Chapter 1: November 20xx
You've been here before, but this time is different. The clock seems to accentuate your nervousness by ticking away the seconds until your name is called. Your leg bobs up and down as your anxiety creeps up your back. You find yourself glancing around the room often, checking the time on your watch every five minutes or so. This time when you glance around, you make eye contact with the only other person here besides the receptionist.
An equally anxious looking boy is sitting in the corner. When he realizes you are staring back he jumps a bit and quickly looks away. The boy starts fidgeting with the strings of his oversized hoody, and you find yourself weirdly interested in him. His messy black hair, his awkward teeth, the way his delicate looking hands twist the strings of his hoody, braiding them together. The boy looks back up at you and this time he doesn't immediately look away. He offers you the smallest smile and you return it.
Your nervousness seems to melt away as you look at him, and he seems to relax a little too, bonded by your shared need for a mental health specialist. You wonder what he might be here for, and if it might possibly be for reasons similar to yours. You quickly write that idea off, you doubt anybody else has come here for the reasons you have.
"Hey, uhm, I'm John." The boy startles you by speaking when you were so deep in thought. You scratch at your arm awkwardly and nod at him.
"I'm Dave. Sup?" The boy, John, gives you an odd look before he starts laughing.
"Oh wow, sup? What are you, some kind of cool kid?" You give him a hurt look, slapping a hand over your heart in mock offense.
"Excuse me, I think it's pretty clear that I am the coolest kid you will ever have the honor of meeting. Do those nerd glasses even work, John?" He laughs again and shakes his head.
"I guess I have to clean them, 'cuz all I see is a tryhard." You find yourself smiling at him and decide you like this John guy.
"Well, I come from a long line of established cool dudes. My brother actually won an award for being too cool for school. Seriously, he graduated years earlier than usual. Guy's got some cushy job working from home selling robots now. It's pretty crazy." John looks impressed by this, so you continue. "My other brother has mad stacks, makes low budget films for a living. The guy is pretty much never home, always off shooting in other countries."
John perks up at the mention of films. "Oh, would he have filmed anything I might have seen? I'm a movie fanatic! I've seen all sorts of obscure films, though nothing can beat a class Nicholas Cage movie." You cringe at him. Nicholas Cage? Seriously? Just when you thought you and John could be friends. Your friendship would have truly been magic. The gods weep over what could have been. "Dude, are you talking to yourself right now?"
You realize that yes, you had in fact been mumbling to yourself instead of thinking, a habit you could never seem to shake. John laughs when you blush. "Whatever. I sure as hell hope you haven't seen any of his work since he mostly does weird shit with puppets. Trust me, you're way better off not knowing the intimate details."
"Well jeez, now I'm curious. I guess I'll trust you and not look it up though. Probably don't need any more mentally scarring moments in my life." His tone is playful but you detect a bit of heaviness in there that makes you think that John has seen some stuff he wishes he could forget.
You glance at your watch again and notice it's almost time for you to meet with the psychiatrist. "When is your appointment, anyways? I'm supposed to be going in in like, five minutes."
John gives you an awkward smile."Well, I like to come early. My appointment isn't for another hour, so I guess I'm going in right after you."
You snort at this. "What, a full hour early? Dude, you're crazy."
John's smile drops and he hums in response. Great job, Dave, you just called a kid in a mental health clinic crazy. How did you expect that to go down? Struggling for something to say, you find yourself leaning back in your chair and riding out the last few minutes of waiting in silence. As you hear your name being called from down the little hallway nearby, you glance at John and see he is staring at the floor fidgeting with the strings on his hoodie again.
You sigh and head down the hall and into the doctor's office, taking a seat on the little couch inside.
Your meeting went well. Dr. Lalonde asked some routine questions and she informed you that there was nothing abnormal on your bloodwork results. You were relieved to find that nothing bad came up because you had just started hormone replacement therapy and you did not want to have to stop because your body couldn't handle it.
You book your next appointment and wave goodbye to Dr. Lalonde. As you walk out into the waiting room, John jumps out of his seat. You look at him nervously, thinking maybe you had startled him, but he smiles at you again.
"Hey, uh, I was wondering if, maybe, you wanted to uh, exchange numbers? So we could text and stuff?" He stammers at you rapidly, and you find yourself staring at him for a few moments in confusion. John's smile weakens and you realize that you need to respond to the poor guy.
"Uh, yeah. Sure. Give me your phone and I'll put my number in." John hands you his phone and you put in your contact info, even snapping a shitty selfie for your contact photo. John laughs when he sees. "Just shoot me a text and I can save your number, alright?"
John nods as his name is called from down the hall. "Well, I'll talk to you later Dave! Thanks!" You nod at him and walk out of the office.
You hadn't expected to make a new friend, especially at a mental health clinic, but you sure are thankful that you did.
A week later you are starting to re-evaluate the events of that day. John still hasn't texted you so maybe friends was a bit of a strong word to use right now. You can't even text him first because you don't have his number.
You're sitting at home on your couch playing Mario Kart when your phone buzzes beside you. You pause the game to check and find yourself smiling down at the text from an unknown number. "Hey, this is John! Sorry for taking so long, but I had sort of a crazy week :B I hope this doesn't make you regret being friends!"
You shake your head and text him back. "It's cool. Gotta make a good impression texting a Strider. I get it. We're cool."
He doesn't text you back right away so you go back to your game. When your phone buzzes, you decide to keep playing as you glance down. You wind up regretting this as you drive off a cliff while laughing.
Your phone sits beside you, open on your conversation with John, his last text glaring up at you.
"Ugh, I think I'm the one with regrets now."
Chapter 2: December 20xx
I decided to post this chapter early because tomorrow and Monday are going to be quite busy for me and I'd rather Y'all get it early instead of late.
Hope Y'all enjoy the first full chapter!
You definitely do not regret being friends with John. As the days pass and the month rolls over to December, you find yourself texting with him more frequently. You learned that his last name is Egbert, his favorite color is blue, he has horrible social anxiety, he doesn't have other friends, he lives alone but often visits his dad, and that he has a pet salamander named Casey. You think you know where he got that name from.
John, on the other hand, hasn't learned much about you yet. He doesn't know why you were at the clinic where you met, and he doesn't know where you live or what you do for fun. You've spared him little more than your last name and that you draw shitty webcomics and post them online.
Somehow your persistent secrecy falters and you let it slip that you have a birthday tomorrow. John asks you what your plans are and you tell him that your big day is going to consist of you chilling out on the couch with some Mario Kart because your brothers are out of town for the week. He asks you if that makes you sad and you tell him you like being home alone. He stops asking questions after that and you find yourself a little disappointed.
You wake up the next morning to an empty house and again feel a little disappointed. Not that you expected otherwise, but you think maybe a small part of you would have enjoyed it if your brothers had come home early to celebrate. You get yourself out of bed and pull out what you have affectionately dubbed your boy box. Inside is everything you own that you have to hide from your brothers. You wiggle into your binder and boxers and throw on a comfy shirt and jeans.
Today will be a good day, even if you spend it alone. You head to the kitchen with that in mind and start looking around for ingredients to make pancakes. You have no idea what those ingredients might be, so you start looking online for a recipe. Before you can find something that looked reasonably simple to make, there's a knock at your door.
You stare at it, confused because nobody ever visits you and there's no way your brothers actually came home early just for your birthday, and almost forget to answer it. The second knock brings you back to reality and you open the door to a nervous looking John Egbert holding a small package with a ribbon on it. You open your mouth to say something but no words come, so you stare at him open-mouthed as he smiles at you, looking relieved.
"Oh gosh, I was so worried I had the wrong house! Thank goodness I got it right. Uhm, hi Dave! Happy birthday!" He speaks softly and quick as if he is afraid he won't get every word out.
"John, how the hell did you find my apartment?" He looks a bit awkward at this and laughs nervously.
"Oh, well uhm, I was looking at your webcomic and you had an address listed for fan mail. I sort of assumed that was your home address?" You click your tongue and nod. Of course, you had your address up online so that the tens of fans of your shitty comic could send you a hand-drawn card for the holidays. Someone even sent you a needle felt version of one of the characters once. That was pretty fucking sweet. You put it on your desk beside your computer. John laughs softly. "You're doing it again. Talking to yourself."
You snap your mouth shut and stand aside to let him into your apartment. You are suddenly very glad you are wearing your binder. And that your brothers are gone. You follow him inside and lead him to the kitchen. "I was just about to attempt to make pancakes if I can find a simple enough recipe online."
John tells you to put away your phone and starts looking around your kitchen, grabbing random bowls and utensils and boxes. "Don't worry, I'll make the pancakes. I'm pretty good at this stuff." Since he clearly knows what the weird wire club thing is for, you trust him.
As he starts to mix a bunch of stuff together, you take a seat on the island. "So, what made you come all the way out here? No way was it just to see me."
"You're the first friend I've had in years, and birthdays are important Dave! Of course I would come out here to celebrate with you! I can't believe your brothers are away right now. If I still had a sister, I would cross countries to be with her on her birthday!" It takes a few seconds for him to process what he just said before he visibly tenses up. You make a note of this and decide it's probably best not to comment on it.
"Well, my brothers haven't really been the most involved dudes since I became big enough to order pizza on my own." John hums in reply, still tense but a little more at ease now. "Dirk was home for my birthday two years back when I turned twenty-one. He bought a bunch of booze and we got super drunk. It sucked a lot but it was a right of passage, you know?" He hums again.
You watch John pour the mixture into a hot pan. "I'm making twenty-three. One for each year you've been alive!" He sounds cheery again and you smile at him.
"Thanks, man, that's a fuckload of pancakes. I'll have breakfast for the next week at this rate." He chuckles and flips the three pancakes in the pan. John goes back to being fairly quiet, but you hear him humming a tune quietly to himself. You find this ridiculously endearing and are overcome with a fondness for your friend.
Over the next hour, you do the bulk of the talking while he focuses on making pancakes, only falling silent when you both stop to eat. John gives you one giant pan-sized chocolate chip pancake and you give him a genuinely grateful hug. He gets a little nervous and winds up dropping the pancake on the floor, but you still eat it while he apologizes repeatedly.
After you both are full of pancakes, you move to the couch in the living room and boot up the Wii U. John has made some pretty bold claims about his Mario Kart skills and you plan on putting the kid in his place.
You do just that. John wins one round out of five, and only because you let him. You don't tell him that though, you just let him push you off a cliff and gain the lead, grumbling about cheating to keep up the charade. When he wins he spikes his controller into the floor and cheers loudly in your face. You tell him that's enough Mario Kart for one day and he calls you a sore loser. You smile.
You haven't spent a birthday with friends since you were in grade two and entire classes were expected to attend all birthdays. Even then, friends was a bit of a loose term. You're pretty sure you could get used to this.
Your happy state dies off when you realize that Christmas is next week and you'll be expected to participate as Elizabeth Strider.
John texts you later that day and your responses wind up being short and vaguely snippy. He asks you whats wrong and you say you don't want to talk about it. It takes him a bit before he texts you again.
"So what are your plans for the holidays?" You groan before you answer him.
"typical holiday shenanigans."
The day before Christmas Eve Bro announces that he and Dirk aren't going to be around for the holidays because they got a really good job offer that will pull them out to Australia for two weeks.
On one hand, that means you can spend the holidays as Dave. That's almost good enough news to get you over the disappointment you always feel when this happens. You decide to text John to ask him if he's going to be spending his holidays with his family.
"so how many Egberts are going to be at the big holiday bonanza?"
"Just me and my dad."
"i would say that's sad but it's better than going solo like me."
"What? Don't you have your brothers there?"
"nah they got called off to australia to shoot some weird outback holiday movie with animatronics."
He stops texting you after that and you drop your phone sadly. Probably with his dad right now or something. You try not to get even more disappointed and go to the kitchen to get some eggnog. You walk around your apartment and wonder if you should bother decorating. It's not like anyone would be around to appreciate it.
You're in the middle of making a smuppet Christmas tree when a sudden knock at your door startles you. You hesitantly open the door and wonder why you are so surprised to once again find John Egbert standing there. Even more surprising is the taller version of himself standing behind him with his hand on John's shoulder. The tall John has a pipe in his mouth and is giving you the warmest smile you've ever seen.
"Uh. Hi John." You look back up at the taller man. "Hi, bigger John?" The man has the sort of laugh that you can feel in your bones. You find yourself shivering a bit, but that might just be the cold coming in. You stand to the side and invite the John's into your house and shut the door behind them. "So, what are you doing here?"
"Dave, It's Christmas! You can't be alone on the holidays! That's a bigger sin than murder!"
You give him an odd look. "You have some messed up priorities, man."
The older man smiles at you once more and you can't help but meet his gaze. "David, John has told me all about you. I feel as though you are an unofficial Egbert, and it would be terrible of me to leave a member of our family alone for the holidays. I would like to invite you to stay at my home until New Years, or perhaps longer if you do not wish to come back to an empty house."
"Uh. Shit, uh, sorry. I mean, yeah, that would be amazing Mr. Egbert!" You don't even try to hide your surprise and excitement. You feel emotions crashing over you suddenly and have to excuse yourself to go pack up some things. You run to your bedroom and slump down in your closet as the first tears come. You don't quite understand why these people are so nice to you when they know so little about who you actually are.
Your door creaks and you look over to see John standing there with a small smile staring back at you.
"Hey, Dave. Do you need any help in here?"
You hastily wipe your eyes on your sleeve and shake your head. "That's cool man, you've already helped me out loads." John gives you a knowing smile and heads back out to your living room as you grab your already packed bag from the floor of your closet. This is where you hide all of the things you couldn't risk your brothers finding. Your binders, your masculine clothes, your testosterone and needles, and anything else that has a hint of boy to it.
Your anxiety starts to creep up as you think about the Egberts finding you out. Staying at someone's house was risky because you couldn't sleep in a binder and if anyone saw in your bag you'd be found out. Plus, if it turned out that they were really against people like you, things could turn really bad really fast.
You throw some chargers and your laptop into your bag, grab your meds and some toiletries from the bathroom, and join the Egberts in your living room. They lead you out to their car, waiting as you lock your door behind you, and John sits in the back of his father's car with you as you head back to his house.
When you arrive at Mr. Egbert's house you grab your bag and John takes your hand. Before you can say anything about it he drags you into the house and up the stairs, hardly giving you time to shuck off your shoes. He pulls you into a room off to the side and you stand there staring at the abysmal amount of posters covering the walls. John's old bedroom, you assume, is quite small, made even cozier by the addition of a cot set up against the wall opposite the regular bed.
You make to put your bag down on the cot but John immediately steers you towards the bed. "No way, guests get the bed and the cot is for me!"
"You sure? I mean, I think you might get seniority here John." Instead of answering you he just shoves you down onto the bed and plops down onto the cot and that's that.
He gets you up as soon as he gets a shirt on and drags you to the kitchen. Mr. Egbert has made a ridiculously large spread of breakfast foods and encourages you to eat as much as you can manage. Challenge accepted, Mr. Egbert. You will eat so much food that he will be forced to recognize your superior appetite.
John nudges you and comments on your mumbling and you huff and take a plate. You then proceed to eat a mountain of breakfast foods while Mr. Egbert goes over the holiday plans for your benefit. The rest of the day is dedicated to a movie marathon, blankets and snacks mandatory, and an early bedtime.
