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Night Owls

Chapter Text

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.

“I know.”

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?”

“I’m nocturnal.”

“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.

Anticipation.

Chapter Text

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 recognise that voice from a somewhat recent visit.

He sounds exasperated. You have experience with that, too. Unfortunate experience.

So does Rose. “I can take care of myself. Yes, we’re not doing that anymore. I’m done - look, was there a point to this other than checking up on your very sober sister ?”

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.”  

Pause.

“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!”

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 fixes you with another one of her looks , acrid lavender burning in your nostrils, waiting expectant for you to unpack your answers and unravel yourself before her. You are not easily cowed, and you stare back with your bright red burned-out useless eye sockets.

Neither of you want to lose , insofar as there is something to lose. You can admire that in someone.

The moment draws to an end. Rose perks up, abruptly.

You smell something dangerously close to glee , as she pulls her coat on for apparently no reason. You know you just have to Look. You’re not sure that you should.

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.

Contingencies.

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?"

"What 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 Text

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 month. One month, 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 troll boyfriend. Karkat, gruff but gentle; he wouldn’t have had anything to do with the case. 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.”

“I see.”

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 had 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.

“Anderson?”

“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.

“What?”

“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.

“We’re fast friends,” she explains. “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.”

“Will it?”

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 Text

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 morning 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 Text

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.

Isn’t she?

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.

Vriska.

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 his squashy armchair with your back to the window. He isn’t surprised to see you in his apartment, 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.”

Chapter Text

3 Weeks Ago

“Friday night is for takeaway,” you announce, tossing a Chinese menu at Terezi. Technically, there has already been another Friday night that has passed without incident, but tonight you are thirsty and you can’t be fucked cooking.

Or sampling what Terezi makes in the kitchen. You hear her, sometimes, at odd hours of the day or night making a racket. You’ve never witnessed her creations and from the smell that lingers in the kitchen after, you really don’t want to.

(At least she does the dishes.)

Your flatmate sniffs at the menu suspiciously, and then gives it a long, lingering lick.

Good thing you already memorised your order. You make a note to handle it with tongs and burn it.

“This one,” she says, decisively. You try not to stare as her tongue sweeps over the text. “Char… sew?”

You correct her, and she beams. “It’s the reddest thing on here.”

You try not to roll your eyes. Terezi is a terror upon your fridge; you’d usually take fish and chips on takeaway nights but you’d discovered that you’re out of tomato sauce. For the second time this month. You don’t really want to know what she does with it, but unfortunately, due to your magical fucking superpowers , you do. Viscerally.

After placing the order, you break out the rosé. You have never seen a happier fucking troll, and that makes a miniscule corner of your black, black heart curl up in shame. Then you remember a number of previous incidents for which she is completely unrepentant and decide that this is in fact completely and utterly justified.

It’s been more than a week, and Terezi is still a enigma written in mystery. She goes out at four in the afternoon and returns at six-thirty, smelling like gunsmoke and ozone. When she sits in the common area it is on the ground cross-legged, completely motionless, frowning at nothing.

Once, you walked out of your room to witness her pacing in circles around an empty chair and a (thankfully unoccupied) noose she’d hung from the ceiling fan.

You can’t figure her out and it drives you absolutely batshit insane .

Measures need to be taken. Measures such as three bottles of rosé. If that does not suffice, you also have some chardonnay; and if things call for it, the two of you will just have do shots of Stolichnaya. Probably with red food colouring.

The way your life is going, drinking E124-laced Stoli with the weirdest troll you’ve ever met is probably going to be the highlight of your week.

Dinner proceeds splendidly. The two of you go through half of the first bottle before the food even arrives, and you get up to fetch and crack open the second while Terezi settles in front of the television. You let her pick the rubbish she wants to watch(or smell) on the box.

“Really? Downton Abbey?” Wonders really never fucking cease.

“Conspiracy. Infidelity. Caste-based suspense. Murder. I couldn’t ask for more,” she replies with glee.

You pull up the schedule information, realise that the other option is some kind of troll space-drama, and settle in for a long, inebriated night.

By the start of rosé number three, you reckon that it’s time to start questioning. The screen has dispensed with dressed-up humans and is now showing space-suited trolls being shot at.

“How were you discharged?” you ask. You forgot to specify from what, but she seems to understand.

She finishes off her glass, and says, with the slow, deliberate enunciation of a drunk trying not to sound drunk, “I discharged myself.”

You hand her the bottle, which she takes appreciatively. No more answers seem to be forthcoming.

“I didn’t ask who,” you say, “I asked how.”

Long swig. “That’s a, a long stroy. Story.”

“We’ve got all… ” You struggle to recall what you were asking. You may have drunk a little too much, too. A lot too much. “All night.”

“There are better things to do, Madam ,” she cackles, gesturing at you with the hand holding the bottle. Liquid sloshes alarmingly; you take it from her before a spill can occur. She watches you as you eye the level of liquid ponderously, think, fuck it , and take a swig straight from the bottle. Not even the thought of Terezi’s long, unsettling tongue at the mouth of the bottle can deter you right now.

(Especially since you maybe kind of want that tongue in your mouth.)

You do your best to fix her with a questioning look, one of those that make people talk, but she merely starts yawning. Another tack may be in order.

“How did you go blind?”

“How did you go blonde?” she fires back. “Rude, Lalonde, we’re not playing Inquiry-or-Injury.”

Caught out but undeterred, you tell her “I was born like that,” and wait for an answer.

She sniffs. “Your vanilla-scented follicles are weird, but you smell like you’re telling the truth. Okay, I was blinded by my archnemesis while flying into an exploding sun. Who is Dave?”

That sounds unlikely, but it’s equally bad form to lie in drinking games as it is to accuse the other of lying. You may have to let it slide.

“He’s my brother. Who’s your archnemesis?”

“What the fuck is a, is, that? Some weird human less, lusus thing?”

“Answer the question.”

She sticks out her tongue at you. “They’re, this random, fucking, highblood deserter, if I gave you a name it’d mean nothing anyway, damn her.”

You keep playing. Her answers are vague and fantastical, functionally meaningless, and you’re getting frustrated. Finally, she asks, “Do you usually have this much soporific fluid?”

You’re caught short. You could school your features into disdain, laugh it off, deny it- but your faculties have been doped into submission and you are stupid and helpless.

“Pass,” you say, and she fumbles for her cane and whacks you over the skull.

“What the fuck,” you demand, massaging your scalp. It’s going to bruise.

“It’s Inquiry-or-Injury,” she replies, matter-of-fact. “Answer the inquiry…

She stresses it, exaggerated for effect, which is largely lost because her enunciation is completely shot. You roll your eyes.

“... or face injury ! Duuuuur, it’s in the name of the game.”

“I thought that wasn’t what we were playing,” you protest, weakly. “And that doesn’t sound like a drinking game, that’s an interrogation.”

Terezi bares her sharp teeth in what appears to be a smile, or a threat display to cow potential prey. “That’s what makes it fun! No one liked playing with me,” she reveals. “Apparently my questions are too specific and I dodge too quickly for them to hit me back.”

You can certainly see that. Although, no one ever wanted to play truth or dare with you either. “Let’s play a better game.”

Halfway through your somewhat fumbled explaining spin-the-bottle with a now-empty bottle, Terezi points out, quite reasonably, that there are only two of you.

You respond by shutting her up. With your face. Things kind of proceed from there.

It goes rather splendidly, with the pleasant, hazy air that alcohol and UST-fueled proceedings have, until Terezi attempts something somewhat impressively acrobatic , and has to sprint to the bathroom to throw up.

(She misses. Just barely.)

The following mid-afternoon, shortly after regaining consciousness, the two of you agree through blinding headaches to never speak of this ever again.

Fortunately or unfortunately, no such agreement was made about repeat performances. You do know what they say about lawyers and loopholes, and yet you left one there anyway.

You can’t bring yourself to regret it.


 

One fine Saturday morning, the flat’s intercom buzzes annoyingly. You bury your head in the couch and inhale comforting ash. Everything else is a sensory overload, and you taste vomit.

It may be your imagination, but your hangover seems worse than usual today. It may have been the shots. Or the entire jug of sangria. In your defense, it was so red , and it was delicious .

The intercom is still buzzing. There is a curious rhythm to it, and after awhile, you realise that this is speech - someone is talking into it, deadpan, nonchalant.

You can’t make out what they’re saying and frankly, you Cannot Deal right now. Rose groans, indicating she feels the same. She attempts to roll off you, and off the couch.

You are utterly unprepared when you roll off with her, yanked by your fucking wrist.

The taste of the rug fills your mouth. It’s not a good taste.

