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Be Still, Be Light

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“I don’t see anything in the rules about Free Parking giving you money, John!” Jade says, poring over the rules of Monopoly. “It’s just... free parking!”

“It’s gotta be in there somewhere,” you encourage her. Your money bags figurine sits right on that big orange block and Davesprite’s $50 property tax was dropped on the board for you to take. If she was going to make such a big deal about it you’re not sure why she didn’t say something when he put it there.

“Taxes on the Free Parking is a common house rule,” Davesprite says. “One of the reasons everyone’s monopoly games takes three years if we’re fucking lucky.”

“What’s a house rule?” Jade asks, putting down the rules finally. Apparently everything you do when playing monopoly is wrong wrong wrong, and the only person who is going to say something is the one who has never played it in her life.

“You know, rules people just put in on their own,” Davesprite says, his head turned just slightly toward you. You didn’t know either, so you stare at him wide-eyed for enlightenment. He doesn’t make fun of you for it. “It’s like everyone has their own rules for War.”

“War?” Jane asks, cautiously, scrunching the rule sheet up in her hands as she leans over the monopoly board toward him. In a blip of blue light her monopoly money disappears. Nannasprite trills an airy “hoo hoo hoo!” and you swallow your laughter. The others don’t seem to notice.

“The card game,” he clarifies. “You split the deck in half between two players and play the top card. The higher value card wins and you collect both cards. The person who ends up with the full deck at the end is the winner. There are like twelve different names for the game and every person has a different way to handle the ‘war’ that happens when both players play a card of the same value.”

“That sounds fun,” Jade beams.

“It’s easy math really,” Davesprite says.

“How do you know so much about games?” You ask him. Card games seem way too cool for Dave, and something that Bro probably wouldn’t have bothered with.

“Not sure,” he replies, one long taloned finger pointing at his head. “It’s all up here. Game bullshit I guess.”

“Ohhh,” Jade says, coming to some realization herself and nodding thoughtfully, her right ear pivoted. “I see! I have all the game rules, too!”

“You should,” Davesprite says, “Miss Furry God-Tier A-Doro-Harley riding the yellow brick ship to neverland.”

Jade giggles appreciatively before gasping. “Where’s my money?” Her long long hair whips around her as she peers around herself, checking under her butt and her knees. Nanna is long gone with an airy giggle. John knows without looking that everyone’s brightly coloured paper money is gone and Nanna was the banker.

It appears that Davesprite already knew it, too. “You win, grandma,” he says, appreciative, you think.

You laugh, a whole lot of memories resurfacing with those three words. “Hey, Davesprite. It’s like that Dane Cook joke.”

“Fuck you John,” the orange Dave snaps, fluffy and feathery and floating. “What did I tell you about talking about Dane Cook?”

“You just said it, man,” you say, choking on your laughter. “You said it!”

“Shit,” he says. “I did.”

Jade stands up and blinks out, vanishing to somewhere else on the ship or something while you hang on to your ribs and laugh until your stomach aches. Davesprite responds by smiling, just a little bit.

Inside his head he’s hiding the rules to thousands and thousands of games on top of the inside jokes from years of friendship. It still takes a while for the second part to rub in.

---

Davesprite keeps to himself a lot, no matter how much Jade tells him he doesn’t have to. “Come watch a movie with us!” She pleads, hand hooked around his arm.

He says, “nah. Got spritey things to do,” and he takes her wrist and gently unlatches her. He wanders off somewhere, sort of floating and slithering a foot or so above the ground.

You guess he’s a lot like Dave but he doesn’t say anything about puppets anymore. In fact, he looks uncomfortable when the topic comes up, not that it happens very often. Sometimes you talk about stuff like that to see how much he knows and the answer is always everything. He remembers everything.

“Hey Davesprite,” you say at one point. “Did you want some apple juice?”

“I think I’ve had enough apple juice for a lifetime,” Davesprite says, putting his hand on that wound on his stomach that doesn’t ever stop bleeding. It’s bright yellow stuff and you never know.

Is it apple juice?” You ask him.

“I don’t know,” he says. “Why don’t you give it a taste, Egbert? One hundred percent guaranteed not factory sealed, brought into existence by meddling orange-horned trolls and demi-god swordfighters with jester hats.”

He holds out his yellow-stained hand to you, but you can’t. So you laugh instead.

---

Jade calls him “Dave”. Just “Dave.”

“But he’s not really Dave,” you correct her, walking back to the TV room you found in the ship. Well, Jade found it. She seemed to just know.

“What do you mean?” Jade asks, turning to look at you with her eyes wide. She’s challenging you. Oh, god. That never goes well.

“We saw Dave,” you say, “he’s god tier now! Right? Davesprite is alternate timeline Dave. He’s not real Dave.”

“They both seem pretty real to me!” She says, and gives you a look. A look like your Dad would give, disappointed that you would do or think such a thing. The memory of him hooks on your throat and clamps down on it until Jade says something very un-Dad like. “I hate to tell you John, but you’re kind of an asshole!” And with that she continues walking down the hall.

“What?” Is your genius reply as you follow after her. Like you could think of anything else to say after she says stuff like that! “Why am I an asshole?

“He’s still Dave, John!” She says. “I was Jadesprite for a while, you know! And I had all of my memories and everything from when I was Jade Jade! Just because Jadesprite became me again, that doesn’t mean she wasn’t Jade, too!” Jade puts her hands on her hips and puffs her cheeks in exasperation. “If you said that stuff to me then I would have punched you right out!”

“Or you would have just cried on me,” you say with a laugh. Jade punches you in the arm and you probably deserve it but it hurts and you whine out an “ow!”

“Shut up!” She barks, and you laugh again, you can’t help it. “You should be nicer to Dave, okay? He’s done a lot for you!”

“Like what?” You ask, and rub at your arm.

“Like go back and time and stop you from dying?” She answers like you’re stupid for forgetting, and you feel like you sort of are.

“Oh yeah,” you say with a nod. “Still though he’s not like... our Dave.”

“Maybe not,” Jade says, and leans back against the wall, shining with golden patterned paper, her fuzzy white ears always catching your attention. “But he is a Dave and he did a lot for us so you should stop being such a jerk to him! And he grew up being our friend just like Dave did! He still remembers all that stuff.” She looks up at you with her big green eyes. “He’s our friend, John!”

“I guess,” you shrug.

---

You often find Davesprite with a mop, retracing his steps from where he’s bled paths across the floor. Sometimes you can find him because he raps, rhyming haphazardly about light fixtures, the mess of his ship, and his apple juice bread crumb trail on the ship ride back to Kansas. His voice warbles into auto-tune due to some strange game construct shenanigans, but it sounds really cool. He stops when he sees you, so sometimes you have to creep around and hide places to really listen.

“Leaking shit like I’m getting paid, mopping floors like the galley maid, gotta tell Harley to clean up her shit but I don’t got no legs to trip over it.”

His voice kind of always hits right, and it jumps in pitch as he delivers lines with an effective snap. His raps are stupid, just like the other Dave, but they’re more fun to listen to. You hide as best you can until he finds you out, which never takes long.

“Egbert, useful as a cancerous lump, busy checking out my impetuous rump. Jokes on him, there’s nothing to see, just a spritely tail on the down-end of me.”

You laugh and jump out from your hiding place, tucked behind a conveniently placed table, ready to tease him a bit about his lyrics. He finishes cleaning and leans the mop against the wall. His wound stands out, bright as a yellow highlighter, streaked down his front. Any jokes or prankster's gambit you had ready for the occasion is promptly forgotten, and you wonder if it really is blood. How long it will take before it kills him.

“Why don’t you stop bleeding?” You ask, and you reach out to touch his wound. He drifts backwards, just out of your reach.

“It’s complicated,” he says. "Don't worry about it."

