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Road Trip

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John is freaking out. It’s making you freak out and that’s making Dave freak out. You all have very different reactions to stress. Dave is rambling at a fast enough rate that you’re legitimately concerned that he’s going to hyperventilate, John has picked up the same book that he’s already decided not to bring and put it back in the exact same place three times, and you’re doing your best statue impersonation.

You wish you wouldn’t, you know it’s an obvious tell to those who know you, you know that Dave would be stopping for breath more often if you would just chill. You would really like to just hide that book or something. He’s packed, he finished packing last night, but you can’t point this out because you’re not going to be the one who makes his boyfriend forget something he really needed by interrupting his process. Not even Wise Guy by Harry Anderson, if that’s really what he wants to bring. You didn’t want or need to know that Harry Anderson had written a book, but John apparently not only needed to buy it in the first place (and the spine is fucked like it’s been read many times) but is currently in an agonising loop over whether it stays with his dad or comes to Texas with him.

John’s dad walks into the room and John stops pacing and Dave shuts up. Mr E holds his arms wide and John goes into them automatically. Mr E makes eye contact with Dave and gestures. That’s apparently all the encouragement Dave needs to get in on the group hug. Mr E does the same thing with his other arm and you finally unfreeze enough to hold up a hand. You’re all good, thanks.

Mr E raises an eyebrow and then walks towards you, dragging John and Dave backwards with him until he can almost reach you to pull you in. You sigh and take that final step rather than force him to make some unusual maneuver.

Dave starts snickering at you and then John’s giggling and you can’t help but smile. At least it isn’t audible. And the hug is quite nice, all warm and reassuring. Mr E gives off an incredibly competent aura, it’s enough to relax you. Well, almost.

He releases you and steps back. He signs something. You’re learning, but he’s too quick for you to know what he’s saying unless it’s a word you’re really familiar with.

‘I know,’ John says, signing at the same time. ‘But what if I forgot something?’

He doesn’t even realise he’s signing half the time. He does it in general conversation without mute or deaf people too, just because he’s in the habit. Though you’re sure that comes in handy for the disproportionate number of mute and/or deaf friends he has. Apparently the ASL classes were ripe with friend opportunities.

‘Yeah,’ John sighs. He turns to you. ‘Dad says he is capable of posting anything I forgot and that I should stop stressing.’

‘Solid advice,’ you say.

‘You got the important stuff, right? Phone, wallet, keys, toothbrush?’ Dave says.

John nods.

Mr E signs something.

‘Noooo!’ John says. ‘This is not a cake occasion!’

‘I could go for cake,’ Dave says. You nod in agreement. John glares at you like you’ve betrayed him. Unfortunately for him, his dad’s cake is worth a few minutes of disapproval from him.

Mr E grins and signs something. He looks expectantly at John to translate it.

John hesitates, but he would never not let his dad be part of a conversation just because he can’t talk.

‘He says you’re fine young men and he’s glad I’m living with you,’ John sighs.

Mr E signs something more.

‘And he’s proud of all of us,’ he blurts quickly, as if you might not hear him if he says it quick enough. ‘Jeez, Dad! Can we just? Not?’

You really love John’s blush. It doesn’t happen that often, even though he embarrasses easily. As opposed to you and Dave who through virtue of the palest skin ever are blush magnets. You step forward and slip your hand into his. He smiles at you and your heart stutters. You’re so fucking in love with this doofus. And he’s going to come live with you. It’s basically inconceivable.
You cough and do your best to wipe the idiot look off your face, glancing at Dave to see if he noticed. He’s smirking at you. Like you haven’t walked in on him listening dutifully to Karkat talk about He’s Just Not That Into You with the sappiest look ever on his face. Mr E just looks proud again.

You follow him downstairs and have a subtle competition with Dave to not take the first bite, just in case. Cake is known to be both delicious and dangerous with John’s family. Not only have you been pranked by Mr E more times than you would like to admit, but John’s cousin Jane has got you plenty of times as well. She seemed like such a sweet girl until she handshake buzzered you and exploding eclaired you in the space of five minutes.

You’d still kill for her eclairs, even after that.

After cake, you and Dave load the last couple boxes into your mini-bus. After this trip you are definitely cannibalising her parts, but it seemed easier to rip out the seats than buy or rent a truck. And you’re not really comfortable being in a vehicle that you haven’t examined yourself, taken apart and modified. You would rather die due to your own abuse of mechanical learning than from some other dude or dudette failing to operate standard machinery the way they’re supposed to.

