Real Men Wear Tights

High school can be tough for everyone. This is especially true when you're hiding a secret that can never be told.

http://archiveofourown.org/works/469179/chapters/811056

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6. In Which Heir Accidentally Goes on a Date Part 1

1 week later

 

/ / /

John took position on the starting block, ready to dive into the clear water below him as soon as he heard the buzzer signaling the start of his race. It was pretty much expected for him to win this heat, the 500-yard freestyle, just as he had won his other solo event, though he knew he shouldn’t be cocky. Someone could always pull a surprise victory despite his status as undefeated.

There was a very simple reason that John loved this sport: when surrounded by his peers and other civilians, swimming was as close to flying as John could have. That moment when he pushed off against the pool wall always felt similar to taking off into the sky, but at the same time, the sensation of it was very different. When he submerged himself fully and glided weightlessly through the water, the sounds above and around him muffled and distant, he felt like he was in his own world. It wasn’t the sky, but the water was an acceptable substitute.

The buzzer rang out and John dove down into the waiting pool alongside seven other swimmers, the cheers of those in the stands becoming a muted blur as his vision tunneled and he could see nothing but an advancing wall of blue.

Despite having a less than exemplary attendance record for afterschool training, John was considered the team’s ace, and for good reason. Simply put, he won his school medals.

John penetrated the surface of the water seamlessly, his arms extended and abdominals clenched tight. He traveled under the water for as long as his form would allow before he surfaced, his arms tearing through the water, pulling him forward at a speed which was envied by his teammates and hated by his competitors. That speed had actually earned John the honor of being the holder of several state high school records, a fact which had made John’s dad order him to start holding himself back slightly, at least enough to settle down the scouts which invariably showed up to search for potential talent. Despite that, John was still unmatched in his speed.

John set his pace, pulling himself through the water and pushing his strokes to be longer, forcing his limbs to move faster. When he turned his head to draw in quick breaths, John could tell that his competitors and teammates were beginning to slow down from their top speed, each of them having had to push themselves hard from the get-go in order to attempt to catch up to the breakneck speeds that John always strove to maintain. In any other swimming competition, that would’ve been considered foolish, but John’s reputation for being able to set a speed and maintain it through an entire heat preceded him well. Because John was the only one actually capable of maintaining such an exhausting pace, however, he knew he had the race in the bag from the beginning, as arrogant as that sounded in his head.

John tapped out almost a full length before anyone else, with a time that would have earned him another spot in the state’s record books, had he not already been the record holder. John waited for the rest of the swimmers to finish before, grinning broadly, he pulled himself out of the pool to a round of supporting cheers and applause. It felt great to be acknowledged for something he had done well, even if the meet didn’t really count for anything but bragging rights.

The tight swim cap was the first thing to come off after John was out of the water with his goggles being slipped down immediately after. He scanned the bleachers set up along the ‘home’ side of the room, searching for a familiar face among the dozens of strangers and acquaintances. While his usual biggest supporter, his dad, had had something unexpected come up at work that he’d urgently needed to attend to, John could always count on at least one person to show up to his meets. Despite how much resistance the troll always put up and the insistence that he could care less about John’s swimming, Karkat was dependably supportive when it came to John’s favourite pastime.

Supportive, but not always attentive. When John finally spotted the familiar nubby-horned troll sitting near the very end of the bleachers, it was to discover that Karkat had his nose buried in a thick biology textbook. The troll glanced at John from over his textbook just as the results of the heat were announced over the speakers, mouthing him a short ‘woo’ before immersing himself again in his book.

The rest of the more boisterous support and attention didn’t even matter to John; Karkat’s simple support went further than any of the other praise possibly could have. Karkat might not have cheered loudly or even bothered himself to put down a book to clap, but he had offered John a very slight smile, and that was enough. It was smiles like those that made John’s heart ache and skip and flop ungracefully all over itself.

John picked up his towel from his team’s bench and quickly pat-dried himself off before he slung it over his shoulder. After a few solemn congratulations from the other school’s team and more eager slaps on the back from his own, John found himself free until his two relay events. While the girls did their own 500-yard freestyle race, the guys started a ten minute break to recover from the longest event. John was intent on spending the majority of those few minutes talking to Karkat.

