Your name is Dave Strider and you're one of the five humans left alive after the end of the world. Or ends, you suppose. One of the three from your ending, with your ex-girlfriend turned into an evil half-dog thing and crushed by her own house like a macabre reference to a painfully cheesy movie from the 1930's. You still have no idea how that was deemed as 'just'. Jane and Jake, well... You don't want to think about what happened to them. Or about what they had become.

You know that it could be worse. There are still five trolls alive, even if one's blind and half-dead, one's a vampire, one's obsessed with death and terrible puns, one still tackle-hugs you and smothers you in lick-kisses whenever she sees you, and one just yells at everyone all the time.

Everyone you're related to is still alive. At least... as far as players are concerned. Your best friend is still alive.

You're alive. And you aren't going to get decapitated by a half-canine, sword-wielding alien with a royalty complex, or be crushed by a falling meteor, or explode in a man-made supernova, or be strangled to death by an 'immortal' druggie clown troll with some kind of freaky hate-lust for you. Or... see anyone else in harm's way again. At least, not like that. You hate how, no matter how jokingly and cynically you string the words together, it always ends up back at that and you just feel... sad again. Scared, even.

Scared that you're wrong and this is a dream and you'll wake up back on the ship or in your bed back on Earth and it'll just be the beginning and you'll have to see everything happen all over again and...

Maybe it wouldn't turn out so well this time.

You know you aren't the only one who has nightmares. But Rose has Kanaya and Karkat has Terezi and Dirk has Roxy and Sollux has Aradia and visa versa. (Though that last part is hard to imagine reciprocated. You know that the Gemini has some normal emotion hidden somewhere, under all of the extreme apathy and frustration, but it's hard to imagine Miss Corpse Party actually being scared of anything. Even her thousandth death.)

You... Well, that only leaves you with one person, doesn't it?

It starts off with the two of you just spending more time together. And... with considerably less space between you. Whether it's having a godawful jam session when you're the only two in the house or sitting so close that you're elbowing each other in the ribs when you play video games or half-cuddling on the couch when you watch either one of his terrible action movies or one of your ridiculous but at least funny choices that he always complains about.

The first time he knocks on your door, it's 2 am and it takes you a minute to drag your ass out of bed and over to the door. He's got his hands clasped tight over his mouth to stifle any sound he makes, his tiny frame shaking, his glasses fogging up from the tears streaming down his cheeks. You pull him inside, close the door, and wrap your arms tight around him without a word. It's enough, for now, and he stains your shirt with his tears as he clings to you, his breathing erratic and nearly hard enough to make you shake, as well. Seven minutes later, you're back in bed with him curled up against your chest, having a quiet discussion about how obvious it is that Karkat's still all over Terezi, smiling a little too sadly and trying a little too hard to keep your breathing normal, until he dozes off again, pressed up against you, his glasses overlapping your shades on top of your nightstand.

It slowly becomes more and more frequent, until he realizes that you won't push him away and he stops trying to sleep by himself entirely. Whose room you fall asleep in starts to vary. You fall asleep to the sound of each other's breathing and wake up in the middle of the night convinced that it's stopped.

It doesn't stop the nightmares. It doesn't make them less frequent. It just makes them... easier to deal with.

At first, you still try to keep everything covered up. You're supposed to be there for him, not the other way around. You keep quiet, hands clamped so tight over your mouth that you can hardly breathe, keeping your tears away from him and your shaking to a minimum. Until he blinks awake and holds you close and strokes your hair, softly mumbling that he's there and he's okay and it's over and you don't have to worry anymore, over and over until you calm down enough to wrap your arms around him and squeeze him tight, burying your face into the crook of his neck. Your eyes are exposed and just barely visible in the darkness and sometimes you aren't even sure that he can make out vermillion right in front of his blue but you still feel too vulnerable to make eye contact most of the time.

