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Your secret boyfriend rings you up at 5 a.m. to ask you if you want a ride to school. It all sounds a lot more sordid than it really is, because what John means by ‘a ride’ is ‘my dad will drive us because we’re fifteen.’

 

And what you mean by ‘secret’ is this: you haven’t told anybody you’re dating him yet. You’ve barely told each other, and isn’t that embarrassing? It’s so Middle School Love Story except you’re two years past that kind of shit and also you’re not in forever-love. Probably. Supposedly kids don’t fall in love forever except in 80s ballads so in the interest of the Dave Strider’s Achy Breaky Heart Protection Club you’ve made the executive decision not to get your hopes up for marriage and 2.5 lawns with the white picket kids and such.

 

His dad’s like, the daddiest dad to ever dad, and probably expects John to get married to his highschool sweetheart after going to a four-year university for biology or something, AKA Not Dave Strider.

 

But that’s in the future called ‘adulthood’, whenever that’ll happen.

 

You unfuse your face from the pillow at the slowest speed possible because last-night-you decided that sleep was for the weak and looking at brainless schitz on the internet was the peak of coolty. It’s not. You’ve proven that it is not cool to be sleep deprived.

 

“Bro,” you groan, schlepping from one end of the house to the other, passing through the living room, “I need some ADHD meds in my shitty body.”

 

Without pausing in his quick click-click-clack-clicking of the keyboard of his mega-rig computer setup, Bro replies, “The bottle is on the shelf in the bathroom.”

 

“Oh.” The actual medicated part is a new thing. You’ll remember it daily eventually.

 

You don’t bother informing your live-in night owl parent that John’s dad will be driving you to school because it’s practically unnecessary at this point. John, John’s car, John’s dad, John’s house, John’s favorite snacks, John’s retainer are all common fixtures in your life, ergo Bro’s, who has become chiller as the years go by about practically adopting another kid alongside the first kid that you and all of your friends have suspected multiple times that he may or may not have wanted at all?

 

‘But that is neither here nor there’ as Rose’s voice overlay reminds you.

 

Another impractical necessity: your entire morning routine. You’re positive a wailing million obsessed fans online would love to see every step of it. But the truth is that you struggle through every step of it, barely remembering to put on shoes before you leave.

 

So let’s skip that shit and get straight to the good stuff: Loafing ‘round in John’s car during the fifteen minute drive to the nuclear waste facility where you’re both child laborers. Or, for short: High School. You can’t get more ‘first world problems’ than this shit.

 

As if strategically placed by the little mitts of the gods, your house is on the Egberts’ way to school and work.

 

“It’s like we’re made for each other,” you dramatically monotone (is. Is that even a thing. Whatever, you’ve been making it ‘a thing’ since before you were born. You were a Holy Fucking Ghost), throwing yourself sideways across John’s lap.

 

The seat belt Mr. Egbert insists on y’all wearing digs tragically into your neck as you do this, making you choke. John responds by popping another bright blue gusher into his mouth and smacking his lips while he looks down at you, dying.

 

“This is why I’m not taking the knee first,” you tell him. He only scoffs and shoves you off of his lap, and you don’t miss the nervous-adjacent look he briefly sends the rearview mirror, checking his father’s eyes.

 

You not-so-nervously check, too. Dad’s eyes are placed firmly on the street ahead. What a good Samaritan.

 

John distracts you by spider-walking his entire hand into the sleeve of your arm, and you jerk away with the most uncool cawing cry. “Fucking vile! I know exactly what you’re trying to do with that hand, young man.”

 

“Don’t cry, Dave!” John coos at you, still trying to get his sweaty little fingers up into your shirt like some kind of tickle demon. “I won’t be able to hold your massive fanclub back if you walk into school with tear tracks on your face -”

 

“Boys.”

 

Both you and John freeze while trying not to be too obvious about it.

 

Dad leans back from the front seat, car now parked in front of the school’s sidewalk. “Don’t forget to not get suspended for excessive PDA this time, please.”

 

“This hyper-masculine, homophobic school system oppresses us, dad.” You’re only echoing something Rose told you once but nobody but John has to know that. “If we didn’t take proactive roles in our own fully platonic intimacy crisis, we’d both be as touch starved as the football team that- asasdfghj Johnny I ain’t done-”

 

Johnny refuses to budge you out from under his arm, and his pit kinda smells like somebody who didn’t efficiently put on their deodorant, or forgot it alltogether. “Bye dad, love you dad.”

 

He drags you out of the car and into school, where you promptly unlatch from each other because the teachers are basically piranhas who don’t joke when they say ‘No PDA, platonic or otherwise.’

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

You used to be in gymnastics, but when you were eleven, your hip popped out without your hobbling goddamn consent, and so there endeth the dream. Now you’re just in choir. And today is choir day. God you fucking hope the doddering old choir-slash-band director doesn’t make y’all sing ‘No Business Like Show Business’ again.

 

John used to play football – quarterback, even, but he was like, twelve so that was basically like getting straight A’s in pre-school – but he broke his arm at an away game in eighth grade and his dad pulled him immediately. He’s been bouncing around from soccer to swim team ever since, unlikely to ever settle on either much less try to get a scholarship for it later. Sometimes he comes by while you’re at choir to mess around with you (no not like that, gutter mind) and the band equipment.

 

One of his favorite activities is to play the triangle when people least expect it, mostly you. The teacher is like, old friends with John’s Dad’s Mom’s Sister or something complicated like that (see, this is why only having one known living family member is so much more simple) so he gets away with it every time.

 

There was a photography club, but it permanently disbanded the year you graduated Middle School. You’d read about it on the website of the High School and remember, in a stifled yet excited way, telling Bro and John and just about anybody who’d listen all about it. You were bummed as all get-out when you got here and, whoops! Sorry you bright-eyed little fuck, but cameras and pretentious development equipment are for all the rich kids that don’t go here.

 

You were apparently SO viscerally sad about it that Bro took it upon himself to go out and buy you a totally new camera. It was the wrong camera – one of the kinds you specifically Did Not Want actually due to some nuance with the brand’s general layout that didn’t agree with you – but he looked so damn proud of himself in his own way, constantly sniffing around you to see if you liked it in the same way a stray dog that’s adopted you brings you dead things in tribute, that you’d hammed up your gratitude.

 

Still have that camera, actually.

 

Gonna take a picture of your boyf’s ass in his totally flat gym shorts, actually.

 

It loads.

 

It looks like the backend (or maybe the frontend, it gets ambiguous without a torso or feet to point you, it’s Schrodingers gym shorts photo and you’re probably using that word wrong but Big Bang Theory ran it into the floor like it was fucking for virginity so you can do whatever the hell you please) of a teenage boy’s flat gym shorts, which hang like drapery but in shiny blue rectangles instead of anything tasteful.

 

Yea you don’t know why you wanted this picture either. You’ll call it ‘functional but at what cost 2019.’

 

If John notices you snapping shots of his behind, he doesn’t do anything about it, and you don’t know whether you’re offended or not? Like you feel like he should at least pose or smth like, help out, like, this might be a prime time couple’s activity here John…

 

“No we’ve gotta get to my dad’s car because he got here early again,” John says, making you realize you probably said all of that before out loud at mumble-volume, which your boyfriend is fluent in. Like a bat. “Unless you wanna walk home and be late for your own sleepover.” He slams his locker like it owes him lunch money then reaches over to shut yours before you’re fully ready, too busy playing with your camera around your neck to remember if you actually grabbed everything or not.

 

“No,” you whine like a little idiot, as if his question was anything other than completely rhetorical. “You’ve shut my house keys in there you shit, and then what will you do? Huh??”

 

“I’ll wait the five minutes it takes for you to open your locker and tell my dad the truth about why we’re late,” John says with this semi-smug expression, arms crossed, clearly waiting for you to make a move. “And then we’ll both wait while it takes him twenty minutes just to turn out of the overcrowded parking lot. C’mon, we still gotta stop at my house to get my stuff.”

 

It doesn’t take you five minutes to re-open your locker. It takes you three.

 

Turns out your house keys aren’t even in there – they’re in your jacket pocket. Coincidentally, it’s John’s old varsity jacket from middle school that miraculously fits you because these things were oversized for preteens in the first place. It feels like a betrayal. Also you’ve always hated the colors purple and green together.

 

John is certain that you tricked him on purpose even though you didn’t, you really did think your keys were still in the locker, and you can tell that he’s kind of annoyed when you both walk to his dad’s car. You walk slightly behind him as if you can hide out of sight, as if he’d even do anything bad to you for one little mistake.

 

The great thing about John is that he switches tracks emotionally so fast that he’s pretty much over it by the time he gets to pick the radio channel and shove some of his stupid DC Heroes underwear into his bag.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

If this were Texas, it’d be too hot to cuddle your secret boyfriend during this totally innocent sleepover you’ve pitched to Bro (it’s technically still pretty goddamn virginal between you two but, couple’a half-naked boys in a bed… yea nevermind nothing’s gonna happen you’re both not ready for that lmao moving on) but as of right now, you’re both wrapped up in each other in only the most inelegant of ways on your twin bed.

 

It’s dark, but John’s always liked a nightlight, so the ugly Nemo one you’ve kept for years is plugged into the most inconvenient place in the wall so that it shines on your face on your side of the bed – right, because it’s in between John and the door – and not his. So you’re constantly turned on your side, burying your face into John’s shoulder, even though you’d really rather be laying on your back or stomach right now.

 

Honestly. The shit you do for love.

 

The TV is still making noises from the living room even though it’s running close to 2 a.m. Bro’s always been a night owl, but then he’s also technically a day bird because he just never quits. Tap tap taps on his keyboards straight on through morning. If it’s not the TV, or the computer, or a video game, then it’s a mystery to you.

 

John’s kind of sweaty, clammy; skin not smooth so much as dry you guess. Maybe yours is the same but you also use a lot of sunscreen that’s as smelly as it is moisturizing because Bro doesn’t play any fucking games with SPF, all day e’ry day. John is still convinced that his brown skin is ‘natural sunscreen’ which everybody and the scientists know isn’t true but whatever – you know you’re albino but that doesn’t mean you have the constitution of tissue paper.

 

You’re sinking, finally, halfway between sticky unconsciousness and that weird part of your mind where your mental Rose goes over every ADHD-driven thought that crosses your li’l brain with a fine-tooth, Freudian blood-hungry comb when John snakes his arm over to the fat on your hip and gives it a pinch.

 

Ow,” you go, like a reasonable person who just got viciously grabbed in the least sexy way unexpectedly while trying to sleep, “what the fuck.”

 

Shh,” John hisses because you’re loud when you’re bratty. He makes an attempt to cover your mouth? Or something? And you consider biting him, but he can’t fit his arm up in between his boyishly soft- cough s’cuse you, his Manly Chest and your scrunched up face.

 

“You just pinched me like a crab! Don’t ‘shhh’ me.”

 

Your intrepid boyfriend shifts. One of his toes slides in between yours unexpectedly and you nearly yank his whole foot off by jerking your leg back. “I thought um, you’d like it? Ehe...”

 

You are so confused. “I’m half asleep and you up and decide to defile my hip. I’ve got contact dermatitis from this, Johnathan. You’ve given me crabs, Jonhbert. Don’t tell me you saw that in the world’s worst vanilla porno or something and just couldn’t wait to get your hot li’l hands on my yet unwrought body to try it -”

 

The bedroom door unexpectedly flings itself open. John not-so-unexpectedly flings himself back a bit, and you’re left cold, blanketless, and with a red welt on your side-chub.

 

Again – can you mention how unsexy this all is? Your brother seems to agree with how he gazes across the room at you two, unmoving.

 

Christ.

 

“Uh,” you go, seeing as John is as mummified as one of those rabbits from that fucked up kids cartoon you can’t believe anybody let you watch except oh wait! It’s Bro. Of course he let you watch that, “We sleep with our shirts off ‘cus it’s hot.”

 

Bro does not move and John remains unhelpful.

 

Well.

 

“And discussing porno is just an average healthy teenager thing,” you continue because nobody is manning up to stop you just yet. “Nothin’ gay to see here.”

 

At first, all seems like it will go well. John unclenches a bit and seems to gear himself up for a nervous giggle like he does, and Bro could heel face turn and walk out of the room at any second.

 

But then he goes, “Reckon’ you won’t mind if I do this.”

 

And he dumps a pile of smuppets in between the gaping chasm John’s ‘no homo’ leap left you with in the middle of the bed.

 

You feel the entire right side of your face twitch. John just kinda looks agog at all the felt dick that was not there before.

 

“Nope not at all.” You give Bro a pointedly nonchalant look. “G’night, Bro.”

 

John stutters out an awkward ‘Goodnight Mister Strider’ but Bro’s already closed the door and gone again.

 

Sweet Mary and baby Jesus H. Christ on a flaming fucking pogo stick.

 

You sigh and slowly meld back into the covers, of which you are still missing the blanket for because John snatched it away from you, and now both he and it are lost in between you and Smuppet Mountain. Or, Mount Anti-smut, if you will.

 

John finally lets out that nervous giggle. “Wow. Good thing he didn’t look at your hip, huh? He would’ve totally thought it was like, a wildly passionate love bite or something.” A pause as the incredulity of that statement replaces the oxygen in the air with something gross and unbreatheable. “Which I was definitely not going for. I was not going to. Uhh.”

 

You groan and bury your face in a blue smuppet ass. It is courteous enough to block out the light of the nightlight still pointed at your face. Unlike your shitty boyfriend, apparently.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

You throw your drenched towel at John’s head. “The next time you get a hankering for some prankering, you can shove the whip cream down your old man’s pants instead of mine.”

 

John, the dickpickle, snorts so hard he has to wipe his nose afterwards, only making the most cursory of dodges by rolling sideways on his bed. The towel hits him in the shoulder. “Why, was me shoving the white sauce all over your untouched virgin nethers too homoerotic for my family home’s delicate sensitivities?”

 

Yes.” You wish you hadn’t thrown the towel now actually, considering how much your hair still drips down your back. “Also that’s the second shower I’ve had today, Johnman. The second. My skin’s gonna dry out, my hair’s gonna crinkle, my eyes are gonna go blue. Do you wanna have a boyfriend with the same color eyes as you, John? The National Geographic is gonna chase us down, hunt us like rare rabbits foots.” Not for the first time, you’ve forgotten where you were going with this.

 

John throws his head back and yawns in the face of your distress. “Oh nooo, poor Dave, not as moisturized as he was when he walked in. If you’re practically the desert you say you are, you can just use my moisturizer -”

 

“Gross no way.” You primly sit on the edge of his bed, getting wet hair drippings and dry skin flakes all over his stupid My Little Pony bedspread that you got for him (with Bro’s money and blessing but whatever it still counts) on his twelfth birthday that he refuses to get rid of. Fucker. “I know what you fuckin’ do with that thing and not a single drop of cocoa butter has ever touched your skin other than the wrinkly head of your goddamn di -”

 

“Your hair is wet Dave!” John yells as he basically suffocates you with your damp towel, bringing you down onto his bed like so much wet laundry while you flail like an idiot at his hands roughly scrubbing at the general location of your scalp, “You’re gonna catch a cold with no shirt on Dave! Gaaaaaaasp what will your Bro say, Dave!”

 

“He’ll say ‘stop fucking molesting my kid with your gross soft pervert hands!’” is what you try to say, but it comes out more like, “HLHKKSJJATOSTPTUMELMSKKDISSPSPSPETNNAHDNRHDSS!!!!!!!”

 

You’ll give it a 4/10.

 

John gets a knee to the stomach and you get a breath of air that isn’t entirely gross. He wheezes as he strategically collapses right onto your face, but he bypasses the word ‘sexy’ by an amateur mile when he misses your mouth entirely – which, you’d like to add, you’ve puckered up in anticipation already because you know this guy and you know he loves his ‘oooops fell onto your mouth and now we’re kissing ;)’ and you’re being so fucking helpful right now – and kisses your ear? Maybe?? Or it’s the bedspread he’s swapping spit with.

 

“I always knew you liked Twilight Sparkle more than me,” you tell him with a near physical manifestation of your disappointment coloring your voice.

 

John spits out purple fabric dust right onto your chest, like some kind of professional Casanova. “But she’s so dedicated and awkwardly cute!”

 

Oh, for the love of- “Shut the fuck up about your budding clop obsession and kiss me alremmmmmmmmmmmmmpt -”

 

Fucker just blew air into your mouth and puffed your cheeks out like a chipmunk!

 

“JOHN.” Your voice cracks with the effort of how appalled you are right now. He’s too busy laughing into your shoulder to give a shit that you are mad pissed. “That is the most awful kiss you’ve attempted to give me and I’m counting that one time I felt like I’d gotten in a fight with a fish because you finally learned what frenching was and decided to try it out without warning me first with what felt like half a bottle of spit saved up in your mouth.”

 

Your boyfriend honestly looks so hurt and offended you almost apologize but you reassure yourself that you’re stronger than that. “Daaaave noooo we weren’t even dating then we were like, thirteen! It doesn’t count! You swore it wouldn’t count!!”

 

The way you dweebishly say, “Oh, well then make it up to me and I might strategically forget all about it,” has you hyper-aware of how dry your lips are right now. Seriously, nobody in this house knows what Blistex is, and yours is at home because it’s a school night.

 

Still, John doesn’t seem to mind how kissing feels like rubbing two warm, squishy pieces of wet sandpaper together when he leans down and finally fucking gives you what you want.

 

You two don’t kiss for very long – John apparently forgot to take a breath beforehand, and he’s kind of a chronic mouth-breather, so you break apart so that he can breathe right up your nose for a good five seconds. Honestly, you’ve got the cushy position just laying here. You don’t even have to fumble with each other’s noodley, unsure arms, considering he’s got you pinned and, frankly, pretty relaxed and chilled out compared to other clandestine smooching sessions.

 

It always makes you feel like a douchebag, or maybe inadequate as a participating party in some way, but your eyes never quite close and you tend to wander. John’s too close to you to properly focus on, so you gaze out his window, of which you get a good look of his driveway as he does all the legwork for you and figures out how lazy kissing is supposed to function, since y’all have never really had the chance to be –

 

The lovely view of the driveway includes the tail end of his dad’s car.

 

You thought his dad was at the store?

 

A spike of anxiety shoots through you, stiffening up your body instantly as your eyes go wide. John must notice you’ve got your head practically turned in the wrong direction and feel like a fucking corpse, because he detaches with this gross string of rapidly-cooling spit you aren’t prepared for. From the look on his face, neither is he.

 

“What’s wrong?” John asks, and for a hot second you feel shy affection for him. But now isn’t the time for that, now really isn’t the time for that.

 

“When did your dad get home?”

 

“About ten minutes ago,” announces his dad from the door you left open.

 

You startle so badly that you about launch John off of you like a catapult with boyteen strength, but he catches balance at the last second, firmly seating himself between your now-spread legs in the classical FUCK position.

 

Oh. Yes, exactly what you want – something even more incriminating than your collective failure to actually commence making out.

 

You’re half-naked, John’s crotch is right up against yours, legs askew like somebody forgot to pay the ‘Rated T for Teen’ bill and now your story just got bumped up to Mature without your express permission, his hands pinning yours beside your head because this is a shoujo anime, the kind of shot the animators linger on for both fanservice and budget reasons.

 

Where are your sparkles, you think with detached horror. You are the prettiest princess protagonist and you deserve kawaii sparkles before John’s Catholic, 9-to-5, sweet suburban dad drags you out of the house by your hair and declares you a harlot for the entire neighborhood to see.

 

As John seems to finally come to his senses at the appearance of his dad in his doorway, lifting himself off of you and springing back onto his bed with his hands in the air as if one gesture alone could erase the past 5 minutes of yes-homo wrassling, you imagine how you’ll have to drag your sorry ass back to Bro. It’ll probably incite the first ever instance of you hearing him laugh in the history of ever.

 

Nobody speaks.

 

Mr. Egbert clears his throat and shifts in an uncomfortable way you’ve never witnessed on him. “I bought more whipped cream. Didn’t realize that we had been running so low that one prank would render us out.”

 

“Oh.” John “the paragon of speech I am not” Egbert, everybody.

 

You belatedly close your legs and sit up at such a slow rate that you wonder when you began to regard John’s dad as a force to be wary of.

 

“Yes.” Mr. Egbert shifts again, the pressed lines of his slacks refusing to crease. “Well. I’ll be downstairs, I suppose.” Another few seconds. “Dave, you ought to have a shirt on. You’ll catch cold with wet hair like that.”

 

Exit stage left. Pursued by silence.

 

John hands you a shirt, and you get dressed.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

You both creep down the stairs in the same way you used to when you were young and still new to the neighborhood, sneaking around as if you had bigger secrets than the ones already told, except it feels massively different in that you’re both holding hands, and it’s not comforting nor is it safe.

 

In the living room, Mr. Egbert is in his chair, reading a big book that he’s been working on all month. Behind his reading glasses, his eyes don’t move.

 

John stands you before his dad and keeps holding your hand. You feel like the abrupt cover of a modern coming-out movie. You haven’t seen Love, Simon yet, which honestly feels like a betrayal or something but in your defense you haven’t found the time to torrent it as of late, but you hope it has a happy ending.

 

Another long stretch of silence that makes you wish you had some kind of Time-powered remote control that lets you fast forward just so that you don’t have to stand in this thick soup of uncomfortable energy. A soda can waiting to pop.

 

Mr. Egbert clears his throat again, setting down his pretense of a book and putting his unfolded glasses on top of it in one practiced move. “You can sit down, if you would like.”

 

You wonder if John feels like a stranger in his own home, being asked, or given permission maybe, to sit down on his own couch.

 

He sits down anyways. You follow suit. Hands are still together. His is really sweaty, and you can’t imagine the state of your own.

 

“I don’t want to make this uncomfortable for you,” begins John’s dad. “I suspect that you would be discomfited either way, so I would like to say that I love you, John. You’re my son, and I love you. I also love you like a son, Dave. And I want the both of you to be comfortable… should you want to tell me something.”

 

John’s brow is furrowed like he’s confused, or maybe considering. You feel utterly out of your own depth – an intruder, almost.

 

“I won’t force you to say anything that you don’t want to say. Especially considering the circumstances that led me to this careful situation.” Mr. Egbert cracks his knuckles and whoa. Yea he’s never done that before. That’s sick like, literally kind of gross. “But it appears to me that you boys might be… dating?”

 

Pale like dark ash, John nods stiffly. “Yes. We’re dating.” He seems so brave right now, but you? All you can do is lower your eyes and listen to it all play out.

 

His dad nods back, a lot smoother. “I understand.” Then, “I support and respect your choices, John. And yours, Dave.”

 

You can practically feel the air clearing in the room, John’s shoulders slumping down onto yours. You didn’t realize you weren’t breathing any deeper than a shallow pool until you take the time to breathe in safely.

 

“I hope you two have a wonderful time, and come out better people for it,” John’s dad continues as if he didn’t single-highhandedly remove a guillotine from each of your necks, “and you can tell me anything if you ever need help, and I won’t judge. We’ve all been young and in love before – it’s an amazing thing and I’m so proud of you two.”

 

John looks like he’s about to cry, so you make the executive decision to end the intense hand-holding competition and release him like a wild stallion set free. One that immediately launches himself into his dad’s arms.

 

“I love you, dad,” says Hallmark’s new Christmas blockbuster.

 

Not but a second later, you feel plum awful about ragging on your boyfriend literally coming out to his dad when Mr. Egbert opens his other arm and beckons you over. You scamper into his side and get squeezed by two sets of arms with unfair amounts of Egbert Strength.

 

“You’re quiet, Dave,” Mr. Egbert calls you out as soon as you’re trapped between their beefy man arms of pure affection. “Are you alright? I didn’t meant to scare you.”

 

“I’m not scared,” you say like a little kid. “It was just. Unexpected.” Mr. Dad pats the back of your head. “I’m fine.”

 

John snorts inelegantly into his dad’s expensive shirt. “He only ever shuts up like that when he’s asleep or suuuper scared.”

 

“I’m gonna hit you,” you warn him sweetly.

 

“I’m sorry for making this harder than it should have been,” Mr. Egbert continues over the top of you two like you’re still both nine and prone to easily ignored slapfights. “I’m happy to be privileged with this information.”

 

He finally lets you go, though John keeps a hold of his elbow.

 

“Wanna know about our first kiss?” John blurts out, overexcited in a dangerous way.

 

“Dude, no gross he doesn’t wanna hear that, he’s your dad.” What you don’t say is: “No don’t it was embarrassingly juvenile and also it happened right under his nose.”

 

Mr. Dad chuckles in a warm way. He’s literally kind of the best dude ever? “You can tell me some other time – Dave, you need to be getting home. I’ve let you stay about an hour past, and you know how worried your brother gets.”

 

He’s right – it’s nearly eight o’clock in the evening, past sundown at this point in the year. Bro’s probably blowing up your phone in his own way as you speak; sending approximately one message demanding your status every half-hour.

 

“Yea, I’m gonna end up having to pry Bro off with a stick,” you tell John’s morosely drooping face. Seriously, he always overreacts to you leaving, like a dog who forgets he has a life outside of his favorite chew toy. He’ll remember that tumblr and Minecraft Youtube exists five minutes after you’re gone, bet. “Guess we’ll have to schedule that half-naked goosefeather pillow fight some other time, Johnnie.”

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

John insists on riding home with you, which he usually doesn’t do at his dad’s assurance that he doesn’t have to come on a short, mundane, practically every-day ride. Mr. Egbert is silent on the matter today, amicable to the idea of John walking you to your door or something romantic like that.

 

Or maybe it’s a totally normal sentiment and you’re just looking at it with your prescription-thick gay glasses.

 

It’s drizzling by the time you arrive. As you’re about to get out, you lazily inform Mr. Egbert that Bro doesn’t know about you and John, with the ‘lazy’ part factoring in when you realize you have no plan for how sharing this information will go, just that you feel strongly that it should be shared now and not later.

 

Mr. Egbert gets contemplatively quiet at that. Still. Pats your hand, which is wrapped around the arm of the front passenger seat in preparation of helping you get up and out of the car, and tells you, “You can come to me with anything, Dave.”

 

It’s too sincere for the levity that previously permeated, so all you do is nod and scoot John out double-time.

 

“What’d he tell you?” John asks as soon as you’ve closed the car door, speaking a little louder than usual to be heard over what he must think is a torrential fucking downpour with the volume he’s using.

 

You resist the strange urge to shush him, as if this is now a taboo topic. Well, not anymore than before, anyways. “Just told ‘im that Bro don’t know yet, and he repeated that we could come to him for stuff.” You both amble your way up the concrete walk to your little one-story house in scuffed red brick. “But I mean like, the biggest hurdle is over, I’m thinkin’? I’m pretty sure my Bro is a massive queer in the first place so it can’t go wrong from here. You should’ve seen what he did to his Mister T doll in our old apartment.” You kick a rock out of your path into the minuscule lawn. “’sides, he wouldn’t care who I date as long as it’s safe, sane, consensual, legal, yadda yadda. So… we can wait a while on the next dramatic coming out scene probs.”

 

“Right!” John chirps, though you can see something tired in his eyes. Emotionally wrung out. He wisely opts out of doing something like kissing you under your flickering porch light as you key open the front door.

 

“Don’t freak out, it’s just us, your two most favorite people ever!” John shouts into your living room, flicking on the lamp next to the door so that you can take off your wet hightops without tripping all over yourself. “Man, he sure keeps it dark in here, huh. Good thing I know where all the light switches are already.”

 

You grunt and heft a shoe off without untying it because you weren’t raised to be no softmouthed little boy. Fuck yea. Ow your pinkie. “Yea, he’s a regular shut-in. I’m prolly gonna get in trouble for washing off my sunscreen even though it was like, sunset or past when that happened.”

 

“Nah, I think you’ll be okay.”

 

“Bro don’t sneak up on him, he’ll pee his pants,” you warn the shadow that melts itself into your small sphere of light. John gives a nervous giggle and whispers something that sounds like ‘that only happened ONCE’ but you don’t have enough time to unpack that right now so you just mentally write it down to cat to Rose later.

 

“John covered, I mean absolutely drenched me in his family’s last remaining heirloom priceless whipped cream and I had to shower,” you preemptively explain to Bro before he can interrogate you or something inappropriately but expectedly drastic. You T-pose for inspection.

 

But Bro isn’t looking at you, for once. He’s got that unnervingly bird-like body language going on as he stares down at John. The massively pointy shades do not help at all, and things feel disquieting suddenly. You are not prepared for one of Bro’s patented Mystery Freakouts right now.

 

Bro speaks. “John.”

 

Goddammit.

 

“Yea?”

 

“You ever enjoy that band, ‘Mother Mother.” Hearing him say this sounds foreign and strange. You don’t like it. You do nothing.

 

“Yea. Why?” John has the smallest water drop traveling down the side of his face, but he makes no move to wipe it away.

 

Bro barely even looks like he’s breathing. “You ever heard ‘Hay Loft.’”

 

John tries for an easy smile, falling short somewhere around how dark it is in here, or maybe somewhere around how you continue to be a wet blanket about everything today. “I’m a broken record at this point but, yea, sure, I have heard Hay Loft. It’s on their album O My Heart, which debuted in the year -”

 

“Okay,” Bro interrupts with.

 

John licks his lips. Dark blue eyes look black when they flick to you, the light of the lamp like a halo in his iris. “O… Okay?”

 

“Was just checkin’, John,” says someone who finally sounds more like your Bro and less like a child murderer in the making. “Your dad’s waitin’. Thanks for walking Dave in.”

 

John sighs his worries out again in a such a short amount of time between emotional crises. Yes, you count Bro alone as one whole ‘emotional crisis.’ John must be exhausted by now. “Oh. Okay! Thanks for letting Dave come over! Bye Dave.”

 

This feels like an anti-climactic ending to the day in which you finally came out to John’s dad, but at the same time, it feels like it’s climbing, unseen, in some whole other, unexpected direction than you cannot possibly predict the trajectory of.

 

Bro’s still fucking staring at John and it’s weirder than his usual weirdness. It feels…

 

“Seeya, wouldn’t wanna be ya’,” you sing-song to John, practically shoving him out the door. You stand at your awning-deprived threshold to watch and make sure he gets into his car okay though, because you’re not a demon.

 

When you close the door, you feel the burning need to manhandle this day into not being so emotionally taxing anymore. As with any other time your brother is causing you to feel wildly uncomfortable, you do your best to set all ships to full speed ahead, flicking on lights perhaps a bit obnoxiously loud as you move your way through the house. Maybe even muttering about how you live with a man, not a bat, and in a house, not a cave.

 

Bro shadows you, as if you’ve got far to travel. He picks his detritus up as you go, because he’s weird like that, and consistently forgets that someone other than him lives here, and might not appreciate his puppets lying all over the living room like the aftermath of a gruesome felt battle.

 

It’s like you and the fact that time moves forward sneaks up on him or something.

 

“You don’t gotta be shy around me,” he informs you as you nab an AJ from the fridge, “you could’ve hugged your friend before sendin' him on his way.”

 

“Yea, well,” you stall by taking a sip of sweet cold AJ that is definitely not piss JOHN, “We aren’t exactly the hugs-kisses-long-goodbyes kind of friends, you know? Maybe we could’a gotten away with clingin’ to each other like limpets when we were little kids but now we have like tests and stuff we have to go to sleep for.”

 

Bro goes, “Mm,” in a non-committal manner that makes you think he’s stopped listening at some point.

 

But when you eek past him towards your bedroom, he tells you to, “Wash your mouth,” instead of a way more normal ‘brush your teeth.’ When you’re busy looking over your shoulder at him with perhaps a little more attitude than usual, he gets even weirder – hard to believe, you know – and takes this breath that makes his nostrils flare wide like he just smelled something nasty. “And don’t forget your sun -”

 

“My sunscreen in the mornin’, I know I know.” You change routes and go straight to the bathroom, because he won’t try to follow you in there. “G’night.”

 

He doesn’t say anything back, but he never really does. You think he outgrew simple stuff like saying ‘good morning’ or ‘good night’; considers them a waste of time or something.

 

Whatever, you think, as you sit on the closed toilet seat and shoot a couple of hopeful texts Jade’s way. Bro is Bro is Bro—can’t change that. Can’t change him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

 

So it went like this: The, loosely described as a ‘confession’, of Dave Strider and one John Egbert, after about a year of pining, but maybe might also be three years if you count the denial amidst clumsy totally-not-flirting-bro but John says he doesn’t even though you kinda secretly do.

 

It happened while y’all were at the park, the new-ish one with the water portion that only half works. Washington summers got nothing on Texas ones but, well, you’re kind of a tool and you always wear a dark shirt while swimming so that you don’t get sunburnt, and you’d done the same that day, so you and John were prepared to get all kinds of wet.

 

He’d just turned fifteen two months ago and was still, somehow, laying it on thick with his dad, who almost never said boo to driving you two kids wherever you wanted as long as it was ‘age appropriate’ or whatever, which somehow nixed paintball battles in the bud until y’all are at least sixteen.

 

John’s dad had, for the majority of the visit, left you two up to your own devices, since he can actually be almost close to cool at times and recognized that teenagers aren’t little babies. So it was just you and John, splashing around in those weak little geysers like they were the best things ever.

 

You weren’t in on it at first – you didn’t realize he was trying to kiss you until he’d gone and missed, slobbered all down the side of your face, and had already started to leap back like a startled, bucktoothed rabbit.

 

The geysers were doing that automated peak thing where they basically drench everything in an upside-down waterfall for a good solid thirty seconds.

 

Something possessed you that day into taking a plunge you’d never considered taking before, too chickenshit, too shied away by John’s insistent ‘but I’m not a homosexual btw’ from when y’all were goddamn pre-teens, of course people grow and change, you sure did (thank god), so you used the flimsy cover of the geysers to brazenly grab John and smack a very, very wet one on his mouth without missing like he did.

 

You both had your eyes open but John probably couldn’t see shit because he was a chronic dumbass, never took off his glasses, water dotted and only getting worse while you two stood like idiots in the middle of the biggest downpour as if breathing was easy there.

 

It was cold. He tried to grab your arms and hold you, or something close to it you think, but he just ended up pressing down too hard with his wire-filled mouth and nearly toppled you over, pinching your wet shirt in between two fingers on each nervous, clammy hand. You never told him but he caught skin when he did that, and you had nail marks on your waist for like a week, proof of his sheer thoughtless dorkery made physical.

 

It was hardly idyllic. You two jumped apart like opposing magnets as soon as the water show let up and you were exposed to all the innocent people of the park who hadn’t come there to see two barely-grown teens peck at each other like dodo birds on their first, and last, date.

 

You still remember it starkly vivid in your mind every time John sits next to you in his father’s spic n’ span car, every time John sneakily holds your hand in between classes and acts like it’s the greatest act of espionage this world has seen since Alex Rider.

 

“So...” He said, looking as awkward as someone like him could possibly: very. “You get what I mean… right?”

 

“Assume it’s a ‘yes’,” you told him, because you still thought you were the cool one in the relationship.

 

But then the way his eyes crinkled and he smiled, shifting on his feet from what you could only understand to be pure happiness, you kinda realized you didn’t know neither dick nor squat about what cool had to do with anything.

 

“We’re dating now,” he informed you in a clumsy yet assured way, and you believed him immediately.

 

“My Bro taught me how to confess all proper like,” you said, licking your lips and tasting someone else’s skin. “You gotta say it like this- c’mere, lean in. It’s top secret, dawg.”

 

John leaned in.

 

You whispered, “Daisuki,” completely seriously into his ear even though all pistons were firing ‘DO NOT DO THIS’ inside of you at the time, and you felt acute shame right afterwards. John pitching backwards to give you a full bellied laugh did not help your self-esteem, and you must’ve been stained fully pink like bald salmon.

 

You’d claim that you had no idea what you were doing, saying something so weebish, but you did, actually, know what you were doing, and it’s called ‘foolishly trusting Bro about anything ever.’ You’ve since learned your lesson.

 

There was this unspoken agreement that you’d save the actual conversation about What The Fuck Did We Just Do until you were both at home, safe behind monitors and red/blue text.

 

The fragile mood did not persist on the drive back, with dried spit clinging to your cheek that was getting kind of itchy but you were, for some reason, too nervous by half to try and clean it off while Mr. Egbert was there as a witness.

 

You both jousted each other like you were still nine and eight, when you’d just moved to Washington after one of the most traumatic nights of your life.

 

Arms flat against each other, opposite hands placed on the other’s inner elbow, John had his dad say, “On your mark, get ready… Joust!” and you two would try to walk your hands up each other’s arm to jab into the other’s armpit first. You almost always won that game due to sheer adrenaline-laced fear of being the one jabbed in the armpit by John’s freakishly long “piano hands.”

 

But you didn’t win that day. John’s Slenderman Hands ruthlessly tickled into your damp armpit and you’d yowled like a shot fox, practically near tears. You are very ticklish. It’s so lame. Mr. Egbert made you both quit and threatened to tell your Bro that John made you cry but it was so embarrassing that you begged on John’s behalf for his dad to let him off light.

 

When you got dropped off at your super tiny one-story house that is no rival for John’s own two-story in a nice neighborhood some ten minutes away, it didn’t feel like a different day. It was all normal. Minus that sloppy kiss, not even the fun ‘movie worthy’ sloppy, just sloppy like kids are sloppy.

 

You’d walked to your room, only briefly waylaid by your brother insisting on getting you a rag to wipe the dried spit off your face, dazed but feeling too real, as you’d booted up pesterchum, and waited for your soon-to-be-secret-boyfriend to come online.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes you feel all squirmy inside when you think about how John considers that to be y’all’s first ‘official’ kiss, horrible practice-kissing before that point notwithstanding.

 

You haven’t kissed him a whole lot since then, and it’s autumn now. Friday before Fall Break, actually. You’d be worried in a way that only a self-absorbed teenager can be if not for the looks you sometimes catch John shooting you, his slanted eyes off to the side and filled with something that convinces you that he thinks about it just as much as you do.

 

Watching the clock in the last class of the day goes fuzzy with carelessness in your head, blocked out by heady thoughts of your boy, and you forget to jump up like the rest of the kids when the bell finally rings and it’s officially Fall Break.

 

You don’t want to say it, but it feels like you’re missing something here. Maybe you started too young, or even too old depending on who you ask, but nothing is going as smooth as you thought it would.

 

And, yea, you fucking get it – life isn’t like the movies or the books or the articles or blogs targeted at people of your age demographic, or even sexuality demographic (which hovers uncertainly over the Questioning label for the both of you, or at least, last you heard. You’re dating, that’s all you 100% know, and that’s enough for now) and nobody can really tell you exactly how it’s supposed to go, because there is no ‘how it’s supposed to go.’ Everybody’s just making it up as they’re going along, as far as you’re concerned.

 

But like. It still sucks? John doesn’t know what he’s doing, you don’t know what you’re doing. All that’s guiding you is this knot of emotion that dug its way into your chest and refuses to budge, come hell or high water. Some part of you hopes it never moves at all, and stays just as intense and overwhelming as it has been burning for years now. Another part begs for a break, or to go back in time when you were a little kid who didn’t feel the urge to think and worry about stuff like this, stuff like romance and kissing and coming out and… daaaaates???

 

Oh shit dude you haven’t gone on a date yet.

 

You pause in the middle of rifling through your locker to text Rose and ask her if it would be the weirdest thing ever if you sneak off and have a date with your boyfriend at your boyfriend’s house on your own birthday or if it would be at about your normal level of weird.

 

While you wait for a response, which will surely take at least a few full minutes for her to type assuming she responds immediately, you send a few more hopeful texts Jade’s way.

 

As per usual, she doesn’t respond. Doesn’t even leave you on Read. You’re getting better at resisting the urge to plead for answers from people who know just about as much as you do.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

John’s dad is a fucking cake fanatic, okay? There isn’t even a tragic backstory that compels him to make as many cakes as possible on days of birth in order to honor his (possibly a baking tyrant or something?) dead mother. He’s just Like That. Possessed by Betty Crocker’s fishy, household name spirit. Or so says John.

 

There’s cakes on the counter, on the table, on top of the fridge (which you’ve seen Mr. E lift and you swear to god you had your gay awakening at the tender age of eleven in this very kitchen, and it was only tangentially related to John), and even in the goddamn sink. Which you currently need to use, because you apparently ‘eat like a bird’ AKA super slow and are the last to finish while Mr. E disappears to go clean the smallest bit of cake flour off his elbow.

 

“Gee, I really wish I could wash my shit right now!” You yell into John’s big house, because that’s what they do here. They just yell from room to room like it’s normal.

 

“What?” John yells back from what may be the upstairs bathroom, the gross fuck.

 

“I said! I really wish that I could,” Game Announcer voice who says ‘Spin That Wheel’: “WASH! MY! SHIT!”

 

And the crowd goes fucking wild.

 

“Just put it in the dishwasher ya’ doi!”

 

Oh. Right. John’s family is actually civilized.

 

You put your dinner plate in the dishwasher after making sure it’s functionally scrapped clean into the trash.

 

You don’t know where the fuck Bro wandered off to. You’ve never seen him consume a single item of food while here across all your living years, but you like to imagine him snacking away somewhere weird like on the roof, where he can see everybody else, but they can’t see him.

 

Bro’s autistic crow tendencies aside – you’re alone in this kitchen for once and you’ll be damned if you don’t make like a sticky-fingered little kid and filch a few of those freshly cut strawberries off of one of the cakes. Mr. Dad can just come in and replace them if they’re so important, you reason.

 

Next, you jog upstairs just in time to catch John coming out of the bathroom, flicking the water off his hands. At least he’s washed them at all, but damn, can’t he use a towel?

 

He spots you and swoops in to give you a hug you cannot possibly avoid in this narrow hallway, wiping his hands all over the back of your hoodie.

 

“Is this why you never dry your fuckin’ hands?” You ask him, squirming around until you’ve switched places and you can lean into the bathroom to run a little water over your sugar-sticky fingers. Like a hypocrite, you don’t use a towel either. “You just wanna use and abuse me as your personal hand towel? Is that it you sick sonovabitch?”

 

“Yes.” He’s biting his lip and looking up, down, and all around the hallway as if someone will pop out at any moment. Which: fair. It’s entirely possible Bro will come swinging in through what was previously thought to be a locked window and nobody will know until he’s practically on top of y’all. “My dad’s getting the chess board now. He’ll set it up right before we leave.”

 

Oh. Mr. Egbert leaving so soon after dinner to clean up what you now suspect was no such white stain on his already impeccably white shirt is a ploy – Bro can’t resist chess with John’s dad. He’s got a super classy marble carved set from generations past. The first time he’d shown it to y’all, you swore you could see your brother deliberate stealing it for a hot, hot second.

 

For such a wildly unpredictable guy, Bro can sometimes be such a contradiction. It leaves you simultaneously off-balance yet comfortingly sure-footed.

 

“It’s cool that your dad’s letting us like, sneak off like a couple of springtime mice like this,” you mention to John in a low tone – again, those windows? Could be unlocked at any second, yielding a big obstacle who thinks polo shirts with the collar flipped up is A Look. “I mean, if all else fails, we can try and swing for that fuckin’ uhh, puppet museum? Not a ‘fucking puppet’ museum I mean like- you know what I mean goddamn don’t look at me like that. Bro would go to that.”

 

John looks at you with some kind of ridiculous smile and one bushy black eyebrow kissing his hairline. “I am not taking you to a puppet museum for as long as I live, Dave Strider.”

 

“Well, that was both reassuring and condescending all in one go.” You blink a few times to wash away the visage of John waggling his eyebrows at you like a free-to-see circus act. “Isn’t your dad worried we aren’t gonna go where we say we’re going? Or like, teenage acts of virulent lust overtaking us or something? Full moon fever? Public hazing Tiktok memes?”

 

“I already bought the bus tickets to the Seattle Art Museum, and he oversaw,” John says like it’s just simple math. “Also – he knows that I know how to use a condom and where to get them.”

 

And then he walks away???

 

“What the heeeeeeeeeeeeeee -” You stutter over your own breath in order to whisper-yell, “John you are not diddling me in the SAM! John!? Whatthehell -” at his retreating back, which is lazily descending the stairs like he isn’t totally laughing at you.

 

After cake and presents (John got you the Akira hoodie you’re already wearing – yea the one he wiped his fucking hands on, the bitch – and Mr. Egbert gave you your yearly hundred dollars, which you are going to spend on so much crap food and trinkets today. Bro gifted you with a kiss on the top of your head and something else you honestly could not give less of a shit about after that. It was a laptop. It’s waiting at home for you. You maybe sniffle a little bit and lie about it, telling your audience that you just really fucking love PC Minecraft. Nobody’s fooled) the attempt at espionage commences.

 

Right as Mr. Egbert has fully set up the board and Bro is sitting down with this contented, concentrated look on his face, shades off and everything, Mr. Dad drops the bombshell of, “Oh, and the boys will be taking the bus and visiting a museum for a few hours.”

 

You swear to god Bro goes still as death.

 

Mr. Egbert lists off the platitudes – texts every hour, selfies aplenty both for fun and for authenticity, money for emergencies and the ride home, how grown and capable you both are now – but neither you nor Bro seem to fully react to them. Although your pits are now very sweaty, so you can at least prove that your nervous system is functioning.

 

badum tss

 

“C’mon, Bro,” you wheedle in a way that doesn’t involve wheedling at all and is in fact pretty monotone, “I’m gonna go learn about art and shit. You know I love art and shit.” No outward response. Your inward response is to wince, and then to ham it up. “I’m wearin’ my sunscreen and everything – even got it packed with me.” … “I’ll set reminders on my phone to reapply it and to text you about how much art and shit I’m learnin’ about.”

 

 

You think that, when your brother doesn’t know what to do, he does nothing at all as a defense mechanism.

 

You also think that if you got anything from him, it’d be that trait.

 

“I’ll pay you back for the kiss?”

 

Bro shifts a little bit, sighing big and deep while still somehow making next to no noise at all. Then his arm lifts up, and you take the plunge, practically flashing over to give his stiff cheek a little peck that should probably make you mighty embarrassed, but instead all you feel is relief. You whisper, “Thanks dad,” real fast into his temple, and then escape back to the front door as if he can’t just get up and walk to you at any point between now and leaving.

 

You feel a little better once you see John just got done hugging his dad and seems as excited to gtfo as you. When Bro turns around in his seat, you halfheartedly wave a bit, like a goodbye that forgot what its function is.

 

He looks at you.

 

He looks back at the chess board.

 

He does not look back at you.

