Chapter 1: paint the roads on these walls
Your name is Terezi Pyrope, and you are in dire need of a place to stay.
Right now, all of your worldly belongings gathered across three galaxies and four sweeps are sitting in neatly packed bags in a sketchy motel just south of the Thames. Night has fallen, so you rise from the shit-tier sopor, scarf down some questionable breakfast at the corner shop and make your way around the city.
Cities are organic things of concrete and tarmac, steel and glass. You hear busy traffic and smell blinking pedestrian lights. You trace the flow of pedestrians and cabs, notice candy-cane horns heading one way, and peach-skinned humans heading the opposite way.
Every city housing trolls become cities that never sleep. As one city heads home, the other awakens to begin their day.
You swear when it starts raining. This kind of October night, it’s the kind of night that makes you long for pastel foliage and reasonable temperatures. Tealbloods aren’t built for rain and cold- they’re much like military rations and medical supplies- store in cool, dry place .
Humans don’t like the cold, either. You can see where they’re going, the humans, and where they’ve been, and what put them on this path. This path is the path to revelry- people drinking, music pounding, dimmed lights strobing, the works.
Doesn’t take a Seer to work that out- trashy clubbing gear is more-or-less the same across cultures. You follow the path to the party.
There is a long queue in front of the club when you get there, so you go around, to the back. The back lanes are dark and grimy, irregular blackcurrant and charcoal, and even outside you can feel the bass rattling you from horntips to thorax.
There is no one here, no one except for her.
She stands out remarkably, pale ghostly girl she is. Shock of near-white hair on near-translucent screen-bleached skin. Her eyes are pale, flashing cotton candy pink, bubblegum blue, and then translucent grape smoothie purple in the multicoloured lights from the club.
You give her your best, toothiest grin. She has not taken her eyes off you since you entered the back lane.
“You’re waiting for someone,” you remark with a tilt of your head. You can feel her expectant eyes on you, even if you can’t quite smell it, not in this rain.
“I believe I’ve just found her,” she replies, seamless. “Rose Lalonde. You have a problem, and so do I. We can solve them together.”
“Terezi Pyrope,” you tell her, since it’d be rude not to, given that she’d volunteered her own. “I’m interested to hear what our mutual problem is, because I have several.”
“I’ve noticed.” Blunt, but not humourless. All her makeup is black, you realise, black lipstick and black eyeliner and black eyeshadow.
“The blindness isn’t one of them,” you tell her. It’s perfectly transparent, what you’re doing- fishing for a reaction. Already the possibilities are unfolding like chess moves- she says this , you’ll say this , and…
And your neat mental maps go haywire, and her words, clipped and cool and professional, wash over your scalp and stills the perpetual hum of static.
That is not one of your possibilities.
“I’m looking for a flatmate,” she goes on, “and you need a place to stay.”
Choices and consequences flicker past the edge of your consciousness. Short term, not a bad outcome. Long term… Nothing.
It should give you pause. This is risky. This is stupid and dangerous.
You smile, just a little.
It’s a change. What good did caution and care do you, back when it most mattered?
“Former Legislacerator Pyrope at your service.” Same game as before- I’m giving up this, what will you give me in return?
She plays along with little hesitation. “Consulting detective Lalonde, at yours.”
“Consulting detective,” you repeat, slowly. “That’s not any job I’ve ever heard before.”
“Unsurprising. I made it up. Former Legislacerator?”
“What can I say? I’ve decided to retire.”
You can’t see her pin you with an long, slightly bemused stare, but you can certainly feel it. That’s what you’d do, in her position. Legislacerators don’t retire. There are no ex-Legs.
She doesn’t push, because she knows that you won’t yield. You knows she knows. And you know that she’ll change the subject- it will be a later , not a never .
“I’ve got a place in mind,” she says, perfectly timed between two obnoxious pop remixes.
“It needs to have at least three bedrooms,” you inform her, almost before she finishes(process of elimination). “A troll needs somewhere to keep her weapons.”
“And you,” she replies, “don’t mind violin all hours of the night?”
“Noted. I will make sure to practice at noon. Body parts in the fridge?”
“Label yours,” you shoot back. “I might eat them by accident.”
She wavers for less than a second before saying, “I retreat to my room to think, which means that it is off-limits. Always.”
She changed her mind- you can feel the jarred sensation in your bones, as the pair of you jolt into this timeline at the very last second. Like an idiot, you follow her down this road.
“Alright! Don’t touch my candied grubs without asking.”
She nods, and smiles. Some minute relaxation comes over her, and her seemingly serene expression loses a very fine edge, like the tip of a rapier lowering from your throat.
“It seems like we have an understanding. Let’s head off.”
You feel like you’ve won a battle and lost a war.
She turns on her heel and walks out of the alley. Actual heels, going by the click of shoe on tarmac.
You shout over the music, “I don’t believe-,”
“221B Baker Street,” she rattles off lightly. The purple sash around her waist is a heady burst of flavour against the drab night, sour wine on flavourless grey.
You make sure to tap your cane on the ground between the (harsh, measured) clicking of her heels. It makes a delightful racket.
Terezi moves in with a knapsack, some technical manuals, a hefty stack of legal texts, and a frankly alarming collection of light to medium-weight weaponry. You already have things ready in the flat, of course- told the lovely Mr. Harley downstairs that you’ll pop out real quick and come back with a flatmate- and here you are, promise fulfilled. You’d be proud of yourself if you hadn’t cheated.
Well. Even if you cheated, you’re rather proud of yourself anyway .
The Yard hasn’t requested your services of late, and neither has Dirk. Both have legitimate problems that you can solve, but one is tied up in stupidity and the other, pride. Both will come around. Eventually.
As a result of their pussyfooting, however, the closest thing to a case you’d had was this trivial affair, some kind of infidelity, that practically sorted itself out in the initial consultation in the morning. Look at you. IQ off the goddamn charts, supernatural psychic power, razor sharp wit- all of that to resolve some vapid, Real Housewives of London -esque drama.
After they’d left, you took their five hundred pound consultation fee to the bottle shop and bought as much absinthe as you could carry. You’d drank as much as that as you could handle, passed out, and hours later, woke up with a pounding hangover and a realisation that this can’t go on .
There had been a quarter of a bottle of liquor in your hand when you woke up; you drained that, packed up all your things, set the Light inside your head to work, and found a flat owned by a delightful old eccentric who didn’t mind the occasional gunshot. That took one hour. You whiled away the evening with some early twentieth century Russian romance, and when you set your bow and violin down it was nine-thirty.
You made it to the nightclub at a quarter past ten. Five minutes later, Terezi appeared, less troll, and more red sunglasses drawn over acute angles. You were sure that she didn’t notice you, until she whipped her head towards you and told you what you were doing there.
Magic and cheating.
Terezi is something special, in the same way that you are. Her motions are smooth and deliberate, as if she’s seeing herself moving in a tiny screen within her head, in sinuous jungle cat steps that do things to your vasculars. Your path is framed in blurry light and she features in every other branch.
You settle in to observe your brand new flatmate. She’s observing you right back as she happily goes through an entire bag of candied grubs. You wonder what she sees.
This is a game of information. You were very careful about what you left out as easy pickings.
“This is a rather nice place, Rose,” your new flatmate says. “Smells interesting. Just need to get some of this clutter sorted out…”
She pauses, nose inches away from a violin on the mantle. Your violin, the antique you’ve had since you were ten, pale and glossy.
She turns a full circle, inhaling all the way.
“I’ve already moved in,” you tell her, even though she already knows. You take delight in the squirming of the hapless. She doesn’t squirm.
“Oh,” she says. She doesn’t apologise for her mistake, and for some reason it doesn’t irk you as much as it should.
A game of information. You want to know what she did. You want to know how she ended up here. The Sight you have, however, is far more conducive to seeing the future than the past.
What does Terezi Pyrope know?
You are a freelance consulting detective. You don’t keep normal hours. You don’t do normal things. This is a given.
You didn’t specify who you worked with or what, but that is alright. She would learn in time, and Legislacerators dealt with worse. That is alright.
You know that Terezi Pyrope used to be a Legislacerator. It is highly probable that she has many enemies, largely in other star systems but on the most part very powerful.
As an ex- Legislacerator, it is also likely that the Empire itself isn’t terribly fond of her. Ex-Legs don’t exist. There is a reason for this.
She doesn’t know about the alcoholism. You’ve dabbled with drugs, but you always came back to alcohol. It is a stupid thing to conceal; the timeline where you tell her is superior to the timeline where you don’t(very murky, featuring possible death, highly probable humiliation, and many things she probably should not hear), but you can’t bring yourself to admit it.
You’re not sure if she saw the other path. You’re fairly certain that she at least felt its shadow, the possibility of it, and now she knows you’re hiding something.
You hope she doesn’t pry(she will). You hope she won’t catch you pouring vodka down the kitchen sink at three in the afternoon(she might, or she might catch you pouring it down your throat).
This is stupid. You do not regret this path. You know, you know that the timeline where you have never met Terezi Pyrope is an exceedingly crappy timeline. It will go, in fact, a little like the day before Terezi Pyrope. The boring, petty squabbles of wealthy people. The pointless hours on pointless websites. The drinking.
Nothing will change, in the foreseeable future.
With Terezi Pyrope, everything changes. You don’t know how. She is a variable you can’t predict. It makes you excited and terrified all at once.
“The room over there is yours,” you tell her. “Third bedroom is-”
“Weaponry storage,” she interrupts cheerfully. “And also for drills. We’ll install some gym equipment, I think.”
We’ll . God, the presumptive nerve of her.
“I was going to say laboratory. I run a great many experiments here.”
“Well, why not both?”
Why not both indeed.
Terezi turns her burnt out eyes to the ceiling, and you can almost see the visions flickering across them. Her vision of the third bedroom solidifies, probabilities creeping up and up.
“I’m sure we can manage that,” she says, just as it becomes a sure thing. You’ve just watched Terezi formulate a plan and even without explicit confirmation from your second sight, you are sure that she will succeed.
Why is this troll, this deadly, dangerous troll, why is she in your flat? How did this brilliant mind end up on Earth? You can imagine her carving fierce gouges through alien empires, tearing her way up the ranks of vicious bluebloods into command. You can imagine her doing damage .
What is she doing here, on this planet of pacifist humans and tired, worn-out trolls?
She surveys her belongings. “Mind lending a hand, Miss Purple Wine Grapes?”
