a kissy face at him, to boot.
"C'mon Egbert, what's wrong?" you start, and he looks at you apprehensively from over the top of his frames, a frown in place. "You know I was just getting started, my bro, my brochacho, my brodude, my brohomolicious partner in crime, my―"
You are absolutely, downright fucking smug when you have succeeded in hooking your arms under his neck and knees, swift in erecting yourself before just as quickly making your way out of the living room and towards your room. Unsurprisingly, John is both confused at what's just happened and equally pissed about it. You think you might also sense some telltale nausea from how much he drank earlier, but you shove that thought aside as you stumble into your doorway. You pride yourself in having made it that far without accidentally knocking you or John into any of the furniture or walls (or anything at all, really).
With the finesse of - well, as much finesse as a buzzed College student in ironic shades really has - you haul ass and manage to make it to your bed without any accidental preamble. You realize at that point, however, just how much John Egbert actually weighs; and you give in when your knees meet the edge of your mattress, collapsing on top of said brunette after throwing him down first. Scrambling to get you off but unable to because of how you have his left arm pinned under your shoulder, he huffs at you, making angry noises that make you think of an angry puppy and you can't help but start laughing at the thought.
John, of course, is positively pissed and uses that excuse to actually bite you on the junction of your collar and neck.
"Fuck, John, what the hell?" you gripe as you roll over, hand clutching the red area, glaring at him through your aviators but you relent when you notice just how tired he looks.
You heave a short sigh, too worn out yourself to really focus on the whole cool-kid act (although it's obvious that's been blown to fucking hell with Egbert around), and move to undress yourself when you feel a hand grip at the tail of your shirt. Glancing down, you catch the abashed look on him, and you practically feel sorry for him if it weren't for the throbbing reminder on your neck that you're the one that received a wound here. However, you're completely at John's mercy when he makes that kicked-puppy look - which is most of the time, damn cheat - so you heave another sigh and look at him from under your shades, which seems to perk him up just a bit.
"Sup?" you supply, voice patient enough to get him to lose some of the tension he'd built up in his form.
He turns away for a moment, nervously chewing at his bottom lip, and before you can ask him again, he looks up at you with a commendably determined expression. You can't say you enjoy the lingering hurt in his features, though.
"Dave, do you ever dream of, you know... the game?" his voice is surprisingly soft, and you find yourself panicking inside when you realize it's because he's trying to be gentle about it for you.
Your voice cracks a bit when you try to reply, and it only serves to fluster you further that you're practically glaring death at John before you realize you're doing it.
"I, uh. Huh." you eloquently respond, ignoring how John's trying to suppress a grin at you as you mull the question over. You figure, at worst, he'll just mock you for it later. "Sometimes."
He looks at you like you've grown a giant fetus at the side of your head, and it throws you in a loop until you realize exactly what you've confessed to.
"So you still remember? All of it?" he inquires, a little more needy, a little more desperate, and you have to gulp down a bundle of nerves that have nested in your throat when it dawns that you've never really addressed it.
You never really wanted to admit it was a problem, to begin with.
"I... yeah. Yeah, I do." is all that you can really muster out, but it proves to be all you'll really ever need to say.
"Me too!" he yelps, low but harsh and you can hear how he has to clear his throat from the effort, except you can't really bring yourself to bother because John looks so miserably vulnerable it pains you just watching him.
When he leans forward and presses his face against you, arms wrapping around your torso, you find all you can do is card your hand through his hair, and he seems satisfied enough with that so you don't mention anything else unless prompted.
"I thought it was only me." the words catch on his tongue, like he's afraid you're going to turn on him and ridicule him; but when you don't, he confides in the trust he has for you to keep going. "I've asked Rose and Jade before, I've even asked my dad! But they... they don't really remember that much. Not like I―we―do. They only know what happened on my," he pauses to swallow dryly, grip on you tensing, "my birthday, and when we won. But that's... that's it. They don't know the details; it's like they were erased from them."