 

Fucking score. But also owch? You are not more important than chess, you whinge to yourself as you scamper out the door like a fresh-faced little deer first learning how to run.

 

In fact, you both race each other to the bus stop, but once your hip starts complaining about halfway there, you decide that that’s too much running, and walk. John informs you that the bus will take you straight there, essentially, but that you’ll have to Uber back. After some exploring, that is.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s the first Saturday of the month, which means you get in free. Your birthday was technically on Wednesday, but it’s no fun celebrating on a school night, so it’s tradition to wait until the nearest available weekend.

 

The museum is fun in the way school field trips can’t quite achieve. You have a grand ol’ time taking pictures of the Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library and sending them to Rose. You send a few to Jade, but, y’know. AWOL girl continues to be AWOL.

 

You try not to let it keep you down, and in typical John fashion, he acts like it’s not even something that exists. Which you guess is his own special way of not breaking into hysterics like you do with Rose like clockwork for every week your fourth friend does not indicate whether she is still goddamn well alive.

 

But you digress. Heavily.

 

While wandering the shops outside of the SAM, you convince John to let you do the ‘oh no, I dropped my massive condom that I use for my magnum dong’ bit with one of the rubbers he’s supposedly brought with him, except it turns out he’s forgotten them entirely. Because surprise! Y’all were never gonna fuck in public in the first place. This isn’t a John Green novel, you say as someone who’s never read one of those in the first place.

 

He does, however, have normal balloons. He says it’s because “a prankster’s gambit shall never go empty,” before handing out a few balloon dogs to any kids that want one. He only knows how to make dogs, though.

 

You take a selfie to send to his dad and Bro that involves some unconquerable pigeons, an OK sign hidden slightly off screen, and one of the rejected balloon dogs re-purposed as fake bright blue rubbery cleavage. Then you take a ‘first date’ selfie that involves a bit more candid smooching than that, to send to Rose.

 

She asks you if she can forward it to her new friend, Kanaya. You say, ‘suuure,’ but you use an excessive amount of extra letters to convey your, ‘you are telling me who tf kanaya is and you will like it,’ sentiment.

 

You blow all your birthday money on trinkets you know that you will either hang up in your room and love forever or will donate a month from now.

 

John buys himself a pair of rainbow underwear from a vendor you never actually get to see, but you try not to judge considering you yourself buy rainbow shaved ice. Not because you particularly want like six different flavors clashing together in a syrupy film, but because you felt obligated to pick it over the apple pie flavor one, and you share it with your boyfriend very officially.

 

It’s practically a gay rite of passage or something. You don’t know. Didn’t you just have a crisis over how much you don’t know shitfuck like, barely a few weeks ago? Yeah.

 

When the sun is setting, you steer John away from buying a hermit crab he doesn’t know how to take care of from a guy who looks like Guy Fieri’s skinnier, less nice cousin, and call up that Uber. You almost fall asleep on the way back to John’s house, and somehow convince Bro to piggyback you on the short walk home.

 

Tuckered to Timbuktu and back and ready for bed, Bro cuts your legs out from under you by sniffing the air once, and saying, “You forgot to reapply your sunscreen, didn’t you.”

 

You don’t even bother with bullshitting – you just launch yourself straight towards your bed with a warrior’s cry that may or may not sound more like the scared caw of a baby crow.

 

Bro is relentless in the way he catches you like a football, sets you down on the side of the tub, and gets out the aloe vera gel.

 

You groan as if you wouldn’t be begging for it in the morning anyways. He rewards you for your compliance by thwacking one big glob right onto your face

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Winter Break. You’ve got the second season of Good Omens loaded up on your new laptop, screen wide and audio quality perfect for this kind of stuff. Your nose is still kind of red and peely, but John has assured you that it looks ‘just as cute as it usually does.’

 

To be frank, you don’t know how to respond emotionally to something like that, so you don’t.

 

Despite the freakish ability to sense literally anything slightly to the left of ‘normal’, you consider sneaking around Bro to be a piece of cake. You are firmly under the assumption that he’ll barely care in the end, like he does about a lot of things, but something’s keeping you and John from biting the sugar cube and jumping out of the rainbow-colored cake already. You continue to chalk it up as both ‘it’s nobody’s business if we don’t want it to be’ and ‘Bro won’t hardly react when he finds out anyways.’

 

So, yeah. Super solid and stuff.

 

John’s camped out on your bed with you for Movie Night which will most likely become Sleepover Night as well since Bro has a history of being lax at checking up on y’all to make sure John has been given express permission to stay over in the first place, so you’re feeling pretty golden about your set up. Your laptop is on the desk you never use that’s been pulled up to the foot of your bed for easy viewing.

 

Once you’re about 60% sure Bro is entrenched in whatever the fuck he’s doing tonight, you make a totally smooth move and lean onto John’s arm, wrapping your left around his right, lacing fingers at the end of two winding snakes of loooove.

 

“Isn’t a ‘snake of love’ more like a penis and not our arms,” John chortles at you, making you aware that you must’ve mumbled some of that out loud.

 

“I am entirely chaste and you just ruptured my metaphorical virgin eardrums with that kind of talk.” You reach over with your free hand and try to pop his knuckles, which you know he thinks is gross as hell, so he flaps his arms in weak defense, especially considering he won’t let go of your left hand. “Now shut up while my handpuppet can feel up your handpuppet without ruining the show for the hundreds of other people in this theater.”

 

John makes a great show of acting surprised and looking around at the imaginary full house before he settles again. “I can’t believe you don’t have popcorn here.”

 

“Bro says it’s a conspiracy. That and vitamin water.”

 

“And you believe him?”

 

You snort. “No. He just hates the way making popcorn sounds.” A pause. “Now the vitamin water tho...”

 

There’s a relaxed silence for one whole episode. Around the hour mark, however, things begin to change.

 

John’s foot nudges at yours, and at first you dismiss it as general ‘ants in my pants’ syndrome. Boy oh boy do you know what that feels like – but then it starts stroking up and down until you’re practically having an involuntary muscle seizure from how much it tickles.

 

Out of the corner of your eye, you see John’s smirk.

 

Ohhh shit, son. This is basically war…

 

Except it doesn’t have the same vibe that it used to.

 

You fight against the fear you feel at the heat that’s come onto you after the initial infatuation, all three fucking years of it. It’s too new, and it’s feverish, eating up nostalgic things in its path and replacing it with something scary.

 

You don’t feel ready. But you also feel like the rope is gonna burn while you’re hanging on being an indecisive little shit, so cest la vie or whatever, let’s do this boys.

 

...Carefully, though, carefully. Probably really slow. Might not even glance at second base until y’all hit eighteen. Maybe nineteen just to be safe. Yeah, yeah, good plan Dave. Hey thanks Dave I thought so too.

 

John breathes in a sigh that turns into a sniffle, because he’s got allergies basically all winter long. You, thankfully, suffer from no such nerd’s dilemma, but you do get anemic and have to eat medium-rare meat every other day and take iron pills.

 

His arm tightens around yours and for a moment, your heart quickens in a weird way you keep trying to ignore.

 

Except you just got done deciding to not ignore it anymore and actually do something about it for once. Even if that something is no longer on the same juvenile level as sloppy smooches at a water park.

 

Like a domino, you plop yourself sideways, too stiff to be casual about it, and manually wrap John’s arms around yourself until you’re half on his lap, half out, and tucked up under his chin.

 

It sort of feels like the world pauses for a moment as a personal favor to you. And then John starts breathing again, and you relax more naturally, shifting a bit to really get comfortable.

 

Neither of you talk, which could be misconstrued to how you’re both super into these new episodes and don’t want to interrupt, if not for the fact that you’d already watched this season a week ago and wanted to revisit it for funsies. John definitely has plans to use his re-watch as a way to talk more in-depth about it on his blog, and it’s almost enough to make you feel guilty.

 

Almost, but not quite.

 

Like some love-lorn, touch-starved animal, you butt your mouth up against his jawline very gently, as if he’ll reject you just for that. As if he hasn’t already done twice as much with three times the enthusiasm before. As if you weren’t the one to eagerly let him.

 

At first, John seems like he’ll ignore you, humming contentedly and staring ahead at the screen. Then his hand comes up and pets your hair, trails down across your ear, then to your neck, where he grips lightly. You shiver in a way you can’t help, and that’s a little humbling, embarrassing. You can’t tell if you want more or less control in this situation. You’ve got no experience to draw logic upon.

 

John’s Slenderman Hands cup the entire right side of your face, and you shut your eyes slowly in some kind of bliss you never considered possible from such a simple gesture. A cat in the making you are – wish you could purr, almost, if only for the gratification it would bring.

 

Your eyes are wide fucking shut right now, you are in the zone. You are going to make out with your boyfriend. Right now.

 

In your throat is this preemptive stuttering, wobbly noise that stops your breath for a second, as if you’re overwhelmed before it’s even begun. You swallow it and hope John doesn’t notice. Your body push-pulls him closer-farther; can’t make up its mind.

 

John helps you along by making up your mind for you, pulling your face up to meet his.

 

It’s warm in a way you’ve never felt before, close, too close by far, shutting your eyes like they do in movies and shit...

 

And then Deja Vu Bro throws the door open.

 

Son. Of a bitch.

 

John eeps! And giggles nervously, no doubt all the practiced excuses already on the tongue you nearly let creep into your mouth.

 

Bro’s figure in the doorway is backlit by the kitchen light, the one without a shade to dull it because it hasn’t been bought yet after the last Incident. He’s an imposing wall, one you haven’t been afraid of in a long time, but that thing constantly lurking in the back of your mind that remembers what it was like to cower, to feel the wrongness pervading your guardian, rears its head with the wild eyes of a horse about to bolt.

 

You find your body moving before your mind, throwing yourself on top of John as if you can shield him before your brother so much as twitches, a strangled, “Wait -” coming out of you, your own throat, and it all dizzies you so much you nearly look away from Bro.

 

Bro only holds his hands up slowly. They’re empty. Why wouldn’t they be empty?

 

You feel yourself go crazy for a long five seconds, wherein Bro’s shadeless eyeshine makes you feel like you’ve missed your chance to run, before you snap back like a rubber band, John’s hand on your arm. He’s struggling to breathe under your abrupt weight.

 

“I called your dad.” Bro steps in, then aside, leaving the doorway open. “Get out.”

 

Get out. Bro just told John to get out.

 

That’s never happened before.

 

Meekly, almost dazedly, John goes. He just, gets up and walks out. A walk of normal speed, he barely even glances at you. The front door opens and shuts.

 

You find your voice and your outrage as you roll off the bed, flopping to the floor like a flaccid cut of meat before jolting up and trying to follow going, “Whoa, hey, wait, what the fuck -”

 

You’re maybe halfway to the front door when Bro straight up lifts you off the ground like you weigh maybe the equivalent of the toddler you currently are not. You make some mix between a confused warble and an indignant squawk, which means you’ll go down in the history books as the first human Chocobo outside of the video game realm.

 

You can see the fuzzy back of John’s head through the front room window as he continues without looking back or pausing. He knows how to get home safely it’s just…

 

It’s, it’s just that you’re being carried to your room by your guardian after your boyfriend was kicked out for trying to get his mack-on with you. The boyfriend you now suspect Bro kind of knew about? But wanted proof so he, interrupted Movie Night?

 

Fuck what the fuck is going ON.

 

“You are not getting pregnant and you are not getting him pregnant.”

 

“What!?” Bro doesn’t pause and you two pass through the threshold of your room like a portal between normality and total chaos. This is Oblivion (insert year it came out) you swear to god. “That’s so unfair what if I, what if I wanna get mpregged at the tender age of sixteen you fucking, you cockblock, I was totally gonna get a baby in me tonight -”

 

“Overruled.” He doesn’t even set you down yet, you’re just dangling while he stands there like a fucking idiot and you’re the sack of idiot legumes folded over his shoulder.

 

“We weren’t gonna do anything you fucking attack helicopter parent!” You smack his shoulders and kick your legs but he is a rock, an island, the biggest, most stubborn of penissulas. Yes you said that one correctly – PENIS ISLAND, population 0 because Bro Is The Island, which is also a penis.

 

In an unusually morbid tone, he responds with, “Anything is possible, Dave.” And then, uncomfortably squeezing your everything in his arms that remind you so much of chains at this very moment that you will make fun of yourself for being so dramatic later, he tells you, “You ain’t dating him and you ain’t scootlipoopin’ with him. It’s not safe. Trust me.”

 

You’re near hysteria when you wheeze, “Who the fuck calls it ‘scootlipoopin’ anymore??” And then you come to at least one or two of your senses and start wriggling again with something close to panic. “Okay usually I don’t complain about nothin’, I don’t say shit, but this is really crossing some kinda line here -”

 

You can’t see his face when he says, “No – what I’m doing is keeping you from crossing lines you can’t handle yet, Dave. Listen to me. Stop struggling.”

 

Put me down,” You practically shout, but it almost feels like it’s from someone else’s mouth what comes running out like fleeing mice, “Okay okay just, just put me down okay I’ll listen, I’ll listen, I’ll -”

 

Like a handful of breaded chicken tenders being tossed into hot oil, Bro deposits you onto your bed and is out of your Egbertless room within less than ten seconds.

 

Holy shit what just happened. You feel like Juliet. Are you Juliet?? You thought John was Juliet. You thought you were Romeo, gonna get a high-five from Bro AKA whateverthefuck Romeo's dad's name was you've never read it so who cares, while you went to pry the bars off Juliet's window, rescuing him from his overprotective dad.

 

You’re stunned. Less than an hour ago you were so fucking solid in your illusion that Bro didn’t give a shit, wouldn’t give a shit, about you and John.

 

But now this, like somebody just slapped you with a handful of fresh cow pattie. Pregnancy? Abstinence??

 

Spasmodically: trust!?

 

Your life is not an after-school special, you chant to yourself. Your life is not an after-school special. And your Bro isn’t even in the same ballpark as a puritan. Sure he’s a worrywart but this is, this is John. It’s John. Bro’s seen John stick crayons up his nose before. Taught John how to skateboard. John’s never been a threat, he can’t be, he’s John.

 

So what in the fresh fuck is going on!???

 

Scatterbrained, you reach over and click off of the Good Omens folder downloaded for this occasion. The laptop is a bit askew, but instead of righting it, you close it without turning it off first. It’ll survive.

 

You feel like you should be diving for your phone and hitting up anybody that’ll listen, asking John ‘what the fuck was that’ or maybe even apologizing to him and finding out if he’s okay, or if he’s shaken apart like you are. You feel like you should be storming into the living room like you’re Joan of Arc’s second coming and Bro is the French Whatever. You feel like you shouldn’t feel like a delicate birdcage about to snap.

 

(You can’t remember the last time he’s grabbed you like that, quicker than shadow.)

 

Wobbly in your convictions, you stagnate on the corner of Freakout Central and Pissed Off Lane.

 

Ridiculous. Jackoff overprotective nannybot of a brother…

 

Your ribs are tender. But not bruised. Don’t cry about it, Dave.

 

You rip off your outer layer and bundle up under your covers, which are the perfect size for you and John when you squeeze together. There won’t be any bed sharing tonight. You also decide you’ve not got the chops to walk out of your room right now, so there ends your good dental hygiene and flawless skin routine.

 

A few tears escape into the soft safety of your pillow that are entirely out of your control, but don’t feel like they’re from sadness or fear or even anger. It’s adjacent to shame, or maybe humiliation; a hit dog hollering.

 

All you decisively accomplish is closing your eyes and labeling the ticket booths to the thought-processing part of your brain as Out Of Order. It’s surprisingly effective at soothing you to sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

It doesn’t occur to you that Bro had locked you in your room when he shut the door on your fish-mouthed expression until the next morning when you spend five minutes building up the courage and game-face, reach for your doorknob, only to find it unyielding. You instinctively twist in several different directions before your mind ends its vacation early.

 

You’re incredulous. And, still yet, decently cowed. You feel like you have, actually, done something wrong, something unexpected, and now he’s punishing you in his own way.

 

You aren’t used to it; when you fuck up, he doesn’t raise his voice or manhandle you (not anymore) or belittle you, he only acts disappointed and asks you why you did what you did, said what you said, until you’re practically repenting on guilt alone and crying into his chest while he rubs your back like you’re eight and still getting nightmares about burning alive; like he’s the be all end all of your homeostasis.

 

Bro’s never used your outside lock like that as far as you can remember – you didn’t have a lock on your old bedroom in Texas, either. Only a chair at the perfect height that he taught you how to shove up under the inside door handle if someone ever broke in. He told you when you first moved in here, almost a decade ago now, that he didn’t have a key for your room. Maybe he was lying.

 

Maybe he had one made.

 

You go back to sleep, refusing to text Bro for help yet. What the hell would you say? ‘hey okay i’m done being a horny, negligent teen now, can you please come let me out of my cage?’ You don’t like that, don’t like what it implies. You know you aren’t in the wrong even though you feel like you are, if that makes sense?

 

Maybe he’s waiting for an apology, but you don’t know what, exactly, you’re supposed to be sorry for. This sucks, he sucks, you suck, fuck it John sucks too for calmly absconding as soon as shit got rough. Your mouth tastes like ass. Dammit.

 

When you wake up about an hour and a half later, sun climbing in the sky to a much more reasonable time, your door is unlocked. Bro doesn’t pop out of any of his usual hidey-holes, no sounds come from the basement, but you also don’t go looking for him on purpose, simply shuffling towards the bathroom, then the kitchen.

 

You feel calmer, now, like last night was only a bad dream, or a one-time thing, even though you get queasy and weak if you think about it too long.

 

You’re gonna tell yourself ‘oh, but he won’t do it again,’ and you’re gonna fucking believe it, and that’ll be your medicine.

 

Once you’re hungry enough, you predictably descend thirstily on some AJ, and nibble on one of John’s favorite poptarts – disgustingly overwhelming Sundae flavor. It’s an affront to divine bodies and actual, balanced breakfasts alike. You only make it a quarter of the way through before it gets unbearable.

 

Just as you’ve finished banishing your party-flavored monstrosity to the depths of the trashcan, Bro comes in the front door.

 

You look at him with more outward surprise than it really warrants, but to be fair, he is wearing what appears to be a straw sunhat, a medical face mask (yes, like in the animes, and also Asia itself because we aren’t all entrenched deep within otaku-land here and realize these places do exist), a long-sleeve shirt in a strange maroon color and fabric, and overly long sweatpants that look like they came from a 1980s cataloge that pool at his ankles, yet do nothing to hide his truly hideous green sneakers.

 

You go, “Dude...” as if you, boyteen clad only in your previously kicked out boyfriend’s ugly goddamn blue gym shorts that once featured in your award-winning photograph ‘functional but at what cost 2019’, has any authority in judging what other people wear.

 

Is that a visibly thick, white sheen of sunscreen on his hands?

 

Bro kicks the door shut, piling the bags of groceries your fashion-oriented mind deemed utterly unimportant just a second ago onto the kitchen counter, coming right up towards you as he snaps his mask off and throws it in the trash all in one go. “Dave.”

 

You look up at him and are acutely aware that you don’t know what your face is doing right now. “Yup.”

 

He opens his mouth. Shuts it. Opens it again. “I’m sorry.”

 

Oh.

 

There are a lot of things you’ve always secretly wished Bro would say ‘sorry’ for.

 

Having a pipe dream come true doesn’t make you jump for joy and take a selfie to commemorate the occasion, it turns out. It just makes you nervous. Makes you wonder when the floor left you high and dry, and at what time it’ll be back before you have to call CPS.

 

Okay that was a really bad analogy. And also not something you’d ever seriously consider doing.

 

You try not to wring your hands as you mumble, “Okay...” In such a half-assed way, you cringe at yourself afterwards. “I mean, that was…” Esoteric hand gesture that conveys approximately nothing clearly. “It’s okay, Bro. I shouldn’t’a hidden stuff right up under your nose like that anyways, that’s really scummy.”

 

Rose once told you that you fear and avoid confrontation.

 

“What’d you get me from the store?”

 

She’s absolutely correct and you hate yourself for it right now.

 

But it’s a shameful comfort when Bro nods as if he approves of your reaction, going lax in that way that immediately makes you chill out in response. He tosses his hat with expert ease onto that polished wood coat stand Mr. Egbert got y’all as a housewarming gift.

 

His show of control makes you instantly feel better. For today, anyways.

 

You lean all of your weight on the counter as Bro starts pulling out some of your favorite shit: cherry-flavored dark cola, bag of apples, pancake mix, strawberries, barbecue chips, the works.

 

Ultimately aware that you’re being bribed into not being upset anymore, you squish your cheeks in between two hands and look up at him. “Okay but did you get the blueberry tart tho’?”

 

He goes still and turns his head.

 

You waggle your eyebrows at him.

 

...He pulls out a blueberry tart from the bakery on the way to the local grocery store.

 

Fuck yeah,” you crow, reaching your grubby little paws for it before he’s even set it down, and although he holds it up above your head and makes you jump around like a jackass and whine for it before he’ll give it to you, it at least smacks of normality, and not at all like whateverthefuck happened yesterday.

 

At least until you realize that what he continuously freezes and glares at isn’t a roach on the floor like you’d first assumed, or even a dusty spot because god forbid this house be dusty (though a healthy coating of puppets is apparently copacetic and encouraged), but your shorts.

 

Because, you now have the misfortune of knowing, they’re John’s shorts. Public Enemy Number One’s attire.

 

You barely taste the last half of your berry tart, retreating to your room to stand around indecisively, an echo of yesterday you are doomed to be.

 

You ignore your phone because it’s making you anxious to think about what John could’ve said about last night by now, and you don’t want to let your brain get the chance to entertain the thought that maybe John’s so spooked that he’s going to break up with you and declare your best broship over forever. And that’s not even mentioning what John’s dad could possibly know or opinionated about last night.

 

Even you don’t know what to think about last night, much less what to do about it. It’s this still fog that crowds the household, a miasma of tension that didn’t truly disappear even with the apology tart. It’s uncomfortable.

 

Some uppity part of you convinces your anxiety-harboring mind that taking off John’s shorts and hiding anything of his that he might have left in your room – including his beloved yet ugly varsity jacket – in the small space above your closet is a solid, non-hysterical idea to pursue. So you do it, because you were obviously a prey animal in a past life.

 

With a beleaguered groan, you finally give in. You unlock your phone, preemptively opening your reaction gif folder to aid you in memeing the awful experience away. You still sigh in deep relief when John doesn’t immediately serve you the dramatic teenage equivalent of divorce papers.

 

You stick your nose into the comforter where John was sitting the other day and breathe in like a creep and a loser, but also one who is in love, so doesn’t that count for something? You think it should count for something.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your name is Rose Lalonde and you are elegantly, remorselessly padding your way out of your mother’s room, in which you have successfully stolen her new matte lipstick in the shade ‘Crow Maiden.’

 

Yes, you are aware of the potential for facetiously expensive over-indulgently named black lipsticks to invade your logic. No, you are not going to live apologetically; you are goth and you are great at it.

 

You carefully select a spot within your vanity's drawers of organized makeup to add Crow Maiden to your collection of filched pieces.

 

Truthfully, you have your own staple lip products you use, however you allow yourself this small thrill of rebellion. A minuscule, juvenile ritual you keep around for old time’s sake, from when knitting your mother Hanukkah socks felt like an act of espionage rather than one of love.

 

You gaze out your bedroom window, noting that you have around half an hour until true sunset, when the sky goes blue with night in place of red with day.

 

Closing the drawer you keep locked away with all of its frankly silly secrets, you decide to get ready early. You’re overcome with nerves, but they’re good ones. Or so you hope. You’d hate to feel compelled to dip into ‘the sauce’ as Dave calls it in order to take the edge off, as you did shamefully last time.

 

No. You’re better than that – you’ll be better for her, in any case. Besides, your mother is home, presumably downstairs on her laptop hogging the head seat of the lonely, formal dining table you’ve refused to sit at for going on three years now. Why she takes one dinky little laptop to use out in the living room instead of her sprawling, highly technologically advanced lab full of mysterious curiosities, you’ll never understand. (Although you have hypothesized that the action lies somewhere bordering a power move and the simple pleasure of forcing you to walk around her pulled-out chair in order to get to the kitchen.)

 

You select a moisturizing black lippie of the small congregation you frequent - Mademoiselle la Obscurité – and carefully drag it across your lips until they are framed in something mimicking a heart, or perhaps a bow made for archery. It’s not your current favorite, but you were hoping to leave marks tonight. Visible ones.

 

You paint your cheeks with the only blush you’ve found yet that truly pigments your dark skin in a subtle way without making you look like a member of the ICP. (It’s glossier cloud paint. No one must ever know.) A swipe of mascara and a quick puff of lavender sheen onto the crease of your eyelids and voila.

 

You eat a buttery mint from an antique diamond-shaped tin that you’ve had since you were very little (not the mints themselves. Just the tin,) but cannot fully recall from who it came, although the inelegant ‘D.S.’ scrawled onto the bottom serves as a mystery for the ages.

 

Any extra time you have before rendezvousing is time you spend torturing your friends with your backlog of scarily accurate Warrior Cats personality quizzes supplied to you hot off the press from Nepeta, a friend of Kanaya’s who shares your penchant for obsessing over one subject and not much else. She is an adequate roleplay partner, if you don’t mind nothing but felines.

 

You ready yourself to leave a few minutes earlier than self-scheduled, but you hardly think Kanaya will fault you for being prompt. Yes, you tell yourself as you adjust a simple black shoulder bag, that’s a very silly thought to have.

 

Sweat gathers under your arms, and you feel acute embarrassment that you are immediately stalwart in never letting Kanaya find out about.

 

Your mother is as predicted – on her laptop with what appears to be a cookbook open next to her that she lazily flips through, delicate glassware of dark red wine in the other hand. You approach her. She looks up before you’ve properly broached her sphere of personal space.

 

“Mother, I’ve met a girl, and we're going to go have explicit, underage sex in the old tree-house in the murder woods now.” You’re lying. Or perhaps not. You haven’t decided yet. You like to tell yourself it’s to keep your mother on her toes, but securing Kanaya’s boundaries is the important factor here.

 

Mother turns the page in her book. It lets out dust, in which the pages are yellowed and don’t look anything like any cookbook you’ve ever seen before. “If she isn’t a vampire, then I don’t want to hear about it. You know the rule, Rose; no dating unless it’s with a creature of the night that consumes blood and stars in several Hollywood Blockbusters.”

 

Damn your drunken mother and her fanciful delusions. You doubt she’ll listen to your argument on chupacabras now that she’s added the Hollywood Blockbuster bit. “Yes, of course I know, Mother,” you indulge her anyways, “I already accounted for this. Therefore, I have found not a vampire, but a female of an alien species that physically mimics our own that has been using our planet as a safehouse for the past several hundred years in order for the undesirable rejects of their home planet’s class warfare to live peacefully.”

 

Mother takes a sip of wine, cherry blossom colored eyes framed by delicately shaped blonde eyebrows, one of which lifts in your direction.

 

Your lips twitch. “She is also a rainbowdrinker – or, vampire, I suppose you could misdefine her – of her species.”

 

Like a switch flipped, your mother smiles big. “Oh, that’s so cool! Did you want tips?” You don’t get a chance to respond either way. “Don’t paint your mouth with blood and then try to kiss her, it’s not sexy, you’ll just get your face ripped off and die.”

 

You cringe in horror and look at her askance before you can rein proper control of yourself. “Mom why do you know this.”

 

Mother’s wine is abnormally dark and red, even for its undoubtedly old and expensive make. “Oh, y’know.”

 

No. No you do not know.

 

“Of course, mother.” You make a dynamic escape, perhaps a bit faster than warranted.

 

It is not to be. “Rosie!”

 

You clench a fist. “Yes?”

 

She sounds coquettish, like you’re both sharing an inside joke, when she says, “Did you remember to get red pilled tonight before you leave?”

 

Oh, for hell’s sake – you hate it when she calls your estrogen that. “Yes, mother. I’m proficient in remembering to take my medicine on time.”

 

“Atta girl. Bring snacks! Keep your blood sugar up!!”

 

You practically flee out the front door, hiking shoes throwing up dead leaves as you near-violently tug out the purple scarf you've lifted from your mom’s chiffonier and wrap it around your neck.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

A FEW MONTHS IN THE PAST (although not very many…)

 

 

 

TG: my hip bone decided it didnt wanna be subjected to that shit anymore and went AWOL
GG: oh wow did you survive
TG: no write my euology
GG: so you still do gymnastics even though you’re off the team? why
TG: because doing flips on command is cool for vines
TG: and also for accidentally kicking your best friend in the nose on livestream but yknow
GG: isn’t vine dead :o
TG: not in our hearts
GG: that is very true!!
GG: I gotta go, rose is pestering me again about a conversation i’m pretty sure I let die! :/ but I dont wanna be rude
TG: damn that lavender lesbian chatting up the same gal i am
TG: even though it sounds like she already put you through the wringer so uh good luck and stuff whatever it is
GG: im sure it’ll be fine. she’s not doing anything baaad per se, just being persistent I guess.
TG: get gone harley dont leave her waiting who knows what she can do in an empty chat
GG: aye aye captain kickflips! :D
gardenGnostic ceased pestering turntechGodhead

TT: Perhaps it would be prudent that you stop and think about this, Jade. What do you really know about Jake? How can you trust him?
TT: Jade please respond in a timely manner.
GG: I was talking to dave for a second! Geeeez!! >:x
TT: I apologize for being so pushy. I’m worried by a large margin. Did you tell Dave anything about it?
GG: no I didn’t really want to talk about it anymore actually so that’s why I went to talk to dave. He always knows how to talk about silly stuff and just runs with it.
TT: I really am sorry Jade, but please refer to my earlier question.
GG: well jake showed me where he was in one of grandpa’s old ancestry books, and sure enough, his grandma’s on there way far back. And so is he!
GG: it just goes to prove his story about how he’s from a long time ago but doesn’t look it. He certainly seems to know a lot of stuff
TT: How did you say he found you again? Scrolling up would give you a chance to slip away.
GG: apparently his grandma’s coven used to live on this very island a long time ago. She had the same name as me, too. Jade English! Jake says that must be where I got my amazing rifle skills :B and my animal taming ability!
TT: You can tame animals?
GG: well, no. but bec counts, doesn’t he? He just keeps them all away from me so well I haven’t had the chance to try really
TT: I’m still dubiously trusting of this situation. How can he truly prove that he’s an immortal member of your family who’s come to take you out into the world to teach you his, frankly fantasy-based, craft?
GG: rose! you’re being super insensitive right now!!
GG: I finally have the chance to skedaddle off this island and all you want me to do is wait
TT: I simply have reservations over this ‘Jake English’ character is all. I know that leaving your island officially has been your dream for three years now and I don’t intend to hinder you, I’m only… worried. Plain and simple.
GG: well I don’t! And i’m not! he’s my cousin and I believe him
TT: You also seem to believe his immortality story.
GG: yes because I believe it’s just as real as he is
GG: he even said I could take bec with me. he’s starting the byplane now and all of the stuff I could want is packed
TT: What about your grandfather?
GG: he’s stuffed! He doesn’t care. He hasn’t cared for a very long time rose
GG: but jake cares
GG: jake says he’ll teach me all about hunting ‘fiends of the night’ and by fucking golly I want to learn
GG: I want to get out there! I want to stop being so lonely and watching all of my friends grow up from afar while all I do is have naps and tend gardens and run around like a silly wild girl you all always write me off as!
GG: it sucks rose! I never talk about how much it sucks because I dont want to bring you guys down but it really really sucks and I just didnt want to acknowledge it
GG: but I am now
GG: im going
TT: Please Jade, promise me you’ll contact me and tell me you’re alright. Maybe we can meet up?
GG: of course! Jake seems alright with me taking at least three of my laptops. Says his grandma had the same way about notebooks and pens – always have multiple on you
GG: besides, he said one of our stops soon will be somewhere in washignton. Maybe i’ll see john and dave before I get to you :P
TT: Then maybe I’ll look into staging my visit with them as soon as possible, if I'll get to meet the great Jade Harley herself.
GG: that’s a good idea :D god I can’t wait!! im so excited!!
GG: oh there’s jake. Goodbye rose!
TT: Goodbye Jade. Please be careful.
GG: I will!
--gardenGnostic is offline--

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

You are humiliated. But you also have emerald lipstick stains on your mother’s scarf.

 

You are conflicted. But you also have a new vein of knowledge which you may pursue for your own mind-provoking pleasure.

 

You are eavesdropping. But it’s on your mom, so…

 

You’re essentially breathless with deceit, blameless by your crimes, and you couldn’t be more elated, despite everything that’s happened thus far tonight.

 

For starters – Kanaya cannot feed from you. She tried. Multiple times. But each sip of your blood was accompanied by a “BLUH!” in which droplets of red went everywhere, and your dear girlfriend was flushing green with embarrassment.

 

She explained to you that she’s fed from humans before (as you tamped down on your jealousy) and never had a problem. Your silly fantasy of being Kanaya’s sole source of blood was dashed for yet to be discovered reasons. You were confused, wondering if you were diseased in some way, but Kanaya disagreed, although faintly, as if she didn’t have a full answer either.

 

Thankfully, your girlfriend does not need to ‘feed’ often, so to say. Unlike humanity’s version of the tale of the vampyre, Kanaya is a rainbowdrinker, and gets more energy from the sun than from anything consumed.

 

You’d trudged back home and then snuck in via Jasper’s mausoleum, leading to the strangely opportune situation you are in now – peeking around corners in your mother’s lab, wherein she sits languidly in front of several large monitors, talking to someone on one screen while on another, she types rapidly in colorful code.

 

“He hasn’t shown anythin’ that he hadn’t already – anemia, pale as sin, winter sun weakness, bit faster than the other kids but not enough t’ keep up,” says the man on the screen in a voice that Dave would most likely call that of a lawnmower on its last legs mixed with an aging action movie star, “Dunno why th’ hell he’s gone and got himself a fully human boyfriend, but this won’t turn out pretty if Dave suddenly sprouts fangs and goes in for more than just a little necking, y’know?”

 

...Hold the phone. This cannot be a simple coincidence.

 

You scoot daringly closer, forgoing the Youth Roll you’re simply too big to pull off anymore (though not for a lack of trying in recent years) in order to slip your shoes off, hold them in hand, and stealthily tiptoe within the shadows of the half-lit underground.

 

“It would be logical for Dave’s hormonal awakening, so to speak, to be tied in with whatever powers he may have been harboring, also awakening,” says your mother, multi-tasking in an envious way with a half-quirked smile that pulls shadows across her face. It ages her in a way that makes you quail internally. “Tho you have always said Davie’s just a lil late bloomer, remember Di-Stri?”

 

“Yea yea, I remember.”

 

Holy fucking shit that’s Dave’s brother.

 

“He’d’ve been in better physique by now if only he’d kept up with the trainin’.”

 

“Dirk.”

 

“What.” But from the way he puts a large hand over his mouth and scrubs it back and forth, looking down instead of ahead, tells you that he’s been chastised with that one word alone. “Let’s just face it, Ro-Lal – he ain’t ever gonna be a bloodsucker if he keeps eatin’ those tarts.”

 

“The ones you keep buying for him.”

 

“Yea,” he says, hiding what you can only label as a ‘shitty little smirk’ behind that same hand, eyes crinkling both pleasantly yet oddly from such a stiff man. “Yea. S’cuz he likes ‘em. Enough about my own little vamp, tell me about yours.”

 

“Ours, sweet thang, ours. I know we traded off kids when we split but there’s no reason to forget little Rosie Posie as your own lil shorty too! Just like Davie’s mine!” In your stunned frozen state, Mom stops clacking keys in order to peer at the screen. “You did give him the present I mailed over, didn’t you?”

 

Dirk Strider grumbles. “I’ll give it to him. Just keep forgettin’ is all.”

 

“That’s such a lie Di-Stri and you are totes avoiding your problems again right in front of me!”

 

“C’mon, tell me about Rose already you old harpy.”

 

Mother does not lash back with cold words meant to tear down any grown man. Instead she giggles like a schoolgirl, like it’s funny.

 

You are in the Twilight Zone. It’s nothing like your tweenage fanfictions thought it would be.

 

“My Rose snagged herself an alien vampire girlfriend!” Brags your mother, “Because in this house we have standards. I cut the middleman out by banning her from dating anybody who isn’t a vampire, so to save her grief later. Should she need to avoid it at all.”

 

“Unconfirmed,” is all ‘Di-Stri’ responds with on that tangent. “I locked Dave in his room when I found him and John together.”

 

Mom stops typing again and gawks fully at the screen in what intimately recognize as her ‘you did NOT just say that young lady’ expression. “Did you even tell him why? Or did you just throw one kid out and then throw the other back in?”

 

Mr. Strider does not look directly at the screen. He seems stiller than any person has right to be.

 

Your mother throws one arm up and slaps it almost violently back down onto her thigh. “Dirk you have a problem and it isn’t that you’re a vampire. You just need to talk to him! Tell him why, and then he’ll work with you. Maybe even, le gasp, talk to you about other stuff; who knows what wacky wild crazy things trust can bring about.”

 

His nostrils, of which you now comprehend to share the near exact same shape as your own nose, go even wider in a flare, his dark eyebrows pinning downwards. You feel a chill that is entirely out of your control. “Yea well, you can raise our daughter however you want, and I can raise our son however I want; that was the deal.”

 

Mother seems to compose herself. You presume that she looks away and begins typing primly again once more as a power move more than any need to. “That it was, Dirk. Now, do you have anything else to discuss or should I label this totally unfun meeting officially adjourned?”

 

“You can label it whatever you want, Rox. I’m not changin’ what needs to be done for Dave. I’m better with him now; I’m not some monster you feel like you should bring to heel. I can do this. He’ll forgive me someday, when he hasn’t ripped his dear Johnny boy’s throat out.” Dirk nods, almost as if to himself, and Mother sighs. “See you in the server in T-minus 5.”

 

“T-minus 10 – I need to go check on Rose. She should’ve crept back into the house by now, but my proximity alarms don’t show diddley squat. I must need to clean the cameras again,” Mother replies, sending a shot of childish ‘out of bed’ fear through your heart. You were nearly lulled into compliance, forgetting where you were. “But don’t you dare hunt for Endermen without me Di-Stri. I’ll know if you do!”

 

Dirk simply says, “Hardass,” and then hangs up the call.

 

It seems your mom and your dad are going to play Minecraft together at midnight.

 

Before this information can come crashing down upon you with its implications, and before you mother’s behind has even left her super official Gamer Chair, you Youth Scamper back up to the first floor, where you hide in the bathroom pretending to take your mussed makeup off until your Mother presumably holes herself back downstairs to wile the night away with one conundrum stacked on top of another.

 

It’s almost like there’s conundrums all the way down, or something.

 

...You need to talk to Dave. And John.

 

You slip between purple satin sheets and go to bed with a sore neck and a full head, staring out from your safe little bubble into the dark woods with its stripped trees and full evergreens. You compose entire conversations in your head with only half a mind, occasionally prodding your canines with a curious tongue. They feel normal-sized.

 

Not for the first time, you yearn for Jade’s presence. Like a mythical creature prophesied to erase all of your worries, the reality of that myth notwithstanding. It is a comfort to think of her. That is all.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

One thing Bro hasn’t dared to outright ban you from is your internet, which is how you end up playing VRchat with Rose and The Most Illegal John on the third evening of your two-week long Winter Break.

 

You don’t actually have the VR portion of the Chat, playing it on just your PC while John and Rose have the PS4-VR setup. Although John doesn’t have arm or leg trackers because his dad was afraid of online creeps who prey on kids with full-body tracking, Rose has the full setup because her mom like, didn’t care or something. Or trusts her way more. It’s up for debate.

 

Rose has one constant avatar – a tiny demonic pillowcat. She has a voice modulator that makes her sound like Satan, which is unnerving when coupled with everything she is capable of saying on a daily basis, though she does turn it off when in private voice channels.

 

You and John have a real knee-slappin’ time cycling through avatars of only the purest of Anime Waifus. Boys in a boy’s playground, you both go without voice modulators.

 

And yet you continue to get signaled out by dumbass questions like ‘are you a trap’ or ‘are you a girl? Pretending to be a boy isn’t working sweetie’ almost every single play session. It’s rote at this point. John, at least, sounds exactly the way a ‘squeaker' online is supposed to sound like: annoyingly pitchy boyteen.

 

John fucking loves it, thinks it’s hilarious. He’ll go, “Guuuys stop harassing my girlfriend,” in a big crowd of people as if that’ll help anything. You get swarmed in an instant by the local Trigger-Happy Incel Brigade, which always seems to be around whenever y’all’re playing. One time, when what sounded like an honest-to-fuck nine-year-old kid told you to, “go ginger your snatch, ho,” you’d decided it was time to log off for a few months until your voice sounded less like you hadn’t hit any form of puberty yet.

 

Although that led to that one time you basically broke John’s nose while he was playing VRchat and you were practicing flips in his room.

 

To be fair to yourself – his room is bigger than yours. You were bored and lonely and still avoiding VRchat. John was livestreaming and you couldn’t help but be a background commentator, and John liked it when you did that because you’re fucking hilarious.

 

Some random person who’d been stalking John all day, presumably to get in on his modestly viewed livestream, was like: “Why the hell are you screaming!?”

 

And John, cradling both his bleeding nose and his (thankfully, shit’s expensive) unbroken headset was like: “Because the fricking flip wizard that is my boyfriend just broke my nose!!”

 

That whole sequence of events actually landed him (and you by proxy as causer of said events, you guess) on some of the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it popular ‘vrchat cringe’ videos that got more views than John’s original livestream itself where it happened real time.

 

You got grounded for two weeks, but Bro knew a lot about broken noses so you were basically right back at John’s house anyways, barely even a punishment. (Totally ignoring how, once you saw John’s bruised face, smiling or no, the remorse wracked through you so hard that you re-enacted your most common form of outburst that night: sobbing into Bro’s chest like a baby who needed all of his problems to be fixed by his big brother.)

 

You’re currently being surrounded by a horde of Knuckles trying to look up your avi’s skirt when Rose invites you to a private server to voice chat on, and you click over with no hesitation, content to let these dubiously aged Dead Memes look at simulated white fabric covered in the weed emoji.

 

Rose begins, cryptically, in her normal non-Satan voice, with, “We need to wait for John – I have something that I need to tell you two.”

 

Your first hopeful thought is news about Jade.

 

But then John logs onto the private chat and she comes right outta the gate like, “Dave and I are siblings, twins to be exact according to our birthdates, and we are also half-vampires, because our father, Dirk Strider, is a vampire, and my mother knew this when she had us.”

 

And you go, “what” and then you go, “dude, no?”

 

And she goes, “Dude. Yes.” Remorselessly, she details a wacky hijinks adventure involving her alien-vampire (oh sorry you mean ‘rainbowdrinker’ which sounds both appropriately gay and also, like, childish in the MLP way) girlfriend and dropping some nasty eaves on her mom and y’all’s… dad, you guess.

 

And then you know it’s fucking serious.

 

John’s silence is broken as he begins to ask questions, reasonable ones, like, “So do you guys drink blood??” and, “Does Dave’s Bro drink blood????” and, “Oh dude that’s so weird he’s like, your dad? Your dad’s a vampire! Dave that’s so -”

 

“I kinda already knew,” you say, mumble, fuck you might not’ve done anything at all but you don’t remember when you got like this – leaning back in your chair to a dangerous degree, hands over your eyes, partially knocking into your mic.

 

You realize that it’s true scant seconds after it’s actually left your mouth and wow, vertigo is real and it’s impolite. You land your feet back on the floor with an audible thump that could’ve sounded through molasses for all it registers to you.

 

The chat is dead quiet, and then explodes into a flurry of noise that you generally ignore so that you can stumble your way through some kind of explanation, anything’s better really than just tacking on, “About the Bro being a vamp part, not the part about Rose’s mom being my mom...” But nothing is forthcoming, nothing so helpful slithers out of your soupy brain and taps you on the shoulder with more answers from the Ghost Of Christmas Fucked Up Buried Pasts.

 

Rose is trying her damnedest to ask you, “What do you mean you already knew?” and John is lamenting over how he never would’ve figured Bro was a vamp, much less you and Rose, peppered with nervous giggles aplenty that normally would’ve meant you'd drop everything to make him not be anxious anymore, but right now you fuck off from the private channel and then, after some kid screams their lungs out about, “IS THAT HEYIMBEE!???” you log out of VRchat altogether.

 

Bro’s a vampire.

 

You, somehow, knew this. You only just now realized, literally just now, that you knew this. Know this.

 

Why did you know this? You don’t have answers.

 

You abruptly wish that you hadn’t shut Rose out like that, thinkin’ maybe she would’ve been fuckin’ helpful right about now, could’ve pinned your questions down like butterflies to be examined in death, coveted for their information. Should’ve stuck around to console her, maybe, surely this must be a big shock to her.

 

Then again, you think as you’re suddenly standing in front of your bedroom door with your hand on the knob listening to Bro open and close the oft forgotten basement door, she’s such a creepy goth girl that she’s probably secretly thrilled deep deep down about being a bloodsucker, creature of the night sorta deal. It’ll match her girlfriend’s aesthetic, whatever ‘rainbowdrinker alien lesbian in hiding’ can even mean when translated to aesthetic. Prolly something dope as hell.

 

You step out into the lucid dream version of your living room. Bro’s at his computer, but he gets up and walks over to you in slow motion that’s really just normal motion but you blink too fast. Or something. You don’t know. Info flashes in front of your screen-like eyes about how people in pitch-black caves start to hallucinate ducks because there’s water nearby and their brain assumes there’ll be ducks, so it creates them, fills them in.

 

“Need to talk to you,” the vampire opens with. His shades are hung up on his shirt collar. His bare eyes are a film of static, until your brain clears up like a foggy day gone sunny, and they’re - “Don’t look so jazzed, kid. When was the last time you slept.”

 

Orange. Bro’s eyes are orange, like Fanta orange. Your eyes are red, like Coca Cola red, y’know, the last time you looked.

 

“Was in VRchat with John and,” you try to say Rose’s name but it dies somewhere in your throat where the guilt sets up a border wall against her specifically. Against sisters with purple eyes. “Played for too long ‘n now I don’t exactly feel like an Allstar, s’alright. What’d you wanna talk about?” You ask him, like a hypocrite that didn’t just run away from one difficult conversation only to leap into the arms of another. If you’d had a preemptive choice over which you could flee from before they’d happened and could only pick one, you would’ve chosen this one.

