Problem Sleuth hesitated to say that it was his and Slick’s first Solstice “together”. There was a long list of reasons for that, the first and foremost being that he wasn’t exactly sure if he and Slick were, as a matter of fact, together. They were of course together in the physical sense right now: Slick was walking alongside him, breath rising in clouds around the candy cane that was sticking out of his mouth. And they’d been together in the Biblical sense, too, of course, although Sleuth didn’t think the Bible strictly approved of the sense in which he and Slick had been togethered in that respect.
But either way, it was the first Solstice he and Slick were actually doing things together, not just grabbing a quick drink while the kids exchanged gifts. This was because the kids were actually at a party - a big party, Kanaya had confirmed that they would probably be quite late - and he and Slick were free to spend their time however they chose. And that particular choice had been to grab a less quick drink, or five, who the hell was counting, it was Solstice after all, and some cheap food at some grimy bar, and then head back to the closest place that wasn’t Slick’s hideout. In this particular case, that was Problem Sleuth’s apartment.
Sleuth’s apartment wasn’t in a great part of town (not bad, either, but decidedly mediocre), and neither was the bar they’d been at. Difference was, the bar was all the way across the park from Sleuth’s place, so he and Slick were stalking through the park, hands deep in their pockets, Slick sucking on the aforementioned candy cane like he had a grudge against it.
“Cold enough for snow,” Sleuth observed, debating lighting a cigarette up and deciding against it. Not because he didn’t really want it, but because it was too damn cold to bother taking his hands out of his pockets and lighting the damn thing.
Slick snorted, derisively. “Fuckin’ piece of shit desert. What the hell kind of desert has snow?”
“Well it’s not really a desert,” Sleuth pointed out. “Wasn’t, anyway. Derse and Prospit just farmed it to death and -”
“Alright, alright, I didn’t ask for a goddamn history lesson.” The mobster huddled deeper into his coat, for once not caring about how tall he stood in favor of getting as much of his body into his coat as possible. “Either way, as fucking hot as it gets in the summer it oughta stay fucking warmer in the damn winter.”
Sleuth shrugged. “Is itsupposedto snow, do you know?”
“Who the fuck cares?” And then Slick glowered, because a snowflake drifted down from the sky and landed on the protruding curve of his candy cane. “Shit.”
“That answers that, I guess.” Sleuth smiled up at the blue-black sky, thick with clouds. “It’ll be nice to have snow for the Solstice, huh? Kids’ll like it.”
“No they won’t. Karkat fucking bitches me out every damn time it snows.”
Sleuth nodded, conceding. “Well, true. But you make him shovel; I’d bitch too.” He frowned. “I guess they are getting kinda old to get excited about that kind of thing anyhow.” And then he had a thought, and beamed at Slick, not that the shorter man saw him, so huddled was he under his hat and scarf and massive black coat. “Hey, you know what you could do for Karkat for the Solstice? You could help him shovel.”
“Fuck that.” Slick flipped the candy cane from one corner of his mouth to the other, and scowled up at the detective. “I don’t shovel.”
“Just once? It wouldn’t kill you.”
Sleuth snorted, and then chuckled a little. “I really, really doubt it.”
“You ever heard of fuckin’ frostbite?”
The detective rolled his eyes. “‘Course I have, Slick, I’m not stupid -”
“There you go, then. Besides, asshole, I’ve only got one arm.”
Sleuth blinked. “What, the robot one can’t shovel? Something in its programming?”
Slick paused walking, his expression shifting between smug and frustrated. “You fucking know what happens to metal and skin when it’s cold as goddamn balls out and you get any fucking water between the two at all?”
Sleuth frowned. “Nothing. Right?”
“God you’re stupid.” The gangster picked the pace up again, and the private eye tagged along, hurrying across the dusting of fresh snow coating the path. “It’s like when you stick your fucking tongue on a light post.”
“Huh? Oh, Slick.” Sleuth laughed. “That’s an old wives’ tale; it doesn’t really get stuck.”
Slick’s good eyebrow shot up, and a hint of a smirk twisted onto his lips. “You don’t think so?”
“No, Slick, I don’t, because that’s stupid, and impossible.” He scoffed. “You can’t stick a body part to a lamppost. It’s science.”
Slick was watching him, totally smirking now, and half-appraising. “Wanna bet on it?”
It was a bad idea. The thing about Spades Slick was that he rarely admitted he was wrong, but when he was sure enough to bet on being right, he usually was. But … but the idea that Sleuth could get stuck to a lamppost was preposterous, it wasn’t even cold enough and anyway that was just a story you told your kids to keep them from licking things in the park. So instead of doing the logical thing and brushing Slick off, Sleuth summoned all the certainty and audacity five glasses of whiskey afforded you, and held out his hand.
“A hundred dollars.”
That got Slick’s attention. “You don't have a hundred fucking dollars.”
Sleuth wiggled his hand a little, in an attempt to cover up his shivering. “A hundred dollars, take it or leave it.”
