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.


5. In Which John and Karkat Go on a Bro-Date

Sleeping in past six in the morning was almost a challenge, John always found. Today was to be no exception.

Several seconds after the digital display on his clock turned to read six, John’s body began its wake-up procedures, instinctively knowing it needed to be awake despite the absence of his alarm, too used to its daily routine. Within a few groggy moments of blinking in the pale light that filtered through his window, John’s mind was awake and alert enough for the teen to know that he wasn’t slipping back into unconsciousness anytime soon. Despite having been out until just a few hours prior, his body was brimming with energy, his muscles aching to be stretched and used as his early-morning weekday warm-up routine beckoned.

He had no real set plans for the day to look forward to that justified getting up in a timely manner, however. Saturday was always a bit hazy like that. There would be a more extensive training session with his dad at some point since he had missed out on practicing combat and defensive techniques during the school week, but that was only loosely scheduled for sometime during the first half of the day. After just having woken up, that seemed like a point too far in the future to even fathom.

Even though he knew there was no chance of falling back asleep, John wrapped himself around his blankets and closed his eyes, preferring the warmth of his bed to the prospect of getting up and facing the day.

Letting his mind relax as he urged his body to give in to slumber, his thoughts almost immediately drifted to the night before, free to run over the details of his encounter with the other supposed-hero as his mind toed the line between consciousness and a light snooze.

Hemogoblin had been more than John could have ever imagined. At first, when he had seen mention of the other hero in the newspaper, his need to be skeptical had dampened just how amazing potentially having another legitimate hero in the city could have been. His perception of the possibilities had been tainted by how there had been other average people in town —and many more the world over— who dressed up thinking they could help. Most of the time, they were either fans who were seeking attention from those they admired and emulated, or they were just flat-out delusional. Hemogoblin, to John’s surprise, had turned out to be none of those things. He was someone who could, quite obviously, take care of himself when push came to shove.

Thinking about the other night as he pulled his blankets tighter, John felt his sluggish mind feeling more and more impressed as he analyze what he had witnessed. The other hero had fought in a way that had been just as beautiful as it had been deadly; he was obviously skilled despite his apparent young age, a trait which John had always been proud of himself for possessing. No movement that John had seen had been wasted in his fluid method of fighting, the troll’s body continuously in motion through smooth twists and deep bends. It made John’s body ache just thinking about some of the more acrobatic techniques he had seen, the level of flexibility that must have required definitely something that he simply did not possess. John was flexible for a normal person, but Hemogoblin seemed like he could give a contortionist a run for their money. John was built for power, his muscles strong and sculpted, with his manipulation of the wind making up for any of his abilities lacking elsewhere. Hemogoblin had clearly built himself for speed. While he might not have been able to muster the sheer force behind his attacks like John could inflict, the troll’s blows had focused on pressure points and taken full advantage of his momentum. If he had applied just a bit more force, he could have easily made his hits fatal. It spoke volumes about his skill as a fighter that he could hold himself back. Even then, they had both sent several men to the hospital the previous night.

Thinking about Hemogoblin inevitably brought to mind the troll’s other characteristics, and John soon found the memory of catching that smoldering gaze hijacking his train of thought. Those captivating eyes had lit up so unnaturally, the bright red so strikingly vivid that John was surprised he hadn’t caught himself staring into them for an awkward amount of time. If they were real and not just contacts used to further disguise his identity, Hemogoblin had a blood colour that John had never heard of a troll possessing, like, ever. Though those eyes had been strange, they had also been entirely gorgeous, adding to a look that was easily as stunning as it had been alluring.

Heat started to rise to John’s cheeks as he buried his face into his nearest pillow. He really didn’t need to be thinking about just how attractive he found the other hero to be. In his experience, thoughts like that only lead to one thing, and he wasn’t quite ready to let his hormone-crazed brain cheat on Karkat with some attractive hero he had just met. There was also the fact that he wasn’t the type to go slobbering over every hot guy he saw like a horny dog. Usually. With a groan, John pushed against his pillow and rose, deciding any attempt to sleep in any longer would just result in further reflection on the curves of Hemogoblin’s lean muscles and the way they stood out against his tight costume, or how those striking eyes seemed to draw him in. Not to mention the way that his...ugh.

He rolled out of bed, taking his covers with him most of the way before figuring his dad wouldn’t be all that impressed if he showed up downstairs cocooned in his sheets. He left them sprawled half way across the floor with the intention of fixing them upon returning upstairs to get properly dressed. John stretched out his back, feeling the usual sore ache between his shoulders protest with the movement. A warm shower would help relax some of the tension there, but that would have to wait until after breakfast and training.

John slipped on a pair of sweatpants and a plain T-shirt before heading downstairs. Predictably, his dad was drinking coffee at the kitchen table while flipping through the daily paper. At least he could count on his dad to be ever-reliable in his daily routine.

“Morning, dad,” John greeted, heading for his chair and sitting down. The older man looked up with a small smile, folding the paper and placing it down in front of him.

Glancing at the front page, John saw no mention of the heist he and Hemogoblin had prevented, but that wasn’t a surprise. More often than not, the newspapers missed printing acts of heroism due to them occurring too late to cover. It was rare that a writer was brought in to cover a story at the very last minute; usually, the papers simply left it up to other media past midnight. John was sure mention of the night’s events had been released on news stations and over the internet, and that his dad at least had an idea of what had happened. Which meant he already knew Heir had met the new hero. Shoot.

“How was your night, son?” Uh-oh. John knew that tone. His dad was waiting for John to tell him himself. Wonderful. John hoped he wouldn’t earn a look of disapproval, or, worse, disappointment. He hated those.