You're not really sure what you could say to placate him, nor are you certain there's anything you can tell yourself to calm yourself down, so you merely nod your head and it seems to work.
"I don't understand, Dave. I mean, why? Why us? Why only you and me? I-I'm not saying I wish they knew everything, but, why us? Even the trolls can't seem to remember a whole lot. Not even Vriska." he has to stop himself when he remembers he, in fact, needs oxygen to keep talking; and it worries you that you're starting to feel light-headed just by listening. "Everyone I've asked, they've all said no. I just, I don't, I don't get it."
You find yourself reflexively leaning closer, and although you'd make a joke about it at any other time, you bring your unoccupied hand to gently rest against the small of his back. You're not even sure he's noticed, but if he has, John says nothing of it.
"Am I cursed?" he suddenly whispers, and you literally feel every fiber in your being go cold when you remember why he's brought it up.
It's John's birthday.
You don't really think about it when you completely embrace him in your hold, and you don't really acknowledge the choked little cry he gives as he balls his fists in your clothes, and you ignore the burning sensation building in your eyes and focus on staring at the wall across the room because you don't trust yourself looking down at your best friend.
"I just, I don't understand, Dave." he sobs, and you have to bite on the inside of your cheek to stop yourself from crying from how terribly miserable he sounds. "No-one ever believes half the things I tell them. It's like, they try to, because it's me! But what's the p-point, if in the end, they look at me like I'm crazy?"
"We can't really blame them, though, can we?" you surprise yourself when the words tumble out, but John's grip on you tenses so you decide to keep going. "I mean, man, how wacked-out must we seem to them? It's one thing to remember Sburb happening, and another to remember what happened during our session."
You're not sure if you should be relieved or worried when his hold softens, but you take advantage of his sudden laxness to slip from his grasp to kneel against the floor, face level with his. He starts, blue eyes widening before relaxing as you slip his glasses off, your lips frowning at how many tear-streaks stained his glasses, before you set them aside. You study him, taking in the hoarseness of his breaths, the dewiness of his eyes and the exhaustion in his being. It tears at you to see him like this - John Egbert should never cry if it's not from laughing so hard at your jokes, period - and you don't give yourself time to think it over before you're kissing him.
He simply looks at you for a long while; his eyes barely able to catch the all-too-familiar yet completely foreign shade of red your eyes are, before he hesitantly leans forward and reciprocates it. Admittedly, it's a little too tentative; too careful, too soft, too chaste compared to any other kiss you two have ever had but for some reason it feels like everything is riding on this one action. So, ultimately, you concede that you give zero fucks. Your hands are shaking, you dimly realize; but it doesn't bother you as much as it would when John's own trembling fingers seek purchase in your hair and yours in his. There's an undertone of desperation in the way he holds onto you, and although all you want to do is kiss him until he's no longer crying, you know what you should do instead.
John actually whimpers a little when you pull away, his eyes darting up at you and you are suddenly aware of just how fragile he is right now. You press your forehead against his, and even when he moves to pry your shades off your face, you let him; you can feel his hands tremble again and his breath waver, but just stay there, kneeling, until he makes a sound akin to an "um."
You glance at him, and he sucks in his breath but whether from shock, fear, trepidation or a mixture of all three you're unsure. He doesn't let the silence prevail for too long, however, because he's soon clearing his throat and trying to keep eye-contact with you.
"I, um." he stops, one finger moving to scratch his blushing cheek, and you find it hard not to smile at the sight. "W-would it be totally weird if I asked to sleep with you?"
Your eyebrow is immediately raised, and when John realizes how much his question implied, he starts spluttering like crazy until you're actually grinning.
"Egbert, man, I thought I'd told you. For a chance at this choice ass, ya gotta buy the lady a dinner at least." you tease, and your heart jumps when his face stops looking so crestfallen and he's actually pouting at you.
"Pffft, in your dreams, Dave-"
"Oh, you know it, baby-" he slaps at your arm before you can finish
"Seriously, though." he starts again, and you hum a little when his hands meet yours. "I-is it okay with you?"