He doesn't try as hard to stay quiet. You were raised on strength and stability and cynicism, while he was raised on laughter and emotion and honesty. Neither really had their intended effect, but you're... different. He's different from you, right down to the way that he clutches at your shirt when he's still half-asleep, shaking against you and struggling to breathe with his face pressed against the fabric but unwilling to move a centimeter away from you. You hold him tight and rub little circles into his back and whisper in his ear, reassurances and stories and anything you can think of to calm him down until he stills and you can feel his breathing level out. He doesn't let go of your shirt, like he's still afraid that you'll disappear on him. Sometimes he kisses you. Just a soft, gentle brush of his lips against yours, and you aren't sure if it's a show of gratitude or just another way to make sure that you're still there or... something more meaningful.

You don't really know if you want it to be.

There are good nights. Ones where you wake up with the sun in your eyes and your limbs tangled together and able to feel his breathing against your chest or your neck, slow and stable and distinctly alive. Sometimes you'll just stare at him for a while, maybe get one hand free to place between his shoulder blades or tangle in his hair as you drink him in. Roxy has complained about his eyelashes before. How she would kill for them. How long and pretty they are and how the rest perfectly delicately on his cheekbones. Sometimes you'll press a kiss to his forehead. He usually doesn't wake up. He doesn't for a good half hour after you, most of the time, and it seems like every day you enjoy the expanse of silence just a little bit more.

Maybe you do want for it to be something more meaningful.

When he wakes up he smiles at you sleepily and wraps his arms around your neck and pulls you in closer. You stay like that for a little bit, just quiet, maybe a softly mumbled phrase here and there, until he yawns and lets go and stretches a little, sitting up. When you shift into the same position, sometimes he'll take your hand and you'll talk for a few minutes, nothing important, just little jokes and anecdotes, until he decides that it's time to actually get up and do something. You never decide first because sometimes when he does he'll lean in and press a soft little kiss to your lips before letting go and getting up. And you... don't want to risk losing that.

Okay, you really want it to be something more meaningful.

You don't tell him, though, because he's your... Well, your... Fuck, what is he? He's your best friend, but he's been that for years. It's... more than that. But you aren't in a real relationship, and he's the only human left that you aren't related to, so... What the hell does that leave?

Your... support, you guess. And you're his and you can't risk damaging that because both of you will end up falling apart and you'd really like to stay mentally stable for as long as possible, please and thank you.

Still... You think about it.

The first time you think about it, you're watching some old crime show Terezi had put on before Karkat dragged her back up to their room. The remote is five feet away and both of you are too lazy to get up and go get it, so you settle for watching this. He's curled up against your side, your arm wrapped around his waist, sitting up almost straight, so that the top of his head comes up to your ear. You're criticizing how in the hell they could possibly not realize that the guy was framed, while John is getting ridiculously enthusiastic about the idea of actually finding the right killer.

Your thumb slips under the hem of his shirt between comments, rubbing little circles into his skin. It takes him a minute before he looks up at you with an amused, slightly surprised smile. "Dave? What are you doing?"

You shrug, your shoulder brushing against his hair. "Touching you." You don't bother with a lengthy sarcastic remark. You've done this before, after all. You're just... toeing the line a tiny bit now. Especially outside of your rooms, where anyone can walk in an see you, though most probably wouldn't comment.

He just blinks up at you, then smiles and shifts to place his head on your shoulder with a happy little quip of, "Okay!"

You can feel him relaxing against you.

You don't say it.

The second time you think about it, the two of you are playing Monopoly with Rose and Kanaya. Roxy and Dirk are messing around with his robots, Aradia's flying around checking on things, Sollux is convinced that it's 'a grub game that will destroy everything that you love', Terezi has 'important detective business', and Karkat rage quit three minutes in.

You're laying on your stomach, your right arm folded in front of you, your cheek resting on it between turns. John is in a similar position to your left, though he has one elbow digging into the ground and his hand cradling his cheek, pushing himself up a few inches with his other arm folded in front of him for stabilization. At some point, you end up draping your arm over his waist, pulling him a little bit closer to you, until your sides are almost touching. A few minutes in, his shirt starts riding up, revealing a little sliver of olive skin, and you aren't totally sure when your hand slipped under the hem but now your fingers are splayed out against warm skin, soft against your callouses, and your thumb is tracing little patterns into the dip of his spine.

