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Silent Music

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Your name is Dave Strider, and today is your first day at that fancy-ass new boarding school Bro is so intent on sending you to. The only reason you agreed is because your long-time internet pal, John, was also attending, and he agreed to let you stay with him. Of course, now that you’re standing in front of his dormitory room door, you’re starting to regret that decision.

What if he doesn’t like you? What if you don’t like him? And, more importantly, how would he react to you…?

No time to dwell on such things now… Striders don’t worry about things. Things worry about Striders… Or, at least, that’s what Bro said to you once (although he was a bit tipsy when he said it). You raise a nervous hand to the door and knock, waiting for it to open. As soon as it does, you’re greeted by a pale kid with shocking white hair. He glares at you for several seconds before slamming the door shut in your face.

Seconds later, however, you hear a commotion stirring up behind the wooden portal.

“Goddammit, Karkat. I told you not to answer the door…”

“NO. FUCK YOU. I’M NOT LETTING SOME BLONDE-HAIRED ASSHOLE LIVE IN THIS GODDAMNED DORM. IT’S ALREADY TOO FUCKING CROWDED.”

“I don’t remember asking you for your opinions, Karkat. Now shut up while I…”

The door swings open again, and you find yourself staring at a familiar face. His shocking blue eyes study you from behind a pair of laughably thick-lensed rectangular glasses, and his messy black hair seems to move at the slightest of breezes. From his naturally tan complexion and build, you’re pretty sure he’s at least partially Asian.

“You’re Dave Strider, right?” he asks with a toothy, but innocent, grin. “You’re ten minutes late. I was about to send out a search party to find you. I apologise for Karkat answering the door. He WASN’T SUPPOSED TO.”

“FUCK OFF, ASSHOLE,” the loud voice, which you had heard only moments prior, replies before a door slams shut.

“He means well most of the time…” John shrugs. “Come on in. Your room is the one over there…” he motions towards an unadorned door on the right-hand side of the commons area.

You nod and toss him a nervous grin before stepping over the oak threshold and into a warm, brightly-lit living space. The smell of the wood fireplace on the southern wall hits you like an aromatic brick to the face (which is a really bad metaphor, but let’s just go with it), and the constant hum of the neatly polished ceiling fans echoes in your ears.

“You’re a lot quieter in person, you know…”

The sound of John’s voice shocks you back to reality, and you whirl around to face him. You dig through your duffel bag, eventually prying your phone from its evil clutches. You take note of John’s incredulous stare, and duck your head as you type out a message.

Seconds later, the sound of Nic Cage proposing to steal the Declaration of Independence blares from John’s pocket. (The somewhat-expected but still slightly surprising ringtone manages to force a fit of wheezing laughter from you.) You barely notice him replying to the message until your phone beeps.

So… Should I be texting you instead of talking?

Even after you’ve read it, it takes you a few minutes to stop laughing to the point that you can write a semi-coherent reply…

no i hear fine
just cant talk
but turn that ringtone off
i might die of laughter if i hear it again

Instead of sending it, you simply show him the phone. You’ve already had your daily fill of laughter for the day (and in one sitting, dammit), and you don’t care to have another fit of giggles.

“What’s wrong with the ringtone? It’s Nic fucking Cage!” John snorts as he changes the ringtone to the standard beep. “Besides, then we all know whose phone it is.”

whats wrong with it?
lets say fucking everything
its so adorably dorky

You notice edges of his mouth twitching into a grin at the sight of your text, and you can’t help but do a mental fistpump (actual fistpumps are uncool). Now that you’re seeing him in person instead of as a picture on PesterChum, you also have to admit that he’s pretty damn attractive…

“Fine. I’ll keep it that way. But the minute you leave, it’s back to Nic Cage.” He folds his arms, a triumphant smirk spreading across his face.

As you prepare yourself to reply, you hear the door to Karkat’s room swing open.

“Goddamn, Egbert. Give his ears a fucking break. He’s come all the way from Texas. The last thing he probably wants to hear is your incessant prattle.” Bam! The door swings shut again, and Karkat disappears behind it.

John, meanwhile, has a look of horrified revelation on his face. “Oh god. I’m sorry. I almost forgot about all of that. Shit. I’ve probably been annoying you this whole time… I mean… I can’t tell with you… Do you want me to leave you alone? I’ll leave you al—”

You put your hand over his mouth and let forth a small sigh of annoyance.

no dude really
its fine
i dont care
jut dont do that
like
what you just did
dont do it
its really rather annoying

You hold the glowing screen to his eye level, and slowly move your hand away from his mouth. All the while, you glance nervously at him in what you hope equates to a “oh fuck, please not again” look.

“Oh… Sorry…” he mumbles. You can see his cheeks turning a bright pink, and you force back the affectionate smile trying to make its way onto your face.

okay its fucking official
youre the most easily embarassed person ive ever known
like
ever

A sheepish grin crosses his face, and he shrugs his shoulders. His long fingers run thoughtfully through his wild black hair, and he glances from the phone screen to you a few times before replying. “Yeah. I guess I can get embarassed a lot…”

You nod and shove your hands and, subsequently, your phone back into your sweatshirt pocket.

“Does that mean you want me to shut up now?” John mutters, raising a brow.

You shake your head and motion towards your bedroom door before nodding at the few things you’ve brought.

He seems to get the message, and he enthusiastically grabs your duffel bag. As he reaches for your turntables, however, you stop him with a rapid text.

touch the turntables
and i fucking kill you
im not joking dude

As he reads the text, you level him with your most malicious glare. When he turns to look at you, said glare greets him (and you swear he shat fifteen bricks), prompting him to throw hands into the air and slowly edge away from your precious babies. Once he was a decent distance from them, you lean over and pick them up yourself, carefully carrying them to their new residence.

Together, you begin to set up your room. Only five minutes, you both say. Five minutes…

Minutes pass, turning rapidly into hours. Eventually, you both stop and realise that the sun has long since set, and that you’ve been setting up the room for umpteen hours (probably more like five).

“Looks good to me,” John comments off-handedly.

A smile tugs at your lips, but you fight it back as you reply.

dude its my place
of course it looks good

He lets forth a snort of laughter, and another adorable grin spreads across his face. “Of course it does, Dave. Anything else you need?”

You stop and think for a moment. As far as the room was concerned, you and him had completely conquered the task of getting it set up. The only other thing you could think of was maybe…

no i think were done here
thanks for the help bro

You have the text typed and ready before you could even finish the thought, and it’s sent before you even realise what you’re doing.

“Any time,” he grins and wanders out of the room, closing the door behind himself.

With him gone, the room falls into silence. With him gone, you feel lonely… No… Striders don’t feel lonely. Striders don’t feel anything bad, right? That’s what Bro always said… You quickly start up your turntables and begin working, drowning your feelings in art. That’s what you normally do, isn’t it…?

Chapter Text

It’s been two weeks since you’ve arrived. You and John have, predictably, become inseparable. You’re even starting to form a friendly rivalry with Karkat (though he, for some stupid reason, insists you call it a “blackrom”). As a creature of habit, you’ve settled in pretty quickly. You know your schedule (partially because you and John share almost all of your classes, and you mostly follow him) and have even managed to roughly remember how to get to them. You’ve fallen in love with most of your studies, and you’re usually pretty peppy when it comes to getting ready.

You’ve gotten used to texting John incessantly, and he’s fallen into the routine of constantly checking his phone. All in all, you have to admit that the first two weeks have gone by in seemingly impossible perfection. Not only did you have John to back you up as the closest friend you’ve ever had (ever), but you were starting to get along with other people. Most importantly, you’ve managed to keep your secret relatively safe…

Well… You had until now, as you stare blankly at the confused looks you’re getting from a class waiting for you to answer a question about the book you’re reading for English.

“Strider,” the professor calls, “I’m waiting.”

Your gaze darts desperately around the room. John wasn’t in this class and Rose, the only other person who knew about it, was merely staring expectantly at you… You were alone, surrounded by your peers, and being asked to do something you couldn’t.

Maybe… You open your mouth, trying to force yourself to speak, but nothing happens. The eyes staring at you only grow wider, and the jaws drop lower. You – Dave Strider – the kid who’s built his entire image upon unemotional coolness and wit, are trapped… There’s nothing else left for you to do but give in to what both Bro and Rose have been telling you to do all along…

With shaking hands, you begin to sign to the teacher. You force yourself to comply with its ridiculous expressiveness, and you regret every second of it. According to Bro, though, the teachers have all been trained in that type of shit. So, it comes as no surprise when the teacher nods understandingly and focuses his attention on another unwilling pupil. Even so – even with the teacher’s attention now gone – you can still feel the eyes staring at you, and you swear you can hear the murmurs going around the classroom.

All you want to do now is sink into your seat and do some chameleon-blending shit…

By the time class is over, you’re struggling to keep your emotions in check. You skip music, despite the fact that it’s your favourite class, and run straight for your dorm. If anyone asks, you’ll say you were sick…

Your mad dash for your dorm is halted, however, when you slam into a familiar face.

