Chapter 1: Curiousity
Ignore the rustling in the bushes. It's squirrels. It's raccoons. There's no way wolves live this far out in the middle of nowhere, even though it makes perfect sense. They're not solitary anyway -- they have packs, and so, Rose Lalonde has no reason to hold her cat with the slightest tense to her shoulders, the pronounced alertness in her amaranthine stare. The wind passes by, assuaging her fears, helping her convince herself and her companion that everything is all right.
Rose continues walking to the river to sit and read with Jaspers, and doesn't feel eyes on her back at all.
School was tedious.
Rose walked back drearily, happy to be out of the clumsy institution and heading home to a dark room full of majestic novels and yarn and non-policed internet. Her pleasant anticipation was short lived, however; while the sky was a perfect blue, cloudless, and cars streamed by her on the sidewalk, she became aware of an unanticipated second presence behind her as she adjusted her headband.
The warm wind seemed to have come with him, the quiet, cool male voice; she had to hold her hair out of her face to turn and see that it was none other than one Dave Strider. Her expression turned to a mixture of distaste and curiousity, which was natural, as she had heard little "good" about him.
"Mr. Strider," she greeted pointedly before looking straight ahead of her, ending the conversation. He took the hint, and thus, she succeeded. Sort of.
He walked with her for ten minutes in complete silence. She watched him out of the corner of her eye, silent, observing, thoughtful; he was something of a complete fucking weirdo, more or less. He perpetually wore a pair of aviators straight out of a shitty cop drama, along with typical skinny jeans, some witty and flattering t-shirt, his hay-coloured hair perfectly slicked and ruffled back. Rose Lalonde had next to no interest in this boy, as she had heard more than enough times of his oozing sarcasm, arrogance, and general disrespect for people, not to mention poor taste in music and women. Oh, there were plenty of tales of him stringing girls along. She'd heard of the potential "Destroy Dave Strider" coalition of exes with passing amusement.
She had spoken to him maybe once or twice in her life, though, and in the end, had better things to do with her time. So they walked silently. So she would push the oddity of him walking with her out of her mind the moment he left.
Rose Lalonde underestimated her curiousity.
"Is there a particular reason you're walking home with me today?" she queried blandly, looking straight ahead of her at a light pole.
His Converse shuffled just a little louder, like her voice had made him overstep a bit, but when she peeked, he was aloof as ever, hands buried in his pockets like he had a secret to keep.
"Missed the bus. Sorry I don't have the tariff money to pay you for gracing your export route with my presence, ma'am." His voice was pickle juice and his eyes were fixated on some point in the distance, all nonchalance, all relaxation and hammocks.
So she would admit that she was slightly impressed to hear such wit. She hadn't taken him to be clever, though she doubted it came with intelligence like her own, and was more of just a shallow brazen-ness.
"I'm afraid I can't let that slide."
"Sue me. I don't actually mean that, what I mean is rain check me."
"And how do you plan on repaying me?"
"Don't worry chica, I'll sign your backpack for you if you bring a Sharpie."
Rose rolled her eyes, and stopped on the boulevard to cross. Dave was facing the other intersection, though, and she found herself smiling, but that smile sinking away. He was going in a different direction. For a small moment, as they looked at each other seriously for the first time, she felt a tingle that seemed like she had met his gaze behind the atrament of his glasses.
But the light changed; he gave her a short, cocky salute, and she found herself silkily saying, "Good day, Strider," before crossing the street.
Odd, the warmth in her cheeks. Probably the heat. After all, summer was soon.
The doorbell rang, long, luminous, chiming, through every hall and room of Rose's lavish home. From far down the hall, she heard her mother call out, "Is it just Dave?" To which Rose replied back loudly, "Yes."
A minute later, the quietest footsteps were heard coming up the stairs, and the aforementioned blond was standing in her room.
"Glad that you're too busy to answer the goddamn door for me, Rosita," he drawled affectionately, sitting himself in her computer chair without asking. And then scrolling across her tabs without asking. Rose scoffed and put her knitting down, walking over to remove the mouse from his hand.
"Indeed. Now if you would kindly refrain from delighting in my wizard erotica without my consent..."
"Oh shit, that's delicious. No, no, no, let me look at this."
But the mouse was unplugged nay-instantaneously, and Rose smiled too sweetly at him.
"Real fuckin' cute."
"I appreciate the pseudo-compliment."
It took time for Rose to openly admit to herself, her affection for the boy. After the last several weeks of school, he conveniently missed the bus more and more, leading to several entertaining conversations that both parties enjoyed fondly as they walked home together, and reluctantly ended when they had to part ways. Eventually, Rose suggested that he come to her home and partake in the next natural stage of blooming friendship: "hanging out".
He found her delivery utterly hilarious, and made desert-dry cracks for the next several days. But yet, he came.
It was summer, now, and the introverts had no desire to go vacationing to any sort of beachside or amusement park. No, Dave and Rose, the unstoppable, spent day in and day out at her home, talking, bantering, debating, exchanging music and watching movies and Rose psychoanalyzing Dave's every sentence and Dave steadily picking on her every sentence filled with rich vernacular, and suddenly those days were growing late, and a quick phone call and a question later, Dave shrugged into a sleeping bag beside her bed and the quiet dark embraced them into whispering conversation.
"I'm surprised, to say the least, that my mother allowed you to remain, let alone in the same room. But then again, I'm not."
Rose's voice was soft and smiling. She was on her side, on the edge of her bed, searchingly looking into the dullness of the room to try and find Dave's figure. The dimmest rays of moonlight shone through the curtain, and as her eyes tried to adjust to the dark, she made the faintest glint of his light hair out.
A clinking sound came from his area, along with a few low curses, before he asked, "Fuck -- Can you see me? I need you to take my glasses and put them on your dumb nightstand so I don't fiesta in my sleep and send them to sunglass cemetery. Sunglasses cemetery. I don't fucking know. Here."
A hand groping in the dark found hers, which she had outstretched, and all he did was place the glasses in her hand. He had grabbed her wrist, her hand, with one, and used the other to press his shades into her palm. And Rose had never felt such shivers through her chest, through the very core, in her life. For that one second, her breath caught and her heart trembled as if it had been caught in the act, before jumbling to restart and beat properly. And automatonically, she placed the glasses on her nightstand.
"I'll guard them with my life," she attested, though her voice held none of its usual subtle teasing. Curiousity was replacing her sudden, uncalled for reaction to his touch -- his glasses were off. Rose had never, not once, seen Dave with his glasses off.
A small, feminine voice in her head, somewhat dreamy, wondered what he looked like.
But reality, logic, washed over her like cold water, and Rose snapped back to cool composition. She laid down again, snuggled into her down pillows, down comforter, and took a deep, steadying breath. She could analyze her behavior later, when Strider was not here.
After all, he was talking again.
"If those glasses bust, that's it. You're going downtown, lock and fucking key. Your ass will be grass. Your rectum will become the envy of all stained glass mosaics in the fucking Smithsonian, they will write letters pleading for you to send signed photos of the ruined glory that is your asshole."
"Charming. Tell me, is that a common occurrence in female prisons? If so, my interest has been thoroughly piqued, and I would be grateful to know how you came across such precious intelligence regarding the subject."
"Oh I bet you fucking do. Listen, tramp, those ladies throw themselves at my feet. My Chucks stay clean with the saliva of a thousand criminal lesbian prostitutes."
"Only a thousand?"
"The other thousands died with pleasure upon entering my orgasm-inducing aura. It's the shades. I've got that fuckin' mystique going on; hater-blockers are for pussies."
"I see. Then I am incredibly lucky to not have fallen to Hades yet."
"You bet your sweet ass you are."
And the conversation paused. The halt was not smooth; it was a slow thump, and they both knew that the other knew that the other knew. For the first second, Rose assumed his last words were a typical phrase, but at his thick silence, she realized that his cool cat demeanor had shifted into "oh shit did i say that" and the darkness in the room was suddenly electrically charged.
The quiet lulled, doing nothing to ease her racing heart, the lump in her throat. Neither knew what to say. There was the unspoken that hung heavy, dripping like perspiration off of her skin, but it remained as such, and nothing was done.
Nothing happened at all. Rose lay in bed, and nursed her strange, new want to touch his hand again.
Dave cleared his throat, trying extremely hard not to give evidence to his discomfort, and changed the subject.
"I'm gonna be gone for a week, next week, basically. Dunno if I told you about it yet." He hadn't.
Rose's heart dropped sullenly, and her mouth twisted into a frown, knowing he could not see it, replying, "Wherefore?"
"Romeo and I are taking a hot fucking date to St. Lucia where we plan on filming dozens of medieval homoerotic fantasy pornos. No. Bro wants to go camping or some bullshit."
Rose Lalonde was thankful for many of her characteristics, and in this moment, most of all, her intuitive ability to sense when someone was lying to her. Perhaps it was that she was naturally probing, and it probably helped that she'd studied a great deal of body language and the psychology behind it -- but nevertheless, that little bell went off in her head that warned her of dishonesty.
But what reason would he have to lie? Why about this?
For a passing moment, Rose fancied wild thoughts of him running a secret drug ring or doing something possibly embarrassing, perhaps visiting relatives, or going to a tutoring camp? Band camp? She supposed the relative one held the most water out of all of the theories, as Dave was extremely private about his personal life (he rarely really spoke about Bro, moreso only the things he'd done, and solidly refused to ever let her come over to his house even though he'd boasted of his incredible sound system and yadda yadda yadda). Furthermore, from what little he had said about Bro, he didn't seem to be the camping type. Though she'd picked up that he was definitely strange, the idea of the Strider duo camping... She secretly pressed the corner of her smile into the pillow, her lips pursed to restrain the laugh.
Even so; she could not make out his expression in the darkness, and thus, had no physical confirmation if he was really lying or not. It irritated her.
So she played along.
"Being entirely honest with you, I did not pin you or Broseph as the camping type, though I sense your disdain on the subject."
Dave snorted, and it sounded like he rolled over, away from her. Disconnection from the interrogator. Strike one. The idea of him lying became more probable.
"Apparently he did Boy Scouts or some shit when he was a wee lad, and once a month he gets jonesy for the great outdoors, the Smokey the Bear semen pool that is nature. It is horseshit."
Lack of contractions, and a notable oddness to his tone of voice, though it was incredibly hard to detect. If Dave Strider was a liar, he was a very good one. Strike two. Rose pressed.
"Probably the fuckload behind your house. They're pretty nice."
She dug in her heels, and aimed for a strike three.
"Would it be all right if I joined you? This is up to your brother's discretion, naturally, and if you're willing to endure my presence for an entire week..."
The word was hard, snapped far too fast, said barely a moment after the breath of her last word left her. There was no hesitance, there was no give. It was all finality. Strike three.
Dave Strider was hiding something from her that he very, very much did not want her to know. And it only made her curiousity burn harder.
The conversation lulled afterwards, however, much to Rose's dismay. Her musing had led to a too long gap to think of anything substantial to say, and she could do nothing but be bothered by the newfound chemistry that was slowly but surely permeating the air, feeling palpable against her thighs, her mouth. The shallow light of her alarm clock told her of the minutes ticking by, and she fidgeted, tumbling around in her covers, unable to find comfort.
"You still awake?"
Her heart jumped; they had been silent for nearly half an hour. "Yes."
"Look I'm not trying to be some faggoty hero or anything, but there's wolves in your woods. So be careful when you're outside playing Shakespeare by the waterhole."
The statement was so entirely out of left field, it took her a moment to find a response.
"Oh, yes. All right? Why are you deciding to turn your body into lupine kibble, then?"
Silence. Then, "Bro knows what he's doing."
And that was that.
For a long time, they listened to the other breathe, turn over in their sleeping area, rustle with pillows and blankets. They stared at the ceiling, they stared at the sliver of split curtain that displayed the window. And when they both ended up on their sides, eyes finally just barely adjusted to the darkness that encompassed her room, their eyes met (though they weren't sure, but they were sure,) and they gazed at each other for a long time, unspoken energy and words and feelings swelling and simmering.
Dave sighed volumelessly. Rose bit her lip softly.
Facing each other, fighting the pull to find some excuse to touch the other's hands again, to let their skin brush and see what happened, they fell into sleep.
In her whole life, no week had passed so slowly.
She knit to excess, creating a soft sweater for Jaspers, trying her hand at amigurumi cephalopods, and making one thick, perfect red-and-white scarf. She exhausted her collection of symphonies and etudes, and was working on her discography of Satie when she could no longer endure the same paragraph of The Murder of Merlin. She dwelled on the internet, though no-one was online to talk to; Jade and John, two of her dearest friends, were both vacationing, and naturally, Dave had no internet access from the woods, she supposed. The internet surely but slowly dwindled in excitement after several days, and she finally could not take being cooped up inside.
Rose picked up The Murder of Merlin and The Optimism Bias, tucked them under one arm, before gently retrieving Jaspers and tucking him under the other. Rose trot downstairs in summer attire, blowing her hair out of her face -- she was due for a haircut -- only pausing to greet her mother, whom was lounging on the touch with a martini, watching The Young and the Restless.
"Where are you headed off to?" She sang sweetly from the sofa, nudging off her heels, which clattered to the floor. "A secret meeting with Davey Jones~?"
"While I would dearly love to impress you with romantic escapades and wild erotic journeys, I am headed to read by the river. The indoors are starting to feel claustrophobic. Please do not renovate my room with wider windows."
"Ooopsie, caught me. Have fun, dear, be safe. Oh my gawd, Victor's marrying Sharon?"
Jaspers meowed, and Rose gladly left to the front door.
To say that Rose Lalonde lived comfortably was something of an understatement. She actually had no idea how many acres her mother owned, nor if she had bought up any of the woods. The water system running through their several-storied house, which resided in upstate New York outside of town, was unquestionably worth a small fortune. She had no fear of trespassing as she crossed her spansive lawn to the river because of it; she had no need to venture off to find a quiet place to read.
Rose tried not to acknowledge the woods, and how they beckoned. Curiousity bit at her heels, her toes, her ankles, urging her to walk the starting-to-overgrow path into the forest, wondering if it would lead her to a campsite. If anything, she could find a beautiful place to sit and...
The wind picked up, making the branches creak, the bushes rustle. But wolves. Right.
Rose wandered to the riverside with Jaspers in tow. She sat in a long-smushed patch of soft, olivine grass, smoothed out her skirt, and laid back with her book as Jaspers made himself comfortable on her tummy.
Mom was back on the couch with another soap on the next day when Rose got sick of everything again (or was it really that), and headed down to be back outside once more. Sometimes she wondered if her mother, already starting on a handle of vodka, even worked.
"Goin' outsiiide again? Good girl... You need sum... sun... hehehe, but so do I, I am sooo lazy though... soo pale..."
"I'll make sure to purchase you a heat lamp and a light box. More reading to do." Rose paused, moving to leave, but stopped herself. Her feet suddenly held a question, and took her body hostage, disallowing it permission to go until it was asked. So she asked.
"In the woods, are there wolves?"
The most peculiar expression came over Mom's face. Even in her coming intoxication, a strange sobriety hung in her familiar, beautiful eyes, the posture of her draping, thin shoulders, the expensive fold of her clothes.
She smiled, just a little. "Scared of the big baaad wolf? I promise, they're big babies and wouldn't harm a hair on your super pretty little head... gawd, you are pretty, Rosie... uhhhm, what was I talking about? Yeah, just don't go in toooo far. Full moon comin' up, after all! He...hehe..."
Rose, thankful that her mother was a coherent person that took her very seriously and answered her query with total honesty, exited the room without so much as a nod. She was restraining a bitter expression, trying hard not to let the mocking words of her mother break her facade. ...But it didn't help that she had decided to tease her by mentioning her "attractiveness"; while Rose was above such petty jabs, nevertheless, she would admit that it always hurt a little to hear your mother imply you weren't pretty.
It hurt a lot, actually.
Rose picked up Jasper on the way out the door, and gently pressed her face into his fur. Cats couldn't compliment. But they couldn't insult, either. Regardless, he purred contentedly on the way to the riverside.
It was a beautiful, late afternoon, with a swollen sun basking her perfect, huge lawn in warm light, the sweeping breeze moving the grass in waves as she walked through it. Robins were passing overhead, singing with pleasure and without care, and as Rose pressed her body into her patch by the river, Jaspers curling up on her belly again, she lost herself in her book, feeling slightly better.
It was a ghoulish warm, sticky night when Rose woke up.
The swollen moon, full and exhibiting its grandeur amidst the fat, dreary clouds of summer, was whitewashing Rose's lawn. Her skin looked even paler than usual in the light. A meandering breeze ruffled her hair, and far off in the unknown trees, some owl let out its cathedral song, chiming like old bells through the area. The river remained unchanged in the time setting; it still babbled musically, familiarly, though its waters were a clear black instead of fae opaque.
It was a lurid evening, and as Rose rubbed the sleep of her unintentional nap from her eyes, retrieving her novel from her side, she realized with great fear that something was missing.
Something like panic burst in her chest, but Rose was a calm person, and she took off towards her looming home with composure. She keyed in the code to the front door (her mother had that installed after years of forgetting to lock it), and urgently entered, turning on lights as she went. The dent in the couch and empty bottle of Grey Goose signified that her mother had at some point wandered off to bed.
Rose Lalonde clicked and tsked with her tongue against the roof of her mouth, calling searchingly between sounds, "Jasper? Jasper?" But there was no flat, sweet meow in reply. She started on the bottom floor, checking his usual places -- the dining room chair, his food bowls, his litter box -- he was not discovered. So she went upstairs. Every room was checked thoroughly, and she even retrieved fish from the fridge to try and summon him.
Rose looked everywhere. And her horror grew. Even with no-one to see her expression, she remained collected, placid on the outside, only a faint knit to her brow, a downward tick of her lips that betrayed her anxiety. In a home that was so vast and so empty, with only an alcoholic fool of a mother to keep her company, Jaspers was privately her dearest kitty, her sweetest friend. It would be difficult for her to ever say it out loud, but the powerful fear and melancholy in her chest that her precious cat was missing in the woods revealed the truth about her affection. Dave may have been a closer friend of hers now -- dare she admit -- someone she cared for in that sense of the word (unthinkable), but he was gone, and now Jaspers, too.
More than anything right now, Rose did not want Jaspers to be lost in those woods.
Her fears slowly became realized. The fish grew warm, every room was searched twice and thrice over, and the house remained silent. Jaspers was not inside. Of course he wasn't -- how would he have gotten back inside? The door was locked, and her mother was shit-faced again. Rose bitterly pocketed the fish and cursed the night, cursed herself, prayed to god and stars and her ability that somehow -- she pocketed the flashlight from the kitchen as well -- somehow, she'd find her kitty again.
Opening the front door and stepping into the night air, it seemed so much louder outside than inside, she noticed immediately. There was silence, but it was a jittery silence -- cicadas, crickets, the river, the trees, all harmonizing naturally as they had, timelessly. She instantly missed the safe, familiar humming of the electronics, air conditioning, inside her house.
The serenade lasted all the way to the treeline. It was there that her nerves won, for a moment, and she removed her flashlight, clicking it on to examine the darkness. Her breathing felt shallow, her palms and forehead damp, her clothes sticky.
"Jaspers?" She called hopefully, but there was no reply.
To be quite honest, Rose had really never ventured into these woods at all. She'd had no reason to. The outdoors were simply not her thing, and the woods had never beckoned her attention. She regretted not searching them earlier, now; the familiarity would have been of some comfort. Instead, she walked slowly, stiffly, heartrate a shooting star that made her being trembling. If only this were a video game -- if only she had weapons, companions, some sort of reachable objective...
No, no, no. There was none of that. Rose had but only a flashlight, and a desire to find her cat. There was little confidence, and no plan; only poor, wistful, little Rose Lalonde.
As she walked, deeper and deeper, calling and calling, she began wondering how deep was deep. How long had she been walking? Her mother had insinuated that there were no wolves to be afraid of, but--
Then she heard it.
Long, mournful, needing, the long note from a warm windpipe miles or inches away, it swallowed the air around her and shot currents through her skin and bone. It was a howl. Rose stood perfectly still, her normally well-oiled gears hesitating, unsure, rusting over like a bike in a junkyard. Jaspers. She needed to find Jaspers. But she couldn't find Jaspers if she was dead, now could she? And Dave, oh my god, Dave was somewhere in these woods, with only his brother, she didn't know if they had a gun or if they would be safe oh my god what if she never saw Dave again what if Jaspers was already dead anything could have hurt him, he was too sweet, he didn't bite or scratch or hurt, oh my god.
Rose quietly clamped a hand over her mouth, sunk to the dirt and pine needle ground, and shut her eyes.
The black from the inside of her eyelids was comforting. In these woods, it was this darkness she knew, and it had kept her company well, protected her from the world. The amount of time she sat there was immeasurable, but unimportant, because when Rose opened her eyes to the sound of movement in the brush, she screamed.