You hesitate outside the kitchen and slap your hand to Dave’s chest to stop him. John and his dad are having a moment, you’re almost sure. You’ve got that feeling. Like emotions are happening.

Not that it’s easy to tell, seeing as half the conversation is silent and the other half is in John’s “quiet” voice.

‘You loooove him,’ Dave teases quietly.

You correct your face back to neutral again and shrug uncomfortably.

‘I think that’s encouraged before you move in together. Like, it’s probably a good thing that you love him.’

You make a noise that could be agreement.

‘I’ll come back in the holidays,’ John is saying in the room. ‘And I’ll call … okay, probably not every day, but at least once a week.’ There’s a pause. ‘Skype, dad, I’ll be able to see you. Dirk’s got the best internet, the picture will be fine.’

‘How much are you freaking out?’ Dave whispers.

‘I’m not freaking out,’ you say automatically.

He elbows you so you’ll see him rolling his eyes.

‘You do realise that he’s your first boyfriend and you’ve never lived with a non-Strider before and the question is actually very reasonable, right?’

You nearly try and correct him, say you’ve had boyfriends before, but compared to this you haven’t. Dating Sollux for two weeks until Karkat found out and broke the two of you up for your own good doesn’t count. Having an on-again-off-again agreement with Horuss when he dropped back into town to visit family doesn’t count. One night stands certainly don’t count.

Holy shit, John’s your first boyfriend.

‘Dude,’ Dave says. ‘I didn’t mean to make it worse.’

You shake your head, half to deny that he has and half to clear your thoughts as if your brain’s an etch a sketch.

‘I’m not freaking out,’ you repeat. You take a moment to make sure that’s true. ‘It’ll work out. It’ll be good, even.’

Dave claps his hand on your shoulder. You decide that it’s time to go in the kitchen, John hasn’t said anything in a while.

When you push open the door, you see that it’s because they’re hugging. You cough awkwardly and John just waves at you without taking his arms from around his dad’s shoulders.

‘Can you imagine hugging Bro like that,’ Dave whispers, his voice amused.

You snort a little. Nope. Hugs with Bro involve manful slaps on the back and only happen on special occasions. You suppose this would be a special occasion. Oh god, he’s going to really want to meet John now. You’re regretting not telling John that your parents died in some awful tragedy or something. Ninja fight. If you told Bro that, he’s go along with it just for the sweet cred. Maybe you can still do that. Like, so sad, John, my dad died after being attacked by, like, 70 ninjas on the weekend. Yep. Something to do with his porn being too good. Shame you’ll never meet him. Yeah. That’ll work.

‘Okay,’ John says, letting go of Mr E. ‘Okay, let’s just go. Let’s not drag this out.’

Mr E signs something.

‘Ah, yeah, I’m sure that’s fine. Dirk, can we stop by Jane and Callie’s? And the shop?’

You nod.

John leads the way out of the house. Dave runs up behind him and uses his shoulders to launch himself into a stupid high jump. John shoves at him. You can’t help but smile at them. You really lucked out with them getting along so well. And even though Dave has a lot of friends, you don’t think he’s as silly with any of them as he is with John. There’s something freeing about hanging out with a dude who has spent the five years since high school working full time at a joke store.

‘Did you want to come along for the goodbyes? Drop you off at the shop?’ you ask Mr E.

He shakes his head.

‘Um. I promise I’ll look after him,’ you say. ‘I know he’s capable, but … yeah, I’ll treat him good.’

God, you’re so awkward. You just felt like you should say something. Mr E nods and then pulls you in for another hug.

‘Oh, okay, yep, good,’ you say. You don’t really know how to do one-on-one hugs with not-John people. Mr E lets you go and you smile awkwardly at him. Dave is grinning at you. The bastard. Can’t you have one awkwardly sincere moment without him feeling the need to tease you about it for 300 years?

Dave gets a hug as well (not as long as yours, not that you’re competing) and John as well. And then you’re all in the bus, Dave in shotgun because he won something or other, and you’re pulling away at a completely normal speed because you couldn’t decide if it was kind or cruel to give John extra time to wave goodbye.

‘Jane’s or the shop first?’ you ask.

‘Jane’s is kind of on the way,’ John says.

You nod and have a moment of satisfaction because you know exactly how to get there. You’re so bad with directions, you just don’t store them. Actually, you think you know your way around John’s favourite spots in Washington better than you know your neighbourhood in Houston and you’ve lived there your whole life.

‘Hey John, does Dirk sneak into your bed every time we visit or was that just last night?’ Dave asks, his voice your least favourite shade of little-brother-innocent.

