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Small Justice and Other Myths (the gods don't fuck around remix)

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iv.

"give me your name: i will protect it as my own, for my own it will be, and you will live."

--

ROSE: Customer for you.
TEREZI: BLUUUUURRRMMMNFFMRGL3 SM4CK SM4CK
ROSE: While I make no comment on the theoretical effectiveness of your complaint had you voiced it from the cozy comfort of your bed, Terezi, you realize this is a written medium, do you not?
ROSE: You scrawled each of those characters consciously, with intent.
TEREZI: KLJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJOOP SNOR3
ROSE: And those.
ROSE: In any case, it is 12:06, well within your posted hours. Up with you.
TEREZI: OBJ3CT1ON!
TEREZI: THOS3 4R3 YOUR HOURS, MY D3L3CT4BL3 Y3T 4NNOY1NGLY 1NS1ST3NT C4ND13D L1L4C
ROSE: Candied lilac. Is that a thing?
TEREZI: TH3Y 4R3 SHOP HOURS
ROSE: Aren’t lilac flowers incredibly bitter?
TEREZI: HUM4N HOURS!
TEREZI: NOT T3R3Z1 HOURS
TEREZI: JUST L1K3 WH3N 1 SAY “OUR CUSTOM3RS” W3 4LL KNOW 1 M34N ROS3 CUSTOM3RS, NOT T3R3Z1 CUSTOM3RS
TEREZI: T3R3Z1 CUSTOM3RS 4R3 NOT SUFF3R3D TO 3X1ST 3XC3PT WH3N TH3Y’R3 MUCH MOR3 FUN TH4N WH4T3V3R YOU W4NT M3 TO G3T UP FOR IS GO1NG TO B3
ROSE: This one seeks the succor of law.
TEREZI: WH1L3 H3’S 4T 1T C4N H3 4SK THE L4W TO POUR 4N 3NT1R3 BOTTL3 OF HOT S4UC3 DOWN MY THRO4T? D1V1N3 1NSP1R4T1ON S4YS TH4T’LL CUR3 MY H4NGOV3R
ROSE: It will not. Get up.
ROSE: Good morning, starshine. The mortal realm says hello.
TEREZI: TH3 MORT4L R34LM C4N K1SS MY S1NGUL4RLY BL3SS3D P4TOOT13 4S WOULD B3 R1GHT 4ND PROP3R WORSH1P OF MY B3N3F1C3NT PR3S3NC3!
TEREZI: BUT ONLY WH3N 1 S4Y 1T C4N
TEREZI: 4ND 1 S4Y 1T C4NNOT! NOT 4T 12:06 ON TH3 SH4BBOS 4FT3R ON3 OF TH3 M3G1DOS’ BLOWOUTS, NO M4TT3R WH4T K1ND OF PROBL3M WHO3V3R 1T 1S TH1NKS H3 1S H4V1NG
TEREZI: 1F H3 TH1NKS H3 KNOWS SUFF3R1NG H3 SHOULD TRY MOV1NG 4FT3R ON3 OF D4M4R4’S COCKT41LS
TEREZI: UGHHH ROS3 1 C4N’T F33L MY BR41N
TEREZI: 4ND 1 DON’T TH1NK 1 W4NT TO >:[
ROSE: I do beg your pardon. Are you feeling delicate, Mademoiselle Justice?
ROSE: (Pronounce that the French way.)
TEREZI: (1 GOT YOU, CH3R13)
ROSE: If only I had known of your frail condition. Shall I send the gentleman away and retire upstairs to administer to your great, throbbing head?
TEREZI: Y3S YOU SHOULD DO TH4T TH1NG
TEREZI: 4T L34ST ONE OF THOS3 TH1NGS
TEREZI: D3F1N1T3LY THE TH1NG WH3R3 YOU 4DM1N1ST3R TO MY GR34T THROBB1NGS
ROSE: Ooh, Mistress Pyrope, ooh. How I love a vigorous bulldozing of employer-employee boundaries in the no-longer-morning.
TEREZI: YOU KNOW 1’LL BULLDOZ3 YOUR BOUND4R13S 4LL D4Y LONG, ROSE >:] > :] >:]
