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Cataclysm Children

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The fates, as it happened, were fickle and cruel beyond even Lady Grimmedarque's ability to understand. The Knight tempted her with affection in private, but no more than a chaste embrace and genuine words. While among their friends, the Knight deStrideur refused to show the barest inclination of even a shadow of affection except when forced by social niceties.

Perhaps even all this might have been tolerable to the Lady, were it not for the sudden betrayal of her trust. While the Knight had little regard for privacy, a proclivity that had previously lent itself to mayhem and plague, the Lady Grimmedarque felt that he realized some things were best kept where they had been placed. But the Knight, though noble in many intentions, was still a scoundrel and a cad in many respects.

 

The last-minute trip to the supermarket had not been entirely unexpected in hindsight. Roger Egbert was nothing if not a caring and responsible adult, and it only made sense that he would express concern for Rose's feelings when it came to the matter of moving cross-country with her mother. What had been unexpected was how enjoyable it had been. Rose found herself opening up easily, laughing and joking with Mr. Egbert as they scavenged for the necessary items in a store already picked to the bone.

She gave him extra points for avoiding the cliche of "I'm not trying to take your mother away from you (or replace your father)," though the parenthetical part certainly did not apply. The points dropped away when he asked off-handedly, "Is everything all right with you and your brother? You didn't look all that happy to see him, and he was acting like a bit of a--" he hesitated, chewing on the stem of his pipe as he tried to find the right word, "-- well, a jerk."

"I find that David always acts that way, although I always hope that he might show as much enthusiasm to see me as I do for him, futile as that hope must be."

"I see," said Roger, though Rose was certain he (thankfully) did not. "Well, I may not be directly related, but I could see my way to talking with him, if you like. Or I could maybe nudge Broderick in that direction. Whatever you think might be more helpful."

Rose highly doubted that much of anything would be helpful, but she nodded in agreement to go along with it. He was only trying to be nice, there was no sense in rejecting the offer. "I would appreciate it, Mr. Egbert."

At that, Roger chuckled. "I understand wanting to show respect, but if you ever feel comfortable enough, you're welcome to call me Roger."

It was a heartwarming gesture, but entirely unnecessary. "I appreciate the offer, but I'm afraid I will never be able to stop thinking of you as John's father, first and foremost."

"Of course, of course," said Roger, chewing on his pipe stem again. "Well, it looks like we've found everything. Thank you for your help, the dressing has been saved because of your sharp eyes!"

Despite the store's shelves being mostly bare, the checkout lines were long, and it took them nearly half an hour to finally clear the store's threshold with their spoils in hand. Roger passed the time by slyly lodging questions about Marnie Lalonde's material possessions in a thinly veiled attempt to pick possible Christmas gifts on Black Friday. Rose divined his intentions with ease, but she played along readily enough. She enjoyed the changes he'd brought about in her mother, so she dropped more than a few hints.

The short trip back to the Egbert-Harley residence passed in easy silence, and it only took one trip to unload the groceries into the kitchen. "All right, your duties as errand lass have been fulfilled satisfactorily," Roger said, gently ruffling Rose's hair. "Go find your friends and tell them dinner will be in two hours."

"Of course." Rose straightened her hair out and went upstairs to see how well John and Jade were keeping Dave entertained, or if her brother had been overwhelmed by their combined antics. She paused outside the room, partially intent on surprising them, partially to listen in so she might be able to jump right in to the conversation with her own opinions or observations.

"'And so the Lady was cursed, forced into being possessed by numerous demons and act as their vessel. Unable to control her own actions, she could only watch as the demons exploited her baser instincts and darker desires, making her do things that she would never...' oh my fuck, guys, I can't keep going, this is such a load of bullshit." Dave's drawling words were interrupted by a snigger. He was obviously having a lot of fun insulting his own eventual gift.

Rose's vision went dark, black tendrils obscuring the periphery of her vision as all of her focus narrowed in on Dave. "Strider you insufferable asshole, you've gone through my things for the last fucking time!" With two impossibly long steps, she closed the distance them, wrenching the flash drive from John's computer and tossing it on the pile of stuffed animals that covered Jade's bed. "Did our experiences in Sburb teach you nothing about snooping through my things? Or do you need to exercise your ability to jump through time to reacquaint yourself with Jack Noir?"