---

Nanna cheats at everything but Go Fish, so you play it with her and Casey. Casey, who goes by some weird wizard name now. You figure she’s going through a phase.

“Why is Davesprite bleeding all the time?” You ask Nanna, passing her your Ace of clubs. She’s kicking your butt, her pile of pairs twice the size of yours.

“He was wounded, John!” She replies, “do you have a Queen?”

You shake your head and say “duh! But why doesn’t the bleeding stop?”

“We can’t repair our own injuries,” Nanna replies, waiting patiently for you to ask for her next card. Her pale blue face squeezes in sympathy. “He’s probably going to have to stay that way!”

You peer at your cards without really looking at them. “Is he going to be okay? I mean, he’s bleeding all the time.”

“We won’t die unless something happens to the battlefield,” Nanna says, and peers over at you. “Don’t you worry, John! Davesprite is going to be fine as long as Skaia is still in tact. Fine for the pranking! Hoo hoo hoo!”

Later on a well-placed bucket on a door drops onto Jade by accident. She chases you around barking for a while and gets angrier when you can’t stop laughing about it. Nanna runs off somewhere and Davesprite finds you hiding deep in the holds later on with Casey. The three of you hide from Jade’s wrath with a game of Crazy Eights.

“Think you’d be tired of games by now,” Davesprite says, switching the suit from Hearts to Diamonds.

“We were born to play games,” you say, and pick up a card.

Dave is silent for a minute and watches Casey fidget with her cards. “That’s the smartest thing I’ve ever heard come out of your mouth.”

You laugh and punch him playfully in the shoulder. Your hand comes back coated in watery-bright blood from his torn wing. Dave’s orange lips part against his teeth, his eyebrows raising under his orange shades. You can’t tell if he’s looking at your hand or your face as his blood drips down around your knuckles.

“I’m sorry, man,” he says. But you’re not sure why.

 

You wonder if Vriska knows how to play Crazy Eights.

---

You find Davesprite’s lemon-bright trail one day and you find out where he sleeps. Well, if he sleeps. You’re not sure what the sprites do at night, but you wind through the hallways to the bridge of the ship. His blood leads you into a small staff room with tables and chairs, sprawled out with an unfinished game of Clue. There’s a ladder in the corner leading up through a hole, so you channel the windy thing and push yourself up, the cardboard game and it’s pieces flying all over.

The little attic room is surrounded by windows that let in the green light of the weird outside space stuff. Otherwise, there’s not much going on. The rafters are bare and the only piece of furniture is a small dresser - you wonder if Jade teleported it up - and a pile of pillows and cloth in the corner for some sort of makeshift bed maybe. He leaves soft pale feathers around like Nanna leaves blue goop where she slips through walls. They litter the floor, and are tucked liberally into his pillow pile.

More striking are the glittering things on the dresser. Four mirrors of different sizes are laid out to catch the light. Little golden ribbons of wallpaper have been retrieved and gathered in a small pile. A few of them have twirled to the floor when being blown around by the windy thing. You grin as you take in this new information as teasing ammunition for later. Davesprite is one part alternate timeline Dave, one part crow.

You brush your fingers against the gold wallpaper bits, and they bend from your hand and flutter at your breath like finely shaved chocolate. When they move you spot something silver that you reach for and take between two fingers. With a faint gleam, but not as shiny as the rest, you find a monopoly piece. The top hat.

When Jack stabbed you through the heart it stung and burned and hurt so much but you just waited, waited, and it was over. It didn’t take very long at all. Your father is a hole, a vacuum that wants to suck you up, pull you in, but it doesn’t. It won’t take you. It won’t end. He’s something you need so badly that you will never, ever have again.

You don’t know what to do with the little figure. You want to rewind time and never find it. You want to never let it go. You wish it was your father instead of just reminding you of him so it didn’t kill you so much. You squeeze it tight between your fists and its edges are too smooth to hurt you. You wish they would. You wish anything would hurt so much.

You don’t know if any time has passed at all before Davesprite’s arms squeeze around you from behind, so tight but not tight enough. His wing draws around to shield you from anything. He’s so warm, the soft down of his neck against yours.

“Fuck, John,” he says into your ear, almost a whisper to hide the emotion cracking in it. “I’m so sorry. I fucked up. You weren’t supposed to see that. Fuck. I’m so sorry.”

You bend your head and bring your fist to your mouth and bite down on your knuckles. Davesprite squeezes you so tightly that his arms are trembling. It takes you far, far too long to stop crying.

You sniff, your head heavy with tears and snot, and run your nose over the back of your sleeve. “You hid this from me?”

Davesprite slowly unwinds himself from you, like he’s checking to make sure you’re balanced, securely seat-belted in place. The thought makes you sob some more. “I thought this might happen,” he says, and you hear more sympathy in his voice than you’ve ever heard from Dave. You hear more emotion than you’ve heard from Dave, ever. He reaches out to you with it as he lets you go, detatching his arms from your shoulders. “I know what it’s like, John, it’s hard enough without that shit around.”

“How do you get over it?” You ask him, and you hate how your voice sounds. You wish Dave didn’t see you weak. He doesn’t seem to care but it doesn’t make you want to hate yourself less.

“You don’t,” he says. “You just... keep going.”

You turn to him finally and rub at your eyes. The little top hat figurine is warm in your palm. He doesn’t ask if you’re okay, and you’re glad because you’re not sure how you’d answer. He doesn’t move to touch you either, his coolkid affection meter maxed out beyond the cool spectrum for the next few weeks. You think of dropping your head back on to his fluffy shoulder, but then he might think you’re more of a wimp than he already does.

“I’m hungry,” you tell him.

“Let’s go,” he says.

He makes you mac and cheese and puts extra cheese in. You find a feather in it. He feeds you ice cream in a coffee mug with a fork. He stays nearby and chats with you until you don’t feel like doing it anymore. He lets you go and finds his mop. You go to your room and drop on your bed and hide the little top hat under your pillow so you don’t have to look at it.

You think a lot about what Davesprite lost, and it’s weird to remember that it was you and Jade. In some other timeline it was you who died, and Davesprite had to let that wound fester. There was a John he knew that was everything that you are. That John just... stopped. Because of Davesprite, you got to keep going. But there was a time he knew that you and Jade were gone for good.

When you take your shirt off you find Davesprite’s blood, sticky and stained along the back. It dyes your shirt green and lines the waist of your pants. It doesn’t smell like anything.

You really have been an asshole.

---

“Can we fix him?” You ask Jade, because she pretty much knows everything. She’s trying to teach herself how to juggle, but she keeps using her space powers by accident instead of doing it the right way. She curses a lot when she does that.

“I don’t know, John!” She says, missing a beat and dropping an apple, which yo-yos right back into her palm. “Christ on toast! He made a deal with Hephaestus to fix Dave’s god weapon, I don’t think he can fix anything else! God-tier pussy on a stick!”

“Damn,” you chew on your lip. A stray lemon rolls and taps against your foot. Jade brings her hands to her mouth and makes a sound, pleased that she didn’t summon it back without thinking. “Can’t you do some weird space stuff?”

“Space isn’t a healing aspect,” she says, and takes the lemon back from you. “Breath could be, though! If you bought the right fraymotifs. Did you miss that quest, John?”

No, but you wish you had. It had involved a princess and a kidnapping that was right out of a Zelda game except without all of the castle hopping. When you found her, she was dying, the game made sure you knew she was not dead because your powers couldn’t do a thing about that. Afterwards though she was convinced that you were going to marry her, so you had to sneak away as politely as possible. You sure wished you could fly back then.

“I remember,” you tell Jade. “I just forgot because I hadn’t had to use it.”

“Why not give it a try?” She says, and captchalogues her fruit.

“Maybe,” you say. “Can you get a movie from my room for me?”

“Sure!” She says, and your whole movie shelf just appears out of thin air. Space powers are so cool. Almost as cool as windy powers.