ROSE: Such scandalous eyebrows. Take me now, boss lady.
ROSE: In any case, I’ll bid Mr. Nitram and his offering good day and suggest he return when you’re feeling less poorly.
TEREZI: W41T
TEREZI: YOU D1DN’T S4Y H3 H4D 4N OFF3R1NG
ROSE: Would I have woken you within twenty-four hours of a Megido party for anything less than blood, O mighty bearer of the green card of my soul?
ROSE: I actually took the liberty of asking Mr. Nitram to wait five minutes, earlier. Brush your teeth. Your special hangover coffee will be ready when we’re done with him.
TEREZI: YOU’R3 MY F4VOR1T3 F4K3 W1F3
ROSE: I’ll give Dave the bad news when he finishes puking Aradia’s vodka into the customer toilet.
ROSE: Oh.
ROSE: Mmngh.
TEREZI: >:?
ROSE: We may be entertaining a significantly less mortal visitor as well.
TEREZI: DO3S N1TR4M H4V3 A SP1R1T R1D3R?
ROSE: No, the two guests are unrelated. It’s just time for the other’s monthly pestering, I suppose.
TEREZI: W41T 1S 1T V4NT4S
TEREZI: Y333333SSSSSS
ROSE: Might I suggest putting on underwear before you come downstairs this time? Do remember how long your hearing took to return last time you reduced him to shocked, indignant shrieking.
TEREZI: BLUH, YOU’R3 NOT MY F4VOR1T3 4NYMOR3, YOU’R3 NO FUN
ROSE: It doesn’t become you to lie, My Lady of Justice. I think you will find I am simply the most fun there is.
ROSE: Though I’m afraid I may become less so by the second. Please hurry. Mr. Vantas has yet to say two words to me, but if I have to endure a single minute of his self-important pontificating alone, I’ll have no recourse but to do something drastic.
ROSE: Bare an ankle within his line of sight, perhaps. Or engage him on the topic of ethics in gaming journalism.
TEREZI: SHOCK 4ND 4L4RM!
ROSE: The man sucks all amusement from a room, if left to his own devices. I can’t even enjoy his insufferable lectures “ironically.”
ROSE: And while that might be a personal problem, I take maintaining the shits and giggles value of our facility very seriously. Religiously, in fact. And he is very funny when he squeaks.
TEREZI: OK ROS3 YOU’R3 MY F4VOR1T3 4G41N
ROSE: ;)
ROSE: Your coffee will actually be on the counter when you come down. You’ll need it. And wear the longer-sleeved robe; we don’t want our visitors reading our private correspondence off your skin, do we?
TEREZI: DON’T W3? >:]
TEREZI: BUT Y34H G1V3 M3 4 M1NUT3 TO G3T PR3S3NT4BL3 4ND R3M3MB3R TO PR3T3ND YOU DON’T R3S3NT M3 1N FRONT OF V4NT4S
ROSE: Why, Terezi.
ROSE: Didn’t you know? I worship the very earth upon which you walk.
ROSE: Wedding ring’s on the nightstand. I may grab your ass to bolster the verisimilitude of our claims to matrimony.
TEREZI: NOT 1F 1 GR4B YOURS F1RST!

