“Slick. Slick, where the hell are you?” Droog prodded Stitch in the ribs with his gun while Clubs drubbed the man around the shoulders with that stupid bull penis cane. God alone knew why he even had that thing. “Slick?”
The radio squealed, cracked, and then Slick’s voice came out of it – a minor improvement. “Killing some green fucks, where the hell do you think?” Silence, and then, “If I have to fuckin’ kill Crowbar or Sawbuck one more goddamn time I swear to you, Droog … Oh, and fuckin’ Stitch.”
Droog raised an eyebrow at the old tailor, who’d paled at the mention of his name. “Which timeline were you in?”
“Fucked if I know.”
“’Cause I got Stitch right here. Must have been another timeline.”
“Well golly gee, jackass, I guess so.” Another crackle of static before he spoke again. “Listen, Droog, I took a hit from Snowman and I’m kind of busy right now. Bitch’s chasing me or some shit; says I stole her cigarette holder.” He swore. “She wanted it, she shouldn’t have stuck it in my fucking eye.”
Droog looked to Stitch, and Slick’s effigy. The long tear down the face was bleeding stuffing. “I see that. We got an effigy for you.”
“Prizes all the fuck around.” Static. “Fuck, she’s close. Listen, see if you can get that asshole to fix my fucking eye and then meet me at the vault.”
“Fine.” He pocketed the radio and jabbed Stitch a little harder in the side. “You heard him.”
Stitch raised his hands. “I did! One second, yeesh.” He pulled a needle and a spool of thick thread from a pocket in his vest and set to work, neatly stitching the tear in the effigy closed. “The eye’s not gonna be good but that’s all I can do,” he muttered, a little nastily.
Two floors away, Slick was running. He wasn’t sure why: it’s not like Snowman couldn’t just teleport right the fuck up in front of him. But he was bleeding, and goddammit he was kind of scared, fucked as he was to admit it, and –
He was blind. He had all of two seconds to register that before he smacked headfirst into a wall and crashed to the floor. Fucking fuck Stitch had the effigy flipped around or some shit. Deuce probably put his fucking hat on backwards. His hand flew to his pocket for the radio, but there were only cards there. Fuck.
He flipped two of them, and a switchblade and a handgun clattered to the floor. Two more, and there was Occam’s Razor, and yes, the Saber, that was the four. Now to find the ten …
He probably should have thought this system out better, but to be fair, he thought, as he scrabbled through cards and weapons, he never really expected to suddenly go blind.
“Drop something?” Her voice had roughly the same effect as a bucket of icy water down his back. He dropped the four and scrabbled backwards, crashing into the wall again. Snowman tsked. “Oh, Slick.” He could hear the fabric of her dress and then her cold, slim fingers were on his face, pulling him to his feet. “Pathetic.”
“Fuck you,” he snapped, his right hand flying into his pocket and wrapping around her cigarette holder. He would be damned if she was getting that back. He might be a foot shorter than her, and mortal, and blind, but dammit he was in control here.
She released his face and he heard her step back. “The cigarette holder for your radio. I have it right here.” Static howled, the loudest thing in the hall. “Please don’t be difficult about this.”
He listened, through the static, and then lunged. She laughed as he stumbled out into the empty hall. He spun toward her, but that fucking laugh was coming from everywhere now, all around him. He took a step back, and bumped into her.
“Slick,” she said, softly, leaning down by his ear, “it’s a fair trade. My cigarette holder for your radio.”
He took a breath and snarled and tried to ignore the fact that he was shaking. “Give me the radio,” he growled.
“You are ridiculous,” she told him, matter of fact, her lips brushing his ear. “You have no advantage here, and you’re willing to die over a cigarette holder.” And then she was gone, and sounded very far away indeed. “How about a game? You find me, you can have your radio. I won’t even move.”
“Liar,” he spat.
“You have my word.” He heard a match snap. “Go on, I’ll keep talking. Make it easy for you.” He reached out, swearing, for a wall or even a fucking clock at this point, anything to grab onto. “Hm, no, colder.”
He paused, thought about where her voice was coming from, and turned, compensating for the echo in the hallway. “Yes, there you are, warmer. Go on, Slick, my girls play this game all the time. Surely you can manage it.”
