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This time I have nothing left to lose
I'm stuck, the second hand won't move
It's about time that I speak my mind
It's about time, about time to find pieces of me I have lost
Without any choice I move on
Hey, time, you're no friend of mine
Hey, time, you're no friend of mine

—Creed, "Time"

You were never supposed to remember.

You were never supposed to fuckin’ remember.

This isn’t how the game was supposed to work. The Scratch is called a hard reset for a reason. It means starting over from square one with a clean slate. Memories don’t come with the package, or aren’t supposed to, but you guess the game made you some kind of special exception (hahaha hehehe), because you remember. You remember everything, and you don’t know what to think.

Except that something must have gone terribly wrong.


-(ø)-

It takes only seconds.

And Dave has no idea that these few seconds are all he has left: mere moments upon which to make his mark and etch his name in a broken universe that will soon forget him anyway.

Something red flashes across his vision, spiderwebbing into a network of veins that spread like miles of broken glass. His feet search for solid ground but find none upon which to stand. His hands grasp for something—anything—that isn’t air even though gravity can no longer be called his master. He can no longer hear anything, except for a deep, almost inaudible croaking rumble that reverberates around him like a voice that has traveled for a thousand years across the vast expanse of space just to be heard before deteriorating into dust. The light of a million stars suddenly blinks out in a desperate zig-zag across his vision, not one by one but all at once, which can’t possibly be right.

Then he realizes it’s because he can no longer see. He’s blind. He’s goddamn blind and now he couldn’t move a single finger if he tried. He can’t even will his own lungs to breathe.

Then something within him jerks, like electricity is ripping a pathway through his nervous system.

He feels his heart beat once—

(He inwardly reaches for something that will remind him of wind, space, and light, because he no longer has time.)

Then

everything

stops.


-(ø)-

You are ten when you begin to remember.

Though you think the memories were always there—all thirteen years of them—waiting for you to find them. Waiting for you to walk through the old, long-forgotten hallways of a life best left to the restless ghosts and dreaming dead, and disturb the dust that has settled there so that you can finally remember and breathe the memories deep into your lungs, endowing them with life and purpose again so that they can become the most important part of you.

It starts when you receive a pair of turntables for your birthday, along with an audio mixer that probably shouldn’t belong to a child of your age and inexperience. You shouldn’t really even have something like this in the first place. Parents are just another word in the dictionary of things you don’t have, and you’ve been shuffled from foster home to foster home more times than you’d care to remember or count (though you do; you always do), but you forget to forget. There’s no one that you can name willing to spend that much money on a birthday present for someone without a real last name, and only a discerning few would even know that you’d want anything like this in the first place. You keep your inner feelings as hidden as the color of your eyes behind your shades.

You’re living in a group home when you turn ten, it functioning as a temporary place for you to stay while a suitable foster family is located. You’ve learned to turn December 3rd into any other day, barely acknowledging it (as if you are too cool for things as stupid as birthdays; you’ve had nine of them all ready, what’s one more?), but now this one changes December 3rd into a potent catalyst for everything that follows.

The gifts come courtesy of a generous benefactor who will one day attempt to conquer everything she has within her power to destroy.

(But first she must set the stage, bide her time, and wait. She knows the rules of the game, and it suits her methods just fine for now: to extend hope and friendship only to annihilate it later, like she has with countless planets before this one. Let them all call this charity. Let the former hero have his advantage for the moment, as the players of this world’s game must have every advantage given to them, which includes strengthening the guardians who will someday watch over them. Let this little one have something that he perhaps might recognize as once his. Let him feel the vinyl under his palms and fall prey to hypnotizing eddies of time through the music. The things that hurt the most, after all, are the things that lie closest to the heart; the things that you yearn for but can never hope to have, though they were once within your reach.)

It’s part of series of lavish donations to the home and the children that reside there. But it is this particular set of gifts that will turn every room you will ever sleep in (and there will be many) into a living patchwork of cords and wires as you use music as a way to take the edge off the growing void in your chest, filling it with the sounds that you (the other you, though you are both one and the same) had created long before.

But first it fills you with memories.

As soon as you lay down the tone arm and let the record spin, you feel something akin to familiarity swell beneath your fingertips, while something else stirs in the darkest and most protected corners of your mind. You’re finally waking up, even though you have always been awake; you just hadn’t known it yet.


-(ø)-

You remember Bro. You remember how he died, his own katana driven through his chest and out his back like he was made out of paper. You remember wondering why he couldn’t just be hurt but breathing instead (because it just wasn’t right, seeing him lying there like that like something broken), while your mind tried to make sense of it all and think up a viable explanation for how the hell the whole thing even happened, because until then Bro had always been immortal. Him being dead will never stop being wrong, will never stop burning as if LOHAC is living underneath your skin.

But most of all you remember how he lived.

You remember (vaguely) being a child just learning how to walk as he guides you through it, though he might as well be training you for the future ectobaby olympics considering his questionable teaching methods. You remember falling, and him watching you fall. You remember crashing into the floor over and over again like it was your destiny to fall forever. But, really, what you remember most is standing up each and every time and walking towards him through the labyrinth of smuppets that cover the floor, because it’s then (and only then) that you can see the first hint of something like pride radiating from him, the slight two-pixel-long crack in his otherwise stoic facade that might as well be a smile.

(But maybe you were just seeing things.)

He lets you fall many other times throughout the years, rarely, if ever, stepping in, because pain (as Bro will tell you many times as your ass meets hard, unyielding pavement) isn’t something you can avoid, no matter the walls and safeguards you build around yourself. It’s much more worthwhile to learn to deal and get back up no matter how much it inwardly hurts, because pain is nothing really. So what if it hurts? Hell, it doesn’t hurt. Play numb if you have to. What’s really something is rising up again and again and again until your knees are raw, red, and bleeding from hitting ground so many times, because there are many things worth standing for, even if your only goal in life is just to prove that you can.

And no matter how distant Bro kept himself emotionally at times, teaching you by iron stalwart example to keep everything cool and independent behind your sunglasses, he was never really that far away now that you think about it. He always expected you to push yourself to your limit, but never to the breaking point. He was insane (but cool, always cool; and he knew how to ramp irony up to the eleventh as if he had invented it himself like the Greeks had invented Zeus), but you think he knew exactly what he was doing. You wonder now how much he knew and never bothered to tell you.

You also remember other things.

You remember future-past Houston and its blistering heat. The sounds of cawing crows flying without a care around your high-rise apartment only to die and be reborn and die again.

You remember how it felt to hold a sword. To fly along the rooftop and move with purpose, allowing your own momentum to carry you forward as your brother danced flashstep circles around you while Cal grinned and cackled without ever having to make a sound.

You remember the game. You remember the meteors that streaked across the sky and caused the world to go up in flames and normal life as you knew it to die. You remember the imps, the euphoria of dashing through time over and over again on constant repeat until it became routine. The ticking heartbeat of LOHAC as you climbed up the echeladder. The naknaknak of jaws and the cha-ching of boondollars filling your digital piggy bank as you dominated the stock exchange. You can still feel the bullets tearing through your chest, the pain that follows, and the warm blood that soaks through your shirt as you discover what it feels like to die.

You remember the trolls. How they finally looked as you rose out of the Green Sun to meet them even though you had expected nothing to remain of you. You remember Terezi (H3H3H3H3 D4V3 1S TH4T R34LLY YOU?), and there’s not a moment you don’t look up in the star-saturated sky and see her there.

But most of all, you remember them.