Crouching for so long, her ankles weren't ready for her springing movement and she toppled backwards into the moss and mulch, scrambling in the dirt to get up. She didn't care where she went, as long as it was away from the wolf the colour of old snow with eyes like blood-pulp. She blocked out and yet acutely measured the sounds of its powerful, measured footsteps bounding behind her, following her, stalking her through the woods, and with her heart screaming painful symphony in her chest, the creature won with no effort. In a second flat, immense paws hit her back like bricks, sending her crashing to the ground again, chin and cheek painfully scraping against a tree root as the claws sunk into her back. Massive horror filled her chest. This was it. She whimpered and felt the tears coming to her eyes, no longer willful to hold onto her porcelain facade; she wanted to go home and crawl into bed with her mom, more than anything, more than anything at all, and smell her hair and press her face into the bosom of her dress. But her mother was not here to wipe off her skirt and stroke her hair; she was passed out drunk in bed. And Rose would never see her again.
Rose focused on the dirt under her right cheek, though. Even in death, even drowning in agonizing fear, she would attempt to soothe herself; the wolf's weight on her back was too much, even though she struggled to heave it off of her, and she counted numbers in her head, thought of what homework would be due when classes started again, as the beast leaned down and began chewing into her hip, snarling muffledly. It was trying to tear through her skirt with all of its might, and after several insanely long seconds, ripped it open.
The wolf stepped off of her to lay on the ground beside her, and voraciously bit through a plastic bag, before gobbling up some warm salmon.
But Rose laid there, still as death, waiting, eyes wide, staring with terror at the sideways bushes and dark air and dirt. She dared not turn to see why the wolf had removed itself from her body, but after long seconds of hearing chewing that was not being done on her flesh, her chin dragged through the dirt, and she caught the eye of the creature that was now happily pulling apart bits of plastic. Rose began to sniffle as tears unwillingly came to her eyes, and she shook uncontrollably, realizing very slowly that she had stupidly brought the fish with her to find Jaspers.
What was she supposed to do now? Running was out of the question, right? Or had the predator captured its true prey, and wanted nothing to do with her? Should she lay there, and wait for it to leave?
Very, very, very slowly, gingerly, ignoring the throbbing punctures and dull lacerations in her back, Rose moved her thin arms underneath her to gently prop herself up. The wolf's eyes snapped to her, and she froze for a moment, but as it continued teething at the material and not moving toward her, she continued. It let her sit up.
With even more caution, with dim hope, Rose even then proceeded to move at a snail's pace, and rise up slowly and stand. The pair each observed each other unreadingly; Rose had no clue of the animal's thoughts and intentions, only noted that it seemed content to watch her as it ate, and she had no idea that wolves could be so massive. Speaking of its appearance, Rose could not deny that it was a creature of terrible beauty; its dirty cream coat was like thick clumps of feathers, and its limbs were incredibly graceful. Its eyes were so burning, so sanguine, it felt like looking into the dying sun. There was something almost familiar about it, though from what nightmare, she wasn't sure.
Standing, shaking silently, Rose decided to take one step back, and the wolf entirely lost interest in its toy and rose royally from the earth, standing nearly level with her collarbone. Its jowls parted to bare its horrifying teeth at her, lips curling back faintly, forcing her into submission. Rose went wide-eyed and responded with an involuntary yelp and covered her gaping mouth, sinking to her knees on the ground again.
But the wolf did not attack. She waited, trembled, searched the trees for any sign of help or hope or death or sleep, but there was nothing. No; instead, against all death-defying odds, the unexpected happened.
With aching slowness, the nearly-white canine took four steps toward her and from its throat came a low noise as it nudged her bare thigh with its cold nose. Rose instinctively sprang up, protectively stepping away, wrapping her arms around herself, wishing at the wolf that it was not just playing with its food. Simply, it nudged her again. And again, she retreated away from its looming jaws.
Patiently, the creature walked behind Rose, quiet and regal, herding her through the looming evergreens and pines and immortal oaks in this way, prodding her with its snout to make her walk. Rose realized after some time that it was directing her, though she could not fathom why, and only held her arms securely around herself. She managed to level her breathing, calm her heart to a point that was not inducing palpitations and hyperventilation, and attempted to shut down the panicked majority of her psyche in favour of logical thinking.
Wolves. She tried to throttle her mental database for information, anything at all. They were pack animals. Carnivores. They would herd, and then go for the throat of their prey. At this moment, Rose was obviously a weak, scrawy creature in comparison to the beast, and it was intelligent enough to know that it could snap her neck without a second thought. It had no reason to walk her back to its pack, right? It seemed to have only wanted the fish in her pocket, not her.
So why was it guiding her? And where?
Rose didn't have to question the animal's motives much longer, as she was suddenly standing in full moonlight, looking at the field that spread leisurely before her massive house.
It had walked her out of the woods.
Was it a fluke? Was the canine so intelligent that it had expected to follow Rose into her home to devour both her and her mother as well, knowing it needed her to unlock the door?
A cold nose pressed itself into the palm of her right hand and licked softly, leaving warm, sticky drool on her fingers, and the strangest sense of deja vu with it. She turned as the canine withdrew, only to watch it lithely slip away into the bush. The stillness that followed betrayed nothing; as if nothing had been there at all to begin with.
Rose Lalonde stood there, staring into the shadows, for a long, long time.
Chapter 3: Nausea
PLAYLIST: always summer.
okay, so being totally honest, i posted this story on impulse. like, i wrote it in a moment of passion and then was mortified i wrote or even posted this and was so torn and like "god i need to just delete this" but let me tell you. you kids who read it??? you matter to me. i love writing this story, even if i have such mixed feelings about it (it's an atypical style for me that i'm writing it in), but i got such caring and kind and excited feedback that i don't want to let anybody down, and i don't want to let me down, and i certainly don't want to let the glorious concept of dave/rose down. so here we are: fresh off the press, here is chapter three!
thank you, everyone. i mean it. this wouldn't be here without you ;__;
There had never been a more comforting sound than the gentle spin of a ceiling fan; the soft hum of an energy-efficient air conditioner running, keeping the air comfortable; the soft drip and gush of flowing water; the electronic sing-song of her computer's whirrings. Rose lay, leisurely as a daisy, on her familiar, lovely bed, wearing a clean, loose shirt, cozy cotton underwear. She sagely observed the cracks in her ceiling, the turn of her fan, and distractedly thought about the wounds on her back that were swelling and stinging from the alcohol she had dabbed onto them. Her jaw felt sore from their previous impact with the ground, and the myriad of slight cuts burned a little, as well.
It had been a day since she left her room. Thankfully, her mother was quite respectful of her space, and did not bother her.
Being in shock was bizarre, but an interesting learning experience. Initially, when she had made it home, she curled up on the floor of the bathroom and choked up, simply to get the feeling out of her chest. She then peeled off the tatters of her skirt, her soiled shirt, her undergarments, and climbed slowly into the shower, where she let the water run on her for an hour as she cried more. The time was taken to clean herself thoroughly, to attempt to cleanse herself of the experience that had just happened to her, before she dressed her major injuries and crawled into bed.
She slept for fourteen long, dreamless hours, never moving, never waking. There were no pressing, cold-sweating nightmares; no strange dreams. It was a draught of exhaustion, only broken by the sound of a soft, dull, meowing.
Rose woke, instantly alert, and rushed to her door. The force she used to open it frightened Jaspers momentarily, but he was all too happy to have her scoop him up in her warm arms, holding him perhaps a tad too tightly as she released more, feeble tears into his silky black coat. Jaspers just purred. She never questioned how he made it back inside.
The rest of the week was spent mostly in this manner. She did eventually leave the room when she got hungry, and tried hard to avoid the maudlin dialogues that would ensue with her mother. There would be an hour where she would stare out the window into the captivating labyrinth of trees, and then an hour where the thought made her stomach turn hard in the wrong direction. She finished The Murder of Merlin and The Optimism Bias, and started on Is Your Child Bipolar? and Spellbound.
It was only after browsing Readit for an hour that she realized her taskbar was flashing with the phrase turntechGodhead and tha-thump tha-thump tha-thump her blood shot to her head and pounded in her ears as she clicked the tab with urgency and happiness.
TG: fcking look if you dont answer me i will purchase the entire series of mlp for you right now and then you can piss your panties when your mom starts buying merch for you left and right
TG: are you fapping because
TT: Hello, Strider.
TG: oh shit look who was caught in the fucking act hahaha
TT: As much as I'm sure you'd like to imagine me having a personal moment with my anatomy, I'm sorry to say I was only browsing the internet.
TG: so what do you flick the bean to eh
TT: That's repulsive. Shall I refer to your masturbation habits as choking the chicken henceforth?
TG: you tell me anna freud
TG: does choking on cock sound absolutely biznasty to you?? fuck bro has so many cameras here im sure we could make this worth so many fucking pedophiles whiles
TG: pedophiles whiles
TG: fuck what is grammar
TT: The whiles of the charming guiles of biznasty pedophiles, perhaps.
TT: Thank you.
TT: Anyway, how was your brotherly camping adventure?
TG: cowshit chickenshit basically im running a fucking manure farm at this point it was so bad
TG: i honestly dont even want to talk about it
TT: Oh? My apologies. You're not obligated to reply if I am overstepping my bounds by asking, but did something happen?
TG: kind of
TG: its just
TG: it was bad
TT: Between you and Bro?
TG: no like well
TG: fuck yeah i guess a little bit but that wasnt the main thing
TG: i mean he was involved sort of but
TT: Are you all right now?
TG: i guess
TG: look can we not talk about this?
TT: Sorry. Dave, really, if you need anything, I am available and here for you. I know this sounds odd, but it seems like the thing to do: Would you like to come over and play video games?
TG: hahaha goddamn
TG: thanks i guess thatd be cool later
TG: so how many afghans did you get knitted and what inordinate amount of wizard porn got realphabatized
TT: I've managed to clothe the state of Rhode Island successfully as well as start up a website dedicated to magickal erotica from every walk of life. The hit counter is already in the triple digits.
TG: oh man everyone better sit the fuck down weve got a badass here
TT: The week was boring, to say the least. With one glaring exception. Don't worry, I won't bore you with details.
TG: oh man no i bet its juicy
TG: write me some care words about what happened
TT: You wouldn't believe me if I told you.
TG: oh dont get all fucking prissy on me stop dangling the goddamn wang sized carrot in front of my face and spill
TT: Unintentionally, I fell asleep outside while I was reading by the river with Jaspers, and woke up hours later, with him nowhere to be found. I searched the house fruitlessly, before ignorantly deciding to search the woods for him myself.
TT: It was incredibly late, but I was frantic, and proceeded to try the woods. I don't know how long I was in there for, or how deep. But I remember hearing the howl. Your irony has reached a new level, Strider, truly; I took a break for a moment to reorient myself, and next thing I know, there was a huge white wolf before me.
TT: It was like something out of a nightmare.
TG: are you fucking serious
TT: I attempting getting up to abscond, but it pounced onto my back and dropped me instantly. I thought I was going to die. I was incredibly sure of it, more-so, as it had even begun gnawing at my side.
TG: what the fuck what the fuck what the fuck
TG: rose are you fucking kidding me
TG: please tell me this is some sick fucking joke
TT: Dave, calm down, I'm perfectly fine, as you can see, spare some scratches. It only ended up scrounging for the fish in my pocket, which I had ignorantly brought with me. But what happened afterward was... unprecedented. I'm still not even sure if I dreamt, or hallucinated the ordeal.
TT: It escorted me home.
TT: It's a bizarre way to state it, but accurate.
TT: The creature, which was massive, prodded me with its snout repeatedly, nudging me in the direction it wanted us to go.
TT: I thought it was trying to play with its food or something to that extent, or worse, lead me to the rest of the pack.
TT: But after however much time passed, I was suddenly standing at the edge of the forest, looking at my house and lawn.
TG: theres no way youre telling the truth
TG: you expect me to believe some huge ass thing out of balto or some shit decided to chow down on filet mignon and become your spirit animal
TG: solid fucking attempt though champion
TG: you genuinely had me going for a minute
TT: This was to be expected. C'est la vie.
TG: look ill come over today in a bit
TG: but for real
TG: i hope your week was ok
TG: how was momma lalonde
TT: Fine. Inebriated.
TT: Thank you for your condolences.
It was a dull place to end the conversation. Rose was left staring at her screen for several minutes, wishing to see his initials pop up once more, but alas.
With Dave gone and now nothing to do, she became absorbed in the cyber world yet again. Her email going off signified the local news had sent, and she checked it, having no better thing to do anyway – the headlines were fairly typical. Deer hunting season had started, watch for hunters. There was an accident on the highway, someone had been driving very late and nearly hit an animal. Gas prices were becoming exorbitant. A study published on video games and their effect on adolescents.
This went on for some time, before Rose decided that she was going to go slightly stir crazy, and abandoned her perusing in favor of something else. She turned on the first Handel album she saw on the shelf and picked up her knitting, and dragging her feet across soft, pale carpet, crawled into bed and curled up. The click of the needles in perfect time with the music combined with the soft texture of yarn was familiar against her fingertips, her ears, and slowly, her eyes lulled and drooped until her eyelashes rested against her cheekbones, closed.
She was running. The wolf had found her again, and it was barking raucously; she kept throwing tiny pieces of salmon she remembered she had in her pocket at it, but it would only gobble them up and continue thrashing at the ground, after her. She was watching her feet fearfully, avidly, praying that she would find purchase with every step and not slip, and god, where was her house? She felt like it was this way, surely it was this way – Jaspers was safe and sound inside, wasn’t he? Of course he was. She couldn’t remember letting him out, so…
Teeth sunk into her left hock and she shrieked in pain, in dull, powerful pain, as the animal yanked back, pulling her at it. She hit the ground with a great smack, hurting her jaw, twisting her knee strangely, and the wild dog moved its huge jowls to her face, sniffing her cheek, planting a heavy paw on her heaving chest--
Rose sat up like a snapped clothespin and made a frightened sort of small scream, hands going to her mouth and chest to pacify her body. Adrenaline was making her drunk.
“Holy fuck, Rose?”
Her eyes, panic-stricken, moved to her side, where she suddenly realized that Dave Strider was gaping at her, glasses tilted up. Their eyes met, with the strangest feeling like this had happened before, and he urgently slid the glasses back down. Had his eyes really been so red? It seemed impossible. The Striders must have some kind of genes.
It was incredibly difficult to try to look like she hadn’t just been having some insane nightmare, like she had nearly just died, and in fact was casually happy that Dave was here. It was nearly impossible, actually.
She cleared her throat and began smoothing her slightly sweat-dampened hair back, dabbing at her forehead with a bedside handkerchief.
“Hello, Dave,” she said, levelly, not looking in his direction. “Good of you to come.”
“Rose. What the fuck happened to your face.” Quite to the point.
"Well, if you really strain those well-oiled gears, you'll remember that I had a sylvan adventure yester evening--"
"Rose." Dave's voice bit like a dog, uttered sharply. Rose's blood went very cold, unexpectedly, and her hands clenched at the sheets as she silenced and went still. She tried playing it off.
"Look, I only have very mild injuries, and--"
"Let me see your back."
"Pardon? Dave, that's absurd, why?"
"You said it jumped on you, right? Show me your back," he urged through grit teeth. For some reason, his concern was incredibly off-putting. There was more fury than worry in his tone, in his gesture, and Rose for the life of her could not comprehend what she was missing, and it began to irritate her.
"Why are you being so short with me?" She asked, perturbed.
The question seemed to bother him, and he subtly nursed his bottom lip as he ran his fingers through his hair. A long, quiet breath followed, and he shifted his weight, seemingly realizing how he was acting. Slowly, he composed himself, and explained, "I'm not being short with you, Remus. Crucify me for being really fucking freaked out that you were literally assaulted by a fucking wild wolf in the middle of your goddamn woods in the middle of the goddamn night? Like, Rose, what the fuck were you thinking?" His voice was steadily losing its cool, gaining volume. He swallowed visibly and couldn't seem to find a comfortable way to stand. "Risking your life for your dumb cat? Aren't you supposed to be the logician here? I even fucking said to you before I left, 'Hey Rose, there's wolves in your woods, don't do anything stupid' and holy f'ing lord if you did exactly the opposite of that? Are you in all actuality retarded?"
Her jaw hung slightly, totally dumbstruck. Heat and molten stone felt like it was piling up in her belly, and fire surged in her fingertips. Her mouth pressed into a hard line. He had picked the wrong partner to verbally spar with.
"Oh? Dear Dave, I think you must severely overvalue our friendship if you believe that my cat being AWOL was not a satisfactory reason to go searching for him. I admit, it was certainly not a safe thing, but unreasonable? You tell me the things you would do for the only creature that has ever genuinely cared for you or shown you affection. You crawl off of your tepid pedestal and live in a barren building filled with bullshit parental attempts and alcohol abuse and near-neglect. I am truly astounded at how fantastically ignorant and self-centered you are. So, perhaps I am not the one with mental deficiency here after all."
She was rising out of the bed now, eyes stinging, though she kept her fierce expression as she moved closer to him. His head was cocked strangely, eyes invisible past the atrament of his glasses, but his jaw was locked behind his flat mouth. He took a step back.
"That doesn't change shit. That was fucking dumb of you."
"It was for my cat. It was worth it. I'm fine."
"You think having a torn up face and gashes in your fucking back constitutes as fine? Is there some sort of fucked up repressed masochism going on here or are you literally just looking for attention?"
"Oh my god. I have no desire to continue speaking with you. Good-bye."
The line of tension between them snapped and Rose gracefully glided past him, discarding the unfinished scarf on the bed and then majestically tripping on Jaspers, who had walked in the room, unnoticed, to see what commotion was going on. Alas, a pained yowl breached the air and Rose gasped, before a hand roughly snatched her wrist, yanking her in the other direction hard. Her body jerked, and another hand caught her back in the worst place, causing a stifled yelp of hurt to escape her.
"Ouch, let go, let go – ouch – I'm fine! I'm fine...!"
Dave's hands quickly abandoned her, only to find her waist. He stood behind her, ever so close, eyes scanning the back of her neck.
"Please. Do you mind if I look, Lalonde."
The words hung heavy in the air, like violent spider webs. She felt tangled and vulnerable, and lost, and she feebly nodded, no longer having it in her to fight. She was trying hard to battle the trauma of the night, but the unexpected altercation left her completely drained and unwell.
"I don't care," she murmured.
Perhaps Dave did not feel good about continuing with such bland consent, but nevertheless, she felt the chill of his spindling hands wind up her shirt carefully, gingerly, to display the gruesome art on her back. She heard him stop breathing.
"Fuck," he whispered.
He stared for a long time, and gently touched one of the bandages, before dropping her shirt. Rose turned to see his expression, but he had dropped to the floor, looking defeated, forehead pressed to his arms.
"Dave, please," she said, the spiteful feelings suddenly draining at the sight of such a deficient Dave. She didn't even know what she wanted to say. Please? Please what? She didn't know. She leaned down anyway, uncomfortably, and hesitantly reached out before putting her thin hand on his.
"I don't understand your reaction," she confessed with reluctance, quietly. "If you could explain..."
His head shifted as he looked at her, and with melancholy, took her hand.
"I don't want to see you hurt," he spoke softly. It felt like he wanted to say more to Rose, but nothing came.
Her heart clenched in her chest regardless. Familiar electricity changed the bubble around them, and she inadvertently leaned in, embracing his hand firmly.
"I apologize for getting into this predicament. You know it wasn't my intention. Far from it," she said soothingly in an awkward attempt to break the ice again. "I'm taking good care of my wounds, I promise I'll be fine."
"I know," he mumbled into his arms. "I know. Sorry. Fuck."
The conversation subsided into silence. The turn of the fan filled the room with a comforting hum, the air conditioning came on, and Rose's computer inevitably went to stand-by. After licking his bruised leg for a while, Jaspers came back, and happily, though warily, came to sit on Rose's pillows.
Rose and Dave sat in the silence, one pair of hands connected, chins resting on arms and knees. She offered a smile; a truce. Dave tried to smile back anyway.
The quiet lasted for a long minute.
Rose just nodded and closed her eyes. Faintly, he felt her squeeze his hand.
Chapter 4: Oil and Water
god, i can't believe i'm still writing this! this is insane.
i feel like this one is a tad short compared to the others? but it serves its purpose, i hope -- don't know if it was horribly apparent, but the last line of the last chapter was bending towards Dave's POV, so................. ;)
Dave Strider didn't know how he was keeping calm. Probably because he really wasn't.
It was two in the morning, and he was in the too-pristine kitchen of Miss Lalonde's home, after a tumultuous day of blocking out the image of swollen pink-and-red bandages on a pale back, playing video games, and trying to not make eye contact with her. Right now, Rose was humming some old song by a composer that was long dead, and smearing blackberry jam onto several pieces of lightly-toasted bread. It was so... very... her.
"Shall we eat in the yard? It's sublimely cool out about this time, and you can see the stars."
Dave had to force himself to wait the correct amount of time, to keep his voice uninterested and steady, as he said, "Nah. Couch and television is fine."
Unfortunately, this was enough to distract him, and he let out a hissing oath as his index finger flew to his mouth for him to nurse on. He nearly threw the knife.
"Really? Did you cut yourself?" He rolled his eyes. God, why. "Let me see it."