---

Jade is pleased when you finally get Davesprite to agree to a movie night. Dave never could resist the call of Armageddon. Davesprite is no exception. Jade, however, gets bored quickly and disappears someplace. She says she’ll be back, but she doesn’t reappear.

Davesprite never sits anywhere, you only just notice when there’s space on the couch that he doesn’t take. His arms just curl around himself, disappearing, the same colour as his body, and he hangs in the air like he’s hooked from the ceiling by a string between his shoulder blades.

His position doesn’t stop you from keeping a running commentary over the movie. He repeatedly shoots down the charm of Liv Tyler just to spite you.

“You’re just jealous I like her more than you.”

“No, you don’t,” he replies.

“No,” you say, “I don’t.”

He actually will eat popcorn. As long as you’ve seen Davesprite on the ship he hasn’t eaten a thing, but he’ll eat popcorn. You slide to the side of the couch where he’s floating and prop the bowl up on the arm. He dips his hand in, long bird fingers with claws and not enough palm. He takes little handfuls at a time, posing his hand like a crane game in an arcade fishing out cheap plushies. He eats the popcorn bits one-by-one, pausing at times to compliment someone’s butt or point out tiny details like the type of watch someone is wearing and how rich it means they are. You laugh a lot. It feels good.

The movie’s wrapping up when you run out of popcorn and you fish around in kernels for a bit and get nothing but butter on your hands for it. Liv Tyler and what’s-his-face go off to live happily ever after as you lick the salt from your hands and glance up.

Davesprite is staring at his hand that shines in the tv-light with a coat of butter of its own. You think he’s gonna wipe his hand on his pants (tail?) for a minute, but instead he rubs it off on the back of the couch.

“Maybe you’re made of butter,” you think out loud. Maybe it’s bright yellow butter that he leaves a trail of.

“You’re welcome to try it, Egbert,” Dave says.

You laugh. “Gross.”

The credits roll and play Dont Wanna Miss A Thing and Dave watches them go and listens to it. You hook your fingers around the edge of the popcorn bowl and lean over the couch to drop it on the floor. You pillow your head on the arm.

“Remember how many remixes of this song you sent me?”

“That was so long ago,” he says. Dave’s long fingers twitch, just a little tiny bit, like he’s reaching for his turntables. “I remember.”

“You were such a loser,” you laugh, burying your face into your arms.

“So were you,” he says, “but you haven’t changed.”

If the popcorn bowl wasn’t on the floor you would throw it at him, but instead you pick lint off of the couch fabric and observe the yellow stain bleeding into the carpet. When the movie stops Davesprite turns off the TV and ejects the DVD from the old Playstation 2. He bends to retrieve it to put it back in the box when he stops, one long, clawed hand extended. He decides to leave it there instead.

“Dave,” you say, “what if I could fix you?”

“You can’t,” is all he says.

“Do you trust me?”

Davesprite turns slowly toward you, one eyebrow raised inquisitively over his orange shades. The shades you got him for his birthday. “What are you planning, Egbert?”

You pull yourself off the couch and stand up, stepping toward him. He floats back, keeping some space between you. “Hold still!” You tell him. “Let me try.”

The next time you advance he stays still, and you can’t help but look at the bandage tied thick and tight around him. It gathers up the shirt that he was prototyped with. You don’t dare touch it, you just concentrate on breathing and try to remember how to do the healy thing.

“I see. Maybe you can make me all better if you stare meaningfully at my gut all day. That’s good because I sure as hell didn’t ha-”

You hook your fingers in his shirt and stuff your mouth up against his, muttering a quick “no homo!” His sentence cuts out in a legitimate caw and you hold back your laugh so you can concentrate.

His wing is gone. You know immediately you can’t do anything about it. There’s a wound where his sword should go, but it’s ruined now where Davesprite was cut in half. With your weird breath powers you can feel it, the perfect horizontal split where he was slashed into two. He’s held together by bandages, gravity, and a few stitched lines of game code that miraculously came back together. You’re sighing the healy stuff into his mouth when he pushes you off of him, his hands having wrestled between you at some point.

John,” Davesprite says, his voice is full of warning and says stay away from me, don’t touch me, back off! Floating backwards, he maneuvers toward the door.

“I said no homo!” You shout after him as he escapes down the hall. “Damn it.”

---

Davesprite isn’t as easy to find for a while after that. You guess it’s a good thing that his lemon yellow blood trails aren’t around like they used to be. Maybe the healy thing worked! But every now and again you find drips of it, highlighter-bright. If you leave it alone it will disappear, the mop relocated. It’s the only evidence you have that Davesprite is even around most days.

You wish you could just fly around inside the ship whenever you want, but sometimes it makes a mess of stuff. Instead you sprawl out on your stomach on a table in the dining room and tap a stick of uncooked spaghetti over the edge. The elevation is good enough. Jaspersprite makes the cutest cooing noises from below, his tentacle arms snapping out and chipping bits off of the spaghetti.

“It could be that he didn’t realize what you were doing,” Nannasprite tells you, floating nearby.

She’s the best cook on the ship, and the smell of lasagna is making you hungrier. You’ve learned not to eat anything that the consorts make, since they put weird things in there. You think you’re the next best cook after that. Jade just kind of makes things appear out of a weird machine she had back home or something.

“I said no homo,” you tell her.

“I think you should talk to him about it, John,” Nanna says as Jaspersprite snaps the end off of your spaghetti stick with a playful coo. “Let him know that you didn’t mean anything by it, if that’s what he needs to hear.”

“If I can ever find him,” you grumble into your arms, fetching another piece of spaghetti from the box behind you.

When you’re not paying attention you can feel an invisible line against your stomach where Davesprite’s wound was. It clips the very bottom of your ribs and goes all the way through. You don’t want to think about what it would feel like if your other half was gone. Davesprite had done it and survived. He just wasn’t allowed to die.

You think about the way he crosses his arms when thoughtful. How they go low and his fingers pick at his bandages. Like he’s holding himself together. How did it even happen?

You don’t know. For a while you didn’t even care to know. You have been the worst friend ever.

---

He makes you pancakes on your birthday. You had no idea so much time had gone by.

“Technically in the realm we’re in, no time has gone by at all,” he says. “It’s all space bullshit. It’s just us who are experiencing it this way. Well, you really. Time’s pretty screwed up for me, too.”

“Can you still do timey stuff?” You ask, watching him flick his arm and flip pancakes for your entertainment. Jaspersprite is hiding in a little space above the fridge and tries to swipe them out of the air. You think Davesprite is one more lost pancake away from using his frying pan as a weapon. He still has bandages wrapped tightly around his stomach but the bleeding has slowed. A sense of satisfaction that you actually made him better butts heads against the guilt that he’s not better enough.

“I haven’t tried,” he says. “It’s not my business anymore.”

“You could always jump ahead and skip this trip completely!” You tell him. “I wish I could do that.”

“You just lose time that way,” Davesprite says, laying the pancake out on a plate for you. “Less time is never a thing you need.”

That just makes you think of Dad.

 

For your Birthday Jade tries to make you all dinner, which is okay. She then brings you, the sprites, and Casey with a bunch of Consorts to the movie room where she plugs in Con Air. The movie is great - of course it is - but suddenly you’re raw and sensitive and everything cuts your heart into bite-sized pieces. Nic Cage isn’t anything like your Dad was, but every bit of him that is someone’s Dad reminds you of what you’re missing.

It’s not as hard as it used to be, but it’s been a year. Sort of. A year since he died. A year since your last birthday when you fought with him over his stupid cake. A year since you lost him. You’d even forgot his birthday.

 

Before Cameron Poe can reunite with his loving wife and daughter you tell everyone thank you, thanks for the great birthday, you’re really tired now and you’ve gotta go. You fly through the door and back to your room on the ship, the windy thing tossing anything not bolted down to the other side of the room. You hear Jade call out your name after you, but you already know that she doesn’t understand.