You will not take your eyes off the road, you are focusing on driving.

‘Every time,’ John says, as if it’s no big deal.

You breathe again. It’s very difficult to be worried and/or embarrassed when he’s so nonchalant. Your cheeks feel a little warm anyway.

‘What gave me away?’ you ask.

‘Woke up to take a piss and you weren’t there. Jeez, bro, didn’t think you would disrespect Mr E like that!’

‘Dad’s told Dirk like a million times that he can sleep in my room,’ John says. ‘And I’ve told Dirk that surely it would be less embarrassing to admit that he does than to be caught sneaking in or out, but he doesn’t agree.’

Dave laughs.

‘Because Dirk doesn’t think he’ll ever be caught.’

Well. Yeah.

‘It’s not like we do anything,’ John says.

Your face is actually on fire. Could you please be in any other place in the world. Dave and John are allowed to be friends but they are absolutely not allowed to talk about this. Ever. Nope. You will not look at either of them, this is your hell.

‘Well, not much .’

‘We’re here,’ you say, much more loudly than you usually speak.

‘No, we’re not,’ Dave says. Which is true. You’re not even halfway there. You just really wanted them to stop talking. ‘I’m currently weighing up how little I want to hear anything about Dirk’s sex life and how red he is right now. Like, is it worth me suffering a little to make him suffer a lot. It’s a philosophical question for the ages.’

‘I was thinking we should go through New York on the way back to see the Lalondes,’ you say.

‘We really just cuddle, mostly!’ John says. You glare at him through your rearview mirror and turn the radio on. Loud. ‘Did you know he likes to be the little spoon?’ John says, perfectly audibly.

You groan and Dave laughs.

‘Yeah, but who doesn’t,’ Dave points out. ‘Little spoon is the bomb, I make Terezi spoon me at least half the time.’

Thank you,’ you mutter. Of course, maybe John doesn’t want to be little spoon because you’re a skinny bastard and lack the ability to be a good big spoon. Nope, not hating on yourself right now, just enjoying the fact that your spoon preferences are compatible.

You turn off the radio as you pull into Jane’s driveway. John trips Dave as he gets out and you leave them to it and walk to the door. You ring the bell and ignore them laughing their heads off. They’re especially giddy today, but you’re putting that down to the excitement of moving. They won’t be able to maintain it the whole way back. Surely. This isn’t going to be your life now. That would be insane.

Callie opens the door and saves you from contemplating that any further. She gives you a hug in welcome and pulls you inside by the hand.

‘Jane’s just putting together some sandwiches and such for you,’ she says. ‘But come with me, I’ve made a housewarming present!’

Callie’s hugs and handholding are now no longer supremely awkward to you from sheer exposure therapy. She leads you past the kitchen, not letting you pause to say hi to Jane, and into the lounge.

Huh. She’s painted you a picture. A picture of you and John and Dave, all arms around each other and smiling. If it wasn’t so adorable you would take issue with any version of you smiling that wide.

‘You made this?’ you ask.

She nods. You tip your shades back onto your head and look at it properly. It’s glorious, really. She’s gone thick with oil paints and it’s the happiest damn painting you’ve ever seen. Half of that’s the colours, too, not even the batshit crazy smiles you’re all wearing.

‘Callie, this is amazing,’ you tell her. ‘I am amazed. I think I might swoon. Look at what you’ve done. Check out those colours. You’re amazing.’

She claps her hands together and hops a little.

‘I’m so glad you like it!’ she says.

There’s a crash in the kitchen that neither of you react to. Oh god, your house is about to get so much louder. If John and Dave start a prank war, you might have to move out.

‘Callie, how do you live with an Egbert?’

She smiles.

‘Technically she’s a Crocker! But yes, it can be a challenge! Most days are fine, but special occasions you have to get into a routine …’

She glances into the kitchen to make sure you’re still alone.

‘There will always be something in my slippers on my birthday. So, I check first, see if I’m willing to have it on my feet. If she gets me at the beginning of the day I’m not so much of a challenge, you see? Jelly’s not so bad, but mousetraps hurt! Better to pretend I missed the opening and set it off by standing on top of the slipper, yes? And I hide a towel somewhere safe and don’t use any of the soap things in the shower. And …’

Again, she glances around.

‘Perhaps I should message you about it, one never knows when there are unfriendly ears about! Or in this case, perhaps, overly friendly ears.’

You agree to message her when you get home. And start dreading your birthday more than you have ever dreaded anything.

John walks into the room with Dave on his back, piggyback style.

