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The Loaded Key

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It was a couple weeks into the investigation and Aradia was starting to think this whole thing was a huge mistake. She had managed to track down a few places were Tavros had lived, but it seems he dropped off the map soon after he met Vriska. A couple years ago, he was seen in a hospital getting treated for his back injury that put him in a wheelchair. That surprised Aradia. She wondered how he could drive without working legs.

There wasn't a lot of information on Vriska either. Aradia got what she assumed was all the information Eridan and Equius had managed to collect on Vriska, and it wasn't a lot. The paper trail seemed to stop after her immigration papers, about which there was nothing suspicious. Aradia actually spent a lot of time talking with Terezi about Vriska.

“Vriska used to be a close friend of mine.”

“Wait, really?”

“Oh yes. I met her pretty soon after she got off the boat. There was a...tenacity about her I admired. She played bounty hunter for me a few times when the police were dragging their feet on some of the gangsters that they had filling their pockets. This was before Feferi was elected. Vriska usually brought them in in once piece. ” Terezi grinned her shark grin.

“So what happened?”

“She started getting careless. Bystanders were getting killed. People who were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Most of the time it was written off as collateral damage and she didn't care. I finally had her brought in on murder charges after a particularly nasty incident in a restaurant.”

Terezi sighed.

“It was revealed that some of the evidence...bent some of the more useless rules a bit in order to be presented on time. Important evidence. It was deemed unusable and she was acquitted because of it.”

Aradia wasn't very surprised, but she didn't say anything. Terezi's zealotry in the courtroom was legendary. When she was convinced someone was guilty, she would stop at nothing to have them put behind bars.

“She laughed at me as she walked out,” Terezi growled. “I'll make her pay for that.”

From some of their other conversations, Aradia learned some things about Vriska: she was indeed a gambling addict, liking games of chance with high stakes; she rarely thought before she acted, but she could be very smart under pressure; she had a sadistic streak.

But it was mostly rumors and hearsay. Her victims were usually associated with people who didn't talk to police, and she couldn't find anything like a permanent address or a hospital record. It was all getting very frustrating.

Then one day when she came in for her shift, dreading having to tell Equius that she just wasn't having any luck, she spotted a thick envelope on her desk. She walked over and picked it up, reading what was written on front.

“From a man of wealth and taste.”

Man of Wealth and Taste

*

Except for regular shows, things had become pretty quiet at The Loaded Key over the past few weeks. Even so, Karkat noticed that things were changing.

Vriska and John seemed to be spending more time together. Going out drinking, gambling, and seeing crummy moving pictures. Karkat imagined that Vriska knew just about every Charlie Chaplin movie by now and John had been introduced to a whole new world of games of chance.

As a result, Vriska seemed to have narrowed her mean streak a bit, even after buying her new toy. Maybe it was the new toy that helped too. When you had a gun that big slung on your back while working security, people rarely caused trouble. Even so, Vriska was a little more quick to twist an arm instead of showing some steel when trouble started. People actually got warnings.

Karkat remembered the morning after one particularly rough night, John took Vriska aside.

“Don't you think you're being a little...harsh? Some of these guys just want to have a good time.”

And the weird part? Vriska actually listened.

“Well, what do you expect me to do? They're high on booze and short on temper. ”

“You know, it's amazing what a smile and a kind word will do to calm someone down.”

“Like this?” Her fangs glinted.

“...Maybe a bit less...friendly.” John actually took a step back.

Of course, that brought up some problems too. Rose had been snippy and passive aggressive. She wouldn't dare stand between John and Vriska happiness, even if the way she said it could etch metal. She gave both of them the silent treatment, even if they had no idea what the problem was. It infuriated Karkat, who was less passive and more aggressive.

Kanaya was mopey and withdrawn. She spent less time socializing and more time on her hobbies. She turned out new dresses at record speed and always seemed to have her nose in some kind of book. She was sitting at the bar one time, who despite her profession rarely drank and asked Karkat for a Virgin Bloody Mary, when Karkat finally got fed up and decided it was time to play bartender therapist.

“Okay, what's eating you lately?”

“I don't know what you're talking about,” Kanaya said, looking away.

“Bullshit,” Karkat responded quickly, “I've seen less of you the past month than I usually do in a day.”

“It's...personal problems. I don't think you would understand.”

“I wouldn't, huh? Let me take a wild fucking guess.”

Karkat put his fingertips on his forehead and waved his other hand around in his best Rose fortune telling impersonation.

