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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4. In Which Heir Discovers He's Not Alone

18 months later 
 

 

/ / /

“I’ll see you after school, son.” John smiled at his dad and gave him a quick nod before he slipped out of the car. The air felt refreshingly cool, the spring breeze carrying floral notes that it had picked up from the blooming trees along the school’s driveway. John smiled at the reminder, as the budding flowers signaled that there were only a few months left before the end of junior year, and he was looking forward to the beginning of summer break and the drastic shift it would have on his schedule: while he would remain vigilant in his duties to serve the city as Heir by spending a greater portion of each day patrolling the streets, there would also be additional time to do what he really wanted. Those brief instances he had away from his training and superhero commitments would be reserved for a single troll who he had met at the start of sophomore year.

John hiked his backpack over his shoulders, shifting the full bag of textbooks in a practiced motion that made it seem as though the weight of it affected him, which, of course, it didn’t. They were nothing compared to the warhammer he strapped on his back nightly, but he was expected to walk alongside every other student his age and complain like any normal teenager would. So he walked with them, blending into the background as he greeted several people he knew on his way to his locker.

There was something oddly different in the smiling faces of those he passed, of the casual ways they replied to him, almost as if they weren’t actually acknowledging his presence. John couldn’t quite place what the difference was as he scanned each of them quickly, so he decided to shrug it off. More likely than not, he was still too wound up from the previous night of heroics. That happened sometimes when you combined strenuous activities with very little sleep; sometimes you started getting paranoid.

The hallways were crowded for the time of day, with a few too many bright-eyed and eager students milling about, considering it was a Friday morning. There was a buzzing in the air, a foreign quality that John couldn’t shake, and it just made the uncomfortable sense that something wasn’t right grow in the pit of his stomach. Instinctively, John’s guard was up and he pulled ever so slightly on the wind as he passed by a few open windows. The familiarity of his element swirling around him, regardless how gentle he had to keep it, always served to comfort him during times of unease. Times like this.

As he neared his locker, the excess amounts of students seemed to part, allowing him a free path to his locker and giving John ample space to pack away his books. As he glanced down the row of lockers beside him, the crowd drifted out of his field of vision with perfect timing. Thanking the odd luck which seemed to be favoring his whims, John eagerly looked to where he knew his best friend would be loitering and took in the sight of his best friend chatting to another troll. The familiar fluttering of his heart picked up in his chest, and despite how strange the feeling was, he couldn’t keep down a smile from forming on his face.

The fluttering in his chest was a sensation he had come to associate with Karkat after just a few short months of knowing him. The onset of that sensation had also signaled an abrupt turn in how he saw his friend.

Karkat was leaning against his locker and chatting energetically, and John took a moment to appreciate the mess of black hair, strong shoulders, and long arms emoting animatedly before he let his gaze drift lower. The pants the troll was wearing seemed to fit like a second skin, doing wonders to highlight every perfect curve of his toned butt, the view obstructed only slightly by the hem of a dark hoodie.

John’s eyes widened in shock when Karat shifted his hips slightly, and John instantly realized that what he had initially figured to be very light, form-fitting material was actually nothing at all. Not a pair of ludicrously tight grey sweatpants, not a pair of grey pants created to give the appearance of nudity like some novelty apparel, but actual, honest-to-goodness, nakedness from the waist down.

   

Dumbfounded wasn’t a strong enough description for the amount of shocked awe John suddenly found himself in.

The teen dropped his bag and ran over to his friend, not caring for a moment that his school supplies had tumbled out of his bag and lay scattered on the floor, or that his locker had been left wide open. The small tendrils of wind he had kept with him for security boosted his strides, bringing him directly behind Karkat in seconds, despite the distance.

Before he opened his mouth to yell in distress, John’s eyes flickered back down for a close up glimpse and he got caught up in staring longer than he had intended. Damn. He hadn’t really expected that baggy jeans were always hiding a such a really superb ass. It took him a few moments of very pointed staring before he snapped out of it and recalled that his best friend and crush was freaking naked from the waist down in public.

“Karkat, where are your pants?” John mumbled out, interrupting whatever conversation had been taking place between Karkat and the other troll he only vaguely recognized. The stranger all but disappeared into a passing group as Karkat’s attention switched targets.

John’s words had been muttered much softer than he’d intended and said unintentionally close to Karkat’s ear as he’d leaned forward, his proximity to his friend a result of the speed with which he had zipped over. He should have been shouting and demanding an explanation, but the shock was numbing him, making the experience seem utterly surreal. Instead he found himself considering throwing caution to the wind in favour of reaching out for a chance to touch that exposed flesh, just inches away from him, so close that he Karkat’s unique scent was starting to fill his nostrils. Just as John reluctantly decided that it was his obligation as Karkat’s best friend to make a fuss and not give into his urges, Karkat proceeded to render his mind completely useless by turning around.

“What are you even talking about, John? First thing in the morning and you’re already spouting absolute nonsense. I have a serious question for you: did you happen to hit your head repeatedly as a child for shits and giggles, or are you just doing your best at representing the very bottom of human intelligence?”

John was too busy letting his eyes travel over every inch Karkat had just offered to formulate some kind of intelligible response. The thought which was most predominate on his mind at that moment was that, taking him in all at once, this was what his best friend would look like throwing on just a hoodie after a round of vigorous sex. Vigorous sex with him. A burning sensation rose in his cheeks when he realized he had just been staring at his friend’s crotch for what had to be a solid minute. The feeling of blood burning his cheeks was nothing compared to the feeling of it pooling in more sensitive areas, however.

“It really is grey,” he started, his eyes glazing over a little before he shook his head slightly and very reluctantly tore his gaze away and upwards to Karkat’s face. He was suddenly even more aware now of just how close their bodies were. “I mean. Okay. Karkat, why aren’t you wearing pants? Why is no one caring that you’re absent your jeans, and why are you not thinking this is a big deal? Seriously, I cannot be the only one who is seeing this,” John emphasized, pointing awkwardly at his friend’s nether regions without looking down.

Karkat rolled his eyes, cocking his hips and — shit, John was once again looking at that bulge with far too much intensity. “Grub-fucking shit, John, it’s too early for this, and you didn’t even have the decency to bring me coffee today,” Karkat frowned, the kind of frown that John had learned to interpret as being playful. At least, John would have interpreted it that way, if his eyes had actually been glued to Karkat’s face instead of admiring his thighs and how grippable his hips looked. “Hey, do you have your English homework with you? Apparently that bastard wrote questions on the board when half the class wasn’t paying any attention at the end of the day and failed to mention whether they counted for marks. I’d rather not take my chances and fail some completely random assignment because I was too busy reading ahead in the fourth sorry excuse for a novel required for that class.” As he gestured widely along with his cursing, Karkat’s arm knocked a precariously placed book off the shelf of his locker. “Damnit.”

The troll turned around to glare venomously at the text and the few scattered pages notes which now lay on the floor. Then he bent over right in front of John to collect them, his shapely butt shifting ever so slightly against the front of John’s pants. John’s very tented pants.