Dave peered at the wound with a grimace as Rose gracefully slid over to his side, lightly taking his hand to peer at it. Her eyes hung low, head tilted, hair falling in her face like something out of a Vermeer portrait, and before he could stop himself, he was reaching out, gently touching her cheek as he pushed the strands from her face. In the wake of his fingers was a smear of scarlet, dappling over the raw skin of her injury, and he abruptly snapped out of it, pulling away.
Those glass-like, amaranth eyes bored holes through his shades. Unfazed.
"It's not too deep, unfortunately; you shan't be bleeding out and perishing in my kitchen. A bandage and some ointment will do."
Rose efficiently retrieved a small first-aid kit from god knows where in thirty seconds flat, also returning with her face clean of his blood. Dave muttered and insisted he didn't need no goddamn band aid, but whatever, and she just smiled that fucking awful, smarmy smile and rubbed Neosporin on his index finger before wrapping it up.
"There," she said, all pleased with her work. "Now just beware of hungry vampires, so on and so forth."
He snorted, replying, "Your mom's passed out in her room, I'll be fine."
Half an hour later, here he was, sitting on an expensive, white leather couch with the girl he would never admit he cared for. They had just finished munching on freshly-made sandwiches, organic ingredients, with glasses of milk. On the television, old reruns were on.
It was the perfect stomach-churning situation.
Rose, lacelike in the flimsy light of the tv, with her incomprehensible cerise eyes, was sitting on one end of the couch, wearing some old t-shirt and shorts with a soft blanket curled around her. She was cold. Wisps of hair curled against her cheek and neck, and splayed out messily against the back of the sofa, headband vaguely askew. Her eyes were slightly glazed over as she gazed at the television set.
She had never looked so beautiful. Never. Dave's throat was so dry, and while he felt like Vesuvius when he thought of those claw-marks on her back, he was starved for some fleeting possibility of kissing her, being consumed in her taste and scent and skin. Her skin! God, the soft porcelain, the color of buttermilk, now destroyed on her chin and spine; his fingers shook imperceptibly. He kept adjusting in his seat, though coolly, playing off how wily his heart was becoming under pressure. God, how he hated these days in the month where his emotions were boiling and volatile, shifting rapidly and incomprehensibly like water and oil.
But he could not do the things he wanted; could not quench his panging urges to kiss her kiss her kiss her. No, all he could do was instead jam his hands under his thighs and sigh like a cat, pretending that he was actually listening to the narration of the episode that dully buzzed through the room.
"If you're done feigning interest in this, would you mind passing me the remote?"
Rose's voice was not mad, only teasing, blissfully unaware of his plight; he cocked his head to meet her eyes. He could've written sonnets about how he loved his shades, and how they let him create a perfect cartography of her features without her having a single clue. Without anyone having a single clue. He could memorize her face, the clumps of her lashes, the smooth cotton of her skin, the sentient jewels that some seraph doll-maker put in for her eyes.
He felt sick with himself.
He nimbly passed her the remote, and she bundled up more under the covers after she changed the channel.
"If you're done trying to cryogenically freeze yourself, d'you want my blanket?"
Rose turned, and her eyes looked wary. She seemed to be over going some unknown implications of his words, slowly chewing on her thoughts, before saying with impossible calmness, "Just share with me. Then I won't feel so guilty for taking away yours?"
Cupid pulled out a fucking Gatling gun on Dave Strider's meager heart, battering it to bits. He knew very well her house was probably stocked with blankets if she'd cared to look. But she didn't. He was now seemingly inebriated with emotion, and kept on the sleekest, stoic expression to prove it.
It was only after having so much practise in studying her stained glass irises and their inflections that he could read them like a book. Mostly. With great pleasure, he realized that she was actually quite meek about saying what she had said, and worried that her offer would be declined, but god, Rose Lalonde was offering up her pale, luxurious legs in a parting of the blanket, and he swallowed when he saw her supple, pink-with-heat thighs swelling out from her cosy striped shorts, and to anyone sane, it would have been a complete spectacle to see him crawl under those layers with her. He carefully crab-stepped down the length of the couch, before grabbing the corner of sheets that were in her hands. Their fingers brushed, and blood pulsed like a hurricane from his heart to his ears to his throat to his pelvis, though this was not surprising to him, this had happened every time they'd touched so far. Gently, meticulously, he crept under the blanket, bundling his own on top of it, before taking the time to tuck it in snugly around her.
His mouth was watering and yet his throat was dry as old apples.
She contently went back to snuggling up against the couch, letting out the smallest sigh of relief at having a heat source. Dave fought down the bizarre, lusted and cruel creature within him. He was dizzy, somehow euphoric and repulsed at the same time; the show on was doing nothing to distract him from her, who seemed so much more snuggled and happy. Happy really did something for her expression -- Rose was a placid, sophisticated creature, both serious and wry, and seeing her smile, seeing her look so... relaxed...
Her small fingers bundled up the blankets between them, her head shifted infinitesimally toward him, she glanced at him, smiled, glanced back. The air conditioner turned on. He bit the inside of his cheek. The show went to commercial.
Rose was not just beautiful, and she was not just clever, and soft, and she was not just the only thing he could ever imaging giving his arms and legs for just to make sure she would never be sad or endangered ever again. No, an incredibly distant, pinprick voice in his head was snapping its teeth and singing hymns about how luscious her skin looked, how appetizing she smelled with her incredibly womanly fragrance... Dave searched for the words. Girls just had this smell, you know? Like flowers and sharp pine needles. But Rose, Rose smelled like a finely aged library and perfume, some unearthly combination of tasty wild Veronicas and plum blossoms and pollen all on the sweetest, hottest summer's day. Dave could pick up Rose's scent from a mile away, it was so aromatic and distinct to him. It was equally perfection and terrible curse, though -- with each passing second he grew intoxicated off of it, was a second he spent dying to taste her in the ways that made him hate his very flesh.
Dave knew there was no point in cursing at the moon, however, so he just wallowed in the sensation of being stuck in the cloud of her scent and his skin pressed tight and unsure to hers unintentionally as they shifted to get more comfortable.
At some point, he would have to question his selfishness in the situation. His fingers crawled against the quilt-material and all its shades of sienna and mellow tangerine, the vintage patterns hand-sewn by some old Lalonde babushka. He generally kept his hands in his pockets because they couldn't sit still, but he was in his boxers, so this would have to do.
Nevertheless, he inhaled long and slow, and rewarded himself a private, self-deprecating smile. A subtle shift of the eye let him know that the young lady beside him was dropping off to the welcoming void of sleep, full of warm milk and a jam sandwich. Unexpectedly, she tipped, and nestled into his side, his shoulder -- small hands grasped at his shirt thinking it was the blanket, and he bit his lip hard.
He had never hated himself so much, this was the truth. This was a disgusting ruse he was playing; she was a magnificent creature hanging on a single, thin string of his web, desperately trying to keep her and yet keep her alive. It was unfair to her, to trap her like this for his own pleasure, but it had happened before he realized what he was doing.
He didn't plan this. At least, not at first. On the way home, that first day they spoke, she was just the stuffy broad who made straight As and was too good for everyone else. But within minutes, after tempering the virulence of her smell, she had cracked unexpectedly witty and intelligent comebacks at him, sparring with grace and ease.
But when she slept so peacefully like this, he thinks he had it all wrong. It doesn't change the danger of the game he's playing, though, and the thousand ways it undoubtedly will unravel. Truthfully, Dave Strider was not allowed to fall in love. He was not allowed to tangle himself with the likes of alluring girls that would make him sick to his stomach with affectionate tendencies and the cruel desire to write sick beats about her stare the fucking dandelion cream of her hair it was so wrong how she walked home like she didn't know he was there, he was tumbling faster than an old western disaster making him some puppy-dog slave pining after their master and--
His arm felt cold, so he nuzzled it between the heated leather and her old t-shirt's back, sliding it around her. She winced, and he did too when she did, but she just softened closer to him.
He would've liked to say that he was a normal teenage boy with a big fat crush on the grandest gal in the state.
He would've liked to say that his phone was not buzzing like a wasp swarm with texts from another who was only going to talk sense into him.
He would've liked to say that he didn't check that phone, he wasn't in love, and that a minute later, he was shaking his teeth were gritted so hard, and a pearly crack was gleaming through that phone as he quietly slid out her front door.
Truly, he would've liked to.
Rose would certainly worry when she woke and he was not there, so he left her something vague and shitty through text saying that Bro called, there was some family emergency, blah blah blah. He rejected images of her, all tucked in on the couch and the way he had to claw at his own skin to walk away from her, to stop stroking her hair with his ever-so-slightly trembling hands, to not kiss her. God, how he tried to not think of this. But so goes the saying about the pink elephants, and it wasn't until his clothes were safely strapped up against his back leg that he was ricocheting through the woods, snarling at the fucking god forsaken moon.
He went home.
Back on a pale leather couch, a girl trembles with cold, and the faintest nightmare of a claw against her back.
Chapter 5: Infection
PLAYLIST: always summer.
"...i am cold, too cool to call you
far too stoned to leave my bed
i'll write this song to win your kiss
"Davy Jones hasn't been here in a while, dear. Did something happen?"
Summer was halfway through. Rose had returned to old hobbies -- she made two trips to the library, bringing back fat tomes from the fantasy and mental health sections each round. They were studiously and steadily read through by the riverside, Jaspers in tow; laying silently in bed; on the roof. She knitted Jaspers a sweater, just because. He liked it very much. Her mother started writing a book, and she said to Rose one day, seeming almost sorrowful, "You know what Hemingway said! Write drunk, edit sober. Would you like to do some editing for me every now and then? You're so damn astute, kiddo, it would really be a big help for Momma."
"Thank you, but no."
Mom gave a big, watery smile before ruffling her hair
affecti mockingly, and scuttled away to her room, sounding weepy and grabbing her glass of wine on the way there. Rose swallowed and took out her headband for a moment to smooth her hair and readjust it.
Then it happened again. A rattling pain in her stomach, her chest, coming on suddenly and wracking through her whole body like lightning. She immediately doubled over, hands clawing at the kitchen counter for support, and clutched at her abdomen as white rattled over her vision. The pain doubled, tripled in intensity, bile rose in her throat, she held it down, and it reached a final moment of bristling in her skin, before abruptly fading away. Nothing but a creamy ache was left, right where it began.
She stood there, shimmering with trauma for several minutes, trying to recompose herself. Of course she was frightened; she was scared silly, in fact, but her natural complacentness allowed her to remain eerily stoic-faced, even with no-one around. This had been the sixth time this had happened to her, Rose realized dully, and slowly accepted that the absurd wolf in the woods had transmitted some infection to her.
"Fantastic," she murmured to nobody at all. It didn't seem apparent that she would get anything, as she had been taking devout care of cleaning her wounds frequently and intensively, changing the bandages often, letting it air out, putting on more gauze. She even studied wounds that appeared infected, and was always checking her symptoms. The lacerations had been healing very nicely, in fact, and caused her little pain, spare when she overextended herself.
This would be phenomenal to tell her mother. This would be fucking glorious.
She sighed like some vagrant autumn breeze, retrieved her copy of Garden of Endless Eden, Jaspers, and went outside. She would tell her mother, yes. Just not now.
Jaspers was purring happily the entire walk to the riverside. The sun was beating down at a fresh 90-something degrees, but she was wearing some flimsy cotton shirt with a bizarre, magenta cephalopod on it (a gift from her mother) and skirt, so the heat was slightly more bearable. Jaspers, regrettably, but understandably, did not don his sweater.
A few weeks ago, she would have had something akin to an anxiety attack coming back out to the river, bringing Jaspers outside, or even looking at the thick forest for too long. But she was no psychology prodigy for nothing, and tempered herself. There were still chills, still the creeping feeling of a heavy paw and ripping talons to her back, still the austere visions of tall, statue like trees muddling past her as she ran.
But it would be fine. After all, Dave hadn't spoken to her in weeks, and with no-one prodding at her back and nursing her back to health, she had little to remind her of the ordeal (spare the probable infection...)
Now that Rose was settled in her favourite spot, the grass flattened and desaturated from her frequent attendance, with book in hand and Jaspers rightly taking up his nap spot on her belly, she read, and the hours passed slowly. The sound of cicadas, emanating through the heat waves, mixed orchestrally with the robins and the finches who jostled the little branches, but were yet muted somewhat by the slow breeze. She ran her palm idly against the grass, catching that a couple light freckles were appearing on her skin.
Well, regular sunscreen use counted for something after all.
Jaspers perked up suddenly around mid-late afternoon, and Rose turned to face the direction he was interested in; a moment later, the front door of her house opened, and there was her mother in some swishy, sleeveless blouse and modest shorts, waving at her and yelling something about her coming inside.
Reluctantly (she had just hit a point of contention in the novel between the necromancer and his love interest, a younger wizard lad), she heaved Jaspers off, brushed off her posterior, and ambled with little enthusiasm back to the house.
Mom was smiling kindly when she reached the door. Making sure not to touch Rose, she guided her inside, and said, "Sorry I'm making you come in when you're all immersed in your books. Buuut, I know you know we really need to make a grocery stop, sooo... Would you mind tagging along with ol' momma?"
Rose silently placed her books away on the counter and dropped off Jaspers on the back of the couch.
Mom beamed. It took her several minutes to figure out where was the last place she'd left her purse, keys, and wallet, but after managing to find them in the refrigerator, couch, and corner respectively, they were buckling into the sparkly-clean Mercedes and bumping away down their dirt road.
The radio station was initially set to NPR, but Rose changed it to the mix station she knew her mother liked. The subtle battle of channels lasted two minutes, before Mom was distracted by traffic (it was rush hour), and Rose won.
"See you're wearin' the shirt I gotcha," Mom commented while slamming earnestly on the car horn at a homeless man crossing the street. Rose didn't blink.
"Yes. It's nice in the heat, considering the fabric is so thin."
"It's from this fancy new line they're selling at Justice for Girls! Kinda bizarre, actually, they were calling it the Horrorterror line. I thought it was a misprint or some shit, but the things were all obnoxious and purply-pink, sooo I just guessed it was this weirdo coincidence?"
Mom shopped at Justice for Rose. Her brain literally swelled a centimetre with pent up fury and disbelief and respect that anyone could be so soul-crushingly ironic in the name of upsetting their child, but then again, this was Mom we were talking about.
"I'll go pick you up summore since you like them, then."
Rose smiled like a wax mannequin, eyes squinting far too much and nodding emphatically, just to prove her point. She made the mistake of making eye contact.
Making eye contact with Roxy Lalonde was something equivalent to making eye contact with planet fucking Jupiter or something on its best day. You were immediately hit with a blow that felt like a hammer to the chest, purely because her eyes were so luminous and awfully beautiful. It was either genetics or a chemistry accident or both, but her eyes were clear as a pool of water filled with amethyst that had never seen the likes of humanity. Her eyes were royal jewel galaxies.
And then, if you looked long enough, past the radiant flecks and layers, you would see how she felt. Because Mom was an alcoholic who didn't want to have a kid, but she did anyway, and Rose knew it all too well.
Every look she gave Rose, somewhere underneath it all, was this sort of unmet expectation. Like she was constantly searching, waiting for a reaction out of Rose that she wasn't getting. She contemplated this somewhat often, even though it made her feel like her lungs were being filled with silver nitrate, and lingered on the idea that she wanted to see Rose cry, break down in front of her, give in.
Rose would never give in. Not to her.
There were other things, too, usually. Disappointment. Confusion. Immense effort and desire for something or another (probably to succeed). Rose wondered what made her mother so hellbent on winning. Some psychological lacking in a relationship with her own mother? She didn't know anything about her grandparents, nor any of her family, actually -- they had a very sparse tree. Perhaps Mom just grew up very alone, without any competition or love, and she despised Rose for suddenly being that. Rose was not a chemistry set, but a human being, and Mom decided that she would just be a lab experiment and nothing more. That way, she could drink and live as she pleased. Oh, but she would buy her lavish gifts, of course; this would keep Rosie content. Placated. She could not complain that her mother didn't love her when she was running a thousand dollar computer in her state-of-the-art room, with built-in curtains and blinds that adjusted at the click of a remote, with a glorious surround sound system artfully tucked into crown-moulding corners.
Rose spent the rest of the car ride staring out the window, as she usually did. But for a split second, she saw a flash of red and white t-shirt, and blonde, and suddenly her well-crafted fortress of "Do Not Think About Dave Strider" was hit with a missile and it took everything in her to stay blank-faced as Mom belted out the chorus of Total Eclipse of the Heart, turning up the stereo and weaving in and out of the wrong lane.
"I can never remember what yoghurt you like and all that other shit, so that's why I brought you with me, by the way!" Mom yelled over the music. Rose didn't even like yoghurt. She wondered if Dave did. She pretended not to hear.
"Did'ya hear me, Rose? Oh fuck, fuck, fuck!"
Rose's temple hit the seatbelt guide on the side and left an ugly bruised feeling, as Mom managed to tear away from a semi that she nearly clipped, NOTHING I CAN DO, TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE HEART, and then they were gracefully pulling into Wal-Mart. Surprisingly, Mom was actually a fantastic parker.
More surprisingly, she had also never been in an accident. Probably because of the DUI driving courses she had to take.
They walked in, and Mom gently took her hand as she pushed the shopping cart. Many heads turned as they walked by; Rose really didn't blame them. She didn't want to say that her mother was a bombshell, because that was extremely uncomfortable, but she was unquestionably gorgeous. Some sort of divine jaw and cheekbones, perfectly swept and primmed, blonde hair, those enchanting eyes, that Anne Hathaway smile. Add in the perfectly complimenting manicure and designer clothes, and you had the MILF of every reasonable man's dreams.
If Rose was being perfectly honest, she would admit that there was a sadness to looking in the mirror and seeing her not-nearly-as-perfect reflection. She certainly wasn't unattractive, by any means -- clear, porcelain skin, creamy blonde hair, a somewhat darker version of her mother's eyes, and a petite figure. Her mother had classic, old movie star beauty, she guessed. And Rose was just not as feminine. But whatever. It didn't matter. She wondered if Dave would agree. No she didn't.
Mom bought tampons, made a bad joke, and Rose faked a laugh. They went down the hair product aisle, retrieved some hairspray, and popped a pack of headbands into the cart as well. High-quality cat food, organic shampoo and conditioner, moving onto food, Rose skillfully bypassed the yoghurt and went for a block of muenster cheese and cottage cheese, feta cheese, then salad ingredients and whole wheat bread...
"Jeez, Rose, why don'tcha eat junk food like a normal kid?" Mom paused, and her smile floated away as realization hit her eyes. "Hold it. Sweetheart, are you..." She leaned down to Rose's level, head tilted with interest, concern, brows twitched up sadly. Her hands rested on Rose's small shoulders, and Rose all at once kind of wanted to run away from the proximity.
"Do you have some sort of eating disorder? Do you think it's not totally okay to eat unhealthy food sometimes or something? It's okay if you do, Rosie, you can just tell me..."
"Mother. I do not have an eating disorder of any sort. You may monitor me if you wish, but I assure you, I merely have higher standards for what I put into my body."
Mom's expression faltered, and then she forced a smile, before patting Rose on the head and returning to the cart. Perhaps that had been a bit much on Rose's part. Perhaps she should have held her tongue.
They were wandering down the snacks aisle for crackers. Rose went for the Club, whole wheat, while Mom gathered cheese dip and cookies and Cheetohs and--
"How much is left on the budget?"
"Not much. Get a sack of Doritos, we can do that."
The four people in the aisle froze. Eyes locked, though only hypothetically due to the presence of sunglasses. It all happened very quickly. There was Dave Strider, with his hands buried in his pockets, wearing tight jeans with holes in the knees and a red t-shirt with Daft Punk scrawled across the front in white. His eyes were lost beyond the glasses, but Rose saw him nearly trip on fucking nothing when he saw her, and how his head bucked up like he had just been uppercut by a ghost. Next to him was a similar blond figure, wearing a polo and jeans that looked like they were a tad outdated, along with a well-used baseball cap. Their gaze was also lost behind a pair of shades. They shifted their jaw a tad, swallowed subtly, and their fingers dragged against the smooth handle of the shopping cart, sparsely filled.
Mom was the first one to speak.
"Little David! And Dirk? This is some sort of sick reunion if I've ever seen one, ha!"
Her words were awkward and disjointed, and she pushed the cart toward them anyway. Rose was torn between hiding behind her mother like a five year old seeing mall Santa for the first time and pretending that Dave wasn't even there (being completely honest, she thought this might be the route he'd take -- vice versa).
"Sup, Miss Lalonde."
"Roxy. Been a while."
Dave was leaning on one leg, Converse scuffing at the ground as his hands went deeper in his pockets. He licked his dry, cracked lips, looked over to the shelves on the sides where crackers lay in all shapes in sizes, looked at the mix of fluorescents and skylights, looked at his rotting shoelaces, looked everywhere but at Rose.
She smiled. Genuinely. She was glad he was uncomfortable. Glad he didn't have the balls to look her in the fucking eye. She thought about walking over and socking him right in that pretty jaw, but--
"Rosie! Have you met Dirk yet?"