-(ø)-

turntechGodhead [TG] began bothering ectoBiologist [EB] at 1:34 --

TG: hey john
TG: what are you doing
TG: where are you
TG: i know for a fact the crocker factory still exists in washington
TG: just thought you might want to know fyi
TG: sos plz respond because houston we have fuckin situation here
TG: quick i just turned on the egbert signal

ectoBiologist [EB] does not exist or has been culled! —

TG: hey man this is your cue
TG: you know
TG: to gasp and panic and shit because we just crashed into the goddamn iceberg that trolled the titanic
TG: until you finally realize a split second later that THIS IS STUPID because we all know jack had it coming and the iceberg was doing the entire universe a favor
TG: in fact all jacks have it coming and i hope the other douchebag gets an iceberg jammed so far up his ass that he ends up landing right into the waiting arms of steve fucking irwin
TG: or jades
TG: just so i could see her hit him with a newspaper
TG: make my year right there
TG: being totally sincere here
TG: ok
TG: ok so
TG: dude where are you
TG: did betty crocker stuff you like violet bratregarde or something
TG: because jesus christ
TG: she really does have her tentacles into everything this time
TG: psst dont tell anyone but i think she might be a monster from another planet
TG: good one right
TG: just like you probably wanted
TG: because i think bettys trying to give the whole world food poisoning
TG: and become americas most important shitty food group fed to children in school cafeterias everywhere because it has toppled the food pyramid
TG: so maybe you were onto something
TG: in fact im gonna go grab the keys to that minivan right now
TG: i mean it
TG: because im sick of wearing this goddamn pansy ass princess cuddlefish death tiara
TG: ...
TG: ironically
TG: ironically
TG: look
TG: it was either that or this stupid skull top thing ok even the aliens in indiana jones wouldnt have wanted to put their grubby faux russian hands on that thing
TG: hells to the no was i wearing that abomination and you can bet im ditching the doom diadem as soon as pesterchum gets invented
TG: at least with this i can kind of hide it under my hair
TG: or you know just smother myself with a pillow when i start to feel like a pretty pretty princess tool
TG: its also kind of like a suicide mind viewfinder in the first place anyway full of advertisements that get into your mind and shit that would give anyone a virus because its so stupid while subliminally telling you at the same time youre better off just killing yourself
TG: where is the upset and morally outraged parent committee anyway
TG: because everyone sure wants their kid to come home and say "hey mom dad what does cull mean???"

ectoBiologist [EB] does not exist or has been culled! —

TG: anyway
TG: pretty sure technology like this is not supposed to exist yet
TG: but whatever
TG: given up trying to figure this place out
TG: i guess since youre not here right now
TG: ill just
TG: actually no i have to get this off my chest
TG: he still sucks dude im sorry
TG: nickholas cage i mean
TG: nicholas
TG: nick
TG: w/e man
TG: still say it sounds like a drug rehabilitation center for deadbeat santas and nicotine addicted elves
TG: point is he still hasnt realized he cant act worth crap yet
TG: hes still pretending that he can
TG: and its the saddest thing ive ever seen in my fucking life
TG: nevermind the fact that a baby with no lines had more inherent charisma and acting ability in that one movie he was in than he does in this one
TG: jesus why am i even watching this
TG: its so inane
TG: look
TG: its almost moved me to tears because i need something to wash the collective shit ive just watched out of my eyes before its too late
TG:
TG:
TG: i guess ill go now
TG: but one last thing
TG: john
TG: i dont know what the hell happened or if this is just normal or what
TG: or if something went wrong or nothing did
TG: but if somethings wrong
TG: and i messed up
TG: or the universe just fucked us over somehow
TG: you know what
TG: nm

turntechGodhead [TG] ceased bothering ectoBiologist [EB]

turntechGodhead [TG] began bothering ectoBiologist [EB] at 1:53

TG: ill fix it

ectoBiologist [EB] does not exist or has been culled! —

turntechGodhead [TG] ceased bothering ectoBiologist [EB]


-(ø)-

The memories filter in slowly in the beginning—remembering things at first feels like moving a limb that has atrophied from years of disuse, the muscles stiff and reluctant and painful—but it does not take long for them to spiral into a cascading deluge, threatening to overload your whole system as you begin to remember everything. There are times you can hardly function because of the memories, all of them a welcome migraine pounding against your skull that threatens to block out everything else, until you sometimes can’t tell the present from your forgotten past. It’s not like watching a favorite movie, staring at old black and white photographs, or reading a journal in a familiar hand—there is no disconnect, no divide between you and your apparent doppelgänger. You feel every memory. It’s never Dave Strider. It’s you.

It takes you years to remember it all—three long years in which you live out thirteen condensed years of one life (time as it turns out is every bit as relative as Einstein postulated it to be) while drifting through the other like a ghost who’s finally realized he’s been dead since the moment he first opened his eyes.

You think the memories influenced your childhood, even when you couldn’t recall then at will like you can now, and remember them all as if they were merely a part of your eternal thirteen-year yesterday. Even when you were younger, you remember having flashes of things—images, feelings, faces with no name—though you could never connect the dots and say this is who i was and this is who i am and this is who i was meant to be, because there was no reason to it, only vague impressions that only make sense in hindsight. Until now everything flew over your head, the stuff you remembered little more than snapshots of infrequent images and emotions that came and went too fast for your eyes to follow and your heart to comprehend. You only had the sense that maybe you had once been something more, that life maybe had been much better, and you had had some place in the world.

But that life is one you can no longer go back to.

You’re not even sure if it’s real.

And that’s what hurts the most.


-(ø)-

turntechGodhead [TG] began bothering tentacleTherapist [TT] at 4:13


TG: hey lalonde
TG: stop the presses
TG: hurry and set your purple wizard wand down grab a pen and tell cthulhu to plant his tentacled ass onto the mindscrew couch and behave for a minute because ive got a goddamn show stopper for you that isnt full of nsfw classic freudian dick envy
TG: youll need every neuron working in your head to psychoanalyze this one
TG: listen to this:
TG: i think i might be going crazy
TG: going insane
TG: coming down with every complex compulsive psychotic neurological brain disorder in existence and then some
TG: mind = blown right

tentacleTherapist [TT] does not exist or has been culled! —

TG: i know
TG: it all makes sense now
TG: i mean why else would it be 1993 when i think it should be still april 13 2009
TG: johns birthday
TG: unless im crazy
TG: or maybe its secretly 2009 and im thinking its 1990
TG: 1993
TG: whatever
TG: point is i just had a mental breakthrough or breakdown or whatever you want to call it
TG: an epiphany
TG: forget about god tier and that shit because ive just surpassed it using my mind
TG: i have achieved maximum enlightenment
TG: buddha tier
TG: i am ron hubbard and 2000 years ago i was siddartha himself
TG: and i will now lead you by the hand down the path of noble truths because i now know the meaning of life the entire universe and pretty much everything
TG: i have found the answer to The Ultimate Question
TG: underlined because im dave fucking strider and i am amazing
TG: in fact ill share the answer with you if you want
TG: right here right now
TG: no need to get jealous because youre the seer and should know something as simple as this
TG: i usually charge but for you ill make an exception because youre my ecto sister and all and were tight like that
TG: you ready
TG: better get your needlewands and knit yourself a flying carpet because this is big
TG: so big i cant describe it without spoiling dumbledores death for everyone ever
TG: dont try to hide how angry you were when you accidentally had that spoiled for you on some internet board or something
TG: is that what made you decide to write wizard fanfics
TG: because that would make sense now that i think about it

tentacleTherapist [TT] does not exist or has been culled! —

TG: so
TG: anyway
TG: the answer
TG: right
TG: ...
TG: .......
TG: .............
TG: .......................
TG: ...................................
TG: dont mind me im just building up suspense because the answer to life shouldnt be given out lightly without any fireworks and blaring patriotic universe fanfare
TG: you can still turn back if you want
TG: wait now its too late
TG: hold on to your fake muggle wizard hat because this is gonna rock your mind and rewrite all the psychobabble textbooks you own
TG: and maybe make lovecraft roll in his grave
TG: the answer to life the universe and everything inbetween and beyond
TG: The Ultimate Answer ladies and gentlemen and lalondes is
TG: 413
TG: you were totally expecting something different and stereotypical werent you
TG: i knew it
TG: but what does this mean you say
TG: hell if i know
TG: its just a number
TG: numbers
TG: ones that terezi is obsessed with
TG: and i guess it seemed like a good idea at the time
TG: ok
TG: ok
TG: im done
TG: you made up your mind about me yet lalonde
TG: so your differential diagnosis
TG: crazy or not crazy
TG: am i losing my mind
TG: am i being stupid
TG: because im talking to ghosts here
TG: i mean

