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The first moment outside of the house is, as always, the worst. The cool evening air is sharp, anticipatory, and Dirk shivers despite the borrowed turtleneck he’s dressed in. He glances over at Roxy and finds that she’s already looking back at him. They both wait.

There’s a beat. Another. The only sound is the windchimes Roxy hung up on the porch last week, and after waiting just one more moment, just to be sure, Roxy’s face breaks into a grin. “Alright, step one down,” she says. “Ready to go, Mr…?”

“Aronofsky,” Dirk says. “Darren.”

Roxy snorts. “Surprisingly shallow pull, huh?”

Dirk shrugs. He tries to make the movement look smoother, more natural than it usually does for him, since, well, he’s not being himself tonight. “Not like anyone here’s going to get it,” he points out. “Who are you?”

“Katrina Morris,” Roxy says. She tucks a lock of her loose hair behind her ear in a way Dirk’s never seen her do before and smiles. “I live in the Troll Kingdom, got adopted by a lovely pair of jadebloods when I was three, etc, etc, long walks on the beach and dance clubs. But enough about me, let’s go!”

Dirk lets Roxy take him by the arm and tug him down to the sidewalk. He’s still tense, still expecting to get mobbed by paparazzi or history buffs or religious fanatics at any moment, but the street stays quiet. Their house doesn’t get visited too much anymore, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still incidents. Dirk will count their small number as a relief, though, along with the way that the sun is already mostly gone below the horizon. He still hasn’t gotten used to being out without shades, even on nights like these.

He and Roxy don’t do this often, per se; it’s just for the nights when being gods who grew up in the future feels a little too hard of a step to get over for a hook-up or even just a night out. It’s nice to play normal, sometimes, Dirk overheard Roxy telling Rose once. He supposes that sums it up as well as anything else. It’s nice to play normal. Human. Etc, etc, etc.

So tonight he’s Darren Aronofsky, a local art student who loves neutral tones and turtlenecks and carefully messy hair, and he and ‘Katrina’ are going downtown, to one of their favorite local clubs. It’s called Clockwork, unsubtly, but it’s dark and cramped and loud enough that when Dirk closes his eyes in the middle of the floor, he actually feels like he’s someone else.

“So, Darren,” Roxy says, and her voice falls into the slightly clipped accent common to the Troll Kingdom so easily that Dirk would be fooled if he didn’t know better, “what brings you out tonight?”

“You,” Dirk says, because this was Roxy’s idea like it usually is, and then, to play along, he leans into his Texan drawl more than usual and continues, “And I heard this side of town is home to plenty of fine folks, as it were, and I might just have to find myself partakin’.”

Roxy laughs. Her tight black dress reflects the light of the setting sun as she carefully times her footsteps to be in sync with Dirk’s; she looks radiant like this, like she always does. “‘Partakin’,’ huh? You wouldn’t be from out in old carapacian country, would you?”

“Why, I think you might’ve hit the nail square on its little head,” Dirk says. “I’ve got family out there going back years and years.”

“Well, what do you know,” Roxy says, and then, suddenly, they’re outside of the club. The sidewalk feels like it’s shaking in time with the pulsing bass within, and Dirk lets himself smile when he recognizes one of Dave’s latest songs. “Ready?”

“After you,” Dirk says, all whatever-passes-for-Southern-here gentleman as he pulls the door open for her and lets her step through.

Roxy gives him a look over her light pink sunglasses, dropping her character for just a moment as she grins. “And you’re fine if I find someone?”

“I think I can handle it,” Dirk assures her.

Roxy’s grin arranges itself into something a little more reserved, a little more unfamiliar, and she grabs Dirk’s arm and tugs him inside. One of their shared favorite things about Clockwork is that is has plenty of non-alcoholic drinks at the bar, so Roxy gets her usual Sprite and Dirk decides that Darren Aronofsky is more of a root beer person.

Roxy hops up onto one of the high bar stools with an ease that mystifies Dirk and leans back against the bar. “God, this is nice,” she says, her voice practically a shout to be heard over the pounding music.

Dirk sips his root beer, his eyes scanning the dancing, drinking, talking crowd in front of him. He counts five people wearing replicas of his signature shades, which is a pretty low number compared to the usual. He probably could have kept his on, but leaving them behind makes it that much harder for the general public to recognize him and that much easier for him to slip into whatever character he’s playing on any given night.

“Yeah,” Dirk says, or at least, that’s what he turns to Roxy to say when she suddenly grabs at his shoulder.

“Two o’clock,” she whisper-shouts.

Dirk obligingly turns to look, where a tall, long-haired troll is standing alone by a table. They look just like Roxy’s type, and Dirk nods. “Go for it,” he says.

Roxy flashes him one last grin before hopping off of her stool and wading into the crowd. Dirk watches her hair bouncing slightly until it gets lost in the dim lights, then pulls himself up onto a stool and takes another drink of his root beer. That might be record time for Roxy to find a date, if he’s honest; it’s more than a little impressive. Dirk doesn’t usually go home with anyone, some protective instinct telling him he needs to be available in case Roxy needs help or some anxious instinct keeping him glued to his drink and seat, but he scans the crowd regardless.

There’s not much to see, really, beyond a bunch of hazy faces and rapidly moving lighting that Dirk much prefers to endure with his shades on. His seat is uncomfortable in a way he’s familiar with by now, but he attempts to shift his weight to a better position anyway. Maybe it’s the turtleneck making him uncomfortable. It feels constricting, in a sense, but it also feels like it’s holding him together.

Dirk rolls his eyes at that. Right. He’s not fragile, he’s not about to fall apart, he’s just… it feels like it’s holding Darren together, more accurately. Darren, a normal, mortal man living a normal, mortal life, being approached by a normal, mortal figure.

“Hi,” says aforementioned figure as they slide - more clumsily than even Dirk tends to - onto the stool next to Dirk. “You here alone?”