Your gaze skitters over two silver briefcases, one slightly larger than the other. There’s a highly ionised plasma blaster of troll design in the larger one, an AK-47 inspired assault rifle that can’t be more than three years old in the other, and the both of them see a lot of use in the near future. You squint through alternate futures and focus on the intensity of the vision. It’s a near-certainty, and right now you can’t see a way around it.
An ancient, hungry part of you says yes , curling satisfied in your gut. You pick them up while Terezi scoops up a knapsack and an armful of books.
“Good choice,” she says, approvingly. “What do you See?”
Terezi is blind, and the most perceptive person you’ve ever met.
“Violence,” you say, and smile despite yourself. The yearning for alcohol, which has been your almost constant companion since puberty, has evaporated, replaced with an almost-foreign feeling that you haven’t felt in years.
Chapter 2: the night has come
The thing about Rose Lalonde is that she knows .
The ability to See on anyone else would have been wasted. To See effectively, you have to ask the right questions. You need to hear “ex-Leg,” and think further than just, “that’s odd.”
She thinks further than “that’s odd, I have never heard of an ex-Leg.”
She comes to the conclusion. You fucked up, royally, massively .
You ruminate on this as you inhale, smelling acrid singed air and latent electricity. The highly ionised plasma blaster is, in one sense, a vaporiser beam. Hydrogen ionises when the temperature is over a few thousand degrees. The bundle of plasma will ionise nearly everything else, functionally ripping it apart in the process. The beam will carve through anything, easy as butter; and you have a miniature nuclear reactor resting on your shoulder to power it all.
This is entirely troll. Trolls will pour their energy and resources and numbers and burn a hole through the universe. This is how trolls conquer galaxies, with psionics, cavalreapers, laughassasins, threshecutioners. Legislacerators.
You switch to the AK-80, the most widely circulated semi-automatic assault rifle on this planet.
It is elegant in its simplicity. Cartridge primer and propellant is ignited, causing huge pressure behind the bullet, which forces it out at high velocity. The bullet is a projectile, which can hit its target or ricochet into it. It is much, much more efficient than a troll-made blaster- all you need is some spare magazines and good aim. Any idiot who can lift the gun and find the trigger can own and fire one of these; a troll blaster requires a particle physics degree to maintain, and the training on how to use the sniper setting lasts almost two perigees.
This is how humans have defended their planet for close to a decade. Sophisticated systems based on high-velocity projectiles. There are variants that scatter, variants that explode on impact- but the basic principle is the same. Point, and something hits where you’re pointing.
You have both of these weapons; carefully tamed fire and thrown rocks. Directed annihilation and precisely aimed death.
Since you quit the Legs, you have nowhere to aim these two things. Your problems are not the kind you can shoot a gun at.
What kind of legislacerator are you? There is no problem too big, no mission too complex. All it comes down to is to break it down into manageable pieces. Manageable pieces that you can shoot at.
Problem one is evading the Empire. That is alright. Easy, even. That one murder your committed is a cullable offense, but not actually all that important to the Empire; she was high on the spectrum, but not that high, and anyway the higher-ups had wanted her dead anyway.
Your defection is more pressing, but defectors are many, and only getting more numerous. There are so many that they give them to the neophytes. You know neophytes, know what a naive troll thinks like. You can dispatch them, easy as pie.
Besides, Earth has enough trolls to hide in. All colours from rust to indigo, and one reluctant violet diplomat. It is far enough that they will not bother sending seasoned Legs to chase you.
You imagine a face on the target and you shoot. You inhale. Not quite on the bloodpusher, definitely on an artery, not good enough. A good psionic can still kill you with the last three seconds of their life.
The problem, you decide, is that you don’t have any problems other than that. All your life is a simple set of goals and objectives: get into the Legs Corps, hunt that troll, kill that drone, interrogate that prisoner. Eventually reach command, probably.
When all of that falls away, where does that leave you?
You fucked up when you threw away your neat objectives and tidy goals.
When you get back to the flat and open the door, you hear, “You obviously didn’t want me there. Isn’t this a far more elegant situation?”
You wait for a reply. It is muffled and staticky, a rapid fire cascade of words, garbled by distance. You don’t recognise that voice, but he sounds exasperated.
So does Rose. “I can take care of myself. I’ve briefed her, yes. No, I have been refraining. May I remind you that I am an adult, and my poor decisions are mine to make? ”
You should probably announce your presence about now. You draw the door almost-closed instead, leaving a gap just enough to smell through.
Rose is on the phone, prowling around like some kind of caged animal. As the caller speaks, she stops her restless pacing and goes very, very still. When she speaks, her words are brittle and icy.
“Dave. I can take care of myself .”
You can’t make out what he’s saying, but you can guess. Rose doesn’t move a muscle as she says, “You didn’t chase me away, I simply had a realisation that I was overstaying my welcome . I was in the way. I was that snarky broad that haunted your place for months, undermined your burgeoning relationship at every opportunity, and drank all your liquor.”
“That is the exact point,” she almost snarls. “You should be glad that I’m gone.”
Dave says something else in response to that, something highly impassioned. You should walk back down the stairs, because this is Rose, implacable Rose talking about her feelings. These words are borne of conciliatory, fraternal emotions- definitely not for your ears.
You push past the urge to be a good person and you stay.
“Just… stop trying to comfort me, stop trying to convince me to move back in. I am not the one who should be there .”
Silence. Rose walks around the couch, weaves past the sideboard, and drags her fingers along the mantle.
“She hasn’t attempted to murder me in my sleep yet. I can only count my blessings.”
One of those puzzling half-smirks. “Yes, yes, she’s excellent. We have long, thought-provoking philosophical debates late into the night.”
You have had maybe two, including one comparing the relative merits of your respective educational curriculum. She’s almost as nocturnal as you are.
She listens for a little more and rolls her eyes. The tug of her lips wrench at something deep inside you. Pale , you think, and realise that the burning in the depths of your throat is jealousy.
“Duly noted,” she says. “The sloppy makeouts are soon to follow, I’m sure.”
Your cheeks suddenly feel very warm. You don’t miss the fact that she is two inches away, on the other side of the door.
In a few smooth flicks of her fingers, the phone goes on speaker.
“Are you overcome by that image?” Rose inquires, sounding for all the world like she’d never heard of the term ‘sloppy makeouts’.
“No,” Dave’s voice crackles from the phone. “I am not. I am a mature adult that is capable of not thinking of my sister and her alien flatmate in sleepover pyjamas out of a bad porno and- god fucking damnit, Rose, am I on speaker?”
Rose opens the door and smiles sweetly at you. You glance at the phone, and clear your throat.
“That was you, Rose, it’s just you and no one else in that room. You’re just fucking with me, by making me thinking that-”
“There was in fact no sneaky eavesdroppers on our highly private conversation , Dave, don’t worry your little head.”
You shuffle a little guiltily. Regret over the trashing of some frivolous concept of human privacy is not an emotion that Terezi Pyrope feels, but Rose has a disarming smile and her raised eyebrow says I’m very sorry you had to hear all of that, but I’m afraid that’s an occupational hazard of being a sneaky troll with no respect for boundaries.
You don’t doubt for a second that she’s going to get her revenge at some point. You make a mental note to hide your candied grubs.
Dave goes silent. “She’s standing right there, isn’t she.”
“Yup,” you say. “Hi, Dave. Nice to meet you!”
He mumbles something that sounds like, goddamnit Rose, and Rose uses that opportunity to say, “This conversation has been lovely, but I’m afraid that we simply must get to the bedroom right now and immediately. Sexy sleepover wear and all.”
She hangs up on his cursing, and smiles at you. It’s not a very nice smile.
“How long were you standing there?”
“I didn’t catch all of it, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“No, that is not what I’m asking, Terezi Pyrope.”
She pulls on her coat as she speaks, apparently for no reason. Just as she does up her top button her phone rings again.
She listens, boredom etched through her fine-china features and then she asks, “address?”
The speaker gives it to her and she nods. Slips the phone into her coat pocket.
“Where are you going?” You’re a little taller than Rose- damned short for a tealblood, about the size of a tall human male- and use that height advantage to stare her down.
She fixes her cool violet gaze on you and replies, “I’ve got an appointment.”
Your senses prickle. “What kind of appointment?”
“Crime scene. Have you heard about the suicides?”
Everyone in this city has heard about the suicides. “Cyanide pills, secluded location, no note, no apparent reason.”
“Precisely. This one is different. My presence has been requested.”
There is something cold that lives within this girl. The sharp part of her smile, like she doesn’t care that someone is dead, as long as she gets to find out how and why.
You feel something in your bones, something that feels like recoil punching at your shoulder. A goal, a purpose. You grin.
She stares at you and nods. By unspoken agreement, you have both decided that you are coming.
The game , you think, is on.
“I’ll hail the cab.” You leave her in the stairwell with a grin, and exit the building.
Two humans walking past, speeding up when they see you. A troll running down the street- to catch a bus? Is he late? Probably.
And you, freshing from an evening of shooting practice, plasma rifle in one hand and automatic strapped to your back in their respective ominous cases.
As expected of a troll toting a pair of suspicious-looking briefcases around midnight, you step onto the middle of the road and hail a passing cab. It was carrying a rather drunk human passenger, but you give the case housing your plasma rifle a significant look and come to an understanding with both parties.
“That’s an unconventional way to hail a cab,” Rose remarks dryly as she climbs in. “I’ll certainly keep it in mind. Corner of Euston and Argyle, thank you.”
The only person at the crime scene that likes you is the Inspector, and that’s because the Inspector actually does his job and minds his own business. (And, to be honest, like is a slight overstatement. You don’t care.) Everyone else whispers when you’re there, walking through CRIME SCENE and KEEP OUT tape like it’s nothing at all.
Terezi smiles at the all-human police force, baring her sharp, sharp carnivore’s dentition. Some of the forensics people shrink back. It’s passingly amusing, but what is before you is far more engaging.
“What have we got?” you ask the Inspector as you emerge in the rundown bedroom on the second floor of the house. The house is slated for demolition. No one has been here for weeks.
Fantastic place to put a body, frankly. You couldn’t have picked a better place yourself.
There are specks of dark blue around the body, which is face-down. Their horns, forward pointing, are half embedded in the floorboards. It must have been quite a fall.
By the foot of the victim is a huge, swirling, 6. Or 9. It’s hard to tell which way is up, and the killer has left no useful markers.
Terezi enters the room and inhales deeply. After a beat, she says, “murder.”
You nod. “I agree.”