The temptation in that moment was too great to deny no matter how hard he fought, so with a sure step forward, he pressed against Karkat’s smooth skin, his hands reaching out with confidence to hold Karkat’s hips in place. John’s pants were suddenly far too constricting for his taste as he rolled his hips slowly upwards, drawing out an involuntary, needy whimper which caught in his throat. Fabric rubbed roughly against him as he pressed up into solid mass, the friction so pleasurable it caused his insides to shudder.

Karkat seemed to be taking an obscene amount of time to pick up his things, completely ignoring the strong hands gripping at his hips or the hardness pressing against him as John shifted needingly forward.

It suddenly didn’t matter that Karkat wasn’t wearing pants, that no one seemed phased by it, or that everyone was just ignoring John getting off by rutting against his best friend. John didn’t even care if it made him kind of terrible to be taking advantage of how strange the situation was. All that really mattered was that Karkat kept bending over.

“Stop wasting time. If you don’t hurry up, we’ll be late for class.” Karkat’s voice was teasing as he glanced back over his shoulder, eyes lowering between them as a smirk played on his lips. “Are you capable of taking care of yourself, or do you need some help?”

 

‘Help’ was punctuated with Karkat arching his back, an action which sent him pressing even more firmly back into John than before. John stilled, his hands clamping down on Karkat's firm hips as the acknowledgment and accompanying increase in pressure was almost enough to send him over the edge. A moan slipped through his lips as he resumed his previous motions before he rocked forward a little harder, the momentum pushing Karkat firmly against the locker in front of him, the trolls hands moving up to brace against the locker. His movements were almost lazy, considering his frame was being rattled with every thrust of the teen behind him. John followed through with the push by further tightening his grip on Karkat’s hips, his thrusts taking on a steady rhythm, all but pounding himself against the troll's backside. His breath was starting to come in pants, his chest heaving as his awareness faded so that it was just the two of them, everything else fading into the background and becoming a dull buzz. Karkat's knowing grin and the way he was starting to grind back into John’s rutting weren’t helping John's control any, and he felt himself edging closer and closer.

John bit his lower lip, a moan escaping from his throat even louder than the previous one. He was almost there. One of his hands lashed out and clamped onto Karkat's shoulder, pulling the troll closer to him and allowing him both a firmer grip and a more stable base for his thrusts. With Karkat's name tumbling from his lips, John felt himself beginning to slip; just a bit more...

John’s awareness was penetrated by the ringing of the school bell. The bell started ringing in quick successions, the small part of John’s brain that could still think telling him that it was ringing well before it should have, the sound coming from the intercom an odd buzzing that sounded suspiciously like an alarm clock...

John awoke with a start, straining to catch his breath. He stared up at his ceiling for a few long moments before he groaned, leaning over to slap his hand over his clock.

It had been just a dream, as always. Shit.

Blinking tiredly and shifting to get out of bed, he felt a familiar, sticky warmth make itself known in the front of his boxers.

“Damnit, Karkat, again?” John sighed, throwing the covers away and looking down at the damp cloth clinging to his still softening dick. Struggling sluggishly to his feet, he stripped the underwear off, dropping them into his clothes hamper as he made his way to the bathroom.

Frowning, John examined himself in the mirror above the sink. He was not too thrilled at the prospect of having to delay his morning training in order to take a shower. He hadn’t set his alarm to accommodate the extra time needed to bathe, since he had cleaned up the night before — someone had cracked a half full bottle of alcohol over his head and he hadn’t been exhausted enough to go to bed with that in his hair.

“Seriously, Karkat. This is the third time this week.” John frowned at his reflection, staring at himself unhappily. Running a hand through tousled, sweaty hair before reaching into the shower and turning on the faucet, he stepped in, uncaring of the blistering cold that assaulted his skin and made him involuntarily jump. He needed to cool down, anyway; all the wet dreams about Karkat were really starting to mess with his head.

 

/ / /

After showering, John still managed to join his father for most of their morning exercise. As he went through the motions of his routine, his mind was anything but calm as he contemplated the situation he’d found himself in that morning. It was a routine that was becoming increasingly familiar, to the point that it was actually a bit of an issue because it was interfering with John’s ability to get down to the basement on time. John was thankful that his parent was not the type to raise questions or fish for a reason as to why his son had woken up on time and yet hadn’t been able to make it downstairs on their agreed-upon start time.

On the occasions that John would be late getting down and would actually remember to mutter a tired apology, his dad would say something about him being that age and leave it at that, though that never made John feel much better.

By this point, John was sure that his dad had undoubtedly figured out was was going on, perhaps not from John’s frequent tardiness for training, but by the levels of unguarded affection he would accidentally let slip when talking about his best friend. Despite having never said anything outright, John was certain his dad knew his “secret”: he was in love with Karkat Vantas.

The longer he waited for the right opportunity to disclose to his dad his feelings, the more awkward John felt like the situation was becoming. It wasn’t like he was actively avoiding the topic, really. He gushed about his time with Karkat at nearly every mealtime he and his father had together, which was a stark contrast to how things were before the troll had entered their lives, a change the observant man clearly wouldn’t have missed. John had plans to tell him, he really did; it was just a matter of finding the right opportunity. And it wasn’t like he really felt he had anything to fear from the admission, because he knew for a fact that his dad would approve of the relationship. Probably. Maybe. Well, he’d approve of the idea of the relationship, at least.

It was strange to keep something he considered a large part of his life away from the man whom he had been trusting literally his entire existence, but some part of him that had never had the opportunity to rebel against his dad relished in the idea of actually keeping a sizeable secret away from his father for once, rather than having to keep one for him. Besides, his dad undoubtedly had figured it out already, anyway, so it wasn’t like he was lying or betraying his dad’s trust. He simply hadn’t felt it necessary to talk about, yet.

If it was hard to keep something so big from someone whom he had always trusted so much, it was even harder keeping it from Karkat. Sometimes it felt like his chest would literally burst from how hard his heart would beat around the troll, especially on those somewhat rare occasions he managed to coax a genuine, if guarded, smile from the boy. Which was to say nothing of the even rarer instances when he’d managed to reduce Karkat to fits of laughter. On those occasions, it took every ounce of John’s willpower to keep from wrapping his arms around his friend and squeezing him tight.

Still. While it was true that he had never actually insisted that friendship was the only thing he wanted from Karkat, if anyone actually asked, he wasn’t sure if he could openly admit to the way he felt or whether he’d keep it inside.

On one hand, he deeply, deeply desired the troll’s affection like nothing else he had ever longed for in his entire life, to the point that mere mention of Karkat’s name usually made warmth pool in the pit of his stomach and brought a quirk to his lips.

On the other hand, he couldn’t bring himself to even consider the repercussions that he and Karkat could have to face if he openly expressed what the aching in his chest meant. While he wasn’t forbidden from being with someone, John knew that doing so would mean endangering the person he loved, and that was something that he knew he wouldn’t be able to bring himself to do. The only way he could see it working would be if he hung up his goggles and retired.