“Fine.” Slick grabbed his right hand with his own - and fuck, it was cold - and shook on it. “A hundred bucks, you get stuck to a light pole.”
“Right. Good.” Sleuth let Slick’s hand go then, and tried to ignore the second thoughts he was having about this. He was a grown man, he shouldn’t even be considering licking a goddamn lamppost. But here he was, staring down the dark blue steel pole. “Let me just find something to clean it off with first, you have some whiskey on you or … ?”
“Fuck, no, that wasn’t part of the bet.” Slick crossed his arms, smug as hell behind that stupid striped scarf. “The bet was tongue on lamppost, no fucking sterilization or any of that bullshit.” He shoved Sleuth closer with his shoulder. “Come on, tongue out, lick it.”
Sleuth balked a little, his breath drifting up in clouds. “Hang on, it’s got germs on it though and - argh.” Slick had shoved his face up against the post, his eye socket grinding against the frigid metal pole.
“Tongue out, come on, a hundred boonbucks on this. You violate the bet, I’ll stab the shit outta you and -”
“Fine.” Sleuth closed his eyes and stuck out his tongue, pressing it hard up against lamppost for the count of five, just to prove it to that asshole that this was stupid, and there was no way that it was going to work. “You happy?” he asked, looking sidelong at the mobster, his tongue still pressed against the pole.
Slick leaned back, grinning broadly. “Now take your tongue off, asshole. You ain’t won yet.”
“Eathy.” He pulled back, and froze when his tongue … didn’t come off the pole. It didn’t even budge. “Oh. Oh, thit.”
Slick howled then, hands on his knees, shoulders shaking with laughter. “I told you, dipshit, but did you fucking believe me? No! Why believe the guy with the goddamn robot arm, he sure as shit doesn’t know anything about metal in the damn winter.”
“Alright,” Sleuth groaned, his tongue still firmly adhered to the pole. “You made your point. Now get me off.”
“Hm?” Slick started laughing again then, eventually collapsing onto a park bench and holding his sides while Sleuth started struggling. “I can’t get you off, stupid.”
“What the thuck are you talking about?”
“You need warm water and something to heat the damn pole up,” Slick wheezed, slumped across the bench. “You think I just carry that shit around with me?” Sleuth groaned, and tugged rather more earnestly, each time wincing and slumping back forward, his forehead resting on the pole. “Although now I think of it, you know what might be warm enough?”
Sleuth could tell from his tone that this wasn’t going anywhere good, but he was desperate. “What?”
“I could piss -”
“Okay, thirtht,” Sleuth snapped, as sternly as he could with his tongue stuck to a lamppost, “that’th my thing. An’ thecond, you’re not peeing on my thucking tongue. That’s thucking dithguthting.”
Slick was almost done laughing now, but Sleuth was still forced to wait until the other man got his breath back. “Alright, well then I guess you’re fuckin’ stuck, Sleuth.” He spread his hands. “I’m outta ways to get you unstuck.”
“Get thome warm water!” Sleuth snarled.
“Why don’t you just rip it off?” Slick jumped to his feet and stood behind Sleuth, his hands on the taller man’s shoulders. He tugged, and Sleuth screamed. “Come on, it’s like a damn band-aid. Sooner it’s over with -”
“The thooner it’th ofer with, the thooner I lothe all the thkin on my thucking tongue!” He lunged forward, wrapping his arms defensively around the lamppost. “I’m not jutht ripping it off!”
Slick watched him for a minute, and then shrugged. “Fine. See you when it thaws, I guess. I want my hundred bucks before then, though.”
“No wait!” He tried not to sound desperate, really, but there was something about being fifty years old, under-dressed for the weather, and stuck to a landscaping feature by your tongue, that could make even the most hardboiled of investigators sound like whining, needy babies. “You can’t jutht leave me.”
Slick seemed to think that over for a minute. “Nah, I’m good with it. Hey, maybe it’ll warm up tomorrow, you’ll get offa that thing before you die of exposure.”
“Thlick!” He looked to the mobster, pleading, his eyes as wide and pathetic as he could conceivably make them. “Don’t leave me.”
Slick sighed as if much put-upon, which Sleuth was willing to bet he thought he was, honestly, and groaned a little. “You sound like a fuckin’ child, Sleuth. But,” he held up a hand, cutting off another string of protests, “your pathetic ass pleas have moved me. I’ll call for back-up. I’m just gonna go to the hideout an’ -”
“No!” He shook his head. “No way. I could get mugged, or killed, or -”
“Don’t really see the damn point in killin’ you if you’re too chicken to even rip some damn skin off your tongue,” Slick mused.
“I’ll give you money,” he said, as quickly as he could manage. “There’th a pay thone right there, uthe that.” He whimpered a little when he pulled too hard. “Pleathe.”
Slick sighed, and pulled a trick quarter out of his pocket like it was the hardest thing he’d done all day. “Alright, fine. Christ, you’re a whiny bastard. The fucking things I do for you.” He dropped the quarter into the phone and pulled it back out quickly. Then he punched a number in and had a brief conversation with someone - please be Pickle Inspector, Sleuth thought - and hung up, returning to the bench.