He took a hesitant step, left arm out for anything that might be in the way, and she laughed. “Oh, Slick, if you could see yourself. It would be the saddest thing I’ve ever laid eyes on, if it weren’t so funny.”
“Fucking bitch!” he yelled, taking another step, bolder this time – she was in front of him, at least, he could tell that much.
“You’re getting much warmer now,” she said, languidly, laughter still clinging to the edges of her voice. He could smell her cigarette. “Well done, Slick.”
His patience ran out. She was right in front of him, and fucked if he wasn’t going to take her down for this bullshit game. He moved for her, fast. But then his shoe caught on a clock and fuck he was falling again. He caught himself, landing on his hands, and scrabbled up, before realizing that he was still holding her stupid cigarette holder.
“Oh,” she said, pleased. “There it is.” Something leather stung his arm, just above the elbow, and then it pulled.
The worst part was the sound. The pain that followed shortly thereafter was pretty unbearable, but the damn sound of it would stick with him for the rest of his fucking life. His left hand flew to his other arm, and came away slippery with blood and not much else. Certainly no solid feeling of an arm where there should be one. His knees wobbled.
“You just had to be stubborn about it,” she sighed. Her hand landed on his good shoulder, and that little pressure was all it took to push him down, off balance and stunned as he was. “You should know by now that your carrying on gets you nowhere with me, Jack.” He voice was close, right in front of him. She was kneeling there.
He bared his teeth and leaned forward, toward her. Their foreheads brushed. “You didn’t have to …” he panted, and then he stopped, because suddenly he was feeling much more tired that he had been. She grabbed his face in one slim hand again and held him up as he sagged, blindly fumbled for purchase on her shoulder, the front of her coat, anywhere to grab her. “Why?”
She kissed him. He took it, weak and tired, drinking in her scent and her touch because that was all he had left. He kissed her back, too, eventually, even if he hated himself for it; he bit at her lips, and she darted her tongue into his mouth, because the bitch knew he wouldn’t dare bite her then. She grabbed his left wrist – his only wrist, now – with her free hand, and pushed a length of cloth into it. When she pulled away, he followed her, some awful part of him aching for more. “You better get a tourniquet on that,” she whispered, her breath hot and ticklish on his lips. She was only half a millimeter away, so he caught her and kissed her again and the world trembled with them. Or maybe that was just him.
When she let go of his face he dropped to the floor, which was sticky and warm and slick. Blood. Probably his. He fumbled with the length of cloth, managing to catch one end of it in his teeth and loop the other around the stump that had been his right arm. “Tighter,” she told him, and then she brushed his hands away and finished it herself.
The radio clicked on. “Droog,” she half-purred into it.
There was a long silence. “Snowman?”
“I think the phrase you four use is ‘man down,’ but I’ve never been sure.” She ran a hand down the side of Slick’s face – she was warm now, so much warmer. “South wing. If you hurry, you might find him alive.”
She dropped the radio into his lap and crouched over him, her thumb running across the thick stitches sealing his good eye shut. “I think I owe a visit to Stitch.” Her hands trailed down his chest, grabbing the lapels of his jacket and pulling it tighter around him as he started to shiver. “If you do manage to pull through I think I’d like to see you again.” Her lips brushed his once more, and then trailed up to the slash in his face, through the blood. “And vice versa.”
She faded away, and the rest of the world went with her.
Clubs was the one to find Slick. Snowman had told Droog what wing he’d dragged himself off to, but Felt mansion was fucking huge. The three of them had fanned off, armed, looking for any sign of Slick.
“Oh, no, oh, Droog. Droog it’s bad,” was all the radio had time to chirp, before Droog grabbed it and asked for directions, icy cold and collected. And then he started running.
He almost ran in to Fin on the way. The time traveler jumped back and looked to Droog, and barely had time to register the cuestick before it cracked into his skull and dented the bridge of his nose in exactly the opposite direction. He reeled back, and the cuestick cracked into his neck then. He fell, wheezing and bubbling blood out of his mouth, and just watched as the butt end of the cuestick swung down toward his ruined face.
Droog stepped over the body, not putting the cue away, and sprinted around the corner, through a side door, down a long hall and suddenly there was the trail of blood, red on green. He followed it.