“GOD FUCKING DAMMIT, YOU ASSHOLE. ARE YOU FUCKING BLIND!? OPEN UP YOUR DAMN OPTICAL RECEPTORS AND WATCH WHERE YOU’RE GOING!” Karkat snaps as he brushes himself up and springs back to his feet. You, meanwhile, remain sitting on the floor.

“You’ve blown it, dumbass,” your inner voice nags at the back of your mind. “Might as well tattoo ‘I’m A Freak’ on your forehead, right? Because, c’mon, no one’ll want to talk to you now that…”

“Dave!?”

You turn around at the sound of the voice, your trance-like state of self-deprecation shattered like a mirror hit with a sledghammer.

“Dave!?”

Where is…? You cast your gaze about until you finally spot her, the last person you want to see: Rose. After checking to make sure no one else was around, you resort to sign. Sure, you hated it. But, really, it was Rose. She’d known your entire image was a ruse from the moment you’d lied and told her you had a sore throat. On top of that, she was apparently related to you somehow (your cousin, you think Bro said). With the combination of your shaky hand movements and the semblance of an irritated expression on your face, your message could (and you hoped, would) probably be taken to be something such as, “Go the fuck away.”

To your annoyance, however, she has the nerve to reply with a laugh and some stupid offhand comment about you needing to do something with your self-esteem and motions.

“Fuck off,” you mouth to her, folding your arms across your chest defiantly. Nope. You weren’t giving in to her stupid little scheme. Texting, writing, and mouth all served the same purpose as… well… it. And, on top of that, more people could understand the former three.

“Use your words, Davey,” she chides. “I don’t know what you’re saying.” She sits down next to you, a wide smirk spread across her face.

Nope. Not falling for it. She wants you to use your hands, right? Well, fuck her. You allow a smug grin to spread across your normally passive face as you hold your right hand at about shoulder height, spelling out what you want to say: “F-U-C-K Y-O-U.”

Her exasperated sigh prompts you to mentally note a victory, all the while barely listening to her usual prattle. “Fine then, Dave. Be stubborn. I don’t care. But you’re not going to make much progress like that.” She sighs and, in one fluid motion, returns to a standing position. As she’s about to leave, however, she turns to face you. “Oh, and I think Egbert has a surprise for you when you get back to your dorm. Just think about that, Davey,” she practically chuckles before turning and rounding the corner to her next class.

Meanwhile, you gather your wits enough to stand back up. Your mind is going a mile a minute. First of all, you can’t believe the nerve of her. Sure, she was related to you… but she doesn’t get to call you “Davey”. No one, not even Bro, got to or will get to call you by that stupid name. And she knew damned well about that rule. You’ve told her on more than one occasion to lay off with the pet name shit. What miffs you off even more, though, is the fact that she’s still bugging you about this whole “signing” business.

You stay there, fuming, for a while. By the time you’re finished mulling over your thoughts and actually bother to look at your watch, you realise that it’s almost time for school to be over, anyhow. You shrug and pick up your things. Then, you wander back to the dorm…

 

“Where were you in class today?”

The voice forces you back to reality. You look up at the sound of John’s voice and the feeling of his hand on your shoulder. His eyes gaze concernedly at you, and his normal smile has been replaced by a worried frown. Even so – even with all the concern he shows for you – you offer an indifferent shrug and a simple text.

nothing
go back to cooking that vomitfest you call food

For a brief moment after he reads the text, a smile lights up his face. It quickly disappears, however, with his next statement. “Look, Dave… Rose told me everything. I’m not gonna’ lie about that.”

You sit bolt upright, furious at the fact that she even so much as mentioned the whole incident to John. You make quite a show of producing your phone and loudly typing your message before viciously spamming the send button.

ugh fuck that bitch
why is she always all up in my business
its not her problem

John sighs and rolls his eyes as he receives the message at least ten times, in rapid succession, before finally reading it. Once his eyes stop scanning the screen of the phone, he pauses to think of a reaction and, eventually, he puts a gentle hand on your shoulder.

Your reaction, however, is to grab his wrist and throw it off. Today’s been enough for you, and the fact that Rose told John is enough to set off suspicion that he was in on it. You’re sick of being comforted by people who will never understand you, and you’re tired of people fucking touching you. So, against all logic, you reply in infuriated sign. You’re not even sure what exactly you said. All you know is that you gave him the nonverbal equivalent of all the profanities you wanted to scream in his face.

“Dave… I…” he tries to speak up, and you return his efforts with an aggrivated and well-aimed jab in his gut. He goes down on his knees, gripping his stomach, as you surpress a triumphant grin.

That’s when he does the last thing you want him to. He does what you’ve been so stubbornly avoiding (yet, inexplicably, just did) for so long. Well… It’d probably be more like a painfully (and probably half-assed, seeing as the punch was intended to make his stomach churn) horrid attempt to. From what you gather by him motioning towards his ear, you assume he’s trying to tell you to listen. Although, considering how terribly he’s doing it, you could (and seriously consider) “mistaking” it for him telling you to give him a nice kick to the side of the head.

Instead, after figuring that giving him an upset stomach was enough to make your point, you simply flip him the bird and storm off to your room. You slam the door behind you, engaging every lock you know of. For good measure, you even jam the writing chair under the door knob.

Then, you wander over to your turntables and sit down. You turn them on and begin your usual effort to block out unpleasant thoughts. But, for once – maybe for the first time ever – you feel no less terrible than you had without them. After about ten minutes, you actually feel worse. You let forth a silent sob and pull the plug, not even bothering to power the system down properly before flopping down in your bed to think.

Not only is your secret out, but Rose is probably pretty pissed at you. Karkat refuses to even look at you (though he may be on his man-period again), and you’re pretty sure John doesn’t want to talk to the guy who just punched him in the gut… For once in your life, you realise that you may have done what Bro told you not to. You’ve grown attached to someone. No… You’ve grown attached to people… You’ve come to think of them as friends; as kin, even…

You release a shaky breath before staring at the door. The worst that could happen, you figure, is that John gives you back what you gave him. You wipe away tears for the second time today and stumble to your feet.

Making an effort to be as quiet as possible, you carefully nudge the door open. You peer into the dorm room, fully expecting to see John glaring back at you. But, to your surprise, you find him (of all things) smiling at you. You do a double-take. He is. He’s smiling at you. After everything you’ve done to him in the past hour or so, that stupid buck-toothed grin lights up his face.

“Maybe you’re ready to talk now?” John asks quietly, nodding his head to the space next to him on the sofa.

So, not only is he happy to see you, he’s willing to help. You reply honestly, with a shake of your head, and pull out your phone. While you appreciate the gesture, you’re not quite sure if you can come to terms with going against everything you’ve been raised upon. Striders don’t dump their emotions on people because they’re above emotion (as Bro would say)…

no not really
i just needed some company
i mean not like some gang thing
i just want someone to be around i guess
i dont know why
never actually felt like this before to be honest

You watch as his icy blue eyes scan the text, stopping only once he’d read the whole thing. He moves a pillow out of the way and edges over a bit to open up a larger space before shrugging. “Fine by me, I guess.”

A smile sneaks past your emotional barrier as you settle down beside John. You come to rest against his side, your head leaning against his shoulder, and your phone on his lap. He, meanwhile, ends up with his arm around you. The flicker of the fire in front of you forms distinct, yet comforting patterns against your closed eyelids and, slowly, you begin to drift to sleep.

The last thing you remember is lazily wrapping your arm around John. You think you might have given him a kiss on the cheek, but you’re not really sure. What you are sure of, though, is that – for the first time in a long while – you feel completely safe and, oddly enough, happy…

Chapter Text

It’s Saturday, around noon, when Dave finally wakes up. He greets you with a simple bob of his head and that familiar cocky grin. You expect him to grab his coffee and toast, then return to his room as per usual. Today, however, he does something different. He pours himself some coffee, grabs a waffle (which really isn’t all that much of a difference), and sits down next to you (which just so happens to be the shocking difference in the routine). Then, he folds his arms and leans back in the high-backed leather armchair he’d claimed, looking at you expectantly.

You, however, have no clue what he wants you to do. You’re just about to ask him when you feel your phone vibrating.

go on ahead stupid
do you need me to spell it out for you
youre so damned eager to learn
so i figured i might as well make sure youre going the right way

You glance from him to your phone in disbelief. Was he really helping you with this? Two weeks ago, he’d given you the worst punch to the stomach you’d ever had in your life over it. But, now, he’s sitting down and helping you!? Hesitantly, you reply with what you’re certain is sign for “Why”. To cover your ass, though, you also say it out loud.

And, to your surprise, he reacts with a smile. It’s not one of his stupid half smiles or his cocky little smirks. It’s an actual smile. It’s the first actual smile you’ve ever seen from him, and it lights up his face. You can see his brows raising slightly and notice his shoulders shaking in hoarse gasps of what you assume to be his form of laughter.