Tomorrow morning John is in charge of getting you up in time to come down for gifts. Before you can think too hard about this, Mr. Egbert tells you that there is already a pile for you under the tree. The rest of the day is to be spent together playing the new family board game. John interjects here to explain that every year they get a new game to play together and that he's super excited to have three people to play this year.
True to his word, Mr. Egbert begins preparing a bunch of snacks after breakfast. John takes you to the living room to help pick out the movies you all will be watching. John wants to include Die Hard, and you suggest Olive, the Other Reindeer. John says he's never heard of it before and you tell him it's a Strider tradition so he rents a digital copy and you feel genuinely touched that he did that for you.
A few hours pass just messing around talking and slowly compiling a list of movies of varying degrees of Christmas relevance. Mr. Egbert comes out with an abundance of snacks and starts placing them on the coffee table while John gets up. He tugs you upstairs by the hand and explains that you two are in charge of gathering every pillow, blanket, and fluffy thing in the house. You take the bedroom while he raids the closet in the hall.
After a few minutes, you both head downstairs, careful not to trip as your vision is entirely obscured by the mountain of blankets on your person. You both settle down on the loveseat while Mr. Egbert takes a recliner that just screams 'fatherly throne'. John asks if you want a blanket and you decline, and he shrugs while Mr. Egbert hits play on the first movie of the night.
You're genuinely enjoying yourself for the first few hours. As Home Alone 2 is just wrapping up, you find yourself shivering a little. John eventually notices this and shuffles closer to you, draping his blanket over your shoulders. You lean toward him and snuggle into the blanket and he tenses up, so you back off a little but he pulls you close again. You stay still until he eventually relaxes against you. Halfway through The Santa Clause, you are both leaning into each other, your arm around the back of John with him laying against your chest.
You notice Mr. Egbert smile over at you both a few times, but he doesn't comment on it.
Around 9 PM the last movie ends and Mr. Egbert declares that it is bedtime. John starts to gather a few of the blankets and pillows and you help him carry them upstairs. When you take your binder off and change into a baggy hoodie your anxiety starts to creep back up. You hope John doesn't notice.
It takes you a long time to fall asleep because it's suddenly a lot warmer in the house than it was before. You cant risk taking off the hoodie so you roll up the sleeves and slip out from under your blanket. You finally manage to drift into broken sleep.
You're jerked awake by John shaking you bodily. Panic sets in because there is no way that he can't feel something he shouldn't right now. He says nothing, smiling down at you, and you tell him you'll be down in a few minutes. He leaves you alone, running down the stairs, and when the sound of his stomping fades enough you shoot upright and crawl into your binder as fast as you possibly can. Your anxiety stays with you as you slowly head downstairs to join the Egberts.
When you sit down next to John and he drops a neatly wrapped box in your lap you forget about this morning. As it turns out, in addition to the gifts from Bro and Dirk that they had brought over, there were five more gifts for you under the tree. You all take turns opening your gifts and commenting on them. The best thing you get is an ugly Christmas sweater with strange little red crocodiles on it. You wear it the rest of the day, not caring how hot you got.
As you wrap up the gift opening you turn to Mr. Egbert. "Sorry I didn't get y'all anything. I didn't really expect this but I feel like I owe you something."
Mr. Egbert shakes his head at you. "You've given us both an incredible gift already, David. Don't worry about it."
You turn to see John beaming at you and you think you get what he meant by that.
Chapter 3: January 20xx
Another early upload because I'll be having a busy day Monday. Thanks to everyone who has been reading, bookmarked the story, commented, or left kudos!
You find that you can't quite shake your anxiety the rest of the time you spend at Mr. Egbert's house. Each morning begins with a cloud of panic that never manages to fully dissipate by night. You wake up before John every morning since Christmas day simply because you can't manage to stay asleep longer than an hour. If John notices the bags under your eyes he doesn't comment on it, and you appreciate that.
Last night was probably the worst one yet. You all had stayed up for the New Years countdown, a true challenge with your lack of sleep. You think Mr. Egbert was worried about you because he was giving you frequent glances with a small frown. Since he'd done nothing but smile since you arrived, that was what ultimately made you suspicious. Still, he didn't approach you about it and again, you were grateful for that.
You give up trying to get any more sleep around six in the morning and get yourself dressed. You decide to mess around on the internet until John wakes up, but you regret this almost immediately. You forgot to turn down your volume after using your laptop to play music last night and the startup jingle unashamedly blasts itself into the quiet room. You panic and look over at John who has started to move and grumble.
You slam your laptop shut and shove it off the bed, not able to care about the dull thud it makes as it hits the floor. John shifts around a bit more and suddenly his eyes meet yours. He stares at you for a few seconds before glancing at the clock on his nightstand and back to you again.
"Dave, why are you even awake right now? We didn't even go to bed until almost one." You fidget with the blanket on John's bed and look away, heavy with guilt.
"Sorry, didn't mean to wake you up dude. Go back to sleep, I'll be quiet."
"I'm not upset that you woke me up, Dave. I'm worried about you being up so early. Have you been sleeping at all since you got here?"
And there it is, the question you've been fearing. How are you supposed to answer this? You can't just come out and tell John that you haven't been sleeping because you're worried about getting outed, and you can't come up with some excuse in case he thinks you hate being here. Truthfully, you've really enjoyed being here for the holidays. The Egberts have some fun, low energy holiday traditions and that's right up your alley.
He must see you struggling to answer because he gets up, moves your laptop back onto your (his) bed, and sits down beside you. "Let's watch a movie since we're both up."
Instead of saying anything to him, you just open your laptop and immediately hammer the volume down key until it's at a reasonable level. John asks you to pick a movie, telling you that he's okay with anything. He regrets this when you turn on Bee Movie. You'll never admit that your appreciation of this movie is entirely unironic.
John does not fall back asleep like you suspected he would, but he does cuddle up against you without any hesitation and you're really glad you got dressed before opening your laptop earlier. You drape an arm around his back and he rests his head against your chest and you feel your anxiety finally begin to melt away. You try not to think too hard about why John can calm you when anyone else being anywhere near that area of your body would spike your anxiety through the roof.
After a movie and a half, you hear Mr. Egbert getting up and John moves away to get ready for the day as well. You close the movie and shut your laptop, making sure the volume was all the way down. When John comes back, dressed for the day, you Join him in heading to the kitchen.
The morning is relaxing with Mr. Egbert making eggs and toast and John talking with you about what you all should do today. He suggests starting with a game of cards and you ask if he knows how to play golf. He says he's never heard of it, but Mr. Egbert has, so you both play a practice round so John can learn.
He winds up beating both you and Mr. Egbert in almost every round.
You switch to the game of life and full your car with little blue pegs. While Mr. Egbert was technically the winner, you felt that as a single father of five boys, you were the real winner. Mr. Egbert declares you Father of the Year and John cheers you on as you take a bow.
It's nearing noon now and Mr. Egbert says that he has to run a few errands and will be out of the house for an hour or two. When he leaves you find yourself playing a classic game of go fish with John while you both talk. You can tell he's being careful to avoid a topic that might upset you and for the hundredth time, you are overcome with appreciation for this boy.
"Thanks. For having me here, I mean. I wasn't really looking forward to being alone for the holidays."
John's smile could blind you, but you can't look away. "Thanks for coming! I was really worried that you didn't really consider me a friend, or that we weren't close enough for it to be okay for me to invite you?"
He says it like a question and you give him a small, genuine smile back. "Nah, dude. You're pretty much my best friend right now. And by that I mean you are definitely my best friend. I don't really go out so I don't meet people often. When I do, they tend to get put off by me."
He's giving you this intense look like he's hearing some special secret and you realize that was probably the most intimate detail of yourself that you've shared with him. You suddenly feel guilty for all your secrecy.
"Well, you already knew that I don't have other friends too. I used to be pretty popular, but..." His voice catches and you feel the urge to reach out and comfort him. He takes a deep breath and continues speaking. "I used to have a sister. She was a few years older than me and she was my best friend. She... she died in a fire when I was still young." He's silent for a few minutes, but you can tell he has more to say so you wait patiently for him to finish.
"I saw her die." The weight of those words is enough to take your breath away, and you can't even imagine how the memory of that must destroy John every day. You don't attempt to restrain yourself as you reach out and pull him to you in a hug as tears begin to streak down his face.
"I'll never forget it, Dave. A beam fell over and crushed her right in front of me. I didn't want to leave, but the firemen pulled me away."
There's silence for a while as you rub small, gentle circles on his back as he cries into your shoulder. He stops crying eventually, but he stays put.
"I have post-traumatic stress disorder, that's why I was at Dr. Lalonde's office the day we met. After she died I just... gave up on my friendships. I started to get really anxious any time I was out of the house, and anytime I tried to make friends it felt like an insult to what I had with Jane."
You don't want to say something that could ruin the moment, but there's a question burning a hole in your mind. It takes you a few minutes before you manage to ask. "What made me different?"
He laughs softly. "I don't really know. I think that we were both at a mental health clinic helped because I knew you'd probably be more understanding. But when we talked at the clinic that day I didn't feel nervous at all. It was weird and sort of scared me, but I knew I had to at least try and be friends with you. I'm glad that I did."
You squeeze him a little. "I'm glad you did too."
Guilt floods you once more when you realize that he probably wants to know why you were there that day, but that's something you aren't ready to share yet.
Mr. Egbert comes home to find you both still cuddled up together, and John slowly removes himself from your arms. He gives his dad a sad smile and Mr. Egbert crouches down to hug his son. You feel almost like you are intruding on something special, but John quickly demands that you join the hug and you awkwardly wrap your arms around them both. It still feels nice.
When the group hug breaks up, Mr. Egbert shows off a couple of bags of baking supplies and John cheers in excitement. He explains to you that baking is an Egbert family tradition and that you were about to become a part of something truly special. You give him a weird look but he and Mr. Egbert return it with serious expressions. You start t get a little flustered and they both laugh at you, making it even worse. You stomp your feet as you follow them to the kitchen.
As John patiently shows you how to make cookies, you chat back and forth some more. "I used to hate baking. Jane loved it, and it took me a long time to even try it again. But now it makes me feel closer to her, you know?" You nod, scanning his face, and he is smiling this time. "It helps me when I'm anxious too."
"Yeah, I can see how this would help." You comment sarcastically as you shakily measure out flour into a measuring cup. He laughs at you when you tip the bag too far and it spills everywhere.
"I uh, I sort of talk to myself a lot when I bake. When I'm alone, I mean. It helps me feel less lonely." You shake the flour from your hands and laugh. John huffs at you and you quickly shake your head.
"I do the same thing when I'm taking pictures." This was a part of you that you could share with John, and you feel relief at having a safe thing in common to talk about.
"Are you into photography?"
"Yeah, since I was little. My brother got me a really nice camera when I was old enough for him to trust me not to drop it. I like to go for walks with it sometimes and I just take pictures of anything that catches my eye."
"Wow Dave, that's really cool! Can I see your pictures sometime?"
"Uh. Maybe sometime. We'll see."
He seems satisfied with that answer and you get the feeling that he's taking it as a definite yes. It was.
By the time you both head off to bed, you managed to make some pretty decent tasting cookies. John congratulates you by smearing leftover icing from the cake he and his father had made all over your face.
As you climb into bed, John asks if you can stay up and talk for a little while. You know you won't be sleeping well again anyway, so you agree. He sits beside you on your bed and you feel yourself tense up. You had changed out of your binder and into your hoodie, so if he got too close things could get bad.
Just as you think that, John shifts closer in order to cuddle against you like he's done before. You panic and find yourself jerking away from him. He gives you a worried look and backs off, but you grab his arm, not really wanting him to leave.
"Dave?" You feel your heart pounding, and anxiety needles its way up your back and arms. You suddenly feel very cold. John calls your name again, but you find you are having trouble answering him because your lungs have decided to kick into overdrive.
"Dave, you're having a panic attack. It's going to be okay. I just need you to breath with me okay?" He stays where he is, but slowly lifts his arms to indicate for you to breathe in. You follow his motions as he raises and lowers his arms, breathing in and out slowly. You feel the tremors in your body settle down, and after a few minutes, you feel like you can probably talk again.
You don't. Instead, you sit there quietly as tears flow down your cheeks. You taste them on your lips, and you open your mouth and make a pathetic sound. John worriedly watches you, and you suddenly wipe the tears on your arm and try again.
"Christmas morning." He gives you an odd look and you can almost see the gears turning in his mind. After a moment though, realization hits.
"I already knew." You feel your anxiety start to flare up again at this. How could he have known, did you not pass as well as you thought? Before you can get carried away with this train of thought, he speaks again. "When we were at the clinic I heard you mumbling to yourself about bloodwork and hormones."
You feel stupid. It's a welcome change from panic and anxiety though, and you find yourself laughing. Quietly at first, but it quickly evolves into a giggle fit. John finds himself smiling at you, and you catch his eyes.
"I don't care what your body looks like Dave, you're still my best friend and no less of a man." The tears start back up but you hold your smile as you pull John into the warmest hug you can manage. He rubs your back comfortingly and you bury your face in his neck. He doesn't seem to care that you are getting his shirt wet. You remember holding him like this earlier, and you feel closer to him than you've felt to anyone in years.
You both stay there for a while, John's hand moving up to run through your hair. You don't know when you fell asleep, but you wake up sometime the next morning and realize you actually slept through the night. John is still holding you as he sleeps, but you were both laying down now.
You start thinking about yesterday and realize how amazing it feels to have someone else know about you. John has known about you this whole time and he's treated you no differently. You feel a weird emotion that you can't quite place. Like a bird that just learned how to fly.
You wonder how Bro and Dirk would react if you ever came out to them. You know you can't hide forever. The way John handled it makes you feel confident that your bothers would probably be pretty accepting. At the very worst you imagine that Bro would be ambivalent about it.
Eventually, John begins to stir, but he just pulls you closer. He mumbles a good morning against your neck and you smile and return the greeting. You feel a lack of weight that you can't remember ever feeling before.
After a few minutes, you hear Mr. Egbert knock on the door and he informs you both that breakfast is ready whenever you were ready to eat. You get up, and John follows you. You both head downstairs, still in your pajamas, and John catches your hand for a moment, squeezing it gently before he lets it go.
You look over and catch his eyes as you smile at each other. Today was going to be a great day.
Chapter 4: February 20xx
February rolls around and the world starts to remind you that you are single. You ask Dirk if he will be around to play games with you like he usually does on Valentine's day, but he shakes his head.
"Sorry kid, I got other shit to see to."
You try to stifle your disappointment. Bro will be filming some weird kinky shit like always, so you'll probably wind up doing nothing by yourself. Then you remember that you actually have a friend who has made it a point to hang out with you at several important points in the last few months.
The problem is, however, that there's a really big fucking difference between Christmas and Valentine's day. That difference being that one of those is not hailed as the one day a year that people make a big show of their romantic interest in each other. The thought of making John feel uncomfortable stomps out any desire you have to ask him to hang out with you.
When you mention to Bro later that you'll probably just chill out at home, he asks why you aren't going to be hanging out with your new boyfriend. You assume he's talking about John and you ignore him.
A few days before Valentine's day you find yourself unable to think of much else besides your suddenly ravenous desire to spend the day with John. You start thinking about what you'd do together, and how the day would go. You almost have the courage built up to call him and ask him out when your phone suddenly rings in your hand. It startles you out of your daydreaming and you fumble as you try not to drop it.
Bro's eyes are burning holes in the back of your head and you're sure your face cant get any redder as you answer the call with a mumbled hello.