“You're been carrying a torch for Vriska for God knows how long and never got anywhere with it because you play it coy and Vriska wouldn't recognize a hint if you tied it to a brick and dropped it on her fucking head from a third story window. You started to get attracted to Rose too because you have a thing for dark and mysterious women for reasons I will never understand and Rose has that in fucking cartloads. Unfortunately Vriska and John seem to be a thing now and Rose is miss emotionally constipated because...fuck if I know...she has issues with emotional sincerity. Or she was raised by fucking wolves. Anyway. Rose is pining for John and therefore you think she isn't attracted to girls. And so with both of your romantic interests out of the picture, you resign yourself to being life's romantic wallflower.”

Karkat put his hands down, leaned on the bar, and looked Kanaya in her now wide open eyes.

“Am I somewhere in the same fucking time zone here?”

Kanaya very nearly bit a chunk out of her glass. Karkat had just laid all her emotions and secrets on the table in one go! She was only glad that no one else was around to hear it.

“But...but...how?!”

“You fuckers think I don't pay attention. I listen to people talk. I can read body language. You think I don't see how you never want to go anywhere with us when John and Vriska are with us too? You think I don't see the way you look at Rose when you're over there being the supportive friend? I've looked at fucking steaks the way you stare at that girl.”

“Just what do you take me for?” Kanaya said accusingly.

“How many of those revealing dresses you put out these past couple weeks are for Rose when you get up the fucking courage to give them to her?”

Kanaya glared at Karkat. Karkat raised an eyebrow back at her. After a long silence, Kanaya held up four fingers.

“That's what I thought. I'll bet my last God-damned dollar that they fit her perfectly too.”

“Alright mister romance expert, what do you suppose I should do then?”

“Tell Rose how you feel! Maybe she can stop being miss fucking ice queen and you can stop being a little black raincloud if you both go in the storage room and wrestle lips behind the God-damned gin for an hour. Fuck, I'll even lend you the key so I can get on with my life instead of having to watch this fucking train wreck play out.”

Kanaya flushed deeply and tried her best to look indignant instead of just embarrassed.

“Well, what if she doesn't like girls? Then things will be awkward and we won't be friends anymore.”

“Says who? Maybe she'll just say 'No thanks.' Maybe she'll say 'No thanks' at first and then warm up to the idea as John and Vriska start making out behind the fucking bar. Maybe she had a thing for you all along and never realized it. Maybe she never even fucking thought about it!”

Karkat grabbed the edge of the bar, crouched down behind it, and looked at Kanaya with exaggerated horror.

“How could we ever fucking know for sure?! It's almost like we would have to do something as crazy as run air past our vocal organs to make strange sounds that can be interpreted as communication! Madness!”

“Are you quite done?”

Karkat shrugged and returned to cleaning glasses. He had said his piece.

Kanaya sat in thought for a long time, slowly stirring her drink with a stick of celery.

“...So just...ask her,” Kanaya said, as if she was trying out a new idea.

“Well, go have a girl's night out or something. Go to a fucking book store. Get dinner. Something. Bring it up when there aren't a lot of fucking people around and you've run out of things to talk about.”

Kanaya sat in thought again.

“...You would really lend me the key?”

“I'd even let you take a bottle of wine out of the back.” Karkat sighed He seemed to realize what he was saying and added, “If that meant keeping you two out of my god-damned hair for a while.”

Kanaya smiled at him.

*

Biscuits was antsy. He had been told to scout out The Loaded Key for the rest of the Felt, and he found out some interesting things: like the secret door to the underground section that was in a building across the street from the club, or the fact that they had a still. He even managed to get a good idea of where Vriska and Jade patrolled.

Not a perfect idea mind you.

“Mind telling me what you're doing with those binoculars, buddy?” He heard the high-pitched voice of a girl behind him say.

“None of your business, girly. Shove off.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah, might get hurt hanging out here in dark alleys. Heh.”

“I brought protection.”

That's when Biscuits heard the shotgun cock. He turned slowly, careful not to make any sudden movements, and stared down the barrel of an old pump action Browning. On the other end of the gun was a small girl with black hair and glasses. She loved this gun. The wasted shell was worth the effect the sound gave.

“Uh...”

“Green suit. Goofy hat. Not great for spying. You must be Felt.”

“Uh...no?”

“Well gosh, you're just too quick for me. Obviously you're just a dog catcher in a green suit.” She gave her most innocent buck-toothed grin.

“Then can I go...” He was cut off by Jade jabbing the end of the shotgun in his chest.

“Walk.” She gave him a sweet smile again. “And if you try to make a break for it, just remember that I have slugs loaded in this thing. That means I can pop your fucking head like an overripe melon from seventy-five yards. Kay? Kay.”

They both marched inside the empty club and down the back stairs. As they got to the basement, Biscuits could see that the gang was all here. Dave, Karkat, John, and Tavros were playing cards. Rose, and Kanaya were looking over something Rose had written, leaving Vriska and Gamzee laughing about something at the bar.