 

When Bro starts off this already stellar AF convo with, “You were playin’ with John?” You almost immediately get irrationally angry, just, completely T’d off so fast that it kinda scares you.

 

You give a surly, “Yeah,” and feel uncomfortable with how you’re both standing around in the middle of the living room, only light coming from the setting sun (blocked by heavy curtains, for Bro's sensitivity, for Bro in more ways than one) and Bro’s lowered brightness screens. The moment between speaking and not speaking and speaking again stretches unfairly thin, like old taffy nobody wanted and now the kids are dicking around with it like it’s putty and not food.

 

Bro does this weird thing where he rubs his mouth before speaking. “Listen, ‘bout John – I’m sorry, but you’re gonna have to drop him like it’s hot if this datin’ shit keeps up, cuz’, kid, y’see -”

 

Your lips pull back and you make a derisive snort, your voice too forceful when you steamroll over him, “Stop dude fuck don’t tell me you’re ‘sorry’ when you know goddamn well I have no way of fuckin’ knowin’ if you mean it or if you’re just gettin’ me to shut up.”

 

You know you’ve fucked up before you even opened your mouth, when that nasty expression first graced your snotty little face, but the way Bro stops breathing, stops pretending to be human for your sake, still and noiseless the way a body shouldn’t be, sends actual fucking chills down your spine.

 

He says, real even and quiet, “Do you think I’m sorry, Dave?” And you think you maybe kind of piss yourself a little.

 

“No…!” You don’t know, not really, that’s the fucking point, “Or else why would you be buttin’ in so much? Everythin’ would be better if you’d just never found out, if this had all just stayed one big secret forever and I never had to come to terms with it I could just stick my head in the floor right now and never come back up, I’d be the world’s best ostrich please I swear to god -”

 

Wait, what the hell are you talking about again? You go woozy for a moment, floaty, like you aren’t quite real, something teasing you just out of your peripherals, but when you turn, you find you’re still standing in your living room with Bro right in front of you.

 

You don’t know how much time that took, which is a weird thing to think, because why wouldn’t looking around take more than a second? And for some reason, that alone consumes you in worry. Feels like you’re in danger.

 

In the dead silence mixed with your residual confusion, you look up and see the flash of his bright vermilion eyes bearing down upon you. “You had better calm down, li’l boy. All I did was ask you a question.”

 

You flinch from somewhere deep, deep down inside of you that you wish you were allowed to forget, allowed to push aside why you know what he feels like when he’s pissed.

 

Bro goes still, again, and for a reason you wish would leave you the fuck alone right now, that scares you more than anything he could’ve done – told you to never talk like that to him, told you to learn your place or else he’d teach you your place and you don’t want that, you don’t don’t want that, anything but –

 

He adjusts his hat once, which for him is basically like if he were to tap-dance in the rain while screaming his insecurities into the sky. “Dave.”

 

You’re shaking in a way that you used to think was purely fictional, only movie actors did this, and maybe really cold people. But you don’t think you’re cold. It’s uncontrollable, and your brain seems to shake the worst, robbing you of most of your senses, you’re blind, you’re numb, you’re upset and you can’t feel your right hip for some reason. Why though, why’s that never happened before, why –

 

His eyes are a weird color. So are yours. (Rose’s...)

 

“Sorry,” you stutter, “Sorry Bro, I gotta go, I got- I got -” You stumble away from him, back towards your bedroom, can’t fucking remember why the hell you came out in the first place, double pun intended, “I got stuff, I gotta do- sorry -” Your hip hits the door frame and you don’t feel it.

 

Holy fuck dude you are trippin’, you think, watching Bro’s body float towards you with something in his face that you hate seeing, the way he looks like he doesn’t know what to do. You hate it when he doesn’t know what to do, hate that you know what that looks like, hate being aware of it.

 

Dave.”

 

“Don’t say my name like that,” you mumble, maybe to yourself maybe to him who goddamn well knows at this point shit you just need to get inside where it’s? Safe? “Don’t say my name like that...”

 

You shut the door in his face so that you don’t have to look at it anymore.

 

It’s all lost to you, what happens afterwards.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

In the summer between turning from eight to nine, somebody burned your Bro’s Houston apartment down with you in it.

 

You barely remember it – repressed memories or some mumbo jumbo you try to avoid thinking about, which is probably what got you into this whole ‘in denial so hard I go legitimately crazy’ situation in the first place. You can’t even bring yourself to think about what this all must be like for Bro, at what point he realized your damaged little kid brain forgot all about it, strategically setting a trap to spring on you later once you were more grown up to handle the memory. Can’t stand to think about if he knew how fuckin’ delicate that balance all was, if all it took to tip you over was one flighty broad doing the right thing and inserting the gateway drug directly into your brain.

 

You were apparently a suspiciously easy to handle kid before that – you didn’t cry about nothin’ (when you could help it,) not even getting ‘trained’ on a hot roof with the shittiest swords known to mankind, Bro’s hands full of puppets that would act like a shin guard except for everything and the kitchen sink. You remember him being very fast, and wonder if he got slower? Or slowed down on purpose to avoid frightening you, or the neighbors.

 

Rememberin’ this makes ten million things all come to the front of your mind like a bombardment, like opening mail only it’s actually a glitter bomb sent by the most soulless person you know. You try to focus on stuff that’s important, but it’s all scary, overwhelming. You aren’t doing a very good job of deciding what is and isn’t relative; you wish Bro were here but instead all you do is sweat out cold fear, crouched over the toilet, staring into water without really seeing.

 

You don’t know when or how you got in the bathroom, what time it is, anything, nothing at all, but it registers distantly that the lights are off, yet you can see near perfect outlines of everything. The unwanted reflection of your red eyes in latrine water…

 

It’s time to stop being and start thinking. As if you have a choice in this scenario, dragged behind your own brain stem by the ankles as it runs wild and free through the midwest.

 

What time it is seems especially irrelevant, your world narrowed down to one dark bathroom, the only noises being involuntarily eked from a body you are not currently the pilot of.

 

He used to tell you that he was doing it to you because there were people you had to know how to defend yourself against. ‘Hunters’, he called them. You didn’t say squat to convince him otherwise because you were a little kid and you loved him more than life itself, more than all the applesauce in the world, believed everything he’d ever told you. He was God, if God were made out of cardboard and snuff.

 

You have no doubt that he knew all about it, too. Orchestrated and encouraged it every time he told you to ‘get up’, ‘one more try’, and the way he’d say your name, glass of water in the desert, and those would be the only words he spoke to you for a week solid. Convinced himself that morals weren’t necessary, and that he knew best because it was all connected to some grand plan he hadn’t had come crashing down around him yet.

 

Bro’s always been fucked up like that.

 

(Except, this one time? You’d asked Bro why he picked the smelliest sunscreen on the face of the earth to slather you in.

 

He’d taken off his shades and pinned you with bright, near neon orange eyes and said, as if to convince you more than himself, that “You have a sensitive nose.”

 

And all you did was scoff overly-loud in a childish way and say, “Nope I don’t or else I wouldn’ have my window open in the summer with all the trash the shitty neighbors pile outside.”

 

Bro had stared at you for a long moment, got up, then sat down on his futon with his face in his hands.

 

Yea you still don’t know wtf that was about. Maybe he was so unprepared to be a parent that he had meltdowns over really small shit?)

 

Anywhoozie – turns out he was right, only no amount of ‘training’ ever prepared you for what really happened: some group who were just really fucking gung ho about killing all vamps ever, including seemingly reformed family men with an eight year old immunocomprimised kid to take care of and an honest-ish job to go to. (Film for? Fuck, not thinking about it.)

 

Well like… he wasn’t right about trying to ‘train’ you; throwing your kid around of a concrete rooftop with pointy objects involved? Bad.

 

Depriving your kid of food because you don’t need food? Bad.

 

Leaving your kid alone for days at a time starting at the tender age of four because you can’t deal with your own responsibilities? Bad.

 

Realizing you were wrong and making an effort to be better? ...Good.

 

You’re literally allergic to the sun on some biological level that has less to do with an average human’s aversion to radiation and might be? Magical?? Okay so turns out you don’t know anything about vampires and you’ll be fucked if you ask Rose or Bro right now, not after your little tantrum.

 

Jesus christ you can’t believe you said that stuff to him. You don’t entirely understand what past-you was thinkin’ when you went out of your room as soon as you heard Bro come back up from the basement. Maybe like a dog about to die, you wanted to go back to the last place that you were sick, like getting comfort from maggots –

 

(Heat and metal that burns… Flames and swords colliding and older men being brutal to you when you can’t protect yourself, you just have to let them, just have to take it…)

 

You retch into the toilet bowl, temporarily disoriented as to where you are, and more importantly: when.

 

God you are so fucked up.

 

And you feel fucked up for being grateful that you haven’t seen a shitty sword or literally anything more dangerous than maybe one of Bro’s grubby old pocket knives since that day, when everything burned. You don’t doubt he could buy more – they were seriously shitty swords, not actually meant for combat. ‘Perfect’ for a little kid he didn’t really wanna cut… prolly.

 

Your retch turns into a little sob and you collapse next to the toilet to try and relax for a second, microsecond, literally anything, wiping sweat, snot, and tears off with a hand you haven’t cleaned.

 

This is exhausting. It hurts, you ache, you want comfort, not this. It hurts.

 

You can’t stop.

 

You can’t remember everything. You don’t want to anyways – don’t want to fully realize what it was like to inhale smoke and yet still uncontrollably scream your lungs out while witnessing your battered vamp dad eviscerate and suck dry multiple men in dark clothing. You shake as you feverishly infer that maybe Bro was drinking (blood, blood, oh god oh man you assumed it was just a random phobia not this, not this) as he went because it might’ve been a source of energy or something? To keep fighting with.

 

But you know what it looks like to see your favorite childhood stuffed animals catch fire, what burned flesh smells like, and what violence personified feels like when he’s high as fuck off of blood lust and can barely seem to remember why he’s fighting, who he’s fighting for, as he rounded on you –

 

(“Dave.”)

 

– and curled you up under his ribs, tearing out an already broken window, leaving everything behind… but you.

 

(“Don’t say my name like that… Don’t say my name like that...”)

 

You breathe in deeply, then out for longer.

 

Fuck, dude.

 

Oh, but then he took you on like, this road trip? And there was this amusement park that you can’t recall in what state and what it was even named because you’d never left Texas until that point, and there was this water park that you fucking loved to death. You’d never been swimming before then and Bro just, really fucking patiently taught you how, bought you pink flamingo floaties, a matching towel (that may still exist somewhere in the house idk), and all the novelty foodies you could get your eager little hands on; rock candy, shaved ice and adzuki beans, ‘ketsup’ and fries aplenty.

 

It was the most gently hands-on he’d ever been with you. Constantly holding you, re-applying your sunscreen every hour and a half for you, tipping your sunhat down to cover your face more. You were king of the world and you were only four-foot-nothin’ and traumatized, but apparently quickly getting over it, or at least shoving it as far back into the meat freezer in your mind as possible to be used as a secret ‘get grown up quick’ tool later.

 

You’re pretty sure he has a picture of you that day, but you’re lobster red and close to tears in it. Somebody had yelled at Bro to get ‘his toddler’ out of the way of a stroller. You were almost nine. It was insulting.

 

The first time you’d felt like a normal ass kid; the end of something and the beginning of something. You wish it was hard to compare the Bro of the past with the Bro you know now, but it isn’t. They fit together like puzzle pieces, or maybe mirror images, only one put a sword to your throat while you tried not to sob to ‘teach you a lesson’ and the other buys you strawberries when you’re sad and let’s you terrorize him with Coraline theories until your throat is raw and he practically carries you to bed.

 

Now that your coma baby brain has decided to unveil the prequel to your tragic backstory, you can now pretty safely pin down when exactly Bro went from Cold Vamp Bro to Autistic Dweeb Bro, and it was sometime in between the fire itself and what you can only describe as him begging someone on a burner cell in one of the many cheap motels he’d taken you to during the road trip to let him cash in a favor he was owed.

 

“Nooo, Rox, not Crocker...” He’d groaned with the most amount of emotion you had ever heard coming from him. It was simultaneously appalling and awesome. “Egbert’s son…? He’s got his own kid now...” He’d side-eye’d you, eyes sunset. You’d tugged the cheap blanket over your head and giggled in the dark, full of some sick mix between anxiety and adoration.

 

(It’s a distinct mix that has not, actually, faded with time, as you realize.)

 

Three weeks and one amazing Weenie Hut Jr. day later, you were in Washington, meeting John Egbert, and moving in to your new room in your new house, getting signed up for your first Elementary School down the block while Bro and Mr. Egbert talked about nutritious meal plans and age-appropriate movies. You didn’t realize it at the time, but Bro looked oddly young next to a ‘real dad.’ He still does, actually. Mr. Egbert’s got crow’s feet now – Bro’s got a new Kimba The White Lion vintage t-shirt.

 

Wack. Like seriously wack-ass crazy. It didn’t feel crazy at the time because you didn’t know it was supposed to, but now… Now you know better. Now you get to feel the full brunt of it all, finally understanding…

 

Hell in a handbasket, you don’t wanna understand.

 

How the fuck are you gonna look Bro in the eyes, his magically enthralling eyes (that don’t seem to work on you…?) when all you can think about right this second is what he’ll look like when you’re thirty-five. What you’ll look like when you’re thirty-five.

 

Lord have mercy this is bad, this is the pits, it’s shit, you wish Bro were here just as much as you wish he’d disappear forever and never fucking come back even though that’s not true, you’d never want him to disappear, you’d fucking die if he left, you’d fucking die –

 

You feel him before you see or hear him – a presence existing in the ajar doorway of the bathroom. You don’t lose time as he steps in. He doesn’t flip the switch. His eyes are just as orange in the dark as they are in the light.

 

Shivering and shaking, you feel like you need to run before you explode into a million nerves all cherry-picked by your ancestors specifically for this scenario, but instead you force yourself to hug your ribcage so tightly that it hurts as Bro glides over with nary a sound and crouches down in front of you.

 

“Nightmare.” He doesn’t ask, he tells you, and you find yourself nodding with little to no critical thought behind the action.

 

You croak out, “Fire...” because you don’t think you’re capable of breaking both of your hearts right now should you have said something like ‘metal’ or ‘you’re a fucking manipulative shitwad vampire and I think I hate you.’

 

When he doesn’t do anything for an extended moment, it scares you, makes you think he’s called your bluff that isn’t really a bluff, but a sanity-saving omit. You stretch your arms out in desperation – you don’t want robot Bro right now, don’t want that man who looks at you blankly like he ain’t never seen you before in his life, you want your brother, you want him to hold you, you want him to comfort you, want to be coddled and told it’ll be okay, you want, you want, you want –

 

Bro finally reaches towards you and brings you to his chest and it’s like fucking relief, like you were made for wrapping your legs around his waist and crying into his shoulder like a goddamn child while he carries you out of your sickroom and into his own, letting you claw at his back when he sits down on his bed with the unrumpled sheets, letting you sob and snot and wail your everything all over his shirt in the dark of winter with little to no explanation.

 

It doesn’t last long – pretty quickly your body seems to catch up with the situation and decides to remind you that it's gone through an unknown period of time filled with pure stress and not much else, and you can’t find the energy to cry anymore, much less cling to Bro in a vertical position.

 

Bro’s good at realizing stuff like that, and lays you down after finally messing up the covers to pull them over you like a weird little burrito of safety that you tiredly decide that you enjoy and approve of. He leaves the bed for a few minutes, pulling out his frankenstein of a laptop that you swear is from the decade before this one, setting up a random ep of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic before re-joining you on the bed.

 

“Yaaaas, bitch,” you try to say, but it’s so hoarse you’re unsure if it came out as anything resembling spoken language. He laughs at you, which any other time you’d be offended at, but then he pulls a water bottle out of his frankly insanely deep sweatpant's pocket and opens it for you.

 

You accidentally fall hard asleep in between Bro raising the bottle to your lips and the next blink, wherein Pinkie Pie’s bright visage sticks behind your eyelids like a burnt-in TV screen. You sink somewhere dark, timeless, and safe.

 

(...but your mind, unpacified, doesn’t want to give you such an easy reprieve.)

 

You don’t explicitly decide to plainly communicate your feelings clearly for once, but all that comes out of you is a barely-there whisper of, “I’m so scared.”

 

He let’s you say it into his shoulder where you’re draped bonelessly, him kneeling like at a confessional, only it’s just you and him here, where there is nothing holy for him to touch, nothing sacred for him to ruin.

 

(except you, his effigy)

 

I know,” he mouths into your temple. Your most valuable body part.

 

Please,” you beg this night creature for salvation, for peace, for happiness, “please dad I’m so scared, make me less scared, please Bro I’ll do anything.”

 

It says, “I can’t.” It says, “Babies with no brains still cry and suck hours after being born before dying quiet.”

 

You wake up in the same way you think it must feel to be thrown into an ice bath; one second you’re ass deep in ‘stupid contrived metaphorical dreamland’ and the next you’re instinctively looking around in the dark for a clock, only to remember Bro’s room doesn’t have one of those for some reason that's more likely to trigger an existential crisis than be funny.

 

Can’t hardly see shit because Bro’s room is the one with the full-on blackout curtains, but a faint light comes from his franken-laptop on the desk across the room from you. On the screen is what you identify as a Pesterchum window, but it’s too far away for you to snoop. You can spot your red username, though, and it sets off a chain of conflicting reactions throughout your gut. Most of it is bitter confusion over why he even has your chumhandle if he’s never graced you with his pestering before.

 

You almost don’t notice him at first, tucked away at his workbench to the left. He’s dark amongst darkness, but the occasional clink of his tools rings out, and his outline, bent over something metal but unidentifiable, filters into your brain like a picture on an old etch-sketch. You’ve never had one, but you know from Elf that you shake it rapidly to erase the image.

 

Bundled away in a bed that doesn’t even have the courtesy to smell like him, you gaze at your Bro through a thick layer of anxiety and curiosity. You wonder if this is yet an ‘I know you know’ situation, and what Bro will do about it.

 

Practically against your own will, you immediately decide that there’s no way you can keep your new/old knowledge a secret from him forever. You just also have no idea what you’re going to do about it.

 

That’s a lie – you’re going to tell John. You’re going to tell Rose. You’re going to wish Jade were okay and here still.

 

But first… You roll over and go tf back to sleep. Nowhere safer to sleep than in the lair of the dragon, you reason.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

After a day full of some truly subdued interactions with your brotherdad, where you’d both just kinda chilled within five feet of each other until one of y’all apparently had had enough and mutually separated to go do your own things, you devise a brilliant plan to sneak John in through your bedroom window.

 

You manage to execute it near-perfectly, if only it weren’t for a CERTAIN SOMEONE who won't stop giggling nervously and asking dumb questions like, “Do you think he’ll smell my dirty shoes with his super nose? Should I leave them outside, Dave?”

 

Goddammit. You glance behind yourself at your bedroom door as if that’ll help warn you over whether or not Bro can ‘super-hear’ you from down in the basement where the washer and dryer are. A place you aren’t willing to go yourself ever since that Incident when you first moved in where you’d tripped, busted your lip, needed stitches. Place still gives you the creeps – it’s Bro’s domain. He can do the laundry.

 

“You’d better stfu or else we’ll both end up as just another link down the Ashvlogs rabbit hole,” you warn your clumsy ass boyfriend as he practically falls flat onto your bedroom floor before hopping up like a happy bunny and smiling at you with an adorably confused expression.

 

“The what rabbit hole?”

 

If you were a weaker species, you’d pout. But you’re not, so you whine instead. “You never watch anything I send you, man. It’s like I’m just a Funtime Foxy to you, think you can just look at me every now and again and I’ll be fuckin’ satisfied with that kinda weaksauce attention and won’t need more, Johnbert? Have you even met me, seriously – I’m like one of those chihuahua’s that screams bloody murder if someone isn’t touching them at all times.”

 

Johnbert grins and pats your arm, like it’s consolation or something. “Oh, well, if it’s you who sent it, of course I didn’t watch it. Everything you send me is creepy.”

 

“Man if that’s how you feel about my witch house music and babybones ‘dark Youtube’ shit then you’re not gonna like this,” you tell him as you scratch at your nose and sit down on your bed. John sits down next to you, eyes open and waiting. “Uh… So… Ever read like, vampire fanfiction or smth?”

 

He immediately snorts into your face. Off to a great start here. “Only the stuff Rose sent me like, two years ago. I think it was for that anime, Yuri On Ice? Yeah she doesn’t talk about YOI anymore, pretends like she never had that phase hehe.”

 

“Oh so you’ll look at the stuff Rose sends you but not my stuff? I see how it is.”

 

“Well that’s because I know that the worst she’ll send me is like, pretentious erotic butt-thulu stuff and not like, ‘hey 4chan wanna see someone’s face getting chopped off?’” He placates you with, as if that’s not massively weird and concerning.

 

She’s never sent you vaguely erotic Lovecraftian literature. You feel slighted and repulsed at the same time. Plus Nexpo totally proved that the 'face chopped off' video was a hoax!

 

You also probably said some of that out loud because John replaces his serviceable snort with a totally unacceptable chuckle. “Dude, remember when your Bro was like, ‘you ever listen to Mother Mother’s Hay Loft, John’ and like I didn’t say anything except ‘yea’ but it was super weird and also not subtle at all. I can’t believe we missed that.” He nods to himself and his upper front teeth nibble at his lip before he glances over at you. “Then again, he is kinda just… like that? No offense, Dave.”

 

“So much offense taken that I might have to bite you and suck your blood now,” you say in a rush, completely awkward and not smooth at all.

 

John pales a little bit, which is not a very cash money look on him, especially not when you’ve caused it. “Uh, uhm. Uhhhhhh… Maybe buy me a drink first? Ehe.” But it’s weak and he’s obviously uncomfortable. “You wanna prove that you’re a vampire or something?”

 

You crumple back onto your bedspread and groan, but quietly tho. “I mean, yeah? It’s kinda hauntin’ me, like a Gengar but it’s not lookin’ for a new trainer to give it a happyhealthy home, it’s tryin’ to uproot my one single cherry blossom tree, right? And then it refuses to tell the truth about it, so I’ll just be sittin’ here with this broke ass cherry tree and a brother who ain’t ever gonna tell me the truth either, so I might as well go find it myself. Carve a sword out of the wood I got left and just get going.”

 

John nods a bit, the bobblehead. Then he lights up and pokes you in the stomach, where you suck it in and make some kind of wheezing noise in protest. “Haha, dude of course your Bro is a vampire! He, like, never leaves the house and we’ve never seen him eat anything!”

 

“Really? I just kinda thought it was because he’s a big black man in a mostly white neighborhood. The eatin’ part’s got me though.”

 

“Oh shit yea good point.” John lays down flat next to you. “Makes you wonder how the heck a black vampire ended up in Texas?”

 

“Yea I know right,” you muse, a whole slurry of new questions erupting that really are not helpful right now, such as what Bro’s life was like before you, and how long ago that was. “With a sun-averse half-vamp kid, too, apparently. Like what the hell was the significance there?”

 

John mushes his mouth up in concentration and shrugs laxly. “Maybe he was like, born there? Or ‘turned’ into a vampire there. Who knows.”

 

“Yea,” you say, half-aware, “who knows.”

 

You both lay quietly for a soft moment. The open window lets in more cold air than you’re truly comfortable with, but the only other option is closing it and leaving John without an escape route.

 

John’s chewing on the inside of his mouth again. You preemptively brace yourself for whatever he’s mentally chewing on as well to come tumbling inelegantly out of his mouth, and he does not disappoint you.

 

“Sooo… wanna nibble on my neck now?” He proffers with a shitty little grin in your direction. “I promise I’ll keep quiet so that your Bro doesn’t come in and high-five us so hard that we rocket into another dimension where you’re dating some totally different guy and I, like, died fighting a final boss or something.”

 

You fake-growl and roll over so that you’re limply layered overtop of him, and his dumb little ‘lol’ gives you the energy to bracket him in with your limbs until you’ve got some balance and can awkwardly shuffle your way up to his neck.

 

Balls to the wall, you stick your tongue all over in an obnoxiously spitty way, only to pull back in confused disgust. “Ew, John, what the fresh hell. This is the one day you decide to actually moisturize and it happens to be the one day I get hot and heavy with your neck. Jfc.”

 

John laughs so hard that he bounces you all over the place as he sits up, struggling not to make any of his usual guffawing noises that characterize his belly-laugh. “Ohh my gooooosh Dave you’re such a princess. Just hurry up and do it!”

 

You grumble ‘am not’ and re-seat yourself huffily, possibly producing one of the least sexy lap-sitting experiences ever conceived between dating teenagers.

 

Cocoa butter isn’t exactly gonna kill you, so you lick a few stripes into his neck where you think ‘biting’ will go over well, feeling the least kosher you have ever felt as you try not to make grossed out noises until John finally tastes like just John.

 

Despite his hands holding you steady, his even breathing showing the utmost unconcerned of states within your boyfriend considering the events that plan to transpire here, you can’t seem to find the actual drive to place your teeth on his throat, much less bite through.

 

“Okay so I just realized that I have no idea how to do this,” you announce, way too close to John’s neck still, staring at brown skin like you’re afraid if you lean back to look at his face you’ll forget what you were doing. “Like, I have blunt teeth? Won’t you just like, bleed the fuck out from my cereal box shaped bones ripping into your skin? I don’t exactly have pinpoint syringes to work with here.”

 

John hums and pulls you back. He grabs your face and squishes your cheeks, and you make an indignant noise before he goes, “Open,” in such a confident way that you are momentarily incapable of thinking of a counter-point to that. You open your mouth.

 

Your boyfriend-cum-dentist makes a few considering noises. “Yup, think I’d die.”

 

Well.

 

You shut your mouth on his finger, and he gives out a mock-yell that’s still pretty quiet, all things considered, and then pulls his finger out before you can actually bite it instead of pretending to be one of those kid’s toys where you like, examine an alligator’s teeth but there’s a timer and the alligator will chomp your hand or something. Idk you’ve never had one before. Let’s get this shit back on track. “So what now, Doctor Egbert? I’m a baby vamp who’s a virgin bloodsucker and I need lessons.”

 

Doctor Egbert sucks on his teeth like you didn’t just tell a sexy joke that deserves a laugh. He carelessly unseats you, spilling you onto your side on the bed with little dignity. “I have an idea. Do you still have that weird old pocket knife you stole from Bro in like sixth grade?”

 

You sit up and try not to whine about everything and nothing at all. “Uh, yeah? Under the head of my bed.”

 

John makes a happy noise as he plucks it out. “Okay, so we’ll just make a tiny cut with this and then you can uh, lick it up like a puppy!” He sniks open the knife. The sound fills you with directionless dread.

 

And yet all you do is watch as John, still smiling like nothing is wrong, presses the open silver blade into the meat of his palm, and pushes down. His skin bows.

 

When you open you mouth, it’s to instinctively shout a terrified, “Stop!” halfway getting up from the bed only to trip the rest of the way, grabbing the knife in the least safe way possible. You chuck it away somewhere you don’t look, and it makes a loud clattering noise.

 

John’s palm is unharmed. You sag into his arms as he holds you up, he himself pretty shaken at your emotional outburst.

 

He opens his mouth, most unfortunately, right as Deja Vu Bro 2.0 flings the door away. It leaves a hole in the wall.

 

RRRRRIHUOITEHSUDJPTKNSL!!!!!!!!!!

 

Only this time, instead of stopping at the threshold and telling John to fuck off, Bro stalks in a beeline. It’s like some kind of fucked up nightmare, and you can physically feel how John stiffens and sucks in a breath. Despite his air-headed, optimistic attitude about most things, John still gets scared.

 

Bro peels you two apart, both frozen like prey, and keeps walking further into the room with a painful-looking grip on John’s upper arm. His blue eyes meet yours; he’s genuinely afraid right now. You don’t let go of his hand until the last possible moment.

 

For one single point in time that feels stretched into infinity, your fingers stay grasped down to the very tips, painful in their desperation.

 

Near, far, wherever you are…

 

And then Bro fucking yeets John out the open window onto the side lawn. He lands on his ass and then keeps going like a bowling ball, ending up with his legs all up in the air before finally coming to a halt, glasses askew, eyes wide with surprise.

 

You fucking gawp as Bro slams the window down, somehow not shattering it, and then takes his normal ass thumb, and pops those huge metal screws loosely inserted into the bottom of the window’s pane in one by one. It takes you at least three screws in to realize that he’d put them there when y’all first moved in for a future reason, and that reason is now.

 

Grabbing at the sides of your own face, you babble, “Is he hurt? Did you fuckin’ hurt him, Bro? Stop makin’ like John Fuckin’ Henry over there and answer me, omg -”

 

Bro, done with desecrating your freewill by bolting your window entirely shut, turns around and looks down at you, making your insides shrivel. “Do you think I’d hurt John?”

 

You flail a little. “YES!” You slap the window where, outside, John is picking himself up from the grass in a daze, before Bro abruptly pulls your blinds and curtain back down, and you have to snatch your hand away lest it get snapped with plastic. “You just threw a kid out a goddamn window! You don’t do that, Bro, you’re not supposed to do shit like that!”

 

“He’s not a kid,” says this grown ass man, “He’s fifteen.”

 

You feel flushed with both anger and embarrassment. You hate the implied ‘he can take it’, hate how he turns it back around on you as if complaining about him mistreating your boyfriend is childish or insulting to John’s, what, ‘manhood’??

 

“I’ll call Jeff,” you mumble, then, with your madcap confidence, you grow louder and declare, “I’ll call Mr. Egbert.” You can’t find anything to follow up that threat with – Mr. E is the threat.

 

Bro does that frozen statuette thing again, head tilting too fast, too unnatural, like a bird’s but not, and you feel an acute sense of horror that causes you to shiver, and then not be able to stop.

 

“You should calm down, Dave.” Your eyes physically cannot follow him when he moves backwards so quickly, filling out the open doorway to your bedroom before you can even blink. “John is fine.”

 

“I am goddamn calm!” You practically screech like someone who is not calm at all, before sprinting forward as fast as you can. You refuse to be meekly closed away again.

 

The door shuts in your face, which nearly collides with it.

 

Try the doorknob, your mind screams, and you waste a few instinct-filled seconds getting in a fight with cold brass turned warm and sweaty.

 

Locked in again.

 

"What the hell!?" With the force of your shout, your voice cracks. Just like this door will if you have any say in it. "You can’t just lock me up every time I so much as glance at John! Fuck man I hate it when you get like this. Hey! HEEEEY!!"

 

You smack your foot against the door over and over again, but like a new puppy being put in their cage at night that needs to be taught how to shut the fuck up, he ignores you.

 

Holy shit this is getting ridiculous. It’s been ridiculous. You had some kind of paradigm shift epiphany less than 24 hours ago and this is the thanks you get???

 

"BRO! Let me out!"

 

Bro doesn’t even deign you with a scoff.

 

"DIRK!! Ill piss on this floor and break the window don’t fucking test me bro!"

 

No response.

 

"DAD! DAAAAAAAAA-"

 

The door is so abruptly opened that you nearly go careening out with the force of your own kick. A big hand claps you on the shoulder long enough to save you from faceplanting, but is gone just as quickly.

 

"Don’t be yellin’ like that. You’ve got all your gizmos and your nosh stash, dunno why you don’t wanna be in here," says Bro in a very Bro way. It does nothing to chill you out, though, it only makes you frustrated – he’s treating you like a child who’ll forgive and forget as easily as it always has. “Don’t kids wanna stay on the internet all day or somthin’, make all your worst decisions from the safety of your room.”

 

Oh so now you’re ‘just a kid’? Unbelievable. "Because I’m not a fuckin’ cave troll like you, and I wanna see my boyfriend more than once a year like two prisoners getting visitation rites." You get angry enough to huffily state, “And John isn’t a ‘worst decision’ you horse’s ass.”

 

Bro’s nose twitches. He likes horses. “Didn’t say you could have a little boyfriend.”

 

"And I didn’t ask! I’m sixteen now, I can have as many boyfriends as I can handle and you’re just gonna have to let me, cause you can’t control my life." Behind his eyes is a stubborn lack of comprehension. You smack your own leg and grumble under your breath, "Fuck even John’s dad is cooler with us than you are..."

 

"Yea well, John’s daddy ain’t your daddy – I am."

 

You clap your hands over your ears as if you can replace the word ‘daddy’ with literally anything else. "Oh my gOD, we’re not in Texas anymore, stop callin’ yourself 'daddy' as if you had an actual hand in raisin’ me that didn’t involve just thowin’ crazy fuck puppets and nets at me until I shut the fuck up! Or creatin’ these paranoid delusions of boogeymen that’d come kidnap me in the middle of the night if I didn’t learn how to use a shitty sword at age five and a half!"

 

Finally, finally, his face moves beyond stone. Now he looks uncomfortable, maybe bordering on pissed when he goes, “Dave -”

 

You take a deep breath and spit it back out. "Y’know maybe I want John’s dad to be my dad instead of you. Maybe I’ll go shotgun marry John, and his dad can be my dad in law. That would probably be 1000x better scenario than spending the next three years here with you, counting the days until I’m eighteen and you’re not legally obligated to house me anymore. I bet you’d fuckin’ like that huh? Then again, maybe you like somebody to control too much." You lick your lips, but they’re almost numb. “I bet you don’t want me to grow up and leave because then that means you don’t have anybody to play God with anymore.”

 

For a split second, Bro looks… lost. It makes you confused, and a bit weak at the knees, makes you feel bad. Tells you that you need to say ‘sorry,’ because Bro’s never looked like this before, and it’s all your fault.

 

But then his eyebrows point down. The air shifts into new territory, old territory, something you ain’t ready for either way.

 

Before he can crowd you back into your room, you take a hasty step to the side, back colliding with the wall instead, which is only marginally better considering you’re now trapped between a rock and a hard place.

 

“You said, ‘stop,’” he hisses with conviction and violence, pointed towards the only target in range, “So I made him stop.”

 

“What the fu… Is that what this is about??” Your face scrunches up in disbelief, shaking your head when he leans back out of your bubble a bit. “I only said ‘stop’ because he was gonna do something stupid. Normal stupid, not ‘break down the door and start World War Egbert’ stupid. Goddamn!”

 

Bro’s hands encase your shoulders and any bravery you may have held ever in your entire life evaporates as soon as he pins you with his eyes. They shine in the muted, artificial light of the house. “What d’you want me to do, Dave. Last time I tried to talk to you, you damn near fainted. Next time I found you, you were sick.” He shakes you once, firmly, and you can’t help but gasp. “What the hell is goin’ on with you? Huh?”

 

You sweat cold, and your stomach rolls, pressure finding you weak somewhere deep. You wish he’d let go, wish he’d look away. He does neither. His teeth are very white when he shakes you one more time, breath smells like virtually nothing, and sibilates, “Quit starin’ and answer me.”

 

Mouth loose, open, “I know this don’t matter much to you but,” you swallow bile, you feel your rabbit heartbeat closing in on critical heart attack conditions, “you’re scarin’ me.”

 

Almost comically, Bro’s mouth pops into a perfect ‘O.’ He lets go of your shoulders, leaving you chilled, and takes two big steps back until he’s hidden himself into a shadowed corner across from you. Beside him is the front room window, still blocked out with black shades that don’t quite hide the piercing, setting sun as it begins its descent into the uneven suburban horizon.

 

His supernatural eyes (wide) and the side outline of his face (young) are the only things visible.

 

Just lookin’ at him hurts you.

 

Good thing John chooses that moment exactly to come bursting in through the front door, which is dumb as hell considering he literally has a key and did not need to do any of that dramatic shit. You jump so badly you land funny on your right ankle, and it smarts.

 

Your boyfriend’s panting, shoving his phone into his back pocket, undoubtedly full of texts from Rose while he took his sweet ass time building up the courage to come back inside.

 

He must notice the tense atmosphere, because he stops at toeing the threshold, winter sun spilling in around him, casting him a golden boy. He doesn’t turn on the side lamp.

 

Still, he’s a tryhard, and he gets out a hesitant almost-shout of, “Mister Strider? Dave didn’t do anything wrong, it was all… me?” before he seems to realize that he cannot fucking see anything in this goddamn bat cave. “Uh, hello? Dave if you got dragged down to the basement and murdered please scream.”

 

“John I’m literally right here,” you say from beside your bedroom, and John ‘eeps’ and nearly steps brazenly towards you through the invisible mine field, relief already breaking over his open face, when you hiss, “Stop. Stay right there.”

 

His face freezes, and he walks no further, even goes so far as to rock back a bit. “Dave?”

 

You lick your lips and go, “yeah,” really inefficiently, while your eyes track the shadowed figure of your brother in the corner.

 

He’s not looking at you. He’s looking at John. His pupils suffuse with his iris and his eyes go black with violence.

 

You stop thinking, stop hesitating, stop trusting an outdated version of the crazy AI that must be running your brother’s thought processes – you run.

 

“Run, run, run John run -” You babble incoherently, grabbing John’s arm as you throw your body weight at him, bum-rushing the door. You don’t hear feet behind you, no such courtesy as to hear the danger coming, but you feel it, feel Bro, claws and teeth and all, “He can’t, he can’t go out it’s still daytime, just run!”

 

John, thank god, listens, propelling himself out the door as soon as you leap over the threshold yourself, nearly screaming as you feel a hand barely brush against your back.

 

For one stupid second, you look behind yourself, even though you could be free-falling right onto your own face for all you’re aware, and you spy eyes, and one black hand with the pale palm reaching out of the darkness of the house.

 

You have not the capacity to tell what kind of expression Bro has on his face, not from only his eyes, his open fingers stretched directly out into the sun with no studiously applied protection, so you stumble forward with your nails still digging into John’s shoulder, and you keep running scared.

 

Neither of you slow down or speak until you’re at John’s house, collapsing into his yard while you’re harshly allowed to become aware of how much it hurts to breathe, and how out of wack your hip feels. John sucks on his inhaler despite several years of not needing it, chest heaving in a way that makes you feel guilty.

 

John stares at you where you’re half-lounged back into the dead grass. Puffs of visible air come out of his nose at odd intervals, like he’s struggling to say something but keeps stopping himself.

 

“I talked to Rose,” he eventually gets out, blandly, almost too quiet. He licks his chapped lips when you do nothing, and he continues on an entirely different vein, “It’ll be okay, Dave.”

 

You, super idiot 9000, believe him immediately.

 

Mr. Egbert opens the front door. He must see something on your faces, what exactly you don’t got a clue, because all he says is, “Get inside, boys.” And you and John get the fuck inside.

 

You take one last glance down the street, gone blue with true sunset, light no longer peeking in between houses. Your scared mind cooks up an image of Bro suddenly appearing at the end of the lane, freed from the house when the sun finally retreats, but you force it away when Mr. Dad’s hand rubs your back.

 

Shuffling you inside, Mr. E leaves the porch light off when he shuts the door.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

 

John is set to the busywork task of chopping up onions by his dad. You’re thoughtlessly massacring some potatoes, unaware of who put these in front of you and handed you a mallet, but admitting that they probably made the right decision. Mr. Dad is in the other room, doing something on his phone. It’s a quiet evening inside of the Egbert household, and you put it there. The quiet, not the evening. That just kinda happens on its own, as far as you know.

 

Then again, what you ‘know’ about the world seems up for debate, and is more than willing to rapidly change right in front of your eyes. Or even worse – while you’re not looking.

 

“Owch.”

 

You turn away from your mindless mashing to glance at your boyfriend, who stands by the sink for easy rinsing. The faucet is running, actually, but all he’s doing is staring at his finger, one hand still on the ‘Cold’ knob; he’s frozen, for some reason.

 

His eyes meet yours. For a hot second, you can’t read his expression. It, surprisingly, unsettles you.

 

He lunges over and grabs your hand with his clean one, then tiptoes alarmingly quick past the unaware adult in the living room. He ghosts up the stairs, automatically avoiding every creaky spot, whereas you gotta concentrate.

 

You are a silent, confused devotee to the church of John’s Unexplained Ideas, and you like it that way normally, but right now you’re pretty wtf’d. You also belatedly realize that you’ve brought the spud-sy mallet with you. You abandon it in the bathroom without breaking John’s focused stride into his bedroom.

 

Before you can ask ‘hey what the shit are you okay should I have emotionally prepared for this do we need an adult,’ John shoves a bloody finger in your face, his pupils blown a little wide with, with something. It’s an abrupt moment too delicate to break with speaking, so you don’t. He’s so close your breaths mingle, which does its job of stealing any further constructive thoughts you may have. He forgot to turn the light on in his room – everything is an eerie blue glow.

 

At first glance, a growing oblong drop of dark red on brown, you’re just as afraid of blood as you’ve always been. But now, with conviction borne out of nightmares, you buckle up and refuse to let yourself look away. You wet your lips and cringe, glancing up to stall. John stands over you as you perch on the very edge of the bed, legs spread unnecessarily wide like he’s bracing himself to fully desecrate his childhood bedroom with honest-to-god blood drinking. It’s like every parent’s nightmare except it’s set in a 1980’s movie about like, growing up dangerous. To the soundtrack of Lost Boys. So it’s basically Lost Boys except without the forced het sex and there’s no motorbikes.

 

He nods, too frantically. It reminds you of sneaking kisses while his dad was home back before y’all were out, except now it feels perverted, and not in the sexy way. You keep having to mentally recall that you literally asked for this barely a few hours ago.

 

But it was in a different mindset, you whinge to yourself. Except you couldn’t do it, couldn’t be decisive, and now somebody else has to do it for you. John’s finger does not magically heal itself. It stares at you. It shakes a little.

 

Go ahead Dave – reap what you sow.

 

Profane to the max, you lean forward and lick his finger into your mouth almost timidly. He’s looking down at you with wildly intense eyes and you realize quickly that you can’t handle that right now, so you avert yours. Like some kind of idiot, you desperately try to convince yourself that it’s just like lazy kissing, when your mind and your eyes always wander.

 

It’s salty, and warm. It’s blood. You taste more of the onions that were on John’s finger than anything. You don’t know what you expect –

 

The blood starts flowing, not just a trickle but a thin stream at the touch of your tongue, and your face scrunches up in pain/confusion/pleasure because the blood is reaching down into your chest, your heart, and tugging at a spot you’ve never had touched before. You swallow in reflex. Life burns down your throat and deep into your belly, beyond, into your very veins themselves.

 

You must keep going – you can’t wait to stop – you must not stop – you can’t stop-

 

You are only distantly aware that you make some kind of noise, because John giggles nervously and says, “Geez, you really do drink blood, huh? Dave?”

 

Your eyes snap open (when did they close?) and you pull away. You have to make extensive efforts to get your own hands to stop gripping John’s in a position they weren’t in before, and when you do, you see stark white nail marks dug into his skin, already filling in with pink and then red – blood. Barely broken vessels.

 

Your brain metaphorically zooms in, and refuses to let you go.

 

Oh fuck oh god you need it, you need it you’ve never known to need something so badly before you could scream, cry, beg. John’s eyes go wide and shiny, making you think that you might already be begging, leaning forward with your mouth open, tongue already out like the world’s worst kisser.

 

You’re embarrassed – you’re enthralled – you need to get control of yourself – you need John, John, John please John just let me –

 

His arms come around you and you keen in loss, or maybe from being found, you can’t tell. He’s got a tight grip but you’re desperate. You feel his bones, and they aren’t so strong.

 

You need to stop. You need to stop struggling. You need to remember to breathe.

 

When you do, sucking in one great big breath that smells more like childhood friend safety love than blood, something comes slipping out of your loose mouth that sounds like, “Ohmygodhewasright.”

 

“What?” John muffles the question into your neck, and you shudder in vulnerability.

 

“Bro. He was… he was right. He told me it was, that it was too dangerous, it wasn’t safe, oh my god, oh my god Bro oh no -”

 

“What? That what isn’t safe?”

 

You swallow. It tastes like cherries, if cherries were rotted sweetly. “Me. You.” You sob airlessly into his shoulder like something inconsolable. “Johnny I’m gonna hurt you baby I wanted t’ hurt you, it’s so bad, it feels- feels like ain’t even in control anymore, we never should’a done this, oh god oh Bro help, help I fucked up, I -”

 

“Shhh, shh Dave! Your Bro isn’t here, my dad’ll protect us, it’s okay, shh...” John starts petting the back of your head and rocking, and you try to go limp, go non-offending, but you can only press your open mouth harder into John’s skin where your jittery shaking has moved his shirt to the side. His neck. His neck, his neck, his neck – !

 

You bite clean through to your inner forearm bone. Your teeth are not magically sharp. It hurts.

 

Blood fills your mouth, but it’s just that – blood. Gross and unpleasant, flesh like warm cantaloupe. Your own blood, if you wanna get technical, feeling like an important distinction to your stupid feral brain.

 

Something like disgust, or maybe horror, washes through your veins like acetone, and you come back down to yourself too vividly, shoving yourself away from John so hard that you dazedly make contact with the floor, unable to re-establish a link with ground control.

 

There’s a dying fly trying to escape through a closed window… across the house. The potato mallet is where you left it on the bathroom counter, being gross in a medium that was never supposed to make contact with that room (in your opinion.) The cut onions are getting dry, unattended like that. John’s blood beats fast, Mr. Egbert’s beats slow but it’s climbing, climbing, yours beats –

 

Slower than that.

 

You breathe in and smell everything and the kitchen sink. “John I’m never doing that again.”

 

John’s got a bandaid on his finger now and you don’t know how you can smell rejected leftovers rotting in the trashcan down stairs but can miss your boyfriend anxiously shuffling all around the room looking for his neosporin. He’s got an entire box of bandaids, actually, and he’s looking down at your bloody arm with distracted horror as it clots and ceases bleeding by itself.

 

But when he looks into your eyes, in your desperate hour here in his suburban wonderland full of all the childhood doodads and memories, and tells you, “Okay Dave,” in his totally serious dorky voice, you know you love him. You know you trust him. “We don’t have to do anything you don’t wanna. Sorry – I kind of got too excited there, hehe! Just wanted to know what it was like to have a real vampire boyfriend.” He tosses the plastic medbox away without flourish once it’s weirdly obvious that your once serious wound won’t be needing it. “Soo that looked pretty fucked up from my perspective. Wanna tell me what it was like on your end?”

 

He tries to get you back onto your feet, but you end up slumping onto his bed, where he easily joins you, phlegmatic.

