Chapter 1: In Which Karkat Must Be Dissuaded from Doing Something Stupid
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Watching Karkat wake up was always a practice in various states of horribleness, but Sollux had always imagined that the particular brand of awful that was Karkat waking up from a concussive blow to the head to be something akin to a sunrise.
There was the initial, figurative lightening of the horizon in his muffled per-conscious grumbling. It was quiet and incessant and, like the troll it originated from, impossible to ignore. Also like Karkat, it became unbearably obnoxious to nearly everyone within then minutes.
This was followed by his sudden and horrific leap into consciousness. Usually heralded by flailing and shouting and occasionally falling from wherever he had been perched, it was never pleasant for anyone. Karkat made sure of it.
“First I need coffee and then I need more coffee and after that is when I will fucking deal with the world, and not a second before.”
The glorious, harrowing finale to the farce was, generally, Karkat deciding who to pin the blame to.
Karkat mainlining coffee was a vaguely disturbing sight. He barely paused to breathe. Sollux kept his mug topped up in the faint hope it would help.
One coffeepot in he finally pulled the mug away from his mouth long enough to get a word out that wasn't blasphemous and four letters long.
“Who was it?” he asked, holding his mug out for more. Sollux hesitated before tipping the last of the coffee in. It was dark, and granulated, and bore more than a passing resemblance to sewer sludge. The noise Karkat made when he sipped it was pornographic.
“I don't know what you're talking about.” Sollux hedged, handing the empty coffee pot off to Kanaya in exchange for a full one. They were familiar with his astonishing addiction to the beverage and weren't willing to deal with the property damage that ensued when a concussed Karkat woke without coffee.
There had been three fatalities last time.
“I'll grudgingly admit I'm not as freakishly perceptive as Rose but give me some fucking credit, I'm not Gamzee.” Karkat informed him sourly. “No matter how much you all probably want to, it's pretty fucking rare for someone to hit me that hard for no fucking reason!”
Kanaya hurriedly nudged Sollux to pour Karkat another mug.
“Goddamn you.” he sighed. “Of fucking courthe you chose now to be pertheptive.”
“Fuck you. Fuck you right up the ass.”
“Dear, would you mind handing me your mug?” Kanaya didn't actually wait for her politeness to produce results, snatching the mug right out of Karkat's hand and backing away, mugs and coffeepots well out of Karkat's reach.
“It wath Thcratch.”
Karkat spent a few moments on forlorn examination of his newly denuded hand before the name finally registered. Kanaya spent the time frantically gathering all the staplers in reach.
Karkat stood up. It was a very precise movement.
“I'm going to tear this city apart until I find him and then I'm going to murder him.”
“The entire city.”
“Yeth, I underthtood that part-,”
“Ambitiouth, not going to lie, but-,”
“And then, when I find him, I murder him.”
“Karkat, if you would shut up for one fucking-,”
“If you lithten to me onthe in your pan-thearingly idiotic life, now would be the fucking time!”
“That was fucking low.” he hissed, a rigid moment later. Sollux flinched.
“What I believe Sollux is attempting to communicate is that you need to consider this very carefully.” Kanaya patted Sollux's arm soothingly. If he were less tense, Karkat would have gagged. “This is not an ordinary situation, by far.”
“I'm aware of the situation. I find Scratch, and then I murder him. It's really quite simple, Sollux, I don't know how you managed to be such a fuckwit despite your massive intellect.” Karkat began striding for the door.
With a snap of ozone Karkat's desk caught fire. Paperwork crackled merrily.
“Now ith the time for you to thit the fuck down.”
Karkat sat the fuck down, staring at the fire.
“Did I know you could do that?” he asked dumbly. Sollux was lavishly disinterested in his question. There was truly astonishing rage to indulge first.
“Dear, please put Karkat's desk out.” Kanaya's voice, a trifle more stiff that strictly ladylike, intruded on his reddish haze. Sollux huffed a sulky sigh.
The fire went of with a snap of appleberry sparks and if there was a bit more spark and a lot more noise than there needed to be, no one was willing to force the issue.
The stunned expression on Karkat's face shouldn't have been as endearing as it was. Sollux sent his hormones the billionth memo Re: not finding Karkat's petulant, immature bouts of idiocy as adorable as they did. It was getting embarrassing.
“Did I know you could do that?” Karkat asked again, faintly. He looked like he was about to pass out again and hitting the ground would probably do nothing for his concussion, so Sollux quietly scooted another chair over to catch him.