He’d do it, too. In a heartbeat. It had only been a year or so since he had begun to understand what precisely he felt for his crabby best friend, but if there was one thing that John Egbert knew, it was that he was head over heels in love, and he’d do anything to see that love fulfilled. If Karkat asked him to hang up his mask and never go out again, he’d do it.

He was willing to give up the sky for Karkat Vantas.

But for all the burning, aching desire that John felt in his chest whenever he thought of them being together, there was another feeling fighting for dominance inside him.

From a very young age, John had in the very core of his being been instilled with a sense of honor, and duty. He had been given the burden of extraordinary power, and he’d been taught that with that power came responsibility. He had a responsibility to the people of his city to use his gifts, and to use them for good. Because if he didn’t, if he decided to turn his back on the innocents of his city and pursue his own heart’s desires, then next time there might not be anyone else around to save Karkat Vantas from being killed in a violent shootout. Or to save a burning building full of trapped tenants. Or any other number of tragedies that he had prevented as Heir.

The simple fact of the matter, as far as he was concerned, was that the lives of all those that he could eventually save far outweighed the pursuit of his heart’s completion. And that was the way that it had to be.

Too lost in the thought of not being able to have what he truly wanted, John remembered where he was and took a look around, suddenly finding that he had been holding the final position of the exercise for far too long, his dad staring at him from near the weights as the man wiped his brow with a towel. John shrugged and sent out his most sheepish smile when his dad raised an inquisitive eyebrow, but said nothing otherwise. John grabbed his own towel from the bar it was hanging on before he hurried upstairs, feeling burdened about his dilemma and his having to hide something he wished to openly convey just as freely as any other teenager.

John sighed as he trudged up the stairs, his mind revolving around the inevitable conversation he’d be having with his father — because it was only a matter of time before Karkat’s occasional, unguarded smiles and snarky tongue became too much for him to take — which, he knew, his dad would be outwardly supportive of, if only to make John happy.

There was no doubt he would welcome the fact that John had found someone whom he wanted to protect, someone who made him so happy. He already wore a knowing smile whenever he discovered them spending time together outside of school, always laughing and insisting that they have fun. But under all the fatherly praise and the pats on the back he would receive, John knew that he would be expected to carry out the promise he had made to use his gift to help people. It was the same argument as before: he couldn’t give a relationship the proper time it deserved without giving up on being a hero, something that was completely out of the question. Stopping his life as Heir so he could have a shot at a normal romance was not something he could do, even if Karkat had any desire to be in a relationship with him.

Picking up the brush and cleaning materials he kept in his closet, John immediately went through the task of washing his costume from the previous night’s patrol. There was something soothing in the repetitive nature of the chore, an exercise that John had always found to be relaxing. Scrubbing at a particularly stubborn spot, John could feel the tension bleeding out of him, his mind shutting down to focus in on removing the stain. The whole process took several minutes, and by the end of it John was thankful that he hadn’t gotten dirty enough so that the costume had required more meticulous machine-aided cleaning, because the repetitive chore had been exactly what he needed to clear his mind.

Putting the cleaning materials up and his costume where it belonged, John headed downstairs for breakfast, in significantly better control over his emotions than he had been. With newspaper in hand and a mug of black coffee in front of him, his dad waited at the dining room table, his eyes scanning quickly through the words on the paper.

John pulled out his chair and sat down in front of a sizable bowl of oatmeal and side of turkey sausage, quickly giving his thanks for the meal before eagerly digging in. The food on his plates disappeared quickly as he shoveled spoonful after spoonful of oatmeal into his mouth, pausing only to chew and swallow. Once his bowl had been scraped clean of every last oat and there was no evidence remaining that his sausage had ever existed, John decided to finish off his meal with an apple from the table’s fruit bowl. Settling back in his chair to munch and chew on the apple, he gave himself a long moment to just relax and digest. Because his dad wasn’t one for conversation this early in the morning and because he himself didn’t particularly feel very chatty, John busied himself by reading the frontpage headline of his father’s paper as he sipped on a glass of orange juice.

 

HEMOGOBLIN
Another Masked Hero Emerges

At first, John just nodded mentally to the words without actually processing what it was that he had read, before doing an abrupt double take, the current mouthful of orange juice sliding down his throat the wrong way and causing him to give off a hacking cough, the acidity burning his throat and causing his eyes to water. His dad merely lowered the corner of the page he was on to give John his second raised eyebrow of the morning, though this one came with a knowing smirk. After ascertaining that his son wasn’t choking to death, he folded the corner back and continued reading, allowing John full access to the front page again. John, meanwhile, was trying to process what it was he was reading.

Another hero. Huh. Curiosity piqued, John leaned forward to scan the article quickly for any signs of it being a hoax, publicity stunt, or just another person trying to emulate Heir. It wouldn’t have been the first time some nutcase with no powers or abilities had dressed up in costume and started running around the city claiming to be a hero. That kind of thing happened quite a bit, actually. But they rarely got front page coverage.

 

From what he read, multiple people had been spotting a troll in costume during the past few days, running around and stopping small crimes throughout the city. At that, John’s eyebrows were up, threatening to shoot into his hairline. Nobody claiming to be a hero before had actually followed through on the premise. Was this one different?

Reading on, John learned that while the troll seemed to favor a bit harsher punishment than Heir did, at least from what the journalist wrote, he also seemed to prefer the non-lethal approach of knocking people out and binding them for the police. It had been assumed that all of the recent civil arrests were thanks to Heir, until witnesses started pouring in with claims that their usual local superhero was not alone. A few victims of crimes had managed to draw a name from their rescuer and had taken it to the press, but otherwise this “Hemogoblin”—that gave John pause, because honestly? Hemogoblin? That totally sounded like the name of a villain—showed no current interest in putting himself in the spotlight. The journalist seemed optimistic, painting Hemogoblin in a positive light and noting that if things continued as they were, the city would end up being more secure than ever, something that was sure to make the streets safer at night, increase property values, and that other good stuff that came from community improvement.

John frowned, wondering how he had missed this development. It wasn’t as though he hadn’t been on patrol the past few nights, flying around the city and searching for trouble, so it was kind of odd that he hadn’t heard anything about this yet.

The wind usually steered him where he was needed, somehow, but if someone else was capable of handling things, did that mean it wouldn’t call to him? Was that why they hadn’t met? Had it deemed the crimes unworthy of his notice because this Hemogoblin was there, or was it merely the coincidence of them stopping crimes at different sides of the city at the same time? His frown deepened momentarily, noting that things had been a bit quieter than usual for him the past couple nights, before he resumed scanning over the small bit of the article he still had left.

He was a bit dismayed, however, to find that the article abruptly ended with a note that it continued further on in the newspaper. Not wanting to seem too eager by yanking the paper away from his dad to find out more, John contented himself with inspecting the image accompanying the page.

The picture was blurry at best, the kind of image most likely taken from an ATM machine or a small security camera from across the street. The image showed a silhouette standing on top of a low-rise building in the dead of night. It was taken in black and white, but John could still discern the subtle variations in shade that the newspaper noted were black and red, the colours making him stand out visibly against the deep blue of the sky. When John squinted, he could just make out the two horns curving out and away from the troll’s head in a sharp angle, the explanation of the picture describing them as a richer and deeper colour than any the witnesses had seen on a troll before.