Dirk studies them for a moment as he tries to figure out his answer. As the lights sweep back and forth, the song changing from one unrecognizable jumble of sound to another, the figure resolves into a man, probably around Dirk’s age, with dark, spiked up hair and a round face. He’s dressed in all black, the heels of his boots hooked on the lowest rung of the stool and tattooed elbow resting on the counter, and he’s not smiling at Dirk, exactly, but his bright blue eyes look friendly. And, well, he’s beautiful.

Dirk takes a drink of root beer, giving the stranger an obvious onceover before he nods. “Yeah,” he says, remembering to pull the word into a bit of a drawl at the last second. “You?”

“Well, hopefully not anymore,” the stranger says. He still doesn’t quite smile, but his mouth quirks up at one end as he holds out a hand.

“I’ve gotta say, I’ve never met anyone here that’s opened with a handshake,” Dirk says. He takes the stranger’s hand regardless. It’s warm and solid in his own, and he tries not to immediately think of it as the type of hand that could brush his hair behind his ear or gently push his shades up to the top of his head or any of the other ridiculously tender fantasies that hide out in his brain like fucking parasites. It’s just a normal hand, and he’s just a normal guy. “I’m Darren.”

“Harry,” the stranger - Harry, now - says. He lets go of Dirk’s hand and taps the side of Dirk’s almost empty - maybe barely full, if he were an optimist - glass. “What’s your poison?”

Dirk snorts. It takes him a moment to remind himself to actually smile, because Darren is the kind of person that does that kind of thing, and then he says, “That’s another first, I think.”

Harry arches an eyebrow. Somehow, despite his clothes and the dark eyeliner smudged around his eyes, it looks more dorky than anything else. Something about it sets off a ping of familiarity in the back of Dirk’s mind, but, hey, he’s met enough Jake English fanboys and lookalikes to recognize and push down the feeling. “What, getting offered a drink?” Harry says. “I’ve gotta say, I find that more than a little hard to believe.”

“Nah, just - “ Dirk waves a hand. “The poison thing. But, uh, root beer.”

He watches Harry’s face carefully; if this is going to be a situation where he’s supposed to get drunk, it’s not one he wants to stay in. But Harry doesn’t so much as blink as he waves the bartender over and gets two root beers.

“Thanks,” Dirk says, taking the one Harry passes him with what he hopes is a charming smile but probably looks more like a grimace. Oh, well. “I, uh, like your tattoos.”

He says it partly because it seems like something Darren would say, as the kind of guy that thinks uninspired tattoos of skulls and roses are a great statement about the commercialization of death, and partly because he kind of likes all tattoos on principle. And it’s not like he has room to judge.

Harry’s eyes, impossibly bright in the dark room, flick down to his arm for a moment before he looks back up at Dirk and smiles that almost-smile again. “Thanks,” he says. “Do you have any?”

“Uh, one,” Dirk says, before he can think of a lie. “But - I was a kid when I got it. It’s not… great.” That last part is, well, in character. His tattoo is fantastic, but he doubts Darren Aronofsky would think that way.

Harry arches an eyebrow. “Well, c’mon, you can’t say that and not show me,” he says.

Dirk is thankful for the dark lights of the club, because neither he nor Darren are the type to blush. And yet something about the way Harry leans in, his movements far less smooth than Dirk would normally associate with someone that looks like him, is … endearing, for lack of a better word. Charming, even though Dirk is the Prince here. “Uh,” he says, abruptly realizing that Harry’s still waiting for an answer. “Not - not here.”

“Because it’s horribly distinctive and I’m really enjoying just talking like normal people,” is the true reason. “Because getting a sweater off in the middle of the club really isn’t the vibe,” is the reason Dirk is hoping to imply. Judging by the look on Harry’s face - amused, both of his eyebrows raised now, his smile slipping up at both corners -, “because it’s on my dick,” is definitely the reason Harry assumes. Goddamnit.

“Not here,” Harry repeats, slowly. He doesn’t wink, but he tilts his head down so that he’d be looking at Dirk over the rims of his glasses if he wore them.

Dirk’s stomach does something that he’d rather not define, and he’s pretty sure not even the club’s lightning can save his dignity as he stammers, “It’s not - just - shoulder, with the sweater, it’s, look, I swear I don’t have a dick tattoo that I brought up after five minutes of conversation.”

Harry’s half-smile splits all the way open. “Do you have one that you’ll bring up after ten?”

“I-” Dirk starts, protesting, when his stomach does something that he can name all too well. It drops. He recognizes that fucking smile, all wide and open and buckteeth, and holy shit, holy shit. There’s a split second where he thinks it’s Jake before the edges click into place, and, no, it’s not Jake. Dirk has been flirting with John Egbert.

It’s not - that’s not a bad thing, necessarily, it’s not like they’ve ever really talked beyond cursory introductions, but John is probably about ten percent more likely to recognize Dirk than the average citizen. Shit. What if he already has? It didn’t take Dirk long to recognize him, but… no, he probably hasn’t. Everything Dirk knows about Harlenglishcrockerberts seems to point to them not being particularly subtle, so he’s probably fine. It’s fine. Except for the fact that John is, again, waiting for an answer. “Do you wanna go dance?”

The look John - John, what the fuck even are the odds of that? - gives him definitely means that he still thinks Dirk has a dick tattoo, but he obligingly slides out his seat. “Sure,” he says. “But as a warning, I’ve never exactly been called coordinated.”

Dirk lets himself laugh a little and tries not to wince when his shades aren’t on his nose for him to push up. Okay. It’s fine. He’s fine. They’ll just - dance, and he won’t say anything, and then they’ll both go home and Dirk will never say anything about it again. “I’m sure you’ll be alright,” he says.

John gives him a skeptical look, then offers his hand for Dirk to take as he hops off of his own stool. John is a bit taller than him, likely due to the heeled boots he’s wearing, and Dirk definitely doesn’t like it all.