“Rosze,” you rasp, and good fucking Tyranny your throat feels like a desert , “why are we handcuffed together?”

Rose tries to say something, coughs, and succeeds. “So we appear to be.”

She frowns down at you, and grimaces. If her head feels anything like yours you totally understand. God, she smells terrible, smeared eyeliner and licorice lipstick and grape Fanta concupiscent marks and there, right against the rise of her clavicle is an unmistakable indent of your fangs. You vaguely remember her telling you to go for it.

The intercom keeps buzzing, now louder and harsher. You inhale through a clenched jaw, and locate a dark shape dangling alongside something else from the ceiling fan.

Those things resolve into your noose, and Rose’s dress. The one she was wearing last night. The one that she’s not wearing now.

You do a quick pat down of yourself with your free hand and find your bra tangled in your horns. It did seem like that sort of night, from the hickeys on your human, but it’s nice to have confirmation.

At least your mysterious morning caller has fucked off, leaving the flat blessedly silent.

Rose evidently doesn’t think so. She sits up, hissing through clenched teeth, and declares that the two of you have five minutes to make yourselves decent if you didn’t want Dave to have a concussion.

The facts seem unrelated, but when a Seer says jump, you ask how high. You grope for your cane and slam its head onto the link in the handcuffs. Somehow, that springs the latch; you make a note to throw away this cheap piece of shit. Crappy handcuffs are escaped suspects just waiting to happen. (Not that you have any experience with those!)

You’ve managed to get a shirt on and are wriggling one foot through your pants when you hear the kitchen window slam open, and people stumbling in. You knock on your wall, try to signal to Rose that you’re getting weapons, but she knocks back quickly, urgently, to tell you that they’re harmless.

From the kitchen, someone says, very loudly, “What the fuck, Dave, you said she quit!”

Dave sighs. “ She said she quit. I believed her.”

He sounds very displeased. Familiar. This is- ah. This is Dave. Strider, Rose had slurred at you, a week or so before.

You finish dressing yourself and prepare to step out into the living room. This is not an arena you’re well-versed in, and you approach it like you might approach a particularly dangerous felon, or that complicated meeting involving a metric shitfucktonne of politics that resulted in your promotion to vessel captain.

Chin up, glasses on, cane in steady hands. Red glass against the rest of the world. You remind yourself that whatever you do, you probably don’t want to draw your blade. Rose talks about her brother seldom, but it is clear that he is important to her.

Open the door, inhale. There is a young human man that smells like vanilla frosting just like Rose, wearing a cherry-red T shirt and a pair of black jeans. That would be her brother, probably. Rose would likely let you shoot any other Dave that climbed into the flat through the kitchen window.

There is a shorter, nubbier troll next to Dave. This is more puzzling. You take a few more sniffs, stick your tongue out for good measure, and his licorice-encased form swims into focus. He isn’t shorter, he’s slouching. He looks short for a troll but he isn’t, his horns are just small and round. It’s adorable.

“Hello!” you chirp, and immediately regret it as it comes out in a terrible rasp. You breathe in deeply and try to ignore the throbbing at the base of your horns, through the back of your skull.

“Hey.” Dave nods at you, acknowledging, and the troll waves lazily. You realise that they are both pointedly not staring at the dress and the noose hanging from the ceiling. That should be your cue to take those things down, but the thought of reaching up fills you with dread and nausea.

Fucking finally, Rose emerges from her room. She stands, surveying the damage. You bet she is cataloguing everything that needs to be done.

“I imagine that you don’t want to have a seat right now,” she finally says.

“We can take this to the kitchen,” you suggest, half-heartedly. Rose glares at you, and you mentally kick yourself as you begin to recall what, exactly, went down in the kitchen.

“No thank you,” Dave says, and that is the end of it.

You stand in silence, standing in the miasma of soporific beverages and poor life choices, until Rose suggests the diner downstairs, which the lot of you shuffle into. You’re just grateful to leave the flat behind for now.

Condesce’s great leaking nook, the cleanup is going to be a pain .

Mortal embarrassment seems less deadly with a cup of coffee and a ham sandwich in front of you. Rose, however, is tense; and Dave sits, arms crossed from the other side of the table.

Rose picks up her coffee (black as the bitterest tarmac) and drinks it down robotically. For all the discomfort that she is radiating, it is Dave who seems the most helpless here.

Putting down her mug, Rose says, “I’d like to have a moment with you alone, Dave. I suppose you’d want to talk.”

He nods, tersely, and they get up and leave. You are now alone with the troll, who frowns across the table at you long and hard.

“So.” He says, as you work your way through most of the sandwich. “You’re not at all concerned?”

“Seems like a somewhat frequent occurrence,” you reply. “And besides, it’s not really any of my business.”

“You live with her, of course it’s your business.”

Your headache throbs through you. You gulp down about half the coffee(it scalds you) while you think of a comeback.

“You are right. It’s my business, to an extent, but I can’t take full responsibility. Partial responsibility? Perhaps! But… ” you trail off.

But you have an awful lot of trouble saying no to Rose. You don’t voice this.

The troll opposite you snorts. “Your share of the responsibility is probably as measly as the share of dinner the slowest kid to the table gets in a family of ten under the poverty line. It’s Rose , she doesn’t need bullshit powers to make everything go the way she wills, and for some unearthly fucking reason the way she wills is the way of the utterly , pan-rottingly piss-drunk.”

That is sure a rant. He starts with a steady, sarcastic rhythm that builds up to- not shouting, not yelling, merely loud , loud enough to spin your thinkpan around within your skull. It really doesn’t help the headache.

“I don’t believe we’ve met,” you say. If it stops him from raising his voice that’s a plus.

“Karkat Vantas. I think I’ve caught your name at some point- Terezi… ?”

“Pyrope,” you supply. Karkat nods.

“This is so unfair,” you say between bites of your ham sandwich. “This is the first I’ve heard of you- it was such a bitch to pry Dave’s full name out of Rose. I didn’t even know he had a matesprit.”

Karkat twitches. “Boyfriend.”

You give him a quizzical look. The human term rather lacks of the nuances in troll romance, so deliberately adopting it is somewhat… odd. Deviant, almost, but it’s Earth. For all you know it could be an assimilation thing.

The sandwich disappears before you know it. You pinch the bridge of your nose as your headache reasserts itself in lieu of the distraction.

“Anyway, if you do want to do something, it’s probably to quit playing games around each other. Just, from the look at the kitchen…”

You wince. Karkat holds up his hand in entreaty. “No, no, I’m just saying. It’s not quite like how Rose usually drinks.”

You wonder. Inhale the air of the diner and find her for a moment- she smells like tension and hurt pride and shame. Distraction. Good.

Your curiosity burns in your as you let a sliver of your power trace through her decisions.

“Alone,” you mutter. No pretenses, no effort. She doesn’t mix anything, for one, and barely even bothers with glassware; it’s simply a matter of cracking open the bottles and seeking oblivion.

Karkat nods. You page through a combination of power-supplied information and your own memories and notice that she’d put herself in charge of the serving, every single time, and that everything she’d brought you had been red.

Your favourite colour, used as delicious, delicious leverage. Clever girl.

“She’s making it competitive instead of her usual?” you guess.

Karkat shrugs. “Wouldn’t surprise me. She could probably make eating your morning grubmeal a passive-aggressive competition. Why not drinking?”

Why not indeed.

It doesn’t feel right, though. The answer sitting on the tip of your tongue has the correct weight, but something about its texture feels off.

For one, Rose picks fights that she’d win decisively. Even though she could drink you under the table any day of the week, that is something she’d only need to prove once.  

So, why the repeats? Why risk losing , as unlikely as it is?

Your Seer power is decidedly unhelpful. You see choices, and outcomes, not twists of flaming emotions that drives people to pick one choice or another. All the whats , and hows , with none of the whys.

You'd blind yourself again to see what the heck is inside Lalonde's vanilla-frosting skull.  

Chapter Text

In the present

You are miserably, terribly torn. You’d give your right shameglobe for a proper, melt-into-the-sopor sleep right now. A full six hours. That sounds absolutely amazing.

Instead, you are angry at Vriska, worried about her regardless, and Rose is sitting next to you asking pointed questions. She has brewed tea for you and herself. You haven’t touched yours, for fear of waking up in a windowless cell somewhere tied to a chair.

“We flipped a coin, and both of us lost.” You settle for brevity.

“I’m aware.” Rose’s tone is about three degrees from ice. “I’m more interested in minor details like where the shot came from , and perhaps who was shooting at us , and why did I lose consciousness and maybe, the most minor, unimportant detail of all, what do you have to do with this .”