He makes an attempt to reply to you with a dulled-down version of sign, but ends up laughing too hard to do so. You’re not quite sure what he’s laughing at until you get his text.

holy shit
like
i didnt even mess up that bad when i was a kid
god youre so damned terrible at this its funny
but seriously i hope to god youre not actually using this shit
like in public or anything
cause that would ACTUALLY be not funny

Okay… So you said something wrong… “Well… I haven’t used it with anyone but you. So I guess that's good?” you reply hesitantly.

holy shit thats fantastic
because you just told me to go fuck myself
how the fuck did you even do that?
like how do you mess up THAT badly
THAT WAS PRICELESS
please PLEASE do it again i need to get it on video for posterity

You reply with an indignant frown, slightly annoyed that he’s so amused by your mistake. “No, Dave. I’m not doing it again…” Although, you do make a mental note to throw away any papers you have from that specific site…

obviously not bro

With a roll of your eyes and one final acrimonious huff, you begin to flip through the multitude of pages you’ve printed out. Where the hell were you supposed to start?

having some trouble?
cause i got some interestin shit you can learn

You stare incredulously at the text for a moment before reluctantly raising your hands in the air. “Well, Dave… I’m kind of frightened about what you’re so desperate to say, but go on ahead…”

He replies with the wildest grin you’ve ever seen from… well… anyone, really. Following that, he makes a few quick hand gestures. You catch onto the fact that he wants something from you… Oh god… “Do I even want to…?”

Too late. The phone vibrates into life, and you fearfully pull it from your pocket.

in case youre wondering
which i think you are if my face readings are correct
i just said i want to fuck you in the mouth
or some other written grammar equivalent shit
yay
or should i say
gay

“Dave!” you nearly screech, dropping the phone in the process. “I’d like to talk to you, not just hear about your pent-up sexual frustrations. And for fuck’s sake, if you were so damned eager to say that, I think you need some help.”

From what you can tell, he’s not listening to you. He’s too busy laughing harder than you’ve ever seen him (or, possibly, anyone) laugh. You can actually see tears coming from his eyes (well… behind the lenses, at least), and it takes him a good five minutes to finally regain enough composure to reply with a hasty apology.

i apologise
i just had to say that
dont go getting your pants in a knot over it

You can’t help but roll your eyes at his antics. After all, you have gained something. You’ve heard him genuinely laughing. Sure, it was a series of gasps and wheezes (which, if you didn’t know him, would probably have sent you running to call the emergency hotline), but there was something to it that made you think that there was more than just the unemotional “cool kid” under his shell…

i guess i owe you some actual teaching
you want to learn to say bullshit
OH how about my favorite
lets just shoot straight for saying douchebag

This time, it’s your turn to laugh. You reply with a quiet chuckle and a roll of your eyes. “No, Dave, I’d like to learn to do more than cuss people out while I ask them for sex. Maybe next time, though?”

fine i have a deal killjoy
i help you out every session
and i get to teach you some dirty shit by the end of each
deal

“Deal,” you reply with a bemused grin. Really, you can’t get over the fact that the “cool” kid you’d met online so long ago was just a much of an immature dork as you were. After all of those years of being afraid to say things to him out of fear he’d look down on you, you can’t believe that he’s just the average teenager. Sure, he had his own special qualities, but he was just the same as everyone else…

yeah so im gonna just get up n go now
ill catch you around later i guess

Your musings are interrupted by his hasty text and, as soon as you get it, your gaze darts up at him, and you realise what he’s doing. He’s been doing it the whole time you’ve been talking to him, actually – he’s ignoring your question (albeit, one that was incorrectly signed). Or, rather – and if the guilty look on his face was any indicator – he was avoiding your question. By the time this has all gone through your mind, he’s halfway to the door. Fortunately, being in a boarding school dorm, that’s not all that far. You casually stand up and wander over to where he’s frozen in his tracks. “So… Before you leave… Why don’t you answer me that question?”

Just as you finish your sentence, you catch a blur of movement. You swiftly reach out and grab his wrist, your eyes noting that his hand is already fumbling around in his sweatshirt pocket. “And, seeing as you’re so eager to answer, why don’t you try answering it without the phone? It’s good practice for both of us.”

In reply, he flips you the bird and yanks his wrist from your grip with a silent snarl. He chews thoughtfully on his lip for a moment, obviously trying to think of a way to outwit you. All the while, you stand there – arms folded across your chest, eyes gazing expectantly at him – and wait. Eventually, he comes to the conclusion that he’s stuck.

“Fine,” he mouths angrily. As you expected, however, he manages to slide in one last jab at you by going at his normal (which, for you, is mind-blowingly fast) pace before grinning deviously and simply adding a short phrase to the end: you got that. With another of his trademark Strider smirks, he tops it all off with a slowly drawn question mark in the air.

You can’t help but be amused at how smug he’s being. However, you force yourself to hide it. Right now, you’re doing something important. (Well… According to Rose it’s important…) “Very funny, Dave. Now, why don’t we go a little slower and make sure we both understand one another.”

He sighs dramatically and does something completely unexpected. He reaches up and quickly pulls off his shades, revealing his odd red eyes for the first time (to you, anyways). As if on cue, he explains the reasoning behind his actions to you, although this isn’t until he’s sure that his shades are safely clipped to his shirt collar. If you’re going to make me look like an idiot, I might as well go all the way… Or, at least, that’s what you understand..

“You don’t look stupid, Dave,” you reply honestly. Actually, if he were to ask you, you’d say he’s far more interesting like this. He seems like a person rather than some stoic statue with a broom handle up his ass all the time.

A bitter, breathy laugh escapes him, though, and he retorts with a short statement. You’re good at lying.

You roll your eyes at his comment, not bothering to tell him that you weren’t lying. He’s not going to believe you. From what you’ve experienced (and from Rose’s creepy analysis of him) he’s too stubborn to agree with you on most anything, especially topics concerning himself. You figure it’s best to just force the conversation forward. “Anyhow, I just wanted to know why you’ve suddenly taken an interest in what I’m doing. I mean… You punched me in the gut last time I did it, so…”

He interrupts you with a quick wave of his hand and a look of frustration. Then, he starts doing what you’ve been waiting for. You watch as his hands move easily from one word to the next. You study his face, watching as his normally passive expression changes from moment to moment. Even more interesting to you, however, is how much he gets into it. It’s completely different from when he texts. You’re seeing his actual feelings and reactions in real time rather than as subdued smirks or frowns appended to the end of words on a phone. It’s like what it actually is for him – talking.

Eventually, after a solid minutes or so of watching and a good two minutes of re-arranging the words in your head to make sense to you, you decipher his message.

Because I realised how stupid I was being. All I cared about was making sure I was still that cool kid you’d chatted with, not some stupid douchebag who waves his hands around all the time. It took me a while, but it finally hit me. You were trying to do something no one else had. You were trying to talk to me without going through something else…

You look up from the spot on the floor you’d been gazing at while mentally decoding his words, and find yourself staring at a sight you thought impossible – him showing actual emotion.

He’s crying. Dave, the stoic cool kid from Texas and seemingly emotionless idol you’d met online, is crying.

Although you feel a small bit of accomplishment, you’re beginning to think that, maybe, you shouldn’t have forced this on him… “Dave?” Honestly, you feel like a huge asshole right now. You feel like you’ve pushed him too far too soon… “Should I have… not gone there?”

He shakes his head, and you see a hesitant smile appearing on his face. Once he’s recomposed himself, he replies. Each of his gestures is distinct from the other, making it easier for you to catch. In fact, his still-watery eyes seem to study you, watching intently to make sure you understand every word. When ever he even suspected that you’d gotten lost, he’d go back and clarify. It’s not you. And I’m not upset. Actually, I’m pretty happy. Don’t beat yourself up over it.

“But…”

He puts his hand over your mouth, holding it there for a few seconds before slowly withdrawing to continue signing. Don’t make me say it again. Don’t beat yourself up. You do that way too much. I think we both do.

You nod slowly in reply, still a bit hesitant about his answer. When you get back to your room, you’ll beat yourself up about this regardless of what he says. That’s just how you work. For now, though, you force yourself to look relieved. “Fine. I won’t. You can go now.”

He shoots you a disturbingly enthusiastic double-thumbs-up. Before he leaves, though, he does something that baffles you completely. He starts by doing something arbitrary (although, with him, that’s how everything starts): holding his little finger out and flicking his wrist to form a “J” both in the air and as sign. Then, he does something you’ve never seen mentioned in the textbooks. He reaches up, mimes straightening a pair of rectangular glasses, and grins before pointing to you.

As for you, you must have seemed especially shocked, seeing as he even lets forth a silent chuckle asa reaction to your facial expression. He winks at you as he slips his shades back on and signs out an explanation, which you translate to be something along the lines of “just gave you your own little name code thing, bro. Appreciate it, because that’s the only time I’m ever doing such a stupid motion again until absolutely necessary. Ollie outie”.

