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.


12. In Which Innocence is Lost Part 2

“You asked what I could do, earlier. My powers allow me to manipulate my blood in its entirety. I can change its form, turn it into a weapon, or wear it as armour.” He punctuated this by shifting the strand of blood into a thin spike, more blood immediately flowing from his palm to join the spike, the shape lengthening and flattening until he was holding a long, deadly-looking crimson blade.

Were John not wearing his mask, his mouth would be hanging wide open. That was so freaking cool! “How do you get it to solidify like that? And when you said you could make armour…?”

The troll smirked, the blade instantly reverting to a liquid and reforming into a sickle like earlier, except this time he was holding it by a handle, the weapon fully detached from his body. “The answer to your second question is the same as the first. It’s a lot more complicated than how I’m explaining it, but I’m basically manipulating the iron levels to form something simultaneously rigid and moldable. That allows for some extremely sharp blades when you consider I’m sharpening it on a molecular level.”

John nodded, staring at the tip of the sickle somewhat warily. If he could indeed make it as sharp as he claimed, that blade would tear through the metal of his armguards like they weren’t even there.

“It’s the same deal with the armour. My entire body is constantly flowing with my blood, blood that can become as hard as iron. I’ve never tried it, but I’m pretty sure I could shrug off bullets if I needed to. Granted, it’d probably hurt like a motherfucker and I’d be a mess afterwards, but still.”

John stared at the troll sitting next to him for several long moments before he raised their connected hands and gave the troll’s an experimental squeeze, almost surprised to find that his skin was still soft and felt like any other person’s. Hemogoblin let out a throaty laugh and squeezed John’s hand back, lowering them back down. “It only goes rigid if something breaks the skin, goober.”

“Speaking of, why the spikes? Why not just force the blood directly out of your skin? Seems like it’d be a lot faster than cutting yourself every time.”

“The opposite is true, actually. If I want the blood to push through the skin, I have to sharpen it in the vein first. That means when it comes out of the skin, it already has a shape. So then once it’s out, I’d have to reconstitute it into a liquid and then reform that into the shape I want. Trying to get all of that in one fluid motion is like trying to rub your stomach and pat your head at the same time; it’s doable, but it takes a lot of concentration, and that’s not something you really have a lot of to spare in the middle of a fight. So it’s much easier to just use something else to cut myself with,” he said, gesturing with his hand towards the spikes on his sides. “Fun fact: those are made of blood, too.”

John eyed them with renewed interest, taking in their incredibly sharp-looking appearance. “Doesn’t that take up a lot of concentration maintaining them like that?”

“Not at all. I just tell them to retain that shape and they do. I forget I have them on, most of the time.”

“Well, that’s useful. I have to constantly keep the wind in focus if I want to do anything fine like that, but maybe that’s just the nature of the wind.”

Hemogoblin made a noise of agreement in the back of his throat before he continued on, the crimson sickle in his hand melting into a liquid before John's eyes and slithering back to his palm, disappearing in seconds. He did his best to look for any change in the troll's skin but saw only unblemished, flawless skin, like usual. “As an extension of my powers, every function of my body that has to do with blood is one I can manipulate, like adjusting my body temperature or controlling the levels of oxygenation in the blood so I can rejuvenate my muscles and bolster my stamina, for example. It lets me exercise all day and night if I want to with little to no sleep. I’ve only been training for a little under a year, actually, but my powers have allowed me to develop my strength and my body in a really short period of time.”

John nodded, stealing a glance at the other hero’s body but finding himself unable to keep his eyes from roaming over the well-toned chest and stomach. "That definitely explains a few things."


“Er, nothing. I’m...really happy you could trust me with all of this, Hemogoblin.” John didn’t think that was enough to convey just how much it really did mean to him. There was so much more he knew about Hemogoblin now, so much that the other hero had felt he could share with him.

“I’d trust you with a lot more.” John opened his mouth to ask the other what he meant but the intent to inquire was promptly cut off with the nervous sound of a strained laugh. “Nevermind. Just, look.” Hemogoblin moved so that he was kneeling directly in front of John, resting his free hand against John’s knee. If not for the other’s serious expression, John might have drawn closer and attempted that kiss one more time. As it was, his heartbeat was definitely speeding back up with the troll right in front of him like this.

