There were four tiny beds, and two squalling, squashy, red-faced things in each. A couple of them had Hass's tan, but they all had dark hair and were so doughy there was no identifying them by facial features.
Lucky for him the lab was temperature-controlled, which meant that as Romy was going down the row, wrestling clean diapers on the wriggly things, the rest of them were waiting their turn buck naked. Boy and girl, girl and boy; those were the Egbert and Harley sets, not that he had any clue on Earth which was which. So then the two sets left over would be...
"They're not going to bite, you know," Romy drawled without even turning to look at him, as she forced a sausage-like Harleybertian leg in a leg-hole. She was smirking, though, he could tell from her voice. "Or projectile venom. Hell, even vomit wouldn't get that far."
He erased a faint scowl from his face and took a couple of measured steps away from the door. None of them were even vaguely blond. He felt vaguely cheated.
His set was the one with dicks. He'd insisted. (Bad enough they were making him take responsibility for children but like fuck he'd know how to handle a girl. Or -- more important -- how he'd teach someone whose body didn't move or balance the way his did.) He couldn't even tell which one was Baby Him. Neither of them looked anything like what he saw in the mirror.
"They'd totally pee that far though. Little bastards aim really well, too, I don't know how the heck they do it."
Somehow he didn't take a step back, though he knew she'd caught him twitching back, faint enough that anyone who didn't know him well would never have noticed. She snickered.
"Pens in that drawer, wrist tags on the table. Fill yours already."
"Shit, babe, you want me to figure out names myself?" he complained half-heartedly. "Can't they just go by Strider Two and Strider Two Bis? Bis and Secundus? Jun and Ior? Huh, that'd be badass."
"Bzzt! Try again."
"Like I know what to name those, every time I name even a houseplant you bitch me out."
"No kidding I bitch you out, I don't need my cactus named after my stepmother on a big polished brass nameplate, it might surprise you but the old witch can read."
"Shit yeah, I'm surprised. I'd have thought that cactus would have kicked it by then considering how you treat it, maybe it's even better-named than I knew."
"Oh look, a misdirection!" She turned to smirk at him over her shoulder, made-up lips quirking in both fondness and ruthless mockery. "Take that pen before I shove it where the sun don't shine, honeybee."
Well. Writing down stuff gave him an excuse to step away from the baby beds and their wriggly, screechy contents. What next, pick one up? Shyeah right. Anna and Ro-Lal would descend on him like wraiths from hell for making them redo his batch and waste nine months of carefully guided growth when he inevitably dropped or otherwise broke it.
"Seriously... You are not to call him Junior. Either of them, but especially your mini-me, it'd be really bad for his emotional development." She was almost singing now, voice going all up and down in pitch, like the words ought to have been about bunnies and daisies and lovely adorable baybees. "We don't want him to be a stunted asshole with negative social skills, right? No we don't, no we don't."
"I love you too," he drawled. The wrist tags were pristinely white, so tiny he could hide one of them whole with a single finger. Crazy.
"I'm vetoing that shit all up and down the turd, lengthwise. There shall be no Burt Strider Junior on my watch."
She was still sing-songing it. He shook his head in fake bafflement. "Okay. I give. A real name, not pre-worn." He couldn't even look at the baby -- which was it, even? -- he just went ahead and named him without looking. "Hm. Dirk."
Lalonde stopped working (Miss Hargbert Bis the Well-Tanned kicked her straight in the palm like a karate champion) and turned to stare at him. "... Dirk? Seriously?"
Burt made a show of considering it. "Fuck yeah. I have never been more serious. Look at this seriousness all up in my face."
"Burt and Dirk? Dirk Strider? Are you trying to get him to follow you into porn?"
Served her right for scarring his mind with babies. For breaking his will enough to consider taking the poor little bastards, even if one of them was technically him and therefore would likely deserve it in very short order. As he wrote in the tag with a flourish he allowed the corner of his lips to curl up, slow and satisfied, reveling in his victory. "Shit, think of the dough we'll rake in for the incest crowd. Real-life trans-generational daddykink twincest. And the other one will be--"
"Dave!" Romy interrupted. "He'll be Dave."
"Hey, hey, my rugrat to name."
She was done repackaging the first four and was up to his -- to the boys now. She picked up one of the two, the grabby-handed one, lifted him up. Burt frowned; she hadn't picked up any of the Bertleys, what the heck. "I claim right of genetic whatchamacallit. Good name, Dave. Solid, no-frills, won't get him beat up in the school yard..." A firm nod, and then she couldn't help herself and chuckled. Okay why was she walking toward him. Why was she walking toward him holding a baby. "...Though now I really want to see what name you'd figure out that sounds like balls."
Why was she not stopping. Okay he'd had 'hold your ground' as a mantra ever since he turned six or thereabouts, he'd always been a stubborn little motherfucker; he wasn't moving. But shit. "S'okay," he said, eyeing the squishy little thing in her arms. Maybe it'd start to projectile pee in a second. Had to be ready to dodge like ninja. "That's the bastard child. He's been tainted already. I'd have to name him something that rhymes with -ssy."
