Chapter 1: Activity One
Aggressively pirouetting off the handle as soon as you're all out of immediate danger.
Dirk steps through the portal.
The moment he does, there’s a sickening pull in the pit of his stomach. Existence itself stretches around him, and bends and wraps in all the wrong ways. After what must only be a few seconds but damn well feels like seven fuckin’ years, the big frog in the sky figures it’s had enough fun horsing around. Matter coagulates into physical form again and gravity is reinstated without warning. His legs give out underneath him.
He tries to focus on the blurry figures around him, but his head is spinning. He shuts his eyes against the sensation of being thrown into the multiverse’s most malicious tumble dryer, but his stomach must have decided to take a day trip down to his heels. His legs hurt, a dull pain pulsing behind his kneecaps, and he realises he’s collapsed to his knees. He didn’t intend to get up close and personal with the dirt, but that’s where he’s at right now, and he’s abruptly overwhelmed by the urgent concern of curbing his body’s need to retch all over the fucking place oh God he’s going to be sick. Fuck.
Slowly, effortfully, he pushes the air out of his lungs. Holds, breathes in. Exhales again. The contents of his stomach (when was even the last time he ate? The passage of time is devoid of meaning.) remain blessedly inside of it, and the tremor in his limbs subsides. Take it to the bank, boys, operation “Not Throwing Up in Front of All the People He Knows” is an overwhelming success. He would pat himself on the shoulder if he didn’t think the motion would immediately undo his hard-won success, so he settles on just—breathing.
It takes some time, but his head clears.
A light breeze cools the sweat on his forehead. It’s warm, sort of humid, and heavy with the smell of damp soil. It’s not as salty as in Houston, or as… sterile and unnatural as in the Incipisphere. He lets the taste linger on his tongue.
The next thing he notices is that the surface under his hands is soft and sticky, almost clay-like. His hands have sunk to his knuckles in it. He wants to wipe them off really badly.
Once his vertigo finally calms down, he opens his eyes and looks around.
He was the last one to step through the portal, so everyone else is already around him and looking about as terrible as he feels. He sees Jake’s alternate universe grandmother—her name is Jade, he recalls from his conversation with Dave. And she has dog ears. This is fine. Anyway, she’s the first on her feet, and he guesses either her Space powers give her some sort of edge or she’s the freakin’ Highlander from cult classic movie of the same title, ‘cause she sure as hell doesn't seem even slightly fazed by their little wormhole joyride. He’d even venture to say that she looks chipper, a sharp contrast to the sickly shades of green everyone else is sporting.
The turtleneck-wearing troll scrambles to his feet and immediately starts wobbling all sorts of unsteady-like. He manages, somehow, to hobble over to Dave, who's still on all fours but doesn’t look much worse for wear. A small amount of tension leaves Dirk’s body at the sight of his—friend? Brother? Might as well call him that. In his head, at least. Having a painfully honest and cathartic conversation mere minutes before a high-stakes back to back fight against overpowered interdimensional game constructs from hell warrants some sort of familial attachment, he figures. Hopes. Right?
He swallows past the lump in his throat. He’ll—he’ll figure that out. Conclusively. At a later date.
Dirk wipes his hands on his tights. The God Tier asshole pants gobble it right up, the fabric remaining as blemish-free as ever even though the mud is gone from his hands.
Roxy is the next one to stand up, and Dirk’s relief is so intense he almost starts gross sobbing on the spot. Roxy is all right, and Jane and Jake are next to her, pale and shaken but alive, and it suddenly dawns on him that—despite everything, despite him being a fucking moron, miscalculating everything spectacularly, and not having the slightest goddamn clue what was happening at any given second—everyone made it here in one piece.
Here happens to be a low hill at the edge of a dense forest. As far as he can tell, it’s spring—or this new planet’s analogue of spring—and Dirk hasn’t ever seen so many trees in a single place before. The whisper of a stream somewhere not far off and the soft cooing and rustling coming from the forest are the only sounds besides their own laboured breathing.
Everything is quiet and perfectly at peace.
It makes his skin crawl.
Peaceful just isn’t a thing that happens to them. Not to him, anyway. He’s been lulled into dropping his guard before, into hoping that apparent safety might be the same as actual safety, only for the universe to shake its giant, amphibious head in stern celestial disapproval as it unloads the next disaster on his ass. Every instance when he’s assumed that things might actually be okay for a fucking change has ended up adding another patch to the colourful quilt of his emotional, mental, and physical trauma, and Dirk Strider’s getting altogether too toasty in here.
Something’s going to go wrong.
His muscles clench and adrenaline floods his system. A bird chirps somewhere to his right and he almost whips his sword out before his brain catches up with his fight-or-flight impulse.
He breathes out, slowly—apparently mindfulness meditation is the order of the day. Could be worse, he supposes. Maybe it was breathing exercises that he’s been missing all his life, and now everything’s going to get better forever. He’s so glad to have finally figured this one out.
He looks over at the rest of the players again. They’re gathering their bearings by now, it seems. Everyone’s on their feet—or at least getting there—and, as if under some sort of mass hypnosis, or maybe due to instinctive human mimicking behaviour (do trolls have mimicking behaviour?), they all turn to look at the portal simultaneously.
Or rather, where the portal used to be until it up and fucking vanished.
This is it, then. If anyone was getting cold feet about this whole “gods of a new universe” business, it seems their last return ticket just got put through the metaphorical shredder. This is their new home now, and it sure as hell isn’t eligible for refunds or exchanges. The customer service leaves so much to be desired that there are very angry, very white suburban moms screaming bloody murder at the staff left and right—which is shitty as fuck, actually, because the poor workforce ain’t got nothing to do with their company's ass-backwards business practice.
His eyes keep darting between the people around him. They stop on the sunglasses-wearing troll… she’s called something like Teresa? And she clearly shares his superior taste in eyewear. She’s standing very still, her entire body tense, facing the empty air where the portal used to be with an inscrutable expression. If he were to attempt to decipher it, he’d say she looked like she was about to fucking kick the air’s ass, and he already saw enough of her combat skills to have little doubt that she could do that. Frankly, he’s not sure if he’s afraid of or for her.
He stares at her stare at the air for another long second. Then, the other troll, the one with the bright red skirt, steps up to her and rests a hand on her shoulder. Dirk wonders if Teresa is going to snap at her, but instead, her shoulders slump, the tension draining out of her body like a switch flipped.
Before he can formulate a hypothesis as to what in the goddamn, his gaze locks with Jake’s. His face’s already got an ashen tint to it, but he blanches further when their eyes meet.
Both of them look away simultaneously. Dirk feels like he accidentally ingested a big, juicy lump of lead that is now making its merry way into his bloodstream and poisoning his body from inside out. He’s going to be sick. How are they supposed to exist in the same physical space now? Their chat on the platform clearly did jack shit in terms of actually helping them fix what’s left of their relationship. Who’d have thought.
Desperate for any straws to grab before free falling the rest of the way into pure unbridled terror, he scans the rest of the group. Roxy and Jane lean into each other in a one-armed hug, talking to Calliope in hushed voices. Dave and Turtleneck Troll—Carcat or something? What even is the deal with troll names—share a look, their expressions softening into something that’s warm and gentle and entirely too intimate for Dirk’s eyes. He glances away. The rest of the Beta session players have clustered together by now, and wow, there sure are a lot of them. Humans, trolls, sprites. Calliope. The two carapacians scuttling around. He’s never really seen so many people in such close quarters before, and he’s not sure if he should go talk to any of them. Or if he should just stay here. Is he supposed to join one of the groups? He barely knows most of them, and the ones that he is familiar with seem. Occupied. How do you just—he realises he’s on the wrong side of an invisible divide. Everyone has someone to turn to, everyone’s together, and he’s just.
He can’t do this.
The thought is a punch to his gut, and his artfully repressed fears and anxieties come bursting through the floodgates, and God. He’s helpless against the panic rushing into his mind. His synapses short-circuit under the onslaught of stimuli. Palms are sweating, breath erratic. He thought he could deal with this. Not dealing at all. This is too much. Too many people. Ears are buzzing. He has to—he needs—
Get the fuck out of there. Get away.
He doesn’t know where he’s going. Doesn’t care. He only stops when the pressure inside his lungs threatens to rip his chest open. He has no idea where he is—the strength drains from his body, any sort of movement suddenly unthinkable. He sinks to knees, again, and his entire body is quaking, his vision spinning. He drops his face in his hands. His throat is tight. He’s gasping for breath, trying to force some oxygen into his system.
He’s been too horrified for too long, and now all of it washes over him at once, every single bad thing that happened over the course of the last months demanding his undivided attention immediately.
The memories come in flashes. The trickster episode, with his friends acting like cackling, maniacal caricatures of themselves, loud and obnoxious and saying all that —bullshit that he knew was juju-induced nonsense but still left an acrid taste in his mouth. The aftermath of that, the brief moments on his quest bed—oppressive silence, Roxy with her back turned to him. The explosion. Dying, only to come around to see the Condesce, looming, incomprehensible, terrifying. He thought he was done for, then, even before Jade zeroed in on him, snarling, eyes glowing behind her glasses, something like electricity crackling over her skin.
Her punch knocked him straight out of the Incipisphere. He hadn’t thought he could get hit that hard and still live, keep falling, dizzy with pain and confusion until he was an outsider staring down on his helpless floating form, caught in a bad dream of infinite nothing, dark whispers crawling over his skin like invisible tendrils. Dirk shudders and heaves, plunged back into that hopelessness, the moment he well and truly realised he had no control over anything that was happening.
The feeling hasn’t left him since.
When Roxy finds him, at first he doesn't hear her over the drumming of his heart.
Her hand brushes against his right shoulder, rubs a small circle on his shoulder blade, then slides to wrap around the left one as she sinks to the ground next to him. He doesn’t turn to look at her, but the tension in his muscles recedes under her touch. Breathing slowly becomes a much more manageable task. After a while, he shifts so he’s sitting on the ground instead of kneeling. Roxy leans against him, her arm snaking around his waist.
“Those ginormous leggies made it supes difficult to catch up with you, y'know. Gave me a workout and everything,” she chastises him gently. A pang of guilt hits him square in the chest—not even twenty minutes since they’ve beaten the game, and already he’s gone and been reduced to an useless, pathetic mess. It’s laughable.
He feels a gentle squeeze to his midsection. Roxy is here. Warm against his side, grounding and familiar. She’s prattling on about—something, but he can’t really focus on her words. He just clings to the sound of her voice like it’s a lifeline. (It is.) Closing his eyes, he forces his breathing to slow down. In, then out. The indistinct background noise of Roxy’s chatter slowly comes into focus, and you really need to talk to Rosie soon she’s so much like you it’s the cutest thing I’ve ever seen you’re going to love her oh did you see Jade’s fuzzy little ears they’re so adorable how did she even get those I wonder if she has a tail is that a weird thing to think about probably right. In and out. In—
“It’s over, Dirk,” Roxy says, and everything stills. “We won.”
He turns to look at her. Her eyes are tired but bright with relief, and a tentative smile curls her lips. He doesn’t manage to return it, but he rests his head on her shoulder. For the moment, that’s good enough.
It’s good enough.
They’re on their slow way back to the others when he starts turning her words over in his head. It’s not over . What’s over is that damn nightmare of a game—and yet, part of Dirk wishes it weren’t. Pretty fucking selfish of him, all things considered, but he wishes they still had a goal. An enemy to fight, the game mechanics to stick to and exploit. Without that, he feels a little bit lost.
Okay, he actually feels hella lost. All kinds of lost. With like, insane amounts of trepidation and a creeping sense of dread as a fun little bonus. He’s not sure what’s going to happen now, has no idea what’s in store for him—for any of them. How do you learn to exist outside of a constant state of fighting for your own survival, for the survival of an entire universe, of toiling against alien, incomprehensible forces? What do you do when there’s no longer any need to be on guard, or contingencies to plan for? The uncertainty makes his stomach clench.
Roxy reaches over and takes his hand.
And just like that, she is the dashing cowboy to his damsel in distress, swooping in to cut his sorry ass free from the ropes binding him to the train tracks. She scoops him up, bridal style, and carries him to safety before the anxiety train choo-choos him straight into hell. Again.
He forces his muscles to relax. This is good, he decides as he squeezes Roxy’s hand. Maybe he can get used to this. A normal life—by a rather broad definition of the word, granted—with his friends, on this planet that exists for them and because of them.
Yeah. Maybe this is all worth a shot.
Completely ignoring your friends for like a week because you can't keep your shit in check. You absolute tool.
Dirk groans and presses his hands to his face. His eyes are tired and they’ve gradually taken to stinging. It’s very distracting. He wishes this planet would spin just a little slower and grant him a few extra hours of daylight.
He’s hunched over his desk, which, along with his bed, makes up just about the entirety of the furniture in the cabin that he calls home. Temporarily, that is. It’s a simple rectangular room with holes in the walls for windows. Still, for a rushed first attempt at using their powers to create some sort of shelter from the elements for everyone, it’s not that bad.
At least he’s got an actual bed. If he must lie awake all night, tossing and turning as he pretends that he doesn’t have the most acute of insomnias, then by God he will do it on a comfortable mattress rather than the cold, damp ground. A dude’s gotta have his standards.
Real estate musings aside, Dirk currently finds himself going over the sketches he made earlier in the afternoon, with the added expertise of one Jade Harley. He’s been at it for hours, but now that dusk’s setting in, it’s getting harder to make out the intricate criss-cross of lines and calculations strewn about on the paper.
He sighs wistfully. Ah, to enjoy the marvels of technology once more. To bask in the soft glow of a working electrical grid. Sure, such inventions may have rendered him incapable of embracing the simpler, idyllic ways of old with open arms, but Dirk considers tearing traditional values down to microscopic pieces a matter of principle. But Dirk, a hypothetical observer might inquire somewhere in the distance, what about waking up at the crack of dawn and going to sleep at sunset, after bathing in the river and pissing on some bushes or whatever, just the way nature intended? To that, Dirk would reply that he finds himself decidedly blasé about nature’s intentions, and could really do with some proper fucking light bulbs. And also a socket to charge his laptop in, while he’s at it.
In the meantime, he’s settled for pushing his shades up so he can actually see the scribbled lines on the sheets spread out in front of him. It’s not like anyone’s going to show up, anyway.
When they built the several single-room cabins as an alternative to sleeping under the stars (romantic in theory, intensely sore and itchy in practice), everyone bunched together in threes and fours. Dirk, however, requested one all to himself. Ordinarily, he would consider this unnecessary, selfish and a wasteful allocation of resources, but after his mortifying little episode of flipping the fuck out at the sight of a handful of teens, he absolutely did not trust his anxiety-ridden ass to share compact living quarters with anyone, human or troll. The others gracefully acquiesced to his wish and soon enough, he had a place to call his very own.
Well. Carapacians notwithstanding, that is.
If he’s going to exercise complete honesty, Dirk admits that he had not fucking seen that one coming at the time.
After Roxy successfully calmed his tits with brutal yet loving efficiency, she dragged his sorry derrière back to where the others were. When the two of them reconvened with their group, the little dudes were just… there. Not just those two that had come through the portal with them, but pretty much all of the other inhabitants of Prospit and Derse, by his account—all beady eyes and soft clicking noises. There's enough of them to populate a small to medium-sized city, which Dirk guesses is sort of the whole point. Rebuilding civilization and all.
Everyone welcomed them without as much as a raised eyebrow. For one, it seemed that they had all reached a critical mass of weird shit and collectively lost their ability to be surprised or bothered by it. Also, the carapacians were… adoring, for lack of a better word. Buzzing with excitement and relief that soon spread to the players themselves and spurred an impromptu celebration of their victory. It sort of felt like they were superstars, freshly arrived at some kind of fancy gala and ready to strut down the red carpet. Dirk lost count of how many tiny clawed hands he shook that evening, and the whole vibe left him constantly expecting to turn around and see like, a mob of paparazzi or something. Towards the end of it, a Prospitian and a Dersite were just about to throw hands when Jade interjected and gave them both a stern talking-to.
It was the closest thing to a frat party Dirk has any interest in experiencing.
Anyway. The caparacians are here and the handful of them that Dirk ends up sharing a cabin with are the best roommates he could have asked for. They’re quiet, they keep to themselves, and most importantly: they’re almost never around.
Also, when Dirk jolts awake in the middle of the night shaking and drenched in sweat, they let him catch his breath on his own. Occasionally, he’ll get some sympathetic chirping in his general direction, or—if they're feeling particularly bold—a hesitant pat on the arm. They’re pretty tight.
Other than that, everyone’s had more than enough on their plates to keep them occupied during their waking hours, and then some. Said plates are, in fact, positively overflowing with responsibilities. Much like nutritious, albeit probably overcooked and bland cafeteria food piled on top of a disgruntled college student’s lunch tray.
It’s been eleven days since they beat the game, and they haven’t even started to figure out everything that they ought to. Basic necessities don’t seem to be a problem so far, at least—they have shelter, and between alchemising stuff, their game powers and the planet’s resources, food is a non-issue. There’s also been discussion of building a city, which their newly acquired, exoskeleton-sporting friends seem particularly jazzed about. All in all, this whole “gods of a new world” shtick is proving pretty damn useful. To everyone’s great collective surprise. What would be a nigh impossible feat for a bunch of kids and a singular adult is a fucking piece of cake when you have a friendly neighbor Space furry who can bend and stretch matter whichever way she pleases.
He got used to the dog ears. Exposure therapy and all. Although he will admit, in confidence, to still being guilty of the occasional primal impulse to scratch the damn things, which is more than a little mortifying.
Dirk sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose. He’s been at this for hours, designing an irrigation system for their crops while Jane makes sure the soil is able to support optimal produce growth. Agriculture isn’t something he expected to have at the very top of his priority list at any point, but life’s full of little surprises like that. A few more years of deity work under his belt and he might just realise farming has been his true calling all along.
For the time being, it’s something to keep him occupied. He embraces the challenge with gusto—and the convenient excuse to spend his days in the relative quiet of his cabin is not half bad, either.
It’s been eleven days and he still can’t wrap his mind around how fucking loud people can be. And are. All the fucking time. Please stop.
As if on cue for maximum comedic effect, it is at this exact moment that a knock rattles against the door, as ear-splitting as a burst of gunshots. This serves as concrete data to further support his work-in-progress theory that poses: at an indeterminate moment in humanity’s history, someone cranked the volume all the way up and forgot to turn it back down. He will publish a paper someday and worm his way into the higher echelons of this planet’s academic circle. Or establish it in the first place, he guesses.
He almost misses the time when he was the only human being for hundreds of miles, all alone in his secluded, blissfully silent high-rise apartment in the middle of the ocean. Almost.
In a single smooth motion, he flicks his shades back down and spins on his chair to face the door. He has just enough time to purge his face of anything that could give away his surprise and discomfort before the visitor lets themselves in.
Sure, just go ahead and barge right into this poor unsuspecting dude’s inner sanctum. It’s not like he has any concept of personal space or values his privacy in the slightest.
A tall silhouette with a mop of unruly hair crosses the threshold. Dirk freezes. His stomach drops, awareness shrinking with laser focus into a single —Jake?
It’s not Jake. Of course it’s not him. Why would Jake, of all people, want to come here? Yeah, no, he must be ready to fucking pounce at the opportunity to have another stilted, vaguely friendly and apologetic conversation with his absolute goddamn mess of an ex-boyfriend. Definitely top priority on Jake English’s to-do list. Christ, Strider.
John Egbert pauses about halfway between the door and the desk, bouncing on the balls of his feet. “Hi!” he boldly announces, and Dirk can hear at least two more exclamation marks in his voice than strictly necessary.
The single word is so overwhelmingly cheerful and chipper and —loud, that it takes Dirk a moment to remember that he’s expected to answer.
“Yeah. ‘Sup.” That’s the pinnacle of eloquence, right there. Someone give him a goddamn medal, ‘cause it’s the Social Intelligence Olympics and he’s going for gold. Whole nations watch with bated breath as he sets a new world record. The highest place at the podium has never been as deep in the metaphorical bag as it is right now. You can’t even see the damn thing, it’s a fucking miracle just how goddamn deep this bag goes.
“Hey! Uh, I kind of realised I never did get around to talking to you—well, I didn’t in this timeline, at least. But meeting someone doesn’t really count if only one of the parties remembers it, right?” He chuckles, and the sound is uncannily familiar.
Dirk crosses his arms in front of his chest.
“Anyway, I figured it was high time we officially met for real! So uh,” Jake English 2: A Very John Sequel glances at the desk and the sketches scattered on top of it, “I hope I’m not interrupting anything, I guess?”
Dirk makes a minute upwards motion with his shoulders, then lets them sag. “Nah.” Was this too laconic? He makes a valiant effort to not sound like a total tool. “I’ve just been collabing with Jade on some shit,” he points over his shoulder to the pile of sketches, “putting my degree in agriculture to good use. You know. Just doing my share for our bio, fair-trade, locally sourced produce. Support your local farmer.”
John stares at him, a small crease formed between his brows, and the silence stretches for a few seconds. It’s enough time for Dirk to replay his previous statement approximately four times in his mind, trying to scan his words for whatever it was that caused this perfectly normal conversation to careen into an awkward social faux pas. And so soon, too. He’s pretty sure he must actually be breaking some sort of record here. Maybe it was the tone? He’s always been abysmal at that. God, why doesn’t everyone on this planet just communicate through text at all times like normal, reasonable demigods. Spoken language is for chumps. Or people with refined social skills.
“Degree in agriculture.” John’s voice is just dripping with scepticism, and Dirk barely catches his relieved sigh before it slips out of his mouth. “Yeah, I bet you got it from End-of-the-World University or something.” Fall back, panicked brain cells, crisis averted. The man can handle sarcasm.
“Bro. The implication that I would push my higher education to the wayside ‘cause of something as trivial as the entire planet being flooded and everyone other than me and Roxy being dead deeply wounds me. You’d be surprised, but when the Batterwitch wasn't on a tyrannical murder rampage, she made a pretty decent teacher. Her pop quizzes, though?” He lets a hiss of air out through his front teeth for emphasis. “Fuckin’ savage.”
John snorts as laughter comes spilling out of him. It’s a loud rumbling sound and it’s so similar to Jake’s that it nearly causes Dirk physical pain.
Yeah, this is about as torturous as he was expecting. Ever since they settled in all nice and cosy in their shiny new universe, Dirk has been operating with the intention of sidestepping as many interactions with his ex’s genetic descendant as he can, for as long as he can. Ideally forever. And that’s perfectly fucking reasonable. John is so bizarrely similar to Jake it gives Dirk whiplash, and at the end of the day, it's really better for everyone if they forgo shaking this can of worms all too much. This is honestly a public service on his part.
Alas. It would seem that his carefully designed plan has come to an untimely end, tumbling downhill at hypersonic velocity and ending up so far south it acquires a very distinct drawl, awful snakeskin boots, and a faux cowboy hat in its final moments.
John’s talking. It takes Dirk a moment to catch on. “...as Dave said you were a pretty cool guy.”
“Dave said that?” He kicks himself inwardly for the way the words burst out of his mouth before he can stop them.
John grins at him. "Oh yeah, he totally did! Like, saying all of that other stuff like that is kind of his whole thing, right," he says with a pointed eye roll, and wow Dirk sure missed a lot of context for that statement, "but I am pretty sure he actually meant the last part."
Dirk feels his cheeks heat up and is grateful for the dim room and his own dark skin. “That’s… yeah. Um,” he offers, in a half-assed attempt to sound nonchalant. It’s definitely not his best one.
“To be honest, he seemed a bit worried about you. Roxy and Jane did, too. They were talking about how you haven’t shown up to eat with us ever since we built the cabins.”
“I haven’t had any appetite,” Dirk answers automatically. They’re worried about him. He didn’t mean to make them worry. He thought it would be easier for everyone if he just kept to himself for a while. He can’t occupy the same space as Jake without making everyone else uncomfortable, things with Roxy are still kinda weird, and that’s disregarding the fact he might just shoot off straight into another panic attack if there happens to be more than, let’s say, two people in his immediate vicinity.
No, distancing himself from the others appeared to be an excellent and perfectly logical idea at the time. That it doesn’t seem so anymore is another matter entirely—he didn’t factor in possible adverse reactions, and ended up causing exactly the concern he set out to avoid. Another miscalculation to add to the list.
He’s fundamentally incapable of interacting with people, and his every single attempt to since they set foot on this planet has only reinforced his conviction. He can’t even think about his last conversation with Dave without feeling sick.
“Y’know,” Dave starts, hesitates, then tries again. He’s fidgeting with the empty plastic plate he’s holding. curling his fingers around the rim, turning it counterclockwise with his thumbs, pausing again. Dirk’s caught in the rhythm of it. “I think I’ve pretty much had it with this whole knight bullshit. I’m sick of it. I’m talkin’ like, bedridden, runnin’ a fever so high it’s got doctors worldwide scratchin’ their heads in poorly concealed confusion at my sorry-ass state. I made it on the news: Teenager hangin’ on to the gift of life by a valiant thread, inspiration to his peers. Got old ladies weepin’ all over the damn place.”
Dave pauses and draws a deep breath. It’s one of their first evenings on the new Earth, and they’ve gathered to eat together by a makeshift campfire. Its glow casts Dave’s profile in warm flickering light. Once again, Dirk finds himself picking his features apart—an exercise that's slowly becoming a habit. There’s Roxy in the slope of his nose and his rounded jaw, sprinkles of Rose that he’s still not able to identify beyond a vague similarity. Rare dimples that scream Lalonde whenever they pop up.
Eyes that are entirely his own.
Then there's hunched shoulders, arms smattered with freckles. A pinch to his eyebrows, a mouth drawn tight. All these, particularly familiar.
His voice almost gets lost in the crackling of the fire. “I’m never touching a sword again in my fuckin’ life.”
Dirk doesn't say anything—he can tell Dave’s not done talking. Least he can do is not interrupt him.
“Shit man, fightin’ wasn't even something I wanted to do in the first place, like, ever. I didn’t choose this life, it stabbed me with a shitty katana replica while I was chillin’ in my high chair, poking at some weird baby puree. How do babies even eat that crap, dude? Y’know, I tried an apple flavored one for shits and giggles once, and it tasted like someone up and put an old dirty sponge through the goddamn blender.” He keeps his voice impassive, but it’s really not that hard to notice how the words all but tumble out of his mouth—there’s urgency bubbling up underneath the surface.
That, and also Dirk has long since gathered that meandering, tangential rambling is Dave’s go-to defensive response.
There is a brief pause before Dave says anything else, and his voice is slower now, more controlled. “Anyway. Guess that was a bit of a tangent I went off on. I swear I was makin’ a point with all of that noise.” Dirk takes this opportunity to interject with what he hopes is an encouraging hum. Dave briefly glances in his direction, chewing on his lip. “So. I, uh. I sliced your head off.”
Dirk’s not gonna forget that anytime soon. Dave’s eyes locking onto his in a silent question, his instant and solid agreement. A moment of helpless terror as the blade swung towards him, burnt out of his mind by the searing pain that followed. Then, losing control, an abrupt and prosaic fade to black.
He resists the urge to rub his neck. “Yeah. Nice swing there, by the way. Gotta be impressed by the beheading-times-three combo.”
Dave shakes his head, eyebrows pinched in... frustration? “Not the point, man.” He turns towards Dirk and he can feel the pair of red eyes boring into him through the shades, all raw intensity, before Dave looks away again. “I’m sorry.”
A swell of affection erupts in his chest without notice, and Dirk reels, overwhelmed with the sudden desire to wrap his arms around Dave. Give him a really tight hug, full of reassurance and all kinds of unspoken, messy feelings.
There’s so many people here.
He seizes up, and doesn't move an inch. “Dave. You had two godawful choices presented to you on a bullshit platter, a negligible amount of time to make a decision, and you still made the right call. You know that. It all worked out in the end.”
Dirk definitely doesn’t miss the way the corners of Dave’s mouth pull downwards. He tries to inject some levity into his voice. “Maybe there’s some weird phantom limb situation going on here that I’m not aware of, but my head seems to be pretty firmly attached to my neck.”
That was the wrong thing to say, he instantly realizes. Dave shrinks into himself, the plate in his hands crunching as he folds it together, and his voice comes out even quieter than usual. “Yeah, sure dude, okay, but—what if it hadn’t? Worked out, I mean.”
Dirk would have been at peace then, as long as his friends were okay. As long as everyone was okay. The thought takes root in his mind, the crystalized notion demanding a considerable amount of his current attention and—he needs to say something. He settles on offering Dave a small shrug. “Ain’t no use wondering about that, man. It did, we won. Case closed, as far as I’m concerned.”
He gets it wrong again. He’s not sure why—not sure what he can do here besides reassure Dave he’s not upset with him, but his words seem to make Dave tense up even more. He throws him a sidelong glance, like he’s about to say something else, but then turns back towards the campfire.
Dirk can’t read his face like this. He can’t pin down where he misstepped, and now he sure as hell doesn’t trust himself to navigate this blindly. He’s only going to make it worse.
He bites his lip. Their conversation peters out into uncomfortable silence.
The sound startles him.
John’s still standing there. Dirk realises he never replied to his comment. How much time even passed while he was taking a stroll down memory lane?
Man. Somebody call the Red Cross, because it is an absolute disaster zone up in this bitch. He can almost hear the alarms going off, regularly scheduled television broadcasts interrupted as notices of an imminent cataclysm are issued all over the globe.
John frowns at him. “Are you okay, dude?”
“Never better,” Dirk replies, his inflection completely flat as he stares at a particularly interesting bit of plain wall. Hey, this stain looks vaguely dick-shaped. Nice.
“Listen, uh,” John hesitates. “I’m not sure what it is that you seem to be beating yourself up about? But my guess is that it’s kind of a dumb thing to beat yourself up about. I mean,” he shuffles in place and looks at his feet, “I don’t think anyone is taking this whole thing,” a vague hand wave that Dirk takes to mean, well, everything, “in any way that could be described as good, you know. Like, what even could be good here? This is all just one huge... weird, sucky mess, so. I guess what I am trying to say is that it’s okay to not have your shit together?” He shrugs.
Dirk immediately bristles up. It’s “okay” to “not have his shit together?” What the fuck does he know about the state of his shit, this is the first time they’ve ever talked. It’s none of his business whether Dirk’s on top of it or literally buried under a pile of shit (that he’s feeling like the latter more often than not is secondary to the matter at hand). He clenches his hands on his forearms. “Yeah, thanks for the unsolicited self-help spiel, but I think I’m good. Real cute of you to worry, though.”
He feels a pang of guilt the moment the words leave his mouth. Damn. He’s really being an asshole about this.
Luckily for him, John steamrolls straight past it. “Sheesh, fine! No need to be an asshole about this, I was just trying to help. Anyway,” he shoves his hands in his pockets, completely unfazed, “the dinners around the campfire are super nice and you should totally start hanging out with us. Can’t be worse than sitting around all by yourself in this empty room, at any rate. Like, what is even up with that.”
Dirk scoffs. He can’t even begin to explain how overwhelming it is to interact with more than a couple of people on a given day, or how he needs to keep the stimuli around himself to a minimum in order to feel barely functional. So he doesn’t. He offers a noncommittal shrug and a begrudging, half-hearted promise to maybe drop by, and apparently that’s enough to appease his newest self-appointed life coach. Satisfied with the valuable advice that he dispensed, John leaves soon afterwards.
As the last bits of daylight fade from the room, Dirk finds his focus slipping, and John’s words echoing on endless repeat inside his mind.
He almost doesn’t go through with it.
In the end, it takes him approximately eighteen minutes of fidgeting, false-starts and motionlessly staring at his door before he works up the courage to open it.
What greets him is a quiet, warm evening. The air smells of dry grass and, once he nears the campfire, burning wood. The bright flames outline the silhouettes of the people sitting around them with a soft glow. Overhead, brand new constellations dot the sky, the stars flickering brightly against the inky night. Some of the carapacians are out and about too, softly chittering among themselves in small groups.
Dirk hasn’t ever felt so self-conscious or wished he were smaller as when he tries to blend into the group.
He doesn’t manage to. At least five pairs of eyes lock on him like laser-guided torpedoes and the heat rising to his face and neck puts the roaring fire to shame. He finds that he regrets all of this, actually. He also wonders if it’s too late to double back.
“Dirk!” Jane clambers to her feet and rushes to him, and for a moment, Dirk is certain that this is how he dies. It’s going to be a Just death. Hell, he fucking deserves it.
Oh. Jane is smiling.
“It’s lovely to see you!” She beams up at him, stopping a feet or so away. “We were just wondering if you might be joining us. Dad cooked tonight and this stew is to die for. I beg you to try it, when was the last time you had a meal that could be described as more than technically edible?” A disbelieving scoff. “It is beyond me how you lived to be sixteen without a food poisoning doing you in. For Pete’s sake, Dirk, you must start eating more. I know full well how you can get when you’re this.... absorbed in your projects, and I highly doubt you were paying the needed attention to your nutrient intake!”
Jane sighs, shaking her head. “Pardon. I reckon I ended up rambling for a moment there.” She reaches over to rub his arm. “The long and short of it is that I’ve been worrying about you. I didn’t want to nag and I knew you’d come out when you were ready, but gosh, am I relieved that you finally are.”
He shuffles on his feet. He’s not really sure what to do with his hands, eventually settling on running one of them through his hair. “It’s good to see you too, Jane.”
She gives him a small smile back. “Are you feeling better?”
He knows the look that she levels at him. It’s not a question asked out of politeness, not when she’s observing him with sharp, focused intent, ready to pick apart whatever he manages to come up with for an answer as soon as it leaves his mouth. It teeters dangerously close to being intimidating. Dirk idly imagines this must be what it feels like to get scolded by your favourite teacher.
And the truth of the matter is… he doesn’t know? He feels like he’s less likely to tuck tail and run for the hills than he was two weeks ago, but don’t quote him on this one. He can definitely see it being an appealing option for his lizard brain still.
He settles for a perfectly noncommittal and neutral response, and lifts up one shoulder in a small shrug.
Jane raises an eyebrow.
He stays silent.
She keeps staring at him.
He caves. “I’m a little better, I guess,” he supplies, weakly.
Jane’s expression softens, and she reaches over to rub his shoulder again. “That’s good to know, Dirk. I’m glad.” Then she nods back towards the campfire. “Now, we really ought to get some food in you, post-haste.”
Dirk nods. He lets Jane drag him to the campfire, pretending not to notice the curious gazes directed his way. When he realises that Jane is leading him straight towards Roxy, he promptly forgets to pretend. Four steps later, and he’s standing right in front of her.
“Lalonde,” he blurts out. Great. Business casual is definitely what he should be going for here.
“...Strider?” She supplies, after a bemused silence. Yeah, he’s nailing this.
He stands there, vividly aware of both girls staring at him, the heat from the fire washing over him in waves. He hasn’t exactly… interacted with Roxy in any serious capacity for the past couple of weeks. At all. Not that he hasn’t wanted to, it’s just—weird. They’re weird right now and he doesn’t know how to make them better again. Part of him wonders if he even can.
Before he can spiral further down this particular slide of cheerful thoughts that are definitely going to take him to a good and happy place, Jane bumps him with her shoulder. “You’d perhaps have an easier time eating if you sat down first.”
He steps up to the empty spot next to Roxy and drops to the ground.
He didn’t need to be told that.
Roxy gives him a grin. “I think it’s like, super sexy how you’re not hiding from us anymore.”
Dirk’s brain sputters and grinds to a halt. His whole body tenses and he’s caught for a reply. “Uh,” he manages. He isn’t sure he’s hungry anymore.
Roxy blinks at him. Then, her entire face flushes. “Oh fuck, I’m sorry, I just meant… It was a joke, shit— I didn’t mean it like…”
Oh. “Oh.” He lets out a bark of laughter that sounds distinctly hollow to his ears. “Right. Of course. It was a great joke.” God, he’s bad at lying.
Behind him, Jane lets out an exasperated sigh. “You lot are going to give me an ulcer,” she declares as she plops down between them.
“Sorry, Jane,” Dirk mutters. He’s surprised to hear Roxy echo his words.
Jane snorts and shakes her head. “Dirk, Roxy and I were just talking about how different home-cooked meals are than what you two are accustomed to.”
