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Room For You As Well

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"As I am sure you are very much aware, this does put you in a very compromising position."

Your name is Aaron, and you are, as you are very much aware, in a very compromising position.
You stand upright and turn to face your soon to be roommate, Rose Lalonde.

"Yes, I am 'very much aware'," You respond, mimicking her tone. "Perhaps if your boxes were not so full of wizard porn I would actually be able to lift them."

"You would also be in a better position if you lifted from your knees. It would help you not to present your rear into the air."

"You know, I don't need to move your boxes. I could just get in the van and you could move them yourself, and you wouldn't be left in a good place..." You bend down anyway, and pick a slightly lighter box to start moving; Rose grabs the smallest one and walks with you.

"You don't need to, correct, but nor did I ask. You came over and demanded to assist me. Perhaps it is this 'knight in shining armour' mechanic reflective of the fact that you need a date." It was true, you had been on your own for a while now. Instead of considering how badly that would turn out, you play it off with a joke.

"Asking me, are we? Oh no! What would Kanaya think? Not so gay after all?" You gasp in mock disbelief. Rose just looks at you, calculating her next response.

While most found her psychoanalysis of everything rather frustrating, you found it endearing, and a times, quite funny. More than that, she was easy to talk to. She didn't judge, and she didn't sugar coat. She always told you what she thought was best, and you appreciate that. Rose was always your best friend, and this is likely why you were glad to be going to college together, and even more so to be being roommates. College seemed to loom over you and you were glad that you would have at least one friend.
Or perhaps, glad to have only one.

"I'm sure she would appreciate my experimentation. In fact, perhaps she would even join me. Interested?" You make gagging sounds.

"I don't even want to know what goes on between you two, let alone be a part of it. Thanks, but no thanks." Silence passes for a moment before you burst out laughing. Rose even chuckles a little. "Rose Lalonde? Laughing? How very out of character!"
Before she has a chance to respond, her mother walks out the front door of the Lalonde residence.

"Awh, my Rose is all grown up. You take care of her Aaron. Make sure she stays safe and goes to her classes."

"I will, Miss Lalonde, although it will mostly be Rose keeping me in line!"

Rose mutters something along the lines of "It's true."

"How many times, call me Roxy!"

"Thank you, Roxy!"

"I'll call you when we get there. Is that alright, mother?" Roxy comes over and pulls the younger Lalonde into a warm hug. You feel a pang of jealousy.

"I love you, Rose."

"I love you too, mother."

It's only a little while until all of Rose's things are packed next to yours in your van. You'd been saving up for it for years and your family pitched in for half.

"Anything to get me out the house," you mutter under your breath.

"They love you, Aaron. They just show it differently." Her purple eyes in the passenger seat are caring and kind. No agenda. You shrug and you both buckle in.

"Have fun you two! And stay safe!" Roxy calls after you. You shout goodbyes back and pull on to the drive.

You have a long journey ahead of you.

 

 

A few hours on the road with little traffic and a now sleeping Rose have left you lost in thought. At the minute, you are just trying to remember everything she told you about her group of friends all joining up this year as well. There was her cousin who was majoring in music tech and minoring in photography, but alongside him were also another pair of cousins, John and Jade, that apparently they both have known for a long time. She also seemed to know a few trolls in their first year through Kanaya, though Kanaya seems to tolerate them more than enjoy their company.

Rose sure did know a lot of people. Hopefully she won't try to introduce them to you all at once. But she will introduce them all, as Rose tends to do, so you can only hope you don't get smothered.

You turn to the passenger seat and find that she's awake again, looking out at the trees. "Lunch?" Your stomach growls, apparently to emphasise your question.

"Lunch." She nods slightly in agreement. You get off at the next service spot and pick up a drive through, ordering and paying while Rose checks her phone, before stopping in the car park to eat. For the umpteenth time, you thank whatever higher power there is, that she understands and doesn't press the 'always drive through' situation.

"I think it's only a couple of hours now," You bite into your burger. No response. You wave your hand in front of her face. "Hello? Earth to Rose?" She bats you away with nonchalance and continues to stare at no one or nothing in particular. You try and line your head up with hers to see her line of sight: nothing of note. It's a minute or so before she finally speaks.

"I received some news."
You wait a couple seconds. "Care to elaborate on that?"
She breaks into a smile. "My cousin has just admitted to me, finally, that he does in fact have a crush on one of our childhood friends, John."

For a minute, you forget everything and pretend to yourself that you could get involved. "Oh my gosh," you stretch out the last sound and your eyes light up. "Would this be the same John who's crushing on your cousin?"

"The very same. And naturally they've been totally obvious to everyone except each other."

"Oh this just gets better and better. So neither of them know about the other?"

"Not a clue."

"So they both want to..."

"Yes."

"And neither of them..."

"No."

"So you're going to..."

"I'll try." Naturally, Rose knows the end of all of your sentences. You still don't understand how she does it.

"I ship it so hard!"

"You haven't even met either of them."

"Don't care. Shippin' it. What can I say? I'm a hopeless romantic."

"Running away whenever anyone talks to you is not typically the sign of a hopeless romantic."

You quickly change the topic.

"Looking forward to your classes?"

"Yes and no. Yes, I'm looking forward to studying psychology. But no, because I will outclass my lecturer for at least the first year." You roll your eyes. Major in psychology and minor in sociology surprised no one, and nor did her constant air of superiority, well earned or not. "What did you finally settle on in the end?"

"Programming. Minor in chemistry."

"Oh really? John also will be minoring in chemistry, though majoring in biology." That could be interesting. Or a complete disaster. You haven't decided yet.

You continue to make small talk and swap information about the college. As well as accommodating both trolls and humans, it seems to be both lecture based and class based, unlike most other colleges taking one of the other, which seems like a good idea. After all, both methods have their merits, so why not both? "Classes do seem quite small as well, which will be good for you," Rose mentioned, and you mask your elation.

"Yeah, that sounds nice." You both finished a while ago, so you stash the rubbish in the door pockets and take off again. Together you sit quietly, listening to the music. It's a few minutes before you speak up again. "Wouldn't you rather be sharing a room with, you know, anyone else?"

"Like whom?"

"John? Jade? Your cousin? Kanaya?"

"John and my cousin were always going to be roommates -" You grin at the idea. "- Jade lives close enough that she doesn't have a room, and Kanaya is sharing with a blind girl called Terezi. Besides, if I didn't, then you would be alone."

Suddenly you feel guilty - Rose would probably rather be with her real friends rather than you. "Sorry." Rose lets out a big sigh.

"Aaron. Eventually you are going to learn that you do not need to apologise for existing. Anyway, I wouldn't have asked you if I didn't want it, would I?" You nod reluctantly.

You let it drop.

For now. 

Chapter Text

Stretching your legs, you look up at the bland apartment building which is to be your home for the next four years. "So this is the place?"
Rose looked at the map and her phone. "Yes. This is exactly where we were told to go." You were lucky to have such a skilled navigator beside you when you couldn't direct yourself out of a paper bag. "Shall we enter?"
"Go on in. I'll be with you in a minute," You say, sitting on the kerb, but instead, she comes and sits next to you.
"While I can't relate, I can understand that this is a daunting prospect for you. But it'll all be okay."
You smile and take her hand, standing up and walking through the doors together.

It doesn't last long. Three flights of stairs don't do well for friendship handholding support.

When you finally reach your floor, you come out and immediately see a lift door off to the side. You cover your hands with your face in shame.
"There was a LIFT?"
"I thought you were aware. I figured you wanted the exercise."
"If you didn't have the keys, I would kill you on the spot."
She smiles and hands them to you. "There." The two of you stand in silence for a few seconds. "I can only assume, from my current state of being alive, that you have forgiven me. Thank you very much." She wanders off, flicking her blonde hair round to look for our room.
"Hey, wait up!" You shout, chasing after her. "I don't even know what room we're in!"
"You are lucky," she retorts with a smug look. "That at least one of us is a fully functioning member of the community."
Grabbing her shoulder and pulling her into a side hug, you smile. "What would I do without you."

 

"This is a nice place!"
"It should be even better when we have gathered all of our belongings."
The two of you look around your apartment. There is a fair sized open plan kitchen living room, two bedrooms, and a bathroom. Nothing flash or fancy, but certainly enough to satisfy you. A TV in the living room, enough cooking equipment to match your somewhat exotic and varied taste in cooking, bathroom space, and as an added bonus, both bedrooms had huge windows backing onto a forest with a lake. It was beautiful, and you couldn't believe the two of you could afford to rent this place.
"I'm going to have to find some work soon," you mutter to yourself. Rose walks into the room and comes up behind you.
"I can tell that you like this accommodation."
"Yeah, it's great! Shall we start bringing boxes up?"
Before she can respond, there is a knock at the door. You start whispering.
"Who even knows that we're here?"
Rose fails to join you. "Whoever it is, we'll survive, I'm sure."

She walks calmly to the door in her usual manner, with you tiptoeing behind her. Once you reach the door you can hear a voice behind it:
"Please be the right one, please be the right one, please be the right one,"
You shrug and Rose opens the door.
The knocker shouts, "Rose!" And practically leaps onto her, pulling her into a bear hug. He seems to be about your age, with messy black hair, and when he finally stands up straight you can see his bushy blue eyes and wide, buck tooth grin.
"John."
"Rose! I've missed you so much! I thought I heard you earlier and started knocking on doors. Seventh time's the charm, I guess. I just arrived an hour or so ago! Dave isn't here yet."
"John."
"And it's just so great to see you because I feel like it's been years! And I know we saw each other at Christmas but now we get to all hang out together every day and we can go to a cafe or something! It'll be so great!"
"John."
"What?"
"You're rambling."
"Oh." So this was John. He was bubbly and energetic, and was definitely rambling. He was cute as well: this cousin of Rose's had good tastes. He looks over her shoulder and- oh no.
"Oh my gosh! You must be Aaron!" He almost runs round Rose to get to you.
"Uhh, yeah, I guess." He pulls you into a big hug as well.
"It's so great to meet you! I've heard so many things about you, I mean Rose talks about you all the time, and..."
You've stopped listening.
Because this is wrong.
It took months before you could even look Rose in the eye when you first met and now John is hugging you.
This is not okay.
You shouldn't be doing this.
You aren't worth it.
You don't deserve it.
So you do the only logical thing.

You push John away, turn on your heel, dash to the bathroom and slam the door.

For about a minute you sit on the tile floor, knees huddled to your chest, rocking back and forth. The same few sentences keep running through your head until you finally come to your sentences and pick up on the muffled conversation.
"Oh my gosh, I had no idea," John's voice has lost its enthusiasm. You did that. "I just was really happy to meet him."
"It's okay," Rose was consoling him. You did that. "You just need to appreciate that Aaron does not do well with that level of enthusiasm."
Half right. Half wrong.
You want him to be happy to meet you. You want him to hug you and tell him all the wonderful things he's heard. But it's all a lie and you couldn't believe any of it.
"I just wanted to..." He sniffles. Great. You made him cry. Great job.
"I know. Just give it time. Okay? I'll come over later."
"Okay. I'm room 413. Tell him..."
"I will."
"Thank you, Rose." A short while later you hear the front door open and close, then Rose is knocking on the bathroom door.
"Aaron, I know you heard all of that." You stay silent. "I know you can hear me, so listen.

"This is not your fault. I know you. You are going to blame yourself but you need to remember that you can't help who you are. John will understand. Jade and Dave will understand too. I'm just sorry I couldn't warn him. It's hard to control John."
You stand up and open the door. "I'm sor-"
"No. I'm sorry, and John is sorry. You are not sorry. Agreed?" It's pointless arguing this with her; she has always been very persistent on this topic.
"Okay."
"Promise?"
You don't respond. Rose knows how you feel about making promises you can't keep.
"Okay. Let's get moving." She also knows that the best thing to do is change the attention and focus on something else.
You'll be fine.
You always are.