“I want you to know more about me and why I am what I am so you can come to trust me like I trust you. You’ve changed my life, Heir, and you’ve helped me realize who I can be. To answer your very first question, I can do what I do, be ruthless if it’s necessary, because blood doesn’t mean the same thing to me as it does to you. My hands have always felt like they were dipped in it. But this,” Hemogoblin lifted their hands, still wrapped up in one another, and rotated his wrist so that John was staring at his own, the twinge of pain that elicited from his shoulder going unnoticed, “this isn’t the hand of a murderer. It’s the hand of a protector. Spilling blood does not change what it is. You were acting to protect, not because you wanted to kill.”




John wanted to protest inside, still conflicted over what he had done despite the words aiming to justify his use of force, but he couldn't deny feeling immensely better from the troll's reassurances. Revisiting the dark thoughts of the night seemed almost impossible with the warm hand in his own and the strong, steady pulse of it beating underneath his fingers.



The two heroes stayed like that for another few minutes, each enjoying the peace, before Hemogoblin suggested that John should turn in for the night. John was distantly aware that he must have been more of a mess than he’d thought if the troll was telling him to go home already, but it was with a slight shock that he pulled out his disposable phone and saw how much time had passed since they’d first entered the warehouse. It had felt like forever while waiting for Hemogoblin’s interrogation to be over, but John hadn’t actually thought it had taken too long. As it stood, it wasn’t actually too long before the time he’d normally go home anyway.

Regardless, John would be lying to himself if he’d said that he wasn’t looking forward to a hot shower and his bed. With the throbbing pain in his collarbone, the scorch marks and tears on his costume and body, as well as the numerous splotches of blood staining his clothes, he couldn’t deny that he probably looked and definitely felt like hell. It was no surprise, then, that the eyes Hemogoblin was showing him as he suggested John turn in were full of concern.

They walked hand in hand across the warehouse and stopped in front of the dilapidated office, empty now except for a troll ziptied to a chair, neither seeming to want to be the first to tear their hand away from the other. John didn’t want to let go of the spell of comfort that Hemogoblin held in his slender fingers anymore than the other seemed willing to release him.

“I’ll make sure he gets delivered to the police,” Hemogoblin promised quietly, nodding his head back to the room where he had interrogated the thug. John cocked his head in question, curious as to how he was going to get around the city carrying the unconscious troll the three or four miles to the nearest station. Sensing his question, Hemogoblin deftly opened up the pouch on his left thigh and pulled out a cellphone of similar make and model to John’s own disposable.

Ah. That made sense. He hadn’t even thought about that option, but an anonymous tip off that there was a bound criminal in the warehouse would be much simpler than going through the trouble of hand-delivering the thug themselves.

“We’ll just have to hope he’s not stupid enough to tell them what happened and just let them assume we tied him up for safekeeping, otherwise...we’ll cross that bridge if we have to,” the troll murmured, slipping the phone back into his pouch and turning to give John a small, genuine smile.

His thumb brushed against the back of John’s hand once more before his fingers loosened and finally slipped away. The loss of contact was a little more jarring than John had thought it would be, the feelings of rightness and comfort ebbing away slowly every moment that his now empty hand was exposed to the night air. Sensing his discomfort, the wind picked up and caressed his cheek with a warm tendril, making John smile. He had to remind himself that he was never truly alone. Still...John had to resist the urge to invite Hemogoblin home with him, so strong was his desire to stay in his presence. There would be time for that later, however. He needed to rest and he wasn’t about to compromise his identity simply because he wanted to hold his partner’s hand longer.

“We should meet up tomorrow night, preferably sometime early. We can go after the safehouse first as that’s where they’ll probably have the most sensitive information,” John suggested, knowing that they would need to plan their attack before they actually went at it. He noted with a soft frown that without relying on the use of their disposable cellphones, they lacked a method of ready communication, which could be a problem in the future. At least for now they’d have to rely on setting up meetings beforehand.

Hemogoblin nodded, looking thoughtful as he brought his now-free right hand up to rub at his chin. “The rooftop of the Roosevelt should be perfect. Eight o’clock okay?”

“Eight o’clock is perfect,” he responded, thinking back to the forecast for tomorrow. Sunset was estimated to be a little before six, which would leave him plenty of time to prepare.

“It’s a date, then.”

John had almost expected the troll’s last words to drop back down to his usual flirtatious tone, but they came out natural, lighter, and audibly affectionate. He liked it and this change between them, more than he probably should have.