The Inspector frowns, and some lowlier investigator, you never bothered to learn his name, says, “There’s no evidence for that, there’s no sign of struggle, not here nor anywhere else in the house.”
“How did you get here, investigator?” you ask sweetly.
“I’m not playing your stupid fucking game, Lalonde,” he snarls.
“Squad car,” the Inspector says. He knows you’re useful, he needs your help and is pragmatic enough to see past your eccentricities. “What’s your point?”
“How did the victim get here?” you ask, again. The police exchange glances.
“Have you ever seen a blueblood on public transport? Of course you haven’t, they’re nobility . So how did they get here?”
Behind you, Terezi is grinning. “You raise a good point, Rose, but you also miss the point entirely.”
“Yes,” the Inspector agrees. “What’s this mark?”
“Irrelevant,” you and Terezi say in unison.
You turn to look at her. She stands very straight, and some kind of energy thrums through her, from her horns to her toes.
“Who the fuck is the troll? Why’s she here?” the investigator asks. You make a mental note to find out his name; maybe you can get him fired.
“Shut up,” you tell him, “and get out. You have nothing useful to contribute.”
The investigator seeths. He opens his mouth to say something, but the Inspector places a hand on his shoulder and whispers something to the tune of we need them . He isn’t asked to leave, to your displeasure.
He’ll only get in the way. Irritating.
“The mark was drawn by the killer,” Terezi says, “probably. It’s by the foot of the victim, for one, and none of the other victims had this. So it’s probably a distraction.”
“Again, how do we know that it’s a murder?”
"You're all thinking like humans," Terezi says, circling the room like a predator. "This is a room that smells like murder."
The investigator looks ready to blow a gasket. The Inspector raises a warning hand. To Terezi, he says, "140 words or less. Explain."
"Troll pheromones," she says, buttery smooth- she’s reached the other side of the room. "You can test for it, I'm sure- ask your xenopolitical embassy for the device. Threatened, anger, fear."
"How would you know?" The investigator sneers.
"There is one place in the universe where you can unfailingly find this exact mix. The execution ground."
Terezi gestures at the body grandly.
"This troll," she declared, "entered this room, knowing that he'd never leave. And he was very, very unhappy about it. There is nothing willing about this death."
Everyone is silent for a long moment. You are quietly impressed.
"There is still no sign of physical struggle," you point out. "If you're right, then he must have struggled when he realised."
"You know where to find the signs, Madam Angel Food Cake.” The red lenses of her sunglasses glint in the buzzing incandescent lighting as she looks towards you, expectant.
"The vehicle," you say, more for the benefit for those around you. "It all comes back to how the victim got here."
Nothing can occur without leaving a trace. How would the struggle happen?
In the car, as the victim realised his impending doom? Just outside, as he attempted to flee?
His shoes were polished to a gleaming shine. There are now scruff marks and scratches in the leather. You imagine him digging his heels into the road, scraping tarmac as he fell.
Do the shoes fit?
You slide on the medical examination gloves and brush the back of the victim's coat. You squint.
Then you carefully reach under the troll, and brush along his front. This time your glove yields tiny black flakes.
There's your trace.
"Get these tested," you tell the Inspector, carefully wrapping your evidence inside the gloves. "You're looking for a black car, big dent, parallel scratches above the dent."
You viciously yank the victim's head up, and don't flinch at the crack. The horns taper to sharp points, and you use another pair of gloves to collect black flecks of paint from the tips. This sample you slip into a small sandwich bag, for your own lab.
The next question occurs to you as you keep examining the body. His fingers, which are painted in dark blue and black, in healing burns and old scars. "Where is his weapon?"
"A weapon! A troll gun of some kind, shoots lasers. Hip-holstered plasma blaster."
Terezi perks up. "Burnt knuckles?"
"Yes. One of those plasma guns, not very large."
"Ionised helium cludgel-blaster, smallest plasma gun you can find, worst heatsink on any planet."
She sniffs at the victim's fingers thoughtfully.
"Modified. It has holes cut into the side of the barrel for a scatter beam."
"Yes, that thing." You let the urgency show. "Where is it? Have you searched the house?"
"We searched the house ten goddamn times, Lalonde, there is no fucking gun!"
"Perhaps he left it at home," the Inspector suggests, calmly.
You look him in the eye and say, "he fired that gun less than six hours ago."
And he died less than five hours ago.
In this dazzling flash of insight, you take off into the night.
“Where are you going?” the Inspector asks, sounding alarmed for the first time tonight.
“The killer has the gun!” you yell back. No time to humour them. Time is of the utmost essence.
The killer has that weapon. Once you find that gun, you have your murderer.
You are Rose Lalonde, and this is what you are made for.
Chapter 3: all under the ground, can't be found
This chapter was brought to you by the wonderful beta-reading efforts of cyrogenia. Many thanks for reading!
It is zero-five-hundred hours, two hours since you went to the crime scene. Rose has vanished into the night(day?) and you are stranded.
You find yourself craving candied grubs.
It reminds you of the very first case you solved, as a fledgling neophyte. You felt like everything in your life was a lead up to that glorious moment of truth, when the puzzle pieces fell into place and you went on the offense.
The chase, the Corps had called it. You would comb through the case with careful eyes and pick at the threads where the facts were disjointed until the whole facade came apart. When it was weak and in shambles you had to be ready to rip the whole thing down. That was prosecution.
The whole thing, start to finish- the wrongdoer’s evasion, the investigation, the prosecution- all of that added up to the chase. And every prosecutor thirsts for the hunt, you included.
You didn’t know how parched you were until you saw a dead body for the first time since you left. You didn’t know how much you missed it.
“Where’s the closest supermarket?” you ask the least terrible police human. The one in the brown coat, probably the most senior one. He offers you a lift in the squad car. He doesn’t speak the whole way, while the noisy one- Anderson, you learn, doesn’t shut up about Rose.
“Have you thought about making a pitch solicitation?” you ask, innocently. He turns an entertaining shade of umber and spends the rest of the trip sputtering. Possibly to spare his feelings, or to prevent a heart attack, the other human, Inspector Lestrade drops you off then, in the parking lot of a fluorescent-lit Tesco.
You are very unhappy in the supermarket; it tastes disgusting. The floors, the walls, the everything is the same saccharine sugar glaze, and the overhead PA plays crackly radio pop. If this is purgatory, you’d believe it.
You locate and pay for your grubs as quickly as possible, only to stop, nose to nose, with a well-dressed woman at the entrance.
Troll. Jade. Slender, sharp horns with a pleasing asymmetry. Drop-dead gorgeous.
Black ink blooms over her chest like vines, like flowers. Scent doesn’t tell you if they are crisp and clear or blurred by diffusion, but blobs of blackcurrant also lurk under the half-transparent sleeves of her cardigan. It’s a fairly impressive ink job.
The thing about tattooing trolls is that the ink doesn’t stick- something to do about ink dissolving in troll fluids. To keep the design sharp, the skin had to be exposed to four hours of UV radiation about once a month.
As someone who had (unintentionally) experienced four consecutive hours of Earth daylight, you are very sure that the Earthbound troll population is the reason why every business is now a 24-hour business, unless they are writhing in the throes of raging speciesism.
She tells you to come out, with your groceries.
There is a sleek black vehicle, clearly expensive but frustratingly nondescript waiting for the two of you. She slides into the back and gestures for you to join her.
You obey. It’s not, generally speaking, a fantastic idea to follow strange tattooed trolls into strange black cars, but you can’t deny that you’re interested. Besides, if she tries to pull anything, you’ve got a variety of ways to stop her. The guns are packed away, but you can go from case to shooting in about forty seconds, and even without them you have some other hidden weaponry.
Like your cane, for example. You fold your limbs into the car, set your cane down on your lap, and inhale deeply.
The car has no driver because of course it doesn’t.
“Route set to meeting point lambda eta mu,” the car says.
“Acknowledged,” the woman says. She removes a blindfold from her side of the car, studies you, and shrugs.
“I’m already blind,” you protest.
“I know.” You can’t smell her expression. She doesn’t have one.
She ties a very good knot. Just tight enough to secure, not tight enough to discomfort, definitely the kind of knot to last for awhile without being impossible to untangle. Very professional.
You both know that, if you wanted to, you could kill her, probably hijack the car, or failing that, roll out of a window off the highway. She knows that you will spend the whole trip serenely studying the inside of the blindfold as a result of that fact. You don’t have an indication of how she feels about that. Or for anything, for that matter.
The fabric is pulled over your nose. It tickles, and impedes your perception of the outside somewhat. Deliberate? The woman is frustratingly hard to get a read on, even with Seer powers. The only motive you see is money.
Darn it. Professionals don’t have burning desires to do things, and it makes everything harder for you. She intends for you to reach this mysterious destination safe and ignorant and that you already knew.
Time passes in silence, except for the steady purr of the car’s engine and the troll’s claws going click-click tap-tap on a glass surface. Must be a phone. When the car pulls three left turns in a row, you sigh in exasperation. “Whoever designed this route must think that I’m an amateur.”
“Not at all, Ms Pyrope,” the car says.
The car talks back. You stop yourself from saying it out loud, because there isn’t any point to stating the obvious.
“A self-driving car is a bit much,” you remark. “A conversational car is just overkill.”
If it was possible for a car to smirk, this one probably would have. “He likes overkill.”
“Hal,” the jade woman says, stern. She has not stopped using her phone the whole time, as the steady stream of clawtip click-taps tell you.
“What?” the car asks, unconvincingly innocent.
The jade woman does not reply. The clicking and tapping continues at the same rate.
This is slightly maddening. You decide, for the lack of anything better to do, to continue speaking to the occupant(?) that responds. It will get you there faster, at least.
Nothing obvious, of course. Where are we going et cetera is an amateur’s game.
“Are we there yet?” you ask instead. “I’m pretty sure we can be there quicker. I’m a busy troll.”
“Patience,” says the car, amused. “Although, you are right. This is boring.”
“Four more minutes, Hal,” the woman says, sounding stern.
“This is so incredibly pointless. The lady ain’t impressed.”
“Procedure is procedure.” Is that… an actual emotion? Resignation. It’s the first thing you’ve got from her this entire time .
This isn’t just an argument they have often, it’s an argument they have almost every time they’re taking someone blindfolded to parts unknown.
“Procedure is a time waster,” Hal declares. The car stops. “We’re here.”
“Thank you,” you tell the car, grinning widely. “You’re the best talking car.”
“I know, right?” Hal replies. “Be sure to give me five stars. Be all like ten out of ten would ride again.”