The last thing anyone in the building wanted to go through was having Karkat wake up in their vicinity twice in the same hour.
“Apparently not.” Sollux leaned back against his desk, relaxing extremely reluctantly. Karkat twitched in reflexive anger at the tone of deeply unimpressed sarcasm.
There was a momentary staring match.
“I abhor bringing up such incendiary topics.” Kanaya interjected. Her ironic tone came within inches of making Sollux smile, despite his tension. Bless his moirail. “But I'm afraid that Doctor Scratch is one that we must.”
Karkat's customary rage snapped back to life like an extremely pissed-off guided missile.
“So what the fuck was wrong with my plan to murder him?” he snapped. Sollux groaned and rubbed his eyes. It was way too fucking early for him to be talking Karkat down from a suicidal crusade. Perhaps it was telling that this wasn't the first time.
“Should I thtart with the mathive property damage or the fact that you won't fucking thurvive, because I'd thay they're both pretty damn applicable!.”
Karkat snorted. Sollux considered setting his chair on fire. Only the fact that it was about as mature as what Karkat had just done really stopped him.
“Thanks for your concern!” Karkat's tone practically oozed smarmy sarcasm.
Kanaya jumped into the foray with a strike taken seemingly directly from Rose's Big Book of Ways to Make People Feel Bad.
“You may feel free to gamble your own life, but what of the rest of us?” she asked quietly.
Karkat's expression said that he knew there was a trap in that sentence but he wasn't sure where it was or how it was going to be triggered. Sollux was suitably impressed and a little worried about the repercussions of Kanaya and Rose's inevitable hookup.
“Er.” he hazarded with the distinct air of edging out on a wire over an abyss. “What... about the rest of you?”
“I have made a study of Doctor Scratches methods, both in the medical and the criminal arena. He has made a habit of murdering everyone involved in any investigation into him, and often anyone the lead detective – you, Karkat – could be considered friends with.”
Sollux watched with interest as all of Karkat's rage collapsed under an avalanche of self-loathing.
“Who would-,” Karkat began slowly.
“You, Sollux, every officer at the hostage scene, me, your odd clown roommate, Dave, John, Rose. Possibly even Eridan.”
“But I don't even like Dave.” Karkat muttered numbly. “And no one can even hurt Rose.”
“Rose does not possess invulnerability.” Kanaya paused. “Probably. And I would prefer that we not to test that.”
“So what do we do?” Karkat asked, guilt-spawned depression neatly clipping out any vitriol.
“We conduct thith invethtigation quietly.” Sollux decided. “And we make sure to bury Doc Thcratch tho deep he never climbth out.”
In the psionic community, setting things on fire is considered quite gauche and is frowned upon in all but the most extreme of circumstances.
Karkat has been ruled an extreme circumstance.
Chapter 2: In Which Vriska Becomes Ambiguously Involved
The technical term for Vriska's profession is the Espionagent.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Vriska had always been a little wary of dipping her intelligence-gathering-toes into the water of law-enforcement. Cops were disgustingly incorruptible, their psychologisticians were notoriously skilled, and their legislacerators were given far too much power, in her opinion. So when Doc Scratch himself dropped by her filthy den of a hive and requested her assistance in the matter of cop-killing in the most polite of tones, she did the most sensible thing.
She lost her two tails as quickly as possible and legged it to the Police Station located deep in the boonies.
The pair of detectives that hustled her quickly into a vacant medical office when she mentioned the Doc's name in an offhand tone were... familiar. She wasn't exactly wary of them, but the short one had a reputation for arresting the underworld's granddaddies and the tall one tended to bring down city blocks when he lost his temper.
Besides, their pet legislacerator looked way to hot when she smiled vindictively and no, no way, Vriska was not having delicious hatesex with a member of the Cruelest Bar. It was way too complicated!
“What do you know about Doc Scratch?” the short one, Karbutt or something, asked her. His accusatory tone was totally unwarranted!
“Your accusatory tone is totally unwarranted!” she told him breezily, hopping up on the desk. She noted that the tall one with the lisp, whose name was probably Buttlux, glowered at that. Whatever, like she cared.
She pricked up her ears at the mutter from Karbutt that she sounded 'just like Terezi'. Obviously this Terezi was a classy dame.
“Tho what do you know about Doc Thcratch?” Buttlux asked her, using a much nicer tone of voice. She patted his shoulder to show that she appreciated it.