--Rose realized she was glaring pointedly at the younger Strider with her fist clenched, but quickly cooled, showing a doll smile to the elder Strider.
She held out her hand politely, glowing; "A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Strider. I've only known you as Bro, it's nice to put a face to the name."
Bro raised one eyebrow above his glasses, shook her hand, and said pointedly, "Cut the shit. You're worse than your mother."
Rose's jaw hung. From her left, she heard Dave's snigger.
"I... excuse me?"
"Dirk! Don't do this to her, you're so terrible."
Dirk sighed, and said, "Whatever, whatever. Sorry. I'm Dirk, this little shit's older brother, yadda yadda yadda."
"I didn't know you knew my mother."
Mom cut in, "I was a biochem and physics double major, he was in engineering, but he dropped out." As if this validated her life path more and his less.
"Yeah. Anyway. How have you been." Dirk wasn't having any of it.
Mom smiled, though it seemed faraway and strained, and said, "Quite well. Working on a publishing hopefully soon?"
"More void theory bullshit, I imagine?" He replied lazily.
"Why Dirk, you still know me well, even when you never answer my calls..."
"Busy. Speaking of which--"
"Oh noooo you don't. Rose, would you mind going off with Dave?"
"Thank you dear. I'll be catching up with Dirk, here, I'll find you when we're done..."
And just like that, clumsy, ditzy, goddess-like Roxy flitted off, forcefully tugging Dirk along with her, and Rose was left alone in a shopping aisle with one Dave Strider.
Neither of them said anything for a while. Rose cracked her knuckles idly, smoothing out her skirt, and after some time, stated, "Good afternoon. I trust you've been well?"
"Yeah," Dave replied, but he didn't sound very honest.
"Did you know my mother knew your brother?"
"No, but he did always act kind of weird when I said I was going to your place."
"Mm." Rose watched a married couple go by with an infant in the stroller, arguing over what baby food to purchase. "Well. It was nice seeing you."
That would be it. They would go their separate ways. Rose's careful resolve had dissolved in a minute, having to confront and speak to Dave after so long not even seeing his face, let alone hearing a peep from him. They would continue through the summer silently, and then return to never speaking or making eye contact at school. She would knit, read books, go on to become a glorious psychoanalyst; he would either be the starving artist stuck at McDonald's, or perhaps make it big.
Rose saw with great clarity, suddenly, that they would become Mom and Bro. Her heart doubled in on itself, she was momentarily crippled. But it didn't matter. It was fated, it seemed; whatever.
She watched him out of the corner of her eye, silent, observing, thoughtful; he was still something of a complete fucking weirdo, more or less. He perpetually wore that same pair of aviators straight out of a shitty cop drama, along with typical skinny jeans, some witty and flattering t-shirt, his hay-coloured hair forever perfectly slicked and ruffled back. Rose Lalonde had once had next to no interest in this boy, as she had heard more than enough times of his oozing sarcasm, arrogance, and general disrespect for people, not to mention poor taste in music and women. Oh, there were plenty of tales of him stringing girls along. She'd heard of the potential "Destroy Dave Strider" coalition of exes with passing amusement. And now, she thought dully, she had become one of them.
In the end, she had better things to do with her time. So she would push the oddity of him walking into her life out of her mind the moment he left.
"No, no, no. Rose. Wait. Please. Let's hang out and talk and shit. Please."
She turned to look at his expression, and for a moment, her heart stopped as he reached up to his glasses. He removed them; brought them to his shirt, polished them carefully, glancing up at her for a moment, before pressing them back to his eyes.
There was an offer on the table, one that Rose was unsure of.
Rose Lalonde underestimated her curiousity.
"Look at this one, oh my god."
"Jesus, fuckin'... hahahaha... No, Rose, here, you'll like this."
Beside Dave and Rose were a small heap of the worst and most hilarious greeting cards. Rose was wearing makeup -- they had gone down the cosmetics section, and Dave convinced her to let him pick out what she put on. With a light mauve to her lips and ashy black along her eyes, pale blush on her cheekbones, she honestly didn't look so bad at all.
"Is there a World's Best Bro card anywhere we can give him? We'll have my mother sign it, naturally..."
"He would fucking hound on me til the end of time."
"Oh? I'm sure he'd put it up on the fridge with your drawings..."
"Fuck you, Lalonde, you've got drawings up, too."
"Yes, well, the fact that I drew wizards on my mother's lab reports was hardly a compliment as opposed to a jab on her part."
"Whatever you say, ma'am. Let's hit up the music section so I can culture you--"
A trickle of saliva peeped from the corner of Rose's lips. Dave was suddenly overwhelmed with a scent, and Rose buckled, shuddering, almost splitting her own lip to mute the screams that were about to fill the supermarket. She had gone white as a sheet in ten seconds flat, her pupils shrunken with livid agony, and between her wracking seizures, managed a quiet murmur.
"D-dave. Hospital. Don't tell Mom. Tetanus or rabies, I th... think."
Before the burning white consumed her, the last thing she saw were the hay coloured freckles on Dave's face as he leaned over her. She felt the callouses of his fingertips scrawling across her cheek, pushing at her hair; heard the faraway timbre of his voice coaxing her, begging her to be okay.
But you're here, Rose thought blearily as her eyes slipped away into blackness, of course I'm okay.
Chapter 6: Façade
PLAYLIST: always summer.
this took way too long to write. i got halfway through and QUIT and wrote other fics but then this fic has been tugging at my strings, so i came back and merciful lord i hope all of you are as excited as i am to continue this.
Roxy Lalonde was very upset.
Her good looks had gotten her somewhere in the situation, though, and instead of being escorted off of the premises, the doctors were instead slightly floored and slack-jawed, and managed to calm her down. When Dirk arrived, he took over, hushing her awkwardly, cool-on-the-outside, into the waiting room, with bloodless Dave floating behind him like a silent phantom. The white waiting room that housed them was too cold, smelled too much of cleaning supplies and stark whiteness and the cheap perfume and cigarettes of the nurses, and Dirk could do nothing but placate Roxy, who was shaking and sobbing inconsolably, letting loose incomprehensible howls of Rose's name and swears as to how she was the worst mother to ever have lived.
Dirk dully replied, "You can tell her in person, don't worry," which really didn't help at all, but she did making a heaving noise against his polo as he held her, and he turned to Dave instead. Dave, amidst his hollow stupor, even noted that his brother was kind of incredible at not losing his shit when things got extreme.
"Little man," he said, monotone, yet capturing his attention fully. "Shit is going down that somebody didn't tell me something about. I will skin you and hang the flesh on the satellite dish on the roof if I find out from the wrong people. Your ass will be grass. Clear?"
Dave's head gave a down-jerk that meant to be a nod that meant to be "yeah", and he stared at an 80s watercolour of a still life (vase filled with roses) to keep the vomit in his esophagus and not the tiles.
"Does this have anything to do with you?"
He felt his hand involuntarily twitch hard like a maniac going for his gun, but he had no gun, he had torn jeans and some Goodwill shirt and the girl he was unspeakably insane over in a hospital tomb down the hall from him, but he replied, smooth as marble, "Dunno." Like it was true. Like he didn't know. Rose could be sick with anything, not necessarily rabies or tetanus that she hypothetically could have contracted from him during his fucking fabulous full moon rendezvous--
Have you ever heard your name spoken like it was Christ coming to talk about every single shitty sin you've ever never been caught doing? Because that is exactly what it sounded like to Dave, and he instantly ran a hand through his hair, but bit the inside of his cheek, and looked away, and muttered back through grit teeth, "I don't know."
That had been his last chance. The whole scene was ridiculous at this point. A young man from the casual hip scene, perhaps his 30s, embracing a jaw-droppingly beautiful woman who was in hysterics in his lap, a teenage boy looking like the typical high school heart-throb, completely sketching out in the chair beside them.
Eventually, Roxy calmed down into a vegetative heap on Dirk's lap, who idly kept a large hand on her back like a human security blanket, silent as the dead, and Dave leaned back in his chair with his ear buds in, letting rumbling music absorb as much of his attention as possible.
The doctors did not come in for many, many hours.
Rose slept in nothingness for a long time. But then, she dreamt of sylvan.
There were swirls of cold, night air mingling with the heat of her skin, and the trees of some immortal forest singing blackened crowsong medleys, the ghosting eyelashes of a faraway moon, round and bulbous like a pale and fat fig, sleeping in the hollow of the sky. At once, she felt an extreme disconnection from herself, even the word "her" feeling wrong, because she was not girl, or human, she was this. She was the pines and the mulch and fertile dirt beneath her, the sharp, heady scent of wintry night air, a big, moving presence among them. She was so not herself, so far away from being Rose, and instead of feeling like she was missing something, she felt like this was where she should have been all along.
She smelled blood, and her muscles rocketed with power and saliva surged in her mouth. She bulleted for it, effortless and almighty, a glorious god of the forest she was inside of. The amount of time that passed was so insignificant, and she halted naturally before the creature she was going to consume, ready to easily snap it between her jowls, and it was not a creature, but a small, black little thing, in a sweater, and he looked happy to see her, and Rose sat up in her bed and emptied her stomach with the word 'Jaspers'.
"ROSE!" The shrill and panic of the voice sent Rose's tremors into overdrive, and she looked around like a shaking reed, freezing and drenched in sweat. She saw her walls, saw her bay window wood wood green pine run air blood dirt biting earth, she covered her mouth with her hands and her vision sucked in her mother to her right, scrambling and looking like she hadn't slept in a year but beautiful as ever, looking for towels, and then she breathed in and smelled something more than just male, smelled, she smelled Dave. Her heart obliterated and faded and she felt more stomach acid pile against her back teeth and couldn't stop from coughing and sputtering it all over her sheets.
She blinked, and the clock would change a minute or two, and slowly the feral creature in her bones subsided, leaving her feeling as if her insides had been gutted and she was nothing but skin, bone, and grime. Her breathing regulated, and her heart slowed, and her mind quietly helped her walk out of bed and get in the shower. Her mouth let her say, "I'm fine, I can do it" to her mother, and her small hands took their time and rinsed her. Things blanked between moments, but it was okay. Rose only took a second to make eye contact with the twin in the mirror pane, stare vapidly, and then trudge back to her room like a dying moth.
She was greeted by the arms of her mother, and amidst her haze of nothing, she felt the most sweet and mighty feeling of warmth, and happiness, and with the softest sigh, she thoughtlessly melted into the hug. Her mind barely grasped the passage of time, but completely memorized the stroking of her mom's fingers in her tangly, damp hair, and her mouth pressing wet kisses to her forehead and temple, and how the pressure of the embrace made her shoulders smush.
And how she felt happy.
"Oh, my god, Rosie, my baby, I love you so much, I love you so damn much, you don't know how sc-scared I was...!" The words floated into her scalp and Rose felt her lips tug up at the corners. Her heart felt so full. So light.
Being coddled ended far too quickly, and Mom pulled herself away, wiping at her makeup-less face and sniffling to say, "I'm gonna throw your sheets in the washer, you just sit tight right there and don't do anything. I'll be right back. Dave, watch her. I'll be in the laundry room. Yell if you need anything. I'll be right back."
The name 'Dave' caused Rose to flinch internally, and her dreamy haze of maternal love took a nosedive as Mom left the room with her soiled bedding in arms. She looked up, and clarity began seeping back into her vision, her thought processes. Across her room, by the window, arms crossed like he was freezing, was her very own knight in shining tinfoil, and if she didn't know any better, she'd say he looked kind of horrified. Like he'd just seen a ghost. Of the teacher he masturbated to in middle school.
"Hi," she said sleepily, body trying to process feeling pleased and nettled at the same time. She was slowly remembering things. Dave crossed the room in a blink, and when she smelled it -- him -- a metaphysical load of titanium crushed her chest.
Totally sane again, Rose crumpled gracefully to the floor, and took a steadying breath. Dave was beside her in an instant. He still had the same, blank-yet-mollified expression. Maybe she was the only one who could read a blank expression so well. Maybe it was because it was Dave.
"How're you." The mumble was dry, like his throat was parched and starved for water, and Rose cracked a smile.
"Shitty. I am so... shitty. I feel like the last leaf to abandon the sycamore for winter. I feel dreadful. Empty." A defeated hand to the head, to cover her defeated eyes, her defeatist smile. "I don't know what's wrong with me. I don't remember much, only the petty bits and pieces. Odd things." Talking so much was absorbing her energy rapidly, so she quieted after this, even though she had so much to say.
"You look like someone dug up Marilyn's corpse, no shit," Dave's voice cracked at the end, and Rose was beginning to comprehend how completely shaken he was. The dread that followed, that shot down her spine like an epidural, was unsurprising.
"Tell me what happened." Her hand slowly moved to her cheek, and she hunched up in a lackadaisy heap, elbow on pale thigh. What was she even wearing? She couldn't remember getting dressed for a moment, but glanced, and saw some old t-shirt and pajama shorts. And it reminded her -- the last time she saw Dave (how long ago had it been?) he was wearing a... Daft Punk shirt... and...
She squinted, and then asked with unintentional accusation, "You're wearing different clothes."
Dave snorted, the first sign of the tenseness leaving his body, and he replied, "Your sense of time is obviously not as impeccable as mine. I'll let you slide this time, but only because I've never seen anyone shit from their mouth like that in my life." Her laugh was faint and dry, but still genuine, hiding the embarrassment that he'd just seen her throw up like that. "It's been two days since..." His voice trailed awkwardly, like he didn't know what to say, but he tacked on, "Since you decided you wanted to play Munchausen's princess with the surgeon overlords of Rainbow Falls."
Two days. Okay. Rose bit her lip, and sucked, and chewed. An old habit she had thought she dropped.
"But now I'm home," she countered. "So what became of it?"
Dave shifted posture, so he was sitting cross-legged, his elbows resting on his knees, his hands palming the lower portion of his face. He looked at her for a long time, pensive and mulling, and for the first time Rose felt that little wall of lies and furtivity crumble around the edges and lose its foundation.
This had been no ordinary hospital visit.
Dave slowly lowered his hands, and dropped them to his lap, and drug his fingers against her carpet. And he said, "Really, I can't say I ever wanna see you hurl again. But you vomit like a star, Lalonde."
Rose rolled her eyes and said nothing, because he wasn't going to wiggle out of it. He understood.
"Yeah. So." His fingers drummed some trillion beat per second ditty on her floor to match his heart rate. "You're really sick."
"God bless you, Dave Strider."
"Fuck off. What's the last thing you remember, I guess that's somewhere to start."
Rose paused, and her gaze turned distant, and she clearly remembered the blistering sureness and rawness of the woods and running, but she knew that was a dream, so she skipped, and she remembered obnoxiously bright, sterile lights, and wondered why Dave was so adverse to talking about this but was far too curious to care, and the last clear film strip of memories was a pile of greeting cards and fluttering in her chest and Dave's crooked grin and the timbre of his laugh. So, Wal-Mart.
She spoke fluidly to counteract the swell of emotion that the memories brought, and replied, "We were in a pile of Hallmark at Wal-Mart, and you were laughing over one of my undoubtedly hilarious jests. I can vaguely recall the hospital room in brief moments. That's all." The mention of the nemorous dreamstate could come later, after she'd analyzed and journaled every aspect of them.
"You were out for like, a day, I guess," Dave mumbled after a few seconds. If he were being truthful, he'd tell her it was exactly twenty-seven hours and forty-three minute and twelve seconds, but not that he was counting. "And they ran probably every fucking blood test in the book, because we all know Cullen was just lurking in the back, waiting for a taste of that good ol' Lalonde aged sanguine champagne."
"What was I out from?" Rose quipped, impatient. She remembered her original theories, and the state of her wound, and...
Dave swallowed, carefully, and looked away, attempting non-chalantness as he said a tad too quickly, "They said your white blood cell count was above average or some shit and that there was no other sign of infection that read and your vitals were all stellar and you should be really healthy, and they want you to see a therapist."
She processed the words like she was sifting through molasses. And then she felt her expression sinking into a glare.
"Pardon? A therapist? And how was this conclusion reached?"
Dave felt like he was watching Hiroshima happen, the joyous nuke sailing through the sky, feeling like a bird, realizing as it pelted toward the earth that it was actually a WMD and was going to obliterate like a bajillion slanty-eyed families. And wreck the city. And cause mass havoc.
"They think you're self-harming or making it up." He tried to say it quickly. Rose's catty stare turned from baffled to feral.
"You're kidding me." Her jaw was clenched.
Dave drew his hands away from the carpet and pocketed them for safety before replying, "You're right. This is a huge ruse meant to gaslight you into the next century with the outer gods. Rose, for real, they found nothing."
Rose couldn't react. Her lips parted mutely, and she stared at Dave with complete disbelief. She waited for the "Wow, you fell for that shit??", or "Jesus Christ your face right now hahaha", but none came. Dave was the awkward Mercury, tapping his heels against the floor and itching to never be the bearer of bad news again.
Still emotionally clumsy from her mini-coma, Rose felt outrage pouring into her veins, but knew better not to shoot the messenger. Instead, she remained dumbfounded, and asked the unanswerable: "But how?"
He tched in response. Figured he'd throw her a bone; give her the little bit he could.
"The only guess I have," he tried to get the words out, but there was an unmistakable panic in his throat. It was strange to talk about it. He never talked about it. Dave tried to play off that he was thinking really hard and not trying to stop himself from having an anxiety attack. "Um, the only guess I have, is that maybe when you were in the woods, the cut got infected by some sort of thing that maybe you're allergic to but other people aren't. So, it's not like tests would pick it up. And we all know that doctors are just lawyers with hot assistants and drugs, so they wouldn't even take the fucking time to really make sure you were okay. Not that I blame them for sending you to a therapist, my spawn of Elvira."
Maybe he'd hoped that the jab at the end would lighten her up a bit, but there was no relaxation of her posture, nothing. Rose's dollish little body curled up like a shriveled flower, her petal hands cupping her face, her thorn knees pressed to her forehead.
"This is impossible," she whispered, because she knew, knew deep within her that there was something extremely wrong, something that she couldn't put her finger on. Her mind moved rapidly, oiling every gear, firing up every steam-powered piston in an effort to piece together what she had. She wasn't a medical professional by any means, but thought maybe, just maybe, she could think of something she'd missed...
Palms still covering her pale cheeks, she looked up to Dave, as if he could affirm her, and spoke, "The wolf. It could've been carrying any manner of disease apart from rabies or tetanus or what-have-you. God, I have to tell them, it could be like a lake amoeba or something else--"
At that moment, Dave Strider was thinking about the dog in his body, and how she was speaking about him so fearfully and with resentment, how he did this to her. His palms sweat, shook. His breathing came in muted, harsh gasps that he played off as humming, and wondered if he had to kill her, had to give in and make her prey and everything worse, and deep inside of the sable pit of his body was an exultance that made it all that much worse. And Rose almost, she could have, leaned over to press her hand to his face to ask if he was okay, because he looked like he was in a waking coma suddenly, and he could've bent over and snapped her thin, weakened neck and consumed her merrily, but none of this happened.
From Dave's back pocket, there was a quiet rumbling, accompanied by electronic music, Rose only recognized that was it Gorillaz, and Dave fumbled more than necessary to fish his phone out and answer the call.
He curled his knuckles up against his mouth, nursing them; Rose felt an uncomfortable twist in her stomach that told her to replace them with her lips and she swallowed it down.
"I know. I'm fine. ...Yeah, cool. No. Nah. ...Do you really. She is. ...I am not being recalcitrant, get off my ass. ...K. Later."
His whole body language and posture and shorthand form of speech screamed I'm-talking-to-Bro, and Rose drawled, "I wish you felicity in the future."
Dave shrugged. Said, "Asked if you were cool, said to tell you he hopes you feel better soon. He's gonna pick me up tomorrow."
There was that sinking feeling that made her a tad mortified, but it was quickly shoved away and offered the most saccharine smile she could. "Does he, now? My my. The gentleman genes must have missed you, it seems."
From the expression on Dave's face, a twisted combination of spite and ill-humour, Rose Lalonde learned that joking about Bro wasn't in Dave's repertoire, and the flimsy knife's edge of the situation dissipated into meek silence, calming breath, quiet allure. They readjusted and leaned back against the low frame and mattress of Rose's bed, looking off in different directions -- Dave picked idly at the alabaster carpet fibers, and Rose gazed forlornly at the moon and star chart on the wall.
The conversation might've resurrected, but Mom came back with fresh linen and a tired, anxious expression, and together, she and Dave made the bed, leaving Rose to stare out the window at the trees instead.
Somewhere in her heart, the forest stared back.
Dave breathed in, plumping up a pillow, and a scent hit him that almost made his knees buckle. For the second time in the hour, his phone went off, and this time he dropped it before managing to answer.
Rose blinked out of her stupor, and turned. Dave spoke incredibly quickly and his voice slurred like iced alcohol; she barely comprehended what had happened when he suddenly hung up, his mannerisms boiling over and electric like he'd just run a marathon in a dream.
Mom didn't seem to notice. She only smiled, and all sing-song, went, "Dirk giving you hell? If he's ever too nasty to you, Davy, I can always take care of him."