John holds his hand all the way out onto the dance floor. It’s solid and warm, and Dirk tries not to think too much about it. The song switches from something Dirk doesn’t recognize to something else Dirk doesn’t recognize, but John suddenly grins again. “I love this song,” he whisper-shouts, leaning in just a little closer than he probably needs to. He drops Dirk’s hand and throws his arms up, and while Dirk isn’t going to be arguing with his self-assessed lack of coordination anytime soon, it’s, again, endearing.

The floor is crowded, and Dirk is pushed into motion after only a moment. Someone bumps into him from behind and throws him against John. He doesn’t lose his balance, exactly, but he’s grateful for the way John’s arm is somehow already there to catch him.

“You good?” John asks. His arm is around Dirk’s waist now, holding him close and still swaying to the music.

Dirk doesn’t blush or stumble. Obviously. But the feeling of John’s hand resting right on the small of his back isn’t exactly conducive to regaining his coordination, so he has a good excuse for reaching up and placing his arm over John’s shoulder, a mockery of slow dancing in the middle of the pulsing bass. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere about how this whole scene is a mockery of normalcy, humanity, whatever you want to call it, but Dirk is a little too distracted by John to think about it too much.

They dance, close and without speaking, as the night stretches on and the floor begins to thin. Dirk has no idea if this is how normal people do this - usually, any dancing here is an excuse to get horny and stumble out of the door, but John is actually dancing. By the time the music’s switched to old Earth hits, there’s enough room for John to take Dirk by the hand and spin him into his chest, then back out again, in perfect time to an old 80s song Dirk is fine not knowing the title of.

It’s… fun, for lack of a better word. The fear of being recognized looms less in the dark, and there’s a certain freedom to being Darren that lets Dirk laugh out loud when John dips him at the end of the song. “I think you might be a little more coordinated than you give yourself credit for,” he says.

John snorts. “That or I’ve watched a ton of 80s, uh, old 80s movies. You pick it up after a while.”

“Yeah, sure,” Dirk says, still laughing a little as John tilts him back up onto his feet. There are still people milling around and dancing, but the music is a bit softer and it’s getting late enough that Dirk is realizing he doesn’t actually know when this place closes. “Hey, uh, do you want to get out of here?”

John arches an eyebrow. His hand has made its way to the small of Dirk’s back again. Dirk definitely doesn’t think that he could get used to the feeling. “Get out of here,” he repeats.

“Not - I mean - there’s this diner about two blocks from here,” Dirk says. Not that he wouldn’t mind getting out of here with John, necessarily, but he hasn’t eaten since dinner and, well, it’s embarrassing, but there’s something in his chest telling him to try and take this as slow as a one night fling can go.

“Nancy’s?” John asks.

Dirk blinks for a second before realizing that, oh, yeah, if John comes here often, he’s probably been. Wait - has he been with Roxy? Fuck. He has a lot of things to ask her later, actually, considering how the whole disguise thing was her idea in the first place, and … huh. Mentally bookmarked. “Yeah,” he answers.

He’s not drunk, obviously, but Dirk swears he feels like there’s something in his system as he and John head out onto the late night street. Stars glitter next to the lights of the tall buildings around and above them, and John’s hand is just a little sweaty in his.

“I don’t normally do this,” John confesses, once they’re far away enough from the club that the sidewalk has stopped reverberating under their feet.

Dirk looks at him carefully. John sounds genuine, but Dirk can’t tell what exactly it is that he’s confessing to. “Which part?” he asks.

“The -” John cuts himself off with a laugh. “The actually leaving with somebody part. It’s different once you’re outside, y’know?”

“Yeah,” Dirk agrees. Huh. He has a feeling that John’s probably talking about, you know, the whole pretending to be a mortal thing, and he gets it, in a way. It’s one thing to be someone else in a place where identity doesn’t really have much bearing, but out on the street or back in a house, it feels easier to slip up. The one time that Dirk got recognized by someone he went home with, it was the early morning light that got him found out. Not that John can know any of that, at least not right now - What happened to not speaking about this ever again? Dirk’s brain reminds him - but, “I get that. It’s - weird.”

“Yeah,” John says. They round the corner in silence, then John laughs again. “Fuck, dude, listen to me! No wonder this isn’t the norm. Anyway. New subject. What are your thoughts on, uh, Ghostbusters?”

Dirk opens his mouth to say something about bad movie taste running in the family before he catches himself and quickly replaces it with, “A little too saturated with phallic imagery for even my tastes, but not the worst thing out there?”

“Oh my god,” John says. Presumably, he’s going to say something else, but Dirk doesn’t get to find out before his foot catches on an uneven part of the sidewalk and, godly reflexes and years of training in his apartment aside, apparently, he finds himself headed directly for towards the ground.

And then, abruptly, he isn’t. Almost like something physically caught him as he fell, Dirk is back on his feet, and John’s arm is around his waist. “Uh, thanks,” he says, pushing his hair back from his face and trying to look as cool as someone who just tripped on the sidewalk can. “How the fuck did you do that?”

As soon as he asks the question, John’s face - doesn’t drop, exactly, so much as close off. “Um, good reflexes,” he says, and Dirk winces. He must’ve used his powers without thinking about it, and now he’s probably terrified that Dirk will figure out that something’s up.

Carefully, and without thinking too hard about how he already wants to find out how to make John smile again as soon as possible, Dirk arranges his face into something like impressed. “Really good,” he says. “Seriously, thanks.”

“No problem,” John says. He smiles awkwardly, then nods his head down the street. “Onward?”

Dirk snorts a little. Harlenglishcrockerberts seem incapable of not being dorks, apparently, no matter the situation or false identity. But Darren seems like the type of guy that would at least play along. “Onward,” he says.

They reach Nancy’s without further incident, thankfully.

“Here, I’ll order if you want to go find a booth, what do you want?” Dirk asks.

John stares up at the menu for a moment. His hand is somehow back in Dirk’s, and he swings it back and forth a bit as he thinks. “There are too many options for two am,” he finally decides. “Just get me whatever you’re having? Unless it’s gross.”