tentacleTherapist [TT] does not exist or has been culled! —

TG: apparently you dont exist
TG: any of you i guess
TG: maybe you just havent yet or did or im not looking hard enough
TG: maybe im just special
TG: ie crazy
TG: for thinking all the stuff i dream about and see is real
TG: i really dont have much proof
TG: and you probably wouldnt remember anything or me anyway
TG: any of you
TG: things are different
TG: i get that
TG: thats how things are supposed to work with the scratch right
TG: or whatever that weird douchebastard told you
TG: you probably live a different life now
TG: youre probably not even a lalonde anymore because i sure didnt crashland here or whatever a strider
TG: because bro isnt around to knight me one i guess
TG: just dave
TG: universal constant
TG: and ive looked for lalondes
TG: ive looked for egberts and harleys
TG: and maybe id be fine with it if i knew a few more things
TG: minds kind of fuzzy after we went god tier and karkat got hit in the face with a bucket
TG: just images and stuff after that and noise and i dont understand much
TG: but i think maybe something went wrong
TG: but im no seer
TG: youre the seer
TG: and maybe all of you and maybe me
TG: the alpha timeline me
TG: and sprite me
TG: are still on your way here
TG: i dont know
TG: you tell me
TG: so what do i have to get to get your attention
TG: yours or the other yous
TG: short of posting an excerpt of your wizard fanfic online when the internet starts to become a huge thing or putting it in rainbow falls local woodsy newspaper and hoping youll read it and sue me for plagiarism
TG: come on
TG: toss me a fortune cookie here
TG: be as vague as you want
TG: i know what im looking for
TG: point me in the right direction so i can start finding it
TG: rose
TG: i dont think i can be the dave of guy anymore
TG: i tried
TG: am trying
TG: but i dont want to have to anymore

turntechGodhead [TG] ceased bothering tentacleTherapist [TT]


-(ø)-

How is someone supposed to live a life that’s already come and gone?

It’s hard. You’ve been trying to permanently juggle your new reality with the one in your memories. Shake it up in a glass and let it coalesce until there’s no difference between them. You don’t feel different, really, other than being constantly alone. You don’t think you could tell the difference between you and the other you besides how you grew up.

You jump around foster families as the years wear by, but you soon find yourself in that one group home again. Permanently this time. Betty Crocker is as generous and as creepy as ever and sets you (and every other kid in the home) up with a sizable trust fund in your name that you can access as soon as you turn eighteen. It’s supposed to be for college and shit, you guess, but there aren’t any rules you have to follow to withdraw it other than being eighteen. The company apparently doesn’t care what you do with the money as long as it looks good in the initial press release or whatever.

You start working as soon as you can, if only to distract yourself and put money in your bank account so that you can leave as soon as possible.

And you do just that four months before you turn eighteen. Just pack up your bags and abscond. You’ve already arranged for a place to stay (in the exact same apartment that you and your Bro stayed in all those years ago) though you had to pull some crazy shenanigans just to do it. You have more than enough money to live off of for a few months until your birthday comes around. You’re not really worried about that; you just had to get out.

It’s kind of odd how no one really questions or asks or looks for you after you disappear. It’s like the whole world is being numbed and brainwashed and just doesn’t care too much about one dumb kid who blends almost seamlessly into the cracks. They’re too busy with other things.

If this is what life’s going to be like from now on, you don’t want it. There are too many things missing.


-(ø)-

turntechGodhead [TG] began bothering gardenGnostic [GG] at 3:41

TG: hey harley
TG: wake up already so we can get this crazy fun party started
TG: i mean jesus christ
TG: you must really be narcoleptic this time around because you sleep more than a cat in a narcotic coma
TG: are you even still living on that guam frogvolcano island
TG: because if you still have your devilbeast dog of yours
TG: hell maybe hes a flying squirrel or a velociraptor this time
TG: now would be a good time to teach him how to fetch a few things with his crazy nuclear powers
TG: anyway this is just a heads up
TG: i made some mixes the other day
TG: put them on some cds and a couple tapes as backup for good measure
TG: sent them to your old or maybe current or maybe nonexistent address
TG: like the other stuff you probably havent gotten
TG: i have more return mail than you would believe
TG: im starting to feel like a postman whos constantly delivering stuff to himself
TG: but so yeah you have an epic package headed your way
TG: maybe youll even recognize some of them
TG: maybe youll like them maybe you wont i guess
TG: its cool either way
TG: just listen to them alright
TG: youre probably strapped for good sick beats wherever you are
TG: also it snowed here the other day
TG: didnt survive long though
TG: considering this is texas
TG: and snow is a heathen abomination
TG: thank god
TG: still just about froze my ass off
TG: hope youre happy
TG: almost tried to make an ironic furry snowanimalman out of the mushy snowflake vomit
TG: since
TG: you know
TG: i apparently have lots of time now
TG: except i still didnt
TG: at all
TG: because why would i
TG: striders are too cool for that
TG: but you can imagine me doing that if it makes you happy

gardenGnostic [GG] does not exist or has been culled! —

TG: fuck that
TG: we both know thats not true
TG: hey harley
TG: jade
TG: jade
TG: jade
TG: come on
TG: earth to jade
TG: baa ram ewe
TG: calling the anthropomorphically inclined
TG: thats you btw
TG: hit me with all youve got
TG: can i get a foxy yip yip yip
TG: id take a woof too
TG: or a meow i guess
TG: but that was that one cattrolls thing
TG: and you strike me as being more of a dog if anything
TG: imagine that
TG: and not just because you prototyped your dreamself with one or because you owned that atomic devil superdog
TG: more like because of your enthusiasm and shit
TG: kind of like a dog wagging its exclamation point tail always happy to see you
TG: unless its in a bad mood or something
TG: because then you learn to watch your back because oh look out here comes jade harley the pacific island guam shepard and she can take a verbal bite out of your ass when she wants to go to town and grow pumpkins
TG: except wait
TG: whats this???
TG: oooooh nooooooo bitch you did not just steal jade dogs pumpkins
TG: worst decision you ever made dude
TG: run rabbit run
TG: jesus wheres the popcorn
TG: this is better than watching karkat argue with himself
TG: enjoy those pumpkins while you can loser
TG: because you soon will be disemboweled
TG: and stuffed
TG: and brought home like a trophy to chill with the other weird dudes pretending to sip tea and hold some kind of intelligent conversation with badass grandpa harley
TG: except you stole his dog granddaughter/daughters pumpkins
TG: so im betting he wont like you much either
TG: hes killed butterflies for less
TG: jade
TG: jade
TG: jade
TG: or new scratched jade
TG: this really isnt the time to be some disney princess and sleep for eternity just because you decided that pricking your finger on a needle was just too much for your heart to take and the evil witch got you
TG: though we both know youre tougher than that so
TG: hey
TG: maybe a house just tried to fall on you or some stupid thing like that
TG: and thats why things are taking so long
TG: because its hard getting out of not kansas sometimes
TG: but if this is true
TG: some word would be nice
TG: hint: just click your heels together and say theres no place like home
TG: then ill start looking somewhere over the rainbow for the yellow brick road and well go home together with john and rose
TG: and john can apologize profusely for that tornado because winds his thing
TG: and rose can stop that kleptofingered girl from stealing your shoes because shes a seer witch and she can take bectoto away from dorothy too while shes at it
TG: though i still say you should leave him with dorothy no offense
TG: look
TG: theres no place like home alright
TG: theres no magic number
TG: three times or less or more doesnt matter
TG: just say the word and im there ok

turntechGodhead [TG] ceased bothering gardenGnostic [GG]


-(ø)-

You never stop looking for them.