"No," said Dave too quickly. He touched his hair, absently, and then added, "Sorry, but I'm gonna have to relinquish your hospitality. He's picking me up in a few minutes."
Rose felt a deep umber rise in her chest, and frowned. Everything was happening too quickly. Not willing to let him slip away without trying for answers, she asked politely, "You told me you were leaving tomorrow. What is so important that he would suddenly have you abandon your bedridden friend?"
"Dumb shit. I--"
"Dave! Language, please."
"Sorry ma'am. It's stupid, I'll tell you later, get on Pesterchum, okay? Sorry."
Rose moved to stand up, but felt immeasurably dizzy, and in a flashstep Dave was before her, blocking Mom's view of him smoothing down her hair in an uncharacteristic display of affection, his eyes staring fathomlessly into hers. His voice, appled and soft, was a whisper quiet enough only for her to hear: "You'll be okay, Lalonde. Tough it out for me."
Rose blinked, and he was sweeping out the door like James Dean in an old flicker.
Then he was gone.
"Geez, he sure was in a hurry. What'd you slip in his drink, Rosie?"
Rose looked at the door for a long time, almost able to feel him scampering down her stairs, sliding on the banister, slipping out the front door lithely and silently as a ghost.
"...I don't know."
Chapter 7: Ignition
PLAYLIST: always summer.
JESUS CHRIST THERE ARE SO MANY REFERENCES IN THIS IT IS KIND OF UNBELIEVABLE if you catch a bunch of them i will write in any reasonable headcanon of your choice
it is almost seven in the morning and i'm sorry that this chapter is short but i hope it's still all right ):
have a safe trip. (only a few chapters left + ONLY FOUR COMMENTS UNTIL I'M AT 69 PLZ DO THIS FOR ME PLZ)
TG: now im not trying to be rude
TG: but hey pretty girl im iming you
TG: the way you do the things you do
TG: remind me of my fireball rhymes and swanky tunes
TG: thats why im all up in your grill
TG: trying to get you to fucking message me the fuck back
TG: you must be a tight ass flighty broad
TG: the way you got me rapping ignition praying to thanatos that you will message me
TG: the fuck back
TG: so gimme that toot toot
TT: Let me give you that "beep beep".
TG: hopy shit
TT: Running your hands through my hair, etc.
TT: Good evening, Dave. Your methods for garnering my attention are as glamorous and romantic as ever.
TT: Though this will not end with a charming golden shower on camera and a court case, s2s (sorry to say).
TG: oh sweet thing if thats what you think youve got another thing coming
TG: and its gonna be pee
TT: All that I do is not enough for you?
TG: youre outdoing yourself
TG: did i leave the e at your place are you finally letting loose and dropping serious acid like atomic bombs
TG: damn rose i knew the addict lived in you
TG: apple doesnt fall far from the tree
TG: and this isnt just some red delicious shit this is james and the giant peach shit
TG: lalonde and the gargantuan apple
TG: nah whats a big word youd use that means huge
TT: Brobdingnagian, perhaps?
TG: ooh felt that one straight to the core
TG: real talk though
TG: im sorry i had to just asscreed out of your house like that
TG: but uh
TG: god fuck this is hard to say
TG: i figured if i flash stepped out and seduced you with dreamy rhymes first this would be easier
TG: but i guess striders gotta have some sort of challenge in life to overcome
TG: since i am the best after all
TT: First and foremost, are you all right?
TG: who the fuck am i kidding i am not the best
TG: im cool
TT: I'll be frank: I've always been somewhat worried that Bro has been more harmful than realized.
TT: He isn't abusing you, is he?
TG: oh my god mooooommmm
TT: I'm being serious, you know...
TG: sorry woesie
TG: no fuck
TG: god im being a little prick
TG: im just sketching out because of stuff and things ok
TT: You're running circles around me. I am thoroughly winded, and enduring whiplash.
TT: Dave. What is going on? What is wrong?
TT: You asked me to get on Pesterchum in a manner that was not at all lighthearted or casual.
TT: Is my sense of urgency in the situation mistaken?
TT: If so...
TG: no no no
TG: ok im gonna just say it take it from the top
TG: here we go
TG: seatbelts everyone i am the crazy ginger milf with a mini dragon and we are going on a goddamn adventure to the fruity rumpus asshole factory of shit and glory
TT: Buckled safely into the school bus, awaiting commands.
TT: Oh dear, I forgot to pack a lunch. May we turn back?
TG: no turning back now ma petite choufleur
TG: doing this
TG: making this happen
TG: this is going to be the messiest explanation ever because i cant exactly tell you everything but i can clue you in on some stuff basically i might have some shit that could make you better because the same thing happened to me when i was younger and bro too and i dont know if i transferred it to you or what or how but the next time i see you ill bring you some meds
TG: because i am a drug dealer
TG: with me rosebud?
TG: oh fuck pls dont run off are you cool are oyu calm and ok
TT: Sorry. I'm here.
TT: Just trying to process all of that, I'm still a bit foggy.
TT: So, I have some sort of disease that you're fairly certain of, because both you and Bro had it. Instead of taking me to a medical professional and having me tested for it, you want to directly give me medication yourself. And you can't give me details.
TT: Is this an early, highly premeditated birthday present? A horror/mystery pseudo-reality puzzle for me to unravel with my impeccable logic and cleverness? Mr. Gryffindor, how you do bring out the Ravenclaw in me.
TT: Or is this a strange attempt to actually make me do drugs?
TG: yep you caught me
TG: #yolo gonna get #roselalonde #fuuuuuuckedup
TG: no rose im being serious as ive ever fucking been
TT: Yes, and that is what distresses me more than anything.
TG: i cant take you to the hospital because this shit doesnt show up on tests
TG: its really rare as far as i know
TG: not a known disease so its not comprehended or studiable ergo ie please see page 394 theyre putting you in therapy
TT: This is all extremely far-fetched. I don't know what to believe. It's so much more likely that this is some incredible prank, or that you're covering up for something.
TT: Above all, I feel like I'm missing something extremely obvious here.
TG: i swear on my fucking iphone
TG: i swear on my collection of dead shit in jars
TG: i swear on my shades
TG: i swear
TG: im being completely real with you
TG: please please please dont just write me off you are worth too fucking much
TG: god fucking dman it dont maek me say it
TT: Say what, Strider?
TG: abdsjfk;efjksdvc m
TG: hey you know what
TG: this is stupid
TG: talk to me tomorrow or text me or something and i guess just sleep on it or something
TG: i am really sorry
TG: for everything
TT: Dave wait
TT: Please don't go yet
TG: its cool im a huge douchebag
TG: bro wants to talk to me anyway
TG: get some sleep
TG: be good
TG: dont die
TG: finish the scarf you were making it looks good
TT: Dave! For god's sake.
-- turntechGodhead has ceased pestering tentacleTherapist --
Rose pushes back on her computer chair, rubbing her eyes fitfully, mussing her hair, groaning and kicking at her desk far too off-balance and irritated to make it count. She closes Pesterchum, the message unsent. She doesn't bother shutting the computer down. She can't bring herself to care that her shirt is hanging off of her shoulder and that her shorts are about to fall off of her hips, because she has dropped her frail and exhausted body into bed again, where she weakly hits the pillows with her fists, and growls and cusses and screams over Dave Strider.
A year ago, if you'd walked up to her and told her this would be happening, she would've perked a perfect brow and laughed lightly, dismissing the idea completely. But even Rose Lalonde is a fed-up, confused teenage girl who thinks too much of the boy she likes sometimes.
Dave Strider came into the world on a budget, has remained on one ever since.
Dirk Strider is good with numbers, will always be good with numbers, uses them to stay in control.
The first week he was blessed by the Strider stork, he bought Sam's Club baby food and formula and researched how to make kids live on next to nothing, staying up late shoveling ramen into his esophagus. With little effort, favors and loans and promises were made people, all in return for watching his new bouncing babbling little ball of trouble while he worked part time, while he filmed smuppet ass going bumper-to-bumper, while he spat fire and bottled it and made a buck or two off of iTunes and Bandcamp.
Dirk doesn't have photographs of himself very much back then, because for three years, if he hadn't been able to get his food elsewhere, he would have literally starved and died, and he looks like it. On the other hand, he has a solid collection of snapshots of Dave, Dave puking on himself, Dave rolling in smuppets and drooling, Dave sleeping on his chest while Barney is on in the background. They're in an album in the closet with his footprints and other papers and trinkets and things that make him feel like maybe he was doing something right by this kid.
Dave gets older. Dirk meets people and makes better connections, and Atlas is able to readjust his weight, shrug it off a little, and in time, there is a comfortable system and feeling of security. The bills are getting paid, and Christmas is no longer Charlie-Brown-Goes-To-Hell plus a few humbled, mumbled apologies. The shelf is still full of baby books and fifty cent VHS tapes of Magic School Bus and Barney and Pulp Fiction and Disney Sing-A-Longs, of cracked toys and homemade toys, and there are drawings on the fridge. The advent of school means free breakfast, lunch, transportation, and a solid nine hours of daycare. Now Dirk goes to work, fixes leaks in the ceiling, carefully pinches pennies and counts and can buy his kid a birthday present.
There isn't a party because they can't afford it, and Dave doesn't even want to bring anyone there anyway. But it's his big one-oh, he's finally in the double digits, finally feeling like a big kid. He unwraps a brand fuckin' new sound system and Dirk's old mixer and it's probably the goddamn happiest day of his life.
"Bro," he says with quiet reverence behind black pane shades. "This is sick."
He nods, smiles halfway, feels a pang in his spine. A gloved hand ruffles his hair and he says, "I'm gonna have to head out soon, birthday boy scout. Gotta stock at Krogers for the night."
"I can work soon, okay?" Dave replies, smiling half-toothy because he's missing a canine and incisors. "Don't worry. It'll get better. And then I'll be able to get you something for your birthday, too. Okay big Bro?"
Dirk stares at the only thing he's ever truly cared about. He's little and blonde and a born charmer. His glasses are too big for him, and so is his heart. He understands why Dave is eager to give up the little comfort that Dirk has provided for him, because he taught him, didn't he? Taught him love was working your asscrack to the bone just to be able to buy some Chinese and a new subwoofer. At least Dave grew up knowing that music was the shit that mattered. That, and giving a damn.
"Little boss," he says, Bro right now, not Dirk, kneeling down on his level, skintight jeans pulling on his knees. "Today's your birthday. I don't care if every fucking kid in your grade spits on your lunch and tells you that we are underprivileged good-for-nothing Texas hicks with piss little but some sweet shades and speakers that could remake Vesuvius. Focus on school. You know that. Everybody else is shit, and a diploma and an education is gonna get you a hell of a lot farther than some shitty friends that won't last you past freshman year."
With all the solemness in the world, little Dave Strider nods, as if he gets it. Dirk thinks back later on, wondering if this was the day, these were the words that made him switch off, hide all the old VHS tapes in a cardboard box and start walking around everywhere with earbuds in and a bad attitude.
He walks into the kitchen to grab a bottle of orange juice, and even now, after so long, it's strange seeing a fridge that isn't bought secondhand and nice, clean countertops and real dishes (not paper plates and a menagerie of mismatched forks). The smuppet empire took off a solid two years ago now, and fuck yeah he knows that Dave is ashamed of it even if it got them the penthouse and the sweet stereo system and speak of the short devil.
Dave is leaning against the counter with his arms crossed low, relaxed and poised, and he gives a curt nod of greeting, and something is instantly off about all of this.
"All right you little shit, what's going on," Dirk drawls, not even pausing in his stride as he continues to the fridge. The orange juice bottle deseals with an easy crunch as the plastic severs, and it slides down, chilly and refreshing and sizzling.
"Uh, what?" Dave replies, his eyebrow perched. He leans off of the counter and starts walking away. Dirk grabs the collar of his shirt, making him dangle in the air effortlessly and he protests with some vitriol so he flicks him hard on the forehead.
"Dude. You're acting like a slimeball, you reek of suspicion. What's up."
"Fuckin' nothing is up! Shit, let go of me, c'mon."
Dave didn't talk because he was petulant and learned from the best. Dirk isn't in the mood; the full moon is coming up and it makes his blood boil and their tempers short, and the last thing he wants is two werewolves playing Fuck You I Am The Alpha Male in their apartment. Sure, they kind of retained some distant level of recognition and humanity and personality when they shifted, but that didn't mean they weren't about 91% flesh-devouring beast.
He drops Dave, who sticks the landing, and tchs, and glides off like a pissy phantom. Whatever man. Fuckin' whatever.
Hours later, Dirk is slinking down the hallway, hair messy and discoloration under his almost sagging eyes from the lack of sleep. There were bills to be paid, after all, and work could only be put off for so long (as well as ignoring Roxy's phone calls and an unnatural-yet-familiar burning in his body). But it was three in the morning, bed was calling.
He reaches a door with a "KEEP CALM AND DROP THE BASS" sign on it (only partially ironic), and rapped his calloused knuckles on the door.
"Ay," he calls into the wood. "I'm goin' to bed."
There's a fumbling and crashing sound, and for the second time today, he's caught Dave doing something he wasn't supposed to be caught doing. He didn't know this, of course, but that parental spidey-sense tingled, and he narrowed his eyes, debating only for a second if he should open the door--
It flung away from his face, and he looked down to the mini Strider who was cool as a cucumber.
"Oh. Hey. Yeah. G'night."
Dirk didn't reply, but instead peered into his room with the smallest tilt of his head. Nothing was particularly amiss, visibly; the jars of fetus meat blobs were still fermenting in the window, the blinds of said window were still half-dented and crooked, the purchased curtains were in the packaging on the floor next to the month-old pizza box that didn't look a bit out of place amidst the dirty clothes and socks and empty soda cans.
Burial pulsed dimly from his headphones on the massive desk, and he saw that every screen was minimized.
He watched Dave's shoulders stiffen infinitesimally, his meek adam's apple bob a centimeter. He figured he would remain silent; silence is a poison, a killer. Inaction could drive a teenage boy crazy. Make him feel like he needs to do something, and him doing anything led to giving Bro more ammunition, more evidence as to what was going down behind his back.
"So you're being real freaking creepy, and I'm gonna close the door now."
And he tried to close the door, but Bro's hand caught it, and he stated, "Naw. I let you slide this afternoon. You're doing shit that you don't want me to know about. Fess up, little man, you know you lie to me like a nun in front of our lord and savior."
Dave spit back, "Yeah, try harder, Belial. I'm doing internet stuff and listening to music. Will you get off my ass?" His words were heated and firm, but he saw his neck twitch toward his computer chair.
Bro's eyes followed that neck twitch in the direction, and when he saw what Dave had glanced at... He'd hate to admit it, but for a second, he flat lined and felt his posture grow leaden, and with a newly attained urge to leave, Dirk Strider cleared his throat and said, "Forget it. Night."
He shut the door, turned around, and stared at the wall. He tried to abandon the image of the tissue box, the lotion, the minimized screens, the desperation in which Dave did not want him there.
"I need to call Roxy tomorrow," he mumbled to himself, walking to his room.
Dave put his back to the door, sliding down slowly as he head his older brother walking away, exhaling a momentous breath of humiliation and nerves. Had he just done that? Yes, Dave thought grimly. Yes, I did just have to use my masturbation back-up plan for the first time.
Amidst cradling his burning red face in his hands, he was at least comforted with the knowledge that it had worked. But there were bigger fish to be fried. The county fair, deep-fried doughnut hamburger sort of fried.
Regaining the shattered pieces of his pride, he rose, and returned to his set up. He slid into his chair, worn with the shape of his legs and ass and shoulder blades, and began clicking tabs open. Aconite, lycanthropy, cures for lycanthropy, history of werewolfism, monk's hood uses, ancient usage of wolfsbane.
He'd read enough, though. He'd read so much that his eyelids were thick and papery, and his gaze was dry and yearning for the darkness of sleep.
Or the welcome feeling of the moonlight on his skin as he tore between bodies, moving from frail and human to something stronger, more lupine.
Rose woke up outside.
It was quick, instantaneous. It was a matter of breathing in the scent of pine and grass and glowering heat that smelled like ten o'clock. She didn't know why she knew what time it was, or why she had sleepwalked to the edge of the forest, or why the grass on her palms and the dirt against her heels felt painfully right. As she breathed in, her retinas straining as they adjusted to the morning sun that left her sprawling lawn half-shadowed, the dream she'd been having lingered at the edges of her consciousness, elusive and uncatchable. It left her with a strong sense of déjà vu, and loss.
She laid there for some time, trying to relax and reclaim the memories, before giving up and sitting. Even then, she didn't leave. She looked at her hands, her skin, feeling too small in her own body. Her stomach burned like she hadn't eaten in weeks, and her jaw felt sore.
Could Dave have been right? She wondered, her mind distant from the physical world and the predicament she was in; surely this was a symptom, this sense of depersonalization. But why was he so ambiguous? Why didn't her disease have a name, with an obscure book about it, with a witch doctor from Mongolia who knew how to fix her?
She shook her head, reality gripping her like a talon. Resolve overcame her, and with newfound bitterness, she rose, and returned to her home. She slid past her front door like a ghost, her mother long asleep, heading back to her room where she should've been. Her phone was on the nightstand; there was one text, from the devil himself, saying "night boo".
The butterflies stirred in her belly, but her frown remained, albeit more lost-feeling than angered now. Her thumbs twitched on the keys as she replied.
I've considered what you said last night. After waking up in my yard this morning, not of my own accord, I've made my decision.
We have a date, Strider. Come over whenever.
Was it too forward? Too late. She had hit send, and discarded the phone to her bed, unwilling to look at it. He probably wasn't up yet, so she didn't need to look at it. He wouldn't take it literally, of course.
Rose sat on the edge of her bed, staring placidly out of her window. There was still the faintest imprint in the grass need the wood's edge, if you squinted. Perhaps that was what she was -- only a small indentation in Dave's life, meant to pass with time. They'd only met some months ago, and she knew he was finicky, and he'd had that spurt of deciding not to talk to her for weeks. He'd gone through countless girls before her.
But she had never spoken to anyone like him in her life. Was it childish, youthful fantasies? He was so funny. He was so charming. He made her dizzy, and pleasant, and the first night that she laid in bed and imagined kissing him, she seized the thought and clung to it. The next night, she thought about staying with him, for the rest of her life. College, and working, and traveling, and staying up late talking. She had thoughts that she'd never had before -- thoughts like, nobody would be able to put up with her like he did, thoughts like, she'd never felt or feel this comfortable with another soul in her life.
Above all, past the devotion and passion and daydreams, she'd never heard the voice that said no. Doubt never crept in until logic tried opening its mouth. There was no forced quality to her thoughts, no awkwardness that she was in denial about. Rose was often honest to the extreme with herself, whether it was enjoyable or not.
And while she didn't want to realize these things, she did.
This was not a crush. This was not platonic friendship.
Dave was not just her best friend.
"This isn't happening." She complains to the air, and Rose buries her face in her hands.
But it is.
Chapter 8: Pine
PLAYLIST: always summer.
i'm going to stare at my screen in disbelief that i wrote this in one night and didn't sleep and now i have class in half an hour and words don't look real anymore
i'll come back to edit and look over it later
heed the werewolf tag for body horror
When Dave walked into the Lalonde household, greeting the missus ("Evenin', Miss Lalonde." "Davy Jones, it is always a pleasure! Rose is upstairs in her room.") and continuing up the winding stairs and past the looming statues of warlocks, his eyes nearly rolled out of his head when he heard The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly theme coming from the direction of Rose's room. He ignored the way her changed scent hit him like a bulldozer.
Sure enough, as he walked in, discarding his backpack next to the door, Rose rolled backwards on her computer chair, all batty eyelashes and pretentious smile.
"What have we here? A wayward vagabond? But the question is, are you Tuco, Angel Eyes, or Blondie?"
"Dysentery. You lose the Oregon Trail. They don't even bury you and proceed to bump along on to the great Salt Lake City."
And that was that.
Dave stood there, hands in his pockets, and Rose thoughtfully reached up to the hollow of her throat, covering it. Whatever hormones that surged through Dave at the moment were currently eating up his senses, making him acutely aware of every tiny movement and sound her body made and the way she smelled. That was probably the worst part. He had used many words to describe Rose's scent, and until a short time ago, "canine musk" was not one of them. The creature in the confines of his conscious was getting particularly fidgety over it, singing its praises, because now she did not just smell like old books and plum blossoms and summertime — she smelled like all of that and potential meal and potential... mate...
His gag reflex surged for a moment and he earnestly fought it down, attempting to shun the sickening fantasies from his mind.
But it was still silent. Rose looked contemplative, far-away. What happened to the old days of summer? The video games and the harmless laughter and the strange kitchen concoctions. Dave missed sleeping on her floor and talking about mythology. Dave missed finding her in the middle of realphabatizing her tomes and he missed the engaging banter and he missed walking home from school with her.
His gaze lowered to the ground, and he thought to say something, to stem the flow of awkward inaction and try and get back to that lighthearted world where they were best friends (no) and he had not just potentially destroyed the girl he cared about. And he wanted to say sorry for last night. He wanted to tell her that even though she smelled like her grass outside and heat and dew and sad things, she would never fail to paralyze him with her stare. He wanted to tell her things that made him feel stupid, and childish. He wanted to reassure her that everything would be okay.