Before you have time to even open your mouth, he flashes you a dazzling grin and disappears behind his bedroom door, leaving you on your own once more.

Chapter Text

It’s been three days since you and Dave actually connected with sign. Three days, and you’re already starting to regret it. Sure, he’s your best friend and all, but he just won’t fucking leave you alone. He seems to be clinging to you like a magnet to a fridge. And, today, as you wake up to the feeling of someone jabbing you repeatedly in the side, you’re beginning wondering how bad it would be to just scream at him to leave you alone.

Most likely, that would be a terrible thing to do. You wouldn’t even be surprised to find that a giant chasm to hell opens up beneath you as soon as you do it, but you’re tired of him. All you need is five minutes of…

No. Dammit. Not again. Not the eyes...

Those wild red eyes are staring expectantly at you, and your frustration just melts away. You hate him, but you love him. He’s like a destructive puppy. You want to kick his ass, but he’s just too damned cute for you to do it.

So, instead of yelling at him as you had planned, you simply scoot over to make room for him next to you on your bed. While you’re at it, you make a mental note to start locking the door at night. “What do you want, Dave?”

A grin lights up his face, showcasing his enviously perfect teeth, before he shrugs and eagerly dives beneath the covers next to you.

“Oh my god. Dave, you’re acting like I’ve invited you to fuck me or something,” you laugh.

From his position, hidden beneath all the covers, he manages to stick a single hand out and finger-spell his reply. Sweet, really? He draws a sloppy question mark with his index finger to indicate the question before giving a thumbs up to show that he’s done.

“No, Dave. I am not inviting you to fuck me on a Thursday morning,” you laugh, but you start to think as well. Dave was pretty cute, if not a bit aloof at times. But everyone is, right? No matter how upset you are, he always seems to know how to cheer you up. And… well… his eyes… Maybe you jumped the gun when you told Karkat you weren’t a homosexual.

As you’re thinking, Dave pops up from his spot beneath the bedclothes. He elbows you repetitively until you show the slightest bit of interest in him, and winks. With his head tilted slightly to the side and a single raised brow, he brings his right hand up to the side of his face in a position similar to a thumbs up. In another fluid motion, the tip of his thumb moves in an arch forward, continuing along the side of his face and ending a few moments after contact with his cheek is broken. Tomorrow?

“Oh my god, Dave! No! Not tomorrow, either!” You can’t help but smile at his comments, if not be a bit concerned about how eager he is to get in bed with a dork like you.

He rolls his eyes in return before casting a nervous gaze to the floor. For a minute or so, his hands stay frozen in place and, eventually, he begins to slowly regain steam. Surprisingly, in the five minutes it takes for him to actually go through with everything, he’s only really said one sentence. Then maybe a date? Today?

Your mind comes to screeching halt. Dave Strider… No. He’s sleepy and confused. He probably made a mistake or his hands slipped or… “What?”

With a slightly annoyed frown, Dave restates himself. This time, however, he uses only two words. Date. Today?

“I…” You pause. Sure, you thought he was cute. But he’s kind of like that Emma Watson chick. Pretty much everyone thinks she’s hot, and most everyone thinks the same of Dave (well… “cute” rather than “sexy”). And you’ve already told Karkat you weren’t a homosexual. On the other hand, Karkat’s pretty damned intimidating even when he’s trying not to be. Maybe you should give it a little more…

“Of course.” Oh. Oh no. Did you just say that? Well, judging from Dave’s ecstatic grin, you did. You hadn’t even realised you were saying. It just kind of happened… (Wow that sounds lame.)

Awesome, because I already have breakfast ready.

“Dave, I swear to god, if it’s those crunchy tiger turds…”

He interrupts you with a huff of laughter. Frosted Flakes, actually. And they’re great. Having informed you of this opinion, he drops a plastic bag of dry frosted cereal shit on your chest and practically leaps out of bed. For the first time, you notice he’s wearing a vibrant red lounge suit with a formal shirt. To top it off, he even has on a black bow tie.

“You know, Dave, I bet you’d probably be really good at imitating that stupid slogan for these things,” you laugh as you shove the bag of cereal (which you honestly don’t intend to eat) back into your pocket.

Times like these make me wish I could. I’d probably be way better than the tiger, anyhow. He winks at you and enthusiastically tosses you your shirt before leaving the room to allow you some privacy.

Well… You had to give him that. At least he didn’t stand there and jack off while you got undressed. That’s one bonus. He does respect boundaries… Well, at least he does most of the time.

Once you’re dressed and have made yourself look at least slightly presentable, you step into the commons area. Almost immediately, you’re greeted by Dave. As you expected, his shades are back on, and you can see his phone in his pocket.

That’s the main thing you didn’t like about him. It’s also one of the things you can’t understand about him. Sure, Rose was right – it was his way to hide emotion and keep the whole “cool kid” thing going. But you didn’t see the problem with sign. He looked perfectly normal doing it. Yes, you admit it was pretty shocking the first time he did it, but it was fine after that.

so you ready

“Ready for what?” you laugh nervously.

youll see
its a special surprise for you

You let forth a sigh of frustration. At least it’s a holiday, you remind yourself. You still had all day once you got back from wherever Dave’s taking you…

He leads you outside of the dormitory complex and into the town surrounding the school. As you expected, he took full advantage of the whole “do whatever the fuck you want within reason” rule the school had on holidays like today. After passing through various shady alleys and nearly getting run over by three different cars, he stops and gestures dramatically to the place he’d wanted so badly for you to see.

“You brought me all this way to show me an empty building?” you practically scream. You know Dave has some strange ideas of fun, but you can’t believe that he would have the nerve to do something this stupid. Actually… You could believe it. That’s why you’re yelling at him.

To your surprise, he laughs at your question. He pulls out his phone and shoots you a text, wearing a smug grin the whole time.

well technically yeah
but i found out from someone that theres way more to it
its like this whole poetry thing
pretty cool actually
when youre not around or doing your own thing
i hung out with these guys
they wanted to meet you
and i kinda lied and said you were my boyfriend
just go with it kay

When you look up, you find that he’s already holding the door open for you. Upon entering, you’re hit with the smell of… well… You’re not sure what it smells like. All you can say is that it’ll take a while to get used to the smell, and you were definitely taking a shower when you were back in the dorm.

oh hey almost forgot
turn off your phone
i dont want it to go off
itd be really fucking embarrassing if it did

You frown and glance curiously at Dave. “Turn my phone off?”

you said you wanted me to sign more
so i looked around and found these guys
theyre pretty cool with it

Your jaw drops. You can’t believe it. He listened to you. He actually listened to you, and did what you’d suggested. For the first time, you’re starting to get the feeling that Dave actually values your input. In fact, it seems like he values your input far more than others’. By the time you finally look at him, his shades are in his pocket and he’s grinning ear to ear.

Something about him’s changed, and it doesn’t take you long to realise what it is. As you watch him mingle with everyone in the crowd, animatedly conversing with everyone and anyone, you notice it. He’s himself. For the first time, you’re seeing him dropping the cool kid act in public. Sure, it’s in a small group, but it’s a step in the right direction. He’s acknowledging that he could be more than just a stoic statue; realising that others can like him for him...

When he notices you looking at him, he motions for you to join the conversation.

Despite your initial hesitancy, you eventually capitulate to his rather irresistible puppy-dog eyes. You hesitantly edge towards the group, watching as his hands fly about rapidly and his motions interpreted by a rather enthusiastic-looking senior girl. Oh god. She’s really fucking loud. You’d just love to have something… anything… to make her lower her voice. A volume button, maybe?

For what feels like forever, you awkwardly hang around. You say nothing, seeing as there are at least ten others talking at once (including people in the group on the other side of the damned room) and you just can’t understand Dave at all. He’s going too fast, and she’s talking faster than that girl on the Cosby Show who never shut the fuck up.

Eventually, you nervously interrupt Dave. “I’m pretty sure you don’t actually need me here…” you mutter into his ear. You don’t want to broadcast to the entire organisation that you feel left out, nor do you want to offend anyone.

In reply, he stares blankly at you and rolls his eyes. Just wait for it. I think it starts soon.

“What starts –?”

Your question is cut off by some kid wearing red and blue shades and speaking with the most pronounced lisp you’ve ever heard in your life announcing that anyone is welcome to present. The room around you suddenly falls silent, and all eyes seem to turn to the stage. As you look around, you notice several people moving towards the makeshift platform and politely arrange themselves in line. You turn to ask Dave what’s happening, only to receive another Strider smirk as he wanders towards the line.

Just wait and see, bro. Before you can even think of a reply, he gives you a thumbs up and darts off.

When everyone finally manages to agree upon an order, the presentations begin. You do your best not to look bored, though you’re sure you’re giving off the unmistakable “oh my god hurry the fuck up” vibe. The first person person goes, then another, and another...