The woman just sighs and takes your hand. She also takes your cane away from you.
You let her. You’ve got a small gun inside your boot, strapped to your ankle, and a knife at the small of your back. The cane is purely symbolic, as a hidden weapon.
She leads you into a building- the air inside is stale without having a noticeable odour. The floor beneath you is concrete, and then the two of you clang your way up a noisy set of metal stairs. Your steps continue to clang noisily above the ground.
A railing that is waist height, cool metal under your fingers. Narrow.
A catwalk. Dangerous, but you don’t see any intention to hurt you. Just someone’s penchant for the dramatic.
When the blindfold comes off, you take grateful sniffs of the still air and etch a dark silhouette of a man in front of you. He faces away from you, looking down into the gloom.
His hair, gelled into points, is the same shocking meringue blonde as Rose’s, and suddenly everything makes sense.
“Melodrama must run in the family,” you remark.
He turns around. He is wearing a nicely tailored suit. You can’t smell what colour his eyes are, behind his pointy black shades.
“I suppose the ruse is up. Pleased to meet you, Miss Pyrope.”
“Charmed,” you reply, taking his outstretched hand to lick. He tastes like vanilla ice, and is about twice as cool as that. His face smells exactly as impassive as before.
“I have a proposal for you,” he tells you, once you relinquish his hand. “It runs to the tune of several thousand pounds. Every week.”
You are being bribed.
“I’m not going to do anything to her for any sum of money,” you tell him. “Anything else?”
“I assume you’re talking about Rose? I’m not asking for you to hurt her. It’s perfectly harmless.”
“What do you want?”
“Just some updates from time to time. What has she been up to. What she’s been eating, what cases has she solved. That sort of thing.”
You pretend to consider, and shake your head. “No.”
The man looks at you over his shades. His eyes are a brilliant creamsicle orange.
“Well.” He clears his throat. “That was unexpected.”
“You expected me to be a sell-out,” you say, feigning injury. The slightest edges of your grin is showing.
It is clear that he is confused.
“Terezi Pyrope,” he says, slowly. “Insufferable ex-Legislacerator. Obnoxious to all… except for Rose Lalonde, apparently.”
“What can I say? I’m the best mail-order alien bride there is.” You think you almost see the shadow of a smile, there.
“Welcome to the family,” he delivers in the exact same deadpan. “She chose well, in that case. There are less loyal matesprit soulmates out there, and you’ve only known her for?”
You’re sure he knows. You don’t answer. He raises an eyebrow at that.
“One week. One week, and you won’t even do a tiny little bit of spying.”
“Jealous?” You let your grin grow.
His features contort. Blink and it’s gone. “Not at all. Since I’m not convincing you anytime soon, can I request that you don’t tell her about this encounter?”
You tilt your head. “What’s in it for me?”
He deliberates. “A considerable amount of money, deposited into your account by the end of tonight, no strings attached.”
You have enough money at the moment, but you can probably do something interesting and useful with more. It wouldn’t hurt. “Sure. Do I get a ride back home?”
“Of course. What kind of inconsiderate asshole do you think I am? Anything else?”
It takes you all of three seconds to consult your Sight and take up his generous offer.
“Actually,” you begin. “There is one thing.”
“I’m all ears.”
“Can we get a violin? Right now?”
Terezi, please come home if convenient. - RL
After a few moments of deliberation, you send another text.
If inconvenient come anyway. - RL
Having performed the requisite communications, you sit back to survey your findings.
One hip holster, and within it, the “cudgel blaster” that Terezi referred to. She was exactly right about the modification, too. You are impressed.
Everything is going well, and then your phone rings. It’s Dave.
“To what do I owe the-”
“Shut the fuck up Rose, and come over right now.”
This is uncharacteristic. You do a check of the timeline and it is awful, the miasma of death and blood hanging over everything, cloying and thick.
“Who’s there?” you ask. Fear thrums through you. Dave hasn’t sounded so sick, so afraid, for years. Both of you avoid ever mentioning those years.
“The cops are here to arrest him for the suicides and you know, you know he hasn’t done shit .”
You are already emptying your pockets and the timeline is snapping into place. The Light is shining out of your every pore and the fire inside you burns and burns.
Three cabs outside. The Light urges you past the first two and when you get into the third you tell the driver to speed. You hand a hundred pound note to him and step out of the vehicle.
The tableaux is laid out before you. A police car parked in front of Dave’s apartment. Two investigators from the Scotland Yard, the two that were with you before, and Dave.
Dave, who is pale and angry and shaking his head as you arrive.
The irritating one leers at you, and you sidestep the Inspector’s attempt to handcuff you.
“What in the world are you lot doing?” You are pissed . You don’t bother to hide it. It shakes the police, clearly, to see you anything other than calm, but they try their best not to show it.
“We’re, you’re under arrest, Lalonde,” says the annoying one, and this time you let them handcuff you. “You’re one of the prime suspects of the case. So is this one.”
This one , it turns out, is Dave’s boyfriend. The troll. Karkat. You’d met him twice. He is already in the car.
They frisk you and find nothing. It’s clearly very frustrating, which is exactly the point. “Where’s your phone, Lalonde? We know you’re practically surgically attached to it. Where is it?”
“At home,” you tell him. “Feel free to run by to grab it.”
In one in three timelines, this is when he takes a swing at you and tells you not to lie. In this one, he only scowls.
When they’re done, you give them a disdainful look as you climb in beside Karkat with as much grace as you can muster. That is a lot of grace. It conveys the same sentiment as a middle finger and you feel a lot more satisfied.
Karkat is hunched over into himself, afraid. You lock eyes with him and lower your voice. “You have the right to remain silent. Use it. Don’t say a fucking word.”
“Don’t speak,” the Inspector says, stern. He is very upset- he trusted you. He will likely not trust you for a good long while.
“Just airing an observation,” you say, conversational.
You relax into the seat, handcuffs and all, and you let the Light run visions and spool out timelines behind your eyelids. You plan.
The plan is to wait an hour in custody while they attempt to interrogate Karkat. Then, when they come to interrogate you, you will tell them all the ways they are obviously wrong and at the end of it all they will let the two of you go. Karkat is free nine times out of eleven; you, six times out of thirteen.
Your plan fails when you actually sit in the interrogation room, because the first person they send in isn’t the Inspector, the annoying one, or any other police officer. Terezi Pyrope waltzes in tapping her cane on the ground. She is also holding a violin.
Damn her and the shuttle she crash-landed in. She is a dangerous blind spot- no pun intended.
She hops on the table, grins a megawatt grin, and holds the violin in a clumsy facsimile of a real grip, in the wrong hand altogether. Then she brings the bow down.
She’s not even touching the fingerboard.
She bows harder, and starts to shriek.
After about a minute of unmusical screeching, both from her and the instrument, you are compelled to say something. “How on earth did you achieve this?”
Terezi stops shrieking to grin. She is still “playing”, however. “I told them I could get answers, so they let me talk to Karkat. Now they’re letting me talk to you. How do I look?”
Ridiculous. “Usually, I’d say with your eyes, but I don’t want to be insensitive.”
Terezi throws her head back and cackles. The bow skips a few times and she whacks out a halting, inelegant D. “I knew there was a reason why I liked you, Madam Mouldy Cantaloupe.”
“How long did Karkat last under this sustained aural assault?” you inquire.
“I didn’t use the violin on him. He just swore a lot, provided proof of mutation and subsequent visa of asylum, explained his hatch symbol, and then they let him go.”
She raises an eyebrow and resumes shrieking.
If this room is recorded, then the only thing that would be audible is Terezi’s shitty violin and occasional shrieking. She is sitting in the line of sight between the camera and your face; the camera is pointed squarely at the back of her head.
It is, in essence, the perfect place to hatch a plan. Your estimation of her rises a few more notches. It doesn’t hurt that you’re going to be free in twenty minutes, nine-hundred and ninety-seven times out of a thousand.
Minutes pass companionably, or as companionably as they can under Terezi’s terrible sense of rhythm, no apparent melody and out-of-tune strings.
When she runs out of breath, she says, “That was punishment for insensitive language. Now let’s address why you’re here.”
“I have a few guesses.”
“Ironically, it was your own idea.”
What have you given the police? “The paint from the car? Leads… to me ?”
“Yes. The car was a rental. Abandoned in a junkyard. Guess who leased it?”
Ah . Interesting. “That would be me, apparently, even though I haven’t leased a vehicle in three years. Why was Karkat under suspicion?”
That had bugged you, somewhat. You have a guess and you don’t like it.
“Some bright spark pointed out that this was the only highblood victim, so they went through and looked up all the hatch signs of all the trolls in London. Karkat has the Prophet’s sign- looks like a sixty-nine on its side, so he’s the closest match.”
Terezi looks like she’d be rolling her eyes if she has eyes to roll. You agree. That is pretty tenuous. The evidence for you is far stronger, so your suspicion is right.
Karkat was never a true suspect. His arrest is a ploy to catch you .
“If they thought that I was the murderer, then why would they expect me to come where I knew police were? Why not just ambush me?” you muse aloud.
“I bet Anderson came up with it,” Terezi says.
“Investigator that talks too much.”
“Ah, yes, him.” You think a little more. Even Terezi’s awful understanding of harmonics can’t dissuade you from a good mystery.
“I think that they’re intimidated,” Terezi says, slowly.
“Have you made any secret of the Seer thing?”
“They don’t know,” you says, and try not to sound annoyed. You’ve been keeping it a secret your entire life. Your shit, as Dave would put it, is airtight.
“Still, they must think that you know too much. And of course, they know that you tend to go overboard.”
You have to raise an eyebrow at that. “Me? Go overboard?”
“I had a conversation with Dave,” Terezi says by way of explanation, and you are much more surprised than you should be, given how surprising Terezi has been already.
“You met him last night, over the phone. Less than twelve hours ago.”
“We’re fast friends. No, he told me to come here. He’s outside, actually. With Karkat, I imagine.”
“He didn’t leave?”
Terezi gives you a weird look, aimed directly at your right ear. “Why would he? He cares about you, deeply. And he has great confidence in my ability to get you free, since it worked for Karkat.”
You already know that it will; the odds of you being out and about tomorrow is a sure thing, and has been for awhile. You’re curious as to how, however.
“I won’t get you free,” she says, putting down the violin(finally). “However, I have met an insufferable asshole who will.”
A moment later the door swings opens and in walks no other than your older brother, Dirk Strider.
You put your head in your hands and groan. Absolutely perfect.