‘Bad’ was … not quite an understatement. But only just. Had Slick not managed to tourniquet himself, it would have been the understatement of the year.
Why go with ‘bad’ when you could have just gone with ‘dead’, after all.
“Slick.” Droog knelt, grabbing the boss by his shoulders, one so much lighter than the other when he shook him. “Come on, Slick.” The floor was shaking – Boxcars or Cans. Droog nodded to Clubs, and the little guy jogged off to see. “Slick, wake up.”
Slick groaned then and his eye half-opened. The ruined left eye – just visible through the slit allowed by the stitches – darted around in the socket, twitching and straining to focus, to work at all. Droog leaned in. “Do not die. I will not repeat myself.”
“He’s over here,” Clubs was saying in the background, and suddenly Hearts was kneeling down too, picking Slick up and quick-stepping back the way they’d come. Droog grabbed Slick’s hat and followed, Clubs trotting alongside. “Will he live, boss?”
“Yes,” Droog said, while everything else in him said I have no idea. “It ain’t gonna be pretty, though.”
“Oh.” Clubs frowned. “Well, boss wasn’t that pretty to start with, I guess.”
In spite of everything, Droog chuckled.
Hearts and Droog had been in the war, and seen enough field jobs to muddle through patching Slick’s arm up. It wasn’t pretty, not by a long stretch, but between what they’d both been able to remember – soldiers with ragged limbs, mutilated stumps peppered with shrapnel, and the way the surgeon would just pull out his bone saw – and Droog’s thick, outdated surgical textbook, they figured out how to pull the muscle and skin around the end and stitch it up like the world’s worst Solstice present.
And then they both sat down, not taking their eyes off Slick’s pale form on the table, and the saline IV running into him, and Clubs just kept their glasses full of whiskey. Because there are some things better not remembered.
“Someone’s gotta get the kids,” Hearts said, eventually, voice flat and dull.
Droog didn’t turn away, just fumbled the phone into his lap. He looked down, just for a minute, to dial a number. “This is his coworker, Diamonds Droog,” he said, eventually. “There’s been … an incident.” Pause. “The less he knows, the better. Yes.” Another pause. “Just one more night, if it’s not any trouble.” He took a sip of whiskey, sunken grey eyes watching like a hawk as Slick stirred a little. “Much appreciated, Mr. Egbert. We, ah, owe you one.” The phone dropped into the cradle, and Droog set it aside on the couch. Then, as if he hadn’t been drinking solidly for the last four hours, he stood, set the tumbler next to Slick on the table, and motioned Hearts over.
“I’m taking him home with me.”
“Aradia can stay with me overnight, boss,” Clubs offered, quietly. “She and Sollux are such good friends.”
“Which is why she’ll be staying with Hearts.”
“Help me get him inside, then go get the kids.” He turned to the other two. “Do not say anything.”
Slick came halfway around late that night. Droog was asleep in a chair across from him, book open on his chest. Slick could just make him out in the dim light, and briefly wondered why he was asleep on Droog’s futon. Then the pain seared back through his eye and his arm, and he hissed.
At least he could fuckin’ see again. That was not to be – ahaha – overlooked.
He struggled to sit up, but something stopped him. His arm felt … well, it hurt like a bitch, but it felt … wrong. He looked.
Droog was awake and pushing him down into the cushions before the hoarse, screamed profanities got too loud. “Calm the fuck down, Slick.”
“Oh, yeah, fuck, sure, easy!” Slick pushed against Droog, but the man was immovable. Or maybe he’d just lost a lot of blood. “No big deal, I’ll just fucking grow another one!” He struggled to sit up, but he was off-balance, frantic, and weak. Droog rolled his eyes and helped him. “She took my fucking arm, Droog,” he howled, and Droog just shushed him.
“You’ll wake the neighbors.”
“Wake the –” he boggled. “Fuck. Sorry, Droog’s asshole neighbors!” he yowled, “Just fucking lost an arm, apparently this is a fucking over-reaction!” Droog clapped a gloved hand over Slick’s mouth and waited for him to stop trying to escape.
“What is this helping?” Droog asked, patiently. Slick calmed, glowered at him, and tried to bite his hand. The thick leather glove blunted it. Droog shoved him back into the couch. “You’re still weak; you’ll only wear yourself out.”