 

You realize you’re close to retching if you think about what just happened too hard, and that is stupid disgusting because it feels like all of your senses have been dialed up to eleven, so you croak out a, “No not really,” and pretend really fucking hard that you can’t ‘feel’ and smell John’s crotch response. You don’t wanna admit how not-unpleasant of a sensation it is, knowing how fast his blood pumps, and to where it diverges, but you secretly don’t blame him for his fear reaction. “Just know that it was fucked up and now I am also fucked up and it kinda sucks. Twilight ain’t got nothing on this shit, okay? Next thing you know I’m gonna be readin’ minds like fortune cookies for your entertainment on our next date. I’ll be all, ‘money, sex, money, sex, money, sex, cats’ and you’ll be like, ‘were those mutually exclusive or is this one of those loaded furries I’ve been hearing about?’ and then I’ll get dumped for Awkete Purrmusk personified.”

 

John’s smirk slowly breaches his face as he leans closer. “Dave. Why do you remember that exact scene from Twilight, enough to compare it to our situation right now, and not get any important details wrong?”

 

This sweat is from how blood-fucked you are, you swear. It has nothing to do with Twilight. “John don’t call me out, I’m delicate right now.”

 

As John gives off a laugh that’s too loud (only his laughs have never been ‘too loud’ before, just thinking that smacks of sacrilegious material) you feel shame as you starkly remember how you’d called out for your Bro to come save you like you’re some drenched lost kitten that’s wandered too far from the nest and got stuck under someone’s tire. Except papcat doesn’t have opposable thumbs, only claws. He has a history of using them.

 

“We can’t let Bro know what we did,” you pant out, not quite up to fluff yet. “He’ll lock me up in his room and you’ll never see me again John -”

 

A phone rings.

 

You go “SH!” and hold a hand up faster than either of you are expecting it. John giggles nervously, which punches you in the heart, and you’d coo sweet goddamn nothings at him to calm him down if only it weren’t for the susurrus of voices you find yourself concentrating on. They come from downstairs.

 

“They can’t. You know that.”

 

It’s Bro, voice tinny, making you realize you’ve never heard him through a phone in your entire life.

 

Mr. Egbert responds, “Frankly, I’m not entirely sure what I do and do not know right now, Dirk. But you have got to talk to me – what you’ve done today simply boggles my mind.”

 

“It’s Bro and your dad,” you whisper to John, who now holds your ninja hand. “On the phone.”

 

His jaw drops. “You can hear that!?”

 

You nod faintly, and then listen in as that familiar voice erupts into static-laden life.

 

“You wouldn’t understand.” Bro speaks in a clipped tone that sends little tremors through your limbs, and abruptly you’re aware of the window, how unguarded it is. How breakable. How he’s never had trouble picking their locks before. “John can’t come around anymore. That’s all.”

 

“Have you taken the time to fully confirm what you think is happening, if it’s happening at all?” Mr. Dad reasons. You can hear him pacing on the carpet. “If only you’d meet us somewhere in the middle, maybe we could work something doable out for these two boys -”

 

“No.” You crowd back into John’s chest. His bulk is so easy to move. It doesn’t register. “Dave needs to be with me right now. Nobody else. I’m the only one who will know what he’s going through, and how to deal with it. How to temper him.”

 

“You’re spiraling somewhere that I’m not sure I can follow. I -” Mr. Egbert stutters, sighs. Skin rubbing against something like sandpaper – a hand dragging over his five o’clock shadow he’d otherwise never let grow in. “If my mother were here -”

 

“Don’t act like this would all be better if Crocker were here.” You’ve only heard Bro spit acid like that a few times. John squeezes your middle, but you’re lost somewhere and can’t come down. “You might’a been her son, but you didn’t know her like I did. Didn’t know her dark side. It doesn’t matter now, because it’s not safe. For Dave or for John. What you’re doing isn’t kind, or thoughtful – it’s foolhardy. Endangering those kids. Hell, probably even yourself.”

 

Mr. Egbert doesn’t say anything. This, somehow, impacts you worst of all, realizing that Bro is a bigger force of nature than the most stalwart of dadkind you’ve ever met. You make a weak noise into John’s shoulder, and wish you couldn’t hear any of this at all, to be that ostrich you know you can be with your head in the floor.

 

Bro snorts, callous. “Tell Dave to get his sorry ass home before I come over and drag him back myself. He sure wouldn’t like that – consider me ‘buttin’ in’ and all.”

 

He hangs up.

 

You drop like a marionette, unfocused, whole body jittery with some kind of live-wire energy you’ve never had the pleasure of being punched in the brain with before. John is whispering your name over and over, holding your hand and squeezing it like he’s looking for a pulse.

 

You lick your lips and mumble, “He’s mad at me...” And then, “Why th’ hell are we on the floor like I’m a faintin’ damsel, let me up.”

 

John snorts right into your face and drops his forehead to yours with a romantic bonk. “I thought you did faint, you dick. Did you just get, like, overwhelmed with all of your amazing new vampire powers or something?”

 

It makes you uneasy to acknowledge it. “Or somethin’, yea.” You wiggle around, try to ignore how it feels like your entire body fell asleep the way a foot would. “Seriously – lemme go. Thanks for catchin’ my swoonin’ ass but dad’s comin’ up the stairs.”

 

John goes ‘oh!’ and hops you back onto your feet in one shove. You, surprisingly, keep your balance pretty well, all things considered; he’s just got all the finesse of one whole waterbear.

 

John’s dad enters the room, and he reaches over to flick on the lights without preamble. John seems braced to get reprimanded for abandoning the chopping duties downstairs to seemingly come loaf around in the darkness with his boyf upstairs, but instead Mr. E only looks towards you in a significant way.

 

“Dave...” He begins, weary uncharacteristically. “I know what’s going on.”

 

You take a breath. You let it out. You roll your sleeve down to cover your weird supernaturally healing injury.

 

“I’ll go home,” you tell your audience, ignoring John’s hiss of disapproval and Mr. Dad’s lonely eyes. “Sorry for bringin’ all this down on y’all I just… didn’t know where else to go, but. I’m fine now.” You shrug. “I’ll go back to him.” Fuck. Fucking fuck.

 

Mr. E nods after a long moment of simply looking at you, searching. “I’ll be in the car.” He points towards his son. “John, you stay here. No arguing tonight, please.” He disappears down the hall, giving you both some privacy.

 

As soon as he’s gone, John grabs you by your shoulders and looks down at you with the kind of intensity you know makes you consider doing stupid shit, so you tilt your face away and sigh at the general direction of his window, black with night, empty of vampires.

 

Don’t know how you’re going to get out of this without some kinda long and contrived, lovey-dovey goodbye from John, but you guess you’ve gotta start. Reality won’t wait any longer.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

Less than an hour later, you’re in the Egbert-mobile, buckling up as you morosely watch John shadow his front doorstep, barefoot, porch light on. His face is somber as hell as his dad backs out and slowly drives away with you in tow. It feels wrong, but you look away from him. Tell yourself that not everything’s about John Egbert. You only mostly fail.

 

The roads of this neighborhood are freshly paved, roughly pebbled ink that catches the headlights and spills them all about. You’ll know when you hit your neighborhood because the roads will be light grey, and cracked. You fully plan on staring out the window at the road until then, stewing in your melancholy that verges regularly into panic.

 

Except Mr. Egbert opens his mouth. “I have a question.”

 

“Shoot.” Shit.

 

“Is this- are you...” He clears his throat, and your confidence to accurately pause your emotions until you feel like dealing with them wanes significantly. “Dave, are you afraid to go home? Am I taking you somewhere you don’t feel safe being?”

 

You chew on that for long enough that Mr. Egbert goes a whole five MPH under the speed limit, all for little old you. Shucks.

 

Well you didn’t plan to use this dad as your blog for your personal flood of feelings, but it kinda looks like this is how it’s gonna end up because you can practically feel the way your house slowly encroaches the corners of your mind, the mere presence of Bro crowding your rational mind until all you think is him, all you know is what he is to you.

 

Motherfuckin’ daddy issues. Goddamn.

 

“I’m not scared to go back, I’m just...” You sigh. The night is dark, like all nights tend to be, but you feel like it should be different from normal. “I’m just a li’l guilty I guess? Humiliated. He’s always had this way where he didn’t even have to say anythin’, but you’d know he’s thinkin’ ‘if only you’d listened to me, none of this would’a happened,’ like he’s always right about everything.

 

“And what blows is that he pretty much always is as far as I know? As far as he’s made sure I know, anyway,” you snort, but it reminds you of how Bro sounded earlier on the phone, and you go quiet for a few moments. Mr. E doesn’t interrupt – he’s patient. “He can always spin it like he meant well in the end, even if the going there was tough or he didn’t explain enough, I’m just supposed to listen and do what he says, no questions, no fussin’.”

 

It doesn’t start raining. You wish it would, just so that there’d be more noise in this car other than the ambient sound of driving, and two people breathing.

 

“He used to make me guess, actually, what he wanted me to do, like I was just supposed to know.” You don’t know why you said that. “But whatever. Thinks he’s changed so much but he hasn’t, he’s the same dude, just… Different packaging. And that sucks. It’s bullshit when he makes me feel like I’m two feet tall, then turns around actin’ like he only wanted what’s best for me and I was the one who made it all mess up, even when he says ‘oh I’m so sorry Dave’ I know what’s he’s really thinkin’, he’s done it before.”

 

You take some time to breathe. Wish the car would go slower, but it’d be weak asking that of Mr. E, so you don’t. Wonder what John’s thinking right now. Within a few moments, more is already trying to burst out of you, untethered.

 

“Even sicker – he does only want what’s best for me,” you clumsily pronounce, “He’s just so shitty at gettin’ there and, and decidin’ what’s ‘best’ for me that it kinda hurts? Like all the time?” You struggle to breathe, to conceptualize. “It’s just – everything he built himself up to be, he taught me to just deal with, or hell, to adore and worship. I’m not even completely sure he meant to do me like that, with the way he prostrates every time he thinks he’s fucked up.

 

“Like I love the dude but jesus shitting christ I need him to unclench his fucking god-hand every now and again!” Your fist slaps your thigh, and you look over at Mr. E as if he’d take his eyes off the road. His face is pinched, but you can’t stop. “It’s nice, I guess, to not have to worry about some of the bigger stuff that makes me feel scared but??? This shit with the boyfriend business is not okay! Like let me be sixteen, please, fuck!”

 

Mr. E always keeps a water bottle in his car, and you fumble for it, sucking down a few mouthfuls to wet your throat. “He acts like John and I are gonna get down and dicking so fast so often we’ll create some kind of freaky undead army like in that Van Hellsing movie, y’know with Wolverine in it? And then we’ll elope to a Romanian mountain and he’ll never see me again.”

 

You almost say, ‘and then he’ll never get to control me again,’ but it feels wrong, saying something like that to John’s dad, so you swallow it back with another mouthful of tepid water.

 

“And I’m not even 100% confirmed vamp or not yet,” you start again, only this time there’s a tinge of desperation, denial, that you sure fucking hope he doesn’t pick up on. “Tried to bite John in the non-sexy way while he was over and it was like gently teething a piece of warm but uncooked meat.”

 

Mr. Dad does take his eyes off the road for that, and his expression is bordering on shocked. But all he does is clear his throat and slow the car down by another 5 MPH. “Keep going. Say what you need to.”

 

Oh fuck you feel in trouble, but not. You continue voreing your own foot. “I’m tired of being Rapunzel’s ugly stepsister. Everythin’ was fine with John to him up until he found out and then it was like he finally realized I was growing up? And I’m not a baby he can push around anymore or keep locked away from the world so that he has somebody to make him less lonely than the kind of lonely he makes himself.”

 

Shit. Deep.

 

“So then he does this incomprehensible thing where he blames John, a literal fifteen year old,” at this point, you’re gesturing for emphasis, as if this isn’t the fifteen year old’s father you’re ranting at, “who he’s had at least a ninth of a hand at raising from age eight onwards, for all the shit that’s going wrong right now. Unbelievable. Homemade Strider Pie Recipe includes manpain and repression. Quote me.”

 

For the first time tonight, Mr. Dad gives a little smile and a hearty chuckle. “Would you like compensation for that quote?”

 

You get a little hot in the face, shifting in your seat now that your heart rate is chilling out. “Sorry, kinda forgot who I was soapboxing to.”

 

“You would be a great orator, Dave,” he tells you, and his use of ‘orator’ doesn’t even get a laugh out of you, teenage boy supremeo, which only serves to make you starkly aware that the car has turned onto your street. The streetlights around your house specifically are all out. You used to think it was funny, but now you’re a combo of exasperated and anxious.

 

“Dave...” He parks the car turns to you, face serious. You can hardly stand to look at him, lit only by the dashboard and the headlights bouncing off the great big tree in somebody else’s yard. He’s got wrinkles. “I deeply apologize for everything that is happening to you right now. Despite your circumstances, you do not deserve any of this complicating your life. Do you understand?”

 

His authoritative voice has you nodding on instinct. “It’s… I mean it’s the pits but it’s not...” Like it used to be. For some one who just said damn near a thousand words in only a ten-minute-stretched-to-fifteen-minute drive, you’re choking on a few of them right now.

 

“Is there anything I could do for you right now?” Says the best dad in the universe you swear you could just cry into his chest and he’d go ‘there there, it’s all okay’ and you’d believe him. “Would you like for me to come inside with you?”

 

“No, no way Mr. E, I ain’t putting you in the middle anymore than I already have.”

 

“It wouldn’t be trouble for me,” he still attempts to insist, though he leans back. Likely so as to not crowd you. “I may not be the best person for dealing with your brother’s… unique traits, but I can stand tall for you if need be. Just say the word. You know I love you like a son, Dave.”

 

You pinken, like a schoolgirl lowkey chatting up her favorite teacher. “I know. Thanks, but… I gotta deal with him. Maybe not totally alone, but… If he’s waited this long for me to come home, I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess that it’s because he’s stinkin’ up the place with his own Eau de Penitence right now. You don’t want a mouthful of that Mr. E, it’s nasty stuff. But I’ve got like a biological gas mask thing going on so I’ll be alright.”

 

He looks like he’s trying not to laugh. Guess you got ‘em at the ‘Bro smells like regrets’ part, hell yea. “I’ll believe you. Please call me when you can. I know you will message John first, but I would like to hear from you to make sure you’re truly alright.”

 

“I’d say ‘he won’t hurt me,’ but like...” Okay that’s the wrong thing to say right now. God you hope Bro’s hearing isn’t so great that he’s listening in to all of this. “No, seriously, it’ll be fine. I’ll wrangle the hell out of him, he won’t know what’s coming, I’ll bat my vamp reds and he’ll crumple like the Sunday paper.”

 

Mr. E laughs, because you’re hilarious even at the worst of times, and then you’re out of the car. It idles at the curb. You walk confidently towards the front door, and key it open to a pitch black house.

 

You shut the door behind yourself. You don’t go for the side-lamp. You forgo taking off your shoes. You just fucking stand there like you ain’t ever been in here before, like you’re waiting for somebody to come escort you to your temporary table for the night. It doesn’t have complimentary breadsticks.

 

He fades out of the gloom, and the only reason you can tell it’s him is because he’s got a white shirt on. His eyes shine, with wetness or with some kind of supernatural unreality, you aren’t up for deciphering it.

 

Bro doesn’t breathe in your general direction because you’re not entirely sure he needs to.

 

“I hurt you. And I am so fuckin’ sorry.”

 

You close your eyes and sigh quietly. Here we go again.

 

The shoes slip off just as painfully as they always have, but you don’t stop to bitch and moan about it, play charades. All you do is throw your jacket over the edge of the couch and adjust your eyes to the darkness, starting forward.

 

His arm twitches, like he’s gonna lift it, like this is just your everyday ‘hug it out and pretend it never happened until you can’t anymore’ session, except you walk right on past him to start flicking lights on. You feel like you need to see his expression, like you need him to be confronted with yours.

 

The AJ has not been retrieved as you return from your crusade to turn this literal bat cave into somewhere you can maybe call home. “Do you mean it this time.”

 

He doesn’t hesitate, says, “Yes,” with this air of self-assiduity.

 

“Prove it.”

 

Bro does nothing, just looks down at you like you’ve gone crazy, which makes you think you really have gone off the fuckin’ deep end if you’re talking to him like that, not confident but… apathetic-like. You justify it by feeling this awful need for him to move, to do something that means something, but in the end you’re currently an uncaring mess that can’t re-establish tremulous compromise with your over-taxed emotions.

 

You’re mostly tired. You slump onto the counter behind you and fold your arms over your chest. “Okay -”

 

Within only a blink, Bro looms overtop of you, the air he displaces wafting the smell of home at you accusingly. Nostrils flaring, eyes too open, and before you can shit yourself he hisses, “What happened to your arm.”

 

At first, you’re confused, and also legit scared because he’s literally boxing you in right after you said ‘Prove you’re sorry’ to his actual goddamn face like this is an action movie with a sub-par reconciliation arc, but then it dawns on you like an egg getting gently cracked over your stupid little skull.

 

That’s right. So much has happened today that you legit forgot about biting into you own arm as some last-ditch effort from your friendly psyche to protect John’s neck.

 

You look down, flabbergasted at this sudden roadblock in your previously solid fucking plan to make Bro Strider Your Bitch, and stare at the weird scab that you forgot to let John wrap. It doesn’t exactly look like teeth marks, you reason with yourself. You still got this.

 

Bro’s nostril flare turns into audible breaths that fog up your mind with their force. “Dave. Tell me who hurt you. Now.”

 

Okay maybe not.

 

“I tried to punch a brick wall.”

 

Bro’s breathing stops.

 

“I missed?” You cringe at yourself.

 

Apparently it’s so believable that you tried to punch a wall, missed, and glanced off the side of it, scraping up the top of your arm, that Bro immediately relaxes, rubbing at his eyes with his palm in a perfect pose of tired exasperation. He could be a model, for fuck’s sake.

 

“Dave...” He stops himself with a deep sigh that seems to travel throughout his entire body. “When did you learn.”

 

Again, it takes a few long, awkward moments for your brain to play catch up. You go all sweaty and reluctant as you decide to tell the truth, because you know Bro, and you know that if he sniffs out fibbing, he’ll unravel it to the very nose on your face and leave you distraught and remorseful. “Rose. She uh, she heard you and her mom,” my mom, “talking one night. She told me ‘n John on VRchat that… one day.”

 

“And you believed her?” He asks in that tone of voice that makes you bristle, acting like you’re just a gullible, overly emotional little kid he has to deal with, has to take all his effort to set straight.

 

Your mouth flaps uselessly, caught between desperately wanting to say the right thing to get the answers you need from him, and the vindictive fury you deal with around him more and more lately. In your pain, all you can seem to fully get out is, “I remember,” and nothing else to complete that thought.

 

Bro backs away. He makes it look like he’s finally giving you some room, but you think he can’t stand to be so close to you right now, while you’re peering up at his face looking for a twitch, a sign, anything.

 

“I remember,” you repeat, stronger this time, and you almost step forward in turn. He won’t retreat from that, not such a blatant move of aggression, but you don’t think you’re capable of it yet. “Do you understand? Don’t you have anything to say? I remember. Rose told me what she heard and my brain was just kinda like, ‘here is a montage about how true this is. Have fun sleeping tonight.’ It was like connect the dots only it was with dead bodies, Bro.”

 

“You didn’t want to keep livin’ like that after the fire,” he tells you, head turned to the side, one fist clenched, standing so far away. “So, we didn’t. You weren’t ready anymore. I wasn’t goin’ to say anythin’.”

 

You’re struck dumb. Want to ask him ‘at what point did what I want matter to you?’ “What? So you were just fuckin’ fine with that? ‘Dave’s missing half his head, thinks this is some kinda normal lovin’ family’ is copacetic for you? Me forgettin’ all of that was convenient for you, wasn’t it? Get outta jail free card, huh?”

 

Bro looks like he wants to do something awful and violent, something you are now intimately aware that he is more than capable of, but he’s bullheaded in his restraint. “You weren’t ready to know. You didn’t want to know.”

 

Fuck it. “And when did you up and decide that what I wanted even fuckin’ mattered to you!? I- I’m not a mind reader, please, Bro, I don’t know what you’re thinkin’! I didn’t know ever, at all, what you were thinkin’ it was just, one day you were hitting me, tellin’ me to be strong just like you and I’d never be afraid again, and the next we were at a fuckin’ water park like it’s the Brady Bunch Alternate Reality or some shit!”

 

You want him to open his mouth, to spew out vitriol, explanations, justifications, workarounds, mathematics, whatever anything, anything, you need him to tell you what’s what here because you’re standing around feeling like you’ve lost your goddamn mind and he-

 

He turns away from you.

 

You’ve overwhelmed him into shutting down. Like people can do at the store when he used to take you with him at one, two, three AM, and he’d stonewall the people around him like they weren’t real and talking to him, and you’d have to do the talking for him, make the decisions for him, it’s not the red toothpaste Bro it’s the blue, don’t forget your OJ Bro, no I’m allergic to that kind of fish Bro.

 

Shame. You feel so much shame you’ve gone pained in the throat with it.

 

For a hot second you legitimately forgot that the person you were yelling at was somebody you love, a whole whole lot.

 

“’M sorry,” you mumble, then try to pick it back up before you truly fumble, and go, “I don’t wanna fight you, mostly ‘cus I know I wouldn't win.”

 

He turns back to you, slow. His eyes are kinda blank and freaky but when the fuck isn’t he. “Don’t know ‘til you try.”

 

Well that’s… unhelpful. You can’t gauge his mood like this, and your arms are starting to shake like your nervous system can’t tell the difference between threat and safety anymore.

 

“I’m not gonna cry again, Bro,” you tell him. Quickly, accusingly, as he starts to tilt his head at you all bird-like, you say, “You’re not gonna make me cry again.” You don’t get to break me down just to fix me up again.

 

Bro takes a slow breath. “There’s no shame in cryin’, Dave.” He comes closer, but this time he only leans against the counter next to you instead of making you dig your bones into the faux granite in reactionary fear. “I’m sorry I did things that made you feel like cryin’ meant givin’ up. I’m a heartless bastard who can’t cry worth a damn, but the fact that you cry when you feel so much? That’s admirable to me, Dave.”

 

Shit fuck dammit you are crying, aren’t you, holy piss that didn’t take long. You hiccup as you lean your head against his upper arm, which slides around your back to pull you away from the counter and into his side.

 

Goddammit.

 

“And I’m sorry that I’ve never told you that,” he continues, “just let you keep thinkin’ that if you cried, you lost. I’m sorry I tried to… teach you to be somebody that you couldn’t be.” He squeezes you too tight, and you startle a bit. It kind of hurts. You wonder if he knows.

 

Uncontrollably, you float for a moment. Think loudly ‘No you’re not (sorry),’ and, ‘there must be (shame in between us),’ with the same certainty you lied to him with. And then you say none of it, and you let him stroke your back like he’s still got the full deck here, all the Kings and Queens up his sleeves, when you know you’ve got at least one Ace sitting pretty up yours. If only you knew how to play cards, then this analogy would really land solid af.

 

It makes you feel sick.

 

Bro must not notice, or he must want his control over this situation back so badly that he’s willing to ignore it. He’s willing to ignore a lot of stuff. “I want you to come to me when you cry – when you need help. Not because I’m gettin’ somethin’ out of it when you do, other than trust I suppose, but because I want to be safe for you.”

 

You look up at him, and he’s already looking down at you. You’re not entirely sure you enjoy what’s going on right now, but he’s being very wordy tonight, and you’d hate to interrupt his fucking heel-face turn, his new leaf, with your demands.

 

“For you,” he repeats, with emphasis, “not for me. Couldn’t give less of a shit about me.” He laxly flaps a hand out, like he’s demonstrating just how much he’d love to throw himself away.

 

You squint. “That’s kinda the problem.”

 

“Extrapolate, li’l dude.”

 

Uhhh, a’ight. “I dunno, I haven’t though about it enough yet but it’s like… I think… You should stop using me as an excuse for stuff that’s actually about you.”

 

Bro blinks at you. “Huh.”

 

Your face scrunches up in a frustration-slash-confusion mishmash. “What’s that supposed to mean???”

 

“Nothin’. Thanks for sharin’ that with me.” He then mumbles, “Little shit,” and scrubs his hand through your hair. The same one he stuck out the door to try and grab you. It’s not burnt, but you’ve never actually seen him burnt so you don’t know what to do with this trail of information suddenly gone cold. His fingers catch on your coils a lot, but it hurts less than it could. “You good?”

 

Goddamn do you wanna say ‘no’ or ‘are you?’ but obviously you fuckin’ don’t, you’re a coward and a half and all you want is this to be over already, so you go, “Yea,” and extract yourself as naturally as possible. He thankfully lets you go, but not without staring hard at the side of your face, like he’s quietly reminding you that he could flip the switch at any moment, and you could be running for your life again. Could be fearing for John’s again.

 

He’s back to being just Bro, you think. It’s not a pleasant thought to have as you watch the dude who raised you, is raising you, walk away like he doesn’t have a care in the world now that he’s departed some knowledge bomb on you, some kinda performance unique to him alone.

 

You know… you kinda used to think that if you’d always have Bro, you’d be golden forever. But now, as you tilt your head at him, stalk him with your eyes while he bends over his computer rig and clicks away at a few things, you consider that he… maybe… doesn’t know everything?

 

Like, obviously, but okay listen; you need some time to process this, that Bro is an infallible being who doesn't always know the best choice, isn’t always a decisive tsunami hellbent on creating some perfect world for himself and the very few people he cares about. That he doesn’t, hasn’t always known wtf to do with you, what was the best course of action.

 

It’s sobering in ways you’ve rarely confronted.

 

You need to talk to Rose or Jade (...) or something. Not John, he’s cool and you love him but he just wouldn’t get it. Your didn’t even manage to extract some kinda explanation on that front from Bro tonight, so you’re unfancy and footunloose for now. (You’re not against pulling down his varsity jacket and giving it a good lonely bitch sniff or two for luck, tho.)

 

You walk into your room. You walk back out of your room. “You put a hole in my wall you brute bitch.”

 

Bro moodily retrieves the caulk, which is being horded at his work desk. It’s annoying how he looks at you like you’re doing something uppity just for pointing out the physical aftermath of his mistakes.

 

But y’know what? He’ll fuckin’ get over it.

 

You still help him smooth it on, though, because you’d feel awkward as shit just standing there watching him do it for you, like your child gaze is so powerfully judgmental that it could level the wall entirely.

 

When y’all’re done, he visibly hesitates about something. You don’t know what until he’s leaning over you, giving your head a gentle, lingering kiss. When he pulls back, but not too far, he lays on you this poignant look that says a million things in a language you are not fluent in.

 

And you… Don’t open your mouth, because you’re chilled with the idea of him smelling traces of John’s blood somewhere around your teeth, or down your throat. You don’t know how this works, any of it, but you know that you don’t want to be caught lying to him. Never.

 

You’re viscerally disappointed in yourself, your stupid brain and heart, for fluttering into silly childish affection at the presence of the infamous Forehead Kiss. You are Sasuke, it is you, and your head just got tapped by Itachi’s mouth-fingers. Okay that got weird but it still slaps, because Naruto metaphors are amazing JOHN.

 

Bro leaves your room, but he doesn’t shut the door. Doesn’t close you in, let’s you have the choice over whether you’re actually ready for bed yet or not. That’s nice. You really fuckin’ wish he’d done that shit earlier though, instead of now as an apology. ‘Better to ask for forgiveness than permission’ is a sentiment that does not stand in this household, you’re pretty sure, but he thinks he’s God Of Rules or whatever. Jesus, you’re bitchy.

 

You think about going to brush your teeth, but instead you plop onto your bed and try not to sigh too loudly. Tongue-poke at your teeth, none of which are any pointer than they were yesterday, or the day before that.

 

Like the hooligan you are now only 60% sure you were not raised to be, you roll up under your covers without otherwise preparing to be unconscious. You kinda hope it’ll be like in the movies where emotionally tired characters get to drop off to sleep pretty much immediately, but instead all that happens is your brain no longer has a visual outlet, and your thoughts swirl behind closed eyelids.

 

Bro makes some kind of noise from his bedroom, which you hear clearly because your door is open (or maybe because you’ve still got John’s blood juicing your senses. Wow you have no idea when or if this’ll wear off and it freaks you out so much that you dig fingernails into your healed-ish arm wound for a sense of grounding.) You begin to come to some shaky conclusions that you really don’t want right now, but they are relentless in the same way a persistent cough is.

 

You think he likes it when you’re his and when you’re scared – that’s a good combo for him. It means you gotta ask him what to do, for an out. If he’s the one who left you nothing but an ultimatum in the first place, that’s perfect for him; gets his cake and eats it. He knows how you work and he’ll exploit it, over and over again.

 

He likes it when you trust him, because it means he feels like the hero whenever he makes it all better, but it also means he gets to be the big bad guy whenever he wants to. And boy oh boy does he apparently fucking want to.

 

He wants you to put up a bit of a fight, but not too much so that at the end of the day you’re still saying, “Please Bro, Thank you Bro, Help me Bro, Teach me a lesson Bro.” And you listen.

 

The worst part is that you think you like it when you’re his and you’re scared and you’re trusting and you can blame him for everything good and bad in your life because it’s simple. It’s what you’re used to. It’s easy- well, maybe not ‘easy’ but it’s what you feel like you’ve been bred for. For keeping up with him.

 

You wonder if that’s why he made you.

 

You wonder if it’s the most horrible thing you’ve ever thought if you’re kind of okay with that.

 

You wonder how soon you can crawl back to John, back to Rose.

 

It’s the first time since you’ve gone running crazy towards your brother practically screaming ‘just give me what I want already!’ that you feel the urge to say aloud, “We’re awful for each other.” Makes you want to accuse him of hating himself so badly that he’s inconsistent at the best of times, and downright abusive at the worst.

 

It makes you unbalanced, and feel… not good? That’s the only way you can explain it right now – you feel ‘not good’ about it. Like you and him are walking together only now it’s on a tightrope, or maybe it was always a tightrope but you, Ostrich Boy 9000, found a flowerpot or two along the way to stick your head into, and he willingly let you. Because it benefited him, or he considered it to be helping you, or he thought he deserved the long drawn-out punishment, or… you don’t know.

 

You don’t muse very long over the concept of Bro hating who he is so much that he unwillingly takes it out on you before you’re dropping off into some flavor of exhausted sleep. It’s conflicting, how comforting it is to sleep with your bedroom door open, for once, to hear Bro’s all-night tinkering noises, as if the concept of him alone will keep you safe.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

So obviously you sneak John back into your room barely a week later.

 

I mean, come on, who did he think he was dealing with?? You are not actually Rapunzel, and you sure as hell ain’t no Juliet. Goddamit, a growing boy with a thriving romantic relationship has NEEDS.

 

Although it was John who actually brought it up to you, once again over VRchat.

 

(John was like, “Let’s just sneak out again lol.”

 

And you were like, falsetto, “I am not ashamed, I like baaaad boys -”

 

And he was like, “Omg shut up,” even though you knew he thought it was funny.)

 

Bro washes laundry at weird times, and he hates the idea of moldy clothes, so he basically stays down there once he gets going. When you used to not be utterly terrified of literally everything about a basement, you would go down there to check and make sure he hadn’t died or whatever, and you’d find him illuminated by a phone, perpetually plugged in to its charger. The way he’d look at you like he didn’t realize his literal nine-year-old existed and was at home still kinda makes you uncomfortable, but you got used to him. You always do.

 

You hurry John in through the front door, because your window is still unfairly bolted shut, and you’re too pussy to mention how horrifying that whole event was to Bro, so it stays in its battered, unopen-able state, which you WILL be pissed about come summer.

 

Y’all time it pretty professionally, if you say so yourself, with you and John tiptoe-sprinting through the house like little kids who stole candy at night right as Bro turns on the loud-ass dryer. You both hop into your room like bunnies, shutting the door with such careful smoothness that you reward yourself by trying to leap into John’s arms, wrapping your legs and arms around him.

 

He ruins it by immediately fucking dropping you but it’s mostly on the bed, so it’s fine. It’s cold as hell even with the heater on, so you helpfully start ripping his clothes off and shove him up under your numerous covers until you’re both snug.

 

You turn around and around in his arms like a killer whale for the sole purpose of feeling his skin against yours. “Wow, Johnbert, I’m impressed – someone’s been moisturizing.”

 

He honest to god colors at that, something you can see because you put his dumbass Nemo nightlight in. “Yea well I got kinda self-conscious the last time? So I figured I should at least try it, I mean, you feel really soft always and that’s really… Nice.”

 

“Nice, huh,” you mumble, scooting around so that you’re face-to-face on your sides. “Sorry if it seemed like I was making fun of you for being an ashy boi.”

 

He shrugs indulgently. “Nah, it’s fine, you were kinda right.”

 

You both stare at each other in silence. While you’re busy mapping out how blue his eyes look in the pinpoint light like this, he’s slowly working himself up from a smile, then a grin, then a huffy, awkward laugh that crinkles his eyes almost entirely, ruining your star-gazing.

 

“What. What?” You start grabbing at him, squishing at the fat on his sides and stomach with your hot li’l hands, and he smacks at your shoulders and tries to roll you around like he’s an alligator. “Shhh, don’t- omg we’re gonna get caught and then we’ll die, we’ll be dead, Bro will drag the entire washer upstairs and knock us over the head, killing us instantly.”

 

“Maybe me he might kill,” John giggles, like it’s funny, and doesn’t notice you go kinda still, “But you’re his little bambino.”

 

You frown-pout at him, a little desperate for a distraction in more ways than one. “Doesn’t that mean ‘baby’ or somethin’?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Alright that’s it, no sugar for you.” You start to get up from the bed, like you’re gonna go cat to Bro all by yourself, but then John grabs you ‘round the waist and throws you down like you’re a fuckin’ football, landing himself right on top of you. You won’t lie – you wheeze a little. He’s a chunky boy.

 

He blows a raspberry right into your ear and you have to fight tooth and nail not to scream about it. Before you’ve got your bearings literally at all, he’s liberally coating your poor, abused ear with spit, because he’s just licked you like a cat.

 

“Fuck dude what the hell,” you whisper-screech, wriggling against his hands pinning you by your ribs to the bed. It’s a distracting point of warmth that you’re not trained to deal with, so you kick at his legs like a tantrum-ridden child. “This is like the crab-pinching all over again, I swear, next thing you know you’ll be trying to put undersized pachinko rings on all of my toes -”

 

John giggles wordlessly against your temple, and then bites your ear. You make a surprised noise and go taut, because it’s weird and uncomfortable, and you are legit concerned that everybody everywhere has been lying to you about how Unf Sexy sex stuff is because right now you’re just spitty and kinda warm?

 

But then John nuzzles up against your neck, and nips there, and you go oh. Just oh. And then you go fuck it, you’re easy, you are definitely easy, and you open your legs so that he can squeeze in between them instead of acting like this is a wrestling match.

 

He stops what he’s doing to laugh at you. “Dave are you saying wrestling each other into submission doesn’t sound hot to you? Because if so then I’ve pinned,” here, he winks, like a tool, “you all wrong.”

 

You let out an angry snort and bite his chin in the least sexy way you can think of as punishment for hearing your ramblings aloud. All he does is go ‘ow.’ “Fucker, don’t test me bro, I’ll go put on your varsity jacket and roll around naked in it while you watch me defile your childhood.”

 

John goes very, very still, and then he whispers in this weird voice, “Do you really think that’s not something I’d like?”

 

Uh.

 

Oh.

 

You. Don’t know how to respond, so you pull him down and kiss him.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

After about maybe an hour of foolin’ around, you get this strange sense that something is… off. Like, off in a way that has you wandering from the moment, eyes seeking the safety of the closed door, yet finding no reassurance. You go stiff.

 

John is a good guy with good instincts, demonstrated by how he pulls away from you and holds your cheeks to get you to look him in the eye, his own concerned and. Fuck you really love him, huh. “What’s wrong? Are you okay? Do you wanna stop?”

 

You are not going to cry just because your boyfriend is being sweet on you, you are not going to cry you swear. “I- yea, I just, can we maybe, uhhh take a break? If that’s okay?”

 

He nods quickly. A bit fussily, he departs from the bed and tucks the blankets around you, leaving you flustered and even more unsure. “Yea dude of course! I’ll go get a glass of water and bring it back -”

 

“Wait, no!” You drag him back onto the bed with more force than you intended, and he gives you a startled look that would’ve had you laughing any other time. “You can’t just go wanderin’ around in your underpants while Bro is home, dude, he’ll like, fucking castrate you with his super fast vamp powers, just fuckin’ snatch what you got down there away and shove it into the garbage disposal, remember?”

 

John doesn’t exactly laugh it off, but he does seem to make an effort to stay relaxed. “Oh, yea, okay. Um, so you can go get the water? We probably should’ve brought some in because… y’know.”

 

You wanna hit and kiss him at the same time. It’s an interesting dichotomy. “Yea. I know.” You unceremoniously dump him back onto his side of the bed, then throw the covers on top of him as you rock to your feet. “Stay quiet, okay? And if shit goes south...”

 

John pokes his head out. “I’ll hide in the yard next door! Nobody lives there right now, so I’ll just come back in when he’s distracted!”

 

“That’s such a shitty plan that my brain exploded,” you tell him semi-seriously, throwing some clothes on that you don’t entirely pay attention to, but you’re now wearing a shirt and pants so it’s a win in your book. You dart back over and peck him on the lips, a bit nervously, a bit like an afterthought. “I’ll be back.”

 

“I’ll be here.”

 

You creep from the room with not water on your mind, but suspicion. Closing the door behind yourself isn’t that odd, you reason; it’d probably be easier to unplug the Nemo light and leave the door slightly ajar with John pressed flat to the bed, but then again, that might also be way too involved for something as simple as giving the house a quick walk-around, shrugging because there’s obviously nothing wrong and you’re just overreacting, getting that glass of water, then shuffling back to your occupied sanctuary.

 

Maybe not your most stellar plan ever, but it’s like midnight up in here, and just a minute ago you were perfectly happy as a clam in what PG-16 shenanigans you were getting up to, so you think you deserve some leeway.

 

Telling yourself these platitudes, however, does not erase the unease that tickles up and down your spine, haunts the sides of your face that makes you swivel slow.

 

Out of the corner of your eye, you see something, and you think, ‘that’s either a ghost about to make all of John’s baby dreams come true and also murder me violently or it’s Bro standing creepily in the open doorway of the garage.’

 

You blink. It is not a ghost about to make dreams happen and also murder.

 

You go, “Uhh,” like a real intellectual whose frisky boyfriend is not waiting for back in a warm bed, “Bro? Is everything okay?” ‘And do you know about John?’ is what you don’t ask. That would be telling.

 

Bro stares at you. He’s in a loose black tank and some plaid sleep pants. It looks strangely soft on him. You can’t help but feel like you’ve walked in on something that you weren’t prepared for.

 

Belatedly, he goes, “Yeah, ‘m fine.” He walks towards you, feet silent, and you don’t feel afraid, but you also don’t feel any safer. He seems distracted, yet focused at the same time, and it’s disconcerting. “I’ve… got something, for you.”

 

“Oh.” You blink a few times and try not to broadcast onto your face how much you’d really rather not do this right now. “Okay? Sure.”

 

He holds up a metal monstrosity in the vague shape of a pelvic bone. "Here."

 

Proffered to you is the biggest, gnarliest mummy dick of an olive branch into the new subset of your relationship with your brotherdad and you do not like the looks of things, Stan.

 

It, IT looks like some kind of horrific, outdated torture device otherwise known to historians and the modern kinkster alike as a 'chastity belt', but you don’t want to assume that because you’d rather it be anything but. it could be uhh, uhhhhhhh...

 

"It’s a chastity belt."

 

Motherfucker.

 

"It looks like it’s from the 1800s."

 

He breathes in and out twice. "It is."

 

You might be close to panicked laughter. "I am not putting that on my body Bro it looks like its still got DNA from its last plague victim on it, unfucked til the very end."

 

He says, "It’s sanitized. It’s here if you need it.” Like that’s comforting or something? Honestly you feel like you’re a plane rapidly flying from one reality of existence to a newer, more awful neon one where nothing is real. we have lifdoff

 

"NEED it? I’m pretty sure nobody’s ever NEEDED a chastity belt."

 

You don’t want to touch it, fuck you can’t believe you’ve even encountering it with your poor eyeballs right now, but Bro looks like he’s about to foist it off onto you like the stray wolfdog that one kid in your elementary school claimed they adopted. Their parents shot it like a month later because it was apparently going around the neighborhood killing other people’s teacup poodles and cats and shit and dragging them back to the kid as gifts, still covered in sacrificial blood and everything.

 

Except it’s your brother and he’s telling you to stop fucking and start leaving room for Jesus or whatever illuminati-fueled satanic body he seems to be actively worshiping right now with this shit.

 

Bro's head swivels like an owl’s, or maybe more aptly a leopard’s, a mere second before you clearly hear John trip over something and smack his knee against the windowsill he was attempting to sneak out of.

 

You slap an open palm to your forehead, and John hisses a cuss word his dad would disapprove of.

 

As if it couldn’t get any worse, all John appears to be sporting is the Superman boxers he went to bed with. His ingenious plan he’s concocted within the maybe five minutes you told him to be quiet and lay low convinced him that he could sneak out, hide around the house in the vacant place next to y’all, and then sneak back in as soon as Bro was gone.

 

He probably thought himself Rambo or John Wick or something. Except now he’s close to tears all from stubbing his toe. You witness his face journey as he fights not to quote a vine. He doesn’t even have a mom and yet you practically take psychic damage from how hard he’s thinking ‘MOOOOM CALL 911-’

 

Fucking dumbass that you love tried to climb out the window in the middle of winter in only his shorts, and now he’s gonna pay for it while you watch. Fuck.

 

The truly most awful thing you’ve ever been confronted with that Bro has in his hands is quickly dropped to the floor as he turns slow, unnaturally still and bathed in the cold moonlight of the open, failed getaway window. You feel something prickle up your spine that turns you into that glassy-eyed prey you hate but cannot control. You swear you can see the hair on John’s arm raise from across the room.

 

Something outside, in the yard, right next the window John had opened, moves.

 

A man comes slithering in the window, pushing John aside in one brusque motion, and suddenly your night goes from ‘bad but doable’ to ‘worse, so much worse, what the fuck is going on.’

 

Juliet’s tower has been so very invaded.

 

Bro’s hands clench so hard you hear his knuckles pop. You’re close enough that you can see his throat jump, muscles twitching as his neck swivels in micro-increments between the undisclosed, large figure of the intruder and John, who is now frozen beyond reasoning. You begin to wonder if he’s maybe retreated into his head from fear or something, makes you wonder if he feels just as unreal as you do right now, like nothing you do or say could stop this shadowy force from colliding with the dark violence made physical that your brother exudes like sweat, or maybe aura musk.

 

You pray like you never have before that the stranger won’t go after John, that Bro will step up and remember in his anti-’Dave having a romantic or sexual relationship’ crusade that John is the kid he’s had in his house frequently for years now, and is STILL a kid, and that this is fucked up, and –

 

Bro and the invader lunge at the same moment. Somebody screams and you’ll never know nor admit if it was you or not, but you feel yourself collide with the cabinets in the kitchen in a loud noise that does not drown out the drag-out-knock-down fight that erupts a mere meter or two away.

 

It’s a dogfight. You can barely tell what’s going on, but somebody’s got a knife and somebody else is already bleeding. Your pulse is high and adrenaline is making you stupidscared, your eyes constantly searching for John despite your instincts begging you to not look away from the dangerous forces tussling on the floor, knocking into shit and throwing each other around with a level of brutality you can’t believe is real.

 

You think you hear the intruder laugh? Bro makes this awful noise that has you reflexively trying to cover your own ears and crawl up onto the counter at the same time, like this is just a cockroach you can leap away from and not one of those ones that have wings and will shoot straight for your face if they smell fear.

 

Random Dude goes, “Nice one!” and then hits Bro in the jaw so hard, he goes stumbling back right next to where you are, body slamming into the wood. Several cabinets fly open with the force of it.

 

You meet eyes for only a split second, and then he’s up and grabbing the dude by his green vest and tossing him like a sack of flour onto the futon, which creaks and then breaks on its supports. They don’t immediately get back up.

 

John comes scurrying over. It’s a bad move. Bro rounds on him, breathing hard and with blood all over his face, and you aren’t entirely sure what he intends to do, exactly, to John, who is now standing at the edge of the kitchen like a deer in headlights, but you aren’t about to let it all play out without at least trying to interfere.

 

You, an idiot, go for his raised arm, like you’re the damsel maiden virgin sacrifice concerned wife-cum-martyr or whatever about to stop the big bad with her virile body and hopeful eyes and nothing else. But that dream’s all shot to shit when he damn near clocks you in the face on the startled upswing, and you go down in shock just trying to dodge.

 

On some instinct you have no control over, you close your eyes. Wait for the ground to hit the back of your meaty little head. It takes you a long second to realize you feel warm and horizontal not because you’re bleeding out from the cranium, but because Bro miraculously caught you, one big hand behind your head and the other already lowering your back safely to the ground.

 

Asshole isn’t even looking at you, making you wonder why he’s like this. His unnaturally bright orange eyes are pointed straight ahead, like predator.

 

And, like prey, John is frozen like a rabbit about to have its final shock.

 

Holy shit you have got to deescalate this before your son of a gun vampire daddy tears your boyfriend’s throat out, making this the true Twilight of your generation.

 

Doesn’t matter – George of the Jungle chooses that moment to come vaulting over the kitchen’s little island counter, shouting, “Tally-ho!”, his muscled, bare legs a snapshot of a perfect, movie-worthy arc that your little animal brain cannot possibly comprehend at this time.

 

You can literally feel what Bro is about to do, whereas usually you cannot physically see what he’s going to do, even if he’s currently doing it. He’s gonna smack John Travoltage’s sculpted manly face down like a flapjack. Realizing you’ve only got one small chance to tip the scales into your, er, somebody’s favor, you take a deep breath and –

 

You go for his armpit.

 

Strider’s are all chronically ticklish.

 

He sends you such desperate “Don’t you FUCKING dare” airwaves that you’re just a li’l pokemon in a pokebattle taking that second round of Psychic damage tonight.