"Hey, Dave! Uh, how are you doing?" He sounds nervous, his voice shaking.
"Hey, John. I'm pretty chill, what's up?"
"Well, uh, you know... Valentine's day is coming up."
"Well, we should hang out! You know, like, as friends? That would be pretty fun, don't you think?"
You can't find your voice suddenly. You also feel sort of lightheaded.
"Uhm. Dave?" You manage to get some sort of strangled sound out this time. He takes this as a sign to continue. "Well, I thought it would be nice to spend the day with someone really special, and I usually go out with my dad. But now I have you! As a friend, I mean." You lied, your face can, apparently, get much redder.
"Uhm, I would really love that. Text me with the details?"
"Yeah, I'll do that right away! Wow, thanks for saying yes. I was really worried." He laughs, but it sounds strained and awkward. You think he was probably as nervous as you were and the image of an anxious John dialing your phone number over and over without hitting send like a teenager brings a small smile to your face.
His laugh turns more genuine and you realize you were mumbling under your breath again and he heard all of that. You wonder if there is a color brighter than red that your face can turn. As you end the call, you hear Bro's laughter even as you slam your door shut behind you.
You'll be meeting John at a cafe near your house so you'll be walking. This is a problem because your brothers are both still home at the moment. You wear the least girly clothing you can get away with and shove what you plan on actually wearing on the date in a bag along with your gift for John. Bro and Dirk wolf whistle at you until you slam the front door behind you. Bro even sends you a text to remind you to use protection tonight. You groan.
You leave early so you can change before John shows up, but you forgot how you met him in the first place. You get to the cafe twenty minutes early and the first thing you see is John sitting at a booth for two smiling at you. He calls out to you cheerfully, giving no outward reaction to your appearance, but you dive into the bathroom as fast as you can to change while a gross feeling coils around in your stomach.
You sit in your stall for longer than you could probably get away with, trying to calm your breathing and maybe ease the monster trying to crawl up your esophagus. After a few minutes, you groan and get up as the feeling of needing to vomit finally passes. As you leave the bathroom and walk over to John, you force a smile that he returns enthusiastically. Yours becomes a bit more genuine.
As you take a seat across the table from him he slides an envelope over to you and you stare at it in confusion. He insists that you open it, so you do. Inside is a poorly made card covered in glitter and confetti hearts. The front consists of a drawing of you and John brofisting. It's actually the most adorable damn thing you've ever seen, and as you open it up two movie tickets dated later today flutter to the table and you blush.
"Jesus John, you're a real proper gentleman, huh? Treatin' this lady proper." You let your Texan out and are rewarded with John laughing and blushing softly. Guess this means it's now or never. You reach into your bag and pull out your gift for John, sliding it over. "Sorry it ain't wrapped but my skills in that department are about on par with Lil Wayne." You smile as he laughs again.
You think he was going to make some sort of comment back to you, but his eyes go wide and his mouth hangs open as he realizes what his gift is. He picks up the little photo album and you can see stars in his eyes as he scans the pictures inside. After a few minutes, he looks up to you so suddenly that it startles you a little.
"Dave, did you take these?"
"Yeah. Just some stuff that reminded me of you."
He sets the album down and continues to flip through the pictures, a warm smile on his face. The baking aisle at a grocery store, a cloudless sky with the sun shining, a crow taking flight from the ledge of a bridge. You remember taking each of them and the exact thoughts that were going through your mind when you did.
A waitress comes to ask for your drink orders and you have to order for both of you because John is completely enamored by the pictures you gave him.
You enjoy a nice dinner together, John eventually looking up to engage you in conversation. You notice he never lets go of the album and that he tucks it gently away in his bag when you both get up to leave.
At the movies, you buy a large bag of popcorn and two drinks because hell yeah couples special sign us the fuck up, and you take your seats at the 'most romantic movie of the year'. You almost get kicked out for being loud as you laugh at the shitty dialogue and throw popcorn at the screen, but the usher must have been sympathetic because he lets you off with a warning.
When you leave the theatre you tell John you'll walk him home and feel good when he doesn't try to stop you.
"So do you watch many movies, Dave?"
"Yeah, my brothers and I used to have this tradition of watching movies on mute and making our own dialogue. It's pretty cool to be able to watch a movie ten times and have a different plot each time."
"Yeah, that sounds fun! We'll have to try that together sometime." You hum in response and John turns up a walkway. You follow him to his door and he stands there for a few moments before turning to face you. "You want to come in? You could, uh, spend the night?"
"What will the neighbors think?" You feel your face getting red again and you thank the moon for not being a bright orb of fuck you like the sun.
"They'll probably wonder why they are staring at the neighbors and wasting their lives speculating on who you are and what this means. Besides, I'm worried about you walking home alone tonight. You can sleep in my spare room."
"Well, I guess that's probably a good idea." You follow him inside and he shows you the guest room where you drop your bag before you walk into the living room and look around. John lives in a cozy basement apartment with a low ceiling, one bathroom with a tub/shower combo, an open floor kitchen and living room, and two bedrooms. You notice an odd lack of personal touches. The walls are pretty bare, and the shelves contain only a few books. You ask him about it.
"Well, It's sort of weird but at my dad's house, there are all these pictures and stuff everywhere. Everything has a memory that we made together while I was growing up. I want to find someone special that I can make memories with, I want this house to become our home."
You notice his eyes get a little glossy and you wonder if he might cry, but he smiles over at you and you feel the weight of his words sink in. You wonder how lonely he must be, living here by himself. He has no other friends, and he can't be able to see his father too often. You briefly wonder if there will ever be pictures of the two of you on these walls.
John comments on the time and you both decide to go to bed. The guest bed is comfortable and John's house is so cozy that you fall asleep almost immediately. This doesn't last, as you find yourself jerking away at some ungodly hour of the night. It takes you a few moments to realize why this happened.
You can hear a racket from the room down the hall. You debate what to do until you hear what sounds like crying and your body is up and at his door before you can even process it moving. You bang on the door, worry and panic pulsing through your body, and call out to John as loudly as you dare without disrupting the upstairs tenants.
The noise stops after a few moments and you hear shuffling before John slowly opens the door. His eyes are red, his hair is messier than usual, and he looks guilty and embarrassed.
"Hey man, uh, heard a racket and thought I'd come check up on you." He gives you a nervous smile.
"Uhm, sorry. I was having a night terror. That, uh, happens sometimes. Because of the PTSD."
"Well, good thing I woke you up then." John hums and you both look at each other for a second before awkwardly looking around. You turn to go back to your room, mumbling a little to yourself, but John catches your arm.
You look back over your shoulder and see that he looks nervous and a little scared. He lets go of your arm and apologizes, but you keep staring at him.
"Hey, your guest room is cold. Can I bunk with you?" He gives you a shy smile but nods.
"Of course, it's nice and warm in my room."
You can hear the appreciation and relief in his voice.
You spend the rest of the morning casually chatting with John. After you finish eating he offers to give you the official tour of the apartment and you accept. The tour ends in his bedroom where you meet his salamander, Casey. You don't know how you missed the large display this morning because it takes up a large portion of his wall.
You stay for a while before you reluctantly change back into your clothes from yesterday and say goodbye to John. He tells you not to be a stranger and hugs you tightly before you leave. You still feel on edge being around John without a binder, but it's easier to manage now that you had officially come out to John.
When you get home you get weird looks from Dirk but he only asks you what you want to order for dinner. You tell him Chinese of course, why would anyone order anything else, and you spend the rest of the day in your bedroom, doodling and editing some of your digital photos.
After you brush your teeth that night you notice in the mirror that you've been smiling. Recalling Dirk's weird looks earlier you figure you must have been doing this all day, but it's not hard to guess why.
Chapter 5: March 20xx
The first week of March finds you back in the waiting room at Dr. Lalonde's mental health clinic. Unlike last time, you are the only one here with the receptionist. The anxiety that would normally weigh you down seems to be missing as well, and you find yourself surprised by this.
You guess you only have John to thank for this since nothing else about your life in the last four months has changed. You'll have to let him know when you text him later. He'll probably get that dumb cute look on his face that means he's trying to hold in a smile. You wish he wouldn't, he has a nice smile for how messed up his teeth are.
A door opens to your right and Dr. Lalonde waves you in with a smile. You follow her into her office and take a seat on the couch while she slumps down in her office chair and spins to face you. You always sort of assumed that psychiatrists would be stiff and unapproachable, but Dr. Lalonde is casual and friendly. You were put off by this for the first half hour of your original meeting with her but quickly found yourself chatting like you would with an old friend.
"So Dave, how have you been since the last time we met?"
"Well, pretty good actually. Been spending a lot of time with a friend of mine lately."
"Ohh, Davey made a friend! I'm so proud of you!" She squeals and you make a point of groaning and covering your face with your hands, but only so she won't see the stupid smile on your face.
When you were young you were raised to hide your emotions behind a neutral expression and some shades. Your oldest brother would teach you that emotions make you weak and would punish you when you would throw tantrums as a toddler. You started seeing a therapist in middle school at the recommendation of your school counselor, but it took years for you to finally open up.
You were in college before you finally stopped wearing your shades all the time, and you still find yourself defaulting to a neutral expression when you're surprised, but it has done wonders for you to have people to open up to. Your oldest brother wasn't as impressed, but you insisted you were done with the careless charade.
"Well let's get the doctory stuff out of the way first. Your bloodwork results came in and I had a look at them. Everything looks great, you're right on target with what we want!"
"Of course it is, what else would you expect from a Strider?"
"Ohh. That confidence looks great on you, Davey. Keep it up and you'll have hundreds of friends.
"Geez, Dr. L, you hittin' on me or somethin'?" She snorts at you and you let her see the smile you give this time.
"You wish, kid! Now, tell me more about this friend."
"His name is John. I met him here in the waiting room before my last appointment. We've been talking a lot and I spent the holidays at his dad's place. He uh, he knows about me. About my stuff."
Dr. Lalonde's smile only grows as you talk, and instead of making you feel awkward like you expected, you find yourself getting more excited to tell her about John.
"We went out on valentine's day. Like, as friends, and it was really nice. I spent a night at his place and it sort of made me realize how nice it is to be able to live as myself full-time, you know?"
"Oh, Davey that's amazing! It's super important for you to have a safe place to grow, and that's a great start. Have you given any thought to coming out to your brothers?"
You feel the familiar twisting in your stomach and squirm a bit on the couch, a detail that does not escape Dr. Lalonde's trained eyes. Her smile falters a little as you look at the floor.
"Well, I dunno about that Dr. L. Dirk might be cool with it, but I have no clue about Bro. The dude can say some pretty hateful shit, but I don't know if that's just him or if he actually believes it."
"I understand, but you should also keep in mind that you can't hide this forever. In order to transition healthily, you need to be comfortable enough in your home to be yourself. Your brothers are going to find out eventually anyway and it might be way worse that way. I don't wanna put pressure on you, but you should keep these things in mind and consider getting it done sooner than later."
You don't really respond much beyond giving her a small hum to let her know you were listening, but the anxiety has started creeping up your back again and you find this ruining your good mood completely. You know she's right, but you had hoped it would be a lot further into your transition before this topic came up. Obviously, that's ridiculous because some of the changes you'll be going through are already becoming somewhat obvious.
"Maybe you should talk to John about this. It might be easier to do knowing you have him supporting you. If things go really bad you can always call me too, you have my home number for a reason."
"Yeah, I guess. I just wish this wasn't necessary."
"I get that, but the world isn't there yet. I can't say that things are sure to go good, but I can tell you that you're a guy worth knowing Dave, and you're brothers do deserve the chance."
You aren't quite sure what to do with that, but you feel a little glow of warmth that helps ease the anxiety and you lift your gaze back up to Dr. Lalonde and give her a small smile.
"Thanks, Dr. L, but I'm not really interested in you like that."
Her laugh fills the room and you find your smile growing again.
"I guess I'll talk to John about it tonight. I was sort of looking for an excuse to see him today anyway."
"Oh my god you two must be so cute together, I can only imagine." Dr. Lalonde grins and spins around in her chair to grab something from her desk.
"I better not find out you've been writing fanfiction about us or something Dr. L." You take the paper she hands you and glance at it while she giggles at you. "What's this...?"
"It's an advertisement for a safe space group that meets up every week near here. I think you should go, it might be helpful for you."
"Uh, I'll think about it?"
"That's good enough for me! I don't want to overload you with stuff." You grunt in reply and stuff the ad in your bag as Dr. Lalonde spins around to face her computer. "Okay, well I guess that's it for today. Let's book you for your next appointment and you can get going."
After throwing a few dates back and forth, you book your next meeting with her and she waves you off as you leave the clinic. You reach for your phone immediately and start texting John, letting him know you want to come over to visit. His reply comes quickly and you smile at his enthusiasm at the idea.
You don't have a car but John doesn't live too far away so, after a quick check on google maps, you catch a bus and make your way there. You get off a stop too early and have to walk a bit further than you intended, and by the time you get to his door you feel miserable. The door swings open in front of you before you can even knock and you jump a bit in surprise as John gives you a radiant smile.
"Dave! I'm so glad you're here!" His smile drops a bit as he takes in your appearance. "Is everything okay? Did your appointment go well?"
You give him a weak smile as he frets over you, pulling you inside for a hug. You kick the door shut and lean into the hug, not really returning the gesture but accepting it. John rubs your back and you give a long sigh before answering his questions.
"Long day. Is it okay if we talk about it later? I just want to relax right now."
"Of course! I actually have something to show you in the living room, if you're up for it."
"Yeah, lay it on me." He leads you into the living room and you immediately notice what he was referring to. Several frames now hang on the wall, and as you move closer to get a better look you find out that many of them came from the album you gave him for valentine's day.
"I hope you don't mind that I took them out, but these were my favorites and I really wanted to put them up."
You look over at him and he's smiling at the pictures on the wall. You notice he put up the shot of the crow, one of your favorites from the album as well, and feel a swell of warmth. "They look great up there."
"It feels a lot more like home here now." A part of you feels incredibly smug that you could do that for him. John moves over to the couch and you follow, slumping against him as he laughs at you. "What a drama queen."
"Hey, today sucked, okay? I deserve this." He runs a hand through your hair and turns on the tv, immediately searching through the movie channels for something good to watch. You suggest legally blonde and hours later you've watched the first and second movies back to back.
As the credits roll, you sigh and sit up, turning to face John who turns as well. "Finally ready to talk about it?"
"Yeah." You take a few seconds to gather your thoughts before explaining to him what happened. "My appointment actually went pretty well, I guess. My hormones are all good and stuff, but Dr. L. wants me to talk to my brothers."
You look away from John and start picking at the sleeve of your shirt as you continue. "I don't know how that's going to go down. Bro can say some pretty ignorant stuff sometimes. I don't know if it's what he really thinks, or if it's just how he is? Anyways... yeah, she said I have to talk to them if I want to keep up with my affirmation process."
"I guess that makes sense. They'd notice eventually, right? Still, that must be a lot to deal with."
"That's pretty much what Dr. L. said too. Also that I need to be able to be myself in my home. It's just stupid and I wish I didn't have to have this conversation. How am I supposed to even start? 'Hey guys, I'm your new brother Dave. I killed your sister and burst forth from her corpse like the alien monster I am.'."
John snorts and reaches out to grab your hand. "Dave, you aren't an alien or a monster, don't be such a nerd. I don't think it really matters how you start these kinds of conversations. It's probably more important that you are clear with them that this isn't temporary and that you will be going through some changes that are going to help you be happier."