God, you want to kiss down that little dip and hold him against you and feel him- No, no, this is enough for now, because he's relaxing into it, letting his eyes flutter half-shut and lowering himself so his arms are both crossed in front of him and his cheek is leaning on one, an almost sleepy looking little smile tugging at his lips. The only reason you don't make some douchebag comment and pull away is because you notice that before you see Kanaya's amused little smile and Rose's knowingly skeptical look. You still bristle slightly – they both know exactly what's been going on between you, especially your sister, so why do they even feel the need – but you let it go because snarking would ruin what little of a mood you've managed to build up.

Of course, it still ends up being ruined, ten times over. You're playing Monopoly, for fuck's sake, and it's littered with little exclamations of indignation and arguments and sassing back and forth but each time it dies down John seems to realize you aren't touching him anymore and comes closer, leaning against your side or practically clinging to your back or etc etc etc until he's curled up in your lap, half-turned toward you, your arms wrapped around him tight between turns, and even then only one pulling away from his waist to take yours.

Eventually, the girls' (ladies'? beings in possession of two x chromosomes? holy fuck do trolls even have chromosomes? you have no idea. you're sticking with girls.) knowing glances back and forth – from the two of you to their respective matesprit/girlfriend/datemate/whatever fucking term they've agreed on – reach a climax and Rose doesn't even try to hide her smirk anymore.

"Would anyone care for some snacks?" She's still so obviously trying to play innocent, her voice all sweet and charming to where it's practically patronizing.

"Why, Rose, something to nibble on sounds positively delightful." Fucking hell, the vampire queen's syntax sounds even more forced than usual.

"Yeah, Rose, that sounds great!" For all his indignation about the girls totally cheating in order to buy that much of the board, John's voice is still as chipper as ever.

"Yeah, but none of your fancy alchemized European bullshit." Honestly, you are kind of hungry, but if they're planning on making it painfully obvious that they're leaving just to leave you two alone, you don't care if they're going cliff diving, you sure as hell aren't going to stop them.

Rose rolls her eyes, still smirking as she gets to her feet. "Yes, yes, I won't put you through the torment of eating anything that isn't corn-based, deep fried, and covered in powdered cheese. Come along, Kanaya."

When they're halfway out the door, you can hear the troll try to whisper, "Rose, just to be certain, we are actually going to-"

"Yes, yes, shhhhh." Rose pulls her out by her wrist. You wait for them to at least be out of sight before turning your attention back to John, who's still perched in your lap.

He sighs happily and turns so he's facing you, his legs hitting your side. You adjust your arms accordingly. There's a moment of warm, comfortable silence before he speaks up. "You don't actually think they're playing fairly, do you?"

You scoff and roll your eyes. Whether he can actually see it or not, you know that he can tell. "Oh, hell no. They own half the board already. Must be Rose's freaky dark tentacle-wizard powers coming in again."

He laughs, and you can't help but drink in the way the action makes him shake against you slightly. "Or Kanaya's... uh... vampirey magic stuff?"

You barely manage to hold back a full-blown laugh. You still smile a little. "Leave the snarky bullshit commentary to me. You suck at this."

He pouts – actually pouts oh God he is not allowed to be this adorable – and pokes your arm hard enough to make you flinch, just a little. "I do not! I'll think of something! Let's see, uh... No, ghosty voodoo magics would be Aradia..."

He keeps mumbling to himself, pondering out loud, and all you want to do is just hold him tighter against you and distract him by kissing his neck – nothing really sexual, just warm, chaste little kisses, just to say that you can, because he'll let you – and feel him melt against you and oh God, you have it bad.

You cut him off with a little kiss on his lips, instead, one that shuts him up and has him pouting again, this time in confusion rather than disappointment. "Dave...?"