--

“‘What up,’ gentlemen, as the cool kids say. What can I do you for?”

Terezi’s grin was as loud as her voice, sharp and striking and grating in just the right way to put everyone on edge. It suited her, of course. None should feel comfortable around a justice deity, for who among us is without sin? Rose dipped her head demurely over the crossword she was working on behind the counter and listened in.

Tavros Nitram strung broad shoulders on a gawky frame, nervous and young, utterly human—with perhaps a drop or two of Faerie in him, if he had the perception to find Terezi’s shop-shrine amongst the rabble. He hovered awkwardly between their dusty, overstacked bookshelves, sneaking peeks at the counter over fantasy novels as if afraid he’d miss his cue.

Kankri Vantas, on the other hand, waited right in front of the counter with his hands clasped behind his back. He was like one playing Professor Emeritus at an Ivy League, chin high, eyes hooded, affecting such confidence and condescending “patience” even Rose might have been forced to relinquish her passive-aggressive crown. His eyes flashed at Terezi’s blithe greeting, but he only stood straighter. The rod up his ass must have been adamantine.

“While I choose not to acknowledge your incredibly inappropriate use of subtle sexual innuendo—”

“Lies and slander, Mr. Vantas! I have never been subtle in my life.”

Kankri’s nostrils flared, but he simply went on as if he hadn’t heard her. “—in the workplace, towards a moral health inspector, no less, I must insist—”

“Must you?” Rose murmured, and he raised his voice.

“—that you do not, in fact, so casually appropriate the language of a socially oppressed minority in-group and misrepresent its source? It is infantilizing and historically insensitive to—”

“Using ‘infantilizing’ as a negative is pretty ageist,” Terezi noted piously. “Are you implying that infants are somehow less valuable than differently-aged individuals?”

Kankri hesitated. With her crossword pen, Rose wrote a discreet note on the inside of her wrist.

ROSE: The day’s tally. Terezi: 1, Kankri: 0

On the other side of the room, Terezi smiled and folded her arms.

In the meantime, Kankri rallied. “No, I merely meant—”

“I have a client to assist, Over-Seer Vantas.” Terezi’s tone and smile were equally pointed. “As improbably hilarious as I find our legal chats, don’t you think you could box up that tasty chili pepper lecture to go and reheat it for me at a later date? My place. Seven o’clock. Wear red.”

“I never—!”

“Haven’t you? Well. You need hardly worry.” Rose put her crossword down and looked at them both through her lashes, face tilted just so into her hand. She drew two fingers, slowly, suggestively, along the countertop, then pressed them lightly to her lips. “Terezi is very experienced.”

Tavros coughed and discovered a sudden and gripping fascination with Paulo Coelho. Kankri turned several shades darker beneath his already brown skin. Terezi laughed like a hyena, unsettling.

Rose truly was irritated with his presence today, she noted, though Kankri had hardly ever posed a threat to them. She rose, rounded the counter, and tapped Tavros’s shoulder. “Excuse me. Would you mind if the three of us spoke privately?”

“Oh, uh, no, that would make sense—”

“Good.” She tapped his shoulder again and he powered off, in a way; his eyes slid out of focus and his jaw slackened. Sighing, she pushed his chin up gently so he wouldn’t come to with drool all over his shirtfront.

After guiding Tavros to one side, Rose showed Kankri the ring on her finger, twin to Terezi’s: a double-cut, seamless circle of palladium. “You do know what a wedding ring means traditionally, Mr. Vantas? I don’t know how many times we’ve had to remind you.”

“I know what it means.” Kankri drew himself up to his full height, shoulders stiff, ripe with offense. He wasn’t tall, but neither was Rose, nor Terezi, and the obvious display of power rankled them both. “And you have, of course, informed me of your sadly undocumented wedlock six times, now, in toto.”

“So how many more does it take?” Terezi’s grin was all teeth and predatory amusement.

“It takes,” he said, “as many times as it must. It is on you to persuade me, in my position as a senior Arbiter of Divine Conduct, that you, Miss Pyrope, have taken neither Miss Lalonde nor Mr. Strider as Armament, Raiment, or other such spiritual equipment as would impede their freedoms not only as walking gods, but as sentient beings.

The sudden silence in the shop felt thick, heavy, full of dust and ink and the faint smell of copper.

“You’re accusing me of slavery,” said Terezi, dangerous now for all her ninety pounds of bed-headed, razor-smiled girl. “The binding of god to god when gods are not bound.”

Kankri didn’t flinch. “I, too, may discard subtlety from time to time.”

Terezi leaned towards him over her cane, feet planted wide. “That’s a serious allegation! The unauthorized creation of sacred regalia is a crime, you know, and last time I checked, I was a goddess of justice.”

“You are the god,” he replied, “of small justice. Not trivial, of course, though some would erroneously call it petty, but of unprepossessing scale—minute enough to slip through the cracks in the law, perhaps.”

What was he doing? Rose nearly opened her mouth to warn him, but Terezi just threw her head back and cackled. “Shows what you know, Mr. Candy Apple!”