You groan and stare at your intertwined hands. "I guess? I don't know, I think my dumb brain just wants to believe that everything has to go wrong."
"Well, let's say things do go wrong. What's the worst outcome you can think of?"
"Bro kicks my ass out, metaphorically and literally."
"Do you really think he'd get physical?"
"The dude's pretty relaxed about doling out beatings. He used to make us fight him as training, but it was probably just an excuse for him to show us who was in charge."
"That's pretty messed up. Is it even safe to be living there?"
"I mean, he wouldn't kill me. The worse he can do is leave me running away with my tail between my legs."
"That's not a preferable outcome."
"Well, you asked for worst-case, not preferable."
"Oh, right. Well, if he really does kick you out...you can always stay here."
"Uh, excuse me?"
"You spend enough time here anyway, and I always hoped I would find someone cool to share this place with. If you really do need a safe home, you always have one here."
You stare at him, dumbfounded, and he squeezes your hand comfortingly. "If you want, I can come with you? I can borrow my dad's car and if things are starting to get unsafe we can just leave."
You think it over for a few minutes before giving your answer. Having John there sounds like a great idea, he's great at giving you emotional support, but you also fear him getting hurt. You wouldn't put it past Bro to extend his punishment to someone he thinks is enabling you.
Maybe you're overthinking this. Bro might sound like a shitty guy when all you tell someone is that he beats you up sometimes. He does it for your own good, and it has helped you be stronger. You don't feel fear like you probably should in a lot of situations because you know you can protect yourself thanks to his training. He taught you how to stand up for yourself. Why would he punish you for doing exactly that?
"Thanks, but I think this is something I need to do alone. Maybe it won't be so bad."
"That's the spirit!" John pulls you in for a hug and you return it this time. "Was that all you wanted to talk about?"
You almost say yes before you remember the paper Dr. L. had given you. "Oh. Well, uh, actually I did have something else. You know those support groups, for people like me? Well, Dr. L. gave me an ad for one nearby that she thinks might do me some good. I was wondering if you were interested? Not to put any pressure on you or anything but I'm pretty much never going there unless you're with me."
John laughs at you, probably because you transitioned into muttering halfway through talking. "I'd be happy to go with you! It sounds like you might be able to meet some people who are going through similar things."
"I dunno, dude. The odds don't seem to be ever in my favor here."
"Dave you absolute nerd, was that a Hunger Games reference?"
"No, shut up. Anyway, I guess I can probably make a friend?"
"Are you asking me? Because I think you'll probably be the most popular person there. You're an amazing friend, Dave."
"Can we have one conversation where you don't punch through my defenses and make me feel like an actual human?"
"I guess it's a date then."
"It's a date!"
"You been workin' at a drag show, kid?"
You manage not to jump ten feet in the air, probably because your defenses immediately go up the second you enter your home. You look over at Bro and see that he is the only one home right now, which is odd because Dirk is the one who works from home.
"Tanked the audition." Bro snorts, and you continue before he can say anything. "But actually I, uh, I need to talk to you."
"You a lesbian? I could use that shit in my films."
"Bro I'm a guy." And there it is. The idea of him saying anything else ignorant pushed you into 'fuck it' mode, apparently. You get put off the longer he stares at you without talking, so you fill the silence as best as you can.
"I mean, I know that probably seems like bullshit. I've been your little sister for years. But I haven't really. Fuck, uh, how do people explain this shit?"
"Gender dysphoria, that's a big part of it. Not feelin' like my body is my own, you know? Like when you look in a mirror and think 'shit somethin' ain't right here' but you can't really figure out what that thing is?"
"Anyway, uh, my old therapist put me on a wait list to see a specialist, and I had my first appointment with her back in November. I've seen her a couple of times now and she's pretty cool. She got me on hormones that are helping me deal with the dysphoria. She's the reason I'm even talking to you right now. I mean, I would have told you eventually, but she's making a big deal about me having to talk to you and Dirk before I can move on with my affirmation. That's what the process of... fixing myself is called. Gender affirmation."
Fuck you totally started mumbling halfway through. Bro has always been pretty good about getting everything, though, so you really hope he got all that.
He continues staring at you, and the intimidation and anxiety keep you from talking anymore. After what feels like hours, but was probably only a few seconds, Bro looks away.
"So you're one of those fucking trannies?"
Your blood runs cold. Everything seems to be moving in slow motion and you notice that your vision is getting hazy. You feel the intense sensation that your awareness is leaving your physical body.
You knew this was a possibility. You have a safety net. Everything is going to be okay...
The shatter of glass snaps you back into your body and you flinch backward as Bro looms over you. Has he always been this much taller than you? Suddenly you feel like a little girl facing a lion.
"What the fuck is this actually about, kid? You fuckin' with me because I'm away all the time? You think you gotta be a fag to get my attention? I spent all these years keepin' your stupid ass alive and now you go shootin' poison in your veins? Well, I hope it fucking kills you."
"I...I didn't choose to do this Bro! Why would anyone want to live like this?"
"To be a spoiled fuckin' shit crying out for attention."
"I'm not doing it for attention! I'm doing it so I can be happy for once in my fucking life!" You know raising your voice like this is a bad idea, but you can't stop yourself. Something deep inside you is fighting to get out.
"Bullshit. I knew you were fucked, kid, but this is way beyond what I expected. Is this because mom's gone? Too many guys in the house so you think you gotta be one too to keep up?"
You open your mouth to argue, that desperation to be understood and accepted clawing feverishly at your consciousness, but Bro cuts you off.
"It's your fucking fault mom died anyway."
You think your heart stopped beating. Years of therapy, sleepless nights, and heartache come rushing back in a wave of emotion so powerful that you actually stumble back against the wall. You slide down to your knees as you try to deny the accusation.
Your mouth no longer works.
Bro moves toward you and you look up through your tears. He stares down at you like he would a stranger that had broken into his home.
"You got five minutes kid. Grab whatever the fuck you can and get the fuck out of my sight or I swear to god, nobody will ever find the body."
You know better than to doubt a threat from Bro. Without hesitation, you scramble to your feet and run to your room. You grab a bag and shove your box and laptop into it before sprinting out the front door and all the way to the bus. You ignore the stares along the way and finally arrive at John's house.
You only have to knock once before the door is open and warm arms are around you, pulling you inside.
The next few hours pass in a blur. You drop your things in the guest room and collapse onto the bed with John, who holds your head against his chest as you break. He tells you not to worry about anything and to just let it all out.
It's messy, and you'll probably feel ashamed for it later, but John stays with you all night until you finally fall asleep.
He leads you to a little table set up nearby and you both write your names on a sign-in sheet. You feel a little better when you see that the sheet asks for 'preferred name' and 'preferred pronouns' and nothing else.
When you finish you look around and see small groups of people scattered around, chatting amongst themselves. One man makes his way around the different groups, chatting with everyone. He catches your eye and comes over. You feel anxious, but the man has a gentle energy and you give him a small smile. John waves as he stops in front of you.
"Hello, I'm Kankri Vantas and I run this meeting. I've never seen you boys here before, but I'm happy to welcome you to the group!"
John takes the initiative and you squeeze his hand in thanks.
"Hello, Kankri! I'm John, and this is Dave. We're really looking forward to tonight. What can we expect?"
"Well met! We typically start the night by running a check-in. Everyone will answer a couple of questions, of course you are welcome to pass, and after that, we like to play some games."
"That sounds like fun!"
"I sure hope we don't disappoint! Well, It's about time to get started. Take a seat at the big table over here, and we'll get right into it!"
John leads you to a couple of open seats and you shift your chair closer to his. He smiles at you and you lean on him as Kankri looks around the table as the last couple of people take their seats. You look around at the other people here and notice a familiar looking blond girl sitting nearby. She smiles when she notices you looking at her and you quickly look away.
"Welcome, everyone! I hope you all had a great week. We're going to start with check-in now if everyone is ready. As always, you are not under any obligations to answer, so feel free to pass your turn when it comes up! Alright, I'll go first. The questions tonight will be your name, your preferred pronouns, and something that makes you smile!"
You don't catch the first few introductions because all you can think about is what your answers should be. You look up as the familiar girl starts to speak.
"My name is Rose, and my preferred pronouns are she and her. The eldritch horrors of H.P. Lovecraft never fail to bring a smile to my face."
What the fuck.
"What the fuck?" John whispers down to you, and you smile.
It's John's turn now, so you stop leaning against him and sit up straight. Some of the people at the table smile at you and you look down, embarrassed.
"Hello! I'm John, my pronouns are he and his, and what makes me smile is my best friend Dave!" He wraps an arm around you and pulls you in for a side hug and your face turns red.
You sputter a bit as you stare even harder at the table. "Uhm, I'm Dave. My pronouns are he and his, and uh, John makes me smile too."
Several people at the table clap and make comments about how adorable you both are together, and you look at John and smile nervously. He gives you a smile back that lights up your whole night.
The rest of the night is spent playing group games, which you and John participate in excitedly. A lot of the games involve teams, so you pair up with John for all of them until the last of the night. You need a group of four, and before you could worry too hard about who else to ask to join you, Rose and a girl with black hair approach you.
"Hello, Jade and I would like to join you boys if that is alright." The other girl, Jade, seems to be barely containing her excitement at the moment. you feel a little nervous about her energy, but you put on a brave face.
"Yeah, I hate to disappoint everyone else here by taking the best team off the market, but you did ask first and I like a person with initiative. Welcome to team Wins all the Time."
John laughs and punches your shoulder lightly. "Dave, we haven't won a single same all night."
"Maybe not in the traditional sense, but we won a moral victory here John."
"And what moral would that be?"
"The moral of shut up."
Jade burst out in laughter and Rose gives a much more contained giggle.
"Oh my gosh you guys are great! We're going to be best friends."
Not a single part of you doubts her somehow.
After playing a game of cops and robbers, you believe her even more. The four of you worked together so naturally that it seemed like you had been friends for longer than your life could even account for. After the games you and John exchange numbers with Rose and Jade and head off for home.
You feel a sense of belonging right now that you aren't sure you have ever felt before. John makes a comment about having fun and being glad that you both went out tonight, and you hum in agreement.
"That smile looks good on you."
You blush and look over at him. In the dim light of night you can hardly make him out, but his hand is firmly held in your own as you walk together.
You feel a piece of you shift back into place.
Chapter 6: April 20xx
It’s been a few weeks now since you moved in with John and you’ve finally decided to discuss the terms of you living here. You look up at John, head resting on his lap as the credits roll on a movie you’ve hardly been paying attention to.
He’s been kind enough to let you take your time to get used to your new living space and told you that you can choose when to have this conversation. When you look up he’s already looking down at you.
“So I think it’s time we have the talk.”
“My dad gave me the talk when I was twelve, Dave.”
You groan and lightly slap his chest. “You know what I mean!”
“Well, you shouldn't have worded it that way!”
“So obviously I’ll be paying rent. I guess you probably have some idea of what it costs to have me living here. Should I start buying my own groceries? I don’t have the first fucking idea how this works John, help me out here.” He giggles as you ignore his comment.
“Well, I can factor groceries into the cost of your rent. We can go and get them together on whatever day works best.”
“That would make sense. Makes it easier for me to know how much I have to pay you every month. It’s a monthly thing, right?”
“If that’s what works best for you, then sure! I’ll give you an amount, you just make sure it’s paid by the end of the month. Sound fair?”
“Sounds fair.” You try and think about what else needs to be discussed. You know you’ll be staying in the guest room and you have equal access to the entire house. With money and food accounted for, you aren’t really sure what else you would need to think about.
“So, awkward question time. You do have a job, right?”
You can’t even believe this never occurred to you. You made your money by doing grunt work for Dirk and Bro, but that was clearly not an option anymore.
“Uh. N-no, actually. I worked for my brothers on the side for money.”
“That’s okay. I don’t want you to feel pressured or anything. Would it help if I let you stay this month rent free? It’s not like I’m really hurting for money.”
“I don't know. I feel weird about staying here for nothing.”
“Well, I can give you some jobs to do around the house! I’ve had a list of chores I’ve been meaning to get to for a while. You can take care of the list in exchange for rent this month, that should be plenty of time to find a job.”
You stare at him so long you almost forget you are expected to answer. “Y-yeah, that would be a huge help. Uh, what kind of stuff did you need done?”
“Mostly just some stuff from IKEA that I never built yet. There’s some stuff at my dads that I need to move over here as well, but he works a nine to five job so he’s not around much to bring them over. I can see if I can borrow his car for a day, he usually carpools to work with one of his neighbors.”
“Fuck, I can handle that.” You want to express to him how much it means to you that he’s giving you this chance at really living, but the words seem to be failing you. He smiles warmly down at you and before you can even process what your body is doing you lean up and kiss him quickly.
He runs a hand gently through your hair and you sigh, leaning into his touch.
“You know… I’m really glad you’re living here now. I’ve been sort of dreaming about it since Valentine's day. After I got home, I just stared at those photos for hours. Ever since Jane… I wasn’t sure I could feel this close to anyone again. There’s nothing I can do to show you how much it means to me that you brought love back into my life, Dave.”
You think about all the times you dreamed about this happening too. About the times you thought about making your mark in John’s home. Your home. Now you have, and you feel like a part of you that had been empty is suddenly full.
“There is something else I wanted to ask you.” He sounds nervous and you immediately start thinking of anything bad that he might ask.
“Uh, sure. What’s up?”
“I was wondering… if you want to share a room?”
You blink at him, slowly processing what he just said.
“Well, I mean, you spend most nights in my room anyway! Wouldn't it just make sense to stay there every night instead of going out into the guest room to change all the time?”
That was actually a very reasonable argument. The more you think about it, the better the idea seems. “Fuck, yeah let's share a room. That sounds great!” Your excitement shows, and you can’t bring yourself to care.
“Great! Because I have another idea. What if we make the guest room into a home theatre?”
“That sounds fucking great, but what do we do with the furniture in there?”
“We can sell it and use the money to go towards the theatre! The stuff in there is mostly brand new. They were gifts from my dad when I first moved in here. We can probably get a good price for most of it. What do you think?”
“John you complete me.”
He laughs and shoves you off his lap as he gets up to help you move over to his (your) room.
You guess your mistake was not paying attention to the date. You should have seen this coming.
It begins when you wake up. The house is eerily quiet. The lights are out, even in Casey’s obnoxiously large display tank. That should have been your first warning. You go over to investigate, thinking maybe the plug for the light had been pulled. Wouldn’t want the poor thing to spend the day in darkness.
Your foot hits something on the floor, but before you can look down to see what, a wave of water crashes down onto you. Your first instinct is to freak out, thinking you’d somehow broken the glass wall of the display tank.
The lights flick on, you notice that Casey is not there. The entire display has been replaced with what looked to be a large plastic tub on top of a ramp. Only a moment later you hear John yelling from the door.
“April Fools, Dave!” He runs away before you can even look over at him.
Who the absolute fresh fuck gives a shit about April Fools day beyond the age of five? Apparently, John does. As you progress through the day you find yourself stumbling from prank to prank.
Eventually, you decide you’ve had enough and retreat to your room, locking John out. You hear his laughter as you blow a feather off your face and yell out to him.
“I’m staying in here for the rest of the day and you can just suffer alone!” That’ll show him.
“That’s fine with me!”
How the hell can he sound so casual still? You already triggered the water trap this morning and had thoroughly checked the room for more before leaving this morning.