You get to your room and grab the top hat monopoly piece out from under your pillow. You squeeze it to your chest as you drop yourself onto your bed. You silently tell Dad you’re sorry. You’re so sorry. You forgot his birthday.

Nanna slides through the walls and runs her hands over your hair, pulling it out of your face and curling it over your ears. Her cheerful smile is gone for now, replaced with a tense frown of her own. It doesn’t suit her at all. She takes your glasses off and sets them beside you, and then she goes about rubbing your back.

“I miss him,” you tell her.

“I do too.”

---

Now that your dream self is gone and you can’t get to the dream bubbles Jade was always talking about, sleep feels a lot like dying. You just fall out of yourself for a while, and every time you wake up with a gasp, fists twisting in your sheets, hanging on.

When you wake up this time, breath hooking in your throat, you feel like you haven’t been sleeping for very long. Nanna is gone and you find the top hat figurine in the folds of your blankets and tuck it back under your pillow. Hunger pushes against your ribs.

There’s no way to know when night is. It doesn’t really matter either. The only person on the ship who sleeps is you. Everyone else is made with at least some parts of sburb’s building blocks, and the game doesn’t sleep. It feels like night, though. It feels like you hid in your room and fell asleep and you’re getting up at ten pm to get some toast and figure out if you can sleep again.

Your head is heavy and aches as you weave through the halls to the deck of the ship. It’s way faster to fly down a few floors to get to the kitchen than walking the whole way. You push through the hatch door and find Davesprite, actually sitting, overlooking the lower deck. His sprite tail bends where his legs should, and it looks like he’s actually hovering over the ledge just a little, but you’ve never really seen him try to sit or lay down like a normal person before.

You drop down on his right and your butt hits the floor too hard. You mutter an “ouch” and are barely settled when Dave drops a bowl of m&ms on your lap.

“Hey,” he says.

“Hi,” you say, and pick out a couple of red candies. “Uh. Sorry about earlier.”

Dave shakes his head. “If you wanna spend the whole three years in your room then that’s your fucking prerogative.” He crosses his arms and you watch as his long fingers twitch around his waist, flicking at the bandages there. “I’m just sorry your birthday turned into such a shitty fucking deal.”

“Yeah,” you say, crunching louder than you would like. You don’t really want to talk about Dad anymore. “Sorry about the healy thing.”

“It’s fine,” he says, and his hands fidget, his nails catching on his bandage. His elbows pull closer to his body. It’s not like Nanna thought, he knew exactly what you were doing. “It’s... I appreciate it.”

“You’re still bleeding though,” you say, and Davesprite starts to curl up a little. His wing folds up and he leans over just a bit and his sprite tail pulls toward him.

“Eh,” he says, giving a little shrug that’s trying too hard to be careless. “It’s the least of my problems.”

“There’s more?” You take the bowl of m&ms off of your lap and set it aside. “Maybe I can help if you tell me, but. I mean, no homo.”

“No, you can’t,” Dave says, his jaw locked. “Sorry, John. You do a backflip pirouette off of a doomed timeline into a kernelsprite and you pretty much forfeit your rights to a pair of legs for good.” You stare at him as he holds his hands up to look at them. Long, sharp, segmented bird hands with wicked claws on the end. “I didn’t think about staying like this for so long.”

You’re not sure what’s going on, but you watch as Dave squeezes at his little finger with his other hand. He sighs and folds them together. “It helps though. Thanks.”

You want to know if he wanted to die. Instead you say, “you don’t like your hands?”

“Yeah,” Dave says. “They’re good for digging out the eyes of my enemies, but not so much for reading a good book. I’m falling down all these literary classics that I keep ripping apart.”

Having no legs would be pretty weird, even if you could fly. Bird hands you think might be pretty cool though, but Dave’s set jaw twists your stomach. “I think they’re cool,” you tell him.

“Thanks,” he says. “They’re not.”

The whole of you fills up with wanting to do the healy thing. You pace your breath and just think about feeling the air in him, to see if there’s something you could twist. Something to make him go back. Something that would make him happy. Maybe he could have legs and regular hands and you could make him a real boy again.

“Can I try again?”

Dave straightens up some and turns his head toward you. He looks for a while, his eyes invisible, probably weighing a joke about you being gay against answering you seriously. “Nah,” he says, finally. “I don’t think you can do anything.”

“If you say so, Dave,” you say, and give him a shrug. “I could fix your stomach up for good, at least.”

Dave’s chin drops to his chest. His bird-like hand falls to his stomach.

“Fine,” he says. “Okay.”

It’s a whole lot more weird when you’ve got time to think about it. You want to and he wants to and you sit up on your knees and lean over to him. He’s all yellow and orange and seems more like a trick of the light, some movie special effect, than a human being. Well, he’s not really human you guess, but close enough. You stare at him for a bit, waiting for some simple kissing method to appear. In the meantime you sit next to him and don’t do a thing, your hands under your knees.

“Should I make dinner first?” Dave asks, deciding that he’s been waiting a moment too long. “We’ve done the movie part of this functional gay romance. Seeing as you just want to kiss me heterosexually, why the hold up? There’s a princess in this tower waiting to get out, Egbert. He’s got bird shit to do.”

“Shut up, Dave!” You say as you laugh, and turn toward him. You shift so you’re sitting on your knees and plant your hands on Dave’s shoulders. He’s fluffy, and you brush your hands over his feathery mane and tell him “you’re soft.”

“Thanks,” he says, “I guess.” Dave’s jaw unlocks and his lips part just a little bit. His head is down and turned away from you just slightly. You think he must be shy, and the thought fills you up with warmth all the way to your shoulders. You pace your breath, and you can feel his, too - fast and struggling to get under control.

You scratch your fingers into the feathers on his shoulder and air rushes out of him, soundlessly. You say, “okay,” and press your mouth to his.

Dave exhales a little breath onto your lips, so you scratch the down on his shoulder and you can feel him shivering. His stomach is almost completely healed - it doesn’t take a whole lot of healy powers to help you guess - so you sigh the healy stuff into his mouth.

“John,” Davesprite says. His hands have found their way to your shoulders and hold you back. His voice is low and warning.

“Hold on,” you say. Jeez! You run your fingers through his downy feather-mane. A little sound makes it’s way out of his throat - not enough of it to describe, but it runs a warmth down your arms and through your elbows. Davesprite is cool against your mouth, and you can feel every little thing of what he does. You can feel the healy thing stitching him together, tying his stomach back and weaving shut the broken code that makes his wing bleed out over his arm. When it’s done you get the sense of a sburban check-mark. You can feel all of him, but nothing is wrong. That’s all you can do.

“John,” Dave says your name again, a bit less deliberate than before and a little more airy.

“I can’t do any more,” you say, reading through him again, but there’s nothing there. “I’m sorry, man.”

“It’s fine,” he says, and leans back as he pushes you away, and his whole everything disappears from you like he’s unplugged. Gone instantly from your weird healy breath brain window. He holds you away from him, your hands in the down on his shoulders. “Fuck, you’re made of bones.”

“You’re really soft,” you say, and run your hand through the feathers. Dave’s fingers twitch involuntarily at your shirt.

“You should stop,” he says.

“Does it feel weird?” you ask, your hands frozen.

“No,” he says, his face is stoic and there’s nothing to read, “but you should stop.”

You slide your hands out from the pale orange down over his shoulders as carefully as you can and sit back on your feet. You wonder if he’s soft like that all over. You want to touch him a lot, for the sake of curiosity and science, of course.

Dave’s hands move from your chest to his waist where he carefully unwinds the bandages from himself. You watch him run the side of his thumb down his side, smooth but stained a bit, bright lemon yellow. He’s okay again. At least, in that respect.