Dirk stares at him for a second before remembering to let himself laugh. “What defines gross?”

“You know, gross,” John says, with all of the confidence of someone who’s making complete sense. It shouldn’t be endearing, and yet. And yet.

“Okay,” Dirk agrees, still laughing a little. “I make no promises, but I’ll try my best.”

John grins at him, and Dirk can’t help but feel a little spark of triumph. “Good,” John says, and then he squeezes Dirk’s hand, lets it go, and heads over to a booth only a few steps away. Dirk pretends that he doesn’t notice John checking out his ass - yeah, okay, it’s not great, but Roxy has assured him that it’s not horrible either - and instead tries to focus on the menu. He’s been here before, sure, but he doesn’t think that John is the type to just want black coffee and slightly overdone bacon. (Look, it’s not like he grew up with a lot of options. He likes what he likes.)

Dirk figures that ordering something he thinks Jake would like would not only be cheating but just super weird on a couple of levels, so he finally settles on just french fries and vanilla milkshakes, since, you know, diner vibes. Or something like that.

He gives his order to the half-asleep troll behind the counter, still hyper-aware of John’s eyes on him, and carries the food back to the booth only a minute later. “What’d you get?” John asks.

“Fries and milkshakes,” Dirk says. “That suit your tastes, my liege?”

John snorts. “You know, you’re kind of a dork,” he says. “Shit. That’s probably a weird thing to say right now, huh.”

Dirk shrugs. At least John hasn’t turned down his choices yet, so he’ll take it. He picks up a fry and twirls it around in his fingers like a pen. “You’re one to talk,” he points out.

There’s a beat, just long enough for Dirk to wonder if he’s somehow given himself away, but then John rolls his eyes and pulls a milkshake toward himself. “Iguess,” he says. “Seriously, though, you remind me of, uh - uh, you know, Dave? The time guy?”

Dirk manages to stifle the eight different reactions that sets off in him with a fry. Once he’s finished chewing it, he decides to focus on amusement. It seems like something that Darren would do, even though it’s starting to seem that John is abandoning his persona a little more every second. “Did you just call one of the Creators the time guy?”

“I mean, thats what he is, isn’t he?” John says, and it would come across as defensive if he wasn’t giggling.

“I guess,” Dirk says, doing his best impression of John circa twelve seconds ago, and John laughs even harder.

“See, just like that,” John says, waving a fry in the air. “He pulls shit like that all the time, uh, I’ve heard.”

He’s probably one of the worst liars Dirk’s ever met, but … it’s not like Dirk’s going to call him on it. Instead he takes a sip of his milkshake and shakes his head a little. “If you say so,” he says. “I think I’ll take that as a compliment?”

John considers this for a moment. “Yeah, that’s fair, I guess. I mean, he is a god and all that.”

“For all that’s worth,” Dirk says, hoping it comes off casually like he means for it to and not with all of the weight it carries underneath.

There’s a beat, like John’s considering that, and when he looks up at Dirk again, his smile is smaller but somehow seems more genuine than it’s been all night. “Good point,” he says, and Dirk can’t help but feel like he’s just won something. And then John reaches for a fry, and then he dips it into his milkshake.

“What the fuck are you doing?”

John blinks at him for a moment. “Eating a fry?” he says, like it’s a question. “Wait, dude, have you never actually had fries with a milkshake before?”

“Yeah,” Dirk says, “but I’ve never committed a war crime while I’ve done it before.” Not that he has room to talk about food crimes, really, but come on. Potatoes and sugar just… shouldn’t be mixed.

John laughs again. It seems like he gets more and more comfortable with it the longer they talk, the quieter the other sounds of the diner seem to become, the closer night stretches to morning. Dirk is abruptly aware of how much he feels like Cinderella before his thoughts are interrupted by John holding a milkshake-covered fry directly in front of his face.

“Just try it,” John insists. “It’s really good.”

Skeptically, Dirk takes it from his hand and takes the smallest possible bite. The texture is… unpleasant, but the taste is okay enough for it to be moved from a food crime to, like, a food infraction. He tells John as much, and John rolls his eyes.

“Whatever you say,” he says, and Dirk is certain that he only scoops up such a big chunk of milkshake with his next fry to fuck with him.

They talk about food infractions and the horrible music playing in the diner and the people passing by outside until the clock reads four am and John starts to yawn. Dirk is no stranger to late nights, but even he’ll admit that the rush of adrenaline he was riding on before is starting to subside. He covers the check despite John’s protests, reflecting quietly on the irony of money even being a pretend issue when they’re, you know, gods, and offers to walk John home before John can beat him to the punch.

“Oh, uh, sure,” John says. He seems surprised that Dirk asked, but his hand slots into Dirk’s more naturally than it has any right to as they leave the diner.

“Which way?” Dirk asks. “Shit, I know I kinda assumed you live in walking distance just because I do, do you want to get an Uber?”

“Oh, no, I’m not far,” John says quickly. “Just - this way.”

He leads Dirk out towards the edge of the city, the streets dark and quiet with the hour. They don’t speak for a while, the silence, again, more natural than it has any right to be considering the situation, and Dirk tries not to think too hard to think about ideas like fate and the kind of cosmic optimism that got him through his childhood. Sometimes, there are just … coincidences, and sometimes, those coincidences give you a really nice night. It doesn’t mean that he and John were destined to do this, especially since John doesn’t even know who he is, for fuck’s sake.

The buildings keep thinning out, and John keeps yawning, but he doesn’t stop swinging Dirk’s hand back and forth in time with his steps - until they reach a corner with a small sign that welcomes them to Salamander Village. John freezes in place, just for a second, and his hand tenses up in Dirk’s.

“You okay?” Dirk asks. He’s confused until he sees the silhouette of cans behind John, further into the village, and it clicks. Of course John isn’t going to take him any further, not when his house is literally the blueprint for at least fifty of the world’s temples.