“Pickle?” Sleuth asked, hopeful.
“Nah, I’ll do you one better.” Slick leaned back and pulled his hat down over his face. “He’ll be here in a second, just calm the fuck down.”
Sleuth wasn’t sure how long he waited - long enough for a crick to form in his neck, and long enough for Slick to half fall asleep on the park bench - before a slim, dark figure started approaching from the opposite end of the park. Sleuth’s heart jumped - it was PI, it had to be - until the figure drew closer, and a sudden icy pit formed where his heart had been.
It was, literally, the last person he’d wanted to see, although he guessed it should have been expected, since Diamonds Droog was invariably the first person Slick called for anything. “Goddammit,” he grumbled anyway, before Droog was too close to hear.
When the mobster finally did arrive, he didn’t make any sudden movements to free Sleuth. He didn’t do anything, really, besides stick his hands in his pockets and raise one perfectly-groomed eyebrow. “Interesting,” was all he said.
“Hello, Dwoog,” Sleuth said flatly.
“And you said you’re winning money off of this?” He completely ignored Sleuth - not unusual - and turned his attention instead to Slick, who woke up with a start. “Clearly I need to start making more asinine wagers.”
“A hundred bucks is a hundred bucks.” Slick got up, brushed the snow that had settled on his shoulders away, and moved back over to Sleuth. “I told him I could pee him off, but he said no.”
“I can hardly imagine why,” said Droog, while his tone said precisely the opposite.
“So can you unstick him or whatever?”
“Can I? Absolutely not; I don’t have liquid warm enough to remedy the situation.”
Slick blinked. “So why the fuck did you come at all?”
“To be perfectly honest, it sounded entertaining.” Droog shrugged. “I’m a weak man, Spades, what can I say?”
“Thuck you,” Sleuth snapped. It didn’t help, not even as catharsis, because rather than feeling relief, or somehow convincing Droog to free him, it only earned him a sharp rap on the back of the head with a cuestick. “Goddammit.”
“So what?” Slick cocked his head and watched Sleuth for a minute, still struggling hesitantly against the cold metal post. “You think we leave him here until he thaws off?”
“You do not jutht leave me here!” Sleuth screeched. “You can’t jutht leave me here!”
Droog looked as close to confused as he ever got, a slight frown creasing the corners of his mouth and furrowing his brow. “Why not?”
“He doesn’t wanna get mugged,” Slick explained. “Thinks someone’ll try to mug him and kill him.”
“Well if that’s the concern, you could simply take all of his valuables off of him and wait to come back until morning. At least then he won’t be mugged.”
“You’re not helping!” Sleuth wailed, as Slick groped around in his pockets for his wallet, keys, and private eye’s license. “Come on guyth, pleathe, you can’t leave me.”
“I don’t see why not.” Droog was responding absently, engrossed in straightening the lapels of Slick’s coat, even as the shorter man was batting him away. “There’s nothing here to be stolen, other than perhaps your life.”
Sleuth boggled a little at that. “Which cannot be athigned a thalue!”
Droog shrugged. “Glad you’ve come around to my point of view.”
“That’th not what I meant!” He struggled against the pole again, and then reached for the mobsters, frigid finger joints crackling as he tried to latch onto either one of their coats, consequences be damned. “Don’t leave me, pleathe. Guyth? Thlick?”
But Droog had talked Slick around to a drink, just in a bar across the street from Sleuth’s unfortunate sticking point, while the two of them warmed up and mulled over the options as to what they could do for Problem Sleuth. Despite Sleuth’s screamed suggestions of simply getting some warm water from the bar, however, the two crunched off through the fresh coat of flurries, leaving the detective alone, and stranded, adhered to a lamppost like a stupid idiot.
He didn’t bother continuing to scream: that would only attract attention, and he couldn’t count on it being the good sort. Instead, he considered his options. One: wait for Slick and Droog to return and free him. The pros to that were that no one else need know about this entire ordeal (providing Slick kept his mouth closed about it, which in all honesty was highly unlikely), but the cons were that Slick and Droog might very well decide not to return, and Sleuth would be left out in the cold all night. He couldn’t even count on Kanaya to call the police about him this year, because she knew he’d be with Slick, goddammit, and she’d probably assume they’d just gone back to his place.
She ought to know better, he thought sourly, as his back started cramping up and he tried desperately to channel the blood flow back to the tip of his nose. He wouldn’t leave her alone on the Solstice, not his girl. But she was older now, and she’d left him with Slick, he supposed, so maybe it would be normal for her to assume that this year she would beat him home on the Solstice’s Eve, and that they would reconvene on the day of the event for gifts and coffee and the traditional annual Team Sleuth board game extravaganza/fiasco.