"Shut up." You can't help but laugh softly into the words. "Shut up, holy shit, you're awful at this."

He makes a little whining sound in the back of his throat and screws up his face at you. "I am not, you ass! I can totally- Hey, whoa, wait, what are-!"

You've lifted him up and are turning him, shifting and making little adjustments so he's straddling you, too fast for him to do anything, though your arms wrap back around him loose enough that he can pull away. Not that you wouldn't let him if he asked, anyway.

He blinks at you dumbly, completely confused. "What."

You just shrug, your face back to its emotionless little mask. "It's more comfortable like this." It really is, and not just because your noses are two inches apart and the extra height of sitting on your legs makes his face level with yours and you could totally kiss him right now just by moving forward the few extra inches.

You don't.

He excepts it without really questioning. "Yeah, I guess it is." His head thumps down hard on your shoulder and you wince violently.

"Shit, Egbert, what the fuck?!" The spot is throbbing and he doesn't seem like he's about to move.

"Payback." He shifts just a little and you can feel his smirk against the crook of your neck – oh God is he actually going to do something your chest is tightening and your breathing's becoming strained just at the thought – his arms finally wrapping around you. "I can totally be as clever as you, buttbrain."

You can't help it, you burst out laughing, choked little giggle-gasp noises leaving your throat. "I'm- I'm sorry, I- I can't focus on- a-anything other than the f-fact you just- D-did you seriously just call me buttbrain?"

He's giggling softly, you can feel his breath hitting your skin. "Shut up, you douche! I'll call you buttbrain if I want!"

Your laughter just gets harder. You're shaking slightly and silently thank him for holding you so tightly or you'd probably be on the floor already. "For the love of fuck, you sound like-" You freeze. Your laughter quiets, then shuts off. The smile slips off your face.

You sound like Jade.

You know he knows exactly what you were going to say, because suddenly he's quiet, too, and he's gripping the back of your shirt. His breathing is hard, but shaky. And now you're just clinging to him tighter and rubbing his back gently, trying to calm him down and fighting back the tears starting to well up in your eyes. Fuck, fuck, it's been a year. You shouldn't... You aren't supposed to...

Your breath turns into shaking little gasps, your eyes screwing shut as you just grasp him tighter, until you know that it has to hurt. His grip hurts, too. Neither of you complain.

Two little tears slip down your cheeks as you duck your head down and whisper into the crook of his neck. He's straightening up so he can see you but you can't even begin to look into his eyes, so you switch positions with him. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean-"

"I know." He lets go in order to cup your face, pulling it up so he can look at you. He brushes away the tears that have already fallen and reaches up under your glasses to do the same to the ones he can't see. "It's okay." His smile is shaky and strained. There are one, two... five tears dripping down his face and you can't bear letting go of him in order to wipe them away. "We all fuck up every once in a while, right? B-besides, I... I don't wanna forget her. Talking like her's a way to remember her, right?"

You're still shaking and you feel like you tried to swallow a rock and you're still fighting back tears, but you nod. "Yeah. … Yeah, you're right." And you kiss him, then, soft and sweet and slow, because... Because it's out of gratitude. Just like he does at night. That's all you can stand to think of it as right now.

You don't say it.

You don't say it because you're still freaking out and he's still wiping away tears when Rose and Kanaya walk back in and set a bowl of Doritos in front of you. And you put on a brave – no, stoic, emotionless – face and John grins at them even though you're sure you both know that they were right outside and knew exactly what was going on when they came in. He isn't an idiot and they aren't exactly original.

When you quit playing, Rose is barely beating Kanaya, who's a thousand times ahead of you. John's practically tied with you, though, so at least you won't have any arguments over your 'cheating' later, like you do with them. He still sucks at witty comparisons and you don't care because the two of you are okay. Broken and clingy and fucked up and over, but... Okay.

You can stand to wait a little longer to tell him.