“Now go. Rest well, Heir.” Hemogoblin placed a hand gently to John’s chest and shoved back ever so slightly, John complying with the gesture and lifting off into the air. He prolonged his departure a moment longer to offer up a smile, the outlines of his lips stretching underneath his mask. It was promptly returned in full.

“I’ll see you tomorrow.” John didn’t linger any longer before taking off, despite wanting to. He grabbed Casey quickly and reattached her to his back in a smooth motion, the action causing a slight twinge in his collarbone. As he flew out the building and started to put some distance between them, he couldn’t resist taking one last glance over his shoulder to see if Hemogoblin was still watching him. Sure enough, his partner was propped casually against the doorframe of the warehouse, arms crossed over his chest and head resting on a shoulder, seemingly content to stay there until Heir disappeared into the night sky. Noticing he had been seen, the troll waved one hand slightly.

John mimicked the gesture before arching his body and shooting high enough to skirt the scattered clouds, the landscape below him fading to a familiar sea of twinkling lights. Between large patches of cloud were snapshots of the sky, the glittering gems of stars against the inky blackness making it so that no matter where he looked, John was rewarded with sparkles of light. It was a good night for flying.

He was tired, hurting, and emotionally drained from what was without doubt the most challenging night of his life as a hero, but, despite all of this, John decided that for now he would bask in the pleasant buzz he felt from the progress he and Hemogoblin seemed to have made. The troll had demonstrated his fighting prowess and fearlessness yet again, making John sure that the decision to become his partner hadn’t been the wrong one. Hemogoblin had also taken a huge risk tonight with his feelings and revealed a lot of personal background about himself, and John knew how hard that must have been. He hadn’t ever told Karkat of his difficulties with accepting the hero lifestyle, of course, but he and his best friend had had long, intimate talks before about growing up with personal hardships. It had been difficult for John to talk about his loneliness, and he was positive the same had been true just now for Hemogoblin. After that display, John felt like it was safe to say that they trusted each other, something which would go a long way towards proving them capable of working together as a team. He had no doubt in his mind that they would work, at this point.

As John did a corkscrew through the air, the wind wrapping him up in its embrace with a strong updraft of pleasantly warm air, he brought his left hand up to eye level, examining it for the umpteenth time that night. He could still feel the troll’s hand in his own when he closed his eyes, could still vividly recall the shivers that were sent down his back when Hemogoblin had languidly started stroking the back of his hand. If anything else was learned tonight beyond the fact that he now had a partner whom he felt like he could trust, it was the truth about his feelings.

There was no denying it at this point. He had feelings for Hemogoblin.

It made sense, really, and the only thing he was left wondering was why he hadn’t recognized it sooner. It’s true that he’d only known the troll for a very short time, but he’d been enraptured with him from the very first moment they locked eyes those few weeks ago. The physical attraction was almost a given with how well the hero filled out that incredibly tight costume, but it was the gentle affection underneath his usual playful demeanor that had shone through tonight and left a lasting mark on him. Finding out more about Hemogoblin and what he had gone through throughout his life had just been icing on the cake; he’d known what he wanted the moment Hemogoblin had cut through John’s panicked thoughts and erratic heartbeat and had calmed him down with nothing more than his touch. There had only ever been a single other person who could affect him like that.

Thoughts of Karkat made him slow down a bit, his flight leveling off. He still felt the exact same for Karkat, of that he was sure. Except now another had entered into the scene. He didn’t really know how he was going to work all of these new feelings out when he already cared for someone as much as he did for Karkat, but he’d think about that when he didn’t feel like shit anymore.

He continued on his flight path for a good five minutes before he stopped in mid-air, suspended well above his neighbourhood. He descended quickly but cautiously, ever mindful to do his routine check of the backyards and windows which surrounded his house. Thanks to the tall trees that his Dad had sought out when purchasing their home, there was only one house with a clear view of his room from its yard, and the middle-aged woman who lived there kept a similar schedule to his dad, the lights never on when John returned home from his patrols. Still, he’d rather be safe than sorry.

The wind flushed out around him, gentle waves breezing through the darkness and weaving around any unseen observer. As he'd hoped, the search turned up nothing unusual except for a sleeping dog a few houses down and a couple of cats stalking about.