Rose felt herself being pulled away, and John stepped in between her and Dave. "Rose, calm down! I know you're upset, but it's no reason to be going all grimdark again!"

"Holy fuck, is that what that was?" Dave's shades had slipped down the bridge of his nose, revealing how wide his (alluring) red eyes were.

"I fail to see your concern, John." She folded her arms over her chest. Her hands were clenched into fists, and she was vaguely aware of wisps of grey smoke rising from her skin.

To her right, she heard Jade clear her throat. "Rose, no one can understand what you're saying." Jade's eyebrows knit together in worry, leaving a furrow between them that Rose may have found adorable in other circumstances. "You sound like Feferi did when she tried to teach me how to speak to the horrorterrors."

Ah. That could be problematic. Rose took a deep breath to try and steady her nerves, and very carefully chose her next words to avoid the troubling eldritch speech. "Dave, did you learn nothing about how dangerous it is to snoop through my belongings? Even the most seemingly innocent of things may have relevance you do not fully comprehend."

Evidently her tongue produced its native language once more, because Dave shifted uncomfortably and readjusted his shades. "I don't know if you got the memo, Lalonde, but we ain't playin' Sburb anymore. Jack's gone, Bec's just a dog, the troll assholes are all safe and snug in their own damn universe, and there is no good reason for you to get your panties in a fucking twist because you don't password protect your shit."

The anger that grew in Rose's chest in response to Dave's words was blessedly mundane this time. Her eyes narrowed as she glared in his direction. "Well, Strider, it is reassuring to know that some things never change. Once there is no threat of world destruction to stay your hand, you return to being a common snoop. Did it never occur to you that your actions might also, in addition to once threatening two universes, be hurtful?" At Dave's (presumably) stunned silence, she sneered. "No, of course not. I hope you enjoyed your fun at the expense of my trust."

Her words spent, she leaned past Dave to close all the windows on John's desktop, then stepped over the clutter of luggage to Jade's bed. Once she had retrieved her flash drive and slipped it into her pocket, she turned back to face him. "Good evening. I'm going to go fight our father for the liberty of sleeping on the couch tonight."

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If it had not been for the midnight counsel of her estranged father, the stress of the Knight's betrayal may have undone her completely. It felt as though Lady Grimmedarque's very soul had been shot through with fine cracks and could shatter at any instant. To have her heart's truest words thrown back at her in such a manner, to hear deStrideur's tongue deriding them so callously...

Much to Lady Grimmedarque's shame, the incident had called up in her breast an echo of the curse. It robbed her of speech, it humiliated her before Prince Galath, and worse - it had even frightened the Knight. She may have been able to live with the shame of her outburst, but the weight of the Knight's incredulous shock proved more than she could bear. No one spoke when she fled the castle.

 

Rose had managed to commandeer the couch, while her estranged father had fallen asleep on the floor. She lay awake, staring at the ceiling and refusing to let herself cry. She didn't understand why her heart continued to latch onto Strider's companionship as an ideal. This was hardly the first time he'd betrayed her trust in such a way, and all signs pointed to it not being the last. Clearly, she was capable of attraction to others, surely she might one day find a way to forge an emotional connection as well?

Even after the interceding years since the game had been won (since they won it, she corrected herself, moving them from passive voice to active), Rose still found herself periodically missing the trolls. Kanaya in particular had a way with words during their time together that often helped Rose organize her thoughts and feelings. She longed fervently for that just now. Though it might be a fool's wish, a part of her wanted to smash the wall that separated their universe from the trolls', just so she could talk her way through these feelings with Kanaya, and maybe expunge them from her heart.

It was only a foolish dream, though. It didn't matter how much she willed it to be different. She knew enough about the human psyche to know it did not change anything. She had still spent four months alone with one boy, and he alone had proven himself able to match her step for step. He alone had proven himself able to match her word for word. He alone had proven himself able to know her completely. Her heart would accept no substitutes.