She sips her tea daintily. “You know. Just minor little details like those.”

Well. When she puts it that way… You suppose that she does need to know some pertinent details.

Just pertinent ones, though.

“It was a troll, psychic. Apparently a part of the bullshit psychic powers package is putting humans to sleep.”

She gestures, go on .

“She wanted to distract me so she could set fire to the office that had the information we wanted.”

“And I take it that you know her, of course.”

You fail to come up with an appropriate response and curse internally. Stupid sleep deprivation, and stupid, way too clever Rose Lalonde .

Rose folds her arms again. “Is that what you’ve been hiding?”

Being interrogated by Rose is like being covered in blood and left for bloodjackets to find, but you’d be able to fend her off if you actually know what outcome you want. You don’t.

Vriska is alive. You are conflicted. You are relieved and upset and guilty and angry and you don’t know where to go from there.

While Rose had her nap, you’d stayed in her room and thought very hard about what you had to do. Your tentative decision to avoid it like the plague is currently being brutally overturned by Rose “everything is my business, because I can See it” Lalonde.

For once, you’re finding your usual lines of approach, to deceive, discredit, misinform- they’re all completely unsuitable. Not in the sense that you can’t- but in the sense that you don’t want to .

“What are you going to do with that information?” you ask. You will be careful.

If Rose finds her and kills her, you would have killed her again, for the second time. If she kills Rose, you will never forgive yourself.

You See Rose going through her options. One reply is about the case. One is about knowing the enemy. The last one is about you- it hits you like a fist in the aerating sacs.

The last one is the one she picks, and it leaves you quietly stunned.

“I will find her,” Rose says, with deceptive calm, “and I will ask her what the fuck did she do to you. And if her answer isn’t something I want to hear, well.”

She pauses thoughtfully, and takes another sip of tea. Her expression never wavers. “I suppose I will have to do something unpleasant.”

Usually, people vow to enact revenge on you. This is the first time someone has ever told you that they would take revenge for you.

The feeling it elicits, the half-stutter double skip in the beat of your bloodpusher reminds you of the feeling of her fingers on your back, her hair, her fragile skull beneath your claws. You don’t know what to think about that.

You were going to offer a half-coherent explanation that doesn’t completely doom Vriska, unless she’s being unbelievably stupid. Now, you’re not sure that you should. You’re not sure that you can. The truth will out, wiped clear of you and the self-deluding vestiges of your unresolved guilt under Rose’s immolating lavender glare.

“Let me help you,” she says, and at this point you See, that the people downstairs need to evacuate right now to avoid-

Fuck, it’s a purple . Rose’s phone goes off, and you snap at her to check it. You already know what it says

rose get outta there right now

And you already know that she’s in motion as you fling open a window and assemble your rifle, flowing through the motions that you know by heart, carved into your muscles by relentless, relentless practice.

As she picks her way through the window and onto the fire escape, you call out. “Wait.”

You pass your cane to her. “Take this. You know how to use it.”

She fixes you with an unreadable look as her fingers close around the dragon’s head. She takes it with- with reverence. It doesn’t surprise you, but a hysterical bubbly feeling closes around your throat anyway, as she slips out.

A shudder of fear washes over you, but you grit your teeth and run through the grounding exercises. You are prepared this time and they will regret this.

She will regret this, if this is her doing.  

You arm your weapon, superheating plasma as you creep down the stairs. The intruder is asking if they motherfuckin know if a motherfuckin sleuth sis is living in this motherfuckin place. He just wants to have a motherfuckin chat with her, you see.

You want to rip him to pieces. The outcome from that is less than favourable.

Exhale. Focus on the objective. Focus on your outcome, the outcome where no one here dies and this asshole is taken in for interrogation. By Rose, if possible.

Each person in the room is a focus, forming trees of decisions that sculpt the ultimate shape of the outcome, eliminating this here, trimming a branch there. You comb through the people on the room, and you have a pretty good shape of what is going to happen when-

“Wait, this girl you want to speak with.”

“Get my motherfuckin talk on, yeah.”

You curse. That was Karkat. Why is Karkat in the room?

You look back on his personal decision timeline, starting from “follow boyfriend to boyfriend’s sister’s flat, but stay at sandwich shop next door due to fear of intruding” to “allow the talkative girl to sit with you and talk about her thesis” to “follow talkative girl into her grandfather’s flat”, terminating at “attempt to talk down a psycho clown.”

“Is this a special occasion? Does it, have to be a surprise?”

“Well motherfuckin yes , it’s a surprise.” He has a sinister, honking laugh that makes your blood ice over.

Nonsensical motives. Capricious unpredictability. Awful, fear-inducing psychics. Functional legal immunity from all attempts at prosecution.

You hate hate hate hate clowns.

“Sorry to interrupt,” you step into the open entrance, all measured smile and laidback saunter. Your gun is held in one hand, pointed down like you’re not prepared to put a hole through someone’s midsection in the span of half a second.

The clown looks up at you. Grins.

“You,” he says, syllables rolling slow and lethargic over his tongue, “are exactly who I wanted to motherfuckin’ see.”

That’s a lie. He wanted Rose, but he’s not about to turn you down.

He dials up the chucklevoodoos in that same instant. You force yourself to breathe.

“Likewise,” you grin back. It’s tighter than normal. “Shall we take this outside?”

He tilts his head. Frowns, and perks up. Fuck .

“I don’t see why motherfucking not. Lead the way, chica.”

Several tense blocks later, you end up at a diner mostly frequented by trolls. He orders bacon waffles with a glass of Faygo; you don’t order anything. Your weapon is in your lap, reactor still humming steady, plasma still ready to go.

You are as relaxed as a man in a pit of alligators, but you let your shoulders loose and sprawl yourself across the sticky vinyl seats like you haven’t got a care in the world. The webs in your head simplify- it’s just you and him, and his choices are a mess, and you survive anywhere between five seconds and fifty sweeps.

He will take an average of six point one two seconds to die, depending on how you draw and what you manage to hit. You die shortly after everytime this happens, anywhere from one hour from now to twenty-four hours.

Deadman’s switch. The best way to deal with him is to give him what he wants but also extract what you need.

For over twenty terrible minutes he just… talks. He talks about miracles. Talks about bacon, offers you some off his plate(you politely decline).

“The Church has got it all motherfucking wrong,” he says, at one point. “It was never about the motherfucking miracles of this world. It was always about those motherfucking Messiahs. The motherfucking truth.”

“Which Messiahs do you refer to?” you inquire, injecting a note of idle interest in your voice. Fatigue lies sopor-thick over your thinkpan, and you’re no longer putting effort into the loose-limbed, sprawled out act- it’s coming naturally to you. The only thing stopping you from drifting away is the way you’re shaking with sick, unnatural fear. Invisibly. On the inside.

“The motherfucking false Messiahs on Earth.” He looks up and his eyes smell exactly the same as his grape Faygo. The fluorescent lights make them brighter. More artificial, like bottles swaddled in plastic wrap at the supermarket.

You nod like you’ve actually been following the conversation, or his train of thought(which is a different beast altogether). “They must be eliminated, of course.”

“Oh, not just those motherfuckers,” he says, all casual breeze. “The motherfucking people that allowed them to exist. The whole motherfucking culture. The planet that motherfucking SPAWNED this motherfucking HERESY.”

His horns are a gash of counterfeit orange juice cutting the sickly buttercream of the diner’s walls and for a moment, he straightens and looms .

“We need to motherfucking TRY these motherfuckers, and for that, I need a motherfucking LAWYER.”

You have a vision of His Honourable Tyranny, the judge, the iron-fisted ruler of the courts and you dig deep down to stop yourself from shaking.

You’re beginning to understand his deal. It’s a crappy fucking deal, for you. Pretty much the same deal you’ve gotten since you started your career, really, because you’re teal- too high to cull, too low to treat like an actual person.  

“It’s an interesting proposition,” you begin, carefully. “I’m not sure if my powers of prosecution-”

He grins, fangs tinged caustic dishwashing liquid like sour lemons. “Motherfucking nonsense. You’re the fated prosecutor to uphold the most righteous motherfucking law.”

The frown that descends over your brows is very deliberate. You need to make this theatrical . Law is a stage, for the Church.

“I only meant that I’m officially a deserter.” You pause for effect, and cup your chin in your hand like you’re thinking. “My prosecution is not officially recognised by the Empire.”

“Of-fish-cial,” he scoffs. “Girl, we don’t need the motherfucking Empire, they’re all fishes getting all up in your face and telling us what to motherfucking do. I’m upholding the motherfucking Church, chica, I can do ANYTHING for you.”

The unspoken threat is that he can do anything to you, too. Fucking clowns .