You make a mental note to stop lying to yourself. Whatever you are, it isn't fine.

Picking yourself up and dusting yourself off, the two of you leave the apartment, lock the door and get into the lift.

"You still need to find someone to date." You sigh louder than you thought you could.
"Not this again. I've already told you so many times: I'm okay."
"Maybe you think so, but you're wrong. You would be much better with a special someone. Or multiple, as the case may be."
Yet more reason that Rose was great: she didn't judge your sexual preference - well, she is lesbian anyway, but still - or your polyamory.
"I'm fine!" You stretch the word out again, striding out of the lift in front of her.
"I would suggest John, but he seems to be soon to be taken." Stopping dead in your tracks, you look at her, tilting your head in confusion. "His overly energetic and passionate manner would really help you to break your personal stigma, while your shy and sensible personality would help him mature. Unfortunately, it seems my cousin will simply make the both of them even more ridiculous."
But you made him cry.
"Guess that's out the window, then. Any other cute friends that you don't mind hating you for introducing us?"
She ignores the latter part of the question. "Cute? Perhaps I should have thought twice before letting him meet you. Dave might end up heartbroken." You laugh. "Any aversion to trolls?"
"Why? Got a name or two in mind?"
"Perhaps. Although none of them seems too," she pauses to choose the right word. "Complementary, to your unique situation.

"There is Sollux, who shares your passion for computing. Although, he exclusively courts other trolls, so that seems unlikely. Karkat is much too loud and obnoxious. Tavros shares your social anxiety, to the point where I don't think either of you would ever instigate anything noteworthy. Gamzee has an affection for clowns and marijuana, and I refuse to set either Equius or Eridan loose on you."

"That leaves me with?"
"No one else, unfortunately."
"Thank goodness. I don't want to be set up with anyone."
Both of you return to the lift, boxes in tow.

It takes considerably less time to unpack than it did to pack, and you've finally got the place looking like a home. As promised, Rose goes round to John's for a little while, and leaves you alone in your brand new apartment.
Deciding to check your schedule, you check your phone as your laptop boots up. You have a pesterchum notification, from a handle you don't recognise.

-- ectoBiologist [EB] began pestering easilyDistracted [ED] at 15:12 --

EB: hey! rose gave me your handle because i wanted to apologise
EB: ill try and tone it down for the time being okay?
EB: sorry for not really understanding at first :(
EB: i hope we can be friends!
EB: talk to you soon!
EB: its john, by the way
EB: :D

-- ectoBiologist [EB] ceased pestering easilyDistracted [ED] at 15:19 --

You decide not to pester him back yet. It would be rude, you think, while he has company. Instead, you open up the college timetable and see what your week looks like.

It doesn't seem so bad. Most of your classes are Programming, naturally, with Mr Strider. However, it's very heavy on outside work and research, leaving you with a fairly open week. Seemingly, enough to get yourself a decent job. The rest of your classes are Chemistry with Miss Crocker which should be...

Oh. Great.

"Oh really? John also will be minoring in chemistry, though majoring in biology."

Not interesting.
Definitely a disaster.

Chapter Text

Chapter 3: Coffee and Peace Offerings

The coffee is strong and milky, just the way you like it. Thank goodness you had the bright idea of buying a few basic supplies before getting here (that is, supplies to make coffee) because you needed that so much.

Congratulations, Aaron. Someone wanted to be friends with you and you ruined it. And that person is going to be in your classes for the next four years.

EB: i hope we can be friends!

Yeah. Right. You had one chance, idiot, and you blew it. You take another swig of coffee.

You aren't addicted. You drink coffee when you hurt.
You just happen to hurt a lot.

To this day you continue holding on to that promise you made:
"When it stops hurting, I'll stop drinking it. Promise."

It hasn't really ever stopped. So you never really stopped.

Suddenly you have a major epiphany. Rose wanted you to meet John. She wanted the two of you to be friends, and John at least pretended to agree with her. After the years of everything she's done, the least you can do is try. You don't think he'll just accept you after what you did, however; there was only one clear path to take.

-- easilyDistracted [ED] began pestering tentacleTherapist [TT] at 17:54 --

ED: Rose
ED: Rose
ED: Rose
ED: Rose
TT: I hope that this is important.
TT: It is rather rude of me to be answering my phone whilst in company.
ED: Just
ED: Two quick questions
ED: First
ED: Have you eaten
TT: No. Neither of us has. Why?
ED: Great
ED: Don't eat
ED: Either of you
ED: Second
TT: You type at a freakish speed.
ED: I'm aware
ED: Shut up a minute
ED: How does john handle spice
TT: Aaron.
TT: He handles it well.
TT: But whatever you are thinking, stop.
ED: Too late
ED: Were doin this bro
ED: Were makin this hapen

-- easilyDistracted [ED] ceased pestering tentacleTherapist [TT] at 18:02 --

As you grab your key and head out the door - you remember that of all things - there was one thing that you always knew. One thing that remained constant and positive.

You can cook. You can cook well.

One terrifying supermarket trip and one much simpler christening of the new kitchen later you find yourself outside door 413 in over mitts, ramming the tray into the door to knock.

"Whoever you are, you knock really..." John opens the door and looks at you with eyes full of desire. Okay, it's not you; it's the samosas, but still. "Peace offering?" He takes a deep inhale through his nose and almost moans out.
"Rose?"
"Yes?"
"Can I marry your new roommate?"
"Only if he can cook for me too."
Almost pulling you in through the door, he takes the tray off you and plates up the Indian food.
"This smells so good! What's even in it?"
"It's my own recipe. Usual ingredients, but with a few different and extra herbs and spices," You say, with a surprising air of confidence. Food gives you strength, and not just physically. John sits down between you and Rose on the sofa - directly in front of the plate, naturally - and takes one. He actually moans, this time.
"This is so good! When we get married you are making me this all the time."
"Married?" You ignored it the first time, but the second you had to ask.
"Yeah! I'll be the breadwinner, you can just stay home and cook for me all day." He takes another already, and you go a deeper red. But it's when snuggles up beside you and hugs you that you go bright crimson before he pulls away and tries to correct his 'mistake'. "I'm so sorry! It's just a reflex for me. I'll be better-"
"Don't apologise. That's my job," Rose already is looking at you with discontent. "And these'. An apology for how I acted earlier."
"I would say you don't need to say sorry," he takes another bite. "But if this is how you say sorry you should do it more often!" He laughs and even Rose smiles. She seems different around John. You seem different around John, too. He just seems like a breath of fresh air.

"Excuse me for asking, but you seem totally different from earlier. Is there a reason?" Those big blue eyes lock on to yours and he scoots just a little bit closer.
"I don't really understand it myself, but the whole thing seems to come and go in waves. One minute, I'm perfectly fine, the next..." You trail off and shrug. He moves his hands towards yours and tilts his head, asking for permission. When you nod, he takes one of your hands in each of his.
"I'm not gonna pretend to fully understand because I don't, but I will do my best to make you feel comfortable. Okay?"
You can feel Rose's eyes boring into to you, whispering "I told you so."
"Okay. Thank you."
He stops the serious face and breaks into the same dorky grin, before dropping your hands and opening his arms wide, again asking for permission. This time you shake your head, whispering a "Sorry, not yet," under your breath.
Smiling, he ruffles your hair. "It's okay! Don't worry about it."

Rose, who had been strangely silent since you came in, speaks up. "So, John, when is it that you are finally going to gather the courage to confess to my cousin?"
John slumps back into his seat and sighs. "Aaron knows?"
"Of course he knows. And he is of the same opinion of me."
"Is that right?"

You can almost still feel his hand in your hair and holding on to yours. You can almost still see his blue eyes staring into yours. And no, it's not just because he's cute, or you know he's into guys or anything like that.
He cared. He only just met you and already he cared deeply about you. Is this what friendship was supposed to be like? You always figured it was just natural for your 'friends' to-
Wait, he's talking to you.

"Hello? Earth to Aaron?" He's also waving his hand in front of your face, just like you did to Rose earlier.
"Oh yeah, I totally agree. You just ask him on a date, like, as soon as humanly possible."
"While that sounds great, I'm not up for social suicide right now."
"Social suicide?" You're confused, but Rose has a knowing look. Clearly, she's heard this before.

John sits up straight and puts on an announcer's voice. "Now presenting, three reasons why John should never confess! Reason number one!" He gives up and slouches back. "Dave is straight. Heterosexual." You aren't sure if you laugh audibly or not. "He likes girls. And I am not one. So, it would accomplish nothing. Even pretending for a second that he liked guys, there's no way he'd even be into me. That's number two. And number three? Dave is my best friend. I don't want to ruin that."

"Right. Three counter arguments coming right back at you. One: your reasons one and two are basically the same point, so you only have two points. Two: are you totally sure that he's straight? I mean, has he ever explicitly stated it?"
"Well no, but he has dated girls."
"Could be bi. Or pan. You just don't know. The only way to find out is to ask. And number three: if this Dave is really as good a friend as you say he is, he'll totally understand. Whether he returns your feelings or not, he'll still be your best friend, right?"

"I had not been aware that a depressive, socially anxious loner could give such good relationship advice." Rose pipes in again, and you ignore her.
"So?"
John spends a minute thinking about it. "Do you really think I should?"
You look at Rose, she looks at you, you both look back at John and respond in unison. "Yes!"
He pauses for a while again. "I'll think about it." You let out a quick smile of victory. "Now, since you're the newest member of our group-" you're part of a group now? Okay, you guess. "- we have to finish the ritual."
"Ritual?"
Rose stands up and motions to the door. "I'm leaving." What even was this ritual that could make Rose leave? Something to do with biology? You prepare yourself for the worst.
"We have to watch Con Air."
The worst? You meant to say the best.
"Oh my gosh! I love Con Air! Nic Cage is so great."
"I know this was coming, yet I introduced the two of you anyway. Why did I do that?" Rose complains, rolling her eyes.
"WHY DID YOU KEEP AARON FROM OUR LIVES FOR THIS LONG, ROSE, WHY?" Is he, is he crying? Getting a tissue, he wiped his eyes, and Rose retorted: "I wanted to keep him for myself."
"Hey, no fair. You're gay, and you can't marry him."
"But I am too..." You shrug nonchalantly.
"Gay, loves Nic Cage, can cook. Oh no! You're meeting all of my standards!" You weren't aware that John's smile could get even bigger, but it does, before you both bursting out laughing.

You're laughing with someone. Rose is great but she is sometimes a bit too reserved, whereas John is loud and expressive. A little bit more time spent testing the water and you feel this could be the start of something great.
"I take back what I said. This would be much worse."
John flicks looks between you and Rose. "What?"
"Oh, it's nothing." You say, emphasising your words to her.

It's not long before she leaves, and the two of you watch Con Air, singing 'Don't wanna miss a thing' as a terrible dramatic duet, of course, followed by a plethora of other films into the night. It's not till about midnight you realise that you are still watching films and that John has huddled up close to you and put a blanket over both.

And it feels...
You don't really know.
But it doesn't feel wrong.

Perhaps this really is what friendship is meant to be. What you have with Rose, is that normal? It's everything else that's strange?

Chapter Text

You wake up in not your apartment, on not your sofa, under not your blanket. John must have put it on you after you fell asleep. He is possibly the kindest person you have ever met: he's known you for less than 24 hours and he's covering you with a blanket while you crash in his apartment after a movie marathon. This sort of thing was only meant to happen in fairy tales, right?
You get up slowly to search for the bathroom, but find that the kitchen light is on, and go to switch it off. Instead, you find a short, blond boy with dark aviators sipping what you desperately hope is apple juice. A red, loose fitting top and darker joggers sit on his slight frame.