Walking to the stands always felt a little bit off-putting, for obvious reasons. While the whole more-than-half-naked in sort-of-public thing took a bit of getting used to, John still felt a bit embarrassed by some of the looks that were shot his way as he approached. Swimming required one to eliminate drag, which meant swim caps were a must and no loose-fitting trunks were allowed. Suffice to say, while his lycra shorts did their job to make him more hydrodynamic, they kind of clung a whole lot to every little thing. He didn’t like catching the occasional downwards glance, feeling like the offending gaze was sizing him up, but none of his teammates seemed bothered enough to wrap their towels around their waists, so he would persevere. Talking to Karkat was definitely worth the discomfort, anyway.

The next set of swimmers were getting lined up on their starting blocks by the time that John made his way over to the bottom-most bleacher on the far left where Karkat had chosen to perch himself, so most of the crowd was focusing its attention back on the pool. He still got a few lingering looks here and there, but he supposed that couldn’t be helped. Karkat, as he’d figured he’d be, was oblivious to the whole thing.

“Tell me what assignment could be so important that you didn’t actually watch my race?” John asked, his smile destroying any attempt at being serious. He knew that being overly antagonistic with the troll was likely to cause him to start ranting, but sometimes John preferred it that way. “Because, from the looks of how cheering for me was an afterthought, you were not paying any attention at all.”

   

Karkat quirked an eyebrow and shut his textbook with a sharp snap before he offered John his reply. “Oh, I’m so fucking sorry your sport of choice is the single most boring activity to actually witness apart from watching paint dry, especially when every single asshole here knows the outcome of the race as soon as you saunter over to the side of the pool like a smug douche ready to add another notch in your victory belt. When I glance up, you are doing the exact same thing in a different point in the pool, which is flailing around very quickly. Excuse me if I don’t find this the single most exciting thing to have ever graced my field of vision. Anyway, why don’t they just enter you in all the events so that they can hoard every single prize known to swimmers and be done with it?”

John pouted, putting on his best fake hurt expression, though Karkat doubtlessly saw through it with ease. “You know I can only be in four, I told you that.” John paused, fully processing Karkat’s rant. “And who the hell saunters?”

Karkat sneered. “Stop trying to get lippy with me to satisfy your twisted verbal sado-masochistic thing. I am not actively going to fuel that into being an actual thing that happens because it is dumb. And that kernel of extremely significant information must have been pushed out of my thinkpan for something with a higher value of importance, like what they were serving in the cafeteria on the day you decided to inform me on your sport’s bullshit rules.”

“Stop being an asshole and congratulate me,” John laughed, beaming his brightest grin at the troll. The shit that came out of Karkat’s mouth sometimes was wonderful.

Karkat smacked John lightly on the shoulder, his stubborn scowl twitching as he strained against a smile. The troll shrugged, absently adjusting his glasses with his thumb and middle finger before schooling his expression and shooting a glare John’s way. The look was much more affectionate than it was seething, but any observer to their exchange most likely saw anger.

“Congratulations. You successfully did not drown. In the place of your father, I think I am bound to let you know that you do not even understand how very proud I am of you in this moment of our lives. If I had a camera, I would be taking your picture just so that I could place it in a gigantic tome of a scrapbook and write depressingly sappy and supportive aphorisms below it to ensure you that you are loved, your actions and achievements are not insignificant trifles that will be completely forgotten to the ambivalent stare of time itself, and that I am a good father because of my insistence in letting you know this twenty times a day. Are you happy with that, or do you want me to see if I can start everyone cheering again to better fuel your enormous ego?”

John snorted. “I may take you up on that round of applause later, but I think the ego is fine for now. I suppose you’ve earned a pie for your efforts.” The usual shared laughter that tended to follow the end of their exchanges didn’t come, nor did an expected comment about being rewarded with baked goods like some kind of obedient animal. Instead, Karkat’s eyebrows fell as he looked to John’s right and stood up, crossing his arms and giving off the impression of being none too impressed.

