Three hours into the hunt, you're beginning to feel the heady rush of your second wind.
You wriggle minutely in your starchy neophyte’s outfit: it’s stiff, no give to the joints yet, but in time you will break it in. The air up here is bitter cold and tastes of chalky smoke. It coils heavy on your tongue as you pad swiftly on, dodging chimneys and the icy touch of moonlight.
Something about this night jangles on your nerves, sets your teeth to growling. Its very wrongness is wrong! You ought to be in your element; this chase is all that you are, at the core of you, the wind whipping past your grinning face, the incandescent flash of your eyes in the dark, the salt savour of sinner’s blood in your mouth. If someone were to peel back your flesh they’d find that your bones were built of Alternian Writ. You know this as sure as the ground under your feet, sure as starlight pricking sweet and bright on your skin.
(Under some laundry lines and straight over a gap between roofs, like some kind of shitty human ninja. Your standard-issue boots make no sound against the tile and concrete. You miss the sweet easy glide of air under your lusus’ wings, the grandeur of it, but lusii are out of the question on small-scale missions of this sort.)
You take a big whiff of the air, lick it and swallow it like cotton candy. Milky wash of moon, charcoal block buildings, crumbling graham cracker tiles under your feet -- and, ah, yes, there -- ice pop with a twist of dark licorice. It’s artificial and inconsistent against the soot-heavy familiarity of the city at night.
It would be terribly rude of you not to acknowledge your companion!
You set your cane firmly against the gritty surface under your feet, lick your grinning teeth, and say cheerfully to the air, “Has anyone ever told you what an incredibly decadent shade of grape your eyes are? I didn’t even know the human body was capable of producing such a singularly delicious color.”
Rose’s voice is as infuriatingly noncommittal as ever. “I believe you’ve mentioned it once or twice, yes, Neophyte.”
You don’t strictly need to turn around to see her, but you do it anyway. You like the idea of your faceless silhouette against the two-toned moonlight, the solitary gleam of your razorblade smile. You have an inkling about Rose Lalonde, too, and her appreciation for roles and playing to them.
She’s a silvered sliver of a ghost of a girl. You call her a popsicle sometimes, M1SS L4V3ND3R POP, the usual choice helping of creepy musclebeast shit you serve up to people just to get a rise out of them, but in truth she is an iceberg, forbidding and frostbitten. You want to rope her up and slowly, lovingly dissect her brain matter.
“So I guess you changed your mind, Lalonde!” you say, never letting your smile slip.
“I guess I did,” she says.
The first time you met her in Redglare’s office, she was pale and deadly. She looked like she might wilt, or perhaps burn to cinders in a conflagration of rage, if she were ever disjoined from her equally pale brother. You'd been buzzing with frustration. An hour’s sullen waiting between the Cruellest Bar’s announcement (this establishment a pallid shadow of its former self, if you’re to be downright truthsome - “deeming it necessary” to ask a couple of human bounty hunters, of all things, for help, really) and their arrival: were you a pettier person, you’d have been foot-tapping and death-glaring. As it was, your sharktooth grin wasn't quite as toothy as you normally like to keep it.
Her tiny purple snozzberry lips offered you a sardonic little smile, and your knuckles went pale on your dragonhead cane.
The brother, who introduced himself as dave motherfucking stridenasty - tiredly, as though he didn't really believe it - reeked of hot pepper red to you. Perhaps he'd smelt sweeter, sweeps ago. Now he was bitter and dry, worn where his sister was needlepoint-sharp.
(In time that sweetness would emerge, like lost strains of forgotten wigglers’ warbles, under the ministrations of your tongue. In a cloud of it, you would think dreamily that you pitied him, that you pitied him utterly.)
You recall the tastes of that first meeting in patchwork flashes of sense memory: a lavender twitch of lips. The smoky grey of Redglare’s arm as she tossed you the paperwork. The black pitch of resentment in the back of your throat. The way the bloodied shades of their eyes were difficult to tell apart, even then, even for you.
One night, sometime after you'd set yourself to the task of drawing out the cherry candy tones of Dave Strider’s vulnerability, you clicked his door gently shut and crept downstairs. A t-shirt emblazoned with SOMEONE WHO LOVES ME VERY MUCH BOUGHT THIS FOR ME IN CELEBRATION, FLORIDA hung off your wiry frame. (You’re fairly certain Dave’s never been to Celebration, Florida in his life, but you like the rainbow apocalypse of colors on the shirt, faded though it might be due to repeated washings.) The clock in his room had blared 3:14 AM against your tongue, acid sour-apple green.