“Hey fuckasses! Look what I found outside.”

They all looked up to the top of the stairway at the same time.

“Is that...uh...one of the Felt?”

“What was your first tip-off Tavros?” Karkat snapped. He wasn't in a good mood with Tavros at the moment. The big horned troll was currently holding a lot of Karkat's chips in front of him.

“Well...uh...they all wear those green-”

“That was a rhetorical question, you fucking...” Karkat sighed and rubbed his face. He waved at Jade.

“Bring him down here. Let's ask this genius a few questions.”

The entire gang slowly stood up and formed a semi-circle around one of the big tables as Jade marched Biscuits down the stairs and over to the table. She pointed to a chair and jabbed him in the back with the gun barrel again. Biscuits slumped in his chair. He was not feeling too good about his chances of spending the bonus that was promised him. Karkat sat at the opposite end of the table, flanked on each side by the others.

“Alright, let's start easy. Why were you creeping around outside?”

“That's easy?” Biscuits looked nervous. Karkat nodded to Jade, who was still standing behind Biscuits. Jade's hand moved like rattlesnake. Biscuits jerked forward, his head slamming into the table. His hat fell off and rolled to the ground.

“Ow! Hey. My hat!”

“Answer the fucking question.”

Biscuits growled and looked around the table. Finally he pointed to Vriska.

“I'm here because of her.”

They all looked at Vriska. She put her hands up defensively.

“Hey! Hey! I'm not working with these jokers.”

“No, but you blew away Doze,” Biscuits said accusingly, “A month ago, right in front of a whole bunch of people.”

John looked at her sadly. “Did you really do that?”

“John, krasavets, it's not like that. They were running a crooked operation! Stealing money with loaded dice and marked cards. They're the Felt. They're all crooked. It's not like I hurt anyone innocent.”

John sighed. “I don't even care about that. You just, blew up without thinking. And now it's coming back to bite you. All of us. This is what I was telling you about.”

Karkat was rubbing his temples. “Will you two fucking lovebirds save it for after we've interrogated our prisoner?”

“You're dating this crazy broad?” Biscuits looked and John, “Do you get off on playing with fire or something?”

Tebya ne ebut, ti ne podmakhivai!” Vriska spat at him. Karkat wasn't sure what she said, but he could guess that he wouldn't find some of those words in a Russian to English dictionary.

“Besides, we're cheats? You were winning at dice hand over fist. No one's that lucky.”

Vriska narrowed her eyes at him. Her voice dropped barley above a whisper. “Yes. I. Am.”

“Bullshit,” Biscuits said. But his heart wasn't into it. It was starting to dawn on him that he'd been arguing with a known killer. His stomach dropped out when Vriska smiled nastily at him.

"Okay, tough lucky guy. Lets play a little game then. A game of chance,” she said

Karkat looked at her bug eyed “A game? You really ARE fucking mental.”

“Trust me, Karkat.”

“Like hell I'm going to...” But John put a hand on Karkat's shoulder. Karkat looked up at him for a few seconds.

“You're just as crazy as she is, Egbert. Fine.” He got up and waved a finger at John. “But if this gets out of hand, it's on YOUR fucking head.”

All of the rest of the gang backed away from the table, letting Vriska take center stage.

“Well, which is it? Game of chance? Or answer questions? You can stop one to do the other whenever you want.”

Biscuits thought it over. He didn't like the way this was going, but if he talked and Snowman found out, he didn't even have a chance.

“Game.”

“Good choice! Like roulette?”

“Uh...well...yeah. I didn't think you guys had a wheel. You do drinks, not gambling, right?”

“Oh, that game. No. Where I come from, we play with higher stakes.”

Vriska smiled and pulled out her revolver. She popped it open the cylinder and let the bullets clatter to the table. Biscuits watched, mesmerized. Vriska took her time picking up one of the bullets and sliding it back in the cylinder. She flicked her wrist and the gun clacked shut. She set her thumb on the cylinder and flicked it.

“Round and round she goes. Where she stops, nobody knows.”

She finally let the cylinder stop spinning and looked at Biscuits.

“Now. Let me explain the rules. You have a gun with one bullet.” She held up the pistol. “No one knows where the bullet is. We each take turns. All you have to do is pull back the hammer, like this. Put the gun to your head, like this.”

She put the gun to her own temple.

“And...”

Click.

“Oh God,” Kanaya gasped.

“Vriska...” John said warningly.

“Got it?” Vriska asked Biscuits. Biscuits just stared at her with horror.

Click

“Uh...uh...”

Vriska looked at him with a hurt look on her face.

“You mean you weren’t paying attention? Okay, I'll show you one more time. Watch closely now. You pull back the hammer, like this. You put the gun to your head, like this.”