“It was...eventful. There was an attempted robbery in the business district. They got in by blowing out the side of the building several stories up, using what I think was plastic explosive if the signs around the blast area were any indication. It certainly smelled like it, though I’m only going off that one time you demoed it for me. How they got their hands on that much is a bit of a concern. Someone definitely knew what he was doing and wasn’t unfamiliar with explosives, that’s for sure.” Focusing on the crime that had been stopped rather than how he had stopped it was probably the safer option, John figured.

“Yes, that is rather concerning. Though I take it that you apprehended them?” His dad got up and headed to the kitchen, opening the fridge to fish out things for breakfast. By the looks of what was being stacked on the counter next to an assortment of dry ingredients, it looked like French toast might be on the menu.

“Sort of. I wasn’t the only one who responded to the blast. Hemogoblin got there first.”

John let the silence after that statement hang for a moment before continuing, his father saying nothing as he pulled a few eggs from the fridge and let the door close behind him. He seemed focused on his task, not giving John a single look as he waited for his son to continue.

His dad would hear him out until the end of his explanation, John knew that, but it didn’t make it feel any easier to talk about how he had unavoidably done exactly what his father had explicitly told him not to.

“He must have been close by, because he was observing the perps by the time I got there. I was suspicious because I didn’t know who he was and thought he was the guard for the rest, but he went in and took down a handful of guys, no problem.”

“What was your impression of him?” The question seemed casual enough, as if they were discussing something much more pleasant. In reality, John knew that wasn’t really the case.

His dad wanted to gauge Hemogoblin, pick him apart and analyze what John already knew in order to be that much safer. John couldn’t really blame him, because as a parent, he had every right be be wary of anything or anyone who potentially endangered his son just that much more. Still, having to do this was a bit irksome to the teen, for some reason.

“He’s a trained fighter who showed no signs of fatigue despite taking on a respectable number of men by himself. His style is a mix of different martial arts, from what I could tell, but it would be safe to say his foundation is most likely capoeira from his technique and his favouring of footwork. He was agile to the point of it being alarming, in what I think may have something to do with a power or ability, because he was moving like I do whenever I have the wind helping me. He also seemed entirely aware of the movement of his body, because I’ve never seen moves executed so fluidly from anyone, except maybe you.” His dad arched an eyebrow at that. “He was rightfully confident though not to the point of being overly cocky. Every hit resulted in a clean knockout.” John paused for a moment to consider his words before he delivered his final assessment. This next part could decide whether he was banned from ever seeing the other hero again, if he wasn’t careful.

“After our brief initial meeting, I would say he could be a threat if I didn’t have the wind. As it stands, I’d estimate a strong chance of success were we to fight.”

The last bit was meant to be somewhat reassuring. Though Hemogoblin was evidently quite strong, Heir was still stronger, at least going by first impression. There was no telling exactly how much Hemogoblin had been holding back, but John could’ve made hits that powerful half-asleep and without the assistance of the wind. There was also the muscle factor, which, if Hemogoblin’s rather revealing skintight costume wasn’t actually hiding a ton of muscle, the other hero was clearly built more for speed than he was for outright strength. John wasn’t sure what was behind the smirks he had seen or if the other hero had been hiding any actual superpowers which might change the playing field between them, but John currently didn’t consider himself in a position to be worried if it somehow came to blows between them.

“He’s young, most likely around my age. When we briefly introduced ourselves, he seemed quiet, if not a bit flustered,” John summarized, hoping the lack of personal detail he had gathered alluded to just how little time they had spent together after the fight. The more impersonal he sounded, the less likely his dad was to be angered by John have made contact. “The only thing I might note as being strange is it being unclear how exactly he got in and out of the building. He had no gear but jumped off the side of the building when he departed.”

That was basically all that could be said before getting into his motivation for assisting rather than leaving it to Hemogoblin to handle. He’d save that until after his dad made his comments, if he really did need to justify what it was that he thought he was doing. There was no doubt the man would know why John had stayed, despite it being a reason he had no concept of: if the wind hadn’t pulled him there, there wouldn’t be a need for him.

His dad appeared at the doorway, a thoughtful smile on his lips as he whisked the contents of a mixing bowl. “While I can’t say that I’m not slightly upset that you were unable to prevent meeting with Hemogoblin, I understand that it was unavoidable to meet during these circumstances. You didn’t break your promise to me by actively seeking him out, and that’s all I can ask for. It sounds like you assessed the situation well, and I’m so proud of you for being cautious.”

“Thanks, dad. While I don’t want to think he has any ulterior motives for doing what he’s doing, I’ll be careful if I do meet him again.” His dad nodded curtly and set his attention back to breakfast, heading back into the kitchen.

That honestly had gone over better than expected.

The smell of cinnamon and nutmeg filled the air, accompanying the sound of something frying. John was right about breakfast from the lineup of ingredients. He was in for a treat; his father had always been an expert in foods that leaned on the side of baking or desserts. Why he was being rewarded with French toast instead of his usual health-conscious meal was the question. It almost felt like his dad was trying to make up for how stern he had been the other day, though it hadn’t been the first time the man had ever been strict like that.

“Oh, John?” The rather cheerful call came from the kitchen over the sound of frying. “Karkat called for you just before you got up. He’s quite the early riser.”

John got up, heading into the kitchen so he didn’t miss a word. It was in the moments where his enthusiasm got the better of him that he was positive his dad knew what Karkat was to him. Worrying what his father would say when he told him delayed actually making the confession, but he know how poor a job he did at hiding his feelings sometimes.