‘Woah, Callie! Is this for us?’ he says, his hands flying to his face in excitement. Dave somehow manages to stay attached to John’s hips. You raise your eyebrow at him and he manages to shrug. He’s absolutely going to fall off if John doesn’t support his legs soon. Knowing Dave, he’s accepted this fate and will just hold on for as long as he can.

It takes you an hour before you’re finished saying goodbye to Jane and Callie, despite the fact that they and Jane’s dad came over for dinner last night. Meeting Jane’s dad was weird, because he’s identical to Mr E, but he has a deep booming voice that Mr E would presumably have if he hadn’t ever gotten cancer. John’s voice has the promise of being that deep one day. That’s all you’re saying. No comment. Just … huh, wouldn’t that be an interesting development.

You assume you’ll spend less time at the shop, but it is for some reason outrageously busy. What business does a joke shop have being this busy? Has the entire town run out of whoopee cushions simultaneously? You and Dave try to stay out of the way of customers, but John goes right up to them and starts helping.

‘What the fuck is that on your face?’ Dave says.

Your hand flies up to your cheek automatically. Did Jane get you?’

‘Your expression , dipshit,’ he says. ‘You cannot possibly tell me you’re so far gone that seeing him with kids is doing something for you.’

You shake your head vehemently.

‘Is it card tricks? Seriously?’

‘I like his hands …’ you mutter.

Dave walks away to the other side of the store and examines the board game collection. You smile to yourself and go back to watching John. Dave will needle you about your sex life so long as it’s only embarrassing you, but the second you make it real he can’t deal.

It’s nice to see how the kid goes from sulky to delighted and her adult companion goes from frazzled to relieved.

‘Can I help you?’ Vriska asks you aggressively.

‘Vriska, you know me,’ you remind her. ‘We’ve met, like, five times. I’m not a customer, I’m John’s boyfriend.’

‘If you’re not going to buy anything, I should ask you to leave,’ she says.

You sigh. Vriska hates you. You have no idea why.

‘I’ll just take John and go, then?’ you say. ‘I think he’s helping folk, but if you want me gone …’

Vriska narrows her eyes at you. You repress the urge to snap her stupid hipster glasses in half.

‘Just … stay out of the way,’ she says.

‘Yessir,’ you say.

You head over to Dave.

‘What’s up your ass?’ he asks.

‘Vriska,’ you say.

‘Say no more,’ he says with a shudder. ‘Check out this game, though, it’s a banana.’

You look down at the banana he passed you.

‘What is it?’

‘I can’t believe you even care about that. It’s a banana.’

You open the zip and find scrabble tiles.

‘Yeah, okay, we could get this,’ you say.

‘Nope, we don’t play scrabble or scrabble related games with you.’

You scowl at him.

It takes over an hour for John to say goodbye to his coworkers, in between helping them with customers and ducking back to squeeze your hand or hit Dave over the back of the head. Finally, he pulls you out of the shop. Dave takes a look at his face and ducks back inside.

‘Forgot to by the thing!’ he says.

You pull John into your arms.

‘You okay?’

‘Yeah,’ he says. ‘It’s just home, you know?’

You don’t, but you can hug him at least. You tip his chin up so you can kiss him and notice that he’s keeping his eyes shut pretty hard like he’s trying not to cry. You kiss him gentle and then jump out of your skin when Dave throws his arms around both of you.

‘Group hug!’ he shouts.

‘Right,’ John says in an almost not-shaky voice. ‘Moment over, thank you, Dave!’

Dave lets go of John and hangs off you instead.

‘Anytime, bro,’ he says. ‘You getting us out of here or what?’

You all pile into the bus again. John sits in the seat behind you automatically. You toss Dave your phone so he can set it up for you.

‘Good morning,’ your own voice sounds.

‘I need to change that,’ you mutter. In what universe would you ever say “good morning”?

‘Hi Hal!’ John says cheerily.

‘Hi John, how’s it going?’

‘I’m going good! I’m moving in with Dirk and Dave!’

‘John, I have heard so much about this move that I am an expert in it,’ Hal says. ‘I could write a PhD on the subject of you moving into the Strider pad. I could get government funding to research the topic and yet still not hear as much about it as I already have.’

This is what you get for allowing him access to all your communications to help him learn how to talk. He has more than a bit of Dave in him. It’s Dave’s fault he has a name, too.

‘Are you excited?’ Hal asks.

‘Yes!’ John says with undoubtable enthusiasm.

‘See, Dirk,’ Hal says.