“Okay, you have been standing there for five minutes without even fucking trying to assert yourself despite wringing your hands like you desperately have something to say.”

John blinked, turning his head to notice there was someone standing a bit off to the side behind him, watching the two of them nervously. The hero shot the other an apologetic look and noted that he seriously needed to work on the tunnel vision he had when Karkat was around. If he ran into the troll as Heir, it could be dangerous for his attention to be solely fixed on one person. Before he could say anything, Karkat continued.

“Wow. I am throwing you a bone out of sheer pity of your miserable attempt at making your presence known, and yet you continue to hover there looking like a skittish hopbeast debating whether to run or defecate all over itself as it stares down the barrel of a shotgun. What is it that you want?” The person, a troll who looked about their age and who was probably from their grade, jumped at Karkat’s demanding tone. Evidently he had not had many run-ins with the other troll to know that the bark was Karkat’s usual comfortable way of speaking to others.

“Uh, well.” John connected the vaguely familiar troll to a couple of classes they had shared in the past, though their schedules did not currently overlap. The troll also seemed to be on good terms with a couple of the swim team members from what John had seen, though he had never sat with them during lunch the year John had. They had also never exchanged anything beyond simple greetings before, so John’s guess as to what he wanted was as good as Karkat’s.

 

 

“Could I talk to you alone for a second?” the troll asked John very quickly, teeth nervously working on his lower lip after the sudden string of words.

“You have got to be shitting me with this.” Karkat actually smacked himself on the forehead, as if he couldn’t believe the conclusion he had come to after that one line. John had no idea where this was going, but he was starting to get a little worried. “You actually are trying to ask him out? Do you even know him at all? I can see the outwards appeal, of course, but honestly, do you even know what you’re wanting here?”

Wait. What?

John must have somehow missed a huge chunk of the memo which led up to this troll wanting to date him, because as far as he could tell, all that the other had asked was if he could talk to John alone. That had seemed like a completely innocent request, but Karkat hadn’t seemed to think so. And then there was the highlighted footnote that Karkat thought he was physically attractive in some capacity, which he just couldn’t help but latch onto.

“Yeah, I think I do. Or at least I’d really like to get to know him.” The slight glare the troll had been shooting Karkat turned soft as he glanced shyly to John before flickering his gaze back to the ground. “I’m not trying to step into your relationship...um, whatever kind it is. Like, if you’re together romantically, I didn’t mean to offend you with this, or anything. I tried asking around before even thinking of doing this, but no one honestly knows what you two are.”

It was becoming more and more apparent that John was just a spectator in this conversation as Karkat again beat him to the punch, the words flowing from his friend’s mouth before John could even formulate a proper response.

“He’s my best friend,” Karkat spat, his eyes narrowed dangerously. “And honestly, I don’t think you’re his type.”

John knew that people, trolls especially, could be possessive of those that they were close to, but he hadn’t really seen it firsthand apart from in school where the occasional baring of teeth or snapping remark meant that others should back off. He had never been in the middle of it, and had never seen Karkat become territorial over him before. It was...flattering, in a way. A bit scary, in that Karkat looked like he was about to pounce, but flattering.

John turned to his friend and threw a hand up, touching Karkat’s chest lightly in a gesture that was just as much to keep Karkat in place as it was to feel the troll’s body pressing against him. “Okay, simmer down. I don’t know what this is all about, but I’m just going to go talk to him for a bit, okay? I’ll be back soon.”

“For fuck’s sake, John. You're going to reject him regardless of how much he gushes over your athletic figure or how admirable it is that you’re academically superior to every single one of your peers, so you may as well do it quickly and painlessly right now instead of prolonging the inevitable burning of his delicate emotions. You are just giving him false hope that it could work, so, as noble as it is to try and be sensitive in this situation, you are only feeding the flames at this point.”

“Karkat,” John stated, his tone serious as he added a little pressure to the hand against Karkat’s chest. The resistance his hand met was surprisingly firm for how scrawny Karkat’s build suggested he’d be. There was a huff and a roll of rusty eyes, but Karkat didn’t further debate John’s decision to talk to the troll in private. They both knew the decision John would ultimately make when the confession came. John couldn’t help but look over his shoulder as he led the other troll off to a quiet spot away from the bleachers. The glare which followed them almost looked worried.