"Let's lay down some ground rules." You recoil in shock. "First," he holds up one pale finger. "You don't touch my shit. AJ, shades, camera. That's the top three. Touch them and you die."
You stutter out an "Okay," before he continues.
"Second, hands off the Egderp. And third: Don't. Ask. About. My. Eyes."
"Um... Okay...?"
"Great. Whatever else you wanna do, I don't care." He goes back to his drink and turns away. The hair, the skin, the stature reminded you of Rose.
"Dave?"
He responds without turning round. "The one and only. But this is my apartment. Got a name?"
Dave was confrontational and yet smoothly uninterested. Tough exterior, but Rose would probably say something about it compensating for an emotional side or some other psychobabble.
"Aaron. I room with your cousin."
"Cool." Once again, he seems to not care at all.
"Figured you'd ask why I was here..."
"Don't care. You know Rose, you know Egderp. Good enough for me." He takes a final swig and sets the glass down on the table.
"Bathroom?"

He points you to it, once again without looking at you, and you spot the clock telling you it's about half 6 in the morning. Dave sure as hell got up early, but then again, who are you to talk. Shortly after, you let yourself out, getting a half-hearted wave from the blond, and sending a quick thank you to John over pesterchum. You aren't one to ditch a date with no notice, not that this was a date or anything, and not that you'd been on a date in five years, but...
Scratch that. Bad example.

As you unlock and walk through the door, you spot a delicately written note in pink ink:

Dearest Aaron
I am going to spend the night tonight at Kanaya's hive.
I hope this does not impede any plans although as of yet you seem content with John, so I doubt that.
Also, you will probably not see this note until it becomes morning, so I shall be back later.
I hope you had fun, and that my cousin didn't cause to much trouble - he is set to arrive in the early hours.
Rose

After folding the letter up and slipping it into your pocket, you slump onto your own sofa. Rose was right: John and Dave were perfect for each other. The former's bubbly and overwhelming personality complemented the latter's facade of 'coolness' and disinterest.
Dave Egbert? Or John Lalonde? Which fits better?
Is Dave's last name even Lalonde? It could be, but you didn't know for sure.

You want to be both of them.
You wanted to be excitable and socially adept, to fit in and be calm and collected. Plus, they get to have each other. Not yet, but soon, you hope. A bit of an idealist, and a lot of a romantic, nothing makes you happier than seeing other people happy.

Some people have all the luck.

All of it.

Deciding to break in your new shower, you strip down and wait for the water to heat up, in front of the full-length mirror. You run your fingertips up your arms, down your sides, over your torso, across your thighs, feeling the scars. Of course, there was only one real scar here. The rest were all in your head.

You're disgusting. You hate every inch. And why wouldn't you? Too fat to be slim, too slim to be chubby. Too tall to be short, too short to be tall. Eyes too bright to be beady, too dull to be bushy. Not enough of anything to be considered anything. And the line that traced from left shoulder to the bottom of your right ribs: too big to forget, not enough for anyone else to care. Though, why you still expected people to care about you after this long surprised you. You didn't expect anyone to care. You didn't need anyone. You could be fine alone.

You wipe your hand across your wet face and neck. Then you get in the shower. It burns. You don't care.

Not ten minutes later, the door opens. "Aaron? It is Rose." You wander out of your room, towelling your hair dry.
"Hey! You're back! How was it?"
"Good." Her bag sounds against the table. "It felt like it had been too long since we had seen each other, so I apologise for the short notice."
"Don't worry, I only got back a while ago." Rose fails to notice your red skin. You're glad. You don't like people worrying about you. "I met Dave."
"Oh really? Did he lay down the ground rules?"
"Yeah. Is he serious about the whole death thing?"
"No one really knows, since no one has ever been foolhardy enough to break rule number 1. Number 2 is less strict than you think: he means not to bed him, not anything else. The third is lifted in time to the people closest to him, and I can't tell you what the answer is. A vow of secrecy is over everyone he trusts enough with it."
"That's fair."
Your phone vibrates in your pocket with a response from John.

-- ectoBiologist [EB] began pestering easilyDistracted [ED] at 6:49 --

EB: hey aaron!
EB: sorry, i must have just missed you.
EB: dave told me you only just left.
EB: no need to thank me, i should be thanking you! :D
ED: Awh, you're welcome! I don't really know what I did though :P
EB: youre kidding, right?
EB: anyway jade let me know that shes free so the four of us are going to a cafe down the street.
EB: id really like it if you came.
EB: up for it?

"When were you going to tell me about the cafe meet up?" You ask, looking up from your phone.
"John specifically requested that he tell you himself. I think you should come. It should be fun, and since John has inducted you into the group, you should meet his cousin." Rose starts to make a call and waves you away.

Shrugging your shoulders, you decide to go for it.

ED: Yeah, sure!
ED: Sounds like fun :B
EB: thats great! dave seems to really like you as well.
ED: It didn't come across...
EB: oh hes like that with everyone.
EB: once he figured out we hadnt "spent the night" he said how nice you seemed.
ED: Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm...
EB: what?
ED: Whyever would he care about who you sleep with(?)
EB: :/
ED: Just sayin :D
EB: *ANYWAY*
EB: were gonna be down there in about an hour.
EB: meet you there?
ED: Okay then! :)

-- easilyDistracted [ED] ceased pestering ectoBiologist [EB] at 6:53 --

You show the last bit of your conversation to Rose and she smiles. "It is no use. He is totally oblivious. But on a side note, how are you so confident to message like that, to someone you only just met?"
It rapidly dawns on you for the second time that you have known John for less than 24 hours. "I don't really know, to be honest. I'm just more comfortable when I don't have to see their faces."
"Come on. You are finishing your hair before we go."

Chapter Text

"I'm obligated to warn you: the waiter may sniff you."
"Sniff me?" What does that even mean? Is it literal?
"Sniff you. Consider this a pre-warning."
The two of you are stood in front of Skaia, a very nice looking cafe, which seems to be empty at the minute except for a human girl asleep in the corner, said waiter, who seems to be a young looking troll girl. The worrying part is that she seemed to look directly at you every so often, yet ignores you completely.
"Can she-"
"This is Terezi. She's blind." With that, all her movement around the tables and even just the cleaning becomes very impressive, but before you have time to admire it more, Rose opens the door and she perks up from cleaning, smelling the air - it's an odd sight.

"Hey Rose! Good to see ya again! Sorry I missed you last night."
"Not at all. Kanaya gave me your apologies."
"And you brought fresh meat!" She walks over and lines up her red glasses with your eyes as if to look into them with terrifying accuracy. Walking all the way around you and - as Rose said - sniffing you, she finally stands up straight again, looking satisfied. "You smell like... Lemons. Can I ask what you look like?"
You start to respond, but Rose interrupts: "Not right now. I'll have a latte, please."
"Great! What about you, lemon boy?" Oh. That's you.
"Tea, white, no sugar please?"
"Coming right up!" She disappears through a door, and you take a seat.

Rose gestures to the sleeping girl. "Jade is narcoleptic."
"Oh, so that's-"
"JADE!" You are interrupted by John bursting through the door and running over to her as she comes to, rubbing her eyes. When she looks up, she sees- "JOHN!" and they practically fly into each other's arms. Now you can see the resemblance: same messy black hair, same soft face, same excitability. Soon after, she is giving hugs to Rose, then Dave, and she finally turns to you. "You must be Aaron! I'm Jade Harley. I've heard so-" She is stopped from running towards you by John's hand on her shoulder, and he leads her to the other side of the cafe to explain.

Great. Now she's upset too.

"Terezi?" you shout through to her.
"What's up, lemon boy?" This earns you an odd look from Dave, but he has yet to say anything.
"Can you make mine a coffee, please? Strong, white?"
"Can do. And for the other gentlemen?"
Dave speaks up. "Hot chocolate for John, the usual for me."
"On it!"
Rose shoots you a dirty look. "More coffee? Really?"
You immediately play the defensive. "I'm not addicted! A lot of people drink lots of coffee." She shakes her head. You change the topic. "Why can't Terezi know what I look like?"
"Terezi sees with her other senses. Mostly sound and smell, but she is most accurate with taste. Seeing what you look like is her asking to lick your face."
Ah. Not the best idea then. "Thanks for saving me from that!"
"Anytime."

Looking over at Jade and John, she seems okay now, and less frustrated. But he looks a bit embarrassed? Probably not. It is a bit hot in here. Jade playfully punches him on the shoulder, and you turn round to Dave, who is fiddling with his camera.
"Nice camera!"
"Thanks. Expensive, too. Don't touch."
"Now, cousin of mine, is that really a nice way to greet a new friend?"
"Whoever said I wanted to-" he stops mid sentence, looking up at you for the first time, with a sharp intake of breath. You prepared a couple of response; perhaps, "Yes, I am that ugly." What about, "No, that's just my face."
But you don't get to use any of them as he simply looks back down and mutters, "Yeah, sure, sorry."

Jade and John make their way back over to the table and the 5 of you all sit down, luckily with you having John on one side and Rose on the other: the two you're most comfortable with. Jade is spouting apologies and you tell her it's fine; not long after, Terezi comes back with four drinks on a plate - Jade has hers already - and this 'usual' of Dave's turns out to just be more apple juice. You aren't surprised and sip your coffee absentmindedly, trying to stay a little bit away from the table. As per usual, Rose is the first to speak up, raising her eyebrows knowingly.
"So, John, is there anyone else you want to drag away and talk to privately?"
John's response is quick. "No. Definitely not. I mean there could be in the future but definitely not right now, I mean I'm just happy to be sat around this table with my friends and thank you for getting me a hot chocolate Dave, you always know what I want and I should probably go talk to Terezi and-"
"John. Rambling."

You decide to join in. "Are you sure there's nothing to say?" He goes scarlet, but it's Jade who responds this time.
"He can't yet! Because..." She whispers something in Rose's ear, and John bangs his head against the table a few times.
"Tell Jade something? Sure! She'll only tell everyone you know."
Rose sits back, smug. "Well, that is quite the predicament." She has gathered both Dave's and your attention, though Dave pretends to not be interested.
"Sorry boys! Not for your ears." You both look frustrated. Jade continues and changes the topic, saving her cousin further embarrassment from whatever other secret was being kept. "So Aaron! We all know each other, but none of us really know much about you! Tell us about yourself!"

Begrudgingly at first but with growing confidence, you tell them the abridged version of your life story. You skirt around the topics of both family and 'friends', not wanting to worry or depress anyone, which leaves surprisingly little to tell. Most of what you tell is your various misadventures with Rose.
"And that leads us to now!" Jade is quite obviously not satisfied.
"No way. There has to be more to tell! Come on, spill!"
"That's really it. Nothing else to tell."
"Friends? Love life? Family?" You hunch over and squeeze your hands between your thighs. "Please?"
"Let us stop talking about the past for a bit and talk about the future. With classes starting soon, what is everyone taking?"

You knew John's, Dave's, and Rose's choices already, and Jade was majoring Astrophysics and minoring Engineering.
"That sounds so interesting!" You were considering Engineering yourself, but Chemistry just trumped it.
"That's our Jade! Ever since we were little she's always loved space. She's gonna go one day!" Jade blushed at John's words.
"Well, I'm gonna try. Have to do well in my studies first! Which just leaves you, Aaron." Rose already knew and Dave was still messing around with his camera. John and Jade looked at you eagerly, while Terezi sauntered over and collected mugs and glasses.

"Well, I decided on Programming for my major-" Dave looked up from his camera. "-and Chemistry as my minor."
John seemed over the moon with that: "We might have classes together! We should swap schedules!" You nod and grin, switching your opinion of that from disaster, past interesting, all the way up to 'good'.
It was Dave, finally speaking up, that had the surprise. "My bro's teaching that computer shit this year."
"Woah woah woah. Hold the phone, Striderp," They both had derpy nicknames for each other - how adorable! "Dirk is in town? And teaching?" So Strider was his last name?
John Egbert, Rose Lalonde, Dave Strider, Jade Harley.
And you.
Aaron.
The new kid. Outcast.