You’re nearly halfway asleep when you hear an enthralled screech coming from the senior you’d seen earlier. (From what you’ve managed to gather, her name is Meulin.) You look up at the stage in shock, wondering what she was so damned happy about, and it barely takes two seconds for you to realise why she just damaged your eardrum.

It’s Dave. He’s standing on stage, glancing awkwardly around the room of eyes staring back at him, and his hands are shaking. In his habitual gesture of stunned diffidence, he shoves his hands into his pockets.

Meanwhile, you’re still shocked that he even worked up the guts to get on stage. At the same time, you realise that he’s obviously making an effort. He's gotten this far... You can't let him fail now... What he needs now is a push. You have an idea.

Dad did it once for you when you were in that shitty school play and forgot your lines.

But you have to do it right… Make a show of it. Make yourself look like a fool. Hope it pays off.

You swallow your pride and begin quietly chanting his name. The people around you seem to catch on to what you’re doing, and it isn’t long before the whole room is following your example. You can practically see his confidence rising as the noise increases, and you even catch a rare grin spreading across his face.

On stage, he feeds off of the energy of the crowd. In fact, he even uses the rhythmic chanting to his advantage. With more confidence than you even thought possible for him, he begins moving in wildly exaggerated sign. His body moves with his motions, and his facial expressions shift gracefully across the emotional spectrum. It’s like a dance, really; a dance you can’t understand, but still love.

You can’t take your eyes off him. The way his body moves enthrals you. The words you can’t decipher captivate you, even without meaning. You’re so absorbed in it that, when it ends to an uproarious applause, you feel a bit empty – as if you’d just finished a fantastic book. Even so, you join in the cheering and watch as Dave quickly descends the steps and shoves his way through the crowd to reach you.

When he finally does, you can’t help but notice the grin plastered on his face. “You did great, Dave.” You have to yell to be heard over everyone, but neither of you care.

Thanks. His one word reply is quickly followed by him motioning for both of you to discretely exit the building, an offer which you’re more than happy to agree to. As soon as he has your approval, he grabs your hand and skilfully slips through the crowd with you in tow. Once outside, however, he seems to force his facial features back into his usual passive state before slipping his shades back on and leading you back to the dorm.

Chapter Text

You follow John into one of those “fancy-suit-rentin’-places”, as Bro called them and, as soon as you enter, you’re hit by the overpowering smell of whatever shitty air freshener they used. At the same time, a man smelling strongly of overpriced cologne and clad in a fine black leisure suit approaches John. He spouts some pompously-worded prattle prior to flashing him what you assume to be an attempt at a charming smile. Instead – at least to you – he ends up looking like he’s about to roast both of you on a spit.

Much to your displeasure, he continues to ramble on even as he leads you and John to where the suits are located. He shuffles around through the array of suits and tuxedos for a few minutes, and eventually pulls out a lime green tuxedo and pants ensemble that makes your eyes puke. John seems to agree without even needing to glance at you, and promptly declines. After this, you surreptitiously pull out your phone and shoot him a text.

tell the dude to go away
weve got this covered
im here remember
striders got your back

You watch as John’s wild blue eyes gaze briefly at the phone before darting back up to the salesman. He clears his throat loudly, prompting the man to turn around from where he was setting the hideous monstrosity of a tuxedo back up. “We can handle this, actually. Thanks for your help… I guess…” he mumbles awkwardly.

The businessman nods, looking slightly disappointed by the turn of events, though he departs without any objections. As soon as he’s gone, you let forth a sigh of relief. You notice John looking at you, and offer him a reassuring smile. He was making me really uncomfortable. You use quick, botched sign, trying to keep the facial interaction to a minimum for as long as you can. After all, you’re still in public.

John, meanwhile, rolls his eyes at your aversion to expression and begins browsing the selection.

You split off for a moment, having noticed a suit you think is perfect for him. It’s in the back of the room and it’s not on blatant display, but it’s eye-catching nonetheless. Your gaze darts towards John who, by now, is perusing the conservative black-and-white colour scheme. But you have something better in mind.

If the suit works, that is…

You wander over to it and pluck it gingerly from the rack, your eyes scouring it for any damage or stains. Cautiously, you inspect the silk lining. Your gaze drifts to its distinctive silver buttons and cuff-links, down the well-tailored waist, and to the prominent coattails. It’s perfect in every way and, despite its vulnerable teal fabric, is devoid of so much as a pinhead-sized stain.

With the suit in hand, you run back over to John. On the way back, you pick up some white gloves and a golden bow tie. When you arrive behind him, you tap him on the shoulder; and, as soon as he turns around, you shove the suit and accessories into his hands. Then, you forcibly drag him to the changing room.

“Dave… I don’t… I… Teal isn’t my colour… I’m not sure if…” he protests pointedly.

You smirk and shove him into the changing stall, slamming the door shut behind him before sending a text. “just shut up and try it on i promise you’ll look great”

After several minutes, he emerges, still grumbling. “I still don’t think this is really my style, Dave…”

You interrupt him by grabbing him by the arm and pulling him in front of the mirror. As soon as he sees himself, his jaw drops and your lips curl into a confident smirk.

“Wow, Dave. How did you know to do this?” he mumbles, examining himself from every angle possible.

Natural talent. The smirk grows wider as you notice him grinning and rolling his eyes.

“Of course,” John laughs as he heads back into the changing room. Again, it takes him only minutes to emerge. He leaves you behind for a moment to pay for the outfit. As he’s paying, however, you notice a familiar face.

The wild mop of white hair is unmistakable, and the frown seemingly frozen on his face only confirms his identity as Karkat Vantas. His arms are crossed and he’s quite jumpy. When the door closes behind him, he lets forth a quiet, shocked yelp before returning to his silent glowering. Seeing as no one is going over to help him at the moment, you decide you might as well try and socialise with him. After all, John’s bugging you to at least get to a point where you can stand the guy.

He doesn’t notice as you approach, and you quietly clear your throat to grab his attention. The sound draws his nervous, red-eyed glance to meet yours, and he lets forth an agitated growl. “Go away, Strider.”

You frown and pull out your phone, rapidly hammering out your reply.
i can tell youre enthralled by the idea of talking to me

Once you’ve finished the message, you hold it up for Karkat to read. You watch as his gaze quickly darts from one end of your phone to the other before he rolls his eyes. “Yes, dumbass. I’m so fucking enthralled that I might just throw you off a goddamned cliff if you stay in my space for a second longer.”

god youre aggressive
i only wanted to chat with you or something
john says youre a decent guy at least

In reply to your message, Karkat lets forth a snort of laughter. “John would think that, being the overly-optimistic little pissbag he is. Now, for the last fucking time, go the fuck away.”

okay fine fine
jesus christ if its that much of a problem ill leave you alone

At the moment you show Karkat your text, John approaches. As per usual, he greets Karkat with a cheerful, toothy grin before looking towards you. “Yay! You two are finally talking to each other. I’m not interrupting anything, am I?”

You start to type something, but Karkat intervenes.

“For once in my life, I’m glad to see you, Egbert. Now, if you would please get this little shithole away from me. I’m not in the mood to deal with him at the moment,” Karkat snarls.

John’s smile fades to a disappointed frown. “Oh… Well… Okay then, Karkat…” he mumbles before grabbing you by the arm and leading you outside of the shop.

The walk home is completely silent. For the first time you know of, John Egbert has nothing to say–and neither do you.

When you finally get back to the dorm, you can’t help but try and break the thick fog of silence between the two of you. You can’t stand it. You hate it when there’s nothing for you to say or talk about. You remove your shades and, seeing as you’re now in the privacy of the dorm, revert back to sign. You have to nudge him a few times to get his attention, but he finally catches your comment. You okay?

“Yeah,” he replies with a shrug. “Just a bit disappointed that Karkat and you didn’t get on as well as I’d hoped. I’m not a fan of having friends who hate one another. It’s too much to think about at one time.”

I understand that, you start normally, though you can’t help but realise what you’ve just said. After a quick thought, you revise it with a bit of hesitation, a maybe, and an apologetic half-smile.

John opens his mouth to reply, but a loud growl from your stomach interrupts him. Within seconds, the disappointment melts into a fit of laughter. He seems so amused by the sheer volume of your empty stomach, in fact, that you just can’t help but let forth a small chuckle yourself.

I’m going to go get some food. You want anything? You raise a brow to indicate that the last statement was a question, and wait until John’s laughter subsides enough for him to answer.

“Yeah, just get me a pack of Gushers on your way back. And try not to blow any eardrums with that empty stomach of yours,” he snickers.

You roll your eyes at his corny joke and nod before slipping your shades back on and venturing out for food…

Chapter Text

John’s surprisingly badass concert finished about three hours ago. Two hours ago, you both returned to the dorm. One hour ago, John decided he was sleepy and, somehow, wound up curled up on your bed. Now, you find yourself curled up beside him. His back is nestled against your chest, his head tucked beneath your chin…

“Dave?”