“It tastes a lot, Dirk,” Roxy pipes in, probably as grateful about the change of topic as he is. “There’s so much going on that my poor lil’ taste buds don’t even know where to start. And yeah, I do mean that in the best way possible. Janey’s dad sure has a bitchin’ hand in the kitchen!”
Dirk is spared from having to come up with a response by Jane handing him an overflowing bowl of food. He eyes it suspiciously, glad that his shades keep his sceptical look out of Jane’s sight.
And then the smell hits him.
Mouth-watering can’t even begin to describe it. A sluice gate opens in his mouth and unleashes a sea that could turn the Mojave desert into a lush, flourishing field where wild stallions roam free, their majestic manes whipping in the wind. Pavlov urgently cancels his experiment because the saliva will just not stop being produced. His laboratory is closed down, he loses the support of his academic peers, and quits his job to embrace a rural lifestyle. Probably in the aforementioned Mojave, which is now downright bucolic.
He looks at Jane, gesturing towards Roxy with his spoon. “She’s right, you know. Sixteen years of dried and processed foods could not have prepared me for this.”
“Jeez, tell me ‘bout it.” Roxy sighs. “I used to think that those tiny olives they put in martinis were the pinnacle of flavour.” She then proceeds to make an extremely classy farting noise with her mouth.
Jane lets out a pained gasp. The conversation arcs towards different cuisine, with Jane absolutely schooling them in all manner of dishes and setting up a weekly meetup dedicated to food degustation so that they can expand their culinary horizons.
Eventually, Dirk’s attention drifts towards the other people sitting around the fire. Everyone’s bunched together in small groups, the sounds of different muffled conversations blending together into a soft background hum. It might sound peaceful—pleasant, even—if Dirk’s brain would just stop trying to set each voice apart, catch and catalogue every single word.
He does his best to block the onslaught of information. As it turns out, the gentle lull of waves and the occasional seagull screech did absolute jack shit to prepare him for the auditory assault that is an actual respectable amount of people existing in the same space.
Just then, he notices Dave sitting to his right, leaning on a round rock with legs spread out towards the fire. There are a few people standing between them, but Dirk can still see him engrossed in a conversation with Karkat. Then, at some point, it dies down and Karkat turns to Kanaya, who’s sitting on his other side. Dave’s left alone, the flickering fire reflecting in his shades.
Okay. Dirk takes in a steading breath, bids his farewell to Roxy and Jane, and pulls enough of his shit together to approach his b—his, um. His Dave. Yeah. That is for sure what he meant to say there, and is obviously the statement of a sensible dude.
He makes sure to walk up to him within his field of vision, alert him to his presence so he doesn’t startle. He stops at what he considers the proper distance and sits down on the ground next to Dave.
“‘Sup,” Dave says, and gives him a small nod. Dirk knows he’s observing him out of the corner of his eye.
“I… Well.” He’s not sure where to start. “A—uh, reliable source tipped me off that I sorta majorly fucked up, maybe,” Dirk informs him, stammering over his words, but he doesn’t miss the way the corner of Dave’s mouth twitches up.
“Not to get all up in your grill, dude, but I think you gotta check your source’s reliability,” he quips. “Witnesses say that, yeah, there was an amount of something that could be described as fucking up, but they wouldn’t really call it major. The police rounded ‘em up for questioning and they’re all pretty shaken and shit, but the general consensus seems to be that the fucking up that took place was actually pretty average.”
Relief pours over Dirk and he almost chokes on it. All of the things that he still wants to say are swimming around in his head, words and half-formed sentences all running into each other in utter disarray. Might as well start with the simplest one. He takes a breath. “I’m sorry, Dave.”
Dave snaps towards him. Dirk kicks at a small rock with the tip of his shoe, feeling even more self-conscious now that he’s bearing the brunt of his focused stare. “I… I know I did something wrong. And I’m sure someone less socially maladroit would be able to pinpoint the exact way in which they acted like a total asshole, but… Yeah, that ain’t me. I’m kind of at a loss here, bro.”
“That’s okay.” Dave gives him a small smile. “Real talk, just… bringing this up. It means a lot.” He scratches the back of his neck. “I appreciate it.”
“I want to do better,” Dirk says earnestly, “I want to fix this.”
Dave sighs. “I get it, man. But like, that’s not something you can fix. It wasn’t your fault, that whole...” he waves his hand around in the air, “business. It happened and I guess the best we can do is accept it? But you tellin’ me it was perfectly fine and totes okay for me to kill you like, no biggie, it—it doesn’t exactly make a dude be all hunky-dory about it, you feel.”
Dirk bites his lip. Part of him wants to argue that it was perfectly fine and okay, but he recognises that might also be the part that tells him he should just hurry up and kick the metaphorical bucket on a daily basis. To be perfectly candid, he can sort of see how expressing his suicidal impulses might not be the most reassuring of actions.
He nods. “I understand. I think.”
Dave is silent for long enough that Dirk starts to wonder if he ended up saying the wrong thing again.
Then, at long last, he mutters: “I keep… having nightmares about it. Cutting your head off.”
Dirk looks at him with a start. “You do?”
Dave’s laughter is devoid of humour. “Is that like, weird?” He huffs. “I’d literally just found you, dude. And you were so much better than… yeah.”
“Yeah,” Dirk echoes.
Is this the first time he’s seeing this from Dave’s perspective? He tries to imagine what would it be like if their roles were flipped, if he was the one who had to chop his head off. It’s a nauseating thought, and he recoils from it, his heart hammering against his chest.
He doesn’t know if he could.
He doesn’t know how he would have lived with himself if he had.
He rubs his face and groans into his hands. “I’m sorry, man. Somehow I got it into my head that if I said enough times how okay I was with dying, it would make you okay with killing me, for some fuckin’ reason. I realise now there may have been a bit of a logical fallacy there.”
Dave snorts. “Maybe a little.”
Dirk chews his lip. The flames are blurring in front of his eyes and he realises he’s forgotten to blink. “You know. I don’t even think I was a hundred percent okay with dying.”
“Yeah?” Dave turns to look at him fully for the first time.
“Yeah. It was… it was pretty terrifying.” He shuffles in place. “It wasn't how I'd thought it'd go. Any of it. I was supposed to be—I had this huge dumb plan and everything. Trying to keep everything on lock on my own.” He chuckles bitterly. “That all went down the drain pretty damn fast. This... feeling. Of being completely powerless? It was paralysing.” He sighs. “In a weird way, I guess there was something calming about you doing it, though.”
Dirk gives him a shrug. “Yeah.” A beat, while his tongue struggles to form the words. “I trust you.”
Dave falls silent again. It seems like he wants to speak, but he opens and closes his mouth several times before he manages to make a sound.
Yeah, you can really see that they’re related.
“Thanks,” Dave mutters, running a hand through his hair.
“Don’t mention it,” he responds, stiffly.
“I’m glad you didn’t die.”
He gapes at him while he struggles to find his voice. “Yeah. Me too.”
Something loosens in his chest. It’s the truth. He doesn’t always feel this way, but it’s relieving that he does right now. He manages a small smile, and when Dave returns it, Dirk feels like he did something right.
Dave leans in and lightly bumps his shoulder with his, and Dirk thinks, yeah, I can get used to this. His chest feels light and warm. It’s almost easier to breathe, like holding all of this in had been putting a real, tangible weight on top of his lungs.
Neither of them says anything else at this point, but the silence is comfortable. Relaxed, almost. A few minutes later, Karkat turns to say something to Dave and he shuffles to join the trolls’ conversation. Dirk doesn’t try to listen in and instead lets his eyes travel around the campfire again.
He spots Jake across the fire, and his stomach flawlessly executes a death drop. Obviously, because of fucking course, Jake just so happens to choose this exact moment to glance in his direction. They lock eyes for a startled, uncomfortable second before he gives Dirk a little wave and a smile. Dirk flicks two fingers to his forehead in a brief salute and probably looks like a huge dumbass while he’s at it because who even does that as a greeting, wow.
Once the forced pleasantries are out of the way, they immediately resume their previous routine of not interacting with each other. Thank God. The sick feeling that pooled in the pit of his stomach during this fleeting interaction lets up again.
It’s only then that he notices John standing right next to Jake. And also looking straight at him, for some reason. His little exchange with Jake seems to have made him the current focus of the dude’s undivided attention, he guesses? John sure is beaming at him, at any rate. Man, but those are some impressive chompers.
With a healthy dose of befuddlement, Dirk watches John part ways with Jake and start making his way around the fire. Towards him. He still has no idea why this guy could possibly be so goddamn eager to make stilted conversation with him, repeatedly, out of all available people, but to each his own. Who is Dirk to judge someone else’s questionable social decisions.
John flops down on his left. “Hi, Dirk!” There are always so many exclamation marks, he swears to God. “I see you have decided to take my obviously smart and very valuable advice and stop being an anti social shut-in.”
“Why are you splitting that word up with your voice. Why did you do that. Are you fucking possessed, Egbert?”
That earns him a very slow, very pointed eye roll. “Don’t try to grammatically argue your way out of my justified boasting! The point still stands.” He has the audacity to nudge him with his shoulder. “See, it’s not so bad leaving your depressing, crusty cabin once in a while, is it?”
Dirk will be caught dead before he admits it out loud, but. He may have a point.
A tiny one.
hey guys! i hope you enjoyed the second installment of my magnum opus, dirk strider is extremely self-disparaging and occasionally interacts with people who care about him, for some reason. i'm very proud of this one!
huge thank you to everyone who kudo'd and commented on chapter one, it's a blast sharing this whole thing with the world finally.
Talking to your bestie. Taking one for the team and being a Huge Emotional Wreck™ about it.
Dirk is not, by any means, a stranger to sleepless nights.
Lying awake on his bed with his eyes closed has pretty much been his modus operandi for years, even before the game. And not to be overdramatic or anything, but the condition has only been further aggravated by a certain series of traumatic events that transpired a mere two months ago. He's intimately acquainted with the insides of his eyelids by now. Although, honestly? Knowing yourself is healthy as fuck. He's read the magazines, he’s read the books, and he’s so down with this whole self-actualisation bullshit. A straight-up PhD in body positivity, self-care, and inner reflection, ready to start his own advice column. Rest assured, Marjorie Proops’ legacy is safely cradled to his bosom.
Uh, where was he? Oh, right. He also figures he must have conditioned his body to subside on roughly four hours of sleep per night at this point—which, in Dirk’s book, means nothing but increased efficiency. When it comes down to it, sleeping is just a waste of time, and like, who even thought that it was necessary? Nah. He just has more useful hours in his day. He's quite content with this arrangement.
Yeah. That’s about the most positive spin he can put on the fact that he can’t fuckin’ go to sleep. Gold star for the effort, four point five goddamn hats out of five.
Today has been hot and sunny, typical for late May, and the stuffy air in Dirk’s cabin is pressing down on him. He’s been trying to sleep, but it seems like Mr. Sandman is a no-show tonight. Dirk got stood up, again. His whole body is tense and sticky with sweat and he keeps tossing and turning in a futile attempt to find a position that’s comfortable for more than five seconds.
At around three in the morning, his damp shirt clings to his torso and he pants for air. A phantom plastic bag tightens around his head to the point it feels like his heart’s gonna burst out of his chest, Alien style. Erratic heartbeats, short inhales that do nothing to alleviate the pressure building up in his lungs.
Fuck it. He sits up and wipes the sweat off his forehead. Pulling on his jeans and grabbing his shades, he stumbles out into the open and rests his back against the door. Ain’t getting any shuteye, anyway.
The fresh, cool night breeze is the best fucking thing he’s ever felt.
When he’s caught his breath, he wanders off toward the clearing where they gather to eat. There’s a silhouette perched on one of the bigger rocks next to the campfire. He recognises Roxy in an instant, noticing the tension coiling in her frame.
He contemplates backing off and leaving her to herself, but. It’s his job to, at the very least, see if he can do something to help. Been neglecting everyone on the friend front for way too long. Hell, Roxy specifically.
He puts his shades on and approaches her.
Roxy starts. She looks up at him, grimacing. “Jeez, you scared the crap outta me for a hot sec, all creepin’ up in the dark and shit.”
“Sorry.” He sits down on the ground next to her and examines the outline of her face, delicate and framed by the campfire. His expression softens. “Couldn’t sleep?”
She shrugs. “Apparently my body up and decided it was way too cool for sleeping like, two months ago. Hashtag YOLO and all that jazz.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean.” Dirk admits his distaste for the activity reached a new high after arriving on Earth Redux, due to the aforementioned traumatic events experienced in an earlier date. More often than not, falling in the probably stiff from all the waiting arms of Morpheus means something disturbing is bound to make a cameo in Dreamland Theater. Undoubtedly in high res and immersive surround, just so he doesn’t miss any bloody, excruciating details.
Yeah. Dirk definitely does not dig this whole sleeping shebang.
“Well,” Roxy sighs, ”who needs shuteye when you have mad Voidy powers?” She rolls the r and flourishes her arms a bit, and Dirk huffs in amusement. “Yo, don’t you huff at me, this is serious business! Check out all this sweet loot!” She points toward the foot of the rock.
Sure enough, there’s a small heap of various objects strewn about on the ground. Pebbles, shells and conches, some toys, a Darth Vader figurine.
“You practicing your Void appearification skills?”
She nods. “It’s easier with like, generic objects. I think about a pretty rock, and it’s a piece of cake to yoink a shiny round one, or like, that one over there. Look, it has a tiny heart on it. Adorbs.” Here, a tiny crease of concentration forms between her eyebrows. She admires her personal pile of knick-knacks thoughtfully. “The more complex and specific the object is, the harder it is. Or maybe I have a smaller array to pull from and it takes longer, hell if I know.” She prods at the Vader figurine with her foot. “I was actually aiming for an Anakin Skywalker here. Who’da thunk the space-time continuum wasn’t too big on the prequel trilogy.”
Dirk chuckles a bit at that. He reaches out for the figurine, flipping it over. The moonlight bounces off Toy Vader’s mask. Like many times before, Dirk absently notes that the concept art was way cooler than the actual final product. A damn shame.
Roxy goes quiet too, each of them slipping into their own thoughts. Dirk chews on the inside of his cheek. He’s been waiting for an opportunity to talk to Roxy about… well, a lot of things, really. But now that he finally got one, presented to him all wrapped up nice and pretty with a bow on top, he feels terribly unprepared. And at least four times sleepier than he’d like, but what the hell is new. He’ll shrug it off eventually.
Dirk sighs. No use waiting for a better moment, it probably ain’t coming. Plus, he owes so much to his best friend.
He can at least start with this.
She warily glances towards him, and Dirk sees the anxiety he’s feeling mirrored back at him on her face. She opens her mouth to interrupt him, but he raises a hand. “Roxy, please, let me talk first.”
She hesitates, then nods, slumping into herself. “Okay, shoot.”
Guilt, sour and sickly, pools into his stomach. “I… I need to apologise. For… everything, I guess.” He kicks himself inwardly. This is such a lame cop out, he can do better. She deserves better. “For making you think I was disappointed with you, when nothing could be further from the truth. Everything I could ever do — anyone could ever do, really — is look up to you, and — ” He needs to pause. Take a deep breath, try again. “And be proud of you. All you did during our shitshow of a session was look after us, all the time , and we were all too fuckin’ absorbed in our own shit to see it.”
Roxy sniffles. “Di—”
“I’m not finished.” His own vision is starting to swim, but his voice doesn’t waver. “I’m sorry for making things between us so goddamn weird. I knew how you felt about me, and I should have addressed it sooner.” He runs both of his hands through his hair, nails angrily scrapping at the base of his neck. “ Shit , I shoulda just talked to you like normal fuckin’ person! I fucked up, but what else is new, really. If I ever wrote a memoir, I Fucked Up (A Lot) would be an apt title.” He lets his shoulders sag, feels himself deflate like a leftover balloon from a kid’s party. “You deserve so much better than me, Rox.”
A small, pained chuckle escapes Roxy’s lips. “Dirk Strider, you’re such a piece of work.”
Her words make him look up at her face. He’s gonna be sick. This is it, he’s finally getting what he—
“When will you get it through that thick skull of yours that you don’t have to take all the blame, all the time? Jesus Christ, all of us are huge messes with plenty of dumb mistakes on our track record.” He opens his mouth to retort, but she raises an authoritative finger. “Shush, it’s my turn now! Fucking listen to me, Dirk, damn it.” His mouth snaps shut. He sits there, still as a statue, as Roxy takes a deep breath and gathers her thoughts.
“I can’t sit here listening to you saying all these things about me when I’ve been an absolutely awful friend for years . Even when I knew you weren’t attracted to me, I still didn’t back off. What sort of best friend goes and harrasses her gay homie into making out with her? Like, even calling myself your best friend feels wrong!” She presses the heels of her hands against her eyes and rubs furiously.
With difficulty, Dirk swallows around the lump in his throat. “Well, that sucks.” His voice sounds like the objective polar opposite of steady right now. He gives a negative amount of fucks about that. “‘Cause that’s what you are. BFFs 4 life and all that, I don’t make the rules.” He manages to crack a smile. “And just FYI, that’s a four. Like, the number.”
A half-laugh, half-sob tears out of Roxy’s mouth and in the next moment, she’s pulled him in by the shoulders.
It’s a messy hug, and her shoulder jams in his chest for a moment, and she chuckles, shuffles to wrap her arms around his neck. His arm gets trapped between them, but then he’s wrapped it around her waist and her face is buried in his chest, and they cling to each other. Her small frame shakes, and if Dirk’s shirt starts getting wet, he ignores it in favour of rubbing circles on her back. (His own vision might be getting a little blurry, but that’s no one’s business.) Her hair tickles his face and gets into his nose, and goddamn if it isn’t the warmest feeling in the world.
It feels like a piece of his fractured self has slid back into place. He realises something has been off-kilter inside him only now that it isn’t anymore.
Some time passes, with Roxy nestled at his side, resting her head on his chest. Dirk stares straight ahead.
“Roxy?” he eventually breaks the silence.
The words have an unfamiliar taste. This isn’t how he imagined saying them for the first time, or the person he’d be saying them to, but nothing that’s left his mouth before has ever felt so right. (Keeping a straight face is suddenly a statistical impossibility. Also, he doesn’t give a flying fuck.)
Roxy hums against his chest. “I know.”
There is a long silence before he shoots her a look, eyebrows arched. “Did you just Han Solo me?”
She laughs, barely pulling back to give him a pleased smile. “Sweet catch, nerd.” A beat. “Love you too, Dirk.”
i just....... love these two dorks so much? their friendship's so important to me
i hope you enjoyed this week's chapter, and i'll see you next week! <3
Chapter 4: Activity Four
a bit late, but here's chapter four! thanks to everyone who's been reading and commenting, i hope you guys enjoy this one!
Concealing, not feeling, not letting her know. Suspecting she already does.
“I see you are a connoisseur of a more mature brand of masculine sex appeal. Would it be an apt comparison to say that the booty ages like a fine wine, or do choice hindquarters remain untouched by the sands of time?”
Dirk stiffens when he hears the first words, but by the time Rose has finished talking (which takes a while—Dirk’s noticed it usually does with her), he’s scooting to his right so she can sit down next to him.
Just like every evening during the last week, Dirk’s sitting by the campfire with the rest of the group. It’s a small start, and the mere presence of so many people is still enough to make him want to claw his way out of his own damn skin sometimes, but it’s… easier than he imagined, all things considered.
He tears his eyes from Dad Crocker and leans back, shooting Rose a glance out of the corner of his eye. She’s observing him with her usual intensity, a small smile lurking on her lips. “Don’t stop your lustful gazing on my account,” she says.
He could deny it, of course. But he already knows her well enough to realise the effort would inevitably backfire, much like a rigged gun in the hands of a foolhardy sidekick in a cheap cop flick. His death would only serve to fan the fire of the protagonist’s rightful rage over the status quo —Cerberus leaves no space for comic relief devices when he comes a-knockin’.
Shit, he knows her well enough to suspect she's the one who rigged the gun in the first place. Probably while sporting a coy, mysterious little smile, as if she knows something he doesn’t. Which she does, no doubt about it.
“Look, there’s only so many people on this planet I can gaze at, lustfully or otherwise, without it being weird,” he says. “The fact that the father of one of my best friends makes the list should tell you something about how pitifully low the bar is.”
Rose chuckles. “So it’s staring based on availability and not attraction?”
Dirk doesn’t need telepathy to know she’s getting at something. This is exactly the sorta thing that got him extra wary around her at first. (This, plus the lingering feeling she’s more like him than he’s comfortable with.) “Why you askin’?”
She shrugs. “Mere curiosity.” This doesn’t bode well. Dirk braces himself for what’s to come. “I have an arsenal of variously crass daddy jokes and this might be a good opportunity to utilise them.”
Yeah, sure, he’ll bite. “Can’t be worse than what I fantasise about every night before drifting off into an uneasy, mildly aroused slumber.”
Rose arches an eyebrow, but otherwise doesn’t seem impressed or perturbed in the least. “Are you usually dominated or pampered in those fantasies?”
“Both scenarios get me going like you have no idea,” he makes sure to match her dry, academic tone. “There’s simply something about dapper older men with mysterious pasts and impeccable taste in headwear that reduce me to a whimpering, moaning mess faster than you can say ‘Daddy, I’ve been a bad boy’.”
The eyebrow travels higher up her forehead. “I see. And is this vulgar humour an attempt to establish dominance or a personal defense mechanism?”
“Oh, I’m sure you’re itchin’ to share your insights with Psychoanalysis 101 yourself. What’s your guess, Sigmund?”
His deadpan retort doesn’t faze her in the least, as he was sure it wouldn’t. She regards him carefully. “I think it’s a dare,” she begins. “You are clearly not devoid of emotions, nor proficient at hiding them, yet you are obsessively committed to their disguise. On one hand, you have constructed a persona that you’ve convinced people is genuine, but on the other, you wish for it to be torn down. The only thing I still wonder about is whether that’s an attempt to weed out the undeserving, so to speak, or a desperate attempt to prove to yourself that there is something of enough value under the mask. Maybe you’ve simply forgotten how to remove it.”
She gives her words a moment to sink in. “Do tell me if I’m off base, though.”
Dirk stares straight at the fire.
Not for the first time, he carefully weighs the pros and cons of simply flinging himself into it. He’s starting to lean towards just doing it, as per a popular sports brand’s slogan, but then he imagines Rose delivering his eulogy and promptly reconsiders.
He opens his mouth. Tries to come up with a rebuttal. Closes it again.
Before his silence manages to write “You got me!” on a huge neon sign and put it up above his head for all to see, their heart-to-heart turned impromptu psychoanalysis session is suddenly interrupted.
“Hey you two, what are you being all secretive about over there?”
Dirk snaps towards the voice. John Egbert is sitting several feet to his right, and it seems their little spiel has attracted his full, undivided attention. Was he really talking that loud?
Christ, was Rose?
There is a momentary pause in which his brain sputters and coughs and he desperately tries not to panic. He is agonisingly aware of the two people looking at him expectantly. Okay, Strider, focus. Analyze the situation.
On his left side, Rose is probably having the time of her life watching his soul leave his body. Said soul turns and regards the absolute shipwreck that this goddamn bitch of a situation has become, with a mixture of amusement and pity, before it departs this realm of existence. All that’s left behind is his mortal coil, blushing brighter than a virginal shoujo protagonist who’s just been made a rather untoward proposition.
On his right side, John worries his bottom lip. His smile has morphed into a puzzled expression.
Dave peers from around John and Dirk’s eyes dart to him in a silent plea. He hopes he manages to convey the sea of desperation he’s currently drowning in, in a suitably discreet but nonetheless urgent manner.
Dave goes from confusion to action in 0.1 seconds flat. “Dude, is it really necessary to tell every single person on this planet—and I’m not even being hyperbolical here, there’s absolutely no fuckin’ exaggeration in that statement—about the decapitation thing. Story’s getting old, bro.”
Another moment of uncertain silence.
Then John does a weird, dorky combination of a laugh and snort. “Whoa, I still kinda cannot believe that happened! Dave actually beheaded you.”
“Dave actually did,” Dirk confirms, and the sudden-need-to-hug-his-brother pile doesn’t stop from getting taller. At this point it could’ve given his apartment in Houston a run for its money. “Fun times were had all around. At least I imagine so. I was kinda preoccupied with the whole being dead as hell business.”
Dave takes it from there. “Well, you know what they say, the family that beheads each other stays together. Strider clan motto right there, y’all can refer to our family's coat of arms for further information, it's just under the emblazoned shades and sweet capes. We're all about strengthening brotherly bonds of affection through partial dismemberment.”
“How was that like, though?” John asks, apparently not paying all that much attention to the tangent Dave went off on. Poor dude looks slightly offended. “Having your head cut off, I mean.”
Like a fitting end to the disaster that was their SBURB session, Dirk is tempted to reply, and wow that is really not something you should be asking a guy you’ve only known for a couple of weeks. Dave seems kinda tense, though, sort of anxiously waiting for his reaction to the blunt question, so Dirk is quick to give a casual shrug—just small enough to look nonchalant. “Just another Tuesday, I guess. Regular day in the Strider life, you know how it goes. Fight some aliens after breakfast, then kick back with a comic or some sweet jams.”
“Oh, please,” John stretches out the e , brows settling high on his forehead in a skeptical expression.
“No, that sounds about right,” Dave throws in quietly.
“See, the thing about living all by yourself on post-apocalyptic Earth and having to fight off drones on a biweekly basis with a katana is that it really fucks up your internal is this shit absolutely bananas or not meter.”
“Oh.” John almost looks embarrassed now, but his curiosity wins out. “Okay, I’m probably starting to sound like an overexcited journalist, but what was that like? Your lives sound so weird!” He laughs a little, sheepish.
“Uh.” Hm. How do you begin answering that question? Dirk doesn’t have the heart (get it?) to shoot down John’s eagerness. “Well, for one, the Houston I lived in was completely submerged in water.”
“Right, I think Roxy told me about the whole flooded Earth thing.”
“Yeah, so that was a thing that happened. It was a fuckin’ deluxe aquarium up in there. Complete with luscious flora and fancy buildings for the lil’ fishies to play in. Except everything was human-sized.” Dirk pauses, considers what else to say. “Sometimes I went diving to explore the ruins.”
“You did? That sounds like tons of fun! Like Matthew McConaughey’s character in Fool’s Gold , where he had to dive in the ocean to find the treasure from the Spanish galleon! Oh man, that was totally sweet.” There’s a brief pause. Dirk suppresses his gagging reflex at the thought of that pile of vomit that no self-respecting person would even consider a movie. John scrunches up his face. “Wait, you had diving equipment?”
“Made it myself. Kinda hard to believe, but staring at walls for the entirety of your isolated 16-year-long life gets old pretty fuckin’ fast. Had to occupy my mind with something, so I ended up making all sorts of shit to pass the time.”
John’s leaning forward now, blue eyes wide behind his glasses, and Dirk suddenly has to fight another blush. “What kinda stuff do you mean?”
“Anything interesting enough that I could get the raw materials for, really. Machines, equipment, robots. I ended up creating an AI. Still have mixed feelings about that.”
“Now you’re just pulling my leg!” John exclaims, and Dirk startles. “You did not create an artificial intelligence all on your own!”
He looks like Dirk’s just told him that yes, Santa is real. In fact, the level of disbelief on his face is comparable to what he would be expressing had Dirk said that he was the jolly old man himself, about to whip everything John’s ever dared to dream of out of the depths of his velvety red suit.
Well . That ended up sounding way dirtier than intended. Maybe Rose is on to something with all the alienist shit she’s spewing.
Still, Dirk can’t help himself; a small smirk creeps onto his face. “On the contrary, I totally did create an artificial intelligence and built it into a pair of rad shades.” John raises an eyebrow at “rad”, which Dirk admits he takes some offense to, but otherwise continues to look impressed. Dirk strategically forgets to mention anything about all the ways cloning his 13-year-old brain turned out to be a spectacularly shitty idea. “Ended up prototyping them, too. Did you see Arquiusprite? Bulky, tough-looking red guy back on the platform?”
John nods, gaping a bit in a manner that’s not entirely flattering, although Dirk has to admit it’s kinda endearing.
Dirk clears his throat. “Yeah, so that’s part Auto-Responder. Or part alternate me, I guess. It’s all kind of a huge fuckin’ mess, to be honest.” His brain’s going into overdrive again, about to launch into a three-hour lecture about the mechanics behind AR’s inception. He snaps his mouth closed and goes silent.
John just keeps staring at him for a bit, and Dirk can’t quite make out his expression. “Aw man, that sounds so freaking cool! Like it’s straight out of a sci-fi movie or something. And here I prototyped my nanna’s ashes on grounds of being a dumb klutz.”
Whatever fleeting bitterness Dirk thinks he saw is gone from John’s face just as quickly. “Anyway, what else did you do back on Earth? I mean, other than create technology that it’s frankly offensive for a teenager to be able to create?”
“It wasn’t such a huge deal,” Dirk says, fully aware that, A) it totally was a huge deal, and B) he absolutely subsists on praise and compliments.
He considers the question. “Well, I also enjoyed, like, reading history books and old stuff? Or any sort of media and bits of human culture from before the Condesce. Movies and the like.”
John perks up. “Oh, I love movies! Did you ever get to see any 21st century classics?”
Dave, who’s been following the conversation with mild interest, presses a hand against his forehead. Dirk is about a hundred percent sure he mumbles a string of curses.
His curiosity piqued, Dirk shifts his attention back to John. A smirk tugs at the corner of his mouth as he asks, “Classics such as…?”
Dave shoots him a devastated look. Dirk briefly wonders what could be that bad.
Then, John sits up straighter, turns so that he’s fully facing Dirk, takes a deep breath. His next sentence comes out as a single word: “Have you watched anything starring Matthew McConaughey?”
It pains him to admit it, but Dirk needs a good five seconds to parse this new data. It takes another five to suppress his impulse to laugh. “You’re kidding, right?”
John gasps, indignant. On his left, Rose snickers. “Trust me, he isn’t.”
“I’m assuming we’re not talking about ironic appreciation here?” he asks her in an undertone.
“You’re assuming correctly.” The smirk is audible in her voice.
“Why do you Striders always have to jump to the ridiculous asshole conclusion? Can’t a guy just enjoy some quality cinema starring one of the most awesome actors ever captured on tape, in a genuine and unironic manner?”
“I actually thought enjoying that heap of steaming horse shit that tries to call itself a movie was practically impossible for anyone with their sight, hearing and mental faculties intact. Humanity, once again, exceeds my expectations.” He pauses and regards John’s increasingly aggravated face thoughtfully. “Actually, jury’s still out on the mental faculties angle.”
John glares at him so hard Dirk’s afraid it’s going to melt his nerdy glasses right off his face. “Bluh bluh,” John mimics him, “my name’s Dirk Strider and I think I’m so cool and smart with my dumb pointy shades and also I hate having fun.”
Dirk has to bite back his chuckle. He keeps his amusement out of his voice. "You can't see, but I'm rolling my eyes right now behind my totally sweet shades. If you recorded this eye roll and looped it for two hundred and twenty minutes, it would make a better movie than anything that has ever featured Matthew McWhatshisname's weirdly gaunt face."
“Oh no, you didn’t .” John is basically inflating with righteous anger at this point. “You will regret insulting Matthew McConaughey and his life’s work!” He jumps to his feet and jabs a finger in Dirk’s direction. “I dare you to watch his movies with me and not have fun!”
Dirk automatically stands up as well, but he still has to crane his head back to look at John’s face. (It occurs to him for the first time that John is tall. Like, really tall. What the actual fuck.) They’re standing a couple of feet apart now, and Dirk feels like he got caught in the middle of a very over-the-top, very dumb action flick. The kinda thing John would like, apparently.
Dirk lets a small smirk creep to his face. “Bro, it’s fucking on. ”
Chapter 5: Activity Five
Disclaimer: If you are Matthew McConaughey and, for whatever reason, happen to be reading this, I deeply and sincerely apologise. Just. Sorry, man.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
McWatching shitty movies with your ex's ecto-bullshit son. Hah. (And also begging for the sweet release of death.)
Dirk doesn’t expect it to actually be fucking on.
In fact, in the week or so that’s passed since their small scene at dinner, he’s been more or less certain it was decidedly off. A computer disconnected from its power source would serve as an apt metaphor in this instance, the sad, useless lump of plastic and metal left to rust in a dusty corner, forever denied the sweet, sweet electrical juices it so desperately craves.
That’s why, when John comes barging into his cabin on a quiet Friday evening like a stampede of elephants high on both sugar and caffeine, Dirk experiences a momentary lapse in his speaking abilities.
The lack of sounds coming out of his mouth apparently translates to by all means, feel free to invade my sanctum of peace and quiet uninvited, I have no need for personal boundaries in Egbert-speak, because he starts running his mouth as soon as he crosses the threshold.
"Hey Dirk, what’s up!” The amount of excitement this guy can pack into four words is simply mind-boggling. “Are you ready for the movie experience of your life, buddy? Fair warning, though, you’re about to weep tears of joy at this masterpiece and feel very dumb for all the lame things you said a few days ago, so have some tissues in hand. I sure hope you’re ready to take back everything and admit you were super wrong!"
Dirk blinks. Damn, that's a lot of noise.
"I asked the others to join us but apparently everyone has something important to do! If I didn't know better, I would think they were trying to avoid seeing these movies… I have no idea why anyone would do that though, you cannot spell "21st century classics" without "Matthew McConaughey", and not only because the dude's name is packed with letters!” John grins, his buck teeth on full display in all their please-steal-all-my-lunch-money-right-now glory. “It’s their loss, really! So, what do you want to start with—"
John pauses when he takes in the fact that Dirk was clearly working on something before his boisterous arrival, hunched over his desk and armed with a screwdriver. He hesitates, shrinks into himself a bit, his grin faltering. “Um,” he says, at a much more acceptable volume. “I’m... not interrupting you, am I? We can do this another day if you…?” He trails off and shuffles on his feet.
Le sign. He looks so uncomfortable that Dirk doesn’t have it in him to turn him down. Almost makes him want to apologise, for some reason. "You know what, let’s get this goddamn freak show on the road. It’s not like I have anything better to do with my time.”
He pointedly holds up the defunct power bank he was trying to disassemble before captchaloguing it and puts his screwdriver back in the toolbox on his desk.
The shit-eating grin John was sporting before makes a triumphant return. Crowds are cheering and roaring in approval. Viewership numbers skyrocket as thousands tune in for this display of perseverance against all odds. “Sweet!”
John closes the door behind himself as Dirk makes room on his desk and retrieves his laptop from his sylladex. It should still have enough juice for one movie, and if it dies halfway through, well, all the fucking better for him.
John dumps the pile of CD cases he brought on the desk and Dirk cringes inwardly. He can practically feel the foul smell of tenth-rate cinema and poorly-scripted, poorly-executed and almost definitely offensive quote unquote “jokes” wafting through the air. How in the world did John even find the time to alchemise all of this crap?
“So,” John starts, and Dirk shifts his attention to him. “I am going to extend an olive branch here and let you pick the movie. ‘Cause I’m super considerate like that. I thought we could start with Failure to Launch, though, if you want my professional opinion. You know, ease you into it before I bring out the big guns.” He actually strokes A Time to Kill in what can only be aptly described as a loving manner.
Holy shit. Is this guy for real.
There’s a crude joke about big guns on the tip of his tongue, but he resists the temptation of sharing it. He’s got the distinct impression that busting out the double entendres would make this weird.
Weird-er, that is.
Instead, he chooses the sensible course of action and insults John’s taste in movies again. “Failure to Launch sounds fine. I mean, it sounds absolutely terrible. Just articulating that title is enough to make me consider swallowing my own sword and pulling it out through my dick. But yeah. It's fine.”
John squints at him and cups a hand over his ear, in a comically exaggerated expression of confusion. “I’m sorry, did you say anything? I can’t hear you over the ridiculous amount of fun we’re about to be having.”
Dirk rolls his eyes. “Just give me the fucking CD, Egbert.”
He eagerly complies, and, in a matter of minutes and definitely faster than Dirk would have liked, they’re good to go. Or launch, if you will.
God damn it.
John slams the spacebar with more enthusiasm than strictly necessary (as seems to be his MO), and settles back on his chair. Dirk heaves a martyred sigh.