Eh. You ignore the thought and ask a question. "Is he not around often or something?"
"He's never around. And when he is? He stays for hours, maybe days. Then he's gone again," Jade's face is a picture, a mixture of shock, excitement, and her usual happiness, apparently. "So suddenly around for at least a year? Kind of a big deal."
Dave, as per usual, seems to not care about the whole ordeal. When he speaks again, it's monotonous and paced. "Bro raised me himself. Managed to stick around long enough for that."

There is a brief period of silence before John breaks it. "So Aaron, got a surname?"
Jade seemed interested too: "Yeah! You know all of ours."

A while ago, that would have sent you into a state of shock. Now, you put on a happy face and make a joke. "Nope. Just Aaron. One name wonder, like Cher, or Sting, or Adele or whatever."
Rose rolls her eyes. "I have known Aaron for years and he still has not told me. He formally requests to go by Smith wherever he goes."
"So are you a musician? I play the bass myself! We should start a band!"
"Heh," you shrug. "Not good enough to be a musician. I sing and play the guitar, both to the quality of a dying cat."
"Lies! He sang with me last night and it was beautiful." John smiled at you again. "I play keys, and you have perfect pitch, okay. Just accept it."
"Okay... Whatever you say." You both laugh.

Terezi appeared and butted in. "If you're making a band, you're gonna perform live here. For free, of course. It's only fair for all the times I've given you discounts, John. That's justice."

Heh. Justice.
It's at that point that a grouchy-faced troll walks in, talking on his phone. His messy hair and nubby horns are totally disproportionate to his voice.

"NO, YOU FECULENT WORTHLESS SHITCLOWN, I JUST OWN A TOILET BECAUSE I WANT TO LOOK AT IT. OF COURSE, I WANT YOU TO PICK UP TOILET PAPER YOU FUMING VOMIT-INDUCING CACTUSFUCK."
All five of you are looking at him now as he hangs up.
"The fuck are you looking at?"

"Now, Karkles, is that really the best way to address customers in my cafe?"

Chapter Text

Terezi brings "Karkles" over to the far side of the cafe and starts talking to him quietly and calmly. He calms down a little as well, only yelling the occasional swear or insult; your personal favourite is "nook eating shit stain," and make a note to use it wherever possible before turning to Rose, who seems least surprised out of everyone.
"Should we just... Go?"
"That is Terezi's friend, Karkat. This is one of the calmest I have ever seen him, however, I feel that perhaps leaving is the best idea." Almost on cue, he begins to raise his voice. You all drop some money to cover the bill and head to the door, Jade and John now deep in whispers about whatever secrets they had. John pauses for a second, turns to you, and signs: I'll message you! while being dragged away by Jade. You start signing back.
Sign? Really?
If I stay to chat, Jade might kill me. Gotta run!
The two of them disappear into the car and leave, and Dave, for some reason, is nowhere to be seen.
"Dave...?"
"He uses the cafe storage cupboard as a darkroom. He is likely developing some photographs."
"Ah."
It seems that this morning is the morning for awkward silence, and right now is no exception.

"Are you gonna tell me-"
"No."
"Aw, come one! Please?"
"No."
"Why not?"
"It needs to come from John."
"You didn't hear it from John."
"Jade tells me everything. If you tell her something, I automatically know. It is a fact that John knows well." You fake a pout for a moment, then laugh.
"Fine, but only because I respect him." It's half true. You also know you're never going to get Rose to tell you. She is notoriously the best at keeping secrets; the downside is she makes her own decisions on who deserves to know and who doesn't. But, if you were on the latter list, she would never spill.
"I must attend to my employment. I trust you can make it home without me."
"Rose, we can see the building from here. But never mind that, how did you get a job already?"
"I applied a while before we arrived. It's still early in the morning, of course."
"But what if-"
"I also applied for early timetable release. That way I could organise my working hours around my classes."
Your Rose, always three steps ahead. You wave her off and wander up to your apartment at a leisurely pace, with nothing to do for the rest of the day. Rose is working, John and Jade have gone off together, Dave is developing photos...

Yup. That's all the people you know.

You step into the kitchen and see that it is still messy from your impromptu cooking session, deciding exactly how to spend the next little while. Plugging your phone into your speakers, you run a hot bowl of water, do the washing up, wipe down surfaces, wipe down the table, dry up, and put all of it away, before finding your laptop and setting up on the table. You keep all of your personal files on a hard drive - you're going to need a lot of space free to do all your Programming work on it - so you plug that in and open up a hidden, password protected folder. Finally, you pull out from under your bed a piece of tech that not even Rose knows you have: a sketch tablet. You have a few new muses, after all.

Your memory isn't great at the best of times but you try to picture this morning, at the cafe, with everyone sat down together, and put it all into one frame in your head. Once you're happy with the image, you put pen to paper, or rather, stylus to tablet. You only ever get the chance to do this when you're alone; your work is terrible and you would never tell anyone you did it at all, let alone show them, least of all Rose. Sitting forward, you just let yourself sink into the screen and relax. After all, it always looked good right up until you completed it.

It's a couple hours later when a notification pops up. You have a pester from John, again. You open it up.

-- ectoBiologist [EB] began pestering easilyDistracted [ED] at 12:02 --
ectoBiologist sent a link.
-- ectoBiologist [EB] ceased pestering easilyDistracted [ED] at 12:02 --

No message or explanation? Just a link?

It's John, and he wouldn't do something to spite you or get hacked, right? You click the link and cross your fingers.

-- easilyDistracted [ED] began pestering sBURB --
ED: Wha...
TG: yo who the fuck is this
EB: thats aaron and hes here now.
EB: yay!
TG: cool
ED: ...Dave?
TG: the one and only
GG: hey its aaron!!!!
GG: jade here :P
GG: anyone know where rose is?
ED: She's at work
TT: She is actually on lunch break right now.
EB: hey! everyones here! :D
EB: so what are we all doing?
TG: finally finished with my fucking photos
TG: they are the absolute shit
EB: thats good to hear!
GG: dave, your photos are probably always great :)
TG: yeah i know
ED: I'd love to see them some time
TG: nope
TG: for strider eyes only
ED: *sigh*
GG: well me and john are doing musical things
TT: John and I.
GG: same thing!
GG: john and I are doing music
EB: jade is amazing at bass.
EB: in other news water is wet.
GG: awh, thanks john! :D
GG: so what are you up to aaron?

Convincing lie convincing lie convincing lie convincing

ED: Nothing really

STUPID STUPID STUPID STUPID

EB: fair enough.

Just according to plan.

EB: but back to the task at hand.
EB: me and jade were thinking...
EB: wait rose stop ill correct myself.
EB: *jade and i* were thinking...
EB: we should make skaia like a weekly thing!
EB: where we all just go down and relax for a bit!
TG: cool
TT: That idea appeals to me.
ED: Sure! Sounds like fun
GG: yay!
EB: details to come!

You lean back and groan to no one in particular, closing down your computer and unplugging your tablet. It was going terribly, anyway. Unfortunately, this leaves you alone with your thoughts.

The first, foremost, and burning question was quite obvious. Why had you decided to be friends with these people? Yes, they were friends of Rose, and yes, they had been the nicest to you out of anyone you had ever met, but, why here? Why now? What had changed?

You still deserved your 'friends'. But these people made you think that maybe you could have friends as well...

Your head hurts.

Chapter Text

Things are rather uneventful until classes start. John and Jade stay perky, Dave stays 'cool', you stay awkward and conflicted and confused, and Rose stays... well, Rose. But that's okay, you think to yourself. It's nice when things don't change. However, you quickly learn that change can be good, starting with your first Programming lecture. Mr Strider, or Bro, or Dirk, or whatever he wants to be called, is young, charismatic, and has a lot of heart. He reminds you of Dave in a lot of ways - the blonde hair, the slim stature, and the always shades - but he's surprisingly down to earth, considering his incredible grasp of both programming and robotics. Over the next week you learn a fair bit about him: For one, he loves anime. A lot. He is also so advanced in intelligence construction that his sunglasses house a sentient AI which he considers his best work. And most pertinently, he seems to like you. He immediately picked you out as one of the students who appreciated that not all of programming is sat behind a computer, and once more picked you out as one of his best students. He almost tutors you privately, answers all your silly questions and even sets you higher work to accelerate you through the course. Off-topic, you talk about your group of friends, but Dave more than any..

"He's just so chill and relaxed, you know? It's awesome. I sorta wish I could be that cool. So proud of him."
You look at him quizzically. "He idolises you! It doesn't come across, but that's what Rose thinks, anyway."
"You're right when you say it doesn't come across. She said that before but it seems kinda a long shot."
"Seriously. Has she ever been wrong on this sort of thing?"
"Not that I remember."
"So just listen!"
"... it might be something to think about." You laugh, look at your watch, and stand up.
"Need to get going. Chemistry."
"Kay. Catch you later, bro."

Chemistry, as opposed to Programming which you are breezing through, is nightmarishly difficult. Miss Crocker, or Jane, as she insists you call her, brings life to even the dullest topics, but if not for John at your side every class this week, you think you may not have survived it.

"It's just a basic substitution!"
You crumple the sheet you were working on and bury your face in your hands. "Basic? This is impossible!"
He shakes his head, but smiles. "Not basic as in easy. Basic as in alkaline. Here, I'll show you." He takes the pen from your hand and a fresh sheet of paper and explains it all to you, slowly and carefully.

With his help, you actually make some progress in lessons, not sure if you regret picking Chemistry or not. Yeah, it's hard, but now you and John have chemistry.

No! You have Chemistry! Not chemistry. Semantics are real important.

When you get home on Friday, you collapse into a heap on the sofa next to Rose, who is already sat, knitting.
"Did you have a tough day today?"
"Something like that."
Getting out your phone, you notice some messages. First is a message to the group of the five of you:

TG: so were meeting at skaia tomorrow morning
TG: same time same place
TG: its gonna be fucking great

But the second is the interesting one.

-- ectoBiologist [EB] began pestering easilyDistracted [ED] at 15:49 --
EB: i meant to ask you earlier but you were struggling so i left it.
EB: but i need your help on something.
EB: possibly roses too.
ED: Should we come over?
EB: yes.
EB: wait no!
EB: dave is here.
ED: *gasp*
ED: Are you finally gonna do it???
EB: tomorrow at skaia.
EB: gonna ask him out.
ED: *SQUEALS*
ED: We'll get him out
ED: Then we're coming over to save your tushie
ED: Don't you worry
EB: thank you so much!!!!
ED: Aaron and Rose are on the case ;)
-- easilyDistracted [ED] ceased pestering ectoBiologist [EB] at 15:54 --

You drop your phone in excitement. "ROSE!!!"
"I am quite literally directly next to you."
"I need Dave out the apartment."
"Might I enquire as to why?"
"Because we're helping John plan for asking him out tomorrow!" You feel yourself getting giddy.
Rose does not respond but pulls out her phone. "Karkat?"
You can't hear the other end of the call, even at Karkat's volume.
"I need you to pick up Dave and go out. I need you to because it's very important that John is home alone. Kar-... Karkat jus-... I'm calling in Rome." She hangs up a few seconds after.
"Is he game?"
"He will be at the building shortly."
"And what's the deal with Rome?"
"Many people owe me favours." If there is more explanation, she doesn't offer it.