There’s never a moment when you don’t wish someone, anyone would appear out of the Texas haze and tell you you’re not crazy for believing so hard in something that you can’t prove exists.

Well, there are trivial things, you guess, that you could use to verify your memories. Predicting movies that will come out, who the next president of the United States will be, significant historical events, and stuff like that, but it’s all just useless trivia to you and it’s just not enough. You need something else. Something bigger. Something tangible to thread your fingers through.

You need something real.

Something so real it hurts to hold on to. Something that would sear your retinas just to look at. Something that will burrow so far down into your skin and bones that you’ll bleed and ache from the absolute realness and certainty of it.

You need someone to appear out of thin air like he’s been here this entire time, watching you, just so he can say what are you talking about, dave, my taste in movies is awesome and you know it!

You need someone to hurry up and laugh in your ear and shove a million universe frogs into your arms for good measure and tell you that youre being silly dave!!! of course everything happened!

You need someone with a nasty wicked purple ball of deadly dream yarn to wake you up again and order you in a tone laced with latent sarcasm to For lack of a better phrase, man up and look into the sky, Strider. Stop drowning out the world with your music and listen.

But, of course, things usually don’t turn out how you want them to—how you imagine them to every fucking day of every fucking minute of every fucking hour.

But one day you really do remove your headphones for once and look up. It’s a clear December day with not a cloud in sight, and you turn your head only to see a meteor blaze a burning smoke trail through the sky.

Chapter Text

Unsure of yourself
You stand divided now
Which road will lead you there?
Last time you fell and you hit hard
Your wounds have healed by now
But you still see your scars, yeah,

But it’s not the way it use to be right now
You've come so far to just let this go, my friend,
Don't go out the same way you did the last time
You’ll break when you fall
Don’t make the same mistakes you did all over
You’ve got to believe in yourself this time

—3 Doors Down, "This Time"

You chase the meteor like it’s a falling star.


-(ø)-

Time, Dave has learned, has a definite rhythm.

In a way, he’s always been minutely aware of it, the immortal heartbeat of time as it progresses across the hours in a paradoxically steady yet chaotic meter that kneels to no conductor. With his turntables, Dave had been able to harness it, to tap into its stream and learn how to turn back time and fashion it into a tool to use to his advantage. Over one day stretched into four he had learned to understand time’s unique way of flowing. He learned how to become increasingly aware of each individual moment as if he were presently living it, until he no longer had to rely on the vinyl guidance of the turntables to signal him when to stop. From then on the turntables merely acted as a medium to channel his abilities through. He could never have jumped into and manipulated the timestream on his own with just a wish and a thought.

At least, not back then.

Now things are different. He doesn’t need the turntables anymore.

Now time’s like a constant, ticking presence in his head, and the knowledge of how to use it fully realized. He’s sensitive to every significant shift in its flow, just like his ears would be immediately aware of a sudden change in elevation and pressure.

And he thinks it’s slowly driving him insane.

Dave knows he could have learned how to relegate it to the background, to treat it like he would normal white noise, if their current situation had been different. He knows now that time is supposed to move in a deliberate if capricious rhythm. It may change, but even at its most high-strung and temperamental of moments, time always has with it a sort of underlying harmony that stitches the minutes together until they form hours, until the hours themselves form days, and the days turn into years, and the years into eons.

But here in the Furthest Ring, there is no such thing as harmony—or if there is, it’s wrapped up in so much tentacled horrorterror bullshit that there’s no use trying to look for the remaining sliver of it that’s making sure they all don’t age five hundred years a second. It’s all chaos and pure dissonance, and he can feel every bipolar moment of it. One minute he’s sure that they’ve been knocked back one hundred years in time, only to be suddenly and ineffably certain the next minute that they’re now hurtling through space five hundred years in the future. That isn’t to say there aren’t times when things are relatively stable, but Dave doesn’t think that more than a few hours can go by before the Furthest Ring decides it’s time to fuck with his head again, screw up his sense of time and place, and give him a near-constant headache for his trouble.

At least the clocks that are still operational work right. The Furthest Ring can’t apparently tamper with a machine’s rigid I-don’t-give-a-damn-where-we-are-I’ll-tick-tock-at-my-own-pace adherence to normality.

And it’s been three months.

Three months out of three years.

They’re not even halfway done.

He has to admit though, for being in the company of his technical sister, a carapace, said carapace’s pet guard-dog firefly, and four trolls who have murder ingrained into their rainbow-blooded culture, their day-to-day arrangements have become surprisingly routine. It’s probably as normal as things are going to get on a meteor blazing through the void at thousands of miles per second.

Today (week twelve day two) Dave finds himself climbing—not hovering—up the staircase to the main rooftop, like he usually does in the hours the clocks call morning. It’s almost automatic now, climbing stair after stair after stair. When Dave bothers to think about it, he guesses it’s his subconscious way of trying to force his mind into some semblance of routine, so that maybe his head won’t pound quite so much.

As usual, he finds Karkat there, staring into the darkness of the Furthest Ring, threatening to wear a four-foot-long hole in the floor with his jerky, nervous pacing.

It’s hard to not find Karkat up here anymore, besides the few hours he dedicates each day to wandering the halls and rupturing the eardrums of whomever he runs into with his newest complaint—one that he probably made up five seconds beforehand, because oh look at me, my name is Karkat Vantas and I’m an insufferable dick! Though behind all the spit and fire, Dave supposes that this is all Karkat’s really dumb way of making sure everyone’s still sane, alive, and kicking, because if you’re still aware enough to roll your eyes in his general direction, everything must still be okay. Logic at its finest.

At first, Dave had thought Karkat went up rooftop to sulk (though others far more perceptive saw it as Karkat’s way of saying goodbye to those he had failed and had no choice but to leave behind), but it soon became apparent there was far more to it than that.

He was watching for Jack.

KARKAT: WHAT DO YOU WANT?
DAVE: oh nothin
DAVE: just standing here admiring the scenery
DAVE: you know
DAVE: letting my eyes feast on the different shades of black that make up this gigantic midnight canvas
DAVE: and wonder where this paradoxical calamari fishbowl has been all my life
DAVE: the usual

KARKAT: YEAH WELL WHATEVER FUCKING MAJESTIC ART-SNOB MASTERPIECE THERE IS TO SEE HERE, YOU’RE RUINING IT WITH YOUR ROYAL MORONIC PRESENCE. WHY DON’T YOU SCRAM AND GO PLAY COOLKID WITH TEREZI OR SOMETHING?
KARKAT: OR, I DON’T KNOW, DIE JUSTLY SOMEWHERE.

DAVE: oh wow i have your permission to play with her now
DAVE: jegus christ
DAVE: thanks dad
DAVE: ill have her home by 10

KARKAT: WHAT WAS THAT???? WAS THAT THE SOUND OF AN ASSHOLE BLOWING HOT SNARK AIR OUT OF HIS CRACK? I DON’T THINK I COULD HEAR ANYTHING ON ACCOUNT OF ME NOT LISTENING TO TALKING ASSES!
DAVE: terezi thinks were alike you know
KARKAT: WHAT?
KARKAT: FUCK YOU, I KNOW THAT’S A LIE.

