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Stepping Stones

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A story of group love and care at its best.
—-

Laughter echoed through the alleyway as one lover clung to the other’s arm. They were positively elated with each other’s company, rambling about that one time they did this or that. It was a most excellent time for them indeed. The two were barely visible in the moonlight; the shorter swung off the taller’s arm, facing the figure in the dark.

“You never take the sunglasses off, do you Dave Strider?” He inquired, taking the other’s hand in a loving manner.

“No.” The other clearly male voice spoke shortly, smirking at the mention of his last name “Egbert, how many times have we gone over this?” He chuckled and took a step towards his lover, draping his arms over Egbert’s shoulders. “Come on, man. I don’t like staying in this place for too long, it gives me the creeps.”

Egbert nodded just as the two heard a loud bang coming from the direction they came. They exchanged glances in the dark as Strider grabbed Egbert’s hand. Far away running footsteps told them that the bang they heard was not a good sign. Dave knew better than to try to outrun a fight, especially in this neighborhood. Running targets were dead targets, his brother had always said.

“Shhh, John, stay close to me.” Dave warned his love. “Just walk calmly, alright? We’ve got no business here.” John nodded in the dark, and the two continued their now silent path along the back alleyway. As the running footsteps grew closer, John grew more nervous. Dave, sensing his anxiety, stopped and pushed John gently to the wall. “Wait for them to pass, just shhh…”

The hurried footsteps drew closer as the figure grew closer in the night, they slowed down when the figure came around the corner. He froze when he saw Dave and John. He sounded like he took a breath to say something, but with another loud bang echoing from behind him. “What the fuck are you fucking standing around for!?” He yelled, alarmed. “Run you stupid fuckasses!” The figure then took off down the alleyway, the gunshots getting closer/

Dave grabbed John’s hand without a second thought and ran after the figure. He knew if they stayed they may be hit with a stray bullet, and if they ran, maybe they could find a place to hide. I leave my sword at home. One day. One fucking day. He thought on the sideline of working a way out of the back alley maze. Dave tore around after the male figure running just ahead of them, pulling his lover the whole way.

Shooting around a corner, they nearly ran into the person from before whom had suddenly stopped. “What… are you…?” Dave panted as John clung to his arm with fear laden in his eyes.

“Shhh!” The figured hissed urgently. He was listening. The gunshots had stopped and it appeared they were no longer being followed. “Alright, follow me.” He demanded, doubling back to make a right turn where they had first made a left. “Do you want to be shot?” He snorted when they did not comply, to which Dave glared at the figure and reluctantly followed.

They looped around a bend, a flickering street light made Dave stop dead. “…Vantas?” He asked the figure, whom was coming into view. He was the average height and had messy black hair and deep sunken eyes, as if he had not been sleeping.

“…Strider?” He inquired, looking to the figure clinging to Dave’s side with a look of mixed fear and pain. “John…” He took a breath, flashbacks of High school plaguing his mind. John was his High school sweetheart, right up until senior year. He painfully remembering when his father grew ill and he had to drop out of school just before graduation. Soon after, he said his goodbyes to John when he went off to college and the two lost contact. They had not seen each other in three years.

“K..Karkat.” John gave a hopeful smile of recognition and Dave’s hand tightened on his hand. “I-”

Another loud bang and muffled shouts drowned John’s words, without time to explain Karkat urged the pair on. They came to a dead end, Karkat skidded to a halt and ran for a side door, fitting a key into it and motioning for the two to follow him inside. They rushed in, Karkat closing the door behind them, panting.

“’Ey, Vantas!” A sudden voice made the three jump, “That better not be you usin’ my key again!” A man with a scraggly beard and a harsh voice came from behind the corner. “Ah! I knew it! I knew you were the one who stole my damn key again, give me that, kid!” Karkat managed a sheepish smile, handing the key to the man. “Awright, look kid, if ya wanna stay here you gotta be a honest fellow, don’ go around stealin’ my keys, you hear? Not get up to yer room before I rent it to someone else.” He growled, a look of amusement twinkling in his eyes just before he walked away.

John and Dave exchanged glances. Karkat avoided their gaze, mumbling; “Apartment complex… this is where I live, alright?” He paused, shook his head and started for the stairs. “I wouldn’t recommend going outside this late at night again, especially here.” He muttered.

“I don’t know this part of town…” Dave muttered, pausing when John whispers something about staying in his ear. “We don’t have anywhere to g—”

“Well, that’s your fucking problem, not mine, Strider!” He spat, trotting up the steps. “Goes for you too, Egbert.” At that, John flinched.

“Fine.” Dave snapped, defending John. “We’ll stay in the fucking lobby. Good riddance.” As Karkat stormed upstairs, Dave lead John into the lobby, and they sat down on the couch. Dave smiled warmly at John and discarded his jacket to drape it around John. “Are you alright…?” He cooed, running a hand through John’s deep black hair. He looked back at Dave through his dusty glasses, tears being withheld from his eyes. He nodded and leaned into Dave.

“I dun mind if ya stay here tonight.” A voice called from the next room over. “Not all that safe ‘ere at night.”