You almost ignore him, his voice being so soft. Without knowing exactly what to do–seeing as he is facing away from you¬–you nod slowly.

“Dave? Are you awake?” His voice is barely a whisper, and you can tell that he’s halfway asleep. You can also tell that he didn’t manage to catch your nod.

In a last-ditch effort to do something less dramatic than rolling him over to face you, you swallow your pride. You lean in closer to his ear and force forth a breathy semblance of the word “Yes”.

Much to your frustration, John replies to this by rolling over and staring at you in shock. “Did you just…?” he mutters, his mouth hanging open like a broken door. “Dave… You just…?”

You shrug and wave your hands dismissively. Not really. You’re slightly annoyed by the fact that you had to do so in the first place to get John to roll over, and the fact that you inadvertently shocked him awake isn’t helping, either. In addition to those key points, you also happen to be dangling precariously off the edge of the bed. Just go back to sleep.

“But…” John protests weakly. “I just heard you…”

No. You didn’t. Go to sleep, you sign firmly.

“Yes, Dave, I did,” John grumbles as he inches closer to his side of the twin bed. “I know I did.”

Fine. You did. What of it? An agitated sigh escapes your lips as you answer.

“I liked it…”

You sigh and roll your eyes again. You’re halfway asleep. I doubt you actually liked it.

A frown appears briefly on his face before he realises he can’t win this argument. He nods reluctantly and rolls back over. Seconds later, he falls back to sleep, leaving you to your own thoughts.

He’s your boyfriend–or, at least, he has been since you accepted his offer during the after-concert dinner. At the same time, he’s still John. He’s still the friend you met online so long ago, and there’s no way you’re letting him hear you talk more than you need to.

After all, no one likes your voice. Even Bro hates it (although he probably has better reason than others). You don’t like your voice–it’s barely more than manipulating your breaths to form botched words.

But, the way he looked at you… He seemed serious…

No… It’s best not to dwell on these things. You reassure yourself of that repeatedly, chanting it in your mind like a mantra. You’re with him. You should be taking the time to enjoy such a rare moment…

As you repeat the idea again and again, you slowly begin to fall into a perturbed sleep. And, eventually–with your arm wrapped around his waist–you slip off into the creations of your own mind.

Chapter Text

He hasn’t spoken to you in days, and he’s spent hours on end sitting on the sofa and staring blankly at the fireplace. His usual energy is completely gone, and he seems to push everything away from himself…

“Hey, Dave…” You speak quietly, not wanting to startle him.

However, he replies by letting forth a shocked gasp and turning to face you with alook of wide-eyed confusion. John…? He shakily replies with his usual name sign for you–signing a “J” before straightening a pair of invisible, rectangular glasses. What’s up?

You sigh and sit down next to him, casually propping your feet on the coffee table as you do so. “I’ve just noticed that you’re not up to your usual spunk. You seem pretty out of it, if you know what I mean…”

I’m fine, he replies quickly.

“Really?” you mumble, noting his irritated scowl. “I just wanted to check on you…”

He sighs and shrugs before nervously tugging at his shirt collar.

By default, his movement draws your attention to what you know he wants to hide–a small, round scar at the base of his neck. Although you’ve never brought it up to him, you’ve know it was there for quite a while, though you’ve never really thought of what it was–or how it got there–until now. Maybe… “Does it have anything to do with–?”

He levels his best glare at you before you can finish, and you immediately regret bringing it up. However, after a moment of thought, he seems to retract his former anger. He fumbles around in his pocket for a moment before pulling out his phone and sending you a message…

okay yeah it does
i might as well tell you that
feel any better now dr phil

When you look up from your phone (a new iPhone, which your dad had sent to you for Christmas), you notice a shadow of an insincere smirk on his face. You know the smirk is as much of a lie as Rose’s snark. You know he’s hiding what he actually wants to say. At the same time, though, you know it’s best not to force him forward…

Chapter Text

“HEY, DUMBDUMBS, IT’S CHRISTMAS! AND IT’S SNOWING. THERE ARE FUCKING ICE CRYSTALS FALLING FROM THE SKY. WAKE UP.”

You, having already prepared yourself for what has become the annual Christmas tradition of Karkat screaming for you to wake up, are completely unfazed by the sudden outburst; however, if the loud thud from the room next to yours is any indicator, Dave wasn’t.

Before Karkat can distress Dave any further, you throw on some clothes and enter his room through the door connecting your room with his.

Inside, you find him on the floor, having fallen from his bed. “I probably should have told you about that earlier…” you mumble as you help him back up onto his feet.

You think? Dave signs irritably before seemingly freezing on the spot. After the moment of hesitation, he slowly begins to sign once more. Did he say snow?

“Yeah…” you reply confused. “Why?”

For a moment, you think you see a shadow of something–you can’t exactly place it, but it seems like fear–cross his face. However, he returns to his passive state before you can think much more of it. Don’t like snow, he replies with a passive shrug.

You notice him nervously scratching as his neck again, and you can’t help but wonder if there’s something more to his hatred of the holiday season than he shows. Normally, you’d edge around the topic, but your curiosity is starting to set in. In fact, you’re just about to ask him abou—

“DAMMIT, YOU SLOW FUCKERS. I’M GOING OUTSIDE WITHOUT YOU!” After his loud interruption, Karkat slams the door shut; and, you can hear his heavy footsteps fading away as he runs off to join his oddball friends in the snow.

Before you can say anything, though, Dave interrupts. Might as well follow him… He nods his head towards the door–his signal for you to leave–and offers you an unconvincing half-smile.

“Yeah… I guess so…” you mumble reluctantly. “You’re coming, too, right?”

No. I’m staying here.

You debate continuing the conversation, but the snow outside is far too tempting. This time, you leave Dave to his own devices; and, you promptly get yourself ready. You yell a curt farewell as you slam the door shut and dart down the stairs, towards the door, and out into the snow…

Chapter Text

“Sorry we’re late,” John mumbles as he pulls you into the restaurant to meet his father.

A man in a plain grey suit and matching fedora looks up from his menu at the sound of John’s voice, and he quickly rises to greet you.

He and John exchange some gushy shit that, honestly, you don’t care enough to listen to. To be completely honest, though, you’re too busy staring at a family of four enjoying their lunch to bother with John and his father.

You start to regret this decision, and try to pull your gaze away from them. But, for some reason, you can’t… Long-repressed memories begin to rise to the surface once more. In your mind’s eye, the image of a snowy, ice-covered road begins to form…

“Dave!”

You let forth a sharp gasp of shock, your gaze flying up to meet John’s.

“You okay?” he inquires, his brows furrowed in concern.

Yeah, you lie.

“Are you sure?”

Shut up. I said I’m fine, you reply defensively.

“Fine!” John growls, obviously a bit hurt by your snappy response. “Then why don’t you reply to Dad’s greeting?”

His dad had spoken to you…? Why hadn’t you noticed…?

You frown and glance nervously at the man, a near-perfect image of John as an adult. He seems to be chewing nervously on his pipe, and you’re pretty sure that he’s caught onto the tension between you and his son. Nevertheless, you force yourself to pull out the pad of paper and pen John had given you for this ocassion. You scribble down a short message: “hello mr egbert”.

After reading your reply, the man replies with an awkward smile. “Well then, Dave, it’s nice to meet you.” After speaking, he returns casually to the booth, motioning for you and John to follow.

John whispers a concerned, though aggrivated, comment in your ear as he passes you. “What the hell is wrong with you today!?”

You shrug and follow, sitting across from him and his father. The menus are neatly stacked at the end of the table. As you reach to take one, however, you notice the same family from before…

No. Not now. This can’t happen now…

You quickly open the menu, trying desperately to ward off the memories. Your gaze, however, seems to drift instinctively towards the family. From what you can see, the group is a lot like what your family is–or, more accurately, was–like: a mother, a father, and two sons…

“Dave!” John snaps, kicking your leg as he speaks. “You’re really starting to freak me out here, Dave…”

Reality takes over again, and you realise that both John and his father are staring at you. You force back a rising blush as you reply. I’m fine. I just need to go outside or something… Your sign degenerates to a blur of incoherent motions near the end, though you don’t bother to fix it. Instead, you rise nervously from your seat and make a dash for the door. Just as you’re about to emerge into the much-needed fresh air of the outdoors, however, you’re pulled back. You feel a hand on your shoulder and, somehow, you know it’s John. Even so, you break free and stumble outside, into the gentle rain which has begun to fall.

You let forth a shaky breath, which forms a cloud of vapour against the cold air; and, as you watch the cloud dissipate, you lean against the restaurant’s rough brick façade.

“Dave?”

You look up, meeting John’s concerned gaze. For a moment, you consider trying to reply; however, after a brief moment of consideration, decide against it–it would only deteriorate to the nonsense it had been before. Instead, and as a poor substitute for a reply of any sort, you merely lower your gaze to the ground.

Maybe Rose was right… Maybe you have held onto this too long; and, as much as it pains you to admit it, keeping it to yourself hasn’t resulted in anything even remotely beneficial…

“Is he okay?”