“John, do you want to read the newspaper?” his dad asked, chuckling as John realized just how close he had been leaning forward across the table to try and catch detail in the fuzzy photograph. He sat back in his chair, grinning sheepishly as his dad closed the paper with his finger marking his spot. He inspected the cover like he hadn’t even read the article, even though John knew full well that he had. There was no way he wouldn’t have gone over anything that had to do with the possibility of his son running into someone who could aid in or jeopardize his duty as Heir.

“It sounds really interesting, you know, another possible hero in the city. I’d like to meet him,” John admitted while his dad continued to scan over the front page. The silence stretched until John felt a need to fill it rising in him, but just as he opened his mouth he got a reply.

“I want you to promise me that you won’t go searching for this... Hemogoblin. Not until we find out more about him. While he could be a potential comrade for you, he could be trying to lure Heir to him. You need to be careful.” Looking up from the paper, the man favored his son with a gravely serious expression. No, not at his son, John realized, but at Heir. John knew they might as well be two different people in his dad’s eyes, and he knew that that was sometimes the only way his dad could let him do the things that he did. It helped him to feel better about allowing his son into danger when he considered him not as John but as Heir, but still, it was a bit unnerving having that expression turned on him.

John let the silence between them hang for a pregnant pause before he responded, giving his words some thought. “Yeah, I know. I’ll wait. We’ll approach with caution, as usual,” John reluctantly agreed. That may have been what he said out loud, but a large part of him wanted nothing more than to track down whoever Hemogoblin was, if only so he could have an ally. Like so many teams and pairs of superheroes John read about in comics or heard about in the news, if there was another hero that could keep up with him and who shared his sense of justice, then this was someone who he could potentially confide in, who would understand some of his burdens, and even share in the responsibility to protect their city. He hadn’t ever really given serious consideration to having a partner before outside of comic book-induced fantasies, but now that a potential chance had presented itself, he found the idea to be extremely appealing.

“John,” his dad called, the sternness in his tone shaking John from his thoughts. Seeing the expression on his dad’s face, John fought off a sudden swelling of frustration, a bit of rebellion surfacing as he thought about this being the second instance that day in which he had to potentially curb one of his desires to fit his cautious lifestyle. His eyes hardened for just a second as he considered questioning his dad’s judgment, and just asking why it would hurt to just take a leap of faith every now and then and be daring enough to try something new. But as quickly as the fire had been lit within him, the flames were diminished greatly, though not extinguished completely, as the rational part of his mind reminded him that everything that his dad had said was completely true, and that he really did have to play things cautiously. His dad just wanted to keep him safe in a world where he was constantly putting his life on the line for others.

That didn’t make it easier to accept, however.

“I promise, okay?” John stood up, taking his dishes and placing them in the sink. Gritting his teeth, he knew full well how right his dad was to use discretion in this situation. He only wished for more compassion, more of his dad and less of the man who had trained him his whole life. Just as Heir wasn’t John, sometimes his dad just wasn’t his dad. Here was a chance to not feel so alone as a hero, even though he knew there were more than a dozen like him all over the country. He hoped his dad would see that, but he didn’t seem excited by the prospect at all. Still, his dad hadn’t outright forbid them from ever meeting, just for the moment, so John hung on to the hope that Hemogoblin would be deemed suitable to approach, at least sometime soon.

“I’m going to grab my bag.” John left the kitchen with that, heading upstairs and hoping to cool his head by the time he needed to be back downstairs. As he dawdled in his room, John considered his current situation.

Lately he had felt pressure weighing on him while he was at home, more so than it ever before. It felt like everything was now a push towards growing up, being a better hero, and getting him to think a certain way, like there was a time limit rapidly winding away. Maybe it was due to the fact he looked less like a child and so much more like a man, or that he only had a year left before graduating high school. Pretty soon he’d have to head off into the world and find something to do to that could support him while continuing to be Heir. One day he would have to stop leaning on his dad and, as much as he didn’t want to admit it, that time was quickly approaching.

As John bounded down the stairs, backpack in hand, he looked forward to the moment when he could let the pressure dissolve for a handful of hours. He could unwind in the simplicity of school, scribble down answers like he normally did, and talk to the one person who really made it all bearable.

Stopping by the kitchen on his way out, John filled a thermos full of hot coffee, the pot having been brewed specifically for this purpose, and then he headed out the door, his dad giving him stern looks every now and then.

 

/ / /

After John was dropped off at school after one very quiet car ride, he immediately headed inside the building through the main doors. Once he climbed the first flight of stairs to the second level, he kept a quick pace as he set out in the direction of his locker. Before he dropped his books off, he had a stop to make on the way. There was a special delivery for Karkat Vantas that couldn’t wait: a promised very large, very hot cup of coffee. After what had begun as an offhand remark during one of their initial morning conversations, John had made sure to bring Karkat coffee since the day after he had met his now best friend. He had continued the tradition so long because, more often than not, it was a nearly surefire way to see a hint of a smile to start off his school day. And he lived for those smiles.

Karkat was busy sorting through his locker when John got there. Despite how the troll insisted time and time again that John just had impeccable timing, John knew that most of the time he was really just pretending to be busy while he waited. Once or twice John had been held up by a classmate or teacher in the hallway and he had watched Karkat just needlessly flip through his binders and textbooks for much longer than necessary. Never late, never absent, Karkat was always there waiting, and that alone was enough to make John’s heart swell. This was one constant in his life that he could feel sure of, at least.

“Good morning,” John greeted, as he leaned against the locker beside the troll’s, nodding his head down to take in the slightly dazed look of his groggy friend. Karkat muttered something under his breath before he arched his back in a stretch. There was an audible crack before he went back to slouching his shoulders.

It sometimes came as a shock that Karkat was nearly the same height as John when he broke from his habitual hunch and stood up straight. While John had grown significantly upwards in the past year and a half, Karkat had matched every growth spurt. The rest of him had also matured pleasantly in the passing year. There was no longer any baby fat remaining to cling to his sharp features, his striking looks now very noticeable. Karkat had come a long way, especially when it came to the body he constantly covered in clothes a couple sizes too large. That Karkat often layered just added to John’s frustration, because at this point, he would’ve done some pretty outlandish things to get the troll to take off his shirt. On the rare instances when the troll wore anything that showed skin, John would spend as much time as he could just drinking in the sight. And what a sight it was. Whenever he managed a peek, he was always surprised to note the sleek muscles the troll was blessed with. Give a little coaching, Karkat could probably really hurt someone with those guns, if he tried.

“I brought you coffee.” There was no response beyond one arm lifting to the side, a hand held open expectantly.

John laughed, offering up the thermos. After fingers latched around the base, Karkat flipped open the top with his thumb and brought it to his mouth in a single motion, the action repeated often enough to become ingrained in the troll’s muscle memory. John’s eyes followed the thermos up, watching as lips curved around the rim before the head was tossed slightly back, John’s gaze trailing down to fixate on the steady bob of Karkat’s adam’s apple.