He reflected, distantly, that his sudden depression over the changes in the holiday traditions relative to Kanaya’s growing up was not particularly relevant to the topic at hand. Not relevant at all, actually, but it did make a nice distraction from the fact that his hands were very nearly numb, and he couldn’t remember what his nose felt like anymore, and he reallydidn’t want to consider tearing his tongue off the pole. After all, tomorrow was the Solstice, and the Team was getting together for the usual fare of goose and whatever else everyone remembered to bring, and it really would be a bummer if he couldn’t eat it because of a shredded tongue, lost in a stupid bet.
He was glowering at the pole, contemplating just how much it could possibly hurt to just pull away, when he heard the footsteps approaching from behind. Two pairs, walking next to each other from the sound of it. Droog and Slick, maybe, Sleuth thought but no, no he could see their silhouettes in the window of the warm, cozy bar across the street. Two other people. He closed his eyes and prayed that they were a kind couple, out for a quiet walk, and perhaps they would have a thermos full of coffee, or tea, or soup, or anything warm, really; at this point, Sleuth was not about to be overly picky.
And then he heard them stop, and he heard a third pair of shoes clack to a stop in the snow, and then came the giggling.
Of course, strangers had been too much to hope for.
“Problem Sleuth?” He couldn’t see her, but he knew the voice: Snowman. Spades Slick’s favorite bluh bluh huge bitch, his permanent hate-squeeze, the woman he would drop everything and call ahead to the hospital for. Personally, Problem Sleuth didn’t mind her too much, but then again she’d never found him stuck to a pole before.
That still left the other two people a mystery, but it was one solved soon enough, when the trio strolled around to face him. Crowbar and Die, and Snowman. Three of the major Felt players, out for a stroll on a nice, snowy night. He groaned, while Crowbar and Die snickered at him.
Snowman leaned in, her expression caught halfway between hopelessly amused and utterly bewildered. “Problem Sleuth, what in the world are you doing?”
He winced. “I made a bet,” he explained, grimacing a little bit each time his tongue pulled back too hard. “With Thlick.”
Crowbar raised an eyebrow. “And I’m going to assume you lost.”
“Of courthe I lotht, what the thuck do you think we bet on thor thith to be winning?”
“Could have been anything, with the two of you,” Die murmured, shaking his head and flinching back as the snow that had gathered on his top hat flumped to the ground. “I wouldn’t have assumed you’d lost, either.”
Sleuth just glared, and Snowman shrugged. “You are betting against Slick, after all. This could be the lesser of the two consequences.” She made a show of looking up into the falling snow. “Then again, when I didn’t see Slick around, that was probably my first clue that you were the less fortunate of the two parties.”
Sleuth jerked a thumb toward the bar, his expression sour. “He’n Dwoog’re getting dwinks.”
“Oh, so Droog put you up to this?” Crowbar clarified, while Die realized that his high collar on his coat - while imposing - was impractical in that it was funneling cold snow directly down his back, and started attempting to remedy the issue by fastening the collar around his throat, to limited success. “What is wrong with you?”
“I’m thtuck to a pole!”
“Not you - urk, that’s my scarf.” Crowbar blanched as Die yanked the scarf, half-strangling him.
“I need it.”
“You could’ve asked.” He pulled his hat off and peeled away the scarf’s stranglehold, thrusting it at Die. “Use your damn words.” Die just made a face and him and wound the scarf around his neck, between the collar and his shirt.
Snowman was watching the two of them, before she rolled her eyes and returned her attention to the immobilized detective. Sleuth looked at her, tired, his hands tucked under his arms in a futile attempt at rewarming them. “You don’t weckon you could unthtick me?”
She leaned in, eyes narrowed, taking in the precise nature of Sleuth’s unfortunately frozen tongue. “You’re bleeding; I think you’ve torn your tongue.”
“Yes, I’d imagine it would.” She stood back, arms crossed, and shrugged. “I am sorry, but I don’t have any warm liquid on me to unfuse you.”
Sleuth glowered. “You don’t look thorry.”
“I’m not, really. This is comical, Sleuth.” She looked at the other two, over her shoulder, and whistled sharply to interrupt their argument about the scarf. “Wouldn’t you agree?”
“Agree what? Oh, oh yeah that’s hilarious right there.” Crowbar tugged at the scarf. “Come on, you have that ridiculous collar; I need the scarf. My neck’s cold.”
“The collar’s the whole problem!”
Sleuth groaned, slouching back forward onto the pole. “Come on guyth, I’m threezing!”
“Listen, we can’t help you,” Die snapped, digging his heels in as he and Crowbar engaged in an extensive game of tug-of-war over the ill-fated scarf. “I don’t have anything on me that can help.”
“We could pee him off,” Crowbar suggested.
“No you abtholutely cannot!” Sleuth flashed his teeth, not like he had any other choice, really. “Why doeth everyone keep thuggethting that?” Snowman didn’t respond, just arched one perfectly-plucked eyebrow and blew a smoke ring.
“If all you need is something warm, I’m sure blood might work. I could stab you and try.” Sleuth groaned again. “Or we could leave you here; it was just a suggestion.”