Chapter 4: wide eyed looking like you're under a curse
Dave Strider’s apartment is a roomy two-bedder in the Brixton. Apart from the dicks spray-painted on the pavement outside and the sopor handprints on the stairwell walls, you reckon it’s a pretty nice place.
“We’ve got a more important thing to tackle right now,” Dirk says to all gathered, back straight like a Roman orator. “It’s related to the suicides, but it’s bigger than that.”
“It’s always bigger than that when you’re involved,” Rose says from the lone armchair in front of the window. She sounds sullen.
“That’s what she said,” Dave deadpans from the sofa. He peers at everyone from behind his aviator shades, the gesture an eerie echo of Dirk. Brothers, for sure, although you’re not entirely sure who’s older.
Karkat is still prickly from being arrested. He rubs his wrists and glowers at no one and everyone silently. Dave puts a steadying hand on his back.
He smells like he’s been shit on by a herd of musclebeasts, and should probably go to sleep. So does Dave. It’s been a long night for the two of them, and they’re the most reticent of your motley crew.
Rose also has dark circles under her eyes, but you know for a fact that she only sleeps three hours out of twenty-four, whenever it suits her, so that’s completely normal.
No one ever mentions her appearance, because to her, “are you okay” is “better concealer required.” You’re sure there isn’t a concealer good enough in any universe to cover the kind of sleep deprivation she has.
She doesn’t care. Rose does what she wants, day-night cycles and basic biology be damned.
Dirk is the same always-indoors vanilla shade as Rose, but you can’t see his eyes. He holds himself very straight and very still, like a stage magician well aware that he has all day.
“If my dearest older brother is going for a dramatic reveal, now is the time,” Rose grouches. “I’m sure his overdeveloped sense of the theatrical could stand to give it a rest for one day.”
“My darling little sister could stand to chill the fuck out. I’ll get right to it, without ceremony of preamble.”
“Dirk,” Dave and Rose say at the same time, in the exact same “are you fucking kidding me” tone.
Dirk gets right to it. “My intelligence network has good reason to suspect a terrorist plot on Earth. Someone wants to bring the Condesce here very badly.”
This gets your attention. It also gets Karkat’s, who shows it by going stiff and still like a cadaver.
Almost every troll on Earth is here for one reason- they are enemies of the Empire, and face culling among other trolls. Humans enjoy dissecting the Empire’s technology, so they issue asylum to any Alternians that land on its surface in exchange for the vessel they come in, and any surviving technology. It took a remarkable amount of sweet-talking and smuggling for you to keep your arsenal.
The Empire has sent Legislacerators, of course. Laughassasins. Spies of every stripe.
They end up defecting, every single one of them. It’s a deeply buried secret that out of everything on the active roster, Earth-related missions create the most MIA agents.
Difficult civilisations like that, the Condesce will usually get to, eventually. Eventually being the keyword. Earth is too far and too unimportant for her to bother right now.
Why would someone want to destroy this? The humans would come off worse, of course, but the Empire’s losses won’t be insignificant, and the way things stand, you won’t bet against Earth, not completely. Humans are vicious and creative fuckers when they have to be, and sometimes, when they don’t have to be.
“I have a feeling that it’s a clown,” you say. “It’s just a gut feeling.”
Rule one of Legislacerating: if the motive doesn’t make sense, it’s probably a clown.
“I think so too,” Dirk replies, “but we have no evidence, or leads. Or much of anything, really.”
“I suppose that’s where we come in.” Rose sits back in her armchair. It is most clearly her place, in this apartment- just as Dave and Karkat’s sofa is clearly theirs. The siblings and Karkat all assumed their places in the sitting block with no hesitation- Dirk standing in the centre, Rose by the window, Dave and Karkat facing the television. You watched them all settle in before perching yourself on the sofa facing Rose.
You don’t really fit, and you’re fine with that, really. You’re a blind, teal-blooded Legislacerator; you spent your entire life, or close enough, not fitting in.
Where do you come in, in all of this?
“In the grander scheme of making Earth a target,” Rose mutters. She whispers to herself. “Target, target.”
Her eyes fly open. “The suicides are meant to draw hostility to the trolls on earth, or possibly draw attention to the troll with the hemomutation.”
Karkat goes even stiffer under her burning scrutiny; you, on the other hand, see an immediate problem with her line of thinking. “Why frame you for the suicides, then?”
Rose smiles. It’s a cousin to the smile she gave you last night, hard and flinty. “It was convenient. We had it the wrong way round- Karkat, Karkat was who they really wanted to convict.”
It begins to dawn on you that unless you have seen Rose on a case, you have never truly seen Rose at all. This, this is the girl you had met, in a grimy alley behind a tacky nightclub. She had faded, like a flower wilting, into the cantankerous, solitary Lalonde you are growing accustomed to- late nights and dissatisfied days, always sulking, always staring holes through walls and always, always, searching for something.
Now she is back in full bloom. She isn’t searching now, not at all. This is her moment, and she is fully present. This is what she lives for.
“There’s going to be another suicide,” she announces, “and this time the killer will actually finish drawing that sign. They were interrupted, the last time.”
“By what?” Dirk’s attention, you realise, is elsewhere; his sunglasses glow cherry where his eyes should be.
“A question that’s easy to ask and hard to answer,” Rose snaps.
“You don’t know.”
“I’m trying to remember. It’s not the crime scene proper- it’s like they just… stopped.”
It won’t be a trivial explanation. A startled end, the killer emerging to investigate something… that would leave a trace. This half-symbol seemed deliberate enough to fool you, Rose, and everyone else that looked at it.
“There’s no reason to just stop,” Rose hisses to no one in particular. “Draw the full hatchsign and no one would doubt that Karkat was involved. Why stop?”
There are many, many ways someone can be stopped. This brings to mind a few.
“Psychics,” you suggest. “Take control of the body before the sign is complete.”
“The problem with that theory is that there are no psychics on Earth,” Dirk says. “At least, officially.”
He looks thoughtful.
“You sound like you have some experience with psychics,” Rose remarks. It would sting if she doesn’t intend it, but she’s a Seer, so there is no way she doesn’t intend it. She has you tasting aniseed with one casual remark.
“Some.” You don’t elaborate, and you give her a look that amounts vaguely to “we’ll talk about this later”.
She doesn’t grin, but she comes pretty close. This smug, smug human. You want to claw it out of her.
There is only one thing you are reticent about and that is the story of how you came to Earth. You don’t want to talk about it, but she is determined to push. She has been determined to push since the moment she heard “ex-Leg”, and she gets under your skin enough that you might actually tell her.
“What’s the plan, detective?” You throw it back to her. Remind her that she doesn’t know for sure. Remind her that there’s something missing , a skipped line, a dropped connection in her join-the-dots.
This is the danger in playing games with Seers- they always know what to say to hit you where it hurts. She should bloody learn it sometime.
Rose will consult her Sight. She can either go back to the crime scene to remedy her error, or go elsewhere to find her clues.
She won’t pick the first option- you can say that without touching yours. She’s not the type .
“We’ll go to the car rental,” she says, and you are proven absolutely right, and it burns in the depths of your thoracic cavity.
Rose does not want to face being wrong. She will have supreme confidence in her conclusions or she will have death.
You knew someone like that, once upon a time, and you had to kill her for it.
“Anything else? Anything we can do?”
Karkat. You had him pegged as the least likely to speak up, but somehow, he had broke out of the shellshock. His voice is a shaky warble, and his eyes, a very delicious, very cullable mutant candy red, flicker between Rose and Dave.
Someone to protect. Guilt, which somehow, in his funny little head, points to him.
No one speaks for a beat, and he glowers harder at the entire room.
“What? Just because I don’t have any super special psychic powers doesn’t mean I’m completely and utterly helpless. Or did you nookmunches think that I would sit here, thumbs in my wastechute, as you run around like headless cluckbeasts around me?”
Rose smiles. Dave radiates relief. You’re starting to realise that silent, sullen Karkat is not, in fact, regular Karkat.
“Find that car,” Rose tells him. “Video call me when you’re there. Dirk will help you.”
Dirk tilts his head, like he’s just made a decision not to argue(which is exactly what he just did). “Take my car. Hal and Medea will take you there.”
Rose raises an eyebrow, at that. “What will you do then, brother dearest?”
“Take a cab back to my office. Roxy is undertaking a similar investigation across the pond, and I believe my help is needed.”
“So that’s who you were talking to.”
“You can just ask,” Dirk says, and even through the impassive mask you can tell that he is just a little exasperated. Rose has an irritating habit of arranging things to sound clever.
She’s not focused on Dirk, though. Her attention is on Dave, whose muscles are all coiled up tight and tense, like a violin string about to snap. The banter wrings a tiny bit of the tension from him, but it is clear that he is uncomfortable.
No, not uncomfortable. The hunch in his posture is there, but it’s a battle-ready posture and he wears it like a second skin. He’s reluctant .
He doesn’t want to be here. His siblings are in this, savouring the moment, but it is clear that he isn’t the same creature. He doesn’t need this the way they do.
Still, he’d help- he can’t not . You suspect that under the lackadaisical appearance he is just as sharp a weapon as his siblings. Unhappy as he may be, he’ll be damned if he is going to let this planet go the way of all the other Empire-conquered planets.
You consult yourself and realise that you don’t want that, either. This is more than just another chase.
Outside, the sun is shining above a hanging drape of grey skies. It is bitterly cold and bitterly bright. Inside the apartment, Rose smells like vanilla and plums and bitter grapefruit, an enigma and a headache all in one; her human brothers are weirdos in shades that care about her and about each other, each in his own careful, hovering way. Karkat and Dave hold hands, tightly, fiercely.
You can’t be neutral, not anymore. You, too, have something to protect.
Dirk gives the two of you one week to get results. You decide on the day after- a sad, sunless Thursday.
Terezi is a coy shadow by your side as you make your way to the rental agency. She is unhappy with you, but she doesn’t, and won’t, say a word. She hasn’t for the past two days.
You are well and truly done with this brand of bullshit. This is not any Sainsbury’s bullshit- this is 100% certified, Pyrope-brand bullshit, in particular, which comes vacuum sealed in obnoxious fake grins, military grade subject evasion and sullen, self loathing when she thinks that no one is watching.
You are done watching her mope. You're a Seer, which means you're never not watching. Terezi Pyrope with a straight back and a small, tired furrow above her crimson glasses makes you uneasy, and you don't like to ruminate on why.
Her face is utterly blank but her anxious little tics are out in full force. She wasn't like this two days, which means you did something wrong and it makes you want to break something.