Despite John’s hopes that his father was oblivious, he knew there was no chance someone that perceptive hadn’t caught on when his mood suddenly picked up at the mere mention of the troll. He knew his dad hadn’t brought the subject of John’s affections up out of respect, knowing he would confide in him when he was ready. That consideration just made John feel even more guilty that he still couldn’t pick the right words. “What did he say?”

“He asked for me to pass on a message to you: when you found the effort to roll yourself out of bed, you are to call him. He doesn’t seem to have work today and wanted to know if you’d like to spend time with him.” As his dad turned to glance at him for a moment, a slight smile stretched on the man’s lips. “As if he really needs to ask.”

John couldn’t get to the nearest phone fast enough.


He swiftly picked the phone off its base and began dialing the number by heart. As he pressed the phone to his ear, anticipating the moment when the quiet ringing would give way to Karkat’s usual curt demand of ‘what?’, John bounced on the balls of his feet in barely contained excitement. His dad was right: Karkat never really needed to ask.

The conversation was brief, a quick reiteration of what John’s dad had told him. Karkat didn’t have much to do and was hoping to waste the day with their usual activities of choice, which meant watching movies and reading comics. John fully agreed to the plan, wishing Karkat would say he could be there immediately instead of noon. Their exchange didn’t last more than a couple minutes, but when John put the phone down on the receiver, he felt like his mood had just shot skywards.

He couldn’t wait.

John spent the rest of breakfast anticipating an afternoon filled entirely with Karkat. Despite being given explicit instructions from the troll that he was to show up no earlier than noon, John still sped through his meal. There was some childish hope in him that if he just did everything quickly, the world would match his pace rather than make the wait seem so unbearably long. He practically inhaled his breakfast with hardly a pause to savour the treat that it was, then proceeded to bounce his legs impatiently as he waited for his dad to finish his own meal. It seemed that his father was purposefully taking impossible lengths of time to drink his coffee, sipping so slowly each time he drew the mug to his mouth that John was positive that he was totally messing with him. He caught that small smile that disappeared behind the cup — totally doing it on purpose.

Deciding that keeping busy would help ease the desire to just head over to Karkat’s immediately after his shower, John set to work on the dishes. He would have dropped the little obligations he had in favour of being with his best friend, but he didn’t want to show up three and a half hours before the troll was expecting him. That was a little too eager, even for him. And even if he were to shirk off his training, there was no guarantee that Karkat would even be there to greet him. It was likely that his friend could have plans for the morning, especially if he was ready to spend the afternoon with John. Weekends tended to be reserved for errands since Karkat insisted that his lusus couldn’t be trusted with simple chores anymore.

Knowing that waiting for the afternoon was the only real option, John sighed and tried to focus on the task of scrubbing the frying pan. At least the combat training he’d be partaking in would make the time go by. That could easily eat up hours, depending on what they’d be focusing on. His dad might also be able to work the knot out from between his back before he headed over to Karkat’s, which John would appreciate. While he tended to inform his friend that any discomfort was a result of too much swim practice, he’d rather not cause Karkat to look at him like he was worried.

“Son, you’ve been at that same pan for two minutes. You might scrub a hole through it at this rate.” John wasn’t aware that his dad had finished his food and had entered the kitchen. He glanced down at the frying pan in his hand and noted with relief that he hadn’t managed to scratch the surface before turning with a sheepish smile. John rinsed the pan out quickly and placed it in the drying rack before wiping his hands on a wash cloth.

“Sorry, I guess I’m just excited to go over to Karkat’s. I didn’t think I would get to see him this weekend, since he didn’t say anything yesterday. I’m really glad I get to, now.” Then John realized then that he hadn’t actually asked for permission to go, feeling his face heat up a few degrees as he stumbled over a quick request. “If, uh, it’s okay with you and I’m allowed to go?”

“Of course. I hope you two have fun.” His dad walked forward to pat his head, ruffling up the already messy locks. John whined, ducking out from under the hand and weaving to the side. “Just call to let me know if you think you’ll be having dinner there or are going to be home late.” John nodded his response, watching his father’s hand in much caution. “Before you go, are you up for a little weapons training?”

John smiled up at his dad; weapons training always made the time fly by. “I’ll go get Casey.”


/ / /

Just as John suspected, the time absolutely flew when he was running through disarming drills and various battle scenarios that went over what to do if he was ever in a situation where he couldn’t draw on the wind. He appreciated that his dad had picked training that required both of their full attentions to actually avoid any serious injuries, rather than the slow routines they often did during the week which allowed John’s mind to wander. Having that point of focus was doing wonders for his awareness of how much time was actually passing. It seemed like barely any time had passed when, two hours later, his dad interrupted his practice of hitting a couple of unlucky training dummies across the room with his warhammer.

Before John left to take a shower and get ready, his dad sat him down to take at look at his back. It was always a concern of his that John was overworking his body, even though John hardly ever complained and neither of them actually knew what John’s physical limitations were. While John insisted that it was more irritating than anything, he also knew he had an exceptionally high threshold for pain. That meant that it could be dangerous to neglect any discomfort, because it could eventually progress into a serious injury with John being none the wiser. While it had yet to be a problem, they both figured that it was best to err on the side of caution. That meant that John found himself being worked over by his dad’s skilled hands every so often. So John answered the usual questions of where the tension was building, what kind of an ache he felt, and how long it had felt like that. While his dad was able to work out the worst of it with his strong hands, he made the decision that what John considered a bit of soreness was enough that he would have to be scheduled in for an actual sports massage from a licensed therapist. Which, really, wasn’t all that unusual. The school liked to provide sessions for their star athletes, anyway.