It's not long until Rose gets a pester saying they've left, but you didn't need, thanks to Karkat's voice blaring through the walls. Once the coast is clear, the two of you sneak over to John's door (you sneak, and Rose walks like a normal person) and knock. When John opens the door, it is with a look of worry mixed with anticipation mixed with relief.
"Please come in, thank you so much for doing this!" He leads you through to the table and sits down.
"It should be me who is thanking you for giving my cousin an appropriate suitor."
"Can we not call it that, please?" He fidgets, twisting his wrists in his hands.
"Honestly though, John, I'm not sure why you called me for this. I've only ever had one relationship before, and..." You start and stop yourself. This was John's evening, and plus, no one wants to hear your silly stories. "... it wasn't great."
"Let's look at all the people that know: Jade, Rose, and you. I am not asking for help from Jade; that would be so awkward. Which leaves you two. And since Rose is in a relationship, and you keep me sane, I figured both of you together would be the best option."
He specifically asked for you, and 'possibly' Rose. He's trying to cover up something. This is probably all part of some elaborate ruse so that at the end all of your old 'friends' can...
No. John's evening. None of your crazy.
"Fair enough!" You smile at him, and he beams back. "So did you have any ideas on how you wanted to do it?"
"I think I just want to stand up, call him over to one side and just ask him. Short, sweet, to the point. Right?" He managed to pick a plan just like him.
"That does sound like a good plan. However, are you sure you would not like to do more? If I enlist Kanaya we can greatly increase the size of this ordeal."
"No," he responds, shaking his head rather viciously. "I don't want a big deal made of it. Should I be making a big deal out of it? I mean, I've never really asked someone out that I really really liked before, so it's kind of new ground."
"John," Rose says firmly, rolling her eyes.
"It's just I have no idea really what I'm doing and that's why I needed you guys to help because I feel like I'm going to mess it up without you and if I mess it up not only will I lose my potential boyfriend but also my best friend so the stakes are so high and I just-"
"John."
"What?"
"Rambling."
"Argh!" He buries his face in his hands like you did earlier. "I just want to get it right! What do I even say?"
"Just tell him how you feel! There's no point in rehearsing something because you're gonna be nervous and forget it when the time comes. If it comes from the heart instead of your head, that's better, because that's what really matters."
You fold your arms on the table as he looks up at you. "Really?"
"Really." Standing up, you move around behind him and start kneading your hands into his shoulders. He visibly relaxes. "Just gotta chill a bit."

The door slams open. "FUCK DAVE I SAID YOU COULDN'T GO IN YET!"
"Fuck you, I need my wallet. Sup Egderp, Lalonde," he says, then pauses. "Aaron?" You stop massaging and throw your hands in the air.
"Wha-"
"You any good?"
John responds, sounding almost half asleep. "He's amazing..."
"You're doing me later then. Cool?" He rummages behind the sofa, runs out and slams the door again.

"That was a rather close call. He almost heard us talking about what is going to happen tomorrow."
"Way to state the obvious, Rose."
"Who, almost saw what, now...?" Absentmindedly your hands went back on him, and under them, John has all but fallen asleep. "Fuck... You should do this for a living... But just to me..." You laugh.
"If I decided I would cook for you, massage you, or watch films with you, for a living, but you gotta pick one..."
Some sound comes out of him which you guess is a half-hearted groan of a complaint before he replies: "Nooooo... You have to do... All of them... If we're married..."
You aren't sure how long it is before he finally lets you stop. ('Lets you', because otherwise he pulled the saddest face anytime you mentioned it and you couldn't stand it.)
Rolling his shoulders and tilting his neck, he looks refreshed and ready. "That was incredible." Laughing and blushing, you shrug your shoulders. "No, I'm serious!" Where do I sign up for more?" More blush, and another shrug. "Fine. But I still need to pick out something to wear!"
"Not for asking him out, you don't. That's just normal stuff, but do something with your hair. You'll need something special for your first date, though."
"Fear not. I will ask Kanaya to come over when the time comes."
"IF the time comes," John corrects. "And it probably won't. He's probably going to say no."
"I dunno, John. I've got a good feeling about this."

Chapter Text

The human body has a process - you forget what it's called - by which it ignores certain impulses from the nervous system. It's why, if you aren't thinking about it, you aren't hyper aware of, say, the feeling of your clothes on your body, or every time your foot shifts slightly in your shoes.

Right now, lying in your bed: that process seems to be taking a coffee break.

After a few hours of lying awake, feeling the quilt press on you and you pressing on the mattress, tossing and turning, you give up on sleep for tonight and grab your keys, trying to get up and out the door as quietly as possible. Taking your way down the stairs once more and walking out onto the nearly empty street in clothes you threw on, you start walking.

The even pace of your footsteps is predictable, countable, programmable; the slight swaying of your arms is synchronised and basic; every part of your existence is predictable and...

Your train of thought is stopped by a passerby you nearly knock into.

"Oh my gosh, I'm so sorry," you mumble out, with the vocal consistency of a boy hitting puberty.

"Don't worry about it, chap! We all get a little lost in our head a little at some point." You smile sheepishly at him, and he looks at you, concerned. "Penny for your thoughts?"

Suddenly, like an industrial crane lifting a small pipe, your ability to speak coherently is stolen from you. "I, uh, well, um, err..."

"I don't know if you've got anywhere to go, but if you haven't, does a walk take your fancy?" You muster a subtle nod and turn around, following the man.

He's taller than you, and his green eyes scream "Hi! Nice to meet you!" in a way that you didn't think was possible. You can't seem to think of any other word to describe them other than... 

Friendly. 

"If you're worried about me being some perverted rapscallion preying on innocent college kids, don't worry. I'm just visiting a friend and I'm diddly darn sure he won't mind you tagging along." You chuckle softly and continue to drag your feet along the pavement, not really having enough mental energy to produce an argument.

"You know, one of my friend's kids knows a guy with all sorts of ND stuff." You stop and look up at him. "Yeah, it's not exactly hard to tell at the minute. Am I making you uncomfortable?" You shake your head softly and he continues.

"He was her best friend in the whole world. Still is, actually. And he hates himself. Seriously hates himself. Depression, anxiety, the whole package. And he's never going to realise how much that he makes her smile every time they talk, which is kinda sad, don't you think?

"See, the way I see it, all people should know how much they can make someone else smile. It's taken this kid all the way to college to realise that he deserves to go to college, but I don't think it'll be too much longer now before it clicks. You remind me a lot of him, and I got the same hopes for both of you."

He turns and beams at you, and you can't help but smile. You go to say thank you, thank you for caring, but different words come out of your mouth.

"Is he hot?"

The two of you laugh for a moment before he responds. "I'll have to ask."

 

When you finally approach the house that the man was going to, he turns and asks you a question. "All this time, I never asked your name. What is it?"

"Aaron."

"Mine's Jake!" He knocks on the door and you hear rustling from inside when a very familiar man opens the door with pointy sunglasses and slick blond hair and he's in a vest and boxers and oh god oh no oh fuck it's your programming teacher

"Hey, Jake, what's up! And... uh... Aaron... hey..." He sheepishly slouches a little and you dash in the opposite direction.

The opposite direction? The opposite direction of what exactly? You can't think of what you would possibly be running from. You just decided to have a sudden impromptu sprint! For as far as you can go!

Paranoia is a bitch, especially when it's right.

Chapter Text

You run for a while before you start to get tired and jog. Curse your lazy ass! Holding the side of your head, you make a mental note to get to, like, a gym or something. Of course, you used to go to a gym, but since you moved around so often you could never hold down the time to make it worthwhile. But since you're gonna be here for the foreseeable future, it might be a good idea?

Changing the subject? What subject? Stalling your thoughts? Quelling your feelings? Never heard of 'em.

Can't go home. Can't face Rose like this, and you're too unstable to be quiet on reentry. Plus, John and Dave, being on the same floor, might have heard you.

Oh god. Dave.

Dirk probably already called Dave, and now John and Jake and the two of them are probably laughing at you; plus Miss Crocker probably knows by now and Rose and Kanaya and Terezi and Karkat and...

Everyone you know, probably.

You don't have anywhere else left to go: can't go home, can't go to any of your friends' places, can't go to Skaia, can't go anywhere... In the end, you find yourself sat under a bridge watching cars go by on the busy road below. You take a chance and shoot off a message to the one person you're sure has no connection to all this, someone who doesn't even know your name.

-- easilyDistracted [ED] began pestering gallowsCalibrator [GC] at 03:12 --
ED: Heya GC
ED: Whats up?
GC: NOT MUCH MY M41N M4N H3H3 >:]
GC: S4M3 OLD S4M3 OLD
GC: CH1LL1NG W1TH CG
GC: WH4T 4BOUT YOU?
ED: Shits hit the fan...
GC: YOU KNOW 3D
GC: ON3 OF TH3S3 D4YS 1 WONT B3 4W4K3 FOR YOUR M1DN1GHT M3NT4L BR34DOWNS
ED: Yeah you will you insomniac
ED: You can't get enough of my whining
GC: <3
GC: SO WH4TS GO1N ON?

You give GC the brief version of everything that has happened since you came to college, omitting names of course, right up to and including the thing with Jake and Dirk just now.

ED: So now I'm just sorta
ED: Standing
ED: On this bridge
ED: Trying to make sense of everything
GC: WOW
GC: TH4T SOUNDS ROUGH >:/
GC: BUT S33 H3R3S TH3 THING
GC: HOLD ON, K4RK4T WOK3 UP
GC: I M34N, CG.

Wait. Karkat?
You cannot be serious.

ED: Uh
ED: Karkat?
GC: Y34H. H3 C4N B3 4 L1TTL3 CR4NKY F1RST TH1NG 1N TH3 MORN1NG
GC: 1F H3 W4S 4CTU4LLY H3R3 1D SHOOSH H1M TO SL33P
ED: Karkat.
ED: As in Karkat Vantas?
GC: NOT 3X4CTLY A COMMON N4M3 >:D
GC: YOU KNOW H1M?
ED: Uh
ED: In a manner of speaking
ED: Anyway bye
GC: WH4T? WH4T DO YOU M34N?

-- easilyDistracted [ED] ceased pestering gallowsCalibrator [GC] at 03:19 --

***

[[incoming call: >:P BL1ND JUST1C3]]
"Terezi, we were literally just fucking talking. What's so important that you can't just type it?"
"You remember ED?"
"What, the shitlick you have some weird moiriallegiance-y shit with? How could I forget?"
"They know you, somehow. And I think they might know me as well. I think they came to college this year and have been to Skaia."
"And you just, fucking, guessed all that?"
"Call it a hunch. Have you got all of Jade's crew on PC?"
"... No. I don't have Aaron. I'll go wake Rose up."

***

[[incoming call: DONT SAVE MY NAME AS SOMETHING STUPID]]
"Karkat. To what do I owe this... sudden awakening?"
"How are you always so calm as shit and composed? Didn't you just fucking wake up?"
"Karkat, cut to the chase. What is going on?"
"Aaron. What's his PC?"
"Uh... Easily Distracted, if I recall correctly. Is there a point to this other than you trying to contact my roommate at ungodly hours?"
"Fuck, Lalonde. Just let me talk! He's stood on some bridge somewhere, and I'm scared for him."
"What? I think you'll find that Aaron is still in bed, as he has been since-... I'm on my way."

***

[[incoming call: how am i related to you]]
"You know, some of us like to sleep at night."
"You can't fool me, Dave. I know you never sleep."
"Oh shit, you got me. I am actually a Highlander. Never sleep, never die. I just wander around aimlessly for the rest of time, waiting for someone to maybe finally decapitate me. I'm like a lone ranger, living outside the-"
"Dave. Focus."
"What's up, broseph?"
"Aaron was just at my house.
"What?"
"Yeah, he just turned up with Jake, I don't-"
"Jake? You two getting busy again?"
"No. No. We're just friends now. Point is, he ran off and I don't know where. Can you ask Rose if he's home? I'm worried."
"On it. Thanks, bro."
"Anytime."