DAVE: not a lie man
DAVE: she totally thinks were alike dude
DAVE: except your issues are stupid and depressing and not cool
DAVE: you have no suave to speak of
DAVE: just a mopey sack of ornery vocal chords

KARKAT: OH WOW. I DON’T THINK I’VE EVER BEEN MORE INSULTED IN MY LIFE.
DAVE: i know
DAVE: i mean
DAVE: why would she compare me to such a shitty piece of work
DAVE: ready to melt into a puddle of his own self loathing

KARKAT: WE ARE NOTHING ALIKE.
DAVE: but what if we are tho
DAVE: what if

KARKAT: WHAT PART OF “SHUT UP” DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND?
KARKAT: AM I MAKING THIS TOO DIFFICULT FOR YOU? DID I FAIL TO NOTICE HOW BADLY DAMAGED YOUR THINK PAN ACTUALLY WAS THE LAST TIME WE SCREAMED AT EACH OTHER? IS SHUTTING UP THAT HARD FOR YOUR TINY HUMAN MIND TO PROCESS?
KARKAT: SHOULD I MAKE A CONSEQUENCE IF-THEN STATEMENT FOR YOU? MAKE THINGS A LITTLE EASIER? BECAUSE I CAN DO THAT!
KARKAT: HOW ABOUT THIS: IF YOU KEEP TALKING, THEN I’LL BE FORCED TO RIP THOSE SO-CALLED VOCAL CHORDS OF YOURS RIGHT OUT OF THAT THING YOU CALL A THROAT AND USE THEM TO MAKE THE STRINGS FOR PARADOX SPACE’S TINIEST VIOLIN JUST TO SHOW YOU HOW LITTLE I GIVE A FUCK WHILE YOU BLEED OUT ONTO THE FLOOR TO THE SOUND OF MY VICTORIOUS CONCERTO.

DAVE: oh haha wow im stunned by your eloquence and all and im impressed you have violins and italian in your minuscule vocabulary but
DAVE: wouldnt terezi find that hot

KARKAT: WHAT?
KARKAT: WHAT?

DAVE: i mean
DAVE: not you so much as me
DAVE: you know
DAVE: bleeding out all over the floor
DAVE: probably out of every major orifice
DAVE: because besides me not having vocal chords anymore
DAVE: your violin playing is probably shit
DAVE: and terrible enough to make more than just my ears bleed
DAVE: but all that red
DAVE: itd be like major sensory overload for her
DAVE: kind of like dumping her into a gigantic bucket of kool aid and watching her go wild

KARKAT: OH MY GOD.
KARKAT: OH MY FUCKING GOD.
KARKAT: I AM NOT HAVING THIS SORT OF CONVERSATION WITH YOU.
KARKAT: NO

DAVE: hahahaha
DAVE: dont lie you know you found it hot

KARKAT: JUST. FUCK. YOU.
KARKAT: LOOK.
KARKAT: I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THE HELL KOOLAID IS, BUT STAPLE YOUR UGLY LIPS SHUT AND KEEP YOUR BIZARRE HUMAN FETISHES TO YOURSELF.
KARKAT: AND LEAVE TEREZI OUT OF THIS.
KARKAT: GOD. I AM REELING IN UNFATHOMABLE DISGUST, STRIDER. CAN YOU HEAR THE SOUND OF MY JAW HITTING THE FLOOR?
KARKAT: I THINK I MIGHT HAVE TO EMPLOY DRASTIC METHODS JUST TO BLEACH OUT THE MENTAL IMAGES THAT HAVE SOMEHOW WORMED THEIR WAY INTO MY RETINAS.
KARKAT: LOOK! I’M ALMOST SHEDDING TEARS OF BLOOD!

DAVE: youre welcome
KARKAT: YOU ARE SUCH AN ANNOYING LITTLE PRICK. DON’T YOU LISTEN TO YOURSELF?
KARKAT: MAYBE SINCE YOU DON’T HAVE ANYTHING BETTER TO DO BESIDES SPOUT OUT STUPID AND RIDICULOUSLY CONVOLUTED METAPHORS,
KARKAT: YOU CAN MAYBE LEAVE ME THE HELL ALONE WHILE I DO SOMETHING ACTUALLY USEFUL.

DAVE: like what
KARKAT: WELL, I DON’T KNOW IF YOU AND YOUR GIRLY SHADES NOTICED,
KARKAT: BUT HE’S CATCHING UP.
KARKAT: YOU SEE THAT OMINOUS GREEN SPARK THERE?
KARKAT: IT’S GETTING BIGGER, SMARTASS.
KARKAT: AND WHILE YOU’RE VOMITING RAP SHIT OUT OF YOUR PROTEIN CHUTE AND DOING NOTHING EVEN CLOSE TO BEING CONSTRUCTIVE WHATSOEVER,
KARKAT: LOUNGING AROUND IN YOUR GOD TIER PAJAMAS JUST LIKE YOUR RANK OF “MOST REVOLTING HUMAN” APPARENTLY ENTITLES YOU TO,
KARKAT: HE’S GAINING ON US. AND I’M TRYING TO THINK OF SOMETHING TO DO ABOUT IT.
KARKAT: IN FACT, HE’S PROBABLY GOING TO FIND HIS WAY HERE AND SLAUGHTER US ALIVE.
KARKAT: GUT US ALL ON HIS DEATH SWORD SHISKABOB.
KARKAT: OR MAYBE THAT WAS YOUR SEER’S PLAN ALL ALONG?!
KARKAT: TO FIGHT HIM ALONG THE WAY AND DIE!
KARKAT: SHE’S GOOD AT THAT KIND OF THING, RIGHT?
KARKAT: I SUDDENLY GET IT NOW!
KARKAT: I THOUGHT SHE WAS BEING ALMOST TOO RATIONAL.

DAVE: hey wait
KARKAT: THE SUICIDE MISSION THING?
KARKAT: STROKES HER PROVERBIAL FANCY AND TICKLES HER GRIMDARK PERSONA.
KARKAT: WE ARE SCREWED.
KARKAT: FUCK IT.
KARKAT: WHY CAN’T ANYTHING GO RIGHT FOR ONCE?
KARKAT: OH WAIT, IT CAN’T. THAT’S SOMETHING THAT’S NEAR IMPOSSIBLE TO ACHIEVE. SILLY ME.
KARKAT: HE’S GOING TO CATCH UP, ISN’T HE?

ROSE: That has always been a distinct possibility.
KARKAT: WOAH. WAIT. WHEN DID YOU TWO GET HERE?
KANAYA: Just Now
KANAYA: We Heard You Yelling And Were Understandably Concerned

DAVE: haha now i know thats a lie
DAVE: karkat yelling is like the hearing the opening credits of full house coming on the television every morning
DAVE: totally mundane and completely obnoxious
DAVE: rose just wanted to intrude on the conversation and dragged you along for the ride didnt she

KANAYA: Well I Can Not Speak For Rose
KANAYA: But I Was Being Sincere

DAVE: ok if you say so
KANAYA: I Was Going To Ask If Maybe You Would Consider My Request Again
KARKAT: I AM NOT SLEEPING. NOPE. NOT INTERESTED.
KANAYA: Its Not As Bad As You Think
KARKAT: THE HELL IT’S NOT. FOR ME ANWAY. I DON’T KNOW ABOUT YOU, BUT I DON’T WANT TO BE MOLESTED BY GIGANTIC SLIME BLOBS WITH HUNDREDS OF PERVERTED EYE SOCKETS AND TENTACLES THREATENING TO INVADE UNCOMFORTABLE PLACES.
KANAYA: Its Not Like That
KANAYA: At All Really
KANAYA: Its Nice
KANAYA: And I Can Even Walk In The Sun Again Sometimes

KARKAT: WAIT, YOU CAN SLEEP?
KANAYA: In A Way
KARKAT: HUH.
KARKAT: WELL GOOD FOR YOU. AND I ACTUALLY MEAN THAT.

KANAYA: You Can Go Home Again No One Will Bother You
KARKAT: TEMPTING BUT I DON’T THINK SO.
KARKAT: NOT CHANCING IT.
KARKAT: I TRIED BUT NO.
KARKAT: BESIDES.
KARKAT: I
KARKAT: AM
KARKAT: COMPLETELY
KARKAT: FINE.
KARKAT: WE SHOULD BE WORRYING ABOUT MORE IMPORTANT THINGS.
KARKAT: LIKE JACK AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT HIM IF DOES MORE THAN JUST TAILGATE US LIKE THE ASSHOLE HE IS INTO ETERNITY.
KARKAT: MAN WE MUST HAVE RNG ROLLED A REALLY SHITTY SEER OF LIGHT
KARKAT: BECAUSE WHAT PART OF THIS IS FORTUNATE?