 

Karkat watched as John gently rested a hand on the intruding troll’s elbow as he led him away. He trailed over them as John directed the other down the room, away from the boisterous and irritating chatter of the stands, so they could be free to talk all about misguided feelings and nonsensical, doomed romance in a more quiet part of the public space. It was impossible for him to look away and pretend to be interested in his textbook once again.

The troll glanced back at him, eyes swimming with nerves, fear, and a hope that would soon be decimated into crushing failure as he mourned the loss of what he never could have. Or that’s at least what Karkat wanted to happen. He wanted the other’s shy advances to be turned down by his best friend, for John to remain uninterested in the type of romance that so readily claimed the attention of their peers. He wanted John to be contented by sharing in one true, deep friendship, never wishing to expand his desires into finding someone more. Not until Karkat could better prepare himself to the thought of sharing the human, at least. He just wasn’t ready to lose John to some coy troll who fluttered his pretty eyelashes at the human.

John was the closest Karkat had come to a true moirail, a kindred spirit that just seemed to understand him and accept him, like nobody else did, not even Kanaya. The thought of him having to share John’s attention with another was unbearable.

From the angle of their bodies, Karkat couldn’t see their faces to read their expressions, leaving him clueless as to the direction of their conversation. Looking over to the back of the other troll’s head, Karkat could almost imagine a smirk replacing the nervous wobble of his lips, the terrified eyes hardening in a mocking way that just confidently expressed his intent to steal John.

He glowered while trying to convince himself that he knew John well enough to know how he’d handle the confession. Honest and genuine, John would tell him that he didn’t feel like he could give a relationship the time it deserved. Flattered for the unexpected interest, he would awkwardly stumble through a rejection that just might not come out with all the right words but it would be all John.

John returned to the bleachers alone about two minutes later, by Karkat’s count, wearing a frown that didn’t suit him. “Well?” Karkat prompted a bit too readily, hoping for an answer similar to the scenario he had envisioned. “Did you turn him down nicely? I didn’t hear any wailing sobs from that direction, so it couldn’t have gone that dreadfully.”

John’s frown deepened, his mood apparently soured. “Okay, just stop it, Karkat. I don’t know what the hell is up with you right now, but it’s actually none of your business whether I rejected him or not. Even if you were right about me turning him down this time, you don’t need to be a dick about it.” John paused, taking a deep breath. “There were a lot of reasons why I didn’t accept his advances, but if I had, Karkat? What if I accept someone’s offer, next time? Are you going to get like this anytime someone is, you know, actually interested in me like that?”

Shit, John was mad at him about this. He was upset enough to say something about it in front of what few other people were around them, rather than taking him aside to talk. Karkat could feel his defenses rising, his need to lash back with more words than necessary to protect what he was feeling, but he knew that wasn’t going to help. John wanted the reason for the behaviour and Karkat wasn’t sure if he could explain that had John been a troll and not a human, they’d be openly known as moirails. And moirails looked out for each other, even if that meant screening the other’s potential mates.

Instead, he hung his head, biting back word-vomit that would push their dialogue into serious argument and trying instead for honesty. “I’m sorry. You’re—fuck, saying this out loud is hard enough without the goddamn audience,” he grumbled, offering a glare to the person nearest them, the female troll quickly turning her head as if to somehow show that he hadn’t blatantly been eavesdropping on their conversation, “—really important to me. Even though you knew that already, I’ve never really told you that you are. I don’t want someone else coming into the picture, but if they’re going to, I just want whoever you want to be with to be worthy of you and actually want you for all of your dorky charm.” The words came too fast, probably too open for the amount of eyes on them from nosy bystanders with nothing better to do than gawk at a troll expressing his feelings, but at least he had gotten through them.