***

Running out of their rooms, both Rose and Dave lock their door and see the other do the same.
"Aaron-?"
"Gone. Who told you?"
"Dirk."
"Karkat. How does Dirk know?"
"How does Karkat know?"
"It does not matter. We will find him. We can form a search party."
"No. Gotta be careful about this, sis. Don't wanna spook him."
"Right. Terezi and Karkat are both out looking. With you and I, plus Dirk-"
"- and Jake-"
"- and Jake, that should be plenty. John and Jade need not be rudely awoken. He must be nearby."
"He's near Dirk's."
"That narrows it down. Plus, he's on or near a bridge somewhere."
"Oh God. Come on Aaron, hang in there..."
They both set off at a run once out of the building, knowing in their head exactly where to go.

***

[[incoming call: the sickest beats]]
"I don't have time for your bullshit, Strider. I'm a tad fucking busy-"
"Looking for Aaron. I know. Dirk told me."
"The fuck?"
"Doesn't matter. Point is, he's at Leaper's."
"Leaper's Bridge?"
"No, Leaper's Pizzeria in the middle of town you fucking- YES LEAPER'S BRIDGE!"
"Oh shit... I'm on my way."
"Stay kinda away, okay? Don't spook him."
"Got it. Thanks, nook-whiff."
"Welcome, sweet cheeks."

***

Leaper's Bridge is the name you see etched into the placard on the bench sat right in the middle, and you think it an apt name. Leaper's Bridge: so named after James Leaper, one of the founders of the college, but of course, it is more colloquially known as the bridge where a student threw themselves off into the river below a few years back. Leaper's Bridge. Heh.

You take one cautious step up onto the brick siding, followed by another, straddling the metal railing and sitting down, feeling the wind rushing around you.

Good choice, Aaron. Good choice.

Chapter Text

"So what the hell are we gonna do?" Karkat mutters in as low a voice as he can muster, glancing over at the boy sat carelessly on the bridge railing.
"My brother was right when he said that we can not risk spooking him. I know him better than anyone, and I can certainly tell you that if all four of us go up at once, it will be a huge risk."
"So what, we just stay here watching him?"
"I do not think that would be ideal either," she replies. In a different situation, she might have rolled her eyes at Terezi's question, but this didn't seem like exactly the right time.
"I'm gonna go." Dave stood up straight and squared his shoulders. "Rose, you're too close to him right now. And I'm not sure he could handle either of you two's shit right now. You can be a bit... full on." Scowling, but nodding in agreement, Karkat led Terezi away, Rose tailing.
"I have complete faith in you, brother."

For once, making sure his footsteps were loud, Dave made his way up to the bridge from the corner they were standing around. Gotta be loud, he thought. Can't sneak up on him.

***

When you heard the steps you visibly started flinching at each one, prompting the culprit to step more quietly, but still not silent. He breathed in deeply and began to speak in a smooth, Texan accent. You know that voice by now.

"What's going on, kid-"
"If you're here to help, don't," you cut him off, with a confidence not your own. "I don't need a push. I can do it myself." You don't turn around, continuing to stare straight ahead.
"Call me stupid, but giving you a push doesn't seem like it would be helping you."
"No, but it would help you."
"Sending one of my friends sailing to his possible death? That doesn't sound right."
"Friend? You've been good to me and I've been nothing but a burden. What sort of idiot would call that friendship?"
Dave's voice gets closer to you. "This sort of idiot, apparently," he says, stepping up onto the wall himself. "Since I've been so good to you and you've been so bad-" you can almost feel the sarcasm dripping from those words. "- I want a favour. Before you... do anything stupid."
"Anything."
"Wait until tomorrow." What? "If you still want to do it tomorrow, we'll talk again. But no offing yourself until tomorrow. No even thinking about it until then, okay?"
Tomorrow.
Yeah. You can do that, you think, nodding and standing up behind the railing again. He jumps down behind you. "Then just come down, please." One step back and you fall straight off the wall, directly into Dave's arms, carrying you bridal style. "Woah. You okay, kid?"
"Yeah, I'm..." You let out a big sigh. "... I'm alright."
He starts walking, refusing to put you down, and mutters to you: "Don't scare us like that again, please."
"I'm sorry-"
"No." He kisses you on the forehead and carries on walking. "Not your fault."
he kissed you oh dear gog oh fuck what the shit is this
You pull out your phone to try and hide your face from his, not letting him see you blush, and see about a thousand pesterchum notifications.

-- gallowsCalibrator [GC] starting pestering easilyDistracted [ED] at 03:20 --
GC: 44RON?
GC: 44RON YOUR3 K1ND4 SC4R1NG M3
GC: 1M SORRY I HON3STLY H4D NO 1D34
GC: W3'R3 COM1NG TO G3T YOU, OK4Y?
GC: PL34S3 DON'T DO 4NYTH1NG STUP1D >:/

-- tentacleTherapist [TT] starting pestering easilyDistracted [ED] at 03:26 --
TT: Aaron.
TT: I have only just noticed that you have left your room. Karkat is showing genuine worry, and not even trying to hide it.
TT: I know that you probably will not answer this and am unsure if you will even read it.
TT: But whether you do or not, take care of yourself. Please.
TT: A lot of people really care about you.

-- turntechGodhead [TG] started pestering easilyDistracted [ED] at 03:34 --
TG: yo aaron
TG: dont really know what youre planning on doing but
TG: just
TG:
TG:
TG: hang in there

You reply to Rose, letting her know you're okay, but you keep your message to Terezi short. That's definitely something to be addressed later.

"Tez filled me in earlier. I know that shit has gotta be rough, kid. Don't have to talk about it if you don't want, but you gotta know that you can talk to me about anything, okay?" You drop your phone to your chest and look up, but no, he's still looking straight ahead. Just good timing, clearly.
"I, uh, yeah. Um, thanks."
"I'm sorry we got off on the wrong foot. Wait- serious conversation time, I'm putting you down." He gently tilts you up till you can stand, then shoves his hands in his pockets and keeps walking alongside you. "I, uh, Rose is helping me realise that I can come off as a giant fucking ass sometimes, and I want to apologise, I guess. I was a dick, and you didn't deserve that."
You consider going off on a rant again about how you deserve every bad thing that ever happened to you, but you decide against it. "It's okay! Honestly." You trust Terezi not to have told anyone anything more than was necessary. "You said "us" earlier...?"
"Me and Rose, Karkles and Tez, Bro and Jake. Worried sick. We didn't want to wake up and worry anyone else. You sure do make an impression on people though. I've never known Jake so worried and you only met him the once, so yeah."

You take another step forward.
And then another.
And another.

It dawns on you that that has always been all you needed to do.
One foot in front of the other.

Chapter Text

You half expected to be shouted at by the time you get home, and honestly, you would have deserved it completely. Dave and Rose were both worried sick about you, and since the former wasn't going to do it, you figured the latter must be ready to give you hell.

Surprisingly (to you, and unsurprisingly to anyone else), Rose is neither angry nor ready to shout. As you stick your key in the lock and open the door she simply stands up and opens out her arms, inviting you to sink into them in a hug you felt that you really needed.

"I was so worried about you," she whispers, and you apologise under your breath. You glance around the room and spot a troll you recognise from photos, shooting daggers from her eyes. Must be Kanaya; what a phenomenal first impression you've made. “You just worried her is all,” Rose continues as if reading your mind. “She does like you, honestly. It is just that she doesn’t like to see me worried.” Kanaya nods reluctantly to punctuate it, as she grabs you by the shoulders and holds you at arm’s length, her purple eyes staring into yours. “I was worried, Aaron. I still am!”
“I know, I’m so so-”

 

“No,” she cuts you off. “Anyone would have reacted in the same way, and it’s over and done with now.
“Can you set up a group with everyone in it? I want to tell everyone I’m okay.”
“We already have one, Aaron. I will add you.”

-- easilyDistracted [ED] began pestering AaronSearchParty --
ED: Hey it’s me
ED: I’m okay now I’m all safe
TT: Thank goodness.
ED: I’m sorry about all this I made you all worry for no reason
GC: 1TS OK4Y! W3R3 JUST GL4D YOUR3 OK4Y >:D
CG: WHAT SHE SAID.
GT: Thank the heavens!

When people you don’t recognise start messaging, you ask for Rose’s help, and she points Dirk, Jake, and Karkat out to you.

TT: Dave already filled us in that he had found you, but it’s still a relief to hear from you.
CG: IF YOU EVER NEED ANYONE TO TALK TO, WELL.
GC: YOU C4N T4LK TO M3!
CG: YOU CAN MESSAGE ME IF YOU
CG: TEREZI, YOU FUCKER! I WASN’T FINISHED!
TT: The sentiment is there, Karkat.
TT: Regardless, I think it follows for all of us.
ED: Thanks guys I really appreciate it
ED: I might just
ED: Uh
ED: Take you up on that some time
TG: the same goes for me in case you hadnt realised
TT: And I.

“Rose, you are stood right next to me.” She shoves you for ruining the moment.
But she’s right, isn’t she? This is a moment. A big one. Because you’ve got a group of friends around you that you know are going to support you through good and bad, and fuck knows they’re supporting you through the bad. This is…
This is good.
You say your goodbyes and leave the chat, resolving to apologise again to everyone in person some point soon, and are about to close down pesterchum until you get a pester through from someone.

 

-- golgothasTerror [GT] began pestering easilyDistracted [ED] --
GT: I guess we should formally introduce ourselves!
GT: I had no idea you would be so close to my group of friends.
GT: Im jake! I guess you already knew that though.
GT: Im close friends with dirk jane and roxy. So i guess that makes me pretty darn intertwined with your life!
ED: Hahaha I guess it does!
ED: I’m Aaron. I’m friends with Rose and Dave, plus I’m taught by Dirk and Jane, so that’s pretty close-knit
GT: Oh i can come back to you on your question!
GT: The guy i was talking about.
GT: Though definitely too young for me i can say with certainty that he is a very handsome man.
GT: (Its you)
ED: Me?????
GT: Anyway i gotta dash off! Talk soon!
ED: WAIT
-- golgothasTerror [GT] ceased pestering easilyDistracted [ED] --

You slump back into your seat, exhausted.

"Why don't you take the day off tomorrow?" Kanaya pipes up, having noticeably softened since you came in. Rose was right, she was just worried about her. "Go to bed; I'm sure things will be fine in your absence." She makes a good point.

"Thank you, that's a good idea," you mutter, before thanking the both of them and turning in, still in your clothes. You would say you were asleep as soon as your head hit the pillow, but honestly, you think that you were asleep long before that.

***

By the time you wake up, you feel a bit more rested, and at least a little calmer. You stand up, stretch, and change into your PJs, wanting to be more comfortable, before walking around the apartment for any signs of life: finally finding one of your roommate's famous notes.

Dearest Aaron,
Although you have - sensibly - chosen to stay away from class today, I have decided to go in myself. I trust that you can take care of yourself, however, if you need me for any reason, do not hesitate to contact me.

We are all here for you, Aaron.
Rose

You smile and go to pick up your phone from where you left it last night, plopping down onto the sofa. An email pings through from Dirk, excusing you from class today, and one from Jane, excusing you from class tomorrow if you need it. Sending a quick thank you back, you switch over to pesterchum to respond to John, who was apparently pestering you a couple of hours ago.

Oh shit; it's half 11. You really did need the sleep, huh.

-- ectoBiologist [EB] began pestering easilyDistracted [ED] --
EB: hey hey hey hey!
EB: i was wondering where you were this morning but rose told me to ask you.
EB: she also said you might not respond for a while so dont worry if its been a while! its okay!
EB: whenever you wanna talk thats cool.

Rose left you the choice. Now you get to decide whether to tell him the truth or not, which you appreciate. As much as you would have hated for yet more people to find out without you knowing, somehow this is different, so you decide eventually to tell him the abridged story of what really happened last night. He responds a couple minutes later.