“Candy App—?!”

She drove the tip of her cane against the floor, and the resulting CRACK was too loud to be possible, —but while they stood inside the walls of the bookshop, they remained within Terezi’s realm, and she was god there.

Her dragon smile remained, and her blind eyes were blood-red. “Small justice is the only law, Arbiter Kankri Vantas. Felony charges, state and individual, crime and punishment: What does it all come back to?”

Her cane-tip whipped up to hover just below Kankri’s nose. It didn’t even shudder with his sharp inhalation. Terezi’s hands were as steady as oak.

“It comes back to man versus man, woman versus woman. To small-scale interpersonal contest. To Me and Thee.” For a moment, magic glinted in the air around Terezi. Her name. Her power. It winked away before Rose could make it out. “It comes back, always, to making them pay.

After a silence, she added, unsmiling this time, “And I pity the idiot who forgets that on patrol in Gods’ Grotto. No, Mr. Vantas. I have bound no one against their will.”

For once in his unending existence, Kankri didn’t seem inclined to talk. He wavered, lost an inch or two of perfect posture, and started to maybe even back down, but he caught sight of Rose from the corner of his eye and pushed the steel rod back up his sphincter. “And you, Miss Lalonde?”

“And I what?”

“Do you, too, attest that you are not bound against your will?”

For a moment, Rose fought the impulse to say no, to turn her back on Terezi and her bookshop and the blind moral simplicity she represented. To hold her fists out to Kankri and tell him, I am a battle god shackled and reduced to manning a cash register at my least diminished; I am a trophy. I am not free.

Terezi wouldn’t stop her. They both knew it. But there was Dave.

Rose sighed, folded her arms across her chest, and shook her head wryly. “While I admit there is a certain ethical…ickiness to pursuing and then legalizing a relationship with an employee that I would have been inclined to avoid—steep power differentials and such,” she said, “I would hardly call it slavery. Terezi simply has…a commanding presence.”

“And a lovable one!” Terezi added cheerfully.

“Amusing, at least.”

“Charmingly astute! A sharp dresser!”

Kankri tried to get a word in, but tennis had always been Rose’s favorite sport. She returned volley, “If one applies some creative translation of ‘sharp’ to mean ‘like a tack,’ then yes, I can agree. Your taste in fashion is the height of tackiness.”

Terezi waggled her eyebrows outrageously. “You think that’s hot.”

Time to bring it back to Kankri. “She has a way of getting under my skin.” Slowly, with a coy, sideways glance at Terezi, she smiled. “…If you know what I mean.”

As annoying as Rose found Kankri’s attitude and his unwillingness to let go, Terezi was right about one thing: He was incredibly fun to rile. He spluttered like a hissing cat, and Terezi was just about to make it worse—

“Hey, hey, Rose—you know, if a physical demonstration’s what it takes to convince him…”

Rose pushed her right in the face and finally took pity on the poor god just doing his job. “I entered partnership with Terezi of my own volition, Mr. Vantas. This I do swear, on my name.” After allowing him a moment to verify the truth of her statement, she added, “Terezi wears the ring, too, you know. It is not a symbol of fealty, but loyalty.”

Kankri bowed stiffly and left the shop. “Thank you, come again!” Terezi cawed after him. Rose sighed and went to rouse Tavros, now that Kankri was gone.

The difference was, of course, that Terezi could take her ring off whenever she liked. And while she was the god of small justice, that had little enough to do, Rose had found, with honesty.

--

TEREZI: M4N, 1 L1K3 TO W4TCH TH4T GUY W4LK 4W4Y BUT 1 LOV3 TO S33 H1M GO
ROSE: You do realize that’s not how that saying goes in the least, right?
TEREZI: D4T 4SS, ROS3
ROSE: Mr. Vantas isn’t really my type.
ROSE: But you do have a point.
ROSE: They’re like perfect little bubbles, begging to be cupped gently in a lover’s palm. What the hell. I must know his secret.
TEREZI: DON’T WORRY ROS3 YOUR BUTT 1S 4 SOL1D 4++ ON TH3 TOUCH4B1L1TY SC4L3 TOO!
ROSE: Before I decide whether to be flattered or indignant,
ROSE: Is that an A or a 4?
TEREZI: WH1CH3V3R 4NSW3R 1S L3SS 3TH1C4LLY 1CKY DU3 TO OUR POW3R D1FF3R3NT14LS
ROSE: Wait. Aren’t you blind? On what evidence are you judging the touchability of our posteriors?
TEREZI: >;]
ROSE: Winky faces are my thing. You’re jacking my thing.
TEREZI: GODS G3T TO DO WH4T TH3Y W4NT, MY SOFT BUNNY BUM
ROSE: I’m waking Mr. Nitram.