For a second Romy's eyes glinted in evil amusement, and he thought she really was going to shove the Dave-lump at him, and it would be his fault for not knowing when he was beat and it was time to shut his mouth. But a second later she started laughing.
Also punched him in the arm, hard enough he knew he'd have a sizeable bruise later on. "...Okay that was funny, but never make that joke ever again. Not in their hearing at least."
She stood a step away from him, barely. Her arms almost touched his stomach. He looked down.
Dave had weird-colored eyes. Kinda grayish, murkily so, nothing like Burt's light amber-brown. Who amongst the five of them had anything like gray? The closest was Egbert's blue, but even her son's eyes weren't that grayish.
He stuck his hands in his back pockets, so it'd be clear as fuck he wasn't picking him up. Couldn't even hold his head himself, for fuck's sake. Burt'd kill him somehow. "I'm gonna raise them to be such sneaky little bastards you're never sure what they're hearing, where from, how or why," he said, voice dropping quiet in a way he didn't entirely mean it to, that he couldn't help, because yes he was going to raise them oh fuck he was, he'd said he was, "so I can keep it behind my teeth. But honest now, I don't know how I'm gonna deal with the fact that he's half you."
She considered him from under her curly bangs, all mussed from where she'd combed them. His fingers twitched, wanting to comb them back, but she was his best bro and so that shit was just too gay.
He could feel the warmth radiating from her arms. The baby's warmth.
"Best advice? Cautiously."
"Yeeeeah, just about. Maybe a HAZMAT suit, too. Could have been pure wild untamed male like I spat him out from my thigh all formed but no, you went and contaminated him with femaleness."
"Another crack like that and I'm trading poor Davey for my Romy Mark Two. We'll see how you deal then."
Burt knew she couldn't see his eyes through his shades. He knew she couldn't. But she was like a shark, she could scent it from miles away. "I'll name her Puss. I swear to all that's holy I really will."
Romy smiled, the wide one that made dimples come out. Dimples made of pure evil. "Or you could have both of the girls!"
Shit, he was getting flattened by someone who was like half his weight soaking wet. Okay she was also right vicious in a fight, but he had blades on him and she didn't have a gun! And he was still losing the argument. The bratlings had him unfairly off-balance. "They can be called Right and Left and their middle names will both be Tits, do not push me, woman."
"Alright, I'll leave you guys to your sausagefest. Sit here."
She herded him back with the baby until his thighs backed into the chair and he had no choice and sat, obedient and meek and fucking unnerved, and she pointed at the tag until he capitulated and wrote in "Dave Strider" obediently, and then she betrayed him by putting Dave in his lap anyway.
"No moving or he'll fall on his head, and then I'll castrate you. I can do that, I'm a doctor! Scalpels all over the place."
She snapped an ID bracelet around the kid's wrist and danced cheerfully away. Burt sat, the baby on his lap. Little turd didn't want to break eye contact, or whatever he thought he could establish through Burt's shades. His mother's son, that one. Burt leveled an unimpressed (he seriously hoped) look over the rim. "You think you're getting me to blink first? Yeah, we'll just see. I've never lost a staring contest in my life, bitch."
"Bonding time! Encourage your child to drink, you deadbeat primary caregiver."
He lost the contest when he had to look up or get a milk bottle in the nose.
"Oh, fuck you, Romy. Right now I don't even care that you have tits, fuck you anyway, this is how much I hate you."
Dave must have scented the milk like a shark would blood (yeah, Romy's kid, from now on he was blaming Romy for everything Dave did, starting from breathing) because he started making whimpery, unStriderly noises. One of the Strilonde chicks over in the baskets mewled out a long protest; Romy abandoned him with a wave and a "You sure know how to sweet-talk a girl!," the bottle in his hand and Dave snuffling and trying to suckle his tanktop.
"Hey, no, you don't know where that thing's been, hell I don't even know where it's been, I picked it off the floor this morning but I could swear I hadn't seen it for a week before that. Come on, uh, just guessing here but I think I should aim the tit-looking end at entry point, can't be hard -- huh."
Yeah. Like a shark. Apparently figuring out how to feed a baby was mostly letting him figure out how to feed himself. Burt could live with that.
"Not that low an angle, he'll suckle in air and burp for hours."
Shit, Dave was like a Hoover. (His nails were so fucking tiny. For the first time of his life Burt wished he were closer to the queen end of the homogay scale, so he'd know what to do about all the calluses that made the palms of his hands like sandpaper. He couldn't feel the baby's skin through leather gloves, only with his fingertips, and they were rough too, it must scratch and he was so soft and fragile.) Wait, Romy had been saying something... oh yeah. "Uh, burp? What's wrong with that? It's manly as fuck. Never too young to start practicing the national burpthem. Farts can wait until toddlerhood I guess."