With his back more or less taken care of for the time being, John found himself with little over half an hour before he was expected at Karkat’s. He hurried upstairs for a much needed shower and was out in under ten minutes. What slowed him down considerably was the sudden inability to decide what he should wear as he stared inside his closet, hair still dripping. He ended up wasting a quarter of an hour just trying to pick his clothes out, even after telling himself that Karkat did not care what he showed up wearing. The troll had seen all his hero shirts over their time together, from the totally awesome to the admittedly lame, and it wasn’t like he often went out and bought new clothes. So with an impatient glance at the clock near his bed, John closed his eyes and reached out blindly as his method of choice. Spiderman themed t-shirt acquired, he matched it with some dark pants and a long sleeved black shirt.

With only a handful of minutes to spare and the risk of being late, John quickly grabbed his cellphone and wallet before he hurried downstairs. After a quick farewell to his dad, he was out the door and running the short distance to Karkat’s house. He pulled at the wind to finish drying his damp hair and it swept up the locks into what he assumed was a serious state of disarray. It pushed at his back, encouraging him to run faster while ever offering up the sky to him.

The offer was tempting. He would love nothing more than to jump off the ground, landing only long enough to pick up Karkat before taking him flying. John wanted nothing more than to be able to share that experience with the person he loved, to be able to hold onto Karkat tightly as they spun through the air, to share the joy he experienced everyday. Above all, he wished he could tell the troll who he was.

A nervous flutter settled in his chest as he ascended the few stairs leading to the landing. A smile involuntarily stretched over his lips as he rung the doorbell, listening to the sudden response of screeching and returned yells from inside the house. It was only a few moments later that the door was flung open and John was treated to the sight of white carapace, Crabdad towering above him in front of the door.

It wasn’t unusual for the custodian to make it to the door first, but his towering frame always registered with John as being slightly intimidating whenever he did. The lusus clacked his claws in the air in rapid succession and made a high, warbling sound that John had always interpreted as a positive greeting. One white claw descended and very gently began fussing with John’s hair while Crabdad turned his head inside the house and seemed to call for Karkat, if Karkat’s name consisted of a brief screech and a warble. John laughed, pushing lightly at the claw with both hands, hardly trying to fend himself from the lusus’s gestures. Karkat would save him from the weird act of affection soon.


“Dad, fucking seriously, could you stop doing this every single time John comes over? Whatever it is you keep trying to do is not working and your massive crab hand is only succeeding in crushing his head. Unless he can magically pull baked goods out of his asshole, he has not brought you any treats today. Shoo, you gargantuan fatass. You are seriously just as bad as the fish.”

Karkat was only partially visible as he came up beside his lusus, pushing at him until he got the idea to move. He clacked again at John before screeching something to Karkat, which the troll just nodded to. Whatever he had agreed to made Crabdad take his leave, retreating back into the house and most likely to his room. When Karkat turned to him, rusty eyes focusing under thin lenses, John felt his heart swell. Ow.

“Sorry about him, for the thousandth time. I tell him to stop every single time but he insists that this is how he is going to greet you. You should really tell him no, or he’s just going to keep it up. Come on, it’s fucking freezing outside.” Karkat moved back so John had room to enter. The hero flicked his eyes quickly up and down the troll’s body as he slipped off his shoes, fully approving of the fact that Karkat kept the house warm enough inside for him to wear short sleeves. He was like a vision in monochrome which made his eyes stand out against the muted choice of clothes; John’s mouth kind of hurt with how wide he was grinning, but he couldn’t help it.

“Well, I think it’s fine. He’s not actually hurting me and he sounds like he’s just really glad to see me. I’ll bring something next time.” Karkat groaned and mumbled something under his breath. It was probably a complaint that John was fueling his lusus’s unhealthy obsession with his baking, not that the troll ever complained when he was gifted with the treats first. “And I won’t have to worry, since you’ll rescue me again. My hero. Should I be swooning?”

Karkat considered the question with a lopsided grin, one tooth sticking out slightly over his bottom lip. “Probably. Enjoy the landing though because I am not going to be catching you. Now come on, you idiot, we have some movies to get through and you are holding us up.”

With that, the troll turned and walked away, John trailing close behind him. John followed Karkat up the stairs, trying to appreciate what would have been a great view if not for the sheer sagginess of Karkat’s jeans. He took what he got, though, even if it left a lot to the imagination. It would probably be dangerous for his health if Karkat decided to get clothes that actually fit him, anyway.

Karkat’s room was the same as it ever was, with the only exception over the past year being a dozen more posters tacked up on the walls. Before taking a look at the couple of new additions to the sea of hero pictures, John greeted Sebastian. As expected, he was entirely snubbed by the sizable goldfish, who seemed as though he was too busy swimming through his castle to notice another body had entered the room. Knowing he probably had to make an offering to come close to the fish’s attention, John went back to looking at the posters.

“Oh, that one’s new.” There was another Heir poster, bringing the grand total around the room to four. The format was one John had seen many times before: the hero posed naturally on top of a building, back turned and glancing slightly down and to the side, the lighting so dramatic that he was almost entirely silhouetted. But with the wind whipping around him and Casey held out in one hand it looked like Heir was waiting for the sun to fully set, ready to take off into the sky as soon as it dipped past the horizon. Admittedly, John thought that was a pretty epic picture of himself, clichéd as it was. He felt like it suited him a lot better than some of the posters he had seen Heir on, one or two of which he knew Karkat owned.