“Thanks, John,” he says, and he lets his words sound genuine, like you just gave him the best Christmas present ever. You feel warm right up to your hair. “Thank you.”

“No problem!” You say, and sit back on your butt to stretch out your legs. Dave runs his thumb over the hole where his sword should go. When the crow was prototyped with the sword through it, it became a sheath. A part of his program. You don’t feel so warm anymore, and chew on the inside of your lip. “I wish I could do more.”

“Don’t worry about it.” Davesprite picks up the bandages and curls them into a bundle in his clawed hands, glancing over to you. “I guess I should go clean up. And you should probably sleep.”

“I guess,” you say, and grab a fist full of m&ms. “In a bit!”

He scoffs, a little smirk on his face, and goes, over the ledge and down to the lower decks. His wing opens up to balance or guide him and you wonder if it’s any real help or just for appearances. His tail coils out behind him like a snake. In no time at all he glides out of sight. You snap a candy in half with your front teeth.

---

“Nanna,” you say, after she screwed up a game of checkers by hitting you with a pie to the face, which led to you kicking the board and scattering everything everywhere. You sit on your butt with your legs folded - checkerboard guru - as she rubs your face clean with a towel she must have brought just for the occasion. “Do you ever feel like you wish you still had legs?”

“Legs, John?” She dabs particularly hard at your cheek and it kinda hurts.

“Yeah,” you say, “do you miss walking and running and things like that?”

“Hmm, I don’t think I do!” She says, not really the answer you were looking for. She dabs your chin. “Walking was rather difficult, last I recall.”

“Oh,” you say. Nanna pats your nose once more for good luck, with a happy little “boop!” but you still feel pretty sticky and gross. “I think Dave misses being a regular human.”

“Ah,” she says, knowingly, and the towel in her gloved hand disappears. “Well Davesprite is pretty special! Jaspers, Jade and I were long gone before we came back again, thanks to the game!”

“So you think the reason he’s upset about it is because he was alive?” Even as you speak you climb to your feet, feeling dirty and gross with the smell of cream in your nose.

“We’re still alive, John.” She says, and lets you go as you run to clean up.

---

Sometimes that ship in all of space seems far too small for you. Sometimes Jade makes you small and blinks you out to the Land of Wind and Shade, and you go on sidequests. You help the salamanders she didn’t bring to the ship harvest mushrooms. You help them re-build houses, put out fires and sometimes they make you kiss babies which is pretty weird. You avoid Typheus because the consorts tell you he’s an asshole but maybe you should go talk to him someday. Maybe when you run out of quests. Maybe with Dave.

Your old house towers over you at all times, a giant compass needle that tells you which way to go. Your house, white and tall and staggered, pointing where Skaia used to be. Instead, all you see is the white of Jade’s captcha card, or the green streak of space across the gold of your ship. Sometimes you see Skaia when Jade feels like juggling. On the planet it doesn’t feel like you’re moving differently than usual. No matter what you’re doing if you just twirl a big gust of wind, Jade finds you and pops you out of there like you’re a champagne cork. Not that you’ve ever had champagne, but you’ve seen how they do it in the movies and you think it feels like that.

You’ve been afraid to go there. Afraid of all the memories and things that could punch you in the gut, like memories do to you sometimes. You guess you’re feeling brave as you approach your tower of a house and twist the doorknob.

It’s been so long since things were right there. The TV on the wall shows a black screen, smeared with black imp goo. Your couch is shredded, harlequins scattered across the floor, unclaimed bits of grist tucked unseen behind corners. Dad’s weird pictures hang on the walls, undisturbed. He was into such weird stuff and you’ll never get to know why or what he saw in it. You chew on your lip and you miss him so much. You keep going.

Your room is in particularly rough shape, parts torn out for game constructs and black goo smeared everywhere. Your computer is totally fucked with goop all over it, but you figure it wouldn’t have been any good anymore anyway. You drop down into your computer chair and prop your head up on your hands to stare at the screen. If only you could just talk to Dave and Rose like you used to, to make sure they’re okay and to see what’s going on. You wonder what the new game will be like. Maybe you’ll get your old house back.

It’s sad, seeing your house like that. It makes you feel kinda tired and heavy, but you’re okay. You’re more okay than you thought.

----

“There’s nothing really left at my house,” you tell Davesprite, perched on the ship deck again while you’re laid out on your stomach, head in your hands and kicking your feet. “I bet there’s still games at your place, though! Maybe we can go get your Bro’s Xbox and bring it back here.”

“Or Jade could just warp it to the ship,” he says, but that’s no fun.

“I’d like to see your house! Or apartment, I guess,” you say. “You don’t think it would be cool to hang out there?”

“Sure,” he says, and concedes. “I guess we could.”

---

Dave’s place is in much better shape than yours. The toilet is in the hallway and the place is a mess but the imps didn’t seem to get into his apartment. Or maybe he’s just that much better at fighting than you, and they didn’t stand a chance. There’s no evidence of the goop that might be blood, or even little stray bits of grist anywhere. The piles of electronic equipment appear to be mostly safe, and there are stacks of puppets and swords all over the place.

Dave always sent you photos of all of his stuff and you had a good idea of what his apartment was like, but it’s still strange to actually be in it. The puppets are still kinda creepy and the swords are still pretty stupid but you take a lap around the kitchen to finally get a real look at everything.

“Remember how we used to talk about all the things we’d do when we’d meet up someday? But you never wanted me to come to your house? Ha ha! So much for that, you didn’t even get to see my place. It’s a huge mess,” you ramble, and eye a purple smuppet on the kitchen counter. You lift your hand to touch it but lose your nerve.

“You got me,” Dave says, and you turn toward him as he runs his hand along the edge of one of the sound boards in the living room, mindful to turn his claws up and away from the sensitive electronics. He only glances at the puppets.

“Did you even get any imps in here?” You ask, and hop over his tail to flop down onto the couch.

“A few,” he says, and runs his finger through the dust over the monitor of his computer. You fold your arms over the end of the futon frame and pillow your head on them as Dave gazes down at the keyboard of the computer for a long, long time.

His head turns to the speaker in the corner, and he reaches to hook his claws over the Hustlin’ Fuzz poster above. The paper gives, just slightly, a little familiar sound that runs instinctively through you with alarm. Unless it’s Christmas or your Birthday, paper only rips when something’s wrong. Davesprite draws his hand down and rips through the whole thing, black-and-white TV static sound for only a moment, enough to lift your head from your arms.

“I shouldn’t be here,” he says.

“What’s wrong?” You ask, and Davesprite shakes his head. He’s turned away from the computer and toward you, his arms limp at his sides and face tilted toward the floor and to the left.

“I dunno, doesn’t feel right,” he says, and that’s it. His fingers move in a slow and deliberate sort of wave, calm and strange, picking through the air. His lips are pursed tight. He doesn’t ask you to go. He doesn’t ask you for anything.

You climb to your feet and approach him. You’re an idiot. You’re the worst friend ever. Maybe Dave’s not ready for this stuff but you were and you are the absolute worst. You reach your arms up to wrap around his shoulders. You want to pull Davesprite in, warm and soft, and maybe fix him. Kiss him and maybe fix up his heart too, because you know how it hurts when your parent’s gone and things are weird.

But Dave catches your hands in the air, his long, rough fingers wrapping around your wrists and holding you still. You drop back on your heels from your toes and he lets you go, his hands unfolding slowly like you’re made of paper and could rip at the wrong movement. “You can’t keep doing this.”

“Oh,” is all you have to say, dumb and surprised. You fold your hands together and rub at your wrists, not really sure what to do with them. “Doing what?”

He sighs, and it’s heavy. You know that sound, it comes deep from the pit of your stomach and tries to clear you out. “This,” he begins, cautious, his head turned just a little bit away from you. You wouldn’t be able to see his eyes but he still can’t look at you. “This isn’t really my house. I can’t just take his things.”