 

Wriggling your fingers like little snakes all up in Bro’s exposed, sweaty (ew) pit, he makes this involuntary, godawful seagull noise that you have sudden flashbacks to him scaring you with when you were really little whenever you’d try to sneak a huge gallon of sherbert icecream into your room. Your super mega awesome powerful vampire dad doesn’t go down in such a dramatic fashion as you were hoping, but he does get plowed (non-sexually, please dear god) by this rugged bear of a man what done sauntered into your house and started whaling on your emotionally stunted dad. You drop limply to the floor in more shock than you were in before, which is to say: A Whole Shitton.

 

Bear Grylls/Steve Irwin’s offspring crashes them both into your cabinets and previously washed dishes, which all go tumbling to the floors like so much loud confetti. Bro kicks out like a stallion and only ends up punting a metal pan across the room, which then disappears out the window.

 

Yeah you don’t know why you wanted this outcome either.

 

John clears his throat semi-awkwardly as he helps you to your feet. “Uh… you okay?” Questions your nearly nude boyfriend, as if this super ripped dude and your supernaturally gifted brotherdad aren’t tussling a mere ten feet away on the grout.

 

Oh. That’s why you wanted this outcome. For your stupid fucking horny Captain Underpants Made Real Boyfriend’s safety and shit.

 

“I don’t know what to do,” you tell him as you both placidly watch Bro pin this, seriously unnaturally muscled dude down like you feel like you’re watching some kinda fanservice play out and it’s disturbing. “There’s no way we can get in between them.”

 

“That’s why I’m here!”

 

John yelps, and you spin around so fast your head aches.

 

There’s somebody standing in your open front door, with long black hair and a rifle hefted over one shoulder. There’s also this huge white dog with its tongue lolled out, seeming entirely non-threatening if not for its massive size.

 

The girl, about y’all’s age, smiles broadly. She’s got heavy circles under her green eyes. “Hey Dave! Hey John!”

 

John’s faster on the uptake than you are. “Jade? Jade fucking Harley??”

 

She snort-giggles. “Sure am, John. It’s nice to finally meet you guys!”

 

Jade fucking Harley, indeed.

 

John rushes forward and seems to try and pick her up, swing her around, but she’s actually way taller than he expects, so all he does is lift her a bit while making grunts of effort. “Jade holy shit where have you been!?”

 

You look behind yourself at the scene where Bro is basically laying on top of this dude the way a paperweight would hold down annoying tax files, and you go fuck it, you couldn’t help there anyway, so you turn forward again just in time to get an armful of Jade.

 

Fuck this wet-n-wild bara fight, dude – your long-lost friend has randomly and conveniently appeared right on your doorstep.

 

Her hair immediately gets all up in your mouth, and you’re acutely aware that she must not have visited a shower within the past week or so, but you’re so giddy all you do is squeeze around her back while her huge dog Bec crowds your legs, making sure you don’t go anywhere.

 

You may or may not be crying lightly when you pull back and look into her face. “Jade. Goddamn I’m glad to see you. Seriously what happened? Where have you been? Have you talked to Rose yet? Why are you here now? What about -”

 

“Well,” she talks over you, patting your head in a semi-condescending way. You don’t let it get to you, considering she was living alone on an island for most of her life, “If only Jake would stop pissing around with your Bro, then maybe I could tell you.”

 

Well, that’s confusing. Jake?

 

Like tuning into a particularly compelling, if overly dramatic, TV show right after a bathroom break, you three turn back towards the struggle still going on.

 

It’s a frightening sight to see. Your brother seems to have tried to rip flesh with his mouth, and there’s more blood than you know what to do with. The guy – Jake Whoever – lays almost lackadaisically on the floor, looking at the person assaulting him like it’s a fascinating turn of events rather than terrifying.

 

Bro snarls, eyes fire, teeth looking too big for his mouth and pointier than they were a second ago when Jake’s blood wasn’t splayed across the floor. “Submit.”

 

If you’ve learned anything these past tumultuous weeks, it’s that right about now, Mister Green And Brutiful is supposed to look into your vamp dad’s eyes and do exactly as he says, enthralled.

 

Instead, Jake leans back with his hands behind his head, a bright golden light shining within the injury on his face until it seals itself over, untouched and like new. “No, don’t think I will.”

 

Oh so there’s magic shit now apparently.

 

Bro arches away like a cat that’s stuck its paw in water, horror clear on his face, even if it’s wiped away not but a second later. That wasn’t apart of his plan – he’s afraid, which means you’re afraid.

 

Jake stands up, dislodging Bro, once again for all in the world like a cat that moodily slides to the floor.

 

“The fuck’re you...” Bro questions, one of his own elongated incisors piercing his lip, though nothing spills forth.

 

The newest freakshow in town straightens his little bowtie and grins with perfectly white teeth. “I’m a two-hundred-some-odd year old immortal adventurer and vanquisher of the dark fiends of the night! And you are one Dirk Strider, a dark fiend himself.” His eyes twinkle, you swear. “Pleased to meet you. Would you like a hand up?”

 

Bro makes some sort of subatomic noise that has everyone in the room standing on their toes in anticipation. “A hunter. Figures I’d’ve missed one of you…”

 

“Hm? Beg pardon?” Jake only looks politely interested, which is a juxtaposition you cannot comprehend in reality. You reach out and hold John and Jade’s hands – John’s is sweaty, but Jade’s is dry and warm.

 

Bro is crouched low, like he’s waiting to pounce. It serves to make him look deceptively defensive. “You’re one of those UMBRAGE fuckers – the hunters that burned down the apartment.”

 

You involuntarily seize up. Jade squeezes your hand, and somewhere near your knee, Bec whines, touching you with his cold wet dog nose.

 

The self-proclaimed ‘immortal’ slaps his knee and looks aghast. “Heavens no! I’m more of a curator than anything so barbaric. I owe myself to a life of good tussling and doling out lessons to those who can reform.”

 

Jade makes some kind of noise that’s a cross between a shout and a groan of disgust, “Jake, stop it already! I’ve told you about these guys – Dave’s Bro isn’t evil, he’s a good brother! They’ve been living in this neighborhood without any problems for years now. Plus you said yourself that this area doesn’t have any unusually large percentages of murders, so it’s not like they’re doing anything wrong here.”

 

You look over at Jade in some kind of shock. “Uh… Yea, what she said.”

 

“Sure, he’s weird, and also an asshole,” continues Jade, the dark horse of this scenario, “but what super old autistic vampire wouldn’t be? Seriously, Jake, he’s not a threat. And Dave definitely isn’t either! Those theories your grandma left you about born vampires must be wrong.”

 

You think you color a bit. You sneak a look over at Bro’s face, and he’s kinda staring you down like he’s asking you ‘wtf do you tell your friends about me and how can I erase their memory?’ “Can one of y’all explain why this little uninvited powwow is happenin’ before I become the threat you say I am not.”

 

Jade opens her mouth, but before she can speak, Jake opens his. She seems a little exasperated by this, but lets it happen. “Oh, certainty! My name is Jake English, and this is my dear cousin-something-removed Jade Harley, Dave’s friend I presume, and -”

 

At the word ‘English,’ Bro full-body flinches away, only instead of going back on the offensive, he shimmies to his feet and leans back onto the counter, turning his face away entirely. “English...”

 

Jake raises his eyebrows and then goes, “Oh, right! Well, you see, I had myself disowned by my family back in, hm, 1812, I believe? Yes, yes… I was twenty-seven...” He nods to himself, and stares upwards. He comes back down to himself when Jade clears her throat pointedly. “Yes, well – I had the most awful curse placed upon me and my bloodline descendants, from one of my many adventures into the unknown wilderness to my understanding, in that anyone in my lineage would be burdened with impervious immortality. But! My grandmother was a smart women, very occult she was, and she disowned me, preventing the curse from spreading to anybody else!”

 

Bro grips the counter tighter, and you feel unreal, listening to this fucking… backstory shit?? That Bro seems to find so important. “And the last name…?”

 

Jake grins, as if Bro is looking at him at all. “She gave me this splendid idea to take the name of this uncouth fiend she had been reluctantly in cahoots with, to stick it to him. I didn’t completely understand the devil she hated so much, but I thought I owed her. It also helped hide my old life as well, aided me in moving on even as my coven continued without me.”

 

“Coven?” John asks, inserting himself into the narrative belatedly. “Like… Witches?”

 

Jade says, “Jake’s a witch’s son,” and then doesn’t say anything else. You’re starting to get suspicious over why that is.

 

“So I suppose I ought to be leaving you folks alone now,” Jake announces, almost like he’s abruptly decided to be in a rush instead of god idk… apologizing for sneaking into your house and beating up your dad??? “Given that you’re not terrorizing the town, luring young maidens into your bedchambers with your jewelish peepers, or raising this young lad of yours to be anything other than an upstanding citizen of fractionary vampirism.”

 

Bro snorts towards the floor, and rocks forward a bit. Like what. “He hasn’t exactly had a craving for various weights of flesh, no.”

 

“Outstanding!” And then he just fucking, looks at Bro, and Bro lets him. It’s a prolonged silence that’s awkward for you, for sure, but you speculate that, for them, isn’t.

 

You dislodge your hands from your friends’ grips in order to throw them up dramatically. “Okay wow so, is that like, it? You come into our house, beat up our favorite vampire dude, then you’re just like, ‘pip pip a doodly doo that’s all folks’??”

 

Jake’s expression is blank, like Bro’s often is, but it’s a different flavor of blankess. He’s got these vapidly smiling eyes to match his grinning mouth as he says, “Yes? Is that not the best course of action here? Would you rather I stay for tea?” And then he looks at Bro again.

 

The fuck…?

 

Bro, for once, does not take control of this, so you guess it’s up to you. “I have no fuckin’ clue dude, you tell me.” Then you nudge Jade’s side. “Or you could tell us where you’ve been, and how the hell you ended up with this dude. That would probably tie some shit up, make this whole thing all wrapped up nice in a bow...” You’d keep going but Jade only looks pained. “Yea? No? No.”

 

“Sorry, guys,” she tells to both you and John, “but uh… Is it okay if we wait until Rose gets here? I know this sounds kinda selfish but I’d rather only tell Rose...”

 

“Yea, yea of course!” John is quick to reassure her, and she looks a lot happier because of it as he hugs her again. “Seriously, whatever you need, we’ll wait for… Rose? Wait, why are we waiting for Rose? She lives in New York?”

 

“I have VRchat,” you pipe up with, half your attention still placed on the two overly intense dudes chilling quietly in the ruined kitchen, “We could nab her there when it isn’t fuck o’clock up in here.”

 

Jade does this nervous smile thing. “No, no, she’s coming here actually! She said she’d be here as soon as possible, so probably later on this morning?”

 

What.

 

John looks at you, and his eyes are wide. You don’t know what yours look like, because you’re too busy debating the chances of survival if you were to sprint back to your room to find your phone, and also a pillow to scream into. “Did she uhh tell you this? When?”

 

“I contacted her at the local library a town over and told her I’d be here,” she says, like that isn’t world-shattering news. “She was still up, and said she’d get her mom to buy plane tickets right away. So… yea, she’s gonna be here soon I think!”

 

“Oh, well, that’s cool!” Says John, but he’s side-eyeing you as he does it, to which you have yet to create a logical thought about; you’re still chewing on the mere idea of Jade being alive. Whether or not Rose tried to contact you in between then and now is lost to a haze of teenage debauchery mixed with events that wouldn’t look out of place in a slasher-thriller movie mixed with B-rated television plots better suited for Buffy The Vampire Slayer days.

 

Like a floundering fish caught in the net, you cast one more desperately searching look over at your brother.

 

He’s standing an inch closer to Jake, now, and they’re talking at such a low volume that you cannot possibly tell what about. But they seem calm, you guess? Not that that’s fucking helpful right now or anything. You want to go over there and physically drag Bro away from this ‘Jake English,’ but you can’t find the right reasoning in you to justify it, other than ‘wtf is going on and why is this weird guy with the loud voice and the impossible backstory getting so close to my brother, someone who I’ve only half reconciled with at this point.’

 

It’s not fair. It’s not fair, and nobody understands.

 

“Um...” You sigh and scrub a hand over your face. There’s a few tears on it, which you ignore with every fiber of your being. “C’mon, Jade, you can sleep in my bed tonight. I have some clothes that ought’a fit you...”

 

John, naturally, follows, but before he can truly escape, Bro goes, “John.” It stops everybody in their tracks.

 

Your boyfriend seems like he’s about to faint. And you can’t do dick about it. “Yes, Mister Strider?”

 

Bro looks him in the eyes. Jake watches it all happen placidly, both of them posed like they’re in a boy gang for emotionally distant immortals. “Call your dad. You need to go home.”

 

Mentally you’re screaming, ‘motherfucker stop hypnotizing my boyfriend into leaving!’ Outwardly, you do nothing but hold Jade’s hand as John mechanically retrieves his clothes, calls his dad, and walks out the front door with the phone still to his ear.

 

You refuse to look at Bro or his new hunter buddy as you drag Jade throughout different areas of the house, letting her shower, convincing her to put her gun on top of your dresser, giving Bec some water and some meat from the fridge that you were supposed to eat tomorrow night but fuck it, y’know, right? Your clothes don’t really fit her so you steal some of Bro’s, which also don’t fit but in the opposite scale of things.

 

Shit. You’re gonna meet your sister and your mom less than twenty-four hours after you finally found Jade (or, more like, she found you?) and maybe-possibly-by-some-definitions lost your virginity to your boyfriend. You are not prepared. You deliriously wonder what Bro and Jake are doing now that y’all kids are out of the way. You find no absolution in your thoughts, because you simply cannot conceptualize it.

 

You both sleep in the same bed with basically no problem until Bec climbs on top come 5 AM and starts licking Jade’s face. Nature’s alarm clock, aside from the need to pee.

 

Reality hates you, and has no qualms about reminding you of this, you think emotionally as Bec leans over and licks one long stripe up the side of your arm. Your bed smells like boyfriend and dog.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

AND NOW, TIME FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT

 

1900, Galveston, TX

 

 

 

You’re faster, lighter, and more adroit.

 

“He’s doin’ well, with the schoolin’ I can provide at least. He can read, write, do maths – as good as other kids, I’d say.”

 

Like the shadows on your face that prevents the sun sickness, you can practically melt into the darkness. And this hovel has an abundance of darkness, both physical and metaphorical.

 

“Of course you would say that, Strider; he is proprietary. Same as they, are mine.”

 

“Yeah, well – as a dubiously appointed father-figure, I try to refrain from talking about him like he’s a mutt.”

 

“Is that what you think yourself. And him? Is that what you think of, my family?”

 

“No, no… I have some biases to work out, I suppose. I mean, if I knew she was a vampire, I most likely would’nt’ve knocked her up, y’know?”

 

You creep from one black strip of the room to another, bedroll left abandoned around the corner; take in the scene with your hawk’s eyes.

 

“And that is why you have me, David. I can aid you in these trying times – I have experience you do not.”

 

“Right, right… so you been sayin’.”

 

Bro and English sit at the dingy table, the European man dwarfing the furniture, and the room itself. Two pale-as-sin teenagers stand behind him, still and silent. They stare straight ahead. One has a blindfold on, stained with red.

 

You sniff. Blood. But it’s her own blood – vampire’s blood – and it does nothing to entice you. It’s aged into dark brown, dry and flaking.

 

The one without injuries, of which you can tell immediately, is a human. His lively scent wafts with Bro’s, but wars with English’s and the girl’s.

 

The wooden foot of your doll knocks against the floor, creating a sound that damns you. Immediately, English and his daughter both swivel their heads towards your exact location in tandem.

 

The boy, you notice with great interest, only turns slowly, and with a wide smile, like he’s spotted a colony of ants to pour boiling water on. It unnerves you more than the other’s.

 

Bro shifts in his seat, a startle passed off as a simple readjustment. He turns towards you, and says, “Dirk, hey, what’re you doin’ outta bed? You feelin’ any better?”

 

“I’m fine,” you reply, succinct enough that he should understand to drop it.

 

“Good evening, Dirk.” English stands at an impressive height. His little children flock behind him without needing to be prompted. It may or may not fascinate you. “I am certain that you remember me, but shall I introduce my offspring?”

 

With one large, white hand, Lord English gestures towards his ducklings. “My daughter, Calliope. And my son, Caliborn. May they treat you well.”

 

You hug your puppet doll close, although your voice is perfectly even when you reply, “Pleasure. I am Dirk Strider.”

 

Bro stifles a little laugh into his hand as he stands to join the party. You don’t appreciate it. “English, you were sayin’ earlier?”

 

English turns his magnanimous attention back towards Bro. Calliope goes with him, but Caliborn seems to take longer. He is trying to meet your gaze, which is a novel idea. So you let him.

 

His eyes are red, but in a way that feels artificial. It’s not a natural eye color, though it’s not something he was born with. You wonder what gives you the confidence of this information.

 

Caliborn smiles at you. You don’t smile back.

 

“From Mag, I hear there is a storm coming,” says English. “It would be wise to heed her warnings – we have the opportunity to depart to the island. That old woman, of mine I keep, and her coven, will not refuse us, even as the rest of their extended kin reach towards the light for answers in these coming days of the new century. Blood traitors, I say. Their sons become hunters of the dark, and foolishly spit upon the old ways. Despicable.”

 

Bro rubs the back of his neck. “That sounds mighty generous of you, English, but I’m not so sure. Dirk’s not… acclimating, well, to the whole...” He makes an esoteric hand gesture that you’ve come to learn means he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, “bloodsucking, thing.”

 

English looms. “Does he hesitate on the kill?”

 

Bro quails. “No...”

 

“Does he consume an adequate amount in order to replace human meals?”

 

“Well, yeah, I always take him out every other night, it’s just -”

 

“Is he or is he not showing strength and cunning beyond the means of a normal child, already?”

 

“Yea, yes, it’s just that he -”

 

“Then I do not see the problem, Strider. He is doing well, he is doing exactly as you say, which is exactly as I say. I have the formula for a perfect born vampire to come to fruition – do you not trust me, David?”

 

“He’s just so sickly!” Bro bursts out with, his light brown skin glistening with sweat. You’re torn between admiration and disappointment. “Yes, so maybe he’s strong, smart, braver than any kid I ever was at his age – but he gets so breathless he can hardly speak sometimes. He damn near collapses under the sun if he’s out longer than an hour, and this last winter almost killed him it was so bad. To be honest, I’m afraid to move him. I’m scared that maybe, this isn’t the best thing for him, like maybe we should wait until he’s older, or -”

 

Lord English’s hand comes down upon Bro’s shoulder, coaxing shaded eyes upwards. You attempt to withhold bristling with the possessive rage of an undisciplined child.

 

“Calm yourself; the witches of the far island will help him. I know what it’s like to raise a born bloodline – my twins have heralded a new age for vampires. Gone are the days wherein only children of love can be produced from a human and vampire mate. Twins are children of science. You may not have detected this, with your inferior senses, David, but my son is fully human, and my daughter a born. However, they are both born bloodlines – my son may persevere, stronger than any born or made as we know it, should he succeed.”

 

Bro swallows, audibly to you, and therefore English. “Succeed in what?”

 

“Worry not. Your Dirk is not a part of this plan, and although he is of an older method, that only means his is tried and true, despite his mental deficiencies. My offspring may be of the new age, but I shall always look upon yours favorably, for your exquisite bloodline.” He bows low, so low, as to kiss the back of your guardian’s hand. “May her forsaken soul find peace.”

 

Bro doesn’t seem to have much else to say to that, and English takes his leave with his offspring trailing behind him most obediently. Caliborn doesn’t pay anymore attention to you, and you are disappointed. It rolls in your mind, uncomfortable, the thought teething your brainstem like a dog, and so you stand at Bro’s desk side until he silently agrees to let you out to feed tonight.

 

You’re not hungry for the blood, necessarily, but for the distraction. Sparring with Bro has not been as profitable as of late. You suspect you’ll surpass him, soon – your swordplay has always been a touch flawless, after all. It’d be a right shame to let it get rusty simply because you’ve recently grown into new methods of success.

 

It’s the witching hour when you find a maid bathing alone by candlelight. Her life story does not entice you, nor does her nubile young body, but you can smell her blood. It clusters at the surface on her epidermis in several places – bruises. You’ll end whatever suffering she has had, you reckon.

 

Bro digs his sword into the dirt, a weapon he insists upon bringing along despite how your senses are superior to his, and you will know if someone witnesses you before he does. “Go do your thing, kid,” he gives you permission. “Just… make sure you put her to sleep first, huh?”

 

His psyche is so fragile. But as you crawl through the window and peer over her tub, eyes unshaded, you quietly command her to, “Sleep. All is peaceful.”

 

And then you drain her, limp and warm.

 

Not but a night later, Caliborn comes around without his familial entourage, and he lets you bite him as soon as you’re alone on the beach together. His blood tastes vile – disgusting, like tar sliding through your body, straight to your heart. It’s unlike any human you’ve fed from before, and you struggle instinctively, but he holds your head crushed to his neck with more strength than you currently find yourself with. Your vulnerability and his control makes you senseless, and if only your mouth were free would you call for Bro to save you. Thankfully, it is not, and it becomes exhilarating instead, this bastardization of intimacy.

 

When he lets you go, you’ve collapsed onto your knees in the rocky sand. He gently holds your face and tilts it up, looking into you as he tells you, “I stole my sister’s eyes.” And then, with a horrifyingly enrapturing amount of certainty, “When I steal the rest of her, I’ll be the new Lord. I want you with me when this happens.”

 

He drops you like the puppets you so covet, and walks back towards civilization, stars twinkling overhead like a macabre audience.

 

After a few minutes, in which you simultaneously feel both achingly weak and over-energized, you stumble after him, sludge in your veins that sings of him.

 

A week later, you decide you like him in the biblical sense when he drags you by the lapels into a closet at the local church – you enjoy the way he looks at you like he’s got plans, despite being half a foot shorter than you, despite being two years older at sixteen.

 

You discover he has a golden tooth. His blood tastes even worse when it’s covering his frivolous wealth, permanently bound into his body.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

 

September 8th, 1900, Galveston, TX

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bro dies during The Great Storm, and you were too busy off fuckin’ with Caliborn to know it.


You stand, lost, at the precipice between ruined land and where your house once stood in all of its shitty, but familiar, glory. What is left is your doll, your shades, and the clothes you’re wearing, since mussed several times over.


Even swords shatter and get swept away in the might of a hurricane.


Caliborn is unsympathetic. Murmurs into your ear, “Father got his bitch, Her, must have tied him down, under that rickety table of yours. Told him sweet bullshit about how you’d be safe. Maybe he died easy. Maybe he died fighting – sword to the gut, sepsis and gangrene from dirty water. Bet he died thinking about his little boy. Don’t you feel, so, special.


You refuse to react. You refuse to say anything at all, on whether you believe this tale or not. Caliborn snorts onto your skin, a bio-hazardous kiss of unlovely intention, and turns away, stomping through the mud coated debris mixed with rot. Your small town settles in the wind and silt before you, and all you do is follow your boy down.


The same boy that, not but a few hours ago, was whispering into your temple: such potential, so perfect for me, you will be strong some day, and I will be there with you.


Bro never did approve of Caliborn, his attention for you. His intentions for you. But you didn’t give a shit – you’d been better at the art of the blade a year before Cal ever slithered his way into your head, so Bro couldn’t say squat to you, couldn’t lock you up in your room anymore like you were a leper. Can’t tell you about restraint or honor or dignity now, can he? Six feet under a hundred other bodies in the sand now, ain’t he?


However unwillingly, it dawns on you that perhaps, in some way you were too young to understand, Bro loved you. And he was only trying to protect you.


You’ll find yourself wondering often throughout the years, about what would’ve happened had you stayed with him during the storm, instead of finding Caliborn to do the sacrilegious, shit you’ve never even heard of and didn’t quite trust, in that church. You muse thoughts of saving him, your Bro. What it would feel like to be a hero, instead of a failure.


Maybe he was on to something about tempering kids, you think, watching Caliborn’s back as he carelessly stomps about, rarely ever looking behind himself to confirm that you are still following him. He’s so brazenly confident, so confrontational, so possessive, it’s borderline disgusting. But only borderline. You have off tastes.


Cal barely lets you continue onward with your doll in tow (“It’s got stupid empty eyes. I want to set it on fire.”) before he’s leading you to where he says Lord English is, several months away on foot. He tells you to kill a traveling family, to steal their carriage, and you do. Their horses are fine specimen, and you somehow convince Caliborn not to hurt the mares, a gorgeous black and bay pair. He snorts at you, and kills a near-feral piglet in the woods to eat instead, but he doesn’t put a single finger on your new steeds.


You have fun, perhaps too much, in learning how to steer and care for them on your extended camping trip. You name them Hansel and Gretel, which gets an honest laugh out of Caliborn that turns your stomach topsy turvy. In the back of the cart, you both have a literal roll in the hay, because not even Caliborn “Will ask for head mid-mass and mean it” English wants to get frisky in stale grass that once had livestock on it.


He’s nice, you think, when you’re alone with him. When he’s away from his family, when he doesn’t think about anybody or anything but you. When there’s a fifty-fifty chance he’ll skip rocks with you if you ask him sweetly first, and where he’ll watch ducklings cross the road instead of run them over just so that you don’t get upset.


He’s nice. You like when Caliborn is nice.


Nobody bothers you, because people have died and are recuperating, rebuilding by using the more populated and safely traveled roads. You appear to be two boys down on their luck, traveling to better lands, and the unknowing are none the wiser. Unless you get peckish, of course, in which they are wizened up until they die a mere moment later.


Unfortunately, your several month-long trip is cut short due to how well-traveled the mares are, and how quickly they get you to your destination. You try not to feel utterly, deeply crushed, unwilling, and anxious to the point of breathlessness (it isn’t the sun, you’ve grown out of that, Caliborn helped you train out of that weakness) as your boy practically drags you by the wrist like a child up to an elaborate cabin deep within the woods.


The first person you see is Calliope, reclined by the entrance on a long green settee. She breathes deeply, but you cannot tell if she’s truly asleep or not – her empty eye sockets are still tied away with the same dirty cloth, red rivets gone dry brown down her face like cheetah’s tear markings. You continue to wonder why no one has allowed her to wipe her face.


You feel the urge to say something. Her head turns weakly in your direction, but Caliborn impatiently moves you forward by force, to where his father sits at a long table in a velvety green high-backed chair.


You’ve never met ‘Mister English’ without Bro, and you abruptly feel a pain in your chest that heralds a faint spell. You use all of your will to prevent this from happening, although you cannot stop yourself from clutching your wooden puppet all the tighter. “Lord English.”


English looks up from his maps – mostly oceans, from what you can decipher – and greets you with what would be a warm smile on anybody else, but on him, is a wan stretch of his pale pink mouth. “Hello, Dirk. My condolences, about David; he was a fine man, and an even finer business partner.”


For a lack of better social cues to follow, you say, “Accepted.” And then take one step back behind Caliborn. He scowls at you lightly for it, but faces his father all the same.


“You did well, getting here,” his father congratulates him, pen poised over a multitude of papers littered with delicate glass markers. “You’re on time, Caliborn, for our next phase.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

1901, Pacific Ocean

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lord English carts you, his albino children, and a compact crew off to ‘The Far Island.’


It’s such a small boat, there’s barely room for everyone. English was strangely excited to load both Hansel and Gretel along with the provisions, a task of which he promised the already beleaguered crew hefty sums in payment for the care of.


And then he has you help him eat the crew along the way.


The Lord teaches you how to stalk better than Bro ever did; how to hypnotize more than the simple sleepiness and calamitous calm Bro insisted you utilize. Under Lord English's tutelage, you puppeteer entire performances, including one where you have a pair of brothers strangle each other in public, as if a madness had overtaken them, shaking the crew down to their very bones. Caliborn really enjoys that one. English lets you drain them both over the course of two days, leaving you warm and lethargic.


When Caliborn begins to eat Hansel, no one tells you. You simply find out on your own, hunting below deck for your boy. He’s got a leg of hers in his mouth, feasting, tearing, blood drool. Filthy betrayal. You step forward out of the shadow faster than you thought yourself capable.


You don’t understand why he looks so afraid of you. You back off without doing or saying anything. He avoids you for a stretch of time, but he comes back strong in the way he punctures his own wrist and then forces the pale blood into your mouth, on your knees in the salty grit, grateful to be cowed from your own focused power.


By the end of the trip, both Hansel and Gretel are bones, and your precious doll is mysteriously missing. You cannot stop the faint spell and histrionics after that – although you do wonder who placed you in your bed roll once you went catatonic.


Once the crew is all gone, Lord English steers the boat himself, displaying the reason for its small size. You take to sitting below deck with Calliope those last few days, although neither of you speak.

 

 

 

 

 

 

1901, The Far Island

 

 

 

 

 

 

When you get to ‘The Far Island’, however, it’s close to abandoned if not for the thriving wildlife. What remains is a confusingly bare warzone - ‘Mag’ the seer is found hanged. Suicide. Her body is long, long decomposed, along with another woman’s corpse, even more ancient, in the same area, who seems to have perished from bullet wounds. Her hair is very long, and silver, making it seem oddly pristine compared to the rotted civilization and careless anarchy of nature.


Despite the supposed power of the witches of The Far Island, word can only travel so fast, it seems. The tidings of a great storm had already been old news by the time they made it from The Lord’s mouth to David Strider’s ears.


English rages. He tears what is left behind apart in search of any remaining of the coven – a disowned grandson who is most likely no longer alive, and several unimportant male family members who must have fled the island long ago is all that is discovered.


He and his son scour the island, leaving you and Calliope to, once again, be ignored. You begin to consider that maybe you like it that way – overlooked, able to do as you please without comment or the tightening of metaphorical leashes. You don’t like being owned, locked away, or used. It’s taken you too long to realize this. That your life is something more than a late brother, a controlling teenaged lover, or said lover’s conniving ancient family.


You explore the island, when the male Englishes aren’t brutishly stomping about, looking for clues to their ‘ritual.’ The flora is beautiful, full of intricate designs you’ve never seen before, and the fauna is even more so. Animals you’ve only ever read about in Bro’s old schoolbooks, or the stories he would tell you about the wider world when you’d be sunsick, cold, and emotionally frail.


Clenching a small bouquet of pretty flowers in your hand, you’re abruptly overcome with the desire for Bro to be alive, and here with you, seeing all of these amazing things amidst a horrific backdrop, so that he could tell you what he knows (knew) not because you need the guidance the same way a runt needs to suckle to death, but because you want him with you.


You drop the flowers and bring a bowl of animal blood to Calliope. You’d once considered asking her to join you into the island, but she doesn’t seem inclined or able to move from where she has been commanded to stay. You pity her greatly – at least you’re allowed, no, expected to explore and learn. The Lord’s daughter is, at this point, considered nothing more than a cold storage for organs to be traded like cards.


The animal blood has little to no appeal to you – you know from Lord English’s sparse yet robust teachings that drinking the blood of an animal can ‘addle the brain,’ of which he did not explain further. Caliborn is currently your main source of blood. If you attempt to drink from anything other than him, he forces you. You try to avoid being forced more than once a week; his blood feels like fire in your veins, leaving you weak in both mind and body, whereas Caliborn emerges with more energy than he started with. It doesn’t feel like a fair trade, but you’d rather not die from starvation at the hands of your boy, your awful boy, so you always concede to him. It rankles you somewhere deep and rebellious.


With a mix of tainted poison running through the both of you, fueling you, Caliborn feels closer than before. It’s intoxicating. It won’t stop until there’s nothing left of you except him. It scares you.


You start to lose track of days – Caliborn tends to come to you once every fourth or sixth sundown, and he has become short with you. Won’t tell you what’s going on even if you ask. You stop asking, and start fawning, laying still when he wants you to, giving him a fight when he wants you to, giving him a distraction when he looks like he’s about to hit you.


Caliborn really likes the flowering vines you show him, and the little crown you make him, but by the next morning, he’s gone lost in that sprawling abandoned lab with his father again.


You bring another bowl of animal blood to Calliope.


For the first time since you’ve met her, she speaks. Her voice is like wood splintering on a small bell, like a storm in the middle of choir.


“Father used to tell me that I was the ‘great one,’” she tells you, whisper-soft, leaning over from her seat against a large tree with too many roots to count, “he told me that I was to be strong, and successful, to protect my brother and family… but then I met a girl.”


You listen to her ardently, the way you used to listen to your Bro’s stories, and are overcome with the near same exact feeling. You like her instantly, you decide, with a few unseen tears on your face.


“Good, or bad, I don’t know. Her name was...” She swallows on nothing but emotion alone. “Caliborn saw this as a weakness in me, in her, as an opportunity. He killed my girl, then he stole my eyes while I was overcome with grief. And now he’s going to steal the rest of me.”


You don’t know what to say to that. “I’m sorry” would claim responsibility for Caliborn’s actions. You do nothing.


Calliope turns her head directly towards you, and you feel a chill. “Sometimes I think about what it would be like, if I could kill his boy. But I am no longer that ruthless pawn of my father’s, practicing scientific malarkey within magic like he’s making his own religion from scratch.”


You shift in place, anxious and exposed here on the jungle floor. “Please...” Is all you say, unsure of what, exactly, you’re begging for.


Calliope takes a deep breath. “I believe that Caliborn’s power will not grow nor last. The supposed spell of dominance our father has concocted has no chance of working without a witch’s guidance. He is only half of what he claims to be the alpha of, after all.”


“What?” You scoot towards her. She does nothing to halt you, so you move even closer.


She does something complicated with her face that you cannot identify as an emotion you’ve experienced. “That is what ‘born vampire’ means; half-vampire. Caliborn and I can’t be more than perhaps a quarter. Twins, as I know Father is in denial of, are bad luck, with even less of this born bloodline to be distributed between us. She told me. Not that I am inclined to listen overmuch to Her words.


“Father thinks he’s bred himself a Lord of the World, of Space and Time itself as we understand it, but I know now that all he’s done is bred himself into a corner of death.”


You don’t know how to take this information, not at face value. “We can leave the island,” you say, too brashly confident, “Caliborn can come, too. We can strand your father here.”


Calliope only shakes her head, and gives you a small smile. “Thank you, Dirk, for talking to me. I’d gotten terribly lonely. But… I’m going to die here. I know I will. Perhaps, my brother could be persuaded to leave with you. He is awfully fond of you.” She extends her hand, grubby, dried blood under her nails, and you take it gently, as if it’s a flower petal. “Please, Dirk – for me? Save my brother. I think… he could have a better ending than this.”


“I know.” You feel both deceptively calm and yet highly emotional at the same time, holding her chalky white hand full of violent mysteries. “I will.”


You let go of her, and, for the first time in a dog’s age, you go running to your boy with your heart full for him.


You have a plan swirling in the back of your brain, the one your Bro always called ‘too big for its britches,’ as you retrace steps on the island. It involves that uncharacteristic sweetness you bust out when you really want something, perhaps too much begging to be feasible, and a full night spent in one or the other’s bed roll. It’s practically foolproof.


Now if only you could find Caliborn to enact it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

1902, The Far Island

 

 

 

 

 

 

You are a fucking fool, and you’ve brought this fate upon yourself.


Caliborn hadn’t wanted to leave the island, not even with you in the palm of his hand and his despised sister’s best wishes. With you frail from an extended feeding from his tainted flesh, he claimed that his father knew what to do, and then he laid his mouth upon your neck. It was deceptively soft. You felt comforted. And then he bit down.


He took from you, and it was profane. You writhed in nothing but pain, screaming like a hen with an ax to its throat, begging for your brother to come save you, feeling the life Caliborn forced inside of you being drained, until you’d sunk into his white poison ocean and did not come back up for a long time.


When you wake, it’s sundown on a day you don’t know the date of. The sky is aflame, and you cannot seem to draw in air. You simply stop breathing due to the inconvenience of it, stumbling around the island from bedroll to bedlam. In a previously disallowed move, you bust the door to the oft avoided island lab open, and take in the scene with antispasmodic countenance.


Calliope is split in twain on the floor, nothing more than blood gruel in her state, organs picked out surgically. The wriggling white rice in the soup of her body must be maggots.


Her fate disturbs you more than that of Lord English’s, whose barrel chest is dotted with bullets that no longer gleam in the round of his personally crafted gun. Several things have been done to his body, including apparent disembowelment, but you only have a scant moment to un-focus from that for survival’s sake before Caliborn cocks his father’s gleaming golden firearm back and aims it right at you.


He’s wearing nothing but The Lord’s dark green coat, white chest overextended with ill-fitting guts, a stitched Y trailing down his once smooth chest. He grins at you, several stolen canines glittering in the red sunlight filtering in down from the open lab door.


Your hand clenches on the absence of a blade.


“Hello Dirk,” he pronounces with a voice too deep for his stature, for his age. “I was wondering when you would wake up.”


You stand your ground, despite the fact that you feel as if you’ve lived a hundred winters instead of only sixteen. “Caliborn.”


“I prefer Lord Caliborn.” He practically floats down from his seat – the high-backed chair his father once insisted on bringing from the cabin to the island – ghosting along the floor in nothing but an overlarge jacket and the gore he wears like fine jewelry. “Follow me, Dirk. Let’s get off this putrid island.”


You take one last look at Calliope’s corpse, when Caliborn is once again turned away from you as if he trusts you to heel when commanded, and then you go with him to get off this putrid island.


But it is not to be.


Halfway from the lab to the boat, a dour walk of silent observation, Caliborn stumbles fantastically. He nearly eats grass, had you not been there to catch him.


“Let go!” He smacks you away with a hand that feels more like wing beats than being struck. “I’m fine! I’m fine.”


He is not fine. He pukes up something dark and bibulous, then goes down onto his knees in a hacking fit that sounds wet, and deep. You pick him up by his underarms and drag him, a quiet desperation filling you that starts to numb as soon as you hit the beach, and Caliborn has gone limp and quiet.


You cannot continue carrying him with your waning strength alone, so you drop him into the fine sand that is nothing like the rocky grains of the beach in your hometown. You try to remember that Caliborn, the confident one that had strung you a pretty fool in love, as you turn him over and see his utterly sheet white face, and you fail.


As darkened liquid runs from the corner of his mouth, face bloated, milky red eyes staring up at the brilliant sunset sky, you wonder if Calliope meant ‘he could have a better ending’ by ‘he could die peacefully, instead of painfully.’


You failed. You fail. You will fail again.


H… Hel… Help...”


You place your forehead into the sand just to feel the warmth of it. Everything has gone horribly cold with your boy beneath you.


Dirk...” Caliborn begs, so weakly. “’irk...”


“Caliborn.” You lean over him until your face is in his. He smells so awful you nearly gag, but the way his eyes search for yours through the pain has you feeling something eclipsing of logic. “I’m sorry.”


He shifts about, coughing more, and you don’t move your face away even as his sister’s stolen blood flecks on your face. “Dirk… Help me...”


It is clear to you that Caliborn is sick. Terminally sick. You are sick, too, by proxy, by design, but your body isn’t currently rejecting all of its organs and lifeblood. You remember what Calliope said – a quarter. He’s human. He’s sick and he’s dying and he’s human.


And you’re a vampire. You’re going to survive. You’re getting off this dead island.


“Yes.” You turn his strangely frail face to the side, exposing a neck you are familiar with. “Yes. I’ll help.”


You bite into his body with little fanfare beyond what has already occurred. Seafoam soft, his dying squeal that of a small animal’s – you drain him of his tainted blood until every last drop is gone. Caliborn is stiller than silence itself, eighteen years old, dead by your intentions if not fate’s.


The very force of you is screaming in wrongness as you use this last shot of poisonous energy, Caliborn’s dying right for aid, to drag yourself to the boat. And when you don’t crawl, you walk. And when you don’t walk, you run from station to map to station, undoing ropes and pulling up anchors with a strength that you both haven’t had in a very long time and yet have never had at all.


You feel different as you sail away. Neither humbled nor confident. Neither stronger nor weaker. You make yourself learn how to read stars and nautical maps because you have no other option. No one is coming to save you. No one is coming to control you. Everyone but you is dead, as far as you’re concerned.


You think you like it this way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

1978, New Jersey

 

 

 

 

 

 

God bless it – somebody fucking buried you again.


Now, this is why you don’t sleep where people can find you anymore, you self-narrate as you irritably begin dismantling your shitty wooden coffin and dig through soft, new dirt. When you sleep, you do it for months or years at a time to make up for all the nights you weren’t sleeping before. Otherwise, you can go an equal amount of time without catching a single wink.


There’s a fresh burial going on nearby, so you halt your progress and wait it out until night, when most semi-respectable graveyards will be empty. Once you hear the crickets and a lack of heartbeats inside the ribs of potential nosy witnesses, you worm your way up until you’ve hit smoggy city air –


Hold the phone.


You press your dirty ear to the ground.


Somebody’s been buried alive. As in – alive alive, not vampire ‘buried alive.’


Dammit. You’d think yourself some kind of bleeding heart, the way you swan dive over to the newly tilled ground and start scooping.


It’s some middle-aged white man, who sputters and coughs and cries when you drag him from the earth, calls you a “pretty young thing” and an “angel” in his fearful delirium.


“Yea, I get that a lot.” You hypnotize him into tranquility, bite him, then give him directions to the nearest Hospital after belatedly asking him if he knows the year. So – the approximate location of where a hospital maybe used to exist.


He’ll live.


You pick the door on a school and use their gym showers. Bust open lockers until you find some punk’s, a pair of jeans and a t-shirt that are only one size too small, and a leather jacket that looks beat to hell and back. Perfect.


You’re walking between alleyways on the way to a gas station you’d spotted earlier to go get some cash, either by using your eyes or batting your eyes (catch the drift?), when you hear something strange and disquieting.


It’s an older woman being held up by two men in leisure suits, skeevy as fuck back lot wherein no good deed shall ever be done. They’ve got a gun to her head.


You are on a good Samaritan roll tonight, you mentally sigh, as you knock the two goons out of business in the permanent sense and filch their guns. Easy cash for later.


“Ma’am,” you introduce, holding out one arm for her to take at her discretion. The brown skin of her hand is rough with age, showing lines, like they’ve seen work, but her face looks deceptively youthful, taken care of. Her eyes are a dark blue. Flinty and cunning.


She takes those smart eyes to look at your face with, and goes, “Well! If it isn’t a Mister Vampire!”


You don’t flinch. You help her to her feet, and stay a true Southern gentleman. “Now where did you come across information like that, ma’am?”


Her laugh is almost exactly like blueberry pie, freshly baked. It reels you in.


And then it snaps like a vice around your neck as she – Jane Crocker – details to you her truly pitiful life at the hands of her tyrannical adoptive vampire mother, simply referred to as ‘Her’ for most of the conversation, when not called ‘mother’ or ‘capitalistic hell bitch.’ Me-owch.


Your memory of the events that have happened to you in your now nintey-two years of life can be spotty. But what is not spotty happened between the ages of fourteen and sixteen, and your mind lets you know this by all of the alarm bells that ring every time Miss Jane refers to her mother as Her, with poignant significance. Like it’s an ancient code name.


You don’t like that. You tell Miss Jane this, that you don’t like what’s been done to her, over a plate of homemade apple pie that she serves you in her little, but expensive hotel room, some few miles away. You’d talked and walked, her stamina betraying her age as you went forth.


She falls asleep eventually, in her starchy bed of borrowing, and you keep watch over her the same way a faithful guard dog would. Or an opportunist.


You can tell she’s desperate in some ways – why trust a random man, vampire at that, in New Jersey of all places, to protect her? To listen to her story of abuse and believe her for it? Care about her in only one night?


It takes you less than a day to decide that you’re going to kill Her, and you’re going to let Miss Jane do the legwork of it. It’ll be emotionally fulfilling for her, you decide as you feel your body work to digest food you haven’t bothered to consume in perhaps a decade now. You’ll teach her how to end a vampire instead of be under the thumb of one. She’ll be indebted to you, but it won’t feel like it.


You watch her rest, and you plan. When she wakes up, you’ll tell her about your offering of help. She’ll accept – either readily, or eventually. You can be quite convincing, though you think you like her, and don’t want it to come to that.


Can’t be that hard to kill Betty Crocker.

 

 

 

 

 

 

1999, Cross Roads, TX

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Whatever happens in between then and 1999 when you crash land into a nineteen year old Roxy is a whole other story – one that will never reach spoken and written language, should you have any say in it.)


The 90’s is when you really get into automobiles – or, more accurately, the shady businesses automobiles float in around mechanics. Every small town has a mechanic’s garage, with a bunch of steely-eye’d, loud-mouthed men occupying it, sweaty and pungent in their assured masculinity rituals. You fit right in.


You’ve found that people tend to assume your age well enough without any pro-activity from yourself. Shave, lose the hat, spike the hair, wear crazy loud sunglasses? You’re twenty, college-age, probably high or at least coming down from one. Let the scruff grow in, don a snapback, drink and smoke around people you’re ‘getting to know’? You’re a little older, maybe thirty at a push. A really good-lookin’ thirty, as your last boss called you. Right before he took you in his office.


You’ve always gotta clear out of those places faster than usual when you do shit like that – something about biting the guys you’re with then convincing them none of it was real leaves a lasting affect on how they treat and see you. Act like you’ve betrayed them in a past life.


It’s whatever. You’ve got all of America to cruise. Fuck, you could just mosey it on foot if you need to – at this point, you can go weeks without feeding, months if you make the previous one or two a drainer. Kill somebody, usually a pushy douchebag who think they can just get you to drop trou and go to town without no ‘yes’ first, but hey. We all gotta eat.


People around here know you as only ‘Bro’ or ‘Brother.’ You like it like that. Besides, some of these townies act like they never heard a name like yours before, even though you can almost always guarantee there’s some white filly down the street with one damn near exactly the same.


Worst part about small towns is that you can’t kill everybody that pisses you off. You’d deplete the population too much after maybe five. Can’t indulge in drainers or even just little midnight sips while laying on a dampened pillow; the sex may be consensual, but the bloodletting rarely is, with podunk folk doped out of their mind on your eyes saying ‘yes’ to anything, or saying nothing at all if you prefer it that way. You almost always do. These people rarely have much of anything to say that’s worthwhile, in your opinion.


Some no-name newbie slaps your ass while you’re bent over an engine, and all it takes for you to warn him off is standing up straight. You know what you look like – you’re black, over six feet. Some of these people have never seen a guy like you before. Sometimes it feels like you’re a one-man-zoo, other times it’s like you’re a celebrity. The public has never treated celebrities very well.


In the end, it really doesn’t matter to you. Only got maybe a year left in this town before you’ll drain that last few assholes you’ve kept an eye on, and continue your slow trawl of the South.