Her eyes stung, but she refused to acknowledge it. When a hot tear rolled down her cheek, she ignored it. There was no way she would let Strider do this to her. She would not cry because of him. Rose failed to even notice when the clock chimed midnight elsewhere in the house, more focused on her memories. Only her intense concentration on regulating her bodily functions prevented her from jumping in surprise when someone sat quietly at the other end of the couch.

"I know you're trying to be quiet and all, but I can't fucking sleep when you're over here sniffling." Bro seemed much different without his trademark anime-styled eyewear and baseball cap. More open, and perhaps more how an older Dave might look.

"My apologies, Bro," replied Rose, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand and sitting up. "I shall refrain from being so upset over a betrayal of trust in the future so that I do not interfere with your much-needed beauty sleep."

The hit to the back of her head should not have surprised her - unlike Dave, Bro was not very amenable to passive-aggressive jabs, preferring a much more physical approach instead. "Listen, little lady, I ain't gonna sugar coat words or put up with shit. You talk to me, you say what you mean or we're gonna have problems. We've gone over this shit before, and I sure as fuck don't feel like going over it again. Now what's got your panties in a twist so bad that you're crying at half past midnight?"

Rubbing absently at the point of impact, Rose sighed. "I've been... working on something of an intensely personal nature," she said slowly, picking her words to be as direct as she could manage to prevent further corporal punishment. "I brought it with me to work on during the duller moments of this trip. Foolishly, I thought my personal items were not subject to being ransacked without my permission, and I found David prying where he shouldn't be. He was... laughing. At how 'stupid' he thought it was. He read it aloud to John and Jade while tearing it apart."

Bro shrugged. "Yeah, so? I get that it's personal, but this is Dave. He gets in my shit all the time, and not even the strictest of punishments has ever gotten him to stop. You know that, what's the big deal?"

For a moment, she considered dropping the subject, taking the pillow and spare blanket, and sleeping in the laundry room. The moment passed, though, and she drew in a steadying breath through her nose before answering. "Were it my normal fare, I wouldn't be upset, but... like I said, it is intensely personal. When I finish it, I'd intended it to be a gift. For Dave."

"Oh." Bro stayed silent for a few moments before hesitantly patting her on the back. "He piss you off like this a lot?"

Rose found herself making a sound somewhere between a snort and a strangled laugh. "To put it simply, no. He will often 'piss me off,' but it is usually constrained to less hurtful matters that sting but rarely wound."

Perhaps Rose could attribute it to the fact that it was, in fact, the middle of the night and that she had woken the man up sans his usual defenses, but for a few brief moments she thought she saw confusion pass over Bro's features before disappearing behind the usual, patented Strider poker face. "Then why the fuck do you still talk to him if you hate him so much?"

Before she realized exactly what she was saying, her tongue had formed a reply. "While I am aware that the culture of Texas is somewhat removed from that of the northern states, I did not think it was a common practice to craft deep and meaningful gifts for family members you loathe. I will have to remember this come Christmastime."

Bro's hand moved much faster than she could really follow, but the sting it left was testament to its presence once again colliding with the back of her head. "Wanna rephrase that, or do I have to hit you again?"

She winced and hissed, scowling. "All right, I earned that," she conceded. "Let me try another angle, if a slightly more oblique one. This matter is sensitive and one I have difficulty speaking plainly about. To put it simply: I would be significantly less upset about the matter if I hated him."

It seemed to take a moment for Bro to process this information before speaking again. "You want I should beat some sense into him next time he pulls something like this?"

"I wouldn't dare to tell you how to raise your ectobiological son--" she paused when she saw his eyebrow raised in warning, then cleared her throat. "But I think I should learn to handle his idiocy on my own." Bro's eyebrow fell back to its original position, its owner obviously placated by the second half of her statement.

"All right, good. Now can you please go the fuck to sleep?"

Rose couldn't help it. The opening was too good. "Of course," she said sweetly, "but only if you ask in the style of Samuel L. Jackson." Despite the sting of the smack, she couldn't help grinning, just a little, and she could see that Bro was doing the same.