“Yeah. As you very well know, I might have a bit of a problem with buying every single Heir poster I see. You don’t want to know how many I have that aren’t hanging, but I assure you its a disgusting number that I should be more ashamed of than I really am. Though you’ll be proud of me to note that, other than the couple of t-shirts and hoodie, I have resisted the urge to squander my money on the things that pop up at the comic book store —or the vast number of fan-made creations available online because I am a pitiful enough fanboy to seek that kind of thing out on a daily basis —that have an Heir theme to them. It’s hard to restrain myself, though; he’s just really fucking cool, you know?”

John felt his cheeks flare, despite having heard Karkat compliment Heir numerous times. Every time, it just felt like he was telling John to his face what he thought of him and not just talking about the hero who had saved him. “So you’ve said.”

“Don’t start with me. Just agree now so I can avoid verbally expelling the mentally crafted essay I’ve fine-tuned to glorious perfection that overviews the points that make Heir a great hero. You know how this ends, with us both thoroughly embarrassed, filled with regret, and a large amount of loathing for past-us for allowing it to happen again.”

John smiled back at the troll as if he were considering it. He’d give in, though, having been on the receiving end of that rant before when he had not immediately agreed to Karkat’s claims that Heir was the best thing since sliced bread. The side of Karkat that openly gushed about his favourite heroes was painfully adorable, but it was kind of hard to agree with him when he was talking about John’s own alter identity. That would’ve felt weird and a bit narcissistic.

There was a problem when Karkat showed that hero-worshipping side of himself, however. Its sudden appearance always made John want to run the risk of confessing his feelings and who he truly was, separating the distance between them with a gust of wind while Karkat looked on in shock, and mashing their faces together in what John hoped would be a highly successful first kiss. It was only the thought of how terrible a plan unveiling his biggest secrets could be that made him back out every time, but the scenario never completely left his mind as an unlikely fantasy.

“Right, okay. He’s pretty cool.” Again, it felt weird to acknowledge himself like that, but it was better to do it now so he avoided having to nod along while someone enthusiastically brought up eyewitness accounts and chat-rooms on the internet to support his claims. “Hey, speaking of local heroes, have you heard any news about Hemogoblin?”

“Who?” When John looked over at his friend, Karkat seemed more engrossed with setting up his laptop on the bed than he was at the potential to go over what was sure to prove to be extremely detailed research that he had done on the new hero. John waited for the inevitable break when the troll would start smiling and going over what little he knew about the subject.

“Oh come on, man, don’t be like this. I know you looked him up after I mentioned him yesterday. There’s no chance that you just ignored the fact that there’s a new hero in our city. Worried the new guy will take away some of Heir’s spotlight?” Karkat glared and John felt like he had hit the target dead centre.

“It’s hard to say. He sounds pretty interesting, but there’s really not much concrete information on him past the recent news about him and Heir stopping a rather large-scale robbery last night. Heir apparently made the report to the police that Hemogoblin had been there first and seemed fully capable of handling the situation on his own. With Heir saying that and no one being grievously injured, I’d say Hemogoblin should continue to be received positively.”

Karkat paused to lay down on the bed in front of the computer, gesturing for John to do the same. He walked over and shifted beside the troll until they were almost touching, the excuse being that the bed wasn’t that large. Karkat continued as he opened up the first DVD case in a sizable stack; it looked like they were going to run through some of their favourites today.

“There’s so far no real signs that he possesses any superpowers, though, so that could be a concern if he were to come up against an enemy that overpowered or outskilled him in combat. At least that’s the perception on the forums I frequent. There’s speculation that he’s just not using them until he needs to use them, which I guess makes sense. No sense showing off your trump card. The blogs have a lot more but I never feel like I can trust them as reliable. Mostly pictures popping up from camera phones of those who were outside during the attempted robbery and people making... assumptions.”

“Assumptions?” John asked. Karkat fiddled with the CD tray, taking far too much time dropping the movie into it.

“His costume is getting a lot of attention.” Oh. Oh. That made sense, and John really couldn’t blame people for noticing. He had found it hard not to stare at what the material clearly mapped out. It had been rather difficult not taking the time to just stop and appreciate how perfectly it fit that lithe body once he had been confirmed as an ally. He idly wondered if he could convince Karkat to show him the pictures he had mentioned later. “Okay, less talking about the brand new, maybe-hero suddenly running around in Heir territory, more Hellboy.”

With that, Karkat finally dropped the DVD in, and hit play.


/ / /

After Ron Perlman and Selma Blair ended the movie with a fiery kiss, Karkat stood up and hopped over John off the bed. He headed over to the bookshelf where he kept his comic books, smiling to himself as he scanned his finger over the many different volumes and collections he owned. John waited, excited to see just what the troll had in store for them. Karkat extracted one book sporting a telltale teal and red motif, holding it up so John could see the issue’s cover. While John didn’t follow The Ancestors series too much, he was gaining quite a bit of knowledge on Karkat’s favourites from the series through their reading sessions.


“The new Redglare came out a couple of days ago. I haven’t had the chance to read it yet. Do you want to?” Personally, John found the heroine’s approach a bit too severe, as she followed the law with no mercy. She was as brutal as any other character in the series, however, cruelly honest, and shockingly intelligent. It was hard for him to really support some of what she did, even if it was just fiction. What John found the most interesting about her was the fact that she did not hide her identity as Redglare, which often lead to her facing more than her fair share of danger.