You unknot your frown in a casual flourish and break out into an equally performative grin. “That’s a relief to know.”

“Do you accept?” The psychic onslaught intensifies. Your smile doesn’t falter, your breath doesn’t skip. Your bloodpusher is buzzing hummingbird fast and either the strain of your acting or the imminent cardiac arrest is going to kill you.

“I do accept.” You say it slowly, giving each word the gravitas that the clown wants to hear. Your thinkpan is about to dribble out of your ears and your throat muscles are twitching from the effort of holding back the most helpless, terrified sound you will ever make in your life.

A satisfied, serene expression descends over him and slowly, the voodoos abate. You are very careful to keep your breathing the same.

He pays and leaves with that. You seriously consider just curling up in this booth, on the vinyl-sticky seat, to sleep forever, and decide you have just enough dignity left to stumble you way back instead.


 

Your Sight returns in starts and stutters as you weave through this city, your city. Gradually the shape of the future resolves.

You want to know if you’ll see Terezi again, but there is a localised storm of constantly shifting futures centred on her, on her own Sight. It moves - away from the apartment, down the street.

Six blocks later, it stops. She appears again, and there is another troll with her.

She kills him, and doesn’t. Is killed by him, and isn’t. You place yourself there, at the diner they’d ended up in and her chances of gruesome death settle at an uneasy point eight two. Staying here brings it down to point zero zero three within the next hour, shifting and flickering for the next twenty-four.

Interference. She needs her Sight, and you need yours. Fuck .

You cast out for the best Path, the one where she will definitely survive. There are fourteen hazy futures, which you trim down to eight because two of them involved leaving Earth to the tender mercies of the Condesce, and four involved an unacceptable number of dead siblings. Shifting through your remaining options, you look for the least amount of physical, mental and psychic trauma and the most self-determination possible.

The futures flicker in and out of existence. This must be her Sight, her decisions at work. You try to pin down the most important pivot points and memorise them, because you’re not sure much the details will change, and having a rough map must be better than no map at all.

Step one is to text your sister. This is usually a good sign in a bad situation. You use the fifteen minutes it will take for her to finish the meeting she’s in to enter a Gloria Jean’s and order the most caffeinated item on the menu.

Eight quid for a coffee with three shots is fucking preposterous. You are morally opposed but physically compelled. Drink in front of you, attention on mobile, you look just like any other cafe patron here. Excepting, of course, the fucking scarlet and white cane you’re gripping in your left hand like a life preserver in an ocean full of sharks.  

Roxy.How was the meeting?

Her reply is pretty much instant.

rosie omigosh i havent heard from u in soooooooo logn
*long
meeting was hella borig
*boring
soz im like exhausted rn
anyway what r u after
I believe that Dirk has brought up the imminent threat to all of humanity?
if u mean fish bitch then yea totes im on it rosie
totally on tpo of things
*top
so anyway whats up w/ you
I’m undertaking some investigation on Dirk’s behalf.
oh HECK yeah outsourcing amiright
but sis i gotta say
even tho im super down to talk like anytiem
its kinda not a great time rn so pls spill those fucking beans
got hella irons all up in my grill
That’s an unusual turn of phrase.

It itches at the back of your mind. Like you’ve heard it in a dream.

ikr

You wait for the inevitable rambling tirade. None seems to be forthcoming.

Well then.

I have an inkling that you may be involved with the situation here, across the pond.
Am I right?
lolz yea you caught me
cant rly be telling you everything tho
situations kinda deilcate
*deliciaet
*dekicare
fuck it

There is only one force on Earth that lets Roxy withhold information from you, and that is the need to protect other people. Not necessarily from you, but from the unintended currents of the machinations you may put into place.

Like, for instance, now.

I’m afraid that I require a favour.
ofc rose just tell me what is it

You tell her. She disapproves.

did ur freaky future vision tell u to do it
there has to be more than one way
It’s a gamble, but I believe it’ll be worth it.
rosie idk what the fuck is worth destroying your life over there

Before you can summon up any measure of irritation, Roxy sends her next message.

but im going to trust you to make your own decision
how worth is it actually going to be
like one is a dollar coffee from the corner shop and ten is like, crown jewels

You think very hard about this. Run through the path again, and assess the probabilities.

The outcome is good, but only if you commit to it. The plan does not hinge on you dying but it is definitely a close fucking thing.  

Any aberration from the path will send you careening off this tightrope. No one will be there to catch you.

You finish your drink, and type carefully.

I don’t believe that a mere numeric scale can possibly represent the true complexity of this situation.
But if pressed, I would say a nine. And a half.
im not happy abt this shit at all rosie
italics and all
just making myself 1000% clear on this
dirk and dave r gonna kill me if they find out abt it
right after they kill u for scaring them
so im gonna tell u to think twice just one more time
r u absolutely, definitely sure u wanna be doin this

For a moment you almost say no . It’s an insane amount of risk to take for someone you’ve only known for, shit, less than three months. Terezi’s damning accusation comes to mind, and you know that she’s not going to be pleased about this.

The head of her cane leaves an uncomfortable bumpy indent in your palm.

You cast your mind to the city and find an eerie calm. Which means she has stopped Seeing. She still has a future, but you desperately need her to be safe. You need everyone around you to be safe.

In the end, the choice is almost easier than breathing, like a muscle relaxing from a white knuckled grip.

Yes. I am, exceedingly certain. Please stop asking.
alrighty i guess
its not like i can change your mind can i
i guess im just gonna call her up and tell her where to meet u
Who?

You imagine that if Roxy were here, she'd be heaving a long, stressed out sigh. You can just feel it, even over the phone. The uncharacteristic reticence. The ever-evasive, mystery her

my agent
well call her cobalt for now
where do u wanna meet

The Light flicks the answer to her, and then you’re done. It’s settled. You’ll need to get some supplies and make some preparations but they can wait until sundown.

You slip your phone in your pocket and tell yourself, above all, to not look back.

Chapter Text

Why are you here? What are you doing here?

Ostensibly, you are avoiding the long claws of Alternia after deserting your post to chase after a dead girl’s shadow.

What are you really doing here?

You moved into this flat, because a human shrouded in grape and licorice told you to. You stayed because it was easy, but it wasn't really, was it?

You knew it wasn't ever going to be easy with Rose. She isn't easy and you-

You think, through the sopor-metallic haze of insomniac thoughts, that you’re probably flush for her because of that. There's a human saying about improbable truths remaining after eliminating the impossible. The impossible is the idea of you ever leaving. You can’t. It feels like an irrational, irrevocable truth carved into your thoracic struts, burnt into the chitin of your bones.

You will never, ever meet anyone as remarkable as Rose ever again. You know this. You have to stay because of this.

That leaves the improbable. You’re flush for her, or pale, or something. It confuses the ever loving fuck out of you but there’s something there, something important.

Something serendipitous.

God, serendipity is out to make you miserable. You know this feeling well enough, almost as much as you knew another girl, once upon a time. It was the feeling that burrowed under your skin and questioned your loyalty to the Empire and asked you what you really loved and asked you to choose- stay and serve, or chase after what she thought was right .

And look at you now.

In a way, it doesn’t matter one bit. Alternia and your service has left their clawmarks on you, on the way you move, think, sleep, live. You are never going to have your wrigglerhood self back. You're now a weapon all the way down to the core.

Weapons, as it turns out, can be repurposed. You think you know what you will be, now.

With a slow exhale, you push yourself out of the slime to meet the air of your block.  Your face bobs at the surface of your recuperacoon as you taste the surroundings.

The familiar smell of your respiteblock is cut through with a single dash of sharp grape. For an instant, you are violently afraid; but it’s not the artificial grape of shitty soda. It’s the slightly tangy, sour-bitter smell that you’ve come to know as Rose.

She’s sitting at the base of your door, limbs a loose messy sprawl on the floor. There is another smell, and it takes you a moment to place it despite its familiarity. Perhaps because of it. It’s out of place, because it shouldn’t be there.

Alcohol. You thought that you’d scoured the apartment for every trace of it. Rose had willingly surrendered her entire stash and it was gone, gone but she could have always gone out to get more.

You feel stupid. You feel tired, despite just waking up. You think that this, perhaps, is what Dave feels when it comes to Rose.

She raises the half empty bottle in her grip to her face for a second, studying the label. Her glare could cut glass.

Without any warning she rises like a whirlwind, like a passing storm. She exits the block with shoulders set tight against her spine, your door swinging in her wake. You climb out as silently as you can and follow.

The bottle ends up on the kitchen table. She glares.

You have responsibilities, and one of them is to stop this. You know far too much about letting your bad habits rise above your head and drown you.