 

After a long gulp, Karkat pulled the thermos away with a satisfied sigh, tongue flicking to catch a drip from slipping past the thermos’ lip. “Caffeine, you dark temptress, how would I survive without the addictive masterpiece that is your god damn nectar of the gods? I’ve said it before and I will say it again, Crabdad has zero concept of how badly I need coffee in my life and is thus a festering pustule of good intentions for banning any form of liquid good mood from my mornings. I still don’t know if it’s him trying to be a parent and stop me from being dependent on a stimulant — thank you for blatantly going against his wishes and ruining my purity forever if that was his intention, by the way — or if he just doesn’t like the smell.”

John laughed and waited for his friend to take another sip before letting his eyes return down the line of Karkat’s neck, past the simple grey hoodie he wore, and lower. His attention soon drifted down to the loose jeans hanging shapelessly from his body, the material frustratingly refusing to cling to any of his friends curves. Really, what had he been expecting? “John, seriously, should I have split this with you? What the fuck are you looking at?”

“Just making sure you’re wearing pants,” John informed with a grin. He didn’t see the point in stumbling over his thoughts in order to come up with a convincing lie. Karkat had once said that his past social awkwardness had just given way to a weird sense of honest humor. It could have made things more awkward if Karkat wasn’t the type to just run with it.

“I don’t want to know.” Or just dismiss it. John stood by, content to lean against the locker and watch his longtime crush as he waited for Karkat to finish getting his things sorted while steadily drinking the coffee. Being this close to him started to bring back his thoughts from earlier in the morning, however, and John fought valiantly to ward them, to no avail.

Watching Karkat relax in his presence, John wondered if he should just be blunt with his feelings if a situation ever came up to present them. The answer to that was most likely a no, as there were so many uncertainties over making his desires known that it almost didn’t seem worth it, especially once he had found out that Karkat really had no interest in forming a relationship with anyone that they knew, or so he’d told him. John wasn’t nearly cocky enough to believe that he could be an exception to this decision, despite how badly he wanted to be. Even if Karkat was open to the idea of being with someone, John didn’t know if he would take his confession seriously or if he’d just try to pull apart whatever kind of joke he’d think he was making. It hurt, sometimes, the pain of longing constricting his heart feeling unbearable, but he wasn’t willing to risk not having a best friend for the improbability of returned affection.

So, like every day before this one, John was going to pretend that he held no deep desires for the troll beside him. He’d act just like he always did, as if he didn’t want and dream about pressing his lips against that ashy grey skin or find out just what those loose fitting clothes hid...Clearing his throat, John brought a hand up to his mouth to hide his expression, the grin at that thought undoubtedly looking entirely inappropriate.

“Guess what I read in today’s paper?” The excitement of the news sparked back into him, his eagerness to share pushing away his wish to reach out and take Karkat for himself.

“That the general populous is still not capable of mind-reading and is thus still unable to guess the answers to pointless rhetorical questions like that one? I have no fucking idea what you read in the paper, John. Who even reads the paper anymore?” Karkat closed his locker door and stepped out into the hallway, heading in the direction of John’s own locker. The teen hero followed, sticking so close beside the troll that they were almost touching.

“Oh, come on. You can’t even humor me, even after I went through all the trouble of bringing you your morning go-go juice? That’s cold, Karkat. And I’ll have you know that my dad reads the paper, because he’s a traditional kind of guy. I just happened to read the front page because it was really interesting.” John spun his lock, opening the door to get to work switching out his books.

“Go on, then, spit out your glorious news findings.” Karkat tipped the thermos back against his mouth, chugging down the remainder of the coffee. He held the empty container out for John to take, with the unspoken expectation that it would be filled once more on Monday morning. John wrapped his hand around it, carefully making sure to brush his fingers over the troll’s and hating how dissatisfied he was with the stolen contact.

“Well, maybe I don’t want to tell you, if you’re going to be all sassy about it,” John said. Karkat simply raised a delicate eyebrow and stared at him expectantly, and John stood his ground for all of about five seconds before he couldn’t keep it inside him anymore. “Okay, so, there may be another hero in our city. Or at least, there’s a troll dressing up in costume, using an alias, and saving the day in the dead of night.”

“That counts as front page news these days?” Karkat looked sceptical, though John knew he had to be just as excited as he was. The troll had a tendency to guard his more excitable tendencies, even after he had been revealed as a huge hero fanboy by day two of their friendship. “So what, someone decides to put on a costume and pretend to be Heir, gets a few cats out of some trees? Think it’s another regular guy wanting his chance to be Superman?”

“I don’t think so, or, I hope not. The article said he came in and stopped some actual crimes pretty effortlessly. The police thought it was all Heir until people started saying how they were saved by a troll dressed in black and witnesses reported the same thing. A few managed to get a name from him: Hemogoblin. Doesn’t that just scream the cool, silent, take-no-shit hero type?”

“You think so?” Karkat raised a skeptical eyebrow but couldn’t fight the grin from overtaking his lips. There it was, the appearance of the troll’s love of anything pertaining to the world of superheroes. The unconditional admiration of those who sought to protect the world — and, in point of fact, he himself — was one of the things John found most endearing.

“Don’t you? Think about it, we could have two local heroes, fighting side by side to protect the city. Who knows, they could even be a team! How awesome would that be?” Karkat laughed at John’s enthusiasm, nodding at the idea of the possibility of a crime fighting duo.

“Yeah, that does sound pretty cool.” Karkat grinned broadly, genuinely approving in the idea. For probably the hundredth time that day, John wanted to kiss Karkat right on the mouth, despite his mouth probably tasting bitter due to extreme coffee consumption.

“We should probably head to class,” Karkat noted, side-eying a clock hanging down the hall. John wished he had more time. They shared fewer classes than they had the previous year, so he didn’t have the opportunity to try and satisfy himself with stealing glances in class as often as he did last year. Only their English and P.E. periods were shared, though P.E. often presented exceptional ogling opportunities. Those were both at the beginning of the day, though, so after that he had to tell himself that it was enough to have the same lunch period and Biology Club. Lunch just might have been his favourite because it was so easy to pretend that they were on a sort of date, especially when they ate under their tree. Damn, he was absolutely smitten, and it was only getting worse.

John quickly went over his routine in his head as they walked towards their English class. As it was with every Friday, he already felt a certain sense of sadness that he probably wouldn’t get to see Karkat until Monday. That was, unless he interrupted Karkat’s weekend schedule when he was at his part-time job, though that usually ended in a lot of cursing and demands for him to stop ordering takeout. So what if he’d call and order from Karkat’s restaurant three or four times a day? At least it meant he got to hang out with Karkat for a few minutes, even if the last time he’d left Karkat with an eyebrow tic that hadn’t gone away for a while. He probably wouldn’t this time, if only because he really couldn’t eat as much food as he tended to order.

At least the added hours to John’s nightly patrols would make the two days go by quicker, along with the homework he had to get ahead of. Then his Karkat-less suffering would be over and he’d be back to school. Mondays were always his favourite day of the week because it meant that he would see Karkat waiting for him first thing in the morning.