You notice John’s father emerging from the restaurant. “David?”

Did he call you… David? You feel a lump rising in your throat. You haven’t been called “David” by anyone since… then. Even Bro avoids the name. He just calls you “Lil’ Dude” all the time. When he really needed your attention, he’d call you “Dave”. But never “David”…

The sound of tires screeching in a futile attempt to gain traction on an impossibly icy road echoes in your mind. The world blurs, fading into black before–

“I told you so.”

A confused groan escapes you as you open your eyes. After the brief moment of your vision’s uncomfortable adjustments to fit the lighting, you find yourself looking into a pair of familiar pink eyes. You’re really going to start an I told you so thing right now?

“No, I’m not. Unlike you, I know when and when not to pursue my own supererogatory vaunts,” she replies with one of her classic smirks. If it weren’t for the inhumanely terrible headache you’re having, you’d probably be mad at her. Now, though, you’re too dazed to do or feel much of anything.

What happened? Your hands are shaking, and you notice one of those fancy hospital monitor clips on your finger (you can’t really be arsed to think of the name right now).

“In the broadest sense possible, you fainted. More specifically, and from what John and his father have told me, you had some sort of emotional breakdown. This subsequently led to said fainting,” she replies casually.

Then what was the whole I told you so for?

“I said that because I’m certain that all of this was caused by the… incident, shall I say?”

You sigh and roll your eyes before giving Rose the finger and rolling over in bed.

She seems to get the message and, much to your relief, she nonchalantly leaves…

You, in this newfound and likely to be short-lived solitude, continue to muse about what had just happened. Outside of your bedroom door, you can hear Rose’s voice. You know she’s talking to John. You know John’s next to come into the room. You know that you’re going to have to tell him eventually; and, in the most impartial sector of your mind, you know that now is probably the best time to tell him… If you don’t tell him now, you never will…

Chapter Text

“John… John!”

Rose’s voice pulls you out of your pensive trance, and your gaze darts up to meet hers. “Oh… Rose… When did you get here?”

“ I've been standing here for approximately three and a half minutes,” she replies in a slightly irritated voice. “I've been trying to tell you that he's awake. He just woke up, actually. I highly suggest you not go in there, though.”

Your eyes wander over towards the clock. It’s been about four hours since all of this began; and, honestly, all you want to do is check on Dave...

“Why not?” you eventually mumble.

Rose replies with a seemingly dismissive shrug. “I just wouldn't. He seems to be in quite a foul mood.”

You open your mouth to reply, but the sound of approaching footsteps interrupts your thoughts. The shadow of the approaching person suddenly engulfs you, causing you to turn to face them. When you turn, your gaze falls upon a tall male, probably in his late twenties or early thirties. His eyes are obscured by ridiculously pointy anime shades, and most of his hair is neatly tucked beneath a baseball cap. Despite the shadows from the hat, which mysteriously obscure most of his facial features, you can make out enough to see his resemblance to Dave. Was this…?

“They told me to… um… I got sent here. I'm looking for Dave Strider…?” His voice, as well as its Texas-coated Texan accent, interrupts your thoughts.

Again, you try to speak up. This time, however, Rose interrupts you.

“You’re in the right place,” she motions towards the slate grey double doors to the infirmary, “And he’s inside that room. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go study for tomorrow’s test.” With this said, she nonchalantly passes the tall stranger and disappears around the corner.

The man, meanwhile, seems to have completely ignored Rose’s comments. Instead, he seems to be (at least, you speculate he is, seeing as you can’t see through those ridiculous shades of his) studying you. “You look familiar,” he comments offhandedly. He studies you for a moment more before adding another comments to his last. “Are you one of Dave’s friends?”

“I guess you could say that,” you reply carefully, not wanting to say anything wrong. Even if this guy wasn't who you thought he was, it’d probably be bad to make a piss poor first impression on any adult visiting Dave… “My name’s John Egbert. I share a few classes with him…”

“John?” The man strokes his stubble-covered chin for a moment; and, after a few seconds, realisation seems to dawn on him. “Oh! Yeah. John. Dave talks about you a lot…”

You’re not really that surprised that Dave’s said a lot abut you, really. In fact, you skip over that bit entirely. “So… I'm guessing you’re…?”

“Bro,” the man interrupts. “I’m Dave’s brother. Most people, including Dave, call me Bro. So… I guess you can, too. A bro of Dave’s is a bro of mine.” He makes no attempt to offer you a handshake. In fact, he buries his hands–which are clad in fingerless gloves stupid enough to rival the superfluity of his shades–deep into his pockets upon introduction. “Anyhow, it’s been nice meeting you. But I've really got to go and check on Dave.”

He’s leaving? No... Not yet. He can’t leave yet… “He’s just waking up, actually. You should probably give him a few minutes to come to his senses,” you blurt out. You’re not sure where the comment came from, though you’re a bit proud of yourself for thinking of it.

“Well… I guess I could hang back a while. I do need to figure out what happened, too, and the nurses were pretty fucking bad at explaining it to me. So…”

As Bro’s voice trails off, you cut in. “I was there when it happened; and, from what I saw, he was busy looking at this family in the corner–”

“How many people?” Bro, once again, interrupts.

“What?”

“How many people in the family? Like… Was there a kid and parent or…?”

This time, you cut him off. “Four. I think there were four. Two boys and their parents…” After saying this, you pause for a moment. Bro offers a slow, thoughtful nod and, after a thumbs-up from him, you keep going. “He excused himself and went for the door. Dad and I stopped him. After that, it was mostly between him and Dad. I don’t really know what happened between them. I think he called him ‘David’ or something…”

“Well that explains everything,” Bro grumbles. “Why was your father there, though?”

“He came to visit for Christmas, and I took Dave so they could meet each other,” you dismissively explain.

“Most people don’t take their friends to meet their parents unless something’s up between ‘em…” A semblance of a smirk begins to creep across Bro’s face, though he quickly forces it back. “ I'm guessing you’re–as Dave often calls you–his John?”

You ignore the faint hint of laughter in his false disinterest. In fact, you’re now preoccupied by the fact that Dave calls you ‘his’… “He actually calls me that?”

Against everything you've learned about Striders from Dave, Bro smiles. It’s a brief , but wild, grin; and, like Dave’s, it lights up the room. “Yup. He calls you that most of the time. He really likes you, you know. He likes you a lot.”

“He… He does?” you mutter, forcing back a rising blush. Sure, you've always known that Dave’s apeshit for you. You've never had imagined, though, that he was that into you–that he liked you enough to call you his

“Don’t get yourself too excited, boy.”

The thick Texan accent disrupts your thoughts, forcing you to look up at Bro. His smile is gone; and, in its place is the slightest and most threatening frown you've ever seen.

“Yeah, he likes you. But that means that, if you fuck him up, I’ll be sure to do the same to you. And I can assure you that you’ll be shopping for a headstone by the time I'm good and done with you,” he growls. After he’s spoken, however, his face returns to its normal, disinterested state. He offers you a curt nod and a frighteningly casual wave; and, then, he simply strides (no pun intended) through the infirmary doors.

Meanwhile, you–having been thoroughly shaken by what you’d thought would be a casual encounter–decide to leave visiting Dave for another day. You gather both your wits and possessions about you and, after a silent apology to Dave, you dart back to the dormitory…

Chapter Text

When you return to the dormitory commons, something frighteningly rare greets you: silence.

Karkat is staying in Gamzee’s dorm tonight. Dave is in a completely different part of the building…

The only sounds are those made by you and the quiet crackling of the fire. There’s no screaming coming from Karkat’s room, and no music can be heard from Dave’s. For the first time in quite a while, you’re completely alone; and, honestly, you don’t like it much.

No... You've had enough distress for one day. You push the gloomy thoughts to the back of your mind and wander over to the admittedly crappy television Karkat has been kind enough to share with you. You search through the small collection of games and, after a few minutes, pluck Karkat’s copy of Assassin’s Creed off the shelf. (You’re really not supposed to be playing it. But, Karkat’s not here; and, what he doesn't know won’t kill him.)

You power on the system and pry your favourite sky blue controller from the pile of assorted crap in the corner. Just as you’re about to settle down in the armchair directly across from the television, however, something catches your eye.

That “something” is a tattered sketchbook situated on the coffee table. A piece of white paper, taped crudely to the front, obscures the name of the owner. Despite your usual hesitance to indulge yourself in other’s personal lives, you can’t help but wonder what it’s doing here. You make an executive decision to investigate, starting by carefully pulling the note from the book…

GREETINGS FROM KARKAT
BOTH OF YOU FUCKERS NEED TO STOP LEAVING YOUR STUPID SHIT WHERE IT DOESN'T BELONG. ONLY BOOKS GO ON THE FUCKING BOOKSHELF. THAT’S WHY IT’S CALLED A GODDAMNED BOOKSHELF, NOT A SKETCH BOOKSHELF. LEARN TO PUT YOUR SHIT AWAY, YOU INSUFFERABLY SLOPPY NITWITS.