ROSE: The most fortunate path is not necessarily the easiest one.
ROSE: It’s like a fairy tale.

KARKAT: BUT WE’RE NOT *IN* A FAIRY TALE!
KARKAT: I DON’T SEE MY FAIRY GOD TROLL HERE, READY TO EVISCERATE MY ENEMIES. DO YOU?
KARKAT: THERE’S EITHER DEAD OR NOT DEAD. THAT’S IT.
KARKAT: NO FUCKING HAPPILY EVER AFTER.

ROSE: Even so, this path will lead us to our common goal, as I have already explained to you countless times before this one ad nauseum.
ROSE: It will effectively guide us into the next session. It’s the only route that can.
ROSE: Whether or not Jack will overtake us still remains to be seen.

KARKAT: OH WOW. THAT’S COMFORTING!
ROSE: But you are correct.
ROSE: It would probably be to our advantage to plan out a more in-depth scenario of how we should ideally respond if Jack actually manages to do something more than, as you so aptly put it, “tailgate us into eternity.”

KARKAT: OH EM GEE, LALONDE THINKS I’M RIGHT ABOUT SOMETHING. I FEEL SPECIAL.
KARKAT: EXCEPT SINCE WHEN WAS THAT IDEA ANYTHING BUT A TOTALLY OBVIOUS THING WE SHOULD BE DOING????
KARKAT: DO YOU ALL HAVE BRAINS THE SIZE OF GRUBNUTS OR WHAT?
KARKAT: IN FACT, DON’T YOU ALL HAVE ANYTHING BETTER TO DO BESIDES BEING HERE?
KARKAT: LIKE, OH I DON’T KNOW, WHY DON’T YOU TWO LIGHTBULBS HOP SKIP AWAY AND GO ON A PICNIC.
KARKAT: STRIDER HERE CAN BE YOUR CHAPERONE
KARKAT: BECAUSE HE IS ROMANTICALLY RETARDED.
KARKAT: AND IF YOU SAY

DAVE: your face is retarded
DAVE: too late man

KARKAT: WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? YOU HAVE THE MATURITY OF A GRUB THREE SWEEPS OLD.
DAVE: yeah sure whatever
DAVE: im out
DAVE: im leaving
DAVE: so chill and calm your shit down
DAVE: i think im getting a migraine just listening to you


-(ø)-

You fly through the congested streets of Houston as fast as you can force your feet to carry you, refusing to slow down for anything that won’t kill you upon impact. The scenery around you quickly deteriorates into simplistic streaks of color and light as you run full-tilt along cracked cement and asphalt. You shove your way through the crowds of faceless bodies, the mishmash of human skin little more than daubs of paint smeared onto a sun-eaten canvas that aren’t worth paying attention to.

It does not take long for your lungs to dry out and catch fire, for your muscles to feel the increased strain until they nearly lock up in protest. It all threatens to bring your whole world down and stop you in your tracks, and if it weren’t for the adrenaline commandeering your veins and ordering you on, it just might have. The adrenaline dulls the sharp, sandpaper pain in your chest and throat and calms the stabbing stitch in your side. It steadies your aching legs that no longer feel like your own so that you can keep running.

The meteor’s trail finally leads you into a skeleton section of the city, mostly abandoned and left to rot in the wake of the rest of Houston’s progress. You navigate your way through alleyways littered with the trash of transient strangers, full of months’ old newspapers, discarded needles, and cigarette butts, all of which mingle with the hazy ghost imprint of smoke and the sweet stench of narcotics. Your eyes track the meteor’s continued descent, hear its roaring, strained race to earth. Then, it finally vanishes from sight. Moments later you hear the crackling boom of collision, feel the rumbling shockwaves, and see a smoke-colored cloud mushroom upward into the sky.

You hesitate for only a moment, hands on your knees in a few seconds’ earned respite, before taking off again, mouth thinning into a hard line. You swallow up ground like the dark does daylight, not bothering to slow down to an uncoordinated, ambling walk until you round the final corner some five minutes later and see the meteor’s small impact crater nestled inside the gutted, almost entirely vaporized rubble of an old, condemned records store that’s surrounded in a cloud of dispersing smoke and particle dust.

And in the middle of it all, you see a baby sleeping in the arms of a familiar puppet clothed in the colors of Derse.

You stop, choke back something that’s not quite a name, and try to remember how to breathe.

A split-second later you’re sprint-stumbling forward, breathing hard, hardly aware that you had even started moving again and are now picking your way through a nest of blackened brick and ash. The smoke and dust make you cough with every deep breath your greedy, stinging lungs force you to take, and your eyes are red and irritated from the particles in the air, but you hardly notice it. Nothing right now actually feels real. All that you’re really aware of is your own thundering heartbeat and the rush of blood roaring in your ears. You manage to reach the crater’s center before your body seizes up and a sound you can’t quite define hitches painfully in your throat, feeling like barb of heavy lead that you try to force down into nonexistence.

You close the distance that remains, feeling for all the world that you’re moving out of reality and into a dream. You sink to your knees, slow and dreamlike, and stretch out a pale, unsteady hand.

You think for a moment that your fingers are going to slip right through him, that he’ll be nothing but air and dust and bent sunlight that has twisted itself into a shape to mock you.

But they don’t.

Instead, your hand touches his forehead, fingers brushing away wisps of blond hair and finding skin underneath that’s warm to the touch. And beneath it all—and this is the true miracle of it—you know there lies a beating heart. The contact of skin on skin startles him awake, and the kid’s suddenly wide-eyed and completely alert.

(And it’s about time. You have no idea in the farthest regions of hell how he slept through all that. Maybe he’s just too chill to give a damn over something so trivial, too cool to pretend the experience was anything but routine and ordinary.)

You know who he is without even a second thought, though he doesn’t know you. He looks a lot like you, but his eyes are his own unique color of orange, while his hair is a particular shade of blond that’s one level darker than yours and far closer to Rose’s.

He looks for all the world the brother you lost all those years ago. The years between the Dirk of then and Dirk of now don’t yet matter.

“‘Sup, Bro,” you say, aware of how your throat clenches up, and how it suddenly feels like you’ve swallowed a pound of hot gravel. The words that tumble out of you are just as raw and strained. “You sure took your sweet time getting here.” Something cracks, and you bite your lip until it almost bleeds.

Bro tilts his head in response and stretches a small, tiny hand toward you as if he’s trying to touch your face, though a moment later it becomes apparent he’s just trying grab your sunglasses. You carefully push his inquisitive fingers away, and his right hand wraps around your middle finger instead.

You shake your head, and look away, blinking back the haze until you can see right again. Then you slowly, gently lift Bro out of the smoldering crater, and he only makes a noise of protest when it looks like you might leave Cal behind, but you take the puppet too. You hug both against your shoulder, moving away from the crash site as quickly as you can. You want to vanish before other people arrive—if they ever even fucking do—and start asking questions that you’re in no mood to answer.

But you don’t get very far, barely a couple blocks away into one of the dirt-encrusted alleyways, before the lightheadedness you’ve been feeling shears completely through you like you’re made out of nothing, and your legs buckle right out from underneath you.

Your free hand that’s not hugging Bro and Cal to your shoulder is barely fast enough to catch the alleyway’s brick wall as you slide to the ground. You feel dizzy and nauseous, which really isn’t new but you really hadn’t given any of the feelings much notice until right about now, given that everything’s just decided to punch you hard in the gut to remind you it’s still there. Your forehead is shining with sweat, and every bone and muscle beneath your skin aches and burns. It’s also suddenly, inexplicably hard to see, and you don’t think you even realized until now how bad your hands are shaking. You think that you just might black out in a few seconds, but you can’t really find the energy to give a damn about it.