Ugh. John had a serious problem, and his name was Karkat Vantas. At least the evenings gave him a chance to free his mind from all the pent up hormones.

 

/ / /

The night air still held the chill of winter, but as long as John could control the wind and which currents touched him, he never felt it. It took very little of his concentration to push away the cold and pull in any warmth he could, but as a precaution, he wore additional layers under his costume and a jacket to match it, at least until the temperature rose to something more comfortable. John wouldn’t be back to Heir’s basic costume for another few weeks yet, and the weather was months away from when it would actually be considered pleasant. He was looking forward to that, but not for the fact that the eventual warming of the evenings signaled the peak in crime that the summer months always brought.

Turning his attention to more important matters, John stilled in the air as he felt a sudden tugging at his senses, the backdraft from his flight and sudden halting of his momentum rustling the trees in the park beneath him. Closing his eyes, John reached out with his senses and made conscious contact with the wind as he tried to discern what it wanted to tell him. All at once there was an upsurge in the amount of vibrations in the air, the trees all around him rustling even harder. The smell of dust and metal came flowing along the wind and filled his nostrils, and all at once John’s head snapped in the direction of the phenomena. Opening his eyes, he could just barely make out a withering plume of smoke in the distance, all the signs pointing to an explosion having taken place somewhere in what looked to be the financial district. Gathering up the wind around him, John propelled himself through the air, gaining elevation before zipping off in the direction of the explosion, the wind tugging at him urgently.

He reached the site of the explosion in half a minute, the lingering smoke and the glass littering the street below a dead giveaway. The tall building was the main office of a well-established security firm, if his memory served correctly. Recalling all that he could about this particular company, John found himself remembering a story in the newspaper from just last week. This security firm was one of four other such companies that were cited as being potential storage locations for the valuable pieces of one of the museum’s upcoming exhibitions from out of state. It looked like there was reason to believe this was the chosen storage facilities, considering the gaping hole in the side of the building.

He circled the site once to assess the situation from above. People were starting to appear at the doorways of nearby apartment complexes and hotels, having been woken by the sudden noise. Sirens were closing in, obviously alerted by multiple concerned citizens as well as by the audible ringing of several nearby alarms, no doubt set off by the concussive blast. John wondered briefly as to why he wasn’t hearing an alarm coming from inside the building, but it either meant that the perpetrators were skilled enough to disable the alarm first, or else the building only ran silent alarms. Still, it would’ve made sense for a fire alarm to have been triggered, so John was leaning towards the former possibility. That was in keeping with the surgical cleanness of the blast area; most of the rubble had been blown in, rather than out and onto the street below, and the section blown in was neat, and focused. That meant that whoever was hitting this place had blasted their way in after most likely repelling from the roof, and it would’ve taken a sophisticated knowledge of how to shape explosives to achieve that kind of result.

The hero descended until he was almost level with the building’s newest opening, his eyes scanning for any details that might prove relevant or beneficial. They had most likely used some type of plastic explosive, if the slight bituminous odour still hanging in the air was anything to go by. That, and the stuff was easy to shape. Not so easily acquired, however, which meant that this was definitely a professional job. That usually denoted that his opponents would be well-armed.

John was nearly at the hole when he noticed he wasn’t alone.

Apparently, his brief scan of his surroundings had somehow missed the troll hanging back near the broken wall on the crumbling ledge outside the hole, the colour of his clothes blending him into the outside of the darkened office that the thieves had made their entrance.

John was lucky enough that the other seemed too engaged in surveying the crime taking place to notice that Heir had just come up behind him. The troll was tall, maybe half an inch shorter than John himself. Judging from the outfit — black with red lining made out of a material that just hugged every muscle of his...wow, really toned...body — the masked face, and the drawn hood, John had another whack-job on his hands. It was only ever the really eccentric types that seemed to wear costumes to commit crimes (the irony that he was currently in a costume himself did not elude his thoughts), and this guy looked pretty dressed to the nines for a fight. Or something more promiscuous, perhaps, if the sleeveless catsuit was anything to go by. Spikes jutted out at various spots on the troll’s costume, their dark tips silhouetted against the moonlight, now that John’s vision had begun to properly adjust to the darkness. It would be a wonder if he didn’t constantly cut himself on those during any kind of vigorous activity, John idly noted, though he categorized and filed the information away as a potential threat in a fight.

While John had been observing his outfit, at some point the troll had apparently started observing John right back, not making a single sound as his eyes stayed glued on the hero’s face, his expression solemn.

 

Cursing inwardly for being discovered so soon, John’s mind went into overdrive as he analyzed all of the facts of his situation as quickly as he could, adrenaline starting to pump through his veins as his body anticipated imminent action. His vision narrowed and his breathing slowed, the world around him coming into sharper focus as his autonomic nervous system geared up to initiate fight or flight.

Except, he paused, his opponent wasn’t making a move. John was at once struck by how odd this all was. Usually, by now, there would be some desperate attempt to alert the rest of the group that Heir had come to stop them, or a drawing of weapons, or at least some kind of defensive or offensive movement. But as his eyes took in every inch of his opponent, John’s brain noticed that the troll’s muscles hadn’t tensed, his breathing hadn’t changed, and there hadn’t even been any pupillary response, from what he could tell. In other words, the troll hadn’t reacted to his presence at all, not even subconsciously.

John was further perplexed when nothing happened for a very long, very tense moment. The whole time, he never lowered his defenses, ready for the attack that he was sure to come, alert with the wind swirling around his fingertips. John tensed and almost let loose with a blast of wind when he saw the troll beginning to move, except contrary to what he had expected, the guy just slowly turned back to watching through the hole, his attention shifting completely away from the hero.

That threw John for a loop. Was he dealing with a certified lunatic, maybe? One that didn’t have the rationality to fear? Since he was apparently not going to get jumped and his unexpected company was making no move to aid those inside the bank, John decided to take a quick peek at where the troll was looking.

Floating in further into the hole, John risked a peek around the corner, never once presenting his back to the odd troll, a tight coil being kept on the wind at his side.

There were four of them visible, three humans and one troll, each rushing frantically a few doorways down trying to get their job done. A second troll emerged from another room, carrying a black duffle bag and walking much more casually than the others. From the way his weight was shifted to one side, it was obvious that he was carrying something pretty heavy. All in all, it looked like a rather disorganized operation if the way the others were rushing about was any indication, but the criminals seemed like they were nearing the end of whatever it was that they had planned, several other duffel bags on the floor near the troll that had just entered. The sirens were still far enough away that they could get out and, more likely than not, make it away unmolested by the police if they had planned that far ahead. In John’s experience, criminals that were this well-prepared at executing a heist usually had fairly extensive getaway plans, so it wouldn’t have surprised him in the least to learn that there was at least one car waiting for the criminals somewhere on the street below.

What stood out was that they were all dressed quite normally for this type of job, basic black balaclavas hiding their faces but nothing really out of the ordinary on their persons besides the harnesses and climbing gear that validated his earlier assumption about their method of entry, and possibly their method of escape. But that was expected. What wasn’t expected was the eccentrically-dressed troll in the bodysuit that looked like he had been poured into. It made it hard to connect the troll to any of them. But if the troll wasn’t with them, what was he doing there?