You can’t help but smile at the fact that Karkat bothered to clean up before he left. Not only did he clean up, but he also left an… er… charming note. Rolling your eyes, you fold the note up and stick it into your pocket. Then, you pick up the book.

Its front cover is plain black. The only ornamentation on the book's outside is a name scribbled haphazardly across the spine in silver permanent marker: dave strider. Between many of the apple-juice-stained pages are pieces of paper, all of them jammed into the book in a seemingly careless fashion. Most of the fake leather has peeled off of both the front and back covers. In fact, it’s a bit of a miracle that the spine’s faux leather is as intact as it is.

Despite knowing that no one is going to be entering any time soon, you cautiously look around the room; and, after pointlessly reassuring yourself that no one will bother you, you carefully open the book.

With a barely audible crack, the book flops open. On the back of the front cover, Dave has scribbled his name down for a second time. He also seems to have produced an unflattering drawing of an older man holding a math textbook. Opposite this is a blank first page. From what you can see, however, there seems to be something attached to the other side of the page.

You nervously flip the page over, revealing a stained family photo. Names are clumsily written, misspelled, and rewritten above the head of each family member; and, through the soda and coffee stains, you make out three titles. Mom, Dad, and Bro. The youngest in the photo is recognisable–even without a label–as a toddler version of Dave. On the next page is a collection of crude scribbles.

A good number of the pages following the first and second are similar. Scribbles, attempts at writing, and a few photos adorn page after page in the book. Just as you’re about to write the book off as an uninteresting (albeit a bit cute) collection of Dave’s younger mind, however, you stumble across a news article.

The clipping, which has begun to yellow with age and exposure, is stapled clumsily to the back of a page. Most of the paper has been rendered hopelessly illegible by a large stain of some sort; however, you can still make out a few phrases. The heading, “Deadly accident under investigation”, is one of few things completely unharmed by the stain. The photo and its caption, “Auto accident kills two adults, leaving two boys orphans”, are the only other things you can actually make out.

Why is this in here…?

With as much care as possible, you flip to the next page. Again, you’re greeted by a crudely attached news article. This one, however, is far more intact. You scan the wall of text beneath the heading, “Deadly holiday accident believed to involve alcohol”…

“The Strider family…”

“…Christmas Eve auto crash…”

“…critical condition…”

You’re starting to feel like you shouldn't be reading this, like Dave should be the one to tell you this. It’s too late to stop now, though. Your curiosity is completely in control. Your gaze skips over to the next page, upon which is a hastily written entry of sorts. At the bottom of the entry is a smeared signature. ”Dirk”.

The indecently inquisitive instincts controlling you draw your gaze up to the top of the page. From your rapid, impatient scanning of the entry, you gather that its author is none other than Dave’s “Bro”. You also manage to pick up on the fact that Dave is, for some reason, incoherent at the time of the entry’s addition…

The pages following these seem to be comprised mostly of entries from Bro; and, again, you find yourself losing interest. A single photo, however, manages to catch your eye. The blurry picture seems to show a funeral of sorts. Beneath it, another entry by Bro details the event.

Your curiosity finally gets overpowered by your inner sense of decency. You slowly close the book, tucking it into your coat pocket for later reference, before glancing at the clock… It’s almost midnight…

With the weight of everything the book has revealed still fresh on your mind, you silently shut off the television. You take the game from the console, return it to its rightful place, and silently trudge off to bed.

Chapter Text

For the first time since you’ve arrived here, you’re not looking forward to meeting John.

When you arrived back to the dorm, around nine in the morning, both Karkat and John were out. More importantly, though, that book–the book you've been trying to rid yourself of for as long as you can remember–was on the floor, as if it had fallen from something. To add to that, it had obviously been tampered with. Karkat was out last night (you remember him saying he was staying with his perpetually high clown friend) and, even if he had been in the dorm, John would be the more likely of the two to bother looking at it… At least... That's what your instincts told you.

That was at least four hours ago; and, now, as you sit in the shade of your favourite Hawthorn tree, you try and sort the jumbled mess of thoughts entangled within your mind.

Why were you so adamant about hiding everything from him? Why are you so intent on keeping it all secret? He is, after all, your boyfriend. He’s one of the few guys in the world–aside, of course, from Bro–you’d trust with your life. He’s one of the few people in the world you feel safe around.

How is it that, even after all this time, you still can’t bring the incident to mind without breaking your usual composure? Sure, it was a pretty traumatic experience; but, honestly, the only things you know or remember in vivid detail are the bits that Bro has told you.

You let forth a deep sigh and look down at the book which rests by your side. After a bit of hesitation, you nervously pick it up. Flipping it open to the page you so often avoid, you find yourself under the mercy of countless memories.

The fragmented memories of that day begin to form in the clouded depths of your mind. The sound of two blaring car horns and the skidding of car tires on hopelessly icy asphalt rings in your ears. The recollection cuts to the car flipping and, eventually, slamming into a concrete embankment.

From there, your mind begins to piece together the equally fragmented images of the aftermath. You vaguely remember waking up in a disturbingly cheerful hospital room; and, you can roughly recall the images of the many machines surrounding you. You remember Bro being by your side throughout the entire ordeal, encouraging you the entire way.

You dimly recall waking up (on several occasions) with Bro beside your bed, writing down the details of everything he knew you’d never be able to fully remember…

Your thoughts are interrupted by the sudden, blaring noise of the curfew bells. You carefully shut the book and, with a final shaking sigh, gather your few belongings. Then, you return inside.

Bro's right… You’ve been holding all of this in for far too long. You need to tell someone about it. John is the only person you know you'll feel comfortable telling; and, he's the only person you can think of who rightfully deserves to know about it...

Chapter Text

“Where the fuck have you been?” You attempt to sound angry, though the yawn escaping you at the same time ruins the effect. “I looked everywhere for you. The nurses said they let you go hours ago…”

Outside, he replies dismissively. Before you can say anything else, he throws the black book down on the bed. But that doesn’t matter now. We need to talk.

You let forth a nervous breath and put on your glasses. Then, you flick on the light. Honestly, you’re not in the mood to talk about much; and, you’re most definitely not in the mood to talk about the book. Perhaps you can reason with him–get him to delay the talk until morning. “Look… Dave… I’m sorry. It was out on the table and I read it. I didn’t get too far into it, though. I’m really sor–”

Dave sighs and puts his hand over your mouth, silencing you; and, a few moments later, he slowly withdraws his hand. Just shut up and let me talk, okay? After he’s finished his reply, he removes his shades. As per usual, he clips them to the collar of his shirt. I’m warning you now: this will take a while.

A nervous nod is your reply; and, as soon as Dave picks up on it, he launches into a lengthy explanation.

He gradually reveals to you everything he’s hidden, telling you of his past. Every now and then, he uses the book as reference; for the most part, though, the lecture is pulled from his memory. He retells the story of the crash you’d read about, and the effects of the accident. He speaks about his life after the botched surgery that took his voice, and of Bro nurturing him back to good health.

His recounting of the story is slow and, at times, fragmented; but, overall, he eventually manages to get the entire message across; and, by the time he’s done, it’s half past midnight. Somehow, he’s found his way beneath the covers of your bed. His head rests against your chest and, with every silent sob, his soft blonde hair brushes against your neck.

Though unsure of what to say you comfort him, your instincts prompt you to carefully wrap you arm around him and gently pull him closer to you. Then, wordlessly, you comfort him. You run your fingers gently through his hair, muttering reassurance in his ear from time to time. Bit by bit, he calms down. His shuddering sobs fade to increasingly steady breaths; and, little by little, he begins to drift to sleep.

Shortly after the clock strikes one, a final sob escapes him. He takes a moment to wearily regain his composure and, just before giving in to sleep’s allure, does something you never thought he’d do again. He talks. It’s barely audible, and most of the vowels are missing; but, you can manage to make out what he says.

“You’re welcome, Dave,” you reply quietly.

He repositions himself a bit, placing his head on your pillow and gently draping his arm around you, before managing to say one final thing for the night; and, once this is said, a weary smile crosses his face. His breathing slows to the steady, rhythmic beat indicative of slumber…

“I love you, too…” you yawn, mostly to yourself.

For all the chaos he can cause in your life…
For all the stupid raps and bottles of pissy apple juice he throws around…
For all the times his stupid shades annoy you…
For all the rad beats he mixes at three in the morning…

You love him.

You can’t deny that.

You–who once told Karkat you were “not a homosexual”–are hopelessly and unreasonably in love with him, Dave Strider; and, there’s no doubt in your–in anyone’s–mind that he loves you in return…

“I hope it stays that way forever…” You finish your statement with a weary grumble. The gentle rise and fall of Dave’s chest with each breath lulls you to sleep; and, unbeknownst to you, you end up falling asleep with a contented grin on your face.