The third time, you're back on the couch. You're slouched back with your legs spread like a giant douchebag and he's leaning against you, your arm thrown around his shoulders. You've got one of his cheesy movies playing, half-watching because you've already seen it twenty times, though he still seems as entranced as ever. It's... endearing, really, how his eyes light up whenever the lead – you can't remember the actor's name, though you remember him being famous back on Earth – says something that you guess he sees as 'cool', though his lines are really all just corny and lame. You don't mind watching them, though, not with John's hair brushing against your neck and his hand on your leg and his breathless giggling filling up the air around you when he hears one of the few painfully overused jokes scattered throughout the movie.

Yeah, you really don't mind it. Especially when you both reach for the popcorn on the coffee table – you are so lucky you were able to restore your planets after you won the game – at the same time and your hands brush against each other. You don't feel a tingle or a spark or any cheesy romcom-worthy bullshit like that. You just... like touching him, is all. It makes him feel more real. Kind of reassures you that you aren't just dreaming that he's still there with you, you guess.

No, you don't want to think about that right now. You focus on his nervous laugh as he draws back with a handful of the stuff, straightening up slightly as he pops a few pieces into his mouth and forces his attention back to the screen. You only take a few and pour them into your mouth quickly, before wiping your hand off on your jeans.

He still looks nervous, like that little brush was a lot more than reality. He's shaking the hand with the popcorn in it as if they were dice, and chewing on his lip in a way that makes it clear that he's thinking too hard about something again.

You poke his side, just gently, and smirk at the way he squeaks, jumping a good three inches off of the couch already. It takes a second before he realizes what you're about to do and turns to you with wide eyes, nerves transforming into alarm. "Dave... Dave, no."

It's too late. You're already grinning, your hands hovering above his waist and stomach. Before he can protest again, you're closing the distance, tickling his abdomen in a way that makes him absolutely squeal, his hands flying out to stop you and suddenly there's a handful of popcorn scattered on the couch and carpet but you don't care, you're too busy easily resisting his attempts to fight you off. In fact, you're pushing him onto his back and climbing on top of him, not touching him with anything more than your hands, just hovering over him so you can see the way his face contorts and lights up with breathy, near-hysterical laughter as he keeps trying to squirm away from you. Your hands slip up under his shirt, touching bare skin and only making it worse, and him fight back harder, but he's never been able to beat you in any kind of fight and he sure as hell won't now. He's squealing, between giggles, and squeaking out your name and 'stop, please, oh my God!'s and fuck, how is he so precious?

You stop, finally, after a minute, though your hands don't move. They just flatten against his stomach, his skin soft and warm against yours. You can still feel scars where your fingertips touch but that only makes it so much more perfect because you remember them and the cause and brushing over them at night as you mumble little reassurances into his ear to calm him down. You didn't even realize you'd started laughing with him, but your shoulders are shaking and quiet, breathless little giggles are escaping your mouth.

The way your hands are positioned lets you feel his chest heave with every breath. You love that feeling. The feeling of the knowledge that he's alive, that he's there...They calm down, eventually, though his eyes are still glistening with tears from the lack of air and he's grinning like an idiot while trying to glare at you and his glasses are askew from his squirming.

You slip one hand out and move it up to fix them, his hair brushing your knuckles as you do. And just as he's about to say something – you know he is, you know him well enough – you lean in and kiss him. It's soft and chaste and your shades catch on his glasses and you don't think about it, you just do it. Your hand slips around to cradle the back of his head, your fingers tangling in his hair. You pull back after just a moment and have to resist the urge to flinch at how shocked he looks. Oh, God, you fucked up... You aren't supposed to do that when he's happy.

"Dave...?" His voice is small. It's finally starting to change, you've noticed, and is settling almost as deep as yours – not that that's saying much – though it's interrupted by cracks every other sentence. "What was...?"

You shrug. You don't move. "You looked upset." It's short and to the point and a half-lie and sounds so blatantly unlike you but what are you supposed to say? He's reaching up, now, and for once you have no idea what he's doing until he pinches the front portion of your earpiece and pulls your shades off, setting them down on the table, which is luckily just within arm's reach. And now you're freaking out and trying even harder to hide it. You force yourself to stay calm, though you know you still look nervous and a little sad and too worried and you just want to kiss him again and for that to be okay. "I wanted to make you smile."