“It is, though,” you reply, your voice louder than you expected. It just leaps out of you with everything you know now that you didn’t think before. “You’re Dave, too!”

His hands twitch and his chin turns toward you. He moves just a bit, but fast enough that you know you’ve surprised him. Your hands turn into fists against your shirt. You open your mouth to say more, but he speaks instead.

“Thanks, John.”

You feel like you should say something else. You feel like there’s other stuff that should be said, but you don’t know what it is. So you gather up the Xbox and you wrap the cords around Dave’s hands. You place the controllers in the palms of his hands and you realize how hard it might be for him to actually play. His thumbs look like they might be too big and overshoot the buttons. Even then, he has his big claws to get in the way. You stare until he brings his hands down to his sides, and you smile at him. You tuck the Xbox under your arm and you leave, snapping the door shut behind you.

When you reach the stairwell you both fly up to the roof, whipping and curling up through them as fast as you can. There’s no hole in the center to fly up through, like in the movies, but you can zig-zag like a snake and narrowly miss the railings every time. The thrill of it pushes against your stomach so you’re laughing like a hyena the entire time. Dave suddenly dodges for the exit, orange tail trailing after, and you have to flip yourself upside-down and put your feet against the ceiling to keep from crashing into it, and you scramble to keep your grip on the Xbox. Once it’s secure, you dive through the door after Dave, to find him waiting on the roof for you. The roof, scattered with game machines and grist bits. Only a tiny bit of the roof is actually there, the rest of it goes up, pointing to Skaia. Or, in this case, Jade.

You stop giggling and turn to Dave, who gazes up, up at Jade. He gives a little nod, like she can see, or something, but you’re not sure if she can since she’s so much bigger than you.

You decide you’re not going to ask him to play his bro’s stupid Xbox games with you. You won’t ask him to go anywhere anymore. You just want to do stuff he wants to do but you have no idea what that is. You have no idea what Dave does all the time. You just know that he eats popcorn and maybe M&M’s and he still likes Armageddon and he maybe doesn’t care about apple juice anymore.

You’re staring but he doesn’t move to look at you or say something to point it out, he just makes a little sound like a whistle. At least, you think it was Dave. And with that the two of you just pop out onto the deck of the ship.

You’re greeted by Jade and a sea of noise, the deck covered with chattering consorts. They’ve got decks of cards scattered everywhere and a frisbee narrowly misses your head as Jade captchalogues the planets into her Sylladex. A couple of nakkadiles grab the Xbox from your arms and they turn disappear back inside with a train of iguanas trailing behind them. To your left there’s a loud flutter and another deck of cards showers down around you, to the great amusement of a nakking crocodile. You can’t help but laugh until you look up to see Davesprite flying up over the deck, his arms free of cords. He tucks into the bridge of the ship and is gone.

“What’s wrong, John?” Jade asks, her head tilted to the side, curious, just like a puppy.

You grin at her. “Nothing!”

“Nothing?” She asks. “You were so excited to go down, but you weren’t there for very long!”

“Yeah well, we decided not to stay,” you say, and shrug at her. “So we came back, instead! We were gone long enough for things to go crazy up here!”

She laughs. “Yeah, the lizards are pretty crazy! I can’t tell them to stop, they just look like they’re having too much fun!”

You and Jade pick up a frisbee and try to play, but when you have god tier powers it’s hard not to cheat. The disc sometimes just snaps into her hand from a few inches away. You can fly up and grab it when it goes too high. The consorts cheer and yelp and fuss when you do just about anything. When you think Jade is using her space powers too much you try to use the windy thing to keep it out of her hand a little longer, but at one point it snaps up and nearly smacks her in the face. It disappears before it hits her, never to be seen again.

“Oh well,” you say, the crowd of salamanders disappearing into different parts of the ship. “It wasn’t really fair anyway.”

“Yeah,” Jade says, and pouts. With a little wiggle of her nose all of the cards and games and monopoly pieces disappear, only to surely fall out of a closet onto you later. “Let’s make popcorn!”

---

At some point, Jaspersprite starts curling up with you when you sleep. You doze off, and wake up to him purring against your side, tentacles curled up into his chest. You scratch his ears and go back to sleep and when you wake up again, he’s somewhere else. He might peer at you from the other pillow or be turned away from you at the bed at your feet. He purrs and purrs and purrs just to have your attention, a little motor whirring away inside his chest somewhere. If you scratch under his chin he turns his nose up and his eyes close. He’ll turn his head around and guide your hand so you can scratch him in just the right spot. When you stop and drop your hand on the bed he wraps his arms around your wrist and nuzzles into your palm.

“I love you, John!” He says, and you can’t help grinning. You weren’t sure you would like cats but making him happy kind of fills you up with this warm sunny feeling. You scratch at his cat cheek and Jasper’s eyes close, content.

“We’re going to make Rose jealous!” You giggle a little as Jasper digs his ear into your fingers. You don’t know how you feel about sticking your fingers into a cat’s ear, but he seems to like it.

“I love Rose a lot, but I love you too, John!” Jaspersprite speaks around his stubborn purring, and he almost sounds like he’s running over gravel on a bike, or speaking through a fan. He pushes his chin down on your hand almost hard enough to make your fingers hurt, and you can feel his purring through his throat. “You’re the best at scratching! Purr purr,” he says, out loud, as he purrs, and you laugh because he sounds ridiculous.

You sit up a bit and prop yourself on your elbow, switching hands to bury into Jaspersprite’s soft fur. It’s almost like the game pulled out his cat fur and replaced it with the stuff you make extra nice stuffed animals out of. His tentacle arms flex around your wrists, like the weird old god version of paw flexing you’ve seen in internet videos. “Do you think Dave likes to get scratched like this, too?”

“Oh, yes!” Jaspersprite croons, his eyes open wide but his purring continues. “I don’t know anybody who wouldn’t like a good scratch, John! Purr purr.” You lay your head down and bury your hands into the fur on both sides of Jasper’s face. His eyes close again and he’s just so happy to let you pat him all day.

You scratch him until hunger wrenches at your stomach, and when you roll to your feet Jaspers floats away through your door, disappearing like all of your affection didn’t mean more to him than a nice place to nap at the time. You’re not sure what you were expecting. You eventually decide that this is a Cat Thing, just like Dave’s soft and shiny thing piles are Bird Things.

The thought of it makes you smile so hard your face hurts.

---

Dave tries. You walk in to the TV room, scattered with clutter and an iguana consort napping in the corner to find Dave orange and bright in front of the screen. He floats in the middle of the room, a foot or so ahead and above the couch, which has popcorn strewn all over it. He has the controller in his hand and he folds his fingers around it a little awkwardly as he navigates the game selection screen. It seems like his thumb has to bend at a weird angle to hit the buttons on the far ends of the controller, but he’s trying to figure it out.

The down around his shoulders is defined in the light of the screen, highlighting the fine lines of each little feather and inviting you to touch them. Dave looks up when you cross to his side of the couch and gives you a quiet “hey” as you tuck in behind him. You hesitate, and he waits for you, his face turned just a little to see you through the corner of his eye. You really want to bury your face in those feathers and maybe hug him a bit - tug your elbows against you with Dave between them. That’s kinda weird but everyone needs a hug sometimes, right?

You don’t hug him, but you put your hands on his shoulders and push your fingers in, pressing down and scratching him like you scratch Jaspers. Dave articulates a garbled “what the fffffffuck,” as you flex your hands against that muscley part near your neck where a massage feels extra good. The Xbox controller clatters to the floor, waking up the iguana consort who thips, startled, out of the room.

You giggle and Dave actually shivers, and you think his back arches a little. A very bird-like whistle squeaks out of his throat and you think it sounds content, but he swallows on it and says “stop.”

“Stop?” You echo, a little bit disappointed, and you spread your hands along the fluff on his shoulders. You watch the little feathers ease around your fingers, but you don’t get to appreciate it long as Dave turns toward you.