EB: oh my gog! i really hope youre okay now.
ED: Not perfect, but definitely better. I think I just need the day to rest up and then I should be fine :D
EB: great! im glad to hear it!
EB: the four of us are probably gonna head to skaia later? so youre welcome to come if youre up for it! :)
ED: Let me know when you're on your way and I'll see how I feel
ED: Sorry
EB: i did just say "if youre up for it" didnt i? i meant it! its okay if you cant make it well just meet up another time!
ED: Thanks John
ED: Thank you so much it really means a lot
EB: <3
ED: Oh! Uh
ED: <4
ED: Yeah!
ED: Wait fuck
ED: *<3
EB: hehehe ill talk to you soon!

-- ectoBiologist [EB] ceased pestering easilyDistracted [ED] --

Rubbing your eyes and leaning back a little bit more, you try to comprehend what the fuck just happened.

Chapter Text

To your relief, everyone agrees to completely ignore the events of last night and this morning, not mentioning them again, although it did mean having to explain everything to Jade. You guess that you're glad everything is out in the open? She didn't seem particularly happy about being the last person to know but she was totally sympathetic. Just like everyone else.

It's hard to understand why.

Deep down, you probably have some basic understanding, some delusion that this is okay and you're worth the effort that everyone is going through to make you feel okay, but to be honest, you have more important things to think about, like getting ready to leave for Skaia.

Oh, and working the fuck out of your feelings. That seems like a thing that needs to happen at some point, and you consider it to be better to get it over with sooner rather than later. When you think about it though, it seems like a waste of an exercise; surely with the two of them about to get together, it's better not to think too hard, lest you discover something you don't want to delve into?

You realise that you just used the words "lest", and "delve", in the same inner thought sentence, and make a mental note to act more like a person from this century.

John is, well...
There isn't really an excellent way to voice it. He's kind and considerate, but also seems not afraid to speak his mind? Underneath the sarcastic yet shy exterior, there's a raw energy and confidence that you just can't seem to muster, as much as his - for the want of a better phrase - complete cluelessness may betray him. He's a genuinely nice person, even to you, which is still in the process of blowing your mind. Then again, that applies to everyone you're in contact with at the minute (bar one) so you guess it's just a common feature that you can't really attribute to one person. Still. It's weird to have more than one person care about your existence positively, and maybe it'll take at least a little more getting used to.

And he sent you a heart? For some reason? You wonder if he does this with his friends often and make a second mental note to ask someone later; maybe when you're feeling a little more human. It does seem like the sort of thing that he would send to people on the one hand, but equally, he has never done it before, so it leaves a lot of grey area.

Then there's Dave. Dave Davidson Davids. Or, David Elizabeth Strider, as Rose confessed to you, much to his dismay. The definition of cool, he likes to think, but you and quite a few other people know the truth: he's a nerd. And damn it, he should be proud! Behind the cold facade sort of dealio he's presenting, he's really passionate, and genuinely cares about things! Like you, apparently, since he kissed you.

He... he kissed you.

He kissed you?

He kissed... you.

No matter how you stress it, it doesn't really make sense to you. Yeah, it was on the forehead, and yeah, you were doing some really stupid shit, but he still kissed you. Platonically, obviously.

So why are you blushing again just thinking about it?

Yeah. It's official. You like Dave. Not just like, but *like* like. You *like* like him a lot. A lot a lot. As in, you want him to kiss you again. That was nice. But you think you *like* like John as well? In fact, you think you might have liked the both of them for a long long time now.

A grey message flicks across your phone screen, pulling you out of your stupor, just long enough to look to your left and see a certain roommate looking at you, making you jump out of your seat. "I am terribly sorry for the scare, Aaron. You just seemed so lost in thought that I did not want to disturb you, particularly if you were thinking so deeply to the point of not hearing me enter. Penny for your thoughts?"
You sit back down, catch your breath, and sigh. You weren't planning to keep something this big from your best friend forever, but you had hoped to at least figure everything out, and maybe wait twenty years or so, before telling her. "Of course, you need not tell me if you want."

"Promise you won't tell anyone?"

"If it means that much to you, of course."

Say it at once, Aaron. Just get it all out as soon as possible, and don't think too hard about it.

"I like John. And Dave."

"More than friends, I presume?" She is not even slightly fazed by what you say, which you expected. Very little can get past her, and she seems unsurprised by anything. You nod and she puts her hand on your shoulder. "I am so sorry, Aaron. It must be painful hearing them talk about each other."

You think about jumping in, but think better of it. "Is this what last night was about?"
"No. No, that was totally different. That was..."
"You do not have to talk about it if you do not want to." Curse Rose for always knowing exactly what you're thinking. And bless her. Both.
"Thank you."
"Thanking me for not talking to you? Perhaps I should do it more often," she says, chuckling to herself. "Regardless, I do understand the difficulty you must be going through. Perhaps it would be a good idea to talk to them. They might be clueless, perhaps one more than the other -" She shoots you a look and you smile at the thought. "- but they certainly are not stupid.

"Talking it out with both of them, so they are both aware, is probably the best idea. It is painful to think about, but I am sure that being honest is more important, correct?" You nod. "Good. Always knew you were the smart one."

That sets you off in laughter. "Me? The smart one? You sure about that?"

"Deadly," she responds after a second or two. "While I may be more academic than you, you have a certain..." She pauses, searching for the right word. "Flair. With people. Empathy is really important, and you seem to find it instantly with people. I should do a case study on you some time; it seems impossible."

That's what you specialise in, though, isn't it?

Chapter Text

If Rose is a needlepoint - calmly entering your life with plenty of warning and precision - then John is a hammer: full of energy and fervour, with all the subtlety of a surprise defenestration. You think that makes Dave a sword, with the way he dances with words, easily transitioning between light grazes and deep cuts. Jade is a rifle, something you never see coming until it's far too late.

And, while relevant, this is not perhaps the best train of thought to be on as she barrels directly into the back of you.

"Oh, Aaron! I'm so sorry! I wasn't looking where I was going..."
"No, no, no, it's okay! No harm, no foul, right?"
Her solemn apologetic face shifts into her usual beaming smile; you think her mouth must hurt, being that smiley all the time. "Yeah! It's all alright!" she practically shouts, before taking a couple of steps back and dusting herself down with colourful fingers.
"It is good to see you, Jade," Rose says brightly, before - "Sorry, I have to take this. Go on without me, I will catch up," - her phone rings.
You and Jade shrug at each other and decide to follow Rose's advice, setting into a stroll.
"I've been meaning to ask, but never have. What's with the bands on your fingers?"
"Oh!" She holds her hands up in front of you. "Reminders! Sometimes when I fall asleep, I don't remember everything, so these are sorta like little hints to help me remember things!" she says, before pointing to the red and purple bands at the base of her left index finger. "These ones remind me that Dave and Rose have their birthdays coming up, on the -" She pauses for a moment, thinking. "- 3rd and 4th of December!" she finishes with triumph. Carrying on explaining a few, she points to her bands in turn. "This one reminds me to feed Bec, this one tells me I haven't bought milk yet, this one is for me to call Jake about his latest adventure, this one..."

You are listening! You promise! You've just perfected the art of listening while thinking about things. Like how kind Jade is, but how equally passionate and enthusiastic she is about so many things. And while those normally go hand in hand, she certainly has her contradictory... moments. Particularly with Karkat. You didn't think she was capable of swearing so colourfully and fluently.

"... and this one is-" She interrupts herself with what sounds like a hiccup, and you look where she is pointing: There's a woven band of red, blue, and a brown-sorta-hazel colour.
"Hm?" you pose, inviting her to continue... but she either doesn't hear you or chooses not to say anything. That's fine; people are allowed their own private life.
"What about you, Aaron? How do you remember things?"
"I, uh, I don't, really," you mutter. "I'm terrible at remembering things." With no warning, Jade takes your hand into hers and slips a green band from her pocket on your ring finger.
"Now you'll remember this conversation! And that will remind you that you need to remember something!" She smiles up at you again and you smile back, thanking her.

See? Kind. Enthusiastic. Passionate, and out of nowhere.

She doesn't let go of your hand and breaks out into a jog. "Come on! I bet John and Dave are waiting!"
You laugh and half run with her, half get dragged along. "You're gonna kill me, Jade!" you joke out between shallow breaths, for the last few blocks before you finally end up just outside the infamous cafe. Infamous to you and four other people, you mean. Just as Jade is about to push the door open, you spot John and Dave out of the corner of your eye, facing each other and holding hands, so you pull Jade back as gently as you can, and raise a finger to your lips, before pointing at the two of them. She nods knowingly, and whispers, "You know I can read lips, right?"
"Oh! What are they saying?"
"John says... uh... "Can you tell me where to find the train station?"... I think."
Your whisper turns into a stage whisper. "Why would he be saying that?" The two of you stifle laughter.
"I don't know? I never said I was any good!"

You turn back to look at the two of them, and Dave rests his sunglasses on the top of his head, exposing his face.
"Hooooooly shit. This is a big deal."
"Oh! I know what this is!" She holds up her hand and points to a red and blue band, right on top of each other. "He's asking him out!"
You let out a silent gasp and keep looking on, shocked that John (who is essentially facing you) hasn't spotted either of you yet. On second thought, you guess you aren't surprised.

Three things happen very very fast.
Dave nods (you think he's smiling too, but you can't see).
John starts crying.
And Jade runs in.

"JADE, THEY PROBABLY WANTED SPACE!" you shout at her, following her through the doors.

She mutters something under her breath that you think you catch as "fuck the police" before she stops shy of the happy, albeit confused, couple.

"Jaaaaaaaaaade? Were you watching-"
She cuts him off. "Doesn't matter. But I'm super happy for you! Knew it was gonna happen sometime soon!" She turns to face Dave, and you don't think you've ever been more scared than how second-hand scared you're about to be for Dave. "If you so much as lay a finger on my cousin in a way that he doesn't like, I will hunt you down, and I will kill you. You've seen my collection and while I would rather it not come to it, you know what I'm capable of." Gulping, he nods hesitantly. "Do I make myself perfectly clear, young man?"

"Y-yes ma'am," he stutters out, and you think this is the first - or maybe the second - time you have ever seen Dave shake (and oh my gosh you can see his eyes from here holy fuck). "Oh, uh-" With a shake of his head, his sunglasses fall effortlessly back into place. "-Hey, Aaron. Didn't, uh, didn't see ya there."

You're experiencing three things simultaneously.
Being super stoked for John and Dave!
Feeling a little guilty about seeing Dave's eyes.
And,

 


you can't help but feel a bit disappointed, as much as you try.

Come on, Rose, hurry up...

 

Chapter Text

You never really notice how fast life moves until something makes it slow down again, like the agonising two minutes between you coming through the doors and Rose following behind.

Maybe agonising isn't the right word. Like you said, you're happy for them! Super Stoked, you might say. But that's not the point.

What the fuck? What are you saying? That's obviously the point! The point is you're meant to be happy for your friends finally touching elbows and you can't because you just can't feel emotion like a normal person or something? Okay, brain, we get it, you love them both and they'll never love you back, blah blah blah et cetera et cetera. But come on, this is old news! Just be happy! Just be fucking happy for your friends for once in your stupid selfish fucking life and your mouth tastes like salt and John's talking to you fuck what did he say

"Sorry, million miles away. What'd you say?" you ask, hoping he won't notice.
"You just started crying? Are you okay?"
Shit.

Convincing lie convincing lie convincing lie convincing lie

"Yeah, I'm just really happy for you!"

STUPID STUPID STUPID STUPID

"Oh my gosh, thank you so much!" he says, before turning back to talk to Dave.

Just according to plan.

It is just at that moment that your blonde purple saviour walks through the doors; it takes her about three seconds to work out absolutely everything that's happening, and react.