And now he is, soft and touched and his eyes are lighting up differently and he's covering his mouth like the girl in one of Karkat's shitty romcoms. And he still manages to look at you like you're so obtuse that he can't believe it. "Well, now you look upset, doofus." And his hand is moving up to cup the back of your neck, his other arm wrapping around your waist, pulling you in so he can kiss you again. It's still soft and sweet but it's noticeably less chaste, less platonic, his fingers threading through the ends of your hair as he pulls you in closer until you're flush on top of him. Your lips move together slowly, tenderly, your eyes falling shut as your hand glides from his stomach to his side. The unfortunate thing about this positioning is that you can't wrap your arms around him and hold him the way you want to but that's okay because you're totally fine with being the one being held for once and you just relax into it, into the feeling of him kissing you just because he can and you swear you can feel little bubbles of joy tickling your chest and making you smile against his lips.

It still doesn't last long, just a few seconds, and he sighs contentedly when you pull away. "Dave..." And he's smiling and his eyes are half-closed and he looks so happy that it makes your heart hurt in the best way possible. "You always make me smile, stupid."

This would be the perfect time. The absolute perfect time to say it. Wait two beats and say it and you haven't decided on 'I really like you' or 'I love you' – no, do the latter, the former makes you sound ten – but you can't do it. The words are sticking in your throat and you can feel all of the heat in your body rushing upward to color your cheeks and you're absolutely positive that you look so affectionate and lovestruck that it could give him a cavity, so you reach over for your shades, fumble, and fall off the couch in the process. Still, you pick them up quickly and shove them on – askew and with your hair shoved until the earpieces but you fix that quickly – before scrambling back onto the couch, clearing your throat and sitting up again like that might save a tiny bit of what's left of your dignity because you can already hear him laughing as he straightens up and moves back next to you.

You don't even realize that you didn't respond to his words before he's speaking again. "Hey, Dave...?"

His eyes are bright and warm and he looks like he's about to say something else, but, instead, before you can reply, he just leans up and kisses your cheek. "Thank you." His words are soft and send your heartbeat skyrocketing but you just grant him a little bit of a smile.

"You're welcome." You feel like by principle you should tack on some kind of friendly name calling at the end, but... No, that's perfect just the way it is. You don't have to overkill it, especially because now he's resting his head on your shoulder again and you're wrapping your arm around his waist.

You've... made progress, today, you think. Now if only you could get over yourself and just fucking say the words, you'd be home free. You're almost sure he'll at least have some kind of positive reaction, whether letting you down gently or actually reciprocating, but you still can't... say it.

There isn't a fourth time.

Not really, at least. Not like the first three, where it's you fighting against yourself for half an hour and doing something stupid and melodramatic in the hopes that maybe it'll give you the courage you need.

No, this time you don't even get to stumble over your words like a complete buffoon. At least, not in an attempt to tell him. Mainly because this time... is his birthday.

Most of your birthdays – or wriggling days, you guess – are celebrated. There are presents that are either put together from what can be found laying around or alchemized or conjured up via Roxy's powers. Jade and Jake's is quiet and solemn and consists of nervously strained laughter and visiting makeshift graves and finally letting yourselves think about them. Yours and Dirk's consists of loud music and junk food and sassing each other back and forth and everyone jokingly mocking you before giving you things they think you'd either deem cool or funny and both of you pretending it's no big deal when secretly absolutely loving it. Rose and Roxy's consists of... happiness, really. Soft and quiet on the former's end and loud and energetic on the latter's. Tea and cookies and poetry and snark and bright colors and squealing and dancing around. Sometimes you don't know what you'd do without those two. It'd be a lot quieter.