“I think I’ll path that offer.” He looked down to the snow settling on his shoes, glum. “Thankth all the thame.” And then he looked back to the trio, two of whom were mourning the remains of a torn scarf, while at the same time fighting over who got the longer piece. He tried his best to look pathetic and pleading, for all the good it would do him. Snowman was unlikely to be moved, as was Crowbar, and Sleuth realized he would have been hard-pressed to be more pathetic than Die at the height of his despairs, but it was his last shot. “You guyth couldn’t pick up thome warm water at one of the barth, could you?”
Snowman thought it over. “We could,” she conceded. “We almost certainly could. But perhaps we ought to get a drink, first.”
“Oh no,” the detective moaned, mournful, slumping onto the pole once more. “No, no don’t go get dwinkth.”
“Actually,” Die reflected, “drinks sound good. I could go for drinks.”
Crowbar nodded at that, appreciative. “I could as well. Which bar did you say Slick and Droog are in?”
Sleuth perked up, a cunning plan blooming in his mind. “If I don’t tell you, will you thtay here and try to help me?”
“No,” they replied in unison. “But,” Snowman went on, “if we get in a fight with those two, and no one comes back to pick your wretched, frozen corpse up, that would hardly be in your best interest.”
Die cocked his head. “Should we really leave him, you think? He’s not really a rival -”
Snowman waved a hand and started walking off toward a bar, on the opposite side of the bar Slick and Droog were in. “We’re not leaving him; we’re just coming back later to pick him up. After all, it may take some time and a drink or two before we can heat a glass of water up to adequate temperature.”
Crowbar and Die exchanged a look. “You good with this?” Crowbar asked, gently.
“I’m freezing, and a hot toddy wouldn’t be something I’d say no to at the moment.”
Die shot Sleuth a look that was probably supposed to be apologetic. “I’ll try to remember to come back.”
“How generouth.” Sleuth sighed, and watched the second group of gangsters stroll away, toward yet another warm, glowing bar, out of the cold and the snow, with hot drinks and food and company.
He wasn’t sure how long it was - he hadn’t worn his watch, although he wasn’t sure he really wanted to know - that he was stuck on that lamppost. He knew eventually the snow started soaking through the back of his trenchcoat, despite his periodic attempts at brushing it off, and he knew that all over the city, in the high-rise apartment buildings, the lights were winking off as people went to bed. He and Slick had left the bar at, oh, eleven or so, which meant it had probably been nearly an hour that he had been out here. It felt it; his back was locked up, he was cold, and shivering, and he seriously feared for the future integrity of his nose and tongue. He wasn’t sure what frostbite felt like, but he was willing to bet, at that point, that it felt like numbness and damp, and tasted a little like blood.
He was starting to debate simply tearing his tongue off the pole - consequences be damned, when he saw the door to Slick and Droog’s bar swing open, and two familiar, black-clad figures stepped out onto the sidewalk.
Better yet, it looked like the shorter of the two - Slick, absolutely - was carrying something.
They took their damn time coming back, and Droog turned off at the edge of the park, heading home and leaving Slick to reapproach on his own. Sleuth watched him every step of the way, doing his best to conceal his abject hatred, at least until Slick freed him from his icy, navy-blue prison.
Not that he was actually contained, but at this point the damn lamp post felt more like a prison than actual prison did.
“I see you’re still among the living,” was Slick’s greeting, when he finally pulled up within earshot. Sleuth just looked imploringly at the thermos in his robot hand, steam rising from the sides of it. Slick caught where he was looking, and smirked. “Ah, well, it’s still too damn hot, y’know. Gotta wait for it to cool.”
“Don’t let it get too cold,” Sleuth cautioned, as Slick brushed the snow off the bench and sat down, legs stretched out in front of him, ankles crossed.
“I won’t, fuck off.” He sighed. “Don’t want to bother goin’ back for another damn thermos of this shit.”
That caught Sleuth’s attention. “It’th not water?”
“It’s hot, that’s all I fuckin’ asked for.” He sniffed it. “Sure as hell ain’t water, but I’ll be damned if I know what it is.” He sniffed again. “Smells like tabasco.”
Sleuth groaned, while Slick started laughing. “Bet it’s one of those shots that’s gotta be hot, an’ then you set it on fire an’ it’s got hot sauce in it, too. Five-alarm Death Shooters or whatever.” He frowned at the liquid. “Never heard anyone order it.”
Sleuth was more than a little alarmed by this point, and he cut in as earnestly as he could. “It’th not on thire right now, ith it?”
Slick peered into the open thermos. “Not unless it’s those flames that’re so hot you can’t fuckin’ see ‘em. Goddamn, this smells awful.”
“Perfect.” Sleuth closed his eyes and sighed heavily. “Jutht perfect.” He waved one pale, shaking hand quickly, before tucking it back into his coat. “Whenever it’th ready, I gueth.”
Slick swirled the drink around in the thermos, and then got up, crunching through the fresh snow and over to Sleuth. “You’re bleedin’ an’ everything,” he pointed out.
“I know.” Sleuth decided to hell with playing nice until he was loose, and glared at the other man. “An’ I’m cold, an’ my clotheth are thoaked, an’ thith ith pretty thucking mitherable, tho I’d really apprethiate it if you got me off thith damn pole.”