“I know he's asked me to keep an eye on you two.” she mentioned casually, flipping a pen through her fingers. She pretended not to enjoy the way their eyes were suddenly riveted to her.
“Then why are you here.” Karbutt bit out, bearing an unattractive resemblance to a trash compactor. Buttlux was sparking ominously. Vriska decided not to risk being spun until she vomited. It was never fun.
“Because I don't like him!” which was true. “And he's not paying me.” which was also true. “I want to be an informant!”
There was a muttered conferral between the Butts that wasn't even worth listening into. Vriska entertained herself by pocketing all the pens and starting on a paperclip chain.
“We'll need some sort of proof of your connection to Scratch.” Buttlux says.
“And how do we even know we can trust you.” Karbutt interjected.
Vriska laughed and looped the paperclip chain over a horn.
“Ask Eridan!” she giggled.
Karbutt and Buttlux had another intense conferral. In the ensuing lack of attention Vriska decided to take her leave. There were informants of her own to talk to, and secrets to prepare to unveil.
“Shit, Sollux, is this Serket?”
“How the fuck am I thuppothed to know? Did you even get her name?”
“Uh. Fuck, no.”
Karkat turned and Sollux glanced around.
Kanaya's office was distressingly empty. And suspiciously bare of paperclips and most of the pens. The only pen left was stuck in the desk up to the nib, unnecessarily holding a post-it in place.
The note read thus:
See you around, 8utts!!!!!!!!
The had exactly one second of warning before Terezi bust into the room.
“Vantas, Captor, I smell secrets!” Terezi screeched, slamming through the door. Sollux yelped and made a wild grab for the post-it while Karkat simultaneously snatched at the imbedded pen. The post-it ended up tucked safely in a pocket and the pen stuck, quivering, in the ceiling.
“No thecretth here!” Sollux laughed nervously. Terezi magnanimously ignored him and zeroed in n Karkat, who was twitching damningly.
“Lies and slanderous untruths, you tell upon me!” Terezi crowed, thumping her cane. “There are secrets, I can smell them!”
“There are no fucking secrets, you crazed bitch!” Karkat snarled back, hoping fervently she couldn't smell lies.
Terezi sniffed threateningly in his direction.
“If I discover otherwise there will be consequences, Vantas!” she told him finally, miffed. She turned and left, accidentally-on-purpose stabbing Karkat in the foot with her cane as she went.
Sollux started breathing again. Karkat hopped up and down on his uninjured foot, silent and gray-faced with agony.
“That went well.” he muttered, pulling the note out of his pocket and smoothing it.
Vriska was exactly zero amount of surprised to find Doc Scratch seated comfortably on her couch, smoking a pipe with a certain ominous comfort. In fact, one could go so far as to say she half expected it. She had so many irons in the fire sometimes she lost track!
“What's up, Doc?” she asked flippantly.
“You lost my tails yesterday.”
Scratch sounded as kindly as ever, a fact that meant exactly diddly over squat. She'd heard him sound gentle and fatherly while ripping out intestines with his bare claws before.
“I did?” she asked innocently. Scratch had a certain creepy liking for innocent tones, whatever. Lucky she was so fucking good at this sort of thing. “I'm terribly sorry.”
“Where did you go, child?” he was smiling. Vriska was capital-n-capital-f Not Fooled.
“Only up to the Station.” she said, casual-like.
If she hadn't been well-versed in Scratch's expressions the twitch in his smile probably would have gone right over her head. As it was...
“Just to get their trust, of course!” she added hastily. “No way they would trust me otherwise!”
“Ah.” Scratch eased back and the temperature of the room seemed to go up. “Clever girl.”
“That's me!” Vriska hated him.
There was a momentary competition of fake smiles. Vriska might have been outclassed in terms of reputation and sheer experience, but damn if her teeth weren't sharper and her sincerity better-crafted.
“Were they investigating?” Scratch asked at last. She relaxed.
“Aw hell yes!” she laughed at the memory. “Flailing about like Ampora without his fisher-girl!”
Vriska wondered when Scratch had become so paranoid. Fretting over a pair of detectives, even the Butts, was disconcerting, to be sure! This was shaping up to be something worth meddling in.
Karkat's reputation extends past his admirable arrest record. His temper and foul mouth have become the stuff of trollish urban folklore. To be arrested by Officer Vantas is something of a badge of honor.