So he didn't say anything at all.
"So," Rose finally began, putting on what she hoped was a casually disinterested face. "What's in the bag?"
Her words were surprisingly blunt and Dave snickered in spite of himself, rocking on his heels.
"The best shit you'll ever have," he drawled, leaning in forward and blowing a puff of air at her face. She grimaced (cutely) and blinked as she pat her bangs back down, and he added, smirking, "But for you? Ten percent off. I'm a generous cad."
"Cad indeed," she instantly agreed with a teasing glare. "But a poor damsel such as myself cannot afford such a meager discount, and it is paramount that I get my 'fix', as they say. What lurid sexual favours will you have me perform, hmm?"
Dave lapsed for a moment and thanked the universe for his shades before reciting the Constitution in his mind, a little known pagan ritual that redirects bloodflow towards the sun instead of descending to the second circle of Hell.
"While I would love to petition that offer and hold it against you—"
"Oh? Why don't you?"
Fuck fuck fuck—
"Can't." His voice was strained. He needed to get under control. A voice in his head howled deeply and he felt dizzy, and that was bad, but it was good because it reminded him that it was getting very late and flirting with Aphrodite was not what he came here to do. "Okay. We need to get going. I'm sorry."
Apparently Rose wasn't expecting his reaction, and it made him feel sore, but he had little choice in the matter. She tilted her head slightly, and he saw concern in her gaze.
"Going?" She repeated. "I thought you came with the medicine or antibiotics or whatever it is. Which I would like a further explanation of, come to mention."
"I... I do. Going is part of the medicine." God, how did he say this? Did he just tell her? Did he wait? If he told her she might totally flip the fuck out. Or she might think he was a fucking lunatic (bad pun goddamn) and send him away. Or just entirely not take him seriously, like how last night had gone. He counted his breaths to stay grounded, and shifted his weight back and forth, trying to keep himself busy. Distracted. "I have the medicine in my bag, and from my understanding, making you exhausted is really helpful because it'll make you too tired to get sick. I know that doesn't make sense exactly at all but I promise. And it should get your adrenaline and shit going, and uh, immune response stuff."
So he completely sounded like a shady-ass motherfucker, but he guessed maybe he looked so desperate that Rose trusted him, because even though she looked like she had a thousand questions, she just sort of nodded. Maybe she was so scared and sick that it was making her lose her common sense. God, Dave felt bad if that was it. He missed her counter arguments, and he couldn't even believe he was admitting that to himself. But there was also the idea that the Change was just altering her.
And he didn't want Rose to change. He liked her just how she was.
Loved her, even.
Dave stood there, basking in that thought for a long moment. The room had somehow filled with ocean water and hourglass sand, paused in time, both heavy and weightless. There was nothing but Rose, then.
Then the room drained, and time continued, leaving Dave Strider drenched with understanding and fear and determination. These were not ordinary sorts of understanding and fear and determination, though. You see, when you are in love, these feelings ascend; there is a deeper way of experiencing, a way where they become responses, and not choices.
And he loved her.
With that, Dave took Rose's hand and ignored the sparkling electricity and the claws that pawed in his chest that wanted to get at her, and he led her to her closet door.
"We're going into the woods. Put on comfortable clothes that you won't mind probably ruining, you won't need anything else."
But she didn't move, and Dave realized that she was staring at him with large, glassy, fearful eyes. Her expression was perfectly placid; a windowpane. But her eyes.
"Rosie!" He blurted, cool-kid dropping character for a moment as her gaze floored him. He placed his hands on her face, smoothing her cheeks and hair. "Hey. Don't worry. I'm trying to fix this. I'm sorry this is happening, Rose, I swear to god I will burn my iPhone in front of you for this because this is shitty and I honestly would rather have fucking died that have this happen. But I'm going to fix it."
"But the woods," she bleated, her voice having lost all volume. He knew what she was thinking. He remembered it in only blurred, burning flashes that made his chest and temples hurt — his paws sinking into the ground that pulsed as he bulleted past trees, the coarse moonlight on his fevered, buttermilk fur and the memory of her scent. More lacerating guilt filled the pit of his stomach.
"I know, Rose," he crooned, swallowing and rubbing her head. "I know. But I'm gonna be with you. No... wolves. Okay?"
She seemed to be trying to grasp at his words and take them to heart. And it took some seconds, but eventually, her emotions receded to where he could barely make them out, and she cleared her throat, nodding.
Ten minutes later, Rose now in clothes he didn't think she owned nor had the balls to wear (a black t-shirt with a glittering pastel unicorn on a spiral galaxy background and grey sweatpants), they were sneaking past Miss Lalonde, who was sprawled out on the couch, probably asleep, TV on the Discovery Channel, and quietly shutting the door.
The night air was cool, slightly humid, and the ground looked like watery parchment with the way the clouds mussed over the stars. Dave felt his conviction must've pulled through, though, as the moon was not up yet, and little fireflies flit in and out of the air.
"They're quite lovely," Rose murmured from his right, and warmth washed over him. They distracted her; soothed her.
He vaguely smiled. "Yeah."
Rose couldn't remember the last time she'd seen fireflies. It had been sometime; maybe last autumn. But the sight of them, tiny little faerie lanterns that flickered like floating embers, reminded her of pleasant days outside, reading till it was too dark, and school.
School was soon, wasn't it? she mused to herself. She wondered if she would make it. That was a very defeatist thing to think, though; she squeezed Dave's hand.
"I know the woods pretty solidly. We're gonna run to a corner way in the back; there's trails and shit like that, so we're not gonna get lost. And you probably can't tell right now, or it at least doesn't feel like it, but you're gonna have a lot of excess energy, so running won't be a problem. No matter how out of shape you are."
Rose made a noise and rolled her eyes. The humour helped. But curiousity kept itching at her insides, along with a terrible, sickening, strong feeling. It had been growing steadily over the last few days, she thought, but the more she thought about it, the more she realized that it had been there much, much longer. It was the feeling that was crippling her with pain and making her sick, but it was also the source of a fleeting urge, a feeling like she could pull a tree up by its roots, and it made her senses nauseatingly oversensitive.
She'd prided herself on her medical and psychological knowledge, but her knowledge had failed her here. And Dave even said that it was an obscure, unknown disease. But she still hoped she could figure it out.
Her eyes steadily locked onto an opening in the woods. She felt him let go of her hand, saw, felt as he flexed his fingers and cracked his knuckles and eased into a sprinting stance.
"Good. We must go."
And she laughed, god forbid, giggled, even; and they took off.
She had expected that it would be a minute before the energy he mentioned kicked in, but it was startlingly instantaneous. Dave started out several paces ahead of her, probably well-versed in this expedition, but suddenly she was light as air and flitting weightlessly past the earth and mulch. Power circuited in her very flesh, making her perception of the world quick and diamond-sharp. There was rightness. But there was more.
Strangely, somehow, Dave looked adroit and lithe as he sprung off of clay-twisted roots and over craggy, moss-laden boulders. His hands were outstretched, helping him vault and keep balance and touch trees, fingers ticking in perfect time, as if he was playing a piano medley that no-one else could hear. His legs bent and catapulted him with what seemed like little effort, but each motion was so purposeful that it felt balletic.
She hoped she looked that beautiful as she ran, tip-toes meeting his footholds step for step, gliding behind him only for direction and not for lack of speed. Gods, how it smelled good in here. Rose wondered how she had even been afraid of this place at all; something in her belly yearned for it, even.
"Roooooosie," Dave sang from in front of her, startling her. For some reason, she hadn't expected his voice. But she flashed a shrewd grin and addressed him, "Striiiiider."
"Don't get lost, all right?"
"I'm right behind you, you cur. Do not insult me further."
"I don't mean out here, Meriwether Lewis. I mean in your head. Keep focused."
Focused? Rose thought she was, but his words reeled her in and she stumbled momentarily.
Rose could never have told anyone how much time had passed between going into the forest and ending up at the miniature camp of sorts. She could sense that her home was far, far away, a distance that she understood but couldn't convert into any scientific system.
Before her, though, was now an opening where the towering, thick trees parted, their boughs stretching far up to the heavens and letting natural light filter down. It was only a somewhat starry night, and the fireflies didn't reach this place, but Dave took off his glasses and his eyes still somehow glinted like a stoplight was behind them.
The light washed them out, made the world dim and grey, but she knew better. The forest, the air, was alive, crackling with unburdened energy. She could climb into it, become it, if she wanted to.
She flinched. Dave's warning voice broke her violently from her subconscious, where something called to her, brutally urging her back. Swallowing a wad of saliva, Rose glanced up from the pine needle floor and acutely saw that regardless of the light, Dave was sickeningly pale and olive-toned, and a cold sweat had broken out heavily over his body. He shook turbulently as he fumbled to get his backpack off of his shoulders, and it fell to the ground. Unzipping it, he pulled out a plastic zip back, and Rose smelled something pungent as she situated herself on a large, mossy stump.
"Gods, what is that?" She gasped, hands flying to cover her nose. "Nightshade and arsenic and gasoline?"
Dave shakily snorted, shook his head. On his knees, he managed to grab a cluster of some sort of flora, with thin stems and clusters of folded violet petals, and he shoved it at her.
"Eat," he commanded.
Conflict raged passionately in Rose, physically and emotionally. Human Rose wanted to take the plant and consume it whole, but some other Rose was utterly repulsed and detested and loathed the plant.
Rose wondered when she had become human Rose and other Rose. That was what drove her to take it. She forced the cure into her mouth, screwing her eyes shut and chewing quickly, trying not to taste the acrid pulp.
"Ch-chew it... more slowly..."
It was difficult. Rose tried to pay attention to Dave so she wouldn't have to think about the taste.
"What's wrong?" She asked him, strained. "You look so... sick..." She swallowed. He handed her more, and she wanted to balk.
Dave was currently mostly prostrate on the ground, his hands absently clawing at the pine needles and soil, and his cheek pressed to the floor. Every now and then, he would whine, and groan, and it didn't sound like Dave at all.
What was this illness? Terror was flooding Rose now, and she felt her very bones quivering, but she knew the plant was doing what it needed to, because something (it was like the impetus to sleep when you had gone days without seeing your own bed and it was suddenly placed in front of you) in her was stifled.
"NO!" Dave suddenly growled, shooting up and grabbing her by the waist. His head was in her lap, and he was shuddering so viciously that he could've been seizing. "No. No Rose. Don't be scared. Don't be. Don't think about it. C'mon, talk, talk to me, talk about b-books and wizards. Talk."
Amidst the carnal rage that was piling and piling in her veins, and the fear, and confusion, Rose shakily placed her small hands on Dave's head, stroking his hair and trying to stop herself from swallowing so much air so quickly.
"I-I," she began, unable to sift through the battle. Light tears were converging on her vision, and making their way past her lashes and cheekbones. The clouds above were moving, and a beautiful illumination was beginning to fill their clearing, a sweet, milky light that made something ache and pulse in her.
"Rose," Dave croaked. "Please."
"I-I'm making you a scarf!" She blurted out, instantly regretting the decision. It was supposed to have been a surprise. But Dave chuckled weakly in her lap, and his hand squeezed her hip bone. She hated that he was kneeling in front of her like his. "It would've been done already, but I... became distracted after prior situations. After you stopped contacting me for those weeks."
His hands curled against her sides, rubbing directionless circles, and he weakly confessed, "Longest weeks of my life."
She almost smiled.
"A-and... And I was planning on reading much more this summer, but I didn't factor you into my equations for time-spending. I... I never expected you to come into my life at all, fr-frankly." The smile made it to her face, here, wobbly and grieved. "I was under the impression that you were j-just some... some stupid derelict who dated too many girls and didn't care about anything i-important in life."
"Aren't I, though?" Dave countered faintly against her stomach, and Rose had to stop to sniffle and fight down the rising magma in her belly before continuing.
"No!" She said sharply, her hands shaking against the back of his neck. "No, Dave. No. You're not. Y-you... you did date a lot, b-but I know that your heart is better than that. I kn-know you make good grades and never sk-skip class."
"And I... do care about the important... things," he tacked on. Subtly, he nudged her ribcage with a knuckle. "Like the th-thing right here. Fuck."
The expletive came with a lurch on his part, and he jerked out of her lap, clamping his hand over his mouth. He was obviously about to throw up, but he managed to finagle more of the herb out of his bag, which he shoved into his mouth with a hacking noise.
"Fuck that stuff, god d-damn it."
He was on his knees, coughing at the ground, and Rose finally asked, "What... is that plant?"
Dave seemed to spend a long time thinking about answering her. It was enough time that Rose thought her body was going to turn inside out, and that she was going to have to tear her own skin off, do anything, at all, ever, to get her skin off and her insides out. Her throat felt swollen and her arms and legs seeked to rip up the trees within the mile radius.
And that was when Dave let out a low, long sob, clutching at his sides as he snarled out in pain: "Wolf's bane."
A small part of Rose's mind calculated this. Monkshood. Aconite. A potent poison. Dual suicide? No, because these weren't poison symptoms. Right?
Then something unbelievable dawned on her.
"You aren't serious."
Her voice was a shrill sound that could have melted the Arctic.
Dave groaned, before rolling over and laying supine, covering his face with his scraped and dirtied arms as he dry heaved on the ground. It did nothing to quell her. The tempest rose up in her very being, and it was backed by something lycan and otherworldly. Rose bristled and her mouth flooded with spit as she screamed as she had never screamed for the first time in her life, screamed with acerbity and absolute horror.
"Are you telling me that we are stricken with lycanthropy?"
Dave made a strangled and sad noise.
"Are you fucking kidding me, Dave. What sick, cruel joke is this?! What fucked up thing drove you to do this?! This isn't even possible. This is utterly impossible, this is insanity, you are delirious and disturbed."
And Rose was on top of him now, her fists nearly tearing the fibres of his shirt as she glared down into his face. Her breathing increased erratically until her voice was so strained that it broke.
"WHAT DID YOU DO TO ME?!"
Dave finally replied, though, with a feral sound, and he snatched up her wrists, turning her onto her back savagely. Now beneath him, it struck a chord in Rose that she understood to be the desire to be not submissive and to Change and fight him until his throat was in her mouth but no no no, no, this was Dave, and for only a moment, her anger ebbed, and Dave roared in her face, eyes blazing and reflecting her pallid features and manic eyes.
"I TOLD YOU T-TO STAY AWAY FROM ME. I T-TOLD YOU. WHY DO YOU THINK I LEFT IN THE FIRST PLACE? WHY DO YOU THINK I FUCKING LEFT EVERY TIME THERE WAS A FULL MOON? WHY DO YOU THINK I FUCKING SHIT MYSELF WHEN I FOUND OUT YOU WENT INTO THESE FUCKING WOODS AND I HURT YOU?!"
Their chests were heaving now and Dave, who was displaying his locked teeth and making Rose shrink and shrink and shrink, suddenly jolted and his eyes slammed shut as he half-collapsed onto Rose.
"I... I-I can't..."
Rose hurriedly caught his shoulders and flipped him off of her, her movements uncoordinated and jerky as she tried to lay him more comfortably on the ground.
"D-Dave? I'm s-s-sorry. I... oh god. Why aren't you changing? Why... haven't I...?"
Whining and putting much effort into articulating words, Dave reached for Rose's hand and he managed, "It... can be... resisted... I... I-I think the m-m-monkshood... will keep you h-human..."
She wasn't sure, either, but she thought he might've been right. She felt swells of pain and impulse, but there was something blocking it, something she hadn't felt before. And she knew that dosage of monkshood should have killed her long minutes ago.
Rose would not get to discuss this matter with Dave, however. In the middle of pushing his hair back and mumbling jittery reassurances, a sense of presence erupted through the earth and channeled to her body. Something large, and almighty, was moving at an incomprehensible speed toward them. The hairs on her entire anatomy stood on end and her mouth dried.
"Wh-what is that," she stammered, a deep, instinctual fear coursing through her veins suddenly.
Dave's eyes shot open, and he took a deep breath, and let out an anguished sound. He seemed to have found some source of energy, as he furtively shifted to his feet, his limbs rocking back and forth.
He moved to Rose. His hands — claws — dragged up her arms slowly and carefully until they reached her cheeks, and he stumbled over his words, but enunciated carefully, "Rose. I need y-you. To run. A-as far away. And... quickly... a-as you can. D-do not c-come back here. Do not st-stop. And... p-please... please... d-don't change. Don't ch-change, whatever you do."
The presence was moving closer at an alarming rate and Rose stared deeply into Dave's penetrating and frenzied gaze as he rested his damp forehead against hers, using all of her energy to memorize the very shade of red. There would never be anything in the world like that colour red, and how it reflected foliage around them, the dull light of the heavenly bodies, and her own self. Nothing would come close to it.
And he said, "I love you, Rose." So softly that she almost missed it.
Then the ground began shaking. Pounding. Rose recognized the sensation, from a dream she had, and like an ethereal ghost from a hallucination, a vast form cleared the perimeter and slammed to the earth with a resounding snarl from something like Hell itself.
Familiarity struck her in a ludicrous way, as the gigantic, dark saffron wolf let out a deep rumble. Its eyes were deep tangerine, and it rippled with sinewy muscle and clumpy mismatched fur that stood up in thick, sharp spines around its glorified mane and erect tail.
There was no mistaking it. The colour, or scent.
Her feet started backing up before her mind was consciously aware of it. There were several seconds of Dirk Strider making vicious, blood-curdling noises at Dave, and then Dave grinned — no, he bared his teeth in something that only resembled a smile, and Rose watched his skin fissure and rearrange, his bones mutilate under his skin, fur cascading out of his flesh as his teeth grew and filled in and sharpened, until she looked at the very same cream-coated and vermillion-eyed werewolf from her memories.
There was a long, auguring howl.
Chapter 9: Remission
PLAYLIST: always summer.
ONE MORE CHAPTER AFTER THIS I CAN'T BELIEVE IT AT FUCKING ALL OMG. it WILL be posted no later than september 22nd, this saturday, at midnight, because that is the day that summer is over. gosh damn!!!
reference that is not totally accurate but the best i could do for dave and dirk's doggy forms! dirk should be more golden, and with much more clumpy fur, especially around the neck.
The gloriously ironic War of the Roses waged on. A wrecking ball of sensations were keeping her strongly preoccupied as she sprinted in what she felt was the right direction, though it was difficult. It was like jogging with a movie playing one eye and reality in another; on one hand, she could clearly dart between trees and leap over bushes and reorient herself immediately. On the other, there was the thick taste of violence and urgency and musk and saliva, the scent of it mingling with the woods and mulch, the little feeling that consumed her and told her to WAKE UP and GO BACK and some other feeling she couldn't find the right word for, some feeling of wanting to dominate and sink her teeth into others and be truly truly true to what was inside of her.
But Rose ran, instead. She couldn't feel any of her cuts and scrapes -- in fact, they were healing up quite nicely. A memory in her heart -- only pinprick sized -- reminded her of a spacious, pale house that was sitting in a large yard, in the moonlight. Her gag reflex jumped and she swallowed it, along with the disastrous feeling of wanting to cry. The perfume of her mother clearly reached her, from so far away, that she wasn't even sure if she'd just imagined it for her own comfort.
That was her goal. That was what she needed to find. Even if her mother was a duplicitous, maudlin broad (was she?) she needed to get to her. Mom would know what to do. Even every night when she was alone, or every day she was quiet and without company, her mother would leave her be, or mock her. It was only now with the threat of her health that she had truly stepped up to bat.
Mom would step in, now, because she had to. That was the truth.
And then the aching aroma of blood hit her and she literally had to stop, had to clutch onto a maple beside her and choke to keep herself human.
There is a moment of time that is old and static, the finest display of the witching hour.
The wolf with apple eyes was perfectly still as it stared at its tawny opponent, who loomed and shivered and returned a stare that could have begun a small inferno. The smaller wolf then lurches forward, and it looks like a ghost from an old story tale, and the larger one makes a sound like plywood being slapped together and splintering as it moves in response. Their claws kick up a pound and a half of hard soil and leaves, and their jaws snap. The big wolf is imposing on the little one's space, invading, reaching out with its snout to suck in a whiff of intentions before realigning and instinctually looking for a way to find its throat.
The ghost wolf, in appearance, has not the strength or tenacity of its brother, so it plays it safe. It is quiet, but thunderous in every motion. If they bared their teeth any harder, they would be in great danger of cracking -- but no, instead it croons out a warning growl and zips between the others' legs and behind him, always looming out of reach.
The aggressor wants no part in the game, though. The little wolf is in trouble.
Big wolf strikes. Its jaws part like pliers and snap shut sharply, snarling and shouting incomprehensibly and closing around on a clutch of ghoulish fur. But they respond in kind, spry and hurried and always looking for an out, and it twists and its fangs find purchase on his brother's cheek, and they hit the ground with a powerful sound and scattering of leaves. A pinecone shatters under the large one's back paw, and they slide a little, giving their younger brother the split second to decide on leaping up and clawing deeply at their shoulders, their neck. Their mane is thick, though, and they are angry. And they snarl harder, and a paw raises up to smack their opponent hard on the snout, effectively stunning it and letting it pummel into them with the brunt of his body, jaws wrapping around the junction of their neck and shoulder and slamming them down again.