“Alright, alright, shut the fuck up you goddamn pansy.” He raised the thermos, and Sleuth closed his eyes and flinched away, trying desperately not to smell whatever heinous mixture Slick had brought back with him.
True to form, Slick couldn’t just do the decent damn thing and pour the whatever-it-was over Sleuth’s tongue. Instead, he trickled a little bit of the stuff on Sleuth’s tongue, and then splashed the rest on his face, cackling all the while.
As soon as Sleuth felt the cold give way on his tongue, he pulled back, finally stepping away from the stupid lamppost and shaking the worst of the liquid off his face. “It’s saltwater!” he snapped, glaring at the mobster, who had stepped out of direct punching range and was bent double, hands on his knees, cracking right the fuck up. “You asshole!”
Slick didn’t respond, so Sleuth took a minute to crack his back and neck, and check his tongue. It was raw, and bleeding, and it would probably be a few days before he could taste anything again, fuck it, but most important, he guessed, was that no part of it was still stuck to the lamppost.
He was overwhelmingly relieved about that, really, but that wasn’t really the chief emotion. The main emotion he was feeling was righteous fury. “You left me there,” he snapped, advancing on Slick, who was still more or less overcome with laughter at Sleuth’s misfortune. “Stuck me to a pole and left me there!”
“You could have pulled off any fuckin’ time you wanted,” Slick pointed out. “Didn’t have to stay there an’ wait for me.”
“I did if I didn’t want to lose my damn tongue!”
“It would’ve grown back.” Slick was still snickering, but he’d taken a half-step back when he’d seen Sleuth’s expression. “Not like it was your damn arm; don’t be dramatic.”
Sleuth wasn’t really sure how to respond to that, beyond glaring. After all, Slick had a point. But then again, Slick had left him stuck to a pole, in the snow, on the Solstice. “You’re a jerk,” he concluded. And then, while Slick reamed him out about how the worst word he could come up with was ‘jerk’, Sleuth bent to the ground and scooped up a handful of snow.
The snowball caught Slick in the head before he even saw it coming. And yeah, it had been on his blind side, so it’s not like he’d had much of a chance of seeing it coming, but at the moment Sleuth was having trouble feeling bad about that kind of thing.
“The fuck?” Slick grabbed for his hat, and brushed the snowball shrapnel off it, before jamming it down onto his head. “The hell was that for?”
“What do you think?” Sleuth had another snowball packed, and let fly. Slick ducked, the snowball whizzing over him, and came up with a handful of snow himself. “You dumb fuck-face, do you even know what the fuck could have happened?” Slick’s snowball hit him in the shoulder, and he snarled and threw another, catching the gangster in the chest.
“Yeah! You could have not been a damn wuss and pulled your fucking self off the lamppost and we all could have gone the fuck home!”
“Poor you,” Sleuth snarled, forgoing the snowballs and making an actual lunge for Slick. In turn, Slick danced backwards and hit Sleuth in the face with a snowball. And the little rat bastard had shoved a rock into the middle of it. Fuck him. “Poor Slick had to go have a drink with his platonic fucking life partner in the warm bar. Let me work up some fucking tears!”
“Hey, fuck off, you could have come any goddamn time!” He brandished a knife, but Sleuth knocked it out of his hand with a well-aimed snowball.
“Yeah? Yeah? Could have just ripped off the whole top of my tongue and gone and palled around with you and Droog like we’re all best buddies and my mouth wouldn’t be bleeding like a goddamn stuck pig?” He lunged for Slick again, and rather than go for a knife, Slick took off running. “I will fucking end you!”
Slick slid on a - ahahaha - slick patch, but he regained his footing soon enough, and darted off the path, between the trees. Sleuth followed doggedly, ignoring the fact that his tongue was bleeding more now, and his back was definitely going to be killing him tomorrow, because he knew that if Slick didn’t figure out some way to cheat, he would lose. Sleuth had longer legs, and fewer broken bones in his past, and overall he was faster in an honest footrace.
Of course, he did find a way to cheat, because he was Spades Slick, and cheating was sort of what he did. Sleuth didn’t bother following when Slick jumped down the rocky embankment leading to the park’s tiny duck pond, instead tearing across the bridge and down the actual path to the dock.
The reason for this became readily apparent when he pulled up on the snowy dock, hands in his pockets, grinning stupidly. Slick, despite his daring and poorly thought-out leap, had not gained any extra ground. In fact, he’d lost ground, because he was currently laying half on the thin ice layer, half-submerged in the pond, scrabbling and splashing and swearing like Sleuth had never heard before.
Really, it was fairly impressive.
When Slick caught sight of him on the dock, he snarled. “You gonna fuckin’ help me?”
Sleuth mulled it over. “You know, I thought instead I might call up the team and run and get a drink. I’d have to leave you to get some rope anyway, and -”
Slick was screaming at this point, because each time he managed to gain enough purchase to wriggle more out of the water, the ice broke, and dumped him back into the pond.