Chapter 3: In Which Too Much Coffee is Consumed and a Completely Legitimate Business-Owner is Visited
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
It was hellishly irritating, Sollux thought, that the only thing capable of getting Karkat up in time was a particularly thorny case. Apparently suicidal ones merited getting up early.
“Hey, Sol.” Karkat said distractedly. He appeared to be vibrating.
“Holy shit, give me a thecond, I need to pretherve thith moment. Kk Vantath at the offithe early.” Sollux fell into his chair heavily. Judging from the number of coffee-encrusted mugs on his desk, Karkat had been there for several hours.
“Fuck you very much.”
He didn't even sound like himself. He wasn't even shouting.
“What are you even doing awake thith early?”
“I'm going to see Ampora.” Karkat informed him, ignoring the question. He reached for his latest fragrant mug of coffee and missed. He squinted and managed using both hands.
“Were you here all night?” Sollux demanded incredulously. Karkat scowled at him around the rim of his mug. The bags under his eyes could only be described as godlike.
“So fucking what?” Karkat answered defensively.
Sollux took a long second look at him, and noticed that he could see the actual wood of the actual desk under his mugs.
“Did you... do paperwork?” he asked in a tone of voice usually restricted to phrases such as 'why are you covered in blood and viscera' and 'what a large knife you have there'.
“You got a fucking problem with it?” Karkat kicked the leg of a desk irritably. “What's with all the questions, anyway?”
Sollux gave up with the resignation of someone who knew he'd never get his way anyway.
“What the fuck ever, you incorrigible shit.” he sighed. “Jutht don't cause an inthident.”
Karkat's unsteadiness as he stumbled out would be worrying but Sollux was more concerned for anyone who decided to accost him in the state he was in. He started biting after the first 24 conscious hours.
It was a Tuesday, Eridan discovered upon waking up, which just told a troll everything he needed to know about how the day would go.
“Goddamn Tuesdays.” he muttered.
The blurry calendar under his left elbow appeared unmoved in the face of his ire. Insofar as in inanimate object could be said to possess expressions, it appeared somewhat smug.
He grunted and peeled his cheek from his desk.
The cheerful cuttlefish clock Feferi had given him to, quote, 'cheer up your office, frankly it's glubbin' depressing!' informed him that not only had he spent the night at the office, he had slept in late. He ground the heels of his hands into his eyes and promised himself for the millionth time not to do it again. It never ended well for anyone involved.
Equius opened the door and gave him his patented disapproving expression.
“I believe it to be rather late.” As he spoke he began to tidy, moving chairs into place and putting papers into piles. It always made Eridan twitchy when he did it, which Eridan was convinced was most of the reason he did so. When it came right down to it, Equius had a certain streak of refined intelligence that was damnably scary to contemplate.
“Wwere you here overnight?” Eridan asked incredulously.
“You ought to be more careful.” Equius told him sternly, pointedly not answering the question. “Such blatant disregard for your health is inexcusable.”
“That's wwhat I got you for.” Eridan said happily. “You better not a' stayed, your moirail'll kill me.”
“I posted several guards at your door under advisement that mutiny would be unacceptable.” Equius allowed.
“That's my Eq.” Eridan rubbed his eyes. “Remind me to give you a raise.”
“Give me a raise, sir.” Equius repeated dutifully. Eridan snorted.
“Fuckin' clever. Don't think I don't know you're laughin' at my expense, you never call me sir. Where's the fuckin' coffee?”
“You ought to pay more attention to your well-being, highblood. Lady Feferi was most insistent.”
The shade of pale lavender that Eridan's skin went appeared extremely unhealthy.
“Shit, Fef'll be pissed.” The surface of the desk suddenly looked terribly inviting. Eridan rested his forehead on it.
“I'll fetch some coffee.” Equius backed away and out through door.
“Could you call Fef?” he called after Equius pitifully.
The door closed with finality.
Three cups of coffee was Eridan's calculated border between wakefulness and over-caffeinated twitching. Regardless, he contemplated his fourth and absentmindedly settled the papers moving in the breeze from the windows.
“Any particular reason not to be usin' the goddamn door?” Eridan asked without looking up. Vriska cackled from her perch on the windowsill.
“The door's booooring!”
“Still convenient for us respectable folks.” He waved his mug in an ill-tempered manner.
