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The light is too bright; it washes everything chalky summer-fresh laundry stain-removal white. Dave’s shades do nothing against it; he moves in faded colours, red shirtsleeves bowing out to the brightness. There are trees like kids’ scratchy drawings, rising labyrinthine branched into the whiteout sky. The world is blocks of not-quite-colours. Not quite green leaves in the distance; not quite yellow-green grass stubble blanketing the field up to the not quite brown trunks. The view is sideways, yellow-green-white vertical stripes. He thinks he’s lying down. He must be, though he can’t feel anything beneath him. As he concentrates on his hands, he starts to feel the crumbling dry earth between his fingers, grass shoots under his fingernails. The ground solidifies with his attention. Last to come is the smell of dusty baked earth.

He sits up, now feeling the bite of small stones into the heels of his palms. He is on a path worn into the grass, that stretches off through the field to the tree line. He can hear something. Soft, barely there, just like the hard packed earth beneath him was at first. It grows louder as he listens. It is water. Moving water, somewhere behind him. He stands and turns. The path in the other direction is short, pulling up at the edge of a stream mirror bright in the harsh light.

Rose is there. She is sitting with her feet in the water, face turned up the sky.

It is a few dozen steps to the end of the path and he is sitting beside her, dangling his feet in the stream. He hadn’t noticed if he was wearing shoes before but now he looks, they are bare, paper white and shape distorted under the water.

your memory or mine

Mine this time, I believe. I came here once when I was very young. My eastern european industrial rave compound is up there.

She gestures up stream.

Then... well. I didn’t come back.

why

I don’t want to talk about it.

holy fuck i am staggered by this new aspect of your usually fucking transparent personality
i am on my ass looking up at the great unknowable expanse of your mystery

I have as many layers as there are impudent smuppet asses in your apartment Dave, do you know nothing.

i have been fucking schooled
...god damn why did you have to bring up the puppets

I’m sorry.

no youre not youre a cackling witch of my psychological torment dont lie

It’s true. I have put all my not unimpressive psychological prowess into the careful and detailed deconstruction and malicious manipulation of your smuppet dick ridden psyche.

aint that the truth

The air is still. Despite the all invading light it brings no great warmth. Nor is the water particularly cold. He looks slantwise at her face in profile. Ski-jump nose and domed forehead. All the better to keep all those brains in, he supposes. She is kicking her feet back and forth slowly in the water, sending ripples out that meet his legs.

so i guess were dead then

Looks like.

do you remember what happened

No.
You came after me, didn’t you. I think I remember that.

...yeah that seems like a thing id do
i guess
since i did it

But you didn’t have to. It wasn’t ‘supposed’ to happen. You had a choice this time.

like shit i did
you go stealing my fucking thunder i had to come school some flighty broad on the epic line crossing wrongness of swooping down like some socially incontinent eagle and plucking the winning damn smash serve out of mid fucking air just as it’s about to whizz past the dumb-fucking-struck face of my opponent who cant even see the v12 1600hp ragesnarling tonne of hot metal beast of a fucking tennis ball that is serving him up a fucking three inch thick slice of eat my shit with a artery clogging side of suck it

Oh god, please, no more sports.

………yeah agreed

Unfortunate… was that supposed to be tennis?

yeah

Unfortunate tennis metaphors aside, I explicitly told you this wasn’t your mission. You were to help John and Jade, they would have needed you.

they can manage

Then the question is, why did you do it?

does it fucking have to be maybe theres no reason i just did it and the story ends there the fucking end no more peeling off fucking smuppet layers of bullshit

Oh, Dave, that is not even a respectable attempt at deflection. I am disappointed in you.

His jaw is clenched against her worming questions. She does it time and time again and he is always sitting here like a pig waiting to be spit roast.

He rolls his shoulders, trying to work the kinks out of his spine. Since he registered the lack of breeze, one has picked up, pulling strands of hair against his temple. The water is colder against his skin, the contrast at the waterline greater.

yeah what is your surprise it is me
that is what i do
disappoint people
didnt you get the gold fucking engraved memo
i fuck shit it up it is how i roll
knight of what the fuck am i doing
have a fucking jewel encrusted medal for that olympic feat of acrobatic mind yoga to reach that conclusion

I don’t think we failed, though. That much I remember.

The water laps against his shins, licking cold strips up his skin. If he pushes his concentration from the smooth, wet stones against the arches of his feet and turns it inwards, backwards, he can catch flashes of green light, a sense of great speed, the crack of universe rending power unleashed.

oh
but did it work
the scratch all that shit… did we save everyone

I don’t know. If you’d have remained behind as I instructed you to, then you could have ascertained our success we did. Now, we’re both trapped in this dream bubble with no way of knowing if our friends have survived or suffer this very moment in unknowable agonies.