“I think it’s your arm,” Sleuth said, helpfully, after he watched Slick make a few more attempts. “It’s too heavy or it’s pressing too hard or something. You should probably take it off.”
“And what?” Slick draped himself across the ice and panted for a second, glaring at Sleuth the whole time. “Let it fucking sink to the bottom?”
“We could come back and get it in the spring.”
Slick glared. “Go to hell.” He punched the ice with the robot arm, and paddled to the next solid patch, a few feet closer to the dock. “Shit’s going to freeze the fuck up and then I’m going to have to fix it,” he griped. “After I fucking kill you.”
“Hey, don’t blame me.” Sleuth smirked. “Ultimately, this is your fault.”
“Is not.” He punched the ice again, and this time it cracked away with more difficulty. It was getting thicker, prompting Slick to try to crawl out once again.
“I think you’ll find it is, with some deductive sleuthing.” He bit back a laugh as Slick shakily attempted to get to his feet and the ice finally gave way. “On the surface, it was your idea to jump down here, into the pond. And yeah, you were running from me, but you wouldn’t have had to run from me if you hadn’t pissed me off by leaving me stuck to that fucking pole for a damn hour.”
“Yeah, well you wouldn’t have been stuck to the stupid pole if you hadn’t made the stupid bet in the first place!” He’d slid onto his belly, finally out of the water and about three feet away from the dock, and tentatively stood up. He promptly slipped, and fell backwards into the water. “God fucking dammit to fucking hell fuck -”
Sleuth smiled serenely in the face of Slick’s tirade, and waited for him to get back out of the water. Once he was within arm’s reach, Sleuth extended his hand, making sure he was holding onto one of the dock’s pylons. He was pretty sure Slick was going to attempt to pull him into the pond with him, so he made sure he was gripping tightly before he grabbed Slick’s frigid, soaked arm and hauled him onto the dock.
Contrary to expectation though, Slick didn’t immediately attempt to kill Sleuth. He did fumble for a knife, but apparently his hand was too numb to find one, and his robot arm was almost completely shorted out and frozen, so he just stuck his hand into his jacket and glowered. “I will kill you later,” he grumbled, decisively.
Sleuth raised his eyebrows. “What if we just called it even? Unless you want two Snowman situations.”
“Fine.” Slick was shivering as he stalked off the dock, toward the warm and pond-free environment afforded by Sleuth’s apartment. “I’ll fucking maim you later.” He glared at Sleuth. “An’ don’t even try to tell me you had it worse than me in this one, asshole.”
Sleuth sighed. “No, no you’re right. I think you win.” He shivered, probably in anticipation of what he was about to do, and shrugged off his coat. The cold took his breath away, but right now Slick needed the damn thing more than he did, probably. “Here.”
The coat was too big - way too big, really - but Slick draped it gratefully over his shoulders anyway, and curled into the lining. It would be soaked, and it would probably take days to dry out, but he had his back-up trench. It wasn’t as warm, and Kanaya hadn’t had time to re-line the inside of it, but it worked in a pinch. And right now, he’d take the back-up coat over a sick Spades Slick any time.
They’d cleared the park and were squelching down the sidewalk toward Sleuth’s building when Slick started grumbling again. “I’m gonna have to go the fuck home then for the damn kid,” he griped. “Couldn’t just crash, have to give him his fucking presents in the morning or some bullshit like that.”
“It is the Solstice.”
“Yeah an’ we could do the same shit on the 26th and it would make just about as much fucking sense.” He shivered and groaned. “Fucking Solstice.”
Sleuth thought hard for a minute. He could suggest … well, no telling how Slick would take to that. After all, this was a … a casual thing, what they were doing. Yeah, they stayed over night at one another’s places here and there, and he spent more time with Spades Slick these days than he did with Ace Dick (socially, that is; he felt like he’d never get rid of that asshole at work), but it wasn’t the sort of thing that …
He bit the bullet and suggested it anyway. “Why don’t you have Karkat crash on the couch? He’s going to drive Kanaya home anyway.” He shrugged. “You can go home in the morning.”
“What, you wanna spend the morning together?” Slick sneered at that. “Fucking sap, is what you are.”
“You were the one bitching about going home!” Sleuth glanced over his shoulder, at the big clock on city hall. “Anyway, it’s only half past midnight; it’s not even that late. Wait until Karkat gets here and head home with him if you don’t want to walk.”
Slick frowned, and pulled the coat a little tighter. “Yeah, alright.” He sighed as Sleuth pushed the door open, and warm air billowed out over the two of them. “Fucking Solstice. I hate this goddamn holiday.”
Later that night, Karkat pulled Slick’s car up outside of the apartment building, flipping it into park and killing the engine. Kanaya was, uncharacteristically, drunk as hell, clinging to his arm and giggling helplessly.
“We’re home, stupid,” he informed her, although there was no meanness to it. “Well, you’re home, anyway.”