‘Don’t do that,’ you say. You don’t need your robot to reassure you. ‘Also, find me a route that gets me to a hotel at some point between …’ you look at Dave and John. You know that if it was just Dave you could probably push the driving time until midnight, but you don’t think that’s going to fly with John. ‘9 and 10 pm.’

‘Calculating,’ Hal says.

‘That’s late,’ John comments.

Dave laughs at your grimace.

‘Does that factor in dinner times?’ Dave asks.

‘You’re asking that like I don’t always factor in dinner times and traffic reports and basically everything. I’m insulted, Dave. You should know better than to insult your robot overlord.’

‘Yeah, which is fine on most of our road trips, but maybe John would like to sit down and eat at a McDonalds or something?’ Dave says.

You and Hal groan at the same time. It’s not a pleasant experience.

‘This is going to be a really long trip if you guys are wanting to travel like humans,’ Hal says.

‘As opposed to what?’ you bitch.

‘Dirks,’ he says. ‘You can decide breaks later, whatever you’re doing you’re gonna wanna get on the highway, so take a left at the end of the street.’

You sigh and shift the bus into drive. John rubs your arm comfortingly. Dave and Hal start to argue about music and you relax into road trip mode.

Chapter Text

It takes a ridiculous amount of time to get to the Lalonde’s house. You knew that detouring through New York, even if they weren’t in the actual city, was going to take you way off schedule, but you really hadn’t anticipated how long it would take with not only Dave as a passenger, forcing you to do lame shit like sleep and eat, but John, who had never been in a car longer than three hours before.

Honestly. Three hours is a long drive to him.

Hal isn’t even on your side. Your stupid programming means that he’s mostly based on you but he’s adapted to pick up traits from those he speaks to and apparently all your friends are traitorous assholes, making him all soft. And fucking with his taste in music.

Still, you’re looking forward to sleeping in a house that you’ve been to before, and Rose said that you and John would “have to share a room” in a very not-subtle conversation, which is exactly the kind of thing that will actually allow you to sleep. Hotel rooms with all three of you in them are okay, but you’re not a fan of hearing multiple people breathing.

Hal guides you to the massive house and tells you the keycode to open the gate when you get there. It’s different from last time. You have no idea why they need it, but you approve. What would be the point in a keycode security system if it never changed?

John bounces up and down in his seat and you have to work quite hard not to smile at his contagious enthusiasm. Not that smiling is a bad thing, and it suits other people (John, for example, has a variety of smiles and they’re all amazing) but you’re pretty sure that Dave will tease the shit out of you if you come over with a case of the feelings.

The second you pull up, even before you put the handbrake on, John is out of his seat and opening the door. He runs up the path and then stops, baffled, trying to figure out how exactly he’s supposed to announce his arrival. You and Dave raise your eyebrows at each other to share your amusement at his John-ness.

‘I know they say opposites attract,’ Dave says.

‘Are you implying that I’m somehow the opposite of John?’ you ask innocently.

‘Yes,’ Dave says.

‘Go help him find the doorbell,’ you tell him. ‘I want to have a quick check of the engine.’

‘How about you wait til it’s cool, like a sensible person who doesn’t want 2nd degree burns on his hands,’ Hal says.

‘How about you shut your speaker,’ you tell him.

Your phone lights up with a stock photo of a middle finger. It's even a robotic middle finger, you're impressed.

'Oh, I see. You were wanting to avoid the awkward introduction phase because you're shit at socialising and the Frankenbus is a convenient excuse,’ Hal says.

Dave laughs.

'Come on, bro, we want to see John meet Ms Lalonde, don't we?’

You reluctantly get out of the car, almost leaving your phone behind to punish Hal but deciding that actually you can't cope without him like you do every time. You ignore the various “decoy” doorbells and knockers and press the one that you helped connect to an app on each Lalonde’s phone last time you were here.

The door opens immediately. Apparently Rose was waiting on the other side, watching John's confusion.

'Rose!’ he cries, throwing himself at her. She hugs him back with stiff arms.

'I hope you're having a pleasant trip?’ she says when he lets her go.

‘Dirk can drive for a really long time without a break! Like, he did six hours in a row before I noticed yesterday!’

You keep your face neutral.

‘Very impressive,’ Rose says, as if she wasn’t the one to hold her knitting needles worryingly close to your eyes in order to make you stop after 10 and a half hours so that she wouldn’t have to pee in a cup. ‘Won’t you come in?’

Rose leads the way into Lalonde Manor with John right on her heels. He doesn’t shut up for the five minutes it takes for them to get to their lounge room (their house is seriously massive) and continues not to shut up as you’re all seated. Roxy emerges soon after with drinks and snacks.