Maybe you’ll visit the tourist resort your hometown has dissolved into. You can always count on a few rich assholes putting up ‘Private Beach’ signs where those signs have no business being, but keep away the crowds nontheless.


Roxanne Lalonde is an out-of-towner – everybody and their cousin and their cousin’s cousin can tell by the way she drives, she talks, she walks, she dresses. She’s a rich girl on a road trip. Taking a gap year in school, she says. Car broke down at the edge of town, she says. Got a nice big man to tow it for her, she says.


You think she says a lot of bullcrap, a lot of buildup to a honeypot, but the men at the shop live for customers like her. Too bad she only seems to have eyes for you.


“Call me Roxy” is maybe five foot even, relaxed and bleached hair, dark skin with an earthy red undertone. Eyes like moody wine. She’s warm, and she tries to pull you in. She’s a doll, but it don’t work on you like that. You’re nice to her, though, no doubt, but she must think she’s a fucking Prom Queen at pushing twenty because she eats it right out of your hand.


You immediately decide you’ll have her – it’s too easy, almost. She’s not from around, she’ll drive off and take to your hypnotic ‘forget about me’ easy. Barely any harm done. You won’t hurt her more than you need to, you won’t even fuck her in case she’s some prude virgin thinking she’s safe with nothing but a pink mace bottle and a little pocket knife she’s never used before. Maybe you’ll leave her a parting gift – an even bigger knife. Yea that’s a good plan. And as involved as you’ll get.


Until, that is, she gets you back to her hotel room, and fucking jackknifes you in the heart with a wooden stake.


Now; this is not the way to kill a born vampire. But she doesn’t know that, and even you don’t know the exact method of offing a born bloodline, beyond highly improbable and unreplicateable scenarios.


Bottom line: it hurts, and you maybe pass out a little, slowly awaken tied from toe to tip, this teenaged cherry blossom MIT dream pacing the room, messing her hair up and muttering to herself, multiple thick corded wires in her hand connecting to some kind of advanced cellular device. It spills over her fingers in thick ropes. You want one.


“They beat Jesus with that,” you open up with, and she Bona Fide screams.


You hypnotize her into leaving, forgetting – only she comes back barely a day later with a tape recorder she apparently keeps in her pocket at all times around you, ever since she sussed out what you are. She’s impressed you, you’ll admit – this time she brings a gun. Not that she uses it, once you get talking to her.


It’s a weird way to start a lifelong friendship, but not the weirdest, you think.


For years after you first meet her, all you can see is a child. A child amidst rebellion. She drinks like she’s about to die the next day, rambles her attraction to you despite multiple uncomfortable conversations of your contrary, and then entices you to stay with her when she’s all sober and the most intelligent creature you’ve ever shared space with.


You feel as if it’s your duty to temper her, control her, so that she doesn’t swim in her remorse the way you always will, only her days are scantily numbered compared to yours. Later you’ll admit to regretting thinking this, that it wasn’t your place to ‘calm her down’ when you offer her almost nothing in return in the first place. She would agree with the latter half of that.


Roxy wants something from you, but you don’t think you can give it. Financial support while she goes to the college her parents banned her from pursing? Do-able. You like that side of her, she’s like a riot that saves the movement.


Except she wants a kid. Not just any kid, but a kid with you specifically. Your vampire bloodline with hers. Thinks it’s a good idea, a baby. You always tell her to think the opposite.


Away from her prying eyes, however, you’re unwillingly fascinated by the idea – a born vampire, like you. And unlike your Bro, you can teach this kid how to do it right. You won’t die on him like some flimsy tryhard – you’ve drank the blood of a pseudo-god and lived.


You realize that, once you begin thinking of this symbolic embryo as a ‘him’, already imagining him as like a prototype David Strider, you’re done for. You’re gone with the fucking wind. You can’t reconcile with putting your rough, killer-born hands on a little baby girl, can barely stand Roxy’s hugs without feeling like some kind of criminal busting in to deceive her from the cradle to the grave, so it’ll be a boy or bust.


Shit. Better stop thinking about it while you’re ahead. It’s not happening. You aren’t raising a kid with a human girl, Roxanne or no. Aside from experimentation when you really were twenty-five and idiotic and didn’t just look it, you’ve never willingly kissed or laid with a woman. Found that it’s just not your kinda gunshow.


“Now I know I’m a genius,” Roxy begins with one day, slapping some half-gutted monstrosity down onto the small kitchen table of the rented apartment you got for you and her to share in New York, “But sometimes I wish I was working with simpler technology, you know?”


She’s so animated that you nod on instinct, and sip fancy O- from the nearest Hospital in a mug. Goddamn you’ll miss this woman. And her connections.


“It’s like men in my field feel the urge to create the most complicated, inaccessible coding and design for nothing more than a dick-measuring contest. Sometimes, all I want is a laptop.” She spreads her hands out across the table as if imagining the very thing into existence right in front of her. Fascinating. “You can do tons of shit with just one laptop! But nooooooooo bring out the supercomputers, let’s go to Mars an’ forget about all of Earth’s problems, we’ve got the money for it! Pah.”


“True that.” You, a century old supernatural being, remember to look at the clock more often than your human roommate does, and you remind her that it’s time for her class. She’ll be graduating soon, and doesn’t want to miss anything so late in the game. Next stop: taking SkaiaCorp by storm. You’re proud.


She blindsides you, however, when she stands up, over you for once in height, and says down at your stupefied little head, “Artificial insemination.”


You don’t spit out the blood. But you also don’t swallow it, either, letting it slide back into the mug. “What.”


Roxy takes a deep breath, keeps going without ever fully letting it out first. “We can do artificial insemination. You won’t have to touch me y’know, wukka wukka, and my ultra-traditional Jewish parents will get over it eventually, and even if they don’t, I’m basically self-sufficient at this point anyways thanks to you. I’ve got a friend in the business who will turn a blind eye to your lack of records or physicals. And then...” She makes jazz hands. “Baby.”


Sometimes you forget the way her eyes are, when you’re not looking, the way she holds something more knowledgeable then you’ll ever be in your immortal years in those eyes. She’s something else.


You forget to breathe for such a long time, that she’s gone in between one slow blink of yours and the next. She left a note on the table, and the sun is in a different position. You don’t wonder about how much time you’ve lost, only pinching the note in between your fingers and folding it open.


Roxy penned you a little consoling paragraph about how she’d like to have two, if that’s okay with you, and that she’d take the first one, and you could have the other.


You could have the other.


“I could have… a baby...” You mumble it, damn near out of your mind. A baby. One whole human goddamn being, quarter-born vampire. You scrub a hand harshly over your mouth, dried flakes of blood collecting in between your fingers, but you don’t care. You don’t care.


A baby. A kid of your own. Yours. Yours.


You can see it now – black, healthy, your eyes or hers it won’t matter, they’ll glow in the end anyways. You shake her hand after the second pregnancy, and it’s all yours. All your baby. You can teach that baby anything, how to talk right and act right and fight right. How to be smart and get what it wants. It’ll be just like you, no, better. You won’t ever leave it alone and you know it.


There’s no way you can do that. There’s no way Roxanne Lalonde, smartest woman alive, is gonna hand you a baby and let you loose on the poor thing. So malleable – you remember yourself at ten, fourteen, twenty, so easy to trick, so full of himself. You can’t imagine what a little baby would do, would think, would believe.


It’s so intoxicating that it’s nauseating. You think of a boy with stolen red eyes and sickly white blood, long since dead. You think of silence and sinking to the bottom of the sea, never coming back up for breath. Think of how Caliborn used to wrap his hands around your neck and you’d let him, too stupid to see it for what it was. Think about your baby getting in with a boy like Caliborn, or a sick-in-love girl like Calliope with a bad family, and you practically seize in rage over somebody who doesn’t even exist (yet.)


This scares you.


You once told Roxy that you don’t sleep. That was, obviously, a lie. You’re so indecisive, so wracked with the feverish decision of this, that you leave the apartment, check in to some ratty ass motel on the other side of town, curl up on the bed and tell yourself, “I just need some quiet, somewhere away from myself,” close your eyes, and don’t wake up again until mid-2002.

 

 

 

 

 

2002 - 2003, New York

 

 

 

 

 

 

You get buried in an unmarked grave.


It’s a tumultuous rest, one you’re not in control of, and it’s full of dreams that converse in possibilities and fears and grandiose ideas. You begin to wonder why you never tried to be a daddy before to some of the poor lost kids you’d come across, fates pitiful enough that they’d reach out even to somebody like you. Figure maybe you weren’t ready yet, or that it naturally had to be your kid through and through. Has to be of your blood to be able to deal with you.


When you dig yourself out at night, you absently wonder if Roxy ever found that stash of cash you left her, the one that made sure she’d make it though the rest of college and a few more months of rent should anything happen to you.


It isn’t truly difficult to find out where Miss Jane went – she did tell you the man she intended to marry, whose last name she was about to find safety in – but the getting to Washington is. You’re off your game the entire way up, sloppy and slow, accidentally kill a woman who tried to touch you after you’d said ‘no.’ She was drunk, and young, and you didn’t feel regret but you did feel shame in your own loss of restraint. She could’ve had a better ending.


You hijack a truck and speed the rest of the way there.


The initial idea was to get some advice from one of the only friends you know is still living. You end up simply spying on her for a few days instead. She’s got a son, a daughter-in-law. She looks happy. Older, face no longer so youthful. She’s in a motor-powered chair. She’s safe. She never really needed you, honestly, you were just a ‘fast forward’ button in her game of life.


You magnanimously decide that she’s had enough of vampire bullshit, and that you should stop stalling and go find your girl. It takes you the entire trip back to New York to figure out a proper apology fitted securely in with the idea of having those babies.


She’s not mad, per se, and neither are you rushed. It all happens consecutively, anyways – it feels like one minute she’s crying and hugging you, the next you’re in some office holding her hand as she shakes, all big smiles and nodding head, and the next you’re stiltedly, guiltily asking her if she wants you to stay while she… develops.


Roxy says no. Looks like she wants to say something, but doesn’t. Goes to live with her little girlfriend, somebody named Naomi, after a disastrous call with her parents.


Letting her go is tougher than you were expecting it to be. You spiral, just a smidge. Get into robotics and underground brawling for a while, which you’d stupidly assumed would be more exciting than it turned out to be. Had a lot of men that practically screamed ‘repressed emotionally and goes to the gym religiously’ to pick at, though. Bro culture sure is easy to fall headfirst into, but it’s a good, lazy cover.


You visit the Hospital room nine months later, on December 4th, 2003, at the wake of a carefully penned letter in Roxanne’s handwriting. You try not to walk in looking like you’ve been beating and fucking men for a near full year and not much else, and you think you fail spectacularly from the way the hospital employees look at you. You tell them you’re her boyfriend, for a lack of better things to say.


Roxy’s got twins in her arms, and she looks exhausted. Her eyes, as she slowly opens them, are brighter as well, but not enough to be a concern. It’s just your influence. What used to be a soft, wined brown, are now a startling pink color, like spring flowers. It’s not a true glow, but it makes you feel possessive over her as a body, as a concept, for a disturbingly long amount of time. It’s hard to shake off, like a teething dog that’s never been told ‘no.’


She smiles at you, all triumphant white teeth, but you’re struck still by the smell of Wrongness pervading the twins. It assaults you with the memory of the pale, poisoned blood you drank out of Caliborn, a century ago. The exact taste, the smell, the effect it had on your body and mind. It’s hard to remind you of such things, considering you’ve yet to encounter their likeness again. What horrors you went through, only for the sake of love that made you ill.


In fact, one of them is pale – squishy and too-pink, bawling its head off so loud you can hardly stand the sound. The other is the beautiful black baby you’d bargained for. Its got bright lavender eyes. Intelligent. But the squalling of the pink one overshadows.


Roxanne smiles at you, fond.


“That is the ugliest baby I have ever seen.”


She stops smiling at you. “Dirk Strider you get over here and you hold these babies’ chubby li’l hands or so help me G-d I’ll get up and tear myself open again just to teach you a lesson!”


You meekly go over to her and sit on the chair provided, although you like to think that it was masked by your confident stride. You do not, however, touch the infants.


“Aren’t they supposed to come take these away,” you ask her in a voice that smacks of apathy.


She’s still used to you, after so many spotty years apart, and only side-grins. “Yea, well, I convinced them to give me a few extra minutes, just in case you showed up all fashionably late.”


Damn. She’s got you pinned, as usual.


The pale baby’s screams die down under whimpering mutters, little hands grasping for something in front of it that it seems to refuse to open its eyes for.


You must make some distasteful expression, because Roxy pinches her lips and raises a brow at you. “What’s all up in your panties, D-Stri? Thought you’d be happy about this – two whole babies for the price of one! Now you won’t have to pretend to be a straight deadbeat boyfriend just to make another.”


“They’re sick.” You take a deep breath of the air, and their strangeness clouds your senses. Makes you feel that faintness you though you’d left behind, that corrosion of the mind. “They don’t smell right, Rox. Especially that one,” you motion towards the pale one, which abruptly sets little Lavender Eyes off into a small crying fit.


Roxy looks close to tears, and you feel something like remorse. “So what if they’re sick? They’re our babies, Dirk – you can’t even take them from me if I say you can’t. If you don’t want them, I’ll love them. Even if they’re ‘sick’ like you say.”


“I don’t want that pale one.” You stare at it, as if Roxy had never spoken.


She’s offended, and hurt, you can tell, but you don’t hear what she says next.


It opens its eyes.


They’re red. Perfect and red. His eyes. You’re instantly obsessed, and emotionally compromised.


You find yourself leaving without another word, grabbing a nurse in the hallway by the arm, making eye contact as you command her to, “Treat Roxanne Lalonde well, and make sure those babies are healthier than a horse about to run the Kentucky Derby.”


You spend a week doing fuck-all. Torment yourself with thoughts about Roxy, her kids – your kids. Think about orange and pink and red and purple all mixed into a pot and think the only color missing is green.


Think about how, you could buy that girl a diamond ring, and she’d still be better off far away from you. Too bad that baby won’t get this choice.


Buy a pack of cigs, and smoke one mid-plan, mid-fever. You don’t finish the carton – nicotine and smog has no appeal to you, but the movement from the fingers to the mouth, the sucking in of breath you’ve long since learned to stifle, is something you’ve found yourself hyperfixated on in the way music and pacing cannot achieve.


You want your kid. Plain and simple.


Some untracked amount of time later, and a hypnotism-involved apartment purchased in a state you are no longer in, you sneak into Roxy’s large New York estate and steal away with your baby. You leave behind a gift in the form of a little metal piece you made a few decades before Roxy was even born – a diamond-shaped tin, for Lavender Eyes.


You’ll be forgiven someday.


You get it home after a stretch of unnoticed time on the road where prepackaged baby formula was your friend and you consistently did not truly comprehend the amount of diapers and baby powder required for this sort of thing. Too many random ma’s and da’s tried to give you advice, and you were simultaneously grateful and over-examined.


You lay it down on a towel, and just stare at it. It wiggles, and squirms, can’t pick up its own head. It’s a tiny machine made out of hummingbird’s wing beats and kitten mewls. So awe-some, so terrifying. It holds your big finger in its little hand, grip so weak you can hardly feel, and its weird pale face scrunches up and reddens.


It’s scared of the dark, maybe. Starts to cry big fat tears. You wipe them away, but more come, so you stop. Place a kiss on its minuscule forehead, so soft, fathomless in its potential. You breathe it in, and smell only new beginnings.


It’s yours. Forever.


You name it Dave.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2004 - 2012, Houston, TX

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jade not-so-gently wrestles Bec off of you, which you’re gonna go out on a limb and assume is normal dog-owner behavior. This act of heroism leaves you free to roam your morning after-the-battle of a house that has had too many gotdam people in it. Plus a dog. Never had a dog before. There’s so much hair and drool; should you be wearing some kinda protection for this??

 

The kitchen is only slightly less of a mess – the plates that were destroyed seem to have disappeared, and the cabinets that had been knocked open are now janky yet closed, but that’s the cleanliness extent as far as you can observe. The poor, broken futon sings sad songs in the corner, like a beacon of fucked up change. You’ll miss that old, fugly bitch that Bro consistently refused to get rid of despite the fact that y’all both have fully functioning beds.

 

At the island counter that miraculously stood the test of two huge men brawling all over, under, and around it, is Bro. In the same torn and bloodied pajama getup as last night, he’s sipping at a glass of orange juice, one so fresh it sweats onto the ugly coaster you had no idea y’all owned.

 

That darn bara varmint Jake is nowhere to be seen. You're full to the brim with lingering anxiety, expecting him to come gallivanting up from the basement that holds absolutely zero secrets, or to swing back in through the living room window the same way an unwanted spider would.

 

You kinda wanna ask Bro where his new maaaan is, but then again you also don’t?

 

Thank God this guy like, raised you and junk, because all it takes is for you to awkwardly stand around in his general area, staring at him with your accusing child eyes, before he goes, “Kicked ‘em out.”

 

You try not to act overly excited about that. “So uh, I know he literally broke in and beat you half to life,” haha vampire jokes are in now, declares you, Traumatized Kid 101 author, “but why? Thought you liked him. Looked all up an’ cozy with him last night.”

 

Bro gives you this sideways glance, one that half-heatedly says, ‘that doesn’t matter.’ That or ‘shut up little boy.’ You wonder if it would be weird as hell to give him a little thank-you kiss, completely bypassing the need for actual communication here. “Thanks for kicking out the guy who broke in, real thoughtful of you” sounds inherently sarcastic.

 

Jade comes blowing out of the bathroom – with Bec at her heels, yes – and you decide that you aren’t that thankful. You only just ‘met’ Jade, you don’t wanna blind her with rays of pure embarrassment so soon. That can wait for IRL Friendship Stage 2.

 

“Mornin’,” you say to her, because you don’t know how to say anything else to her right now that isn’t some flavor of hysterical ‘are you o-fucking-kay??’

 

She smiles at you, completely bypasses you, and goes for your fridge faster than you can ask her if she wants anything, like the truly compassionate host you are. She snags something that may or may not be a salad mix you and Bro always forget about until its gone slimy, and starts eating it with her hands. She tosses bits of bacon and ham to Bec, who catches them expertly.

 

You like her. She idly scratches at her bruised arm, entirely uncaring of the possibility of causing herself pain; she’s an underlying cause, without showing the full illness. That’s worrying, but you do like her.

 

Bro sets his glass down with more noise than he would normally permit himself to make. You’re plain nervous when you ‘casually’ turn towards him, unable to fully invest yourself in this protective facade of ‘wow Jade is such a distracting wild girl to look at huh.’

 

“I’m not playin’ games today, Dave,” he tells you, point-blank, voice a little slurred with, you don’t know, tiredness? “You stay in this house. You keep to where I can hear you. You and your li’l friends do som’n stupid again, I’m not draggin’ my ass all across town lookin’ for you. We clear?”

 

Okay so apparently Jade is gonna get the Full Course Embarrassment meal today. Lucky her. “Yes dad,” you reply dutifully, making sure not to sigh at the dude who looks like he got run over by a semi and could go another round with one no problem, “we clear.”

 

Jade smacks her lips and uses her forearm to wipe her mouth. “Awww! Dave that’s so cute! You didn’t tell me you call him ‘dad’ sometimes! Hehe, I’m telling Rose, and then ‘y’all’ will have a conversation that will be fundamentally way too embarrassing to be heard by anybody else yet also turn you out better people for it! She’s somehow found the wiener sausages. You didn’t know you had any of those. She lets Bec bite off a chunk, then eats a chunk herself. Rinse and repeat.

 

“Okay,” you tell her seriously, cautiously, as if you’re a wild hare bargaining with a wolf for your very life, “Okay, Jade, now listen… If I wasn’t basically married to John, I’d be all over you. I’m so sorry for telling you this. Please date me in an alternate timeline when I’m the furry crowboy we all know I ought’a be.”

 

“Thanks Dave! I’ll make a mental note.” She throws the last bit of sausage into the air, impossibly high for a dog- oh fuck Bec just caught it. Holy shit that’s a big dog. Ohm y god-

 

Jade dabs triumphantly.

 

You shed a tear. “Where is my camera, Bro.”

 

“Wherever you last left it.”

 

“Bro...”

 

He looks over at you and Jade. It’s not a nice look, but it's more inscrutable than anything negative. “Dave...” His tone is warning.

 

You put your hands up and get your best ‘what’d I do?’ face on.

 

With apparently nothing left to say that is even remotely clarified, your recalcitrant brotherdad fucks off to his room, shutting himself in with the same devoid of sound as usual, right before someone knocks on the front door. You assume he heard them coming or smth freaky like that.

 

Bec yips. You jump. Jade makes an excitable noise, and races her dog to the front door, where she up and opens it without checking to see who it is first. Damn, girl, the chops on her is insane.

 

The first thing you notice is the heels. Black, classy, attached to some long brown legs clad in too-sheer pantyhose for this time of the year. You’re like wow, because you legit can’t help it, but then your eyes snap upwards about five and a half feet and realize that that lady is your mom.

 

Holy. Fuck. Nobody tell Rose, please and thank you God.

 

Next to her is a shorter, plumper girl who must be Rose (I’m warning you, God), all dressed in a frankly over-elegant ensemble that has you feeling a tiny jealous. Wish you could get away with wearing cool shit like that, but then you’d be a thin vanilla wafer cookie stuffed in between some sausage casings.

 

There are no group hugs or greetings – Jade immediately runs full-tilt at Rose and bursts into tears the same way a heated metal drum full of water would abruptly crumple in on itself. It would be a comical sight for how tall Jade is and how short Rose is, but instead you can only seem to unconsciously put a hand over your mouth and turn your gaze away. Rose’s mom (your mom) stands to the side, not interrupting but not leaving either.

 

You feel like you should be doing something here, like getting Jade some tissues or a water bottle or a new life or… you don’t know.

 

Mom and you accidentally make eye contact. Hers are a startling pink color. Not as bright as Rose’s or Bro’s, but you’re wary over what the hell that means. Normal humans don’t have eyes like y’all’s, and you know this. She winks at you. You begin to sweat a little.

 

“Y’all wanna move that party to my room?” You awkwardly interject between your huddled friends. Jade has devolved into incoherent babbling that doesn’t seem entirely like a language, sounds more like audible noises of emotional pain, and you nearly begin crying yourself in empathetic backlash.

 

Rose smiles tightly at you with her arms around Jade, who now types jitterishly into a phone’s Notepad app. “That would be lovely, Dave. Some privacy would not be remiss as well, if you can.”

 

You go, “Sure, no problem,” despite ardently wishing you were a worse person so that you could beg them not to leave you alone with your mom.

 

As you close the girls in your room and step around the destroyed remains of Bro’s favorite awful furniture, you feel like an asshole. Like okay listen, when don’t you?? But you figure you should’ve taken some time out of getting into emotional fights with your vamp dad and sneaking around with your boyfriend to maybe think about the fact that you have a mom? But you didn’t.

 

Does this mean you’re technically Jewish? You don’t know anything about being Jewish. You don’t know if you want to be Jewish. Makes you feel guilty. Makes you hurriedly debate the pros and cons of asking your mom straight up ‘How To (Try To) Be Jewish: For Dummies.’

 

And now here she is, primly sitting at the island counter, taking your mussed pajamas in with a beatific smile on her face.

 

“C’mon over here!” She calls to you, and you go to her without any rhyme nor reason fueling your brain cells, other than perhaps the new cell called ‘OMG MOM’, “I won’t bite, Dave.” She laughs like it’s her favorite thing to do – head thrown back, mouth wide and grinning, eyes crinkled shut. Her whole body moves with it.

 

You think you love her. You think you’re kinda overwhelmed. You think you’d enjoy it at least a little bit if Bro came back out of his room now instead of squirreling himself away like the sulking, avoidant teenager he is not.

 

Fucker’s stealing your job.

 

“Hi mom,” you say, immediately, then smack your palm onto the island, “I mean ma’am. Hello ma’ama, welcome to my kitchen. What can I get you today?”

 

“Oh, I’m alright sug’.” She takes a dainty sip from Bro’s abandoned glass, half-full with OJ. The significance of this is lost on you, but you’re aware of it whizzing past your empty little head like a dragonfly. “I had a finger or ten on the plane over so I really ought to sober up now. Gotta pull out the big girl guns if I’m to deal with that maaan that should be done avoiding me right about now.”

 

For a moment, you imagine this delicate looking middle-aged mom eating actual fingers on a commercial airline, like a combo of those weird Gusher’s commercials John once showed you clips of and also Halloween you guess, but then you realize that by ‘fingers’ she means ‘some kinda measurement of alcohol.’

 

Another fun fact: “I had no idea you were drunk tbh like, you don’t even act like it. M’ma.” Argh.

 

Mom gives you this coy ass side-gazing smile you swear you’ve seen on Rose’s face during video calls once or twice. “You might as well let slip and call me ‘mom’, baby. I don’t mind; I’d love it. And thank you! I try very hard to exude ‘drunk Jackie Chan Kung Fu master’ vibes instead of the trashy kinda drunk, y’know?”

 

You go, “Yea, I getcha,” even though you’ve never smoked an alcohol in your entire life. She’s weakened your defenses by calling you ‘baby’, which is dumb, and stupid, and you voraciously pick apart plans on how you can get her to do it as often as possible. Are you neglected?? No, yes, maybe- but Bro stopped calling you his ‘baby’ probably once you grew out of being a literal infant, maybe give a few years considering his understanding of time, and you don’t know how to ask him to start again without making this out to be some kind of convoluted Parent Trap scenario between an immortal gay man and the lady he technically had kids with then vanished from the life of except to play Minecraft and gossip with at midnight on some undetermined schedule.

 

Okay well now that devolved.

 

You toe at the ground and flick various brawl droppings from the countertop like a fidgety toddler at a restaurant. “So… Mom… Are you really gonna go talk to Bro? Man, when he gets like this, nothing can bring him back out. Swear I could scream bloody murder right now and all he’d do is maybe peek out, confirm there is no blood nor murder, then go back in. He was born in his cave, and he's gonna die in his cave.”

 

She squints at Bro’s bedroom door, as if she can see through with her magical mom powers, of which the extent you are not privy to. “He may be napping. He does that every couple of weeks.”

 

Weeks?” Now you’re looking at Bro’s door like a suspicious piece of cheese on the ground. What in the shit? How did you not notice these things??

 

Are you gonna become like him someday? Technically, you did drink blood once. It is not a comforting thought to explore right this very moment, so you banish it forcefully.

 

Mom blinks, and focuses back on you with her smile fixed in place. “Oh, don’t worry your cute little round head, babydoll! That’s pretty normal for him. Or, well, he made it his normal once you came along – he used to go months or years without sleeping, then he’d drop,” she snaps manicured fingers suddenly, “and not wake up for equal or more amount of time! He did it to me once.”

 

Your lungs are on fire with how much you want to take her by the shoulders and shake her, interrogating her for what info she holds in her deceivingly ‘airheaded’ brain about Bro’s life B.D, AKA 'Before Dave.' But instead, all you do is go, “Once?” real quiet.

 

She nods. “Only once.”

 

“What’d you do?”

 

“Well...” She leans back in her elevated stool, somehow not falling off despite being as inebriated as she’s claimed to be. “I gave him his space, and then I told him to go fuck himself basically.”

 

What.

 

Mom must see the sheer disbelief on your face, because she does this little laugh and toys with the glass of OJ. Her nails are perfectly manicured. “Yup! The thing about Dirk is that… You learn that nobody has to play his game – this goes double for the people he really cares about, we aren’t obligated to give into his desires constantly, no matter how well he words his selling point. I respect his needs and a couple of his more reasonable wants, sure, but if his rules are ever bullshit prideful cockamamie he’s cooked up from being all alone with himself for too long, I tell him. And then I turn away and let him sort himself out. Maybe even help a few times, if I’m feeling up for it.”

 

“I don’t understand,” you murmur without fully realizing it, then clear your throat. “But, don’t you like… love him?” How else would she have two whole babies with him? And video call him and ask about her baby and play Minecraft with him? Minecraft is like, your main ‘time with John’ thing, or well it used to be before y’all moved on to other games. Minecraft is the shit, you can’t just play Minecraft with somebody you don’t like a whole lot.

 

“Yes,” she responds instantaneously with, completely sure of herself. You’re in soft awe, maybe disbelief. You are grossed out with yourself over how you’re near certain you’d hesitate in saying you love Bro’s anything, but that’s mostly because you don’t wanna be caught dead saying you Love Him when he won’t say it back. “But that’s the secret – that’s why I demand better of him. I love Dirk, and I need him to do better, be better, because I want to be better with him.”

 

Your mom reaches over and cups you under the chin, bringing your face up to meet hers as she softly goes, “Understand, Dave?”

 

“Um.” Her hand isn’t perfectly soft, but it is warm. "So like, in theory: yes? But in practice, up against The Big Strider Himself...” You make a hand-wavy motion and an uncomfortable noise, using this as an excuse to pull away from the motherly affection you did not wake up ready for today, “I’ll work on it, how’s that sound?”

 

“Sounds fabulous, baby.”

 

A door opens, and your heart soars somewhere either very high or very low. But when you turn around, it’s only Rose stepping out of your bedroom, before softly shutting the door behind herself.

 

You want to ask if Jade’s okay, want to pry answers from your sister with a crowbar, but there’s this presence about her that you don’t think you’d fully prepared yourself for that has you a uncharacteristically tounge-tied. Like she could reach into your mouth and coax everything you’ve ever kept hidden out, and then some.

 

“Mother,” she says warningly as she shuffle-walks over to stand next to you.

 

Mother holds her hands up. “Hey, he only wanted to talk about your dad. I didn’t do anything to your precious, delicate big brother, sweetie.”

 

Rose nods the same way a military general in a movie would, then leans over and pecks you on the cheek while holding your upper arm. You think you blush so hard, you could be mistaken as a buoy floating in the Antarctic.

 

“Now how are you?” Mom asks her daughter, “And how is your little friend Jade? She need anything? You kids want some brekkie?”

 

“I can do that...” You protest lightly, but Rose is still cuddling your side, and now you’ve got girl cooties all over you and it feels great. It feels fucking great. You want your mom and sister to stay forever if this is how they show affection. Hot damn.

 

“Please, mother, don’t offer to make breakfast in someone else’s home without having met the owner of said home yet,” Rose protests. “And Jade is fine. She’s simply exhausted. She will be out whenever she’s ready. Though, Dave,” she turns to you, and you pay an undue amount of attention to how her face is shaped like yours almost, only brown and with lavender eyes, pretty in an intimidating sense, “Jade asked me to ask you if it would be alright for us to go on a walk around the neighborhood with her – she wants to be alone with the both of us.”

 

“I...” You gnaw on your lip. Rose looks somewhat disgusted by this, so of course you keep doing it. You need to wrack in those Annoying Brother points while you can. “I dunno, Rose. Bro kinda grounded me.” You deepen your voice superficially in order to quote, “’I ain’t playin’ games today, Dave.’ I think if he thinks I’ve run away again so soon, he’ll drag me back by the ankles and chain me up in the basement. Like, he literally said ‘I’m not draggin’ my ass all around town lookin’ for you again’ but,” you shrug, and don’t say that you’d like to think he would come for you anyways.

 

You’re the little kid that gets mad at mommy and daddy and ‘runs away from home’ only to go sit on a park bench and wait for that familiar white truck to drive by and see you, take you home, tell you you’re wanted. He’s a control freak who might not see it that way – might think of you as like a lost item to track down. A project he invested too much time and money into to simply let go. Fuck.

 

Mom leans forward and asks you, “What’s in the basement?” Which you think is an odd thing to focus on, considering you literally just confessed to running away at some point in the near past.

 

You can only shrug once again with lingering discomfort from your negative thoughts about a guy who is one room over. “The washer and dryer. Do you need something cleaned? I can do that...” You add on at the end, despite the very real fear in your head that going down those steps will lead to an instant death sentence.

 

On the other hand tho, maybe that’ll make Bro come out of his fucking room.

 

Mom laughs again, only this time it sounds somewhat sardonic. “Ohh, don’t worry about your dad, kids. I’ll take care of Dirk.” She stands with only the smallest of stumbles. She somehow feels, to you, taller than she really is, which is weird to experience considering Bro is taller than everybody else in your immediate family, apparently. You wonder where those tall genes went, because they missed you and Rose by a goddamn mile. “Go have your sekrit walk, babies.” She leans over the same way a flower weighed down with dew would bend, plopping a kiss right on top of your head, and then Rose’s.

 

As Jade is finally emerging from your room, your mom begins picking your brotherdad’s bedroom door lock, shouting, “Dirkie, I’m comin’ in!” before semi-dramatically kicking the door in, and slamming it back shut.

 

“Holy shit dude,” you mumble. “I think he’s ‘bout’a die. Do you think she’s gonna eat him??” You don’t doubt that Mom is capable of basically anything at this point, and you only just met her.

 

Rose makes the sigh of the truly exasperated. She briefly detaches from you in order to go pick a flannel blanket out of the wreckage of the futon, snapping it open professionally before draping it over Jade’s shoulders, who looks waxy-faced yet grateful.

 

On her way back over to you, she collects a few granola bars and water bottles from your kitchen, which she shoves into her deep coat pockets.

 

“Come on,” she prompts you and Jade with, taking hold of your arm once more, “Let’s get out of here.”

 

“Not that I’m offended by this Alpha Twin behavior,” you tell her as she barely gives you any room to put your coat and boots on, “but are you? Like? Okay?? Aren’t you jetlagged or whatever? I don’t know how that works I’ve only heard about it in, like, fanfic and stuff. You know when people conveniently fall asleep right as the scene ends? Yea.”

 

Rose smiles tightly at you once more, nabbing a worryingly quiet Jade by the hand on her crusade to Leave The House. “I appreciate your concern, but I’m alright for now. I’d rather we be at least a few nautical miles out from the home with the supernatural listening ears before we truly discuss anything.”

 

Well, you can’t argue with that. You let your sister drag yourself and your other friend out the door and onto the sidewalk, heading to the right, which goes deeper into your neighborhood. Y’all might even end up at the park, depending on how long this walk goes on for.

 

Jade seems odd but comfy walking around in your Bro’s clothes, though she doesn’t have a coat of her own apparently. Now, with the blanket over top, she looks like a homeless teenager, which is just great.

 

You lean around and poke her in the shoulder, which isn’t hard to do at all considering Rose fails to reach that height anyways. “Hey.”

 

Jade looks over at you, slow. Her smile is wan, but her voice sounds clear when she goes, “Hey Dave.”

 

You give her a short nod and go, “’Sup,” as if you hadn’t been the one to greet her first. She giggles a bit at that. Nice. “So, I was noticin’ that you’re a little shivery and shaky over there, Miss Harley. If you’re in need of a coat, we can do an itty bitty switcheroo with that blanket there.”

 

She is valiant in attempting to fight you, but alas, when you pretend to trip and flash-grab her blanket only to messily replace it with your coat, she concedes, zipping up the puffy marshmallow monstrosity while you get all cozy with your blankie. Fuck yea.

 

If you huddle extra close in to Rose’s warmth, nobody has to know except everybody.

 

Bec comes running out of a neighbor’s holly bush, making you realize he’d escaped the house at some point that you were not aware of. Dogs are wild, man. Rose takes to his enthusiastic slobbering with much more decorum that you did, making you feel proud of the person you once assumed was a steadfast and loyal cat person.

 

You might’ve mumbled some of that aloud, because Rose quotes, “All hounds were wolves, once,” from… something. You don’t know what to say to that so you don’t, because as far as you know, that’s factual information, and also you’re way more anxious around your first meeting with two entire online friends, one of which being your sis, than you expected yourself to be.

 

“Have you ever had any pets?” Jade asks you after about a block of freezing your inner nose boogers and breathing out visible air.

 

“Nah.” But then you think about it. “Well, maybe. There used to be these crows, at the apartment in Texas. They weren’t mine, obviously – they were city crows, doing what city crows do. But I fed them snacks from my window whenever they’d come by. A lot of them didn’t like me too much. I never got any cool presents from them like you see from luckier kids online, but some of them would stop and say hi whenever I was on the roof.”

 

Rose asks, “And what was on the roof?” with the same tone of voice she once used to tell you that you must be afraid of your Bro for a reason, and that she’d like to talk about it with you. It was right before you ignored her for a week until she agreed to drop it.

 

So you say, “Bad stuff.” And leave it at that.

 

Y’all pass another block in awkward silence, apart from the occasional car rushing by or Bec’s overloud mouth noises.

 

“Okay so actually I think I will talk about it.”

 

Rose huffs a laugh and Jade reaches over to brashly ruffle your hair, which is all the encouragement you need to dominate the lack of conversation with shit about yourself.

 

“It’s like,” you begin with, already attempting to noodle your arms out in front of you as if you can conceptualize Bro into being with only your will. The force of nature stopping you is two girls holding each hand, which you will never complain about, “he only has the emotional capacity to deal with one person at a time, and he counts as that one person, like, like he gets all super responsible about everythin’ I do and then it’s like he has to disappear for a while to re-energize or somethin’.

 

“And it sucks because that’s what he does to me. I hate it when he makes me feel like I’m this, inconvenience he has to work around. I know he’s autistic and a super old vampire and generally a dicktip, but,” you slap your thighs with what little moving room you are afforded, “shouldn’t I be the exception? I feel like I should be the exception. Did he know what the hell he was gettin’ into when he had kids?? I think the fuck not.”

 

“I bet he doesn’t feel that way about Jake,” Jade pipes up with, so abrupt and with much more vitality than this morning or the night before.

 

You go, “Uhh,” because if you were to say anything else, it might be, “Fuck Jake English.”

 

“Explain, please?” Rose asks Jade. “I’m curious as to how you came to this conclusion.”

 

Jade looks happy to. “Well, my logic is that, since Jake is almost a full century older than him, and had no problem taking him down in a fight, maybe your Bro is slated to find a true kindred spirit!”

 

You’re offended. And also desperate to stop talking about Jake. “Hey, I helped. I got my innocent li’l fingies all up in Bro’s mansweat.”

 

Jade goes, “lol ew.” Which is probably why you’d elope with her if asked. “But what I’m saaayiiing is that he doesn’t have to tell Jake what to do about nothing just to give himself his fucked up sense of peace of mind! If anything, Jake should be in charge of what your Bro does now because he won fair and square. Also he’s a vampire hunter. Or something like that,” says the girl who’s lived with the guy for nearly a year.

 

“Ohh, Harley, I don’t think Bro will like that.” You kick a rock, and Bec goes skittering after it like it’s a ball. Or a helpless woodland creature.

 

“Well Bro can suck it up.” Jade sticks her tongue out at you.

 

Oh my god. “Bro is like an alpha wolf, okay -”

 

Rose interrupts this scintillating back-and-forth to say, “Scientifically disproved.”

 

“Okay well in a fucked up omegaverse world that isn’t made by horny teenagers online -”

 

Rose stops you again. “I’m appalled that you would speak of something so cursed out loud, Dave.”

 

“I’m not,” says Jade, who looks inches from laughter.

 

“Nice, nice, that was horrifying, thank you Harley.” You sigh in a performative way as they both laugh at you, and not with you. “Anyway – my Bro isn’t just gonna roll over, ya’ dig? He’s gonna micromanage the shit out of everybody, and the fuck out of Jake, just you wait. George of the Jungle is gonna be runnin' for those vines. His dorito shaped meatsuit can't save him now.”

 

Rose cuts the legs out from under your piddly little body when she shoots back with, “Really? Because it didn’t appear as if he was ‘micromanaging’ much of anything when we made like trees and left.”

 

Oooooooo!” Jade hoots as if this is a television show and not your clinically traumatizing life.

 

But then Rose turns to her the same way a hawk would. “Jade, do you simply wish to foist your immortal, disappointingly un-guardian-like ‘cousin’ off on the first person that will come along to take him?”

 

You put a hand over your mouth and look over at the girl in question. “Oh snap Harley.”

 

She is unflappable. “Yes! Definitely!! Absolutely!!! Marry me, Rose, or adopt me, or just like? Soul bond me? You can do that with a oujia board and some tarot cards, right? Right.” She nods to herself at the idea. “Soul bond me. Body share me. Throw me in your trunk and fly me to the moon.”

 

Rose’s smile is tiny, but from the way her dimples twitch, you think she definitely wants to grin. “One of those is not like the others.”

 

“You’re right, you’re right.” Jade leans down and scrubs a hand viciously through Bec’s fur, making him whine for more when she unbends. “I’d have to rub elbows with Kanaya first. Seduce her and all, easy stuff. Then we could get married.”

 

“Jade, not to rain on your adorably silly parade, but it sounds like your life with Jake sucked.” You briefly pat Bec, too, when he ardently trots in your way in attempts to get affection from you. “Not trying to overstep here. Just sayin’.”

 

Jade only nods primly. “Sucked so much I’m moving in with a girl I met online, yea.”

 

Oh. You look between the two, which, with your sandwiched position, is not subtle at all. You don’t know how to feel, exactly, knowing that Jade called Rose over to your house because she needed a ride the fuck out of there, and away from her shitty sub-par kidnapping guardian.

 

So instead you sigh, and you make it all about you. “Ugh. I feel like such a brat sometimes, like, Bro isn’t even as bad as he used to be. Do I really have the right to complain and act out so much?” And you say all of this despite knowing that it’s… not true.

 

Thankfully, your friends are smarter than you. At the same exact time, and with stalwart conviction, both Rose and Jade go, “Yes.”

 

Rose looks a little perplexed (her face does the equivalent of a !?), and raises an eyebrow specifically at Jade.

 

The most quintessential Jade, who has much better color to her tanned face than earlier, pats your hand in a way that makes you think she’s never tried to physically comfort anyone before. Makes you kinda sad. “Listen, Dave – I know that my grandpa has been dead since I was five, and I only recently got whisked away from an isolated island by someone flighty and inadequately prepared to take care of me, who forgets my name every other day and forgets the day altogether most of the time.

 

“A life which anybody else might’ve expired from, but I persevered because I am strongly essential to the plot.”

 

You fake-cough once into your fist. “Meta.”

 

Rose waves you away. “No, no, let her finish.”

 

“And I,” Jade Harley hereby declares, “Strong plot device first, girl-person second, have every right to demand that my guardians BE BETTER!”

 

You don’t survive – you’re overcome with a laughing fit so wheezily hard that you completely miss whatever words of wisdom Rose drops into your ear cavities right after that, bent over at the waist, trying not to drag your two clinging friends to the cold concrete. You damn near get a faceful of white fur, that’s how far you’re lost. Jade has to hoist you back upright, where she then laughs in your face because it’s probably tomato red right about now.

 

Jesus,” you breathe out, “okay see this is what reminds me of how dumb John and I are, being around you two makes me feel smarter. Why can’t y’all move in with us to even out the latent stupidity our future household will be drowning in.”

 

“Sounds like you’re suggesting a twice incestuous polyamorous marriage, Dave,” says Rose, because whothefuckelse would say something like that.

 

“Yikes.”

 

“I wouldn’t mind.” Jade. What the fuck, Jade???

 

Even Rose, ‘reads and writes erotic mindbreak lovecraft for fun’, looks incredulous. “Quoth the Dave: Yikes.”

 

“I’m kidding, feufggwjdh.” She slaps a hand down on your shoulder, and you look up with only a quarter cup’s worth of fear. “But seriously, fridge me and die.”

 

Her smile mimics the winter sun.

 

“I think that’s her way of serenading me with a deconstructed, ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’,” you mumble to Rose, which is basically like normal talking volume for you.

 

“Why would you forget about me?” Jade asks. “We’re going to be seeing a lot of each other from now on.”

 

“Whut?” It doesn’t really register to you, how stiff Rose’s arm suddenly feels in yours. “I didn’t say nothin’ when you said you were movin’ in with Rose, because I figured it was one of those ‘butt out, Dave’ things, but… Whut?”

 

Rose takes a deep breath. “That’s right; you and Jade are coming up to live in New York with me.”

 

Jade crows, “Yeaa!” And then throws a rock down some alley in between two parking lots for Bec to chase.

 

You’re cold. “Um. Uh. What? This is news to me.”

 

“Oh,” breathes your sister, who meets your eyes too freely, “Did… nobody tell you?”

 

You swallow something. It might be a scream. “When did this happen.”

 

“A few days ago.” Rose rubs up and down your arm. It’s cold. You’re very cold. “Mom said it would be a surprise, but… Dave, are you alright? Please understand.”

 

You initiate a company halt. When you open your mouth for one more idiotic ‘uh wut’, nothing comes out. Y’all’re stagnating next to this convenience store, a halfway point between your house and John’s, like a bunch of chilled cop bait.

 

“So it didn’t even have anythin’ to do with hunters or whatever this time, did it.” You breathe out white fog, and look down at the boots Bro bought you last Christmas. They’re red. “He just up ‘n decided to move me away from John ‘for my own good’ without even askin’ me.”

 

Jade makes an uncomfortable noise, and slides her arm out of yours. “Er, Dave -”

 

“And now he’s got this two-hundred year old cursed jungle dude placated with his magic vampire dick so it’s all good, right? Dave’s not a vamp so let’s just foist him off onto the other half of his family that noooobody ever told him about. Man, that ‘I’m not draggin’ my ass after you again’ really meant somethin’ entirely different than I thought, huh.”

 

Bro wants to get rid of you.

 

You’d considered this road before. You’ve literally had conversations along the lines of ‘Did Bro even want me in the first place?’ for several years because you weren’t raised to be stupid, despite fully being aware that you seem to have turned out stupid anyways, but, fuck, you never actually…

 

The blanket you curl up around your nose smells of the only home you’ve ever known. It doesn’t smell like a place, but a person.

 

You never actually considered it to be a reality. It never sunk in as a future possibility, no such alternate timeline existed to you. Because everything kept being the same; Bro kept existing, you kept coming home to a house full of his shit and your shit and food and his attention. He kept saying ‘sorry’ and kissing the very front of your mind so that he’d always be first in line for your thoughts.

 

And now, after everything he’s done to you, your dad wants to cast you to the side. The sixteen-year long investment he doesn’t see the worth in continuing anymore. Somebody else’s lost item, now.

 

Before you can consider crying, you not-so-nicely rip yourself away from Rose’s grip. Her face is steely and unreachable when you spit back at her a choked, “’It’s a surprise,’ my ass, Lalonde.”

 

If they say anything after you, you don’t let yourself hear it quite right. It’s an act of self-sabotage and you know it, but feel helpless to stop it. Rose’s got GPS on her phone, they’ll be fine, you tell yourself as you leave them there. They’ll be fine.