He holds his hands out a bit like he wants to hold your wrists or your elbows or something, but instead he just keeps them up like a stop sign. Dave gazes down at the floor between your feet and doesn’t say anything for a while.

“What’s wrong, Dave?” you ask, and you want to move ahead. You want to touch him a lot. Wow, you really do.

“Look, John,” he starts, and eases backwards away from you a little. His hands drop down to his sides. “I didn’t want to say anything to you about this. It’s not really my thing to say but you’ve kinda backed me into a corner here.” Dave turns and pushes the power off on the TV, turning the room dark and quiet. He must mean business.

“Okay,” you say with a nervous giggle, and drop your butt down onto the couch. Your heart drops into your stomach and snaps tension all through you. Your mind reaches for conclusions and comes up with nothing as Dave runs a hand through his hair and sighs, composing words for himself. For long, agonizing moments, he doesn’t say anything.

“The truth is,” he says, his words slow and deliberate with caution. You stick your hands under your thighs to keep from fidgeting as you chew on your lip. “You’ve gotta stop this kissing and groping shit.”

“Huh?” You say, and a grin spreads over your face. “No homo, right?”

“The way you keep it up looks pretty fuckin homo, John,” Dave replies and crosses his arms. His long claws curl shut against the crook of his elbow. “Pretty cruel leading a bro on like this.”

“No! It’s just,” you lift your hands defensively, but stop. “What?”

“If you want a piece of my massive birdcock, the existence of which has been highly exaggerated, you just need to say so,” Dave finally turns his chin up to meet your eyes. Well, you think he’s meeting your eyes. “All this inappropriate touching and no-homo tonsil hockey could give a guy mixed messages.”

“I’m not gay, Dave!” You giggle. He sounds a lot more like Dave Dave, you think, and a lot less like Dave sprite.

“I know,” he says, “so I’m asking you to keep your hands and your mouth to yourself.”

“Wh-” you begin, and swallow your words. He doesn’t want you to touch him at all? Even when you made him better? Even if you could make him feel better? “I just want to help!”

“You helped,” he nods, just slightly. “It’s great, not being split in half down the middle. Thanks, John, for that. But it doesn’t explain why you’re always trying to grope my feathery ass.”

“I’ve never tried to grope your ass!”

“It was a fucking metaphor. Why are you trying to manhandle me all the time? That I’m the sexiest bird freak you’ve ever seen is an okay answer, dude. I just withhold the right to judge your taste in weird furry bird sprites without junk.”

“Dave,” you say, “you don’t have, like... junk?”

Dave shakes his head once, slowly. “The game doesn’t have time for a sprite to get distracted with an inconvenient boner.”

“Oh,” you say, and you probably sound pretty dumb, but you also feel pretty dumb. Dave’s gold tail winds and curls absently in the air under him. He’s smooth and flat all the way up to the hem of his t-shirt, where his arms are crossed. You didn’t really think about how he might not have stuff.

“Now that you’ve found out my dirty secret, you can stop staring at me like a caged animal whenever you’re good and ready,” Dave says, looking straight at you.

You feel like crap. You feel like everything you’ve ever done is crap, and it’s like Dave is the only one who ever makes you feel like that. He makes you feel like the biggest asshole that ever ended up on a boat in paradox space. The biggest asshole in any video game ever played, and that’s a lot of assholes. You are the king of assholes, it is you.

“I’m sorry, Dave!” You say. You plead, and you roll onto your feet and reach your arms out and he floats away from you and that hurts even more. Your asshole-ness turns into a big guilty knife and stabs you right between the ribs. “I’m always saying and doing stupid stuff, I’m really sorry! It’s like you’re all messed up and things aren’t right for you anymore and I just want you to feel better and be happy, okay? You’re my friend and it’s like everything I try is wrong and I just want you to be happy. I guess I feel like all I can do is just... hug you all the time!” Dave gazes back at you in silence and you just keep talking. “I want to like... try the healy thing again and try to fix your hands and your wing and... your junk I guess and like... make you feel better about stuff, like you make me feel better about stuff! About your hands and the scratching and your house and that time I died and things and I probably can’t do it that way but I don’t know what I’m doing really. You should tell me what I can do!”

You don’t realize that the entire time you’ve been talking you’ve been advancing on Dave until you find you’re standing next to the TV room door, and he’s retreating back around the couch. You want to stop but you keep inching yourself forward, trying to get a little bit closer to him, and with each motion he floats a little further back. You chew on the inside of your cheek. “Daaaave!”

He purses his lips and you don’t even realize he’s stopped until you’ve dropped your face into his shoulder. The soft feathers tickle your nose and you giggle, raising your arms to wrap around his neck. The bases of his wings bump against your forearms but he doesn’t seem to mind.

Slowly, carefully, like you’re made of glass and his hands are hammers, Dave wraps his arms around you. He’s warm and careful and his long fingers feel kinda funny as they flatten against your back and pull you close to him. He drops his cheek against your hair and sighs. You can feel it flutter against your ear. It fills you right up with that warm, happy feeling.

“I’m a freak,” he says. His voice is quiet and he says it just for you. “This shit doesn’t just go back to normal.”

“Hasn’t anything made you feel normal?” You want to turn your head up and look at him, try to find his eyes under his shades, but the way he’s leaning his face against you seems kinda important and you don’t want to fuck it up.

“I dunno,” he says, and his hands twitch against your back, reminding you that they’re there. Or maybe reminding him that you’re there.

You move your head a bit so your cheek is against his collarbone instead of your forehead, and there’s a little groove there that fits you perfectly. You flex your fingers in his feathers and a little breath whooshes out of him, a little whistle trailing out of his throat after it. You want to know what makes that sound but maybe that’s a little too much for now.

“So this is okay?” You ask him, and pat his feathers flat.

“Yeah,” he says, and turns his face to nose at your hair. “As long as you don’t stop.”

“Sure,” you giggle, and he squeezes his arms around you to hug you close.

---

On your fifteenth birthday you have a funeral. You show up on the deck of the ship in the afternoon - at least you think it’s the afternoon - with Dave, Jade, Nanna, Jaspers and a bunch of consorts. The consorts aren’t very good at paying attention; they garble a lot and kick their feet and get excited about a lot of stuff, but that’s just the way they are and it’s not really a big deal.

Jade has a bunch of little rockets made up, red and bright and scrawled with names. They’re all set out in a row on the side of the ship, ready to be sent flying off into paradox space. The lot of you spent a lot of time trying to figure out what the appropriate sendoff would be. Exploding into fire out into a wibbly wobbly hole between universes seemed like a pretty cool idea to everyone.

In silence you pop the top off of the rocket, emblazoned simply with Dad, and drop some things inside to settle among whatever else Jade has in there to make it go. Nanna slips in a little harlequin figurine and you put in that little monopoly piece top hat. You screw the top back on and look up at Nanna. Her forehead’s all wrinkled and she’s trying not to frown too much so you reach over and give her a hug. You’re glad she’s with you.

Jade’s grandpa has been gone for a really long time, but she wanted to put one together, too. It took her appearifying half of her house onto the deck before she could find what she wanted, a can of bullets for a special occasion or something. They must be already in there, you guess, and you just watch her write her curly-lettered Grandpa on the rocket with a Sharpie.

Jaspers still has Rose out there somewhere, but he croons and flexes his tendrils, hovering over Dave’s shoulders as he gathers four. One goes out to Rose’s Mom, written in Dave’s sharp chicken-scratch letters, fueled with a fuzzy toy that Jaspers thought would be adequate for some reason. You’d all shrugged and did what he wanted, since none of you really knew her, but she might have been your mom too, someday. You figure that somewhere, Rose probably had a funeral for her mom with her cool new troll friends. You’re so close now to finally seeing everyone for real.