As you take the bottle she twitches, as though moving to stop you, but then reconsiders. Her eyes try to dig into your back as you smell the ghastly sour grapes swirling down the kitchen sink. When you try to meet her eyes, she looks away. Moves to the window, and surveys the city below the two of you.

She has an unreadable mask and a question when she finally turns back to face you. “How did you sleep, Terezi?”

“In all honesty, terribly,” you reply. Caution makes you swallow your own questions, still your own actions. “Why were you in my respiteblock?”

“I wanted answers. I got them.”

It’s as specific an answer as you’d get from this girl, you think.

She paces. This isn’t particularly out of the ordinary- Lalonde is allergic to inaction. But the way she stalks through the apartment, like a trapped beast in a too-small cage sends uneasy ripples down your spine.

This is more than just her usual restlessness.

You think about marks from teeth and claws, of scars. You're not the only one here who is scar tissue down to the core.

She doesn’t want you for anything anymore, not even answers. But does that mean that she doesn’t need you?

You inhale. Exhale. The apartment swims into focus, bringing Rose with it.

On the next inhale, you reach out for her wrist and step into her next stride.

“What is it?” she all but snaps, but you bring your other hand up to her hair and just comb it down carefully, claws flat on her scalp.

“I should be asking that,” you say.

Wild as she is, she lets you. She lets you smooth down her hair, stroke her cheek, until the almost imperceptible tremor dies away. Rose smells less like a brewing thunderstorm when you finish grooming, and more like a girl.  

“You almost died,” she says in a flat monotone. “You were going to leave me holding this.”

Your cane. She presses it into your unoccupied hand. It had been a wriggling day gift from, from. From Vriska.

“Just to make you better at covering my back, jeez!” she’d said. “Don't make such a big deal out of it.”

“I've almost died many times before,” you say, and for all that the words come easy you can smell the downturn in Lalonde’s mood, the way she glares daggers. You put the weapon down gently.

“I'm glad you didn't,” she says. “and for future reference you are not allowed to do any dying or whatsoever.”

She brushes a strand of hair off your face, and, abruptly, tugs you into a hug. You're left thinking not much of anything, mildly in shock.

Lalonde gives a shit about whether you live or die. Unlike the many others invested in this answer, she wants you to live.

Your bloodpusher hums steady, and after the meeting with the purpleblood it feels like an almost normal speed.

You hear her breath catch as you switch up your grip and lace your fingers through hers.

“Please,” you hear yourself say, distantly. You’re whispering it, low and quiet words rasping at your throat. “Please, let’s just stop for a little while.”

Stop talking, stop planning, just, stop.

She shakes her head, but even that resistance is weak.

You need this, you think, and you’re never felt so sure and so scared at the same time.

“Let’s just…” you hesitate. Is there a word for what the two of you need right now?

In the end, you make your way to the couch. The tension uncoils as you breathe deep, Rose beside you, trying to carve the memory of her into your sinuses.

It’s a surprise when she takes you by the chin and presses her mouth to yours. It should be revolting- you were clearly waxing pale, what the actual fuck - but really you find yourself shifting into it, and it doesn’t feel weird at all.

You’re never kissed her sober, and she tastes like old wine, and salt, and something indescribable. It is wonderful; you are gut-wrenchingly soft for her, pliable and vulnerable. She could make you bleed out a hundred times over for her with this one kiss.

You stop thinking if you are pale or flushed or anything for her. You’re simply here, in this moment, defined only with her presence with you, a beacon captivating your full attention.

It ends. You take her in with cautious sniffs.

Cream frosting and smeared licorice lipstick and her eyes rimmed with little lines of cranberry.

She takes you in, visibly blanches, and scrambles to her feet.

“What’s wrong?” you ask, after a beat. The smell of rising panic and realisation makes you tense up.

“I’m sorry,” she chokes out, and flees the flat.


 

Where are you? -RL

No reply. Not that you are really expecting one. You know that you’re not hastening your meeting in any way. You’re just lashing out, asserting control in whatever tiny, stupid ways that you can when you feel so damn pushed , by circumstance, by whatever unseen forces there are, by your own stupid, stupid Light.

The alley is dark; the buzzing streetlamp doesn’t quite throw its light far enough. That suits you just fine because you don’t want to be found. Not unless it’s who you’ve arranged to meet.

You couldn’t stop yourself from reading the messages coming into your phone.

L4LOND3, WH3R3 4R3 YOU???  
YOUR HORR1BL3 HOOKUP M4NN3RS 4S1D3
1TS R34LLY NOT 4 GOOD T1M3 TO B3 C4RVORT1NG 4ROUND LONDON R1GHT NOW >:/
1 KNOW YOUR S1CK SUP3RPOW3RS W1LL PROB4BLY STOP 4NYTH1NG R34LLY B4D FROM H4PP3N1NG BUT
1M WORR13D TH4T YOU WONT US3 1T
OR TH4T YOU W1LL US3 1T TO F1ND TROUBL3
OUT OF SOM3 M1SPL4C3D S3NS3 TH4T YOU N33D TO PUN1SH YOURS3LF OR SOM3TH1NG >:/ >:/ >:/

You have to ignore her. Terezi has a remarkable capacity to detect deceit, and you are, in fact, using your powers to find trouble.

W3LL, DONT DO 4NYTH1NG DUMB >:[
YOU M1GHT TH1NK TH4T YOUR 4B1L1TY TO S33 4LL TH3 PROB4B1L1T13S W1LL F1X 3V3RYTH1NG 4LW4YS
BUT TRUST M3
1 KN3W SOM3ON3 L1K3 TH4T
4ND H3R B31NG LUCKY D1DNT M4TT3R 4T 4LL 1N TH3 3ND

You feel like she’d leave it on that note, and you’re not sure whether to feel relieved, or even guiltier. Somehow, she had circumvented your usual kneejerk reaction to this line of thinking and it has left you frustrated and forlorn.

There’s traffic even though it is long past when the night shifts start. The trolls are going about their night; you can hear their chittering dialects, some English in their accents, ranging from clicky to droning to warbling.

You can also hear regular old human drunks, but since it’s roughly a quarter to twelve, or, “drunk o’ clock” as you used to know it, this isn’t particularly surprising.

From the hubbub in the street comes a distinct, warbly complaint. It is so loud that you think, initially, that the speaker is on the phone; it quickly becomes apparent that she is just histrionically complaining to herself.

“Who the fuck does she think she is, calling a surprise fucking meeting and then bitching and moaning when I don’t show up exactly five minutes early? Helloooooooo, some of us actually have important things to do!”

You note, with interest, that she is coming closer. Turning into your alleyway.

“And how the fuck am I supposed to find someone in some random fuck-dark alley anyway? She must be bleeding her goddamned thinkpan out from her ears if she thinks I can just stumble into some random-”

“Hello,” you say, stepping forward.

She stumbles back and nearly falls flat on her arse. You try not to look amused and fail.

If Terezi Pyrope is a troll drawn entirely in acute angles, “Cobalt” is essentially a scribble, a haphazard mess of flat planes and wild curls. She recovers her balance gingerly, and the movements almost seem awkward, like there’s a weight on her right side that she isn’t entirely used to.

“I’m Rose. Pleased to meet you,” you say, sticking out your right hand. She eyes it warily, and takes it in her own, giving it a few lackluster shakes.

Observation one: the way her arm is moving under her sleeve is just slightly off, a little jerkier than natural, unless she’s trying to emulate a stick figure animation.

Observation two: the texture of her glove is sticky and unpleasant, almost reminiscent of vinyl.

Observation three: she’s squeezing entirely too hard, much, much harder than necessary. You’re holding back a wince.

You’re almost sure that Cobalt has a robotic arm. A pretty good one that she can hide under a rugged denim jacket, but not a perfect one. It’s either that, or some kind of nerve injury.

And then, there’s the eyepatch.

This is a troll who has certainly been through some bullshit, and then picked herself up, battered and bleeding, to flip off said bullshit.

She snatches her hand back as soon as you let go, and glares down at you. She’s tall. Her wickedly pointed horns are fiery orange, almost glinting under the weak light.

“So. What is this , all about?”

Your first instinct is to needle her, to try to find reactions. But this isn’t the time.

“I’m being hunted. I believe you know that.”

Cobalt nods. “Yeah. But it’s all under control, trust me.”

Her vowels are drawn out long and patronising. You are entirely calm when you retort, “No.”

She narrows her one eye. “ Excuse me?”