He’s got this. He’s fought drones, bots, interdimensional demons and murder-crazed, half-dog chess pieces. He can make it through two hours of Matthew McConadouche’s gross countenance and really fucking unpleasant Southern drawl. (How is that so infuriating. Dirk has no issue whatsoever with both his and Dave’s occasional Texan twang, obviously, but that guy’s enunciation drives him up the wall so fuckin’ fast it makes him break straight through the roof in an SUV.)
He forces his brain to focus on the starting movie.
The camera slowly pans to Matthew McC’s face. Dirk can’t help but think that even Lord Jack’s insane, flashing, seizure inducing cue-ball eyes (with a generous helping of blood gushing all over the place) were more visually appealing than this. Eurgh.
He slumps down on the chair and resigns himself to his predicament.
It’s a full ten seconds before this horrifying visage of a movie forces him to avert his gaze. He glances at John, who’s fondly regarding the screen like a puppy would a bowl of food. Or like a fanboy seeing his celebrity crush outside of his fantasies for the first time in months.
Dirk entertains the notion, but dismisses it almost instantly. John practically has “straight” tattooed across his forehead. He’s just very passionate about his subpar cinematic entertainment, Dirk guesses.
Two minutes in and already he can feel his brain matter beginning to ooze out of his ears. “So,” he breaks the silence, earning a sharp glare from John. “Is ‘failure to launch’ an euphemism for erectile dysfunction? I mean, he sure looks desperate to avoid actually sleeping with his conventionally attractive, obviously very eager girlfriend. Where’s the raunchy, embarrassing sex scene that will make me want to claw my own eyes out? I’m feeling goddamn cheated.”
“Shut up!” John hisses. “It’s a very subversive movie that challenges romantic comedy clichés.”
“Egbert, it’s not—No, wait, I see it now, plain as day. Fucking revolutionary. My eyes have been opened. Someone call Rose, ‘cause she's just been downright bamboozled out of her Seer of Light position,” Dirk intones in a completely flat voice.
John gives him a dirty look.
Dirk’s still vaguely considering clawing his eyes out, but for the time being, he returns his attention to the movie.
Some time later, the McMan and his Bro Crew—or as Dirk decides to refer to them, his Brew —are having a stereotypical male heterosexual talk that manages to be offensive on at least eleven different levels, not the least of which being that the script is so bad it’s making Dirk’s ears bleed. The Big Conflict is introduced, and Dirk pledges to himself that next time someone invites him to watch a movie about straight white people being “afraid of love”, he’s gonna eat his own hand before putting himself through this kind of torture again. Medieval devices ain’t got nothing on shitty romcoms.
At least the comic relief guy is kinda cute.
He suffers in silence through ten minutes of some of the worst dialogue he’s ever witnessed—is this what passed for good flirting in 2006? Suddenly, he’s not feeling all that bad about his clumsy, awkward attempts at wooing Jake anymore.
Then, McMacho calls his own mother babe and Dirk promptly loses his shit.
“Is this for fucking real.”
John looks at him with a mixture of surprise and annoyance, but Dirk’s already riding the rant train, pulling out all the stops, next station: angry monologue town. “I cannot believe this. Where is my fucking phone, I need to ring up my ol’ pal Sigmund. The good doctor’s probably thrashing in his grave as we speak, wondering why he’s suddenly awake, his Oedipus Complex senses atingle. He’s confused as all hell, because he can’t fucking tell if he was just woken from his eternal slumber by the most in-your-face Freudian slip this side of Paradox Space, or if that monstrosity is just another item laying on top of the ever-growing pile of evidence that points towards the conclusion that whoever greenlighted this piece of shit movie should be publically executed, thank you.”
John snorts and gives him a headshake. “You kind of sound like Dave when you do that, you know.”
He’s not sure it’s meant to be a compliment. Relatively convinced it’s not supposed to make his chest swell, all light and warm like an inflating hot air balloon—
Hang on, there was a point he was trying to make here. “Dude.”
That earns him a huff of laughter John doesn’t manage to bite back, and a wave of his hand. “Okay, okay, fine, it was a bit weird.”
“A bit—do I need to remind you that incest is—John. That is his mother, John. How are you chill about this. Holy shit.”
He laughs louder this time, shaking his head. “Just don’t think too hard about it, you ass. Suspend your disbelief!”
Dirk’s not sure he has the mountaineering gear to achieve the necessary level of suspension of disbelief, but drops it. McDude and the Brew are riding bikes down a steep hill now, in a scene undoubtedly shoehorned in to reaffirm their masculinity and adventurous spirits, when in reality all it accomplishes is to make them look ridiculous and give Dirk intense second-hand embarrassment.
In a blurry, shaky sequence, Matthaniel skids off the path, makes a spectacularly fake frontflip, and crash-lands under the bike. Dirk holds his breath, hoping against hope that maybe he just broke his fake-tanned neck and this emotionally scarring experience will be over sooner than expected.
Instead, McGuy opens his mouth, and, without an ounce of irony, utters the following words in a sing-song voice: gnarly crash.
Dirk goes completely still. This is so much better than anything he could have imagined. Well, maybe that’s not entirely true. But the point is, this whole afternoon has been building up to this moment and he lets himself savour it. Beside him, John’s sliding down on his chair, hanging his head in his hand, his life in shambles before him. Guess he forgot about this particular line, Dirk thinks idly as the dude lets out a distressed urgh.
He ventures a glance in Dirk’s direction, and oh, Dirk is so ready for it. He says:
“That was wicked to the max, yo.”
John snorts and turns his head away, covering his mouth with his hand.
“It’s like, positively righteous, can you relate? Completely bitchin’.”
This makes his body start shaking with silent laughter, in a valiant but ultimately meaningless attempt to stifle his giggles.
“Just sick, man. Downright bodacious. So illin’. So choice.”
He manages to keep it up for another second before throwing down the metaphorical towel and guffawing. “Okay, okay,” he manages between cackles, “That was really lame. What the hell, the 80’s called and they want their dumb expressions back.”
Dirk huffs out a snort of his own. “I think you mean their totally tubular expressions, dude.”
This phrase ends up triggering a mild laughing fit from John’s end, and Dirk doesn’t bother hiding his amused smile as the guy slowly turns into a very impressive shade of red.
“Ow, my stomach,” John whines through tears, clutching his middle, and his high-pitched, breathless voice forces a chuckle out of Dirk.
It takes some time, but he eventually manages to calm down. John takes off his glasses to wipe his eyes, while Dirk reluctantly returns his attention to his laptop screen. John puts his glasses back on and follows suit.
A few more minutes into this clusterfuck and they bear witness to the glorious moment in which a chipmunk goes straight for McDude’s throat, in a dazzling display of absolutely awful early 2000’s CGI. The hero this movie doesn’t deserve. “Finally, a relatable character,” Dirk says, “Here’s the audience surrogate this monstrosity’s been missing so far, come to accomplish what we’ve all longed—nay, needed to do this entire time.”
“Throw ourselves at McConaughey and never let go?”
Dirk stares at him for a while and tries to piece together what in the world could possibly evoke such adoration for a completely unremarkable celebrity. “Yeah, I’m gonna have to go with a hard hell no on that one.”
“You say that now, but you will come to realise there’s no point in resisting. Embrace it, man. Embrace the McConaughey.”
I’d rather not, Dirk counters in his head and with his whole being. He’s pretty sure his expression has permanently settled somewhere between moderate and severe indignation.
John ignores it.
Dirk watches the grin fade slowly from his face as he immerses himself in the action on screen. He’s leaning forward in his chair, fiddling idly with the hood ties of his sweatshirt. Then, he knits his brows and lightly grazes his lower lip with his teeth.
Whoops, he sure stopped paying attention to the movie for a moment there. Dirk looks back at the screen to see what provoked John’s reaction.
It must’ve been pretty good (read: bad) to rustle their resident McConapologist’s jimmies.
“Why does she suddenly have a dog,” Dirk asks, momentarily forgetting he was supposed to be watching too.
“It’s not her dog,” John says, his voice suspiciously wet, “She’s pretending that it is and that it’s dying to make him comfort her.”
“Dude, are you crying?” Under any other circumstance, he’d kick himself for his flat tone—he either emotes too much or not enough, he’s come to realise—but. Not during this movie, man.
“You really have a knack for being soothing, dude,” John deadpans in a watery voice. Because he’s clearly tearing up. What.
“I am unable to muster the strength to console you here. I have found myself too thoroughly devastated by this. Cinematic masterpiece.”
John giggles and wipes his eyes. “Seriously though, I’m not actually emotional. I just can’t look at people crying without getting all,” he sniffles, “misty-eyed too. I don’t know why, I just can’t help it.”
“Huh.” Dirk gives himself a mental pat on the back for yet another appropriate and wildly eloquent reaction. He’s absolutely owning this shit.
“Just between you and me, I did actually cry for real the first time I watched it, though,” John admits with a weirdly apologetic smile. “At least up to,” he glances at the screen and makes a pained expression, “this part.”
Dirk follows his eyes. “Is she stroking his neck.” What is happening here. “How does this even make sense.”
John shrugs and twists his head to the side in a way that has a certain dog-like quality to it. “I have no idea, actually. I always thought it was a bit... weird. And inappropriate.”
“A bit. Yeah.” It’s making him vaguely uncomfortable.
John rolls his eyes. “Don’t be so nitpicky, man! Have you considered getting off your high horse and enjoying the good parts maybe. Is that something you’ve ever considered doing.”
“You’re making it sound like the act of me dismounting from my taller than average equine transport has any bearing on the existence of these hypothetical,” and here he goes through the effort of making air quotes, “good parts. Which it doesn’t. Because they’re not a thing.”
John calls him an ass again (“Points for creativity, Egbert.” “Shut up, Strider.”) but something tells Dirk that he’s not nearly as annoyed as he’s pretending to be. Probably the fact that he’s totally 100% smiling, dimples and all, and shooting him a very amused look. And lightly shoving him on the shoulder—
The sudden contact catches Dirk off guard, but he manages to play it off discreetly enough. He hopes so, at least. Note to self: stop tensing all 640 of your skeletal muscles every fucking time someone as much as nudges you accidentally, please and thank you. Yours truly, your own goddamn self.
They watch in silence for a while, with John chuckling and Dirk aggressively rolling his eyes at most of the jokes. Well, he says jokes. He wonders if the actors, too, felt their souls, condemned for all eternity, dribble out of their mouths with every word.
About halfway through, there is a longer scene with Comic Relief guy from earlier, and Dirk… realises he’s suddenly paying a lot more attention. The guy has this puppy-like cuteness to him, all soft, messy hair and big bright eyes that look like they’ve been ripped straight out of a shoujo anime. He’s making a fool out of himself trying to pick up the female lead’s... best friend? Roommate? Dirk has no idea, these people act like they all hate each other. It works out in the end (in a couple of minutes, really), because why wouldn’t it. The inevitable kissing scene is, predictably, an atrocity, but he finds himself fixating on those lips.
Great. He can feel his cheeks getting progressively warmer. To say this is not the way he pictured the rest of his evening going would be a downright insulting understatement. What’s next, having to excuse himself to go take a cold shower? With all due respect, fuck his annoying, out of control teenage hormones right in the anus. He shuffles on the chair, trying to focus on anything other than the frankly ridiculously adorable guy on screen, and oh God now he’s shirtless.
In a completely predictable turn of events because of course, this is the moment John chooses to look sideways at him. “You haven’t made any sassy remarks recently, did you finally start appreciating this work of art?” he teases, and this is obviously the perfect moment for Dirk to notice his eyes are the same colour as Comic Relief Dude’s.
His mouth forms words. Dirk has no idea what exactly they are, but they make John chuckle as he returns to the movie, blissfully unaware of the meltdown going on right next to him. A small blessing.
When the movie’s focus shifts back to the leads and their insipid, mind-numbing dialogue, Dirk manages to get his shit together. He is vaguely aware that at some point a bird is shot at and resuscitated by means of CPR, but he really does not want to open that can of worms.
“You know,” he says some time later, because it’s been honestly bugging him, “With you being such a rabid Matthaniel McDouche fan,” John shoots him a dirty look. “And no, I’m not gonna use his real name ever. The amount of jokes here, plump and ripe for the taking, is simply too out of this world, man. Point is: I’m surprised you still haven’t started waxing poetic about the singular McMovie that’s worth watching.”
That grabs John’s attention and makes him turn on his seat and look directly at him. “Ignoring the obvious fact that all of his movies are worth watching, I can’t help but wonder which one managed to earn a compliment like that from one Dirk Strider, renowned movie critic.”
“Fuckin’ Interstellar, bro.”
John’s brows shoot up and furrow in confusion. Then he frowns. “Hardy-har. Nice try, Dirk, but I know McConaughey’s filmography backwards and forwards. He most definitely doesn’t have a movie called Interstellar. I’ll give you an “A” for effort, though.”
“He—Wait.” Dirk makes a quick mental calculation. “Which year did you guys start SBURB in?”
“Um, 2009, why?” John seems to internally answer his own question, because his eyes widen in realization. “Aw, noooo.”
Dirk nods. “Yeah. It came out in 2014.”
John looks thoroughly dejected. Dirk mentally kicks himself for bringing this up. The damage is already done, however, and it doesn’t seem like John’s about to drop the subject. “So... It was a good movie by your dumb standards, huh?”
Dirk shrugs, trying to undo at least some of the damage. If only reality had a Ctrl+Z option. “Eh, it was all right, I guess. Or maybe it was actually really bad, but when you put it next to this thing,” he nods towards the screen (McConabro is tied to a chair and gagged now, and Dirk writes this down as a vast improvement), “the comparison just makes it seem less terrible.”
John doesn’t even bother glaring at him. “Man, I really wish I could see it…” He looks like he’s on the verge of crying.
An idea forms in Dirk’s mind. He spaces out, mulling it over, and only realises he left the conversation hanging when John sighs and returns his attention to the movie.
Dirk mentally slams his head against the desk. He briefly considers physically doing that, too, then decides to just keep watching. That’s probably the more painful option, anyway.
They’ve reached the point of the movie where the stars align in a constellation that defies the laws of physics, common sense, and character development, and the two leads get together. The 35-year-old momma’s boy got the manipulative, emotionally repressed girlfriend-for-hire he deserves.
Peas in a godawful pod.
Then, just as Dirk allows himself to hope for a merciful cut to the credits…
“What is the deal with the dolphin, dude. Are we in for an actually unexpected plot twist. Is the dolphin going to kill him.”
John looks at him with a combination of alarm and disappointment. Still, he’s doing a piss-poor job of not smiling. “They got their happy ending, man, why do you want to take that away from them?”
“The feelings they showed for each other in the last one hour and thirty seven minutes, yes I’ve been counting, ranged from scathing hatred to vague tolerance. Like, there’s been less chemistry between them then there’s between him and the goddamn McDolph—” He interrupts himself, realising what he just said. “Okay, that wasn’t on purpose, I swear.”
It’s too late. John’s doubled up, shaking in yet another fit of the giggles.
“Whatever, man,” Dirk complains, “Feel free to ignore my insightful criticisms. It’s not like this hurts my feelings or anything.”
“McDolphin,” John wheezes and Dirk rolls his eyes behind his shades.
Movie-ways, it’s a wrap soon after that. Dirk powers through the credits, which wouldn’t be a particularly big achievement if they had just done a classic cut to black plus text crawl. But no, the shit pile does not stop from getting taller, and his ability to withstand embarrassingly terrible scripts is strained to its breaking point.
Then, just as the final names fade from the screen (each and every one of them deserving to be written into a Death Note for contributing to this hellish experience), Dirk’s laptop up and kicks the bucket.
“Oh, damn!” John exclaims, and Dirk shares the sentiment. John turns to look at him, pure guilt written all over his face. “I’m so sorry, man, I didn’t realise you had so little battery left! I feel so bad for killing your laptop.”
He seems genuinely distraught, so Dirk waves his hand nonchalantly to stop his tirade. “Nah, it’s no big deal. It was bound to die at some point, and it’s not like we won’t have electricity set up soon.” Please let them have electricity set up soon. “Plus, there’s worse ways to run out of juice than watching a movie, I guess.”
John leans back on his seat and crosses his arms, the picture-book definition of smugness. “Oh, is this the super convoluted Strider way of admitting you enjoyed yourself? That you had... fun?” Shit. Busted.
Dirk crosses his arms, in a much more affronted and much less smarmy mirror of John’s current position. “Fun? I have no idea what you’re talking about. The only things I experienced since you assaulted my poor, unsuspecting ass with this abomination were varying levels of disgust, pain and second-hand embarrassment.”
“You do know what I’m talking about, you totally enjoyed yourself and you are so full of shit right now.” He actually counts each point off on his fingers. What a little shit. “I was there, I heard you laughing. Also, don’t pretend like you don’t want to smile right now, I see right through your lame shades!”
“First of all: not lame. Second of all: whatever, Egbert.”
John glares at him for a total of one second before shaking his head and laughing again. “You’re such a sour loser, holy crap!”
And if Dirk’s smiling in return, well, he guesses he doesn’t mind losing this particular dare all that much.
Chapter 6: Activity Six
guys!! i'm so sorry i took so long to update!!! it's been a busy couple of weeks, but i'm back on track
i hope this chapter makes up for the wait! thanks for reading!
Talking, again, because this ride, it just don't stop.
Callie fidgets with her pencil case, a concentrated wrinkle on her forehead. She takes out a forest green one, turns it between her fingers, then puts it back down. She picks another, lighter one, and chews on her lip. “This one, perhaps?” She holds it up for Dirk to see.
He considers the colour, absently rubbing his jaw as he compares it to his memories. “Yes, this works just fine.”
Calliope beams at him and resumes her artistic endeavors. She’s lying on her stomach on the floor, at the foot of the sofa Dirk’s sprawled on. Roxy’s curled up on an armchair on his other side. She’s messing around on her phone, throwing a look at Callie’s drawing or a sentence into their discussion every so often.
It’s a late afternoon in the beginning of June. Dirk’s lounging at Roxy, Jade, and Callie’s place after a long day of messing with increasingly frustrating electricity bullshit. They’ve earned some rest after finally managing to get the whole thing up and running, that’s for fucking sure. Not that it was ever a match for their combined brainpower, of course.
And about a month or so of tinkering. And also a considerable amount of trial and error.
Okay, it may have put up a pretty decent fight during the first few weeks—Dirk’s slightly singed arm hairs were a testament to this and no, we don’t talk about that—but they finally prevailed. They’ve got the power grid writhing in their clutches while they execute a flawless chokehold, its eyes crazed in totally legit, non-kayfabe panic. The referee’s slapping the ground next to them, and 3-2-1, BAM. Wrecked by the A-team, just like that.
Or as good as, anyway. Sure, they only managed to light up this building and the ones in its immediate vicinity, but the rest is simply just a matter of expansion. So, as far as Dirk’s concerned, they’re absolutely on top of this shit.
The fact that he’s appropriated at least five sockets to charge his various flatlined electronics in definitely helps his sense of overwhelming accomplishment, too.
Taking all of that into consideration, Dirk’s not feeling too guilty about just kicking back and watching Callie’s pencil glide across the paper for basically the rest of the afternoon. Things have been as normal as they’re gonna get. Like, they’re a bunch of kids with god powers building a civilisation on an uninhabited planet of their own creation, kind of, so they’re operating with a very loose definition of “normal,” but honestly, they’ll take it. Everyone’s doing their share to contribute to it.
Callie, for one, has thrown herself into a new creative endeavour: a series of drawings of all SBURB/SGRUB players and their respective planets. It’s a nice way to remember everything that happened, she says, and everyone who didn’t make it.
Dirk’s problem at this point is remembering way too much, but he doesn’t object when she asks him to describe his planet for her. Not that he could, even if he wanted to. Callie flashes him the barest hint of puppy-dog eyes and he’s done for. Vanquished.
There was a lot of weird shit he expected the game would throw at them, but acquiring an adorable alien little sister blindsided the fuck out of him, he’ll be the first to admit.
And sure, he may not have the fondest memories of the Land of Tombs and Krypton—he doesn’t have many fond memories of their SBURB session as a whole, to be real goddamn honest—but, rendered in Callie’s bright cartoony style, the endless expanse of vertical buildings and streaks of green thunder looks... visually pleasing. Pretty, even. Incredibly gloomy and ominous, yes, but pretty nonetheless.
He idly watches her work from his vantage point on the sofa, peering over her shoulder as she thoughtfully picks a darker nuance of green and starts adding depth to some of the structures. “This is lookin’ pretty dang neat,” Dirk says, and Callie absolutely beams at him. “I am very glad you think so, Dirk!” She kicks her clawed feet back and forth as she resumes work on her piece, with renewed enthusiasm.
God. Such an adorable little skull alien girl.
Jade, who had left the room a few minutes ago to grab something to snack on, returns with a platter of cookies. Dirk feels hashtag blessed. She deposits the cookies on the table and aggressively drops on the sofa next to him, barely giving him time to scoot over in order to make room for her mile-long limbs.
It still intimidates him sometimes how tall this girl is—in fact, what is even the deal with Egbert-Harleys making him feel tiny ? Who the shit allowed this travesty. It feels wrong not to be the tallest person in the room, even though he’s not sure exactly why he decided all of humanity would be shorter than him. Also cherub and trollkind too, for that matter. God knows Kanaya fuckin’ towers over him.
The carapaces are chill, at least.
Anyway. If he ends up developing neck problems, he’s sending the medical bill for his impending surgical procedures and subsequent physical rehabilitation directly to their addresses. Accompanied by a lawsuit and the nastiest attorney he can get his hands on.
It’s probably just gonna be Rose in a suit. Which is actually way more terrifying, now that he thinks about it.
Jade pulls her legs up and moves to rest her head on his shoulder, completely unaware of the various nefarious plots he’s hatching in his mind at this very moment, with the express purpose of bringing about her financial ruin.
Dirk’s gotta be honest here: he still hasn’t quite gotten the hang of the whole physical contact situation, with all its ritualistic intricacies. Kinda hard to, after sixteen years of complete isolation, topped off with five months of near-constant fighting (and some hella sweet makeouts in-between, he has to admit, but he’s not about to dwell on that thought) in the presence of more or less the same singular dude. He still defaults to tensing into a defensive stance the moment someone as much as touches his arm, but it’s gotten easier around some people. Jade being one of them.
Damn space furries with no concept of personal—well, space. Guess exposure therapy really does have its merits.
Jade cranes her head to look at him and grins. “Hey, Dirk!”
“Yo.” He puts his arm up on the backrest so she can lean on him more comfortably, and she cozies up to his side with a pleased hum. After a moment of hesitation, in which his hand sort of hovers in mid-air awkwardly, he puts it on her head and gives her right ear a tentative scratch.
Jade giggles and her ears twitch a little. Dirk figures that’s a good sign, so he continues his ministrations. The fur is as soft and fluffy as it looks, and holy shit this is so ridiculously anime he almost starts crying. Is his life an anime now. Where the fuck are the sakura blossoms in the wind and the shojo sparkles and the overly dramatic fights that stretch on and on for fucking ever until you can’t stand to watch two characters scream at each other in murderous rage for a second longer, please just end it, no one is even remotely interested anymore. This is why Miyazaki has forsaken us, you absolute goddamn fools.
He reaches for a cookie with his free hand.
They sit in companionable silence for a while, exchanging the occasional sentence or two or contributing with a comment on Callie’s work. At some point, Jade slides down to sit on the floor next to her, offering some pointers when requested. Dirk lets his mind wander, the peacefulness of the moment settling over him like a blanket. He can feel the weeks of sleepless nights spent working on the power grid creep up on him, making his eyelids heavy and his vision foggy.
Dirk snaps back to attention when Jade snatches the last cookie and Roxy loudly declares she’s gonna look for something more substantial to eat. He volunteers his help.
Roxy saunters towards the door. Dirk stands up and stretches. His upper body feels a bit stiff and he makes a mental note to find some sort of exercise at some point in the future. Maybe a sparring partner, if he can find someone on this side of the space-time continuum that will not run towards the mountains screaming in terror at the thought of ever touching a weapon again.
For now, he just follows Roxy into the kitchen. She disappears behind one of the decorative columns in the living room and he rushes to catch up, almost tripping over a magenta-coloured cushion.
The girls’ve got themselves a real nice place. All tall ceilings, huge windows, colourful, ridiculously comfortable furniture. Suits all three of them perfectly, from the small terrariums scattered all over the place to the big chalkboard propped against one of the walls, covered with various drawings and post-it notes.
Dirk himself is still living in his cabin. It’s not like he needs anything fancier, really. Plus, basically every other thing they could be building would be more important than giving him a bigger bedroom or whatever.
Even so, he likes hanging out here when the opportunity presents itself. And by that, he means when his antisocial tendencies don’t get the better of him.
As soon as he enters the kitchen, Roxy whirls around and jabs a whisk directly in the middle of his chest. “Real talk, DiStri: you ever had pancakes, homeboy?”
He shakes his head. “Not exactly a thing I ever had the ingredients for, no.” He has seen pancakes in movies, though. He guesses they seem… appetising? He’s been realising he knows jack shit about food lately. And he’s not exactly a fan of not knowing jack shit about something.
“Aw.” Roxy’s looking at him like he told her his sweet mamaw just passed away. “A little piece chips off my heart every time I remember just how sad and miserable your childhood musta been in the food department.”
“Wow. Thanks.” Dirk raises an eyebrow at her. “You do realise that yours wasn’t exactly better.”
She pokes him with the whisk again. “Not the point. Plus,” she shrugs in that sort of self-deprecating but still weirdly cheerful manner that is so patently Roxy, “I had lotsa booze. You just had fish. Totally whoops my shapely buttocks in the tragic childhood department, ninja man.”
That statement doesn’t ring true to Dirk at all. He can’t begin to imagine the extent of suck Roxy has had to deal with, and part of the reason for that is that she always fucking downplays it.
He’d trust Roxy with his life, but not to talk about her own problems.
“Anyway, ” Roxy gives him a pointed look. “I had a point, before you derailed my perfectly structured and logical train of thought so bad we need to make like Princess Anastasia and jump right off the goddamn thing.” A conspiratorial smile. “Let’s make pancakes!”
“Don’t we need all sorts of ingredients that we don’t have, though?”
Roxy winks at him. “You’re forgetting you’re dealin’ with the best Rogue of Void this universe’s ever lain its beady, froggy eyes on, Naruto. Well, the only Rogue of Void the universe’s ever seen, I guess, but probably the best one in all the other universes, too.”
He raises a brow. “So you’re just gonna snatch some poor unsuspecting dude’s groceries straight outta his fridge?”
“No, silly, I already did! Grammar, Mr. Strider.” She gestures towards the counter, and sure enough, there is a lot of stuff on it. She frowns. “When you put it like that, though, I do feel kinda crummy about it.”
“Well, you will be using it to feed my destitute, pancake-deprived ass. If that makes it better.”
She giggles. “That’s true, I do have a noble cause, going full Robin Hood on your scrawny behind. Let’s get down to biz!”
Objectively, pancakes aren’t the most challenging thing to make, and Roxy assigns the easier tasks to him. He follows her instructions to the letter, but the mechanical and repetitive task of stirring doesn’t hold his attention for long. He takes the opportunity to bask in this moment, on the natural easiness of being with Roxy, and he’s so grateful to have this right now that his heart constricts in his chest.
He’s so incredibly relieved most of their bullshit is behind them at this point. The biggest problem in their relationship right now is resisting the impulse to just sort of attach himself to her side at all times, like the needy bastard he is.
What an absolutely fantastic problem to have.
“Hey.” Roxy jolts him out of his thoughts by bumping him with her hips. “Batter won’t mix itself, you know?”
“Huh? Oh,” he looks down at the bowl in his hands, whose contents he most definitely wasn't stirring. “Right. My bad.”
Roxy makes a show out of theatrically sighing at him. “Worst assistant ever.” He chuckles under his breath but makes no further comment, and she spares him a look. “What, no witty comebacks or anything? You okay, big guy?” She tilts her head and scrunches up her mouth in what is almost a pout.
He pointedly rolls his eyes, knowing she can see it from the side. “Man, you don’t have to babysit my emotions all the damn time now, Rox. I’d tell you if something was up. I’m fine, honest.” And he means it. He’s feeling better than he has in a long time.
She squints her eyes at him, crossing her arms in front of her chest. “Well, excuse me for asking, Sir I-Hide-My-Feelings-Constantly-All-the-Time.”
“Wow, this is the treatment I get for trying to be a civil fucking person? Unbelievable.” Dirk puts his whisk-holding hand on his hip while balancing the bowl with his other one, and distinctly feels like a vexed housewife. “I guess I’ll just stick to being snide, acerbic and incredibly hilarious then, as is the natural order of things. Forever.”
Roxy snorts and it’s her turn to roll her eyes at him, before she resumes her pancake making business. “Yeah, whatever you say, dude.”
Chatting about whatever and trading the occasional quip, they make quick work of said pancakes. There’s like a thousand of them, and Dirk hopes they won’t have to throw anything out. He hates wasting resources.
When they’re ready, Roxy takes the comically sized tower of pancakes with her and nearly skips into the living room. Dirk scoops up all the toppings she has prepared (seriously, he doesn’t know what half of this stuff even is) and follows suit.
He’s crossing the small foyer when the front door opens. Dirk pauses with one foot in the air, wondering who might be paying the girls a visit at this time.
“Salutations, madames! I shall simply invite myself into your charming quarters, if you don’t—”
In retrospect, it was obvious today was going too well.
Jake freezes at the door jamb and looks at him like a wild animal caught in the headlights.
Dirk automatically pushes his shoulders back, and he barely catches himself before he raises a hand to fix his hair. With his luck, he probably would’ve just slathered maple syrup all over it.
He sighs under his breath. “Hi, Jake.”
They’re all sitting at the living room table: Callie and Jade on the floor, Roxy on her armchair, Dirk and Jake on the couch. There’s so much vacant space between them that it would be a roomy fit for all three girls. Dirk kind of wishes they were actually sitting there. Maybe the physical interference of three whole bodies would do enough to dissipate the waves of discomfort emanating from the two of them.
There’s something to be said about the excellent distraction of digging into the pancakes, though. The silence almost doesn’t feel awkward when everyone’s mouths are occupied with eating. On a sadder note, Dirk could just as well be chewing on the worn-out, muddy soles of his shoes for as much as he’s paying attention to what he’s eating.
His thought process is scattered and unfocused with Jake’s presence so close to him. It’s not the pleasant, excited buzz he used to feel when they were together, but rather layer upon layer of regret, betrayal, guilt, and a whole other slew of tangled feelings he doesn’t have the presence of spirit to try and dissect right now.
It’s been nearly two months since they beat the game, and they’ve yet to do more than exchange brief, strained greetings. Dirk has been keenly aware of the wary, almost scared look that flashes in Jake’s eyes when he looks at him, like—like Dirk’s a ticking time bomb that’s going to explode in his face if he’s not careful enough.
It’s bad. It’s fucking terrible and he hates it and he can’t even resent Jake for it.
Oh, he knows they’ll have to talk about this at some point. Again. What he doesn’t know is if he’ll be able to do that without going into cardiac arrest or spontaneously combusting into flames. The finer points of his demise notwithstanding, it would be a welcome release from the torment of his long-suffering, socially maladroit physical vessel. So that’s something to look forward to, he guesses.
Roxy keeps giving him worried looks, all of which he dutifully ignores.
The tension in the room is turning into an entity of its own.
“This is absolutely scrumptious, Madame Lalonde,” Jake says.
“Yeah!” Jade exclaims, her voice losing steam mid-syllable. She takes another bite.
Roxy glances at him again.
Jake shuffles in his seat before lifting the fork to his mouth.
From the room next door, his phone chimes, notifying him the battery’s charged.
Dirk all but sprints out of the room.
His phone lights up when he takes it, and his heart sings. His forced digital detox has been too long, his fingers feel stiff and clumsy, his eyes—unused to the blueish backlight.
Who is he kidding. As if he’d forget how to use a mobile phone.
He’s not gonna try to figure out how Jade managed to set up a wi-fi connection that fast, but it’s unsecured. And called hi friends :D. He shakes his head in fond exasperation as his phone connects almost immediately. He quickly scrolls through the screens out of habit, checking for anything he might have missed and, to the audience’s unbidden surprise, finding absolutely nothing. Considering how every single person on the planet is still stuck in the no juice purgatory Dirk himself just crawled out of, he’s not really sure what he was expecting to find.
He takes a quick selfie and sends it to Roxy. He also makes a mental note that they’re gonna have to introduce the others to the wonders of Snapchat at some point.
tipsyGnostalgic [TG] began pestering timaeusTestified [TT] at 19:57
TG: oh my god dork
TG: im not even gonna correct that one
TG: i literally saw ur face two seconds ago
TT: I figured you probably missed me already.
TG: i do get ur booty back here a fuckin sap!!!
Dirk sighs. Getting his booty back there is currently at the very bottom of the list of things he wants to do, right below cutting his own hand off in a blood ritual meant to summon malevolent demons from the depths of hell. He wonders if he could sneak his way out of the house without anyone noticing.
TG: youll have to stop avoidin him eventually u kno
tipsyGnostalgic [TG] ceased pestering timaeusTestified [TT]
She’s right, of course. He’ll have to own up to his (many) fuckups sooner or later, and the more he avoids it, the worse it’s gonna blow. Assuming a perfect positive correlation between time and the extent to which it’ll suck, that is.
He decides not to pursue this line of thinking and hauls himself back to the living room.
Dirk half-expects he’ll need his sword to cut through the tension in order to get back inside, but the atmosphere is much more relaxed now. Jake’s sitting next to Jade, explaining something in a subdued voice, from the looks of it. He’s got a leather notebook open, all worn covers and dog-eared pages (pun not intended, sadly), and Jade’s peering over his shoulder as he scribbles something in it. Dirk assumes that whatever he’s got there is the reason he came over in the first place. Roxy gives him a dazzling smile from atop her armchair throne once he steps into her field of vision. He quirks one of the corners of his mouth up.
He’s not too sure what to do with himself, so he just sort of... stands there for a moment like an idiot. Then he sits down on the armrest of Roxy’s chair.
Jake and Jade seem to be done with whatever it was they were discussing, and Dirk allows himself to hope that maybe things will return to their regularly scheduled Jake-free programme soon enough.
They don’t. Callie turns towards Jake with a wondering smile. “Jake, could you perhaps help me with a small project of mine, if it’s all the same to you?”
“Egad!” he exclaims, all wide grins and buoyant enthusiasm. “A creative endeavor? You need only name it and I will assist you to the best of my abilities.”
And just like that, Jake’s roped into describing the Land of Mounds and Xenon. Dirk figures that’s an innocent enough topic, so he leans back and listens. Jake’s recollections of the green planet with its weird canyons are surprisingly vibrant and, even though he wishes to interject and clarify some finer points, Dirk contents himself with simply observing.
It’s been awhile since he spent any time with Jake, but it’s still shocking how different he seems. His intonation still fluctuates wildly and he tends to emphasise every other word with wide hand gestures, but he’s… subdued. Less spirited in the ridiculous expressions he uses. The most fitting word is deflated, Dirk decides.
And, yeah. There’s the gut-wrenching guilt, right there.
Objectively, he knows he isn’t the only one to blame for all the different ways shit hit the fan in their last few months together, but to know he was an accessory to Jake’s emotional wreckage still stings. A lot.
Now, with some distance put between them and given some time to think, he sees how he was so singularly obsessed with the idea of being with Jake that he dragged them straight through all the relationship pitfalls he could find, hurt both of them, and ultimately put their friendship on a ritual pyre to burn to ashes, all without even realizing what he was doing.
Not one of his finer moments.
He’s not in love with Jake anymore, he knows that much. Most of his feelings of a romantic persuasion shrivelled up and died in the shitstorm that were the later days of their SBURB session. He doesn’t hold on to hopes of a happily ever after wherein they learn from their past mistakes and give it another try, he’s not starry-eyed enough for that. Still, he cares about Jake and wants to salvage whatever remains of their friendship.
Thing is, he ain't sure that’s even possible anymore.
Someone calls his name and Dirk jerks to attention.
“‘Scuse me?” Everyone’s looking at him and God, he really needs to stop with this whole getting lost inside his own mind thing. It’s getting a little out of hand.