The trolls never make a big deal out of theirs but you celebrate them anyway. Aradia's all happy and excited about the mere prospect of a party and Sollux is moody and snubs his nose at it and Kanaya's touched and awkwardly thankful and Terezi's overly enthusiastic and loud and Karkat pretends to hate it but you know that he secretly loves all of the attention.

John and Jane's is different. It's the only birthday shared between someone who's alive and someone who isn't, but it's also... the anniversary of the game. Your fourth and Roxy and Dirk's first. It's bittersweet and it hurts because it's the day that brought you all together and it's the day that killed most of the people you – all of you – cared about and he's still there but broken and she's not there at all. Everyone brings him things – a book, a movie, a poster, an old CD, a song, a drawing, a hat, a shirt, new software – and you can tell they're all trying to be happy, but the way they glance at each other when he looks away shows it all. You know he can tell, because he isn't an idiot and you find him hiding in his room with shaking hands and strangled breathing and tear-filled eyes when everyone else is going to pay Jane respects. He can't even get up and do it, himself. And so you close the door and sit down on the edge of his bed and pull him into your arms and just let him breathe as you rub little circles between his shoulder blades with the heel of your hand.

When he's better – not alright, just better – you go downstairs and three minutes later everyone's back and trying to smile again and there's pizza and cake that he won't touch and an old Cage movie playing in the background. At least you can remember him.

You go to bed early because everyone's emotionally exhausted and no one wants to keep playing happy because everyone knows that nobody really is but they keep it up because they don't want to admit that it still hurts. It's been a year since it's all been over. It shouldn't still hurt.

You and John stay downstairs longer than everyone else, finishing the movie – you manage to make it to 8:30 before admitting that you're absolutely drained – before going up and changing.

It's your bed, this time, and he doesn't hesitate to cling to you. As soon as you both lay down, his arms are tight around you and his face is buried in your chest and... you aren't totally sure of what to say. "Hey..." Your arms wrap around his middle, holding him close, but gently. "Egbert?" No response. You try again. "John? … John, it's alright. Everyone's alright. Look at me."

His eyes are watering again. "No, they're not... Jade is dead and Jane is dead and Jake is dead and half of the trolls are dead and everyone who's still alive is hurt and it's all my fault."

You just shake your head. Fuck, you should have known this was going to happen. You should have prepared something for this. "No, it's not... Look, if you hadn't run the game, we'd all be dead, alright? The apocalypse would've happened anyway and the meteors would have hit all of us because without you we couldn't have gotten to the medium and boom, there goes the entirety of the human race, pelted to death like the goddamn dinosaurs."

He scoffs slightly, in a way that you know is supposed to sound amused but just sounds sad. "R-right... Sorry..."

Fuck. It's one thing to hear him worry and cry and a completely different one to hear him just... shut down. Especially when you know exactly what he's thinking.

"John...?" You pull one arm away from his waist so you can tilt his chin up. "Look at me, okay? Just... Just look at me and listen to what I'm saying because I... I'm not going to tack on any stupid long-winded metaphors or anecdotes or euphemisms, I just..." You flinch and take in a deep breath because you're doing it again already. "I'm going to be completely serious, okay?"

And he hesitates, and looks like he's about to nod, but then just settles into your touch and says a quiet, "Okay."

Another deep breath, this time closing your eyes like maybe that'll give you the courage you need. "I know what you're thinking." They stay closed. "They all died for a reason. Not some higher purpose, but... They were already... evil, in their own ways. And I don't know how we could have fixed any of them and nothing you could have done could have changed that." You swallow hard. "You know how this stupid time loop bullshit works. One little detail changes and suddenly we're being swallowed up by a massive vortex of oh, fuck, I'm doing it again." You grit your teeth. "Sorry, I just..."


Your eyes open, hesitantly. "Yeah...?"

He's still vulnerable and shrinking into you and scared and sad, but at least he isn't about to cry anymore. And he's trying to smile. "It... might be easier, if you look at me, too."