You give a little snort, finding it almost unbearably difficult that he'd act so abashed by it, but you nod your head anyway.
"Dude, it's technically still your birthday somewhere in the world. Cama del Strider is always open for brohomolific snuggles, yo."
You're actually surprised he kicks you for that, but more so relieved and surprised at your relief when he doesn't retort with a witty remark.
"So, uh," he casts a furtive glance over his shoulder to the empty space of your bed, and you are torn between hugging the ever-living shit out of him and mocking him for how sensitive he's being about this. "who takes what side?"
Rolling your eyes, you just sigh his name a few times as you stand up and walk over to your closet and ditch your jeans, because screw denim who the hell wore that shit to sleep. You make sure to turn off the lights and that your bedroom door is closed - locked, when you remember a certain Rose and Jade are still asleep outside in your living room - before you smoothly slide onto the bed in a fluid motion. Even John seems bested by the sight, which gives you the opportunity to pull your sheets our from under him, tucking yourself in on your side while invitingly leaving the blanket open to him. He finally seems to take the hint, you thankfully not missing the soft redness shading the tips of his ears, but eventually he joins you sans pants as well. He awkwardly looks at you, between you and around you for a while, and you almost scoff at him for it. You decide against it, however, and opt to go for what he seems to apprehensive to even ask: you pull him in close, an arm wrapped around his middle while the other digs under him, and your legs tangle with his before he can protest about it.
"There. Happy now?" you ask, feeling smug as ever when he gives you another pout, but that seems to be as far as he'll reject you.
"Jeez, Dave, there is no winning with you." he huffs, but even you can tell his smile in the dark.
"I'm a sore loser, Egbert, what can I say." he laughs a little at this, and you want to prod but chose not to.
You're a little surprised, however, when he scoots in closer to complete the so-called brohomolific snuggle, and bite your lip a little when you hear him utter a quiet "Goodnight, Dave."
"'Night." you murmur back softly, face nuzzled into the top of his hair.
It takes a while, but ultimately John passes out in some moments, and you find yourself unable to drift away as quickly and soundly as he has. Not that it's any surprise - you're known to be the residential insomniac on your floor, after all - yet even that can't keep you from simply enjoying the soft, gentle breathing of the brunette next to you. You remain awake like that for a while, the buzz of alcohol progressively wearing off until you're just about as sober as you can get so soon, and fatigue hits you like a ton of bricks.
It catches you by surprise, but eventually you had just been slipping into the comforting, lulling sensation of sleep. Barely entering the ultimate stages of rest, before your subconscious was startled awake, and with a harrowing start, you find yourself habitually focused on time drumming by the longer it is you are awake. Hyper-aware of the seconds, minutes, hours that are droning away in your silent apartment building, of the lives of everyone else in the complex, of the lives of other city-dwellers and of this world and of the next and every single moment, every single fragment ticks by until your entire mind becomes dull and hazed into an inertia that is convergent of only the silent thrumming inside your skull.
Time relentlessly drags upon your freezing skin; pale-blonde hair sticking up while normally smooth planes of skin are riddled with goose-pimples. But, even then, you realize you won't wake up; can't wake up. The seconds continue to prick, char and fester like sores and burns upon your flesh, until they escalate to a near blinding torture that you honestly cannot begrudge yourself when tears are shed because the exact extent of the pain has reached a new level in the spectrum of what is unbearable.
You fail to acknowledge that you're now caught in a stupor, unconscious in slumber; but where you are in your world of sleep is so much more tormenting than any other nightmare you've ever had, you briefly wish you actually were in Derse. Except, that very train of thought is what slams you right back down to your dream and you want to hate yourself for it so badly but you simply can't; not as your dream-self's feet are literally cemented to the ground, blood rushing through your ears and heart pounding so loud you wish it were enough to deafen you because you know what happens next- always do.
You watch in sheer, unadulterated horror and mortification as you are subjugated to the agonizingly familiar sight of Bec Noir striking down his blade smoothly, successfully running it clean through Bro.