You are Rose Lalonde, and you are almost never wrong.
“The colleague you killed was psychic,” you say aloud.
She looks up at you with unseeing eyes.
“Very powerful, very rare. She’s got colder blood than you, but not by much.”
Her fingers twitch faster around the dragon’s head handle of her cane, and then go completely still.
Such a practiced grip.
“Tell me if I’m wrong.” Your voice nearly cracks on ‘wrong’. You bring your shoulders back, stand up straighter, and glare at her shades like you can meet her eyes through tinted glass and blindness.
“You killed her with this cane you always carry around.”
“Are you done?” Her voice is toneless, inflectionless when she finally deigns to reply.
A kind of frenzied, suicidal energy thrums through you. You let yourself smirk, nice and wide.
You’re getting to her. God, you’re finally getting past the bullshit. It’s about time .
“Far from it. She was your rival to a promotion- but she was also more than that. You were in quadrants with her.”
With a twist and a flick of her wrist, Terezi’s cane splits into two. Each half is attached to a wickedly sharp sword.
A sweeping statement, delivered damningly.
An instant reaction, betrayed guiltily.
You’re in love with this feeling, this electricity through your brain. I’m right. I’m right. She is a murderer.
There is no need for you to see very far to know that this is how you would die- by pissing off the wrong people. You have known this all your life, but addiction is a powerful thing, and you wouldn’t trade this for anything.
“Are you done?” There is a thread of controlled fury in this troll. There is one exceedingly unlikely timeline where she is angry enough to put both of those swords through your chest.
I will not be done until you tell me the whole, complete story.”
You are ready to dodge(not that it will do anything against a Legislacerator, let alone one as good as Terezi). The crux of the timeline comes and goes and she doesn’t lunge.
She sheathes the sword and rests her palm on your cheek. Gently. It is so utterly unexpected and you freeze.
“Stop trying to get yourself killed, Lalonde.” She sounds so, terribly tired.
“I’m not,” you reply, as frostily as you can manage with one cheek cradled by your flatmate. “Almost all paths have a chance of death. I make an educated gamble.”
“That’s a lie. You always do the opposite of what’s safe. You see the path that hurts and then you take that path.”
You don’t bother arguing about that, as all your manic energy drains out of you, leaving you emptied out and dissatisfied.
“Why?” She asks. “What made you like this, Rose?”
That’s not something you can answer. You’ve asked the same question yourself. Deep down, you don’t want to die, and you don’t want to destroy yourself- but there’s no way to win without taking risks.
Are you in it to win, or are you in it to die?
Disturbingly, you can’t answer that for sure.
Terezi holds you and you shut your eyes, thinking about your mother.
The earliest memory you have is some half-remembered whispers in your ear, but the one word you have go back to, again and again, is “better.”
You’re better than this. Better than Mummy, better than your sullied beginnings.
When you were thirteen, you decided not to settle for better . You decided that best was the only adjective you needed.
There are tears swimming in your eyes, you realise with horror. It’s as though summoning her gin-sodden spectre imbues you with her weepiness.
God, you wonder if Roxy ever feels like this. She quit, successfully, but her problem and yours have always been diametrically opposite. She drinks to cope with her job, her responsibilities. You drink to cope with “real life”- the nothingness of it, the meaninglessness.
There’s nothing real about real life. It’s all artifice built up to avoid asking the right questions. Walls of meaningless chatter and busywork, to keep out the lurking shadow of death.
All of this “real life” can be torn away in an instant, and you are all too aware of that.
Consciousness of your surroundings return. You are clinging to Terezi and tearing up into her front(not sobbing yet; thank goodness for small mercies). Her arms are looped around your back, but her hand returns, as always, to your face. She pats your cheek slowly, gently, more gently than you believed her to be capable of.
“Tell me when you’re ready,” she tells you, a low, low whisper in your ear. “I’ll listen.”
You count out the breaths until you can speak without hiccuping. “Don’t want to. Can’t, right now.”
“Then listen to me, then,” and she tells you not to die, and not to try. She tells you that your family loves you-
“They’re a lie,” you choke out, and she shushes you, frowning.
“They care, and that’s enough. They care so, so much. And you care about them.”
You care more than you dare to admit, so you just let yourself lie, still and quiet.
“I never had a lusus,” she tells you. “She never hatched.”
You know enough about trolls and their bizarre guardianship symbiosis to feel a pang of sympathy. Tentatively, you put your arms around her and stroke her back as soothingly as you can manage.
It’s all too easy for you to fall into old habits, to poke and prod and find reactions. It’s harder to soothe down what you unseat.
At a loss for what to do, you tell her all about your mother.
She never quite knew how to deal with children, your mother. She would work and work and work but when she was home she would never know what to do, what to say, how to answer your questions, how to talk to you and Roxy. You, in turn, never knew what to say.
What do you say to a near-omnipotent, nigh-omniscient woman? Roxy never had that because Roxy had full confidence that she’d be just as amazing. You never had that surety, just a burning need to one day be great.
In the evening she would drink and laugh and scare the two of you and in the morning she would vomit, bringing up last night’s lunch and dinner and regrets. She’d apologise endlessly about being a bad mother, and maybe she was, maybe she wasn’t but you felt, deep down in the corners of your gut, that she drank because of you.
“Who else have you told?” Terezi asks you, finally.
You look back at your memories, at everything.
“Told? No one,” you say, slowly. “My siblings all know.”
Roxy went through it all with you. Dave and Dirk figured it out, but you let them. If you’d truly wanted to hide it all they wouldn’t have ever found out.
It’s still not the same as telling , as just carving out the tumour for someone else to behold.
Terezi just listens, and smooths your hair down with her clawtips.
You should be afraid. You’re not. You’re absurdly worn, wrung out by the act of wiping clear this grimy, shattered piece of you.
“We’re not done yet,” Terezi tells you. “I can still smell the abandonment issues.”
“You’re going to be smelling those for a long, long, time. Why didn’t you run? The stench must have been overpowering.”
She shrugs, a gesture that is so unlike her usual bravado and surety that it sends alarm bells ringing, immediately. You consult your Sight and-
“Stop it,” she hisses, and every path is thrown up in flux.
It’s beginning to dawn on you, the way she counters you. You can see stable futures as long as everyone around you act in predictable ways. The most predictable they will be is if they have limited amounts of information.
You can predict Terezi, but only about half the time. The other portion of the time is swallowed up by Seer interference.
Why aren’t you getting Seer interference every time you look at the future? You think back the night you met, the night you used your Sight to find her. She let you, and she didn’t have to.
“Why don’t you use your Sight, Terezi?”
“I’ll tell you when we get home.”
She is clearly chewing the inside of her cheek, but all expression has melted off her face. You recognise what she is doing. You spend enough time around your two brothers with perpetually donned sunglasses to see when you are being stonewalled. Most of what you can work with is in the process of being tucked away behind crimson glass.
After you spilled out half your soul and then some, that stings. It makes you want to slap her, a desire that you mask to the best of your ability.
She’s still using her Sight, so you can’t see shit. That’s alright. You can take action without Seeing it, and if you’re using your Sight too, she can’t see what you’re going to do.
“We’ll go to the rental for now,” you tell her, “but in the meantime I’m taking this.”
You pluck the shades off her face, and stick it into your coat pocket.
Chapter 5: wildfire saw me burn
Terezi gets called a bitch not once, but twice. Wow.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Blinking past the chaotic mess in your head, you think, numbly, she didn’t .
But she did.
God fucking damnit, Rose.
Even though you can’t see, the absence of your glasses makes you itch to reach up and adjust them. Your eyes, useless as they may be, feel bare and unprotected. They are bare and unprotected.
You inhale deeply and taste the pure, unadulterated smugness rolling off Rose, and you swear vengeance. You have to hand it to her, that was good. That was fucking diabolical . Your metaphorical hat goes off to her.
Your vengeance is still going to be brutal and ironic.
You release your Sight with an exhale, and notice Rose flinching on the inhale. That would be the sensation of everything settling into its rightful place, shuffling obediently into coherence.
Then she hisses out a curse. “We have two hours to get there and salvage what’s left of the evidence. The rental place will be ashes by the end of the day.”
“You didn’t See that before?”
“I wasn’t looking.” She is scowling. It’s a muted expression, like most of her repertoire, and surely only represents a bare fraction of the actual irritation she feels.
You’re not sure whether to groan or laugh, but before you can settle on either Rose dashes off. You follow Rose into backstreets and alleyways, across thoroughfares and one-way streets, and consider your options.
Threatening people is one avenue you can pursue, but to limited effect, because, unfortunately, you left all your guns at 221B Baker Street. All you have is a violin and your cane.
There’s your card, so bribery isn’t entirely off the table.
“This is a shortcut,” Rose tells you, coldly satisfied, as you descend into the Tube station. She pickpockets a pair of unlucky tourists to skip buying tickets, and zigzags through an assortment of gates and escalators.
Rose in action is a wonderful thing to behold, beautiful in single-minded, ruthless pursuit of an objective. She’s picky about her games because she plays to win, and win meaningfully. Trivial victories don’t count; she needs to be pushed to the limit and then come out on top.
Ten minutes to get to the rental. There are blackberry skidmarks in their car lot, tracing out a figure eight of dented bumpers and shattered glass, and your bloodpusher catches in your throat as you remind yourself that she’s dead.
You remember the murder scene, the aborted half of Karkat’s symbol. The thought occurs to you that the break isn’t when a psychic took control- it’s when she lost control.
There are no psychics on Earth. But there aren’t any ex-Legs on Earth, either.
If she isn’t dead, if she’s involved in this, what would she do to you? To Rose?
You close your eyes and See a fluctuating mess of decisions, a confluence of outcomes.
“Turn off your Sight,” Rose hisses. “You’re going to give me a headache.”
You need to know. You need to know if she’s still alive, and you can’t See it like this .
Rose is glaring at you, and you know without Seeing her that she is going to treat this like she always does: like a game.
First, she will gather her information. She surveys the scene, and turns her attention back on you. Her eyes narrow.
When she has the information she needs, she will go on the offensive. Rose tends to cast the first stone. This will be a warning shot, a probe at your defences.
“Every minute we stand here is a minute we’re wasting.”
Ah, accusatory. This is how she’s playing it.
“So go in and look,” you tell her. Without her Sight, she can’t see how easily you’ll fold, if she keeps prodding.