--

iii.

she’d been weeping, her broken brother held together by nothing but her arms, pale and bloody, both of them, when something like cloth, like summer leaves, came between them and the shattered light. it spoke, saying,

--

“Oh, so, you’re really, um…optically challenged, huh?”

“Of course I am! Haven’t you ever seen a picture of me?”

Terezi lounged before the low, intricately carved East Asian table they’d bought for seventy dollars on eBay to impress saps like Tavros, who sat seiza across from her. The boy had weeaboo written—nearly literally—all over him. He had a set of Japanese characters tattooed on his bicep. They read, according to a discreet check of Rose’s smartphone, ‘Guy who never gets women/nerd.’

Which was a shame, really. His biceps weren’t too bad.

“Yes, that is what they draw, and make into statues and such,” Tavros stuttered. “That is to say, Lady Justice, on Tarot cards and, uh, other artistic works, often has her eyes covered, to indicate—”

She spread her arms wide and crowed, “—That justice is blind!”

Tavros shifted on his mats. “I was going to make use of a kindlier euphemism, in order to avoid making myself appear rude—”

“I’m a god, Mr. Nitram, I don’t give a shit about your human rudeness.” She leaned on the table and smiled. “Now, dish! What’s the problem, why are you here?”

“Um.” He ran a hand back through his Mohawk and scratched the back of his neck. The tag of his T-shirt was sticking out. Rose tried to ignore it. “You see, it’s…personal and embarrassing, and—”

“Mr. Nitram, I have a hangover your mortal mind couldn’t even conceive of. Out with it, chop chop.” She snapped her fingers twice and he sat up straight.

“Uhh, I guess you could say that it’s a matter of being mistreated, regularly, every day in fact, with words and, uhh, other things, that make me feel bad—”

“You’re being bullied?” Terezi surmised, twisting her mouth to one side.

Rose made a note of it in her book. Poor Tavros wasn’t ever going to get to finish a sentence, was he? He nodded. “I suppose that’s one way to describe it. Bullying. Yeah.”

Terezi arranged herself straighter, more businesslike. “Who’s the perp?”

“I’m not sure, but I have,” Tavros cleared his throat and looked down at the table’s lacquer finish, “a good guess. A really, really good guess.” A second passed. Terezi kicked him under the table to keep him going. “There’s…ahem, there’s this girl—”

Both Rose and Terezi groaned in unison, though Rose at least had the social grace to pretend she hadn’t when Tavros glanced at her.

“Stop, the goddess has heard all she wants to hear,” Terezi whined.

Tavros seemed to have a bad tendency to smile when he was confused. Or worried. He had terrible teeth. “Don’t you need to know the details in order to, uh, do your…justicey thing?”

“I do,” she said. “But I don’t wanna.” With improbable flexibility, Terezi slumped face-down across the table. “But fine, continue your boring story for dumb babies about The Girl, bluh bluh, it’s my sacred duty.”

Pretending to take notes, Rose jotted another quick message to Terezi.

ROSE: Kill me.

Sans pen, Terezi scratched a reply lightly on her thigh. It bloomed in glittering teal on Rose’s skin, hidden from Tavros by the tabletop.

TEREZI: SORRY SUG4RPLUM, YOUR CO1L’S 4S 1MMORT4L 4S M1N3 4ND DO3SN’T T4K3 34S1LY TO SHUFFL1NG
ROSE: Fie.
ROSE: There’s no justice.
TEREZI: H3Y >:[

“Well, I’m sure I don’t know what you mean to insinuate, by capitalizing ‘The Girl’ in your speech, like you just did, somehow, even though we are speaking aloud,” said Tavros, grinning hopefully. “But yes, she has, by way of making my life hell, become very, uhh, significant, recently.”