You go to flop down on the bed, sighing as your body falls, only to let out a horrified squawk as you land on saran wrap covered in strawberry scented… lubricant? Fuck, this boy plays hardball.
The worst part is, aside from the laughter after each prank, John has been going about his day normally.
His casual attitude through it all is what breaks you. Okay, John, you want a prank war? Let’s do this.
You unlock the door and pack a bunch of your clothes into a bag, making sure to put your laptop visibly on top. You leave it open so that John can see the contents of the bag and wait. It’s a while before he tries the door. It creaks open slowly, and he finally peeks around the corner.
“Dave, did you at least take the lube and saran wrap off the bed before you took a nap?” He notices the bag and you can see the shock on his face.
“I have to go. This is just too much. I can’t handle all this stress right now, okay?” You make a show of reaching for more clothes to add to the bag but John slams the bedroom door open and grabs your bag, pulling things out of it and roughly shoving them back into your dresser drawers.
You’re throw off when you notice he’s crying.
“Please don't go, I was just playing pranks, I’ll stop I promise! Please, Dave, I don’t want you to leave, you have to s-stay!”
You drop the shirt you were holding and stumble over to John and pull him into a hug. “Fuck, I was joking too! It was a prank! I’m not leaving!”
You end up compromising with each other that you each could pull one all-out prank a year on April Fools and write up a complex set of rules and parameters to prevent another incident like this from ever happening again.
You both go to bed emotional and exhausted.
You wonder what it’s like to grow up with a dad who cares so much about your happiness. You thought you’d had some version of that with Bro. Before you think too hard on that line of thought you focus on John’s birthday again.
How can you make the day perfect for him? You’re just one man, and you couldn't possibly give him all he deserves. You resolve to just make sure he is happy the whole time. You also know exactly what to get him as a gift. You didn’t really have to think hard to come up with it, which is great because it’ll take some time to get ready.
You both go to the Safe Space meeting the day before the party you have planned and you make a point to break away from John to talk to Rose and Jade in private.
“So John’s birthday is tomorrow and I’m throwing a party. I was wondering if you girls would like to come?”
“We’d love to! Oh my gosh, where is it? What will we be doing? Oh, thank you so much for inviting us, Dave!” Jade barely has the words out of her mouth before she is flinging herself at you for a hug. You’re used to it by now and brace for impact.
“Okay, slow that down to human speed.”
“I believe she was simply inquiring about a location and time.”
“Forget that, What will we be doing?” The contrast between the two girls never fails to amuse you.
“We’re going to be hanging out at me and John’s place, I figured we could watch some movies, eat some snacks, maybe play some Cards Against Humanity?”
Jade grabs your shoulders and shakes you. Again, you’re thankful that you are used to her energy by now.
“DAVE I ABSOLUTELY LOVE THAT GAME!”
Rose rests a hand gently on her shoulder and tugs her back away from you.
“Jade, dear, if you don’t let to poor boy go I’m afraid he may run away before we even know where to go.”
“That’s what texting is for, Rose! Gosh!”
You snort and Jade smiles brightly over at you as you hand Rose a slip of paper with your address and a time on it. “Just text if you have any trouble finding the place.”
Jade gives you another bone crushing hug as John comes over and asks what the fuss is about. You all give him a different lie and he gives you a suspicious look as you loudly announce that Kankri has called the start of the meeting and you better go find your seats now.
You get up extra early the next morning, sleeping with your phone in your pillow on vibrate so it would wake you and not John. You head out into the kitchen and set to work making the best breakfast in bed John will ever have.
About forty minutes later you shake John awake and place a tray on his lap. He looks down at the somewhat successfully cooked pancakes, eggs, bacon, toast and apple juice.
“Dave this is actually edible. Who made this?”
“Fuck you, John! I’ve been practicing since I moved in.”
“Really? Dave, that’s so cute!”
“Well, I have my moments.” You puff out your chest pridefully and wink at him.
“Ohh, Dave, ohh, I’m swooning! Catch me!”
“You’re sitting in bed, loser. Try the bacon, I think it’s actually not completely burned this time.”
He crunches a piece and gestures for you to sit beside him, which you are already in the process of doing. You link a hand with his free one and smile.
“I can’t eat all of this alone, you know.”
You grab a pancake and shove half of it in your mouth without hesitation. It’s actually pretty good. Chewy though.
“Well, that’s real sexy Dave. Boy, you are just setting the mood this morning, huh?”
You make a big show of swallowing before you answer him, crumbs still all over your mouth. “There’s only one acceptable way to eat a pancake John, and this is it.” You shove the other half in your mouth and chew obnoxiously in his face.
As you both finish off the last of the food you find yourself just relaxing in bed. It’s still pretty early in the morning for a Saturday, so you end up chatting idly.
“So how is the job search going?”
“Oh, shit, I found this agency that places you in odd jobs around the city. A lot of it is pretty heavy labor but that’s never been an issue for me. I think that might be the safest way to go with my legal information being what it is right now.”
“Oh, I’ve heard of those before! It sounds like a great fit for you right now. Will transportation be a problem?”
“Well it’ll limit the jobs I can take since I’ll have to have transit access to the locations, but I figure I can save up and buy a shitty car eventually.”
“That’s a great idea. I’m happy for you!”
“Thanks, babe.” You lean against him and he runs a hand through your hair. You love when he does that and you think he knows it.
“So, we should get up and get ready for the day. I want to get to the stores early before the crowds come in.” Oh, right, you were supposed to pick up things for your home theatre today. John had borrowed his dad's car. You’ll probably have to make multiple trips, but it’s better than trying to carry a TV on the public buses.
You groan and whine a lot but eventually, the two of you are ready for the day and off to Walmart to look at cheap furniture and TVs. After three trips back and forth, you manage to get all the essentials, including several picks from the five dollar movie bin.
By noon you’ve managed to set up the entertainment unit, including the sound system and TV. You order lunch, John wants pizza because ‘it’s the classic birthday food, Dave!’, and take a little break to test out the new TV.
By the time the pizza is mostly finished, you’ve managed to finish the room. A nice sectional that you scoured five different stores to find now takes up the entire wall across from the TV and you both had piled a small mountain of blankets and pillows on top.
You immediately get comfy together in the middle of the mountain, but you make sure to grab your gift for John first. He gives you a curious look when you hand it over to him.
“What’s this?” He opens the box that you decided not to wrap but instead drew doodles of you and John all over and stares inside for long enough that you have to nudge him for a reaction.
“What do you think?” The box falls to the floor as he tackles you in a hug, kissing your face and mumbling his thanks over and over in your ear.
You got him a signed copy of Con Air and the authentically disgusting rabbit from the movie. It takes him a few minutes to calm down enough to pry himself off you and pick up the box again. He smiles tearfully at the bunny and gets up to put the movie in the entertainment unit and you feel a rush of pride at how happy you managed to make him.
“This bunny is never leaving this room. I think this is the best place to keep her.”
“Her?” He plops back down in the blanket crater with you and leans against your chest happily.
“Of course, isn’t that obvious?”
“Hey, I don’t assume gender, John.”
“Fuck, you got me!”
You laugh at him as he struggles, not offering any sort of help. Rose joins you and gently pulls Jade back so that John can poke his head out.
“Happy Birthday, John. Are you having a good day so far?”
“Yeah! Dave made me breakfast in bed, and it was actually edible!”
“Well, that does sound beyond expectations!”
“Fuck you too, Rose.” You eventually discovered that she was Dr. L’s little sister, and you honestly don’t know how you didn't see it right away. They almost look like twins.
“Dave! It’s so cute that you did that for him!” You groan at Jade. You wouldn’t be surprised to find out she had a weird shrine dedicated to you and John.
“He sat in bed with me and we shared it, too!”
“John, don’t encourage her!” you yell as Jade lets out an inhuman squealing sound.
“Well, it was pretty cute, Dave. I can’t believe you practiced cooking in secret just for me!”
“John!” Jade is losing her mind as Rose and John laugh at your expense and you huff.
Jade and Rose brought John a homemade cake that they baked together and he tears up again as they present it to him. You laugh at him for being so emotional and he tells you to shut up.
You all settle down with more pizza and cake and the movie begins. John decided he wants to watch his old copy of Con Air while hugging his gross rabbit and you groan, but it’s the kids birthday so you give as much attention as you can manage to the movie. That still isn’t very much attention, so you put the rest into watching John’s reactions throughout the movie.
He cries when Nic Cage gives the bunny to his daughter, and instead of mocking him you feel a rush of affection as he hugs his rabbit tighter to his chest.
After the movie ends, you all move to the living room to play a game of Cards Against Humanity. It’s getting pretty late so you only go for a few rounds. Jade ends up winning by a landslide, with you in the last place. You accuse everyone of teaming up against you and cheating the system and John calls you a sore loser.
As you punch his shoulder lightly and he retaliates by shoving you over, Rose politely clears her throat to get your attention.
“As much as I’m sure Jade would enjoy watching you two roll around on top of one another, I think it’s about time for us to be off. I told my girlfriend that I would be back before she went to sleep, and I would like to keep that promise.”
John and Jade both whine, but get up as John moves to hug the girls goodbye. You give Rose a nod and accept Jade’s hug and suddenly the girls are gone and it’s just you and John again. He smiles over at you and hugs you tight.
“Thank you for today, Dave. It was so much better than I expected!” He kisses your cheek and you grab his hand as you follow him to bed.
Cleaning up can wait until the morning.
Chapter 7: May 20xx
As the weeks go on you manage to settle into a nice routine in life. Living with John makes you really appreciate what you escaped from. The pain of rejection turns into appreciation quicker than you ever would have expected.
You work three days a week, which is enough to pay rent and save a little extra for the semi-regular dates you’ve been taking John on lately. You haven’t really talked about it between you, but when asked you both find yourselves answering what you were to each other with ‘partners’.
When you told Rose this, she asked you what ‘partners’ involves, to which you answered ‘it involves fuck you’. She thought this was pretty funny but told you she gets what you mean, going on about the time her sister asked about her girlfriend and she had given the same answer.
In short, your life is almost perfect. You live in a safe home with the boy who makes you happier than anything else in life, you have a job that respects who you identify as, and you can be yourself full time.
You’re at home this evening, trying to make dinner before John gets home. You realize you can actually make a few recipes pretty well, and you try and do so on days like this. Halfway through preparing some spaghetti and meatballs, the phone starts to ring. You assume it’s probably John’s dad, since nobody else ever really calls here, or perhaps a telemarketer.
You wipe your hands on a cloth and tuck the receiver between your head and shoulder. “Hello?”
“Hey kid, how you been?”
You’re so shocked, you don’t know what to do. Of all the voices you thought might come through the speaker, Dirk was one of the last.
“Uh, I guess you’re probably confused. Or maybe pissed, I don’t know. You don’t have to talk yet, I have some shit I need to lay down.” You’re sort of relieved that he said that.
“When I got home Bro told me you had left and wouldn't say why. It didn't seem like you to just up and run for no reason, but I wasn’t about to start something with him over it. So, I went looking for you on my own.”
Come to think of it, how did he manage to get this number? You can’t really think of any connection between your two lives. If anyone were to track you down though, it would definitely be one of your brothers, so you feel pretty appreciative that it was Dirk and not Bro.
“It was kind of hard because I was looking for someone who doesn’t exist anymore and didn’t know until much later. I was at my, uh, boyfriend’s house recently, and his little sister was talking about her new friends. I wasn’t sure, but she said one of them was named John and I figured that was my best lead so far.”
You have about a hundred questions, but he sounds like he has more to say, so you hold your tongue for now.
“I asked her some questions and realized I was right, so I got your number off her phone. I’ve got a lot of questions for you, but I can put enough together to probably understand the short of what went down. I confronted Bro about it and he owned up to kicking you out. He used a lot of shitty words to explain what happened.”
You feel yourself shaking with anger when you start to realize the gravity of Dirk’s story. Bro hadn’t told him, nor had he given any opportunity for Dirk to contact you. You had spent all this time thinking that both of your brothers had disowned you. Worse than that, he had outed you to Dirk in the worst way possible.
“Look, I know this is probably a lot to take in, but I want you to know that you still got me. When I found out what happened I completely lost my shit all over Bro’s ass and left. I’m staying with my boyfriend now, and if you ever wanted to come over and visit… well, you’re always welcome here.”
You stand there with the phone still tucked against your ear, a cloth in one hand, and take it all in for a few minutes. Dirk is completely silent, waiting patiently for you to answer. When you finally do speak, you don’t ask any of the questions on the front of your mind.
“You have a boyfriend?”
He laughs and you can feel the tension ease a little between you.
“Yeah. I’ve been with him for five years now, if you can believe it. You ‘aint the only one in the family with secrets, little bro.”
He called you ‘little bro’. You don’t even try and keep the smile off your face.
“I’m more surprised that you managed to leave the house long enough to meet somebody.”
“I met him online, you little shit.”
“That adds up. So how long have you been living there now?”
“I’ve only been here a couple of days. I would have called sooner but I wasn’t sure how to start a conversation like this.”
“Yeah, I get it. It took me like fifteen minutes to go through the door when I tried to come out to Bro.”
“Well, we haven’t been the most open family. I’d like to fix that with you though if you want. Look, I talked to Jake about wanting to get in contact with you again and he suggested I invite you over for dinner. You can bring John with you if that’ll make you more comfortable.”
“Well, I’ll have to ask him when he gets home. Can I call you back tomorrow?”
“Yeah, of course. Uh, I guess I’ll let you go for now then.”
“Yeah, okay. Talk to you later, Dirk.”
You slowly hang up the phone and stand there in a sort of stupor until the fire alarm in the kitchen goes off.
“Shit, fuck! The spaghetti!”
When John gets home you have pizza from his favorite place ready. He laughs when he spots it, knowing you wrecked dinner, but he kisses your cheek when he walks by you and you know he appreciates that you tried.
You both sit down and start eating, chatting casually about your days. You aren’t sure how to bring up the phone call until John calls you out for not listening.
“Sorry, uh, something on my mind.”
“Did something bad happen? Are you okay?” You smile at him as he moves to begin fussing and checking you for injuries.
“No, no I’m fine dude, just something unexpected. Dirk called me earlier today, but it wasn’t a bad thing.”
He settles back into his chair and seems a little more relieved, but still tense. “What did he have to say?”
“Bro told him I wanted to leave but Dirk didn’t buy his bullshit. I guess he found me because he has a secret boyfriend who is actually Jade’s older brother.”
“Wait, he what?” John’s look of surprise is adorable and you laugh at him.
“Yeah, pretty much how I reacted on the inside. I mean, what the fuck, right? Two queers hiding from each other in the same house. Anyway, he invited us over for dinner sometime. What do you think?”
“Dave, we have to go!” You’re a little taken aback by his enthusiasm but it makes you feel a bubbly excitement in your chest.
“Calm down, dude. I told him I’d call him back tomorrow. I’ll figure out if sometime this weekend works for them.”
“Oh yeah, he kicked Bro’s ass when he found out what he did and moved in with his boyfriend. Jade might be there too.”
“How are you feeling?”
You feel excited, warm, hopeful, and there is an intense need to hug someone clawing at you, so you do. You get up and go around to hug your partner, who immediately returns the gesture. You can feel his laughter against you and wonder how you ever got so lucky.
“It’s going to be okay, Dave, it’s just your brother. He’s going to be happy to see you!”
“That’s what I’m nervous about. We don’t do emotion in the Strider house, what if it’s just insanely awkward? I’d rather stay home than deal with this, John.”