“Splendi - splen - splediferous.” She leaned close to Karkat, close enough that he could smell the curious reek of appletinis on her. “Y’think Rose’d like that word?” And then she flopped into his lap. “She could use it t’describe the adventures of the marvellious Zazzerpan!”
“You know,” Karkat reflected, gingerly shoving her away from his groin, “for something that is supposed to be more fucking mysterious than the damn library of Alexandria, a lot of fucking people sure know about Zazzerpan.”
“Rose writes wizard fanfiction.” Kanaya lolled onto the door and started scrabbling for the door handle. “Writes wizard fanfiction and has a smoking hot ass.” The door screeched open, and Kanaya fell onto the sidewalk.
Karkat’s head clunked against the steering wheel. “Just fucking once,” he mused. “Just one fucking time, could I not be the fucking designated driver for the entire damn cast?” He shook his fists at the sky or, more accurately, the roof of the car. “Why can’t I get drunk and get driven somewhere?!”
“Karkat I cannot remember how feet work. I am distressed.”
The horn blasted out short, sharp little jabs as he smacked his head into it. “God dammit. Fucking Solstice.” Kanaya giggled, and Karkat kicked open the door. “I’m coming; I’ll get you upstairs.”
The trek upstairs was arduous for Karkat, and hilarious for Kanaya. The appletinis had done a number on the girl, and Karkat was wondering if there were an elevator, but when he asked Kanaya just burst into a another fit of giggles and snorted something about rocket fuel. So he resolved himself to half-dragging her up the four flights, finally propping her against the wall outside her door and carefully unlocking the apartment.
“Alright, you’re home,” he grumbled. He pushed the door open, and was surprised to find all the lights off. “Guess your dad’s not.”
“Wooo, party!” was her response, as she stumbled into the dark and headed straight for her room. “Party in my recuperacoon, and you are most cordially invited, Karkat!”
“I think I’m going to decline,” he said, hovering back by the door. “Since I have a party in my own recuperacoon that I am already committed to.”
“Oh, is John meeting you there?”
He made a face. “Goddammit, Kanaya, no. John and I aren’t together, we’re just frie - Dad?”
Slick glared at him blearily, in the soft glow of the room. Karkat peered through the darkness, eyes narrowed. “Are you wearing Problem Sleuth’s sweater?”
“Fine, happy Solstice to you too, asshole.”
“Wait, kid, hang on.” It was then that Karkat noticed that yeah, the sweater Slick was wearing was about three times too big for him, but also that his arm was full of a blanket, which he pitched onto the couch. “You’re crashing here tonight.”
Karkat’s face fell, and he half-glared at Slick. “You’re not serious.”
“I’m serious and I’m tired as fuck, so you can fucking deal with it.” He turned on a heel and padded off down the hall. “Happy fucking Solstice or whatever.” At the end of the hall, the door snapped shut behind him.
Still frozen in the doorway, Karkat just watched him, blinking and gaping. Then he looked to Kanaya, who was leaning against her own doorframe, arms crossed. “Did that just fucking happen?” Karkat asked, at length, jerking a thumb toward Sleuth’s bedroom door. “Are they -?”
“They are very adorable,” Kanaya slurred, beaming. “And hey, Karkat, it appears as though the party in your recuperacoon has been cancelled. Unless Sollux is -”
“Goddamit, Kanaya, no.” He heaved a sigh and crossed the threshold of the apartment, closing and locking the door behind him. “I can’t believe this.”
Kanaya watched, beaming, as he crossed the little kitchen and collapsed onto the old sofa, wrapping himself up in the blanket. “Happy Solstice, Karkat.” She dropped onto the couch next to him, drunkenly running her fingers through his hair. “S’kind of nice, the four of us being like a family.”
“Sweet god, you did not just say that seriously.” He frowned up at her. “You might be my moirail, Kan, but whatever is going on in there is not -”
“I was making a joke.”
Karkat frowned then, and wrapped himself up in the blanket a little tighter. “You sure about that?”
“Yes. My father and yours are … Well, I have no idea what they are, but I hardly think that tonight is based on anything besides laziness, convenience, and apparently a severe case of misplaced clothing on your father’s part.”
Karkat’s nose wrinkled, and he stuck his tongue out. “Disgusting, Kanaya.”
“I am simply stating the facts as they are.” And then she flopped over on top of him. “I believe I too will adopt their policy of sleeping places.”
“No. Go to bed.”
She disregarded him, however, and nestled herself in the space between his body and the back of the couch, stealing enough blanket to cover herself. When she was done, Karkat was the decidedly-unhappy little spoon, Kanaya’s chin propped on his shoulder and her breath tickling the back of his ear. “Happy Solstice, Karkat,” she murmured, her fangs brushing up against his neck.
He wriggled away, just a little, and pulled the blanket a little tighter. “Yeah, Kanaya,” he grumbled, and tried to force away the oddly cheerful thought that he would be waking up with someone besides his hungover dad on Solstice morning. And that that didn’t mean his hungover dad wouldn’t be there, too. It didn’t work, and despite his best effort, he closed his eyes with the slightest smile on his face. “Happy Solstice.”