You trudged into the kitchen and found Rose, not the least bit sleep-mussed, nursing a cup of the human leaf-water beverage called tea. Her posture, you noted, was impeccable.
“Finally seen the error of your diurnal ways, Lalonde?” You arranged your limbs in the chair across from her. Her eyes were jewel-bright tyrian through the filter of violet moonlight. When she responded, it was at a subdued pitch, for fear of waking her brother.
“Haven’t you heard, Neophyte? I’m a creature of the night, a handmaiden to they who reside in darkness eternal. Bluh bluh, huge witch.”
That one startled a guffaw out of you. “Objection, Your Tyranny! The defendant is being willfully facetious. The court recommends that she be summarily culled without further trial!”
“The defendant is a bit miffed, as this is her third unprovoked summary culling in the last twenty-four hours. The defendant might even be tempted to look upon this as... rude.”
“The court submits politely that the defendant’s opinion of the situation is entirely irrelevant,” you said impishly, leaning forward on your elbows to cackle (quietly) at her. She clapped a hand to her heart in mock hurt. Then she inquired gravely as to whether the esteemed legislacerator would like a cup of tea. You indicated that she would, puny human, and make it snappy!
You didn't - don't - often have conversations like this, almost openly non-hostile. As she fussed with the kettle and little tin of leaves, you allowed yourself to examine the ivory curve of her neck. The steam curlicued, wet and warm, in the air between you.
Sometimes (often), you wonder what she would be like in bed; if the near-anguished arch of her back, the sweaty tangle of her hair on the pillow would echo Dave’s. If you could shatter that blanched porcelain voice, dig your jagged nails into her throat and make her sing.
You clash on a good number of things, but her Thorns are the greatest point of contention.
They taste a sickening tar black to you, and they make a deep throbbing ache in your teeth, like nothing you’ve felt before. You are Terezi Pyrope, and you don’t have nightmares about things (things have nightmares about you) - but you’ve had dreams where the ebony miasma of those abominations reached out and ensnared you like a spiderweb, tore your skin and your soul into a thousand twisted screaming pieces. The wrongness of them shudders all through you, makes you jumpy as a chatterbeast.
Dave secretly agrees with you. You know it, he knows it; she knows it, and for her that’s the worst, probably, Dave’s unspoken betrayal. When the implication of it arises she grows somehow, impossibly, colder, makes biting sideways comments about anything: your clothes, your failures.
Once, like a knife-thrust, about Vriska.
“You don’t know what you’re dealing with, Lalonde!” you’d hissed. “You think you get to play little wiggler wizards, you think you can just pick up your stupid little sticks and trundle off with an assload of eldritch musclebeast shit powers, scot free! You think, you think, but you’re not thinking, and one of these days it is going to come back and bite you so hard in the rear!”
Her eyes had flashed, and she’d said, “Or stab me in the back? Yes, I suppose you, more than anyone else, would have an intimate understanding of the concept.”
Your mouth had flooded bitter black, and you’d nearly lost it, then, nearly gone raring at her with noose-knot in hand. But with that barb she’d already won, and in the space of minutes you found yourself pinned and shaking, with nothing to show for it but a few blue-raspberry bruises on her strange papery human skin. You’d snarled wordlessly at her, smelling (imagining?) the charred bubbling of your flesh, bound as it was by her terrible magics. Her eyes had gone flat and unrecognizable. Her hand kept a Thorn trained on you and did not waver.
“I think it best,” she’d stated, “that we terminate this partnership.”
You’d spared not a thought for Redglare, for your inevitable culling for insubordination (mutiny, even), not even, most shameful of shames, for Dave. You hadn’t bothered to reply.
You face her now, on a dingy rooftop, your wrists still singed charcoal. There’s a rueful twist to her lips, maybe, or maybe you just wish it was there. Maybe you wish a lot of things.
Her hand is about the same size as yours, if a little more fine-boned. It takes only a modicum of awkward manoeuvring to get hers and yours to fit together.
“Where’s Dave?” you ask, after a moment.
“He’ll be along,” she replies. “I asked him to give me a bit of time.”