Karkat looked up, expecting that to have not to been enough to explain how he had acted. John’s eyes softened almost the very instant that their gazes met, his expression melting into something much warmer. “Apology accepted.” The forgiveness came so quickly that Karkat was almost surprised, but to the troll, it was just further evidence of their obviously strong and fated moirallegiance. “It will be revoked if you don’t cheer for me in the next events. I expect some pretty loud clapping and for you to make a general ruckus. Deal?” That bastard.

 

/ / /

“Thanks for dropping me off, Karkat.”

“I drove you to the meet, John. It wouldn’t be very courteous for me to make you walk back here, especially after you invited me over for lunch in gratitude for my premium cheering abilities, now would it? I think they may as well tell our school’s substandard cheerleading team to hand in their frilly, black pom-poms after the exceptional spectacle I made demonstrating the very definition of the word ‘cheer’. It was so wondrous an event that we should never speak of it again for as long as we live. Ever.”

John wasn’t sure if Karkat’s idea of support really fell in the same category as another’s, but he had definitely made good on the condition of making a ruckus. He had also been able to hear the troll’s shouting from the water during his two team event, so all in all Karkat held up his end of the bargain by being loud and at least pretending to be enthusiastic. Not that John hadn’t been willing to forgive his best friend the very moment he had ducked his head in apology.

Karkat’s reasoning hadn’t been hard for the hero to understand. John didn’t want to share Karkat with anyone else, either, so how could he possibly be upset about the troll acting up for that very reason? Just thinking about Karkat having a partner that wasn’t him made John’s stomach start to churn. He wanted Karkat to be happy, of course, but it didn’t mean he would eagerly accept that kind of heart-wrenching change with open arms. If someone asked Karkat out while John was around, he didn’t know if he could handle himself well, let alone be polite about it. It was a bit worrying to think about it, now, since he probably wouldn’t deal with it any better than Karkat had, if not a whole lot worse. The last thing you wanted to do when you could summon forth hurricanes and tornadoes was to lose your cool.

“Dude, I know.” John unlocked the door, heading inside and gesturing for Karkat to follow before he continued with his thought. “If any of them had been there, they would always know that they couldn’t possibly encourage people like you can. I mean, I’m pretty sure they’re not allowed to scream profanities about going faster, so there’s that, at least. We clearly wouldn’t have won without that happening.”

Karkat punched him in the shoulder as they rounded the corner into the living room, just in time for John’s dad to see the hit. The man was sitting off to one side of the room in the worn armchair that John suspected was much older than him, fingers paused over a stack of loose pages tucked into a manila folder on his lap. From this distance, John could only make out that the document contained highlighted lines of typed text and the occasional written side note on the margins. His dad carefully closed the file, smiling up at his son and the troll who hadn’t noticed him yet.

He cleared his throat loudly, causing the troll to jump in surprise. As he noticed just who else was in the room with them, Karkat managed to change directions midway through his favourite curse word, instead exclaiming a quick ‘fudge’. John wasn’t sure which he found more amusing, Karkat’s immediate attempts at being uncharacteristically polite in front of his dad, or his dad’s regular attempts to get the troll to drop the formality.

“Hey, dad,” John said, while Karkat offered a quiet and entirely too stiff ‘hello, Mr. Egbert’. Seriously, it was ridiculous how quiet the troll could get when he wasn’t entirely comfortable with someone. For the first few months of their friendship, nearly every time Karkat came over to the house, John’s dad would say that he was free to call him by his first name. It still had yet to be something Karkat was comfortable enough with. Since the troll tended to end his visits before his dad returned in the evenings, he really hadn’t had enough face time with the parent to just be himself yet.

“I hope it’s okay that I invited Karkat over for lunch. I thought you had to go to work today?”

“Of course that’s fine; Karkat is always welcome here.” John noticed the small smile on the troll’s lips at the warmth and ease of those words, his friend most likely unaware that he was actually allowing his guard to slip. “And it was a relatively quick fix. I spent more time driving there and back than actually in the office. Though I did have to bring some of it home with me.” The folder was raised to punctuate the statement. “I’m sorry for missing your meet. How did it go?”