John turned quickly to examine the troll once more to see if he could figure him out, only to catch him stepping away from the wall in silent, fluid strides. John’s body tensed up and prepared for a blow when he saw the smirk on the troll’s lips as he walked by John without giving him a second glance, his pace quickening as he darted inside and down the hallway with alarming speed, his knees bent and his stance low.

Before John’s brain had caught up with what was happening, the troll had reached the gathering of criminals and already downed one man by dropping into a rather acrobatic handstand and rotating his hips, the momentum of the move carrying his body a full one hundred and eighty degrees while simultaneously kicking the troll in front of him right in the temple, sending him sprawling to the floor in a boneless heap, obviously unconscious. Instead of continuing with his momentum, the troll bent his elbows slightly and pushed hard against the floor, leaping back into a graceful backflip and directly onto his feet, the thought of executing such a maneuver making John’s spine hurt just imagining it.

The whole thing had happened in a matter of seconds, in just about the same amount of time that would’ve taken John while being assisted by the wind. Wow. Those sleek muscles were definitely not just for show, he decided.

Rising into a standing position, the oddly-dressed troll proceeded to taunt the remaining criminals, a grin on his face as he swayed from foot to foot, daring them to come closer. With a frustrated shout that had John rolling his eyes at bad-guy-theatrics, the guy nearest the troll decided to challenge him, running forward and brandishing a heavy-looking flashlight like a club.

The troll swung to the side of the man’s initial swing, evading the blow easily with shockingly fluid movements, his body turning swiftly to the side and allowing the large man to tumble past him. All at once, he lashed out with a combination knee to the gut and open palm to the chest, the unfortunate man’s body thumping to the floor heavily as spittle escaped his lips and he struggled harshly to draw in a breath, even though he appeared to be already completely out of it. John wondered briefly if the troll had done serious damage to the man’s ribcage, but he didn’t dare let his focus waver from the fight for more than a fraction of a second, the condition of the still-active opponents far more important than the condition of the downed ones.

This time, the troll didn’t wait for the remaining three to come to him, his legs coiling underneath him before he darted towards the two closest to him. A solid meter before he made contact, he dropped low and kicked high, hitting the first under the chin with his heel before popping up and following through with a spinning roundhouse to the cheek of the second.

 

The way that the troll flowed from stance to stance almost effortlessly was just like he was dancing, John thought, though his style was obviously borrowing from several different schools of martial arts. John was so transfixed on watching the troll fight that he almost failed to notice the final opponent turning tail and running further down the hallway, shouting for help. At least he had assumed the troll was turning tail. That assumption was proven incorrect when moments later John heard the echoing of multiple pairs of feet pounding down the hallway, and half dozen more men entered, ready to fight. It was at that point that John decided that it was about time that Heir stepped in to assist.

It was just as he rushed in, throwing a concentrated blast of wind to knock two men off of their feet with one hand while the other punched another hard in the gut, that he realized who the strangely-clad troll must have been. Unless there were multiple masked men new to the city, then he had probably just had his first run-in with Hemogoblin.

If he wasn’t currently ducking under a sloppy haymaker, his knee lashing upwards to catch his opponent in his stomach, John probably would’ve smacked himself in the head for being so stupid and forgetting about the new hero on the block. It had been just a little more than sixteen hours ago that he had been excitedly babbling to Karkat about the latest masked vigilante, after all. In a situation such as this, he should’ve been able to piece together the clues almost instantly, rather than taking so long to work it out. Regardless, there would be time to berate himself later. He felt excited for the fight to be over, wanting to cut straight to the mop-up, where he’d undoubtedly get a chance to learn something about the other hero. In his enthusiasm, John unleashed a few more concentrated balls of air into the fight than he normally cared to, several of the projectiles catching an unfortunate pair of criminals who had made the unwise decision of standing close to each other in the hallway. The spheres of wind exploded in their midst and sent them careening into the walls, their bodies slumping to the ground and not stirring, the men effectively knocked out.

That left only a trio on his side, the two trolls and one human eyeing him warily after his impressive display of attack power. John took advantage of the brief lull in the combat to turn his attention to the room behind him, taking in all of the downed criminals around him. The troll-that-was-almost-certainly-Hemogoblin was leaning against a wall, observing John’s fight with a relaxed expression on his face, his lips quirking softly in a slight smirk. John couldn’t decide whether to be amused by the troll’s cockiness or annoyed at how he was just sitting by and watching while John mopped up, but he didn’t have time to decide on which because the remaining criminals had decided to gather their wits and rush him as a group.

 

John smirked, wondering how in the hell they expected to attack him effectively in a group like that in such tight confines. Before they were even ten feet away, John sent a strong gust of wind at the lead runner’s legs, tripping him up and causing him to go down. The two following closely behind him stumbled over their comrade, each finding their legs swept out from under them as they lost their footing and tumbled into a pile of limbs. John strode over them calmly and, with a cocky smirk back at the troll, planted a kick squarely on the temple of each man before they had a chance to untangle themselves.

And just like that, it was over.

Sensing movement out of his peripheral vision, John spun around, the wind jumping to his aid and forming around his fist in an invisibly swirling tornado.

Only to slowly lower his hand, the unseen force dissipating from around his hand, the only sign that it was there in the first place being the way that his hood continued to ruffle and flutter on his head. The costumed troll was going about binding the hands and feet of each downed man with plastic handcuffs, identical to the ones that he himself used. Opening up one of his side pouches, John took out his own handful of handcuffs and started mimicking the troll.

When they were finished, they both turned to look at each other, neither saying a word.

In the dim lights the criminals had set up throughout the building, John could make out the red ‘H’ across the other’s chest, a stylized crossbar dripping with three lines of blood. This really was Hemogoblin, then, if the newspaper article was correct in its information. Not that he was really doubting the troll’s identity after that little display. Despite John’s initial doubts, the troll could obviously hold his own in a fight, each of his hits having ended in a knockout, from what he’d seen. Dangerous, for sure.

He’d have to tell his dad about this, and about the feeling he was getting from the troll. John was usually preternaturally adept at judging a person’s character at a glance, and the feeling he was getting from the troll was that this man was safe. He hoped that his dad would be understanding about him having met the vigilante literally right after his father had explicitly told him not to, but technically he hadn’t broken the promise he had made, because he never actually went looking for Hemogoblin. They just happened to be at the same place at the same time, because that’s what happens when you have two people both actively fighting crime. That begged the question of how exactly the troll knew to be there, since he presumably didn’t have the wind to help warn him of danger like John did. Had the troll just coincidentally been close enough that he had been able to make it to the scene faster than Heir? But...

John looked towards the hole in the building’s wall, the wind whipping and howling around it, stirring the contents of the gutted office. It had taken John less than a minute to get there after he noticed the signs of the explosion. How had Hemogoblin scaled the building that quickly? There hadn’t been any reports of him having the power of flight. John frowned, filing that question away for another time. He had more important things to do at the moment. Introducing himself, for example.