“We’re all ears,” Terezi mumbled into the table.

“You see, I think she is in love with me—”

TEREZI: BLUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

“But she doesn’t, uh, know how to express it in a way that does not injure me in some manner—”

ROSE: What is love? Baby, don’t hurt me. Don’t hurt me. No more.

“—And while she’s pretty, I guess, in a crazy homicidal sadist way—”

ROSE: But actually, no more, please. I have a wife and children.
TEREZI: 1S D4V3 OUR CH1LDR3N, ROS3?

“—I don’t, um, know her, or want to know her at all, and would appreciate if she would stop sending me Photoshopped nudes from an unblockable number, and vandalizing my dorm building—”

ROSE: I take it back. The mental image of my brother perched daintily on your lap as you tell him to call you Mama is not one I want to revisit.
TEREZI: H3Y NOW, 1 WOULDN’T K1NKSH4M3 YOU 1F 1T W3R3!
ROSE: Ever.

“—And maybe, causing so many unfortunate accidents to happen to me—”

“Stop.”

The word reverberated in shades of turquoise and gold, underlain with heavy red, a synesthetic cocktail of command and power. Terezi lowered her hand, folded both of hers on the table, spine straight. Rose had never seen her so serious.

“That. Explain. What accidents?”

Tavros was still frozen by the strength of a god’s demand, so Rose jostled his shoulder not unkindly. “Could you be more specific about the accidents, Mr. Nitram? The size and severity, I should think, and frequency.”

“The type of accident,” Terezi said, and then was silent.

The boy looked from one goddess to the other. “Uhhh,” he began, brilliantly. “The…accidental type? There doesn’t seem to be much of a pattern, or anything. It could be anything, as long as the thing that it is, is a thing that is bad and happens in my vicinity. Like cars losing control of their brakes when I am at a crosswalk, or pianos, uh. Falling from the sky.”

Rose put her pen down. “No.”

Tavros nodded glumly. “The moving company said they were very sorry, but also they made a Roadrunner joke, so I don’t think they were that sorry, really.”

“Have you angered a god of cartooning, perhaps? Relieved yourself on Walt Disney’s remains?”

“I think he was cremated—”

“רייזא,” said Terezi in tones dripping gold.

Rose’s transformation was always painless. She closed her eyes and dissolved into light and thread, into gauze and magic. She was a goddess, a girl, and she was vision made malleable, and the moment Terezi called her by her secret name, she was gone from her seat.

She lay, shimmering, sheer, over Terezi’s unseeing eyes, a screen between Justice and the dark. Orange wasn’t Terezi’s color, and vague shapes moved along her skin like deep monsters half-glimpsed, but she functioned. She allowed Terezi, if not sight, then Sight.

It was only fitting, of course, that Raisa take the form of a veil when Justice called on her Raiment.

“Describe her to me,” Terezi told Tavros in her god voice. “The Girl.”

Even before Tavros began to stammer out a description, Rose could feel her take shape against Raisa’s translucent surface: a spidery woman, all elbows and knees and long, ratty hair, smile sharp like Terezi’s but full of venom, full of hunger. And yet she was beautiful; her brittle overconfidence, her lust for life, the bright joy in her laughter as she crushed fingers beneath her heel. She was Light, this one. A goddess. A god.

Dave threw open the bathroom door and all but fell on his face in his rush to reach them, still green around the gills, sunglasses askew.

“Terezi—” he started, but drew up short. Frowned.

In some ways, the bond Dave and Terezi shared went deeper than her link with Rose. Rose-to-Terezi was optimized for detail and strategy, for a conscious sorting and processing of the information they wanted to share before they chose to share it; thus, the use of skin as parchment, instant messaging for the magically inclined. Terezi-to-Dave, though, was more primal, less encumbered by the messy medium of words. They sacrificed legibility, privacy, for speed. What Terezi felt, Dave felt. It was necessary. He was her sword.