“Well that’s okay, I’ll deal with it for you! Just think of it as me going to meet your brother and you’re there to support me.”
That actually helps you feel a little better about the situation and you give John a small smile in thanks. He leans over and kisses your cheek just as there is a knock at your door and you sigh before standing.
John is ahead of you, already there and throwing the door open energetically. You walk up behind him, grabbing both your coats off their respective hooks. Dirk is dressed casually and stares at you, noticeably lacking his shades. You hadn’t expected that, and it makes you feel uneasy to see him looking right at you.
He offers you the smallest smile and the tension melts from your shoulders.
“Sup? I’m Dirk, and I assume you must be John.” His gaze moves over to your partner and John gives him a radiant smile.
“That’s me! Dave and I have been looking forward to today all week. Is Jake with you?”
“Figured Y'all might be a little overwhelmed with just me, so Jake stayed home.”
You take a deep breath before you speak.
“Thanks.” Dirk looks back over to you and his smile grows larger.
“No problem, kid. You look great, by the way.” He reaches over and ruffles your hair like he did when you were little, and it stirs something warm yet aching inside of you. “Come on, the car’s still running. I want to get back with enough time to get y’all settled in before dinner.”
The drive there isn’t very long, about fifteen minutes long, and you find yourself in front of the weirdest house you’ve ever seen. It’s on the outskirts of the city on a patch of grassy land. The house itself looks like it could collapse at any moment, not because it looks run down, but simply because there are additions built haphazardly all over it.
Dirk waits for you both at the front door and holds it open for you to walk inside. You try to get a look at the inside when you enter, but you find yourself staring at a mass of white fur and then the ceiling.
Something is licking your face with far more enthusiasm than you are comfortable with, and when you attempt to shove it off you find that you cannot.
John is wheezing with laughter beside you, as are Dirk and Jade.
“Can one of you assholes help me up?”
Someone shoves the mass of fur and tongue off of you and helps you stand. You don’t recognize him so you assume this must be Jake. The second you set eyes on him you can’t help but think that he is perfect for Dirk.
Before you can say anything, you are once again flung to the floor. This time, however, it’s something familiar.
Jade squeezes you tightly until she is coaxed off of you and John helps you up, keeping a hand linked with yours.
“Dave, John, I can’t believe you guys are here! Jake said we were having company but he wouldn’t tell me who it was! I can’t believe Dirk is your brother, Dave! Oh my goodness, this is so cool!”
“Jade, give the boys some space, will you! They’ve barely come in the door.”
“Well, I didn’t expect to see them here!”
“Yes, well you should still let the poor boys breath before you’re all over them!”
“Let me feel my feelings, Jake!”
“Don’t you quote Scrubs at me!”
You snort and Dirk shakes his head as Jade and Jake start wrestling each other.
“I’ll show you guys the living room. Ignore these idiots.”
John is chuckling as you both follow Dirk into a large room with a large fireplace and several couches around a massive TV.
You notice a dog on one of the couches, panting and wagging its overly fluffy tail as it faces your general direction. You assume this must be what knocked you on your ass the first time and you give it a dirty look.
This proves to be pointless because you then notice the dog has two large scars where the eyes should have been.
“What happened to your dog?”
“Oh, Bec’s a rescue. Jake works with an animal rescue society and found him as a puppy in a dogfighting ring. He was supposed to be a foster but wound up keeping him.”
“Well, the little scamp dug his way into my heart! You look at that face and tell him you won’t be keeping him.” Jake startles you but moves past you to squish the dogs face affectionately.
John follows him over, letting go of your hand in favor of petting Bec, who wags so hard that his entire body is vibrating.
“He’s so happy here! I’m glad you saved him from that fighting ring.”
“Oh, Becquerel runs this house, I would hope he’s happy. He deserves a good life, as we all do.”
Jake voice is soft and full of fondness, and you wonder if he was speaking only to the dog. John turns to give you a smile and you feel yourself returning it tenfold.
Dirk comes over and places a hand on your shoulder.
“Want to watch a movie before dinner? Jake has a pretty shitty collection but I brought some of the classics from home.”
A few hours later you are on a couch with John beside you, arms around each other. Jade is leaning on your free side, and Becquerel is spread across all three of you somehow. John seems a little tense at all the people in the room, but you think your presence and the ability to pet a fluffy dog may be carrying him through.
As Beauty and the Beast comes to an end, Jade in tears, Jake gets up and announces that he is going to start preparing dinner. Dirk says he is going to help, leaving you to chat casually with John, Jade, and the dog.
John has relaxed considerably now, and you appreciate that he was willing to be here for you. He’s really great at appearing outgoing in social situations, but you’ve been there for the fallout after. He’s going to need a lot of downtime after tonight, but you wouldn't have been able to do this without him so you kiss his cheek in appreciation.
Jade squeals and wraps you both in a hug, but it seems to be with a more reasonable level of energy than usual.
“I’m so glad you guys came today. I don’t get to see my friends very often outside of Safe Space because I live outside the city, so this was a great surprise!”
“Well, how would you three feel about making this a weekly thing?” You all look over to see Dirk and Jake standing together and John speaks up for the both of you.
“That would be great, we’d love to!” he glances at you for a moment and you nod your approval. Jade cheers and bounces in excitement.
“Yeah, weekly movie day with friends! This is so great!”
“Well, it’s settled! Does Friday work for you boys?”
“Yeah, that works great for us!”
With that, Friday dinners become a tradition. The rest of the evening is spent eating good food and enjoying each others company. By the time Dirk drops you off at him, you feel like another piece of you has shifted back into place.
It’s the final of these Friday’s of the month when things go differently. John and Jake had been adamant about watching National Treasure, and the movie is about halfway over when there’s a knock at the door. Nobody really pays it any mind when Jake gets up to answer it.
In a few seconds, this proves a lot harder to do when an angry voice carries over the sound of the movie.
“Bullshit, where the fuck is that little faggot? I know he’s here, I ain’t stupid.”
You feel your blood run cold as Dirk gets up to join Jake at the door. John has pulled you against him in an attempt to calm you down, having a good guess at what is happening. Jade, however, is clueless and looks shocked and confused.
You hear shuffling and a grunt and suddenly Bro is standing in the archway to the living room, glaring at you. Dirk is right behind him, grabbing his shoulder and turning him around.
“I will ask you one more time, sir, to leave my home. You are not welcome here!”
Jade gasps in shock and John lets out a small squeak of fear as Bro shifts and a shuriken is suddenly buried in the wall mere inches from Jake’s head. You know Bro had meant to miss because you’ve seen first hand how perfect his aim is. You get the feeling Jake won’t be as lucky the second time.
Bro is looking at you again, and even with his shades on you can feel his piercing glare. His face contorts in disgust as you lock eyes with him.
“You had to go an’ fuck up Dirk too?” His gaze shifts to John. “This is your fault ain’t it? You fuckin’ molesting my lil sister? I’ll fuckin’ kill you!”
Anger boils over inside of you and you jump to your feet, but Becquerel suddenly jumps off the couch, growling and snarling at Bro. Jade screams as Bro kicks him heavily so he falls on his side, but Becquerel won’t be deterred. He’s back on his paws in an instant, leaping at Bro who falls back a little.
Dirk uses this opportunity to move between you and Bro and get into a defensive stance.
“Get the fuck out of the way, Dirk. This is between me and those little fuckers over there.”
“When you involve them, you involve me. I won’t let you hurt Dave anymore.”
Bro shoves Becquerel away again and pulls a sword from the sheath on his back, but Jake is quicker, hooking his arms around Bro’s and grabbing one hand to twist until the sword drops. Dirk helps Jake restrain Bro as John hastily calls the police. Everything seems to be moving at warp speed around you. At some point, you must have sat back down, because John is rubbing your back and mumbling to you.
You don’t hear a word of it. The police arrive and ask questions, you think you may have answered some of them but you don’t remember.
You don’t know when you started crying, but you are suddenly aware of John and Jade on either side of you, giving you comforting hugs. The two are chatting quietly to each other, and you can vaguely hear Dirk and Jake in the kitchen speaking to someone about what happened. You lean into John and he kisses the top of your head.
Dirk comes back into the room and informs you that he’d feel better if you both would spend the night here, and John agrees. Jake sets up a guest room for you both, but you have trouble getting to sleep. When you finally do manage to get some rest, you wake up with John holding you and tears flowing down your face as he mumbles quiet comforts to you.
Chapter 8: June 20xx
Please be aware that this chapter contains some incredibly emotional stuff. If you struggle with mental health, this chapter might be hard on you. It certainly was on me.
In the first week of June you and John have appointments back to back at Dr. Lalondes for the first time since you met each other. It feels a bit strange to be here with him again after everything that’s changed since November, but you smile and hold his hand as you walk up to the receptionist together to check in for your appointments. She tells you she’ll let Dr. L know and you take a seat next to each other in the corner.
It isn't long before Dr. Lalonde appears in the short hallway to her office. She cups her face in her hands and squeals when she notices you holding John's hand and you groan.
“Don’t make this weird, Dr. L.”
“Aww, but Davey, you two are so adorable!”
“So we’ve been told.”
“Well, since both of you boys are here now would you like to come in together? I can just have your appointments together as long as you both consent to me revealing medical information.”
John looks over at you and nods, indicating his support of the idea. You know this is going to be an emotional session and having John there would be a huge comfort. You nod back and give Dr. Lalonde the okay. She leads you both to her office and hands you each a form to sign, saying that you consent to her sharing your medical information with each other, and the joined appointment officially begins.
You start it off by staring at the floor for a solid five minutes or so before addressing the question posed to you. How even are you feeling?
“Well, Dr. L-” but she cuts you off.
“Roxy! Call me Roxy. We’re going to be on a long journey together Dave, we may as well get to a first name basis.”
“That’s the furthest base you’ll get Dr...R-Roxy.” You try and make a joke through your nerves, but it comes out flat. She laughs anyway.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to cut you off. You were saying?”
“Well, uh, I don’t know. How I’m feeling, that is. It’s been a hell of a few months.” John leans against you and squeezes your hand comfortingly. “I followed your advice, like, almost immediately. I came out to my older brother, but he didn’t like what I had to say so he, uh, kicked me out.”
You’ve never seen Roxy be anything other than perfectly calm or abundantly happy, so it takes you by surprise when she’s suddenly furious.
“Are you safe? We have programs that can help you out. I can’t believe anyone wouldn’t want to know you as you are!”
John suddenly joins in. “I know! I don’t get it, I’ve only known him for a few months and he’s already one of the best parts of my life, I can’t imagine how anyone could be family with him and not want to know him!”
Roxy puffs up like a mother bird around her babies and you feel your face heat up when you realize what that makes you to her.
“Uh, okay guys, calm down. I’m okay, Roxy. John took me in.”
“John, you absolute angel. You are an anchor in this boys life.”
John smiles brightly and sits a little straighter, proud of his place in your life. You can’t manage to feel embarrassed about it though.
“Anyway guys, I’ve got a hell of a lot more story to tell so if you’re both done being complete dorks, I would like to continue.”
“Of course, go on Davey.” You groan at her use of that name in front of John. He’ll be calling you that for weeks now.
“So as I said, John took me in. It’s been really nice living with him. I get jobs from a temporary job placement group three days a week and I get paid pretty well. Best part is that nobody cares what my legal info says, they just take what I tell them at face value.” Roxy golf claps, so as not to interrupt you, and you give her a small smile.
“Last month I got a call from my other brother, Dirk. I thought he was with Bro, since I hadn’t really heard from him. I guess Bro told him I left, but he wasn’t buying that shit so he tracked me down on his own. I guess he’s had a boyfriend for like, five years now. In complete secret.”
“What the fuck?”
“Well it must be great to have someone you can relate to in your family!”
“It is. He invited us over for dinner and it went really well. We started going over every Friday to watch movies and have dinner.”
“Aww, Davey I’m so happy for you!”
“Yeah, and get this, so you know that Safe Space thing you gave me the ad for? Well John and I went to check it out and we made a couple of friends there. You’re sister is pretty great, but don’t tell her I said that.”
Roxy lets out a bubbly laugh and you feel a lot better going into the heavy stuff than you did at the start of your appointment.
“Well the other person we became friends with is Jade, and it turns out that her brother is Dirk’s boyfriend.”
“No way! That’s such a weird coincidence!”
“I know! What even has my life become, Roxy?”
You love that these meetings feel more like gossiping with an old friend rather than pouring your deepest secrets to a stranger that’s trained to judge you professionally.
“So it seems like there’s a happy ending here?”
“Well, not quite. I guess Bro found out about our family meetings and was pissed off. He showed up at Jake’s house and attacked him. Like, with real weapons.” You feel weight in your chest and you swallow before you continue.
“I don’t remember all the details, I sort of dissociated in the middle of it. It was really… terrifying, Roxy. I thought he was going to kill someone. Jade had no idea what was going on, and Jake got caught up in it all too. And John-”
He cuts you off. “John called the police and was there for his partner because he knew he would do the same if the situation was reversed.”
You don’t know how to answer him. It’s true, you would never have felt bad being there for him if he was attacked.
“He didn’t get away, right?” Roxy has a hard edge to her voice. You feel like her mind is moving a million miles a minute, but you don’t know why.
“No, Jake and Dirk held him down until the cops showed up. We spent the night there, but I can’t shake the feeling that he’s around every corner now.”
“That’s to be expected. That was a very traumatic thing you had to go through, so don’t be surprised if it takes a long time for life to go back to some sort of normal, okay?”
“Yeah. He, uh, he said something to me when I came out to him that I can’t shake since the attack, though.” You feel John move to look toward you and you feel guilty for not having shared this with him before.
“He told me it’s my fault my mom died. I started seeing therapists in the first place because I couldn't see how he was wrong. I lost so much of my childhood to it, and I feel like I’m slipping back to that place again and that scares me.”
John is rubbing your arm and you know he isn’t mad that you hadn’t told him before now. You appreciate that about him, that he doesn’t expect to know all of you right away.
“It’s horrible what happened with your mom, but it’s far from your fault, Dave. It’s more common than you’d think for a mother to die during childbirth.”
You feel yourself trembling and you instinctively try and hold it in. You feel yourself slipping back through years of progress just like that.
“I don’t know, Roxy. If she had listened to the doctors and gotten an abortion she’d still be alive. Dirk would have the mom he deserves to have.”
“That was her choice to make, Dave. Her wish was for you to be brought into this world, at any cost. She chose to give you life even knowing the risk. The best thing you can do for her now is to use that gift and live your best life.”
You sit in silence, shaking as tears start to fall down your face. You are numbly aware of John wrapping an arm around you and holding you close.
You wish for once he wouldn't, and that worries you. You want some distance, so you gently push him away and refuse to meet his eyes.
You don't deserve someone like John, you'll only ruin his life too. Truthfully you can't explain the hurricane of emotions swirling around inside of you, but you cling to this bit of rationale like a lifeline, as if it could account for all of this agony.
Roxy writes a few notes and waits for your breath to return to a more stable pattern before gently speaking.
“Dave, what you're feeling right now is regression. It's normal to happen from time to time, but you've been shoved back. You probably feel a lack of control in your life.” You do.
“Everything you feel right now, all of that anger and pain? Your first instinct is probably going to be to blame yourself for it, but you need to remember that you’ve done nothing wrong. Your brother is the one who hurt people here, not you.”
Some part of you knows she's right, but that just makes your anger flare up.