In the clear, John plummeted quickly down to his house and hovered just outside his window before sneaking into his room. He drew the curtains behind him before reaching out to flick on his bedside lamp. The light from the lamp revealed his cellphone sitting on the bedside table, the missed call light blinking softly. Curious, John unlocked it and checked his missed calls. It looked like Karkat had tried to reach him just a few minutes after he’d left for his patrol earlier, but hadn’t bothered to leave a voicemail. John was tempted to text him then and there, absolutely positive that talking to the troll would make him feel about a thousand percent better, but he thought against it and set the phone down. The sun wasn’t even up at this point and chances were extremely slim that Karkat would still be up. Not for the first time, John lamented the fact that he couldn’t bring the phone with him on patrol, but his dad had said something about GPS chips and cell tower triangulation and some other things John really didn’t get, but that had been that and John was forced to use a large number of disposable phones that could and often were ditched at a moment’s notice.

Stripping down comfortably proved to be a challenge with his shoulder and collarbone causing him considerable pain and discomfort with each motion, but eventually he managed to free himself out of the clothes, nudging them into a pile with his foot. Casey went in her usual hiding place. The sight of the stained and torn material on the floor made him wonder just how he was going to repair it enough for proper use when he was supposed to take down a Midnight Crew safehouse in about sixteen hours. The majority of the day would be spent scrubbing and sewing, probably. He hoped his dad had a spare costume in the works, because it seemed as though this one was on its last legs.

Deciding to leave the costume in its sorry condition for the time being, John slid on a pair of boxers before he picked up the pile and headed for the bathroom. Intending to just deposit the costume in the tub before hopping in the shower to wash the dried blood off of his body, John got a few paces out of his door before realizing something was strange.

There was a light coming from downstairs and, with a quick prompting of the air around him to carry any vibrations to his ears, he realized that there were voices talking. Plural. The words were muffled and especially dulled in his left ear, but the tones carried clear. It sounded like an argument between a man and a woman. At first, John suspected his dad might have fallen asleep while watching a movie and had turned up the volume on the TV to keep himself awake while he waited up for his son, but as he stood in the hallway trying to make out words to see if he might recognize the show, he realized one of the voices belonged to his dad.

As quietly as he could, John rushed to the bathroom and unloaded his costume in the bathtub. He wanted to see what was going on downstairs as soon as possible in the event that his dad needed his help, this obviously taking priority over his own condition. As he made his way to the door his reflection in the bathroom mirror stopped him. He turned to glance at himself fully for the first time since he’d gotten back and flinched. Smudges of dark red were streaked over his skin from where he missed with his attempts to clean himself earlier, dry trails of blood from his ears and the scrapes on his cheek flaking off. His complexion where his costume hadn’t covered was darkened by dust in spots, and his torso was scattered with blossoming bruises flushed an angry, vivid red. A lump just above his shoulder was swollen and inflamed, the connecting bone noticeably sitting slightly off.

John wet a washcloth, peeled off his poor attempt at bandaging the biggest cut, and scrubbed it over his face. Investigating what was going on in the house needed to wait a minute. He couldn’t go interrupt whatever was happening looking as though he had just been dragged through a battlefield. If his dad really was talking to someone, John couldn’t give reason to raise questions over his appearance. He had to look like a teenage boy having woken up in the middle of the night, not someone who had just come fresh out of a fight.

A cotton swab was carefully twisted into his left ear, its white head stained a rusty red when he pulled it out, causing the teen to flinch. He carefully continued to clean out the canal until the last swab came out clean. He proceeded to place clean bandages on his face where the scrapes were deepest and decided that was the best he could do. At least the exhaustion in his eyes and his ever windswept hair could be easily attributed to him just having woken up.

John returned to his room just long enough to throw on a long-sleeved shirt and a pair of sweatpants. He was careful to keep his footsteps light when he headed down the stairs, though he felt like he was being overly cautious. If his dad and whoever he was in an argument with hadn’t heard him washing up before then they were unlikely to hear him now. As John walked down the hallway sticking close to the far wall, he found that the the voices were coming from the living room, still engaged in a heated debate. He made his way down the stairs, stopping just above where he knew he still couldn’t be seen.

“—have no right. My answer isn’t going to change. I suggest you leave.” That voice definitely belonged to his dad, although his tone was rougher and harsher than anything John was used to hearing. There was anger in his voice, with something else barely contained at the edges. Stern directions and fatherly disapproval were as close to this as he had ever gotten, but this was something new, a side of his dad he had never heard. It was kind of frightening.