On the ground, their eyes flash scarlet and there is the scent of their own blood, and their large paws go up to press and shove hard at the body holding him down. Both their eyes are connecting, wide and flat and luminous and transmitting a deep-ingrained killing desire. They both still. Low growls, and then shrill snarls are exchanged. The dominating wolf, bright as a sunspot, sinks its teeth in more and more, and the little wolf whines rawly with pain.
The light leaves the forested arena, and the moon is muted by a thick blanket of clouds. The little ghost wolf is screeching and desperately shredding at the big, saffron wolf, trying to throw him off balance, but he is steady and more blinded with murderous mentality than he ever has been, until he hears movement from his flank and suddenly teeth are crushing and ripping against his gums and snout, fighting mouth to mouth.
He can't smell anything but hot drool and a painful mix of blood and dirt. He can't find the little puppy that he should be absolutely decimating into the earth, he can't even find the moon or what is up, but he hears movement and glimpses the threat, who lunges with a whiny sound and fangs, over and over and over, tear at his haunches, his stomach, his tendons. The wounds are mostly superficial and the paws on his chest hold him down in his disorientation, and suddenly, it is gone.
Several long moments pass while he raises himself, and his blurry vision turns back into crisp technicolour and he sees the awful runt, who is breathing heavy with his legs spread and tail sticking up like a pile of blasted snow and his ears matching. Blood is dripping from his muzzle, and similar rose-colored wounds decorate his throat, but he stands eerily firm and prepared.
When the moon comes back out, and he stumbles to his feet, feeling dazed and wide awake, a small murmur from his head, something like déjà vu, leads him to let out a quiet, final growl.
The little ghost wolf replies in kind. He wanders up to him, wary, and for a moment their gashed snouts touch, and their grizzled coats fumble against each other, and unspoken order is reestablished.
Roxy isn't crying, though she'd like to be.
She's looking at her daughter, who is nursing a painful laceration on her arm, and giving her a steady gaze that she has never been able to read. She never wants to admit it, but she was always a mom who just wanted a manual, and never got one.
"I didn't expect you to be awake at this hour." Her little child says to her, voice monotone and trembling. Pain is in her features, but she won't say so. And Roxy muses over the date, and the blood, and she puts a hand on her heaving chest and pounding heart as she replies softly, "Parent's intuition, I guess."
Rose teeters forward, swallowing, and she says bluntly, "Dave and his brother are werewolves."
Roxy at least has the decency to look surprised. "Please tell me you didn't find out the hard way."
The response is a queasy, humorless smile. "I need help."
Mom moves like a wraith when she's working.
Rose has never seen her like this, and she wonders if it's because she stopped trying, too. Maybe they both gave up, and that was the problem. The clock on the wall says three in the morning, and Rose is in a comfortable chair in her mother's lab, dim lights all green and flickering as her mother talks softly from her play set as she works and Rose tries not to abandon her skin.
"So," she begins. "I don't want you to have to talk about it, but who nipped you?"
Rose's heart wrenches uncomfortably as she admits, "D-Dave. I... fell asleep reading one night... and I couldn't find Jaspers, so I went searching in the woods--"
"Shhhshshh, careful, we don't want you talkin' about the woods. Try not to, it'll make it worse."
"Um. Sorry. I... went searching, and couldn't find him, and Dave found me. Not real Dave, obviously. Other... Dave."
Roxy doesn't reply, but gazes passively at a very, very old moleskin on a podium, running her finger along the page before rummaging in a cabinet for materials.
"And he pounced. I had the leftover salmon you made some time ago in my pocket, and he wanted it." She almost smiled at how absurd it was, but was trying very hard on following her mother's initial advice of thinking about the smell of her room, and Jaspers' fur, and the books she'd read, and the feel of thin metal rods twining wooly yarn betwixt her fingers. A red and white scarf waited in her room with the promise of autumn. Her body continued to tremble violently. "His nails tore the skin on my back. I suppose that was when it... happened."
It was strange saying that out loud. Rose couldn't bring herself to flat-out say it, not in front of her mother, but she was countered.
"Hmm. That doesn't add up."
"P-pardon?" Her stutter was from pain, not nervousness.
"That would've been two months ago, if my calculations are right, which they always areee. And, it only transmits through blood, to my understanding. His would've had to have gotten in your system somehow."
They went quiet for a minute, as Rose's gears turned and turned, and she took care to rub her fingers over the armchair as she thought, as to not lose herself in her subconscious, until:
...He let out a hissing oath as his index finger flew to his mouth for him to nurse on. Dave nearly threw the knife.
"Really? Did you cut yourself?" Rose asked quaintly. He rolled his eyes. "Let me see it."
Dave peered at his wound with a grimace, and Rose gracefully moved to his side, lightly taking his hand to peer at it. Her eyes hung low, ignoring the strands falling in her face that the headband didn't catch, she examined the slice, until abruptly, she realized that Dave was touching her cheek and staring at her. In the wake of his fingers was a smear of scarlet, dappling over her open wound, and he abruptly snapped out of it, pulling away.
Rose groaned quietly to herself, and shook her head.
"Figure it out?"
"Yeah. Remarkably trivial. It was such a small gesture..." She remembers who she's talking to, and blushes a little before changing the subject. "N-nevertheless." And she wonders, then, about her mother, and how she knows. The only conversation they'd had was a hurried interrogation as to if she'd changed, and what Dave had made her take, and where he and Bro were currently. She tried to ask about her knowledge on the situation, but Mom made it very clear that the paramount issue was making an antidote and keeping Rose mentally preoccupied.
"Do you want to know how I know?" The kind, sorrowful note of Mom's voice goes straight to the matter at hand, and Rose immediately obliges, "Yes."
There is a terse silence. Mom is still working smoothly, grinding some herb into a powder and carefully reading the same manuscript.
"Well," she started, slowly. "I met Dirk back in college. I was a biophysics and computer science double major, and he was an engineering and computer science double major."
"I recall, from Wal-Mart. You said he dropped out."
"Right! He did. Ah, I can't exactly explain everything perfectly, but he was out and about one night, and got in a fight with some other fellow at a bar. I remember him coming back to my dorm, and he was sporting some kind of black eye and his lip was split open, and gosh, there was blood everywhere. He looked like shit. Super shitty! And I patched him up, gave him some brandy, and a week later he started... getting sick."
Mom lapsed into silence, and Rose made out that her jaw looked very set and her eyes looked tight as she started adding a liquid to her concoction. For a moment, her head ducked, rubbing against her shoulder, and she smelled the distinct salt of tears.
"God, Rose," she half-mumbled. "You had symptoms, right? Stuff that made it look like rabies?"
Rose felt sick with guilt as she admitted, "Yes."
"Wasn't it painful, dear? How did you deal with that all by yourself?"
"I'm... I'm rather resilient." She didn't like how it felt saying that, didn't like the heavy stone that piled in her stomach, didn't like that feeling that she was missing something very important, or had been denying it all along. "I... managed."
A muffled sob escaped from her mother, who stood still for a moment to tremble, before continuing her work with vigor.
"I-I know we don't really talk, baby," she sniffled, trying obviously very hard to keep her voice even. "And I know you like your personal space, a-and I-I try hard t-to respect that... But... God, a-and I know I need to work o-on the drinking, don't I?" She mumbled something inaudibly, sniffling more, before laughing a little and declaring, "I'm an awful mom, aren’t I? I-I'm so sorry I... I haven't been there for you l-like I should. But, I... I want you to know th-that I love you v-very much, and wh-when we do hang out, kiddo, i-it means the world to me, a-and I will always... always...!" And her voice cracked, shattered in fact, and Rose heard tiny little pin drops of tears on the floor.
For a long time, like a garden Rose had carefully cultivated, was her relationship with her mother. It was a small sanctuary, with tall, vine-laden picket fences, and posies and dahlias and poppies and jasmine. She would never let her mother in. Her mother was the sun, and she already had a sun up in the air, and her mother was a hurricane, and Rose was already a storm cloud full of hail and cold bullets. Maybe a long time ago, when she was just warmth and bathwater, letting her in would've been all right. But time had aged them both so miserably.
And finally, after years of torment and rotten thoughts, of desperation and dull depression and eventually, a war of attrition that led to starving the troops and accepting the weeds, Rose understood that she had been wrong all along.
Roxy, rubbing her runny nose wistfully and crying very softly, shoulders jumpy, stood back from the counter and tiptoed over (she only wore stockings and expensive pajamas) with a syringe in hand and a vial beside her. She looked nervous, and miserable, and suddenly so much older than she really was.
"This should, ah, fix you up, I think," she said with a bittersweet smile. "It took a lot of time and tests, some years ago. I tried to make it for Dirk, but I... I didn't manage it quickly enough."
The garden door was open; after months of rain, there was sunshine. And Rose realized that her mother had been her Mongolian witch doctor all along.
Her heart raced emphatically in her chest as her options suddenly flashed before her. The behemoth in her very being was warring with her tooth and nail, and it rejected the idea of its nonexistence completely. It could fail, after all. This could go completely wrong, she could die from it, she could maybe be fine for a month and then change back tomorrow, and--
"You don't have to do this if you don't want," Roxy offered encouragingly, but her voice frayed. "I'd understand. Dirk likes it a lot."
Dirk Strider, who was currently somewhere in her woods, the last image of him she'd seen being his lupine body, powerful and murderous, and pale, spry Dave, and Rose swallowed hard, and tears, hot and forgiving, spilled down her cheeks.
"Yes, please," she said, voice barely a whisper. "Please. I don't want to be this way."
Relief sprang across Roxy's features in a bubbly smile, and with the best bedside manner in the world, kneeling in front of her old armchair that held her beloved daughter, she gently took her arm, swabbed antiseptic over it, and pressed in the shot. Rose barely felt it, and she sat momentarily in a stupor as it sunk in and Roxy went off to discard the needle.
Rose made herself stop thinking, and made herself get out of the chair ("Baby, you don't have to get up! I--"). And Rose made herself give in, and with much effort, Rose stumbled across the room until she was pressing herself into her mother's arms and sobbing, and sobbing, and sobbing. She cried like a baby, probably because she hadn't cried on her mother since she was one. Full of released and long-repressed mourning and sadness, she hiccupped, and wailed, and emptied and emptied and emptied her soul, and Roxy, stunned for only a moment, then clutched onto her small daughter and cried, too. And Roxy told her, over and over, "I love you, I love you, Rosie, I love you so much", and she said sorry, over and over, and then that she loved her again.
And the old garden was bright, and well.
Blood dripped from his muzzle in great, drenching trickles that stained the leaves. The ground beneath him was not leaves and pine needles and grass sprouts anymore, but a travesty of claw marks and spit and dirt and ripped-out fur.
not even. not even you wretched little piece of
get over it. get the fuck over it
you think you can do this and everything will turn out all right? you think you're in control of the situation you can't begin to understand what shit you've just gotten yourself into
nah, nah, no, you're just being pathetic because i like her
i'll kill you you know
And he lunged, again, and this time, it was over.
It was expected, but the medicine eventually settled into a piercing, burning pain that made her feel like she weighed nothing and that her body was going to turn inside out so she could dump her internal organs on the ground. But the presence she'd once known quieted, slowly and with much adamancy, but she was sitting on her porch steps with her mother, who had made her organic hot cocoa and put an old quilt around her shoulders. They talked, and they waited.
"Mother, if you made the antidote shortly after Dirk became a lycanthrope, why didn't it work for Dave?"
Rose drank her cocoa thoughtfully, and saw that her mother's reaction was very different from what she had expected. Rather than an enthusiastic explanation of genetics or a compliment on her astute question (which she had learned was not meant to belittle her, but in fact, genuine praise and enthusiasm), Roxy's expression hardened and she slumped with her arms on her knees, putting her chin thoughtfully on her laced fingers.
"Yeah," she murmured. "About that. Dirk didn't let him take it."
Rose nearly spit her beverage.
Wild thoughts of definite abuse and child endangerment ran wild in her exhausted mind, but Roxy continued, "Yeah. I had the same reaction." She sighed deeply. "He said that he wanted Dave to be able to, like... take care of himself if something ever happened, god forbid... I still don't agree with what he did to this day, but I sorta understand. Like, your kid being safe and taken care of, that's the important stuff when you're a parent."
She offered a defeated smile to Rose, and ruffled her hair. But then, her voice went low, and sad. "Dirk was really bad-off in college. He had like, no money, or anything. I spent a lot on him because he couldn't even eat sometimes. So, I guess when Dave rolled around, he like, understood that if push came to shove and they couldn't get the necessities..." She laughed, without humour, before saying, "Well, let's just say that if you are like a four hundred pound carnivore, life doesn't have to be super tough."
"As in, they could just live indefinitely in the woods?"
"That's... equally fascinating, as it is horrifying. Especially... um, having experienced it, I... can't imagine anyone sane allowing their child have such a lifestyle."
"Right?" And there was a glint in her eyes, almost knowing and sad, that Rose couldn't quite place. "Considering how volatile the change is, as well."
"How do you mean?"
"Well like, contrary to myth, it's not just full moon when they change. It's based around it, and it gets stronger as it gets closer to the full moon, but Dirk found out the hard way if you're stressed enough, or just through a lot of concentration, you can make yourself go all monster-puppy."
Rose snorted, and replied, "It's comforting to know I could have murdered everyone and leveled the house at my leisure if I happened to dislike the plot of a book."
Roxy laughed, too, in a way like “I-know-my-baby-wouldn't-do-that-she-is-too-tough”, and Rose felt warm and a little flushed and her whole body ached and felt like fizzing hydrogen peroxide, so she drank more cocoa and thought of more things to ask.
"Have you ever seen Dirk as a wolf?" she queried after a minute. And Roxy rolled her eyes.
"Wow, you really go straight for the hard-hitters, don'tcha?" She didn't know what her mother meant by this, but she elaborated: "I did, twice. The first time was his first change. We didn't know why he was so sick, and the day of the full moon, we happened to be walking back from the gas station with some soup and stuff, and y'know he was like, 'Grrr, fuck you, I'm fine, I am a big strong manly man, leave me alone!' Hah. But I didn't. And when we were nearly back, he like... buckled over, and I thought that like, somebody had slipped something in my drink, because he was suddenly... this... thing... And I was so scared of him. I thought I was having a nightmare, or going to die. God, if we hadn't been the only people out that night, I don't know what would've happened. He didn't look anything like himself for a moment, and then he just ran off to the nearest patch of forest."
Roxy sighed, nostalgic and wistful, before adding, "He didn't come back for three days, and there was a report about a few drivers nearly hitting a stray wolf. But he returned in one piece, and that was that."
In all her years, perhaps due to the little time they spent together, and even smaller amount spent having deeper conversation, Rose had never seen such a look in her mother's eyes. She felt like she had missed something important -- not quite in the conversation, but in her mother's life. The way you'd feel, maybe, if you missed your child taking their first steps. And she wanted to apologize, for something she didn't realize. A melancholy prickled at her neck and bosom and it told her that there were so many things that Mom hadn't told her, in just the same way that she had not said anything, either.
"Is that why he dropped out?" she asked quietly.
"Sort of. Dave was part of it. And myself."
And Roxy looked even sadder, and she looked away with a watery smile, and just shook her head very softly in the same way that someone who has completely and secretly given up would.
And Rose wanted to press, her curiousity ate at her, but the residual wolf in her, like a phantom, perked up its ears and let out a low growl, and Rose's head involuntarily jerked up and forward.
The sun was starting to come up, she vaguely noted. It must've been five or so, because there was the faintest tinge of light from the corner of her eye that was beginning to illuminate her yard, though the moon did much of the work. The fireflies had long left to sleep, and the rabbits that hovered around the corners, rummaging and scavenging, all perked up as well, sitting on their hind legs and staring with alarm at one spot in the woods. Rose smelled, almost tasted, something like blood, and then something thicker and familiar, dirt and musk and oily fur and dog breath and Dave.
Impossibly fast, she set her mug down and stood up, blood rushing to her head too quickly and almost making her fall over, and Roxy exclaimed, "Rose!" and stood, too, bracing her. "What's going on?"
The rabbits all scattered, and in a line, birds abandoned their perches for safer rest. The morning sun was blocked by an influx of old storm clouds, meandering their way in -- the cold front of impending autumn, if Rose remembered reading the news correctly -- and her eyes strained, but she saw motion amongst the brush that wasn't quite right, motion that signified presence, and just like an old movie, they stumbled out painstakingly. It was very dark, and her senses seemed strangely muted, but all she could see was that familiar form of Dave, and how he leaned on his older brother, who leaned back on him. Her vision focused more as they came closer, and she heard their laboured breathing, saw that they had an arm around each other for support, because they were hobbling towards them. Dirk's sunglasses were long gone, and she saw that his face was laden with blood, mostly from his broken nose and torn lip. Dave, beside him, hair greasy, had a freely bleeding wound on his temple that made her heart go numb for a moment, a blossoming black eye, a torn up shirt, an awful limp and bloody knuckles. Rose stared.
More curious than all of this was the fact that the closer they came, the more it became apparent that Dave was talking under his breath, and Dirk was smiling -- no, laughing, even, in low, dark chuckles. And Dave laughed, softly, too, and winced as he did.
Rose teetered a little as her mother burst forth from the porch, kicking off her bunny slippers and sprinting full speed at the battered siblings. Rose did nothing but stare blankly as her mother went on a war path. She sounded like she was crying.
"YOU ARE THE MOST ROTTEN SACK OF SHIT ON THIS GODFORSKATIN' PLANET! GODFORSAKEN, I MEAN! BECAUSE YOU ARE DUMB DUMB DUMB, YOU HAVE ROCKS FOR BRAINS!! WHY WOULD YOU DO ANY OF THESE THINGS AND EVER THINK IT IS OKAY? COME! ON! JUST! WHY! WHY? GOD DAMN IT! DIRK!"
She was stomping at the ground, hissing and spitting like an angry cat, and Dirk just put his head down, shaking it, and Rose caught a sliver of a guilted smile. When Roxy reached him, he let go of Dave and then fell gracelessly to the ground and she shrieked, getting down on her knees and putting her hands on his face. Rose was still completely floored that she was even watching this happen, and felt that maybe she was intruding on a private moment, but--
The most beautiful and scratchy voice reached her ears, and she looked up as Dave Strider gingerly sat down on the porch next to her. He crossed his legs and let his arms hang limp. He looked at her, with much effort, and seemingly no intentions of ever looking away for a long, long time. Even his shades were gone, but he did not try to sedate the full-blown intensity of his stare.
"Hello," Rose murmured back. Her mouth curved up into a stnned smile, and she didn't know what to say for a moment, so she just carefully picked up her cocoa, and placed it in his hands. "Have some."
Dave took a sniff of the mug, before gratefully finishing off the remains in a single swig.
"Much obliged," he said, smiling. It looked like it made his eye hurt, which was actually a dark, rotten looking plum, and his red iris faded against his bloodshot eye. And blood trickled from his mouth, and still from his head, though not so badly anymore, and he looked so tired. She understood why he wore glasses.
"Did your mom help?"
"Ah. Yes, she... she had an antidote, actually. It's a long story, but she made one after your brother became stricken."
"So... are you... cured?"
"I... think it's a likely possibility, yes."
"Okay," Dave said like three tons of weight had been taken from his shoulders, and he didn't look like a cool and collected young scenester anymore. He didn't even look like some street rat, or anything else Rose had ever compared him to, for that matter. He tried to look at the ground, but he couldn't contain the crooked, painful smile that wrapped his mouth, couldn't stop the sudden and steady flow of tear drops that speckled the ground.
"I'm glad," he said, voice cracking as his fingers trembled while they went to wipe his face. "Fuck, I'm so glad. Relieved, I’m... I guess... I just..."
Rose didn't know why, but she was suddenly crying, too, and she didn't care. More important than anything at all, right now, was Dave, and she uncocooned herself from the quilt and gently placed him in it with her, until they were both sniffling and smiling. Rose wanted to touch him and make sure he was real, so she pressed herself against his chest, taking care not to hurt him, and in turn Dave rested his head against Rose's, pressing his sooty cheek against her hair, and he didn't care, he wasn't ashamed, he wasn't going to let anything ruin this when he twined her hands into his and squeezed. He hiked up the quilt, and hid them inside of it, safe and warm and quiet.
"You smell good," he admitted, eyes closed. "You smell better. Not like mutt anymore."
Rose hiccupped, and wore a small, lovely expression as she said, "Glad the holy water worked. I wasn't sure how much longer it would be before Lucifer took me as his own."
"He wouldn’t. I would kill him."
"Would you? Dave, you've fought the forest, and the moon, and your brother, but I feel as if Satan might be biting off a bit more than you can make cud out of..."
"I would fight all of them, a trillion times, until my hands were stumps and my eyes were gouged out and my teeth pulled out with a monkey wrench, until I leveled the whole fucking forest, and ruined the solar system, and made Bro cry, if it..." He coughed, and cleared his throat, and weakly smirked as he said, "If it meant I made sure you were okay. Fuckin’ Satan or not. I don’t care. I have never cared about anything so much in my whole shitty life."