“As if you've ever been aaaanything like a respectable troll, Ampora!” Her habit of drawing out her vowels had the unique ability to set Eridan's teeth on edge when not a lot else did. He tried not to grind them.
“Dowwnright false accusations, Vris, an' you knoww it.” he sighed, spinning to face her. She bore an undeniable resemblance to a meow-beast with a bowl of grubcream all to itself, which – shit. Meant nothing good. “Wwhat do you wwant?”
“Oh, nothing muuuuch.” she grinned. “Can't I just stop by to say hi?”
“Hi.” Eridan said flatly, then met her eyes and dared her to keep going. She folded with a cackle and a shrug.
“And I might need to know what you know about the officers. Especially Buttlux!” she tilted her head beguilingly. Eridan was a little too confused to appreciate it.
“Sol?” he asked blankly. Vriska stared back, just as blank.
Eridan marshaled his synapses into a line, promised them some of the finest, fruitiest cocktails later, and applied them to the task.
“...Sollux?” he managed eventually. Vriska just blinked.
“About this tall, yelloww-blood, psionic, skinniest, smuggest fuck on either continent?” he continued. Viska brightened right up.
“Exactly! Aaaand his partner! Karbutt, right?”
“Wwhat the actual fuck, Vris.” He replied flatly, then sighed. “It ain't like I'm bosom pals wwith them, you knoww.”
“But rumor has it the psionic's your kismeeeesis.” she pouted.
“That ain't exactly conducive to learnin' a troll's deepest secrets, I mean reel-y.” he sighed. “I don't knoww anyfin helpful. They're coppers, they run around an' cop mostly.”
“So you don't know any devastating secrets?” Vriska phrased it like a joke but Eridan know it wasn't one.
“Not a one. They're not even especially bright, I'm tellin' you.” he muttered waspishly.
“Not even the psionic?” she asked, suspicion sharp. “I've heard he can program like apeshit bananas!”
“Got nothin' a'twween his freakish horns but skull, I promise you.” Eridan rolled his eyes and flapped a hand daintily.
“So you say, Ampora!” Vriska pointed an accusatory finger squarely at his nose. Eridan was getting a little tired of it.
“No call bein' more a' heinous bitch than you can absolutely help, Vris, I'm only tryin' to help.” Eridan told her, annoyed. “Wwhat'd you expect anywway, s'not like my business relies on the pair a' them or anyfin.”
“Your loyalty is admirable.” she sneered. Eridan heaved the most put-upon of sighs.
“If you're only stickin' around to be a bitch, I'm calling Eq.” Vriska held her hands up in surrender, laughing.
“I'll see myself out, then!”
“Give me back my goddamn stapler first, don't think I didn't notice you takin' it.”
Karkat slammed through Eridan's door like the wrath of a vengeful god.
“Wwhat the fuck now?” Eridan asked peevishly, deftly slipping a pile of completely legitimate business papers into a drawer. Karkat stamped up to his desk, knocking chairs out of his way, and performed the most monstrous bitchface Eridan had ever had the pleasure of seeing trip across his blunt features.
Equius stalked in after him, long-suffering and highly offended. Eridan moved his mental note to give him a raise higher on his priority list.
Karkat, apparently petulant about being ignored for any length of time, kicked over one of the chairs.
“Wwhat the fuck, Kar?” Eridan demanded, making apologetic faces at Equius as he went to right the chair. It would be a big fucking raise, the troll deserved it.
“Female, cerulean, about this tall-,” Karkat stretched a hand above his head and silently dared the world to say anything about it, “-tacky set of asymmetrical hooked horns, said you could vouch for her.”
Eridan's slightly constipated look of annoyance ratcheted up a few notches in intensity.
“Wwhat's it to you?” he asked nastily.
“A kick in the bulge if you don't cooperate is what it is, you miserable excuse for a bulgebiter.” Karkat replied, just as nasty.
“No need to start hate-flirtin', Kar-,”
“I'm going to set Terezi on you for withholding information pertinent to an investigation by method of being an unconscionable douchenozzle and I'm going to love every second.”
Karkat sounded almost peaceable. It was disturbing.
“Alright, alright, no call to get cranky.” Eridan muttered. “Yeah, I knoww of her.”
“She's Serket isn't she?” Karkat's eyes were narrowed and for a moment Eridan hated him almost as much as he hated the skinny, smug psionic. Almost.
“You just chose the wworst fuckin' times to be perceptive, don't you?” he conveyed as much loathing as he could with his aristocratic sneer, which was to say not nearly enough loathing. Karkat acquired a look of bullish triumph.