It takes only moments (and you know it's precisely four and a quarter seconds because you still have that natural awareness here) before blood is soon gushing madly from your brother's new wound. He's on his back now, leather-clad hands clutching vainly at his laceration, and you are on the verge of exploding because you can't move you can't scream you can't do anything and the reality of it all crashes into you so hard you nearly choke from the effort and frustration that your vocal cords suddenly won't comply.
Your brother is dying and you're not doing anything about it (but I can't do anything about it I can't) [can't or won't?] and you're cursing up a storm in your head but your blood is still at a deafening pulse and you are shaking from the sheer, raw ire that you simply cannot move as you forcibly watch your brother cling onto his final dregs of life.
And it is the single-most painful experience in your young life when you glance down and, peeking out from those obnoxiously pointy sunglasses of his, you can barely make out lackluster orange irises from your intense flurry of tears before you realize he's dead. Your brother is dead; the valiant fire in his eyes that had just barely been raging is soon gone in a flicker and they're so horribly dull that you actually choke on a gasp before finally your mind relents and your shouting and sobbing horrendously and it doesn't even embarrass or abash you because it doesn't matter anymore won't matter anymore; never again because your brother is dead.
Bro is dead on the cold ground, a sword piercing him through and through and you had done jack shit to help him and it's enough to bring you to your knees because you'd single-handedly stood there and watched him die―
―but, suddenly, you're forced straight on your feet again, snot and stagnant tears sullying your face and you are going to kill yourself because it's started all over again. The same scene - the same infernal sight - of Bec and Bro; and before you can even try to yell, the familiar agony of time stabs at you and your stomach heaves because it's about to hurl itself right out of your mouth from how sick you feel because Bro is being stabbed yet again and you're not doing anything yet again and you are going to be driven absolutely mad because you simply cannot take any more of this, you cannot bear this onslaught of emotions and raw hurt you'd tried so hard for so long to obfuscate.
You cannot bear the guilt that is currently coursing rampantly through your veins because you never did get over the loss of your Bro, never could, and certainly never would―
"Dave, wake up!" John's voice pierces through to you, finally if his look tells you anything, but you're too busy taking in your surroundings and listening to the maddened pace of your heart to really listen to what he's saying.
You also fail to notice that you were crying through your dream until John gently wipes at the droplets with his thumb. He stops when you flinch away, afraid he might have inadvertently hurt you or made things worse, but the look on his face makes you feel even worse than you thought possible. John Egbert is pitying you.
It is the straw on the proverbial camel's back - your camel is literally inverted into itself by now for comparisons sake - and you can't contain the sob that wrenches itself from your throat.
"Oh, no, Dave." he mutters painfully, and you are seriously contemplating jumping out of your three-story window because god fucking dammit you are crying in front of your best friend. "Dave, it's okay, shhh, it's okay, everything is going to be just fine."
A part of you appreciates what he's doing - really, you do - but for the most part, you're sort of really busy flipping the fuck out because you'd had this dream before. Multiple times, in fact, most of which you don't really want to admit to. What you don't understand is why it hurt so much this time; usually, you'd lay there for a moment and try to just push the images and feelings away, and they would. But with John here, you find it harder to stop crying, harder to stop sobbing, harder to manipulate your expression to an impassive one and you just want to die.
John pulls you close, however; pressing your face into the cold crook of his neck that feels surprisingly good. His hands rove through your hair slowly and softly, and you're pretty sure that's supposed to be helping calm you down and it actually does.
"It's okay Dave, shhh, everything is okay. It was only a nightmare, Dave. It's alright, I'm here, it's okay." he murmurs over and over into your hair and the top of your ear, and although it annoys you to some minuscule extent, his voice progressively becomes more and more soothing until you've managed to stop sobbing and you're just sort of in between hiccuping and whining.
John doesn't say anything. He doesn't ask, doesn't pry and you're absolutely grateful for it because you're sure it would just wreck you.
What you don't realize is why; although he might not ever confess to it, it's because he finds himself to blame.