“No, it’s not under control,” you repeat. “You were sent here to neutralise a threat, and they’re giving you problems. They’re resistant to the methods you usually use, perhaps because they’re unpredictable, or they’re cunning, or they have something you can’t counter…”

Cobalt scowls. You let yourself smile. “Or, all of the above. Which means you have to resort to unsavoury methods.”

“Great job, miss smarty-garments!” Cobalt drawls. “And I’m guessing that you’re proposing a solution?”

“Yes.”

The first part of the plan is, most simply, you . “The troll who wants to lure the Condesce here is trying to start something. A persecution against trolls was initially considered, which is why all the victims of the suicides were human, at first. This plan was quickly abandoned because the Condesce does not give a shit about trolls being persecuted.”

Cobalt rolls her eye. “Please tell me something I don’t already know, if you’re so smart.”

You were wondering how up to date she is. Apparently that’s fairly up to date.

“What do they want?” you ask, mostly rhetorically.

“He wants the destruction of the entire human race,” Cobalt replies, bored. “So hurry up with telling me this plan of yours already!”

Interesting. This suggests that she’s even more up to date than Dirk and his network.

“He then stopped for a time, until he learnt of Karkat- the mutant. If the news of his existence spreads, two things will happen- the revival of the cult of the Signless Prophet, and the Condesce’s attention. Hence the highblood victim. Hence the conspicuous sign-”

“Will you can it? I know , I was there.

This is news to you. Cobalt huffs, and crosses her arms. “Who did you think stopped that minion?”

Pieces are starting to fall into place. “You’re psychic. You’re…”

Agent Cobalt, psychic troll, most likely a fugitive under Roxy’s employ, and most likely Terezi’s ex-colleague.

And, she apparently has a source straight to this threat.

“You’re a double agent?”

Cobalt tosses her hair, of which she has plenty. “Took you long enough.”

Smug is a very irritating look on her. If she is the psychic, it means that she must have put you to sleep, too.

She’s also an ex-Legs, even though the way her limbs sprawl carelessly makes that- or any branch of military, in fact- an unlikely conclusion. Then again, she is accurate enough to put a hole in a coin in flight, and subtle enough to be a double agent.

“So what’s the plan, oh-so-amazing Seer ?”

“Right now, I believe that there are a number of mechanisms that he employs to keep out of sight of the authorities, and us.”

“Your family are the authorities,” Cobalt points out, irritably.

“Precisely. I think that he knows that, and that he would very much like to be rid of us. With us out of the picture, our protections around Karkat and his secret would also be easier to handle.”

You pause, and run a few necessary checks.

The path is in place. You plunge into it.

“I believe I can draw him out,” you say, “if I give him a target.”

Cobalt looks to you, aghast. “You?”

“Me,” you confirm.

Cobalt pretends to look down in deep thought, and looks up.

“It’s a shit plan,” she announces. “My employer will kill me. Got any more bright ideas?”

“I have Roxy’s blessing for this plan,” you tell her.

“Bullshit. You’re her family, there’s no way…” she trails off uncertainly.

“Remembering something?” you ask, sweetly.

“Fuck you,” she snarls. “Okay, see if I care, that you want to kill yourself that badly. Alright. What next?”

“I have an inkling,” you tell her. “He met Terezi yesterday, did he not?”

Cobalt nods, wary. “He made her his lawyer, or some bullshit. Forgetting that I, too, did lawyer shit!”

“Which means your time with him is up,” you tell her. “He’s suspicious enough of you that-”

“That he doesn’t want to deal with me anymore, and he’d probably snap my neck at first opportunity, I know . You plan involves Terezi?”

“I need her to remove his contingencies.”

“Minions, the lot of them,” Cobalt snorts. “Easy pickings, if we only knew how many and who they were.”

That is new information. You tell her to elaborate, and she describes an extensive scheme to take hostages and terrify them into his service.

Things make a lot more sense, in this way.

“He’s a subjugglator,” she explains, with some disgust, “which means he’s basically a pro at terrifying the grubsauce out of random kids and threatening them into doing stuff.”

“Which is where I come in. He will want to test her loyalty, and I imagine that I’d make some tantalising bait for that.”

“Right. And he doesn’t have to know that Terezi’s loyalty isn’t worth shit.”

You raise an eyebrow at that. “That’s coming from you?”

“Shut up.” Cobalt is an open book, really. She feels threatened, defensive, and she rears herself to her full height, tilting her horns forward in a veiled threat display. She’s not as scary as she thinks she is. “You have no idea what went down with us!”

“You blinded her.” You let some of your own hostility through, matching her threat display for one of your own.

“Don’t pretend to get it,” she snarls. Her fangs are needle sharp, a prominent pair of canines glinting under her lip.

You stop prodding, and wait for her to regain her composure. Still, there is bite to her words when she asks, “so, what about me?”

The smile you can’t contain is a spiteful one.

“You, I’m afraid, have to die.”

Chapter Text

Your name is Vriska Serket, and you’re dead. Supposedly.

This is something that you had a bit more experience than most in. What can you say? You’re lucky, lucky enough to crawl your way to the one functional escape pod while coughing smoke from your lungs, lucky enough to eject yourself in the direction of a passing pirate shuttle, lucky enough to break out of their shitty prison cell and commandeer their craft and set the course for some random blue planet on the fuck-end of deep space.

You watch as Rose torches “you” in a dumpster. “You” are an effigy that contains, among other things, pork, salvaged trash, and the splinters of your burner phone. It is your most uneventful death yet.

Not that you’re complaining, or anything.

Still, taken out by some tiny human? This is embarrassing for you, even if the rest of the universe believes that Terezi Pyrope took you out.

Whatever. If everyone must think that you lost, it might as well be to Terezi.

And you’re not sure how to make of the fact that Earth is… kind of growing on you. There aren’t any aliens trying to kill you, or people sending you to eradicate entire races and wipe cities off the map.

It’s peaceful? And as much as you’d think you’d rankle at peace, you’re finding that it’s nice .

Which is ridiculous. Only ridiculous weenies actually enjoy peace!

After your “death”, you will lie in wait. Rose Sees a confrontation involving her, Terezi, and Makara. Your job is to figure out where it is.

Rose thinks that he will bring his full forces to bear. Terezi, you think, has made quite an impression if he’s bringing his full forces. You think he can’t have more than fifty or so minions. He hasn’t been in this city for long enough to amass that many.

So while that is going down, your job is to call this guy, and give him a place and a time. Seriously. 

“That’s all?” you ask Rose. You're kind of insulted. 

“Well,” she says. “Not exactly.”


Rose has been gone for fifteen awful hours when the door to your flat slams open.

“Fuck,” you say, a rush of an exhalation forced out of your lungs. “Ro-”

But stepping through your front door, and into your living room is not Rose. It is possibly the person you are least happy to see.

“Bring your cane, motherfucking lawyer sis,” he says, swaying slightly. “We’ve got some motherfucking prosecuting to fucking unleash on this unrighteous world.”

“Can’t wait!” you chirp, grinning.

“That’s what a brother wants to hear,” he says. Say is a verb that doesn’t quite cover his speech, which is slightly drawled, slightly slurred, and always grating. The ever-present chucklevoodoos blanket every syllable with menace.

The voodoos aren’t as strong, even though you’re not in the least bit prepared. You pick up your cane and control your breathing to the best of your ability.

You follow him into a car, a small, unassuming white sedan. The limeblood at the wheel has her pupil blown wide, her iris almost entirely licorice, and her skin almost the same shade as the lemon-golden sunlight slanting through the streets, instead of the healthier-smelling ash. She flinches as the purple opens the door.

“Why, I’m afraid that I forgot to ask your name,” you say.

“Shit, sis, that’s motherfucking rude of me, ain’t it?” He gives you one massive, meaty fist. His thumbclaw is long and yellowed and you think you see multicoloured flecks on the edges.

You extend your own fist to bump. “Terezi Pyrope, at your service.”

“Gamzee Makara.” His arm goes limp. You take that as a sign to put down your own.

“Why now?” you ask. You’d be more circumspect, usually, around clowns, but worry has shaved all the discretion off your words. You’re more on edge than you want to be.

“Someone found me,” he says, simply. “Up and motherfucking bestowed the grand miracle of nonexistence on my motherfucking assistant.”

“You have an assistant.”

Things are dawning on you. The car lot. Vriska .

“It’s all in the motherfucking past tense now, sis. She came and motherfucking showed me, you see.”

And she’s dead . Again . You’re not sure if you can mourn her again.

No, you need to focus on Rose. Who may still be alive yet.  

“The intruder, you took her.” Terror is on you, now, and it’s utterly unrelated to the cloying psychic bullshit in the air.

“I’m not opposed to showing a sis to the motherfucking Carnival, no, but she did go on spewing the most heretic blasphemies, and,” he shrugs, “what’s a motherfucking believer to do, sis?”