And you let out a breath, an almost laugh, because he's right and you're an idiot for thinking otherwise. This is John you're talking to, after all. Best friend and romantic interest like something right out of a terrible romantic drama and... and the most important person in your life. Your support. "Right... Let's try that again." You take in another deep breath, this time gearing yourself up while looking right at him. "It's not your fault. It never was your fault, everything's the fault of that stupid game and its time warping bullshit and no one and nothing else. And... And we're here, right?" You started off looking strong and stoic and you can feel yourself crumbling, slowly, from the way that his eyes turn gray in the moonlight and how your heartbeat falters when he's pressed up against you like that and how... caring he looks. He's listening to you and he cares and how many people in your life have actually done that? "We're here and we're together and we're alive. We survived it, okay?" You're starting to sound breathless. "All ten of us, but especially you and me. And yes, I know what you're thinking, and it's a good thing that you're alive, too. I don't care if you dying would have let Jade live. I don't care if all seven of the rest of us or even all of the trolls too could have lived if you were gone, because if you were gone, I..." Fuck, fuck, you're tearing up. And you're pulling your hand away from his face because you need your sleeve in order to cover your eyes so you don't... Fuck, not now, of all times, you're trying to be serious and enlightening! You don't need to break down right now!

And the next thing you know, you lose the feeling of arms around you and gain that of a pair of hands pulling your arm away, carefully and gently, so, so gently that it hurts. They slide up and grasp yours, sandwiching it. He doesn't tell you that it's okay, or that he gets it, because he's still John and he's still an overly-curious little dweeb and he's still looking up at you with those gray-ed out eyes, fully expecting an answer and managing to look so tender at the same time. "You what?"

You suck in a shaky breath, then let it out, still blinking back tears. None have fallen yet but you can already feel them rolling onto your eyelashes and about to drop. "I... I don't know what I'd do, John. I-I love Rose, of course I love Rose, she's my sister, and Dirk and Roxy are great, but you... You're... Fuck..." And that's when the waterworks start and you let go of him completely so you can rub the tears away with the hand that isn't still being grasped between his.

"Hey, Dave?" He doesn't tell you to calm down, he doesn't tell you to stop crying because he know you will on your own if he just gives you a minute. You wait until you can breathe correctly before looking down at him in response, not quite trusting yourself to speak yet.

And he just smiles softly, his voice barely above a whisper. "I love you, too."

And that's when you completely lose it, shaking and whimpering and grasping at him and it's a painful mixture of both absolute joy and complete devastation, interspersed with 'John, you little fucking shit's and 'How fucking long have you known' and 'I hate you's but he's chuckling softly, his eyes still sad but warm and hopeful and oh holy fuck you love him so much that it physically hurts you.

"Come here, stupid." He lets go of your hands then, and grasps at your collar to pull you in closer, so he can press his lips to yours. It's warm and gentle and soft and caring and you're about 95% sure your brain is already about to short-circuit when you place your hands over his.

He hums against your lips, just softly, as he pulls away, and smiles, happier this time, threading his fingers through yours – this is probably the most awkward position for your hands possible, laced together and pressed between your collarbones but hell if you care – and gently bumping his nose against yours. "I love you," he says again, fully expecting a response this time.

And he knows you all too well so despite the fact that you still have tears rolling down your face and the skin around your eyes is puffing up and reddening to almost match your irises – it always does when you cry and you hate it but John seems to find it adorable – and you're still short of breath you mumble a quiet, "I love you, too, doofus," borrowing one of his words because you know he'll find it endearing before pulling him up into another kiss.

His fingers pull away from yours and tangle in your hair to pull you closer and it's still careful and gentle but it is so not platonic at all anymore and you are so, so very okay with that. And your arms wrap around his waist but somehow he's still the one that ends up on top of you. … Wait, fuck, not like that, that's just how you end up sleeping, though he makes it very clear that that position's going to be very common and you don't care because holy hell you never realized how comfortable it was and oh look you're rambling again.

The last thing you mumble before the two of you drift off is a quiet, "Happy birthday."

You guess it all turned out to be something meaningful, after all.