‘Roxy!’ John says, and gets up to hug her. She hugs him back, grinning, and then sits on Dave’s lap despite the abundance of free seats. Dave turns so red it’s almost purple and his hands hover next to her waist awkwardly before he puts them down on the couch. You vastly approve of this use of feminine wiles.

You let John tell the Lalondes all about your trip so far, Dave interrupting every now and then, and because of the time, it doesn’t take that long before it’s dinner. Ms Lalonde comes into the lounge to announce it and you and Dave wave at her. John’s jaw drops. You don’t even have it in you to be jealous, you had basically the same reaction and you’ve never batted for that team. She’s just like that.

‘John?’ Ms Lalonde asks.

‘Yeah,’ John says, getting up and shaking her hand. ‘Nice to meet you Ms Lalonde, thank you for having us.’

‘Kein problem,’ she says, smiling. ‘Zeit für's Abendessen, komme mit, komme mit.’

‘Danke, Ms Lalonde,’ you say. ‘She’s German,’ you explain to John, who is looking completely lost.

‘We’ve lived in America for two decades,’ Rose says testily. ‘She’s very fluent in English, I know it.’

‘It’s no big deal, Rosie,’ Roxy says. ‘Dirk and I can translate.’

‘Since when can you speak German?’ John asks.

‘Since Roxy told me that her mom only does. I can’t really speak it, just understand it. And I have Hal.’

Dinner at the Lalondes is basically identical to how it went down last time you were here. Roxy translates in rapid-fire German next to her mom while Rose tries to make Ms Lalonde slip up and speak in English. Rose speaks less German than you do out of sheer stubbornness. After dinner, Ms Lalonde goes back to her lab, hips swaying in a way that has John and Dave studiously not looking. You guess you don’t really have practice at not staring at women, it usually comes naturally. Ms Lalonde kind of reminds you of a drag queen you know, which is very disorienting.

‘Once Dirk has stopped ogling my mother’s ass, how about we watch a movie,’ Rose says.

John hits you. You shrug helplessly.

‘Why don’t you know German?’ John asks Rose.

‘Because we live in America, it would be a useless language to learn considering the small percentage of German-speaking Americans. Spanish was a much more sensible choice, and I’m not terrible at French, both of which are more commonly spoken here.’

‘But there’s someone who speaks German in your house!’ John says.

‘Mmm, but Mom would pick up if Rosie made mistakes while she was learning,’ Roxy says.

‘When we went to Germany, everyone spoke English,’ Rose says, crossing her arms. ’She can speak English too, it’s impossible she can’t.’

‘Mmm, but not perfectly. You got it from somewhere, babes.’

Roxy boops Rose on the nose and Rose looks outraged. Dave distracts her by holding up two movies right in her face.

Dave chooses the first Lord of the Rings movie, which seems like a terrible idea to you. Sure enough, the excruciatingly slow pace of the extended version is mitigated by the arguments around wizards from that side of the couch. You are sat between John’s legs with his chin on your shoulder and it’s basically sapped any arguing juice from you. You do occasionally back Dave on his shit-stirring comments, and John sometimes interjects with a ridiculous question in his carelessly dumb voice, which means he’s definitely aggravating Rose on purpose.

After three hours and forty-eight minutes, you are definitely not in the mood to watch the even longer Two Towers one. You plead exhaustion from driving, causing your phone to vibrate in your pocket, presumably Hal laughing sarcastically at you. John says he’s tired too, which makes all three of your hideous friends make eyebrows at you as you leave for your shared bedroom. Dave sat in the middle of Rose and Roxy looks like he could be a part of their family, which makes you smile to yourself for some reason.

In bed, you don’t do anything to earn frisky eyebrow movements, but John lies his weight heavily on you and you sleep soundly for the first night in a while.

It’s almost a full 24 hours from the Lalonde house to yours, even with Hal’s traffic and police scanners. It’s longer because of the breaks John and Dave make you take. You’re tempted to detour via Florida to stay with Jade and Jake for a night, but you and Hal spend an hour looking over the engine you’ve built and decide that you don’t want to push it much further without being near your workshop. Another time.

After two and a half days of travelling that you definitely could have done quicker on your own, you miraculously find a park only half a block from the apartment. Bro and Dennis are somehow waiting on the curb.

‘Hal, did you text Bro?’ you ask.

‘Technically he hacked into me and found our location,’ Hal says.

‘And you couldn’t hide your tracks?’ you demand. ‘Or warn me?’