“It was good. Karkat cheered us to sweet victory,” John said, leaving out any of the real details. Having been to so many competitions before, his dad knew that his meets tended to end in him either winning or holding back just enough to tie. He also didn’t feel like it was necessary to fill him in on the unexpected confession with Karkat standing right there, either, so there really wasn’t much left to say.

John’s stomach growled, pulling him from that tangent and reminding him of his purpose for having invited Karkat over in the first place. “I’m pretty hungry, so we should probably get started on lunch.”

Despite not having done it all that often, it was always an experience cooking with Karkat. John had learned early on that his friend’s strong suit was in preparation, like dicing up vegetables and mixing up whatever John threw together. The actual cooking was best left to the human of the pair, because the troll could get pretty frustrated when they followed a recipe but things didn’t turn out just right, and he tended to over-season if put in charge of spices. Regardless, they had more or less found some kind of rhythm when working together that usually led to decent results.

They occasionally goofed off, though, and this time there may or may not have been a slight food fight, which John had definitely not started despite Karkat’s insistence that he had, involving a certain powdered grain. His hand had slipped, scout’s honor, but Karkat was accepting no excuses when it was well-known that John had inherited at least a modicum of his dad’s pranking tendencies. There had been flour everywhere, but the short-lived battle had ended in the boys being told to go clean up by a chuckling father.

A change of clothes for both of them, a quick sweep of the kitchen, and one hour later, two piping hot homemade pizzas were out of the oven and divided. Each boy grabbing a handful of napkins and a drink, they headed into the living room to eat. The first thing John noticed upon entering was that his dad was still flipping through his pages of too small type and too many words. Honestly, he felt a bit sympathetic, since whatever it was looked straining to read. More often than not, the man would head to the relative quiet of his study with anything work-related, but he looked determined to get through all of whatever it was right then and there.

“Is it okay if we watch some TV, dad?” John asked, only getting a nod back. Yeah, definitely too set to finish his stack of required reading material. John likened it to getting homework as an adult, but at least it didn’t seem to happen too often. If there was one thing he was looking forward to about his likely future as a full-time hero, it was that at least he’d be done with homework forever after high school.

“This is good,” Karkat said around a mouthful of pizza, already having sat on the couch as he tried to manage a slice that was almost comically overladen with toppings. Sitting beside the troll while carefully balancing his own plate, John picked up the remote from its usual resting place on the couch’s armrest and turned on the television to his and Karkat’s favourite movie channel. It looked to be about midway through playing something he vaguely recognized but couldn’t quite place. Regardless, he was hearing no complaints from the troll, so he set the remote down and dug right into his own meal.

After six minutes of non-stop chewing, the void in his stomach had been sufficiently filled. Setting his now empty plate down on the coffee table next to the couch, John attempted to focus on the movie rather than letting himself think too much about Karkat sitting next to him, wearing his clothes. He did indulge in the occasional lingering glance because his willpower was just not strong enough to resist the rare opportunity to catch his friend in his own hoodie, which hung from the troll’s torso even more loosely than his normal hoodie selection did, enough so that John could spot well-defined collarbone peeking out from under the clothing. He couldn’t possibly ignore it when Karkat’s already hunched shoulders shifted up further as his chin tucked down until the fabric was up to his ears. That was just way too cute. Or when Karkat drew his legs up into the bottom of it as if he were cold, which was probably going to stretch the hoodie out a bit, though John couldn’t find it in himself to care very much about the state of the article when it was Karkat doing the stretching.

It seemed easier to try and ignore it when Karkat shifted positions back into something normal, but not by much. But considering the situation he had been presented with, there was definitely not a suspicious amount of outright starring happening on his part. When Karkat removed the hoodie to reveal one of his powder-blue t-shirts, John was actually a little relieved; at least now he wouldn’t be having lingering thoughts about how there was definitely more than enough room for him to slip one of his hands up under that hoodie while the troll was still wearing it. The fact that his dad was still in the room was also helping in the prevention of his mind from wandering too far. John looked over to the man just in time to catch him looking up sharply from his folder of papers all of a sudden, eyes fixing and narrowing on Karkat for just long enough for John to notice.