Callie simply repeats what she said. “Jake was not completely sure he described the underlings correctly. Does this look about right, love?” She shows him her sketch.
Dirk inspects the skeleton creature. “Yep, that’s about right, only make the skull a bit rounder.”
She does. “Capital!” Jake announces.
He glances at Dirk and promptly lapses into silence.
With the day approaching its end, Dirk’s had just about enough social interaction. When all his various electronics are recharged, he decides to head back to his cabin.
Jake jumps to his feet barely a few seconds after Dirk does. “As a matter of fact, I reckon I shall hit the road as well.”
O… kay? Dirk looks at Roxy in what is only very mild panic. She gives him a stealthy thumbs up.
A bit reassured but still wildly uncomfortable with this development, Dirk heads for the door. Jake trails behind him.
They walk out of the house and the door closes behind them. Dirk glances over his shoulder, fully intending to mutter a “bye” and walk off as quickly as he can without running. He opens his mouth.
“Dirk, I wanted to talk to you for a moment, if it’s all the same to you.” The words tumble out of Jake’s mouth, cutting off Dirk’s sentence and the train of thought that went with it.
Dirk turns around and faces him fully. His heart’s beating a frantic rhythm, but he manages an almost impassive: “Sure. Hit me.”
He almost means that literally. He has the distinct suspicion physical violence would hurt less than whatever Jake’s about to say.
“Right. Okay. Here goes.” Jake’s wringing his hands, eyes fixed on the ground at his feet. He chuckles under his breath. “Drat, and here I thought this might be easier now.”
Dirk crosses his arms, waits. Braces himself for Jake’s words.
“To stop beating about the bush and put this in a simple and concise manner: I believe an apology is in order.”
Before Dirk can say that yes, of course he’s sorry about everything, Jake goes on. “I did a bang-up job of being a boyfriend—or hell, a friend, even—back at the end of our session. Now that I have had some time to ponder on all the ridiculous hijinks we got up to, I do realize I was by far not the upstanding fella I thought I was. In all honesty, I feel like a right douche about ignoring you and your messages.”
Dirk’s brain reels. He’s staring at Jake, stunned into silence.
Jake interprets it as an encouragement to continue his rant. “It has been repeatedly brought to my attention that I should have come to you with whatever qualms I had about our relationship instead of enlisting our mutual friends’ help as mediators or confidantes. This seems embarrassingly obvious in retrospect, but it somehow flew right past this thick skull.” He trails off and tries giving Dirk a small smile. “Or perhaps I should say that I let it fly past said skull and neglected to attempt and remedy the situation.”
Dirk tries to collect his thoughts and string them in some measure of logical order. It feels like fishing bare-handed (he would know).
“I-I owe you an apology, too. None of this would have happened if I hadn’t been an over controlling sack of shit.”
Jake shakes his head at him and Dirk can only describe his expression as fond exasperation . He has earned the second part hands-down, but he doesn’t know what to do with the first. He’s not sure he deserves it.
“I can’t let you pin all of this on yourself, Dirk. Granted, I do admit I had... grievances with the way you handled some aspects of our partnership , but,” he chuckles again, and he sounds more mature than Dirk’s ever seen him. “Between the two of us, we made a fine mess of things. I am as much to blame as yourself.”
Dirk nods, slowly and thoughtfully. Tears are prickling at the inside of his lids, but he blinks them back. “I’m sorry, Jake.” His voice sounds surprisingly calm. “You deserved better than this.”
Jake manages a smile, even though his eyes are starting to glisten suspiciously. “Good grief, will you cut it out! It wasn’t all bad! You’re making it sound like you were the worst thing that ever happened to me and I will not stand for this malarkey!”
Well. That kind of hit the nail right on the head, didn’t it. Dirk allows himself the selfishness of letting this thought—this reassurance —sink into him, just a bit.
“I admit I jumped at the opportunity to wallow in self-pity when that whole thingamabob came to pass, but,” he shrugs. “I do believe I just needed some good ole’ introspection.”
Dirk sighs. “That’s fair. Figure we both could’ve used some perspective.”
Jake nods enthusiastically. “To be sure! Long story short, I don’t want this fiasco to cost us our friendship, Dirk.”
“Yeah. Me neither.” He’s so not used to being vocal about this shit after dancing around each other for such a long time. Try defusing with humor. “There’s... been a frankly preposterous lack of tomb exploration in my life recently.”
Jake giggles, uncomfortably.
Well, this is awkward as all hell and incredibly strained. But it’s also the most real Jake and he have been to each other in a long time. It’s far from a complete fix of everything that happened, but it’s a start.
Dirk will gladly take it.
“Thank you.” He doesn’t know what for exactly, but he needs to say it. This still feels like more than he deserves, but damned if he isn’t really fucking grateful.
Jake bumps him playfully on the shoulder. “Right back at ya!”
Yeah. Awkward. But now he has reason to believe it won’t be like this forever.
Dirk breaks the silence first. “So, guess I’ll see you around?”
“You can bet on it!”
With that, they separate. Dirk heads to his cabin, head bowed and hands stuffed deep in his pockets. He’s just about ready to collapse on his bed and not do the whole social interaction thing for a full month, at least.
Are feelings jams always such an emotionally taxing experience? Jesus Christ.
After a minute or two, a smirk creeps up on Dirk’s face. He unlocks his phone and opens up Pesterchum.
timaeusTestified [TT] began pestering tipsyGnostalgic [TG] at 20:58
TT: So, Jake and I talked.
TT: Something tells me you’re partially to blame for this shocking and unexpected development.
TG: *CONSPICUOUS WONK* ;)
TG: howd it go howd it go
TG: get on w/ it the suspense has been killin me for the past 13 mins
TG: im dead dirk. i been killed so many times already dirk
TG: suspense was absolutely savage and deadly as fuck i never stood a chance
TT: I will mourn your loss appropriately. Rest in pieces, Roxy Lalonde, Rogue of Void and the noisiest friend this side of the universe’s amphibious expanse.
TG: SPILL THE BEANS STRIDER!!!!!
TT: Alright, commencing bean spillage.
TT: It went surprisingly well, actually. I didn’t spontaneously catch on fire, for one.
TG: jesus f christ dirk ur the biggest drama queen ever i stg
TT: Nonsense. I am a drama esquire, at most, which sounds like a perfectly reasonable amount of drama contained in a title to me.
TT: Know your royalty, Roxy.
TG: dont go swervin violently off the subject like you just drank three margaritas and decided you could drive home like nbd
TG: drink responsibly strider
TG: srsly tho im glad ur not all uncomfy with each other like big dumb babies anymore
TT: Yeah. Me too.
TG: see it wasnt so bad!!
TG: im proud of u
TT: Not sure if I deserve any credit. I mostly just stood there while Jake talked at me, in a role-reversal that sure threw me for a goddamn loop.
TT: But thanks, Rox.
TT: I’ll fill you in on the gritty details I’m sure you’re dying to know later. I’ve just about had it with social interaction for the rest of the day. Maybe for the whole damn month.
TG: fine i wont rustle ur delicate social jimmies anymore, go take ur beauty nap or whatever cinderella
TT: That would be Sleeping Beauty, actually.
TG: dont u sass me mister
TT: I would never.
TT: Seeya, Rox.
He’s about to log off when he gets a new notification.
ectoBiologist [EB] began pestering timaeusTestified [TT] at 21:04
His eyebrows shoot up at the unfamiliar handle. Judging by the colour, he’d wager it’s John who’s pestering him.
EB: hey dirk!!
EB: i got your handle from jane, hope that’s alright!
TT: It’s fine.
TT: For you, I mean. Jane will be punished for her betrayal, however. My revenge will be swift and deadly.
EB: well shit. i guess taking things super personally is just a strider trait then, you guys really need to calm down.
TT: My privacy is not a joking matter, Egbert. I take it pretty fucking seriously.
EB: so sensitive! jeez.
EB: anyway, i just wanted to say thanks for setting up the power and all.
EB: you are simply the best there is!!
TT: I mean, yeah. That’s a given.
TT: I hope you remember that every time you play one of your ridiculous movies.
TT: Spare a thought for me, one of the people who selflessly toiled over an electrical grid for days on end, whenever you jack off to Matthew McC and the rest of your celeb crushes.
Dirk’s brain catches up to his typing fingers the moment he hits Enter. He stares at the screen for a long second, his heart speeding up when the message appears in the log. What the fuck did he just say? He feels his face burning. He slaps his free hand against his forehead.
This is why he shouldn’t be allowed to interact with people. He doesn’t even know John all that well. Why the fuck are weird sexual comments his go-to means of expressing himself? What does that say about him as a person?
And oh God, what if his bro’s best friend thinks he’s coming on to him?
It takes him several seconds until he can brave looking at the screen again.
EB: yes dirk i’ll be sure to do what you just said to me.
EB: also this is me laughing my ass off at your joke, because it is so hilarious and also really original.
EB: you’re a comedic master, so impressive. i am impressed.
Dirk blinks once, twice. Is John taking it... is he not weirded out? That seems like their regular banter to him. He hadn’t realized his good karma had piled up so high, but it appears providence is on his side tonight. He takes his shades off and squints at the bright screen, contemplating an answer.
Here goes nothing, he guesses.
TT: Well shit, the compliments just keep on coming. You’re gonna make me blush at this rate.
EB: i redact my previous comments, this is absolutely awful for your huge ego!
TT: Too late, my ego just lapped that shit right up.
TT: Much like a parched, exhausted horse dragging its beat-up muscular carcass towards the nearest body of water, driven by the sheer force of its thirst.
TT: The poor pond has no idea what’s coming for it, that it’s about to be destroyed by this majestic herbivore.
TT: By the time the stallion is done with it, only a shallow pit will remain where its crystalline waters used to be.
EB: oh wow, i thought jane was messing with me when she told me about your weird horse thing.
TT: My “weird horse thing”? What sort of bullshit accusations do I have to defend myself against here?
TT: I knew she was a traitor.
EB: sheesh hold your horses!!
That’s... So lame. And far more endearing than Dirk would care to admit.
EB: she just showed me the pony book you gave her for her birthday and told me that she thinks it’s hilarious!
EB: and also that you make a lot of horse jokes, but that’s it.
This gives him pause. Dirk had no idea what happened to that book, but he didn’t expect Jane might have actually kept it.He’s really glad she did.
TT: That’s fair.
TT: I’ll have you know that book took literal ages to make.
EB: i bet it did!
EB: i mean, it’s a sweet present, in that fake-ironic but actually honest-to-god genuine way you and dave love so much.
TT: I’m going to pretend you didn’t just call my irony fake.
Dirk smiles to himself as he throws the phone on his pillow. He kicks off his shoes, shimmies out of his jeans and into bed. He picks the phone back up and adjusts the screen brightness.
TT: So, what’ve you been up to today, Egbert?
Chapter 7: Intermission One
time for a little change of pace, huh guys? enjoy the chapter and thanks for reading!
be the other guy!!! (who has way better taste in movies than the former guy, just so you know.)
“Does this look ready to you?” John asks, eyeing the saucepan with suspicion.
Jane bumps him aside with her hip and peers into the pot. She empties the cup of capers she’s holding into the pan, scrunching up her face as she inspects it. “It needs to get thicker still. Keep stirring.”
“I’ve been stirring forever!” John whines and pokes at the tomato sauce. The smell of oregano tickles his nose.
“Would you please check on the linguini?” Jane asks, lifting up her hands. “I need to wash all of this olive oil off.”
John complies. He can’t really see how the linguini is doing underneath all the froth, but it doesn’t seem to be making any weird noises or burning or anything, so he figures they’re good.
He looks at Jane. “So, when did cooking become your hobby?”
“Oh, that’s baking, not cooking!”
John opens his mouth, but Jane resumes speaking before he can interject, “And if you dare to say it’s the same thing, I am going to what you over the head with the wooden spoon.”
“It is basically the same thing, though? I mean, you just add the ingredients—”
“...apply heat, and sort of wait, isn’t it?”
“I mean, what’s so different about it?”
“John, the water’s about to—” A loud hissing cuts her off and John starts, snapping in the direction of the noise. “About to boil out,” Jane finishes, morosely.
“Whoops!” John lets out a sheepish giggle. The two of them rush to fix the mess as steam fogs the whole kitchen.
“Okay!” Jane announces when the crisis is more or less under control. “The linguini managed to get a tad on the lumpy side, and it smells just faintly charred, but it should be—”
“Jane, the burning smell isn’t coming from the linguini.”
“Damnation! The sauce!”
She rushes to turn off the stovetop, but it’s too late. They sniff at the thick brownish mass that used to be their sauce.
Burnt oregano smells nowhere near as appetising.
Jane shakes her head and chuckles. “This is unbelievable,” she says as she passes him a towel. “We literally created a whole universe, you would think linguini would be a piece of cake at this point.”
“And that’d be your mistake,” John quips. “Linguini is actually pasta.”
Jane gives him a long, martyred stare. “You are so utterly ridiculous sometimes,” she says.
“I got it from you,” he counters, shooting her a grin over his shoulder. He finishes wiping the hot plate while Jane disposes of the unfortunate linguini, rolling her eyes. “Wanna give it another try?”
“Today may simply be a bad day for cooking, I fear. Let’s just alchemise something instead?”
They look at each other. “Pizza?” John asks the obvious question.
“Marvelous!” Jane clasps her hands together. “Well, let’s get on with it, then!”
Even when their cooking experiments go sideways, they still have their trusty alchemiter. Practically no time whatsoever passes before they are set on the couch in the living room, ready to dig into some sweet, sweet pizza.
Except the pizza isn’t actually sweet because that’s just gross.
John helps himself to one of the darker, crispier slices and shoves half of it into his mouth.
Only when his glasses fog up with the steam does he realise it’s still really, really hot. “Augh!”
He’s vaguely aware of Jane cracking up next to him, but then she pushes a glass of soda into his hand. He downs it in one long swig. “Sheesh,” he breathes out and pushes up his glasses to wipe his tears. “Sixteen years and it keeps happening.”
“Use your windy powers to make it cool faster,” Jane says dryly, biting off the tip of her slice.
“Yes Jane, let me just summon a small hurricane in the middle of the living room. That sounds like a brilliant and very not stupid idea.” John intones in a complete flat voice, before letting out a small laugh. “Something tells me that might be just a bit overkill. Imagine having to scrub delicious melted cheese off the walls in the aftermath of a crazy pizza catastrophe.”
“Oh no! The inhumanity,” Jane giggles, pressing a hand to her mouth. “Dad would definitely give us a very stern but fatherly talking to.”
“After that, we’d probably end up getting a new house, while this one gets a spooky reputation ‘cause of the mysterious stains on the walls and the angry, carbohydrate-based ghosts. People are gonna have to look for a specialist.”
“Hmm. I wonder who they might need to call in such an event?” Jane wonders with a sly smile, tapping her finger to her chin.
An impromptu karaoke duet follows and it’s a fantastic sibling bonding experience.
They’re still giggling when Dad enters the room. Jane cranes her neck to look at him. “Hi, Dad!”
“Everything all right on this front, kiddos?” He stops behind the couch and rests his hands on their shoulders.
“We threw out the linguini,” Jane informs him.
“Jane, I told you to call me if you needed help.” He ruffles her hair and she giggles, trying to wriggle away. “It would be a pity if we came all the way here only for you to raze this lovely new house to the ground. Again.”
“Dad, for the gazillionth time, it was just a tiny fire, it wasn’t such a huge deal!”
“Yes, Dad, of course I turned it off,” Dad mimics her voice and Jane turns bright red. Dad chuckles.
John watches them and suddenly, he’s not that hungry anymore.
The two months since they beat SBURB have been great. Jane invited him to bunk with her and —their, he catches himself—Dad, and now they have this totally nice place and everything. Jane and him have been hanging out a lot together and it’s just really nice to wake up one day and poof , you now have another sister who’s also kinda your sort-of nanna too and who makes breakfast sometimes and likes to talk about movies with you and is way into detective stuff!
Jane’s pretty damn rad.
So yeah. Everything’s been super alright. Great, even! It would be so whiny of him to be complaining about the way his life turned out, really, considering the ridiculously huge number of things that could’ve gone astronomically wrong during the course of their weird double-session game.
It’s just... every once in a while, stuff like this happens and a very small, very annoying voice in the back of his head points out that this isn’t actually his family. This isn’t actually his Dad. He’s missed out on sixteen years of living together, sixteen years of little inside jokes and shared stories and—and sure, they welcomed him with open arms, but he still sometimes feels like he’s just this close friend who sleeps over all the time, and it sucks.
He misses his Dad so much.
John notices Jane scanning his face, a small furrow in her brows. “Is everything all right, John?” Dad also turns to him at that, his expression a mirror of Jane’s.
John feels a pang of guilt. He doesn’t want to be a party pooper, so he plasters a grin on his face. “Yep! Everything’s great, it’s just that I remembered I had to go give Dave something. It totally slipped my mind, hah!” He’s standing up, making his way to the door. Jane still looks worried, but he doesn’t pause. “I’ll just get on with it before I forget again! Later, guys!”
“But what about the—”
The front door closes behind him and it occurs to John that he doesn’t actually have anywhere to go. He doesn’t need to bring Dave anything, he actually hasn’t even talked to him for a couple of days. He definitely doesn’t feel like being alone, though, so he figures he’ll just drop by Dave’s after all.
Dave’s living with Karkat now, in a small place not too far from John’s. He’s hung out there a couple of times, but both Dave and Karkat have been pretty busy, what with Can Town and everything. (That’s how they started referring to their new home, and the name sort of stuck.) It’s not really a regular thing for him to spend time with them. He doesn’t even know if they’re gonna be home.
Apparently he’s in luck, because Dave opens up practically the second John knocks. “Yo, ‘sup dude,” he greets him and steps aside so John can enter.
“Hey, Dave!” Seeing his best friend makes him grin. After so much time of just chatting to them on the Internet, John still isn’t really used to the idea of all his friends being together in the same physical space. It’s awesome.
They go into the living room. John looks sideways at Dave and sees he’s wearing a small smile, noting there’s been more of those recently—Dave seems way more relaxed nowadays. Or in this timeline, rather. Less hung up on the whole “coolness” stuff, John guesses?
He looks happier.
“What are you doing here, John,” Karkat grumbles by way of greeting. He’s sitting on the couch, next to—
John’s mouth goes a little dry. Next to Terezi.
He’s been meaning to talk to her after the game, but they never really got to it. She hasn’t been around all that much, he wonders what she’s been up to.
Terezi turns around. “Hello, John!” She gives him her pointy smile.
“Hi, guys,” John tries to sound normal, but Karkat’s glowering at him. Even harder than usual, that is. He wonders if he picked a bad time.
Dave trails into the room and drops on the floor in front of the couch. There’s a fleeting glance at Karkat, who raises an eyebrow ever so slightly. Dave shrugs.
John’s sure a whole conversation in couple speak just went right over his head.
Before he can even get properly annoyed, Dave looks at him over his shoulder. “You gonna come in or what?”
“Uh. Sure.” John shrugs and goes to sit down on Karkat’s other side.
“Yes, feel free to barge right in like a trunkbeast with no control over its fucking limbs,” Karkat complains, but makes room for him.
John ignores him and leans forward to look at Terezi. “What’s up, Terezi! I haven’t seen you in a while!”
“This is an absolutely insensitive thing to say to the blind girl, John. You should feel bad.”
“Oh,” John manages, and Terezi snickers. She really fucking loves making him uncomfortable. He rolls his eyes and wishes she could see that.
He half-expects her to keep the snarky comments coming, but she sorta spaces out and goes completely silent.
When the silence breezes from brief to really awkward like woah, Dave clears his throat. “Y’all want somethin’ to drink?”
He pops into the kitchen without really waiting for an answer and brings some juice and soda with him. They sip their drinks for a while, and then start talking about insignificant stuff.
Terezi’s definitely not as talkative as usual, John notices. Also, it has been half an hour and she still hasn’t made a single flirty comment. This is very unlike her. It occurs to John that he actually... expected her to be flirty? Maybe in the hatecrush way Karkat’s been yapping on about, when he decided John also had some “black” feelings for her or whatever. John used to wonder about that, but it seems so distant now. Was he ever into her to begin with? It doesn’t feel like he knew her well enough to be able to say for sure. Plus, two months is quite the long stretch of time to go without exchanging a single word!
Terezi doesn’t seem to be feeling it anymore either, so in John’s book, that’s that.
While he’s sorting out this clusterfuck of feelings in his head, the conversation dies down again.
It finally dawns on him. He totally interrupted something here, didn’t he?
“Uh,” Karkat says.
Dave fishes his phone out of his pocket and from his vantage point over his shoulder, John can see him opening up Pesterchum. His fingers begin tapping madly.
John’s own phone vibrates in his pocket. He quickly pulls it out.
turntechGodhead [TG] began pestering ectoBiologist [EB] at 15:08
TG: dont get me wrong you know youre my best bro in literally all possible iterations of reality throughout the entirety of the immense causal bullshit that is paradox space
TG: were so tight were downright strained
TG: not a hairs breadth between our bodies due to the sheer force of the beautiful platonic friendship that pulls us together like fucking magnets
TG: and i really dont wanna sound like an asshole but
EB: i should go, right.
TG: sorry dude
turntechGodhead [TG] ceased pestering ectoBiologist [EB]
John sighs and puts his phone back in his pocket. He understands, he guesses. It still kinda sucks.
“Guys, I gotta get going,” he announces. “I need to do a, uh, thing.”
Karkat huffs, shaking his head and glaring at him without blinking until John’s out of his line of sight.
Terezi shoots him a parting grin. “See you around, Blueberry Pop!”
He forces out a laugh at the weird nickname. At least Dave follows him into the hallway. He quietly closes the door behind himself and Terezi’s raspy giggles are muffled into silence. “Listen, man. Terezi’s goin’ through some shit and—”
“I get it, Dave,” John forces a smile onto his face. “It’s fine, don’t worry about it.”
Dave hesitates. Then he sighs. “Aight then. Talk later?”
“Sure thing!” John says with all the enthusiasm that he can muster.
Dave quirks the corner of his mouth up. John’s pretty sure he seems relieved. Then, he turns around and the door closes behind him.
Okay. So that didn’t go as well as he’d hoped.
Outside, the sun is shining and the air is heavy and humid, without a hint of wind. It does little to help his sour mood. He heads away from the building, scowling at the ground. It’s not even evening yet, and he has no idea what to do. It seems like he’s just a huge bother to everyone today. Jeez!
He still doesn’t feel like being alone, so he figures he’ll go see what Rose’s up to. Her place is pretty much right next to Dave’s, anyway.
After a brief ten-minute walk, John’s standing in front of the entrance to Rose’s place, and soon enough, Kanaya answers the door. She looks at him in mild surprise for a moment before stepping aside and nodding for him to come in, a smile on her face. “Hello, John. How are you doing?”
“I’m fine!” he says. He only realises he added more emphasis than strictly necessary on the fine when Kanaya raises her eyebrows at him, slightly taken aback. Um, so maybe that was a bit more forceful than strictly necessary. “I kinda wanted to talk to Rose about something,” he tries to cover it up.
“Ah, I’m afraid Rose is not here right now,” Kanaya informs him, and John wants to groan. Yeah, that figures. “She was meeting up with Roxy, I believe. They should be at the town centre. Was the matter important? Maybe I could—”
John quickly cuts her off, shaking his head. “No, no, that’s okay. I figured I’d see how she was doing and just chat for a bit. It’s not a big deal!”
Kanaya watches him with knitted eyebrows. “John, are you certain you are doing well? You seem rather agitated.”
“I’m not—” his voice jumps up in pitch, and he has to start over, “I’m not agitated, for real! I’m sorta tired, actually, I think I’m just gonna head home. Tell Rose I said ‘hi’, okay?” John would appreciate Kanaya’s motherly concerns at practically any other time but right now he’s just really not up to discussing the subject!
Before she can try and stop him, John makes a daring escape through the front door, taking the stairs that lead down from the porch two at a time. He doesn’t slow down until he’s sure he’s out of Kanaya’s field of vision. Even then, he keeps walking.
So his best friends don’t have time for him. He doesn’t want to sound like a huge downer, but it seems like everyone has something more important to do these days. Like, he’d love to hang out with Jade, maybe? But she’s been busy, too, working with Jake on a map of the planet. Either of them is always carrying around that notebook with the leather covers, and it’s definitely important—and pretty impressive, really—but he misses her.
What adds salt to the wound is that he can’t even do that much to help with the actual work that needs to be done. He can like, make wind blow. Big fucking woo. Not super helpful when you’re building a city.
He kicks a lump of dirt and watches it roll away. He’s in the middle of a big open field, in what’s shaping up to be the suburbs of Can Town. Everyone’s new houses are around here, but John doesn’t feel up to going to any of them.
Actually, maybe he should go to Dirk’s instead? They’ve been talking regularly in the last few weeks, and John always has a blast hanging out with the dude. But—hm. John feels like he’s usually the one to message him first? And he would really hate to start getting on his nerves, especially with how he seems to be more on the reserved side. Plus, he’s pretty certain Dirk’s gonna be busy with Important Stuff. Just like literally everyone else but him. Blergh. He ends up dismissing the idea.
This is really how it’s gonna be today, John guesses, and he needs to stop being a chump about it.
He ends up sitting under one of the big trees behind his house and pulling out his phone. He still has like a thousand videos by his favourite Let’s Players to catch up on.
At least the Internet is still his friend.
Not that he knows how exactly they got the thing running. Rose tried to explain the mechanics of it to him, and, well, he’s sure she gets it. He, personally, got totally lost about four sentences in, when she was talking about temporal paradoxes or black holes or some other bullshit concept that he’s sure is very interesting to her but that he really just can’t wrap his head around in a verbal conversation. Or in a written one too, for that matter.
Point is: they have wi-fi.
Several videos later, a Pesterchum notification interrupts his watching.
timaeusTestified [TT] began pestering ectoBiologist [EB] at 16:46
TT: We’ve got a situation up in here, and it requires your immediate assistance.
EB: hey, dirk!
EB: woah, is everything okay??
TT: There ain’t no impending heroic or just deaths, if that’s what you’re asking.
TT: Just get your ass over here, stat.
TT: Over and out.
timaeusTestified [TT] ceased pestering ectoBiologist [EB]
John stares at the screen for a long moment, brows furrowed. He briefly wonders if he should be worried, then he decides that if there was any actual danger, Dirk would have kicked its ass into next year with his katana before pestering him. It’s probably nothing urgent.
He rushes to Dirk’s cabin anyway.
Dirk appears at the door a few seconds after John’s knocked. He’s wearing his usual black tank and dorky shades, even inside the cabin. So lame.
“Well, here I am!” John announces, and the corner of Dirk’s mouth twitches up.
“Fantastic job in stating the obvious. Come on in,” he says in his usual monotone that’s basically a whisper. If John wasn’t used to it, he’d probably miss half of the stuff Dirk said.
He scoffs at him—that tends to happen a lot—but walks into the cabin. Dirk closes the door.
It’s cooler inside than it was under the bright sun, thank God. The curtains are drawn halfway and John needs to wait for a moment until his eyes acclimate to the darkness inside. When he can see properly again, he turns back to look at Dirk.
He’s still standing by the door, shoulders slouched a bit, hands deep in his pockets.
“So, uh, what was the big emergency?” John asks, because it seems Dirk isn’t about to say anything anytime soon. What’s gotten into him?
“Right.” He walks past John, their arms brushing momentarily, and towards the desk, where he picks something up. “I wanna preface this by saying that yes, I know I’m basically the best fuckin’ thing that’s ever happened to you and you better be full of appreciation and gratitude for all the trouble I went through in order to get my benevolent hands on this shit.” He tosses the object at John.
He’s taken by surprise, but manages to use his Breath powers to float it into his hands. It’s a CD case.
John turns it around and very nearly shrieks. “Oh my gosh!” he exclaims, looking up at Dirk with his mouth hanging open. “Is this…?”
He nods, and John knows he’s this close to smiling, but he still keeps his face blank. What a doofus.
Well, that’s fine, because John’s grinning for both of them. “Is this the actual movie Interstellar, starring the one and only Matthew Mcconaughey?”
“One of the movie’s weaker points, but yeah. Your reading comprehension is on point today, Egbert.”
“I—,” he gulps down, and no, he’s not getting emotional over a silly movie, but he kinda wants to hug Dirk right now. “How did you even find this?”
Dirk gives a small shrug. “Gotta admit, it took some trial and error.” There’s a beat of silence where John just sort of... stares at the DVD case in his hands, and Dirk stares at him staring at the DVD. “Well? D’you wanna see it, or are you just gonna keep fondlin’ the case like you have some sort of weird plastic box fetish?”
“Dude! Of course I wanna see it, just let me savour the moment, alright?”
He has the distinct impression that Dirk’s rolling his eyes. “You think you can multitask savouring and playing the damn CD, or should I just go ahead and take a power nap while I’m at it?”
“Fine, fine, jeez!” He can’t keep the grin off his face, though, so he just gives Dirk the case. “It’s almost like you wanna watch this movie as much as I do!”
John is jittery with excitement by the time the movie window pops up. He bounces a bit on his chair. “I still can’t believe you found this,” he murmurs.
Dirk lets his mouth curl up into an actual smile this time. “I told you. Best fuckin’ thing that’s happened to you.”
“You really need to learn how to take a compliment, you know.” He half-pats, half-shoves Dirk in the arm repeatedly. “Hit play already!” Dirk has the nerve to chuckle at his completely justifiable enthusiasm.
Then the movie starts, and it’s fantastic. That’s all there is to say on the matter.
They watch in complete silence for a while—Dirk’s even refraining from making his snarky commentary this time around, who would have thought. Still, John’s own mind refuses to quiet down. Sure, he’s taking this spectacular movie experience in as best as he can, but even after Dirk did this for him, he still feels upset.
He tries to push it all down and focuses on the screen.
It works well enough for the first part of the film. However, around the time when Matthew McConaughey’s character is forced to watch his daughter age on his computer screen because he’s blasting through space at lightspeed, John starts having some minor troubles.
The first tears well up in his eyes and he tries to blink them away. It’s little use, and he gets angry at himself for being such a crybaby—and the tears spill over and start rolling down his cheeks. Wow, this is going great!
He rubs his face violently, biting back a sob.
Beside him, Dirk stirs and looks at him. “Dude, are you okay?”
John takes off his glasses and dries his eyes on his shirt sleeves. He laughs, but it’s wet and pathetic. “I am, I’m—I’m sorry, I just had a sorta shitty day, don’t mind me.”
When John puts his glasses back on and braves a look in Dirk’s direction, he’s biting on the inside of his cheek, a slight crease between his brows, just above the shades’ rim.
John drops his eyes to the hands clenched on his lap. “Sorry,” he repeats. “It’s just… You’re the first person who’s wanted to hang out with me today. Everyone is so busy—oh man, I sound like such a little kid right now. But I can’t even help with all the work you guys have been doing and...” His voice is getting all choked up and he needs to stop and breathe. “It’s like my god tier powers are completely useless now that we don’t have anyone to fight, you know? And I can’t really do much else? I mean, everyone either has a really useful classpect or is some sort of genius that doesn't even need any magical bullshit to help, and—” It hurts thinking about this, and for a moment he’s this close to backtracking on everything, but Dirk’s still listening wordlessly and this has been on his mind a lot. He hears his tearful voice babble on, almost out of its own volition.
“It’s not even like my powers were super great in game, either, like… Sure, I could whoosh away in a gust of wind and make tornadoes and stuff, but after I retconned everything, sometimes it’s like I don’t even know my friends anymore!” Uh, wow, way for his brain to pop that can of worms open. What is he even doing, spilling all this on Dirk? “There’s stuff that happened in the last three years that I wasn’t there for, and the stuff that happened to me is… gone. Like—like Jade, we were so close in the other timeline, and... and instead of remembering the fun we had together on the ship, the last three years for her have been… nothing. She was alone for three years. I stole three years from her life!” He doubles up and presses his hands against his face, trying to stop his whole body from shaking.
Dirk waits it out. John can still feel his presence at his side, but he doesn’t say a word until John has calmed down and started breathing semi-normally. Then, all he says is a simple: “Water?”
John nods weakly.
When Dirk brings him a bottle of water from the fridge, John has rubbed the remaining wetness from his cheeks and fixed his glasses. “Thanks,” he croaks and takes the offered bottle.
He downs half of it in one long gulp, then grips it tightly. Inspecting the bottle in his hands like it’s the most interesting thing in the room, he lets out a hoarse chuckle. “I’m so sorry about this. I promise I’m gonna try not to turn our next movie night into a sob fest and ruin it.”
“That’s fine. I cry myself to sleep every night.”
John giggles at that and braves a look at him. “No you don’t!”
Dirk’s smile is a thin line in the light from the screen. “I don’t, but I also don’t do much sleeping, either. Night terrors are a bitch.”
John huffs, “Well, at least we don’t have to run into the ghosts of our alternate dead selves anymore. That was all sorts of unnerving most of the time.”
He catches Dirk’s low chuckle before their conversation falls into a lull. Aw man, he made things weird again. While he’s racking his brain for a topic change, Dirk clears his throat.
“Listen, John,” at that, John’s eyes dart back towards his face. Dirk’s scratching his neck absentmindedly, sort of tense, but still trying to play it off like he’s not. John can feel his eyes watching him from behind his shades. “No one’s really taking this whole thing in any way that could be remotely classified as good.”
John can feel himself starting to smile.
“I mean, what even is good? A philosophical question many have debated throughout the ages, yet inadvertently come out of their musings with what basically amounts to empty hands and a shrug. What I’m trying to say here is that this is all, if you will, just one huge sucky mess.”
John laughs out loud now, hearing his own words thrown back at him in a soft Southern accent. It almost sounds ironic, but he knows it’s not. “This is a wise way to look at things, I’m very impressed. Whoever came up with that thought sure is a really smart dude.”
Dirk smirks. “What can I say? It’s the truth.” His face shifts into a more sombre look again. “For the record, I’m being serious here. This is okay. As okay as anything can be, given the circumstances, anyway.”
John sighs. He doesn’t know if he feels okay right now, but he hopes he will, eventually.
They sit in silence for a while and he drinks his water thoughtfully. Then, a realisation dawns on him. “Dude! The movie’s still running!”
“Uh. Should I go back?”
John shakes his head. “No, that’s fine. I’m not sure where we stopped watching, anyway.”
They’ve missed some thirty minutes of interstellar action (John’s still embarrassed about his completely lame weepy fit), but he manages to piece together what’s happened plot-ways.
When the credits roll, he heaves a sigh. “Well, that was a surprisingly happy ending.”
“I guess. Feels kinda forced, if you ask me,” Dirk says, cementing his status as a major wet blanket.
John looks at him, trying not to smile. “Yeah? Do you have any other insightful critique? Maybe I should start writing stuff down. You know, for the benefit of the masses.”
“As a matter of fact, I got plenty of critique—”
“The audience gasps in utter shock.”
“ —but, I’m not gonna get into it right now.”
“The director lets out a relieved sigh. Or he would have, if he wasn’t on a destroyed planet light years away. And also dead.”
“Aren't you’re a cheerful guy tonight.”
John chuckles, and Dirk’s sporting a wry smirk too. For a guy who’s always making such a big deal of being all stone-faced and expressionless, he sure does a very shitty job at it sometimes. John doesn’t really give a flying fuck about that, though. Dirk could definitely afford to smile more.
“You know,” John says a bit later, “you were right.”
“That tends to happen a lot. I’m gonna need you to be more specific.”
John rolls his eyes at him. “This was way better than Failure to Launch.” He pauses for a moment, considering. “Alright, I admit that’s not saying much, but just take it, okay?”
Dirk raises his hands. “It is assuredly taken, chill out.”
“And, er…” John fixes his eyes on the now dark laptop screen. “Thanks for the movie, and… everything.”
Dirk’s quiet for a moment. John glances at him and sees the tiny smile curling his lips. “Don’t mention it.”
Chapter 8: Activity Seven
aaand back to our regularly scheduled Strider Sass™, now feat. three times the accidental double dates whaaat
have fun reading, guys <3
Engaging in regular social activities with your fellow deities and associates. Proceeding to tentatively refer to them all as “pals."