“Stop acting like you know everything about me. Just because I come here every few months and bitch about my shitty life to you doesn't mean you have some intimate understanding of who I am, so stop telling me how I fucking feel.”
Roxy remains frustratingly sympathetic and you want to scream.
“So tell me, then.”
You open your mouth to yell at her, but you can’t really find any words. You sit there, quietly seething, opening and closing your mouth for a few seconds, before the anger suddenly gives way to an intense wave of sadness.
John fusses, not knowing what to do as you slump down in your seat and cry. Roxy watches, making a few notes in your file before putting it down on her desk.
“Dave, it’s okay to not understand how you feel. It’s okay to yell and cry, or do whatever it takes to get all of those emotions out. Sometimes we get so overwhelmed that it becomes impossible to figure out any of it, so we need to find ways to let it out.”
She hands you a cushion from the end of the couch and you stare at it before realizing what she wanted you to do.
You push your face firmly into the cushion and scream until you feel your heart burst. By the time you are done, you simply drop it onto your lap and lean against John. You feel numb, but it’s a huge relief from the storm of emotions you’d been dealing with.
He has his arms around you in an instant and you almost smile at how wonderful it feels. Roxy turns her attention to him now, and you appreciate the break.
“So John, how have the night terrors been? The last time we talked it sounded like they were getting less frequent.”
“They sure have, even less so now that Dave and I share a bed.”
“That makes sense. Sleeping next to someone you love and trust can be a big boost to your oxytocin levels, which will help you sleep more restfully. It also helps with anxiety and panic disorders, so that’s a very happy bonus!”
John smiles and squeezes you a little. “Well that explains a lot. I’ve been feeling like it's a lot easier to talk to people lately. I sort of assumed it had to do with Dave, but it’s really cool to have science backing me up!”
“Well that’s great to hear! Have you been enjoying Safe Space?”
“I have! Jade and Rose are great friends and It’s cool to see them every week. I even get to see Jade on Friday’s too! Kankri is a great leader, he makes sure that I’m comfortable and when I get overwhelmed he helps me calm down. Everyone is really respectful there.”
“Kankri and I graduated together, you know? When I first met the guy I couldn’t stand him. In his first few years of school he was such a know-it-all. He thought he knew everything and could help everyone. But while he was doing his practicum he got a patient that he couldn’t help, and the poor kid killed himself. He came to me after it happened and we’ve been really good friends ever since.”
“Wow, I can’t imagine him that way. He’s so considerate and patient now!”
“Yeah, he’s really come down to earth since then. I’m glad you’ve been enjoying your time with him.”
“We skipped this weekend, I hope he isn’t worried.”
“Well it sounds like he would have had reason to be. How are you handling everything, by the way?”
“It was scary, but honestly I mostly felt worried about Dave. He accused me directly of messing up his family, but I couldn’t care. I was just so afraid that he was going to hurt him.”
“It’s very noble of you to be worried about your partner John, but you should really care more about your safety too.”
“I know, I know. I’m working on it?” You never knew that John struggled with his self image like this. He’s tensed up a little and you make a note to try and help him feel better about himself from now on.
John and Roxy talk for a little longer about his medications before she gives him a refill, books you both a joint appointment in a few months, and hugs you both tightly. You hug her back and head out with John for the pharmacy to get his meds.
While you wait you wander the candy aisle for snacks. John tugs on your sleeve and you look over to see he’s looking at a card for father's day. He comments how he forgot that it was coming up with all the action lately and you suggest doing something special for his dad together. He grins and hugs you excitedly, dropping the card to the floor.
You get his meds and some baking supplies before you head home together to plan.
John won’t sit still as you get closer to his dad's house, most likely excited about surprising his dad.
As you pull up the driveway he’s out the door in a second and running for the door. You manage to grab all the boxes out of the back of the car just as you hear him scream “Happy Father’s Day!” followed by a grunt.
You shut the trunk and look over to see John has jumped onto his dad, clinging to him like a koala bear. You laugh and join them at the door. “Happy dad day, Mr. Egbert. Surprise?”
“A pleasant one though! Come on in, kids. Let me help you there, Dave.” He grabs a few of the boxes once John lets him go and you thank him as you go inside and shuck off your shoes.
You follow him into the kitchen and place your boxes next to the others on the counter. He looks over to you curiously.
“So, what are all of these boxes?”
“Dave and I made you a cake! And we brought gifts too, because you definitely deserve them. Dave’s brother Dirk and his boyfriend Jake got you something as well, to thank you for being so nice to Dave.”
Again you feel embarrassed, but you do your best to smile at him and push through it. “Yeah, Mr. E, you’ve been like a dad to me and it’s been really nice.”
He gives you a warm smile and hugs you. “You are welcome to call me dad, son. Or Jamie, if that’s a bit too weird for you.”
You hug him back and try and hold in the tears. It’s way too early in the day to be crying yet. Instead, you back off and hold up a gift to him.
“Well, if you make John wait anymore to open these he might explode.” The boy in question punches your arm but you both know it’s true.
Jamie takes the small box from you and opens it up immediately, chucking at his son’s excitement. This one is from Dirk and Jake, and it turns out to be a hand carved pipe that Jake got from a tribe in the rainforest down in Madagascar. He’s in complete awe, examining it closely to admire the intricate details.
You push your gift over to him now, because it goes with the pipe. He sets it gently down to open your gift and smiles at the fancy looking display case, placing the pipe inside. He places the display up on the mantle in the living room, right next to an urn.
“Thank you, Dave. Would it be alright for me to get your brothers phone number so that I may call him and thank him for the pipe?”
“Yeah, I think he left you a card as well. I think he’d like to talk to you as well.” You reach around in the box the pipe was in and pull out a small note that you hand to him. He reads it with a warm smile and pockets it for later.
As you all head back into the kitchen, John hands his gift over to his father and you try to keep your expression neutral. You know what’s coming and don't want to make Jamie suspicious.
He carefully unties the rippon and lifts the lid off the box, and a pie tin full of whip cream flies straight out into his face. It’s quiet for a moment before all three of you burst into laughter. John is bent over, wheezing, his father holding onto the counter to maintain his balance.
You wipe a tear from your eye as John hands a card over, explaining between chuckles that the real gift is inside. As he opens it, this time much more cautious, two tickets fall out onto the counter.
“A magic show! I don’t know how long it’s even been since the last time I saw a good magic show, son.”
“Well, you mostly just went for my sake.”
“That’s true. Are you getting back into magic, then?”
“I’m rediscovering a lot of things that make me happy lately!” He looks over to you with a soft smile and you feel your face heat up.
“Well, I’m so happy to hear that! I look forward to going with you. Is Dave going to join us?”
“Not this time, Mr… Jamie.” He snorts at this. “I have work that day, so it’s all you and John.”
“We will have to find something to do together down the road, then.”
“One last gift, dad!” John shoves a book into his dad’s hands. It’s unwrapped, much like the last one of these you prepared. It’s a photo album full of pictures you took over the holidays. John has written comments on most of the photos, and has even drawn devil horns or other graffiti on some of the ones of Jamie.
He flips through, chuckling at John’s contributions. “This is amazing, boys. Thank you so much.” His eyes are looking a little misty and he wipes at them before setting the book down to hug you both again.
It isn’t much longer before you break into the cake, Jamie congratulating you on your improving kitchen skills. You even eat it before the chinese food you order arrives. John comments that you’ve been a bad influence on him when Jamie asks why you are having dessert first and you tell him that it's just one way in which you’ve enriched his life.
Later in the evening, while you are playing a rousing game of Sorry, Jamie asks you what you plan on doing for the Fourth of July. John gasps dramatically and grabs your arm.
“Oh my gosh, Dave I forgot! My dad always throws a Fourth of July party and I was supposed to invite you!”
“Am I that easy to forget? I’m wounded, John.”
“Shut up you dork, I forgot about the holiday, not you.”
Jamie chuckles. “Well, Dave, you are invited to my Fourth of July party. I would like to invite your brother and his partner as well. You may invite any friends you like, the more the merrier. For my part I won't be inviting anyone else, so it should just be us and anyone you boys wish to bring.”
“Sounds like a good time. Count me in!”
“Wonderful! Now, would you please take your turn, son, so that I can continue kicking your butt?” John huffs and the rest of the night is spent in friendly competition.
Eventually you have drag John away, reminding him that you still have to return Dirk’s car. You both say goodbye to Jamie, and head for Jake’s house. Dirk drives you both home and you thank him. John excitedly tells him how much his dad liked the pipe and that he’ll be giving him a call soon and Dirk mumbles about how it wasn’t a big deal. You guess mumbling runs in the family.
You get dropped off at home and are in bed so fast you swear you are already under the blankets before you hear Dirk’s car drive away. John kisses you softly and you’re out before the light is.
Chapter 9: July 20xx
I took my time editing this chapter because I wound up adding a lot to it and because it is such an emotionally charged chapter. I debated splitting it into two, but it would have ruined the month by month theme of the chapters, and that's something I wanted to keep.
I hope you enjoy this update, the next should be much quicker to come out!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
You’re getting ready for Mr. Egbert’s Fourth of July party and you are having the worst time getting your bowtie on. How people manage to do this on their own is beyond you. John comes up behind you and takes control.
“Instead of mumbling to yourself in front of the mirror you can just ask for help, you know.”
You huff and cross your arms, doing your best to look annoyed. “I didn’t need help, I’m perfectly able to put on a bowtie by myself.”
“Yeah well we don’t have five hours to waste on you trying, so suck it up!”
You roll your eyes as he finishes up and steps back to see how it looks. He smiles at you and looks up to your eyes.
“You look handsome!”
Your face heats up and you sputter unintelligibly as he laughs and heads over to answer the knock at the door.
You look over as you hear the telltale squeal of joy from Jade and the much more restrained greetings of Rose. Jade runs right past John and gives you one of her bone crushing hugs that you love so very much.
John wraps an arm around you and pulls you against his side as she lets you go, taking in the sight of you both.
“You two are such an adorable couple!” John beams at her and Rose lets out a small laugh.
“David dear, you seem a bit red, are you alright?”
“Never been better, Rose.” you mumble back to her, causing John to hug you fully.
“Aww, Dave! You’re so sweet!”
“Don’t push it, John.”
He snorts and shoves you away from him as he goes over to grab his coat. You take a moment to look at the girls and give a whistle.
“Well, don’t you ladies look fine this evening.”
“Why David, are you implying we do not always look ‘fine’?”
“Dave, how could you say that! Rose, you always look fine, Dave is a butthead!”
“Thank you, Jade. As do you.”
She flips her hair and gives you a look that could kill, so you slap a hand over your heart and grunt.
“Damn, I’ve been completely destroyed by these lovely ladies in my own home. John, you’ll find love again. Remember me!” You cry out and flop backward onto the couch, letting your body go completely limp.
He walks over with his jacket on and throws yours at your face.
“Get up nerd, Rose left her car running.”
“Ugh.” You grab your jacket and get up, slipping it on. “Does nobody have a heart here?”
They ignore you as John races Jade to the front seat. You and Rose follow behind at a slower pace.
As you slip into the back, you see a sour looking John across from you and you laugh at him. He punches your arm in retaliation.
Rose starts the car and with occasional input from John drives to his father's house. She parks next to the simple white car in the parking lot and you all pile out, John dashing for the doorbell and Jade on his heels.
You and Rose are once again at the back of the group, approaching the door just as Mr. Egbert encompasses his son in a fatherly hug.
He lets go of John, keeping on hand on his shoulder, and smiles your way. “Hello again, Dave! Will your brother and his partner be joining us today?”
“They’ll be late, Dirk is at work for a few more hours and Jake apparently couldn't decide what to wear.”
“He’s such a fuss about looking ‘dapper’ all the time! I told’ him he should just show up in a garbage bag because his stupid ugly face would distract everyone anyway.” Jade cuts in, causing John to burst into laughter.
“You must be Jade! I’ve heard a lot of good things about you.”
“Aww, John, you talk about me to your dad!?”
Jamie’s smile turns devious as he glances your way. “Actually, most of it comes from Dave here.”
“What?” Jade yells, beaming at you.
“Oh my god.” You bury your face in your hands in embarrassment as Jamie joins his son in laughing.
Rose extends a hand and shakes Jamie’s politely, giggling along with him.
“I’m Rose. Thank you very much for having us, Mr. Egbert.”
“Jamie, please! It’s a pleasure to meet you, Rose. Would you all like to come inside?”
You shove Jade aside and shuck off your shoes as you stalk into the living room, playing up your attitude like the drama queen you are. John follows you quickly and grabs your hand, giving you a quick kiss on the cheek. You don’t even try and stop the smile from taking over.
Rose and Jade follow Jamie inside as you both take a seat on the couch. Rose compliments him on his home and he thanks her, showing off a few pieces around the room to her. You smile when you see him showing her the pipe on his mantle.
Jade plops down beside you and you wrap your free arm around her.
“So, what’s the plan, John?”
“Well, usually we play some games for a while. Dad will probably grill up some stuff in the back and we’ll eat. After that we’ll move the furniture against the walls and start playing some music. My dad has these cool lights and stuff too, it’s really fun!”
Rose joins you while John is explaining the plan for the day and as he finishes, Jamie comes out with snacks that he places on the coffee table.
“So, what game would you all like to play? We have most of the classic board games, as well as cards.
“Do you have Monopoly?” Jade asks.
“We certainly do! Is everyone alright with Monopoly?” You all nod in agreement and he grabs the box, setting it up in between the snacks on the table. You and John sit on pillows on the other side, letting Jamie, Jade, and Rose take the couch.
It doesn’t take very long to realize how competitive Jade is, which you probably should have seen coming. First down is Jamie, who compliments her on her skills. Next is Rose, which nobody saw coming. Several bad rolls were a game changer. Just as it looks like John is about to go down, you both agree to team up.
Jade complains that it’s technically cheating because she doesn’t have a teammate, but John sticks his tongue out as you explain you just got married, splitting your assets. She huffs at you and Jamie laughs, congratulating you on your marriage and handing you a 500 as a wedding gift from the bank.
You switch to the game of life after cleaning all the little plastic houses scattered around the floor, Jade apologizing over and over the entire time for flipping the board.
At this point, after assuring Jade that it was okay, Jamie heads out into the backyard to start the barbeque. You decide to play in teams this time to avoid any possible future cheating, boys versus the girls.
After nearly two hours, you and John in a clear lead, Jamie calls out that dinner is ready and Jade quickly jumps up.
“Wow, guess we’ll never know who wins, lets go!” She’s out the door to the backyard before any of you can react. Rose lets out a quiet laugh as you and John mumble about her being a sore loser.
You shut up the second you walk outside and see the absolutely mountain of food Jamie had somehow managed to prepare all by himself. John has to drag you over to the table that was set up.
You make sure to grab a little of everything because Jamie is apparently incapable of making anything other than amazing food and you don’t want to miss out on any of it.
“Dang Jamie, I wish you were my dad. I can’t imagine growing up eating food this great every day.”
“Dave, that would make you my brother.”
“Don’t make me choose between you and your dads cooking John. You don’t want to go down that road.” Jade almost chokes on her food at this and you smirk.
You have to wrap an arm around John to pull him closer because the way he pouts is just too damn cute.
“Well you are welcome over anytime for a nice home cooked meal, Dave!”
“John I hope you still love me when I get fat.”
You all hear the sound of a car pulling up in front of the house, followed by a short honk of a horn.