You feel utterly spent, and you don’t want to move at all—and you don’t think you can—but you feel something else there, buried deep within the coils of the exhausted, tired numbness that’s taking hold. It’s a feeling you thought you lost a long time ago. It flares to life like a spark that triggers a fire, and you glance down at the baby you’re holding tightly in your arms.

And then it finally hits you: he exists.

The revelation punctures your heart, your lungs, your brain—tears into you like bullets aiming to kill.

He’s real.

The child that you have in your arms is as solid as the graffiti-painted wall at your back. He’s real, he’s your brother, and he hasn’t broken or faded away. For the first time in eighteen messed up years you have living proof that everything you once had was real, and you suddenly hate yourself for all the times you began to doubt any of it. It all happened. Everything. You played the damn game. The trolls exist. John, Jade, and Rose are real people and you talked to them and they talked right back to you, and not a single fucking second of those thirteen years was ever a delusion in your head, an escape route for the bitter reality in the form of a child’s game of pretend, where even an unwanted nobody could become a knight and try to save the world, even if he ended up losing it all in the end.

You’re not insane.

You never have been and you never will be.

You are Dave Strider.

And there is nothing, nothing in this world, or any world that might come after, that can ever hope of tearing that fact away from you again.

But for all the hope there, there’s a sting too. A bitter edge that Dirk’s not your brother—the one that’s captchalogued in your memories—anymore. That he’s nothing more than an echo of what he once was and what he could have been, and that he’ll never remember you like you remember him. This also means that the life you dream of is really gone, and you can’t rewind things back to the way things are supposed to be. But for the moment, the universe can go fuck itself. It can send down every one of those thousand burning meteors and turn the earth into a desiccated world full of dust and sand and sun-bleached bone, because what you have here is real, and maybe things will someday be right again.

Or at least be better somehow, because there’s only so much life left in you.

Though even now it kind of already is.

And this time, you think, you won’t let him die.

Your fingers scrape against brick, steadying yourself as you lean back and slump against the wall in an almost complete recline, staring up at the blue crack of sun and sky. You feel a hand pinching the fabric of your shirt, and your heavy eyes drift downwards. You watch Bro stretch his arms and legs, wiggle around a bit as he rests his head on your chest and closes his eyes. You think you can even feel him breathe—feel each rise and fall of his chest as his body slowly goes limp and relaxed. You can count them all like you can each pulse of his tiny heartbeat.

And you suddenly think, as your eyelids drift closed and your breathing finally begins to level out as your mind slips away, that it would be okay to let him sleep here for a while. What’s the harm? The sirens that are blasting through Houston’s busy streets are so far away that you can barely hear them, and the irritating chatter of wheeling seagulls are nonexistent. The kid’s had an adventure in and of itself just being born and falling to earth like an exiled star. It’s been a really long fucking day and an even longer lifetime, so if you just close your eyes for a few seconds or even a thousand years, it’s not going to really matter. No one’s around to care. No one’s around to see. This dirty little alleyway lined with fallen silver trashcans can be your kingdom for a little while. The sun’s shining down through the shadows and marking it as yours and his.

It will be okay if you let him sleep.

Just this once.


-(ø)-

turntechGodhead [TG] opened a botheringblock at 16:13

TG: alright
TG: time for a fuckin roll call

turntechGodhead [TG] began bothering ectoBiologist [EB] at 16:13 --
turntechGodhead [TG] began bothering gardenGnostic [GG] at 16:13
turntechGodhead [TG] began bothering tentacleTherapist [TT] at 16:13
turntechGodhead [TG] began bothering ghostlyTrickster [GT] at 16:13 --

TG: will everyone who is now or soon will be a proud owner of a new baby please stand up
TG: no posers plzkthx
TG: this is the real raw freakin deal
TG: so if you guys were waiting for the opportune moment to crawl out of the woodwork or under whatever dumb space rock youve been living under all this time or something

ectoBiologist [EB] does not exist or has been culled! —
gardenGnostic [GG] does not exist or has been culled! —
tentacleTherapist [TT] does not exist or has been culled! —
ghostlyTrickster [GT] does not exist or has been culled! —

TG: now would be it

ectoBiologist [EB] does not exist or has been culled! —

TG: im serious
TG: i know this means youre all out there somewhere
TG: like me
TG: probably getting as much sleep as a dolphin with irreversible brain damage

tentacleTherapist [TT] does not exist or has been culled! —
gardenGnostic [GG] does not exist or has been culled! —

TG: and if i have to become a fuckin meteorologist to track you all down because america cant be bothered to keep a record of where its baby space chariots end up
TG: then i will

tentacleTherapist [TT] does not exist or has been culled! —

TG: i will honest to god get a legit seance on and go all bob richards on your forgetful asses

ghostlyTrickster [GT] does not exist or has been culled! —
gardenGnostic [GG] does not exist or has been culled! —

TG: because ive lived this life once already
TG: and i know that 13 years from now

ectoBiologist [EB] does not exist or has been culled! —
tentacleTherapist [TT] does not exist or has been culled! —

TG: we will

ectoBiologist [EB] does not exist or has been culled! —
gardenGnostic [GG] does not exist or has been culled! —
tentacleTherapist [TT] does not exist or has been culled! —
ghostlyTrickster [GT] does not exist or has been culled! —

TG: haha ok you know what
TG: no

tentacleTherapist [TT] does not exist or has been culled! —

TG: thats it
TG: this is fuckin it
TG: ive had it
TG: congratu-fuckin-lations

gardenGnostic [GG] does not exist or has been culled! —
tentacleTherapist [TT] does not exist or has been culled! —

TG: youve told your last lie pinocchio
TG: i see that mile-long nose dick of yours that youre trying to hide
TG: and as far as im concerned you can take it and go shove it up your ass

gardenGnostic [GG] does not exist or has been culled! —
gardenGnostic [GG] does not exist or has been culled! —

TG: because guess what
TG: i dont have to take this
TG: at all
TG: nope

ectoBiologist [EB] does not exist or has been culled! —

TG: so fuck you
TG: ive had it
TG: you stupid lying piece of corporate shit

turntechGodhead’s [TG’S] tiaratop has been culled.


-(ø)-

You quickly realize you don’t know how to take care of a child—to be a guardian, father, brother, and there are times you wonder if you’re even actually cut out for it.

And it isn’t like you have much reference.

Plenty of people have given you a roof over your head and a bed to sleep in at night over the years, but none of them really raised you. None of your foster families ever really lived up to their definition; not a single one of them actually became anything resembling parents. They were just people you shared a house with for a little while. The only real “parent” you can think of would be John’s, and you know that you could never be like his dad. You could never live up to his gold-tie standard in bizarre but effective gentlemen’s parenting. You’ve heard plenty about him, but you can’t be him. You can only be you.

And the person who raised you was Bro.

He was never a really parent, just an older sibling with more than decade and a half between you. You were never as close to one another as John and his father probably were, but you were still family. He was your brother. You think now you wanted to be like him just as much as you wanted to prove you could be better than him, even though you knew deep down that you only had a slim possibility of ever accomplishing either.

So you’ve only really got one role model to base your current situation on, and in the end he wasn’t much of one by society’s definition of the word, but you don’t care because he was there and his presence mattered. You can only try to teach Bro what he once taught you, because you think that’s all you know and all you have to give him. You can only hope that maybe he’ll turn out all right in the end, because Dirk is Bro deep down, and Bro has grown up once before, and he sure didn’t need you to become who he was.

Besides, you don’t think you were allowed to find Bro again just for shits and giggles and a slice of serendipity. This isn’t the universe’s idea of a passive-aggressive apology. You’re probably not even supposed to be a parent to him anyway, because that’s not at all what the game wants you to teach him. You’re more like a person meant to string him along from point A to point B, and make sure he doesn’t die until then. A guardian at best, a trainer at worst, that’s all this version of Earth expects of you.