“You knew that this was part of the job when you took it. If anything, tonight’s events prove that the project has reached fruition. You can’t deny it any longer.” It was obvious that this was something work-related if he wasn’t mistaken about the context of what he’d just heard. John racked his memories trying to come up with a match for the woman’s voice, but she was utterly unrecognizable. She spoke in level, authoritative snips, biting out the words in obvious distaste for the subject and whom she was addressing. From her tone alone, John could only assume that she held herself in a higher position than his father. Hesitating for only a moment more, John decided now would be a good time to interrupt, before things had a chance to escalate further. He took the few steps forward necessary to reach the bottom of the stairs, not knowing what to expect.




The first thing that stood out was that, despite the hour, they both appeared to be well put together in typical business suits, his dad in the same grey one he had put on much earlier that day and the woman in a simple charcoal number. He wondered just how long this conversation had gone on before reaching this point, but was glad he had gotten home when he had. The two were standing, the aggression evident in their body language, anger having caused them to rise from their seats.

He didn’t recognize the woman that his dad was glaring daggers at, though that wasn’t unexpected. In all the years his dad had been working for the same company, the man had never once brought a colleague home before. Considering it now, John realized he couldn’t recall a single instance of his dad having brought anyone home with him, colleague or otherwise, and rarely did the man stay out late. He wasn’t even sure about the details of his dad’s job, let alone the status of his social life, so maybe he was misreading what was going on here?

“What’s going on?” John tentatively spoke up, mindful to keep his voice in soft as though he had just woken. The attention of the room shifted onto him immediately. His father’s eyes flashed with alarm before settling into a mix of concern and barely contained anger, while the woman gauged him with an analytical look that was as curious as it was intense. If he had ever seen her before, he had forgotten when and where. As much of a businesswoman as his dad was a businessman, she sported a neat blonde bob, tastefully plain makeup, and was functionally under-accessorized. “Who’s this?”

“She’s just a colleague from work who was about to leave, John. Sorry to have woken you.” While John seriously doubted that she had been ready to leave before he walked in, the woman nodded stiffly, her eyes still locked on John until she started speaking.

“You know that this isn’t over. You don’t get to make up rules after you signed a contract, especially not with me. There will be consequences for your actions.” The woman started towards John, glancing briefly at him as she passed by on her way to the front door.

He found the way that she looked at him to be deeply unsettling. It wasn’t with anger or any spite lingering from her argument, but there was something in her unique, rose-coloured eyes that he hadn’t expected: recognition.

As she paused at the door, a grin worked its way onto her face, a smirk that instantly reminded John of some sort of predator. “You’ve raised a handsome boy, Charles.”

John felt his cheeks heat up despite himself.




She was gone with a click of the door, her subtle floral perfume still hanging in the air.

John stood still for a moment, trying again to place her in his memories but with no success. As he walked further into the living room, his dad slipped down onto his chair, sighing while loosening his tie. “Dad, what was that about?” It was the first in about a thousand questions he wanted to ask.

“Just a colleague that doesn’t like to take no for an answer. Nothing important.” His dad dismissed the inquiry away casually, but John didn’t think that was all there was to it. What kind of colleague was at your house during the deep hours of the night? Sunrise was still at least an hour or so away. What was so important that it couldn’t wait until Monday, or at least until the morning? Why was this the first time he’d ever seen someone his dad worked with? He had so many questions to ask, but it didn’t seem like his dad was in a very forthcoming mood.

When the man really looked at him for the first time, he was up in an instant, crossing the distance between them in a single moment to hastily examine the scuffed cheek and push up John’s sleeves to prod at the few visible red circles on his arms. His worry was palpable, a deep frown on his face as his large, experienced hands started carefully examining his son for unseen injury.

“What happened?” Rather than explain everything before he was examined, John lifted his shirt, hoping his dad would tell him that the injuries really weren’t as bad as he suspected they were. His father took in each mark, eyes widening as he undoubtedly recognized the shapes and pieced together what had happened through the wounds alone. John and his dad both knew what the aftermath of being shot in a bulletproof vest looked like, and the sheer number of marks on his torso where a round had imparted its kinetic force was alarming in itself. What made it even more shocking was that the marks were on his body. They both understood the significance of John being hurt to this extent; he’d hardly ever had much more than a few scratches on him after a typical night, so to have sustained this much damage was unsettling, probably more so to his dad than to himself.

“The Midnight Crew,” John explained, pausing in order to decide what would and wouldn’t be good to mention in his overview of the night. He decided to stick with key points for now, covering the basics of what the gang had plotted while his dad was checking him over. They’d most likely have to review things in better detail come morning, considering how much John felt as though he would be skipping over.