Romy wandered back to them and perched her butt on the edge of a metal countertop, Burt Junior in the crook of her arm and a second bottle in hand. Dirk had the same kind of murky gray eyes, dark and beady. He was just as tiny as Dave; quieter, though. "Do you know the word regurgitation? Because that's what'll happen, he'll eject just as much milk as air, and then once you're done cleaning up you get to attempt to put some more milk back in all over again. Not that it won't happen anyway but it's a different degree of magnitude."
"... You're not any fun."
"Babies aren't any fun," Romy whispered confidentially, leaning close and almost flattening Dirk under one of her boobs. Dirk went straight for it; she had to detach him from her doctor's blouse with a finger in his mouth, that he started trying to suckle instead. "Spoiler: if you don't laugh you'll scream. Oh hey, Dirkie, what's wrong with you, since when are you a boobs man, oh you're hungry, yeah, here's the bottle, mmm bottle. No.? No bottle? Dave's going to be done before you at this rate -- aha, I knew it, competition always works. There's a good Burtbaby."
"I'll thank you never to call my legacy anything like Dirkie ever again, or I'll sue for mental trauma, thanks so very much."
He was snarking totally on autopilot. Dave's ridiculously tiny fingers had found his middle finger and were gripping like they planned to tear it right off.
"Lemme guess, the little blights can do nothing but piss and eat and sleep for a couple years, so they're using some kind of cuteness gamma rays to mindfuck reasonable adults into not turning them into lambskin mittens."
"That's the carrot," Romy agreed, nodding slowly. "The stick is the crying. Don't worry, it won't take them very long to break you in."
"Hey, no, fuck that noise, you promised you'd keep them until they were two and I wouldn't have to deal before then."
Romy cackled. "I lied. Optimal parental bonding says you have to be here at meal times and bedtime without fail, and you must feed them and talk to them and baaaathe them. Also you have to carry them skin to skin at least a hour a day!"
"Carry them what. What's that Mr. Ducklips? Quack, quack quack quaaaack? Yeah, man, totally agree."
Romy kicked his leg. Burt wrapped himself up on instinct around Dave, knees rising, upper body curling over the baby. He glowered when he realized; but she was already going back to Dirk, lips curled in discreet but nevertheless smirky satisfaction.
He was pretty damn sure the one hour's naked cuddling thing was more for his benefit than for theirs, because with Anna Egbert and Hass Harley and the nurses (right now all off-duty, which was why he'd come now and not two hours ago when it wasn't the middle of the night) they'd be cuddled and petted enough.
He didn't want to ask, though; no doubt she'd pull out some bullshit research paper from some guy Burt didn't have a way to know was disproved seven ways from Sunday or not to support her thesis.
He didn't want to ask. She might take photos -- strike that, she would take photos, of him laying down shirtless with two babies sprawled face-down on his chest, tucked in the crook of his arm, he could see that coming like he was the Seer of Friend Assholery -- but she'd never show them to anyone else, he could trust her that far. No one else had to know.
Dave was so ridiculously tiny, and Dirk might even be tinier, and they couldn't hold their heads and they were myopic little fucks, they'd stay that way a while because woohoo genetic experiments and which one was it who could see a little into infrared again, and their hair was dark seriously what the hell shit had better grow out and into proper blond or he'd dye it pink, swear he would.
He couldn't wrap his mind around what they were, what they would be in time. He could barely wrap it around what he was, now.
He was a (not father not a father just fucking not a father) family man now. He had this, this decades-late twin brother, and his brother's brother (who was also half his best bro's son but never mind that, he'd seen worse age gaps,) so, yeah, little brother too, he'd always wanted a little brother (even once he realized it'd be shitty as fuck to bring them into that fucking life he had and stopped asking Santa and his mom and his foster parents for one and gone from foster homes to juvie, yeah, no little brothers in there, no space for one, you're on your fucking own, Strider, you've always been, always will be, who the fuck would depend on you for anything that isn't busting heads in aesthetically pleasant patterns anyway, honestly.)
He'd always wanted a little brother and now he had two. Shit, man.
Bah. His leather jacket would fit two more, he was sure. He could take them driving along the coast, get them asleep that way, only the wind and the evening dim and his bike rumbling between his thighs and his kids in his jacket like he was some kind of rad as hell biker kangaroo mom. No problem when they were so tiny. None at all.
When Dave decided it was time to pee Burt really regretted pushing his shades up just to see him better, like maybe if he stared long enough he'd find actual identifying features under those doughy cheeks. Little fucker had got him right in the eye.
And then of course Dirk started kicking and squeaking like he thought it was the most hilarious thing ever in his whole fucking life, shut your whore mouth baby you're one day old what do you know.
Yeah, they were Striders alright. He took a towel from Romy with a thanks, and only whipped her with it for laughing a very little bit.