Again she placed it at her own temple.

“Oh shit oh shit oh shit...” Jade was breathing to herself over and over.

“Vriska, this is very reckless,” Rose said with what she hoped was a calm tone.

“Uh...Vriska? Is this really a good idea?” Tavros asked quietly.

“And...”

Click.

Everyone in the room winced.

“Lord have mercy!” Gamzee, jerked back, grabbed his own head and was actually dancing around from sheer nerves.

Karkat yanked John over and hissed in his ear.

“Are you really going to let this fucking lunacy keep going?”

John held up a hand.

“Relax,” He whispered back very quietly, “I think she palmed the bullet.”

“She what?”

“It's not really loaded.”

“Really?”

John nodded, but he didn't look too sure of himself. Karkat looked at him suspiciously.

Vriska smiled at Biscuits.

“Your turn. Now, I don't trust you enough to give you my gun, so I'll just go for you.” She leveled the revolver at Biscuits' head.

She pulled back the hammer with her thumb. Everyone could hear it click into place, it was so quiet.

Biscuits was shaking violently. Somehow, this was worse than if she just held a fully loaded gun to his head. She shot that thing at herself twice. She wouldn't be bluffing about shooting it at him.

Her grip shifted slightly and she started to squeeze the trigger.

“They wanted me to scout the place out!” Biscuits said quickly.

Vriska lowered the gun.

“Who did?” Karkat asked.

“It...it was Snowman. She was taking orders from Doc Scratch. It came right from the top.”

“What kind of stuff did they want to know?” Rose asked this time.

“Like...where you were bringing booze into the building. When you served drinks. What kind of weapons you have. That kind of thing”

“Probably wanted to tip off the cops,” Dave shrugged.

“Yeah. Wrong people showing up at the wrong time would be bad news for us,” Jade said.

Tavros didn't look too sure. “Then... uh ...why would he need to know what weapons we had?”

“Friendly fucking tip to the cops?” Gamzee shrugged.

“I don't think so,” Karkat said. He turned back to Biscuits.

“Why were you scouting the place out? Trying to steal our customers? Tipping off the cops?”

“Uh... I can't...”

Vriska grinned. “Game on then.”

She didn't even wait for the suspense to build. She just leveled the gun and squeezed.

Click.

Biscuits winced.

“Well! Lucky, lucky.” Vriska smiled. “My turn.”

“Jesus Christ, Vriska,” Dave said.

Vriska pulled the hammer back and put the gun to the side of her head. Biscuits stared at her with a look of horror on his face.

“Luck be a lady tonight...” Vriska said quietly.

John started forward. “Vriska, this isn't...”

“No! NO!” Kanaya practically shrieked.

Click.

Everyone in the room froze.

Vriska didn't even flinch.

“Well, this IS getting suspenseful, isn't it? Two shots left.” Vriska waved the gun around. “Your turn.”

She leveled the gun. She slowly pulled the hammer back with her thumb. She stared down the sights at him. She slowly, smoothly started to squeeze the trigger. And...

“A raid!” Biscuits waved his hands frantically in front of him. “They're going to raid the place! They're going to wait until you're all here and murder all of you! They wanted me to find out when you would be here and good ways in and out of the building!”

That wasn't good news.

“How many?” Karkat asked.

“The whole rack of 'em as far as I know. Snowman at the front.”

That really wasn't good news. Snowman was death walking.

“When?” Karkat barked.

“I don't know. I really don't know!” He shouted the second sentence to Vriska as her gun hand started moving again. “They said they were waiting for something. A police investigation or something like that. That's all I know, I swear to God.”

Vriska looked at Rose, who was staring Biscuits down.

“He's telling the truth,” Rose said.

“I swear I am. I told you everything. I did what you asked. Can I go now?”

“Nope,” Karkat said simply.

“What?!”

“Your boss can't know that we know you're going to fucking hit us, and we'll have one less of you fuckers to worry about come game time. We're going to say we killed you for spying on us and leave it at that. Fuck, we'll say Vriska got you. That way they'll think we didn't have time to question you. John? Jade? Take this fat fuck somewhere for a nice, quiet execution.”

Biscuits just stared blankly as John nodded solemnly.

Biscuits got up and shoved his chair backwards, hitting Jade hard enough to wind her. He went tearing to the stairway as fast as his legs could carry him. Vriska, with a gun in her hand already cocked, acted reflexively.

Bang.

Biscuits jerked forward and slumped to the ground.

“You okay Jade?” Vriska asked. Jade wheezed, but she nodded. Vriska looked over to John.

“Not a bad shot for...” She trailed off. John was staring at her gun with a look of absolute horror.