John forces a smile. “Yeah, just, um, I can just walk the rest of the way by myself,” he says. “You came all this way, and, um, the salamanders can get a little nosy?”

He’s really a terrible liar. Dirk is abruptly curious as to how well doing this has worked for John in the past, because insider advantage or not, he really is easy to figure out. There’s a brief second where he considers telling John as much, decaptchaloguing his shades and letting John slot the pieces together, but - no. That’d be a dick move at this point, probably. “Oh, yeah, that’s cool,” Dirk says. “Uh-”

Okay, so he’s not telling John that he knows. But what the fuck is he supposed to do? Just saying “bye, nice hanging out with you, talk to you again literally never that you’ll know of” seems absurd by both normal date standards and … whatever the fuck this is standards, but he can’t exactly give John his phone number either, since it and pretty much every other number Dirk knows are already in John’s contacts.

“Yeah?”

Dirk looks at John, mentally kicking himself for forgetting that John was presumably waiting for him to continue, and is suddenly struck with the perfect idea. YOLO, right? Or at least, YOEUOADWJEO (You Only End Up On A Date With John Egbert Once), or something to that effect. “Yeah, uh, I - shit, I swear I’m usually smoother than this, but can I kiss you?”

John blinks at him for a moment, wide-eyed, and then his face breaks into a relieved grin. “Thought you’d never ask,” he says, and then, oh, he’s pulling Dirk in for the kiss before Dirk can even process his answer.

John’s lips are soft, and Dirk will never admit it to anyone else, but he kind of loves that he has to tilt his head up, just a bit, to reach them. It’s over far sooner than Dirk would prefer, and John’s hands are still cupping his cheeks as he grins down at him. “This has been really fun, Darren,” he says.

Dirk lets himself smile up at John. “It has,” he admits, and then, since it’s apparently time to follow every one of his stupid impulses and since kissing John - John Egbert, what the fuck is his life? - is apparently really, really nice, he adds, “Would you want to do this again? Sometime?”

“Yeah, that’d be pretty cool!” John says.

He retrieves a phone from his pocket and is just typing in his passcode when Dirk blurts, “I don’t have a phone.”

John stops what he’s doing and looks up at Dirk incredulously. “You don’t have a phone?”

“Uh, no,” Dirk says, because he’s a master of deception. He just really fucking hopes that he never took it out while they’ve been hanging out. “Do you want to just - does tomorrow work? I’m free pretty much whenever.”

“I can’t believe you don’t have a phone,” John says, laughing a little, “but yeah, same, uh, how about seven tomorrow? There’s a park, Mayor Memorial, a couple of blocks from here and they usually have food trucks and that sorta thing, if that sounds good.”

“Sounds great,” Dirk says, smiling like he’s not being an absolute idiot. “I guess I’ll, uh, see you then?”

“Sounds great,” John echoes. He leans in, kisses Dirk on the cheek, and disappears so quickly down the street that there’s no way he’s not using his powers somehow. Dirk watches him go until he’s rounded the corner, then lifts into the air and starts flying back home.

His mind is reeling with more feelings and thoughts than he could ever even try to name, most of them being the name John Egbert? on repeat. Fuck. Roxy’s going to lose her shit when she hears about this.

*

timaeusTestified [TT] began pestering tipsyGnostalgic [TG]

TT: You’re going to lose your shit when I tell you this, but there’s literally no one else that I can tell, so I kind of need you to try not to as much as possible.
TT: It’s not as big of a deal as I made it sound, I promise.
TT: Also, where are you?
TT: You’re usually home by now.
TG: oh my god dirk i literally just woke up
TG: i cant tell if that means ur timing is rly good or rly bad tho lmao
TG: ok ok so im still at lissahs but ill prob be on my way home in a lil bit!!
TG: prob ;)
TG: nvm that tho whats going on??
TG: and dont u dare do that thing where u try and backtrack once u realize that were actually having a conversation now
TT: …
TT: Okay.
TT: …
TT: I swear I’m not stalling, I really just don’t know where to start with this one.
TT: Have you ever taken John to Nancy’s? Or the club, for that matter.
TG: oh yeah plenty of times!!
TG: not in a hot minute bc hes even harder to get out of the house than u
TG: but yeah
TG: he and i would even do the little disguise-y thing too sometimes!!
TG: wait
TG: wait wait wait
TT: Yeah.
TG: oh my GOD
TG: dirk tell me u did not end up flirting with john egbert in disguise last night
TT: Well.
TT: I guess flirting’s not quite the word for it, if that helps at all.
TG: oh no
TG: dirk tell me u didnt like
TG: be a dick to john egbert in disguise last night
TT: That’s not it either.
TT: We kind of went out?
TT: We danced and went to Nancy’s, and then I walked him home.
TG: oh my god oh my god oh my GOD
TG: oh my god
TG: thats the funniest fucking thing ive ever heard holy shit
TG: i cant believe
TG: wait wait wait
TG: so u know it was him?
TT: He’s a Prospit dreamer, Roxy, he legally can’t lie for shit.
TG: ok true lmao
TT: I recognized him pretty quickly after we started talking, but I didn’t tell him.
TT: I didn’t want to, like, ruin it for him.
TG: *eyes emoji*
TG: and no other reason???
TT: It’s not a Jake thing, if that’s what you’re getting at.
TT: He was just nice to talk to.
TT: And I don’t think he recognized me, so that was nice.
TG: yeah ur prob right on that one i love him but john can be an idiot
TG: spill the hot deetz tho omg!! what did u do?
TG: *eyes emoji but slightly less bc i dont actually want to hear any capital-d details abt u guys*
TT: No capital-d Details to be heard.
TT: We just danced, and I mean actually danced.
TT: Dips and spins and all of that movie shit.
TT: And then we went to Nancy’s and just talked for a while, and then I took him home, like I said.
TG: dont think i didnt see u typing and erasing for like two solid minutes there
TG: and then what??
TT: I kind of kissed him.
TT: Well. Not kind of.
TT: Technically, he kissed me, which is a level of initiative I probably shouldn’t have been surprised by at that point.
TT: And then we made plans to go on another date today.
TG: oh my GOD
TG: ik ive said that like eighty times but !!!! oh my god!!!
TG: i cant believe im friends with the stupidest ppl on this planet
TG: also can i just say
TG: i fuckin told u egbert was hot. i TOLD u
TT: Hey, I never said he was hot.
TG: u went on a date with him last night and literally have plans to go on another one today
TT: Anyway, presuming Dave doesn’t somehow hear about this and fulfill his brotherly duty of decapitating me for my violation of bro code, what the fuck am I supposed to do?
TG: go date john egbert??
TT: Roxy. He thinks my name is Darren fucking Aronofsky.
TG: ok yeah that does pose a bit of a problem
TG: hmmm
TG: i mean look at it this way if u already want to see him again
TG: this prob wont be the last date unless smth goes horribly wrong
TT: Like him finding out that I was lying to him all last night?
TG: no no let me finish!!
TG: the point is that u should tell him now so u dont risk having to tell him after like ten dates yk?
TT: … Fair point.
TG: besides i rly doubt hed be mad abt last night
TG: mostly bc i dont think he knows how to hold grudges but also bc it was rly nice of u to let him have a night like that
TT: I guess.
TG: dont “i guess” me!! u did a nice thing and now u have to deal with it!!
TT: I *guess.*
TG: *rolls eyes*
TG: hey lissahs waking up so im gonna go
TG: obligatory wonk
TG: but seriously
TG: just show up as urself and explain!! if i need to beat him up then i will!
TG: and also get ready bc im going to make so much fun of u when i get home
TG: mr “ew roxy what did u ever see in egbert”
TT: Yeah, yeah.
TT: Thanks, Roxy. See you later.
TG: see u!! <3