Dave laughs.

‘Is that your Bro?’ John asks, all excitement.

Dave laughs harder.

‘I’m inviting him over when Terezi and Karkat are here,’ you threaten.

Dave shuts up.

‘He looks young! I thought you said he was technically your dad!’

‘Save the flattery for when you meet him,’ Dave says.

You pull the handbrake up and check all your mirrors unnecessarily. You only stop dicking about when John lurches out of the bus. You suddenly realise that him meeting Bro on his own is literally the only scenario worse than him meeting Bro with you.

‘Good luck,’ Hal sing-songs after you. You glare at the bus as you shut the door as if he’s a transformer or something, not attached to your phone. You have no idea how he does that with his voice when you have never input anything but monotone into his programming. You see Dave lean on the dash, his mouth moving as he talks to Hal. Apparently he’s not backing you up.

John looks back at you and grins at you with such happiness that your anxiety and sullenness doesn’t stand a shot. He holds his hand out to you and you step forward and lace your fingers with his automatically.

You decide to man up and lead the way to your Bro. You bump fists with him and Dennis.

‘Bro, Dennis, this is John.’

You make appropriate gestures. Bro holds his fist out to John and he bumps it with much more enthusiasm than you did. You glance back to the bus. Dave is watching impassively.

‘Do you need help unloading?’ Dennis asks.

You never know when he’s going to make a euphemism, but you’ll wear it if he’s talking about shitting this time. You nod.

You all walk over to the bus and you start handing out the boxes that are in the back.

‘You gonna help out, ya lazy shit?’ Dennis asks Dave.

‘Hal needed my help,’ he lies.

‘How are you, Dennis?’ Hal asks. ‘Always a pleasure.’

‘Keepin’ it real, Halexander, keeping it real.’

You resist the urge to correct Dennis on Hal’s name. Dennis knows that Hal is not short for anything except “Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer”. You’re not going to try and explain that again. If it hasn’t sunk in the last hundred times, another isn’t going to help. Dennis is an unfortunate side effect of seeing your Bro. To be fair, Bro is an unfortunate side effect of seeing your Bro. He just rarely bothers to talk. Unlike Dennis.

Dave slouches out of the bus and takes a box from you. You hear the car lock behind you. Hal is the best.

It somehow takes an hour to move John’s stuff from the bus to the apartment, despite him not bringing any furniture and packing quite light, considering. You think a lot of it is due to Bro and Dennis doing bicep curls with boxes instead of actually helping. Bro abandons even the pretence of helping halfway through and raids your pantry, making disappointed noises.

‘We’ve been on the road for a week, dude, as if we were going to leave shit in the fridge,’ you say.

Bro just grumbles some more. Dennis finds mustard in the pantry and squirts it directly into his mouth. You can’t stop your face from crinkling in disgust, but Bro seems to think this is an excellent idea and mimics him. You decide to focus on unpacking.

‘So are Bro and Dennis a couple?’ John asks in undertone in your room.

‘Yeah,’ you sigh.

‘What, no they’re not,’ Dave says. ‘They’re just bros.’

‘I have thrice walked in on them making out,’ you say. ‘They’ve lived together for, what, a decade? Bro sometimes uses his fucking words around Dennis. They’re in love.’

‘No, they just wanted to keep the frat going,’ Dave says.

Jesus, this is actually ridiculous. You put down the box of clothes you were moving into your chest of drawers and tug Dave along into your living room. Bro is examining Dennis’s electric blue hair when you walk in, but Dennis puts his cap on when he sees you coming.

‘Do I need a touch up?’ Dennis asks.

Bro grunts an affirmative.

‘Might go purps this time.’

‘You look shit with purple hair,’ you tell him.

‘Mini-bro, you are fuckin’ harsh,’ Dennis says. ‘Hit me with the fashion tips then, I can take it.’

‘I liked the pink,’ Dave says. ‘Also, are you two a couple?’

‘Ya, bruh,’ Dennis says, at the same time as Bro makes an incredulous face and shakes his head.

What the fuck.

‘Dude, we’ve been together for like, fifteen years,’ Dennis says.

Bro makes an ambiguous grunt. You roll your eyes and lean into John. You might be shit at relationships, but you’re not that bad.

‘We’ve been banging for twenty,’ Dennis continues.

‘Gross,’ you and Dave say simultaneously.

‘So?’ Bro says.

‘You tell me you love me? Often?’ Dennis says.

‘No homo,’ Bro mutters.