“Sounds like Dirk and Jake are here. I’ll go bring ‘em over Jamie, you stay here.” He nods at you and you get up to jog around to the front.
Dirk and Jake are almost at the door when you call out to them, telling them to follow you around back.
“Damn, Mr. Egbert has a nice place, huh?”
“You live in a six story house, dude.”
“I said it’s nice, not big.”
“Well if you think my house isn’t nice you are welcome to take that fine ass of yours and leave!” The false hurt in Jake's voice has you snorting as Dirk stumbles over his words trying to apologize. God you missed having him around.
You round the corner and Jamie waves at you all as you head back over to your seat. Dirk and Jake take the two empty places across from each other on either side of Jamie. He immediately begins thanking them for their gift. Dirk looks awkward but Jake is eager to tell him all about the place he got it from.
Dirk, who is sitting between you and Jamie, reaches over yo ruffle your hair. You glare at him and fix it because it took John forever to make it look this nice. He laughs, but otherwise ignores you as he greets the rest of the gang.
The rest of dinner is spent like this, with idle chatter and jokes being exchanged. You find yourself comfortable and happy and you really appreciate the mixed family you’ve found for yourself.
After everyone is satisfied, most of you having seconds or thirds, Jamie tells you and John to take the girls into the living room to get started on moving everything while the rest of them bring in the leftovers and dishes.
With everything successfully moved out of the way and the snacks from earlier topped up, you set up some music and the party kicks off.
As a complete surprise to you, Dirk brought one of his turntables and has taken over the music.
John suddenly looks over to you, catching your attention.
“Where did Dirk get this music? I've never heard any of this before!"
You give John a sly grin.
“You like it, huh?”
“Yeah, it's great!” your grin turns into a genuine smile.
“Dirk and I made all of it. Remember how I used to work for my brothers? I usually wound up providing the soundtracks for the movies they were working on.”
John looks incredibly impressed and you puff out your chest proudly.
“That's incredible! You're full of surprises.”
“I actually miss it. Haven't thought about it very much since… you know.”
John hums sympathetically. “Well it's good we can finally start to rediscover our passions then, huh?”
He leans in and gives you a soft kiss and you wrap your arms loosely around him and return the gesture.
Dirk wolf whistles at you and you can't even bring yourself to care.
“No! If you care so much about it, you do it!”
“That's bullshit and we both know it.”A hand is smashed into your face and you gasp at him. “So now you’re getting physical over this? John, I thought you cared about me.”
“Dave! Shut up! Go answer the damn phone please!”
You groan and make a big deal about getting up from the couch you both were cuddled together on and glare at him as you stalk over to the phone.
“Hello?” Okay you probably shouldn't have put that much attitude into your greeting. Whoever is on the other end doesn't deserve your anger.
“Hello, this is Officer Captor. I’m calling you today because I’ve spoken with your brother Dirk and he intends to press charges against your oldest brother. We were hoping you could come down to the station and answer some questions.”
You look over to John in shock and he gives you a questioning look.
“Uhm, sure. What’s the address?”
You numbly scribble it down on the notepad by the phone charger and thank the officer for calling before hanging up.
“Dave, are you okay?” You look back up to John and shake your head a little, quickly dialing Dirk’s number, anger flaring up inside you. How the hell did he not tell you about this before?
“Dirk, what the fuck.”
“Ah, you got the call already.” He sounds nervous and you try to snuff your temper a little.
“Yeah, I got the call. Why didn’t you tell me about this before?”
“I was trying to figure out how to bring it up. It’s not like I have a load of experience in talking about getting family thrown in jail.” He has a little edge to his voice and you sigh in defeat.
You’ve always known Dirk had trouble with communication. You wonder if maybe he’s been struggling with his own mental health like you have.
“Okay, I get it. Sorry for yelling, it just took me off guard.” He hums and you stand there holding the phone in an awkward silence.
“Jake and I had a fight about it.”
“Pressing charges. I didn’t want to, Jake did. We had a huge fight about it, and I wound up spending a night at a friends place.”
“Are you okay? Is he making you do this?”
“I’m fine. I went back home the next day and we had a good talk about it. He doesn't want to spend the rest of his life in constant fear of one of us being attacked again. He asked me what I would do if he caught you by surprise one day and we never heard from you again. I can’t let that happen ‘lil bro.”
You let a heavy silence settle in as you think it over. What if it was John? Or Dirk? Jake? Everyone was in danger as long as Bro was allowed to move on without consequence.
“Okay, he does have a point. I told the officer i’d go down and answer some questions.”
You end the call and slink back over to your worried looking partner, slumping down on top of him.
“Dirk is pressing charges against Bro. Some officer wants me to go down to the station to answer some questions.”
“That must be hard on you. How are you feeling?”
“It’s going to be shitty and I’ll probably hate everything about it, but it needs to be done. I don’t think Bro is all bad, but attacking us that night was and he has to deal with the backlash.”
“Do you want me to go with you?”
“Please. I don’t want to bother Dirk with this, it’s probably just as hard on him.”
John turns the movie you had been watching back on and you spend the next hour or so failing to pay any attention to it.
As you get out of the car, the gross feeling inside of you amplifies and you have to steady yourself against the hood as a wave of dizziness crashes over you. John is at your side at an instant with an open arm.
You wave him off and take a few deep breaths, calming yourself down before pushing off the car to head into the police station. John follows you closely, tensed and ready to catch you if you got dizzy again.
The station is pretty small and as you walk through the doors you are faced with a woman smiling at you from a desk at the front. You see a couple of officers behind her at their desks, one of which looks up at the sound of the door.
“Hello! What can I do for you, sir?” You feel a little bit of anxiety ease up at being gendered correctly and try to smile back at her.
“Uhm, hi, I was asked to come in to talk to an Officer, uh, Captor I think?”
The officer who looked up earlier has decided to come over and places a hand on the woman's shoulder.
“I’ve got this. Mr. Strider, I assume? I’m Officer Captor.”
“Uh, hey, yeah thats me.”
“Great, if you want to follow me I’ll take you into one of the interrogation rooms and we’ll get this over with.” He doesn’t wait for you to answer before turning and walking briskly toward a hallway in the very back of the station. John squeezes your hand as you give him a quick look and hurry to follow.
You feel your anxiety as if it were physically sitting on top of you, a large beast ready to crush you at any moment.
You sit down shakily at the chair opposite of Officer Captor and stare at the table.
“Let’s get this over with as quick as we can, okay?”
“Can you please give me your full name for the record?” You try to swallow the rock in your throat. You think you can feel sweat forming on your forehead.
“It’s… Elizabeth. Elizabeth Strider.” It feels surreal to say that name again after all this time.
“That’s… Your legal name?” You glance up and he’s giving you that look. The one that everyone gives you when they hear your birth name.
“Can… can I have a glass of water, please?”
“In a minute. So your name is Elizabeth Strider. Your brother calls you Dave. Can you confirm your legal sex for me?”
You don’t know if you can even answer that. You feel your eyes beginning to burn and blink rapidly, trying to hold off the tears you know are well on their way.
“Elizabeth, I need you to answer my question.”
You need John. You need to get out of this room and you need to leave this building right now.
“I… I need a break.”
You stand up quickly, causing the officer to react in kind. Panic starts to build inside you and you glance at the door, the tears now flowing freely.
“Can I come back tomorrow?”
You think he may have answered you but honestly you didn't care to wait, rushing out the door and over to John as fast as you can. You drag him outside and back to Jamie’s car, ignoring his worried questioning.
You have no idea how long you sat around in the car, waiting for your breathing to return to normal and the panic to subside. John stopped questioning you a while ago and has switched to holding one of your hands, rubbing gentle circles on it.
“I had to tell him my legal name.” John looks over to you, but waits for you to finish.
“I had to tell him, and he started to question my legal gender. I couldn’t answer him, I… I couldn't do it John. I had to leave.”
He looks furious for you, and you wish there was room in your mind to feel happy about it.
“That’s fucked up. What the hell does it even matter? A man attacked you and he’s hung up on something as stupid as the sex of someone who is there to voluntarily give them information they asked for? We’re going to Dirk and Jake’s house.”
You don’t know how to respond, so you don’t. You watch buildings pass in a blur and let the numbness swallow you. John spends the entire drive complaining about how you were treated. When you arrive he practically has to drag you to the door.
Dirk answers looking a little disheveled, and you assume he was probably still asleep when your boyfriend began pounding down his door. You must look even worse though, judging by the look on his face.
“What’s wrong?” You stare at the ground, letting John explain.
“We were just at the police station and the cop who was questioning Dave was being a complete asshole! He kept harassing him over his name and gender and didn’t ask a single fucking question about the assault!”
You look up and Dirk looks absolutely pissed. You wonder if this is what it was like when Bro told him about kicking you out.
“You okay little man?” You shrug.
“You want to come in and talk about it?” You shrug again.
“You want to come watch me crack some skulls?”
“Well I’m not about to let some bigot cop asshole fuck with my little brother. So, you want to come watch the show?”
You feel a stifled version of the warmth you usually have when he affirms your identity to you, but that’s the first thing you’ve felt since leaving the station so you decide to chase it.
“I’ll come.” John squeezes your hand and gives you a small supportive smile. You squeeze his hand back.
“Okay, come on it, make yourselves at home. I’m just going to go shower and get dressed and we’ll head out.”
He heads off upstairs and you and John go into the kitchen where he gets you some cereal and apple juice. You’ve managed to settle down enough by now to down some of the food, but the apple juice is like liquid comfort and you end up gulping down three glasses by the time Dirk comes back down.
“Okay, I’m ready for blood. You kids good to go?” You nod and join John in standing, following your brother outside. The trip back to the station is a little better than the one out. You and John make idle conversation while Dirk follows behind you in his own car.
When you pull back into the small parking lot you can already feel dread settling back in, but you remind yourself that you have support this time.
Dirk parks next to you and stops you before you all walk through the doors.
“How do you want to do this? I can just go right in there and explain why he’s an ignorant ass, or I can join you in the interrogation room and wait for him to give me an opening.”
You think it over for a moment. On one hand, the mental image of him busting through the doors and calling out the officer in front of the rest of the people in the station is pretty amusing, but you think that would make you lose your opening to get this all over with.
“I want to talk to him again, get this shit over with as soon as possible. I’m sure he’ll give you the chance to satisfy your bloodlust.”
Dirk nods, satisfied, and follows right behind you as you enter the building. Officer Captor looks up from his desk and stands when he recognizes you.
“No, not really, but I want to get this over with.”
“I guess your brother is going to join us?”
“Yeah, I am.” The hardness of his voice eases the tension in your shoulders a little.
“Alright, come on back. Same room as before.”
Dirk places a hand on your shoulder and squeezes it, comforting you even more. You both head into the interrogation room, Dirk opting to sand behind the chair you sit on, leaning over it and you.
“Picking up where we left off, I’m going to need you to state your sex so we can clear up your identity.”
“I’m sorry?” He looks up to your brother and you almost smile.
“Why the fuck does his gender matter? He’s here to tell you about our asshole brother who tried to kill us so we can get him locked up where he belongs.”
“I need to confirm who I’m talking to, Mr. Strider.”
“My little brother Dave. That’s all you need to know.”
“I can’t count this statement as valid unless I confirm the identity of the person giving it.”
“Dave, you want me to explain to him why he’s being an asshole right now?” You nod.
“No need for the attitude, Mr. Strider. It’s a pretty simple question. Are you a boy or a girl?”
“You ain't’ asking for his identity, you’re asking who the fuck some doctor decided he was about two seconds after he was born. This is Dave Strider, my little brother. He was born with a different name, and yeah he was taken for a girl at birth, but that ain’t who he was and it ain’t who he is.”
“How’s a doctor make that kind of mistake?”
“Happens more than you think, officer.” The venom in that last word could kill a man. Officer Captor is starting to look angry too.
“Why don’t you calm down. It’s pretty simple to figure out what sex a baby is. I’m not buying your story, and I’m starting to think nothing either of you have told me is true.”
“It’s pretty easy to assume, just like it’s pretty easy to assume a cop would want to help two innocent people put a guilty man behind bars. Gender is a spectrum, and if you think it’s as easy as looking between someones legs to figure them out, then I pity the people of this city for having to rely on people like you to keep them safe.”
Officer Captor looks like he’s about to retort, but Dirk cuts him off before he can even open his mouth.
“Don’t try and tell me my anger is unjustified, because you’re insulting my little brother to his face. As his older brother it’s my duty to keep him safe and happy, so how about we both do our jobs here and you ask him your damn questions so we can leave and get some ice cream and complain about what a rude fucking prick you are.”
He sits there seething quietly for a few moments and you think he’s about to leave, but he surprises you.
“Relevant questions only, if you don’t mind.”
He starts asking you about the assault, questioning the date and the exact order of events. You answer each question, and before too long it’s over and done with.
“Alright, thats it. Thanks for coming in, you can leave now.” He still sounds frustrated and you suspect he’s probably as happy to see you leave as you are.
When John catches sight of you from the reception area he stands up with a concerned expression, but you give him a tiny smile and see him relax. He hugs you when you walk up to him and you let out a long sigh, feeling the weight of the day fall off your shoulders.
“It went okay?”
“Thanks to Dirk. You’d have been so impressed by the absolute verbal smackdown he gave that guy. I sure was.”
“Idiot was clearly in need of it.” You snort and John laughs a little.
You all leave the station for the last time and Dirk follows you back to Jamies place to drop off his car so he can make good on his promise to take you out for ice cream.
“Thanks man, I probably wouldn’t have been able to do that without you.” He hugs you back with one arm and messes up your hair with the other.
“No problem little dude. I’ve always got your back, okay?”
“I’m glad you have John too. He’s a good kid.”
“Yeah, he is.” You smile warmly and let go of Dirk so he can get back in your car. You wave at each other and then you’re alone in the driveway so you head inside.
John is in the kitchen making tea so you take a seat at the table and watch him. It gets quiet for a little while and you start to zone out until a mug is placed in front of you.
“I hope you know that it doesn’t bother me.” You look up to him and he’s smiling at you. “No matter what, I will always love you.”
You think you might start crying if you weren't so emotionally drained.
“It’s just hard. I went through so much already to get to this point. I was… I was terrified that cop was going to do something bad. I froze up.”
“People like that officer… they don’t understand love. You will always have that here in our home.”
He grabs his mug and walks past you toward the theatre room.
“C’mon, let’s go watch a movie and cuddle.”
You follow him, thinking that you can probably get through anything to come as long as you have people who love you like this.
I did do research to try and be as accurate as possible regarding the charges against Bro and the legal process involved, but if anyone has any experience and/or knows how things work better and would like to make it more accurate, please let me know!
Chapter 10: Note to Readers
I just wanted to give you all an update since you have shown so much love for this fic and for me! I appreciate each and every one of you that takes time to read Lock and Key.
As i had said previously, this fic is written to completion. That said, its an incredibly rough version and can not be posted the way ot is. As i post each chapter I paste in the rough version and go through, completely redoing the entire chapter. This process usually takes a little while, and has started taking even longer as i get deeper into the fic, due largely to the fact that I've discovered so many things to add in as i go.
This latest chapter is my favorite and is taking me a lot longer to write because it was the roughest of all. To add to this, I was also taking spring classes the last two months and have also taken a part time job.
I want you all to be assured that i am not abandoning this story, i just want to make sure i put the amount of thought, passion, and love into ot that it deserves.
Thank you for sticking with me!
P.S. this was written from my phone on the bus home so i apologize for typos!