“They torched a factory. That makes it sound like it was less than it was, but the whole thing was an inferno. I couldn’t get very close and it was already too late to salvage the building by the time I got there. Nearby I found a message the Midnight Crew had left for me on a roof which said if I didn’t show up to the docks by midnight, there would be more explosions. Even though it was an obvious trap, I couldn’t risk them targeting someplace occupied, so I went. They sent out a firing squad with one of the higher ups I caught the other day, Boxcars. All of the marks are from the beginning when they just opened fire and I didn’t have a strong enough barrier up. Then there was the concussion grenade that blew up in my face when I was in a, uh, tornado.” His father’s eyebrows shot up into his hairline at that and he renewed his search of John’s body, but he said nothing.

“I did what you said to do to minimize damage and protect against the explosion, but I dislocated my shoulder and my collarbone is... well, I’m not sure. Broken, I think. I can’t really hear through my left ear right now, either.”

The man nodded stiffly, mouth set in a tight line as he his hands ghosted over John’s collarbone and shoulder, applying the bare minimum of pressure. When he touched the swollen area of John’s collarbone, the teen let out a light hiss, his father’s hands instantly dropping as his eyes softened considerably.

“I think you’re right about you clavicle being fractured. I’ll need to check to make sure it isn’t anything more serious. Come with me,” he murmured, already halfway across the room and going in the direction of the main hallway. John hesitated for a moment, caught off guard by the speed with which his dad was moving. He’d never known the man to be anything but calm and composed. He walked quickly away, hurrying towards the hall and basement door, before he realized John was still standing in place. When he looked back at him, John noted pinched eyebrows, a concerned frown, and worried eyes.

Seeing him like that made John immediately feel guilty for getting hurt, and his first instinct was that he should offer up some sort of apology.

“John, please, come on. You might need surgery if it’s serious.”

He wasn’t exactly sure why they had to go downstairs if that were the case, but he didn’t question the order, following promptly with no further delay. When they reached the basement and the light switch had been flipped, his dad headed straight to one of the mirrored panels set against the corner of one of the walls. John followed after him, more than slightly curious as his dad pressed his palm flat against the mirrored surface and gave a gentle push.

There was a very slight click—something which John only just caught with his right ear—before the entire mirrored panel opened up and swung on an invisible hinge to reveal a sizable storage space which John had had no idea was there.

His mouth dropping open in slight shock, John observed as there was at least enough room in there for his dad to disappear into, re-emerging moments later pushing a small machine in front of him. It looked like medical equipment of some sort, though the likes of which he couldn’t readily identify, which meant it was probably something his father had procured through his connections with former military contacts. The device appeared to be a big bulky rectangle, with a large screen on the front and a large amount of dials and buttons under that. John wondered what else his dad stored in the space, but the panel was closed with a backwards nudge from the man’s foot before John could take a peek. It was probably just more things for scenarios such as this, he reasoned, machines and tools and other such things to patch John up and avoid a hospital if at all possible. Idly, he wondered how much money his dad had actually spent on things just in the event that something happened.

“This is going to help me take some x-rays. Tell me what else happened tonight while I set it up.” John nodded to himself as he watched his father unspool a long cord from the back of the machine and plug it into a wall socket before returning with a stool for John to sit on and then going back to fiddling with a series of knobs and buttons on the now-identified scanner’s front.

“I don’t really know what I was planning to do after the grenade knocked me down. I was scared and for a moment I wasn’t sure I was going to survive, and I kinda wanted to run, but that’s...that’s not what a hero does. A lot of people could have died if I had run and let the Crew have free reign of things, but I’ve never felt overwhelmed like that before. I’ve never felt like I could die so easily,” he spit out, his voice breaking a few times as he dredged up the emotions from earlier in the night that he’d worked so hard to suppress. His dad had stopped calibrating the machine and was staring at his face intently, and all at once John was almost overwhelmed with a feeling of self-consciousness.

“They had me pinned down behind a forklift. Just when I was planning something like circling around and hoping no one noticed so I could flank them, Hemogoblin showed up and took down like half the entire group before they caught on to what what happening.” His dad walked over and placed a few heavy pieces of what John figured to be lead-lined strip around his neck and shoulder. The older Egbert pulled out a bulky rectangular wand from the machine’s side, then, and held it up to his collarbone, fiddling around with a few knobs on the wand as John continued. “He was just so fearless despite how many guys he was facing. Big guys with lots of guns taken out by one troll,” he mused, his tone fond. His father studiously ignored looking at him as the machine let out a startlingly-loud buzz and whir. “It inspired me to make a move, but I was really scared of what could have happened there.”