One bloodshot purple eye stares you down. “You gotta let these motherfucking heretics wave their disrespect at your motherfucking snout, sis?”

“Of course not,” you agree numbly. Breathing is hard, and it’s not entirely the fault of the oppressive psychic energy the clown radiates.

What the fuck were you thinking, Rose?

The three of you spend the rest of the ride in silence. Occasionally, the terror waxes and wanes. You assume that’s for the benefit of the limeblood, and you work very hard to keep your facade of calm up.

Finally, you arrive.

The building is on the outskirts of town. It smells grey, with vivid tangerine splashes from rust. Patches of mint reveal themselves to be peeling paint.

The salty-mud smell of the river hangs over everything like a miasma.

A warehouse?

“Charming!” you remark.

Gamzee only grins.

The two of you are greeted with a veritable crowd of people- human and trolls alike. Most look distressed and unhappy. Some are mechanical and determined. Those ones have guns.

You are faced with a dizzying range of choices. You estimate that there are about sixty people in this warehouse, you and Makara excepted.

Inside the warehouse is a large shipping container, about two metres tall. On it is someone sitting on a chair.

No.

On the chair is an extremely familiar splash of meringue and wine-purple, and she is your worst dayterror come true.

“You seem to have found a replacement ex-Legislacerator rather quickly,” Rose remarks. “Hello, Terezi. I’m afraid that I’m a little tied up at the moment.”

She wiggles in the seat in demonstration.

Makara’s general good cheer seems to fade. “A blasphemous non-believer had better keep her motherfucking clever words to herself, I think.”

There is a split second where you See her snarky retort- “You think? That’s unexpected,” - but the moment thankfully passes. She merely smiles serenely from her perch above, as though she is on a throne and not a rickety chair in a warehouse full of hostiles.

You’re not sure if she’s a trouble magnet, or if she actively seeks it out; right now, you’d say the latter.

How the fuck does Dave, or Dirk, or anyone else deal with this girl? This brilliant, pan-rotted numbskull. You flex your grip around her cane. You’ll find a way out of this, despite the overwhelming disadvantage in numbers. That’s what you do.

Makara motions to you to climb up the ladder to the top of the container. Your every step rattles and creak despite your career-accumulated ladder-climbing acumen. When you reach the top you unfold your legs from under you and grab your cane from your belt.

Makara doesn’t follow you.

“You can up and motherfucking get your prosecuting on now, law-sis.” His booming voice has no trouble travelling up here and echoing off the rafters.

“Why the spectators?” You, on the other hand, have to raise your voice to be heard below.

“A brother’s got to be cautious, don’t cha think, sleuth sis?”

“Certainly, a sentiment I agree with” Rose says, prim. “They’re insurance.”

“Not that I’d up and imply that a law-sis can’t do her job, but you can’t be motherfucking sure, y’know?”

“And since someone up and found my hive,” he adds, “I’m just gonna be going to up and motherfucking move. So I’ll just leave a sis to do her motherfucking job, hmm?”

He walks off, just like that. You glance at Rose, who just smiles knowingly, eyes glittering. You know that expression.

She wears it when she’s winning.

You don’t speak until you hear the engine start outside, and smell the sedan pulling away.

“So, what now?”

You can take on sixty people if you have your guns. You don’t have your guns- wouldn’t have dared to take them, under Makara’s chucklevoodoos and generally erratic behaviour.

“Now you untie me, and you leave me to the tender mercies of this crowd,” Rose says, still entirely calm.

“I’d sooner fight them all.” You’re forming a strategy, now- you can take them if they come up the container one at a time, you’re damn handy with a cane, but you’re breathing hard and smelling the telltale appleberry and citrus tang of psionics and you can’t stop them from taking out Rose while you’re occupied. Not to mention the ones with guns.

One lucky shot would be all it would take.

“You won’t,” Rose says, now a little irate. “They don’t deserve it. They’re just scared kids that will do anything in their power to stop me from leaving this place alive. You have to get out, so that you can get them out of possibly the worst times of their lives.”

She sounds so sincere, like she’s not manipulating you at all. You stand firm. “You can’t die.”

“It’s a worthwhile trade.”

“Rose,” you say, and you have to make her understand this, “ you can’t die.

But she’s right- you can’t just slaughter a warehouse full of unwilling combatants, even if you could. Earth doesn’t work like that, and anyway, you’d wanted to stop killing people who didn’t deserve it just because they were in your way. 

“People,” you say, address the crowd below, and have to dive out of the way when you hear the crack of a gunshot.

They mutter among of themselves, and stare up at you with hopeless eyes.

Reasoning is not going to work here. These people are in a dark place, where fear reigns. 

Subjuggulators, you think, with disgust. That's where they operate- in the irrational, the animal, the fear and rage. 

You can’t reach them, not while Gamzee Makara's got his filthy claws stuck in their thinkpans.

“We have to get down there,” you decide. “Shooting, targeted projectiles- they won’t want to harm their own.”

They would if they were fanatics, but all you’re seeing is uneasy consensus. They don’t know if they’d be punished for harming each other, and in any case, they don’t want to. There’s some kind of terrible solidarity working against you and Rose here.

“We’ll all going to die if she leaves here alive!” Comes one thin shout.

“Worse,” another hisses, and there’s sobbing and bedlam. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, he’s got my mother, fuck, I’m sorry…”

At this point, would the mercy be to kill them? None of these people would be the same ever again.

They’re getting more and more agitated. You may not have a choice.

“Untie me,” Rose hisses. You comply, as you unspool the beginnings of your plan.

“You take my cane. I’ll get them to come up here. Then, then…”

“I’m not leaving you defenceless against a mob, Terezi.”

“I won’t be defenceless,” you tell her. Your grin, all Legislacerator swagger, comes easy. “I’m never defenceless, Rose.”

The bonds come off entirely. Rose stands, rubbing at her wrists.

She places her hands on your shoulders and kisses you.

You break it, sputtering. “Is this really the time, Lalonde?”

She laughs. She smells like salt, and resignation. You can still taste her on your lips.

“Stay behind me, Rose, and let me fight them off.”

She shakes her head. “I’m afraid that I can’t.”

That sad smile, perhaps, is what gives you pause, and sets you into motion just slightly too late when she bursts into motion and dives over the side of the container.

You hear the sick crack of her fragile human bones on concrete. You smell it as the mob realises their chance, and converge on her.

The sounds of fighting and slaughter alike are familiar to you and they have never been this horrible.

You throw yourself off the container and catch yourself in a roll. Your swords are out before you spring back upright, ready for blood, but a lightning quick force swings into your arcs and knocks them out of your hands altogether.

The blackcurrant-blueberry fog resolves as you dive out of the way, ready to counterattack. You recoil in surprise. “Vriska? The fuck?”

You’re supposed to be dead, you don’t say.

She was supposed to be dead for four perigees by now, so this development should be entirely unsurprising by now. You resolve to never believe Vriska dead unless you personally see the body in the future.

"We need to get out," she tells you, and tried to take one of your hands. You avoid her easily. 

“Rose,” you say. You inhale, trying to find your weapon.

“She’s dead,” Vriska says. 

“No, she’s not, they’re not there yet-” You see them on the ground, make a move for them.

“She wasn’t in any condition to fight back-” Vriska joins you on the ground and this time, she manages to get one wrist. 

“What the fuck, Vriska, let me go!”

You punch her in the shoulder and only succeed in bruising your knuckles. Wrong shoulder. “She’s dead, Terezi. I saw it. They… ”

You can smell, over the tops of people’s horns, someone dragging a limp, vanilla icing form away from you. A trail of bright candy red snakes from between bodies and feet.  

“We have to get out,” she tells you, renewed urgency in her voice, but you ignore her. You make a split-second calculation and kick her in the shin, dive to the left, and-

Her arm, the metal one, sweeps up and catches you in the midsection. Your breath wheezes out of your painfully. Mid-cough, her other arm curls under you, and a gloved hand closes over one of your arms.

You fight and claw and snarl, but Vriska has you in her grip, her metal arm unyielding, robotic fingers firm and unwavering. You don’t care. You’re hurting yourself more than you’re hurting her, you have so little leverage as she carries you away, away from the warehouse, away from the mob, away from Rose.

Finally, she dumps you on the ground somewhere. Far away. You register that the air has changed. You’re in the open again. The sun is still up, and the bricks are warm through your jacket.

Vriska swims into focus above you. She presses her fingers to a blueberry-stained cut on her cheek, and worries at her lip with her front fangs.

That’s a tell you know almost as well as your own mind. She is very, very upset.