Alchemising that damn movie was a huge fucking chore.
Dirk thought he knew his way around an alchemiter, but by the third time he tried to create a Director’s Cut DVD and ended up with a pile of random pointless crap instead, he was starting to reevaluate his skill level.
It took six more tries, several space shuttle figurines with missing parts, a space suit onesie for children aged 24 to 36 months, and a Love Actually Blu-ray (he has no clue whatsoever how the hell that happened) before he admitted that, maybe, just maybe, he might be in need of some assistance.
His first thought was to go to Dave and Karkat. Oh, he’d heard the stories. After all their time on the meteor, they could practically alchemise anything, including all movies known to man. Or troll, as it were.
However, there was the small issue of Dave being John’s best friend. The prospect of having to explain to him exactly why he suddenly needed a 2014 sci-fi flick starring one Matthew McConadouche gave him pause.
Maybe he should just go to Roxy and avoid opening that can of worms. Lock it up nice and snug in a bulletproof briefcase, put it in a time capsule and bury it somewhere. Let the future generations deal with that shit.
Then again, Roxy was bound to be curious about it, too, and she’s not the kind of person who has any sort of qualms about getting all up in your business when she gets curious. She’s also uncannily savvy when it comes to feelings in general, especially Dirk’s. So that’s not fun.
At that point of his internal debate, he needed to stop and backtrack a smidge. Why the hell was he acting all cagey, like this was some sort of huge, embarrassing secret? He just wanted to watch a movie with a friend, a bro. His pal. Simply have a good time with a chum, in a casual, decidedly non-romantic manner. Yeah. Not a date by any definition of the word.
In a turn of events that surprised absolutely no one, least of all himself, Roxy did not see it like that.
TG: dirk i hate to break it to u i rly do
TG: i feel like this is part of my bffsie responsibilities tho
TG: along w/ the feelies jams and eatin SO MUCH ice cream together
TG: its a whole package buy two get the third one free
TG: u do realise johns the straightest dude to have ever heterod right
Dirk kindly informed her that yes, he was aware of John’s firm and unshakeable heterosexuality, and that this was a strictly platonic meetup, Roxy, please. She didn’t seem completely convinced, but after he promised he wasn’t trying to woo John Egbert, cross his heart and hope to die, she relented and helped him yoink a copy of the movie into existence.
The movie night itself went… pretty damn well, Dirk thinks, his minor internal meltdown when John busted out the waterworks notwithstanding. He managed to not flip the fuck out, contrary to any and all expectations, most of all his own, and John even seemed to be feeling better by the time he headed home. Which turned out to be quite a bit later than Dirk had initially thought it would.
That might’ve been the reason there were several messages from Roxy waiting for him when he eventually remembered to check his phone.
TG: so how did the totally platonic dude guy bro evening go
TG: dirk r u ignoring my messages or r u still w/ him
TG: oh u totes are omg!!! im taking it its going well then
TG: r u guys enjoying the movie?? i bet johns lovin it
TG: this is such a cute mental image ngl
TG: r we still a 100% on the straight thing
TG: you HAVE to tell me all about it 2moro while u paint my nails
TG: i love that new red shade ur usin so much, nudge nudge
TG: but anyway ill leave yall to it
TG: ps im totally stealin the movie night idea that sounds like all kinds of fun
tipsyGnostalgic [TG] ceased pestering timaeusTestified [TT] at 00:41
True to her word (and roguish tendencies), Roxy does steal the movie night idea. It’s a slow, hot Sunday in late June, and they just finished messing with their now fully-functioning power station the day before. All of Can Town’s electrified now. They collectively decide a break is in order.
All morning, Dirk busies himself with some of his smaller projects and a book that doesn’t really manage to hold his attention. Around noon, Roxy pesters him to invite him over, promising a rly cool n fun movie plus sweet sweet friend time and copious amounts of ice cream and popcorn.
TT: You know I’m always down for that sweet, sweet friend time.
TG: oh can u hit john up 4 me
TG: i got my hands full of snacks and chill time preparation
TG: try not to hit *on* him tho
Dirk makes a point to roll his eyes at this, even though he’s the only person in the room.
timaeusTestified [TT] began pestering ectoBiologist [EB] at 12:05
TT: Yo, Egbert.
EB: oh, hi dirk! what’s up?
TT: Roxy’s making a movie afternoon at her place, and I feel that it’s my moral imperative to get you to come.
TT: God knows you need to watch something that doesn’t feature Matthew McC for a fuckin’ change.
EB: well, since you’re being so damn nice about it, of course i’m gonna come!
EB: what are we seeing?
TT: No idea. Guess we’ll find out when we get there.
EB: ok, see you in a bit then!
timaeusTestified [TT] ceased pestering ectoBiologist [EB] at 12:08
It turns out they’ll be seeing Pacific Rim. Everyone’s already there when Dirk arrives, and Jade promptly flings herself at him in a mess of way-too-much-hair and boundless enthusiasm. “Hi, Dirk!” she says as he awkwardly hugs her around the waist.
You’d think they haven’t seen each other for years, and not for a total of one (1) day. Not that he’s complaining, Jade gives some of the best hugs.
John and Roxy are sitting on the sofa. When Dirk walks up to it, both of them scoot over so he can sit in the middle. “Took you long enough,” Roxy raises a brow at him. “Did you really need to spend forty-five minutes styling your hair?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Dirk deadpans.
“Yeah, Roxy, it doesn’t look like he spent that much time on it. Or any time at all, really,” John throws in.
Dirk’s hand darts into his hair before he can help it.
John drops his head on the backrest and laughs. “Don’t worry man, your hair’s fine. It looks like you spent at least two whole hours on it, which is kinda impressive. Very sticky-uppy.”
“Well, someone’s gotta make up for the stylistic choice of brushing your hair with your fingers and calling it a look.”
John gasps with affront. “Excuse you! I’m going for a casual, approachable look. Not all of us are willing to make ourselves look like a discount Sasuke from the dollar store!”
God, John can be such a dick sometimes. Dirk has to keep himself from smiling. “Hold the fucking phone, Egbert, I am a deluxe collector’s edition Sasuke miniature, at the very least, and I take great offense to that statement.”
He sighs, shoulders sagging in despair. “I guess there’s really no accounting for taste.”
“Alright, settle down, boys,” Roxy quips while shooting both of them a very amused look. “God, I swear you two bicker like smelly old men. Can we please get back on track? I really wanna watch this damn movie sometime this year.”
Jade, who’s sat down on the floor in front of Roxy, cranes her neck and grins at her. “It’s okay, we literally have all the time in the world!”
Roxy rolls her eyes, but the smile she gives Jade is wide and bright. She nudges her with her knee, and Jade giggles and sticks her tongue out.
Roxy shakes her head and slams the Play button.
A couple weeks later, on another lazy day, Dirk’s hanging out with Dave (and by extension, Karkat). He’s claimed at least half of their couch, playing some video game or other with his brother. Kickin’ the shit, kickin’ each other’s asses, a pretty damn solid time overall. At some point in the afternoon, John comes around and brings some fresh muffins, because apparently Jane baked too many, and hot damn is that a sight for sore eyes. Or smell for... sore nostrils, he guesses. He’s not sure what the appropriate modifier would be here. Anyway, the point is, the sweet aroma hits Dirk square on the nose and he promptly remembers he hasn’t eaten all day.
A consensus is reached that both John and him are gonna stay for dinner, and Dave volunteers to don the chef apron. John offers to help and Dave brightens up before giving him an even: “Sure, sounds hella.”
That leaves Dirk alone with Karkat. The troll’s sat on one of the oversized armchairs scattered in the living room, curled up and fidgeting with his phone.
Dirk looks at him for a while until Karkat snaps: “Why are you staring at me like that, Strider.”
“So. You’re, uh. You’re dating my brother,” Dirk says. He’s going for confident and a little threatening. On both accounts, he misses by a nautical mile.
Karkat’s scowl evolves into a full-fledged glare. “Your observational skills are simply astounding, I am stunned and humbled. Also, how the fuck is this any of your business.”
“He’s my brother,” Dirk repeats quietly, already feeling anxiety’s icy, skeletal fingers clamp down on his chest. This was such a bad idea, holy shit.
“If this is your weird human familial attachment bullshit, Strider, I could literally not give less of a flying, steaming piece of fecal matter straight out of a hoofbeast’s refuse chute about it. So what is your fucking point.”
As far as Dirk knows, this talk is supposed to intimidate the other party. Karkat, as he’s discovering, is extremely difficult to intimidate. Not only that, but they’re rapidly approaching the point where he is intimidating Dirk. If he wasn’t getting more and more discomfited by the second, Dirk would be impressed: the troll’s tiny, round, and currently, curled up all nice and cosy in his seat. Not exactly a threatening presence, one would think, if one didn’t feel their flight impulse kicking in.
Yeah, this is most definitely one of the worst ideas he’s ever had. Which is quite the impressive feat, considering his abysmal track record. Still, it’s his brotherly duty to go through with it, or something. He clears his throat.
“My point is that I care about his wellbeing. If you ever hurt him, I’ll be... I’ll be coming for you?” That sounded more like a question than a statement. “Unless that’s what you two are into, which is none of my business, but don’t forget your safeword.” He pauses. “Point is, I have a katana and I will not hesitate to cut off your alien shlong with it if you do anything to Dave.”
There. He hit his groove towards the end, he thinks. He’s got this. (He’s not sure if allusions to people’s sex lives are par for these talks, but fuck it, he’s putting his own spin on it. )
Karkat stares at him mutely. Then, a bitter laugh claws its way out of his throat. “Oh, this is just bulge-twistingly precious. See, I actually find this situation hilarious, bordering on pathetic and just a tiny bit sad, because even though you may be related to Dave through ectobiological bullshit, the infinitesimal three months you have known him give you no right to act like an overprotective, smothering lusus. Also, fuck you for assuming your puny human swordsmanship even comes close to scaring me.”
Dirk gets the distinct impression that Karkat is this close to outright screaming the words at him. He figures the only thing that’s stopping the troll from unleashing his extraterrestrial vocal chords’ full potential on his ass is the fact that Dave is standing about ten feet away from them, definitely within earshot. He can’t really argue with his reasoning, however.
“I see your point,” he admits, giving up on the threatening act entirely. He may also be feeling like a bit of a douche. “I...” He sighs. “I picked a real fucking unpleasant way to bring this up, I’ll give you that. And sure, maybe I don’t have the right to be saying any of this shit? You definitely know him better than I do.” He lets out a low chuckle. “Actually, I might be a little jealous of that, now that I think about it. But I think—I’m sure you make him happy. So uh. Keep doing that and we’re chill?” Here he goes, trying to threaten him again. Bad. “I mean. Thank you, I guess.”
His little tirade seems to catch Karkat off guard (that makes two of them, honestly). His eyes widen minutely, but he quickly hides his surprise behind a sour disposition. Before he can say anything, though, John pops into the room to ask if they want anything to drink.
Dirk’s a little grateful.
Dinner is a surprisingly elaborate affair. The menu consists of oven-baked chicken with potatoes for the humans, and something that looks like porridge but smells oddly metallic for Karkat. Whatever it is, he seems to love it, if the smile he directs at Dave is any indication.
The chicken itself is also pretty damn good, and John claims it’s the best he’s ever had. Dirk can only agree, even if he doesn’t really have much basis for comparison.
Dave takes the compliment with a slight quirk of his mouth. “I figured I needed a new hobby,” he explains, “and after all those years of living off microwaveable shit, cooking seemed appropriate, y’know?”
They talk a bit about how hard it is finding stuff that’s edible for both humans and trolls (Karkat tells them about the time he nearly passed out because apparently rice is all but deadly to his weird alien physiology), but it’s mostly silent eating.
When they’re finished, John suggests that they watch something. Karkat jumps at the idea and somehow, he ropes them all into watching a troll romcom with a title the length of an academic dissertation. This seems to be business as usual for Dave, but John looks at Dirk with barely concealed horror.
They make two bowls of popcorn and Dirk pulls an armchair next to the sofa so he can reach the one John’s holding.
Troll romcoms are, unsurprisingly, a hell of a lot like human ones. Seems some things are just cross-universal constants. The different romantic attachments—called quadrants, as he promptly learns—throw him for a bit of a loop at first, though. He asks some questions, and the three others explain them to him. Well, Karkat does most of the explaining, really. At one point, they have to pause the movie for a solid fifteen minutes so he can finish his lecture on the different responsibilities one has in an ashen and a pale relationship.
Dirk can’t help but be impressed that he and Dave are navigating through the clusterfuck that must be the combined human and troll relationship conventions as smoothly as they seem to be.
At some point, Dave wraps his arm around Karkat’s shoulders and shuffles closer to him. They’re so discreet about it that Dirk only notices because he keeps stealing sideways glances every few minutes. He returns his attention to the movie. They both seem really self-conscious about PDA, so he figures they shouldn’t catch him gawking like some creep.
Some time later, when he leans in to scoop a handful of popcorn, he says to John, “Yet another romcom that’s better than Failure to Launch. I’m starting to notice a trend.”
John promptly moves the bowl out of Dirk’s reach. He ends up almost grabbing John’s thigh instead. Almost.
He sends a silent prayer of gratitude to anything that might be listening.
When the movie’s over, Karkat launches into a monologue on the movie’s major themes and motifs. Dirk asks him a couple of questions here and there and earns himself what could be described as a begrudgingly friendly look. They take their discussion to the kitchen while they do the dishes.
Who would have thought Karkat was such an utter romantic. (Anyone who spent more than half an hour with him, it turns out.)
It’s interesting listening to his ramblings, and although Dirk honestly doubts that movie had the thematic and symbolic depth he’s trying to ascribe to it, who is he to argue.
Before he heads home for the night, Karkat turns to him and grumbles, “I guess you’re not as much of a shitstain as I thought you were, Strider.”
Dirk has no idea what he did to deserve such high praise, but he’ll take it. Walking home, he muses that in a turn of events that came straight outta left field and decked him in the jaw, almost knocking him out cold, it was Karkat who ended up giving his blessing to him.
He decides to call it a win anyway.
“So Rose, why did you make us watch this, again?” John wonders as the movie goes on a new tangent that doesn’t seem to be related to the previous ones in any logical way whatsoever.
Rose peers at him around Dirk, smirking a bit. “I’m hoping to instill some appreciation for the unconventional, John. Help you broaden your horizons in a manner that’s academically significant.”
John huffs. “I’ve had enough unconventional to last me a lifetime, thank you.”
He has a point, but Dirk doesn’t mind a different flavor of unconventional for a change—the kind that isn’t trying to stab you repeatedly until you’re dead, for instance.
He also welcomes the chance to watch something a bit more intellectually challenging once in a while.
Tonight, the audience consists of Rose, Kanaya, John, and him, and the movie is Mulholland Drive. No one says much during the movie, except for the occasional confused or displeased exclamation, usually coming from John.
“What the hell just happened?” he says when the movie ends, and thus sums up everyone’s innermost thoughts.
“I believe the first part of the movie was some sort of dream sequence,” Kanaya ventures, bravely.
“That’s certainly one of the prevalent theories,” Rose chimes in, “although I’m partial to the idea that at its core, the movie is a criticism of Hollywood and all the harmful stereotypes associated with it.”
“I’d argue it’s both.” Dirk looks at Rose. “By employing the dream as a narrative frame, it exemplifies how Hollywood lures in the pure and hopeful and sacrifices them on the altar of mass entertainment, like some sorta messed up dream factory.”
Rose raises an eyebrow, considering. “By that logic, Diane would be the victim in all of this. Are you implying the viewers should sympathise with the woman who hires an assassin to kill her girlfriend when she breaks up with her?”
“Maybe, if her environment corrupted her so thoroughly that she believed this was the right course of action. We are shown she was innocent and idealistic before the world of showbiz swallowed her whole.”
“Do you believe nature outweighs nurture, then?” Rose shoots, and the question gives Dirk pause.
Kanaya uses the moment to interject. “I feel like I’m suddenly incapable of following this conversation.”
“Well, they’re basically using fancy words to say they’re huge nerds,” John supplies from Dirk’s other side.
“Do you mean they are employing sophisticated vocabulary to convey their intellectual superiority?” Kanaya’s wearing the sweetest smile he’s ever seen.
John straightens and puffs up his chest, modulating his voice in a faux-posh manner that’s frankly unnecessary. “Thank you, Kanaya, that is precisely what I was endeavouring to convey. They profess enjoyment at what is considered a high-brow piece of cinematic art to present themselves as erudites.”
Kanaya nods thoughtfully while Rose raises a single eyebrow. “Surely in order to dissimulate their inability to elucidate the meaning behind said art by means of sesquipedalian discourse.”
John throws down the towel on the improv routine and cracks up. Kanaya follows suit. Dirk exchanges a martyred look with Rose, but he’s having a pretty hard time biting back his own smile.
The next time they watch a movie together, it’s just John and him.
John drops by on a hot August evening. Apparently, Jane’s hosting an impromptu girls’ night, so he was cordially invited to find somewhere else to be.
Dirk raises an eyebrow as John strolls right into his cabin and closes the door behind himself. “Make yourself at home, I guess.”
John doesn’t even react to what he said. “It’s my turn to pick a movie tonight!” he announces, throwing a grin over his shoulder.
Dirk heaves a long, deep sigh, but he might as well have done it in the middle of a goddamn desert for all the reaction it gets him. His suffering goes ignored, his very claim to personal property denied as John reaches over to demand his laptop.
“...Fine then.” Dirk slides it across the desk and into John’s hands. “I’ll make the popcorn.”
Towards the end of August, Rose decides to organise another David Lynch night, this time featuring Eraserhead. To everyone else’s heartfelt gratitude, Kanaya swoops in in all her sparkly alien vampire glory and convinces her girlfriend that on such a lovely day, it would be much more pleasant to go out and enjoy some quality time together. Rose relents and Earth Redux breathes out a collective sigh of relief.
The promise of Lynch’s nonsensical body horror still looms over them, however.
They end up making an impromptu picnic on a big clearing in the forest. The Crocker-Egbert and Strider-Vantas households take care of most of the food. Kanaya and Rose bring a few huge quilts and knit blankets.
In the early afternoon, everyone, including the carapaces, has gathered on the clearing. Jake and Calliope are playing frisbee. Rose and Roxy lounge on a big quilt next to a basket full of fruit, chatting away. Jade’s head is in Roxy’s lap and she’s absently braiding her hair into thin plaits. The others are either eating or talking in twos or threes.
Dirk sees John and Jane standing next to a particularly appetising-looking tray of muffins and heads towards them.
Before he can get within range of the muffins, an unexpected figure saunters in front of him. He stops in his tracks.
Red shades troll’s giving him a toothy grin. He remembers her name’s Terezi.
He also remembers the only time they met during the game.
“Hello there, Orange Creamsicle guy!” The grin widens and God, these teeth look real sharp. “It’s delightful to finally meet Dave’s human brother. You smell better in person.” She cackles.
“I showered just before I went out, thank you,” he deadpans, resisting the impulse to step back.
She laughs even harder at that, and it makes him feel like he’s not privy to a really hilarious joke. Dirk decides that’s a bit less uncanny than the sniffing.
“Orange Creamsicle?” he asks.
“Yes,” she stresses the word, and Dirk gets a feeling this isn’t the first time she’s had to explain this. “That’s what your colour smells like to me. Davesprite used to smell the same, but yours is,” she sniffs in his direction, “stronger. It feels more distinct.”
“I... see,” Dirk really doesn’t, but he has no idea what the appropriate reply would be in this situation.
He quickly learns that sure as hell wasn’t it. “That’s hilarious, Other Strider. Go ahead and poke fun at my disability.” She purses her lips together in a thin, flat line and looks wildly offended for all intents and purposes.
Social interaction is so confusing. “I’m sorry, what?”
Her mood instantly does a sharp 180º that would’ve made late skater boy extraordinaire Tony Hawk proud as she lifts her shades up to reveal a pair of solid red eyes. The alarmingly predatory smile that accompanies the action is unsettling as shit. She flicks the glasses back into place after the brief display.
Dirk’s foot is so deep inside his mouth he can feel the toes tickling the back of his throat. He manages to not flip out, somehow. “Talk about a really fuckin’ unfortunate choice of words,” he says. “The English language is a minefield of really shitty discriminatory expressions that are just waiting to blow up in your face.”
Terezi giggles, raspy and low. “I’m used to it by now. Still, I believe you lost your right to complain about any sniffing in your general direction that may or may not transpire in the immediate future.”
Dirk makes a show of sighing heavily. “That’s fair, I guess,” he relents.
She leans in and draws a long loud breath in through her nose, then cackles. “I think I like you, Pointy.”
“Pointy,” Dirk echoes. “You do realise what your own damn shades look like, right?”
“Yes! This means we both share remarkably good taste in eyewear.”
Dirk suddenly decides that she’s pretty rad. Definitely hella weird, but then again, out of all of them, who isn’t?
Some time later, when he’s chilling at the muffin table, he’s accosted by John and Jane. Or rather, he’s accosted by a beaming Jane with John making a face in the background.
“Dirk,” she chirps, fluttering her eyelashes at him. “Would you mind resolving a small dispute that I’m having with my dearest brother?”
Dirk raises his eyebrows, glances between her and John. John sighs and crosses his arms with a grimace.
“Sure,” Dirk says.
“Do correct me if I’m wrong, but you hadn’t had baked sweets before the game, had you?”
He shakes his head, wondering where this could possibly be going.
“What was it like tasting one for the first time?”
Dirk recalls his first bite of a chocolate muffin very vividly. He can almost taste the crunchy bits of chocolate on his tongue. He bites back a dreamy sigh. “It was a spiritual experience. It made me a better person.”
Jane claps her hands together and turns to John, who’s dropped his head into his hand. “And there you have it, John.”
“What’re y’all arguing about, anyway?” Dirk cuts in before what looks like an intense altercation can kick up again.
“Baked goods,” John says it like a curse word. “I’ve been telling Jane I’ve had enough of them to last me a lifetime. Or you know, at least a couple hundred years.”
“And I have been attempting to get him to give them another chance.”
Dirk frowns. “What’s brought about this pastry feud, John?”
John doesn’t meet his eyes. “I just used to eat a lot of that kinda stuff.”
“Right.” Time to let the topic rest, then. He smoothly segues into the first thing that pops up in his head. “Speaking of food, just now I got called Orange Creamsicle.”
That earns him a giggle from John. “Oh dude, you talked to Terezi?”
“Sure did.” And he proceeds to tell them about that particular circumstance. The Great Muffin Dispute of technically-year-one? is put on the backburner for the time being and John cheers up considerably.
A little later, he wanders off to look for Dave and Rose.
Jane takes a sip from her soda before she snaps to him like she’s just remembered something. “Oh, Dirk, there was one other thing I wanted to discuss with you!”
He hums, pondering on how appealing a chocolate muffin sounds right about now.
Jane loops her arm through his and beams at him. “Well, see, I’ve been pottering about with the alchemiter these days, and what came out was this board game called Murder Express... ”
“A twist of events that surprises absolutely nobody,” Dirk comments dryly, and earns himself a swat on the arm.
“What I am attempting to ask here is if you would be up for a quick game, both Roxy and Jake are on board and it would be delightful to spend some time together! God knows it has been a darned long time since we last had the chance!”
Yes, that particular course of action went sideways as spectacularly as an eighteen wheeler trying to make a sharp left way too fast, if his memory doesn’t fail him. Still, quite a lot of shit has gone down since then, and the idea actually sounds sort of fun.
Dirk shrugs. “Sure. I’m in.”
She clasps her hands together. “Lovely! The others are over here!”
She all but drags him towards the quilt where Roxy and Jake are already waiting, explaining the rules while they walk. It sounds simple enough. They play with pre-made characters, one of whom has committed a murder on the train. The others need to figure out who the culprit is and all the particulars before the final station, where the murderer will disappear into the wind, never to be seen again.
The character Dirk draws is a prim and proper woman in her late thirties, so he puts a considerable amount of effort into roleplaying the worst stereotypical soccer mom he can. When he spends a solid five minutes of investigation complaining about the service in the restaurant carriage instead of actually looking for clues, Jane elbows him in the ribs.
In all due honesty, they spend the better part of the game just messing around, so when they reach the last station, they haven’t slightest idea about who the perp might be.
“It was him for sure,” Dirk insists in a lofty high-pitched voice, pointing a condemning finger at an NPC card of a young man with a hood. “He has been shifty the whole time, I’m telling you, and my Caithlynn has a boy like that in her class, a real troublemaker, he’s been suspended two times this year already, it’s frankly very concerning...”
“He has no discernible motive,” Jane points out in a gruff baritone, what Dirk supposes the detectives in films noir use, maybe.
Dirk pretends to flick his hair back. “Who can tell with these sorts, maybe he has a,” he drops his voice, “a problem, you know?” He pauses, looks at everyone in turn, and adds in a stage whisper, “The drugs.”
“Speakin’ of,” Roxy says in a heavy drawl, “I reckon y’all gotta pick a perp. I got a real itch for a bottle of Jack and the open road, y’all know how it is.”
Jake rubs his upper arm and bobs his head back and forth. “Alright, um, yeah,” he’s speaking in a shaky falsetto and Dirk has to focus to keep a straight face. “I-I know we’re all very busy and I agree with Abigaile with an e that that guy has been, um. Very suspicious.”
“Sound good to me,” Roxy announces.
Jane sighs. “All right, all right. Shall we arrest that good-for-nothing scum, then?”
Everyone nods their agreement and Jane flips over Mr. Four Eyes’ role card.
“What?!” Dirk can’t keep the exclamation from bursting out of his mouth.
The card says innocent.
Jake hollers triumphantly. “Fooled you!”
Amidst frustrated groans, he holds up his card and sure enough, there’s a bright red guilty written on it.
“I cannot believe this,” Jane hangs her head, looking dejected.
Jake shoves her playfully, still giggling. “Good game, everyone,” he looks between all of them with the smuggest little smile.
“Sweet bluff, Jake,” Roxy’s shaking her head, “Couldn’t have looked more suspicious if you tried. I was positive you were innocent.”
“Why thank you,” he tips an imaginary hat.
“Fuckin’ impressive, dude,” Dirk says, only slightly begrudgingly. “You laid it on so thick that Abigaile with an e never suspected a damn thing.”
They all gather their cards in a pile.
It’s been so damn long since being with his friends felt this natural, since they could just relax and have fun together. He’s fully prepared to lose every board game ever conceived with them if that would mean more moments like this. (Not that he isn’t goddamn pissed that Jake managed to fool him, but he will simply have to live with this embarrassment. For now. )
He catches Roxy looking at him, smiling a warm, open smile. He returns it almost instantly.
Maybe things are looking up after all.
Chapter 9: Activity Eight
SO HI GUYS GUESS WHO'S BACK
thank you for sticking with me through this sudden and prolonged hiatus. we're back in business though, and i'm thrilled to be picking this up again! so, i hope you enjoy this chapter... it's going to be a fun and light one to ease you back in!
You fuck up.
By the start of September, Dirk has effectively claimed about a third of Dave and Karkat’s living room as his. The commendable amounts of power naps on their couch, accidental but nonetheless strategically spread out over the course of a few months, spurred a gradual, yet methodical expansion of his Personal Zone from the limits of his own body to the coffee table and surrounding floor space. A small pile of clothes has accumulated at the foot of the couch and his laptop and some musical equipment reside on the adjacent armchair.
Dave doesn’t seem to mind. One of the first times Dirk slept over, he woke up to his brother hovering next to the couch, like some sort of ghost with mildly frizzy hair and bags under his wide eyes, which resulted in a lengthy middle of the night discussion about—pretty much everything, really, ranging from night terrors to 21st century memes.
On a later occasion, Dave gave him an oversized shirt to sleep in. For scaring the shit out of you the other night, he argued, and failing to fetch my smelling salts when you nearly fainted. Dirk denied both points, but accepted the shirt.
Karkat, meanwhile, just shouts a lot.
Or, as he puts it, his voice just carries, you insensitive fuckweed.
It’s approaching noon, but the house is still quiet. Dirk’s lying on his side on the couch, earphones plugged in and blasting some tunes way above what is considered safe for human eardrums, with the objective of distracting him from his insomnia. Neither Dave nor Karkat seem to be up yet, but Dirk needs to crawl out from under the blanket at some point. Roxy and him have been building a mainframe computer to store all their data in—important documents such as everyone’s movie collections, Roxy’s seemingly indefinite stream of selfies, and the eventual administrative information they would need for Can Town to function—and they want to finish that today.
So, when the clock on his phone informs him it’s 12am, he gets up and starts getting ready for the day.
The temperature has been steadily dropping, and it occurs to Dirk it’s likely too chilly for the tank top he’s wearing. Thankfully, there’s a pile of clean laundry chilling on one of the armchairs, and after brief hesitation, he snatches one of Dave’s long-sleeved shirts.
He’s pulling his shoes on when he hears the soft dragging of socked feet across the floor, followed by a barely contained yawn. “What a fucking relief, I thought you were never going to leave.”
Dirk glances over his shoulder. Karkat’s leaning against the wall, blanket draped around his shoulders like a fluffy fleece cape. His expression is relaxed, if sleepy, nothing like his words would suggest to a less experienced observer.
Dirk grins. “Hello, sunshine. Sleep well?”
Karkat huffs: a friendly, loving sound that makes Dirk’s heart expand. He doesn’t know how to deal with all this affection sometimes.
“That toxic waste dump you dare call clothing is in the washing machine already, by the way,” Karkat continues after a moment. “Feel free to put it there yourself next time, preferably before it starts posing a fucking biological hazard to any living creature within an aquatic mile radius, you barbaric asshole.”
Dirk’s suddenly very glad he’s hunched over his shoes—he wouldn’t be able to hide his blush from Karkat otherwise. “Duly noted,” he says evenly, quietly wishing he could find some way to curb this particularly annoying bodily response. Before Karkat can start fussing about something else, he blows him a kiss over his shoulder and makes for the door.
After fifteen minutes or so of leisurely strolling, he meets up with Roxy in the as of now bare building that will one day turn into the town hall. The humongous under-construction computer currently occupies the better portion of the second floor, along with various loose bits and pieces of hardware, cables, and scattered tools. Dirk finds Roxy and Callie sitting in the centre of the room, huddled up together while Roxy stares at her laptop’s screen, chewing her lip thoughtfully.
“This power outlet is still so unresponsive I might as well be trynna plug in a fucking rock,” she complains the moment Dirk walks in.
“Why am I even surprised.” He sighs. “Hey there, Rox, Callie.”
“Hello, Dirk!” Callie smiles at him. She isn’t much help when it comes to electronics, but it’s nice having her around while they’re working. She tells them stories sometimes, and it makes building this thing less tedious. Girl really does have a way with words.
He eyes the offending piece of technology with displeasure. Such a fickle mistress. Seems like he’s gotta take it apart again. He grabs the tools he’ll need and drops down on the floor next to the box containing the different outlets and slots.
“I’m turning the whole thing off. Just shutting down this entire goddamn operation, no holds barred,” he warns Roxy, so she can get her stuff out of the way.
“Knock yourself out, Hulk Hogan,” she says as she does so, and moves to work on something else.
Some time passes while they’re absorbed in their respective tasks. They keep a casual conversation going, but their focus is on what they’re doing. At some point, Callie leaves the room to get food. Roxy asks her to bring some of the lemon cakes they made last night and that prompts her to tell Dirk about her evening.
Somehow, most of her story revolves around Jade: something that’s been happening with increasing frequency. Dirk wonders if maybe he isn’t reading too much into the way she smiles every time her fuzzy-eared roommate is mentioned.
Then again, he does trust his keen senses and flawless insight.
Hypothesis: Roxy is into Jade.
Prediction: When the subject of Jade is broached, Roxy will proceed to express her feelings of admiration and affection in a less-than-eloquent manner that could be described in layman terms as “gushing.”
Just as he’s about to put his theory to the empirical test, however, Roxy beats him to the punch.
“Sooo,” she draws out. Dirk glances in her direction. “I’m kinda bummed out there isn’t any mood lighting or mani-pedi utensils available for a proper BFF chat, but I guess we’ll just have to make do. You ready for some invasive questions, Strider?”
“Also consider: not having this conversation,” Dirk deadpans.
“But my friend senses are tingling, Dirk!” She raises her hands and wiggles her fingers. “They be tingling. ”
Dirk groans. Roxy ignores him.
“So, what’s going on between you and Johnny Boy?”
He sighs until his lungs are completely empty. “I am a hundred percent certain we have had this conversation already and not a single parameter has changed from that point in time to now, nor will it, I assure you.”
“You’re saying these words to me, and I hear them. And yet,” he can virtually feel her pointed, thoroughly unimpressed stare on the side of his head. He resists the urge to scratch the spot. “And yet.”
Dirk considers electrocuting himself. Maybe he should keep a small but lethal dose of cyanide on his person at all times, taking inspiration from World War II era espionage. Just be totes legit ready to bust out the goddamn thing if he ever finds himself in similar interrogation scenarios in the future. Because they sure as fuck seem to be happening a lot lately.
“Roxy, I’m socialising. Like a hermit crab, I’ve outgrown my shell and left it behind, embracing my expanded social circle. Both metaphorically and, in Jade’s case, very literally.”
Roxy is looking at him with pursed lips. “I’m just worried about you,” she says, the teasing edge gone from her voice. “I don’t want you to jump into something and end up hurting yourself because the swimming pool turned out to be shallower than you thought.” She pauses for a moment, frowns. “Wait, I don’t mean John’s shallow, I mean he’s—”
“Straight. Heterosexual. Not gay, not bisexual. Not into dudes. Not interested in getting his mack on with male-identifying persons.” Dirk rubs his temples and sighs again, for good measure. “I fuckin’ know that, Roxy, you’ve mentioned it. Not that it isn’t practically stamped on his forehead in huge, bold letters. Doesn’t exactly take a genius to figure that one out. And that’s not what this is about, anyway. I’m not trying to use Jake’s AU grandson or whatever as a rebound.”
Roxy appears unconvinced, but then her expression softens. “...Alright. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
“Your friendly concern about my hypothetical romantic inclinations is on the record. Now will you please help me try and get this thing working again?”
She relents and does as requested, but it fucking—it still refuses to budge. With a suppressed growl and not nearly as suppressed annoyance, Dirk focuses back on the box in front of him.
Not very long after, Callie walks back inside, bringing with her a box of lemon cakes, and Roxy jumps at the opportunity of a food break.
“Dirk, do you want some of this?” Roxy asks between bites. “It’s divine, downright sacramental, I can literally hear angels and shit in the background while I’m chewing.”
“Hang on, I think I got this,” Dirk mutters distractedly. He looks up and towards the two girls. “Can either of you please flip that switch on?”
Callie hops to her feet. She walks towards where Dirk’s pointing at. “Do you mean this one?”
“Yeah, just turn it on.”
He returns to the box in his hands, so he misses the moment when she actually presses the switch. Click, a sharp electrical buzz, and then—a pained cry.
Dirk shoots up and whips towards Calliope just as she stumbles backwards towards the wall. She’s clutching her hands to her chest, eyes squeezed tightly shut. Mouth still open even though no sound is coming out. When her back hits the wall, her knees buckle. She slides to the floor.
What—what happened? He’s sprinting towards Calliope, jumping over the tools strewn on the floor, pushing Roxy out of the way. She might have said something. Her words don’t reach his consciousness.
He was careless. He should have made sure it was safe first.
He kneels down next to Calliope’s deflated form and clasps her chin in his hand. “Calliope, can you hear me?” he demands as he tilts her head towards him. Please, please be okay.
She mumbles something unintelligible and her eyes flutter open for a moment. He lets go of her chin and her head lolls to her chest. She whimpers quietly.
“Calliope, I want you to stay with me,” Dirk’s own voice cuts through the ringing in his ears. He holds her head up and pushes one eyelid open with his thumb. Unfocused eye, dilated pupil—it narrows, that’s good, she’s responsive—and he lets her eyelid fall shut. “You have to stay conscious,” he says.
She doesn’t reply, but her other eye opens slightly. A good sign.
He presses his index and middle finger to the side of her throat. Find a pulse, where's the —there. The beat is frantic under his fingertips—this doesn’t seem right, fuck, this can’t be right—what is normal for a cherub, even? At the very least, her pulse seems to be rhythmic. Rhythmic is good.