John watched in fascination as crisp black and white images immediately appeared on the screen attached to the body of the scanner, his father examining the screen with intense scrutiny. Rather than looking at the screen, John watched the man’s face as carefully as he could, trying to pick out from his reactions what he was seeing.

More than anything, he could really use some of the comforting words his dad often supplied in excess right about now, because now that he was once again reliving that night, his inner turmoil was again surfacing to acknowledge just how vulnerable he had felt while hiding against that forklift, trying desperately to rack his brain for a plan of action that wasn’t suicidal. Was it wrong for a hero to be afraid? Everything he had to compare himself to—the comics, the movies, the articles on heroes both imaginary and real—told him he was supposed to be fearless.

“Son.” John looked back to his dad just before he felt a hand meet his good shoulder. Fingers curled in a reassuring squeeze, and John felt some of his troubles melting away. It wasn’t anywhere near as effective as when Hemogoblin had held his hand, but it was doing the job of calming him down considerably. The rare softness in his father’s eyes wasn’t hurting, either. “I am so, so proud of you. I may say it so often that you don’t realize how much I mean it, but it’s the truest thing I can possibly tell you. It’s normal to be afraid. What’s extraordinary is to face those fears head on. You have become such a courageous young man, and I literally could not be more proud to be your father. ”

John smiled softly, unable to keep his dad’s gaze for more than a few seconds, feeling somewhat bashful at the praise. As much as he sometimes shrugged off his dad’s praise or rolled his eyes at him, it really did mean a lot to hear that. Still...

“I... people died tonight, Dad.” John ducked his head, eyes following the angry circles covering his skin until his gaze met the floor. His voice sounded distant to his ears, faint like he was hearing it from another room. He wished he had Hemogoblin’s hand to cling to while his mind relived the choices he had made again. As it was, his hands tightened into angry fists against his knees where he was resting them.

“I didn’t want... Someone was aiming at Hemogoblin, and I...just...” The hand which still rested warmly on John’s shoulder shook him gently from his mumbling. He looked at his father’s calm face with wide eyes, afraid of what all this could mean. Would his dad still be proud of a killer?

“I trust you more than anything, John. If you believed that it had to be done to protect his life, then that’s that. Ever since you were a young boy and you got it into your head that this is what you wanted to do, I knew that something like this would someday happen. Life isn’t like fiction or comic books, where the good guys always win and people never die. Life is full of tough decisions that have to be made despite us not wanting to make them, whether it’s taking a life in self defense or sacrificing something or someone you care about for the greater good.”

John swallowed hard, accepting the man’s words. With the way his father’s eyes were softened and looking into his own with understanding and acceptance, John had the inkling that maybe he was talking from experience. He’d never gone into details of what he actually did in the military, but this...the words flowed from his mouth like they were practiced, without pause for reflection and with the assuredness that what he was saying was correct, as if this wasn’t the first time he’d had to say such a speech. It was as disturbing to hear as it was comforting.

“I know it’s hard on you and I’m sorry that you’re having to shoulder this burden when you’re still so young. If it was up to me, you’d never have to experience this ever. Still, I’ve tried to raise you to respect life and to instill a sense of honour within you, and I know without doubt that I’ve succeeded. You being upset and fearful of what happened shows me you have the qualities of not only a hero, but of a good man. I’ll say it again: I have never been more proud to call you my son than I am now, John.”

With his father’s absolution, John found that his eyes were stinging with unshed tears as he allowed himself to be gently pulled in for a hug. Having been momentarily forgetful of his injury, John was reminded quickly with a sudden jolt of pain. He bit it back, however, as the removal of the emotional weight from his shoulders far outweighed the pain of his actual shoulder.

After a few soft pats on the back, John’s dad pulled away. “Your collarbone is cracked. While it could be much worse and it will heal naturally without any medical intervention, I want you to avoid heavy lifting and swinging Casey with your left arm for a few weeks. It might be difficult to do with the Midnight Crew still at large, but please try to rest it when you can afford to do so. I’ll get you a sling to wear during the day, but at night you’ll just have to be aware of it. Heir can’t be seen injured, especially now. Of course, this also means we’ll be taking a break from any strenuous training and that you shouldn’t take part in any physical activity at school. If your classmates or teachers ask about it, explain that you dislocated your shoulder in training. I trust you to expand on any details of your story if pressed for them; I expect Karkat will not be satisfied with something so vague.”