“Relax, Slick. It’s done.” Slick watched him, green eye half-narrowed, half drooping shut, apparently despite his best efforts. “It’s over, alright?” Slowly, he pulled his hand back. Slick had bitten himself, and there was a trickle of blood down his lip, but otherwise he seemed better.
His green eye darted from Droog, to the bandages encircling the remaining length of his bicep, and back to Droog. “That bitch,” he said, distantly. Droog sighed and sat back, next to him, and let Slick wobble and fall into him. “I liked that arm.”
“I’m sure you did.” He frowned and pushed some of Slick’s hair out of the dried blood caked around the stitches over his eye. “You remember what happened?”
Silence. For a while, Droog through he might have passed back out – panicking like that probably wore him out, as much blood as he’d lost – but then he spoke, slurred and shaky as he fought to stay awake. “Couldn’ see.”
“Stitch … wrong fucking eye.” He breathed, half-snoring. “Effigy was … whatever. ‘N I couldn’ see.”
Droog groaned, his hand over his eyes. “Jesus, Slick. Say something, yeah?”
“Radio was cards.” His breathing was getting slower, deeper. He was falling asleep. Droog realized he probably should have had him drink, but he had a feeling there would be another opportunity soon enough. He didn’t have painkillers, after all, and sooner or later that would trump the blood loss. “Snowman had the ten.” He took a breath, breathed out slow. “Bitch,” he mumbled.
Droog breathed too, and tried to piece it all together. Slick had been blind, then, when Snowman had found him, and done whatever it was that simultaneously managed to rip one of his arms off and leave him with green lipstick all over his face. The details weren’t really important, not right now, but the one thing jumped out at him.
Slick’s injured eye had been patched when they found him, no sign of stitches around the other one. Someone had told Stitch. Someone who wanted him dead enough to leave him bleeding in a hallway, but liked him enough to want him to have the correct eye repaired, just in case. Someone who had probably been at fault for both injuries in the first place.
He’d never hated her when she’d been Queen, but he was working on it now. Oh, yes.
He extricated himself from the futon, laying Slick down gently on his left side. Slick’s breathing caught, and his right arm twitched a little toward Droog, as much as it could with all the bandages. He was trying to grab him. “’Roog.”
“What, Slick?” There were sounds in the natural world that carried a similar tone to Droog’s voice now. The groaning creak of an iceberg just before it drops half of a continent into the ocean, for example.
Slick’s eye slid open, and he half-managed to focus on Droog. “D’not … kill her. S’n order.”
“You don’t honestly believe the universe’ll end, do you?” he asked, carefully. Carefully because if he slipped, someone was going to die, and he’d just spent all that time making sure someone didn’t.
“Yup. It will.” His left hand opened slowly, waved. “Boom, goodbye worl’.”
“M’ your … moray,” he said, and a puzzled expression flitted across his face. “Som’thin’ with fuckin’ quadrants.”
“Moirail?” Droog suggested. Aradia had explained quadrants to him a long time ago, and he’d listened politely while she’d totally baffled him. But the terminology was familiar.
“Righ. Moray eel.” He shook a pale finger at Droog. “Means no ending the universe.”
“No.” He shifted, rocked more onto his back, and pulled the blanket off the back of the futon. “You stay.” Droog watched him flounder around for a second before sighing and helping. Slick’s fingers wrapped around his wrist, cold and clammy with a grip like a dead fish. “S’a eel thing.”
“I really think you mean moirail,” Droog murmured, settling down onto the futon, next to Slick. The other man nodded and then let his eye shut again.
“Big teeth. ‘Lectricity.”
“That’s not even moray eels, Spades.” Slick didn’t answer, instead pulling Droog’s wrist closer to himself. “I am not your teddy bear.” Another tug. “You can’t have my arm.”
“’Es I c’n. Honey badger takes what it wants.”
Droog smirked in the dark and resigned himself to his fate, settling back into the futon, as comfortable as possible with his arm stretched out and Slick’s skinny fingers digging into his wrist. “Go the fuck to sleep, Slick.” He did. Eventually his hand slid off Droog’s wrist.
Droog didn’t move, save to slouch down a little further. People who are sound asleep rarely move much more than that, anyway.