Your problem is you can’t tell how easily you’ll fold, either. Your resolve feels hard like concrete, brittle like glass. If she takes this at the right angle you will crumble and let the sick fear take you.
“What are you afraid of, Terezi?” This is how Rose chooses to attack.
You don’t answer.
You will not tell her a thing, because she will go looking, and then-
Your thoughts stutter to a halt. You can’t See past that and you desperately need to.
It always comes down to her, in the end. In life, she draped her influence over every aspect of your life. In death, she haunts you, and will likely never stop. You force yourself to stop avoiding her spectre, to hold her name in your head.
You thought she was dead because no one survives an imploding space shuttle through an uninhabited star system. You think she’s alive because you never saw the body, and everything around here has the taste of her heady blueberry touch.
You need to know if she is still alive.
“You can’t hide this from me forever.” Rose is starting to cross the line from merely surprised and annoyed to genuinely angry. “If this information you’re withholding has anything to do with the case-”
You hold up a hand. The resolution reveals itself in neat binary.
There is a coin in your pocket. You’d scratched one face of it. This side features the Queen, the English one, God save, or something. The other side is the scratch.
“Heads or scratch?” you ask Rose.
“You can’t use your abilities either,” she points out, reasonably if irritably.
“That is precisely the point, Rose.”
You can feel the labyrinth in your head changing and morphing even more wildly. They change more quickly than you can see them. The irony is that you can See more than ever before, but everything you See is useless.
“Heads,” Rose says. “Heads, and you’ll stop interfering with me.”
“Tails, you will let me See-” She digs her nails into your wrist and closes a fist over the coin.
“And you will tell me everything ,” she hisses, “no matter what happens.”
“I will. I promise.”
You throw the coin. The silver catches the lemon-scented sunlight for a scant moment before it is shot through with what is unmistakably a plasma beam.
When the coin lands, there is a neat hole straight through the centre.
It’s very, very safe to say that neither of you won that throw.
Rose’s attention snaps towards the office, but before she can make a move, she is crumpling. You lunge at her, grab her vanilla-plum wine form and cushion her fall.
She’s breathing, taking deep, unnatural breaths. Rose never breathes that deeply, and it worries you; it’s still better than the alternative.
She’s still alive. Just unconscious.
“Since when did you play wiggler games with humans?” A very cross, very familiar voice draws closer.
She is upwind, but you don’t have to smell her. You’d recognise her voice, her grating, drawn-out vowels anywhere.
Not dead after all. A big part of you is frustratedly screaming for an answer, but it needs to sit down and shut up because now is not the gogdamned time.
“It’s not nice to see you again,” you say, as you assess the situation.
The prime objective is to keep Rose and yourself alive. This is surprisingly simple in the next five minutes, because Vriska needs Rose alive- of course she does, she’s framing her for murder. Rose will be left as unscathed as possible.
As for you, however.
“What the hell are you doing here, Neophyte ?”
Vriska knows you hate that title. She’s trying to needle you, and to your aggravation it’s working.
She is also, interestingly, not shooting you. The muzzle of her blaster is leaking a trail of acrid marshmallow steam and it is not pointed at you.
If you play this right, there’s a path you can walk where you’ll be able to get home safely with Rose and all your limbs intact.
“I crashed,” you tell her. “Earth seems nice, so I’ve decided to stay.”
Vriska sounds utterly unimpressed. “Really.”
“Is that so hard to believe?”
“Yes it is! Earth is boring, Pyrope, and you are not boring.”
You catch her scent, finally. She’s wearing an angel food cake cami with no symbols and an oversized denim jacket draped over ripped jeans. And a hint of licorice lurking behind her blackcurrant hair -an eyepatch.
God, she must be pissed about that. She’s clearly enjoying having a mere vision one-fold.
Vriska is studying you. “Well?”
Moment of truth. You can tell her the truth and die from shame or you can lie and risk being shot.
Rose is lying in your arms, completely out cold. Someone has to get her back to the flat. You groan internally and steel yourself.
“Earth happens to be a nice place to be, if you happen to be on the run from the Legislacerator Corps.” Your dazzling fake smile could light up the entirety of the Dark Carnival.
Trying not to smell her smug, incredulous expression is an exercise, mostly in frustration.
“You deserted. Pyrope, that’s rich. ”
One of her hands, you finally notice, smells like metallic bloody copper and the lemonade tang of electric currents. An artificial limb, of course it is.
She then proceeds to hook her gun back onto the holster and smirk down at you with this terrible superior leer.
Instead of wallowing in the desire to crawl under the tarmac, you decide to focus on your secondary objective, which is to figure out how the fuck is she not dead, and whether you need to kill her again.
“I should take a limb from you, just to make things even,” she says aloud.
“I lost both eyes.”
“I lost seven , you bitch. You tried to kill me.”
“I wonder why, after you killed most of the team we were leading and announced your plan to desert!”
She throws her head back and flips her hair over her shoulder. “Whatever. It’s not like I expected my sworn sister to uphold her end of her deal and not completely flip out on me.”
You want to scream. “We were deep in enemy territory, you just killed the Helm, and you were going to let a whole fleet die horribly. What the fuck was I going to do?”
“Well, I wasn’t going to desert in Alternian territory, that would be dumb.” The ‘b’ at the end of her sentence even sounds like an 8.
You swear to all the fucking horrorterrors, Vriska Serket will be the death of you.
“Anyway, I came here for a reason,” she says, as casual as can be. “Care to just look the other way for a little?”
“No, sorry. Can’t see, remember?”
She rolls her eyes. “I swear, you’re just being difficult. You’re just trying to make my life difficult. I’m a busy troll, Terezi! I’ve got lots of-”
“Irons in the fire, yes. And so do I. One of my irons, in fact, are in that office, and-”
“That’s definitely going in the fire,” Vriska observes. “That’s going to be in the very, very big fire.”
You move to draw your weapon but then become suddenly, inexplicably afraid. As your cane falls from your nerveless fingers, Vriska cackles.
“ Αντίο , Pyrope,” you swear you hear her say, and by the time you return to your senses everything is on fire. You wish that you could say that this is a first.
The chucklevoodoos are, though. You have to look into that at some point, but right now you are busy being exhausted and pissed off.
Damn Vriska Serket, and damn the transport shuttle she came in on!
The day your brother drops out of university is an uneventful one. Though you weren’t physically present, you witnessed his verbal assault on his professor about one and a half hours before it occurred, and was quietly impressed.
“Tea?” you ask him, as he opens the door. You’re seated on the squashy armchair with your back to the window. He isn’t surprised to see you, although he’d been startled when he dropped out of Business last year, and PPE the semester before that.
“Long and shitty day, why the fuck not,” he replies, entirely without pause. The shriek of the kettle breaks the silence, and he rolls his eyes and heads to the back to answer its call.
This time, he’d lasted for a year and a half. Fine Arts. You shouldn’t be surprised, but you are, just a little. He’d always been talented, just not particularly motivated to learn the rules and stick to them.
He hands you steaming tea in the ironic, “I <3 My Crazy Sister” mug. He sips his own(three sugars and half milk because he’s a pansy) from an equally ironic “I Turn Coffee Into ‘Satisfactory’s”.
Doubly ironic, in fact. The train of thought sends little jitters of deja vu skittering through your skull.
“This is the day I finally become a good-for-nothing college dropout,” he announces. “Not even going to be one of those billionaires, like hell if I’m going to go all Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Wozniak, I’m not even sure if I know what HTML stands for, Hot Tomato Major Loss, or some crap? Just going to be mooching around this flat forever, taking orders at Starbucks, be like all what the fuck does a tall grande mean, what coffee do you even want, Sharon-”
You nod politely like you hadn’t foreseen it and sip your tea, strong and black with no sugar. The Light spin out neat paths for his predicament, obedient as ever.
“So,” you say, when his tirade boils down to a simmer(Dave Strider does not get to the point when he could run a marathon around it instead), “would you be averse to that?”
He shrugs, and slumps down on the couch. “The fuck does that mean, Lalonde? Some sort of motivational what-do-you-want-from-life- carpe the entire diem bullshit?”
“That’s exactly what I’m asking, Dave. Have you thought about that?”
He shrugs. “Want to maybe meet a nice girl, maybe, have two-and-a-half kids and move to Notting Hill, get an investment property in West Hampstead, divorce and lose everything, and maybe have a mid-life crisis involving motorcycles and terrible spandex shorts.”
Amazingly, he keeps a straight face. As do you.
You roll your eyes. “Don’t be silly, Dave, that’s not going to happen. West Hampstead is going to be worthless in twenty-four years, plus-or-minus five months. And I would stop you from the spandex shorts even if I had to come to your room rip them up myself. I’d See them coming and I have a grave responsibility to prevent cataclysmic events from coming to pass. Also, the tea is still hot.”
“Well, then! Fucked if I know.”
“The tea is still hot,” you observe.
“You can’t tell me what to do, Rose, the last time I listened to you I ended up with a cup more tepid than the applause at a public school graduation in Detroit.” He attempts to drain his entire mug and burns his tongue in the process, pretty much exactly as you foretold.
You love your idiot brother.
He’s smart enough to do anything, your brother. Somewhat like the Light living in your head, he has a gift , but subtler than yours by far. Dave has dozens of trains of thoughts running through his head at any given time and they never, ever collide. He can pay attention to everything and everyone in a room and react as though he was utterly focused on just one.
You sometimes think, from the way he acts in the timelines that you see, that he is somehow aware of all the others.
But for now, you’re both just university students trying to one day attain the heights of your sibling’s achievements. You both, individually and together, have vast gifts and no idea how to apply them.
“I’m graduating at the end of this semester,” you tell him, at the end of your pause for effect.
“Goddamn, Rose, I thought you’d never finish. Thought you’d, like, try for a quadruple major triple degree and just never leave the hallowed halls of UCL.”
“Academic scholarship does appeal, somewhat, but I’m afraid that I’m getting restless.”
“Yeah. About that.” Dave adjusts his sunglasses, a nervous gesture he’d never quite grown out of.
You tense, instinctively, defensively. It’s about the drinking, you knew you knew you knew that one last bottle of gin was a bad idea. The taste of absinthe floods through your mouth.
This should be unfamiliar; you weren’t particularly deep into your adventures in alcoholism yet. Why-
You need to check. You run a short path, and summon a tiny pink elephant in the palm of your hand. It appears, of course, even though the path didn’t anticipate it.
You stand up irritably. Dave sits back, studying you with infinite patience. Lucid dreaming had never come easy to you, mostly because you dreamed so rarely.