...thats fucking great thanks

You’re welcome.
You’re not doing a very good job of convincing me you don’t have a death wish, though.

im pretty sure weve had this conversation a least a billion damn times
my motivation is complex and predetermined and a minefield of shitty swords and phallic crows and being sick of your bullshit complex disorder complex
maybe the question is why do you have a death wish
i just did the shit i was supposed to do
you went out looking for some shit youself terrifying speaking in mother fucking tongues crap

I was chosen. My mission took precedence over my role as Seer. Though in some ways they did in fact compliment each other. I was always going to be the pilot. It was not a matter of choice.

oh you did not just pull that destiny horsecrap out on me after ragging my ass raw over it
i call bullshit
fuck no wait
all this time you rip me to shreds over the exact damn thing you are doing
oh this irony is too delicious hang on while i get a mother fucking crazy straw to slurp up all this irony dripping over our damn situation

...I’ll admit you might have a point.

okay now i no we are dead because otherwise the world would have just instantaneously combusted all up in our shit
you have been projecting your own bullshit all over me like exorcist 50mph puke oh my god
...projecting what the even fuck
shit you why are you contagious
like fucking mind herpes

Mind herpes.

god damn

...Be all this as it disturbingly may, it does not answer the question of why you came after me.

i don’t know i just did it okay
why did you steal my fucking mission how about that perky assed question all pertinent up in our discussion

I told you, it was never your mission. You were supposed to stay on Derse and help Jade and John.

was i fuck im not letting you run off and have all the self destructive fun
no ones pulling that self sacrificing bullcrap for me

What if I wanted to.

Her mouth is twisted down, her shoulders hunched and tense. A line puckers between his eyebrows.

what

Never mind. So you admit you did it because you felt obligated?

She is firing questions like the hail of bullets that killed him. Small sharp hits that drive into his chest.

im not saying shit youre saying everything except why you sports metaphord my ass into humiliating unconsciousness and took off like a melodramatic space weasel of deceit
how bout that poser lalonde
cant pull your psycholigifying projection on me i am wise to your wily games now

Her shoulders snap back and she’s looking right at him, that twisted up mouth beginning to tremble.

Maybe it is because I didn’t want you to fucking die.

...
well neither did i
about you that is i didnt want you to die

Yeah I got that.

me dying that is pretty much an every day occurrence like examining your own snot or drinking off milk that is prehistoric news

Dave pushes his sunglasses up his nose. Rose seems somehow brittle; her expression has smoothed out but there is something in the way her hand are folded too neatly in her lap, the careful straightness of her posture.

i mean dead daves are the enemy but theyre piling up like discount cat food made from toenails they are in a massive self perpetuating pile
which i guess makes me my own worst enemy
shit
my point being
youre not supposed to die
that is not allowed in the book of fucking dave
chapter one verse one
rose lalonde fucking lived and got old and wrinkly and lived with a million cats in an east european industrial compound with only her imaginary wizard companions for conversation
but for a really really fucking long time
okay

...
I’m touched.

damn straight
feel my sweaty paws all over your uptight ass
that came out wrong

It’s okay. That was a beautiful feelings vomit.

shut up

She is smirking at Dave, but her hand is incredibly close to his and then her little finger is touching his, creeping over his knuckle and linking them together. His chest feels like it has been hollowed out with a melon bowler and filled with an over active moth colony.

If it’s any consolation, I would like to express equivalent emotions of sheltering a hope for your continued existence and longevity.

She looks at her knees, feet still in the water.

...Though I suppose we both failed in that respect.

...yeah

Her finger is still hooked around his. He can feel every bit of the dry smoothness of her skin like his finger is a sensory magnifying glass. He is trying to look at where they are joined without being to obvious. If he peers down so his nose is doubled blur over half his vision he can see their hands without moving his head. She is ostensibly looking at the vegetation on the other side of the stream but he catches her flicker-glancing at him.

He has no idea if this is what he’s supposed to do next, but does that really even matter any more. He leans forward to bridge the gap between them and presses his lips to hers. Her lips are as dry and smooth as her finger, but after a second she shifts her head slightly and there is a wet line where the inside of her bottom lip has been exposed against his. He pulls back, and carefully lets out the breath he had been holding to ensure it is nothing resembling shaky. Her tongue flickers almost imperceptibly over her bottom lip. The light is washing out what little colour her face had. She looks bloodless, her mouth the faintest smudge of pink. Their hands are like overlayed latex gloves.

Mind herpes

the most fucking romantic mind herpes you dont even know
herpes i never want to cure

She smiles, corners of her mouth curling up ever so slightly. He wants to spend the rest of his time finding ways to make her smile like that.

After all, he has forever to try.