Dave doesn’t put anything in the Bro rocket. “You’ve all got these sentimental little bits of people that they left you, but all that’s left at the house are those fucking puppets and I’m not giving him the satisfaction.” In the days leading up to the funeral though, you catch him looking at it. He carries it around a lot. You imagine that he’s putting little prayers into it for Bro, but it’s hard to ever tell what Dave is thinking and he hardly talks about it.

Dave puts out two more rockets, too, empty because there’s nothing to put in them. He doesn’t write anything on them either, but you know who they’re for. There’s one there for other-Jade and another one there for other-you, two rockets set out in memory of all the time he lost, the time that was his that he left. You wonder if it’s weird for him that you’re a different John, or if it’s the same as you used to be when he was a different Dave. He’s still different, though. It’s kinda weird and confusing and fun to think about how this Dave is different from the other Dave. You don’t really know what he’ll be like when you see him again.

“Are we ready?” Jade asks, setting the Grandpa rocket down on the ground and skirting back a bit.

“Yup!” You reply and fall back with her, Nanna following after you and Dave taking his time. Jaspers coos and slips through the air, curling around your legs. You take Nanna’s hand and squeeze it in yours while she uses the other to run the fleshy part of her palm over her eyes.

Davesprite’s rough hand slips into the gap between your thumb and your fingers and you squeeze that, too. His nails curl gently back to your knuckles and you turn to give him a smile. With his chin down he smiles a little back - just a tiny quirk of his lip that you wouldn’t notice if you didn’t know him well. Jade snatches Davesprite’s right hand in her left. You watch his eyebrow arch out from under his shades, the only evidence of his surprise.

Casey does the honours, toddling forward in her bedsheet robe with a little candle in her hands. She holds the fire to the wick of the rocket until it takes, loud and sputtering, sparking fire like in the cartoons. She pops a bubble in surprise and her candle hisses out. She scampers, her feet moving wildly, to take shelter behind you. You grab a spark with the windy thing and, flexing your hand in Dave’s, draw it across to light all of the rocket wicks to life. The wicks snap, pause, and the rockets lunge noisily into the air.

Instantly, the consorts around you go wild with naks and glubs and run all over. They pop bubbles and kick their feet while the deep gray rocket sound plunges into your stomach. They streak long tails of smoke and light as they drive further and further away from the ship. The five of you are silent.

Dad’s goes first, exploding into a pale blue balloon of firework sparks. The sound is loud and rumbles across the ship. Jade barks, startled, and the consorts become more frenzied, shuffling back and forth in front of you. Grandpa’s explodes green, and Mom’s pink while the consorts go wild. You squeeze Dave’s hand as the Bro rocket bursts red, and he nods just a little bit to tell you he’s okay. Nanna sighs on your left, and you give her hand a squeeze, too. She squeezes back.

Other-John and other-Jade’s rockets explode almost at the same time, sparkling loud and silvery-white. They hiss and shimmer with light and die in the air. As the show is over, Jade whoops loudly and claps her hands. “That was the best funeral ever!” She announces, and you’ve got to admit it was pretty cool.

“You really came through on this one, Harley,” Dave says to her, and all of you start walking back into the ship, surrounded by excited consorts.

“I come through all the time,” Jade says and punches him in the arm. Dave just smirks.

You walk through the long, narrow corridors of the ship, two at a time or so. Nanna oozes through a wall, leaving her pale blue goo as evidence. Jaspers disappears down a ladder through to the hull. When you’re not paying attention, Jade blinks out, porting off to wherever. Casey glubs excitedly off somewhere with her candle, blowing huge bubbles as she goes. You hop into the air and fly down the hallway, turning to go upstairs and to the bridge.

You have to catch onto door handles to keep you turning when you want to instead of flying into the adjacent walls, but you’re getting used to flying inside. You grab onto the door frame of the room outside of Dave’s attic and use it to help you pivot, shooting yourself through the hole and dropping - with a double-step for balance - to the floor. Dave appears after you with much more grace. You think it’s just the wings. That, and not having legs. You can’t trip on stuff if you don’t have legs.

It feels like you were just here, but Dave drops face first into his pile of pillows like he’s been awake for hours. He floats a little bit above everything all the time, except that pile of stuff. You think it might be for show the rest of the time, but when he gets to his loft he finally lets his guard down. He sighs and lays his head atop his folded arms. His wing shivers and he flicks it a bit until it closes just right and folds tight against his back. You don’t know what the point is since you wake up with it around you more often than not, it’s just one of those things like how Jade spins in three circles before she lays down anywhere.

You drop down next to him in the pile, sitting up on your knees. You lean over him, orange and light, and run your hands backwards, up through the feathers over Dave’s shoulders. He groans, content, as you dig your fingers in and scratch at all the places he has trouble reaching.

He hates it if he groans too much - coolkids don’t make sounds like pornstars - but if he tries to cut the sound off he peeps. This little bird noise just squeaks out of him, small and bright and he hates it so much. It’s so cute it’s hard not to laugh. He groans and peeps and when he groans in frustration at that you can dig your nail in and make him peep again. He just gets angrier and you laugh harder until he rolls over, reaches up and takes you down on the pile with him.

He has a heartbeat, but maybe it’s not actually a heartbeat as much as the tick of a clock. It drums in his chest against your ear, just below the edge of where his downy feathers start. He sighs, relaxing again, and a little whistle drops in pitch through his throat. The very bottom part of his sprite tail wraps around your ankle and it tickles just a little. His hand squeezes your shoulder.

“One year,” he says.

“Huh?” you ask, and peer up at the underside of Dave’s chin.

“Until we get back to the other Dave,” he says, and turns his face into your hair. “What then? Drop this feathery ass for the finer model? The one with moving parts and real-world god-tier action?”

You laugh and turn your face up, and you can see his eyes through the underside of Dave’s shades. You can’t joke about this stuff because he might think you mean it, becoming quieter and more distant until you slip your fingers into his and tell him it was a joke. What you said about needing a boyfriend who knew how to cook better, one who leaked actual apple juice when he cried, that was a joke.

Dave’s sensitive about that stuff. He hates his hands. He thinks his wings would be okay if he wasn’t missing one. He misses his legs. He misses walking like a normal person. He doesn’t dare put a sword back into his chest now that he’s around people all the time. He’s a walking calculator that cheats at video games by unwittingly tuning in to the system. He’s always kind of confused when you don’t hate the things about him that he does.

And he loves you so much that it’s kinda surprising. You figure out that he’s actually liked you for a long time. Even from before, when he was regular Dave, and the other you died. The other Dave is probably going to be pretty jealous.

“He’ll get over it,” you tell him and that’s all you’ve got. “He probably has some troll girlfriend by now.”

Dave hums, unconvinced, and you watch his eyes close. They open back up and look down at you when you weave your fingers into his on the hand resting on his chest.

“Don’t worry about it,” you tell him, and give him a smile.

“Okay,” he says, and nuzzles into your hair.

Dave doesn’t sleep - it’s a sprite thing - but he goes into a sort of Standby mode. If you pat his feathers long enough or if you fall asleep and he lays there waiting for you, he’ll half shut down. It looks a lot like sleeping, except he peeps. Sometimes he wakes you up by peeping your ear and you wake him up again by laughing about it. Sometimes it tells you that you’re safe and you drift back away. He tries so hard to be cool and being a sprite seems to ruin everything. He’s the most interesting person you know, and you want to find out every little mystery he’s hiding from you. After a nap, anyway.

You press your face into Dave’s soft shoulder and close your eyes, listening to his clockwork heart. You wait to hear his standby peeps. He tucks his head in to breathe softly against your ear and hugs you tight.

 

 

Sometimes it’s hard to find a way to keep on
Quiet weekends, holidays, you come undone
Open your window and look upon
All the kinds of alive you can be
Be still, be light, believe me
-Little Bird, The Weepies