John nodded along, only half paying attention to the plans. His dad would get him a doctor’s note for Monday, either forged or legitimate from the trusted family doctor. John severely doubted a piece of paper would be enough to quell his best friend’s inevitable worry, however. Focusing on the thought of Karkat being concerned, John wondered just how much the troll would fuss over him at the sight of a sling. He knew he would get yelled at for being careless, but then after that, Karkat would be so careful around him. Maybe even try to take care of him by doing little things for him. He was actually looking forward to it.

“You said you couldn’t hear well out of your left ear. Let me take a look.” His dad ducked into his office off to the side of their makeshift gym, returning momentarily with an otoscope. With delicate prods of cold metal, the examination spanned a few silent minutes. “It looks like the eardrum is perforated, but I’ve seen worse. It’s small enough that I’m comfortable with seeing if it will close on its own before consulting an otolaryngologist, but you’ll need to be careful to keep your ear dry. You won’t be swimming with a broken clavicle, anyways.”

John would miss the freedom swimming gave him but couldn’t protest. He wouldn’t be able to swim with his injuries and, while he wanted to complain for the sake of complaining, he had no energy for it. There would be empty hours now in his usually busy schedule where his extracurricular activity fit, and he couldn’t quite imagine what to do with the free time. Maybe he’d get to hang out with Karkat more often? That’d be nice.

“I also think I may have been concussed.”

His father nodded, getting up and retrieving a handful of more mundane medical tools from the office. This may have been the first time John was seriously injured on the job, but they weren’t exactly strangers to concussion, especially when John was younger and was just learning how to control his flying.

After asking him the usual litany of neurological questions like if he’d had any vomiting, memory loss, persistent dizziness, or confusion that accompanied serious head trauma, his dad performed several reflex and coordination tests. After five minutes of poking, prodding, and tapping, he seemed satisfied. “Doesn’t seem like you need a CT scan, though we should keep an eye on you just to be safe.”

As he set the tools on the ground, he gave his son another long look-over. “You look nearly dead on your feet, son.” A hand patting his shoulder brought John out of an imagined scenario involving Karkat carrying his books to class for him while complaining about his recklessness and how useless he was as a frail human. “You’ve had a long night; get some sleep. I’ll be up to check on you every few hours to make sure there’s no lasting damage from that concussion.”

“Yeah. Yeah, okay. You’re right. Night, dad.” John turned without delay and headed towards the stairs, glad that it was still just Saturday and that he had the opportunity to sleep in. He was pretty sure that his aching body might actually allow him to rest past nine, for once.

“John, just one more thing.” John smiled slightly as he turned to face his father once more, but his lips quickly fell. The man’s eyes were like hardened steel, his expression so serious that John felt his shoulders automatically tensing up. “If anyone were to seriously threaten your life again, I want you to end it, no matter what the cost. If you ever lost your life because you hesitated to do what you needed to do, whoever did it would have their life forfeited regardless. I’d make sure of it. Remember that.”

John nodded stiffly, the coldness in his father’s gaze and the finality in his tone disturbing him greatly. Heaven help whoever fucked with an Egbert.




Sgt: The Midnight Crew troll who appears in panel 1 and 2 is tumblr user Mage-of-Time’s fantroll, Soreno. Mage won our last big giveaway and we’re happy to finally share this prize.

Protip: Hemo tells John his background because he's freaking out inside over Heir losing his cool, and that's all he can think to do to distract and hopefully calm him down. Heir is supposed to be the veteran hero, after all, so to see him at the verge of a panic attack is jarring as hell. Heir was revealed to be a human being after all, so Hemo revealed that he was just as human (not...literally. Still a Troll) to calm him down. Obviously, it worked.

So, yeah! This was a long, long time coming. I apologize for that, but I'm not going to make any excuses. Real life got in the way and it was extremely difficult to focus on being creative. I just want to reiterate, however, how firm we are that this fic will never end until we've reached its conclusion. It will never be abandoned before completion, and it won't die. That I can swear to you. We are too invested in this to ever give it up, and we have a long, long way to go! This thing probably has a few more years left on it.

That being said, here's a message to all who doubted that we'd update and sent us rude messages stating as such:



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