tipsyGnostalgic [TG] began pestering timaeusTestified [TT]]

Dirk puts his phone down and leans back against the kitchen counter with a sigh. She’s right, because she’s Roxy, but…

There’s no way John’s just going to be, like, cool about it when he finds out. If he finds out, because standing him up is still completely on the table. Well. Sort of.

Dirk hates to admit it, but he had fun last night. John’s funnier and more attractive than he expected, and social etiquette gleaned from a long dead Dave Strider still says that just flat out ghosting someone isn’t the move. He doesn’t think that the hypothetical “like ten dates” that Roxy alluded to are going to happen, for reasons more self deprecating than Dirk would prefer his character development to show.

Look. John isn’t bad looking, he’s funny, he’s nice, and Dirk may or may not have a habit of letting his imagination live out every single one of his most cliche fantasies whenever someone so much as smiles at him. It’s like - so what if he’s imagined kissing John again, actually kissing him, somewhere other than a street corner? So what if he’s thought about what John looks like in the morning, stretching and yawning and probably way more awake without caffeine than any human has the right to be, and so what if he’s pictured showing John a good movie, maybe not SBaHJ yet but something better than Ghostbusters, and maybe letting John play with his hair while they lay on the couch?

It doesn’t mean anything beyond the fact that Dirk is lonelier than he’d ever admit to anyone else and that his imagination is pretty well-practiced after spending so much of his childhood rehearsing for the day he met his friends in person. More importantly, though, it doesn’t mean that John is even reading the same book, let alone on the same page.

In fact, everything that Dirk knows about John Egbert seems to point to the fact that he refuses to be tied down, that he very much lives in the present, weird reality jumping aside, and that he has the same sort of weird problems with attention that lead Dirk to dressing up as a stranger and going out. Which all goes to say that there’s almost no chance of “like ten dates,” which all goes to say that the effort it’s going to take to go meet him, explain the truth, maybe stumble through a few more hours before John sees something he doesn’t like and disappears, and spend the rest of their literally eternal lives dealing with the awkwardness is probably more effort than it’s worth.

And yet, when six o’clock rolls around, Dirk finds himself standing in front of the full-length mirror at the back of his closet, holding a cardigan and a hat t-shirt up and frowning at Roxy’s reflection.

“Dirk,” she says, with the tone of someone that’s explained something many times already, “first off, it’s John, you could wear jorts and he wouldn’t give a shit, and second off, you would literally never wear that cardigan.”

Dirk holds the cardigan in question in front of himself again and turns to properly face Roxy. “But Darren would, and - no, no, I know, I’m going to tell him, it just might be better if he actually recognizes me when I show up.”

Roxy swings her legs down off of the bed and walks over to stand in front of Dirk. She gently takes the cardigan from his hand and hangs it back up on the rack. “Just wear the t-shirt and throw a hoodie over it or something so it’s not super, like, hey, I’m Dirk Strider!”

“Fine,” Dirk says, with the tone of someone that knew he was going to lose an argument the minute he started it. “I just - shit, do you really think he’s not going to freak out?”

Roxy smiles at Dirk, somehow both patient and saying Dirk, you idiot, I’ve been over this eighty times already today, and shrugs. “I don’t think so,” she says. “I mean, it’s John, so who knows when he’s going to decide his yearly chance express to negative emotion is, but I really don’t think this is going to be it. He obviously liked you enough last night to want to see you again, and I hate to break it to you, but I don’t think you’re as good as getting into another character as you think.”

Dirk folds his arms. “I’m calling bullshit on that.”

“Whatever you say,” Roxy says, laughing a little and raising her hands in mock surrender. “But really. It’ll be fine. And if it’s not, I’ll go kick his ass!”

“And I’ll help you,” Dirk says. He lets himself laugh too, quietly, and Roxy gives him a real smile.

“It’ll be fine,” she repeats. “Just remember to take notes so you can tell me literally everything later, okay?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Dirk says, but he knows he will.

Roxy grins at him again. “Okay, well, I’m going to go meet Callie and Jane, but I’ll see you when you get home! Wonk.”