 

You’ll be fine.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s the last few days of Winter Break, but it’s still a workday, so nobody’s home that morning to catch you sneaking in through John’s front door, then up to his bedroom.

 

He’s not awake yet, making you realize just how early it is. Sure, the sun may be up, but it’s still a misty blue outside. You’re as much of an asshole as you’d claimed to be earlier for leaving your friends out alone and you know it, but then your selfish emotions wrestle you to the floor and convince you that they brought it upon themselves. Probably. Somethin’ somethin’, don’t shoot the messenger, is a lesson you apparently never learned.

 

Fuck you messed stuff up with Rose and Jade already, haven’t you? Selfishly, you hope that spending some quality time with your boy will make all things better, will help you forget your troubles. You wanna feel safe, and, well, wanted.

 

When you attempt to affectionately place a gentle hand onto John’s warm brown cheek, however, he shoots up in bed like you’d slapped him. You nearly trip back right onto your ass. So much for an uncomplicated and faux-domestic awakening.

 

The way John grapples with his glasses before blinking at you several times like his brain isn’t done loading is comical, but it becomes less so when he jumps out of bed. “You’re freezing, Dave!”

 

“Yea, well, I -” You can’t finish your sentence because John slaps you in the face most haphazardly with the stupid MLP comforter he yanks off of his bed. “Thanks,” you mumble into the fabric. Fuckin’... Twilight Sparkle, get the hell out of the way. “John, I -”

 

“Are you okay?” He questions while rubbing his hands up and down where he thinks your shoulders must be, but it’s more like your ribs. Oh, Johnny. “What are you doing here? Did something bad happen? Jesus, Dave, your lips are going blue!”

 

“What?” You poke at your own mouth, as if you can tell their color with only a finger. They are sorta numb. “I guess. That’s not important, though.”

 

“It’s pretty freaking important to me, actually.” You don’t get scolded by John often, but when it does happen, it feels awful, just plum horrible, like you’ve truly been bad if Eazy Breezy John sounds serious. “But, really, did something happen? Where’s Jade? Did you walk here??” He blinks once, sleepy yet trying so hard not to be. “How the hell did you get in here, actually…?”

 

You try to shove him away, acting uncaring, but he only makes a fussy, grumbling noise, and grabs you ‘round the waist instead so that he can fog up your cold face with his morning breath. That’s nice. “Jade’s fine, Rose is fine, I stole your spare key literal years ago dude, Jade is going to live with Rose, and apparently so am I.”

 

John stills. “What?”

 

“That’s what I said.” You sigh, and lean your full weight into John instead of attempting to get away. He holds you sweetly, because there’s a reason your first instinct was to come here. “But there’s no way I’m lettin’ that happen, y’hear? Bro can’t do that to me. He can’t take me away from you like that. Don’t care if he suddenly has the urge t’ shove me off onto my long lost sister and mother or whatever.”

 

John hums into the top of your head, where you’ve collapsed inwards into his chest. “Are you sure that coming here was the best idea though? I mean, last time you ran away here, your Bro was uhh… Not happy. Not that I’m not happy to see you, eheh.”

 

“Yea, well, Bro probably already knows I’m here since he knows fucken’ everything, right,” you mutter moodily into John’s collarbone. “Fuck Bro. He’s such a maniac. I bet he’s crawlin’ his way over here, drippin’ ten tons of sunscreen, as soon as he heard from Rose and Jade that I’d wandered off,” you say, even though it feels like a lie, and also a hope.

 

“Why would he hear from Rose and Jade that you’d ‘wandered off’?”

 

You bury your face further into John’s soft pajama shirt. Ope, here comes the shame. “Jade wanted to go on a walk for some reason, idk they were pretty hush-hush about most of what happened to her. When Rose dropped the news about what… was goin’ on, I kinda had a big baby tantrum and left them at the convenience store. Y’know the one.”

 

John gasps and grabs at your shoulders without fully pushing you away. “Dave! That’s, really sort of a horrible thing to do to them. Like I’m sure you already knew that, but- ” He cards a stressed hand through his hair, fucking up the curls spectacularly, and rubs at one of his eyes underneath his glasses. “Okay, um. I feel like maybe we should call dad, or your dad, and tell them? What’s going on?”

 

You open your mouth, and can’t find any reasonable thing to say in response to that. Ideally, it’d be ‘yes’, but you bite your lip for the second time today and only smush your face into his chest again, where it’s warm and quiet and you don’t have to think about how Bro once tore you from a fire, left everything else behind, and yet thinks he can fly you to another state without talking to you first.

 

“I’m sorry,” John hisses, like he’s done something inhumane. “It’s just, this is starting to sound like something bigger than us, you know? My dad always said that ‘communication is key in any relationship,’ and normally I’d roll my eyes behind his back because yeah, no duh, dad, but I really do think that maybe this time we should try to talk to your Bro instead of finding loopholes around him.”

 

You reluctantly mumble “okay’ in a very half-assed fashion, considering how you are becoming hopelessly aware of how tired your body feels now that it’s not tear-freezing cold.

 

“Um, right, okay.” John sounds pretty overwhelmed. You’re such a shitty boyfriend, you should be helping him and talking and engaging with him right now but instead you’re debating the pros and cons of dragging his fine ass back to bed for a stress-reducing nap. “Hey, you said your Bro’s probably on his way now, right? We can just tell him when he walks in the door, and then we can call my dad, and probably Rose’s mom since hopefully Rose didn’t fly here alone and get her all up to speed, and then Jade -”

 

He’s interrupted by the sound of his bedroom window popping open, and a man vaulting inside, quicker than flies and even quieter than that.

 

You go, "AAAAA, and John goes, "EEEEEEE," and Bro goes, "..." because he doesn’t want to accidentally spit out his favorite xylitol gum.

 

Your crazy vampire dad points at you, cowering in your boyfriend’s arms as if you didn’t predict this outcome half a minute ago, and then crooks it in the universal ‘get your ass over here’ gesture that you used to be intimately familiar with, as he would do it when wreathed by the bleeding Texas sun.

 

You wish you had the chops to make a crack about this, joke around like ‘John if you’re a werewolf now’s a great time to tell me,’ but you’re scared legit stiff, the same way a mouse about to have that final shock would be.

 

For once, John isn’t quiet, or full of nervous giggling, or looking to you for cues on how to wrangle your vamp dad. He stands tall and tells your Bro, “Dave’s freezing. Whatever you’re gonna do, you need to take him home first, and fast. But just know that I’m calling my dad, and telling him that something’s going on.”

 

You gawp at your boy in something like betrayal, even though there’s this unwanted undercurrent of understanding. Bro’s the giant mechanical shark, John’s the lonely fisherman on the small boat trying to survive day by day, and you’re the chum in a bucket getting tossed into the water. You get it. But you wish you didn’t - wish you’d been smarter today.

 

You know what’s coming next the same way you knew the back of Bro’s hand when you were six and you’d fucked up too many times.

 

John lets you go at the same moment that Bro snatches you up, limp piece of meat to be passed around you are, and you find yourself being tossed out the window before your mind can catch up and make you scream.

 

Bro doesn’t give you the luxury of walking your own self to the gallows. He hoists you and your two blankets up into his arms, and he trudges away from John’s house, a little uneven in his gait, a little too fast for a normal human to achieve.

 

It takes you a minute of shivering, involuntary movements borne not entirely of the cold, for you to speak up. “Bro…?” Your throat is already gummy with bile, like you’re about to cry, or throw up, or both. You try to do neither. “Dad? Daddy?”

 

He doesn’t talk to you. He doesn’t look at you. He’s got his shades on, and his mouth shut, and his god-hand at the back of your neck like wolf’s teeth. You fall apart piece by piece the entire walk home, a fraction of infinity, as you press your face into the side of his throat and quietly beg for mercy.

 

This is what you wanted, Dave.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

You’re both aware yet unaware of time having passed between John’s house and the front door shutting. All you know for certain is that your toes hurt, your face is numb, and Bro’s motioned at you to take off your boots with only his chin. Yet you know what he means.

 

You comply without thinking – gotta do what he tells you to, Dave. You don’t want nothin’ bad to happen to you, Dave. You try to leave your socks on, but they’re wet with cold sweat, and he peels them off of you before you can do it yourself. John’s comforter gets left behind somewhere in the living room during Bro’s march to –

 

to his bedroom. The worst case scenario.

 

You seize up and yet try to go limp at the same time. Whatever effect you achieve is entirely ignored by him, because it ends all the same – you, plopped onto his bed uncarefully, shivering for reasons you wish you didn’t have to know.

 

You’re getting tired of sounding like a desperate little kid, in the way you break your previous silence to ask, “Where are Rose an’ Jade?”

 

“Hotel.” He shuts his bedroom door. With the blackout curtains in place, the only light comes from his half-open laptop. The screen is full of an unanswered pink pesterlog.

 

The walls are closing in. “What about what they said about me going home with them? Is that still happenin’?”

 

Bro looks at you. That’s all he does. He’s empty-seeming in the darkness. “No.”

 

You feel this slow drawn chill, this realization that maybe Bro didn’t orchestrate that at all. Maybe Rose and your mom were trying to get you out of here in secret, and you’ve blown your chance. You bit the lips that kiss, dawg, literally. You shouldn’t’ve smacked your sister’s hand away.

 

And then you’ve got vertigo with the idea of getting out of here being a ‘chance,’ of being something you actually want. Do you…?

 

You don’t know.

 

This is what I wanted. This is what I wanted. I wanted him to look at me, and now I’ve got it.

 

Not everything is about what you want, Dave.

 

“What if I wanted to go with them,” you say, despite multiple parts of your heart screaming ‘NO!’ all at the same time, overloading what little higher brain functions you retain around your brother when he gets like this. “What if I wanted to go live with Mom and Rose and Jade, be in the ‘fuck off immortal family members’ club.”

 

Bro doesn’t make an expression. He doesn't make any movement or sound at all. He’s horrifying. “Jake said it would be a bad idea.”

 

Jake. Jake fucking English trying to be your savior huh? “And you listen to a lot of whatever the fuck Jake says right now?”

 

Bro scrubs his hand over his mouth, and stares at the floor.

 

Something in you has long since been flattened down, like a takeout subway sandwich, in order to be more easily consumed. You don’t know yourself without this part of you – without what’s been trained into you, about giving in to Bro before he has to ask.

 

Your counterattack to this ingrained reflex is to beg, scream, and cry for attention by using any means necessary.

 

God, you despise this insatiable need to be loved. Get ballistic at the guy who practically downloaded this into you, because he never gives enough to you, greedy as you are, for you to ever feel truly loved.

 

All the same, you aren’t breathing properly with the desperation you find yourself willingly drowning in. “I bit him.”

 

Bro doesn’t react.

 

“I drank John’s blood -”

 

He’s got you by the jaw and shoulder before you can finish. One finger works its way in between your clenched teeth while his thumb drills into the side of your face, hinging you open.

 

Holy fuck this is…

 

You don’t know. It won’t hurt unless you struggle, but like a trypanophobic patient getting their blood drawn, you can’t help it. Can’t help the tremors, can’t help the uneven, heavy breathing, can’t help the tears.

 

It hasn’t ever occurred to you to be afraid of Bro being near your throat, near your veins, with his teeth so close, until right this very fucking second. And there’s nothing you can do about it, because what Bro wants? He gets. And right now, he wants you subdued.

 

So you might as well play fawn.

 

Bro stares down at your open mouth as if he can see all the way into your soul. He is judge, jury, and executioner. He always is. You had delusions of being a player on the board, but you weren’t allowed to hold your own damn cards. He has all of your cards, and his own cards, and fuck probably some of John’s and Mister Egbert’s, too. Stingy, controlling…

 

You literally do not know who you’d be without him. What you’d do, what you’d think, what your personality would be like. If you’d even know John, or Rose, or Jade. If you’d exist at all as Dave Strider.

 

You wonder who ‘Dave Lalonde’ would be right now. If he’d be someone’s baby beyond age two, if he’d be a person at age eight or if he’d be a dog toy with his brother’s teeth marks in him. If he’d have a boyfriend he lets get away with anything because he doesn’t think he’s got the luxury of rejecting affection, any kind of love, even the type that hurts.

 

This scares you deep in some existential place that threatens to take you out of your current reality, like sawing free an anchor and drifting about a ravenously angry sea as a sailor waiting to be consumed by it, and you can’t say nothin’ because your mouth is being levied open like a fan blade in need of oiling. His nails are the wrench and you are the scrap of programmed metal that is not performing admirably.

 

You feel more humiliated than you have in a long time, going limp as a way of encouraging his paternal hindbrain into thinking about releasing your shoulder, allowing his now freed hand to poke at your teeth like he’s gonna find a cyanide pill taped behind one. What else can you do?

 

He pulls back, but only enough so that your mouth can shut. You do so with the same feeling you’d get when he used to catch you trying to eat candy in the store without having paid for it yet. “How long ago, Dave.”

 

You have to swallow the bile clogging your throat, sinuses itchy with the tears, before you can say, “I… just… That night I ran, and then Mr. E drove me home. I- he cut his finger and then we…” Experimented.

 

“How much.” Automaton commands your obedience, Dave.

 

Breathing isn’t easy, and neither is thinking. “A drop. A few drops. Wasn’t nothin’. But it still...” You stop. Your eyes list to the side. You always do seem to wander during important moments.

 

“Go on,” Bro says, ungentle yet also unharsh. Entirely clinical, and detached. Seeking. “Tell me what happened.”

 

You’re weak. You’re stupid. You’re grateful, it’s pitiful. You tell him, “Felt like dying. I told him I didn’t ever want to do it again.”

 

“Did he listen.”

 

“Yea.”

 

“Do you ever crave more.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“You’d know what I meant if you felt it.” And his voice, here, becomes less unattached, and increasingly tired. He moves apart from you the same way the slow-shifting shadow of moonlight across a bedroom floor would.

 

He gracelessly plops down in his computer chair, legs stretched out. One blocks the door. You couldn’t run fast enough to escape him even if you really tried, even if you really wanted to.

 

Do you want to?

 

“You,” he points his god-handed finger at you from his position lounging in Hades’ modern gamer chair, “stop running away from me.”

 

This is the part where you go “Yes Bro, thank you Bro,” and you curl up under his arm and feel so, so fucking relieved and wanted and loved. Convince yourself to, anyways.

 

But instead you go, “No.”

 

Bro looks at you like you’ve shot at him. It gives you a hitch in your get-along, but you push through that.

 

“No,” you say again, just to taste it. “I won’t stop. Maybe I’ll run away right now, even. What’ll you do then, Bro? Lock me in the basement? Scare me so that I can’t think about anythin’ but listenin’ to you? Ship me off to your only other confidant’s house where she’ll keep tabs on me so you’ve basically still got me from afar?”

 

For an ice cold moment, he’s frozen in time, expression openly indignant. Angry, on the side. But then that all slides off like fine china being thrown from the tablecloth to the floor. “Fine. If you wanna go, go. I’m not comin’ after you again, Dave.”

 

You look at him in the not-darkness of his blacked out room one more time and you go, “No,” again, steady as she goes in your conviction. “I wanna stay with you.”

 

Bro’s mien manifests like a physical entity that crowds up the room in the form of invisible smoke. A thick mix of angry, and confused, and wronged, and hopeful all at once. You think it’s one of the only times you’ve ever seen him emote so clearly. “You don’t know what you’re talking about – I can’t make you happy, Dave. It has been proven that I don’t know how to make you happy. You shouldn’t have to stay with me. I’ve fucked up on numerous occasions and I will fuck up furthermore.”

 

“But I do want to stay with you, you- immortal asswipe with the emotional capacity of one whole clam.” You timidly lower yourself from his unused bed, then stumble the last few feet forward. You go at it a little too hard, because you trip on a leg you didn’t realize fell asleep during your panicked ‘oh god Bro’s taking me to his room and it’s not to make me feel safer’, and Bro stands up faster than you can see in order to catch you. He immediately lets go.

 

“And yes, you do!” You hold on to him, even though he won’t hold on to you, won’t look at you, and fuck that really, really hurts but you can’t stop now. You can’t always back down from him. “You know all those times you were a dick to me and you’d go out and buy me stuff that made me happy? I’d always shut up and accept them because I never thought I’d be allowed to demand any better. And that stuff does make me happy! But you know what would make me happier? You! I want you to make me happy! You’re right – you have fucked up. And you’ll probably keep fuckin’ up but I -” You lose your words for a moment. “I’m… okay, with bein’ there when that happens. I think.”

 

With your grand speech, confession, whatever, Bro turns his head away from you. He’s stiff and unyielding in your arms and you hate this. You hate it when he does this, when he acts like he has the right to take himself away from you, like he’s been a lone island this entire time and he never had you by his side in the first place. The kid weighing down his arm that he is fully capable of abandoning.

 

Fucking infuriating. This is gonna make you do something stupid, like beg or cry, and you know it.

 

“I’ve had years to come to accord with this possibility, and it feels like I’ve wasted every single one.” Bro doesn’t look at you, or touch you, but at least he moves, at least he lets you know he’s still in there, scrubbing at his mouth like he’s shameful or something.

 

Instead of asking, “So you feel like you’ve wasted your time on me?” you go, self-deprecatingly, “Well, t’be fair, I did apparently repress a bunch of shit from ages less than eight and back and only lately started comin’ into it all.”

 

“Because I’m hurting you again.”

 

You bite your tongue. “Yea.”

 

Bro is stiller than stone. “Naturally.” And you can’t find any reason for you to ask ‘what the fuck does that mean’ when you’ve already got a veritable flood to fight through.

 

“So why’d you do it? Huh?” You interrogate him, and let yourself feel a moment of false control with your arms locked around his torso. As if your strength of want alone could keep him from leaving at any moment. “Why’d you do that stupid thing you do when you wanna control me, making up some booygeyman, some awesome danger only you can protect me from? Did you think I wasn’t gonna fight back just because I didn’t when I was little?”

 

Bro’s nostrils flare. “The Hunters were real, are real.”

 

“That’s not what I’m askin’!” Then, “I remember, you jackass! I remember that you’d stockpiled the apartment like a week before they came, I remember that all I got from you was either violence or nothin’, ice fucking cold. You said so yourself – I’m not like you! I’m not a vamp, I’m not a fuckin’ manipulative warlord, I’m not- I’m not-”

 

“You’re not a puppet.”

 

The ‘exactly’ dies on your lips.

 

“But you love me, right?” You’re weak like you’ve never felt before, desperate in the way you beg, “Right? You’re lookin’ at me like you’ve never seen me before, like, like you didn’t even raise me goddammit. Even if you don’t mean it, just say you love me for once, please. It’ll make me happy, don’t you get it? Don’t you want me to shut up?”

 

Finally, when you’re low enough for him, he deigns to look at you. His shaded eyes are not a comforting sight to be met with. “You think that if I said that I love you, I ‘wouldn’t mean it?’” And you feel like he should say more, but he doesn’t.

 

Your mouth flaps and what comes out is, “I don’t know… I don’t know, okay? God...” You’re faint, which also makes you feel like an over-emotional idiot, but you can’t control this. A clammy hand palms your forehead, and you wish it were Bro’s reaching out instead of your own. “What the hell, exactly, am I to you?? Just some bet? A mistake? Didn’t think your undead jizz could get somebody pregnant or somethin’?”

 

No. I was the one who eventually asked her to… have you. We originally wanted two anyways – twins was a surprise and. A wanted one.” Again, you feel strongly as if he should, idk, fuckin’ extrapolate? But he doesn’t. He never does. He keeps all his secrets and you keep none because he wants all of yours, too.

 

Reminds you of when you used to think you had the luxury of being a shy kid. And then reality knocked on your door and smacked you over the head with the realization that, if you wanted anything truly substantial from your dad in ways of communication with yourself or the outside world, you’d have to do a majority of the work. It was not a fun realization to have, that young – not much was – but you did it. You have to.

 

You have to demand better of him before you can get better, too.

 

You bite your thrice abused lip, and slowly approach his limp hands with your own the same way a cautious deer would. “I don’t feel very wanted right now, dad. You can carry me away from my boyfriend like some flour sack princess all you like, but that doesn’t mean you get to skip out on explainin’ your damn self afterwards.”

 

In what you can only assume is a stunned state, he lets you grab his hands. You start walking him backwards until you’re both at his bed, slightly mussed from where he’d deposited you. “C’mon...” You manage to get up on it while not looking, but Bro is stuck with his neck bent down at you with that dumb ‘Does Not Compute’ expression, so you tug at him with force. “Just get on the bed, okay? No more standin’ around in dark corners lecturin’ me. We’re gonna be on equal footin’ for this, a’ight? I’m not gonna go runnin’ out the door right this second, I promise.”

 

For a guy who can easily move faster than any mortal mind can understand, Bro sure can do the exact opposite equally as often. When he finally gets up on the damn bed, you swear your mouth has managed to dry out ten times.

 

“We don’t have to talk about your super ultra mega grimdark past, or John,” you tell him first and foremost, “because I know you fuckin’ hate explainin’ your very deep and contrived reasonin’ to anybody, especially me, so I’m just gonna drop it and have faith in you that you won’t hypnotize my boyfriend every single time you encounter him like a wild Pokemon battle.”

 

Bro doesn’t say anything to that, but his face does a couple of weird things that you are hopefully interpreting correctly as, ‘I do not enjoy getting read AF like this but I’m too interested in the outcome to stop you. Continue at your own risk.’ Which is basically normal Bro thoroughfare.

 

“But...” You play with his hands, a mite nervously. They’re not calloused, but they aren’t soft, either. They’re big. You can’t imagine a time when these black hands were small, a time before his first violent act, but you try anyways, try to connect. “Daddy, please don’t send me away. Please don’t kick me out. I can’t promise that I’ll be the best kid you’ll ever raise through teenagehood, but I don’t wanna leave you, either.”

 

You look up to him imploringly, and you’re already crying because that’s who you are as a person. If you were anymore gauche, you’d buy a million ‘Crybaby’ shirts to replace every other item in your closet. Not that it would change anything.

 

“I love John, and Jade and Rose, and I guess someday I could love Mom too, but I don’t know anybody but you. Not really. I don’t know how to live a life without you. And I dunno if this is just what any person goes through when they first move away from their parents but,” you suck up snot and your voice gets all wobbly. You think your hands are shaking, but some kinda miracle inner voice tells you that it’s actually Bro’s that tremble, “I ain’t ready for that. I don’t wanna go away, dad. Maybe I don’t feel all that loved here right now but I- I can’t just give up and leave. That feels terrible.

 

“I’m awful,” you confess, “I want you to feel just as terrible without me as I would feel without you. I want you to miss me when I’m at school, and I want you to think about me like you love me the same way I think I love you, but you- ” You hunch over, squeezing his hand too hard, several tears dropping onto his skin as you struggle to say, “You have to tell me what you’re feelin’ and thinkin’ about, I can’t keep goin’ on like this, like- like do you hate me? Do you care about me or is this some, some territorial vamp thing that has nothin’ to do with me bein’ your son that I’ll never understand because you don’t talk to me!”

 

You sob openly, bent down so low your forehead brushes against his hand. The same hand he slips out from inbetween yours, and tries to touch you with.

 

Sitting up fast hurts as you smack his hand away so hard you hear the snap of skin against skin. “Stop! Stop it! You can’t just tuck me up away under your arm so that I shut up this time, Bro!”

 

When all he does is meet you head-on with a shaded, blank face, you get pissed. Pissed. “And get those damn things off your nose,” you hiss, reaching out and slapping his shadows away. They clatter onto his floor, and effectively disappear.

 

Bro’s eyes are glassy.

 

You get scared. For him, or for you, you don’t know. You’re plain scared again. “I… Bro I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to...”

 

“No,” he sighs, something in his body language going lax instead of stiff, as his wet orange eyes slide away from yours, “I’m the one that ought’a be sorry, Dave. I,” he pinches the broad bridge of his nose, squeezing his eyes shut as if in pain, “acted before I thought. As soon as shit got flung hard in a direction I hadn’t anticipated, I panicked. Tried to shove it off onto somebody else.” His eyes come back to you, too intense. “Tried to shove you off on somebody else. So that I wouldn’t have to own up to my wrongs.

 

“I’m sorry.” And then, “I can’t promise I won’t do somethin’ like that again, li’l bro.” Fucking… pulling out that childhood nickname like it’s no biggie. “The older you get, the more I realize that I might’a fucked up with you. Done a lot of stuff I shouldn’t’a.”

 

You are, once again, struck dumb. “You...” But the words fail you, getting stuck somewhere in your raw, gummy throat that’s said everything today you’ve been wanting to say for years. “Yes. You did.”

 

The awkward truth of that statement lingers in the air, turning into something heavy in your lungs. All the fervor you had when being dragged into Bro’s metaphorical cave of hiding shit has seeped out of you. It’s all in his hands now.

 

You’re middling somewhere in between cold and chilled when Bro scoots fully onto the bed, leaning his back up against the wall. “C’mere,” he says, perhaps knowingly echoing what you said to him earlier. “C’mere, baby. I’m not sendin’ you anywhere – we’re not goin’ anywhere. Don’t worry. I’m sorry for scarin’ you away.”

 

You crawl over to him messily, jitterishly, and you’re reminded of how Jade ran into Rose’s arms with tears already uncontrollably pushing out of her. How, sometimes, it’s okay to want to be comforted. It’s okay to be particular about who you cry for.

 

Settling back into your dad’s lap with his arms curling around you is like coming home, like really coming home, not just walking in through your front door kind of coming home. A solid minute passes, and it’s pure silence in the room, aside from two people breathing, even if the other person breathes incredibly slowly.

 

He’s always so unapologetically sorry about everything. For a moment, you consider bringing up the authenticity of his ‘sorry’ one more time, but you inevitably drop it. Inevitably take what you can get, cuddling back into his calm, gifted mercy. You’re so thankful, like those past years when you used to thank him for ‘teaching’ you. Thank him for scaring you.

 

You wonder if he knows you’ll never forget, no matter how many ‘sorry’s he gives you.

 

Bro snuffles into the top of your head for some reason. It fully ramps up the awkwardness of sitting on somebody’s lap at age sixteen. You wonder why the fuck he’s doing that when something innocent occurs to you.

 

You remember Rose, complaining about how weird her mom acted when around kittens. She said that her mom would take deep breaths at the back of a kitten’s neck, claiming kittens all had ‘such a nice smell you’d never forget once you raised your own.’ Though you think Rose was more worried about the scmoopy-ness of her mom abruptly dragging her into a hug right afterwards, the memory sticks out to you right now.

 

In a vulnerable state, your mind goes Oh. Oh, I think my dad loves me.

 

And then you break into waterworks just as quickly as you’d fallen into rage earlier.

 

Bro makes this hilariously startled noise, not unlike a cat himself, as it all crashes down around your ears, and you kinda feel bad for him – he finally gets an armful of his teenager only to have said teenager burst into tears barely five minutes in.

 

Whatever. You aren’t gonna make it easier on him – he literally brought this on himself. He can just sit there and take it while you make like an artist, and copy/paste your face onto his shirt in tears and snot.

 

“Couldn’t get rid of me anyways,” you sniffle and snort, “I’m like a modern Jesus, I’d nail myself to your gotdam coffin and then you’d never be able to peel me back off.”

 

He only crushes you harder into him, in a way that has you considering that maybe he can’t handle looking you in the eyes right now. Good. Makes you feel powerful. Makes you feel irreplaceable, like you fucking matter.

 

“Sounds like a great idea,” he muffles into your shoulder. Where he speaks is a muzzy, ticklish vibration. You squirm a little. “I’ll go get a second coffin made pronto.”

 

That, has you laughing. Maybe a little guiltily, but it’s still a laugh. Your roller coaster of emotions for today has been completed.

 

Bro hides his dumbass smile into your stupid ‘Bearly Awake’ pajama shirt he got you three birthdays ago.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

After the Night/Morning Of Great Fuckups, things… start to change, a little. A lot. It takes you until Sunday, the day before school starts up again, to come to terms with this.

 

Sometimes, you think, watching Bro and Jake Shithead Supremo English quietly talk to each other nonstop while fixing the cabinets in the kitchen, you don’t quite recognize who your brother has grown into. It’s hard to separate the man who raised you from ages eight and up with the monster that commanded you from ages eight and down, but now, the opposite begins to ring true.

 

You don’t know how to feel about that. So you don’t. You focus on how Jade’s apparently never in her entire life has used a straw before, spilling her chocolate milk all over the counter.

 

Because she stayed. Not with Jake, fuck no, but Jade is staying in the hotel room Bro (or Mom? You didn’t ask) paid for instead of immediately booking it to New York. Mom and Rose are out ‘getting groceries’, but from the look on Rose’s face when Mom first proposed the idea, which clearly spelled out the sentiment ‘Kill Me’, you have the feeling they might’ve gone off to have a mother-daughter talk.

 

You kinda wish you were invited to a mother-son talk or smth, but you’re not going to butt in. You’ve got your own family problems to take care of right the fuck here, and the name of that problem begins with B and ends with ‘ro’s jungle boyfriend.’

 

The same jungle boyfriend that titters obnoxiously transatlantic-ally at all of your brother’s lamest, most outdated anime jokes, which seems to tickle Bro absolutely pink. Disgusting. It only slightly endears him to you. You genuinely have no idea how Bro could shack up with a random dude who literally broke into y’alls house so fast but, then again, Bro does tend to move faster than you’re comfortable with most of the time; his mind is but a mystery surrounded in brightly colored felt gauze. He likes the color green, now.

 

You have, at the very least, gotten verbal confirmation from Jade that Jake will most likely not stay in one place for very long. Hopefully, Bro won’t be heartbroken over the long-distance relationship they will no doubt need to adopt. You know that you sure fuckin’ won’t.

 

“Well, young Dave,” Jake greets you with, suddenly standing way too close as you help Jade mop up her mess, “do my carpentry skills meet your standards?” He gestures back at the fixed cabinets, where Bro leans.

 

Bro throws you a peace sign.

 

You very strongly resist the urge to flip him the bird. “Yea, looks ‘right. Thanks.” Even though you broke them in the first place, is what you don’t say. Again, this is a herculean task. You clench your wet rag so hard, frothy brown liquid squeezes back out onto the counter. Aw shit.

 

“Ah. Yes, well…” Jake peers back over his frankly enormous shoulders at Bro, who gives him a thumbs up followed by a hand-wavy motion with absolutely no change in facial or body language.

 

What a pair of toolbags. This is the most engaged you’ve seen Bro in a while and you have a love/hate relationship with it.

 

You sigh loudly and throw your head back. “Bro, seriously, you don’t need to get your dumb boyfriend to sweeten the deal by gaining my approval. Just,” you make some kind of esoteric gesture with your hands, nearly throwing wet towel everywhere, “do whatever you wanna do, man.” And don’t make me interact anymore with Jake than I have to.

 

“Jake’s not dumb,” Bro replies with all the finesse of a toddler who is also six foot two and is holding a hammer the same way one would a weapon. Ah, yes, the dark stallion of the household.

 

“Right, sorry.” You finger-gun in Jake’s face while Jade slurps a new glass of milk from behind you. “You are not dumb. Noted.”

 

“I get the feeling that you don’t like me very much, do you Dave.” In Jake’s eyes is something strange, and old, nothing you’ve ever contended with. But it makes you feel sorta bad all the same, so you awkwardly pat his arm and pretend like you didn’t smoosh milk onto his dark arm hair.

 

“You did kinda break into my house and also made my friend cry after experiencing several months of hell.”

 

Jake nods, a self-deprecating twist to his mouth. “That’ll do it, won’t it.” And when Bro beckons Jake back over, you turn around and make a quick stink face at Jade, who laughs into her straw, making her milk bubble over. You slap the towel down onto the counter again for another cleaning.

 

As it turns out, Jake and Jade already talked. Jade told Rose all about it, but not you, which you understand you guess. Rose makes herself a very convincing person to tell things to. You try not to be jealous over the sheer closeness the two seem to carry, however, considering you have John.

 

Had John.

 

Listen, you’re not gonna be a pessimistic pitch-fit bitch, but you and John are awkward right now. He says he feels guilty over ‘throwing you into Bro’s waiting, violently possessive arms’, and you say that ‘it all turned out okay.’ Not good, or great, just ‘okay.’

 

Also you think John’s Dad might be mad at Bro, or is at least quietly disappointed, and Bro seems to be either entirely unaware of what he’s done to make said dad mad or is ignoring it in favor of you and his new man. And occasionally the girl who is as tall as he is that tends to hang out at your house. And your mom and sister.

 

You’re no shut-in like he is, but even you are starting to wonder what crazy nonsense shenanigans you have to get up to in order to make these people get out of your house.

 

Mom and Rose come back with the groceries they promised, only it’s taken them, like, two hours. The grocery is maybe ten minutes away. The look Rose gives you is contemplative, which is right before she hugs you. Mom kisses you on the cheek before you can even think of dodging. They ain’t sly.

 

They also have a flight to catch.

 

“Listen, Rose, I’m still super fucking sorry about what I did,” you stop your sister with as she tries to put pasta in the cabinet that obviously holds snacks. You bet she gets her groceries delivered or something, this is abysmal. “You don’t have to sabotage my kitchen in retaliation, though, damn, girl. Mom seriously tomatoes do not go in the fridge. Put them on the window sill.” You wrestle the gallon of milk from Mom’s grasp as she tries to put it in the side-door, which will definitely break from all the weight. “Were you people raised in a sterile lab or something?? Get out of my kitchen, oh my god. Bro get the hose, we’ve got an infestation.”

 

Mom laughs at you and goes to ambush Bro with a flying-leap hug that he expertly catches. Rose smirks at you and leans against your cleaned counter.

 

“You’ve already apologized, Dave. And I’ve forgiven you.” Jade offers her a freshly plucked red grape, and Rose opens her mouth obligingly. It’s platonically intimate in a way you aren’t familiar with, and leaves your insides all squirmy. “Truthfully, I should’ve been more tactful.”

 

You make an uncomfortable noise while shoving the bread into its proper drawer. “Yea, well, I also feel bad in general about like, leaving all of the hard decisions up to you? Like, what kinda big brother am I? You were jetlagged and stressed over your ma- uh, our ma, blowin’ in an’ messin’ stuff up. I should’ve tried to help you more, but then I was like ‘wow a kisseroo on my cheek’ and turned into a nematode.”

 

Jade laughs at you with her mouth full. It’s so fucking endearing, goddamn. You still don’t want to share a bed with her again, though. “Aww, I want a kiss on my cheek!”

 

Without hesitating, Rose complies. You’re pretty sure you blush as if she’d done smacked one on yours, instead. “Dave,” your incredibly tactile sis says to you, “It’s alright. This is far from the most disastrous first meeting outcome I predicted.”

 

“What was the worst outcome then?”

 

Rose blinks laxly. “Death.”

 

Oh. You toss some bags of chips from a strange brand you’ve never heard of into the chip box, and miss your window of opportunity to say literally anything to that.

 

“Now, if you’ll excuse us.” Rose straightens up, walking around the counter in order to breezily sweep away Jade’s trash. “I’m more than ready to go home to my girlfriend, and to show my new housemate her room.”

 

The three of your take a parting selfie while Bro and Mom whisper in the corner about who cares, none of you mentioning how John hasn’t been around to your house ever since you snuck into his last.

 

Jake, at some point in between fixing your cabinets and placing his dirty hand on Bro’s cheek in a display of adult affection you quickly turned away from, disappears. You don’t know where to. Nobody knows where to. Bro might. He won’t say. He doesn’t exactly look torn up, so you’re gonna assume everything is alright on the DirkJake front.

 

Mom kisses both of your cheeks, and winks at you like you’re sharing some unspoken secret, before she herds her two girls out the door to the Uber waiting to take them to their hotel room, and then the airport. Jade waves at you a little sadly from the car window, and you wave back with a feeling of loss that you don’t know how to contend with right now.

 

And then it’s just you and Bro again.

 

You abruptly wonder why tf you wanted your house to be empty like this. You go and stand in your room with the door open and look out your bedroom window at the vacant house next door, unseeing. The bolts are gone. You don’t know when Bro took them out, but you vividly remember when he poked them in. Vaguely remember with feelings of acute fridge horror when he’d first put them there, a trap waiting to be sprung.

 

You know Bro is there because you know how his presence feels. He doesn’t walk into your room, but stands outside of it as if he hasn’t beat the door in on several occasions this past year. “You got everythin’ ready for school tomorrow?” He asks, and it smacks too heavily of forced normality. You guess something has to, though.

 

“You talk to Mr. E lately?” You turn around, and he shakes his head mutely. Doesn’t ask ‘why’, making you guess that he knows he’s in hot water right now. You sigh and mess with your coily hair a little. “I’ll be ready before I go to bed, yea. I’ve got everything, it’s just, like, somewhere that is not conveniently together.”

 

Bro steps into your room and looks about with his unshaded eyes as if he can spot your wayward school supplies. “Here.” He hands you your dose of iron pills. “Forgot to take these last night.”

 

You automatically grope at his pockets for those mysteriously replenishing water bottles he keeps in there and swallow your pills in one swig. When you bring the bottle down and re-cap it, Bro moves into your space and kisses the top of your head, verging on forehead territory.

 

While clumsily replacing the bottle into his pants (because what else are you gonna do with it? Bottle flip it onto your nightstand? That’d be sick but now’s not the time) you squeeze in between his arms and turn it into a hug, no longer satisfied with merely standing there and letting him cash in his one true affectionate gesture before allowing him to escape.

 

Thankfully, he doesn’t stiffen up, or pull away, or refuse to hold you back. He slides his arms around your shoulders and engulfs you. You cram your arms up against his chest and let yourself disappear into him, marvel at how you’re tall enough now for him to simply dip his head until his nose touches your crown, buried into the cloud you call your hair.

 

You sigh and relax fully. Listen to the winter wind outside. Don’t waste time on worrying about the future right now. Y’all have earned this sort of easy embrace, no questions, no caveats, just… love.

 

“I love you,” you tell him, without demanding that he say it back because you know now that sometimes he can’t do that, and that’s what you’ll have to live with.

 

“...Love you, too.”

 

Oh.

 

Several minutes pass, and you never get tired of standing there like that.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

A few weekends later into the school semester, multiple conversations had with your boyfriend stolen in between classes, and also a snotty cold suffered though, you go over to John’s house to play video games.

 

Bro quietly shadows you.

 

At first you’re like, a’ight. You’ve run away one too many times and now he feels like he’s gotta walk you to and from John’s house like you’re ten again.

 

But then you guess you turn your head to peer over at him one too many times, because he eventually says, “Need to talk to Jeff.”

 

“Right, right, because you’re allergic to phones still.” He flicks you in the ear, and it doesn’t hurt or anything. You giggle with your shoulders up to your ears on instinct.

 

He speaks up again of his own volition after another block, which is so surprising that the constant commentary in your head goes a little wild with it. “Maybe we should stop at that bakery and pick up somethin’. Get one of those tarts you like.”

 

“Not that I don’t love a good fruit tart, but Mr. E’s gonna smack you.” Bro looks over at you with his ‘Does Not Compute’ expression, face slathered in sunscreen around what his shades and medical mask do not block. “I mean like, for bringing someone else’s baking into his house. His Crocker locker. He won’t actually smack you, I don’t think he’s ever willingly hit anybody.” Unlike you, is what you don’t say, because he doesn’t need that from you right now. You do, upon occasion, understand that not everything is about you.

 

Bro doesn’t stop at the bakery. You make it to John’s house like any other day, of any other month, of any other year, except this time John freely greets you with a kiss because he’s met the eyes of death and feels no reasonable amount of fear now.

 

John insists that Bro sits on the living room couch and watches y’all play video games, or could participate himself. Bro appears to choose the latter as he parks his ass on the couch and does not immediately go to talk to John’s dad because Bro's favorite passtime is avoiding conversations.

 

You don’t exactly throw your hands up at him, but you do give him a significant look over the top of your own rounded shades. One that he nimbly blocks with a relaxed finger-gun, like some kind of Jake-infested tool, and then does nothing else about.

 

A’ight, you think, I tried. He’s a hundred some odd years old, you can’t keep holding his hand. Like, well, you can, actually, hold his hand, and you will hold his hand whenever you want, but. Yea.

 

You play Mario Kart. One of the older ones, because apparently the newer games that are multi-player only let you multi-play while online, and not with two controllers on one console, which is idiotic. You cannot fathom how dumb that is, and John apparently agrees because he hasn’t asked for a new Mario Kart beyond the one for Wii.

 

After a few rounds, of which you both lose and win an equal amount, you turn to your overly concentrated boy and you go, pretty saucily if anyone were to ask you (they don’t), “If I win this round you have to call me daddy for a week.”

 

John looks over at you like he’s seriously questioning whether you’ve gone crazy and forgotten there’s an adult on the couch right behind you. You give him the Eyebrow Raise, which is Highly Effective in egging him on. “I’m physically incapable of saying that word with my mouth.”

 

You scoff. Bro interjects exactly zero times.

 

You lose that round.

 

John immediately pounces on you. “Gotta call me daddy now.”

 

“Okay, one: Hypocrite.” You shove him off, and he’s already laughing. “Two,” you twist until your head is practically laying on top of Bro’s knee, “Bro I am being sexually harassed and I need an adult.”

 

John tries to call you a little bitch in a whisper so as to not alert his dad of the foul language going on in this good suburban household, but then Bro, your dear sweet maladjusted brotherdad, cuts you down to the bone. “I thought I was daddy.”

 

You feel your soul escape your body.

 

John’s instant, embarrassed laughter sends you to the fucking Shadow Realm, where you'll stay until you're sixty-five and retired from telling all jokes, ever. “Dave… Dave oh my god -”

 

“No it’s like!” You flail so hard you drop your controller. “I swear I only do it when I want somethin’. John shut up, shut the fuck up -”

 

John does not shut the fuck up. In fact, he only gets worse, his laugh turning into a drawn-out wheeze as he pats your shoulder and struggles to speak normally over his onset hysteria, “Whatever you say, Dave.”

 

You try to plead up at Bro for support, but when you do, you’re met with an awful sight, just a truly fucked up look on him. He’s legitimately sad about this.

 

This guy honest to god thought you called him ‘daddy’ like a little kid and it didn’t meant anything more than it does when you call him ‘dad’ or ‘Bro’ like a normal fucking person would in this unholy year of 2020.

 

You have rapidly lost control of this situation.

 

NO!” You burst out with, standing up to, idk, pat at his head? You don’t know how to proceed. Your boyfriend is rolling on the floor. “I mean like you’re still my dad, I love you, just like… the, the ‘daddy’ thing is so…” John has to clear his overtaxed lungs out by pounding at his chest. Good lord this has gotten out of hand. “Don’t look at me like that, oh my god. The sad Naruto flute is personified in your expression right now.”

 

“I can put it on if you’d like.” Bro slides his phone out of his pocket like he’s actually gonna do it, but you place your hand over it and block his view because you can sorta understand that he’s not okay right now?

 

“Okay, are you actually still sad or are you being an asshole, I can’t tell.”

 

Bro’s expression gives away crumbs, and nothing more. “Guess.”

 

John has thankfully calmed down, now quiet and awkwardly observing from the floor, as you plop down onto the couch next to Bro with a very teenaged sigh. “’kay, I know I asked you to be more transparent with your emotions but now you’re kinda turning it into a joke?”

 

“My emotions are a joke, Dave.”

 

Ooooh, this dude makes you so mad sometimes. “Bro, no they are not. You just learned that your kid only calls you ‘daddy’ as a joke and I know you love that word, you fuckin’ Texas Chainsaw Disaster, and you still think I’m a blip in your own timeline, that I’m nine years old forever.” You carelessly slide his phone into your own hoodie kangaroo pocket and messily slot yourself under his arm, trying your best to look him in his hidden eyes. “If you’re sad, then you’re sad. It’s okay to be sad, but don’t make it into some kind of big joke like you’re stupid for being sad or like, literally anything else.

 

“I’m not some dumb little kid anymore who thinks you're God Above and tries to copy everythin’ you think and do, but do you know what that would’ve told me? That I shouldn’t ever have emotions, because emotions are jokes. And, tbh it makes everybody around you uncomfortable? Also I’m gonna crawl in your lap now.”

 

Bro goes, “Okay,” woodenly, and you crawl into his lap.

 

John watches all of this go down from the floor, one hand covering his mouth, lounged out like a model instead of someone who witnessed something go from 0 to 100 real quick

 

You look at your boy. You look at your Bro. They both seem unsure what to make of this new ‘lecture about your emotional expectations instead of holding it all in’ Dave, so you pat Bro’s other knee and say, “He’s got more room up here, dude.”

 

John, bless his sweet heart, wastes no time in practically diving into Bro’s other half of lap, because before Bro was the Big Scary Vampire Dad, John loved to fuck with the dude. Loved to try and prank him, loved to mess with his day, loved to get him to teach a twelve-year-old how to skateboard if only because it was possible to wear Bro down eventually if one was annoyingly innocent enough.

 

You’re pretty sure John sticking crayons up his nose that one time was purely in order to see the vivid disgust on Bro’s face right afterwards.

 

Bro responds by putting his hands behind his head, sitting there with two spry young lads in his lap like he’s king of the world. You feel the urge to bring him down a notch by sticking your fingers all up in his obvious weak-spot that he’s exposing, but as you creep your mischievous hand up towards his pit, he quickly retaliates by folding his arms down over the both of you like a vice.

 

“It was a trap!” John yells into Bro’s bicep, making you realize that he probably had the same idea. Fuck yea, great minds think alike.

 

Bro then stands up, putting you both over his upper arms like fish on a rack. You think you scream a little. Goddamn, it’s like being ten again, when you thought Bro was the strongest dude alive for being able to lift two kids at once. Now, however, you know that he probably legit is the strongest guy you know.

 

While John tries very hard to gnaw on Bro’s side like some kind of feral wolverine child, dad walks in, calmly drying his hands on a tea towel.

 

There’s an awkward silence where you try to forget that you’re being hung from sheer muscle like one would be dangled off a metaphorical cliff at the end of a book.

 

“Dirk,” Mr. E greets the scene with, “would you come with me please? There’s something we need to discuss. Hello, Dave, it’s nice to see you again.”

 

You go, “’Sup,” and give him the classic head nod before you find yourself being flipped over, around, and placed back down onto the couch like a limp piece of dough. For all the gentleness your brotherdad displayed, that was still pretty dizzying.

 

“Be good,” Bro tells you, as if you need to be told this, “and don’t make anymore weird bets until you’re eighteen.”