That is fair. You are very upset, too, and you tend to make other people upset when you’re not your usual unflappable self.

Vriska sighs, long and tired. She can’t help but to make every sigh deep and melodramatic.

“I’m sorry, Terezi,” she says, and she is so, so gentle but she is never gentle, never , and you hate this so, so, much.

“Fuck,” you say, and burst into tears.

You’re miserably lost, and you’re not sure what to make of your own incandescent rage; for someone who was Legislacerator through and through, someone who truly believed that her only closure was in gunfire and plasma in the starless depths of deep space, you didn’t expect someone else doing this hurting quite this much.

You wish that everything that just happened didn’t. You wish for… something. Anything.

Just as long as Rose Lalonde is alive and well.  

Chapter Text

A young troll stands in her respiteblock. Tonight, the fourth night of the twelfth human perigee, would be her flatmate’s birthday, had she lived.

She looks okay. Not great, but not terrible. There are still healing scars, dark on her hands. There are dark circles under her eyes, because the dayterrors slide into her dreams even through the sopor. But in time, those will fade.

At the stroke of eight, there is a knock on the door. She answers it, and is entirely unsurprised to find Dirk Strider.

“Have a seat,” she says. “I’ll make some tea.”

Dirk nods, and says nothing. In correspondence, he is often unnecessarily eloquent; in person he is often uncomfortably shy. In contrast to Terezi, he is holding up. Striding on. But then again, who knows what’s happening behind those semi-ironic, semi-sincerely necessary shades?

He stands by the door, and answers it when there is a knock.

“Hi,” Karkat says. He is subdued on this day. “Where’s Terezi?”

“The kitchen,” Dirk replies. As Karkat shuffles in, he reaches out to bump Dave’s proffered fist, and they retreat to the couch in silence.

Dave looks… well. Slightly askew, in every way. Something isn’t quite right- this dishevelment doesn’t quite sit right on him, like a camera set to the wrong aperture, an over-saturated filter. There is something deeply wrong, and he can’t quite stop that wrongness from seeping out and colouring everything about him.

Terezi appears out of the kitchen, mugs in hand. She settles herself down on the edge of the couch.

Dave ventures forth a question. “Is Vriska-”

“No,” Terezi replies, a little more brusquely than necessary. “She’s busy. And allergic to other people’s emotions.”

The events of November had been rough on everyone, and a chance to simply gather in peace is much appreciated.

“Happy birthday, Dave,” Dirk says, breaking the silence. A beat.

“Belatedly,” he adds.

Terezi tilts her head curiously. “You are twins.”

No one remarks on her mistake. Were .

“Yeah,” Dave says. “But I’m about two minutes older.”

Terezi makes a sound of understanding.

Karkat is the one that finally acknowledges the awkward elephant in the flat. “Any leads on-”  

“Not many,” Dirk says.

“Cold trail,” Terezi says, at the same time. She makes a face at the ceiling fan. “He’s not in London anymore.”

Terezi is a great help to Dirk and the Scotland Yard when it comes to dismantling Makara’s network of terrified minions and spies. Some have returned to their normal lives with extensive therapy. Many haven’t.

Fucking subjuggulators.

Before the counselling had started, however, a number had volunteered information, in varying shades of helpful.

Of Makara himself there has been no sign. Under Rose’s direction, Vriska had alerted Dirk to the location of his main hideout. Dirk sent his best automated retrieval units, piloted by Hal, and had arrived on scene to find them all in pieces and the hideout torched entirely.

In the meanwhile, however, life goes on.

“I’ve joined the police. I’m in the academy, now,” Dave says, abruptly.

Terezi considers this for a moment, before grinning. “I think that’s an excellent line of work. It suits you.”

Dirk asks about logistics. Does he need supplies? Money? Anything? - until he is told to back off.

Finally he settles down, with a quiet, “Good job, bro.”

“I have cake,” Terezi announces. “I made it last night.”

They relocate to the kitchen. Terezi insists on lighting the candles on a white-and-purple cake.

For a moment, no one knows what to say.

“That thing is…” Dave begins.

“Hideous,” Terezi says. She is smiling, slightly. “Rose would have hated it.”

Very slowly, Dave’s posture begins to unwind, and he relaxes into something closer to normal. Then, he begins to smile. Just a little.

Dirk and Karkat exchange bemused glances. Terezi is, in honestly, so weird .

Dave is instructed to blow out the candles. They sit around the table, having this ugly cake which, in all honestly, not as terrible as it looks. They talk, about everything and nothing and they all know that things are very, deeply wrong.

Later, when all the guests have gone, there are a great many futures where Terezi will pour herself a glass of wine and raise a silent toast to an invisible partner.


On the other side of the Atlantic is a spacious house some forty minutes from Potsdam, NY. It is one of Roxy’s many safehouses, but this one has a bit more sentimental value than most.

Before this particular extended stay, you have only set foot in here twice. Now, you roam the halls listlessly. You have books, and an internet connection, and you had assured your sister that it would be enough. Then again, you had thought that would be enough and you were always a master at self deception.

On this day, Roxy had a cake delivered early in the morning with a lengthy note of apology. The cake is excellent, lovingly homemade by one of her friends, but she’d watch for tricks when unpacking it. She’d be back late, but she would be back, probably after dinner but definitely before dessert. In the meanwhile she had also sent for some company for the rest of the day.

The doorbell rings. You answer it with apprehension.

“Good wriggling day, Lalonde,” Vriska tells you, leaning on the doorframe. “Now let me in, it’s cold as balls out here.”

Indeed, snow has settled in her hair, on her bulky blue puffer jacket. Her face is drained of colour, which you have to assume is some kind of troll response to cold.

You let her in.

“Fuck, Lalonde, it’s almost colder in here and there was like a snowstorm out there. Don’t you have heating? Aren’t you lot loaded?”

“This is my very own gothic fortress of solitude to skulk around sinisterly,” you tell her. “The lack of warmth is very much by design.”

Still, you take her to the electric fireplace and turn the heat up. You find a number of blankets for good measure, and dump them on her scrawny legs.

Never let it be said that Rose Lalonde isn’t an excellent host.

You settle in for an awkward day. Your correspondence with the two people who know that you’re alive has been halting and sporadic. You spend your days idly spinning out fanciful plans to stop the threat to humanity’s ongoing survival only to let them go, a rubber band snapping into nothing concrete.

It drives you up the goddamn walls.

Roxy has taken the initiative to empty the liquor cabinets entirely, leaving only something sparkling and completely non-alcoholic. Damn her. You think that you can hike to town to get some more but lethargy overtakes you, most days. Maybe you’ll just brew some moonshine in a spare bathtub, the true, traditional American way. While in Rome, after all.

But you have, unfortunately, picked up a new habit.

“Are you perving on your girlfriend again, Lalonde?” Vriska asks. You forgot how annoying her voice is after your brief reprieve.

“I never perv,” you reply, succinct. “I’m merely extending my observation to ensure her safety.”

Which is bullshit, of course.

“Bullshit,” Vriska says. “You’re totally perving.”

Teasing aside, you truly miss her. You feel useless while she is over across the sea, rooting out Makara’s influence from London. You should be over there. It should be the two of you, partners in crime.

Roxy keeps telling you to, quote, “chillax the fuck out”. You don’t know how.

“Ruined anyone’s life recently, Vriska?” You turn the questioning back on her.

She rolls her eyes. Both of them. Roxy has come through on the bionic eye, with seven red blinking pupils. It’s creepy as hell.

“You chose to ruin your own life, Rose, don’t pin it on me.”

“That may be true, but I’m not referring to myself.”

Vriska narrows her eyes, and reaches over to flick the cast on your left arm. It then begins to itch with a vengeance.

You close your eyes, and heave out an aggravated breath. You have half a mind to bash her over the head with this cast at risk of further injury to your arm.

A better idea comes to you. “Roxy sent some cake,” you say.

“Really?” Vriska perks up visibly. She is an utter and unrepentant fiend for sugar, which completely explains Terezi’s weird overprotectiveness over her sweets.

You take her to the kitchen, where the cake sits innocuously in its box. It is unnecessarily elaborate, with two separate tiers.

Vriska enthusiastically flips the box open. You may have already Seen it coming, but it is still entirely hilarious when the top tier flings itself into her unsuspecting face. Plus, now you have pictures.

The rest of your birthday passes like this. You aren’t lonely, not really, although you look to London every now and again.

You know you’ll have to go back. Your return will be catalysed by forces outside of your control, but you will certainly be back.

You hope that it is soon.

Later that night, you pour yourself a glass of something fruity, and match Terezi’s toast from five hours and an ocean away.