Obviously, Terezi had given him reason to think he'd be needed for something swordy. Interesting.

“Hey, coolkid,” said Terezi, mastering herself, letting the bass and treble overtones in her voice fade away. Rose couldn’t greet her brother in kind; she was too busy being a fucking veil. The image of the other goddess broke and scattered, but that hardly mattered. Rose remembered everything she Saw, as Raisa, and she knew Terezi did, too.

Just as she knew Terezi already knew the woman anyway. How else would she appear so clearly, so quickly, before their eyes?

Dave straightened slowly, unsure of his place current events, but when no danger presented itself, he just dipped his head a millimeter. “‘Sup,” he mumbled, then pushed his sunglasses back into place and rubbed the inner corners of his eyes. “You got any hangover coffee left?”

“Nope!” said Terezi, without sympathy. “Perfect timing, though, as always. Dave, you’re taking care of Mr. Nitram for us.”

He raised one pale eyebrow. “I am?”

“He, uh, is?” echoed Tavros before something furrowed his brow. He smiled his jittery, don’t-hurt-me smile again. “And where did your cashier go, all of the sudden?”

“Mmm?” Terezi hummed noncommittally.

“When you say I’m taking care of this dude,” Dave continued, “do you mean, like, taking care of him, or taking care of him—”

“Heeey," Tavros continued, grinning for real, "she wouldn’t happen to be that, uh, fashionable eyewear you’re sporting, since I hear that is a thing that you gods can do, is be each other’s clothing, and accessories.”

Tavros sounded far too excited for his own good. Terezi turned to him again through Raisa-Rose, stared for a moment, and just smiled.

“That,” she said, “would be illegal! Dave, go pack your cutest pajamas and a toothbrush. You’re seeing our gracious customer home today.”

“Why do I need my toothbrush if it’s just—”

“And then you’ll be seeing his home! A lot of it, actually, since I need you to keep an eye on him while Rose and I do a thing.” Terezi rose from the table and stretched her arms behind her back, yawned, cracked her neck. “Won’t take long! Maybe a few weeks or so.”

“Weeks.”

Dave’s deadpan was as beautifully crafted an instrument as he was, in the right hands.

Tavros’s smile wobbled at the edges. “Uhh, I don’t know if I can really support a guest, for that particularly humongous length of time—”

“Hey, I don’t want to hear it, Mr. Cocoa Krispies!” Terezi sounded like she was enjoying herself, at least. “He’s like a cat, just ignore him and he’ll take care of his own grooming and everything. Just check him for fleas before you let him on the furniture.”

“Oh, okay…”

Dave started to voice a protest, but Terezi flashed him her winningest grin—that is, the grin that told everyone she was going to win no matter what, and she was not above biting—and he shut it. All he could do was look at Terezi-and-Rose, look at Tavros, and then turn to them again, with the most minute of changes to the set of his mouth and jaw muscles that only they could read as don’t-do-this-to-me-I-thought-we-were-cool.

Rose considered feeling a little bad. Besides the tattoo, Tavros was wearing a shirt from one of those early 2000s Pokémon knockoff cartoons that even pre-kindergartners had had better taste than to watch, and Dave was still recovering from chugging an Aradia Special. His body was not prepared.

But then she remembered that he chose to do that after five previous encounters with the Aradia Special, and if that hadn’t taught him his lesson, he deserved suffering. It built character.

With that particular sense of obligation to inevitable misfortune that was just so Dave, he realized the futility of resisting his fate, sighed, and told Tavros, “We gotta stop by Walmart on the way. I’m out of Barbie bubblegum toothpaste.”

--

i.

when she’d been his wielder, dave came to hand as a pair of daggers, straight-bladed and elegant with rubies and white gold set in the hilts; twins. dewydd, she’d called him. they had danced, the two of them, battle-born and beautiful through the war-lines of the gods, carving a skein of light through the dark heaps of the dead, clearing a path to the sky.

he was a rapier, now, and not as beautiful, but still straight and true. the rubies were gone. he said he didn’t even notice, that he didn’t mind, but the sun hurt his eyes, now, and she missed them.

she missed how he’d glinted in her light.