“You know you can just wink, right?”

“I know, I know, it’s just not as fun,” Roxy says. She does, to prove it, and then she ducks out of the closet and out of the room, and Dirk is left staring at his reflection again.

Well. She did have a point about the cardigan - it’s really, really not his style - so he changes into the t-shirt and grabs a bright orange hoodie to wear over it. His shades are already back on his face, and even though they make it almost certain that someone will recognize him, he really doesn’t feel like going without them tonight.

A quick time check reveals that it’s 6:15, which gives Dirk about thirty minutes until he has to leave. He briefly considers pestering Rose, since the whole situation is probably very psychologically revealing and possible psychologically concerning, but decides to wait until afterwards to see if it’s really necessary or not. And because he’s pretty sure that whatever conversation they end up having will take much longer than thirty minutes. In the end, Dirk finds himself just pacing in a loop around the house until it’s time to go, and then he flies to the park so quickly that he arrives five minutes early. Great. Cool.

The park is busier than Dirk had expected and would strictly prefer - carapacians, salamanders, humans, and trolls are all milling around on the shaded paths. He hovers up above the trees for a moment, hoping against hope that no one notices him because, well, if he’s worried about the shades or T-shirt being a giveaway, flying isn’t exactly more subtle.

Luckily, it seems like no one does. Dirk finds a secluded corner off to the side of one of the paths and touches down, taking a moment to try and figure out what the hell he’s doing before he heads up towards the park entrance. He quickly realizes that he has no idea what the hell he’s doing.

In theory, it’s pretty obvious. He’s going on a date with John Egbert, just with the added complications of John not knowing that he’s Dirk and John not knowing that he knows that John is John. It’s simple, really. Easier than rocket science, which Dirk is proud to say he has a pretty decent basic knowledge of.

Okay. Stupid monologuing time over, time to go … find John. Right. He can do this.

Dirk steps onto the dirt path, closing his eyes for a moment as he forces himself to take a deep breath, and promptly collides with someone walking by.

His eyes fly open, and he jumps up to hover a couple of inches off the ground without really thinking about it. “Shit, are you okay?” he asks.

It takes him a moment to realize that the same question has just been directed at him by the figure - human, it looks like - in front of him, and a moment longer to realize that the universe hates him personally and passionately. “Are you okay?” John repeats. “Hey, wait - Dirk? Is that you?”

Dirk briefly considers flying away and letting John just think that Darren ghosted him and that Dirk’s presence was a weird coincidence. He’s a Prospit dreamer; Dirk doubts that he’d ever actually put the pieces together.

But, somehow, Dirk finds his feet slowly floating back to the ground. “Uh, yeah,” he says. “Hey, John.”

“Hi,” John says. He looks bemused and - no sense beating around the bush - really, really good. He’s dressed like ‘Harry’ again, hair messy and black skinny jeans tighter than anyone’s have the right to be. “What are you doing here? And wait, how did - I never said I was John.”

Dirk inhales, exhales, thankful for the time that his shades give him to just stare at John and contemplate the fact that this is the point of no return whichever way he decides to play it. “Uh,” he starts. “Well, actually, I’m here to meet you. Up with you, I mean. Meet up with you. And, um, you still look like John, even with all the - yeah.”

John’s brow furrows slightly. Right. Dirk had a feeling he’d have to explain it all bit by bit, but he’d also really appreciate it if John would put some of the pieces together on his own. “Wait,” John says, “okay, how did you know I’d be here?”

“Because you invited me here,” Dirk says. He shifts his weight to the side, suddenly hyper aware of how close he and John are standing.

John’s brow furrows a little bit more. It would be cute if Dirk didn’t feel like his heart was about to pound out of his chest with nerves. “I’m pretty sure I didn’t,” he says. “I mean, not that it’s not good to see you, you seem, like, cool and all, but I don’t really know you? And I kind of meant to meet up with someone else.”

“With Darren,” Dirk supplies. “Who is, uh, me.”

There’s a pause. A troll rides by on a bike, and it’s only when the sound of her tires against the dirt fades that John looks down at Dirk. “You - oh my god,” he says. “Oh my god. That was you?”

Partly for authenticity and partly because Dirk has seen a couple of romance movies, okay, he pushes his shades up onto the top of his head. “Yeah,” he says.

“And you -” John blinks. His eyes are wide, still so blue without his glasses, but at least he isn’t running away or anything. Yet, Dirk’s brain adds unhelpfully. “Oh my god. I kissed you. You’re Dave’s bro and I kissed you.”

Dirk can’t help it - he laughs. Of course that’s what John Egbert focuses on. “Yeah, how do you think I feel?” he asks. “You’re Dave’s, like, best bro, and I kissed you back.”

“Oh my god,” John repeats. He runs his hands through his hair, messing it up even more, and Dirk is pretty sure he’s never felt more relieved in his life than when John starts laughing. “Oh my god, that’s fucking hilarious, it’s like we pranked ourselves! God, for immortal creators of a universe, we’re kinda stupid, huh?”

Dirk lets himself laugh more now that John’s joined in, and there’s a part of him that feels that same kind of warm contentment in his chest that he felt last night. “Yeah, it’s pretty fuckin’ ridiculous,” he says.

“Wait, wait,” John says, reaching up like he’s going to push up his glasses before remembering they’re not there. “Wait, how long did you know I was me?”

“Pretty much the whole time,” Dirk says, then winces when he realizes what that implies - that he knew who John was and still decided to go on two dates with him. Sure, John hasn’t exactly reacted badly to finding out the truth, but he also hasn’t said anything to hint that he wants them to take anything from the whole situation than a funny story. Which is fine, really, but looking at him, his eyes warm in the early evening light, his fake tattoo applied at more of an angle than it was yesterday, Dirk can’t deny that that’s really not how he wants things to go.

“Huh,” John says. “Fuck, Roxy told me I should’ve dyed my hair or something! What gave it away?”