“For sure!” John excitedly agreed, but It was not the comic he was most interested in. He shifted over so Karkat had room beside him. “Man, they really left her at a cliffhanger last time. I hope she pulls through.”

“Of course she will, since the series is long from over. She hasn’t even been contacted by The Ancestors yet, and they’re not going to kill her off before she gets into the league. Well, they might, but then she could always come back to life. You know how these things work in comic book logic.” Karkat crawled back on the bed and stretched out on his stomach, holding the book open so each of them could take a side. Karkat leaned in to get a better look at the pages, John doing the same.

They often read comics at the same time, especially when something new they both wanted to read came out. While Karkat enjoyed the story, John split his attention between scanning the words and the simple happiness being near the troll brought him.

Today it seemed impossible to focus on reading, what with his shoulder and hip pressing firmly against Karkat’s. With all he had been thinking and dreaming of Karkat lately, it just felt like it was too much to have him so close and yet not nearly close enough. Way too much. The heat next to him made him want to draw himself even closer, pull in, and flush his body against the troll. He bit his lip, shifting his hips and trying to wriggle away only to have Karkat snap at him to stop moving.

John managed to catch Karkat asking if he was done with the page and he absentmindedly agreed, stealing a glance at Karkat’s profile as he focused down at the page. It was painful how close their faces were to each other’s and how little effort it would take to lean in, tilt Karkat’s head with his own, and press their lips together. The temptation was almost overwhelming as he continued to breath in a smell that was just so distinctly Karkat. God, he wanted it so badly.

He could feel his breath start to get heavy and recognized with some part of his brain that he was just outright starting at his best friend’s face. But tearing his gaze away seemed like an impossible task, and it took everything in him not to make his desire known. The troll was too engrossed in reading to notice John leaning in just a little bit more, his heart beating like a drum inside his chest. The idea of it was so simple, and would be even easier to execute. It was just a matter of closing the small distance between them to finally kiss the troll that he was madly in love with, just a few inches...


“Alright, post-comic analysis. What did you think about the fight after Mindfang was revealed to have been the one manipulating others into committing the crimes? Honestly, I know she’s Redglare’s speculated arch-nemesis and as such she’s going to get a lot of face time, but sometimes I just want it to not be Mindfang behind things. Sometimes I just want it to be just some psychotic person for an arc and not this complicated web of seemingly random uses of mind control to confuse and lure in Redglare. It actually is getting to the point of being obvious when something seems off about a criminal. That being said, the actual fight was kind of epic and I was not expecting the arm thing, or that Redglare actually caught her.”

“Uh huh.”

“John?” Karkat sounded concerned and John blinked, realizing that his face was almost uncomfortably close to the troll’s. At least, uncomfortably close for friends. Had Karkat chosen that moment to look away from the comic and turn his head to glare at his friend, he probably would’ve ended up accidentally pressing their faces together. It took John several rough seconds of exerting his willpower before he pulled back to their usual range, smiling sheepishly. “Where is your fucking thinkpan, today? Normally you’d be all over this shit, especially after how brutal the arm dismemberment and disfigurement was. I was expecting you to go off on how that all could have been avoided, or something.”

“Ah, sorry. I just have a lot on my mind right now. I didn’t really focus too much on the comic.” Karkat huffed, closing the book and laying it carefully on the bed. At least it didn’t seem as though he had caught on to what John had been about to do. Thoughts of what could have happened if he had followed through with the kiss and how Karkat would have taken it clouded his mind. He shook his head slightly, trying to clear the possible outcomes; there was no use dwelling on what could have been turned into a terrible or wonderful decision.

“Typical Egbert, drifting off into headspace while he leaves the rest of us firmly down in reality. You’ve been doing that a lot more lately, actually. Did you want to talk about it?”

When Karkat turned to look at him, one aristocratic eyebrow raised slightly and a concerned quirk to his lips, John realized that he did. He really did. He wanted to say what Karkat did to him, how he twisted up his heart, how he made his stomach feel like it did when he was flying, and made it hard to focus on anything but him. He wanted to tell him he adored how truly kind Karkat was despite how he tried to be aloof, how his verbose way of speaking was just endearing most of the time, and even his commonly-thrown insults were something he looked forward to because it was all just so uniquely Karkat. He wanted to say he was Heir, that he was sorry for hiding it for so long, but he’d swear to make it up to him. Maybe with flying and kisses.

What he wanted was to tell Karkat that he loved him.

Was this the time to do it?

John took a deep breath, preparing himself, as Karkat anticipated some kind of answer. The troll was starting to look a little concerned at how long John was taking to say something, though the look of patience never left his face. That alone made John’s desire to confess even stronger. That their faces were still practically inches apart and their bodies still touching didn’t hurt, either.

“I-,” he paused, closing his eyes and gathering himself. “Karkat, the thing is, that I...I...” John sighed, and turned his head away. No. He couldn’t do it yet. He still didn’t feel ready to handle the rejection if it came, especially because it likely would. Karkat had told him that he wasn’t interested in anyone they knew, a statement which also included John. If he accepted what Karkat had told him as true, then it was a reality that he had to prepare for the possibility of heartbreak before he chose to let his deepest feelings out.

So instead, he shrugged his shoulders and tried to make it sound less than it was, plastering a tired smile onto his face. “You know, it’s not a big deal. I’ll tell you about it some other time. Want to go to the comic book store at the mall and see if they have any Hemogoblin stuff, yet? Despite you being an Heir snob, I for one think we should support our new local hero.”