He drops his hands from her face and throat and moves them down her arms. He takes the pair of small green hands in his and inspects them on both sides.
“Dirk, what…?” Calliope’s voice is barely above a whisper, but the tinge of fear rattles his concentration for a moment.
Then he focuses back on her right hand—the one she used to press the switch.
A vicious burn starts at the tip of her index finger and goes down to where it connects to her palm. The skin is raw and blistered, covered with a film of off-white wetness. There is no charring, but the injury looks severe and very, very painful.
Dirk’s stomach lurches.
“I need some antibiotic,” he says out loud. Something for the pain, too.
“What’s happening, Dirk?” Calliope’s eyes are more focused now, and she’s searching his face. “I’m ge—”
“You have a second-degree burn,” he speaks over her. “We need to put it under cold water.” He’s clutching her other hand in his, but there’s still a slight tremor to it. He tightens his grip to steady it.
“Don’t touch anything. The blisters might open up and then you’d run the risk of getting an infection.”
“Dirk, you’re scaring the shit out of her,” Roxy’s voice comes from behind him, loud and high-pitched in worry. “I think we should just—”
“I don’t need your input, Roxy,” Dirk cuts her off. “I know how to treat burns.” I have to fix this. “What you can do is get me some antibiotic and painkillers, because this is only going to—”
She doesn’t wait for him to finish his sentence. “Strider, cut this bullshit out right now! Can’t you see you’re only making it worse?!”
Dirk stiffens. A part of his brain idly observes that his hand—his hand is shaking, gripping Calliope’s so hard that his knuckles have turned white. He forces his grip to loosen. Calliope’s hand slides out.
A ringing, loud silence follows Roxy’s words. He steps away from her, crouching like a kicked animal backing itself up into a corner. When he meets her eyes, he can see her anger, but also her fear and worry.
This is all his fault.
There’s something he needs to say, but it’s just out of his reach in the thick fog that's pressing down on him. He opens his mouth. Closes it again. His eyes dart between Calliope, staring at him and gasping each breath, the floor, towards the exit.
“Dirk,” Roxy says, insistently, and he snaps towards her, and even his breathing stills. “Go get Jane.”
He can do that.
Calliope whimpers and cradles her injured arm. Roxy moves towards her and wraps her arms around her shoulders. Rubs her back, pulls her face against her chest. Then turns back to him.
“She’s probably at my place, we were going to hang out together after we were finished here.”
Dirk finds his voice, forces out a hoarse: “Okay.”
He stands up. His whole body is tense and raw. He can feel slight intermittent tremors in his legs—leftover adrenaline. Roxy’s still staring at him and he manages to give her a nod.
Then, he turns around and sprints out of the room.
Chapter 10: Activity Nine
it's that time again. soft angst, wallowing in existential dread, the works. being dirk strider is suffering.
still, i hope you enjoy this chapter! thanks for reading i love yall! <3
Ruminating, as you do. Learning to accept emotional support (and maybe crying a little bit).
ectoBiologist [EB] began pestering timaeusTestified [TT] at 14:36
EB: hey dirk! how’s it going?
Dirk’s lying in a fetal position on his side.
A comforter and two blankets are piled on top of him, but his whole body’s shaking. Breathing is an agonising experience. Frantic, shallow gasps that don’t seem to let any oxygen into his system.
He stares at the message on his phone screen. Has a hard time reading it because of the tremors in his hands and the insistent blurriness that seems to have overtaken his vision.
He needs to reply.
Several minutes pass. He’s still clutching the phone.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
He’s okay, he tells himself, utterly unconvincingly.
Okay, second try: he needs to pull himself together.
EB: hey dude, are you there??
He really needs to reply. The last thing he needs is to inconvenience someone else with his pathetic whiny piece of shit drama, on top of all the other problems he’s already caused.
There, that’s it.
TT: I’m sorry, I was otherwise occupied.
It takes way longer than necessary to type the message out, but at least it sounds vaguely normal. Mostly.
EB: oh hi! that’s fine, i figured you were busy with one of your crazy projects.
EB: how do you even come up with all this stuff? it’s kinda amazing really.
EB: anyway, it’s not like it was anything important, so if you have stuff to do we can just talk later, nerd mcsmartypants!
Dirk considers agreeing, just saying he’ll hit him up later. The log is still swimming in front of his eyes. Still, it’s something to anchor to, the blue text distracting him from the ringing in his ears. It gets a little easier to breathe.
TT: That’s fine.
It’s hard hitting the keys, but he wills his hands to steady.
TT: What are you up to?
EB: uh, nothing much actually!
EB: jane invited me to hang out with her and the others at jade's place, but when i got there, there was just no one home?
EB: it was really fucking weird. kinda rude too!
Dirk feels nauseating guilt wash over him, and he's glad he hasn't had anything to eat today. He closes his eyes and forces himself to take even breaths.
When he opens them again, there’s a new line of blue text.
EG: hellooo?? earth redux to dirk, don’t leave a guy hanging!
TT: I’m sorry. Everythjing’s fine, really.
There’s a long pause. His eyes are glued to the screen, index finger tapping frantically against the back of his phone case.
EB: are you okay, man?
EB: do you want to hang out? i can come over or something if you want?
Dirk hesitates. The knee-jerk reaction is to shut him out, to make up a reason why he can't talk right now, to just turn off his phone and not deal with this for a while. At the same time, being alone with his thoughts seems unbearable. The rooms seems like it’s closing in on him like a sprung trap. If he cuts this one connection off, if nobody knows...
The phone drops on the mattress next to him. He curls up further into himself, willing his head to stop spinning.
He’s not sure how much time passes as he lies in bed, staring at the inside of his eyelids. His own thoughts sound distant and muffled—like his head is filled with cotton. Just as he’s beginning to wonder if John’s even going to come at all, there’s a knock at the door.
He should get up and open it.
John doesn't wait for an answer before letting himself in, but his entrance isn’t the usual explosion of sunny energy. Dirk’s pretty sure he's stopped at the jamb.
Nobody says anything for a while. Footsteps, ginger and barely louder than a whisper, approach the bed. Then they stop.
“Um,” John says. “Hi.”
Dirk mumbles a half-hearted hey, muffled between layers of blankets. He can’t even bring himself to turn around, pressing his tear-streaked face into the curve of his elbow.
John hovers behind him. The silence stretches, and Dirk's already regretting everything. More than he was before, that is. What an astronomically terrible call. At least if he was by himself he wouldn’t have to worry about looking like fucking Gollum on a bad hair day, on top of the steaming pile of horseshit the rest of his day has been already.
John clears his throat. “I brought some sandwiches. Dad made way too many for lunch—like usual, honestly—and I figured you might be hungry. I know you completely forget food is a thing you need sometimes.”
“Thanks,” Dirk croaks.
“Sure thing!” John’s quiet for a moment. “I’m, uh, gonna put them on the desk for now.”
The plate clatters lightly, and Dirk can just picture John flinching and scrunching up his face.
A few seconds pass. The bed sinks under an added weight. “Scoot over,” John urges him quietly, and Dirk doesn’t really have the strength of will to protest at this point.
A hand comes down to rest on his shoulder. If Dirk’s whole body wasn’t already so taut it hurt, the unexpected touch would have made him tense. As it is, it has the exact opposite effect. The warmth pressing into his arm is soothing and grounding. He finds himself welcoming it.
John rubs up and down his upper arm and shoulder, sort of awkwardly alternating between pressing with the heel of his hand and patting him. Dirk focuses on his rhythm for a while, timing his breathing to it. It helps; he can feel his chest rising and falling more evenly, and the ringing in his ears slowly subsides.
When he feels like he can almost breathe normally again, John’s hand stills. It stays on his shoulder: a warm, grounding presence.
“What happened?” John asks some time later, a hint of uncertainty creeping into voice.
Dirk doesn’t reply right away. At first, he considers just ignoring the question—pretending none of this ever happened suddenly seems distinctly appealing—but then decides that he shouldn’t. He might as well give this baring your soul thing a shot, all things considered. Venting your negative emotions and whatnot, processing feelings in a healthy, honest manner. Achieving inner peace, possibly. Or at the very least, a temporary inner ceasefire.
It takes him a minute to organise it in his head, but John doesn’t press him. When he starts talking, his voice is rough and gravelly and his throat feels like it’s covered in sandpaper. He clears it, and John gives his shoulder a sympathetic squeeze. Dirk tells him what happened to Calliope—his fault, he fucked up, even Roxy thought so. He remembers her expression, and a sob almost claws its way out of his lungs. John rubs down his shoulder and waits for him to get his bearings, and then Dirk’s talking about how terrified he was, and how guilty he’s feeling, and God, he knows better. He knows better, damn it. He should have been paying more attention.
John hums and makes generally encouraging sounds at points, but he doesn’t interrupt. At length, Dirk rolls onto his back, using his sleeve to wipe his face before he adjusts his shades. John pulls his hand away, and—Dirk kind of wishes he hadn’t.
Even with his eyes effectively hidden from view, it’s tough bringing himself to look at John. When he finally does, he’s met with a soft frown. John’s staring at him with unusual intensity, eyes bright and wide behind his glasses, his brows creased. Dirk doesn’t see pity or reprisal in his expression, just... understanding, he thinks.
Dirk looks at the ceiling instead. They sit in silence for a while, and Dirk starts feeling more like himself.
“You do know it wasn’t your fault, right?” John says eventually. “You couldn’t have known the switch would malfunction like that or anything.”
Dirk shakes his head. “I should have checked it first,” he says. “I know all of that equipment is as precarious as a crystal glass on top of a Jenga tower, it was fucking stupid to assume it would be working properly.”
John sighs. “I know this will probably sound very hard to believe, Dirk, but you can’t actually feasibly imagine and prepare for all possible contingencies. It’s silly and also impossible, just so you know. Even for geniuses with an IQ of one hundred and fuck-everyone-else’s-self-esteem-forever points.”
“Right,” Dirk says, unconvinced.
“Dude, I can promise you neither Callie or Roxy blame you for not checking the damn switch, of all things.”
Dirk huffs. “Fat lot of good that would’ve done any of us if she’d gotten seriously hurt.” His stomach churns at the thought.
A hand placed on his shoulder makes him start. John’s leaning towards him, eyes searching his face. “She didn’t, Dirk. She’s fine. Hell, Jane has definitely patched her up already. You literally died and she saved you, do you think she can’t handle an electric shock?”
Dirk doesn’t say anything. John squeezes his shoulder, making him turn and look at him. “I know this is like, super distressing for you, but you gotta admit I’m right.” He still looks concerned, but he manages a cheeky grin.
Dirk’s own lips tug into a weak smirk. “Just this once, I guess. Although this is actually kind of physically painful for me.” He shoots John a sidelong glance. “Don’t get used to it.”
John shoves him playfully. “Whatever lets you sleep at night, asshole.”
Dirk lets out a huff of laughter before sighing and chewing on his lip. “I… Thank you. For listening to all of,” he gestures vaguely with his hand, “that. And for coming in the first place.”
John shrugs. “I mean, you did make an actual typo. That was a cry for help if I’ve ever seen one.”
The retort tears a chuckle out of Dirk, effectively dissipating the last bits of tension in the room.
“So, uh, how about those sandwiches?”
The sandwiches are pretty good. At least Dirk imagines they must be, considering who made them. As it is, he’s barely paying any attention to what he’s eating. He’s still mulling over everything, wondering how much of it he can fix.
An elbow to his side makes him snap towards John. He’s giving him a Look.
“What?” Dirk whines around a mouthful.
“I feel like Dad’s culinary expertise is wasted on you, dude.”
Dirk puts the sandwich down. “I’m sorry. I was just—thinking.”
“Yeah, no shit. I can practically hear that from here.” His tone is the vocal analogue of an eye roll. There’s no real animosity to it, though.
Dirk heaves a sigh. “It’s… I need to talk to Roxy.”
John doesn’t ask for clarification. He nods thoughtfully, chewing on the inside of his cheek. “Yeah, I think so too.”
Dirk’s on his feet before John’s even finished talking. “Yes,” he asserts out loud, again. “I’m gonna do that.” He's not sure who he's talking to, but he's on a roll of interpersonal insights and emotional sublimation and nothing can stop him from reassuring his own damn self.
He automatically hands John his plate, who takes it without commenting. Dirk is halfway across the room when John calls out after him.
“Yeah?” He glances over his shoulder.
“Not trying to be judgmental or anything, but are you sure you want to stroll out in your boxers?”
Ah. That’s why he’s suddenly feeling so chilly, Dirk realises.
Were this not a particularly delicate situation, he might have considered strolling right out as a power move. As it stands, he turns around and starts frantically rummaging through his pile of bullshit in order to find something halfway decent to put on.
In his haste, he nearly misses John looking at him with—well. That’s an Expression™, alright. The tips of his ears are pink.
Dirk can’t resist the urge to arch an eyebrow at him. “Something catch your eye, Egbert?”
John huffs and turns his head sideways so quickly his glasses nearly fly off his face. “On second thought, feel free to walk out naked and get hypothermia or whatever. See if I care.”
Even as he says that, he picks up one Dirk’s discarded shirts off the floor and tosses it at him.
“Thanks.” Dirk snatches it out of the air and slips it on, expertly avoiding getting his shades caught in the fabric. “Catch you later,” he throws over his shoulder, and winks.
It’s a few moments after he’s left the room that he realises he might have to rethink this whole “winking while wearing shades” angle.
When he finds Roxy, she doesn’t seem mad at him. Just wary and guarded—and that feels worse, somehow.
She’s curled up on the couch in her place’s living room, clutching a console and playing something Dirk can’t see.
He walks up to the empty place next to her. “Hey,” he says.
“Hi.” She glances at him before looking back at the screen. She bites her lip.
“May I?” He nods towards the couch.
“Oh, uh… yeah. Sure.” She scoots to the side. Dirk gingerly takes a seat.
Roxy keeps playing her game.
Dirk considers his options. He could give her a rundown of every way in which he fucked up, explain exactly why he acted the way he did, and beg for her forgiveness. Or he could go for the significantly more dramatic option and skip directly to the begging, throwing himself at her mercy and stoically awaiting his just sentence—the whole nine yards.
He shuffles in his seat, uncertain.
Before he can settle on a course of action, Roxy snaps towards him, clutching the controller to her chest. Her eyes are wide and there are red blots on her cheeks. “Dirk, I’m sorry!”
Uh, what. “You—what?”
Roxy barrels forward without pause. “I was a grade A asshole, dude. I shouldn’t have snapped at you like I did?” Her hands are darting all over the place—par for the course whenever she gets agitated. “It was super lame and rude and not what anyone needed and it just made things worse!”
He may need a moment. “But I fucked up. It was my mistake that got Calliope hurt.” The words still taste like battery acid on his tongue.
“It was a malfunction, there was no way you could’ve known about it!” She sighs. “And like, I knew that you felt like it was your fault, and you were panicking, and the way I handled it was way out of line.”
“It did work, though.” Who knows how much longer it would have taken him to snap out of his little meltdown otherwise.
“Incidentally. Look, Dirk, my entire-ass point here is that I was a major dick. And I owe you an apology.”
“You…” He wants to tell her she doesn’t—this doesn’t sound right. But.
But maybe Roxy and John are have a point. He allows himself the indulgence of going on a brief philosophical tangent: it’s not his prerogative to retroactively shoulder the responsibility of every single instance of negative causalitas. Ergo, accepting others have agency means accepting that they can fuck up, too, and if one follows this thread towards its logical conclusion, one concludes that perhaps one can receive apologies every once in a while. And not just hand them out like cheap promotional vouchers at the corner store, two for the price of one.
“It’s okay,” he says. “Thank you.”
Roxy breathes out slowly, her shoulders sagging in relief. She remembers the controller she’s still holding like some sort of plastic security blanket, and puts it down on the table.
“I’m sorry too,” he adds, after considering his words for a moment. “The way I handled the situation wasn’t optimal, and my response only exacerbated the severity of it.”
Roxy’s mouth quirks, and at the back of his mind, he can just hear John saying that he has a stick up his ass.
Shut up, Brain Ghost John. Can you not right now. He’s doing his best.
Then, Roxy sighs and the grin spills across her face. “Well, Strider, I guess today’s your lucky day, ‘cause contrary to renowned contemporary thinker and popular slam poet Justin Bieber, it is not, in fact, too late now to say sorry.”
Dirk laughs and hates to admit it sounds more like a giggle. “You do realise practically everyone hated the guy, right? Except for the groupies, I guess.”
“Are you trying to make me rescind your apology?”
“Justin Bieber was a man ahead of his time, he is a lyrical genius and his memory must be preserved for the benefit of future generations,” he immediately deadpans. It earns him a jab in the side.
In the silence that follows, Dirk braves: “Is Calliope okay?”
Roxy shoots him a smile. “Yeah, dummy, of course she’s fine! Janey fixed her right up in practically two seconds flat. She’s hanging with Jade now, I think.”
Dirk breathes out a sigh that he’s been holding in all afternoon. Seems like John was right, after all.
Roxy opens her arms in a silent invitation. He takes her up on it immediately, wrapping his arms around her, and she pulls him into a tight hug.
He can breathe freely again, and he almost laughs with relief. And, well, maybe he feels a little silly about this whole damn thing. He should look for Callie and apologise to her as soon as possible, too.
In the meantime, Roxy shuffles around him to grab her controller again. Dirk grunts in protest.
“Could you maybe move that huge head a bit? I can’t see the screen ‘cause of your fuckin’ Sonic hair.”
“I take a certain degree of offense to that,” Dirk says.
“Oh, cry me a lagoon, Strider.”
It takes some pushing and nudging—and also a modicum of nagging about the paraphrasing of song lyrics and how it may or may not diminish important moments of genuine vulnerability—but eventually, they find a comfortable position with him lying on her lap and her propping her elbows on his chest. Dirk even manages to see bits of the game.
They stay like that until it’s time for dinner, and Dirk finally feels like himself again.
Chapter 11: Activity Ten
hey guys guess who's BACK
wanted to put this one up on valentine's but hey a day later is practically the same thing isn't it?
anyway i hope you enjoy this! as always, comments are welcome, and thanks for reading! <3
Letting your mind wander through certain (very definitely) hypothetical possibilities.
It’s around mid-September when Dirk moves into Dave and Karkat’s place for real. Not that he hasn’t technically been living there all summer, but he doesn’t dare call it official until he’s acquired Karkat’s blessing, lest he bring the troll’s concentrated wrath upon himself for the sheer audacity of such a claim.
Dirk had been carrying out a slow but deliberate acquisition of territory in their living room, to the point that the couch was rendered unreachable, barring extensive acrobatic maneuvers. At length, Karkat held up the white flag and offered him his bedroom. He sleeps in Dave’s most nights, anyway.
It’s a favourable arrangement for all sides, Dirk thinks. He gets to spend more time with Dave, the two lovebirds have a convenient excuse to cuddle all night, every night, and Karkat gets to be on the receiving end of Dirk’s persistent and honestly just plain adorable attempts to get on his good side. 100% win-win.
Speaking of which, it’s just the two of them home today. Dirk’s taking a break from chipping away at one of the projects from his quite extensive list, and has instead opted for lounging on the sofa with his sketchbook and a bowl of popcorn. Karkat’s huddled up in his favourite armchair, his laptop—or husktop, he guesses—perched on top of his legs.
Now, Dirk must admit to a certain amount of curiosity with regard to the device. A certain significant amount. The husktop is a living thing, partially, some sort of biotechnological synthesis of organic matter and mechanical components, and. Well.
Most of all, Dirk wonders if Karkat needs to feed it. And if he does, the particulars of its digestive tract are disturbing and fascinating in equal measure.
Note to future self: investigate. Bring latex gloves, just in case.
For the moment, however, he’s content to pass on the hypothetical biotech examination.
Karkat is typing away, unbothered by the implication that his keyboard may well be some sort of external organ. Or an internal one, even, and Dirk decides to abandon this train of thought right about now. He offers Karkat some popcorn, and he scoops up a handful and grunts his thanks. It’s all very peaceful and domestic.
In the late afternoon, a knock on the door interrupts their quality time. Dirk sighs. “I got this,” he says, stuffs his sketchbook under his discarded hoodie on the nearby stool, and makes for the door.
“Hi, Dirk!” A dazzling, buck-toothed smile greets him, and Dirk only has time to blink before John’s arms come up to hug him.
Since when is this a thing we’re doing? Dirk asks himself, somewhat startled, but he doesn’t voice the question. “John,” he states, eloquence incarnate. “Dave’s not home right now.”
John releases him and gives him a somewhat quizzical, but no less cheerful look. “Yeah, I know? Are you going to let me in or what?”
“Uh, sure, yeah.” Dirk steps aside.
He follows John into the living room, at which point he notices Karkat carefully studying the two of them with a certain... baffled intensity? Confused annoyance? It’s hard to pinpoint the exact intricacies of Karkat’s varying shades of indignation at times. Regardless, it’s kinda weird. His face scrunches up in the distinct “I have Opinions and I’m about to make sure they are very loudly and aggressively heard” expression Dirk has come to know and love, but then heaves a long, deep, martyred sigh. He slams his extraterrestrial laptop shut—all the while glaring at Dirk—and stands up.
“Dude,” Dirk starts as he makes to leave the room, “no need to cancel Karkat’s Cosy Corner on our account.” He’s pretty sure he managed to effectively communicate the usage of the uppercase letters given Karkat’s grimace. “There’s enough space for the three of us, we’re not kicking you out.”
Karkat glances at John and then snaps back towards him with a huff, eyes narrowed. “Yeah. Sure.” There still seems to be something he wants to say, but he shows an uncharacteristic amount of self-restraint and settles for a gruff have fun, fuckwits. Exit stage right.
“Well then,” Dirk says to no one in particular.
John loops an arm around Dirk’s shoulders and leans his weight on him, almost causing Dirk to stumble sideways. “Don’t mind him, he’s always been like that.”
Dirk’s eyes dart between John’s hand on his bicep, the door Karkat disappeared through, and settle on John’s smiling face. His brain then decides this a great moment to take a smoke break and proceeds to peace out, completely. “Y-yeah, I know that? I've had the pleasure of being exposed to the boundless sunshine and rainbows that this dude’s disposition is on a daily basis, given that we sort of live together now. He's an absolute alien sweetheart. Sharing the same living space with him has taught me the true meaning of cheerfulness and optimism." God, he’s spending way too much time with Dave.
John’s smile widens, the corners of his eyes crinkling as he lets out an amused huff of air. He keeps... looking at Dirk and oh boy that is sure making him feel some sort of way.
Dirk clears his throat. “Anyway. Make yourself at homie." Fuck. "Home.” Where did that even come from. “Also, let's agree to pretend that didn't just come out of my mouth."
John, naturally, does the exact opposite thing and immediately starts laughing.
"Wow! Seriously,” he manages between chortles, “how did you even—man. ” He raises his eyebrows at him, letting go of his arm, and Dirk feels thoroughly judged. “You and Dave really do amazing things to the English language,” he throws over his shoulder as he flops down on the sofa, “and by amazing I mean please don't.”
"That is not really how grammar works," Dirk points out, weakly. Definitely not his best comeback ever, he notes as he moves to sit next to John.
John gives him a slow, pointed eye roll. “Oh, bite me, Strider.”
Dirk’s halfway through replying when his retort—with pleasure—suddenly dies in the back of his throat. Mental processes screeching to a grinding halt, he stops to consider, in a sudden moment of blessed clarity, what it was that he was about to say. Just really have a good think about it. And, holy shit. What is wrong with him today. Okay, be cool, you can salvage this, just—
Yeah, his mouth’s been hanging open for several seconds now. He sputters some unintelligible noises, to John’s smug, smug satisfaction. He seems to consider that a resounding victory as far as their battle of wits is concerned. Satisfied, he reaches for Dirk’s laptop, announcing he’s going to pick whatever it is they’re watching today. Dirk doesn’t even have it in him to protest, overwhelmed by his relief at John being too distracted with setting everything up to notice the blush that is definitely making its way up his neck right about now.
Cartoons are nice, Dirk thinks. Very useful in the sense that they can direct his guest’s attention to something that’s not his constant fumbling of basic human interactions. He doesn’t have much going for him, but at least he doesn’t usually shove his hand into other people’s bowls of popcorn and scoop up two thirds of it in a single handful like a goddamn animal, unlike some other people.
“Are you fuckin’ serious,” Dirk says, and before he can give John a suitably disgruntled yes, please help yourself to literally all of the popcorn that I made for my consumption, the absolute shit does it again, staring at him dead in the eyes. John manages to finish the entire-ass bowl by himself before they even get past the first ten minutes of Paranorman, as Dirk watches on in abject terror.
“You don’t need to make that face, you know,” John quips, adding further insult to injury. “I was going to go make more.”
Dirk gives him some major stink eye, which he assumes John will be able to puzzle out by virtue of the sheer contempt radiating from him in waves. John makes a show of rolling his eyes and scrambles off the couch. “See, smartass? Here I am, on my way to the kitchen, about to get you more delicious popcorn.”
“You’re such a godsend, Egbert, please drop by my place unannounced and eat all of my food more often,” Dirk deadpans.
John pointedly turns his gaze skyward before heading for the kitchen.
Corn takes its sweet time to pop.
When John does finally return, Dirk has to admit he does a bit of a double take. There is a dangerously overflowing bowl of popcorn floating in the air. A second, smaller one follows behind it, filled with the assorted sweets they keep in the kitchen, and then there’s two glasses of soda framing John’s all too smug grinning face.
Friggin’ Breath powers and their practical, everyday applications, man. Dirk wishes he didn’t have to get up in order to reach the remote.
He snatches one of the glasses out of the air. “Showoff,” he mutters, as one does in order to convey their gratitude and appreciation.
John has the face of a man who is seriously considering flipping him off. “As if you’re one to talk,” he eventually settles on, and it’s basically a heartfelt you’re welcome.
A couple of hours pass like that. They eventually switch to playing games, taking turns on Dirk’s DS while the other watches—meaning, tries to distract and/or cajole the other party enough so they die in the stupidest ways possible on Super Mario 64.
Both of them are completely engrossed in the Genuine Italian Plumber Experience until, quite suddenly and in a distinctly rude manner, Dirk is hit with a realisation. The two of them have apparently huddled together in the middle of the couch, without either realizing it, and his side is pressing against John’s from their knees all the way to their shoulders. Okay, he thinks to himself, no biggie. Just some friendly proximity—toxic masculinity is over, bitches, and they are the ones that killed it by being completely chill about some good old fashioned skin-to-skin contact with zero ulterior motives, casually shared between two dudes. Ain’t nothing wrong with being able to feel the heat radiating off of your good pal’s body, who’s all but leaning his head on your shoulder. Yup. Your very platonic bro who seems to be either completely unaware of how close you are or otherwise completely unbothered by it. Totally.
He’s not overthinking a single thing, for sure.
God damn it, he can already feel heat rapidly rising to his cheeks. It is truly a curse of the most Machiavellian caliber how prone he is to bouts of intense face redness, like some sort of prudish anime girl. Part of him wants to bail, right now, part of him really doesn’t, and the end result of this out-of-body experience is that he can practically see himself from a bird’s eye view, squirming as he tries—and fails—not to be completely awkward about sitting on a fucking couch with someone else. Considering how far he seems to have fallen, Dirk is surprised he isn't presently hurtling across the vast expanse of the cold, harsh universe after a trip to this planet's core and beyond it to the opposite side, defying the laws of gravity like a particularly hopeless champagne bottle cork.
In the back of his mind, a small voice helpfully quips that John’s arm feels very warm against his.
“Dude, are you going to like. Do anything? Mario’s about to take the biggest nap ever.” John’s voice makes him jerk out of his thoughts.
Dirk feels his face flush even more. Hm, he thinks idly to himself, time to leave. He pushes the console into John’s hands, mumbles something about needing to use the restroom, and calmly power-walks out of the room.
When the door shuts behind him, he lets himself sink back against it. Goddamn his brain, doing the thing again, making this all—weird. Why in the world is he freaking out over some minor bodily proximity like a pathetic fucking loser? Utter bullshit. Who even decided hormones were a good idea in the first place? He pushes his shades up and rubs his eyes with a grimace.
“You look like you just had your bulge groped for the first time and couldn't quite handle the experience,” a voice informs him.
Dirk barely manages to contain a yelp. His head snaps up and lo, there’s Karkat, standing in the doorway leading to the kitchen and looking like the cat who just caught the canary, if Dirk allows himself the indulgence of being slightly cliché.
“What the fuck, Karkat.” What was already an intense blush—a solid 8 out of 10, at least—is rudely brought to a boiling point and Dirk has the urge to shove his head into a bathtub full of ice.
Karkat crosses his arms and levels him with a disbelieving stare. “You know, I always figured you were playing coy in a misguided attempt to increase your chances of successful courtship, but I’ve apparently grossly overestimated you. You really are that fucking clueless, aren’t you?”
“What the hell are you on about, dude?” Dirk’s beginning to get an idea, but it’s easier playing dumb than seriously acknowledging any of that.
Karkat raises an eyebrow in cruel, heartless amusement. “This would be hilarious if it wasn’t so deplorably pitiful. Do figure it out, Strider.” He places a hand over his chest. “I believe in you.”
And with that, he turns on his heel and saunters off.
Well, that was fucking rude. Dirk is, more than anyone else, well aware of the futility in hoping that one John Egbert might lean anything other than unswervingly straight, but this is—it’s just rubbing salt all over the metaphorical wound. Is he really that obvious? That desperate? More importantly, when will people stop giving him shit for being maybe-perhaps-sort-of interested in the de facto singular available bachelor in the entire goddamn planet? There is literally not anyone else he can direct even the mildest of lascivious thoughts at in good conscience, now that Rose has kind of ruined Egbert Senior with her shrink talk. Actually, that’s something he really doesn’t want to be thinking about right now, so he’ll just stop. Thanks.
He lets out a shaky breath. Alright, time to suck it up and go back and act normal. Idly, he notes how his shades (which he quickly pulled down at Karkat’s appearance) are sitting askew on his nose. He adjusts them and walks back into the living room.
John’s sprawled on his back on the couch, holding Dirk’s Nintendo up above his head. He pushes to a sitting position and peers over the backrest at him. “I cleared the level,” he announces with a grin.
Dirk’s heart does a funny little leap at the sight and he can’t help smiling in return. He immediately plays it off with a shrug. “Congrats. Now can you please go back to not taking up the entirety of the couch?”
“And this is how you thank me.” John heaves a martyred sigh and pulls up and to his half of the couch. He glances at Dirk, shivering in a comically exaggerated display. “It’s gotten kinda chilly here, hasn’t it?”
“Eh.” Dirk sinks back into his seat. He gestures towards the nearby stool. “My hoodie’s over there, put it on if you’re cold.”
John has to stand up to reach it. He pulls on the hoodie over his head, and Dirk’s glad it’s several sizes too big for him. It fits John perfectly.
John stands there for a moment, his body blocking the stool from Dirk’s view. He doesn’t immediately understand what John’s looking at.
Then John picks something up and Dirk hears the sound of paper rustling.
His heart drops into his feet.
John turns around, holding up his sketchbook. “Is this yours?”
“Um.” His mouth is suddenly dry. “Yes?”
“What have you got in here, recreational blueprints of hyperdrive engines or something?” He gives the book a curious glance, turning it around in his hand.
Dirk lets out a chuckle, less steady than he’d like. “Yeah, nothin’ but amazing feats of engineering in there. Oodles of numbers and the like. The real deal.”
John snorts under his breath. Then he looks at him, at the sketchbook, and back at him. “Can I…?”
He looks cautious, and Dirk is sure that if he says no, John will immediately back off, no questions asked. It’s a reassuring thought.
He waves his hand nonchalantly. “Go ahead.”
John sits back down and eagerly opens the sketchbook. Dirk scoots over so he can see it better. Here goes nothing, he thinks, dejectedly.
The first few pages are innocuous enough. There’s some doodles, gesture drawings, quick sketches of random characters. There’s also a bunch of anatomy studies of various animals, some more successful than others. Even the shittier ones don’t fail to elicit an approving hum out of John, though, and Dirk finds himself slowly relaxing.
“Oh, these are pretty cool!” It’s a series of cartoony sketches of horses. John glances at Dirk and shakes his head with a grin. “And of course you have like a thousand horse drawings.”
“Excuse you. I’ll have you know this is my original character Lavender Mane, copyright me, do not steal.”
John giggles and elbows him in the side. “You know, I still can’t believe you know memes from the early 2000s, but at the same time, it makes perfect sense.”
“I’m telling you, bro, way too much free time.”
He keeps paging through the sketchbook until he reaches the last sketch, the one Dirk was messing with earlier today. Dirk’s about to let out a relieved sigh, but John skims through the rest of the empty pages… until he finds some that aren’t empty.
“Whoa,” he murmurs under his breath.
The pages in question are dedicated to various drawings of cheetahs—anatomy studies, different poses and movements, different levels of realism or stylisation. There are also several coloured ones, mostly markers, some watercolour.
“These are really neat, man,” John says quietly, and his tone almost sounds reverent. He traces the outlines of one of the marker drawings with his finger. Then he lets out a laugh. “Didn’t figure you were so artsy! Guess I should have expected it, though. You have like, a Ph.D. in everything.”
Dirk feels another blush incoming, and for a split second, he has to fight the urge to laugh it off, take back his sketchbook and prevent this disaster from unfolding. On the other hand, he... would very much like it if John continued to make further comments in this vein.
He lets John turn to the next page.
(God, he is laughably easy.)
The drawings get more cartoony here, and the cheetahs turn anthropomorphic. Dirk remembers the days spent jotting down different designs before he settled on the final one, and he suddenly feels oddly nostalgic for the time when he came up with this character. Nose looks too big here, a part of his brain notes absently.
“This is your fursona,” John says, and it’s not even a question.
Here we fucking go. This is why Dirk doesn’t show Plato to anyone.
“Funny, I expected it to be a horse.”
Dirk can’t help his startled snort. “Yeah. A common misconception.” He keeps his eyes trained on John’s face, searching for any signs that he’s weirded out or making fun of him, but John seems... genuinely interested in the drawings. Even if there seems to be a bit of a teasing edge to his smile.
“This is cute,” he points at a humanoid cheetah cub.
Dirk clears his throat. “Plato could filet your ass in ten seconds flat, ‘cute’ is not the word I’d use.”
John shoots him an incredulous look, and a surprised laugh escapes his mouth. “You called your fursona Plato.”
“Impressive, isn’t it? Gotta hand it to myself, that shit’s solid 24 karat comedy gold. People from all over the globe are flocking to excavate that son of a bitch in a frenzied rush as we speak, probably. Young entrepreneurs profit while the local wildlife gets majorly shafted.”
John giggles and shakes his head again. “So, did you pick that name for him before or after you started using your chumhandle?”
Dirk glances at him and has to fight a disbelieving smile. It makes him all kinds of warm inside that John caught that. He narrows his eyes behind the shades. “I see what you’re insinuating, Egbert, and I assure you it is complete slander.”
John shoots him a grin. He carefully lays the sketchbook by his side, then turns so that he’s facing Dirk, propping his head on the backrest with an easy smile. “Tell me more about Plato.”
“Well, he was an ancient Greek philosopher—” John shoves him and Dirk almost topples off the couch. John’s staring at him with equal parts amusement and exasperation. Dirk sighs. “Okay, fine.”
It’s been a while since he last drew Plato. Even longer since he’s written about him, and he hasn’t ever shown either to anyone. Still, that’s one of his oldest characters, and talking about him fills Dirk with fondness.
He starts off hesitantly, half-expecting John to get bored or laugh at him, but he just keeps smiling as he listens to Dirk’s story about the tragic past and heroic exploits of Plato, spymaster and ninja extraordinaire: Orphaned as a child, he grew up by himself and followed the way of the warrior. His finesse with a katana and selfless bravery served him well in protecting the crew of misfits that he called friends. Not that he’d ever say that to their faces.
John smirks at that last part. “Because he’s a complete badass and also kinda stoic and reserved?”
“Well, uh…” Dirk experiences a brief moment of mortification on behalf of his twelve-year-old self.
“I like him!” John declares. “You should totally draw him again some time.”