Dirk gestures vaguely. “The, uh - you laughed,” he says. “At risk of really getting this off to an even worse start, you looked really similar to Jake, and, yeah.”

John grins sheepishly. “Roxy told me I should watch that too, whoops. But maybe I should be taking tips from you, actually, because I seriously had no idea who you were, holy shit.”

“Yeah, I think it’s the contacts,” Dirk says, then winces again because fuck, could he be worse at conversation?

John doesn’t seem fazed, though, he just laughs again. “God. I just can’t get over - did Roxy give you the idea too? To do the disguise thing, I mean.”

“Yeah,” Dirk says. He feels like he should say something else, but there’s nothing he can think of that doesn’t scream I’m actually kind of into you.

“Huh,” John says. He falls quiet as well, then looks at Dirk again and offers, “I liked your outfit. Last night, I mean.”

Dirk feels his face grow hot and wants to kick himself, just a bit. “Oh, uh, thanks. I liked yours too. And today - you look nice. It looks nice.”

“You know,” John says, laughing again, softly, “even though you totally already proved him wrong last night, you’re really, really not as smooth as Dave thinks you are.”

“Okay, Mr. ‘How long did you know I was me?’” Dirk retorts. He freezes for a moment after he said it, unsure if the banter they had last night was a last night only thing and if John is going to think he’s weird now and -

John snorts. “Yeah, yeah, fair. Hey, wait, can I ask you something?”

“Yeah?”

“Why didn’t you just pester me or something and tell me?”

Dirk thinks he might just be stuck in a permanent wince now. He reaches up and pulls his shades down back over his eyes and shrugs, hoping it comes across as casual but knowing it almost certainly doesn’t. He’s about to lie, deciding that actually, trying to flirt with John Egbert as himself is too much work, when he imagines having to tell Roxy that he chickened out. She’d understand, but - “I mean, I don’t know, I had fun last night? And it just seemed like a conversation that would go better in person.”

John pauses, clearly thinking about something, and Dirk resists the urge to groan. Right, there it is - the Harlenglishcrockerbert talent for thinking critically only at the worst possible times. “Wait, you had fun?”

Dirk almost laughs, the question is so absurd, but John somehow seems much closer than he was a moment ago and all he can really focus on is how his heart is losing its fucking shit. “Yeah,” he says, “I mean-”

“Wait, wait, wait,” John interrupts, holding his hands up. They’re… dangerously close to Dirk’s shoulders. “Wait. Hang on. Dirk Strider, are you telling me that you kissed me when you knew I was me? Cause that’s either, like, really good dedication to a really weird level of prank or did you -”

“I wanted to,” Dirk blurts out, so he can at least say he said it on his own terms. “Uh. Well. Yeah.”

John blinks. Then he blinks again. Dirk has come up with the three most efficient routes out of the park, region, and continent by the time he says, “Huh.”

Dirk waits for him to continue, mostly because he has absolutely nothing to say.

“Well,” John finally says, once he realizes that Dirk has decided to stay completely silent, “I’m obviously not going to complain about that.”

Now it’s Dirk’s turn to blink incredulously. “Wait, what do you mean?”

John gives him that sheepish grin again. “I mean, I kissed you too,” he points out.

“When you didn’t know who I was.”

John shrugs. “Yeah, which - shit, that’s really embarrassing, huh. Like, hey, I’m John, I think you’re really good-looking but you’re my best friend’s brother and also you basically caught me LARPing as a human, haha!”

Part of Dirk’s brain latches onto good-looking and promptly careens as far off the metaphorical rails as it gets. The part of his brain responsible for speech, thankfully or not, decides to grab onto the end of the sentence. “Well, to be fair, we were both LARPing as humans, so… pots and kettles and all that.”

“Yeah, I guess,” John says. He pauses for a moment, then, “Hey, do you wanna go sit down? There’s a bench over there, and I feel like a dick just standing in the middle of the path.”

“Uh, sure,” Dirk says. All things considered, it’s a miracle that he has the cognitive function to make his legs carry him over to the bench and sit down. John drops down next to him, sitting so close that his thigh is brushing Dirk’s. “So, uh. Do you know if anyone else, like, does this? The LARPing thing, which we really need to find another word for immediately.”

John laughs. He would seem perfectly oblivious to the tension that’s currently taking up over half of Dirk’s brain space if it wasn’t for the anxious tapping of his foot against the dried leaves on the ground. “Yeah, I’ll probably stick with disguise from now on, I think. But no, not that I know of! Unless Roxy has been encouraging all of us behind each other’s backs.”

“I wouldn’t put it past her,” Dirk says. He’s amazed with the way he’s able to laugh a little, casually. John’s hand has somehow ended up slung across the back of the bench, just inches from being slung around Dirk. “But, like, I get it.”
“Yeah,” John says, “it’s just nice to be a normal person sometimes, I think.”

“Yeah,” Dirk agrees. It’s quiet for a moment, and Dirk is struck by the absurdity of the situation, the beautiful weather, and the absurdity of noticing the beautiful weather at this exact moment all at once. He closes his eyes and doesn’t look at John as he says, “If you wanted, we could, like, keep trying it?”

“Being a normal person?” Thank you, Harlenglishcrockerbert willful ignorance.

“I mean, sure, but I meant … “ Dirk forces himself to open his eyes, and when he looks over at John, he’s met with a smile that has no right to be that attractive. “This. The date thing.”

John’s smile brightens into a full-blown grin, and his arm slides from the back of the park bench down to Dirk’s shoulders so casually that it feels like it was always meant to be there. “How much do you think Dave is going to kill us?”

Dirk snorts. “I’m sure he can deal, just - can we agree right now to never, under any circumstances, tell him how this happened?”

John starts laughing, harder than Dirk’s comment probably warranted but rewarding nonetheless, and while Dirk is still trying not to let himself, like, imagine their wedding or anything, the view when he looks over at John is one he thinks he could get used to.

first-piece