Karkat continued to stare at him with his eyebrow still raised, a questioning look in his eyes as he searched John’s face for signs of deception or distress. It made John feel better knowing that his best friend cared enough to be that persistent, but this was one time that he wished the troll would just let things lie as they were. Perhaps sensing John’s mood, Karkat pulled back and pushed himself off the bed, rolling onto the floor and to his feet without a sound.



/ / /

The usual comic shop that John and Karkat frequented was located on a busy street just outside of the city. It was a little bit out of the way and wasn’t the closest location to their neighborhood that carried similar merchandise, but they were dedicated patrons for one very specific reason: the shop always carried a large selection of real-hero merchandise. Apart from the usual list of series from major publishers, the store supported indie and even one-off materials depicting the not entirely legal images of heroes like Heir. While some of the world’s masked men and women took offense to others profiting off of their identities, John didn’t mind it. It was actually pretty awesome to have people showing interest in him enough that they wanted to make and own things with his likeness on them, despite his lack of public appearances.

Though some of the Heir posters that existed were kind of...well, questionable was putting it politely.

John flipped the large panel of the poster display to the next one, a big named heroine from the New York striking a trademarked pose while dressed in a whole lot of fuchsia. There were some heroes that were definitely more open to being marketable, it seemed. As he turned the remainder of the display’s panels, he felt disappointed for not coming across one of Hemogoblin. Granted, the general populace had only become aware of him very recently, as in that morning. Unless someone he saved happened to have been an artist or he had a very dedicated fan, the likelihood of John snapping up a poster of his fellow crimefighter at this stage was slim to none.

He turned his attention to the display Karkat had been skimming through, grey fingers now stilled on the panel corner. Wanting to see what had caught his friend’s attention, John temporarily abandoned the search for anything relating to Hemogoblin. It didn’t take long for him to realize that Karkat was lingering on another Heir poster, too caught up in gazing at the detail of it to notice that John was standing behind him.

The image was certainly striking, the setting ablaze and seemingly made up of more fire than room. The building was straining, paint peeling and dark smoke obscuring any sign of a ceiling. Heir floated in the centre of the scene with his arms outstretched, twisting the blaze with the wind in a way that was more artistic than practical and choking the air from the flames.


“I can’t help it,” Karkat said softly, eyes still locked on the poster. “I can’t help but want to buy anything I see with him on it, even though every single thing is just an illustration or photo-manipulation and not really Heir. When I think about the fact that he’s the only reason I’m alive today, that he saved me, I feel that I should be thanking him somehow. Buying posters of him and blogging isn’t nearly enough, but I have to content myself with being a fucking fanboy since I don’t know if I’ll get to ever see him again.”

“You don’t know that, Karkat. You might get to meet him.” John worried his lip, wondering about fulfilling Karkat’s wish and about just how dangerous it would be for him to actually visit his friend for one evening. He could call Karkat to meet him somewhere, then say he was running late and drop down as Heir, pretending that the wind had drawn him to the location. Karkat would finally get to say what he needed to say to the hero and that would be it. Just once would probably be enough. John was seriously considering the possibility when the troll turned, a somewhat sad smile on his face.

“I bet he’d be really happy to know you support him. Maybe he’s seen some of the stuff you’ve said about him online, since he might check to see what people think of him.”

“Maybe, yeah.” John’s heart stalled with how genuinely happy Karkat looked before it started back up, sporadically skipping in a way that made him hold his breath. Karkat was his Kryptonite, there was no getting around that. It was taking considerable effort not to tip forward and press a kiss over those smiling lips. They were standing in the perfect position for it. He wanted to draw the troll into his arms and run his fingers through his hair and just never let him go. It was beginning to feel like not having Karkat might just kill him, but following through with his hopes was a terrifying prospect.

John tore his eyes away out of necessity, knowing he wouldn’t naturally stop staring at the troll unless he stopped himself. Just past Karkat, one of the store employees was finishing rolling out a few posters, opening a third display to hang them up in. What caught his attention was the one she had just put up. It was of a figure seeming to blend into the shadows, the flickers of red and a flash of white teeth enough for John to focus on it. Hemogoblin.

Freezing in place as he took in the surprisingly accurate depiction of the new hero, John couldn’t help but appreciate the sheer amounts of sex appeal the artist had managed to capture. The brightness of his eyes stood out against the dark poster, alight and burning as they seemed to gaze straight out at John. He was wearing a smirk as he tilted his head back, drawing attention to the fact that his costume was zipped down slightly to better expose his neck and collarbone. The other hand was casually raised, a finger beckoning the viewer forward and—


—okay, John needed that poster immediately.

He grinned as he looked back to Karkat, who was occupying himself with pulling out the Heir poster he had been wanting. “But hey, just because you want to support Heir doesn’t mean you can’t also support the new guy, too.”

Karkat raised an eyebrow in question and John nodded his head forward in the direction of the other display. When the troll turned he gasped in clear surprise. John laughed at the reaction, heading over for a closer look with Karkat close behind. The closer he got, the more he was sure he’d be purchasing the print regardless of whatever it cost.

“No fucking way, I can't even fathom much less accept that this can be a thing so soon,” Karkat said as John was going through the rack the employee had only just been filling—she had stepped to the side to let them browse, giving them a quick hello when she recognized their faces, before pretending to look busy—in order to fish out a copy of the poster. Prize in hand, John wondered where he was going to hang the soon-to-be new addition to his collection before noticing Karkat seemed still very much surprised.

“I guess someone must have seen him before the robbery last night and got inspired. If the design was ready, they could have just done a small run at a print shop? I don’t know. However it happened, I’m buying this right now and it is going up on my wall as soon as I get home. Where’s the shopkeep? I have money to throw at him.”