 

With that, he disappears into the other room.

 

Well.

 

When you look at your equally disheveled boyfriend in order to swap the hot gos, John is already staring at you. He’s waggling his eyebrows in the most salacious of fashions.

 

“’Pass the salt, daddy’ and then both I and your Bro reach for the salt -”

 

You groan. “Stoppp, I wasn’t actually gonna make you call me that for a week. Like, can you imagine how awkward that would be? I can. I can imagine it, and it’s awful. If you make me call you that fuckin’ buzzword of depravity I’m gonna elope with Jade after all.”

 

“Says the guy who lost.” But he doesn’t push it beyond the point to where it’s like, uncomfortable. Y’all drag the controllers and pillows back up onto the couch and half cuddle, half destroy each other competitively in 3D cart racing. Maybe a little too competitively, actually, when you accidentally elbow John scarily close to his glasses, and therefore his squishy eyes that are not immune to glass shards. You collectively decide to Calm TF Down.

 

It’s a good distraction, but not good enough to keep you from straining your ears for any shouting, things breaking, that uncomfortable noise your Bro sometimes makes when he’s super overwhelmed and doesn’t seem entirely in control of himself (scary, scary stuff). You hear none of it.

 

That doesn’t stop John from tuning in to your discomfort at not knowing what’s going on in the other room, where the adults are. He eventually goes so far as to pause the game and drag your legs up onto his, half-sitting you in his lap.

 

You look over at him like he’s gone nuts. He only shrugs. “What?” He asks with the most incredulous, innocent tone. “It seems like you like to sit on people. Was I wrong?”

 

Oh, my god. Oh my god?? “How can you just say it like that. ‘You like to sit on people,’ you made me sound like a villain, a serial person-sitter. My lap-sitting is not exclusively yours, gimme back my legs, you’re so unromantic, I’m calling Jade.”

 

John laughs like a dork and snatches your legs back, rolling you around until you’re fully on his lap so that he can chortle right into your face. Classic John, gotta get his breath all up in your orifices. “You’d sit on anybody’s lap if they let you, Dave. You’d sit on Obama’s lap if you met him, bet.”

 

You gasp at the invocation of the great President’s name. Oh no he didn’t.

 

You punish him by bouncing all up and down on his lap like you used to play Popcorn on a trampoline, getting your knees and elbows into all of his soft places, of which there are many, while singing, “This is what I do, I sit on you, sit on you, this is what I do, I sit on you, right on your lap -”

 

John practically yells when you go sideways and elbow him in the gut, causing you both to collapse onto the floor in a pile of violent teenager shenanigans.

 

“Boys.”

 

You both cease all movement and crane your heads upwards. Mr. Egbert stands in the kitchen doorway, pushing aside those saloon-type double doors you have literally never understood but also are afraid to question. Bro is nowhere to be seen. “Dinner is ready, if you’d like to wash up.”

 

You are abruptly aware of the smell of food, and of how late in the evening it is. You help John stand up, and look Mr. E in the eyes, thinking maybe you should ask if you could at least retrieve your Bro’s body for a proper burial, until you spot him setting the table from behind Mr. E’s shoulders. He doesn’t look beat up at all, nor does he seem afraid for his life, or particularly cowed, so you shrug it off.

 

Guess they made up. None of your business what they talked about, exactly. You race John to the bathroom like you’re closer to ten rather than twenty, and enjoy the simplistic wonder of what Mr. Dad made for dinner tonight, a feeling that extends for at least one quiet year thereafter.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

For your seventeenth birthday, Bro buys plane tickets to somewhere on the coast of Texas. Nowhere near where y’all used to live, thank fuck. You don’t think you have to speak up about why you wouldn’t want to go anywhere in Houston, and if you did, it would probably turn into a bad night.

 

Rose, Jade, and Mom make plans to come visit once you’ve returned from your trip, and Bro is surprisingly okay with this. John’s excited, considering he didn’t actually get to see Rose the last time she hurried over to Washington for Plan: Rescue Jade, but John also gets excited about new underwear, so there’s that.

 

Both you and Bro are apparently pros at sleeping throughout entire flights, so it wasn’t a big deal. Waking him up was tricky, though, considering when he sleeps, he fucken’ sleeps like the actual, literal dead. You ended up having to resort to purposefully stubbing your toe on the seat in front of yourself and letting out an entirely real pained yell, snapping him up and awake in no-time flat, where you delicately decided not to tell him that you hurt yourself on purpose in order to get his damn attention.

 

He insisted on getting an ibuprofen from a flight attendant, anyways. Embarrassing.

 

He rents a truck with a covered back and no Air-con, throwing all of y’all’s shit into the bed and driving with the windows down so that all the bugs could spot your pasty white skin and hone in on it, flying in through the windows at every opportunity.

 

At your over dramatic distress, Bro eventually stops, gets you some damn bug spray, then keeps going. Seven miles above the speed limit and no more, no less, you watch the scenery go by. It’s a road trip, for all you’ve only ever been on one, and for some reason, deep down, you feel as if you’d never left Texas at all. Like this is your first time out of that apartment.

 

“What’s on your mind,” Bro startles you with at close to sunset, pulling onto a dirt road that seems to stretch on forever.

 

You hesitate in telling him. “Well, I just… Does it ever feel like, for you, you’ll always return somewhere, even if you don’t particularly want or mean to? Like, you’ve lived for so long, I can’t imagine… But, were you born here? Texas, I mean? Is that why you came back, with me?”

 

Bro hooks his thumb up under the wheel at the bottom, the other hand laxly hanging out the open window, and seems to consider it. “Yup. I grew up around where we’re going, actually.” He taps the wheel in a rhythm you don’t know. “Always end up back in Texas eventually, don’t I.”

 

You nod despite not understanding, and then put your own head out the window as a huge farm building peeks over the hills and trees. Smells like what you can only assume is manure, yet oddly mixed with fresh, hot air.

 

Bro’s taken you to a fucking ranch. Full of horses.

 

“Are we gonna…?” You stutter in your excitement.

 

Your brotherdad graces you with an actual smile. “Ride them? Yea.” Then he gets out of the truck and starts sauntering towards this yawning stereotypical red and white barn like he belongs here, the horse-loving dick, and you scramble out after him.

 

He enters the barn like it’s no big deal, pats a horse nose that’s poking out from in between the metal bars of a stall. They’re so big, and they make noise so much louder than you considered to be real. The terrifying majesty of real live horses confounds you, so you follow your dad’s heels like a puppy.

 

Bro approaches this white guy who’s got jeans absolutely covered in hay, with orange hair and freckles, dimples when he smiles. He’s maybe in his mid-to-late twenties, and he greets Bro like a customer, only to pull up short when he comes closer.

 

“Bro!?” Orange hair says, incredulous, throwing out a hand in order to shake Bro’s enthusiastically. “Goshdamn, I haven’t seen you in ages. How you been? How’s- Dave!”

 

You resist the urge to hide behind Bro’s pantlegs like a little kid. “Uh, hey, guy I’ve never met. How’s the horses, and stuff?”

 

Orange hair smiles and laughs and pats Bro’s shoulder and you are so confused. “Wow, he’s all grown up, ain’t he? He was just a little thing in those pictures you showed my dad- he’s in the hospital for that heart surgery, actually, it’s just me now, and sometimes Miguel when he comes over for a few jobs. And you’re uh, exactly the same as I last saw you, what…?”

 

In the shade of the barn, Bro tilts his shadows up, his eyes brighter than that bleeding Texas sun out back, and he commands softly, “Don’t worry about it, Mal.”

 

Mal, apparently, goes blank in the face, relaxed. Parrots, “I won’t worry about it, Bro,” his jaw all loose and lost, only to be held up by Bro’s metaphorical hand.

 

You are now massively uncomfortable. Despite knowing that Bro had hypnotized John on at least two occasions, it now seemed… milder, compared to what Bro’s done to this guy, Mal. Like Mal’s gone entirely brainless, slack-jawed, wide-eyed and compliant. John never did that; John only seemed quieter, and focused on whatever task Bro told him to do, which usually boiled down to ‘go home, and stop fiddling with my kid.’

 

Making the executive decision to have this shit stop right now, you tug at Bro’s pant loops and slap his sunglasses back down when he turns to see wtf you’re doing. He doesn’t seem surprised at this.

 

Mal blinks twice, and suddenly looks human again, instead of puppet-ish. “Oh, well, um… I s’pose y’all’re wantin’ some steeds rented out, huh?”

 

“If you’d be obliged,” Bro tells him, and wow you’ve almost forgotten what it’s like to be surrounded by people with your own accent. You feel like a watered down Texan at this rate, considering you tend to lose yours when you aren’t stressed out or overly excited.

 

Mal keeps up companionable, running commentary as Bro goes about selecting two horses for trail-riding. You advise him to pick based on color, which he ignores because he apparently knows a thing or two about horses.

 

“This is Peaches,” Mal introduces you to your ride for today, a white and red splotched horse of some breed you don’t care to know about. Just like you don’t know the breeds of cars or sport teams. “She’s a pretty safe one for first-time riders, we usually break her out for the kids. She’s gentle, but sturdy, and won’t shy away at bees, so to say.”

 

You make a stink face at Bro from over Mal’s shoulder, who only reacts by easily swinging himself up onto his horse, a brown one with a shimmery coat. His horse is significantly larger than yours, though apparently both Agro and Peaches are the same breed.

 

The struggle that is getting up onto the goddamn saddle, which your brother made look so fucking easy but it isn’t, and no you don’t need the stepping stool - You’re five foot eight, not four foot eight - leeches you of the last of your previously fabled cool factor. Peaches stands still for the entire debacle, and nobody laughs at you, even though it doesn’t help you find your dignity that you’ve dropped all over the ground.

 

You belatedly realize ‘I’m on a horse’ once Mal pats Peach’s bottom, and you’re suddenly going forward without your body’s express permission.

 

Bro must see the shock on your face, because he easily guides Agro over to your side and tries to learn you about how to make a horse do what you want it to, instead of it being a huge couch that can run very fast and also kill its rider if it gets a little scared.

 

“Why did I agree to this again?” You ask nobody as you timidly let Peaches do what she wants, following Bro’s horse up this mountainous trail. You’ve given up on kicking her sides, or tugging on the bridle with your sweaty hands, because you can’t really come to terms with possibly hurting this gentle beast you sit astride like it’s a fun party activity. “Like, this is my birthday, right? Not some strange alien world I’ve been dropped on where people think riding horses is a good idea that’s still profitable when we have cars and buses and planes and shit?”

 

“You agreed to it when I didn’t tell you what, exactly, we were doin’, and you were too curious to say no.” Bro turns around long enough to give you this shitty little smirk, and you desperately wish you had, like, a clump of dried horse poop to fling at him, because you would. You definitely would.

 

The trail apparently loops right on back to the barn. When you dismount, you are strangely exhausted, and also you hurt? So bad??

 

“Is this how cowboys walk?” You ask your horsey host with some amount of pained desperation as you waddle around with the widest gait you’ve had since you hit middle school and decided you needed people to know how big your metaphorical balls were by walking and sitting as widely as possible. “Bro, oh my god, I’m gonna die. You’re gonna have to carry me back to Washington.”

 

Both Bro and Mal share a look from where they’ve sequestered themselves over by the tack room in order to talk Horse Stuff, and then quietly laugh at you.

 

Motherfuckers.

 

“You’re the only one who understands me, Peaches,” you tell your new favorite travel buddy, who stands there contentedly as you stroke her flank and lean onto her. She’s very big, and warm, and you think you can maybe see why your dad is so wild about horses now, if every horse is like this mare right here.

 

It’s dumb, but you find yourself close to tears as Bro drives y’all away from the ranch, sky an amazing watercolor painting of blues and pinks and overeager stars already poking out of the coming darkness.

 

The sound of the crickets and the cooling heat and the truck’s yellowed lights bouncing off of the graveled road as Bro drives extra careful in order to spare any wildlife that may cross awakens something in you, and for once it isn’t a horrible repressed memory that causes upheaval in your daily life and mental state, but it’s a simple feeling of nostalgia, and maybe safety, back when your Bro could do no wrong and you didn’t know no better.

 

You don’t know why you’re missing the times when you were somebody else’s blank slate to play with and imprint upon. You wish you wouldn’t, but here you are. You miss being tiny enough that Bro would lift you out of the car seat automatically, would cart you places like you were his without even thinking about it. His kid to take horse riding, his kid to spoil on birthdays, his kid to piss off into the wilderness with if he so pleased.

 

Your nose leaks something awful, and you suck up ten tons of snot without thinking. Bro’s head swivels over in that predatory way that still scares you, but then he’s parking on the side of the road and leaning over with his hands out, pushing his thumbs up under your eyes to wipe away your tears.

 

“We’ll come back next year, Dave,” he tells you in his most comforting tone of voice, which isn’t very, but you appreciate it anyways. “Peaches is only five, that’s pretty fit and young for a horse. She’ll still be here.”

 

You laugh through your tears and plop your wet face right into his chest, since it’s there and all. “That ain’t why I’m cryin’, but thanks, Bro.”

 

He’s confused, and you can tell, but he pats your back anyways. “Well then what is the problem?”

 

You take your time in answering, because you don’t know how to put into words the concept of missing a childhood you really shouldn’t want to remember at all. “I guess being back just hit me late, is all. It took being in a truck at night to really double-whammy me. Not that I wanna leave or anythin’, it’s just… You gonna make me sleep in the truck bed like you used to, Bro? Because if so then I have some complaints this time.”

 

“No, no I won’t do that to ya’,” he says, like he’s unsure whether he’s supposed to be amused at what you’re saying, or apologetic. “I’ll show you where we’ll be stayin’. First,” he turns back to the wheel after making sure you’re not, like, overcome with your emotions and can sit in your seat like a big boy and stuff, “food.”

 

“Oh fuck yes dude.”

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

He takes you to some drive-through place you don’t bother looking at the name of, which you understand considering he hates eating around anybody but maybe you, or while alone.

 

And no, you’re not talking about drinking blood. Even after all these years, you honestly cannot say you’ve got any idea where or how he gets his dose of blood, or how often that is. Your only memory of him drinking from a person is the night of the fire, and you’d rather not think about that while you’re tearing into a huge burger.

 

Bro spirits you away to the ocean, another place he seems mysteriously comfortably melded into, like he was born there. Maybe he was. Born by the ocean, you mean. You don’t know.

 

You could ask.

 

He walks right up to the edge of the beach that’s fenced off, and has a million ‘PRIVATE PROPERTY’ signs up, and hefts his bag up over it, then yours. “C’mon,” he gestures to you as you stop at the line of legality, as any reasonable kid would do. “Lots of rich assholes put these up even though they don’t own the ocean at all. We won’t get caught, done this a million times.” And you believe him immediately, vaulting over the line in the sand.

 

You’re a real bad boy now, baby. Gotta tell John all about this, but not right this second. Also there’s no fucking bars out here.

 

In his bag, turns out, is a bunch of dry firewood that you do not know from where he got it from. Might’ve hypnotized it out of Mal, you realize. Or maybe he asked, like a normal dude would ask a favor from the son of a rancher he apparently once knew enough to interact with said son in a memorable, non-violent manner.

 

You wanna ask him what pictures of you he had, was passing around to ranchers in Texas the same way the 9-to-5 dads in Christmas movies would when they’d open their wallets in bars to shove their happy, privileged little kids with daddy issues into the faces of anybody that’d listen. Wanna know if he’s still got that picture, somewhere, on him, or if he left it behind in the fire, just like everything else (except you.)

 

Instead, you stay quiet, and help him when he directs you to, which isn’t often. Lay out a towel to sit on, set up the cooler for easy reaching, simple stuff. He lights the fire like he’s done it many times before. You wonder if you should be nervous around flames, but you aren’t. Might only be because Bro’s here, though. Not that you’ll tell him that.

 

From the cooler, he hands you a light beer. When you go to take a sip, though, it’s suddenly replaced by a cold bottle of cherry cola. He does that shitty, thin smirk at you from over top the stolen beer he’s taking a drag from. You snub your nose at him, but gratefully take a swig of your bubbly, caffeinated sugar drink.

 

He taps out one cigarette from a pack that looks terribly limp and used. If you aren’t mistaken (you don’t think you are), the design on it is from the early 2000s. You wonder about the significance of it, of him smoking at all when breathing is optional. Maybe he rolls his own and stores them in the exact same cigarette box because time isn’t real to him, and if it ain’t broke don’t… well that last one doesn’t count, considering what he did to the damn coffee machine, but still. Odd object to have, for so long. You wonder if it’s the same cigs, too, but that’d be even weirder and more mysterious, looping back around to the conundrum of 'why smoke at all?'

 

“We don’t know how this will go.” The way he says it is out of the blue, makes you tense, makes you look away from the rolling of the night waves slowly, as if you can prevent whatever conversation he’s about to hit you with. “You could stay like you are and have a normal human lifespan, or a slightly extended one, or even a shortened one. You could one day become fully vampire or fully human based on your choices as you grow up, or maybe it will happen one way or another without having to do with any of that.”

 

This is it, Dave. He’s talking. Keep him talking, keep him telling you shit you’ve wanted to know for a year now. It hurts and it’s hard but it’s gotta happen. Be brave.

 

“How come you know so much about half-vampires? Rose said she looked up all that’s available, and there was barely anything credible, unless you count the original Dracula book. Everything was about turned vamps.” How did you even have me? You don’t ask. You don’t think you’re ready yet, toeing the shallow waters of this new, talkative Bro.

 

Bro, for some reason, corrects you with, “Born vampires,” as if the difference matters. “Shoo’, kid, might surprise your technologically dependent brain, but some shit’s older than the internet. And some of that shit exists as only rumor.” He does not extrapolate further about that scathing remark, instead going on to say, too quietly, “The guy that made me taught me.”

 

At that tidbit of highly coveted information, he seems to close off, and doesn’t speak again so freely. He gazes out upon the ocean, seeing something you, inexperienced in traveling the world and coming face to face with its many wonders, don’t think you can understand in the duration of only one trip, and only one campfire talk.

 

You decide to back up a bit, move on to questions you actually have a chance at getting answers to. “You said that I could live forever? Like you?”

 

Bro taps his cig against his knee, and looks back over at you with horribly intense eyes that you don’t think you’ll ever get truly comfortable with. Those eyes once saw at you, and thought only of meat. “Possibly. I was hopin’ that, if you did, you’d stay with me. Your sister, too, if she turns out that way. Hell knows Roxy wont subject herself to turnin’ just to keep kickin’ longer. She’s smarter than that.”

 

You swallow a nervous sip of cola. Stay with him… You don’t know. “So you think Rose will be… like me? And you?”

 

He gets evasive in a familiar way, the rush of the tide seeming to wash over his every noise as he shrugs. “She smells human. Just different.”

 

You wouldn’t describe it as ‘pulling teeth,’ because you’ve interacted with him during worse times, but it comes close. Suck it up, Dave. “Different than me?”

 

Bro makes a noise with his mouth that you used to think indicated that he was getting short in temper with you. “Yea. But who knows.” He turns away again, and lets out a long trail of smoke. It smells nostalgic. A lot of things about this trip are beginning to.

 

You never would’ve realized that Bro used come home smelling like hay and horse sweat some days unless you’d’ve come here.

 

“We wouldn’t have to be together all of the time – I’ve never been able to do that with someone myself, despite… anyway,” he starts again. Maybe he never meant to get off track like that, and was waiting for you to get all of your questions out before he kept going with the thing he wanted to talk about the most. “But I’d... Love you to. Should you want to ever come back. Should you ever need to come back for whatever the reason.”

 

“Come back?”

 

“I can see what’s gonna happen between you and John, Dave,” he tells you with an amount of weight you surprisingly find yourself willing to carry. For John, and all. “You’ve been through too much together to leave him.”

 

“Despite your best efforts,” you quip with a lingering amount of hesitance. You still don’t exactly forgive him for that ‘stay away from Juliet’ bullshit he put y’all through, but you’re willing to look past it. “This some kinda blessing?”

 

Bro drinks his beer. “You want it to be?”

 

Oh, hella. “Maybe. Yea, yes, that’d be uh, real nice. Not gonna lie.”

 

“Then it is.”

 

Wow. There’s gonna be one helluva conversation you’ll need to have with your boy, AKA Future Mister John Strider-Egbert, when you get home. Landed yourself a husband and you didn’t even have to get up outta the sand. Check and mate, Rose.

 

You both sit in content silence for a while, one not told by the numbers on a clock because neither of you go looking for one.

 

The moon moves across the sky. You feel almost entirely at peace, until Bro breaks that peace with one heavy-sounding, “Dave.”

 

You have no choice but to answer with a, “Yea?”

 

He looks so at home, in the dark, backdrop of an ocean that’s lit only by the moon and nothing else to guide you, pitiful human eyesight that you have with your small mind that can only imagine what lives in something so vast.

 

“You can always come back to me. You’re my kid, you know it, baby? 'Less somebody does finally set me on fire, puts me in the ground, and makes it permanent, I'll always be around.”

 

Oh fuck man, when your dad calls you his baby it’s like a one hit K.O. Mom called you baby once and now you’re ruined, you’re somebody’s tyke forever, and it’s a feeling of being wanted that will never get old. Gotta keep it together. “...now I do.”

 

Bro nods to himself, like he’s imparted some great wisdom upon you, and you nearly laugh at him, even though you also could’ve definitely cried literally one second ago because of a single word.

 

It’s like secret revenge, when you go, “Dad?” and watch him swivel his head towards you in that too-fast way that makes you feel like you’ve won something. What, you don’t know, but you’ll take it. “Is that… why you made me, ‘n Rose? Is that why you tried to raise me like you were preparin’ some kinda future immortal ninja vamp that’d follow you around and learn from you? Is that why Mom kept Rose and you kept me?”

 

His fist clenches, and you wonder what you said. But then he relaxes it. Takes another drag of smoke and nicotine. “No, that’s not… your mom had a theory. About how a born vampire could grow either way, how they’d come into their bloodline, nature versus nurture shit.”

 

It’s always warm in Texas, you used to think, especially when compared to Washington, but with the wind coming in from the ocean, and what your dad seems to be implying, you go cold. “And, is that…?”

 

“It’s part of the reason why, yea. You might not be aware of this, li’l dude, but not all kids are born for the most kosher of reasons. Love, rainbows, and unicorn kisses an offspring does not make. Sometimes, whoever made you had an ulterior motive, whether they were aware of it themselves or not. Might be worse if they aren’t aware.” He puffs out a perfect ring of smoke, and you’re too busy marveling at the sheer amount of words that seem to be coming out of him to notice. “They could promise that they will be better than the people who made them in the past, and then they would be lying to themselves. Their offspring could simply be a motive, an object, or a concept to them. An unwanted surprise he never takes full, proper responsibility for. A future investment, proprietary in nature.” His smoke fills up the air and turns it acrid. “A bet.”

 

His voice gets strange, not like the Bro you know, with his lazy drawl and his familiar syntax. Here, he sounds like he’s far away, somewhere he taught himself to speak instead of listening to other human beings. Like Rose used to be, when she read more books than she did people, and mispronounced words and spoke too formally than most people assumed a little black girl could speak. Her mom got her a speech therapist. You wonder if there was anybody to care about Bro like that, worry about whether or not Bro would get along with other kids on the playground, or whatever old-timey people had. Sticks or something, you don’t know.

 

You don’t want to think about Bro like that, your age and all alone, or even younger and raising himself, but you consider it. Consider that maybe that’s how he grew up. A step to the left of humanity as was accepted back then. You won’t acknowledge that it makes sense, but it does. Especially with the way he tried to raise you, before everything literally caught on fucking fire.

 

You wonder who neglected him. Wonder if there was ever a ‘who’ to forget about him at all.

 

“Dad,” you say, and your voice wobbles, for all the effort you put into avoiding this exact scenario, “this isn’t making me want to ‘stay with you forever’ very much.”

 

For a moment, it’s a blast to the past, when he was never your brother, or your dad, but just Bro. Your teacher. Your jailer. Your place of worship. “It’s not supposed to. It’s supposed to give you equal information to make a future choice.”

 

“Well you aren’t arguring in your own favor, sounds like.”

 

He doesn’t take another draw of his cig or his drink. “That’s right. I’m not.” His eyes are hallowed, and pinning you through the hole in your chest you’d like to pretend isn’t there, but he’s the only one who can find it so easily. Can push straight through to the other side without blinking, considering he put it there in the first place.

 

Accusingly, you quietly seethe. “I can’t tell if you want me, have wanted me, or not. Like, you- you aren’t being clear right now, you get that, right? You’re freakin’ me out with this stuff. If you try ‘n tell me you love me again tonight, I won’t believe you, y’hear me? This is fucked up.”

 

Nothing overtly changes about him, but at least he moves again, the way a human being would. You know, if he was one. “If I answer that you’ll probably cry.”

 

Okay. “I cry about a lot of shit. I literally cried earlier today. You were there, Bro.”

 

He clicks his tongue, and goes, “A’ight.” Pulls away coquettishly from the English language in order to breathe out more smoke, like a dragon in a fable taking its sweet time in telling the hero a life-or-death prophecy. “I don’t have an answer.”

 

You choke on nothing. Your cherry cola has since been abandoned in the sand, back about when Bro claimed he’d love to have you forever. “What? What??”

 

Maybe he’s finally learned that fucking you up emotionally is something he shouldn’t do, because he looks less like a statue that cares not for your human concerns and more like the dude you once saw throw a smuppet at a door-to-door salesman in pure, genuine panic. “Dave – I love havin’ you around. You’re the highlight of my lowlife, even when it meant havin’ you around for all of the low parts, watchin’ you suffer, knowin’ it was all my fault. Call me selfish and you’ll be right.

 

“But I’ve known for a long time that I’m not the best for you. Hell, Roxy ain’t either, but she’d’ve fed you. She wouldn’t’ve hit you, or wouldn’t’ve justified hurtin’ you anyways. At least once every day for your entire life, I’ve wished I had better for you. I still wish once a day that you’d gone to New York with her and your sister. That I didn’t fuckin’ kidnap you. She had you there already. Couldn’t leave well enough alone, could I? I went back and got you, didn’t tell her I was comin’. She woke up and you must’ve been gone from your crib, but I was already halfway to Houston.”

 

You’re… appalled. Is this your fucking origin story? Snatched away by your control freak dad from your mom, your sister, your original home in New York, just so that he could have his damn sense of self cult baby??

 

“Shit, Bro, what the fuck?” You breathe out, find yourself calculating the distance between your spot and the truck parked up the sandy dune hill like you used to do when you were trapped in a room with a vampire who lacked the sword in his hand, but was fully capable of holding you down.

 

“I don’t hate you,” claims Bro, lit only by the traveling moon, the shine of the ocean, and the embers of the fire that slowly eats itself to ashes, “that’s not what I’m tryin’ to say.”

 

“No, maybe not,” you tell him, and force yourself to stop imagining him chasing you through the sands and grabbing you around your neck, “but you definitely hate yourself.”

 

He finishes the last of his cig, and tosses the butt into the embers. “Maybe,” he says. “Maybe.”

 

It’s not quiet. The ocean is never still, and there’s even the distant sounds of humanity should you search for it, but neither of you speak for a long moment.

 

Of course, when he does talk again, it’s something buckass wild stupid, like, “I’ll understand if you don’t want to stay with me, after that -”

 

“Shut up, Bro, gotdamn.” You toss a handful of sand at him, and he actually seems surprised, even brings his hands up to shield his face. Gotcha. “You, you- you’re such an asshole, you know that? No, I’m not gonna leave you, stop fuckin’ sayin’ that every time you think you’ve fucked up even a little. Christ.” You get up and dust sand off, which seems futile considering where you are, and then you walk over to him with only a little bit of bow-leggedness from horseriding. “Come hold me, for fuck’s sakes. I can’t believe you, Bro, on my birthday? Really??”

 

He grumbles a bit, like he’s put out by hugs or something, but he’s folds like a house of cards against the might of your teary eyes and reaching noodle arms. “Alright, alright, keep your birthday boy crown on past midnight, see if I care.” He kisses you on the forehead all the same, and a few tears do leak down your face but it’s dark out, so it doesn’t count even though he can definitely see it.

 

There’s only one sleeping roll, which Bro places up under a rock outcropping that you’re utterly fascinated with, because it almost looks like a cave. Bro acts like it’s commonplace, though, so you guess you ought’a get used to stuff you’ve only seen in National Geographic photography existing right in front of you, close enough to touch.

 

Bro gets in first, which has you pausing in confusion, but then he drags you down on top of him with a small sigh. It’s only weird for about five minutes, all of which he seems immune to, but you suffer through the way only a teenager sharing the bed with their parent can.

 

Then you kind of ruin the atmosphere, hearing the echo of the waves bouncing off this naturally formed rock, by laughing like an idiot and going, “Haha, you changed my diapers.”

 

Bro actually seems to find the humor in this, because he gives it a good chuckle, one that has you moving up and down on his chest and hearing it straight from his ribcage. “Yea, I did. You were not the happiest baby on Earth when that happened, either, just so you know. Go to sleep. We’re gettin’ up early.”

 

It’s easy to fall asleep like that. Easier than you’d expected, but despite everything, Bro still breathes rhythmically, and his heart still beats even if it’s slow. It’s comforting. This is basically the best day of your entire life, and you’ll goddamn well be happy with your ear pressed to your dad’s chest while he watches over you, keeps wayward crabs and weird ocean bugs from scuttling up onto your sleeping body.

 

You wake up sometimes, though, uncontrollably, wondering where tf you are and why it’s so humid.

 

On one such strange, muzzy awakenings, you feel someone petting your hair, and hear them go, “You’ve always had his eyes,” before you drop right back off into lala land thinking, ‘oh, it’s just Bro, saying cryptic shit at like, 3am, on a beach in Texas.’

 

Sleepy you doesn’t have the most cardinal of priorities.

 

It’s easy to wake up with the sun because it punches you in the face come six or seven AM, leaving you no choice.

 

You get up, and there’s surprisingly only a bit of sand stuck to your feet. When Bro stands up, however, finally freed from your weight, he shakes off what seems like an entire aquarium’s worth of sand, acting like it’s no big deal.

 

Channeling your inner Rose, you add another tally mark to the ‘Bro grew up by the ocean’ list in your head.

 

He surprises you by slapping on his incredibly thick white ointment, getting you to put on your waterproof 80 minute SPF 100 in two layers with a fifteen minute wait after each one, takes off his shirt in one go, and then physically carries you over to the ocean until you’re tossed, screaming, into the cold morning water.

 

You retaliate by splashing him nonstop as soon as he tries to get in, y’know, the normal way by simply walking, unlike what he subjected you to.

 

“You better knock it off, ‘less you wanna get dunked, kid.”

 

“Get dunked? Do I wanna know what that means? You gonna yeet me into the basketball hoop of life or somthin’?”

 

Bro shows you what ‘get dunked’ means by grabbing you around the waist, flipping you over, and legitimately dunking you head-first into the water.

 

You come back up sputtering, “Holy shit! Oh my god! Don’t do that again, I think I just saw Jesus.”

 

Bro goes, “Alright,” and moves away from you, but you can tell that his eyes a crinkling behind the sunglasses that have miraculously stood the test of the waters and stayed planted on his face.

 

Like this, you can almost justify with him on why he tried to bring you up calling him 'Bro' and 'big brother' instead of as a dad - he's an immortal twenty-five looking year old dude who can shirk his responsabilities for other people off as slickly as a fish can move through water. Out here where he laughs, he really does feel more like a big brother than a dad, but you know there are other scenarios where the opposite is more true. You don't know if you enjoy this strange dichotomy, but it's also all you've ever known.

 

Two minutes later, though, and you’re going, “Actually can we do that again maybe? I don’t think I understood the mechanics of near-death by salt water good enough to write an Instagram post about it later,” and you experience the awfulness of getting dunked one more time just to feel that thrill coupled with knowing that his arms would stay locked around you, and would pull you back up to air no matter what.

 

You’re weirdly exhausted after splashing around in some water, but you’ve learned today that the ocean is a bully that constantly pushes and pulls you in directions you aren’t ready to go, in the same way you’d learned yesterday that horses are a soft force that cannot be reckoned with, unless you have carrots and a bridle.

 

By eleven in the morning, Bro’s herded your salty, tired body into cleaning y’all’s shit up, and leaving no trace that you’d ever broken the rules. On the way to the airport, he buys you a stupid bright touristy T-shirt with ‘Galveston, Texas’ emblazoned across the back in a font you wouldn’t be caught dead using except on a shitposted meme. On the front is a cartoonish crab. You love it unironically.

 

He also buys you breakfast from McDolan’s. It’s the best over-greased pancake egg sandwich thing you’ve ever had, you swear to fuck.

 

You don’t have to exert any effort to fall asleep through the whole plane ride back. It’s like you get on the plane in a daze, put your head on Bro’s shoulder as the flight attendant goes over the safety rules, and then you’re waking up what feels like moment later to a bumpy landing and your dad’s hand placed over your lap, as if he doesn’t trust the seat belt to truly hold you down safe.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

“And then he quoted Poppy at me?”

 

“Really?” John looks up from his laptop, of which the screen he refuses to show you. You know what boundaries are, you swear, as you drape across his lap, naked as the day you were born except for the forsakenly gifted MLP comforter your boyf covered you ass with. Twilight Sparkle gets an eye full.

 

You pop post-’what if we put our beds together in Minecraft’ candy into your mouth. “Well that or he was entirely candid and had no idea.”

 

“Sounds possible.” John reaches his arms up and stretches until his back cracks, then yawns with his mouth wide open. Hawt. “He didn’t know what Post Mates was, after all.”

 

“He’s literally tried to actually, seriously make a sentient AI before and as far as I know, was basically successful, and yet he didn’t know what PostMates was.”

 

John ignores his laptop once more and purses his lips at you, overly dramatic in his interest. You love this dude so much. “What happened to it?”

 

“Whut?” You slur, a little drunk on just looking at your boy. Oh, right. “The AI? Oh, he – that is, the AI, who was a guy because Bro is kind of a one-trick pony sometimes – watched 2001: A Space Odyssey, and then tried to kill Bro by turning the blender on and off and asking him to stick his head in. For science.”

 

John just fucking looks at you, like, eyes open, mouth closed, the flattest expression you’ve ever seen on his face. It’s a fight not to laugh right in it.

 

“Wa… He...” John pinches his nose, glasses sliding down it, and he looks like such an adult all of a sudden, relaxing naked in bed with only a sheet covering his lower body and a laptop sitting on its official laptop table poised in his lap, that you experience some kind of vertigo tinged with love.

 

“I was five,” you add, if only to say something constructive despite your mind turning into goo. Unwillingly, you think about that night on the beach with Bro the winter before last, when he gave you his blessing to marry this guy you’re sharing airspace with.

 

Said air-sharing guy, oh so generous, sighs out a gusty bit of wind, shuts his laptop, and pushes his glasses back up the bridge of his nose. “Dave, have you ever thought about, I mean really considered it, moving out and living with me? Maybe not today, but, uh, someday? Soon?”

 

“Oh, babe,” you fire back immediately, “constantly.”

 

John giggles his trademark nervous tic, but then sobers up quickly for a guy who used to wet the bed during nightmares. While you were in it. “No, but, seriously. Dave.” He reaches down and holds your hand, putting his expensive lightweight laptop onto his bedside table. It has several college brochures open on top. “I’m going to be eighteen, soon. You know dad encouraged us to take a gap year, and I think I will if only so that I can get a part-time job and start saving money. For college, and for,” here, he stutters a bit. His eyes are really blue, and you’ve known this for a decade now, but in the morning light of his childhood bedroom, now transformed into something slightly alien, slightly more grown up, it’s like learning his favorite color is the same all over again. “For our future house.”

 

You swear, you heart stops, skips, does the funky chicken, whatever. You go, “Oh,” without the express permission of your logical mind. “I- Johnny boy, light of my life and all that shit, are you uh. Are you askin’ to uh… Wed… me?” Could you have said that any more awkwardly???

 

But John, raised by a man with a healthy amount of respect and religion, takes you seriously. “Yes. I am.”

 

Your mouth drops open, and you can’t seem to close it.

 

“I mean – we don’t have to do it right now!” John clarifies, flailing his hands all over the place, and suddenly he looks a lot like the kid you grew up with and less like the adult you’ve stumbled face-first into the broadening chest of. Hot damn. “I don’t know if this is reciprocated, but I always thought, especially after that thing with your Bro and he tried to kill me sorta a few times but I just kept coming back? That it was. Inevitable. Like, we were only waiting because we weren’t old enough yet.”

 

You’re gone, lost somewhere, and John reaches down under your armpits, for once not with the dastardly plans to tickle with his Slenderman Hands that can also play a mean Chopin, but with the intent to drag you up and into his arms with an amount of strength that is still startling to this day. You go easy, to him. You think you always will.

 

“Please tell me I’m not the only one who felt this,” he pleads with you, and his eyes are too close, too genuine, his mouth a perfect crescent, even if he never did get into the habit of using lip balm. “I know we’ve been through some tough stuff together, but I…” He shrugs, helpless in a way you don’t like on him, “I always thought that we’d be together, kind of forever? Whatever that will mean for you, I’m ready for it. If you’ll let me be there with you.”

 

Instead of answering, you start tearing at the sheet that stands between you and your loyal, incredible, wonderful boyf’s body heat, mumbling ‘ooh, somebody get these damn blankets out of my way, goddamn’ until John finally fucking helps you out and does all of the work for you, letting you crawl all over his body like the oversized ant he’s, for some reason, passionate about marrying.

 

“Of course I’m- Like what else would I even say but- Who do you think you’re talking to!?” You jumble the words up in your mouth, get frustrated, and then decide to mash yours onto his so that nobody has to talk unless they want to pry the other off with a crowbar.

 

You must have amazing crowbar-ing abilities, then, because you’ve torn yourself away from him a mere handful of moments later. He looks incredibly windswept, and his lips are reddened. “Yes! Of course I feel the same way, felt the same way, like what else would I even say but yes. Who do you think you’ve been talking to all these years, bruh? You think I’m not gonna throw everythin’ down and come rushin’ into your arms as soon as you flash a ring at me, you’ve got another think comin’, big boy.”

 

John laughs, so fucking delighted, and probably relieved considering you drew that out like a romantically constipated twerp. “Well, shit, Dave, could’ve said that a few minutes ago when I thought I was having a heart attack. Rejected and bachelor’d at only eighteen, how sad would I be?”

 

“Almost eighteen,” you correct him, like the shitty boyfriend you are. Or, fiance? Are you engaged right now? You belatedly realize that you have no idea how to get engaged in the first place, or married. When the time comes, will you need to ask the Pope??

 

“Dave.” You detach from your asinine trail of thoughts that frankly do not belong in the bedroom, and look at your- your, oh whatever. John, you look at your Johnny boy. “Come here. Come here.”

 

You go a little slower to him, this time. Once again feel blessed af that it’s Spring Break, and his dad won’t be home for hours, and yours has been given a warning text that essentially said ‘fuck off, I’m fine, don’t come looking for me unless you’re ready to see something mind-bleaching and NSFW.’

 

Despite the lack of return text, Bro thankfully seems to have listened.

 

Unwittingly, you lazily think back to a car ride, before you were sixteen, back before so many things had happened. John ate gushers, because that was when his underdeveloped taste buds could tolerate those without shriveling up and dying, and you laid yourself across his lap in the most uncomfortable position possible because you’d wanted to feel close to him, but didn’t know yet how to ask for him.

 

“Wow,” you say into John’s neck, a little too short of breath to be anything but indecent, “I guess I really didn’t take the knee first, huh.”

 

John retaliates by blowing a raspberry into your ear, causing you to squeal like a bad tire, and goddammit you should’ve seen this coming because he does it practically every single time.

 

If there’s a ‘Voted Least Sexiest Couple’ in the Senior yearbook, y’all better be everybody’s top pick.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

You’re wedded to and moving out with John when he hits nineteen, which every life lesson straight from the horse’s pointy-teethed mouth has told you is a stupid, childhishly in love idea, but y’all do it anyways.

 

John’s already got a little home in the next town over picked out, lease signed. At least now you know what he was doing on that laptop. One bedroom, one office/second bedroom/whatever, one bath, with a kitchen/living room meshed together and most appliances already furnished, with a sad but doable amount of storage space.

 

John gets a full ride to a university that Rose follows him to, herself moving from New York in time for the starting semester sometime within the next few months. You copy Jade and decide to take your first two years online, focusing more on saving up money at the job you snagged in the art and paint shop a mere five minute’s walk away.

 

His dad pays for the first year of rent, which is astoundingly, ridiculously generous in your opinion, but John acts like it’s expected, so you try not to obviously shit yourself in poor boy excitement.

 

You’d go out of your way to ask Bro, who helps y’all move in and makes the moving process so, so much easier that it’s practically unreal, why he never hypnotized the money out of people in order to get ahead in life, but you have the feeling that his answer will be far off from a moral one, and more of a ‘you can’t hypnotize a computer screen’ one. Modern banking must suck for the aspiring vampire robber.

 

When Mr. Egbert gives y’all his final blessings on the new humble living abode and then graciously makes himself scarce like any father ready to toss his young into the unforgiving world of adulthood, Bro lingers. At first, you have legitimate worry that he’s going to insist on staying this first night, or perhaps to bring back up that terrible ‘I’m going to give my teenaged son a chastity belt and think this is a bright idea’ behavior in one final hurrah.

 

These worries nearly come to fruition when your dad pats your boyfriend-turned-fiance on the shoulder, and then steers him into the yet-to-be-filled office, shutting you out with the door.

 

You know you can’t press your ear to the crack between the wood because Bro will know immediately, but you can’t help the pacing you do. Back and forth, treading the carpet of the living room to the linoleum of the kitchen, repeating for a full thirty minutes until the office door cracks back open.

 

You couldn’t stop yourself even if you weren’t legitimately afraid for his life – you run up to your boy (man? Maaaan?? Oh for crying out loud) and embrace him with all the fervor a pair of newlyweds should.

 

“Calm down, Dave,” says John, who is somehow already rustling the hell out of your jimmies, and y’all ain’t even been alone for a night yet, “It was just a shovel talk. He didn’t even threaten me with disembowelment, like you thought he would.”

 

Bro gives you a look, one that says a couple of things, like ‘really?’ and also ‘I am fully capable of killing many people, including John, but I have not, and you should be thankful’, like the infuriating, god-complex cockweasle you know he truly is.

 

Okaaay, dad, time to gooo,” you whine, ineffectively shoving at his back while he stands stock still like, two inches from the front door with a shitty smirk on his face. And you were so sure the ‘dad’ thing would get to him, but apparently it only worked when it was still a new thing. “I know that you know that Mom and Mr. E are gonna be crowdin’ up your house to comfort you in your empty nest syndrome you will no doubt be sufferin’ from like the old geezer you are, it’s time to hup hup and get along now. There are sloppy makeouts and nit-picky furniture placements to be had, easily avoided first-timer mistakes to be made and learned from.”

 

“I hear ya’, keep your pants on. Literally.” His confident sleazy smile turns into something softer, something you don’t mind, and he takes his time in leaning down to kiss your forehead. You shut your eyes. “Be good. Be safe. Don’t drink any blood unless you’ve talked about it with me first...” He shifts as John bangs around a little too obviously in the kitchen in awkward attempts to not overhear this tender moment. “I love you, Dave.”

 

You sigh deeply, and breathe in home. “I love you too, Dad.”

 

Bro leaves, finally. Even though you, logically, know that he’s less than an hour’s drive away, one phone call or text apart, you do cry, just a little bit. You don’t mind as much as you used to. You’re a naturally leaky faucet when it comes to emotions, and that’s not a bad thing.

 

You’re broken out of your little moment alone with yourself when you hear John scream, shortly followed by his nervous giggling. “What’s wrong?” You shout-ask, hesitant to enter the kitchen with your face all wet and red.

 

“Nothing, nothing! Just, almost dropped my wedding band down the sink drain,” he self-consciously admits to you.

 

You blow out a breath of air, and step into the kitchen, where John cradles the strange golden band against his finger, like it will slip off at any moment. “Careful, dude. Your dad gave those to us.”

 

He half-smiles at you. “Heh, I know. Great grandmother’s heirlooms, and all that.” He looks down at the weighty ring, which is an exact match for yours except in sizing differences. It’s a thin gold band inlaid with tiny, fuchsia jewels, of which not even his dad could identify the name of.

 

Still, they’re gorgeous, and for two young dudes who’d previously mutually decided not to buy rings at all after skipping the whole ‘expensive wedding ceremony’ thing beyond a small party with family and friends, it was a pleasant and welcome surprise.

 

The rest of the afternoon goes by pretty average, with lots of goofing off and accidentally dropping stuff, misplacing stuff, laughing it off, and probably too many breaks to be truly efficient with your time once the Wifi gets set up.

 

The bathroom is complete first, then the bedroom. You upgrade from sharing a twin bed to sharing a queen, which is dandy considering John now clocks in at half a foot taller and several handfuls of pounds heavier.

 

This comes in handy when y’all decide that moving the heavy ass furniture around in the living room is a good idea that is not best saved for tomorrow, when Rose and Jade will be visiting.

 

It ends spectacularly, with one stubbed toe and so many curse words it’s a wonder John never got into more trouble with his dad pre-jumping the parental ship before you’d even hit your twenties. You wonder what that says about your separate relationships with your parents.

 

“Well,” your husband (dear lord dear God. Oh, uh, you mean G-d?) pants out, hands on his knees, “I guess the weight of it means we got a really high quality one?”

 

“That or Bro filled it with bricks just to fuck with us.” You roll off of the couch so that you can bump up against John tiredly. “Hold me, Johnny baby, I’m losin’ the will to go on...”

 

Johnny baby laughs in your face, his breath smelling like the apple juice he stole from your glass one ‘just a little break, like five minutes we swear’ ago. But he holds you, real nicely. Rocks you both back and forth and looks about your shared living room, in your shared house, with only one bed and mismatched decorations littering every available space from both childhood and later on.

 

“Mine...” John pets back your hair the exact same way he does when you’re not both massively sweaty and gross from lifting the goddamn couch in without any supernatural or overly strong yet human dad help.

 

“Craft...” You mumble back because you live for ruining intimate moments the exact same way you live to breathe.

 

Somehow, you end up bent over the coffee table, both of you unsure as to whether this is a Sex Thing or not until way too late to be on purpose.

 

But, hey. Y’know what? That’s life with John. Cue the outro music.