Her throat felt tight. As did her heart. Her whole mind was quiet, except for one very poignant fact she had just comprehended.
"Dave," she said.
"Pardon my timing, and place. I love you."
For a moment, Dave was silent. He looked at her, eyes scorching and reverent in the darkness of the quilt fortress and his lips were parted as he breathed in and out, and then turned up crookedly and achingly. Their breath, warm and damp, made their little space stuffy, made them both acutely aware of how close they were to each other. And Dave said, "Say that again, Lalonde."
Rose flushed pink, and bit her lip.
"...I... love you."
"One more time."
"I love you."
And Dave Strider burst at the seams. He pursed his lips to keep the scream in his throat, and he wrapped his arms around her and held her, squeezing her and crooning over and over, he pressed his lips to her palm, drunk with lack of sleep and post-fighting and a long, long night, and kissed it worshipfully. Blood smattered the quilt, and Rose's clothes, and he didn't even remember to apologize, because Rose Lalonde loved him, and she was not a werewolf, and he had done something right for once in his whole shitty life.
"Rose," he smirked, running his hand up her arm, eyelids sinking heavily with want of rest. "Stay like this forever. How you smell, and the ridiculous way you talk, and your shitty taste in prose, and I love you. Cross my fucking heart and hope to die."
"How romantic, Strider."
"Tell me again. That thing you admitted about a minute ago."
"Oh, for Christ's sake."
Chapter 10: Autumn
In the blink of an eye, it was autumn, and the impending tedium of school was upon the county.
Roxy's driving had not improved with her AA group, but she was seemingly more pleasant and peppy. The crisp paper bags with designer logos shuffled and crinkled as the Mercedes did a masterful ballet through the traffic, zipping through the red lights that Mom knew had no camera attached, marginally avoiding pedestrians, etc, etc. They were not even pulled over once.
When they arrived home, there was already an aged looking Mustang in the driveway, and Rose heard her mother swear under her breath.
"Do you see them outside anywhere?"
Rose perked a brow as she stepped out of the car, glancing around her yard to see no sign of the Striders.
"No. Did you leave the door unlocked again?"
Roxy made a sound of irritation and slammed her door.
"No! I locked it! I can't believe Dirk still knows how to break in, that stupid cunt--"
And the front door opened, and out stepped aforementioned trespasser and younger brother. Rose instantly relinquished her slouch for a more elegant poise as Dave gave her a small nod of "hello", and Roxy went to put up her middle finger, but it was only half-hearted, and her lips parted in a silent gasp.
"Need help with the groceries, or are you just going to pretend that you loathe me."
Dirk strolled up to the car with the soft click of dress shoes, sunburst eyes glancing over his shades at Roxy. His hands were placed, model-like, in the pockets of his crisp black slacks, the sleeves of his white collared shirt rolled up above his elbows to reveal firm, lean muscles, complimented by his suspenders. Rose couldn't recall ever seeing him dress so nicely, and she quickly gathered the shopping bags, shutting the door with her heel as she bypassed the utterly absurd adults ("I... Erm, you...? Why are you dressed?" "You're drunk." "Stop! No! OH MY GAWD, don't unbutton your shirt, the children--!") and headed for the fidgeting figure at her door.
"Dave." Rose's eyes glinted, and she curtseyed. This Strider was dressed in a red t-shirt and black shorts, like a normal person. "You're early. Here."
She handed off the bags to him and walked right by him, gingerly kicking off her flats and placing them by the door. Dave was spinning on his heel, scowling with some amusement.
"Yes, m'lady. Please, let me get that for you. Your majesty, please, don't walk away with your hips shimmying like that, I'm already starving. Ooh, your majesty, how did you know I had the most violent foot fetish of all time. Sit down so I can get a whiff of your walkers."
"Call off the hounds, you know I've no time for trivialities like peasants such as yourself."
"Christ, I'm not worthy."
He caught up with her by the stairs, and gently bumped shoulders with her. Rose glanced up, smiling, and saw him smirking back.
"Hi," he said.
"Hello. It's been an awfully long few days. I take it you and Bro have been well?"
"Tch. Yeah, we cuddled on the couch, watched some chick flicks, I took him out to dinner, y'know. I think the couples therapy has been good for us, but when the press finds out about the baby, all hell is gonna break loose like a fucking NASA expedition engine failure to the sun."
The bags crumpled between them, and Dave watched Rose's reaction carefully, though he made sure not to let it show. Because he liked watching her cheeks pinch in a small, secretive smile, liked watching her glossy eyes get sparkly when she thought something was funny, and liked watching them avert as she mused over his words and thought of the best way to spar in return.
"You make it very apparent when you're in heat, you know."
The bags finally reached their last destination beside Rose's closet, and they turned to face each other fully, and the conversation lapsed. Rose stood there, almost blushing, face bursting with pleasure despite her efforts, and Dave was fingering a hole in his pants with much vigor, all of his attention divided between controlling his heart rate and trying to absorb the radiance of the girl in front of him.
They stared. The room charged with warmth, the tickle of potential wandering fingers and desperation, the heavy weight of possibilities encircling their stomachs. Rose felt that her breathing was too shallow, and Dave itched to just touch her, just reaffirm her existence and the feel of her skin, and there was the terrible knowledge that they both knew what the other wanted (maybe hopefully) and...
Rose found courage, and asked with her usual starch, "And are you going to kiss me, or shall I just start making lunch?"
Dave buckled, but rolled his eyes. His tone was self-defeating as he peered around the room's corners. "I can't, chiquitita. I... You remember what you told me the other day."
Rose moved in closer, thumbing the soft skin inside of her elbow as she looked up at him accusingly.
He was looking anywhere but at her, all over the room, his feet, the floor; "Dunno if I wanna do that."
She was so super close suddenly and Dave let a breath go between his teeth as he stepped back, gently pressing his fingertips to her shoulders to try and hold the distance.
"Rose, I can't. It's dangerous, and risky, and a fuckton of other reasons, and you... smell good. Fuck, no, that's not what I want to say. Don't look at me like that. Rooose."
"Strider, I think you're trying to seduce me."
Wasn't he? No, no, no, Dave had to remind himself, that he wasn't, and he bit the inside of his cheek and screwed his eyes shut and tried not to think about how his mouth was watering. Not long ago, Rose had kindly enlightened him that any sort of intense emotional roller coaster or concentration could lead to him changing, and that was not limited to aggression, as he had believed before. And now, with the very real threat of reliving the last month of summer all over again, he needed to keep a very tight grip on his emotions.
But when Rose Lalonde was inches from him, her natural perfume consuming all of his heart and her curt, knowing smile invading his veins, and the memory of the very first day they walked home from school and she just, she, defied everything? She unraveled the world from him, and then just a mere week ago, when he accepted her entirely the only person he'd loved, and, she just...
He didn't realize that his fingers were sinking into her shoulders in needing grip, and she was waiting, patiently, certain that he would give in. Wouldn't he always give in?
"You're a fuckin' piece of work, you know," he grumbled.
Rose's smile was subtle but definite and sly.
"Am I not pretty enough for you, Dave?" she simpered to his throat. "Does my voice not captivate you? My words not weave a golden web, meant to ensnare your very soul? You are indeed a crooked boy if you mean to let me believe I am undesirable..."
And Dave felt the fierce ache of his desire and snapped. He felt something the faraway sensation of his teeth elongating in his mouth and his vision growing over-acute and he dove in for her mouth, finally able to take it for himself and drown himself in kissing her, the one thing he fitfully fantasized over for what felt like centuries, and Rose's eyes were wide and beautiful and her lips parted, and his fingers deftly caught her chin--
"Kids! Come, we're going to have lunch!"
He was a breadth away from her, every faint pore of skin and every burgundy and wine coloured freckle in her eyes illuminated and illustrious as the single strands of blonde that floated in a cropped halo around her. His hand was tangled in one of hers, and he had to shut his eyes to shut out the sensations and make sure he didn't scream.
There was the longest second of silence in the world, filled only with the sound of heated breathing and heart palpitations. Then, Rose yelled back, "Coming!" and all was quiet.
Dave stood there, steaming, for several more seconds, and opened his eyes just as Rose left a peck on his cheek that felt like a scorch mark.
"You're safe for now, I suppose." Was all she said.
Dave had to count to fifty as they descended back to their guardians.
Lunch was outdoors; a pleasantly uncomfortable affair, both lighthearted and tense. There were bread rolls, and an assortment of cheeses and fruits and hummus, and then baked macaroni and cheese as sides, and fried chicken and pasta and crab bisque; there was little difficulty in telling who had contributed what to the meal.
Roxy drank cranberry juice and laughed in a pitch far too high, and was pink for the entire ordeal. Dirk ate plentiful fried chicken and pasta, some strange but surprisingly tasty combination. Dave leaned over when he saw Rose's hesitant expression, and whispered unintentionally close to her ear, "It's actually good, promise. I've had to eat it half my life."
Rose, feeling flushed, and not one to be impolite, took a helping, and was in fact pleasantly surprised when it was delicious.
If you'd asked Rose three months ago what she would be doing the last day of summer, she would not have dreamed that she'd be having this lunch. Furthermore, she would vehemently deny the possibility of enjoying it.
But fate is a strange and fickle friend, and in the moment, laughing at her mother spilling her drink on the table, watching her old friend from college awkwardly pat her dry with his napkin, holding hands tightly under the table with a boy she'd once completely ignored, she would have to say it felt something like...
"For someone who's been sober for ten days, you're kind of like dealing with a toddler, did you know that?"
"I can clean myself up! I am not a child!"
"I hope you swallow your fork, you abysmal son of a--"
Dave's fingers remained intertwined tightly with Rose's out of view, squeezing and stroking. He traced things on the back of her hand, slowly and painstakingly, words that she couldn't quite make out but was very curious to know.
"He likes her," Dave mumbled under his breath. They'd been talking in whispers the whole time.
"Oh?" Rose replied just as softly. "I wasn't sure if it was just brotherly affection on his part. She implied to me that he left her, and I assumed it may have been due to her advances or something of the like."
"Nah. He liked her, that's why he left. I don't think I've seen him wear that dandy-shit clothes in like, five years, either."
Her gaze flitted up, and she teased, "Would you ever doll up for me?"
Dave just huffed and scooped macaroni into his mouth.
Naturally, that was lunch. Dirk leaned over the table too much, always staring at Roxy, who managed to drop her utensils and mix up her words more than when she was completed plastered, ever. And Rose clung to Dave's hand beneath the tablecloth, swinging gently, always rubbing in slow circles, always making quiet remarks when their parental figures were not paying attention, always ignoring the marvelous prickle of chills down her spine and her hairs standing on her neck. Things continued in this fashion until a chilly breeze crept by, bringing with it the promise of dusk, and everyone fed and watered, the setting was cleared and brought inside.
There was the suggestion of a movie, but there was deep disagreement. Dirk insisted on washing dishes and was threatening Dave with his eyes to offer to help, as well, but fortunately for the younger Strider, Roxy caught it and demanded that he and Rose return to her room so they could play video games and have their fun before school started again.
And everyone was more than happy to oblige.
Dirk did dishes anyway.
Upstairs, old music played softly from Rose's computer, and Dave stood awkwardly in the middle of the room.
"Here," she said, procuring something from beneath her bed. "The surprise was ruined, unfortunately, but it hasn't lost its function. Would you still like it?"
She rose from the floor, holding a knitted bundle that Dave recognized as the red and white scarf she'd been making for him. And if he hadn't known better, he'd say that by the way she was faintly nursing her bottom lip and her brow barely furrowed, she was nervous.
"I won't be offended if you don't."
And in two steps, he was in front of her. He took the scarf from her like it was a million dollar artifact, and he wrapped it around his neck snugly. It was perfect, he was sure of it.
Rose thought so, too. Her lips turned up, and the song in the background crooned, 'Don't change a hair for me, not if you care for me...'
"My magnum opus," she drawled.
"Some scarf for some shitty guy that I don't know why you like? Sure, go with that. You'll do better one day." The words were meant to be a joke, but he found himself drifting into a more melancholy undertone. Rose sensed this, and carefully, reached out, taking a hand in hers, and placing another on her hip.
She didn't know if he could dance, but had a good feeling about it -- he liked music, he was picky about time signature and all of those such matters -- and led him in a lulling sway, quiet and dreamy, to the music that played.
"You say that as if there is better," she countered.
Dave's mouth tugged down in a corner.
"So, let me get this straight. You have basically been a hermit in this town for, oh, y'know, your whole life. And generously estimating, been acquainted with a hundred dudes. Spoken to that many who were in your kawaii-ass peer group, maybe. And -- listen here -- you just so happened to run into me, and just so happened to think that I'm hot shit or something for some shitty reason..."
"That's certainly one way to put it..."
"Shhhh, ma petit, the big bad wolf is talking. You can take your goodies to grandma when I'm done, k?"
His fingers drifted down her cheek, and her eyes followed them, and again, somehow managing to be more potent every time, was the desire to kiss her. Rose wanted nothing more.
"Go on, then, Remus."
"I've wrecked so much shit in your life in one summer than most people do in a lifetime." The words needed to come out quickly, quickly enough so that he wouldn't break down and tell her that no matter much he loved her, he knew she'd probably leave him one day, and he was fine with that, he would understand. "I've physically hurt you, and I've scared you, and made you sick... Look, Rose, I've completely taken the biggest shit on your life. I'm more concerned with the fact that you're totally fucking sunshine and buttercups about it, really. God, why do you always look at me like that?"
Dave scowled and spun her under his arm just so he didn't have to look at her, and he caught her in his arms, feeling warmth in his chest. How he wouldn't trade anything in the world for this.
"Are you done?" Rose's voice was calm. He nodded.
"Did you know, Dave, that Little Red Riding Hood doesn't have to be interpreted so literally?"
Her hips rolled softly in his palm with the music, her eyes glinted with promise.
"The wolf, you see, doesn't have to be just a wolf... but in fact, a metaphor for Little Red's sexuality and or adolescence."
Her arms wrapped around his shoulders, and she tucked her body in close to his, shifting them into a slow dance, intimate, that he couldn't bring himself to escape. Her voice, now, was much closer to his neck, his tingling ear.
"They do copulate in the woods in some versions, after all..." Dave almost stumbled, but she went on. "And if you think that you've ruined my innocence or happiness, I must reject your claim completely. If I had my way, it would be always summer, and I could relive every moment as often as I pleased."
At some point, they had stopped dancing. He wasn't sure when. Didn't care. His heart only pounded loudly in his ears, and his hands, curled protectively around her waist, moved up her slight curves to her shoulders, sliding over them, stroking softly.
"You..." His voice almost cracked, and his cheeks felt hot. "You're being ridiculous, Lalonde."
"Perhaps," she whispered. And she moved up to her tip toes, and pressed her lips to his.
Dave thought he'd understood the power that came with changing, the spine-tingling compulsion of it akin to something like LSD or cocaine use. The freeing sensation of his skin ripping off of his body and replacing with reliable fur, his hands and feet forming into earthen and glorious paws, were the sweetest release he knew, albeit, there was always some disgust that remained before and after.
It was nothing. Zero percent.
Heat lightning filled every fiber of him at Rose's kiss, her lips forming so perfectly against his, the pliant way her mouth accepted his and moved. Her hands lay frozen, cautious on his lapels, and he caught them in his own, squeezing, groaning from his throat as he kissed her back. Was he starving? He hadn't remembered being starving. But there was a new awareness of a gap in his chest that could only be filled with her.
"God," he croaked against her mouth and Rose just made some noise of agreement and moved back to him. She kissed him for what she hoped was a century, because she would die in ecstasy if this was the last thing she experienced. Something molten shot straight to her core, a feeling she recognized but had never felt like this, a thousand fold, and with his hands still clutching hers, she drifted to his neck, his hair, lacing her fingers in to keep her grounded. Over and over, barely breathing, her lips found his, releasing a season's worth of pent up need, and when they truly broke away for air, they both realized that they were not totally vertical, and actually toppling.
Dave smoothly caught Rose and redirected them, hurrying backwards to her more comfortable bed. He didn't stop, couldn't make himself if he wanted to, only rushed back to her intoxicating lips and kissed her again and again. Rose made the smallest of noises and pulled on his shirt, tugging him up and over her and he gladly cupped her head in his hand, deliberating if he should deepen the kiss yet. If she was comfortable with it. If she wanted to. If she wanted him?
Truthfully, this was Rose's first kiss, and she was very busy pretending that she knew exactly what she was doing, and going slightly crazy over if Dave could sense her inexperience or not. But it was hard to think about that when her whole head was full of his touch and his heady, boyish smell and the low sound he made when her fingernails drifted against his neck.
He had difficulty in pulling himself away from her mouth, deciding he would think over his idea, but only replaced it with a trail that moved from the corner of it to her jawline and the junction where it met her neck. Her body jerked up against his and her caught her hand gripping the fabric next to his hip and grinned against her skin, kissing it again and again and suckling gently. He hovered in the same area for some time, making sure to never leave a mark too deeply (though everything in his body screamed at him to, in more places than one), and a shaky breath left Rose.
It was at her collarbone, where he nipped and smirked and reverently kissed back up to her cheekbone, that he readjusted. Dave propped himself back up into a sitting position, and taking Rose by the waist, removed her to his lap.
Rose, flushed and dizzy and a mess of nerves, fumbled slightly, but laid her legs comfortably around him and immediately went back to business.
"D'you--" She kissed him again, no longer caring about her skill or finesse, only pleased to be physical and intimate with him after so many ages. "Mmmf-- Rose, I-I-- can I--?"
His hands caught her face, holding her still, and her eyes fluttered open, foggy, just in time to catch her reflection before he pressed his lips against hers. Slowly, he parted them, and she felt his tongue drift against her skin, and she deepened the kiss, hesitantly trying to reciprocate.
The minutes dragged on, and his hands found the welcome flesh of the place where were shirt barely inched up over her waist, and Rose's hands crept into the collar of his shirt, running against his shoulder blades and ticking up his spine, and the room grew hotter and their skin grew stickier, and Dave was panting, and Rose moved her hips closer to his, desperate for some sort of... sort of friction, some release for the slickness that she was encompassing.
For a moment, Dave growled sumptuously into her throat as their tongues slid sweetly against each other and their teeth clacked, and his pelvis dug back into hers. But he froze, and this time, the noise he made was of complete frustration, and he quickly and as harmlessly as possibly shoved her off of him and back onto the safety of the bed as he half-tumbled off.
Rose, light-headed and startled, crawled back over and saw Dave on his back, hands clamped over his mouth and eyes a bright, poisonous shade of crimson, nearly rolled back in his head as his chest heaved. A long, longing whine left his throat, and as he removed his taut hands from his mouth, she had to double-take at the length that his canines were.
"Lalonde, you... You fuckin'... succubus..."
A crooked smile washed over his features, and he covered his eyes, bashful. Rose slumped to her bed with a relieved, but irritated, groan.
"Are you all right? How are you feeling?" She'd hoped, deep in her heart, that she hadn't done something wrong, or bad, or...
"Honestly?" he replied. Her breath caught, and he peeked an eye between his fingers. It was gently easing back to its normal red. "I could eat you up."
And in half a second, a pillow was coming down onto his face, and Rose hissed many foul words with a luminous smile as Dave ducked for cover. He crawled under the bed, and she followed, groping around until he pinned down her wrists and kissed her full on the mouth.
"Now what do we have here?" he purred. Rose huffed.
"We have a rotten cur, I should think."
"God, you do know how to charm a guy. You win."
Rose Lalonde walked home from her first week of school. Normally, she would have company, but the due to the date, she would have to endure for a while longer.
She walked past the idling cars at the stop lights, past the bus stops and couples, past the shops and gas station. She walked the gravel path to her home, down the dirt road. Autumn had finally started to settle, as the sunlight was just warm enough, the leaves on the surrounding forest tinted pumpkin and cardinal coloured around the edges, and the air was comfortably cool as she finally reached her sprawling yard.
Nothing used to truly prompt her to pause, and stare -- this was the case, months ago, back when summer was just beginning. She would ignore the rustling in the bushes, thinking it's probably squirrels. Raccoons. So, Rose Lalonde has no reason to stand with slightest tense to her shoulders, the pronounced alertness in her amarantine stare. And now, truly, she doesn't. The wind passes by, reminding her that everything is all right.
Rose Lalonde looks into the forest. She smiles.
And from somewhere in the forest, he smiles back.
Hello! If you are reading this, that means you've reached the end with me. I am absolutely floored to say that this is the first multi-chaptered fic I've probably ever completed in my life, and with the utmost sincerity and gratitude, I have to say that it would not have been possible without every single person who read this, gave me kudos, left their comments and encouragement, took the time to see what this even was. I grew along with this fic, and I want to thank all of you for doing what you did.
I know the last chapter was mostly fluff, but I hope it was satisfying, and I hope you enjoyed Always Summer.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you!
(p.s. soooo there might be a roxy/dirk epilogue...)