“So she is.” he hissed.
Eridan paused a moment to look at him askance.
“Did you honest to god just hiss at me.” Eridan asked flatly. For the first time he noticed that Karkat appeared to be vibrating in place.
“I've been awake for about thirty-six fucking hours, you can give me a goddamn break.” Karkat said sulkily.
Eridan silently pushed his barely-touched mug of coffee over. Karkat blinked at it for a few moments before hesitantly picking it up and taking a sip.
“Thanks.” he said grudgingly. Eridan twitched in a way that was intended to convey 'you're welcome'.
For an uncomfortable moment they experienced something – which they would swear up and down and sideways never happened – akin to camaraderie.
“Yeah, anyway.” Karkat spoke up quickly. “Who's Serket?”
“I get intelligence off a' her of a completely legal manner–,” Eridan glared down Karkat's look of predatory curiosity, “So don't go bringin' in any accusations of industrial espionage, I ain't havin' it. She's full a' seven kinds a' shit, but sharp as a fishhook anywway. Keep an eye on her is all I'm sayin', Kar.”
“An espionagent. Fucking fantastic.” Karkat rolled his eyes.
“Wwhat I knoww a' Serket, she'll try an' play both sides. Wwhich is a spectacularly shitty idea but none a' my concern anywway. Just wwatch out, Kar.” Eridan said tiredly, massaging the bases of his horns.
“Whatever would I do without your nookrot-scented heroics.” Karkat muttered grimy. The effect was somewhat ruined by the coffee he was clutching to his chest.
“Kar, I love you dearly an' all, but get the fuck out.” Eridan told him flatly.
Karkat exited with what Eridan positively identified as a flounce. He sighed and rubbed his eyes and realized that Karkat had taken Eridan's mug with him.
He fucking hated Tuesdays.
Feferi uses the euphemism 'glubbing' in the stead of the word 'fucking' unconsciously.
Chapter 4: In Which Research is Attempted and Subsequently Abandoned in Favor of More Direct Methods and Information is Acquired
The Alternian judicial system in this AU works like this:
Minor crimes like murder, theft, and vandalism are all handled out-of-court by trainee legislacerators. Evidence is processed, guilt decided, and then the culprit is either summarily hung or put in Alternian jail for as long as they survive. Or their sentence runs out.
The 'felony' crimes such as drug trafficking and, more importantly, treason, are handled by the legislacerators in-court. Trials are three-way life-or-death battles between the legislacerator, the accused, and His Honorable Tyranny, with the winner deciding the sentence.
In cities of the size in which Terezi works there are generally at least two and up to six legislacerators working. Terezi is the only one attached to Karkat's precinct.
But to be fair, she's worth herself and six more legislacerators besides.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Has Karkat fallen asleep under there?” Kanaya asked, puzzlement evident. Sollux leaned over and peered under the desk to check. Karkat was a shadowy ball with a pale gray blob of a face, drool a faintly greenish wet patch on his cheek.
Sollux tamped down a dreamy sigh and straightened with a frown.
“Theemth like it.” he sighed. “Thith ith getting ridiculouth.”
Kanaya patted his cheek under the guise of straightening his shirt collar, undeceived.
“You need to talk to him about this.” She smiled when he cut her a look.
“Yeah, you're thlick.” he snarked. “If you're tho contherned, you tell him to go home.”
“You are aware that I meant to speak of Scratch, are you not?” she lied serenely. The look Sollux sent her in reply was nearly dripping with irony.
“Of courthe, my mithtake.” He gestured with mock-gallantry under the desk. “Be my guetht.”
A cane slammed down on the desktop, rattling the mugs. Sollux levitated a foot into the air.
Terezi grinned at them and smacked the desktop again, eliciting a short, choking noise from the shadows under the desk.
“Karkat!” Terezi called in her most cheerful, grating voice. “Karkat, wake up you limp-bulged excuse for a troll! And I believe you can come down now!” She added, glancing up at where Sollux was drifting above the ground in a sparking halo. Sollux sheepishly lowered himself back to his feet.
A hand emerged from the gloom beneath the desk and thrust a single quivering, erect finger in her face, holding it there.
“Harken to my dulcet tones,” Terezi cried with unholy glee, “And awaken, you pretty princess!”
“Fuck the whole world.” Karkat croaked, crawling out stiffly. “Fuck you too, Terezi.”