’Fucking hell,’ you say. ‘Fuck off while we get John settled in, would you? We can do breakfast or something tomorrow when my ankle isn’t bitching at me for suddenly not planter flexing.’

Bro grunts and holds his fist out to bump. Dennis does the same, still looking kind of hurt and baffled. Bro leans his forearm on Dennis’s much shorter head as they wait for the elevator, which you haven’t used once since you met John. You hope they get their shit together. They might be intolerable together, but they’re also kind of soulmates.

You and Dave debate whether they’re actually a couple over take-out that night. You point out that you’ve heard Bro say that he loves Dennis more than either of you. Dave points out that Bro isn’t capable of being in any relationship, let alone a long-term one. You point out that Dennis give Bro piggy-back rides sometimes. Dave says that it’s just hilarious because of the height difference and also that they sit on each others backs while they do push-ups and he’s pretty sure that’s not a gay activity.

‘Do you remember when Dennis gave us the gay talk?’ you ask Dave. ‘That’s not as weird if it’s from Bro’s boyfriend as if it’s from his bro.’

‘That was highly ironic,’ Dave protests. ‘He told us that it was gay if you spent more than five minutes on your hair.’

‘But not if you and a bro give each other hand-jobs,’ you tell John, rolling your eyes.

‘So long as the dicks don’t touch,’ Dave says, smiling at the memory. ‘My bisexual ass totally believed that, I was like hmmm interesting, can’t wait to put that into practice.’

‘Do you think Bro really didn’t realise they’re together?’ John asks.

‘Unfortunately he’s exactly that stupid,’ you sigh. ‘Guess we’ll ask at breakfast.’

You have an early night, still recovering from your shit sleep on the road trip, and fucking delighted to have the weight of John’s arm around your waist. You swear it feels empty when he’s not here, which is ridiculous. You haven’t slept with him nearly enough for this to feel more natural than sleeping solo.

John’s much more of a morning person than you, and he wakes you up with wet kisses all over your face until you’re laughing more than trying to slap him away. Then he leaves you and returns with coffee and you decide that asking him to move in with you was literally the best decision of your life.

You go to a diner for breakfast seeing as there’s nothing in your house. You exhale in relief when you see Dennis has come with Bro, both of them punching and kicking each other as they walk past the window as if they’re still teenagers.

‘Do you need me to physically assault you more?’ John asks.

‘Yeah, it’s just how you romance a Strider,’ you say.

‘Ugh, there’s too much truth in that for comfort,’ Dave says. ‘Terezi wooed me by repeatedly kicking me in the shins.’

Bro and Dennis take up the four seat bench seat on their side by manspreading and elbowing each other.

‘So, did you figure it out?’ Dave asks.

‘Yeah, dude!’ Dennis says. ‘We’re in love, aren’t we homie?’

Bro smirks and nods, karate chopping Dennis’s cap so that it falls onto the table.

‘Not that it changes anything, your bro hasn’t picked up in forever.’

‘Had you,’ Bro says. ‘Not worth the effort. Also, turns out I’m kinda gay? How whack is that?’

‘See Dave, there is something more pathetic than not realising you were bi until you were 22,’ you say.

Dave tips the salt shaker down the back of your shirt.

Breakfast is pretty normal. Part of Dennis’s dubious value is that Bro doesn’t really bother to talk outside of grunts and lewd gestures most of the time. He used to talk more, but you think he’s gotten used to Dennis being the mouthpiece for their strange duo. So Dennis helps Bro get to know John more, and tells stories from when you and Dave were growing up. Bro contributes by tapping Dennis on the shoulder and Dennis magically knowing what anecdote Bro wants to share.

John is happy to talk about everything from his long standing wish for a pet rabbit (which has Dave looking at you with puppy dog eyes and you have a terrible feeling that you’re going to be violating the “no pets in the apartment” rule soon) to his hopes for his upcoming teaching degree.

After breakfast, you walk back to the apartment satisfied that you’ve fulfilled your Bro quota for a while. Dave leaves to go bother Karkat and Terezi, and you end up alone with John. In the apartment that is now his, too.

‘You’re pretty,’ he tells you. You feel yourself blush immediately, which only makes John grin wider.

‘This feels good so far, right?’ you say. ‘I think we’re going to be good roommates.’

‘It’s been one night Dirk, oh my god,’ John says. ‘But yeah. I like our chances. So long as you let me win in video games.’

‘Not a chance,’ you say, pulling him over to the couch.

In the end, he decides if you’re not going to let him win then you’d be better off kissing him, which you can’t argue with. He’s a very good roommate so far.