“About bloody time, Lalonde.” His drawl is slow and languid, the gradually introduced London bite to it evaporating. He sounds as American as the day he’d appeared on your doorstep with his brother.
You take a deep, deep drink from your mug, which you’d drained during the conversation. It’s full again, just because you can make it so. You wish you have infinite tea in waking life, too.
Recovering from the jarring realisation, there is nothing to do but to welcome this opportunity with open arms. Dave only rarely manifests in your dreams these days- mostly, when you lucid dream you end up speaking to Roxy, or strangers, or occasionally, Dirk. This is important, because each of them have a theme .
Roxy’s is habits, good or bad. Dirk’s is problem solving. Strangers tend towards perceptional discussions, at looking at things from oblique angles.
You haven’t quite figured out Dave’s theme, beyond the bare bones. He appears to be dealing with where the interpersonal meets introspection. Relationships, people.
“I suppose you’re not going to tell me what you really are, as usual.”
“Nah. It’s fun, watching you sit there marinating in mystery.” The corner of his mouth twitches up slightly, an expression that you know he spent a substantial amount of time perfecting. You know this because he used to practise it in the bathroom, with the door locked, first thing in the morning for half a goddamn hour when you needed to pee.
He raises his arms above this head and stretches. “You look like someone pissed in your coffee this morning, Rose, so spill. What’s the deal?”
You sip from the mug again, and he rolls his eyes. You can’t see his eyes; they’re behind his shades, but you’re dreaming so this is something you can know.
“Nice deflection, but that’s not going to work. I’m you, wearing the sick hellacious skin of your bro. This Terezi chick. What’s she to you?”
And therein lies the problem. You don’t know.
“You’ve got words for days, Lalonde, you’ve got your standby speeches and endless diatribes and, what now? Cat got your tongue?”
“Shut up,” you say calmly, “and diatribe isn’t a Dave word.”
“Can’t shut yourself up, Rose. What is Terezi to you?”
Whatever you are is clearly more complicated than merely roommates. Especially, fuck, what happened earlier. Outside Dave’s apartment.
What the hell was that ? A hug between friends? Something slightly more? A troll-romantic thing , a pale advance?
“The adult thing, which is obviously not the thing you’re going to do, is to talk about it. Get up all up to your eyeballs in communication.”
You would rather stab yourself with the blunt little teaspoon in your hand than bring up the thing . You have a sneaking suspicion that Terezi feels the same way, because you have lived with her for more than a goddamned month and you still don’t know what the hell she does with most of her evenings, or, more pressingly, anything about her mysterious, ex-Legislacerator past.
Dealing with someone you can only See about half the time is doing a lot to reveal your depressing lack of ability to actually find out pertinent information about people by actually communicating , as opposed to, well, Seeing it.
“I request a less difficult line of inquiry,” you say primly. You will think about it. Definitely. You definitely will , and you will not prioritise the case you’re on at the expense of your- ha, ha, ha.
“Dave” rolls his eyes again. “Fine, you fucking pussy. Next question is, what do you want from her?”
You think back to all your interactions so far, from the night you met her, to the thing earlier.
“I admire her,” you say aloud. “I want her to admire me. I want her approval.”
You feel silly, when you say this out loud. You haven’t cared about anyone’s approval since you were eight. It’s either the Rose Lalonde way or the highway, and this has been the state of affairs for a long, long time.
It feels almost offensive , in a sense, but also, bizarrely, like a relief.
“Oh shit, Rose is feeling an emotion,” your “brother” deadpans. “Rose-I’m-better-than-literally-everyone-else-”
“I don’t believe that,” you interrupt him, annoyed. He looks at you over his shades until you concede in a huff.
“I will admit that the pool of people I consider equals is abnormally small.” And also consists entirely of your blood relations, you realise. Christ, you are kind of up yourself.
“And yet, weird blind troll girl. What’s up with her?”
It is rare that you find yourself struggling to elucidate your thoughts. “She- she’s competent , actually competent. I’m impressed , and that just doesn’t happen if it’s not you or Roxy or Dirk. Everyone else is-”
Predictable , you realise.
You feel like your spine is dipped in ice when you realise that she barely uses her Sight. She will skim it, consult it- but she will appear in your visions, as crisp and clear as everyone else. You know you are overly reliant on it, even before she pointed it out-
“Rose, you treat your superpower like those stupid clicky pens they still let people bring into exams for some fucking reason- you spent your entire day clicking it on, off, on, off when you’re bored. It’s the first thing you see when you wake up, and the last thing before you pass out and they’ve got smartphone addicts that are literally surgically superglued to their phones and they still don’t hold a goddamn candle to your Sight.”
“And she barely uses it. Hers, I think, is more decision based- she told me she sees chains of events, not probability trees, and,” you are hesitant to say it.
“Not saying it isn’t going to make it less true,” Dave points out. “And also, newsflash, we’re in your fucking head. You’re not actually going to say this.”
Point taken. “I think she can predict me better than I can without even Seeing it.”
Your cheeks feel hot, when you remembered how she’d looked at you when she asked you what made you like this?
It’s hard to work out how that makes you feel. What it all means.
“Then don’t,” Dave suggests. “Just, fuck it. Go with the flow.”
You want to argue. You want to make a case for cold reason, hard logic, when there is a tremendous BANG .
You wake to your room, in the flat. Eyes still closed, and breathing still even, you consult the next few minutes, or attempt to.
The Sight returns a constantly changing flux, crystallising into-
“She’s awake,” Terezi announces in the living room. You groan, and stop trying to see the future.
“What time is it?” you ask as you shuffle, grim-faced, into the living area. Your pounding head demands tribute. Caffeinated tribute.
“Roughly ten hours after the car lot,” Terezi says, handing you a steaming mug. You take it with pathetic gratefulness, and are three-quarters of the way through with it before you register the foul metallic taste and the little insectoid legs between your teeth.
Grub coffee. What a bitch .
You finish the coffee and say, “I hope this does the same thing as regular coffee, because human coffee does have a specific neurochemical purpose.”
Terezi shrugs. “The package said ‘Not for human consumption’, but I think the odds of you dropping dead is low enough. This is payback, by the way.”
Payback for, what? Oh, right. Her shades, which are back on her face, if a tad crooked.
You attempt to See the chances of you keeling over, or puking up a rainbow, or other fun recreational activities you’d rather not partake in less than forty-eight hours after a run-in with a troll psychic. Blinding headache ensues.
“You told me I should use my Sight more,” Terezi offers as explanation, grinning in a really irritating way. Involving teeth. Lots of needle-sharp teeth.
Grub coffee apparently does serve a similar enough neurochemical purpose, because you are finally alert enough to notice the third occupant of the apartment. And the fourth, who is sauntering into the living room from his quest to Terezi’s room for an extra chair.
“Hello, Mr. Harley. Dave. Sorry if I didn’t offer you a cup of tea; I’m afraid I was rather indisposed.” Having said your piece, you flop down onto the loveseat next to your flatmate.
“No sh-crap, Lalonde, if you were any more indisposed you would be sitting in the rural heartlands of disposed awaiting the end of your natural life.” Dave flings himself into the chair he brought into the room with equal ceremony. That is to say, none. He looks between you and Mr. Harley, evidently wanting to put his best foot forward in front of your landlord. Good boy, best brother.
“Would anyone else like some grub coffee, too?” The smile on Terezi’s face could only be described as ‘attempted gracious host’. Bad troll, worst flatmate.
“I’m sure you’d like to keep that for yourself, dearest flatmate,” you say quickly.
“I hate grub coffee,” she announces. “I got it especially for you, Rose.”
“Flattered,” you reply. Terezi Pyrope is truly and utterly the best flatmate anyone can ask for.
Mr. Harley only laughs heartily. “Good to see you up and kicking around, Rose. Why, I remember being that age, having those grand old adventures!”
He drops his broad, booming voice down to a conspiratorial stage-whisper, and adds, “Grand adventures to the pub, that is.”
Dave blinks owlishly. “What the fu-on earth, you sound American. Southern .”
Mr. Harley puffs on his (unlit) pipe. “You can swear, young man, no need to save these old ears! I’ve certainly heard far worse. And yes. Let us start at the beginning! I came from a long line of gentlemen, by the name of Sassacre… ”
You have heard this story before. You first heard this story the day you moved in, and then, almost every time he has guests over. And then, every time you end up having tea with him.
He unfailingly, enthusiastically launches into it with, “and have I told you about how I came to England? Let us start at the beginning,” and you are almost entirely sure when he ‘realises’ that he’s told this story to you before he is not, in fact, actually apologetic. He just wants to tell the story again, and again, and again, no matter the severity of dementia he has to fake.
Still, the first time is always amusing. You and Terezi both watch as Dave’s nigh-invisible eyebrows climb higher and higher, beginning a steady ascent into his hairline with every mention of Betty Crocker and her world renowned baking empire.
The slam of the door downstairs interrupts him.
“Sorry!” The intruder hollers. It is quite an impressive volume.
Grandpa Harley’s entire countenance brightens. This you had believed impossible, because the man is already more cheerful than afternoon sunlight.
“I’ll be right down!” he hollers back, at an equally impressive volume.
“That’s Jade,” he says, proudly. “My granddaughter. Aren’t you all lucky! She’s a busy one, my girl, always jet-setting and running around and tinkering with gizmos and making a name for herself. You must come down to meet her!”
“Sounds amazing,” Dave says, as he is dragged bodily out of the door. Any hint of helplessness behind his sunglasses is, of course, merely in your imagination. You continue to be an excellent sister like that.
“We’ll come down in a bit,” Terezi calls out. The door swings shut, and you are once again alone with her.
The tension in her shoulders abate, but not completely. Her grin is strained, and her brows are knitted together.
You cross your arms, and keep a mask of calm as you meet her gaze, eye to garish red glass. The grin disappears altogether.
“Explain,” you tell her. “I’ll wait.”
Tweaked the chapter titles! I didn't have any planned, because this mess was kind of supposed to be ~10k and a single chapter mostly focused on roomie shenanigans, but then it grew a plot. Whoops. As a stopgap I'm using lyrics from the song that provided the story title as I come up with something witty.
Please leave comments! They are extremely motivational and probably the most effective way to ensure that this story gets finished. I have probably a day or two coming up next week where I could, potentially write a whole heap(hint hint), so please do tell me what you liked so I can attempt to have more of that.
I want to wrap this story up in the next two chapters(excluding epilogue, which is almost, kinda, outlined???). I'll see if I can manage that by the end of next week.