 

“What is it, dad?” John asked, wondering if he had just been looking up with no direction or if for some reason he had been looking at the troll beside him. His dad shook his head and glanced back down at the papers in his hands again, one eyebrow raised as if intrigued by something.

“It’s nothing, son, just getting a bit tired with the research. I’m going to finish in my study.” Without further comment, the man neatly collected up the contents of his file and headed out of the room. Karkat and John shared a glance that communicated the same message: well, that was weird.

 

/ / /

It was around five in the evening when Karkat announced that he was tired enough of John to want to return home. Knowing that that translated into having to prepare dinner for himself and Crabdad, John handed him the pie he had been earlier promised—a rhubarb custard, as not much else was in season—and reluctantly watched him go. It hurt a little bit deep in his chest each and every time the troll left, despite knowing full well he’d see his friend again on Monday.

John decided to get started on dinner since his dad seemed to have a fair stack of papers to still sort through when he had left the room. He headed into the kitchen, busying himself with pulling out the various ingredients he needed to put together a pasta dish of his own creation that his father was fond of. Just about the time that the bucatini was about ready to be drained, the sauce of tomato and artichoke hearts was simmering away, and the grilled chicken was resting, John’s dad ventured back downstairs.

“It’s smells great, son.” John looked over his shoulder, shooting the man a broad smile before he walked the pot over to the sink. His dad went to work getting the table set up as John poured the pasta into the colander, steam fogging up his glasses. He frowned. Sometimes, the fake glasses proved to be a minor inconvenience. While he shook the pasta in the colander to ensure all the water was drained, he wondered idly how big the risk of being recognized as Heir was if he just forwent wearing them and pretended he got contact lenses. Heir usually wore his goggles, so, if anything, the glasses were probably a bigger tip off than going without. He shook the pasta a few final times: something to bring up with his dad, maybe.

By the time his pasta had been transferred to a serving dish, tossed with some olive oil and Parmesan cheese, and then finished with the sauce, their places were set up in the dining room. John brought in the plates of food for them and dished out their meal before taking his seat. He was actually pretty hungry, despite having had pizza less than a handful of hours prior. Even if his swim meet had been a relative breeze, he’d still burned a lot of calories. After he’d shoveled several enthusiastic forkfuls into his mouth, John slowed down enough to actually enjoy what he was eating. He was just swallowing his that first mouthful when his dad started speaking.

“Did you two have fun today?” It was an innocent question and one that often followed Karkat coming over. John looked up from his pasta with a grin but quickly faltered. His dad was giving him a look that seemed to be asking for more than just the usual agreement. He was smiling slightly, like he knew something and was just waiting for John to confirm it for him. The slight quirking of one of his eyebrows was like an open invitation, and John swallowed heavily, the taste of artichoke lingering on his tongue. John knew he was prone to over-analyzation due to the training that had been drilled into him since his childhood, but even he was struggling to find any other explanation for the somewhat heavy silence that had settled between them as his dad waited for a response. Seeing how the slight tugging at the corner of his dad’s mouth had only deepened the longer he waited, John was convinced; his parent was presenting him with the opportunity he had been waiting for without pushing it, the opportunity to explore his feelings out loud.

“Yeah, we did have fun.” John paused to chew tentatively on his lip, setting his fork to the side of his plate as he debated whether to expand on that. It hadn’t been the first time he had chosen to bail out of similar conversations. He just hadn’t really been ready to communicate what his bond with Karkat meant, before, or when it had all changed into something different.

His mind made up, John sighed softly and took a breath, closing his eyes for a moment. “Can I talk to you about something, dad?” His tongue felt too thick in his mouth. There was an encouraging nod, the man’s gaze offering reassurance that he wouldn’t judge.

John took another deep breath, holding it for a tad longer than usual. Here went nothing. “There’s something I’ve been meaning to say to you for over a year, now, but I just didn’t think I could. It’s nothing bad, or anything. It’s actually probably the opposite, really, or at least it would be for anyone else. It’s about Karkat and, uh, how I feel.” He took a long pause, debating with himself on what to say next.