Dirk makes his best attempt at a noncommittal shrug. His fingers are already itching to do exactly that, to be perfectly honest.
“Do you have any?” he ends up asking. “Original characters, I mean.”
“Nah, not really.” There’s a beat of silence. “Do you maybe wanna help me make one?”
Dirk gives him a long stare. “Are you asking me to draw you a fursona?”
John all but clasps his hands together while fluttering his eyelashes. “If you’re up for it?”
“...You know what? Pass me the goddamn sketchbook.”
Having a world-shattering epiphany (that shouldn't come as such a surprise, let's be real here).
Some twelve months after the world ends, a new one begins, and everyone moves on with their lives, Dirk has a revelation.
He’s kind of an asshole.
No, that’s not it. It is, sort of, but this one isn’t about him.
It’s about John.
A lot of things have been, recently, and he should have known better than to dismiss them. He tried to dismiss John—regular, suburban John with his father who baked too much and his terrible taste in movies and a fucking seesaw in the yard, probably—because what could they possibly have in common?
And he was surprised every time John proved to be more than those things. Maybe if he hadn’t, all this wouldn’t have come out of left field and swung at him with a baseball bat, killing him instantly.
Anyway. Here’s what it comes down to: He’s in love with John. Maddeningly, idiotically head over heels for him.
How the fuck does he manage to get himself into these situations.
Chapter 13: Activity Twelve
hi fellas, and welcome back to dirk strider's gay panic brain. this one is a doozy. a couple of quick notes first though:
1) due to the way this story developed, it's going to be a bit shorter than the original estimate, so we're on chapter 13 out of 18 now. not only are we approaching the finish line, but the finish line is also approaching us, in a bit of an unprecedented twist as far as my fanfic writing experience goes. but i'm pretty jazzed about what's still to come.
2) activities nine and ten got a bit of a facelift, with some small scene changes and overall editing and polishing. it's just never truly finished, is it? at any rate, it might be worth it to skim them (naturally, there were no major changes, but they reflect the current quality of my writing better than they used to).
3), and this is the most important point: people keep leaving really sweet and kind and excited comments on this, and they never fail to make me all warm and fuzzy inside. thank you so much for the interest in this and for sticking around despite the long hiatuses and irregular updates. this story is very important to me and i'm so happy that you're enjoying it too! much love to you all <3
and i think that's it. thanks for reading!
Expatiating on the potential applications of a specific set of demi-powers.
He needs to backtrack a little bit.
Towards the end of September, the town hall starts looking less like a makeshift dystopian bunker and more like it actually deserves the denominator. Of the several furnished rooms, they have gathered in the one they appointed as the “council room”.
They are the council. It’s them.
A round table occupies the better part of the room, a massive glass rectangle standing on metal legs like something out of a 2010s court drama—like one of those top-floor conference rooms high-end law agencies have, all shiny and professional. At least, up to the bunch of teenages in jeans and hoodies sitting around or on the table, with feet on it or balancing on the hind legs of their chairs. John and Jane’s Dad is regarding them all fondly from the symbolic head of the table. He’s been helping them with all their work, but he doesn’t try to take the lead or act like he has more of a clue about what the fuck they’re supposed to be doing than any of them. (When it comes to the colonisation of a new planet sprung to existence through reality-bending powers bestowed upon them by a mixture of causality, inevitability and a fucking The Sims VR knockoff, Dirk doubts he would. He appreciates his chill attitude, regardless.)
His eyes linger on the man for a couple of seconds. He looks a lot like John, Dirk realises, then glances at John himself, who’s sitting next to him. They’ve been in this meeting for a solid two hours, discussing and planning and delegating tasks, and John has said a total of 2.3 words. (He said um three times, which Dirk counts as a tenth of a word each. A generous estimate.) As far as Dirk can tell, John’s decided to try his hand at Void powers, with how hard he seems to be willing himself to disappear.
“So, Jade, Jane, you’ll be attempting to expand our supply of fruit and vegetable sorts?” Rose asks, her pen hovering over the notebook where she writes all sorts of organisational shit. And copious amounts of absolutely filthy wizard slashfic, probably.
“I could maybe probably help out with that,” Dave chimes in, a corner of his mouth quirking up. “Figure I could try and accelerate their growth, spare you the whole months of waitin’ before your labour bears fruit thing. Get it, bears fru—”
“Thank you, Dave, that would be lovely,” Rose interjects, mercifully sparing everyone from having to hear the end of that sentence with their own ears, bless her.
Dave levels Rose with a smirk, completely unfazed by the interruption and entirely unrepentant for his nearly actualised pun crimes. “Sweet,” he says, and Dirk knows him well enough to catch the undercurrent of genuine contentment in his tone.
Dirk doesn’t bother fighting his own smile. He knows Dave’s been struggling with his Time abilities, specifically what he had to use them for during the game. The implications of what he was doing to (essentially) himself left a bit of a mark on his brother, but he’s glad Dave is open to discovering new, peaceful ways to utilise his powers—and frankly, anything that doesn’t involve death and dying must look pretty damn appealing to him after everything.
The scratch of metal on tiled floor coming from his left tears him out of his thoughts. John has pushed to his feet. He’s facing away from Dirk, but the tension in his neck and shoulders is clearly visible.
“Sorry, guys, I’ll be right back,” he mumbles. Then he makes a beeline for the door and leaves the room.
A few confused looks are exchanged, but then there’s an unspoken collective anyway and they return to their discussion.
Dirk tries to throw in his two cents as much as possible (he has so many cents to throw, it’s like he’s an excitable kid in front of a public fountain), but a very persistent part of his brain is determined to worry about John instead. And the longer he doesn’t come back, the louder it gets.
When his bee-ar-bee turns into a full hour, Dirk starts to get fidgety. He looks at Dave, who’s sitting to his right. “Where the fuck did he storm off to?” he whispers.
If his question confuses him, Dave doesn’t show it. He shrugs one shoulder. “No clue, bro. He’s sure biding his sweet fuckin’ time, though.”
Dirk is silent, the gears in his head spinning. He reaches a decision with a sigh and briefly squeezes Dave’s shoulder. “Cover for me, alright?” He doesn’t wait for a reply before pushing back his chair and standing up.
He can feel Dave’s eyes on him as he walks out of the room.
John isn’t in the foyer.
Or anywhere else around the town hall, for that matter. Because why make this easy.
Dirk considers his options. There’s plenty, considering they’re on a huge fucking almost-entirely-empty planet—and John would kind of stick out among its crustacean denizens—but he’s assuming that venturing into uncharted territory is a bit overkill for the situation at hand. Whatever the hell the situation actually is, because he? Does not have a clue.
He decides to try the Egbert-Crocker household before launching a rescue mission deep into the heart of the nearest forest.
When he hears the faint notes of a piano carrying from the house, he concludes he made the right call.
Unless there’s a poltergeist playing the piano, of course, which, given their track record with Weird Shit, wouldn’t be even remotely surprising. Still, he is going to Occam’s Razor this and operate under the assumptions that it is, in fact, John that’s playing, until he’s given cause for reasonable doubt.
He slips in through the unlocked door.
He has been in the house enough times to know there’s a piano in the living room, but he hasn’t actually seen (heard?) it in use yet. That’s part of the reason why the sight that greets him makes him pause with his hand on the door knob.
John is sitting at the piano. No ghosts involved, then. (At this, his brain makes a brief detour to the cult classic Ghost (1990), and to its entirely too sensual pottery scene. He hops off that train of thought as soon as it crosses his mind, but it still manages to leave him a little grossed out. That scene was weird. Damn, that whole movie was weird.)
Dirk leans against the doorframe. John hasn’t noticed him: his eyes are closed and he appears completely engrossed. Dirk’s eyes linger on his face. He looks thoughtful, brows furrowed and teeth biting his bottom lip. Somehow, he seems older than usual like this, engrossed in something that seems so intensely private that Dirk kind of feels like an intruder. There’s sadness in his expression, not the raw and volatile kind that comes with tears and snot, but the deep melancholy of this is what I look like when I’m not trying.
They’re all a little bit fucked up, just like John said, but it’s easy to forget that in the face of his almost willful cheerfulness.
Dirk gently taps against the frame.
John’s eyes fly open and a discordant, forceful note echoes through the room. “Shit,” he exclaims as he whips his head around to look at the door, then heaves a sigh. “Oh.” He doesn’t seem all too surprised to see him. “Hey,” he forces a small smile.
Dirk gives him a smile of his own in return, stepping into the room. “Hi.” He walks around the white pianoforte and John slides sideways on the small bench to make room for him. “I was starting to wonder if you hadn’t gotten your dork-ass self attacked by wolves or something.”
“Nope, my ass is still in one piece, thank you for your concern.” He’s making an effort to sound normal, but his voice is just a little bit flat.
“That’s me, man. Your concerned friendly neighbour.” He shoots him a look and his heart sinks a little bit when the quip doesn’t elicit a smile. He bumps his shoulder into John’s, which earns him a quirk of the mouth.
Then, John sighs. “Guess I figured no one would really notice if I left.”
“I did,” Dirk says, and the forcefulness of his voice startles him. John glances at him, but Dirk can’t quite decipher his expression.
Then John looks down, at his hands resting on the keys. “It’s just…” He sighs. “Everyone has something really cool going on for them, right? And they all help in some way that no one else can. Like Jane’s healing powers? She actually revived people, revived you, how mind-blowing is that? Or Jade, who can control basically any object under the sun and manipulate three-dimensional space? Or—or like you and Roxy and your ridiculous wunderkind levels of intelligence, and I’m not even gonna mention your powers from the game.” He pauses, takes a breath. His shoulders slump. “And then there’s me.” He looks at Dirk for a moment, and there’s something so vulnerable and lost on his face that it’s almost physically painful. “I don’t do much of anything, Dirk.”
Dirk stares. Part of him wants to tell John that’s bullshit, part of him wants to just reach over and hug him. Above all, he just really wants to help.
So, he does what he does best: switches to business mode. “The problem is that you’re thinking way too literally about it.”
John blinks. “Uh. What do you mean?”
“Your powers.” Dirk stands up and begins pacing. “You’re the Heir of Breath, right? There’s gotta be more to your abilities than like, making the wind go.” Wind. Air. Intangibleness? No, flexibility. Freedom. A breeze—carrying others along, sweeping them up... Heir, inheriting—ah. He might have something. “I’ve actually got a few ideas that I want to test out, now that I think about it. Relating mostly to the juxtaposition of this particular class and aspect, I highly doubt that all your powers amount to is producing wind currents of varying intensity, as you seem to believe. If you stop and actually consider the archetypal meaning behind the—”
“What are you going on about, dude?”
Dirk snaps around to see John looking at him with a sceptical frown, his arms crossed.
He rolls his eyes. “The way you used your powers during the game? They’re pretty useless now, but I think that’s just ‘cause you’re thinking about them wrong.”
“Useless?” John echoes.
The edge to his voice catches Dirk off-guard and he pauses. “I thought that was the whole deal? You feel—you don’t know how to use your powers to help the rest of us?”
A flash of shock and pain crosses John’s face. “Yeah, no, that wasn’t actually the deal. But hey, nice to know that you think I’m useless!”
“That’s not—” Dirk groans. He can feel heat spreading across his face and shoulders. Fuck. “That’s obviously not what I meant, and you’re blowing this way out of proportion.”
John actually lets out a bark of laughter at this, which is everything but humorous. “Yeah, guess I’m just too dumb to really get anything on my own, right? Silly me, blowing things out of proportion and getting upset over nothing! Good thing I have your huge fucking intellect around to light the way! Man, you really just can’t get over yourself sometimes!”
“What the hell, dude?” He can’t keep his voice in check and it does a comical lurch in pitch. He can virtually feel this conversation spiralling out of control, completely slipping through his fingers. John’s words scrape like sandpaper across his skin. “What are you talking about? I thought you wanted me to help, what exactly are you expecting me to do here?”
“I’m not expecting you to do anything!” John pushes to his feet now, and his voice is suddenly too loud. Dirk almost flinches. “I wanted to fucking talk to you, not listen to an hour-long lecture on the topic of how much you think I suck!”
That effectively renders Dirk speechless. He opens his mouth, but he can’t push any words through his constricted throat. His eyes are starting to sting as he averts his head, any traces of left-over indignation dissipating almost instantly.
The sudden silence in the room rings in his ears. He honest to God considers just fucking—just leaving, right now. He hates this. He hates this, but for some reason, he feels rooted to his spot, in the middle of the soft living room carpet that threatens to swallow him like quicksand.
John walks out of the room.
He doesn’t throw a tantrum, or storm out, or slam the door. There’s a moment of silence that stretches, then the quietest of sighs, and then he’s walking to the door without sparing Dirk as much as a glance.
Before Dirk can think of anything to say or do to stop him, he’s gone. The door hangs open. Dirk stares at it, dumbly, part of him hoping that John will change his mind, that he’ll walk back in.
Dirk doesn’t know what to do. When he finally remembers to breathe again, he slumps on the piano stool and drops his head in his hands.
It’s Jane that finds him, what might be hours later or just minutes.
A startled gasp announces her presence, and then she’s scurrying into the room, and her arms are wrapping around Dirk’s shoulders.
Dirk doesn’t have it in him to pretend that the hug isn’t sorely needed. He leans into it wordlessly and Jane rubs his back.
“No offence, Dirk, but you look miserable as all get out,” she says at last, when it becomes evident Dirk isn’t going to break the silence.
He gives a small laugh. “You got me, gumshoe.”
“I hone my private eye skills on a daily basis,” she responds lightly. “Although I ought to admit I didn’t think I’d find you here.”
“It seems I have worked up to moping around at other people’s homes. No house is safe from the walking wet blanket preying on your seating accommodations, threatening to expose your children to self-deprecation and gross sobbing.”
“I’ll warn the carapaces to avert their eyes from the unseemly sight,” Jane murmurs. “What’s got your boxers in a bunch, Dirk?”
He gives a noncommittal half-shrug.
Jane sighs. “There’s a deductive monologue on the tip of my tongue and I will use it if I need to. Do not force my hand, Mr. Strider.”
He scoffs despite himself, and lets his hands drop from his face. He figures there’s enough contextual clues to make a thorough explanation superfluous, so he might as well skip to the heart of the matter. It still takes him a while to muster the words. Eventually, he settles on: “John was upset. I tried to help, but I ended up making it worse.”
“Ah,” Jane says. Then: “Oh, Dirk,” and she squeezes him tight.
He drops his head on her shoulder. “I keep messing up, Jane.”
Jane doesn’t respond immediately. Then, she sighs and says, “Dirk, no one doubts your good intentions, you do know that, right?”
Does he? He nods because it seems to be expected from him.
“The thing about good intentions is that... well. Sometimes—and I say this as your dear friend who loves you—you end up sounding just a smidge condescending.”
He scoffs. “A smidge.”
“A negligible amount. So small that you’d need to squint to see it.”
“Almost invisible to the naked eye. We’d need to wait for the reinvention of the electron microscope to confirm it with certainty.”
Jane laughs and rubs his shoulder. “What I’m trying to say here is that I get it. It’s so tempting to try and fix your friends’ problems for them. It’s so much easier than watching them struggle through them, isn’t it? But our friends are a resourceful bunch. Sometimes all they need is a cheerleader.”
“I’m not sure where I left my pom poms,” Dirk deadpans automatically.
“While I’m certain John would love to see you in a crop top and mini skirt, that’s not the point.”
That’s a low blow. Though, he has to admit—a deserved one. “Sorry,” he mutters, “carry on.”
“I reckon whatever happened between you both hurt a whole dang lot, but you know neither of you did it on purpose. And so does John. I’d wager he’s beating himself up about it just like you are.”
“He shouldn’t be. He didn’t do anything wrong.”
He exhales slowly and curbs his impulse to argue, to make it all out to be his fault. “Okay,” he murmurs. “You’re right. Probably.”
“That’s acceptable for now.” There’s a smile in her voice. “Now, as your very good friend and a pretty observant gal, I ought to say… you’re doing splendidly, even with the occasional stumble along the way. I’m certain everyone agrees.” She says everyone like she means John. Dirk decides not to argue that.
“I was worried about you, you know. After the game,” Jane continues. “Being surrounded by so many people after years of complete isolation... It must have been so scary and overwhelming. It certainly has for me, let me tell you, and I didn’t have it nearly as bad.”
“Yeah. Scary and overwhelming feels like an understatement.”
“And yet we still made it work, didn’t we?”
There’s a long pause. Then Dirk sits up and levels a look at Jane. “Are you—cheerleading me?”
She bursts into giggles and covers her mouth. “A smidge.”
Dirk shakes his head in faux exasperation. He’s surprised to feel a genuine smile tug at his mouth. The knot in his stomach has loosened somewhat.
“Thanks for the practical lesson in emotional support, Jane. The demonstration will be stored for future reference.”
“But did it actually help?”
“Yeah.” He lets the smile creep farther up his face. “It did.”
She’s about to say something more when the door clicks open. (Jane must have closed it when she came in. Dirk’s glad for the privacy of their heart-to-heart.) Both of them glance up and Dirk’s heart lurches in his chest.
John’s standing in the door, shuffling on his feet and glancing between him and Jane. Is he blushing? He clears his throat before he says: “Uhh...”
He’s off to a great start. Dirk relates to this particular predicament all too well.
John meets his eyes for a second and looks away again. “Dirk,” he addresses the piano, “can we talk?”
Dirk’s reply is crawling its way from his parietal lobe to his mouth when Jane springs to her feet. “I reckon this is my cue to leave. I did promise Dad to help him with some chores?” She glances at Dirk with a raised eyebrow.
Is there a part of him that wishes to tell her no, please stay? Yes, a very real, very loud one. He ignores it. It’s just John. Get a grip, Strider.
He nods at Jane, hoping that she can see the gratitude on his face, and she gives him a discreet thumbs up.
Then, she walks out of the room and John and him are left by themselves.
They immediately jump into each other’s arms and hug it out, enthusiastically reaffirming their friendly affection for one another. There is the patting of each other’s backs so as to not make the embrace awkward. An applause reel plays. The audience is moved to tears and this episode becomes an instant television classic.
Yeah. That’s not what happens.
In fact, nothing insists on happening for a very long second.
Then, Dirk finds it in himself to point to the empty side of the stool. “Wanna sit?”
Nice. Now he’s inviting people to sit at their own homes. Truly his social aptitude is as boundless as the ocean in the middle of which he grew up—and about as riddled with shipwrecks and debris.
Still, John smiles at him and crosses the room to take the offered seat. He’s quiet for another few moments. “Sorry for storming out earlier,” he ventures at last.
“No, it’s fine,” Dirk blurts out almost before he’s finished speaking. Then he adds, in a more controlled tone, “I’m sorry I made you storm out of your own room.”
John chuckles under his breath. “It’s okay. It wasn’t really my room, technically. The living room is more of a shared space.”
Dirk feels his lips curling into a smile despite himself.
“Listen, Dirk…” John pipes up again, and he sounds more serious. “It took me a little bit to realise why what you said made me so upset. To be honest, I feel like I may have overreacted a bit, maybe?” He lets out a nervous little chuckle. “But it’s just—I don’t need you to solve my problems for me. I don’t doubt that you could, but… That’s part of it, I think. I guess this time I just needed you to listen to me whine for a while. Maybe say something lame like, ‘It’s okay if you’re not a genius like me, your friends still appreciate you,’ you know?”
Dirk takes a steadying breath. He knows. He nods his head, sombrely.
“Hey.” John’s voice is quiet and uncertain. “Dirk.”
He snaps up to look at him and almost recoils. John’s sitting so close to him again. He hadn’t realised how narrow the stool is; John’s face is right there. It’s fine, he’s good—his cheeks may or may not have caught on fire, but he’s honestly becoming desensitised to the many ways his own body chooses to betray him at this point.
John’s staring at him, eyes wide behind his glasses, and on impulse, Dirk reaches up to take his shades off. He blinks a few times; everything is suddenly so bright.
Shit, John’s eyes sure are very blue, aren’t they.
They stare at each other for what feels like a very long time, and Dirk’s glad that he’s already blushing in full force—at least he got that part out of the way ahead of time. His heart is beating very fast. He can feel it somewhere between his Adam’s apple and his tonsils. He wishes it would do him a solid and retreat back to its cavity.
“Dirk?” John’s voice makes him snap out of it. “Are you still with me?”
“Yeah. Sorry. I—I shouldn’t have said all that bullshit. I don’t actually think you’re useless.” He laughs under his breath. “I’m so sorry that this is something I need to clarify at all.”
John laughs easily. If it wasn’t for his eyes darting to Dirk and away intermittently, it’d seem like he was perfectly relaxed. “I do know that. At least, I hope you don’t! I... I wasn’t entirely fair either, I know that you mean well. Even when you’re being a huge ass about it.” He gives him a small grin to soften his words, then bumps him with his shoulder. “I do appreciate that you care, though. And your gigantic intellect, too. Please relay my sincerest apologies for trashing it like I did.”
Dirk can’t help but return the grin. “Yeah. Thanks.”
John’s back to staring at him, and, fuck, that’s doing something to his stomach. “Uh. Is there something on my face?” Dirk manages.
John starts. “No, it’s just… You’re just different. Without,” and he briefly points towards his own eyes, “you know.”
Dirk desperately wants to know if that’s a good different or a bad different. Instead, he lets out a small, uncertain chuckle. “What, thought I was hiding some sort of dark, mind-bending secret under those?”
John huffs. “Yeah, Dirk, I never caught a single glimpse of your regular human eyes before, not even literally every single time we’re standing right next to each other and I can totally see them from the side.”
He’s really cute when he does that, Dirk thinks. Then: God damn it.
Just as the sirens start blaring in his mind and he wonders if his martyred human flesh vessel can survive a second panic attack in the span of an hour, John clasps his hands together. “Good talk,” he announces.
Dirk snorts. And then bursts out laughing.
“Good talk,” he echoes through his wheezes, pressing his hands to his burning face. “Yeah, John,” he feels tears prickling at his eyes again, but this time he doesn’t stop them from rolling down his cheeks. “Yeah, that was a pleasant conversation.” His sides are hurting. “Delightful discourse.”
“Are you, like, done?” John asks flatly.
“Give me another thirty seconds.”
“I’m counting down.”
Dirk looks sidelong at him. “What’s the rush, Egbert?”
John’s matching his shit-eating grin. “I was going to ask for your opinion on some songs I’ve composed, but it is a first come, first served offer.”
Dirk’s laughter dies down. “Well, I managed to fit within my allotted time, so. Let’s see what you got.”
John rolls his eyes. “No pressure or anything.”
It’s Dirk’s turn to nudge him with his shoulder. “Please, John, as if you didn’t see my furry sketchbook. Plus…” He licks his lips. “I heard you earlier, you play pretty damn well.”
“Oh.” John brushes a hand through his hair. Then he gets that mischievous expression again. “See, you’re perfectly capable of being reassuring and supportive.”
Dirk’s brain sputters and comes up empty, and John has the audacity to laugh in his face. Then, he shuffles around to face the piano and Dirk is graciously spared from having to come up with a reply.
Ever so slightly dazed, he turns around too and watches as John prepares to start playing. He rolls up his sleeves and stands up a little straighter on the stool, and Dirk scoots a bit to avoid crowding him. He’s got that same concentrated expression on, but this time, there’s an upturn to the corners of his mouth, like he knows Dirk is staring.
He shoots him a quick look out of the corner of his eye and Dirk swallows hard.
God, he is so fucking gay.
And he is completely screwed.
Chapter 14: Activity Thirteen
to the person who said that this fic makes their heart nut so hard: this one's for you buddy
Making bad decisions. That’s it. That seems to be your whole thing.
All of that said, a disclaimer:
In general, Dirk is perfectly fine with his sexuality.
It’s not like he has any reason not to be. He realises that, unusual as his life situation has always been—to put it very mildly—at the very least, it afforded him the privilege of not having to worry about how being non-straight would affect his physical and emotional well-being. He’s aware of homophobia, of fucking course, he’s not a dumbass. But he knows about it in the way one knows about the plague. It’s a thing that happened, for sure, and it sucked balls, but it never actually happened to him. He also knows that most of the folks from the other session (plus Jane) have had to deal with it in some form or other, and he can only guess at how much effort it must take to even begin working through that entire bag of nonsense.
But yeah. He’s got like, zero issues with being into dudes. What he does have an issue with, however, is being into literally the only straight dude on this entire fucking planet.
...Damn it. That’s not right. Dirk is long past the point of being able to describe what he feels for John as something as reductive as being into him. He—being around John makes him feel relaxed and safe and at the same time, like his skin is buzzing with electricity, and when John smiles, there’s a feeling that spreads over his torso, from the pit of his stomach to the top of his chest, and it gives him pinpricks of warmth all over and makes his insides twist and flutter and his brain feel like its melting and pouring down his ears, and that sounds like it should be terrifying but it just feels—good and he doesn’t want it to stop, ever.
When he’s around John, his brain doesn’t scream as loudly.
In conclusion, he hates his luck. And he doubly hates that it’s been a full two days since their little music room episode and Dirk hasn’t stopped thinking about it.
Roxy, as it turns out, was right all along, and he was a fool and an idiot to have dismissed her suspicions as categorically as he did. He should have seen it coming, but he didn’t, and now he’s too far gone and he doesn’t know what to do, except wallow in the pits of Romantic Hubris 2: Electric Boogaloo for all eternity.
Dirk groans into his pillow. It’s way past noon already, but he doesn’t have the willpower to get up. He’s sprawled on his bed, a pile of blankets barricading him from the outside world. If he tries very hard and believes in himself, and does not leave his fort under any circumstances, it’s almost like he doesn’t exist. Maybe he can stay here forever and slowly become one with the mattress.
Just then, his phone buzzes, effectively breaking the illusion of peace he so carefully crafted for himself. Truly, there is no rest for the terminally impassioned.
He rolls over and gropes for the offending electronic device.
ectoBiologist [EB] started pestering timaeusTestified [TT] at 13:49
He can’t do this right now. A dude only has so much mental fortitude, and that particular well has long since run dry. Honestly, the very fact that he needs to put up with this is a targeted microaggression. What’s he gotta do to get a moment’s peace around here?
Such are the thoughts that go through his head while he tries to unlock his phone so frantically that he messes up his passcode three times in a row.
God damn it, he’s taking forever.
EB: hey dirk! how’s it going?
Dirk automatically reads the message in John’s voice and can’t help the smile that tugs at his mouth. John always seems so enthusiastic about chatting. He sort of envies his level of sociableness sometimes, a little bit.
TT: Hey, John.
He chews his lip. Why is this so difficult all of a sudden? They chat literally all the time. Dirk adamantly refuses to start micro-analysing every single interaction he has with his friend.
TT: Shit’s tight. Still in bed, was getting my snooze on, you know how it is. Absolutely off the charts excitement in the Strider-Vantas household at all times.
EB: woooow, so radical.
EB: you’re not going to be off doing something super important or other today, then?
TT: Nah, not really.
EB: that’s good!
EB: i mean
EB: jane’s invited jade and the other girls to bake together, and i’ve frankly had a bit too much of that lately, hah!
EB: so i was wondering if you wanted to hang out?
Dirk briefly wonders if he’s the first person John texted—if he was his main squeeze, so to speak. Then he immediately feels utter mortification at letting that thought even cross his mind at all and entertaining it for more than a tenth of a second.
Ugh. He thought he'd be over this gross puppy-dog bullshit after the whole business with Jake, but apparently pathetically mooning over pretty boys is the unwanted gift that keeps on giving.
TT: Yeah, sure.
TT: Just come on by. I’ll try to not be half-naked by the time you get here.
Oh Jesus H. Dick.
Why. What in the fuck is wrong with him, what horny, attention-starved part of his brain decided to volunteer this absolutely unnecessary nugget of information when it would have cost his treacherous fingers approximately zero dollars to keep it to themselves? This is it, John’s going to think he’s coming on to him, and he’s going to be put off and call him out, and their friendship is going to be over.
EB: haha, don’t worry about that!!
EB: i’ll be right there!
ectoBiologist [EB] ceased pestering timaeusTestified [TT] at 13:53
Dirk pauses. He feels the tension leaving his shoulders and—no, bad, he is not going to wonder if there was any intended subtext behind that statement. He is going to be a normal-ass dude and have a good, platonic time with his bro and that’s that. Making anything be weird is strictly prohibited under the new administration.
Not that he has the decency to be anything but excited that he’s going to see John.
He pushes himself up and sets out to find some clothes.
John rings at the door just as Dirk finishes making his hair look less like tangled yarn and more like an actual hairstyle.
His pulse immediately accelerates by several gears. He takes a deep breath, willing a higher power to settle his ass down, then rushes to the door.
John beams at him when he opens it. “Hey, Dirk!” He goes in for a hug, and even though Dirk is sort of expecting it this time, he’s still momentarily torn between stepping back and leaning in. The result is that he ends up just standing there in a stupor, sirens blaring in his head, experiencing a case of hover hands so acute it will dumbfound specialists for decades to come.
And here Dirk thought that he had mostly gotten over the most crippling aspects of his social ineptitude. It seems he has severely overestimated himself.
John releases him from the awkwardly one-sided hug and clears his throat. “So, uh, I see that you’re not naked.”
“What?” It takes him a hot second before he catches on to John’s meaning. “Oh. That. Yeah, better luck next time.” Okay, that sounded pretty nonchalant. Regular banter: engaged. He’s got this.
He turns around and nods for John to follow him into the living room.
John immediately launches into an anecdote involving Jane and Roxy, but Dirk’s having a hard time focusing on his words over the urgent, desperate screeching of a chorus of fire alarms that seem to have booted any and all rational thought from his headspace. An evacuation protocol is initiated; his brain cells are rushing to the exits with wild abandon. Dozens get tragically trampled in the chaos.
Thankfully, he manages to navigate to the couch on autopilot. He flops down on it, privately lamenting the fact that he hasn’t even been up for a full hour yet and is already feeling like one giant raw nerve.
John sits down next to him, which makes everything worse somehow.
This again. They really need a bigger couch.
John’s leg is practically flush against his and he’s not sure he can make it through this experience alive. Or sane. How does one act in the social context of a platonic hangout with a good friend that one is not attracted to? Did he ever truly know that? If he stops to think about it, he effectively has, at some point or another, slipped and fallen for all available (i.e. not related to him or already taken) persons of the male persuasion that he’s ever known. And isn’t that just a little bit sad.
To be fair, there’s only been two of those in total. But still.
John’s warm, and this is what Dirk’s lizard brain decides to latch onto, in a bold move that defies millennia of evolution. What’s the point of having higher cognitive functions when they abandon you in your darkest hour, your moment of greatest need? All he knows is that he wants to lean against John and wrap himself up in his warmth and the clean smell of citrusy perfume and fabric softener.
“Hang on, gotta, uh—grab my hoodie.” Smooth.
He makes a beeline out the door and into his room. His fingers are slightly unsteady as he pulls his phone out of his pocket.
timaeusTestified [TT] started pestering tipsyGnostalgic [TG] at 14:23
TT: Yo, Rox.
TT: Remember what you warned me regarding a certain John Egbert, and all the related advice that has been hitherto passed my way, in your boundless, nigh clairvoyant wisdom?
TT: I seem to have ignored all of it.
TG: oh jeeze dirk :(
TG: what brought this on boo
TG: you wanna come over actually? i can have the meanest tube of ice cream at the ready
TG: u just gotta say the word
TT: Tempting as that sounds, I’m afraid the object of my inadvisable affection is currently over, sitting on the living room couch as we speak. And probably wondering what’s taking me so long.
TT: It's almost like I'm deliberately trying to self-sabotage or something.
TT: Every morning, I contemplate the worst decisions I could make in order to achieve a never-before known level of personal anguish. And then, I go ahead and do the thing.
TG: i dont think ur being fair to urself fam
TG: we both know that catching feelings is not like a premeditated choice
TG: at least i hope we be totes clear on that homie
TG: cause lord knows youre first in line to blame urself for every single thing that goes maybe not 100% optimal since the dawn of the universe
TG: got one of those barracks dudes use to camp out in front of the convention center ready to go at all times so u can get the very best spot and shit
TG: for the record i meant the old universe not the one we made like six months ago
TT: I should have realised earlier that it was happening.
TG: johns a sweet dude
TG: what WERE you supposed to do
TG: ignore him for all eternity just cuz you might develop some dokis or w/e???
TG: it aint a crime to spend your time with someone u like
TG: plus i think youve been good for each other
TT: I guess so.
TT: Nevertheless, I do feel like I played myself quite fuckin’ spectacularly right now. I would be a little impressed, were I not currently stuck deep in the throes of unrequited affection.
TG: feel free to take me up on that ice cream offer whenever
TG: im so engaged in bffsies duty its unreal
TG: ready to pop off at the drop of hat just say the word
TT: Thanks, Rox.
TT: I should probably head back in. We appreciate your participation in the latest episode of Dirk Strider's Saturday Night Dumb. Stay tuned for the next installment.
TG: ill be in the audience cheering u on in sympathy
TT: Yeah, I know.
TT: I’ll see you later, Lalonde.
TG: good luck dirk!!!
timaeusTestified [TT] ceased pestering tipsyGnostalgic [TG] at 14:36
He’s about to pocket his phone when it buzzes again.
tipsyGnostalgic [TG] started pestering timaeusTestified [TT] at 14:36
TG: ah man im not even sure if this is an actual helpful thing to say at all but like
TG: if theres an ounce of him thats not straight u can consider him totes in love w/ u
TG: thats it bye
tipsyGnostalgic [TG] ceased pestering timaeusTestified [TT] at 14:37
Dirk heaves another sigh, staring at the baby pink text. That’s a pretty fucking big if, he knows, and definitely not something he should be indulging in at all, if he knows what’s good for him. But. He’d be lying if he said it didn’t make him feel slightly better.
Heh. Gently boosting his ego. Roxy knows him too well.
He almost walks back inside before he remembers—his hoodie. Man, he should really fucking snap out of it.
He pops into his room to snatch his trusted garment and convenient pretext, and returns to the living room.
John peers up from his phone and gives him his signature toothy grin. A strand of hair’s falling into his eyes and he absently brushes it off and honestly, at this point Dirk is about to start hallucinating bishie sparkles around the man. It is with herculean effort that he swallows back whatever sappy shoujo line his brain was about to blurt out, mentally slaps the sakura petals away and walks back up to the couch.
He’s sure spending time with one’s friends isn’t supposed to be such a strain on one’s psyche, but. Oh well. He also knows there's nothing else he'd rather be doing right now than spend time with John, so—mental strain it is.
He hums in agreement. An elbow jabs in his side.
His head snaps to John and he blinks at him as the real world comes back into focus. “The hell was that for,” he says in what a less impartial observer might describe as a “whine.”
“I asked you what you felt like doing and you just said mhmm.”
“I thought at this point you knew me well enough to understand what I meant without the need for verbal communication. Step up your game, John, honestly. If we’re not in sync enough to be able to gaze into each other’s eyes and telepathically communicate our innermost thoughts, then what is even the point of this human emotion we call friendship?”
John lets out an exaggerated sigh. “Maybe it would help if I could actually gaze into your eyes, Mr. I-Wear-Shades-Inside.”
“I’ll have you know I’m very sensitive to light.”
“I see how it is. Y—”
“Do you really?” John interrupts him before he can finish. Rude. Someone flaked out on his lessons with Miss Manners. “I would be surprised if you saw much of anything from behind those.” He shoots him a distinctly challenging look, arching an eyebrow.
Well then. Dirk raises an eyebrow right back at him, and then reaches up and takes his shades off.
It’s a power move, or something.
Except, instead of getting flustered and swooning at his feet, declaring himself undone by the raw magnetism of his shadeless gaze, John just beams at him. “That’s better,” he announces, pleased as punch.
Motherfucker. He played him like a fiddle.
He glances away and then back at John. He’ll need to ease into direct eye contact without the buffer of his shades, but once again, he’s struck with how vibrant John’s eyes look. His skin has a warm undertone he couldn’t pick up on through tinted glass.
He’s... Yeah. He looks very nice. Personally speaking. Dirk can’t even pretend to resent the whole thing in the end.
He puts his shades aside. “So, what exciting and stimulating activity did you feel like engaging in today?”