“God, John, you're like a wriggler in a confectioner's shop. I can't fucking take you anywhere.” Karkat slowly knelt down, pulling out his own copy of the poster. John beamed at him when he stood back up, the troll shooting his friend a challenging, and rather flustered, look. “Don’t start with me. It’s much more shocking that you’re taking interest in our local heroes than it is for me to put my allegiance temporarily aside in order to purchase another hero’s poster. You hardly ever want to discuss Heir with me despite your insistence that you are a fan of what he is selflessly doing for everyone, and when you do, you just let me do all the talking.”

“Well, you usually do all the talking regardless, dude,” John laughed, trying to hide how nervous he felt with a slight jab. Whenever Karkat brought him up it was hard to monitor and censor himself. He hated doing that, but he couldn’t let out information on a whim that a regular citizen wouldn’t know. Being aloof and letting Karkat run the subject into its eventual exhaustion was his usual method. “And you know I like Heir, it’s just I try to evenly distribute my attention where you kind of hone in. But I take it you were making a fuss over nothing and you’re actually okay with Hemogoblin too?”

“Fuck you.” The sheer conviction behind those two words made the shop employee jump. Karkat didn’t notice as he headed towards the cash register, a poster in each hand. “I have a stronger connection to Heir for obvious reasons, but it’s not like I’m going to just ignore this new guy. Now let’s buy these things already and get some lunch. I know you’re hungry.”


/ / /

They stopped at a burger place on the way back to Karkat’s house. Despite John insisting he wasn’t that hungry —despite the fact that he was, having skipped his accustomed lunch time to make sure he arrived punctually at his friend’s house— Karkat caught the lie, just like he always did, and made the executive decision to pull his car over at the first place that wasn’t a huge fast food chain. Karkat said that there was only so low they could go when it came to their eating-out habits.

Like John, Karkat usually made a very respectable effort to eat healthy, especially considering he was solely in charge of grocery shopping in his home. John didn’t know if he could resist the temptation of just picking up the things he craved if his dad let him handle that task. Oddly enough, though, when John and Karkat came together, they would toss their usual worries about proper nutrition to the wind. There was something kind of awesome about keeping a small secret between them from both their dads, even if it was just something as dumb as eating the occasional cheeseburger.

Or watching Karkat suck salt and oil off of his fingers after eating french fries, though that was John’s own guilty pleasure.


“Seriously, what are you looking at now?” Karkat questioned after cleaning his index finger with a swipe of his tongue. John laughed, embarrassed to be caught and knowing full well there was no way to deny where his eyes had focused. It didn’t really matter, though, it wasn’t the first time that he had been caught.

“Spacing out again, sorry. I guess I was looking at you. You know, they have napkins on the table for a reason, Karkat.” He made a point of taking a paper napkin from the little metal dispenser pushed against the side of their booth, wiping his fingers until they felt somewhat cleaner. He’d have to make a stop in the restroom before they left to wash them properly, but at least me made his point.

“And not enjoy every second of greasy glory? Fuck you and fuck your impeccable table manners. I came here to savour and take part in the challenge of endless fries and a burger with a calorie count probably in the quadruple digits. Thanks for the tip on the etiquette, but I will damn well enjoy my artery-clogging meal in any which way I please, which includes cherishing every last drop of grease.” Karkat licked his thumb for good measure before grabbing a couple more fries off his plate. John laughed and stole one despite having his own, just to see the little glare the troll shot his way. He was already on his third serving —Karkat took the ‘endless’ claim seriously. He probably could fit in another plate before his stomach protested against the sheer amount of starches it was being filled with.

As he waited for Karkat to finally decide that he was satisfied with the dent he had made in the restaurant’s potato supply, John remembered something he’d meant to ask the troll earlier. “You know, my swim meet is next Saturday. You up for tagging along and playing cheerleader, again?” Ultimately, John knew Karkat’s answer before he even had to ask, but he very much enjoyed the troll’s wordy way of getting to the ‘yes’.

“I honestly see no point. Every time I go you splash around faster than the other soaked idiots and do your little butterfly stroke thing to victory. Then they pretend the tears that are a byproduct of their crushing defeat are just the water and they’re not a huge embarrassment to their schools for losing. It’s depressing to watch you destroy their dreams of gaining a scholarship because they can’t paddle around in liquid quick enough. Congratulations on being the champion of doggy paddle, or whatever it is you do in overly-chlorinated water someone probably urinated in.”

John decided that level of sass just lost Karkat one more fry, which he also quickly dipped in the sizable mound of ketchup flooding the troll’s plate. “Remind me that I am going to actually teach you how to swim this summer. Your job will not be a good enough excuse this time. You are going to go in the water, you are going to get wet, and you’re going to like it. Until then, come on. You can support me.”

Karkat sighed, shrugging in a way that made John hesitate for a moment. “The reason I don’t like going isn’t because I don’t know how to do it, asshole.”

“Oh? Is it because you’re embarrassed about seeing all of this body glistening wet, Karkat?” John wiggled his eyebrows for good measure, wondering if his actual attempts at flirting would always just be shrugged off without question. Karkat grinned, though, reaching over the table to shove John firmly in the shoulder.

“Fine. If you stop being such a fucking doofus, I’ll go. On second thought, because that would require you to go against your very nature, I will come watch you perform your horizontal water-running out of the goodness of my own heart. And for a pie.” Karkat Vantas struck a hard bargain, indeed.

“You have yourself a deal.” John grinned, getting a handshake for good measure. It looked like he already had something to look forward to for the next weekend.

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