And that alone is a sack of shit.

But where are you even supposed to start?

If anyone thought you were going to be handed a perfect baby, that he was somehow just going to be the miniature version of his old self, stoic to the core, they were wrong. Bro’s still just a little kid at the end of the day, a helpless baby who doesn’t know jack about the world or anything in it.

He cries just like every baby in the history of the universe has. You have to make sure he’s fed every three hours, though you end up checking on him a million times during the day anyway just to make sure he’s still okay and breathing. He’s really a piece of work, and hangs onto Cal like a lifeline, and you’ve learned never to separate the two of them if you want to leave the room with your eardrums intact. Bro’s got a voice as sharp as his name and lungs as strong as Hercules, and if he wants to cry all day and all night he will.

And sometimes he does just that.

There are plenty of times when you don’t know how to quiet him. You don’t know what he wants. You don’t know if he’s sick or if he’s angry or if you’re doing something wrong, and it’s weird how much that actually scares you. It irritates you a bit, sure—it’s hard not to be irritable when even the whites of your eyes are an insomniac red—but it scares you more, though a part of you still refuses to acknowledge that fear.

You do everything you can think of.

You hold him. Let him sleep on your chest or in the nook of your arm as both moonlight and daylight seep through the apartment’s windows. You don’t really sing, so you rap instead, because that doesn’t need a guy with a stellar voice so much as it needs someone with a sense of rhythm, and you’ve got that in spades. And you know what? Sometimes that does work and he eventually stops crying, puts Cal in a baby headlock, and stares at you from the inside of his crib that’s set up right next to your futon as you go all out.

(You’re pretty sure he stares at you not because he’s actually impressed at your wicked beat-making so much as he’s shocked into silence by the absolute cuckoo tier stupidity of what you’re doing, and at how bad it is, because you’re operating on one hour’s sleep, and creativity doesn’t tend to visit the perpetually exhausted.)

But that’s only a temporary solution, and by the next week he’s crying inconsolably again, until it seems like nothing you try is going to work. Maybe it’s because you just need a break from your new 24/7 babysitting job you’ve just been saddled with but no one prepared you for.

Hell, you probably do need one, but you can’t, because there’s not a single person you’d trust his life with that’s not named John, Jade, or Rose. And since the three of them are kind of MIA at the moment, and you haven’t had a lot of time to look for them as much as you’d hoped to even though the Pesterchum beta has finally gotten invented, you don’t really have options.

It gets so bad that one night in a fit of desperation you walk over to the sink, grab a small bucket (you know, just in case there are any trolls watching), and fill it halfway up with warm water, thinking that maybe the warmth will calm him—because nothing else sure has. Then you cross the room, sweep both Bro and Cal up into your arms, and head back to the sink, plopping Bro’s crying ass into the bucket of water. You set Cal on the counter besides him, and pull up a stool to sit on. You’re not sure what you thought would happen, but you certainly weren’t ever expecting him to go quiet almost instantaneously, eyes half-lidded and looking pretty damn pleased with himself.

Yeah. No. You don’t know what the hell to make of it, and he earns two perpetually raised eyebrows and a tired sigh for his efforts as you sit down on the stool and watch him.

(This would, however, explain all the cold showers you took over the years.)

All you can do now is keep a steady hand wrapped around his tiny chest as he starts to nod off, his head and arms eventually slumping over the side of the bucket in a position that can’t possibly be comfortable, and make sure he doesn’t drown in his sleep.

And you watch him sleep like that a long time, feeling like you’ve just maybe discovered the holy grail, because from then on, things start to become a little bit easier, a little less tiring.

You learn to become used to falling asleep to the recorded sounds of a running shower, and to always keep a clean bucket at the ready just in case you need a pail full of hot water to mollify his royal highness. You learn exactly just how long to let him chill in the bucket before lifting him out and taking him to his crib so that you can get some sleep, or even just slip on your earphones and zone out for a little while.


-(ø)-

The months fly by faster than you thought they would. January turns into February, and February into March. Soon he’s crawling around the floor like the absolute speed-demon you already know he is, though he can actually kind of walk now, even if he kind of half-stumbles around as he maneuvers from futon to chair and back again, with you keeping a firm grip on his hand. Bro’s pretty dexterous for a little kid; he’s got a good sense of balance for someone whose legs probably still don’t have a lot of muscle strength to their name.

The weather starts to warm up once April arrives. It’s the month where you always watch the calendar like it’s something living, your eyes dead-set on the thirteenth. It’s a day you’ll never be able to get out of your head or stop thinking about. It doesn’t help that the thirteenth is John’s birthday too, and though you can sometimes forget about the game for a while, you can’t really forget about him.

You don’t think you’ve ever really been able to get a decent night’s sleep for the few days leading up to it and the few days after since you were twelve. This year is no exception, and when the thirteenth does arrive, you feel almost half out of it. You stumble around the kitchen doing your normal evening routine, listening to the TV news channel blare nonsense in the background, when you think you hear a familiar name shoot out of the speakers.

Almost.

But it makes you turn around and listen anyway. Hearing the name John always does, and probably always will.

But this time you find yourself removing your shades and staring at the TV—at the picture that’s being displayed on the screen—and your mind freezes, because it’s John. There’s nothing that could ever convince you that you’re not looking at him. The smile on that eighty-year-old face is so stupidly and authentically John (you idiot, why are you so old?) that it’s immediately recognizable, even beneath the seventy-three years of change.

You don’t really hear the sentences that follow, just random words that blend together in a line: Died. 86. One son. A granddaughter. Comedian. Crocker. Sassacre. Nightcourt. Funeral.

Something falls to the floor and breaks, but you don’t really notice it, because you’re too busy reaching for the phone and booking two plane tickets to Washington, just like you should have done a long time ago.

But you didn’t.

And now John’s dead.


-(ø)-

Your plane arrives in Washington on the evening of the fifteenth. You exit the airport with Dirk and Cal in your arms and a sylladex full of necessities in your pocket. Your movements are stiff and hurried and almost completely on autopilot.

You hail down a taxi and watch the trees and roads fly by your window until the driver finally pulls into your hotel. It’s a cheap place you found a room in at a moment’s notice, but it actually looks to be more decent than you imagined it to be, if brown, plain, and unassuming, but that just might be your brain talking. You’re so tired that you probably wouldn’t have cared if all you had for a room was a broken-down car with a mattress made of shattered glass.

You walk through the doors that Bro tries to stick his hands on before they whiz open, not really paying attention to much around you as you make a beeline for the reception desk. But then something cuts through your head, grabbing your attention like a voice calling your name. It’s a weird, surreal feeling that you’ve never felt before and can’t for the life of you place. Your head jerks to the left like someone’s pulled it there. Your eyes wander over to an achingly familiar young woman sitting in one of the lobby’s leather chairs, not even a foot from you, scrawling something in a clean, white notebook. There’s even a baby sleeping in a carrier beside her.

You stop dead.

Rose looks up then. It’s a sudden, electric movement just like yours had been, but she handles it with far more elegance and poise than you had. Her purple eyes find yours, and she stares at you for what seems like eons. Her face is curious, though she doesn’t smile—smirks, maybe, like she knows something you don’t—and you’re not sure if you should say something to her or walk away and pretend you hadn’t seen her (which is a stupid, stupid idea.)

You don’t know what to do. You’re inches away from Rose Lalonde, and you haven’t the faintest idea of how to react and what to say, your legs rooted to the tiled floor like you’re an idiot caught in front of a strobe light.

Rose thankfully makes up your mind for you. She looks away briefly, closing her notebook and setting it on a coffee table to her left, next to a white thing that looks like a cue ball. Her full attention is on you now.

“You know me,” she says, and it’s not a question. It’s said so matter-of-factly it’s like she’s talking about something as trivial as the weather.

“Yeah,” you reply, your voice ringing in your ears from a million miles away.

You do.