“I take it you’re the one I’ve been hearing about,” John stated, making sure his posture was perfect as he stared over at the troll. This was an important moment for John; it was the first time he’d ever met another hero in his entire life, after all. It wouldn’t do to make a negative impression because he was slouching. He tried to exude the confidence he felt when speaking as Heir, deepening his voice to sound older than he was. A task which took considerably less effort ever since puberty had had its way with him. “Hemogoblin?”

“Yes. That’s me,” he uttered, the tones soft and subdued. The troll was the quiet type, apparently, and seemed to be having a hard time deciding where to settle his attention, not able to hold John’s gaze for longer than half a second or so. Being a little flustered was understandable, John rationalized, considering how new to the world of crime-fighting he was. Hell, John was plenty flustered himself, coming face-to-face with another masked crimefighter. What even did you say in this sort of situation? ‘I like your mask’? That just sounded kind of lame.

“Nice to meet you, Hemogoblin. I’m Heir.” John held out his hand. Hemogoblin walked forward slowly, cautiously, closing the distance between them in two long strides, before he reached out and accepted the gesture.

While they shook, John let his eyes travel up and down the troll’s body, taking in the details he had previously been too preoccupied to notice. What John had initially assumed were long gloves were actually arm warmers made out of the same material as the rest of his costume, the troll’s grey fingers left exposed. In their profession, gloves were generally a good idea if wanting to keep a normal life separate from a heroic persona. No gloves meant fingerprints, and generally it wasn’t the police trying to find out their true identities. John wondered if the other had considered this when choosing his peculiar costume design.

“I know who you are.” John let his eyes dart upwards to focus on Hemogoblin’s face when he spoke, his gaze immediately being drawn to one of the troll’s features. At that distance and with just the right amount of light illuminating their space, John for the first time caught the alarmingly bright red of his eyes. They were unnaturally vivid, sharing the same luminosity that all post-pubescent trolls shared. Except the red that made up the irises was unlike any rustblood’s eyes that John had ever seen, more closely matching the bright crimson of human blood. A red that didn’t exist in trolls. Were they contacts, just another part of the disguise? For a brief second, John felt his cheeks warming. Whatever they were, they were absolutely stunning, contrasting beautifully with the yellow sclera. Combined with the sharp features of the troll’s face, John was actually having a tough time looking away.

Realizing that he was staring, John checked himself, letting his eyes trail even higher, John took in the prominently curved horns, their colour matching the colour of the troll’s eyes perfectly, the two protrusions adding an astonishingly exotic appeal to the troll’s angular face. “Everyone knows who you are.”

 

John again felt a slight blush creep to his cheeks, this time at the other hero’s acknowledgment, and tried his best to push it back down so that he at least kept the image of being composed. “You did a great job, here. Despite the situation, I’m very glad I was able to meet you.” Offering the troll a tentative smile, John tried hard not to sound too eager in their first meeting. If Hemogoblin was determined to become a hero, their paths would undoubtedly cross again, so the last thing he wanted to come across as was a total dork.

“Yes. I feel the same way.” The troll withdrew his hand, glancing down at it for a moment before letting it rest at his hip. “Do you require assistance watching these men?” John blinked, his gut reaction being a bit upset at the troll obviously wanting to leave his presence, before he thought about it and realized that Hemogoblin was most likely trying to cut their time short in order to leave before the police arrived. Assuming he didn’t have the ability to fly, it would take him a considerable amount of time more than John to cover ground. John could easily slip away just as the cruisers were pulling up, though this time he would probably stick around to make a statement. After all, he needed to give credit where credit was due.

“No, I should be fine. If push comes to shove, I can knock them back down.” John scanned over all the fallen men surrounding them. They definitely had similar styles when it came to immobilizing their enemies, though Hemogoblin’s seemed to be slightly more violent. It was hard to avoid being rough when dealing damage physically, but some of the sounds the criminals’ bodies had made when Hemogoblin had landed his attacks had been a little disturbing. “I really appreciate your help. I’d like to talk to you more, when we have the time.”

Hemogoblin nodded before walking over to the hole in the wall. Just before stepping out, he quietly called back over his shoulder. “I’ll...see you around, maybe.” Then he was gone, disappearing over the edge of the building and into the darkness.

John couldn’t wait.

 

/ / /

John flew in through the open window of his bedroom, still in high spirits after the night’s big arrest despite his exhaustion. He had been sure to inform the responding officers that Hemogoblin had been on the scene first, and that he had assisted the new hero only when he felt it was necessary. He had taken off soon after the proper credit had been given to his fellow hero, keeping an eye out for the troll but not seeing any sign of him again before having to turn in for the night.

Going through the routine of stripping off his costume, John reminisced on his first experience meeting another hero. Hemogoblin was definitely not just some guy in a costume, that was certain. While he seemed quite young — not past his early twenties, that was obvious — his body was very clearly a result of disciplined training over time. Either he had been working up to be a hero for much of his life, as John had, or he had been training for another reason and had decided to follow this path, instead. A body like that wasn’t one that just happened naturally. The speed had been too quick, and the movements too effortlessly precise for someone who had decided to try being a hero on a whim.

Slipping out of his pants while replaying the observed fight in his head, it dawned on him that Hemogoblin was pretty fucking attractive. The defined cut of his jawline and those striking eyes more than made up for whatever the mask was hiding. The choice of costume material would have had no trouble displaying every single imperfection that his body held, but John hadn’t noticed any. Every single dip and curve of the fabric had seemed to follow carved, lean muscle. From the glance he had gotten when the troll had left, nearly every visible muscle had been in pretty much perfect condition, toned and shapely but not at all bulky or prohibitive to movement or speed. John felt himself blush again because, despite how inappropriate it had been during that situation, he hadn’t been able to help noticing how...shapely...the other hero’s...assets...had looked in that skin-tight outfit. Hemogoblin was obviously pretty sure of his body if he was comfortable wearing such tight clothing. And he had quite a good reason to be confident, in John’s opinion.

Raising his arms above his head and stretching hard, John felt his vertebrae realign as he yawned tiredly. “I wonder what archetype he’d fall into,” John wondered aloud, walking over to his window and shutting it firmly for the night. It was too early to tell, really. They’d need to spend more time together to see if their methods really were compatible or if Hemogoblin would turn out to be more trouble than he was worth. There had been few real instances of two heroes protecting the same city that had ended in one being driven out, and John really didn’t want something like that happening. Too many big ideas on how to save the world and not enough team-building made for some messy situations. So he’d give it a try. If worst came to worst, he supposed they could just go their separate ways, just occasionally crossing paths whenever fate dictated it.

John slipped under his covers, shifting around to get comfortable. He felt almost too excited to fall asleep. Meeting another hero in real life was just really, really amazing. He felt a little starstruck, wishing he could have told Karkat, because he knew his friend would be just as thrilled about it as he was. It might have been a bit silly considering John was a hero himself, but it felt completely different to actually be one and meet one. It was a totally different deal, at least to John.

 
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