“Strider.” A voice whispered. “Dave, please help me.”

“Uhn…?” Dave looked up, running a hand through his pale white hair, adjusting his sunglasses in the dimly lit room.

“It’s Karkat, look, I know we got off on the wrong foot but please I need your help. And John’s. Please.” He begged. “D-Do… do you remember Makara? Gamzee Makara…? He is going into a fit and… I-I… I need your help please, I know you remember.”

John stirred in Dave’s arms and he nodded. A faint memory swam it’s way to the front of Dave’s mind, the memory of Gamzee. His friend since forever, he got hooked on drugs and then Dave stopped talking to him… But he remembered that day when Gamzee snapped at school. He shuddered and felt an obligation to help before something bad happened. Nudging John, he whispered. “Egbert, c’mon bro…” He kissed John’s forehead. “We need to go help Karkat…”

John made a sleepy sound as Karkat restated the issue. The three young adults rushed upstairs, “I picked up Makara off of the street… he was a heroin addict, no money… he… he had been raped on the street…” He explained quickly. “He had a stash of drugs… and I was helping him come off of it… giving him a lower dose every day…” the hit the top step and Karkat turned right. “Ran out of it a few days ago… I had… to steal some tonight… trying to keep him alive… it wasn’t enough… coming off of it is worse than being on it…” He stopped in front of their room, and he looked back to the other two. It was then he realized Karkat was covered in bruises and had scratch marks on his face from what looked like nails. The cuts were bleeding, and he swayed faintly. “I-I… I can’t hold him down anymore…”

Dave nodded in understanding. “The three of us should do…” He murmured his face relatively blank. Karkat gave a nod and opened the door, leading the two into the small apartment. When they first walked in, there was a small kitchen with a stove and refrigerator. To the left of the kitchen was a sitting room with an old television set and a few chairs that didn’t match the rest of the room. “This way.” Karkat waved them down a hallway. There were two rooms and at the end of the hall a bathroom. “No one is renting out the other room… as long as we do not use it, we don’t have to pay…” he mumbled to Dave’s questioning look and motioned to the door on the right.

Karkat opened the door and entered. “Gamzee…?” He asked calmly. “Gamzee… look who is here to see you, fuckass…”

A boy appearing to be five years well past his actual age looked up from staring blankly at the bed sheets. His black hair was a complete mess, greasy and curled in all directions. It made his face look wild; his deep blue eyes that appeared purple in the shabby lighting of the room were dull and almost lifeless. A faint recognition passed through his expression, though it faded quickly. “Ah… hey Karbrrro… mother fuckin’ miracles seeing you here…” He mumbled, swaying dangerously back and forth where he sat.

“We had to move a second bed in here… he keeps falling off the bed, really fucks with his head…” He mentioned to the pair, cautiously approaching Gamzee. “Gam… Gam hey… it’s getting kind of late…” He reached out and put a hand on Gamzee’s shoulder. “Why don’t you lie down…”

Gamzee tensed, “N-No… NO!” He shoved Karkat away and kicked at the bed to get himself away from him. “N-NO! No mother fucking way in fucking HELL you are taking me! I-I won’t go!” He yelled as Karkat hit the wall with a loud thud and he slid to the floor in pain.

Dave sprung into action, he quickly pinned Gamzee to the wall with his wrists above him. Gamzee started grossly sobbing as Dave’s glasses slid down and he stared at him with his piercing red eyes. “Gamzee Makara, we are trying to help, let us help you.”

John was at Karkat’s side and he helped him stand. Karkat swayed and crawled onto the side of the bed. “Shhhhh… Gam…” Karkat affectionately ran a hand down Gamzee’s cheek as Dave kept him from moving. “Shhhh…. Gam…”

“F-Fuck!” Gamzee spat, “Fucking honk mother fucker! Honk honk honk!” He trembled as Dave held him in place.

“Shhhh… Gamzee… listen to me…. Shhhhhhhh…” He whispered gently as John scooted on the two beds, biting his lip and watching ready to help get Karkat out of the way if Gamzee broke loose. “Shhhhhhh….”

“H-…hooooonk….” Gamzee shuddered, no longer struggling.

“That’s it… shhh…” Karkat whispered lovingly. “Just shh…”

Gamzee sniffed and let out a sob, relaxing as tears rolled from his eyes. Dave let him go and Karkat pulled Gamzee into a loving hug and whispered something in his ear, something kind and loving to which Gamzee fell asleep listening to.

After the three were sure Gamzee was fast asleep, Dave offered for him and John to go in the other oom. Karkat simply shook his head, blushing for a moment. “H-Hey… uh… you two… could stay in here…” he mumbled. “Not that comfortable on the couch, and the other room isn’t ours and there are two beds just pushed together so…” He blushed and looked away, shaking his head a few times. “Fuck, just stay.”

The four of them rested under the cover of gentle moonlight. Dave held John protectively in his arms with his back to Gamzee who was laying on his back with Karkat curled up in his arms. They all smiled when they fell asleep, and though none of them realized it yet, but they were home.