“Sleeping is for when you aren't trying to catch me a juicy criminal, I think!” She laughed and put her hands on her hips, the very picture of unabashed, demonic delight.
“Fuck that.” Karkat aid blankly, going to stand up. This endeavor proved to be beyond his capabilities and he tipped over onto Sollux's shoulder.
“You, Karkat Vantas, are a hot mess.” she declared. “Now get to work!”
She tapped the towering pile of folders and files meaningfully and strode away.
“Fuck her.” Karkat muttered into Sollux's shoulder before heaving himself into a more respectable upright position. He didn't notice the mustard flush across the bridge of Sollux's nose and Sollux carefully didn't mention it. Karkat looked like lukewarm shit but he had the obnoxious habit of being inconveniently observant at the worst possible times.
“Yeth, well, rethearch.” he muttered. He avoided the meaningful look Kanaya shot across the room with the ease of long practice.
“Fuck research.” Karkat said with feeling.
Half a day of tedious note-taking – in Sollux's case – or astonishingly inventive cursing – mostly Karkat – later, Sollux huffed an irritated sigh and let a file fall to the desk with a dull thump.
“All we have on him ith minor shit, and none of that will thtick, anyway.”
“We need more evidence.” Karkat snarled out, rubbing his horn angrily. Sollux didn't bother mentioning the fact that Karkat was poking holes through twenty pieces of paper and a card-stock folder with his other hand. They had lost three files to his tender claws already.
“We need Therket.” Sollux corrected. “She'th got all of the thecretth, according to Ed, all of them.”
“According to Ed.” Karkat mocked. “Growing a soft spot for the nook-rotted moron?”
“No, and altho fuck you.” Sollux replied calmly. “At leatht I'm able to admit he'th my kithmethith. Picking a fight with me won't make it any eathier to catch Thcratch, you know.”
“Fuck you!” Karkat's affronted tone was complemented with a double-barreled middle finger.
“Wordth, wordth.” Sollux smirked unpleasantly at Karkat's grimace. “Whatever you thay, we thtill need Therket.”
“My fucking life, how is it reality.” Karkat muttered, then stood up and made for the door.
“Where are you going.” Sollux asked with no small amount of trepidation. Karkat's little 'expeditions' rarely ended in anything that could be labeled, in a sane world, success.
“Going down to the shipping districts. I'm going to shout Serket's name until she shows up.” he shrugged and smiled a nasty, vicious smile. Sollux raised his eyebrows, considering.
“You know,” he said slowly, regretting the words about to come out already, “That might work, actually.” Nothing good ever came of telling Karkat Vantas he was right. About anything.
“And if I have to look at one more fucking file I will start murdering indiscriminately, I am not kidding.” Karkat added. Sollux sighed.
“Get out of here.”
If Sollux hadn't looked up at precisely the right moment, only an hour later, he would have missed the wonderful sight of Karkat walking through the door backwards, shoulder hunched defensively, to better keep both eyes on a grinning Vriska Serket.
He could barely chose which snide, awful thing to say. It was like Grubmas.
“Having fun?” he settled on, which was not nearly as snide as he could have been but less likely to get him punched. As it was Karkat snarled incoherently and batted a mug violently off the desk.
“The beeeest of times!” Vriska sniggered and took a sprawling seat in Karkat's chair.
“Eat shit.” Karkat ducked behind Sollux and scowled out from around his shoulder. Vriska gave him a sarcastic little wave.
“What he meanth to thay-,” Sollux glared back at Karkat, “Ith that we need your help nailing Thcratch.”
Vriska settled back in the chair with admirable aplomb
“I've got nothing to say to a copper.” she sneered.
“What kind of fucking informant-,” Karkat started. Sollux waved at him to be quiet, ignoring the deadly glare that was thrown his way in retaliation.
“Nothing to thay at all?” he asked shrewdly. Vriska's sneer slowly grew into a smirk.
“Nothing to say to a copper.” she repeated, winking, and he nodded.
“Oh.” Karkat said, knowledge finally dawning.
“I'm not sticking around till end of shift, and I sure as hell won't be waiting in Strider's dive.” she leaned back and told the ceiling with airy confidence.
“An awful informant.” Karkat told her, but he sounded almost admiring.
“Suck my bulge.” she told him cheerfully and started for the door. “I'm outta here.”
“She's fucking scary.” Karkat muttered under his breath. Sollux seconded this with a heartfelt nod.