It was strange to think about his reasoning behind wanting to get to know Karkat in the first place. He had justified it at the time as a hero in his civilian life meeting someone he’d saved and wanting to follow up, but the reality of it had been much simpler than that.

In truth, he had just been a normal teenager, faced with an almost unbearable loneliness, and he had seen an opportunity in the new kid, unattached and with a personality that would be hard to understand. He had grasped at that chance for a relationship with someone like a drowning man grasping at a life preserver, and it has miraculously worked out for the both of them.

It had been their first winter together when he first clued into how his feeling for the troll had changed from platonic to something else entirely. It had been a sudden revelation during Bio Club, while Karkat chattered endlessly on about a pointless scenario of which fictional superhero could beat up another if they ever were to come to blows, much less enter the same universe. John had been sitting there across from the troll, not really processing anything he was saying, when he realized that he very much liked the shapes that Karkat’s mouth made as he went off in his ranting defense of his own favourite hero and why he would prevail due to his hypothetical foe’s mental shortcomings. John had let himself be distracted with the grey lips and the dark tongue which occasionally flicked over them, his own lips morphing into a smile as the sight became more and more amusing to him. As his gaze had eventually traveled upwards, he had really noticed the angles that made up his friend’s face, the way that his cheeks curved softly into tired-looking, rust-colored eyes, everything appealing to his mind. By the time his gaze had settled on his friend’s stubby nub-horns, so unique and different from any other troll’s that he’d ever seen in his entire life, and so god damn cute, it all finally clicked in his head, and his perception of the troll had changed completely.

“I, about him, I really...you know,” John swallowed, trying to make his throat feel less dry so he could communicate what had consumed his heart. It was something euphoric, buzzing, and musical all at once, a tangle of things that he thought could be poetic if only he knew how to put them into words. It also hollowed him, and made him starve for more until he sometimes couldn’t draw a breath without the need shaking him to his core. He wasn’t sure how to put that into words that his father could understand, wasn’t sure that he actually wanted to reveal that much of himself and of his deeply personal feelings, so he went with the easiest explanation he could think of.

“I think I’m in love with him.” John kept his attention fixed down on the table, unable to force himself to look his dad in the eyes. “No, I know I am. At the very least, I’m crazy about him, and I don’t have any idea what I should do about it. I don’t know what I can do.”

John’s voice cracked as the overwhelming frustration of it all pressed down upon him all at once, the conviction of his feelings only being matched by his uncertainty about what to do with them. Tears welled in John’s eyes, but he refused to let them fall, refused to blink, lest the tears spill over and onto his cheeks. He hadn’t cried in front of anyone in so many years that he couldn’t even recall the last time, but the exposure of his most fragile and safeguarded feelings were threatening now to overwhelm his defenses completely.

“I know what can happen when a hero forms a bond that can be exploited. I know that somewhere down the line, if I was to be open with how I felt, Karkat could be in danger because of who I am, but that doesn’t change anything. I can’t just stop myself from loving him with everything that I have. I love him so much, dad, and I don’t even know if I would have had a chance even if I wasn’t born like this,” he choked, his emotions getting the best of him. “Sometimes being Heir fucking sucks, dad, because it’s not like I can just deal with the nerves of having a crush or being afraid I’ll lose him if he rejects me, like other kids my age. I have to think about him potentially getting killed by someone with a grudge. It sucks and I don’t know what I should do.”

He hung his head as he felt the last of his restraint slipping, the walls he tried to keep up crumbling as the first tear broke past his closed eyes. After the first tear trailed along his cheek, the ones that followed just wouldn’t stop. Biting the inside of his cheek, John tried to at least keep himself from making a sound as tears now openly streamed down his face and his nose started to run.

Through the pounding of his heart in his ears, he heard the feet of the chair across from him slide out against the wooden floor and the gentle padding of socked feet approaching him. Before he’d bothered to look up, hands set on either one of his shoulders and John was surprised when he was tugged up and against his dad’s chest. A hand found his hair and tousled it while the other patted his back in a steady rhythm, and John found his tears flowing even more freely, now. He latched on immediately to the embrace as if his life depended on it.

 

 

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