"As I am sure you are very much aware, this does put you in a very compromising position," she mutters to John, just loud enough to hear. "Anything that Jade said to David, assume the same follows. Are we in agreement?" John doesn't respond, but his face tells you exactly what he's thinking. "And with that, I best be off. Congratulations to the two of you, but Aaron promised me we would go get some essential shopping today. I need to pick up some peanut butter as well."

You did no such thing. That's the sort of thing you'd remember, and you do not. However, you and Rose have a code: if one of you says "peanut butter", you just go along with it. You wipe your eyes with your sleeve. "Sorry guys! Important purchases to be made! Super happy for the both of you though!" And with that, you leave with Rose in tow, not looking back until you get all the way back to your building, unlock your van, and climb into the back of it, shutting the door behind you. It's only a second or two after you slump to the floor before you hear a soft knock on the sliding door.

"Casa de la Aaron?" You almost snicker at that. "I'm coming in, okay?" You decide not to stop her as she opens the door, light flooding the van again, and steps in, sitting down on the floor next to you. Then, she opens her arms, and you don't give her a chance to hesitate before nodding, letting her hold you tight; letting yourself go; letting yourself go. "It's okay. It's okay. It's okay," she murmurs into your ear. It's a good few minutes before you pull away, finally spent.

"I need coffee."
"You can have all the coffee you want. Do you want to just go home, or...?"
"No." You jump up to your feet, still feeling puffy-eyed. "You've got shopping to do, right?"
Shooting you a look, as much to ask "are you sure?", Rose nods and stands up herself, climbing out of the back of the van and into the front together. For once, you get into the passenger seat, letting Rose take the wheel, as you pull out your phone. A handful of grey messages hang out in pesterchum, but you ignore them for now, opening a chat with Terezi. Shooting off a couple of messages since you never did get the chance to talk about anything, you suddenly remember that she would be working right now, and curse yourself for forgetting. It doesn't really matter anyway as Rose pulls up to some supermarket that you've never heard of.
"We are here. Ready?" she asks, looking at you with the same kind eyes as always.
"Way to state the obvious, Rose." You manage a laugh under your breath. "But yeah, I'm ready."

Of course, you aren't ready, but if you only did things because you were ready, you feel like you would never do anything.
It takes a couple of minutes before something happens that makes you forget all about the problems of the day, even if just for a moment.

"ROSE! ROSE! ROSE! THIS IS THE MOST AMAZING THING I HAVE EVER SEEN! YOU'VE GOT TO COME SEE THIS!"
"The last time you said that I have to say I was not disappointed... Holy shit."
You hold up one of the offenders. "SOAP! IN THE SHAPE OF DUCKS! DUCK SOAP!"
"It certainly is duck soap," she says, stifling a laugh,
You switch to your announcer voice, inspired by John. "What excellent form! An incredible texture that ties the whole thing together. Mhm, yes, Ms Lalonde, taste those webbed feet."
She holds one up to her nose and inhales deeply, gesturing with the other hand as if sampling a fine wine. Finally, she kisses her fingertips and speaks. "Indeed, Sir. The whole dish is positively...

"Zesty."

The last straw on your back, the two of you burst out into hysterical laughter, ignoring the look you get from passers-by, and the vibration in your pocket. It feels like flashing back, and your friendship spent with Rose washes over you like a tidal wave.

Good choice, Aaron. Good choice.

Chapter Text

"I am not sure, it just seems to me that things are not right."
"You worry too much, Flower. With you watching over him, nothing can go wrong," a familiar and comforting voice comes through your phone, making your face visibly relax.
"He just seems so up and down! It feels as if the minute something makes him improve, his mood comes crashing down again." You run your hand through your hair quickly, lifting out your hairband, before picking up a pen and spinning it into your fingers. "I feel like I should do something." You steal a quick glance at the sleeping form on the sofa; he didn't even make it to his bed.
"I don't even need to ask you if you're doing all you can, for I know you are. In that case, that's all you can do! You have to remember to put your own health first."
You sigh and thank Kanaya for her reminder. Muttering, you think about what on earth you would do without her around. "I just feel..." You pause, thinking of the right word. "...helpless, I guess."
"This is seeming to get you so down, sweetheart. Do you want to talk about something else?" You can hear just how worried she is about you in her tone of voice.
"Yeah. That would be nice."

***

"You think this is gonna fuck with home life?" You look into speckled eyes and let out a laugh.
"Not really. More like, I was wondering when we would push our beds together."
He lets out a gasp of fake shock. "Egbert! I thought you would know how to treat a girl right! You have to at least buy me dinner first, let alone actually take me out on a date. If your father could see you know, what would he say?"
You chuckle again and shove him playfully on the shoulders. "Good question. I feel like it would be a mix of disapproval and "Go get 'em tiger", Not sure which makes me feel weirder."
"Nah man, definitely the second one. Your daddy just can't wait for you to get it on with an older man." Suddenly, he gets a jumper slapped in his face.
"Shut up!" you say, holding your other hand to your face.
"What's that?" You can actually hear him smirking. "You don't want to know about your dear old father wanting to set you up? Thinking about you getting down and dirty?" Finally having had enough, you climb onto his lap and put your hand over his mouth, only to feel him lick it, and pull away quickly.
"Dave! You don't know where my hand has been! What if it was in dog shit earlier?"
"Dude, you probably wash your hands on the hour, every hour."
"There is NOTHING wrong with a good hygiene program," you snark at him, not moving from his lap. "Anyway," you continue, smiling a little wider. "I have something important to talk to you about."
"Smiling, but sounding serious. I feel like I'm about to get hit with a wave of some request like you're about to ask me to fuck or something."
"Dave-"
"Now I mean, don't get me wrong, tugging the sausage is something I am totally interested in doing - not sure if the whole daddy thing threw you off that track..."
"Dave-"
"But I am totally ready, like a motherfucking eagle ready to soar into the majestic sky god bless America kick it Barack-"
"DAVE!"
"Sup?"
Lightly, you slap him in the face to get him to shut up. "Stop rambling for a second, you horse's ass. Like I said, I have something important to talk about!"
Your smile falters and you slide off his lap to beside him.
This conversation could go either way.

 

Chapter Text

In time, all order tends towards disorder.

At least, that's your excuse for the conversation derailing.

"But what if it turned purple?" You ask, trying to cover your face with your hand, in an effort to look serious.
"I guess it would be okay," comes Rose's response, face a mirror of yours.
"No, no, there is no way that it could do that if it were purple." You didn't know that Kanaya had such a sense of humour: admittedly, you didn't know all that much of Kanaya at all, before now. "Absolutely none."
"Why?"
"Well, because it turned purple!"
"But why does that make it not work?"
"Because it's purple!"
You just sit and laugh, letting the two play off each other a little bit until you hear a soft knock and shout "It's open!", watching the building's newest power couple come through the door.
"What are you three laughing about?" John asks, slipping off a red hoody that is definitely not his.
You, Rose, and Kanaya all answer at the same time, completely deadpan:
"You."
"Toasters."
"Revolution."
"You, staging a revolution against the toaster dictatorship," you settle on, combining the answers in the best way you could think of.
"Story as usual, then," Dave speaks up for the first time. "Mind if I pee?"
You shake your head and let Rose point it out: "Not at all."

John takes a seat next to you, still half wearing the hoody, and starts making small talk with Kanaya, catching up, while you just... sorta... dissociate a little. Why? Who knows, but you certainly don't feel in your body until two things happen at once: John leans his head on your shoulder - shit oh shit oh shit oh shit - and your phone buzzes twice in quick succession.

-- turntechGodhead [TG] began pestering easilyDistracted [ED] --
TG: slight problem
TG: youre out of paper
ED: Oh
ED: Shit
ED: Hold on I'm comin

You hold up your fingers and mouth "two ticks" to the adorable boy next to you, and take a quick pace to the kitchen, grabbing a roll and heading back to the bathroom.

You really need to get a cupboard in there.

TG: did you just say comin
TG: with no g
TG: youve chaaaaanged
ED: Do you wanna wipe your ass or not?
TG: please i love u
ED: I'm just outside come an get it

You turn and face slightly away, but can't help but catch his slightly flustered face as he opens the door and pokes his head around, taking the roll from your hand. "You're a gem, love," he says, and winks.

You force a sigh as if it'll hide your blush, before taking a seat back down next to John. "Good. I need you," he mumbled, putting his head back.

"Blame your boyfriend. He's the one who didn't check if we had enough paper before pulling his pants down." Rose lets out a chuckle at that, and you pull out your phone again.

TG: dont rat on me to the others
TG: especially not john
TG: why arent you responding
TG: aw fuck you already did it didnt you
ED: Sorry :)
TG: okay but ":)" is absolutely the most snarky lookin emoticon that exists and you are not fuckin sorry
ED: :)
TG: what emotion is that even supposed to convey
TG: mischief
ED: :-)
TG: i take it back the emotion is hubris
TG: anyway i got important pissing to do see ya in 5
TG: <3
EB: LUBGRASRKUNGO; BLSZNRF
-- turntechGodhead [TG] ceased pestering easilyDistracted [ED] --

The conspiracy. There is a conspiracy. Everyone is trying to give you a Fucking Heart Attack.

Ignore it. Just, push it out of focus. Ignore. Let it fester. It's fine.
Focus on something else.
Namely: the green band still around your finger.
Right! Jade!

RIGHT! ROSE AND DAVE'S BIRTHDAYS!

Rose isn't a problem. You bought presents for her a long time ago: some wool, a pair of knitting needles inspired by Cthulhu, and "The A to Z of Eldritch Abominations and Horrors, et cetera", which, while the title threw you, seems like a perfect gift for the lady in question.

You have. An idea. For Dave. But. You are not. Sure. About it. You decide to try to tune back into the conversation.

"How long for?"
"Oh, only a week, for Christmas. Dad and I always do it together, and sometimes I pull this lot with me as well," John says, gesturing to Rose, and then Dave as he closes the door behind him. "You should come!"
"I have to come, so the Dadbert can give me The Talk. Gotta be told not to deflower his son or some shit." John buries his face in his hands and lets out a soft nasal sigh.
"I'm sure we would both love to be there...?" Rose starts, tilting her head to Kanaya.
"Absolutely. I have never celebrated Christmas before."
"What about you, A?"

Ooh, a nickname! That's new and not at all confusing for your poor tortured heart! Can these boys work out what they're doing, please?

It isn't their fault. Stop promoting friendzone culture.

"Aaron? Bud? Pal?"

"Sorry, I was, uh, miles away. Yeah, that sounds like a blast! I'd love to come. If you, would. Uh. Have me."

"It's a date!" John beams, and you can't help but smile back at him.

Kanaya and Rose don't stick around for too much longer: They have a "hot date" planned.

"Do not do anything stupid while we're gone!" Then she fucking winks. She fucking winks at you. Fuck you, Rose. Operation: Give Aaron A Heart Attack has even more members than you had thought.

"Oh, uh, A? Did you get the stuff down from last class?" John looks up at you from your shoulder. "Can I steal it from you? I lost my pad."

"Yeah, hold on one second!" Theoretically, the work will be on your hard drive, and thankfully your laptop is already up on the table. All you need to do is grab your drive from under your bed, and not think too hard about it.

By the time you come back, the two of them are already practically in each other's laps whispering about something, and you scoff audibly at them. Both of them spin their heads around so quickly, you'd think they'd been caught shoplifting or something. Laughing, you plug your drive in. "You got something for me to dump this file across to?" In response, John tosses his keys to you: there's a memory stick attached. It's rainbow, with "Move, I'm gay" printed on it. Typical. You copy "Aromaticity" over to his stick and then throw it back to him. "Careful, John. I might break into your house."

"Oh yeah, and do what? Steal our lack of money? Eat my lack our food?"

"Clean?" Dave chirps up, and you laugh.

"Careful what you wish for, Strider."

The smile doesn't leave your face for hours.