Vriska gave them a wave before she slipped out of sight.
“Get thomeone to check the building.” Sollux muttered out of the corner of his mouth. Better safe than sorry, after all.
When Karkat walked into Strider's bar he was expecting the owner to saunter up with something infuriatingly smooth and unruffled to say. He was expecting something along the lines of 'Hey baby what's your sign', as if it weren't sewn to the front of his shirt or, his perennial favorite, 'Hey Katmobile, did your lusus dress you this morning'.
What he got was a visibly harried Strider rushing past them without a word and the curvacious jade-blood bartender, Jade-something-with-an-h, frantically whispering to them to jesus christ get her the fuck out of here!
She had pointed to the booth in the back and dashed away.
Vriska grinned her widest, brightest, least trustworthy grin and waved them over.
“Fuck my fucking life.” Karkat muttered, and Sollux whole-heartedly agreed. They walked over and sat down, pretending the whole bar wasn't watching them out of the corners of their eyes.
“Vrithka.” Sollux said neutrally. Karkat tapped a claw neurotically on the table and glared down the patrons trying to furtively catch what they were saying.
“Buttlux!” she chirped. The look her gave her in return for the name was equal parts bafflement and chagrin. “So you wanna know aaaall about Scratch's dirty little secrets.” she hoisted a patronizing grin. Karkat gritted his teeth and picked at the wood of the table angrily.
“Whatever you have to tell uth, of courthe.” Sollux answered in his stead, much more polite than Karkat strictly would have condoned. His policy, when it came to dealing with informants, was to start flinging wild accusations at the slightest hint of bullshit.
Sollux didn't often let him deal with informants that weren't Ampora, for whatever reason.
“You don't got a jail on-planet that can keep Scratch in it.” she told them flatly. “If you wanna get him and get it to stick, you get him in a courtroom with your pet legis-bitch and make him pay.”
“She's not our pet, are you fucking kidding me?” Karkat burst out, words coming almost on autopilot, before his brain caught up to the contents of her words rather than the semantics. “Wait, you mean hang him?”
He sounded objectionably pleased with the idea.
“Soooomething like that.” Vriska smirked unpleasantly. “Ideally, even. Anyway, it's no small thing that's worth a court trial, you know. Not murder, not arson. Maybe not even trafficking, the clout he has with the highbloods.”
“Yeah, we know that.” Sollux said, gesturing impatiently. “ You know thomething.”
“I know two things.” Vriska winked at him, mock-coquettish. Sollux couldn't help wrinkling his nose and Karkat thrust a hand between them with his customary bad-temper.
“Can we keep to one disastrous shit-volcano at a time or has my life actually become a direct-to-grub movie?” he demanded. Vriska ginned unrepentantly.
“I know one sure-fire way to get him to court is treason.” she commented idly.
“Obviously.” Karkat snapped. “Our Empress, may her reign be everlasting amen-,” his tone of sarcasm was, for once, so well veiled that Sollux didn't even need to shush him-, “doesn't take well to it.”
“But we don't have any tholid evidenthe that he'th connected to anything.” Sollux scowled. His scowls had been likened, not without reason, to watching a shark smile. It was an impressive sight. “Not even the hemoradicalth and everyone and their luthuth knowth he'th got them in hith pocket.”
“I haven't gotten to the second thing yet.” Vriska's smirk acquired a smug tinge and she began toying with her napkin.
“Evidence?” Karkat asked with a certain rabid enthusiasm.
“Scratch isn't so careless as to let a little old espionagent into anywhere neeeear his hemoradicalism.” She sneered to convey her opinion of such paranoia. “I got nothing solid. But I do have names of people that miiiight.”
Sollux and Karkat leaned forward synchronously.
“I'm gonna get up and leave this behind.” Vriska fluttered the corner of her napkin in a manner that would appear casual to anyone else. “And if you ever see me again, means something's gone wronger than wrong.”
She got up before Karkat could pull together a decent insult and sailed out.
“Full of seven kind of shit.” he muttered. Sollux ignored him and slid the napkin over.
There was a short list of names and addresses on it, and a message.
EAT THIS NOTE H8H8H8!!!!!!!
“Maybe eight.” Karkat allowed.
The shipping districts are a confusing amalgamation of a red-light district with redrom, blackrom, or palerom 'entertainers' and actual cargo being loaded onto boats.
It's just one of those cultural things.