They end up doing what they usually do. They play some games, watch some cartoons. Dirk can’t say that the impulse to lean against John (or wrap his arm around him, or play with his hair and, God forbid, kiss his cheek) has gotten any weaker, but his brief time-out helped him regain a quantum of control over himself. His primal urges remain contained.
And, once his initial panic has subsided, he gradually calms down to the point where he’s almost not screeching internally.
He’s having fun.
He’s also fixating on the tiniest aspects of John’s body language, dissecting every single interaction they have, and keeping a tally of every single instance of behaviour that might indicate interest in him transcending platonic friendship, but isn’t that just what crushes are like.
They spend a couple of hours watching a Let’s Play series of some horror game or other, and at some point, John yelps and grips Dirk’s hand. Dirk’s heart leaps into his throat and proceeds to try and flutter out of it. John doesn’t seem to realise what he’s doing for several seconds, giving him enough time to contemplate the consequences of trying to hold his hand, but then John lets out an awkward little chuckle, mumbles an apology and pulls his hand away.
Dirk bites back his disappointment. Reminds himself of his and John’s relative positions on the Kinsey scale (as reductive as the thing is). Assures himself that casual physical contact is not exclusively romantic.
Hm. Why does John keep giving him that look?
“You wanna get something to eat?” Dirk blurts out. It’s not the worst thing he could have said. And objectively speaking, he could stand to have some nourishment.
John instantly agrees. “I was getting kinda hungry anyway,” he announces, all but springing from the couch.
Dirk clambers to his feet and heads for the kitchen to see what the fridge has to offer. He throws its door open and bends down to peer into its chilly depths. “Uh,” he says.
“Is it empty?” John’s voice comes from right behind him.
“As good as.” He straightens up and turns around only to smash square into John’s chest. Both of them take a surprised step back and the fridge’s door rams into his thigh. He manages not to grimace as he discreetly rubs the spot. “We could make omelettes?”
“Um,” John licks his lips. “Yeah, totally, sounds good!”
They stare at each other for a moment before Dirk clears his throat. “Right, so. Eggs.”
John giggles and scurries over to the hotplates.
Cooking with John is a blast, even if neither of them has much of an idea what they’re doing. John doesn’t crack an egg as much as shatters it, and has to spend a good five minutes fishing egg shell shrapnel out of the bowl. Dirk teases him mercilessly, which earns him a pepper thrown at his face. Naturally, he dodges it with great ease and boundless grace, but the traitorous projectile arcs through the air and hits him in the back of the head before falling to the floor and disappearing under a cupboard.
“Ow,” he announces, flatly. “That’s cheating, Egbert.”
John bats his lashes at him, and it’s a crime how it makes his stomach clench. “Should have dodged faster, Dirk.”
“My mad parkour skills are not actually honed to deal with divine powers that completely disregard the laws of physics at the drop of a frustrated swordsman's hat.”
“That sounds like a you problem.”
“Well, now it’s an us problem, given that we’re a pepper short.”
“Your mad parkour skills should be good enough to grab a pepper from under the cupboard.”
“I am being exploited,” Dirk bemoans, as he makes a show of bending down and squatting, “in my own goddamn home.”
“I’m sorry my hands are covered in egg.” He doesn’t sound sorry at all.
Retrieving the vegetable runaway is no challenge for his superior agility. He’s back on his feet in one fluid motion, triumphantly extending the pepper to John.
He takes it from his hand and gives him a grin. “Thank you, Dirk! You’re my hero.”
Dirk would like to amend his previous allegation: this, right here, this statement with this look, is definitely cheating. He quickly busies himself with some onion chopping, muttering a quick yeah, whatever under his breath before John can see the literal wildfires burning in his cheeks.
There’s only so many ways you can go wrong with eggs, and they manage not to burn the kitchen down, so dinner is a solid 8.5/10. They sit down to eat at the table, and if they end up huddled together a little too closely after a half-hearted spat over who got the fuller plate, Dirk is certainly not going to complain. He is, in fact, inclined to do the very opposite of complaining, what with their knees brushing together every few seconds.
John seems to be feeling chatty today and Dirk is all too eager to listen—a combo of dispositions that results in him being regaled with a fine selection of childhood tales. If he wasn’t busy shovelling eggs into his mouth, he’d have his chin in his hands. Maybe he’d even sneak in some leg swinging, twirl his hair if he was feeling particularly saucy. Regardless, it’s still nice to hear about all the shenanigans middle-school John got into. Which turns out to have been an impressive amount, by the way. It seems his self-proclaimed reputation as a trickster isn’t completely unfounded, after all.
Dirk’s trying to stifle his laughter with his fist—the key word being trying— when the front door opens.
“We’re home, Big D!” Dave proclaims, then immediately adds in the exact same tone: “This was a terrible nickname! Please forget I just said that!”
John blinks at Dirk.
Dirk blinks back.
John snorts and bursts out laughing and Dirk can’t help but follow suit.
Just then, Dave barges into the kitchen, followed by Karkat. They seem to be in the middle of a conversation, but it dies down as they see Dirk and John huddled at the kitchen table.
“Oh,” Dave remarks, an exhaustive and insightful assessment of the situation. Then, he gives them a smile. “‘Sup, dudes. Y’all seem to be having fun.”
“Yeah,” John manages between giggles, then glances at Dirk. “If you’re Big D, then is Dave Sm—”
“No,” Dirk and Dave say in chorus, and John just starts laughing harder.
“Terrific joke, John,” Karkat deadpans, his voice conveying a level of being done with this shit that no mortal or immortal has heretofore achieved. They should ring up Guinness World Records. They should found Guinness World Records. “Please share it with your schoolhouse buddies, I’m sure all the other wigglers will find it absolutely fucking hilarious.”
“Or we could just like, never speak of this again. Bury it and say a little prayer for its everlasting soul and then move on with our lives, giving ourselves as much time to mourn as we need. R.I.P. in pieces, mortifying joke about my wang, no one will miss you ever, God bless, amen.” The tips of Dave’s ears are bright pink, which sort of undermines the casual lean he’s got going on over there. Dirk’s heart goes out to him—he’s intimately familiar with this particular form of torture. The Strider genes can be treacherous motherfuckers when it comes to keeping your innermost, vulnerable feelings under lock and key.
“Amen,” Dirk echoes in solidarity.
John needs another few moments to completely rein in his laughter, but then he ventures a: “So where are you two coming home from?”
“We had dinner with Jade, Roxy, and Calliope,” Karkat explains, his perma-frown softening into a tiny, genuine smile, which is. Well, not a sight he gets to witness very often. They must’ve had fun.
Dave pushes off the wall, which makes Dirk glance back at him. He’s doing that thing he does when he’s concentrating, moving his fingers like he’s typing on an invisible keyboard, and Dirk doesn’t need to see his eyes to know he’s scanning the scene before him. Suddenly, Dirk is minutely aware of the spots where his legs are pressing against John’s, their plates occupying about a quarter of the dinner table, and his state of complete shadelessness.
Not that shadelessness can be incomplete. It’s technically a binary variable, but he really doesn’t have time to amend his mental turn of phrase, given the way Dave’s practically boring holes into him with the intensity of his stare.
Dave raises an eyebrow at him, then looks pointedly at John, then back at him. His other eyebrow joins the first one in the heights of his nonverbal scepticism.
Dirk blinks. Lots of blinking going around in this kitchen lately. He wonders what this particular one just conveyed to his audience, now that his eyes are visible. Something akin to a very long and strained uhhh, he reckons.
Dave’s eyebrows travel even higher, somehow, and Dirk has never felt more judged in his life. He shrugs with one shoulder, praying that his brother will follow in Snoop's footsteps and just drop this line of questioning like it's boiling hot.
Dave taps the frame of his own shades. Dirk wonders why he even bothers hoping not to be mercilessly interrogated by those who claim to love and support him.
How is he supposed to respond to this? He feels like Dave can read his every emotion as a baseline at this point—even if the aforementioned shadelessness wasn’t enough, dude’s way too observant for his own good. The truth is out there, and by out there he means right the fuck here in this room, and Dave definitely knows about his so-called “dokis” now. This is a doomed timeline. Dirk’s life is forfeit.
Dave seems perfectly unfazed. He clears his throat.
Karkat, who Dirk can only assume was still talking to John while their own wordless exchange happened, turns to look at him.
“I, uh,” Dave pats his pocket. Please don’t, Dirk silently begs, not entirely sure what it is that he’s begging for quite yet.
“Did you forget your phone again,” Karkat sighs. Huh. Dirk was admittedly not expecting that. He was sure Dave was up to—
Hold on. Is this—This is a fucking couples’ routine, isn’t it.
He has to admit he’s a little impressed. Begrudgingly. If they keep at it, Earth Redux’s second most verbose couple will eventually be able to forgo verbal communication in its entirety. Maybe they could even start an improv show with this kind of mental sync, it’d be a whole thing.
“Yeah, I guess I did.” Dave glances sideways at Karkat. “You don’t have to come, but I should probably…”
“Yeah, no, I’m coming. Let’s go before Callie’s fallen asleep.”
Dirk can’t help but notice how they seem to intuit the other’s movements and angle their bodies towards each other. It’s romance novel levels of bullshit, the way they gravitate around the other's respective spheres like smitten little planets that still try to play it cool in public, sort of. Disgusting, and frankly a bit offensive.
He’s not envious. Who do you take him for, jeez. Why would a harmonious, loving couple fill him with envy. Please.
Anyway. Dave and Karkat tear back through the door, throwing goodbyes over their shoulders and leaving Dirk to stew in his embarrassment and grind his teeth, softly.
He supposes they mean well, but he has no idea what in the fresh hell they’re thinking, pardon his French. Are they expecting that John’s secretly longing for his advances and that once they’re gone, he’s going to rip his clothes off and wantonly throw himself in Dirk’s general direction?
Dirk gulps down with difficulty, fighting the impulse to cover his burning face with his hands. His thoughts are running away from him, and not in a direction he wants to go in. At least not until later, when he’s—
He catches himself before the thought can fully form in his head, but the embarrassment is nearly enough to kill him on its own. Damn, is it just him or is it hot in here? Haha. (It is him. It’s him and his stupid hormones and John’s very nice arms, existing right in front of his omelette.)
“I think they expected to have the house to themselves,” John observes.
“They probably—they probably did.” Dirk wishes his voice would stop failing him at crucial junctures.
John doesn’t seem to think much of it, though, so they return to their food in companionable silence. Small miracles.
Dirk half expects John to head home after dinner. They’ve been hanging out for who knows how long—a very considerable portion of the day, at least, so he’s surprised when John gives him a smile and a perky want to watch a movie or something? instead.
Dirk nods and licks his lips. “Sounds good.” He stands up, ignoring the feeling that his knee joints have been replaced with jello, and follows after John.
It’s John’s turn to pick the movie and Dirk doesn’t have it in him to complain like he usually does. Not that he would have been able to resist John’s huge grin and sparkly eyes, even if he hadn’t chosen a classic like Castle in the Sky.
John busies himself with the DVD player and Dirk has time to weigh his love for Ghibli movies against his… something for John. He loves Ghibli flicks a lot. And it’s been a while since he last saw this particular one. Maybe he has it in him to actually pay attention. Then, John shoots him a contented smile and makes a beeline for his spot on the sofa, and Dirk realises Hayao Miyazaki could create a new movie catering to his exact tastes and he would still rather focus on John’s warm form pressing up against his side.
It’s going to be a long two hours and six minutes.
In the silence of the room, with the monitor acting as the only source of light, the mood gradually shifts into something softer. Time seems to settle into a comfortable downtempo, and Dirk feels his anxiety slowly release its grip on his lungs as the movie progresses.
He eventually comes to a decision. You know what, he thinks, I’m going to chill the fuck out now. He lets himself settle a little more comfortably between John and the armrest. No more fighting the pull of John’s warmth, only relaxing into it—it’s way past overthink o’clock and, personally? Dirk is ready to give himself a break. Besides, it's not like John has ever demonstrated he's anything other than completely enthusiastic about casual gestures of physical affection, so Dirk doesn’t feel he's crossing any boundaries here. Yeah. They are friends.
They are good friends, and that's more than enough in Dirk's book. Even if John is unable to return his feelings.
He shuffles a bit to make himself more comfortable, and apparently that’s enough to mess with John’s cosiness chakras, because he bumps him with his shoulder and then does that small breathy laugh thing. It has no business being this fucking cute, ugh.
Dirk bumps him back, but his heart is not in it, and it ends up being more of a slump against him. He expects John to move away, but he doesn’t, and, well. This is the way it is, then. He embraces his fate—which, if he’s being completely honest, could be much worse, and lets himself lean on John more fully, slinging one leg across the armrest.
“Wow, dude,” John announces, “you really are going to just take up, like, the entire couch with your noodle limbs, aren’t you? You’re not even worried about it.”
In lieu of answering, Dirk lifts up his other leg and leans his entire weight against John’s shoulder, bracing his feet on the armrest and pushing. John yelps as he’s forcibly slid sideways, almost toppling over, and oh this is way more satisfying than it has any right to be. Dirk snickers, and then suddenly he's the one being propelled forward as John shoves him back in retaliation. That was—wow, okay. So John is pretty strong, actually. Alright. Noted.
They end up engaging in a gruesome battle for couch dominance. Which means they waste approximately five minutes shoving each other back and forth. A pillow is used as an instrument of war at some point, and Dirk only stops laughing when he gets a stray elbow to the side (“Oof. Jesus, man.” “Sorry, sorry!”). John’s giggles are so loud that Dirk feels hashtag blessed Dave and Karkat ended up leaving after all. He’d never hear the end of it.
When they calm down, they’ve practically burrowed into the middle seat. Dirk has one leg thrown on top of John’s, who seems perfectly content with this arrangement, clutching the decommissioned pillow to his chest, relaxed against Dirk’s side. As Dirk quickly takes in the present parameters, his cheek smushed up against John's shoulder, his arm smushed between the two of them, he comes to the conclusion that this is about just an all-around ideal level of smushing. Ten outta ten, would recommend. Also, John hasn’t screamed and ejected himself from the couch in horror yet, so. He lets himself bask in this resounding success.
He sits there very still and listens as John catches his breath.
It’s been about thirty seconds now. John still hasn’t sprung from the couch.
Dirk’s mouth is suddenly very dry. Okay, he’s pretty sure he wasn’t before, but Is he overstepping now? Is this a breach of the social contract that he should be aware of and taking measures to amend? He has zero point of reference for what constitutes a normal amount of—God, cuddling, he guesses, that is kind of the definition of what they’re doing right now, isn’t it. Should he pull back? Yeah, he’s gonna—
John rests his chin on his head.
“Gosh, your hair smells really nice,” he says.
Dirk has completely lost track of his train of thought.
“Is it hair product or perfume?”
Right. That was a question. Dirk should probably answer it.
“Perfume,” he manages. He turns his head and pulls back to look at John. “Glad you like it.”
The light from the TV screen plays in cold hues on John’s face, outlining the curve of his cheek, the dimple under his bottom lip, the messy halo of curls framing his forehead. It catches on the frames of his glasses, but his eyes are big and dark behind the lenses. He licks his lips. He’s flushed a deep red.
Dirk lifts up a hand to brush it against John’s cheek. Then, he slides his fingers into his hair and pulls him into a kiss.
John’s lips are soft and warm, and they part in a small gasp. Dirk drinks it in, letting his eyes flutter shut, getting lost in the sensation of John against him. John and the stupid pillow that ended up squished between their bodies.
He wants to laugh, but then John interrupts him by planting a hand on his hip and squeezing, and Dirk decides he's way too busy for that, actually. He clings to John's shoulder, rubbing his thumb over the skin of his neck, flicking his tongue across his bottom lip. John moves his mouth against his—hesitantly, then with more intent, and Dirk hears himself let out a low sigh, heart hammering madly in his chest. He can tell John doesn’t have much experience, with the way their teeth clatter together for a moment when he grabs him by the collar and tugs him closer, but it only makes him want to kiss him more.
He nips John’s lip, barely more than grazing it with his teeth, and the way John shudders against him is about the most satisfying thing he’s ever felt.
John pulls back without warning and it takes Dirk a few seconds to get his bearings.
He opens his eyes, slightly dazed. John has shuffled back, all the way to the opposite armrest, and he’s clutching the pillow like a shield between them. Dirk’s insides twist painfully. He looks like a deer caught in the headlights, eyes wide and alarmed.
He’s got nothing. He doesn’t have the words to defend himself against the unspoken accusation. It’s funny, considering how much he usually has to say about a ridiculously wide plethora of subjects, but there you have it. It’s funny and horrible and he wants to claw his way out of his skin and—there it is. He fucked up. He’s a greedy bastard that ruined one of the best things he had going on.
He stares at his hands. His knuckles are white with how tight he’s clenching his fingers.
“I, uh.” He feels the cushion shift as John stands up. He looks up at him and their eyes meet for a second and fuck, he wishes he could find something to say, anything. He feels sick.
John looks away. “I—it’s late, I gotta go,” he mumbles. Then, he heads for the door.
Dirk doesn’t react. He doesn’t look up; he doesn’t need to in order to picture John on the other side, shocked and walking away.
The door falls shut behind him.
Dirk keeps sitting in the middle of a couch that suddenly feels too big for one person. Castle in the Sky is still running in the background.
They didn’t even make it halfway through.
The thought is so ridiculous that a hysterical laugh bubbles out of his lips. It ends in a pathetic, strangled sound. His vision blurs and before he can even think to stop it, he curls into himself and starts crying without making a sound.
Chapter 15: Intermission Two
HI GUYS HAPPY 4/13
i'm technically a day late, but i figured with actual canon hs content being published on the anniversary, i could afford that. but hey! yesterday was also the memoir's second birthday, so thank you so much for sticking around for that long (or jumping in later). thank you so so much for the wonderful comments and for still being here despite the sporadic update schedule. i love you all so much and it makes my day knowing that people enjoy this silly story.
as always, i hope you enjoy reading, and you can find me at my twitter, come say hi!
but also... meat or candy? :)
be the other guy again.
John is not gay.
He’s honestly a little confused about why he even needs this disclaimer in the first place.
It’s not like he’s ever had any reason to think he’s anything other than heterosexual. He can’t be gay if he likes girls! And don’t quote him on this, but that’s sort of how it works, isn’t it? Yeah, it totally is. Boom, case closed.
So what if he hasn’t liked many girls? He’s liked some. And besides, who’s even counting? Quality over quantity and all that.
Anyway! Roxy is awesome and super cute, you’d have to be a complete idiot not to notice that. They even had a whole moment, before and after all that crazy retcon business. There was definitely something there. He thinks? Although she seems to be very involved in whatever it is that’s going on with her and Jade right now. Which is totally fine! John is not jealous or anything, that would be such a shitty thing for a friend to be. Also, he may have never thought of Roxy in an actual real romantic capacity, now that he’s gone and examined those feelings—at least, not for more than like, a few seconds. So does this even count? Blergh.
Okay, uh... Oh, there was something between him and Terezi for a while, wasn’t there? Yeah! There it is. Karkat sure did go on and on about how that was totally one of their weird troll romantic combinations. Even the name had something that sounded like kiss in it. Case closed, that super counts.
Although, he… did he even want to kiss Terezi? He doesn’t know anymore. They haven’t really hung out a lot since the game ended, and it feels like at this point he couldn’t have more romantic feelings for her than for, say, Rose. And kissing Rose would be so weird!
That’d be so weird.
Well, fine! That is not a problem either, because there was that girl who totally wanted to marry him in the sandbox back in kindergarten.
Oh Jesus, that so completely does not count. He’s starting to sound a little ridiculous, even to himself.
Time to get back on track. The point is, even though he apparently might not have been as interested in girls as he previously thought, it’s not like he’s ever been into dudes either! So he can’t be gay.
He… Ugh. He’s lying on his back in bed, staring at the ceiling, trying to put his thoughts into a semblance of order. Why did Rose make a point of telling him how glad she was he and Dirk are getting along? Or Roxy do that thing with her eyebrows? Even Jane—when he told her yesterday that he was headed to Dirk’s, she made a weird face and said that it was “so cute.” What was up with that!
He groans again and presses his face into his pillow. What was even up with anything yesterday? He is trying his best to avoid thinking about it, but his brain inevitably circles back to it, and he’s just—this is so frustrating! He wishes it hadn’t happened at all.
...Well, no, that’s not. Exactly true either.
It takes him several hours to make it this far into his analysis of last night’s events, and he’s only more confused by the end of it. He kissed Dirk.
He hasn’t really kissed anyone before.
It was never something he really thought about a lot, or even wanted to do.
But last night... he did, didn’t he? He knew it was going to happen and he just —let it. And, well, it wasn’t exactly a chaste peck either! He’s not a kiss expert, but he’s pretty sure that it was on the, um. The more—uh, it was... Oh man.
And here we go, he can feel his face burning up. This is making him so uncomfortable, time to never think about it ever again, actually!
Why can’t things ever be simple.
There’s a knock on his door that pulls him out of his vortex of self-pity for a moment. Before he can respond, Jane bursts into the room. “John, dinner’s ready, are you heading down soon?”
Jeez. Yeah, just go ahead and barge right into a guy’s bedroom. It’s not like he has any concept of privacy or anything! “What is even the point of knocking if you’re going to storm in before I can use my words, Jane?”
She freezes mid-step, giving him a hard look from behind her glasses, and it hits him how sharp he just sounded. He should probably apologise.
He crosses his arms and looks away.
“I hardly think that tone was warranted.”
He rubs his arm. “You’re right, it was not,” he says to the wall. “Sorry.”
Jane doesn’t reply straight away. After several seconds of silence, he braves a look in her direction.
She has her arms folded across her chest, her lips pressed in a dangerously thin line. He idly wonders if pissing off Jane Crocker is a good idea if one has any interest whatsoever in their continued existence.
And it also just makes him feel like a piece of shit, plain and simple. “I’m sorry, okay? I don’t know what's gotten into me today.” Well, that’s not strictly true, but.
Jane stares at him for another second before the sharp edge in her look fades. “You do seem incredibly on edge, John.”
“It’s nothing,” he mutters, then sighs and course corrects. “I mean, it’s... something, but I don’t really want to talk about it right now.”
Jane studies his face. It’s a whole process that takes at least ten seconds, and he makes sure to avoid her gaze for at least nine of them. Finally, she relents. “If you’re certain.”
“Yeah. I’ll… I’ll come down for dinner in a few.” After a moment’s thought about the next time he might need urgent medical care, among other things, he adds: “Thanks for letting me know.”
Jane flashes him a wide smile, but he can totally tell she’s still worried. He smiles back at her, trying to convey more enthusiasm than he’s feeling. The last thing he needs is to stress everyone out with his dumb problems like some big whiny baby.
At least his last flimsy addition seems to have pacified her somewhat. She leaves without other comments, and he slumps back in bed.
He doesn’t want to go to dinner.
He doesn’t want to ever leave bed again, really, but he would especially rather fight Beck Noir solo with one hand tied behind his back and a blindfold over his eyes than go eat with his family.
Okay, probably not that, but...
He just misses his Dad sometimes.
He sharply shakes his head. If he’s learned anything since the Game, it’s that this train of thought leads nowhere good. He takes his laptop out from under the bed and opens it. Pesterchum loads with a series of loud pings that make his heart speed up. He quickly skims the lit-up usernames. Jade sent him a link to a video, and apparently Jane texted him before coming up to his room. Dave’s chat is also blinking, but that’s everyone.
Oh. His stomach drops a little. Well, whatever. He clicks on Dave’s name.
turntechGodhead [TG] began pestering ectoBiologist [EB] at 12:56
TG: yo john
TG: how you doin homeslice
turntechGodhead [TG] ceased pestering ectoBiologist [EB] at 13:02
turntechGodhead [TG] began pestering ectoBiologist [EB] at 14:18
TG: hey dude
TG: wanna come by to hang out later
TG: kick back shoot the shit play some games maybe
TG: yknow if you want to
turntechGodhead [TG] ceased pestering ectoBiologist [EB] at 14:30
John feels his face spreading in its first genuine smile for the day. Maybe this is exactly what he needs, some quality time with his best friend and all the consoles that he has. Dave would get it, right? He wouldn’t force him to talk about it if John didn’t want to. He could just go over to his and spend a few hours not thinking about—this.
He’s able to enjoy the thought for all of a second before he remembers. Right. Dave and Dirk live together now, and going there at the moment is not even slightly an option.
John sighs. Then, he presses his hands to his face and sighs again, for good measure. Why is this happening to him?
He glares at nothing in particular for a while, until Pesterchum tears him from his sulking.
turntechGodhead [TG] began pestering ectoBiologist [EB] at 16:48
TG: john i can see youre online you know that right
TG: like your name literally lights up and makes a ping when you sign in
TG: i suspect for the express purpose of it being as loud and obnoxious as humanly possible but dont quote me on this
TG: point is if youre trying to be sneaky youre really not doing the best job right now
TG: in fact im pretty sure you might actually be doing the worst job at being sneaky in the history of this entire universe
TG: not that this universe can claim a particularly lengthy history to begin with
TG: but the only way you could possibly be doing a worse job is if you got a huge ass neon arrow sign to float over your head at all times
TG: just absolutely BONKERS ginormous like holy shit am i talking MASSIVE
TG: with a built in sound system programmed to announce your every move or something
TG: step aside everyone egbert is coming in loud and proud
TG: for real big man talk to me
EB: hi, dave.
TG: fucking finally
TG: took you only seventeen years four months and eleven days
EB: it’s literally been only a few hours.
TG: do not sass at me bro
TG: i am but a humble man trying to get in on that good good friendship juice
TG: im stranded in a friendless dessert
TG: wasting away
TG: while youre holding the key to the friendship oasis just out of my reach
EB: you’re ridiculous.
TG: no im DYING john
EB: okay, okay, jeez!
EB: do you want to go hang out in that small forest behind the town hall?
EB: the weather’s good today and it might be nice to spend some time outside.
TG: thats an awfully healthy lifestyle choice man
TG: whats next low fat no bake kale chips
TG: anyway that works meet you at the town hall in a hot sec
TG: oh and karkats coming too
turntechGodhead [TG] ceased pestering ectoBiologist [EB] at 16:59
John sighs, again, and rubs his forehead, feeling like he might get a headache under this onslaught of red. He’s known Dave for a long time; the walls of text usually mean he’s worried.
He feels a pang of guilt at that—he definitely didn’t want to worry anyone—but it’s enough to propel him out into motion.
He rolls out of bed and looks for some clothes.
The fresh air does help.
The sun is dipping behind the mountains by the time they settle on a patch of grass between the trees. Moisture and the smell of soil fill the air, but there’s a light breeze that keeps it from feeling sticky.
John rests his back against the trunk of a tree. Dave and Karkat are sat across from him, both of them with their legs crossed, and John almost laughs when he realises their poses mirror each other. Neither of them seems to notice that they’re doing this. Karkat alternates between looking around and giving him stern glances. Beside him, Dave’s fiddling with his shades in his lap.
Now this is something John’s yet to get used to. He keeps meeting his eyes and glancing away, feeling like he’s under those extremely bright white lights they put in interrogation rooms in movies. It’s a little weird to see Dave without his shades, it almost feels like his face is missing something—but his eyes are big and expressive.
It’s nice, John concludes. He’s glad Dave seems to be more relaxed.
They haven’t talked much since Dave and Karkat found him by the entrance of the town hall. Dave made light conversation at first, but then it just sort of... petered out. Things are starting to inch towards awkward, and John idly wonders if meeting up was a good idea after all.
The breeze picks up. It brushes across his face, tugging his hair and bringing with it the scent of some flowers that he can’t see. It lets up before another gust washes over him. This one’s warmer; it takes some of his worry and apprehension with it before it settles again.
“Is it absolutely imperative that you keep doing that thing that you’re doing?”
Karkat’s voice jolts him out of his reverie. “What? I’m not doing anything.”
Karkat snorts. “And he doesn’t even notice it. Typical.” His voice assumes that aggravated, patronising tone that it gets whenever he thinks anyone in his vicinity is being particularly obtuse. “You keep doing that wind thing you do. You know,” he waves his hand in the air in an exaggerated motion, “the Breeze or what have you. Can you please keep it under control? Having your lookstubs be full of gross earth particles is a very particular sort of misery, John."
“But I didn’t do it!” Did he?
“You were making the wind go, dude,” Dave supplies, somberly.
“Oh. Whoops.” He laughs nervously. “Must have gotten kind of carried away. Thinking and stuff.”
“Yeah.” Dave fixes him with a look that only makes the comparison to an interrogation keener in his mind. “Not to put you on the spot or anything, but you’ve been acting weird all day.”
“I’m fine, Dave,” John says, sounding anything but fine with how his voice leaps in pitch and then shatters on the word. Dave winces and Karkat seems to bristle, his eyes narrowing into a proper glare.
John shuffles against the tree. He clears his throat. “Everything’s fine.”
The silence stretches for one too many seconds. Just as he’s starting to hope that they’ll just drop it, Dave speaks again. “Look, dude, normally I’m all about givin’ people space and lettin’ them sort their shit out on their own time, but seeing as this concerns two people I care about, I feel like there’s sort of a moral imperative for me to do something here.” He pauses for a moment. “Plus, we’re the ones who need to live with Dirk.”
“Dirk?” John squawks.
Karkat groans and drops his head in his hands.
John tries to pull himself together, crossing his arms in front of himself. “What about Dirk?”
Karkat makes a point of letting out the most exasperated sigh Earth C has ever witnessed. “Please someone explain to me how you can be so fucking dense without this entire fucksforsaken planet being sucked into your gravitational field .” Before John can even think to interject, he carries on. “Both of you have been sulking around like spoiled grubs all day. Given that you were together last night and neither of you was acting like the world owes you a fluffy blanket and a hot beverage with offensively high glucose content, it’s a reasonable hypothesis to assume that’s when whatever new and catastrophic step in your slow-crawling relationship tango took place. Am I wrong, John?”
John wishes his arms weren’t crossed so he could cross them again. “There’s no relationship tango, what are you even talking about.”
Dave tilts his head, eyes searching John’s face. There’s a concerned furrow to his brow. “What happened between you and Dirk, man? You’re both clearly upset, maybe talking about it will help.”
John’s really not enjoying this good cop-bad cop spiel they’ve got going on. He particularly doesn’t enjoy that it’s working. The thought of Dirk being upset because of him is something he’s been trying to avoid up until this point, and the confirmation makes him feel even worse about this whole clusterfuck.
“We just hung out,” he supplies, reluctantly. “We had dinner and watched a movie and…”
It’s Karkat’s turn to fix him with a stare. “And?”
“And I guess I fell asleep for a little bit?” He’s having an out-of-body experience at this point, which is the only reason he manages to push the next words out of his mouth: “On his shoulder.”
He thinks Dave’s mouth twitches at that, but it’s settled back into a neutral expression before he can be sure.
Karkat’s the first to say anything. “Did you do it, John. Did you kiss him or something.”
John thinks this is what it must feel like to be kicked in the stomach by a horse, but he finds himself nodding. “I—I mean, uh, he… he kissed me? I think? We kissed each other at the same time?”
Karkat scoffs. “I hardly think the distinction matters here, but sure.”
John sighs—and he should really stop doing that, honestly. He’s getting a smidge frustrated with himself. “Okay, fine! Yes, I kissed Dirk. There, are you happy now?”
“Did you like it?”
Heat rushes to his face all the way to his ears. “What kind of question is that!”
“It’s okay if you did,” Dave says.
John’s on the verge of just up and leaving. His hands are shaking; he can feel his nails digging into his palms. He feels unsteady, exposed in a way that he’s been trying very hard to avoid, and he’s not sure if he’s going to start screaming or burst into tears.
Then, he meets Dave’s eyes. His best friend looks back at him, quietly and with concern. There’s no mocking or teasing; he’d even say he could see understanding if that was a thing you could just read off of someone’s face. Something inside him shifts and he can breathe more freely.
Dave lets himself smile this time, his shoulders relaxing. “Do you wanna kiss him again? Promise I’m not about to bust out a shovel in case you say yeah or anything, scout’s honor.”
That actually makes him smile back, just a bit. He chews on his lip, before muttering, “But I’m not... gay, I don’t think.” He sounds terribly unsure even to his own ears.
Dave slips his hand into Karkat’s. John wonders if he even realises he did it. “Man, you don’t have to put labels on anything if you ain’t feelin’ it.” He flashes a cheeky grin. “If you only like dudes, that’s chill, if you like dudes and chicks and people of other genders, guess what? That’s perfectly fine too. If you’re into Dirk exclusively, that’s also cool, though I reserve the right to feel just a bit weird about that last one.”
John laughs despite himself, then bites his lip. “Are you saying I might be bisexual?”
“I’m saying that it’s up to you to decide what you wanna call yourself.” He shrugs. “And also that there’s no real rush here. The sexuality committee's not about to come knocking at your door with forms to sign in triplicate.”
“Right.” John tugs the air around himself again, calling on a gentle wind to help calm his nerves. “I just—I haven’t ever liked guys before? I don’t know. I always sort of assumed I was straight, I guess.”
Dave smiles wryly. “Been there, my dude.” Then his face grows serious again and he leans forward. “Seriously, though. There ain’t a right or a wrong answer here. You don’t gotta force anything, just play it by ear and give yourself time. This mess takes a while to untangle.” He pauses, then adds as an afterthought: “And yeah, that’s personal experience speaking.”
“But you seem so confident about it now,” John ventures.
Dave runs his hand through his hair, quiet for a moment. “It took me a while to get there. A lot of bullshit to work through.” He drums his fingers on his thigh. “And it’s not like I have it all figured out either. But just... Don’t sweat it too much, alright?”
John nods slowly. “Alright. I… I need to think about all this, I think.” He really needs a fucking minute.
Dave lifts up his hands. “Hey, no worries, dude. Take your time, et cetera, et cetera.” He rubs the back of his neck, glancing to the side. “Just maybe try and... talk to Dirk when you can?”
Oh. He definitely has to do that at some point, huh. “Yeah, I’ll… do that.”
Dave flashes him a smile. “Dope.” Then, he presses his hands together and announces: “Good talk.”
John exhales deeply, feeling calmer and relieved that this conversation is out of the way. He nods. “Good talk.”
By the time he makes it home for dinner, the anxious knot in his stomach has loosened enough for it to remind him he hasn’t eaten all day. Jane and Dad’s muffled voices are coming from the dining room. When he opens the front door, the enticing smell of stew hits him square on the nose and he makes a beeline for the kitchen.
He’s mostly quiet through dinner, too busy scarfing down his food. Jane keeps stealing looks at him, but she must see something in his face that makes her leave him be. Later, when they’re doing dishes, she bumps him with her hip and gives him a soft smile. It makes him feel warm, and safe, and he grins back at her.
Still, it’s a relief to retreat to the peace of his room. He closes the door behind himself and marches up to his bed. Not bothering to take off his shoes, he drops face-first in the pile of blankets and pillows he was previously forced to abandon.
“Ugh,” he groans with conviction.
The things Dave said to him have been bouncing around his head all evening. He still doesn’t know what to think, let alone what to do.
But maybe Dave was right—maybe he doesn’t have to know anything right now.
So he just lies there for a while, buried in his blankets and trying to shut off. But a thought keeps resurfacing, more and more uncomfortable until he needs to do something about it.
He takes his laptop into his blanket cocoon and opens it, tapping his fingers against the plastic while he waits for Pestechum to boot up.
Thankfully, Dave is online.
ectoBiologist [EB] began pestering turntechGodhead [TG] at 22:13
EB: hey, dave.
turntechGodhead [TG] is now an idle chum!
EB: i am just going to say it anyway.
EB: i wanted to thank you again for what you said earlier.
EB: it was good hearing all those things. kinda stressful, but i think i needed it.
EB: and, well.
EB: i realised i really haven’t been treating this whole thing super great?
EB: the sexuality thing, i mean.
EB: and knowing me, i must have said a whole bunch of insensitive shit every time it came up.
EB: so, just. i’m sorry for being an asshole. i’ll try to work on it now that i have all this free time.
EB: might as well put it to good use, right?
EB: and thanks again.
EB: i hope you don’t end up playing mario kart all night again, you nerd! :P
ectoBiologist [EB] ceased pestering turntechGodhead [TG] at 22:29